10 November 2008

Super Wednesday

A brief update:

Last week we watched the election results on tv with great anticipation. Desi and Dolley got bored and gnawed on each other and some squeaky toys. Leah passed out after a ba-ba, and we took her to bed. Naomi drifted off shortly after PA was decided. Zac insisted, "I'm up, I'm up," as the election wound down. And Sam and traci and I continued to speculate until president-elect Obama earned that 235th electoral vote.

In the morning, when I woke Naomi, before she even opened her eyes, she stretched way out and said, "Who won the president?" I said, "Obama." She said, "Oh." I said, "Are you excited to have a new president?" She yawned for a long time, then said, "Not really. It's not like he's going to come to our house or something."

Which reminded me that I am going to be old enough to run for president in four years, though I won't be old enough until after the primaries, so it might be a moot point. So, that being said, expect to see me running in 2016 on my I-promise-to-come-to-your-house platform. And make sure you have a futon ready for me, because I'll probably stay for a while.

26 October 2008

Mid-October N.C. Update (3)

Dear Friends,

The long-awaited third update from North Carolina is upon you:

At least, I’ve been long-awaiting it, and you all might have other feelings about it, but, for the time being, let’s just agree that dread is a form of waiting and that, with any luck ob-la-di, ob-la-da, et cetera. That being said:

Traci and I have been vising and revising the steel-mill novel I’ve been working on since 10 May 2000, and we’re feeling quite good about it, as well as thinking very highly of me. Most of my energy lately has gone into the project, despite the fact that I’m supposed to be delegating household responsibility, watching Leah, cooking dinner, and driving Zac, Sam, and Naomi back and forth from and to school. That said, I have passed the buck such that Zac, Sam, and Naomi watch Leah most of the time, while she drives them to school. If I can just get Daisy to make the split-pea soup, and teach Desi to type up these damned letters, I’ll have more of the time I need for beauty napping, and, God knows, I don’t need skimp on that.

As far as my manuscript goes, I’ve been putting the first ten pages in bottles and throwing them in the Cape Fear River Basin for the past few weeks with Self Addressed Stamped Envelopes, anxiously awaiting checks for tens-of-thousands-of dollars to slide underneath the front door, accompanied by very pretty books with pictures of me looking very mean and intelligent on the back. Every mentor I’ve ever had keeps suggesting there are better ways to publish a book, but I don’t buy it. I’m going to keep throwing the bottles.

The kids are enjoying school to whatever extent 4th, 7th, and 10th graders are allowed to enjoy school.

Naomi tried out for the jumproping team this semester, but did not make it, which leads me to think conspiracy, but she’s decided she simply hadn’t practiced enough and will improve for the next try outs. She keeps earning high grades, despite the fact that I make her go on bike rides with me and won’t let her do her homework. She’s also newly in love with gymnastics and is rapidly approaching handspringing without hands and cartwheeling with neither carts nor wheels.

Sam tried out for soccer last week and, boy, are his legs tired. Not many 7th graders made the team, which is of little consolation to him, but he seems vaguely certain that there will be a next year and in that “next year” he will be much improved. In the meantime, he’s reminding me of my middle school athletics – Atari and Twinkies were my major events – and I long for my youth. After scoring in the 99th percentile in every category on his Ohio aptitude tests last year, Guilford Middle School placed him in the intermediate 7th-grade, despite my daily protests and interviews with guidance counselors, teachers, principals, janitors, and a number of cashiers at Harris Teeter. After three weeks, they bumped him up to the honors classes in the middle of a science test. He asked what the test was on. The teacher told him the chapter. He read the chapter and then took the test while his classmates scribbled furiously. That is, of course, where Sam ended the story. I said, “So, how’d you do?” He said, “Oh, I got a hundred. What’s for dinner?”

Over the summer, the kids found a local gym called Tumblebees where they could go once a week and use the trampolines and the balance beams and the parallel bars and et cetera. The place also has a thirty-five-foot-tall rock-climbing room. We signed all three up for weekly classes and now they climb like three tall, skinny monkeys up and down everything in sight. After five weeks of classes, Zac placed third in the men’s beginners’ bouldering contest last weekend and won a pair of rock-climbing shoes. Also he’s attending his first N.C. high school homecoming dance tonight, and, need I say, God be with us all.

Just as Chronos overthrew Chaos, Zeus et. al. chucked the Titans’s asses out of heaven, and humans got tired of the ambiguity and randomness of their deities, children everywhere eventually surpass their parents. I’ve always known my day would come – I had hoped, though, that the kids would at least be in college first. But I keep putting my hopes in that one hand and it’s still not filling up.

In the meantime, we have been a little concerned about what’s on television. With all the sex and illicit drug use, the violence and the flagrant disregard for etiquette; with commercial after commercial constantly reinforcing false ideologies of sexism, machismo, and consumerism; with the mind-numbing sitcoms and increasingly marketable professional sports; with all that tv has to offer, we worry that our kids might find themselves falling behind their peers. We try to make them sit down and watch a couple hours each night, but they’re always too busy dissecting electronic equipment and doing pull ups.

We also worry that they’re not getting enough steroids from processed food products. But they seem to be keeping pace all right.

traci is busily professoring. She created a new reading series – Wordquake – which opens this Thursday in our living room. And we’re looking forward to an opportunity to travel again, maybe sometime in the year 2025.

That’s all I’ve got for now. Be sure to join me next time I post a letter to tell you in even more detail about how great our children are. Until then y’all take care.


Post Script: It’s recently come to my attention that maybe I’m not receiving all of my emails – I won’t go into detail, but if you’re on this list, and you’ve written me an email requesting a response over the last year or so, and I haven’t responded, there’s a chance I just didn’t get it. Also, I can’t find my left red flip flop, so if anybody knows where it is or has one just like it, I’d like it back.

Mid-August Update


Hello Again Everybody,

Today is the final Friday of the summer for us in our new home state. We’ve done a fair job adjusting to the climate and the people and the other things that happen in our lives. We found a nice place to eat pizza, and another place that sells tacos for $1.00 a piece on Tuesdays. We found a park, the city library, and the video store. We’re just about set.

We even had time to take a half-day vacation this summer in the midst of all this accommodation. There was some dissention in the family as to whether we should go to the water park just south of Greensboro or to the ocean (the Atlantic Ocean), which is way off to the right of us I’m told. Since there have been water parks in all the other states we’ve lived in, but very few oceans, we opted for the latter.

On the way to the beach, we played our modified family version of 21 Questions, which would more accurately be called Infinite Questions. Naomi started. I said, “Is it a mineral?”

Naomi said, “I don’t know.”

Sam said, “Is it a place?”
Naomi said, “Sort of.

Zac said, “Is it a person?”

Naomi said, “Yes.”

I said, “Is the person in this car?”

Naomi said, “Yes.”

traci said, “Is the person Leah?”

Naomi said, “Yes, good job, Mom.”

traci’s turn took us through a series of questions in which we determined that the answer wasn’t blue, green, a person, a rock, a giraffe, the direction East, the cat, the Previa, Dad, or a turtle. We asked, Are you sure it’s not the cat?, yes but what about a really BIG rock, have you thought about making the answer: Pepsi, what about crackers, Cracker Jacks, Jack Sparrow, an unlaiden Sparrow, I think it’s a swallow, no it’s a sparrow, technically it could be either since neither could carry a coconut, are you sure it’s not the color blue?, I mean like a gigantic rock, like bigger than the moon?

We were, you all can imagine, just about stumped.

Naomi said, “I know, I know. Can you eat it?”

traci said, “Yes.”

Naomi said, “Are you sure it’s not blue?”

traci said, “Yes.”

Naomi said, “Grapes.”

traci said, “No.”

Naomi said, “Macaroni and Cheese.”

traci said, “Yes. Excellent.”

Nailed it. Naomi said since she had already gone, I could have her turn, which is good, because as is my way in all things, I’d been spending their turns preparing for my turn. We had recently watched the spoof _Meet the Spartans_, which makes fun of the movie _300_, which was based on the graphic novel by the same name. I kept the rest of the family easily at bay through the mineral, animal, etcetera part of the questions. Finally, they found my scent with traci’s, “Is it an idea?”

I said, “Yes.”

It took them a while longer to lock down the fact that it was a sentence, but once that happened, they made quick work of me. traci said, “A sentence? That’s not an idea. It’s probably a line from a stupid movie.”

I said, “Yes.”

Sam said, “Is it, ‘Come let us talk by the giant pit of death.’?”

I said, “Yes. Good job, Sam.”

And it was Sam’s turn.

Sam thought for a few minutes, and he said, “Okay, I got one. It’s a good one. But it’s way too hard to guess. So I’ll just tell you. It’s Nothingness.”

Zac said, “That was going to be my first guess.”

Sam said, “Okay, it’s your turn.”

Zac said, “Got one.”

traci said, “Is it bigger than a breadbox?”

Zac said, “You know, Mom, that’s a relative question. A breadbox, after all, could be as big as the ocean.”

Naomi said, “Is it the ocean?”

Zac said, “Yes. gg.” (gg is video game player, or “gamer,” lingo for “Good Game.” traci and I hold five English degrees between the two of us, and neither of us can explain to the kids why they shouldn’t use such shorthand in their speaking or writing, so we lol when Zac ggs us and move on.)

Zac pointed out that we had all already gone once, except for Desi who doesn’t have language, and except for Leah. He said, “I guess it’s Leah’s turn.” Now, this trip was in the middle of July, and she hasn’t gone yet, but we’re expecting her to bust out a really good one any minute now. She’s already had a long time to think about it.

It’s a four-hour trip to the beach, and the Atlantic Ocean was much as I had left it nineteen years before (my only other trip to the Atlantic to date) when I had taken my family to Myrtle Beach for some sort of Engineering conference, except that this time I couldn’t stop thinking about ee cummings’s characters Maggie and Minnie and Molly and May:

maggie and milly and molly and may
By e.e. cummings

maggie and milly and molly and may
went down to the beach (to play one day)

and maggie discovered a shell that sang
so sweetly she couldn't remember her troubles, and

milly befriended a stranded star
whose rays five languid fingers were;

and molly was chased by a horrible thing
which raced sideways while blowing bubbles; and

may came home with a smooth round stone
as small as a world and as large as alone.

for whatever we lose (like a you or a me)
it's always ourselves we find in the sea

The poem doesn’t have any relevance to what I’m writing, nor does it add a layer to the letter, nor does it inform our reading of this text. It’s just what I think about while I’m at the beach these days. I hadn’t known of the characters when I was twelve, and otherwise, I jumped into the breakers, trying to beat the ocean at its own game. I jumped sideways, and head on, and dove through the waves, and rolled with the big ones, and I’m certain, if I had only had a little more time, I would have won – the same eternal struggle and conclusion I had drawn when I was younger. On the other hand, I hear that the ocean is very much like an Atari game that just seems to go on and on forever.

And that seems equally likely and unlikely to me.

We put on sunblock. We ran in small circles. We ate sandwiches and chips – I’ve always thought it ironic to eat SANDwiches at the beach. We chased Leah, who was chasing Desi, around the sand. We pretended to build a sand castle, but got distracted by the way the waves kept piling up on themselves and piling up and piling up, but not making anything noticeably bigger.

Then we drove home, listening to Modest Mouse’s album _The Moon and Antarctica_. All told, the beach was a fine decision. The day after our trip, I made mention of the fact that when we left for the ocean, I had been concerned about Leah, who hadn’t had a bowel movement the evening before, but after a short time in the ocean, she was regular – in fact, one could say, extra-regular – again. traci put a checkmark on the chalkboard beside “Things Daddy Should Keep to Himself.” And I pondered the possibility that the salt water had loosened her bowels up and that maybe it, the ocean, was good for all of us in ways that we don’t immediately recognize.

Naomi, who had been washing her breakfast dishes, said, “Well, the ocean does make shit happen.”

Yes. Little one. I suppose it does. But we’ll talk more about that another time. Right now, we have to compile our shopping lists – school supplies – for tomorrow, and hope that there will be something interesting left to learn when we start fourth, seventh, and tenth grades next week.

I suggest you all do the same. Take care, y’all, and we’ll keep you up to date on N.C.

Jackson, et al.

Early-August Update

Early August

Hi Everybody,

I’m Jackson Connor. You might remember me from such emails as “So I Dropped out of School to Live in a Volkswagen Golf” and “How to Become a Father of Three Overnight.”

I’m writing today to talk to you all about North Carolina. Where I live now. But it’s not just me who lives in North Carolina. It’s my wife and four kids and 8,856,505 other human beings. (U.S. Census Bureau 2006 estimate)

North Carolina was discovered in 1961 by a visionary man from Emporia, Kansas. Dean Smith, as the natives called him, was actually not a dean. He, along with twelve other brave men (known as Tarheels), spent the next thirty-six years defending North Carolina against invaders from as far away as Indiana and UCLA, as well as fighting an ongoing battle against a group of insurgents known as Blue Devils. In 1997, Smith apparently just said, “Screw it,” and moved back to Kansas.

That’s all I can glean about my new culture and heritage from the local radio stations and the big screen television at the town meeting hall or the “bar” as it’s known here. Beyond that, we seem to be adapting pretty well to this new place.

Zac is preparing to enter 10th grade at Western Guilford High School, which, he was eager to inform me, is where Ender of Ender’s Game went to High School. I don’t know how I feel about my kids going to schools that graduate fictional characters, but, since Ender’s creator got his master’s degree from the same school traci and I got ours, I’m willing to pretend to withhold judgment.

We’re not sure where Sam will be attending his salad days of middle school. We have applications at a couple of private schools, though, we realize, it’s late in the year for that sort of thing. To be honest, though, I think Sam’s bright enough that I could just drop him at the public library for eight hours a day with a handful of nickels and a stick of gum, and he’d probably have seven or eight patents pending by winter break.

Naomi will be back-handspringing into 4th grade at Jefferson Elementary School. This will be her first year of formal schooling without her brother(s) in attendance with her. It might be an affect of the Southern humidity, but I swear I hear her dancing the Snoopy dance each evening as I tuck myself and those around me in to bed.

Leah, of course, still doesn’t go to school, as she is only fifteen months old. She did, however, just recently learn how to make suds with soap and scrub herself up. If she had language, I bet she’d like to mention that you can’t make suds nearly as well with catfood, lint from the dryer, or the dog.

The dog, Desi, is fine, though I just cut her hair, so she’s a little embarrassed to go outside. She thinks the bowl cut is totally early nineties, but I think it’s still hip.

The cat, Daisy, is still just sitting there staring out the window, until we let her out, at which point she stares back inside. Plato would have had a field day with a cat and some glass, but the cave thing was a nice place to start.

traci is anxiously anticipating her first days at Guilford College. She has earned a professorship at the school teaching fiction. Founded on Quaker principles in 1837, Guilford is a small liberal arts college in Greensboro, North Carolina. traci got the job after a stressful year of research, applications, and interviews. Other things traci did that year: have a baby, complete her PhD., defend her dissertation, publish her first book.

Things Jackson did this year: I did make a really nice stew in April – really, the kids raved about it for days. But, it’s like that old saying: life isn’t a competition.

It has been a big year for us all, which is, in a way, an excuse for not writing as often as I should, but, let’s face it, even when I was working twenty hours a week without any friends in Salt Lake City, I still didn’t write very often.

As for me, I still have about two years of my PhD. program left, and at this moment I’m taking a leave of absence. When I asked the head of the English Department at OU how I should go about taking a leave of absence, he said, “Just don’t show up for anything anymore.” Well, if I’d have known it was this easy to drop out of Ohio University, I would have done it years ago.

My plans for the immediate future are to be make some dinners and get the kids ready for school. At this moment, though, I’m sitting in a chair of the highest quality, drinking a beer made of the finest materials, resting my semipalmated feet on a dog and a cat of the best breeding, wondering what would be the name of the album Modest Mouse makes about my life if Modest Mouse were making an album about my life.

All Our Best to All of You,
Jackson Et. Al.

I'll Tell the Mill (novel excerpt)


I know what I know only in little glimpses of the world, and I’m not even sure about most of those. I got a fortune cookie at the China Garden downtown that said, “You can never go into the same river twice.” Del and Everett and I drank ourselves stupid telling that story back and forth. We drank enough that the fortune made sense, then it stopped making sense, then it made sense again, and finally we woke up blurry with a deep smoke in our chests and decided that we’d drunk the line back into Chinese, because, by this point, the world made as little sense as the words.

But as is the case with most of this ridiculous life, over the following months, the machines at the mill chanted, You can never go into the same river twice. You can never go into the same river twice. I started thinking I’d made it up, the way you hear a joke a second time years later and think you wrote it. And that’s how my memories and my stories and my self fall apart all over the place. The machines of the mill chant my life in sharp fragments and I sort through them every day.

Like this: Weaver’s gone. I watched the river open up and carry him away, the way the world does to all of us sooner or later. And Feathers is gone. The thick air of late spring folded in on itself, and except for a pang of memory from time to time, nobody here has any proof or reason to prove that they ever existed.