Category Archives: Uncategorized

‘Want a chipmunk, Christina?’: Recent notes from my pocket pages

“So I’m gonna die when they’re gone,” said a senior in my creative writing class, of her parents leaving for two weeks. 6 Feb. (Almost three weeks later, she remains alive.)

McView out McWindow, Oglesby, Ill. 14 Feb.

McView out McWindow, Oglesby, Ill. 14 Feb.

“Maybe when a tree falls, it might actually have some realism,” said a boy in my high school’s hallway to another boy, before 4th hour. He may have been talking about a video game, but one can only wonder. 6 Feb.

I called my dog Sam “Tsammi” several yesterday. My wife eventually got annoyed. 6 Feb.

Sycamore tree over Watterson Hall, Normal, Ill. 14 Feb.

Sycamore tree over Watterson Hall, Normal, Ill. 14 Feb.

“This pen writes horribly,” said a student as he put a pen on another student’s desk. “YOU write horribly,” she answered. “I know — the pen reflects that,” he said. 6 Feb.

“I just need a metal bucket and a trip to the hardware store,” said a student, about his homemade forge/metal work idea. After another student had teased him about something, he answered, “I’m sorry; I’m a Fahrenheit peasant.” 7 Feb.

A student asked me if I went to high school with his older sister. Finding out that she’s a few years younger than I am, I said she probably went to school with my brother Dan. The student said, “She is talking about your brother because she calls you ‘Dan.'” 7 Feb.

“I was spraying perfume up in my nose,” said a student after her chemistry classmate had spilled stinky butyric acid. The classmate said said that, after the spill, he had been “sniffing up all the barf, and it wasn’t that bad, really.” 7 Feb.

From Williams Hall, Illinois State University, 14 Feb.

From Williams Hall, Illinois State University, 14 Feb.

What each person in my life represents to me symbolically. Maybe my mom represents a certain quality, my dad another, and each of my friends mean something else. This isn’t to say that these people are only symbols to me — but that perhaps these symbolic meanings are part of my concept of each person. 8 Feb.

His “dad is hot, bald, and athletic,” said a student of his classmate’s father. 9 Feb.

“You can’t tell me my card isn’t nice,” said a student to me about a “thank you” card she’d written me, on behalf of the senior class, to ask me to help with supervision of the graduation ceremony. 9 Feb.

After I said that my dog and cat each have their own bedrooms in my house, my student said, “I would get rid of my brother in a heartbeat for my dog to have a room.” 9 Feb.

“Can a chicken and a duck have a baby?” asked a student, apropos of very little. Hearing “no” from a classmate, she argued, “But they’re like the same thing.” Another classmate commented that she “looked genuinely confused about that, too.” 9 Feb.

Gray in a hurry. Wall above urinal in men's bathroom, Coffee Hound, Normal, Ill. 14 Feb.

Gray in a hurry. Wall above urinal in men’s bathroom, Coffee Hound, Normal, Ill. 14 Feb.

Writing my journals, I confront myself — I challenge my own opinions. There’s the conflict in my journals. And it’s nice, too, in journal writing to not have to have my ideas in relation to others’ ideas. I don’t have to consider those until I start my workday. 9 Feb.

I heard someone in school hallway use the phrase “like a fish out of water.” That prompted thoughts of why we don’t describe a state of comfort as “like a fish in water.” 9 Feb.

Ideas of my ego-mind: that set of ideas I put on in social situations. Perhaps these are old, inflexible ideas, like an armor — because I don’t want to trot out new ideas and seem more socially awkward than I already am? 10 Feb.

Pole inside Coffee Hound, Normal, Ill., 14 Feb.

Pole inside Coffee Hound, Normal, Ill., 14 Feb.

“I just got so caught up in the bunnies. Want a chipmunk, Christina?” asked a student to her classmate after I offered students some stickers. 10 Feb.

“I can’t walk through the hall with all these cats on my binder,” said a student, of stickers a classmate had put there. 10 Feb.

“I have to go perform a piece about the Holocaust. I can’t have cat stickers on me,” said a theater student. 10 Feb.

Mural on west side of building on Beaufort St., Normal, Ill. 14 Feb.

Mural on west side of building on Beaufort St., Normal, Ill. 14 Feb.

“I need to eat and then go try not to kill myself,” said one dude to another outside the Watterson Dining Commons at Illinois State University. 14 Feb.

One creates stories from what we see, from what we experience, and even from a dream experience, as I did today. 16 Feb.

“I do all I do so I can get into the books,” a student said, of getting quoted in my pocket pages. 16 Feb.

“… I’ve got candy in mah truck, I’ve got soda pop in mah truck …” said a student to her classmate, during study hall. 16 Feb.

North part of west wall of building on Beaufort St., Normal, Ill. 14 Feb.

North part of west wall of building on Beaufort St., Normal, Ill. 14 Feb.

Rhymes (and other rhetorical devices?) are used just to get readers’ attention? 16 Feb.

After I told a student that my cat’s name was Justice, she said, “That’s one of my favorite words! Not even joking, I was gonna get a tattoo that said ‘Justice.'” 17 Feb.

“All I’ve got in my wallet is three dollars and a Great Clips coupon. I’ve made it in life,” said a student. 17 Feb.

“I would only work at McDonald’s if I was homeless. So I’ll probably end up working at McDonald’s at some point,” said a student. He then added, “I’ll probably end up dead, at some point.” 17 Feb.

After a classmate called him strange, a student said, “If I wasn’t strange, I’d be boring, so I’d take this lifestyle over any other.” 17 Feb.

Peak of dirt mountain at construction site, Byron, Ill. 15 Feb.

Peak of dirt mountain at construction site, Byron, Ill. 15 Feb.

“Can’t talk now — watching a hedgehog,” my wife said, of a video of a hedgehog getting a bath as notice of a call notification came over her smart phone. 17 Feb.

“He’s way too shystee and smart for his own good right now,” said Qaytlin 2 Waitress of her young son’s cleverness. 18 Feb.

I told my wife I felt guilty doing nothing on Presidents’ Day holiday afternoon. She said, “It’s OK. Sit there a few more hours and it’ll be gone.” 20 Feb.

We can mean the words we say, and we can also mean the opposite of those words when our tone is sarcastic. But maybe sarcasm is the only non-meaning meaning; other than sarcasm, if you don’t mean what you say, you’re just lying. 21 Feb.

On a warm day, I saw some high school students and their preschool visitors outside my classroom, and through the open window I heard my student trying to teach Duck-Duck-Goose. One kid seemed he wasn’t getting it, as I heard my student say: “Try to chase me, Charlie, around the circle … Come with me. Let’s go this way, Charlie. … duck, duck, duck … run around the circle! C’mon, Charlie.” 21 Feb.

After I’d said in class that teachers tend to make bad students because they like to be in charge, a student called teachers “control freaks.” I asked my students whether they thought I was a control freak. Student answered, “the ‘freak,’ maybe, but not maybe the ‘controlling,'” and called me “the opposite of conformity.” 22 Feb.

Student asked if I had Wite-Out. I did not. She said I don’t use it because “you don’t make mistakes — you have creative ideas.” Or I cross them out, I said. 23 Feb.

A student sighed loudly during a quiz. “Fail quietly,” I said. 23 Feb.

Residue of a lit class discussion (of "The Hollow Men," I think) on my colleague's whiteboard. 22 Feb.

Residue of a lit class discussion (of “The Hollow Men,” I think) on my colleague’s whiteboard. 22 Feb.

Student asked about what happens after one dies. “If you do stop thinking, what was really the point?” she said. She added that her dad wants to be buried wearing shorts because, he says, it’s hot where he’s going, and that he’ll be mad if she doesn’t play “Bad to the Bone” at his funeral. 23 Feb.

“Urethra!” shouted student during class. I asked why she said that. I was told that her classmate did not believe men had that body part. 24 Feb.

“Why don’t cows ever have any better ideas?” I said, apropos of very little, to my wife, who then quoted me onto her Facebook wall. I’d been thinking of the white face of a cow I’d seen above a feed trough at a farm I’d driven past, and I’d been wondering how it is that people have ideas about, you know, freedom and not wanting to become food, but cows, not so much, though we both have gray matter. 24 Feb.

Event entrance, but do not enter. At my high school, 22 Feb.

Event entrance, but do not enter. At my high school, 22 Feb.

“This is the most amount of white people I’ve seen in quite some time,” said Ashli Waitress, back at our small-town Illinois diner after having recently been on vacation in Hawaii. 25 Feb.

“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.

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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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.]

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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Wires up close.

Wires up close.

“None of my business, but interesting questions”: Notes from my recent pocket pages

My barbershop's waiting room. 3 Jan. 2017

My barbershop’s waiting room. 3 Jan. 2017

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Modeling the consciousness of other drivers: If a car is tailgating me, I think how its driver is probably frustrated with me, and I think of those drivers thinking of me as they tailgate, pass, and speed ahead. Once they’re gone, I can go back to just being my own mind, not imagining the social aspects. 3 Jan.

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How clean your hotel room is depends, really, on the lowest-paid worker at the hotel, the housekeeper. Does she/he care enough to do a good job? Why should she — only the fear of getting fired? 2 Jan.

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My commute home from work, Thursday 5 Jan. 2017

My commute home from work, Thursday 5 Jan. 2017

Reminding myself pick your battles: There’s no need to spend your time and energy mocking others’ views, messages, or mistakes. Let those go, and observe and think originally. Look past the signs (and the abstractions distracting me) to the things. 2-3 Jan.

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When I listen to the radio (usually NPR news) in the car, it makes me think of distant abstractions, classifications of the world. Without the radio on as I drive, I’m seeing the subtle story of what endures [by the way, the idea of enduring seems related to the idea of being; this etymology of was says the word comes from a root word meaning “to remain.”] I’m seeing not the ideas, the abstractions, the meanings, the intentions, but simply what things are there. The wood of a fence, whether the fence itself is in good or poor repair, whether its’ a working fence or not, whether it’s a fence at all anymore or not.

Looking at the things around me is a mental cleanser to abstract (such as religious) explanations/interpretations of reality, such as when I was told “water can read” and it responds to happy words placed in its proximity. 2-3 Jan.

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My commute home, Friday 6 Jan. Note the cloud forming from nuclear power plant at Byron, about 20 miles west of my location at the taking of this photo.

My commute home, Friday 6 Jan. Note the cloud forming from nuclear power plant at Byron, about 20 miles west of my location at the taking of this photo.

Byron nuclear power plant steam towers, from a couple miles north. 15 Jan.

Byron nuclear power plant steam towers, from a couple miles north. 15 Jan.

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By recording my memories, my moments, I create a life on the paper. But it’s still not my life. My memories still differ, and memories are fluid, flexible, and weird — a different kind of medium from writing on paper. My memories seem to form into narratives, stories that I get better at telling — I revise as I recall and tell them. 5 Jan.

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The living matters more than the lessons. I might as well write about day-to-day moments rather than boiling down my experiences to “moral of the story” lessons, the way some personal essays do. 5 Jan.

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“My mom’s having a kid today. That means I have to cook my own dinner,” say my senior student. His mom did buy him “Lunchables,” he said, but added, “she’s not getting out of cooking.” Also, he said, “I’m becoming the middle child.” That’s no good, said classmate, herself a middle child. 6 Jan.

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“Do you think I’m an as_hole just by looking at me?” asked senior boy of a girl in my study hall. A second girl told him, “You are.” “You’ve known me for three years,” he told the second girl. 6 Jan.

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Spooky pine plantation. 20 Jan.

Spooky pine plantation. 20 Jan.

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At the diner where my wife and I eat breakfast, our friend Dean told us how he colors in certain boxes on the newspaper’s crossword when the spaces are longer than the words he puts in there. “If they get to make rules, I get to make rules,” he said. 7 Jan.

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Impressionistic image of cow in a snow storm. 9 Jan.

Impressionistic image of bovine in a snow storm. 9 Jan.

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As we did a brainstorming activity in my creative writing class, a student asked if she could go to the bathroom. I said she could once she came up with one more possible use for her group’s object, a block of wood. “It’s your will to live. Now can I use the bathroom?” said student. 9 Jan.

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My commute home from work. Monday, 9 Jan. 2017.

My commute home from work. Monday, 9 Jan. 2017.

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I don’t like fiction because I don’t like things happening. Or, rather, things happening seem dull. My grandpa died not long ago. That itself is not worth reading. My reaction to it might be. 10 Jan.

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Ogle County snow pastoral. 9 Jan.

Ogle County snow pastoral. 9 Jan.

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It’s gotta be hard for artists, celebrities, etc., to maintain an image, a persona, for their audiences. You can’t be human — get a cold, have diarrhea. I’m reminded of the Monty Python audio joke about which Italian film director is making the pee sounds. 11 Jan.

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My journal texts are me and aren’t me. They contain my voice, my words, my descriptions of my experiences, but they are just words on a page, fixed, while I’m a fluid, changeable consciousness. I write down fixed things so that I can be open to change. 12 Jan.

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“…interesting questions. None of my business, but interesting questions,” said the voice of a colleague as she and a companion walked past my classroom after school. 12 Jan.

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After thinking of Mitch Hedberg’s line that every book is a children’s book, if that child can read, I thought how each time one reads a text, that’s a unique new experience. A kid may not catch all the ideas of a book the first time through it, and of course, an adult may not. And a second read of a book is a unique experience because you already have some ideas about it. 12 Jan.

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How weird that our brains (mine and my students’, at least) seem so fast at finding rhymes to given words. It suggests that we listen to sounds faster, or more automatically, than meanings? 12 Jan.

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Image of my commute home, Thursday 12 Jan.

Image from my commute home, Thursday 12 Jan.

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“A snail can’t climb over a ratio,” I said, in explaining why numbers and math ideas aren’t as real as physical things are. I was arguing against numbers being real. 13 Jan.

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“You speak good enough English. He’s just weird,” said my wife to our friend Yvonne, who said maybe her language skills weren’t good enough to understand a Facebook post my wife wrote about how I’d covered up the clocks in our kitchen with sticky notes to free myself from clock-time awareness. 14 Jan.

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Beached river ice. 15 Jan.

Beached river ice. 15 Jan.

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It’s kinda weird that all our bodies material needs (except air and sunlight) come through our mouths. If we were cars, we’d put gas and brakes and tires into one orifice and let the car sort itself out. Food contains both “building blocks” and energy materials — food must be more complex than just gas or steel components of cars. 17 Jan.

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View of my morning commute to work. Tues. 17 Jan.

View of my morning commute to work. Tues. 17 Jan.

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I’m about at the halfway point of my morning commute, and I’d like to finish this page of notes. I don’t know what ideas I’ll have in coming minutes! 18 Jan.

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My classroom clock was zooming ahead on Wednesday morning. My first-hour class, normally 50 minutes, took 5 and a half hours on the clock. My second-hour class took 3 hours, and the 3rd-hour class took just 50 minutes, but at the end of class, it read 7:10 instead of the expected 10:45. 18 Jan.

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I don’t want to charge people to read my ideas or hear my presentations. Why bring money into this? What does my thinking and talking have to do with money? I don’t think I’d be any better at thinking or any happier with my life if I restricted access to those who could pay me for my humble genius. 18 Oct.

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“When he’s done speakin’, I know what he’s said,” said John Mortenson, identified as a Trump supporter in this NPR story about the president’s speaking style. 19 Jan.

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View of my afternoon commute home from work. 20 Jan.

View of my afternoon commute home from work. 20 Jan.

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“I’m doing time with my students,” said our waitress, Qaytlan 1, as she talked about a lesson she’ll be student-teaching soon. Here statement also sounded like she thought of school as prison. 22 Jan.

Dogs take the world as they find it: The week in pocket pages

Even when national politics seem troubling, I’m gonna keep enjoying writing my journals, driving my morning commute (it’s pretty, and it’s a chance to think), and walking my dog. 14 Nov. 2016

Ginko tree, 4 Nov. 2016

Ginko tree, 4 Nov. 2016

This morning I saw a pile of ginko leaves along a rural roadside. It seems funny that someone would go through all the trouble of moving leaves from his or her yard to this random spot. Why not just cut down the tree?

“I like doing stuff when people are talking,” said a teacher colleague in a meeting where the rest of us were discussing curriculum choices. The stuff she was doing was stickering plastic bags with “Education Week” stickers.

Sun and rainbow spot to its right. 15 Nov.

Sun and rainbow spot to its right. 15 Nov.

Passion is everything, I read today in an article in yesterday’s Chicago Tribune that was left in the in-school suspension room.

I don’t need the world to match my expectations of/for it in order for me to be content. (How fragile an orientation that would be.)

Teaching: In explaining to others, I also get to hear it myself. I’m thinking here of talking philosophy in class recently. We were talking about the idea that what we can name is real, leading me to think that we can define our own realities. If we don’t have a name for something, if we haven’t distinguished it, we probably won’t recognize it as a distinct thing, like how radioactive minerals weren’t recognized before scientists discovered radioactivity, though of course the radioactive minerals were always there. 15 Nov. 2016.

Even to define real is to make it abstract, not present — not real. Real is not here, and here is a word that means consciousness at present.

We can think only ideas. So anything you can think isn’t real. Ideas aren’t necessary. But of course, we can teach through ideas, through talking, and we can also amuse each other through ideas.

Looking at news sites tells me what’s going on elsewhere.

On the calculus teacher's desk. 14 Nov.

On the calculus teacher’s desk. 14 Nov.

I take notes on my reality — my particulars (things I hear, things I see, etc.)

Options as I try to take in less media: get the news from poetry (as William Carlos Williams suggested)? Eh, I may not need news at all.

Gutter leaves. 19 Nov.

Gutter leaves. 19 Nov.

I’m not interested in publishing some one-off essay, the kind of essay that gets edited into “Best American Essays” books. I prefer a more holistic approach. I don’t want applause, I don’t just want to be a performer. My unit of communication is not the formal essay. 16 Nov.

The Story of Now that I constructed from news I heard and read. This isn’t one story but a subdivided set of stories about what’s going on in the world–in the environment, the economy, arts, education, all the many topics. And I may not need to know most or any of this. Maybe I’m feeling disappointed that my Story of Now seems to have so little overlap with some people’s stories of now. Not saying I despair, but I wonder if there’s better use for my time than taking in news. 17 Nov.

I’m not just a role-player writer, a topic-writer. I write from and in my life, my living. I try to keep an open-mind, not holding onto a particular idea as an answer. If I’m alive, I keep thinking, writing — I’m not done! It’s ongoing! And the most-important topic/idea remains (even if it’s in the background), how do I live — how to be alive, how to accept the challenge and opportunity of being conscious!

Leaves outside the gutter on a windy morning. 19 Nov.

Leaves at the curb outside the diner on a windy morning. 19 Nov.

The society/culture may already value performances (of music, acting, etc., but also I’m thinking of poems, novels, and other texts written for others as performances). But I see also an opening for honest non-performances — such as those journals and notes written mainly for oneself. Every experience doesn’t need to be (because it can be) made into a lesson. Not every experience needs to be abstracted into a lesson — sometimes a particular can stay a particular. 18 Nov.

Dogs take the world as they find it. When we go to a local forest preserve prairie, my dog doesn’t ask if it’s true wilderness — he just starts sniffing what’s there to sniff. It’s a reminder to me to attend to what is with me, around me. 19 Nov.

Planter bowl group-portrait. 19 Nov.

Planter bowl group-portrait at the diner. 19 Nov.

Synchronized actions: From Pocket Page notebook #50

1 February 1998: I’ve been fascinated lately by the concept of the swiftly, deftly executed move or action, especially when it synchronizes, like gears meshing in time, with other events and times– like stepping to a door, turning knob with hand and pushing the door open, then walking thru the door without pausing, all in one smooth, continuous movement —

And the larger action, walking thru the door, is fully dependent on that little movement — the hand turning the knob and pushing. Sometimes it almost feels like a lock-step, like the hand’s movements are controlled and timed mechanically to function perfectly and be exactly right to not impede the larger machine’s movement, like the knotters on a hay baler. When they are tripped, they seem to act in one quick strike, like the hand on the door. The knotter does its job in a moment and then rests again til it’s called. That’s key to this idea, too. It’s not a constant, repetitive thing. It’s a quick strike, called at any time. But it fits with the larger action — synchronicity.

And it comes about either thru computation and methodical engineer-thinking, like the baler, or thru practice, like me and the door.

The door is the door to my office. But there are other things at a radio station that remind me of this idea/principle/phenomenon. like how most of the time you aren’t under pressure to perform precisely and perfectly, but there are moments with that’s required, when swift execution is needed, like when producing a piece or combo-ing the air product, when numerous little operations on the mixing board are required, hitting of buttons in certain sequences, doing little “procedures” (in a programming sense) that require several steps.

Radical openness, part 1: Weds. 30 Dec. 2015 journal

At home, 9:10 a.m., really light flurries, 24°F — It’s funny how tempting it is to jump into meaningless arguments — the more meaningless, the more people seem to get riled up (myself included at times). How people argue which band is best, for example. My motivation to jump in is, I guess, to share my own subjective experience.

Radical openness: maybe I don’t really need to publish — don’t need to advocate — any idea at all.

As I emailed my friend Doug yesterday, I thought about how, even though Doug is a friend, and even though I’ve emailed him literally hundreds of times, I was still adopting a sort of narrative persona as I wrote to him — a bit jokey this time (and it’s not always the same tone). I realized how often I do that, particularly in my nonfiction, how, like a journalist or columnist or personal-essayist, I adopt a voice that makes me seem reasonable, normal, unexceptional, trustworthy, reliable — salt of the earth. In other words, I adopt a persona that is NOT unique. I want readers to see me as reasonable, as if I’m concerned about my reputation, and my online reputation isn’t far removed from my professional reputation, as students, colleagues, and administrators can read what I put on the blog. So, no, I don’t want to adopt a weird perspective. But there’s a space through which to pass between these two, perhaps a kind of radical honesty, posting pocket pages or journal text without context, without polishing.

I don’t want to publish ideas that are not situated in time. I’d prefer particular texts, so include times and places in which texts were written.

Radical openness: not publishing, not having any message to tell others, as if the message I’d have would be important or even entertaining — that’s probably the reason I post so many student quotes, the message being “read these, and you’ll laugh” — the implicit purpose I have for communicating to others. What if I give that up, that feeling of having something I want to say to others? Radical openness — not being judged by what I’ve said, because it’s already in the past. I’m not sure I even understand the implications here.

Maybe, with editing, the experience, the mental engagement, matters far more than the publishing of texts. Publishing is basically a mechanical process, and that’s what I fall back on when I don’t have the mental energy to engage in editing.

Maybe we as a culture ignore experience all too much in favor of the material product, the physical evidence. But what good is it to have published in the past, as I have? What good does having published do for me, at least, as compared to the unique learning experiences I have when I can really engage?

Reading some of my own personal writings, I no longer felt that these ideas were as important and urgent as I must have felt when I wrote them. Not that all ideas feel urgent at the time of their writing, but these writings really didn’t feel that way on the re-read. Maybe that’s brilliant, in a way — it goes against the idea that what I would publish should be urgent, should have a news peg. How many times people (including me at times) write things that are connected to news events, people writing about externals such as artworks or political or social issues. It’s Not that these issues don’t matter, but to write about issues or news or externals is to adopt a position, a persona, toward both the topic and toward the reader.

Even here, today, I’m writing about a topic, though I’m not writing to anyone [which is why this post may seem more blunt than if I rewrote it specifically for readers], so there’s less persona interfering with or guiding word choice.

Letting go of whatever ideas come to mind: for example, expressing to my wife my frustrations with how we don’t have extra money. But I’d just be kvetching about a circumstance of long standing, something not easily changed, and frankly, that’s just a background condition. I don’t need to have no debt or lots of cash in order to keep living, thinking, writing, teaching, etc. So why say my complaint at all? And I didn’t. I didn’t go dwell in an abstraction (wishing I had more money) when instead I could let go that idea and be open to new ideas — that’s also radical openness.

You don’t have to come up with “others will like this”-type ideas, ideas that I have where I think, “hey, I could package this idea, explain it, justify it, for others.” That’s so limiting. And it is easy to living within the mental world of known ideas, especially when I’m stressed, say. It’s hard to let go when I’m stressed.

Continued in next post.

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).