monday, may 31

all in the wrist

thursday,
we had enough people for ultimate
for the first time in over a month
i have to guess that the look of actual,
simple joy i noticed on other faces
reflected my own.

the next day i piled stuff in the car
and left for a small lake in northeast
nebraska with a stocked trout stream
and nice campgrounds

i caught two fish all weekend
but that wasn't really the point -
i tried fly fishing for the first time ever
and discovered that like most things,
frisbee included,
it's all in the wrist.

two related thoughts

first, it is extraordinarily difficult
to transmit enthusiasm.

i am always amazed by those individuals
whose ability to communicate is equal to some
great passion. they do not always work for
good and too many are dishonest
or deceived in what they love
but they seem to leave some mark
on everyone they meet

less rare but harder to find
there are quiet people full of amazing knowledge
everywhere i go
there is some good chance
you are one of them.

second, the world at times seems
filled to overflowing with the
worthwhile objects of enthusiasm

there are more things worth loving
and hating
than a single life could possibly encompass:

it is easy enough to believe that you will
lose little, if you never hate all that invites it
but there are ten thousand things it would be good to embrace
and as many places worth walking

so it helps to know
that there are other lovers
this is a shared task
— no less impossible in its totality
but hopeful all the same.

i would rather be a forest than a street

i am well convinced
that it is often bogus to draw artificial
distinctions between man (humanity i mean)
and nature

we are no less natural
than trees or aardvarks

and thus our works,
if i may be forgiven so broad a possessive,
are as natural as an
ant hill, a beaver dam,
the climate wrought by
oxygen-producing proto-plants

utility lines @ 9th & y, lincoln, nebraska


but the fact that there is an order
with which it seems disharmonious
or at least dishonest
to claim too disconnected a status
for humanity's effects and projects —

well, doesn't that
and much other evidence

(the ugliness of a plastic wrapper
in the mud alongside a streambed,
the ease with which we distinguish
the made from the grown)

signal some unique quality in all this structure —
and thus the reality of a countervailing quality
we often reach for with such loaded, inadequate terms
as organic?

Friday, May 28

camping

Shawn Cole's tent

Fish. Guitars. Incommunicado 'til Sunday.

Thursday, May 26

The UPS truck brought my backpack Tuesday night as I dithered at home, wanting badly to depart but waiting for steaks to grill and hoping to leave on some positive note.

All weekend my father and I had uncomfortable conversations about my undetermined future, except for the parts of the weekend when I was in a wedding, getting drunk after the wedding, or helping put old fence panels up in the garden for the tomato plants to grow on.

We drove four steel fenceposts in the almost-mud next to each row, and hung the panels with random scraps of wire and recycled clothes hangers. There are a hundred and twenty some plants. It's always like this. A few years ago I spent nearly all summer at home, and must have picked literal tons of tomatoes.

The steaks were good. So was the fresh asparagus and the sun tea.

Like a ripe tomato, the backpack is red. Unlike a tomato, it has many straps and buckles. It hangs on the peg rack in my kitchen, quietly insisting that soon we are going to go places.

Wednesday, May 26

John M. Ford is a genius.

Jessa Crispin is from Kansas. What's more, she mentions Salina, the town where I was born. The one with a giant elevator. For most of my life, I read the comics from every Sunday issue of the Salina Journal. They would be waiting in a pile every time I visited my Grandma's house.

There's an issue of Sandman where a character references Salina. I think Neil Gaiman looked at a map of the midwest and picked up some place names that sounded good for the line, but it sure did resonate.

Thursday, May 20

Yesterday, I ordered a backpack from Cabela's.

I did this for two reasons: First, I had a small stack of hoarded gift-certificates. Second, I decided that if I was leaving the continent for a while, my everything-in-one-bag philosophy was going to require something better than the shapeless and ill-balanced Eastpak bookbag I've been lugging around for three years.

Oh yeah. Just by the by, I'm leaving the continent for a while.

So, anyway, the pack I bought is actually not that big. Closer to a daypack, but hopefully just over the threshold where anything you really need (as long as you're close to civilization) will fit. I could have gone for a full-size model, but I kept having these visions: This is Brennen trying and failing to jam his pack into an overhead luggage compartment while people demonstrate their ability to swear in three or four languages. This is Brennen getting stuck in doorways. This is Brennen toppling in a high wind.

As is, and I've been thinking about this the way people who write for outdoor magazines write that they think about fishing trips, what do you really need if you're going to spend a month in England and parts beyond, cadging on the hospitality of a girlfriend and other unwary parties?

Things to take: Half a dozen tightly rolled changes of underwear. Similar quantities of socks. Toothbrush. Floss. Bandanas. One pair cargo pants (worn on plane), two pairs shorts, three shirts, one gray hoodie. Well-rehearsed but passionate I am not the actions of my government speech. Moleskine, sketchbook, and writing stuff (three pencils, one eraser, two archival markers; nothing that leaks or explodes). Guitar. Disc. Water bottle. Rubber bands, thread, safety pins, roll of athletic tape, extra elastic cargo strap thing. Belt. Passport.

Things not to take, even though I thought about it: Yerba maté and drinking gourd with funky filtered straw. (No, it doesn't really look like weed and you wouldn't want to smoke anything through the straw. You try explaining that to a harried customs officer after a stop in Amsterdam. I should ask Martijn if I can post his account of Japan and unprovoked body cavity searches some time.) Super-useful Leatherman tool. Heavy books. Battery-guzzling personal electronics. Flask.

Things I am still not sure about: Hat.

Guitar aside, what I'm not wearing should fit in 3600 cubic inches. Right? Maybe?

Wednesday, May 19

omit needless words!

The volume of writing is enormous, these days, and much of it has a sort of windiness about it, almost as though the author were in a state of euphoria. "Spontaneous me," sang Whitman, and in his innocence let loose the hordes of uninspired scribblers who would one day confuse spontaneity with genius.

I found a copy of Strunk and White's Elements of Style today. After skimming its 60-some pages, I agree with its broad attitude, if not with all of its minor technical opinions. The exact placement of commas in quotations or of apostrophes following possessive nouns might be important conventions, but conventions they remain. Brevity and clarity, on the other hand, are virtues no matter how the language evolves.

 

Walking home, I stopped and sat on the stadium steps. Across the street was a building with an interesting roof, so I started a line drawing.

I liked the roof.

That one slanted line with the squiggles just down and to the right a square and a half? That is supposed to indicate the ceiling of a recessed porch. It has a railing and sort of heavy mesh screens around the edges. I have a problem with angles and perspective - my diagonal lines are always off. Usually they're too steep rather than too shallow. The whole incline of the roof is less drastic than I drew it. Maybe I'm just compensating for the hard-earned knowledge that they're always steeper than they look from the ground.

Monday, May 17

hyper (text)

I almost got pulled into e2 again. I'm going to stop with this node because I don't want to be here the rest of the afternoon. Really.

Ok, so I lied.

politic

Meanwhile, President Bush demonstrates, again, his uncanny gift for irony.

On the scale of Bad Shit Happening in the World, I have to acknowledge that the President of the United States calling for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage (or restricting marriage on a permanent basis to the one female + one male model) is actually kind of low. More than anything, it comes as a sign that the good guys are winning this one: Some of us might live to see our civilization recognize the humanity of people who have weird sex.

If that wasn't the incipient reality, the horrified squalling of professional bigots would be far less deafening right about now.

Friday, May 14

Adele, is that you? It must be: Who else in Japan would be linking to the ill-maintained Cornfed site, after all...

I place the blame for my flying plastic addiction1 squarely on Adele's shoulders. I miss that girl. She was ridiculously attractive, caught Weezer references, and tended to be really funny. When you could hear what she was saying, at least.

1Don't let the suspiciously clean cut, athletic youth infesting disc sports these days fool you: Frisbee is worse than crack. It's a triumph of either enormous post-graduation inertia or a heretofore undemonstrated level of willpower that I'm not at Mayfest this weekend. Which, now that I think about it, is just stupid. What am I doing here?

wednesday, may 12

it's after 12:30; i'm sitting on
the steps of the united church of christ
a few yards away charleston street is closed
the city, deep in some project full of pipelines
has gouged a long trench down the middle
wind is tearing at the yellow safety tape
around parked equipment while a purposeful
large raccoon crosses the intersection with 10th
and orange lights flash on striped barriers
resembling sawhorses in construction.

a few nights ago i was at home and the younger dog
set up a racket in the front yard
turned out he had something treed;
we took a flashlight and found only
a tiny coon, high up in the branches
(who soon enough disappeared)
rather than the mountain lion
the gossip of neighbors had
led us to half expect.

Friday, May 7

infinite resolution

Via Making Light, some really cool smoke images on Sensitive Light. Also, birds.

I think I approve of the photoblog as a phenomenon. Importing some more reality cannot but improve the web.

But the camera lies: I hear you, o little voice of embittered caution. Of course the camera lies. We have whole industries based on lying really well with a camera. The camera also tells the kind of partial truth which is almost never solvent in the medium of words.

Thursday, May 6

levi, gitar

Wednesday, May 5

lyle grayson, billings, montana

Transcription, turning a spoken document into a written one, is an extended exercise in frustration. It has its compensations, though. For one thing, you can't buy a better demonstration that speech isn't writing isn't speech.

There was a rancher - and the thing we never knew was how these people ever made their living. They had a nice grove of trees, and in my youth we used to go there at the close of school for family pic- or community picnic. Well anyway, in the early days, back up... There was a big barn. They had a nice house, and this grove of trees. And back of the barn, which is typical of a lot of different areas, this coulee had a spring, way up in the coulee. And of course in a spring area, where it runs down in there's potholes, there's bogs. Well the Feds got in there, and destroyed stills. And of course that booze ran down into that swamp, and the bull got into there. And the bull got drunk. All he could do is sit on his hind end and beller. Well they got a stone boat, and they loaded him up and hauled him back to the barn to get him all sobered up.

I thought about changing the formatting, giving it structure that simple blocks of text don't have. It's still a difficult thing to catch the rhythms of words like these. There's this danger you're going to add something that's not there, give it a false weight or emphasis.

I can't put a year on it -
probably thirty-five, nineteen thirty-six
dry, dry, dry
people would plant their grain
and it would dry out

and I remember the days would be similar
to what we have here this morning, you know
clear blue sky
by afternoon there would be a cloud
that would form in the west
and you'd think
maybe it's gonna rain

it was a dust cloud,
and when that baby hit,
that dust infiltered
everything.

I remember Betty Helgren, a secretary at the high school, always using a transcription machine when I was kicked out of class and cooling my heels in the office. It's an odd detail to have lodged in my mind. One random piece of secretarial labor looks a lot like any other to most bored and angry junior high kids, but it must have held my attention somehow, because when I sat down with a transcription machine for the first time last week, I instantly got that sense of having put one of life's minor background pieces in place. So that's what was going on, you tell yourself when the knowledge takes effect. It's like an infinitely more trivial version of finally reading some great novel after years of almost-caught references, or discovering why it is that every1 love scene ever written trades on some image of electricity or gravity or fire.

1Hyperbole, n.
A figure of speech in which the expression is an evident exaggeration of the meaning intended to be conveyed, or by which things are represented as much greater or less, better or worse, than they really are; a statement exaggerated fancifully, through excitement, or for effect.

Tuesday, May 4

pixels

I generally don't favor lots of sidebar context and graphical gunk in my web pages, but lately I have noticed some elegant, sort of minimalist little icons for software and services and ideological alignments and whatnot on a bunch of weblogs. They have a standardized look, and I've been idly wondering where you can find them. A quick Google search turns up Taylor McKnight's Steal These Buttons with most of the ones I've seen. Some of them are really impressive bits of graphic design. Frex:

PERL (I don't hate the Macintosh any more. Is that so wrong?) [Moz ill a.] Say what you will about ICQ, at least the green flowers have some personality.

There is also a link to a little web interface (to this PHP script) for making generic text buttons. If you're looking for something quick 'n easy, it produces one of these after about 15 seconds of fiddling:

It's a w34p0n! [UNL History Department] Play Ultimate!

A lot of the ready-made buttons are GIFs, but if you want a PNG and you're fortunate enough to have a working version of ImageMagick installed, you can always just do convert whatever.gif whatever.png. ImageMagick was a bitch to get working on this brain damaged, proprietary little beast of a server, but it's saved me a lot of headaches since. For a less painful potential installation, gif2png looks good.

Alternatively to all these frivolous graphics, you could use CSS to do the same thing.

Sunday, May 2

and other observations

Eric goes off.

material culture: dead trees, part 2

Last month, I posted some bits of sketches. Details from three or four out of maybe a hundred I've done lately.

The past five or six years, I've owned a series of sketchbooks. Little ones, big ones, skinny spiral bound things and fat cheap tablets. Most of them are full, after a fashion. The truth is, though, that I don't really draw and I haven't since I was a little kid. Even when I was taking classes and pretending part time to be an art student, I did precious little in the way of trying to reproduce any of what I saw.

What I did do was obsessively fill the margins of every piece of paper I laid hands on with spidery, decorative abstractions.

I took a drawing class one semester from a guy named Wayne. I don't mean to imply any disrespect by omitting his surname, it's just that for the life of me I can't remember it. What I do remember is that Wayne didn't like comic art, or flaming swords, or much of anything that I put on paper. Wayne pissed me off.

Wayne was right. Not about the comic art, and maybe not about the flaming sword, but he nailed the rest of it. I was being lazy, and indulging this ridiculously constrained little habit instead of pushing myself into uncomfortable territory or learning how to see the world better.

A while ago, I noticed that I'd gone and bought this smallish book. Cheap, and as I remember it the only one left on the shelf. Maybe 8.5 by 5.5 inches, kind of thick, made out of recycled paper, picture of a tree on the cover. Perforated pages, square binding. Nothing perfect about it at all, not the kind of beautiful object I usually wind up with and feel worried I might ruin. It had this great utilitarian feel to it, like it just needed to be used. Like a good pair of cargo pants - the ones that have enough pocket room for eight paperbacks and go through a two-stage life-cycle where you eventually realize it's hot out and take a pair of scissors to the legs.

So now maybe I'm learning how to draw.

saturday, may 1

may day, beltane, &c.
i wander the stacks and compile a bibliography

weldon kees was born just a little south of here
he graduated from this school,
published things in its literary quarterly

i read articles on his status as the
'unacknowledged greatest poet of his generation'
the cult of personality surrounding a guy who
wrote words and song bleak as hell,
probably ended himself off the golden gate bridge,
was for years available almost nowhere besides
an out of print paperback edition
from the university of nebraska press

somebody has had the collection of his letters checked out
for three months
i would probably have some right to be bothered by this
if i hadn't been monopolizing two thirds of the library's
entire rexroth holdings all semester long

i notice that my shaggy-haired, slightly spaced out
but engagingly enthusiastic prof
for the history of rock
once wrote music to some of kees's poems
the ones about a guy named robinson

'The mirror from Mexico, stuck to the wall,
Reflects nothing at all. The glass is black.
Robinson alone provides the image Robinsonian.'

someone else wrote a short story
on the premise that robinson was actually a vampire
this essay says it doesn't quite
'transcend the limitations of its genre'.
neither, when you get right down to it,
does anything that uses the words
'transcend' and 'genre' in any combination.