Category Archives: From the journals

Water-splash and deep-fryer fat: Freewriting at Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, lakefront

My right knee at the lakeshore. Photo shows lakewall and view east. 16 June 2017

Sky boat headed to the lake north of where I was sitting at the picnic table. Brick apartments/condos are to left side of photo. 16 June 2017.

Friday, 16 June 2017, 1:43 p.m., Lakeside at Geneva Lake — it’s about 15 feet in front of me, east of me. To my right is a little tented sales counter for Jerry’s Majestic Marine (whose sign has these bulleted points: boat sales, boat storage/service, pontoon boat rentals, waverunner rentals, parasail rides), and slightly to my right are boats at Pier 4 (near where my wife, M, and I were sitting an hour or so ago, before she went to her meeting at the Abbey a couple blocks west). I took pics of Lake Geneva/Geneva Lake — a dead fish with algae — for my blog post “Famous things close up” (approximate title, from 2015) — and there are two women in bikinis at the back end of a boat off Pier 4. And before coming to this spot, I went to my park spot a bit north of here, where I sat and wrote a few years ago — jeez, several years ago by now — but the benches weren’t in shade. This was the little park across from public (I think) boat launch, and next to the 5-story brick apartments/condos. I was reading while sitting here for 20 mins or so, reading about politics-as-identity making compromise hard, and Trump tweets, and etc. But it’s too damn nice here. I heard something like splashing over the concrete lake-wall. Writing left-handed is slowing me down (as it usually does) in a way that seems fitting to this lovely day: sunny, a few puffy in-the-distance clouds, a light breeze from behind me. If I lived within walking distance of a big lake, I wonder how often I’d come down and sit. Once in a while I get a smell of deep-fryer fat from the restaurants across the street behind me (Gordy’s Boathouse  and, south, Chuck’s Lakeshore Inn).

There passes, from my left to my right, a big sightseeing boat, perhaps the boat that delivers mail to piers, as I saw years ago on CBS Sunday Morning, I think it was. This boat passed right at about 2 p.m. I think I saw it about an hour ago, too, when M and I were here together. Yeah, I’m not hearing the Big Ben bell sounds, and we heard those at 1 p.m. And it really is nice — the water splash sometimes sounds like Gulf waves (We were in Florida just under a year ago. I talked to that UK couple about Brexit vote, I think.) It felt silly to read while outside here but writing feels OK. When we heard bells last time, M told me that there were mindfulness bells at the conclave (the annual religious gathering she went to when young) every half hour: when bells sounded, everyone was supposed to take a moment of quiet for mindfulness.

There are some young (late teen? early 20s?) women in a Jeep behind me, and there have been others. I look but then I remind myself that it’s not cool.

I never quite got into the writing mood this morning.

By the way, I’m at a picnic table that’s covered with a vinyl-canvas cover. The next picnic table has bench covers, too, with snaps.

“The pineapple never made it,” said one girl in a group walking past. “We had TWO pineapples,” said another. Someone in a second group of girls walking past said, “we had a joke that her hashtag was ‘Kate’s vagina.’”

These young women now could be — I’m old enough for them to be — my own children. I have a book bag. I’m a dad-nerd writing out here at a marina, near a beach, on a lovely day — though not quite as uncool as that 60-ish dude in black suit and carrying leather briefcase.

It’s easy, while sitting here, to let go of my fretting about publishing — which fretting is kinda dumb, anyway.

Gordy’s has a Boat Sales storefront, and a Proshop, and the Boat House, and Cobalt Lounge and Surf Shack — Gordy’s has quite the presence. Each Gordy’s business has a navy-blue with white-lettering awning.

I had a thought this morning while sitting in our car, just outside of our garage, that I’m alive and I can observe, and if I died then, no more observations would be made, and that my writing could reflect my being alive — my writing can be new every day (something like that, which now feels banal).

Down the street, a woman in a black bikini strides into one of Gordy’s businesses.

“Travis, why? … You were swimming and I thought you were a girl,” said one dude to another dude who seems to have his hair braided in 2 lines down the back of his head. A yellow dog shakes off water and then gets leashed.

Sunbathers out on Pier 4 boat seem gone. Here’s a white-haired man carrying a bag of ice by its drawstring. He’s very tan in the chest.

I’d like to talk about being here. I wanna talk about the brick apartment building — it’s not all that special-looking but it seems special just because I remember it from previous visits, because I associate it with this particular place, which is a particular place.

I hear a squeaky cranking sound–a dude at Pier 4 cranks down a jet ski platform.

Last thing before I walk back to meet M: It’s 2:47. I hear the dull roar of boats out a ways, the wind in my ears, slap of water. And I keep thinking that what I write about this place is still writing about this place — it’s not the same as being here and not-thinking, not analyzing at all.

And I want to tie this up by saying something about how I’m experiencing things. I experience things and I can write about them and this may not seem profound to write but it feels profound. I can experience new things each day I’m alive. I can have new ideas each day — each moment of crystallized consciousness — that I’m alive.

And yet, this too is just an idea, and the brick building and the lakeshore and the biting fly and trespassing spider. And even I, at this place on this day, don’t need ideas!

And so I leave off — not having written something that satisfies. But that’s OK, too, of course.

No wrong way to journal: From 20 Nov. 2011 journal

At Costa's Ristorante, 18 Nov. 2011

At Costa’s Ristorante, 18 Nov. 2011

Each journal is complete.

I’ve tended to judge some of my journal texts a bit harshly in recent weeks, in that they don’t all have grand ideas. But I need to remember that each journal is the result of a real experience. That I sat down each morning and wrote, and, of course, there’s no such thing as success or failure there — it just is. It’s experience — it’s not even fully described by “experience.” It’s me, it’s me being here, being present.

I am sometimes grumpy, sometimes over-generalizing, sometimes repetitive. But that’s all OK, it doesn’t matter. There’s no wrong way to do the morning pages, as Julia Cameron wrote. These journals aren’t merely texts to rifle through — they are part of me (and, of course, also not part of me). They are me being open, honest, putting words out there even if they aren’t brilliant or original. That’s OK, too. I guess what I’m saying, partly, is that when I go to read journals, I don’t have to be dismissive. I can accept what’s there — embrace it.

Shadow frost. 23 Nov. 2011

Shadow frost. 23 Nov. 2011

How to read a post from my journals or pocket pages

Revised (because when quality matters, time doesn’t.)

If you read texts selected from my journals and pocket pages expecting there to be a “take-away,” a clear message or story, you may be disappointed. But if you read these to get a sense of the presence of my mind (my voice, my sensibility) from these texts, you may find these valuable.

Before I realized this distinction in ways of reading, I looked at my journal texts and judged them inadequate, because they weren’t already in the form of polished narratives or essays. For years, I wondered whether I should go back and craft these raw freewritings into publishable articles, rewriting them as needed until they fit the familiar forms. But this approach didn’t feel right. I usually wrote about my experiences by describing my thoughts and feelings afterwards, rather than writing these as moment-by-moment, show-don’t-tell descriptions. Doing that seemed artificial — I don’t live by narrating everything that happens; I write only after experiences have been had. I write for myself, and not for others, who weren’t there, to understand and empathize with me. I preferred writing down whatever I thought at that time, writing honestly for myself, rather than shaping my words so that I’d be perceived favorably by some unknown reader.

I finally realized that these honest-to-the-moment journal writings had value if the purpose of reading were redefined. I thought about how reading poetry can be different from reading prose. With prose, whether novels, journalism, memoir, etc., readers tend to look for meaning — plot, story, lesson, etc. But with poetry, readers can enjoy other aspects, including the sounds of words, rhythms of lines, images-as-images, etc. I sometimes read poems, such as haiku and Richard Brautigan’s short poems, just to get a sense of mood or a sense of the writer’s voice, his or her particular sensibility. So, too, I have found value with my journal texts, and you may as well.

You can dive in anywhere, even in the middle of a post of journal text, and treat each sentence or section like its own poem, reading just for the experience of reading, of communing with another mind. You don’t have to read the whole post or all the posts. There’s no index of topics, and there will be no overarching message. I don’t wanna write as if I’m some wise person who’s figured stuff out and is ready to teach others. Maybe some text-bits are wise, but some aren’t. Some bits might be funny, and others will be serious. My journals don’t have a consistent tone because, of course, lived experience doesn’t have a single tone. My writing is more a part of my living than it is something I do to make a career or advocate an ideal.

My journals will never have an ending — they’ll just stop when I die — but because they’re not intended to become anything else, they’re also already whole, complete, fulfilled. As a writer, I am fulfilled just by filling the journal pages. And a reader can take an analogous perspective.

By the way, these journals will not be posted here in a systematic way — just the thought of that exhausts me — and that’s OK because systematic is not necessary. These journal texts are as accurate as I can make them (because I can’t always even read my handwriting!), but they are not the entirety of the journals — I’ve tried to include only the parts I think are the most interesting.

Radical openness, part 2: Weds. 30 Dec. 2015 journal

Continued from previous post.

In essence, there is nothing that I have to say to others. There’s nothing I need to say, and what texts I’ve created, these don’t need to be published. These are not vital info for others, not all that informative nor all that entertaining. Yet, maybe I’ll publish them anyway. Maybe I put up a few things on my blog, things whose value isn’t argued for or explained. Yeah, I may look a little weird doing that, but I want to know what these other forms would look like — can these be done?

The value for me is in the act of publishing is in the doing (if someone likes what I’ve done, that’s just an ego stroke for me). I don’t learn much or have new ideas from having others read my work (though I guess it’s possible someone could read my work and give me a deep analysis from which I could get insights).

(These lines make some sense to me now, but I recognize that this text may not make sense to me later, once the ideas are gone from my mind. The ideas are in my mind now, so they do seem normal now.)

If you are to retain open-mindedness, you just gotta trust that new learnings, new experiences, will come. You can’t know/predict what these are, or else it wouldn’t be new learning. You gotta have faith in the process of letting go, having an open mind!

I may publish a text that isn’t clearly trying to communicate, but is conveying the message, “I’m alive, here’s something from my mind.” It’s not what I say that matters, but only my voice — that I’m writing — that matters? My experience of writing and editing? Of course, these don’t matter to others. But new ways to be, to write, can indirectly communicate, but this doesn’t need to matter to others — a near paradox.

I’ve written for a couple hours, and I may not have said anything of interest to anyone but me. But the point is, I like to write! I like spending time that way! Any value for others in my texts is nice but incidental.

2:55 p.m. — An implication of radical openness: I may just remain silent. I may not have anything to say! I will likely try publishing things. I won’t take “radical openness” as a restriction. Don’t take this idea too seriously, either!

I don’t want to have to put on a persona, do a performance, as most writings and art made for others are. there’s writerly ego there in making the performance pleasing to others.

When a nonfiction writer dramatizes his role as an observer or participant, that’s a layer of fakeness, because one can’t live (do things other than writing) and write at the same time. [see another example here] To pretend in an article to do so is to make artifice. Writing is done after the experience. Why not be more natural, less self-aware, self-dramatizing, portraying self-as-character? To be less aware of writing to/for others might be more authentic.

4:10 p.m. — Writings — texts — do not represent life or physical reality or experience. We may try to represent these in words, but it doesn’t work well. Writing is writing, representing only itself. The mind uses language — that’s it! Experiencing and writing are two different things — it’s inauthentic to both to elide that distinction.

The way we teach students to write — say, the Personal Narrative, the Research Paper — is filling in a form, learning to put info in a format that others people can easily recognize. This teaching has students learning to do a specific type of thinking and language use, but it’s not a type of writing that reflects authentic, spontaneous language use, as a freewrite can.

The criticism that certain narratives aren’t realistic doesn’t make a lot of sense from this perspective (that writing doesn’t represent reality). All stories use language — there’s no way to compare language to reality.

I seem to be making a claim here, though I don’t want to, because my larger point about radical openness is that I don’t need to make points. Claims are made as compared to some sense of reality — that’s one definition of truth: something is true if it matches or adequately explains some aspect of reality. My point here is that there is no truth, there’s just language, and looking for truth in language may not be possible or even useful. Of course, the trap here is that I’m making yet another claim about reality. An expression of language is just an expression of language.

6:30 p.m. — I think what I want to say is that this idea (that writing represents itself, language use, not physical reality or experience) can be interesting, useful — but that my point in writing isn’t to make claims but just to write because I like to write. There’s no point where I will or could be done. There’s no idea/claim argument endpoint. What I was writing earlier in today’s journal is that a topic or point, to communicate that is to communicate, when that’s kinda flawed. (Why? because of reasons I gave earlier today, which I can’t quite recall …)

9:12 p.m. — well, because of radical openness! Because nothing I can say will be as cool as what might be said next — and because whatever I’ve already said in the pile of writings isn’t as important as what I might learn from the next editing session! Old thoughts are old, existing thoughts are old, but the experience of reading old texts is new!

Radical openness, part 1: Weds. 30 Dec. 2015 journal

At home, 9:10 a.m., really light flurries, 24°F — It’s funny how tempting it is to jump into meaningless arguments — the more meaningless, the more people seem to get riled up (myself included at times). How people argue which band is best, for example. My motivation to jump in is, I guess, to share my own subjective experience.

Radical openness: maybe I don’t really need to publish — don’t need to advocate — any idea at all.

As I emailed my friend Doug yesterday, I thought about how, even though Doug is a friend, and even though I’ve emailed him literally hundreds of times, I was still adopting a sort of narrative persona as I wrote to him — a bit jokey this time (and it’s not always the same tone). I realized how often I do that, particularly in my nonfiction, how, like a journalist or columnist or personal-essayist, I adopt a voice that makes me seem reasonable, normal, unexceptional, trustworthy, reliable — salt of the earth. In other words, I adopt a persona that is NOT unique. I want readers to see me as reasonable, as if I’m concerned about my reputation, and my online reputation isn’t far removed from my professional reputation, as students, colleagues, and administrators can read what I put on the blog. So, no, I don’t want to adopt a weird perspective. But there’s a space through which to pass between these two, perhaps a kind of radical honesty, posting pocket pages or journal text without context, without polishing.

I don’t want to publish ideas that are not situated in time. I’d prefer particular texts, so include times and places in which texts were written.

Radical openness: not publishing, not having any message to tell others, as if the message I’d have would be important or even entertaining — that’s probably the reason I post so many student quotes, the message being “read these, and you’ll laugh” — the implicit purpose I have for communicating to others. What if I give that up, that feeling of having something I want to say to others? Radical openness — not being judged by what I’ve said, because it’s already in the past. I’m not sure I even understand the implications here.

Maybe, with editing, the experience, the mental engagement, matters far more than the publishing of texts. Publishing is basically a mechanical process, and that’s what I fall back on when I don’t have the mental energy to engage in editing.

Maybe we as a culture ignore experience all too much in favor of the material product, the physical evidence. But what good is it to have published in the past, as I have? What good does having published do for me, at least, as compared to the unique learning experiences I have when I can really engage?

Reading some of my own personal writings, I no longer felt that these ideas were as important and urgent as I must have felt when I wrote them. Not that all ideas feel urgent at the time of their writing, but these writings really didn’t feel that way on the re-read. Maybe that’s brilliant, in a way — it goes against the idea that what I would publish should be urgent, should have a news peg. How many times people (including me at times) write things that are connected to news events, people writing about externals such as artworks or political or social issues. It’s Not that these issues don’t matter, but to write about issues or news or externals is to adopt a position, a persona, toward both the topic and toward the reader.

Even here, today, I’m writing about a topic, though I’m not writing to anyone [which is why this post may seem more blunt than if I rewrote it specifically for readers], so there’s less persona interfering with or guiding word choice.

Letting go of whatever ideas come to mind: for example, expressing to my wife my frustrations with how we don’t have extra money. But I’d just be kvetching about a circumstance of long standing, something not easily changed, and frankly, that’s just a background condition. I don’t need to have no debt or lots of cash in order to keep living, thinking, writing, teaching, etc. So why say my complaint at all? And I didn’t. I didn’t go dwell in an abstraction (wishing I had more money) when instead I could let go that idea and be open to new ideas — that’s also radical openness.

You don’t have to come up with “others will like this”-type ideas, ideas that I have where I think, “hey, I could package this idea, explain it, justify it, for others.” That’s so limiting. And it is easy to living within the mental world of known ideas, especially when I’m stressed, say. It’s hard to let go when I’m stressed.

Continued in next post.

Like Spending Time in My Brain: Thursday 21 July 2016 journal text

At home, 7:54 a.m. — It’s humid as hell already . It’s forecasted to be 95° F with “hot steams” index of 109°.

I vetted the cat yesterday. He growled during his exam by a new (to the vet office) young woman vet. She gave Justice cat the ol’ up-the-butt thermometer with a drop of, I’m guessing, lube on the tip, which is a nice touch, somehow — a weird touch, too. Sure, it’s medically useful, but I’m not always sure I’ve seen vets do that.

At Oregon, Ill., McDonald’s, a little before 9 a.m. — A BNSF Railway Police dude is here, with sidearm and bulletproof vest, it seems. “So are you out of Chicago, then?” McKaren asks him. He agreed. I didn’t know railroads had their own police forces.

People can’t be on the right of way at all,” said RR cop. McKaren said something to the dude who’s with the cop about BNSF not maintaining fences and working on a track. “It’s just been nonstop out there, something all the time,” she said, and then the two guys wrap up conversation and leave McD’s.

Dog and I had a “standing salad” last night in our garden — we ate peas, carrots, green peppers, and the first two cherry tomatoes of the year. Dog doesn’t eat peppers or tomatoes.

He was brutally handsome; she was terminally pretty,” sings an Eagle over the restaurant radio system.

Get up, Katelyn, and walk,” said a mom to a young girl, and mom did an open-palms, arms-out-to-sides gesture of frustration.

The place where you live may not matter as long as you’re safe and can find work, etc. So national-pride feelings are mere ideas. The idea of where you live doesn’t matter. I used to have an idea that my everyday life would be better if I lived in a college town like Madison, Wis., instead of living in this rural Illinois county. But my life would probably be about the same: I’d probably be the same person, have about the same mental experience of being alive.

A dude in a Jeep in the drive-thru just now held his black box of Marlboros up to his mouth to pull out a cigarette with his lips. His left hand was on the wheel, his right holding the pack.

There’s the amble of Beardy “Jack” McTankTop, with a white tanktop now and his usual blue shorts. “I’m usually a regular here,” said Beardy to a young counter girl. He wasn’t here with the other regulars earlier this morning.

What a tragic thing for her to deal with all her life, you know,” concludes a McSally story about some girl getting shot in the street and some dude throwing himself on top of her to protect her.

If the lid would be off, it’d be down the front of me every time,” said McKaren to an old couple about Karen’s drink cup, I think.

On my dog-walk this morning, I remembered my old question about what was the first word ever spoken by humans. My thought this morning is that, whatever the word was, meaning must have preceded the first word, since humans, and even animals, can learn to read body language before they can read words.

A 5- or 6-year-old boy has jammed his chocolate-dipped cone dip-first into a soda cup McKaren had given the woman who was with the boy. Karen also advised getting a spoon.

It was hot at 4 o’clock this morning,” says McKaren to a customer dude. It’s the second time I’ve heard her say this. “It hits you right in the face — wham!” she said, after the dude said it’s muggy.

This reminds me how hot it was on the walk over to McDonald’s from the courthouse where my wife and I parked our car. It smelled and felt like a laundromat, the air coming out of a just-stopped dryer.

I’m afraid if I do, I might really, really like it … I can be very impulsive,” McKaren said, I think about riding a motorcycle. Of her daughter asking her if she wanted to ride, horse-owner Karen said, “If it’s too hot to ride horses, it’s too hot to ride motorcycles.

An older man three tables west of me has an oversize nose — he looks like cartoon Jimmy Durante in “Frosty the Snowman” Christmas special.

I’m not trying to appeal broadly. I’m writing who I am, what I naturally do, and I’m not trying to become a writer for others. Yes, I’ve said this statement many times lately but I’m still stating it, I think, because it still feels new and good and joyful. There’s the freedom of accepting myself, that I no longer have to try to fit myself and my writing into some existing cubbyhole (by which I mean a familiar form, genre, etc.). I feel I’ve put, in these recent posts, my mind, my existence, as priority over any particular words and ideas. I’m superior to, have priority over, what I say.

Making each day’s journal text from nothing, as it were. It’s cool that there are no topics beforehand, no deciding what to say before I write. Themes emerge as I read and edit. I’m not saying these recent journal-posts (such as this one) are great — they look a bit text-heavy, for one. But they aren’t organized by topic, and they aren’t merely journals in whole (they aren’t every single word) but they are ideas from the journals — so that reading them might be like spending time in my brain!

Interesting People Say Interesting Things: 20 July 2016 journals

Weds. 20 July — While walking my dog this morning through a nearby subdivision, I saw a state cop car pull out of a driveway and a water bottle come rolling downhill toward me, as if it’d been on the car when the cop moved it. He soon stopped and got out and I said, “good thing it’s water and not a cup of coffee or something” — or your gun, I thought but didn’t say.

After talking with colleagues about the short-story unit we’ll teach in our sophomore English class, I’m looking at this unit now as teaching kids the form, and how to analyze the form, of the short story. I want students to see the limits and the lies of that form — for example, in that story about a gang-member getting stabbed and bleeding out, we have no way to know what a dying person thinks. I want to teach students to be wary of, or at least aware of, being manipulated by fiction. Though I know some students will probably be fiction fans and I don’t want to break their hearts, and yet … I do want to wake them up.

Got an email this week from a former student from 3 years ago who said that my class opened up her mind, got her thinking. I love to hear that, though of course, I’d also like to know examples of what new thoughts she’s had because of my class. But just the fact that she thinks the class opened up her mind means she’s aware of having an open mind, and that might be the necessary first step — perhaps the only step? — to actually having an open mind, being willing to think about things in new ways, etc.

I don’t want to have to convince someone of the value of my writings. Readers will get it or they won’t.

I wouldn’t say that the texts I write can’t be changed. I know editors greatly altered certain classic words of literature — Kerouac’s, Thomas Wolfe’s, Raymond Carver’s. But there’s something OK about a text being whatever I put in it.

“Hello, it’s me,” said my wife, coming into the great room for the first time this day. “Who are you, Todd Rundgren?” I asked. She said she was about to say something similar.

Even if my edited journals aren’t compelling reads (like, say, a plot-driven thriller is compelling), these posts can be worth reading, can be interesting, at least to some readers.

Developing one’s sensibility: how teachers pick out better quotes to use from a story, and teachers find more things, and more-interesting things, to interpret from literary texts than students generally do — this could be an analogy to, and/or an example of, what I’ve been thinking about how interesting people say interesting things. Interesting people are usually older people, and so, frankly, my own younger-me writings may not be as interesting as my more recent ones are. For example, the literature-analysis essays I wrote as a high-schooler: I could’ve done more-interesting analysis, but I didn’t have the mind to do so at age 17.

Earlier this week, I published an edited part of my journal [as this post here is also]. I haven’t always felt motivated to start reading others’ journals — say, Camus’s, a book of whose journals I owned back in college, or Thoreau’s, which I looked at in recent years. But Thoreau’s actually were interesting, maybe more than Walden is. But Walden feels like A Big Work, Thoreau’s One Big Work , and so it feels more important to read that book than his journals. But of course, the book doesn’t have to be seen that way.