Category Archives: Nonfiction

What is wonderful about that cartoon: not the plot but the stuff that could be considered the voice of that artwork

M said the city forces you to interact with other people to get your life, to get done those things you need to get done. It forces you to interact, and as you get sophisticated (or, what getting sophisticated means is), you learn whom to trust.  In the country, rural/small-town life, you already know everybody—everybody knows everybody, for good or ill. Once people know you, your reputation is set, as good or bad. In fact, your family’s reputation is set. There was another part to this thought that I can’t recall just now.

The grinch cartoon was on cartoon network last week. The TV’s guide info described it as a “curmudgeon” who ruins Christmas. The grinch as “curmudgeon”? It’s not wrong, but it’s not how most humans would describe that cartoon. It’s precise, just not accurate. That description misses what is wonderful about that cartoon, which is not the plot but the incidental stuff: the tone, the narration, the songs, the visual style—just all that stuff that could be considered the voice of that artwork, which, as I’ve come to see in recent months (or last couple years), is all that really matters about an artwork.

When you boil down/summarize a story into a plot, or a philosophy into one idea, well, lots of people have told the same plot, the same idea. Few ideas are totally new to human consciousness. But why you would cherish a particular telling of a story or a particular text or a particular writer’s/artist’s vision is for all those less-tangible aspects. Not that these are preset: you might like one artist’s sense of spontaneity and glee, another one’s (Verlyn Klinkenborgs’s essays) precision and … its cold accuracy, it’s precise polished brilliance, which is wonderful, but spontaneity is good, too, you know. “We tend not to do live animation. It’s hard on the animator’s wrists” [approximately] goes the line from the Simpsons where Homer is Poochy. So much of art has the polish, the “high production values” of Hollywood and network shows—professionals—even if the script is pure sh!t, tired dreck—

(pretty, byootiful—well, I was thinking “pretty”-denoting words, words that denote beauty, were themselves pretty-sounding (melodious) words—lovely, nice (but then “nice” is a feint compliment, or a dismissive), gorgeous—whereas words denoting “ugly” are ugly words: ugly (contrast hard “g” to the “j” sound in “gorgeous”), hideous, feo, repulsive—or am I just mistaking connotation for bad-sounding?)

and why I say all this is to defend my own budding belief in spontaneity—how I write spontaneously. Well, maybe that’s not the best word—though Kerouac uses it, doesn’t he?—”Spontaneous Prose“—and Dylan’s line about not wanting to do a 2nd take for recording—”that’s terrible,” as quoted in Beat Reader. The Beat ethic of not editing, though that itself can become an ideology. I mean, I admire Klinkenborg’s precision at times—I found a description (on Amazon) of VK’s writing, …[that said that] his search for the perfect word and phrase shows his love of words. And yes, I know Thoreau supposedly did many rewrites/revisions of “Walden”—and yet, and maybe this is just me, with my perfectionism, but the concept of having to go through multiple rewrites seems tedious. I’m not sure several rewrites are what I need. I tend to overedit and would boil my ideas down to that ridiculous one-line summary. M told me last week that my less-edited, more spontaneous email was better than the second, more edited one.

[From journal of Sun., 9 Dec. 2007, Journal 94, page 37-9]

I could go back and look at my life as a set of crisis points and choices

I do kinda like the idea that I could go back and look at my life as a set of crisis points and choices—that I really could tell my life story through that model, when I’d never really wanted to tell my life story before. I’m not really sure I want to do that now, either, but it feels like a possibility now.  A life story as a set of realizations that something needs to change—(and what observations and expectations were wrapped up in these realizations) and then choices made to reflect those realizations. Now, one nice thing about doing the journal writing I do is that I have a lot of these realizations and re-conceptions (of my ideas about what the world or what my life could be and should be).

I question my expectations and my perceptions and the judgments/interpretations I make about whether those interpretations are good or not—or should be changed.

I watched a little bit of Tennessee vs. Georgia footedball game yesterday, mostly with the TV’s sound off—and, yeah. Yeah.

I come to these journals as I am today, even including whether I’m tired or hungry or whatever mood (I’m tempted to go back and erase pencil marks from previous odd-numbered pages once I’ve pressed them into the even-numbered pencil pages)—and anyway, sit and write 10 more minutes, then you can go, you know? Give it a few solid minutes there—it’s 9:45 now, says flip phone.  I’ll go check on charging smart phone. It could be that I’m too tired to really get into this today—that I have been writing for nearly an hour now (9:48 on flip phone) but maybe I was in a scattered-mind mood. That’s OK, too.

One idea from last night’s bedtime—that I could keep pulling a line or idea out of each journal as I post it, or that I could just say something like, “Here’s what I thought on this day: (Date).”

I do like how this journal looks and feels once it’s filled in. I like that I’ve written so much. I probably could use to nap, after making breakfast now—oh, and pooping.

I feel like there are big ideas I could be having—but they don’t seem to come. And I know that it’s easy for me to get abstract, unnecessarily or unusefully so, when I’m tired-mind.

[From journal of Sun., 30 Sept. 2018, Journal 284, page 227-9]

Journalism writing is about the world, usually, but seldom seems to intersect the world


— Inhaled many times.

— Ate lunch. Read online.

— Went to Book Sale at Library Media Center. I got some books for readin’ and some for tearin’ apart and rebindin’—like the one that’s “Police Brutality: Opposing Viewpoints”—OK, then. Also, “Pornography: Opposing Viewpoints,” with a lady’s legs on cover. Black & White PORN might be just as effective, in a more taboo way, eh? Saw two “Playdude” references in the Season 13 Simpsons episodes last night. One was where Buck (Cowboy) got rid of “Playdude” and Homer grabbed it from garbage.

— I was reading at lunch about opioid addiction in U.S. and how U.S. uses so much more opioids than other countries—50 thousand (prescriptions?) per million people, almost twice Canada (30k) and Germany (25k). And I thought how generic it seemed, that article—how journalism writing is about the world, usually, but seldom seems to intersect the world.

— Had a thought as I lay down 3rd hour about how maybe I don’t need to push my students—that’s not quite right.


[Two teacher-colleagues] in hallway after this hour started talking about some administrator while both looked at LMC study hall calendar on wall.


— Kyle not in his chair—well, the chair has no person, not even a Kyle E.


What it’s like to be alive is—well, it’s kinda what I’ve been thinking about today, or these two are related. As I lay down on classroom floor (northwest corner, out of view of door window [during prep time, to relax my back muscles]) 3rd hour, I felt like I could let go of fretting about what I’m having students in English 2 do. …

[From school journal of 7-8th hour, Tues., 16 Jan. 2018, Journal 269, page 107-8]

Does any of my writing make sense today?

Well, I thought I was closer to the end of this journal. Thought yesterday was page 179, but it’s 171, I now see. OK, so I’ve got at least two days left, want to leave a couple pages at end for notes, Post-Its, etc.

What’s up? Not sure I can keep up the Creative Writing routine. I don’t have any big plans. That’s OK, though. I’ll make it one way or another, a day at a time. Maybe even include a grammar lesson, although I told kids no tests in here. Doesn’t mean we can’t do lessons on it. I shouldn’t need tests just to enforce stuff, as motivation or whatever. Motivation should be itself, the learning or whatever.

Does any of my writing make sense today? I’m not sure it does. It seems it would be a little awkward—as even the use of “would” in this last sentence. …

This pen’s almost out of ink. I’m having to press harder. Funny kids—on 2nd day of Morning Pages, Micky said, “another two pages?” Yes, that’s why I said several times that it was 2 pages/day, all semester, so 180 pages/semester. That’s why I said that. Just shows they don’t listen when I talk, I guess. … Yes, I would rather get them more involved in everything—more active, less me talking—and yet, this is partly what it is, this reading and talking and writing—this is English class! Writing like this should be a live-event. I guess it would be if you give public performance. I guess we could do that, give public poetry reading and stuff.

[From journal of Wed., 25 Aug. 2004, Journal 37, page 173-5]

It’s beautiful to not be ‘aware of being alive’

After thinking for a couple days in the last couple weeks that I needed to be aware of being alive, etc., I realized that it’s actually kind of a beautiful thing to not take that so seriously. It’s beautiful to not be “aware of being alive,” to not feel you have to be self-conscious, but that you can just go through life being engaged in your writing, and your other engaging activities. You don’t have to think so much about being alive, and you don’t have to try to figure out what it’s like to be alive, though that’s still an interesting question for me.

And what else? … M said she was having a little pity-party for herself, feeling jealous of the others’ money and of their energy. I just listened and told the cat he should be supportive, too.

Don’t sign into Google Chrome here at home. It’ll sync all your viewing history with other Google accounts—yikes, I don’t need that. I updated Chrome though so’s I could access my Google accounts—though not last night, too tired.

[From journal of Thurs., 22 Aug. 2013, Journal 183, page 76]

Writings I do as myself, where I am trying to mean

When I say “journal” now, I’m generally using that to describe writings I do as myself, where I am trying to mean, trying to say what I mean, and also, to mean what I say (or I correct myself … ).

But there’s something very different about the poetry I’m writing from McKuen’s poems. I don’t mean what they say, in a literal or corresponding-to-truth sense. But I do think my new texts there can function as poems in which there is an idea—it’s not a random pile or list of words. There was a human mind shaping, choosing, choosing and shaping into phrases or sentences. I’ll be damned but there is some coherence or unity-value, some value in the coherence or unity of the sentence as a basic thought—a “complete thought,” as the English teachers say. Even if the sentence is/gets interrupted, there’s a familiarity there, to the mind, of the sentence structure, and I can write literally absurd contents within the form of the sentence. Of course, any form can be challenged—even a non-sentence list can seem meaningful, or seem sensible, when a mind goes to work on it and detects combinations, etc. This is what I try to teach students through the Poetry Bingo activity.

But, damn, I feel kinda far out here. I feel I’m at some kind of avant-garde edge. I’m not saying I’m the first here, but it’s a seldom-visited place.

[From journal of Sat., 21 Feb. 2015, Journal 204, page 129-30]

The Life of Brian, “Think for yourselves!” “Think for ourselves!” problem

Met Henry dog, Great Dane, up close last night. I felt out-of-scale small. He has short hair like a hound dog, looks like a hound , but two sizes too big. He’s six years old, or six and a half, Mrs. B__ said, and he’s 200 lbs. I thought of Sedaris on Great Danes—”bubbling seepage,” “there are cheeses that last longer.”

Back at noon-something after writing—no, reading—online an New York Times article about some teachers promoting certain educational technology. I’m sure, as article points out, there are ethical problems and questionable pedagogy, etc., but I guess I’d see these teachers as too ambitious for teaching. Teaching’s selfless, but these “teacher influencers” want to go to conferences and get famous and so they work hard, blah, blah.

I don’t care to keep criticizing. It’s—and I thought earlier today about mediation —acting as a go-between—ideas mediate between our minds and the physical world.

I feel I have more to say. Let’s see what comes. Another couple pages of writing before a nap.

I could start a program to educate people that they didn’t need to be educated—the Life of Brian, “Think for yourselves!” “Think for ourselves!” problem. Maybe—probably—it’s stupid to think my idea is better than what happens now. I mean, some people seem influenced by flawed societal values (beauty, fame, wealth as goals, etc.). One thing I might oppose would be, say, spending attention on sports. On other hand, sports-watching is something people can do together, and no doubt, togetherness is important, too.

See, so (I hear whirring-pulses of washing machine. I did a load of underwear and work pants last night—shirts and pants now), so, yeah, I come back to this as a reason to publish: I think of those whose published ideas influenced me since my—well, since I started to read, really. Just to name a few: Carse, Kerouac, Thoreau, Annie Dillard, R. Hugo’s essays, Kay Ryan’s poems, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., the Bible, Wendell Berry, Emily Dickinson, (Simone Weil (that essay I read in college rhet class) and others—my point is that these ideas did shape mine own. So many ideas from these (and informal mentions, too, in news or mag articles, say) influenced me.

That I do have cool ideas—and maybe these are worth sharing—worth simplifying and sharing. I write so much more than anyone needs to read, including myself.

[From journal of Sat., 2 Sept. 2017, Journal 259, page 35-6]

I could draw boundaries around some things

6:54 a.m. So, yes, there were things that happened yesterday, and even by writing, defining, thinking of them as things, as discretely describable entities, I’m pulling them out of context, at least. (I’m reminded of times an adult would tell a story briefly, maybe in one line, as in “that reminds me of the time __X__ (person) did __Y__ (thing)” and I’d want to know more of the context, the set-up.)

Anyway, yeah, so things always happen in a context, a sequence, though sometimes things seem a non sequitur, seem not to follow. Now I’m just overgeneralizing—blah. Blerg. So, I could draw boundaries around some things: walking the dog last night.

Back at 7:45 after adding Elmer’s craft glue to that front reinforcing strip (see pages 2-3) and then I let the book, this book, lie under weight and I annotated pocket pages. And so now I’m back and I have several things to write about. Watching 5 episodes of season one of The Detour last night (on demand)—Jason Jones and Natalie Zea. It’s a pretty funny show.

[From journal of Sun., 29 Jan. 2017, Journal 245, page 164-5]

I’ve taken it into my own work, my own written world, world of my writings

OK, back at 9:02 after … reading review (by Jennifer Senior(?)) of new Megan Kelly book. Well, I’m back. I didn’t feel great last night—overtired, a little anxious—so I went to sleep at 8. No SNL—though Dave Chapelle hosted and I read review this morn and M showed me last night as we were going to bed about 2 a clip of Kate McKinnon as Hillary playing some of Len Cohen’s “Hallelujah”—poignant.

And I noticed in my Nov. 2010 journal yesterday, in which I spent just a short time reading, some comments about some National Geographic show about people who claim to be Jesus. And I’ve long thought that my references to, descriptions of pop culture, especially TV shows, were kinda merely for the record. But last night I had a thought that maybe my writing about these things transmutes them—it’s no long just a piece of culture out there in the world. I’ve taken it into my own work, my own written world, world of my writings.

[From journal of Sun., 13 Nov. 2016, Journal 239, page 189]

I used the word “clear” instead of “black” for coffee, as that Toronto hairstylist told me in NYC

$62—the cost of our stay tonight. We passed by numerous small motor-inns, a la the Rip Van Winkle Motel and the Blue Sunset (or something thereabouts) Motel to get past Buffalo.

Zen talk tonight at the Niagara Falls Terrapin Lookout Point over the Canadian falls.

Deciding to limit myself for rest of trip to one roll—24 exposures—of film so as to (1) increase the value of each image, and (2) so also as to not be concerned about “taking” these images and these experiences back with me, as much as experiencing/observing these things in a more observational, egoless way (my words as I’ve described it before: the opening up/flowering of the observations such that some observations give way because they aren’t necessary first steps or a progression—but are merely more, and in numerous perspectives and areas—to many more observations). When in this mindset, I can go from not noticing anything about a person to noticing 500 separate characteristics/attributes.

So I told D__ my dissatisfaction that every place I go, I feel like it’s just a change of an image, like I’m in an IMAX (realistic) theater but the scene is never real, only a different movie.

But then D__  reminded me of Zen thinking of living in the moment, no goal, no materialistic/Western-style thinking of “seeing it all” (which means, of course, never really seeing fully anything).

But I came to live in the moment, calmly, observationally, and not feel the loss of the moment, but the real moment itself (and cast off nostalgia). The rays of the sun through the clouds became for me not the loss but them in their glory—and I felt good.

And though our conversation had come to feel tired, our conversation had “plateau’d,” then it rose to new level and it felt energetic and refreshing.

And I want to maybe get pastels—art supplies (D__’s quoting of van Gogh—why paint if not actually looking at the subject itself?)

We were at Niagara for, like, two hours or so, until 9. It was good to stop for a while and relax, observe. It’s that demi-meditation time (for looking or writing, etc.) that I require.

Me thinking of how an intellectual, D.F. Wallace-sort of writer might connect in a story the mist rising from the foot of the waterfall to the water dripping from the raincoats in the Cave in the Wind tour office, to the wash water on my hands after washing them in the bathroom—thinking that there’s any real meaning there, unless it’s merely descriptive of my experiences/perspective, but it seems I’m reading crap like that in writers like D.F. Wallace (such as his “Adult World” haughty-joke story).

D__ on there being no meaning (he wonders if he’s using this search for meaning to ease sadness).

Writing the moment of men/women/eye contact/passing, the tension there.

We had another laughing fit in a Tim Horton’s, the first being last fall with R__ in Leamington (“The tomato capital of Canada“). (Also, as far as “of Canada” towns, we passed through Brandstad or something, the “telephone center of Canada,” and “St. Catherine, “the garden city.”)

But this one—I used the word “clear” instead of “black” for coffee, as that Toronto hairstylist told me at that Italian restaurant in New York City—and so we avoided that problem of “black coffee.” That tripped us up at the first Tim Horton’s. But this “scene” (as in, we “caused a scene”) grew out of our having a bill of $4.97 or something and D__ lobbing two-dollar coins on the counter. Also, a “I have this, too” and tossing a 10-dollar bill on table, and we started cracking up, strong stomach-clenching fits of laughing, and over-mascara’d clerk smiled but was true to D__’s theory of the abrupt, terse Canadian idea of politeness (which he had discussed earlier on the road).

Left R__’s today after helping him move until 4 a.m. and (for the list of adventures) riding in a tall moving truck yesterday. D__ decided we should leave before we were roped into more moving labor.

Got $10 U.S. changed into $14.20 Canadian, and I commented to one of the girls how the money looked fake. I agreed with her that it was more colorful than the tired old American greenback, but it still looked fake, not having a money-value.

But somehow I was glad to be back in the U.S. today (at Niagara). Canada kinda boring—the road too far away from cities to see them. We only saw signs proclaiming their existence, but no real cities. And walls blocked off the few houses we saw.

[From journal of Sun., 12 July 1998, Batavia, N.Y., Super 8, Room 181, Journal 22, page 1-5]