Derek Johnson Muses

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Monthly Archives: May 2012

Vocation of Writer/Artist

I have a conflict within my vocation as an aspiring writer/artist becomes. As an aspiring artist, it is my duty to follow my heart every day, but as a Lutheran Christian, following my heart causes me grave concern. I have to give into time of free head-space and wandering thoughts, but wandering thoughts in many instances causes me to turn to places I know I shouldn’t go. It is in those moments, I have to run back to the words and sacrament, remember why my Lord and Savior has called me to this life.

In many ways, it leads me on a course where it would be natural to despise God’s Word. The path of an artist is one of finding what is new. Read as many books as you can, listen to every kind of music, travel, met new people, have new experiences.The nature of God’s Word is to read it over and over, keep its sayings close, and there are times when I open it up and find myself bored with it after five seconds. (Previous forlornings on not knowing the scriptures.)

As an artist, you have to accept things as they are. If you can’t photograph a certain barn on the road without power lines getting in the way, then you have incorporate the lines into the photo in the best way. As a writer, you have to find the best way to express yourself. But as a Christian, you have to know that “all things are lawful, but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful, but not all things build up.” (1 Corinthians 10:23). While emotions aren’t wrong, using them as your only guide in life is.

Even as artists, you do have to make judgments about how you present your work. You have to decide what to edit and what to go with, and how to tweak your photos on the computer. There are some directions that an artists just shouldn’t go: even though the nude form is good, not every presentation of it is appropriate. You find a way to express yourself, but if others don’t find it meaningful, then what good is it?

But God is the ultimate authority on what is good, not man. It is He who sends rain on the good and the bad, and this is His creation. I just express it to his glory, Amen.

Coconut Cookies

I like having cookies around, but eventually, making cookies ends up boring me. So I googled “coconut cookies” and this was the first recipe that came up. Of course I brought my own twists to it, subbing half of the butter out for peanut butter, and adding chocolate chips.

The Dough

Thankfully, the dough formed into smooth balls which wasn’t so messy.

The Dough on the Pan

The finished product was some light and fluffy delights that united peanut oil and coconut oil, and cleanses the palate.

Cookies anyone?

Ron Brown’s Testimony: Wasn’t it a Sports Issue?

(A note: while I write for a website that covers the Nebraska Cornhuskers, this is derekjohnsonmuses.com piece and not a piece that reflects the views of huskerlocker.com . The goal of this piece was to cover the one aspect of the Brown-fiasco that concerned sports, although I may have spilled over into social commentary in some places. As those of you who read this blog regularly know, I consider myself to be a devote Christian and a social conservative. In future posts, I intend to deal with the other aspects of raised by Brown’s testimony that concern Christian apologetics.)

For a while, Ron Brown’s testimony at a public forum in Omaha has been on my mind, as both a sports topic and a Christian apologist’s topic. I wonder if the whole thing would have blown up the way that it did if Brown had just differentiated his position from that of the University of Nebraska’s at the meeting. He spoke for three minutes at the meeting, mostly just calling the council to consider the Scripture and what it said. It was a bit uncouth, but never in the statement did Brown say anything hateful. In response, ESPN’s Page 2 was flooded with articles calling for Brown a bigot and that leaders who took such “hateful” positions should be relegated to positions with religious non-profits.

But there is really only one relevant question for sports talk radio in this matter: should an assistant coach at a major college be taking any political position? I’ve mulled over how I would feel if there was a Nebraska assistant taking the opposite position on homosexuality. I would be saddened, but that’s that particular coach’s right to do so.

In general, there’s a good reason that coaches are discouraged from taking controversial political positions. To develop a well-formed position that is above reproach takes time and study, and coaches spend all day in their offices studying tape. The debate over a gay anti-discrimination ordinance specifically is a difficult piece of legislation to debate. While they are community leaders, they are not the first people we should look to on issues like the one before us.

Brown’s testimony at the public forum could have been tailored better (as it was in his open letter he sent to the Lincoln Journal-Star the day before Lincoln had their public forum on the “fairness” amendment).  Don’t misconstrue what I’m writing: I’m not saying that Ron Brown can’t take the stage at public forums as a private citizen. But, in the debate over the gay agenda, each side is waiting to pounce on the others flubs, and Brown did give them a reason with his unpolished statement.

But the sports writers who have taken up positions against Brown have made the same mistake he did, only worse. Charles P. Pierce wrote in his grantland.com post said “But somebody should take [Ron Brown] aside and explain to him that the world is changing around him and that, for everyone’s sake, it’s time for him to adjust or get out of the way.” Just telling Ron Brown to shut up and get out of the way? While they gay lifestyle is widely accepted where Pierce lives in Massachusetts, it’s not as widely accepted in other areas of the country (even California voted to ban gay marriage), and that hammering it at other people’s heads doesn’t help his position, the hallmark of which is tolerance. Which means being permissive of the views of other and supporting their right to have those beliefs, even if they disagree with your own.

Alongside Pierce, Rick Reilly and Gene Wojciechowski have been quick to publish angry, politically driven piece on ESPN. If one of these sportswriters took these positions and went into town hall-debate with a Christian apologist like James White or Colleen Carroll Campbell on the homosexual lifestyle, I would not be surprised if their arguments looked shoddier than Ron Brown’s did. But then of course, they are sportswriters.

NBC: Don’t Repeat Friends on The Office

Life after Steve Carrell

(Part 1 on The Office‘s downfall)

NBC may have sunk sitcoms ten years ago by sticking bad multi-camera, hammed laugh-track show it could find behind Friends, but they never really broke out of their slump. Instead, they showed audiences looking appalled at the terrible jokes on the bad sitcoms and called that show The Office.
Now, NBC seems to be making the same mistake with The Office: leaving the show on the air after it has ceased to be funny. The only difference is with The Office that show is since it’s fearless leader, Steve Carrell, left a year, the creative hole in the show is obvious. Mindy Kailing and Rainn Wilson are bolting for their own shows (along with show runner Paul Liebestein, whose going to run Rainn Wilson’s Dwight-centric spinoff), evidence to the fact that cast knows the show isn’t good anymore.

And yet, NBC renewed the show for a full season, with no announced plans that this will be the last year for the show. Even earlier on this  year, the Peacock thought that they could just introduce some new characters, and the show would be fine.Perhaps they’re forgetting what got them into last place: keeping on good shows long past their peak. ABC, on the other hand, figured it out with Lost and Desperate Housewives: better to retire a year early than a year late. Viewers aren’t stupid, and if you have a young show that’s so-so and could go either way, they are more likely to give it a chance if your good shows are good. NBC only sees the prosperity in front of them.

Bread Pudding with Coconut Milk

Whenever my mom leaves, there is always something odd left in the fridge. One time in the last couple of months, she left me half a bottle of coconut milk. (Personally, I think it should be called think coconut water, since I assume it doesn’t come out of an animal. Anyone know if lactose intolerant people can drink it?) So I busted it out and made a loaf of bread with it; the loaf was creamy think, an unique product

Squeeze that coconut.

So with a new loaf of bread, I decided that I would make bread pudding with the 1/4 of the old loaf, which was starting to crumble in the Tupperware. Happy coincidence. I broke up the bread, and mixed some raisins, almonds, and cinnamon, and set it aside.

Bread and Berries.

I decided this shouldn’t be any ordinary bread pudding: it should have apples, sauteed on the stoves, then mix in the coconut milk.

Softening the Apples

As you can see, coconut milk is rich and deep, which makes for a filling pudding. It’s even a pleasure to mix.

The Meat of the Pudding

The add in the bread mix and work until it has been saturated through. Then I put it in the fridge to let it absorb the flavor.

The Mix-Up

After about half-an-hour in the fridge, I put in the oven at 375 degrees and check it at half an hour. The middle is still soft, so I give it another twenty, checking at ten. Then it’s well-cooked and juicy, and makes for a perfect dessert after a small meal, or as just a snack or a breakfast food. Just pour on some regular milk prior to reheating.

Finished Product: Gooey Goodness

I love cooking

Florida State-Big 12: A Match Made in Wonderland

Pointing West?

I’m sure if Tom Osborne had known that Florida State, the school of his old coaching pal, would eventually come to the Big 12, he never would have moved Husker nation to the Big 10. Seriously though: there is no good reason for Florida State to go to the Big 12, even if DeLoss Dodds shares the profits from the Longhorn Network. Even if the money is better, conference sustainability trumps dollar signs. What’s most remarkable about this potential realignment is that the ACC, the basketball league that established $25 million exit fees (which have kept Virginia Tech from seriously considering the SEC) and looked like it would swallow the Big East, looks like it could be headed for turmoil itself.

 

Old war foes almost conference foes?

Alas, if only Larry Scott had allowed Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, and Texas Tech to come into the Pac 12 last fall, and the rest of the Big 12 could have gone to the Big East, and this mess would be mostly over.

To Tomahawk Nation: even if the money in the Big 12 is better, that conference’s future can never be certain because of the Longhorn Network. In that conference, everyone else will be looking to leave, and Texas can always got to the Pac 12 because of the way the Pac 12 Network will be set up. Yes, there were thirteen years of hearing “Why do we need Florida State in this conference?” at the basketball coach’s meetings, but the ACC is not what the Big 12 was pre-2010 blow-up, Nebraska and Colorado, boom, outta here. You’ve got a good commissioner, now you just have to get him to work toward a conference network.

There is one scenario that Florida State moving to the Big 12 would make some sense: if there were five other institutions on board coming to the Big 12 with the Seminoles, thus forming the Big 16 and its own conference network. Imagine it: Florida State, Miami, Georgia Tech, Clemson, Rutgers, and UConn expand the Big 12’s reach into the east. Who cares if Iowa State’s closest division game is now in Morgantown, West Virginia? They always did their best when they recruited Florida. (Sorry, this is where the conference realignment post get as fanciful as Lord of the Rings.)

Future annual rivals?

This is just what happens in the long college football offseason: we get pointless stories like this. Let’s thank Chip Brown, and don’t forget Florida State: you have it good in the ACC. If you hire an elite coach (and eventually, you will), you’ll have an easy path to the national title game through Wake, North Carolina State, and eventually Syracuse, much easier than in the Big 12. Don’t get greedy like Texas A&M did.

Without a Prom-ise

I never had a high school prom. As part of that homeschooling charm,  I didn’t have a centralized prom to go to. A couple of my homeschool friends were invited by others to our local high school’s prom, but I was not. It didn’t really bother me at the time: my boss in high school scornfully told me to skip it and a friend once told me I should consider myself blessed not to have a prom. But when I was staying in Dubuque, I saw a bunch of kids show up at the river wearing tuxes and riding in a limo, and my mind turned again to that ambiguous hole around age eighteen.

Of course, the person I was then was a shelter outsider who didn’t fit in (probably why I became an artist). That kid was living for the day he could move away from his parents, become a pastor, and prove he was better than everyone else. I always figured that it won’t make difference; even now, I rarely think back on who I was in high school.

High school itself is a mystery to me. I don’t get movies or TV shows about high school, even great ones. I just don’t relate to that kind of experience because I never had it. In many ways, I felt like I woke up knowing everything I needed to know already.

What was is prom, really? A fancy, formal dance to celebrate the end of a year at school. Would it matter to me that much if I were dating a teacher and she took me to prom? Probably not, although I would be nice to see what it’s like. But would it top my trip to San Diego to the 2009 Holiday Bowl? Not really.

Ultimately, I fixate on my prom because I wish I could have those years back and build something with people who were there. If it could only be.

Don’t Go Out There When It’s All in Here.

I had a great plan when I left Seward a couple of weeks ago. Get away, spend some time with my best friend. Read and write, get some perspective, and figure out what to do about work and the rest of my life.
Then Brandon Cavanaugh invited me to write for Husker Locker, an opportunity that seemed to be God’s way of saying to me, “Derek, you may drive around the plains, but you aren’t going to find any great revelation out there. Care to check My Word?” I was mulling going to New York. Hiding among the buildings, window shopping, hitting the best museums, not to mention the coffee and the food, but still, I get pulled back here.

A long time ago, I thought going off into the world and finding some kind of enlightenment. And travel can bred good perspective (as Eirinn so exemplifies) but my place is here, in Nebraska. I can’t really explain why. An artist like me would probably do better in New York or San Francisco; I’ve thought about going back to school at other places. But I’m convinced that this is where God wants me to be, and come fall, I’m going to give myself as much as I can to writing for Husker Locker.

When I graduated college and forgo grad school and seminary, I moved back home and expected to “find myself”. Instead, I spent many days playing video games and filling my life with Lost and 24 reruns, high drama as I thought of it then. And I traveled, and eventually, I began to work for the company. The only thing I learned from that mass of space in my head was that I had to commit to something if I want to go anywhere in life. The only time I came to believe I was worth more than what I had was the fall of 2010, when I handled several long weeks of tests without much of a break. It was the best accomplishment I had since I received a 98.2% in second semester beginning Greek, my freshmen year in college.
Recently, I heard a sermon by President Harrison that enlightened me to how God can work. Sometimes, he preached, we pray to God for a different place in life when we’re not content where we’re at. Hearing that, I know that, while Seward may not always be my cup of tea and there is a legitimate chance I may end up living here my whole life (horror of horrors), it’s comforting being here in this humble position (“Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation”[James 1:9 ESV]), knowing that God controls everything.

In way, I needed to be humbled after college. I got great grades, and thought I didn’t need other people, an assumption that proved miserably untrue. Maybe I needed to learn that I treating people like crap wasn’t what God wanted me to do, and before I could accept certain things with gratitude I needed to go to a lower place. Thanks be to God.

Part 2 on The Hunger Games: A Social Analogy

Since I first heard the premise of The Hunger Games, I debated whether or not I would want to see it, or if I had kids, whether I would let them see it. Teenagers killing each other? That itself sounds squeamish enough to make you wonder if it’s appropriate at all, let alone young people. Unfortunately, neither the book nor film is tell us how sadistic does a society have to be to put children in an area and tell them to fight to the death. All we know about the motivation of the Capitol for staging the games is that it demonstrates their control, but for what purpose?

In many ways, Collins seems intent on satirizing the manufactured love the entertainment industry gives America, and pro sports leagues for the way they manipulate violence and game play (NBA reffing, NFL rules that benefit passing). But as screwed-up as those industries may be at times, killing young Billy from down the street seems to be taking it too far? We don’t need to be told how schmaltzy the game-makers must be, just make them as cruel as possible.

This is where Katniss’ perspective as the narrator is limited: on the one hand, she, with the ninety-nine percent, observes hopelessness up the obliviously rich people with lavish hair, but she doesn’t give any insight how the Capitol has maintained day-to-day control on the districts for the last seventy-four years, other than their cruel tournament. Granted, many young people in poverty may, though no fault of their own, lack perspective, but that doesn’t help me as a reader trying to understand the world of The Hunger Games. This is why Jonathan Frazen says that if a character narrates a work, then that character has to add something insightful to it.

Violence on screen is a means of catharsis, whether it be the mid-aged man trapped in a separation from his wife (Die Hard), the terror of a senseless world we don’t understand (The Dark Knight, The Walking Dead) the unspeakable atrocities of war (Saving Private Ryan, Black Hawk Down). For the violence of The Hunger Games to be cathartic enough to work, the world has to seem so cruel and arbitrary that the games seem strangely fair. Suzanne Collins only goes half-way there. If the Capitol was sadistic enough to enjoy the death of young people as entertainment, they wouldn’t have a problem of putting people to death arbitrarily on the street, which Katniss likely would have seen as a child.

But then I got to thinking: are the hunger games just an analogy for abortion? Are the teenagers being sacrificed in the arena just represented by the children the poor women sacrifice because our society has told them that they would just grow up to be criminals? Meanwhile, the rest of society just moves on and calls it a tough decision.

I digress. Would I let my kids see this movie? Frankly, I would have a hard time, at least until they were older and I could talk to them about it. I’m somewhat more disturbed by the fact that the film doesn’t know how to handle the violence then the violence itself.

Say One Thing, Do Another: Why The Hunger Games Narrative is Sorely Lacking

(Warning: the following post contains spoilers from both The Hunger Games book and film. Proceed at your own risk.)

Two years ago, I walked out of a theater having just seen Inception for the first time and was depressed because it was the best movie I had seen in about ten years, and I’d probably only see about eight or nine movies as good as it for the rest of my life. Few do what Christopher Nolan did with Inception:take a radically original premise and pushes it to its limits, all the while ignoring what any other film has done before it, all on a grand scale. But after reading The Hunger Games and seeing the movie, I was severely disappointed because I’d just watched a film that had an equal premise but took no such risks and offered a poor character.

Let me make a concession: The Hunger Games is commercially successful. There’s something in this movie that speaks to young people, and it is at some points pure spectacle, such as Rue’s death and the subsequent rioting in District 11, along with Katniss’ tears. Katniss’ voice, as she provides for her family, echoes the despair of the lower classes, and her character isn’t the spoiled brat Bella Swan is.  The whole idea of teenagers forced into a killing competitions breads the possibility to explore so many idea, and when you see the film half-explore them, it is maddening.

The Hunger Games frustrate as they seems to know what to do at times, and other times, they seem clueless, in virtually the same narrative situation. For example, director Gary Ross wisely keeps the violence off-screen in places where it’s needed: the bloodbath at the opening of the games, Cato’s mauling by the dogs, and death of the boy who rigged the mines after Katniss destroy the career’s food supply. But in other situations, the gratuitous material lingers, like when Glimmer’s mangled remains are overshown. Also, there’s the boneheaded move of showing the dogs in the control room before they’re unleashed on Katniss, Peeta, and Cato. The games control room itself is a nice addition to the film along with President Snow and the head gamesmaker, Seneca Crane. The all the capitol supporting players and Haymitch are well cast, although it’s not overtly to find an actor to play an over-the-top TV host.

Then there’s the film’s twist: a good plot twist is not just about the twist itself, it’s about the setup and fallout. Take Katniss’ decision to destroy the careers’ food supply. She mentions it right before she does it, in both the book and film. If I had been editing the manuscript, I would have told the author to have Haymitch suggest to Katniss to destroy the food supply before the games. Make his character look smarter; an action that important needs to be hinted at earlier in the work. And in spite of this action Katniss still seems to survive by dodging the action. Other plot misses: Katniss’ failure to kill Foxface not coming back to bite her (reading the book, I thought Foxface would find and kill Peeta when Katniss went to the feast) and Peeta never disclosing to Katniss why he joined the careers at the beginning of the games. If you’re smart enough to come up with the double attempt suicide to end the games, I expect you to figure the rest of it out.

Half-an-hour into the film, I wished the screenwriter would watch some episodes of 24 to understand how to pull off a good twist, only to see at the end of the film Billy Ray, who wrote a rejected screenplay for the 24 movie, was one of the writers. A yes-man writer if there ever was one.

But the real problem with The Hunger Games has to do with the central character and her arc, or more specifically, her lack of one. At the beginning of the story, Katniss doesn’t want to marry her friend Gale, and at the end of the story, she doesn’t want to be with Peeta. That isn’t a story arc. I don’t care if Katniss were to go being in love with Gale to denying love, or from not believing in love with Gale to believing in love with Peeta. Granted, I would prefer a view of marriage that respects the institution, but either way makes for a more interesting story that what I was subjugated to.

Illinois, Issues Etc., and Missouri Road Notes: Part 2

Thursday

Morning coffee at Starbucks in Edwardsville, Illinois. At separate tables are sitting two identical girls: nerd glasses like mine, brown hair pulled back, studying. One wears running gear, the other wears average dull college class clothes. Then a third girl walks in who looks exactly the same except her hair is done and she’s wear black pants & a sleeveless vest with a white shirt underneath. Then I look around and realize… all the girls around here look like that.

Wish I would have gone to the place on the Missouri side where the Missouri River flows into the Mississippi. I could have gotten a good view of it. Instead, I go up a tower where you can view the convergence, and view it from across the way, at Lewis and Clark’s winter camp before their expedition up the river. Love all things Lewis and Clark.

View from the top

Meet Pastor Wilken, Jeff, and Craig, the team behind Issues, Etc. They do the show in a small section of a strip mall in Collinsville because they want to be good stewards of the funds they receive. Such a blessing to come and encourage those who labor in the gospel. Great to see the operations of an actual radio station. Most intriguing thing I observed: Pastor Wilken looks at a poster of President Obama while he’s doing the show (I’m dead serious).

Lunch at Stake and Shake, one place I always try to eat at if I go far enough east. They overcharge me for my order (or get it wrong entirely), but it’s a good sandwich, even though thin. The fries are flimsy too.

Visit the Gateway Arch, which looks impressive, but when I get close to it, I realize it’s not the Golden Gate Bridge. The Bridge is massive, and looks the part of something huge. Maybe it’s because the Arch doesn’t serve a purpose of transportation or has no foreign tourists swarming it. I go into the Jefferson Western Expansion Museum, stamp my passport, and buy some novelty snack. I don’t ride to the top because I don’t like heights.

View from the ground.

Visit the U.S. Grant Home, where I complete the stamps for the Midwest part of passport. The roads down their make no sense to me; I have to stop at walking trails.

St. Louis is the lousiest piece of junk I’ve ever seen. Rotten railroads cross the river, whose banks team with unkept brush, and cracked buildings dot the streets. Even the high-end hotels aren’t kept up.The bad neighborhoods I observe from the interstate are what I imagine Detroit looks like, but this city has to be worse in places. The suburbs have so many empty sections in their strip malls, plus empty spots in the big malls, it’s embarrassing. St. Louis is a spralling city, but it doesn’t look that much more special than Omaha.

Get off the interstate just east of Jonesburg, Missouri and do my rural photographing thing. Going through Jonesburg, I pass over a dead turtle in the middle of the road. I hate driving around on the country roads, which are paved with golf-ball sized Missouri limestone.

Exit at Columbia, deciding  to eat at Steak and Shake again, then notice that Steak and Shake is next to Bob Evans. Remembering the time I had eating at Bob Evans in Lima, Ohio two and a half year when I was this tired, I head across the street. Chicken pot pie, with a roll and broccoli. I tip a solid twenty percent, good service. I mull which hotel to choose and call the Howard Johnson on my phone to see how much they are. Then I see a new Motel 6 as I cross the interstate, and decide to take my chances. It pays off: the room is clean and very respectable, and even has a couch.

I go to bed at 9:30 but I can’t sleep. I get up and drive to campustown, where I went once with Elizabeth when she went graduate school here in Columbia. The bars and clubs are abuzz, but the only coffee place open past eleven is Starbucks. I sit and type on my IPod while I watch the festivities of the students, girls trying to walk in high heels and dresses. I gradually make my way back to my car, hoping no one notices my red Husker shorts.

Friday

When I get back to Motel 6, it’s past midnight. I send an e-mail, take two pills, and hit the hay.

Have morning coffee at Kaldi’s: spiced maple coffee which surprises me. I expected it to be typical flavored coffee, basically food coloring with no body. Instead, it’s body with an apple-cinnamon accent, and I remember why I love food. I study a devotion over an egg and bacon bagel, enjoying the hip vibe of Kaldi’s. Take a pic of the sign for my sister.

I photograph a few barns, but not many. I want to get home.

Eating lunch at one of America’s northern-most Waffle Houses (Platte City, MO). I don’t know why this chain appeals to me. The last Waffle House I went to was in Florida and was a mess. This one is clean, but the vibe from the staff is lax, and don’t know how much I want to watch of my chicken being fried and my waffle being made. I know it’s part of the charming experience, but somethings are better left unknown. The meal is adequate and way too filling, and I don’t skimp on the tip.

I take one more photo detour in furthest northwest corner of Missouri, a state that’s unbelievably diverse. I bolt when I get onto Highway Two, and am equally relieved when I hear Unsportsmanlike Conduct on the radio. I arrive home at four, and head to bed.

Illinois Road Notes: Part 1

Last week, I left Dubuque and went on a trip that took me to my aunt’s house in Tinley Park, Illinois to Princeton, Illinois, down to the St. Louis suburbs, then back home. The following is the first half of some notes from my ride that I wrote on my IPod as I drove, or things that I was thinking along the way.

Tuesday

The road from Dubuque to Chicago is at first a frustrating two-laner over hills and curves, made even more frustrating by early morning fog and traffic. At points, I’m going 40-45. I’m gleeful when the road splits into four lanes by Freeport, and I happen upon a farm to photograph. I fill up at the oasis on I-88, just as a bus with high schoolers comes in. Chicago freeway traffic is light.

I exit I-294 and take Cicero down to where my aunt and uncle live. I drove this route several times when I would come down from Milwaukee seven years ago, and there are many more empty store fronts now then there was then. Not the roughest neighborhood I’ve ever been in, but it’s bleak nonetheless. Tinley Park, where they actually live, is much better. Seeing the bus stops with movie ads to me, is the hallmark of city life.

On the way out of Chicago, I get off at Joliet, Illinois, and find a minor highway that runs north of I-80 about ten miles. I have a fleeting thought about taking I-55 instead, but its raining, and I’d like to drive on a road less crowded.

Downhill

After photographing a group of sheds, I pull into a driveway to turn around and have to wait for two vehicles to pass. While I sit there, someone watches from the doorstep of the house, probably the person who owns the sheds. I worry about him approaching me or yelling at me, but he doesn’t do either.

Spend the night in Princeton, Illinois.

Wednesday

There are days when the road turns in unexpected ways, and today’s one of them. After a commitment is canceled, I take it as a sign to go to Collinsville, Illinois and visit the Issues, Etc. studio.

Take a break from driving in the rain. I’m in the middle of a forest preserve by Tiskilwa, Illinois, which appears to be nothing more than a collection of bushes. Found several abandoned buildings to photograph, an extended shoot of the Illinois River by Lacon.

The Illinois

Get coffee at a Starbucks in Peoria, Illinois, answer e-mails, then get soup at Culver’s. Head out on the interstate, but get pulled over by a cop for going 70 in a 55 MPH zone. While the cop takes two full games of IPod Moxie to write my ticket, I see two other people pulled over in front of me and it dawns on me: the state of Illinois is broke. They’ve become Wyoming.

Stop at the Lincoln home in Springfield, decide not to tour it since I remember some of it from our family vacation twenty years ago. I get my national parks passport stamped and wander among the buildings, listening to an audio tour on my phone. Take a vanity photo for my facebook page. Springfield is a rugged town; it has a “historic” downtown, but it still looks more worn down than it should. On the way out of town, I stop at Starbucks and download my e-mail in the parking lot.

Our lives are defined by our actions.

Stay at the Congressional Motel, a $45 a night shop for a room that smells like drugs were used in it. The WiFi doesn’t work, so I have to go to Panera Bread, which for some reason is called the St. Louis Bread Company. Come back and watch the sad coverage of the Junior Seau suicide and see Marcellus Wiley crying on ESPN. Heartbreaking.

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