Category Archives: Nonfiction

Parade at 14 degrees F: Journal of Saturday, 13 March 1993

As I wrote the journal entry below, I was in my first year of college, at Michigan Tech at Houghton, Mich., in the Upper Peninsula. I was a computer science (CS) major, and I also played sousaphone in the MTU Pep Band. I also DJ’d a jazz radio show at the student radio station, WMTU. Andy and Tim were friends from my dorm, and Jay was a friend who had an off-campus house where he let me store some of the too-many things I had brought to campus.

Sat. 13 March 1993 (written on 20 March)

Got ride from John L. over to Hancock for St. Patrick’s Day parade. Sunny and very cold day — 14 degrees during parade. All my valves stuck after about half the parade, when I stopped blowing into the horn. Quite the wacky experience.

Came back and monkeyed around – did CMJ over at WMTU, went downtown with Andy and Tim for just a few minutes, went over to jay’s and took my stuff up to the attic, then walked down to Readmore bookstore and bought the U.S. News and World Report college guide.

Home hockey again tonight. I didn’t really want to, since hockey games are so long and sometimes boring (w/ the repeated riffs). Tech won, so we at least didn’t have to play Sunday.

Went over to broomball party at Jay’s after game. Not much going on — as usual, another dull night at Jay’s. There were a lot of people, and a keg of beer, but still, not much was happening. Mike gave me a ride to campus.

Made list of qualities I want in a college today:

– 15000 or more students

– within 3-4 hours of home

– good academic rep

– more girls

– good computer science and liberal arts

– near large city

– more smart kids

– fewer engineers

‘How to Survive a Life’: Pocket pages of October so far.

Maple tree-sky. 4 Oct.

I’d rather inspire my students than instruct them. What teachers who focus on instructing miss is the joy — the glee! — and the mystery and the new and the undefined and the sense that I don’t know everything but that there’s a big world out there to experience. Perhaps it takes some courage to teach without certainty. 3 Oct. 2018

The wise voice is not one that takes easy positions (advocacies). I’m wiser when I question my assertions. 4 Oct.

Maple leaf up-close, near Jarrett Prairie Center, Byron, Ill. 4 Oct. 2018.

Maybe I used to think I could learn something about writing and publishing from reading writers’ biographies. Now I think all the magic is in the writing process, not in writers’ lives’ details. 10 Oct.

I didn’t really need to know the condition of Richard Brautigan’s corpse, as it’s described in the opening pages of Jubilee Hitchhiker, which pages I read in recent days. (A review of that book called the opening “the needlessly lurid.”) It was enough for me to know just that it was a suicide — it’s not meaningful to know more. The problem with biographies — I just don’t need to know all the details of a writer’s life. But giving the details of his death makes that seem important, and I’m not sure it was. 10 Oct.

Jack Kerouac, Richard Brautigan — two writers whose work inspired me — didn’t have careers besides being writers, and they seem to have had money problems at some points. I’m not a career writer, but I don’t have money problems like they did. In other words, both JK and RB wrote stories and poems about sweetness and spiritual quests, but in real life, they had practical problems. Perhaps I’m being more honest in showing my whole life — they were making texts as products. JK’s road trips — those were vacations for him, not his ongoing way of life. 11 Oct.

My writings generally seem to be about getting by. They could go by the title, “How to Survive a Life.” I know that’s dramatic-sounding, but this is the big question, it seems to me: how to live — how to survive, and also, how to live well (when you have a choice!) 11 Oct.

Corn plants along Weld Park Road, Ogle County, Ill. 4 Oct. 2018

The analogy in Postman’s Teaching as a Subversive Activity of teachers to doctors ignores (if my memory serves) the fact that doctors seek to get patients restored to a default of health — but (as I’ve read somewhere) teachers see students by default as inadequate, as not knowing enough. There’s a difference here in motivation — patients want to get better, get back to feeling good — but students don’t necessarily want to live up to some teacher’s idea of what they should do or be. 12 Oct.

Sammy dog’s nose almost never breaks the plane of the open window when he sniffs. 4 Oct.

I’m thinking I need to respect all the work of all the people over the years — the meatpackers, the farmers, the construction workers — how seldom I’ve considered all the hours and efforts of labor that have gone into maintaining human life. 12 Oct.

Which of my writings might reveal a work-mindset — the nature of being at work. Work may be a relatively undiscovered part of human experience for writers. 12 Oct.

Last sweet peppers of the season. 11 Oct. 2018

I keep crossing two-land roads successfully, it seems. I look both ways and when I think I don’t see any cars coming, I cross. I seem to see traffic competently — I have so far, anyway! 12 Oct.

 

Thoughts come when they will: 30 May 2010 journal

Sunday, 30 May 2010 (MMX), 5:24 a.m.

[“M” is my wife. “Blerg” is a Tina Fey word from 30 Rock.]

There’s no reason to be up this early, except to give the mosquitoes a crack at our flesh. They are numerous and determined this morning. It’s time to wear pants, I guess. I killed several just on the walk down the drive this morning.

That was just a couple minutes ago, but the way I wrote that sentence, it could have been any time in history.

I was super-annoyed by these mosquitoes. It’s too bad we don’t have screened-in porches around here and central air — both would make summer more livable, enjoyable.

Anyway, mosquitoes — there are many of them, but you don’t have to overreact and not want to go outside at all. Damn, I’ve got a bump, a scratchy, well, itchy, bump behind my left ear.

Anyway, we went out yesterday late morning. M dropped off dry cleaning.

5:44. I’m back after second Sammy walk. I thought maybe he had to poop, and he did poop, and a few mosquitoes swarmed him as he pooped, and I wore my sweatshirt jacket with hood pulled tight around my face, which helped.

M. dropped off dry cleaning and picked up prescription and got cash at bank and ate breakfast at diner, and while there, we looked through a real estate guide, and saw a church and parsonage on sale for $160,000-something. I don’t have the money, of course, but I liked the idea of having a church for performances. But it freaked M out a little — church guilt, ideas of what should and shouldn’t happen there.

And later we drove past 721 Kristi in Rose Meadows (south of Mill Road) in Byron and 301 South 2nd in Oregon. Why did we go to Oregon? Oh, M wanted to drop off jewelry at jewelers at Conover Square, and I went for groceries, and in the cheese section, I thought, if I don’t want anything, I could be pretty mellow, laid-back. Wanting a particular house makes me less so.

A dream this morning that I went to a house under renovation. My brother Nace was working there (I sorta felt I should be helping Nace, but I didn’t. He was wiring a sound/electronics system, though he admitted an electrician should have done it. There were lots of tools around.). There were also some acquaintances of mine from high school with whom I talked. Somehow it turns out Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s Chief of Staff, was stepdad to a former student of mine, and this was his house — a barn-to-house conversion on Flagg Road, couple miles west of high school (not modeled on any particular house).

How houses grab my attention now. I thought yesterday how I used to be obsessed about something else — cars, I guess. I used to check out car ads in Rockford Register-Star newspaper, which mostly made me feel bad — I couldn’t afford a nicer one. But then I did get my cars — they have been good and not so expensive. Ah, well. I don’t want an older house now because of the lead paint and all that other old shit — old wires, pipes, insulation, all that necessary stuff.

Thursday, we saw a local lawyer hauling trash bags near the high school and railroad — Byron Community Revitalization (or some group-title indicated by “BCR”) clean-up day. An old dude on a little motorized seat — Ron Millard, M said later — saw me with Sam and asked if I take a bag with when I walk him.

And so yesterday, we came home after Oregon, hung up underwear, put socks in washer. Then I slept in TV room from 2:30 or 3 till 6 — woof. Then I hung up socks and we went to Dos Amigos in Byron, Family Video, and Sam’s for ice cream, and then we ate it over at that Byron park on Mill Road. There were some old dudes there and a few teens, boys and girls, horsing around — they probably live nearby. Rose Meadows is south and Fawn Ridge is east of park.

Skeeters weren’t so bad during the day yesterday. They’re worse at 5 a.m., apparently. Today is the first day in several that I have done journals before watching TV. My friend Dave’s play is today — I wouldn’t mind seeing him do an Italian-American accent (in “Italian-American Reconciliation.” M said she, with her Italian background, might be offended — partly a joke).

Well, here I am. I slept (napped) for 3 hours yesterday, and I am starting to feel more rested, less mentally exhausted. My low back has been tense and dully painful the last two evenings. I took Advil at bedtime and that was okay. Yesterday afternoon I felt it threatening to tense up.

Anyway, yes, here we are. I’m starting to get tired now. We did watch Secretary on IFC — it’s a story of dom/sub relationship — and then some of SNL before bed at 11. That movie was a little odd, so dark, a bit foreboding. It made me a tad anxious, but not a big deal. I remind myself sometimes that it’s okay to be anxious now. It’s no big deal. I sometimes tell M: it’s okay to feel bad. You (and I) don’t have to fight these feelings.

We argued — mildly — over “What a Fool Believes” by Doobie Brothers after hearing it on radio as we drove down Cox Road and up the driveway. M says the line “What a fool believes he can see, a wise man has the power to reason away” means that the man reasoned — overthought — away his desire to go after the woman who, we are told, is leaving. I was sticking to my earlier interpretation that the guy is a fool for believing something false about the woman that prevents him from going after her — maybe he believes he has seen her be unfaithful or something. But then I got sick of arguing it.

See, we really do just think a lot.

And I’m tired of pretending to like camping — not that I never did, but Dad and I even stayed in hotels half of our trip out west. How I smoked in front of dad, my buying into that mythology, that image of the West. How dad had intended Nace to go instead of me.

No, I’m just not too excited to go camping. And I’m comfortable with the fact that I would prefer sleeping indoors, on a good bed, to camping (lumberjacks would burn the straw from their mattresses and refill them every week, I saw on TV on some show about lumberjacking and Paul Bunyan. 1880 to 1890 was the height of lumberjacking in Wisconsin, said some guy from Eau Claire museum of lumberjacking (is that the verb form?).

So, yeah, I don’t need to go camping. I mean, left to myself, I just don’t.

Something about the lime smell in my Negra Modelo yesterday (which went better with my Combination C than soda does) reminded me of Terranea vacation — something about that smell — and M’s pina colada — and we reminisced, though thinking of going to ocean still made me think/prompted worries of what I’d do to hide the hotel room key while we swam. And how funny, too, that I also had a thought of Denver vacation, and the thought that came first was: should we really get another dog? We had reserved Sam but hadn’t picked him up — and of course I’m glad we have him — but that’s what I worried about on that August ‘08 trip.

I do think a lot, not always original things. In fact, as I go through my daily life, many thoughts aren’t original at all. I’m not saying all my thoughts are interesting, but I do have a lot of them.

Take a pic of that green house on Route 2 near Supervalu in Oregon, and that tall house in Kings — collect pictures of houses you like.

No, what did I want to say about all my thoughts — not all of them — but when they occur?

My clothes dried quickly on the line yesterday, and I brought one basketful up, but the other I left at bottom of inside stairs — and just now (okay, a couple moments ago, before this paragraph, as I was advance-numbering the next few pages), I realized that basket is why the dog couldn’t sleep down there last night, as he often will, especially when he’s hot. I saw him coming back up from down there.

The psycho-sexual stuff in Secretary, how tedious that seems. Maybe that’s why I’m not a sadist. It seems to weigh on Spader, too, though there’s also guilt there.

But, yeah, the thoughts come when they will. When I’m examining pre-cooked bacon with thoughts of it as a dog treat, or heading to get string cheese — that’s when I thought yesterday (actually, after bacon, before string cheese) that I could be more laid-back if I had less desire. If I didn’t care, I could be a cool hippie.

Eh, this still isn’t catching my attention. I mean, I don’t think it’s remarkable or interesting in itself that I had that thought then. Reminds me now of something I read a while back, that in a literary novel, a character may learn a little insight — or maybe not — over the whole novel, which is in contrast to those movies or TV episodes where a lesson is learned (or maybe nothing is learned — that “Family Matters” episode I saw recently where Carl and his son were dealing with the son’s dealings with a racist cop. No lesson was solved there, but it still didn’t quite work dramatically).

Blerg, see, spitting stuff out of my head — that’s what these journals are for. It’s 20 till 7 now — I wonder if mosquitoes are less bad.

I nearly constipated myself by having ideas I didn’t want to write down — none were great, but now they’re dispersed. Maybe they lead to something else? Maybe there was a thought that I had quite said anything interesting about all the thoughts I have, or how I didn’t seem to have much to say, or how I don’t really need to watch the houses on TV real-estate shows this morning, or how I could pick out a topic from pocket pages but I’m about getting too tired to write just now. It is 6:45, and I have been writing for more than an hour.

But I think/feel there was more to say, something new to say, about the ideas — the insights. I have more insights than I have experiences — in Hollywood movies, there’s more of a one-to-one correspondence of experience to insights.

Narrative: why does so much have to be narrative? Jeez, I even saw a movie labeled “National Geographic Entertainment” yesterday — why not a documentary? At least Linklater doesn’t seem so devoted to narrative — Waking Life, Slacker. Movies, huh? We rented 5, including Being There and My Man Godfrey* and Bamboozled and The TV Set, and Avatar* (*These movies were M’s choice; other three were mine). Some of these we rented because we had heard they were good movies. But no movie really solves anything, does it? It is it really possible for a movie to even change/influence one’s life? Maybe books have more power that way.

Blerg. I’m done for now.

The resulting text is beside the point: Journal of 11 September 2016

Dog blur with two tennis balls. 10 Sept. 2016

Dog and I walked the big block through a nearby subdivision and the park to the roads that would get me back home, with an additional loop through another subdivision to see where an acquaintance and her chickens live. We’d left at 5:50 a.m., still kind of dark, and got back home at 7.

I could do some grading today, blogging, laundry, mowing. It’s the first NFL weekend of this season, but I feel guilty now when I watch concussionball (maybe calling it “concussionball” will help me stay away.) I’m fighting my tradition of watching football on Sundays more than I’m fighting some love of the game.

So, M and I went to diner yesterday, got iced cream and fake bacon (for our cuke sandwiches) on way home. We sat outside and talked about carbon and iron in steel, whether that’s an alloy (it is, according to Wikipedia articles), and I wondered about carbon as a semiconductor and transistors. But I did read lots about steelmaking before going to sleep, 2 p.m. to nearly five, and got up and wrote my two paragraphs for a history teacher colleague’s slideshow of memories of the events of 11 Sept. 2001. I copied my text — I liked it, a decent bit of writing about how it seemed the U.S. went nuts after 9/11, and how Guantanamo, Afghanistan, Iraq Wars, these are still going on. And then I blogged that, and I got a reblog this morning.

And we ordered pasta and pizza from LaRosa’s, paid the $36 bill with the $50 bill we got in mail from M’s mom. The delivery person was the slick-hair, rolled-cuffs hipster dude whom I tipped only 10% last week, so I gave him 20% here, $8, plus $4, which makes 48 — and why mess with $2? — so the whole $50. And we had a nice dinner at the table. M cleared off two-thirds of it — the north end, with bills and pens, M said overwhelmed her. And I put on the swing music channel on TV, but too many slow songs, including Harry Connick Jr.’s “Save the Last Dance For Me” and Sarah Vaughan’s “My Favorite Things,” so to jazz channel. At 8, we watched the “Star Wars: Force Awakens” (broadcast on several channels of Starz simultaneously). My reaction to “Force Awakens” — it’s okay but mostly dull because it repeats so much of the first “Star Wars” movie’s plot and character points. Adam Driver as Kylo Ren is kind of menacing but also funny at same time, and sometimes uses a Christopher Walken vocal cadence.

Bed 10:35, sleep probably about 11. It’s a lovely, cool day.

Cat rain. 10 Sept. 2016

I’m feeling like I need to address some things I wrote yesterday, but I’m not sure what. I mean, not to make corrections, but I feel I criticized without making the turn toward the positive, by which I mean going beyond the criticism of old ideas to get to a new idea, an idea of how to do things better.

I looked up Auburn University, wanted to know what town it was in — Auburn, Alabama. Got to philosophy department website. Under “What can You Do with a Philosophy Degree?,” the first line is “The study of philosophy is its own reward.” It continues: “It deepens and intensifies engagement with fundamental questions regarding the self, others, and the world that arise in everyday life. But the study of philosophy also offers great practical rewards. It cultivates skills in clear thinking, writing, logical criticism, and it increases the power and discipline of the imagination.” Later, under “Our Programs,” it says, “Auburn’s Department of Philosophy holds to high standards of reading, writing, and conversation.” I like including “conversation.” Further, “It expects students to become adept at criticizing the views of others and their own views,” which statement I love for its “fuck you and your idea of college as job prep” boldness but also because it’s kind of like what I was saying yesterday, or trying to say yesterday, about writing poetry.

Back at 8:18 after copying the quotes above and after 10 minutes or so reading about transistors and semiconductors after M and I talked about them yesterday. I’d said, as we sat on deck and watched dog roll around in the grass, clover, and dandelion foliage, that chemistry class terms like “compound” and “mixture” are vague, and to apply them to what we could see in the yard is hard because we don’t see any elements. We don’t see O2 in the air — and what we do see — the wood of the deck, plant leaves, dandelion leaves, are made of so many compounds (which we also can’t see — what we see is tissue). Anyway, I’ve critiqued science before, and it’s not quite what I want to do right now.

What I wrote for my colleague’s slide — I wonder if she’ll edit it? I am glad the public discourse isn’t so single-mindedly fearful as it was then soon after Nine-Eleven. I saw in Rockford Register-Star Sunday paper I pulled out of someone’s delivery box this morning an article about how there was unity after 9/11 but partisan divide now — but what seeming unity there was after 9/11 was driven by fear.

But also there was the underlying partisan bullshit of Bush Administration, tax cuts and what not, and so here we are now, with Trump as GOP leader, but thank God there’s more dissension, questioning, now then there was then — “then” especially being the lead up to 2003 Iraq invasion. It was creepy how isolated I felt then in questioning that war. Andrew Sullivan was for it, I read later. Hillary Clinton voted for it. Now Trump brags that he wasn’t for it — he’s a liar, but at least we’re against that bullshit now. So much stupid, wasteful, violent, and illegal torture shit was done in the name of 9/11. Yeesh.

I don’t normally want to get political with my blog. But, you know, sometimes it’s okay to just make a point rather than being always aesthetically focused or experimental (as with form and content — blerg, that distinction).

Back now at 8:40 after paging through some of Tristram Shandy to which I saw a reference in the GQ article of Jonathan Safran Foer I saw yesterday, how young man Foer seemed to try things typographically that he wasn’t aware others (Sterne) had done before. Form isn’t my main interest now, if it ever was. Sure, I probably tried a few things with form, but soon discovered I wasn’t all that interested in form merely (and after I wrote my one-memory-a-year memoir thing — in 2005? 2006? — I learned Nora Ephron did a similar thing in one of her I Feel Bad about my Neck essays. How could she be curt with people and also expect their welcome, their indulging of her insecurities, in her essays?)

Form is something anybody can alter. It’s range-bound and, like any limited set of ideas, somebody will try, or will have tried, each of the options in this set — like how people say the multitude of writers on Twitter seem to come up with a common set of jokes for any big event — comedians aren’t all that unique if they’re merely reacting to things.

I put my text about 9/11 up on my blog partly because it’s okay to make a point, partly because the text is well-written, and partly because, well, it’s nice to have my blog as as a repository of my writings — an archive of sorts, and not just a place for recent thoughts (which hasn’t been my use of the blog lately) and recent creative writing pieces. My journals are a level removed from making a point.

From earlier: That Auburn quote — “the study of philosophy is its own reward” — sounds like my idea that the purpose of writing poems is writing poems! The purpose is in the doing! The purpose isn’t to come up with something saleable, or something that will improve my reputation, or even something that will communicate. It’s possible to use writing for these purposes — commercial, career, and communicative — but any of those put the purpose into the product. The goal is outside you. You’re using writing and words merely to accomplish something else in the world — but you don’t need to!

What I realized (or re-realized) last Friday is that this is an attitude/process I can also take when writing poems — is that the resulting text is beside the point. It’s not the point of my writing, but it’s beside the point. The point is to write in a way that’s enjoyable, that’s interesting, and any text that results, it doesn’t matter what that text goes on to do, if anything. Whether something I’d write would make money or get me in trouble or be completely ignored, it doesn’t matter (though I try to avoid trouble) because it’s done for me! It’s over. Something I realized decades ago was that once a journal notebook was filled, it’s gone dead for me. Now I’m not quite going to stick to that because something else I’ve been thinking lately is that editing can go on indefinitely! You can pick up an old text and pick out the best parts and publish these on blog — and even there, you can always go back and keep editing! If you never go to print on paper, you never have to stop editing. There doesn’t need to be one version of a text. This is a striking new paradigm for writing, or at least for publishing. Publishers don’t really care about process at all. They just need product to sell, whether it’s actually all that good or not. Lots of books sell lots of copies, only be soon forgotten. They’ve made money! But see, if you’re like me and don’t need the money, then, shoot, you never have to be done. I’m thinking of Thoreau’s quote: if quality matters, time doesn’t. I took that to be a statement about product, but it doesn’t need to be. And the quality doesn’t have to be a judgment about the text or walking stick (Thoreau’s example) but an abstraction toward which one works, an abstraction that in practice may not be distinguishable from what I called “interesting,” as in, do what seems most interesting with the words as you make poems. You could mechanically put words together and call it a poem. (I have an expansive definition of poem — “whatever words you put together, we’ll call that a poem,” I said in my writing classes on Friday as I assigned magpo.com to them.) I’m even reminded of the Pirsig quote in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance — “The real motorcycle you’re working on is yourself,” something like that. Now, I don’t usually like to see myself as working on myself — that feels like self-consciousness, self-monitoring, exhaustion — but, yeah, if you’re the only thing that’s really alive, you know?

Just moments ago, I saw the “For Sale” sign on a neighbor’s lawn — those specific words sound sad, like the owners are no longer willing to care for that particular property. Whatever feelings they had for it, desires for it, are gone. The real feelings of caring that are gone are their marriage-bond-love. Damn, it makes me sad. I keep dwelling on this divorce — maybe I’ve never quite gotten over my parents’ divorce.

I thought, while walking on Mill Road this morning, of using all four senses during my walk. I saw some dudes get out of a car at the park, and car left, and two or three dudes walked under picnic shelter and then — ? And I wonder a little about whether they’d come after me for witnessing their drug deal — which probably wasn’t a drug deal, of course — but other people could. I need to be aware of others, who could come after us or just accidentally hit us on the roadway. Also I can hear, feel the cool, smell the air — I tried smelling some leaves on shrubs in northwest corner of park — they didn’t smell much. They’re not putting out any volatile chemicals except oxygen and water vapor, which, since there’s already O2 and H2O in the air, probably doesn’t smell. If I crushed a leaf, there might be smells through the release of plant chemicals, but I didn’t want to do that. Tried to avoid stepping on a bug this walk, too.

So I’m back after making eggs, cheese, and rice and starting laundry. I guess I had two things to say/reiterate: one was that I write journals because I like to write, and I do like clearing my mind, etc., the emotional benefits, and I like to document my life, but I also just like to write. My journals are me writing about real stuff, real experiences, as myself. When I write poems, as on magpo.com, I’m less tethered, just going with what I see, more pure intellect, less tied to me. Both are okay, just different.

Sunday evening: I’m having self-doubting thoughts about the quality of my writing. But I can dismiss those. We can ask whether anyone’s (even published writers’) works are all that great.

Byron, Illinois, aerials. 9 Sept. 2016

[Journal Sunday, 11 September 2016, starting at 7:36 a.m. ]

Commencement of journals, adulthood

My journals start with the end of my senior year of high school. I had graduation practice and then went to work at the electronics store where I worked renting videos. The next day, I was awarded the Bronze R for having third-highest grade-point average in my class, but the elderly presenter was off her game and called me by my dad’s name. The following year, she was replaced.

 

29: 1st day out. Grad practice, work after.

30: Graduation day. Got Bronze “R.” Mary Carney called me “Gene” and handed me the notecard she was reading from. Went to Matt D’s open house, then Dawn’s, Chris K’s, Kim’s, stayed late and played volleyball.

 

[Entirety of the 29 & 30 May 1992 journals, the beginning of an informal, personal writing habit I practiced irregularly from age 18 to age 30, then daily since]

Doris Lessing on schooling

According to an article at Lit Hub, Nobel Laureate Doris Lessing quit formal schooling at age 14 and wrote, in The Golden Notebook, an assessment I think worth considering (though I’m not quite sure yet if I agree with it or not):

“Ideally, what should be said to every child, repeatedly, throughout his or her school life is something like this: ‘You are in the process of being indoctrinated. We have not yet evolved a system of education that is not a system of indoctrination. We are sorry, but it is the best we can do. What you are being taught here is an amalgam of current prejudice and the choices of this particular culture. The slightest look at history will show how impermanent these must be. You are being taught by people who have been able to accommodate themselves to a regime of thought laid down by their predecessors. It is a self-perpetuating system. Those of you who are more robust and individual than others will be encouraged to leave and find ways of educating yourself—educating your own judgements. Those that stay must remember, always, and all the time, that they are being moulded and patterned to fit into the narrow and particular needs of this particular society.”

Plat of Lane/Rochelle, Illinois, 1853

Here are the first documents defining the town of Lane (later, Rochelle), Illinois. This plat, a sheet of paper roughly the size of an end-table, is held at the Ogle County Recorder’s office, and it was filed with Ogle County government on 30 July 1853 (and re-recorded in 1915). According to the process of town formation described in the source detailed here, it seems that all a landowner — in this case, Rockford businessman Robert P. Lane — had to do to create a town was to hire a surveyor to make a plat, and then to record that plat — it seems there was no requirement to gain permission of a county board or higher authority, as there often is now for new land developments. The filing of the plat was the official act that allowed the landowner/proprietor to start selling lots. As Lane did not incorporate as a governmental entity of its own until February 1861, law enforcement and other government functions were, I presume, provided by the county.

Click on each photo to see it zoomed in.

This plat covers 75 acres . The streets kept the names above until the city renamed them in 1907. For reference, the west side of plat would later be Bartholomew St. (modern-day 7th St.), the north side is Chapin St. (6th Ave.), the east side is 2nd Street, and the south boundary became Jefferson St. (now 1st Ave.).

The streets named on the map above and their modern names:

East-West streets: Holland Street is 5th Avenue, Brice Street is 4th Ave., Palmer Street is Lincoln Ave., and Walnut Street is 2nd Avenue.

North-South streets: Lafayette Street is 6th Street, Washington is now Lincoln Highway (except south of Lincoln Ave., where it’s still Washington), Main remains Main, and Flagg St. is 3rd Street.

Detail of the plat showing Cherry Avenue (unnamed, bisecting blocks 13 & 18) and, above that, Brice Street (now 4th Ave.), running E-W. For N-S streets, there’s Washington (now Lincoln Hwy) on the left, Main in the center, and Flagg (now 3rd St.) to the east. 2nd street would be the east boundary of this plat.

Note the graphic blandishment of the town name, made in an era well before computer graphics were available.

 

“No. 9921 191500009921 [document number in the recorder’s office]
Filed July 30th A.D. 1853. Re-Recorded June 30th 1915.”

This lower-right corner of the plat shows the only landmark reference to locating the plat on the ground: “Stone 14-8-5-inches in demension’s [sic] bearing from the S.E. corner of the S.E. 1/4 of the S.W 1/4, Sec 24 T40-R1E of 3 P.M. n. 46 [degrees] 50′ E 66 3/4 links distant.” [Some of my interpretation of this handwriting may be different from what others might read here.]

Notes and observations:

•  These blocks and lots are still used as legal descriptions of properties today. For example, according to Ogle County GIS, the Rochelle Municipal Utilities building at the southeast corner of Lincoln Highway and 4th Avenue is sited on lots 6, 5, and part of lot 4, block 13. Rochelle City Hall is on lots 1, 2, and 3 of block 6.

• Outside dimensions of the plat are 1,980 feet (north-south) by 1,650 feet (east-west), for a total area of 3,267,000 square feet, which, at 43,560 square feet per acre, would be 75 acres. Most roads are 66 feet wide. Most lots are 66 feet wide by 123.75 feet deep (lot size 8,167.5 sq feet or 0.1875 acre), followed by an alley of 16.5 feet. There’s at least 50 feet between railroad tracks and the nearest plots.

• The Walters article describes some towns being designed with smaller “in-lots” and larger “out-lots,” the in-lots being more valuable as they were closer to the town center, presumably the future business district. The article also states that “by the 1850s the railroad station replaced the square as town center,” and this seems to describe Lane/Rochelle. This could explain why the lots on Cherry Avenue are smaller — they were meant to be the locations of businesses.

•  While most of the streets marked on this plat remain today, 3rd and 6th streets not crossing the railroad tracks, and Dewey Avenue is an east-west alley splitting the lots in the 18th block. Certain other changes to the plat have been marked by later handwriting.

•  The “G & C.U R.R.” marked on this plat is the Galena and Chicago Union Rail Road, also sometimes called The Dixon Air-Line or the Chicago, Fulton & Iowa line, was under construction during 1853, according to Yesterday and Today: A History of the Chicago and North Western Railway System (page 22). The 1878 History of Ogle County states that the “final survey” of the railroad was made in the spring of 1853, and that “several different routes were projected with the evident purpose of inducing competition among the landowners in order to cheapen the right of way” (page 513). I would like to do further research to find out the precise chronology of when Lane proprietor Robert P. Lane first heard of the railroad’s route and when he bought land and ordered the plat survey. Lane filed his plat and, it seems, started selling lots when the railroad was under construction but before it was operational.

•  This rail line first opened from Turner Junction (West Chicago) to Lane on 10 January 1854, connecting Chicago with Ogle County (pages 22 and 27; the 1878 source gives the date of completion as 14 January (page 513).  The Galena & Chicago Union railroad later became the Chicago & North Western RR and exists today as the Union Pacific line. Note also that the second line to come through Rochelle, today’s BNSF line, is present on the 1872 Krause map (link forthcoming) and it cut through blocks 26 through 30 on the plat above.

•  The railroad arriving in southeast Ogle County changed the business conditions for the local farmers, according to the 1878 Ogle County History: “Chicago was the principal grain market for this section until about 1852 when a load was occasionally drawn to Rockford, Peru and St Charles. The greater part was taken to Chicago, however, until the railroads came and gave them a market here at Hickory Grove. There were few horses used until about 1843 or 1844 and it usually consumed six days to get a load of wheat to market.” And while the railroad was being built, “there was a great influx of people, all anxious to reap the advantages and embrace the opportunities for money-making that were sure to be developed here by the new railroad.  The old Lane Hotel … was built that Summer by Horace Coon … and when the railroad was completed arrangements were made for a grand banquet in the hall over the hotel.”

• It’s not clear that Lane proprietor Robert P. Lane ever lived in Rochelle before or after buying the land and constructing the plat survey of this town. The 1878 Ogle County History names several settlers, including Willard Flagg, Sheldon Bartholomew, Horace Coon, Harmon Minkler, and Mills Stewart, who seemed to have been living in this area, as they had applied for land patents, well before 1853. I wonder how these land owners felt about a town being platted near their farms by someone from outside of town. Perhaps they didn’t mind — Sheldon’s widow, Charlotte Bartholomew Powell, did sell land to R.P. Lane that made up part of the town plat (link forthcoming).