Saturday, December 31, 2011

someday we'll look back at these as the golden days, the good old days; i'm sure we will, especially the boys, who are ten and six, and are not obliged to worry about anything really, but just spend time with their new toys and particularly with their dad when he's free and not working for just a small window. so we went for a walk, and when we came to the concrete bridge over the creek we went under that bridge, where there's graffiti and soft wet mud with animal prints in it, and lots of rocks, and i have to keep ducking my head to get around. and then later we drive out to the river, which is actually a park, about a half-hour drive but really only about fifteen miles as the crow flies, but we have the place virtually to ourselves, and the river flows on down from the north, and once again, lots of mud, and sand, and it's no problem skipping rocks.

this park by the river, biggest river in the world (depending on how you measure), is actually hard to get to, a sign is missing, and the back roads aren't that clear, you kind of have to know it's there. there's a little opening in the cliffs there and you fit through the opening, and you can climb the cliffs if you want which we did, and get a better view.

the holiday can be a bit rancorous; i'd decided that they named boxing day after the general fighting that goes on over toys after christmas, and generally the weather coops us up and keeps us indoors. but this year the weather is a little better, and there's no excuse for staying indoors cooped up by materialism and the false hope that somehow this stuff, whether it's tops, or games, or tracks, is going to do it for us. i exercise at night, but i referee all day, calling fouls, ejecting kids from the game, ripping them off each other flesh and all, relegating them to their rooms where only the television is there to help them regain their composure. i decided to try to direct them outdoors, where fresh air would do some of my work for me. this was my hope.

it took a while, but finally this huge boat came tugging up the river, pushing sn enormous barge with it and some white flag in front that i couldn't distinguish, don't know what country it was from. the river is wide there, comes around a bend at the pilot's house and flattens out around grand tower, and somebody was shooting guns or something over on the missouri side and you could hear it all up the valley. the boys played in the park a bit after climbing the cliffs and i stopped for a moment, watched the boat going upstream, the water coming down. this break might not change much, but it changed me; it gave me a fresh renewal that helped me be a better referee.

as for them, it's back to the usual: ripping and tearing at each other, pointless fights over meaningless use of toys (they both have plenty of time, plenty of toys), etc. it's almost like, fighting for the sake of fighting, or, fighting for the sake of getting my attention, which is getting harder to crowbar out of me. could be trouble...batten down the hatches! happy new year!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


photo by Jim Leverett
below is a picture of a fresh newfallen snow here in our small southern illinois town; it came at night, looked quite beautiful in the morning and was gone by about noon. this was just how some people like it, but it left me a little wistful, especially since christmas had come and gone without a lick of it. fortunately it was break and the boys got outside immediately and made a small snowman; the snowman survived the morning melt and to my knowledge is still out there, albeit somewhat scraggly and full of the leaves that had been drawn up into him when he was first made. a survivor, he got a crooked shape but his stick arms remained firm and jutted out into the brown world. hopefully more snow will arrive with the new year.

what can i say about the holiday? unlike others, i don't enjoy telling others about the material changes in our humdrum life, to me that's no more than trappings for what is far more important, the spiritual side of life. and how does new video games, or new movies, change anything? there would be virtually nothing i could give them that would put a dent in their life as we now know it though we did walk a basketball down to a park and shoot a few hoops. it's a time i should be devoting to finding ways to be with them, what with my wife out of town on a grandchildren-mission, yet i find myself somewhat preoccupied with my own creative projects, unfulfilled dreams, and wiling to go down to the video store for yet another installment to keep them happy for but another half-hour or so. tonight a friend is over to help entertain the older one; tomorrow we take the little folks to see "chipwrecked," but, nothing much is new. days are short, there isn't much to them.

i work on garage band, and also imovie; i have projects; when i have time i devote myself to them. i put my dad's photography on a single site but it's one of those places where the outside world always sees it differently than i do, and i'm too lazy to go over to a friend's computer to see how it would look. i exercise; this is working out well. i have some projects outdoors if i get to them; my wife left the door to the storm shelter open, apparently, and it drew the snow right down in there to make cold dirty little pools of earthy mildewy water. a large pile of sticks to burn; hey, what about burning it right near the shelter, so as to draw all that moisture right up out of it, killing two birds with one stone so to speak? or burning down the shelter and the house with it, would be more likely. a few years back i had my roof accident on a day like this, post christmas, pre-new year, i'll celebrate that as a grim memorial since it got me to finally produce a little of myself, a kick in the pants as warning that time is running out.

speaking of which, i got all three books on the amazon kindle site, two stories and one poetry, got the e-mail address thing sorted out, they are all up there, all three available for 2.99 each but don't have exact addresses. i do know that if you google my name on amazon kindle you'll run across at least one of them which has been on there for about ten months, the other two just got on there tonight and may take a while to catch on. i've been a little obsessed with the poetry as i've given away a few books over the holidays and find myself somewhat embarassed to call myself a poet yet have been creating them left and right, here and there, trying to make a better collection. it needs a lot of updating and a makeover in its appearance but that's been coming along slowly, for one i'd like the season links to come to my own uploaded pictures but that alone may take a trip into the office.

gonna read to the littlest guy, since that's our campaign, that's one i'm proud of, and one he needs badly. i may do little else for him or them, but i'm there for that, and i cook and do the dishes, they eat ok, they are in good spirits, they stay up late and sleep in, and march to my quirky yelling or what passes for discipline. we don't venture far out of the house, except to the video store most days, the cats tear around at our feet, it's what passes for life in midwinter vacation. time for the back to the future trilogy soon, we try to do it every year, this year i think even the youngest will get into it. that is, when we finally are that desperate for something to do. the phone has died; it got between the cushions of the couch, where we couldn't see it, or figure out how to answer it, and it was so dead it could hardly complain, and we almost lost it for good down there in the underparts of the couch, the fourth dimension. but i solved the problem, there weren't all that many other possibilities, since we'd looked virtually everywhere else.

i'll show you all this other stuff, the movie, for example, that i make in my free time, the garage-band song, for which i had to drag out the lap dulcimer and the cello, the lap-dulcimer's tuning peg cracked from brittleness and had been put in wrong, the best i could figure, and the cello likewise was in pretty sorry shape, but i tried fitting them into my garage band production. hard work. what's hard, is keeping the kids quiet and away from the little studio i've made myself. they won't. which relegates me to facebook on the unused computer, while i'm making another pot of coffee.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Saturday, December 24, 2011

it's christmas eve day & it's chilly but clear and nice outside; i however have chosen to stay home with young boys who are overboiling with enthusiasm and trying their best to be good in the last few remaining hours. there are a number of good traditions that we run through in the season which i'll recount here, but there's also the inevitable bad traffic, too much exposure to the general public, and exasperation from finding that if you're a late shopper, as we are, things are mighty picked over & desolate by the time you get to them sometimes. i don't want to be negative but you can understand maybe why i'd choose to stay home.

one of the traditions i like the most is lighting the way; this involves little brown paper sacks, buckets of sand, and votive candles; the candles, inside sacks about half full with sand, give a soft brown light to the sacks and make a picture you can see from afar. neighbors actually have electric iluminaria which are also common where they came from, which is new mexico and spain i believe, but actually filling up the sand and lighting them is the part i like. i like it no matter what the weather; tonight looks like bright and clear. i've only seen a couple of white christmases the whole time i've been here.

so i'm at the wal-mart and it seems like a lot of families are standing around figuring out how to get a decent christmas out of no money, given the vastness and cheapness of the place. serious discussions are taking place in the aisles. and then in the register line, one guy is right near me getting into a stemwinder of a speech to two young boys, the essence of which is, yes of course there's a santa, you can bank on it; he would stake his entire reputation on it, and would he steer them wrong? he cajoled them and then proceeded to give his best evidence for why things that happened couldn't be explained any other way.

i myself, and this is another of my traditions, decided to never lie about it, but to maintain the fantasy as long as humanly possible. for example, when my son asked my wife point blank if there was a santa, she said, a lot of people believe it, and that's nice, because we like to keep that good feeling around (this may not be an exact quote, but it's pretty similar to the kind of stuff i say). one always brings it back to the positive aspect of believing, without worrying about the answering of the question precisely. i'm not saying my style is better than that of the gentleman in the wal-mart aisle, but it's more suited to me, so i stick with it.

we decorate cookies and also occasionally receive decorated cookies from others; this causes a certain sugar mania throughout the season part of which i am dealing with at this moment. but my point is, every decorating style is different, every household is different, all these cookies have a lot of character. they have a lot of sugar too. king of the season is the cube-of-butter cookie, as my wife calls it, though i call it the mexican wedding cake and it has several other names. it fills your mouth with butter and powdered sugar and lasts all day.

the deer are all over the roads this time of year and you can't help seeing them, wherever you go, it's almost like they come into town november and december, as an instinct that has been developed over the years to counter whatever hunting season is left. they eat what's left of your garden; they stand out on lawns brazenly, crossing the roads whenever they please. they are the first to notice that it's been warmer than usual, things are still green. though i must say, the geese noticed it too. i thought i heard them flying northwest early this morning, around seven; i know the dogs noticed them. they were making a lot of noise, as usual, as if arguing about whether it was too early to go back north, or what. they come around our house, i think, because there are lots of lakes in the area. none are frozen. if they want to stick around, who are we to dissuade them?

i like to read the old crumpled up newspapers that boxes of presents come wrapped in; these newspapers are often from the cities of my relatives, and are somewhat random; i doubt they stick in a sports section deliberately for me. nevertheless this year i'm reading about the pittsburgh penguins and some years i get a bit of trivia from new mexico or the new york times, or even england. i have tons of unread and very worthy magazines around, i'm not sure what's the attraction of some back page of the pittsburgh papper, crumpled up, for example, except that in the case of the pittsburgh papers, i used to deliver them, maybe forty years ago, so there's a certain nostalgia there as well as the trivia that one picks up from finding out what roster changes the penguins are making, or, what the minor leagues or high schools of western pennsylvania are up to.

i take the main four-lane highway out to wal-mart one night, late, at about midnight, fiddle in the little car, the low-to-the-ground car (i'd been playing music), and at the left turn, to go into the walmart road, i'm in the left-turn lane at the red light, and i look over to see the big carcass of a deer in the median, with its head cut off directly in front of me. it's a fairly fresh deer, no blood on it, no sign of a mess, just a big round red place where the head should have been. there was no evidence of car accident, violence, blood, nothing. just this huge deer carcass in the median, facing me. i have no idea why it was there, what it means, why i'd put it in a blog post like this, no idea except that it kind of loomed over the holiday for me for a few days, as i went about my shopping and wrapping and that kind of stuff. a lot of times people do this stuff for pure practical utilitarian reasons; some guy from the county is going to pick it up; they could drag it over into the ditch but that would make more work for him, and they know him, so they save him the trouble. now why they'd want the head and nothing else, that's beyond me, or why they would make a clean cut the way they did, not messy in any way, i have no idea, on second thought, maybe they were trying to gross me out, or scare the heck out of me. i take the back way home; it's more comfortable anyway, goes by this ancient cemetery, and some overgrown railroad crossings where i suspect there used to be a fairly lively train coming through.

we use old christmas cards, cut up, as the cards on presents that tell who it's for and who it's from. cutting up these old cards recycles them but the thing is, they sometimes stay in this bag for years, waiting to be cut up, and some don't cut so well so they just stay in the bag, period. in general you use about a season's worth of cards cut up to identify all the presents. i've come to admire hallmark, not because i like all the different cards or colors of wrapping paper, but because, wanting to go into the wrapping paper business myself, and go into the card business (definitely), and yet still, fifty seven years into it, not getting it quite together to actually produce all this stuff on my own, i have to at least admire someone who, for as much as we disdain them, still dictates what the culture looks like, based on what they produce. if we wanted different or better wrapping paper, different or better cards, there's nothing stopping us, nothing whatsoever. yet we don't.

santa brings bizarre stuff from all over the world, it's like he has to prove he's been around, so he brings fine honey from france, squid from asia, eel, octopi, jamaican hot sauce, swiss chocolate, japanese whistle candy, etcetera. not everybody appreciates the wide diversity of foods in their stocking but they know that santa finds it necessary to spread the worldly kinds of things and that there's nothing for it but to share what one can't eat, what the heck, there's plenty of food around anyway. my mother tells the story of how i came home from school one day and said to my brother, my classmates are telling me there's no such thing as santa. my brother says, shhh, shhh, they're right, but don't tell mom, she'll get upset.

in the natural world, life goes on as usual; it's cold, but the days are finally getting longer, and that reminds the animals to get out there, get themselves some food before january comes and it gets real cold, that's really the only time it could get cold, though sometimes it snows in february. in the natural world, it's life as usual, just stay off the roads, but in the human world, it's solstice, yule, winter festival, a feast of all kinds, a materialistic orgy, celebration of all things human, and the fulfilling of all one's material desires, which includes gatherings of families far and wide and a lot of activity in the airports and train stations. at our house, the soft glow of paper sacks ih a row leads you up the driveway to the house, the path is lit up to show the way for the baby jesus, whom i would guess has to find his way into your heart. if anyone asks, that's what i tell them. you don't have to believe it. you light the candles, because the mere act of doing it is good for your soul.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

all the live christmas trees are sold out in this town by about the tenth, anybody who's serious gets theirs around thanksgiving or sooner, which if you think about it means there's a lot of dead needles around town by christmas, but that's another post; my problem is that our semester is just ending around the sixteenth or so, so we're pretty much doomed to going way out in the country to get one, by the time we get it together. so that's ok, i had this farm picked out, and got partway out there one day and realized i didn't have money or clear directions, and the kid was asleep, so i turned back and started out that way again a few days later. this time it was foggy and misty and actually raining, and i took the long way, through marion, because of the direction thing, so it was almost an hour drive, but once you get to know the lay of the land you find this area, around what is called lick creek, is quite beautiful, hilly, rustic, rural, way out there. i'm on this two-lane road that's winding through the back country and i've got this kind of undefinable sense of dread, which i interpret to be nervousness about the van and its ability to make it 30 miles without stranding me out in the middle of nowhere. but the van was running just fine. no real reason for the dread at all.

the other day i decided to put together all the tools i had at my disposal and make a garage-band song out of something i'd had in my head for years, namely a banjo tune with my own accompaniment. and it worked, at least well enough to make a movie out of it real quick, which i gladly and humbly share with you; it has a kind of unkempt fiddle part, not very organized, the pictures didn't quite come out right either but hey i'm pretty much brand new still with both garage band and this i-movie, which assumes you are some kind of film-world splicy-dicy professional. i'm not. i'm sure you can do all kinds of things with the program but i haven't quite figured any of them out, though i was able to delete this one horrible cough or set of coughs that i belted out at the end of one track. i've been doing the family letter, which is a little over-the-top braggy on the grandchild issue, but i gladly and humbly share that with you also, except to say, i don't know what to tell you about the pictures, i used to put them all here, but these days what starts on facebook tends to stay there, and i don't manage to get much of it over here like i used to.

so i get way way out east of lick creek, on this windy road, and i finally see what accounts for this sense of dread. there's this ruins of an old house, trees and bushes grown all round it and covering it, a whole section of it caving in diagonally with the window actually still in it, and that window reflects both the ruins around it and the life that was in it at one time, just a horrible and at the same time fascinating scene. i'm sure the locals are all used to it, even use it as a landmark since it's right on a prominent corner where i actually turned, and i'm sure the local deer and critters are also well familiar with the layout, rotten floors, basement, whatever's left of root cellar, etc., all well picked over and receding into fine mulchy earth. whenever i get that far out in the country i always wonder what it would be like to live out there, so far from town, so precarious in some ways, but when i get to the christmas tree farm i see pretty much what it's like to make it successfully and have a working, productive growing kind of situation. some of these places are truly thriving, others, just kind of receding into the dirt which they were planted on to begin with. the fog, the rain, the cold and winter, all doing their thing to make sure considerable energy is required keeping things up.

coming back is always considerably easier, this time i have a tree in the van, it's running fine, and i'm sure i know the way. the roads are so windy that you can see absolutely nothing until you are right on top of a curve, but i'm sure the folks out there are used to that also. i'm not, and i get the impression they're looking at me and knowing which christmas tree farm i just went to, on account of why else would anyone else be in such a remote locale? back at home, we put the tree up; my wife wants all the fine ornaments that we've rejected in the last few years, allowing kids to grab whatever comes to hand first and whatever is least breakable. a little late on the tree and lights situation, and there's no way we can compete with the neighbors who have way more lights here and there & all over town, it's a pretty big deal in a small town like this, so we light up a little on the inside and then be sure to do the illuminaria, the night before, lighting sacks with sand and a candle in them, to light the way, and go natural. it may be that the world is not that much worse off than it ever was, with people starving in africa and philippines, people ravaged by floods or homeless or without work here and there, this or that side of the globe, but it seems a little crass somehow to blaze too many lights all over a place where so few will actually see it; i know it's just power, just a few watts here and there. it's more the symbolic nature of it, i guess, that i respond to. i like the lights inside, soft, only here when i'm here, inside, and they can shine on me.

and with that i wish you, the reader, the best of the holiday season, i'm aware that today is the solstice, second day of hannukah, and a number of other things all rolled into one, but most of all, we come into the holiday season and i for one am going to do what i want, maybe master garage-band and i-movie, and see if i can't maybe get you something better.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Friday, December 16, 2011

since i teach grammar and since most of my students are from what i call the kingdom, and since nineteen boys or the vast majority of the nineteen boys who blew up our towers were from this very kingdom, i'm always a little sensitive of the fact that if anything is going to disaffect these guys, and make them completely unable to handle this culture, it's grammar and our desire to have our language follow certain consistent patterns which apparently theirs doesn't demand, or demands in a completely different way. so it happens that at a grading meeting, where a certain guy had his reading/listening teacher absolutely convinced that he was an excellent student, i could come into that same meeting saying, no, in a test where you get fifty for just putting your name on the page, he couldn't even get a fifty. now it happens that a lot of these guys are socially adept, listening excellent, very fluent, charming even, but they have no concept of grammar, that's their weak point, can't even begin to study it and culturally have trouble picking up a book at night, or doing something that would help them get past that block. buy the book, yes, they can usually do that. show up for class and hear what i say, yes, they can usually do that too. but prove it by performing in a test, no, they probably can't.

so they struggle in the lower levels and we come to the higher levels where they slog through the readings now, still listen intently in class, and by dint of hard work often manage to master the material and pass; i had one gentleman, a rather quiet guy, but he passed, passed legitimately, and popped in on the facebook chat and we were talking for a while so i asked him about his hometown and he finally told me, a small village west of the capital, on the mekka road, so i looked it up on google earth, and i felt like i was flying over this vast saudi desert until it turned mountainous and got kind of interesting, and there were these small towns off the mekka road, and it so happened that we were so far out in the sticks that the towns were labeled in arabic but not english. so now i was in his area and he explained to me that his town was much smaller than mine but he did go into a nearby one every once in a while and yes, they listened to music occasionally and he even gave me a sample which was on youtube, in which someone played the ood which best i can figure is like a balalaika.

so now i listened to this distant far-off kind of folk music and its musical structure is way different from ours, i would have to listen to it dozens of times to really get it, but i kind of wanted to do that, go to this far-off place that i hear so much about and that, from the sky, looks somewhat like texas or south dakota or some dry place where they're not afraid to make flat roofs all over the place. i kind of liked the idea of being on the mekka road because i figured that as isolated as his life might have been, he'd occasionally see some cars coming by from the capital, mercedes and limousines, coming from the capital to the holy city for whatever reason, going a hundred or whatever you do out there in the desert, swerving to avoid an occasional camel in the road. if i were to really visit this guy i'm sure he'd show me the back roads, the high mountain trails, how it gets cool at night, how some young guys play ood out in the desert nights, yes there's some talk about the arab spring and all but overall you don't say anything bad about the king and besides that king provides almost everything for anybody but you know, it's the kind of place where the women are still struggling for the right to drive or be out alone in public, or show their face, and although some people still defend this as the protection of women, the more they see of the outside world, the more they begin to get the idea that human rights and equality will probably and inevitably bring change to their kingdom. i thought back to a time in class when this debate had come up and this same guy, in a kind of gentle wisdom, shrugged at the inevitability of such change and also the general idea that, well, one didn't want to say too much about a subject like this, since, by all accounts, change was inevitable anyway, and being to vocal for or against anything in a collectivist culture could only start a bad chain of events in play, whereas laying low was the way to pass through the gates of opportunity.

in the week or so before class finally let out today i heard a number of stories of vacation plans, since of course this whole business of sending packages, getting a tree and decorating, making cookies, lighting illuminaria and all is totally foreign to them, no reason to hang around a quiet one-horse town in the middle of cold-and-empty season, when even their friends are gone, so some are off to the kingdom, some are going to l.a., some are going south. only in the country for a few years, you got to see disney world, new york, l.a. for starters, just about any place you can get to; in the case of those going back to the kingdom there would be a slight layover in chicago where the nearest international flight takes off and some were looking forward to a what, thirty-hour flight experience, going back to japan, or the kingdom, or wherever they were headed, spend some time in the sun before coming back here for the spring terms. and i thought, i'm really living out on the edge here, all these people world-traveling around me, heading off to these remote towns and villages or big cities where the folks at googlemaps still haven't come up with an english name.

the hallway is a place where these guys mill together between classes, a lot of them smoke and head outside no matter the weather but the day i played fiddle they all found the sing and took a few pictures one of which i finally got my hands on, second one below, and this is how i'd like to see myself really, kind of bleak architecture and dark hallway colors all along, but an attentive audience and a bright ray of sunshine placed on the whole hallway at that moment, between classes. trouble was i kind of mixed up two audiences, i try to teach grammar so hard to one, then the other, i try to please musically, and it put a bit of stress on me putting together everything i know about them and their culture, and our holiday songs and all, and a couple of different ways to be hard to please. there's a gulf of differences between the two cultures, you see, and it's not just how they respect women, or how they get around, or how they speak a language that has grammar, versus one that may not see it that way, it's a lot more than that. one of the former students came back, he said he was doing well in classes, and socially having a lot of fun, lots of girlfriends for sure, but he said, i'd rather be all black or all white, than brown the way i am, as if he were given a curse to deal with out there in the social world. and i'm sure it feels that way, since once i saw a young woman, probably from a small town in illinois, and she'd twisted or broken her ankle outside on the walkway near our building and somehow found her way into the hallway where sure enough a passel of maybe six or eight of these guys surrounded her asking her if she needed help; one ran upstairs to get bandaids. they knew enough about first aid to be friendly and offer their services, and i knew them to be gentlemen who wouldn't hurt a flea under any circumstances but might be a little weak in the grammar department. but she was absolutely, completely terrified, almost couldn't be consoled. reminds me also of some of that stuff they say on the lowe's website or wherever they can, the people who spread scurrilous rumors about the nature of islam and how in its dark way it's trying to take over the world, as if christianity weren't in the exact same business. but the point is, when it's over, as i told one japanese girl, who was apologizing about her grades and her bad progress in the class, in the end nobody remembers your grade. you remember whether people were nice to you, and whether it was a decent place to be, and whether you heard any good music, or kind words. and what you hear carries a long way back, it'll last a thirty-hour flight or more, if you can make good friends, and manage, through facebook or any other way, to keep them.

Monday, December 12, 2011

going up to the right on my facebook page where it says "ticker" allows me to see what all my "friends" are doing and where they comment, and even lets me see what other people who are not my "friends" have posted as long as my "friends" are posting on their posts, so i get to read these entire conversations that people are having in the comments of some post or another, often these roll in right while i'm looking at them, and sometimes as in the case of siuc & lowe's, the institution has eliminated them from their page yet people are still somehow commenting and adding onto each other's comments. i'm not quite sure how this happens, maybe the people who have "joined" are allowed to see what's going on yet people like me who just happen in from somewhere else see a certain glossy page where none of that "commentary" is available. so, by going in through my friend's feed, i get the whole conversation, but by going in as i would the front door of, say, lowe's, i would never see, never know.

the nature of privacy is an odd thing worth remarking on; recently i read an article where a guy who was traveling around, and had a kind of mid-eastern name, started to get yanked into those little rooms in airports and homeland spaces, and asked all kinds of questions, due to someone's impression that he was up to no good, or had a suspicious name. now i've been yanked a number of times in these places, because i look somewhat palestinian, and travel alone, and that sets off all kinds of alarms, but i'm always polite to them and figure, if i were them, i'd be suspicious of myself also, or, another way of looking at it is, if you knew what i was thinking, you'd reach out of the line to pull me over & search me. so to get back to this guy, he finally writes to the fbi and says, tell you what, i'll start sending you information about where i am, what i'm up to, which bathroom i'm in, how fast i'm going from here to there. i'll send it to you, free, bury you in the stuff, i'll give you all this data, and you can have it for as long as you want. i'll give you so much data you'll have no idea what to do with it and you'll have to wade through it just to figure out why you were so interested in me in the first place.

this guy struck a chord in me because basically i saw this coming & have been doing more or less the same thing for years. it's easy for me because i do absolutely no radical or subversive activity whatsoever but instead focus entirely on bringing up young children who wouldn't want me to get thrown in jail or even detained unnecessarily for having suspicious thoughts. so i cleaned up my act, knowing full well i'd get searched at every "homeland" outpost, and to tell you the truth i don't even think revolutionary thoughts much anymore, i even vote democrat, though to tell you the truth i do that more because i detest the republicans, than because i really believe in anything those democrats have to say. really i mull over the radical idea that by voting at all you give them permission to stage all these wars in our name, and both democrats and republicans are the same that way, and execute prisoners and ship some of them over onto this little outpost they have in cuba where they keep them indefinitely all in the name of what, we can go into pakistan or wherever and just grab these guys? don't get me started, anyway sometimes i think that just voting, makes you part of the system, and the same is true for the death penalty, even though you vote against it, the mere fact that you vote makes you part of the state, and the system, that ultimately uses its authority to kill these guys, guilty or not. so i mull over this stuff, but sometimes i just write haiku, and i pull out some little folded-up piece of paper in my pocket and scrawl these little poems while i'm being delayed indefinitely in these lines, and then people get really suspicious (what's he making notes about??) and then i'm really in for it.

but fortunately i haven't figured out how to get my cell-phone to flood the world, or facebook, or twitter, with reminders of where i am and what i am doing and how far i am from any place you could call "sensitive". not to mention, flood the fbi with data about my life. i'm just some schmuck with eight kids and a wandering mind.

it's bad enough traveling around the country without your pocketknife, that's the thing i use mostly to open bottles and screw in battery caps that fall out unexpectedly when my kids overuse their little gizmos and threaten to leave battery caps in hotel rooms across the countryside. being asked to travel without a pocketknife or deodorant or toothpaste makes you feel somewhat naked in the world as if anyone can come up to you with a bottle or something, and there would be no way you could open it. you're out there in the world, with no pocketknife and the keys that are attached to them, which are useless anyway when you're away from home, make your pocket feel a pound or two lighter because i've left the pocketknife behind in the glovebox of the little car in the longterm parking over by the far fence. now there's all my data, but it's too late, because i'm back home, & those keys don't get you into anything to speak of, anyway.

sometimes the world comes creeping in on me, like every little piece of lint floating in the air around me is carrying a camera and somebody is watching every little thing i do and making special note of my radical thoughts, or illegal ones, or just the ones that would embarrass me around my own people, if they ever were to need that. but i guess i consider myself lucky, i've done plenty of embarrassing things, but most of it was in the seventies quick before they developed any of this cloying privacy-busting technology where the minute you express interest in a "gadget" ads for that "gadget" start appearing in the little sides of every blog or facebook page you open up trying to lure you into some kind of deal involving your "time" or your "money" and the "hope" of getting one of these "gadgets"...altogether i find myself getting less and less attached to "gadgets" like cell-phones that connect me with the whole mess and more and more attached to a pocketknife which could, in a pinch, open a can of sardines. i would consider bending over so the security cameras couldn't quite get a full picture of what i was opening but the fact is, it's impossible to open a can of sardines without getting some of it on your shirt, and in this way you leave a permanent record that stands up against the tides of time and will be there years from now, with its mute testimony that you went the cheap route rather than simply go to the airport diner where cameras can get a better shot, and order a "turkey club" or a "burger". and so it is that we spend our days in these public places where somebody somewhere is wondering why we don't just get our faces better into the camera so it can tell exactly what we're doing instead of forcing someone to guess, what the heck is he writing on that little piece of paper. you should be glad i don't text while i'm driving. now those guys are really dangerous, and oughtta be hauled in before they bring down the whole fabric of our society's mutual agreement to drive safely, respectfully, and with eyes wide open, so as not to run over the little kid who's chasing his basketball across the road. amen. travel with god, more later.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

from a photo by tugi papua
i'm in the basement of the gaia house, home of our quaker meeting, and a long train goes by and my eyes wander out the window to the cars. it's kind of a typical train in that it has a lot of black oil tankers, like businessmen, in their plain black, going north, but also some old wisconsin central cars with graffiti on them, those are the ones that sit around a little too long in the chicago yards, and then there are the canadian national ones themselves, which, depending on random chance i assume, either show you the side with 'canadian' spelled with an a, or 'canadien' spelled with an e, the french version. it's as if these cn cars speak french to you if they choose, but i assume it's random, and they just put whatever side front they feel like on any given day, because, on the east side as we are, about half are in english and about half are in french.

kind of like the geese, i think, which i assume are also canadian, and which honk a lot, sometimes confused, trying to decide whether to go further south, or just stop right here since we have a lot of lakes, and it's relatively wooded, and there aren't any chemicals until you get into farm country which starts just north of here. now they aren't going north yet, they're still going south, since it's still getting colder, i assume, but half the time i look up at them and they're arguing with each other, as if to say, are you sure you want to go any farther, let's just turn around and grab a little of that grass down there, quick before it's too late.

it's been raining for days now, not that that would make me think of canada, in fact it's probably raining up there too. the cold grim stuff doesn't bother me much though it makes people nervous who have to drive in it, particularly when it hovers around 32, and can't decide whether to turn into snow, or stick, or freeze, or what. somebody asked me what it meant when i said, it snowed but it didn't 'stick'. up here we all know a snow that doesn't stick from a snow that does, because when it does, everything is white and you get this temporary sense of peace and the kids all want to run outside and throw snowballs. you feel quite alive here since nobody ever plans for it and they throw snowballs in bare hands which makes it even better, a nice stinging cold that can only be warmed up by going inside and drying off. but the real first snow is yet to come here; i've seen a little, but it hasn't stuck.

the graffiti on the wisconsin central cars is rich and colorful but has many designs which we just can't understand, being in a small town and somewhat isolated from the culture that produced them. we had a 'tagger' a while back, a graffiti artist, but he made the same stuff over and over again as i'm sure they all do, and they got tired of that pretty quick and they laid for him but i'm not sure if they ever got him, probably he got bored and ran out of walls and headed for chicago anyway. in the same way the african music is in these languages i don't even know, although i recognize the swahili and the zulu, but the malian ones are my favorites and they're in, what, fulani, or these languages i don't know a word of. we play the songs over and over again though so we come to actually know the words even though we don't know what they mean. consistently upbeat, jumpy, lively, they're perfect for a town where everyone is putting their brakelights in your face, refusing to get out of the lane when they're considering turning right. the lights are often not timed right, either that or i'm going the wrong speed, getting caught at them, and it's like, hey, all of a sudden you have a couple of minute break, at some corner you've been at a thousand times in the last week. and what do you do with it? nothing. it's still raining. stare blankly at the car that pulls up beside you, which is occupied usually by someone who is vaguely familiar.

in the same way i take the elevator even though i'm kind of an exercise freak and make sure to swim my 2/3 mile every day at lunchtime; at about three minutes to one i'm coming back into the building with wet hair, somewhat exhausted, have to teach in three minutes, and the elevator is right there ready to give me a couple-minute break. but you never know, there might be people in it, and the door closes and you have this twenty-or-thirty second interval in which virtually anything can happen although i'm usually quite polite and just talk about the weather to put everyone at ease. they could be from any department but usually not mine since our people don't even leave for lunch anymore and if they do they don't come in that obscure entrance that really doesn't go much of anywhere. you occasionally get these bizarre conversations with people who, again, are vaguely familiar and have nothing to lose by just saying something crazy. it's life in an enclosed painted box moving upward mechanically. i'm sure i smell pretty strongly of pool chlorine but it's arguable whether that's more of a sin than smelling like cologne which i'm allergic to, by the way. a little tang on the old system, i might get a little woozy by the time i grab my books and get downstairs, and i'm often a minute or two late.

you hear the trains here every once in a while; it's kind of soft, depending on where you are, but there are two big ones in the middle of the night, and you usually hear those, since nothing else is making any noise. this morning in my grammar class, it meets at ten o'clock, and this morning being the first tuesday of the month the tornado siren went off, as it does the first tuesday of every month, and i believe i told them last month, it's just a test siren, but this month, i told them, we have a tornado every first tuesday of every month, it just so happens we have these tornadoes at ten o'clock, but they aren't very strong tornadoes, so there's no sense even getting out of your seat, since grammar is way more important than tornadoes anyway. this particular class flunked the bejeezus out of a verb-tense exam where they had to write things like i will have eaten and i will be living in carbondale and instead they kept writing i will be eaten and i will be lived as if you could be a victim of a verb like live, as if someone lived you. i tell them, no, if you live in this town, you might feel like a victim, but in fact, you are the one who's doing the living, nobody's living you.

my words sound slightly hollow; grammatically true, but, aomewhat like noise in the wind. a train goes by in the distance; the classroom heater is broken, and students with their jackets still on shiver. what do they know? they're pretty sure it wasn't a tornado. but they have to more or less take my word for the rest of it.

Monday, December 05, 2011

ok so this time of year things really start piling up and i find myself saying to myself, i'll have to get to that over break. but "break" starts with the week before christmas and includes christmas; it usually takes me weeks to come down off of that and i start to relax and get some stuff done maybe a little after new year. so we're talking about a month before i have a shot at some of this stuff.

but i began a collection of christmas songs and i'm still interested in maybe putting together what we perform (just performed, on sunday) into a single cd; also, i want to try out garage band on this little computer and see if i can create and produce at least one of my own songs, which i've renamed okawville girl (sounds like OAK-a ville but maybe i'm wrong, or at least wrong to believe i can rename it that & get away with it). (it was danville girl but danville girl is taken, apparently, by a different song)...also, i've had inklings of desire to finish some other writing projects, namely the plays, and just passing through, which always needs work and which i put down for months at a time. it however is the masterpiece of the bunch as it tells the true story of the travels and my life if i can ever get it under control. and of course i want to finish the novel. i should be linking this stuff but it's late at night & i'm ready to crash.

which gets to the crux of the problem; no tree yet, no shopping done yet, finally got a wedding present for a wedding way last october, for which they already sent thank-you notes, and i don't have that present to them yet, phone's recharging in the kitchen, and a big pile of clothes sits here along with toys, back in my 'office', and the clothes are from the police chief's family next door, all large size, i ought to do something with them. and magazines piling up, unread, as, at work, i'm teaching sick teachers' hours a little, having trouble keeping up with my own, things got a little busy up there. got my calendars though, and, in fact, have fantasies about making a quaker calendar or maybe an occupy calendar. one can do whatever one wants, and these days, i want to do everything, including research stonewall, and do africahub, christmas shopping, and making music on garage band.

so when i saw that the phone was down to one bar i plugged it in and came back here for a minute, to bash off some rambling b/c i know that if i go about living another day the one-bar phone will go out on me while i'm out driving around; tonight it started snowing but wasn't sticking and it's basically been rainy and cold for what three days or so ever since the parade. plug in that phone whatever you do; i could sit and read a new new yorker, or an old sports illustrated, or update my poetry, the haiku is piling up in my e-mail box which is now over 1200, and somehow i think i'll get to it over break. one boy is sick but the other is as wild and out there as ever and he often has a full agenda on any given weekend which sometimes requires my attention, at least partway. when i got a minute i looked up "turning points of the civil war" and sure enough there was "death of stonewall" right up there near the top; actually they listed twelve or so turning points without judgement and merely explained their reasons for each one, and sure enough under death of stonewall they mentioned how he was an inspired genius general in leading his troops around the countryside and because he was a popular hero his death took the wind out of confederate sails and sure enough more romantic posters are made of stonewall than virtually anyone else. they don't seem to get so blurry-eyed over lee although maybe i'm mistaken or just haven't done my research, or maybe it's because lee actually lost, whereas stonewall would have won if they just hadn't shot him. but then reading through this list of turning points leads you through the war itself, vicksburg, antietam, gettysburg, the occupation of kentucky etc., everything about the battle of chancellorsville which of course the south won, so it couldn't have been a turning point at all.

speaking of chancellorsville i had an opportunity the other day when i was more or less encouraged to walk over and say hello to the chancellor herself and i did; she was nice, and for a moment there i took in the whole maroon-and-silver university thing with nice coffee, people swarming the place, and a polite exchange before going back to my grind of teaching and rooms that don't seem to have the heat working these days. my students are struggling to pass quizes and exams and losing the struggle, falling by the wayside, not even showing up on a drizzling cold and bitter monday morning & letting point totals dwindle down below 50, what a tragedy. winter is upon us, three inches of snow out in new mexico though my parents are in good spirits and all i can think of is those folks who walk up the mountain barefoot on the tenth of december and i'm thinking of making that a personal holiday, maybe i'll walk up some mountain barefoot or just go down and get the mail and walk back barefoot, that might be enough penance for me though it might not be enough for the, with my quilt sitting here, un-sewed, old mail that's getting stuff stacked on top of it, jewish books that i got in a transfer, unread, things to send off to a granddaughter if i ever get to it and twins fixin' to plop up there in peoria, fortunately they're holding on and growing more and not rushing the situation, storm's come in, and they're still happy, cruising past their due date, not showing up in any hurry at all. a package to send to another granddaughter, who left her binky in my care for what, about a week or until i can get it together.

which is the way it should be. you have christmas cookies, and a tree, and the music, and all the preparations, a card, presents, all in its own good time, and i'm well aware that if you don't buy a tree pretty darn quick they run out of them and you're left begging someone, even it's a couple of weeks before, but it's a small town, folks are ready to move on to valentine's day i figure, they're already tired of the green & red stuff. i'd like some mistletoe, that's something i wouldn't mind teaching those students, but i'm not sure it would go over too well. too much to do, and besides, where would i get it? i lose track of whole ideas, if i don't write 'em down here, they float away in the cold hard wind. fact is, i didn't hardly get started, got out a fresh list-paper to write some of it down, and still didn't write anything, because i got distracted and it just went by the wayside. it's the way it goes. a busy season, and things are fixin to get worse, before they get better.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Saturday, December 03, 2011

when you march in the parade you start out way down on mill street and go under the bridge, then go all the way up highway 51 which is south illinois avenue turning into north illinois avenue, and finally you turn right on jackson street and past the longbranch, and turn right again on washington where the parade is officially over and people start wandering off. people line the streets most of the way and this year it wasn't bone-chilling, skin-numbing cold so people were in a good mood and cheered us a lot as we walked. sometimes there were whole crowds of people and everyone was waving. sometimes i heard our names as people we knew called out at us. sometimes my son wandered off or got a little behind the pack due to distraction or whatever and i'd have to kind of fetch him and bring him back into the fold. and once a train came, parallel to the highway we were on, and i could see through the buildings on the main street there, beyond to the tracks, where the usual coal cars and boxcars were passing through town, with their chicago graffiti and occasional "cn" marking which shows that they, like the geese, are from canada.

it was our town, part good part bad, contentious, raucous, but lucky, because this year the cold bitter winter storm waited until just after the parade to come in. i can hear it now, outside my living room window, but i'm home safe and dry, son asleep, glad it's over. got pictures too, which i will upload as soon as possible, because i'm beginning to realize i need a steady flow here, i need to show you what i'm up to, and rather than stealing lazily, for example that grinch below, i could get my camera right in the face of the real grinch, which i did tonight, and bring it to you live, which i will. this town isn't much, but it does have some photo-ops, and in this case you can have them all, i need them for a movie, yes, but that won't be for a while.

once again i parked way up on the north side and walked all the way back, through downtown, to where the parade was starting and hung out with our crowd which is the group from my son's school. another son and my wife were home sick but might not have liked the parade anyway. i however have taken my boys to the parade virtually every year, if they want it, and have done it for seventeen years now, and yes, have noticed that the first weekend in december is often frigid, windy, iced over, bone-chilling, you name it, and they hold it anyway. i heard the story of a high school kid who was promised, if you join marching band, you won't have to march in the lights parade, coldest one in the year, but they retracted their promise and ruined her high-school experience, forcing her to march and freeze her knuckles and knees like generations of other unfortunate area schoolkids. tonight, they didn't seem to be suffering too much. tonight they were lucky and they knew it, and they picked up the construction blockades and cleared out as fast as they could before the storm came whaling in with its rain and temp-drops ushering in the winter.

found the helsinki complaints choir the other day and was surprised that apparently i'm about the last person to know about this; in fact, people have made complaints choirs around the world but nobody seems to be able to beat the finns for just plain making sweet music while complaining about everyday life. it got me to thinking that it's a kind of december tradition here and on my facebook to have a music revue so i quick slapped that up there along with another that i ran across on my son's site. i'm reflecting on whether i should do another retrospective: songs i've loved, african songs, or complaints songs. or perhaps my own songs. these i would have to make using garage band or whatever, but it would be fun & maybe i could get the boys involved. we have an old tradition of pots & pans orchestras and there are a bunch of songs i'm dying to get down in some kind of format, put them in the sky or wherever, let people hear a little of what's in my mind. i could start with the complaints choir format, but heck, why limit yourself?

i have goals, dreams, lots on my plate, but time is limited. i looked out at the crowds, some of whom i knew, others i merely recognized, and some of course, total strangers. our float was not like the big boys, and we didn't throw candy like the politicians, but people cheered for us, since my son's school is well-known to be kind of hippie-ish, independent, a survivor, and it's always there, it always marches. we waved at people whether they waved back or not; you could hear bands up the street, or cheers, or the train, lots of noise and lots of people talking. the wind was already starting to blow although, at the parade, it still wasn't too cold. walking allows you to see the whole town (in my case twice), and stay warm, and see lots of people, but you miss some of the high-school bands and you miss the sense of whole big floats coming toward you; in our case, we were following our own float and staying well ahead of the next one. the only town in the area, i believe, that would hold its parade in the cold bone-chill season, but, didn't matter. i was proud to be part of it, and my son was ok with marching along just to be part of the group. now, he's sound asleep, and the storm is rolling in.
woke up this morning afraid that it would rain on our parade; literally, our town has one big parade and it's always in early december when the weather is cold and snowy and miserable, and this year it's supposed to rain but who knows? the clouds hang and it's mild now, but anything can happen, and if we walk in the rain or don't walk, or stand there shivering, either way i'll give you a report.

my wife hangs every day on the possibility of the news from the twins, who may or may not arrive at any minute, so she wants to get work done and is under pressure from all angles sociologically and administratively. the burden of it all got to her and she was down for a day or two while life hurried on at its frantic pace and the boys get into their materialism and preparations for the holidays. by materialism i mean, they talk to their friends, they focus on what they want, everyone focuses on what they want, and that's what we talk about for about a month. i'm sick of it already.

as for me, i'm into african music, but oddly enough i could get what i want, more than enough of it anyway, just being online, going there, and listening regularly. i think actually spending the money on these musician folks is a good idea, but i don't actually need it, and don't actually feel that i really need anything. i'm more like these occupy folks who say, if you don't give your money to the big boys (walmart, target, the banks) then everyone would be better off. but i'm not sure everyone can live up to that high standard. how can you tell your kid you're not going to get them the big electronic this year?

going around town, i now listen to almost exclusively african, and this brings to mind a dilemma i've been feeling lately. life is, actually, what you do, and for a couple of months now (a little more) i've been committing about twenty minutes a day to aggregating news from africa onto a single site which is nothing more than a collection of links to recent news articles. it was originally intended to be an entire resource collection that would help my son and me to learn programming, use journalism skills, find a field to become an expert in, etc. and in fact there is a lot in there, a lot to know, a lot to learn, etc. i've learned an enormous amount from becoming a focused news junkie and learning more about the continent and its issues.

but now, the time has come to decide whether to keep doing it or not, or, if so, how to keep doing it (it would be possible to back off, and not be so religious about my efforts, but then, a holiday is coming and i should have more time for it)...the fact is, i have irons in lots of fires. i am trying to write a novel. i have short stories coming. i work on haiku...most of all, i have a linguistics book in the works, which really needs a lot of attention. and now i'm becoming an africanist?

i originally did it for my son, so that he could use journalism, and french, and learn programming (at least as little as i know) and feel productively occupied while he looks for a job that suits his abilities. i wanted to show him how you have to take the world at what it is and create your own scene, so as to have something to show for your time on earth, and learn about what you love and get better at it by practice and by diving in with your whole self. he barely got a toe in though he did try it. i accept the fact that he's not about to do what his father wants as i surely would have never done what my father wanted, either. aha, but, after starting, i got into it myself. it was cool. it still is. i may make him feel guilty, but i want to keep doing it.

alas, that's my dilemma. what about the poetry, the novel, the jigsaw puzzle on the livingroom table? or the ling book? sometimes it's all i can do to do the laundry, the dishes, get matching socks on the boys, get across town without getting mad and popping off on some old person who takes an hour to turn right and get out of the road. life goes on that way, and almost a majority of my class has no chance of passing, no ability, no desire, or no tendency to do the work, thus leaving me with an ironic smile and no choice but to slip off into the break, giving them all what they deserve. time for a tree; time to mail calendars; time to make a card; time to get off my you-know-what and get going. but first, the parade.