Wall Walk

    After our tour of the Roman elements of York was canceled this afternoon, John and I decided to take a walk along the walls anyways. Here are two Polaroid shots in the setting dark (click to enlarge).

    | left: it's dark. why is there a Ferris wheel there?
    | right: nearly-candid camera

    Journaling on Journaling

    I had hoped to at least keep a more regular and in-depth journal during my time in England, and perhaps even do some online documentation, as well. The fact that journaling is one of the primary assignments in my class with Jamie is conducive to this goal of mine. However, strange internet connections and the lack of both digital film resources and any prowess with analogue film will unfortunately constrain at least the visual elements of my chronicles. Such considerations remind me of a project I have thought about in the past, which would be to see how completely I could document a day of my life with a mixture of hi-tech and re-appropriated methods and sources. For example, I could photograph or videotape portions of my day, but to go beyond that sort of "reality-TV" shtick, I could include signatures of people I interact with, recipes of the food I ate, or records of my dreams (with attempted interpretations, of course!). Well, as could be guessed, such a project has yet to come to fruition, and with my limited resources here in York, it's not likely to commence any time soon.

    Bleh. I can see why such forms as travel memoirs take so much work. They require drawing on a unique blend of journalistic skills, habits, and perceptions as well as a basic ability to think and write well. My understanding of more traditional journaling is that it can help to sort through the everyday and commonplace experiences in order to get at the bigger, underlying issues of life--hence it's valuable as a tool for the work of memory and consiousness's work of processing and retaining the lives we live. But, it's difficult enough to do that sort of "ordinary" diary-work well. In a very new and undiscovered environment, the quantity and variety of mere details stack up and seem to get in the way of any sort of worthwhile reflection. Everything from the color of the walls to the history of the dirt is new, new, new, and by the time you list and remark on each of these quirks, it's too late to cover anything else. Really, this paragraph here is about as close as I've come thus far to actually thinking about what it means to be here. Thankfully, there should be plenty more time for such worthwhile reflection, maybe after more than three days are past and I've actually had time to have experiences and live here. And with that thought, I've suddenly become convinced that I should go walk around the city center--perhaps along the River Ouse?


    About A Weekend

    It's been a little more than a weekend that I've been here. My high ambitions for exploration on Saturday didn't quite work out, as I slept until about two in the afternoon, clocking in at over 16 hours of sleep--a new, personal record. I spent the rest of the day by myself in the city center, getting lost, un-lost, and re-lost--it was wonderful. I wish I could've had someone along with me to walk along the city walls and look out over the greenest yards and gardens I've ever seen. That night, I went to use some of my weekend stipend on reasonably-priced but quite good Indian food and also went to the pub in the Student Union for a while with some people from my building.

    Sunday was our trip with the other international students to the seaside towns of Whitby and Scarborough. To get there, we took a shuttle across the Yorkshire Moors, which were covered in heather and sheep. It's nice to see agriculture and livestock incorporated somewhat into the culture here, even in terms of physical space, compared to the monstrous but phantom-intangible industries of the States. Contrary to the cynical opinions of people in the dorms, Whitby (think Bram Stoker and Dracula) was gorgeous. The city spreads from where the Esk River feeds into the North Sea up the steep walls of the river valley. We started with a quick walk-through/around of the ancient Whitby Abbey, which overlooks the city from the East Cliff. After traveling down the 199 steps from the abbey, John and I scooted around town a bit before eating at a place called Gatsby's. Due to our location on the seaside, we felt it necessary to attempt an order of fish and chips, which were remarkably better than my past experiences with the two, but still not exactly what I want out of life. We went on on the beach during low tide and walked out on the pier (where I unfortunately ruined my first role of film) before heading reconvening with our group and heading down the coast to Scarborough. Scarborough was similarly scenic, but less charming and more trash (think casinos and inflatable carnival attractions), so we just ate some apple pie and walked around a bit, searching for bathrooms and something more interesting to look at than billboards.

    | left: Gatsby's Cafe and Restaurant--the fish and chips were fresh but greasy, and the tea was even greater
    | right: me reading a bit of Bram Stoker's "Dracula" (set partially in Whitby) on a path we found behind some houses on the hill

    Somehow, the past two days alone have felt like a month's worth of details and miniature experiences, but it was nice today to get introduced to two our two classes with Prof. Smith. It will be nice to study here, I think. Being around so much culture somehow encourages me to get into the books, and although there's so much to do and see, the newness seems just solitary enough to have lots of personal/study time. For example, this afternoon, after returning from the market with school supplies, a potted hyacinth, and some candles, I've holed up here in my room reading and writing--two things that often got squeezed out of life back home but are the sorts of things I think I most need in order to live my life well.


    Suddenly, It's Spring

    Great Peter, the bell in the towers of York Minster that rings out the hours, just finished signaling the seven o'clock hour, or 19:00. Looking out my window across the dormitory courtyard, I see the giant face of the Minster illuminated against the night sky. It is unusually (or so I hear) windy this evening, but other than that I would consider it most mild, warm even. This afternoon, at least, was wonderfully blue and sunny, especially compared to the recent grew snows of Grand Rapids. I can only imagine what wonderful effects this could have on the mid-winter blues which were just beginning to set in back home.

    After a handful of delays with planes, shuttles, etc. (like accidentally having an extra 2000 pounds of fuel loaded into our plane to Chicago?), we made it to York Saint John just after noon. We half unpacked and set up shop in our rooms and got a bit to eat from the cafeteria before a rather chaotic campus tour and class registration process--at least, it seemed chaotic after not sleeping much for a few days. By the end of it all, I felt more disoriented than the other way around, but I suppose that's all right because I figured out which classes I am going to take and learned the whereabouts of the coffee shop as well as the on-campus pub.

    Jamie gave us a whirlwind tour of downtown York before dinner, and so we got to see them tearing down the markets while the sun cast a golden haze on to York Minster's west towers. The downtown is unimaginably (at least for someone from the midwest of the United States) beautiful and full of life. The heart of the city is surrounded by walls built, I believe around the time of Constantine, and so entrance can only be gained through the city gates (called "bars"), for example Monk's Bar or Bootham Bar. Cars and motor traffic are kept to a minimum, except at night for deliveries or tearing down market stalls--otherwise, it is just pedestrians and bicycles to explore the shops, theaters, restaurants, galleries, pubs, cafes, historic sites, churches, and ancient alleyways. The only familiar sign or slogan I saw was Pizza Hut. What a relief.

    Dinner in the dining hall was greasy but not half bad: vegetable samosas with mango chutney, bread pudding, and local milk (although, mango chutney and custard don't mix too well in a sleep-deprived belly). Afterwards, John, Bryan, and I walked to Sainsbury's (the equivalent of D&W or Family Fare)j and a few other stores to pick up some necessary supplies. Things at these chain stores, at least, seemed an odd mixture of incredibly affordable (40 pence for a big jug of soap) and more expensive (5 pound for batteries). At any rate, it seems more manageable, at least in my circumstances, to survive on a budget than I had imagined.

    I do hate to generalize, even on the positive side, but the people I've encountered have been especially friendly. Students in the building I'm living in acknowledge me and the rest of the group, even going out of their way to to say hello. Even strangers on the sidewalk asked us if we needed help. Now, that could just be because we stick out like sore thumbs (which I definitely feel), but even then I think it speaks well of the people I've been around so far.

    Tomorrow, I think we'll have to take care of some more practical things, but after that, the day will most likely consist of a trip back down to the river, getting a public library card, and a trip to the free city art museum. But, those sorts of grand activities require sleep, which I haven't had much of...

    | photo: a view of my bed, window, and desk from the sink
    | video: no sleep!


    Dear Jay?

    More than a year ago, I purchased a copy of James Joyce's "Ulysses" from a local antique shop. The edition I found was published in 1946 by Random House's "The Modern Library" series, and while holding it in my hands that day, I decided that it was the version of "Ulysses" that I wanted to someday read. When the book showed up on the syllabus for my British Literature class this past fall, I was excited to put my esteemed copy to use. Apart from the actual pleasure or reading the assigned book was an old letter I discovered about midway through the text (somewhere near the "Calypso" episode), from Sue to someone named Jay, or perhaps the more mid-19th-century name Gay. After consulting a handful of friends, it was decided that the owner of the book must be in fact Sue, who authored the letter to J/Gay but neglected to send it, for whatever reasons, nesting it instead inside the unfinished edition of Joyce's novel.

    As for dating the letter, I have tracked down the most accessible external reference, that being Sue's mention of the movie "Carousel" (although she misspells the word), which, according to the International Movie Database, was Rodgers and Hammerstein's romantic musical starring Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones, among others. Released on February 16, 1956, "Carousel" was nominated for awards by the Writer's Guild of America and the Director's Guild of America. At any rate, this puts the date of the letter's authorship at roughly late winter or early spring in 1956, when the desegregation of schools was still a hot issue and when Elvis Presley and Marylin Monroe had just begun making waves.

    The only other external reference I could pin down was Sue's reference to "Ole Denison," which I take as a reference to Denison University in Granville, OH, just a short drive from where I grew up. Denison University still has a Tri Delta sorority (as Sue mentions in the letter), but I couldn't find any online records capable of leading me to the identity of Sue, J/Gay, and her friends. Ironically, the only Google search item that directly corresponded was an antique postcard of the Tri-Delta sorority house at Denison University, dated from a decade before the letter I have.

    I've included the text of the letter below, having rendered it as closely as possible to the original, which includes the misspellings and the Emily-Dickinson-like use of hyphens as all-'round punctuation marks. There are in fact many quirks in the letter (a handful of which I've noted), and it is interesting to see the ways in which I am forced to approach the letter as an artifact from a time and a place--even a culture and a lifestyle--much different than my own.


    (page 1)

    Dear Jay,

    I can't find any other paper so
    you'll have to put up with this--

    The place doesn't look any
    different- except Skippy who has
    been clipped- he looks like a
    little lion- his tail is -> * I
    think he's a little embarassed
    about it all.

    (My?) passed everything so he'll
    graduate but Donny's not doing
    so well--He's a nervous wreck--

    I was wondering if you'd do
    me a favor--get the $20 check
    from Sandy Yates--go to bank
    & cash it--forget it--then go to
    Ileen Dunkin's & buy one of those
    little seed dolls that are under
    glass & and have them send it air
    mail or something--It's for
    Mom for Mothers' Day.

    Also would you send me
    the Student directory with the
    tri delt grades. I put them in
    there next to the girls names

    (page 2)

    I talked to Judy- She said Occi
    wasn't home yet- She also
    gave me some words of
    advice--"If I play my cards
    coolly I can have Occi for
    the summer!" Isn't that
    sweet of her--Well I'm not
    going to play my cards
    coolly and If Occi wants to
    take me out--O.K.--if not
    their are plenty of other
    fish around here.

    How's everyone-there- say
    "Hi" for me.

    I don't know when we're
    moving to the beach- Any
    chance that you can come
    down before you start work-
    It's kind of cold around here
    but it would still be fun-
    I wish you'd go back to Ole
    Denison next year. Did you
    ever find out who mystery-
    man was- the one that
    came to visit you- or was
    it the same one who called.

    (page 3)

    Went to the movies last night
    with (My?) and Duck boy- we
    sat around eating crackers
    and "trinken" beer. Tell
    Dick Huffman- we saw "Carosel"
    It was great- the boys laughed

    Bud gets home today so
    Judy is jumping around- Oh

    Well had**- Write and have a

    If you want you can also
    have them send that beach
    towel- out of the $20.

    See Ya Soon-

    * helpful illustration of Skippy's hairdo:

    ** this could be the word "had," but the capitalization makes me wonder if it's something like "Hap"--perhaps a nickname?


    Poetry Manifesto

    For my "Creative Writing: Poetry" class last semester, we were implored to write a "manifesto" of sorts, elucidating our take on some fundamental elements of the craft of poetry--meter, rhyme, diction, and so on--as well as a big-picture analysis of what poetry is or should be, what it should do, how it relates to other arts, how it relates to life. I felt a lot of tension in preparing for this assignment, as our class spent a large part of the semester pressing against conventional and personal boundaries of what poetry was allowed to be. We looked at poems by E.E. Cummings, prose poems, and digitally-animated poems on the internet. We looked at the word paintings of Joan Miro, and we even listened to sound collages by John Cage. In every instance, we were supposed to deal with the question, "Is this poetry?"

    I enjoyed tracking this expansion of what is legit poetry, and I was grateful for the passion my professor (L.S. Klatt) had for refreshing the shape and content of poetry and for trying to re-engage it with its brother and sisters in other forms of art/science/life. However, when it came time to lay out my opinions on the subject, to mark out some boundaries and definitions, I felt immobilized. The best I could do, at the time, was to let loose with a somewhat obscure philippic as a form of catharsis. After turning in my purgation to Klatt, the real world of grades and potential failure set in, and I found myself nervous about how the thing would be received. Thankfully, although I "failed to engage the terms of the assignment" and "did something completely different, to the extent that it it couldn't be graded," my gracious and understanding professor understood that what I did was worthwhile and valuable for myself. Therefore, he simply pretended it wasn't on the syllabus and didn't factor his non-grade into my final shakedown. At any rate, here is my poetic abreaction:


    Something Scrawled on Napkins in the Attic, Overheard in a Dream

    "The emotion of art is impersonal."

    - T.S. Eliot, “Tradition and the Individual Talent”

    "lenses extend unwish through curving wherewhen until unwish returns on its unself."

    - E.E. Cummings, “pity this busy monster,manunkind,”

    § 1: That if one wants once to be undone, then tons of dust and rubble must from everything of It become (and us’s It, as well)


    Words are crunchy. Words are oozing. Words are kaleidoscopes and chisels. Swiss Army words. Words deal quite a blow. They are, in fact, a gamble. Or, words are upside-down, sometimes. Have you ever had the inside outside? Words have. Or at least, they did once. It’s words when you remember everything, 1 2 3. First comes the picture, then comes the feelings, then comes the phrases in the baby carriage. Words up the ante. At Christmas, or on other special occasions, words make sense. Words are all in, all the time. Words taste good over a warm meal. Reports indicate that they may even contribute to factors which are responsible for low cholesterol and a healthy heart. What wonderful little engines! Words come out to play at night, when the neighbor kids are fast asleep. Sometimes they shoot hoops, and you hear the drumslap of the ball hitting asphalt while you sleep. Slam dunk! Two plus two equals words. Two times two equals words, too. Words break open the ground on their way towards sunlight. They just keep coming. Do you see where they end? Beans and leaves bud on their tips, and their wide stem reaches up, up, and we see giants climbing down, down, word by word by word.

    When you go to visit your grandmother, that’s not words. It’s not words if and only if it’s indeed you. What’s you? Not words, that’s for sure. Kissing’s not words, neither. Nor washing dishes. Nope. You are making a quiche with the tomatoes from your garden when you realize there’s a camera outside your window and Martha Steward is beating the eggs. Not words. Nada. Words are not this stale-potato-chip culture. No-sir-ee. Words don’t make cents. Just sentences. Personally, I’ve never had a halo, only visions of paystubs and diplomas. But, words are not quite enrolled in college. And paystubs are just numbers, that’s all. Words have been received with little critical acclaim. They were not nominated for any awards, this year or last. Words are forgotten, or can be. Words have been banned as playground equipment--too many sharp edges. For now, words shiver through the night on a bench in Central Park, wrapped up in newspapers without headlines or captions, only images. The police find words and beat them out of the park, out of the city limits, banned for good, like graffiti in a dark alley or a tattoo on the small of Lady Liberty’s back. Goodbye, words. Goodbye for now. Please speak well of us to whatever lies beyond.


    Oh, but what about the paper? Where is the inkwell? I would recommend a few things: 1) artifacts, 2) artefacts, 3) art, 4) facts, or forget 1-4 and just come inside to drink some cocoa with me by the fire. I have a friend, actually several, that do certain things better than I do. One draws pictures, often utilizing the circle. Another calculates the phases of a chemical shift (on four sheets of paper, stapled one to the other). Some strange denizens downtown attach objects onto walls. They call this “art.” My grandfather makes the walls to which these objects are attached. But as for me and my house, we are bound lock-stock-barrel to: Hallmark Publishing House in 3 easy steps; Walmart University; or, if you’re lucky, you go to bed in a slim volume beneath a dictionary on the 5th floor of an empty library. I invited my friends to come along for a poem, but they objected to my use of the term on the grounds that its utilization marked a cognitive instability on my part and that it would be in the best interests of all concerned if I were committed to a mental institution at once. Well, shucks. From now on, anything goes.

    And everything goes with it.

    § 2: That a lantern lights a small, warm cabin and the cave Itself is dark, dark, dark

    A Partial, Indirect, and Admittedly Biased Summary of the Issue

    Ronald McHegel runs for President of something or other. You drop your great aunt’s glass vase. Ronald McHegel trips and falls. Our poems come to us on a box of Wheaties. Or on the milk carton: Missing Child. What nonsense. Even worse? Yes. In fact, there is a heavy, dusted book in storage in the basement at the museum in a ghost town on the edge of nowhere in a black hole--as of now, the final resting place for all our poems--from hereon referred to by the prosecution as “It”.

    It is a pair of moldy socks disguised as a university setting. It is a hot dog in a tuxedo. It is an festering zit under your sister’s... It has issued an array of designations, jurisdictions, blueprints, modules, collections, modifications and edits, implications, resolutions, citations, documentations, complications, and so on and so forth. Lots of words from Greek or Latin, I think. Who knows how things got to be this way? This bad! Yes, you in the front. Speak up, please, this is no cubbyhole we’re suffocating in.

    So you would say that the issue is not a new one? Oh, you would rather learn how to bind books yourself, and make one for your dead dog, than release a hit series of novels that reaches high tide on the New York Times Bestseller List? You’d rather eat a brick than here your publisher call you by name through a levitating Bluetooth device? You’d rather burn your manuscripts in the fireplace, taking turns with your best friend, than wire yourself into the intertwining infrastructure of post-industrial wordsmithing? You would rather receive feedback from your little brother than T.S. Eliot, or even a Writer’s Guild, certified non-profit as described in Section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986?

    Calms, Balms, Alms...

    Swish-swish my friend, and listen-listen.


    We are leaving this damp, dripping hell-cavern and there’s nothing It can do about it but join the parade. Supplies have been gathered from the furthest recesses of the dark, the lonely, and the blind. We may have to do without technology for a while, but typewriters are not so hard to come by. Neither are our voices and handshakes, small but shiny, glowing even, like the esteemed and mysterious Lingulodinium polyedrum. We’ve hands and voices together, you and I. We’ve them! Our itinerary is carved in the soles of our shoes, a tattered atlas. When we hold them all together, we decipher the way. We find the way out of It. As I was saying, It is a dragon

    turd. Will it join the parade? This party is not by invitation only.

    So forget chatrooms, scholarly journals, and Barnes and Noble Booksellers. Forget It. Go read a diary or a letter, a masterpiece. Write a sonnet with your eyes closed. Goodbye cool world! There’s an old device called a ditto machine. It ran on a liquid called “spirit fluid.” Now there’s something you don’t see too often these days: spirit. If you see fit, please hide a poem for me under the “Welcome” mat, beside the Hide-A-Key. I won’t even spellcheck the thing. Just be sure to put some soul power inside. Be sure to go it alone, without no recipes. Meanwhile, we’ll be outside, warming our hands over your anthologies, such beautiful glowing embers. We’ll be waiting for It, waiting for you.

    § 3: Appendix

    Poetic Units by Era

    The Author’s Logical Technique for Analyzing A Text

    If a thing says a thing, then that thing is true.
    A thing isn’t true.
    Therefore, the thing doesn’t say a thing.

    A Brief but Exhaustive History of It

    - March 15, 37000 BCE: It is a pond
    - March 16, 37000 BCE: It crawls out of the pond, grows legs
    - February 18, 1237 BCE: another pyramid is built out of It
    - December 25, 500 BCE: the It dynasty rules in China
    - August 17, 3 CE: Peace on Earth, and Goodwill toward It
    - July 6, 700 CE: the Dark Ages begin It in Europe
    - October 12, 1492 CE: Christopher Columbus sights It
    - April 6, 1909 CE: It is found at the North Pole
    - September 1, 1876 CE: the Dutch found It in Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA
    - November 30, 2007 CE: this is It!