Saturday, November 25, 2006

Random ramblings...

It's a gray Saturday afternoon in Loves Park, IL, the weekend after Thanksgiving. And I'm at my parent's listening to Pandora. I just finished writing out my itinerary for upcoming AZ Trail hike. I have not mentioned my hike to anyone, so was pleasantly surprised when relatives asked about the trip.

Random thoughts...

After my experiences this semester, I feel even more confident about my decision to teach. After a lifetime of vocational tinkering, I am ready to settle into a career. About damn time!

Visited with Andy yesterday and recorded a couple of my new songs in his studio. But... before he could transfer the tracks to his hard drive, he tripped over a power cord and all was lost.

Andy lives in the house he grew up in. His studio is a shack his father built. It's on the corner of a large lot (the house is on a huge lot in a semi-rural neighborhood). I felt at home there because it has photos and paintings (done by Andy senior) of mountains, maps, and kitschy little knickknacks. The shack is broken up into three rooms. The rooms are so small Andy and I could only stand together in the middle room, which has the entrance and shelves with a stereo, CDs and tapes. One adjoining room has a 16-track digital recorder, microphones and keyboard. The other has a cot/bed and books. I imagine a space like this would be a good place to hunker down for a few months and write a novel.

We drank beer and I tried an herbal (non-nicotine) cigarette that made me cough, but was sweetly reminiscent of my old smoking days. We also watched 9/11 conspiracy videos done by Andy's favorite radio talk show host, Alex Jones. Earlier, while I visited with Andy's wife, Lucy, and their son, Bryant, who enjoyed my presence this time (the first time I met him he had a wicked fit), Andy called a national radio talk show (Jack Blood? I can't keep track of all this punditry).

Talk radio is one of Andy's favorite pasttimes. He played tapes from calls he's made to Rockford and national shows. One call was hilarious because Andy, speaking in a faux-old-man voice, berated the host as Unamerican because he doesn't back Bush 100 percent. This angered the host so much he cut Andy off and went on a tirade in his own defense. Funny schtuff.

Good movie seen recently: "Storytelling," written and directed by Todd Solondz. Check out anything by this guy if you like quirky, left-of-normal kind of characters and storylines.

Good book: "Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity," by Ray Bradbury

A quote: "The Muse, to belabor the point then, is there, a fantastic storehouse, our complete being. All that is most original lies waiting for us to summon it forth. And yet we know it is not as easy as that. We know how fragile is the pattern woven by our fathers or uncles or friends, who can have their moment destroyed by a wrong word, a slammed door, or a passing fire-wagon. So, too, can embarrassment, self-consciousness, remembered criticisms, can stifle the average person so that less and less in his lifetime can he open himself out."

Good music: See sidebar. I'm a total Pandora freak these days. Also listen to my jazz and progressive rock LPs now and again with my snivelling organist friend Jim, who also knows his way around the music library at NIU.

The exterior details of my life are boring. The interior details are boring, too, but only to me...

I'm not divorced yet. All the details of the settlement agreement were figured out amicably. The lawyers are paid. But... no court date. I do not have time until after the trip.

The Packers are better than I gave them credit for at the beginning of the season. They still suck. This is the Bears' year. But an 8-8 record would be respectable for the green and gold.

"Someday I'll wear pajamas in the daytime." -- Crash Test Dummies

I crave sunshine like a cat.

My favorite college class ever was "The Renaissance," taught in the fall of 1995 by Dr. Sam Kinser. Kinser made the Italian and European renaissances come to life by quoting from arcane, obscure texts and pointing the way to more popular, accessible materials. I thought of this class recently because I felt I lacked, in my FYCOMP class, the overpowering mastery of material Kinser displayed. This class was also great because Kinser took us outside as often as possible. He also asked difficult questions about the required readings. Most of my classmates read the material, which led to cool discussions. It was the type of class I expected when I came to the university level, but is so rare these days. There was a certain amount of intellectual brinksmanship amongst the class, arguments that spilled over after class and into breaks. Where does this happen anymore?

My second favorite college classes were the bibliography and Shakespeare courses I took last year. Both were taught by Dr. William Baker, a first-order raconteur. There's never a dull moment in a Baker class.

Both Kinser and Baker are Professors Emeritus.

Strange to think next semester is more-than-likely my last in-class at NIU. Next fall I'm student teaching, so won't be on campus as much. I'm ready to move on and make some money.

I'm working on an abstract proposal for an upcoming conference at NIU. Conferences are a new thing to me. I've never been to one. From what I hear, professors and master's students read papers/ speeches and/or participate in panel discussions. I'd like to either present a paper about Lorine Niedecker, an objectivist poet from Blackhawk Island near Ft. Atkinson (I discovered her home in 2005 on my Rock River travels) or a paper about what Victorian authors did to address the social ills of empire expansion (I wrote about this already a year ago).

I'd like to participate in at least three conferences before I graduate. This gives me a leg up in case I decide to pursue a Ph.D. I WILL NOT pursue a doctorate full-time. If I get one, it will involve night classes. My number one vocational concern is middle or high school English. Conference participation at least gives me some street cred.

Most days I'm neither happy or sad. Most days are existence, punctuated by pinpoint rays of illumination and grace, like my son's smile when I first see him.

Jon has nine teeth. His mother is painfully aware of this.

I'm too old to be a prodigy. Too young to be washed-up. Too smart to work a blue collar job. Too dumb to be a genius.

Latest favorite food: tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches.

Food I used to love, but haven't been eating lately: hummus.

Cool hiker moment: Carrying Jon in a backpack baby carrier (a gift from the Ice Age Trail) as Esther and I explored a section of Kishwaukee River bottomlands not far from Esther's work in Sycamore. We discovered piles of tires, a moldering, rusted-out, collapsed moving van used by someone as a shelter, a retention pond someone personalized with shoreline rock work and benches, and a long stretch of woods and social trails I did not anticipate when we got there. I am amazed at how many forgotten places there are within walking/riding distance of my DeKalb home. After almost two years living in the area, I am still discovering hidden pockets of nature and even city and county parks I haven't been to yet.

Jon fell asleep and woke up with rashes on his face and top of head. Apparently, he is as allergic to vegetation as his father.

The three of us have gotten into the habit of going on Saturday hikes every other week. No big deal. And never far from home.

Two weeks ago we hiked at MacQueen and Potawatomi Woods forest preserves. They are near Kirkland, north of DeKalb, and connected together. I'd been to MacQueen before, but never Potawatomi. We hung out on a viewing platform overlooking a bog. Jon was asleep. It was a nice, quiet moment in nature.

My favorite place I've been to three times in the past month is Lowden State Forest near Oregon (and only about 35 minutes from DeKalb). One of my favorite moments was a dusk break in a clearing surrounded by tall, 100+ year old white pines. The day's last golden rays shined on the trunks, a crow cawed in the distance, but the rest was quiet and settled, a blanket of needles and a gentle breeze.

These nature-y moments keep me centered and, most importantly, aware. Most people dull their senses with overload. Each visit to nature requires a certain amount of de-stressing, deep breathing, a slowing down, to get in tune with the environment. But it's like eating food after a fast. Every detail is accentuated. Every flavor and scent takes on a greater pungency.

After I'm dead (hopefully, in some distant future), I hope people remember me for my connection to nature. I hope the vision people have of me includes a mountaintop.

More than likely I'll be remembered for some physical or character flaw. "Yeah, that Greg sure had bad psoriasis there at the end..."

Favorite song (which I can't find the lyrics for anywhere on the Internet): "Black Dirt and Clay" by Peter Case.

'nuff said for now.


AZ trail, etc.

Now that the tryptophan stupor's subsided, I am getting busy work done this weekend (grades, work on teaching portfolio projects, abstract proposal for a conference) and working out some of the logistics of my upcoming trip.

I've been through this before and know the planning that goes into a long-distance hiking trip. IT is is a lot of work. Half the battle is just getting there.

I have prepared a tentative itinerary for the trip, including a list of town stops and the my estimated times of arrival (ETA). If anyone wants to send food, letters or super-lightweight trinkets, send them to the addresses below and write on the address:

Greg Locascio c/o
General Delivery
Town, Zip code
In the left hand corner write: "Please hold for Arizona Trail hiker. ETA: (whatever date I put for that town). To assure a timely arrival, send mail AT LEAST 10 days before the ETA. Also, be sure to include a return address.
Patagonia, AZ 85624
ETA: Dec. 19
P.O. phone #: 520-394-2950
Mount Lemmon, AZ 85619
ETA: Dec. 28
Kearney AZ, 85237
ETA: Jan. 11
This is the first time I've ever listed mail drop information because I used to believe it a cheap-o move to ask for mail from friends and family. But I am going on this trip, alone, over the holidays. I imagine correspondence will be worth its weight in gold. If I come home without receiving your mail, call the post office you sent it to and have it sent back. This will expedite the 60-90 day holding period post offices put on general delivery packages before they return to sender. Any letters will be responded to in a timely manner. Maybe this could be the beginning of a lifelong correspondence...
I will also post pictures and my journal at:

Monday, November 13, 2006

nex ut proterus

Below are the library books I have, either from Founders Memorial Library or through interlibrary loan.

Sterne, Laurence, 1713-1768. Life & opinions of Tristram Shandy, gentleman. Introd. by Bergen Evans. Location: NIU--Main Collection--FML PR3714 .T71950
Renewed: Due 12-11-06

I've had this book since spring, when I checked it out after nearly sleeping through the movie on a trip to Chicago. Go to Amazon for my review of it. I've only got about 50 pages left to go. Its metarealistic style makes for good reading on the pot.

Parsons, Les, 1943- Grammarama! : innovative exercises, creative activities, models from reading, sentence combining, updated rules, and more! / Les Parsons. Location: NIU--Main Collection--FML LB1576 .P27 2004
Checked out: Due 12-11-06

I haven't even looked at this thin tome. It's a required text for my ENGL 547 class.

Kirby, Dan. Inside out : strategies for teaching writing / Dan Kirby, Dawn Latta Kirby, Tom Liner. Location: NIU--Main Collection--FML LB1631 .K572 2004
Checked out: Due 12-11-06

Yes, kiddies, if you get anything out of this entry it is that you need not buy required texts for classes. Interlibrary loan fills in the gaps your library will miss. And as a college student, most of you have access to WorldCat, an international library catalog.

Inside Out is another required text for ENGL 547. And it's a good one. Kirby provides detailed lesson ideas for a variety of writing topics, from term papers to reflection. This is a rare textbook that is written in an accessible, easy-to-understand style, with lots of voices from other students and teachers to make the lessons come to life. This is one of those books I will buy and use in my teaching.

James, Bill, 1949- New Bill James historical baseball abstract / Bill James. Location: NIU--Main Collection--FML GV863.A1 J36 2001
Renewed: Due 12-14-06

I checked out this book back in the spring and haven't looked at it much since the middle of the summer. I first heard about Bill James when I read Moneyball, another baseball book about the odd general managing strategies of Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane, who is a James devotee.

This book lists the best 100 players at each position. While I don't agree not can even pretend to truly understand the methodology of his rankings, I enjoyed the mini-biographies about some of my favorite players and James unique assessment of their worth. James also provides a decade by decade synopsis of the major leagues, even down to the styles of uniforms and stadium attendance figures, and the style of play that predominated each era. Yet another great reference book for the pot!

From Wikipedia: Sabermetrics is the analysis of baseball through objective evidence, especially baseball statistics. The term is derived from the acronym SABR, which stands for the Society for American Baseball Research. It was coined by Bill James, who has been its most enthusiastic (and by far its most famous) proponent.

James' story is fascinating. He is an everyman. A fan's fan. He wrote his first baseball abstract in 1977 while working nights as a security guard. Now he works as a consultant for the Boston Red Sox and played a role in their 2004 pennant.

Rombauer, Irma von Starkloff, 1877-1962. Joy of cooking / Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker ; illustrated by Ginnie Hofmann and Beverly Warner. Location: NIU--Main Collection--FML TX715 .R75 1973
Renewed: Due 12-14-06

I first checked out Joy from the DeKalb Public Library in early 2005, and checked it out from NIU back in April or May. I will renew the book as long as I'm here and as long as they'll let me. One of my favorite recipes I've done over and over again is for risotto.

Joy is one of those essential cookbooks. Every kitchen should have it and the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. One thing I like about Joy is it cross-references recipes that would work together well for an entire dinner presentation. Someday I'll get up the gumption to follow one of these dinner plan suggestions to the letter.

Voltaire, 1694-1778. Candide : or, Optimism / Voltaire ; edited by Norman L. Torrey. Location: NIU--Main Collection--FML PQ2082.C3 E51946
Checked out: Due 01-02-07

Candide is on my night stand. It's short and pithy. Each chapter is about three pages. The main character, Candide, is a wry, witty victim of worldly tumult. At the point I'm at in life, I need to read about fools who cling to optimism in spite of it all.

Know who turned me on to this book? None other than rooming house drunkard Steve.

Bass, Rick, 1958- In the Loyal Mountains / Rick Bass. Location: NIU--Main Collection--FML PS3552.A8213 I51995
Renewed: Due 03-02-07

The only other book I read by Bass is Winter: Notes from Montana, a non-fiction autobiographical account of Bass' move to a cabin in Yaak, an isolated village in northwest Montana. I loved that book and its lean, poetic prose. I sought out Mountains because I needed my mountain fix, and these 10 stories did not disappoint. Bass is one of the best "naturalistic" writers in America.

I finished this book back in June, but have kept it around because I want to write an Amazon review (and, yeah, maybe re-read a couple stories). It's also in my nightstand pile.

Burroughs, William S., 1914- Junky / William S. Burroughs ; with an introduction by Will Self. Location: NIU--Main Collection--FML PS3552.U75 J8 2002
Renewed: Due 03-02-07

This is the only Burroughs book I've read. I've never tried heroin and, after reading Junky, I never will. I thought Burroughs, based on the reputation of Naked Lunch, was a difficult read, but Junky is a straightforward narrative. Burroughs does a good job of neither aggrandizing or vilifying the junky lifestyle. He presents it matter-of-factly with a journalistic sense for detail and a thorough lexicon of 1950s-60s junkie terminology.

I finished this book on the Metra train from Zion, IL after a day at the beach. I plan to write an Amazon review before I give it back.

Eliot, George, 1819-1880. Silas Marner : the weaver of Raveloe / George Eliot ; introduction by Chris Bohjalian. Location: NIU--Main Collection--FML PR4670 .A1 2001
Renewed: Due 03-02-07
DePaul University

Silas Marner is not as good as Middlemarch, the sprawling Eliot epic that is the only other book I've read by her. Like Middlemarch, ...Marner presents a careful, nuanced portrait of village life in the story of a recluse who discovers the true worth and value of his neighbors when he has to care for an orphan infant who walks into his life. This is a great introduction to Eliot.

Clark, Irene L. Concepts in composition : theory and practice in the teaching of writing / Irene L. Clark ; with contributors, Betty Bamberg ... [et al.]. Location: Lincoln Park Stacks 808.042071 C593c2003
Renewed: Due 12-08-06
Eastern Illinois University

Concepts... is required reading for my ENGL 500 class. I've read about two-thirds of it and conclude that of all the texts assigned for this class, it is the best written and most helpful to my first-year-composition instruction. It gives a good overview of the trends in teaching writing in the past 25 years.

Yancey, Kathleen Blake, 1950- Reflection in the writing classroom / Kathleen Blake Yancey. Location: Book Stacks A-H 3000; J-L 2000; P-Z 1000 Level PE1404 .Y36 1998
Book 16-4W
Renewed: Due 12-08-06
Greenville College

This is also a required text for ENGL 500. This one sucks. I get a headache every time I read it. Bottom line: Reflection is a good way for students to write informally about their writing experience. Duh! Enough with the academic language and circular double-speak.

Clarke, Clinton C Pacific crest trailway, compiled by Clinton C. Clarke. Location: Stacks 917.8 P11
Checked out: Due 01-02-07
Illinois State University

I first saw this book at the Ice Age Trail headquarters in Madison a couple years ago. Drew Hanson has a copy. Published in 1945, this is probably the first book about the Pacific Crest Trail. Clarke was instrumental in the creation of the PCT as first president of the Pacific Crest Trail System Association.

I will write a separate entry about this book and cull some memorable quotes along with more details about the maps included. I found some interesting things besides maps in the sleeve at the back of the book.

Johannessen, Larry R. In case you teach English : an interactive casebook for prospective and practicing teachers / Larry R. Johannessen, Thomas M. McCann. Location: Floor 1 Shelves LB1029.C37 J64 2002
Book 16-4 wk
Checked out: Due 12-21-06
Southern Illinois University Carbondale

This is another book for my ENGL 547 class. I also used this book in ENGL 504 last fall. Johannessen was my professor for 504. This book presents debatable scenarios that English teachers may encounter.

Sutton, Ann, 1923- Pacific Crest Trail : escape to the wilderness / Ann and Myron Sutton ; photographs by the authors. Location: LC Books, Basement F851 .S97
Book 16/8/4 wk
Renewed: Due 12-08-06
Sauk Valley Community College

I like that this book examines the flora, fauna and geology of the trail, and downplays the logistical, geographic concerns. Those looking for a traditional thru-hiker memoir will be disappointed. The Suttons' style is a bit florid and effusive, but such excess is offset by the descriptive language and wonderful photography. Instead of focusing on vistas, as most trail books tend to do, the Suttons took photographs of more personal items on the trail -- a forest floor of pine cones, a close up shot of a marmot or a flower. I plan to track down my own copy of this book and share it with anybody who questions what the big deal is about the trail life.

Peters, Lisa N. James McNeill Whistler / Lisa N. Peters. Location: Stacks ND237.W6 P47
Book - Circulating
Renewed: Due 12-08-06
School of the Art Institute of Chicago

Over the summer I heard on a classical station that Ira Gershwin was inspired by Whistler to title the classic George Gershwin piece

Vandertie, Adolph, 1911- Hobo & tramp art carving : an authentic American folk tradition / Adolph Vandertie with Patrick Spielman. Location: Books - Main Stacks TT199.7 .V361995
Book 1
Checked out: Due 01-31-07
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Short lines : a collection of classic American railroad stories / edited by Rob Johnson ; [illustrated by Ron Hazlitt]. Location: Main Stacks 813.08 SH82
Checked out: Due 01-25-07

Wills, Robert H High trails : a guide to the Cascade Crest Trail / by Robert H. Wills. Location: Oak Street Facility [request only] 917.97 W68H
Checked out: Due 01-25-07
Western Illinois University

Green, David, 1949- Pacific Crest odyssey : walking the Trail from Mexico to Canada / David Green. Location: Main Collection - Malpass Library GV199.42.P3 G73


I've been super busy lately, hence the lack of posts.

Well... not super busy. I don't live like that. Maybe preoccupied is the word. Distracted. My attention's spread thin. Throw in a little seasonal and situational depression for good measure.

Gray, cold days ahead. Long, cold, lonely winter. Not so cold, though, after I fly to Tucson.

School is well. Many mini-projects, lessons, grading, etc. to be done, but I feel on top of things and capable. Of course, because of my upcoming trip, I am working extra hard now to make sure I have everything in order so I can just jet out of town. And then there are the logistics of the trip. I still have to put together food resupplies and get them mailed out, buy the maps, and get together with Dave Thanksgiving weekend to go over all the vagaries of his Global Positioning Satellite reader.

Why GPS? Because many parts of the Arizona Trail are not trail. I still don't need it because I know how to use a map and compass, but the GPS will save me time and guesswork. No need to adjust for magnetic declination.

The goal of the trip is to get as far away from civilization as possible. Being on the trail is one way to achieve this. Another is to spend as little time in town. I am doing this trip on the cheap (my grad school stipend doesn't go far) and plan to spend less than $100. Should I throw my hat over the fence and just bring the cash and identification, and leave the credit/debit cards at home? What would I do in an emergency? Phone home? Western Union?

More later....