Tuesday, January 26, 2010

back end of january

another snow coming in, this one welcome also, since we never get enough winter around here. bad news from new mexico, where my parents are getting older, and i'm jammed with my schedule, & it's hard to go out & see them. under these conditions it's almost impossible to post, unbearable to take the light banter of facebook chats & everyday complaints, so i've gone mute, again, while still quilting, & playing music at every opportunity, or, when in worst need of diversion, write haiku from my traveling days, which is slowly filling up, but not necessarily getting better. you do, after a while, get better at stuff like quilting and haiku, but it's painfully slow and lots of bad things get done in the process. eventually i'll clean it up, i swear.

same with the movies. i will, eventually, get better at it. use real clips, that i film myself, that fit within the beats of the music; put my pop-art to good use. i'll try all the songs i store, one at a time, in my music blog; i'll make versions of my own, using garage band, so that movies are entirely original, no borrowed versions whatsoever. use the story lines of stories i've written- i own them, hey, so anything that points back to them can only be good. put just passing through (this blog, scroll down the template) - on film.

lofty goals, but the schedule packs me in; nineteen students crowd into a small classroom and are all expected to hand in journals; this is one of three classes that grind along in a major production machine. i'm not bored, but occasionally i stop, exhausted by my computer, a wreckage in the office of unsorted, undone tasks. the grading and prep alone push me well over forty hours a week; the boys at home use up the rest; upon arriving home, i call n.m. to find out that all is a bit rocky, not quite calm & relaxed.

i have a play; it's here; i'd like to have kids perform it, and see it, and bring it out. but it causes lots of trouble too; it's not too easy to organize. i go to quaker meeting for an hour of silence, or in some cases a minute, or even a breath. i have almost nothing to contribute, though i did write the thing. the real problem is at home; it causes stress in the family, just to carry it all out.

rather than carry on a large extended complaint, which is the burden i'm feeling these days, i'll offer out a ray of hope. a baby is coming; a room awaits. two graduations are coming; both boys will walk, i believe. the haiku is now at over 300; i have plans, and it may expand, become respectable, and allow me to weed out the junk. the quilt is going to make it, after 30 years. the band has a name; after some work, some gigs are rolling in, and we slowly, slowly, get out name out there. mom walks, sounds good, has hope. spring peeks. the garden, dormant, under sticks and old leaves, is going to come back. the sun will warm us up, bring the green back, melt the residual chill.

i'm not writing much these days, another novel, stalled at about chapter three, again, and that set me back, as if i'm thinking, what am i doing, why is there so little motivation. it's like i'm motivated to write one, but not motivated to say anything in particular, or, i haven't clarified my goal before i start writing. my central character is just me, flailing around, solving a crime, yet being unwilling, really, to even get involved, being a traveler, 'just passing through.' catch a theme here? if i'm merely escaping to those days where i wasn't totally invested in my environment, then, i sure don't need a novel to do that for me, though it is kind of a novel (new, i mean) main character, as novels go. most of your detectives aren't quite like this motley dude.

walked off with my little boy's harmonica the other day - it got in my pocket, somehow, because i was disciplining him, taking it from him when he was using it deliberately to torture someone. sound familiar? got out of class & found it in my pocket. nobody stopped me, when i used it a little, on my way, walking across, not far from the founder's statue, the steps with the spring flowering trees. the founder stood silent, as i played my little tune. the sun hasn't been shining much. people go about their lives; the area is in an economic slump that now overshadows the recent depression by what, decades. someday i'll face the facts; it's really quite difficult to live here, and i'm no longer crazy enough about what i'm doing, to tolerate what is happening to it. yet i'm not quite ready, or able, to figure out the better path. who is paying these days, google? do they take telecommuters? would i even be able to leave the place, where i've got people now, and am set in a kind of hard-times, recurring cycle? will the sun come up in the east? one can only hope, and, as the earth turns, maybe the size alone, of the turning planet, will be more powerful than any small imbalance that blights it. one can only hope.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


so i make random movies...you got a problem with that? this one is about peru, a little. but it also captures one of my favorite songs, a christmas spiritual by odetta. hope she doesn't mind, or, those who inherited rights to her music. it's powerful.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

i can't imagine the horror of a huge earthquake in a place which is already so down-and-out as Haiti, probably one of the poorest countries in the world. It boggles the imagination and what rankles me is that this is a place that is quite close to the usa, yet one we have always hesitated to notice, as if that would be difficult, in the situation we're in. well, it is, and now it's worse. but, what do you do? send some help their way, maybe, or some prayers, if that will help...just wish them well, i guess. it's a lot of pain and suffering for a single place...

what got done over break

did so much sudoku that i actually got tired of it, which rarely happens. made a couple of youtubes; the second is somewhat random, but i'll put it here soon anyway since one doesn't make a youtube every day and every youtube is instructive in its own way. restarted a novel, but in the process of cleaning found that same novel which had been started at least once before; in other words, this is nothing new, and getting three chapters into it isn't especially new either. cleaning out the old files- now that was important and necessary; but, i didn't even get half done, although i did reacquaint myself with the location of some important things. then, and here's the big one, i got out the thirty-year quilt...this quilt has been hanging around; people who love me and hang close to me say maybe i had it out about six years ago; but, thirteen years ago was more like the last time i did serious work on it. it started in the seventies, believe it or not, although i do recall that almost as soon as i realized i had a daughter i started reminding her that the quilt might be ready for her children, and most likely not for her herself. and so it is; her child is due in late feb., and this quilt will probably not be ready when she's born, but might be ready in time to give to her before she actually grows up.

what else? a lot of car repairs; that's always big. time with each boy, including the one who was sailing through st. louis on his way from jerusalem to kansas. if that sounds like a kind of extreme journey, it is, and my trip up there was equally extreme. traveling in january, i always find to be kind of living on the edge. the roads are salty; the shoulders are icy. creeks that are covered by icy bridges that you cross, are also icy. no room for error; it's hard to crack the window open to get some fresh air, if you get tired and feel like the interior heating system is actually putting you to sleep instead of supplying you with the fresh stuff. going through 'the villes' i realized that white snow, and the golden tops of bean fields, are exceptionally beautiful, and they became more so as the sun went down up near st. louis. but even more stunning was a sunset behind the arch, that lit up the arch, right as neon flashed through downtown, and now, huge ice floes came on down the mississipp, so that they were all an eerie pink from the sunrise, and a ghastly blue from the color of ice and very cold water. as a relief the king bridge was down to one lane and didn't need more, so it wasn't the usual tightrope trip that doesn't allow you to even notice the river. the mark mcguire highway was once again salt & ice; people going seventy with no shoulder, nothing but ice for miles. my son's car was covered with snow, but started right up; off to kansas he went. stories of jerusalem & other venues were told, over mexican food. it was the high point of break, in some ways; i live for good stories, and we'd missed him dearly. but life has gone on; the holidays are over; everyone is back in a rigid kind of black-line january thinking.

what didn't get done

for one, i have tons of web clean-up at the office, that just barely got started. i made six resolutions, in accordance with a website that my wife found us, and got started cutting my coffee down to three per day, which i'm still doing, though it's still break. the other five, i wrote down, but have only been thinking of them. lose ten pounds, is one, seriously. the quilt is not on there; neither is music. but hey, i'm resolved, baby; i've been active on all fronts. haven't lost ten pounds. haven't kept good track of the news. haven't cleaned out the garage, except to bring some musty quilt stuff in.

didn't do trains this year, except geo-tracks, and that was mostly with mr. nephew mcgurk. didn't light the way; christmas eve was rainy, and it wiped us out. got on skype, but didn't use it effectively; i can see my relatives, but am generally too busy to find them, and sit & talk with them. kids steal candy from above the refrigerator; the dog steals shoes & starts chewing them; people scream & cry and tear each other's hair out, if i turn my back for a single minute sometimes. maybe carrying a needle around will keep them off balance, i don't know. i don't know what drives a person into serious sewing, if not a-d-d (or attention deficit look-there's-a-squirrel, adltas, as we like to call it), or simply the point you reach where occasionally stabbing yourself seems like more fun than continually trying to read a sentence only to have it interrupted. a biography of woody guthrie didn't get read; a cool history of the great lakes didn't get read, and some sudokus got so messed up that they couldn't be recovered, though it's never over 'til it's entirely over. and though mark mcguire admitted using steroids, i didn't have to; i couldn't even swim my usual 2/3 mile, and instead had to settle for 1/3, or 1/2, or whatever i could get, a day or two a week, today and maybe tomorrow, but certainly not friday. friday it all starts over again, though we have another three-day weekend after that; then, it's truly all over. another year starts. until i can get my writing business off the ground, that is. i have stories waiting to print; they didn't get printed. more wal-mart books, to be advertised on sites where they make fun of the wal, but recognize it as the great cultural icon that it is. it's one of the three giants of successful marketing, in my book, along with McD's & Disney; but, it has good things about it too. here's one. for years i moaned about how cereal should be more organic and should only be a couple of bucks a box instead of the usual 4 with coupons & gimmicks. now w-m makes it that way- 2 bucks a box, no marketing, no gimmicks, and do people buy it? probably not. but i do. we use a couple boxes a day of cereal- if we could be a little less damaging to the environment, it would make a big difference. if they're going to make their suppliers go organic & use less energy, i'm onboard, i don't care what a bad rap 'generic' cereal gets. i actually like the stuff.

what else didn't get done? i didn't become famous. but then, that's just as well. i sit here, and write this blog, fill it up, raise my kids, walk out on a glorious january night to see orion, king of the winter sky, ruling up above- what do i need fame for? good music, i could use a little more of that, even make some, but, the rest of it, i could take it or leave it. the football playoffs, for example, i could live without a television a few more months, until that's over. but the olympics, that's a different story. the luge, the bobsled, all those scandinavian names, ski jumpers and all those wild characters, now it might be good to rent a television for that. i wonder, if w-m would trade a t-v for a few days, in return for all that nice stuff i just said on my blog. don't know. bribing/extorting w-m, that's another thing that didn't get done. sometimes it's just as well that you don't live out all your fantasies, and that when push comes to shove, sometimes, you're still in that overstuffed chair over by the window. and, off in the distance, an ambulance goes by, but you know it isn't your own kids, or your wife, or the retired folks nearby, because you know where they are, and the ambulance is going in another direction. orion shoots off toward the pleiedes (sp?), but there are a whole lot of stars in a cluster there and apparently a black hole, and one can imagine, he just lost an arrow, into one of those alternate universes that collects socks, old phone numbers, and random haiku. hammers, and today a drill, also tend to find their way into those lost corners of the universe. maybe they're in the shed. but then, it's icy, and, i'm tired, so i'll report in the morning...chou

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

midwinter's night

a bitter cold here- actually it's only about five, but going down, and snow is coming, and that's pretty cold for here. a whole season, snow everywhere to the north, east and west, but we have yet to see anything but random sprinkles that sometimes fall up because they don't know up from down. christmas day was like this; in the end i decided it wasn't a white christmas, because it didn't stick.

but tonight is different- tomorrow is three kings day, the feast of the epiphany, the true christmas, or the twelfth night, depending on what you call it. and i, in the heart of vacation, took a bit of a nap earlier, and find myself sleepless. the bare tree, stripped and taken down, has been on the curb for about a week. the cold air shoots under the front door until i jam the rubber mat up against it and that seems to help. condensation forms on all the windows, all the time; now that it's break, we've been going around, removing it to prevent mold. break brings a time to actually watch this stuff, to see things you're too busy to see otherwise. i often spend break reviving old linguistics web pages or doing some other escapist-type activity, rather than focusing on what i could be doing with my teaching, or technology, or something more productive in a mainstream sense. this time, i've spent almost two weeks getting down to the purely relaxed, stress-free point where i can take a nap at night, wake up, and be alone here, have the house to myself. the kids are back in school; my wife has enough work to go to bed early, and hope we don't have a snow day. i myself hope we have one. i could make a snowman, easy.

on the news, the hawkeyes won, which is great, but i have a long-standing feud with the football hawkeyes because of their ugly symbol, and i find it impossible to cheer publicly for them. a young hollywood celebrity, daughter of the johnson-johnson fortune, died, unable to find her way in the world. deep down in the news, a remote village in peru is endangered because it's actually getting colder there; babies are dying, people are freezing, a community finds itself ready to give it all up. these, incredibly, are the only stories that touch me; i find myself insulating against the encroaching outside world, the furloughs at the u of i, for example.

my wife has talked me into a self-improvement program; in the spirit of this program, i commit publicly to the first of six ways i'd like to improve myself, namely, keeping my coffee consumption down to reasonable amounts, more specifically, two in the morning, one in the afternoon. none now, at midnight, for example, no matter how much grading i've got. of course i want to lose ten pounds, clean the garage and the office, and get my writing on the market, especially the online market. but this might take time & a little planning. getting coffee under control is one thing i can do now. the main question, or doubt, that i have about a resolution is this- how do you keep your elemental being from adjusting in some way to something you deprive it of? for example, my wife gives up the maple syrup on her pancake, so she puts more butter on it, to compensate. what's the point? if i fill my life with all the work i can jam in there, something will lose, if i really tackle the garage...won't it?...i somehow feel that those minutes that i'm in my chair, exhausted, unable to move or do anything but a sudoku, just won't go away. i've got to have them. no self-improvement will really bulldoze my peace & quiet. i'm all for self-improvement though. i'll give it an honest try, and let you know how it works out. coffee is a good place to start. it was getting out of hand there, for a while.

finally, the youtube. why anyone would come along and routinely give these things ones, is beyond me. i've been scratching my head over that, a little hurt in the feelings. did they even listen to it? did they think that a "1" meant excellent? i don't think so. i think it's life in the fast lane, they are competing for the five slots, and i'll have to learn how to clean out my cache, give myself a "5" over & over, like everyone else- jump back in the ring. also, i find that a large percentage of my facebook fans probably didn't even see it...that would be my guess. i don't watch every youtube they put up, and i don't know if they actually make them, and i didn't really say, explicitly, that i had made this one. so, it kind of slipped under the radar, and maybe that's just as well. the question remains...do i make more? if so, which?

the night inches on to morning; i'm wide awake. i actually find it hard to get the twenty minutes, half hour by a single computer, even in the middle of the day, without throwing off one of the kids, making someone unhappy, or leaving the house. and i don't want to leave the house. so much to do, yet so little will, to even bully my way to a single computer where i could do it. that's break for you. let it snow...i'll go out, and get me some fresh air, for a change.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

best of 2009

this is a post that works backwards, in the manner of blogs; rather than cover everything that happened in 2009, though, i'd like to focus only on movies, particularly youtube movies; youtube in my opinion a phenomenon in its own right, and has come into its own really in the last few years, or since google bought it a few years back. what's important about youtube is the way its captured a role as a cultural repository, particularly of music. i'm not so interested in the 'america's funniest home movie' type stuff, but where it captures and keeps the best of millions of folk songs, in a place where we can all find and reach them with a simple search, i think that's really important. but the fact is that people everywhere are taking this personal movie-making thing to heart, and doing it better, and more often, and for good entertainment, and it's revolutionizing and transforming what we can watch as we sit down late at night, exhausted, kids finally in bed.

so i made my own youtube, which i'll show you directly and invite you to watch. I told my friends to give it a five rating, but by tonight it's already down to three; don't ask me what that means. but i didn't post this to call my own the best of 2009, but rather to show some of the cool stuff that got me to make my own you-tube, pop-art slide show that it is.

to start with, i was impressed with the jk wedding entrance dance, which has now been seen apparently by 37 million people, rated by 140,000, and getting all fives. the truth is, i'm too busy to keep track of whether this was true or a put-on, or whether they really had a 'jk divorce' six months later or that was a put-on, or whether they really appeared on all these tonight-show gigs or what. all i can say is, when i first saw it, i felt like saying, thanks for letting me see your wedding.

next is the rise up singing project archive, where these people have just decided to put every song on the famous (?) rise up singing songbook on youtube. the first people to do it were the coeditors of the book, apparently, but they are selling their version, and other people are simply putting the 1200 songs online themselves. impressive. it may be amateur, personal, even out-of-tune- but in the spirit of making a public folk archive of every good song out there, it's a good start.

next is the dooce movie (not a youtube, btw), which my wife showed me; she is an avid follower of dooce, who is probably one of the most famous bloggers, and who gets hundreds of commenters even for a simple post such as this. she apparently writes well, but more importantly is willing to put her family, and her baby, out on the line in the process of becoming a media item. my wife pointed out that i was doing the same with mine; no, not really- i put myself on the line, but often keep my loved ones protected. oh yes, if you watch carefully you'll see most of them eventually, but i'm not sure i could go as far as dooce goes in that regard. i have to say, though: i admire her. she's sharp. she's got good movie-making skills on top of blog skills. a good sound track goes a long way- does it matter if it's original?

another one that impressed me, but, as it turns out, is not youtube either, but facebook, is path across the water, an iowa singer's tribute to his dad. good music, good movie, made public but not really over-publicized; i just thought this was an excellent use of public space, and one's own musical talents. i didn't know the dad, and never knew the singer either, though i lived in that small town once many moons ago.

finally is dylan's must be santa which struck me somehow as very unusual. first, that a professional would embrace youtube, make a professional albeit small clip, show himself as a somewhat bemused drunk, and finally, tell a story, all wrapped up in good music. interesting!

this came out because i did a general search for christmas music, which led me further in and caused me to list what i'd found...more on this later; i found quite a bit. it's all out there- but i'm through for now...