Just a reminder that I’ll be on an online chat this evening, beginning at 7:00 p.m. Central time. It’s the kick-off party for the Temporal Elements anthology that published my story “Time Heals All.” Go to this link if you’re interested in saying hi. The chat won’t be open until fifteen minutes before start time, and I’m told that you will not need a password to sign in. The story itself is not available online, but my recently published story “The Lonely Road” is if you’d like to have a look at it.
Archive for the ‘Ramblings Off Topic’ category
Today is Persian New Year, but you probably already knew that.
Tradition calls for getting yourself something new today. I generally get myself a new shirt.
Today is Philip Roth’s 80th birthday, but you probably already knew that.
This post is only tangentially about my running — a subject I’m sure I’m beginning to bore you with. So I was in Paducah, Kentucky last week for my mother’s birthday and went out for a run. My intent was to run from her house to the downtown and then down the levee to the Ohio River, where I would dip my hand (for whatever reason — I don’t know). That route gave me only 2.85 miles, so I thought I’d explore more of the town at a run, and since the city is built on gloriously flat land, I did.
The artsy part of Paducah is called Lowertown. It’s a cute place, full of some magnificent old homes and tidy bungalows. In the middle of the morning during the middle of the week, however, most of the galleries and studios were not open, and since I was in the middle of my run I wouldn’t have stopped anyway.
But one thing did make me stop: the little box you see in the photo above.
This is a Little Free Library. I’d heard about these before, but as far as I can recall, this is the first one I’ve ever come upon. (And shame on me since there’s one in my neighborhood it turns out.) The idea of a Little Free Library is that you can help yourself to a book to read, at no cost, and/or leave a book behind for someone else to enjoy. (Probably would not work too well with an electronic reader.) Of course your options are limited to whatever happens to be in the collection that day, but just the idea of such a community-spirited effort makes me feel good about humanity.
You should go to the link to read more about the Little Free Libraries worldwide. And check out the map to see if there is one near you. (Curiously, the one in Paducah is not on the map.)
So come along with me as I tell you a true story about a fictional story. It happened to me, and as you’ll see, those four words have several layers of meaning.
My wife and I found ourselves with a free Sunday (we lead such active social lives, don’t you know). The weather forecast called for relatively warm temperatures for mid-February in Missouri. Our winter-starved souls called for a little self indulgence. And our pocketbooks were so emaciated that they would hardly notice if we took even more from them.
So we jumped into my wife’s car, which she’s named Blanche, by the way (do you name your cars?), and drove to a tiny town in mid-Missouri called Rocheport. Rocheport was once a major Missouri River port, but the river shifted and then the interstate hurried people past, and Rocheport settled in as a quaint, sleepy little burg of about 200 people with some old homes and other historic features. In recent years a winery has grown nearby, and the KATY Trail, a state-spanning hike/bike trail, now passes through the town. Rocheport is once again seeing commerce, though of a more refined if slower-paced sort than the pioneers, hucksters, and exploiters of a prior age.
Our plan was to enjoy a very nice meal at the very nice winery restaurant on the cliff top with a very nice view of the Missouri River valley. And we did, managing to sample a good bit of the local vino as well. (Several bottles came home with us.) Then we went into Rocheport itself and began strolling the tree-lined streets and visiting the antique shops. (Also, the ice cream shop.) I bought a few gifts for someone whose birthday is this month, and we had a delightful time. (Next time you’re in town, let’s go to Rocheport together, okay?)
Rocheport probably has more bed and breakfast inns per capita than any other place on the planet. We stayed in one there a year ago and had a fine time. My wife has been wanting to visit with her sister, who lives in St. Louis, for a long time. I suggested that the two of them book a weekend at one of the little town’s B&Bs since Rocheport is just about literally halfway between St. Louis and Kansas City. I even pointed out the brochure for one of the B&Bs that features girls-only weekends.
But my wife noted that the B&B had a select clientele. It was a purple-roof establishment, which is to say it catered only to lesbians. Where had she heard that, I asked. Well, she remembered reading about it somewhere.
I knew exactly where she had read about it. It was in a work of fiction, set in a small town not-too-loosely based on Rocheport. It was an unpublished novel. One written by me.
Part of my hope from visiting Rocheport that day was to spark my attention to my languishing novel. It’s one of my Finnegans murderless mysteries, and I’ve been letting it lie fallow for a while. I think I can come to it coldly enuf now to give it a fair read through. And a chuckle.
When I first started blogging so many years ago, I was surprised to find a community of virtual friends grow from it. Now I “know” people from all over the country and even all over the world. I’ve shared in their interests, learned about their families and their lives, commiserated in their misfortunes, and celebrated their triumphs.
I’m still busy writing and submitting (and running and paying the bills) but I don’t have any recent news to share with you about myself or opinions to bloviate. Yet I can share the triumphs of others, if you’re interested.
My writing and blogging buddy — and certainly First Citizen of Joliet, Illinois — Pete Anderson sits atop the lofty height as being a soon-to-be-published author. And I should clarify. He’s widely published as a short story writer; his novel, Wheatyard, has been accepted and will be published in a couple of months by Kuboa Press. Some of us must know what that is like; others of us can only imagine at this point. I’m looking forward to buying and reading my copy of Wheatyard when it comes out; I’ve enjoyed Pete’s stories.
Congratulations as well to another writing and blogging buddy — and likely First Citizen of Albuquerque, New Mexico — Annam Manthiram on the publication of her second book, Dysfunction, which is a collection of her short stories. (Note that the publication of her second book only coincidentally happens shortly after the birth of her second child. I’m sure the two blessed events are unrelated; I’m just pointing out the coincidence.) I’ve purchased my copy of Dysfunction, and I’m looking forward to reading it; her novel, After the Tsunami, sits on my shelf, and reading it had opened my eyes to an utterly new world.
On my Kindle I’m currently reading Hell Comes with Wood Paneled Doors by blogging buddy (and, yes, First Citizen of Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas) Christopher Gronlund. I’ve been reading his blog, The Juggling Writer, for years.
On my reading shelf and next physical book to be consumed by me is Living Arrangements, by blogging buddy (and no doubt First Citizen of Cleveland, Ohio, though I’ve never been there to confirm that such an unlikely sounding place actually exists) Laura Maylene Walter. (Yes, that’s how she punctuates it; be sure to give her middle name proper emphasis when saying it out loud.) I’m always looking to polish my short story technique, so reading her collection should show me how a master does it.
I just finished reading a book called The Runner’s Guide to the Meaning of Life by Amby Burfoot. I had found myself with some spare time at the main branch of our local library before a reading I was attending (as an audience member, not as a reader), and I was prowling the stacks, making my way to the section on athletics in general and running in particular. (A foreign land for me until recently.) It was here that I came upon the slight volume I cite above.
The book is only 150 pages, and a lot of that is stretch and fluff. The insights are mostly tacked on at the end of strings of anecdotes (and a little name dropping), and they are so generic and uplifting that they could appear in any number of other “motivational” books. (Indeed, this book is part of a series of short volumes on motivational and spiritual subjects — another foreign land for me.)
Yet I was looking for whatever insights I could glean from it, and I did come upon this observation. The author wondered why it was that he could often think so clearly when he was running. “I think best — most broadly and most fully — when I am running,” says Burfoot. (As an editor at Runner’s World magazine, his thoughts often ran to writing, which was a fortunate coincidence for my interests.) What he had discovered was that running is an “undifferentiated activity.”
By this he (and others) means that while running, your mind is free. “You don’t need any skill to run. In golf, by contrast, you have to hit your drives straight enough to stay in the fairway, and that requires thinking about a dozen technical details of your golf swing . . . Not so with running. Every 3-year-old knows how to run. At the same time, running is the most vigorous exercise known to science. It forces your heart to pump vast quantities of blood throughout your body — including your brain. So the brain’s getting all of this oxygen at a time when it doesn’t have any work to do. You’re just running . . . No wonder the brain spins out the most fantastical thoughts while you’re running. No wonder fresh, creative ideas pop into your head when you’re least expecting them.”
Later in the book he cites the famous Joyce Carol Oates essay in the New York Times in which she practically sings about the creative benefits of running.
This has certainly often been my experience. When it’s just me and the miles, and when I can free my thoughts from the agony of pounding along, I am amazed at where my mind takes me. I have literally solved plot problems and had insights to character development during some of my pre-dawn runs. I sometimes use the “undifferentiated activity” to recite lines from my stories, working and reworking them into finer shape. I make connections between apparently disparate images and stray plot ideas to find the beginnings of stories. And so on. Running has certainly proven to be a good activity for my creative life. I wish I had come upon it sooner.
As for some of the observations in the book, well, I don’t want to be uncharitable. It seems, though, that he was either striving too hard to spin his conclusions or he was making them too easily, without the rigor of reflection.
For example, I’ve often heard golfers say that the last thing they want to think about on their downstroke are the technical details of their swing. If they tried to examine the action of their muscles while in play, they’d goof them up horribly. Instead, they tell me, they rely on what’s commonly called “muscle memory.” They practice and practice so that when they need the skill, it comes without conscious, deliberate effort. Conversely, when I am running, I am sometimes very much thinking about what I am doing. Is my gait decent or am I going to be limping from it later in the day? Am I breathing too hard or not hard enough? Am I going to stumble on those sticks up ahead? Is that pain in my heel telling me to stop this madness, or can I run through it? And so on, and it seems to me that had the author intended to write about concentration and focus on the task at hand, he could have just as easily called upon running as an example.
So I hope I haven’t bored you too much with my aside on running and my creative process. It’s on my mind a lot, and I’m already feeling the inevitable anxiety of a 10K I’m running this coming weekend — rain or shine. But there will be neither rain nor shine at this one. I will be running 6.2 miles completely underground.
An update on yesterday’s post. I did go out to run in the snow yesterday. I had shoveled the driveway and front walk in the 13 degrees and did not find it cold at all, so I thought I could run in it easily.
My only concern was where to run. The roads had been plowed, but they were busy with cars. The lingering ice on the sidewalks was all hidden by the new snow. So I took myself to the paved hike/bike trail near my house. It turned out that a local running club had used this part of the trail for their New Year’s Day run. Thus they plowed the snow for me.
It was a sloppy run, given the snow and ice, but I’m glad I went.
It’s early morning on the first day of the new calendar year. I had brought in the turn the best way I know how: sleeping. My poor wife is down the with the stomach flu that bedeviled me on Christmas day (I slept through most of that holiday). She didn’t stay up for the turn either. Oh well. It’s mostly arbitrary anyway. I always thought that the turning of winter into spring was an event more worthy of observation and celebration. That’s when the Persians observe New Year; seems more sensible to me.
One of the first things I did this morning was log on to Duotrope’s Digest to see if my transition to paid subscriber worked. And it did, seamlessly. Do I feel special, being part of the “elite” who have bought into the country club of literary marketing? Not at all. Rather, I feel an obligation to use the heck out of it to justify the money I spent.
This does not, however, translate into a vow to write more or get published more or get more serious about my writing or any other such resolution for the new year. It doesn’t even mean I’ll try to post here more frequently. As I said, the annual change is mostly arbitrary, so such a vow is as meaningful to me in the middle of October or April as it is on the first of January (which is to say, not very meaningful at all). Whatever it is that motivates me to rise in the impossible hours, to wrestle with words and meaning, waxes and wanes on its own schedule and would likely scoff at any resolution I might try to impose on it. Understanding is better than management anyway. That’s what I strive for: to understand my motivations so I can serve and use them better.
I ended the year with two more rejections. One was to Glimmer Train, which is about as sure a thing as you can find in this business (the rejection, I mean). I’m not sure why I even submitted to them. I think they had some sort of open submission event or something, and I tossed them one of my Fathers and Sons stories because it was easy and free. I had no illusions, and I met no surprise when the no-thank-you came in. The other rejection merits a bit of discussion since I think it holds the record for the fastest negative response I’ve ever received. I sent it in on December 24 and received the rejection on December 26. I suppose they waited for a whole day to pass as a courtesy to me. Or maybe they were otherwise engaged on December 25. Well, they must decide what they want to publish, but I had thought my story was suitable for them. I’d read several stories on their site and felt that mine was similar in tone and subject matter. But I’ve never been very good at having an objective eye for these things. I either “like” a story or I don’t. Further analysis is either beyond me or too much effort. I’m lazy in that way (too).
Nonetheless, I have a half dozen stories in circulation — including a couple of possible reprints — and about that many more stories in development. (Doesn’t that sound clinical: in development?) Then there are those two elephants in the room: my two completed novels. One is definitely complete. The other is ready for its re-read. A fellow could devote a fair amount of time in the coming months circulating these for consideration as well. (Or he could sneak off to his cabin in the woods and sit on the shady porch, writing letters to friends — or to one good friend anyway.)
We had snow fall on us yesterday and through the night into the (arbitrary) new year. It wasn’t much. Barely a couple of inches. But it follows the couple of inches we had a week ago that lingered on the streets and sidewalks because of the ensuing cold. You know where this is going: it’s interfering with my running. Yes, I’m still running around. I think that may be the most signal thing of 2012; I became a runner that year. I had wanted to start 2013 by running on the very first day. And I could probably go out there right now and run down the middle of the plowed road without seeing a single car in five miles (well, okay, a few cars) except for two things. One is that it’s currently
18 15 13 degrees. Now, I’ve run in this kind of cold before; it’s possible, though I’ve come back with icicles in my beard. Literally. And Santa brought me a lot of really sweet cold-weather running gear. So that excuse is mostly useless to me. The other, however, is more persuasive. I seem to have developed a case of tendonitis in my right heel. It’s not so bad. I only feel a burning, stabbing pain every time I take a step. But everything I’ve read says that you should not try to run through this pain, that you’ll only make the tendonitis worse. And I’d hate to be a few miles from home, in the snowy dark, in 18 15 13 degrees, with my wife sick in bed, and find I cannot get myself back. (As it is, here at 6:10 a.m. on New Year’s Day, I can hear the wail of police and ambulance sirens far outside my window. I’d hate for one of those to be for me later.) And so I’m sitting here, stretching my heel and nursing my wounded running ambition. I should take it as a sign to work on some stories or something. But I don’t believe in signs. Or portents either.
Anyway, for what it’s worth, Happy New Year to you and yours! As these things are measured, I hope it’s productive for you.