Category Archives: Nonfiction

‘The most thing I want’: April’s notes from my pocket pages

Searing visage of the minivan in which I drove students to state WYSE meet. 10 April

“They’re adult-ier than me,” said a 23-24-year-old woman who was soon to be interviewed for a teaching job by three school administrators. 1 April.

Perhaps I understand other people by creating models of their minds — and those people I don’t understand are those whose minds I have trouble modeling. I can’t even imagine. 3 April.

A book-length text isn’t a natural or automatic form of expression for anybody — in other words, nobody accidentally writes a book — so it must be a formal construct, an intentional creation, and I don’t want that level of formality. I’m looking for text-forms that come more naturally. 5 April

Most humans are women. So maybe we shouldn’t think of men as the default — or typical — person. 5 April

I don’t need to be a critic at all! For a long time, I have had the idea that what intelligent adults do is critique things. Perhaps I learned this from my older family members who had strong opinions, and maybe I had this reinforced during my liberal arts education, the point of which seemed to be training me to interpret and analyze and evaluate. But nobody’s asking me (in most of my life) to do these things. So I don’t need to. I don’t even have to care enough to critique things — I can let go of the sense I often have that I should always have thought-out opinions on contemporary society, on politics, or on educational policy. Instead, I can let go of my criticisms and just do those creative things I love doing. 5 April

Dandelion-pollen racing stripe on my dog’s forehead. 22 April

Part of my critiquing and complaining is a feeling that I could be or would be or should want to be in charge, in control. But I can finally admit to myself that I am not now, and probably never will be, and don’t really want to be, in control of any institution or group. This being the case, I can free up a lot of thinking-time by just not fretting about the functioning of these big things I’m not in charge of. I can save my energy and do what I really enjoy. What it comes down to is that I don’t want to be a cultural (or other kind of) critic, as once I thought I did. Instead of analyzing and evaluating, I want to have new ideas — that’s what is primary for me. 6 April.

Who I am, who I want to be — these are becoming the same, and that feels good. 6 April

My cat in my lap. 8 April

Why are my dreams usually narratives? They’re not abstract; they seem to be first-person narrative — though even it’s in the first-person, I often feel the dream is being told or shown to me. I’m not in charge. 7 April.

I’m starting to see why someone facing death would say they’ve lived a good life and not be super-desperate to keep living. 7 April.

Slime from where I’d dumped into my garden some nightcrawlers collected from the street after a rain. 27 March

“Nerds have the funnest fun,” said my student while on our WYSE (Worldwide Youth in Science and Engineering) state competition trip. 10 April

I’m interested in whatever I have to teach me. I’m referring here to how I seem to learn, to receive new ideas, insights, from my own mind, my subconscious, whatever, when I freewrite in my journals. 11 April

Me, Mr. Hagemann, in front of the “H” (for Hagemann, I tell my students) built near what had been my senior-year apartment building at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. 10 April

It’s probably better — humbler, and more promoting of social calm — if I think of myself more as the annoying person (who should keep quiet) rather than thinking of myself as the fascinating person (who should keep sharing every insight with people) in any group of people. 11 April

“A rectangle is basically an oval,” said a senior student, to much peer criticism. 11 April.

My WYSE students at U of I: Lexy, Alec, Abe, Nick, and Matthew. 10 April.

A fiction idea: A protagonist learns that the nemesis has died, partway through the novel. 11 April

You don’t get to choose who likes you or your writings. You won’t necessarily impress a particular person, and you can’t necessarily make your enemies jealous. 13 April

Be careful what you decide is normal, I told my sophomore students after they’d expressed some harsh social views. What’s normal in our small town isn’t what’s normal in Chicago. 13 April.

Giraffes behind a barn door at “Ag Day.”

I often hear high school seniors bluntly announce their opinions about certain classes and teachers. Maybe this quasi-rudeness is useful in helping other students to figure out what’s popular. If students were quiet and less judgmental, they might not know how to fit in with each other. New York magazine has an article about people forming friend-groups by sharing certain views and excluding those who have different views. Perhaps if one has no views, one is in no views-group. 13 April

“Ah, the miracle of new life! Isn’t it easily made fussy?” I said to my wife of a tiny baby at a nearby table in our local diner. 16 April

Coulters in the coffee grounds, at “Ag Day,” 21 April.

When I do my own writing and thinking, my ideas expand, branch outward, into new ideas — but there’s no way to grade that type of thinking within a school situation. In class, we limit, or condense, thinking to what’s testable — in other words, what’s already known. Schools can’t handle new ideas. 18 April

My father-in-law begins a story this way: “This girl at work — OK, not work, but at church, and she’s not really a girl — she’s 82 years old …” 25 April

A calf-side map of an imaginary white island. On Jasmine Calf at my school’s “Ag Day,” 21 April.

“That’s the most thing I want for my birthday,” said an elementary-aged girl to an older girl about a journal at Target store on Rockford’s East State Street, 29 April

My dog seems to be dreaming when he’s sleeping and his legs start twitching. Does he know that he’s dreaming, like I do once I’ve woken up? The dog doesn’t have the dream-like experiences of watching movies and TV that I’ve had. 30 April

A statuesque farmwife at my high school’s “Ag Day.” I imagined that she still sometimes wonders what her life would have been had she finished that M.F.A. program. But then there are eggs to gather and geese to feed.

My student Ali gets published!

My creative writing student Ali Van Vickle recently took initiative and submitted a short story to TeenInk.com, which published her story! Here’s the start:

I was born in New Orleans into a wealthy family who gave me everything I needed. I’m your typical 13 year old. I love to ride my bike with my friends. As long as I can remember I’ve been happy. I remember my first day of kindergarten was terrifying because I didn’t want to leave my momma. I remember meeting all of my friends and all of the people who weren’t my friends. There was this girl named Sara. She has tortured my friends and I everyday from kindergarten to seventh grade. One day my friends and I were riding our bikes down by the bayou even though our mommas always told us not to. Sara and her friends came and told us that this was their bike path, and if they ever caught us there again they’d throw us into the bayou to the gators. I never road my bike so fast away from something before. I’d never been so scared either.

See more of the story here. She also dedicated the story to me:

My biggest inspiration is my Creative Writing teacher Mr. Hagemann. He has always been encouraging, supporting, and helpful with any of my questions. And he always gives me his honest opinion on my work.

Thanks, Ali! Keep writing!

Trees never get lost in the woods: March notes from pocket pages

♦ Nothing in the physical world remembers! There is no material or physical past. Things are; there’s no were, no record of how things used to be. 28 Feb. & 3 March

Willow buds appear on 2 March after a couple weeks of warm weather. After a month of cool weather, the buds are still about the same.

♦ The most useful thing to keep in mind is that there’s nothing you have to keep in mind. 6 March.

♦ To will something, to mean a message, to assert a claim — these acts are abstract? Or merely private? Or are these the same thing? 6 March

It’s not every Regional Office of Education that has its own “Soiled Linen” chute as our local ROE, located in a former nunnery, does. 3 March

♦ There’s no off-switch on a person or a dog or cat (or any living thing) — we’re alive until we’re dead. Our consciousnesses are continuous, until they aren’t. 6 March

♦ I (and maybe most people) seem to play various personas or roles in various social situations. I play the responsible employee, the considerate neighbor, the respectful customer, etc. Maybe it’s only with my best friends that I can let go of playing anyone beside myself — and maybe that’s one way to define intimacy. 8 March

♦ We learn to be the right level of weird? I don’t endorse “normal” kids picking on the “weird” kids — but as a weird person myself, I feel I’ve learned, through positive (such as making others laugh) and negative (such as being ignored, being labeled “weird”) responses how to be socially appropriate. 8 March

♦ I should not value myself by the ideas I’ve already saved (by writing them down), no matter how clever. I remind myself that my ideas aren’t me. 9 March.

♦ “I love when people print stuff out — it’s just so warm,” said my printer-adjacent student. 9 March

Electricity infrastructure, downtown Byron. 30 March

♦ Each person has to learn wisdom anew. Each young person’s mind is new to the world and has to make sense of things. But with this need to learn comes an opportunity: each person might come up with new wisdom! 15 March

♦ “I really wanna see a ghost. I just don’t know where to look,” said student. 15 March.

♦ A tree becomes a what it is — its particular size and shape — in a particular context, at least partly in reaction to other trees and things around it. Of course, this could be a metaphor for how each particular person develops, too. 15 March

♦ I might get lost in a woods — “these trees all look alike,” etc. — but a tree never gets lost, and not just because it’s rooted to a place. Each tree doesn’t need to know where it is in relation to others. (This might almost be a contradiction to the previous note, but not quite.) 15 March

♦ Why did I listen to myself — have confidence in my own judgments and gut instincts — for most of my growing up? An independent streak? 16 March

♦ “I have conversations with myself all the time,” said student. “You might be having one now,” said teacher. 17 March

♦ Perhaps one could learn all about songwriting from extensive study of just one song, or learn all about writing poetry from one poem, by seeing what can be varied. 18 March

West side of city building (left) and grocery store (right), Byron, Illinois. 28 March

♦ I’m thinking lately that I’m glad I’m not a performer, like a musician, but a creative artist, who can be new, not repeating myself on stage every night. 19 March

♦ “At least he was an alcoholic who had a lot of sex,” said student of writer Ernest Hemingway. 20 March

♦ “Maybe I’ll revive her,” said student, of a character who had died in her story. 21 March

♦ Part of my maturing, of figuring out who I am, has been learning that I’m not like most of the people I have compared myself to. I don’t need to judge myself as inadequate; I’m simply different, and no comparison is needed. 21 March

♦ “I’m so confuzzled,” said student, going on to explain that she was both “confused” and “puzzled.” 23 March

♦ A word versus its absence — there’s a question attendant to each word, an asterisk on each word, perhaps, that calls each word into doubt. Why did the author use that word, and not some other? Each word is not necessary but arbitrary. 24 March

Here’s a bluntly titled book published in 1919.

The contents of “How to Do Things,” including 5 pages on “Babies and Children.”

♦ Two of my college roommates and I recently met up at a funeral — in our early 40s, we each now have our own responsibilities — our own niches of jobs, houses, families, etc. Though we didn’t have these same things when we were back in college, we did still have particular places we needed to be, plans to carry out. Our niches were never physical locations, really, so much as concepts? 27 March

♦ There’s more to being alive than words and ideas. I don’t want to be just a supplier of words to others. My life, my being alive, is more than whatever I write, of course. 27 & 29 March

♦ Nostalgia for ’80s pop songs — somehow it seems there was innocence then, which there was, among all the things that were going on. Perhaps we focus on the problems (in the world, as well as in our own own present lives) and we don’t pay attention to the innocence and goodness that’s also always there — that must be there, in order for nostalgia to be able to find it. 28 March

Buzzards on the Byron water tower. 28 March

‘Want a chipmunk, Christina?’: Recent notes from my pocket pages

“So I’m gonna die when they’re gone,” said a senior in my creative writing class, of her parents leaving for two weeks. 6 Feb. (Almost three weeks later, she remains alive.)

McView out McWindow, Oglesby, Ill. 14 Feb.

McView out McWindow, Oglesby, Ill. 14 Feb.

“Maybe when a tree falls, it might actually have some realism,” said a boy in my high school’s hallway to another boy, before 4th hour. He may have been talking about a video game, but one can only wonder. 6 Feb.

I called my dog Sam “Tsammi” several yesterday. My wife eventually got annoyed. 6 Feb.

Sycamore tree over Watterson Hall, Normal, Ill. 14 Feb.

Sycamore tree over Watterson Hall, Normal, Ill. 14 Feb.

“This pen writes horribly,” said a student as he put a pen on another student’s desk. “YOU write horribly,” she answered. “I know — the pen reflects that,” he said. 6 Feb.

“I just need a metal bucket and a trip to the hardware store,” said a student, about his homemade forge/metal work idea. After another student had teased him about something, he answered, “I’m sorry; I’m a Fahrenheit peasant.” 7 Feb.

A student asked me if I went to high school with his older sister. Finding out that she’s a few years younger than I am, I said she probably went to school with my brother Dan. The student said, “She is talking about your brother because she calls you ‘Dan.'” 7 Feb.

“I was spraying perfume up in my nose,” said a student after her chemistry classmate had spilled stinky butyric acid. The classmate said said that, after the spill, he had been “sniffing up all the barf, and it wasn’t that bad, really.” 7 Feb.

From Williams Hall, Illinois State University, 14 Feb.

From Williams Hall, Illinois State University, 14 Feb.

What each person in my life represents to me symbolically. Maybe my mom represents a certain quality, my dad another, and each of my friends mean something else. This isn’t to say that these people are only symbols to me — but that perhaps these symbolic meanings are part of my concept of each person. 8 Feb.

His “dad is hot, bald, and athletic,” said a student of his classmate’s father. 9 Feb.

“You can’t tell me my card isn’t nice,” said a student to me about a “thank you” card she’d written me, on behalf of the senior class, to ask me to help with supervision of the graduation ceremony. 9 Feb.

After I said that my dog and cat each have their own bedrooms in my house, my student said, “I would get rid of my brother in a heartbeat for my dog to have a room.” 9 Feb.

“Can a chicken and a duck have a baby?” asked a student, apropos of very little. Hearing “no” from a classmate, she argued, “But they’re like the same thing.” Another classmate commented that she “looked genuinely confused about that, too.” 9 Feb.

Gray in a hurry. Wall above urinal in men's bathroom, Coffee Hound, Normal, Ill. 14 Feb.

Gray in a hurry. Wall above urinal in men’s bathroom, Coffee Hound, Normal, Ill. 14 Feb.

Writing my journals, I confront myself — I challenge my own opinions. There’s the conflict in my journals. And it’s nice, too, in journal writing to not have to have my ideas in relation to others’ ideas. I don’t have to consider those until I start my workday. 9 Feb.

I heard someone in school hallway use the phrase “like a fish out of water.” That prompted thoughts of why we don’t describe a state of comfort as “like a fish in water.” 9 Feb.

Ideas of my ego-mind: that set of ideas I put on in social situations. Perhaps these are old, inflexible ideas, like an armor — because I don’t want to trot out new ideas and seem more socially awkward than I already am? 10 Feb.

Pole inside Coffee Hound, Normal, Ill., 14 Feb.

Pole inside Coffee Hound, Normal, Ill., 14 Feb.

“I just got so caught up in the bunnies. Want a chipmunk, Christina?” asked a student to her classmate after I offered students some stickers. 10 Feb.

“I can’t walk through the hall with all these cats on my binder,” said a student, of stickers a classmate had put there. 10 Feb.

“I have to go perform a piece about the Holocaust. I can’t have cat stickers on me,” said a theater student. 10 Feb.

Mural on west side of building on Beaufort St., Normal, Ill. 14 Feb.

Mural on west side of building on Beaufort St., Normal, Ill. 14 Feb.

“I need to eat and then go try not to kill myself,” said one dude to another outside the Watterson Dining Commons at Illinois State University. 14 Feb.

One creates stories from what we see, from what we experience, and even from a dream experience, as I did today. 16 Feb.

“I do all I do so I can get into the books,” a student said, of getting quoted in my pocket pages. 16 Feb.

“… I’ve got candy in mah truck, I’ve got soda pop in mah truck …” said a student to her classmate, during study hall. 16 Feb.

North part of west wall of building on Beaufort St., Normal, Ill. 14 Feb.

North part of west wall of building on Beaufort St., Normal, Ill. 14 Feb.

Rhymes (and other rhetorical devices?) are used just to get readers’ attention? 16 Feb.

After I told a student that my cat’s name was Justice, she said, “That’s one of my favorite words! Not even joking, I was gonna get a tattoo that said ‘Justice.'” 17 Feb.

“All I’ve got in my wallet is three dollars and a Great Clips coupon. I’ve made it in life,” said a student. 17 Feb.

“I would only work at McDonald’s if I was homeless. So I’ll probably end up working at McDonald’s at some point,” said a student. He then added, “I’ll probably end up dead, at some point.” 17 Feb.

After a classmate called him strange, a student said, “If I wasn’t strange, I’d be boring, so I’d take this lifestyle over any other.” 17 Feb.

Peak of dirt mountain at construction site, Byron, Ill. 15 Feb.

Peak of dirt mountain at construction site, Byron, Ill. 15 Feb.

“Can’t talk now — watching a hedgehog,” my wife said, of a video of a hedgehog getting a bath as notice of a call notification came over her smart phone. 17 Feb.

“He’s way too shystee and smart for his own good right now,” said Qaytlin 2 Waitress of her young son’s cleverness. 18 Feb.

I told my wife I felt guilty doing nothing on Presidents’ Day holiday afternoon. She said, “It’s OK. Sit there a few more hours and it’ll be gone.” 20 Feb.

We can mean the words we say, and we can also mean the opposite of those words when our tone is sarcastic. But maybe sarcasm is the only non-meaning meaning; other than sarcasm, if you don’t mean what you say, you’re just lying. 21 Feb.

On a warm day, I saw some high school students and their preschool visitors outside my classroom, and through the open window I heard my student trying to teach Duck-Duck-Goose. One kid seemed he wasn’t getting it, as I heard my student say: “Try to chase me, Charlie, around the circle … Come with me. Let’s go this way, Charlie. … duck, duck, duck … run around the circle! C’mon, Charlie.” 21 Feb.

After I’d said in class that teachers tend to make bad students because they like to be in charge, a student called teachers “control freaks.” I asked my students whether they thought I was a control freak. Student answered, “the ‘freak,’ maybe, but not maybe the ‘controlling,'” and called me “the opposite of conformity.” 22 Feb.

Student asked if I had Wite-Out. I did not. She said I don’t use it because “you don’t make mistakes — you have creative ideas.” Or I cross them out, I said. 23 Feb.

A student sighed loudly during a quiz. “Fail quietly,” I said. 23 Feb.

Residue of a lit class discussion (of "The Hollow Men," I think) on my colleague's whiteboard. 22 Feb.

Residue of a lit class discussion (of “The Hollow Men,” I think) on my colleague’s whiteboard. 22 Feb.

Student asked about what happens after one dies. “If you do stop thinking, what was really the point?” she said. She added that her dad wants to be buried wearing shorts because, he says, it’s hot where he’s going, and that he’ll be mad if she doesn’t play “Bad to the Bone” at his funeral. 23 Feb.

“Urethra!” shouted student during class. I asked why she said that. I was told that her classmate did not believe men had that body part. 24 Feb.

“Why don’t cows ever have any better ideas?” I said, apropos of very little, to my wife, who then quoted me onto her Facebook wall. I’d been thinking of the white face of a cow I’d seen above a feed trough at a farm I’d driven past, and I’d been wondering how it is that people have ideas about, you know, freedom and not wanting to become food, but cows, not so much, though we both have gray matter. 24 Feb.

Event entrance, but do not enter. At my high school, 22 Feb.

Event entrance, but do not enter. At my high school, 22 Feb.

“This is the most amount of white people I’ve seen in quite some time,” said Ashli Waitress, back at our small-town Illinois diner after having recently been on vacation in Hawaii. 25 Feb.

Why I Write, this Sunday Night

Updated Monday night: Sometimes I write things and wonder if I should publish them, and I should probably have listened to that voice of doubt last night. What I originally wrote felt like it had energy, but it was not a useful energy. What I wrote below is just a note of frustration with, well, myself. It probably doesn’t need to be read. But I’ll leave it up as a reminder to myself that, well, it’s OK to feel frustrated at times.
Edited the day after: Sometimes I think that I should simplify my sentences for publication because not everybody will want to dive into my own voice as much as I do. On the other hand, the value of my writings may not lie in being simple.
On the weekends I usually tell myself that I should use that free time to post to the blog. But giving myself this assignment seems not to make me feel good about editing my work, and I think I need to be in an open, receptive mindset in order to edit my work well.
Sometimes I think that there’s more to being alive than simply producing words and ideas, and then those are the times I tend to go and lie next to my dog on the floor and see what he’s paying attention to. Sometimes I just nap. I can be alive without having to write all the time. I live through writing, by writing, but I don’t want to confuse my need to write with anyone else’s need to read my writing. And I’m posting and editing this now so that I can pare back the thoughts of a moment of tired frustration. I may not even like this revision by tomorrow. We’ll see.
Original: I write everyday. I write in complex sentences. Sometimes I think that I should simplify my sentences for publication because not everybody will want to dive into my own voice as much as I do. On the other hand, I’m not sure that my writings have all that much to say, so their value may lie in being an extension of my attention …
I would like to blog things from my writings on the weekends, when I have time and energy to blog. But using the blog as a need to publish, giving myself this priority, this assignment, this deadline, seems not to make me feel good about editing my work, and I think I need to be in an open, receptive mindset in order to edit my work well.
I write every day but sometimes I think that writing is just an arrangement of words and ideas and that there’s more to being alive than simply producing words and ideas, and then those are the times I tend to go and lie next to my dog on the floor and see what he’s paying attention to. Sometimes I just nap. I can be alive without having to write all the time.
I write every day. I write to live. I live by thinking and writing. It’s a decent lifestyle, really it is, but also … I don’t want to confuse my need to write with anyone else’s need to read my writing. And I’m posting this now so I can feel that I did something blogable today.

‘Something brilliant and beautiful’: A week’s worth of notes

It looks like my town may have a vampire problem. 4 Feb. 2017

It looks like my town may have a vampire problem. 4 Feb. 2017

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“Mister (pause), yeah,” is how I was greeted by a student who’s new to my class this semester and couldn’t recall my name. 30 Jan.

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“I got really mad so then I ate candy to spite her,” said my student, about the nurse telling her not to eat candy because the candy had made her tongue bleed. So, student said, she went home and ate candy. 31 Jan.

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“People who aren’t friends don’t read each others’ poems,” my student  told her friend-but-temporarily-not-friend, after not-friend had asked to see my student’s poem. 1 Feb.

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Ice stacked and muddied after a flood. 4 Feb. 2017

Ice stacked and muddied after a flood. 4 Feb. 2017

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“It’s gonna be a good Friday!” said my student when he came into class Thursday morning. He seemed genuinely surprised when we corrected him. 2 Feb.

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Later that same Groundhog Day, student said the namesake animal had seen his shadow so “we’ve got 6 more months of winter!” She then corrected months to weeks.

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Ice floes and geese in the Rock River at Byron. 4 Feb.

Ice floes and geese in the Rock River (and my dog near the river) at Byron. 4 Feb.

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When student came back from the bathroom, classmate asked, “Did everything come out OK?” 2 Feb.

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After a student accused someone of being “gold-digging” because she was wanting to marry a wealthy person, I sarcasted, “Yeah, why not date losers? ‘Unemployed? Got three fingers? Come on down!'” And then my students discussed which three fingers it’d be best to have. As if such a mutilation were a choice, student asked others, “Which ones are you keeping?” A second student said he’d keep thumb, middle finger, and pinkie, but student three said the extended middle finger “would start a lot of fights, though.” 2 Feb.

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After I said my prizes for my class’s poetry bingo game would be “something brilliant and beautiful,” student quipped, “Is it me?” 2 Feb.

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Reading the Bible symbolically, not literally (because if the Bible is read literally, issues arise, such as are Cain and his wife practicing incest?), could be like how our dreams don’t always make sense. Perhaps fantastic narratives and symbolic stories arose from dreams? 2 Feb.

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Cups in a chain-link fence.

Cups in a chain-link fence.

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Cups in fence, profile.

Cups in fence, profile.

 

Chicago, up-close

No establishing shot, this:

 

Chicago. 24 Nov. 2016

Chicago. 24 Nov. 2016

With no signage or iconic buildings visible, this could be a photo taken in a hell of a lot of places, which shows the limitations of seeing places only through names, or having a simplistic view of a city. But as I took this photo, I almost had a sense of the curb concrete, the grass, the leaves, not knowing what I know, but just being there, and that what I knew didn’t mean much outside my mind.

Names marking the place unnamed in the photo above.

Names marking the place unnamed in the photo above.

See also this.