throwback Thursday ~ my journal journey

Posted May 19, 2022 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic

Tags: ,

I can’t report any progress in reading my old journals since my last throwback Thursday posting. Journal #14 (of 29) sits open on my desk at the same page where I had left it, beckoning me to return to read my old posts (from 1992) and cringe at how clueless and embarrassing I was.

But there is a sort of update today. When I was in New York last month,* I had rented a citibike and rode through Prospect Park from my daughter’s house to Medgar Evers College to buy a spiral notebook with that institution’s logo on the cover to serve as journal #30 (#29 being nearly filled). The citibikes are heavy beasts, built for use and abuse by all kinds of people, and while they got me around Brooklyn during my stay, they are nothing like the sleek, lightweight bike I have at home. (Each bike station — they’re all over — has bays for at least twenty bikes, most of which were in use when I needed one, leaving some that were “not in service” because they were broken somehow.) When I got to Medgar Evers College, however, riding not only through Prospect Park but on some busy Brooklyn streets, I learned that they don’t have a dedicated, physical bookstore; all such purchases are done online, so the perilous ride was for naught be experience. I managed to get myself back to my daughter’s house on one of those beast bikes and then researched getting the notebook online.

That notebook arrived at my house yesterday, Now, when I finally fill #29 (it won’t be long), I have the next one waiting to be used. I’ve kept a handwritten journal for nearly all of my adult life. So far, it has not been an amazing and enlightening journey through the pages, but I do love the feeling of my hand pushing a mechanical pencil across the page, so I guess I’ll keep on keeping one.

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*I went to New York on Easter Sunday to take up temporary duties as a dog sitter while my daughter and her family went to Disneyworld. It turns out that it was cheaper to buy me round-trip airline tickets than it would have been to pay for boarding for their elderly dog, Crusher. (The fact that I flew on Easter may have been part of the low price.) I stayed for more than two weeks, overlapping the Disney trip, and my daughter said she thought Crusher seemed healthier when they returned than he had been when they’d left.

rumors of progress at Roundrock

Posted May 13, 2022 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Roundrock

The dogs and I had gone down to my little cabin on the edge of the Missouri Ozarks on Wednesday, more or less spontaneously, because I had this notion that we could spend the night and I could hear the whippoorwills. (It was too hot for that and we later retreated to suburbia where there is air conditioning and running water.) But as I was sitting in the comfy chair on the shady porch overlooking the sparkling lake I could hear a vehicle coming down the road toward the cabin. Good Neighbor Craig sometimes does this when he has news (since I get no cell signal at the cabin) or just to visit. And there have been times when I’ve heard vehicles approaching only to hear them stop and reverse once they get within sight of the cabin (or, more likely, within sight of my red truck parked by the cabin). I suspect they are folks who are just exploring or maybe want to throw a line in the lake, but they see the landowner is present and decide to retreat.

This time was different. The sound continued, but it did not continue down the road. At first I thought it was my new neighbor to the north, doing something on his land, except that I noticed new growth coming up in that field as I passed it that morning, and it seemed unlikely that he’d be taking something mechanized there to smash it. So I rose from the comfy chair and steered my feet toward the sound. Far ahead through the trees I could see a big red machine moving into the forest beside my road, and as I grew closer I could see that it was digging up the ground in there.

I was alone (except for Flike, who’s a big baby, and Queequeg, who I’d sequestered in the cabin), but if this was an interloper with timber trespass plans, I was going to have to confront him. When I got close enuf, though, I recognized the man in the cab of the big red machine as the man I had spoken with a couple of months ago about repairing my road and spillway. So what was he doing digging up the ground in the trees?

I don’t know how soon he spotted me watching him, but he finished what he was doing before he jumped down from the machine to say howdy.

It turned out that he had just dug the first of three trenches off of the main ditch coming down beside the road. The point was to bleed off some of the water that comes down the road so it doesn’t continue down to the dam and erode the spillway. The north spillway has been a problem since it was first built fifteen years ago. I’ve had it “repaired” several times, but we were apparently fixing the wrong problem. It was never the water from the lake that was eroding the spillway but rather the water racing down the road that hit the spillway from the side and chewed into the dam itself. So the fix had to begin with diverting the water coming down the road, and the three trenches he dug were intended to help with this by diverting the water before it got to the spillway.

Now, I’ve been waiting for three years to get this problem addressed. I’d hired three people to do it in that time, and each time they did a little initial work and then disappeared, not returning my calls or texts. This fourth man is the one who built my cabin, and he seemed pleased to be invited back. Even so, the weather was not always cooperative, and I suppose he had competing work around the county, but I began to fear that he would be a no-show again. And yet there he was, doing some initial work.

He and I spoke at some length about what still needed to be done (a culvert put in at a muddy spot farther up the road; some gravel for other parts of the road; repair to the spillway itself, which involved hauling large rock about as far into my forest as you could; and maybe another water diversion feature up by the cabin). It was all ambitious, and he spoke of some family issues that might intervene as well as the storms predicted for later in the week. I was just glad that work was finally begun.

He dug the three trenches (and a fourth farther up the road at that muddy spot that I didn’t see until I left), but then he had to get home (those family issues). I returned to the cabin and the comfy chair, noting how high the sun was still in the sky and how long it would be until the whippoorwill sang and how miserably hot it was. (The thermometer on the shady porch had been fixed at 90 degrees all day; it was worse in the sun.) So Flike and I had a conversation about maybe just going home instead of spending the night. He favored this, so I began packing our gear.

We drove out, past the three new ditches and then the fourth one I hadn’t known about way up the hill, and then on home. I called the day a good start on a long-needed project and thought I would stay in touch with the man as much as I dared to nudge him along for the other bits that needed doing.

Except that he sent me a text the next evening saying all of the work was done! Three years of waiting and frustration seemed to have been addressed in a day and a half of work.

I was tempted to jump in the truck and hustle down there to examine it, but Friday morning began with strong thunderstorms in Kansas City that were moving in the direction of Roundrock. More rain is forecast for Saturday. On Sunday, my wife returns from a long stay in St. Louis (to care for Small Paul). So the soonest I can get out to my cabin and all of the road work is Monday of next week, which is fine since the temperatures will have moderated some by then. And before, I might have added a few days to that delay since I would not want to drive on my poor road so soon after a rain. But if the fix is in, that won’t be an issue any more.

So I’ll occupy myself by pulling weeds from my garden in suburbia until I can return again.

__________

Here is a pretty good picture of the beaver lodge across the lake from my cabin. Thought I’ve seen plenty of signs of the beavers, I have yet to see the little beasts themselves.

The dark spot to the left of the pile of sticks in the above-water entrance to their den. I suspect they have an underwater entrance as well.

#Sunday Sentence

Posted May 8, 2022 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic

Tags: , ,

This is one of my occasional participations in David Abrams’ Sunday Sentence project, sharing the best sentence I’ve read during the past week, “out of context and without commentary.”

She seemed to consider the existence of things which it was impossible to love, like Victorian architecture and Mrs. Thatcher, as proving some kind of moral shortcoming in herself, so that she would always cover up by calling whatever it was fine ‘in its own way.’

Source: The Luxury of Exile by Louis Buss

“Velvet Elvis” is now online for your reading pleasure

Posted April 29, 2022 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Humble efforts, short stories

Tags: , ,

I mentioned before that my old story “Velvet Elvis” had been accepted at Fiction On The Web. It appears today. You can read it here.

This story first appeared in Bartleby Snopes way back in 2011.

The editor at Fiction on the Web likes it most when readers leave comments, so if you feel inclined, please do (at the site, not here, though here is nice too). See if you can find the spelling error in the text.

“Motet” edits

Posted April 25, 2022 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Humble efforts, short stories

Tags: , ,

I mentioned before that my story “Motet” has been accepted by a lit journal. It’s going through the editing process right now, which is a little new for me since most of my published stories have been accepted as written (or with occasional minor suggestions shared via email). I don’t want to suggest that my prior stories were so brilliantly written that they never needed fine tuning. (The vast imbalance of rejections to acceptances makes that clear enuf.) Rather, I want to show the novelty of my current experience.

I received a redline of my story through Google Documents. I’ve dabbled in that tool before, mostly using it for backup storage before I went to the cloud. (And I should probably go in there and clean out a bunch of old stuff now. Though that is where I found the germ that became Obelus!) So I knew of the document sharing function it had, but I’d never used it. Now I am (I think).

The story as submitted was only 860 words long, but the editor found about a dozen points in it to question/suggest/revise. Many of these had to do with removing passive voice constructions, which I was fine with. There were some verb tense changes suggested as well, Some I accepted and some I didn’t. (One helps imply that a remembered character has died, for example.) There were also a couple of word choice suggestions. Most importantly, and one I didn’t yield on, was the word “counterpoint.” “Motet” is a vocal musical form, as is “counterpoint.” I used that word metaphorically to describe the “arguments” as a homes association meeting. The editor wanted to change it to “counterpoints” in the plural form, making it a more literal conversation rather than musical harmony. So I pushed back on that. I hope he accepts it.

The biggest change of all was the deletion of the last sentence. It sort of sums up the point of the story, and the editor didn’t think that summation was needed. He thought the story ended better with the preceding sentence. Curiously, the few times I’ve had substantive edits to my stories have nearly always been with the endings. (“Velvet Elvis” was considerably improved because of this.) So I yielded on this point as well.

I could see the editor’s points on the suggestions, and I agreed with most or gave counterpoint on others. We’ll see if any of that goes through. I don’t know if I transmitted the story through Google Docs correctly. I sent him a follow-up email just to be sure. There will be a second round of edits, so I should find out then.

Update 27APR22 – The editor reports that he has accepted my responses and arguments to his redline and that the work is done. There will be no need for a second edit. If I opened the correct final version on Google Docs, then the story is in the version I wanted in the end. I guess I’ll see when it finally goes online. I’ll let you know when that happens.

#Sunday Sentence

Posted April 24, 2022 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic

Tags: ,

This is one of my occasional participations in David Abrams’ Sunday Sentence project, sharing the best sentence I’ve read during the past week, “out of context and without commentary.”

Maria had thought, she said, that they were rid of Anita, that she had been disposed of long ago: the old words, the Ukrainian words, for trollop and whore, slut, slattern, hoyden, minx, meretricious ne’er-do-well–these words she did not know in English and would not have spoken in front of Lev if she had, spewed inside her skull, in (how could she fail to recognize it, in spite of the long silence?) her own mother’s voice.

Source: “A Simple Tale” in The Hunters by Claire Messud

#Sunday Sentence

Posted April 17, 2022 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic

Tags: , ,

This is one of my occasional participations in David Abrams’ Sunday Sentence project, sharing the best sentence I’ve read during the past week, “out of context and without commentary.”

We order our lives with barely held stories.

Source: Michael Ondaatje, Warlight

a twofer day

Posted April 15, 2022 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Humble efforts, short stories

Tags: , , ,

One day in February, I had received four rejections for submissions I had made. All at once like that was brutal, but that’s the nature of the biz.

I can balance that with the two emails I received today telling me that two of my stories were accepted! I don’t think I’ve ever gotten two acceptances in a single day, but I’ll take them.

One story is called “Motet,” and it’s the internal monologue of a man as he is raking the leaves in his front yard, reflecting on the neighbors whose leaves have blown into his yard. It’s in the spirit of community and diversity and harmonious blending, and I wrote it last fall when I was . . . doing a lot of leaf raking. I guess it would be called flash fiction since it’s only 860 words long, but I wrote the story I had, and I don’t think adding anything would have improved it. The publication that accepted it (“we are thrilled to accept your piece”) is called The MockingOwl Roost, an ezine that’s been around for a couple of years. I had responded to a call for stories on the theme of “Introspection.” Only 12 days passed between submission and acceptance, which is pretty good in my experience. It looks like “Motet” will appear in the journal in the middle of July.

The other story is one I wrote recently titled “The Retreat of the City Folk.” It’s about two city folk who buy some rural forest land and then have a conflict with a neighbor that costs them time and trouble and money. It’s based on a case of timber trespass that actually happened to me and my wife on some property we had before we acquired Roundrock. The point of my short story was that the two characters were almost literally “babes in the woods” and were outsmarted at every turn. In fact, they don’t get a word of dialog in the story, which is intended to show how passive they are. My story will appear in an upcoming issue of Floyd County Moonshine, a print journal that’s been around for 14 years. It’s based in Appalachia, but it is interested in “local color” stories from all over, including, it seems, the Missouri Ozarks. I had submitted the story only yesterday, and it was accepted today. (That’s the second fastest acceptance I have ever received.) I’m not sure when my story will appear, but the journal is published twice a year.

These acceptances are great news, but they also mean I have to withdraw a number of other submissions I’ve made for the two stories, but that’s the nature of the biz.

bits and pieces

Posted April 11, 2022 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic

This is an older photo, but I imagine it’s what the forest looks like at my little cabin about now. The oaks are probably beginning to leaf out with that bright green color they have. It may also be noisy there if the man I spoke to recently has been able to begin work on the road and spillway. The rains of spring can delay that, and my own visits may also get postponed by the weather. But surely there will be a window for me to dash out there.

__________

I continue to marvel at the little editor function in Word and its reports on my grievous grammatical sins. A number of the “errors” it cites are definitely not errors. (Would “A number” in this usage call for a singular or plural verb?) For example, I have the phrase “they’re-not-sure-what” in a story and the editor suggests using “their” or “there.” I use “city folk” as a subject, and the editor thinks it should take a singular verb. I have a series of statements that the protagonists are asking themselves, so I punctuate them with question marks. The editor suggests I use periods instead.

I guess the program might be useful for writers with no experience, working on a report for their jobs or a term paper for school. But it sure seems fatal for anyone with a creative writing style. (And worse, I’ve worked for people who would have insisted that any writing adhere completely to the dictates of this editor program. Fortunately, that was in the Stone Age, before there was much in the way of these editors. And I’m pretty sure the editor would have cited “in the way of,” saying it’s not concise and that I should use “like.”)

__________

I checked this morning, and I have 57 submissions outstanding right now. Most of those are for short stories, but an even dozen are for Obelus. This activity must account for why I seem to be receiving (at least) one rejection letter every single day. I’ll keep up the good work.

__________

I got my second Covid booster vaccine yesterday (after some trouble with the clumsy online reservation system my local pharmacy uses — the trick is you have to tell them you don’t have any insurance so you can get around some obscure questions and then resolve it in person later).

It occurs to me that an anti-vaxxer — Antivax — must shake his head in dismay at someone like me. To him I must seem a dupe of the epic variety (just as I look upon him). I’ll take my chances on proven science and public health though.

__________

I haven’t listed the books I’ve read for a long time. Not sure why. Writers must be readers, and all that, so reading is a fundamental part of my creative self. Here’s what I’ve read in February and March:

The After Party by Leo Benedictus – More of my foray into metafiction. The narrative of what seems to be the actual story in this novel is interrupted throughout with emails between the writer and his agent. This seems like an intrusive device until you discover at the end that it is these emails that are the true story. (I borrowed this one through inter-library loan from the library of the university that went on to win the Final Four.)

Maybe You Should See Someone by Lori Gotlieb – I have a story idea for a character who is sparring with a therapist, and I read this nonfiction to get a sense of how therapy sessions take place. While this book delivered on that, I got the sense that this was merely self-promotion by the writer (with a little TMI).

Life in Translation by Anthony Ferner – An interesting, fictional peek into the world of international translation. The main character is good at what he does, bringing the nuance and cultural influences into the works he translates, but he’s less successful at understanding the same in his personal life. A quiet, nicely observed novel, a novel for writers.

Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Dicks – I guess this is metafiction since it is narrated by an autistic boy’s imaginary friend. And I guess this is a young adult novel (or maybe middle grade) except that the plot is driven by the abduction of that autistic child. Seemed a little heavy handed for younger readers. In a single sentence it, though, ends exactly how you want it to (and I don’t mean the successful rescue of the abducted boy).

Off Book by Jessica Dall – Another bit of metafiction though with a different twist. If you sometimes think your characters are taking on a life of their own, this book explains why. Inventive and well imagined.

The Phone Booth at the Edge of the World by Laura Imai Messina – A novel by an Italian writer about Japanese characters translated into English. This one was a worthwhile read for me. It’s about an actual phone booth in Japan (there are others around the world — called wind phones) where people can go to speak to or about loved ones lost to the earthquake and tsunami of 2011. A measured-pace love story results from two people’s use of the booth, but the novel is full of richly drawn characters. I found this book by simply wandering the stacks at my local library, which is a quiet pleasure of mine. It’s also the second “Japanese” novel I’ve enjoyed recently, persuading me to explore this nation’s literature.

Last Bus to Wisdom by Ivan Doig – Another novel I found by wandering the stacks. It was Doig’s last novel though the first of his I had ever read. It’s a road-trip novel about a boy, 11 going on 40, and his mishaps when he is sent to live with an aunt he’s never met and then his escape from her. The story kept me engaged, but it had more handy coincidences than a Thomas Hardy novel, and the ending was too pat for my tastes. Still, if I knew a young person eager to read a long-ish novel, I could recommend this.

The Motion of the Body Through Space by Lionel Shriver – Another stack-wandering find, and I’d never read any of her works before. This one is about a 60-something man who decides to go from couch to ultra triathalon in a single year. (Even I am not that nuts.) The story is narrated by his wife, who is having some issues of her own but tries (mostly) to be supportive of him. I did not enjoy this work mostly for mechanical reasons. Not only did I find several typos in the printed text and at least two mistakes with word choice (“to” that should have been “too” for example) as well as her plumper characters referring to themselves as parade “floats” when I think she meant “balloons,” but this seemed to be little more than a vehicle for Shriver to complain about issues that bug her personally, putting her own thoughts and words into the mouth of her narrator.

Roundrock rumblings

Posted April 4, 2022 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Roundrock

I’ve been visiting my little bit of forest on the edge of the Missouri Ozarks frequently in recent weeks, but I haven’t posted about it here much. It’s a retreat, so I don’t want to feel obligated to give an account of it all of the time. (Still, I was gifted a special rechargeable battery that can power my laptop specifically so I can do some writing out there. I’ll probably report on that sometime in the future.)

I was out to my cabin last weekend because I had an appointment to see a man about fixing my road. There are some soft spots where the water doesn’t drain and I churn them into mud when I pass over them in my trusty truck. (Which my son named the Prolechariot.) I also have the ongoing problem of the spillway on the side of the dam threatening to wash out and drain my little lake.

I’ve been trying to get people out to address these problems for years. Literally years. I had one man come out three and a half years ago to discuss the work. He finally did some work two years later. Then I had another man come out to deliver some rock to temporarily fix the spillway, but after that he never returned my calls. And most recently I had a third man out to do it all right, and he agreed to do so. But he delivered two loads of rock and then I never heard from him again (despite calls and text messages). My neighbors who also need similar work done report being unable to find anyone locally willing to do it.

This fourth person is the man who built my cabin eleven years ago. He did fine work then, but his interests and employment drifted toward long-haul trucking. Then a new baby joined his household and he decided he needed to be home instead, so he’s resumed his more local jack-of-all-trades work.

I met with him near the paved road so I could lead him back the two miles to my cabin. (When he had first come to the site eleven years ago, he asked if he was in Arkansas.) He confessed that he wasn’t sure he knew the way there after a decade. We drove in and stopped at a couple of places where the road was at its worst to discuss options. Then we reached the cabin. (It’s three-quarters of a mile into my woods, which is a trick since the long sides of the property are only a half mile long. The road is not in a straight line however.) The first thing he did was congratulate me for taking such good care of the cabin he had built. Apparently most of the work he’s done has not been maintained by the owners, growing faded and moldy. It happens that my cabin was on the faded and moldy road itself, but I had pressure washed and stained it just two years ago, so I got credit for being meticulous.

In any case, his pleasure at the state of the cabin seemed to set the right tone for the rest of his inspection. I showed him where the road down the hill turns (and where the water coming down the road doesn’t) as well as the washing-out spillway. We talked about likely solutions. He seemed to see things my way (at least in terms of solutions). And he ballparked a price that I thought was reasonable. And he said that he thought he could begin the work in a couple of weeks, weather permitting. (Spring rains will slow things down, but this is the closest to movement that I’ve seen in a long time.)

So maybe it will happen.

Here is a picture of the lakeshore just below the cabin. Obviously the beavers are being industrious:

And this is an odd picture:

I have conducted some “experiments” in my forest related to biodegradability. One used plastic bags (the kind you get at grocery stores). I set them out on a south-facing rock where they would get the full force of the sun and any weather. Then I tracked them as they degraded. Mostly they didn’t. They shredded, but that wasn’t really decomposing, and it would result in microparticles in the soil. The one bag that did do what I think was true decomposing was one I picked up at a market in Oregon. It was touted as being made of organic materials that would break down into benign materials. Even so, that wasn’t happening fast. I eventually collected the bags and sent them to the landfill. The northern spillway runs where the bags had rested for a couple of years.

What you see above is a spoon I got from a yogurt store that was also touted as environmentally friendly, made of natural materials that would decompose. I had screwed it to the trunk of a tree and left it there for a couple of years. The orange color faded, but the substance of the spoon did not. Then someone suggested I put it in the ground. That’s where you see it. A paving block has sat atop it.

The spoon doesn’t seem to be decomposing. It’s sat there nearly as long as the cabin has sat just up the hill from it. Maybe in a few thousand years it will begin to breakdown.

Or maybe I misunderstood what was supposed to happen. After nearly a decade the spoon is still here, but the yogurt shop closed long ago. Did I have it backward?