Tag Archives: journals

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

Dog blur with two tennis balls. 10 Sept. 2016

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

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

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

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

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

Cat rain. 10 Sept. 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Byron, Illinois, aerials. 9 Sept. 2016

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

Commencement of journals, adulthood

My journals start with the end of my senior year of high school. I had graduation practice and then went to work at the electronics store where I worked renting videos. The next day, I was awarded the Bronze R for having third-highest grade-point average in my class, but the elderly presenter was off her game and called me by my dad’s name. The following year, she was replaced.

 

29: 1st day out. Grad practice, work after.

30: Graduation day. Got Bronze “R.” Mary Carney called me “Gene” and handed me the notecard she was reading from. Went to Matt D’s open house, then Dawn’s, Chris K’s, Kim’s, stayed late and played volleyball.

 

[Entirety of the 29 & 30 May 1992 journals, the beginning of an informal, personal writing habit I practiced irregularly from age 18 to age 30, then daily since]

How to read a post from my journals or pocket pages

Revised (because when quality matters, time doesn’t.)

If you read texts selected from my journals and pocket pages expecting there to be a “take-away,” a clear message or story, you may be disappointed. But if you read these to get a sense of the presence of my mind (my voice, my sensibility) from these texts, you may find these valuable.

Before I realized this distinction in ways of reading, I looked at my journal texts and judged them inadequate, because they weren’t already in the form of polished narratives or essays. For years, I wondered whether I should go back and craft these raw freewritings into publishable articles, rewriting them as needed until they fit the familiar forms. But this approach didn’t feel right. I usually wrote about my experiences by describing my thoughts and feelings afterwards, rather than writing these as moment-by-moment, show-don’t-tell descriptions. Doing that seemed artificial — I don’t live by narrating everything that happens; I write only after experiences have been had. I write for myself, and not for others, who weren’t there, to understand and empathize with me. I preferred writing down whatever I thought at that time, writing honestly for myself, rather than shaping my words so that I’d be perceived favorably by some unknown reader.

I finally realized that these honest-to-the-moment journal writings had value if the purpose of reading were redefined. I thought about how reading poetry can be different from reading prose. With prose, whether novels, journalism, memoir, etc., readers tend to look for meaning — plot, story, lesson, etc. But with poetry, readers can enjoy other aspects, including the sounds of words, rhythms of lines, images-as-images, etc. I sometimes read poems, such as haiku and Richard Brautigan’s short poems, just to get a sense of mood or a sense of the writer’s voice, his or her particular sensibility. So, too, I have found value with my journal texts, and you may as well.

You can dive in anywhere, even in the middle of a post of journal text, and treat each sentence or section like its own poem, reading just for the experience of reading, of communing with another mind. You don’t have to read the whole post or all the posts. There’s no index of topics, and there will be no overarching message. I don’t wanna write as if I’m some wise person who’s figured stuff out and is ready to teach others. Maybe some text-bits are wise, but some aren’t. Some bits might be funny, and others will be serious. My journals don’t have a consistent tone because, of course, lived experience doesn’t have a single tone. My writing is more a part of my living than it is something I do to make a career or advocate an ideal.

My journals will never have an ending — they’ll just stop when I die — but because they’re not intended to become anything else, they’re also already whole, complete, fulfilled. As a writer, I am fulfilled just by filling the journal pages. And a reader can take an analogous perspective.

By the way, these journals will not be posted here in a systematic way — just the thought of that exhausts me — and that’s OK because systematic is not necessary. These journal texts are as accurate as I can make them (because I can’t always even read my handwriting!), but they are not the entirety of the journals — I’ve tried to include only the parts I think are the most interesting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interesting People Say Interesting Things: 20 July 2016 journals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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).

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!