Category Archives: Photos

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

Fuzzy fall photos

Blurry Sam. 11 Sept. 2019

Sam dog under dew glass. 11 Sept. 2019.

2 Oct. 2019. Ogle County soybean field.

 

Corn leaves turning silver after frost. 15 Oct. 2019.

Soybean field and corn field, Ogle County. 15 Oct. 2019

Impressionist corn stalks. 15 Oct. 2019.

Rain in the post office parking lot. 26 Oct. 2019

Halloween morning snow. Illinois Route 72, 31 Oct. 2019

Illinois Route 2, 31 Oct. 2019

31 Oct. 2019

31 Oct. 2019

31 Oct. 2019

31 Oct. 2019

22 Sept. 2019: An Image and An Idea

22 Sept. 2019. On the front of the truck parked facing me in Oregon, Ill.

φ  You even don’t have to fret about other drivers not using their turn signals!

Ag Day 2019

I took my creative writers out to our school’s agriculture day, held by our FFA students, to make similes and write haiku:

Like scratching Otis Calf’s neck.

Student mentions “Hell Cow” being bitten by The Dracula as I scratch Otis Calf’s back.

Like a toy combine harvesting cocktail toothpicks.

Straw slides like snow across pavement.

Like a fuzzy-headed kid watching smooth-feathered ducks.

Alfred Calf’s two white spots on red forehead were near his scooped-out horn spots.

Like chickens in parallel.

One lamb lies in corner of red-metal pen.

Like a duck in the hands.

She said the ducks were named Lucky and Charm. I suggested REAL names, like Steve and Ruth. Now we just have to remember those names.

Like sawdust on a pig’s back.

Duck’s feathers vibrate in breeze. One feather flies up on turkey’s back.

Like two weaned lambs missing their mothers.

Otis Calf lives with goats. He may not know he’s a cow. He’ll retire to a horse pasture one day, his owner said.

Like the facial hair on a pot-bellied pig.

Oranges, grapes, and strawberries mellow out the armful of pig, the holder told us.

Like the sculpture of a duck’s back.

The turkey’s back: Feathers iridesce. Inner eyelid flashes powder blue.  Blue horn deflates.

Like the rough tongue of Otis Calf.

Turkey says, “Block. Block. Block. Block” as it velociraptors toward a boy and his mother.

Like a turkey loose on campus.

‘Don’t be so self-conscious as to write about it!’: April notes from pocket pages

“Paid actor endorsements for products. Individuals in the spot are fictitious.” Photo’d from TV 20 April.

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What am I supposed to believe about/from a piece of fiction? [1 April 2019]

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Most businesses are, or potentially are, so ephemeral. Even big companies need to keep making sufficient money consistently to survive. It’s remarkable that banks are willing to lend to these ephemeral entities. But banks lend to people, too, and surely people are ephemeral. A business must be tended more-or-less every day, like pets, to stay alive. [4 April]

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In creating a text, writers are offering a reading experience to others. What would be the full range of reading experiences? [4 April]

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Cat on chest, dog in hand. 2 April.

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The moment of me looking at the textured black plastic of my open car door this morning, a glimpse that I had, a moment of being conscious and seeing some real object — and it’s not that I want so share this experience — or do I? Maybe I just want to record this conscious experience, this experience of an familiar object. [5 April.] Or: what is obvious here and now (at present) is merely an idea through writing. [6 April. ]

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That disconnect of seeing and reading about local buildings in a book yesterday, and then I could go see the buildings today — I had some of this feeling about Monroeville, too. There’s an excitement in (or created by?) the reading? The dissonance in “here IS what I read, imagined.” [5 April]

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Bored dog waiting for me to write outside the local library. 7 April.

6:25 p.m., at the same benches on the east side of my local library where dog and I were a couple-three (or four?) weeks ago. Here I am. I did moments ago remember a thought that came during this morning’s journals but which I don’t think I wrote: that reading, in its ability to pull attention (and thus, minds) away from the here-and-now is kinda magical — or at least it’s a kind of power that reading (or words, basically) has (have). Maybe this goes to the core of abstraction or thinking or imagining — that is, having a mind helps people learn from past experiences and prepare for future ones, and so thinking can be used to help us, but being too immersed in thinking (in mediated experiences) isn’t necessarily good. Thinking is a tool capable of being used or abused, or both. Well, it’s a lot milder than my last time sitting here while the dog wanted to keep going. And, well, I am at this spot again as I write. I’m at a place on the earth that’s not my dining room table (where most of my journals get written, even if I don’t state that fact every day). I suppose readers would have to take my word that I’m here. I could describe the bird song and traffic noise and the leaves rattling as they slide on pock-marked concrete. [7 April]

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If there’s no overall theme (organizing idea) in a publication, then one’s attention is on the publication itself — a magazine or the Today show or my blog (who’s only organizing principle is me). [8 April]

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The library’s tree. 7 April

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Where my attention settles as I drive. I look from place to place, I notice various things — yet I still attend to driving. This process of what I notice seems somewhat opaque to me.  [8, 21 April]

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George R.R. Martin’s fans don’t care about him except for his writing of novels. I think I’d like to have readers who would care about me as a person, and not just as a supplier of story-product. [8, 21 April]

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Spiders write poems at local video store. 7 April

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A property — not land itself, but a piece of land as a property — is just an idea, and a deed is just an idea — but so too is history just an idea. These suit each other. History is made from ideas, not from land or other objects themselves. [9, 21 April]

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I wrote a while (years) ago that I’d want to get a Ph.D. in now — not in the idea of now, just in now. But this has got to be metaphorical — Ph.D.s aren’t given for being. There’s nothing, really, to report — or is there? There’s no need to report from awareness. And there’s freedom from ideas in the present moment. (Like the Emerson quote about out not needing to bring rags into the new hour — but quoting Emerson does precisely what he says not to do, of course). [9 April]

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I knew I was close to school but it was hard to know how close when fog blocks landmarks. 8 April

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Writings are at best a way to instruct myself (or others) at other times to be mindful — or IS there a way to read mindfully? [9 April]

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Perhaps it’s my decision to judge my own situation at a particular time as being as happy as a story? My cat’s partly on my lap, partly on the table. His head’s ahead of me. It can be that. I just eat my cashews and raisins and I pet cat’s head and choose to do nothing more. But don’t be so self-conscious as to write about it! The cat shares his consciousness (he yawns and snaps jaws shut, then does left-ear grooming) with me. And now he’s down. I was (and am again) reading on my phone a New Yorker piece about Nelson Algren — mere ideas. [10 April]

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My arguments today with a student about the merits of To Kill a Mockingbird. I’d like to be seen not just as someone who has thought-out views or a strong point of view, but as someone who’s analytical method/approach can be followed. I don’t want to scare students off — I’d like (hope) they find something in my model worth following or trying themselves. Of course, I may never know if I’m a model for anyone else — I don’t know that I told my mentors that they were models to me. Maybe I did tell a couple of them — yet, what is it worth to tell them this? [10 April]

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Inches of April snow. 15 April

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What I write (even journals), others can probably read. If I can write it, others can read it. Even if I wrote in a code, it’d be decipherable. I mean, I’d really have to work hard to write in a way that wasn’t readable. (This in light of my mom’s point that diarists wouldn’t write if they didn’t want their words read.) [10 April]

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My wife said that the reason why romance stories often have love in extreme circumstances (between two unlikely lovers, say) is to convey a sense to readers of how their own love-story seemed unusual and unlikely — though of course it can’t be all that unusual, since people in real life fall in love quite often. [10 April]

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My wife said that when neighborhood kids gathered in our backyard one day last week, they all watched our dog turn away from them and poop. One kid said, “It’s really big!” about the dog’s butthole-dilation or the turd circumference or both. [11 April]

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Nonfiction is creative, I told my writing students, in that the writer chooses what to write and how to write it. [11 April]

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My work gets done just by me going to work everyday. I don’t gotta obsess over getting done. [11 April]

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Half my face and a wall of deed books at the county recorder’s office. 17 April

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Lot lines create properties AND places — a field or pasture isn’t a spot until there’s something to mark it. [11 April]

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This afternoon I wondered if I had anything more I wanted to write before the calendar day was over — like meeting a paperwork deadline. But I don’t usually think that way — dates on each note are more like “New Message” signs than time capsules (though maybe they’re both). [11 April]

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What’s the large number of times I’ve unbuttoned and unzipped my pants (to dress, to pee, etc.) — a few times a day for thousands of days! After calculating, I realize I’ve been alive almost 16,500 days! And if I unbutton 5 times a day, that’s over 82,000 unbuttonings. Of course, some of those days I wore shorts. [12 April]

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Reading Rochelle City Council minutes from 1874 for a research project I’m doing with some of my high school writing students, I thought about how detailed these are, how they don’t tell a great narrative but in their particularity of dollar amounts and votes and actions taken, they seem to make their time seem not all that distant — at least, as compared to how distant seem the 1870s settings described by Laura Ingalls Wilder in her Little House books. But then, she was writing about the 1870s decades later, and writing through her memory and nostalgia made those times seem distant. But the 1870s were modern for some people — and it was not really so different being then from being alive now. A person’s basic consciousness surely hasn’t changed that much. But there are several popular autobiographical fictions — including those of Nelle Harper Lee  and Jack Kerouac — that were written years or decades after the events described therein. I’m suggesting a distinction between writings done soon after the events occurred (like city council and other official records, but also journal-writings) and those stories written years later — that maybe there’s something about telling stories years later that makes them easier to tell, that the writer’s mind has a chance to shape the story just through remembering and retelling the events — and this years-later writing perhaps lays a sense of clarity of meaning over events that soon-after writing doesn’t have. However, these told-years-later stories take on a sense of the mythic, the better-than-real-life, while soon-after writing feels more authentic to how life is lived. I feel like it’s taken me years to stop trying to find that mythic-story sense in my daily-lived life. [16, 18, 21 April]

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I’m not special to my journals. I’m necessential (necessary and essential), for without me, there’d be no journals getting written. But there’s a difference in being special to one’s family and seeming special to one’s fans. My family needs me for financial and emotional support in a way that my fans (should they exist) never will. In their need, my family and friends appreciate me, but don’t see my mind as quasi-magical (an attitude I may have adopted towards certain artists I’ve admired). My consciousness, my experience, aren’t special to others — except that others can read about these. People who don’t write their experiences remain unspecial because they remain unknown. [17 April]

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As I grew up, I first became conscious, and then as I developed my consciousness (through experience, education, etc.), I became aware of others and of the world. I formed models of and opinions of others and of things in the world. In later years, my development seems to have been in becoming more conscious of my own consciousness, of my own ways of thinking. I think this is where I can still learn: questioning why and how I have the models and opinions that I have [17 April]

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Forsythia blooms, 19 April.

‘Look at these things that are where they are’: January pocket pages

Snow drift as a moon rise. 20 Jan.

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Everything lasts just a moment — specifically, here, I mean the laughs after a joke, the cry after a drama scene, the blown-mind after hearing a new idea. These all last only briefly. After that moment, I might remember that an artwork is good without feeling that first-moment reaction. 6 Jan. 2019.

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“I’m bad at walking, buddy,” I told my dog, Sam, when I slipped on the hardwood floor near our blue couch and he, on the couch, looked up as startled. 6 Jan.

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Lights around a city-owned treetrunk. 2 Jan.

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If “I don’t care” means almost the same as “I don’t mind,” then “care” would be a synonym for “mind” — caring is akin to paying attention? (In the movie “Lady Bird,” a character says that paying attention is the same as loving something.) 7 Jan.

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As of this January 2019, I have outlived Thoreau,who died at age 44. Fitzgerald was 44, also. I learned this weekend that I’ve also outlived Kierkegaard, who died at 42. George Gershwin didn’t make it to 40. Of course these people are each more accomplished than I am, but, in a petty way, I feel good about having outlived them. I have a chance to keep thinking, keep learning, and perhaps to become more wise, more thoughtful than any of these dudes were. I also realized recently that Heidegger was only about 38 when he published Being and Time. I was intimidated by that work when I was an undergrad, but now that I’m older than he was when he wrote it, I feel I might have enough wisdom to understand it — or to dismiss it as not all that important!  9 Jan and late Jan.

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Sharply drifted snow. 20 Jan. 2019

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We don’t get to make many choices about our families. We don’t get to choose our parents or any other ancestors. We get to choose our romantic partner, and we choose to have kids (but we don’t get to choose the kids’ personalities or other qualities). And the choices we do make, we often make at a fairly young age, and then live with the consequences the rest of our lives. 9 Jan.

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An aspect of being in a location near-but-not-within a town — for example, being a couple miles outside of a small prairie town — is that distance, seeing that distance one is away from the landmark, is part of the experience of being at that location. When you’re in the town already, or when you’re in a forest, or other vision-limited place, you don’t experience distance. Also, when I’m looking at a town from a distance, it might as well be a landscape painting — it’s not real from a distance. Work happens up close. 10 Jan. & 16 Jan.

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The process of memorizing a poem — all these quasi-thoughts, demi-thoughts. On my my way home from work today, I memorized Shakespeare’s “When in the chronicle” sonnet, and in the act of memorizing, I noticed many things: there are maybe many views, concepts, of the poem helping me get it into my head, such as a four-line structure (from “when…” to “then…”); how “praise” is in there three times; the dismissive tone of “wasted time, … ladies dead and lovely knights; the contrast of “our time … you prefiguring.” Basically, memorizing is a way to get a close reading of a text, but also, it seems my memorized version might subtly include some of these structural pattern realizations/insights listed above. 11 Jan.

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As a real middle-ager, nearing age 45, maybe I should challenge myself to do things beyond my routine — read philosophy, memorize poems. My routine may not be satisfying enough. 11 Jan.

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Snow drift topography. 20 Jan.

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“God, use common sense,” said a high school student to another outside after school. She said “God” more as an interjection, but I thought of it, amusingly, as direct address. 14 Jan.

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I’m tired of meaning things, asserting things through public writings. Don’t preach — let cool ideas seep through your blog posts of journal texts, off-handedly. I don’t have anything that I need to say to a general audience. Also, I don’t have to have a certain tone — just be interesting, no? Switching topics is OK! I do look forward to the regularly published columns of a few particular writers, who tend to be interesting on varied topics. 15 Jan., 17 Jan.

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Ice melting off my car’s windshield. 22 Jan.

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Because I have lived in small Midwestern towns where there are few myths/characterizing stories about the places (as opposed to, say, the idea about NYC that it’s exciting, or that San Francisco is artistic — simplistic stories, yes), I wasn’t distracted by these stories — I paid attention to what was here. 15 Jan.

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My career as an example of not setting goals, not being ambitious (which word has a negative history). I don’t need to portray myself as a hero or as a model. I live for me — to see how my life turns out! 16 Jan.

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I think that people who might like reading blog posts of my journal texts would be readers who might appreciate not knowing what I might say. Publishing my journals is a self-centered act, but it’s also being honest, open, maybe vulnerable — not seeking that authority that journalists and most nonfiction writers seek by trying to seem normal and reasonable in their narrative voices.  16-17 Jan.

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View of sun on a snowy day in downtown Rockford, Illinois. Church Street at Mulberry. 25 Jan.

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My lyrics to “Feels So Good”: “Feels So Good — IT feels GOOD, IT feels GOOD, you know it FEELS, FEELS, FEELS, so GOOD…” 17 Jan.

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I feel that I finally have the confidence to (publicly) be my own kind of writer, and I feel I could be satisfied being my own kind of writer. It makes sense that I wouldn’t be sure of the public value of any of my atypical, idiosyncratic writings. But I am choosing to be idiosyncratic in my publishing of my journal texts, and I’m not trying to fit into mainstream publishing. 17 Jan.

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Ronald Reagan’s 6th grade classroom, Northwest Territory Historic Center, Dixon, Illinois. 25 Jan.

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Hallway poetry, overheard before 5th hour: “My locker,/when I open it,/is gonna smell like crap,” said a sophomore (I think) girl to another girl. 17 Jan.

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What portion of all my thoughts are written down? Most of the new insights, yes, but not the daily, getting-around thoughts. 18 Jan.

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A celebrity — having celebrity-level fame — is a business opportunity for the celebrity person as well as for others. Media fame is about and for making money, not artistic quality. More to my point, if I’m not trying to sell (my writings, say), I don’t need to be a celebrity (nor try to become one). 18, 22 Jan.

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(During my morning commute, after crossing railroad tracks) Look at these things that are where they are — road signs, tree limbs, crossing-gate posts. They’re not imagined, remembered, or dreamed.  18 Jan.

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Detail of 2nd floor of a building in downtown Rockford, Illinois, on Main Street, I think. 25 Jan.