Sunday, November 13, 2011

Someday I want to outfit one of these with some shelves, make it an ice-reading shack. I'll drag it out on Burt Lake and start spending some nice alone time there. When sportsmen knock on the door and ask if I'm getting any bites, if that is indeed what they normally say in these situations, I will nod and tell them "you have no idea." If they ask why there isn't a hole in the floor of my shack, I don't know what I'll do. Maybe read them some Kenneth Koch. Or nod, give them an unnerving smile, and answer "exactly."

Monday, September 12, 2011

Friday, August 26, 2011


Edward Abbey

Desert Solitaire,
Edward Abbey
Between Parentheses, Roberto Bolano
Any Human Heart, William Boyd
Beautiful & Pointless, A Guide to Modern Poetry, David Orr
The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey, Trenton Lee Stewart

This week: 388 pages
Last week: 446 pages

Sentences of the Week:

1. "I'm in the stifling head of the trailer opening a can of beer, barefooted, about to go outside and relax after a hard day watching cloud formations." Desert Solitaire

2. "When a nonspecialist audience is responding well to a poem, its reaction is a kind of tentative pleasure, a puzzled interest that resembles the affection a traveler bears for a destination that both welcomes and confounds him." Beautiful & Pointless

3. "Larrain photographs a parked car and it seems to be going more than sixty miles an hour." Roberto Bolano, Between Parentheses.

I read mostly from Any Human heart this week--up until I realized that finishing the book would kill him--and as much as I enjoy the book, there are not a lot of stand-out sentences to my ear. So William Boyd gets shut out again this week.

Edward Abbey is not as consistent a writer, and he seems self-conscious about it almost, but there is some fun variety here. In this week's winning sentence, he's referring to his job as a caretaker at Arches National Monument, where his main duty appears to be passing the time.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

I'm not sure what you call this season we're in now is, but it's my favorite.It's not really summer anymore. The evening light has changed and there is a cooler air, like summer left a door open by mistake and let in a nice draft.

Telling June Apple that she's read enough Peanuts for one day.

Hammock reading makes this particular kids book somewhat more bearable.

Catherine continues to work wonders with the cutting garden.
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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Any Human Heart

This book still feels like something of a guilty read for me because I'm not used to reading things in which so much happens. I'm just ripping through it, though, sad that it's almost over but also sad, I'm realizing, that, because it is written in the first-person style of a journal, the end of the book means the end (death) of Logan Mountstuart.

He's a sad, pill-popping mystery to himself, Logan is, but I still care about the guy. Ominous how his new year's entries for the late 50's say "need to cut down on the booze," and his early 60's entries are starting to say "need to cut down on the booze and pills."

Sunday, August 21, 2011

A peek inside June's new indoor reading yurt.

Flower Buddha happy in the Zinnias and Gomphrena.

new n+1.

Compared to The Believer, n+1, as I understand it, is supposed to be similarly omnivorous and, I don't know, "youthful" or something, but more willing to look critically at its own generation. I think some people believe The Believer and stuff coming out of the Dave Eggers empire in general can be too pleased with itself or too willing to sit back and just be a cheerleader for whatever cleverness their friends have submitted. n+1 is supposed to be more serious, and I do find myself laughing much less frequently than I do when I'm, say, browsing Timothy McSweeney's Internet Tendency.

Toward this goal of seriousness, the issue that came yesterday, no. 12, includes an attempted take-down of the taste-setting music site Pitchfork. Richard Beck, the cheeky so and so, gives P4k a "5.4," and tries to explain to us why we should not like it either. But it's an unconvincing piece, and I don't think it is at all honest with itself about its own ambivalence. Anyone who goes to that site is ambivalent about it. Much of the good new music we like we heard about there, but we worry, at the same time, that we are too dependent on it, that it is too popular, as if we can only maintain our indie cred if we know when to jump ship just before it loses its cool.

Beck seems to be arguing that this has already happened, but he can only throw a mish-mash of hand-wringing complaints at it. He accuses the writing of being too sloppily exuberant, but also concedes that that is the nature of the genre. He points out that no critical stars have arisen from the site, but also suggests that this anti-star feel is a conscious strategy on their part, and may be part of the reason for their success. He accuses them of being "king-makers" (as if Pitchfork were more responsible for the success of Arcade Fire than Arcade Fire themselves) and suggests that we are all missing out on more challenging and novel music as a result. Ultimately, he blames the music itself, arguing that we should "pursue a musical culture more worth our time." Go for it, Mr. Beck. But until that happens, you and I both know that we'll still be reading Pitchfork every day and agreeing with much of what they say.

In the end, he sounds just as conflicted and unresolved about this as we all are, but unaware of that ambivalence or even dishonest about it. He also could have acknowledged the Pitchfork spinoff, Altered States, which attempts to fill in some of those eclipsed musical corners he complains of, but maybe he didn't know about it.

Most importantly, though, Beck's single article had me thinking more than any five issues of The Believer put together, and that's why n+1 is worthwhile.

UPDATE: Reading this over, I really sound like a blowhard. "Go for it, Mr. Beck"? What was that about? I still think that this article doesn't quite explain to me my own ambivalence toward its subject like I wanted it to, but the author deserves more credit than I give him here. I guess the snark bug took over when I was writing.

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Thursday, August 18, 2011


Any Human Heart, William Boyd
Beautiful & Pointless, A Guide to Modern Poetry, David Orr
The Great Frustration, Seth Fried
The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey, Trenton Lee Stewart

This week: 446 pages

Sentences of the Week:

(1) "Our job was simple: get the monkey in the capsule."

--from "Those of Us in Plaid," in Seth Fried's The Great Frustration.

(2) "There are several things in this passage that seem interestingly right to me, but there are several things that are interestingly wrong as well."

--Beautiful & Pointless

(3) "Oh for a world that contains Cynthia Goldbergs!"

--Any Human Heart

A decent crop of sentences this week, but the winner by far is the hilarious Seth Fried, and if I wanted to be totally fair, he could probably have taken all three spots this week. I've even read these stories out loud to the kids and they get it; Birk keeps repeating this line about the monkey. It's the first line of the story, and maybe one of my favorite first lines to any story I can remember, though, honestly, I can't remember all that many.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Birk, Birds

Birk and June Apple at the A.C. extension garden a few nights ago. This looks like an album cover to me for some reason.
Decided these frames weren't quite right at our neighbor Barb's garage sale. She did have the exact kind of old popcorn popper I use to roast coffee beans, though, and gave it to me for free. I usually spend around $50 on ebay for them. Good old Barb. First time I ever met her.And for an anniversary present tonight, C gave me a t-shirt she made out of this drawing I did a few weeks ago. New favorite shirt!

Friday, July 08, 2011

I spend too much time looking at other peoples' houses on the internet, and sometimes I see one that is so beautiful it almost feels like a cruel hoax.

It's less about the house than it is the imagined life of solitude and no plastic toys on the floor and solitude.

In my own experiments this summer, I have figured out that solitude is found early, when the garden is still cool, not too late to water a corner or two. And not playing music or Radiolab podcasts around the house can extend this period of peace well into the late morning, when the pressure of errands starts to impede.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Our kitchen fox has gone all Anglophile on us lately. Stiff upper lip and that sort of thing, don't you know, what what. And the wolves keep dropping spoilers. I keep threatening the eraser, but isn't doing much good.
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Saturday, May 28, 2011



I love a nice walk up the street to Caliente. I get to pronounce the words papa relleno and ropa vieja and tostones, trying to communicate to the smiling owner that I, unlike most of her customers, know a thing or two about Spanish. But I know nothing, nothing, except that I like Cuban sandwiches and that I will read every last article the internet ever makes about drug violence in Mexico.

This issue of the Paris Review starts with a meandering and kind of self-indulgent piece by the late Edouard Leve, but I love it. It is so hard sometimes to know whether or not I should love something I read, and I found myself questioning myself as I read this one. "Should I really be liking this as much as I am," I will ask. And I never answer myself, but instead answer in the imagined voices of friends. I try to imagine whether Catherine would put the book down or read it in two days. If there is a part of me that suspects I'm being taken in, I imagine Joseph bestowing his inimitable "Ugh," Or if it is good in a way I can't describe, I imagine him giving it a gentle, thoughtful nod with his chin as if he's thinking about Pynchon. If I'm trying to decide what it is about the language that attracts me, I think "what would Dawn say"? It's amazing how little I participate in the formation of my own judgment.

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Thursday, May 19, 2011

quick update.

5 min. ago, the street outside my office during a sudden hard rain storm during the sunset.

During the day, about to turn the under-used herb garden into more of a cuttings garden.

And the dog, somehow, lives. And is pretty happy, actually.

And meanwhile I am in one of those phases where all I want to do is read a long John McPhee book about anything, just read him telling me about the regular Joes he meets in his travels around, this time, Alaska. It's so relaxing. I finished The Leopard recently, too, and I miss the prince a little bit and his untended gardens with their parallel lives. It's striking to me how much that novel reminds me of Faulkner's Hamlet/Town/Mansion trilogy, with the Snopes family standing in for the classless and conniving and ineluctably rising merchant class of Italy.

It's that nice part of the school year when all of your planning is pretty much done, the day-to-day obsession with the question that never leaves: "what else can I do to avoid boring these poor students to death?" There is a momentum to this part of the year, and we all feel it, students and teachers both. Or, I don't know, maybe I'm the only one who feels that way and everyone else thinks things are dragging on; I've never bothered to ask.

But for me, the summer has started in my head, it's true, because the worrying about planning is what invades the rest of my life the most. Now all I do is ration the grading that needs to be done each day, enjoy these last couple of weeks with students I will never know this way again, and then go home to think about my garden and read. And plan for our awesome trip to Spain that is going to be so awesome.

So that's where things stand.

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Sunday, April 24, 2011

From a fun tumblr called Outdoor Sanctuaries.

O, I haven't been here much lately. It happens in spring. One of the nice things about winter is the way it forces you to narrow your focus. Instead of inside and outside things, you can only do the inside, for the most part. The spring happens and, as I said to my friend Clare the other day, I see all these perennial weeds popping out early and I feel like my laundry has been scattered about the yard. All I want to do is be out there doing the yard laundry.

I need to start a demanding book of some kind is what I need to do. I'd been avoiding a novel because anything I started would have lain mute in the shadow of Adam Bede, so I went to anthologies like the new Pushcart, short and funny memoirs like Scott Carrier's odd ramble Running After Antelope and this other one I forget, plus some other stuff like Mark Doty's The Art of Description and Michael Schmidt's Lives of the Poets. And they are okay, but without some novel going at the same time I feel a little directionless.

So today was warmer than they said it would be, and I was able, after a hearty Easter brunch and a damp egg hunt, to do enough yard laundry to ease my conscience, take the whole family to the driving range, and then come home to start The Leopard. I can already tell it was the right thing to do. The prince has an overripe garden outside, and even the decorated walls of the palace itself are described like a something growing out of control. It feels a little familiar, that is. And now, to go read myself to bed.

Friday, March 11, 2011

O, elementary school. It does not change, cannot be changed. Our first family science fair. Second place for attempting to discover what will happen if you put sugar in different bottles of things and shake them. Based on the first place ribbons I saw, it is clear that the science fair judges of today have a distressing lack of experimental spirit, awarding only those projects that answer questions we all know the answers to: yes, potatoes and lemons still light bulbs, you can still make crystals with a crystal-making kit, heavy things still sink.

Second place is reserved, it must be, for the questions that grown ups can't answer and are afraid to find out. And this is why the ribbons are red. The judges are looking in the wrong places.

Next year I will bring my own special ribbons--I think they will be black, maybe with an unblinking eye in the center--to award those projects that leave me cold and trembling, the ones that I hurry by, with results that have been slowly sliding down their cardboard boundaries all night and pooling on the folding table below them or that explain their research in a 10 point font named "Scrawl." Until next year.
We learned a lot about the Civil War.

And the book is alive and well.
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Monday, February 28, 2011

With luck, this will be my last George Eliot post for awhile. Managed to complete Adam Bede this weekend in a torrid session of reading during a rare extended period of silence at home. And the thing is so dang good. Reader, I cried. I'm not sure I was quite ready for the turn the plot takes after Hetty's fate is resolved, but it's still done so beautifully you just don't care. And to drag out the suspense a little Eliot even parades the whole cast of the Poyser farm out for one last ensemble piece at a dinner; we get to meet the bit players in mini-portraits at the table. I had been wondering why we hadn't seen more of the common laborers on the farm, since Eliot seems to love training the lens on them so much. I wish she didn't wait so long to do it here. But at least this last supper scene lets us savor for one last time the phenomenon that is Mrs. Poyser, who might be, of all the Eliot characters I can remember, the one with the quickest, most biting, most creative wit. And then there is a wedding and then it is done.

I'm in that rosy period where you remember the book and the characters and you can think about it actively and productively and even authoritatively if you are in such a mood. It won't be long, though, before the particulars will fade and I will remember only broad outlines of things and then I will forget even that and only remember that I loved the experience of reading the book. It will turn into pure feeling. Hopefully, I will have room in my life for a re-read by then.

The last couple of days, I've been easing my way through the Patti Smith memoir of her life with Robert Mapplethorpe, Just Kids, on recommendation of Sarah Jane, and it's a fun glimpse into 70's NYC. My favorite moments are the scattered impressions she provides of fellow residents at the Chelsea Hotel. Harry Smith, in particular. It reminds me of my days living in the dorms at IU, to be honest.

My other first impression is that Smith got taken for a ride by Mapplethorpe, who feigned an emotional connection to her until he could find a male lover with more money. She just seems so naive that it's hard to believe she made it at all there. But she did.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Another snow day. I've been reading Adam Bede to Smokey today and we are trying to finish it today or tomorrow, but that will be difficult because for lunch I went to my favorite sketchy Mexican restaurant that no one else in my family, except June, will visit with me to eat as much as I could with the $8 I had on me. I was able to eat way too much and still leave $1.50 on the table, so, anyway, I'm now very sleepy as a result. Smokey is, too, as you can see.

I am a little disoriented with A.B. right now, what with Hetty's sudden pregnancy and apparent infanticide and all. Was I supposed to know that she was pregnant? Should I have been able to infer that from the desperation of her quest to Windsor in search of Arthur? I'm used to feeling this way when reading Faulkner--stupid, that is--but usually Eliot's talky narrators keep you pretty well filled in on things. I'm hoping that this all ends up as one big mistake, for Hetty's sake, but this does not feel like a hopeful book to me, so I'm trying to keep my expectations modest.

It's interesting what time has done to the relationship between the high-class classlessness of Arthur and his "Most likely to have no prospects" milk-made Hetty. At the time it was written, I'm sure Eliot intended this relationship to depict the cruelty and carelessness of the class system as represented by Arthur and his father the squire. Arthur is the bad guy. Today, though, it's a little bit easier for me to see him as a victim of class as much as Hetty is. I mean, I think if it weren't for his "station" and all, he'd be with her, and, dopes the both of them, they'd have just as much a chance at making it as anyone, I suppose. I'm not supposed to, but I think Arthur is just as tragic a figure as I'm sure Adam is going to turn out to be.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Oh, so that's where I left them. Actually, this reminds me of a hairy bushwhacking experience I had once on Vancouver Island.

via paradise express.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

A friend of mine de-friended me on fb the other day because of a comment I made to one of his many humorous status updates. His was a witty pro-Kindle provocation, and I responded in what I thought was a similar spirit, but in defense of those of us who still think that the old fashioned book has benefits that can't be reproduced by an lcd screen, back-lit or otherwise.

He must have taken it differently, though, as I found out during an awkward exchange when we crossed paths irl recently. The best, most painful, part of our conversation can be paraphrased as follows:

Me: "So, did you leave fb?"
Him: "er, no."

I guess my comment came across as irked rather than good-natured ribbing. I take the blame, though, in my defense, my comment did employ irony and self-deprecation in an attempt to signal my peaceful intentions. What remains to be negotiated is how we are to act when we see each other at our daughters' dance classes. Or if his wife takes their daughter, do I have an obligation to tell her, before we engage in pleasantries, that her husband has de-friended me? I would write a letter to The Ethicist about this, but Randy Cohen has been replaced, and I don't know if I can trust the new guy yet.

But at least I am still the friend of the book. Just look at The Leopard up there. I tried to start reading it late last night, but ended up just contemplating the spartan elegance of its cover for a few minutes before falling asleep on the couch.

The paperback of Adam Bede I am slowly rationing to myself lately is just as pleasurable to look at and hold. I've decided that one of the critical advantages that books have is their depth of field. They can pose for photo-shoots, for heaven's sake. They look different depending on the light, they have profiles, they can even be coy.
Just look at Hetty here, for example--it took me a lot of shots to capture this expression on her face. She is not the most cooperative of subjects. Whereas the Kindle is all about cooperating with, accommodating, the reader, pragmatism above personality. Who needs friends like that? Unless I am sneaking one into a wedding ceremony, my books are always too big for my pockets. They make me hold their hands, cause me to drop packages as I dig for the house key. By far, these are among the most unaccommodating relationships that I have.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Sheehey makes #1 Play of the Day!

As a school, IU does not dunk a lot. We just are not dunkers, never have been. Back when John Laskowski did the color for IU games and someone dunked, he would actually say "Baston with the dunk shot." Yes, "Dunk shot." Las, former IU player, expressed the general attitude of IU toward on-court flamboyance. I think I can remember every interesting dunk by Calbert Cheaney, Alan Henderson, Jared Jeffries, DJ White, there were so few.

But in our last two games we've had a couple of good ones, and this one by freshman Will Sheehey is so fun. As ESPN guy says "Indiana loses, but who cares?"

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Today's roast cooling by the window

Three snow days really depleted our coffee supply, so I had to spend about an hour in the basement today roasting at the same time that I was putting a new ball valve on this ugly stretch of leaking PVC pipe. I think I fixed the leak, but it's one of those repairs I'm reluctant to go down into the basement to check on because I just don't really want to know. I'd rather let the basement fill with water than fit pipe again today.
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Wednesday, February 02, 2011


If you have the gift of a snow day, or two, you have to have something to show for it.

June Apple reading some Wallace Stevens. "Hey, this is at my reading level," she said.
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snow diary

Tried to put together a diary of yesterday's snow day, but it was more difficult than it sounds.

5:00 Awake, wondering if school was closed.
5:01 Awake, knowing school was closed, wondering when I lost the ability to sleep in.
5:45 Give up, go downstairs to read Adam Bede.
6:30 Make coffee, decide that Billy Bragg would be the soundtrack of the day.

And it's pretty much a blur from then on. I know that at some point I surprised myself by figuring out how to play Bragg's "The Saturday Boy." I know there was a protracted game of charades. And I know that I did not make any igloos because it was too windy and that the mail-woman skipped us because I didn't even try to shovel.

So here is day #2, and I hope it ends just as blurry. Really like the idea of weeks that have extra weekends built inside them.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Grant money fun.

So the parents' club was kind enough to grant me some money to buy a few clever little portable audio recorders. The classroom now boasts three Tascam DR-07 recorders that we can use to make podcasts, record interviews, spy on people, whatever. I spent some of this weekend practicing with one, making my daughter read poems into it and making disappointing home recordings of me singing Bill Callahan songs.

But here's one of June reading a poem that is something like 1300 years old, assuming I'm doing the math right.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

POL Winners

Congratulations to today's winners of the HHS Poetry Out Loud competition:

1st: Sahand
2nd: Priya
3rd: Greg

It was great fun to see, and I'm glad I wasn't the one making the decisions. It took the judges awhile simply to narrow things down to their top 5-6.

In the event that Sahand cannot represent HHS at state finals, we will look to Priya and then Greg to carry that honor. Again, thanks for coming out today, everyone.

Monday, January 24, 2011


Sometimes I kind of wish I had cable, but not enough to have cable.
June, while watching the most recent PBS version of Sense & Sensibility: "This is a good movie. Does it ever end?"

Sunday, January 23, 2011

the risks we take for our art

Look at all this Tilapia! I had a bad feeling when I took this yesterday morning, in an empty Hispanic grocery while picking up some chorizo and limes--I just knew that someone would not be happy about me snapping away in there, but I thought I could get away with it, what with all my experience shooting "street."

It went all wrong, though. I rushed the shot, so it's not even that interesting, and I still got in "trouble" with the owner, who approached about five minutes later and asked me who gave me permission to take pictures in the store. "No one," I said. "I just liked the fish." Neither of us knew what to say after that heated exchange, so I bought my small sack of Mexican groceries from him and took my daughter back out into the nieve that was filling the Saturday morning streets.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Ariel on Fallon

Song of the year from the album of the year. My eight-year old walks up and sings the opening "Na Na Na Naaah" when she wants me to sing it with her. This version doesn't kick it like the album track, but it's fun to watch his glammed-up group.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre, Melted clock, Cass Technical High School, from The Ruins of Detroit

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

This is not my road, but it reminds me of some roads I've been on. Oh, roads.