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Saturday
Mar072015

The Main Event

THE MAIN EVENT

If you've ever seen Rocky, you'll know
what a pile of student papers does
to the psyche. Piled manila folders,
each with its own jutting tab
displaying a name. They don't strike
in a bludgeoning fury, a looping hook,
a compact, straight right to the chin,
not like Tyson or Foreman. Each feels
flipped out into the face, like those jabs
flashed out of Creed's arm, a constant mash
of fist and fitted glove to eyes, lips, nose,
or even past the exterior, in the skull,
jostling the brain's spongy pink. A reminder,
like dripped plinks from a faucet, a valve
you can't turn off.

My trainer wrapped my hands though, with benchmarks
and a rubric, hanged a grammar speed bag
in my office, drafted other TAs
for calibration spars. These documents drop
by attrition, pummel a gradual slouch
over the desk, a loosening of the pencil
from its primed, cocked position in the thumb's bend.
Seasoned fighters will tell you—how to go
not fifteen rounds, but forty-four,
thirty minutes each. They'll suggest
you use the ropes: Save the A students for last.
Sometimes I wish I could stumble

into my corner, flop down
on a stool, towel around my neck
to soak up the blood, the sweat, the ink,
my critical eye swollen shut. With luck,
Mick will be there, razor blade in hand.
He'll draw a horizontal grade
across my lid, fluid draining down my face,
and I'll see, I'll stand again.

Bryn Homuth
Composed on a half-remembered night
While combatting the dark of an instructor's fright.
2013

Image:
"Boxers"
Oil on Canvas - Date Unknown
Jadwiga Umi?ska 

Wednesday
Mar042015

A Better Way to Text (An Example)

Over a year ago, two of my friends and I solemnly resolved to text each other only in rhyming couplets in order to make the mundane task of texting more lively, thoughtful, creative, and edifying. You can find an early chronicle of our efforts here but certainly not here.

We have kept our solemn oath for a year and will continue to keep it. We, in our turn, have been richly rewarded with texts we actually enjoy returning to and reading. I now provide an example below of a conversation—lightly edited—between Bryn Homuth and myself just a few weeks ago to show the superiority of limiting one's texts to a set form. 

The gray bubbles are Bryn's. The blue bubbles are mine.

R. Eric Tippin
"The Catacombs," Kansas State University
March 4, 2015 

Tuesday
Feb102015

Ambler, No. 42 [On Tripping]

He who thus ordereth the Purposes of this Life, will never be far from the next; and is in some manner already in it, by an happy Conformity, and close Apprehension of it. — Sir Thomas Browne

NT; (c) Stourhead; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

The sun, with its rosy fingers, sank and spread across the horizon, as I walked a wood path with my companion. A multi-colored hue shot out behind leafless trees, as we spotted herons, perched like mighty emperors on rocks jutting out across the pond. Geese could be heard squawking and increasing in volume as that shiny orb descended, and I imagined the herons growing in annoyance at the sound. And we walked out of trees and into the open, then seeing two others, a woman and large man, traversing in the opposite direction, toward the woods. Then, everything happened at once. The lady dawned a big smile and seemed about to say something when my phone rang. As I fumbled with the device, I noticed the large man begin to slowly stumble, and with the grace of a man who is inexperienced in falling, he tumbled with hands outward, losing hat and sandals in the process. His fall seemed to last three minutes, but I was too distracted with my call to pay too much attention, and by the time I hung up, my companion and I parted ways with the humbled man who had tripped over a root.

*****

When a man sits beside a pond with dying fire, the only other lights those of the heavens, he imagines the stars never appeared so close as at that moment. The constellations seem almost three-dimensional when no other lights impede our ability to view them. My companion and I recognized this, sitting by fire, smoking tobacco, and drinking local ale. Nothing was said for nigh ten minutes. Both men, boys when they stared at the sky, smoked and watched the embers of the fire give way, but said nothing. For nothing need be said. When two men, after making fire and eating food, sit to enjoy the labor of their hands, it is unnecessary to spoil the moment with words. Silence is often much louder than noise.

Geese could still be heard, growing in volume. Flocks flew in, over our heads, some from the direct north, others from northeast. And their squawking, and the flapping of their wings was all that could be heard. But like the fire, their noise split like the wood and was snuffed out until eventually only a few geese could be heard. Then shortly after the geese had gone to bed, our conversation resumed.

Having emptied our smoking-bowls, we stood up with our ales and stared out across the pond. A noise was heard within the trees, and my companion quickly flashed light in the direction. Silence. Then the ruffling again. Something was there. We waited, and again, the thing moved. But it never showed itself to us, and we returned to our log-benches.

*****

At some point during the evening, I took light and headed into the trees to gather kindle for the fire. As I left, I heard the knocking of a hatchet against wood, for my companion was splitting larger logs for the fire to feed on. The night was utterly dark, and I brought light. My light could either produce a small, focused beam, or, if one finagled with it, a large, round beam. I used the latter so to not miss potential kindle.

Again, few sounds could be heard. The night was darkening quickly, and only the geese and the leaves under my feet were audible, for I was away from the crackling fire. I found some limbs, and broke them free. Then I turned back, finding more adequate kindle, and breaking these, I listened to the “snap-snap” of the dead-wood. Then during the snapping, I heard a loud “Pop” followed by another in the distance. The noise was loud, like that of a gun-shot, and I quickly freed the limb I was working on and flashed my light in the direction of my companion who stood away from the fire that blazed as high as I had seen it that evening. Indeed, it was the fire that popped loudly enough to send the hairs on the back of my neck on end. But I was proud we had made such unruly fire.

*****

Dinner consisted of brats on bread with ketchup and dill pickles. The brat-grease fueled the fire, popping and sending sparks our way as we roasted them on small sticks. We ate greedily, as two men famished from exploration. And after the feast, I looked for water but found none.

“I must have left it in the car,” I explained.

And I headed back, with my light. At this moment, prior to my hunt for kindle, I had forgotten that my light could produce a large, round beam, and so I ventured, unwittingly using the smaller beam. I walked with no small difficulty along the shore, and I cut through vines when the bank grew too steep, getting my legs caught more than once. Then I was free. The road lay ahead of my light, and my car lay parked an the opposite side. Shining my light both west and then east, I crossed the road and neared the vehicle.

No water-bottle was in the car, for I searched the front, back, and trunk in vain. Dismayed, I then realized I may have lost it on a previous mis-adventure. And I began making apologies, for it was not my water-bottle but my companion’s.

With low-spirits I left the car, flashing the little light I had toward the road. Checking the east and west, I crossed. Then, I saw an object lying on the ground. The small beam my light created, perhaps two to three feet wide, fatefully—for I had no purpose in where I sent this light—fell on a small water-bottle. Indeed, it was my own. Grabbing it, I ventured back to the fire with joy.

*****

Shortly after we had watched the large man tumble and I concluded my phone call, we decided to make fire. We walked to the car to get supplies, and then headed toward the shore. Previously that evening, we had drunk local ale out on an island of sorts, and I left my companion momentarily to discard the cans properly, for man ought to clean up after himself.* With pack and stick, I ambled a ways off toward the garbage can where three or four young men stared at me in no small wonder as they got into a vehicle. As they drove off, I placed the cans in the trash, and feeling good and holy, I proceeded back the direction I had come.

I perceived the young men had been staring at me for my walking stick. And as I walked, I took pride in being so different from my tasteless generation. With chest puffed, I walked the walk of an explorer, gazing out at the sunset and the birds. I was dismayed to see the herons had flown off, for I had not time to get a good view with binoculars. But I was happy to see so many seagulls and geese. With no breeze hindering my way and warm air against my face, I embraced the serene setting and, though hungry, felt altogether jolly.

Then I neared the very spot where later I would discover my water-bottle. Currently, that bottle sat in a mesh, side pocket of my pack, but, like Gollum’s ring it would leave me.

Man does not perceive some things in life until after they happen. My face was in the ground, my hands were scraped, my stick was no help, my pride was broken, my water-bottle went flying, my head was bewildered. But I quickly arose, with help of my stick, and I walked as if nothing had happened. And as I walked I contemplated my state. Then I perceived that I had taken a fall, and I imagined the young men in the vehicle viewing such a fall. And feeling foolish, I slowly realized what small object had caused my fall and temporarily ended my grand amble. Indeed, it was a tiny root.

THE END

Sam Snow, theficklefarce.com
Written at The Ole Midshipman,
While listening to the morning birds,
Manhattan, KS
Sunday, February 8, 2014

Painting: "Campfire Scene by Moonlight"
By William Smith, 
Oil on canvas, 1750

____________________________

*For the record, I find it highly unclassy to drink beer out of a can. But this rule is thrown out when you are in the wilderness, and our local brew does not use bottles.

Friday
Feb062015

Nightcap


NIGHTCAP

I've invited Sleep out for a drink,
but here I am sitting alone at the bar,
looking at my watch, and I see
that Sleep is late, as usual,
whenever we make plans.
Always an advocate
for the spontaneous,
Sleep has no problem
making impromptu visits,
but something about the plan,
the careful selection of time,
puts him off. Tonight
I wish he and I had arrived together,
finishing our tall beers
at the same time—his light, mine dark
(I'm forever asking Sleep to try something dark),
gathering the tab in his fist
before I can even think about paying—
a practice to which I've grown accustomed.

Bryn Homuth
Manhattan, KS 2013 

Image:
"Automat"
Oil on Canvas - 1927
Edward Hopper 

Tuesday
Feb032015

Ambler, No. 41 [On Running into An Old Friend]

No. 41

Virtuous thoughts of the day laye up good treasors for the night — Sir T. Browne

Last autumn, I taught a first year writing course at a local University, and I had about a seven minute walk to the building I taught in. Each day, I would grab my briefcase and briskly saunter my way north to that building. Now, it is important that my reader understand the apparent contradiction in the phrase “briskly saunter.” “Briskly” describes my physical action in walking. “Saunter” describes my mindset while I’m briskly walking. I believe a man should walk with that decided purpose that says he cannot wait to see whatever he happens to see. The man who briskly saunters is alive in more ways than one. He walks with a decided purpose, but not a purpose to merely end the walk. Nay, he walks with his head up, enjoying the walk, for that is his purpose. It is the man who walks only to end the walk who displays lifelessness; it is the man who walks for the very experience of seeing his world who displays life. And thus it was that as I sauntered to teach, I did so not merely to get to the building but to see again what I had already seen.

*****

Just the other day, I took a short walk to the campus library with two colleagues. As we left the library and neared our own building we at once heard a soft buzzing in the air—there to our left were two young men flying a drone. If there is anything more depressing than a drone, I would like to know. Even the very name suggests the terrible monotony that is technology. But, as it were, these two men were happily flying this drone while passengers looked up and gawked at the machine—that is, a majority of people did look up and gawk, a majority of people who otherwise would have their heads down. Now, there was still a segment of the population who refused to look. Indeed, there is a segment of the population who refuse to live, and I fear that number will only increase as the seers of our age predict phones in our eyes and computers in our heads.

Several things occurred. First, one of these individuals who refused to show interest at the drone was walking in front of us. This man truly sauntered, with hood up, walking at such a pace that one might question whether he has yet arrived at the building. As three amblers, my colleagues and I were not concerned about this individual but were staring up at the sky in wonder and amazement. We then passed this young man, and one of my colleagues, upon looking down at the perpetrators with the drone, let out a “Hey! I know you guys!” A tad disconcerted, and not wanting to be associated with drones, we watched her leave and feigned ignorance. My other colleague then let out a sarcastic statement having to do with his individual rights, of which I commended. I say, I would be just fine if I was never in a picture again. In fact, I take great pains to avoid being in them.

In any case, my friend and I neared the building, and we walked in such a way that our heads were slightly turned back, staring at that horrible monstrosity in the heavens, yet still proceeding forward. It was at this moment that I recognized the man in the hood as a former student.

*****

In our morbid modern ways, men no longer walk as they once did. Take for example, my seven minute walk last semester. It is enough for me that I passed the same maple tree every day; it is enough for me that I made a point to walk with my head up and ears open to see and hear the slight changes in the atmosphere, as the days became weeks and November ate September. Every day—I should say every other day—I walked the same path so as to observe how the maple tree changed slightly, ever so slightly. Autumn affected the top of the tree first. On one occasion I noticed the once green leaves were an off-yellow; the next week they were nearly maroon; for two weeks the upper half of the tree (which seemed to be slowly devouring the lower half) was a vibrant red, as if those leaves knew something the others did not, as if they were proclaiming the glories of their existence before December came with its scythe and returned them to their Mother.

But I cannot help but notice my fellow humans each day as I ambled by such a tree, watching it die slowly, yet musing how it never seemed so alive. The younger generation walks at a deathly pace; they walk so slow for a second one may think they walk the way of their philosophy: backwards. They walk slow not in order to gaze at maple trees or listen to robins. They cannot, for they not only walk slow, they walk with heads downs and ears plugged. They stare at their feet and listen to the same song drone on and on and on while they talk to strangers miles away. And when an ambler finds himself behind two or three of these modern zombies, who walk like a dying sloths clogging the way, he cannot pass, for they notice not fellow humans and are unaffected by the world around them.

*****

I have been honored—in the same way that my students are honored to take one of my writing courses—to have taught various athletes over the past year. Though athletics are far too idolized these days, the spirit of athletic competition is the spirit of the human soul. I was once quite the athlete myself back in my day, but unfortunately, time conquers all.

The former student I ran into that day of the drone is also an athlete, and I was naturally delighted to be in the presence of both a campus celebrity and a former student. And likewise my former students are equally delighted to see me as a celebrity writer and former educator who imparts not only knowledge and skill but eloquence and wisdom. Thus, it happened that as my colleague and I began opening the double-doors to our building, we naturally held them open for this young man with wide grins on our faces. His eyes lit up as they inevitably recognized me (despite such a length of days between us!), and I let out a gracious, “Hey, J—, How are you?” To which he replied with a slight head nod, a look of admiration, and a feeble, “Hey.” Taken aback, perhaps, at my humility, as I fumbled with books in my arms and a door in my hand, he proceeded past me to the next set of double doors and began the process of opening one.

As he grabbed that handle, I thought I would engage him in trivial conversation—mere chewing the fat, mere idle chatter, between two athletes, one in his prime, the other headed to a hall. So in all the glory of the scenario, I beamed as I posed a question to him, though his back was turned.

This exact moment contains the moral of this rambling. For as I asked the question, I expected a long conversation to ensue about writing, and athletics, and life. I say, I had grand visions of my former student thanking me for the knowledge and wisdom he learned from my class—how those timeless truths were used each and every day. I envisioned a hearty handshake or maybe even a fist-bump. And as I contemplated these things in my heart I asked the question on the tongue of both my colleague and me:

“How’s the semester going?” I asked with the giddiness of a fifth-grader. 

And with that, the young man opened the door to the building, entered, and ignored me. He ignored me as if I had made no more sound than the faint squeak of a mouse. Surely, he did not ignore me for lack of memory; surely he was equally eager for conversation with me. Nay, he ignored me for the very reason moderns ignore mice and men: the man had headphones in his ears and was deaf to the world. 

Sam Snow, theficklefarce.com
Written at The Ole Midshipman,
Manhattan, KS,
February 1, 2015

Painting: "An Autumn Morning"
By James Aumonier,
Oil on canvas, 1900