Saturday, July 28, 2007

ok folks, here you go. a story, number nine in the series: The Juggler...enjoy! comments welcome as usual.

it's steamy, sauna, swirling hot-tub kind of weather, the kind of stuff one tolerates, or enjoys, if one is truly sick. I myself can barely drag myself out the door, and probably won't, for as long as I can resist. but, it turns dry soon, then, turns fall, maybe about october. can't wait.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

cleaned out the truck this afternoon, in the blazing heat: old water bottles, blankets & tarps, a post-hole digger, old parking maps and insurance cards; and a fine, handmade, yarn-and-stick creation, that hung from the rearview mirror. peeled old grocery stickers from the glove box. old recyclable plastic bags, phone books that never made it to the recycling: the truck has no brakes, so it's not going anywhere for the time being, and i'm not dedicated enough to try to jam this stuff into the car for the next time i might make it by the recycling place. i'm hoping someone will look at this forty-year-old truck, in its plain, solid steel and simple essence, and say that this truck needs to be occupied, loved, used, put back out there into the mix. taking this stuff out of it is more than just cleaning, moving, preparing for title transfer, etc. it's actually working with the symbolic nature- what does the truck mean to me, what does the stick-and-yarn, delicate, hanging creation do for me, what will i do with it now.

at 1:30 am, after getting angry about some rank plagiarism that tends to color my grading like dog poop colors a mouthful of grass, i'm now left with the last remaining chore: getting the stuff out of the trunk of the car, so that, if my wife were to actually want to use that trunk, she could. the post-hole digger, maybe one of the most important. i like to say i have a phd, even though i haven't dug a post in years. but the other is the yarn-and-stick. made by a son at camp- it's delicate, balanced, steady. like a promise, a memory, a bond- it will be protected.

Monday, July 23, 2007

just returned from a family trip to the loo (st. louis)- a familiar town, yet one which i hardly know, or hardly have explored. went to the science museum (for a superheroes exhibit, for the 5-yr.-old)- went to the zoo (for the 2-yr-old)...high points included the following: check-engine light came on before leaving, so we rented a pt cruiser- having already bought tickets, looked forward to short vacation, etc. various excitement about science center's exhibits, including angry hulk, styrofoam spaceship at planetarium, huge yet delicate ball-rolling mechanism....sometimes i, as a very large kid, need to be reminded of the magical harmony of science as it can be presented, tactilely and visually. at the zoo, the usual disconnect between the difficulty of seeing proud, sentient beings in captivity, yet at the same time the connection between children in particular, and the natural world- their awareness that these animals are real, and so different. they make an impression. the hippos in the water; the pacing lion, the polar bear and the monkeys, perhaps more than most. we got worn out and everyone is sleeping well except for me, jacked up on coffee trying to finish preparing for the upcoming week. i'm grateful, though, to get a break; to get away; to spend some intensive time really watching and being with the little guys, doing something just for them. life is going by quickly, they're learning stuff and talking about it, and, if my mind is elsewhere as it tends to be under these stressful circumstances, i might miss it. in the hotel pool, the 5-yr.-old learns to swim. in the car, the 2-yr.-old sings new songs, uses clever words to get under the skin of his brother. stages of development, milestones pass like road-markers. the loo- as good a setting as any, with its arch, its hill, its old brick row-houses, some elegant and well-taken care of, and we saw the hill (italian restaurant neighborhood) for the first time. much of the town, we haven't really seen, in spite of my being here thirteen years now. but there's always time for a change, room to learn. i give credit to my wife- the organizer- leaving it up to me, it would have been another weekend at home, grading papers, trying to catch up on laundry.

and, some decent weather, for at least part of the weekend- dry, warm, pleasant, summery. a bloom on everything in sight...saw a lot of corn, busting out in tassels, reaching for the sky, taking in the iowish sun. wondering, though, if the ethanol is behind the check-engine business...

it's back to the grind, the large stacks of papers, googled together in some cases, like a pick-up-sticks game with phrases- i've stared putting my thoughts here, and don't offer a link to it on my work weblog, because it's not really for every student to read. it's not secret, though. i wonder what to do. writing about it helps.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

sending big noah off to new york for a week, to be with his aunt margot, take in the sights, hear some music. he's ready. being fifteen, hanging around home being surly and monopolizing the computer has grown old. he's actually pleasant, but has lost enthusiasm for much in the world except a certain video game and a certain girl in st. louis. who knows. maybe new york will turn up some surprises.

truck is in danger; its brakes gave out, and we are actually considering just living without it. simplify. the only problem is, it represents a deep kind of out there spirit that i'd have trouble letting go of. it's kind of a turtlish, shell on its back kind of homely 60's thing, but it doesn't stop these days. that's not good for inspiring confidence, that and driving around on no sleep.

the pressure is on, with many many writing students, many many essays (many of which will appear on students' weblogs, on the left of this class weblog)...much much slogging, bad, bad grammar, and i'm kind of interested in a couple of tendencies, one of which is to plagiarize in many interesting ways, which you will read about i'm sure if you stay up on the work side of my weblogs. but the other is what i call, any port in a spell-check storm. this refers to the tendency of students to make a stab at a word like 'sibling' and have spell-check change it into a similar but very different word like "sapling"...not once but many times. in-between variants (sabling, sipling) don't make it because they aren't words. i could call this weblog out their.

it's not funny. i'm exhausted. time for bed. in the morning i'll drag myself out of bed, start all over again, read essays on things like scotland and japan's population crises, and think, that's ironic...wasn't it my own ancestors, who were forced out of scotland, back when it was too crowded, a few hundred years back. run out of there, sent over to northern ireland, then run out of there too to the hills of western pennsylvania- these were wallaces, proud scots. would be embarrassed to find that today scots won't even vote for their own independence, or rather, maybe there aren't enough of them. who knows. i'm generations away from the situation now, and the closest i'll get, is a paper that says, basically, get everyone to have more kids. it's all a matter of perspective, i guess. which, after so many papers, i'm afraid i've begun to lose. sorry about lack-of-sentence. off to bed.

Friday, July 13, 2007

picture break
summer of 2007

the gig at the mix (referred to below) has been cancelled, due to personal crisis of bandleader; hopefully the band will be back on its feet soon.

in other music news, i tracked down an obscure band that gave me chills one summer day, in the late seventies/early eighties, at the winnipeg folk festival...called matante alys, they were a quebecois band with accordion and in french style using the voice as an effective instrument, singing maybe old acadien folk music or french folk/rock. since i heard them, i've been unable to find any trace- on amazon, ebay, or any music catalog- though i'd only been looking these last few years- and, perhaps they never made a cd. perhaps i'd spelled it wrong- but what you see at the link is a record now- a record that they at least existed, late seventies/early eighties, that they were from sherbrooke- that i was right.

the other band that gave me chills that summer was tannahill weavers, a scottish bagpipe band that really rocked. i'm talking about the feeling one gets when one's bones are stirred by music that touches a heritage one didn't know one had. i still don't know what kind of quebecois/french heritage would be in my bones, but the scottish lineage is at least a little more clear, me being a wallace and all. a lot of old british isles music gives me that feeling- but every once in a while a zydeco fiddler will do the same. as a musician that's something i'd like to do for someone sometime- that, if they weren't aware before they heard it- maybe they could hear something that would make them aware of times before their lifetime even....times in a faraway land, music that can connect us, way out here, to a wider world. music that stops you in your tracks.

i thank those quebecois lads. je me souvien...

Thursday, July 12, 2007

i generally park in the first spot coming around the bend toward the pulliam clocktower, under some huge oaks and angular-diagonal away from the pool attached to the pulliam building, where i swim every day. this spot, being right up against the drive and all, is probably why i got my blue sticker stolen, but i still park there- it gives me an interesting choice. walk up the steps and under the clocktower itself, past the 'so enter' engraving imploring me to be useful to mankind- down the long walk toward the japanese garden. if i go the other way, though, i pass the glass blowers, the welders, and the potter's kiln, a forgotten pine grove that smells good in the little cove made by the pool addition and the walkway away from the clocktower.

one reason i mention it is that this little walk is the best peace & quiet i've got these days; lost most of my swims; and life being what it is i have to wonder when i'll get a few of those moments back. but down by the japanese garden, an interesting split happens. the garden itself, and the coal research building, is very properly cared for by the university grounds crew, with lots of interesting flowers put just so and weeded regularly. but there is also a chain-link fence and the construction grounds, for the renovation of the new library, starts right there at the walkway up past the garden and into my building. and those construction guys chained off way more space than they needed; put some concrete pilings in piles here and there, and then were unable to keep up with the mowing. in short, it's turned into wild space- tall weeds growing up in the cracks of unused sidewalks; grasses gone to seed, coming out from the pilings; foot-high in places where it couldn't be reached by a mower anyway.

so it comes to be occupied by the truly wild elements of the natural world- bugs, snakes, critters- long ago run out of other areas, both on campus and in town, where there is a steady elimination of such wild corners. the weather has been stunning, clear, dry, wonderful, though i have but a few minutes outside- but i have noticed, that patches of true wildflowers, with a kind of muted but glorious splay of color- are really becoming popular all over town. these wild patches are planted intentionally- now seen as pretty, which they are- popular maybe because they give a sense of the true natural beauty an area like this once had, when the tall-grass prairie started here and spread out to the west.

saw a snake once on that pathway, back when they still had barracks, the very same barracks where cesl started out. that snake liked the stone wall that holds up the sculpture garden, i figure. the other day a huge tree had fallen over the sidewalk, blocking the path, but this is building & grounds territory- they had it chainsawed and put in a pile by the end of the day. the brush is still sitting there- waiting for a truck to make it up the path to haul it away. as i walk, i see the wild things, making their tiny adjustments- noticing that, once again, there's another place that people, for all their effort, have trouble controlling.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

i try to leave a little time for blogging or writing every night. some nights i tip over and fall asleep, or fall asleep right at the keyboard. or fall deeply asleep while trying to put the 5-year-old to bed. he's a cute little fellow, but when he starts fading it's all i can do to stay awake.

a gruelling schedule includes 4 1/2-hr teaching marathons, batches of 30 high-level, medium-quality papers, on top of routine stuff like supervising, dealing with a blind student who has trouble with blogs, and pressure to attend social events. let's just say the needle has gone way past "don't have a life" and 'can't do laundry or car maintenance" to "getting angry about being unable to carry on routine conversations for lack of time" which is on the threshold of "feeling like i might be endangering kids' lives driving them around town on so little sleep"...this is my view of dante's circles.

let's just say, some really cool blogging ideas and other projects are being shelved for the moment: including, organization of folk tales on the web; cesl history archiving, pictures of old faculty to keep memories alive; travel stories; krashen project; language as a self-organized system project; cleaning out garage; bicycle repair; wal-mart stories; and a few others.

the above list shows that i am somewhat overextended anyway, having bitten off far more than i could have chewed, even with time for a life, and only a view of the circles. but, at least naming them keeps the dreams alive.

my son now has quite a collection of reviews in the daily egyptian; i am slowly becoming educated about the movies i'm not seeing, cd's i don't have time to listen to. i'm very proud of him, though he's backing off from review-writing as a career, and journalism in general- he now at least has a collection, some of them in the paper, all of them good, and they reflect his personality and range of tastes. i have to say that, as much as i enjoy the media and writing as a hobby, i haven't gone as far as this, even though i also passed through journalism as a major at one stage of my life. so i am now living vicariously, to some degree, watching him pursue this, though knowing he probably won't stay in it. and encouraging him to save them all (don't know if he will) for a scrapbook or portfolio. and watching him get nervous about an upcoming semester in france, where he'll have to stew about his major conundrum (it's a major conundrum, trying to figure out what major one should take)...

his younger brother, 15, returned from camp w/ gf - w00t w00t...if you know what i'm talking about, or can guess, i congratulate you on a remarkable ability to surf the cultural tides. the five year old is into superheroes, which the two-year-old calls, soo-da-man. has a ring to it. finally, i'm due in court, early monday morning, to testify in a theft case. involves a blue parking sticker. i may be bound not to reveal too much- i probably already have, so i'll hang it up for the night. bless you all, my faithful readers, if you've got this far- a good summer 2-ya.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

a humbling experience, the opportunity to take a five-year-old out, lie down on the pavement, at the very same arena parking lot that has been featured in this weblog, and have fireworks blown off literally above us, all of them exploding, colorful ashes raining down near us. gratefully, no one hurt, except a girl playing with sparklers, and a baby too young to take the loud booms. the five-year-old didn't mind the booms, but was bothered by the hissing snakes. the parking lot was wet, not too crowded; i didn't know a soul there, in spite of the fact that this is a very small town. maybe my crowd was up on some hill, better prepared or something, while i was in the lowland pavement area, or something, i don't know. we got sore backs from being propped on the pavement. he saw it for the first time; having an artistic temperament, I'm sure he was impressed. I had to admit they were very pretty, and dramatic. a wind came and blew the acrid burnt gunpowder smell straight off the lot, left us with a fresh night. earlier, we'd been to the sunset concert, where there was also little traffic; a kind of cover band, playing oldies, which was pleasant, and corey dancing, what a sweetie. a kind of victory dance, on my part, maybe, that i made it to thursday, that i found a place, between the speakers, where we were comfortable and enjoyed it, and that, later, they were able to splash around and get wet- usually, any water in july, at all, is mosquito-infested, tepid, gooey- but this, fresh from a couple of downpours, still standing, making pools at the base of the slides- it gave the kids something to work on, and it was fresh, cool, unsullied by the wood-chips that line the children's playground, at 'turtle park'- the site of the concert. i did manage to stay home for the entire holiday itself- it's a national holiday, they made it one a couple-a-hundred years ago, but you'd never know it at work. I'm getting more solemn about it though. don't mess with labor day either, not to mention thanksgiving. i'll work these days if i go abroad, but i'm not abroad, and i have no such plans at the moment. and, by the way, the fourth needs a few more symbols, the flag and the gunpowder are wearing thin, though i'm warming up to the barbeque. here are some more possibilities: blues & bluegrass, true american contributions. liberty bells. philadelphia cream cheese. folk festivals. karaoke contests. i'll think of more, give me time. a little downpour or two clears the air, opens up the world to new possibilities, and, washes away some of the acrid dust of the settled in, ground up bitterness, residue of what's rubbed off, when one's back is pushed to the wall, another summer screeches its tires, kicks up some gravel, and heads off into the sunset.

Monday, July 02, 2007

got a stunning day today, unusual for this time of year, which is usually steamy, sticky, unpleasant. today was warm, dry & clear, and we went immediately to the lake & spent the morning there. i'd spent the night before, 8 pm-4am, picking up some nice young taiwanese kids from the airport in st louis, driving them home and checking them in to a dorm near the siuc campus. but, living with a 2-yr-old being what it is, i was up by seven in the morning anyway, and a trip to the lake seemed like a good idea. the boys got a lot of swimming in and are now sleeping like logs. i however am wide awake still.

security at the airport checked the siu van, with its tinted windows, and that's partly because of what happened in scotland, where i'm so happy my friend peggy was not involved. at the time i was a little miffed. a better moment, really, was when fifteen taiwanese kids, a chaperone, a bart driver and two cesl teachers rolled into the pinckneyville motomart at one-thirty in the morning, and several people were around and awake to witness it. one of the students took a picture of the gas pump with his cell phone- i guess it looked unusual to him. i'd guess the whole world does- when you're in that situation. i kind of experienced the usual through the eyes of the first-time visitor.

meanwhile, another term starts, and starts fast, before another firecracker goes off. i judge neighborhoods by the degree to which one has to keep little ones indoors when the celebrations start- i've been hit before, want to get through another one, want my kids to live to see them all. i love my country, but i'm getting sick of the explosions, the boys dying, the pointless and endless violence. last year, i picked up a small flag, on the highway, where i was out walking & didn't appreciate the small gravel being ground into it by suv-tires; this year, i'm staying home, we'll have some folks over, stay away from the noise, at least part of the time. they want us to work- have a picnic for all the visitors, but hey, it's a national holiday, and, besides, i feel like i'm on the front lines, on the international frontier of perceptions and culture clashes, every time i grade a paper, every time i reach out, try to make sense of something, every day and every weekend too. two more full- loaded to the brim- writing classes, papers coming out the wazoo, and people who are basically not up to the task, but that's another story. missouri's senator kit bond says, perseverance is a good trait, as abraham lincoln showed, and we should do the same in iraq. but i say, perseverance is also what the south did, and it didn't do them much good, just killed a whole bunch more boys, and that was partly because slavery wasn't a good idea, any more than illegal occupation, or filling halliburton's pockets, or all that other stuff that gets passed off as 'freedom fighting'...i'm all for freedom, freedom from slavery, from wanton violence, from pointless war rhetoric. and the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. and that means, i'm proud of this country, still love it, don't like seeing it hijacked, abused & run into the ground, don't appreciate it one bit. tired of the oil barons, imams, godsonoursiders, profiteers, people so twisted, they don't mind killing, somehow they decided it was worth it- when it wasn't.

on most small country roads, crossing the river or going into missouri from one side or the other, is a sign that says 'fireworks', an ancient word meaning, welcome to missouri. but, as woody guthrie would say, the other side of the sign doesn't say anything- and that side was made for you and me. thirty miles beyond the moto-mart, we rolled into our town, a little more welcoming, a little more relaxed- even at two thirty in the morning. when the cool air comes through, it pulls the fog right out of the earth, and it sits low in the night, the flashing traffic lights reflect off of it. a couple of vans full of new visitors here is not especially new- it's part of the fabric of life, the job of the midnight dorm-ra's...the vans, old friends, returned to wait, i guess, for another run. welcome home- i say this to myself- and to the visitors, i say, welcome, i wish you a good visit, and, by getting to know folks from various corners of the world, slowly work toward a better place. one where a person can be proud, without blowing something up.