More Recent Evidence Reinforces My Belief That I Married up

Unfortunately, as you all know, I’ve slipped just a touch this past week in my standing as Most Successful Member of the Family. To wit: after many months of super-duper readings at great venues to vicious applause and unyielding lauding, traci’s book Recipes for Endangered Species has been panned. She was thrilled. “Look at this,” she said, “it says here, ‘I felt as if I had left a loving homestead filled with ancestral love and spiritual light to go get a job as a stripper in the city, had sold my child for drugs, and dumped my beloved cat in the trash, and walked away as it mewed. I wanted to go to sleep, but was afraid of my dreams.’”

Absolutely thrilled. She said, “This reviewer hated my book, but this review won’t make people not want to read it.”

I on the other hand felt my married-up status slipping along with traci’s grammar: “ . . . won’t make people not . . .” – so you wonder: what kind of rhetorical Wal-Marts does traci construct while you’re all away? – “won’t make people not”: that kind.

(Should that be while “y’all’re away?”)

With my PhD. a mere language requirement away, and people talking smack about traci’s writing, I thought for sure I would have to start picking my nose while teaching or throwing snowballs at Pat and Olga’s kids and blaming it on the sky. And, hell, it’s not even likely to snow here again until we leave for Utah in December. I was at an impass.

Suddenly, on Tuesday Nickole Brown from White Pine Press called traci. Turns out traci’s manuscript of prose poems Shell-Shaped Pieces of Bone was a finalist for the Marie Alexander Poetry Series. A really awesome series from a really awesome press.

While we found out this past weekend that she did not win, I was consoled by the fact that I’m back, baby. There’s no way I’m going to accomplish as much as traci any time soon, so who is the most excited in the world that I married traci? Clearly, it's this guy:

But, in all fairness, Blaisey's a close second.

Post Script: National Novel Writing Month – good attempts all around at our house. The Epic Asskicking Adventures of Princess Badass topped 8,000 words during the first week, then quickly fell from favor. Instead, I started working on my Western (The Wickedest City) again, and that went well. traci clacked steadily away at her novel – she got closer to maybe 10-12,000 words. While still shy of the 50,000 words the National Novel Writing Month experts look for, she has laid some ground work for a novel that I’m sure you all will be interested in. I’m burying Princess Badass for the time being, but traci’s going to stick with hers. I hear December is National Plutonium Enrichment Month – which means the ancient Connor family mantra (Hold My Beer I Wanna Try Something) has never been more fitting.


A Second Honeymoon and Other Travel Advice

traci and I have that old on-going marital competition. For the longest time, we kept secret tabs on who was more successful in life. One day, we just decided to make a list. My argument was that I had attained more in life than she had. And hers was, "Nah nah, nahnah, poopoo." At any rate, here's a sample of the list.

* traci had a full scholarship to play Division One basketball – I was a Division Three cheerleader for gym credit
* traci has a PhD. – I have an MFA (from the same university)
* she’s 6’1” – I’m 5’11” (with my boots on)
* she has a book published – I have a few short stories and an essay
* she is a tenure track professor – I teach part time

As you can imagine, the list went on for the first half of a seventy-page college ruled spiral notebook before traci, incredulously, asked me, “Well, then, how exactly are you more successful than I?”

“It’s simple,” I said. “I married up.”

traci’s choice of spouse aside, she really is pretty amazing. Recently, writer and madhatter Carol Novak asked traci to read along with herself, David Smith, and Carter Monroe at the MadHat's Poetry, Prose & Anything Goes. traci, of course, was honored, and it gave more credence to my argument that my spouse is superior to my spouse’s spouse in all ways. Chalk one up for this guy. I don’t see traci becoming as successful as me any time soon, unless she stops doing really awesome things and I start robbing banks. That might equalize the playing field.

Anyway, it was an awesome reading, and if you’ve never met the above four awesome writers, then I’m better than you. Or luckier, at least, and if you like reading, look into each of their works – some of the best stuff I’ve been exposed to for quite a while, and someday when I complete my PhD., I’ll have the ethos to explain why they’re awesome. For now, it’s enough to say, they are kind and strong people who celebrate art and good conversations.

Meanwhile, traci and I took advantage of the journey to have a romantic day alone. We started off the day by taking a circuitous route up around the panhandle to have a look at some used cast iron bathtubs in the hopes of finding a four footer to fit our guest bathroom. The place we drove to is close to the Tennessee border, and the guy who runs it sits there on the porch, with a fence made of bathtubs and a yard made of bathtubs and a garden made of bathtubs, and this guy can tell you the personal history of every one of the bathtubs and others like them.

We asked him how he kept track of the prices of all the tubs. He said, “Five footers are two hundred. Four foot and a halfers are three hundred. And I don’t have any four footers, but, if I did, it would run you about seven hundred.” At this point, I could only be thankful we didn’t need a three footer – we’d have to sell the bathroom to buy the tub.

So we continued on our way – tubless – to Ashville, following the directions we’d been given by the internet. It has always amazed myself and my family that when I moved to Utah to perform my MFA program, I got on Route 8 which runs past my house, drove to Barkeyville, turned left on I-80 and drove straight until I found a hotel in Salt Lake City. In order to get from Greensboro NC to Ashville NC, we had to print out three pages of directions, leading us through Tennessee along seventeen different routes and interstates, and dubious county roads. At one point, traci looked up from the map and said, “Are we in somebody’s backyard?”

Now, there’s only one place in the world, I’ve heard, where you can start at Point A, walk a mile south, walk a mile east, walk a mile north, and end up back at Point A. It’s a sort of a riddle slash logic problem. Don’t finish this sentence if you don’t want to know the answer is the North Pole. At any rate, there’s only one place in the world, I’ve heard, where you can make such a triangular journey, following straight lines.

I’m here today to say that I think we’ve found a second such place. One of the directions, and this is verbatim, asked us to “Turn left to continue straight North on East 74 West.” I’m not going to address the fact that the directions asked us to turn left to go straight. Nor am I concerned with the idea of heading West on 74 East. What concerns me here is that we were already heading west, so the left turn should have effectively had us driving south while heading North on East 74 West.

So while I recognize the complicated magnetic issues the North Pole offers the world, I am certain there isn’t a pole on this planet that can contend with Tennessee for confusing travelers. At one point, in fact, we came to an intersection of East 74 West and North 81 West and couldn’t decipher the map. So we drove straight for a mile, came back to the intersection, tried the two other roads – each time coming back to the intersection – and simply decided to backtrack on East 74 East for a few miles. Now, it turns out that was exactly what the directions wanted us to do, but what’s more interesting is that all three of the other roads would have taken us 22 miles to Boone, NC. I know all roads once lead to Rome, and that’s a nice metaphor, but the only thing I can figure is that whoever designed the roads in Tennessee had a strong practical grasp of mobius strips.

Still, though we didn’t end up with a tub, it was a beautiful drive. The Black Mountain College Museum was a great space for a wonderful reading. After which we ate the best Punjabi food I’ve eaten since Jaswinder let me sleep on his floor for three months. We ended the romantic evening by driving halfway back to Greensboro along I-40 and sleeping for a couple hours at a rest stop. Best second honeymoon we’ve had since we moved to North Carolina.

Meanwhile, the whole lot of us are in Pennsylvania until Sunday, and for those of you travelling during the holiday season, I have two bits of advice. One drive safely: there’s lots of lousy drivers and even worse text messagers out there these days. And two, if you head through Tennessee, take a camera (it’s truly beautiful country), but leave the compass at home: it won’t do you any good anyway.


National Novel Writing Month and Me

What you’ve heard is true: November is national novel writing month. This is a tradition that is as old as time itself – eleven years. The official website (http://www.nanowrimo.org/) claims the first Nanowrimo was held in 1999. Yes, I thought time would be older as well. Who knew?

Still, this reminds me of the first time the kids ever came to Pennsylvania. Summer 2004. traci and I had been married for a few months, and we were driving down over the hill to visit Maga and Pappap. Zac was eleven, Sam was eight, and Naomi was four.

Sam said, “My friend had to have his index removed.”

I said, “His index?”

Sam said, “Yes.”

Naomi said, “Did it hurt?”

Sam said, “I didn’t feel a thing.”

Naomi said, “What’s an index?”

Zac said, “I think he means appendix.”

Sam said, “Yes, appendix.”

Naomi said, “What’s an appendix?”

Zac said, “Nobody knows.”

Naomi said, “Why do we have one if we don’t know what they are?”

Zac said, “Sometimes organs that were once useful lose their necessity as the body evolves in order to adapt to our environment.”

Sam said, “Basically, we grew out of it: like tonsils.”

Naomi said, “Yeah, but that was a long time ago. Like back in the nineties.”

This conversation is noteworthy to me, because it marks the first time I realized that my kids think of me not only as a different generation, but also as a primitive stage of the evolutionary cycle. All said, it’s not an awful feeling, and it does make me appreciate how difficult it was for my parents to adjust to losing their tails.

Meanwhile, back at National Novel Writing Month: traci and I have talked for years about taking part in this tradition. Each year, we’ve opted out. This year, we decided that since we’ve never been busier in our whole lives, we might as well try to crank out a 50,000 word work of fiction. (We are doing this unofficially.) That’s approximately 1,666 words a day.

In response to your first question: Is that a lot of words? Well, for instance, The Declaration of Independence has about 1,300 words. And that took fifty-six people like a month and a half to write. So, yes, I’d say 1,666 a day is a considerable amount.

In response to your second question: Will I be in your novel? No, you will not. Rather, I’m attempting a fantasy novel I’m tentatively calling The Epic Asskicking Saga of Princess Badass. It’s terrible. Perhaps the worst thing I’ve ever written. traci is writing an awesome novel, which she will tell you all about at a later date. You are not in that novel either.

But maybe you’ll be in the sequels. Meanwhile, we are both a little bit behind schedule, but optimistic. As neither of us teaches on Fridays, we have vowed to write our asses off on those days. I’ll leave you with that compelling image. Wish us luck.


Why We're Such Awesome Parents, Who Rock

Hi all,

In response to your first question, "Jackson, where have you been?", let me say this: when the baby gets the twenty-four hour flu, daddy gets to have the flu for the whole week.

In response to question 2a, "Jackson, does it hurt when you drill through the board into the finger holding the board?", I have to say, "Yes. Yes it does hurt."

In repsonse to question 2b, "Jackson, does it matter which finger?", I have to tell you people, there are some things you need to find out for yourself.

Meanwhile. Now, I know it's not son-appreciation week, but our boys are still okay I suppose. For instance, after we got groceries today, Zac and Sam ran up two flights of stairs to hug traci and thank her for buying a big round box of oats and a big flat brown bag of brown sugar.

"Your kids are great," we hear. "I wish my kids were more like your kids," folks say. Nobody ever really wants to know how we do it, though. Well, I'll tell you anyway. Here's our secret: bore them into submission. Every time they take off a sock and you think it might hit the floor instead of the hamper, explain the ways in which the Grand Canyon was formed by the gentle wheedling away of rock by sand and water and sun doing their things, and that a sock is never just a sock so much as an indication of a greater detritus of the soul, something heinous about society that hurts us in our hearts -- you see, sure, it's a sock today, but tomorrow you might not fold my shirt right or you might leave my towel where I threw it in the corner. Before you know it, the whole house is a shambles. The plains are a canyon. Pangea is all over the flipping place. So just please please pick up the sock.

Trust me, your kids will be great too. And you won't have to inflame that old tennis elbow with all the same-old, same-old spankings.

The girls are great, too. Naomi is memorizing "The Raven" by Edgar Allen Poe. It's lovely to listen to, "Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore," you know, but when what you really want to do is watch Mad Men, well, the children will still be talented and gifted tomorrow, but Don Draper will only be popular for as long as people tell him to be. "While I nodded, nearly napping . . ." she said. "Why are you doing that?" asked traci. Naomi said, "suddenly their came a tapping." I said, "You know, some folks argue that the universe began with someone gently tapping," and she sprinted off to bed.

Blaisey is Itchy the Cat today. She had been Fluffy the Cat for the longest time. The other day she was Princess the Cat Who Would Like Daddy to Get Her Some Water Meow. Before that she was Bitey the Mean Cat and I was Steely the Scared Dog. Oh, the ever-changing self. In the midst of all these feline incarnations, Blaisey did find time to be sick last week. I lay beside her in bed reading while she drifted in and out of sleep. One moment, she woke to tell me, "Dinosaurs eat leaves." Another she said, "Some chipmunks like to climb trees." Some time later she woke and said, "Other chipmunks like to drink water." I read about twenty pages of a really good book and she said, "Apples that are green are pears."

When I caught the bug proper, I was most likely to simply say, "I think I'm gonna puke." Or "I think I puked." Or some variation on the theme.

On that note, I'll try to keep you all up to date more frequently on the events of our family. In the meantime, I'll ask the questions this time, "If apples that are green are pears, what's an orange if it's not orange?" And "If you're a chipmunk who doesn't like to climb trees or drink water, what kind of life is that anyway?"


Hazards Upon the Long Run

Much like the Neanderthal civilization, Greensboro, North Carolina has no sidewalks. As a result, I often end up crossing regrettable intersections at bad angles and testing the pavement of dubious crosswalks.

Much like other Neanderthal beings, I approach the outside world cautiously. Neanderthal joggers often peeked from side to side along the game trails, hoping to detect saber tooth tigers and Casteroides ohioensis. As for me, while I have been hit or almost hit by just about every kind of motorized vehicles from motorcycles to dump trucks, nothing chases me off the road so often as the mid-sized to enormous four-door road vehicles. By their nature, these “SUVs” are harmless gentle, creatures who will not engage a human, even when provoked. They have little interest in human beings whatsoever. Even if you sneak behind them and poke them with sticks or attempt to entice them with a conversation about Moby Dick or The Wrath of Kahn, they will hardly even acknowledge your existence.

However, beneath the surface, something terrifying lurks. (That’s not necessarily true, I just thought it would add some dramatic tension.)

However, seriously, during particular times of the day – e.g. morning, noonish, evening, afternoon – these beautiful creatures begin a frantic scurry, a meticulously choreographed ballet. During which times, it doesn’t matter what bright colors you’re wearing or how many babies you’re pushing in the stroller, these clamoring beasts will not be deterred. It is in their nature to neither change course, nor slow down, so don’t sprain an ankle in a crosswalk, and if you do, don’t bother begging for mercy. My only guess is that we humans are just too tiny for the great “SUV” to even recognize. For them to see us as sentient creatures would be much like a human being thinking that a dog or a turtle should have some kind of rights. Ridiculous.

While these frequent, if unexplained, mass migrations might be equally beautiful and dangerous, even our top scientists have failed to explain the significance of such events. When I asked Zac about it, he said, “I don’t know, Dad. Can I please finish my homework now?” Sam, similarly, responded, “You are so weird.”

If you are like me and you live in a place where such beautiful animals roam the grand paths through our cities, but you would nonetheless like to take a long run once-or-so a week, consider Sunday mornings. I have found it is much easier to get in ten, twelve miles with little chance of being run over by an “SUV” from around 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. It is at this rare time of the week that the “SUV”s gather in a sort of ritual silence in front of enormous barnlike structures. While none of the creatures ever enter the structure, they sit outside quietly, one might say reverently, as I run by.

Why do these magnificent beast choose this moment to gather and remain silent? What draws them to these enormous domiciles? Will there ever be a day when humans and “SUV”s live in harmony? Are modern “SUV”s truly the descendent of some ancient coupling of a station wagon and a military vehicle? Or did they spring forth into their suburban resting grounds fully formed sometime in the mid-90s? I asked some of our family’s top anthropologists. Naomi said, “Seriously, Dad? Get a life.” Blaisey sat thoughtfully for a spell and said, “Can I have some ice cream?” Who’s right? I don’t know. It is unlikely that any of us will know for quite some time. For now, it is enough for me that at least once a week, the great beasts and I call a truce and coexist peacefully, in no hurry, paying homage to the world in our own ways.

Note to runners: Please be cautioned if you take this running tip. If you run past noon on these “days of 4WD rest” as I like to call them, all proverbial bets are off. When those bells ring twelve, all hell breaks loose.

Meanwhile, I leave you all with these two thoughts:

1. “Would any tree be safe with a beaver as big as a Buick?”

And 2. "Smells like a steak and seats thirty-five."


Fancy Drink

As national Jackson Appreciation Weekend winds down, traci asked me if she could get me anything from the kitchen. I asked her if she could get me a beer in one of our fancy glasses.

I don't know -- they just sometimes taste better this way.


On Nature v. Nurture

Given the relatively obvious design of shirts, maybe you’d think that I’d be able to put them on frontwards at least 50% of the time. I’m here to tell you today, you’re wrong. In fact, I can easily go two, three weeks without putting a t-shirt on right the first time. “Well, at least you get it right the second time,” you might be thinking. Nope, just like flipping a quarter, my odds don’t change from one application to the next. Why am I like this? What’s wrong with me? Is it nature or nurture?

I can only base my own guesses on what other people have told me. As an undergrad, a woman in my dorm said, for example, she would never date me because I did not have a hairy chest, and she would only date men with hairy chests. I hadn’t asked or intended to ask her out, but you can imagine at this point, I desperately wanted to. The only thing I could think to do was grow my bangs very long and hope that would be close enough. With my locks shimmering tucked into the neckband, I asked Gina if she'd like to get a pizza with me. She said, “No. That’s the worst idea I’ve ever heard.” Until then, I guess I just assumed that everybody likes pizza.

What’s wrong with me? Other possibilities? I blame Pappap. For instance: the first time I came home from college with a beard, Pappap raised his eyebrows and told me about the first time he came home from the Navy with a beard. He said, “I walked in the front door, and my old man was taking a nap on the couch. He opened one eye and said, ‘What the hell is that?’ So I said, ‘It’s a goattee.’ The old man said, ‘Yeah, I tried to grow a beard once. It looked like shit, too.’”

This, of course, was my first sophomore year of college. Meanwhile, I told Angelo that I really liked his beard and wished that I could grow a beard like his. He said, “Why don’t you grow one?”

I said, “I can’t grow a beard.”

He said, “Well, not with that attitude. You’ve gotta really want it.”

As you can imagine, time went by. I did some other things: dropped out of college, learned to snowboard, had a really nice cup of coffee at a Country Fair of all places. Clearly, it has been an eventful decade and a half. The good news is: I finally have a hairy chest. The really good news is: it’s because my beard is officially that long. (How about that pizza now, Gina?)

In fact, when traci and I went back-to-school shopping, she picked teaching shirts based on how well they showed off my beard. I'm in vogue, to be sure, but such clothing has resulted in my many awkward questions such as, “Does this V-back make my shoulders look narrow?”

Well? What do you think?


Make Friends, Not Beds

As a family-oriented blogger, I get a lot of questions about all kinds of relationships. In response to those of you who have been writing to ask about friendship: e.g. what makes a good friend? how does one know when one is no longer friends with someone else? what are the limits of friendship? There is one simple key to a solid friendship. You know those sheets that go on your bed first – not the elegant rectangular ones, but the ones with elastic and horribly misshapen corners. Well if you have never asked me to fold one of those for you, then we are probably good friends. If you haven’t heard from me in a while, think about your laundry and my interaction with it.

Meanwhile, for those of you still struggling with folding such heinous linen, consider my three step process:

Step 1: (unfolded)

Step 2: (folding)

 Step 3: (folded)

Best of luck to all of you in your laundry endeavors. 


The Renovator

I’ve been away from the blog this week, as I have been busy pretending to work on the house and grade my students’ papers while secretly reading The Great Book of Amber. Yesterday, in fact, when I was supposed to respond to student quizzes, I asked them all if they’d got the all the right answers. Some said, “Yes.” For those who said, “No,” I said, “Would you get all the right answers now if I gave you the same quiz?” They said, “Oh, yes. Oh, my, yes.” So I marked them all down for A’s and drove to the hardware store parking lot to pretend to shop while I secretly read a fantasy novel.

Before we begin, I have a morality tale from earlier in the week:

Have you ever been stung by a wasp whilst spraying for mosquitoes?
Me too, which begs the question: who is the real monster here?
It’s the wasps. Trust me, that’s the moral.

Anyway, what’s wrong with me? Well, it probably all has to do with my plumbing. Plumbing is a delicate art that, if I understand correctly, was invented 8,000 years ago in Egypt, perfected 2,600 years ago in Rome, and introduced to Western Pennsylvania in the late 1970’s.

A lot of one’s personality can be determined by answers to fundamental questions about plumbing. For instance:

When there’s a problem with the plumbing, do you:
A: Call a professional?
B: Call for Sam to bring you a pair of socks and a roll of duct tape?

One’s answer, I believe, speaks volumes.

So yesterday, when the problems arose, Sam showed up with the duct tape and said, “I couldn’t find any socks. What about the one you have on.” That’s my boy. Problem solved.

Sometimes the kids ask me, “How did you learn so much about building stuff?”

Well, just from paying attention mostly. Also, I spent some time doing various forms of construction when I was supposed to be studying for my Intro to Biology final exam. But at the heart of everything I know about stuff getting built is Pappap. For instance, I remember his vivid instructions about plumbing. When I was very young, he told me, “There are three things you need to know about plumbing. Hot water goes on the left. Cold on the right. And shit don’t run uphill.”

Clearly I was destined for renovating.

Some people like to call it “home improvement,” but, really, would anybody call this improvement?

I think not. Renovating, rather, from the root word “novate,” meaning: screw up real bad. I think. I hope not to be redundant here in quoting the great plumber and writer Ray Carver, who said, “We all do better in the future.”

Meanwhile, Blaisey borrowed Zac’s guitar this morning and wrote three songs. Song 1: “All the Penguins Go to School.” Song 2: “All the Other Animals Go to School, But Not the Penguins.” Song 3: “The Animals Don’t Go to School, But Sissy and Blaisey Go to School.” Each of the songs has similar motifs and rhythms, a lot of humming in the middle of the lines, and several words that I’m not familiar with. Each song also contains the lyrics, “But you and me will never die, hmmm hmm hmmm hmm I like pie.” Needless to say, if Isaac Brock gets a hold of this talent, Blaisey certainly be a Glacial Pace artist any day now.

For the record, did anybody hear me ask for cpvc rubber cement in my coffee this morning? No. You didn’t. Which again, is sort of beside the point as it leaves me wondering: if the cpvc rubber cement applicator is in my coffee mug, what’s holding all the plumbing together? The answer, I believe, is clear: we’ll never know.


Cup Half Something

In response to your questions about distinctions between optimism and pesimism:

On the one hand, I spent three hours this morning / afternoon installing one particularly tricky piece of drywall. Granted there was some plumbing and some wiring involved. But still.

On the other hand, I got to listen to We Were Already Dead before the Ship Even Sank and The Moon and Antartica (twice) today, and all I had to do was hang one crumby sheet of drywall.

Everything said, I've had worse days. How was yours?


Surviving Wet Shoes

How to Learn to Love Teaching in Wet Shoes
by Jackson Connor

Step 1: Make sure to put the spaghetti sauce near the hatchback in a plastic bag so it will just roll right out.

Step 2: When it falls, stand there – do NOT try to get out of the way or try to catch it under any circumstances – just sort of watch it roll and listen to it explode.

Step 3: Look really stupid for a little while, because let’s face it.

Step 4: Get the hose.

Step 5: You know what: the shoes are simply not going to dry over the next few hours, so suck it up. Slosh into the classroom. When your students moosh their faces all up like you’re an idiot, act like they’re the idiots who don’t know the pleasures of moderately damp shoes. When all else fails, think of it like this: you’re kids love stories that end in with you standing there at a slight disadvantage, but somehow coming out on top – that oughtta get you through the day.

Post Script: if you resubtitle the post “How to Learn to Love Working a Twelve Hour Shift at the Steel Mill with Boots Full of Very Hot Coffee from Sheetz,” everything remains the same. Except “Step 4” which now reads, “Hop around on one foot for a long time, trying to decide whether you’re madder about the lost coffee or the moist boot.”

Meanwhile, happy Labor Day everyone.


Animal Health Recommendations

A lot of you have been asking me lately: "How do you get Desi to take her doggie vitamins?"

Well, he are five easy steps to getting Desi her pills:

Step 1: Buy a loaf of fancy bread at the grocery store.
Step 2: Eat some of the bread, but forget to wrap it up, so it will go bad.
Step 3: Put the pill in the bad bread.
Step 4: Put the bad bread in the garbage can.
Step 5: Sit back and watch the magic.

It’s true, with just these five simple steps you, too, can give Desi her medicine. This time-tested technique has proven itself over and over – flea medicine, heartworm prevention, antacids. Research here at our household indicate Desi will eat damn-near anything that’s been placed in a stale loaf of bread and hidden deep in the trash can. traci has even suggested that if you hid her salvation in the garbage and Desi found it, she would eat that, too.

And, of course, Desi says Hi:

Post Script: We would never hide Desi's salvation in the trash can.


Beachtrip 2008 (a rerun)

I'm double-dipping into the old, failed blog with this post -- it's the story of our beach trip from two years ago. If it meets popular acclaim, perhaps I'll write the update of this year's beach, river, or raccoon trip. To it:

This summer, there was some dissention in the family as to whether we should go to the water park just south of Greensboro or to the ocean (the Atlantic Ocean), which is way off to the right of us I’m told. Since there have been water parks in all the other states we’ve lived in, but very few oceans, we opted for the latter.

On the way to the beach, we played our modified family version of 21 Questions, which would more accurately be called Infinite Questions. Naomi started. I said, “Is it a mineral?”

Naomi said, “I don’t know.”

Sam said, “Is it a place?”

Naomi said, “Sort of."

Zac said, “Is it a person?”

Naomi said, “Yes.”

I said, “Is the person in this car?”

Naomi said, “Yes.”

traci said, “Is the person Blaisey?”

Naomi said, “Yes, good job, Mom.”

traci’s turn took us through a series of questions in which we determined that the answer wasn’t blue, green, a person, a rock, a giraffe, the direction East, the cat, the Previa, Dad, or a turtle. We asked, "Are you sure it’s not the cat?"


We said, "But what about a really BIG rock?, have you thought about making the answer: Pepsi, what about crackers, Cracker Jacks, Jack Sparrow, an unlaiden Sparrow, I think it’s a swallow, no it’s a sparrow, technically it could be either since neither could carry a coconut, are you sure it’s not the color blue?, I mean like a gigantic rock, like bigger than the moon?"

We were, you all can imagine, just about stumped.

Naomi said, “I know, I know. Can you eat it?”

traci said, “Yes.”

Naomi said, “Are you sure it’s not blue?”

traci said, “Yes.”

Naomi said, “Grapes.”

traci said, “No.”

Naomi said, “Macaroni and Cheese.”

traci said, “Yes. Excellent.”

Nailed it. Naomi said since she had already gone, I could have her turn, which is good, because as is my way in all things, I’d been spending their turns preparing for my turn. We had recently watched the spoof Meet the Spartans, which makes fun of the movie 300, which was based on the graphic novel by the same name. I kept the rest of the family easily at bay through the mineral, animal, etcetera part of the questions. Finally, they found my scent with traci’s, “Is it an idea?”

I said, “Yes.”

It took them a while longer to lock down the fact that it was a sentence, but once that happened, they made quick work of me. traci said, “A sentence? That’s not an idea. It’s probably a line from a stupid movie.”

I said, “Yes.”

Sam said, “Is it, ‘Come let us talk by the giant pit of death.’?”

I said, “Yes. Good job, Sam.”

And it was Sam’s turn.

Sam thought for a few minutes, and he said, “Okay, I got one. It’s a good one. But it’s way too hard to guess. So I’ll just tell you. It’s Nothingness.”

Zac said, “That was going to be my first guess.”

Sam said, “Okay, it’s your turn.”

Zac said, “Got one.”

traci said, “Is it bigger than a breadbox?”

Zac said, “You know, Mom, that’s a relative question. A breadbox, after all, could be as big as the ocean.”

Naomi said, “Is it the ocean?”

Zac said, “Yes. gg.” (gg is video game player, or “gamer,” lingo for “Good Game.” traci and I hold five English degrees between the two of us, and neither of us can explain to the kids why they shouldn’t use such shorthand in their speaking or writing, so we lol when Zac ggs us and move on.)

Zac pointed out that we had all already gone once, except for Desi who doesn’t have language, and except for Leah. He said, “I guess it’s Leah’s turn.” Now, this trip was in the middle of July, and she hasn’t gone yet, but we’re expecting her to bust out a really good one any minute now. She’s already had a long time to think about it.

It’s a four-hour trip to the beach, and the Atlantic Ocean was much as I had left it nineteen years before (my only other trip to the Atlantic to date) when I had taken my family to Myrtle Beach for some sort of Engineering conference, except that this time I couldn’t stop thinking about ee cummings’s characters Maggie and Minnie and Molly and May:

maggie and milly and molly and may

By e.e. cummings

maggie and milly and molly and may
went down to the beach (to play one day)

and maggie discovered a shell that sang
so sweetly she couldn't remember her troubles, and

milly befriended a stranded star
whose rays five languid fingers were;

and molly was chased by a horrible thing
which raced sideways while blowing bubbles; and

may came home with a smooth round stone
as small as a world and as large as alone.

for whatever we lose (like a you or a me)
it's always ourselves we find in the sea

The poem doesn’t have any relevance to what I’m writing, nor does it add a layer to the letter, nor does it inform our reading of this text. It’s just what I think about while I’m at the beach these days. I hadn’t known of the characters when I was twelve, and otherwise, I jumped into the breakers, trying to beat the ocean at its own game. I jumped sideways, and head on, and dove through the waves, and rolled with the big ones, and I’m certain, if I had only had a little more time, I would have won – the same eternal struggle and conclusion I had drawn when I was younger. On the other hand, I hear that the ocean is very much like an Atari game that just seems to go on and on forever.

And that seems equally likely and unlikely to me.

We put on sunblock. We ran in small circles. We ate sandwiches and chips – I’ve always thought it ironic to eat SANDwiches at the beach. We chased Leah, who was chasing Desi, around the sand. We pretended to build a sand castle, but got distracted by the way the waves kept piling up on themselves and piling up and piling up, but not making anything noticeably bigger.

Then we drove home, listening to Modest Mouse’s album The Moon and Antarctica. "And we're never gonna find another ocean on the planet, given that our blood is just like the Atlantic, and that's how the world began, and that's how the world will end." All told, the beach was a fine decision.

The day after our trip, I made mention of the fact that when we left for the ocean, I had been concerned about Leah, who hadn’t had a bowel movement the evening before, but after a short time in the ocean, she was regular – in fact, one could say, extra-regular – again. traci put a checkmark on the chalkboard beside “Things Daddy Should Keep to Himself.” And I pondered the possibility that the salt water had loosened her bowels up and that maybe it, the ocean, was good for all of us in ways that we don’t immediately recognize.

Naomi, who had been washing her breakfast dishes, said, “Well, the ocean does make shit happen.”

Yes. Little one. I suppose it does. But we’ll talk more about that another time. Right now, we have to compile our shopping lists – school supplies – for tomorrow, and hope that there will be something interesting left to learn when we start fourth, seventh, and tenth grades next week.

I suggest you all do the same. Take care, y’all, and we’ll keep you up to date on N.C.


That was two years ago, and we've all gotten much taller or stronger or smarter or more flexible, and we have done many things in the interim, but, if our trip to this summer's (2010) beach trip tells us anything, the ocean is still pretty much the same size and relative shape. "The universe is shaped excactly like the earth -- if you go straight long enough . . ."


Finding Hamlet

For the past week, Zac has been searching around the house, the car, the rock gym, downtown G-boro, the Enmity Shopping Center, the grocery store, several restaurants, the high school, his friends’ houses, his enemies’ houses, some houses he’d never been to but was always curious about, looking for Hamlet. He opened drawers, unfolded laundry, unmade beds, sucked the marrow from the bones of this old house. He scoured parking lots, dusted railroad tracks, scrubbed courtyards with a toothbrush.

We said, “What’s with all the cleaning?”

He said, “I guess I’ve overwrought the metaphor.”

He had. And still, the Dane was nowhere to be found. “Have you seen Hamlet?” he would say. “I’m looking for Hamlet.” “I should never have left Hamlet alone.” Don’t we know this by now, one should never leave Hamlet alone. We were, of course, distraught. They say if we had twelve monkeys with twelve flashlights, we might have been able to find Hamlet. But that was little consolation and very confusing.

For all of you who have been concerned, I found Hamlet and all of his words words words underneath the blue chair in the family room. We should have known.


The Thumb Holder

Last night, as I was walking away from tucking in the girls, Blaisey said, “Once upon a time, there was a dinosaur.” And it was like the oral-story version of 1,000,000 years B.C, and I wanted to look away, but I couldn’t look away. Luckily, Naomi was very tired, so she said, “Blaisey, maybe you could tell the story about the sissy who was too tired to stay awake for a story and the other sissy who loved her very much, so she didn’t tell a story.” So I chuckled and blew them both kisses and said, “Goodnight.”

I turned off the light and listened to Blaisey say, “Once upon a time, there was a sissy who was very tired and couldn’t stay awake . . .” My job here was done. I moved on.

As it turned out, Naomi really couldn’t stay awake. She drifted off. Moments later, Blaisey appeared at our door and said, “I’m hungry.” I said, “It’s very late. What do you want to eat?” She said, “A story.” I said, “I don’t have time to make a story. How about if I carry you to bed and lie down beside you.” She said, “Okay.”

Naomi was asleep, so Blaisey and I agreed to be very very quiet. We agreed to close our eyes. We agreed that I would lie on the floor beside her bed, and she would hold my thumb so I wouldn’t fall off the floor. Naomi did not budge. I stayed as still as a pantomime miming a rock. Blaisey did yoga or some sort of martial art.

I said, “Are you okay, Blaisey?”

She snored a little.

I started to stand. Blaisey said, “Where are you going?”

I said, “To bed.”

She said, “You said you would sleep beside me for a little while.”

I said, “I did.”

She said, “Not a little while enough.”

I lay back down, her hand wrapped tight around my thumb.

Naomi slept peacefully. I lay there biding my time. Blaisey snored while she did some sort of Civil War reenactment. At one point, her arms and legs, well, scattered about the bed, her breathing tame, I began to move towards the stairs. She said, “Daddy, you said you would sleep beside me for a while.”

I said, “Yes, but I’m tired.”

She said, “You can sleep here.”

“But I need to sleep beside mommy.”

“You can bring her up here.”

“But she’s asleep in our own bed.”

“You can bring it up here.”

“But our bed’s heavy.”

“You’re very strong.”

She had a point. I said, “How about if I just lie here a little while longer?”


She held my thumb. I made lesson plans. I wrote future plans. I redrafted the constitution: it went like this: “Just be nice. And let everyone be nice to you.” I wondered why sweat-wicking socks don’t work for me. I thought about how I always (always) overcook spaghetti. I wondered why I don’t just make coffee the night before, so I don’t have to do it first thing while I wake up. Blaisey snored and did little backwards summersaults.

Eventually – just like the first scene from the first Indiana Jones movie – I moved part of her blankey in the place my thumb used to be, and sneaked off into the night.

Blaisey said, “Where are you going?”

I said, “I can’t sleep here tonight.”

She said, “I allow you.”

I said, “But then Mommy will be alone.”

She said, “She has all your t-shirts.” (Long story.)

I walked to the toy trunk and brought her a penguin. (We call it a “piggy” in our family . . . another long story.) I said, “Here, buddy. Every time you squeeze this, I’ll know how much you love me.”

She said, “It might hurt.”

I said, “Well, then, just squeeze the piggy’s thumb.”

She squeezed the piggy’s thumb. I said, “I love you very much, buddy.”

She said, “I know, daddy. I love you very much, too.”

The moral of the story is this: I don’t want much out of life, in fact just three things. 1.) A good I.P.A. each night – very hoppy, a touch of citrus, very bitter (bitter enough to make me wonder why I like I.P.A.s. 2.) Equality for all people in all ways period. And. 3.) I wish that each night somebody would want to hold onto my thumb for longer than I want anybody to hold onto my thumb – it’s probably the best thing in the world.

I realize that’s a lot to ask, but it’s a big world, and today seems like an appropriate time to ask for such things, so I’ll keep my fingers crossed, my arms folded, and my yin curled infinitely around my yang.

Post Script: if anybody knows where I can get a grant or a fellowship for one or several or all of my kids to hold my thumb each night, please tell me. I’d be eternally grateful, and would reciprocate by holding your thumb at a business meeting or while you call a credit card company or whatever some days.


Running Tip of the Day

Hill Repeats:

Step One: Find a Hill.
Step Two: Wait until Garbage Day.
Step Three: Run up and down the Hill.

Many of the runners I’ve coached – well, so far it’s only been me, but I feel that I’ve developed such a strong bond with myself that the number will grow exponentially (someday to as many as 1^23 runners under my tutelage) – many of the runners I’ve coached have wondered, “Why would you pick garbage day to run up and down hills?

And, to be honest, even I wasn’t certain at first. Today, though, I know that I chose garbage day in order to teach myself to breathe through my mouth and maximize my oxygen intake. Which just goes to show me that I should never question my own coaching advice. Luckily, according to Ray Carver, we all do better in the future.


Back to School 2010

Naomi turned eleven last week – for those of you keeping track, that’s two of the same number. She starts advanced tumbling and trampoline class on Tuesday, middle school and playing the trumpet on Wednesday, and level 4 gymnastics on Thursday. Her true passion, though, is drums, but middle school band doesn’t introduce percussion until January. I only mention this, because a drummer will bring our family one step closer to our dream of being a brass / string / percussion / piano cover band of Modest Mouse.

Zac and Sam are still on the bouldering team, climbing tiny mountains, mostly upside down. It’s frustrating to watch, because if they knew as much about gravity as I know, they’d fall right off the wall, but they seem to have fun.

Sam starts high school this year and is excited about his new academic courses. Too academic, if you ask me. I think we all know that the whole idea behind evolution is for one’s offspring to surpass one’s self in every way – well, I think we all know that Sam’s well past that point. In fact, until he invents a time machine, the only superlatives I have in this relationship are that I’m older and my beard’s bigger.

Zac still works at the rock gym belay certifying the hell out of everything in sight. He’s taking up cross country for his senior year and seems to be having fun. Given the current economic climate, he thinks it’s in his best interest to apply for colleges for next fall. traci and I are all like, “Dude, like, whatever, man. Like maybe you should just hitchhike for a while or learn to ski or just chill out for a year or two.” And Zac said, “Don’t try to control me.” So we all just turned back to our Ironman cartoons and went on with our lives.

Blaisey is excited to start back to her ABC school Wednesday. She graduated with the turtle class last spring and looks forward to being a duck this year. She’ll be continuing on learning alphabet, not-biting, and violin. I don’t need to say it, but The All Connor Modest Mouse Cover Band just sounds so good. Luckily for me, I’m hell with a kazoo, or else I’d have to stick to being the band manager. Meanwhile, she is still much bigger than even the biggest bread box I’ve ever seen, and growing. As the fourth tallest member of our household, I celebrate the notion that it will be another decade before she surpasses me.

traci and I are both teaching three classes this fall, and boy are our brains tired. Meantime, we’ve also started writing a collection of short-short stories, and we’re going to start submitting those to journals soon. More importantly, we’re thinking this should definitely be our year to win the lottery. I guess we’re just going to have to pick the right day to buy the card.

Until then, we wish you all the best in your fall-time endeavors. Keep your eyes open for air sharks. One never knows what such creatures will be up to during migration season.

Also, Desi says Hi:

The Story Prize

traci recently entered her book in The Story Prize contest for 2010. As a follow-up many entrants were asked to respond to some questions or write an essay. She did both.

One of the questions she did not answer went like this: “At what stage do you start seeking feedback on your work and from whom?”

I suggested this answer: “I’d be interested to see what people say in my obituary. Until then, I’d just as soon everyone minds her or his own business.”

traci chose not to include my suggestion. Larry Dark posted her response on his blog. Other good writers' work is there as well. Check it out.

"The Whale Song"

"The Whale Song" has been my song of the day since about early July. I don't really want to say anything about it. Except it's good and I like it.

Queen Itinerary

When I got back from a long run this morning, Naomi had made breakfast in bed for traci – eggs, toast, milk – and had left this note beside her plate:

Itinerary Queen

Movie hour
Hawaiian time
free hour
get dressed

My favorite part of the list: "get dressed" comes, apparently, right around dusk. That’s my kind of life.

Running Update

Towards the end of last school year, after a rather long run, Blaisey said to me, “Daddy, you’re tootie.” I explained to her that sometimes when I run, my G.I. system gets to working and I get a touch of the gas. She said, “Oh,” and kept watching Ironman cartoons. A few weeks later on the way home from her ABC school, we stopped into the convenience store, and she said, “Why are we stopping here, Daddy?” I told her we were getting some gas. She said, “Are we going for a run?” No, little turtle, not this time.

Last night, Desi stayed right beside me for a twenty-five minute run. When I got done, I said to traci, “Why is it that I’m sweating like crazy, and Desi’s not even breathing hard?” She said, “I don’t know. What setting was the treadmill on?” But I couldn’t remember, so we just chalked it up as another mystery of the universe.


Butternut Squash

It's an ancient family story, and one I've heard so many times, as Uncle Dewey would say, that I'm actually starting to believe I was there for it. When I was four, five, six, we were visiting Aunt Jan at her school. Jan had a goat -- Guinevere, if I recall -- and, of course, I wanted nothing to do with it. Pappap told me I might oughtta pet her, that she's very friendly and likes attention. Nuh-uh, are you crazy?

Pappap said, "Why don't you want to pet her?"

I said, "Why would I want to pet her?"

And, according to our family custom, we just kind of stared dumbly at each other for a while.

As dusk settled in, he said to me, "Well. What if somebody asked you if you've ever petted a goat?"

I said, "Dunno."

He said, "Well, this way, you'll be able to say that you have."

I don't remember if I felt like he had me cornered or if I just stumbled over a rock and put my hand on Guinevere, but I did end up petting her that day. She and I got along quite well for many years to come.

About the time I entered high school, Pappap tried to conjole me into cutting the big yard down at the camp with a reel mower. He said, "Well. What if . . ."

I said, "Dad, nobody's ever asked me to pet a goat yet, and they're not likely to care how I tend the yard."

Still and all, I kind of wish I had cut the grass with a reel mower, and I'm not even sure why. I told Pappap that once, and asked him if he knew why. He said he didn't. Proving once again, that Pappap's wisdom is sometimes so deep even he can't see past it.

I mention all this in order to say this: sometimes, the experience has to be sought out, other times, it's just there. For instance, after tonight, if anybody asks me if I've ever burnt a steamed vegetable, I can honestly say, "Yes, in fact, I have." traci and the kids and I will dine tonight on a slightly charred butternut squash. Here's to new experiences.


An Atlas, Some Vikrell, and a Premium Beer

So, yes, it’s true, traci and I and various numbers of our children drove 3,000 miles over the past few weeks, wishing at every turn that we had an atlas. “We always have an atlas,” we told each other. “Where might it have gone?” we asked. But it was nowhere to be found. Until, that is, we pulled into our own driveway in N.C. and looked in the glovebox for house keys. Figures.

Meanwhile, during the 500 mile stretch from Maga and Pappap’s camp to our own home, we stopped into the Store Whose Name Should Not Be Mentioned and tried to buy an atlas. You know how the store is – enormous and blinding – but I walked the quarter mile back to the automotive department. They had three maps of Pittsburgh and one of Canada. No atlas. Still, I asked the man behind the counter if they sold atlases. He said, “You mean like a book of maps?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “Oughtta be in with the books.” After I looked through the quarter-acre book section, I asked the woman at the service desk if she had a book of maps. She said, “Like an atlas?” I said, “Yes.” She said, “Oughtta be in automotive.”

Now, here’s the thing. We all know that the Store Whose Name Should Not Be Mentioned started using computers in 19 freaking 68, and I’m not saying I’m super-tech-savvy, but in those past forty-two years shouldn’t someone have taught her how to type “atlas” in the where-it-is-in-the-store box on the computer?

It’s been like that this summer. Earlier, we went to our favorite home improvement store looking for a special order shower basin. Between the two of us, we’ve done a fair amount of building. We’ve done a great deal of research into supplies. As far as amateurs go, we know our stuff. Still, traci pointed at a picture in the catalog and said, “This one says it’s made out of Vikrell. What’s that?” The man answered, “Vikrell.” traci said, “Yes, but what is it? Will it scratch? Is it like porcelain or like fiberglass? Is it heavy? Is it dense? Is it synthetic or natural? Will it dent or rust or what?” The man said, “Oh, it’s nothing. It’s a kind of material.” The three of us stared at each other for a few seconds. Then we walked away and bought our shower basin from our second favorite home improvement store.

At the beer distributor, I asked, “What’s the difference between this brand’s lager and it’s premium lager?” The salesperson said, “One’s premium, one ain’t.”

A teacher once told me, “In order to be a good teacher, you don’t have to know all the answers, you just have to know where to find the answers.” And I’ve found that to be true. But I’ve also found that to be true of working in the steel mill and as a hoddie and as a janitor. I long for a time when people understood their jobs, when, maybe, they cared a little more. I don’t know if such a time exists. I’m probably being nostalgic for a myth. I’m probably longing for a moment which only exists in nostalgia. Might as well pile melodrama on nostalgia and close with some words of Nick Carraway: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”


summer writing

You’ll all recall it’s been a few years since Ange noticed the new external lock on the outhouse door down to the camp. When he asked what was the deal with that, Pappap told him we can’t have an outhouse within X feet of our brand new septic tank. We can, however, put a lock on just about anything and call it a tool shed, and, well, you can put a tool shed just about anywhere. Angelo said, “Oh, I thought you was just worried about someone stealing your shit.”

Long story short, I recently published a series of four short pieces in which Ange figures prominently. Him and Dan, you know, some pieces that are part of my new manuscript of very short writings that I call Man Made Man. Here’s a line from the third piece: “One more thing shoved deep in their guts that makes them, every once in a while, pound their fists on the steel and stone of their respective lives for, what you might say in looking at them, is no apparent reason.”

I only mention this so as to mention the pieces are in Portland Review issue 56 volume 3, which marks the first time traci and I have writing in the same journal at the same time. (We’d both been in Fourteen Hills but not the same issue.) Her short story “Goat” is also in her collection Recipes for Endangered Species (Tarpaulin Sky Press), and here’s a couple lines: “Some of Phil’s friends touch the dog, but only on the nose, far away from the knuckled damage. They are curious and ashamed in the same way they are secretly afraid of black people.” Zing! More proof that I married up.

The above, by the way, is all prefatory to this: traci gave two readings in NYC towards (I’ve been back in PA long enough that “towards” is now pronounced “t’oards” again) the end of July. The first of which was a release party for the new edition of LIT Magazine hosted by powerHouse Books. Here’s a short paragraph from her story “Zombie” which was included in the journal: “I imagine Moab as the earth turned inside out. Sage burgning. Red rocks whimpering in the god-awful heat. A wolf worn-out with howling. Selenographers on bikes, on trails, with packs that fail to open. The sky a tumor and the rare thrust from the earth. Think of the final scene of Carrie, for example.” Hazah! Such range, such beauty – a rare and beautiful talent.

traci read alongside three other amazing writers: Mike Young, Nate Pritts, and Eduardo Jiménez Mayo (who read his own translation of Rafael Pérez Gay). But don’t just take my word for it, watch the video recap by DJ Dolack here: http://coldfrontmag.com/news/launch-parties-in-nyc -- totally worth eight minutes: a great reading.

Meanwhile, after several weeks and a couple thousand miles of travel, we’re back baby in NC where the crepe myrtles are always in bloom and the heat makes you wish you’d stayed home today.


My Boys

The first time we tried to teach Sam to run the circular saw, I showed him how to keep the guide level, plumb, and square; how to use the guide marks along the cut line; how to hold your tongue just out of the corner of your mouth in order to look supercool, smooth, and tough all the while. At which point, Sam said, “Why is all that electrical tape on the cord of the saw?”

I said, “Well, bud, Pappap sometimes gets ahead of him self and ends up sawing the cords off his tools.” Luckily, as we all know, Pappap is an electrician.

Sam said, “Oh.” So Pappap showed him how to use the speed square and a tape measure, how to check a two-by for warp and such, how to set the depth of the blade, how to stand with one’s hand on one’s chin just such that one looks contemplative even if on the inside one is thinking, now just where in the hell did I put my but one can’t remember the name of that thing one’s thinking about. And Sam said, “Why are there all those marks in the saw horse?”

Pappap said, “Well, bud, sometimes your old man is so focused on the cut that he doesn’t think about what’s on the other side of it.”

Sam stood there for a while, testing the weight of the saw in his hand, and set is smoothly on the work bench. He said, “Uhm, maybe I’ll just wait a while and teach myself how to run the circular saw.”

. . .

So anyway, it’s apparently “son appreciation week” or something like that. I know, I’d never heard of it either. Still, I suppose I support it – somebody oughtta appreciate the little rascals. By little, of course, I mean Zac is 6’5.” Sam, on the other hand, is only one inch taller than I.

Here’s to you, boys, I say. You sure are something. Daring. Kind. Vicious. Get your asses to work, I said. So they did. While I sat in my plush folding chair drinking rum and whatever, they did this:

Okay, boys, I appreciate it, but can you at least be a little tough about it?

Once upon a time, this was a weightbearing wall. I said, “Boys, put two headers in thar.” They said, “How?” I said, “Figure it out.” So they did. And I appreciate that. The day before that I had them build this arch:

I said, "How do you boys feel about it?" Zac said, "Great." Sam felt and looked ambiguous. The guy in the middle just sort of shows up sometimes and eats my barbecue potato chips.

And I appreciate that also. Today, I’m going to appreciate the hell out of the closet they’re going to build. Tomorrow: plumbing, I really appreciate that. Way to go boys.


Air Sharks Revisited

I think of the air sharks sometimes today and wonder where they have gone. What do they do in the summer when there are no little girls to chase to school? Will they return in the fall? Perhaps they’re migratory. Perhaps they’re gone forever. I think, in the end, they are a misunderstood species, and I hope someday we will find a way to live in harmony with them the way we have with other mysterious creatures like hermit crabs. And poodles.

As we all know, we first spotted them towards the end of Early March on one of those chilly mornings when it was just darn tough to make it to the car.
Suddenly, Naomi spotted a dorsal fin upon the deck, circling. She described it to Blaisey, and the two burst forth into the bare wild morning and leapt into the waiting car, adrift in the driveway.

I hopped in and started the engine. “What happened?” I said.

Leah said, “The sharks chased us.”

Naomi said, “All the way to the car.”

I cautiously backed furiously out of the driveway and onto the road, the sharks nipping at my taillights, chasing us all the way to school.

For instance: one jumped off the overpass where Wendover Ave crosses Holden, trying to land on the car, but it missed and landed on the road. We almost ran one over. Another hid in a tree, but we drove by it really fast. Some of them waited on rooftops for us to drive by, and I said, “How do they get on the roof in the first place.”

Naomi told me. “See,” she said, “they swim up there, they’re air sharks.”

Luckily sharks are afraid of schools, so we were safe when we arrived at the parking lot. On the other hand, Blaisey did see one going down the sliding board at the playground.

. . .

The next day, Naomi caught the bus to school, leaving Blaisey and me to hustle to the car by ourselves. With the help of Blaisey’s shark-proof boots, once again we made it to school unscathed. Which is more than we can say for the rest of the world. During the drive, she actually saw an air shark in somebody’s house. The living room for goodness sake.

This made us sad for the people who lived in the house, because Blaisey and I agreed your grocery bill would have to be enormous to feed nature’s perfect make-believe killing machine. I mean, do you have any idea how much Hamburger Helper it takes to sustain one of those things?

A lot.

Though, you’re right, Tuna Helper might be the meal of choice. Still.

. . . .

The next day, Blaisey asked me to tie her running shoes very tight so she could run away from the air sharks. Nonetheless, one of the sharks tried to get in the car with us, which made Blaisey mad, because she didn't want the air shark “to come to school to eat my friend.”

If I think about it, this incident explains why she bit the little girl on the slide yesterday – even when they’re not trying to eat you, air sharks are bad influences. Role models? No, they are not role models.

. . . .

About a week later, after we dropped Naomi at school, we drove past the giant rocking chair in front of a big brick building where a great big bunny had been holding an egg for the past two weeks. This morning the bunny was gone.

You guessed it – air sharks. Blaisey was more surprised than sad, because “I thought them only ate little fishies.” No, my dear, air sharks will dine on any critter, even Easter Bunny.

. . . .

Towards the final days of March, Blaisey decided she would from now on walk to the car alone, so I would be safe from the air sharks.

I said, "But what about you?"

She said, "I be okay."

I said, "What if the air sharks come after you?"

She said, "Then I step on them. Like this {*step*} {*step*}.

It feels good to have badass daughters.


Early July

I have to give credit to a neighbor who said that today feels like a scrotum -- as if the Earth were sticking to the sun's leg. Roger that, Pat. Still we finally got the hot tub off the porch and the dry wall up the stairs. We started a diet, we ended a binge, we found great comfort in the way sparkling water makes the strawberries bubbly.

There's not much news from N.C. except that it's hot in the day and humid in the night and vice versa. We've been remodelling since I "finished" my Ph.D. and landscaping and gardening and plumbing and you get the picture. For the most part, I've had two hours a day to write, and I'm working on The Wickedest City, which is becoming more of a historical novel than a Western. Even when it was like a Western, it was more like the movie Wallstreet, except without Charlie or Martin Sheen. It does have John Wilkes Booth in it, but I don't feel qualified to compare the actors.

traci's teaching students how to dream on the page, how to turn off their conscious mind and find out things through their writing that they don't know that they know. One thing we love about Guilford is that most of the students trust her to teach a course this way. Others reject the notion that they can't think their way into a story. Jerks. "Let them sit there in their heads writing diary entries," I tell her, "see if I care." But she pushes them and even more of them get it. I don't know, maybe I'd still rather teach middle-school math (my last major before English).

The kids are great. At least that's what I hear. Zac's been at the beach and in Athens and back to the beach -- I've only seen him a couple times. Naomi, Leah, and Sam are in PA with my folks for three weeks, catching and releasing racoons in wooden cages and swimming in one spot against the Allegheny's current.

I turned 33 the other day, so I set a new writing goal: I want to be the oldest "great American writer under 30" ever -- it will be tough, what with time and space going on and on like that forever. On the phone, Naomi asked me how old I turned. I said, "33." She said, "Neat. That's two of the same number." Later traci asked me, and I told her, and she said, "Neat. That's the same number twice." Genetics is a funny funny thing.

Two more years! I know I dwell on it every year, but I haven't had a birthday to look forward to since I was twenty. Two more years! The day I've been waiting for since I first learned about the judicial, legislative, and executive branches. That's right. Two more years and I'll be old enough to run for president. My elementary teachers all told me that "anybody can be president." So I figure I'll do it at least for a few years.

Maybe you all recall when I woke Naomi up for another day of fourth grade on 05 November 2008, and before she opened her eyes, she said, "Who won?" And I said, "Barack Obama. Are you excited?" And she said, "No. Not really. It's not like he's gonna come to our house or something." And that was the moment I decided my platform for 2012: If you elect me president of the United States of America, I will come to your house. I will sleep on your couch. I will leave the toilet seat up.

Anyway, Pappap and Aunt Jan drive the kids home Sunday, and Zac got home this evening. As for remodeling at this point, the good news is: traci and I are the only family members with a bedroom these days. The bad news is: the only bathroom in the house is in our bedroom. Oh, life, you thoroughly fickle thing.

Also, Desi says hello:


"Grey Ice Water"

Here's what Elizabeth Bishop says about gray ice water in her poem "At the Fishhouses"

Cold dark deep and absolutely clear,
the clear gray icy water . . . Back, behind us,
the dignified tall firs begin.
Bluish, associating with their shadows,
a million Christmas trees stand
waiting for Christmas. The water seems suspended
above the rounded gray and blue-gray stones.
I have seen it over and over, the same sea, the same,
slightly, indifferently swinging above the stones,
icily free above the stones,
above the stones and then the world.
If you should dip your hand in,
your wrist would ache immediately,
your bones would begin to ache and your hand would burn
as if the water were a transmutation of fire
that feeds on stones and burns with a dark gray flame.
If you tasted it, it would first taste bitter,
then briny, then surely burn your tongue.
It is like what we imagine knowledge to be:
dark, salt, clear, moving, utterly free,
drawn from the cold hard mouth
of the world, derived from the rocky breasts
forever, flowing and drawn, and since
our knowledge is historical, flowing, and flown.


"Recipes for Endangered Species"

If you haven't read Recipes for Endangered Species yet, go read it. Some excerpts from Matt Dube's excellent review of traci's book:

"Traci O Connor's stories in Recipes for Endangered Species suggest a writer who never did settle but who exists instead in frenzied emotional and physical spaces that, till now, seemed unsustainable, experiences that send us back to bed, twisting sheets against our pliable bodies . . .

"To read Connor's stories, I want you to understand, is to return to that world of permeable existences, where points of view shift and tilt, almost imperceptibly, and bring you to understand identity differently than what you previously allowed for: these disparate voices, these parallax views, the linguistic franks belong together, the stories say, and the way Connor bends and warps language in humid paragraphs, doesn't let you argue . . .

"Take 'Van Gogh Dreams,' the story in this collection I am most familiar with, since I published it back in 2006. The story is, on a surface level, the interior monologue of a woman with a crush on her neighbor so strong that she feels jealous of the stray cat that nuzzles up against the object of him. ...When the stray cat meets its grisly end, it happens off the page, and while the woman at the story's center doesn't seem entirely surprised the cat is gone, she, or maybe it's Connor who decides, doesn't narrate the scene but instead leaves it out. This moment instead transpires in some weird overheated ellipsis where memory is foggy because the reptile brain is in control—it happened in a textual blackout . . .

"The way the stories elude conventional structures of identity, temporality, and disclosure makes them experimental in the truest sense; these are not stories that lend themselves to Freytag's triangle or Genette's levels of narration, at least not in any way I could discern. But even in the absence of traditional markers of academic interpretation, the characters and events bear more than a passing resemblance to people you know—each story generates flashes of recognition that guide you through; I've felt that way, you say, and though you couldn't consciously identify what that feeling was, it carries you through to the next emotional node of meaning. It helps, too, that Connor's sentences pulse and groove, are fully embodied things. Take this passage from the story 'Zombie':

Imagine being, let's say, eight years old: push out pull in, in and out—your feet punch punching the      sky. The winking sun. The sand moving beneath you. Your hands full up with chain. And, at just the right tempo, how you could marry, for a few romantic seconds, again and again, a total stranger. (51)

 "These are adult stories, concerned with the traditional adult concerns of vocation and community-building. Instead of feeling like a voice from the past, Connor's stories suggest a separate path, one all of us were tempted to follow but which few of us had Connor's courage to steadily pursue." (DIAGRAM 10.3)

Jackson's response to Dube's review: Another great review for traci o connor. One of the great things about the great responses she's received from great readers is that every reader seems to elevate a different story. Dube discusses "Van Gogh Dreams" and "Zombie." Another reviewer writes about "Goat" and "The Flying Codona." A peer told us he felt comfortable attending our alma mater after reading "Mrs. Rotham Has a Bun in the Oven, and Plans to Eat It with Butter and Jam." traci's collection is not "A Story, and Other Stories." It is not an anthologizable story and eleven "just-fine" pieces. It's a masterpiece. It's a writer's book. If you can read Recipes . . ., and it doesn't make you want to write, you're probably not a writer (which is fine, I'm not judging, I'm just saying).

"Neverending Math Equation"

When I was six, eight, ten years old (depending on who's telling the story), Mom said to Dad, "Aren't you worried about Jackson? All he does is play Atari and eat Twinkies." Dad thought about it for a moment and said, "Yeah, but he's really good at it."

A few decades from now, maybe the story will go: Mom said, "Aren't you worried about Jackson? All he does is drink coffee and type type type." The rest, I suppose, remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, maybe this song is a better birthday song. Posted post-birthday, "And the plants and the animals they're all linked, and the plants and the animals eat each other."


"People as Places as People"

Seems an appropriate birthday song. Thinking about all "the people you loved but you didn't quite know." It's a good day for that sort of thing. I've heard a lot about Isaac Brock's being cynical, and I've heard a lot about this album being soft, and I don't know how to reconcile all that, except to say I think this song is very tender and tough, and, ultimately, a pleasure to listen to.

Today's Bonus: the link is for a playlist such that we may enjoy Modest Mouse for many minutes by simply clicking on the above title. Oh technology, like a modestly angelic mouse, what joy!


"Rara Avis: How to Tell a True Bird Story"

I had an essay reviewed by "The Review Review," and I was happy with it, so I cut and pasted it here:

'Jackson Connor spices up the pastoral in his essay, “Rara Avis: How to Tell a True Bird Story.” He tells a fake one, sort of. Connor identifies bird species in rural Pennsylvania, where he grew up. But he also says that he can’t always tell one bird from another: “If I’m pressed…anything bigger than a sparrow is a red-tailed hawk, and anything smaller than a redtail is a sparrow.” Myth debunked: country boys always know the moods, flight patterns and names of every creature in the yard.

'Connor also flouts a second archetype: country boy so in tune with nature that he doesn’t have a cynical bone in his body. Connor presents something very different while recounting—and maybe embellishing—a scene from grade school. When his teacher asks the class to share family stories with a moral, Connor shares an anecdote from the Vietnam War. Seems his uncle Dewey parachuted into a Vietcong regiment after chugging bourbon in midair. When his teacher asks for the moral of the story, Connor says, “Don’t fuck with my uncle Dewey when he’s been drinking.”

'Cute little naturalists don’t talk like that, do they? Alas, Connor won’t make Oprah’s shortlist. He’s too irreverent, though highly entertaining.'

I posted the link to the page, if you're interested. And, since you asked, yes, "Rara Avis" was a notable essay in Best American Essays 2009.

Superspouse traci also had a piece reviewed by The Review Review. Her "Fat Man's Daughter," published in The Pinch was written up, but the link is broken just now, so we'll post that another time.

"The Whale Song"

If "King Rat" is decadent in its texture, "The Whale Song" is almost barren. (Both songs from "Nobody's First and You're Next.") Look at it. One line. What do I know about music? Very little, but it seems like the song is a series of instruments playing the same eight or ten notes in mostly the same order -- I could be all the way wrong about this -- but the thing is, it's a song that gets in my head and rides with me everywhere I go all day long. And I wish I were a scout so I could find a way out, but the way, so everyone could find a way out.

desperately seeking something

Dear Client 958985SZ,

Thank you for your application. We wish you the best of luck in your search for "buddies and dear ones." We really like your photo:

And we love most of your print: "Athletic young person, interested in meeting friends and so forth. Wears a great hat well. Hip, shaggy hair, and I'm strikingly good looking with down-cast eyes and a great smile."

We also love your ad: "Looking for person(s) with whom to share brilliant insights into literature and good tv, as well as eat the delicious food I cook. Applicants should be friendly and compelling."

Here' the part where we had an issue:

"Must love Rubik's Cubes." Really 958985SZ, "Must love Rubik's Cubes." We just feel like perhaps you're asking too much. We mean, like, maybe "Must love crossword puzzles" or "Must love avocados" would give you more of a potential base. Anyway, we're not trying to tell you how to live your life, 958985SZ, but Rubik's Cubes? What is this like the 80s? Like the nerd 80s? Anyway, feel free to update your profile any time.

The Management.

my ship comes in

Yesterday, I received my first paycheck from a literary magazine. After ten years of writing, it's all starting to come together. At this rate, I will have my student loans paid off in just 16,534 years. In your face student loans.


"The Loop"

Now, I know what you're saying, "This band doesn't look like any Modest Mouse I've ever heard of."

Well, it's true. "The Loop" is by Mimicking Birds, a band that opens for Modest Mouse and has their first album through Glacial Pace (http://www.glacialpace.com/). So the connection's there, see.

Their music is haunting -- give it a listen.


"Spitting Venom"

A great song about the way we argue, right? Eight and a half minutes of a speaker asking a listener to just let it drop. "Well, we carried all the groceries in while hauling out the trash, and if this doesn't make us motionless, I do not know what can."


the author (antlered)

My Uncle Dewey asked me one time, "What do you think you'd look like if you had antlers?"

I said, "I dunno. Maybe like this:"

He said, "Yeah, that's what I'd a thought, too."


dr. stick

Every day since we've met, without fail, traci turns to me and says, "What's wrong with you?" Sometimes, it's because I'm running around Lowes with PVC hanging out of my pants. Sometimes, it's because I'm making monkey noises and picking bugs out of other spectators' hair at my kids' band recital. Sometimes, it's because I'm arguing with Sam for the third straight hour about Sudoku strategies. So after six-and-a-half years of "What's wrong with you?" I've decided to take stock, to evaluate, to try to get at the roots of what's wrong with me. I am, therefore, making a list of potential "issues" I might have.

What's wrong with me?

Well, for instance, this is my chiropractor:

This is a picture of me and him standing in the parking lot in front of his office, waiting for my appointment. The caption for the photo:

Jackson: "I don't know, Dr. Stick, I'd a guessed you'd need more brains to become a doctor."

Dr. Stick: "That's where you're wrong. Good doctoring comes from in here."

Jackson: "Inside your t-shirt?"

Dr. Stick: "Yes. Inside your t-shirt."


New Plumbing

Anyway, this is what we ended up with:

We don't know what it is, but we couldn't have done it without you. Thank you, PVCman.


Tim Burton would do the artistic version:

"Edward PVCknuckles."


A rare photo of PVC man's alterego: me:
Apparently, I have a lot of fans I didn't know about:

PVCman making a funny line: "Let's shoot the shit," he says:



traci got some pics of PVCman in action:

Which leads me to my next point: traci and I have decided to quit work and focus on a series of movies about a guy who gets bitten by a radioactive turtle and falls into a PVC factory. The tagline, of course, would be, "He doesn't take shit . . . he gives it":