Archive for the ‘Ramblings Off Topic’ category

bear wants to fight you

April 9, 2018

I drove to the Missouri state capital and then walked into the Missouri state capitol over the weekend. There was a ceremony being held there for awarding professional engineering certificates to young men and women who had earned them, and since one of those engineers happened to be my eldest son, it seemed right to attend.

Bears appear in various insignia of the state of Missouri and though wild black bears were more common in the state a century ago (and were believed to have been extirpated since), they have been making incursions from our neighboring state to the south, and it’s now thought that in some wilder parts of the Ozarks, we might have a sustaining black bear population. (In fact, I had thought that I saw signs of a bear in my woods on the edge of the Ozarks and even sent photos of the “evidence” to the local conservation agent. Sadly, he told me it was more likely the sign of a deer with curious feeding habits. Still, local, unconfirmed sightings of bears abound. There have even been two reports of seeing Bigfoot in my county!)

There was certainly no shortage of bears in the capitol, including this finial (?) at the bottom of a stair railing. This fellow stands about ten inches tall. Because of the staging of the ceremony, I had to take the picture with this angle so I didn’t have a lot of stagecraft clutter in the background. From this vantage, he (?) looks as though he is spoiling for a fight, though the original angle I’d intended made him look as though he wanted to dance with you.

Having arrived early for the ceremony (there was snow in the forecast, so I allowed extra drive time that I didn’t need), I made my way to the library there. I’m happy to report that on their shelves they had three of Rabih Alameddine’s novels and six of Iris Murdoch’s.

 

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bits and pieces

April 4, 2018

I don’t have any significant developments, profound revelations, or great progress to report, so I’m falling back on the reliable core dump of my brain for a post. You’re welcome or I apologize, whichever you consider apt.

__________

I had a brush with opportunity and terror over the weekend. While my wife and I were at dinner on Saturday, I received an email from an editor who had recently accepted a story of mine. He said that the society that publishes his journal was having its annual conference in the college town not too far from my home and that I could apply for a slot on their agenda to read one of my stories.

As you might imagine, I was a bit distracted at dinner and was eager to get home to look into the matter. I wrote to the conference organizer as the editor had suggested, making my case to give a reading. (Nota bene: I have never done a reading before.) Within the hour I received a response from the organizer saying that she would present my request to the committee, and the wording of her email suggested that was a mere formality, that it would be approved. She also answered several of my questions. No, I would not have to wear a tie. Yes, I would have to join the society and pay the annual dues ($???). Yes, I would have to pay the full registration for the conference ($150).

A quick cost/benefit/terror analysis showed I could not possibly justify the expense with the payoff. So I wrote to the organizer again and withdrew my request. She wrote back saying it was a shame and that if I were a student (I’m not), I could petition for housing costs at the conference. (Literally a half hour from my own bed and pillow.)

All of this transpired over only a few hours Saturday evening, so I didn’t have the chance to get too emotionally invested in it. Good thing.

__________

My work on Finnegans Fogbound is progressing. I’m producing about one chapter a week, and I’d say I’m a third of the way through the first draft. Its closest genre is a cozy mystery, and I began a half-hearted search for publishers of these to buoy my enthusiasm. Almost immediately, I found one that really looked like a good fit. They didn’t want one-off novels but series, and I have plenty of Finnegan novel ideas in the works (and even drafted). But being a publishing neophyte, I wasn’t too clear on their division of proceeds. The website said that the publisher would retain all income earned by the physically printed copies and the author would get the income from “all other sources.”

This sounded sketchy, so I dug around a little and found a Redditt site that discussed this very publisher. The comments were unanimous that this was, indeed, sketchy and that a) writers are entitled to a share of all proceeds, and b) a writer would do better to self publish than enter this kind of arrangement. I then wrote to the Writer Beware section of the Science Fiction Writers of America site to present the scenario. (Have you visited that site? Lotsa good stuff for us neophytes.) I got a quick response (I really wasn’t expecting any response at all) saying the arrangement was “not kosher” and that I should pretty much run from it.

And I have.

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I’m reading Stray City by Chelsey Johnson right now. I saw it recommended on one of the literary websites I haunt (Electric Literature, Literary Hub, The Millions, Pete Lit, not sure which) and while I tend not to like the books I take up from these places (they’re too hip, maybe?), the plot sounded interesting, and my local indie bookstore had it on the shelf, so I bought it.

I’m learning a great deal about the lesbian subculture of Portland, Oregon in the late ’90s, but it took me about a hundred pages to engage with the novel. Having spent some time in Portland in recent years, I’ve enjoyed the location references she presents, but I’m also noticing that I can “see” her writing. I can see the devices and the pacing that she’s using to advance the story. She’s also almost too descriptive much of the time. All of that is supposed to disappear, or rather, not be noticed consciously.

I’m more than half way through now, and I’m not sure where the story is going, which I guess is a good thing.

Prospero’s Tempest

March 19, 2018

No, not that Prospero, and not that Tempest. But in a city where the overweening entertainments seem to be professional football and NASCAR, a tempest about a bookstore is heartening, even as it is unfortunate.

Prospero’s is a used bookstore (records and other media, too) in Kansas City that I’ve been patronizing for years. For a long time it was my Friday evening destination, and if on rare occasions I or my wife didn’t buy at least one book, we’d spend an hour or two browsing and chatting with the owner. We’ve attended some of their poetry readings and folk music sessions, and I’m sure that over the years, we’ve spent hundreds of dollars there.

About two weeks ago I saw on Prospero’s Facebook page that they now had stickers for the store. I collect stickers like a fool. The best ones I put in my journal. Others I will put on the (unfinished) walls of my Ozark cabin. (And some I may have been known to carry with me when I ran to apply atop stickers I’d see fomenting hateful class wars and such.) Thus I took myself to Prospero’s the next chance I had — which was a Wednesday! — to see what books they might have to entice me and to get two stickers. Lucky I didn’t delay.

The very next day, I saw a post on their Facebook page stating that the stickers were gone. It didn’t take much research to learn the ugly story.

Note the wording in the sticker above (inside the front cover of my current journal — a place of honor!). A certain word there raise the ire of some and resulted in more that 300 comments on the sticker announcement post. It seems that the word “indigenous” had greatly offended many people. When I had read it I assumed that it meant that the bookstore was Kansas City bred and raised, a home-grown store and not part of a national chain. Not so to other readers who took it to mean that the owner was appropriating Native American culture for profit. And that’s phrasing it nicely. Apparently there have been some threats of violence over this. (Read for yourself. I couldn’t get very far through the 300+ comments on the announcement post nor the continuously growing number on the — heart-rending — retraction post.)

Were this a simple matter of some people not knowing the true meaning of a single word, I think it could be more easily dismissed. But it seems that some are choosing to be offended and finding the occasion to be viciously vocal. The Right-wing noise machine has been fired up, and many attacks are now ad hominem, leaving behind the supposed original “offense” of the wording.

I think it’s pretty obvious where my heart lies in this matter. A gentle man of books and the arts, a poet who knows his way around the English language, is going to get my favor until proven otherwise, and I’ve seen nothing otherwise in all of this.

__________

Prospero’s made it into the New York Times just over a decade ago for a sly act. Maybe it’s time for a follow up.

 

 

P.S. I did not vote in New York, but I was there for the fateful election day in 2016. I got the sticker from my daughter.

revisiting Daphne

March 14, 2018

I’ve written here a few times about walking my dog around the lake in a neighborhood park near my home in suburban Kansas City. Now that the warmer weather has been giving the impression it’s going to hang around for a while, I’m visiting that park more often, and I was there over the weekend with my dog, Flike, on his leash.

You may remember this post from nearly a year ago when I opined about a tree there I’ve named Daphne. She is one of several immense and ancient cottonwood trees that stand in the park, and a terrific windstorm last summer had brought down some of those big trees. One was so immense that the poor parks people still haven’t finished cleaning up the uprooted trunk.

But Daphne continues to stand despite being in her “compromised” state. On a recent visit I noticed something about her I hadn’t before. High in her branches she has support system, a three-way arrangement, a love triangle if you will, to keep her from doing the splits permanently.

Can you make out the black wire strung between the three limbs? The city went to a lot of trouble to do this obviously, and I certainly respect the work, but to what purpose? Is the tree special in some way that it merits this kind of attention. The park is noted for having a fishing lake, a walking path, a playground, and seasonal bathrooms as well as “historic features.” Long ago, before the ubiquity of automobiles, a trolley ran out of Kansas City, and one of its stopping points was the suburb where I find myself. Urbanites of that time could take the trolley out to the hinterlands and walk to this park to stroll and partake of the manicured wilderness. Could Daphne have been connected to that in some historic way? Was she a planted tree perhaps? Would that be a reason for giving her this support garment, so to speak?

__________

Also, today is Pi Day.

 

a man of my size

March 12, 2018

Perhaps 25 years ago, I was trying on some slacks in the men’s section of a large department store. In the pocket of one of the pants* I took home I found a pen. And not just any pen either. It was a Mont Blanc Meisterstuck ball point pen. Apparently, a man of my size had tried on this same pair of pants earlier and somehow left his expensive pen in the pocket. The pen came to me and has remained in my safekeeping for more than two decades.

I’d often wondered if the pen was worth anything, if it was even an actual Mont Blanc or just some knock-off. (I mean, how could you leave behind something like that if it was genuine?) There happens to be a pen store in my fair city, but whenever I am in that urban mall I don’t have the pen with me to have it authenticated. Except one day last week, when I went to that store deliberately with the pen in my own pocket.

I showed it to the man in the store, and he examined it with his loupe. He read out a serial number that was a good sign (though he thought the number too long) and looked at the ink cartridge in it, made by Mont Blanc and apparently designed to fit in only their pens. What was missing, though, was a tiny etching on the inside of the pocket clip. He said I had two out of three points of validation and that if it were genuine, it would cost nearly $300 to buy such a pen today. Then he suggested I return in about an hour when the store owner was in. He would be able to give a far more informed and confident assessment of it.

So we knocked around the mall for a while and then returned at the suggested time. The owner was in then, and I gave him the pen and told him my story. He was most interested in how long ago I had come upon the pen. That, he said, was a sufficient explanation for why the etching inside the pocket clip was not there. They apparently hadn’t been doing that at the time. He told me had no reason to think that the pen I had not was the genuine article. That poor man of my size had lost a valuable pen, and he must have been frantic about it.

I’ve always had a fascination with fountain pens, and I told myself that when the book deal finally comes through, I’m going to get myself a very fine fountain pen to sign  the contract with. No book deal has appeared yet, but when I was in that pen store last week, I decided it was time to indulge in the pen I’ve dreamed of for years: another Mont Blanc, but this time a fountain pen. And so I asked the man to show me what he had.

He asked me a few questions and then brought out of the locked case two pens that seemed to match my wants. They looked identical, and they were except that one had a fine nib and one a medium nib. Slim, black resin barrel with platinum trim and the signature snow cap on the top. He dipped each in ink and let me write with them. I thought the fine nib allowed for better handwriting. (Fine points lead to fine thoughts, natch!) It had a bladder that I could fill by drawing ink into it from a bottle, or I could use pre-filled cartridges. And the colors of ink were amazing. (I’d read recently that green ink in is favored by introverts. Anyone else ever hear of this?)

About a year ago, I was in this same pen shop looking for a fountain pen to give my excellent son-in-law, who had begun using fountain pens for making his notes at work. (He also was going to shepherd me at a half marathon I was running in New York soon, so I wanted to give him a worthy gift.) The pen I chose for him was a nice instrument, and I didn’t mind spending about $150 on it.

But when it came time for me to buy myself the Mont Blanc I’d always wanted, I got severe sticker shock when I learned the price was more than $600!

For a pen!

I blanched. I babbled. I balked. I said I had to think about it. The expression on the man’s face suggested he’d seen my kind of reaction before. I exited the store as quickly as I could, my wife beside me telling me just to get myself the pen and flashing the considerable enhancements she’d had made to her engagement ring recently to suggest obscene self indulgence was okay occasionally.

There was no way I could justify spending $600 on a pen. A pen! We found a place in the mall where we could get a couple of slices of pizza and I could anguish over this ridiculous situation. Sure, it was a nice pen, but how often would I ever use it? I keep my journals with a mechanical pencil (that I think I spent $14 on, and that seemed extravagant). I write the occasional notecard or postcard in ink, but as of yet, that fabulous book deal hasn’t come my way. I just couldn’t do it.

But then the thought came to me that the very next day my wife would be down at that pen shop getting me the pen, and she might not get the right one, so I should probably preemptively get myself the correct pen rather than see that kind of money spent on the wrong thing that I might then be stuck with.

An hour later I was back in the pen store for the third time that day, swallowing hard as I spent $600 on a pen. A pen!

When I took the pen home and sat with it at my desk, I couldn’t bring myself to use it. It seemed too valuable to sully with ink and my grubby fingers. My buyer’s remorse was nearly instantaneous and certainly intense. There are children in my community who were going to bed hungry that evening. My dog has access to better health care than many people. And I just spent $600 on a pen, a bauble, that I was afraid to use.

__________

I took the pen back to the store on Saturday to return it. I expected a fight, one that I would collapse before, shuffling out of the door with my tail between my legs and the pen still in my pocket. To my surprise, however, the man who sold me the pen three days earlier had no hesitation about accepting the return. It was quick and painless, and he even apologized, saying he should have tried to steer me toward a less expensive pen at the time. (I wouldn’t have listened, but I appreciated that he recognized my struggle.) I suppose he’s seen this kind of thing a lot before too.

I am thoroughly cured of my desire to own a fine fountain pen. Gel pens that I can pick up by the half dozen from the school supplies aisle at the grocery store are fine enuf for me. (As long as the ink is blue.)

Soon after that I returned to the department store where I had inadvertently gotten the original Mont Blanc pen to see if they had a lost and found department. I wanted to get the original pen back to the man of my size. While they do have such a department, they don’t keep turned-in goods after thirty days — and certainly not thirty years — and the woman behind the desk couldn’t quite grasp the idea that I wanted to return a lost item rather than report it. So the man of my size has lost a valuable pen, I am weighted with it, and the story doesn’t have an ending.

 

 

 

*Yes, I am aware that in some parts of the world the word “pants” refers to what many people consider underwear, but that’s not my meaning here.

today is Darwin Day

February 12, 2018

but you probably already knew that.

Darwin Day

#28

January 29, 2018

I am currently working on journal #28 in my 35+ years of keeping a handwritten journal. Thousands of pages. Hundreds of thousands of words. Countless ideas. Complaints, moans, thoughts, musings, copying, trying, dreaming, scheming. These journals have been my respository for inklings for article ideas (earlier in my writing life) as well as for story ideas now. I’ve worked out themes and characters and plots and whole novels on the pages of these journals. In the dim days before I had my earlier blog, Roundrock Journal, I would write pages-long, detailed accounts of my trips to my woods (because I had this idea that I would need the notes for the great account of my life in the woods I would eventually write). I make entries to voice my complaints with the universe as well as complaints with the quotidian. I’m all over the place in my journals.

I certainly don’t even remember all of the things I have written in my journals and certainly couldn’t find most of the ones I do remember. And why would I as I reflect on it. In those decades, I have changed a great deal, not only in my writing but in my general view of life, the universe, and everything. Whatever I had to say about anything thirty years ago would probably make me cringe with embarrassment today.

I sometimes wonder what will become of my journals. I can’t imagine there is anything particularly insightful within them. The world won’t be a better place because of my musings. About the only thing I ever imagine happening from someone reading my scribblings is these words being uttered: “This explains everything, Your Honor.”

My middle son has said he can hardly wait to read my journals after I have died. There is so much he will want to learn about me then. (Why doesn’t he want to learn about me now?)

I’ve thought about having a cleansing fire sometimes. Burning all of my journals to be rid of the weight of them. I’ve begun burning the notebooks I kept in graduate school. The next step wouldn’t be so hard.

So why do I keep them? Some sort of mental health break, I guess. I do like the feel of pushing a mechanical pencil across a page. I even spent a day scouring Kansas City for exactly the right mechanical pencil for the job. There is some catharsis from holding the pencil in my hand and making marks on the page, marks that form themselves into words that collect into sentences that flow into paragraphs that begin to have meaning.

But maybe the meaning is in the act itself, not the results.