Category Archives: From the pocket pages

Perhaps God is a cat: Notes from my May brain

Leaf in rain run-off, gas station parking lot, Stillman Valley, Ill. 10 May.

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When you tell a joke, you make an argument to the audience, which has to agree to see the context/set-up from the your perspective. And when you tell a joke, you mean it, at least in that moment. You reveal that you’ve taken a position — say, if you tease someone for being short, you are revealing that you have an idea of what height people should be. You reveal your expectations, your criteria for judging others. 30 April.

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Ideas about the past — like those in a documentary I saw about London in the 1300s — are still just ideas. 2 May.

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Grass. 7 May 2017

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“I love it when people get embarrassed — unless it’s me,” said a senior student of mine, practically defining what it means to be embarrassed. 4 May.

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Dandelion. 3 May 2017.

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Looking at papers containing student arguments, I read a student’s statement that said our class definition of “real” is true. But then I thought that definitions aren’t true or false — they’re just definitions. 4 May.

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My wife uses our dog to model a necklace. 26 May.

Our dog, Sammy, models a second necklace. 26 May.

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It’s kinda weird that English professors just write about interpreting other texts. I know I’ve read some interesting interpretations, and yet, it seems odd that so much writing in our culture is not about real things or events but about other texts or artworks. Watching the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? recently, I’d noticed something I’d not noticed over several previous viewings (specifically, that at least four times, a character mentions that people are looking for “answers”). It strikes me as interesting, this repetition of this idea, but I don’t really know that observing this pattern is all that important — it doesn’t  fundamentally change my interpretation of the movie. It starts to feel like a game that the filmmakers are playing, if they did this intentionally, but to what end? I wonder what’s satisfying for me in playing this art-interpretation game. 10 and 12 May.

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Demolition of buildings at southeast corner of Rt. 38 and 1st Street, DeKalb, Ill. 23 May 2017.

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I’m 43. I could live another 43 years — or I could have a heart attack tomorrow. I feel both old and not-old (or I feel these alternately). Driving down my town’s 2nd Street today, I saw two young men crossing an empty lot and I thought about the generations coming up, how they too will grow old with us. And then I saw a very old man out front of a house, and I thought, that could be me one day — but it’s not me yet. 11 May.

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We ask questions of other people when we want some information from them. But a mind may also ask something about the physical world — “Why does this natural feature (like a cave, say) exist?” But the physical world doesn’t answer our inquiry. We humans have to figure it out ourselves. Our question is an abstraction that is satisfied only by another abstraction, the answer. 12 May

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View north toward intersection of Main and Walnut streets, Stillman Valley, Ill. 10 May 2017.

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Perhaps God is inscrutable because God is a cat (at least it’s a funny conceit: “And the Lord sayeth unto Jacob: ‘Rairr.'”). Perhaps God has a feline sensibility instead of a human one; if God’s as indifferent as cats are, that might explain the problem of evil. 16 May.

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As I was walking my dog this evening, I was shifting my mindset from focusing only on my life (my stresses, etc.) to remembering the dog also lives in the world — and he lives differently from how I live. He lives in a different mind. 19 May.

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Dirty wind obscures stop sign, NW of Rochelle, Ill. 17 May.

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ALL ideas are “according to” some person — all ideas, all facts, all stories come from a person (rather than existing spontaneously in nature, say). 23 May.

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I was too tired last night to read, which means thinking of elsewhere. I could only be here, and tired. 24 May.

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Waiting to graduate: My students Dylan P., Kayway P., Josh N., Taylor N., and Aly N. 27 May.

My creative writing students Alex M., Kenzie L., Owen M., and Ashley M. 27 May.

Several characters I’ve had as students this year. From left: Katelyn R., Zach P., Katelyn P., Matt P., Alexia P., Christian P., Kenzie P. 27 May.

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As students lined up for their high school graduation ceremony, one senior said to teacher as she walked past, “Thanks for pushing me through!” The teacher answered, “Thanks for passing!” 27 May.

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Two of my creative writing students, Luis M. and David E., with yours truly, after the graduation. 17 May.

Devyn D., Ali V., and me after the graduation ceremony. I’m not always good at using my face to convey normal human expressions. 27 May.

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The only way we know to root for the Rebels against the Empire in Star Wars is that the Empire uses worse methods — their means (such as Vader choking a subordinate) are excessively violent, and therefore illegitimate. Both sides have the same ends of wanting power, wanting to be in control — the main reason why we root for one over the other is the morality of the means. 28 May.

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Visiting a cemetery on 29 May, it came to my mind to say that I like cemeteries because “nobody’s trying too hard.” There’s a calming lack of ambition among the graveyard denizens.

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Maple in a cemetery, Byron, Ill. 13 May.

‘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.

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.

‘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.

 

“Oh, buddy, it’s fantastic”: This week in notes

View southwest toward sunset from Hedge Road, 5 p.m. today, 29 Jan.

View southwest toward sunset from Hedge Road, 5 p.m. today, 29 Jan.

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When I judge or criticize other people or things, my judging is analytical, abstract, comparing some particular thing to some generalized standard. It’s a part of my ego, my getting-around-in-the-world mind. I don’t judge when in meditative or sleepy mind.  23 Jan. 2017

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“Molly, do NOT get diarrhea,” said a veterinary office worker to a white-muzzled old beagle wearing a pink-striped sweater. 23 Jan.

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Seeing lights on in houses as I drove home this winter evening, I thought how cozy the homes looked, and how cozy my own house probably looks from outside. But I don’t don’t often feel that cozy when I’m in my house, and maybe that’s because when I’m home taking in TV or online news, stories about problems everywhere (or anywhere) outside my house pull my attention away from my calm, cozy home and life. 23 Jan.

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Making meaning — and not just receiving others’ meanings — matters. There’s the essay, the try — we write essays to try to understand things, I told my students this week.

The big meaning, of course, is how one should best live. (It seems a little banal to state it this way, but “how to best live” could include practical ethics, useful metaphysics, everyday epistemology, etc.)

I find it easy to fall into writing about meaning. I’ve been tending toward sticking to facts — to basic observations — so as to let readers see meanings for themselves. 23 Jan.

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A small mammal path at the edge of a parking lot southeast of Riverside-Perryville intersection in Rockford-Loves Park, Ill. Sat. 28 Jan.

A small mammal path at the edge of a parking lot southeast of Riverside-Perryville intersection in Rockford-Loves Park, Ill. Sat. 28 Jan.

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All day long, we interpret others — we try to understand the actions and words of other people we see, meet, or interact with. These interpretations are theories we create and then employ to guide our interactions with these others. These theories can be judged as useful or not (rather than true or false), depending on how successfully I interact with others.

Truth is a judgment of a theory against an external reality, which we can never actually get to, since everything we know about external reality has to come in through our minds. But usefulness I can judge within my own experience. Whatever theories seem to me to work, I’ll call these “useful.” 24 Jan.

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Meanings, theories, interpretations — these aren’t as real was what actually happened. 24 Jan.

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All judgments are comparisons, and all comparisons are arbitrary (not necessary), so therefore, all judgments are arbitrary. Even when I call someone an asshole for how he drives, he’s probably not really and completely an asshole. 24 Jan.

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My blog posts where I just report a quote without explaining it: my audience is older people who don’t need a full explanation of why a quote is funny or interesting, like a child would. Adults must already think interpretively more than kids do. 24 Jan.

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A place at the corner of a gas station lot NE of Riverside-Perryville intersection, Rockford-Loves Park. Sat. 28 Jan., about noon.

A place I could be for a while. Probably nobody but the lawn crew every goes to this spot, at the northwest corner of a gas station lot, but one could. It’s not a place that we typically think of as a place, like we’d think of going to a house, or a restaurant, or a park, etc., but this, too, IS a place. Northeast of Riverside-Perryville intersection, Rockford-Loves Park. Sat. 28 Jan., about noon.

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“If I’m talking and not thinking about what I’m saying, I’ll say everything wrong,” said student. 24 Jan.

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A door in the backside of the building at the northeast corner of Riverside-Perryville. This is across a little parking lot from the gas station corner photo. 28 Jan.

A door in the back side of the building at the northeast corner of Riverside-Perryville. This is across a little parking lot from the gas station corner photo above. Though this side of the building isn’t much to look at, it’s just as real — as touchable, as there — as the lovely front side of building is. 28 Jan.

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Everything can mean something. Everything can tell something, symbolize something (my obsessive mind, anyway, can interpret almost anything, which can be exhausting). Not general topics like “pencil” but THIS pencil: Who owned it? How’d it get here? We can play detective. Of course, with my practice at interpretation, as informed by my experiences and my sensibility, I’m probably better at making meaning than my sophomore students are — but I still want them to try making meaning through their essays built from a session spent observing in the school hallway. 25 Jan.

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Creating meaning as a writer and as a reader — two different acts of meaning creation using the same words, the same text. 25 Jan.

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“We get in trouble and then we look at our underwear and it’s matching,” said senior girl of herself and another senior girl, who had already said that when they wear the same underwear, they both get in trouble. I have no idea what prompted them to announce this in class. 25 Jan.

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At 4 p.m. this day, so much gray: the roads are gray, the bridge over the river is gray, water’s gray, reflecting gray sky. The grassy ground is tan, but also muddy gray. 25 Jan.

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Reminding myself: Just don’t look at stuff that is iconic, or resonant — certain houses, say, that seem to inspire thoughts of “my life would be better if only I lived there.” Stay in your own life, keep your attention on your own life, instead of mentally living elsewhere, in idea-realm (fantasy-realm, “solve all my problems” land). Just drive to your destination, just keep looking ahead, not off to the sides of road at houses. 25 Jan.

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My students lack the experience (worldliness) of adults, but they’re also open-minded (not world-weary). 26 Jan.

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People don’t go to an anthology or magazine of poems to get meaning, but just poems. So a meaningful piece — something you as writer really mean — you might publish not with others’ work but with your own, where readers can see your project, your point of view, your take on poetry, your world of poems, so that your poem is not competing with other poets’ in a poetry mag. Of course, poetry-mag poems are gonna be real poety-poems: ur-poems, practically meta-poems, where poets show off their poetry-writing skills to other poets. [A thought after reading a recent issue of Poetry mag, 26 Jan.]

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Even when I don’t find a particular poem I love, I like how my mind seems to let loose and I have new ideas — unrelated to the poems, usually — but perhaps the poems loosen my mind to think anew. 26 Jan.

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A kind of magic: the transformation of spoken words to a transcribed quote, isolated on page or screen (how the quotes I hear come to exist as words on my notepage). 26 Jan.

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“She has more problems than I can count, and I failed Algebra 2, so it’s not that many,” said senior student of classmate. 26 Jan.

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“When am I gonna use that in my outside life, except when I become president?” rhetorically asked my student, referring to the school’s required speech class. 26 Jan.

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A cracked-open box of telephone wires, possibly, NE of Riverside-Perryville intersection, 28 Jan.

A cracked-open box of telephone wires, possibly. Northeast of Riverside-Perryville intersection, 28 Jan.

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My cat was not moving his sleepy head this morning — only his eyes moved. And a horse and donkey I drive past every day spend a lot of time in their small shed. Animals spend much more time than people do sitting around, just being conscious, not doing. Maybe I need to do more of that to feel like I’ve really lived and been aware of it. When I’m getting things done, I’m less aware of being alive. Maybe animals living this way have a sense of really having been alive enough when so they don’t fear death when they die — not that animals can abstract like we can, but they’re so much more accepting than I seem to be. 27 Jan.

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“Oh, buddy, it’s fantastic,” said student to me about Avanti restaurant‘s gondola sandwich. 27 Jan.

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Not from my notes, but worth repeating: My brother Nace, who lives in Northern Minnesota and photographs sled dog races, northern lights, and moose, was recently interviewed on Duluth public radio about his pictures.

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Wires up close.

Wires up close.

“None of my business, but interesting questions”: Notes from my recent pocket pages

My barbershop's waiting room. 3 Jan. 2017

My barbershop’s waiting room. 3 Jan. 2017

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Modeling the consciousness of other drivers: If a car is tailgating me, I think how its driver is probably frustrated with me, and I think of those drivers thinking of me as they tailgate, pass, and speed ahead. Once they’re gone, I can go back to just being my own mind, not imagining the social aspects. 3 Jan.

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How clean your hotel room is depends, really, on the lowest-paid worker at the hotel, the housekeeper. Does she/he care enough to do a good job? Why should she — only the fear of getting fired? 2 Jan.

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My commute home from work, Thursday 5 Jan. 2017

My commute home from work, Thursday 5 Jan. 2017

Reminding myself pick your battles: There’s no need to spend your time and energy mocking others’ views, messages, or mistakes. Let those go, and observe and think originally. Look past the signs (and the abstractions distracting me) to the things. 2-3 Jan.

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When I listen to the radio (usually NPR news) in the car, it makes me think of distant abstractions, classifications of the world. Without the radio on as I drive, I’m seeing the subtle story of what endures [by the way, the idea of enduring seems related to the idea of being; this etymology of was says the word comes from a root word meaning “to remain.”] I’m seeing not the ideas, the abstractions, the meanings, the intentions, but simply what things are there. The wood of a fence, whether the fence itself is in good or poor repair, whether its’ a working fence or not, whether it’s a fence at all anymore or not.

Looking at the things around me is a mental cleanser to abstract (such as religious) explanations/interpretations of reality, such as when I was told “water can read” and it responds to happy words placed in its proximity. 2-3 Jan.

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My commute home, Friday 6 Jan. Note the cloud forming from nuclear power plant at Byron, about 20 miles west of my location at the taking of this photo.

My commute home, Friday 6 Jan. Note the cloud forming from nuclear power plant at Byron, about 20 miles west of my location at the taking of this photo.

Byron nuclear power plant steam towers, from a couple miles north. 15 Jan.

Byron nuclear power plant steam towers, from a couple miles north. 15 Jan.

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By recording my memories, my moments, I create a life on the paper. But it’s still not my life. My memories still differ, and memories are fluid, flexible, and weird — a different kind of medium from writing on paper. My memories seem to form into narratives, stories that I get better at telling — I revise as I recall and tell them. 5 Jan.

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The living matters more than the lessons. I might as well write about day-to-day moments rather than boiling down my experiences to “moral of the story” lessons, the way some personal essays do. 5 Jan.

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“My mom’s having a kid today. That means I have to cook my own dinner,” say my senior student. His mom did buy him “Lunchables,” he said, but added, “she’s not getting out of cooking.” Also, he said, “I’m becoming the middle child.” That’s no good, said classmate, herself a middle child. 6 Jan.

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“Do you think I’m an as_hole just by looking at me?” asked senior boy of a girl in my study hall. A second girl told him, “You are.” “You’ve known me for three years,” he told the second girl. 6 Jan.

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Spooky pine plantation. 20 Jan.

Spooky pine plantation. 20 Jan.

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At the diner where my wife and I eat breakfast, our friend Dean told us how he colors in certain boxes on the newspaper’s crossword when the spaces are longer than the words he puts in there. “If they get to make rules, I get to make rules,” he said. 7 Jan.

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Impressionistic image of cow in a snow storm. 9 Jan.

Impressionistic image of bovine in a snow storm. 9 Jan.

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As we did a brainstorming activity in my creative writing class, a student asked if she could go to the bathroom. I said she could once she came up with one more possible use for her group’s object, a block of wood. “It’s your will to live. Now can I use the bathroom?” said student. 9 Jan.

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My commute home from work. Monday, 9 Jan. 2017.

My commute home from work. Monday, 9 Jan. 2017.

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I don’t like fiction because I don’t like things happening. Or, rather, things happening seem dull. My grandpa died not long ago. That itself is not worth reading. My reaction to it might be. 10 Jan.

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Ogle County snow pastoral. 9 Jan.

Ogle County snow pastoral. 9 Jan.

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It’s gotta be hard for artists, celebrities, etc., to maintain an image, a persona, for their audiences. You can’t be human — get a cold, have diarrhea. I’m reminded of the Monty Python audio joke about which Italian film director is making the pee sounds. 11 Jan.

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My journal texts are me and aren’t me. They contain my voice, my words, my descriptions of my experiences, but they are just words on a page, fixed, while I’m a fluid, changeable consciousness. I write down fixed things so that I can be open to change. 12 Jan.

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“…interesting questions. None of my business, but interesting questions,” said the voice of a colleague as she and a companion walked past my classroom after school. 12 Jan.

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After thinking of Mitch Hedberg’s line that every book is a children’s book, if that child can read, I thought how each time one reads a text, that’s a unique new experience. A kid may not catch all the ideas of a book the first time through it, and of course, an adult may not. And a second read of a book is a unique experience because you already have some ideas about it. 12 Jan.

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How weird that our brains (mine and my students’, at least) seem so fast at finding rhymes to given words. It suggests that we listen to sounds faster, or more automatically, than meanings? 12 Jan.

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Image of my commute home, Thursday 12 Jan.

Image from my commute home, Thursday 12 Jan.

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“A snail can’t climb over a ratio,” I said, in explaining why numbers and math ideas aren’t as real as physical things are. I was arguing against numbers being real. 13 Jan.

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“You speak good enough English. He’s just weird,” said my wife to our friend Yvonne, who said maybe her language skills weren’t good enough to understand a Facebook post my wife wrote about how I’d covered up the clocks in our kitchen with sticky notes to free myself from clock-time awareness. 14 Jan.

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Beached river ice. 15 Jan.

Beached river ice. 15 Jan.

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It’s kinda weird that all our bodies material needs (except air and sunlight) come through our mouths. If we were cars, we’d put gas and brakes and tires into one orifice and let the car sort itself out. Food contains both “building blocks” and energy materials — food must be more complex than just gas or steel components of cars. 17 Jan.

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View of my morning commute to work. Tues. 17 Jan.

View of my morning commute to work. Tues. 17 Jan.

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I’m about at the halfway point of my morning commute, and I’d like to finish this page of notes. I don’t know what ideas I’ll have in coming minutes! 18 Jan.

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My classroom clock was zooming ahead on Wednesday morning. My first-hour class, normally 50 minutes, took 5 and a half hours on the clock. My second-hour class took 3 hours, and the 3rd-hour class took just 50 minutes, but at the end of class, it read 7:10 instead of the expected 10:45. 18 Jan.

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I don’t want to charge people to read my ideas or hear my presentations. Why bring money into this? What does my thinking and talking have to do with money? I don’t think I’d be any better at thinking or any happier with my life if I restricted access to those who could pay me for my humble genius. 18 Oct.

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“When he’s done speakin’, I know what he’s said,” said John Mortenson, identified as a Trump supporter in this NPR story about the president’s speaking style. 19 Jan.

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View of my afternoon commute home from work. 20 Jan.

View of my afternoon commute home from work. 20 Jan.

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“I’m doing time with my students,” said our waitress, Qaytlan 1, as she talked about a lesson she’ll be student-teaching soon. Here statement also sounded like she thought of school as prison. 22 Jan.