something out of nothing

An odd photo, I agree. It is, of course, a view of the porch at my little cabin in the Ozark woods. It was where I spent the most recent long Saturday afternoon writing a letter to a friend. You know, old school, with a pencil on pieces of paper. When I got home, I put the pieces of paper in an envelope, wrote an address that did not include an @ sign on the outside, put a stamp on the envelope, and mailed it.


I’m going to do my best not to write about my Fathers and Sons stories in this post (aside from stating that it not only feels like I’m writing a novel, but it feels like I’m reading it, as though the more I write, the sooner I will find out all that happens).

So what can I tell you? I could mention my four children: the web entrepreneur, the engineer, the doctor, the special ed teacher. Or I could tell you about my wonderful wife who raised them all to be such high achievers. Then there are the two dogs in our household: Flike, the hyperactive Border Collie, and Queequeg, the willful little Pomeranian. I could tell you about how we just had our house painted a screaming yellow that I hope will annoy the beige-loving neighbors or how we just had new, oversized gutters installed since all of my gutter-cleaning ladder climbers (and lawn mowers) moved out. (Who knew that would happen all those years ago when I was changing diapers? I had three boys in diapers at one point.)

I could tell you the name of my favorite beer: Boulevard Wheat. (I also frequently fall back on Bud Light.) I could mention that I have an undergraduate degree in business administration (ugh!) and a master’s degree in professional writing. I could tell you I was born in Kansas City and raised in St. Louis and that all of my children were born in St. Louis and raised in Kansas City. Or that the woman I would one day marry used to work at the IHOP only a block from my childhood home in St. Louis. She may have even waited my table once.

I could mention that before I devoted myself to fiction more or less full time, I used to write free-lanced feature articles for magazines. I have more than sixty of them to my credit (depending on how you count reprints), and I made some pretty good money at it for what I considered a hobby. (Compare that to the whopping $10 I’ve made so far with my fiction!) And while I am now an office drone in a soul-killing multinational corporation (for the healthcare benefits, of course), I have been a bank teller, a technical writer, a college English teacher, a magazine associate editor, and even a book editor in my time.

I could tell you that in the last six months I’ve taking up running. Last December I probably hadn’t run more than a half dozen steps at once for more than a decade. Now I’m up to three miles. I do it in part for the exercise, as well as to work off some of Flike’s excess energy. But now that I’m up to some distance (and the time it takes to cover that at my trotting pace), I’ve found it to be a good way to work on my stories. Mostly I’m working out backstory that I’ll never include in my pieces. (I imagine myself being interviewed by Terry Gross and explaining my stories.) But sometimes I refine a bit of wording. And occasionally I even “imagine” parts of story development. It gets me through the slog of throwing one foot in front of the other. I have my eye on some 5Ks next year!

But you probably don’t want to hear about all of that.

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4 Comments on “something out of nothing”

  1. I bet your dogs are smarter than me. Both bright breeds, although the Pomeranians I’ve been around can act a bit ditzy, making even the biggest hater of small dogs do their bidding. And that right there may give them the edge, even over the brilliance of the border collie.

    It’s been so many years since I’ve been to Kansas City, and the last times were just driving through. I think the closest I’ve spent to “being there,” where I actually stopped for more than gas was a little over 20 years ago when I picked up my father’s tools in Independence after he’d died. I’ve wanted to show my wife where I lived in Olathe and see how much it’s all changed. And, if I ever do, I would love to meet up somewhere and drink a Boulevard Wheat. (I’ve only had their seasonal, Tank 7.)

    Running. It’s been quite awhile for me, and that was only a new thing for me when I did it. I enjoy it, though. While a bit self indulgent in places, Haruki Murakami’s, What I Talk about When I Talk about Running has some very cool sections where he really focuses on the similarities of running and writing. (The rest of it is just about running, and gets a bit repetitive, but then…so is running.)

    Real letters. My wife and I sometimes write each other letters because not many people write letters anymore. I love email in many ways, but…it’s not something I keep. I have one box full of sentimental stuff — only one box because I’m a sap and if I didn’t determine “the best of…” when it comes to those things and keep it all limited to just one box, I would hold on to everything. Over the years, things have come and gone, but some of the things that will never leave are letters from people. Letters and hand-painted cards from my great grandmother who saw me every weekend, yet still took the time to write. I loved how things were addressed to “Master Christopher Gronlund.” Letters from my father (a mechanic), written after he moved to Kansas City and probably written while drunk; I can think of no other reason he’d go on for pages talking about the superiority of American “Ball-breaking steel” to the machines created elsewhere. Letters from friends in Chicago after I moved to Texas; letters from my sister during her couple years in Cook County Jail…lots of letters.

    Maybe it’s because I came from a time when we still wrote letters, but those letters will be things I read when I’m old and at the end, connecting me to the past. I’m not sure I can say the same for email.

  2. Annam Says:

    Thank you for sharing personal details about your life!

  3. LauraMaylene Says:

    Thanks to my recent move, my utility accounts are all new and I don’t have online accounts set up yet, so I actually wrote out paper checks and put them in the little return envelopes and put stamps on those envelopes. I love old-fashioned letters…but I don’t miss paying bills this way!

    Just the site of part of that cabin wall makes me happy.

  4. My daily walk works for me like your run works for you. I get ideas.

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