Category Archives: Transcribed from life

Agriculture Day 2018

Here are pictures and poems made at my high school’s agriculture day, 20 April:

The nose of a “shambling” bovine, as Odysseus calls them. His men also kill cattle belonging to the Sun God, and it doesn’t go well: “The cattle were dead already …
and the gods soon showed us all some fateful signs—the hides began to crawl, the meat, both raw and roasted, bellowed out on the spits, and we heard a noise
like the moan of lowing oxen.” My sophomore students went to Ag Day for a field trip to see animals that, in The Odyssey, were killed, eaten, ridden out of caves, and created from men.

“EAT! shouted a curly-haired boy as he shoved a handful of hay toward the cattle — as if cows should listen to him. “Gotta be slow around them,” said an Ag Day worker, who also advised that the beasts may not be hungry. Not long after,  Cannon steer eats hay and another boy screams, “IT’S EATING! IT’S EATING!”

Little Brian kept his attention focused on his mud puddle and his truck, but he grew tense wondering when mother would prop Gwen back up and they could act like a normal family again.

I wore my winter coat and a stocking cap on this cool spring day. One of my students told me, “You kinda look like an elf.” “I can live with that,” I said.

Odysseus and crew kill and eat about 109 of these for one meal.

Shiloh goat on red leash passes between Shelby’s jean legs.

The trucks are mired in cocoa powder this cold spring.

“Don’t touch anything unless you have permission from someone in blue,” said one of the blue-shirted Ag Day helpers to visiting elementary-school students.

Patty calf.

Patty’s owner said Jersey calves like Patty have big eyes and “dish face” — kids think they’re deer.

Odysseus’s men were turned into these critters by the enchantress Circe.

A crossed-arms boy supervises the pigs but he too is in the trailer-cage.

The Odyssey didn’t say much about chickens.

“They can’t really fly so much as fall slightly slower,” said an Ag Day staffer to someone’s question about whether chickens can fly.

Cows out on the coffee-grounds pasture.

The ag teacher’s young son hugged a lamb’s neck and said, “this is the only one I can catch.” A high school staffer said he thought the boy could also catch the other two lambs in the small pen, too.

Odysseus’s men rode out of the Cyclops’s cave underneath some sheep. Those sheep were, one hopes, taller than these sheep, and had more wool to hang onto.

Sheep would do terrible work in a creative writing class — they’d all be copying each other, I said. That’s true, said my creative writing student, as we looked at three lambs. I don’t know if it’s true, I said, but it’s fun to think.

The Odyssey didn’t mention llamas.

Llama comes closer.

Llama closer still.

Llama closing in!

Llamas at a pose.

Tim had earned his college degree and was ready for his future to begin, but for now, he’s back home, standing in tar and waiting to shovel the sh*t of levitating cows.

We write in place: My students and I in a hallway at school

From our school announcements of 23 February: 
Matt Hagemann decided to let his creative writing students feed the muse, so they left their classroom and sat in the north-facing second floor hall facing away from the windows. “It was a free writing assignment,” Hagemann said. “I told them to write about whatever they noticed.”
Hard at work were Hagemann, Riley Lodico and Cody Thompson. Noah Mershon and Angel Aguirre were taking notice at the time the photo was snapped.
Photo and caption by Vicki Snyder-Chura.

Where and when: In RTHS hallway outside Counseling Center, 2nd floor, facing windows to the north, Tues. 20 Feb. 2018, 8:31 a.m., 1st hour

I’ve never sat here and written before, but here I am, with a creative writing class. There’s a featureless gray sky — though there look to be a few horizontal features off to northern horizon. Most of my students sit on the radiator across the hall. They’re facing south — I wanted to see north. A woman holding what looked like the phone cover to her ear while the phone bounced alongside. It seems odd. Maybe I didn’t see it well.  There are reflections — well, silhouettes — of my students on the floor. There are waves in the reflections — the terrazzo floor’s not quite flat. Phone-ear woman and a young woman leave the Counseling Center together. Two people wearing glasses and carrying books come in thru east-end doors, walk a bit, then run into Counseling Center.


Where and when: In RTHS hallway outside Counseling Center, 2nd floor, facing wall to the south, Tues. 20 Feb. 2018, Noon:50 p.m., 8th hour

There’s water splashing on the rubbery roof over the student entrance — same place I saw ice last week. Mr. Oldenburg just passed me headed west to the teacher lunchroom. I don’t eat in lunchroom. … I heard a shout or shriek from the student-lunching area, a shout-shriek. … I see a couple fans spinning above the student commons. Some fans aren’t running. There’s a thereness to this school building — it doesn’t have to do anything (like any object), like I feel pressured to do when I’m here at school. C. and N. are sitting at the left and right sides, respectively, of the top half of the sans serif T shape painted on the wall. I forgot about these letters when I was sitting on that side of the hallway. It’s kinda funny to see these partial letters and to realize that these letters aren’t written to me but to someone much further away, that we’re too zoomed in to see what’s being spelled.

Posting Exuberantly

I thought this today: I’d like to share here on the blog ideas that pop into my mind, but not because I think the ideas themselves are all that valuable. Some of these ideas may be useful, at some times, to some people, but what I’d really like to show is how cool it feels to be open to new ideas and how rewarding it feels to practice creativity daily (mostly in the act of freewriting my journals). I don’t want to formulate some argument in support of these feelings — I think I may just post exuberantly.

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.

Trees never get lost in the woods: March notes from pocket pages

♦ Nothing in the physical world remembers! There is no material or physical past. Things are; there’s no were, no record of how things used to be. 28 Feb. & 3 March

Willow buds appear on 2 March after a couple weeks of warm weather. After a month of cool weather, the buds are still about the same.

♦ The most useful thing to keep in mind is that there’s nothing you have to keep in mind. 6 March.

♦ To will something, to mean a message, to assert a claim — these acts are abstract? Or merely private? Or are these the same thing? 6 March

It’s not every Regional Office of Education that has its own “Soiled Linen” chute as our local ROE, located in a former nunnery, does. 3 March

♦ There’s no off-switch on a person or a dog or cat (or any living thing) — we’re alive until we’re dead. Our consciousnesses are continuous, until they aren’t. 6 March

♦ I (and maybe most people) seem to play various personas or roles in various social situations. I play the responsible employee, the considerate neighbor, the respectful customer, etc. Maybe it’s only with my best friends that I can let go of playing anyone beside myself — and maybe that’s one way to define intimacy. 8 March

♦ We learn to be the right level of weird? I don’t endorse “normal” kids picking on the “weird” kids — but as a weird person myself, I feel I’ve learned, through positive (such as making others laugh) and negative (such as being ignored, being labeled “weird”) responses how to be socially appropriate. 8 March

♦ I should not value myself by the ideas I’ve already saved (by writing them down), no matter how clever. I remind myself that my ideas aren’t me. 9 March.

♦ “I love when people print stuff out — it’s just so warm,” said my printer-adjacent student. 9 March

Electricity infrastructure, downtown Byron. 30 March

♦ Each person has to learn wisdom anew. Each young person’s mind is new to the world and has to make sense of things. But with this need to learn comes an opportunity: each person might come up with new wisdom! 15 March

♦ “I really wanna see a ghost. I just don’t know where to look,” said student. 15 March.

♦ A tree becomes a what it is — its particular size and shape — in a particular context, at least partly in reaction to other trees and things around it. Of course, this could be a metaphor for how each particular person develops, too. 15 March

♦ I might get lost in a woods — “these trees all look alike,” etc. — but a tree never gets lost, and not just because it’s rooted to a place. Each tree doesn’t need to know where it is in relation to others. (This might almost be a contradiction to the previous note, but not quite.) 15 March

♦ Why did I listen to myself — have confidence in my own judgments and gut instincts — for most of my growing up? An independent streak? 16 March

♦ “I have conversations with myself all the time,” said student. “You might be having one now,” said teacher. 17 March

♦ Perhaps one could learn all about songwriting from extensive study of just one song, or learn all about writing poetry from one poem, by seeing what can be varied. 18 March

West side of city building (left) and grocery store (right), Byron, Illinois. 28 March

♦ I’m thinking lately that I’m glad I’m not a performer, like a musician, but a creative artist, who can be new, not repeating myself on stage every night. 19 March

♦ “At least he was an alcoholic who had a lot of sex,” said student of writer Ernest Hemingway. 20 March

♦ “Maybe I’ll revive her,” said student, of a character who had died in her story. 21 March

♦ Part of my maturing, of figuring out who I am, has been learning that I’m not like most of the people I have compared myself to. I don’t need to judge myself as inadequate; I’m simply different, and no comparison is needed. 21 March

♦ “I’m so confuzzled,” said student, going on to explain that she was both “confused” and “puzzled.” 23 March

♦ A word versus its absence — there’s a question attendant to each word, an asterisk on each word, perhaps, that calls each word into doubt. Why did the author use that word, and not some other? Each word is not necessary but arbitrary. 24 March

Here’s a bluntly titled book published in 1919.

The contents of “How to Do Things,” including 5 pages on “Babies and Children.”

♦ Two of my college roommates and I recently met up at a funeral — in our early 40s, we each now have our own responsibilities — our own niches of jobs, houses, families, etc. Though we didn’t have these same things when we were back in college, we did still have particular places we needed to be, plans to carry out. Our niches were never physical locations, really, so much as concepts? 27 March

♦ There’s more to being alive than words and ideas. I don’t want to be just a supplier of words to others. My life, my being alive, is more than whatever I write, of course. 27 & 29 March

♦ Nostalgia for ’80s pop songs — somehow it seems there was innocence then, which there was, among all the things that were going on. Perhaps we focus on the problems (in the world, as well as in our own own present lives) and we don’t pay attention to the innocence and goodness that’s also always there — that must be there, in order for nostalgia to be able to find it. 28 March

Buzzards on the Byron water tower. 28 March

‘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


“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.


“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.


“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.


Ice stacked and muddied after a flood. 4 Feb. 2017

Ice stacked and muddied after a flood. 4 Feb. 2017


“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.


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.


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.


When student came back from the bathroom, classmate asked, “Did everything come out OK?” 2 Feb.


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.


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.


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.


Cups in a chain-link fence.

Cups in a chain-link fence.


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.


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


“Molly, do NOT get diarrhea,” said a veterinary office worker to a white-muzzled old beagle wearing a pink-striped sweater. 23 Jan.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Meanings, theories, interpretations — these aren’t as real was what actually happened. 24 Jan.


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.


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.


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.


“If I’m talking and not thinking about what I’m saying, I’ll say everything wrong,” said student. 24 Jan.


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.


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.


Creating meaning as a writer and as a reader — two different acts of meaning creation using the same words, the same text. 25 Jan.


“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.


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.


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.


My students lack the experience (worldliness) of adults, but they’re also open-minded (not world-weary). 26 Jan.


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.]


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.


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.


“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.


“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.


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.


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.


“Oh, buddy, it’s fantastic,” said student to me about Avanti restaurant‘s gondola sandwich. 27 Jan.


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.


Wires up close.

Wires up close.