Thursday, April 29, 2010

a short lesson on the navajo has been inspirational in several ways. it started when i had the opportunity to invite an anthropology professor to talk to my class about navajo kinship patterns; the navajo are matrilineal and matrilocal and it was interesting to hear someone explain that. i then went to a guest linguistics luncheon that he gave; and finally, i showed a short movie to the class which was an overview of the navajo; their listening, as a class, is quite weak, but some people were able to hear the movie reiterate the points of the speaker.

one weaver talked about how he thought about his grandmother every day, and took care to put patterns of weaving that came down through her family, into his weaving. as sheepherders, the men had been weaving "since the beginning of time"...and, they never finished a rug (I had heard this before), because the process was more important than the finished product. they were able to express a little of what navajo spirituality meant and why it was so attractive to us, and so different from ours. a famous story involves white anthropologists trying to get a word out of the navajo that corresponded to our idea of "God" (a single mono-masculine guy) and coming up with only "hola-hei" which we now know to mean "i don't know - really! i really don't know!" their view of God was really quite different.

so what did i find inspirational? several things, besides the linguistic side itself, which reminded me that i live on the junction of cultures, and interlinguistic punning, every day. first, i have always maintained, perhaps alone in this world i know, that quilting is a perfectly normal thing for men to aspire to; there's nothing especially feminine about it, besides what the culture artificially places on it. second, it is a responsibility of an artist to pass down things from one's family, as well as from one's culture; in other words, i need to educate myself on the wallace tartan, what it is and what it looks like, and how to make it into a quilt, as the wallace inheritance is what i receive through my mother (though it then is through her father, and his father)- but in general, i should be looking upward through the kinship tree for my inspiration. i know little about my ancestors, though my parents freely tell me whatever they know; most are lines on a page known by their names, birth and death dates. people write me occasionally looking for more information, because i've put a few complete files on the web. i have a long-term goal to organize everything i know; i'm a long way from it.

the quilt is almost done. the story of it may not be believed. i had no role models; i never knew another male who made quilts. having received quilts from my mother, through her ancestors, who were unclear to me but clearly not my grandmother who i knew, i had only what i had in my hand to look at, and wonder who exactly they were. thus i had this idea, given these shirts and pants that had a kind of durable quality but weren't much good as shirts or pants anymore, that it was what ancestors do, to make this stuff and pass it down. and so, i started, and it took over thirty years. it didn't have to, but it did, because i had to stop every once in a while, for seven or eight at a time, to get my sense of purpose restored.

but the thirty-year part of it is going to recede into its history, because i have another name for it now: the hawkeye quilt. in the end, i decided that it needed black and gold on its outside, against the advice of my wife btw, as black and gold are not considered colors that necessarily go with every other color of the rainbow. i decided this, because the granddaughter who is its recipient, must be connected to the hawkeyes in some other ways besides the monolithic hayden-fry bird symbol that is connected to most iowa things that are given to her. hayden fry was able to make illegal all other bird logo hawkeyes, and able to make his ugly bird dominate the landscape for many years, but he wasn't able to take the black-and-gold hawkeye pride away from us altogether; and, the hawkeye spirit, and idea, will be here long after he's gone. he's not an enemy, btw; he was a loyal hawkeye, a good football coach, probably even a nice guy; his main weakness, however, was following the bad advice of some overzealous and severely misguided marketing reps. and we, as a result, have to rummage to find good iowa sweaters. but even that will happen; if i can't find one, i'll make one.

back to the navajo: one other thing reminds me of my quest with scottish gaelic and the scottish gaelic words to the song "blackbird" which i found the other day. the urgency of keeping a language alive is a cultural thing and no longer has to be bound by geography, any more than it has to be destroyed by the horrific circumstances that gave it death blows (see yiddish). to the navajo poet who said, every time i speak navajo it's an act of resistance, i say, yes, but it's harder for the navajo themselves to learn it, because the older folks somehow expect them to get everything right, as perhaps the language should be part of their blood. no, only the blood is part of your blood. the rest is in your head. and the journey in your head is like the quilt itself: it's not finished 'til it's finished, and even then, it would be a shame to make that last stitch.

i look at the last few stitches of my quilt, and think of many ways to make it better, but time is running out. at some point, it will be what it is, and that will be it. no problem; there are more on the horizon.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

the weekend started out with a tornado watch, and though the tornado hit way down in mississippi, nothing but a cracklin radio up here, the stress of the whole thing lingered around anyway, as it rained, rained some more, got cold, and rained still more. it was the weekend of the irish festival, which has turned into a fun time with good music and stuff for the kids, in a local park that is well-placed, but this year i ran into a guy who was really from ireland, and i complained that they had pretty lousy, cold & blustery, weather for the irish fest, and he said, that's the kind of weather ireland has, so that's an irish fest for you.

grass is now growing so quickly that even weekly mowing can't keep up with it. go three days and it looks like you've been a week; go a week, and dandelions are flowering and the tall grasses are moving in. the dreaded yellow ticket means the city is down on you and ready to mow for you, and charge up the wazoo for it too. but nobody wants one of those yellow tickets. some people wonder if they just cut the median, can they avoid a ticket, by looking like they at least got started, then had to leave to fix their mower? i'm not up on what works. we hire a guy named karl these days, and he takes care of it. adds years onto my life, i'm sure; i feel a bit yuppish about it, but do it anyway.

turtle season rapidly approaches, because the mulberries on sunset boulevard will come ripe in early june. that house, with the tree, is for sale; the mulberry tree in the japanese garden is entirely gone. the ones on the road are no good; they get sprayed. the turtles on the boulevard are onto the good one though; i'm sure they take a big interest in who, if anyone, buys the house; this is their livelihood. their june.

i'm thinking of going into the mulberry tree business; i could start with my own yard, and plant sweet messy berries all over town. johnny mulberry, i could be; my wife already has disdain for my project. but she at least said i could plant one. she may not like them, but maybe she's never climbed one. there are male and female trees, supposedly; i certainly wouldn't know the difference. those and wild pears. now that i have a granddaughter, i am working on preserving the best things of life. mulberries, wild pears, and quilts. maybe not in that order.

working on the haiku a lot these days; it's going well. my collection still has a lot of bogus ones, though the links should be good; still needs work, is what i'm trying to say. also went to my friend's art exhibit; she's korean, had family from korea to see the ceremony. one of her favorite pictures has many pears in a splay of color; korean pears are round, so the fat-bottomed and many-colored varieties here in the usa represented diversity to her. diversity, and more than that, if you could remember the wild kind, that used to grow on farms, and get swiped by the wild animals regularly. those wild pears are worth saving. sometimes i can taste them, just as i sit here. at the moment though, i've been reminded of a korean persimmon: red, grainy, messy, infinitely delicious. some things are worth going 8000 miles for.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

today dawned sharp and clear, beautiful, spring is raging here in southern illinois, and that means everyone's allergies are acting up and the grass is growing so fast you have to start back at the beginning when you finish, and just keep mowing. but since it's my birthday, april 21st, i thought i'd give you a composite summary of everything i know about this day just so you have some background into what it's like to have a birthday on the cusp of aries and taurus, in the heart of april rocks birthday season. the queen of england abandoned the birthday, and holds her celebration in june, but that's partly because a lot more people are involved, and getting them all out to wherever she celebrates is a wet & mucky mess, maybe, at this time of year. for me, and john muir, and that guy i met picking blueberries in alaska one day, that was never such an issue. we americans just tend to take that day, and expect everyone to provide us with cake, and a night out, or whatever.

so it happened that one year in the 70's they celebrated earth day on this day, and it was a fairly big hit, so much so that they decided to do it again the following year. they had originally picked muir's birthday because they figured, you might as well, it's as good as any. but the following year it had moved from saturday to friday, so they decided, on the next year, to make it the 22nd, and that was the year it really made it big, it was huge, thousands of people came out, so it's been the 22nd ever since. now that's my memory, best i can remember, but it shows how the history of earth day/birth day are kind of intertwined.

having a birthday at this time of year allows you to catalogue exactly what kind of weather one can expect in mid-late april every year, but i can tell you that that was more interesting in iowa, when you could occasionally get bleak blustery winterish stuff even in late april, and the state's worst blizzard ever was recorded april 9th or some such day. here, it's almost always spring; it's almost always ok to plant stuff; only some years, we're lucky like now and it's not steamy and hot and fixin' to stay that way for another nine months.

so what is it like to be on the cusp of aries and taurus? maybe it works on one's mind, more than it truly makes any difference. after all, i live in this world, and am far more a product of how i was brought up, where i was, what i did, where i went to school, etc. than i could possibly be, a product of where the stars were placed on that moment of my birth, in euclid ohio in 1954. but i can tell you this. taurus is the settler, the homebound; i'm a taurus, over the line. the bull in the sky is where the pleides is, that group of stars that supposedly holds the black hole. and orion is constantly aiming his arrows there, all winter, for what it's worth. aries, on the other hand, is the pioneer, the explorer, the one who sets out for new stuff, and finds it. so what better cusp could there be? i have no idea, by the way, being unfamiliar with gemini or any of the others, really. all i can tell you is that i feel very much on this cusp, virtually every minute of my life. in some ways, that's what this blog is all about (see notes down the side, on the template).

i found out recently that an old friend of mine, a full professor, has been blogging all these years, and not telling everyone about it. his blog doesn't really hide the fact though; his name, his school, things about him are all over it. we just didn't know. and that goes to show, in many ways, being right out here in plain sight, making rants that everyone sees every day, is far more anonymous, in its own kind of way. i get what, a couple of visits a day maybe. but i'm thankful to blogger; after cesl/siuc shut down everything i've made & done over the years, ning has gone paid/only; i've come to realize, not many things are truly free in this world, besides google and maybe wordpress. and it's been good to me; i know where my life story is (here) and i know how to find it; and, i can even change it. which brings me to my last point. i tried changing my birth year on facebook to 1900; i was tired of commercials already knowing that i was 55 (now 56 btw) so i thought i'd let them assume i was 110 for a while. they wouldn't buy it. even though i'm the admin of my own facebook account, something tripped up their sensors and they wouldn't go for it. ah, so much for i-d alteration. i'm going to start claiming my senior citizen discount anyway. i throw those aarp junk-mail envelopes straight away, ok, but if someone is going to offer me a dollar off, i'll take it. i have ways i'm thinking of spending it.

to the queen, i raise my glass (of coffee)...happy birthday! also to jim morrison, who i've been thinking a lot about lately, and old john muir; also, the guy in alaska. also to hans (?), in winnipeg, whose wife was just on the other edge of the cusp, but then, that's hitler's birthday, and the anniversary of columbine, so i've always wondered how that would have worked out. there's no telling. there are a few more; i've forgotten, for the moment, as the day is so beautiful, so fresh, so stunning, that i can hardly even remember to prepare to teach. i will, though....that's what i do. and i'll come back this way to tell about it.

Friday, April 16, 2010

as one who writes haiku, i can tell you that every syllable is valuable, every single letter has meaning and occupies an important spot. all my haiku is link haiku, which means that beneath these words is code, and that's all important too, although recently i found that the vast majority of my links to maps had somehow gone dead in the last four or five years. i'd take all these haiku, and link them to both a season and a map, but now come to find out that lots of digital map providers have up and moved on to greener pastures. one of these days i'll have fifty of my own, and good summer-fall-winter-spring-new year links as well, but in the meantime i'm left scrambling for maps to put as links under the haiku...and, in the process of moving down the alphabet, repairing each state one at a time, i'm down to illinois, a good place to stop temporarily. illinois has almost double the haiku of any other state, but a lot of this stuff has to be weeded, like any other garden, and i may really have a lot fewer than i feel like i've got at the moment, since i occasionally make bogus ones, or repeats.

a good hard rain showed up today, while i was in my office, totally exhausted, so i watered my plants, reasoning that they should get some too, and went back to trying to prepare classes when i'm about keeled over from exhaustion. what really wore me out was a gig played in front of an old-baptist-center crowd of fourth graders, a tough audience, but mostly very appreciative and polite as usual. i almost told them: when i was in fourth grade, some guy came and played the cello in my class, and my jaw dropped and i took up the cello on the spot, and i've always wanted to thank that anonymous guy, so this kind of performance is the closest i can get. we did a good job, but i said virtually nothing, let my partner do all the talking, and it was just as well. spring is blooming all over the place, which means, lots of color, lots of allergy, lots of partying in town, lots of things happening. i've been making movies, or slide shows really; have a couple planned, but they take my time, time i don't really have, and i want to finish a quilt, and a book i've been editing too.

so a friend at work said she was moving to statesboro georgia soon, and we all congratulated her and wished her well in her new life which will have lots less teaching, and more holding a baby which is expected soon. nobody there had heard of statesboro blues in any of its incarnations, which in my opinion put that town on the map; she said the one in georgia was the only statesboro in the country & i'm sure that's the one the allman brothers' song was about, but they didn't actually write the song, just maybe made it famous. well i guess i'd say, famous with me, anyway, who drives around town listening to the allman brothers' seven-minute drum solo and on some trips nothing else these days. i'd also like to say, finally posted a letter about iowa, over a hundred years old, which you've got to read; i've got no personal comment, except that it's real; i have no interest in proving that "iowa" meant "the sleepy ones" as it could have meant anything for all i know. i have taken a stand on "des moines" which in my opinion comes from the french "des moyennes" or the middle (middle river, the des moines being between the missouri and the mississippi), excuse my french, but french was mis-heard by the english for so many years that just about any mis-hearing is believable to me, and i myself know french so poorly that i almost certainly misspelled even that.

which is to say, finally, that these very weblogs have become almost all that's left of stability for me, my static web pages being shot, my colleagues not even knowing from statesboro, and the maps all vaporized right out from beneath the road haiku that sits upon them. thousands of years ago the mound people came up and down these rivers, standing on cliffs and watching for more people, but they disappeared without a trace, for whatever reason, and now we have a new country that sets up interstate highways, steel mills, toxic waste dumps and strip joints all around the original mound that was cahokia, city of the sun, largest city in the americas for thousands of years. i'd like to know what those mound people really were all about, but what do i know? i'll write about it in my haiku, but mostly from the perspective of the traveler: i show up, i see this incredible earthen structure, then, i move on down the road. what else can i do? i have only questions, even the maps, when you have them, don't say all that much. the shapes of the states are readily recognizable; they're like templates in our minds, and they bring images along with them, whatever memories we have of any particular state. but even the states themselves are illusions, borders drawn on an incredibly large continent, temporary, fleeting even; this difference between illinois and iowa, a cusp i've been on most of my life, is really a figment of my imagination. you think you're either east of the river or west of it, and it does matter, but the river moves, not only when it floods, but sometimes it just moves for no reason at all. there was a volcano the other day; that could shake things up, but most likely will just strand a few travelers here & there, and send some wild stuff up in the air for a while. down here, life is churning, changing, moving along, but i need the weekend; i've lost my orientation, and need to remember which way to go to get to the farmer's market, which just opened again, after a long winter. p.s. tomatoes are in; maybe i can grow a few, before it's all over. that will keep a spirit up on the hillside.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

3514 is one of the largest rooms i teach in; it's got a large window which you can open, and which was open today, even though it's turned hot outside and the inside is much cooler. it has no clock but that's a different drama and much easier now that i have a cell phone and can know the time just by pressing one errant button. so i'm teaching in this warm, light-filled room overlooking the campus and the circle, and they were doing a toefl exercise based on the expression 'blue moon'- this was actually a toefl reading lesson- when one student pointed out a large fat bee which had come inside and was trapped by the steel panes of the window unable to get back out. i used the list of students to try to coax him outside but he fell through the half-inch crack caused by a metal ledge that was part of the pane below the open window. now he was down beneath, unwilling to come back up through the narrow crack, unwilling to come out from the window so that he could get around the metal ledge, and clearly, visibly and loudly, quite upset.

so i'm leaning over, trying to coax him onto that student list; the one guy who had pointed him out was just staring at me, too distracted to read. others were trying to read and watch the bee at the same time. i'm poking him and prodding him, trying to get him onto this list, but he's not having any part of it, and this goes on for a few minutes of utter futility. finally i got an idea. i spoke to him like a father with a stern voice. i told him he didn't have much choice but if he got on the paper everything would be fine. and, much to my surprise, he finally listened. it could be that i got the paper around him in just such a way that he really had no choice. but finally, i got him, back and around the ledge, and out the window, and away he flew. he was visibly happy as he flew off. open, outdoor air, that's what he wanted all along. he wasn't much for the toefl.

as for the blue moon, it was a good exercise, but it's over. anything you want to know about blue moons, let me know. i'm somewhat of an expert.

Friday, April 09, 2010

spring pops out everywhere; trees get buds and flowers, and they change colors every day, making strong fragrances throughout town, and lively combinations of pink, white, red, yellow, and every imaginable hue. and they change daily; not only is the weather extremely changeable, but the colors go along with it.

and unexplainably, i go virtually mute, not only here, but also on facebook and probably worst on my work blog which got one measly post about the tesol convention but virtually nothing else in about a month. i have a lot to put there, and here, but just haven't been able to do it. i drag. i do other stuff. maybe i'm taking a break.

in some ways, yes. the thirty-year quilt: almost done, it has to be finished in real space, not online, with real eyes, by an open window, a calm street and its corner, as i sew away. two whole corners, finished; two more have their rows done and being sewn together. pictures coming. birthday season: right in the middle of two, one son turning five, one daughter thirty-two; that's a range for ya, but they're all doing well, and expect all the hoop-la i can summon in the process. then there's me; i turn 56 soon; does this deserve reflection? or is it just a steep downhill slope looking more downhill, and more steep, all the time? the classes, in three-and-a-half hour blocks, roll by with stunning and deadening regularity though it's not as bad as it has been. graduation season creeps up; a visit to a granddaughter too. but none of this has done it.

here's what's done it. first, tons of resources, online, sitting in a disc on my desk. years of collecting, paying attention, reading, saving: it's just there, waiting and needing my attention, to put it somewhere valuable. second: the creeping awareness that one's virtual footprint is everywhere. how did i get so prolific? do i really want this? the awareness that i was so imprinted, and now relieved of it, is passing over me like a shadow. and maybe i'll tiptoe away, that much less noticed...

finally, i've been editing a book, a look at the underworld of drug-dealing, murder, the underworld life of black folks in chicago, and it's kind of like the other life-and-death stuff that passes in front of you: makes you less inclined to just ramble, say, or to just share some vacuous status, based on your whim. this is actually a true story, or true enough; it's written as you'd expect, kind of, well-written actually, but needs editing and all, and i'm a little in awe, just to be privy to horrid bone-chilling truth. i often read it right before i swim, after i've prepared a few hours; before my three-and-a-half marathon. i do that, maybe, instead of posting.

the wild onions shoot up from the grass; the weeds are full of their blood rising and getting ready to dominate. the little guy likes baseball and we play a lot; i'm getting some fresh air. the spring brought a lightning storm the other night; it was mild, but it might have had a tornado watch attached to it. this kind of stuff is usual. time to get out & turn the earth; it's not long before it's too hot, and only the tomatoes will remain out there, or maybe a pumpkin if it makes it 'round the corner. in the house, i'll grab the kids; i'm glad they're alive, that i can still hold them; they see another spring, and, what with the graduations going on, the older ones begin to make their own choices, the new baby arrives to take everyone's attention. it's what's i'd call mowing season, a time of incredible growing, busy-ness, rapid change and very loud birds at the window when you wake up early in the morning. the treetops are their facebook; whatever their status is, apparently all the other birds know it. dawn, i guess, is a status of its own.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

april rocks birthday club...more coming!

happy birthday!