Saturday, July 19, 2014

family vacation - took the kids southwest of lubbock, through brownfield & plains, up through roswell new mexico, and up to ruidoso, a mountain resort area, for about ten days. high up in the mountains, the pines smelled so good, and it was cool, and it rained, and i thought, it's nice to be only four hours from the rockies - but, it would be nicer to just be there all the time. high up there, we rested, walked around in the mountains, swam a lot, put our feet in the mountain river (ruidoso means noisy as in rio ruidoso), went to white sands & las cruces to visit the folks, and attended a country-western music performance which was of course the high point of my trip.

i was aware that roswell was a town famous for an alien event in the 1940's, so i peered out the window as we drove through; it was sunny, and it looked like san angelo, very well taken-care-of, not ashamed of its high-plains sunny bright character, prosperous, concerned about its appearance. we saw a few aliens on the billboards and saw a museum devoted to aliens. it was near the pecos river so i noticed that whereas artesia, also on the pecos, is only halfway to the mountains, roswell was actually much closer, and in fact the mountain swimming pool got a roswell radio station. the town was surrounded by that vast plain, where it looks like it goes a hundred miles, and once you get out of the city, there's nothing. and city? it's only got 40,000 or so; there aren't many cities in new mexico.

as a faithful license plate watcher, i was happy to catch a few right away, but noticed that, on these backroads, you don't see much besides NM & TX - after we got to ruidoso, it was pretty easy to pick up OK, AZ, UT (life elevated) and CA. Before the trip was over I'd got most of the west - WA, OR, ID, MT, even AK, which is the triple-word-score of license plate watching. but way out here, in the folds of the sacramento mountains, south of the main rockies and not on any cross-country interstates, it was hard to pick up any of the new england or southern states, and i only ended up with about 28. got TN, OH, NY, CT, FL & LA, but there were tons i never got. they just don't come out here all that much.

high up in the pines my wife got a lot of anxiety about coming back to work, but we had to roll off the mountain and down the hill anyway. i'd looked up a little about the roswell incident - how five different books were written about it - how there was no controversy that some aircraft fell from the sky and landed out there in the middle of nowhere - about controversy over the 'alien autopsies' and about all the secrecy surrounding the case, etc. - it was impressive. the car dealerships had alien statues out there - i saw them this time more clearly, even though i was driving. we stopped at a dairy queen in roswell, and dairy queens, it seems to me, are always somewhat otherworldly, no matter where they are.

sometimes, it seemed like the bleakest, emptiest environment a person could possibly drive through, brick streets in a town that turn into dirt less than two blocks from the courthouse, little more than a dairy queen in some towns, miles of flat red-clay soil in every direction. i thought sadly of coming down out of the beautiful mountains into a flat, dry, hot, sunny, arid plain and i got a little depressed. but i did run into one character, in a convenience store, who had moved from ruidoso to lubbock and was glad of it, because he had access to more stuff he needed and didn't feel as isolated; obviously he didn't care so much for the high mountain beautiful air.

right on the intersection of main street in roswell i saw it: the true triple-word-score of all license plates, hawaii. it had a rainbow on it. i always wonder about those - what did they do, ship the truck over here somehow? seemed like it came from outer space or something. i have no idea.

back at home now, and i promise you pictures, of the mountains, of white sands, whatever. i notice that i've completely failed to get them on here, and must rectify that situation. the sooner the better. chou

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

the hippies in this town look vaguely familiar. of course the hippie era is what, forty or fifty years past, and back then, i didn't even pass through here, really, though it was all the same people, and some were bound to end up down here, in a remote mountain outpost, the southern part of the rockies, the sacramentos of south-eastern new mexico where we happen to be vacationing for ten days. we are yuppies now, to some degree, with a new car, a "chalet" with wrap-around porch looking out at the mountains, enough money to eat at the restaurants. and they, fifty years on, have houses, or businesses, or some kind of gig, if not retirement and way to hang around, living in the high mountain pines and shopping at the same places i do.

to us new mexico is a welcome break from the flat hot sunny lubbock that we left behind. i'm dying to advertise it all over facebook but i consider it unwise to tell 700 friends that i'm out of town, somebody is bound to tell the wrong person. my friends are all over the world, following the holande-argentina match, traveling themselves, sending in pictures from whatever outpost they've chosen to spend july in. but i just figure, with my fiddle locked up in lubbock, even though most of our computers are here in new mexico with us, oh well, it's just time to spend some private time, not even share what the family is doing, resting and breathing in high mountain pine air.

riudoso is a kind of tourist town, but, four days into vacation, and i've only got about sixteen license plates, the vast majority that i've seen were texas with a handful of oklahoma, arizona, colorado. people don't know about ruidoso unless they ski, in which case they come here from places like lubbock a lot. the high mountain dryness makes a good kind of snow, but most people don't know about it, and that makes it a good place. in the summer it's best for just getting out of a hot flat dry place like west texas, and getting some perspective on the world, at about sixty-six hundred feet.

life slows to a crawl as i get my wife to watch the kids half the time and i actually get to read, rest, keep up on the world cup; it's a vacation, and the last one i'll get for a while probably. the holande-argentina match was a good example. so many of my facebook friends who are from latin america got wrapped up in the cup, particularly colombian friends, that i couldn't help but get wrapped up in the results and see it from their point of view. i didn't really have a dog in the fight - though i knew people from argentina, and know people in the netherlands as well, in the end i wanted argentina only because i thought all of south america should have someone in there, once brazil was so dramatically ousted. but really i kept track of the match mostly because the moon was rising on a high mountain valley, and i was out on the porch outside breathing high mountain pines, and i'd scrolled pretty much completely through my facebook, having read virtually everything of interest.

i have two books, one about the dust bowl in the depression and another a murder mystery, and i'm almost done with the dust-bowl one, but the other one was kind of disturbing so i shied away from it a little. rather read about dust coming in the cracks, in the windows, piled up at the fencerows, and six years of drought corresponding to economic hardship that meant there was no money, no jobs, no where to go. it gives a person something to compare the modern high plains to - where there's plenty of work in some places, but whole swaths of the country are hurting for work or meaningful economic activity, and everyone slipping further and further into the quicksand of slow economy. i can't imagine sitting around a dust-surrounded mud hut, for six years, waiting for it to rain, but, since we've found a way to tap the aquifer dry and we've hit our own six years, we'll soon be left with no aquifer, and a somewhat similar situation. except that a whole plains full of cotton fields is surely different from a whole plains full of tilled grassland, where wheat was supposed to be planted but in fact never was. that plains blew away, millions of square feet of topsoil, but the one we've got now, well, it's got tenuous soil but at least cotton is growing on it. not that i'd know a dustbowl, it could probably hit me in the face before i'd even know what i was looking at.

i've put much more of my spirit into music today, what's left of my writing is right here. my novel, almost done but put aside. e pluribus haiku - published, but not even advertised on my template here. my other books - shelved for the moment. writing doesn't go with the intensive childcare i've been doing, nearly as well as crazy-making fiddle. i'm trying to learn the fiddler's role of calling the songs, and knowing how they start - maybe even singing a few, and i will get started on this though it may take a while. meanwhile, i sit on the mountain porch - a moment in time, a deer placidly watching me, this deer lives nearby i'm sure, and is somehow convinced i'll feed it. i will not feed it...one is not supposed to do that, i believe. they've declared thistle illegal in town, but i found some of it and even took its picture. why is it so bad? i'm not sure, i know very little about it, i don't even know if i found the kind that's illegal. it was quite bright in the morning sunlight though, so, i got it. whatever it symbolizes, i'll figure it out, as soon as possible. and maybe learn that song about wildflowers being free, and not having to care about our cultivating efforts.

in two days, off to white sands, and las cruces, to visit my parents. the license plates, they'll pick up down there at white sands, as it's a national monument visited widely by many tourists. this on the other hand is a remote, isolated outpost, and i like it that way.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

patriotism

it's kind of a wild scene to go across the highway to the city park and watch the fireworks, but we managed to do it, i and three children, and actually found a friend of the smallest and had an enjoyable fireworks show. after many years, many cities, many fireworks shows, i can say that i enjoy every one, though i'm wary, and i appreciate the effort a city puts into it to make it happen. a good fireworks show allows me to say to my children: i won't buy them, and shoot them into the street, or into the neighbor's yard, or anywhere else. i'm keeping my hands off this stuff, and letting the city handle it.

a neighbor brought over a kind of anti-fundamentalist passage that tried to argue against using the bible to support every war the country gets into. it's true that i've been opposed to every war that happened in my lifetime, as i haven't been given a good reason for any of them, but i consider this patriotic, since it's our duty as citizens to think critically and let our government know how we feel. this might be different for soldiers, who must follow the government way no matter whether there's a good reason or not, but we citizens are free to criticize and in fact must - if we'd done that a little more we might not be in the pickle we're in. in fact unlike many of my friends, i've come to the realization that one should not reject patriotism, since practiced in its pure form it's doing right by the nation and the culture under whose protection you live - one should redefine patriotism and live it out as you feel it should be lived out. i for example do not consider it patriotic to arm myself to the teeth and dare everyone to come and try to break into my home. patriotism can be shouting for team usa in the world cup, which i'm all for, or going down on the border to try to make signs that show people they aren't welcome on this side of it. but i define patriotism as doing the right thing for this nation and its people, and i take that patriotism seriously. if the nation didn't have an economy, a military, border police, etc., it would be like syria or iraq, and i'm glad it's not. so i like and support this government structure, even now, even though i disagree with so much of what they do with our tax money and foreign policy.

there is no question that this nation and government is about to experience some hard times. dragged into war in the south china sea, dragged into war in the ukraine, already mired in occupation in afghanistan, korea, and various other places, we are stretched very thin, and china is getting tired of paying the bill. why should they pay our retirees and our healthcare, when they don't pay their own retirees, and they have no healthcare? but our government needs guidance. who is around to tell them that it's an enormous waste of money and resources to park our tanks over in the middle east? six trillion, seven trillion, all wrapped up in gas and supplies and soldiers' lives, and hoping we can take care of these boys when they come home in the future is some kind of faraway, future dream that maybe we'll have money for when the time comes, kind of like my social security and retirement. we've had signs of trouble, signs of its caving in. fiscal responsibility should lead us to this conclusion: stop putting billions of dollars into setting up a multi-cultural state in iraq, palestine or any other place. stop supporting shiites, israelis, or anyone else who uses the money for aggressive suppression of a people. start letting countries that have their own economies - korea, japan, germany, etc. - provide for their own defense. give our support to peoples who deserve independence and who rightfully won't be happy until they have some; this would include the kurds and the palestinians.

we get the kind of nation that we collectively settle for, and if that is a powerful, swaggering, drone-dropping bully, that's what we've got. but when we the people say that we want a government that is not so quick to kill, no longer concerned about catching a bin laden who is dead anyway, and eager to build a non-competitive, non-hostile world, then that's what we will begin to see around us. i have no problem with fireworks, the red, blue, white, swirly kind, the pretty pinwheels, exploding things in the sky. some people say that they reflect our nation's violent past, and its obsession with explosives, and its tendency to turn to violence whenever there's a problem somewhere in the world - all this is true. but the act of sitting out on the grass in front of a city park, watching the city dudes make colorful explosions in the sky, is not itself violent. they do it all the time, and it hurts fewer people than when you let people buy them and blow them up in their own yards.

people don't take anything the quakers say about foreign policy seriously, and that's because we oppose all wars on moral grounds. true, i also wouldn't fight in a war, because i believe it's wrong to kill even for a just reason, and as a result i'd make a terrible soldier even though i'd be willing to help my country in any way it wanted. but perhaps because of my perspective i can ask: has violence ever truly worked, or not led to more violence? all these times we commit american lives, has this led to a more peaceful world? now we could look back to world war two, which was before my time, or the revolution itself, and say, yes, this was justifiable violence. you can kill somebody because they killed your uncle or because their taxman is causing you unspeakable pain, but my religion would still tell me that that's wrong and i shouldn't do it, and it's partly rational: because, no matter how cool revenge feels, violence begets more violence, and it has always been this way. to transfer this logic to the international stage, would it be a surprise if we were mired in more wars in the near future? no. the violence, export of arms, drones etc. have set the stage to the point where we are now expected to keep these arms coming: the bully is forced to prove and renew his status regularly. of course i don't expect foreign policy makers in this country to listen to me. i would just ask though: do you have a reason that we're occupying afghanistan? a reason that we're drone-bombing random wedding parties in yemen or pakistan? i thought not. we are reduced to supporting violent, random acts of aggression, and apparently we've become accustomed to not even being given a reason.

enough of this rant. my family, down by the lone river that snakes through lubbock, enjoyed the fireworks immensely. our earlier town was smaller, thus, the fireworks were smaller. this particular river, the only one for hundreds of miles on the caprock, high southern plains, was the site of the ruination of the comanche when white folk chased them down and cornered them, what maybe only a hundred and fifty years ago or so. maybe, as the mostly conservative texans around me say, i should shut up and be grateful for what i have, and hoist an american flag outside my house alongside theirs. i say, if a flag means blind obedience to a number of wars, i'll pass, but of course, it means what you want it to mean. obviously i'd make a better canadian than american, but that ship has sailed, and i'm here, no texas flag, no american flag, even the flagpole itself is beginning to bend a little. i can tell you that the idea that these poor soldiers are "fighting for our freedom" is beginning to sound a little hollow - in the revolutionary war, they were fighting for our freedom; in the civil war they were fighting for some people's freedom; but in afghanistan? in iraq?

this country has a number of internal problems - race relations, economic justice, etc. i say, if you are working to better these problems, every day, you're a patriot. so i count myself a patriot. i celebrate the wild and diverse beauty of a fantastic country with a volume of poetry, i do my best to help the place, and i speak out when i feel its foreign policy is misguided. i realize that working for peace has, at times, been labeled as terrorism. that's bullsh-t. terrorism is killing people in order to instill fear and get people to do irrational things, like start unnecessary six-trillion-dollar haliburton wars. that ship, too, has sailed. they would be wasting their time calling me a terrorist, unless someone were to listen to me, in which case i suppose i'd undermine the whole tenuous card castle.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

two events were noteworthy in the annals of trying to keep too many kids busy in a long hot summer, in the middle of hot dry flat west texas where i guess people are used to having a great time, but i just feel mostly hot & dry, burned to a crisp, with a voice going rasp from yelling in all directions, kids going bong-bong-bong from soda or whatever, and unable to focus well enough on my direction, to stay close to me.

the first place, the ranch museum, one of my favorite places, in fact, because it brings these old ranch houses to a single site, in the city of lubbock, up against the marsha sharp expressway, and these places when put together give you a sense of what ranching was like back in the good old days. they have an old santa fe train, pictures coming i hope, and the kids liked that, crawling over that, in it, under it, against it, leaning on its little metal hoses. in the world of push-the-envelope-see-how-far-you-can-go-before-some-grownup-tells-you-to-behave, this is an ideal playground. now the ironic thing was that the ranch museum had given the kids a goal, which was something like find-the-stuffed-rabbit, and the rabbit as it turned out was on that train somewhere, and my son found it, or so he claimed, i never actually saw it. the place is often crawling with a kind of wild jackrabbit, who used to come out right by the back entrance there, though they've cut a lot of their bushes, and it was very hot, so we didn't see any live ones. but by god they found the stuffed one, out in the train, and we hung about this stage, which was actually indoors, in a place that was cooled a bit by the breeze off the workers' garage and the marsha sharp, a nice breeze which, along with the shade of the stage place, made it downright tolerable. i challenged the kids to perform, but they wouldn't. they tore around. we learned a few random things about taking care of horses, branding, what to wear, etc. the main thing we learned was that it's generally pretty hot when you don't have air conditioning, and you come to appreciate shade, a gentle breeze, the cover of an old boxcar, still in the field.

the other place was the science spectrum, which was holding "critter-fest," apparently this town has no zoo, and its circuses are maybe too few and far between. or too commercial. for some reason the city and the science spectrum worked together to bring a lion show, a crocodile/alligator show, a tent where one could ride a horse, a larger tent where people rode an elephant, etc. it was an odd combination of zoo and circus, it cost a fortune, it made you wonder how well they treated the animals, or if that was in fact a life worth living for the animals, and above all it offered kids the chance to once look some animal in the eye, whether it be an ancient elephant, behind crusted skin and eyes, or maybe a goat, or a miniature horse that they just rode, who just happened to be peeing and pooping on the spot to everyone's great mortification, but still had the presence of mind to say hello to the kid, and try to explain why he walked so funny.

now this is the place where i made the mistake of letting them have sodas, and they were like zing-zing-zing in every direction, toward the horse, toward the goat, toward the parking lot or whatever and i had to call in all directions at all times, and they still didn't hear me. it was a critter fest, and i had the critters, mine weren't tied up, or behind a cage. my yelling, my extortion, my near-violent fits of rage were on display for the public to see. the kids were just being kids, though they waited until they got to the bathroom, to do the peeing and pooping. I was lucky, in retrospect.

I'm reminded of a story of a kid in a small windswept depression-era panhandle town, where the people were starving and ran all the rabbits into the center of a village, and then clubbed them, because they saw the rabbits as competition, basically, for meager harvests and wheat. and the kid followed everyone and listened carefully as the poor rabbits got clubbed to death, screaming in horror. Another story was about a girl at sea world, who just happened to see a dolphin at the right time, and communicate which as we know is possible. it's like, maybe these animals, captive that they are, are aware that it's their mission in life to reach across that line, and connect to some human on some level, quick, in order to save not only their species but every other, too. it's because, as time goes on, it's man against the rest of 'em, and man isn't sparing any of the weapons. do any of these people have any compassion at all for the animal world? well, yes, a little, but it turns out, most of their real knowledge comes from experiences like this one, where they may or may not get to reach out and actually touch some poor animal. and the animal's whole job is to not bite back in any way. to be a specimen example of the animal kingdom such that people can know just a little more about how animals feel.

one more story. winter sunday, city of buffalo, my sister-in-law, who is blind, brings her seeing-eye-dog into the buffalo zoo. now the zoo is a large place, but it's open on a sunday morning, free in its own way, people can walk right in, without of course actually touching the animals. and she brings that dog with her, as is her right, though i'm not sure what they'd say if the zoo actually had any representatives there to stop her. the lions roared, the elephants roared especially loudly. an enormous racket went up throughout the zoo. it was as if the entire zoo had to warn everyone about the possibility of a transient dog on a leash passing through the human walkway area.

why do i relate these stories? i am fraught with moral doubt every time i go to a zoo, obviously. i think it's good to show kids animals, in all shapes and sizes. i think it's good to use zoos to conserve animal species worldwide. i think it's good that kids in a town have a kid-like thing to do on a sweltering day. everything else about the place makes me uncomfortable. i don't, in my heart, believe that those tigers are living the life a tiger was meant to live. the man held out a stick. when he did, they climbed up. once one of them roared, that was a fine moment. but mostly they lived the life of defeated captive.

reminds me of the guys who got caught by aliens and brought to an alien city, where they were put in a cage in an alien zoo. every day aliens walked by and stared at them, alone in their cage. finally they were bored, and they captured some small bug and made a cage for it, and kept it in captivity. at this point, the aliens, surprised, learned their language, and released them, telling them, we finally realized you were civilized, when we saw you imprisoning those little bugs.

such is life, and i intend to celebrate freedom, every moment of it, and maybe teach the critters as much as i can about it. it's the beginning of fourth week, the fourth is on friday, and so i'm sure almost every day will have fireworks, and there will be a celebration, and we will have some time off, as the temps get over a hundred, the days get long, the kids get restless, they do lots of screens and have nowhere to go, but maybe the lazy river. there's soccer on television, but we aren't watching it; there's wild vegetables out in the garden, but i have no time to pick around out there because i'm always in here watching over their shoulders as they do inane games and watch cartoons. but i take my patriotism seriously, so i intend to write about it. what's best for this country and its people, most notably its children, the most impressionable, the helpless? i think that, like fathers' day, this is one holiday where we really ought to think about what we want, what kind of culture we want to pass along, and get started in the act of creating what we want to pass along. would that be a war-mongering, hateful, competitive, vicious culture where someone's always a loser and by god if it isn't you now, it will be soon enough? or what? i'm not sure, but in the eyes of those animals i learned something: we're missing something here. like maybe, we're missing the main point.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

home alone with the littlest, and the cloud has grayed over unexpectedly, maybe some clouds are passing through one direction or the other. we've actually had some rain this month: some clouds have come through, dropped some rain, in some cases even a little storm, with lightning and thunder. my standing joke is that i'd like to go out and stand in it, but i'm afraid to rob the ground beneath of its annual supply. when it even drizzles, it brings out elation, an overjoyed feeling of a fine spray on a sizzling tin roof. the yard, though it's mostly weeds and a fine kind of crabgrass, drinks it up thirstily. it amazes me that there's anything green at all.

i've been reading a book, the worst hard times, about life in the depression, when it dried out completely, and soil left turned by fanatic farming blew up into the air for four straight years, at least, i'm only up to 1935. it was a rural country, and the story deals with parts north of here, dalhart, boise city, baca county, places like that. but it tells how people struggled with the intense dryness, the constant dust storms, dust pneumonia, sand dunes up over their model t's, roads blown in by sand and dust. how the texas dust was orangish, the oklahoma dust reddish, the kansas dust black, and the combinations, depending on whether the wind came from the north, or the east, or the west or southwest. people had settled out here hoping to own a little square of prairie, then they clung to it hard, when the wind seemed to blow everything else away.

there is little resemblance to the place i experience today, because we actually have an economy here, one in which a person can go to a fast-food restaurant and get a job, or get one of many other kinds of jobs that often go untaken in places with better stuff to do. we do have dust, and it clouds the view, and it makes driving uncomfortable, but it doesn't pile up on the cars or houses, and, although we value well-sealed windows, we don't need gummy tape to keep that dust out of our houses. some people might; my grad students often talk about the dust just coming in the windows, but, we don't; we got new windows after the hailstorm last year, and those windows are pretty secure.

i mention the economy because that's one way in which i feel pretty much helpless, or vulnerable to forces that are way out of my control. what happens if there is no money, or no work, or no way to get what we need? in my life, it's a general luxury to go to the store, present my little card, have it work, bring home whatever food i need. i think, yes, maybe i should stay in, when the dusters come, when the fine grains of sand get in your teeth and therefore, probably, in your lungs. but what can i do about the bigger picture? very little, i'm afraid.

i restarted my obama campaign, which is, in essence, to get obama to consider putting his library in southern illinois. i believe it's a good idea, and it will sell itself, if only i can get him to see the page, and consider it. i reached the point where i had to either let it go, and forget about it, or try again, so i chose to try again. of course the process brings up feelings about obama & his administration, and my ranch friend spoke right out and said, he's the worst ever anyway, and he'll never buy it. i myself have all kinds of mixed emotions about his presidency, but i'd decided to shelve them; to me by far the greatest importance of it is that the presidency itself gives hope to millions of disenfranchised non-white folks, who really need a sense of belonging to this country, which they could not get in a war-torn, economically depressed place like we've been experiencing. in fact i find that the texas that i know is more or less an island, in the sense that you can still get work, that people aren't just giving up and relying on the government, or going out and stealing stuff. i don't think mccain or romney would have changed that, we were trillions in debt before they even could have started, and do you think giving more money to the rich would have solved the problem? i doubt it. but nevertheless i have qualms about obama himself, i think everyone does, but i think, when it's all over, we'll all say, well, that was interesting, and we lived through it. and, for those who pursue history, and his papers and all, southern illinois would be the best place.

to the kids it's about the games, the ones they can play, using the computer with the up and down keys, from dragging things to dress an online barbie to setting up a wizard world that has elements of made-up community where they discuss their "families" with each other and engage in some kinds of social negotiations about where their online character should go, and what they should do. we are aware that they need to do some reading during the summer, though at first, we didn't want to bother them too much, because school had just let out. now we are in the position of imposing ruthless torture on them in order to force them to read something unpleasant rather than do what they earned, through hard physical activity and nine months of school. parents who make them read??? this is like parents who make you eat dirt, or who lock you in a closet.

to the littlest, it's all about being able to do what your older siblings are able to do, in this case watch phineas and ferb, a slightly sophisticated cartoon that has cultural references, but, as far as i can tell, nothing more truly inappropriate than violence, which seems to be part of every cartoon. she is overjoyed to be able to watch something that she doesn't fully understand, and though i know she'd do better with "magic pony" or "barbie," sometimes i just give her what she wants. it's all inappropriate, but mostly all in the same way, but just taking it away from her would have to be done with a more comprehensive plan that would give her better stuff to do. it has to be planned carefully; it's my job here, but one i haven't quite got a handle on it yet. instead, i'm here writing about it. don't know, quite, what to do about it. like millions of parents, i let them watch, and try to get a few minutes to myself, and then feel guilty, there goes the summer, no reading for this kid.

life goes on, outside the window. it's my month off, almost over, not much to show for it. writing has slowed to a crawl (this), but the music is going well, it complements the other stuff i do better; promoting my writing has also slowed down; my various projects, novel, autobiography, language books, all more or less on hold, a true vacation. i'll start up again, i promise. in the meantime, i'm here, with phineas and ferb, and one very dazzled little girl.

Monday, June 16, 2014

father's day 2014, lubbock tx

the sun has gone down on father's day 2014, and i have to say, with ten kids now i have a certain status here, but it doesn't seem right to push it around as so many people are so uncomfortable about the whole thing. i watched on facebook as hundreds of my friends posted pictures of their fathers, or them with their fathers, but also, at least one person said, "h.f.d. to the women who are doing that role" as if, if you have to do the discipline, and make the money, and mow the lawn, in the family, well, happy father's day to you too.

i felt like saying, h.f.d. to all the fathers who are doing all kinds of roles, all the fathers who are doing those roles only part of the time, and even the fathers who can do no more than watch a ball game with their kids, because they just don't have all that many good ideas about what to do.

i myself have been spending a lot of time swimming, until i've been sunburned up and down, and my kids have turned a dark chocolate color from hours in the pool. they're fabulous swimmers; they practically own the place. the older ones were trying to do laps today, but aren't really ready for that; the youngest, who is not even 40 pounds, goes flipping and bobbing through the river giving me a heart attack but always coming up for air. i figured out today, that starting in october, we would have 13 years of parenting teenagers, but that means that this last little stretch, of about five months, i should enjoy to its fullest, as the last four are still under thirteen and have plenty of growing to do.

friday night, it was actually friday the 13th, i guess...my first full gig with the new band 'true blue.' a mexican restaurant out on the north side of town, out by the airport, with good food but i was too nervous to eat it. a crowd of about fifty who was enthusiastic about the music and tipped generously. an array of texas demographics: cowboy hats, country people, a bunch of tech people by which i mean clearly associated with the university. i was overjoyed, and played into the ceiling fans, i put my soul into it, i had a blast. best songs were 'waltz across texas with you' and 'does fort worth ever cross your mind?' but that's just me reading into it, that when you have a chance to do texas, you should do like george strait does, and really enjoy singing and playing texas. sure, the bluegrass was good. we're hot, in the bluegrass department. but the texas songs, i'll remember those forever. it's like i'd come home, and i wasn't even singing.

i've come to take father's day more seriously over the years. it occurs to me that i'm a father every minute of the day, whether i'm on duty, watching kids, or not. my responses to wrongdoing are always on display. sometimes i yell, or use sarcasm, or become gruff, or whatever. i'm tired; it's been a long haul over thirty years or so, and things haven't worked out totally well, at least for one of them who didn't call. i'm still hanging in there with most of them though, and sometimes the greatest testimony is just that you're still around. but i called my own dad, 87 and getting tired, and mom was tired too, they were both in a lot of pain. in the end, upon going back to facebook, i said nothing. i 'liked' everyone's happy father's day, i accepted their well-wishes, i scrolled through many public and glowing testimonies. a lot of my friends were silent though. there are lots of fathers out there who, when people think about it, they'd rather not think about it. i was grateful in the end, that mine was still there, still talking, able to tell me about his pain and hear about what little i'm suffering. and, to be able to see him in july - a trip is already being planned.

out on the walk, i'm doing about three miles barefoot these days. the honey moon has been keeping me company. town is quiet, especially our neighborhood, whose fate is tied to that of the university. the grass is green, stickers aren't so bad, but i still get blisters. dog poop is my biggest enemy. the weather is fine. bluegrass and texas songs replay in my head as i walk. i don't look at the sky much, on account of the dog poop. walking, swimming, and fiddling: it's a good life. and fathering, of course, that never seems to end.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

e pluribus haiku 2014



e pluribus haiku 2014 is out. 875 haiku, better packaging, more complete. i'm really proud of it. click on the picture to order it through amazon or by kindle. my intention was to publish on july 4, but if you think about it, the season is already over by then. the season is now. so pass this along, and celebrate the diversity of this country, its 50 unique states (and the district of columbia); and the expression, through poetry, of a traveler's view. more...

Monday, June 02, 2014

ramblin

the other night i revisited the site of the first train i ever jumped; i'd jumped it right outside of hartsfield international airport in atlanta, and it was going north, or northwest really; i had to judge how far downtown was from the airport, but i knew that it was about eight miles; i also had to judge how far eight miles was, because i had to jump off, maybe a couple miles north of downtown, and walk back east to where i was staying. the place where we were, east point, just north of the airport, was pretty, and i recognized pretty buildings, which were there forty years ago as well.

now you might be taken with the romance of just hopping on a train, using it to get across town, save a few bucks, or at least, save a ride that would today be about three or four bucks. it was that or hitchhike, which was usually safe in those days, much less so today; safe in two senses, one, how likely are you to cause a traffic hazard that kills people besides you and the guy who pulled over recklessly still blocking traffic even though there was plenty of room, and, safe in the sense that if 95% of innocent people are afraid to pick up hitchhikers, how long do you have to wait for that other 5%, and what percent of those are "innocent people" by which i mean they don't have nefarious motives, or, they are willing to take "no" for an answer.

throwing yourself at the mercy of the world takes a certain amount of faith, and i hate to say i've lost that faith, though i can assure you that jumping a train or hitchhiking would be different at 60 than it was at 19. no, i tell all my boys & girls, don't do it, if there are people who love you, you want to avoid the romance of being out on the streets at a young age, or any age, at the mercy of the world. if you have no home, you can't get a job, and then you can't get money, and then you have to find a place where you can be fed. this will end up being your parents' house, unless you are foresighted and predatory, and there are a lot of predators out there already, some have homes and some don't, but all have that kind of hunger where they're looking for someone to take advantage of, someone who's out there, nowhere to go, in need themselves. sometimes they're sexual predators, hoping that someone needs a place to stay bad enough that they'll fall asleep on a couch, at a time when they can't keep track of what happens to them, because they're too tired. sometimes they're financial predators, hoping for the same thing, hoping that maybe your wallet will fall out of your pants at a time like that. but the worst kind is the system itself: there are private prisons, that are hungry for state funding, that need bodies to fill up spaces, need people to lock up & take rights from, need rationalization for bars & systems & prison yards and brutality and horrible food. it's their word against yours, so you don't even want to be in that battle.

in my day it was too much trouble for them to lock you up for petty crimes like hitchhiking, train-jumping, or even panhandling which i tried once or twice. it cost the state money to lock up people who were capable of taking care of themselves, myself included, so they avoided it if they could, and basically taught police to avoid it. now, it's not like that. these days, you wear your hair in matted down braids, you drive around with a brake light out, you sit on a curb or do something that makes you 'visibly poor,' that's like challenging them, saying 'i don't care for your system,' and they'll respond by accepting the challenge, throwing you in the clinker, and seeing if you care after a few people beat the crap out of you including them or whoever else gets the chance. thousands of dollars of bail and bond and family visits later you are released or whatever. the state boys, maybe, never really wanted to ruin your life, they'd rather have you support yourself just as we would. but there are a lot of predators out there, and some live in very small towns with nothing to do but get dressed up in uniform, go out & beat people up, and then use the uniforms to justify whatever happened.

beneath the fear, it's a huge and beautiful country. it has mountains, forests, rivers, hills, wildlife, character. aspects of its culture are worth passing on: the music, the generosity, the love of freedom, the tendency toward equality and justice. it is difficult to reach, sustain or maintain high ideals when a place gets crowded, so, it's not always a perfect place. i love the country deeply, and so want to nurture the good things about it and fight those who would use its resources for their own ends: to occupy middle-eastern countries, to justify locking up and brutalizing the innocent, to reach down into the earth to grab every last drop of burnable fuel. people see it, sometimes, with moneybags in their eyes, and that's the colonists' legacy, all you can see in a land is what you can take out of it for yourself. as a settler, one who has called this nation home, and raised my children here, i want to use what's left of my influence to right some of these wrongs and change the place for the better. but to do that, i need a job, a home, a place to put on my drivers' license, a slice of authority to use so that people listen. you've worked for a while, people know you can, and you do, work, and that makes you more valuable, to the state anyway, outside prison than in. there may be all manner of conspiracies out there, but if you think ruining your life is one of them, you're wrong, they aren't so much trying to ruin yours, as to enrich theirs, thus leaving you with the wreckage, the six trillion dollar debt, the ravaged hillsides, whatever. you want to organize, save those hillsides, get involved, i'm all in favor. don't do it from prison. there's nothing romantic about prison whatsoever.

i of course have no authority to tell anyone not to do this stuff, because i did all of it, hitchhike, jump trains, lead the raffish life that gets you in trouble. i was lucky in that i am here to tell the tale. the train was bigger than me, and could have taken my leg, or arm, or in one case, my head which almost hit a tunnel. cars stopped dangerously and illegally and i jumped in and off we went; drivers were drunk, or criminal, or desperate for one thing or another. i used highly sensitive paranoia to fend off some of these obvious risks, and, because i was willing to pay an enormous price, i saw a lot of the countryside. i got to ask people what it was like to live in, say, oregon, or maine. not that they knew. most of them were working for a living, barely enjoying the beautiful scenery around them. and, and this is another difference, back then the main way to see scenery like for example zion national park, one of the most stunning natural formations in the world, was by going there. they had books, and some of these were photo books, but i could hardly believe them. i wonder if young people have the same trouble believing the internet. i remember, at one point, just saying, i've got to get out there and see some of this stuff. and i did. i never saw hawaii, but, hey, you can't do everything.

i don't feel hypocritical saying this. times were different, the price was different. luck also might have been different, different people have different luck. these days i get nervous, just driving out into the wide plain that has no cars. my car engine light goes on at about 8000 feet and i'm nervous. kids rely on me to stay alive and take care of them, and i no longer want to put at risk my delicate ability to carry on, keep on writing and playing music, enjoy living day to day, experience the fresh air and sunshine.

the thing about jumping trains is, you have no control over when it stops, where it stops, whether it even slows down, you can't even ask anyone because you're in some boxcar. 30 mph seems like 10, so it looks safe to jump but isn't; you can't fall asleep in a car with one door open, because someone might come along and shut it without looking, and the yard dicks have every right to beat you up unless you've done the research to know where that never happens. when i was out there, i heard that the old burlington northern, running across the dakotas from minnesota to seattle, was safe as it was owned by an ex-hobo, who went so far as to tell his people not to beat up the hobos or do any worse than run them off the yards. but that was forty years ago; times have changed. i'm sure one can do it; i'm sure one can see the mountains, the forest, the waterfalls in the far valleys. i'm sure it's not easy. i know i was lucky: i lived, i saw some mountains, i still have all my limbs. that night, in atlanta, i jumped off, landed in a weed patch, and was just a couple of miles from where i was staying, which i walked, but, i was staying with a kid, and he seemed to be about my age, nineteen, but was more like seventeen, and was a runaway, and when we were accosted on the street one day they took him off and told me to get on the northbound highway out of there as fast as i could, which i did, hitchhiking still being my primary mode of transportation. they were weighing the price of 'harboring a minor' or some such violation but i was just walking down the street with him, and, i was respectful, and, at that time, there was nothing in it for them, to lock up some guy like me, just for that. atlanta was just a bit better than other places in that regard. and the nineteen seventies were a bit easier than the twenty-tens.

is that hypocritical? to me, it's just the way it is.

greetings from kerrville

in the small town of ballinger, texas, where state route 83 turns, downtown, it was raining, but i was hungry, so i parked at the corner there and went into a restaurant that had a sombrero painted on the outside of the window. It advertised american and mexican food both, and a buffet, and sure enough, it had pork chops and a kind of mexican mix with rice and beans that you could put into a tortilla. i sat in the front corner, but after a while i realized that the open sign, on the outside of the building, which was neon and flashed red and blue, combined with the oncoming traffic, so that every time i turned around toward the north, i would see oncoming cars coupled with flashing red and blue and get momentarily confused; i'd get that little rush of adrenaline you get when you think you might be pulled over. it was actually a sleepy town; i don't believe i ever saw police, or anything that would merit them. and it was raining, a gentle steady rain that would turn into torrents up toward abilene.

the road to kerrville for me goes through what one of my friends called the dry half of texas, then to sweetwater and abilene, then down this north-south corridor, 83, through winters and ballinger, then from junction to kerrville, it's the hill country, and it's green, very rocky and beautiful, and also steamy, definitely warmer than the high plains. the whole state was very wet; it rained that entire week, and rained more in lubbock than it had in the entire year previous. the sweetwater-abilene corridor in particular was very crowded with traffic, and it made me wonder: where were the people coming from? probably from the oil boom in midland-odessa, where there is absolutely no water but where oil is flying, and money with it, armani dealers and cadillacs, and maybe those guys are going to dallas for the weekend. i got lost in kerrville, but eventually i found the folk festival, saw my old band partner, played a few songs, and wandered off to see who i could find out in the campground jams that make the place what it is. i literally wandered into the first one i saw. it had an accordion player, and a concertina player, and a keyboard player who sounded a lot like randy newman. they seemed to know each other; they were all from austin. soon i couldn't resist and pulled out my fiddle, and i was sawing away with some really fine musicians; all this was at about two or three in the morning and going on. we delicately and carefully traded leads and played like master pros.

in ballinger i ate my pork chop and beans and rice and listened as various people came to the cash register; the owner, or the wife anyway, seemed to know everyone, and move easily between english and spanish as appropriate. i had driven north in silence, music still in my head from what i'd heard. kerrville had been a break for me; my life is busy with four kids these days, and i almost passed up the trip, but my wife had encouraged me, saying i needed to have a fresh mind and not be mad about being unable to do the things i love. fiddling with those austin musicians definitely qualifies as something i love. it was a wet weekend; i'd been rained out of my little camp spot; i'd even got sick, maybe from lack of sleep; i missed part of the concert itself. but that night, that one jam, that and seeing my old bandmate, had made it all worthwhile.

some of the musicians were a little tipsy, as it had been the keyboard player's birthday. nevertheless, they played better, drunk, than most anyone can play sober, and the music got even better as the night progressed. the keyboard player, after playing a rousing version of louisiana, came and went, kind of unbelieving that such music would happen on his birthday, or that people would want him to play; it could have been a dilemma for him, as if he had to work on a holiday. i didn't dare call a song. for one thing, the songs were in an entirely different class from the ones i'm used to; in lubbock i generally know bluegrass, country, or slightly aged pop, but here we had songs with many chords, songs that changed key, some i'd never heard. it was like, what do musicians play, when they get to play what they want. and in this regard i was speechless. as a fiddler i should have dozens of these, and be able to call them out, and start them, and lead them, and even tell the guitar players what chords to produce, but no, in this way, i'm entirely silent, speechless. i'm definitely unorthodox as a fiddle player in that i can't seem to get out of the harmonist's mode, listen, play beneath, come out only when called, though the fiddler is called out sooner than the rest. first, generally. the pressure's on.

in lubbock, i've become a bluegrass fiddler. i like it; most of the tunes are familiar and they come around regularly. the people i play with know each other, know bluegrass, and play well together. these songs are more predictable; people like them for the way they harmonize and the way a banjo can play beneath them. most of the time i like it; sometimes i want out of the box. in kerrville i got out of the box, at least that once.

at one point somebody called out, 'let's get religious!' at which point, i, being from lubbock, expected some true gospel, like for example, at the crossroads. a strain of gospel runs straight through bluegrass, at least half of bluegrass is gospel, and you don't go into bluegrass unless you're comfortable with that. but that's not what 'religious' means in austin, apparently; their songs, totally unfamiliar to me, reflected the antagonism generated by being 'austin' in 'texas'...a sense of tongue-in-cheek community rejection of a state's overarching values. that's all i can say. i really didn't know the songs, and had to listen very carefully just to keep up with the tunes.

it was a fantastic night. i tried my best to keep up. i have a list of names i caught, songs i heard, etc. which will appear shortly. i try not to lose such stuff.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

big awesome thick clouds have been passing through for a couple of days, but no substantial rain yet, only a couple of drops yesterday. the kid at the market, who takes my groceries out to the van (they do this for all shoppers, believe it or not) says, in houston when they say 20% chance of rain, you get rain. here, when they say 60%, you don't. it has to be 120%, he says, or it won't rain. the couple drops i saw sizzled as they hit. most places had watering if they were going to get anything at all; if they had no watering, they were long dead anyway. the drops hit with a sizzle like drops of water on a hot frying pan.

i'd given up on kerrville, got four kids at home, sometimes fighting, a little crazy, didn't seem like we could handle it, but my wife said, go, it'll do you good. so i'm going, tomorrow. leaving here at about 4 30 and getting to kerrville about midnight. i'll play some music with my former band partner, who now has a new partner or two. good musical experience expected. short trip, but a lot of music. i get to see texas, that's a bonus, i cut across it, i can go several different kind of ways, i go, basically, from the brown part to the green part, from the flat part to the hilly part. will keep you posted.

i'm not writing a lot these days. that's 'cause i'm fiddling a lot. let the music speak for you; learn the songs, that's my motto. as a fiddler, i should know the tunes, know how they start, know what key it's in, know how to play it so someone can sing it, and then get it started. i fall way short in all of these. i listen for harmony and try to play harmony. one old guy told me, fiddle can't play when people are singing. i felt like saying, why not? fiddle can even argue with someone who's singing. guess that's what he found offensive, though. gotta play softer, maybe mumble when people are singing. when you mumble, people only hear you when they want to. all other times, they think you're crazy of course. but mumbling is always better than shouting. the old guy was right. if someone's talking, i shouldn't be rude.

played 'so long, it's been good to know ya' at a going-away party. i explained that woody guthrie wrote it, and he was kind of hard on the preachers, who, in this song, take everyone's money and then say 'so long.' i'm actually afraid to play the song around here because everyone takes their religion so seriously, they might not like those words, or they might take it that he's slamming west texas, with its dusty old dust, gettin' in my home, and they might not feel a sense of ownership for a song about leaving the area, giving up on its dust storms.

but the dusty old dust, IS a-gettin in my home, and i've got to be driftin' along, as he would say.

Monday, May 12, 2014

e pluribus haiku 2014

finished eph 2014 and began the process of pushing it through createspace and amazon. it should be available in a few days. it has 875 haiku; each state has at least a dozen; i was fairly aggressive about omitting repetitive ones and ones i didn't care for anymore. it's a constant process of renewing, updating, using new 'rules' about what constitutes 5-7-5 and how to show what 5-7-5 i intend the reader to hear. i had become impatient with the 2013 version and am now proud that that one is relegated to the historical backfile that will show the development but will ultimately pass into oblivion. each state now has at least a dozen; there is less imbalance and better representation. i am not sure it is completely up to my increasingly higher standards, but hey, there's always next year.

here is an overview of my upcoming projects. it is a quick window, where i am just out of school, while the children still have it for about three weeks. this is part of what i'd like to accomplish:

eph 2014 should be marketed, taken to lubbock public library and hastings, so that folks around town know that i have a good book of poetry going. i could read from it; i wouldn't be ashamed to sell it at readings. it is now complete enough, that i'm proud to distribute it.

unloading: the original copy was never made available to the public, really, except by emailing me and hoping i see my e-mail. increasingly, i don't. i'd like this one on createspace/amazon too, and am willing to add a few random stories to the series which need to be unloaded, so to speak. ideally it would have had several others, that have already been prematurely unloaded. i'm thinking of having a permanent "unloading" collection where i just publish stories that don't go in other collections.

to be estar, running title of a collection of esl essays about language and language acquisition. if i'm not going to finish the book on language as a self-organizing system, i can at least publish what i've written about it, so that it doesn't become permanent google-doc, where it seems nobody will ever read it. i'm enjoying the self-publishing racket, if for no other reason, i always have christmas presents to give away. they're getting around, too. people read them. i'm not sure that people can't put them down; they do put them down, but slowly, i become better, and what i write becomes slightly more professional.

just passing through which is an autobiography and collection of travel stories on this very blog (see template) and constantly needs to be added to, updated, pored over, etc. until i can't stand it anymore. my life is at the perfect point to publish it, but, that's always true, and besides, the minute i do, something else crazy will happen and i'll wish i could put it in. i think i need something to pound on the table, though. it's time to push this one through the system. i'm hoping, sometime 2014, i'll have something to show for it. i did enter it into the aarp/huffpost contest, not that that mattered. they are like ted talks; as far as i can tell, they never even noticed that i entered it. maybe people think that the siu e-mail is spam, and they routinely dump it. but in any case, if i want it published, i'm on my own.

interference, my novel, is stalled in the water, but it's almost done, and it's going up too. i'm pushing it through createspace/amazon, and pretty soon i'll have a book to pound you over the head with. i have to finish it though. stop messing around, get it off the table, and push it through the mill. it's on its way, i promise.

marketingi could be marketing this stuff. i know how to do it. i could be spending a few cents on google ads, or even making banners, and pointing my websites to my work. it's not beyond my capability. it'll happen, i hope. stay tuned!