Thursday, December 31, 2009

Bartram's Flower: The life and times of John Bartram, colonial botanist. it's a play written for quaker children of our local meeting to perform; i hope they will perform it this spring.

my other plays have been formatted and put here; now is the time to thank dawn amos for her hard work in formatting them and putting them up. many are linked from the site of this new one; in fact the quakersrock title was taken from the first play to appear there, quakers rock the seventeenth century. this one, however, takes place in the eighteenth.

enjoy! i hope to announce, produce, and perform in the future!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

2009 letter

this isn't the original picture; I'm still working on that. the letter this year is here. happy holidays to all; i'm in for a week or two of family things, and may be scarce around here!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

the tree fell over tonight; it was jammed into a bucket of water and was pretty stable, but the boys were rough-housing on the couch and apparently something just made it tip, bucket, water, lights, everything, onto our new wooden floor. what a disaster. we unplugged everything and got out a bunch of towels.

i had actually made it a somewhat traditional evening by getting out an old odetta cassette that i'd been hankering to hear for a long time. just finding it, and getting out the cassette player, was a major undertaking. odetta's voice comes through clear and strong in spite of the old tape and there are songs on there that i definitely need to learn; i couldn't find them on the web. i have no idea where i got this cassette. it's like the afel boucum one. it just appeared and became one of my classic all time favorites. for us, especially the older boys, it always went with decorating the tree.

the tree disaster happened just as the pizza was arriving and that made it possible for kids to flee into the dining room and let me deal with the mess. four boys altogether, not counting me; my wife was out at the time also. the dogs had some idea that things were amiss and kept up with the yelping just to add pressure and atmosphere. i pointed out that it was the shortest day of the year- the solstice, the yule- it was a kind of festive occasion, even though it had its bizarre elements, the lit lights swimming around in spilled pine-water while i try to soak it up out of the cracks between the wood. the younger boys are in bed now- excited of course about the impending holiday; the older ones are out and about. it's cold here, but no snow yet, nothing like the two feet that socked the east coast, or some of the good stuff that has hit the southwest, west, north etc. none of it here, but some travel plans may be changed anyway, as an older son is off to nyc, supposedly, tomorrow. this is one reason i'm home. i need the walk; i've been making a movie; but, if there's a chance i can see him before he goes, i want that chance. we gave him something to remember, i think, with the falling-lights show, but, the night was young, and he still had some places to go, people to see, after seeing us.

not much success with the christmas card this year, or letter; i just haven't got it off the ground. tried to make the boys draw, but inspiration wasn't in the air, and dark pens weren't in their hands. maybe a good camera is more to the point, but, we have no snow. i have to think quickly here...time is running out.

i did the 180 degree, right-angle turn- from grading finals and crunching numbers, to doing the christmas thing- both hectic, frantic, all-consuming, a little too much. in my free time i read the biography of woody guthrie- how he kept the ballads coming, even amid stunning changes of scenery: small-town OK, TX, LA, NYC, Wash. DC- where he runs into the Lomaxes and they collect his songs. where people that meet him recognize him as unchanged by the circumstance, as a pure voice in turbulent times. this would be something i'd aspire to; don't know if i'd get it the same way, or want it, once i'd got it, but, that pure devotion to the music, and unflinching bent toward saying it the way he saw it- these were admirable. they give me a kind of spirit, to carry with me as i stand in line at the post office.

sorry about lack of titles, it's just not taking, with me. you could read my stories- they've got titles! pardon the language too; only the first one is even the slightest bit off. the rest are pretty durn polite, though not exactly bland.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Thursday, December 10, 2009

so i had my fifteen minutes of fame (see below) when i was photographed on sunday, playing fiddle at the alternative gift fair which to its credit is getting larger and is better attended. this could be to the credit of the unitarian church, which itself is a good venue with available parking. i like it there; i can walk there with my fiddle, and i've come to know many of the people.

fifteen minutes of fame doesn't last long, though. it's threatening to snow, and this puts everyone in a tizzy. it's the end of the semester, and there are students everywhere who need your time and want to get out of the semester alive. everyone is frazzled. i've had a major cold for over a week. most of our meals are eaten in restaurants. we've both been overloaded with grading and responsibilities for weeks. and, did i mention, it's real cold. so cold, it might not even bother to snow.

the fiddling in general, and progress in that area, have led me to develop the band weblog into more of a personal repository of music links and music-related pop art. it's time to work seriously on a couple of songs. it's also time to do some serious lyrics-collection. i could also seriously consider writing a few more songs.

the calendar is almost done but not in my sweaty hands yet. next project, the book. there are actually two i want to print- more copies of the wal-mart book, which is really a collection, and even has a theme; and, the new one, a more random collection of stuff i've written over three or four years called pile of leaves. lots of piles of leaves, all over town, if i should get it together with a camera and get out there.

speaking of camera, i'm surprised 1) how easy it is to take and store digital photos; 2) how siuc has no central picture repository or place for normal pictures of buildings; 3) how high demand has put even our trashy sites (called CESL back alley) to the top of searches in that area. i've quick got to make one of them presentable. beyond that, i have to make all storage better packaged.
a good documenter of the siuc campus could have fame, easy, without even twisting pictures into pop art with picnik. not that i need fame.

which leads me to my final question, what do i really want. a writer, a photographer, and a musician, not to mention pop art, i've got a little too much going on at once to do any one of them well. fathering, protecting a house from the weather, and managing wild dogs and cats is another field where i'm slipping; car maintenance, landscaping, and exercising, i'm seriously behind on, and have to apply triage to even have a semblance of participation.

the boys are in the room at the moment, trying to turn down the volume of a star wars movie. they are their usual; actually i'm not doing so badly with them, but worry considerably about the older pair. grandfather-hood stands like a golden light on the horizon, but i won't have time to buy little baby outfits until at least a couple of weeks. in the meantime, it's cool-it; why does all the good christmas music come along, at this moment, when everyone is seriously preoccupied with other concerns?

Tuesday, December 08, 2009


Thursday, December 03, 2009

still no titles....on main street, back to the future?

when i first heard there were libyans in our program I went and met one guy right away. our countries are so isolated from each other that I had gone years without meeting anyone from there; however, times have changed and we now have several; they've been here about a year now, and are coming to the point where they will probably go home soon. I have now had several in my classes, and thus had an opportunity to ask them a few questions, find out a little about the place. It always seemed to me very exotic, faraway, unknown to us.

we listened to libyan music, which i found enchanting, and had various other cultural exchanges. they of course listened to ours. one day one of the guys insisted that the female smoking rate in libya was 0. it wasn't done. I didn't believe him; in fact, i didn't believe him rather publicly, but he stood behind his claim and finally I backed down. what do I know about libya? It could be 0, for all i know. there are a lot of things we don't know about each other, in general. While they were here, khaddafi came to new york, and while in new york, he stayed in a tent, reportedly. I asked them about this. actually it kind of makes sense. the americans bombed him and killed his daughter. why would he stay in one of our hotels? at least in a tent he would have a fighting chance.

unspoken between me and this small group of guys, was the fact that the reason our people have been separated all these years is the lockerbie bombing. I of course know very little about this, and had to admit that today when I was talking to one of these guys. but the us apparently has blamed khaddafi and libya, all these years, for that bombing. now the governments are talking; now libya is even sending people over here, like my friends. but for all these years, it has been virtual isolation.

so one of my colleagues was in the air force, and was telling this one libyan guy this, when I walked up and heard part of the conversation. I hope you didn't blow up khaddafi's daughter, I said to her; she was too young, however, to even remember it. i was thinking, if someone blew up my daughter, of course, i'd never forgive them. no, she said, she didn't do anything like that. but the libyan guy was a little animated by what i'd said to her. he said that he didn't feel the libyans were really behind the lockerbie bombing. well, I said, we sure thought they were. yes, he agreed, there's no question we thought khaddafi did it. but he didn't think khaddafi would do it. his reasons were several; first, khaddafi was afraid of anything like the americans who could kick him out of power. second, libyans didn't have the technical expertise to blow up an airplane at that time, whereas others, like the iranians, did. third, the americans had shot down an iranian plane that very year, by accident, and that would give them a motive, whereas the libyans really didn't have a motive. he said there was an outside chance the palestinians could have done it, but he didn't think so; they also could have had a motive.

it's too bad, I said, that such a thing could divide our people for so long. in fact I've really enjoyed the libyans, their sincere hardworking honesty, and their kind of old-world animated machismo. We've had our miscommunications, as we did the day we came back from a break caused by a bad storm, and it seemed as if one poor guy had hauled water for his young baby, the entire week, while the bus didn't run, and stores were closed, and he literally couldn't go anywhere where they had electricity. another guy was in and out of the hospital with his young baby; I get the impression that these guys are quite isolated, and I'm sure their wives are even more so, if they are even here. but actually, this guy that I was talking to said that americans had been very nice to him, and that when he went back home, he would correct the impression of libyans he knew, and tell them that we were actually very friendly people.

i was touched by his story, and actually wanted to say that we also felt grateful to know such nice guys, who had tried their best, and had been among us, pleasant and generous. Instead, by impulse, I told a true story I knew from the lockerbie incident. I have no idea whether he would appreciate this story or not; it seemed like this particular guy had an earthy kind of common sense, and would like it. It turns out I know someone who lives near lockerbie, and who told me this true story. the day after the bombing, back in the late 80's, the british police came to the house of a nearby farmer, because a main part of the plane had landed on his farm. It was now a crime scene, they told him, and cleared him out while they went around it, taking pictures from every angle. after they had studied it for a while, they got the bomb experts out and took it apart and, to make a long story short, spent most of the day out there on his farm. they sure took a lot of pictures, the farmer said. I didn't have the heart to tell them, the bull had been pushing that thing around all morning.

to get back to the crash itself, there is of course no way for me, here in my armchair in small-town usa, to have any idea who was responsible for such a crime. we americans have always had our suspicions about the shooting of jfk, and are no strangers to the idea that people can get away with stuff like this. but what do I know? It is entirely possible, we both agreed, that some third party did it, and somehow set up the Libyans to take the fall. If so, what a tragedy. though it is now possible for us to know them, there is clearly a wide gulf. our idea of libyans came mostly from 'back to the future'- almost none from real experience.

I would also say, however, that not only is there a general thaw between the countries, but also the age is rapidly approaching that people in any country can communicate with others fairly easily, so there will be not only less need to travel for English education, but there will also be less general isolation, even in the case of such people as libyans or north koreans, who we, up to now, have had like a zero percent chance of meeting. I am always curious about people like this: how they view our country? what surprises them? what is difficult about our language? I could actually talk to them for hours, but rarely have more than a minute or two to spare. I glean a little bit of wisdom from them, here or there; it's a perk of my job, to be able to learn anything at all.

In the language classroom, they struggle; like many of our arabic-speaking students, reading is not easy for them, partly because the languages are so different in the way they appear. arabic shows no vowels, but it doesn’t matter, because you infer them anyway, and it doesn't change the meaning of a word if you're wrong. in english, they get trapped by the time alone; our test is very fast, and they have trouble reading fast enough to pass it. these are rank generalizations of course, and it's entirely possible that some of these guys will make it, and manage to stay in the us a little longer. if not, I'll miss them; they made our classes better; they changed our town. one guy told me today he was going to washington to deal with his embassy. he's one of the guys with tiny babies, here in this country, isolated, depending on us for health care, i assume. perhaps the insurance is dealing with it. I never ask; there are some things I really don't want to know.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

two songs, must be santa by dylan and a wassailing song are reminding me that it is what you make it. we've got lights now; this is probably because my wife got a coupon and went & spent it on some decor. good move, since that stuff will be gone in a few days, sold out. same with the tree; in spite of being in the busy time of year, we'd better keep our eyes on the town's tree supply, or we'll have to drive across the countryside, just to get a couple of weeks of tree in our living room.

as for the songs, i just liked the dylan one, wanted to save it; it's got dylan himself with a wig, a kind of outsider, but he's not really the singer or even much of a performer, besides opening a couple of bottles. what's with the wig? it's a curious movie to me, maybe because i don't watch many, but also don't expect to see dylan in something like this. with the wassail song, we're doing a wassail song (performing this weekend at the unitarian, hope you can make it) and i was genuinely curious what "wassail" was all about. i should have known...or maybe, did know, but didn't trust myself really to have remembered. the thing about these christmas songs is, they're a kind of culture in and of themselves; there are hundreds that we identify as 'christmas'; what do they have in common? how does one take what is important about culture and pass it along to others? this is a question i wrestle with. i'd like to make youtubes like dylan, but do them in my own way; i admire this one, obviously.

while i'm on the topic of youtubes, btw, got acquainted with the service while facebook-bombing a niece who turned 19; sent her lots of my favorites from the 60's, but i'm surprised actually, how much is on there, yet some things, like my favorite christmas album of all time, by odetta, not on there. at least, not as far as i can tell. and there are pages & pages of odetta, and apparently she just died, very charismatic, like miriam makeba, one of the best of all time. but the album i have in mind, was an old cassette in bad condition in our house; i'm angling for a new one, maybe, for christmas, as it was superb, musically. we'd put on that old gospel whenever we decorated the tree, just about every year. the closest i can find, really, is here, but more is coming, i promise. this kind of direction is one i'm interested in.

half the time, i play with a band; we're good, and sometimes we do christmas music. other times i play with our quaker meeting, and we're a little more erratic (actually the band could be described as that also)...but, we play songs like this...while i'm at it, i want to say, i need to keep this stuff, keep track of it, write down the words, put it in one place...and might do it on the band webpage, which is badly in need of updating anyway...

it's a busy time. a calendar is in the works, and a book of stories. a semseter is ending. lights must go up, then a tree; deco must come out. it's been raining for days. kids are having concerts; finals are coming; things must be done at work. a semester is wrapping up, i'm thinking of everyone while i drive, but playing, as usual, christmas music & african. soon i'll go over to celtic. it's only appropriate. there's only so much time in this world. then it's spring, and it's over. here's some non-christmas, holiday cheer.

jane fowlis, still the best
cat mother and the oll night newsboys
question mark and the mysterions
strawberry alarm clock
don't walk away renee
afel bocoum, of course, the king