Tag Archives: pocket pages

Dogs take the world as they find it: The week in pocket pages

Even when national politics seem troubling, I’m gonna keep enjoying writing my journals, driving my morning commute (it’s pretty, and it’s a chance to think), and walking my dog. 14 Nov. 2016

Ginko tree, 4 Nov. 2016

Ginko tree, 4 Nov. 2016

This morning I saw a pile of ginko leaves along a rural roadside. It seems funny that someone would go through all the trouble of moving leaves from his or her yard to this random spot. Why not just cut down the tree?

“I like doing stuff when people are talking,” said a teacher colleague in a meeting where the rest of us were discussing curriculum choices. The stuff she was doing was stickering plastic bags with “Education Week” stickers.

Sun and rainbow spot to its right. 15 Nov.

Sun and rainbow spot to its right. 15 Nov.

Passion is everything, I read today in an article in yesterday’s Chicago Tribune that was left in the in-school suspension room.

I don’t need the world to match my expectations of/for it in order for me to be content. (How fragile an orientation that would be.)

Teaching: In explaining to others, I also get to hear it myself. I’m thinking here of talking philosophy in class recently. We were talking about the idea that what we can name is real, leading me to think that we can define our own realities. If we don’t have a name for something, if we haven’t distinguished it, we probably won’t recognize it as a distinct thing, like how radioactive minerals weren’t recognized before scientists discovered radioactivity, though of course the radioactive minerals were always there. 15 Nov. 2016.

Even to define real is to make it abstract, not present — not real. Real is not here, and here is a word that means consciousness at present.

We can think only ideas. So anything you can think isn’t real. Ideas aren’t necessary. But of course, we can teach through ideas, through talking, and we can also amuse each other through ideas.

Looking at news sites tells me what’s going on elsewhere.

On the calculus teacher's desk. 14 Nov.

On the calculus teacher’s desk. 14 Nov.

I take notes on my reality — my particulars (things I hear, things I see, etc.)

Options as I try to take in less media: get the news from poetry (as William Carlos Williams suggested)? Eh, I may not need news at all.

Gutter leaves. 19 Nov.

Gutter leaves. 19 Nov.

I’m not interested in publishing some one-off essay, the kind of essay that gets edited into “Best American Essays” books. I prefer a more holistic approach. I don’t want applause, I don’t just want to be a performer. My unit of communication is not the formal essay. 16 Nov.

The Story of Now that I constructed from news I heard and read. This isn’t one story but a subdivided set of stories about what’s going on in the world–in the environment, the economy, arts, education, all the many topics. And I may not need to know most or any of this. Maybe I’m feeling disappointed that my Story of Now seems to have so little overlap with some people’s stories of now. Not saying I despair, but I wonder if there’s better use for my time than taking in news. 17 Nov.

I’m not just a role-player writer, a topic-writer. I write from and in my life, my living. I try to keep an open-mind, not holding onto a particular idea as an answer. If I’m alive, I keep thinking, writing — I’m not done! It’s ongoing! And the most-important topic/idea remains (even if it’s in the background), how do I live — how to be alive, how to accept the challenge and opportunity of being conscious!

Leaves outside the gutter on a windy morning. 19 Nov.

Leaves at the curb outside the diner on a windy morning. 19 Nov.

The society/culture may already value performances (of music, acting, etc., but also I’m thinking of poems, novels, and other texts written for others as performances). But I see also an opening for honest non-performances — such as those journals and notes written mainly for oneself. Every experience doesn’t need to be (because it can be) made into a lesson. Not every experience needs to be abstracted into a lesson — sometimes a particular can stay a particular. 18 Nov.

Dogs take the world as they find it. When we go to a local forest preserve prairie, my dog doesn’t ask if it’s true wilderness — he just starts sniffing what’s there to sniff. It’s a reminder to me to attend to what is with me, around me. 19 Nov.

Planter bowl group-portrait. 19 Nov.

Planter bowl group-portrait at the diner. 19 Nov.

Washington Square Park: More from Pocket Pages notebook #50


This phone number no longer connects to me.

This phone number no longer connects to me.

21 February 1998: My radio-station colleague Cheryl Uitti the other day said how we’re all haunted by the media image of the white woman.

2 March 1998: Symbolism, paradox, irony, appearance/scene-setting: the literary tools of my new journalism. But are these too pat, too easy a set of analytical tools?

4 March 1998: I’m here at the station late again tonight, but this time it was exciting. Talking with [reporter colleague] Rob about stories, about my organic agriculture story, about using simile, about being passionate and using that to pitch public radio. And I got excited about the crack house story tonight on “All Things Considered” — how raw that was, and how incredible. Maria called and I got excited just telling her all the details of the Whitacre sentencing [I attended]  today — how technical the jargon and details, yet how informal the interaction was. And the judge semi-scolded Whitacre before he read the sentence: how Whitacre was unlike most defendants in that he had opportunity, he was a “meteoric” success, but that his motive was “garden variety venality and greed.”

4 March 1998: Taking a shit is an act of health.

6 March 1998: On plane: Substance/denial/meaning: the fallacy of food and material “pleasures.” There’s no meaning for me there, and therefore little pleasure from food these days — so little desire for candy, shrimp, etc. A hollow experience.

How many people are like me? You don’t hear this (old-fashioned) idea in pop culture. But you can’t legislate or really even preach it and have this idea accepted. People have to see the emptiness for themselves.

6 March 1998: 5-ish, Barnes & Nobles near NYU campus, New York City: There are so many people here. Yet they aren’t all famous. A few rise up — maybe there’s hope for me.

Taking pictures of small things as emblematic of the whole is false.

Old wooden water tanks on top of buildings.

I don’t even want to stop and read things now. I’m too dazed and my attention captured by all the sights around me — buildings, people, etc.

7 March 1998: NYC, hotel lounge, near Chinatown/Little Italy: The fruit seller, the bean curd (?) seller, the mob guys I see out this window — I don’t know them, they’re meaningless, they are symbols, objects to me. The “mob guys” outside “Maria’s Restaurant”: old Scorsese-looking guy smokes a cig, puffing it, not really smoking it, his hands in his pockets, standing there while a young, somewhat unraveled-looking Chinese guy talks excitedly to him. Then the younger guy, who is sweeping thru this and ignoring the guy when he directs his talking and hand-slapping to him, this young guy whips out some bills, the Chinese guy takes them, goes on to a retail store down the street, slides in thru an opened door. Those two stay there like they are conducting street business as much as the curd seller and his shopping cart are. Not long after, they went inside (maybe) and closed the garage door. And a kitty there later — too perfect.

7 March 1998: The subway goes below our hotel. Little tremors, sound like thunder, when it passes.

The older buildings here in Chinatown: lots of dirty walls, old water taknks on top of the buildings.

Lots of foreign voices here in C-town. This would surprise me more if I didn’t hear this with some regularity in Champaign-Urbana. See, I am somewhat worldly compared to how I was in high school.

This city is laid out differently from what I thought from seeing it in movies.

Lots of activity at the fruit stand pretty early — at least there was when I got up at 8.

I’ve seen some pics of NYC in movies, etc., but even those establishing shots don’t move. There are hundreds of views of even the same building, and so the one shot you get in a movie is so 2-D, so shallow, unreal. The richness of even just one building in the flesh vs. a single picture of it.

I’m planning on walking the city today. Even I’m a bit surprised at my — what’s the word — brashness? Comfort with the city? I’m not even sure I would do this with Chicago or D.C. Here, the “good” area is lots bigger. When I look outside at the fruit stands, etc., and see all the moving people, going places, I get a little hesitant to go out into that, to fight crowds, etc. But then I know I want to and I brace myself — but not much because I’m not that reluctant.

9:40, The bean curd guy packed the crates and buckets into his shopping cart, strapped it down with a bungee, and wheeled his business away.

7 March 1998, Saturday, nearly 11 a.m., Washington Square Park, Greenwich Village, NYC: I’m writing this note while sitting on a bench in Washington Square Park! That’s the only real point to the message, is that it’s being written in Washington Square Park.

And as I’m writing this, I’m thinking that as I read this some time in the future, it’ll be more like a thing, a souvenir, than a memory, and that it won’t come anywhere near recreating this scene, which is to say, it’s a cloudy, cool but not cold day, pretty much meets expectations for an early March day. There’s a mild wind, and that’s cold, but OK to sit here for 10-20 minutes, but not much longer. There are a fair number of people here, more adults than any park I’ve ever been to, on a day when there’s no festival, anyway.

All ages of people, all manner — old, parents, lots of young-ish types, 30s and such. Guy with his dog on a 3.5- or 4-foot pedestal. Athletic sort of guy. He tosses a blue ball to the dog and it bumps/pushes it with its nose back to the guy in an arch [or “arc”?] People watch and photograph. Somebody said something like “that dog was in People magazine.”

Little pug dogs around me — little guy nosing all around. A younger woman walked by with a smaller, grayer pug — and the two women talked about the dogs — breeding dogs: “What do you do, put ’em together and let ’em go at it?” — the older blonde smoker with baby — almost a Fred Stoller kind of flat, slow accent. …

There’s a real police presence in the park — several cops walking around, a couple vans. NPR last week said they installed cameras to watch for drugs, etc. I haven’t seen any cameras. A woman during that story said she doesn’t mind surveillance cameras because it makes the park safer, able for her to use it. And I’m thinking about that now as I see the people here. Everyone seems upstanding, not even any gruff-looking people.

A park police guy tells the woman to leash the dogs. The blonde shoves her dog into a mesh basket under the baby carriage. The dog lies down, he doesn’t seem to mind.

Writings done at Washington Square Park.

Writings done at Washington Square Park.

How to describe my sitting here: I’m looking at this pad of paper and seeing the dark green bench, the brick and pavement and my red coat and blue-jean’d legs to the periphery of my vision. I look up, people are scattered at various distances — lots of sitting, walking, watching -(lots of cameras — are professional newspaper photographers here just to get slice-of-life shots? I mean, not that they shoot and print only off-beat photos here, but that this is a regular place to start.) There’s some greening grass, not lush or dense yet. Mostly bare trees, but some are pale, yellowish green with buds. At least the tree is that’s between me and the 85-foot tall monument (I remember the height from a tourist book I read last night).

The monument is north-center in the park. Big brick-paved, concrete-benches circle is in front of me, in park’s center  — and another ring in the middle of that, 100 feet across, maybe. It’s sunken a few feet and step-benches line it, an amphitheater of sorts — a magician/performer was drawing a crowd there yesterday. We didn’t see his act but his circulating of a coffee can: “Any Irish in the crowd? Saint Patrick’s day is coming up. Get out your green.”

A dog run to my right — I’m surprised there aren’t more fights there amongst the leash-free animals.

It’s about 11:30 now. About 10 minutes ago, when the ladies leashed their pugs and left, the whole park play underwent a change of characters. The ball-dog guy left, the dog run cleared out, etc.

The mood here is just kinda mellow — it’s Saturday, nice day for a stroll in the park. There are little kids here, too, dad with two little kids 2,3,4 years at most, in a plastic wagon. Are they NYorkers, I wonder, or tourists. Do those kids live fulltime in Greenwich Village? Those kids are loose now, walking around. One of them does that bubbling giggle, up and down, elicits a smile from yours truly.

Lots of cameras here — is everybody watching everybody else?

I’m conducting a survey of the theory that dogs look like their owners. Not seeing much of a positive correlation in today’s research. I’m starting to get chilled — almost time to go. The park’s open “ceiling” is a nice break from the surrounding tall buildings. The giggling kids are both wearing many-colored fleece overalls, like the PJs I used to wear. One, a pink and purple suit, other, green and blue, with hats.

Bunny Modern author sets his first babynapping scene in Wash Sqr Park. In reading that, I hadn’t quite pictured this, though in a strange way, not so far off, either. A group of about 30 or so college or high schoolers, probably, stopped and posed for a pic around the rim of the amphiteather inner-ring. They want a picture of them in Washington Square Park!

In a way, that’s the image/myth/legend I’m buying into, too, at least when I wrote the first part of this note. The park as a celebrity. A brush with fame! This park today seems safe, even dull — not particularly significant, except for its history,  and that wouldn’t draw people. What draws them is the park’s reputation as it has been popularized in books, movies, etc. [and now in my own blog post. 21 Aug. 2016] For example, the Washington Square imprint is using and furthering the park’s countercultural image. From what I had heard of the park before, I thought it would be in a slum, not near university.

It seems a uniquely NYC phenomenon (or at least it happens a lot more often here ) that you overhear some interesting tidbit of a conversation. Do people talk more openly here than other places, or are their conversations more interesting?

This city, at least around here, has the existentialist image down — lots of thin, serious-looking people, quiet dressers, lots of them smoking. At least on a cloudy day like today it looks existential. Not depressing, per se, but mellow, detached.

My impression before coming here was that TV, sports, radio — common interests elsewhere across the country — aren’t as popular here in NYC because what is popular here (at least in Manhattan) are things like theater and books — what the people are into is books, etc., and I like that.

The scene before me is detailed, sharp — I think the overcast light helps that, lights things evenly so they appear saturated colors, etc., lots of detail. 11:50 a.m.

I moved to a new bench. Couple other things: lots of fences here now — unpaved areas fenced off — to save the grass? Snow fences around black metal pipe permanent fences. The statue of Garibaldi at east side of park the frosted-green patina of copper — the statue pedestal below is in poor shape. The statue is drawing a sword. Under that, on the pedestal, it says:

GARIBALDI 1807–1882

and that’s all. No other words, no plaque justifying this statue’s existence. But the concrete below the words is cracked, chipped, peeling.

I just looked up from my new spot — right ahead of me, to south of park, directly up the road, like a path directly there — are World Trade towers. Finally! I see a NY skyscraper.

You know, I want to walk around the city, see buildings and Central Park — but right now I’m waiting for Maria — she says she wants to go to only one Federalist Society [conference] session. “An odd group,” she said today. (I’m not sure if “odd” was her word, but that was the meaning.) And that was what I was thinking, so it surprised me a little to hear her agree. Too many conservatives, too many lawyers, too many men, too many bowties.

So I have another 45 minutes until I am to meet Maria and I’m not sight-seeing, but I’m very happy just sitting in the park this last hour, writing and observing. This is perfect. Nothing I’d rather do.

The mind-boggling thing is that this area has lots of people, buildings, things going on and things to see. And this is only one small part of one borough out of five in one city of (the cabbie said) 13 million people. There’s just so much going on it would be nearly impossible to write about. At least NYTimes does take an interest in the uniqueness of the city, in its style photos and “Living in the City” diary.

I still want to buy a NYTimes for $2.50 tomorrow (the low cost part of the charm, of course) but I don’t really feel much like reading papers this trip, not like I have wanted to read papers in the past, partly ’cause there’s so much else to see here and I have read the Times before but also I think it’s because I’m so sick of all news lately.

7 March 1998, 12:50 p.m., outside in front of NYU law school: It’s hard to believe some of these “Feddies” — more conservative than libertarian, I’d say — but still. This one plump guy who came out, wearing trench coat, hair quite short, glasses like George Will or something, with ear pieces on top — bow tie, white shirt pressed out by belly — pudgy, bland Rush Limbaugh face and smoking Marlboros — jeezus. Kinda like bland arrogance personified in a young body where it really looks affected and put on. Why — and how — would someone try so hard to look like conservatism larvae? I mean, it has to be a put on, right? That can’t be natural, right? I mean, the guy’s not 25, probably.

Synchronized actions: From Pocket Page notebook #50

1 February 1998: I’ve been fascinated lately by the concept of the swiftly, deftly executed move or action, especially when it synchronizes, like gears meshing in time, with other events and times– like stepping to a door, turning knob with hand and pushing the door open, then walking thru the door without pausing, all in one smooth, continuous movement —

And the larger action, walking thru the door, is fully dependent on that little movement — the hand turning the knob and pushing. Sometimes it almost feels like a lock-step, like the hand’s movements are controlled and timed mechanically to function perfectly and be exactly right to not impede the larger machine’s movement, like the knotters on a hay baler. When they are tripped, they seem to act in one quick strike, like the hand on the door. The knotter does its job in a moment and then rests again til it’s called. That’s key to this idea, too. It’s not a constant, repetitive thing. It’s a quick strike, called at any time. But it fits with the larger action — synchronicity.

And it comes about either thru computation and methodical engineer-thinking, like the baler, or thru practice, like me and the door.

The door is the door to my office. But there are other things at a radio station that remind me of this idea/principle/phenomenon. like how most of the time you aren’t under pressure to perform precisely and perfectly, but there are moments with that’s required, when swift execution is needed, like when producing a piece or combo-ing the air product, when numerous little operations on the mixing board are required, hitting of buttons in certain sequences, doing little “procedures” (in a programming sense) that require several steps.

‘Am I still married to your wife?’ April quotes from the pocket pages

Panda Express, Wright and Green streets, Champaign, Ill., 13 April.

Near soda drinks at Panda Express, Wright and Green streets, Champaign, Ill., 13 April.

φ  “If I’m a figment of your imagination, then you’ve got some messed up imaginations,” said student after we said we might be imagining him. 31 March.

φ  “Tonight, we’re gettin’ fricked-up,” said my friend Nina. The previous night’s drinking was just about seeing people, she clarified. 2 April.

φ  “Yesterday, I was so hungry, I had to make pancakes at night,” said my father-in-law. “WHO made the pancakes?” said my mother-in-law, adding that she’d used cake mix to make them. 2 April.

φ  “That’s me — who’s the old man I’m kissing?” asked my wife as she looked at a photo of us before realizing that the old man she was kissing was her husband. 3 April.

At Beef-A-Roo, Machesney Park, Ill., 24 April.

At Beef-A-Roo, Machesney Park, Ill., 24 April.

φ  “Showing up for work is usually a reasonable employment policy,” said my wife of her office’s stance in relation to an unemployment claim. 4 April.

φ  “But YOU’RE working HERE,” said student after she said nobody who goes to our local community college gets a good job, and then I’d said that I’d gone there before I became a teacher. 5 April.

φ  “Am I still married to your wife?” asked student of me. This was in response to a hypothetical that he and I were both injured and my brain were put into his body. Later, my wife answered yes, that she’d rather be married to my brain than my body. “There’d be a different you in you,” she explained. 6 April.

Prairie grows back after spring burn. 29 April.

Prairie grows back after spring burn. 29 April.

φ  “I’m so excited to grow up, but I’m kinda scared at the same time. I can’t wait to get a bunch of cats,” said my senior student. When I teased her about wanting so many cats, she said, “it’s true, though.” 6 April.

φ  “If I turned you into a robot, would you tell me” that you’re a robot, asked student of me. 6 April.

A narrow view of the Rock River at Byron. 31 April.

A narrow view of the Rock River at Byron. 31 April.

φ  “No matter what she’s talking about, there are eye rolls involved,” said a fellow teacher of a certain student. 8 April.

φ  “I love things that vary in height coming to see me,” said my wife as her dog, her cat, and her husband came to see her as she got home. 8 April.

Holey barn, Church Road, Ogle County. 12 April.

Holey barn, Kings Road, Ogle County. 12 April.

φ  “I have no weaknesses and every weakness,” said a young woman on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Quad to another woman as they walked behind me. 13 April.

φ  “…now I can’t stand peanut butter,” said a guy standing near Foellinger Auditorium on U of I Quad. “At ALL?” said a woman listening to him. “At.  All.” he confirmed. 13 April.

At detail of the painting Jim Graham, The Arborist and his Daughter, at iHotel

A detail of the painting The Arborist and His Daughter by Jim Graham at iHotel in Champaign. My student L. said another painting nearby looked like “a Jackson Pollock impression” of this painting. 13 April.

φ  “You’re not funny,” said student to me, as he laughed at something I said. “Usually I’m a better liar,” he lied. 13 April.

φ  “I like to calculate while I go,” said student as she took her calculator into the restroom with her. She was alluding to a story I had told about another student attempting to take a library book with him to the bathroom, and when I asked what he was doing, he had said, “I like to read while I go.” 13 April.

φ  “‘Cuz she’s, you know, have you MET her?” said student telling me why another student doesn’t like a certain teacher. 13 April.

Pigeons near the Chase Building, Monroe Street, Chicago. 1 April.

Pigeons near the Chase Building, Monroe Street, Chicago. 1 April.

φ  “We play wife with his euchre,” said a fellow teacher, before reversing the nouns, about socializing with another teacher. 14 April.

φ “Shouting random things at people is my forte,” said student 20 April.

φ  A student announced he was willing to strip his way through college. “I’ve got nothing to be ashamed of,” he bragged. “Your personality,” corrected another student. 21 April.

Ice cream and pie at the diner. 29 April.

Ice cream and pie at the diner. 29 April.

φ  “I feel like a cat — I have a hair in my throat,” said a student as she entered my classroom. 21 April.

φ  “OW — uh-OW, uh-OW, uh-OW,” said a crow, iambically, as I walked my dog. 22 April.

φ  “I was expecting ducks and all I saw was a pig … disappointing,” said a sophomore student about “ag day” animals at our school. 22 April.

Bethel Road, Ogle County, 21 April.

Bethel Road, Ogle County, 21 April.

φ  “Everything I ate today I mooched,” said student after lunch. 25 Feb.

Donkey, horse, dust cloud. 21 April.

Donkey, horse, dust cloud. 21 April.

φ  “You and I are not the only ones who make fun of her,” said a friend, about an acquaintance. 26 April.

Near Jarrett Prairie Center, Byron, Ill. 29 April.

Near Jarrett Prairie Center, Byron, Ill. 29 April.

φ  The quality of being impervious: imperversion? I wondered. 27 April.

φ  “You HAVE to DIE!” said my student after he asked me during class whether I’d prefer to starve to death or drown, like Eurylochus chose in Book 12 of The Odyssey. 28 April.

φ  “Steam punk– that’s the thing now, steampunk,” said a middle-aged woman at Joann Fabrics, Rockford, Ill. Answered a younger woman, “don’t let the fact that YOU just discovered it…” 30 April.

From a bridge over Rock River. 31 April.

From a bridge over Rock River. 31 April.


‘Screw you, Zeus’: Quotes from previous weeks


11 Feb. 2016. Curved icicle.

11 Feb. 2016. Curved icicle.

If nobody brings in snacks, it won’t really be a party,” said a colleague teacher to some students at the end of 1st hour. 18 Jan.

6 Feb. Refuse.

6 Feb. Refuse.

Jeremiah!” shouted a woman while listening to a call on speaker phone in the dairy department of a local grocery store. I think she was shouting at a little boy who had run off. Or maybe she was shouting for a prophet. 20 Jan.

Nonfiction is one’s mind encountering some part of the world. There’s no one-book of the world. 21 Jan.

I like “spoilers.” I dislike narrative tension. I want to know what happens so that I can think about the story rather than just waiting to find out what happens. 25 Jan.

6 Feb. Ceramic boids.

6 Feb. Shiny ceramic boids.

Sometimes ramblings are the most-interesting things to read,” said my student. 25 Jan.

‘Cuz I got holes,” said student about why he’s got a coat over his t-shirt in class. 25 Jan.

6 Feb. My grandma's 85th birthday cake.

6 Feb. My grandma’s 85th birthday cake.

I write for myself. When I write for others, I get hammy, needy. There’s no money in writing — and why should there be? It’s just ideas, and there’s no lasting value in ideas. Of course I write for myself — why write for any other! I’m just borrowing the language, the words, anyway! 26 Jan.

I don’t have to explain/rationalize why I like an idea, artwork, etc. Liking something isn’t rational. 27 Jan.

One upside to being sick [with a cold]: I’ve been less ambitious with writing. 28 Jan.

6 Feb. 2016. Decorations.

6 Feb. 2016. Decorations.

After I told a student that it’s good to have a hobby outside of one’s job, student said, “Being bored IS my hobby.” 28 Jan.

A female student walked into class 3rd hour and said, “I’m gonna walk up to him and say [in an insinuating voice], ‘So you LIKE peeling bananas, huh?’” 28 Feb.

Greek myths, Book of Genesis — whatever happened before there were people existing to witness it can’t be known, can’t be nonfiction, and so must be speculative, fictional, philosophical (definitional), all that. 28 Jan.

31 Jan. 2016. View northeast from Panera Bread, toward Perryville Road.

31 Jan. 2016. View northeast from Panera Bread, toward Perryville Road.

A student said to friends in the hallway after school, “… to be fair, I am an asshole, but still …” 29 Jan.

At a grocery store in Rockford, I heard a boy say something about needing more bananas. The mom said, “Oh, like we need to buy more than 20 bananas?” What if a kid or kids in the boy’s class want more than one banana each, the boy asked. The teacher would say “one each,” said the mom. 31 Jan.

4 Feb. 2016. Ice forms pools on a driveway slope.

4 Feb. 2016. Ice forms pools on a driveway slope.

4 Feb. 2016. Ice forms pools on a driveway slope.

4 Feb. 2016. When I broke some of the ice dams, crystals were revealed.

Go look at him ‘cuz he’s beautiful,” said my former student about a substitute teacher at school this day. 2 Feb.

The book of Genesis says the Earth was “without form” in the beginning. If we take “form” to be, in part, distinction, we make distinctions in general to have useful ideas. We make useful distinctions. 2 Feb.

My ex-boyfriend doesn’t exist,” said student, who was then told that she’s used that joke before. “Do I really say that all the time?” she asked. 2 Feb.

Why am I hearing your voice?” I asked a student during poem-writing time. “My voice is beautiful,” said student. “It’s weird as hell,” answered second student. 3 Feb.

6 Feb. Ice forms.

6 Feb. Ice forms.

Creation stories (like Book of Genesis, Hesiod’s “Theogony”) establish symbols for the purpose of having symbols, common symbols within the group of followers. I suppose this is like how fans of any text — say, the Lord of the Rings trilogy — have common reference points. 4-5 Feb.

Were I famous, people would want me but for their own (selfish) reasons, and not appreciate me as me. But I don’t often feel appreciated for any reason — I need to let go of bitter, cynical thoughts like that as I age, even if I never get as much appreciation as I’d like. 5 Feb.

I read an online comment recently that said David Foster Wallace’s book Infinite Jest should’ve been edited down. In Genesis and in Hesiod’s “Theogony,” the chaos that arrives before other things is said to be without form. So is the implication that any work that isn’t well-fitted to a form (like DFW’s novel didn’t fit the novel-form, perhaps) chaotic? 5 Feb.

One student said of another, “He has moments of brilliance, and moments of ‘you are dumb.’” 5 Feb.

Said a worker at a Casey’s convenience store to another worker, “I’m not known for losing that kind of stuff.” 8 Feb., about 4:10 p.m.


13 Feb. 2016

13 Feb. 2016

At the local diner: Kim Waitress pointed to some plates of food and asked the cooks, “Which one’s ‘Easy Onion’?” I like the name “Easy Onion” for a criminal’s name, perhaps. 13 Feb.

Also at the diner: Ashli Waitress said she needed to pour coffee into both cups on the table “because otherwise the table’s leaning this way,” she explained her compulsive behavior. 14 Feb.

Ashli Waitress’s pink-ribbon tattoo is on her foot because “I didn’t think my first tatt should be on my tit,” she said. 14 Feb.

18 Feb. 2016. Rec path.

18 Feb. 2016. Rec path.

I’d be like, ‘Screw you, Zeus,’” said my sophomore student about what he’d do if he were, like Atlas, asked to hold up the sky. 18 Feb.

While I was outside on a warm February Saturday, I heard my Neighbor-Dad yelled at his kids, who were in the garage. Neighbor-Mom said, “Are they playing with poison? Go inside and wash your hands.” 20 Feb.

‘What did I used to think was here?’: Notes from the last 2 weeks

First quote of the new year was 1 January. My wife, as we considered leaving our diner after breakfast, said, “I’m still enjoying my various fluids,” her coffee and her diet soda.


Can I punch somebody in the face with my foot?” asked my young friend Amin, definitionally. 1 Jan.


Are you giving me dirty looks? They don’t affect me — I teach middle school,” said my young teacher friend Nina. 1 Jan.


Cold day, country road. Steam clouds from nuclear generating station. 4 Jan. 2016

Cold day, country road. Steam clouds from nuclear generating station. 4 Jan. 2016


Nobody should have to face this kind of boringness alone,” said my wife as she stayed by my side as I watched an online training video about the ADAAA. 3 Jan.


I’m as particular a person — as biased, judgmental — a person now as I have ever been. My point is that, while I hope to become wiser and make fairer judgments as I get older, I can’t claim to ever achieve some perspective beyond the particular circumstances of my mind at any particular time. 4 Jan.


Perhaps there is no meaning to any experience or any physical event until a person makes (thinks, says, or writes) language, until one puts together an interpretation of the experience or event. Meaning is more made than found. 5 Jan.


Felt a bit of sadness at last night’s sunset (over the prairie grasses and trees where I walked my dog) — but it’s just a mood. Perhaps the sadness was that it’ll still be winter for quite a while yet. 6 Jan.


Ideas as mental states that exist only once. To write down a thought and later read it back, that’s a different experience than the original thinking — for myself as well as for others who might read and experience the idea. 7 Jan.


How long it takes to come to terms with — to accept — my own life, with its particulars and limitations. I don’t mean this in a sad way; rather, that it’s taken me years to overcome the ambitious, self-aggrandizing ideas I had for whom I should be, how I should live, etc. 8 Jan.


As I walked my dog in the street, I saw through a neighbor’s kitchen window that I could see his wooden cabinets. I had heard that this neighbor might have a terminal health condition, and I thought how he may be able to look at his own cabinets now but perhaps one day, he won’t be able to. Of course, he’s not always in his kitchen; he’s often somewhere else. But being dead means one will be “somewhere else” to every place. 8 Jan.


From now on, order your OWN food,” said my mother-in-law to my father-in-law, after he complained about cheese being sticky in the baked mostacciolis that he shared with her. 8 Jan.


Are you HERE?” said my mother-in-law to my father-in-law, after he asked about something that had just been said. 8 Jan.


You don’t lie to people, that’s rude,” said my friend Nina as she related a story about how her grandpa came to the U.S. before she thought he had. 8 Jan.


At our diner, Ashli Waitress asked if everything were good. “As good as YOU can make us,” my wife said. 9 Jan.


The more I can get, why not?” said Ashli Waitress of some woman who may have been hitting on her. 9 Jan.


What did I used to think was here?” my mom asked of her smartphone home-screen after my wife and I changed her settings from “easy” to “standard.” 9 Jan.


In a Slate interview, Dean Strang, a defense attorney in Making a Murderer, is quoted as follows:

shows like CSI foster …  an illusion that courtrooms are places where scientific certainty often can be attained, that it’s the norm to be able to come to scientific certainty in a courtroom. And it’s not, of course. Courtrooms usually are not places where we can come to anything like scientific certainty, where we’re dealing with much more uncertainty even after we’ve heard everything.

After reading that, I thought that science deals with generalizations about things that can be repeated, like how certain chemicals will react when combined in certain conditions. These chemicals always will react this way under the same conditions. But of course, in a crime case, there are not general materials, but particular samples, gathered under unique and particular circumstances — and these are not repeatable at all! Even if a certain blood sample contains a DNA match to a defendant, we don’t know how or when the blood got to the place it was found. There’s far more interpretation required to interpret the data from scientific tests from a crime scene than from a lab setting — basic science seems far simpler in comparison. 9 Jan.


When English teachers present their students with the definitions of certain terms, and then ask students to classify literary samples by applying these terms, that seems like an Aristotelian autopsy — which is to say, that’s a classic approach, but also a backwards one. As a writer myself, I suspect that most other authors do not write by stringing together a bunch of literary terms and rhetorical structures and calling it a text. Writers don’t start from analyzing but from having an idea or hearing a voice, and I (and, I’m sure, others) write out the words that come to mind, and some of these may use rhetorical devices, but not consciously so. Also, when I write something, it’s because I’m excited to do it, because I feel passion in the doing. I write what I like, and I read what I like. When we ask students to apply terms to texts they don’t really care about, I suspect it’s alienating students from their own passions, their own feelings. This makes me sad because it took me years after completing my collegiate education to learn to trust my own mind, to learn that my own interests and my own ways of using words are good enough, and that this trust and confidence are the real foundation for my intellectual explorations. 11 and 17 Jan.


Learning who I am from others’ reactions to me, at least partly. Since I was a boy, others told me I’m smart, and I believed them. It’s easy to see how others, defined differently, might grow up to play different roles, and some of these may not be healthy, of course. 13 Jan.


Illinois floodplain snowstorm. 9 January.

Illinois floodplain snowstorm. 9 January.


We need cheer elves to clean our mats,” said a cheerleader student of mine. 13 Jan.


As I was reading this article at The Atlantic, I focused on this quote:

Why would the brain evolve such an inaccurate, simplified model of the world? The reason is efficiency. The brain didn’t evolve to get all the scientific details right. That would be a waste of energy and computing time. Instead, it evolved to process information about the world just well enough, and quickly enough, to guide behavior. All the brain’s internal models are simplified caricatures of the world it models.

and this:

The brain processes information. It focuses its processing resources on this or that chunk of data. That’s the complex, mechanistic act of a massive computer. The brain also describes this act to itself. That description, shaped by millions of years of evolution, weird and quirky and stripped of details, depicts a “me” and a state of subjective consciousness.

I’m not sure I share the author’s optimism that these descriptions actually make consciousness “not mysterious,” as the article title claims, but after reading this idea of the brain as having internal models, I thought about maybe the “ego,” the sense of a “me” (as author says), is a program that can get shut down when people meditate or have weird sleep or take certain drugs, such that some of the feelings of “all-is-one”-ness that some people report after meditating is not transcendently true, but is just a different way of experiencing the mind. 14 Jan.


It’s nice outside. What the heck — I’m skippin’ work,” said a high school girl after school in the student parking lot. It’s nice to know that it’s not just school but also work that receives consideration of whether to skip or not. 14 Jan.


I could tell my sophomore English class students to hold two ideas in their minds as we read published literary essays: 1., there are no right answers, and 2. keep trying to find right answers. Also, as both a teacher and a writer, I find myself valuing openness (not being attached to any particular idea, argument, or perspective) as a higher value than particular idea I might advocate. 15 Jan.


Also, what we’re trying to teach students can be more vague in a literature-and-writing class than in, say, a science or math class. But then, what we’re asking students to do is more fundamental: make meaning. As a teacher, I’m trying to get my students to think, to say interesting things about the texts we read. I want these teenagers to move toward, though they won’t likely arrive at, having the abilities to analyze and create that I, as an adult, have. Of course, my ability to do this has taken me nearly 40 years to develop, and I’m far from perfect, and I don’t exactly know how to teach this, but helping my students develop this ability seems much more a useful goal of education than simply asking students to memorize certain things. 15 Jan.


Photos are framed and/or cropped so as to remove context. 15 Jan. (See related idea here.)


Red sky in evening. 14 Jan. 2016

Red sky in evening. 14 Jan. 2016


I see where your priorities are,” said student to classmate, as a form of what I called “nerd-taunting.” 15 Jan.


At a scholastic bowl competition, a boy about 12 years old said to a competitor (who may have also been his older sister): “Lexi, can you graph pi?” She responded, “yeah, it’s a straight line.” The boy said, “Nice!” 16 Jan.


Later, that same Lexi told her teammate Eric, “You just said the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me” and as she retold this anecdote to someone else, she said, “He was like, ‘I wouldn’t say you’re ugly.’” 16 Jan.

Collected Notes and Quotes from 2015

A listing in chronological order:

At Busy Grocery Store: ‘YOU are gonna hafta be a good listener’

‘We Need More Bus’: My Students Explain Things

‘Dose ahr not liess’: The week in quotes

‘An Undigested Bit of Beef’: Pocket pages week in review

‘What I’m doing NOW as opposed to what I’m doing NOW’: This week in quotes

‘Dinging on my thingy’: Things I overheard this week

‘Are you getting vinyl? I’m getting wood’: Overheard 6 May thru 16 May

‘It’ll be funny SOMEday’: Quotes from students in class of ’15

‘What the hell is that?’: A Thursday at the resale shop

‘I guess we’re ready to rock ‘n’ roll’: Byronfest 2015

Limits of storytelling: Notes from 17 to 27 August 2015

Random high fives and ‘how we’re gonna scale that’: Images from six days in Boulder

Everything’s true except for the monkey’: My week in review

Let’s stay friends’: Quotes of this day

See ya, nerd king’: November’s overheard quotes

A little stranger than I thought’: December notes & quotes