Tag Archives: 2016

The resulting text is beside the point: Journal of 11 September 2016

Dog blur with two tennis balls. 10 Sept. 2016

Dog and I walked the big block through a nearby subdivision and the park to the roads that would get me back home, with an additional loop through another subdivision to see where an acquaintance and her chickens live. We’d left at 5:50 a.m., still kind of dark, and got back home at 7.

I could do some grading today, blogging, laundry, mowing. It’s the first NFL weekend of this season, but I feel guilty now when I watch concussionball (maybe calling it “concussionball” will help me stay away.) I’m fighting my tradition of watching football on Sundays more than I’m fighting some love of the game.

So, M and I went to diner yesterday, got iced cream and fake bacon (for our cuke sandwiches) on way home. We sat outside and talked about carbon and iron in steel, whether that’s an alloy (it is, according to Wikipedia articles), and I wondered about carbon as a semiconductor and transistors. But I did read lots about steelmaking before going to sleep, 2 p.m. to nearly five, and got up and wrote my two paragraphs for a history teacher colleague’s slideshow of memories of the events of 11 Sept. 2001. I copied my text — I liked it, a decent bit of writing about how it seemed the U.S. went nuts after 9/11, and how Guantanamo, Afghanistan, Iraq Wars, these are still going on. And then I blogged that, and I got a reblog this morning.

And we ordered pasta and pizza from LaRosa’s, paid the $36 bill with the $50 bill we got in mail from M’s mom. The delivery person was the slick-hair, rolled-cuffs hipster dude whom I tipped only 10% last week, so I gave him 20% here, $8, plus $4, which makes 48 — and why mess with $2? — so the whole $50. And we had a nice dinner at the table. M cleared off two-thirds of it — the north end, with bills and pens, M said overwhelmed her. And I put on the swing music channel on TV, but too many slow songs, including Harry Connick Jr.’s “Save the Last Dance For Me” and Sarah Vaughan’s “My Favorite Things,” so to jazz channel. At 8, we watched the “Star Wars: Force Awakens” (broadcast on several channels of Starz simultaneously). My reaction to “Force Awakens” — it’s okay but mostly dull because it repeats so much of the first “Star Wars” movie’s plot and character points. Adam Driver as Kylo Ren is kind of menacing but also funny at same time, and sometimes uses a Christopher Walken vocal cadence.

Bed 10:35, sleep probably about 11. It’s a lovely, cool day.

Cat rain. 10 Sept. 2016

I’m feeling like I need to address some things I wrote yesterday, but I’m not sure what. I mean, not to make corrections, but I feel I criticized without making the turn toward the positive, by which I mean going beyond the criticism of old ideas to get to a new idea, an idea of how to do things better.

I looked up Auburn University, wanted to know what town it was in — Auburn, Alabama. Got to philosophy department website. Under “What can You Do with a Philosophy Degree?,” the first line is “The study of philosophy is its own reward.” It continues: “It deepens and intensifies engagement with fundamental questions regarding the self, others, and the world that arise in everyday life. But the study of philosophy also offers great practical rewards. It cultivates skills in clear thinking, writing, logical criticism, and it increases the power and discipline of the imagination.” Later, under “Our Programs,” it says, “Auburn’s Department of Philosophy holds to high standards of reading, writing, and conversation.” I like including “conversation.” Further, “It expects students to become adept at criticizing the views of others and their own views,” which statement I love for its “fuck you and your idea of college as job prep” boldness but also because it’s kind of like what I was saying yesterday, or trying to say yesterday, about writing poetry.

Back at 8:18 after copying the quotes above and after 10 minutes or so reading about transistors and semiconductors after M and I talked about them yesterday. I’d said, as we sat on deck and watched dog roll around in the grass, clover, and dandelion foliage, that chemistry class terms like “compound” and “mixture” are vague, and to apply them to what we could see in the yard is hard because we don’t see any elements. We don’t see O2 in the air — and what we do see — the wood of the deck, plant leaves, dandelion leaves, are made of so many compounds (which we also can’t see — what we see is tissue). Anyway, I’ve critiqued science before, and it’s not quite what I want to do right now.

What I wrote for my colleague’s slide — I wonder if she’ll edit it? I am glad the public discourse isn’t so single-mindedly fearful as it was then soon after Nine-Eleven. I saw in Rockford Register-Star Sunday paper I pulled out of someone’s delivery box this morning an article about how there was unity after 9/11 but partisan divide now — but what seeming unity there was after 9/11 was driven by fear.

But also there was the underlying partisan bullshit of Bush Administration, tax cuts and what not, and so here we are now, with Trump as GOP leader, but thank God there’s more dissension, questioning, now then there was then — “then” especially being the lead up to 2003 Iraq invasion. It was creepy how isolated I felt then in questioning that war. Andrew Sullivan was for it, I read later. Hillary Clinton voted for it. Now Trump brags that he wasn’t for it — he’s a liar, but at least we’re against that bullshit now. So much stupid, wasteful, violent, and illegal torture shit was done in the name of 9/11. Yeesh.

I don’t normally want to get political with my blog. But, you know, sometimes it’s okay to just make a point rather than being always aesthetically focused or experimental (as with form and content — blerg, that distinction).

Back now at 8:40 after paging through some of Tristram Shandy to which I saw a reference in the GQ article of Jonathan Safran Foer I saw yesterday, how young man Foer seemed to try things typographically that he wasn’t aware others (Sterne) had done before. Form isn’t my main interest now, if it ever was. Sure, I probably tried a few things with form, but soon discovered I wasn’t all that interested in form merely (and after I wrote my one-memory-a-year memoir thing — in 2005? 2006? — I learned Nora Ephron did a similar thing in one of her I Feel Bad about my Neck essays. How could she be curt with people and also expect their welcome, their indulging of her insecurities, in her essays?)

Form is something anybody can alter. It’s range-bound and, like any limited set of ideas, somebody will try, or will have tried, each of the options in this set — like how people say the multitude of writers on Twitter seem to come up with a common set of jokes for any big event — comedians aren’t all that unique if they’re merely reacting to things.

I put my text about 9/11 up on my blog partly because it’s okay to make a point, partly because the text is well-written, and partly because, well, it’s nice to have my blog as as a repository of my writings — an archive of sorts, and not just a place for recent thoughts (which hasn’t been my use of the blog lately) and recent creative writing pieces. My journals are a level removed from making a point.

From earlier: That Auburn quote — “the study of philosophy is its own reward” — sounds like my idea that the purpose of writing poems is writing poems! The purpose is in the doing! The purpose isn’t to come up with something saleable, or something that will improve my reputation, or even something that will communicate. It’s possible to use writing for these purposes — commercial, career, and communicative — but any of those put the purpose into the product. The goal is outside you. You’re using writing and words merely to accomplish something else in the world — but you don’t need to!

What I realized (or re-realized) last Friday is that this is an attitude/process I can also take when writing poems — is that the resulting text is beside the point. It’s not the point of my writing, but it’s beside the point. The point is to write in a way that’s enjoyable, that’s interesting, and any text that results, it doesn’t matter what that text goes on to do, if anything. Whether something I’d write would make money or get me in trouble or be completely ignored, it doesn’t matter (though I try to avoid trouble) because it’s done for me! It’s over. Something I realized decades ago was that once a journal notebook was filled, it’s gone dead for me. Now I’m not quite going to stick to that because something else I’ve been thinking lately is that editing can go on indefinitely! You can pick up an old text and pick out the best parts and publish these on blog — and even there, you can always go back and keep editing! If you never go to print on paper, you never have to stop editing. There doesn’t need to be one version of a text. This is a striking new paradigm for writing, or at least for publishing. Publishers don’t really care about process at all. They just need product to sell, whether it’s actually all that good or not. Lots of books sell lots of copies, only be soon forgotten. They’ve made money! But see, if you’re like me and don’t need the money, then, shoot, you never have to be done. I’m thinking of Thoreau’s quote: if quality matters, time doesn’t. I took that to be a statement about product, but it doesn’t need to be. And the quality doesn’t have to be a judgment about the text or walking stick (Thoreau’s example) but an abstraction toward which one works, an abstraction that in practice may not be distinguishable from what I called “interesting,” as in, do what seems most interesting with the words as you make poems. You could mechanically put words together and call it a poem. (I have an expansive definition of poem — “whatever words you put together, we’ll call that a poem,” I said in my writing classes on Friday as I assigned magpo.com to them.) I’m even reminded of the Pirsig quote in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance — “The real motorcycle you’re working on is yourself,” something like that. Now, I don’t usually like to see myself as working on myself — that feels like self-consciousness, self-monitoring, exhaustion — but, yeah, if you’re the only thing that’s really alive, you know?

Just moments ago, I saw the “For Sale” sign on a neighbor’s lawn — those specific words sound sad, like the owners are no longer willing to care for that particular property. Whatever feelings they had for it, desires for it, are gone. The real feelings of caring that are gone are their marriage-bond-love. Damn, it makes me sad. I keep dwelling on this divorce — maybe I’ve never quite gotten over my parents’ divorce.

I thought, while walking on Mill Road this morning, of using all four senses during my walk. I saw some dudes get out of a car at the park, and car left, and two or three dudes walked under picnic shelter and then — ? And I wonder a little about whether they’d come after me for witnessing their drug deal — which probably wasn’t a drug deal, of course — but other people could. I need to be aware of others, who could come after us or just accidentally hit us on the roadway. Also I can hear, feel the cool, smell the air — I tried smelling some leaves on shrubs in northwest corner of park — they didn’t smell much. They’re not putting out any volatile chemicals except oxygen and water vapor, which, since there’s already O2 and H2O in the air, probably doesn’t smell. If I crushed a leaf, there might be smells through the release of plant chemicals, but I didn’t want to do that. Tried to avoid stepping on a bug this walk, too.

So I’m back after making eggs, cheese, and rice and starting laundry. I guess I had two things to say/reiterate: one was that I write journals because I like to write, and I do like clearing my mind, etc., the emotional benefits, and I like to document my life, but I also just like to write. My journals are me writing about real stuff, real experiences, as myself. When I write poems, as on magpo.com, I’m less tethered, just going with what I see, more pure intellect, less tied to me. Both are okay, just different.

Sunday evening: I’m having self-doubting thoughts about the quality of my writing. But I can dismiss those. We can ask whether anyone’s (even published writers’) works are all that great.

Byron, Illinois, aerials. 9 Sept. 2016

[Journal Sunday, 11 September 2016, starting at 7:36 a.m. ]

‘Trump’s an asshole,’ sings Denis Leary, 2016 asshole update

Since this post of Denis Leary’s song seems popular and pertinent, I’ll add the updated, 2016 version, done by Denis Leary and James Corden:

Here’s the original:

Like Spending Time in My Brain: Thursday 21 July 2016 journal text

At home, 7:54 a.m. — It’s humid as hell already . It’s forecasted to be 95° F with “hot steams” index of 109°.

I vetted the cat yesterday. He growled during his exam by a new (to the vet office) young woman vet. She gave Justice cat the ol’ up-the-butt thermometer with a drop of, I’m guessing, lube on the tip, which is a nice touch, somehow — a weird touch, too. Sure, it’s medically useful, but I’m not always sure I’ve seen vets do that.

At Oregon, Ill., McDonald’s, a little before 9 a.m. — A BNSF Railway Police dude is here, with sidearm and bulletproof vest, it seems. “So are you out of Chicago, then?” McKaren asks him. He agreed. I didn’t know railroads had their own police forces.

People can’t be on the right of way at all,” said RR cop. McKaren said something to the dude who’s with the cop about BNSF not maintaining fences and working on a track. “It’s just been nonstop out there, something all the time,” she said, and then the two guys wrap up conversation and leave McD’s.

Dog and I had a “standing salad” last night in our garden — we ate peas, carrots, green peppers, and the first two cherry tomatoes of the year. Dog doesn’t eat peppers or tomatoes.

He was brutally handsome; she was terminally pretty,” sings an Eagle over the restaurant radio system.

Get up, Katelyn, and walk,” said a mom to a young girl, and mom did an open-palms, arms-out-to-sides gesture of frustration.

The place where you live may not matter as long as you’re safe and can find work, etc. So national-pride feelings are mere ideas. The idea of where you live doesn’t matter. I used to have an idea that my everyday life would be better if I lived in a college town like Madison, Wis., instead of living in this rural Illinois county. But my life would probably be about the same: I’d probably be the same person, have about the same mental experience of being alive.

A dude in a Jeep in the drive-thru just now held his black box of Marlboros up to his mouth to pull out a cigarette with his lips. His left hand was on the wheel, his right holding the pack.

There’s the amble of Beardy “Jack” McTankTop, with a white tanktop now and his usual blue shorts. “I’m usually a regular here,” said Beardy to a young counter girl. He wasn’t here with the other regulars earlier this morning.

What a tragic thing for her to deal with all her life, you know,” concludes a McSally story about some girl getting shot in the street and some dude throwing himself on top of her to protect her.

If the lid would be off, it’d be down the front of me every time,” said McKaren to an old couple about Karen’s drink cup, I think.

On my dog-walk this morning, I remembered my old question about what was the first word ever spoken by humans. My thought this morning is that, whatever the word was, meaning must have preceded the first word, since humans, and even animals, can learn to read body language before they can read words.

A 5- or 6-year-old boy has jammed his chocolate-dipped cone dip-first into a soda cup McKaren had given the woman who was with the boy. Karen also advised getting a spoon.

It was hot at 4 o’clock this morning,” says McKaren to a customer dude. It’s the second time I’ve heard her say this. “It hits you right in the face — wham!” she said, after the dude said it’s muggy.

This reminds me how hot it was on the walk over to McDonald’s from the courthouse where my wife and I parked our car. It smelled and felt like a laundromat, the air coming out of a just-stopped dryer.

I’m afraid if I do, I might really, really like it … I can be very impulsive,” McKaren said, I think about riding a motorcycle. Of her daughter asking her if she wanted to ride, horse-owner Karen said, “If it’s too hot to ride horses, it’s too hot to ride motorcycles.

An older man three tables west of me has an oversize nose — he looks like cartoon Jimmy Durante in “Frosty the Snowman” Christmas special.

I’m not trying to appeal broadly. I’m writing who I am, what I naturally do, and I’m not trying to become a writer for others. Yes, I’ve said this statement many times lately but I’m still stating it, I think, because it still feels new and good and joyful. There’s the freedom of accepting myself, that I no longer have to try to fit myself and my writing into some existing cubbyhole (by which I mean a familiar form, genre, etc.). I feel I’ve put, in these recent posts, my mind, my existence, as priority over any particular words and ideas. I’m superior to, have priority over, what I say.

Making each day’s journal text from nothing, as it were. It’s cool that there are no topics beforehand, no deciding what to say before I write. Themes emerge as I read and edit. I’m not saying these recent journal-posts (such as this one) are great — they look a bit text-heavy, for one. But they aren’t organized by topic, and they aren’t merely journals in whole (they aren’t every single word) but they are ideas from the journals — so that reading them might be like spending time in my brain!

Interesting People Say Interesting Things: 20 July 2016 journals

Weds. 20 July — While walking my dog this morning through a nearby subdivision, I saw a state cop car pull out of a driveway and a water bottle come rolling downhill toward me, as if it’d been on the car when the cop moved it. He soon stopped and got out and I said, “good thing it’s water and not a cup of coffee or something” — or your gun, I thought but didn’t say.

After talking with colleagues about the short-story unit we’ll teach in our sophomore English class, I’m looking at this unit now as teaching kids the form, and how to analyze the form, of the short story. I want students to see the limits and the lies of that form — for example, in that story about a gang-member getting stabbed and bleeding out, we have no way to know what a dying person thinks. I want to teach students to be wary of, or at least aware of, being manipulated by fiction. Though I know some students will probably be fiction fans and I don’t want to break their hearts, and yet … I do want to wake them up.

Got an email this week from a former student from 3 years ago who said that my class opened up her mind, got her thinking. I love to hear that, though of course, I’d also like to know examples of what new thoughts she’s had because of my class. But just the fact that she thinks the class opened up her mind means she’s aware of having an open mind, and that might be the necessary first step — perhaps the only step? — to actually having an open mind, being willing to think about things in new ways, etc.

I don’t want to have to convince someone of the value of my writings. Readers will get it or they won’t.

I wouldn’t say that the texts I write can’t be changed. I know editors greatly altered certain classic words of literature — Kerouac’s, Thomas Wolfe’s, Raymond Carver’s. But there’s something OK about a text being whatever I put in it.

“Hello, it’s me,” said my wife, coming into the great room for the first time this day. “Who are you, Todd Rundgren?” I asked. She said she was about to say something similar.

Even if my edited journals aren’t compelling reads (like, say, a plot-driven thriller is compelling), these posts can be worth reading, can be interesting, at least to some readers.

Developing one’s sensibility: how teachers pick out better quotes to use from a story, and teachers find more things, and more-interesting things, to interpret from literary texts than students generally do — this could be an analogy to, and/or an example of, what I’ve been thinking about how interesting people say interesting things. Interesting people are usually older people, and so, frankly, my own younger-me writings may not be as interesting as my more recent ones are. For example, the literature-analysis essays I wrote as a high-schooler: I could’ve done more-interesting analysis, but I didn’t have the mind to do so at age 17.

Earlier this week, I published an edited part of my journal [as this post here is also]. I haven’t always felt motivated to start reading others’ journals — say, Camus’s, a book of whose journals I owned back in college, or Thoreau’s, which I looked at in recent years. But Thoreau’s actually were interesting, maybe more than Walden is. But Walden feels like A Big Work, Thoreau’s One Big Work , and so it feels more important to read that book than his journals. But of course, the book doesn’t have to be seen that way.

Writing I love doing, and its value to others: Tuesday 19 July 2016 journal

At home, 8:05 a.m. — As I saw a car drive past me and my dog on our morning walk, I thought that the method and rate of one’s travel shapes or reveals one’s goal or purpose. The car’s driver is getting quickly to a certain place, while my dog and I were walking for the sake of walking.

Idea: In interpreting a text, we assume that if the text has been published (unlike a journal or a private correspondence), what’s there was meant to be there. And that assumption may be worth questioning.

Three neighbor kids came over to our house as my wife and I sat on our front lawn last night. They asked if we’d bring our cat outside, and after we set the cat down, five-year-old Dustin commanded, “Kitty, play!”

Our dog was out front of the house, too, attached to his cable as I did lawn work. He was lying, sphinx-style, and panting, and looking at nothing in particular. I told him he looked like he was just groovin’ on the evening.

How good I thought my Grinch and Frosty the Snowman posts were until I reread them last January for possible use in my English 2 classes. The posts weren’t terrible, but were too complex for my sophomore students to appreciate, and overall not as funny as I remember.

I don’t want my blog to turn political. I don’t want to drive away readers who disagree with my positions, and also politics tends to be either relentlessly of the moment — meaningless — or it’s based in values that are inarguable.

An author can’t wake up people who aren’t interested in waking up, who aren’t seeking or who aren’t at least open to new ideas. I don’t want to praise complete openness — I’m not interested in trying anything, any drug, any experience, just for the sake of experience. There is value in the orientation I have to the world, which is based on all my years of experience and reacting to, thinking about, that experience. Maybe if I took peyote or did a sweat lodge session, I would have an experience that would change — broaden, in a good way — my perspective. On the other hand, not all experience is good. Some experiences are things I’ve wanted to retreat from, and these haven’t taught me much except that there are things I don’t want to experience. Other times, I’ve had experiences that I just couldn’t make sense of, and so I couldn’t assimilate them into my worldview. Some people have really bad experiences, like PTSD, that sorta break them, at least for a while, or send their lives in new directions, which aren’t always bad, but can be. Anyway, I’m not sure having an idea that certain experiences can break a person helps me to live a calm, fear-free life.

I could edit down my journals into single-idea paragraphs, but that seems safe. What’s interesting, what’s the challenge now, is expanding my ideas of what’s permissible, what new forms can be found, or familiar forms exploded. In other words, not editing a text down to a single topic or story seems to go against what I’ve learned, what I’ve internalized, about editing for publication, what’s best or acceptable to publish. And I want to be willing to challenge my own beliefs about what a piece intended for others needs to be.

How much can I push readers, how difficult can I make texts for them? No, actually, that’s not the question, since, as I said not long ago, I’m not writing for others. I could just post what I like. It’s easy for readers to say no to reading my stuff. I don’t want to do the performance, where I publish only a few perfected (whatever that would mean) things — I’m choosing to look messy, to post things that aren’t perfect, because process matters more than product. But with what I was doing with that post last night, editing my journal, I’m not even sure what the product is, and I’m telling myself that it’s OK to accept the uncertainty. Don’t close off this attempt. Go through with it, even if it isn’t, if you’re not sure that it’s, good.

Sure, it might be self-indulgent to post material from a day’s journal — exactly none of it was written for an audience. Yet I persist in thinking that there’s value there. In one sense, this might be a frontier — I mean, I’m not sure there’s value here, but I don’t want to go back to the known forms of nonfiction writing. That would feel like a retreat from exploring, and it would feel unsatisfying. It’d be easy to maintain the distinction between writing-for-oneself (private writing like journals) and writing-for-others (public writing like an essay). The private writing I do because I like to write, and it doesn’t matter much what I say. I can babble joyfully like a baby; I don’t have to try to seem special. Writing for the public, though, that’s a performance, and I feel like I gotta have a topic and a reason for why my topic matters to readers.

I don’t write about my experiences in a novelistic, scene-setting, moment-by-moment way because I don’t want to make certain moments of my day or of my life stand out.

3:30 p.m. — As I edit this (Monday’s) journal, I’m thinking that there may not be a reason for anybody to read this. I mean, there’s no introductory/enticing reason. But also, is there even a reward to reading it? Or is the reward just the chance to be amused and/or challenged by my mind’s words, by an aspect of my mental presence?

What is it that makes people want to read? Or, rather, what is it that we get out of reading? I like getting new ideas. I sometimes like to be merely distracted/minimally entertained, as when I read before bedtime. Sometimes I want to see others agree with me (as when I read political commentary).

I wrote an email to my friend Doug an hour ago in which I said I want there to be a way for the writing I most-love doing to also be interesting to others (at least to some others), worth their time to read. There are certain writers whose every work I’d want to read — I, for a while, would read anything David Foster Wallace wrote (well, his nonfiction). But the writing that I do that seems most-valuable to me, why wouldn’t that also be valuable to others? (In other words, I don’t want to have to write stuff I don’t feel eager to write just for the purpose of being read).