Tag Archives: 2021

Adults have hobbies

Adults have hobbies — fixing old cars, blogging, knitting, reading — things we do for fun, pleasure rather than profit, but is this the same as play? Or is imaginative play the realm of children — them trying on scenarios for when they’re adults, like puppies and kittens play-fighting with each other? Dog doesn’t play so much — though he does roll in grass, and he does play, gets frustrated if I don’t play with him, playing chase (though that was a quick session this morn. He went out and has stayed out.).

I read a Calvin & Hobbes recently where Cal’s dad said adults don’t play, they exercise, measure it, get serious, make it a chore. I don’t want a FitBit to count my steps for that very reason. I don’t need another number in my life to live up to.

And since nobody’s telling me how many assignments to give and to grade, well, then, I’m the only one who needs to be satisfied by how much I do. In other words, adjust your feelings — your shoulds and your guilt at not living up to your shoulds. You’re the measurer of your own teaching performance! (sure there are evaluations, but those are snapshots.)

[From journal of Sun., 23 April 2017, Journal 250, page 42-3]

Nobody owes an explanation of one’s own life to anyone else

Nobody owes an explanation of one’s own life to anyone else. Nobody has to write an autobio. Of course, most people who do write one do it for the money, but my point is more about existence, and how it’s perfectly fine to live one’s life in obscurity because, well, a life isn’t really for the writing — it’s for the LIVING of it. Duh. And — and this is vague — but I’ve also been thinking lately that it doesn’t matter to get things about one’s life into the media. I don’t need my photos to be widely seen — I don’t need weird trivia about my life (my favorite show, say) to be out there in public. I don’t need to give interviews. I don’t really need to present my life — my physical or experiential life — for others to see, when I’m already sharing what I want to share: my life-as-written, my writing-life — my mind-on-page. I don’t need to tell anybody what pens or paper I use. None of that matters to anyone else’s experience. I mean, sure, a little — after I read that the Mamet writer used Clairfontaines, I got some of those Frenchy notebooks — and they’re good, sure, but they also don’t matter. It doesn’t matter that I make my own journals, or that I use Google Docs instead of Microsoft Word. It doesn’t matter what I wear, drive, watch on TV — none of my opinions matter! And that’s wonderfully freeing. Sure, it’s OK to write my opinions into my journal writings, and, yes, those opinions may then see the light of publication, but not because they’re vital. I’m not gonna post those things to my Facebook profile or to my blog. None of the particulars of what I do matters — the writings are enough. Don’t turn my house into a museum. Life moves on — see my house as YOUR house! Don’t look at my relics — look at your own things as relics (maybe).

[From school journal of Thurs., 26 Aug. 2021]

Minds live in a lot of places, and minds don’t need tenure, either

So, yeah, (“soy,” I wrote, which is to say, I didn’t mean to say “soy” but the “y” snuck in there. The “why” snuck in — isn’t that always the case that the “why” sneaks in, at least mentally, and I wonder just why I’m doing something, and so often the answer that comes back is “because I have to — in order to keep my job, or to keep my house, or just to be a good person.” I have to keep my father-in-law living with us, spilling Pepsi all over …, because I want to do right by my wife, who wants to do what’s right by her dad. Sure, she feels filial piety — but also, what the hell else is there to do? I wonder if I’m at an age where I start being aware of how much I need the system — how I start to feel my fragility, or not “fragility,” really, but my vulnerability. I’m still feeling, seeming, strong, healthy, but I’m aware that that can be gone pretty damned fast.

[Later on in that day’s journals:]  My father-in-law thought I said “f***ers” when I’d said “Rutgers” and, well, he’s not wrong. It seems sometimes like the universities are where there’s a level of sophisticated living — of the life of the mind. Of course, minds live in a lot of places, and minds don’t need tenure, either. Also, I thought today that it’s — that it shouldn’t have been a surprise that people in the country have taken irrational positions w/r/t politics and pandemic. It’s always been true that a lot of people one meets aren’t rational, you know?

[From school journal of Fr., 1 October 2021]

Things I missed during the pandemic

Things I missed during the pandemic. I mean, did I really miss things? As I sit here today, I’m not sure. I guess I missed the sense of ease, of not being afraid to buy groceries, etc. I almost said I missed watching sports on TV, but, no, sports went on anyway, at least on TV. I missed … Hmm. Just now, as school gets back to normal, I feel I’m missing last year’s school a bit. Not entirely, of course, but I sure am a lot busyier (sp?) during the days this year than last. There’s no time, or, to be accurate, little time to plan and to grade. But it’s school. The pandemic didn’t really seem to lead to lasting changes, and maybe it’s too much to expect big changes, when many people just wanted to get back to how things were — though things weren’t always that great pre-pandemic. {Google has red-underlined “busyier” — and Google has asked me if I mean “bustier” — Google, I don’t.}

[From school journal of Weds., 18 Aug. 2021]

I made it another minute!

Bach’s a playin.’ By time I wrote the first time-quote on the line above, the time-quote had changed — but that’s the problem with time-quoting, isn’t it? Ah, well. So, I gave a quiz to 1st and 2nd hours, and I remembered that I need to grade the CW1 journals and several other things. But save those grading thoughts for later. You don’t have time to grade now — now ‘tis not the season for the grading. Now is the season of the writing and of the recording of the attendance, and suchforth and so on. And now I’m here, having arrived at the time-quote  of “12:23 PM” and still I live — I made it another minute! That’s not really much of an accomplishment — and yet, also, it is. …

I DO try to think of my favorite artists as not being superpeople — they’re more-or-less like me; I mean, I try to remember that. I try to remember that just because somebody wrote something cool that it was good to be in their presence all the time, or even any of the time. I think about the Chana historical signs, too — how any time we write something, it seems special, but no, it wasn’t all that special — especially that one dumb sign on Chana Road that says some dumbasses looked for oil but didn’t find any. Well, duh. But the attempt got a metal (poured — cast-metal, that’s the word) sign. We’d all like a cast-metal sign, like those blue plaques London puts on buildings where authors lived. And yet, to not have done something deserving of a plaque makes the enplaquened look goofy. And yet, of course, NOBODY actually deserves a plaque. THAT’s what I think of artists now, I guess. I don’t think anybody deserves a plaque. Nobody’s that great — or, let’s say, it distorts our understanding now to give anyone from the past a plaque. Mostly, even the great artists were, well, just, you know, doing their thing — doing some work, trying to have some fun, eating, showering/bathing, dressing, crapping, all that stuff. I wrote at home-journal this week that there are people (including neighbor lady I exampled) who are very helpful and warm and kind people, but if she never writes a book, she’ll never get remembered. I’m not as kind, but I’ve put down lots of words on paper! Of course, she knew the deal — what’s on paper gets saved, gets studied, gets remembered. She puts stuff on Facebook about her kids and her husband being a lawn perfectionist, and also a — what did she call him? She said something about how her husband is teaching their kids what  a “gentleman” is or some bu*lshi* like that. And she writes stuff about her kids on their birthdays, she characterizes them — hey, that’s great. I didn’t really want to characterize things lately — I don’t, I mean — because those characterizations are so flawed, they give the wrong idea. We teachers ask students to read things for class — novels or stories or whatever — and it’s cool when a student has, or, heck, when I as a teacher have, a cool idea/insight into what we’re reading — but the institution doesn’t really know what to do with that insight, or hell, even with enthusiasm. Teachers can’t care too much if students LIKE what we read in lit class because, well, we’re gonna read it anyway. It’s on the curriculum. And it’s ON the curriculum because, well, it’s not too offensive and we can get many copies of it — it’s certainly not the best stories that get curriculumed. 

[From school journal of Friday, 10 Sept. 2021]

Each person’s Rochelle

I used to be kinda fascinated with fictional worlds — how [The Simpsons’] Springfield had one of everything: one cop (well, 3 cops), one politician (Diamond Joe Quimby), one school, one Groundskeeper Willy, one Lindsay Nagle, etc. But now-uh-days, I’m far more interested in the nonfiction worlds we each live in, which is to say, the particular shape and flavor of the concept of the world each real person has. I don’t want to know about “Rochelle” or “Chicago” or wherever, but about each person’s Rochelle or wherever. I suppose I could go find, and pluck out, each of the worlds in my journals — or, I mean, the details may add up to a world, one that likely doesn’t reflect the real world, the real Rochelle or Byron or Ogle County. How could you ever even contain that in particulars? You’d have to fall back on b.s. generalizations — “Ogle County is X and Y” and so on, blah. Instead, there are pockets I describe — I go to here or to there, I met this person or that one — and the people I know but don’t see every day.


[From my school journal of 30 Sept. 2021]

This is why I have had so many awkward interactions, especially with women

6:00 (A.M., phone time) So, yeah — here I am. I’d thought I could lead off by saying that I realized yesterday that I’m probably “on the spectrum,” autism-wise. I mean, I do feel I can read people’s moods most of the time — people aren’t that opaque to me. On other hand, maybe I’m just German (I watched a couple more German Girl in America videos last night — she said Germans tend not to do small talk).

But I saw yesterday, in a Lithub essay suggesting Thoreau was on spectrum, was not “neurotypical,” that people on spectrum hate to lie, or are very honest. Here and I thought that was an admirable trait! Ah, well. At least I do feel I’ve more-or-less outgrown the sense that I need to try to make friends with colleagues or get them to appreciate my ideas. Ah well. So, but the nice thing I felt yesterday — I laughed about this, I laughed as I read this line — I was alone in my room over lunch — is, OK, so, maybe this is why I just don’t quite get the social scene (M said she too is not neurotypical.. She said last night that she never understood how people — regular people — were satisfied with their regular-people lives — volleyball, for example … these people M knew through church, they played volleyball and had dull-seeming lives. M said she didn’t know how these lives were satisfying. M did say that she liked being on college campuses, around other atypicals.)

So, yeah, I can start to accept this about me. This is why I have had so many awkward interactions, especially with women. But it’s not like I didn’t realize these interactions were awkward!

[From journal of Thurs., 26 Aug. 2021, Journal 346, page 117-8]

All their peculiar, particular intimacies: May 2021 notes


Tree blossoms. Ogle Co., Ill. 7 May 2021.

⇒ I don’t seem to recall learning those skills I use the most often — tying shoes, etc. But also Google Classroom — I’m comfy with it now. A little surprised, I felt this morning, to think I used it a year ago, before I knew it as well as I do now. [4 May 2021]

⇒ “He solved Legos!” A puzzle can be solved — there’s one way the pieces fit together — but not Legos (that’s an infinite game?). No one right answer! [5 May 2021]

⇒ There’s no meaning in the setting, but there are examples (calm animals or calm (or tense) people) and attributes (sunny or foreboding) and associations (memories and ideas associated with certain settings). [5 May]

⇒ “Setting” — I have to travel through every inch of distance from house to my classroom. I’m always in a place. [6 May]

⇒ Listening to Steely Dan’s “Black Cow” and feeling a sense of ease from the lush arrangement. And that’s the feeling that professional-polish is supposed to give: a sense that experts are in charge, I can be passive and taken care of. Amateur art offers (or requires?) listener dis-ease. [6 May]


Baby catalpa tree leaf. Ogle Co., Illinois. 7 May 2021.

⇒ Illusion of independent living: We seldom live (at least, stereotypically) in multi-generational houses, but then parents get old and our filial ties mean we’re — not obligated to care for them, but if you like them, you take them in and care for them. And you realize that independence — your parents’, yours — doesn’t last forever. Maybe I was never all that independent at all, just an accident away from taking care or needing to be taken care of. [18 May]

⇒ Vague idea about how bad (childish, beginner’s) writing is too generalized, form-filling — not specific and detailed and weird enough. [20 May 2021]

⇒ We exist to perceive a tree with a certain shape in the wind? And then to look again and see that tree’s in an other shape. [20 May]

⇒ Playing Chuck Mangione’s “Feels So Good,” I thought of a fall evening, crisp breeze, at my mom’s family’s farm, feeling happy. And it’s cool a song can do that and I can experience the remembering and let it go and not try to hold onto (live forever in) that moment. [21 May]

⇒ Parents invite their children to live with them, see all their peculiar, particular intimacies. [21 May]

‘Oh, sorry. I thought you were someone else,’ she said. ‘I think that sometimes myself,’ I said.

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Frosty milkweed pods. 4 Jan. 2021.

§ Most public/ambitious people won’t be wise, so why read their books? [6 January 2021]

§ How I got over being clever and found, well, if not transcendence, at least something valuable, in being just myself, … recording my mind-voice. A far weirder (and a subfloor more foundational?) place than I could intentionally conceive. (I have been in recent minutes, reading about clevernesses in Confederacy of Dunces.) [6 Jan.]


Up-close trophies. 15 Jan. 2021.

§ When I have conflicts with others, I try to resolve them or avoid the person, end the conflict pragmatically. But conflicts with myself — or, let’s say, arguments with myself over what I should do — these conflicts endure (R. Hugo essay quotes someone saying that your important arguments are with yourself). [8 Jan.]


Salt fractals. 29 Jan. 2021.

§ I don’t want to win the lottery (two of them are at $400 million now/lately). I don’t want to be hated or envied. Also, money just buys you others’ labor. [8 Jan.]

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Low-angle sunlight on snow. 26 Jan. 2021.

§ My organizing idea, my gimmick, as it were, is not that I’m funny or that I make new forms of writing — but that I write in real moments from within my real life. I don’t want to state generalizations (as Vonnegut does) as if I’m lecturing from some indistinct, authoritative (established by seriousness of tone ) perspective. I write from within lived moments. My publication approach came from within my method and my writings!  I just didn’t always see that. [13 Jan.]

§ My journal of yestermorn (I think it was) felt calm — and I thought, calmness should be (is) just as valid a tone of a literary piece, a text, as tension is. I don’t gotta be tense to use words (as a lot of texts do). [13 Jan.]

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A snow bowl of sunlight. 26 Jan. 2021.

§ Not all my deeds and thoughts get recorded. Some are forgotten and that’s OK. [14 Jan.]

§ I prefer to see each moment as whole in itself — what exists exists — rather than seeing it as lacking, wondering what’s next, as a story mindset would seem to imply. [14 Jan.]

§ There’s that light on — those lighted windows in garage door at old [recently moved out of] house in my neighborhood. I see it and I think an abstraction — not every time, but sometimes: that this is an example of how things really will just stay where someone left them. Only humans can act. 

And I think, too, at a meta-level, that this instance-to-abstraction leap is something a lot of writers, especially poets (like Frost, maybe) seem to do. As a younger writer, I wondered how they did that — how did they make that leap? Now I’d say it’s pretty easy, almost automatic, to my mind. It’s connecting a particular to an idea I’ve already thought. It’s not always a new insight, so it’s merely a pedagogical poem that does this. [14 Jan.]


Rural Ogle County, Illinois. Afternoon, looking south. 29 Jan. 2021

§ Of course my journals written in real life will be meta, will regard the acts of writing and thinking. It’s only within a performance that performer and audience pretend it’s not really a performance. [14 Jan.]

§ Try this exercise: Every sentence [in a text] has only four words. [21 Jan.] I tried that in a school journal on either 21 or 22 Jan. It’s a limitation under which to work. It did feel a little like writing a poem. [23 Jan.] Simple focusing on words, having a limitation — trying to write to iambic pentameter, for example — does put me (and students?) in poetic mindset. Of course, that’s not the whole of being creative. [29 Jan.]

§ I’ll be struck at times by a certain lyric or poem line or how a movie actor says/does something. Today it was in a song by Gotye (“The end, always the end” — this line got my attention). These things can seem fixed, even if they’re not all that meaningful. It’s there. My older poems seem more profound than newer ones — maybe this explains why. [22 Jan.] 


Some kind of sunset. 11 Jan. 2021.

§ I don’t know, on any given day, what texts I should be reading or should be writing — which would make me feel good, etc. I just don’t know that. My standard judgments aren’t the same each day. [25 Jan.]

§ As I waited post-vaccine, a woman walked past and said something like, “Hi, Mark!” Then, “Oh, sorry. I thought you were someone else,” she said. “I think that sometimes myself,” I said. [25 Jan.]

§ If you sit and look at any particular tree — it’s not that the tree is so interesting, your mind is! [29 Jan.] My creative method: Throw stuff on paper. Go look at it later. [29 Jan.] Something cool there is about writing the thought of a moment (as previous two notes were). [29 Jan.]


Crow pile at greenhouse. 29 Jan. 2021.

In art, I’m looking for ideas for living

I was also gonna say about the CBS story about whether some artists should be … “canceled”: the interesting thing to me to me was the question of whether certain artists’ art should be downplayed, because the flip side is that we weren’t demanding this work in the first place, especially pop songs, TV shows. These were promoted by lots of money from profit-seekers. Nobody asked us if we wanted M. Jackson’s songs. I mean, of course, there was no survey — he and the corporate backers put music out, promoted it, and the people bought the records — so it was a vote by consumption, and — my short answer is, no, I don’t really care if the art from shitty people isn’t so prominent. … In art, I’m looking for ideas for living (and, no, I’m not saying all art should be didactic). I want models for living, ways of living, experiencing, etc., that come from good people. I don’t need stories of people behaving badly — and, no, I wouldn’t seek to regulate some art as degenerate, of course. I just don’t care for it. I don’t see a great loss if I no longer listen to the jokes of a Louis C.K. type, to a person who has disrespectful views and practices. Again, I’m not talking about public regulation. I’m saying, I guess, that nobody owes Louie a career, either. Should D.F. Wallace fail to gain more money because he was an asshole to a lot of women (esp. Mary Karr?) I mean, at some level, it’s a no-brainer: a person can be fired from a job for cause of being rude to colleagues and bosses. Why should artists be any different? And as someone on CBS show said, people are complicated. Sure, I’m not a perfect person, either. … I’m not perfect. Of course, I don’t deserve readers, either. 

[From journal of Sun., 28 March 2021, journal 340, page 137-8]