Archive for June 2011
I found out a few weeks ago that I had two poems published by New Scriptor, a literary publication for Illinois educators out of Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, IL. I’ve worked with the folks there before and have been pleased with their products, so it was a pleasure to be included in what they compiled.
“I Wish to Inform You” was part of The Seeker last fall, including a reading of the poem for a small audience at the end of a poetry workshop. “John Hancock,” though, is new. It came to me last winter after reading something about the titular founding father in The Writer’s Almanac. I had fun with it, learned a few new things about stanza breaks, and consider myself fortunate to have preserved the tone that came with the idea when it first flashed in my mind. I hope you’ll enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed crafting it.
John Hancock by Jeff Burd
In the two hundred and thirty-five
years since John Hancock stood at a desk
in Philadelphia and scrawled his name
across a parchment in 4” letters,
we have named ships and buildings and
counties and insurance companies
after him because we so admire
his brazen declaration.
though, was the last thing on my first grade
teacher’s mind in 1976
when I stood at his desk and printed
my John Hancock on the principal’s
“get well” card with a 4” J-E-F-F
So here I am decades later,
myself a teacher, shaping the minds
of future John Hancocks, but all I
ever got was a scolding about respect
and an ear-pulling back to my desk.
Somehow, inexplicably, this is all coming together. I spent about 7 hours tonight tucking the house in and packing my life away. And when I say “packing my life away,” I ain’t lying. I think I’m taking twice as much stuff to Skidmore as I took when I matriculated to Ball State. I’ve got 85% of it packed, but I have yet to pack the car. I’m a bit worried. It’s going to be a tight fit all around. There is some comfort in knowing that I will be bringing less back with me. Still, having my life packed away is an unusual feeling. The action lies in contrast to the time I’ve spent over the last 5 years burrowing my roots through the nothern Illinois soil–the standard things like solidifying my position at school, holding down my mortgage, frugally managing my other debts, maintaining my possessions. And here I’m trying to take it all east for a month and still live comfortably. Maybe I’m over-packed. Maybe I can live with a lot less. Do I really need the ice cube trays? Can I get by with just one set of dress clothes? Will I use my cooler, or my folding chairs? I’ll soon find out.
The drive to Skidmore on Sunday will be daunting. It’s going to cover about a quarter of the country; I’ll be lucky to do it in 12-13 hours. I’m challenging myself, too… I like to find limits. Both mine and those of my 2002 Saturn. I’ve got the old girl tuned up as best as possible, though, and am steeling myself for the trek. I have experience on my side, too. I made a montrous trek in the summer of 2003, driving solo from Denver to Chicago. It took me a good 16 hours. To this day, there will be times when I look at the map on the wall of my classroom and get lost in the memories of the drive and how far it was.
My primary tool for the trip, of course, will be the radio. I’ve got an audio book lined up: World War Z by Max Brooks. Some zombie action will no doubt serve my well. I’ve also dug through my CD collection and picked some long-running albums, ones that could use a good running through from beginning to end. Amongst them are Bob Dylan’s Biograph, The Who’s Tommy and Quadrophenia, Neil Young’s Decade, and every copy of his basement recordings that Bo Ledman has ever given me over the last 5-6 years. If those aren’t enough to cover me at least for the trip there, then I don’t know what I’m going to do.
Between now and Sunday, though, I’ll be relaxing at my Dad’s house in Angola, IN. I’ll celebrate my 41st birthday on Friday, hopefully see some friends and enjoy the lake, and rest for the drive on Sunday.
I’m still pretty damn nervous about this whole thing.
I’m leaving for Skidmore College in a week. My trip will take me to Saratoga Springs, which is in mid-upstate New York, not far off the Vermont border. I’ll be there all of July, participating in the New York Summer Writers Institute. I applied last winter to the Advanced Fiction workshop and was accepted. I was pleased to be accepted in an area where have been working my butt off on developing my skills for the last year and a half. It looks like the work has paid some dividends. I’m looking forward to the workshops helping me move further along.
Several friends have expressed how awesome it will be to be back on a college campus–especially for an entire month. No doubt I’m looking forward to it. As I intimated to a friend Monday evening: There are certain people who seem born to be on college campuses. I would include myself amongst them, having always felt comfortable in academia. Campuses are bright, vibrant settings loaded with possibilities, revolution, optimism, parties, insane drink specials at local bars… heck, I can’t even list it all. I’m excited, but also nervous. It’s not like when I showed up to Ball State on August 27, 1988. It takes a lot more doing when you’re an adult. Being away from home for five weeks can be quite staggering if only because of everything you need to do before you leave. Who’s going to take care of the cat? Gotta call the cable company. Suspend the gym membership. Who can I get to water the plants? Why the hell is it so hard to get my mail forwarded? What if I need to see the chiropractor? All the loose ends are enough to roll into a big ball of stress–and this is without getting into the metric ton of shit I need to take with me to live a normal life for five weeks (like the damn Brita filter and pitcher!).
The institute seems to have a solid reputation. This is the 25th year, and I’m certain that if it wasn’t reputable that it wouldn’t have lasted so long. Plus, I read some positive reviews online. I’m not so worried about that. Aside from the lineup of instructors, the list of guest speakers and readers is pretty staggering (they have been sure to mention that all told, Pulitzer Prize winners and National Book Award winners have been among the crowd… as if they need to do more to promote the situation). They have somebody coming in every night of the week. I also like the idea that they’re running concurrent workshops with fiction, poety and creative nonfiction. Good writing makes use of all genres, so it will be good to have all those other vibes rolling. In brief, I should not be short of colleagues well-steeped in all aspects of literature. I suppose now would be as good a time as any to finally figure out who my instructors will be, along with familiarizing myself with their work.
So, this will be next major serial on The Seeker. Stay tuned– I’ll be checking in throughout July with updates from Skidmore, plus I’ll throw in a few more things along the way. Lord knows I’ll be doing plenty of writing.
The Chicago Cubs are mourning the death of batboy Vlad Dragomir after what team officials are calling a bizarre accident. Dragomir, a Hungarian vampire who could trace his heritage to the fifteenth century, was executing his regular duties after the fifth inning last Tuesday night when tragedy struck.
Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro spoke to reporters about the incident. “I splintered my bat when I fouled out to end the inning, and the barrel flew out around third base,” the second-year player recalled as he choked back tears. “Vlad ran out there and grabbed it, and that’s when it happened.”
Instant replay showed that Dragomir was holding the chunk of bat with the broken end pointing up as he ran back to the dugout. Cubs manager Mike Quade spoke after Castro was overcome by emotion, explaining, “It seems that Vlad tripped on the turf seam at the edge of the dirt. When he fell, the jagged tip from Starlin’s bat pierced his heart.”
Some fans watched in horror as the body of the undead bat boy laid motionless in the dirt for several seconds before quickly dissolving into dust. Other fans were unaware of the incident. Season ticket holder Frank Simpson of Melrose Park commented, “I went to get an Old Style, and when I got back all I saw was the grounds crew dragging the infield. And there was a streak of gray dirt around third base until they made their second pass.”
The Cubs marketing department has already cancelled a Twilight promotion designed to boost interest in the club among girls ages 12-18. Dragomir was slated to throw out the first pitch and sing the seventh inning stretch as part of the activities.
Some Cubs players have collected money to help the Dragomir family cover any unexpected end-of-life expenses, though support around the clubhouse has been sparse. When asked if he would make a contribution, center fielder Reed Johnson was uncertain, explaining that he didn’t know Dragomir too well since the bat boy only worked the night games.
Despite this week’s two-game dip to the lowly Mets, there’s are a lot of reasons to love being a Brewer fan right about now. The team bounced back from a 7-game skid to claim the wildcard spot, they’ve had recent success on the road (including 4 straight wins at Florida), and everybody is healthy. This has translated to wins, wins, and more wins. Starting yesterday, The Crew had the best record in all of baseball over the previous six weeks. They’ve been fun to watch.
That’s all good, but it’s also all on the surface. I have reason to be even happier when I look deeper, and I can point to two specific games. One was two weeks ago when I made the trip to Miller Park to watch the Saturday game against the Giants. Not only did I see an inside-the-park home run (only the second one I’ve ever seen live), but I got to watch the boys grind out a win against the defending world champions. It was beautiful baseball all around; everything a fan loves to see, all the way down to the final play of the game. With the bases loaded, one out, and the game tied 2-2 in the bottom of the ninth, the Brewers executed a letter-perfect suicide squeeze bunt to seal the victory. It’s something few managers ever attempt, and got me to thinking of the managers who would give it a shot. The first that came to mind was Tony LaRussa, who is renowned for his ability to manufacture runs and will probably use a suicide squeeze 3-4 times this season. But it’s also something that Mike Scioscia would use the same number of times, and even (I hate to say this) Ozzie Guillen. What those three managers all have in common is that they’ve won the World Series, and they’ve done it in classic style: get runners on base and move them over. Heck, it even got me to thinking about my old favorite Earl Weaver and what he said about playing for one run: Don’t do it unless that one run is guaranteed to win the game. Crew chief Ron Roenicke is a branch off of the Scioscia coaching tree, so he’s pretty skilled in such tactics. Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon is another branch from the Scoscia tree and has been successful. If the Brewers coach can be mentioned and compared to so many other successful coaches, that is good reason to believe that he’s the right guy to be filling out the lineup card.
But that’s not it. Roenicke pulled a move last Sunday against Florida that may keep me in his camp for quite some time. It was almost exactly the same as the Giants game but that it was in Florida in the bottom of the ninth with the game tied and bases loaded. Roenicke pulled Ryan Braun in from left field to act as a fifth infielder. The pitcher forced a grounder to third that Craig Counsell was able to get to quickly courtesy of the position of Braun and the regular shortstop. Counsell gunned down the lead runner at home. The next guy flied out, and the Brewers got out of the inning. They went on to win 6-5 in 11 innings. I’ve never seen a manager try such a maneuver, though it’s not the first time Roenicke has done it this year. He would have looked like an idiot had the ruse failed, but he’s looking pretty smart right now instead.
It’s these little things like the suicide squeeze and the fifth infielder that win games. The later in the season, the more important the games become in the pennant race. The Brewers are in the thick of things right now, and they need someone who can micromanage tough situations in important games. I feel good about who they have.