$263

Apparently, my youth, it turns out, is worth exactly $263.

Perhaps I should say my “sonic youth” (of sorts).

Our lovely new “media storage cabinet” that required the disposal of my youthful recorded-musical heritage

Recently, within less than the last year, My Beloved got us to purchase a new rotating “media cabinet” on which to store our CDs, DVDs and VHS tapes (and, yes, we do have VHS tapes and perhaps more remarkably the devices on which to play them — still functional). Although the item sat in its rather large, six-foot-tall (and better-than-three-feet-wide) box, leaned against one of my (numerous) overstuffed bookshelves in our basement, for an embarrassingly large number of months, we put it together sometime before Christmas and installed as many of the “media” as we could. Sadly, that left a lot of CDs still roaming our house in boxes (and some more or less neatly stored beneath the oversized boom box that serves as one of our stereo systems these days). All well and good and for the most part neat and tidy.

Unfortunately the media storage unit dwells in a spot formerly occupied by a knocked-together shelf unit rescued once upon a time from the disposal pile after some play or another.* And on those shelves were the remnants of our (mostly my) sonic youth — all of our vinyl record albums, roughly 400 of them.

Glorified boom-box stereo in “the office” and associated CDs in what Janet considers appropriate storage containers

In order to construct and place the media storage unit, we had to remove all of the records and locate the not-a-bookshelf elsewhere (itʼs still more or less empty and its destiny still in limbo). The records, lovingly acquired from my sophomore year in high school through college and early career and our marriage until the late Eighties (or whenever vinyl thirty-three-and-a-third RPM records went out of use), along with a few cases of the cassette tapes that took those recordsʼ place in our audio lives in the Eighties and Nineties,** filled seven boxes (each long-ago holding four six-packs of Guinness Extra Stout, long since consumed). We stowed the record-filled boxes in a small chamber off the basement we call “my room” (or in Janetʼs case, “your little room,” always said with a faint or strong tone of repulsion and disgust, as itʼs there in those overcrowded confines that everything I wonʼt throw away even when she finds it no longer desirable, in any manner, in our regular lives, goes to dwell in darkness — including most of my school clothes, even during the days when I was yet teaching).

When I recently discovered that the boxes, stacked in two once-moderately-neat piles, had begun to rip at the corners (from the burdensome weight), it was decided*** that I must soon take them to Half-Price Books to sell. Now the nearest Half-Price Books is Cedar Rapids, roughly an hour away, but that destination for our (mostly my) once-beloved recordings seemed the most profitable possible (as I had no interest whatsoever in listing each record for sale on eBay).

Box Sets of CD music kept near at hand in the office, along with, of course, books

On Sunday I lugged the (amazingly heavy) boxes, one at a time (I said they were astoundingly weighty), to the bed of my truck and called the number for our nearest Half-Price Books store to be sure they did indeed have interest in purchasing a load of 400 vinyl records (I counted 56 cardboard sleeves in one box, one of which was George Harrisonʼs three-album set, All Things Must Pass, ignoring the plastic container of audio cassettes that really served just to keep everything stable but which were going to be gone as well). They did (uh, have an interest in buying my record library — in case we lost the track of that thought).

So this morning, having sent The Lovely One on her way to work, I clambered into the cab of the truck and drove off into the glorious day (highs in the seventies all week and into next — globally warmed, shortsighted bliss for mid-March, indeed) for the trip to the big city. Upon arrival I carried the seven boxes, once again (staggeringly ponderous) singly to the purchase counter, where an attractive young lady observed, as she got my name and my government-issued photo ID, that I had a lot of pop/rock,**** which is what sold well, and that was good. Then she sent me to wander the stacks while they assessed my auditory existence in seven Guinness boxes…

assorted CDs unable to fit in suitable storage elsewhere — including some in, unsurprisingly, a Guinness box

I had left about 8:30, and in just three hours I was back at home (an hour each way for the drive and an hour in the store as the lovely young ladies***** behind the purchase counter appraised my hoard). I got my seven Guinness boxes back, and I found seven books to buy myself (a complete OʼNeill in three Library of America volumes; Richard Wright in two LOA books; a DK guide to eastern American birds — at Janetʼs request, as we have observed some unidentified little eaters at our birdfeeders this early spring, not house sparrows or cardinals, red-wing blackbirds or crows; and volume one of the Mark Twain Autobiography).

And I got paid $263****** for all my vinyl Beatles, Clash, Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Rolling Stones, Sex Pistols, Bob Seger, The Who, Yes, Warren Zevon and all the other bands and individuals whose music we (but mostly I) had acquired, enjoyed, endured, and sometimes forgotten during our teens, twenties and thirties.

Farewell, youth.

* (we have totally forgotten when or how that long-suffering servant of our storage needs was originally acquired)

** (but decisively not the compact disks that took the place of those former recorded-music formats)

*** Please note that evasive and nonaccusatory use of the passive voice…

**** We had decided that we would retain the relatively slim collection of classical and jazz we had on vinyl for future ditigization to iTunes (our turntable is still connected to the computer, along with the cord for another boom box for cassettes) and possible later discard to H-P Books.

***** None of whom, I observed instantly, had sufficient years to even recognize Savoy Brown, Brewer & Shipley, John Sebastian, King Crimson, Mason Proffit, Gypsy, Starcastle or Uriah Heep (just to pick a few not utterly obscure albums). Moby Grape…

****** (roughly a lousy half-dollar per album, gratuitous cassettes included — such is the price of [this oneʼs] juvenescence, in actual fact)

©2012 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Budapest, Day 3 (part 3) — feeling lost

Yesterday, I left off with The Lovely One and me standing at a stop (returned again southwards from Elizabeth Bridge, back down at Liberty Bridge), waiting for a number 47 or 49 tram to carry us across the Danube to the northern foot of Gellért hill to check out the exterior of some baths.

We boarded a tram fairly quickly (although I couldn’t tell you, probably even a few hours after, if it was a 47 or a 49*) and crossed the Danube to Buda. Here we were in a real commercial downtown area, much different than at the western end of Széchenyi lanchid (Chain Bridge) just to the north (the previous day, afoot). Lots of businesses lined the streets, busy pedestrians, traffic. The tram stopped a couple times, with plenty of exchange in passengers on and off. However, I wasn’t sure where to get off or if we passed right by the baths and could see what I wanted to see from the tram (or whether we were at the baths yet). Then the train, like the street we were following, climbed, turned, and rattled into a different kind of neighborhood, gradually less business-filled and more urban-residential. And the buildings gradually began to thin as we did not stop for a while. 

Now I was sure we had passed the baths without realizing, and as we eventually reached a stop in the middle of the broad boulevard down which we were traveling, wasn’t sure if we should get off here or somewhere less… empty. Here the buildings, large apartment structures, were set back from the street, traffic had thinned to nonexistent, and the very openness the civic designers had sought to create felt… uncomfortable. So I kept quiet, and we passed a series of stops in this kind of environment until the openness began to feel positively (negatively?) midwestern, verging past suburban toward potentially rural. The stops stopped, too, and we just rode.

GoogleMaps™ image showing part of our adventure — the cursor arrow points where we started; we ended up off the map about where this caption says, “GoogleMaps™” or even further southwest

We crossed multilane highways, up over a bridge, an elevated overpass, and stopped. Finally. It had been quite a while since the last stop, and we were clearly out beyond where we should be. Janet had grown wisely much more uneasy with this less-than-scenic excursion and determined we were getting off there — before it was too late somehow — to catch a return tram. 

So, in the real middle of nowhere, we exited the car, just us, finding ourselves still on the downside of the overpass, a big twenty-plus-storey residential concrete-and-glass block structure about three hundred yards away, on the other side of more tracks, off the overpass, across a green space and a street. Nearer, a yellow structure, more than a shed, about garage-sized, with elementary-kid art on the side toward us showing happy people doing something supposedly fun in an outdoor setting, was almost as high up as we were. Otherwise, a pretty barren if somewhat restricted view.

It was cold, the wind cutting. I looked around and led us to the farther side of the tracks and uphill somewhat to the spot that seemed to be the stop for trams going the other way. And we waited, alone in the empty highway crossroads, at the shaking tram sign on the embankment, under the steel sky that now looked very fraught with rain. Very alone in this very empty place, where now no trams arrived for a long time from either direction. 

Someone was not happy with me. We both continued to feel nervous, out of place, chilled and uncomfortable. After some time, perhaps ten or fifteen minutes, other people climbed up the hill behind the yellow building to wait at the outbound stopping point where we had exited. A group of older people (probably our own age, although I always see my own age as people older than myself), men and women — two couples and an odd woman out, all gazing surreptitiously, sometimes obviously at us with disapproval and suspicion (well, so it seemed to me) and probably dislike. They conversed among themselves a little, while Janet and I shivered in silence.

Finally, after maybe a full half hour, a tram arrived heading back the way we now wanted to go, and we quickly got on the nearly empty train, which shuddered and clattered away back toward the river and civilization. We returned through all the sights that had seemed so ominous earlier, now friendly and more clearly suburban and residential. Back into downtown Buda by the river, across the bridge and back to Pest, where Janet quickly got us right off the vehicle immediately and headed us down Váci utca toward home. It was about 4:00 PM.

Our day wasnʼt over yet. We still had the much-foretold and otherwise heralded demonstrations to encounter…

* Checking one of my maps, I bet it was a 49. The 47 route doesnʼt appear to go far enough south.

No travel picture with this post because during the experience I forgot all about having a camera bulging in the pocket of my vest. The shot you see is a fake: I stepped outdoors just now, before posting, and snapped another gray and heavy sky. This oneʼs full of frozen rain.

Yes, I am dragging this Sunday out (probably too long, I realize). However, I did want to steer myself away from the “we did this and then we saw that and then we went there and then…” trap that travel writing (like mine) can stumble into. I wanted to express a dose of that particular tourist terror that can arise from the tiniest slip of expectations into utter surprises when youʼre in a distant place, especially without the local language. Nothing was wrong for us that afternoon, but even so we got just a little goosepimpling of spooked. And that minor and self-imposed unhappiness was an element of the whole wonderful experience, too.

Besides, itʼs true.

©2012 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Wow. A Post. “On Art and Beauty”

Although I have been pondering any number of short little (and several long and humongous) posts to start 2012 (at least since The Lovely One and I returned from a News Years break to Chicago), some of which you are likely to read soon, I have something a little diferent for today. It does, however, remind me of the kind of thing I was posting here two years ago.

I got an e-mail after Christmas that made me think. And since Janet enjoyed receiving her BCC of the answering e-mail I finally wrote today, I thought I would post my response to the stimulating e-mail for the blog.

The e-mail I received went to about two dozen (or more; I never actually counted) recipients from the lovely woman who gave me the chance to portray Picasso just over a year ago. She was going to speak to an art class at one of the Dubuque colleges and wanted some input from people she considered artists of various kinds (including me, perhaps the non-artist of the group). She had six questions (probably the ones she was supposed to discuss for the class):

·         Why did you become an artist (i.e., why do you do what you do)?

·         What characterizes someone as an artist, in your view (i.e., what specific characteristics does an artist possess)?

·         What is art, in your view (i.e., what makes something be a work of art)?

·         What is beauty, in your view (i.e., what makes something be beautiful)?

·         In your view, does a work of art have to be beautiful (i.e., is beauty an essential element/characteristic of a work of art)?

·         In your view, what is the purpose of a work of art (i.e., why do you produce works of art; what role do they play in your life and/or in the lives of others)?

I had a hard time getting past the first one, but as she needed answers by today (yeah, I am a great procrastinator), I finally buckled on the necessaries and got to typing. This is what I wrote:

clip art

I took my time answering this because I am afraid I donʼt really consider myself an “artist,” rather someone who went into eduction for as long as possible, and thatʼs about it. However, I will try.

I became who I am because I like the arts, visual/performance/literary (I like art enough to be pretty cautious, even derogatory about considering fashion or advertising arts). I act because I liked it from childhood on (beginning with memorizing and performing the Ronald Coleman 78-rpm records of A Christmas Carol for my family when I was still preschool age) and got kind of pushed into performing by an excellent high school speech and drama instructor, Mrs. Marilyn Vincent at Mt. Pleasant Community High School. I write for vaguer reasons, except that I seem to always remember writing stuff ever since I learned the skills, memories extending back to comic books created with a friend at lunch time in first and/or second grade and my Adventures of Capt. Furgo in third or fourth grade that I was polishing into an illustrated booklet in eighth grade (gone now, sadly). Itʼs just what I do. An anthology of poetry I scammed from my motherʼs shelves also stimulated writing in verse (and probably also condemned me toward becoming an English, speech and drama teacher, too). Writing and theatre meet in my plays, of course (mostly written so the students at school had something to perform… cheaply).

An artist is somehow compelled to (meaning: by nature a person who does) perform the activities that society or culture has deemed artistic. Perhaps there is a desire for prominence or polish in those activities as well. One is able to become wrapped up in the details and even the frustrations of making something (or making something happen). One can remain focused on such excruciating details for prolonged periods of time. One daydreams (is that imagination?). Most artistic persons I know seem somehow withdrawn socially or perhaps self-involved (I worry about the relation between artistic involvement and the spectrum of autism). One seeks perfection or at least polish and skill.

Art reflects reality (as a victim/offspring of the Western Civ Romantic movement, I have to acknowledge an indoctrination at least that “self-expression” may be involved, but I find that issue is probably socially conditioned and not necessarily basic to artistic endeavor). Art imposes something new (but not always novel or innovative) on reality as well. Art is less practical than related activities such as, say, philosophy. Art may move people emotionally (I think thatʼs the “beautiful” aspect of art that I am getting at, not a mere tearjerking maudlinism). A work of artistic creation may reveal significance or meaning, if only to the maker, upon reflection. (And letʼs not forget the now obvious deeply prehistoric roots of artistic practices, which have to be [perhaps] rooted with magical or supernatural practices and/or speculation.)

Beauty is an experience for me personally, not a thing capable of definition. Culturally, beauty has traditionally been a philosophical construct (all the way back at least to Plato, obviously) and thus a muddled (yeah, I am thinking of you Thomas Aquinas) and muddied concept (no thanks whatsoever, Immanuel Kant). My personal take is that beauty comprises a set of notions attempting to abstract or describe a deeply emotional (and therefore limbic [as in brain construction] and therefore also pre-verbal) response to natural and possibly supernatural stimuli, often felt as a sense of exaltation or insight or calm assurance or personal awareness. Since its roots and nature are emotional, “beauty” is thus not conducive to getting into words or making into an abstraction. Beauty is deeply connected to the imagination. I personally question the Romantic supposed natural connection/identity between beauty and art.

The beauty of art would consist in a work of art modeling reality in an emotionally/imaginatively suggestive or stimulating way. A beautiful work of art, like a beautiful mathematical theorem or scientific theory, models reality well (although not necessarily “realistically,” just as quantum dynamics defies common sense).

Art has no “purpose.” Frequently, on a social level, art entertains, but I deeply question/disbelieve that entertainment is the purpose or reason for art. I write and I do plays because itʼs fun for me. I get pleasure from the activities involved in the process(es). As an art “consumer,” I frequent museums because I enjoy looking at the works of art (I like examining the brushstrokes, for instance, as well as “appreciating” the image on a canvas; and my wife, who adores Impressionism, and I get a kick of trying to find the correct distance from such a painting when the image, as we say, “pops into focus,” like a brightly illuminated slice of reality in a tiny rectangle [and from our experience they always do, although no museum yet has given us enough distance to really appreciate Monetʼs Water Lilies]. And thereʼs amazement in realizing just how far away from the canvas that point of clarity is. Did the artist ever see it that way, having to paint right up next to the canvas?). I like the historical aspect of museum-going, too. I like attending plays because of personal pleasure as well, getting caught up in the story but also studying the production and performance techniques being used. My most constant artistic pleasure is reading, mostly for the story in fiction and the communion with better minds and wider experiences than my own. And to experience what I simply never could unimaginatively/practically, getting beyond my own dull reality (which fits all kinds of art).

Since high school I have written wanting to become “a writer.” But throughout my teaching career a lot of what I wrote was for school in one way or another, deliberately (as in plays) or provocatively, as in bringing in my own poems (not often) to help explain and experience poetic analysis and interpretation. I do wish to/dream of getting published (although I donʼt enjoy the drudgery and rejection of actually making the effort to submit stuff), but I get a good deal of pleasure from reading my own sentences, too (even if that means I then need to revise or correct or improve).

I have acted because I could and I enjoyed it (and once now I have even been paid to act — thanks). I have directed and done technical stuff in theater because itʼs been necessary (and can be fun/pleasurable). I do like making things, even though other people often have greater and better skills than mine, so I would rather let them do that painting, construction or designing. The audience aspect can be interesting as a director, but essentially I donʼt really enjoy the performances; theyʼre just what it all builds up to.

Often I draw or act or write because me doing it is easier or simpler, faster or more practical than acquiring the result in another way.

And I never even considered music in this whole little dissertation! (And music may complicate a lot of what I said above.)

Does any of this help?

A better closing question here on the blog would be: So what about you? Whatʼs your answer to any or all of those six questions?

©2012 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Apologetic Punkʼdee

Sometimes oneʼs own foolishness can provide the meat for a blog post. Well, thatʼs true at least in my case. And hereʼs the post, today, to prove the axiom. (I could have entitled this one, “Stepping in My Own Droppings.”)

And some wonder why I picked Wakdjunkaga as a pseudonym/alter ego…

…or Facebook Follies

Over the weekend I got punked* via the internet. No, my identity wasnʼt stolen (at least not yet), but I got tricked into making a terribly false post on Facebook. About Michele Bachmann.

A Facebook page I have permitted on my Newsfeed posted a link to a Twitter feed this past Saturday morning. 

No, as you may observe below, AATPʼs original post did not mention anything about satire.

The Facebook page, “Americans Against the Tea Party,”  has a definite agenda in its online presence, determinedly in opposition to Dextremism and narrow-minded nonsense of that rigidly Rightist sort, but in general, although utterly opinionated, their posts have been sincere for the nearly a year that I have received their updates. I clicked their link to the Twitter remark Saturday, and found this:

Now I am no Twitterhead. The entire concept of “following” folksʼ 140-word pronouncements strikes me as the pursuit of the illusion of information as opposed to acquiring (and, we hope, attempting to understand) actual information.** To me, although I wondered about the abbreviation of the junior Congresswomanʼs name (and therefore cited my source when I repeated the “quote” as “@MicheIBachmann,” copied directly from the tweet), the remark seemed only slightly (d)extreme for the recent victor in the infamous Iowa Republican Straw Poll. In fact, except for the use of “tsunamis,” a pretty lengthy and unusual word for her, the remark seemed to fit snugly within her record of gaffes and ridiculosities pretty well.

So, believing that I was alerting the world to further pseudoChristian, fully fundamentalist/Dextremist folly, I reposted the “quote.” And a few of my Facebook comrades “liked” my observation that Ms Bachmann was more than merely crazy eyes.

Unfortunately (for me), I was deluded. AATP had  posted a “satirical” link, as they admitted themselves a little later:

Ha ha. So truly amusing. I got tricked. Punked.

Being but discontinuously online, I had no clue about my error until a friend from the Right bothered to tell me Saturday evening that the post was “from a satire site.” Although I felt blushingly ashamed, I was wrong (and he was more than right). Thus my thanks to him for bothering to politely and firmly point out my nonsense.

My correction

And my apologies to Ms. Bachmann (although sheʼll never know theyʼre here, Iʼm sure) after she has created a public record that could so easily include the horrible (but satiric) tweet.

* …Perhaps I should spell that “punkʼd” or something like that?

** Not that Facebook posts (which are now limited to fairly brief number of characters — which I have violated repeatedly and been forced to edit/reduce my remarks) are really all that worthwhile.

(All images today are accurate and unedited captures from Facebook and Twitter.)

©2011 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Life Near the Mississippi

…or Bumbling Ineptitude

Mark Twain did a remarkably clever thing when writing the memoirs of his youthful riverboating days, Life on the Mississippi, recapturing that long absent and nostalgic time when he was learning the multiplex and intimidating skills required of a riverboat pilot. The writer “invented” a “character,” the naïve and bumbling Sam, his younger self caught in the coils of his apprenticeship. (At least this character creation gimmick is what the critics frequently say.) Sam really is a goof, constantly missing the point of his pilot mastersʼ instruction, doing the wrong thing (almost inevitably), and suffering immense frustration at the overhwhelming quantity of learning being imposed on him. Sam is pretty comical, which is of course Twainʼs point, and the young manʼs scatterbrained ineptitude is good for plenty of laughs in the book. (And as I have myself demonstrated on this blog, it is the lot of younger selves to be mocked by their older versions in the good fulness of time.)

Actually, although I have read the book twice, my favorite and most familiar connection to the story is the John Deere-funded movie adaptation on public television from back in the early Eighties, which I showed annually to the American Literature and English III students as part of their Mark Twain units just before they began reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The screenwriter did an incredible job of boiling down Twainʼs meandering and often disconnected recollections (with quite a few supervising pilots) to a straightforward story of the youthful Sam irritating his master Horace Bixby, originally just one of the many pilots from the book. And the actors, exceptionally well cast, did a wonderful job bringing the late 1850s and Twainʼs treasured recollections to life (which is the reason I liked to show it to the students, other than the fact that I love the movie — to permit them to visualize and perhaps even participate in that historical past).

Anything by Twain is highly recommended, Life on the Mississippi ranking very high among all the rest of his writing, right up there with Huckleberry Finn itself, the book Hemingway said was the original source of all American writing. But I bring up the character of Sam for a mostly nonliterary reason. Undergoing training as a novice, even at my doddering and hoary age, for my current job with USDA APHIS PPQ, I notice my behavior and incompentence mimicking the bumbling young Clemens. And I begin to wonder if a halting and frustrated inadequacy isnʼt the rightful and unfortunately necessary lot of trainees.

What the possibly semi-fictional Sam and I have in common is learning by doing on the job under the tutelage of experts who are not themselves teachers. Teachers get trained to be aware of the need to explain (and re-explain and even explain again in a whole different way) concepts and skills to their youthful charges. Workers assigned to train a newbie donʼt have that educational expertise, and so their explanations tend to be slight and even vague. As Mr. Bixby says, both in the book (I think) and the film, “I canʼt explain how, but someday youʼll just know the difference naturally.” That same point covers my training in the recognition of ash trees — a few details (like the tight diamondness of the bark, the opposite branching and not much else) and reassurances that with experience “youʼll just start to get it.”

Iʼm not complaining about the instruction I received, although I am fairly sure my supervisors and partners may have some complaints about my level of acumen and skill (just like the nebbish Sam). I simply recognize what I first experienced in literature being absolutely true in real life. Absolutely and sadly true.

And tomorrow my big boss from Des Moines is coming out to “ride with me.” I am sure thatʼll be an eye-opening experience for him…

©2011 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Endgame

out of Wikipedia, thus credit: Wikimedia Commons

In chess the endgame is supposed to be the quick back-and-forth of rapidly reasoned moves and countermoves each side desperately has calculated to persevere in combat piece by piece to the bitter end. Or else the game has been so well crafted by one of the opponents that the endgame becomes the inexorable closing of the potential victor’s pieces on the losing side until the weaker player ultimately yields, often many moves before the unavoidable checkmate.*

In my case, the “endgame” indicates the conclusion of my near-month of substitute teaching today, on March 28. Actually, the real teacher has returned to duty. However, Monday was also the All-State Festival to honor the 2011 Outstanding Speakers from the Iowa High School Speech Association’s state individual events contest (as I had noted back toward the beginning of my extended sub service, Andrew did quite well at state, perfectly as a matter of fact, and six of the fourteen entries earned All-State — a remarkable and perhaps unique percentage**). Naturally, the real coach went along to the all-day celebration, so my last day turned out to be today, as I have hurried home to note for semi-publication here.

During the month, in addition to classroom and evaluative duties, I had helped keep the speech team on focus and practicing over their last week before state, organized and supervised the local Speech Night of state performances, and directed rehearsals for the final Andrew play (Shoestring Theatre, with strange appropriateness). I also tried to help the senior, who has been supervising and producing the weekly radio program, get his staff to record. The regular classroom part wasn’t too challenging, as that is what subs are hired to do — keep class going on, as directed by the missing instructor’s plans, in the actual teacher’s absence. With the real English, speech and drama teacherʼs extended leave, I had to do a bit more, including actual grading of papers.

I hadn’t had to grade anything since retiring (except a couple of things here and there, like fourth grade spelling quizzes) and definitely not anything that would go directly into the official grade program for each child. However, after some initial hesitation, I did review and score perhaps a hundred different papers for various assignments, trying to get third quarter officially closed (we didn’t quite succeed at that, lacking all the assignments) and fourth quarter records begun. Whether the real teacher chooses to use my several assignments is, of course, her choice. But they’re accomplished and also recorded to keep or delete.

Speech practice went pretty well (although not all the performers elected to schedule a practice during that week), and my old friend Clayton Pederson from across the hall, who served as the official speech coach my final year teaching and who has driven to the contests and helped coach previously for decades, served as assistant coach and bus driver for the contest day.*** Several of the days that first full week were long (up to nearly fifteen hours on the day of Speech Night), but I survived, and the kids seemed to remain flourishing. After all, I had coached speech for three decades and more (even the final four years as a mere unpaid assistant).

Play rehearsals were more of a challenge, simply because I sought to block both acts to help out the real teacher (blocking can be a difficult issue for novice directors) and even thrust the actors toward memorizing their first act lines during my brief substitute tenure. But I fell back in the rhythm of the thing**** (including even 6:30 AM rehearsals and practice on days without school), and I hope the cast has made some strides toward full preparation for their April 29 performance.

Click for source — excellent article

The Andrew Comment effort was even simpler, as the student producer really had everything in line. The reporters procrastinated even more extensively than when I had the responsibility, but there was a broadcast all three weekends. It’s rather sad to think that the radio program is reaching its end along with the high school. I guess that both climaxes indicate a different sort of endgame with which I was, finally, pleased to be involved in the early moves thereof.

On the other hand, I start a whole new game, a novel challenge altogether, as I set out to undertake my new job in just a few weeks. I hope this underexercised and aging body can stand up to the effort of placing those many, many traps for emerald ash borers repeatedly this summer…

* Other alternatives do exist, as you can verify by reading the linked Wikipedia article.

** 42+%, as a matter of actually calculated fact. I bet even the big-city big school with 14 Outstanding Performers at All-State canʼt touch that percentage. Way to go, Hawks! Go, Coach Kocer!!

*** And the “speechers” certainly rose to the mark and beyond at state! (The Lovely One and I had several preceding obligations that weekend, some pleasant.)

**** And my experience directing is a good reminder of what’s ahead when Janet and I undertake a show for the Grand Opera House from August into October. That’s another new undertaking that lies ahead now that this little game as temporary teacher ends.

©2011 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Too Easy to Believe

…or “Grammatical” Behavior Modification

Lazy uses of the language perturb me. Itʼs an unreasonable and petty perturbation, but itʼs real, at least to me. One such abuse is the use of “journal” as a verb: “We journal regularly in this class.” As in my earlier post, the word in question is a noun, not a verb. However, in this case my argument isnʼt as clear-cut. With “transition” I had the resounding evidence of the etymological, noun-specifying “-ion” ending on which to found my argument.* “Journal” is a dicier word. This time, though, the dictionaries are clearly with me (a pleasant surprise, as the faux verb gets heard frequently, possibly more often than verb “transition”). I didnʼt even have to go beyond Appleʼs standard Dictionary program (the very source of information that by trying to be too up-to-date, I guess, somewhat undermined my argument last time) to show there is only a single use of the word, a noun.

Ah ha! Victory! QED in one step. (Probably I should quit now, but impetuosity and pedagogical intensity fire me onward.)

What really peeves me about the gutlesss and false verb “journal” (maybe most often encountered in the present participle as “journaling”**) is the vast number of language arts teachers (the ones imposing, as I did for decades, journal-writing on students) who misuse the noun. Youʼd think those entrusted to preserve the refinements of the lingo would think twice about automatically employing such shiftless, unimaginative and lackadaisical usages. You would think it even more so for the organization responsible for such instructorsʼ professionalism, the National Council of Teachers of English, but we would be wrong in that belief. NCTE is one of the principal sources of the malingering sloth of verb-journal. When the leaders of the teachers advocate the unword, few will stand stalwartly against so much hot air.

In the end, no matter how many (not) so-called “English teachers” try to use the word as verb, it isnʼt. In fact itʼs just lazy to tell oneʼs students “to journal.” One doesnʼt say that one “diaries.” One “keeps a diary,” or one “writes in oneʼs diary” — the very same verbs that should be used with “journal.” This parallel is especially significant etymologically, as both words derive from the same roots and only diverge from each other through pronunciation changes. Both words arise from Latin dies (day), with “journal” stemming from diurnalis, meaning “daily.” “Journal” simply incorporates in spelling the slight (mis- or re-)pronunciation of the “di-” into a “J” sound. If a journal is a daily record, as is a diary, of oneʼs personal experiences, then leaving them both pristine as nouns, unsullied by forced intrusion into the realm of verbs, makes sense. (That, or I must swallow the perhaps even more metaphorically inedible “to diary.”)

It may require a bit of mental acuity or imaginative application of language and/or thesaurus skills, but I think we could all slay this abomination of the tyrant unverb “to journal.” Itʼs more accurate and true to say “write a journal” or even “keep a journal.”

Unfortunately (for you), I am not quite done yet. I have the same issue (petty, admittedly, and this one undoubtedly a lost cause) with the nonverb, “blog.” Being a brand-new word (a neologism condensing the almost-as-new “web log” or “weblog”), its use as a verb is taken for granted by dictionaries that recognize the word at all. But again the same slovenliness in usage is showing. A blog began as a thing, the writing one does more or less daily and posts online, in hopes of othersʼ interest and reading. Using the same word as a verb (although I should find it acceptable, “blog” being a new word and being able to get used as people wish), to say “Iʼm blogging” just sounds cheap. Is it too difficult to indicate one writes oneʼs blog? Or that one updates the blog periodically? Or better yet, that one revises and/or edits that blog when necessary? (Hereʼs an example by a “professional expert” that needs just such editing and correction of errors. Iʼm pretty confident that the lethargic negligent who churned out that inept rough draft thought s/he was “blogging” and therefore indolently didnʼt bother to proofread, edit or revise.) Perhaps if we were all more careful with our use of “blog,” we might all create and maintain better, more meticulous, less lazy blogs.

Unfortunately for me (for once itʼs me and not you), our English language has a long history of turning words that were one part of speech into another. Nouns have regularly become adjectives and even (horrors for me, you might think) verbs. Verbs have been thingified, creating nouns (and if “thingify” were a real word, its structure reveals one common way to make a noun into a verb — add a verb ending such as “-ify”). My problem is with the lazy uses that add nothing to language or discourse but merely flatten, reduce and mumble our meanings and intentions. Both verb-izings,*** “journal” and “blog,” prevaricate against the actual difficulty of good, conscientious daily writing by imposing a deliberate slothful and unrealistic apparent easiness.**** Itʼs a lie we should shun.

* (regardless what the dang dictionary determined!)

** And then as a gerund (“His journaling is disappointingly poor in its frequency and content”), bringing us full-circle back to the realm of nouns! Because itʼs just so hard to say instead “daily writing,” for instance.

*** And thereʼs another way to turn a noun into a verb, add “-ize.”

**** After all, one only, merely, easily “blogs,” rather than the far more difficult challenges of actually writing, revising and editing. The word makes the job seem undemanding, a snap (when itʼs not). And thatʼs the hidden behavior modification technique, I believe, behind the academic use of “journaling” — the word makes the activity sound simple and even effortless, thus tricking otherwise unwilling pupils into unconscious obedience. Rather like advertising (or propaganda) from whence such duplicitous tricks arose.

Your responses would be most welcome…

©2011 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.