“Men at work and play” is now online

Posted April 17, 2014 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Fathers and Sons, Humble efforts, short stories

Tags: ,

My story “Men at work and play” is now up at Wolf Willow Journal. Click on over there and have a read if you’re interested. As of this morning, it bears the title of “The Shawl in my Closet” but I’ve asked the editor to fix that.* The story begins “Curt knelt in the gravel before the dying fire . . .” If you see that, you’re in the right place. And if you care to, let me know what you think.

For one of my early published stories, the editor had used the wrong name in the byline. That never got fixed though I had asked. Oh well.

I read through “Men at work and play” now and spotted all of the things I would have fixed if I’d seen them before submitting. I can’t believe I use the verb “slump” in successive sentences. I have a dangling modifier that sticks out. (I’m not usually too bothered by these, but this one bugs.) And do I really need to say they’ll be a mess twice?

As I said in yesterday’s post, not a whole lot happens in this story . . . except for everything. What came before and what comes after in the cycle of stories gets concentrated and focused in this one. That I could even write this I take as a sign that I’m finally in control of the shifting, amorphous mass of tales that have been presenting themselves to me over the last two years.

So this marks the fourth Fathers and Sons story to see publication: “When We were Young and Life was Full in Us,” “The Lonely Road,” “Men at work and play,” and the forthcoming “The Most Natural Thing in the World.” I have a couple of others in circulation. I’m feeling pretty good about this whole cycle.

* Fixed!

“Men at work and play” accepted for publication

Posted April 15, 2014 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Fathers and Sons

Tags: ,

I am still really weary from running that half marathon three days ago. (And we won’t talk about last night’s run.) But I’m feeling buoyant right now because in this morning’s email was an acceptance for one of my Fathers and Sons stories.

“Men at work and play” will appear in the next issue of Wolf Willow Journal, which will apparently make its appearance online tomorrow.

This is an important story in the cycle, even though not very much happens at all in the events I give. Three generations, knocking about the cabin, doing chores, a little fishing, a campfire, quiet closeness. It’s almost more of a vignette (or as I’ve seen disdainfully described lately, an anecdote but not a story). It is a kind of lens, collecting and focusing the lives that have come before in the stories of the cycle and foreshadowing many things that will come in the later stories. I intend to write a companion story for this called “Men at rest” that will parallel and fulfill much that is in this one.

I had sent “Men at work and play” off to this magazine based on a call for submissions with the theme of sanctuary, and the nurturing quality of the family cabin in these stories is something I have been trying to depict throughout. It seemed a good fit, and it was.

Interestingly, I’m actually going to be paid for this story: $20. (I hope that’s US dollars since the publication is based in Saskatchewan.) This is the third piece of my fiction that has earned me an income, so my bank account has swollen by $40.15. Woohoo! And it is the fourth of my Fathers and Sons stories to be published. I feel as though I’m getting some traction.

I’ll be sure to put up a link to the story when it appears.

Rock the Parkway 2014 ~ recap

Posted April 13, 2014 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic, Running

Tags:

Rock the Parkway

CAUTION: Long post full of self aggrandizement.

I don’t think I was being too coy about the struggle I had completing my first half marathon last fall. I recounted it in two posts: here and here. It was tough. More than tough. And so it was with considerable anxiety that I signed up for Rock the Parkway, another half marathon here in Kansas City. But I knew I had to do it.

Of course I was full of fret and anxiety in all of the months leading up to RTP. I had “bonked” on the earlier half; I had run out of fuel and had to run on little more than determination and the muscles my body apparently had to consume to keep me going. It was the hardest, most grueling thing I had ever done (and that includes the calculus course I took in college). Yet I was going to attempt to do it again.

So I spoke to as many of my running friends as I could — those who would listen anyway — and asked what went wrong before and what I could do right this time. The bottom line was that I had likely fueled inadequately for that last run. I hadn’t eaten properly in the days before, hadn’t kept my body sufficiently hydrated in advance, and hadn’t consumed enuf energy during the actual run to sustain my effort.

And so I set about correcting all of that for this run. In the week before I had been slamming bottles of Gatorade (lemon-lime G2) each day. I had two pasta dinners on days when I generally never ate dinner at all. And I organized plenty of GU (chocolate outrage and salted caramel) and energy bites (Honey Stingers and ShotBloks) to carry with me on the run. I was determined to get my glycogen and electrolyte levels as elevated as I could in preparation. (I barely know what I’m talking about.)

And I watched the weather report. Early in the week, the forecast called for a chance of rain and possibly thunderstorms on Saturday. But unlike when I’m planning a trip to my little cabin in the Ozarks, as the week progressed, the threat of rain diminished. By Thursday, all chance of rain was removed from the forecast and the temps were expected to rise into the upper 70s. Maybe a little hot for a long run, but pretty close to ideal, at least to me. I decided to do without the long sleeve shirt and risk being a little cold at the start. That would correct itself once I got moving. And I would wear a cap because the sun was expected to be out and likely in my face both directions of the run.

The Parkway of Rock the Parkway is Ward Parkway, a pretty, divided boulevard that runs through some very nice neighborhoods and terminates at the Plaza, Kansas City’s upscale shopping and dining district. The course would take us north on the Parkway (more or less uphill until mile four despite what they say), then around a beautiful urban park, taking us back to the other side of Ward Parkway for the return (which is correspondingly — and blessedly — more or less downhill).

I slept well on the night before, though I remember having a dream about being unable to find the timing chip I needed to add to my shoe. I woke before the alarm and decided not to fight for any more sleep. I let the dogs out, drank another bottle of Gatorade, got online to surf a bit and reduce my anxiety, and slowly dressed myself in the kit you see in the photo above. (After a winter of layers and long clothes and hats and gloves, it’s nice to travel light once again!) About two hours before the run was to start, I swallowed three Advil and ate the entire packet of ShotBloks. I also ate two slices of bread with peanut butter on them and a banana. All that was left to do was to drive the few miles to the start where I could wait and fret.

The temperature was already 60 degrees when I arrived. I knew I would not be cold as I waited. Just shivering with fear. I met with some of my running friends, but with more than 6,000 runners at the event, I didn’t hang around and instead wandered over to my starting corral. I had reported my expected finish time based on my performance at that earlier half, and that put me at the back of the pack, which was fine. That meant there would be fewer people to pass me since most were already in front of me. (See how I think these things through?)

Being at the back of the pack (of 6,000) meant that even though the race started at 7:30, I would not be starting until at least twenty minutes later. The start of the course headed south for a short distance and then turned and ran up the other side of the Parkway. So as I stood there, waiting to start, I could see hundreds and hundreds of runners already underway, across the boulevard just to my left. Well, that was fine. I knew I had only one runner I needed to pay attention to.

The shuffling eventually got my wave to the start. I started my watch and hoped it could grab some satellites before we were ushered across the starting mats. And though I always worry that this won’t happen, it always does happen. I crossed the mats at a trot and settled in, knowing I had a great deal of time and distance I had to manage.

I was determined not to look at my watch as I ran, and by that I actually mean not to look at the pace reported on my watch. Generally one of two things happens when I do this. Either I am disappointed that I’m not running fast enuf, or I’m instantly exhausted because I see I am running too fast. Rather, I intended just to run at the pace my legs and lungs (and determination) set and do that for as long as I could (preferably 13.1 miles). I did occasionally look at the distance my watch reported, and by the first third of a mile, I was already hot. There was nothing I could do about that, no clothes I could shed or water I could spray on my face, so I just pressed on.

I was laden with GU. I had four packs of this energy gel pinned to the waistband of my running shorts. I also had a packet of Honey Stingers in the tiny back pocket of my skimpy running shorts. And I vowed to grab a cup of Gatorade and a second cup of water at each of the aid stations along the course. I intended to stay hydrated and nourished this time. My plan to was suck down a GU at miles 2, 4, 8, and 10. I would snarf down the Honey Stingers at mile 6. I hoped that regular infusions like this would satisfy my long-term energy needs. (On that half I ran last fall, I had only eaten some ShotBloks at mile 9, much too late to restore the lost energy in time.)

And so I ran my plan. The first four miles of this run are pretty much one long uphill adventure. There are some level spots, and two or three places where you go downhill briefly (only to recapture that elevation soon after), but for the most part, it is uphill. At the top of that hill is a very nice fountain in the middle of the parkway. (You can sort of see it on my bib and medal in the photo below.) This is, of course, where the photographers sit and wait for the runners to pass. It’s very photogenic: your smiling face with the fountain in the background. Except that you’ve just run four miles uphill. Now I’ll grant that for many (and perhaps most) of the runners on this course, four gradual uphill miles at the start are not much at all. They arrive at the fountain looking fresh and frisky, and they probably look fine in their photos. Me, on the other hand, not so much. I think I saw most of the paparazzi, and I did my best not to look too frumpled and frazzled. I tried not to gasp as I passed. I don’t know if I succeeded. In fact, I don’t know if they took any shots of me at all. The pack was still a little dense at this point, and I may have been lost in the crowd.

But onward. After this point, the course was mostly level. I was mostly tired, and I was already negotiating with myself about where I would allow myself to stop or walk or somehow rest. I knew that the highest point on the course was around mile 7, and I thought that if I achieved that, I had really earned a break. But then I remembered that I had made it to mile 8 on that earlier half marathon before stopping, so I thought maybe that would be a more respectable point. Whatever, it seemed like it had to be done.

I had been running on the far right of the roadway most of the time. This left plenty of space for the swifter runners to pass me without breaking a sweat. I noticed around mile three, however, that my right hip was beginning to send me messages of complaint. The camber in the road meant that my right foot was striking just a tiny bit lower on the ground than my left, and I think my hip was trying to make that clear to me. So I changed my route a bit. I moved to the left side of the road to give my hip a break. I realize that might seem like high-level thinking for someone in the grueling early miles of a road race, but the fact is I had experienced this before and worked out the solution then. I hadn’t anticipated this happening, but I also realized that the benefit of those three Advil I had taken early in the morning was probably gone by then. Regardless, the plan worked.

Until it didn’t. At mile 6, my left knee began to register its complaint. Apparently the lower footfalls on the left were now wreaking their havoc on my body. Worse, mile 6 was exactly where my left knee had begun to bother me on that earlier half marathon, and that was a sign that my IT band had had enuf. But I was on the run, and more importantly, I was still running at mile 6, not having taken one of the breaks I allowed myself, so it was back to the right side of the road. This seemed to work, more or less. The ache in the left knee diminished, and the ache in the right hip did not return. I figured that if it did, I would just run down the middle of the road where there was no slope either direction. And some of the time I did that.

In the meantime, I was devouring my GU on schedule and drinking the Gatorade and water offered at the aid stations. I had those aches, but what I didn’t have was fatigue. I was apparently keeping myself fueled properly. Mile 7 was a chore. The biggest hill on the run hit there. Many people were walking this hill, but I was determined not to. Yes, I was tired. Yes, my brain was telling me what an idiot I was. But I was determined to reach mile 8. The trouble was that despite my corrective efforts, my left knee was still hurting. At that point I was just over half way; I had a lot of distance yet to cover with a knee that didn’t seem like it was going to cooperate. So I made a regrettable but unavoidable decision. I walked two hundred feet to give my knee a break.

I had realized after I topped the hill in mile 7 that I had the energy and the mental fortitude to run the entire 13.1 miles. What I didn’t have was a left knee that was on board for this. So although running the entire distance would have been a great personal achievement, I knew that I had to leave that for the next time. In the end, I only walked about two hundred feet. It was such a short distance that the slower pace barely registered on the pace chart for the run (after I plugged in my watch and downloaded the adventure). And then I was running again.

At mile 9, I was back on Ward Parkway again (having looped around that urban park), and the route from this point was mostly flat and generally downhill, with a few climbs thrown in that mirrored those on the earlier part of the Parkway because, well, we were running along it again. And that seemed to be enuf. I ran. I kept running. I passed the mile markers. I ate the last of my GU at mile 10. I hit all of the Gatorade and water stations. (And, yes, I always did ask if they had Bud Light. “Next station,” they’d say.) And I kept running.

We passed through some very nice neighborhoods, but they were lost on me. I was deep inside myself. Concentrating. Pushing. Ignoring. Running. I was far behind all of my running friends, many of whom were already likely finished. I was alone on the course, surrounded by hundreds of other runners, but no less alone. I could only call on myself for help. Except at mile 11. It was there that I spotted one of my friends from the running club. She was sidelined with an injury but was working as a course monitor (which meant blocking one of the side streets so we delirious runners didn’t accidentally turn down it, and that actually happens more than you might imagine). Seeing her at that point in the long run was exactly what I needed. I felt a kind of emotional recharge that buoyed me for the rest of the run.

The last mile is literally downhill. Not a steep downhill, but a consistent downhill. Because I was fueled (apparently) I was able to coax a little more speed out of my legs. At least that’s how it felt. It felt as though I was running faster and harder, and that I was able to sustain it for a last mile. (And when I downloaded the run later, my watch confirmed that I had.)

I came pelting down that last little bit before the finish arch, running like I knew what I was doing. I thought that some of my friends might be on the sideline to cheer me on, but if they were, I never saw or heard them. It didn’t matter. It was all about me at that moment. I pushed and pressed and ran and ran, and then I crossed the finish mats and it was all done. 13.1 miles, and nearly every inch of it run by my legs and lungs.

I switched off my watch as I crossed the mats, and I fell into a staggering walk, suddenly limping because my left knee asserted itself again. Maybe I exaggerated the limp. Maybe I didn’t. I don’t know. I think I was more pooped by that last quarter-mile push than by any failure of my running mechanism. I stopped at the man who would clip the chip from my shoe and nearly fell over when I tried to lift my foot. He graciously told me to leave my foot on the ground and he would remove the tag that way. Then I greedily accepted the bottle of water someone offered me. And then I stepped up to the man who hung a medal around my neck.

RTP

It was a good run. I had been fearing a repeat of my first half marathon, but I ran my plan and seemed to have conquered myself. (I beat my last half marathon time by 8 minutes!) Clearly I need to do some exercises to strengthen that knee. (A day later, my left IT band is tight and still pretty angry with me.) And somehow I need to wrap my poor brain around the fact that I must do twice this distance in October when I run a full marathon in Portland.

But all of that was for later. At the moment there was chocolate milk to be drunk. And a foam roller to be pressed to my flesh. And a hot epsom salts bath to take.

And I need to start preparing for my next half marathon, just over two months away. The boy is insane.

 

writing tips blog

Posted March 24, 2014 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Rants and ruminations

Tags:

I was tempted to title this post the BS Writing Tips Blog, but I refrained. (Though can I say I truly refrained if I said it in the body of the post? I’m so conflicted.)

Anyway, Bartleby Snopes, which was kind enuf to publish one of my stories, now has a writing tips blog, and the inaugural entry is up, here. This first entry seems a little obvious, especially to an iconoclast like me, but they welcome input in the form of comments, so perhaps a writerly dialogue will enhance their effort even more.

So surf on over there if you have a mind and see what you think.

story accepted

Posted March 21, 2014 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Fathers and Sons

Nice way to start the new year. One of my Fathers and Sons stories, “The Most Natural Thing in the World,” has been accepted for publication.

It will appear in the May issue of MOON Magazine, addressing the theme of “The Wonder of Boys.” The editor made a couple of minor changes to the text but otherwise said she really liked it.

So I’ll post a link here when it comes up. This makes my twentieth piece of published fiction. I realize for some of you that’s a weekend’s worth of work, but it’s a landmark to me.

Happy New Year

Posted March 20, 2014 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic

Tags: ,

Happy New Year to all of my Persian family and friends.

The custom is to get yourself some kind of treat so you can stride into the new year with hope and vigor. This year I got myself two new shirts!

Westport St. Patrick’s Day Run 2014 recap

Posted March 17, 2014 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Running

I’d been having some not-so-good runs in the days before this race. I think because I spent so much time on the treadmill these last few cold months, I was having pacing problems. The treadmill belt turns at a constant pace, so I trot along at a constant pace (despite what the shoe sensor is telling my running watch). I can increase or decrease the speed on the treadmill, but for most of my runs I keep it at a constant pace.

Not so, it turns out, on actual pavement. The real ground does not move beneath your feet. You have do more than just lift and drop your feet. I had forgotten that detail. And when you are doing “real” running, you are in complete control of your pace, except when you’re not paying attention and let yourself get going too fast. Then you wonder why your lungs feel like they’re about to explode and you’re seeing black dots in the corner of your vision. So on recent outdoor runs I’d get going too fast without realizing it and then stop to gasp or slow to a walk to recover, which is not satisfying or encouraging (especially when you have a full marathon in your fast-approaching future).

So I was apprehensive about this four-mile run in the middle of Kansas City. I had wanted to run it last year but couldn’t because I was out of town. Thus I was eager to take the chance this year and signed up for it as soon as the window opened. I’d had a bad run on Wednesday of last week and decided I was running too much. (I know, blasphemy.) So I took off Thursday and Friday to rest, and to fret.

Saturday morning dawned warm and sunny. My legs felt rested. I had picked up my packet the afternoon before. My watch was charged. My attitude was hopeful. And so my wife and I made our way down to Westport, the oldest part of Kansas City. It’s a place full of restaurants and bars and funky shops that come and go. It has a vibe, mostly faux-hipster counter culture, but we suburbanites leaven it a bit.

This year marked the 36th running of this race, and since it’s in observance of St. Patrick’s Day, the organizers felt it appropriate to have it start in front of a bar called Kelly’s and end in front of a bar called McCoy’s. There were several thousand runners, mostly dressed in green, as well as folks in costumes either of color and splash or of caricatures (or stereotypes) of Irish culture. Is there really an Irish bobsledding team? Are three Gumbys somehow representative of Ireland? Runners were encouraged to form teams, which would tie themselves together. (A hazard when you want to run between them if they’re in your way.) One team consisted of a leprechaun, a rainbow, and a pot of gold. Another, more unsettling, team was a middle-aged man and two much younger (and more fit) women all encircled by a rope. The women ran the lead with the man behind them as though being towed.

But I gave myself over to the festive spirit of the morning and decided to concentrate on my own run, which was really the only thing under my control anyway. I met with several friends in my running club and we all chatted before the official start. But we would all go at different paces, so once we were off, we split up as expected.

Since there were so very many runners, and since I was in about the middle of the pack waiting to start, I think several minutes passed before the general shuffle got me to the starting line. I had managed to get my watch to find some satellites in time so when I crossed the starting mats, I started my watch. And I was off.

As usual, hundreds of people passed me. The start gave us a brief down hill and then a gentle rise to a more or less level stretch for a while. Being mindful of my tendency to start too fast at these events and to fail to pay attention to my pace, I tried hard to stay at a reasonable rate. I knew I had to shepherd my energy for the entire distance. So I got over to the right side of the road where the slower runners were and settled in. Even so, this reasonable rate proved to be faster than my normally blistering pace. But I felt good and so tried to stick with it.

At the first quarter mile, someone was on the side of the road handing out shots of Guinness extra stout beer to anyone who wanted it. (Note that this was not an official aid station.) I might have been tempted except for two things: I don’t like stout beers and I was leery of drinking any beer so early in a run. So I passed.

And I passed a lot of walkers. I’m sure there were hundreds of people who were there to walk the four miles, and I hope they were who I was passing. If they were runners who had already exhausted themselves in the first quarter mile, then they were going to have a disappointing morning.

By the half mile mark we began to climb a steep hill. That didn’t last long, but we only leveled out for a short while before a long, more gradual hill presented itself. This hill lasted until mile two. It was at mile two that the first (and only) official aid station was. They were handing out cups of water, which is a fine thing and something I now try to make use of on all of my runs. (I think it helps me more than I realize.) Unfortunately, it appears that someone had donated cups for this event. They were about 10-ounce plastic cups. Souvenir cups with some company’s logo on the side. I, and I think every other runner that morning, did not want to carry a souvenir cup the rest of the race, so like the paper cups normally used, these were drained and then tossed to the ground. Paper cups are no problem. You can run on them and they crush readily. These plastic cups were not so obliging. If your foot landed on one of these you might turn your ankle. Or the cup might crush and send a shard of itself up into the sole of your expensive running shoe. We were dodging around the hundreds and hundreds of these cups in our path, kicking them when we couldn’t miss them, and cursing them all. This was a mistake in planning, and I certainly hope it does not become the norm.

But that mess was soon left behind, and as I turned the corner after mile two, I knew I was halfway done, with no appreciable hills left to face. A mother and daughter were just ahead of me along this stretch, and the mother was coaching her daughter (perhaps 10 years old) about endurance. But she kept telling the girl that the next mile was going to be the hardest. I think it had something to do with being eager to finish but still being a long way out. I’m not sure, but that certainly didn’t seem like the kind of thing to tell a novice runner. The girl didn’t look like she was having any trouble keeping up with her seasoned runner mom, so why tell her she was about to have trouble?

Along here, and not surprisingly, I began to pass other runners. This nearly always happens to me in organized runs. I guess I get warmed up or find a stride or achieve emotional maturity or something, and I get going faster. Sustainably faster. I knew I was pushing my pace at this point, and I was able to keep it up. Granted, I wasn’t blistering along like some fleet forest animal, but for me, I was moving. And that was satisfying, especially in light of the bad runs I’d been having lately.

Unlike most runs I do, I had not driven the route of this one, so I didn’t really know where we would turn and such. But there were still plenty of runners on the road with me (and behind me), so I had no trouble staying on course. Even so, there are whole stretches in this second half of the run that I have no memory of. I don’t think I was lost inside my mind (it’s not a very big place after all), and I wasn’t fighting exhaustion. I don’t know why I can’t remember any specifics about these parts. Maybe I was just in the zone.

The last mile was a straight shot to the finish, and I was familiar with this part of town. I felt myself running faster the farther I went, and although it was a push, I felt good, like I could keep going. And I did.

At mile 3.5 another unofficial aid station appeared. This time they were handing out cups of (non-stout) beer and Jello shots. (No one was being carded either.) The beer might have been nice at this point; the shots, not so much. But I was so close to finishing, and I was running so well, that I didn’t want to delay even the few seconds it would have cost me. Instead, I pushed even harder. And when I saw the finish arch not too far ahead, I really pushed, running at nearly two-thirds of my normal pace. I think I only achieved that because I knew I didn’t have to sustain it for long.

We were told in advance that our finish line appearance would be on video later (in addition to the free photos we would get), so I wanted to look fabulous (rather than exhausted), but I hope my pumping arms and legs achieved that for me because my face and gaping mouth probably didn’t. (I haven’t seen the pix yet.) In any case, I crossed the finish mats and turned off my watch, then I accepted the green bead necklace that they gave us in lieu of the finisher medal we were promised. It seems that the finisher medals were tied up in customs — so much metal being shipped into the country apparently set off alarms. So we get to pick them up later in the week, which won’t be a problem since one of my runs goes right by the running store where they will be available.

Then I looked for my wife, who had intended to be waiting for me there. I don’t know what it is about the areas past the finish arch, but too many people were gathered and milling about. It seems like this could be better organized so that we runners pelting across the mats don’t have to hit the brakes so suddenly and the folks hoping to get a photo of us pelting can get a clear shot. But I don’t organize these things, and no one has asked me to.

My wife and I missed each other, but I wandered about and eventually found her. I grabbed some chocolate milk and we got ourselves some late breakfast. (Apparently I was entitled to as much free green beer as I could drink, but no one had told me this, and I don’t think I would have had any had I known. So I don’t feel too bad about missing that.)

I had a good run, which was exactly what I needed. My next run is a big one: a half marathon in April. I have a couple of shorter runs after that, then another half in June. Then there is that full marathon in October. I am, of course, insane.


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