memento mori

Posted December 7, 2016 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic, Rants and ruminations

Some of you know that I’ve kept a paper journal for the last 35+ years. With a mechanical pencil I hand write entries into spiral notebooks with some college name/logo on the cover. In the early years, before I could have ever imagined the scope of my endeavor, I didn’t date the entries. But soon enuf I did. Then I began putting the time of day beside each entry since I was often hustling to my journal to get down whatever brilliant thought I’d had when untethered to it. Some entries might be a sentence or two. Others could go on for pages. And while I might make three and even four entries in a day, I could also go weeks without one. Still the words accumulated, and I am now on journal number 28 (from Syracuse University, where my clever nephew attended).

I will likely never go back and read my journals. A lot of it is probably embarrassingly immature or focused on some event/issue of the time that is no longer pertinent. Any given brilliant idea is lost within a hundred quotidian thoughts. There isn’t a search function in paper journals. My middle son has stated that when I am gone (not too soon, I hope) he intends to read my journals from start to finish. (Consider what a dampening effect this has on my entries once I realize someone I know will be reading them.) He was never much of a reader growing up, and now his job (and daughter) demands most of his time, and any reading he does should be in his field (oncology). I also suspect he’ll get bored quickly with my entries and skip a lot of it.

My point is that I have all of these journals that will likely never amount to anything other than ash after some cleansing campfire. I don’t suppose I would mind that too much as long as it was a campfire at my cabin.

Similarly, a couple of decades ago, I was busy as a freelancer writing feature articles for magazines and newspapers — back in the days of print. I wrote more than sixty of these things before I gave up the ambition. (I gave up in part because I could never break into the slicks and in part because I realized that in my ten years of effort I had produced the equivalent of what one cub reporter would produce in a single year. Plus there’s no money in it.) Nonetheless, I have kept a copy of every publication that ran one of my articles. The stack sits on a shelf within arm’s reach of me as I write this. And yet, I will never go back and read these things. Nor will anyone else. It’s possible that the stack I have holds one of the few existing copies of the publications — and thus my articles — available in the physical world. Yet I can’t part with them.

And it continues. There was a time in my life when I wanted to become an authority in the literature of the Midwest. (There is actual scholarship devoted to this!) I read widely (but not widely enuf), and I even began collecting books. But I saw that my subject was too vast, so I tightened my focus to the literature of Missouri. But even that was too vast. So I tightened it further to the literature of the Ozarks (a vast and satisfying literature of its own). In the glass-fronted bookcase across the room from me I have books I have collected for this ambition. Some I have were published in the 19th Century and are likely among the few existing copies in the physical world. As with my journals and my feature articles, I am unlikely to read them again (since creating my own literature is now my interest). Yet I can’t part with them. The thrill of the chase — finding a long-sought novel — means I can never dispose of them. My children will get that job. (I just hope they have the sense to find out if there is some collector or a library that would want them.)

And it still continues. I’m looking at a rack of medals I’ve earned from the half and full marathons I’ve run. (The NYC Marathon medal is my all-time favorite, natch!) I have another rack of medals from “lesser” races. Dozens of these things that will mean nothing to anyone other than me. What’s to become of them? Since no one ran the race inside my head, the medals won’t have any specific meaning to them. I don’t suppose the metal of the medals is even high grade enuf to be good for melting down. (And I currently have two drawers packed with shirts I’ve earned from races. This does not even count the tech shirts from races that I have hanging in a closet.) This will all mean nothing to anyone after me.


(Gratuitous photo insertion.)

And consider my dead blog: Roundrock Journal. I kept that thing going for more than ten years, the first five years with a post every single day. Now it is lost (though I think you can find it through the Wayback Machine — I should try it myself). It existed and consumed a great deal of my creative self, and yet it is gone.

And so what is the point of this ramble? I’m not sure myself. I guess the ephemeral nature of existence or some such lofty thoughts. The traces we leave without even noticing? The accumulation of stuff?

never done that before!

Posted November 30, 2016 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Fathers and Sons

To my memory, I did something over the weekend that I have never done before.* I submitted one of my short stories to a contest. I even paid a fee ($10) to enter. Paying a fee for a submission was something I swore I would never do. (Of course I also never imagined myself entering and running marathons, so I guess there are no absolutes.)

The story I submitted is “A Tree Falls in the Forest,” which is one of my One-Match Fire pieces. I’ve read and re-read this story many times (is that tautological phrasing?), and I’m really satisfied with it. I’m more than satisfied; I’m pleased with it. I think it may be the best realized story I’ve ever written (but I’m trying to avoid making absolute statements any longer).

I’ve read some of the stories that the magazine has published, and I think my story seems to fit, though I never feel sure about these judgments. I feel so confident about my story, though, that I hesitated only a few days before submitting.

I know some writers enter every contest they can find. From what I can tell, many use their wins as marketing tools, to increase their brand and suchlike. (“Suchlike” is an actual word. Look it up!) That’s fine for them. And I suppose winning this or that famous (or not-so-famous) writing contest may increase the writer’s profile among readers and increase the writer’s marketability among publishers. I’ve never been concerned with my “brand” as a writer. I’m too shy to market myself. I am grateful a) that my story is as well done as I can make it, and b) that my story gets published at all. It’s much like my approach to running in organized races. I’m not out to win a medal for my age group. (I’ve only done that twice, and both were by default.) I’m satisfied to run the race as well as I can and to collect the finisher’s medal (that everyone gets who staggers across the line).

Still, along with the prize money for this literary contest, there is also a bronze medal. I could be pleased having that sitting on my desk.


*The more I’ve reflected about this the more I seem to recall having submitted something once before. I can’t be sure.

my anti-Black Friday action

Posted November 28, 2016 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Roundrock


Long-time readers (both of you) know how I resist our crass consumer culture that culminates in Black Friday. I go out to my little cabin at Roundrock, on the edge of the Missouri Ozarks, and defiantly not buy stuff! I’ve been doing this every Black Friday for at least the last ten years, and this year I kept up my tradition of defiance.

It was just the four of us: me, Libby, Flike, and Queequeg. We had no real agenda, and the weather would dictate our actions more than our intentions would, but this time of the year I always need to rake the leaves that have collected against the back of the cabin. I do this for three reasons. One, they are a fire hazard for the wooden cabin. Two, they provide cover for gnawing and burrowing critters, which I don’t want to foster that close to the cabin. And, three, they can retain water after a rain, creating a microclimate of damp against the wooden siding, allowing mold to grow. (It’s hard to tell from the photo above, but the bottom two “logs” of the siding are discolored from mold. Flike is there for scale and because he brought me a stick to throw, which is his pastime at the cabin. Note the stick in the foreground.)

So after poking around the place, filling the bird feeder, and setting some unsalted peanuts on the old log for the wood rat who lives within it, I took the rake to the back of the cabin and began my work. It’s not a big job, not like raking my yard back in faraway suburbia, but I still moan about it, telling Libby that I have an 80-acre yard to keep up now. (In some ways that’s true. I don’t have to maintain the road in suburbia. Nor do I have to keep any fence lines clear. Or walk my perimeter at least once a year just to see what’s up. I don’t have to cut fire wood in suburbia. I don’t have dam spillways that wash out annually. And I don’t have police patrolling my road at the cabin at least once a day to keep things safe. So there’s a lot a fellow has to worry about at his little cabin in the woods.)

I generally alternate which direction I’ll rake the leaves each time — and this time of the year, I must rake them each time I visit — but this time I raked them both directions. I did that because of a tarp on the ground on the east side of the cabin that I wanted to move to the west side of the cabin. Makes perfect sense, right?

The tarp was version 1.0 of the cabin. Before we had the cabin built, we hung a tarp between the trees overlooking the lake so we could retreat from the sun or the rain and sit in comfy chairs to have our lunch or just relax. We went through three tarps in this way. After the cabin was raised, the last tarp was folded and stashed under a bed in the cabin. (Yes, we have two beds, with mattresses and sheets, in the cabin!). In subsequent years, green things would grow in the gravel around the cabin, and I knew that if I didn’t keep ahead of it, the open gravel would soon give way to grasses and then scrub and then small trees, and the little bit of control I had hoped to wrest from the forest would be lost.

And so the tarp got a second life. I laid it over patches of the gravel where the green things were sprouting most vigorously and left it there for a month or two (in the growing season) to kill them. Then the tarp would get moved to a new area to do the same thing. My efforts would last for about a year, and the tarp has returned to areas where it had once been before. It’s a benign sort of malice, all the more beneficial since the cabin is uphill from the lake, and I don’t really want to use any herbicides within its watershed, at least not that close.

So the tarp was doing its service on the east side of the cabin, and I wanted to move it to the west side of the cabin. Thus I raked half of the leaves to the west first to get them beyond the place where the tarp would go. Once that was done, I moved the tarp to the west, which meant the east side of the cabin was now clear for raking leaves across. And so I did that with the remainder of the leaves.

And the result you see below. (This is looking east.)


Neat and clean and probably already filled with oak leaves by now. But I strive nonetheless.

Below you see the new location for the tarp. This is the west side of the cabin. You can see a large pile of leaves beyond it; those are the leaves I raked from (half of) the back of the cabin. And below that you can see the (diminished) lake. The boards resting on the tarp were salvaged from a blind that some hunter had raised in a tree on my land (prior to my tenure). It was abandoned soon after I acquired the property (though I would not have objected had he or she wanted to continue using it) and fell to the ground after a spring storm. I collected as much of the wood as was worth having, burning some of the rest, and saved it for some future use. I never imagined that holding a tarp in place would be the lumber’s future use, but it certainly does a good job.


The area I’ve covered had a nice stand of feathery grass growing. (I wish I could do as well on my lawn in faraway suburbia.) In the winter this would turn brown and serve as perfect tinder for any ground fire that approached the cabin. So it had to go. Winter is not, of course, the growing season for grasses, and the tarp will probably stay there until the spring because it will take that long for it to have its effect. In past efforts, when I would remove the tarp I would sometimes see the nests of little forest critters under it. I imagine the tarp suits them just as it suited us before the cabin: it provides shelter from the elements and collects solar heat during the winter months. I won’t be surprised if I find a nest or two under it when I remove it next spring.

With the chores completed, we turned our feet to the west for a hike, crossing the familiar rises and falls of the land. There is an open, grassy area not too far from the cabin that I’m trying to expand. With each visit, should my feet happen to carry me there, I will cut down a cedar or two, cut back overhanging branches here and there, or cut away some scrubby growth to give the native grasses more sunlight to thrive and expand. I don’t know why I do this other than to feel that I have some “control” in my forest. Still, everyone needs a hobby.

We hiked more after that, but the sun never made its expected appearance and we were both cold. (The dogs reported no complaints.) So sooner than we normally would, we packed the Prolechariot (my name for my red truck) and drove the two hours back to suburban Kansas City. As you might have guessed, the sun emerged from the clouds about half way home, and the day soon turned warm enuf for me to rake leaves in my back yard at home.

But aside from a tank full of gas ($1.74 per gallon — Thanks, Obama!) I didn’t purchase a damned thing!

splendid solitude

Posted November 25, 2016 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Rants and ruminations

“The cure for loneliness is solitude.”

Marianne Moore
“If I Were Sixteen Today”*

I love my solitude. I live in my solitude. My creative ferment is most alive in my solitude. It’s why I rise at 3:00 a.m. on the weekends; I can enter the creative place in my mind and stay there without distractions to pull me out.

I love the quiet. I can hear myself think and dream and free associate. I can also hear my heartbeat, which was disturbing when I first noticed it several years ago but is now merely annoying.** (No, I do not have high blood pressure; I never have. I think my ears are — my right ear actually — just attuned to the flow of blood through nearby vessels.)

I think this is also why I prefer running alone rather than as part of a group, which I had tried for several years.

My solo trips to the cabin, while not good for actual writing, are nearly always great opportunities for ideas and problem solving. I generally come home with lots of notes. (There are distractions at the cabin, not the least of which being the itch to get out and ramble among the hills, though that is not necessarily bad for reflection.)

Of course, getting to whatever place of quiet solitude doesn’t automatically cause me to write pages and pages. Sometimes it still isn’t flowing.



*I have not read this essay.

**I have this idea that our bodies are actually very noisy places, with blood flowing, and food being digested, and glands secreting, and so on, but our brains have literally tuned these noises out beginning in the womb. Have you ever held a stethoscope to your stomach and listened? Sometimes when I lie in bed and I manage to turn off the censors (unwittingly) for brief moments I can hear all sorts of whooshing and crashing noises in my head, but as soon as I become aware of them, they go away. Tuned out.

“Runaway” debuts!

Posted November 21, 2016 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Fathers and Sons

Tags: ,

My One-Match Fire story “Runaway” appeared over the weekend in Aethlon: The Journal of Sport Literature. And that’s a bit of eager overstatement. The editor wrote to say that the print edition has gone to the publisher, but she sent me a downloadable PDF, and I consider that good enuf to call it published.

I was never able to lay my hands on an earlier copy of this magazine, and I couldn’t find one online, so I didn’t (don’t) know what to expect. The downloaded edition has 227 pages, so it is clearly a document of some heft. (My story appears on page 209.) I was able to find a registry of past contributors to the magazine, and there are some names with heft among them too. I can’t say when I’ll get my two contributor copies, but I already have space cleared on my shelf for them.

This is the fifth One-Match Fire story to see publication.

just some things

Posted November 18, 2016 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Rants and ruminations

My One-Match Fire story “Twice Blest” was declined by another magazine. That’s to be expected, of course. It’s a quirky story, but I’m still convinced that it has a niche out there. I’m not actively trying to get any more of the stories in the novel/cycle published, though “A Tree Falls in the Forest” is a likely candidate as well.

*   *   *

I’m making notes on a story I’m calling “Fire Sermon.” Although I don’t see it as part of the One-Match Fire collection, it does involve two of the characters. Once you get to know these people, it seems they have a lot to tell you.

*   *   *

I did not get any black toenails from running the marathon two weeks ago. That’s a first.

*   *   *

My hoped-for trip to the cabin this weekend doesn’t look like it will happen. Though we’ve been enjoying some balmy autumn weather, the temps are due to dip below freezing on Saturday night, which makes sitting around a (one-match) campfire drinking beer a chilly prospect. (Also, the head cold lingers, and I’m enjoying some terrific sinus headaches right now.) But we traditionally make a trip to our forest on Black Friday, pretty much to show that we are not consumer culture casualties, and that’s a week away. So it looks like November will not pass as a month without a cabin visit.

*   *   *

Since returning from New York (one week ago), I have worn my marathon Finisher hoodie every day and everywhere, and only one person has noticed and commented on it — and she had been excited about my run before I had left.

back to our regular programming

Posted November 16, 2016 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Rants and ruminations

So it’s not all marathon news here at the humble blog. Obviously I’ve been pre-occupied for the last few weeks, and my writing life has “suffered” for it. But it’s time for me to ease back into this other part of my life and get to the big work that’s needed there.

I had intended to spend last weekend at my cabin, indulging in a last, well-earned debauchery of beer and cigars around a smoky campfire. But the head cold I had nixed that, and instead I found myself caring for grandson, Emmett, on Saturday as his parents had an actual date night. (I’m pretty sure I caught the cold from Emmett, so I don’t think it was wrong for me to be watching him while still suffering from it.) So maybe the cabin next weekend, though it will be a little cooler at night.

I’ve been peeking at the collected stories in One-Match Fire, looking for the tone and rhythm so I can get back to the big re-read and begin composing a query letter for it. No more dithering. No more distraction. It’s time for me to step up to this culmination.

Also, and completely unbidden, I had something of a revelation about that old novel of mine The Sleep of Reason. It had gotten some attention from a few agents but never went anywhere. But during my cold medicine-induced delirium on the flight home from New York, I thought of a different angle I could pitch it with. Looks like I’ll be unearthing that old project and see what I might do with it.

And there are a few short story ideas I can give more love to.

Plenty of work waiting for my return.