Thursday, May 30, 2013

I don't know how I got interested in haiku; it might have been the idea that you could compress large wisdom, big pictures, many possibilities, into tiny sentences; getting the right words was then kind of like getting a ball right over the plate. You could play with the words until you got the sound right; that was kind of like any musical instrument. When you were done, it was never more than seventeen syllables.

It turns out, in the haiku world, translating seventeen Japanese sounds into seventeen English syllables is considered silly; in fact, people who stick to the 5-7-5 structure are shunned, or considered ignorant at the very least. Most haiku experts don't even want to argue about it. But I continue to be attracted to the 5-7-5 structure for several reasons. One is that, though it was clearly derived from a Japanese rule, or style, it is, in English, clearly American; it's even pop American, since haiku experts shun it. Second, one can unite a body of work with a single structure; although I could just as easily use 4-6-3, I don't, because I've never had a chance to do more than a few with any other besides 5-7-5. In short, I started with 5-7-5 and now that I have over 700 in 5-7=5, I'd like to think of the body of work as united by one syllable structure.

I was first moved by a collection called "airless suburban haiku," all 5-7-5, all I believe freely available on the web. I was impressed by its ability to capture so much in such a brief format; I wanted, then, to capture much of what I'd seen and felt, and wanted to see if I could put it into a similar format. I wrote TOEFL haiku, airport haiku, coder's haiku, and various other kinds. But mostly I used it to record the moments of my travel experience that stuck with me. Because I'm very geographical, and always have been, I incorporated that into my haiku. I figured that American haiku has to tell you where it is placed, since the US is so diverse, so I just decided to let every one tell where, thus crowding an already crowded little set of words. But what is the US if not a collection of very interesting place names? In the end, I figured I could have fun with it.

I am not the most careful proofreader, apparently. As of this writing my most recent volume has over 600, but isn't perfect by any means. There are equal signs where there should be a dash. There is one entire header missing in the self-published version. And on and on.

Yet I find that people respond to it; lots of people are geographical, and it really brings out the color of a country that is so wide, so various, so diverse. Whereas this prose account tells the truth of my travels and my opinions, the haiku is allowed to bring moments into focus without being so concerned with the truth. Yet most of them are based on some kind of truth, at least, real things that happened out there. In some cases you can match them up against the real story and find the truth of it here. One major difference is that the haiku sticks to the USA, whereas in reality some of my most interesting experiences happened in Canada, Mexico or Guatemala. And in fact I never made it to North Dakota or Hawaii; I had to do research on those, in order to write even a single verse.

I found myself dreaming them up in spare minutes of the day; I've always gotten bored easily, so, for example, if I was at the park, watching small children, I'd daydream into some kind of haiku that took me back to those days on the road. I was slightly worse at childcare, maybe, but you want to know how I got over 700, that's how. Days are long. There are lots of free minutes. I don't watch television. The wide continent, and the people that inhabit it, are the most interesting part.

In a sense, it's a tribute to the US. This is why I publish it on the Fourth every year. I mean it genuinely, not to picture the country as vagabond, alcoholic, drug-soaked, but rather, to get a clear picture, good and bad, incredible in its nature and its people, twisted for sure (in some cases), but beautiful, mine and my family at once. Now as I feel like I'm wrapping it up, that kind of accuracy is important, even though it's not true to fact. I've had trouble keeping it set in the seventies, when I was out there, as so much has come to me since then. I've refrained from telling everything that happened; after all, I tended to find the most unhinged of people; I associated with the unemployed. But I took a wide sweep; I saw as much of the country as I could; I got to various corners. What people had to show me, they showed me, and I saw it. I tried to get these pictures into the account.

Having that out there, in whatever shape it's in, is important to me. It may get better, cleaner, more complete, than it is now, but it's pretty unique as is, so I'm sticking with it as the one published thing I can really be proud of (the novels have never been finished). I have always had trouble seeing myself primarily as a poet; I don't. But, of what I have done, the poetry book is the one that people look twice at. That's partly because each seventeen syllables is worth an entire novel. Yet it's just a single moment, carefully expressed.
got diverted, somehow, to my haiku, which is now at 720 and awaiting a 2013 edition, which would be better, i hope, and more complete. in fact i had a final printing, 20 copies of the 2012, brought it home, and now going through it (too late) with a fine-tooth comb. it's missing a heading for the state of maine - a disaster. who knows what else is amiss. i vow to make the next one cleaner. it is supposed to be all 5-7-5, but it's not: i'm trying to make that cleaner too. lots of it needs to be cleaner. i'm a little critical, now that i actually read it.

a little guy fell and hurt himself, on the school trip, at the end of the year. doctor's appointments, etc., just as i was leaving for kerrville. more later; i'll keep you filled in. i'm a little nervous about kerrville, but it will be good for me. the music is bottling up inside...scheduled to leave tomorrow, FR, and get to kerrville maybe about midnight. scheduled to play on saturday at noon; this will be at a place called the kerr-reckard store. i don't know much about the place - i'll have to scout out the grounds a little.

so i'm taking all these poetry books, and as i sit here trying to make a better version, a 2013, i kind of want to just give away all the 2012s. it even irritates me to read the darn thing, though it isn't bad, if you step back a little. i have several problems though. one is that 40 years of memories come between the actual trip and now; i don't mind including stuff i've learned in the time between, but to some degree i'd like to keep it true to the seventies themselves, and when i actually traveled. so i have to weed out a few of the intervening ones, ones that were written about the intervening time. it's almost like, each one has a time frame, as well as a season and a place.

then, in the big picture, i'm really not too slick about the kigo words, which are season clues. you'd think i'd have better ones besides "summer," "winter" etc. it's almost that, looking back over years of making haiku (i seem to write about a hundred a year), i stumble over some dry eras, times when they really weren't that good. i might weed some out, and then, i might weed some every year. it seems one way would be to make them evolve, make them get better.

the process starts with making sure they are all a true 5-7-5, that kigo are true, that our cultural measurement (spring mar. 21-june 21, etc.) doesn't throw me off; that they are relatively balanced, even if my experience in that state wasn't...2013 will be cleaner, i tell you, i'll make sure of that, if i do nothing else.

Monday, May 27, 2013

new story:

N Train

enjoy! comments welcome as usual!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

I'm not sure when I got interested in design; I think I was always interested in design. My father was a photographer, and I got from him the general tendency to see things in frames, to look at color combinations, to imagine what things looked like in photographs. But I made my own posters, too. And I enjoyed it, even though I wasn't all that talented. After a while, I did it because I liked making a good poster, working on the lettering and the design, etc.

I was photography editor of the high school yearbook, but I was so miserable in high school that there was almost no way I could succeed at that. I found myself hiding in the darkroom, rather than cranking out good photographs, and I had trouble at football games aiming the camera at football players who were heading my way. I carried a fairly nice camera around with me through 48 states, Guatemala, Mexico, Canada and Alaska, but I rarely ever used it and it gathered some sand at the bottom of my pack; still, I got one roll of slides from Guatemala and another from New Orleans; eventually I gave up as I felt a bit like I was competing with my father and couldn't win.

Xerox art, however, was a kind of liberation. Enlarging, shrinking, cutting and pasting, and making collage postcards, this I liked. Another thing that set me free was the digital camera, and the cell phone, which made photography guilt-free (not wasting a ton of chemicals for possibly bad results or at the very least indulgent results) - then, when I noticed that you could posterize easily online, I was off and running again, doing pop art. Today I'm more interested in my own pop art, posterization; some were very good photographs, but the true photographers would turn up their noses at the saturated, exaggerated color which actually makes a good photo less clear. I like it. I'm actually an admirer of Andy Warhol, and I went in this direction probably for the specific reason that there was no sense competing in pure photography. For one thing, I don't think I should be trusted with a high-quality camera. For another, pop reduces things to impressions, images, pure shapes, and I like that. I would rather see the colors up against each other, than the more precise detail.

I made a string of calendars, mostly for my family; I've done it now for maybe twenty years. Some of these were pop; others were xerox art or some other kind of creative construction. For many of these years it was my main creative visual-arts output, since I stopped making postcards, and didn't have pop galleries online or anywhere else. Once a year, I'd try to come up with a dozen good images and put them on a vertical calendar that would hang on my relatives' walls. Some of these are probably still around, but they rarely have my name on them, in fact never; also, they don't have the year; and, usually, they don't even have the S/M/T/W/TH/F/S day markings. I think someone who encountered one of these (for example, in one of my brothers' attics) might wonder who the heck made one of these, where did they come from? I never gave many clues. Some years I got some dates wrong, too. I always had to decide which holidays were more important. Some years I had trouble getting them to people by Christmas.

Then I had this problem: CESL or SIUC would delete their entire web, or places where I had my pop. Free web storage places would go bust and I'd lose everything. Nothing was safe online, except really the weblogs, which have lasted the test of time, though weblogs store photos rather poorly and you lose a lot of photographic quality. Another reason to stick with pop: in a world of constantly changing free web-sites, you can't rely on anyone to store your photos, and I never really did well keeping them on discs either. I'm proud of this stuff, now, as I look back on it, but I've also lost a lot of it; I've been unable to move it out of computers before they crashed, or put them on some site that crashed, or even trusted SIUC to keep a site that it didn't, or wouldn't, keep. SIUC was worried about people stealing its pictures, or misusing them, or someone suing them. I guess, in an era of google images, that's always an issue. To me it was something I always wanted to share.

I had a strong streak of wanting to share everything. This was leftover from my travel days. So many people were so nice to me for so long, that I always wanted to just give away cool stuff, part of almost every day. One thing I chose to give away was pop. Blogs and blogging allowed me to give away writing and poetry, but it also allowed me to give away pop. I'm not sure if people actually like my pop; I don't check with them much; I do it for myself, really, and I've never had the intention to sell any of it. Andy Warhol somehow made himself the bellwether of the art world; his Marilyn pop art was the most recognized, thus most famous, work of art in the twentieth century. He did this partly by a strategy of blanketing the world with his stuff. I was never quite up to that, but I was always ok with letting people just have it or use it. I never saw it as a path to fame. I envisioned t-shirts, sure, or maybe an exhibit or two. The eighteen years I was in Faner, I got quite a collection of Faner pop art; this focused on the drab angles of Faner in the background, bright or blooming trees in front of them. One thing I liked was the contrast between man-made angles and nature's soft curves; this set off Faner and made it all the more remarkable. I always thought I should have a Faner exhibit, or an exhibit of some of the things I'd documented over the years. But, unlike Warhol, I rarely bothered to push the art in any way. It was perhaps because I didn't value it so much myself, that others around me also didn't value it much. Maybe giving it away free all the time was not such a great idea after all; it was, in the end, impulsive. But it was a way of keeping that traveler inside me, alive, every minute. I hadn't taken many pictures on my journey, but now, going on the same paths every day, to the pool or to the student center for coffee, I'd take my phone, and shoot stuff if I saw it, and bring it home and use the photo programs. Picnik was one that I liked, until it went bust. Instagram was good when it came along, but lately I've had trouble with it. There are all kinds of ways to make pop online. Pop may in fact be more useful with online advertising, but I'm just starting with that, and I don't totally believe in it; I'm not sure people really click on those things, or if I want to get involved in luring them into it. My life has always had this tension between wanting things to be good, masterful artwork, for example, or a well-written novel, but then, being somewhat leery of fame, and not trusting myself with it, also undervaluing it, or somehow preventing myself from ever making it what it could be. But that's not the entire reason I continue with basically four media (I play music, I make pop art, I write stories, and I write poetry; other things, like movies or the novel, are either incomplete or too poorly developed to mention); I push all the ways that I'm inclined, and I push myself to be better, yet at the same time I try to be unattached, and do it mostly for myself.

A lot of the pop art came as essentially a break from grading writing papers. Sometimes two, three, four hours a day would be slogging through bad grammar and trying to make sense of what someone was saying. But I'd be sitting there by a mac, and it would have a good camera on it, and lo and behold they even built in the capability of making an Andy-Warhol style, four-square pop icon; I could do it with my own image, first, but then I'd do it with an Iowa map, or Chomsky's diagrammed sentences, or a picture of Kennedy. Though most people never thought about what Warhol was saying with his famous Marilyn Monroe pop art, I knew what he was saying, and felt I could be saying similar things. But it still amazes me; people don't think much about art; they don't want to. Most of the time, it's just a picture on the wall. It might draw your attention, or it might not. Or it might draw it, but only for a few seconds, which would be an abomination, if you really took it seriously. I don't want to take it that seriously. Rather, I'll learn from the greats, and keep it simple, go for the bold, and not worry whether they get the message or not.
i've had a bit of a break, since i finished my grading about a week ago, and it will be almost six weeks before i start teaching full-time again. i have a lot of plans for the six weeks: linguistics book, novel, stories, publish a new e pluribus. first i published two sets of stories on amazon. one is pile of leaves: stories of a rake; the other is the walmart stories. any day now, you'll be able to search my name on amazon, and find them. the books are cheap. i designed the covers myself, and went through the process, got isbn numbers and all. this is not writing though; it's repackaging old stuff.

i am finishing my autobiography, though, and that's real writing. look down the blog at anything in italics, that has real capital letters in it. that stuff is going in the autobiography; it goes with the whole just passing through that you see on the template on the side. this will be just a straight forward story, all true, and it answers the question, why are people so fascinated with the vagabond lifestyle, whereby you give up the idea of a regular place to stay altogether, thus releasing yourself from any responsibility to the world? i did it for two years, but i write the book, partly so people don't glorify it. and i repeat, to anyone who will listen, you can't do like that anymore. mr. k.w. is proof of that, languishing in jail for years, because he was taken advantage of by someone who'd taken him in, and then, let the old guy have it.

tonight on my walk a big glorious cloud came over and made noises and lights as if we would have some rain. maybe later, we'll have rain. i finally wrote a little on the lubbock site because i'm beginning to think, somebody ought to tell these folks, water is a crisis. down san antone way, they're having too much of it, five - ten feet at a time; up here, we're lucky if those big dramatic clouds deign to spit even just a little.

i don't want to tell lubbock what to do with their water; i still feel like a visitor. i've taken to watering our own miserable patch, mostly for its therapeutic effects. it seems to kill the lawn, though; my wife says it gives the grass "false hope." whatever it is, it's like i'm spraying fire on the poor stuff. it's like, no improvement whatsoever.

more later; it's gotten late, and i'm falling apart. there might actually be rain out there, in which case, i guarantee you, folks are overjoyed, they might even wake up to see it. it's an odd situation, this balance of nature, what's left of the old ways, gathered up in this city, high and dry on the southern plain, waiting for a cloud. the ghost of the comanche, probably saying, you shouldn't-a took the last of those buffalo.

Friday, May 24, 2013

for those in southern illinois:

The great thing about teaching ESL was that once you taught somebody how to talk, they could tell you about a totally different life, with a different way of looking at things. My first two years were teaching Korean men, who worked for several of the seventeen divisions of Samsung; they were businessmen, but gladly told me about life in Korea and interpreted their culture for me. In Ohio and Kansas, I taught in intensive English programs, attached to their universities. Students there were expected to become students in those universities immediately after getting enough English. This time, around 1988, could be best described as the Asian era; the vast majority were from Japan, Korea, Taiwan, or in some cases Mainland China, or Thailand. Sure, even then there were a few from Latin America or the Arabian Gulf, or maybe even Europe, but these were in a minority.

The communicative method was made for these Asian students, because it taught us that being able to respond properly and use the language well was just as important as actually understanding how the language was made and put together. So for example, we'd say to our students, you've studied English for years, yet when I ask you how your weekend was, you can't answer. My mentor in Kansas those days was my director, K.M., who had been raised in Morocco, but who was a genius of an ESL teacher; he loved watching over me and teaching me things about what I was doing. He knew much more about teaching ESL in general than I could have guessed; one thing he enjoyed was that I learned grammar under his supervision, and was quite good at it by the time I left.

ESL is an exhausting job; generally there is a lot of grading and preparing, and you rarely get out of a 40-hour week with only 40 hours. This can be hard on families and was certainly hard on mine; at home I had two young children, and I didn't like being exhausted at night, or crabby. I was lucky to love what I did, but I had to be careful with my energy; I didn't have enough, and I couldn't put twenty hours a week into keeping the family occupied. This was a pattern that was to be continued over many years. To choose ESL, and stick with it, required that I put a lot of energy into what I was doing. At one point I considered maybe driving a cab, or doing something that I could leave at work, and have more of my head to myself when I got home, but I didn't really want to. I was happy teaching ESL.

The pressure on us as a family came more from the fact that Pittsburg was a small, isolated town, with not much else to do, no place for my wife to go in the long days. At work, I taught and prepared hard, and was pretty much unable to come home before five, or if I did, I would have to bring work home with me. One day they moved the copy machine right outside my office, and the sound irritated me as I was trying to grade. The irritation from the sound got worse instead of better until I almost went crazy. Finally I began using the copy machine to make xerox graphics; this involved cutting and pasting images, or enlarging and shrinking them until they fit into postcards. This was my postcard era; I made hundreds and used them for sending or notes. It was an ethical dilemma whether one could use a work copier for personal things like enlarging and shrinking, but I solved the problem by providing things to the workplace that would essentially pay them back for the copies. I saved by not having to go to a copy store to do my art; they saved by not having to dip into petty cash to buy me teaching materials. This was another pattern that lasted over decades, even well after I left Kansas.

In the classroom, I found the skills I'd picked up hitchhiking to be very useful. One, always be willing to apologize for cultural misunderstanding. These were common, and one just had to prove that one was truly sorry for crossing the line. Second, a good story always helps. I drew on my experience to tell stories about when one would use a grammatical structure. The requirement here would be that the story should be interesting; I was good at this. Another requirement was that people through different cultures should be able to understand and appreciate it. Finally, life is a performance; when you're on, you stay on, until you're backstage. And finally, think before you speak. It's incredibly easy to say the wrong thing.

One thing about teaching ESL was that off-duty, I tended away from being too self-monitoring, too formal, even grammatical. I would bring home the stuff my students would say, and use it. Or I would bring home the habit of repeating and rephrasing things until people got mad at me for assuming they were unable to understand. I had trouble switching from one world to another. This was another pattern that was to last for many years.

One advantage of ESL was that students were invariably polite and respectful, though I've found American students to be the same; still, over the years I've learned a lot from my students. It was well-suited to my ADD, curious nature; there was always something new to learn. Watching people learn English was like seeing their language in reverse, a mirror image, if you will, where you learn from the trouble they have with English, how things must look to them in their cultural and habitual frameworks. And almost all of these classes were multilingual; with the exception of my two years in Korea, virtually every class I taught had people of different backgrounds in it. When the end of term came, they'd often cook; one had to go to this, because the food was excellent. And then, at their house, or in private, you'd learn a little more about their spartan personal lives, their families, or their ways of adapting to life in the U.S.

Part of teaching in ESL is trying to go to the TESOL conference once a year, always in spring. I've saved that for another post. When I got to Carbondale, I was better able to do this, because they were more supportive in general of our getting out once a year. By now, I've been to fifteen or twenty of them. There are no better people in the world than other TESOL professionals. They've been my closest friends over the years.

In 1997 I was recently divorced, living in Carbondale, and concerned about money, but my brother announced that he would be getting married that summer in Stafford, England. I reasoned that there was no way I could go there without my two boys, aged 5 and 9, but it would be difficult to find cheap flights across the ocean with them. Finally I found one, from Newark to Stanstead Airport in East London, on El Al airlines. I bought three tickets and three more from Chicago to Newark; you couldn't get there from St. Louis, apparently. Even driving to Chicago with two boys was a chore, since they were five and nine and the car wasn't in great shape, but we made it, and stored the car at a friend's.

The memorable thing about El Al Airlines was its security. A young woman pressed me repeatedly about my business in London; she didn't believe that I was an ESL teacher, or that I was attending a wedding. Behind her a man with a cart full of luggage knocked the 5-year-old over, and he sprawled into some suitcases, but he took it in stride, and pretty soon we were on a plane going across the ocean. In London we took a train into the city, and I remember the older boy reading; I said to him, this may be your last chance to see a city like London; why are you reading? But it reminded me of several things. First, for him, it was vacation; why shouldn't he do what he really wanted? And second, an exotic city might have more attraction to me than it did to him. It could be that he was somewhat intimidated by the tension, especially in me; the new environment, etc.

Several times the boys struck up conversations with strangers, and everyone was always surprised at how we had different words for different things. Once they asked someone where the trash was, and were met with blank stares. Finally they told us that it was the rubbish bin that we were looking for. I was carrying a banjo and all their luggage, so my hands were full, but we found our way to a bus station and headed up into the countryside. People approached me and asked me about the banjo. It was like a huge American flag. They were eager to talk about music in the US, and unfortunately, I wasn't really up on the modern music, and was ashamed to admit it. A few times, we stopped, and looked at the sights in London or wherever we were. The boys were good travelers. They listened and followed me through bus stations, etc. At the wedding they played with their cousins and had a good time.

In the town of Stafford I rented a car and drove on the left; I also went through a roundabout. I got through without killing anyone, but was profoundly impressed by the experience. Once we saw a "Royal Society of Friends" sign on that main road; there were obviously Quakers in that town. I bought the host a newspaper one day, but was dismayed to find out that in Britain, one buys newspapers according to political creed, and I had bought the wrong one. One has to guess at the politics of one's host, or ask, and I had been oblivious of the process.

My brother, I believe, got married barefoot, and I asked him about that, but that is probably a story to be told by him. Several people in the family took the opportunity of flying abroad to also hit Paris, or other places. On our one free day I took the rental car and took the boys over some mountains into Wales. I still remember that it was like Colorado in some senses, sunny, pleasant, small-town mountain life, but occasionally when people were speaking, it wasn't clear to me whether they were speaking in Welsh, or just in some variation of English that I couldn't understand. I stopped in at a little Welsh-pride type outlet and stocked up on souvenirs. I should have told them that my mother's maiden name, Wallace, was an old Scottish word for "Welsh." My roots there were so far back, they were lost.

The trip back was much longer than the trip there. For one thing, everyone was exhausted from the wedding, from being in another country, from massive exposure to extended family. The young boys, especially the five-year-old, began showing signs of losing patience. The thirteen-hour flight from London to Newark was delayed and circled Newark for almost an hour, an hour that lasted maybe four or five hours. I tried to remember the advice that someone had given me: that time with young children in an enclosed place is just extended family time, meant to be enjoyed; sure it will tax your resources, but after all, it's an opportunity to be with your children, to enjoy them, to learn what they like and do it. I'd run out of things to do, maybe in the sixth or seventh hour. The plane had klezmer music on the earphones, but the boys didn't like it as much as I did. Both had taken about as much nap as they could.

Finally the plane came into Newark and we all stood up. A woman behind me commended my children on their excellent behavior. No words of praise ever sounded better to me. I think, on hindsight, that it was a veiled way of saying that I'd done the best I could, and that in fact, they were quite sweet, as hard as it had been. I remember very little of the trip to Chicago, or the ensuing six-hour drive back home; I'm sure it was nothing in comparison, even if was in the middle of the night.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

In Peru I was confronted with the one moral question that I was never quite able to solve; to this day I'm not sure what's right. It seemed, when I got there, that I was meant to be confronted with this problem, and it stuck with me long after I returned.

I was invited there as an ESL professional, to do a week-long workshop on reading skills for EFL Reading teachers at the Catholic University of Arequipa in Arequipa, Peru. At considerable expense they had flown me down there, but I stayed at the director's house, where his wife would prepare very nice meals and they fretted over a family crisis; I believe a grandchild was being born in a difficult birth situation. Nevertheless they were excellent hosts, and he took me out every noon for a long and luxurious lunch at any place I chose (I was happy with the most pedestrian of Peruvian lunch spots, in fact preferred them); it turned out that they believed in long, maybe two-hour lunches, but then would make a habit of working until well after five. This was a gruelling schedule for me, but it was only a week, and I was determined to do my best. As it turned out, I probably wasn't born to be a teacher-trainer.

The city was called "The White City" because many of the buildings were made from ash from the huge volcanoes that ringed the town. These volcanoes were awesome, and in view from every spot in the city. The white buildings had arches and were quite beautiful, but the most beautiful structures were the churches; apparently they saved their best architecture, and their finest gold, for God and the Virgin. You have to go to the museum, they kept telling me, but for some reason that wouldn't be possible until Friday. We went out to the country once, by a river, where there was a fine restaurant and a more relaxed atmosphere; it seemed people could breathe a little easier out there, literally on the edge of the volcano itself. Does it ever blow? I asked. Yes, they have, occasionally, they said, but actually earthquakes were more of a danger statistically. The weather was gorgeous. Every day, stunning blue sky, perfect temperature, a light breeze, absolutely clear Andes air. I asked them if they went to the sea often. No, not much, they said. It's only a hundred miles or so, but it's treacherous road, dangerous and unpredictable, and the weather's not so good down there.

To the other side of us were the Andes; going northeast it was the Inca empire going up to Maccu Pichu; on the other side, to the southwest, it was Lake Titicaca and the Bolivian border. Straight south about a hundred miles was Chile. The town was full of colorful, restored Volkswagens, which reminded me of Mexico in the seventies, but there was another unusual element; though most of the city residents were modern, and dressed accordingly, a fair percentage of them were clearly still Inca, and dressed in peasant dress, proud to wear and sell Andes woolens and colorful shawls, etc. I saw them wear these without the tourist impression, without trying to impress anyone or doing it to sell more. The Andean Inca culture was alive and well, and selling garden vegetables or homemade clothing.

Finally Friday came around and we went to the museum, which was essentially dedicated to a 13-year-old girl who had been found and removed from a high mountain burial site about five years earlier. The best they could figure out, she was a goddess to the Incas; she had been raised in Central America, but had walked all the way down here, had come up into the mountains with some men, had been killed by a blunt trauma and buried with all kinds of gold and silver. They didn't know if she was aware that she was going to die, but they had evidence that she had been drugged pretty heavily, and they showed their evidence. She had clearly lived well while she was alive. They pictured her journey in the museum, and showed some of the jewelry and finery that she was buried with. At the very end, we saw her herself, encased in glass and constantly frozen so as to ward off any rotting or decomposition.

A movie showed us the aggressive activities of the German archaeologist who had gone up there and arranged for her to be removed from her mountain burial. Did anyone object to this? I asked. Oh sure, they said, but in the end, they agreed to do it. It wasn't a unanimous decision.

This is where I got stuck. I'm not especially attached to the remains of the dead, five, a hundred or 800 years old; bones are bones. She of course was more than bones; she was an entire girl, with a slight frame, a face that could have been pretty in its time. I could see the archaeological justification for bringing her down, and studying her, her DNA, her diet, her physical condition, etc. I have students now who are very absorbed in this kind of activity, and don't think twice about the morality of it. What bothered me was that she was a religious figure, as if they had plundered the tomb of Jesus, or Mohammed, or a Pharoah. If this were my religion, I'd have trouble with it.

Then again, if it were my religion, what would I be doing going along with the ritual killing of a 13-year-old girl? What kind of religion is that, that you take a girl up into the mountains, and kill her?

The problem is, we'll probably never know. The people at the museum were friendly enough, but one of the things I got out of the trip was this: Though they've brought down maybe a half-dozen bodies out of the Andes, and they showed me the various sites, they only know so much about why they were there, what kind of sacrifice this was, whether these people even knew what fate would befall them. There were only so many things that they could get out of the grave, in terms of physical evidence that showed anything for sure, and they had to admit, freely, that they didn't know a lot of the answers. So in spite of plundering a religious site, bringing down truckloads of gold and a frozen corpse, all they were left with was a massive refrigeration bill, and a very interesting museum.

The plane back up north cut right over the Andes and in Lima. The next one went over the Panama Canal, which I could see way below; then it cut straight across Cuba, which it could not have done had it been an American plane. I had plenty of time to reflect on the flight back and in hours of waiting in Miami. It had been an interesting trip, fulfilling a lifelong dream of mine, showing me what it was like down where the earth spun backwards. I never really got into the Andes, though I flew over them, and didn't really see the sea either. But what I saw was enough, and stuck with me for years, even now.
A mountain road came down onto a beach on the Pacific in Oaxaca State, southern Mexico. The road had taken maybe ten hours through the mountains with one stop in a coffee-growing valley that I'll never forget, because the smell has stayed with me all these years. Another thing I remember is this tiny store with old glass bottles of coca-cola.

On the beach an old guy approached me and told me that the place was called Zipolite, or killer wave. You had to watch out for that wave, he said, because the tide would draw you out a ways, then the wave would come and shoot you up against the rocks, which could be dangerous and even killed people. I listened carefully to him and vowed to be careful out there if and when I went swimming. It was a beautiful afternoon. I was a little nervous about leaving my pack against a tree because it had a camera in it, but finally I just went swimming. I was dirty and stressed out. I had been hitchhiking down through Mexico for a while and needed to swim to clean myself off.

The stunning afternoon sun made looking back at the shore a sight. I could see the palm trees and the huts that people lived in on the beach. Lots of campers were more or less permanently parked there. Most of the campers were sleeping because that's what you do late afternoons in Mexico. Some people take their siestas only 1-3 or so, but vacationers would luxuriate, and go more from 1 to about 5, and then stay up much later in the evenings, when weather was good and it cooled off a bit. The water was nice, salty but fresh and cool, ocean water.

But then the wave came; it came out of nowhere, and sure enough, rather than just shooting me back up on shore, the way I'd come, it shot me up against some jagged rocks and really scraped me. In retrospect I was probably lucky, because there was enough water there that I was only scraped across the top, whereas, if there was less water, I'd have broken limbs or died, as the man had suggested. When it was over, which was a few terrifying minutes later, I was scraped bloody, somewhat dazed, but was able to nurse my wounds before loading the pack back up and heading off to another place. This place was called Puerto Angel (ahn-hail), but the next place down the road was Puerto Escondido, slightly more commercial, for some reason, but a place where I was now too leery to take another swim. I bought a light dinner at the market, maybe a dollar or two, then camped out and headed back up into the interior.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

i was working on a couple of new sites, the revival of my pop art gallery, and the siuc pop art gallery, the second a kind of tribute to my eighteen years at siuc, but all in the service, basically, of backing up and putting online numerous lost photos, when i was diverted by the story of kai, who hit the news when authorities began searching for him and arrested him today.

i went back to the original video that had gone viral and made him famous. kai was a young drifter who said he was from west virginia, but wouldn't give his full name. hah, that was easy enough for authorities to find out. he also claimed, on this youtube, that he'd been picked up hitchhiking by this wild guy who claimed he was jesus christ and who intimidated random pedestrians; he also said that he'd taken an axe and whacked this guy because he appeared to be assaulting this random woman. kai also mentioned whacking some guy in an orchard because he displayed too much ownership of a woman and kai had felt that this was just plain wrong. i wondered why he dredged up the orchard incident as if to dare the authorities what orchard, what guy he'd whacked. when it got right down to it, he didn't want to give his name, but he immediately picked up hundreds of followers on an assumed name, and started preaching to his facebook choir.

now that's the first difference between today's kai, and I, who was quite a drifter for many years and saw myself in kai. kai had the opportunity to become famous, and took it. his story was just out there enough, that a lot of people were attracted to it and latched onto him. from the rainbow people he had gotten such ideas as, don't give them your name, call yourself "home-free" rather than "home-less", and wear nice ragged long hair held back only by a bandana. drift intentionally and take rides from total strangers. the problem is, in the modern world, so few people will pick up a drifter, that only the twisted ones remain, and the drifter becomes immediately a victim of those crazies out there, who are the only ones left that will actually give a ride to such a guy.

but back to kai. from the rappers he seemed to have gotten a foul mouth, and somewhere he got a proclivity to violence, which, when somebody is such an innocent-looking kid, you never know what to believe. for example, anything could have happened in the orchard, where there were just some drifters camping and living on apples, presumably. on the street, he was being interviewed by a newsman, who couldn't believe his story or his foul mouth, but nevertheless continued with him until he told the whole story, that being a street incident in fresno where the driver assaulted a pedestrian, then was laid upon by kai, who was a rider in his car. whether kai had actually killed this guy, i have no idea, since he was apparently released only to appear in new jersey some time later.

but this brings us up to the murder charge; apparently he was picked up by a 73-year-old lawyer, who drugged and raped him, or so he says, then he appealed to facebook to decide what to do; he liked one friend's suggestion that he whack the guy, and he whacks the guy. how much of this to believe, i have no idea. but facebook left a pretty clear trail. the lawyer is dead. kai is in jail. where he will probably stay, for some time.

i'm about to reconstruct my drifters' book, which was written during my drifting times, the 1970's. if it so much as encourages anyone to do that kind of drifting, i won't like it. i wrote it to tell my story, to get it out there, after a lifetime of holding up a professional career, raising five kids, trying to keep the boys in a line, nervous that they, like me, might take to the open air, the camping life, the "home-free" life style. gratefully, two boys seem to have better sense than that. they also don't have the anger issues that i had or even that kai clearly shows. somebody somewhere, upset parents i imagine, were giving kai a bad feeling about such concepts as "home". i look back at that time in my life and i'm glad i didn't end up like kai, in jail, feeling like a murderer, abused by someone or other. he got caught up in crossing over, trying to be both a rainbow and a rapper, and, doing it in an era when there's no such thing as privacy, or getting away from it all, or not telling someone your name. it takes them all of five minutes to find you these days, and that's what happened to him, and where was he when it happened, but philadelphia.
our black cat, edgar, walked out of the house in the middle of the night when the back door blew open and my wife was awake but in the bathroom. because it was the middle of the night, she didn't know what was going on and did not go retrieve him immediately. by now he's gone, and we drive and walk slowly through the alleyways, looking fruitlessly. he was half wild, born wild, and might be able to make it on his own. but life is tough out there. there's at least one fox prowling around. i saw one dead cat just while i was cruising the alleyways looking for him.

the dust has cleared on finals and grading, which means i can now concentrate on personal publications: putting on amazon two sets of stories, pile of leaves and a dozen crime stories; developing my tlevs press site; printing and distributing a volume dedicated to carbondale, boxcars on walnut; possibly updating e pluribus haiku and getting the 2013 volume ready (this i'd like to publish on july 4); possibly getting just passing through ready for publication; and possibly working on my novel. i've become tentative about all this stuff because i know there's only so much time, and also i'm completely exhausted from teaching. but the blood is flowing; i have time in the mornings; the sun shines and leaves me free of mold and rot.

unfortunately a misty rainy morning is supposed to turn to 97 degrees by afternoon, and news comes of six dead in west texas tornadoes. west texas, now, we can call anything west of fort worth starting at about weatherford, which is an interesting mix of total upscale suburb and old west history, but weatherford is where the tornadoes started, that's where they were. i came home and some guy was on a movie explaining how the whole system is going to collapse, the whole economy, the whole kit & kaboodle, though my daughter says she thinks things are picking up. things are not picking up. the weather is going haywire, years of overspending on useless wars is catching up to us in the international market, and though we frack the heck out of every available square foot, that just leaves us with more instability and the need of earthquake insurance. i'm a pessimist, i think we lost it when we invaded iraq and sat there for fifteen years, at a couple billion a day, hoping the place would turn around. we should have declared victory and left, although something is to be said for having an independent kurdistan with the right to free trade and clear skies above it.

another thing i learned upon my arrival home was that scientists believe they have uncovered the white city in the honduran jungle in central america. this immediately brought two interesting memories to me. one, i often tell people about, because it lodged in my brain and wouldn't budge. when i went to peru, arequipa to be specific, they insisted on taking me to a museum which had been established to display the body of a young woman who had been found in the andes mountains, and removed, and preserved, to display modern knowledge about the inca empire. the inca empire stretched up all the way into central america, they explained, and in fact this young woman, about thirteen when she was killed, had come from up there, based on her dna. why had they made this young woman walk all the way down to southern peru, to be the victim of the incas' religious belief that she was part human, part god, born to be sacrificed? well, they didn't know everything, but that was the best they could figure. they displayed the gold and silver that had been buried with her. they told the story of the german archaeologist who got onto her location, and used his considerable power to see that her body be removed, brought to town, displayed. i wondered if anyone objected to the disruption of a religious burial site. sure, they said, lots of people were opposed. but it happened anyway.

now here's the kicker. arequipa was a beautiful town, made in the shadow of these volcanoes that occasionally would blow, but were dormant at the time. it also had occasional earthquakes. it was sixty or seventy miles from the sea, but it was impenetrable jungle and people didn't go there much. the weather was stunning, blue skies every day, never too hot or cool, always crystal clear except in the city center where there was some pollution. it was known as the white city. why? its building had always been created from a whitish volcanic ash, which was kind of like adobe, very practical if you knew how to build with it, because it preserved heat and cool, and gave a better living environment, as well as a whitish hazy beautiful appearance to all the city's buildings.

now you see where i'm going with this. two white cities? the legendary white city in honduras is called that, only by legend, who knows where that legend came from or why it became known that this incredible, buried city in the mosquitia jungle could be a huge ancient empire city. are there any volcanoes around there? well, maybe, i have no idea. are they two edges of the same empire, with the center being machu picchu, or some other place?

i never really got to the bottom of why a woman from way up north, central america, would be proclaimed the goddess of an empire, born to be a sacrifice, and to be brought down to peru, led up into the mountains, killed and buried with gold and silver. i don't think they got to the bottom of it either. it wasn't as if the peruvians had conquered the hondurans and demanded a lowly serf to be payment for losing a battle. she was a goddess, they said; she was told, probably, that she would be treated like a queen from the moment of her birth, and the best they can figure, she ate pretty well. i'd actually like to know more about these ancient civilizations, because my teaching of anthropology and archaeology has stirred up the desire to put it all together a little better. one thing i've learned is that the old people knew a lot more about the stars and the clear sky than we know, and they mapped things out, placed things in ways that reflected knowledge that we're only now coming to grips with.

my wife has gone to illinois leaving me with two fairly pleasant boys finishing the school year, and this hole in our hearts due to the cat walking away from us. the black cat's brother, a portly white cat named casper, is despondent; my older son also is depressed that it would even be possible, that a cat would choose to walk away and not come back. that appears to be what has happened, though, and life is going on. the misty rain is clearing up and the sun is searing, the temperature beginning to rise, and i've shut up the house, turned the fans on, and begun to hunker down to do some kind of work in the house, quick while i can. my bicycle, by the way, was stolen on the same day the cat walked away, this would have been tuesday. with fewer bikes on campus, somebody must have noticed that it wasn't really locked, and just walked away with it. i'm slightly aggravated about that, but i don't especially need it at the moment, and can take my time looking around for another. my wife was even less concerned than i was, since biking is so much more dangerous than walking. she said, basically and correctly, i'm too young to have a bike anyway.

i'll keep you apprised of the publications coming out; i'm not really in a very creative mood. when i can't make new stuff, i just package old stuff, which is ok because i'm way behind on that as well. my goal is to have it all on amazon, all available, and all reasonably packaged, so that the writing stands out on its own, and the legacy and record is there online, where a single broken computer won't do me in. i have the same goal for my pop art, and, this computer being ready to capsize at any moment, another job for this break would be to go through that pop art until i really know what i have, know where it is online and in storage, restore some of the galleries that i had in better times. an siu gallery, for example, would display popart from the siuc campus as a kind of tribute to my eighteen years there. i have enough on castle park to make one of the best castle park galleries ever, but it's all stored away in my dropbox which is kind of like a musty suitcase, and nobody can see it anymore. this has to be corrected, now if not sooner. time to get moving.

Friday, May 10, 2013

whoa, time to take a break here, and just blog. usually, when it rains, one might tend to stay home, make a pot of coffee, watch it rain for a while, especially if one just finished one's grading and has every excuse to not go out in it. i, however, felt a strong impulse to go out in it, especially since it's really the first rain of the entire spring here, and the ground was parched, not green at all, literally crackling for it.

ah but when it rains the gutters fill up, and the right hand turn lane from nineteenth onto flint on the north side of the intersection has maybe two feet of water in it, which the large trucks enjoy, whether they intend to splash you or not. the smaller cars creep carefully through it, terrified that the water will get above their intake and ruin them forever. but my main point is, though campus is less than two blocks from here, i can't get across this place, on foot or on bike.

reason to stay home? still not. i walked down the middle of the busy nine-lane until i found a jumping place (a ford, i like to call it) and ran across the road, and hurled myself past this high water. living dangerously, it was. cars and busses were splashing up water all over campus. by the time i got where i was going, i was soaked.

met the wife of a cotton farmer the other day who was telling me, the rain carries nitrogen, unlike what you water or irrigate with, so it's inherently better for the ground than simply pulling it up from beneath and spreading it. she said controls were about to come down on the cotton farmer, which would be a catch-22, but i couldn't quite figure out what would be catch-22 about that. is it that not growing cotton would make the situation worse? i'm not sure.

anyway, these folks, who were from around here, said that the last truly wet spring was in maybe 2006, and they're figuring on a seven-year-cycle, so they figure it should be over in maybe one more year. they're saying that all the farmers and landscapers are likely to go broke in the meantime, since seven years is a long time to go without water, but that's essentially what has happened. the really bad year was 2011, worst drought in texas history, but by the time we got here in 2012, they said the worst was over but in the big picture, it wasn't over. and people were watering like crazy.

i walk by this one house where they water like crazy. the fertile lush green grass sits below these enormous trees that appear to be very healthy, roots not coming up at all. and the shade makes it possible for this grass to grow, a rich, full, green. i feel like stopping, lying in it, and thanking them for offering up their greenness for public consumption. problem is, they did it mostly just for themselves, though they for sure wanted us to at least see it. the parks at least keep those sprinklers going all through the spring. sometimes i'm walking around the park at night, and a shoot of sprinkler comes up and hits me right as i walk. it's ok though. you live around here, you don't mind a little sprinkler once in a while. my point is that i think it's good to go out and use the community supply, rather than always hauling it all up ourselves, why not share? a little patch of green can be that way for all of us. maybe i'll even meet these folks someday.

reminds me of the word fountain garden. in this place the fountain is a hand that has a number of letters in it. the water comes out of the top and tumbles down from within the letters, which is why it's my favorite fountain. at the bottom is a pool which i wouldn't swim in, because of the chemicals, but the wet nature of the place brings a lot of birds. grackles, doves, and mockingbirds dominate as they often do in this part of texas. there are other kinds, i just may not know what kind they are. these birds are noisy. i'm not sure what it is they have to say. maybe they're just interpreting the fountain in their own way, trying to tell each other what they think it means.

pictures coming. it's back to work for me.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

What will we find?
Nice movie, Noah & I on the music, Noah the filmer

Friday, May 03, 2013

listening to a tape of international teaching assistants who want to become teachers, but in some cases have no tone, or no pronunciation, you can't figure out what's going on. it's kind of like wandering around back streets, not really sure which direction you're going. or waking up in the middle of the night, for no reason, knowing you've had a strange dream, but forgetting it entirely, except that now you can't sleep again.

i'd actually like to get out of lubbock, but i don't know the area well, and have had almost no time to explore. there are lots of places out there, worthy of exploration, it's a wild country, and it stretches way down into mexico. full of prospectors these days, oilmen, filling up the motels, hauling in the money, i'm not sure what else they're doing. everyone needs to make a living, i guess, and in some ways it's better than sitting around. fracking is a regular discussion we have. in illinois it's considered a sin, my son says. here it's just an everyday thing. the question is, how much can we pull out of the ground, before we have no ground, and it all caves in? i'm not sure.

it's baseball season, and soccer season both, but a cold spell came down and it was below freezing, in may yet, last night and tonight. a late winter system, maybe? people were even talking about snow, though i haven't seen any. earlier the wind was blowing hard and dust was coming up. the dust, they're used to. but freezing in may? that's a little unusual.

got pictures coming. i see more than i used to, things look ironic, even when they're not. my son has an active creativity going. made me realize, it's not over yet. i can still do stuff. i can finish my novel. i can make a cd too. i can put pop art, banjo, fiddle, dulcimer, all together in one piece. plenty of time!

it's a busy city, making money, staying alive. the sun is due to come out and splash, we'll bathe in it for a while, but it doesn't seem to slow down life much. i'm thinking of setting up the trains. make sure the air-con works, then hide in it. the hot asphalt fries, outside, the dirt gets baked up, and sometimes a bit of rain will pass across and a little will come down and sizzle on what's there. i might water the lawn, but i'm just pouring water on red dusty hot-baked dirt, and it doesn't amount to much. these days i water for myself, for the feeling it gives me, though i realize i'm just wasting money pouring it back into the earth from whence it came. the birds come around looking to see what might happen if there's a little water around. most of it evaporates before it even gets an inch below the surface. it's like a mirage, it's there, but only for a moment.