Pushing at the Limits

Yesterdayʼs post still needs your attention, folks. (I admit it was long…) But for today I thought, as itʼs been since Fathersʼ Day that I last put up some verse, I would treat you to my most unreadable poem of all, one that derived from just too much Joyce (and a personally pompous attempt to ape his technique in Finnegans Wake, as noted below).

Perhaps one of the most personally meaningful lines in Shakespeare for me comes from the mouth of Hamlet: “Oh, ʼtis most sweet, when in one line two crafts directly meet.” The Prince is speaking about mining and undermining in siege warfare, but I have always heard it (as the intended reference first of course but also) as my favorite definition of poetry. A poet (like Joyce) packs all the meaning into every word and phrase as possible, and then through the magical medium of reading acquires some more in the reader. So in a poem lots of various and varying meanings are all pulsing along together, sometimes in conflict with each other — but all there always.

Joyce just tried to make the multiplexity of meaning multilingually obvious in Finnegans Wake, and envious, I played around at imitating his skill at combing many words into each stretched/distorted word presented. Trying to say it all out loud (as recommended for the Wake) works well but incompletely. Multiple readings of every genuine poem ever is necessary always.

And bellow them at the moon

But Is It Art?

Djuna Barnesʼ sketch portrait of Joyce after eye surgery — from Wikipedia

Sir Alloyseeus gerund-doppleganger groundhog,

bend your incorporal (real dead) ear this way.

Iʼm in tough strayts, con-fused, unsureten.

Render a reply.

Outside insigh doubt ankh out innkeeper than before —

my troubleʼs words.

Words are women, maenads, mayknots, gnats and nods

and mirrors, vane and merrytrickious, blooming words.

Rants of semensis, rinds of windywinding electricity

(so civilized) recharging retreating inscaping

berating and beating off and on-tellecturealizing:

intwo out often nineigh braykekeke coaxial axed and

antsirred all at ones. Blowing blown this away and that. Get the point?

Words are worse than — wrong! words are the

worsted mess itself, wonderfultonsfolliesbrrgene-ing.

Look: (all right, listen — look in the figurative preterate)

each precioshush pleads to make a mini-moustearaeon

menufactchurch mycrowcosmick mirror of the (eye-Kant-

be-cer-itʼs-there) outside nonmentalick varyturd.

Warysimillatoitʼs a word, but the Heisenburgerʼs

catsup pickles the palymer inside. Sinister to be sure.

Re-alley-T is Unmi, but talk is not listen, and is

ether sea? We wee oui, all the whey home (paean, peonye)

have a problem hear. Thatʼs the diffickletee there or

their or theyʼre: Iʼm drowning in the see explayned.

trying to play at Finnegans Wake

4 February 1978

I added one sentence in presenting this old fossil here today. I also cannot decide still if “sea” shouldnʼt be “si.” I also (after the initial post this morning) just decided to change “weigh” to “whey.” An improvement or not? The etymology of “weigh” attracts me still. (And my minimal multilingualism is even more forced than the Addressed Audience used in his big book of dream[s].)

Yesterdayʼs important post was long, so I will keep this one short and see if this poem can explain (explayn?) itself…

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Weekend Update

I spent so much of Friday afternoon writing new words on old posts and new and old pages, that I am tempted to say I did a thousand words (and it was pretty close) already, and this post is done. But I wonʼt, not quite.

If you havenʼt clicked on Longer Items recently, I did an overhaul/addition to that page to link to (and create) Longer Items for most of the nonfiction I have posted here, as well as the fiction that had already resided there. The big project yesterday was revising and adding to the pieces of the Sam Spade critical essay that I thought I finished yesterday. (And I did, too; itʼs just that in writing that final portion, I realized there is a whole ʼnother theme to explore, one close to my heart in these strident Rightist days, one that arose from thinking about businessman Spade not as coldly heroic but as flawed or failed. One of these days…) Those who read the post early (say before 1:00 p.m. Iowa time) have some changes in store if you look again there or at the Longer Item complete essay.

I got back to work (employment work) the last days of this week as well, wrapping up the old NRFU operation by collecting my crewʼs bags and badges. I am busy this weekend, so I had to refuse a no-warning project on additional addresses that suddenly arose. But I go back and train again for the next/last operation next week. One of my crew members, in getting rehired, knew more about what was ahead than I do: s/he expressed pleasure that I was going to train and supervise them in this next task (all I knew was that my training is definitely scheduled now). Itʼs the government — information flows in mysterious and unpredictable paths.

my larger red notebook, containing all there is (so far) of the Sepharad story

I still havenʼt done any major new writing (or even dictating the still-only-handwritten parts of the Sepharad story into the computer). I should have taken a big lesson on getting the digitalizing of my hand-scrawled copy accomplished ASAP because of a near-(imaginary) disaster that occurred last weekend.

You may recall that on Saturday, with sister-in-law Diane visiting from Wisconsin, we celebrated their fatherʼs Fathersʼ Day a little in advance with a trip to the Potosi Brewing Company. It turned out that I got to be the designated driver (even though at lunch I enjoyed my complimentary small glass of their beer — I chose the IPA over the stout, amazingly, but appreciated the dry hoppiness of the brew with food). As I usually do, I brought along both my little Harrodʼs notebook (which came in handy to record a note on a community name*, stolen from one of the three villages that combined to become Potosi, which will now end up as a place in Quetzal County) and the larger one that I received as a joke gift upon retiring from the speech coach job at Andrew several years ago. I shoved some Google Maps directions for getting to the brewery into the larger notebook (and those directions were useful because my Garmin GPS once again failed to know the name of a community near us — earlier it couldnʼt recognize DeWitt, and last Saturday it had no clue about Potosi, thus frustrating my desire to show it off for the parents-in-law) and passed it back to Janet for the drive. She placed it into the pocket pouch on the back of the driverʼs seat once we arrived. And then we both promptly forgot all about it, and the notebook (and my only copy of the rest of the Sepharad story) went away with Bing and Betty once the day was done.

It worked out all right. On Sunday afternoon, once Diane had headed for her home again, I convinced Janet that we should go to Bing and Bettyʼs and get my notebook back (and her water bottle, which she also forgot in the car). We did, and it was lucky that we chose to go. Friday night had been another wild one around the area — furious thunderstorms with high winds. Bing and Betty had already lost one tree about a week earlier to wind damage, and on Friday night another, bigger one went down. As we arrived and passed through the parental garage, we found Bing in the back yard with a little hand saw, trying to clean the standing trunk of the rest of its height and of branches. It was too big a job for one 75-year-old man by himself on a step ladder. Although a chain saw would have been best (and a neighbor brought one over later that day, once Janet and I had gone home), between the four of us — Bing, Betty, Janet and I — we got through the twisted trunk and the extra branches attached thereto. Although covered in itchy sawdust, we felt good about helping out as we drove away a couple hours later (and with the neighborʼs help, Bing cleared everything and even took it all to their yard-waste disposal site in three loads on the neighborʼs pickup).

So good came of my thoughtlessness in bringing the notebook in the first place (I knew, should have known, that I would do no writing on that trip). But I still have to make good on the lesson about (almost) losing my only copy of the story. And I still have to haul away our own load of branches that blew down last Friday night, too! I also have the yard rakings from this Thursdayʼs mowing job, as well. I canʼt do it today because the truckʼs in for a regular oil change in preparation for driving plenty next week (those “Old Back to Work Blues”).

As that topic, going back to regular employment, brings me just about full circle on subject matter, it is probably time to close this one out. Tomorrow I think Iʼll add a bit more of Chapter II of “Mistakes by Moonlight,” and after that weʼll just have to see how it goes once I am a working man again.

* read the Wikipedia “Potosi, Wisconsin” article (clickable above) and you can probably spot the name I chose to make mine own

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Religious Reconnoitering

Yesterday I told the story of composing my first full-length play, Speak No Evil, explaining that I have tended to write my long plays from frustration (anger) with falsehoods rampant in the world. If you read that little essay, anger wasnʼt really the flint that sparked that first dramatic endeavor into existence but the wonderful uplift of science (thank you, Carl Sagan).

Feel free to put these crosshairs on the bilious hypocrite(s) of your choice.

My second play, however, arose directly from anger at the reactionary and ignorant religious right and put hate-mongering televangelists dead in the center of my literary gunsights (hey, itʼs not just the wacko/Palin Right that can utilize figurative weaponry). I donʼt know why as the Eighties dawned I started taking so personally the scamming and con-artistry so blatant on the televangelista circuit. Perhaps it was growing up; perhaps, later, it was growing together (with Janet) and getting married — both indications conjuring maturity. But the money-grubbing, false-as-sin-we-donʼt-admit hypocrisy and cant got my ire up. And my dander, too.

In order to get married, Janet and I had to endure/survive/experience Pre-Cana classes. She was raised Catholic, attending Catholic elementary school and the whole gambit, so she wanted to get married in the church. I agreed, being of no firm faith, naturally (and at that particular era, drawn powerfully toward Judaism from my reading and nonfiction studies — frightening my mother that I might actually convert, unfortunately; but naturally I lacked the full conviction, although on our honeymoon in Minneapolis, I dragged The Lovely One along as I sought Jewish bookstores for purchases.)

My own religious background was more mixed (-up). My family was United Methodist, to which my older sister Margaret and minister brother Paul (going full-time at it once he retires from teaching this spring/summer) adhere now. Younger brother Stephen also finds comfort in his religious values, mostly confined to Bible study, I believe, these days. Youngest sibling David has sought solace in the UCC, whose generous spirit of liberality he finds welcoming (as do I, differently).

I was confirmed a Methodist in sixth grade in Rock Island. It was a hot June day. We wee believers were clad in our best church clothes (including wool jacket and shirt with tie for me) and then covered in choir robes, so we were dropping like flies in the awful heat, including me. I only have vague recollections of the minister putting his hands upon my head as someone held me up, lifted from my unconscious state on the carpet, and then being rushed off to a recovery room nearby. Maybe my semi-conscious condition explains why the experience hasnʼt taken.

The next summer the family moved to Olivet, Michigan, where my father took his only college teaching job. With no Methodist church in town, we became for the two years we remained in Michigan Congregationalists (perhaps helping to explain Davidʼs choice?), and I was confirmed yet again (I think that next spring, as an eighth grader) into the bosom of that New England faith. But then my father wearied of college faculty politics, and with him going back into high school teaching, we moved again to Mt. Pleasant, where there was a strong Methodist congregation that confirmed young people as sophomores in high school. So I went through the confirmation classes for a third time (and each experience, disregarding the subtle theological distinctions of two different brands of Protestantism, was different from the others) and got the official sanction for a third time, too.

One time in Olivet I even got “saved,” having gone to watch a magician at the next-door Assembly of God building. His show was so inspiring that I felt the spirit in me move (something), went to the front during the Call and got reborn, I guess (or something). I went directly home, into the garage where I had hidden a pack of cigarettes, and destroyed them all in my blissful, heart-so-light reinstalled innocence. Iʼm not sure how much more than three days that exaltation persisted, but I guess I share a little something with the pea-brained Bimbo from Alaska, however briefly in my case. (I shall have to reserve the sorry tale of my youthful evil — and it is a sad story — for another post.)

More complexly, I went Presbyterian without the formal rituals for nearly five years in Mt.Pleasant, drawn thither by the allure of romance (the then-girlfriend was of that persuasion) and friendship — a lot of my peers attended there as well, drawn by the warmth and even radicalism of the pastor, whom we all called “Rev” (thatʼs how cool he was, although he once lost it with me during adult discussion group — no mere Bible-studying Sunday school for them! — when I wouldnʼt admit I was terrified to die/unaware of my incipient and eventually certain demise). The more-than-liberal Rev even made national news (and Time magazine) for sheltering illegal Salvadorans in the later Seventies and early Eighties once he had moved off to the Southwest, having become a strong mover in the Sanctuary movement. I liked that church a lot, although I also recall committing some less than holy actions there. As most of this period was  college for me, I believe my parents (who were both very sincerely devout) were just glad I was going to a church of any kind.

More twistedly, I continued to attend the Mt. Pleasant United Methodist Church at least once a year through college… in order to qualify for a UMC scholarship that covered a good deal of my tuition at Iowa Wesleyan College (yep, that good old religious connection again).

But after commencing from college summa cum laude, the church stuff pretty much withered away, although like most Americans I would still attend with the family for Christmas and Easter if I went back to my folks for that holiday. Withered away, I guess, unless you count those years in the late Seventies when I was gobbling up every Talmudic and Kabbalistic volume I could acquire (and in the process worrying my poor mother that I was headed straight to conversion perdition). My Dante studies were equally drenched in theology — Christian this time, of course, and Roman Catholic, as I steeped myself in medieval scholarship, scholasticism and Thomas Aquinas (and possibly more comforting to my mother).

So there you have it: thrice confirmed, once saved, and having dabbled in lots of beliefs, probably damned eternally.

Which brings us back where we began… Janet and I attending pre-Cana in Dubuque to get married in her hometown Catholic Church, after six weeks of soul-searching and counseling with the local priest in Andrew, Father Maichen — a really excellent gentleman who sincerely tried to help me understand that my own sense of what he called “doubt” was a perfectly acceptable aspect of oneʼs serious, tortuous road to Catholic faith. Although I had no intention of taking the plunge for a fourth (or fifth) time, he and I had some good discussion about church fathers and theology in general (matched or superseded only by visits with my late brother-in-law Brian Sullivan, he of the “I thought I heard a joyful noise” incident).

—But I have greatly exceeded my thousand-word limit for posts without even getting back to televangelical shenanigans and deceptions and the rocky road to Magick. So thereʼs got to be more to come. Soon.

(And let us not forget to mention Bertrand Russell, key philosopher in my spiritual development. And Spinoza, arising from Judaical studies and Shelley, too… And Gandhi… )

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Pain = No Gain?

Click for good advice on running in the dark — although I do listen to my music

Having awakened fairly early on Saturday morning, I got right to work on both this post (planning to stay ahead and have a few posts to keep me going, you know) and with my job — shooting to use Friday and Saturday to total at the forty permitted hours each week. Janet got up early, too, using her weighted hula hoop and floor exercise to shape up while watching the box (FIY and HGTV, probably). Although recently I consumed a carton of ice cream over two days, Iʼm leaving my shape to the morning, uh, “runs.” Run is a vast exaggeration, I admit: small children and elderly codgers more ancient than I whiz past me periodically (actually cute young things in track suits and tall, lean guys with heads full of dark hair). And I am still at the four-mile limit (it used to be six), but I have been faithful about getting up at 5:00 to go out and press a little asphalt for an hour. Even through the first week of work, okay, training for my current choice of employment, briefly.

I do like running in the dark better than letting the sun sap all my energy, I have discovered, so I get up and go when the alarm rings (a bit earlier than 5:00).

—And I got that far last Saturday morning and went on to other things (you have been reading some of them here on the blog in recent days), getting no further with this little post.

Evidently a providential circumstance, as the run has been transformed into a harder chore than usual. The reason: pain. Something has gone wrong in my left lower leg/ankle, and every step I take hurts, particularly so running. The condition first appeared in the later part of last week, while I was still driving sixty-plus miles a day to “train” for my Census job (say, first glimpses last Wednesday morning during the run, a noticeable issue on Thursday morning and again on Friday). So I made a deliberate effort to rest the poor limb over last weekend — now with heavy sarcasm: so awfully hard to do that!

Janet and I even shunned our usual weekend walks for an extended road trip in my truck out the Caves Road and then up to Bernard (through which neither of us had ever been before) and beyond before heading back through Dubuque to Bellevue and home on Sunday. (This weekend, I hope we have the time, and I have the information, to try a similar drive southeastward to explore my CLD area for the Census.)

The weekend rest made no difference for my ankle and calf, however. Mondayʼs run was difficult (although I did finish all four miles in not a terrible time), so I tried resting again on Tuesday morning. Then yesterday I was barely beyond hobbling and cut the route short to just about exactly three miles (and the ache is throbbing right now as I type). Each step is definitely hurtful.

My hurt would be at H or S, but on the side mostly. And if you click the picture, the link takes you to an article about osteopathy — my doctorʼs specialty.

No, I havenʼt been to the doctor. My last running-associated injury happened to coincide with one of my semi-regular physician visits to have blood drawn for tests and a chat about my blood pressure and cholesterol. When I mentioned the hurt (my knee then), he just nodded and agreed I had probably hurt it while running. Thanks, Bill. I think Iʼll wait until itʼs a more definite problem (however much it hurts right now) before costing our bank balance for that advice again. (Besides, I still have my new glasses to pay for, and thatʼs going to take more than my first week of pay from the Census. Thankfully, as I am using the old “crazed” pair for the morning run, I realize daily just how nice the new glasses are.)

Perhaps I should try heat? Maybe I should acquire an Ace bandage and wrap the lower leg? (I know all this is mostly just the result of getting old… probably…)

Iʼll take any help anyone wants to offer on this issue… Maybe someone out there knows something about physical training and would like to drop a hint. (“You want a hint?” “Yes, please.” “Think.” —A little joke for those familiar with Everybody.)

My current plan for this morning, even as this post appears, I just realized, is to make long-overdue use of my Y membership by trekking over there (since I almost always run right by it — these days twice) burdened with my clean indoor shoes, and try rowing for a half hour, effort which should be significantly easier on my lower leg.

I would like to have my shoes permanently stored in a locker or somewhere at the Y, but when I asked, I was told that no, they did not rent lockers, and that any lock left on a locker longer than 72 hours was cut off. The policy outraged Janet (who has been trying to get me to use the Y or else stop my monthly payment), since her Y in Dubuque rents lockers. If the shoes were there waiting for me, I could interrupt any morning run for a little additional workout or weight-lifting (both of which I need to add to my daily regimen), but itʼs awkward and unpleasant to try carrying the shoes along on a regular run. However, the run wonʼt be regular anyway until my leg decides to quit this hurtful act, so this makes a good time to find out how busy the place is right as it opens.

And thatʼs the whine from the exercise front.

Maybe weʼll get to that poem I mentioned tomorrow.

Couldnʼt Care Less

a cleverly ironic button?

I found a really worthless old piece of writing to post over the weekend (although it may be of interest to former participants in the Andrew spring plays), so I thought we would spend today on what appears to be one of the most popular subjects I undertake from time to time — grammar (and/or usage). This oneʼs primarily grammatical.

We will start with an oldie, although I have begun to feel this particular linguistic abuse is fading, and its heyday may be over. But…

Have you ever heard anyone say, “I could care less” when that individual felt essentially no interest in whatever subject elicited the incorrect remark? And were you aware the statement is, well, wrong?

Consider the sentence: “I could care less.”

First off, with reference to a previous grammatical-correction post of which I was recently reminded by a former student who evidently watches far too many YouTube videos, “less” is indeed correct here because the person is stating a unified quantity of caring (not many carings, I guess). As commercials abusing “less” have grown almost as frequent as ads for prescription drugs that have more side effects than any human should want to endure (and ill effects which are clearly far worse than the ailment the drug is advertised to ameliorate — unintended little effects like bleeding from oneʼs eyes and/or death itself), I suppose I should be glad to encounter a usage of “less” that makes sense.

Click for a good discussion of this problem by someone else.

Unfortunately, the sentence weʼre considering errs well before we arrive at the word “less.” The person means that he or she has reached the nadir of interest (about where Janet has arrived in my now ceaseless rants against stupidly annoying commercials). There is no interest level left for the speaker. And yet: “I could care less.” The very words tell us that the person could care less! There is more uncaring to go: “I could care less.”

She or he should be saying: “I couldnʼt care less.” (I bet you had guessed that already.) Now the statement makes sense. There is no further level of uncaring to discover; this is the ultimate pit of not caring. “I could not care less” (i.e. I donʼt care at all, not one bit, none, nada, nothing whatsoever — perhaps your own level of interest in this subject after the lengths I have just gone to drag it out). That is the literal truth.

And that last sentence literally suggests the one flaw in my position. Perhaps the statement “I could care less” isnʼt meant literally but instead figuratively. A literal statement is objectively true, scientifically valid (like relativity or evolution); it means/denotes what it says. A figurative statement, on the other hand (and “on the other hand” is a figure of speech, folks — itʼs not literally so: there arenʼt any hands here, especially if I happen to be dictating this post), doesnʼt necessarily mean what it actually says; its meaning lies elsewhere, is only suggested or imagined, connoted. I donʼt know what figure of speech or trope (maybe we should study these terms one day) “I could care less” — dryly stating the opposite of what one intends — might be for certain, but it could be a figurative or imaginative way of suggesting the actual situation: “I could not care less.” Hmmm…

And with that, I couldnʼt care less any longer about this problem or the conundrum I just suggested to us all.

A Bonus, Baby!

As a second subject for the day, a little bonus if you wish, note the use of “effects” in the paragraphs above — all correct. With an E the word effect is a noun (a thing of some kind) while the version with an A, affect, is almost always a verb (an action of some kind) — unfortunately not every time, which is possibly the source of the confusion between effect and affect. Effects affect us (noun—verb—direct object). For everyday purposes, itʼs as simple as that: use an E –ffect when you mean a thing (like a side effect) and an A -ffect when you are describing whatʼs happening (“Wakdjunkaga, this tedious analysis is affecting me badly: reading your post has given me a headache.”)

Thatʼs another little bit of confusion that I used to have to correct frequently on studentsʼ papers.

Finally, as a child I was only a mediocre to modestly good speller. It was humiliation as a teacher that got me to learn to spell, which I do pretty well these days. Humiliation is a great stimulant to change and learning (although the education establishment, founded on the self-help, positive-affirmation movement, would shudder to read what I have just said). For my two years in Ft. Madison, I usually wrote on the board “sentance” repeatedly, without demur from the students. I caught it as a hideous goof on my own one evening while correcting papers, hesitating over commenting about a studentʼs sentence fragment (a comment I quickly learned, as my reading-of-student-writing load increased once I moved to the job in Andrew, to abbreviate as: FRAG.), and I actually stopped before writing the usual horrible misspelling and looked the word “sentence” up in the dictionary. I got it right from that moment on and still blush right across my bald pate when I think of the many times I, the trained and pompously self-important educator, had written the wrong spelling over two years. (Maybe education has it right after all — that lesson was self-help.)

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Wakdjunkaga in Cedar Rapids

The opening of this chapter is fairly true to my own real life. I did write the first three chapters more or less at once, at least all in Ft. Madison in 1976 and 1977. Then I stopped. I revised the three chapters but got no further. Then around 1979 or ‘80 I added this fourth chapter (and notice the narrator says it got written three years after the others). I am not sure for my overall plot that it should arrive three years later (or not; I have a small idea now that would make the gap useful, if I could alter my narrator’s overly Lovecraftian tone). At any rate, he tries to continue the story…

The Book of Seasons

chapter four

Now I have reached the difficult part.

You must remember that what you are reading is not a novel. This book is not fiction. What I am telling you happened to me. Or, more precisely, I suppose, it happened to Wakdjunkaga, since most of what I have to say he told me in one roundabout and circumstantial manner or another.

I don’t say this because of what you have already read, although you may have begun to suspect the unusual nature of the story. What I’ve told you is not my problem. Those three chapters — begun so long ago, as I write this fourth — are natural enough, really. They were relatively easy to record, once I made myself begin. (It is beginning which is the hardest in any effort, I think. After a start one must only maintain the exertion, not easy in itself, I know, but that is because one keeps encountering smaller little beginnings in the process. Like writing: it is vilely hard to get started, but once begun, that first sentence, perhaps even the first paragraph comes without much additional strain. But then, like an entirely new beginning, that second paragraph presents itself to be written, and there it becomes so easy to stop, having not yet fully commenced.)

The first three chapters are like the first paragraph in my acquaintance with Wakdjunkaga. Once I actually forced words to, often literally, drip from my pen (I found typewriters demoralizing) that much came easily. But there I balked, barely begun. He had only arrived; I had the whole story to tell yet.

I did not exactly know how to go on. And so, between composing the end of the last chapter and setting this down now, three years quietly elapsed.

I got the chapters typed. I did revision on revision of those pages, precisely as I taught my students to write essays. All in my spare time. For I had become a high school teacher a year after my stint in Cedar Rapids, and I was busy dealing with the youth of mid-America. I worked often on the story of Wakdjunkaga, updating all my personal references, which caused me so much initial embarrassment to record. But, although I tried as many as thirteen times, I could not proceed any farther.

It was Wakdjunkaga who stopped me, not in person, but in personality. How could I go on? How could I explain him?

You’re not reading a novel. Understand that. I don’t have everything neatly plotted in my mind, with outlines for each chapter, the action developed with appropriate conflicts, complications and character changes. Neither Wakdjunkaga nor his life fit well to outlining.

However, I have noticed that already I am beginning to forget individual details and events, important to recall if this story is to be told correctly. That time that the Allison is growing hazier to me each time I try to remember.

It’s not so much what I’ve written as what I have to write. How can I explain Wakdjunkaga to you? He is not likable, not really. You won’t appreciate him; you’ll think me crazy for calling him a friend, for telling his story, for allowing him this book. We like to find heroes in our books, and I’m not sure he was much of a hero at all. I’d be closer if I called him a clown.

He was a sissy about pain: I never noticed afterward that his ankle bothered him, despite his initial assertion. He preferred ease, comfort and warmth to any other conditions.

A coward, he had deserted friends to save himself, avoided facing crises at any cost. I remember once we were in a bar downtown where I had never been before. We entered at Wak’s insistence. Exactly as I had feared, it was a rough place where we did not belong, and Wak was already drunk, quite loud and, as we sat at the bar, beginning to be a little abusive. Not that anyone would bother him. Most people are very cautious about hitting an old man like him, even if he did not look his full age (in my initial estimate that first night I had grossly underestimated). Eventually one large and meaty character who had overheard Wak’s comments to me took offense, as I had dreaded and, speaking beer into my face as insults and threats, got so carried away he could not stand my presence any longer and took a heavy swing at the side of my head. I clearly recall my other ear ringing sharply onto the bar and then, from the floor barely noticing Wak’s feet scurry quietly passed as he subtly departed. I was stranded and in trouble. My ear was bleeding, so I rolled with that side up and pretended unconsciousness, reviving only when I was sure that the two orangutans who deposited me in the garbage behind the establishment had been gone for at least ten minutes. Wakdjunkaga never apologized or afterward mentioned the incident.

A liar and a fake, he had stolen everything he was, almost, from others, mostly to impress women — his favorite pastime, even past eighty, followed by drinking, spinning stories, fabricating fabulous philosophies and playing practical jokes. He would rather sit than do anything active, and I was always amazed he was no fatter or flabbier than he was.

But these are virtues to some, I suppose. He was moreover a hypocrite, pretending thoroughly, perhaps even to himself, to be what he was not — Byronic, noble, athletic, wise, and everything anyone he might be with would admire. His world-wearied, quixotic, craggy countenance and expression helped him most in this. But I don’t think he ever fooled anyone for long: a failure sham.

And wordy. He probably talked from birth. He babbled constantly. About anything. But mostly about himself or his ideas — he was expert, or it least informed, on any subject ever conceived. Frequently, however, when he became excited or overly involved in what he was saying, he grew associative and incoherent and hard to follow.

He did know a good deal. His references and allusions often stymied me. But his opinions could change faster than Time magazine’s. He’d blithely contradict himself the day after expounding one position and then establish a third stance on the third day. And laugh at you if you pointed it out to him, and prove that he had held a fourth conciliatory opinion, which you were just too simple to comprehend, all the time. He was certainly never above insult or innuendo.

“Damn protestants,” he said once, “purifying the religion. Took everything interesting or challenging and threw it out. Made Christianity boring as hell. History’s gone downhill ever since the Reformation. Killed in the Renaissance anyway. Puritans and methodites — hate them all. Empty air and vacant gestures — that’s all they are.”

On another occasion: “Catholics? Ha! Them and their hodgepodge of a religion — patchwork little devotional empire founded in ignorance, Imperial Rome, Mithraism, anti-naturism and everything but the New Testament. I never could have imagined such an irrational, half-baked conglomeration if I had to.”

I expected him to tackle Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Communists, Buddhists, Taoists, psychologists, Republicans, sports fans and any other group of True Believers in the same way, but he never got around to it. I did ask him one time what he believed in. Anything? “Of course,” he sputtered gloriously, and then smiled, “but damned if I’ll ever tell you.” And he swilled a beer. He never told me, either.

More tomorrow…

Is it any good, readers? Although I never intended to finish this when I dictated from the xerox copy and decided to start posting it, I have been getting ideas. What do you say? Interesting? At all readable? What?

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.


The glasses in this stolen image look remarkably like my own, except for the lenses.. (and interestingly this image vanished only minutes after I found it). Clicking will take you to the source, however.

So I’ve been having a little trouble seeing lately.

I believe it’s just my glasses. With my corrective-lens sunglasses I see perfectly well, and I’ve been noticing what looked like scratches or smears on the lenses of my regular glasses getting worse these past many weeks. I figured they couldn’t be scratches because I had seriously tried to take extremely good care of these lenses—using only a soft cloth to wipe them, never abrasive kleenex—and usually just water or mild lens cleaner. I have always gone—at least for most of my life—with plastic, safety lenses (you wouldn’t believe how much my head and therefore glasses get knocked around building sets, aiming lights, and generally living my life), which don’t shatter and are much lighter in the frames.

Finally, as the problem has grown visibly worse (or probably I should say “ less visibly” except for the visibility of the scratches), on my way home from lunch with Janet last Wednesday, I went to my local optometrist to see what the glasses expert had to say. I was relieved to discover I had done nothing wrong, but disappointed to discover that my lenses were “breaking down,” from the inside as she told me. I learned it’s an unfortunate issue known a “crazing.” And there’s nothing that can be done about it: my glasses, at five years of age, are simply too old to repair; it’s a kind of natural process. Really? It’s never happened before.

So it’s time to do a little research. A quick Google search turned plentiful results, as always—at least 196,000 possible sources of information. As always with everyone using Google, I clicked on the first several and learned a few things. My first source was an inside-the-industry document. Go ahead click the link, take a look. —Back already? It doesn’t say much except to contradict the location of the “minute scratches.” The problem does seem to be specific to my kind of lens, the AR lens. So let’s see what another source says. Also within the industry, possibly even in Canada, but it hinted further information: heat appears to be a problem with coated plastic lenses, according to one of those posts a little further down that page even as little as 130°F. As the poster suggests, don’t leave your glasses in a car on a summer day. Still no real help for me either. So now we’re on to Yahoo Answers. Likewise, not much help.  Number four takes us back inside the industry, but focuses on crazing in the process of lens creation. However, wait! Our fifth source provides some real information and what my optometrist expert did not—a possible solution. (Apparently my optometrist wasn’t about to try to get the coating redone; these are, of course, the same people who missed Janet’s separating retina until the day immediate surgery was required a year ago.) And so on. I won’t bore you with everything I looked through; you can try your own search yourself (and pass the information you might get onto me, if you learn more than I have, please).

I did learn that crazing affects camera lenses, really pretty obviously, but also ceramics and tiles and acrylics in general. In fact the term may have started with the tile industry. All very interesting, but not much help to me. I did learn that UV radiation can cause crazing, which may explain why my sunglasses have not crazed. I also learned that dropping acrylics can craze them; since my sunglasses don’t fit in a regular sunglasses case, my regular glasses do kind of rattle around in the extra-large case the sunglasses usually sit in. Perhaps the light, the heat or the rattling have caused this problem, which I had never seen before.

My own spectacles—unfortunately you can’t see the crazing on the lenses.

My progressive lenses are just about worthless down on the inside bottom where the close-up reading corrections are. So even today as I am working on the computer, my glasses are sitting on the tip of my nose and I’m reading only through the upper half—the long-distance corrections. And my current optometrist offers no hope.

It appears I’m simply screwed.

Janet, of course, no longer goes to her old optometrist here in Maquoketa. The day of her disaster, February 4, 2009, the optometrist sent her instantly to Medical Associates in Dubuque, whom he also contacted. Janet called me at school to get me to take the rest of the day off and drive her to Dubuque, since she was effectively blind in one eye and her eyes were dilated. The ophthalmologists in Dubuque were under the impression that retinal reattachment by laser would be the order of the day. Ha! One look told them her condition was way past that solution, and she had to go to an actual eye surgeon. A year ago that meant another road trip—this time down ole Highway 61 to Bettendorf to Eye Surgeons Associates, Inc., where an extremely capable formerly Canadian ophthalmologist reattached her retina first thing the next morning. Subsequent problems getting her now elongated eyeball, which no longer matched her other eye’s nearsightedness at all, corrected with contacts proved frustrating at our local level, anyway. When she finally went back to Medical Associates in Dubuque, they came up with solutions rapidly. She is now a happy client with them in Dubuque.

At her suggestion, I will be, too. I have an eye examination set for a couple of weeks from now. We will see what changes happen then; maybe they will offer to try to fix the crazing along the lines of the suggestions I have found on the Internet. I am more confident I will have new glasses in about a month.


©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

January is for Janus: Looking Both Forward and Back

This month gets its name, as I hope many of you already know, from the Roman god, Janus, who was generally pictured looking both ways at once—thus the title for this post. In fact, if you use the link associated with his name in the previous sentence, the site pictures a coin featuring the most frequent, two-headed (or is it two-faced?) Janus image. Therefore, as I set out to be more regular in posting to this blog, it seems appropriate to use the notion of Janus in January, since I keep looking both forward and back. I’ve been ransacking my poetry files (old stuff, looking backward into the past) for material to place in this high-tech, (for me) futuristic medium. I’ve also been planning some new developments for future posts. I have also been looking back to quietly edit and refine former posts, removing little errors and infelicities of expression—fixing up the past from the present, yesterday’s tomorrow. And then you get to reflect back in comments. It’s all very Januslike.

Today’s post is even more appropriate to the month, since I am composing it yesterday, looking ahead to today. Yes, I am beginning to take my responsibilities here seriously. This way I can take time to revise and edit tomorrow what I write tonight that you will read a little later tomorrow (or even days later, perhaps weeks or months or years afterward).

Go Hawks?

I suppose I should, since it’s the big Iowa bowl game tonight, make some kind of prognostication about the outcome that I can then revise tomorrow to make sure I am correct. But as those of you who know me realize, I’m just not all that interested in sports, unlike so many Facebook friends who are expressing all kinds of excitement about the game this evening. Although I did actually watch the last five minutes of the North Carolina/Pitt game on December 26, missing the actual field goal that won it for Pitt (it was Pitt that won, wasn’t it?). I mostly found it amusing that they chose to call the thing the Meinecke Car Care Bowl. That has to be a maximum ridiculosity for corporate sponsorship flatulence. However, I won’t really care whether Iowa gets to triumph or not. Right now I do hope that everyone at play practice will want to see the game so badly that we don’t have to rehearse very long. But I can let you know tomorrow how that hope works out tonight.


Janus is the god of doors and beginnings. I am hoping that this blog can be a doorway in many ways. First, it is making me open myself, like a door, an experience with which I am actually quite unfamiliar. It’s a passage from writing in isolation toward appreciating an audience. An opening to paid work? A portal for you into my mind and heart, for me into your reactions, interpretations and criticisms.

And of course, we are at the beginning of all this, at the beginning of the year (beginning of the decade according to the culture-meisters).

I am also looking forward because even when we look at this tomorrow, I am already looking beyond that to my Thursday post, already scheduled to self-publish early tomorrow (and I mean tomorrow as in the day after this post appears, so the day after your today). It ransacks the past again, publishing here an essay/research paper I wrote back in 1991. It is going to seem endless (because it is quite long), but as I will advise you in the opening note (which I have actually already written this afternoon), I really like it, and the first paragraphs are quite worth reading. Besides it got me an A in the class for which I wrote it. But let’s have tomorrow wait on tomorrow (or for me writing this, Thursday on Thursday, the day after tomorrow today).

…and now I recommend…

Have I gotten you completely confused (or bored, I suspect)? That was partially my purpose because the real aim of this post is to make a reading recommendation. A favorite book for me from the late Seventies was Douglas R. Hofstadter’s mind-boggling tome, Gödel, Escher, Bach—that almost psychedelic mixture of math, music, philosophy, psychology and information/computer theory. It takes enormous delight in exploring puzzles and conundra of time, space and mind as my little assay about yesterday, today and tomorrow was meant to suggest. It’s an amazing and genuinely enjoyable book, what nonfiction and scientific writing should truly be. (And quite a few former Andrew speech contestants from the Eighties and Nineties have performed selections from it in readers theatre and choral reading entries. Once we even won the New Speech Event at the University of Iowa Speech Colloquy with a nearly improvised version of Achilles and the Tortoise and their many confusing friends.) If you have never dipped into it, the book is funny and informative, revealing the truths of your mind’s operations and the nature of the world, and well worth the time.

Furthermore, Dr. Hofstadter has a newer book, taking the same themes further, I Am a Strange Loop, written after the sad death of his wife but still as lively and provoking as the now-thirty-years-old original. I haven’t read it yet, having just bought a copy in December. Since it’s January, I think I should begin.

Give Hofstadter a shot, even if it’s just checking him out on the internet, and I will (not) see you tomorrow…

Yes! I knew it. Play practice concluded by a quarter to eight so people could go home and watch the game. By the time you read this, you’ll know, if you care, how it all turned out.

And now we’re supposed to get up to nine inches of snow tonight and tomorrow (that would be Wednesday and Thursday, just to clarify after today’s post). What!? —Happy Epiphany, all.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Blushes of Warmth: Some Randomness Today

150 Hits in One Day!

Wow. We got nearly 150 hits in one day yesterday! That’s not even an achievement in the world of real blogging (i.e. for profit or political advantage), but it’s a major development in the little world of Wakdjunkaga’s Blog, nearly doubling all the views so far. I’m quite pleased, although I have to admit the obvious advertising I tried on Facebook yesterday afternoon clearly paid off and therefore proves lessons about shameless self-promotion I would rather not acknowledge.

Regardless, thanks all, for taking the time from real life to visit my little realm of musings and maunderings. Please, follow the lead of my distant friend Sharon (who actually bothered to comment yesterday—fantastic!) and tell all your friends. I would actually enjoy being forced to consider what it’s like to write for an audience of more than one (or two or three).





another cold day in Iowa (notice the plant I call “zazu grass” to the left)

Still Cold Here…

looking west from the office (sorry about the screen—again)

I just decided on the title of this piece, and I wish it referred to the temperature outdoors (or here in the little office Janet decided last late winter we were going to create from our third bedroom). It’s still below zero out there with a noticeable breeze shoving and tugging at the neighbors’ little stand of zazu grass and the tips of the lilac bush just outside my west window. Since the office sits on the northwest corner of our house—featuring the irritating view of Gasser True Value and Fareway’s backsides; my, how I miss the old field and the cows—it’s probably only about 55 in here. Even with my defingered gloves cloaking my palms and (up to the first knuckle) fingers, the keyboard is cold to the touch today. And we’re looking forward to more snow already—heading in Wednesday night into Thursday, supposedly four to eight inches. I am beginning to be very glad that Janet suggested we buy a new snowblower…

Ah, well, Iowa in winter. Probably you will all be reading about shoveling and snowblowing adventures later this week. All the news broadcasts last night were jubilantly (weather people are a strange breed) demonstrating that Minnesota and Iowa had the coldest air in the nation flowing directly south from Hudson’s Bay at us—a dark purple trace directly down the body of Minnesota, widening over Iowa. Officially, winter’s just begun, too.

Limitations of Our Electronic Reality

Speaking of nature, I called the neighbors’ planting “zazu grass”—a term I acquired orally from Janet (so I’m just guessing at the spelling), but trying to search that word on Google and Yahoo gave me no results—except for the Lion King hornbill , a California hair salon and roadhouse, and an Alabama restaurant. Yahoo suggested I try “Yahoo Answers,” but that route also ended in frustration and The Lion King. Wikipedia (as I had predicted to myself) was even more worthless, being even more mired in popular culture and teenagers’ preoccupations than the internet at large (meaning only The Lion King). The Encylopaedia Britannica site, being so veddy veddy British, predictably had nothing on either “zazu” or “zazu graass.”

There’s food for thought here. Are we growing too dependent on a source of information that actually restricts the amount of information we can receive to elements from popular culture only? I mentioned in revising my personal profile for this site yesterday that I have a novel about François Villon baking. Internet research on fifteenth century Paris is remarkably limited in its results (even in French—more or less unreadable to me), whereas various books I own (and many more cited as references in those books’ bibliographies) provide much more. But fifteenth century Paris is not particularly part of popular culture, even with a Disneyfication of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The internet feels, especially with multiple thousands—sometimes millions—of hits resulting from any search, that it has unlimited resources of information online. But so often it turns out to be the same stuff reported in often the very same words from site to site. Or the paranoid expostulations of politically psychotic conspiracy addicts…

Looking for Your Help

Here’s the plant. What is it? What would you call it?

Perhaps more on all that later. For right now, my frustration about having the right word for this plant made me think that having a visual search engine would be useful. (I know that Google and some others are working on just that. Even my iPhoto program tries to create a database of faces from all the photos I load on the computer.) And then I realized that if I had some readers, perhaps I could draw on your knowledge to identify what I was looking at. Examine the picture and let me know, if you know. Possibly the real value of the internet is the digital communities we are forging into existence by our use of computerized communications.

I just learned yesterday that if you click on the photos in WordPress blogs, you can see the full image in its true size (which means to me that I don’t have to keep working so hard at the placement and sizing of pictures from now on). It also means that you can click on the “zazu grass” image to see the plant somewhat larger, and hopefully that enhancement will help your identification.

This seems a kind of a cheat as an entry for today, but I really have been thinking about the weather and the information unavailable via the internet.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

a villanelle

I have been remembering lately, late January 2010, (via the comments to this poem) that I wrote it in several phases. It’s a break-up poem (oh, breaking up really is so hard to do). The situation that inspired it occurred when the young lady addressed as “you” had graduated from high school and once off at college—probably late the next spring—determined we should separate. Clearly, I did not want to. Later, in my memories summertime weather, I convinced her to re-establish our relationship, but it didn’t last. By the late fall or early winter of that same year, 1974, it was all over when she had definitely met and gotten closer to her future husband.

Busy Music

The busy music bends me on my way
in prisoned love denying maturation,
and love’s a rune we cannot shape or say.

I said I loved you when I hadn’t, fey:
you harnessed me in heartstring traces,
and the busy music bends us on our way.

You snared my heart with wordless magic sway,
a witchcraft forged from kissing and embraces,
for love’s a rune we cannot shape or say.

We waltzed like children in a timeless May
til you commenced to conjure other faces,
and the busy music bends us on our way.

Still childish sorcery sends my heart to stay
selfbound within those former loving laces,
for love’s a rune we cannot shape or say.

You are consumed by distance, and today
I exhale my impassioned incantations:
the busy music bends us on our way
and love’s a rune we cannot shape or say.

Although this is ages old, it remains one of my very favorite of my poems. (And yes, this one is also posted on Facebook Notes.) I have only written one other villanelle, and the tight repetition and rhyme scheme make that one read more stiffly than this, the first I ever tried. The busy music referred both to the kind of music I was listening to and to life itself, of course.


©2009 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.