Category Archives: Ogle County Poet Laureate

Good writing seduces, bad writing awakens: March 2020 notes

Outside Union Dairy, Freeport, Illinois. 7 March 2020

‡  Saw an “L” shape on a rural road. It tipped and became a squirrel. [2 March 2020]

‡  Patterns are not icons — by “icons,” I mean cliché images, like “the lone tree in the field,” such as the one I drive past most mornings. Iconic images are ones I try to avoid photographing, no only because they’re clichés but also because they seem to imply a meaning (a lone tree represents solitude, loneliness, etc). But patterns — like, say, a certain repetition of ice crystals or a sequence of toys on a shelf — aren’t cliché or meaning-heavy. [2 March & 9 March].

‡  When things are set close together and similar, that’s asking for them to be compared. [4 March]

‡  Maybe most teaching is coaching, having students do and redo certain things until they are automatic: rehearsing a play or performing a cheer routine. But I don’t always like the coaching model, even with fairly routine things like fixing sentence fragments. I want my students not to memorize a routine but to be able to respond to different sentences. [5 March]

NIU campus, approached from the west. 5 March 2020

‡  There’s not much narrative coherence in dreams. Also not in life, if you don’t stay in the story (like today, I’ll find myself at N.I.U., which is not a normal setting for my lived experience). [5 March]

‡  A history of smells: What were the common smells someone alive in a small Midwestern town would’ve smelled in 1858? Horse manure? Wood smoke? Body odor? (My mom says her grandmother, born in 1904, remembers there being a smell to most adults, before bathing was frequent.) Being an adult in the 1990s, I remember when most public restaurants and bars smelled of cigarette smoke, and since smoking in public places has been banned, those smells indoors aren’t as common today. I wonder too about a personal history of smells. In my life, I love the smell of wintergreen, perhaps (as I found out in recent years) because my mom used wintergreen candies to encourage my progress in being potty-trained. I also strongly associate the smells of woodsmoke and animal fat with visiting my uncle in the barn where he skinned, fleshed, and dried pelts of beaver, muskrat, raccoon, and other furbearers. [7 March]

‡  How many days I’ve been conscious — ALL of them! — for all the decades I’ve been alive. [9 March]

‡  Good writing seduces, distracts. I get pulled into spending too much time reading online, and escapism has a place in my life, sure. But bad writing — unpolished, not-publication-smoothed — wakes one up. Finding a misspelling in a story disperses the spell that the narrative casts on the reader. On the other hand, maybe it’s OK to not be under a spell! So many businesses want an audience’s “eyeballs,” people’s attention, to get money from them. What about a literature that doesn’t want to capture readers’ attention? That might be a non-capitalist literature, available for free. Or maybe the distinction isn’t good/polished writing versus bad/unpublishable writing. Rather, the distinction is smooth, easy, familiar, bingeable versus prickly, new, legitimately attention-repelling. [11-12 March]

‡  We teach each other — subtly, indirectly — all the time. [11 March]

‡  If you need to market yourself, you need to have a brand, be unique, stand apart. But if I don’t need to market myself, I don’t have to claim to be unique. [12 March]

‡  Fitting into a discipline — say, becoming a trained ballet dancer — can shape you, and perhaps there is value in being shaped. But there’s also value in the uncarved block! There’s value in seeing individual people not as generic people in school (or other) systems, not as role-players, but in seeing them as uncarved blocks themselves, as individuals full of potential! [12 March]

‡  The vague dread — awaiting the spread of the pandemic virus. The dread of not-knowing — having a serious situation I’ve never seen before in my whole life. I get image of low, dark blue clouds on horizon. And I wonder if perhaps this could become the kind of event after which a lot of things  change — hopefully for the better (a better social safety net, etc). I just noticed a Slate.com article: “We’re not going back to the way life was before.” [midday & afternoon of 12 March 2020]

‡  I have already joked to a couple people about the woman I saw at grocery store yesterday with three boys whose cart was nearly full — it included several boxes of Pop Tarts. My wife said you can tell what people value — she said she saw a dude with three cases of Snapple. The guy who helped carry our groceries to our car said his boss had texted him — he showed us the text — something like “keep stocking t.p.” [13 March 2020]

Dandelion-greens salad, fresh from my yard. 23 March

‡  Why we have other people around instead of just having cardboard cut-outs or pics or texts that people have written: texts, personas, images, and ideas can’t respond. But a person can respond — which also means that the respond-able person isn’t any fixed, steady, permanent idea. A real person isn’t always cool or kind or any trait (traits being defined, fixed). [24 March]

‡  A reminder to myself: you know, you can’t go dine out or go get coffee — but you ARE still alive, for god’s sake, meaning you can still look, think, write, relate to others, etc. — all the stuff you’d do were you located in any place, say, like in a waiting room or in a park or something. In other words, it’s not like getting a latte or a particular meal or buying a book, etc., would be all that satisfying. The tastes aren’t all that important. [24 March]

Empty downtown Byron, Illinois, Weds. 25 March 2020, afternoon.

‡  I’m starting a personality profile of our neighbor dog, a big Labradoodle named Paisley. I decided that she’s a Wings fan — “Listen to what the Paisley says.” My wife said, “Paisley does NOT strike me as a Wings fan.” When I told my neighbor about my supposition, he said Paisley’s much more of a Bob Seger fan. [26 March]

Our cat sleeps like a hibernating chipmunk. 28 March

‡  I remember days (four days) later the woman at the produce aisle last Friday, who saw my shopping list and said she should’ve made a list, too. [31 March]

Our cat worships at our home printer like it’s his god. He had ignored it before it was plugged in and came to life. 30 March

Pine Rock, Ogle County, Illinois

Though I’ve lived near this sandstone prominence most of my life, I’d never stopped to see it up close until last Monday. I didn’t see many pines around Pine Rock, but I did see many cool views:

View of Pine Rock from the northwest, just off Route 64 between Rocky Hollow and Pine Rock roads.

View from west-southwest of rock. My shadow’s at lower left.

Cracks, view from SW.

Many cavities in the rock.

View from southwest.

View from south.

Closer view, south side.

Southside detail of Pine Rock.

Southeast corner of Pine Rock, camera facing east.

Southeast corner of Pine Rock, as seen from south.

A shaded bit of the southeast corner. Camera’s facing southwest.

Sand at base of rock, southeast side, near oak leaves, acorns, and snow.

Sand worn from rock is a light-gray color.

A variety of colors in the sandstone, southeast corner.

On southeast side, a minicave.

A view of several feet of the southeast-facing side.

A seam in the rock at southeast end, seen from south.

View from east.

View from northeast of rock.

Looking southwest from northside of rock.

Detail, west side.

A bit of moss in the lower right, view of northmost piece of rock from west.

View from west of the northernmost piece.

Closer view of the northernmost piece as seen from west.

Lichens

Release from a partial view: Notes and photos 18 Feb. to 30 March

 

View southwest from Holcomb Road, east of White Rock Road, 7 March.

News media start from a position of generalizing (three instances of something make a trend, and then a trend-story can be written, I once heard a reporter say). Particular instances — what one person’s going through — don’t matter. But my writings are always just my ideas, my/Matt’s/one person’s ideas, words, and texts. That’s their limited position, and that’s their power — the power of one person’s words is linked to the reputation of that one personThis is what’s implied by the advice to “consider the source.” (27 Feb.)

Woodman’s, Rockford, 4 March.

“Guys, he’s old, give him a break,” said a student in my creative writing class when I introduced essayist David Sedaris by saying he was famous as an author, which means he isn’t as famous as pop singer Candi B. My students corrected that to “Cardi B.,” and laughed at me, before my student defended me with the statement above. (28 Feb.)

View inside a corn-crib building at Heritage Farm, Byron Forest Preserve. 15 March

There seems an impulse in the society/culture to distinguish oneself. I’ve felt that way at times. But as a teacher, I’m a little like a monk, living that monkish life of service, of no advancement, but of fulfilled (whole) moments. Perhaps our moments seem full because we aren’t reaching to ambition, to some next thing. If I’m doing the monk-like work of just being here with students, then I don’t need to brag how much I’ve accomplished or how I distinguish myself from others. This need to reach for more and make myself stand out is perhaps a capitalist-culture value. (5 March)

The monk-model of my job goes along with what I’ve said in recent weeks about being more interested in the continuous than the unusual (and thus, avoiding news) and not needing to accomplish (not do, but be). Somehow humility mixes in here, too, because we teachers don’t do anything special, accomplishments-wise. We’re not, for example, making new knowledge, like college profs do. There’s no competition, no winning or losing — it’s Carse’s infinite game! (6 March)

Big ol’ stack a’ sugar. County Market, Byron, 18 Feb.

School buses look about the same now as they did when I was starting to ride them almost 40 years ago. Computers have changed, but other things haven’t. (7 March)

View west from the Stillman Bank drive-thru, Stillman Valley, Ill., 28 Feb.

“Where are the air-jellyfish?” my wife asked, going on to ask why there aren’t more animals just living by floating around in the air, as there are floating in the oceans. My guess is that water contains more dissolved resource-chemicals than air does, but I don’t really know. (7 March)

It’s nice that my dog doesn’t complain about my footsteps being louder than his when we’re in the woods. (9 March)

Why should an attitude of certainty seem to help an advocate win an argument? Is this a flaw in the arguments process? (14 March)

All the things I do to get ready for school — all the things I do that a dead man couldn’t. (14 March)

Church Road, approaching Holcomb Road, White Rock Township, 7 March.

It’s a sunny spring afternoon and my grandpa’s gone. The world’s still here, even though he’s not. (14 March)

Detail of east wall of house of barbed-wire inventor Joe Glidden, DeKalb, Ill., 15 March.

Perhaps there’s a fine line between being skeptical of others and being self-righteous. (16 March)

View of Joe Glidden house, east-wall and addition, 15 March.

Meditating may not take my mind to a truer view — but I’m briefly released from a partial (my usual and limited) view. (21 March)

The problem of audience — we can try to appeal to those who aren’t similar to us (though there’s a risk of stereotyping and pandering to people we don’t know well), but that attempt may be futile. (21 March)

A view into a cooler, Potbelly Sandwiches, DeKalb, Ill., 15 March.

“What is real” isn’t an idea — it might be the idea, the only idea — the idea that is at the center of any moment of consciousness. (23 March)

Ambiguity — going beyond simple statements — is poetic? (23 March)

When we learn something in the formal setting of school (or workplace, etc.), we expect to learn technical things (things that won’t necessarily be intuitive) and we know we’ll have to use this info in certain ways (memorize it for a test, use new equipment properly, etc.). We have that formal-learning context — as distinct from the personal, experiential learning we do informally and, perhaps, unintentionally in the rest of our lives. (25 March)

The view down a corrugation in the metal sheathing of a storage building. A gap between the corrugation and the trim below allows light in. 15 March.

A Sunny, Snowy Commute

After a day of snow and cold, the sun came out today and created some cool scenes and shapes along my Ogle County commute this afternoon:

Railroad crossing on Bethel Road.

Just west of railroad crossing.

A tin shed at southwest corner of Route 64 and Church roads. When I first noticed the fellow in the barn window, I thought it was a cat.

But then I was pretty sure it was a fox.

Snow dunes.

View from just south of Route 64 and Church Road intersection. View is toward the northwest, and the nuclear power plant’s steam cloud is just above the horizon on the right side. Also, Illinois is a flat sea of dirt clods.

A clod mountain shadow.

Two buck deer on south side of Holcomb Road, east of Meridian Road.

Bridge over the frozen Stillman Creek, facing north from Holcomb Road.

View of Rock River west from the bridge at Byron.

The Fine Print on STOP Signs

A new series:

My student Ali gets published!

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!

Making a text is strange: Monday 18 July 2016 journal

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.

A dog sticking out of driver's window of this van. This is from my McPerspective at my McSeat.

A dog sticking out of driver’s window of this van. This is from my McPerspective at my McSeat. (This dog is different from the the RCA dog mentioned below.)

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.”

Ogle County soldiers' memorial, in front of the county jail and, further back, a church spire for the First Presbyterian Church of Oregon, Ill.

Ogle County soldiers’ memorial, in front of the county jail and, further back, a church spire for the First Presbyterian Church of Oregon, Ill.

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).