Monday, January 31, 2011

started raining tonight, and it's supposed to be this massive storm system sweeping through the midwest and especially the upper midwest where it's not unusual to get a foot or two of snow at the end of january. but this is the southern midwest, closer to kentucky, where it hovers around the freezing point, can't make up its mind whether it will turn to ice or not, and if it does, it might just as easily melt right away into a slushy mixture of dangerous and just very wet. in this kind of weather one wouldn't dream of taking a car out over a purely dirt road like the one that heads off into the hilly fields right near our house, but now that i know that there is this old shell of a building, an old haunted poorhouse/asylum, tucked into the trees, i can even see it if i cast a glance when driving through there, and, in the middle of the winter when we are tired of the same old roads, back and forth through town, a place i'd never heard of, never imagined, seems impossible to resist.

ah but i'm a public blogger, and the place is off-limits, clearly marked so to speak, and i'm a respectable person, so i probably won't park the car off the road and go tromping back there anytime soon. for one thing it's fairly well documented; i already know what it looks like, so the only question would be if there are really ghosts hanging about the place, and why would i be any more likely to see or hear them than i ever was? people don't want people tromping around places like that; it doesn't help, somebody else's graves are out there, and they aren't ours, aren't even marked, for the most part, and aren't really going to tell me anything. it's just a place, tucked back there in the fields.

now the question remains about the animals. it was, at one time, an animal lab; a short time, but when we do bad stuff to animals it's kind of like doing bad stuff to people. and now, animals cross those roads regularly. the deer shoot across chautauqua and cause car accidents regularly. the possum, the very face of ghosts by themselves, occupy the top of the hill there at chautau and mclafferty, and come out most when it's really wet or it's really dry, and don't stop to give the humans even the time of day. there's an old story about dogs and wolves being crossed out there, but who knows that kind of stuff, dogs & wolves cross anyway, and don't need any special laboratory to do it. the geese continue to fly overhead, turning this way and that, arguing amongst themselves, as confused about the weather as we are; they clearly feel that the lake district where they are has some good points, but there are also clearly some benefits to taking a jog either north or south, or maybe east or west; and whichever way they choose, it never seems to be with total agreement or smooth passage. some of the young teenagers are clearly questioning authority.

so the obvious question to me is whether the animals are mixed up in this somehow, as if they know an abandoned farmstead, an unrestful resting place, when they see it; or whether their spirits are entirely oblivious to whatever passions we humans carry around, or make up as the case may be. in our own house we've had a complete turnover of pets; we now have two large dogs and two cats; one cat has only a single eye and a smashed-in face, and makes huge sneezes occasionally, at night or when the passages get clogged. from a twisted, one-eyed face she looks intently at us and we keep her indoors to protect her from the wild spirits that occupy the night in the neighborhood around. four other cats, and two other large dogs, have gone their way in the last few years, old beyond their time, succumbing to the inevitable, and there were also a couple of birds, but those were in cages, always complaining shrilly, throwing seeds at the floor around them, and biting anyone who came close; i couldn't take it, mostly because they were trapped; we couldn't let them out, or the cats or dogs would get them. ao their complaining sounded, to me, like it was based on their merely being stuck in their cages day in and day out. we gave them to a friend, but i'm not sure what happened after that, and i wonder about my own complicity in letting these critters meet a fate that they may not have met if i hadn't come and got in their faces.

same with the ones on the road; you never know they're out there until you're right on top of them, and sometimes it's too late; many many people have smashed deer in this area and nobody ever won in a situation like that. all i can say is, they're just about everywhere, never have there been more deer running around, zigzagging across the road at odd hours, waiting until you're right upon them and then jumping up and getting on your grill, daring you to pop them. we people have enough problems, trying to keep body & soul together during a depression, trying to raise kids in a world that tends more and more toward nastiness, war and pestilence. it's a cold world, mud and ice, and week-old snow all mixed together and making the critters a bit hungry and edgy waiting for spring, i imagine.

out by university farms the other day, right up mclafferty, a police car, with all its siren lights shining, but entirely empty, as if the patrolman himself had walked into the barn and disappeared. not a soul i could see anywhere near, in a place that usually only has animals anyway. and he reminded me: maybe he'd cut across the road, and across the field, via another all-dirt muddy farm path, to investigate a claim of tresspassers out on the asylum grounds, out beyond the pasture. i'm not about to explain to this guy or anyone else what i'm doing out there, so i probably won't even try, at least not now, but you go past these empty cars, or you see these animals, and sometimes you wonder. at the far corner, mclafferty and pleasant hill, my wife saw a cat one day, stopped, and a kitty jumped up into her engine block while its mother or companion skittered off into the woods; she saved it, but had to give it away because we'd already adopted our second and last. i'm lucky; i haven't hit or run anything over that i know of, but i sure have had a few opportunities, if i weren't concentrating, keeping my eyes on the fine yellow line that is sometimes faded away from years of being driven on. when i asked one time why the historical sites aren't marked around here, how come you could have an important town, one of the first three in the state of illinois, lie sinking into the woods, totally unmarked, on some farmer's land, i was told that the bronze historical markers are often stolen by people who melt down the bronze and sell it for scrap, this being the depression and all, and in fact it's been that way for a while, so they don't put bronze markers up anymore. this leaves a place, a place with a rich and colorful history, almost no mark, no reminder, of what transpired here before. and maybe that's just as well, because you give people an old shell of a house, or a foundation or something, and their imaginations take a runaway leap, and they write all kinds of stuff, i can tell you, about what that would signify. maybe it doesn't signify anything in the end, we, people and animals, are just zigzagging, going around these spots, turning this way and that, trying to figure out how to get through this last patch of winter, before it turns around, and we can see the sun again.

the path you've never taken, up over the rise and the dirt hill, shines sometimes in the morning sun, which softens in the dusty brown glade of dead trees that soon, with their spring leaves, will cover up everything. that sun, when it comes, reminds me that this is all just farmland, perhaps more so since it's run by the university farms which farms so intentially, in a methodical, scientific, teaching kind of way, measuring the quality of hybrid seeds and such, and teaching people how to manage an acre. across the road, in town, anything can happen; people can buy or sell houses at the drop of the hat and all kinds of unstable people might move in and change the landscape. but out there, you might have the same ag dude overseeing the property for years at a time, and maybe he cares about the wildlife scene, maybe he doesn't. some of these ag guys are practical to a fault; they'd move a brick, or even a couple hundred of them, if they had a single good reason; but, if they didn't, they might let it sit there what, a few decades or more, just sit there, with the animals nesting in the grasses, or in the shell of a brick house, nature overgrowing the place, because it's too much trouble to plow over a brick shell of any kind, and time is money, so to speak. my grandfather used to spend time with those ag guys, and i'd hang around holding onto his leg and listen, and sometimes when we drive past the place, especially the farms themselves over by where that police car was, i smell the fertilizer on the fields and remember those days. the corn there will grow again, i'm sure; it's the promise of spring, and then, i guess, we'll find out how well those hybrids will work out. careful, you might see a few snakes, out in the weeds, but they aren't likely to kill you.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

most often we take the town roads, across the creek, through what i call the ornament valley, the west side, and there are a lot of stop signs, but occasionally you see something new, like a for sale sign. but other times we go a little out of our way, over to chautauqua, and it borders on the country, and you can go faster for a little stretch, but you can also see geese out over university farms and some huge trees still sit there from the storm, that my wife calls "the four soldiers" though nobody will ever come and pick them up. out here you see a lot of deer; they cross the road at dusk or morning or just about anytime, and as you get up a huge hill into town there are a lot of 'possum there so i call it 'possum hill.

now out over university farms on a small well-driven gravel road is a place called the tree farm where we used to take our dogs, and an old civil-war cemetery out there, under a grove of trees, that i remember well, and a couple of large lakes and wide open fields, all owned by the university, and a good place to walk or run, on the road anyway, which is still allowed, because the moon is wide and there's not much out there and it's really not that far from our house. mostly there's a lot of wide-open field out there and no wonder the deer are so fond of it. but recently this friend of mine got me to investigating ghosts in the area, in particular women ghosts who would need their name cleared, and there were two ghosts that stuck out in particular when i did research on the matter, though i still couldn't tell you much. one would be esmerelda, one of the most famous, a poor woman who lived on a craggy peak right above the mississippi river out on grand tower where the river churns at a rough spot, and on the craggy peak are some old ruins overlooking that rough spot; she was in love with a wayward pilot and killed herself, but why would she need to clear her name from that? and there was some other stuff in there too, about brothers fighting brothers in the civil war, all related to her, her relatives or something, but i don't know the story; maybe it's worth looking into.

and then there's the old post office, which is right in downtown carbondale, an ancient building with fancy brick and chandelier, haunted by a woman who makes noise at night, and rattles the chandelier, and supposedly some postmaster died there at one time - so why is it her who's making all the noise? and this place has been a blood plasma donor center for many years so these poor schlubs, myself included at one time, go in there one by one, get needles stuck in their arms for a spell, and get paid for the process and it's all on the up-and-up although one time with me they missed and got blood all over the place and i got a little rattled, but even then i didn't see a ghost because it was broad daylight and they gave me my $25 or whatever and were glad to have me out of there not suing them or anything, still in control of my senses. so i don't know much more about this woman that haunts the place but she's fairly well known and maybe some research could be done, maybe she's still waiting for her letter to arrive.

but then, and this is the kicker, further research points to the fact that at one time, there was a poor farm in jackson county, and it kind of mixed the poor and the mentally ill, though it wasn't huge, and it was out there on the university farms someplace, is owned now by the university, is hard to find but is abandoned, with some rooms locked and very spooky, out on some path, and it's called sunset haven or the vivarium (as it was once an animal experimentation place for a couple of years) or simply building 207. the university is not about to give clear directions but apparently you just go out toward thunderstorm road somewhere, and believe me i've scoured the maps and still can't find the place, at least not yet, i really don't know exactly where it is. and this is the heck of it. here it is a small town, a very small town, and yet they've somehow taken it off all the maps and made it virtually disappear from the average person's radar, in fact it took me sixteen years to even hear of the place and that's only because i'm googling words like "ghost"...

so i'm looking down at my university farms haunts and trying to zero in on some place that supposedly has some old unmarked graves, some locked rooms, a bit of junk, and a bunch of fields all around it, but that could be almost anyplace, you can't tell that from google earth, and these ghost hunters don't leave very clear directions either. it seems it's just out there someplace, and i'm going to have to live with my uncertainty.

it's really nice to come down off of 'possum hill on the way home, down into the valley where the creek runs through and there's woods on one side, opening out into wide fields and university farms, and you can actually speed up a little as you're finally in the country. but a deer jumped out at me, kind of spooked me, and i screeched the brakes and threw my arm out to hold my poor passenger who in this case was my wife, from smashing through the front windshield, and ended up about a couple of feet from the deer's face; the deer was as shocked as i was but of course looked me right in the eye, before backing off and going his own way back into the green earth wetlands on the town side of the road. several people have hit deer at that very spot, or crashed trying not to, and i was lucky all in all, that i wasn't actually going all that fast and the road wasn't all that slippery, this being southern illinois and all, and there isn't all that much ice on the roads even in january. just some deer, but he probably knows the territory better than i do, and doesn't need google earth or a gps to find his dinner, or anything else for that matter. we're both lucky, and we know it, 'cause we're around to keep looking, and will be on that road another day. and i'll find that place too, though it's not the ghosts i'm after, let the poor dead souls rest in peace, i don't even know who they are. it's kind of disrespectful, after all, to even walk around out there, if you don't know anything about it, but, that's the whole point to me. in a small town like this, what is there, some place like that that i didn't know about?...and how could that be?

above, the geese circle around, attracted to these lakes that are basically empty, but undecided about whether to actually go further south, or start going back north, or just hang around and see what happens, or land on some body of water that could be on the verge of freezing as virtually everything is until about february. and they argue with each other although they occasionally make up their minds to get in formation and actually go a mile or two in some direction but then they start arguing again as if one in the back says, see, i told you, you go one mile north and it starts freezing up again. in the end we're kind of stuck with them, they really don't make up their minds, and there's enough water out here that it really doesn't matter all that much. i consider them company, at least they can talk, they respond to the little changes in the wind. in the mornings a light frost hangs on the dry grasses going off into the farmlands, but if there are other roads or driveways out there that i don't know about, maybe i'll have to look into it, or wait until maybe some fall, when it's all dried out, and i for sure won't get stuck in the mud, unable to get my wheels or feet unstuck, and too far from civilization for anyone to notice. only a couple of miles from town, yet worlds away, and as far as i can tell, only the ghost hunters even know about it, besides maybe some ag guy.

Sunday, January 23, 2011


eads bridge (st. louis), from very old postcards
sometimes, out of pure exhaustion after i teach, i take the elevator, and then i feel a little guilty, because of course i've promised myself to live the pure life, always take the stairs, take every opportunity to burn a pound off. no, in decadence and exhaustion, i step in there, and a few other people take it too, and of course they generally have no such guilt. but the elevator is slow; it jiggles around a little, has to decide whether it really wants to take us up or not, and finally sets off lumbering, slowly upward. in the awkward time there people sometimes talk, about the weather maybe, or about some high-level administrator who just had a huge fight with another and took his leave friday see you later. most often, because i'm exhausted, we say nothing; i deal with my own claustrophobia, and perfume allergy, consider them a punishment for not living the pure life, shift the weight from one foot to the other.

the roads these days are white as ghosts, the salt from the salt-trucks thoroughly discoloring them so you can't tell what color they were originally. lots of restaurants were closed tonight and when we found one every waitress was wearing a bears shirt, and we couldn't figure out whether they had to or if they just all happened to be bears fans on playoff night; as the night went on, and the bears had lost by the way, the place kind of filled up but every waitress who appeared just had this bears getup on; the playoffs themselves showed up on a screen above us but it was the steelers; my wife maintained that she just purely didn't care about football, but i thought that was a kind of code for actually detesting it, since i've never known her to truly not care about stuff. and besides, the studies keep coming out showing that people are killed by endless concussions; that at the same time football is totally central to our culture, it's also a deadly sport much like war or, say, boxing. it kills people. maybe they like their moments of fame; maybe it helps them to be millionaires or have status in their city. the peak of their life is what, maybe 20 to about 30. after that they have to talk about the good old days; that is, if they can talk, or if they can remember.

speaking of ghosts, we're still looking for ours, but no sign; there was a rack of ghost books at barnes & noble again but i didn't really get a chance to read them; we got there just as it was closing, at seven. what is this, canada?, some woman was saying on her cell phone. in canada everything closes at seven. tiny snowflakes drifted; snow has been constant but very light & inconsequential, for days. the parking lot like the roads was white as a sheet. the bears, it seems, lost their game, but the steelers are still in; i grew up around the steelers, and now notice that their insignia, their whole getup, is borrowed from a huge u.s. steel company logo even though u.s. steel itself, that mammoth steel-mill operation that dominated pittsburgh's skies and culture, is long gone. you don't have many football teams that are just out-and-out company logos, although sometimes their stadiums are, and actually i don't know whether to still like the steelers or not, given that pittsburgh itself is kind of down-and-out and needs a powerhouse team to ram everyone around, crush them & prove their dominance. as i was watching, and the steelers were actually winning, i could see out the corner of my eye, but some poor guy got injured and hobbled off the field unable to walk.

the playoffs used to be the best football, actually, much better than the super bowl; by the time you got to the super bowl you mostly just watch the commercials, because the outcome is decided pretty quickly. the problem is that the super bowl is now in february; football like baseball made the mistake of making its season way too long and having its championship decided a full two seasons after its rightful time. football is a fall sport, so here it is the end of winter and it's all over the place, but it won't actually be decided until spring. baseball similarly is still playing in the blizzards of early november & you go, why exactly am i watching baseball now? i tell all this to my wife and she yawns. but some pretty good football is happening, just outside of my vision, but it's the steelers, as i was saying, not the bears. the waitress, in her bears shirt, says "think you" as most young people do these days...the most obvious sign of a vowel shift that has been happening steadily, relentlessly, through these parts. i know the bears have lost, by the mood of the place, not so much by the waitresses, who might have had the same demeanor no matter what happened.

nothing to do in this small town; one the bookstore closed, there was nothing for it but to go to the grocery store and get some mint chip for the boys, who were at home playing with their older brother. what's left of the snow, frozen into chippy little ice outside the house, with the constant tiny snowflakes almost floating sideways. at home, i've been cleaning out my pop collection, almost doing a pop retrospective, looking back at the pop i've made and deciding what to do with it, getting rid of thousands of dead links as i would pick up dirty clothes off the floor, or clean out an old room full of empty beer cans. i've become obsessed by cleaning up the wreckage of web massacre so that things are simple, clean, as good as i can make it, and everything's backed up. needless to say things look different a few years later too. one i really liked & renamed it be here mao, but funny thing, the url doesn't change and you still get its old name in the url. what this means, i figure, is that if you start out with the right titles on your posts, and you simply change the titles, into something more polite, you could conceivably have subliminal messages in all your urls that might not be slander, since the fact that they are urls is different from, say, if you actually said something in your blog. something sue-able, i mean.

a former student writes to say, someone found her name on our blog, and her school, and looked her up and harassed her, and would i please remove the post, which i did. it's a shame though; it doesn't seem right, but, on the other hand, the proliferation and widespread use of google images especially is a profound overuse of all the pictures that find their way on the web, and although andy warhol would love it, the total overexposure, i'm trying to figure out a way to temper it, keep my own loved ones out of that whirl, maybe spare them of what this poor woman went through.

more pop - coming here. no people; i'm into obscuring images of the real people. no full names either, that turns out to be a problem. maybe i'll stick with statues, salukis, that kind of stuff. sidewalks, roads, parking lots, white as a sheet. the traffic lets up, just a little, but that's because of the football. tomorrow it will be busy again, worse than ever. it's january: king day, state of the union, playoffs, frozen snow and salt, and sometimes it feels like just about everything is political, or maybe it's just living in a town like this that has just one game, which is the university, and it has lots of head-crushing victims, for every stupid field goal.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

tunisia is one of those places i've always wanted to go to: ancient, exotic, beautiful, classy, interesting, combination urban/rural/seaside, etc. - but, being almost fifty-seven, bottle of ketchup, i have to face the reality that it might not happen, or maybe, might not happen right away, in which case by the time i get there, i might be too old to really get down in the street, hitchhike around, find out what the young people are thinking.

ah but that's negative thinking, and besides that, there's facebook, and on top of that, there's a revolution and all of a sudden tunisia is all over the place if you want to relate to it. now i'm not a close follower of the political thing, and it's not my country, but the gist of it is this: they had a bad ruler, they got together by facebook, they kept the pressure up on him, and he had to flee. now they are faced with anarchy if they don't unite behind some other guy, so i'm sure there's quite a bit of political wrangling involving who exactly they should unite behind.

i skip right over the news channels and go to facebook where some folks have set up their own sites and keep them lively with pictures of people marching, people waving red flags and painting their faces red. occasionally you see people getting beat up and some security people abusing their power though i'm sure this is intended to heat up the anarchists' cause in some way, or just to show how bad this previous ruler was. i study the chat, the french, the combination chat-arabic and french, occasional english or universal symbols but don't glean much that i can really count on. lord help tunisia, is a common theme. but the pictures are amazing.

the first is tunisie direct, or as it calls itself, (-̮̮̃-̃)۶تونسي (ة) و راسي عاليღtunisien(ne) et la tête haute ٩(-̮̮̃-̃)۶ - i clearly recognize faces on the edges of this title, and "hot head"(?) in the middle?
it's a kind of running account, pictures, movies, etc., and it's wild, but it doesn't connect to the others. the other two are similar: one is nostresssss (sometimes five, sometimes more s's), by oussema, and this one is a little more personal; the guy (?) puts tons of things up when he's awake, but then he goes to bed; it's still a central meeting place for a lot of people, though. and then there's celebataire-w-n7eb-dima-na3mel-jaw - who knows what that means? or if i'd get in trouble telling people about this? in the case of the iranian revolution, i felt guilty, because i knew that if i helped the green people, somebody might come after them in the night, and that's in fact what happened; here, though, the government is toppled. all these people are writing into these red facebook pages. tunisia's street life is in full view of everyone.

and that's the cool thing. here they were, suffering away, living in this kind of isolated place, isolated if only maybe by poverty or maybe just isolated from us americans but not so much everyone else. but now i'm hearing tunisian music; i'm watching movie stars; i'm watching their news programs. i'm watching their demonstrations in the street. i'm in the middle of their passionate arguments, though i don't quite understand them.

back home, the kids are in bed. a cold spell has returned and put the area in its icy grip. it's king day tomorrow, and that's good; we can wake up and get out at our own pace. we don't do anything special for king day though every day of our lives is devoted to trying to get a little cross-racial, cross-generational cooperation going, in our favor, as opposed to anarchy and riot control a la tunisienne, so to speak. life is not boring, though you wouldn't know it all the time, looking at the empty streets of our small town. it is cold, though, and getting colder. we wait to spring into action; this will be tuesday, when everyone at the university goes back to school, everyone, me first, i have to be there at 7 30 am.

the airports fill up with my own students coming back; now, in the facebook era, i know which airport they're stuck in, when they arrive, and i see their pictures of wherever they've been. the world is much smaller that way; they're my friends; we stay better connected, even when they fly through london or stay there for a few years. my one tunisian student, i think he's in london maybe, or somewhere, not tunisia, and not here, but he has put a big red sign on his site, painted his face red, joined the cause. it's through his page i found these sites, but he should know: in a place where you don't meet many tunisians, he represented, to us, the whole country. we look to him and say, hey man, i hope everything is ok, especially with your family. actually i think maybe his family is out of there too.

true anarchy, that's a little scary; i'm not sure i'd really vote for that, anymore, come to think about it. you have a house full of little kids, women in the family, you don't want anarchy out there. if i were twenty, yeah, i'd be waving that red flag, yeah, i'd want that odious thirty-year dictator out of there, him and his thugs both, and i'd be all over those streets. and the palm trees, the old french colonial-type buildings, the narrow streets, the ancient history - it makes a good web tour, if you got a minute. you see gaddafi in there every once in a while; i have no idea whose side he's on. with the social media you can go, hang around in their scene for a while, then come back for dinner. i do this instead of watching football. the little boys sometimes get me to play with them, or watch icarly (kid television) with them; or, i try to pick up after them, or do their laundry. i sneak back and grab a peak of pure anarchy, people in the streets, in a free minute. if it matters, let it be known: some of us care, a lot, about how folks like this work this out. we send our thoughts, and train our virtual screens on you, at least for a moment.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

just past midnight, in the heart of january, and i'm up late having finished a novel and unable to sleep for some reason. it wasn't too cold out but kind of bleak of sky; i walked home anyway and that was good; the kids went down easily & left me to my well-written crime novel which kind of carried me into this blank space of silent house, chilled out night. the break is over; i know there are things i've left totally undone; only some of them i can put my finger on; the others are in disorganized piles strewn here & there. the window wrapping, for example; i could wrap more windows, and insulate well, but we may have what, one more cold spell maybe? then it's time to plant the garden, and the days are already getting longer, the sun peeking out as i wake up sometimes in the morning.

some things about january are traditional or at least expected: a door handle on the car that snaps off when i pull it hard because i think it's frozen; salt making its blotchy pale stain on the streets and walks; litter strewn in the yards and bushes that stays there so long, because nobody ambles around in the cold to pick it up. i walk by this stuff, my collar up, my hands deep in my pockets or in gloves, and i don't slow down once, all the way home. the television and the nintendos entrance the children with round-the-clock spongebobs or icarlys, or mario games or ninja turtles, but i curl up with them a little anyway, because it's cold out and i also am brain-dead from a long day at school. actually i only had an orientation, it was sit around and act serious but do nothing for a while; i should have been able to handle it, but it was tough anyway, after a three week break. thank god it's friday, i told everyone, but i start in serious on tuesday, when a new term starts and dozens of new faces come streaming in. the boys were sweet, too tired to put up a fight.

somebody at work pointed out that the arizona killer was obsessed by grammar, and that that came up repeatedly in his home-made videos and rants; i guess this is true, and it seemed to be that way when i went back & read a bit about it, but i can only take so much of thinking about this guy, and will be glad to some degree when i'm not actually reading so much of the news, but rather just getting people to say their own mundane things with normal, straight grammar. meanwhile here of course i use whatever i want, and don't even capitalize, ever, but i make myself comfortable with words and structures and expressions, so that on some level i have more places to go, more ways to get there. it's good to know the streets and the shortcuts, even if you're not in the militia, or believe that everyone's out to get you. for one thing, all the good mulberry trees are off the main roads.

some places where you step are frozen right over especially in the shade; you have to walk with a certain balance and it's possible to lose it right there on some sidewalk that never got salted. as opposed to king day, and vacation with no money, or worry about debts & cars & taxes & bills, or getting back in to the grind, this is what january is: that moment on the ice, trying to get somewhere on a snowy patch with no traction, a bitter wind at your back, and the possibility that it could get colder before it gets warmer. up north they had what was called a january thaw, and it came actually at the end of january, but the word thaw was said with a sense of irony, because it would go from maybe ten below for two weeks, to maybe ten above, and that would feel warm, and people would go outside more. here we're always drifting in and out of freezing, you never know if you're coming or going, but it always feels cold, always feels like something worse is coming from where that came from. though half the time, it's an empty worry; it's really just nothing, but more wind, and sometimes geese overhead, getting confused, and wondering which way to fly.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

the vacation has provided several new changes in routine, starting with not going in every day, just hanging around the house doing things that have needed done for months, years. using the stationary bike, looking out at this tiny patch of wild bush in the back yard; this patch is all that's left as a neighbor cut a way quite a bit of it, and another neighbor cut away more, and we ourselves put in a dog fence on some of it so the dogs themselves could cut away more. i defend that wild space, even though it's full of brambles, but now i just use the exercise bicycle and look at it idly.

then i do web restoration, and read a crime novel; i'm on my second. i go to a school winter program, that had been postponed from weather before the holidays. then i take a trip to the historical society office, on a back street in the county seat town about five miles up the road. this town, murphysboro, is a dying town but very pretty, a little down on its luck but still interesting, definitely a separate world from carbondale. i have questions for them. what about the town that used to be halfway between murphysboro and carbondale, on the electric train route? what do you know about brownsville, original county seat of jackson county? what do you know about sand ridge, home of an indian reservation?

actually took a friend there; he'd had a dream in which he was told, by his father, to go to the jackson county archives and find a certain woman who was wrongfully convicted, and clear her name. we found no such woman, but maybe we were looking in the wrong place. had trouble finding the town too, or even the electric train route. lots of stories about brownsville and sand ridge though. know why these places are unmarked? why brownsville, one of the oldest towns in illinois, birthplace of our most famous citizen, doesn't even have a plaque? 'cause people steal plaques, for the bronze. they recycle it. they get a couple of bucks for the bronze, maybe.

so this friend, he can picture this woman clearly, from the dream, but he really has no way of knowing how to go about looking. we scour the place. i'm glad to be there anyway; i'd never seen it. lots to read there, stories for the mill. in one, a woman tells her sons not to go hunting on all souls day. some of the animals & birds might be the souls; it's disrespectful, you just don't hunt on this day. her son steals the gun and off he goes anyway, but he gets caught on a fence he's climbing anyway, and shoots himself by accident. gun shot spooks the horses and they shoot off, dragging his little brother by a chain and killing him too. these ghosts haunt a house in kaskaskia for years & years. i look up from this story. the place is full of pamphlets, old maps, old books, accounts of who is buried where, etc. it's more of a library than a museum. somehow i think the answer is right under our noses, but we're not seeing it.

the winter program features kids, being cute, singing & acting out; it's priceless. it occurs to me, this is the beginning of the last round. this boy is in kindergarten; he'll go all the way up, presumably. i try not to miss these. they get out there and sing; i have to see it.

little by little, i lose weight, maybe a few pounds. it's hard and my knees almost buckle even at the thought. also the scale is tempermental; it might put a few back on, next time i look at it. i get hungry for eggs or vegemite toast afterwards but the vegemite gives me canker sores & reminds me of australia where there's massive flooding that i can hardly bear to think about. that's another thing about vacation; i often read the news, sometimes i open it up several times a day. i don't want to read about that poor family in arizona, or the war clouds in africa, or even tunisia or haiti, places i ordinarily care about. on facebook a whole crowd does all kinds of interesting things & i try to keep up, but have virtually nothing to say for myself. i go back to work friday, another term, another year.

the friend told me of another dream, this one of kids imploring him to find their dad. follow your dreams, i tell him. to follow that first one only cost us an afternoon, and it was good, and educational, for me at least anyway. don't know what would happen if he actually found the guy; maybe he'd be in for more than he could handle. but, if you're inclined to follow your dreams, as i am, and believe what somebody tells you in plain language right in front of your eyes, why would you not do anything? these things find us because we believe, or are at least open to the possibility. if your eyes are open, and you tell the truth, and you help folks, then, you're probably the only one left. i don't know, the ball's in his court. i encouraged him, but then, it wasn't me who dreamed. in the end, i'd like to know this history, and have stuff to write about, but, i dream much simpler stuff. and it's not pretty; usually i try to forget it.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

although fourteen degrees, above, is not really all that cold in the big picture, to us here in southern illinois it seems very cold, and gives me an excuse to stay home and not even go out in it. of course someone has to run the kids around, as they have play dates and stuff to do, but today my wife did that and i got to stay home, run the exercise machine, and have vegemite toast and grapefruit juice. in addition i sewed pillows, sorted out old mail and wrote an article; this one was called in a perfect world and was about student acquisition of present perfect as in structures like i have lived in carbondale for sixteen years. of course if you say that sentence over and over again, enough, you learn it just fine, but i never tell my students that, and instead let them suffer and keep coming back around for more teaching, until finally they get it the hard way, and some of them of course have been here sixteen years also.

yesterday i wrote negotiate with the elephant, which is about a different topic, namely technology, but the elephant can in fact be anything, including an overweight problem that has been dogging me for years. 222- is that obese? for a guy like me, maybe or maybe not, but it could be less, or fewer, and that's why i get on that exercise bike and count the rotations. this is in a pretty corner of our addition; it's open, and has windows, and nice posters and all, and i kind of fill the place up with sweat and suffering as i count my way up through two thousand and up to four. it's kind of like riding a bicycle for a couple of hours but i don't have to fill up the tires with air, and i see the same scenery, it doesn't change much unless the starlings take to flying around the back yard.

on break as we are, we saw the news right away about the shooting in tucson, but i agree with the guy who said the place was pretty darn polarized for a place that lets anyone carry guns, and i got sick of even thinking about it. the most bizarre news really was the earthquake in kokomo, but that was what, a couple of weeks ago and i let it get by me without comment, though it lodged in my brain and even now i'm saying, kokomo? what's up with that? san francisco had one, and we all know that probably happens all the time. want something to get jittery about? dead fish, dead birds, plopping down out of the sky and landing on stuff? at one point i felt like saying i agree with those folks who said the world was ending for sure, but then i decided against it. maybe it is, of course, but what would be the point talking about it? might as well write my articles, quick.

then my wife points out to me an expression that folks say around here, hadn't ought to, and i'd never heard it, or at least never thought about it, and this surprised her, that there was any kind of dialectical thing that i was unfamiliar with. but, sure enough, it was real, and, sure enough, as far as i could remember, i'd never run across it, even once. northerners think it's southern, but southerners deny that it is, so i conclude that it's mountain english, though i lived in pittsburgh for a while and never heard it there, as far as i know.

with such little time left on break, i should get to some of my goals, although i've done ok on some of them. i've restored a lot of my own writing; i've set up a site for my stories; i've made myself a private e-mail, which, if i get it together, i'll use more often for private stuff. but i've yet to finish paper copies of my two sets of stories- wal-mart stories, and pile of leaves, stories of a rake. what i really want to do is market these on kindle & e-books, but i have a ways to go in that direction. and what i'd like to do beyond that is market esl stuff there in the same way; this might take a while, but would be well worth it. and in fact i have plays, and some other stuff that i could get up on the e-market. but it's break. first goal: get some rest. kick the cat out of the bed, roll over, & go back to sleep. make popcorn & actually watch a movie with the boys. i've done some of this stuff, including going roller skating and getting injured, but i still have a bit more to do; i'm not done yet. my wife asked if i'd gotten cabin fever yet, but i haven't: most of the year, i'm too busy to do anything but be exhausted in this house, and now, finally, construction is done, the house is big & pretty, and i can live in it for a change. i don't care much for what's on tv, or the news, or even the weather report; what's the difference? the days roll past, the kids get bigger, literally beneath my eyes, and i, for once, can open the mail.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

the temps hover around a little below freezing which is typical for this area; we're known to have very cold spells, but also very warm spells in january, and to have a steady consistent window-scraping chill is not all bad. it's break, so i'm reading all the mail; this includes the newsletter from the power company as well as the newsletter from the food co-op, and even the letter from the publisher's clearinghouse, busting at the seams, with an orange do not ignore sticker on it, announcing that i'd already won a million a year for life, if only i'd just sign up; i played along for a while, imagining i was one of my students whose english skipped over the fine print; inside was a you-stick-em bingo, which i also won; this one promised me $50 immediately, if only i'd just get on the ball and send the sticker in with my name and address on it.

i searched the you-send-it-in flyer for evidence that i'd just signed up for several years of magazines, but i didn't find it; i did, however, find proof that i hadn't actually won anything, not even the $50 bingo. i could be applying my skills to making these things more devious, i thought, as i have now got down, in my web restoration project, to the part where i'd studied web marketing, maybe seven or eight years ago. it was 9/11 time; it was hard to get students to come here, and i studied the web as it was one of the things we could upgrade that would make some difference. and now, ironically, everything i did wrote & said has been consigned to a disc and must either be saved (put back on the web, by me personally) or left on the disc. i have done most of what i wrote (put it here) - about language, language learning, etc.; i'm trying to figure out what to do with it; might make a book, but in fact, i've already given most of it away. this is a continuous running theme in my life - i've devoted it to being a better teacher, and knowing what i'm talking about, yet in some ways i compulsively just give it away out the back door, as if it's worthless, and anything that is so casually given away is often given very little respect in the world.

my wife has made the local news several times over (in the local morning paper as well) and is enjoying her day of fame out there in the world of people we know, people who read the paper or at least know what's in it. i've had that fame, or something like it, at times, as living in a small town, you get it eventually whether you want it or not. i am glad that i veered away from web marketing and am not the area expert on why people click on yellow instead of red, more often, or what psychological associations they have with, say, blue. there is a level at which we hide a lot of this stuff; don't want our friends to know, for example, what kinds of problems we're having beneath the surface, or, in some cases, we don't even want to face them ourselves. is this much of life subconscious? on another level, i think, this kind of thing finds its way out regularly, with a twisted ankle, or a milk spill, or anything else that we don't necessarily see through.

at the quaker gathering last night the topic of grace came up: what was it, how we experienced it, how do you know it when you see it. i had two stories but only one i really wanted to tell in public, and i never made it to that one; others told theirs, and i thought about them for a while. mine is here and to tell you the truth, that story, which was on the tip of my tongue, is what is still with me today, in spite of a night of wild dreams and a busy morning getting folks out the door. grace, really, is that slight reminder that happens every once in a while, on a train, in a car, or maybe on the edge of a cliff. we are here for a reason; we could be gone but for the simplest blindest luck; we should remember that every moment, and not squander considerable energy, if not talent, on the trivial. my wife bought pants at rural king: real american clothes, for real americans, said the red white and blue tags; reminded me a little of wal-mart. made in pakistan. as a real american, i'm not offended so much, buying something that is made by someone in another country; i do that all the time. i'm offended that lying or misrepresentation is such a way of life in our culture, that i'm embarrassed even explaining what i've seen. my students bring me their mail; they want to know if they've really won a million dollars a year for life.

there are at least three kinds of drunks around town, and i mention this because we're in a very small town, and there may be more kinds out there in the real world, but maybe only three in mine. there are the ones who are on their way down, and i saw a couple of these one very cold night, maybe new year's day or the day after, when i went for a huge walk and downtown, at a local bar which was surprisingly open, out on the porch, were two people, very drunk and very absorbed in a conversation about whatever relationship had resulted from that. then there are those who are at the bottom or who have turned around and are on their way back; they can see the darkness because they've been there; they know how it happened and they're going the other way; this would be kind of like us and the people i usually hang around. and the last are the academic drunks; these are tough nuts to crack, because they'll hide it all the way to the bitter end, and when you're a high-achiever, and smart to boot, and make a difference in this world, and the world offers you a red carpet and business class, and a rent-a-car in an exotic city, then a couple of martinis go down easy and it isn't anybody's business. now a good cold look might tell you that the first kind is an awful lot like the third kind; who's to say those poor kids on that porch weren't smart, but i'll tell you one thing, the policeman is hanging around outside that bar, waiting for people to drive off, so he can put them through hell; so are the people who roll drunks for a living, in the shadows of the alleys behind the downtown area, where sometimes the graffiti will sit there for a few years, until somebody finally gets a coat of paint out there to start over again. this time of year, you drop a straw in the grass, out by the door of the car, and it might sit there until march, when finally the warm spring morning makes you feel like walking around, and picking up little stray pieces of garbage.

excuse my rambling. the high canadian rockies' snow remains at the peak; the babbling brooks come tumbling down the mountainside; the animals graze on the grasses in the distance; the tiny hole that at one time was an all-encompassing tunnel, recedes into the distance, but it never goes away. by grace, i saw that tunnel; i went through it; i'll not forget it, nor the train that got me through it. the truth may be the rumble of the iron wheels beneath me, or the sun itself; i'm waiting. within about a week, it's back to work, and then it gets too busy to even notice sometimes.