Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Goldenrods

I've been reading probably too much about Detroit lately, but, in the course of some of that reading, I came across this photo, to which I can only say (and this comment has nothing, nothing, nothing to do with the photo series itself): Farewell, los Goldenrods. El mundo hardly knew ye.

In any case, check out the photo essay: the Urban Prairie.

Another School Year

I'm a lucky man who gets to teach, who gets to learn, who gets to love his job, who gets to feel thankful.

So, thanks, students. Thanks to the class of 2009. Thanks to those first freshmen I taught when I started here at Lake Braddock and to those students in between as they moved through English 9, or Creative Writing, or English 11, or Honors English, or AP Language and Composition, or AP Literature and Composition, or Film Study. And thanks to those in the Hayfield ISP during my first year in Virginia. Thanks to all you Outward Bound students who spent time in the Beartooth Mountains with me. Thanks to all those kids who spent a week at Storer Camp.

Thanks for being students, for being learners, for being, so many of you, fully present and alive on so many of our days together. For taking risks. For thinking. For taking your education, your lives, in your hands and for claiming that education as your own. And thanks for being teachers, as well, and for never failing to teach me.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Brewery Update

I think we've closed for the summer.


Still debating getting a Flanders Pale going sometime in the next two weeks so that by next spring, it might be ready to sit on top of some fruit (maybe a third on top of cherries, a third on top of apricots, and a third simply bottled as is) for another year or so. At the same time, though, having it ready for fruit by the spring doesn't make a lot of sense, given that there is, essentially, no good fruit available at that point. Might as well brew it in the fall and get it sitting on fruit in the late summer or early fall of 2010 when I could get good fresh cherries, apricots, etc.

So, probably closed until the end of the summer and things are looking good at this point.

The two saisons made with Wyeast 3711 are good, but probably a touch undercarbonated. I tried to get them up around 3 volumes of CO2, but I suspect they came in a little under that. They don't pop and sparkle quite like they should. Maybe call these the Slightly Disappointing Saisons, not because they're truly disappointing, but because they might not live up to their tremendous potential. Thus, the SDS.

The saison-spiked-with-Orval tasted fantastic when I bottled it last week. Strong, but not overpowering, Brett-y flavor and aroma. As long as it carbonates well, it should be a good one and, as I gave it a little fresh yeast when I bottled it, I have high hopes. thanks to the bottling music, it's the Campaigner Saison ("where even Richard Nixon has got soul.")

The Orvalish thing I made with Wyeast 3789 (supposedly the Orval strain + Brettanomyces) didn't have quite enough sour-tang going into the bottles. And, as it was already pretty damn dry, I'm not sure how much more, if any, Brett flavor will develop. I gave this one extra yeast at bottling, too, and maybe that was a mistake. I probably should have just let any remaining Brettanomyces work on the priming sugar and get a little extra leather/spice/horse blanket flavor that way. We'll see. I'll bring a few bottles to Michigan and give them a shot with anyone who is around in late July or so. Might call this one the Banso Pale. (Not So Orval -> NSO -> Nso -> Banso. Makes sense to me).

Racked the Flanders Red onto almost an ounce of oak cubes; time to let it sit for nine months or so. Gestate, really. Let the Brettanomyces and the Lambicus and whatever else inhabits that Roeselare blend work some magic.

Kegged the pale ale. Once that's carbonated, I'll bottle up as much as I can and get it to Michigan. Incandenza's Pale Ale?

Brewed a rye IPA as what will probably be the last beer of the season. I purposely didn't make this as another version of "Denny's Rye IPA," which everyone makes. And, admittedly, that recipe makes a fantastic beer, but one that is essentially (you might argue purely) a showcase for Columbus hops, with Mt. Hood lurking in the background. I went for Centennial front and center for citrus and spice, Ahtanum for extra grapefruit, and Columbus hopefully providing some non-citrus earthiness in the background. I look forward to seeing how the Centennial might work with the spiciness of the rye.

Friday, June 12, 2009

This Is Uncalled For

A couple of days, the iPod shuffled up, back to back, the Beatles' "Ticket to Ride" and the Wallflowers' cover of "I'm Looking Through You."

A completely random occurence, obviously. A roughly one in 12,000 chance that "Ticket to Ride" gets shuffled up. And once that song ends, a roughly one in 12,000 chance that the Wallflowers' cover of "I'm Looking Through You" gets shuffled up. Not that big of a deal. Trivial, really.

But it's exactly that kind of random occurence, of course, that gets people to believe in a higher intelligence directing the chaos that surrounds us. After all, is it not a sign of intelligence that the iPod knew to follow a Beatles' song (particularly a track that, in many ways, pointed the way toward Rubber Soul) with not just another Beatles' song, but a cover by a different band. That's some Intelligent Design, no? Some Wise Old Benevolent Being Shit, no?

It's the chaplain, in Catch-22, who "would have yielded to reason and relinguished his belief in the God of his fathers... had it not been for such successive mystic phenomena as the naked man in the tree at that poor sergeant's funeral weeks before and the cyptic, haunting, encouraging promise of the prophet Flume in the forest only that afternoon: Tell them I'll be back when winter comes."

Right, Mr. Tappman. It's mystic phenomena. Or maybe, maybe, it's just Yossarian without his clothes.

It's our ability to reason run through (or perhaps clouded by) our need to find a reason.

Incidentally, I liked Catch-22 more this year than either of the last two years. Not sure why. At the end of last year, I was ready to leave it on the shelf for a few years and teach something else instead. Now, it's back in consideration for next year's rotation.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Truth + Annie Dillard

As I revised that piece last week, I tried to decide whether to distort the truth on a (relatively) insignificant detail: what tape is playing in my car at one point. For the sake of the piece, it works best if it's something like Al Green's Let's Stay Togther. In truth, though, it was probably something like Love and Rockets' Earth, Sun, Moon, or the first album by the Stone Roses.

Ostensibly, it shouldn't matter.

But the piece is about telling the truth, about trying to find the confidence to live my own stories, to live my own ideas, and not those of others.

And I know that lies, distortions, fictions can be as effective (even more effective sometimes) as the "truth" in revealing what's true about a particular story, a particular moment. It is, after all, how metaphors work. And it's ground that Tim O'Brien covers repeatedly in The Things They Carried. But, somehow, it felt awkward to lie in this particular piece.

In any case, it reminded me of Annie Dillard's "Transfiguration" and her insistence that, while she actually was reading a biography of Rimbaud when a moth flew into her candle and stuck there, she certainly would not have hesitated to invent that detail if it didn't happen to be true.

Monday, June 8, 2009


While revising a piece of writing about high school last week, I thought about those little lawn jockeys that you rarely see anymore (at least around here) and that were not-so-strangely ubiquitous in Grand Haven when I was in high school. You know the ones: the black guy, usually in a red jacket and white pants, perhaps holding only a hitching ring (in case Some Dutch Guy on a Horse shows up at your house) or perhaps holding a lantern, making sure that Massuh makes it up the sidewalk and into the house safely.

Specifically, what I remembered was a conversation I had with Melanie in which we dreamed up a new lawn jockey: The Vandersambo. What we should do, we decided, was steal a whole bunch of these ornaments, paint the faces white, maybe hint at a little blonde hair poking out from underneath the jockey's cap, and color the eyes blue. A lawn jockey that looked more like the population of Grand Haven. A lawn jockey that might light the walkway to Russ's Family Restaurant (though not, of course, on a Sunday). A Vandersambo.

Update: it turns out that some company has made just such a product. In fact, as far as I can tell, the company sells both the "traditional" jockey and the "updated" jockey. They don't, however, have the name. And the name is everything.

Friday, June 5, 2009

More Rain in Virginia

We're essentially underwater here in Burke on another rain rain and more rain day. It's a beautiful rain, though, and a beautiful morning. One of those fully saturated, completely green, somewhat dark, but somehow not gray mornings. Would I take it over sunshine and crystal air on a late October afternoon? No, but I sure ain't going to get mopey over it either.

A student claimed a few days ago that Charles Mingus' "Better Git it in Your Soul" is fundamentally life-affirming, fundamentally joyful. And he's right, of course. I replied that I couldn't imagine hearing that song and not feeling good, that, in some way, if an individual hears that song and does like it, well, then that individual probably doesn't actually like music. And it reminded me of a conversation from, like, 18 years ago, and my attempt to express that, no matter how straightup ugly the world might be at times, and no matter how theoretically bleak any particular aspect of the future might look, and no matter how frighteningly empty the prospect of Old Mister Fucking Death He Self might be, I couldn't imagine getting too, you know, like, depressed about it because Bob Dylan existed, because 100 Years of Solitude existed, because Astral Weeks existed, because A Love Supreme existed. Maybe it's a copout, to let art, even challenging art, be a consolation, but I suspect that's only the case if you make art nothing but a mask for pain, or a distraction from hurt.

Plus, there are rivers, mountains, and trees. And the sound that water makes running over rocks. And the end of "When Doves Cry." And Terence Malick's Days of Heaven.

In any case, if you don't have a copy of the Mingus track with you at the moment, get yourself a quick fix via the Interwebs. And if the "Oh yeah!" just before the one minute mark doesn't raise at least a small smile, and if the fundamental drive of the song doesn't at least make you want to get up and move just a tiny bit, then, um, rewind and try again.

("Rewind" just threw me, all adolescent-y into my family's 1987 Chevrolet Nova. For a few seconds, I could sense, exactly, with the first two fingers of my right hand, how it felt to push the rewind and fast-forward buttons simultaneously in order to activate the tape deck's auto-reverse function and flip to the other side of the cassette. And how it felt to root around one-handed on the floor of the car for a tape that had slipped down behind the passenger seat, trying to keep an eye on the road, a foot near the clutch, and another foot in relatively constant pressure on the gas pedal).

Sidenote: OMFD He Self is via Pynchon.

Sidenote: In a 1916 letter, Wallace Stevens wrote, "Unfortunately there is nothing more inane than an Easter carol. It is a religious perversion of the activity of Spring in our blood."

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Post War And Peace Reading

After Henry, by Joan Didion. She can write. And the essay on '88 Dukakis campaign is sadly relevant. Bonus feature: reading about that '88 campaign sent me back to Bloom County and its essential query during that race: vote for the wimp? Or vote for the shrimp? Unrevised blog bonus feature: multiple colons within a single sentence.

The Given Day, by Dennis Lehane. The opening chapter -- a prologue, really -- is excellent. Give yourself twenty minutes in a bookstore and read it. The rest of the book never hits the same height, but remains compelling. In that respect (but no other), it reminds me of DeLillo's Underworld, which opens with the 1951 Giants-Dodgers pennant race and Cotter Martin, Frank Sinatra, J. Edgar Hoover colliding in a brilliant 50-page setpiece and spends another 750 pages never quite getting as good.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Wallace Stevens: Questions are Remarks

Goldbarth’s poem about the typo in Simak’s A Heritage of Stars did, in fact, send me back to Wallace Stevens and I read this:

Questions Are Remarks

In the weed of summer comes the green sprout why.
The sun aches and ails and then returns halloo
Upon the horizon amid adult enfantillages.

Its fire fails to pierce the vision that beholds it,
Fails to destroy the antique acceptances,
Except that the grandson sees it as it is,

Peter the voyant, who says, “Mother, what is that” –
The object that rises with so much rhetoric,
But not for him. His question is complete.

It is the question of what he is capable.
It is the extreme, the expert aetat. 2.
He will never ride the red horse she describes.

His question is complete because it contains
His utmost statement. It is his own array,
His own pageant and procession and display,

As far as nothingness permits… Hear him.
He does not say, “Mother, my mother, who are you,”
The way the drowsy, infant, old men do.

Wallace Stevens

Today, I read it again and now I’ll write about it for a little while. An initial response, hopefully taking me further into the poem.

In some ways, it reminds me of Emerson’s “Nature,” especially Emerson’s claim that only a child perceives the sun, only a child can truly see the sun. In other ways, it is its own entity, full of its own insistences, like Stevens’ usual reminders of the primacy of perception, of individual perception, of an individual’s take on the world, constructed of both the world itself and the individual’s imagination.

Peter, in the poem, “will never ride the red horse she describes.” None of us will. None of us can. It’s impossible. Even if we ride red horses, they will never be identical to the one seen and described by her, the one constructed, in part, by her imagination, her perception.

What I respond to most, I think, in the poem, is this notion of “antique acceptances,” this notion that we’re so full of what we’ve already seen and what we’ve already heard that the very light of the sun itself cannot pierce the veils of our assumptions and presumptions and pre-conceived notions. It’s our “antique acceptances” walling our imagination off from its natural relationship with the world, walling us off from the sun.

Except, of course, that the grandson sees it as it is, sees it uncolored by 3000 years of solar writing, solar assumptions, solar study, solar theorizing, solar worship, solar poetry, and solar so forth. Even if, says Wallace, even if the boy stops to ask what that thing is, he still apprehends it fully. His question, says Wallace, is complete.

There is no desire to make that sun other than what it is, no desire to transform it into a symbol, into a metaphor, into a suggestion, into memory, into something to worship or to fear.

In the same way, the child – even as he may ask his mother who she is – has no desire to change her. He does not see her as anything other than what he sees her to be. His question, again, is complete. (Is this, in its own way, unconditional love?) This is contrasted with the “other” form of infant in the poem: the drooling, toothless old man, the drowsy old man. He, the old man, may ask the same question, but his is tinged with a desire to see something different, to know something different. Think of just a few of the different ways we can ask that question:

Who are you? (I honestly don’t know who you are and I’m curious).
Who are you? (Who is this person that I thought I knew?)
Who are you? (Have you changed? Have I changed?)
Who are you? (Was I wrong about you?)

And consider how we might, even if we're not as old as the toothless and drowsy guy, ask that same question of those we love, or those we claim to love, and how often we imply a desire to see something different.

I’m out of time now, but I must add this, for myself, so that I might remember to think about it later: I have no idea what’s up with the “2” in the fourth stanza.

Brewery Update

I'd like to brew one or two more batches before things shut down for the summer, so last week I picked up another package of Wyeast's Roeselare blend (a mix of a neutral ale yeast and a variety of lambic cultures) and a pack of US-05 (essentially a dry version of the ubiquitous California Ale (or Sierra Nevada) yeast). If time permits, I'll use the US-05 make an IPA (with rye) and hit it hard with Centennial and Amarillo hops for floral, spicy, citrusy goodness, and the Roeselare blend to start either a Flanders Red or some kind of Flanders Pale (with the other one put on the back burner until September).

Kinda still fermenting: an Oud Bruin (malty sour brown ale) that has soured nicely in the last month and a half but that still, I think, wants another six months or so before it's ready for packaging. At that point, I'll decide whether to bottle all of it, or split it and bottle half of it and put the other half on top of some cherries for another six months. I may do something similar with the Flanders Pale whenever that gets brewed.

Probably done, but still waiting to be bottled: the small batch of Saison spiked with Orval dregs and the Thing Made with Wyeast 3789 Trappist Ale Blend. With luck, the TMW3789TAB will wind up at least vaguely Orval-ish after sitting in bottles for a few months.

Waiting to be kegged: a summer ale with the gravity and body of a pale ale, but hopped for flavor and aroma a little more like an IPA. A fair amount of that one will head to Michigan, I suspect.

In kegs: an amber ale (some of which, like the pale ale, will probably get bottled and carried to Michigan); another dozen or so pints of an English Bitter; a Dubbel from the fall that may get dumped if it doesn't come together relatively soon.

In bottles and heading to Michigan: two different Saisons, made with essentially identical grain bills and the seasonal 3711 yeast, but one with citrusy American and one with spicy European hops; an assortment of various Dubbels, Tripels, old barleywines, etc, to give to those who might want them.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

A Little More Big Star

And, by the way, if you can imagine a way to improve the drums in "September Gurls," I'd love to hear what it is. If they got any closer to the edge, the song would fall apart. Any tighter and the song would lose its perfect ragged edge.