Famous Tweets in History

Traci once (earlier today) famously (well?) tweeted, "What was once our living room is now called the ping pong table."

And that is what our life has been like for the past two days: my turn, your turn, my turn, your turn, my turn . . . if only the rules to all of life's sports were so easy.

Or, in an even more perfect world, perhaps love and ownership and intersections could be this way.

But that's all neither here nor there -- what truly matters at this moment is this: looks like playing ping pong for six hours a day two summers in a row when I was fourteen and fifteen with a young Dr. Stick is finally paying off. Daddy is undefeated at the ping pong table.

Ha! In your face, everybody my age who had dates and other kinds of social lives!

I also should note that we have successfully completed two jigsaw puzzles -- one of a gorilla, one of somebody's porch at the beach, and we're well on our way to finishing the one with the horsey, which is Blaisey's favorite animal. "Well," she tells me, "all the animals are my favorite, but I like horsey's the best."

I got nothing else to add to that . . .


Hunting Tips

Traci said, "Let me have a look at your leg?"

Naomi said, "What's wrong with daddy's leg?"

I said, "I just checked it. It looks fine."

Naomi said, "What's wrong with your leg?"

Traci said, "It looks about the same as it did yesterday."

Naomi said, "Looks the same as what?"

I said, "It doesn't hurt or anything."

Naomi turned to Blaisey and said, "What did daddy do to his leg?"

Blaisey said, "I think he got a bug stuck in it."

This was the day after I came back to Athens -- I'd stayed in PA after Thanksgiving while the rest of the family returned to Ohio. I spent an extra four days out in the woods, during which time I often recalled a quote I'd read from, I think, a professional athlete of some sort, "I have been hunting on several occasions, but no deer were ever aware of it." That registers with me on every level.

Well, I think there's only actually one level.

I spent four days in the woods with my dad, and I only saw one deer, and that is largely the story of my hunting life. It was raining so hard the night before the first day of the season that we had a brief conference about when to wake up. Like many hunters, of course, we would like to have been in the woods unreasonably early but Dad suggested that we might want to sleep in for a bit, because if it's going to rain this hard, it's going to be hard to see even after sunrise. Mom said, "Yeah, with all this rain, it's not going to get light until long after it stops being dark," which is exactly what I had been thinking.

It rained all the first day and all the second day. I've never seen so many mosquitoes during the last week of November. I marked sunrise at about 4:14 both afternoons. Still, it was lovely in the woods and I got in some very long walks.

In the evening, after each hunt, we'd stop back in the clubhouse and make plans for the coming day and the rest of our lives. Though I'd only seen one tick in Pennsylvania in my entire life, some of the hunters claimed that this year they were particularly bad. So each evening, like it or not, we all shared some tick repellent. The stuff came in the little steel cannister that my great uncle used to carry his snakebite medicine in. It tasted remarkably like some of the darker whiskey one might find on the middle shelf of a local spirits shop. If the family legend is true, Great Uncle always had his snakebite medicine on him, and, if times got real tough, he'd even carry a snake.

Wednesday, the temperature dropped, and I found myself sitting in a tree stand, sitting in an enormous snowglobe about thirty feet up in the air, the wind bringing confetti-style flakes at me from all angles. I had brought Leaves of Grass with me, but couldn't take my eyes off the world. It was my first time in the woods in earnest since fall 2002, and I'd forgotten the woods, forgotten how cold an ass can get, forgotten how quiet a place can be, how calm.

Okay, I should mention this: there's these two guys out in the woods, father and son, hunting deer. They walk for a while and cross paths. The father says, "See anything?" Son says, "Found some scat, but it tasted pretty old." They split up again and meet up in a few hours. Father says, "See anything?" Son says, "More scat. It tasted pretty fresh, but I think it was from a doe." Few hours later, the father says, "See anything?" Son says, "Some scat. It tasted real close." The father says, "You know you could just smell the scat." Son says, "Are you kidding me? That stuff smells awful."
It's the first deer-hunting joke I ever made up. Loosely based on a true story. How'd I do?

Here's the true story: Dad said, "You see anything?" I said, "I don't know, does a bear shit where it eats?" He said, "I believe so." I said, "Well, then I saw a bear den."

Late into the third day, the weather broke. The sun came out. I got out of my stand. Dad and I went across the valley to climb a different hillside. Late in the day, the sunlight came horizontal over the hillside we were just on. The hillside lit up like a candlabrum. I started thinking there are no deer in these woods, which is what I believed through most of the hunting seasons of my childhood. Nor did I need to see any deer just then. The gray clatter of tree tops in a bright light breeze would have kept me in the woods for a millenium.

Still, the week before Thanksgiving, we had taken Jaswinder for his first trip through Pennsylvania. He spent two nights at the ancestral Connor household, staying up way too late, chatting with me and Dad. Dad asked him, at one point, "So what do you think of Pennsylvania?" He said, "It's exactly like Chicago, except hilly." (Years before when Dad had asked me what I thought of my first trip to Chicago, I'd said, "It's exactly like February, only it's September.") I'm still not sure what I meant.

We'd been passing through PA on our way to New Jersey to take part in a Barrow Street reading hosted by Derek Pollard in a pub next door to Derek's house -- now that's planning. The reading featured Derek Henderson, Lesley Wheeler, Jaswinder, and this guy. What a beautiful event, space, gathering. I was fantastic. Every body read from one or more of their books, except for one guy whose press had folded months before and had nothing to read but the list of 101 things about himself from his blog.

Jaswinder, or, as the kids call him, Uncle Winder, had never been across PA, and was fascinated by our landscape. Driving along I-80 heading east, he said, "What's on the other side of that hill?"

I said, "I dunno. Another hill."

"Well, I wanna see it."

I told him we'd take a different route home and see what's on the other side of the hill.

On the way back, travelling along I-76 West, he said, "Well, now I wanna see what's on the other side of that hill?"

I said, "We already saw the other side of that hill."

He said, "Yeah, but not today."

I thought about Winder as I stood there in the woods, about how it's never enough, never warm enough, never snowy enough, never rainy or dry enough, because I often do wonder what's on the other side of any given hill, wonder what's on a different radio station, what I would have eaten at a different restaurant or what I would be doing if I had finished that engineering degree. But that day in the woods, I didn't feel the need to know those things. I was happy to be tired from walking up and down steep hills, pushing aside brush and climbing over logs, pursuing little other than exactly what I was doing.

Suddenly, a bear jumped out of a brush pile right in front of me! Awesome. It clambered around up the hillside, making an awful racket. I've been away from the woods for too long . . . should I have said something to it? asked it to keep quiet? maybe cleared my throat, ahem, and showed the bear how to be reverent, silent in the woods? But I just stayed quiet and watched it climb the hillside, some times running, some times swatting tree branches just, I think, for the hell of it.

The fourth day was mostly a half day. Bright again, all day, and we walked the hillsides and didn't see much wildlife. In the evening I drove back to Athens. When I got home, we discovered, to my dismay, I had not taken enough of the tick repellent. A lesson to us all, I suppose. Be sure to drink your tick repellent, or you might end up with a bug stuck in your leg.


Unambitious Us

Some of you might have got the impression from that last post that we're a competitive family -- but that is simply not the case. We're a very generous, humble, consensus-seeking lot, who wish success for everybody.

Take, for instance, our kayaking trip this summer. Blaisey, at that point, was still having a hard time pronouncing "S" at the beginning of words when that "S" is followed by a consonant. Naomi spent a lot of time encouraging her to say her "S" words.

Naomi would say, "Where do you go every day to learn?"
Blaisey would say, "I go to cool."

"What do you put inside a turkey?"

"I put tuffing."

"What is the second major layer of the earth's atmosphere?"

"I sink it's the tratosphere."

What didn't work, however, was to tell Blaisey what word to say. One could not tell her to "Say 'spicy'." She simply wouldn't do it.

So Blaisey and Naomi were paddling down the mighty Allegheny this summer, working on their "S"s. At a certain point, Naomi tried, "Say 'strawberry'."

Blaisey would not be outwitted. "Why do you want me to say that?"

"So you can work on your words."

"I don't want to work on my words right now."

"Will you just say strawberry for me?"


"Because I think it's cute." The truth comes out.

"I don't care what you think." Painful, painful truth.

"Will you just please say it?"

"Say what?"



Naomi thought through her options for a few paddles. "Because I forgot how to say it."

Blaisey said, "Well, how did you just say it if you forgot how." If you're at all like me, and, again, I imagine most of you are, you can only imagine a young Socrates and Plato strumming down the mighty Elpeus, butting heads with such tautologies.

Meanwhile, Traci got bored. "Oh, for heaven sakes, you two."

Naomi said, "Mom, I can't get her to say 'Strawberry'."

Traci said, "First one to say 'Strawberry' wins."

"Trawberry trawberry trawberry!"

Wait a minute. That's an awful story to illustrate how we're not competitive. Still, it's better than all the other ones I read this morning.


Family Conflict

Here is a little stretch of seredipity that occured over the weekend -- in fact, the conversation began on our way to lunch where we wrote our Christmas lists and ended on the way home. Driving home, we saw a sign for the library's monthly book sale. So we stopped in and found a discarded winning lottery ticket for a thousand dollars. Here's what happened:

On the cardrive to lunch, Traci and I were arguing about a book we'd both read recently: Sarah Gruen's Water for Elephants.

She said, "I like it."

I said, "Me, too, but not as much."

It was intense, you could have cut the air with a turkey knife. Well, the electric kind, anyway -- the old fashioned ones would have just gummed the mess up. But we didn't have a turkey knife, so we had to just continue the argument with words.

I said, "Why do you like it?"

She said, "Because the writing is good and it is fun to read."

She had me. Dead to rights. The writing is solid, a pleasure to read. The story is engaging, and the narrator has a good eye for detail.

So I said, "So?" Hah, I thought, beat that!

She said, "Also, I thought it was fun to read about the circus."

"But the book isn't about the circus," I said.

She said, "It's entirely about the circus. Look at the cover," so I did (we had our copy in the car), and, in fact, there is a man wearing sequins, carrying a silver-tipped cane, and walking into a striped tent. "Plus," she said, "all the elephant stuff."

True, I told her, there is the elephant act and the horse act and the guy with the silver-tipped cane, but the book is a love story. It's about Jacob and Marlena. It's about the tribulations of marrying someone you don't know and then falling in love with someone you're not married to. But it is not about the circus. "Richard Schmitt's The Aerialist," I said, "now that book's about the circus." In the midst of a description of a show, he writes:

"The act defies the laws of human ability. It is puzzling how they can do these things. A skipping rope segment seemss frivolous and playful, mocks the ten meters between playground and ground, then he trips, falls flat onto the wire. it is a moment that stops band and breath. he catches the wire with both hands. Swings under. The rope falls and the shocking thing, even if you suspect the trip was contrived, the thing that makes you jump in your seat, is the thud the rope makes hitting the ground. You're pretty sure he did not mean to drop that rope, and you feel it hit from across the ring, and feel the hairs rise on the back of your neck. If a rope hits with such force . . ." (The Aerialist 212)

We did not have a copy of that book with us, she just had to take my word for it. "Water for Elephants doesn't even mention the tightrope until the final thirty pages of the book."

"Still," she said, "it's a very good love story with lots of suspense."

"Yes, very suspenseful, but the suspense is all based on a lie." This isn't any kind of spoiler, because it's the opening scene:

"My eyes swept the tent, desperate to find Marlena. . . . I opened my eyes again and scanned the menagerie, frantic to find her. How hard can it be to find a girl and an elephant, for Christ's sake? // When I caught sight of her pink sequins, I nearly cried out in relief--maybe I did. I don't remember. . . . // She reached for something. A giraffe passed between us--its long neck bobbing gracefully even in panic--and when it was gone I saw that she'd picked up an iron stake. She held it loosely, resting its end on the hard dirt. She looked at me again, bemused. Then her gaze shifted to the back of his bare head. . . . // She lifted the stake high in the air and brought it down, splitting his head like a watermelon." (Water for Elephants 3-4)

(My version is abridged, but you can read the prologue at Amazon: here.

If you haven't read it, this might be a spoiler: despite the fact that the prologue has Marlena killing somebody, despite the fact that I spent the next three hundred pages trying to figure how Marlena was going to turn into a killer, Marlena doesn't kill anybody. The book begins en media res -- it begins with the climactic scene of the book and takes us back and ahead in time very skillfully and pleasurably. It really is a great read, but, when we get back to the climactic scene, it is not Marlena who kills the guy. "The narrator begins the book with a lie," I tell Traci, "and I cannot forgive him for that. I cannot accept the fact that this narrator changes his story just to build suspense. I will never be okay with this."

Traci said, "I'm alright with it." Yes, she had a good point.

I said, "I guess I am, too. It's a good book. I like it. I just wish we had a copy of The Aerialist."

We left it at that and we ate our very delicious lunch, while writing our Christmas lists, and -- and I have to stress this -- we did not get kicked out of the restaurant, so, ha!, Sam's wish comes true early. On the way home, we saw the sign for the monthly library book sale and decided to stop in. Blaisey alone bought 18 books: as she piled them in front of me, I said, "You want all those books?"

She said, "They will help me learn to read. You do want me to learn to read, don't you?"

Naomi found a dozen and said, "Guess we'll have to build a bookshelf. I've never read twelve new books all at once."

I said, "Why don't you just donate them back to the library when you're done?"

She said, "What am I gonna do until next weekend?"
We're getting the lumber today.

Traci and I got another handful, mostly novels, including the metaphorical lottery ticket for a thousand bucks: we found a beautiful copy of Richard Schmitt's The Aerialist! Serendipity smiled on us again.

And we're all living happily ever after.


Clothes Make the Man Or Whatever

While sorting laundry, Sam and Zac couldn't figure whose jeans they held. Sam said, "Well, they must be Naomi's. They're not long enough to be a full-grown person."

Zac responded, "Are you kidding? Look at the waist, you could fit five Naomi's in there."

"Ah," they concluded simultaneously, "must be Dad's."

What are you boys trying to say, anyway?


Who Art Thou?

Did I mention I went to Detroit for the first time earlier this year? I went there to hang out with four of my best friends, and I got to give a reading in the meantime (I read "Beachtrip 2008 (a Rerun)" from earlier in this blog.

While we were there, we took a trip to see The Heidelberg Project. Check it out online if you haven't yet. Part of it looks like a fantasyland of things you lost in childhood. Part of it looks like a green horse's nightmare. All of it is fascinating.

We got a chance to meet the creator of the installation. Tyree's his name. We said, "Nice to meet you, Tyree."

Tyree said, "What is art?"

We said, "Well, it could be any number of things."

Tyree said, "Oh? What is art?"

As the only non-Ph.D. in the group, I stood around looking especially stupid, even stupider than my normal stupid. You could almost say it was a moment of highly advanced stupidity. I said nothing, and never once for an instant backtracked, qualified, or wavered. And nobody argued with me. Nor were they qualified to.

My friends said all kinds of passionate, brilliant, compelling, mind-blowing things. They quoted Aristotle and Marcel Duschamp and Woody Allen. They wrote treatises and manifestos on napkins and the backs of their hands. I didn't understand a word of it. Not a single word.

On the other hand, it did remind me of the time we overheard Sam and his buddy (both ten at the time) in a heated debate. In reference to a Shakespeare quote, Sam said, "Well of course we know that 'thou' means 'you,' but we still don't know what 'art' is."

And, of course, that recalls the words of the great 21st century philosopher William Clinton who famously posed: "Well, that depends what your definition of 'is' is." A question so astute he didn't even bother putting it in the form of a question. Nor did he add a question mark.

So, anyway, that's what has been on my mind throughout most of lunch this morning: what is art, who art you, and what is is? The three great questions of this life.

At this point, obviously, my kids would have great answers to this, but they still haven't figured out the question to my Jeopardy answer: "He sang 'Mrs. Robinson' with Paul."

Answers to these and / or other questions coming soon.


Our Family Christmas Lists

At family lunch today, we decided to make Christmas lists. Mine was “Jigsaw puzzles, books, and Traci kisses.” Elegant, precise.

Blaisey, who knows most of her alphabet, but is just now learning to spell, asked, “How do you spell, ‘I want kisses from mommy and hugs from mommy?’”

I asked Sam what’s on his list.

He said, “You wouldn’t understand. It’s computer stuff.”

I said, “Try me.”

He started explaining what he needs in order to build a super-gaming computer. He described the necessary parts with his hands and with very big words, trying to convince me that he was talking about real things. I’m not so sure.

I said, “Can you put that in the form of a list.”

He said, “I just did.”

I said, “Well, I didn’t understand any of it. I’ll probably just get you puzzles and books.”

He said, “That would be nice, too.”

Blaisey said, “How do you spell, ‘I want books and puzzles for Christmas?’”

Zac wants a crash pad and shoes for rock climbing.

Traci said, “You might not love the shoes I pick out for you.”

Zac said, “I’ll email you the website with the information so you can just click and pay.”

Traci said, “Takes some of the surprise out of Christmas, doesn’t it?”

Zac said, “Does this mean I’m probably getting books and puzzles?”

Well, if we told him the answer, it would take all of the surprise out of Christmas.

Blaisey said, “How do you spell, ‘I want a dog that walks and talks and eats and is a toy?’”

Naomi said, “I have everything I need. I don’t need anything for Christmas.”

Traci said, “You don’t have to need anything to get Christmas presents.”
Naomi said, “Okay, how about watching a family movie together?”

Zac said, “You’re the reason the economy’s failing, you know.”

Naomi said, “I want the economy for Christmas.”

Naomi was not playing by the rules of list making, so I suggested she’ll probably get poo for Christmas.

Blaisey said, “How do you spell, ‘Poo. Lots and lots of poo.”

Sam said, “I changed my mind. This Christmas, I’d like a family that won’t get me kicked out of Applebees.”

Blaisey said, “How do you spell, ‘Sam doesn’t get a present this year?’” Blaisey had to lean past Sam to tell me, “Don’t tell him I said that.”

Traci’s list was short as well. It said, “Kindle Fire.”

I said, “What are you going to do with that?”

She said, “Read books and build puzzles.”

Phew! It’s good to have the Christmas lists taken care of finally. Now that you all know what our family wants, it should really simplify your shopping season. Now get your butts out there and save the economy. Please no Thomas Kincaide.


Couched Update

Blaisey's Hierarchy of Needs

After submitting her final grades for a very trying quarter, Traci spent a day on the couch reading a best seller. Feeling a great deal of guilt for taking a vacation day, she turned to Blaisey for permission to continue. A four-year old is always a great source of vindication, by the way. "Do you think it's a problem," Traci asked Blaisey, "that all I've done today is sit on this couch?"

Blaisey, tilted her head to the side contemplatively and sagely responded, "Uhm. Do you have to eat or poop?"

Traci considered the question and said, "No."

Blaisey said, "Then you're okay."

So, alright, I admit it: this is a pretty good life.


101 Things about This Guy (Complete, Digitally Remastered, and with Bonus Material)

101 things about me:

Inspired by fellow bloggers and poets and facebook and et cetera, and desiring to get on board with what seems to be the cultural phenomenon of making lists, I’m writing this list.

1: Kevin Costner’s character on Water World, the one with the webbed feet and the gills, sometimes I wish I could be him.

2: I don’t really wish I could be him, I just wish I could swim really fast.

3: Not that I even like swimming a ton, also I’m afraid of water when I can’t see the bottom of it, maybe it’s the post-apocalypse that I’m really excited about.

4: Almost certainly, because if I couldn’t be that Kevin Costner character, I’d probably want to be Mad Max.

5: Also, I’m afraid of seaweed.

6: Not the kind in little aquariums or around sushi, but when I’m wading in water and I have to walk through it (yes, that counts as not being able to see the bottom) – oh, hell, I hate that.

7: I call the grass in rivers and ponds seaweed – it just seems more reasonable than making the distinctions pondweed, riverweed, seaweed, creekweed, runweed, streamweed, lakeweed, puddleweed – if it’s underwater and it’s something like grass and I hate it, it’s seaweed.

At the same time, I don’t think it’s a recent cultural phenomenon – if Aristotle were alive today, he’d be a blogger, right? Cataloguing, categorizing, making numbered lists. And Linnaeus for sure. Can any one of us truly imagine a 21st century Rabbelais who doesn’t have a half dozen blogs cross referencing gargantuan lists ranging from best breads baked on a particular city block to types of urinations I’ve had?

No. None of us can imagine that.

8. After eleven years as an English major, after SATs and GREs and a comprehensive exam, after two degrees and nearly a Ph.D., after teaching college writing for seven years, after getting a novel and many stories and essays published, after seven years of marriage to a Ph.D. and author, I still don’t know the difference between objective and subjective truth.

9. I know the distinction is supposed to be easy and obvious, but I’ve just never committed it to memory.

10. For a while it was like a point of pride for me.

11. Sometimes, I act like I’m too old to understand the difference.

12. Other times, I pretend that I know so much about the myriad and complicated intracacies of truth that objective and subjective means very much the same thing in the long run.

13. Sometimes, I blame the postmodern condition: “Well, you know, can any of us really know anything?”

14. Other times, I blame our holy texts like The Constitution or Martha Stewart’s Homekeeping Handbook: The Essential Guide to Caring for Everything in Your Home, because, you know, if those texts aren’t going to make the distinction clear, why should it matter to me?

15. I miss cassette tapes.

16. While all five of the toes on my right foot –

– are among my top hundred favorite body parts of mine of all time, the two closest to the big one are my favorite.

17. And, No!, not just because they’re partially webbed.

18. They have many great features such as looking slightly less like peanuts than the other two little ones while not being so much a loner like biggie over there.

19. Okay, the truth is: it is mostly because they’re a little bit conjoined.

20. But they’re also a little bit rock and roll.

21. In fact, when I’m in a room with a bunch of people more successful than myself (which is pretty much all day unless I’m in the bathroom, and even that isn’t as much of a guarantee as I might hope), sometimes I’m tempted to counter what those folks are saying, or just start an argument by saying, “Yes, perhaps, but I am, you know, semipalmated.”

22. I don’t really have a hundred favorite body parts: only six or seven that come to mind.

23. In fact, it might take me all day to list a hundred body part, even if I count the ones I'm not as fond of:

24. If pressed, I don’t know if I could come up with fifty without the internet’s help.

25. I’m secretly writing a sci-fi fantasy novel that I talk about all the time but hardly ever think about.

26. I act like I don’t like the ocean, but I could sit beside it for a thousand years, I’ll bet, and not get bored.

27. I still think about specific moments from my high school sports days.

28. There’s a gray squirrel in the backyard (nothing exceptional, very standard, white belly, expected tail), and I wish I lived the kind of life where I could sit and watch it for hours without feeling guilty about how I spend my time – really it’s beautiful.

29. There’s also a part of me that wants to shoot the squirrel and eat it.

30. I’m going for a run.

31. Maybe I would feel differently if I were somebody’s boss, but I don’t place much value in the ability to mulitask.

32. I’m finding it incredibly difficult to come up with 101 things about me.

33. Ani Difranco in her song “Grey” says, “I smoke and I drink, and every time I blink, I live a tiny dream, / but as bad as I am, I’m proud of the fact that I’m worse than I seem” – I like that sentiment.

34. I never thought I wanted to have kids until I had three.

35. If I were immortal, the first thing I would do would be to buy a whole bunch of shovels and fill in the Grand Canyon.

36. In part because I can’t think of anything else so terrifying that I’d like to be known for.

37. But, also, because I would love to spend the next 10, 20 millennia watching it carve itself back out.

38. Fact is, I don’t think immortality would get boring to me, despite contemporary folklore.

39. I wonder how many shovels it would take.

40. Most days, I prefer rain.

41. If I could change one thing about myself, I would be unforgivably wealthy.

42. I don’t have any objections to people who curse while they pray.

43. Though my allergies frustrate me in the way they control much of my life, I genuinely enjoy sneezing.

44. If I were three of me, I could be a really good writer; if I were six of me, I could do a good job keeping up with the house and yard; if I were a hundred and forty-four of me, I could be a good enough parent.

45. I’m still thinking about eating that squirrel.

46. I wish I were better at taking pictures – not necessarily more skillfully, just more frequently.

47. If I were immortal, the second thing I would do would be to commit to memory the difference between objective and subjective truth – seems like that’s the type of thing an immortal ought to know.

48. For years, I’ve had this whole obsession with space and time: I mean, imagine I can run ten miles an hour; I should be able to, with little effort, run 10.0000001 miles per hour; if that’s the case, I should be able to run 10.0000002, 10.0000003, 10.00000004, etc. with equally little effort, such that I would soon be running at about 120 mph (which is my ideal speed) – anyway, that’s what my sci-fi / fantasy novel is all about.

49. If I could be one other animal in the world, it would not be a squirrel.

50. I’ve nothing against them personally – they’re cute and all – but they’re not quite as terrifying as a rat, not quite as big as a woodchuck.

51. Maybe if they moved in herds, I would want to be a squirrel.

52. I wouldn’t want to be a dog either – imagine not even having language and having to live with something as moody as a human.

53. I don’t understand line breaks in poetry.

54. I’m not real sure why I end certain paragraphs where I do either, though.

55. Sometimes I wonder who in the hell gave me all these degrees in English.

56. Nobody in my secret sci-fi / fantasy novel has an English degree, and they’re all smarter than I.

57. My spouse just asked me if I was humming the theme to Rocky: no, I wasn’t.

58. I am now.

59. If I could be anybody else in the world, it would be me during my senior year of basketball, during the playoff game we lost to Northeast High School: fourth quarter, tie game, I stole the ball and made a break – this time I wouldn’t pass the ball; you couldn’t pay me a thousand dollars to pass the ball this time.

60. It’s kind of embarrassing to me that if I could change one thing about my past, it would be that I would have taken a single jumpshot sixteen years and two months ago.

61. I was never a fan of Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days” until I got old enough to wish I was young again.

62. I haven’t seen that squirrel since yesterday morning.

63. I’m not who I thought I would be.

64. I was certain I would be much taller by now.

65. I would have guessed I’d be a stronger swimmer.

66. I’m totally over that squirrel.

65. My favorite colors are green and gray, not necessarily for the way they look together – though I do think of that gray I-80 cutting through the green green heart of Pennsylvania in a thick summer – but they just sound so nice, much better than black and blue, which, of course, are my second favorite colors.

66. Robert Frost famously wrote, “Something there is that does not love a wall” – me? I like a good wall.

67. If you were to ask me what I was humming any day between now and last July, it would be this song.
68. I hardly think about that squirrel at all any more; I mean, if you were to ask me, “What’s up with that squirrel?”, I would be all “What squirrel?”

69. Any time I think about it, I find it hard to believe that anything can hold all these molecules together.

70. I used to tell people that before I met them I could throw an 80 lb. bag of mortar the length of a football field – that wasn’t true.

71. It still isn’t.

72. If I were immortal, the third thing I’d do would be make a much longer list of things about me – I would call it “505 Things about This Guy.”

73. The other thing I don’t understand about language is why I use “were” in #72 instead of “was” – something tells me I’m using the language correctly, but I don’t know how.

74. I hate the sound my tongue makes when I bite it.

75. When I reach the point where I can spend an hour a day in the garden without feeling guilty, I think I will have achieved self-actualization.

76. One of my favorite words that I have never used in a sentence is "craw" – what an awful and beautiful sounding word.

77. When I grow up, I want to be calmer.

78. I have never outgrown my childhood objection to neckties.

79. I still genuinely enjoy Cabin Boy.

80. I don’t typically have any objections to eating with ones hands.

81. I’m not really as into lists as I was three days ago.

82. Okay. Now there are three squirrels. Don’t they know who I am? What I could do to them? How good they would taste in a stew? Still they’re pretty cute when they hop over dandelions.

83. Sometimes I have a hard time following through with

84. I've put it off for twenty-four years, but here I am this evening watching Robocop. Detroit looks just like I left it.

85. Those squirels are back, only this time they've come in the form of robins, red-breasted ones at that. They're busily hopping around the yard, picking up bugs and worms and eating those things. Traci recently said, "They must have excellent eyes or some other sense that allows them to find so many small critters crawling through the grass." Sam countered, "I don't know. It seems like if I spent twelve hours a day hopping around the back yard, I could catch a worm or two, too."

86. Both good points, I'll give it some more careful thought. Some other day.

87. Saturday night was the first night I've been alone in a house in almost eight years.

88. I didn't like it.

89. I miss my spouse and my kids. It is time for them to come home now.

90. Now there are three bunnies within bowling distance. Though one more would fill the crock pot right nice, I'm sitting here, admiring their majesty or whatever.

91. Dennis Rodman's number, when 10 was taken. Oh Worm, where are you now?

92. On second thought, don't answer that. There's like a 90-10 chance I don't want to know. Right?

93. I watched For the Bible Tells Me So last night on Netflix, and wept for about the last half hour of it. I'm so sick of having rights that my gay friends and enemies can't have, I could cry. (Which explains those above mentioned thirty minutes.)

94. At this stage in my life, I have to admit, I'm shocked that it's taking me months to come up with 101 noteworthy things about me. I bet when I was twenty-two, I could have cranked out an awesome list in an afternoon.

95. I blame my kids -- having four children that I find infinitely more interesting than myself, I have very little to post.

96. I guess I do tend to try to live vicariously through my little turtles – ever seen a baby, come on, give one a shell, and it might swim to Australia – but that doesn’t stop me from this overwhelming desire to encourage them to do what I would have done, what I would have wanted to do, what I wanted to try but was never talented enough.

For instance. Noon, today, I’d been thinking about delivering a speech to Sam: “Sam, you’re not going to be 15 forever.” But I decided that was too much, and that I would let him figure it out on his own.

Still, who can blame me? I remember fifteen as the first time I got up on the rim. First fingertips, eventually palm, I remember the first time I dunked something – after my cousin’s basketball game, the first of three losses her team had during her four years of varsity play (what a team!) – a nickel. Quickly followed by a lollipop. Oh. I was something. And here’s Sam, six-foot-two, a hundred and seventy pounds . . . oh, what I would have done.

I’d already been to the coffee shop this morning to work on a novel I’m writing – it’s a historical novel, a Western (in a sense) though it’s set in the East; I’m 72,000 words into it, and I went back again this morning to chapter 10, which is the most important chapter in the book and the most boring; it’s the point at which the plot becomes less like 3:10 to Yuma and more like Wallstreet.

Okay, in response to the first part of your question: No, I don’t find it problematic that I can only talk about this book in terms of movies. As for the second part: Yes, I find it as boring to write about writing the book as you find it reading about writing the book.

But that’s kind of my point. I rethunk my speech to Sam – “You’re not going to be 15 forever,” by which what I would have meant was, “Go for a run, do some push ups, get off the computer for half an hour” – but I couldn’t think of anything quantifiably different about what he was doing and what I was doing, would have done, would have wanted to do, wanted to try but was never tall enough.

Nor did I forget to remember that famous conversation between Mom and Dad many years ago . . .

Mom: Don't you worry about him?
Dad: Who?
Mom: Jackson.
Dad: Why?
Mom: All he does is play Atari and eat Twinkies.
Dad: Yeah, but . . . he's really good at it.

So I let it go. And focused on myself instead: I did a hundred burpees (squat, kickback, push up, return to squat, jump, chin up) and ran three miles. After all, as my dad pointed out two weeks ago, I’m not going to be thirty-four forever. (His actual words, I believe, were: “You’re officially older than Jesus. Way to go.”)

97. I’ve been writing outside today, and it just now struck me: it smells like the ocean in our back yard – anybody else think it’s time for me to turn off the sprinklers?

98. In other vicarious news: traci left Utah this morning for her first cross country trip without me in eight years. I love that open road. traci, our dear friend Kristen, and Zac are driving back here this week. Zac had been in Utah for three weeks, visiting family who gave him a brand new 1987 Jeep Wrangler – a trip that he’s been planning for over six months. traci, on the other hand, flew out last Thursday on a buddy pass Kristen’s friend had given her, such that she (traci) could drive back here with her (Kristen), and we could all hang out for a while – they decided to do this last week. The fact that they’re caravanning across Wyoming right now is dumb luck.

Given that this scenario is not terribly out of the ordinary for our family, you would think that I would be good at plots, and could just make something wonderful happen in the above mentioned Chapter 10: “Tendrils.” Not the case.

Though I deeply envy them their drive, I have, through the beauty of text messaging (yes, I said it, beauty. of. text. messaging), traci has been updating me when she reaches some of our favorite landmarks: “Park City llama onto I-80,” “Eating a sandwich in the town with no name but lots of fireworks, “Big sky Wyoming,” “that dark red highway across Wyoming,” “the town named after Richard Ford’s stunning short story collection,” “Zac peeing on an abandoned gas station in the wide open plains” (this most recent one is not necessarily a landmark for us, but, again, not so terribly unfamiliar).

And in return, I’ve been occasionally suggesting appropriate music for the drive. At the Utah, Wyoming border (this will be no surprise), I suggested “The BalladPoncho and Lefty” to get them started. Perhaps the perfect road trip song – why not get it into our heads early. “Now you wear your skin like iron, your breath’s as hard as kerosene.” My goodness, Willie. As a writer, I could stand to learn how to create a complete epic narrative in four stanzas. Well played.

For the midway point of Wyoming, I had to go with “Off He Goes.” This one’s personal. The first time I ever drove through Wyoming – in fact the only time I’ve ever crossed it from top to bottom – I was listening to this song. Now, the fact that it is basically a newer version of “Poncho and Lefty” notwithstanding, the song will always remind me of that first cross-country drive with Angelo – only five crackers for lunch, but we would split a can of pork-and-beans for dinner, bathing in rest-stop sinks, our bed was simply every stitch of clothing we owned and a sleeping bag a piece. Freedom might be just another word, as we all know by now, for nothing left to lose, but I don’t think it’s such a bad thing.

I know it’s obvious, but if I were on a desert island, and that desert island was called Nebraska, and my smart phone could only pick up one song for the entire 660 miles: Big Country’s “Through a Big Country.” And if you’re riding along with me, try not to feel at first a little embarrassed for me, then kind of frustrated, and eventually pissed off, as I alternately scream the lyrics and weep for the eleven hours it takes to get to Iowa.

Lag Wagon’s “May 16” and Millencolin’s “No Cigar” for the bulk of Iowa. You’re gonna be tired at this point: pep up. In fact, if you can find it, easily, just play the entire sound track to Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater II. I can’t make a connection to road tripping here, but it’s a nice soundtrack to jam to while crossing this little ocean of cornfields.

But what about Illinois and Indiana?

We’re gonna need a bigger soundtrack.

How about this, instead: start with This Is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think about and just make your way through the Modest Mouse Oeuvre, including, though not every song snaps, No One’s First, and You’re Next. Focusing specifically on “Never Ending Math Equation,” “King Rat,” “Dashboard,” Good News for People Who Love Bad News, and “Styrofoam Boots.”

Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina – well, that’s hardly even a trip, now is it? Still, I would just find whichever Ani Difranco album is my favorite today, and play that on repeat until you get home.

Meanwhile, thanks to the glorious inventions of thumbs and the qwerty keyboard, I’ve learned that our caravan will most likely spend the night in Wyoming tonight. Short first leg, but I think we can all agree this restful drive should lead to a long haul tomorrow – Indiana, maybe. Maybe Ohio. I’m hoping they’ll get home by Thursday, though, much as I miss them, I sure do love a cross country drive.

99. I’ve gotta admit, I’m looking forward to this coming to an end.

100. If I were immortal, and I’m pretty sure I’m not, I would jump off of very tall objects with the idea in mind that I might be able to catch a bird cruising by beneath me – what a rush.

101. Finally, it turns out, I’m an awful blogger. I can’t keep a pace for shit.

102. Bonus: Ijust want to mention how proud I am that I made it through a hundred things about myself without saying fart or shit. Hazah!

103. Bonus: I just now realized there are two # 65s and two # 66s, but I am too lazy to go back and adjust everything that follows accordingly. So lazy, in fact, that I'm not even going to cut and paste them down here to become 104 and 105. That said, I'm leaving it up to the theorists to decide whether or not this can be called a "101 Things about Something" list, given the way I have unintentionally put the pork to the above numbers. To wit, I must say: in your face, alphanumeric system.


downsizing, evaluating, other stuff

As Some of You May or May Not Know,

traci and I recently quit our jobs. We’re trying to sell our house. We’d like to, in turn, buy some chickens and plant a garden near those chickens. Preferably some place in Southeastern Ohio. We’re downsizing, and taking a step away from academia for a while. We’re going to make more time for our art and our kids and our health, and put less energy into worrying over where our students want to put semicolons or what our colleagues think of our publication records. It’s all, I know, a noble pursuit. It simply overwhelmed us a touch. We found ourselves looking forward to retirement, rather than enjoying our lives.

So I know that raises a lot of questions: what’s your house look like?, is it close to a park, how much are you asking?, chickens?, I thought you already had chickens?, and will you find true happiness once you’ve left teaching?

In response to the first three questions: check out our realtor’s website here. Or if you just want to see our crib, which has not yet been featured on any reality shows. I know. I’m constantly shocked as well. In response what appears to be the fourth question, “chickens?” Well, that’s not really even a question. Or a sentence for that matter. But I’ll do my best to respond: a chicken is a medium-sized flightless . . . you know what just click here to find out. In response to question four, which is also, I see now, not a question, I must say, you can think it all you want, that’s not going to get us farm fresh eggs. And, finally, we’re not even sure what happiness is, but one thing that I’m only now beginning to understand is that happiness, like writing, is a process, not a product, and it is in the enacting of happiness that happiness exists.

I’ve been meditating, which is like weightlifting for one’s soul. That’s how come that last line there sounds so smart. Bet your ass.

Meditating has its limits.

Meanwhile, the above is all part and/or parcel of the reason I’ve written so little lately – I’ve found it hard to celebrate a life in limbo. But I also want you all to know what we’re up to, where we are going, where we have been, what’s on the horizon, what’s off to the left there, just around the bend, up ahead, yet to be, off to the north, up, and going on.

So keep the questions coming, or else I’m gonna have to keep making them up. Until then. Y’ens take care.


Hair Cut for the 21st Century

Though my head would almost certainly not fit into a red or blue plastic cup, I found myself looking very much like a beer pong ball recently. Well, to be honest, I still call them ping pong balls, but according to most of my students and that tupperware sitting next to the cash register at the BP station, they are now beer pong balls. And, rather than being swatted back and forth across a green plywood table in the garage, apparently the object of the game these days is to cover the ball in lint and dunk it in someone else’s drink. The more drinks you dunk it in, the better your chances for “staying on” to play the next folks.

All sort of beside the point, really. Recently, you all have been asking, “What, then, is the point, Jackson?” Which I’ve taken to mean, “Why are we here?” Or “Is there a meaning to all this?” Or “Tell me about the sea, Jackson?” The last of which, I feel I should mention, is not a question, despite the question mark. Maybe you already knew that. So, what is the point?

The point is: I got a haircut. Let me rephrase: I shaved my head. Not to the scalp exactly, but pretty short. In fact, this is what I used to look like:

This is what I look like now:

Well, a little what I look like.

The boys came home from rock climbing shortly after my “haircut.” Zac said, “Whoa, when your hair’s that short, your beard looks enormous.” Sam said, “You have a beard?”

I bumped into Naomi a short time later, and she asked, “Did you lose a bet or something?”

I asked Blaisey for her honest opinion (an honest question posed in the form of a statement (an honest question with a certain indication that a juice box might accompany the correct answer)): “My haircut looks good, right?”

Blaisey said, “Yes. Good. A little weird . . . but you look really cute in that shirt.”

She got the juice box. But, let’s face it, who wouldn’t look cute in this shirt! The one on the left.

Anyway, I've been busy for a spell, you know, whether other things, but I'm back now, or at least that's what I'd have you believe.

Also, in the off chance that it's not obvious, Desi says hi.