Thursday, July 29, 2010

i like to tell my boys, and i mean it, that i'm just a small-town schmuck with big dreams. like 'big fish'. oh yeah, i have some notoriety, world famous in carbondale, as i like to say, but that notoriety disappears pretty quick, about five miles east, and isn't really very strong, even within the city limits. but my dreams are important to me, and i hang onto them, even cultivate them; sometimes i crystallize them, but even then, they often go unrealized, as life is just genuinely busy, and i often have a good excuse for not realizing them.

now murphysboro is the county seat, about seven miles up the road, and it has a number of ornate old houses with wrap-around porches, that go for a song, and old brick buildings lying empty waiting for someone to move in. it's a slowly dying town, kind of turning on itself, even less to do than carbondale which itself a one-horse town with a drinking problem. but murphysboro has lots of charm, besides its courthouse, and i got a gig in one ornate old historical-register building, which is now called the "activity center" and which was once an old elks building.

our music is not bad these days, but you could hardly hear it, because the place was full of women, and most of them were talking or had some kind of other business on their minds. so we played and played, but it seemed in some ways like we were spinning our wheels, and music of course gets me in touch with all my dreams. one of course is being really good, and playing literally whatever i want. i saw john hartford in murphysboro one time, and he represents another of my dreams, in that he did exactly what he wanted, going up and down the river, playing the small towns, even after he'd made it in nashville. but playing murphysboro is not really my dream; i've already done that. across from this activity center was the murphysboro american, a small-town newspaper that just lost its editor. now that's a dream- to have one of those, but i don't know what kind of dream that is, let alone whether it's possible, or whether it would be desirable even if it were. just east of the courthouse a couple of blocks, off the main drag, is this enormous old hotel, the leclede, with ornate lettering above the doors, fine stonework, brick all around, windows boarded up, it would take a million maybe, but it sure would be a fine old hotel. now that's a dream. but what would i do with a hotel?

go to africa...that's one of my dreams. but how could i do that? don't know, but i'm not letting go of that one. in fact, i've changed this one a little, made it a little more realizable. make a site about africa on the web- a kind of information hub. now this is something i could do. a kind of resource for americans who badly need to know more about the place, for whatever reason. fuse african and american music...this one is a little esoteric, still a little out of my grasp. i'm a fiddler. i'm not about to do this, yet, at this point.

i indulge my dreams, as i fiddle, or as i drive, when my mind has pure tracks and the space to fill them. i am slowly pulling together a collection of stories, pile of leaves, which represents years of short-story writing which probably, in the big picture, is mediocre. it's my third collection, but i'm thinking of throwing a few more in there from the first; then, i wouldn't be able to say there were three, but this would have the best collection from the last seven years or so, outside of the walmart stories. still, they aren't much; i'll be lucky if i can say i've published them. write a that's one i'll never let go of, either, because, with time, and real motivation, i could do it. but i haven't.

my partner is relentless, working the wineries and trying to get up music business from the people who fill this ornate old building. it might work; we've played well, and people have heard us. but i'm a little aloof about it; i find it hard to hustle myself, even though i have all these dreams. maybe i'm too busy dreaming; actually i'm focused on playing as well as i can; teaching full-time and all, i have very little energy to put myself in a selling mode, and hardly can even charm people in any way, except by playing well. one thing at a time, i say. but i always have room in my head to dream. the sun goes down over the courthouse, and beyond that the laclede, or whatever it's called, and these real small towns have a way of heating up when something lively is happening in them, as everyone can tell that this one building has so many well-dressed people. these folks have dreams too, i'm sure; it's just that their cars are making too much noise on the street, and they're one step yet even farther, from ever realizing them, than i would be. go to scandinavia. go to laos. go to argentina...i have no patience any more for new york, or houston, or san francisco. but i'll listen to their music. it's a small world these days; you don't have to burn oil to get across the globe, and really find out what's going on somewhere. we're all getting pretty intimately close.

it would be nice to put a mill into a town like murphysboro and make it the new center of the universe. start with the laclede, and build around it; fix up all the old brick and fine victorians that are all over the place; make it a place worth coming to. one time about five years ago i was on a jury and drove every day to murphysboro, back roads all the way, and hung out in the courthouse while we decided one poor guy's fate. i'd look out at all those fine old buildings and, on my way driving to and fro, i'd imagine how nice it would be to call a pretty town like this home: how could i start a business here, and get one of them? i never did it, but, the dream isn't dead. tonight, however, another member of that jury walked right by me, and didn't even recognize me. leaving, i wanted to show my partner the laclede, but we lost it somehow, tangled up in streets on the other side of the courthouse, and ended up just coming home instead of going back. she agreed with me, however, that it's always better to take the pretty two-lane, than the ugly (but safer, surely) big one. she's a-d-d, like me, so she could relate to my insistence that the back roads give you better views; you can see old houses, the old highway, old estates, some of which are going to ruin, of course. you can still dream. sometimes the weeds grow right up on the road, and the for sale signs beckon at you; now these country dreams, an old house with a few acres behind it, these dreams have substance too. lot of times, there's an ancient car in these dreams, or a whole bunch of them, and a movie camera. old signs and farm equipment that is sinking back into the earth, the sun going down and reflecting on peeling paint.

back in carbondale, my wife has been realizing her dreams: landscaping the front, landscaping the back, pulling herbs and vegetables out of the garden, installing a hot tub, painting the walls of the upstairs. often she does this outside stuff in the 90+ weather and doesn't seem to mind half as much as i do when i simply have to walk out into it. i have started riding the bike to work though, and that changes my view a little; today, i got to a crosswalk, and some workers were painting fresh white paint on it, and bicyclists are supposed to get off the bike at these places, which i did today, partly because of the fresh paint. don't want that paint splashing up my work pants, when people are giving me angry looks. i have enough notoriety in this town already; i like a gentle persona, and every once in a while people say something to me like, you're the fiddler, i heard you the other day; this is, like i say, world famous in carbondale, like when i got in the paper, which happens every once in a while. it's not much, and we here have no illusions. but we have our dreams; a long hot summer is just reaching its peak, and they're more important than ever.

Ladies' Night
Benefit for a Dog Park
Murphysboro Activity Center
(old Elks Club)
1401 Walnut St. Murphysboro
6-9 Tonight

Yours truly (Parsley & Sagebrush Band)
providing musical entertainment

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

news from Seattle

Friday, July 23, 2010

the good thing about teaching art is that whenever you go to google images you get an instant gallery, about a page of any given artist, or even print. if you google abstract, you get a variety; if you google campbell's soup can, you get lots of varieties. if you youtube these guys, you get movies whose sole purpose is putting an art slide show along with a piece of classical music, and you have to wade for a while before you find one that actually has a lecture, or people speaking, which is what i need.

today's lesson was given by a little girl, emma, who told us about monet and who wanted to see color and light like monet did. the thing i didn't realize was that the impressionists were rebels. before that, everyone was chained to moral messages, and harsh realism; as a student in paris monet was told to go into the louvre and copy the masters, but instead he stood in the window and painted the outdoors. he continued to paint only what inspired him; painting the old masters clearly didn't. he had buddies like renoir who were a kind of parisian art-student-rebel crowd. they had access to better pigments, and the invention of photography mede their medium come unhinged and go in unpredictable directions.

alas the story that touched me was the one where his wife was on her deathbed, and he became absorbed in painting one last portrait of her, this one his last; but, as absorbed as he was in the painting, she died before he could really be with her, and he never painted another person again; he painted only landscapes from then on. landscapes can't die, i guess, or at least it's not as painful when they do. we fell into looking around a little; i even showed some of my own pop art in explaining how modern technology has made "saturation" much easier, a kind of routine distortion that the true photographers despise but is getting much more common everywhere. we also talked about gauguin, who had fled to tahiti or some such place, for reasons i could only speculate; and, egyptian art: you know why those egyptians always have those wild, unrealistic poses? because, if you paint them with a hidden arm, they might be unable to take their arm with them to the afterlife. it was important to paint each limb at its best, without regard to whether that would make the figure in an uncomfortable pose, for what turns out to be virtually forever.

so it is now officially a "heat spell" according to the newspaper that i peer at as i walk by, but don't buy, and the bank signs have taken to listing the "heat index" instead of simply the temperature, to show off how they can make numbers that are over 99. but it brings up the question of whether it actually "feels hotter" just because it's humid, in the same way it "feels colder" when there's some wind, down at the bottom end, and they invent a term "wind chill" which everyone can relate to. i am actually beginning to feel that it's actually the other way around, that the heat actually makes the humidity worse; perhaps a really hot day will make a 90% humidity into a 95% humidity just because you are instantly covered with sweat. but you can't argue with a bank sign, instead you just drive by and it flashes at you. maybe it's competing with the other signs like the gas signs; each one goes up one number at a time and the others follow. one can't do temperature, if the other is doing heat index; that would cause them to lose by tens or scores.

it is, however, hot enough that people don't go out for walks, except late at night, or early morning, unless they are really not thinking or so wrapped up in the frustration of life, that they no longer care. there do seem to be people who function well in this stuff, but they don't see anything; i think their pupils are so small, from being out in the sun, that it's all they can do to not trip on the pavement they are running on. the kids give out early. the dogs come inside to make their noise; every bug in the county finds a bit of standing water, if you leave the hose on for a minute. there are people who live in this stuff with no airconditioning. they have been around forever, but they're like another species. they stop moving at about nine in the morning, except to make sure the fan is plugged in right and the there's plenty of ice tea. they stopped putting the "d" on ice years ago, but their ancestors didn't even have electricity, and people delivered ice in trucks. that was a lucky job, because you could always melt a cube on your neck when you took a break. now, huge engine turbines run building systems which leak out onto the floors because they are overworking, and who knows what they do to the environment but make it worse, and start the whole process over again. does this sound bleak? i don't think it's going backwards, or that we'll learn how to use less energy; i think that, instead, some bizarre threat to power stations will occur and we'll all be forced to summer in northern canada, but, the storms will find us there and we'll be driven back, or become permanent wanderers again. the land seems parched and inhospitable here, even though there are tomatoes and zucchini all over the place, and some people are even getting eggplant, green beans, basil, jalapenos, all kinds of stuff. if the turbines were to stop we'd all be driven back to the woods, by the creeks and rivers where we could run water over ourselves every five minutes. don't water your plants with that aircon-leak iron-studded water; that'll kill them for sure, they're already just about dead, from lack of water, which in turn comes from my own heat stroke, and the fact that, by friday, i'm ready to flee out of there, without a second thought for how they're going to make it over the weekend, as parched as it is, and only an airconditioner, and tons of light; the window is now open, in hopes of combatting the mold. some of those plants, i should have given away long ago; now, only the aloe and the cactus are really thriving, because they seem to like the desert-like dryness, and maybe the cool airconditioning reminds them of desert evenings. you just have to get used to the screwed up seasons, they tell each other, the way the heater blasts in the winter and people have to open their windows, just to manage.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

a friend of mine at the office brought in a huge box of fresh garden tomatoes, ripe, bright red, ready to eat, and often in the afternoon i just eat one, like an apple, straight, trying not to get the juice and the seeds all over myself. invariably they get all over something, like the carpet which is steadily getting wet from airconditioner-drip overflow. this wet carpet situation is actually a crisis, but one among many that i've been too busy to deal with properly. the raw tomato, eaten straight, takes away my constant hunger for coffee and makes me feel my stomach is already churning in its own acid. outside, it's sweltering, and humid; well, it's only ninety-five or so, but i've become a wimp, and detest going back and forth from over-airconned buildings to the outdoor sauna. i stay in, skip the coffee, work all afternoon, and go out in it only after the heat of the day has somewhat subsided.

i've missed a few months of haircuts, a few sunset concerts, and a lot of blogging, but i'm not only faithful to my class, i've been making materials at a furious pace; we've been doing art, and i started with warhol, who i know a little about, but now we've moved through hopper, who i really liked (did two listening exercises), van gogh (who, according to the lecturer, was the archetype of the crazy artist- his claim to fame), and now roy lichtenstein and the bull, and picasso, and tomorrow the impressionists...this is really fun. sometimes in class i'll type someone's name into google images, and just get an art gallery, basically, of images, not all perfectly clear, by the time they get up on the projector, but good enough to get a sense of what a guy's work was like, or, for example, what happens when you type "impressionism"...and get a whole variety of different kinds. i make both reading and listening exercises, but it's all about art, and i challenge the class to tell me whether they like something or not and why. we have now gotten better enough at talking about art, so that we have more interesting conversations. the movies take us through one work after another, telling about the genius of any particular painter. hopper led us through the empty streets of new york, the ordinary places; they loved that. warhol hit them over the head with campbell's soup; they didn't of course have the same associations as i perhaps would.

this has lightened up life a little, because i have neglected, so badly, so much of my own art, or even to write about stuff, most of which involves the suffering of family members, so won't make it here. at home, the garden is doing well- mostly tomatoes, ripening like crazy, big honky cucumbers growing suddenly, an occasional zucchini, green peppers, lots of basil and some sage and thyme, and these yellow gourdy squash that don't seem to be edible. sometimes my wife and i take our coffee out there in the back, and drink it slowly while the bugs and bees eye us from the wildflowers or the middle of the tomatoes, and warn us to pick this stuff pretty quick or they'll eat it. even out on the patio, in the early morning, it gets too hot and humid for me, and i can practically feel the poison oak reaching its fumes out to get me if i make one false move. i teach right through the noon hour three days, and only get to swim twice, so part of my frustration is simply not making it to the pool enough, especially if, as the last couple of times, i was unable to make it even on the days when i could...on those days, i'm a little calmer; i sleep better; i rest, knowing i've at least done the best i could, so i should have faith that things will work out somehow, and that g-d will somehow make right, what nature and people have rent asunder.

i hate to lay all this oblique depression on the poor reader, who may only have an inkling, but i've temporarily lost the desire to go out, dig up the better things of life, and turn them over, here, to keep you awake. this is a small town; we drive the streets of the west side, which i call the ornament valley; any given house that goes on sale, for example, or gets sold, if it is actually advertised- that's our news. we no longer get the trib or the local paper; though i check google news for my other class, the news class, there's nothing there but bp or lindsey lohan, or whatever; it's not even enough to divert my attention. across from the dairy queen, a bar builds a sideways kind of lofty place; it's new, yes, but the curb at the dq still has all its spilled ice cream, or other kinds of summer's detritus. the surprising thing, i told my wife, is not that it gets so humid and oppressive at this time of year. it's that life goes on as if it's nothing special. and people like me, who go back and forth, from ninety-five to air-con frigid, come home somewhat empty-headed, almost unable to even write about it.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

a steady rain of personal problems keeps me from blogging, or writing poetry, but doesn't keep me from doing other things and in some way widens my horizons. a recent trip to kansas allowed me to go find out how well i can still read license plates out on the open road where the population gets sparse and the car traffic gets more interesting. hot stifling weather back here in the lowlands makes me stay inside, where i collapse, exhausted, and start reading books to get away from everything else. as far as the personal stuff goes, my son is doing much better, while my wife's family is having trouble, but i like to keep this stuff off the blog pretty much, so i'll just tell about the trip.

there are a lot fewer license plates down here in lowland illinois, and through saint louis, but the number and variety increase as seventy gets rolling across columbia and through kansas city. new england states are pretty much nonexistent here, and i went the whole trip without seeing a single one, except maine, which i saw on both cars and trucks. maine and oklahoma are states for which truck plates are quite common, but the car plates are worth more (not that i'm keeping points) so i'll point them out if i see them. the southern states came in quite slowly; i never saw louisiana at all, which is rare. just west of saint louis the highway crosses the missouri river, at around saint charles and the earth city expressway, and right there the sky opened up with a deluge so intense that i thought it would wash the car right over the bank and down the river. my son was sound asleep and i seriously wondered if we would make it out to kansas, if it kept going like that, but we did; in kansas city we were able to cruise right through, at about 1 in the morning, the kansas city star's huge printing press lit up in a four or five-story building right near the highway. on the kansas side some poor guy had got pulled over for driving; trucks had been involved in an accident. in downtown lawrence the license plates really started rolling in; oregon, minnesota, you name it. they travel a lot in summer and they all seem to go through lawrence. what a pretty place...

back home i start teaching makeup classes and this fills the schedule right up; i barely notice that it's hot, stuffy, unbearable outside, while cold inside and difficult going back and forth, very difficult. another son likes driving around with windows open, and opens windows in the house also, which makes us mad because we're airconditioning the great outdoors. so that's ok, we're driving home, all windows open, when we come upon the mosquito truck, and i realize, no, that's not ok, but it's not ok even if we have the aircon. it's not ok, and we have to back up, or go the other way, or avoid that street entirely for a few hours. i've come to the point where i feel all nerve gas should be outlawed, and if wet grass brings the bugs, maybe wet grass should be outlawed, or we should at least encourage bushes and flowers, which of course would bring bees, but at least, from this, we'd get honey. the pesticides and nerve toxins that ravage the suburbs are by far the worst aspect of the place; i don't mind the quiet wide streets, lack of sidewalks, stars and "neighborhood watch" aspects. when you park your car on the grass, even a little bit, the police will remind you via note that "we don't do this" in this neighborhood, or in this town; they'd like us to stay on the street in a more orderly fashion. i was discussing with my son why i called it the ornament valley; he has taken to writing rap music, and recording it, on the garage band on the mac in the back room, as a kind of response to feeling, perhaps, that he has been in the suburbs too long. so maybe he has; maybe he can move out, and aircondition the great outdoors by himself. his raps are good though. i'm proud of him, and wouldn't mind making a few raps myself.

my poetry, however, has all but dried up; i can hardly bring myself to write even one. i told him about it, how you try to get a moment into a seventeen-syllable piece, and fit all this stuff in there, but i realized, not only have i written nada, but i even failed to publish it on the fourth, as i ordinarily would have; it just flew by, with me silent. stopped, also, visiting #haiku street, where there is a steady diet of seventeen-syllable; in a good mood, you can find what you like and get inspired, or emulate it. instead i occasionally go over to the bog, where i occasionally find my brother playing, competing very well with one old-time champion, oniondip, and a whole host of unfamiliar competitors. i'm quite lousy at the bog, but the twenty points or so that i can get in the allotted time are sometimes enough to put him over the top when we play as one team; the other night, we even beat oniondip...i have to say, i have to admire that oniondip, if only for his/her longevity and the fact that he/she operates entirely alone, and still manages to wipe out a crowded field. the question about these people is whether they are actually cheating, but i'll say right here: we aren't, and probably oniondip isn't either. you'd get tired of it much sooner, if you cheated.

come back, and the heat is pressing, it's choking, it's oppressive. go to the lake, park diagonal, and get down in the water and try not to sit still so the fish don't bite; watch the little ones who act like this kind of heat is just normal, and wish i'd summered out in minnesota, or kansas, or some place where you can at least walk outside and stay out there for a few minutes, at, say, some street corner. out here, you see someone just standing out on a street corner, you think, what are they, crazy? don't know enough to come in from the heat? or they're some kind of teenager, trying to prove some kind of point, or something? only point i want to prove is this: water's rising, under the missouri bridge; earth city signs all i can see from between the raindrops, and, i'll make it out there, and make it back. getting out from this heat is good for the spirit; you can see the sky, and breathe a little. it may be a little reactionary, teaching its evolution in the schools and all, but its very sparseness allows it, as a state, to encourage all that license-plate watching, and even though my eyes are beginning to lose some of the details (this trip, i though i saw a b.c. plate, but it had a plate-holder around it, so it wasn't very clear; in the end, i lost it)...ah, actually i lost a few of the any case, you see the heart of the country. the thru-travelers, the vacationers, the exotics. ontario, north carolina, new mexico, montana - i tried not to lose them. it's a matter of interest, where these people are actually going, and why their cars are always so much better than ours...

Monday, July 05, 2010

the fourth weekend here in southern illinois and the southeast missouri was clear and hot, drier than usual but still muggy compared to, say, arizona. the roads in missouri were full; trucks pulling four-wheelers, race-cars, police pulling people over, police helping stranded motorists whose cars had caught on fire, etc. busy, full, fast and crowded; i had always considered missouri a fourth-of-july kind of place, since there are large "fireworks" signs at virtually every entrance to the state. i object to the close association of violence to the holiday though, and also the glorification of violence in the form of making it colorful, beautiful, an object of adoration.

I do, however, take my kids to the local fireworks display, because what are you going to do, have them tell everyone they're not allowed? i feel it's better, in a way, to have them see me around it, and see my attitude, and see that i'm not afraid of it, and i can even celebrate the holiday, in my own kind of way, and take it as an offering, however misguided, of the city, in honor of the birth of the country. it's important to think about the country, what it is, where it's going, what its problems are, and i've done this, and appreciate friends who help in the process. but when it comes right down to sitting there, blowing things up, listening to explosives in our ear, that kind of confuses the issue.

nevertheless, that's where we were, on a hillside, overlooking the town's display, as it got dark, and people near us were using sparklers and a kind of fireworks sword-gun; off on the horizon, people were blowing off crackers that competed pretty well with what the city had to offer. that's the problem with a small town: what the city budget could provide, was not all that much stronger than what a handful of fireworks-prone locals could get in missouri, and it was sometimes hard to tell them apart. one son wanted sparklers and wanted to know when we could get some for him. the other, five, yelled and screamed the minute the first city cracker went off; he demanded to go back to the car, go find his mom, get out of there immediately if not sooner. i did. i had another friend and an older son to watch the other boys, and i took the little one back to the van, where we watched the last of the display from behind closed windows, at least on his side. he recovered his composure and actually enjoyed part of it, when he finally believed me that it would all be ok.

regular readers of this blog probably know that it's not always ok; that one year i got hit in the temple with a firecracker, and that same year (the bicentennial year) i saw an innocent spectator injured by a cracker that landed poorly in the middle of a crowd. this year i didn't witness any actual injuries, though i heard about some whoppers, including one involving a girl who stuck one in her mouth at the urging of brothers or someone. of course it's part of the rural culture to not only learn how to be responsible with such things but also to tell such stories to ensure that everyone around you learn how to be responsible; that's a matter of survival, and almost everyone ends up at these parties way out in the country, or even right in town, where people are blowing up hundreds of dollars of missouri-bought, power-laden explosives. the smell of gunfire lingers not only over the park, but also over the entire town, and even the area; the wind has died down, and the hot clear night settles in the valley; by daybreak, they survey the damage, and clean it up.