Tuesday, October 10, 2017

"How to Find a Good Quote"

An excerpt from a handout for 10th-grade essay revisions that I'll probably need to redact. But I never post, so here you go. 

So how do you find a good quote?

Look to a section of the novel covered by your topic sentence. Find the major event of the passage. Good. Don’t quote any line that says something like, “And then she suddenly saw it all clearly.” You’re not writing about that junk. Now look before and after the major plot points to see how the author is adding nuanced touches to that big event.

o   For instance. My dad and I were at his college’s cafeteria. This is where he went to night school, not where he worked. I’m sitting with him, and I’m maybe 10 at the time, it’s 1995, and I’m having a dinner with him after one of his classes. A few tables over, a couple of goons, just screwball guys are throwing lit matches at each other. Why they are doing this in a cafeteria on a Tuesday night, I do not know. Anyhow, long story short, my dad interrupts our dinner hangout to, uh, scream at these two dudes about how they have no manners, no respect for shared property, and I do believe he also told them to get the cuss out of the building if that’s how they were going to act. This was a full cafeteria. The two guys left and absolutely everyone stared at my dad. But he sat right back down and said, Let’s go get some chocolate milk.

§  Clearly this is a story about my dad yelling at strangers. But what can we say about that other than that he did it. We could speculate as to his reasons, but the ambiguous detail that sticks with me is the milk. It could mean a number of things. And it happened right after what we've been calling in class the Michael Bay explosion scene. It might mean he was embarrassed and wanted to put a bow on the night by getting me a chocolate milk. Fine, that works. That's what I'd do, too. Part of me wonders if he wasn’t embarrassed at all, and he was ready to give his son, or whoever he was with, his calm attention. The ambiguity of this event makes it worth our thought.

·      In short, my friends, we are looking for the chocolate milk.

Thursday, May 4, 2017


I made a GIF.

It took me hours. That's how fit for the future I am. 

I've made this on the premise that it will lull people into a sort of I'll sit here patient sort of standing sleep while I read some paragraphs to them. 

Sometimes I think the happiest moments, or no, definitely not happiest, but calmest and safest moments of my life are when I am drawing and scanning my drawings and tinkering with them on Photoshop. 

It is that, snugging on the couch, being in a car at night while someone else is driving, practicing a song after having two beers, reading on the couch, and a few other things that uncoil me. 

Friday, April 21, 2017


I have a pair of sandals, but they are only a pair of left-footed sandals. Last night I had a dream where I found the other. Where was it? I don't remember. According to Eliezer Edwards Words, Facts, and Phrases: A Dictionary of Cursious, Quaint, & Out –of-the-Way Matters, the word sinister means
“on the left, or to the left. Shakespeare says, ‘His sinister cheek.’ In heraldry ‘sinister’ is the left side of a shield […] a ‘bend sinister’ is a band passing diagonally across the shield, from top on the base on the left […] It is supposed to have been used as a mark of illegitimacy,”
illegitimacy as in bastards. Can you imagine carrying that shield around, just so people would know that about you? All to say, I’ve been walking around in sinister sandals for a year. Only in my dreams am I legitimately shoed.

A friend’s birthday party was this past Saturday. I stayed too late, and in the morning I smelled like cigars and potato chips. My head throbbed. And I remembered that this was the day I was to hang out with my family. I drove south. When I walked into the yard, I saw my dad carrying a jackhammer toward the back fence. 

My hangover sparkled.

I remembered—today was the day we would spend cracking old concrete to make way for the new fence posts.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Notes Written While Not Grading

Sending a man to war, shattering that man’s mind and body with the trauma of war, and then painting that man when he returns—this feels a bit witchy.
It is more than an ex-president’s book deal.
I want to commission some academic to study the rebranding of George W. Bush. The way he empowers himself by painting men irreversibly harmed by his folly—he’s like some sort of Texan blood cult priest.
It would make a good HP Lovecraft story or a compelling X-Files episode if it weren’t the quotidian bullshit of celebrity culture and tragedy branding.

And now for my perversity: Sunday, there is group singing across the street at the church. I sit at this desk and wait for my notepad holder to arrive by Amazon Prime. I type, slowly, on an essay that is more or less about how I don’t think God actually loves me, or people, which is a ridiculous query.  
The notepad holder is a symbol of the industrious note taker I will become, which is itself a part of the picture of my success in this or that professional / personal capacity.
But I have always been an excellent note taker. What am I not is a finisher, a doer, a completer.

A discovery: being at a play feels like reading. Why doesn't a movie feel this way? Because of the quick cuts, the camera changes, the way we’re not allowed to focus on anything for long enough to actually think about it. Also maybe the sense of smell.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Questions After Seeing Star Wars: Rogue One

Can any thinking person leave the theater believing that the United States is the Rebel Alliance and not the Empire? I write this as a Mac-owning American who has shopped at Whole Foods at least four times in his life. In other words, I am awake but careless.  

Why does the Empire want to control the universe? Is it based on our acceptance that they are simply evil people? I think so. But evil is a pop culture fantasy. Why not just make it about money or fear or loneliness.  

Why should storm troopers bother with their armor if it cannot protect them from a simple blaster?
Reddit: “Not everyone can afford a blaster, and a lot of underground thugs and stuff have projectile-based weapons, which the armor is effective against. Also a weapon of psychological terror.”

Spoiler alert.

Via Text:
Me: “Did everyone really need to die at the end of Rogue One?

Vicky: “It seemed more accurate given that it’s a Death Star.”

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

How often have I lain on a dirty floor, thinking of Paul Simon

A thought: how did Paul Simon write such fun songs? I mean “Kodachrome.”

At Barbara's Books in 2008, Steve, my coworker, asks me if I know The Beatles' song "Hey Jude." I nod. Then he asks--"Do you think that they realized they were writing the greatest song ever made when they sat around making that chorus?"

A show I didn't go to, Brianna and Paul did. A guy strums his acoustic and says, "I'm now about to play the greatest song ever written." He played it slowly. What song did he play slowly? "Take It Easy" by The Eagles.

I co-wrote lyrics for a pretty good song with my friend, Bobby. It once played on Q101. A year later that station went under. I called all my friends the night we knew it would play. “You keep that radio on,” I told them. Our song played around midnight on a Sunday.

Two of my coworkers, who I’ll even go ahead and say friends, because they are cool, why not, went to see Stevie Nicks the other night. She played well, but she talked a lot, too. One friend thought it was a bit much. The other was diplomatic.
“When you show up to Tom Petty’s house with your guitar and hot chocolate mix in the 70s and write a bad-ass song after an all-nighter, you just have to tell that story.” That’s what my coworker’s verdict.

I agree. I’m also sensitive to this issue because I have talked so much on stage, yelled actually. Frankly I can't remember a lot of it. A stranger reminded me of this last week at a tutoring space, and I blushed. There we were, working with children, and he reminded me of this desperate time in my life.

There is a steamer trunk crowded with sentimental detritus a room over. It has over 100 records with what are probably the best songs I will ever write, a good deal of them completed with my friends’ help. I wonder if this is going to bother me, the best of aspect, but it doesn't. 

An artist I met in Bloomington at Pizza Hut said they studied pictures of the Rolling Stones to see if any secrets might be revealed by the band's posture, body language, what have you.  

I’m listening to Bob Seger and sitting on the floor and drinking Pabst, so I know I've still got it. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Written While Avoiding Grading

I could return an essay in 20-30 minutes if using pencil on paper, and the students would struggle to read my not so bad handwriting.

The program TurnItIn.com allows me to leave typed feedback. This feature is applauded. It takes me 45-70 minutes to return an essay on that format. That is a great sadness.

Sometimes, not that I’m letting myself get too shook up by this, I feel like I probably haven’t taught a thing since September. But I have left many notes in many margins. Actually, that does make me want to collapse on the floor and hug myself just a bit, but I think it’s a reality many teachers must face here and there. I did not have such low esteem as a bookseller, not as a coffee server either.

Let’s talk about beer labels.

Backwoods Bastard is an ale aged in oak bourbon barrels. I’m finishing my last one from the four pack I bought last week. The copywriting on the back of the bottle notes that one might taste a “scintilla of dark fruit” in the Bastard.

Scintilla is a word I learned from Dr. MLK’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” which is probably the most convincing piece of rhetoric I’ve ever read. “Scintillating” is how it appears in the Letter, at the very end. Use of that word is an example of aureation, decorated with gold.

A sense of hopelessness before typing the next paragraph. Shouldn’t you be grading instead of doing anything else? A desire for another beer, too, but I finished the beer.


B and I went to Salvation Army last Wednesday. I never miss a chance to say Salivation Army, a Nelson Algren joke, one he made after buying a piece of rope from the store to use as a belt.

I also try to make sure to always criticize the group for its shitty motto, “doing the most good.” Last time I gave them money I left a note in the envelope: “If you change your slogan to something less sanctimonious I’ll give you twice as much dough.”

But who would even read that note? A bottom level employee who must think, Oh boy, another joker. So I understand it was petty of me. And yet I do things like that—give unsolicited advice to charitable organizations—and I see the note being written by my hand, feel the venomous thought forming, and I know that it's a symptom of some subcutaneous anger or sadness.

It’s like, as I said to my therapist a few hours before, I don’t even like God, so why am I so beholden to him, and why am I so prayerful, and why this drowsy anger?

But that will take years and quantities of zines to answer. So on with the anecdote.

We were walking into the Salvation Army when we saw the duck standing in front of the automatic doors. A security guard was speaking to the duck. “Go on, get outta here. I told you already.” The guard explained that this duck was looking for a snack and had walked the floor earlier. “Of course she flies away when the police come,” the guard said, and she rolled her eyes.

In response, the duck, a female mallard, opened her mouth and let out a tiny hiss.