Tag Archives: Byron Illinois

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Electricity infrastructure, downtown Byron. 30 March

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s a bluntly titled book published in 1919.

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

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

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

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

Buzzards on the Byron water tower. 28 March

Byronfest 2014: A small town parties down

A creepy carnival frog watched the fest over the police building.

A creepy carnival frog watched the fest over the police building.

“What is Byronfest known for?” asked the lead singer of the band The Stevee Nix during the band’s opening-night set.

“Brilliant stage banter,” I snarked to a fellow volunteer standing next to me.

“I wanna taste every booth here tonight,” continued the lead singer, then “Relax; go to it,” he Frankie Goes to Hollywooded. The band then covered “Jump Around” and one, and only one, middle-aged white dude did just that.

Byronfest is the community party for Byron, Illinois, a town about 100 miles west of Chicago. This year’s events started on Friday, July 11, and the festival included live bands, beer tents, carnival rides, a children’s play area, a bean-bag tournament, and “Taste of Byronfest.” I served as a volunteer this year, assigned to keep track of inventory for the beer and soda concessions. This task required me to attend for much of the festival’s duration, but also allowed for some time to just walk around and watch and listen.

The creepy frog, closer.

The creepy frog, closer.

Barely out of earshot from The Stevee Nix band, a magician on a stage that had folded out of the side of a truck pattered, “What’s that smoke? Oh, no! Oh, no! This went REALLY bad,” as he produced what looked like a burned shoe. He then grabbed a “first aid box” to fix the shoe, inside of which box was another box, a purple one, from which the magician offered the boy on his stage three replacement shoes. Then he pulled out the fluorescent green shoe that matched the boy’s other shoe. Audience members applauded. “Were you worried about your shoe at all? … So was I,” said magician.

A couple minutes before 7 p.m., the guy who trained me in my volunteer position last year told me that I should “start finding your replacement now” and he laughed.

At the second stage, the Festival Stage, the Prime Time Live Band is singing “and I ran, I ran so far away.” I actually started writing this line in my notes before he sang it, but by the time I had put the closing quotation marks on it, he had sung it.

I smelled something like ginger coming from one of the festival-goers near me.

We’re the Prime Time Live Band, announced the lead singer, who continued, “Does anybody know that? Prime Time Live Band!”

A creepy-bee ride.

A creepy-bee ride.

A female singer starts into that “Big Black Horse and a Cherry Tree” song, and when she sings, “You’re not the one for me,” I snark (only to my notes this time), “the feeling’s mutual.”

Two married, retired high school teachers are talking to the current high school teacher who is supervising the local high school’s Key Club’s pop sales. The retired male teacher wears a baseball hat with “MR. PORK CHOP” and red pig outline-shapes on it.

About 7:12 p.m., I saw two of my own former students (from a neighboring town), 16-year-olds S. and M., and I told them to stay away from the beer. Then S. asked me to bring her some. What did I JUST say, I said. Then I said I’d stop yelling at them since we’re not in school. S. told me that she asked M. to stand in front of the portable toilet S. was using so no one would tip it over.

7:14 p.m.: The sun came out from cloudy sky, the first sunlight of the Byronfest, now 2 and a quarter hours old. The Prime Time Live Band sang “tonight’s gonna be a good, good night.”

Over the walkie-talkie radio I got to carry (which radio-privilege is half the reason I volunteered, I told someone), I heard a voice ask what beers were available at one of the festival’s two beer tents. The same beer that’s at the other tent, I said. Hearing no response, I figured that that answer was satisfactory.

Later on, I saw and spoke to the teacher I had for 11th grade trig. 23 years ago, which teacher didn’t seem to remember me, but as a teacher myself of fewer years than that, I didn’t expect him to.



The Stevee Nicks lead singer asserted a claim that he himself was “bringing sexy back.” At the other stage, “Where do we go?” Axl’d the singer of Prime Time Live Band.

“You’re gonna die laughing,” said a woman to a ticket booth operator. A woman next to the speaking woman had a tramp stamp vining out of her shorts.

8:46 p.m. Moments ago, I saw a little girl carrying a little-girl-sized stuffed prize.

I also saw a young woman who had a tattoo running vertically down her entire spine. Later, I saw that it was a tattoo of all words, a sentence that began between her scapula and ended near her coccyx. I didn’t get close enough to read this sentence. Another young woman had a short paragraph of three lines or so tattooed above where an anatomist would find her kidney.

A voice, from festival headquarters, on my radio asked, “Do you need tickets?” A male voice answered, “We need a vacuum cleaner. Over.”

Servers at one of the beer tents. The "Mike & Joe" band is in the background, on stage.

Servers at one of the beer tents. The “Mike & Joe” band is in the background, on stage.

Passing by me was a young man wearing a shirt with the words “American Menace” in a gothic font.

To avoid confusion with Bud Light.

To avoid confusion with Bud Light.

By about 4 hours into Byronfest, I’d seen both Jessica, a teller at the drive-thru window at the Byron branch of my local bank, and Jenna, a drive-thru teller at the Stillman Valley branch of the same bank, 4 miles east.

9:25 p.m. A new band, AudioDrive, claimed to be “hot-blooded” and challenged the audience to “check it and see.”

A 50-ish woman with two crutches and a cigarette, glides (easily enough) past our seating spot on Walnut Street. My wife starts to put a melody to “Two Crutches and a Cigarette.”

My wife, a local business owner, tells me, “I’m sponsoring something — I just don’t know what.”

Detail of one of the spinny rides.

Detail of one of the spinny rides.

AudioDriver covers a Poison song.

At the other stage, a band called “Mike & Joe” cover “Semi-Charmed Kind of Life” and then “Mr. Jones.”

“White people on the move,” I said to my wife, of people trying to get around us from their seated positions. “Scariest words in the English language,” she answered.

I see two people from our Byron neighborhood standing next to two of my uncle’s friends who live in Stillman Valley, about 4 miles (or less, to their house) away. “Our worlds are colliding!” I said to my wife. “It’s a pretty small world, Stillman to Byron,” my wife said.

10:18 p.m. From the festival stage, AudioDrive plays a song I haven’t heard in years, “Wait,” by White Lion. I hadn’t missed it.

SATURDAY, 11:27 a.m. The work crew volunteers seem to be sweeping out puddles from this morning’s rain. “Here’s a broom. There’s a puddle. Make it wider,” I imagine were their instructions.

The festival stage area outside of one beer tent, early Saturday morning.

The festival stage area outside of one beer tent, early Saturday morning.

My contact at one of the beer tents tells me he’s sold beer twice to the same two women by 11:37 a.m.

I told my wife about a guy I saw Friday night who, on finding the portable toilet near his beer tent to be occupied, went behind the portable toilet for a minute. Did he really pee on the pile of firewood I had noticed back there?

Walking past the bags tournament, I saw one guy holding his head, experiencing the agony of defeat at the bags tourney.

What I learned from the pavement hear the kids' area at Byronfest: Emmy likes, or hates, Tom.

What I learned from the pavement near the kids’ area at Byronfest: Emmy likes, or hates, Tom.

Byronfest Manager Sarah told one of the work crew to “scoot” around a fence gate. I decided “scoot” is a terrific supervisory verb.

Getting breakfast at our usual diner, our waitress, who graduated from the Byron high school herself a few years ago, said Byronfest is like a high school reunion for her — not necessarily a good thing, she implied.

Said one person at the Festival Stage’s beer tent, to a newly arriving volunteer: “You gotta drink your mistakes.”

At the Gateway Club, where there is free food served to Byronfest sponsors, an adult woman said of a little girl’s Tootsie Pop that “it’s just got [some] frog on it,” referring to some fuzz from a stuffed frog.

One man said, referring to his pregnant wife, “We got another one to fire out August 9th,” as if a child were an intercontinental ballistic missile.

Volunteering is hard work.

Volunteering is hard work.

9:10 p.m. I heard the second version today, one by each of two bands, of “Take me down to the little white church.”

A girl of about 13 years said to a younger kid, “I been to a festival a few times in my life.”

My wife had seemed to be enjoying selling raffle tickets for a local charity, I told her. “I could SEEM like I’m enjoying a lot of things,” she said.

Before the rain Saturday night.

Before the rain Saturday night.

At 9:10 p.m., we were seeing lightning over the festival grounds. The band that had started about 9:00 quit playing about 9:20. I took shelter inside a garage at the city building, and others came in, too. At 9:26, a dude suggested “wet t-shirt contest” and he laughed. A seemingly drunk guy told me, while slurring and lisping, that he had come into the garage “to make some decisions.”

By 9:35, my wife had brought me into the city building and upstairs, away from the storm. “The rain has now hit,” I heard someone say. Out the window, I saw flags on the “Power Slide” carnival ride flapping hard. A lady answering the headquarters’ radio left when her shift ended at 10, saying, “It’s been a slice, guys.” Byronfest was scheduled to continue til midnight, but had been weather-canceled by 10 p.m.

SUNDAY at Byronfest, no admission buttons are required. “How are we gonna keep out the riffraff?” I asked my wife. “We aren’t,” she said.

Local color.

Local color.

One Key Club soda-seller to another, focused on people they saw behind me as they ignored me handing them my payment, “I don’t know if they’re still dating so don’t say that.”

I sat under one of the food-eating tents to calculate my beer inventories. I heard a boy talking to his peers as they were walking past the tent say something, and then a woman said, “What number did you assign me?” The boy answered, “Second — you’re my second mom.”

Also under the tent Sunday afternoon, a man walked in with a girl of 4 or 5 years who had a Spiderman-design painted face and said to a woman, “You should see the large mouth [bass] she caught. She caught the same fish, like, 9 times!” The girl had apparently been catching mechanical/toy fish at the kids’ area pool.

The dog Coco, who spent much of Byronfest tied near a beer truck. "Coco's had the best three days of her life," said Coco's human.

The dog Coco, who spent much of Byronfest tied near a beer truck. “Coco’s had the best three days of her life,” said Coco’s human.

White people, huh? Privilege, normalcy, and racism

“Go home!” was the shout I heard as I stood outside a grocery store in my rural Illinois town on Friday 16 September. I looked up in the direction of the shout to see two white boys in a red pick-up truck drive past a girl who looked as though she may have been Latina. The two boys were wearing the jerseys of the local high school American-football team.

I reported what I had witnessed to the high school’s principal, who emailed to say he’d look into it. A week later, I’m not sure what came of his investigation. Had the boys not been wearing football jerseys, I wouldn’t have been able to pass along any identifying information, but since they were wearing the jerseys, their actions appeared to grow out of the sense of privilege that’s all too common among white male football players in small towns.

These boys were acting like idiots, of course, and may not have been as truly hate-filled as some other local racist speeches I witnessed this summer. These young men can perhaps be taught that they were making a hasty judgment based only on someone’s looks, and that they were then acting in a hostile and aggressive way towards this girl. These boys can learn that they were bullying her, and perhaps these boys may gain a sense of sympathy towards others — or at the very least, they can learn not to shout racist shit while driving through the main road in town.

The more I thought about what I saw, the more I thought that these boys’ “go home” shout comes from a place of privilege, an idea I had been considering since reading this article. These white male athletes may not perceive of themselves as “privileged” (which word they would probably interpret as meaning “wealthy,” which these boys likely were not), though they do get attention, praise, and favorable treatment as athletes in what has come to seem the most-popular sport in the community. These boys likely think of themselves as “normal,” as “traditional.” Their families have lived in the U.S., or, maybe even in the same town, for a hundred years or more, which the girl’s family may not have. Of course, everyone in the U.S. who is not descended fully from Native Americans finds themselves here because of immigration, but the boys did not probably think of themselves this way. Had a person of Native American ancestry told these white boys to “go home,” they probably would’ve missed the point and laughed the comment off–part of being privileged is being able to laugh off criticism (and their own bad behavior), knowing that there are few if any consequences for bad behavior of those who are privileged.

These white boys probably do not even think of themselves as “white.” Many times I’ve heard white people tell stories where the race of the persons involved is mentioned only when the person’s race is not white–white is understood to be the default, or “normal,” racial background.

If a person perceives his own attitudes and actions being the norm, or “normal,” then differing attitudes or actions are “not normal.” If his belief in his own normalcy is acknowledge, consciously or not, by most of the people in his community, he may feel empowered to make judgments about those he considers “not normal.”

To be more precise: If I feel that I’m normal and that others who don’t do what I do are not-normal, then I’m a member of the privileged class. For example, if the language I use at home overlaps greatly with “Standard English,” then I don’t have to be aware of “code switching” when I meet other people. My speech is Standard, is normal, and I don’t have to adapt it. But if my home language is not English, or is a nonstandard dialect thereof, I must make the extra effort to learn the standard language, and I must switch to the standard language when I am in public or speaking to members of the standard group.

And if one speaks Standard English at home, one doesn’t even have to be aware that there are other ways to speak. If I happen to encounter a language that isn’t standard, I may consider it “wrong,” when it’s merely “non-standard.” When my grandmother asked me not long ago about why a certain group of people used language wrongly (in her opinion), I suggested to her that it’s not wrong but just different (and I didn’t point out the non-Standard English she was using). And of course, “Standard English” has been defined by those who already speak it as whatever their native, natural dialect is, and so the circle is completed.

And in this way, I think it’s all too easy for racial majorities to mistake what is particular or peculiar to them as being normal and/or standard. Then the white Americans can honestly, in good faith, say that they don’t see race or racial problems that non-white Americans can readily see.

So these things, like so many other things, simplify to issues not of truth but of perspective.

In Ogle County, my education, income, and lifestyle make me a member of the elite.  Only 17% of adults here have four-year college degrees, and my family’s income exceeds the average household income of $56,400 — so we’re elite. Clearly, we’re not elite when we’re in Chicago, and even less so in Lake Forest, and if I traveled to a place where I didn’t speak the language, I may face the same kind of bullying that the girl mentioned above experienced.

We sense these differences, we can sense our perspectives change, when we travel to different places and meet different people, but a lot of my fellow Ogle County residents don’t often leave the county, and a lot of people shouting and commenting — with a lot of certainty in their beliefs — about race are like my grandmother, who hasn’t been in an area as multiracial as Chicago in decades.

When we become aware–when we really, intuitively feel–that there are other people in the world whose sense of normal is different from our own, we may sense that our privilege is not absolute, and we may become more cautious in judging others by our own standards. We may realize that we don’t want to presume what someone else’s perspective is, which is what I’ve seen my grandmother do. I know she does not hate people who are different from her, but she thinks she knows what’s best, she thinks her perspective should be normal, standard, and she’s not allowing others the legitimacy of their own perspectives, informed by their own experiences.

A final thought on perspectives and beliefs: We were talking in one of my sophomore English classes about the belief in some of the Greeks myths (such as that of Pereus) that Fate is inescapable. I suggested to students that saying things happen because of “Fate” is about the same as saying that things happen because “it’s God’s will” or “God’s plan” or “everything happens for a reason.” A student said, “but everything does happen for a reason.” I said something like, “that’s what you believe, but not everybody does.”

This awareness of one’s own beliefs, along with one’s own assumptions and expectations, is something that I myself have developed at what, in retrospect, seems a humblingly slow pace. As a white man myself, I have only recently become aware of my own privilege. I didn’t used to realize that I was taking my own perspective as the “default” perspective, as the norm, and judging as not-normal or wrong those who didn’t share my beliefs. I can’t claim that I’ve learned enough, of course, but I do feel that the wisest thing I’ve learned is to not be so certain in my understandings and in my claims. It feels wise when I can accept uncertainty and mystery and that I can accept the legitimacy of even those beliefs that disagree with mine (but that’s a tough one, as when I see things that seem morally wrong, like the bullying I described above).

This idea is something that Pope Francis spoke about in an interview published this week (quoted here):

In this quest to seek and find God in all things there is still an area of uncertainty. There must be. If a person says that he met God with total certainty and is not touched by a margin of uncertainty, then this is not good. For me, this is an important key. If one has the answers to all the questions—that is the proof that God is not with him. It means that he is a false prophet using religion for himself. The great leaders of the people of God, like Moses, have always left room for doubt. You must leave room for the Lord, not for our certainties; we must be humble. Uncertainty is in every true discernment that is open to finding confirmation in spiritual consolation.

Our life is not given to us like an opera libretto, in which all is written down; but it means going, walking, doing, searching, seeing … We must enter into the adventure of the quest for meeting God; we must let God search and encounter us.