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My creative writing student Ali Van Vickle recently took initiative and submitted a short story to TeenInk.com, which published her story! Here’s the start:
I was born in New Orleans into a wealthy family who gave me everything I needed. I’m your typical 13 year old. I love to ride my bike with my friends. As long as I can remember I’ve been happy. I remember my first day of kindergarten was terrifying because I didn’t want to leave my momma. I remember meeting all of my friends and all of the people who weren’t my friends. There was this girl named Sara. She has tortured my friends and I everyday from kindergarten to seventh grade. One day my friends and I were riding our bikes down by the bayou even though our mommas always told us not to. Sara and her friends came and told us that this was their bike path, and if they ever caught us there again they’d throw us into the bayou to the gators. I never road my bike so fast away from something before. I’d never been so scared either.
See more of the story here. She also dedicated the story to me:
My biggest inspiration is my Creative Writing teacher Mr. Hagemann. He has always been encouraging, supporting, and helpful with any of my questions. And he always gives me his honest opinion on my work.
Thanks, Ali! Keep writing!
Lately I’ve been thinking of texts that are written to be published, written for an audience, as performances, and as performances, these texts have a level of artifice that I’d like to question. So what follows below is selections from a text I wrote for myself in my journal. It’s not organized by topic, and it doesn’t fit a typical nonfiction form, but it’s an experiment in editing, in seeing how what final shapes a minimally shaped text can take. I’m wondering why someone might choose to read such an unlabeled, unformed text, and what someone would get from having read it.
At home, a little after 8 a.m. — It’s humid. There’s still much dew-fall on the sliding glass door. More light comes in from the lower half of the door, where rivulets have run.
Just read a piece at New York Times’ The Stone that talked about how brain science seems to suggest that we use the same faculty to look into — to model, presume — our own minds the same way we try to read and model others’ minds. There is no 1st person, the writer says. This piece didn’t upset me in the way that some new theories bother me. I hadn’t thought of it before, but this idea goes along with my previous ideas about the unknowability of my own mind. For example, I don’t know where my ideas or the words that I write come from. “The Greeks” Episode Two talked about Greeks taking ideas from other cultures they met while trading and making colonies. “Ideas” is a word that comes to English directly from the Greek. It suggests that an idea is what could be taken from others without them getting pissed. An idea is not property like a ship or a pot is. Of course, you’re not taking at all but making, making your own concept of what you see others doing.
And perhaps an idea isn’t property (a copyrighted work is “intellectual property” in legal terms, but an idea-qua-idea can’t be copyrighted). But maybe the idea of “the idea” is itself Greek. The notion that we can form ideas, that ideas are things that can be labeled, identified, as much as “rock” or “tree” can be. Though, of course, we still can’t see, touch, or taste ideas.
At Oregon, Ill., McDonalds, seated alongside the wall of windows along the south side of dining room, with a view of cars leaving the drive-thru, about 10 a.m., after dropping my wife off to conduct a real estate closing —
At the diner yesterday, talked to Ashli Waitress’s husband, Jason, who’s working to demolish a building in the Chicago suburbs. There’s a steel structure for moving product inside this old warehouse, and he’s using a hydraulic shears for cutting this steel. The shears can cut steel up to 2 inches thick, he said.
Jason also told me about a former job delivering and repossessing furniture for a rental store in Rockford. How he once had to step over a passed-out dude in the hallway of an apartment building, and how he once got intentionally hit by a woman in a car and he was carried along until his feet got loose, and how he got shot at. Once sofas were repossessed, the employees had a way of opening them with wedges so as to not get stabbed with drug needles. Employees also called cops after discovering certain images on repossessed computers, he said.
“… 40 years old, dropped of a cardiac arrest … they revived her in the hospital after shocking her seven times … she passed a month ago — had her 42nd birthday” at the hospital, said a 60-year-old-ish man to an 80-year-old-ish man sitting at the table west of me.
“I couldn’t hold a frickin’ gallon of milk,” said the 60-ish man, who had slipped and fallen during a winter and thought he’d have to get rotator cuff surgery, but he didn’t.
“Could I get a discount, please?” said McSally. A dark-haired 30-ish McManager came over to a register where another McWorker was on the client side of the counter.
“I’m gonna run up to Rockford. I gotta jump on a conference call,” said 60-year-old guy. “Alright, pop,” said the 60-ish guy. “Alright, kiddo,” said the 80-ish guy as both left their table.
A certain customer will “ask for a senior coffee. He can’t hardly hold it … he should NOT be driving,” said McSally to McKaren, who responded that the old man might cause an accident and not even get hurt himself.
Dark-haired McManager said, “lunchtime” at 10:30. She said it in a low-energy shout, like “Lunch. Time.”
I was thinking this spring that it IS hard — emotionally upsetting — to have one’s beliefs challenged, as I was challenging my high school students’ beliefs during our philosophy unit.
“Can I help you, hun, now that I’m done complaining?” said McKaren to a customer about how she thought the humidity at 6:30 this morning was bad but it’s worse now.
Not that the statement above is such a great quote. Rather, it was a little distracting, so I wanted to get it out of my mind. But also, there’s something about how she really said it — it’s somewhat banal (not entirely, since it does reveal character), but also … I don’t know. I just wanted to record it as a real statement that was really said, a small moment but now it’s recorded. It was made a “moment” by my recording it? That maybe there is something special about me writing real things down — that writing them down, that making a text, is an act that is strange — estranged from? — living life, regular life. It’s normal for me to write, but maybe I forget how weird it is to write, actually.
There was a short-coated dog hanging out a passenger window of an SUV — it looked a little like the RCA Victor dog.
“They got it off Pinterest or somethin’,” said McSally. Pinterest is a thing, now.
I try to figure things out sometimes and shut out — mentally shut out, ignore — my surroundings. Yet, why bother? So many texts are written that way. And when I read, I like to shut out outside input — like, just now, the horn solo of Little River Band’s “Reminiscing” and like McSally saying, “What are cheeseburger cupcakes?” and McDark Hair Manager saying, “They look like cheeseburgers.”
Shutting out one’s surroundings, being able to focus on the text, both as writer and as reader, can be really nice at times. But also, it could be nice to read texts where (like this text), the writer is out in public and includes what he hears and sees going on around him while also writing whatever ideas come into the writer’s head.
A dude asks the McCounter workers — he’s new to the area, he says — and he asks how to get Internet and/or cable. They name some utilities for him, fulfilling their community-information function.
What I write — I’m of this area, this county. I publish on my own blog rather than submitting my writing to edited websites. There’d be a sense in leaving my community, of having to go away to make it big, in submitting my work to others. I saw corn plants in a certain field on the drive to McDonald’s today — Ogle County is cornfields, and is not people and culture. I’ve developed as a writer while living in this rural area, without much influence from other writers, and that lack of influence is perhaps a result of, a mark of, having developed while out here in this open place. Sometimes this place can feel desolate, empty of smart people who share my interests, but this morning I wasn’t feeling that. I was feeling that there’s something meditation-promoting about this cornfield. I didn’t feel desolate. I felt that this corn — tassling out, the row curving — was as good as any. That I could stop and meditate there.
“Do we have cookies back, Sal?” asked McKaren. “I don’t think so,” said McSal. “I’m taking the last of the chocolate chip,” said McKaren, as a client stood at the counter. The client wore pajama pants printed with what looked like heart-shapes with sashes across them, with the sashes reading “LOVE” — upcloser (I used the ruse of getting napkins), I saw that there was a sword through the red shape and a flower and that some of the designs were mirror-imaged (or flipped?) so that “LOVE” was spelled “backwards-E,” “O,” “V,” “backwards-L.”
There’s a sense that people who write about rural areas have to do so in the forms approved y city-dwelling editors — intellectuals, in other words (although right-wing propaganda, less so, I’d think).
Having my own website is less glamorous than publishing with the imprimatur of an imprint, but publishing on my own website is wonderfully direct. These are the words coming directly from this author, without intercession.
At the Diner, noon:05, after having picked up my wife after her real estate closing and taken her to lunch — I could post this day’s writing. I don’t need to write on a topic, so I could put up whatever. But I also don’t need to blurt.
But if the point of publishing isn’t to tell a message but just to share my mind, share a text that comes from my experience, to share a bit of my mind — a mystical aspect of a text.
“I don’t think Lucinda cares for him too good,” said a 60-year-old-ish woman to another woman eating across from her in the booth behind my wife.
Back at home, 10:45 p.m. — I typed in some, not all, of today’s journal. I was tempted to cut down what I entered — I had the idea to take just one paragraph’s worth of idea out of any one day’s journal. But then I thought, I’m not sure I should cut down. Give it a try, type in a long piece. There’s no need to include everything from the journal entry, yet I wonder if I’m judging by traditional, too-narrow standards if I cut down my texts. Leave it long, don’t talk yourself out of doing it before you try it.
Of course, what I like is to write. I write for the engaged writing experience — publishing comes second as a priority. But maybe what I want is to have a text that reveals a nimble mind — maybe that’s my organizing guideline. I could even have a long version and a short version (an Abstract, or a “TL;DR” section).
Before Byronfest 2016 had even begun, my friend Nina said a Greek food booth’s proprietor had brought a tin can of olive oil from Greece as a gift for one of the festival’s organizers. Nina said, “It’s 11:30, and weird things are already happening.” 8 July.
Surveying the food-booth line-up, my wife said, “everything about this says gastric distress to me.” 8 July.
Nina said she normally doesn’t respond to a certain angry friend, but she had responded the night before. “I got mean back — it was the WHISKEY! [she whisper-shouted, and then paused] and maybe the Rumple Minze, too.” She’d puked Saturday morning. “And THEN you ate crab cakes?” from a festival food booth, I asked. She said, “I felt like a DREAM after I threw up.” Also, her dad had tasted the crab cakes and he’s fine, she added, quoting him: “‘Well, it’s not the worst one I ever had.'”
Someone with the band Amperage asked the few fans sitting in the noontime sunlight Saturday, “has anybody every heard of a band called AC/DC?” which question was not answered, so the band guy said,“we’re gonna play it anyway, even though they suck, apparently,” and he laughed. 9 July.
Drew Baldridge said these things from stage during his set: “This is so much FUN, y’all!” and “I have a brand-new album, y’all — SO exciting!” A few minutes later, his band played a bit of “All About That Bass.” Later, when Drew sang “Friends in Low Places,” I realized that I remember hearing that song at high school dances back before Drewwas even born. I felt old.
Is anybody in the crowd from Byron, asked a singer with the band “Whoa Nellie” at about 4 p.m. Saturday. Then, “can you walk home from here? Then head over to that beer tent, please,” he said. 9 July.
Nina said of the crowd hearing Dwoo Bawdwidge, “this is good people-watching. Lotta crop tops.”
One of the people working the festival to earn community service hours said, of the beverages on the reefer truck, “the beer I’d give away. The Pepsi I’d guard with my life.” 9 July.
Saturday afternoon, I heard over the walkie-talkies used by festival organizers that there was a child who’d lost his mom. The mom’s name was Anna, and the child’s name was Gabriel, we heard. “Does Gabriel know his last name?” asked one organizer. Gabriel did, and we were told his full name, and a few minutes later, we were told that there was a mother and child reunion. “Yay!” walkie-talkie’d someone at headquarters. 9 July.
“You sound familiar,” I said after first hearing my wife’s voice as the voice of headquarters over the walkie-talkies. “I’d better,” my wife said. Saturday 9 July.
Later, when I went to headquarters, someone there said I take notes on everything. No, “just when people say stuff,” I said. Then my friend Becca said I should write that down.
“Stop giving my kids goldfish!” one festival-goer said she told, or felt like telling, one of the carnival booth workers. 9 July.
“Could I have an officer [go] across the street from McDonald’s to talk to a lady about a situation?” asked someone on the walkie-talkie. My wife said she heard people in headquarters debating what “situation” could mean. A naked 70-year-old might qualify as a situation, someone said. 9 July.
When my friend Becca, whose husband is a sheriff’s deputy, was offered an alcohol beverage, she declined by saying, “I don’t want my own husband pulling me over. It’s such an awkward thing.” Saturday night.
“I don’t criticize the help, unless it’s you,” said one festival committee member to another, who’d just teased the volunteers. 9 July.
“We’re going to Disneyland in four days. We’re NOT going to Byronfest,” said Caitlyn Two Waitress about her son wanting to ride on carnival rides. 10 July.
A singer with the band Soap Stone explained his band’s name this way: “‘Soap’ like you lather with, and ‘stone’ like you might chuck at people.” 10 July.
After learning how much beer was consumed by the servers themselves at the Lions Club beer tent, the beer distributor’s representative said, “How were you volunteering?” 10 July.
Art fans in my county can look at another example of artistic wrapping (see earlier example here) by driving on Route 2 north of Oregon, Ill., to see Lorado Taft’s “The Eternal Indian” statue, commonly referred to as the “Blackhawk Statue.” What looks intriguingly like a green monolith on a green hillside is actually the statue under protective wraps while it undergoes restoration work to repair cracking concrete. The picture below doesn’t give a sense of the statue’s scale, but it does focus on some of the disintegration:
Exactly seven minutes into this year’s Byronfest on July 10 (see details from last year’s here), I saw and heard a ponytailed dude shouting a lot of F-words at another dude near the Carnival stage where the ’80s cover band Sunset Strip was soon to perform. Rumor had it that the fight had caused the band to break up and be unable to perform. But a person in position to know told me that the fight was between a stage hand and the merchandise guy. The show went on. (Someone else who also heard the fight claimed that “I slept with her; I been sleepin’ with her” was also shouted.)
The morning before the party started, one of the fest organizers saw me walking near the Century bar about 7 a.m. and he shouted at me, out his truck window: “Goin’ to the Century for shots before this shit starts, or what?”
I spent most of my Byronfest as a volunteer fetching beer, “Ritas” (Lime-A-Rita et al), and other beverages, and counting the distributions. A Byronfest organizer saw me drinking a bottle of water Friday evening and said to me, “Hey, you’re the beer supervisor, not the water supervisor.”
In their cover of “Moby Dick,” Kashmir’s drummer played a minutes-long drum solo, which involved both a timpani and a gong. I heard the whole solo, but I think I zoned out and my attention wandered a couple times.
I heard a carnival barker trochaically yell, “STEP right UP, ya WIN.”
One of the Byronfest organizers asked me to fetch beer from the locked reefer while she borrowed my keys to get ice from the locked ice trailer. I said I’d just go with her to get the ice because if I gave her my keys, I’d have nothing to do but stand around and look pretty. She didn’t laugh.
My wife and I ate dinner at a restaurant just outside one of the festival entrances. “Look,” I said to her at 7:52 p.m. Friday, “people keep showing up to this thing.”
I also brought soda to the local high school’s Key Club’s soda-selling tent. The advisor, who was in his first year, asked me whether I knew anything about another vendor who brought over a bucket of shaved ice and offered to trade it for free pop. I did not. Eventually, I was told, they made the exchange.
Friday night, I witnessed local TV anchor Whitney Martin take several attempts to throw a softball at the dunk-tank target before she ran up and pushed the target by hand and dunked a dude.
Magic Dave brought my friend’s son up to participate in a trick involving red, white, and blue handkerchiefs becoming a U.S. flag. When Magic Dave finished the trick and said, “that really is the American flag,” the boy heckled from three feet away, “No, it isn’t!” My friend said his son had just seen the same trick done by a birthday party magician.
I wore a walkie-talkie during Byronfest. In a short duration, I heard: 1. a request for wasp spray to be brought to a ticket booth; 2. that some patron had put an admission wristband on too tight and wanted another; and 3. that an older gentleman wanted to bring his Coke onto festival grounds when signs clearly stated that no outside containers were permitted. But this man was the designated driver, and “he’s a veteran,” said the radio voice. I didn’t hear whether there was a dispensation.
The parade announcer, seemingly reading from a script, described that there was a dunk tank fundraiser for a local preschool, and he encouraged the crowd to “go dunk Pastor Randy!”
“In your arms, I’ve had the best, and I think the world should know,” sang a skinny dude I think was rising country star Mo Pitney during what looked like a practice or sound-check Saturday morning. I heard that line and thought, well, yeah, that pretty much sums up why anyone would ever write a love song.
“I guess we’re ready to rock ‘n’ roll,” said the lead singer of the band Prowler at their 11 a.m. performance at the Festival Stage. He also said something about waking up the citizens of Byron. He said this to a dozen or so audience members.
A light rain Saturday afternoon lasted ’til about 8 p.m.
A friend of mine who also volunteered for Byronfest noted that one food vendor wore an apron that read, “Eat Dawn’s Taco.” These tacos were “deep fried, and they were good,” my friend said.
Thursday, 2 July, 2015, at the Leydig Center resale shop, Dixon, Illinois, which shop seems to be located in an old factory. It takes in donations, as below, and what profits it makes go to local charities–a worthy cause. Of course, it’s also a whole store full of stuff people didn’t want, and this gives me a chance to observe the material culture of a certain cross-section of the rural Illinois population.
Note: I didn’t really take pictures of the people of the Leydig Center, which would’ve been (and could be) a whole other project. Suffice it to say, there’s plenty of local color there. At the checkout, I heard this: “We couldn’t win for losin’ there for a while,” said one middle-aged guy who was talking about taking jobs at places that had closed down soon after he was hired.