Friday, May 28, 2010

it goes from winter to summer rather suddenly here; although you are aware that there are signs of spring, blooming flowers & trees, mowing season and all, you get kind of comfortable in the blustery cool april, then the steamy sauna may hits you like opening the dryer, if you're not careful. and our dryer gets clogged up occasionally, so opening it is like opening into warm and steamy rather than warm and dry. warm and steamy is the weather here, in may, june and right into july when it eventually turns into warm and dry until about november. by warm i mean about 97 f. it doesn't get over a hundred much, but it does, every once in a while, and it feels like it, the other times, on account of the humidity.

so driving around is mostly like imagining the damage you do to the environment with the aircon blasting, or trying to live with warm steamy wind of opening the dryer, that is, the car windows. it's turtle season; i saw a dead one, and i saw one literally running across the street; this i would take to be proof of evolution, for if they don't speed up a little, they'll all be gone. i now have another son out on the road; he drove off today, new license, new mercedes (1989, actually, but very shiny)- and i don't know if he'll rescue turtles or not. the world looks different when you are first behind a car by yourself - though he has assured us he won't speed, he actually hasn't been in that position, by himself, before.

so i had to go to marion to pick up a fiddle bow that had been repaired, and i had, easily, an hour and a half or more to go only sixteen miles and back, but i almost didn't make it, because traffic was so bad, and there was some kind of construction, or maybe accident, and it wasn't even clear what was going on up ahead, it just seemed like long lines of cars waiting in the hot boiling sun. it wouldn't be so bad, except that i really haven't had much exercise, haven't swum, haven't walked, haven't nothing, so i began to boil. took the back roads, which fortunately i know a little, and barely made it. then the other day, the rains started coming down, and we were on our way home but the water was rising in the low spots around town. some places it was over a foot high and cars were driving through it; one got stuck, near our house, and we took it as a sign and turned back, tried another way around. the problem is, the sewers are kind of old, not huge, not capable of handling a quick downpour. several spots flood rather quickly. it's easy to be afraid; we're all on edge because of the great may derecho inland hurricane tornado, which hit last year about this time and took a few houses with it. when we got home there was no power; this is not unusual; also it stayed that way for five or six hours, which also is not that unusual, this being a small town and all.

i think about the boys, out there with little cars, little money, little choice, in some ways - on the other hand, of course, you could see them as having all the choice in the world. a third turtle, one i saved, had simply withdrawn inside himself, and stood, in the middle of a road, totally freaked by the cars, no doubt, now unable to cross the road, fast or slow, whatever. just sit still and hope nobody pops you. unfortunately when you're eighteen or twenty two you can't do that, and also, there are only so many times someone will stop their car, get out, and throw you back in the weeds. the mulberries are out - this i know for a fact, having seen a good one outside my own office building, although the japanese garden one, unfortunately, is history. mulberries are out, but, for turtles, this might not always be good. the huge and sudden rains are not such a problem for them; it's the ordinary roads, the ones that cut through their daily habitats, that they have trouble with. how do they know from rush hour?
Read this account of some ancestors of mine who were early pioneers, both in illinois, and out on the prairie, southeastern nebraska, northeast kansas. i read this brittle old newspaper clipping several times over several years before i decided it had to be immortalized by being put on the web; it literally fell apart as i read it, or threatened to. what bothers me is that there are actually pictures, of two couples who would actually be my great-great grandparents, and my great-great-great grandparents, on that side.

the story itself is stunning, in its simplicity, in what it leaves out, in its cold account of living out the civil war way out on the frontier. enough said...i will link it to other genealogical stuff as soon as possible.

Monday, May 24, 2010

a tribute to the ku was, in fact, a nice town, i thought...

the unmistakable figure cut in the picture below: the last of three graduations, the high school one, the line, at age 18, between youth and adult. there's no question we put more emphasis on this than we need to, but then, there's no question, it's a relief, a moment for parents, if you make it this far, a moment to be proud of. toward the end there, i told him, you'll be lucky if you don't tell them everything you've bottled up for twelve years, every hostility and resentment for confinement; it was clear at this ceremony that the hall monitors generally took the brunt of this resentment, and would forever be remembered for it, if not well paid.

in college, they called it "walk" as in, "are you going to walk?" which sounded eerily like an old movie about the death penalty which starred nicholas cage or some such star. you get the diploma, and off you go: some to nice colleges, far away; others closer to home. i'm always reminded of the ones that didn't make it; in this class a kid was hit by lightning (he might have been a class above or below) but they also graduated a returning vietnam vet who somehow had not made it through high school the first time around. late at night, their "lockdown" party ended at about 3:30; i thought maybe this was a last cruel joke on parents who still had to give rides, or maybe it was a way to have all the town's police converge on one spot, to see where everyone went to go drinking afterward. in any case, a group of them, class of 2010, was out on the street as i drove by at 3:30 am. i peered at them looking for my own son and not really recognizing any of them; his class was about 180, only 30 of whom i could say i knew at all, let alone well. they peered at me wondering if i were their ride; it was uncomfortable. coming back though, they were still there, on the corner. i rolled down my window and yelled congratulations. they made it. now, on to the dark foreboding world.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Friday, May 21, 2010

three graduations dominate the present situation; two are done, and a third, the big high school one, is tomorrow. the first was a preschooler moving on to kindergarten; he represents the general trend that they are putting everyone in robes these days, even third-graders, if they are moving on at all from one milestone to another. it's a ritual of its own, where you imagine that kids might be texting under their robes, even if they are only five, but in fact the whole community witnesses, and for the older boys anyway it's a big event for an entire generation and their parents who have stuck together throughout the years.

it's beginning to be turtle season; i saw the first out on the road the other day, and i know the mulberries are on their way out, and this will really bring the turtles, up over the culvert cement and across the road at a dangerous bend above the creek. the neighbor there has lost several mailboxes, and it's finally occurred to me that he lost them because people were swerving to avoid hitting turtles that they saw at the last minute as they came around a pretty and graceful curve near the creek. nobody wants to run over a turtle. but it takes a kind of skill to run directly over them without crushing them, and at the same time not intimidate oncoming traffic by swerving one way or the other, and cause them to careen into the creek or into a mailbox. trading a car for a turtle is not quite the right response. i suggested to my friend, who is selling the house next to the one with the mailbox, the house on whose land the mulberry tree actually stands, that maybe the turtles would buy the house. She wasn't amused.

the siuc graduation is one we missed altogether, so i didn't count it, but i am still tallying up all of my students and friends who were there one way or another, as teacher, graduate, or whatever; i hope to have this posted as soon as i recover.

the second of the three graduations was by far the most dramatic and eventful though indirect; i actually missed the ceremony itself. it rained in kansas for several days straight; i was there altogether four or five; the son involved was in hospitals in kansas, but is all right now, home in illinois, and though we are all traumatized a bit, it was a graduation i will certainly never forget. kansas colors of red and light blue were everywhere and people were drinking and celebrating heavily; it's a large and beautiful school, and it was full of vans like mine being loaded with personal effects. the road between lawrence and topeka i'll always associate with this experience; it's hilly, green, beautiful, but i felt like i was on another planet or at least in an unreal world. i'd drive past the kansas state capitol building every day; the town of lawrence, however, was kind of like a combination of towns i'd lived in before, iowa city and pittsburg- it offered a lively alternative culture and lots of coffee shops, my favorite of which was called the bourgeois pig (sp?)...i'd have coffee, and use my cell phone freely. relatives called from everywhere to get updated; fortunately the news was good; the boy was fine, and got better, and came home; I just had to wait. he made it. i did too. i was there, and saw it. he didn't walk, but that was ok; we came back together.

this brings us to the final one, tomorrow evening, with the convergence of family in support of the high school senior and his large class of same-age cohorts celebrating escape from a large, somewhat unwieldy high school out on the edge of town. this time i'll throw my cap in the air, maybe, when it's over; i'm really, really happy when any of them make it to that final step, and take it, across the threshold into adulthood. whereas becoming adult is gradual - it's been happening all along - the ceremony itself is a mark of their getting beyond a symbolic childhood and into some measure of self control of their own destiny. i'll miss the childhood part. they were nice boys, good to have around. they'll do fine in the world, i think.

the world is rich, it's been raining a lot; high water threatens the low areas of the park, and will probably bring possum and more turtles up out of the mud. life is too busy, but i'll stop for a turtle, if i have a chance; you don't want to hit those things. they are what's left of the stone age: they're hard to cook, but if you need 'em, they're always right there, at that one bend in the road. if you stop, put your blinkers on. people can usually see that, and it'll save a mailbox.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

my wife has an i-pad, which means that all these i.t. guys that i know often ask me if she's had any problems lately that they could possibly help her out with, could i please tell her they are dying to take a look at it and solve whatever issues might have come up. in fact it's behaving quite well, unlike this little dell mini that has already lost some little foot on its mouse. but i'm actually afraid of the ipad, since i can never figure out how to turn it off or change its modes, and it's so rubbery that i'm afraid i'll use it as a frisbee, just to see if the screen can turn itself around that fast. i'm also afraid i'll break it, so i tend to avoid it, but i've noticed that part of its lure is its apps store and one of the free, or cheap, apps involved this goldfish that is kind of like a digital pet; you feed it, you give it attention, put gravel in its aquarium, etc. and then this is a kind of relaxing way to kill a few minutes, or maybe hours, i suppose.

so this virtual fish kind of draws a person away from a very political academic situation, and becomes like a real fish: the bubbles glide up toward the surface and mesmerize you, getting you to put yet more attention into a little square computer box that is rather like a fishtank anyway, the way its screen tilts like water depending on which direction is up. now meanwhile it's gotten hot or rather humid outside, and this increases the pressure and forces you to put on the air-con even if you are just driving around town, because just windows-open is not enough to deal with such situations. and i've got a little poison oak, a bad sign but one i should have seen coming when i went out back to clear a little brush for a little pine tree that's coming up out of nowhere. the weather, the end of the term, the lack of swimming pool, and the poison oak have all combined to leave me an itchy bundle of nerves but this somehow does not get alleviated by a virtual fish; somehow the fish seems to make it worse, like google news, or the information-stealing on facebook. i was playing fiddle the other night and all the horse-hairs on my bow suddenly started falling out until they were all gone and i had to simply stop playing. glad it didn't happen at a gig, but nevertheless i was a little miffed to have all these musicians hanging around, with guitars, and me, mute from lack of horsehair.

so it's graduation season, one-year anniversary of the derecho, and that particular storm reminded me that what they call "graduation" is in fact a string of about eight or nine separate ones; the storm wiped out maybe the first one or two, then quite a few of them got moved to the stadium, then finally they got a generator organized and had the last couple of them in an indoor ballroom, especially since everyone was now nervous because of all the fallen trees, lack of power, roads closed, etc. so this incredibly humid weather and all the graduation stuff- guests in town, pomp and circumstance, etc., is all very stressful, and one night i was walking on campus to find a pack of four or five boys in a car methodically running over all the standing "state law" signs that warn you to give pedestrians and bicyclists the right of way. these guys were very drunk; this clearly wasn't the first time they'd done it either; they were pretty good at it. it reminded me, a little, of that other carbondale- the hard drinking, washed out, not-gonna-make-it-to=-raduation carbondale. drinking problems come their final conclusion. it's a small-town thing.

many years back, my daughter wanted me to go to her graduation, and i packed young boys and a tent into a car and drove up to iowa to go to it. we camped, but the sky opened up and totally drenched us, and we had to find shelter which fortunately wasn't impossible. at her party her mother accused her of slouching across the stage and i was reminded that i slouch almost all the time, wherever i go, due to some problem i was born with, that just makes standing up straight slightly painful. somewhere deep inside me i know there's a solution to this problem; yet, i haven't found it yet and am still basically wondering about it. i have two graduations in the coming week, one college (univ. of kansas) and one high school (carbondale) and i'm wondering if my sons got the same problem as i seem to have gotten. when the pool is open, and i'm in as good a shape as i can get, i still have a crooked back and look kind of bent. and that's when i'm feeling good. life continues to be stressful, and of course i'm not swimming at the moment, and walking does absolutely nothing for all the various parts of me that need some breathing. but, as i watch these graduations, i won't care. the point is, they made it as far as they could; they got to where they were going; they're ready for the next step.

the virtual fish likes it when you push on the virtual water, and make virtual bubbles. this in a way, is kind of like the world of academia, protected from reality, yet having its own cause-and-effect, push-and-pull virtual kind of dazzly environment. her i-pad is from her work- yet one more reason for me not to touch it- yet in some ways it doesn't function like your average computer, it's more of a cross between a kindle and an iphone, except of course i have no idea how either of those work, except that with a kindlish reader you can read whole books and turn pages with a whiff of your hand; with an iphone you can sit anywhere and occupy yourself endlessly playing some kinds of games, perhaps texting or whatever; you see it all the time. some of these students may graduate, or they may not, but here they are, trapped in time, as it were, in a virtual fishbowl. i wouldn't bother them of course; i'm invisible anyway, more or less; they look into their little machines, and seem to be absorbed, yet respond to whatever somebody is doing at the other end of them, as if they're getting gravel in their tank. such is the world these days. the weather is a little chancy anyway; it's better, maybe, to build your reality around that virtual stuff, that's not likely to be so messy when the big winds come.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

a year ago today was the derecho, and folks are still talking about it, though some including one of my close friends mispronounce it as "dereko" or some other such thing. derecho is spanish for "right" but also is used to mean "straight" as in "straight-wind hurricane", but nobody ever explained to me how "right" and "straight" could be the same word, and it's still unclear to me if maybe my friend is right, and it's not really a spanish word at all but some turkish or greek word that wandered in with the strange weather. nevertheless it is beautiful this year; as nervous as people have been, every time the wind comes up and the lightning comes through, it's maintained its gorgeous sense of day-after-day, blue sky, fresh-air gorgeousness.

the wife and kids are about to go off to a party in a nearby town, thus leaving me with a house, a garden, and a way-full garage all in bad need of attention. as usual for saturday i'm a little exhausted from the week; the garage is overwhelming and there's almost no chance i could even put a dent in it. instead my mind wanders both to haiku and to the world of music; i played a folk coffee-house last night and i kind of relive it, good and bad, now that it's morning. in haiku i'm making steady progress on a major tome that now includes so much of my travel experiences that it practically reads like a novel; yet within each state you have to go through four seasons and the new year before you even get out of the state. some states have a measly offering; these are states like delaware and south carolina, in that i might have gone through them at night, and had very little real experience with them, and thus don't know what to write about without doing some research. so now i even do research, and slowly learn a little about the culture of states that i knew very little about before. haiku also forces you to be more attentive to the wild plants and animals, the seasonal things, and i'm slower to learn these things, but it's coming; i've got a bit of an education to get in terms of the names of these wild plants and trees and birds, that i've seen almost everywhere i've gone. yet it's the places, like north carolina, that i went as a kid, or that i practically flew through when i was hitchhiking, that i need the most education in.

so i find myself, when i'm onstage, or when i'm listening to a folk performer, or when i'm standing around watching my students taking a test, and i'm thinking how to put this kind of experience into short seventeen-syllable verse, that has both a wild place-name and a season-marker, and conveys some of the one-moment-at-a-time sense i'd get when i was traveling. it's a kind of obsession. i'm at home, have a couple of minutes, tons of things to do, yet what i want to do is drag out the map, get out on the outer banks and see pictures of wild storms and tourist webpages touting ocracoke island and the legends of blackbeard. it's kind of like traveling, in my mind, and allows me escape from what otherwise would seem overwhelming piles of laundry, dishes, garage-junk, overgrowing weeds, etc.

the performance itself was good; i'm a better fiddler, and the visiting folk musician who i played with was a local guy who everyone knew and liked from over ten or twelve years ago when he still lived here. in fact his son is still here; about to graduate with my son; a musician also; and, it gave me a look into what things might have been like had i chosen to truly go the musician route, be independent, make my own way, don't live in the protective bubble of state services, just live on making cd's and promoting myself. it was instructional; profound; the upshot of it was, i was driven deep into north carolina, in my mind, to escape thinking about all of what i saw.

saw the first of three graduations on friday, this one of a preschooler who is off to kindergarten in the fall, and who, with seven of his closest friends, who he has played with virtually full-time for years, stood up there, with cap and gown, practiced walking down steps with a cap dangling on their heads, and accepted flowers and a "diploma" gracefully and with batman shirt clearly showing from beneath the gown. at first i thought, they've carried this ceremony thing a bit too far, graduating preschoolers, as well as eighth-graders, fifth-graders, and everyone else; it's not like these kids actually earned a degree. as i watched i was thinking more of the older two, one graduating high school and one graduating college, who are really moving into the abyss of adulthood and really beyond the stage where i can protect them, control them, guide them, etc.; yet, i'm lucky, really, that all of them have made it to where they are, without the tragedy that seems to lurk around the corner of so many near-adult people. and then, one of the workers got up and started crying, telling about how she changed the diapers of these very same children. Mine made a huge face on the spot and went "yuck!" as they all have clearly moved into the stage where it's perfectly normal to talk about, and make fun of, all bodily activities and such things, which make them giggle and squeal, and prove that now most of them are thoroughly five.

with two more graduations to go, and a visit to a granddaughter on the horizon, i thought it might be time to review and revise, revisit dreams that have never quite died. i hang onto my dreams, even ones such as going to africa or scandinavia, that are looking less likely as the years sail by; it may be that these will never come to fruition, yet it also seems that something will die inside me if i ever do give them up entirely, so it's better to hang onto them, cherish them, perhaps pass them along to the younger ones who can be angry at my inability, or ineptitude, pick up the ball, and simply bring them to life. one, of course, is to be a musician, and i've done this ok; sure, i just stood there, didn't say much, didn't truly bask in the stage light, but i did play, in tune, got my song in there, and did a good job of supporting my partners on stage. second, is being a novelist, which is of course entirely dormant, since i gave up a small project again, sometime in january, perhaps the third of fourth time i've tried....pitiful. there are some minor ones, besides the mundane, such as cleaning out the garage, getting bicycles in working order, and getting a lush and productive garden. how about planting mulberry trees? how about the pursuit of the midwestern wild pear, or the simmon tree? how about organizing genealogical information; this one is important, because i have an important post in the road, there was a lot going on with my ancestors, and much of it is crumpling up in old files in my office, waiting for someone to make sense of it. how about rebuilding what i had on the web, so that these blogs can lead somewhere, so that i have a place to show off what i do and who i am? all this stuff is coming, i promise. i've found this a good place to crystallize these dreams, roll them around on my finger tips, put them in words, because, even though some dreams are never to be fulfilled, a dream never even put into words in the first place, is in far worse shape than the one that's simply waiting for someone to pick it up. it's getting far easier to travel the world; far easier to communicate across the miles, and i have less and less excuse to get anything done, if i really want to get it done. time to get off the computer, and get started; it's a beautiful day. a year ago, the town was a wreck; trees fallen, no power, a devastated campus on graduation day; today, it's crystal clear, a garden, waiting for tending, care, and human decision as to which trees should live and prosper.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

life is rich, life is full; it's mowing season, and clear cool blue-sky days make the grass grow so fast, you 'bout have to start over once you get to the end. it goes to seed and then grass starts growing everywhere including driveways and on people's bald heads. poison oak and every other imaginable weed starts popping up out of bushes and any other place they can take hold including the foot-wells of the car where old sodas compete with moldy swimsuits and make nutrient-rich growing environments with greenhouse capability when one parks. got to the pool and it was closed the other day so by nightfall tonight i absolutely had to go for a walk and walked the two-and-a-half miles back into the office as i often do, to make a movie or sit a minute before coming back; lately though my key hasn't worked and i can't get in the outside door. this i take as a sign since i have no legitimate business there anyway; i don't do my homework, or clean the humongous piles of crap in every corner of the place. the walk there and home are both rich and full; it's spring; people are out; people are graduating; people are getting ready to move along. this is certainly true of my sons; one is graduating out in Kansas soon; another here at the high school; one is graduating second grade, and the last is actually graduating pre-school. i myself am doing the opposite of graduating, which is staying in a classroom after all these silly years. nevertheless a rich full life is treating me well; i have a very well-documented granddaughter, diva, media idol, not camera shy in the least, and i'll spend part of the month meeting her, as well as attending graduations.

got away for a weekend, to pere marquette park, up by alton, a traditional place where my ancestors once settled many years back. coming up through the city we got lost and actually crossed the mississippi, but it was raining hard coming past the cliffs where the cliffs appeared to be pushing us into the swollen river like a squeegie. kept hearing people say "you'se" up there which provoked my curiosity; i thought that was only in the bronx or maybe philly, but apparently it's rural alton too; three different people i heard say it, more than once. came home and finished the quilt, so i'm putting it on the media circuit and getting opinions about it before i finish it. my movie, you'll see in a minute; it's little more than a cute slide show with a good classic tune. i've gotten too busy for an i-movie i don't understand; too busy to follow the indians; too busy to watch the weather skirt across the midwest and miss us, barely, again. it's tick season. i'm not too busy to pull those little suckers off if they start heading for the promised land. the weather is stunning; it rains a lot, then, when the sun comes out, it's crystal clear and beautiful. all living beings are out in force. we have to ramp up the pressure to survive.

took the quilt into work, because that's where the good videocam is; i figured i could at least show it to my mom, which i did. don't really know where such an enormous project came from, what got into me, where i happened to pull forth what it needed, to get it all together. it's kind of an odd structure, altogether, many-colored, black and gold on its edges, bow-tie in pattern. i'll tell you all about it soon, soon as it's done. i'm actually getting some advice on it, now that i have it out in public. but i've never really followed much advice on it. i just made it; i didn't do much to learn about the process. i could do better, if i would listen to people who had a clue. but life is too busy; the little guy likes to go out, play baseball; the middle son is reading through harry potter books (flying, really) while the older two are taking huge breaths to finish marathon stints in schools; little do they know, that life can get a little goal-less, when there's no graduation in sight, and one day turns with stunning regularity into the next. out of school, that's great, as long as there's a plan, there's a way to pull in a decent life. it's their problem; i'm beginning to let go, and have to have faith once in a while in spite of myself. all the creatures- the spiders, the poison oak, the snake that molted outside the hotel pool, the possums that are out because of the wet: they all just want a share of it. let the hot stuff begin...