Not Getting Creative

Boy is it hot. It is also, as I will reiterate toward the end, very humid. (I am writing yesterday, although I hear that even with a cold front moving through to create thunderstorms, today isnʼt going to feel much drier until evening, maybe.) Thus I have an excuse for a picture in what would be otherwise a pretty verbal post not lending itself well to illustration. I hope my Rightist fans (if any) in particular especially enjoy the humidity image my googling discovered (as usual, click the pic for the original source).

I am still being very busy dealing with lots of Census work as we try to conclude the operation by/on Friday. I spent forty-five minutes yesterday attempting to get a grasp on what we have completed already and what we still have to accomplish. (At least I had been working on that task since Monday and came up with a new, shorter version of the “still-must-finish” pages.) We are well over halfway through, which is excellent because we are well over halfway through (the first was number of questionnaires to complete, the second was allotted time). If I counted and added correctly, we have about 250 EQs to go, out of an original 800. Counting today, we have two days to get that work done (and I hope that while I was playing Questionnaire Accountant, the crew was out there in the world asking questions, so there are already a good portion of that 250 finished by this morning, and which I will diligently correct to send on to Cedar Rapids).

But work is boring, and I am ready to dismiss it from my reality (I hope immediately after meeting my boss on Saturday). Although the money has been nice, helping us afford to fix our driveway (about which the concrete guy, who said he would start in three weeks more than three weeks ago, has yet to get in touch), I am ready to go back to pretending I am trying to be a professional writer. I have lots of work to do (real work, not just inventing, writing, annotating and posting for the blog), including two old — already rejected once or twice — stories and three plays to send to publishers and three stories nearly finished to complete (“Mantorville” and “Mistakes by Moonlight” among that trio, the third being a San Francisco adventure for the Tourist). The old stories are “Underground” and “Details, Details.” For one of those, writing the blog was an excellent stimulus for me.

“Mantorville” occurs through creation at the keyboard for my writing process (as is my unpostably vulgar multiple-universe story and another tale that started as a time travel story but may have evolved into a planetary romance in the old Burroughsian vein  — neither of which has seen much action from me in months). That last Quetzal County post I presented was a single draft more or less. Any good?

“Mistakes by Moonlight” is getting drafted in the big red notebook, as I have told you before, and still needs to get dictated to the computer (yes, no progress on doing real work yet this month). And the Tourist story, like its elder sibling “Underground,” is also working its way into existence longhand, also in the little red Harrods notebook, which is where some jerks and gasps of the Villon novel are also arriving on a page. I find that both typing and writing (literally on the latter) work pretty well for me. Doing the blog has shown me that maybe I write faster at the keyboard. But I feel more reflective and thoughtfully articulate with pen in hand, and a notebook can get used anywhere at all (even, I have found, in fairly dark surroundings). Maybe itʼs the notion of finishing the Sepharad story in one form fully that has kept me from using what little time I have had to put it into digital form.

I still havenʼt gotten comfortable just dictating to the machine without typing, mostly because the software just isnʼt all that accurate. I found another mistake in yesterdayʼs poem to fix when I checked the post about 4:30 PM, for example. The computer “heard” the word yet when I said it. RSS and e-mail readers of the blog have the aurally damaged version (unless RSS,which I donʼt use really, updates you every time I make a repair or edit once the post has gone up). However, I hope by fall to be attempting more successful dictation. My few experiments for the blog have gone together pretty quickly, if I donʼt bother proofreading as I go (but also requiring that I carefully review what the machine has heard afterward).

And as it is now about 5:30 yesterday afternoon (what an incredibly hot and humid day; I said before I for one did not miss at all the cool summer we enjoyed a year ago), with me drenched in and oozing sweat onto the keyboard and the arms of my desk chair (as I earlier soaked the paper of the EQs and my tabulations of who had gotten what work done when), and time to cease effort at the computer of any kind and make supper for The Lovely One as well as preparing her lunch for tomorrow at work, I wonʼt be getting creative again today…

This is not quite a thousand words (again), but I think we all feel that Iʼve droned on long enough.

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

Honoring Paul

I got up at 3:30 AM on Friday morning last week. Seriously, no exaggeration, no lying.

It worked out fine, and I didn’t even feel bad, surprisingly. The reason? My brother Paul was slated to receive the Charles. Martin Award for Association Leadership — the highest award of the Iowa State Education Association.

It is an honor he richly deserves. Like me he has been a member of the Association throughout his entire teaching career, but unlike me he rapidly moved into leadership positions, including long-time presidency of his local Association, chief negotiator for about thirty years as well as serving as head of grievance and negotiations for the same amount of time. He’s also been prominent and important at the state level — representative to the Delegate Assembly for nearly twenty years, many roles for the Unit Nine Board, and the ISEA Executive Board. The presentation of the award especially acknowledged his mentoring role for younger teachers in Oskaloosa and around the state, which is, as they said, “perhaps, his greatest legacy.”

The ISEA Delegate Assembly was last Thursday and Friday, and I wanted to be president to see him receive the award, as did my sister Margaret, Paul’s superintendent and many, many friends. My brother David would have been there, too, except he used his personal time to attend the recent state math conference.

Anyway, I set the alarm or 3:30, and when it let off I actually got up easily, having fallen asleep deliberately at 9:00 PM on Thursday evening. Showering, shaving, dressing, packing some beverages for the trip, and wolfing down a half a grapefruit and some milk in the dark consumed not quite an hour. Janet had recommended I buy a convenience-store cappuccino for the drive and warm it up in the microwave just before I left, it’s was a good idea except I let it cook too long and wasted some time cleaning up boiled-over cappuccino before hopping in the truck and heading out into the dark, just about an hour earlier than I might have headed out for a morning run.

Why is this ISU picture of Hilton Coliseum mostly sky?

I drove east out of Maquoketa to Anamosa, picking up 151 to Cedar Rapids, and then it was all Highway 30 across the state to Ames. Dawn light started to appear in the rearview mirror somewhere between Cedar Rapids and Tama. Predictably there were not many cars on the road at that unusual hour, but there were more than I expected, and the route around the Cedar Rapids was plentifully hectic, thinning, as one might expect, as I drove west beyond the city. Although Google Maps had predicted a three hour and forty minute drive and even directed me within a news into a neighborhood east of where I wanted to go, the middle of nowhere, basically, and I had to seek out the Hilton Coliseum using my own wits, just like it was the 20th century, I had parked the truck right near the south entrance by 7:40.

If you ever want to plant a bomb or otherwise terrorize a large gathering in a public place like that, my recommendation (not serious, of course) is to arrive early, dressed like everyone else and ask to go to the bathroom. In truth, I think the guards like me had no reason to suspect that anyone, not even the state Association of school boards, would have any desire to bomb the ISEA Delegate Assembly. I killed a little time writing on my Sepharad story and then hiked around the oval outside the basketball court about three times before spotting my relatives — Margaret and sister-in-law Nancy — waiting for me to arrive. Paul’s honor occurred about fifteen minutes later than predicted, but that’s large meetings for you. He gave a splendid speech, far better than I would have done, lasting about 12 minutes, filled with nostalgic memories, wit, personal acknowledgments, genuine insight and truth. Afterward we hung about until the end of the morning session, not really attending to matters of the redistribution of Uniserve regions or the recommendation to withdraw troops from Afghanistan and Iraq in order to provide more money for education, and chatted as Paul received well-wishers and old friends at the rear of the assembly.

Eat here only if you enjoy this kind of joint

For lunch the family and some of his friends drove over to Hickory Park, a restaurant with which the rest seem to be familiar but which I fear will probably not receive my business again, just not my kind of place — too loud, too folksy and with far too hard benches for seating at the tables. Our waitress young was excellent, and I really enjoyed my spinach salad (except for the excessive amount of bacon bits). I took a note to tell Janet that if you crossed a Cracker Barrel with Thunder Bay Grille (on the north end of Davenport and part of a small chain owned by a rich Republican businessman) with a hint of TGI Friday’s (something about looking down the hall by a long row of booths), and hung a powerful stench of smoked meat in the air, you’d have something like Hickory Park. Intriguingly for such a place, their portions — except for the salads, of which Paul and I were the only partakers — were curiously small.

Anyway we all chatted amiably, and I was heading home, having switched from a dress shirt and jacket into a hoodie Guinness sweatshirt, about 2:00 PM. I preferred to drive out in the dark to drive home, although it was a beautiful cloudless afternoon, and I really had good luck not getting behind semis or pokey drivers, usually. I had planned to stop at the Mesquakie reservation for gas (and desperately needed to urinate at that point and therefore did stop), where the price was listed about three cents less than elsewhere in the state, but apparently every other driver on Highway 30 had the same plan — there were at least twenty cars waiting to go through the pumps.

So that was my Friday. I’d intended to make this honor Paul (who is retiring this June, as I and his wife did a year ago — but he is becoming a Methodist minister as a second career, one he has been accomplishing already for at least a decade, even founding two Hispanic parishes in Oskaloosa and in Ottumwa), but the post degenerated more into a tedious trip summary. Oh well. Let’s see what you get for tomorrow.

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


I did take some effort to look through the page for The Book of Seasons and make some much-needed corrections of computer-misheard words and phrases. If any of you read through it and noticed errors I have not fixed, please let me know. With that page in existence, I think I’ll leave the original posts for the last two weekends of that story’s first two chapters as they originally appeared. After all, it is good to be reminded of one’s foolishness, laziness or excessive haste: I did a couple of weekend posts on self-humiliation and its value to oneself back in January (here and here).

However, reading through the saga of Wakdjunkaga’s arrival in room 430 of the Hotel Allison, I started thinking about that character, how he — imagined in the mid-70s — compares to or parallels with me today, as he is supposed to be the future self of that pompous little narrator. I do remember (vaguely by now) that it was in my head to try to predict my own future self in the description of Wakdjunkaga. Doing makeup in high school, community theater and especially college (when I took an interim course during either my sophomore or junior year for three or four weeks on makeup) and having to play characters considerably older than your actual (teen) age interestingly focuses your attention on the issues of aging. There’s nothing like drawing smile lines and facial creases to make you consider the actual, future swipes of the scythe of time (thanks for that image, Will Shakespeare).

I had been made aware by the time I left Fort Madison of my impending balditude. It was an incident I have used in another story — not one, thanks to its vulgar language, that is likely to appear here — when I and two friends had driven up to Minneapolis to attend the Minnesota Renaissance Fair. As we were barely out of college and I had yet to meet my future travel agent/wife, we didn’t make much in the way of preparations and arrived on a Friday evening — no, make that pretty late at night — with no hotel reservation. And it was not only the Renaissance Fair but the Minnesota State Fair that weekend. We visited many hotels before we finally found some rooms. Then having driven for six straight hours and searched for several more, we needed to eat and went to some all-night place like Country Kitchen. While in the restaurant my companions, a male and female — a couple at that time, began giggling at each other as I bent over to slurp soup or eat something that lowered my head at them. They wouldn’t confess what was so funny for a while, but it was my incipient bald spot. I was probably 22 or 23. A crushing blow in those days of long, hippie hair (regardless how unruly, scraggly and unattractive my own hair was; and I had even cut my hair to go off for student teaching — a hugely transitional action).

Naturally, in the story’s “prediction,” I clearly have underestimated the extent of my actual hair loss. And I am currently many years from turning 70. Still another example of imagination outrunning reality to one’s personal frustration.

Unfortunately, at least at present, I also underestimated “his” appearance in other ways, particularly in weight. I’ve been working on the issue I raised January 31, and my running routine has recommenced, but I’m afraid this Wakdjunkaga (meaning the genuine me) in this particular actual reality among the potentially infinite variations of the multiverse is not the svelte and scrawny fellow from the story.

Durwood Wakdjunkaga (?) in the portrait infamously not by Rembrandt van Rijn

Of course, I was also misleading myself, suckered by the all-powerful allure of Art. (And I don’t mean someone nicknamed from Arthur.) Also in my head while writing those vastly dated chapters about the Hotel Allison was the first image of actual Art I had ever acquired (and which, to Janet’s chagrin and amusement, I still possess). One day after my family had moved to Mt. Pleasant, while I was still in high school, maybe even in the first year we lived in that community, my sophomore year, I was sent to the grocery store. I don’t remember at all what I was sent buy, but on display were certain “art prints” available at a discount to customers. There had to be more than just one such print, but I only remember the one that hypnotized my utter being: Rembrandt’s The Man in a Golden Helmet. I don’t remember if it came home with me that day or if it took a while, but fairly soon I was the proud possessor of the cardboard print, to be held in its very own “genuine wooden” frame.

The print held a place of honor in many of my residences, beginning with my own rooms in our family home on Green Street. Since our marriage, Janet has consigned it to less important locations than I had preferred. And it spent the last 20 years or more in various places around my room and the drama storage at Andrew Community School, once I brought it there, later to be copied by art instructor Steve Lucke as the portrait of Sir Simon de Canterville for our production of The Canterville Ghost (and Lucke made an excellent copy that looked just like actor Drew Goettler). Now it lives in our garage, alongside my favorite heirloom from high school drama, a photograph of V. I Lenin, which I was altogether too abashed to ever take to school.

Of course, Man in a Golden Helmet is the most famous painting to be infamously not by Rembrandt. Don’t believe me? Click the link in the title of the picture above. Time Magazine explains it all very well. That damned Rembrandt authentication committee! I’m afraid that Janet took great glee (and still does), reminding me the picture has long been discredited, however much I may yet love it.

That old man in that golden helmet, I know, was meant to be Durwood Wakdjunkaga in The Book of Seasons. So if you read those posts or the page, don’t imagine the hairless, chubby author in that role but the well-known non-Rembrandt figure, dressed in modern clothes.

Clearly, if I meant Wakdjunkaga to be a kind of imagined future self portrait, I failed. On the other hand, some elements of my personal taste in clothing seem to have been set earlier than I had recalled. I’m thinking of that vest Wakdjunkaga is wearing. I had thought that at the time I wrote these chapters of The Book of Seasons, the vest was just imaginary. Or at best it was a modification of the blue denim chore coats I had started wearing about the time I settled down in Maquoketa.

—But this particular post may have run on long enough for today. We’ll discuss vests and pockets another time.

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


Unnecessary Thoughts at Random

The ugly fog, although it frosted the trees in a lovely manner yesterday, which I got to enjoy when heading out for groceries, has otherwise drenched us in gray, moist chill. Today marks five in a row of gray and fog. At least it is somewhat brighter and less foggy than yesterday or Sunday. And a hint of actual sunshine glimmers in the air periodically (we should get sun—possibly—about the middle of the afternoon).

I should be writing the end of “Details, Details,” which I have promised part three for you to read tomorrow (once again for you eager beavers, that part three link should work once that post is up tomorrow, Wednesday). But certain elements are stalled, so I figured I should write something. —I should be writing a book review that I have started but which is also hanging fire (it is my intended post for Thursday). Instead, I’ll talk about the weather.

Since it has warmed up (with highs in the twenties and even thirties later last week), our snow cover has started to recede and melt. I can even see green in the yard where the hideous winds after the last storm blew the light, fluffy stuff that fell away. We have had snow on the ground for just about six weeks now. Of course, melting means the snow has gotten ugly. All the salt I shoveled up from the street shows as dirty gray blotches on the snow mounds, and even the untouched white in the yard is going darker. Ice runs in the sidewalks (well, actually the water runs during the day and freezes into perfect glass at nightfall: I get to walk to and from play practice after dark). Even so, the warmth is nice.

I had started, after a week of sub-zero nights, to warm the house to 60° for the daytime just to survive, and now I can let it just cool to the preset 55° throughout the day, leaving the upstairs temperature at about 57 when the evening setting kicks in as I depart and before Janet returns from her workout. Walking to rehearsal is also more comfortable, although I still seem to dress almost as warmly as before (full facemask and ear warmers but minus one layer of clothing overall). We’re doing dress rehearsals now, so I pull on my costume (gray t-shirt and gray sweat bottoms) and cover that with the lightweight snowmobile pants I usually use for running and shoveling and two sweatshirts (an ordinary one and a hooded one) plus the earmuffs things and knitted facemask. By the time I reach Ohnward Fine Arts Center for practice or heading up the hill to home at the end of the evening, the hood is back and the facemask off.

I haven’t run as I should for many weeks. At first, the snow was too much, and then, as of this past weekend, I hurt my hip somehow (it doesn’t even like walking much). I had run down to practice on Wednesday or Thursday evening (about two miles)—mostly because I left late and did not want to be the reason practice did not start on time (it never does, to my chagrin). I was not in good shoes and was fully encased in my winter walking gear; perhaps I did something wrong that night. All I know is Saturday afternoon and Sunday, it hurt in my hip. It hurt walking. It hurt especially climbing stairs. But it also hurt lying in bed or sitting in a chair (say this one at my computer). And Janet is feeling I am not making good use of my Y membership (I am not; I figure it’s there if I need it—possibly she is right and I should need it now for snow and ice).

As I type, I am making waffles again. I tried the brown sugar today, and also the three teaspoons of oil (instead of tablespoons, which is what I had actually added the day I invented the recipe)—cutting back on the fats to add the actual sugar. Although I am eating some (one of each pair for the most part—with seven blackberries on top) out of my hand as I type, I was intending to begin a frozen collection to use without having any preparation. However, I appear to be burning them (almost). I don’t know if that’s a result of the reduced oil or the actual sugar. Regardless, unless the reduced oil is the problem, you can make my waffles with just three teaspoons (as the recipe reads) of oil. I would welcome the observations of more experienced and thoughtful cooks than I.

One last issue: Qwest internet service is decidedly unreliable for the past two weeks. At least once a day, I find myself no longer online and must turn off the router and modem, wait and then get them started again. Is this inconvenience what I am paying them $55 a month for?

So having said nothing in not quite a thousand words, maybe now I can get to work on the end of the story and the review of James Blish’s A Case of Conscience. Either way, you get part three of the story tomorrow.

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