Some Second Thoughts

On Saturday I posted an abortive little piece of non-writing mostly because I liked reading it when I found it on the computer. I was going to post this little piece yesterday, but then I realized that yesterday was Valentine’s Day. I figured Valentine’s Day deserved something special and romantic and for Janet. Nuts to all of you, I suppose, although truthfully I hope you did enjoy what I came up with. However, back to Saturday’s dated little bit of mental rambling; reading through that basic piece when I first discovered it a little less than a week ago, various topics I had written about got me thinking. I figured I should give some of those thoughts a chance before I moved on to other things (and back to Mantorville).

First off, I clearly made it up during the summer. If you remember, somebody was mowing. Of course back in those days summer would’ve been the only season I had time enough to sit around doing what I do all the time now. Maybe that’s why I enjoyed rereading this piece: it reminds me of some days now when I sit around attempting to be creative. Also I found it interesting that I was thinking of writing horror stories—how completely unlike the last two weeks.

Ah, the music

Thanks to Wikipedia

Second, when I wrote that piece for yesterday, I was fascinated with the Grateful Dead’s Dick’s Picks Volume 3. According to my quick bit of research on Wikipedia, that double CD came out in November of 1995. If I wrote during the summer, that must mean this piece dates from 1996. At several different important points in my life the Grateful Dead came to the fore of my attention. For about a decade after Janet and I got married, I drifted away from listening to the Dead almost completely. I didn’t much like Shakedown Street (was I just not ready for Dead reggae?) or the thoroughly boring Go to Heaven. And I’m not sure why I didn’t really respond to the Top 10 worldwide, huge popularity of  “Touch of Gray.” Just too cool to let the masses in to my own personal bliss, perhaps. Then two new releases of live material reignited my interest.

The first was the release of Without a Net in 1990. I can remember buying that still. Janet and I were shopping in Davenport and went down Kimberly east from the mall to K’s Merchandise—alas, long defunct now, although that is where I bought the school’s first digital camera for the drama department. I remember not just what Janet was looking for, possibly lamps (I can remember looking for lamps at K’s). But somewhere during the experience I got the time to go over and look through the CD rack, and there was a CD that I’d never seen before—Without a Net.

Maybe because it was from the 90s and a style of Dead I really hadn’t heard—that synthesized Garcia guitar sound I referred to in the piece but also the luscious sound of Branford Marsalis on saxophone for one of my favorite Dead songs, “Eyes of the World”— got me started on the band again. That album really is a fine collection of excellent Dead jams.

Blues for Allah cover art

About a year later, I encountered the first From The Vault release. The early and mid-70s were prime Dead time, in my opinion, so that release of the first live performance of one of my favorite albums, Blues for Allah, was a nearly automatic success with me. The band was really cooking on that CD too, although in an entirely different mode than Without a Net. (I guess their year off and the new approach to composing music on the album had all the boys and Donna Jean excited.)

And the Dead stuff just got better through the 90s. Sure, Jerry died, and for any Deadhead—even me—that’s tragic, but for someone like me, who had never gone to a Dead concert, although I had been invited back in the early 70s by returning ex-military (and just home from Vietnam) friend Jim Albaugh to a concert in Des Moines, the Vault and Dick’s Picks releases opened up a whole new world of the Grateful Dead for me. I know Janet would agree that the 90s were a Dead time, far more than she would ever have liked.

Avalon Sunset— once again thanks to Wikipedia

Before we leave the subject of the music and the post, the “Van” is Van Morrison, whose music I’ve ignored for most of my life. One day when Janet and I were driving home from somewhere to the north, after dark, probably in the winter, listening to NPR, we got to hear a selection from Van’s then-new Hymns to the Silence album. To be utterly trite, it blew us both away. In the summer of 1996, the Morrison albums I was probably thinking of had to be  Hymns, Enlightenment or Avalon Sunset. (I wasn’t sure which Morrison album cover to choose for this paragraph, but Avalon Sunset was the most interesting.)  Van’s moody spirituality and cool soul sounds appeal to something very deep in me (and it doesn’t hurt that Janet likes him too). Unfortunately, even though I thought about Van in the writing, I don’t really sense his music coloring that piece at all.

I’m also fairly confident that I lie in the piece about remembering that I had played “Tangled Up in Blue” to the Iowa Wesleyan College campus from the top floor of the Chapel—out the window of the light booth. I have a vivid memory of the first time I heard that Dylan song, and I was no longer a college student when it happened. I was in Cedar Rapids, visiting my second major girlfriend, the one I was thinking about in the piece for yesterday (the one who went unnamed), who was attending Coe College. She headed us downtown on Second or Third Avenue for lunch one Saturday to a vegetarian restaurant (I’d never eaten vegetarian before, at that point), and I heard this song while eating there. That would have been in late ‘75 or early ‘76, during my second year of teaching, a good while after I had left IWC.

So what was I thinking? Did I have some vague plan I don’t remember now to turn yesterday’s post into a story, possibly a story about a writer? I don’t know at this stage. Everything else in it is entirely true to my life (on the other hand, according to comments to this blog, some people have trouble distinguishing my fiction from my reality).

Two more things

My memories of the attic in the Chapel are especially precious to me, and although only a paragraph or so in yesterday’s piece, are a place I visit in my mind and imagination—not often but with great feeling. Strangely, I even felt nostalgic for the Chapel attic back when I was there, going to school, lighting plays and events, imagining travel through time from the woody, dusty vastness. When people talk about the “best days of their lives,” they’re often thinking back to high school. Not me. The best days of my life would either have to be pretty much now or my college years. And the best thing about my college years in many ways was the time I spent in the Chapel attic. Unfortunately, I don’t think I can tell for you, gentle readers, all the reasons or experiences or events that lead to that statement about my college years in the Chapel—modesty and a sense of decorum inhibit me. But some may remember and understand…

Memory is the greatest time travel device of all. It only leads one way, of course, to the past, but as King Arthur tells Mordred in Camelot, “Sometimes the only real vacation spot is the past.” (I wanted to check my accuracy in that quotation, but the script is not available online—how strange for copyrighted material—and I discover that I was mistaken to believe we owned a DVD of the movie. I am not about to watch our VHS version of Camelot to locate one line almost at the end of the film—besides Janet made noises that she wants to watch it soon.) Of course the time travel of recollection is what I’ve been getting off on in this blog all year. Discovering old poems, reviewing old favorites, revisiting fond and cherished memories (and boring all of you to boot?).

And then there’s the not-exactly-an-ending to Saturday’s piece. Just before quitting in the middle of nothing in particular, thinking about winter, I indulged myself in a fantasy of driving around the county. Being in transit is a marvelous feeling for me. Suspended between responsibilities, one has the freedom to enjoy one’s existence, but it always has to end, and the journey is always so short. Or as I said Saturday…

“There is your ideal lifestyle. Driving. You love that. Especially on a day like this, out in the country on some backroads highway dipping up and down through fields and woods. Surrounded by green and blue. Like you’re suspended between earth and sky. Suspended. Perfect…. Going nowhere, caught between obligations. In transit. Nothing you have to care about or worry about. Wouldn’t be like that in winter, though”

No, it wouldn’t be like that in winter at all.

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

Why Wakdjunkaga

First, before we explore today’s topic—the title of this blog—I should acknowledge that last night was the first of two performances of Peace Pipe Players’ production of One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Tonight will be the closing performance (at 7:00 PM at the Ohnward Fine Arts Center in Maquoketa.). I play one of the crazies in the insane asylum, Scanlon, the bomb nut. I’ll talk about the show is a future post, but you’re all welcome to come…

Furthermore, we topped 2000 hits on the blog yesterday—an inconsiderable amount in the world of big-time blogging, but I was pleased. I hope you all keep reading—and tell your friends (or enemies).

But back on topic: why do I call it “Wakdjunkaga’s Blog?”

Why indeed?

My friend Sharon asked in a comment about the name of the blog. Was it some local thing? Local, if you live in northern Wisconsin, maybe. But that element has only a little to do with me and this blog.

Wakdjunkaga is a kind of alter-ego for me, a false identity on no occasion but a pen name for most of my plays in their original productions at Andrew Community School. Many of those plays, and most of the choral reading and readers theatre pieces we developed ourselves were presented as “by Durwood Wakdjunkaga.” I think the first official use of that name happened at a district individual events speech contest when a girl of great talent received an unfair rating (aren’t all the judgments with which we disagree unfair?) and would have been unable to advance to state. However, in my youthful ineptitude, we had an open spot for a poetry reader, scheduled to perform later in the afternoon (or at least an hour or so after the maltreated girl had received her II rating). We had just one problem (other than no performer, but of course this girl was going to be the substitute)—no poem to read. So I wrote one (fortunately, I believe it may only exist in the poetry files at the school or you might be reading it in one of these posts, and I have an otherwise embarrassing poem slated for tomorrow). Needing an author’s name for her to announce as she read the thing (and she did receive a I this time), I quickly settled on “Durwood Wakdjunkaga.”

Not as catchy as “George Orwell,” probably, certainly less memorable than “Mark Twain.” But my own.

So where did it come from? That’s where the story gets going…

In college one semester, I took a creative writing class, taught by the president of Iowa Wesleyan and former head of the English department. His was not the normal career path for an English professor, but Dr. Louis A. Haselmayer seemed to me then everything a college president should be (and, as I would later find out, then some). Naturally, everyone in the class wrote poems, including me (at least for the first couple of sessions). But I grew bored with uncritical reception of my verse (most of us were also members of Sigma Tau Delta, the English fraternity, at meetings for which we also exchanged writing—usually poetry—for discussion and critique as well as publishing a magazine every spring). So I decided to try writing a novel (I’d tried that several times previously in junior high and high school—all very incomplete), working up a chapter for each class session. I haven’t seen any of those pages, for which I was too ignorant to create carbons, in many years, so I assumed they’re long lost (we worked on typewriters in those days, a manual for me).

However, the story was titled The Book of Seasons, with reference to a pretended magical grimoire Liber Tempestatum (“The Book of Seasons” in Latin—me showing off my high school language study), in emulation of H.P. Lovecraft and his circle’s many hideous volumes of eldritch lore, particularly the nefarious Necronomicon. In what I wrote, a young person has inherited an old manse in which he finds this eerie ancient tome (straight copying of more than one Lovecraftian plot). I don’t think the actual story got much further than his discovery of the book. Evidently, not Dr. Haselmayer nor anyone in the class was familiar with Lovecraft, who was still pretty obscure and disrespected as a pulpster in those ancient days of 1971-75 (I don’t now recall in which year of my college career I took this class). I was unaware of the derivative nature of my story, so even after the class ended, I kept plugging away desultorily at it.

I own such a photojournalist’s vest

Actually, I jettisoned everything I had done for the class and started fresh. After my student-teaching stays at the antiquated, rundown, now-demolished, but beloved Hotel Allison in Cedar Rapids—first for a week in August and then during the longer second stay when I actually student-taught in November and December 1974—I came up with a more original plot. A character (as always, much like myself) was staying in the Hotel Allison (I don’t think I ever specified a reason), when one day literally out of thin air, a strange older man, dressed in strange clothing, popped into existence in the young man’s room and promptly passed out. I remember (the text is lost, I am pretty sure) the young man was cooking a can of beans in the can on a hotplate, contrary to all the regulations for residents at the Allison Hotel—as I had frequently done myself. Almost immediately, the young man went through the bald, old guy’s pockets (and he had many, wearing some strange kind of a multipocketed vest—all this written at the latest during my years in Ft. Madison, therefore long before I ever purchased a photojournalist’s vest, regardless how well-known I am for wearing them always now). Young man found several things of interest—some rods of various woods, powders and containers of other substances, and a strange book—not exactly a paperback because both the cover and pages seem to be either made of or encased in plastic.The book was poetry entitled A Book of Seasons by…

—I needed a name, and after a long process of calculation (which I will discuss in much greater detail later), I devised Durwood Wakdjunkaga.

When he had revived and received some food, the older man revealed he had come from the future, and was here to rewrite his own history. He was the author of the book of poems, so he was Durwood Wakdjunkaga. I think I intended for him to be a magician or wizard, having acquired the other Book of Seasons (the magic book from the earlier version of the story) in his youth, probably in the same way that I had developed for the creative writing class (I never got much past the old guy’s arrival and eventual introduction of himself). I intended these two to hang around Cedar Rapids and do various things the old guy wanted accomplished, with the youngster acquiring experience and wisdom from this future-elder, until the young man had to return to… well, I never had a good reason for him to be at the Hotel Allison, and I wasn’t sure I wanted him student teaching, so we have a hole in the plot outline here.

The old guy helps the young man meet a woman, prevents him from receiving a letter, and then vanishes, having left behind a message for the young man, who falls in love with the young woman and eventually marries her. The message reveals that Durwood and the young man are the same person: Durwood is the young man’s older self from the future, who regrets the path his life had taken (mostly because he received the mysterious letter, acquired the Liber Tempestatum, became interested in black magic or whatever, and never properly fell in love with the young woman—or perhaps he viciously sacrificed her, a virgin, to acquire his thaumaturgical powers; I liked the second version better, and I never did write any of this, just imagined it, so it’s all open-ended). As an old, lonely man, he realized that love would have been preferable to magic, so he used the magic powers he had acquired (by killing this young woman so many years before) to travel back in time and prevent himself from ever becoming a wizard (and her from dying). By succeeding, he extinguished himself.

Ta-daaah! There’s never been anything like that plot before. Not.

The book never got further than chapter two, as the old guy wakes up in the Hotel Allison, but the name and the sense of Durwood Wakdjunkaga being a kind of alter ego for me (after all, who else was the youngster in the Hotel Allison but my surrogate?) have never gone away. In fact, I am going to play with the older-looks-at-younger-looks-at-older self for tomorrow’s post.

So it’s “Wakdjunkaga’s Blog” because it’s my blog, and pseudonymously I am Durwood Wakdjunkaga. In fact, if the students who have asked did as I suggested, I have even foisted the pen name on my replacement to use as the author of their choral reading piece, performed today at the Iowa High School Speech Association district large group contest in Monticello. (I hope they did well, especially since everyone was probably as excited—or more excited—about the Andrew Homecoming Dance tonight.)

I hope that explains why this is “Wakdjunkaga’s Blog.”

However, we still don’t know where or how I came up with Durwood Wakdjunkaga as a name. As this post is definitely long enough, you will just have to wait for the rest of the story (along with waiting for the rest of “Details, Details”). Both will be forthcoming…

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