Sunday, September 30, 2007


I can't help but do one more post. I suggested we share songs and pictures and all that kind of stuff, so I thought I would take a minute to explain some of the techniques to do just that.

I'm sure you all have figured out how to do pictures since the program does it for you. But what if you want to make a picture that only pops up when you click on a certain word, like this one? It's easy. Once you've uploaded the image and that long strip of code shows up in your post, just delete the middle part—the second long string bracketed between greater-than and less-than signs. Then put the word you want to become a link right in between the remaining brackets, after the long one beginning "<a href" and before the short one that's just "</a>."

Or what if you want to make a word a link to some other website or article or song or something? Here's what you need to know:

To make a link, you have to encompass a word with two tags, one to start the link and one to close it. For the first one you type this:

<a href="">

and fill the space in the quotation marks with whatever web address you want.
Then you write whatever words you want to be the link, and then you follow it with the closing tag: </a>. It's that easy, but you need to make sure you've made no mistakes or it won't work.

You can also add something to the first tag to make sure that the link opens in a new window when it's clicked. For this, type your link as follows:

<a href="" target="_blank">

Sharing music is a little more difficult because of copyright laws. Generally, the song needs to be available on the internet to listen to for free. You can't use tracks from CDs you own. But if you want to share a song from, say, Napster, all you need to do is find the link to the song itself (which can be found on the player in the little box that says "Email It." That address is the one you need to put in the tag for the link). Here is a song I would like to share with all of you. It's creepy and awesome.

If you want to know anything else, anything more complicated than that, drop me a line and I'll see what I can do.

And now, if there's nothing else, here is a list of things I wanted to share with you:

an A paper,
a song I just love,
a newspaper article that surprised me,
a crossword clue that look forward to solving,
a website that pleased me,
a new product everyone should try,
a sweet new recipe,
a compliment I received,
a tradition I am starting,
a crush I am managing,
a habit I am breaking,
a plan I am hatching,
a book I am devouring,

and for good measure, here's another song I totally dig. And one more.

A Month of Sundays

Well today is the last day of September, and looking back I see that I've done thirty posts this month. This one makes thirty-one in thirty days. Not bad, if I do say so myself.

I hope you who read (how many there are I do not know, but I like to imagine there are hundreds of you on the edges of so many seats, waiting for the next clever thing to come out of my fingers) are enjoying it. I sure enjoy writing it. It's cathartic, it's challenging, and it's fun. I like to think of it as an open letter to all my friends, people who would love to hang out if circumstances permitted, people who are in the mood for an interesting story or light philosophical discussion after work and before bed. People who care about me.

For those friends of mine keeping their own blogs: I love it. You don't know how many times a day I check to see if you've updated. If nothing else inspires you to write or rant, know that one guy will read and enjoy every word. You are making my day, and I'm rooting for you. Can you even guess how much one sentence of your original thinking touches me? The way you say something, the thoughts you think: they are worth more than all the conversations I have in a given day with strangers and lesser beings and those who don't ever seem to think at all. How, you ask? Because we're friends. Your words are valuable to me because on them hangs all the feelings between us big and small.

Why don't we all make a goal to post once a week in October? Twice a week? Every day? I keep a list of possible things to write about so I always have something to fall back on. It's nice to think I'm not losing so many ideas to being forgetful these days. How about posting some pictures—ones you took or ones you drew, I don't care which. Or maybe an A paper, as if the internet was a huge refrigerator (refrigerator: what a singularly strange word now that I think about it). Share with me a song you just love, or a newspaper article that surprised you, or a crossword clue that stumped you for a while before the moment of ecstatic realization hit, or a website that pleased you, or a new product everyone should try, or a sweet new recipe, or a compliment you received, or a tradition you are starting, or a crush you are managing, or a habit you are breaking, or a plan you are hatching, or a book you are devouring. My friend, I'll be reading every word.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Once More to the Woods

Today I end what I estimate has been nearly a decade-long drought of no camping. It's true—it's been so long since I went camping that I can't even remember when I last did it; I can only conjecture that it was around the time I graduated high school.

It has been a shameful ten years for this boy, who grew up camping almost on a monthly basis. I love all types of camping, from the state park, drive-in-with-a-cooler-and-a-piñata, picnic-table-and-tent-slab-provided affair my family enjoyed twice a year or so (spring and fall in Texas, when it isn't too blazing hot or too dang cold), to the pack-your-stuff-in, leave-no-trace, pack-your-stuff-out-again extravaganzas of my Boy Scout career. And don't forget the annual Father and Sons Camp Out—a spectacle of soda and lighter fluid and burning marshmallows1—nor the summer camp adventures at El Rancho Cima: a week lazing around the river, crossing the dam barefoot, swinging the suspension bridge back and forth with coordinated effort, playing horseshoes, and hiking up Appetite Hill each night to the dining hall. Oh, I'll never forget that first year when we all got sicker 'n dogs and my dad and Joel's dad drove up with pizza to pull us out of our funk. And I'll never forget that last year when me and Will worked it so we didn't have to take any merit badge classes and we lazed around all day building fires and goofing off.

Oh Mother Nature, where have I been? What has kept me from thy sweet embrace?

It isn't that I haven't tried to go camping in the past years; it's just that it hasn't worked out. My only real chances have been during my already quite short trips home, and things never seemed to come together the way they should to make it a viable trip. You need the right people, and the right attitude—basically that boils down to a bunch of good friends or family members with much more ambition than is deemed reasonable. And here's the reason for that: because going camping sounds good when you say it, but when you get down to committing, to booking a spot and gathering up enough gear and planning menus and fronting the cash, your ambition wanes. You have to have a surplus, enough to get you out the door after everyone is finally ready an hour or so after go-time, after set-backs and back-outs and time-offs. But it's like running—getting out the door is the hardest part. Once you're there you can't imagine being anywhere else.

And it isn't like I haven't been outdoors. I've done my share of day hikes and stargazing, of barbequing, shiskebabing, and slow roasting. But there's something special about getting to a place near dusk, setting up camp, sitting up late around a fire, and then getting up the next morning to really see where you are for the first time—to finally get your bearings among the scattering of trees, to put images to the divots and rills merely felt under your feet the night before.

The tension has been building. I've been talking more and more about outdoorsy things in past years, from hiking up the local mountain to hitting the Appalachian Trail to biking across Europe. I've become a voracious reader of travel writing of all kinds in a subconscious (until this moment) attempt to fill the hole in my life, like itching a phantom limb. I sleep with my windows open. I've filled my Christmas list with sleeping bags and tents and boots and backpacks. But it's all talk at the end of the day, right? It's all "kissing through a handkerchief," as the venerable Dr. Seely averred in class one day.2

Well no more! In little more than an hour I set off with my local scout troop to spend a day and a night and a day in the wilderness. The dirth ends tonight in a fury of campfire cooking, stake pounding, and pole lashing. Wish me luck, my great friends!

1Well, the years we actually made it there were filled with junk food and fire. Most years it seems one of us boys got sick and we ended up turning back halfway there to spend the night camped out in the garage. Oh, those days in the Mother Ship, reciting the Grover Boy Creed: "We're Grover Boys, and we love our momma, and we love ketchup!" Life was simple then.
2He was referring to reading Homer in any language but the original Greek, but the idea is the same.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Result of Not Winding Down Properly After Work

I dreamed an essay just now. It was a eulogy of some sort for a colleague that no one liked, and it incorporated as part of its text an encounter with that colleague's surviving roommate or somesuch, a man I hadn't known until the death brought us into contact and who was also little worth knowing. I don't know a single word in the essay, but it had short paragraphs and one of the early ones, a section-ending paragraph it was, recorded our meeting and did some objective wondering about the man's feelings for his deceased roommate. It wasn't meant to be mean or judging or accusatory; I meant the short bit only to be an honest account or an honest conjecture, and having written it in I turned in the dream to wandering the imaginary cobbled streets of a hilly dream university (wide streets in a place faintly provincially German). Somehow the roommate read the account I had done—had the essay been published already?—and at the funeral told me he appreciated my candor; both he and I or maybe it was just he or just I were surprised that I hadn't taken the opportunity to expose his unlikeability and shade the account with personal grievances. "Hey it's no thing," I say and float back up the street without visualizing any actual funeral and I compose that encounter into the essay too, it being not-central to the essay's theme but it somehow completes the piece in a subtle and beautiful way that saturates my dream with feelings of importance and urgency, and in that moment I realize both that I am very thirsty and incredibly bored, so I wake up, decide immediately to get a drink in the bathroom, and am relieved I won't have to stay in a boring dream. But the feeling of urgency the dream gave me—I assume my body's response to doing some good writing (albeit in a dream without actual words) and not wishing to lose it—remained with me in waking, so I booted up the old computer to at least get the satisfaction of writing about writing well.

And now I'm going to hop back into my bed that smells more like me and less like fresh laundry than I would like despite frequent washing and laying down will feel new again and hopefully I can catch an hour or two of a new dream.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Only in Dreams

Ever since I had surgery in May I've been having troubling dreams. Actually I have troubling dreams all the time—mild nightmares, I'd call them, mostly involving me being naked (no, seriously)—but these are different.

In case you didn't know, I ripped my poor left ACL cleanly in two on the slopes of Brighton last March. Since then you can count the steps I've run, the jumps I've made, and the pivots I've turned all on one hand. It's been a slow six months or so, and since I put off surgery until school got out, I still have a couple months of walking to do, all the time imagining how I won't be able to pursue a pickpocket who snatches my wallet or defend myself effectively against a maniac with murder in his eyes (no really, I imagine this all the time).

So imagine my [insert emotion here] when I started having scary dreams about running and jumping. It happens once a week or so: I'll be dreaming about some situation in which I must do something considered dangerous for someone in my condition. I'll be playing tag or basketball, and my sleeping mind will flinch at the image of me doing something I've committed not to do. My mind will be yelling in vain protest at what my body is doing (aren't all scary dreams variations on this theme?1), and I'll wake with the lingering feelings of danger and regret tripping on the heels of my relief that it wasn't real after all. Would you call these nightmares? They seem to me to be anxiety dreams, similar in every way to my fairly commonly recurring dreams about smoking or drinking or smooching girls I know I shouldn't or showering in the middle of a crowded room—things I wouldn't normally do but find myself doing against my better judgment when the ego has gone to bed.2

But in good news, last night I dreamt I broke into a run and it felt great and there was no moment of horror. I attribute this to the fact that last Saturday, after cleaning the church and lying on the gym floor and agreeing with Joey that I do have something in common with Dewey Finn, I did one wild lap around the place when Joey and Callan declared a brief dodge ball war on me. "I'm running!" I shouted in real life, first in disbelief and with a tinge of the dreamy fear of past nights; "Look at me—I'm running!" I repeated in shock and joy as my left leg didn't cry out in pain or weakness for the first time since March 9th. It was one of those moments when my own voice surprised me—I hadn't registered as much emotion in seeing the words on the chalkboard in my mind as I heard in my voice when they came out of my mouth.

It is a welcome surprise.

1Scary movies as well. We all silently or vocally wish the actors to do something different—to not wander into those scary woods, to not turn their backs on that doorway, to not trip every time they run—but of course they don't respond to our wishes. Actually, for the first few weeks after I hurt my knee I would have these odd moments of disconnection when a movie's protagonist jumped up out of a chair or nimbly hopped over a puddle with no thought or precaution for their left knee. How much do we project ourselves into movies we see?
2Should I be proud or ashamed?

Sunday, September 23, 2007


Today is the first day of autumn, and, coincidentally, it is also Callan's birthday. Callan, as you may know, is my friend Joey's four-year-old son. I think he likes me, because whenever I'm around he seems to be very excited (he can't be that way all the time, can he?), and he asks me tons of questions beginning with, "Hey Grover!"

Last week we were all at Walmart together and Callan decided to shop with me rather than his parents. As we walked around the store looking for an ironing board and some Snack Packs, I asked him, "Callan, who am I?" He squirmed the way kids do when they sense you are patronizing them. "I'm not your father and I'm not your brother," I prodded, interested to see if Callan would classify me as an uncle or some other, lesser relative.

"You're—uh, you're my friend," said he.

And there you have it; I was schooled by a three-year-old. Of all the things I was expecting, "friend" was the last, but when I think about it, it really was the right answer. As far as I know, I was the only person Callan personally invited to his house today for cake and ice cream (we won't count Eric, whom we ran into at Walmart, because Callan didn't know who he was). We must really be friends.

Here's to autumn, my favorite season, the one in which newly cold air, heavy with memories, finds your skin at the wrists and ankles and collar—wherever there is a seam—awakening both bitter regret and sweet recollection. And here's to friendships shared with three-year-olds on up, one thing that should never become merely a memory. To all my friends: I love you.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Franklin Chronicle

I thought I should let you know about The Franklin Chronicle before tomorrow, seeing how I plan on writing a post that begins with the line, "Today is the first day of autumn, and, coincidentally, it is also Callan's birthday." You'll need to know who Callan is for it all to make sense.

Callan is my friend Joey's soon-to-be-four-year-old son. He also has a nine-ish-month-old son named Nolan. He is married to Melissa, and together they make up the Franklin family. They keep a blog, mostly for their extended family's sake, but if you like pictures of cute children and entries that you might someday read in a revised form in a magazine or something, then it could be for you also.

A little history: Joey and I had a literature class together a few years back (who was it, Joey—Aaron Eastley?). We were both new English majors, and we became acquinted in the course of class discussions and group work. Then there was a semester or so in which we didn't see each other, which was fine because we weren't actually friends, but during that semester apparently we both took creative writing classes and fell in love with creative nonfiction (personal essays and the like). Then one day we ran into each other in the student center. I said, "Hey man, don't we know each other from somewhere?" and Joey said, "Sure, we had that one class together."

"Oh yeah. How's it going with you?"

"Oh, I'm about to leave with my wife and son to teach English in Japan for a year. I fell in love with a thing called the personal essay and now I've joined the honors program in hopes of doing a creative thesis of personal essays with Pat Madden as my faculty advisor. How about you?"

"Oh, I just lost the student body presidential elections1 and was thinking about joining the honors program as well, plus I took creative writing from Pat Madden and also fell in love with the personal essay. In fact, your idea of doing essays as a thesis is the best idea I've ever heard. Excuse me." And with that, I went to the honors office to sign up. I should probably say about now that I owe everything to Joey and Pat Madden. I owe everything to Joey and Pat Madden.

But it gets better: a year later Joey got back and applied to be a Writing Fellow (a special kind of writing tutor). I remember finding out about it when Joey and I ran into each other someplace just after he got back ("Hey man, don't we know each other from somewhere?), and I also remember sitting in the office, talking to some coworkers, warning them about this creepy twin I had: "No seriously guys, this guy served a mission in Japan; I served in Korea. We're both English majors, both honors students, both creative writers, both doing a thesis of personal essays with Pat Madden, and now we're both Writing Fellows. I think he's trying to steal my life."

And now we're both studying creative nonfiction at Ohio University. Of course, we have things not in common (I seem to be missing a wife and two kids, for instance), and Joey may owe me just as much as I owe him. But who's counting? (No really, I hope he isn't counting, because all the rides he's given me since we got to Athens are adding up.)

This morning we were taking our turn cleaning up the church, and when we were done we were chilling in the gym while Mel practiced the organ. Joey had shown up at my house around nine, woken me up by honking a bunch, and here we were—me in what I slept in (which was what I had worn the day before), hair tangled, teeth unbrushed, still in a stupor lingering from my last dream; Joey seemingly wide awake, dressed, his family dressed (no small order, I understand), and he even had the energy after cleaning the church to play soccer with Callan. I on the other hand had opted to lay on the floor. As we were laughing about something I looked up at him and couldn't help but remark, "Joey, some days I feel like your no good bachelor friend who refuses to settle down and be responsible."

Indeed, for all our similarities, we are constantly being reminded of how different our lives are. You can find out for yourself just how different by reading his blog at

1Of all the *ahem* mistakes I've made, it's hard to believe this is one of them. And it's hard to believe we lost when lavender was our campaign color, when we were an English and a dance major taking on a phalanx of boring poli-sci business gurus, and when this was our campaign commercial. Nothing in my life has the power to so fill me with such embarassment (those sideburns!) and such pride (it's so dang good!) simultaneously as this.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Something Neat

Check this out. It's a real-time slideshow of pictures being uploaded to Blogger from all over the world.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Instructions for the Technically Cautious IV

Have you guys figured out podcasts yet? I just did, and it has changed my life. Turns out you don't even need an iPod to enjoy them. Here's the scoop:

Podcasts are like radio shows you can download and listen to anytime. In fact, many of them actually are the radio shows you know and love, like A Prarie Home Companion or This American Life. And they're free (at least I've never found one that charged). All you have to do is go out and find them and download them onto your computer, just like you would any other file.

The easiest way I've found to find great podcasts is to open up iTunes, go to the iTunes store, choose the podcasts link on the left, and look around. You can look by topic or by browsing the various flashy menus in the store. You can choose to download only certain episodes, or you can subscribe to a cast and then it will automatically download each new episode as it comes out. Once you have them, they are just like music files, so you can listen to them on your computer or stick'em on a player to take with you. I've become a big fan of listening to NPR and stuff on my way to and from school. Here's some of the podcasts I've subscribed to.

  • Astronomy Cast: Some guy and some girl talk about cool stuff in space each week. Lately they've been going planet by planet, giving us the lowdown on what we know about each.
  • Barnes and Noble's Meet the Writers: Each week they interview a popular writer about their work. Recent guests include Dave Barry, Henry Winkler, and Garrison Keillor.
  • NPR's All Songs Considered: Each week they play a bunch of crazy new music you've never heard of. Some of it is fantastic, and Bob Boilen's commentary is always intelligent and fun. They often broadcast entire concerts form local clubs (wherever local is for them—DC?).
  • Wait Wait Don't Tell Me: Each Saturday contestants phone in to answer trivia questions from that week's headlines. Winners get NPR announcer Carl Castle's voice on their answering machine. This show is f-u-n-n-y, and you can pretend you're learning.
  • NPR Sunday Puzzle: Will Shortz of the New York Times does word puzzles with a phone-in contestant. Then he gives a take-home question that you can answer to become the next week's contestant.
  • New BYU Speeches: You can hear each week's devotional or forum on your own time—why is it that when I was actually there I felt too busy to go each week, but now I don't want to miss it? Oh Elisa, come back to portal J.
  • This American Life: Ira Glass takes us through several stories or reports on a common topic each week as he explores this American Life. Not quite journalism, not quite literature, but often fabulous. A recent episode featured a phone conversation with Phil Collins by a girl looking for advice in writing a break-up song.

Some day I'm gonna publish my own podcast, right here on the blog. Someday.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Missing Link

In my earlier post entitled "A Small Revelation, Followed by a Difficult Question (and many footnotes)," I inserted many links to the music referenced in the essay, but there was one link I couldn't figure out how to do. It was the one referencing the song I wrote and recorded with my band at the time (poetically called "Langston Blues"), and I have since figured out how to get it on the internet for your listening pleasure.

Just click here to hear "The Sweetest Part" (I also added this link to the original post).

And, if you're interested, here are links to a song I wrote with my buddy T-bone on a New Year's Eve a couple years ago. One listen and you'll know why we weren't out smooching girls that night: we had a responsibility to make sure this bit of genius was born. One more thing—we wrote this using Mario Paint.

New Year's Song

The Remix


I'm developing a close relationship with my laptop. It's a macbook, and so it was designed with such flashy features as a built-in webcam and a blue tooth (what's a blue tooth?).

It also has this little light on the front that comes on when the laptop is on but closed. Or, if the comuter decides to fall asleep, the light slowly gets brighter and dimmer, as if the thing is breathing deeply and dreaming.

So I was sitting here in my office, feet up on my desk, reading the chapter over for class today. Understandably, I was getting drowsy. As I faded, I looked over at my open laptop just in time to see it shift from the screen saver to a black screen in preparation for sleep, and then, the last thing I saw before a closed my eyes and gave in to the nap was the little light begin to breathe up, and breathe down, and breathe up, and I was out, and it was out. We were out.

By Its Cover

This one looks even better!

And National Geographic agrees with me.

Something I've Been Thinking About

I was piddling around the Houghton Mifflin website the other day, trying to make them post information on the soon-to-be-released Best American Series 2007 by the sheer force of will, and I stumbled upon a page of interviews and videos featuring many of their authors. I checked out a rather childish bit by Jonathan Safron Foer, and then I thought I'd see what Richard Dawkins had to say concerning his most recent book, The God Delusion.

I won't really go into a discussion of his rhetorical technique or the integrity of his logic—but something he said reminded me of something I've been thinking about off and on recently. He made the point that all of us are atheists in the sense that we've written off as false more or less all of the historical gods, guys and girls like Zeus, Baal, Dagon, Thor, Ra, Aphrodite, and whoever. Says he: "We are all atheists about most of the gods that societies have ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further."

And there it is. God (our God? the God? God God?) calls himself Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last. Most of the time we take that as some kind of sweeping statement of his timelessness or his knowledge or something, an existential limitlessness merely hinted at in crude words that kids unknowingly poke at when they take the crescent moon to be his toenail—"God is BIG," they say. But I've been thinking about taking that statement literally, chonologically even. God was the first god, in the sense that when he created the earth and plopped Adam and Eve down on it he was the only god they knew about. Man hadn't gotten around to creating any others just yet. And when it all comes to an end, he will be the only god left standing. All the others will have been discredited or disproven or whatever it is you can do to do a god in, and God will be the last god. Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last. It's kind of a creepy cool thought (and according to Dawkins, it's about that time).

(I've become kind of a long poster, but I love thinking these kind of thoughts through one or two more steps than is natural.)

It makes me think of two other things. One, it's like science in that we seemed to have all these possible theories, these explanations for the way things are, and now we've narrowed it down to just a few. On the one hand people take that to mean a showdown between the last two—science and God—is upon us. Or, on the other hand, we might take that to mean that the true God will finally be revealed (in this scenario science isn't a competing theory but a method).

But that begs the other thought, that if God indeed set up Adam and Eve in the garden and more or less said, "Here I am," how did we get to the point where we're just now getting back to one possible god? (Though it is comforting to think of God starting man off in the know rather than in doubt as to whether he was even around.) How did truth get so fractured over time that we can't even recognize how all the pieces came from the same original whole? How did we go from God talking face to face with the first man to not only ninety-nine imaginary gods masquerading as the one but also to the possibility that there might not have been one in the first place? Perhaps the glory of God is in the big picture—the biggest picture of all, in fact.

Who knows?

Monday, September 17, 2007

Marco Polo (again)

What follows is my review of The Travels of Marco Polo by Marco Polo. You can find this review and more by checking out my profile on Goodreads.

Here's a book that looks fantastic on the cover: it's the story of Marco Polo's incredible travels to the East, told by the man himself. Then you open the book and look into it a bit and realize that it might be boring against all odds. For one, it isn't the tale of his adventure. Instead, it's a systematic description of all the countries one can find east of Italy. Check that: no narrative.

Then you actually start reading and you find out that no one—not Marco Polo, not the scribe who wrote down his account as they both languished in prison—could bleach the book of its wonder. I'm not kidding. Despite their best efforts to not write an adventure, the adventure shines through. I read this book in long spurts, careful not to worry about soaking up the long, listlike information on each country, instead letting the sheer weirdness of the world wash over me. I flew through reports of roads manned by bandits and directions from oasis to oasis in the deserts (much of the book reads like a seven-hundred-year-old Lonely Planet guide) so I could slow down and marvel at stories like his account of the first assassins—young men drugged and taken to a paradise of women and wine they were told was heaven. After a week there they were drugged and returned to the real world, only to be told that getting back depended on their unbending devotion to the potentate who controlled access to "heaven."

Alexander the Great shows up from time to time as well, the truth of his legacy already twisted by history. But all of that pales to what Marco tells us about the great Khan's court: I was floored. Let me put it into context for you. I always wanted to be completely dumbfounded by the great wonders of human construction—things like the Eiffel Tower or Stonehenge—and it never happened to me until I stood in the courtyard at the main palace in Seoul. Something about the wide expanse paved by huge stones, all done for the love and reverence a people had for a king, knocked me senseless. I could write an essay extolling the wonder of the place, something meant to celebrate the number of man hours and the immense wealth necessary to construct such a wonder. My essay could easily be one-upped by one explaining the pyramids or the Great Wall, pushing the immensity of human achievement to the limit. But whatever any essay totes as the end-all—skyscrapers, space shuttles, lost continents, you name it—Marco Polo's account of Kublai's empire will smash it. It was to big, too great, too much. And to top it all, the emperor seems like a decent guy.

And that's only half of the book. Polo gets to wander around for another eighty pages or so before concluding that he's covered the known world. My verdict: entirely worth it. And there's no test at the end, so you can breeze through all the geography (though having a map handy can be quite fun—I can only imagine what a dedicated Google Earthling could do) and just enjoy the feeling of peeking in on a world of culture that has more or less disappeared completely.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

A Small Revelation, Followed by a Difficult Question (and many footnotes)

I was walking yesterday and realized what it was about music I like so much: its texture. I don't listen to the music so much as I listen for a feeling, an actual tactile sensation. I love when you're listening to a recording and you can feel the walls of the room the musicians were in as they made it. I bristle when I can hear the creak of the piano bench, the metal-wound strings exciting the polished spruce top of the guitar, the tweed cover on an old amp shuffling softly, and the sharp inhale the singer takes just before a line.

That must be why I like live music so much—all that wood and metal, every inch of it crafted, being plied under fine-tuned flesh and bone right before your eyes. Actually being there helps you to sense what the musicians are feeling as they work. You are that much closer to feeling the guitar's body boom against your own belly, to reading the pull of the strings under your fingers as they tell you how hard to press and when to let up to make the thing sing just so. You can feel the electricity shifting down the smooth rubber-insulated cord, across the scratched and weathered floor and into a polished black steel box of tubes and transitors before radiating out across all that amber air and cigarette smoke. I can see why so many artists throw down rugs to stand on as they play, why singers all seem to collect scarves. (Perhaps this even explains the great number of beards grown since the sixties.)

Take the Eagles, for instance. "Desperado" always makes me think of coarse horse hair and saddle leather and grit, and "Peacful Easy Feeling" is the sensation of highway asphalt running under tires or being guided by the soles of one's feet while hiking in the dark. The opening lines of "New Kid in Town," evoke a faded Mexican cantina, but it's the sense I get of adobe walls and paper decorations in the square that keep me from skipping to the next song. Or, as other examples, Sarah McLachlan's Surfacing is an endless expanse of velvet and soft brown hair, and Hootie and the Blowfish's Fairweather Johnson is a porch of splintered wood smoothed over by the seductive tremble of a Hammond B-3 organ.1 Even with music less concerned with a natural acoustic fidelity—metal or dance music, for instance—there's the joy of feeling the music itself as it booms out of speakers and actually makes your body part of the sound wave.

This obsession with touch and texture goes for each of my senses. To me, its never the smell or the taste of the thing; it's the tactility possible in it, as if tiny fingers could reach out and touch for each sense, rubbing back and forth in joyful appreciation of coffee's pulpy, papery smell or the woody grain of a G chord. (I can understand why Starbucks has gotten into the music business.)

The same sentiment goes for my writing too. I spend so much time trying to build up layers of texture in an effort to recreate a feeling—I rarely pay attention to matters of plot and purpose, at least in the first draft or so. It's as if I think that by creating the sheer feeling of something I can infuse the piece with enough power to touch someone, the way the original experience touched me and marked itself for being written about later. It's an addiction to nostalgia, in a way.2

With music, it's a nostalgia for places I've never been. Places I've only dreamed about: sitting in a session with Norah on her piano, me tinkering out some sweetly spare licks as a drummer cooly sounds the depths of the room; standing in the crook between two mountains above Sundance with Pete and the band, hitting a natural harmony and strumming along; or backing up Sting as part of a fifteen-piece band at his villa in Italy, all of us occupying our space without crowding the soundscape. I even get a tinge of this feeling at some sharp, (in my opinion) perfectly done snare hits in the bridge of a song I wrote and recorded with a band a few years ago. Curiously, I wasn't there for the recording of that particular drum track.

Nostalgia is not just for amateur musicians wishing for fame, either. Most songs urge all of us to connect to something distant or past. Or at least, that's one of the surest paths to commercial success. An artist may largely succeed by making the song real—whether the words and music concern them personally or not—so that singer and listener are taken in by the power of perceived recollection.3 I can't say how many times I've heard an artist praised for their "tasteful reinterpretation" of a song that they didn't write, or maybe their failure to do justice to a classic.4 And even when they aren't deliberately trying to hook us with pure emotion, we often hook ourselves. We attach a song to a time or place or person in such a way that experiencing one invariably invokes the other5—how many of us have tossed CDs and tapes after a break-up for that very reason?6 Blues Traveler pokes fun at this notion in their song "Hook." In it John Popper sings:

It doesn't matter what I say
So long as I sing with inflection
That makes you feel I'll convey
Some inner truth or vast reflection
But I've said nothing so far
And I can keep it up for as long as it takes
And it don't matter who you are
If I'm doing my job then it's your resolve that breaks

Because the hook brings you back
I ain't tellin' you no lie
The hook brings you back
On that you can rely

There is something amiss
I am being insincere
In fact I don't mean any of this
Still my confession draws you near
To confuse the issue I refer
To familiar heroes from long ago
No matter how much Peter loved her
What made the Pan refuse to grow

Is that the hook brings you back
I ain't tellin' you no lie
The hook brings you back
On that you can rely
The song reach #8 on the Top 40 charts, undoubtedly because Popper sang with the promised "inflection" while the song made an endless loop through the familiar chords of Pachelbel's "Canon in D."7 He never actually says anything, though; it's all just teasing, a postmodern mix up of floating signifiers and faked emotion.

So what's the point of all this? I'm not sure. It could be that nostalgia itself is the hook, and therein lies the danger. Letting ourselves simmer in the recollection of an idealized past can be dangerous, to be sure, but doing so when the past we are enjoying didn't actually exist but in the words of a lyricist or in the chord progression of a songwriter is even more so. It's something akin to allowing Hollywood representations of history to replace the real thing, to making all our past merely "based" on a true story. But on the other hand, nostalgia is what prompted me to write this in the first place; it can be a great motivator. Imagining that I'm on stage with one of my heroes, moving an audience to their feet through the skill of my hand (or is it through my skill at creating fake memories?), is one of the things that keeps me coming back to my own guitar—to feel it actually boom against my own chest and teach me how to make it sing.

1Because Hootie was so overplayed on the radio with their first album, no one ever bothered to listen to their sophomore effort, which breaks my heart. The first album was a decent set of college tunes—this second one is a true feat of skill that plays like a walk through the South. It's everything that Forrest Gump tried to evoke by stacking a soundtrack full of CCR and every other hit they could buy the rights to. If nothing else, listen to this one. And this one.
2Anyone seeking evidence of this can note the outrageous number of commas I must edit out of my work every day. I tend to build sentences in waves of phrases, each rolling in after the one before, washing over the reader like a memory, elongating the sentence into a jumbled mess of inarticulate junk. It sickens me.
3So often this fake nostalgia is for what we see and internalize in a movie, as with "My Heart Will Go On" by Celine Dion, from the Titanic soundtrack. That this technique works well is evidenced by the song's success and the number of girls I knew growing up who practically broke down whenever it came on the radio (which was about every five minutes for a year or two).
4I particularly remember this being said about two Harry Nilsson8 songs, in the liner notes of his greatest hits album. Also, country music is largely based on the skill of interpreting music written by other people. I would say that Cake's version of "I Will Survive" is perhaps my favorite remake of any song ever, despite the blaring curse word added. I also love when artists reinterpret their own work, such as an acoustic version of a hit or a genre shift of a classic. Sheryl Crow gets an F for Cat Stevens's "The First Cut is the Deepest," and Paul Anka gets a A for effort on this album. Other decent remakes are this, this, and this.
5I find it interesting that I associate two songs—Collective Soul's "December" and Sarah McLachlan's "Possession"—with the same location and time: driving down Seventh Street on the way home from Sugar Land Middle School. Oh, that the glory days of nineties grunge, rock, and girl pop had never ended. Also, if you'll allow a little unadulterated nostalgia in a footnote, "No Need to Argue" by the Cranberries in the hall around the corner from the theatre room at Kempner High, the three-part, improvised harmonies of B, M, and N bouncing of tile and locker. My deep, unexplainable love for the album of the same name I attribute to sharing a room with Jen for that year and falling asleep to it several nights each week; the same goes for The Secret Garden soundtrack. Curiously, hearing Sting every other night never took a hold, and I was forced to rediscover him on my own when he put out Brand New Day, an album forever tied to my blue room downstairs at the front of the house. And let me not forget Air Supply, which has the power to instantaneously remind me of those wonderful days with Orgill living in Seoul.
6After A, I could no longer handle The Stray Cats, REM, or anything from South Pacific.
7Actually the song was performed in the key of A, but who's counting?
8(Is a footnote of a footnote allowed?) Anyway, I wanted to comment that the repeated use of Harry Nilsson songs in the You've Got Mail soundtrack was responsible for creating in me a complex false nostalia for New York City and autumn and romance involving Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan (who can say which?). Judging from people's feelings for that movie, I'd say Nora Ephron, her cinematographer, and her soundtrack guy hit a homerun on that one, much better than whoever made the poorly titled and quite disappointing Autumn in New York. Now there was a movie that had nothing to do with autumn, nor New York. Boo.

Breaking News

I'm considering hard-hitting, no-nonsense investigative journalism as my fallback career.

ATHENS—New evidence surfaced Thursday in the investigation concerning Dinty Moore's alledged involvement with the Boys Scouts of America.
  Dinty W. Moore, a professor of creative writing at Ohio University, was accused of looking like a scoutmaster earlier this week. "I don't know—he just has that no-nonsense look about him, you know?" said one of Professor Moore's students, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "He looks like a cross between my dad and, uh, Smokey the Bear, I think."
  Professor Moore denied all accusations of involvement with scouting and took offense at the suggestion, refusing to comment on the issue. He was, however, happy to reveal that his name derives from a comic strip character created in 1913.
  Professor Moore is known for his work in creative nonfiction, a genre of literature no one has ever heard of before, and he edits an online literature magazine called Brevity. "I've never actually read it, but the website is classy looking," commented the anonymous student of Moore's.
  David Grover, a no-nonsense journalist who has taken upon himself to expose Professor Moore, seemed little deterred by the fact that writing and web design don't seem like scout-like activities. After taking up the case on Monday, Mr. Grover quickly exhausted his leads, but he refused to give up the case.
  "Listen, I'm a no-nonsense journalist, and I'm going to get to the bottom of this. I'm gonna crack this Baden-Powell wannabe like an egg, cause I'm a hard-hitting investigator."
  Mr. Grover later discovered that Professor Moore is the proud father of one daughter, a fact that seemed to puzzle him even more until late Thursday afternoon. But at a press conference held yesterday, Mr. Grover revealed his latest piece of evidence. According to him, Professor Moore "revealed his true colors" when visited by Grover in his office.
  "I brought him an essay that needed to be left outside his office for other students to pick up. There was no mailbox attached to the wall outside the door, but that didn't stop this closet-Eagle scout. He deftly looked over the situation and found a solution. He grabbed a folder and some tape, and he had me help him attach it to the door. Do the words 'Be prepared' mean anything to you? You should have seen the no-nonsense way he assumed authority as he directed me to hold the folder just-so as he applied the tape. We could've been scout and master constructing a tent or a latrine out in the woods, no problem. It's clear I've cracked this case with my hard-hitting techniques."
  But not everyone agrees with Mr. Grover's analysis. Joey Frankin, a some-nonsense journalist who enjoys softball, questioned what kind of tape Dinty Moore used in affixing the folder to the door. "If it was duct tape I'd be convinced right here and now, but as it stands I'm not so sure."
  Franklin also questioned Grover's methods: "Why didn't he just offer him some Gatorade and a Slim Jim, or maybe even a pimento cheese sandwich?"
  An independent witness confirmed that the tape used was common packing tape.

More details at nine.

A Day's Work

I'm a Sensitive Guy

Walking down Court Street tonight,
I saw
     two guys walking down the street in hardhats (at midnight).
     a kitten sitting alone on the sidewalk (also at midnight).
     a guy eating a sub, cradling it in two hands as one would a newborn baby—one palm flat against its back, one under its bottom. His eyes were closed and his head rocked back and forth as he leaned forward and determinedly devoured it with a passion roughly equivalent to that of a fanboy devouring the latest Incredible Spiderman. He looked like he was making out with a pillow.
I smelled
     and smoke, the staples of any decent Friday night.
I tasted
     the first sips of a Sprite I filled at the fountain while waiting for my own sub to be born. (Later, I held it lightly on my fingertips and ate a few bites at a time, putting it down periodically to man the controls as I checked to see if any of my friends had posted to their blogs. No, I swear I didn't make out with my sandwich.)
I felt
     the tip of the pinky toe of Old Man Winter. Or maybe it was Jack Frost's belly button lint. Either way, it's coming and I'm excited about it.
and I heard
     a soundtrack composed of Sting, Norah Jones, John Mayer, and a Korean band called Jadu, each adding their own commentary to Court Street.
     a handful of expletives (how is it that of all words, those are the ones that seem to always cut through the mix?)

Earlier in the day, I heard a guy praise someone's parallel parking as he watched them execute the manuever. He spoke through a loudspeaker, from his porch twenty feet back from the road.


I googled myself again, and this is what I found.

This right here.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Where Credit is Due

I would like to give Amanda Dambrink the Alexandar Graham Bell Award of Touch-Tone Excellence for having been the very first person to ever call my brand new phone.1 Hooray and huzzah. Now I bet all the rest of you are jealous and anxious to figure out the number and call too. Well, the internet's a big place, and I'm sure it can help you.

No, seriously. I was on the hunt tonight for a passage in an essay I read last semester. First I searched the internet for the essay's title and got nothing but garbage. Then I thought I'd add a word or two to my search parameters, and I found out the name of the guy who wrote the dang thing. That led me to a website containing the name of the journal it was published in. That led me to the journal's website—which was a dead end because they hadn't updated or posted electronic copies of articles in a long time. Boo.

But then I thought I'd call—guess who!—Amanda to see if she still had a copy of the piece, but I needed her number, and the good old internet supplied it. And then, while Amanda was rifling through files trying to help me (a true friend), I found an electronic copy of the essay on an academic search engine provided by a university library. And even as I asked Amanda if she remembered the passage on the off chance that she had it marked, my eyes noticed a search button on the screen and I typed in a key word of the remembered passage and clicked 'search' and said passage appeared before my eyes in all its glory. And because it was a sexy electronic glory, all I had to do was cut and paste it into position rather than have Amanda dictate it slowly over my brand new phone line.

So I'm giving the Internet the "Amanda Dambrink Award of Being-There-When-You-Need-Him-Her-or-It Excellence. And I'm giving you to the count of three to find my number and give me a call. Or Skype me. Or else.

1Not a cell phone.

The Poet Speaketh

And this is what she had to say:

     A Poem after "Synchronicity, or Fall is Coming"

     Buried at your heart
     is October, refusing
     to line up and pass neatly by
     with other months.
     You will avoid the frost of February,
     the sweat of August--
     October's campfire clings to your hair
     and the marching of ghosts and goblins
     accompany your steps.

     Fall is coming. We hold hands
     against the cold, bracing ourselves
     for the flames.

A big thanks to Editor Girl for her rendition. Seriously, I could not have done that myself. And isn't it interesting to see the difference in how an essayist and a poet approach language and expression? I'll say.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Synchronicity, or Fall is Coming

I was sitting in a class last night, listening to my instructor talk about something or other, and all of a sudden I swear I could smell the dry breath of a campfire. It was merely a flash of sensation—memory or prophecy I can't tell1—but for one moment I was in the crunchy leaves of autumn, among the rough bark of trees, out in the endless cool air of an echoing sky that shoots back the rumor of a barbeque not too far away, and then I had zipped back into the 3rd-floor student library room where our seminar was being held.

A few minutes later I turned my head and for a split second Halloween was upon me in all its glory: bats and cats and chunky-eyed pumpkins smiling the dim light orange, brown paper bags and waxed candy wrappers, tennis-shoed ghosts and library books smelling of clear plastic covers and rich thick paper.

Then I looked down at the table in front of me, and my eye lighted instantly the word "October," buried in the middle of a poem on a page, unread until that moment.2

1I suppose that in writing this I have irrevocably made it memory.
2This is how an essayist writes this. How would a poet do it?

Monday, September 10, 2007


During orientation I remembered how much I like to draw. Here are some of the doodles that got me through the week:



Sunday, September 9, 2007

Fame is...

...a spot on the department webpage. That's right: I, David Grover, am now an official part of the Ohio University English Department. You can check out my little corner of school cyberspace by clicking here, or you can try to find it from the department's home page by clicking here. Or you can take the physical challenge.

Instructions for the Technically Cautious III

About a year ago I decided to learn a thing or two about web design. I don't know why—the internet is pretty far afield of my normal interests. I don't find it as disappointing as my brother does (who became permanently disaffected with it when he couldn't find any useful information on the old 'net for "jumping a rail" and running away hobo-style), but I do have my qualms.

And I also have my joys. I see the internet largely as a repository for unproofed text written by those uninterested in the finer points of punctuation. Therefore, those of us (shortly may we live) who take pride in our semicolons and our m-dashes can feel a little more special by using them properly in such an arena. Add to this the fact that most of the internet doesn't seem to allow for things like an e with an accent mark above it or a true m-dash (we usually just double-hyphen everything), and the niche for people like me gets smaller and more pleasantly elite. For there is a way to maintain the standards of proper punctuation even on something as unruly as the internet:

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you...the ESCAPE CODE!

An escape code is a way to use a special character in your text without screwing with the program that reads the source. Let me put it this way: a web page is really just a sheet of commands that the computer reads in order to display what you see. Not only does it contain the text you will see, but it has lots of lines of special instructions. Lots of these instructions use the funnier marks we want to use in our writing, so we need another way of telling the computer to insert them into out text. The escape code does just that.

Suppose you want to put an m-dash in you sentence—like this (an m-dash is a really long dash). When you type out your blog entry, you type an ampersand and then "mdash" and then a semicolon. You put it touching the words on either side, just as you would the dash itself. It looks like this:

I was walking down the street and&mdash;BAM&mdash;I got blindsided by an m-dash.

When the computer reads this it displays this:

I was walking down the street and—BAM—I got blindsided by an m-dash.

Because an ampersand (&) is part of the code, you need a code to write one. It's &amp;. Crazy, huh? An é is &eacute;. A £ is &pound;. It's totally sweet. You can find complete lists of all the escape codes by just googling "html escape codes" or something similar. You can show people you care.

[à á â ã ä æ è é ê ë ì í î ï ò ó ô ö õ ù ú û ü and sometimes ý ÿ]

So what I'm really saying here is that not only am I a grammar snob, I'm a total nerd. I just wanted you to know.

Saturday, September 8, 2007


Sometimes you're just floored by something. It doesn't happen often—in fact, the idea of being awestruck seems to hang around too much for the thing itself to arrive unnoticed, and, as with watched pots finally boiling, unnoticedness seems to be a prerequisite to the event. All-too-frequent reports of life-changing books or eye-opening movies or reunited twins or the Virgin Mary popping up on a grilled cheese sandwich cloud our view with the promise of awe, and then we wonder why we don't feel it as much as we think we should. We hear the world is full of glory and so we try to keep on the lookout for it, like little kids stalwartly waiting for Santa or the tooth fairy (I'm using "we" a lot but of course I mean "me"). And then, fortunately, the sheer amount of talking about it and looking for it turns itself to its opposite—by looking everywhere we are looking nowhere; by trying to stay up and see Santa the kid is sure to fall asleep—and that's when it happens.

It must've been Garrison Keillor who set it off for me this time. I was walking down Court Street on my way to the student center to catch a bit of Open Stage Friday, dodging the early drunks and eager party hoppers who were just crowding onto the sidewalk. Usually I pop in my earbuds to catch up on podcasts of news programs while commuting on foot, and even when I stray into something like "News From Lake Wobegon" it's just talk—they don't usually include the songs and skits in the podcast version of A Prarie Home Companion. But this week it was different. Just as I was coming up on college green, old GK started in on the soft strains of a song. He warbled the lyrics in the way only he can—as effortlessly as he speaks—and before long a woman's voice was drawing out a harmony, just barely, on the rising and falling slopes of the lines. A piano and a guitar hid very low in the background, almost indistinguishable from one another, and a violin eased out a few faint notes that never peeked above the horizon. It was music with restraint, from veteran players who knew how to play just enough.

It didn't fit at all with what I was seeing. What would the people on the street think if suddenly my iPod was broadcast out on the street? What would they do with the sound of a sunrise in Minnesota dusting off the smoke and pool chalk in their conversations? Spit it out like bitter beer, I guess.

But this isn't the part at which I was touched. In fact, I was trying my best not to be touched by anyone. Weaving left and right and avoiding eye contact, I was gathering up my pride the way I inevitably do when I'm going to hear live music. I was putting on my "I could do better than this guy" face. No, I was wearing it already. I haven't figured out how to live in a town that revolves, as this one does, around alcohol, and in some ways my iPod has become my defense. And even though Mr. Keillor was inside that armor, he couldn't deliver a fatal blow to my pride. But he must've set up the shot.

I walked into the Front Room coffee shop, pulled out my buds, and quickly found a place alone on the far side of the room. I was just in time to catch some clumsily symbolic line about "wild beasts in Cain's garden" or something like that, sung in two-part harmony by a dude with a fauxhawk, eyes closed, who was cradling his mic between two hands, and his friend, who was fingerpicking cruel, endless E-minors on a guitar. Both were wearing black pants and black shirts with the top two buttons unbuttoned. I was pleased, confident that I could indeed do better than these two kids. It isn't a deliberate thing I do, comparing myself to other performers; I just can't help it. It isn't even that I would do better, that I could do better—it's that I think can see so easily what's wrong with someone's act. I'm a vicious critic. I fault people for talking too much in between songs; for introducing every song with a long tale of love and loss; for declaring the eligibility of members of the band as if women can't help but love a musician; for not varying the constant drone of four chords with a bridge or a truncated refrain or a different instrumentation on the second verse, as if each moment of captured emotion in their opus is too important to pass up, even when a song passes the six-minute mark; for using worn-out metaphors or lines containing any variation of driving all night, walls falling down, or the world not understanding1; for neglecting the performance part of performing while singing not to the audience but to the still-bleeding heart they wear on their sleeve in an attempt to be seen as "sensitive" or "deep" or "poetic," as if others don't have comparable pain and have nothing better to do than admire the "you can't know how I feel" mystique of a young guitarist. In other words, I fault everyone else for everything I used to do. Probably still do. And it isn't like I just figured that out right now as I type. I knew when I walked into the café that the criticisms that would inevitably form in my mind as I watched would incriminate me. And still I sat there through a set of self-important songs by a bad Simon and a lame Garfunkel,2 imagining the way I could walk up, borrow a guitar, and set the room afire with a cover of Michael Jackson's "Thriller" done acoustic with a funky beat and a surprise bridge of "Ice Ice Baby."3

This is when it happened. Fauxhawk boy and his mate finished their set and moved off to bask in the praise of their hip friends. The guy running the sound introduced the next act, asking if some guy named Jake was in the house and ready to play. No one responded (perhaps Jake was in the crowd of adorers lavishing praise on Dr. Didactic and his friend?), so without skipping a beat the guy running the show grabbed a guitar, plugged it in, and began strumming an easy E with plenty of air and grit, like hiking boots on a mountain trail. At this point I was imagining the guy looking around the room for volunteers to fill the space, eyes lighting on me, me relunctantly accepting the spotlight after a few feigned refusals, launching into my current favorite of my own songs (ironically one that tells of a guy in a bar trying to work up the guts to talk to a girl), and the group of hangers-on, suddenly realizing what real music was, what real performance was, leaving the boys in black to come sit at my feet. Oh, and the two guys would instantly realize the error of their musical ways and join my entourage as well. But none of that happened. Instead, this is what happened.

The guy, an older gentleman, maybe fifty, with a gray and brown beard and little hair left on top, in a simple black t-shirt and jeans, rolled from that E up to an open A and down again, letting the thirds cut in and out of the chords like sunlight through branches. Then, in a completely unassuming way that allowed the well-wishers of the previous group to go on talking and shuffling around near and in front of the small stage (this guy had actually, cheerfully, asked those two to play two more songs beyond their planned set. He insisted!), he began to sing some simple lyrics over the surprisingly full sound his hands were producing. He sang sideways over the mic, brows arched but eyes closed, head shaking gently as if reading the words off his memory. He sang

Above the dark town
After the sun's gone down
Two vapour trails cross the sky
Catching the day's last slow goodbye
Black skyline looks rich as velvet
Something is shining
Like gold but better
Rumours of glory

It was a Bruce Cockburn song, not even his own. And yet he sang it so real, so purely. I was struck. Not immediately, not fully at first, but gradually, as he interated over again that there was glory around us somewhere. I had the feeling that maybe this guy didn't need me to teach those others a lesson, that he didn't need me to fill the space in the room. When the scheduled act still wasn't there he followed "Rumours of Glory" with "Jesus on the Mainline," a gospel tune that assures you you can "call him up and tell him what you want" at any time. He picked it out with just enough color to keep the simple tune and lyrics interesting without becoming gaudy or distracting. With perfect restraint. When he finished I clapped loudly; I was moved to applaud. Then he dropped the tuning into an open D and did a rendition of Springsteen's "Thunder Road" that packed all the power of the Boss without any backup band and without the need to open up his voice into a full roar. Even on the high notes and at the climax he just reached his voice up and called down the feeling by pure inspiration. The thing was that he was believing the music; he was singing a song, body and soul, audience or no; he was telling the story and it was true. By this time I was speechless—thoughtless I guess. I wasn't constructing my own moment of glory. I was staring in disbelief at all the people who continued to get up and leave throughout this guy's unasked for, unprepared set. Seriously, the room had only about a third of the people by the time he finished. And he didn't take a bow or even look us over to see whether we appreicated what he had just done—the second he finished the song he looked over at Jake, who had since come in with his own group of awaiting admirerers, and welcomed him to the stage.

Was it only me who was hit by what I had seen and heard? Was it the odd combination of Garrison Keillor and my own pride that triggered the event? What all am I supposed to have learned about restraint, in music and in life?

I've really only put these meanings onto the experience in hindsight, by writing it down slowly for the past few hours, trying and deleting and rewriting until I feel the familiar ring of truth. But I haven't felt it quite yet and something tells me I won't find my usual sense completely trustworthy in this case. Maybe there wasn't really a lesson to be learned at all; maybe I merely came face to face with something rare, a rumour of glory. Maybe in looking back so intensely, looking to relive the awe I felt for just one moment more (and I tried, but neither Cockburn's nor Springsteen's original recordings even come close to recreating the feeling), I will once again let my guard down and be surprised by awe all over again.

1The Goo Goo Dolls, once a respectable band with quality hits like "Name" and "Black Balloon," entirely lost my confidence with "Stay With You," a four-minute song that never once rises above the level of high-school cliché.
2Is it just me, or does Simon and Garfunkel grate on the nerves a bit once you realize they were trying too hard and getting too much credit for it? I mean, the sound of silence? I for one am a much bigger fan of an older, chiller Paul Simon.
3Coming to an open mic night near you.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Mere Complexities

Here it is, the first of my promise to explain my followed blogs so you know what you're dealing with.

Mere Complexities is the name of the blog of my friend Amanda. The title comes from a poem by Yeats, whom she digs. Plus, she says it helps her remember not to take her thoughts too seriously, for, after all, they are no more than mere complexities.

Amanda and I have been friends since we both went to London on a study abroad trip. Probably five minutes after we arrived, my brother told her she reminded him just of another great friend of ours, Elisa. And though that was high praise, it wasn't quite right. Upon returning from England we serendipitously lived only feet apart in Provo, and we had two classes together last semester, so we got to see each other quite often. Plus she was my editor when I submitted an essay for publication in the school literary journal, and she gave me great advice. So I found out who Amanda really was.

She is one of those people who spins about her a whole constellation of amazing people, providing the connections and introductions that get those people together. No seriously. If I had to pay her a dime for every very cool person she introduced me to, she'd have like seventy cents. Actually—come to think of it—she didn't really mean to introduce me to any of them. She was just kind enough to let me tag along as she hung out with them or went to their birthday parties.

And yet don't get the idea that Amanda merely has stellar friends—she is one herself. She's one of the rock-steady ones you can always go to for advice or commiseration. She is as cheerful and warm as the street waffles she used to share in London (didn't we burn Andrew with one of those one time? Maybe that was in revenge for comparing you to Elisa)—in fact, she seems to always be sharing. In her house last year she had the most elaborate hot chocolate setup I've ever seen, and she was always offering us some with deluxe gourmet cocoa and whipped cream and sprinkles and chocolate shavings, all frothed up with an electric stirrer. Plus we share a secret sentiment, but that's a secret.

And I am so totally excited that she has a blog, because now she can share her writing. I've long known her for her editing expertise and her good opinion, but now I get to see herself in action. How's that for pressure, Amanda?

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Luke Moonwalker

Okay, I don't usually do this, scouring the internet looking for gimmicks and laughs, but I ran across the following in a friend of a friend's blog and I can't deny that it is truly the most awesome thing I have ever seen. Ever.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The Star

I bought a cool cool laptop recently, and I've enjoyed forcing it to evolve to my tastes. Recently, I have discovered that it has the capability of causing intense joy by dangling mere possibility in front of my eyes. The thing is this: If you press F12 (finally those function keys have a function!), a bunch of sweet gadgets fly into the screen. They call 'em widgets, but whatever. The point is that there is one dealy-doo that checks my email for me and then tells me if any new messages are waiting to be read. It can't say who they are from or what they say—it just throws this amazingly red, beautifully five-pointed star up on the screen with the number of possibly sweet sweet emails from A or P or J or M or someone else cool enough to get an initial in my b-log.

Who cares that they usually end up being tactful reminders about my CD club membership, offers from my bank to refinance my house, or out-of-date internship opportunity notices from a school I no longer attend? It's the possibilty, the potential, the sheer temptation represented by that star, as real and as red as a pair of digital lips hanging in the air, swirling my mind with the idea of romance, forever suspended before me, urging me on into the unknown. Wouldn't you like to be a part of that? Wouldn't you like to titillate my imagination and promote the premature wearing out of my F12 key?

Wells Fargo of the Intermountain West would. Tessa Hauglid of the BYU English Department would.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Instructions for the Technically Cautious II

I want to tell you about labels. I've only just discovered them, and I can see how they would be useful. The deal is that I can label my entries by topic to enable someone to search through them that way. For example, if I was always getting stood up on dates and coming home to write about it, I could mark all those entries with a label like "disappointments" or "public humiliations" or just a plain "I got stood up," and then if you needed a laugh and only wanted to read those stories out of all the blog entries I'd done, you could click that label from the list on the left of the page and up would pop just those entries no matter when they were written. Great, huh?

Here's how I plan to use it. I'm going to write explanations of the blogs I follow (the ones listed to the left under the title "Blogs I Follow") and mark those posts with a label like "Blogs I Follow." Are you following? Then if you were wondering which of those on that list to the left are worth checking out, you could call up the explanations I've posted by clicking on that label. You'd then be able to see that The Franklin Chronicle is a family news blog by my buddy Joey and Mere Complexities is a personal blog by my friend Amanda.

I'll also create labels for any reviews I write on books I've recently finished or movies I've seen or whatever, plus I'll make one for posts like this, my "instructions for the technically cautious." Don't you find my doing so polite and considerate?


On Friday I was walking down Court Street towards campus at about eight in the morning, listening to NPR on my iPod, just like I had done every day this last week for new teacher orientation. It really is a nice time in Athens—before the humidity wakes up, before the sunlight is strong enough to reveal just how much chipped paint and cracked mortar decorates the city—and, lulled into tranquility by the deep timbre of paced, articulate radio voices, I wasn't really awake. My eyes were open, but my vision was turned inward upon the invisible words rising in my mind at the suggestion of the announcer, the tickertape of early-morning information punctuated by footfalls I only heard as internal vibrations rising from sole to throat to scalp. It wasn't until I had to break my rhythm to adjust for a man pushing a dolly across my path that I first noticed what I was seeing. The guy was ferrying boxes of beer from a truck on the curb to a bar on my left—that had to be the third such truck I had seen, it occured to me, and a quick replay confirmed the thought. Looking around, I saw that all over downtown Athens trucks were being emptied by delivery guys, each one reminiscent of a UPS man in uniform shirt and shorts, each one a terrific frontman for Miller or Bud, blue collar but without a wrinkle even at eight-fifteen in the morning.

It was something I had never seen before: the systematic stocking up of alcohol. It was like discovering the early morning inner workings of a bakery or stumbling in upon a magician setting up his trick.1 I took two or three looks over my shoulder at Court Street as I crossed out of downtown and into the college green.

Can you spot the beer truck?2

That evening around seven or so I was out on Court Street again, this time to find something to eat. I wasn't lost in thought or reverie as I had been earlier; my morning diffusion had concentrated into an evening intensity brought on by hunger. (As I am a night person, such a transformation is common for me. As I am a college student, so too is hunger.) My eyes were fixed forward with purpose—the purpose of finding food but also that of looking cool and knowledgeable in a town recently full of new freshmen and their parents looking simultaneously lost and busy—but I was still not really seeing anything. Truth be told, I think I had my iPod on again. I think I was listening to a trendy podcast of hip new music that was helping me feel cool in a strange town full of cool people. The sun was low in its arc, beginning to turn the air amber, and the stoops were beginning to come alive with conversation and cigarettes. No longer hot but still amply warm, the wet was still clinging to bodies, but both the sunlight and the newly lit neons weren't enough to invoke a real glisten. Instead there was just that glow of transition from day to night, the heat coming off the pavement now instead of out of the sky. It was the simmer following the boil, that time when the flavors of the individual spices begin to mix and things really begin to cook. Sunglasses could still be seen, but tank tops and ponytails were being replaced by blouses and makeup (do boys ever change?), the girls having dropped the day's purchases at home to emerge in small, heeled packs clacking their way back to Court Street hot spots. Okay, truth really be told, that's why I wasn't seeing anything. Girls dress, well, differently here and I haven't gotten used to it yet. Eyes forward is an attempt to avoid becoming some kind of creep; besides, you don't want to give a girl who's dressed to be seen the satisfaction of being seen, of seeing you seeing her.

But of course the thing that snapped me back to reality this time wasn't a delivery dude but a woman. In this case it was a woman toting a box of beer. That's something else I don't think I've ever seen before, and as I stood in contemplation of that thought, my head slowly turning as she passed (incidentally I was looking not at her but at the beer—a case of beer is huge!) I noticed another person lugging beer off towards their house, and another, and another.

It wasn't until later that I put it together, that this was Friday—Friday in Athens—the day the beer comes in and goes out again.

1I'm very tempted to say it was like peeking in on Santa in one's living room, but I'll leave that comparison to someone else.
2Is it just me, or is it in front of a church?

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Overheard Lines

I found a blog today that was after my own heart. It's called "Overheard Lines," and it consists of merely that: things overheard, usually out of context, which makes it all the better. Plus the blogger comes up with a clever title for each line, giving it one more boost of fun—like writing funny captions for pictures on a bulletin board, something we all did ten years ago, yes?

I've loved the idea of overheard lines ever since E, my dear friend, introduced me to them a few years back. Her great example was seeing two people walking through the student center, hand in hand, and the boy turned to the girls and said, "What was your name again?" Classic.

Once I was in the bookstore listening to a girl having a loud cell phone conversation in which she was explaining a rather extensive plan some boy was implementing for some girl, something involving flowers delivered to her work, candy snuck into her car, and all manner of other romantic gestures. She finished with this line: "He's going to propose to her—and she has a BOYFRIEND!"

You can read "Overheard Lines at, or you can just click on it in the "Blogs I Follow" area to the left.