Tag Archives: random journals

Grades are the currency of the system: Journal 33

I still don’t understand freshmen, where they are intellectually and how to teach to them, reach them. No abstraction, I know, stay concrete, and that’s more foreign to abstract-thinking me. Also, my top student, S., asked me during her quiz retake Friday what “underlie” meant in my question “Why did Dalton think atoms were what underlie matter” or something. I’m confronted by the fact that nobody asked about this on the first time through the quiz, nor even did any of the re-takers. So none of my students are asking questions, or something. And they got a little out of hand Friday during the measurement lab—a little loud, little off-task, etc. I can’t even understand what student M.C. is telling me: “8 of these bad-boys” as he casts down his meter stick on the floor. I can’t fathom his language, it’s so odd. A flaky child. And yet I don’t want to script him (or my attitude toward him). Keep up the positive expectations for all students, Matt. [Page 37-8, Sunday evening, 9 Sept. 2001]

Too late to write much but … So weird and fascinating to watch Grace dog try to find her rag doll after we hide it. Real thinking going on, a method to her searching. And in quarry pond now, I break ice for her to drink out of, and she drinks, then tries to pick out chunks of ice, usually with her mouth—submerging head until almost her eyes! And today I also observed her “splashing”/scooping water and ice out with her front paw. She doesn’t even do anything with the chunks once she gets them. She walks around with a chunk, or sets it on ice. Even they slide back in sometimes! I didn’t start her on this—she was doing it herself with ice; last two days I broke ice for her. Sometimes she crunches the ice, but not most times. No snow (beyond a dusting) this whole vacation, so no sledding. [Page 213-4, Friday night, 3 January 2003]

On my way home yesterday, it occurred to me that if I really teach all process, then I’m devaluing Newton and established, mainstream physics — If I want “Suzy” to develop her own theory of light, am I saying her theory is as good and as valid as the Accepted Theory of Light? No—this morning I can answer no, because I’m not saying they’re equally good. There are surely better and worse answers/theories.

After weeks of searching, I finally found some evidence for waves in Galileo’s Two New Sciences—he gave evidence that when you get a glass singing, there are waves in the water inside, and chisel leaves marks across brass plate. So there’s the evidence—but is it convincing? Is it compelling?

I think I need to go more process-based. Maybe introduce some history, I’m not sure, but I’m not trying to teach “physics” anyway—I’m not the Conservator of Physics–I’m teaching particular students. [Page 107, Tuesday morning, 22 Oct. 2002]

What I seemed to need (felt like I needed) was to truly do nothing—just lie and nap or just watch TV. Even reading for fun would’ve felt taxing on brain, like I was forcing myself to do it (as I felt reading Monkey Wrench Gang that day one summer). Normally, I’d have felt sick of doing nothing, I’d’ve felt the need to do something, and I’d have gotten up and done dishes or something. Never got that stir-crazy feeling today. Maybe tomorrow I’ll feel more like working, though maybe not, too. I’d really like to catch up on sleep and rest (separate from sleep ) so I felt better during week. [Page 145, Saturday evening, 16 Nov. 2002]

  • Exhausted, slept 6:30 to almost 8:30 tonight, grumpy all day, pissed off.
  • Puzzles, problems, concepts—these aren’t just dismissable “schoolwork.” These are also ideas not dealt with or taken seriously many other places—not in factories, for instance, not on sports teams, etc.
  • I show kids the big ideas, help them identify those, but let them fill in the details? Not bad idea.
  • Principal today was on me about grades—it’s just too much to do. I’m too busy, feeling run down, then that.
  • I was displeased with students, but realized mostly that was because I was feeling bad myself. My generalizations, as I’ve been thinking, are not valid.
  • Principal’s expectations (and by extension, the parents’ expectations of me) not meeting my own—a disconnect. He’s telling me a set of priorities, and getting grades into the computer is one of those priorities. Once again, it’s reinforced to me how important grades are to others, though they seem beside-the-point, an afterthought, to me. I forgot: grades are the currency of the system. My priorities are planning, and beyond that, planning thought-provoking activities. It’s just a reminder to me that that’s not a priority in the system. That’s how the system is, and once again I have to concede to the system. That’s the conflict of expectations. [Page 287-8, Wednesday evening, 26 March 2003, and Thurs. morning 27 March 2003]

Commentary in Trib today—English prof was criticizing other profs for not teaching grammar, mechanics, but rather being more open-ended in their teaching. I can’t defend what his targets did, but I considered that as possible criticism of what I’m doing in my classes. After all, I’m admittedly not teaching how to solve problems with formulae, etc. I’m not doing the standard physics class, and probably kids will leave class not knowing what some might think they “should know.” But I think I’ve thought about this enough to argue against that criticism.

First, that there are two approaches to teach: the rules of the system (any system), and empowering people to form their own rules and ideas (to not be tyrannical)—that is, the foundational split between what to think, and how to think. Students are entitled to their own perceptions and judgments. They might leave thinking I’m no good. I can’t do much about that, other than tell my side of the story.

Second, he’s accusing other profs of doing intentionally what they do. Lord knows I don’t intend to do everything that happens in class (“intend” as in logically think it out, reason for it, judge its pros and cons, etc.) and furthermore, I’m a new teacher, still feeling my own through things, this is my “rough draft year,” I’m trying out new things—that’s bound to be less comprehensive than others’ teaching, but I think it has its own benefits. Spontaneity—I told 1st hour the other day that I don’t plan ’til 7:30 before 8 a.m. class. That way, the teaching is fresh, not “day-old” (and I can’t plan as well the evening of the previous day—I’m too tired then, not mentally fresh).

Trib story on state test scores—I have so many objections, but mostly they are philosophical ones. A “letter to the editor” would not be the proper forum; only a full essay or book would be.

The strong, not always pleasant personalities of “geniuses” like Wittgenstein, Popper–so far removed from notions of “good teaching.” They didn’t need to be liked, so why am I worried about not tutoring for Mrs. T? Who cares if I say no, even if it pisses her off? Further, it’s interesting to me to see how both men (I’m reading Wittgenstein’s Poker) had neuroses and character flaws–they may not have even been “normal” like the people I meet everyday. They may have been truly odd, neurotic, not really healthy, not socially adapted. And I guess that surprises me because I must’ve thought (for much of my life) people are mostly singular, most people are basically like me. I’m not sure that’s a true or accurate assumption. People very often are very different. It’s truly hard to really understand another person. Journalists sketch a profile the best they can, but profiles are mostly inadequate.

In physics today, we talked about formal vs. intuitive knowledge. Formal knowledge is when one has to think things through, like learning Spanish. Intuitive knowledge is when one is fluent in Spanish, when it’s “second nature” to one. Doing any new skill vs. the unthinking proficiency of repeated use. You don’t think, you just do (as described in title essay of Breakfast at the Victory). Lecture-style physics is formal vs. seeing something first-hand, developing one’s own ideas. Is knowledge-becoming-intuitive how our brains can get used to operating in a world it sees upside down?

Telling students what to think is dead learning! Knowledge must be created anew, for each person, by each person, for it to be real. There are lots of ideas already thought and published, say, for example, in the history and philosophy of science. But I as a newcomer to science had never been exposed to these. I barely knew this was even a field of study! So I had to create from almost nothing, create anew for myself, because all these thoughts out there are all dead until they are explored and rediscovered by each new individual.

Why don’t these ideas get into the mainstream culture? It’s as if academia is where ideas go to die. Popular American culture, news, etc., is so vacant–so few ideas, generalized into meaninglessness and repeated ad nauseam. It’s like with the Trib article—it’s so establishment, siding with the politicians and the administrators. The press seems to take their side by accepting their terms and boundaries for the debate. It’d be hard for me to express my points as serious, legitimate points because I’m so far from that debate. Why does the press buy into the politicians’ terms and debates and perpetuate those? Why don’t they advocate for a new debate—or do you get marginalized, like I was as agriculture reporter at WILL. I asked about organics at the Farm Bureau and I questioned the National Corn Growers on labeling, but my norms were so far from theirs, their off-putting answers actually made my points.

No wonder the “public debate” (to what extent it exists at all) is so damn vapid, empty. Think of sources of info and discussion—TV, newspapers, Time magazine–each article is short, just a summary. You need length of article to spell out complete thinking. M says there’s no time given to most people to think now—speed of the workplace. Long boat trips, carriage rides gave more ruminating time? And there’s no time to think in school—thinking well takes time. No wonder adult discussion is so insipid—philosophy (not formal philosophy but the idea that there are ideas behind decisions, and not just self-interest) is almost absent from political and public discussions. This is a big idea—I’m bored with shallow reporting because there’s nothing there, no substance, all shorthand.

No wonder TV bores me–it is damn dumb! It felt dissatisfying, but I didn’t know why ’til just now. Actual thinking, good discussions are rich experiences. With TV, our minds are not being stimulated much.

Lack of time to think in school is one of my big frustrations now—time for me to think, and students, too. School schedule lacks unscheduled blocks of time to think. Creativity requires free time. Schools are essentially arbitrary the way they are set up to run—50-minute classes? Totally arbitrary, no relevance to learning (unless there’s some research on this?). But 90-minute classes are also an arbitrary choice, good for some subjects or topics but not for others.

So I’m not going to feel bad about taking all period for one topic! Or taking time for things—not every second has to be scheduled. [Page 136-40, Wednesday evening, 13 Nov. 2002]

That kind of message I keep telling myself: Random bits from Journal 30

Δ Nor have I, on a larger scale, achieved non-attachment to things. I could certainly live without almost everything that I own, excepting my journals. Sure, I know that if the journals were accidentally destroyed (knock on wood three times), my life would go on, but at this point, I still want them. They are becoming more valuable the further away I am from them in years—they remind me of who I was and what I did and thought and felt, and when I read them now, they inform my image of myself and affect my thoughts and choices now. I can learn from them now (and of course they served the purpose at the time of reflection, self-discovery, and meditation in the act of writing, but all those are practices, not things). [Page 133-4, Sat. 2 June 2001, 4 p.m., Journal 30]

Δ Monday morning—up early to write. Last night felt bad because once again it was Sunday night and I hadn’t gotten homework done—talked to Mom and she said I so often seem unhappy with my work (M said I’m under a unique set of stressors that my mom didn’t have when she started teaching—the emotional stressors of M’s illness, my dad’s death, etc). But then M said some really good stuff—I feel I’m not doing a good job teaching, but why do I feel it’s important to be a great teacher? What’s my motivation—better yet, what’s my reasoning, my programming—why do I tell myself it’s important? I didn’t think too long on this, but came up with: my self-image is as an Outsider, and so I feel I have to go into the system and reform everything—correct all the ills of the years. M said she’s learned through her illness that it’s important to love yourself no matter what (she said it a better way) — that I’m a good person no matter what kind of teacher I am.

It is very valuable to look at that kind of message I keep telling myself—my programming, as it were, built up over time, over the years. One other message I realized last night is “money–it’s good to save it,” which I did when I was in high school, but that was the last time I had a good sum in the bank, and so I have felt bad every time I think about how much we’re in debt or how much I spend on books, etc. Every time I ‘m telling myself I’m doing bad by not saving. Wow, what a powerful statement to make to myself. No wonder I’ve felt bad. So I have looked back on my senior year as the last time I really did something good financially–how silly is that? How many other things did I do optimally well at age 18? Very few.

It seems that I vacillate back and forth, especially with books: feeling an urge to buy (buying as entertainment) and then feeling bad for spending money, then soon enough the urge comes again. A few weeks ago I was trying to reform myself by not buying at all. I was living by the “saving is good” value and trying to live up to it. And saving is not bad, but I wonder if I can do this more consciously. I can accept myself and my situation as it is—and go from there. I don’t have to wait until I’m debt-free to be happy! Likewise (something else M said that’s very good idea) I don’t have to wait for anything to be happy! I don’t have to wait until I’m a good teacher, or in M’s case, until she’s eating better or until she’s well again. A good message: I can love myself right away and still change things, just not make the love contingent on the change.

It is interesting how, especially on the trip, how I would get excited about buying, looking forward to book shopping. I feel I should even things out—not look forward so much, accept things more. Like on Saturday: I went shopping, but what I needed was quiet time, and so I read and then bought only 3 books instead of 8. And maybe it’s OK–the books I bought can be a good investment for me, an investment in my career, etc. (It’s not a waste of money as long as I actually read them!) [Page 337-8, Monday morning, 11 Feb. 2002]

Δ Physics has been a bust lately. I don’t know where I want to get, so no wonder my classes are less than focused. I’ll make up the test first for the next unit so I know what to teach (even Arons says this–put it on your test to let kids know it’s important). I even said 6th hour that I want suggestions for how to help them learn problem solving, as Mom had said she has done with her classes—”Tell me why you don’t get this,” though more tactfully. Ashley H. and others said they get the notes but get stuck with homework at night. More practice, and it’s true, I haven’t done enough guided practice with them—weird, huh, how for fear of teaching them too lecture-style, I’ve ended up teaching little at all.

And I’m tired of the calculator games. I guess I can just ask them to put those away instead of me getting worked up about it.

And maybe more practice period will help. And maybe I put off review because I wanted review sheet to be perfect. Instead, just do something.

And I’m finally feeling better. Had bad cold almost two weeks now and of course my lessons were minimal—I was barely there myself. I would like some time off to prepare stuff, but when I do have time, last Thursday’s snow day and last weekend, I’m just recuperating–sleeping in, etc. Ah, well.

Funny I should feel so down on myself this evening. I actually had a pretty good day today, felt more mindful than in a while.  [Page 335-6, Monday evening, 4 Feb. 2002]

A gut-level understanding: More random bits from Journal 13

Tues. 3/5: Don’t recall what I did A.M., though it was probably screwing around and general mischief leading me away from the righteous path of homework. Philosophy class at 1, probably talked with J.T. in front of Foreign Lang building after. Went home, then to work [at Daily Illini student newspaper] — M.C. wanted me to slot [on the copy-editing desk] for him so he could do interviews. … So I slotted 5:30–8, when R.E. took over slotting and I helped J.B., who was going nuts at Night Editor desk trying to coordinate pagination and design his own double truck page. So I took over, imposed order on the chaos, sent wire [stories], got in control while J.B. designed. But K.K. didn’t get his first page to us ’til 8 p.m., when I know I had sent all he needed by 6:30. He was apparently tied up interviewing some senate candidate who arrived early. … I left at about 9:15. Went home, read assignments for Weds., wrote, watched some MST3K, finished at about 3 a.m. or so. Then tried to read Chinese poetry for Comp. Lit. class, but skimmed then without gleaning or retaining much meaning, so went to bed. [Page 119-20, Written 10 March 1996]

3/8–write a detailed history of this last week. High school bedtimes–and now. After today, I feel almost done with school, though I do plan to do homework this week. Car hassles–not worth owning one, too much trouble to me. … Teaching story writing–I’d like to do that. … Start with writing an idea, but you have to let it go. All these things I heard but they never hit me in a gut-level understanding (it was always just intellectual understanding) until recently. [Page 95, 8 March 1996]

It’s neat that [my brother] N and I have gotten the chance to work together (or “togezzer,” as the old German R would say). We have different senses of humor, which leads to misunderstandings and snappiness. I’ll say something, and he’ll snap at me. I think I underestimate a lot of people — I’ll say what to do next. But N is smarter than a lot people, and he usually has already thought of what I say when I say it. It’s neat to work with him, we’ve had some good times. But I think it’s good we don’t work together all the time. As Mom said, we’re very different people. [Page 3-4, 27 Dec. 1995, late night, home post-Petro]

Dad said a relationship is two people who are looking for same thing at same time. [Page 11, 16 Jan. 1996]

Girls stopping me for directions offered to give me a ride. “We won’t kidnap you or nothin.” [Page 11, 17 Jan. 1996]

It’s not that I derive my worth from another’s opinion, but that I’m no good at even getting the other’s attention. I’m generally happy on my own, which in itself is an eerie trait. No, I most likely will meet another woman at some point in my life, but still—what the f__ is wrong (or overly right, in the case of intimidation) with me now? [Page 58-9, Saturday night, 3 Feb. 1996]

Sound bites—ideas are gonna be dumb if you only have seconds to explain. [Page 83, Wednesday night, 21 Feb. 1996]

Kendallville, Indiana Days Inn. Looking at this one way, it is kinda exciting to be on the road, staying in hotels, headed to a new city. But I’m so apprehensive—I wish somebody was with me tonight—namely, my M. It would be so nice, so comforting if she were here now. I wouldn’t have been so road-weary, time would’ve gone quicker, I would have a companion. (Though I’m almost glad she wasn’t with me when I was so stressed and frustrated around Chicago—I couldn’t escape the people! I finally got going on Route 6 and made good time—though twilight and after, I was a little dazed, less alert—dim, ill-focused headlights and my tired eyes. I drove from 2 to 9:20 but only got about 150 miles from M’s house!  [Page 173, 24 May 1996, 10:20 p.m.]

When (and if) M and I kiss, I want to put my right arm around her back and feel her body, her presence, her back—that’s my image, anyway. So what’s gonna happen? Write letters? Visit each other? She will apparently be in C-U next year again, though I don’t much want to be. This summer I’m in Pennsylvania, after that, pretty much anywhere but Illinois. But maybe … long weekends—who knows? That’s really all I can say—who knows. If we are a good match, I think it’ll work out. Else, no. Who knows? [Page 153, Saturday evening, 13 April 1996, Petro]

We can’t be any more than friends: Random bits from Journal 13

At Copy-Editing Camp. PHILADELPHIA, Pa.–Temple University, New Residence Hall on Broad Street, Room 213A. Not a whole lot to say yet. I already wrote about the bad neighborhood and the security measures of this building. Felt a little dazed most of the afternoon. Made it into the city; I didn’t feel all that stressed, but I must’ve been because of the sweat was pouring out of my armpits. I think that took its toll, because I felt a little dazed, just out of it, the rest of the evening. We took three cars to dinner at Chili’s, and as I am the only one [of the students] who drove here, I drove my car with 3 people in it–Marilyn, Annette, and Robb, so it was tight in there. Then on the way back, My-Linh got lost and made me run red lights to follow her, so I didn’t much like that. But for my first bit of city driving, not bad. Marilyn, who’s from NYC–Queens–said she respected my ability to keep up with My-Linh–not an easy task. It really wasn’t too bad. I was concentrating on not losing My-Linh so much that I didn’t think about “Driving in the City.” Near Temple, it’s not good. Marilyn once pointed to a corner and said, “There’s a good place for a crime.” [Page 178, Sunday, 26 May 1996]

The ideas I had last weekend about motion and my friend S--cars and their coming into contact, which is not prevented by anything in nature. There is nothing, no laws in nature, that says these two cars can’t touch–no concrete barrier–yet we come at each other at 60 miles an hour and come within a foot or two–mere inches–and expect to never crash. Like I wrote last week, it wasn’t only drunk driving that killed S, it’s motion–change, the change made possible by time. The fact that we can change (position) in a moment allows for motion, and two objects in motion toward each other, intent on occupying the same physical location at the same time–this is deadly. [Page 105-6, Sat. 9 March 1996, at Petro]

The four of us roommates–we all have very specific relationships with each other. How DK said middle-aged businessmen are dispassionate, resigned to jobs they don’t care about. [Page 62, 6 Feb. 1996, night]

C did say tonight that she had never thought I would feel rejected. She thought my problem is that I never had a girl-friend before–not so. I’m just not sure where our intimacy is, what my motivation is to care about her. Last week, after Sunday, was cool because we were just casual friends. I was over her, but then Saturday, she called twice and came over and told me she loved me, etc. She did say she wasn’t sure why she did stuff like that. I wonder if she isn’t somehow attracted–but she later said that she just feels like telling people (including me) how she feels about them, whether that’s selfish or not. So I’m still learning about myself her, though this. … She’s always saying how well I know her–well, maybe, but I’ve never felt she knows me, even though she did say today that she felt from me that I would like to be friends in my heart but my head said no–true to a point. [Page 26, 22 January 1996]

In January, I told C that I had felt rejected when she said she didn’t want me to have any “ulterior motives” and then when she started up with another guy … She seemed to not understand that I would feel that way. Here’s my hypothesis: she wasn’t telling me I was a bad person, but that I wasn’t the perfect person for her—I didn’t fit her standard of the ideal man. But I felt bad–and, no, I didn’t feel that I was a bad person, but I wanted her—her company, her whatever it is that we say we want when we say we “want” somebody. The thing is that I valued her judgment–I had adopted her standards and value system as my own. OK, so maybe this isn’t what I felt–I felt her loss, the end of something, a death, an end. But the idea that I am trying to describe tonight is different—how you take on the other’s value system (in a Sartrean sense) and so when the other refuses us, we mistake her personal ideal, which is not an External Standard, with some permanent value system–that because I don’t match her personal idea, that I am truly a bad person in an objective sense. [Page 125, 14 March 1996, 10:20 p.m. Petro]

I don’t want long-distant relationship—I want a full relationship of touching, sharing, talking—being together. M is a neat person–one of the prettiest, hottest women I’ve ever known, smart, ambitious, funny, up-beat–it will a long time before I will meet anyone like her again. But we can’t be any more than friends–having not even kissed, I don’t think we will or can–that would introduce too much. I mean, we could kiss, but that would be hurried and shallow. Then again, not to attribute our weird vibe tonight to such cosmic unfairness as our short time together. She may have been cooler towards me tonight, somewhat less sympathetic, less excited, because of a basic dousing of whatever spark was there. I don’t know why–hell, if I did … [Page 157, Monday night, 15 April 1996]

Stories are timeless but minds are time: Randomly editing journals

Stories are how we pull our experiences out of time. Stories are how we carry experience forward. Stories are how we get experiences out of time.

Of course, there’s memory, too, for carrying forward experience (though without communicating it), and stories, too, are a form of memory–efficient memory. If I’ve made a story from or out of a momentary experience, then that story sometimes replaces (or almost replaces) the sensory memory. When I talk about the 1998 earthquake experience I had–“cat going left, house going right,” that’s the key line in my story–I only vaguely recall that moment of the earthquake, as I was half-asleep, just waking up. Now I can also recall the light fixture hanging from ceiling doing the penduluming for minutes after, and perhaps recalling the story helps recall the pendulum image-memory, but that’s a snippet at best, a couple seconds of seeing a light fixture, whose shape I don’t recall and though it was in a dining room next to the room I slept in, I don’t recall much else of context of the walls or house, etc.

I have these memories, and memory works associatively– there’s no index of memories, but one might help recall another. Associative memory makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint: if you find yourself in a new situation, or in any particular situation, you’ll probably think of past experiences of being in similar situations, and what worked then might work now. And the more situations I’ve been in, the more I can call from–once I lost my dad, I felt I could then relate better to other grieving people.

Story is useful when it carries experience forward–when it plucks experience out of the particular and abstracts it into words. And yet, there’s also a sense that we carry these experiences forward and they shape how we have new experiences (like the heads-up display on the Army helicopter I looked into a couple days ago at Dixon veterans’ park), and to an extent, this stories-up view/perspective of new experience can be useful–reminding myself to stay out of deep grass because ticks might be there. But it also might be limiting. I might look only for particular things on my walk–Where’s the road edge? Are cars coming? Look out for other dogs or critters my dog might want to chase–and I don’t really notice the sky. No, it’s not efficient for my mind to record everything. But I also don’t want to have a mind that merely sees and spits out prior experiences.

I’m thinking of how many allusions I make, and how I noticed this in recent weeks when talking to neighborhood kids, realizing that those young people don’t know what I know. So an allusive writer like Tom Eliot is both a pinnacle of education and also kind of a dead end–he knows a lot; he knows too much to look anew. Not to pick on Tommy Stearns Eliot–lots of media is referential or cliché, (another form of mind-trapped-by-experience, not “trapped,” but “boxed in,” because escape is possible–so I want to assert).

Some stories (such as fairy tales) are traditional in their structure, and some other stories are nontraditional–they don’t make a direct characterization or draw obvious lessons but show moments and let readers draw the conclusions about characters or moral statements about the world. But with my random editing of journals, I’m not really doing either. With the random-selection process, I have not chosen pieces so as to present evidence about character or worldview–I mean, partly I imply this–that what I said on one day may not be what I say on another day, though surely some beliefs or character traits might seem to carry over across time.

In a way, it’s nice or at least OK that I don’t have journals from my childhood–it prevents the attempt to connect childhood tendencies or experiences to adult perspectives, as if we were shaped entirely by our young years. We’re shaped all life long by experiences! The phrase “formative years,” meaning childhood and adolescence, implies that we’re fully formed as adults–but I have kept learning. I don’t deny, of course, that some early experiences are perhaps of disproportionate influence–building the foundations of my mind, of my mind’s heads-up way of seeing and getting by/operating in the world–but I’m hardly “formed” by age 22 or 30 or 45.

Lately I’ve thought of my journal writings as me writing to myself, not to others, and I’ve thought of them as me working out/analyzing, brainstorming–trying to understand my own life and experiences.

Sometimes it can be entertaining just to see how a certain mind will react–like wanting to know person X’s take on event H. Comedians–Robin Williams, say, it’s fun to see what he would do with an idea, or Chris Rock, or, of course, Steve Colbert and Seth Meyers, they have reactions to news every weeknight. My wife, M, says she likes that I still surprise her, and I like her funny comments, too. That is part of liking a person, liking spending time with a person, no? You like hearing what their reactions are; you like listening to how their minds work.

Is there an M style in everything she does? Well, yes and no: no, in that it’s not like she’s peculiar (having traits or habits a comedic impressionist might use) in everything she does, but what she does, she does as M, as herself. She’s gotta use the body and mind she’s got in order to do whatever given task. We do whatever we do as (while being) the people that we are at that time.

My earlier idea was that there’s traditional stories, nontraditional stories, and then my random journal bits. But what are those random bits of journal? They’re not telling an important (because to write or tell a story is to assert its importance/value) story, as trad stories do, and the journals are not merely pointing out possibilities in story structure, as nontrad/experimental stories do, though the journal random edits build on these both. I have been taking anecdotes and complete statements from the randomly selected pages, but there’s been no overall, overarching message, and maybe that’s the key: maybe what my random edit technique asserts is that there is no overarching meaning. There’s no plan or structure to life (beyond what one creates, anyway).

When I’m looking at a whole book of comic strips (like Calvin and Hobbes) or poems (the Collected Poetry of [Anybody]), it seems a bit intimidating–and there’s a sense of one after another, an endless procession of days. And so I don’t usually try to read all of a poems book–that ain’t the point! The point is to be woken up. It’s OK to sample, start anywhere, end anywhere. Each piece of the larger collection is self-contained.

With long stories, you learn (and/or are trapped) in the larger structure– the world of the longer story (fiction or nonfiction), and these longer stories must be fashioned–they can’t be written all at once, so they must be planned out, outlined–and that’s not how anyone lives, and it’s not how ideas really appear/occur. Ideas appear in my mind all-at-once, whole images or sentences, and my journal writings reflect that.

There’s an idea that there’s value in longer texts because they force one (as a writer) to organize one’s thinking. There could be a bias in the culture toward organized thought–it’s simpler for readers to swallow. When I’m mind-tired, I don’t want to wrestle with unfamiliar (experimental-structure) texts. On other hand, short is good, too, when I’m tired.

So what I’m doing is figuring out my experiences each journaling session. My journal is about figuring out my recent experiences, processing them, perhaps learning from them, and so a journal reflects (maybe doesn’t fully capture, but at least reflects) my mind, the current level of training of my mind each day. “Training” there is used broadly–whatever media I took in yesterday may be a kind of training, well, a small part of the training. I guess the way I’m using “training” here is similar to how I’ve used the term “sensibility” before–the current status of one’s mind, the way in which you’d respond to the world today, how you’d create today, even as I have created this journal text today and continue to create it at this moment.

Each new idea is born whole and born of my mind at its current training. A mind is new all the time. I’m a different mind later today than I am now. Hell, I’m a different mind now than I was when I started this day’s journal. What journals allow us to do is see the mind at various changes/states/shapes/versions, different versions of the mind. Each moment is whole but/and unique, like snapshots of a kaleidoscope.

Time is consciousness. A moment of time is (or might as well be considered) an idea–it’s only by changing thoughts that I know time is changing. A story allows one to condense time and preserve a version of an experience across time, pulling ideas out of time. This makes stories seem timeless–which allows us to see the common human experience Iliad characters have — how their experiences weren’t so different from ours 3,000 years later.

But no one can live in a timeless story (as I once kinda thought I could) because we live in time! We also are not aligned in our daily living with plots and themes. We live not just key scenes but we live all the conscious moments of a day! And that’s what the journals (written in real time for a portion, not a whole, of each day) reflect.

[Edited from Friday, 28 June 2019 journal.]

Watching is better than asking sometimes: Random bits of Journal 16

Changing my mind about jobs from hour to hour. [Page 31, Thursday night-early Friday, 26 June 1996]

Was going to sit in the Bull Run on a quiet Monday night, just have a beer and write. No such doings–the place was packed, with Bucknellians, I guess. Looked at the map for over an hour tonight. It’s easy to do when I have other things I could be doing. Well, anyway, I looked at the map of Illinois compared to maps of eastern states. Lots of straight lines in Illinois–square roads. Small areas of metropolitan yellow separated by vast safe distances of white. Out here yellow is splashed all over the place (Connecticut, NYC) and all the lines–roads, county borders, park limits, etc.–are all curvy and jagged. And I was thinking about going back to Illinois and remembering what I didn’t like about Illinois. You can see the towns–here, you can’t–that’s true, but you can see all the town, take it in at once glance. There’s no hills, hardly anywhere. Pennsylvania is pretty, that’s for shore. There’s hills. I like hills, mountains, even these ridge-hills here. They’re pretty. ‘Course, there are other reasons I’m going back to Illinois, Darling ranking first among them. And culturally, Urbana is right there. [Page 64-5, Mon. night, 12 August 1996, 11-ish, Towne Tavern]

The [magazine] story isn’t new or fresh when it gets to the reader (who also reads it in solitude). It’s just a piece of text (filler, essentially) that goes in this month’s issue, and then there’ll be more copy to replace it in next month’s–there must be! For there must be another magazine next month to print the ads and make the money and keep the jobs and make the owners wealthy. This is the real significance of the story, of any story–copy. Text. Filler. It may mean something to the reader, it may change his mind or inform him, etc., but to the writers and editors and production people, it’s just copy. Sure, they love it when a story sparks controversy or elicits a reader’s letter, but they like that not so much for the intellectual-leadership function , the “bringing truth to the people,” as much as it is because it generates interest that increases sales and, eventually, ad revenue. God, this sounds cynical. But if magazines were really about teaching and ideas and publishing ideas and informing the public, they likely wouldn’t publish on a regular schedule. They would publish only when they had a story that they felt must be published, a story whose publication would benefit the public good.  [Page 174-5, Tues. 14 Jan. 1997, at Perkins restaurant]

The older guy–50s–facing me from the next booth smiled and shrugged when those two guys left without paying. We all heard their situation–they said, with kind of an honest but slightly edgy tone–that they didn’t want to be rude. The black-haired guy sitting right behind me said to his buddy when he got here that he liked the atmosphere here. Wonder what he thinks now? The older guy smoking Salems–I wondered why he was sitting in the smoking section. Didn’t like like a smoker, seemed kindly but had a corporate moral-ambivalence to him. He told the manager and bus-fellow that the pair went back to the kitchen and around the side but couldn’t find anybody [to give their money to]. The manager said they could have just left their money on the table, but I thought, what if they only had a $20 and their bill was much less? I wouldn’t just leave my credit card (which is how I have to pay, having no cash ’til later this week). [Page 185, Tues. 14 Jan. 1997, at Perkins restaurant]

Weekday mornings here in town–sleepy, yet overtones of work, not entirely comfortable. The straight-walled old houses, two-stories, brick, rectangular homes. Guy in the little house next door was without kids this weekend, unlike last weekend when he brought them here and they played on the dirt pile. Watching is better than asking sometimes, like this kid setting up his household in the lawn. It’s probably just a yard sale but it’s more fun if I make the story up. [Page 10, 15 June 1996]

Explain you to you: Random bits from Journal 265

Saw: (1) Over summer saw squat buildings at Superior, Wisconsin–not sure why that’s on my mind. (2) Saw big pile of cheese on my rice–the last of the zipping plastic bag. (3) Zipping bag whose zipper had broken, and I used a twist tie to keep it shut. (4) I moved green beans from freezer to fridge to thaw for dog dinner tonight. (5) I saw all the dog’s carroty poops, as I tried to pick them up in the zipping bag. Might as well use that bag first because [as a former cheese bag] it’s likely to smell good to pets and they’d pull it out of the pocket of my [dog-walking] vest. [Page 49, Mon. 25 Sept. 2017, 3rd hour]

Did: (3) I like the idea that I’m writing (in my journals) some of what happens between the stories one tells. Saw: (1) [A woman teacher] tell some girl in hallway before 7-8 period that her shirt was inappropriately sheer–and of course I don’t know how the teacher was made aware of this. [Page 165, 31 Oct. 2017, 10th hour]

What else would you describe to someone who hadn’t done it–for example, eating a Snickers? Let’s think about this hypothetical other–someone who really is limited–or, maybe the real (likely) audience is people who already know what it’s like to eat Snickers and you want to impress them with your cleverness or make some philosophical point about comparisons, or about real, lived experience. [Page 71, Thurs. 28 Sept. 2017, 10th hour]

Invisible–like a freshman boy at a dance! Ha, you still may be a little bitter about that, eh? You don’t need to be bitter. There were reasons why you didn’t ever date much–namely, you didn’t want to. [Page 88, Tues. 3 October 2017, 10th hour]

Part of nonfiction writing is getting to know yourself and expressing that–figuring out who you are as a person, as a writer. … An essay defined as your thinking on paper–but unlike an assigned topic, where do ideas come from? From who you are, what you’re interested in, how you see the world. I wanna suggest to you that getting through to yourself is a life-long process. Getting to know yourself may take years, decades. I know myself better now than I did five years ago–and this isn’t just therapy. Knowing what I want to do has changed what I write, well, or at least what I want and try to publish. OK, so, today, write who you are–a self-definition. What interests you? What parts of your life do you enjoy more than others? Write a who I am nonfiction. Now, go question yourself. Why do you like each of these? Why do you say that? Explain you to you. [Page 23-5, 20 Sept. 2017, 7-8 period]

Today’s journaling topic: How’d you get home without using roads or bike path? I’d leave school campus walking northwest … I’d walk from field to field (if there were, say, some kind of military invasion?) … bearing west, and I’d go through the woods there … and  (at 3 miles/hour, 24 miles would be an 8-hour trip!) I’d eventually get to creeks–ford them. Rock River at Byron–I’d take train trestle over–or if not that, a canoe? Or a log? I’d be fearful of the currents. Maybe they wouldn’t be too bad. But what I’m thinking is that there are too many variables–I mean, why would I be doing this without roads? I’m a fugitive? Cars don’t work? Three are foreign invaders? So, would I want to travel without being seen? At night only? Would they be tracking me–in which case, use the creeks, staying away from mean dogs at farm houses. What time of year–iced-over river? Are crops harvested? How badly do I need to get home–or would I meet up elsewhere? How communicate? How important is my escape? Am I a spy? Or could I just die? [Page 57, Tues. 26 Sept. 2017, 3rd hour]

Drawing from page 125 of Journal 265

Verbing nouns. Then you’d have to say there’s a common judgment–like if you say, “you really did that like a freshman would–you freshman’d that quiz,” you’re implying connotation–though I don’t know if “to friend” something connotes. [Page 126, Mon. 16 October 2017, 10th hour]

I read [in a local businessman’s autobiography] his list of things that seem good to have–family, business, lake house–but I don’t get a sense of why he liked any of these, other than that he was proud to have them. Why’d he have a Wisconsin farm, anyway? It’d be a pain to truck equipment there. Was there some tax break or something? It’s as if the world beyond business were invisible to him–and maybe it was. He went to sports events–that’s about it? I mean … I guess I gotta go–Justin’s under his desk with leg screw out. [Page 105-6, Tues. 10 Oct. 2017, 3rd hour]

[Random technique, in contrast to the technique used here, was that the first and last pages of writing in this journal were entered as the range into a random number generator, and the generated numbers were page numbers I looked up.]