Tag Archives: editing

Mind floating above ideas: Ideas as process during the week of 11 to 18 Feb

Junco on a deck rail. 11 Feb.

I took some pictures today of birds in snow at my house and of snow drifts at the prairie preserve, but I don’t feel I can tell which pictures are worth sharing — I’m too tired to judge quality. I can experience this time of not-caring instead of just wishing I cared. 11 Feb.

Contour lines on my deck. 11 Feb.

Getting enough food, being healthy — these are so fundamentally important that we don’t mention them as goals or ambitions. 12 Feb.

Morning fog, Route 72 west of Stillman Valley, about 7:15 a.m. 12 Feb.

Maybe I carry in my mind a thinking project most days? Today’s thinking project: asking why I don’t seem to care about my usual interests and why the big questions I normally am interested in are so easily dismissed when I’m sick. 12 Feb.

A beggy dog at fries time. And a veggie patty in a cheeseburger. 12 Feb.

Thinking of these things I have — photos, ideas — not as made but as found seems a low-ego approach to creativity. To find things is also to stay particular rather than speaking generally or universally. 13 Feb.

Prairie grass and lumpy snow, JPC, Byron, Ill. 11 Feb. 2018

Finding out — that basic mental hunger. When we’re presented with a puzzle or question, we’re compelled to seek the answer [though maybe we’re not as compelled to seek answers to open-ended Qs?] This is the curiosity impulse — showing people something new and enigmatic, and letting them (students, readers) dive in. This is behind the compulsion to read or watch mysteries, or to want to get to the end of the story or the nonfiction book — to want to know. I’ve been asking and attempting to answer my own questions — show these to students/readers? Show readers a contradiction? That’s a kind of puzzle. 13 Feb.

Near trees look brown or gray, but look bluer off in the distance on this overcast day. 13 Feb.

Find things — read my journals with several editing options in mind (edit to show an idea, select a quote, take an interesting description, etc.). Read with a mind to edit. 13 Feb.

Icicle off the Jarrett Prairie Center, Byron, Ill. 11 Feb.

I now know that I don’t need to boil my ideas down to mere banalities. Let the writing that’s done be the writing that gets published. Things take what they take. We read writing. 14 Feb.

Rock River from Byron Bridge, looking west, 13 Feb. 2018. Contrast to this pic from a month earlier.

Does the plant stand (holding a bottle of baby wipes) at the pharmacy counter, or a photo I might take of a roadside snowbank, matter? Of course not, yet of course. It’s helpful to get out of pattern mind and stop and look. 14 Feb.

Driving thru a fog cloud in the morning, camera held out car window. 14 Feb.

Lying down for a few minutes in the middle of my work day, I thought how I don’t need to label a mindset, and I don’t need to attach my attention to any idea — float between ideas! 14 Feb.

Frosted trees, but only for the lowest 8-10 feet. 14 Feb.

Trapped by ideas in math class — math as a set of rules of ideas that cohere and reinforce each other. It can be valuable for students to learn how to think within a logical realm, sure, but we can step outside that idea-set and think that way, too. 14 Feb.

Grayscale. Snow against glass, 11 Feb.

I often have ideas (opinions, judgments, action plans) but don’t want to hold any of these too tightly. I seldom devote myself to them, any of them. With the editing ideas I have had recently, I would have to commit to one — or maybe I could not? 15 Feb.

Foggy February day at school, view east about 10 a.m., math wing. 15 Feb.

Writings where the mind doesn’t need to settle on one idea! Writings from a mind floating among ideas. Your published ideas don’t have to settle on an idea. Having a point to make is needlessly restrictive. (Arguments don’t even seem socially or politically useful these days.) Don’t settle into the rut of an idea but float between or above ideas?! Also, why give others advice? They don’t need it. How conscious are anyone’s choices, anyway? I’m not sure I believe in consciously directing my mind to follow advice. I could be editing and freewriting less abstraction, fewer issues and ideas, and more natural, in-time brainwork, in-experience language! Ideas not as results but as process! 15 Feb.

My Orange Julius look: White shirt over safety-orange t-shirt. 15 Feb.

How weird some people get on Friday the 13th, or when they see “666” — there’s iconic resonance there. These are particular ideas that resonate, that grab our attention even if we don’t subscribe to the superstition. Perhaps these things are analogous to why certain stories from the Bible, certain myths, like Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah and the flood, are simple stories that stick out in our minds. Somehow these things resonate with us. 15 Feb.

Crumbled snow, smooth snow, lumpy snow, at Jarrett Prairie Center, Byron, Ill. 11 Feb.

I saw pines reflected in a puddle on the park path. I smelled my dog’s neck fur. Maybe these things don’t need to be connected to bigger abstractions at all. Nor do I have to explain why each experience is cool. This is related to the previous idea about not telling messages or making points or arguments in my writings. 15 Feb.

More contour lines. 11 Feb.

I could refuse to define my writings, but even that feels too much like a decision made. 16 Feb.

Newly fallen flakes, 17 Feb.

My dog Sam’s as cold as a snowbank — because he’s been lying in a snowbank, I said when he came inside from our deck. I called him a “snowbank denizen.” 16 Feb.

Snowbank denizen. 17 Feb.

Using the things I already do as my art — my journals, yes, but also maybe the photos I take of my journals (to make digital copies of them). Publish whatever you want — see if it can be cool. 17 Feb.

Why I Write, this Sunday Night

Updated Monday night: Sometimes I write things and wonder if I should publish them, and I should probably have listened to that voice of doubt last night. What I originally wrote felt like it had energy, but it was not a useful energy. What I wrote below is just a note of frustration with, well, myself. It probably doesn’t need to be read. But I’ll leave it up as a reminder to myself that, well, it’s OK to feel frustrated at times.
Edited the day after: Sometimes I think that I should simplify my sentences for publication because not everybody will want to dive into my own voice as much as I do. On the other hand, the value of my writings may not lie in being simple.
On the weekends I usually tell myself that I should use that free time to post to the blog. But giving myself this assignment seems not to make me feel good about editing my work, and I think I need to be in an open, receptive mindset in order to edit my work well.
Sometimes I think that there’s more to being alive than simply producing words and ideas, and then those are the times I tend to go and lie next to my dog on the floor and see what he’s paying attention to. Sometimes I just nap. I can be alive without having to write all the time. I live through writing, by writing, but I don’t want to confuse my need to write with anyone else’s need to read my writing. And I’m posting and editing this now so that I can pare back the thoughts of a moment of tired frustration. I may not even like this revision by tomorrow. We’ll see.
Original: I write everyday. I write in complex sentences. Sometimes I think that I should simplify my sentences for publication because not everybody will want to dive into my own voice as much as I do. On the other hand, I’m not sure that my writings have all that much to say, so their value may lie in being an extension of my attention …
I would like to blog things from my writings on the weekends, when I have time and energy to blog. But using the blog as a need to publish, giving myself this priority, this assignment, this deadline, seems not to make me feel good about editing my work, and I think I need to be in an open, receptive mindset in order to edit my work well.
I write every day but sometimes I think that writing is just an arrangement of words and ideas and that there’s more to being alive than simply producing words and ideas, and then those are the times I tend to go and lie next to my dog on the floor and see what he’s paying attention to. Sometimes I just nap. I can be alive without having to write all the time.
I write every day. I write to live. I live by thinking and writing. It’s a decent lifestyle, really it is, but also … I don’t want to confuse my need to write with anyone else’s need to read my writing. And I’m posting this now so I can feel that I did something blogable today.

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.

Making a text is strange: Monday 18 July 2016 journal

Lately I’ve been thinking of texts that are written to be published, written for an audience, as performances, and as performances, these texts have a level of artifice that I’d like to question. So what follows below is selections from a text I wrote for myself in my journal. It’s not organized by topic, and it doesn’t fit a typical nonfiction form, but it’s an experiment in editing, in seeing how what final shapes a minimally shaped text can take. I’m wondering why someone might choose to read such an unlabeled, unformed text, and what someone would get from having read it.

At home, a little after 8 a.m. — It’s humid. There’s still much dew-fall on the sliding glass door. More light comes in from the lower half of the door, where rivulets have run.

Just read a piece at New York Times’ The Stone that talked about how brain science seems to suggest that we use the same faculty to look into — to model, presume — our own minds the same way we try to read and model others’ minds. There is no 1st person, the writer says. This piece didn’t upset me in the way that some new theories bother me. I hadn’t thought of it before, but this idea goes along with my previous ideas about the unknowability of my own mind. For example, I don’t know where my ideas or the words that I write come from. “The Greeks” Episode Two talked about Greeks taking ideas from other cultures they met while trading and making colonies. “Ideas” is a word that comes to English directly from the Greek. It suggests that an idea is what could be taken from others without them getting pissed. An idea is not property like a ship or a pot is. Of course, you’re not taking at all but making, making your own concept of what you see others doing.

And perhaps an idea isn’t property (a copyrighted work is “intellectual property” in legal terms, but an idea-qua-idea can’t be copyrighted). But maybe the idea of “the idea” is itself Greek. The notion that we can form ideas, that ideas are things that can be labeled, identified, as much as “rock” or “tree” can be. Though, of course, we still can’t see, touch, or taste ideas.

A dog sticking out of driver's window of this van. This is from my McPerspective at my McSeat.

A dog sticking out of driver’s window of this van. This is from my McPerspective at my McSeat. (This dog is different from the the RCA dog mentioned below.)

At Oregon, Ill., McDonalds, seated alongside the wall of windows along the south side of dining room, with a view of cars leaving the drive-thru, about 10 a.m., after dropping my wife off to conduct a real estate closing —

At the diner yesterday, talked to Ashli Waitress’s husband, Jason, who’s working to demolish a building in the Chicago suburbs. There’s a steel structure for moving product inside this old warehouse, and he’s using a hydraulic shears for cutting this steel. The shears can cut steel up to 2 inches thick, he said.

Jason also told me about a former job delivering and repossessing furniture for a rental store in Rockford. How he once had to step over a passed-out dude in the hallway of an apartment building, and how he once got intentionally hit by a woman in a car and he was carried along until his feet got loose, and how he got shot at. Once sofas were repossessed, the employees had a way of opening them with wedges so as to not get stabbed with drug needles. Employees also called cops after discovering certain images on repossessed computers, he said.

“… 40 years old, dropped of a cardiac arrest … they revived her in the hospital after shocking her seven times … she passed a month ago — had her 42nd birthday” at the hospital, said a 60-year-old-ish man to an 80-year-old-ish man sitting at the table west of me.

“I couldn’t hold a frickin’ gallon of milk,” said the 60-ish man, who had slipped and fallen during a winter and thought he’d have to get rotator cuff surgery, but he didn’t.

“Could I get a discount, please?” said McSally. A dark-haired 30-ish McManager came over to a register where another McWorker was on the client side of the counter.

“I’m gonna run up to Rockford. I gotta jump on a conference call,” said 60-year-old guy. “Alright, pop,” said the 60-ish guy. “Alright, kiddo,” said the 80-ish guy as both left their table.

A certain customer will “ask for a senior coffee. He can’t hardly hold it … he should NOT  be driving,” said McSally to McKaren, who responded that the old man might cause an accident and not even get hurt himself.

Dark-haired McManager said, “lunchtime” at 10:30. She said it in a low-energy shout, like “Lunch. Time.”

I was thinking this spring that it IS hard — emotionally upsetting — to have one’s beliefs challenged, as I was challenging my high school students’ beliefs during our philosophy unit.

“Can I help you, hun, now that I’m done complaining?” said McKaren to a customer about how she thought the humidity at 6:30 this morning was bad but it’s worse now.

Not that the statement above is such a great quote. Rather, it was a little distracting, so I wanted to get it out of my mind. But also, there’s something about how she really said it — it’s somewhat banal (not entirely, since it does reveal character), but also … I don’t know. I just wanted to record it as a real statement that was really said, a small moment but now it’s recorded. It was made a “moment” by my recording it? That maybe there is something special about me writing real things down — that writing them down, that making a text, is an act that is strange — estranged from? — living life, regular life. It’s normal for me to write, but maybe I forget how weird it is to write, actually.

There was a short-coated dog hanging out a passenger window of an SUV — it looked a little like the RCA Victor dog.

“They got it off Pinterest or somethin’,” said McSally. Pinterest is a thing, now.

I try to figure things out sometimes and shut out — mentally shut out, ignore — my surroundings. Yet, why bother? So many texts are written that way. And when I read, I like to shut out outside input — like, just now, the horn solo of Little River Band’s “Reminiscing” and like McSally saying, “What are cheeseburger cupcakes?” and McDark Hair Manager saying, “They look like cheeseburgers.”

Ogle County soldiers' memorial, in front of the county jail and, further back, a church spire for the First Presbyterian Church of Oregon, Ill.

Ogle County soldiers’ memorial, in front of the county jail and, further back, a church spire for the First Presbyterian Church of Oregon, Ill.

Shutting out one’s surroundings, being able to focus on the text, both as writer and as reader, can be really nice at times. But also, it could be nice to read texts where (like this text), the writer is out in public and includes what he hears and sees going on around him while also writing whatever ideas come into the writer’s head.

A dude asks the McCounter workers — he’s new to the area, he says — and he asks how to get Internet and/or cable. They name some utilities for him, fulfilling their community-information function.

What I write — I’m of this area, this county. I publish on my own blog rather than submitting my writing to edited websites. There’d be a sense in leaving my community, of having to go away to make it big, in submitting my work to others. I saw corn plants in a certain field on the drive to McDonald’s today — Ogle County is cornfields, and is not people and culture. I’ve developed as a writer while living in this rural area, without much influence from other writers, and that lack of influence is perhaps a result of, a mark of, having developed while out here in this open place. Sometimes this place can feel desolate, empty of smart people who share my interests, but this morning I wasn’t feeling that. I was feeling that there’s something meditation-promoting about this cornfield. I didn’t feel desolate. I felt that this corn — tassling out, the row curving — was as good as any. That I could stop and meditate there.

“Do we have cookies back, Sal?” asked McKaren. “I don’t think so,” said McSal. “I’m taking the last of the chocolate chip,” said McKaren, as a client stood at the counter. The client wore pajama pants printed with what looked like heart-shapes with sashes across them, with the sashes reading “LOVE” — upcloser (I used the ruse of getting napkins), I saw that there was a sword through the red shape and a flower and that some of the designs were mirror-imaged (or flipped?) so that “LOVE” was spelled “backwards-E,” “O,” “V,” “backwards-L.”

There’s a sense that people who write about rural areas have to do so in the forms approved y city-dwelling editors — intellectuals, in other words (although right-wing propaganda, less so, I’d think).

Having my own website is less glamorous than publishing with the imprimatur of an imprint, but publishing on my own website is wonderfully direct.  These are the words coming directly from this author, without intercession.

At the Diner, noon:05, after having picked up my wife after her real estate closing and taken her to lunch — I could post this day’s writing. I don’t need to write on a topic, so I could put up whatever. But I also don’t need to blurt.

But if the point of publishing isn’t to tell a message but just to share my mind, share a text that comes from my experience, to share a bit of my mind — a mystical aspect of a text.

“I don’t think Lucinda cares for him too good,” said a 60-year-old-ish woman to another woman eating across from her in the booth behind my wife.

Back at home, 10:45 p.m. — I typed in some, not all, of today’s journal. I was tempted to cut down what I entered — I had the idea to take just one paragraph’s worth of idea out of any one day’s journal. But then I thought, I’m not sure I should cut down. Give it a try, type in a long piece. There’s no need to include everything from the journal entry, yet I wonder if I’m judging by traditional, too-narrow standards if I cut down my texts. Leave it long, don’t talk yourself out of doing it before you try it.

Of course, what I like is to write. I write for the engaged writing experience — publishing comes second as a priority. But maybe what I want is to have a text that reveals a nimble mind — maybe that’s my organizing guideline. I could even have a long version and a short version (an Abstract, or a “TL;DR” section).

‘Time Closes One I’: Erasures and rewrites of Rod McKuen’s ‘Lonesome Cities’

Rod_for blog (1)

So, last January, about the time Rod McKuen passed away, I picked up his poetry book Lonesome Cities, which I’d obtained long after its publication in the 1960s but which I’d never read. I didn’t really like the poems: their language felt too chatty and their subjects too familiar and too precious.

But alongside each poem was plenty of blank space in which I could rewrite the poems to my own taste, to make the poems sharper and stranger, more surprising. Some of the poems are simple erasures (see also resources here), while others have some words replaced by sound-alike words, and all poems have certain amounts of re-arrangement, editing, and rewriting (however those definitions may overlap).

I debated whether to put my new poems alongside McKuen’s originals. I have chosen not to, partly out of concern not to step on his copyrights (and this writing process felt like authentic creation, but it also prompted questions of what, exactly, copying means). But I also don’t think comparing the new to the old is necessary, as the poems below range far beyond the topics of McKuen’s poems to represent their own questions of consciousness and philosophical inquiry.

Here are my poems, with reference to the titles of the originals the new poems came from:

“An Out,” an erasure of McKuen’s poem “An Outstretched Hand”

Each of us was God.

Some of us grew.

The wind bent.

Darkness-up life.

Love is, is.

Each eye turned sound,

shoulders their feet.

It takes a hand.


“Sting,” an erasure of “Rusting in the Rain”

The old world coming stops as it goes.

Did anybody ever grow older?

Come see where we have been.


“I’ve,” a rewrite of “I’ve Saved the Summer”


I give you to winter when new.

I’ve need. Darkness can feed. I’ve kept your smile.

You were 19. You’re older, you’ll know.

I know no answers. Your way lies somewhere.

But I’ll give you the road.


“Like the Window,” a rewrite of the last 2 stanzas of “It’s Raining”

It’s like the window if we wait.

There’s here now. Don’t be anymore.

It’s the crickets.

Do you think? You love.



“Summer’s It,” an erasure/rewrite of the last 2 stanzas of “Sommerset”


the memories–

times: summer’s set?


day: Sunday

month May,


summer’s it,



“To Glean Sin from the Crows,” a rewrite of the first two stanzas of “Sommerset” made by replacing each word in poem with a sound-alike word:

Several ways were sunny.

Canned eels’ mouths were made.

Sand heavy birds down a long cane;

that seems to compensate

for muddy ears. Comb fuzzy bats.

Tin filters amore.

Hens heal ivy. Where summer went,

him no team ignores.

Cats rhyme some more. They gored some pigs.

Endure, he knew, but how?

Repair in size our wooden trunks.

Two seen beneath a stall.

Cows mainly hear enough of static

to glean sin from the crows.

Whine was learned, yet summer kept

land-cropping all sender’s snows.


“I Live That, Always,” an erasure of “The Single Man”

I live that, always.

For just a night,

the talk wasn’t a better day.

At home, or in his private cloud, I am

a time I can’t remember.

The house might have been help.


“Cans,” an erasure/creative edit of “Cannes”

Cans waking in the morning

sweep down the street.

The empty bottles go back.

As crossword puzzles on the sidewalk,

a new foundation crawls

back under buildings

to avoid the Jets.

Still adjusting our heads,

we shoe up in the hallway

and lose bed.

Thank God for the coasts.


“Form,” an erasure of “For Bimby”

Some things you can put down.

Sheep grazing on the airport stale February days.

Smile balloons look to me.

Surprises held in the day.

A blaze with tourists and cats ruins time.

Her smile is elaboration lost


“The cross Atlantic,” erasure/edit of “Atlantic Crossing”

I gave up a while.

I had written songs to my family’s safe for years.

Had some women liked my animals in luxury?

I’d miss me, but they’d be it.

The way did much paint.

I’ll admit there were eyes I’d keep.

All in all, I was ready, so I pray more.

God had frightened years.

He first did run down.

We’d play together if we weren’t one another.


“Beaching Manhattan,” an edit-rewrite of “Manhattan Beach” as a prose poem

I’m working in a house at Manhattan Beach. Eddie came by last weekend with two women and some books. The books and the women were stacked. (Ha!)

I sleep and breathe the waves. I think of my breathing. I mist my attention on the traffic. Familiar rooms sink past my songs. A half-packed suitcase buys me oughts.

My dog does stuff up on the beach–she doesn’t seem to care that this is the very end of the land. My friends may as well be weathered sticks or bottles sans notes. My dog smells of the smells she smells; they settle on her fur.

Boats fill harbors in a dance stretching back 10 years in a morning. I live mostly in afternoons.

I nearly died. Fever made doubt or walks along. I stayed alive. Letters came, and “I” was the island I would go for. The asshole rides me to see the dog embark a seal.


“Four for Hands,” an erasure-rewrite of “Concerto for four hands”

Shadows time me.



empties forms.

A mattress

grows tired

of some



“Now You’re Even,” an erasure-edit of “New Year’s Eve”

The snow


like cherries.

Wind falls

like windows


The old die.

A hundred


choose me.

I am the green ground.

I have faces.

I need,–I know.

The town slopes

the curtains.

The next room waits.

Villages rain like celebrations.


“Urban Herb,” an erasure-edit of “Suburb”

The mountain winds around petals. A desert country like smoke. Those electric-nows pine for perfume towns. The smile is smiles. Centurions anticipate chopping. Down the trees and down the hills, ants make flat.


“Bag Age,” an erasure-edit of “Baggage”

Only one day shoulders disappearing.

Room crowds your face.

Help me suppose it gone.

Leave me so I stand.


“Boa Rid,” erasure-rewrite of “Boat Ride”

You yawn.

The boredom drove.

God was full.

You were Texas.

Your tongue, again, knows.

Your arms water time, privately.


“In Dian’s Summer,” an erasure-rewrite of “Indians”

In Dian’s summer,

riot-bank frogs

empty man.

Every thicket beds flowers.

Sunshine does the painting.

The hills buy the buffalo tower

and fence. Off the factories,

we’ll build shadows.

Men die but gray.


“Engineer of Pallidity,” an erasure and inversion of “Venice” (pages 34 through 31)

a whole long moment meets time.

I am handsome; a mirror could have a hope.

Find a way to own my reflection.

I excite you with motor cuisine. You, I’ll never smile.

The glance—once—keeps you. I buy. You coin the world, and back a secret.

The sun targets me. The sun beaches you.

My hair lies. I’m your engineer of pallidity.

Tomorrow, sun ends home, shade.

Waiting, the birds.

Feeding. Ignoring me, you, chattering, the pigeons.

Coming. Moving. Eating. Chewing.


“These,” a selection-rewrite of “Three”

I face country tablecloths.

I index fingers.

I till now.

I paint 20 minutes.

Your eyes say grapefruit.

I ruin mornings.

I draw evenings.

I even drawings.


“Tuesday,” an erasure/sound-replacing rewrite of “Two”

Back to look—I, you. No!

Understand: I speak same as I bathe,

with a winnowing and a leafing through.

The heat throws. Off, we wormed each other

into tarps in different booths.

Turning me, months mediate a simile.

In the laboratory at the lakefront,

there were some seaweeds in a hair curler—

my mind looked at them—

I had drained my face from the stairs.


“When,” an erasure/rewrite of “One”

When you corner change

and wrinkle it into day,

you and lovers lose

water to leaded crystal.


“Disbelief,” a re-make of “Morning, Three”

At any “and,”

disbelief smiles “yet, “or.”


Freeing myself to write honestly by not publishing now

Cover of a journal, most likely one that contains content that would be unflattering to me.

Cover of a journal, most likely one that contains content that would be unflattering to me.

When I write nonfiction, such as this text I am writing now, I become a character in the text. What the narrator “I” says here in this text are things that Matt Hagemann himself means. What I write and mean takes on a power, a legitimacy, because I, Matt, a living person of (hopefully) respectable reputation, said it.

However, everything I say or write also may change what you, the reader, think of me as a writer and also as a person. If I say outrageous or inflammatory things, you may think poorly of me (and you may even seek to discredit me or get me fired from my job, as has happened to some people).

Fiction writers and poets, by the way, have the “poetic license” to separate their creating selves from their narrating selves. This frees these writers to say terrible things in their characters’ voices and not have this necessarily reflect on the writers themselves, but also, what these characters say does not have the force of a claim made by a real person.

So, when I publish a text that I claim to be nonfiction, I am aware that I’m tying this text to my reputation. So the safest thing would be to say nothing at all. I could be a consummate professional and never say anything controversial.

And, really, I’m starting to think that that’s not all that bad of a way of living. I have written before about how I’m learning to not express my opinions in certain situations. And I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how what I have to say, at any particular moment, may not be all that valuable or useful. I have moments of wisdom, but also moments of arrogance, egotism, and worse. The world may be a better place if it wasn’t so easy to express ourselves to, essentially, a world-wide audience via the Interwebs.

And perhaps this is a rather obvious sort of insight, but I’ve long felt that my opinions were valid and useful and interesting to others. (This may be a personality flaw encouraged by my liberal arts education and by my family’s practice of frequent debates, and also by my self-confidence encouraged by my male-privilege!) For a while after college, I thought that the ideal writing job for me would be as a news columnist, where I would get paid to tell others what my opinions were.

Now I’m glad that I didn’t overexpose myself in that way. After all, it’s very easy to say or write things in the present that I would later come to regret. I’ve been noticing in myself lately how, when I read something that questions or criticizes something I believe or value, I’ll react almost instinctively with a self-righteous urge to defend or promote my own views.

But I am holding myself back more lately from actually responding. I’m getting better at seeing criticisms as merely alternate views, views that are not necessarily any more correct than my views, and that my views are not necessarily correct, either. The world may be ultimately unknowable, and so all ideas may be inadequate. Thus, I can let go of conflicts I’d start by opposing others’ ideas.

I remember reading something about the Buddhist idea of “nonattachment to views,” that one did not need to hold onto certain ideas or attitudes, because the holding on made one suffer. But lately I’m also thinking that it’s not just that I’m attaching to views, but that views are attaching to me, and I don’t want to define myself by my views.

So what I’ve realized lately is that I am less interested in expressing my views in public. I still have ideas, opinions, judgments, etc., but by writing them in my journal rather than blogging about them, I am able to keep from attaching these views to me. I would prefer to be seen as someone who doesn’t have strong opinions — I’d prefer to be seen as just a person — rather than being seen as “that liberal” or “the radical teacher” or “that crazy son of a bitch.” (Maybe there is some wisdom in that old Disney line, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”)

But I do still express myself in my journals. And sometimes these journals are interesting. But I don’t want to publish things that I feel strongly about now, because I might not feel strongly about them later. If what I write is valuable in a timeless sense (and I hope it is, because I’m not interested in writing news or news analysis or in being the first person on the Internet to make a certain clever joke), then it’ll still be valuable weeks or years from now, and I can write down my ideas now and edit them later. Letting time lapse is a great way of knowing what it is that I really WANT to publish.

And even if an idea seems interesting to me once the urgency of its newness has passed, I don’t necessarily want to defend or promote the idea. I’m not trying to sell something here. The idea should speak for itself, and so I don’t really want these ideas written by a Then-Me to be associated with Now-Me.

Of course, that’s not fully possible, but one idea I’ve had is that the separation in time between the writing and the editing not only gives me the perspective I need in order to edit, it also creates separation for the reader. What I wrote 20 years ago is clearly not the product of who I am today. This allows me to edit and publish my nonfiction with a little bit of the distance that the fiction writers enjoy. I can treat my old writings as those of the Then-Me character (who doesn’t need to be as suave and wise as I’d like to think I am now!), and those writings don’t directly reflect on Now-Me.

If I were to write and publish as Now-Me (as I’m writing and publishing this post), I would feel a need to present myself as a reasonable, intelligent, well-spoken, professional sort of person. This presentation of self is basically the creation of a persona of me, not the full me. It’s basically impossible to reveal the fullness of my expression, and I’m not sure anyone really wants or needs that (for example, how interesting are most people’s self-presentations on various social-media platforms?). While some artists are praised for revealing themselves, for being “honest” or “raw,” I’m not sure most people can really live like that — I feel that I’d be less honest if I were publishing in real time). If I wrote my daily journals on a blog, I’d be self-censoring to a great extent. I gotta have privacy in order to be free, and then I can later edit my writings for the benefit of my readers — while protecting the professional career I need now to keep myself fed, warm, and writing!

Links: 39 Jan. 2013

1. Early (1922) color film.

2. Writers’ “liminal space” between non-fame and fame.

3. The role of luck in success, or in failure.

4. Editing the greats (via The Dish).

5. Ironic troubles with on online-course.

Nonfic: Efficient stories

An AVClub article had this statement — “The New World unfolds less in acts than in movements” — and reading that statement prompted in my mind a thought not about the movie but about my own concept of writing: that a piece of writing doesn’t have to follow conventions like having acts, but further, it doesn’t need to be efficient. That may not be the best word for this vague notion that I’m trying to put into words, but here’s trying:

Last weekend, I posted about taking out, editing out, the dull parts of any text. This week, I’ve noticed myself telling anecdotes about recent experiences, and I notice that my telling of these anecdotes has gotten more efficient. To be specific, lately I’ve been writing down (in my pocket-pages) particular things I’ve overheard while at the school where I teach, and in order for these statements to be sensible when I read them later, or when I read these to others, I write also some explanation of the context in which the statement was made.  I realize that I’ve gotten pretty efficient in telling what needs to be told to convey a story, and not telling more.  This efficiency may have come through the practice of repeatedly telling stories, but it wasn’t particularly intentional — I haven’t been sitting around and editing-down my stories.

But the stories have gotten slim and efficiently told, for the purpose, I suppose, of communicating to others (my future self and any people I’d later read these to) why I found these statements particularly note-worthy. In order to communicate effectively, I want to tell spare stories — almost more like jokes, these brief anecdotes, where certain information must be related upfront so the punchline (the overheard quote) produces the same reaction in my listeners as the reaction I had on first overhearing the statement.

But I’ve also been thinking that with this efficiency of storytelling, I may be getting too efficient. I may be turning these overheard bits into performable material, and I’m not sure that’s a great thing, in the sense that I may become likely to start to see much of my experience as material ready for shaping into anecdotes.

The danger here, and this is where the quote from the AVClub article comes in, is that a story structure becomes a way of seeing the world. (Maybe this is overstating this phenomenon a bit, but I’m pushing through here.) In a sense, I was glad to be reminded, when I read the quote, that interpretations of reality, interpretations of one’s experience, are necessarily leaving things out, and maybe that’s worth remembering. I mentioned in the previous post about editing “dull” things out — but since my brain tends to do that anyway (in daily living and also in storytelling), maybe it’s also worth remembering that we don’t have to be editing our experience at all. We don’t really even have to be remembering it. If I edit out those parts which don’t contribute to the particular story I’m telling, that may improve the story itself, but there’s nothing inherently boring which any moment of experience, of course.

I assigned my creative writing students to go do a nonfiction freewriting while they were in some public place (like a restaurant, mall, library, park, etc.) where they could watch and listen to others. One student did his freewriting in a quiet school study hall, and the text he produced described such mundane things as how other students swung their legs as they did other things or nothing at all. No particular act or statement that was profound or amusing made it into his prose, and yet, the student had created a sorta wonderful record of study-hall boringness, mundanity. He had noticed routine things, and somehow this led to a document that was interesting to read. It was a record of what that student had noticed as he was desperately searching for exciting things to notice.

If we’re only looking for grand events, or easily quoted overheard speech, we are only looking for those moments when our conscious experience matches our mental models of what an amusing story is  — when, of course, we could also be noticing experiences that are not so easily told as stories, those experiences that could challenge these existing models, too. Movies don’t have to be structured in three acts, and my stories don’t always have to be efficient or amusing.

Not that all of my stories I tell to students and friends need to be amusing, but that tends to be my default. If I were a cable channel, I’d be more like Comedy Central than I would be Bravo or Food Network or NatGeo. But I’ve found myself getting bored lately with Hollywood movies whose story outlines are overly familiar to me. I understand that Hollywood too wants to tell stories efficiently to as big an audience as possible, but I guess I just want to see different kinds of stories, different ways of thinking about experience, which thinking will lead me to having different experiences. Instead of just asking commercial storytellers to come up with new story-forms to amuse me, I could come up with some of my own. And I could check out The New World, which I haven’t seen yet but which, the AVClub article pointed out, did try some of these new ideas.

Nonfic: Editing to Remove Context

A lot of stories begin and end.

This has bothered me for a while. The reality I live in tends to be pretty continuous, so that after one experience ends, another begins — in fact, it may even be hard to tell when an experience began and ended until long after the experience, when I start to tell stories about it.

So part of what I like about writing my journals has been that I wrote them every day and while I did tell some stories, I told them as a part of other things that were ongoing, etc. My journals were continuous in that they were not split into distinct stories.

This presented problems for my editing of them (as I’ve written about in a previous post). I’ve often thought of editing a work as choosing the best things from an earlier draft and combining them into a final draft. But Friday it occurred to me that maybe what editing could be is the stripping away of context from a particular story to make that story stand out, alone and complete in itself. Maybe taking things out of context is part of what makes artworks interesting. Some of my photos look way more interesting once I’ve forgotten both when I took the picture and where. A picture of a tree in a meadow could be of some distant, lovely land — maybe it’s in the Swiss Alps! — when I’ve forgotten that the tree was just in my backyard in Illinois.

And maybe that’s a way to look at a text, too. Maybe instead of taking the best moments out of the larger text, I could look at taking out the duller moments. Both approaches might result in similar texts, but both are different process approaches.

Further, maybe instead of looking at my life, my conscious experience, as continuous and seeing time-fragmented texts as being false, maybe I could see my experience as interesting moments surrounded by (encased by?) dull moments. Well, that doesn’t sound appetizing, exactly. But it reminds me that in some ways, forgetting context makes certain moments stand out more. It’s tough to tell what is important in life as I live it, but afterwards (in memory, and also in my journal texts written years ago), certain moments stand out as being more momentous because they were pulled out of context. In fact, I used to write my journals in the evening so I could record the days events before I forgot them, but now I write the following morning, and I find that what I tend to remember isn’t everything but is the more interesting stuff. I don’t want to have moment-my-moment transcripts of my life — there’d be no meaning there. Perhaps meaning is given to an experience, to a story (or other artwork), as context is pulled away.

We experience a world that is continuous, in that we have to pass through (or above) all the territory from Denver to Chicago in order to move from Denver to Chicago, and also, we have to live the entire travel time of the trip, whether the travel time is determined by slow driving or fast flying. There’s no skipping Kansas. We might sleep through parts of the trip, parts of our lives, I suppose, but then we’re not doing anything else, mentally, either (unless we’re having a dream that then affects us after we wake up).  That art (edited movies, stories we intuitively edit as we tell them, etc.) allows us to skip over places and times can be easy to forget. Taking photos, stories, and statements out of context can alter how we and others understand them, of course, but then perhaps taking these things out of context can also give us new perspectives from which to view our surroundings and our lives. If I forget that my backyard is “just my backyard” and start to think that it is as pretty as the photos I’ve seen of the Swiss Alps, then I may start to appreciate the beauty of my own backyard.

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.