Archive for the ‘Rants and ruminations’ category

unlocked

October 13, 2014

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!

locked out

October 10, 2014

So I got this new iPhone. Seemed like the right thing to do, with my daughter sending everyone but me pictures of her sonograms and such. But in order for my new phone to talk to my Mac via the Cloud, I needed to upgrade the operating system on the Mac. That also seemed like the right thing to do.

Now I’m locked out of Word. The version of Word I have on the Mac is apparently so antiquated (at least in terms of MicroSoft’s marketing agenda) that the operating system upgrade on the Mac won’t support it. I can’t even open Word now.

All of my stories and notes are out of my reach. Thank you Microsoft and Apple.

There are several solutions. I can buy an upgrade for Word at $149, but it’s a one-time deal. If there is another upgrade (to Word or the operating system) I’ll have to buy it as well. Or I can buy a subscription to Word, Excel, and PowerPoint for $69 per year and stay current. (I have no use for those latter two programs and in fact hold much disdain for them.) A third option is to buy Apple Pages and do my word processing through that system. It will allow me to open my existing Word files and to save any new work as a Word file. Just about every submission guideline I’ve seen in recent years requires Word formatting for documents.

I’m consulting with my technical support team (son-in-law) and will make a decision soon.

Just as well for the time being. I’ve been in a funk for weeks and weeks (okay, months and months) and haven’t felt all that creative anyway.

ain’t nobody’s business but my own

September 15, 2014

I don’t generally tell people that I write (and even less that I am a “writer”).* There are probably several good reasons for this and several more reasons I’m only dimly aware of, but it’s me, will I or nill I. This post was triggered by a similar post I saw over at Nate Tower’s blog.

I’m certainly not embarrassed of my writing. Yes, early drafts are usually painful to read. Some aborted efforts are regrettable. But the pieces I consider finished make me feel proud. When I’m having a bad day (say at the office) I sometimes pull up one of my stories online and read it, saying to myself, “I did that.”

I think I was permanently scarred at a job I had nearly thirty years ago. I had a succession of bosses, but the last one was beyond categorization. This was during that ridiculous “in search of excellence” period when buzzwords seemed to take the place of intelligent thought. And this last boss was among the faithful of that religion. That alone would have been humorous enuf, but she also had the notion that my business was her business. (She did not single me out. Anyone younger than she was a target. She wanted people to “grow” under her guidance, to “step outside of the box”.) What was worse, though, was that she believed she could “advise” me about any aspect of my life, and while she might admit she did not know much about a given subject, being older and wiser she certainly knew more than I did. And so I was expected to drink gratefully from the fountain of her knowledge. The trouble was buzzwords. Her insight was no deeper than that. (Once she gave me a popular business management book to read and told me there was a lot I could learn from it. I read it. I told her I didn’t think it had anything to offer — it was mostly just anecdote and platitude — and could she explain what I missed? She admitted that, well, she hadn’t read it! She was simply infatuated with the idea of it. You know, it was published and everything!) Her advice was obvious. Her experience limited. Her tone condescending. Her result ridiculous.

But somehow it came to her attention that I wrote feature articles. And so she began advising me about that. Of course she knew even less about writing than business management but . . . wisdom. She suggested articles I should write and then questioned why I didn’t write them. I began to worry that she would request the chance to edit my articles before I submitted them. And given her personality I feared her requests would soon become requirements, enforced by the awesome power of employment. (This company had a statement in the employee manual that actions in our personal lives could be grounds for discipline and even termination. We were expected to live “moral” lives.) Fortunately, the company went out of business and we all scattered to the winds.

But that fear stuck with me. I think the worry was more about certain personalities in positions of authority rather than the authority itself. I think some people are by nature domineering and interfering, and if they can get themselves into positions over others, especially others who are younger, they will attempt to assert an imagined authority to direct their lives as they should be lived.

And so I learned from that experience to keep my personal life out of my work life. In most cases, at most of the jobs I’ve had since then, I don’t think I had anything to worry about from my employers about my writing ambitions, but I have seen glimpses of that personality now and then over the years in others, enuf to reinforce my protectiveness. So I don’t generally talk up my writing.

I consider my writing my thing. If I collected stamps or cultivated bonsai or read romance novels, it would be my personal, private place, my escape, my challenge. Mine. And if I did any of those things, I probably would not want to hear any random person’s advice or opinion about it. A stout woman at work made a point of alerting me to the surprising fact that muscle weighs more than fat (which is, technically, impossible) when she learned that I am a runner. In case I got discouraged about weight loss, I suppose. (This is not to say that I do not seek out advice, opinion, and shop talk from other writers and runners. I most certainly do. And if I read romance novels, which I most certainly don’t, I’d probably look for people with a similar interest.)

I figure that as long as I’m not writing about my employer (even positively), then whatever I have to say in my writing is nobody’s business but my own. (I’m pretty sure I vote contradictory to what would be best for my company’s financial interests, but so far they haven’t come forward to ask about my political inclinations or even “hint” at how employees should vote, which I understand is done in some companies.)

So I write and mind my own business and really don’t expect there to be any connection between the work I do to pay my bills and the work I do to soothe my soul. I wonder sometimes, though, what I would do if there was a clash between the two.

*Hmmmm. I’ve been visiting this point a lot lately.

screw it!

September 3, 2014

I’ve mentioned here (or maybe it was in the comments on your fine blog) that I’ve been stymied by a story idea that I can’t ignore and yet can’t seem to write. It’s been frustrating, as you can probably imagine, because it wouldn’t let me focus on anything else, which meant my Fathers and Sons stories have been languishing (and I really need to get those finished).

The story had its genesis probably thirty years ago. I was at a party where I saw a man I knew and respected (who was old enuf to be my father) chatting up a woman (old enuf to be my mother) who was not his wife. He looked so at ease and even happy with her that the thought instantly sprang into my head that he was about to embark on an affair with her. Did that ever happen? I doubt it. But I know the woman was not happy in her marriage, and I later learned that her son (who was old enuf to be my brother) came to hate his mother in her later years for the way she treated her husband (and that son’s father). I never knew the details of that hatred, but the fact of it dovetails with my imagined infidelity.

Couple that with a rumor going around my office in recent months of a man (who should know better) apparently carrying on with a woman (old enuf to be his daughter) in apparently not-so-discreet ways at the office. This uncomfortable situation (if it was even true) stayed on my mind. And what does a writer do with troubling thoughts? Put them in a story, of course.

But the story wouldn’t gel. I made copious notes about it: impressions, bits of dialog, insights. All about a subject that is pretty much foreign to me and unpleasant in any case. And I struggled with writing the story. I even kept the draft of it on Google Drive so I could access it at work (!) when no one was looking to try to sustain the writing effort.

Weeks and weeks and weeks of this struggle passed, and I was getting nowhere with the telling. I rearranged sentences and fine-tuned images and did little more than nothing at all during this time, feeling frustrated and confused and knowing that other writing needed to be done but wasn’t getting done.

So I finally said “Screw it.” I’ve abandoned that story. It ain’t coming. And I ain’t fighting it any longer.

And as though to reward my resignation, my Muse has visited upon me several important insights on one of my Fathers and Sons stories, an important, early story that needs to be added to the canon and that will resonate across all of the subsequent stories in the cycle.

That other story, though, still asserts itself. I’m not sure what I want to do about that. I guess I’ll keep taking notes about it. Maybe enuf of it will come together to let me write something. If not, fine, too.

hard core

August 18, 2014

I almost never tell people I know that I write. I think I’ve mentioned this before on the humble blog. In part it’s because the writing is my thing. I don’t want to have to share it with my immediate cohort. I also tire of the “advice” people (who know nothing about the process of the craft or the industry itself) feel they can beneficently bestow upon me to better my effort. (I get enuf of this from couch potatoes about running.) And there are probably plenty of other reasons that I’m not self aware enuf to know.

But I surprised myself some months ago after a Wednesday night group run, when the gang was busy rehydrating, as I confided to a fellow runner that, yes, I did write and that, yes, I wrote fiction and that, yes, some of it was even published. I blame the carb-loaded beer for my lapse in judgment. She immediately asked to read one of my stories, and since I had my usual supply of tiny slips of paper showing links to them (see my guerilla marketing post), and since, well, beer, I got brave enuf and gave her the slip for “The Lonely Road”, which I consider my best work to date. (I felt like I was baring my soul by sharing that.)

I think a couple of weeks passed before she showed up again at our Wednesday night run, and I asked her what she thought of the story.

She said she had lost the slip of paper with the link.

I gave her another slip.

Weeks passed before I saw her again, and she told me that she couldn’t make the link work. (It turned out that she’s not that computer savvy — she kept referring to the story as my blog.) So I took her iPhone and linked to the story on it to show her that it did exist. She subsequently confessed that she was not really much of a reader. I can see why she might not have pursued my story online.

Weeks passed, and I knew enuf to stop asking about my story. She didn’t bring it up, and I figured it was a lost cause.

But last week at our rehydration session, when most of the crowd had already staggered home and only a handful of us were left rehydrating, she said that she had actually started reading my story.

She said it was too hard core for her to get through!

Have you read “The Lonely Road”? I admit that it starts out coarse, but I did that deliberately to contrast it with the tenderness of the ending. Coarse, though, is not the same as hard core. Yes, the words “pussy” and “balls” and “hung” occur, and some frank innuendo passes between the rough characters and my innocent protagonist, but I think we all know people like this and have found ourselves in situations as I depict in the start of the story.

Still, I was surprised at her reaction. Granted, I don’t know her very well (she’s a much faster runner than I, so we don’t exactly chat on the trail as we trot along). Still, hard core?

She also confessed that she’d once again lost the link to my story. So I emailed it to her (as well as the link to “Velvet Elvis” that I consider a comic work — and thus not hard core). That was last Wednesday. I hope to find out this week what she might have read since then. Or not.

Honestly, though, I am grateful for her initial reaction. Just about everyone I’ve spoken with about that particular story has said “nice” and generic things about it. Some of you have made discerning comments (especially you!). And while that is nice itself, it’s not visceral the way my runner friend’s reaction was. Does that make sense?

“Hard core” suggests to me a lack of experience in this part of life for my runner friend. “Hard core” suggests an innocence and a fresh eye to the universe of my story (which is odd given that she’s a mother of teenagers and has been through a difficult divorce). But “hard core” is honest and even spontaneous. It is a gut reading by someone who is not a jaded reader.

I figure that, eventually, the fact that I write will become common knowledge among my running friends. Most of them, I’m sure, won’t give it a second thought, but a few (we have a disproportionate number of librarians and school teachers among us) may, perhaps, take up my stories and give them serious readings and then take the time to let me know what they think of them. But they’re going to have to pursue me and my stories. I’m just too shy to put myself out there.

Update 2OCT14: My friend told me the other evening (at our post-run rehydration) that she did finish reading the story and that she thought it had a good ending. It warmed my black and shriveled heart to hear this.

the grind

August 4, 2014

I’m sure it’s getting tiresome – all of my talk of running and races and such. Perhaps more tiresome is when I try to draw writing lessons from my running.

Too bad.

I’ve never been much of a joiner. Perhaps it is because I was the persecuted kid in grade school; I was never welcomed into any group or clique (except by default with all of the other rejected kids). Don’t cry for me, though. I take strength from all of that. But I suspect that I went without for so long that I now see being a loner as a better, more preferred state and have turned the tables, shunning groups. In fact, in the two groups where I can claim membership — a local running club and a monthly book discussion group — I feel like an outsider only let in through charity or some community service-minded spirit. I realize that the problem is all inside my head, but that’s beside the point.

The point is that I pretty much keep my own counsel. I am training right now for a full marathon in October.* There are all sorts of rigorous training plans I could be following, with miles allotted to certain days, exercises allotted to others, rest days in between, and I know people who do follow these plans. I don’t. I tell myself that I should, but I don’t. I just grind out the miles, trying to go farther each week and maybe occasionally trying some suggestion I’ve overheard at some post-run rehydration session. If I did follow such a plan, I’d probably run a better marathon. I’d probably have less fatigue, more endurance, fewer aches and pains, something resembling a smile on my face as I cross the finish line. Part of me knows this, and that part of me says maybe I’ll actually follow a plan for my next marathon. (I must run at least two.)

The other part of me knows, however, that if I had a formal training plan drawn up, I wouldn’t follow it. I would try at first, and I would anguish when I started slacking, but I would fall into my usual just-grind-out-the-miles mindset. It’s self defeating, I know. But it is who I am.

And now the tenuous connection to writing.

I’ve tried a couple of times to join writing groups. I’ve never been satisfied with the results. When others read my stories and find “faults” or “weaknesses” or “areas for improvement” I nearly always automatically reject their input as missing the point or lacking a sufficient understanding of my brilliance or that kind of thing. Part of it is sheer defensiveness, of course. Part of it is not being comfortable with group dynamics. Part of it is laziness; rewriting is hard. And a small part of it, I really do think, is that I am right and they are wrong. So I keep my own counsel.

On the other side, I can’t ever seem to find anything nice to say about other peoples’ draft stories. All I can ever do is pick them apart and find their faults (real or imagined). Again, I fail in the whole group dynamics thing.

So I shun advice (for the most part — some of you have been helpful in your insights when I’ve dared to share something with you) and just grind out my work in the best and only way I know how. Yes, I might write more or better — or get more widely published — if I listened to more advice from others, kept to a more rigorous writing schedule, tried tricks like writing prompts to warm up, went to writing retreats, and all of those sorts of things. But that doesn’t seem to be who I am.

Yet my wandering in the wilderness must work. I am seeing stories published. I am getting supportive words from editors. I am developing a voice that I can call upon. Could I do even better? Perhaps. Will I try? Unlikely. I’ll just keep grinding along.

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*You can expect a thorough, blow-by-blow account here on the humble blog.

the Liebster Award

May 26, 2014

So, I hate these kinds of things. I’m really pretty much a private person, and receiving the Liebster Award (from Donna Everhart — thank you so very much, sweetie pie!) means I now have to spill my guts and put them on display for everyone (or at least the five or six people who read this humble blog) to dissect and chuckle over. Sheesh!

The way this torment works is that I am supposed to provide eleven random facts about myself and then answer the eleven questions that Donna Everhart (thank you so very much, sweetie pie!) has posed. I’m also supposed to nominate other bloggers for this prestigious award, but I’m not going to do that to them. Sorry if I’ve destroyed the chain mail magic.

So, the stuff about me:

  1. I was born in Kansas City and raised in St. Louis. My four children were born in St. Louis and raised in Kansas City.
  2. I’ve been to Vancouver, Canada and the Bahamas. Oh yeah, and Kenya. (My son was serving in the Peace Corps there and held me to a flip promise I’d made that I would visit him.) But that’s as far as I’ve ever been from the United States. I’d like to change that, but someday never comes.
  3. I will have been married 34 years next month. We managed to have our four children (a girl and three boys) within the first four years (and one month) of our wedding day. The “third” child was a set of twins.
  4. As a child, I was religious and even considered making it my life’s work, but I am now about as far from that as a person can be. Amen!
  5. I used to weigh a lot more than I do now. A lot more! In fact, I’ve lost so much weight that I’m nearly half the man I used to be. (My story “Travel Light” is based on unfortunate fact.) Old acquaintances have quite literally not recognized me. Now I run half marathons (one coming up this weekend) and have the same waist as I did in high school. No one is more surprised by this than I am.
  6. I don’t seem to have any allergies aside from shellfish (but we won’t go into the unpleasant — and nearly instantaneous — consequences of eating that). I don’t get poison ivy or pollen sneezing fits or that kind of thing.
  7. I have a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a master’s degree in professional writing. The former seems pointless in retrospect and the latter was only for me. I certainly don’t want to write for “the man.” I did write more than sixty feature articles for newspapers and magazines as a freelancer, some of which you can still find online, but I don’t anymore. I also parlayed that master’s degree into a part-time teaching job at the local community college. It was remedial English composition. The pay was lousy, the workload was tremendous, and the warm fuzzies were too infrequent.
  8. My favorite movie, at least based on number of viewings, is Field of Dreams. The fact that I’m writing a cycle of Fathers and Sons stories makes perfect sense in light of this. (If you’ve seen that movie, you know what I mean.)
  9. I have another blog, one that I’ve kept for more than nine years, but I’m not going to tell you what it is.
  10. “Paul Lamb” is a pen name. Most of you know my given name.
  11. I’ve been told that I’m made of schmooze, that I’m pleasingly flirtatious, and that I make people feel good about themselves. Secretly, though, I am shy and extremely lacking in confidence. Also, I can hold a grudge at Olympic levels.

Dear Donna Everhart has supplied the following questions for me to answer (thank you so very much, sweetie pie!):

1. What are your five favorite books?

This is problematic because I think such a list can change over time. If I had to pick today — and it seems I do since I must answer this question — they would be,

  • The Ghost Writer, by Philip Roth – I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read this, but I suspect it’s near thirty, and every time I find something new in it.
  • Moby Dick – Natch! I’ve read this only three times, which is like saying I’ve barely read it at all. The latest of those readings was with my monthly discussion group, and we took two years to work our way through it.
  • Walden – Again, obvious. I think I’ve read this one thrice as well. It’s a quote factory, to be sure, but there is still a lot of insight and just plain quirkiness to it.
  • The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll, by Alvaro Mutis – I’ve always had an interest in Latin American magical realism, and though this doesn’t quite fit in that category, the character Maqroll doesn’t quite fit in any category either, which is why I like him.
  • The Sea, The Sea, by Iris Murdoch – It’s her retelling of The Tempest and while it is interesting on its own, this was the first of her novels I had ever read. I was introduced to her philosophical style and characters as well as peoples’ lives very unlike my own. I’ve since read all of her novels and some of her nonfiction (though most of that is way over my head).

2. What are you most afraid of?

Regret. Not monsters. Not Republicans. Not getting hit by a car when I’m out running. Not disease. Regret. The road not taken. The lack of courage to act when I should have. The missed opportunity. The unspoken word. And the ensuing, searing, lifelong regret. (Also, the Liebster Award.)

3. If you could pick one, which would it be? A week on an beautiful tropical island by yourself with just the essentials – or – a week in Vegas with ten of your closest friends and anything you want.

Since I can’t have what I want (don’t ask!), and since Las Vegas has no appeal to me (though at least one frighteningly talented writer has come from there), and since I don’t think I even have ten friends, I would certainly pick the tropical island and the essentials. I sit and muse a lot. I like quiet and solitude. I could be happy for a week, alone on a beautiful tropical island. That was an easy question.

4. Your favorite food?

Well, this has probably changed in light of point 5 above. But it has consistently been a big plate of spaghetti with marinara sauce. In fact, my wife’s marinara sauce was one of the things that made me fall in love with her. I don’t eat this way much anymore unless I’m carb loading for a big run. And since I happen to have a big run coming this weekend, it’s spaghetti time!

5. When did you know you wanted to be . . . <fill in the blank>

An office drone in a cube farm? I never wanted to be that, but it pays the bills and I can very easily walk away from it at the end of the day. A writer? As far back as I can remember. I was writing stories as a lad. Dreaming stories as a teen. Practicing my craft as a young married man. And realizing it in my modest way now. I had a brief flirtation with becoming a medical doctor, but fortunately for my potential patients, that never happened. (My son is a doctor, however.)

6. If you could have one “do over” what would it be?

This relates to my whole musing on regret above. I think I’ve made pretty good life choices based on my modest abilities and drive. But there have been a few jobs that I never would have taken if I’d known what they would do to the rest of my life. I am still haunted by the memory of a certain person I worked for thirty years ago who had absolutely everything wrong about life and absolute assurance that she was right. And at the time she was getting a degree in counseling so she could “help” people! I have tried and tried to work her into a story — as a way to exorcise her from my memory — but it’s never worked. I would never have taken that job if I could have such a do over. One or two other jobs were stinkers but probably built character or some other edifying thing. Otherwise, I might have chosen to begin running sooner in my life, but I’m sure I’m getting boring about that.

7. There’s a tornado warning and you only have five minutes to get your sh– together.  What do you grab?

My laptop. My glasses. Some clean underwear.

8. What’s the most difficult decision you’ve ever made?

So far? Letting go of my children. Letting them make adult choices (ones that I would not have made) and not objecting or resisting or counseling otherwise (unless asked). This really is the hardest part of parenting, which has been the hardest job of my life. But that’s only so far. Perhaps some tough choices lie ahead.

9. You’ve just received “The Call,” from your agent.  What would you do immediately after that call?

Sit quietly and savor the immensity of it, the validation of my effort and dreaming. As I said above, I can sit and muse with the best of them, and I’m sure that’s what I would do. Soon after, I would buy myself an expensive Mont Blanc fountain pen — with blue ink, of course — that I would use for signing the contracts that would come my way. It’s an indulgence I’ve promised myself when that day comes. No, I wouldn’t party, and I wouldn’t even announce my good news for a while here on the blog or among my friends. (Few of my day-to-day friends even know I’m a writer, and I want to keep it that way.) No, I would savor it selfishly.

10. Tell us your strangest habit.  (hopefully, nothing gross)

This is a tough one. I suppose if something is a habit, you’re not always aware that you’re subject to it. I can’t think of anything mortifying or embarrassing or even humbling. I honestly can’t. I’m an early-to-bed, early-to-rise kind of guy. I try to eat a handful of pecan halves before I run. I tap a set of chimes each time I go down the stairs in my house. But those seem more like behavior patterns than habits. I really don’t know the answer to this one.

11. What is your most embarrassing moment ever?

Another tough one. I tend to lead such a conventional outward life, and I’m secretive to the point of obsession about most personal things, that I don’t think I have much opportunity for epic embarrassing moments. My adult son walked into my bedroom just has I had emerged naked from the shower the other day, but that’s hardly embarrassing (and it’s the kind of thing the characters in my Fathers and Sons stories are completely comfortable with). I can remember thinking I was so clever by driving on the shoulder of the road rather that wait in traffic and then slamming into the side of someone’s car I didn’t see coming. I’ve gotten some facts wrong and not known it when I’ve pontificated on certain subjects before. I actually said out loud once that I was thinking of a career change and becoming a doctor to much (as it turns out valid) skepticism. But if there have been any pie-in-the-face, wet-my-pants embarrassing moments in my life, I seem to have repressed them quite effectively.

And so that is it. The Liebster Award seems more like a penance or punishment than an award. Thank you so very much Donna Everhart. As I said, I’m not going to inflict this on anyone else. And I suspect I’ve revealed nothing earth shaking about myself, mostly because I’m secretly just a very conventional guy. Sigh!

 


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