Category Archives: Photos

New Year’s Eve moonrise

Happy new year!

Northern Illinois, 31 Dec. 2017

The Fine Print on STOP Signs

A new series:

American Writers Museum

The American Writers Museum opened this spring in Chicago (as I learned about here) and my wife and I toured it a few weeks ago. It’s on the second floor of the building at 180 N. Michigan Avenue, which is near the Bean and the Pritzker Pavilion in Millenium Park.

My selfie with Kerouac’s scroll! Though On The Road is no longer my favorite book, I read it in college and felt that it broadened my ideas of what literature could be. (Yes, this isn’t the most-flattering picture of me, but I was pretty eager to take this selfie.)

The beginning of Kerouac’s scroll on which he wrote first draft of On The Road. This is a temporary exhibit, there until later this fall. The scroll was under glass, and that blue line in the photo seemed to be another piece of glass holding the scroll flat. Notice too that the names are those of Kerouac’s friends, not yet renamed as characters.

One item on a wall of facts about authors of everything from song lyrics to ad copy.

An interactive thing where you pick from the given categories and the screen displays a writer with these characteristics.

I didn’t know Emily D. was famous for her baking. Or for hangin’ with snails.

Dialogue writer.

My wife creates with a touchscreen version of a Magnetic Poetry-like game.

Several typewriters were set up for people to write their own works. It reminded me of typewriters I learned to use. My wife and I liked this display the most.

These two video clips of my wife and I using these typewriters are here because I just liked hearing the sounds of old machines from my childhood.

There’s a video display of text forming shapes projected on a wall. Here’s a Kurt Vonnegut quote.

A display of books above the lobby and giftshop of the museum.

Lit like a lightning bug

I’ve tried several times to get photos of lightning bugs doing their thing, but their small size, swift mobility, twilight environment and unpredictable illuminations have always made this a challenge. Last night, I got some of the best I’ve taken, in my backyard in Northern Illinois, between 8:45 and 9 p.m. I had my camera’s ISO speed up to 3200, aperture set one full stop below camera’s recommendation, and I just kept focus on a particular spot and waited to see what crawled and flew into frame.

I like the contrast of the luminescence in top left against the yellow of the plant flower in lower right.

I like the beetle on the left just starting to fly, and the smear of the one on the right already flying.

I count 5 lit up.

I like the green butt-glow of the lightning bug against the foliage, and I like the spider web (I think) and clover in upper right corner.

I like the composition here, and the distant light-dot at top-right.

Lawyer-vanity plates

My attorney wife has brought me to the summer meeting of the Illinois State Bar Association for several years now, and every year I’ve noticed several special license plates. Here are some from this year:


Additional photo, not from ISBA meeting but from a different lawyerly event:

Rockford, Ill. 29 June 2017.

Water-splash and deep-fryer fat: Freewriting at Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, lakefront

My right knee at the lakeshore. Photo shows lakewall and view east. 16 June 2017

Sky boat headed to the lake north of where I was sitting at the picnic table. Brick apartments/condos are to left side of photo. 16 June 2017.

Friday, 16 June 2017, 1:43 p.m., Lakeside at Geneva Lake — it’s about 15 feet in front of me, east of me. To my right is a little tented sales counter for Jerry’s Majestic Marine (whose sign has these bulleted points: boat sales, boat storage/service, pontoon boat rentals, waverunner rentals, parasail rides), and slightly to my right are boats at Pier 4 (near where my wife, M, and I were sitting an hour or so ago, before she went to her meeting at the Abbey a couple blocks west). I took pics of Lake Geneva/Geneva Lake — a dead fish with algae — for my blog post “Famous things close up” (approximate title, from 2015) — and there are two women in bikinis at the back end of a boat off Pier 4. And before coming to this spot, I went to my park spot a bit north of here, where I sat and wrote a few years ago — jeez, several years ago by now — but the benches weren’t in shade. This was the little park across from public (I think) boat launch, and next to the 5-story brick apartments/condos. I was reading while sitting here for 20 mins or so, reading about politics-as-identity making compromise hard, and Trump tweets, and etc. But it’s too damn nice here. I heard something like splashing over the concrete lake-wall. Writing left-handed is slowing me down (as it usually does) in a way that seems fitting to this lovely day: sunny, a few puffy in-the-distance clouds, a light breeze from behind me. If I lived within walking distance of a big lake, I wonder how often I’d come down and sit. Once in a while I get a smell of deep-fryer fat from the restaurants across the street behind me (Gordy’s Boathouse  and, south, Chuck’s Lakeshore Inn).

There passes, from my left to my right, a big sightseeing boat, perhaps the boat that delivers mail to piers, as I saw years ago on CBS Sunday Morning, I think it was. This boat passed right at about 2 p.m. I think I saw it about an hour ago, too, when M and I were here together. Yeah, I’m not hearing the Big Ben bell sounds, and we heard those at 1 p.m. And it really is nice — the water splash sometimes sounds like Gulf waves (We were in Florida just under a year ago. I talked to that UK couple about Brexit vote, I think.) It felt silly to read while outside here but writing feels OK. When we heard bells last time, M told me that there were mindfulness bells at the conclave (the annual religious gathering she went to when young) every half hour: when bells sounded, everyone was supposed to take a moment of quiet for mindfulness.

There are some young (late teen? early 20s?) women in a Jeep behind me, and there have been others. I look but then I remind myself that it’s not cool.

I never quite got into the writing mood this morning.

By the way, I’m at a picnic table that’s covered with a vinyl-canvas cover. The next picnic table has bench covers, too, with snaps.

“The pineapple never made it,” said one girl in a group walking past. “We had TWO pineapples,” said another. Someone in a second group of girls walking past said, “we had a joke that her hashtag was ‘Kate’s vagina.’”

These young women now could be — I’m old enough for them to be — my own children. I have a book bag. I’m a dad-nerd writing out here at a marina, near a beach, on a lovely day — though not quite as uncool as that 60-ish dude in black suit and carrying leather briefcase.

It’s easy, while sitting here, to let go of my fretting about publishing — which fretting is kinda dumb, anyway.

Gordy’s has a Boat Sales storefront, and a Proshop, and the Boat House, and Cobalt Lounge and Surf Shack — Gordy’s has quite the presence. Each Gordy’s business has a navy-blue with white-lettering awning.

I had a thought this morning while sitting in our car, just outside of our garage, that I’m alive and I can observe, and if I died then, no more observations would be made, and that my writing could reflect my being alive — my writing can be new every day (something like that, which now feels banal).

Down the street, a woman in a black bikini strides into one of Gordy’s businesses.

“Travis, why? … You were swimming and I thought you were a girl,” said one dude to another dude who seems to have his hair braided in 2 lines down the back of his head. A yellow dog shakes off water and then gets leashed.

Sunbathers out on Pier 4 boat seem gone. Here’s a white-haired man carrying a bag of ice by its drawstring. He’s very tan in the chest.

I’d like to talk about being here. I wanna talk about the brick apartment building — it’s not all that special-looking but it seems special just because I remember it from previous visits, because I associate it with this particular place, which is a particular place.

I hear a squeaky cranking sound–a dude at Pier 4 cranks down a jet ski platform.

Last thing before I walk back to meet M: It’s 2:47. I hear the dull roar of boats out a ways, the wind in my ears, slap of water. And I keep thinking that what I write about this place is still writing about this place — it’s not the same as being here and not-thinking, not analyzing at all.

And I want to tie this up by saying something about how I’m experiencing things. I experience things and I can write about them and this may not seem profound to write but it feels profound. I can experience new things each day I’m alive. I can have new ideas each day — each moment of crystallized consciousness — that I’m alive.

And yet, this too is just an idea, and the brick building and the lakeshore and the biting fly and trespassing spider. And even I, at this place on this day, don’t need ideas!

And so I leave off — not having written something that satisfies. But that’s OK, too, of course.

Perhaps God is a cat: Notes from my May brain

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

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

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

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Grass. 7 May 2017

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

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Dandelion. 3 May 2017.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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