Tag Archives: 2009

You can always see me writing behind the particular words

What I’m talking about here is passage of time, how the memories pile up, how you remember other times, but even what I’ve been thinking about the last few days: when what we say reveals more than we mean to. When I said to that kid in the hall—he asked about A.J., I said, “I don’t even know who that is,” that revealed my annoyance, though I didn’t need to. And the guy at Marathon—”I’ve got another place” where he buys tix.

So those meanings can be—that intent—can be behind the particular wording of a statement, and also there can be just the sense that, no matter what particular idea or sentence I’m writing, it’s still me who is writing—I’m sitting here writing, so you can always see me writing behind the particular words. I was sitting here at this kitchen table, before school, fitting in my morning writing time—even when I say dull things (“say” seeming to be my all-purpose word for “expression,” even when “write” would be more accurate—but all my words start in voice, inner voice, and while speech offers immediacy, sometimes repeatability, and vocal qualities, writing offers precision, re-readability, and print/display qualities—do you mean “I” or “eye”? It’s easy to tell if you’re reading, harder to tell, needing to be deduced from context, in speech).

I wonder if H__ did graduate? Check the computer. I think S__ did. And where does W__ life? Where do T__ & J__ live—near the high school?

Ah, well. That’s 30 minutes, I’m nearly out of time. Gotta poop and shower and eat breakfast and make a sandwich for dinner tonight—at least I’ve got snacks to take with (from Friday’s shopping trip).

[From journal of Mon., 31 August 2009, Journal 118, page 93]

So, yes, I went to Formerly Cacciatores’ for cereal

So, yes, I went to Formerly Cacciatores’ for cereal and O.J. and got a Chicago Tribune and an apple fritter and filled pastry—I haven’t done that in a while—and home, ate breakfast, read paper, napped til 1:30 or so. M and I, did we watch TV or something? Not a lot of it—and we left around, what, 2-2:30? I’m not sure—to mall. I got a wall phone and CDs to burn at Radio Shack. M got new (“refurbished” or some word) cell battery at U.S. Cellular station—then Beef a Roo, then got dog food and Woodman’s, home about 6*—after we unpacked groceries, we started watching “Confessions of a Shopaholic” (merely clever joke: too much shopahol) and I got bored and went to garden after while. We took recycling and the two movies that were due back to Byron about 9—bed late, for some reason. And what else?

Oh, at *, I went to watch “Today” show open. They’re still mostly about Michael Jackson—I don’t get why his death is so interesting. Maybe commercial media feels they have to give people what they want. But I just don’t care. I guess my inclination is to just stop watching media for a few days. It’s weird, somehow, that that’s my best option, but so it would seem…

Anyway, yeah, so, tension in liquor checkout (maybe people feel a bit, a slight big, guilty or something there, anyway—maybe they’d have more patience in a regular (nonliquor) checkout?) And M said people in the city are more patient. They expect to have to wait for others, traffic, whatever.

[From journal of Mon., 29 June 2009, Journal 113, page 31]

What if it stops spinning while I watch!

8:40, 40 minutes after previous page:

[A supervisor] used to tell me I should seek promotion. But recently I thought, why would I? Maybe [supervisor] thinks we should all be ego-motivated. But maybe it’s like Charlie told that one guy—if you were as smart as I am, you’d see money doesn’t matter. … My gig is good—it allows me time to write!

After writing, I went to TV room to lie down but felt tempted to turn on TV and watch Today show with Amy Robach and Lester Holt, though I almost immediately get annoyed by that show. And perhaps that’s what troubles me about Internet usage—I’m drawn to it but often disappointed by what I find.

Also, in general: When I’m certain, when I’m becoming certain about some idea, that’s probably the time to let the idea go and start on a new idea—I’m not sure that achieving certainty about a belief or idea helps me much. Keep seeking.

My thought yesterday that, no, my personal life, my thoughts about my life, this farm, my job, etc., these particulars that I’ve thought might interest others as writing—these things don’t really even interest me. I’m much more interested in thinking about these ideas about or ideas from life than I am in merely recapping my experiences. So tell those ideas to others through writing.

Also, my life story doesn’t have much drama—my daily life—but why should drama, action, be required? Can’t routines be interesting, too?

4 p.m. DISH Channel 212: Satellite pics of the Earth updated every 15 secs. or so. M & I got a little freaked: I because I said, what if it stops spinning while I watch! M because she’s afraid we’d see a spaceship or a comet cross the screen.

Violets & dandelions are out.

[From journal of Sat., 25 April 2009, Journal 110, page 193]

They seem to me to cohere

The whole point of creative poetry is to do things that aren’t commonplace, so maybe I leave those lines as they are—they seem to me to cohere, though I can’t explain why by reference to narrative completion or formal completion (14 lines in a sonnet). Richard Wilbur tends to be a formal-poem poet, and that’s fine for him—and his example has no purchase on me and what I do.

Ah, well. Yes, it’s a slightly unnerving feeling to realize the standards of doneness, of “poem-ness” (as in, “is this really a poem?”) are up to me—but also, how powerful a feeling, and how heady—confidence—well, I was gonna say confidence-building, but I’m not sure that’s true, and I’m not sure confidence matters in what I’m talking about today.

I don’t know what more to say, but most everything else I did yesterday seems to pale, to blanch, to fade out, in comparison.

It’s not overthrowing an army or something—but just to realize that I’m free of social/artistic strictures, that’s powerful. You have freedom but you don’t have the safety/protection/public identity of formal poems (or any recognizable art form, anything socially accepted as art. Rap wasn’t, at first, but now its place is pretty secure. Miley Cyrus rapped on a YouTube video about why she will cancel her Twitter account. But that’s still a pretty safe place.)

And If I read my poem to others, I don’t know that they’d see what I see. I’ve spent more time, and now, the parts that I feel cohere don’t obviously cohere. If the listeners’ brains are looking for logical or narrative connections, looking for my poem to fit a pattern, it won’t—not an obvious pattern, even the parts feel to me to cohere in an emotional/tone sense? They share a mood, maybe? Or they share a sound commonality, harshness, or whatever.

[From journal of Tues. 20 Oktober (Augdopour—on whiteboard this morning) 2009, Journal 119, page 191-2]

February-Dreary. Why not Drearuary?

Back to the cold! 10° with windchill of -10—it’s been around or above freezing for a week or 10 days, really—and won’t be above freezing now again til Tuesday, according to forecast this morning.

I wonder what Mom thinks about god & church & stuff. She doesn’t seem to need much church herself. I don’t know that she’d call herself an agnostic, but she might. I should ask her—the evidence suggests she doesn’t need much churching.

And Sam is Sam, and the world’s still crazy, and Obama’s got a plan to help homeowners, but it feels like it’s not a sure thing; it may not do much. I just noticed the end of noise from fridge. How often that runs and we don’t even notice it. I tapped on [downstairs neighbor & grandma] P__’s window last night to let her know layers’ house door was open but she was asleep, even with TV on—a cozy scene, with Beez [dog] asleep on bed and P__ reclining as if she were watching TV under her quilt, but her eyes were closed.

OK, quilt—we have a down comforter, but the quilt is the peasant bed cover. Nothing wrong with quilts—it’s just that they were born out of frugality and necessity—using scraps for blankets. One hears, now and then, the idea that in this new age of austerity, people will be less focused on materialism and community values may thrive. People may do more things beyond money-making. OK, I can buy that. But I don’t really have friends. I’m a depressed sad sack in the winter who last night felt really affectless—didn’t feel any joy or interest in anything. I made soup, lots of garlic, M likes it. But I stayed up just so my stomach could empty—I ate 6:30–7. If I’d eaten earlier, I’d have gone to bed by 8 instead of 9:30. But we’ll see.

February, huh? M. talked to [her friend] S__ D__ last night. M said something about going to bed to get up and do this day over. S__ said that didn’t sound very positive. M talking to a friend, that seemed fun, you know? A respite from our dreary lives—oh, the lives are OK, not terrible, just February-Dreary. Why not Drearuary—but I don’t suppose that helps it seem any less dreary.

[From journal of Thurs. 19 Feb. 2009, 5:53 a.m. Journal 109, page 56-7]

Nonfic: My Journal of 8 November 2009

Here is a journal entry I’m posting here as an example to use in discussing the difficulties of editing journals (see previous post). As I typed this, I edited out sections that discuss my family members and work colleagues (so as to maintain the quality of my private and professional relationships). I made spellings and punctuation more conventional. Underlined words were underlined in the original handwritten version. I have annotated, using square [] brackets and italics, some of the references here, while using parentheses and curved {} brackets to represent parenthetical material in the original document. I have generally not edited out excess words, or words I write sometimes as the written equivalent of the verbal “um.” There are more discussion notes of the editing process at the bottom of this post.

Be forewarned: This journal entry will likely be confusing and self-indulgent. But then, that’s kinda why I’m posting it, as an example. P.S.: My wife wants me to note that the stickers on the above-pictured journal were a one-time stickering; I’m not as keenly into fantasy as the above would indicate.

Sunday 8 Nov. 2009 6:52 a.m.

Here we are. I hauled 4 loads of gravel up to my parking spot yesterday – 5 tubs went on the ground; 3 of the finer stuff, more like sand (so it was sorted in the washout in the quarry [the small quarry on the farm where I lived near several family members]), went into plastic feed bags to save for the winter – for traction on the ice.

And what else? We [my wife, M., and I] went to 3 Sisters Cafe [Byron, Illinois] for latte and I got a bagel and M had soup and something and we looked at and de-entropied the Byronopoly game and I thought of some new rules to make the game a little different – factor in inflation, varying paychecks (around “Go”) – M said something like, you’re making me be creative. In the evening , after gravel, after Chinese food in Oregon [Illinois] and groceries and drugs in Byron Felcker, and after we cleaned up the bedroom –  got all the clothes off the floor, piled some clothes to give away, M was reading a romance book she found and she kept debating – well, changing her mind, on whether she had read this book or not – at first, yes, then no – it’s not a book she has read before but it’s a related story featuring similar or, no, the same, characters

I paused writing now to kill some flies – it’s that time of year when flies and orange ladybugs and box elder bugs (though I haven’t seen as many of those as the others) move inside. So, it was a nice day – I was wearing shorts and Crocs in the afternoon—

and so here we are. We [my wife and I] had a little argument about the apartment –… [leaving out details of spousal argument]

Ah, well – but we made a list of things to change, incl. bedroom, and maybe we need to tackle the issue of kitchen space – maybe today we’ll get this table out of here – it just takes up too much space – and eat at the built-in [table].

well, and later last night, I got my plastic locker box out of closet – the one in which I keep my college correspondence – (back before email, back when people still wrote letters – maybe I could resurrect that – but it’s so much easier to do email – well , D___’s the only one [of my friends or relatives] who lives distant enough for that –

[missing are 2 paragraphs in which I talk about my interactions with a colleague]

After lunch at 3 Sisters, quasi-lunch, M and I drove around a big, looking at houses – and they’re rebuilding that house in Auker Estates that burned down this summer – and we drove thru that Deer Run (or Deer-something) [“Fawn Ridge”] place north of Mill Rd – and I started talking about money, how houses need to come down in price, who can afford that 200-300K house? and M said, don’t go down that road. I thought she meant Mill Rd., but she meant the metaphorical road of that “houses are too expensive” idea/opinion. [Here, handwriting ink color changes from black to pink.] Let’s use some color – the last journal’s pages were too thin for Sharpies – and here we are. Sam [my dog] wants to go outside but I need to check on [my uncle-neighbor’s] dogs’ breakfast progress first – nope, Chesty’s still in Chesty house. I wondered this morning why Sam & Chesty both have chest blazes of white – is that a typical spot for white on a dog? I mean, if they have a color splash, it’ll be there rather than elsewhere? …

Well, a thought last night, 2 actually: stop criticizing what others do – and just do your own! – I’m referring here to my habit of thinking TV news should be different, or if only more books were that way … [here was description of some family members entering my grandparents’ house downstairs of our upstairs apartment]  … it’s a habit I have, particularly when tired or depressed, to blame other things for not being different or better – as if that would make me feel better if TV programs were better. But I felt pretty good yesterday and I thought, just do what you what to do, what you want to make — ignore the rest. You don’t all the people to read your books or want the things you want – truth doesn’t get voted on, not does possibility —

[Here was a paragraph about my wife telling me something that worried me.]

Fiction: I’m thinking what fiction means – and how long it has to be – but I hadn’t thought of the 6-word stories til yesterday – I think we saw a sign for something, and M said the Hemingway story: “For sale: Baby shoes, never used,” which, I’ll grant, is pretty efficient – 3 characters are implied (baby, shoe owner, and whoever is forcing the sale – maybe) and there’s both the unmet expectations of the baby and also there’s the economic hardship  —

Lots of times I’ll have a great writing session and tell myself, you don’t need to watch TV because your own ideas are good and you don’t need those tired old mass-media notions back in your head – and yes, it probably is true that you could benefit from not having those other ideas in your mind, and yet, eh, it’s not a big deal – life goes on – you wouldn’t want to be confined to your own ideas your whole life. I will have some time to grade essays Monday during STAR/collaboration time, because half the dept. is going to a “co-teacher” meeting and [a certain colleague] in the STAR (“room,” but that’s in the name – STudent Achievement Room – suggesting there is not student achievement tin other rooms?)

But I should do some grading today … so as to not be overly rushed. I need some time-pressure to end my procrastination, but then I hate to be stressed and rushed – stressed by rush.

That Johnson quote about nobody but a fool writes w/o getting paid – well, he’s at one end of the “Why I Write” [side note: “Why a person writes”] spectrum, and I’d be at the other: money’s OK, but to the extent that money comes from writing what others want, and I write what I want, I’m pretty far from Johnson –

[There’s an arrow drawn from the paragraph about short fiction above to here:] Short fiction: maybe, well, clearly, if you have only a few words, it’s not the same as a fleshed-out story (and my teen students tend to not like the ambiguity of so many modern stories – maybe liking ambiguity is a sign of mental/emotional maturity – that’s why teens and 20-somethings can get so hepped-up rebellious – they know “The One True Way,” they are pretty sure about that  — willing to sacrifice others to get their goal – I was like that, to some extent – for example, in my pro-organic [foods] fervor – I’m still pro-organic, but I don’t have the fervor –

But, fiction: something happens. So maybe the shortest possible fiction would be a verb: “Die!” or “F__ you” or “Marry me” – maybe something has to happen – tho it doesn’t have to always be a wedding or a murder – it can be little things, and it doesn’t have to be human – it can be the story of an animal (the book “Wild Season”), or [Aldo] Leopold’s story of an atom cycling thru the ecology – maybe you can even have fiction where the thing that happens is as minor – but neat, perhaps – as time passing (as common but as special as time passing) – I guess I don’t, for me personally, I am not that interested in getting caught up in all the human drama – I’m really not wanting to read about someone’s grief, after a tragedy, or how the cops found the killer – and yet, if you tell the story of a fish dying, or whatever, fish don’t have narratives – only human CSness [consciousness] does, so far as we know –

Well, I was just outside talking to [my grandmother, P] as she did her chicken chores (some chickens were so thirsty – their waterer had gone dry – that they were drinking out of a leaf-and-water-filled plastic sled – P. saw it and expressed pity for them – but it reminds me that once you keep some animals caged/penned so they can’t escape, they rely on you to bring them all they need – whereas, with Sam, I give him water outside most days, but I also figure Sam can, if he’s loose, find his own water – drinking from the goldfish pond if nothing else, which he does

[another excised paragraph about my family]

going from writing (my ideas ) to reading or watching TV , getting some other ideas {this morning, I didn’t watch TV, but I did read about Wes Anderson in New Yorker – but then we started doing cleaning & sorting/moving stuff in kitchen}

[note in the margin of last page] don’t criticize other bands/musicians – sometimes I’ll hear a new song or group and compare them to something that came before – eh, but why bother?

noonish: M. also said yesterday that … [people M. knew through her work] are only 36 – our age, and they have [children] and M. said so many people out here [in rural Illinois] marry young because they don’t see other plans or goals for their lives.

NOTES: So, clearly, I’ve cut paragraphs dealing with my family members and with my professional colleagues. I did this partly to avoid even the potential of hurting the feelings of these people, but also because I’m concerned about others losing control of their own narratives, as it were. It’s been awkward for me to hear how I’m described in others’ stories, so I want to avoid that problem here. My wife is in here because our lives are too entwined for her (or me) to get our our narratives.

The typing of this journal: I realized that typing this journal was tedious, and that alone is a good reason not to publish these journals —  typing as I write anew is more enjoyable. But also, I realized that this journal is already one interpretation of what was on the paper. As mentioned at the top of this post, I have tried to standardize punctuation, abbreviations, etc., but also I’ve corrected things that seemed to be accidentally omitted or wrongly spelled (and I may have included new typos). This is standard for editing handwritten work. A more difficult aspect, perhaps, was in making more linear the annotations and marginal notes I often put in the journals. Also, things have been lost — the colors of the ink, and the flourish and size and other characteristics of the handwriting, which could perhaps contain some information pertinent to textual analysis. So try as I might, this typed version is already one level removed from what I wrote in 2009; this version is part 2009 Matt, part 2012 Matt (I’m thinking here of lab techs working with a DNA sample that may have been contaminated by their handling of it).

Content of the journal: Sometimes I may enjoy things in my journals, such as my use of “de-entropied” in my description of organizing a game. I’m concerned, though, that it’d be very easy for my writing to become too precious if I edited together the parts where I found myself amusing. Frankly, I don’t want to turn myself into a character, no matter what kind of character that would be. Some readers might find parts of the above journal interesting, but I don’t think I can be the editor who puts together those things. It’d get sickening after a while.

There are also lots of details of daily living that are kinda interesting — how my dog wanted out but I had to check on the neighbor’s dogs first — and yet, these daily events do not themselves justify a reader’s effort, I don’t think.

There are some ideas — about fiction, etc. — but these weren’t breakthrough insights. Some journals have new ideas; some don’t. But even those that do, I’m not sure that what I find mind-opening would feel the same to others.

Sometimes the journal entry repeats certain things (like above, that we ate lunch at 3 Sisters cafe). Sometimes I think these things can be interestingly recursive rather than merely repetitive. But perhaps not.

I guess I think there can be value in the naturalness, the unguardedness, of one’s journaling voice, but as I said in previous post, that unguardedness goes away if the writer writes with the knowledge that the journal may be published.

But I’ll stop self-analyzing at this point. I’d appreciate hearing if any readers find value in such a writing, and if any, where.

Nonfiction: Empty science textbooks

Science textbooks should have lots of blank pages to represent all that isn’t known yet. Full science books seem to say “everything is known.” Obviously, books don’t have extra pages because it’s an unnecessary cost to publishers, and also, authors may not want to admit what they don’t know.  In practice, leaving lots of blank pages would be a silly thing to do. But as an idea, it makes us more aware of the contingent nature of scientific knowledge.  When something’s been printed and bound, it seems important, valuable, and credible.  This idea about blank pages simply points out a basic truth about knowledge, especially scientific knowledge, that is easy to forget when confronted with these serious-looking physical books: that knowledge isn’t in the books. Knowledge can change faster than books or even, in a sense, the Internet. Anything that’s been written down in symbolic form is old knowledge. It’s not at the cusp of discovery. And nature doesn’t follow knowledge. It exists without it. We humans sometimes believe our knowledge to be more real than the physical world, that generalizations are more useful than particulars.

— Mh, journal, 8 Aug. 2009

Nonfiction: Writing today about today

Writing in my journal each day gives me the flavor of life on that day, but also, this is how we live: we live one day, one moment, at a time, and so why not write in the present moment, too?

— Mh, journal, 12 Aug. 2009

Nonfiction: Reality needs no story

The world (reality) doesn’t need its own history. It gets along fine without any story about itself (including any metaphysical statements about reality, such as this one, I suppose).

— Mh, Journal, 5 Aug. 2009

Nonfiction: Our bodies, our minds

Our bodies can be directly revealed to others, but our thoughts cannot. In a culture where bodies are not hidden much anymore, our minds are, or can be, hidden.  The big secret is now the mind? What we might communicate to others comes from a private place. The media show women’s bodies, often to sell products and movie tickets, but if they showed women’s minds … Maybe there are more people who want to see new bodies than there are people who want to hear new ideas? Media isn’t as quick with new concepts. Perhaps our culture is physically/sexually liberal but with ideas, conservative — in the sense of not wanting to reconsider things. There is a lot of info, facts, pictures, on TV, but not so much talk about creativity, new ideas — are ideas more sacrosanct than sex? Is that what “Brave New World” was getting at — let people have sex (or even encourage them to) so they don’t question basic ideas of society?

— Mh, Journal, 6 August 2009