Tuesday, December 30, 2008

130 am, time to go to bed, but i sit here, what's left of christmas lights casting a glow on me as i type. the picture below, six yokels on a couch, disappeared on me one day when i was down in my blog working on the template. another magically appeared in its place and sat there for about a week. tonight when i warned my son-in-law about it, poof! six-yokels-on-a-couch came back! from where, i have no idea. that couch picture had gone the way of dorothy's house, best i could figure. in the sixth dimension, where mismatched socks and cvs coupons go.

walked in to water over-parched plants. life is tough for them; i'm way out of the office. only the strongest survive. coming back, the sky opened out in stars; town is so empty, so few lights, so many stars. a clear, cold night, nothing unusual actually, orion rules, in this territory, he's all over that sky; he takes 'em all.

going to okawville in the morning; looking forward to it. there's an old mineral spa bath there. it's about an hour away, as far as we'll get this break.

so what about kwanzaa? here it is, fifth day almost, and i've but let out a single "habari gani," though i did hear it in a song; nor have i demanded the correct answer, which would be nia in the case of this day upcoming. purpose; creativity, self-determination, i'm all for those. i don't mind that it has a marxist sound to it, a pan-african marxism that ruined miriam makeba, separated her from her people. so christmas has a stench of commercialism to it too, (in fact in these days of global depression, american speculator-stock-derivative theives stole billions, maybe a little marxism would have made a difference)- and i still light the way. i think that's what's important. you have to take stock, once a year, ask yourself, what of the spirit of africa, or of anything, am i giving to the children. what am i actually doing. it's not because he's black, or because they're christian, or because they must be given proper values, all of which are important. it's because they're children, because they're looking to us. because they need a culture, and we have access to lots of those. we can choose which ones to pass along. and if we drop the ball, the movies will do it for us.

so i'm in. i'm 'a start with music, which i know, and geography, and maybe food, which is always good. i'm a let go of those candles for the moment, which are like hannukah, only different colors. but swahili is ok; african music, i already love. do what i can, see where it goes. one of these days, maybe i'll make it to africa, take whichever ones want to go, white or black, or other, and then, upon my return, i'll know what i'm talking about here. in the meantime, habari gani? (what's happening?) (repeat after me) nia...

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The places where the story of Britain is told- interesting, about the geography of writing. Right up my alley, so to speak.

Top ten viral video time wasters, with a Canadian perspective on online culture.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

the kansas years, 1988 to 1994, were very important for many reasons. we lived in pittsburg, a small town in the southeast corner of the state; it was so close to missouri that i occasionally walked there at night, three miles on the old road out by the hospital. we lived in two small houses; our second son was born in the first one, at 469 fieldcrest, but after he was born, we moved down the street to 429 fieldcrest, where they had slightly more space. it was a quiet, peaceful neighborhood, a sleepy town with not much going on besides the small university. i set about teaching esl with an excellent teacher, k.m., as a boss, and grew substantially in my teaching; i was busy in the days. my wife was isolated, and had a hard time raising the boys without a community, or similar people staying at home with them. this problem may have been our demise, ultimately, but i'll leave personal issues out of this account, and say only that i tried to get a job in a better place, after five years, and was unable to; at the end of the sixth we left before i'd even gotten a better job. i myself liked kansas, but by this time it was obvious that we had to be in a place where we could both function better.

in spite of a good university, an area with a rich tradition, there were really very few people, at that time, that we were both comfortable with socially. anyone who was not in the mainline churches was "other", and that was our crowd: a few bahais, a few other jewish families; barely enough to throw together a dinner party. and why did we feel religion was that important? it just seemed like socially, that's how the town was put together. at one point i got on a softball team for one of the baptist churches, for a friend. we played the other churches, and one team that was from a bar, and could beat us all. i remember that because it seemed there was a kind of tension there, that people were defined more or less by their relation to religion and drinking.

we tried to buy a house, but weren't good at the process, and backed off eventually realizing we were leaving town anyway. if we had known we would be there six entire years, we might have bought one right away, but we didn't.

We watched a lot of television in those years, and the older son, who was almost one when we got there, said "mute" as one of his early words- one we would use to make the tv quiet during commercials. it was a connection with the outside world that seemed all too rare. it seemed like seinfeld was one of our few jewish friends, certainly one who talked more and more freely than others.

the older son, one when we arrived, was six when we left, having finished kindergarten. he at one point took his art around the neighborhood to sell, and came back wealthy; people had given him plenty of money for it. the neighborhood was friendly, but there weren't a whole lot of other young children. this could be a problem in almost every town, but it was acute in ours; not much for the little ones to do on weekends, though they did have friends across town, eventually.

we did do considerable exploration of the surrounding area. our favorite getaway was eureka springs arkansas, so different from kansas, hilly, wet, victorian. coming back to kansas we'd realize how flat, dull, & endless kansas was, going west especially. but i liked it, especially going to wichita, or exploring places like coffeyville, marais des cygnes, the flint ridge, fort scott. we went down into oklahoma, or up to kansas city and the airport; missouri had good places like a prairie park, george washington carver's birthplace, branson, truman's birthplace, or the christmas light show at the vietnamese catholic monastery in carthage. an interesting area. they grew a lot of milo; it was resistant to drought. there were buffalo and sunflowers both, near our town; longhorns a little ways west, interesting things, once you got used to the flatness.

we left, finally, in 1994; i'd gotten a summer job in evergreen park, south chicago. we headed out through western kansas to visit my parents in new mexico, on the way, but the three, my wife and the two young children, all got a high fever and we were delayed in guymon oklahoma, on the panhandle, ranch country, with sagebrush blowing by, and nothing but grasslands for miles. we realized then, that the vast prairie had been west of us the whole time; where we were, so close to the ozarks, didn't really count. the sickness of everyone, the high fevers, was overwhelming, though the clinic had no special problem with it. it seems now, looking back, like that sickness was a reaction to six years in a place that put a little too mcuh pressure on our marriage, on us; we weren't up to it, and split up more or less by the end of that year.
Pile of Leaves, new story. check it out! comments welcome!
holiday update:

-family photos were put here by son-in-law Derek; I maintain that the one of me makes me look fat, but i am fat, this being the holidays & all. unshaven too. i was lucky that seattle blizzards delayed josie & derek, thus got five on one couch at one time; this i took as the gift that it was, but now, i'm a little tired.

-it's a bit of a holiday season, with kwanzaa starting, st. stephens day yesterday, and what's known as paper route day today, a personal holiday i've remembered for many years. it so happens that it would only make sense that one would get a paper route only after christmas tips had been received; this recalls to me the friend, d.m., who gave it to me. this would have been maybe in 1966. pittsburgh post-gazette, 42 cents a week.

-getting started on the autobiography again (below); would also like to organize plays, home pages, and another batch of short stories, to make a book out of. not to mention, wal-mart reprint, haiku, the all-elusive novel, and maybe organize songs i'd like to learn.

-looked into kwanzaa a bit....what's up with this? could a white guy, who loves africa & all things african esp. music, and has a son to teach, still celebrate a holiday that tends to concentrate on being black, tends to have the image of afro-marxism, separatism, etc., and still doesn't have a huge following, even among the black community, the best i can figure. what's the point? it's an open question. maybe i'm the only one to buy the kwanzaa book at the barnes & noble. but hey, i'm a learn some swahili, if for no other reason, than to know some swahili. it's never too late.
as a young boy of about ten, in toledo ohio, i was able to go to a few detroit tigers baseball games, courtesy of a family friend who was able to get me on buses full of kids, often with my brother. It was the days of al kaline and mickey lolich, big times for the tigers, but often we were way out in left field, and could barely recognize dick mcauliffe, who had an unusual stance. i was often with my older brother, but more than once i got lost, in the stadium or in detroit, and had to be brought back to the bus by a sympathetic volunteer. when i found out that i had been born in cleveland, i badgered the youth group until i got myself on the bus that went to an indians game, five hours in the other direction, in the eastern part of the state. but i got lost in that stadium too- actually more scary, since it was farther away, and again had to be brought back to the bus, in tears, by a sympathetic fan.

i mention this because, in 1988, at the age of 34, i was given the chance to return to eastern ohio, this time with wife and small child, and a job at what was then ashland college, in ashland ohio, 75 miles southwest of cleveland, more or less. my wife needed to bring the baby back to the states, and i needed a permanent job; this was a summer job, but gave me the chance to find a more permanent one once i got back. as i looked around, ashland wasn't that different from iowa city, or toledo, or many of the midwestern towns i'd lived in; cleveland wasn't familiar at all (i'd moved out of it before i was even one), but lake erie did give me a feeling of warm familiarity, and also seemed unusually clean and fresh, though i'm sure it wasn't. at this point i'd already been an indians fan for almost thirty years, thirty years of futility, and what struck me the most was simply being surrounded by other indians fans, and cav fans, and browns fans- the average joe in the street suffered as i did at the futility of cleveland sports. and sure enough, my boss was an indians fan, and even took students up to indians games, two or three times a summer. i went twice, at least once with the baby; the indians won both times, and the baby, who is now 21, is still basically an indians fan.

what else can i say about that summer? it was an interesting town; old, pretty, home of the brethren church; our neighborhood however had a lot of motorcyclists and not a whole lot of people we wanted to talk to. this kind of rev-your-cycle-at-all-hours idea was not something we were used to, nor was the small town life in general, or even the fact that we were tucked right up against amish country to the south, with cleveland also a little too far away to really get to know. when a job opportunity came in the fall in kansas, i took it, though i probably would have stayed in ohio even then if i could have. when the time came to move, we loaded everything into a small toyota corolla and sputtered out to kansas, by way of michigan, chicago, and iowa.

but before we left, an odd thing happened. at the second baseball game, i was walking out of memorial stadium, when, lo and behold, there was a young boy, lost, crying. he'd gotten separated from his bus group somehow, and stood there crying. as i looked around i realized that memorial stadium, huge in any book and in the baseball world, really was no longer that big to me anymore, though i'm sure it was a huge place to a little boy. it was easy enough for me to find the security and get the boy to his bus without putting my own group out much. which i did. when i left ohio, i felt good about it; again, i was glad to be heading west, out toward the rivers, but, if nothing else, i'd returned a favor that some anonymous guy had done for me, maybe 25 years earlier. it was certainly an astounding coincidence that it was me that first saw the kid- it gave me a chance, really, to see myself as a lost child, to reconnect with that small window of my childhood, to reconnect and even do something about it. and, of all the stuff i saw and did that summer, that image is what sticks with me now, 20 years later.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

finished my annual letter which i'll share with readers, most of whom are friends & family & who will get it in the mail anyway.

it's here. i realized a couple of things in the process of writing it, and printing the pictures (above), and sending them.

first, doing one's own is good in that you own the process, take the custom and do what you want with it, but at the same time people feel pressured on the other end; they're just buying cards maybe, or even, maybe they aren't, and don't like the pressure to do so. maybe they don't feel like supporting hallmark or whoever gets a fortune for the things they sell. so i don't always feel like it's worth it to pressure people who may not want to be pressured, even if my intention is only to stay in touch with them.

second, there's a heightened sensitivity about the mentioning of christmas- after all, i don't know for a fact how many of my friends actually celebrate it; sometimes they've gotten married, and i don't know their husbands, or wives; do i assume that they still celebrate it as a custom? maybe they do, maybe they don't. probably they won't say anything to me either way. again, i just want to stay in touch; i'm not used to facebook, though i can see that it has some advantages over this system. maybe some of these friends are on it? probably not. if they liked the letter-writing system (only some do), they were capable of keeping up; if not, they didn't.

as a letter-writer, i always try to keep to one page. just the facts. minimal drama. this year i realized after i wrote that iowa hung over the letter- i didn't mention it, because i had no personal experience with it. but i wrote about the power of nature, & earthquakes & such, and though our earthquake was minor....well, iowa had a terrible year. and i missed it, pretty much...saw the year go by, as one sees these pictures, out the front window, in the reflections off the street.

the weblog i put this on is one i use very rarely, so rarely that it changes its rules virtually every time i use it. i put my annual letters on it. i put other stuff on it. it has old links the likes of which i can hardly believe. i may use it for other stuff i've written; that was my intention, but i haven't been writing much. it's an interesting place, an outpost. i occasionally forget the address and have to go digging for it. a kind of out there blogger.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

switched gears the other day; i was at the printers, was running a blanket through a dryer at the laundromat, and then realized that i didn't have what i needed to finish the printing. so i got a long hot cup of coffee and stared at the gray dorm towers for a few minutes. that was oddly reassuring- although, in this small town, three concrete dorms-ful of students is not what we like to reflect on, unless we run a nearby coffee shop or pizza parlor, still their grayness, their steady presence in a cold bitter december wind, was kind of soldierly- they are, after all, the tallest buildings in town, the only ones more than four or five stories, and they rise up out of woods like bunkers or maybe modern architecture.

so now i'm in christmas mode; left the world of bad grammar and twitter far behind, in my mind at least. at the printers i've now made some calendars and some cards, and a letter, which i'll share eventually, and still have more to come, maybe more calendars, or something else to put out into this world. got a shepard fairey poster in the mail, and realized that good art can make a difference, though having everyone carry around an idealized image of a real person may not make the difference we'd wanted, or the "same difference" as we used to say. the guv of illinois digs in to stay; maybe his lawyer told him all you did was talk about it, talk is cheap. senate seat was never sold, or somebody'd have the receipt. but i'm in christmas mode, charitable, trying to focus on the material. and too bad, i already missed some deadlines, like amazon. may have to buy stuff from real people in town.

picked up a book that influenced me in an odd way- it was carl sandberg's account of growing up, a young swedish lad in 19th-century galesburg illinois, and it touched me in several ways, one because life is so different now, and two because i haven't actually read much except student work in 49 weeks. i may, slowly, get back in the habit; may even write, and, what's more, may even write more true stories from out there. a new singing friend, new member of the band, is from a small town near thunder bay ontario, so we started telling stories of the yukon, and yellowknife, and small towns up on the north of lake superior where even when you go there in the middle of august (only time i've ever been there) it still looks like winter all over the place. stunted trees, old snowmobiles out in plain sight, a cold gray wind even in august. i could tell the story of how i took the older boys up there one summer, on a lark, a detour on the way home from minnesota, because they'd never been in canada, ever. so we met some canadians, had a good talk, enough for them to feel like they'd been out of the country, which they had. memories, and sandberg's account of swedish immigrants coming over, & finding their way to illinois- this is my fare for the break. that, and running across old friends on facebook, where i'm always out of status, not updated, slipping into town on a dell, some friends in the chat, some others with "statuses" (stati?) like bumper stickers, pictures a-flyin' all over. i'm like a farmer, come into town, bedazzled by the circus, not quite knowing what to make of "applications" requesting that you turn over all your "info" to the application...why? just to read someone's message? wasn't born yesterday, but, i'm in charitable mode, which means, i reco'nize that everyone needs to make a buck. and i'll let it go, for now. and, if i status my quo, i'll let you know.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

so supposedly a cold hard rain is coming through, maybe it will put an icy glaze on everything, and i'll have an enforced vacation tomorrow; otherwise i might get up, get around, and do stuff that one could say needs to be done. am i obsessed with money, based on that little rolling movie beneath this post? no not really. i've been reading about the financial crunch, which is basically to say, why options and derivatives are like everyone gambling big time on the possibility that there might be stability and money someday, this sounds kind of like our daily budget too, but, in this kind of climate nobody wants any real money, or the system like a vacuum will suck it right up and use it, 'cause it was hoping so hard that there would be some somewhere. and no, i'm not totally crazy about bubbleshare either, though i've had friends who were into it for a long time; what i like about it really is that its "slider" is like your subconscious, it ramps pop-art beneath the horizon on a kind of looping subconscious neon. that was my intention anyway; to me it's kind of a rustic movie but it has that "bubbleshare" logo kind of stamping it.

it's a time of year when the best thing for me to do is forget all about work as fast as possible, and get right into christmas preparations quick before it's too late, but, brain-dead & exhausted, it's about the hardest thing to possibly do. i'm not very materialistic to begin with, & even with a cold hard list in front of me driving up, parking a mile from some mall, and fighting the crowds is a chore; it just makes me feel separate from the world i live in. i have another idea, which is to write a twitter-novel or some other escapist venture, but then i'd be late with all this other stuff which would just make it worse. and that twitter-novel idea, i haven't quite figured out how that would work, or be different from other kinds of novels, let alone better. maybe that should wait until i'm really ready to do performance art- rested, happy, have something to say, etc. then finally there's the material plane, the cold, cat-pooped disorganized garage with a piano in it; i could move the piano in, fix it up, put weather-stripping & sealing on doors and walls, etc., in other words fix up the house a bit, but again, i'm too tired, i can hardly stand up. first step, sleep as much as possible; get up, & get kids off to school if possible and if necessary, get big cup of coffee, take in icy glazed paper, and then get another cup of coffee. one final possibility, get out the banjo, the fiddle or maybe the lap dulcimer, practice obscure old christmas carols, maybe of the irish celtic or french variety, try to get in the spirit, before tackling all the other stuff. we'll see what the weather holds, and hope maybe it socks us in, and makes us sit still for a change.
BubbleShare: Share photos - Find great Clip Art Images.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

having trouble getting into e-mail tonight; it's probably because I left my webmail on on another computer; i play musical laptops sometimes and things get busy. on my way out the door of work i finally put together two bubbleshares; the one below (bubbleshare pulliams) and the one on my professional weblog, bubbleshare salukis; these are like constant movies, the neon signs of the old route 66 that would say, eat, eat, eat. but it's break, i should be going on a diet, it's like coffee, now that i should be winding down, what's the point? what occurs to me is this: these bubbleshare 'albums' allowed me only ten photos, and random ones at that, to put in a single album; clearly i haven't mastered the genre. but what's stopping me from making a mini-movie? a pop-art bubbleshare movie, where something happens, or where it tells a simple story?

then, webmail still down, i go over into twitter, which, i have to say, is turning into entirely its own world. it is hoppin'. really i have two friends who keep churning it out there, and if you want to know more read this, but my main point is this: it's in a way like being stranded at lax airport, or maybe kennedy, sitting in a booth and eavesdropping on people from every corner of the globe: didn't know the world was this big. didn't know such a lively crossroads of electric little zingin' nerve cells would zip & zap at such a rate, & create such a hoppin place, all on a plain old site whose font looks kind of like an old in-a-gadda-da-vida album or something. i mean, that's one ugly font, that big roundish balloony twitter font that the word "twitter" appears in, did people in the sixties really like that stuff? i never did, but then, i was in high school in the sixties, so i kept my mouth shut.

but, to get back to my point, now i know it's my break, and i should just back off and stop pulling all these resources down off the web, especially that article about how web 2.0 is dead, which it's not, the only thing that should die is the way people keep calling it "2.0" or "3.0" or "x.0" or whatever, good riddance to that. but the question of "what is happening here," i have no idea, of course, being unable to program a vcr out of 12:00, and being brain-dead on account of break and all, the sum total of 49 50+hr/workweeks in a row. but here's my idea....what about a novel, written entirely on twitter, all in 140-character-max snippets, or rather sets of 140-character-max snippets, as of course, you'd sit down to write a chunk, and would have to just use that limit, repeatedly, until you'd said your piece. presumably you'd get pretty good at making each "update" capable of drawing people in, entertaining, making them curious even, about what had gone on before. in this "twit-novel" of course you could drop tiny-url's like ashes from the cigarette of the gumshoe, little clues that lead off to cyberspace or even just off to some bubbleshare neon "eat" sign. flashing on and off, red turning to blue, hoping to stir up an appetite for a western omelette after driving all night. or something like that.

what i have in mind here is a kind of multi-media performance art, whereby a person could enter your "twitter" at any given time (or maybe "facebook"- they could get in your "face"- befriend you so to speak) and then, find themselves in a world of a kind of ongoing virtual novel, which keeps leading them through endless caverns of underground pop-art, link-haiku, bubbleshare movie, or any other kind of media production...the purpose of this, of course, would just be to show that a 140-character-ugly-font media is as good as any, for getting attention, writing a whodunit, putting on a stage performance, or whatever one might want to try. it's something to do- what else could one hope for?

it's late at night, after midnight, but the little guy is having a bad dream, whining back in his bed, as if maybe he wants a grownup to come & give him a hard kidney to rest his feet on. outside, the wind is howling down the road & whistlin' against the window frames & door as if it's bringing a cold wet snowy ice or whatever winter kind of stuff, down from somewhere. as good a time to say, before i pack it all away & get some much-deserved real shut-eye- that in the novel i would introduce this new concept...that cyberspace has four directions, just like reality. there's forward in time, onward, to the next tweet, or onward to the future; there's back into the archives and what's been said; there's linked off into cyberspace which should not be confused with the previous one although in some cases they are quite similar; and finally, there's the off-button, on this laptop a little red square with a white x on it, pressing it begins a process of shutting down the computer & all its functions, and reentering the real world, in all its goods and bads, family, raging storm, garbage cans being blown off into the back yard, stray dogs' beggars' banquet. it's rich, it's life, it's textured, linked, colorful & it keeps changing, "i'm a fan," i like to say when i get on facebook, yet i haven't even touched that place today, now there's a social marketplace, an electronic namdaemun, a virtual giant city, when you're a "fan," you're a cool breeze, an electric buzz, an energy-burner, a slightly dangerous thing but yet, churning like the weather outside. can you put your whole life into a "status?" and if not, why not? if a picture is worth a thousand words, maybe a link can ride that inflationary tsunami into viral euphoria, and stop worrying about the "economic downturn"...and make a living, so to speak, from the google ads blinking "eat eat eat" in the template?...chou

Friday, December 12, 2008

bubbleshare pulliams

BubbleShare: Share photos - Easy Photo Sharing

Thursday, December 11, 2008

so in illinois they make all state employees take this ethics test, and you sit by this computer for about half an hour or an hour, and read about who the ethics commission is, who you should go to if someone you know is on the take, and why you shouldn't contract out part of your office work to your brother-in-law. i'm a lowly worm, the closest i get to an ethics question is how soon should i return all the paper clips that find their way to the laundry after hiding in my shirt pocket. but i'm a busy worm, so the half-hour or so that it takes to take the quiz is no small piece of change, and it irritates me a little to have the state of illinois tell me anything about ethics whatsoever, since i always considered illinois to have the same relationship with ethics as alaska has to crowdedness. some academics here took the test too quickly, said they were speedreaders by trade, what's the problem, but the state rejected their tests on the assumption that anyone who passed it too quickly must probably have been cheating. this case actually almost ended up in court, since the professors in question didn't want it to go on record that they had been guilty or done anything wrong, it was a matter of principle not to have to do again, something which was already done right the first time. i myself am not a speed-reader, did not have to take a stack of papers to grade into the quiz just in order to finish it in a slow-enough time. but i did allow myself the luxury of getting lost in memories...after all, i used to live in iowa, which is a lot like illinois, except that illinois has a city in it, and i used to visit chicago as any country rube might come to the big city.

back then i was kind of taken aback by how city folks would just assume that all judges were bought. this was a city that was proud of its corruption in the same way they seemed to be proud that the cubs not only lost all the time but also lost in glorious ways. as an indian fan, that part about being proud of it kind of got under my skin. but with the judges, i thought, ok, that's ok unless i wanted some kind of fairness out of a judge. in iowa they'd disown a politician just for having his/her name in the same sentence as corruption, but illinois seemed to own the concept much in the same way alaska owns the concept of rugged independence. but to get back to that ethics test, here i am sitting at my desk at the office, the desktop has thousands of jpeg files on it, pop-art renditions of buildings and scenes at the university and of people associated with it. and as a matter of fact, as a writing teacher and a grader, i find most of the ethical issues involved in teaching pretty easy- no matter how close a friend i feel to my students or to people i'm grading, i'm still paid to teach and grade as i read it, not to let friendship get in the way. that part about accepting gifts for example, not an ethical dilemma at all. of course you don't accept gifts and then give out grades in return. and there, you see, it points up the fact that the grades i give probably aren't worth enough to make someone even offer that kind of gift, my being a lowly worm and all. but the photo, on the other hand, represents a murky kind of area, where people who actually shoot the photos are sometimes quite sensitive about who uses them, how and where, and it's so easy these days, to just take any given photo, click on it with one's mouse, and move it over onto one's desktop, from whence one puts it on facebook, or on one's blog, or wherever. here again i try to take my own photos, but there are a lot of them out there, and it's easy enough to lose track.

so the photo in question had a modern-looking, chicago-looking revolving door photoshopped onto an old red-brick brownstone-looking government building, perhaps in springfield, and the ethics test was talking about the revolving-door law, which is something to the effect that you can't work for the state, and then go the very next day and work for someone who does a lot of business for the state, like a supplier of goods or something like that. it all makes perfect sense, which brings up the point that, in fact, i agree with the idea of the ethics test, it makes me more aware of drawing the proper lines around me, not selling my significant influence or my important standing as a representative, as one who carries the name of the state around on everything i write or do. in fact i have to work hard, and harder as time goes by, to separate the personal from the professional, in much the same way i'm right now as i write staying in lowercase letters to show, i'm not a state boy at this moment, i'm just a humble blogger, late at night, at the tail end of 49 >50-hr. weeks of grading writing papers & various sundry tasks, come home to an end-of-year break, to sit in my easy chair and read how the governor, having been hauled to jail for trying to sell obama's senate seat, tells us it's 'business as usual' in the state of illinois.

which brings me back to that test, which, even as i take it, it riles me just a bit, not the learning of what's right and wrong, which is actually ok, i actually learn from it, and it helps me out in my daily life even, not that i have any trouble knowing who owns my paper clips. it's more the time, the fact that of all the stuff i do, someone above me gets to tell me to stop, now you've got to take a half-hour out of your life, do this, print out a certificate that says you took the test, etc. and the test, btw, doesn't even care that much what my score is, as far as i can tell, as long as i take the test, and don't take it too quickly. in other words it allows me to miss a few of those questions, on the assumption that missing them will make me go back and read them carefully anyway, if i'm like most students or like most well-socialized test-takers, as most state employees are. well it might be a case of 'you assume too much,' as they say in the movies, but i'll leave that question for another post, since in my case, as i've said already, the whole experience is overall positive, and i also have to say, my overall experience with judges in the state of illinois has been, overall, quite limited, though the one that married me the first time in the basement of the cook county (chicago) courthouse we later saw on television in a 'judge judy' type show getting publicity and fame selling her association with the bench to the networks, well, that marriage went the same way as a bad sitcom anyway, and i don't watch much television anymore, but illinois is pretty much a farm state, miles and miles a corn and beans once you get out of chicago, very much like iowa only more so, and way down here on the southern edge of all that farm country it's a bit more wholesome, and my second marriage is going much better, so far. so i'm grateful that it's break, i'm home, and it may be that i'm incorruptible only because i have so little real power, which actually may be deliberate in its own twisted kind of way, or it may be that it was because my wife kept reminding me that paper clips were choking hazards for the little babies, when they fell out of my pockets and onto the floor, and not especially good for the washer and dryer either, that i began fastidiously collecting them and returning them to the office from whence they came. it may be that i'm not a saint, as i am often reminded, i have a hazy memory of driving five or six hours up to the city, then five or six more out to iowa, then five or six back, all in one day, then getting off the interstate and down into the western suburbs, late at night, and going too fast and actually getting a ticket, my only one ever, but one of my inlaws got me put on 'supervision' which meant i paid a fine but never actually saw a judge, and it never appeared on my record, after i was a good driver & kept a clean record for six months or so. and it may be that there's a jpeg file picture of a revolving door up there on my desktop, i musta put it there by mistake, but there's thousands of other jpeg files too, and it's there in case i ever need an image of a revolving door, or, in case i need to make pop art out of it, like i do with a lot of pictures of the campus, but the main point is, i never tried to sell it, so i'm grateful i'm spending my break rounding up laundered paper clips, as opposed to, say, explaining to my kids & my wife, what exactly i meant by 'business as usual.' you did what with that senate seat?

Monday, December 08, 2008

i've been out there in a number of ways: giving a final exam about cloning endangered species; performing at an alternative gift fair, on the blogs learning about the ghanaian election, xenophilia and why the pictures i store on blogger seem to be so hazy- but, what i really came to talk about was the annual parade in our small town, the lights fantastic- always held in december, always freezing cold, always running right up the middle of our only main street, really, illinois avenue, which runs from the chinese-food valley by the university up through the bars, restaurants and liquor store area known as the 'strip'- populated by college students on october nights- and on up past the train station to the square which could more specifically be called downtown although our international students would never know that, since they would judge 'downtown' more by volume of people, and pretty much find the whole thing pathetic.

but on this freezing night in december folks come from all around, line the streets, try to keep warm, bring their kids hoping to catch a glimpse of santa or whatever, and sometimes if they're foresighted they bring folding chairs, blankets, thermos-fulls of tea or coffee, etc. for the duration which is usually about an hour or hour and a half. every church in town has a float, covered with lights, and the park district, the army, the pagans, the shriners, and whoever else has the energy to string lights on old trailer-beds in november make a show of it and march up illinois avenue slowly in front of everyone. one of the best parts for me is the local marching bands, coming from not only here but also from all the small towns nearby, the kids' fingers freezing onto their trumpets, sometimes they have the little red hats with antlers on them or the drums are decorated in some yule-type way, and they try their best to get sound out of their instruments in the cold...good luck! Even when it's bad it's worth seeing though- when i was in high school i never got to see the marching band, because i was in the orchestra and though we used the same practice room, it was always at different times and they went out a different door than us, the one that went back toward the football field.

so one 3-yr-old son perched on my shoulders for almost the whole parade, until he had to go potty, and that led us to the coffee shop which was always one of the original outposts, or places to view it from, where one could duck in and thaw for a moment, or buy a coffee and thaw some more. in the coffee shop bathroom he sat on the potty but couldn't go because there were too many people around, but his 7-yr-old brother stuck it out all the way and actually saw the santa at the end, along with his 16-yr-old brother, who knew a bunch of people in the high school marching band and saw, at the end, the hs band go by, fingers freezing on trumpets. he reported that that band had to be blackmailed heavily to even march, you got 100 points for doing it, 0/100 for missing it, and it was a credit class so it was serious business. one big question was whether the huge outsized trailer floats could maneuver the turn right up there by the coffee shop, or whether they had actually straightened out the route of the parade as the paper implied when it so blithely (and incorrectly) listed the route as shooting straight out of town to the north. the whole parade is a huge exercise in logistics- where do you park? where do you walk? what's the best place to stand, where you actually get to hear music, and get some shelter from the bitter north wind coming down from chicago or maybe, champaign? are there really going to be no trains for the duration of the parade or did they really straighten out the route? if you park up here in the square area is it ok to use the hospital lot or, if you were having a heart attack and needed a spot right away, would you resent the parade-goers for taking the good spots? and, who, thank god, had the grace & mercy to not schedule a basketball game across from the parade thus choking up all the local arteries in and out of the chinese-food intersection area, the university, where it now starts at the underpass instead of the interfaith, another faded & funky but warm, friendly place to have a cup of cocoa & watch the floats go by...(?)

guess i'll say, you see a lot of folks you don't ordinarily see, kind of like the sunset concerts, except they're all huddled up, under blankets, and there's lots more kids, walking up and down the sidewalks or wherever, trying to keep warm. but i'm here to say, the marching salukis, and the terrier band, were as good as any or better, they all showed up, as did we- the older kids saw it all, santa too, and a little bit of cold and fresh air was ok, it made 'em sleep better at night. we parked in the library- it was free, made for the public, plenty of room, and not too far to walk- but i don't want to give away a good secret, so i put it way down here at the bottom of the post, where only the faithful will read it. i will say that uptown is much better than down by the chinese-food-intersection, where one can use a blue sticker, and where the bands are all fresh and just getting started, but where the lights of the pulliam clocktower bathe the cordoned-off streets. but who wants to hang around the university area, when, on this night, the point is really to be part of the small town, one of many who has kids, wants to see it all, doesn't want to necessarily experience the season at the mall, where one can't afford the coffee or anything else. it's not that i'm into the churches, necessarily, or the way they place the thousands of lights, or even what they shine up & drive up the road- i'm into the bands, as i've said, and whatever they choose to try to play, and being part of a small town, one of these people that responds one way or the other, publicly or privately, to all the different messages and presentations that these marching folk put out there for us to see. it's winter, it's breathe-into-yer-fingers cold, but that somehow makes the warm funky places just that much nicer. god bless you all, for at least another season.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

we used to take both dogs out to a wild place, actually it was owned by the university, but it had two ponds, a big path, a lot of open prairie, a few wooded areas, an old civil war graveyard, and basically no fences, so that even when the dogs got wild they would just run on and on forever, into some orchard or something, but then come back, if they had their wits about them at all, because their smellers were pretty good, and that was what it was all about anyway. so, no matter what the weather, and they loved this cold rainy labrador stuff, they would have a great time, then come back to me all panting, jump up in the back of the pickup or wherever, come home, lick themselves all evening and then sleep like dogs. or like dogs should sleep anyway. we called it the dog improvement lands (its true name was tree improvement or some such) but sometimes called it jen-improvement or tom-improvement as a good deal of that would happen too. students would be out there cutting wood or planting trees; sometimes fishermen would be at one of the lakes; often raider, our black lab, would be a little ahead of us on the path and would grab a stick and approach a fisherman or a student with a proposition they could not refuse. raider lived to fetch. he would jump into an icy pond after a stick, or down a steep grade, not thinking, and more than once he got injured and barely knew it because he'd been fetching. if he found someone who would throw the stick he would never let up; he'd keep bringing it, and would have to be dragged away from his favorite game; didn't matter if it was a tiny stick, or a big old log. he was also known for being entirely tolerant, especially with various cats that thought he was their mom, or with young children who wanted to see what they could get away with; he was in general very controlled in his responses but would often yelp or let them know somehow that they couldn't keep hurting him. yet he'd never hurt them.

a loyal companion, named after california football, a handsome free spirit, jet black, all labrador, all retriever, i knew him by several nicknames- the nu-nu, for the way he vacuumed up food scraps, or the orb detection and retrieval specialist; or x-q-j the scrabble king, or triple-word-score for the same reason, his endless scrabbling on the wooden floor. often i mention him in my classes, to my students, when i teach about "retrieved" phrases, which one puts on a reference, to say, i went and got this, and brought it back, i fetched it. and i think about him when i upload web pages with the "fetch" program, and have to wait patiently. but in this case god had the last retrieved phrase, did the last uploading. raider was retrieved on monday, december 1, 2008. i don't have a picture of him, so i'll keep the one i've got in my mind: out by the wild grasses, at the edge of the pond, stick in his mouth- unlike his partner, lindy, he didn't see the point in running away, out over the orchards, if there was any chance he could get whoever he was with to throw a stick. as much as possible, as soon as possible, wherever possible. i'll miss him, so i'll write this for him: i'll go back out there, raider, i promise; i'll grab another stick, and i'll just heave it your way.

Monday, December 01, 2008

when one goes on a long trip across the midwest, one often plays the alphabet game, in which one looks for the various letters of the alphabet, in order, a-b-c-d-e-etc. on roadsigns, license plates, virtually any place outside of the car; we always get stuck on j, q and sometimes x, but usually make pretty good progress if we don't lose interest. Another game is the Missouri cow game, taught to me by a friend, in which people on the right side of the car compete against people on the left to count cows; whole herds just count as ten if you can't count quickly enough, and a cemetery makes you lose all your cows at once.

But, in the absence of competitors, or people old enough to actually count the cows, one can always just keep track of license plates themselves, and see how many states one can come up with, in a given trip, in this case across about half of a single state, illinois. now in my case i enjoy writing the names of the states, as i see them, on a scrap of paper, in this case an old envelope, and speculating about how each distant traveler came to be on whichever particular road at this particular time. now with this game as any other you have dilemmas about how to count. what about truck licenses? what about canadian provinces or mexican states? what do you actually do with your list when you're done; do you compare it with lists of bygone trips, at different times?

can't answer those questions; i might play it different at any given time. this time, I saw a manitoba, but it was a truck; saw a host of the usual suspects, in, ia, oh, mi, ks, ok, tn, ky, mo, ar, al, ms, and a few from farther away: tx, mn, va, sc, nc, fl. the motel parking lot and the interstates were, as usual, the most fertile grounds. at least one car was clearly exotic but sped by us too quickly and i missed it. in the small towns i was surrounded by il itself, proof that, even on a holiday, the vast majority of people on the road were just going from here to there, to the store or to grandma's house. illinois is not one of those states where you can discern what county someone is from, by careful study of the plate; however, if you live in the same small town for years, you can get better at knowing which ones are from your own. you get a funny feeling knowing there are all these bluish lincoln-images in transit down there at number-level, and wonder if that bothers anyone besides the wisconsin traffic police, who assume we are all from chicago, or weary iowans, perhaps used to a more genteel pace of traffic. someday obama will be on those plates, maybe, though they change only, maybe, once every sixteen years. i assure you that tourists are not destroying the place, except maybe on their way through. it's the same as usual, and, for what it's worth, it's not too crowded, except maybe the toronto road cracker barrel.