Category Archives: From the pocket pages

‘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.

‘A mandatory thing that Jesus gave me’: The week in pocket pages

Condensation condescension. 6 Dec.

Condensation condescension. 6 Dec.

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I’m speaking the truth and getting ready to die in about 35 minutes,” said a keynote speaker at an education conference I went to last Monday. The speaker framed his remarks by saying if he were to die at the end of his speech, he would want to tell us only his most important messages. It was a pretty intense rhetorical device. 5 Dec. 2016

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Condensation conversation. 6 Dec.

Condensation conversation. 6 Dec.

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I kinda wanted a Jolly Rancher one of those days,” said my student of wishing the person subbing for me had instead been the sub next door, who typically brings candy for the students. 7 Dec.

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My cat shelved himself. 25 Nov. 2016

My cat shelved himself. 25 Nov. 2016

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Lots of businesses sell what people want, but teachers (and maybe doctors and others) tell people what they need (even if the clients don’t want it).  7 Dec.

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Outside the history museum in downtown Byron, Ill. 26 Nov.

Outside the history museum in downtown Byron, Ill. 26 Nov.

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Education policy focuses on generalized programs, though of course all learning is in particular minds, at particular times, and in particular situations. 7 Dec.

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I really can hold a grudge,” said student, seemingly realizing this about himself as he was reading his journal from earlier in the semester. 7 Dec.

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My high school and its slowly colorizing pear trees, 30 Nov.

My high school and its slowly colorizing pear trees, 30 Nov.

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This is a mandatory thing that Jesus gave me,” said my student as she made a point about why she shouldn’t have to pay for tampons since it’s not her fault she menstruates. 7 Dec.

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Soybean field, Bethel Road east of railroad crossing, 2 Dec.

Soybean field, Bethel Road east of railroad crossing, 2 Dec.

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When my dog dies, I’m definitely gonna get him stuffed,” said my student (contra Alan Alda’s advice). Classmate said that if student got a compliment on her stuffed dogs, she could say, “Thanks. They used to be alive.” Student said she’d prefer to get her dog stuffed rather than bury it because “I’m not gonna bury him in the ground, where it’s dirty,” she said. “OK, and stuffing him isn’t gross?” asked second classmate, who added, “I don’t think you can stuff a dog that small.” Student’s dog is apparently a two-pound purse dog. 7 Dec.

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Out a Pheasant Run window, 6 Dec.

Out a Pheasant Run window, 6 Dec.

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Gee, I wonder what the inside of a testicle looks like,” said student of a mink dissection she had performed (in anatomy class, I hope). The mink’s gland was “a solid ball, like a nut, like a cashew, that’s what it was,” she said. 7 Dec.

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Pheasant Run Resort Atrium, St. Charles, Ill. 5 Dec.

Pheasant Run Resort Atrium, St. Charles, Ill. 5 Dec.

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Student asked how students get quoted by me in my pocket pages. “Say something dumb,” said classmate. 8 Dec.

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After carnival workers were mentioned in class, a student announced that his friend had sex with a carny to get free rides. If that’s true, that’s maybe the saddest thing I’ve ever heard, I said.

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Snow on leaf and safety pegs. 10 Dec.

Snow on leaf and safety pegs. 10 Dec.

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Go suffer cold in my car,” said student to his cousin in the parking lot after school. The cousin wanted the keys to start and warm up student’s car, but he wasn’t giving over the keys. 8 Dec.

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Hell, yeah, I would — I gotta pay for college somehow,” said my senior student about whether she would sell a kidney. 9 Dec.

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Pheasant Run Resort Atrium, St. Charles, Ill. 6 Dec.

Pheasant Run Resort Atrium, St. Charles, Ill. 6 Dec.

Dogs take the world as they find it: The week in pocket pages

Even when national politics seem troubling, I’m gonna keep enjoying writing my journals, driving my morning commute (it’s pretty, and it’s a chance to think), and walking my dog. 14 Nov. 2016

Ginko tree, 4 Nov. 2016

Ginko tree, 4 Nov. 2016

This morning I saw a pile of ginko leaves along a rural roadside. It seems funny that someone would go through all the trouble of moving leaves from his or her yard to this random spot. Why not just cut down the tree?

“I like doing stuff when people are talking,” said a teacher colleague in a meeting where the rest of us were discussing curriculum choices. The stuff she was doing was stickering plastic bags with “Education Week” stickers.

Sun and rainbow spot to its right. 15 Nov.

Sun and rainbow spot to its right. 15 Nov.

Passion is everything, I read today in an article in yesterday’s Chicago Tribune that was left in the in-school suspension room.

I don’t need the world to match my expectations of/for it in order for me to be content. (How fragile an orientation that would be.)

Teaching: In explaining to others, I also get to hear it myself. I’m thinking here of talking philosophy in class recently. We were talking about the idea that what we can name is real, leading me to think that we can define our own realities. If we don’t have a name for something, if we haven’t distinguished it, we probably won’t recognize it as a distinct thing, like how radioactive minerals weren’t recognized before scientists discovered radioactivity, though of course the radioactive minerals were always there. 15 Nov. 2016.

Even to define real is to make it abstract, not present — not real. Real is not here, and here is a word that means consciousness at present.

We can think only ideas. So anything you can think isn’t real. Ideas aren’t necessary. But of course, we can teach through ideas, through talking, and we can also amuse each other through ideas.

Looking at news sites tells me what’s going on elsewhere.

On the calculus teacher's desk. 14 Nov.

On the calculus teacher’s desk. 14 Nov.

I take notes on my reality — my particulars (things I hear, things I see, etc.)

Options as I try to take in less media: get the news from poetry (as William Carlos Williams suggested)? Eh, I may not need news at all.

Gutter leaves. 19 Nov.

Gutter leaves. 19 Nov.

I’m not interested in publishing some one-off essay, the kind of essay that gets edited into “Best American Essays” books. I prefer a more holistic approach. I don’t want applause, I don’t just want to be a performer. My unit of communication is not the formal essay. 16 Nov.

The Story of Now that I constructed from news I heard and read. This isn’t one story but a subdivided set of stories about what’s going on in the world–in the environment, the economy, arts, education, all the many topics. And I may not need to know most or any of this. Maybe I’m feeling disappointed that my Story of Now seems to have so little overlap with some people’s stories of now. Not saying I despair, but I wonder if there’s better use for my time than taking in news. 17 Nov.

I’m not just a role-player writer, a topic-writer. I write from and in my life, my living. I try to keep an open-mind, not holding onto a particular idea as an answer. If I’m alive, I keep thinking, writing — I’m not done! It’s ongoing! And the most-important topic/idea remains (even if it’s in the background), how do I live — how to be alive, how to accept the challenge and opportunity of being conscious!

Leaves outside the gutter on a windy morning. 19 Nov.

Leaves at the curb outside the diner on a windy morning. 19 Nov.

The society/culture may already value performances (of music, acting, etc., but also I’m thinking of poems, novels, and other texts written for others as performances). But I see also an opening for honest non-performances — such as those journals and notes written mainly for oneself. Every experience doesn’t need to be (because it can be) made into a lesson. Not every experience needs to be abstracted into a lesson — sometimes a particular can stay a particular. 18 Nov.

Dogs take the world as they find it. When we go to a local forest preserve prairie, my dog doesn’t ask if it’s true wilderness — he just starts sniffing what’s there to sniff. It’s a reminder to me to attend to what is with me, around me. 19 Nov.

Planter bowl group-portrait. 19 Nov.

Planter bowl group-portrait at the diner. 19 Nov.

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.

Washington Square Park: More from Pocket Pages notebook #50

 

This phone number no longer connects to me.

This phone number no longer connects to me.

21 February 1998: My radio-station colleague Cheryl Uitti the other day said how we’re all haunted by the media image of the white woman.

2 March 1998: Symbolism, paradox, irony, appearance/scene-setting: the literary tools of my new journalism. But are these too pat, too easy a set of analytical tools?

4 March 1998: I’m here at the station late again tonight, but this time it was exciting. Talking with [reporter colleague] Rob about stories, about my organic agriculture story, about using simile, about being passionate and using that to pitch public radio. And I got excited about the crack house story tonight on “All Things Considered” — how raw that was, and how incredible. Maria called and I got excited just telling her all the details of the Whitacre sentencing [I attended]  today — how technical the jargon and details, yet how informal the interaction was. And the judge semi-scolded Whitacre before he read the sentence: how Whitacre was unlike most defendants in that he had opportunity, he was a “meteoric” success, but that his motive was “garden variety venality and greed.”

4 March 1998: Taking a shit is an act of health.

6 March 1998: On plane: Substance/denial/meaning: the fallacy of food and material “pleasures.” There’s no meaning for me there, and therefore little pleasure from food these days — so little desire for candy, shrimp, etc. A hollow experience.

How many people are like me? You don’t hear this (old-fashioned) idea in pop culture. But you can’t legislate or really even preach it and have this idea accepted. People have to see the emptiness for themselves.

6 March 1998: 5-ish, Barnes & Nobles near NYU campus, New York City: There are so many people here. Yet they aren’t all famous. A few rise up — maybe there’s hope for me.

Taking pictures of small things as emblematic of the whole is false.

Old wooden water tanks on top of buildings.

I don’t even want to stop and read things now. I’m too dazed and my attention captured by all the sights around me — buildings, people, etc.

7 March 1998: NYC, hotel lounge, near Chinatown/Little Italy: The fruit seller, the bean curd (?) seller, the mob guys I see out this window — I don’t know them, they’re meaningless, they are symbols, objects to me. The “mob guys” outside “Maria’s Restaurant”: old Scorsese-looking guy smokes a cig, puffing it, not really smoking it, his hands in his pockets, standing there while a young, somewhat unraveled-looking Chinese guy talks excitedly to him. Then the younger guy, who is sweeping thru this and ignoring the guy when he directs his talking and hand-slapping to him, this young guy whips out some bills, the Chinese guy takes them, goes on to a retail store down the street, slides in thru an opened door. Those two stay there like they are conducting street business as much as the curd seller and his shopping cart are. Not long after, they went inside (maybe) and closed the garage door. And a kitty there later — too perfect.

7 March 1998: The subway goes below our hotel. Little tremors, sound like thunder, when it passes.

The older buildings here in Chinatown: lots of dirty walls, old water taknks on top of the buildings.

Lots of foreign voices here in C-town. This would surprise me more if I didn’t hear this with some regularity in Champaign-Urbana. See, I am somewhat worldly compared to how I was in high school.

This city is laid out differently from what I thought from seeing it in movies.

Lots of activity at the fruit stand pretty early — at least there was when I got up at 8.

I’ve seen some pics of NYC in movies, etc., but even those establishing shots don’t move. There are hundreds of views of even the same building, and so the one shot you get in a movie is so 2-D, so shallow, unreal. The richness of even just one building in the flesh vs. a single picture of it.

I’m planning on walking the city today. Even I’m a bit surprised at my — what’s the word — brashness? Comfort with the city? I’m not even sure I would do this with Chicago or D.C. Here, the “good” area is lots bigger. When I look outside at the fruit stands, etc., and see all the moving people, going places, I get a little hesitant to go out into that, to fight crowds, etc. But then I know I want to and I brace myself — but not much because I’m not that reluctant.

9:40, The bean curd guy packed the crates and buckets into his shopping cart, strapped it down with a bungee, and wheeled his business away.

7 March 1998, Saturday, nearly 11 a.m., Washington Square Park, Greenwich Village, NYC: I’m writing this note while sitting on a bench in Washington Square Park! That’s the only real point to the message, is that it’s being written in Washington Square Park.

And as I’m writing this, I’m thinking that as I read this some time in the future, it’ll be more like a thing, a souvenir, than a memory, and that it won’t come anywhere near recreating this scene, which is to say, it’s a cloudy, cool but not cold day, pretty much meets expectations for an early March day. There’s a mild wind, and that’s cold, but OK to sit here for 10-20 minutes, but not much longer. There are a fair number of people here, more adults than any park I’ve ever been to, on a day when there’s no festival, anyway.

All ages of people, all manner — old, parents, lots of young-ish types, 30s and such. Guy with his dog on a 3.5- or 4-foot pedestal. Athletic sort of guy. He tosses a blue ball to the dog and it bumps/pushes it with its nose back to the guy in an arch [or “arc”?] People watch and photograph. Somebody said something like “that dog was in People magazine.”

Little pug dogs around me — little guy nosing all around. A younger woman walked by with a smaller, grayer pug — and the two women talked about the dogs — breeding dogs: “What do you do, put ’em together and let ’em go at it?” — the older blonde smoker with baby — almost a Fred Stoller kind of flat, slow accent. …

There’s a real police presence in the park — several cops walking around, a couple vans. NPR last week said they installed cameras to watch for drugs, etc. I haven’t seen any cameras. A woman during that story said she doesn’t mind surveillance cameras because it makes the park safer, able for her to use it. And I’m thinking about that now as I see the people here. Everyone seems upstanding, not even any gruff-looking people.

A park police guy tells the woman to leash the dogs. The blonde shoves her dog into a mesh basket under the baby carriage. The dog lies down, he doesn’t seem to mind.

Writings done at Washington Square Park.

Writings done at Washington Square Park.

How to describe my sitting here: I’m looking at this pad of paper and seeing the dark green bench, the brick and pavement and my red coat and blue-jean’d legs to the periphery of my vision. I look up, people are scattered at various distances — lots of sitting, walking, watching -(lots of cameras — are professional newspaper photographers here just to get slice-of-life shots? I mean, not that they shoot and print only off-beat photos here, but that this is a regular place to start.) There’s some greening grass, not lush or dense yet. Mostly bare trees, but some are pale, yellowish green with buds. At least the tree is that’s between me and the 85-foot tall monument (I remember the height from a tourist book I read last night).

The monument is north-center in the park. Big brick-paved, concrete-benches circle is in front of me, in park’s center  — and another ring in the middle of that, 100 feet across, maybe. It’s sunken a few feet and step-benches line it, an amphitheater of sorts — a magician/performer was drawing a crowd there yesterday. We didn’t see his act but his circulating of a coffee can: “Any Irish in the crowd? Saint Patrick’s day is coming up. Get out your green.”

A dog run to my right — I’m surprised there aren’t more fights there amongst the leash-free animals.

It’s about 11:30 now. About 10 minutes ago, when the ladies leashed their pugs and left, the whole park play underwent a change of characters. The ball-dog guy left, the dog run cleared out, etc.

The mood here is just kinda mellow — it’s Saturday, nice day for a stroll in the park. There are little kids here, too, dad with two little kids 2,3,4 years at most, in a plastic wagon. Are they NYorkers, I wonder, or tourists. Do those kids live fulltime in Greenwich Village? Those kids are loose now, walking around. One of them does that bubbling giggle, up and down, elicits a smile from yours truly.

Lots of cameras here — is everybody watching everybody else?

I’m conducting a survey of the theory that dogs look like their owners. Not seeing much of a positive correlation in today’s research. I’m starting to get chilled — almost time to go. The park’s open “ceiling” is a nice break from the surrounding tall buildings. The giggling kids are both wearing many-colored fleece overalls, like the PJs I used to wear. One, a pink and purple suit, other, green and blue, with hats.

Bunny Modern author sets his first babynapping scene in Wash Sqr Park. In reading that, I hadn’t quite pictured this, though in a strange way, not so far off, either. A group of about 30 or so college or high schoolers, probably, stopped and posed for a pic around the rim of the amphiteather inner-ring. They want a picture of them in Washington Square Park!

In a way, that’s the image/myth/legend I’m buying into, too, at least when I wrote the first part of this note. The park as a celebrity. A brush with fame! This park today seems safe, even dull — not particularly significant, except for its history,  and that wouldn’t draw people. What draws them is the park’s reputation as it has been popularized in books, movies, etc. [and now in my own blog post. 21 Aug. 2016] For example, the Washington Square imprint is using and furthering the park’s countercultural image. From what I had heard of the park before, I thought it would be in a slum, not near university.

It seems a uniquely NYC phenomenon (or at least it happens a lot more often here ) that you overhear some interesting tidbit of a conversation. Do people talk more openly here than other places, or are their conversations more interesting?

This city, at least around here, has the existentialist image down — lots of thin, serious-looking people, quiet dressers, lots of them smoking. At least on a cloudy day like today it looks existential. Not depressing, per se, but mellow, detached.

My impression before coming here was that TV, sports, radio — common interests elsewhere across the country — aren’t as popular here in NYC because what is popular here (at least in Manhattan) are things like theater and books — what the people are into is books, etc., and I like that.

The scene before me is detailed, sharp — I think the overcast light helps that, lights things evenly so they appear saturated colors, etc., lots of detail. 11:50 a.m.

I moved to a new bench. Couple other things: lots of fences here now — unpaved areas fenced off — to save the grass? Snow fences around black metal pipe permanent fences. The statue of Garibaldi at east side of park the frosted-green patina of copper — the statue pedestal below is in poor shape. The statue is drawing a sword. Under that, on the pedestal, it says:

GARIBALDI 1807–1882

and that’s all. No other words, no plaque justifying this statue’s existence. But the concrete below the words is cracked, chipped, peeling.

I just looked up from my new spot — right ahead of me, to south of park, directly up the road, like a path directly there — are World Trade towers. Finally! I see a NY skyscraper.

You know, I want to walk around the city, see buildings and Central Park — but right now I’m waiting for Maria — she says she wants to go to only one Federalist Society [conference] session. “An odd group,” she said today. (I’m not sure if “odd” was her word, but that was the meaning.) And that was what I was thinking, so it surprised me a little to hear her agree. Too many conservatives, too many lawyers, too many men, too many bowties.

So I have another 45 minutes until I am to meet Maria and I’m not sight-seeing, but I’m very happy just sitting in the park this last hour, writing and observing. This is perfect. Nothing I’d rather do.

The mind-boggling thing is that this area has lots of people, buildings, things going on and things to see. And this is only one small part of one borough out of five in one city of (the cabbie said) 13 million people. There’s just so much going on it would be nearly impossible to write about. At least NYTimes does take an interest in the uniqueness of the city, in its style photos and “Living in the City” diary.

I still want to buy a NYTimes for $2.50 tomorrow (the low cost part of the charm, of course) but I don’t really feel much like reading papers this trip, not like I have wanted to read papers in the past, partly ’cause there’s so much else to see here and I have read the Times before but also I think it’s because I’m so sick of all news lately.

7 March 1998, 12:50 p.m., outside in front of NYU law school: It’s hard to believe some of these “Feddies” — more conservative than libertarian, I’d say — but still. This one plump guy who came out, wearing trench coat, hair quite short, glasses like George Will or something, with ear pieces on top — bow tie, white shirt pressed out by belly — pudgy, bland Rush Limbaugh face and smoking Marlboros — jeezus. Kinda like bland arrogance personified in a young body where it really looks affected and put on. Why — and how — would someone try so hard to look like conservatism larvae? I mean, it has to be a put on, right? That can’t be natural, right? I mean, the guy’s not 25, probably.