Thursday, December 30, 2010

having trouble on the internet; sometimes this little window doesn't come up as easily as it should. but then, i'm having some trouble in life too; nobody ever said it would be easy. had a fall, skating, the other day, a kind of freak accident in which my legs fell out from under me, and all my weight fell on a very straight arm and hurt my shoulder. i discussed with my wife whether to go in for x-rays; she won & i went. i usually follow her advice in this regard although i was right that, in the end, i would mostly just have to rest anyway; the x-rays were unlikely to show anything serious. so i amble around, with some limited movement; driving and getting dressed are harder; i'm forced to slow down a little.

the world awaits its huge drink-fest tomorrow night at which time i, hopefully, will be home & in bed though we may stay up a little; we will almost certainly not make it to midnight. what do people do, watch that ball go down in new york? i have students who went to see the big event but it's all about the snow over there now; flights are delayed by three, four, five days. we don't even watch that on television anymore; as a kid i'd watch maybe lawrence welk or something, and go, huh? i think we need some good traditions to develop, maybe around facebook, something people would actually want to see. though my sister admitted that, if you do go to new york, the times square experience is something pretty good, and that was my experience, the one year i went there. the whole city turns into a party, and everyone says hello, and that is interesting, because there are so many accents. and the weather adds a touch to it, because, if it's anything like here, there's a lot of sliding in the snow, a lot of cars jammed up into snowbanks.

i can feel my shoulder healing, movement coming back; i try to get on google docs and work on a project, but it seems infinitely complex sometimes, and i just back off for a while & stop worrying about it. the little boys are home, out of school, and maybe i ought to just think about how to make myself five & nine for a bit, and have a little fun. maybe it'll snow here, but even if it doesn't, there ought to be someplace we can go, outside, quick while we have some time. to those of you, out there: drive safe, but park diagonal! take care of yourself! come back around, next year!

Monday, December 27, 2010

came back from california, was late in setting up christmas, and finally got through it, and more or less collapsed in non-activity, and desire to not even leave the house. actually california wasn't so bad, but i do remember one cultural issue we had: at one point, stranded in the san diego airport at night, my wife went to get burritos which they filled with something and fried. these aren't typical for us so we took ours out of the foil (big mistake) and they exploded: toward the bottom, all over, one at a time but right near each other in time. i felt like a rube from the midwest.

we lit the way; this involves sand in paper sacks and candles by the driveway, and it's my favorite part of the holiday. sure, there are lots of sugar cookies, and a fresh-smelling tree, and all kinds of relatives around, everyone in various states of content or discontent. the cats were first to notice we were on vacation and came and sat on me at every opportunity. the dogs respond by barking for attention almost constantly. actually even the children are somewhat between those two poles but i humor them much more gladly as i've so cruelly neglected them for so long. spy vs. spy is big in our house. it's an old mad-magazine cartoon thing that is a perfect allegory for life around here except that it's so violent (spies blowing up all over the place) and involves bombs and artillery our boys can only dream of. i'm into wild new music & wild exotic food but those are wearing off a little, though i have some vegemite and squid, and guarantee i won't have to share either unless the older boys come around some more and it doesn't look like they're in any hurry. might be time for some serious blogging, but much as i dredge my conscious mind for something to say i still come up blank. i did musical influences last year (or was it the year before)...but i finished it. i'm dried up? empty?

took a picture of the empire state lego construction, pushed up against the tree, and hope to publish it here & play with it a little, if i get a chance, and maybe do some more of that. i like images that stick in people's minds, images like hawkeyes or salukis or the pulliam clocktower, as you well know. these images can be doctored etc.; if i learn the fine points of photography and picture-doctoring nobody will ever know it's legos, or a tree, or even if they do, it'll just be shapes & colors, & give you a feeling. there's a train-man statue in carbondale i've been working on, but there are more symbols of the area, or images that give people feelings, and the point is to get the right combination of shape, composition, color, contrast, etc. which reminds me, 2011 calendar is out, one more time, it doesn't have my name; doesn't have 2011 on it either; just has twelve doctored photos of castle park like the 2010 one did. last year i took one of the castle park calendars to the guy who, by himself, created the park, a private place, a kind of memorial to his son who had died; he regaled me with stories of how it's hard running a private park that quickly gets overrun with public boors. we promised him we'd be on his side in keeping the bad guys at bay and the litterers chastised. actually littering doesn't seem to be such a problem anymore; as a culture we've kind of cut down on it. the calendar is my contribution. i admire the guy; i might give him another, this year.

it's paper-route day, one of my private holidays; on december 27, maybe it was about 1966, i got my paper route. i delivered pittsburgh post gazettes for 42 cents a week, for maybe three or four years; the high point was one night, when i was alone one summer morning, maybe 5:30 or six, and the sky lit up with a meteor shower the likes of which i've never seen since. oh, yeah, there were other high points. low points too, and sore shoulders, and rain and snow, pittsburgh being what it is. i kept the holiday in my mind though; it is what it is, and here i mark it. i'll tell you some of my other holidays sometime. they're much less boring than, say, labor day. it's different, when you're the only one celebrating it.

deep into break and break mentality; it's past the kids' bedtime, but i'm letting it slide, for the moment. no school tomorrow, or anytime for the foreseeable future. what's the rush? let the bad tv roll. you watch endless "spongebobs", i'll blog. if you can't behave, it's enough of those christmas cookies, the kind with all the icing and decoration on them. might get back to my novel, which never seems to take, or one of a million other projects i've put off until this little window. time to get going. that is, as soon as this lazy spell wears off. chou

Thursday, December 23, 2010

a recent trip to california was historic & ironic - first, the assumption by friends here that it would be warm & balmy in california; no, actually, we're going up into the mountains where it snows a lot. the assumption that getting away from home stress would be relaxing; no, actually, it was my wife's family, so it was relaxing mostly only for me, though the kids did pretty well too. it was icy here as we left; the ice hung on the brown grasses and brackish weeds as i took the dogs to the kennel & i remembered how beautiful southern illinois was this time of year. the roads were salted - the ice storm was the day before, and the shoulders were icy, but the drive itself up through the villes was uneventful. going past that baseball player's house- almost to nashville, i resolved myself to look him up, find out who the heck he was; i always wonder why he would build this huge mansion right on the road, literally, very much out in the middle of washington county farmland. saw seventeen state license plates on the drive, but a lot of them were in the long-term parking at the airport.

the plane was delayed in san diego of all places because california apparently had been suffering all kinds of rain and fog, also in places like denver where the planes originated. in fact it rained almost the whole time we were there, in california, though the last day, way up in the mountains, it turned into a very wet snow and then cleared up a little as we left. that first night we were stranded in sacramento, but drove the valley the following day, through almond orchards, olive orchards, little old houses surrounded by miles and miles of orchards, even grape orchards, as a lot of the valley is turning into wine country. going up the hills we saw beautiful grasses and trees and finally the small town of my in-laws, halfway up sonora pass near yosemite, in a glade of pines 3800 feet up a pass that was apparently closed for the season.

took the boys ice skating one day, in a town further up the road, long barn; this town was over 5000 feet and as we got out of the car we could hear the wind roaring through the pines with an awesome wail; i asked the skating people if the huge pines were going to crash over and they said that was doubtful so we skated away and then rolled back down the hill. the constant rain was causing flooding and high water everywhere, but the place was unusually green and beautiful: green grasses on high mountains, scrub oak hillsides, beautiful pine forests; old stone walls traversing the wide hills. on the roads people were worried about mudslides at the mountain edges.

the relatives were gracious and hospitable, but i couldn't help thinking that it was a difficult place for young teenagers to become adults, expensive and crowded as it was; it made illinois look easy. the twisted mountain roads would become dangerous the minute you took them for granted, and that would happen quickly; also, it changed from rain to snow to worse fairly quickly. coming home we took a back road through stunningly beautiful mountains; now it was sunny, and this time we went past a penitentiary and a resort town with a lake, all very scenic. license plate spotting in california is interesting because you occasionally see very old black ones, or blue ones, a spattering of square-lettered ones, or yellow-sun-top ones, along with the vast majority of the new version, which is a kind of cursive like illinois. the license plates stay with the cars, so you're drawn to the older cars, which have the older plates; then, there is this interesting-vanity-plate culture, though not so much in towns like stockton, oakdale, lodi, and the places we were going through, calaveras and toulumne counties. in fact i saw very few vanity plates and very few of any other states either, as california is so big that it's rare you see anyone from even nevada, except when you get to the rent-a-car parking lot when you see all kinds of stuff suddenly, in my case eight more not counting truck plates.

the trip back, planes were delayed again because of rain & weather. what, they couldn't handle rain & snow? three hours in sacramento again...going through las vegas, the pilot said, lowest ceiling he'd ever seen, and in fact, we could barely pick out the strip's neon from the fog. we'd seen the ocean, barely, at san diego, out the window, and now we saw vegas from the plane without ever getting out of it. the little guy fell asleep on my lap; he'd been a little sick there at the end, and lost his earthy-toy under the bed at the motel; we landed in st. louis 1:30 am st. louis time, and rolled into our driveway at about 4:30, exhausted. the baseball player was kirk reuter, giants pitcher, from a farm town there in washington county, known as "woody"- a favorite of giants fans of whom we saw many on our trip, probably a veteran of those same flights, and weather patterns, and airports. his house sits behind some trees but is basically right on the road, so huge that one has to imagine entire exercise facilities in it.

the st. louis area was 32 and snow-free; we drove through frozen hills and fields as the kids, awake now, asked when we would get there. one little county seat, pinckneyville, had a 25-foot santa and manger scene at their courthouse on the way up, but now it wasn't even lit up, it was too late and people save money by turning this stuff off in the late evenings. home again.

there are cultural differences between the two places, but i don't want to belabor them. once we stopped for pizza, and even the pizza there is full of fresh vegetables; the food is, in general, better than here. but i impulsively said hello to some guy with his young kid and he was a little taken aback, as maybe you don't do that there. one birthday party we saw, was for a young kid, but had mostly aunts and uncles, extended family, but very few other kids. they filled up the restaurant's side room, ok, but the little birthday girl had too many presents, not enough friends, i thought. who knows? you see a lot of this stuff through windows, across airport lobbies, even in this one seven-eleven (i didn't know they still had these in the us?) - places are different, and that, at least, makes for some variety in life. stunning, on the scenery end, but california has always been that; even the valley, with the orchards going off in rows for miles, is stunning. the hometown, in contrast, is its usual self. cold, bleak, and a little heavy on the traffic, due to the time of year.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

time flies, and another term is over, this one packed with 20-hour weeks, grammar tests, driving across town to schools and karate etc. so i finish the last of two monster finals, grade them and am almost ready to seal up the grades and walk away, tomorrow: but, i've been invited to tesol, and might review & renew a presentation, or even make another. life moves on; i have to do something. but i'm slightly put back that so much of what i wrote, toward the end, is disorganized; it's as if having too many children, and some of them in such disarray, has scattered an already over-scattered brain. i must deal with this. but not now; it's almost break.

so in the news there are two great stories. one is the story of bob feller's life; he died, and while that's tragic, it was also inevitable, and now we get to read all about him, as he really was an amazing character. threw the "van meter heater" - fast ball of all fast balls, mostly because he'd thrown so many walnuts at trees. in iowa. this was my kind of guy. and loyal to the indians, all the way, regardless of their mascot. he even died in the cleveland area, i noticed; this is probably something i won't do.

the other is the l.a. times' claim that the vegas bank robber got away with next to nothing, since $1.5 worth of chips could only be cashed at a single casino which now will be very careful and certainly catch him if he makes as much as a single move. but i remain skeptical. did they catch him? did he not get away with $1.5 million worth of chips? how much would it cost them to change the logo on all their chips? isn't that what they'd have to do to catch him?

the world being fleeting, as it is, with people stealing each other's words, or thoughts, or chips, or even images, one never knows what one is dealing with. my money, i've noticed, has become pink. but that's worked in, in a subtle way, with the usual dark gray and dull green that have been there forever. it's like the world's valentines, to give you a pink message, as you sit there in the coffee line, waiting for a stiff cup of dark-roast seattle's best, trying to concentrate on wretched grammar.

and it's off to california on friday, and the calendars not even done, though the cards & letters i just finished today; the shopping is not even partly done. nor the tree, or the decoration, or anything else. it's a bad time for us academics. we will get a tree, though, i'm sure, maybe tomorrow. though an ice storm is coming in, and it may be dicey for a few hours.

so that shows a little, how life goes. the ice storm cometh, here in carbondale. grammar finals, castle-park calendars, pink money, in fact, i have stolen another day from the jaws of certain dullness, but i've stolen it successfully; i'm surely not bored, and california, at least where we are going, will be interesting, if nothing else. it's way up the mountain, the sierras, so high a person could push himself and see if one could just go over the top, to the dry side, to the nevada side, but i don't really know, having never done it, and it might be closed in the winter. in any case there's a lot of snow, both out there and here, and a two hour drive at least, at both ends, no matter what, and a layover in san diego of all places. back here i think of the walnut and the tree, and a certain tendency toward wildness, but a windmill delivery, a competitive edge, a faithful wife. would have liked to have seen the indians win it all; yes, i also would have liked that, but i still yet have a chance. it's not over 'til it's over, as they say, or maybe it would be better put this way: one should not cash in one's chips lightly. and why would anyone be carrying chips around in the first place?

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

ok so where was i? got sick for about four days; still am; i'd like to think it wasn't the parade; it was more likely a nasty sore throat/flu that came through and set everyone back a bit. i'd walked in the parade, with the boys, on saturday, and was fine; i'd like to think it wasn't that. but i really got it bad the last couple of days.

first time in sixteen years, i'd been able to walk in the parade, and that was partly because my youngest son joined a school that has a float, and they invited everyone. we have to go, i told the nine-year-old, though he wasn't so enthusiastic, and we all wore lights and walked the length of the town, south to north, in the cold evening. this is one of the few towns that has its one biggest parade on one of its coldest days, but it does, and it's tradition, and everyone gets out there for it, and i figure, you have to walk. but first, i had to park in the way north, and walk the length of the parade backwards, so we'd all end up where the car was, and not have to walk back to it. on that trip, i parked, after facing a huge line of traffic, and set out north to south on foot thus seeing the entire thing. it turned out our float was about the last to start, so that i got to it just as it was starting, and was able to turn around and march the whole thing, with the float, and with my own kids, virtually start to finish.

now just about every group has a lit-up float, the shriners, the big churches, the schools, the cub scouts, you name it, and people cheer or boo them depending on their wishes. some get overly religious but they've been discouraged from that over the years; one year they had the blood coming off of jesus' hand and that was a little too much, but, there's a lot of religion in there. i didn't see the pagans this year; they would sometimes be booed, or worse yet, be greeted with stone silence, as i heard and saw this year, the rainbow coalition was. it's a contentious town, they aren't much for holding back their feelings, or being polite, as they would in, say, iowa, or maybe tennessee. they belt it right out. our own float was greeted with mostly cheers, especially at the biker bar, though i couldn't figure out the affinity; maybe they cheered for virtually everyone. people who knew us yelled out our name; that was good. you live in a small town, you march; people see you, it's as it should be.

so i have two gigs in the week, one on sunday, at the alternative gift fair (picture soon i hope), and one today, at work, where teachers got together and sang carols; i was more proud of this last one, because i sounded better; in between, i was very sick, but taught anyway, and worried about trying to play when i was sick. somehow teaching when i'm sick isn't half as bad, but should be; i taught as many as five hours a day, practically keeling over, not even drinking coffee; but, now i feel like i've come through the fire, i'm on the downward slope. and, it's almost over. our one big break is almost upon us.

so i'm teaching, and playing the fiddle, but i keep thinking about scenes from the parade: lousy and freezing high school bands; a slightly better college band; a jolly santa up there; a small strand of battery-operated hannukah lights, bought at the local store; people hawking their church or their thing, or whatever; somebody parking their family in the center of a closed main street, for the evening; horse poop, underfoot, in the cold evening, as we walked. it was actually not as bad as it has been, some years; it sometimes rains, snows or even sleets. and it can be icy. it's a cold time of year. and the lights reflect against the store windows downtown, and people shiver as they watch. it was slightly better, actually walking in it, though the boys saw less of it, but they did get a sense of what kind of town they live in, and what people in it do, on a cold december night.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

so thanksgiving came and went, and i had turkey several times, which i have no problem with, as it's always delicious and gives me deep dreams. went up to peoria, and these roads are some of the back roads of illinois, because it's so rare that people are not going to chicago, that they don't even make interstates for you sometimes, and you end up on some of these two-lanes, like 4 through lebanon, for example. up near benld and mount olive i look out at the wooded farm country; there's a mother jones monument there that i've always wanted to see, and there are some ancestors of mine who settled in this farm country and i've always been a bit curious about it. up near use illinois is another wild kind of farm country; this area has a wind farm now, and a river snakes through wooded edges of fields there. but that's right before you get to peoria itself, and that's a kind of interesting city, with a tight little downtown right by a wide illinois river. here we find the relatives, and in particular one granddaughter who we could say was "playing in peoria"....but, i write this to indulge in my freedom to get out of town, and into my own head, and don't want to bore you, or threaten my poor relatives, by going too much into their lives.

so what happened to me, and why have i posted so little? well, i tried to write another novel, but got barely two chapters into it (my average) when, once again, i realized i had no plan, and more or less gave it up. that being november and all, i guess i could say i was inspired by the nanomowrimo signs (or whatever) but i didn't really hook into their program or try to get the support i would need to really pull it together. so, another one fizzled. na-no-no-mo-writ-no-mo, i guess, unless i have a plan, and know what i'm going to do, and i'm too busy anyway.

i've been trying to pull together a calendar- got 12 good pictures, and the days & months in order, but haven't found time to take it down to the printer and roll it off the presses. this would have to be a business day, and i've been teaching 20 hrs, and some things are going by the wayside. i was supposed to do some shopping too, but haven't got inspired to do that, instead, worked on compiling a book of stories, pile of leaves, and stories of a rake, which might be done soon, or might not. times are too busy. i have a feeling, i'll cut my losses again, and end up w/nothing. one problem is that we'll go to california later. a full report will be forthcoming; it could be way more eventful than peoria.

there is something restful, however, in being out on the illinois road system, in november, the oranges and browns, the yellow-breasted hawks, the football traffic. in springfield there was an enormous accident; it delayed us forty-five minutes north of town there, and i was worried because my son was out there somewhere, in his own car, which is in slightly worse shape than ours. back in the old days i'd hitchhike in november, and even december and january, through the north country, and be more or less fearless; now, i'm shriveled up in paranoia about the simplest trip, and find worrying about the condition of his tires much more productive, say, than worrying about my own retirement, or worrying about whether it's ok to bring up a daughter in the world in its present state. i say productive, not because all this worrying produces anything, but, sitting there, stuck in this enormous traffic jam, this s-u-v next to us was full of girls who simply put the radio on high and started dancing and pumping their fists out the window. i kind of enjoyed it and wondered why we were so tensed up in worry; traffic was, after all, not moving an inch. in springfield you have these signs: illinois military museum; lincoln presidential library, etc. etc. but mostly we just had lots of traffic; people were all coming home from the thanksgiving weekend; this was, after all, on sunday. back in the old days, iowa would be wracked by blizzards on thanksgiving wednesday & thanksgiving sunday, & i'd be out on the roads trying to visit my daughter, and more than once, stranded by a blizzard or sent careening off an icy road in a rickety car, one tire from disaster. i should have faith, visualize the destination, know that my seat belt is not twisted, and let the fast people pass me. in the license plate watch, west virginia and south dakota came right away, but the rest of them were very normal, and there were thousands of illinois; most of the rest didn't get out of the immediate region. i was unable to see a few of them. they kind of flew right by, being unclear.

the youngest boy is now into the alphabet game, though he can't read the signs, so he can't always tell where he saw any given X or Q....we have to take his word for it that he actually saw one. but i'm glad he's moving up there, because i'm worried about my own ability to read such things as license plates, and i know he'll be out there hauling in the J's and V's...quick, before the granddaughter starts in on the same racket. some of this farm country, good letters get very scarce, though you can usually rely on "exit" on the bigger roads, and an occasional "antique" store. the sun sets in the west with a major splash, as though, the sunday after thanksgiving, everyone is on the road, and the pollution hangs, hoping to catch a ride under the arch, out into the clear skies. i sit behind the wheel; i would prefer the western side of the mississippi, where the roads stretch out into the open skies, but illinois is my chosen home, and it's ok for now too. at the nashville (il) mcdonalds we run into my son, who got caught in the same traffic jam, and also another family we know, with daughters who have a thing for the youngest son. the familiarity is comforting; i relax knowing he's virtually made it. the wind turbines up in use spin around lazily harnessing the november wind; i come back to teach wind (santa ana, chinook, mistral, etc.) which is somewhat unfamiliar, but will at least allow us to explore such things as tornadoes, and derechos, and such things that happen through this area every once in a while. the moon is bright, and the countryside is stunningly beautiful, day or night; i'm now home, and take pleasure in driving the usual roads, where driving, now, is about the most restful thing i do. driving, and raking, and doing dishes and laundry- what else is there? the christmas lights appear all over town; they actually started, i suppose, before thanksgiving already arrived. the smell of turkey lingers. i missed a lot of football.