Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Monday, February 22, 2010

dad winks at god, blogs about it

ok, so life is going pretty quickly; the soft rain is melting the last of the snow; even though it's still cold out, one can feel the thawing of the soft ground, and, on saturday, a bunch of kids came over, played frisbee and football, ran around in it, and burned a few old sticks, filling the house with campfire smell drawn in by the open windows. it was a celebration of a son turning eighteen, but lots of other things are happening too, and i felt that, in a way, it was a celebration of a group of teenagers having a place to hang out, be friends, relax, be outside, etc. i live in eternal gratitute that he's around, he's here, he's happy, and he's not going anywhere, until he feels like it.

then there's the baby, whom i call baby rose junior, whose mom is blogging about the quilt below, and for whom i sew the quilt, almost every night, maybe four or five triangles. i'm up to about 150 out of about 192 triangles, but after that i have to sew it all together, and put a back on it, etc. etc. and then somehow get it to her. of course i fantasize driving across the west with the main purpose of putting this quilt down beneath her, but she's not even born yet, and all my time is accounted for, from now until about 2020. the important thing is, i can set aside life, stop reading news, and just worry about her, occasionally pricking myself in the thumb, or cursing my stupid tendency to tangle the threads. milestones are in the path; they're blocking the path; they're tumbling down the mountain in a kind of landslide threatening to take me with them down the valley.

got a chance to hold a baby over the weekend; this baby is a boy and is about three months old, very mellow, fell asleep soon after he got comfortable in my arms. this was not easy as i'd failed to move the glasses out of my pocket, and the cell phone rang down in my pants causing me to squirm a bit and try to get it where i could use it. i did 'schmit schmit schmit' on his tiny feet just so i wouldn't forget it, nor him, and he fell asleep promptly. of course it was a work party, so he had plenty of other reasons to fall asleep, people were ogling him left and right. he was definitely one of the cutest people there, no question. folks in this town are a little nervous about that shooting down in alabama, so i brought it up, just for the heck of it. it's the back half of publish, after all, if you don't get tenure, it hangs over everyone's head like a scythe. we'd had a bert training, which is short for, get some preparation in case some madman doesn't like your grades & comes after you. it could happen to anyone, and already has, to some degree, even on the other side of this state. well anyway someone says, why did she sit through forty-five minutes of a faculty meeting before she did it, and i could imagine all kinds of things that could have set her off. but apprently someone said, because she was waiting for new business.

stray dog holiday came & went; they got the best of the garbage all over town, while people were confused about exactly which day anyone was supposed to come, & haul away the old pork bones. the grass shoots out green from under the dead stuff; the vees of gees honk above, reminding each other which way is north. we imagine them telling each other to stop for directions, or stop for a potty break, or don't go north so darn fast, slow down & take a break for god's sake. but they do as they wish, and i'm glad they make noise or i wouldn't even know they're there, half the time, i'm just focused on the potholes in the road, and the dead 'possums that got chased out by the rains. spring will bust out pretty quick here, and so will some other stuff that comes with this time of year: girl scout cookies, mardi gras, college basketball, tesol convention, ticks. i didn't say they were all good. i just meant, when you hear those geese, things are changing.

bombed the son's facebook for a while, a relentless attack, off and on, that lasted more than twenty four hours, and included songs, movies, pictures, and quotes related to being eighteen or whatever. pages & pages, in the end, but actually somewhat subdued, compared to other bombings in which we had better access to tools or more time to configure. subdued, a little, because i remembered bombing the older brother, just last fall, a sustained attack over the same span, roughly, and finding out, toward the end, about a friend who would never make it to milestone gap. you don't have children, it is said, they are just lent to you for a while, and then, if you're good, they remember. if, in their twenties, they come back still needing anything, you just keep it coming, i guess, indefinitely, it's actually kind of a timeless thing, come to think of it, considering my current relationship with my parents, which is actually getting closer; i'll see them for sure, in a couple of weeks, whereas i might not see that baby real quick at all, you never know. but to get back to the teenager thing, teenagers need parents kind of like a diver needs a hard rock cliff to spring off of; if it's soft or gives way beneath him, it's real bad timing. he'll be gone, independent, way off in the cool end of a spring-fed pond, yet, right at this moment, your solid presence seems to be required. so i say to myself, be still, hold steady, call out. let them know i've got their back.

was watching the youngest (4-yr-old) and his friend (3, maybe) when the friend suddenly teetered on a rock and fell, backwards, into a very cold pond. the kids had been poking at very thin ice with sticks, reaching out, but the rocks they were on were wobbly, and this young guy made one false move. he was wearing a jacket, which spread out, and floated him, so he didn't really sink, except for his legs which got very wet and very cold immediately. we were all shocked and alarmed, and we stood there in shock, for a frozen second, before we grabbed him out and rushed him inside where his clothes could be peeled. he went home in a dad's sweater, wrapped around him like a cloak. the grayish cold changing spring weather made everyone worry about him but he's young; he got out of it with barely a memory. my son will remember it for a spell though; he's a little nervous around very cold water, and when i tell him to stay off wobbly rocks like that, he simply complies, because it's easier, and he has some sense of what kind of trouble 'not minding' causes. it's time, i think, to take the whole lot of them out into the woods, walk halfway down the path, and see what kinds of southern illinois wildlife come crawling out the rocks to say hello. one year, i was walking on devil's backbone ridge, way up above the mississippi, overlooking missouri and the slow train that crawls up the river on the western side, when lo and behold, a snake came out of the bushes, frog in mouth, and scared a small trio of girls who were walking ahead of us. that's life: grisly, raw, even bloody sometimes, and it doesn't pay to be the first one out when it thaws, and everyone's hungry. that's probably what the back geese are telling the front geese, as we speak, and as they settle for a spell in the lake country, waiting for the northern climes to thaw a little more, before they set out again. we're just wayfaring strangers, stop for a bite to eat, look at the view, listen to everyone's accent, before we set out again, and get back on our paths.

a pair of folk singers was here, too, over the weekend, and i got to play with them a bit; they are called, appropriately enough, february sky. so, we were lucky - we got them in their own month, at their own time, and, spring broke here, while they were here and got to see it. back to chicago they went, sunday night, and in chicago, it could be winter for a couple more months, no matter what any groundhog says. it doesn't matter; it will thaw, sure enough, that's the promise god seems to keep most of the time; like the sun, it's pretty regular, and, like the sun, whatever light & blessing is given to you, comes your way, you eventually fork it over, it never was yours to begin with. but it's like the geese - when they call out, stop whatever you're doing, step away from the car, and take a look at the uneven kind of vee they're making as they squawk and lurch along. they know the wind; they know where it's coming from, how fast it is, and whether it brings moisture. i don't speak geese, but 'whoa' is just about the same, in every language.

Monday, February 15, 2010

the blogs go neglected; facebook goes without status...times are busy, but i at least think about them. wish i could get on them once in a while. at home, i rarely have a working computer at my fingers, though i could go in my son's room and use his tiny mini, when he's busy on the one family one. i kind of don't want to; lately, i've been quilting, and calling family members, especially my mom, whose voice i want to keep hearing. the quilt is now up to 121 out of 192 triangles; this represents progress, and means it may be done in a month or two, but even it is taxing my available time; my wife complains and hopes i'll get to the dishes at some point.

at work, my main class is full; 19 people are crammed into a room that holds maybe 14 max; the last few have to sit right under my nose, without a legitimate desk, but rather with a little metal folding card-table, or a chair with no table at all. a couple of students are kind of tucked back behind the smart platform, which takes up a lot of room, but they don't seem to mind the privacy, and they're good students who seem to understand what's going on anyway. many of them don't. some can't read, even the questions on the midterm; others don't really hear much. the rapid pace has all of them panting emotionally, academically. has me panting too. at home, i quilt - why should i get on the computer? i feel like it's ruined my eyes.

a careful study of grammar-checker has shown that all is not well in the world of grammar learning and general mastery of the language. grammar is the new weak point of all our students and especially those who grew up on the grammar-checker. it may not be as bad as i paint it. why am i putting it here? it has snowed now, off and on, for over a month, unuaually long even for here; however, it hasn't amounted to more than a foot at any given time, and mostly, it's just cold, salty, dangerous, miserable. the side doors of our van freeze up and everyone has to pile in through the front or back, where exhaust can get in; we've forgotten what spring will look like. sometimes the white blanket is pretty; the sun sets its pink on it, and the fields look pretty with their grasses peeking out, exposed. it's a stray dog holiday; the feds, and the schools, took presidents day, but the university did not, and the combined confusion given the history of lincoln's birthday and all, means there will be lots of garbage out on the curb, some of it for a little too long. i almost ran over some of it tonight, right at a corner where, a couple of days ago, i skidded and almost lost control. take heed; hold out, a better day is coming, and even the garbage folks will make it out, eventually, if not sooner.

in the building, students come up to me, trying to find a time to meet and talk; they don't like my office hours, maybe, or are just unaware of them. there are too many; i find it hard to extract myself, enough, to get to the next class. i always swim, if possible, when i'm under this much pressure; but, even that is untenable sometimes, or, i barely get in 30 when i want 48. nevertheless i sleep better, if i get even 10. the long day carries out; i'm swamped; but, i have patience.

when they take tests, i write haiku; when i have a chance, i slip it in, construct it, put pictures under it, and mark off on my sheet so that, sometime, i can count. i'm well over 300. but, many are doubles; they come to my mind, and i write them, but i've thought something just like it, in the past at some point. many of these, i can remove to another state, or just remove entirely. i will eventually have enough to include only my favorites, no doubles, no sloppiness. in quilting, also, i get better as i go along, but am stuck, to some degree, with some of my earlier sloppiness.

in music, we practice for a darwin day gig; i however have not included it on my music weblog; like others, it's gone somewhat untended. bill staines has come and gone, but another good show, february sky, is coming; this would be nice. we don't go much to these things, though; that's the way it is. in my head, sometimes, i'm in the garden - making haiku, fixing links, altering the saturation on some picture; on the street, i'm driving down the usual, sunset or chautauqua; i might have a new or different cd, but it's pretty much same-old same-old...the "snow removal" sign is covered by snow. the geese have stopped yapping and pretty much disappeared. lakes and ponds are frozen over treacherously (not thoroughly, as they would be up north) - and patches of ice checker all side streets starting with our own which has taken on several colors. and, it keeps snowing. a gentle, soapy, airy kind of fluff that doesn't really stick or even amount to much, but nevertheless, a steady supply of fluff. nothing like d.c., maybe, but, more than we've seen for a while. is it global warming? guess i wouldn't know; i've lost touch a little; often i don't even know what the weather says for tomorrow, or, say, the weekend. it all runs together. the chlorine in the pool puts the oxygen in my blood, and makes the poetry possible. but my eyes squint at night, and i find myself saying less. if i have no status, am i robbing my friends? am i hiding? i feel like it. there's no skating on this kind of ice. brakes don't even work, sometimes, and the best strategy is, slow down, and watch carefully. eyes on the important stuff - the family, in particular. but also the icy parking spots, and the corners. where cars have sat, and snow has frozen beneath them.

back in kansas they used pecan shells in this situation, and it was all very organic, and had a cool sound too. but they never had snow, constantly, for several weeks, as we've had, or at least they didn't while i was there. northerners might rue the fact that it takes a while for us to salt any given road, but, in the end, it works pretty well, though it takes a toll on wildlife, and leaves an acrid kind of poison all over the place, especially under the car. makes a person want to stay inside and quilt. at least, the allergies and ticks are gone. tomorrow will be a new and brighter day.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

a couple of things by my son:

salt, a radio essay about his recent birthright trip to israel;

preservation or progression, an article in the daily kansan

Saturday, February 06, 2010

30 year quilt

it started, to tell you the truth, when some guy gave me about half a dozen army shirts, one day back in the seventies in iowa city. maybe i had been complaining about not having enough shirts. anyway, these shirts fit fine, and were comfortable, and were even the same color as my eyes, but, you can imagine, i was not a popular guy for wearing them around. for one thing, i looked like fidel, with my long beard. for another, i had not been in the service, and was known to be against the war. it was assumed, then, that i was making some kind of political statement. i was not. i was just wearing these shirts. but, i found myself on the defensive all the time, and not enjoying it.

nevertheless i couldn't throw them away. they were comfortable, durable, and pretty, even, if you ignored the whole army symbolism thing. a dull kind of metallic green is not so bad if it doesn't shout ARMY at you. anyway, i then got this idea to make a kind of swords-into-plowshares kind of thing, but i never did find a good model of a plowshare or even a plough. now i sound kind of lazy, i realize. but, i was never big on research with this quilt; it was kind of a matter of principle; if it didn't come to me naturally, i let it go. sometimes i let it go for years at a time...maybe seven, or ten.

when i went to korea i stored its pieces in a bag in a basement, not far from a furnace, and worried that it would catch the place on fire. every time i moved i had to move the squares, the fabrics, and the stuff i stored them in; i could make it take up less space, but i couldn't bear to throw any of it away. i'd sewed squares, 11 X 13 or 143 of them, and would have had a quilt the size of a double bed. but it was overwhelming; 4 X 143 would have been over 500 triangles, and the last time i stopped, after about the tenth triangle, i was severely disillusioned. so i cut way back. now i want 196 triangles, and have about 88, almost half. i had 81 at the time the picture below was taken, this morning. i can do ten on a good saturday but once the week gets started i'll have trouble doing any.

you can see, in the picture, a general kind of earth-water-air-fire division. the earth is closest to you and the fire is way up in the right corner. this is because it dates from the hippie era, and one of its principles is the general randomness of flannel shirts on jeans, at the same time the perfect harmony of the universe, to bring together all these chance cool shirts and jeans., all on one quilt.

that's all i'll say for now. what you see is mostly backgrounds, and unfinished squares; the designs are coming, and it will all be tighter, and brighter, whether it's in the sun or not. it's a bowtie pattern. there's no way it'll hurt a baby, and the only damage a baby can do is spit up on it, which i'm sure would be ok, with these particular pants and shirts. after all, they were all worn by her grandfather.

Monday, February 01, 2010

it's unusual when it snows here, and it actually sticks around for about a week; in that sense we've had an unuusal winter, because we've had maybe a couple of weeks of white. and, it stays white. i've been thinking about upstate new york, where i grew up for a while, and where it snows a lot, and snows constantly. but there, the snow starts graying and blacking up right away; then, dogs add a little yellow here and there, and pretty soon, there isn't much white left. and this is such a regular occurrence, that one forgets that snow, and winter, are white (if you live in a city) and instead start thinking of it as gray, dull, acrid.

i know what a humungosaur and a maxus dragonoid are, because i have a four-year-old and eight-year-old boy. these loom big in their worlds as powerful agents to be feared, though, of course, they fear other things too. they have imaginations, and these capture their imaginations at the moment. but in fact what you buy in the local store is more likely to be plastic, and have parts, parts which hurt, underfoot, when they are left on the floor. eventually one judges all toys by how they feel underfoot, and this puts legos at the bottom of the list, although they're quite expensive. the boys never cared much for stuffed animals, though; nothing about them at all ever captured their imagination in any way. too bad; you can practically sleep on them. the dogs love them; they'll rip one apart in about two minutes. but the boys can hardly bother to touch them.

so, when you get a beautiful snow, you ought to send boys outside to play around and make snowmen, so that everyone gets a lot of fresh air and the neighbors can clearly see that the house is occupied by young spirits who know how to stick a carrot in a snowman's head. we, however, never made it outside this weekend, since i was too exhausted, and it's a huge production getting these boys all bundled up with plastic sacks on their feet, so that they don't come back in and ruin the wood floor. instead, we watched television, and though television is new in our house (we lived without it for about nine years, perfectly happily in fact)- it still is taking a lot of attention these days. i might watch the super bowl, yes, that's a february thing to do, i guess, but mostly i've been working on the thirty-year quilt and am grateful that the boys go off quietly, and leave me alone. i'm totally exhausted from an overload at work, and have to find ways of keeping a work week down to around fifty hours; it should be forty, but i have a conscience and want to grade & prepare. the quilt is coming along well; sometimes, i'm obsessed. i want to put a picture of it up here, show it off a little. get some opinions. i want to finish it too.

work is a humongosaur...yes, so i'll stop boring you with complaining about it. what little free time i have, i've gotten a little protective of; i've streamlined a few things right out of my life. i've got no plan to start watching "ER" or even the local news; i've gotten somewhat impatient with obama and halliburton's war, or the buying of the state of massachusetts, or even the election tomorrow here in the land of obama, which is important, if anything is. oh yeah, i'm sure i'll vote; but, lately, in fact, i've been writing haiku, when i'm standing in line, or watching my students suffer through a test, and then, burying it in the deep blankets of this very blog account, though it's another blog....poetry about gray slush and dark winter in the northern states. it's a way of escape, and, it works.

the harmonica is back in the pocket again, though it's a coincidence, really. one boy actually gave it to the other, and the other didn't want it, not recognizing its value...i am clearly failing as a father here, too busy to even teach them that. i did teach the older boy how to tune a guitar, though; maybe that will lead to something. i also lost the cell phone, but unfortunately, just found it later, in the pair of pants i'd been wearing, and had already checked. is this a coincidence? i'd rather have the harmonica. there's a lot less to it, when you pull it out and try to use it. sometimes, with my cell-phone, i pull it out, and turn on the camera accidentally. all of a sudden i realize i'm saving all these images, of wherever i am, and don't even want them. i feel like dropping the thing instantly, but fortunately, i've learned how to turn it off, and i usually do, very quickly. if i could save these movies, and put them on my hard drive, i might have a better time using clips and making stuff; maybe i'll work on that. but how do you get a movie from a phone to a iMovie? good question.

so i have a phone now, and that means i can walk across campus, and look busy like everyone else, too cool to even breathe the normal air, while walking all the while. there's a lot of snow out there at the moment, but it won't last; there's the groundhog, and then, spring, and then, soon enough, it gets too hot. but in the meantime, there's a full life to be lived, a quilt to be made, songs to be immortalized. life is a maxus dragonoid; one has to take it by the hand, and snap it on a magnet, and watch it extend its pieces, and not worry if it's not perfect, and don't, for heaven's sake, leave it at a friend's house.

the colors are fantastic. our back yard has not a single footprint in it, and the days are getting longer, by minutes, but longer anyway; the afternoon sun shines off the fresh white snow, every day, and the deer are busy; they haven't mucked it up even a little. out on the road, ice stuck to the grasses and the sun reflected off these brownish grasses with their chandelier kind of reflection; it's beautiful. the ground is kind of wet and soggy; the snow is unusual. i have a ticket to new mexico for march; then, boston, later in the month; might be time to get out, and think about stuff a little. i eagerly await the arrival of the quilt's recipient; she's due in late feb....maybe i'll be flying, when she's born. such is life. thirty years ago, i started the quilt, while i was watching her mother, who was then about three or four; i had some old army shirts, and was determined not to throw them away, since they along with old jeans were made of durable comfortable cotton whereas everything else seemed to irritate me. i told her, i might not finish this in time for you, but if you have a baby, maybe i'll give it to the baby. but now that baby is coming. what started out, maybe a swords into ploughshares kind of idea, is now just a bowtie quilt with a couple of army shirts worked into it. ah well, these things skip generations, and i can't even begin to understand the one i received once, through my mother, and grandmother, from an ancestor of some kind. didn't learn who exactly made it, or what they intended; but, they didn't have blogs back then. we're richer now, and have documented history, of every quirk of weather that has hit southern illinois in years. and, if i get it together, you'll see the whole quilt too; then, even if it perishes somehow (i lost one in a rambler once), it will still leave some of its virtual essence behind. life goes on, and some things last longer than a generation. not the humongosaur, probably, but some of the other stuff, for sure.