Wednesday, July 25, 2012

October in the Shawnee
my latest story
comments welcome as usual!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

six days before we leave for texas, and we've had "last quaker meeting," "last time in the library," "last grade turned in," etc. until by now i at least want to just get on with it and get on down there. meanwhile it's over a hundred degrees almost every day, and this is unusual for here; it's drought throughout the midwest and all the food crops will undoubtedly suffer. beijing, on the other hand, is flooding, but that's what you get. the earth in its cataclysms is getting more desperate. if they didn't get the message before, maybe they will now. maybe we have to hit them where it hurts. i'm not very smart about packing away things i might need in the next seven or ten days. this includes things like rope, bungee cords, movies, music. having packed away all the good stuff, i spend too much time digging through the boxes to find stuff i really need. meanwhile we have mounds of junk, things that didn't sell at the garage sale; we have to rent a dumpster, or finds someone to haul it away. in the intense heat even thinking about it is wearing on me. there are some things i didn't mind selling, but have trouble just pitching. there are other things that are valuable but fairly well hidden in the boxes. we made some mistakes in the sale and let some things get away very cheaply but overall, we've vastly simplified our lives.

all along, i was not the best person to trust with the material plane. no sooner did we give away our small car, or rather sold it cheaply to our stepdaughter, than i left the key on in the van, running out the battery when the jumper cables were in the car. to make matters worse, my wife's gardening crawling up both sides of the driveway made it impossible for neighbors to come up beside it. i felt like an idiot, drenched heavily in sweat and searing in the heat.

later i take a shower, have some dinner, and calm down by my easy chair beneath the huge fan. now things are a little better. turns out the indians game is on live on my phone, and the indians have beaten the orioles, and they're back at 500 so to speak. obsessing on the indians is much better than obsessing on that guy in colorado; every time i turn on the radio he's there, with his sick mind and miraculous ability to gather a stockpile of ammunition with nobody noticing. i have an aversion to even thinking about people doing that kind of thing with their anger, but even worse, thinking about the arguments it leads to in terms of the influence media has on our young. how many batman movies had this kid watched? why is it that some people in the theater thought that it was all some kind of act?

as we pack during the day we are barraged with a steady stream of telemarketers, and one door-to-door book salesman, a kid from estonia, very good at selling, but he's selling educational books and i'm in the process of moving. i told him, i've just tossed out hundreds of pounds of this kind of stuff, i'm the wrong guy. but i gave him a glass of water and we talked a little about cultures. some summer job, traveling through america selling educational books; maybe that was fun for him. but it's 102 in the shade, hasn't rained in weeks, and the grass is crackling again. there's a kind of dissonance; i like to listen to his voice; he's an excellent salesman, but having packed all day, being about to move, there's no way, no way, i'll buy any. finally he figures it out.

the countdown is now in earnest. we have all become excited, dying for the next step. next thing is to see what's down the road, and go there. whether our house here sells, or rents, or whatever, i guess we'll find out. might as well get on with it.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

so i'm trying to figure out how to manage in this over-hundred type excessive heat, and i decided, first thing i've got to do is limit the number of times i go out in it. so i started out, stayed in a little more in the morning, still had to go out in it once or twice, and now i'm totally exhausted again. it presses against you. the car i'm driving has no air-con; even with the windows down, it presses on you. so i called my parents, who are a little better used to this retirement gig, not to mention the excessive heat gig, and they said, it's warm out there, 90's, but not too bad, a little more humid than usual. new mexico is dry, most all the time, making their walks fairly pleasant most all the time. they asked me about the allergies. that's another thing i won't miss, i told them. though i think that this year, everything, grass, ragweed, yew bushes, you name it, everything's fried.

but what really scares me is, the first time in my life, or at least for forty years or so, the feeling of having to find something to do. it's like a ghost, this specter, as my friend called it, the ghost that says, nothing is really worth it anyway. it's just all dust in the wind. you get out there, you make a career, you haul in money, you spend it, and what's it all for? it scares me to not quite know the answer. some people say, i do it all so i can spend a few weeks at the lake, looking out at some boats or going swimming; or, so that i can head into town and see the show. the first of those sounds better to me, but we're not going to any lake for a while; also, something deep down tells me there has to be more to it than that. one could live for the alcohol, or the party scene, or even for television, but all that has always been a bit hollow to me. i get there and i think, there's got to be more to it than this. my parents have a fairly limited routine; they both walk, or do some exercise; they go to the community center which is not far from their place; they have a bit of social interaction which keeps them going. and, they worry a lot about their kids and grandkids. they live for our calls. they worry harder than i do about whether the house sells, when we move, what's going on with the younger ones. i also, as a chronic worrier, find that if i didn't have so many problems on my plate at any one time, i'd have to go make more. kids are good for that; they'll bring problems, and lay the table with them. mi casa es to casa

yet when it comes to the abyss, i don't know what to tell them. one reposted an article that asked why we are all so obsessed about making a living. the article featured a quote by bucky fuller who said that rather than running around like chickens with our heads cut off we should just go back to school and learn more. similarly, on the radio this morning, someone was making this point: humans have technology to do all the work these days, so we can't really "employ" everyone the way we used to. yes, this is true, even when you take out the old, and the young, and the childcare sector, we have more workers than we have full-time jobs; full-time jobs are stuck at 40-hour weeks because companies can't afford health insurance for less than 40; because we can't let go of the 40-hour week, there are too many who are unemployed or underemployed, etc.

my solution to this is the twin oaks solution. i went to this commune once, twin oaks, and it had the whole thing figured out very well, i thought, and was committed to fairness on top of it. everyone should contribute to the welfare of the community, they thought, except the very old and the very young, and everyone should contribute the same amount. unpopular jobs, like garbage collection, should be worth more in terms of leisure time ( a garbage collector only had to work 20 hrs./wk, whereas the cook maybe 30); this was determined by what people wanted; some worked in the commune's factory making hammocks; some worked "off the grounds" and contributed their cash to the community. Nobody had to work 40; it just didn't work out that way. careful distribution of time gave people more leisure time and ensured there was no hostility between members of the community.

it's that last point that stuck with me over the years. on a grander scale we rarely notice that we don't really have to kill ourselves; social engineering could result in a more even distribution of the world's work; everybody should have time to read a book (at twin oaks, you saw people in hammocks, reading books, everywhere). i wonder if my kids will live in a world where someone has the audacity to suggest, approve and enact that bold kind of social engineering. we would all be better off. if the system had any downsides, i don't know what they were, maybe i could study europe for better examples. one, you have to have a steady supply of young people willing to sign up and do the work. another thing that appealed to me about the place was this: i often lament the fact that our young people can't just walk out the door (as i would, as a kid), have neighbors know them, be safe, have some territory to wander around, a woods, a creek that kind of stuff. most of all, have other kids who were also free and able to wander. today you see this in the smallest of towns, but not in ours, and not where we're going, and not in the city. twin oaks qualified here, because they were on limited land, but grew plenty of vegetables, and there were kids of all ages growing up there and playing with each other. did they stay, once they'd grown up? yes, sometimes, but not always. if people were crazy about that lifestyle, don't you think more of us would have it? i think maybe we lost it by accident, as a byproduct of a busier, more urban lifestyle, and if we had known what we were about to lose, we'd think twice about it. or recreate our living situations into more like the village lifestyle.

not that these people at twin oaks really knew what to wake up for. some were reading marx's manifesto or other wild or very academic things; some doubtless spent their extra leisure on video games or twiddling their toes. i myself have been retired less than three weeks and already i'm experiencing fear of not knowing how to spend it. write my novel, fast, while i still have my faculties. pack, quick, before we move to lubbock. tear up old clothes for my quilt; finish my poetry book; do some of this other stuff that has been on my list for a while. what scares me though is that the list is a little limited, and that it doesn't always get me out of my chair. one of my grown kids, on his way to doing some construction in the 100 plus heat, gave me a look, and i could have sworn it was, is this what there is to life? well, there's more, at least i think there's more. but i just threw away a couple of hundred pounds of esl career that might suggest otherwise.

my conclusion is: this whole career thing is a bit overrated. the sum total of books and media out there: maybe those are overrated too. kids are good, because they give you a steady supply of new things to worry about. social engineering is very useful, potentially, but it would start with free health care. everybody should contribute; i don't have a problem with that. there is time in this world to do what you really love, and playing music comes to mind here, but you have to figure out what that is, and get to it. labov once said, life is figuring out how to do what you really love, and get someone else to pay you for it. i agree with him, but i'm still working out the details...
these days i pack full time, getting ready to move to texas, and have off from teaching; in fact, having retired around the first of the month, finally handed in my keys two days ago after a long and grueling process of cleaning the office and its computer. now i'm on the shed and the garage; the garage is the last and most stubborn of them, since at the same time i'm cleaning it, i'm also storing stuff to move, and tons of stuff to sell at one final garage sale on saturday. meanwhile the heat has returned; today was a heat advisory, so they said, and it hit you like a brick when you went out there.

i was brave and intrepid, and went out there many times, particularly to the shed, because i wanted that stuff out of there; some of it has been sitting there for years. i found a baseball glove, inline skates, balls and bats. one basketball, ancient i'm sure, had turned completely solid in its bent-in form; it was a piece of solid, unbendable rubber. i couldn't figure out if it had frozen that way, or melted that way, but it wouldn't budge. it went out on the curb; tomorrow is garbage day. at work, two good things happened; one, upon asking for a dolly to move, i was told by the boss, "anything for you" - treated with the greatest respect, and this made me feel good, because they could have laid in to me for any number of failings. also, i went to hand in my keys, and the woman in charge wouldn't let me...until i insisted. this also was a nice touch.

in fact i have a number of keys that i don't know what they go to, this is one of my failings, some things might get lost in the shuffle here. maybe half-dozen, ten or more, keys of indeterminate function. and some could be, or surely are, at work or belong there. at home, i did reunite one bicycle lock with its key, this makes it functional, so we could conceivably ride off on another bicycle, and lock it. but there are more than a few locks and keys hanging around that don't fit anything...what do you do about that? stomp around for a while. feel that 104 degree sweat making me almost faint. let it go for another day.

a couple of months ago, my bandmate broke her wrist thus curtailing her guitar playing. slowly it came back until tonight finally she was able to play some of our favorite songs. just in time, because, as i've said, i'm leaving for texas, and we won't be a band much longer. we sounded good, actually. next week i want to record it, and will, in some form or another. our last gig, one hot day at the end of june, we played out on the pavilion downtown, and a train disrupted our last, best song. i almost called out, speaking, ladies and gentlemen, this is my last performance in downtown carbondale, i'm moving to texas, i bid you farewell, i have written a song about this very train etc. etc. but i didn't because i knew i would probably cry. and that's the way it's been, the people closest to me, namely, the quakers, my co-workers at cesl, and anyone related to the music scene in any way, these are the hardest to leave.. it's mostly because, what i've done here, has been out of love, ultimately, and it's love that developed long and slow over the years, and won't be easy to replace. it's one thing to say, i know how to play the fiddle, i can go down west texas and find someone else to play with, which is probably true, but it won't quite be the same and we both know it. i can never replicate what i had here, and she probably can't either, she's had trouble even getting her playing wrist back, but she'll miss me a lot musically too. there's a way we can still get together: kerrville, an annual festival down there in hill country, probably two days from lubbock but still just a stone's throw in texas miles. i'm sure there will be a future, it'll just look different.

i've been strangely cut off from the internet, because a wireless card in my laptop burned up or something, all i have to do is go to the back and use a modem, yet this is hard so i've turned to reading hunger games (at a son's suggestion) and writing stories (see below). a new story is kind of wild but bogged down a little, due to the fact that i'm tired, i've been coming and going from 105 degree heat to this cool easy chair in what's left of the family room. couldn't sleep tonight though. this stuff that's happening all around us, it's hard to process it all, it comes rushing back at night, when i want the fan to blow it all away, and i want to rest a bit and get some shut-eye. so now, i get on facebook and there's what, hundreds of posts, going way back. i begin to let go of needing to even see them. hunger games is quite bizarre, i can't stop really until i finish it; people in texas are waiting for our arrival, and we try to figure out what to do with the dogs and cats. i'm starting to focus on fall schedule. i watch the good, the bad and the ugly with an older son. i avoid the dixie chicks because, though i'm sure they're right, i don't want to deal with that side of lubbock just yet. i'm in some denial i'm sure. i've taken to saying, i want to just go down there with a blank slate, not make judgments before i even get there, about what i'll find. who knows? a friend of mine, a teacher, says, to talk that way, get your teeth out and clench them, then say what you were going to say. this may, for all i know, be true. i'll just have to find out.

finally, i've written myself to tiredness, and i'll turn in, though you won't see it until i get myself back there to plug in the phone jack. there will be delays. i will miss some news and some facebook posts. pretty soon that highway will be ground up between our wheels, the long river road, texarkana, the whole works. i hope to give you a report, and can only hope that it all works out, that somehow the whole lot of us, dogs, cats, grownups and kids, will become texans with a minimum of personal anguish. it can be done, i'm sure. chou.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

two new stories; enjoy. comments welcome, as usual!

Trestle at the Snake


Thursday, July 12, 2012

was listening to the band at the sunset concert tonight, a kind of easy-going, harmonic band, with a fellow musician who also cares about the quality of the music. much of carbondale is hanging around, making barbecues, drinking beer, doing hula hoops, not too worried about the quality. actually there are two aspects, really, whether it is a kind of music you can tolerate, and then, whether it is in tune and there is a beat, that kind of stuff. in this case they were ok in the latter, and fair-to-middlin' in the first part. but that's ok, you can't win them all, out of eight concerts, you're lucky to get a few good ones in any given year.

seven, someone said, this year there are only seven. numbers one and two were terrible; three, it was a hundred and five in the shade and we went somewhere else that had air conditioning. four was actually pretty good; it was new-orleans style ragtime, and it was maybe a hundred and one or two, but that was ok in this particular situation, and the band didn't seem to mind. the fourth was, over all, the best so far, musically, but, as i told my friend, you can't win them all, the best you can do is come to each one with an open mind, so that if it happens to be good, which it is once in a while, you'll know it, and not be so severely prejudiced that you don't even hear it.

this one was notable in that i had four sons there, and one had a friend with him, at least one, so that really it was a large family, though my wife wasn't there, and as we were leaving i thought, i may not have all four together very much, after we go to texas, by the grace of god i have four together at all, things going the way they are, god's grace hanging in the air, in a harmonic cold-play song, drunken students singing along, i and the older boys walking away as the sun goes down over the campus i've worked at for what, maybe eighteen years. i meet people there and tell them, saying goodbye to them if possible, giving reasons for going down to the heart of west texas with family either following or not, depending on the way the wind is blowing. this is such a darn small town, not much opportunity, not much in the way of jobs, a hot steamy pressure-cooker, no-count, yet that's what they have, that's what there is, come thursday night in the summer, that's what we do, and then we have some ice cream.

sometimes i'm thinking, we could do better than this band, and play in tune better, so why don't we. but other times i'm thinking, yeah, that's true in normal weather, but maybe we couldn't play better when it's over a hundred and stays there, and you still have to get out all that equipment.

the kids played kickball in the little courtyard where the old castle building has its antique windows. a guy in a black shirt tried to get them to keep the ball down to where it wouldn't knock out a window. last year they put one up on the roof, it's probably still there, that's the way these small towns are. it's hot, the kids are sweaty, the dogs bark when we get home, we have ice cream and pretty much go to bed. we're lucky - the ball hits only the brick, not the windows. we cross the highway without incident. the older boys - they've had their issues, but they're here, they're with us, they're ok. one problem is, the town's so small, we don't know much, they have nothing to compare it to. they have us, and i'm barking at everyone, by god it's been a long summer already, 's not even half over. 's getting dark, time to get out & get home before the evening turns.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

it had been about ten days of over-hundred degree heat here, with no break although rain and cooler weather were expected; it was so hot I’d taken to going outside and moving the cars around so that they were in the shade more, in fact I want them in the shade all the time, and the windows partly open even if it’s going to rain. the problem is this: when the sun shines on them the seats get to carrying lots of heat. even if the car has air conditioning as we drive it doesn’t compete with the heat emanating from the seat and the feeling that we’re in an oven that hasn’t even been turned off. the car that has no a/c, well we drive that around with its windows open, but whatever has been dumped on the floor, an old newspaper, is basically crumpled up and brittle due to the excessive heat. it’s an oven.

I got to the point where I didn’t even want to go out; I made up an excuse to stay home yesterday until I was forced to go fix a toilet later in the day; by then it had actually rained for a minute, but it was a kind of teaser rain and it was actually hotter immediately after the rain, for whatever reason. 105 might be usual for Texas or New Mexico, but it’s a good deal hotter than this place is used to and it was killing lots of trees, especially the younger ones. of course you can’t blame them for shriveling up and killing their leaves even if they’re still alive; they can’t support leaves in this kind of distressed condition. but the question is, whether we would ever see the green leaves again. if they are truly dead, then no.

in the same way southern illinoisans hung around waiting for some sign of rain, i had to keep restarting my laptop, because for some reason it doesn’t want to go look for its own wi-fi, and acts like it can’t find anything on the web at all for that reason. when I told it to look for wi-fi, it didn’t; it couldn’t find its own mechanism. how frustrating; I write my post on word, and wait for it to decide to connect, maybe later. it’s like parching, being bereft of facebook, wordsplay, and google news, my three usual haunts, and anything else I might want on the web.

on facebook I actually talk to people, whoever is there, especially if it’s someone in my family, many of whom are eager for the news, and want to know what’s going on or not with us. lots going on, of course, what with moving to texas, grown kids in various stages of crisis, three grandchildren babies whose pictures you will soon see here. on boggle, I’m still a pretty limited competitor, though I now get in the first half; I rarely make it into the top ten, and I’ve played with renewed feeling now that I’m retired; I did it to get a breather. on google news you have to choose between crumbling europe, katie holmes, or whatever, the purpose of google news is to make me grumpy enough so that I can finally open up my e-mail, but now that I’m retired I keep taking a glance at the news and going directly back to boggle. or back to facebook, whatever. banality is shallow, but it’s better than facing the facts, sometimes.

a son is a writer but struggles with writer’s block. it’s kind of like suffering from insomnia. it’s not that you’re physically not tired, but anxiety about not being able to sleep is so strong that it keeps you awake. let me say that again, the anxiety is chemically strong enough to trump everything else that is taking place in the system. it’s interesting that anxiety can cycle around and be so dominant in one’s thinking, but those are the facts. my own experience with writing is this: I have this blog, first of all, entirely for me. sure, I try to make it interesting for you the reader, but mainly, I try to just keep it coming in whatever form I can. second, I switch freely from formal writing (about language and language learning) to haiku, and short stories when I’m so inspired, I even write whole parts of novels which then are not finished and then I have to find something to do with them when I move. but I have several kinds; when I can’t do one, usually I can take up the other. and I can always come here where I can usually call upon myself to write something, even if it is a mundane account of the weather.

this brings us to today, when we had some sense that a storm would roll through eventually, but it took forever, and finally there were a couple of hours of thunder, all the while the grass parching and cracking below. then, in it came, about an inch of hard rain, pounding the parched grass and making the trees dance for joy trying to get every single leaf wet. it rolled right down off the caked hard ground and into the gutters, but finally you could practically see the hard ground giving in a little and letting some of the water in. I took a break from my packing and opened up a folding chair out on the covered porch and watched it. down it came pounding and drenching everything. one son ran out and stepped in the river at the bottom of the driveway but my wife got mad later for letting him be exposed to the danger of lightning; i hadn't even thought of it.

of course the personal stuff runs a course very parallel to this whole event but is best omitted from the blog for all kinds of reasons; suffice it to say that the huge relief i felt with the rain was accompanied by a deeper, more personal relief and such things may have their own blog someday but for now this is all they get. on to tonight, when i go to the store for cat food, milk and ivory soap, and steam is rising from the road as a week of stored heat is letting go into the wetness. the leaves are holding onto their water as if they each have a new love. at the store i take an extra trip to put four plastic bags full of plastic bags in the recycle bin, and a woman, standing next to a movie dispenser, is explaining to another woman a story of an insane killer and it's not clear to me if she's talking about some movie or what. on the news, a story is notable not because some plane melts right into the concrete, which i suppose is notable in a way, but because the story ends with my favorite malapropism, or misuse of an old saying, "cut the mustard" - which, i've always thought, was genuinely impossible.
brimfield girls come to town

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

1976, the bicentennial year, i was hit in the temple with a firecracker; it landed at my feet and went off, and i was deaf for about ten minutes. a small price to pay, compared to what i'd feel if it went off right there at my temple, or say, if i was a soldier in a war, and they were pitching more serious kinds of things. the country was born in this kind of stuff, they like to say, and don't ever forget it, we were born by the gun and it's been one explosion after another ever since. i'm not knockin' it so much as just getting used to it, as i'm moving to texas & all, & a gun culture's not always a bad thing, as long as everyone's pointing it in the right direction, namely away from me.

i won't elaborate on that at all, except to say this is a very dry year here, the grass is crackling, trees are dying, and the dry season's just started, so they cancelled the fireworks altogether, due to the danger, and it's mighty quiet. sure i can see fireworks on facebook, you have this kind of national experience these days, i've got friends in new orleans, seattle, you name it,lots of these places are having them and people are putting them right up. but not here. here, we stayed home, stayed out of the 100 degrees (it's been that way for over a week, and due to stay that way for another week) - planned an epic trip soon, to little rock, dallas, and lubbock that will involve a van, a moving van hauling a car, two dogs, three cats, three boys. texas, apparently, is not 100, it's mild down there. it's just here that it's excessive, killing just about everything but the tomatoes. nobody's buying the house, how

now i happen to know some folks are going to go shoot fireworks off anyway, and it's really a case where their patriotism and need to set little fires runs right up against their civic duty to not endanger the region, but as i said, it's pretty quiet here and i'm hoping the latter is winning this particular battle. i say, do us all a favor and put a lid on it. i've seen a few mishaps and that's enough.

spent some time publicizing e pluribus (see below) and that was a good use of my day; it was always my plan to publish it on the fourth each year and this was maybe the first year i actually pulled it off, partly because i'm home a lot and i could. i've been packing, but i'm also retired and i can make my own schedule; when i had a minute, and when this computer had its wireless connection (it's a little spotty these days) - and though i didn't get much else done, i have that at least to show for the day. that and a little packin', so to speak.

it's that time when the little ones are real excited, bless their hearts, they have no idea what they're getting into. neither do we, really, but we're doing it, causing it, uprooting them, and they'll be the first to adjust but we'll make it ok too, i'm sure. my wife's dad's people are from down around west texas, and my own parents live out that way, so i'm sure before long we'll know folks and everything will be ok. we actually know a few already, we happen to know it's right welcoming, downright friendly. i try to talk myself into it, though that's not hard, summers here have been about as bad as they could get, and this one's worse than ever - the teasing storms have started already, where it gets real muggy, and these clouds come over, and you even hear thunder, but the ground crackles, trees dry up, and you're parchin'. i'm tired of it, already.

so, jersey city, d.c., i've seen your fireworks, it's the good thing about a small world. maybe the whole nation can have a single display, over some sea somewhere, and the rest of us could sit in our soft chairs, like mine here, and go "ooh" and "aah" and experience violent explosions vicariously, and save money and lives in the process. i get less and less attached to the various things here - the drive, the workplace e-mails, the grass turning brown everywhere - and want to be online, where i feel my friends are in a kind of suspense, all over the world, always doing something different, more or less free of this geographical trap, where we're all prisoners of some sort, having to be in one place all the time, or keep coming back to one anyway. as a rambler of sorts, one who had a hard time settling anywhere, even for a little while, eighteen years has been a long haul, and i'm tired.
now on kindle

Tuesday, July 03, 2012