Showing posts with label Memory. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Memory. Show all posts

16 April, 2019

From Field Notes: Excerpts, 7th-9th April 2019 - Orange Poppy, Long Gone

7 April


view of the Wakarusa River
Spent the early afternoon downtown. Had lunch with the Market Street Irregulars and then had the opportunity to visit my friend, local artist Heather Houzenga, at her shop at the base of Market Street. We mostly hung out in front of her shop, which lends itself to the opportunity of running into other people. At one point there were maybe 5 of us including Heather, Ray, Dave Cuckler, and Jeff Creath, who split time between Carroll County, Waukegan, and parts unknown with his wife and fellow globetrotter, Kat. There were also two dogs, including Heather's new pooch, Handsome, a boxer mix that is still very much a puppy... but a happy one, and Ray's lovely dog Lady.

It felt good just to be able to hang out on the street without anyone wondering whether something illegal is happening -- one of the graces that is still afforded in a place like Mount Carroll, Illinois.

At one point, later in the day, Dave was downstairs playing guitar and singing, and I was listening through the floorboards. There are moments we experience that resonant, repeat, and carry us backwards and forwards in time, embodying all of our sense memories into a distilled, rich, existential bliss. Listening to Dave Cuckler sing through the floorboards is one such moment, and it let me know that I was, if only briefly, at a place where I still have a home.

Music through the floorboards
that long remembered smile.
A congregation of old friends,
dogs, and peaceful passersby.

8 April

The river is high here, like everywhere else. Parts of Savanna are flooding. The power and prestige of the Old River 1 never ceases to amaze me.

The river lays siege to the flood plain
reminding people (again)
these ancient arteries
will wash away
what passes for Empire.

9 April

I was able to take some time yesterday and walk around town a bit. On my way back to where I'm staying, I walked up the Washington Street hill and over to S. West Street, by the house I lived in here with my ex. Inexplicably, the place is still standing and there's a family living there.

I know it seems strange to some people that I like coming back here. One local musician, a friend of a friend, upon figuring out that I was actually me and discovering that I showed up intentionally to visit, asked what I was visiting for. There's a basic assumption among some folks about this place... an assumption I hear more from people who are born and raised from here -- that there is nothing here. Or, at any rate, there's nothing here that would be of any interest to anyone not from here.

But the truth is that I learned a lot here. Mount Carroll is the place I learned to embrace a place and find beauty, poetry, and music -- even when there is a (very) thin veneer of stasis, greed, and ugliness. It was here I learned to live more in the moment and to seek out community rather than expect it to come find me. It was here that I learned what the word home means -- with all those fraught implications.

It was here that I learned what it means to dive deep and follow the currents. What I didn't learn here was not to dive TOO deep. I had to learn that later.

Some things persist
in spite of soft memory.
What is not erased
is a reminder that 
what we carry in the present
we picked up in the past.

Orange Poppy, Long Gone



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14 February, 2017

Letter from Trumplandia 3: art as memory/ memory as subversion

 Life is subversive. - Ernesto Cardenal

When you are forced by circumstance to focus on survival, it can be difficult to remember that it's as important to nourish your soul as it is to feed your stomach.  Arts-based organizations are poised for a fight that they may very well lose simply because the numbers are against them. Grant money is already being squeezed and if the past budgetary actions of the Republican Party are any indication, the arts will have to find other revenue streams in order to survive.

The squeeze has already been felt here in Kentucky, where our tin pot little fascista Governor Matt Bevin cut money to the Kentucky Arts Council (and everything else) in his first budget. Granted, he did not, as was widely feared, eliminate funding for the KAC entirely... for which they puckered up and kissed his New England ass. There will most likely be another budget cut next year, too. Bevin, like every fascista before him, refers to the arts and things like it* as "nonessential services."

And most likely, when he does, the folks still remaining at the KAC will again express gratitude for Herr Governor's

As Trump's overblown inauguration began to loom as an inevitable reality, The Hill reported that undisclosed sources within his transition team said some of his budget cuts included privatizing NPR and eliminating funding for the National Endowment for the Arts .Naturally, that would be catastrophic for many arts organizations, including educational arts organizations.

Though really, part of me suspects that the announcement was leaked, not so much as a statement of
intention but as a misdirection. 45 has time and time again proven to be a master at misdirection. His entire professional life up to and including his 2016 POTUS election win has been nothing more than an extended game of 3 Card Monte.

The biggest danger to the arts, though, really isn't coming from Trump (yet) or Bevin (yet.) The biggest danger to the arts comes from inside an arts community that has gotten so comfortable that it has forgotten how to innovate.

Without the arts, there is no such thing as civilization. I've said before that society rests not on laws, but on the arts and simple etiquette. In these, the rising days of the new wave, this is especially true. Art is more than entertainment. The arts are our collective memory. And it's been nice to have a government that acknowledges -- albeit grudgingly and not without malice** -- the arts.

It's been nice. But we need to start deciding what to do if it ends.

Over the weekend I listened to David Marcus -- Sr. Contributor to The Federalist and Artistic Director of Blue Box World in Brooklyn -- on NPR's Saturday morning journal show talk about why the death of the NEA would be good for art in America.

His essential argument is that the arts existed before government and don't really need the government, and that the arts need to be competitive in a free market. I'll deconstruct the problem of commodifying art and how free markets are a myth in another post.***

Part of what feeds his argument and gives it validity is the strain of elitism in the arts and how arts organizations go about doing what they do. There was a time when you preserved the arts by opening a gallery, or a theater, or creating a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving a particular art form. These organizations operate on membership dues, donations, patronage, partnerships, and grant money. In the absence of grant money, non-profits have a really difficult time sustaining themselves -- or, if they don't have trouble sustaining, no one knows they exist, their membership stagnates, and eventually the organization disappears because most of the membership dies.

In order to survive, artists and arts organizations have to reinvent themselves, not to try and break into or maintain a market, but to remain the living memory of a civilization at risk. There's more at stake than ticket sales. Democracy is at stake. In addition to the obligation to speak out against the tyrannical new wave, artists are obliged to be the memory of what is happening. We record. We remember. We are the storytellers, the bards, the players. The job is ours, because if we leave it to the historians, the narrative will be an extension of the same manifest destiny bullshit they still teach kids.

In order to survive, artists have to understand that even they haven't declared war, even if they don't like the language of war, even if they believe it has nothing to do with them, that war has been declared on them. In order to survive arts organizations have stop thinking like bureaucratic machines and start being strategizing like a guerrilla army.

In other words, start thinking like a tagger and not the cops who arrest taggers.


If you like what you're reading here, I have work for sale on my amazon author page:
www.amazon.com/author/mickparsons

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* literature, foreign languages, health care, social services, public education, roads, bridges, and clean rivers.
**GOP deity Ronald Reagan wanted to start phasing out the NEA in 1981, but he was advised by no less than gun and 'MURICA lover Charlton Heston that it would be a really bad idea
*** To prepare, if you haven't already, bone up on Karl Marx. 

12 April, 2016

Echoes along the dirty, sacred river: settling up with the past

 In this bright future, you can't forget your past. - Bob Marley

The past cannot be cured.  - Queen Elizabeth I

John William Waterhouse - Echo and Narcissus - Google Art Project.jpg
Echo and Narcissus, John William Waterhouse (1903)
 In the process of moving something around in the basement bunker where I write, record The Kentucky Muck Podcast, and try to play a little music now and again, ended up going through old files. No matter how much of a minimalist I aspire to be, nothing makes me feel like an gold medal level hoarder quite like going through my files.

I have a bad habit of putting things away in an attempt to not lose it, only to forget where I put such and so thing away shortly thereafter.

"Well shit," -- what I say to myself when I run into myself having made my life far more complicated than it needed to be because I found every 10 mm socket* I bought to replace the one I lost, only to find them all in the same re-purposed thing-of-a-jig box that was too too cool to throw away*-- which is to say, I found some old writing. I posted one of the poems on my Facebook page this past Sunday. I also found a book length draft of short stories I wrote while living in Illinois, including one mostly completed almost novella I had tentatively titled "Next Time, Plan Ahead." Although I'd left myself a notation that the it was on the second draft and that draft was complete, handling the pages reminded me of why it never made it past the second draft.

It was abandoned.

I abandoned it primarily because my second ex-wife*** was horrified by the fact that the bulk of my inspiration for my fiction^ came from my life -- which is to say, what was our married life.  I could provide the literary antecedents, or go down the rabbit hole of realism as a form of art. I abandoned what amounted to a year's worth of writing because, at the time, I thought I was saving a marriage.

Other than the fact that I more or less forgot about the work -- because I've been focusing on newer work, teaching, journalism, labor organizing, and getting married to the love of my life -- I haven't thought about the stories I wrote living in Illinois because... well, I'm generally in a happier mental place than I was the time. As an artifact, rereading the work brings back some really negative shit. Some of it's sad. Some of it makes me hate myself a little.

But, if I'm being honest -- and I'm always honest with you, Dear Friends and Readers -- little echoes of all that shit crop up more often than I'd like. Echoes of old habits. Old mistakes in dead relationships. Old feelings born out of the mismatched wiring of doomed relationships -- I'll tell one of those stories soon. But the trick, I've learned, is to face the echo and see it for what it is.

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* 10 mm sockets are like socks that never seem to make it back from a laundry trip, except that instead of a lone, pairless sock that could, in theory, be paired with another lone pairless sock -- there's always more than one in the sock drawer -- you've got an entire socket set (24 separate doodads and watchadoodles) that are completely USELESS. 
** In addition to hoarding things with an archivist's passion, I also love to save things that I can then put other things in to save, only to put that thing I put things in inside a larger thing with basically the same purpose. My mind palace -- and my basement-- is  a never-ending garden of Russian nesting dolls. 
*** Yes, I have two ex-wives. I write about them both from time to time, though rarely through the lens of fiction.
^ Fiction, n. A narrative that may be based on real life things but it not bound to the honesty of the events. Fiction, rather, is bound to the honesty of the writer's intent and purpose, as well as bound to the integrity of the narrative.

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26 September, 2014

Fall Along the Dirty, Sacred River: After High Water Mark

After a long a quixotic summer, I find myself feeling more than a little drained, more than a bit tense, and more than a tad exhilarated.

I am I

I'm back in the classroom after a summer of not travelling like I'd planned. The good (and bad) news is that all the same old windmills that I've spent the better part of a decade tilting at are still there, hiding in the harrowed halls of higher ed. I hope they feel well rested. They are going to need it.

Someone recently told me -- by way of a compliment, I think, or maybe just a statement of facts in evidence -- that I teaching is something I "was born to do." Having a sense of vocation is important for a teacher. There is virtually no other equitable pay back for the time and energy spent trying to figure out how to be a better teacher.  And, particularly in the world of part-time* teaching -- without a sense of vocation you are shark bait.

This semester is complicated by the fact that I'm scheduled to teach 7 classes. I did this to myself, fully knowing
  1. it is too much, and
  2. that I would feel overwhelmed quickly.
Not working over the summer though -- a decision I made based on the assumption that I would be on the road more -- was a drain on finances at the homestead. My usual other semi-part-time gig as tutor did not offer much in the way of hours or pay.  So, I'm working a bit more to catch up, and to try and do what I can avoid another summer like this last, long summer.

Not working and falling into the inevitable and entirely avoidable struggle that created made me realize that while I am not driven by money or by the pursuit of wealth, that I need to be more attentive to such matters. My generally cavalier attitude towards money aside, the fact is that by not contributing to the financial well-being of the homestead I was doing more than causing a back balance on the electric bill.  I was -- even without meaning to -- inflicting damage on the people around me.

This isn't to say that I will cut my hair and get a real job. Chasing money is still a fruitless and soulless pursuit. I will not play by the rules established to reward greed (READ IN: CAPITALISM) simply because it's easier. 

But I will have to push forward some delayed projects and ideas. There are different ways of walking through the world. I am lucky to be loved and love a woman who sees this and who embraces my desire to live more fully by the definitions and parameters we establish than by living within the confines set by others.

And Speaking of Walking...

Yesterday, the brakes failed in my truck and I nearly rolled into busy early morning traffic. I was lucky that no one got hurt, and that I didn't get hurt and that the truck didn't get even a scratch on it. This means that at least for a week ... until I get the master cylinder fixed ... that I'm back on public transit.

The financial drain of older vehicle issues aside, I don't mind being back on the bus. It's important to know the place you live in your feet. I've missed experiencing the world this way. It feels... oddly... more normal.

And as Amanda pointed out last night, "You've never really liked driving in the city."

You Are My Sunshine

The Kid -- AKA Stella -- and Will -- once upon a time Plus 1, but now Son-in-Law -- have taken up refuge/temporary residence here at the homestead. They are hoping to find more work opportunities here in River City. Moving from Norfolk (STILL the MOST UNFRIENDLY CITY IN THE COUNTRY) took two vehicles (one of them a small moving truck) two days, and an Enola Gay sized amount of bug and roach killer.

Trying to learn how to live together is always a challenge. Amanda and I have a certain quiet and natural rhythm. Stella and Will... well... their rhythm is more like a Saturday night mosh pit at Bogart's. Every couple has a different rhythm, and it makes for some interesting times here at the homestead. Will and I are learning how to grunt at one another appropriately. Amanda and Stella are figuring out their relationship to one another. Amanda has been absolutely amazing... and I can never say that enough.

On my part, I'm happy to have Stella around. (And Will. No really. YES, dammit.) I've always been better when Stella is around. I worry about her less when I see her more often... and though I've always tried to make sure I was a presence in her life, it wasn't until she moved here that I realized just how much of a pressure it is off my mind to have her near and just how much pressure was exerted on the other side to keep me away from her.

And while I could be -- and I have been and on some days I still feel -- angry about how I was badmouthed and my name dragged through other people's dysfunctional mud -- I also recognize that part of what has driven me to write was knowing that it was my best shot at communicating with Stella. 

When I teach, I always talk about audience issues. I tell my students that they need to know who they are talking to when they write. This may or may not be true; but I do know that every word I've written for the last 20 years has had one primary audience in mind.

And I'm glad she's home.


12 May, 2014

Learning Along The Dirty, Sacred River: Mothers, Teachers, Elders, Part 1

I was cooking dinner for my daughter and her boyfriend last night*, trying to explain why I clean up after myself as I cook. I was telling The Kid about her Grandpa Parsons (my Old Man) and how it was that he became  a not too terrible cook in spite of always managing to dirty every single dish in the kitchen. He started to learn how to cook because my Mom was often in class and unable to cook; it didn't help that other than chili, the only other things he could cook with any proficiency were hamburgers and hot dogs. And, if there was an egg cup** that did not have some smattering of slop in it, he would find a need for said egg cup just to have his record of dirtying every dish uncontested.

Stella (The Kid) informed me that she was the same way. Then she laughed a little and said that her Grandma Dixie (My Dear Sweet Ma) once said of the tendency that "it must run in the family."

In order to explain why my dad cooked at all -- other than to make chili or to cook out on the grill -- I talked about how My Dear Sweet Ma, when I was 10, decided to go to college.  in 1983, it was neither common nor encouraged for middle-aged married women to go back to school. The prevailing wisdom was twofold: 1) people ought to be working towards   retirement, not working on homework, and 2) that a married woman with two young boys ought to be at home.

This last view point was most vociferiously supported by some people in my extended family among the Dunns, her people, who felt that if she did anything other than fold laundry, watch soap operas, and sculpt her hair into a fine, fine beehive, she was not being a proper woman. The Old Man was intolerant of that view, and showed his intolerance in the manner he is most remembered for: he simply told them all to go to hell after putting on the mantle of Ol' Sarge^ ... against which there was no real or imagined defense.

As I was telling the story of why I try and clean up after myself, I was once again struck by the unusual progressiveness of a man who I had, for my entire childhood, attributed with an almost caveman-like  sense of right and wrong.*** And I was also struck again by just how strong an individual my My Dear Sweet Ma is. 

You wouldn't necessarily know it by just looking at her. She is not one to loudly make her way through the world... certainly not in the heavy-footed manner by which her youngest son (that would be me, Dear Readers) makes his way through the world... but she has made her way nonetheless, and except for my father's death, she has pretty much made her way on her own terms. She graduated after earning her bachelor's degree, and went on to complete her Masters. She taught public school for 26 years -- first as a Special Education teacher and then as a 5th grade English and Social Studies teacher.

I love my mother's story -- the parts of it I know. There's more to it,  but it's not all mine to tell here and now. I love my mother's story as it happened. I love it as it is still unfolding. She is embracing her post work life with the same quiet and relentless reserve ... a reserve she might attribute to her faith... that she has used to embrace all the important things and people and circumstances in her life. I love my mother's story because it helps me place my own story, and the stories of other family members into some appropriate context. And I am glad that I noticed it while it is still in the process of unfolding.

The Kid will turn 20 in September. This July, she is planning on getting married to the boyfriend, Will, who I have at times called  Plus 1. As she grows into an adult it occurs to me that there are things she needs to know.  (Shhh. There's no need to tell here that 20 isn't an adult age, simply an age that the legal system has arbitrarily decided is old enough to vote (18),old enough to get shot at defending corporate profits (18), but not old enough to by beer (21). ^^ ) She needs to know how to fix a leaky toilet. She needs to know how to diagnose simple mechanical issues. She needs to know how to change a tire, change the oil, change a battery. She needs to know the things I've learned, and the things I was taught. I've let loose of some of that over the years; but there are things she needs to know that transcend my life.


This is my Grandma Dunn, Lonnabelle. She was also, in her own way, a quiet but strong woman. I used to spend a lot of time with her when I was not allowed outside. After Grandpa died, almost all of his extended family deserted her. Her own family was scattered. Her maiden name was Ackerman,and she grew up around Crystal Lake, Wisconsin. Her own mother died when she was young and her father remarried a woman named Lucille, who I wish I had a picture of because she remains in my mind one of the sharpest, funniest, most blunt^^^ people I have ever known.  Grandma Dunn made the best chocolate chip cookies in the world, knitted quilts until her hands wouldn't let her, and loved crossword puzzles, word searches, Reader's Digest, Alec Trabek, and Pat Sajek. She also liked playing Gin. She once told me she enjoyed playing cards because as a child in Crystal Lake, her father -- who was a religious man -- would not allow any card games into his house that used face cards. 

Why, you might ask? He associated face cards with gambling.

Later in life, one of the things she did was tell stories about her life to elementary school children. She enjoyed this deeply, as it gave her a chance to talk about the happiest times in her life, and about times she had come to remember as less complicated. Being the snot-nosed shit was, I was far less interested in her stories than I should have been... a mistake that, when I think about it now, physically pains me.

When I was younger and in my extremely religous phase (Please note the ontological difference between "religious" and "spiritual".) and was seriously pondering a life in the pulpit, she would talk to me about religious and biblical matters. She would ask me my interpretations of biblical text, and ask me what I thought it meant in a modern world. We talked about the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount. We talked about the Golden Rule and the Great Commission. We talked about The Song of Songs and the Book of The Revelation. She was the one who pointed out to me that church wasn't just a building... that church could be anywhere, because Grandpa didn't need to put on a tie and sit in a pew to worship; he just took a walk in the back 40 and talked to God himself, mano y mano.


This is my Grandma Parsons, named Minnie. She died before I was born, so what little I know of her I know second and third hand. She was a small woman, with bright red hair. Even when he was a child (and, by his own admission, a snot-nosed shit) Dad teased her and called her Pinky.  Her maiden name was Blackburn, and she was, I believe born in Clermont County. She endured the largeness of my Grandpa Parsons' personality, raised three sons and a daughter, and died almost 10 years before her husband, who was actually actually a decade older than her. She was a prohibitionist in spite of my Grandpa's fondness for whiskey, and though she sometimes confided in her youngest son (my Uncle Bill) she never once faltered in her own beliefs. 

I didn't get to know her... but given that I know me, my father, and some of the stories about Daniel Boone Parsons... I'd say that she was one tough woman. Parsons men require more patience than most women have ... and I say that as a man who respects the deep and abiding capacity of women to shape the world.

The day before yesterday was Mother's Day. And while I wasn't in Losantiville to spend it with My Dear Sweet Ma, I did call and wish her a Happy Mother's Day.  I may be the son that gives her the most  trouble; but I hope she knows that, at least, I've finally learned to pay attention. 


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*She requested that I make this sausage rice pilaf dish she likes during my visit. And since she is a culinary school student,and knows more about what good food is than I do, I took it as a compliment and happily complied.
** There was no egg cup. Ours was not a high falutin' family. But if there HAD been... lawdy, lawdy, lawdy. 
*** Sorry, Dad. I should have been paying more attention.
^He was a retired Air Force Master Sgt. Standing in the face his full fury was like trying to stand up against a hurricane with a one string mop and a bucket with a hole in it.
^^ All lines are arbitrary ones, whether they are legal distinctions of adulthood or lines on a map.
^^^ Blunt was not an adjective I would apply to Grandma, or most anyone in the Dunn family. And other than Lucille, I have never met another Ackerman. Lucille died fairly recently, outliving Grandma by well over a decade. I understand that up to the day she died, Lucille still read the stock market pages everyday.