Saturday, February 28
I went to a Jiffy Lube for an oil change this morning. The folks at Jiffy Lube are, in fact, pretty fast about changing the oil and vacuuming the seats. Of course, they're also trained to con you into spending four times as much as you had planned on semi-random maintenance details. I find this strange and alienating, because normally I get my car taken care of in Laurel, where I just talk to one of the guys at the co-op and he says, sure, drop it off in the morning and we can get to it, and then what needs to be done gets done, and that is that. No one is worried about hustling me for an extra $13.95 because they know that next time I need my oil changed, I'll probably come to them again, and anyway what kind of crap would that be to pull with somebody you might see in church the next morning or at the bar on Friday night?
My analysis may be flawed.
I guess glenn mcdonald sometimes occupies different ideological space than I do, but not today. Go read what he has to say about marriage.
si vales, bene est. ego valeo.
Textpattern, the newly public web editing/publishing thing by Dean Allen, looks kind of cool. Allen does Textism, which is a consistently well-designed and visually appealing weblog. It is prettier than this, and I think that is a good thing. Have I reached a turning point in my development as a human being? (Probably not. It is, after all, still controlled-width black text on a white background with a minimum of clutter.)
Like I was saying, Textpattern looks neat. But since I spent five or ten minutes and it is still not running, I have placed it in that category of things I just don't have time or sufficient need for right now. I think I will check back in in a month or two, when there are fewer bugs and more instructions, and when I am using a server that is not completely stupid.
My Quixotic dream of writing an entry every single day this month fell apart late last week, and that is probably just as well. At present I owe my social and academic universe an interview, a paper, 56 lines of Ovid, $325.81, an oil change, two functional pieces of software, six handwritten letters, a transcription, a passel of electronic mails, a burnt CD, and one good explanation.
Also, I am hungry and need to sleep some time before I drive to Springfield, MO at 2:30 in the afternoon.
When I stop to think about it, I have to wonder why I'm sitting here writing this, and since I don't have a good answer, I think I shall bid you all a good evening.
A dark but subtly patterned bird, the kind that looks generic from a distance and like an aliform tapestry-piece close up, landed on the rail beside me as I walked across the bridge the other day. We looked at one another and I asked if he was a bird of omen, but I never got a satisfactory answer.
Today is not even March, but it's the first real day of Spring. It's in our blood now. The ice is breaking up. I am muddy and perhaps a little sunburned and I can smell the thaw mixed with exhaust fumes and a cold breeze from somewhere outside the city.
That is not a cigarette in my hand. It is, um, a rolled up ticket stub.
There is absolutely no guarantee that the everyday bigotry of "Dude that's just fucking gross." and "Nothin' against gay people, but..." will be overcome in any lasting way, but occasionally it is balanced with a little hope.
I had genre dreams last night.
Tonight I am going to Omaha, and Jeremy and I will go to the Joslyn in order to sit in the balcony while Matt Ward, Jim James, Conor Oberst, and Mike Mogis play and sing. I will try to make sketches, but will find myself too removed from the stage to get much sense of detail, and too inept to capture anything that is particular rather than generic about the small figures with guitars. Except perhaps for M. Ward's hat - it is clear that he is wearing a hat. Eventually I will put the pencil away and just listen; the better decision.
Later we will go to an apartment where everyone I don't know is a married pharmacy student, or married to a pharmacy student. I will sit quietly and drink my beer, but slowly, because I am driving.
The Moleskine notebook is as much a well-marketed cult as it is an object. Still, it is a useful and aesthetically pleasing object. Or rather, a class of them - Modo e Modo produce a whole slew of styles now, with four kinds of paper, two or three sizes, and things like address books and pocket folders.
My first Moleskine came in the mail a couple of years ago, as an unexpected Christmas gift. The basic pocket size, with graph paper pages. It took me until the following August — through noticing that poetry was worth paying attention to, a couple of major road trips, and my first real move away from home — to fill that one. Once it was full I spent weeks looking around for another decent notebook that didn't cost $10 a pop before I broke down and ordered a couple from Dick Blick. At some point I started finding them at Barnes & Noble. There's a little pile of small black rectangles on my shelf now, bulging slightly with ticket stubs and other paper ephemera.
These aren't the only notebooks I use. They're less than ideal for some situations. I've used them for notes in class when nothing else was handy, but they're too expensive to be wasting the space, and anyway my notes are too scattershot and disorganized for a pocket sized book that contains things I actually value. They take ink pretty well, but the fountain pens I favor can bleed through the pages - mechanical pencils or very fine tip ballpoints and markers work better. Sometimes a fat sketchbook or a cheap gridded composition book or whatnot just works better for all kinds of reasons.
Still, for what goes into them - copied poems, library call letters, song titles, addresses, grocery lists, Latin paradigms, a lot of thinking on paper and emotional purging which has lately become an irregular personal journal (the first I've kept since junior high) - they are excellent tools and probably better archives than most anything else I could be doing. My mind leads a curiously compartmentalized life, sometimes, and it can be valuable to reconnect the obsessions and realizations of the present moment with others. Maybe the perspective I'm getting here is shallow, but it probably beats having none at all.
I'm not wedded to Moleskine as a brand name. Their books remind me of the way Oregon Chai has slurped onto a giant market by being the definitive US implementation of the sweetened-milk-black-tea-with-spices idea. Oregon Chai is, in fact, pretty excellent stuff, but the important thing is that it's a good idea. (As a billion or two people could probably have told us decades ago, if it had occurred to anyone to ask.) If someone shows me a better alternative or a more economic take on the small-notebook-with-strap-and-pocket idea, I'll be happy to try it out. Especially since at this rate I'll be going through one a month pretty soon.
Not to harp on the cheesy befanged skull-motif or anything, but I've just discovered that Fireworks, Macromedia's web graphics tool, is easier to use than Illustrator.
That eye and the placement of the mouth could be adjusted, but I think it works. As, you know, a cheesy skull with sharp teeth.
i suddenly felt deeply
awkward, and left as soon as i could,
but the awkwardness lingered
and became a kind of general malaise
until every possibility
started to seem
exhausted, every groove
and pattern worn past
smoothness to gritty,
Magnatune, an electronic music label with a less than inspiring name using a Creative Commons license, does look kind of interesting. I haven't been paying enough attention to justify any commentary about the current 'net based alternatives to dealing with "the music industry" on their own terms, but you know people are doing good work.
Meanwhile on the low order, ground level end of things, even in Lincoln, Nebraska in the middle of February, there is music. I'm going to the Zoo Bar tonight for a Love Evil Funk Quartet show, but if I weren't doing that I would probably walk the extra blocks over to Knickerbockers and catch the acoustic (p|f)unk stylings of Zero Hero. If I weren't doing either of those things I would probably stay in the basement and strum predictable chord sequences (GDAmC, GDAmC, GDAmC, GD...) in between coughing fits.
Today, I re-discovered that I don't know how to use a drawing program very effectively. I'm not going to go into how long it took me to duplicate the Cornfed logo, because it's just embarassing.
I have to say, though, that vector graphics could be kind of fun. Spend the time to build up a library of original drawings, and you could recombine them in all sorts of interesting ways.
Not that I'm going to be doing, say, a hybrid webcomic full of little ideographs and diagrams any time soon. But it would be cool. Wouldn't it?
footing on the bridge
is treacherous - today's thaw left snowmelt
for sundown to turn glassy slick
i walk with my hands in pockets despite
the singular likelihood of a fall
feeling buttoned down and streamlined
observe: i know where i am going
self deception is slippery too
like the kind of textured glass blocks
they sometimes build walls out of,
allowing light to pass while
- the stairwells in the last place i lived
were full of those
now the elements of my daily transit
are the dessicated brown of last summer's
tomato plants in the snow,
shoes hanging from the utility line
across the street, a moment's walk
from the blue house where small brown children
lived (the very smallest occasionally asked me
questions, the only one of which
i ever understood was
what are you doing?
i didn't have a good answer)
the place where it is fastest to cross
10th street, from alley to sidestreet
where the no-crossing sign is posted
the concrete and chainlink curve
over a yard full of huge steel
structural elements, connected in
some vital way to the rails
where pass megatons of coal
piled in open topped cars
returning in the hours after midnight,
the church on the corner and
the two halves of the neon cross on its steeple
installed days (or was it weeks?) apart
two different shades of electrified white
the moon, strange striations of cloud like the spokes
of a great wheel clouds of steam pouring
from the campus physical plant in the middle distance
while the tracks and their red signal lights
vanish at a horizon otherwise lost and
the tracks of a single rabbit disappear into the
I seem to be on Ken Knabb's mailing list, since I get an e-mail whenever something new goes up on his Rexroth archive. This could bother me, since as far as I can remember it's unsolicited - but it seems like I always wind up reading the new stuff and being fairly glad of it. This time it's "The Function of Poetry" and "Unacknowledged Legislators", which are as certainly worth reading as they are beyond my present ability to comment intelligently on their contents.
Also, today comes a link to an issue of Jacket with a bunch of Rexroth content, including some audio of poetry read to jazz.
One pair of dull scissors, four disposable razors, and approximately half an orange-striped can of generic shaving cream later, I step into the shower and wash off the debris. It took longer than I expected, but lacking the proper tools always slows me down no matter what my determination. It seems strange after so many months that once I turn off the water, shaking my head like a dog is soundless and only throws off a few droplets. How long did it take for that to become a characteristic gesture?
one of my two best friends from highschool
called this afternoon to say he's getting married
in june and would i be a groomsman
'course i said yes
while failing to register quite as much shock
as i ought to have
maybe i'm getting used to this marriage thing
at least when other people do it
i'll be twenty-three years old in a week
i guess i can stop saying it just seems like
we're too young to be going through
these particular motions.
It's in Flash, but I just noticed there's real stuff now at the official Dispatch site. An announcement that they're calling it quits, with a promise that there'll be a farewell show announced soon - no idea how long that's been up, but it's good to know something sort of concrete. If there's even the slightest chance I can make that show, well... Damn.
You can stream a lot of the music, too. Which is cool and generous and probably a good way to market the stuff. But then these guys have pretty well always demonstrated that they get it. The distribution of music thing, that is.
What got me started on that was a short post over on the suddenly loquacious Stephen's Weblog about "Chemical Calisthenics", one of the half-dozen coolest things I've ever heard coming out of a random radio station.
Speaking of random and cool, there's a Love Evil Funk Quartet show at the Zoo Bar next Thursday. All you Nebraska-dwelling types should come. We can sit in the front corner and drink pitchers of something dark and frothy. It will be good, I promise.
The Perseus Digital Library is impressive. It provides classical texts with each word linked to dictionary entries and usage statistics, which in trying to read something like the Ars amatoria is an improvement on flipping dictionary and grammar pages by hand, at least for speed. It's this sort of resource that makes me yearn for something really lightweight and portable with wireless and a really nice screen that I can treat more or less like a book.
On the other hand, having imposed a degree of separation between much of my life and access to computers, I suppose it's probably all right that it will be a while before I own one again. By the time I'm willing to engage the networked world that much, maybe I will have learned to use the tools instead of being used by them.
Part of that will probably be finding a machine which imposes little or no constraint on my physical location. Tying myself to a single point in space for such long stretches of time is one of the stupider and more self-limiting things I've ever done, and no set of feel-good spatial metaphors for networks or information quite overcomes that. I blame William Gibson.
Anyway, back to Perseus for a moment: One of those web scripting projects I've thought about for a while and probably won't attempt any time soon would be really dense automatic hyperlinking something like the dictionary-entry-per-word method.
It has probably occurred to a lot of us by now that doing a quick Google search for what we assume to be the most widely known or definitive resource on a given referent, then hard coding a link, is in a lot of ways the sort of repetive task that ought to be automated. (I should perhaps say "in all ways but one", since picking a single useful resource out of search engine results for a given term is still Way Hard to automate, Google's "I feel lucky" button notwithstanding.) And that the value it adds to your text is usually minimal compared to the time you spend. Furthermore, the web is full of good resources for which the same pattern holds - some of them much more likely to return valuable information through an automated link than even a system like Google. Examples that spring to mind are dict.org, Wikipedia, and Everything2. You probably have your own set of references, but those would be good places to start.
So here's the idea: why not feed web text through filters on the server side that break it into reasonable particles and mark up the better part of them as links to appropriate resources, so that an entire document becomes kind of a clickable reference without the writer having to wade through and rehash search engine results?
Well, for one thing because it would probably be really hard to do well. Trivial to do badly, I'm guessing, but extraordinarily difficult if you wanted the links to be broken up logically and pointed at the right kinds of resources. For another, it would probably tend to be a disaster in interface terms, and it would violate most of the conventions that have grown up around the uses of the link, which tend to imply things like intent, deliberate reference, and endorsement.
Still, maybe this would be worth taking a few hours' crack at some time. There might be uses for a weak implementation.
Every day, I told myself. February is a short month, there is something wrong if you can't write something on every single day of at least one month, just once.
This was a foolish thing to have told myself, but then, I am always telling myself foolish things.
It's not that I don't have material, mind: There are the Youngblood Brass Band, who I saw at the Zoo Bar the other night, which is a place you could easily write something about, and then there is the fact that it was ridiculously cold that night, and has been for most of the time since, which holds particular fascination for me because I don't have a parking permit this semester and wouldn't be able to find a space to park in if I did, and besides that would entail getting all the snow off the car and moving it out of the driveway; anyway, no matter how much milder the climate here is than some other places I have been, nothing drives home the fact that it's really fucking cold like going about on foot when you should know better. I could use this to segue into how when I was walking home the night before last some anonymous University employee in a very small pickup truck plowed me a clear sidewalk for like three blocks and I didn't get a chance to say thanks, but it kind of made me feel better about humanity. This could lead more or less naturally to how it is probably going to snow again, which by itself isn't that interesting a statement, but would naturally facilitate a discussion of why I think it's important to talk about the weather.
But back to the musical thing. I could also write about that Rilo Kiley show the other night, which was pretty good, or about the albums and performances of some singer-songwriter types like Teitur and Glen Phillips and Mike Bloom and this local guy whose name, I think, is Shawn Cole, who was cool enough to buy me good beer at the only bar in Princeton, Nebraska after he played acoustic stuff at a coffee shop one night, or about the Replacements tape I bought just because I thought I liked the Replacements but wasn't sure. (It turns out I was right.) I could even mention that I tried, again, to write some lyrics and discovered that yes, writing lyrics is really not exactly easy, in fact it's way harder than you might think, but it might also be far from impossible.
I could write about any of that. What I'm actually going to do is trudge over to the rec center and put on some cleats (red ones, Nikes, apparently intended for baseball, $15 Scheel's clearance rack) and chase a disc. Peace out.
the day is ended
sometime past and i
with heavy soul and
eyelids weary, turning
am to my blankets dark
the shape of dreams
more even than i want
to feel above or
below the quiet
of neurons weaving
their own slow accord
with nature and
And then it occurred to me: Writer's block is mostly just a sign that you need to do something else for a while. Fry some eggs. Go outside. Trudge through the snow. Build a house. Drink a beer. Play catch with something. Pick up an instrument. Take a nap. Plant a tree. You know, something.
This has been another exercise in expressing my impulses as potentially disastrous generalized advice. If you'll excuse me, I'm going to step away from the keyboard for a bit.
It's the birthday of poet Galway Kinnell born in Providence, Rhode Island (1927). He became obsessed with the poetry of William Butler Yeats in college when his roommate, the poet W. S. Merwin, woke him up one night and read Yeats to him until dawn. After that night, Kinnell devoted himself to writing poetry in the style of Yeats. He eventually found his own voice as a poet, but he named all of his children after important figures in Yeats's work.
He said, "To me, poetry is somebody standing up, so to speak, and saying, with as little concealment as possible, what it is for him or her to be on earth at this moment."
I guess that's hardly an only definition of poetry, but it is a pretty good one.
Also, Scott McCloud rules.