Archive for July 2012
What has really perked up my ears with this drought is how people hearken back to 1988, saying what we have just gone through was worse than ’88–it is, in fact, the worst we’ve ever had. But ’88 is still very vivid in my mind. I was working in Hell on Earth (which I quantified as K-Mart) and trying to mow lawns. I was thirsty to head off to college, but it felt like I had to walk through a crucible to get there, and the deeper I descended into that crucible the further away college seemed to move, to the point where I wondered if I would ever get there. But what did I know? I was 18, and when you’re 18, everything feels ten times worse than it is, and you’re reaction is ten times more overblown than it needs to be. ’88 was bad, though, and I’ve written about it before:
Starting in June, there is a drought that only makes things worse. By the middle of the summer, there is a ban on fireworks, the nightly news runs footage of shipping problems on the Mississippi because of the low water levels, and the idea of siestas begins to appeal to everybody. I’m mowing very few lawns… When I do mow, the machine chokes out huge amounts of dust and dirt. The ongoing heat makes it hard to sleep at night. I plod home from work and try to tire myself out by staying up late, but my sheets are hot and clingy, preventing all but a few hours of rest. I wake up sweaty, then plod back to K-land heavy-lidded and grouchy. The shifts drag by. Those not working at K-Mart combat the weather by buying any sort of water toy or device to tote to one of the hundred-and-one area lakes as they spend the day relieving themselves of the heat. The store makes tons of money selling sunscreen, ice, coolers, water toys, and beach towels. Each purchase taunts me with thoughts of what I could be doing instead…
… (my immediate supervisor) willingly leases me out to do the crappiest jobs in the store–like working up in the attic in the stifling heat to bring down shelving units, or unloading boxes from trailers that bake in the sun all day long behind the store. Everything I touch in every job I do radiates heat and exacerbates the effects of the drought.
As I was digging for that excerpt (which has appeared here previously), I remembered a poem I wrote years ago that is a thematic tie-in to all this. I dug through some of my old journals and found rough drafts of it way back in 2005. I remember now that I had just learned how to write in iambic pentameter and was trying my hand at it in most every way I could. That’s not an excuse for a crappy poem, it’s just to say that here’s a poem from way back when I started writing poetry. And it’s pretty crappy!
It stops breezes dead on thick summer nights.
Its moisture douses flickering torch lights.
It rubs out firefly butts in an ashtray,
and grounds mosquito engines until day.
It makes sneaky kisses from furtive men
slip off patches of tan feminine skin,
and lets fish escape jails of ponds or streams
to swim through the air, fulfilling their dreams.
There was no air conditioning in the house in which I grew up. We weren’t poor; it was just that no plans were ever made for AC when the house was built by the previous owner. The house has been standing for around 50 years now, and still no AC. I don’t remember it being much of an issue when I was younger. It got hot plenty of times in the summer, which is no surprise in the Midwest or in northeast Indiana, but we dealt with it. I don’t recall anybody ever pining for cool streams of air to be push through the ductwork of the house (ductwork that would have to have been installed, mind you). We never bought window units. We had a few fans, a lot of open windows, and shade trees on the west side of the house. This is not to say that we were tougher back in the day, or that we suffered silently, it’s just to say that not having air conditioning was a fact of life.
I didn’t have the luxury of air conditioning until I was 28 years old and moved into my third apartment. Granted, it was in Indianapolis, and once you get down to central Indiana and further south, AC goes from being a luxury to a necessity. I grew up 3 hours north of there, though, and the days we really needed AC we so few that they didn’t justify the cost of getting it. Since that time, my brother and I have posited that if you grew up without AC, you can live without AC. I’ve reconsidered that notion now that the worse drought I’ve experienced is coming to an end. Unfortunately, necessitated continual, days-long use of the air conditioning in my condominium.
I say with a cautious note of optimism that the beastly heat and brown dryess is coming to an end. We’ve had rain for three consecutive days, and that has been enough to soften the pessimism of even the most hard-bitten among us who say the drought won’t end any time soon. But it’s not the drought that bothers me so much as it is the brutal heat. I’ve had the AC on more days this summer than I think I have the last 4 or 5 summers combined, and it omnipresence has had a significant effect on me. I grew up with the open air, and feel that I’m cheating myself of the nice weather and summer disposition if I keep my AC on and the windows closed. I keep the balcony door open almost 24/7, and want to be able to pass freely back and forth at all times. Plus, Miss Kitty loves being out there to hunt bugs, sleep on the furniture, and enjoy the shade.
When it comes to having the AC on for more than a day, I get edgy. I feel too cooped up. I get cranky. I curse the circumstances that seem to make extreme weather the norm. It’s the usual list of suspects: pollution, pollution, pollution. And we combat that by using more energy, wasting more resources, and doing whatever we need in order to get more, more, more cool air and comfort. These contemplations are enough to wreck my usual cool summertime vibe. What’s worse is when I look around and see people continually sealed up in their houses and condos even when it’s a mere 80-85 . My mind gets to reeling about how we shut ourselves off from all the damning consequences of our reliance upon artificial energy by shutting ourselves off and using even more artificial energy. You don’t see your neighbors, people don’t interact, and instead of acclimating ourselves to fluctuating conditions, we try to normalize the situation. To me, it’s something that is much deeper than fighting the weather. It feels like a societal issue that is merely painted on this canvas; our actions are symbolic of what is actually going on with isolation, normalization, and misuse of resources as a society.
As promised yesterday, here’s the second poem that appears in this year’s New Scriptor.
Kim’s Chair by Jeff Burd
There’s a chair up in a tree
in back of the house Kim rents,
back where ther brambles shred flannel and denim
or twist ankles.
It’s a sturdy, metal-framed chair
with a crumbling foam pad fixed to the seat.
It could provide at least some comfort from the aggravations of a day–
but that it’s dangling from a branch fifteen feet up.
Damned if I know how it got there, Kim tells me.
It’s not something you expect.
But neither was the diagnosis of Porphyria at seventeen.
Nor nearly flat-lining delivering her third child.
Nor the .380 in her nightstand as insurance against her ex-husband.
Nor the latest: Lupus.
Damned if I know how it got there, she repeats, standing at her patio doors,
against the bleached December landscape.
Her brow wrinkles.
It is what it is.
You get used to it.
p.s. damn you WordPress for not being friendlier for poem formats! Every time I publish a poem here, I have to sacrifice stanza breaks…
This year’s issue of New Scriptor arrived in the mail two weeks ago. I’ve had the good fortune to be published by them again, and the good fortune to again be included with my main man Herb. If you’ve been following The Seeker for a while, you’ll know that New Scriptor has become a part of my annual writing habits. They’ve become a good way to get some recognition and to support the community of writers among Illinois educators.
Here’s one of my poems they published. The other will follow tomorrow.
The New Generation by Jeff Burd
A kitten came to my father’s patio a few
years ago, one of those supremely lithe,
devastatingly handsome bobcat look-
alikes. His instant celebrity entitled him
to tear around the house making
demands about food and attention. Now
he stays out until all hours without so
much as a phone call. He leaves his kills
on the kitchen floor. He’s allowed his
full complement of switchblades, too,
despite the shredded furniture and
is a yellow-crested hummingbird
perched on the feeder in the backyard
every morning. He buzzes his wings and
bobs tenaciously, shaking the entire
contraption until he gets his tumbler of
nectar. Dad never scolds him for lack of
“please” or “thank you” and never
expects a prayer before the meal.
When he’s done, the pudgy fellow flits
off without cleaning up after himself or
asking to be excused.
I ask dad about these unexpected
creatures, and he says they are his new
generation. I don’t ask him why he has
returned to active duty, but am terribly
curious about this unexpected laizze-
faire parenting style. He says now he
understands the rules of engagement,
that children are wild across species–
the most he can do is be there for them
along the way and
let happen whatever will happen.
The All-Star break is as good a time as any to think about what’s been happening in baseball, and I’ve been wanting to write about baseball for a while but haven’t had an angle that has truly sparked my motivation. But here we are at the half-way post and things could be a lot worse, but I have a sinking feeling.
For starters, there’s nothing that can be done about the Cubs. They’ve been a lost cause since about the end of April, and will be lucky to not finish at the bottom of the National League. I can’t remember the last time I turned a Cubs game on TV, despite my love of Bob Brenly and his insights and humor. I made it down to Wrigley two weeks ago, though, and enjoyed watching them beat the Astros even though it was more like watching two mediocre AAA teams. Still, they seem to be working in the right direction. I’m not trying to crack a joke when I say that- honest! Maybe I need to make a greater effort to generate original content rather than spit out the conditioned line that every Cubs fan has been spitting out since 1945 like we’re a bunch of extras on the set of The Manchurian Candidate.
Besides, why should I watch the Cubs when I can watch the Brewers? Leave it to me to let my Blind Cubsoptimism wander north to a team that is 5 games below .500 and in a holding pattern. Leave it to me to profess here in front of God and everybody that a 40-45 team is playing good baseball that is worth watching. It’s true. Not only that, but you get to see the Brewers farm system every time to tune in because the team is sooooooo depleted with injuries that they have no choice but to bring in the underdeveloped minor leaguers and throw them right into battle. And what has happened with so many greenbloods in the dugout? The Brewers have played some scrappy baseball. They’ve learned to scrabble out wins by manufacturing runs and playing gritty ball. The other side of that, though, is they also find ways to lose games. How can I say this is good? Simple: They haven’t gotten any worse over the last two months. They have an excellent coach who has them two steps away from playoff contention. That’s more than I can ask for.
So things aren’t exactly looking the best for my NL teams. But there’s a whole other league that I don’t often pay much attention to… until I have to. I’ve been keeping close tabs on the Tigers all year, despite it seeming that they lose each time I tune in (I hate when whiners say that… but for a while, I swear it was true). They finished the first half in a flurry, thankfully, and have pulled themselves to two games over .500 and 1.5 games out of the wildcard. But they’re not out of the woods, or even close. It’s frustrating to watch them because their defense looks like Swiss cheese. I’m still holding out hope, though, that they’ll get it all together and win their division. They’re a good team to watch in the playoffs because they are managed so well, and I hope by October I’m doing just that. The only thing that could be better would be seeing the Orioles in the playoffs for the first time since 1997. They got a fast start to the season and made me proud to wear my Orioles t-shirt (which I’m actually wearing right now).
It’s all academic, though. There’s a lot of baseball left to play, and plenty of things can and will still happen. I might be ridiculous to think the Orioles can hold steady the rest of the season, but right now they’re my best hope. It seems strange to say that. They’ve been my #1 team since 1979, but I don’t give them the dedication I give the Brewers. Heck, I don’t even give them the cold consideration I give the Cubs. Maybe because I’ve been burned three too many times by them. I blame the owner.
I just finished the first week of a two-week summer writing workshop at Northeastern Illinois University. We have spent a lot of time talking about constraints we would for whatever reason put on our writing, and experimenting with different constraints. It seemed to me at first that constraints would be counter-productive– why would you limit yourself? Isn’t keeping the faucet wide open the best way to let your writing emerge? But constraints are common, and writers automatically put one on themselves from the moment they start writing: From what point of view will I tell this story? Other constraints emerge along the way, such as how much of this scene am I going to show? what is the setting of the story (which, as it turns out, is a massive constraint)? If you submit a lot of writing to journals, they usually put a constraint on you in terms of how much of your writing they’ll accept.
It didn’t take me too long to understand that many times it is the constraint that acts as the agitant in the oyster’s membrane.
One of our homework options a few nights ago involved what is a significant constraint for a prose writer. It was to write a story using 69 words EXACTLY. I’ve seen writing prompts like this before, and I know of many writing contests that have challenged writers in a similar way, but I never tried it. I set myself to the task, and spent about two hours cranking out ten drafts of my story. I had it down to 88 words by the third draft, which helped quite a bit. About halfway through the exercise, I felt a wave of gratitude crash over me for having practiced so much poetry writing over the last seven years. As I edited and rewrote, and edited and rewrote, and edited and rewrote (for chrissakes, it was only 69 words… it’s a fast rewrite!), it felt a lot like I was writing a poem. I tried to focus on a few symbols and have them bat cleanup, all while setting up for a substantive punchline. I’m not sure how well I accomplished all of that, but here’s what I came up with: