I grind on

Posted November 23, 2014 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Fathers and Sons

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In the last week, I’ve more than doubled the number of (what I think are good) words in my latest Fathers and Sons story, “Twice Blest”. So many, many things remain unspoken in families, and in the case of this story, it’s good that they are. My character, though, is speaking them to his son, but the boy is only a few weeks old, so the father’s rueful, middle-of-the-night confessions are safely spoken.

That doesn’t make them any better though. I hadn’t realized this character had such depth and pathos in him. And it’s a good thing he does. Part of the struggle I’d been having with these stories is that the characters were too idealized, too perfect in their flawed ways. They didn’t feel real to me sometimes, so it was hard to take them farther down the road.

I have two friends from high school who are now Catholic priests. (Not so unlikely for someone who grew up in very Catholic St. Louis.) Should I ever see either of them again, I intend to ask them about the secrets of the confessional. Not specifics, of course, for they would never reveal that. But I imagine that the sins that burden most of the people in the world are, in fact, pretty common and even mundane. Most of us aren’t monsters. (Okay, maybe you.) Yet even the most mundane and commonplace mistakes can weigh heavily on our hearts. I expect my friends would tell me that they tend to hear the same sins from nearly all of their confessors (and I suppose in a way they are grateful for that — imagine receiving the confession of a murderer. What would you do?). Yet these people are individually deeply troubled by their guilt. They want to be free and clean and able to go farther down the road.

So it is with my character in “Twice Blest”. He must tell his son something that is, to him, horrible, though I suspect it is not at all rare among many fathers in the world. He has to unburden his soul, in this case to the only person who can actually forgive him, and then he has to live with this knowledge for the rest of his life. His life is his penance.

For a story teller, this is a good thing. This confession will affect and deepen every word of every story in the rest of the cycle. It will make this character much more fun to write. It will ripple through the stories and the relationships between fathers and sons and grandsons in ways I haven’t even begun to realize. I’m glad I’d decided to write these stories from first to last now (rather than writing whichever one I felt inspired about at the time).

Still . . . it’s been a grind. I had to force myself out of bed and in front of the laptop to work on the story. I no longer feel the pull of days past. It’s a struggle between me and the black dog of apathy that has been chasing me farther down the road this whole horrible year. And I’m not sure I’m getting any distance on that dog either. But I know about grinding. Running serves as a metaphor for writing in more ways than I’ve realized. I grind out the miles and I grind out the words, sometimes (most times lately) without knowing why the hell I’m doing either. Momentum, maybe, will get me there. If the dog doesn’t get me first.

force of will

Posted November 16, 2014 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Humble efforts

I rose early this morning, committed to forcing myself to spend some time before the computer, the recently and expensively upgraded computer, and stare at the screen for a few hours in an effort to get some new words on the page. It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to do that.

It worked.

Partly.

I managed to get down a couple hundred words. And good words too, I think. I’m trying to deep dive into the motivations of one of my Fathers and Sons characters, trying to make his (in)actions and attitudes in the story credible without revealing too much. (That comes as an aside in one of the later stories.) It’s not been easy, in part because I haven’t lived the kind of life this character has; I’m relying on my imagination (never sufficient) and force of will (rarely tested) to wring some ideas out of my head and onto the page.

I’ve always said that half the tale is in the telling, and that’s my challenge here. I know the man’s history. It’s the expression of it that stymies me. But some words came. A couple of hundred words. Not like the days when I was writing the Finnegans novels and could count on a thousand-word sprint across the page. But something.

The story I’m working on (working title: “Quality of Mercy” though I think I may change it to “Twice Blest” — both from The Merchant of Venice) will be the first one in the chronology of the Fathers and Sons cycle. It’s critical to set the stage correctly, which is probably why I am struggling so much with it. A lot is riding on getting it right. And if I do get it right, then I think it will allow me to fix some of the subsequent stories I’ve already written that just don’t quite work. Big job for this little story.

At some point, someone said that my Fathers and Sons stories are “sentimental.” I anguished about that for a while. I want them to be literary and serious and suchlike. But then I thought: screw it. I will write the stories I have to write. I will do the very best I can with what I have. This story is going to have a sentimental ending. A life-changing sentimental ending. But that’s what happens sometimes between fathers and sons. That’s true to life. That’s what I have to offer.

it’s alive!

Posted November 5, 2014 by Paul Lamb
Categories: short stories

The words seem to be flowing right now. I’m not sure why, but I’m getting them down as much as I can. I’ve started a new story, not part of the Fathers and Sons cycle, but one I pretty much see wholly. I have a certain magazine in mind for it; their call for submission seems to match what I’m trying to do. Maybe that’s the motivation: a deadline. It’s good to be writing something, anything again.

 

Update 12NOV14 – I’ve reread what I’ve written. It’s crap. I give up. Back to the slough of despond for me.

Kansas Half Marathon 2014

Posted November 3, 2014 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Running

KS Half 1

Why not, right? Run 26.2 miles and then in less than a month, run a half marathon. Any idiot can do it.

The Kansas Half Marathon last Sunday was my fifth organized half. (I generally do longer than that at least once a week on training runs too.) I’d really like to make the half marathon my distance; it’s very hard for me to do, but I can do it. Thus I get both challenge and accomplishment. So with the Portland Marathon behind me, I thought I should challenge myself again. (I’d actually signed up for this before Portland took place. I knew then that I wanted a follow up before the Midwestern winter took hold, and I shopped around for some possibilities. The Kansas Half seemed the best fit, if a little closer to my marathon completion than I might have liked.)

The half was on Sunday, but Saturday morning dawned with temperatures below freezing. I expected a frigid start on Sunday morning and thus selected the kit you see laid out in the photo above. (Not shown are knee-length compression shorts, calf sleeves, and a throwaway jacket I picked up the night before at the thrift store for $7.00.) Yet at 3:00 a.m. on Sunday (when I rose, naturally), the temperature was 48 degrees. I expected that to drop a few degrees before dawn finally arrived, but even so, it was not going to be nearly as cold as I feared. In fact, it was going to be just about perfect running weather. So I made some minor, last-minute changes to the kit. I put the long-sleeved base layer shirt back in the closet and pulled out a short-sleeved compression shirt instead. Then I substituted my club running shirt with a plain blue technical shirt. (Yes, those are cotton gloves. I picked them up at the running store for $3.00 and intended to throw them away once the day, and the body, grew warm enuf.)

I went through my usual routine of pacing and fretting Sunday morning. I brushed and flossed. I ate a banana and a piece of bread with some peanut butter on it. (Peanut butter is widely recommended as a pre-race meal, and maybe it did do me some good, but it sits heavily in my stomach nonetheless.) I also drank some iced tea (unsweetened, of course) since that’s what I do. I slowly got dressed as the rest of the household awoke. My wife, Libby, and oldest son, Seth, were coming to the race as my support crew, and we were to meet my youngest son, Aaron, and his wife, Amber, at the race since they live in Lawrence, Kansas where the race was held, but the dogs were going to stay at home. (Lawrence is a college town about 45 minutes west of our home. You may have heard of the school there: the University of Kansas, or KU. It seems to be a big deal around here.)

We arrived at the park where the start/finish was about an hour before gun time, which is my preference. But it was still dark, and I didn’t really want to stand around in the cold for that long, so we stayed in the car for about a half hour. Light was beginning to show in the eastern sky then, and other runners and their families were gathering near the start, so we got out and joined them, sending Seth back to the car twice, once for Libby’s coat and a second time for my throwaway gloves that I had earlier thought I didn’t need after all. (I did have my throwaway jacket on.) I knew the day was forecasted to be windy, and it was already proving to be the case as we stood around in the gathering light, getting on the leeward side of trees and groups of people to keep out of the knife-like wind. The announcer chatting up the crowd mentioned that winds up to 40 miles per hour were expected. Yay!

Eventually, the announcer urged us to get into the starting chute, and it was actually warmer there, probably because so many bodies were so close together. (I understand 600 800+ runners were in the race that day.) With two minutes before official gun time, I told my watch to find some satellites, and it obliged me. Soon we were off, I in the back third of the pack and quickly passed by most of those behind me. Libby and Seth had gone up the block (yes, an uphill start!) to cheer me, and when I got there a couple of minutes later, I saw that they were joined by Aaron and Amber as well. I smiled and waved, but I had a big job ahead of me, so I didn’t linger but pressed on.

The first mile or so of the course went south on Massachusetts Street, which could serve well in anyone’s idea of Americana of a certain bygone era. There are lots of shops and restaurants, theaters, small parks, and such, most of which were wasted on me because — already — I was concentrating on the three feet in front of my two feet. It’s a well-traveled street, and I was keeping my eyes on the ground to watch for pot holes, cracks in the pavement, and, at this early stage of the run when we were all elbow to elbow, orange cones that would suddenly appear before me when the runner ahead of me side stepped them.

I had misread the map (that I had printed more than a month before) and thought we were running south to 19th Street, where we would turn to the east for a long stretch. I don’t know why this turn meant so much to me, but it seemed like a kind of touchstone, a sign of progress. So I was surprised when all of the runners ahead of me were turning onto 15th Street. That touchstone came earlier than I expected, and I was buoyed by it. But I still had miles and miles and miles to go.

Somewhere before mile two was the first water station. This seemed a little early in the run, but my strategy was to walk through the water stations to grab a little rest, so I was happy to put it into effect. They offered both Gatorade and water, and I took a cup of each. Then I was running again.

When I had been in Lawrence several weeks before, I had gotten lost finding my way back to Aaron’s house and drove out to some remote farmland before deciding I needed to turn around. This happened to be the exact route of the half marathon, and I found myself in that remote farmland again, only under foot power this time. At this point, they took us off of the pavement and onto a corrugated gravel road. This was not fun to run on. I spent a lot of attention on finding decent places to let my feet fall with each stride. But on we went, and eventually, we reached pavement again, rough and ragged but at least pavement. The miles ticked away, and I was ready for another water station, but I wasn’t seeing one ahead. I ate my packet of GU (pinned to my shorts) on schedule and plodded along, taking occasional walking breaks and regretting each step of them. Eventually, I could see a familiar tall building far ahead in the trees and I knew we were coming back into town.

By this time, the sun was well into the sky and I was feeling the warmth. I was ready to ditch my jacket, but the organizers had requested we do this at the aid stations rather than at random places on the course. (Plenty of people had done the latter regardless.) I was also done with the gloves, but I liked them so much that I wanted to keep them, so I took them off and tucked them into the waistband of my running shorts (on the side, rather than flapping in the front or back). I was back in town by then, running on quiet streets past well-kept homes, though there were not a lot of spectators. I suspect the morning chill kept them indoors. Coming down a gentle hill, I began to think that I was going to be one of those runners who cast off his jacket at a random place on the course. (These are collected and donated to the poor.) But ahead I heard and then saw Libby cheering randomly to the passing runners. I began peeling off the jacket (kinda wet on the inside for some reason). Amber understood right away and ran toward me to take the jacket. Then, as a sudden thought, I pulled the gloves from my waistband and tossed them to Libby. Again, I had a run to manage, so I didn’t linger (and it was a sweet gentle downhill stretch).

Several blocks ahead I came upon the second water station. That was a long way from the first, more than the “approximately” two miles we were told (though they had given us the cross streets for the stations well in advance, and had I been familiar with the town, I would have known). I took the water and the Gatorade, spilling both on my (gloveless) hands and running watch before I remembered that I was supposed to be walking through the station. So I did, downing the drinks and tossing the empty cups in the general direction of the trash can. (They say that runners make terrible basketball players, and if you’ve ever seen the spread of discarded water cups in the several hundred feet after an aid station, you will understand.)

This was pretty much the end of the biggest loop of the course, and I was just over half way done. My left knee had started barking at me a few miles back, but I quickly swallowed two Advil (shhhhh! don’t tell my doctor son!) and that seemed to quiet it. But my hips were not at all happy. They generally don’t give me any serious trouble on runs, and I’m not sure why they were this time. But there was little I could do except take occasional walking breaks, which made just about all the various parts of me feel better (except my ego). Back in downtown Lawrence now, we were making an ascent to the bridge over the Kansas River. The second part of the course would be north of the river, in a wilder bit of country. But first we had to cross the bridge.

As bridges go, it was nice, modern, clean, and spacious in the pedestrian section. Unfortunately, there was only a waist-high railing between me and the river far below. Bridges have been my bane since I’ve become a runner. I get disoriented by the yawning space to the side (and if it is a bridge over a highway, I get further disoriented by the rushing of cars below and perpendicular to me). I ran on the left side of the walk, as far from the railing as I could get and just did my best to stay focused. It worked. I was across the bridge and heading down a hill into a small residential area. This was clearly where all of the town’s architects had chosen to live because the houses along here were eye-popping. I’ll have to go back and visit in a more coherent state sometime. Not long into this area, probably less than a mile since the last aid station, was . . . the next aid station. I’m not sure why it was plunked down there, but I grabbed (and spilled) two cups and even sunk the empties in the trash barrel. (Go me!) And onward.

We wove through some streets, past houses in what was obviously the river’s flood plain, protected by a levee to our south. This stretch was another loop and when we made the turn to head back the way we came, we were directed onto the levee for a long, straight, flat while. The top of the levee was packed gravel, but there was enuf loose gravel atop it to make selecting footfalls another attention grabber. I did my best, walked a little, ran some more and then, suddenly, I was at the third water station. Not only had we barely gone another mile, but from where I was on the levee, I could see water station number two just down the hill. By this time, the bulk of the runners had already passed, and I think the enthusiasm at the water stations had ebbed. They handed us water and Gatorade, but it was more automatic than encouraging. But running is a solitary endeavor, at least for me, so I didn’t mind. (At least it wasn’t like that horrible half I ran last spring where they had run out of cups at the water station!)

I was running in the sun now. Free of the weight of the throwaway jacket and gloves, and two packs of GU lighter (well, I suppose not really), but I was weary. Somewhere along here I had downed the second pair of Advil I had brought to fight my hip pain (the knees were keeping quiet). It was a slog for me though. I was running and then walking and then running. The trouble was that I was going too fast when I was running, wearing myself out. I can’t seem to control this yet, and I realize it is something I need to work on.

Although the winds of the day would find us occasionally as we made turns and such, they had pretty much left us alone, but that was only a ploy to deceive us. They were waiting until we were most vulnerable to whip it up.

After the third water station, we passed under the bridge we had crossed over the river and were soon on the levee on the far side. This was an out-and-back stretch of perhaps a half mile each direction. As I ran out, plenty of other runners were coming at me on their return stretch. More importantly, the wind was at my back, blowing strongly and actually pushing me along. It was glorious. With each footfall that I and the other runners made, we were stirring up dust that the wind would carry ahead of us. You know where this is leading, of course. We were running out. Soon we would be running back. And in the faces of the runners doing that I got a preview of what I would soon be facing. Their eyes were squinting. They were literally bent at the waist to stay as low as they could. They were holding onto the bibs pinned to their chests lest they be ripped off by the wind blowing up the river unimpeded by anything. Oh boy!

At the turnaround point there was another water station. This, too, seemed too soon after that last, but I think it made sense since runners needed to be reminded to turn around. For all I know, that levee might go all the way to Colorado, and it is an unfortunate phenomenon that runners sometimes miss turns and go for miles before realizing they are off course and lost. I had no trouble understanding this was the turnaround, in part because I knew it marked the beginning of the end run (of perhaps only three more miles to go) but also because I had that preview of what I would be facing in the wind, so I was reminded that I had to turn. And I did.

I was not disappointed.

I got it all. The stalling wind. The grit in the face. The rattling bib held to my shirt with four pins yet threatening to fly off into the river. (Our timing chips were in the bibs. Lose the bib, lose your official time and finish.) The only good thing about the wind was that it was ripping tears out of my eyes. That kept the grit at bay but it sure made the ground beneath my feet look funny. And some wise guy had decided that this was a perfect place to station one of the course photographers. Here we were, squinting, hunched over, holding our hands on our identifying bibs, and there was the photographer zooming in on us to get our memorable shot of the day. Luckily, I saw him and was able to correct most of that (I was still squinting into the wind, and probably looked like I was crying). And as soon as I passed him, I resumed the posture. Not long after this, though, we approached the bridge to cross it a second time and return to the more civilized part of Lawrence. We had less than two miles to go when we crossed the bridge, and the course was obviously designed to burn those miles. We wove through residential streets, taking what seemed like random turns just to eat up the distance. Again I had misunderstood the map (that Libby had with her by the way) and expected to make the final turn toward the finish at the bottom of a hill I was on. But when I looked up, I saw the runners ahead of me turning the opposite direction of what I expected. We were running away from the park where the finish arch was. I soon understood why.

The last water station seemed almost like an afterthought. It was small and manned by mostly children (who nonetheless did a perfectly fine job), and then suddenly I found myself crossing a school playground. This may have been the oddest stretch of the planet I have ever run, but it was about to get weirder.

In front of the school we made a sharp turn and went into a tunnel under the street. The tunnel was less than four feet wide — I could have touched both walls as I ran through but didn’t want the friction to slow me down — and ended with a sharp turn and a short hill back up to the street. It made sense, of course. The tunnel allowed the school children to get to the other side of the street safely, and I suppose the course director wanted to throw this novelty at us. Okay.

And now I really was in the end run of my 13.1 miles. I did a bit more walking here to rest up for the final blitz to the finish arch. We made a last turn, and I saw the park ahead. I had heard the finish line announcer long before, when I was still on that windy levee, but now it was my turn to have my name called out.

The last few hundred feet were downhill, and I grabbed the little energy left in me to finish strong. I came into the chute and heard Libby and Amber (and probably Aaron and Seth) shouting my name, but I didn’t look for them. I had to focus and push and keep it together for just a little longer.

I never did hear my name called by the announcer, though he may have. I was nearly blind with effort, and when I crossed the mats, I turned off my watch, slowed, staggered, then realized I had passed the people handing out the medals but fortunately came upon more people handing out medals and I took one, as you can see below.

KS Half 2The medal is a little gaudy, but at least it’s not the size of a dinner plate, which seems to be the trend lately, a trend I hope has a short life. (Silverback is not my running name but the name of the management company that conducted the half marathon.)

After I let my brain catch up with my body and could think close to rationally again, I looked at my running watch. I hadn’t tried to set a personal record, and I really didn’t expect to given all of the walking I had done that morning, but suddenly that didn’t matter. My watch reported my total distance as only 12.99 miles. A TENTH OF A MILE SHORT OF A HALF MARATHON! Yikes.

Sure, I had my official finish and time from the chip in my bib, but Nike would never praise me for falling short when I plugged in my watch later that day. There was only one thing to do. I clutched my medal and started running again. I had to get that tenth of a mile. I ran along the sidewalks of that park there and kept going, weaving between families and exhausted runners and strollers and dogs and bemused locals until I had my tenth of a mile, my 13.1 mile distance. And then I was done. Done.

I had been promised a bagel after the run. And there was the possibility of chocolate milk, so I wandered over to the tents to see what they had for me. Apples. Bananas. Granola bars. But no bagels. And not chocolate milk but hot chocolate. Um. Well. By this time Libby and the kids had found me, and Libby encouraged me to take what I could get since I would likely regret missing out later. So I did. I got two granola bars and a cup of hot chocolate. My engine was running hot by then. The sun was full out. Hot chocolate might have made sense at the start, but it was not-so-much at the finish.

We stood around for a while and then decided to have something real to eat. I made a few Facebook posts about the run. Had a sandwich and an iced tea (unsweetened, of course). And generally recovered. We made our way over to Aaron and Amber’s house to meet the new cat they have adopted (since they have kind hearts and can’t turn away strays that come to their door). And then it was time to go home. I slept (or at least fell into a stupor) on the drive, and then I crawled up the steps to my computer and plugged in my running watch.

Nike did register my run as a half marathon and congratulated me appropriately. And then I checked my records.

I had set a personal record for the half marathon. By about a minute and a half, which is pretty good, I think.

So it was a good run in the end. I rolled my sore leg muscles then got into the shower. Soon I was in breathable cotton clothes, sitting in a chair with my feet up and thinking about when I might run again.

creativity

Posted October 29, 2014 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Uncategorized

“Creativity is a lonely path but might be a satisfying destination.”

Hung Liu

movement

Posted October 27, 2014 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Fathers and Sons, Finnegans, Humble efforts

So I spent my money and got Word working again and all I had was my inner demons to keep me from working on my stories. And in the two weeks since I’ve been back in operation, the demons have won. I haven’t written a word. I’m barely even reading (although the book I have on the beside table is Under the Glacier by Halldor Laxness, which is a truly peculiar book by Iceland’s Nobel laureate). And I’m not even running much. In the three weeks since the Portland Marathon I think I’ve run under thirty miles. Thirty miles used to be my weekly goal, which I nearly always reached.

But something may have shaken loose. I seem to be getting some movement from the constipated bowels of my creative self. I’ve been making a lot of notes about the various Fathers and Sons stories that still need to be written. (I’ve decided that I need to write the remainder of these in the order of their chronology across the series. That leaves me with the first one to write, um, first. And I haven’t sufficiently imagined it in my head to begin. Or maybe that’s just an excuse.)

Even more amazing, one of my abandoned Finnegans mystery novels has been asserting itself in my head. I’ve been compiling fresh notes about that novel, and not just bits of dialogue or anecdotes to slip in, but thematic stuff, big stuff that can shore up the structure of the anemic novel. (Did I just mix a metaphor?) I had walked away from the Finnegans novels as too trivial, too lightweight to be worthy of my magnificent talent. Yes, I was that guy for a while. But the fact is that they would probably make an interesting series of novels about a husband and wife who stumble upon little and big mysteries every time they stay at a bed and breakfast. The research alone would be worthwhile, wouldn’t it?

So maybe I’m turning a corner. I have a half marathon to run this coming weekend, and if the knees don’t give up, neither will I. And if the words start to flow, I’ll stick with that too. Stay tuned.

unlocked

Posted October 13, 2014 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Rants and ruminations

Okay, $150+ later and I have my access to Word, and all of my files are restored. I have updated to the most current Mac operating system (Mavericks), and I have purchased the latest version of Word (and, apparently, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook — gross, gross, and gross). I feel like a tool. I feel used.

But I’m back in business. My computer appears to be running more slowly too, so, YAY!

Now nothing stands between me and writing my stories except everything else I’m trying to resolve. (Also, my knees — actually the IT bands that pass by my knees — are still sore from that little marathon thing I did.)

Update: I’m still finding programs that no longer work due to the operating system upgrade. For example, I can’t access my 5,000+ photos (though I’m downloading the upgrade for that program now). Undoubtedly I’ll find other things that don’t work. But in the good news department, my knees have forgiven me. I went out for a four-mile run tonight (Monday — in the cold rain) and they didn’t act up at all. I don’t want to push them since I have a half marathon in two weeks, but it sure feels good to be able to run again!


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