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.

Excelsior.

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