Archive for the ‘Ramblings Off Topic’ category

a change in plans is the thing with feathers

June 24, 2022

So we (currently) have four curb trees in front of our house. Two are large lindens and two are squat whitebuds (redbuds with white flowers). Their branches hang over the street, and when the delivery trucks fly by, I generally have some snapped off branches to clean out of the street.

The whitebuds are the the greater problem. They are squat and misshapen, and because there is a large maple to their south, most of their branches reach to the north, over the street, to get sunlight. Since they are short, they tend to be struck by the delivery trucks more often.

And as happens when you live with other humans, someone complained to the city about this. I received an official notice that I had to correct the problem — shearing any branches lower than 13 feet over the road and 10 feet over the sidewalk — or face a fine. I spoke to the city forester (who knew we had an official forester?) and promised to get the matter resolved as soon as I could.

I got bids for the work (as well as some tidying up in my back yard), but the tree service said they were 8-9 weeks out. I was supposed to get the matter resolved within 10 days of the letter, but my call to the forester bought me some time.

As long-time readers of this blog (both of you) know, I have a chainsaw that I use frequently in my patch of Ozark forest. It struck me that rather than pay $300 to have the two whitebuds removed, I could do the job myself. (The lindens would still need the tree service.) I’ve certainly brought down much larger trees than these, and their major branching begins at convenient shoulder height, so I didn’t expect any great challenge getting this work done myself.

The daytime temperatures have been miserable, so I decided to limit myself to working on them bit by bit in the mornings. Select and cut away the worst offending branch then chop it into little pieces that I could stuff in lawn bags to be collected at the curb. And so it was happening until I ran into a problem.

Once I’d cleared enuf lower branches, I could see a nest farther up in one of the whitebuds. And as I looked more closely, I could see a bird sitting on the nest. It turns out that a mourning dove is sitting on a clutch of eggs in a doomed whitebud tree.

Work came to a halt as I assessed my willingness to pretty much destroy the nest and eggs. The assessment didn’t take long. Because I (think I) have a grace period with the city, my plan is to let the eggs hatch and the nestlings fledge. I don’t know how long the eggs have been there, but typical mourning dove brooding time in 14 days. I don’t know how long until the hatchlings are ready to leave the nest.

So there is the other whitebud tree I can fully remove. And there are many other branches in the nesting tree I can remove without disturbing the bird on the eggs. I think it’s going to look strange to have a trunk with only one branch on it for a while, but that’s my plan.

bits and pieces

June 16, 2022

Those cool, wet days of spring that I mentioned in a recent post are gone. They’ve been replaced by heat reaching the triple digits in the afternoon and blue skies without a drop of rain in them. We removed two ash trees from our backyard last year, so more sun gets to the area. That’s been good for the grass, but the impatiens in the raised bed around the cypress are in for a scorching summer. I had anticipated this and did what I could to prepare the bed this year. I mixed a lot of peat into the soil before planting. My hope was that it would help retain water so the impatiens wouldn’t dry out as quickly. And once I planted them, I spread mulch around them with the hope it will help cool the soil from the sun and maybe reduce the evaporation from the ground. Just this week I bought a new hose so I could more effectively hand-water them (supplementing the impact sprinkler in the yard). I expect August to be the real test.


That photo above is of a spiderwort that was blooming by my repaired spillway at Roundrock. An added surprise is that green insect crawling on it. Somehow I managed to take a decent picture of it. But here’s a rule of thumb: any time you want to create a breeze, just try taking a photograph of a flower.


And speaking of Roundrock, the lake has been there for nearly as long as we’ve been stomping around that little bit of forest of the edge of the Missouri Ozarks. Probably about fifteen years. We never officially stocked it, though in the early years we did see little fish in the shallows. They were probably delivered as sticky eggs on the feet of wading birds. (We also have a small pond higher up in the lake’s watershed that has some fish, though the journey for a fish from there to the lake would be a long one and would only happen in a huge rainstorm.) For a couple of seasons, we would stop by a friend’s farm on the way down to fish one of his overstocked ponds, taking what few fish we caught in large buckets the rest of the hundred miles to our lake and pouring them in with good wishes.

But in all of that time, we never fished our lake. What swam beneath the surface, we did not know. We swam in it, but didn’t have any encounters. And then the beavers moved in, and we stopped swimming in it. We could occasionally see some fish patrolling the shallow water near the shore if we stood silently and the sun was right and the gods were smiling.

Then, on a whim last visit, Libby said she wanted to try fishing. I had a little bit of tackle tucked into the corner of the cabin, but I think the last time I used it was fishing my friend’s pond a decade ago. I carried the pole (with a reel I had to re-assemble a little and a tiny lure that looked dried out and sad) down the hill before the cabin and tried a cast as Libby was coming down the hill behind me. The reel wasn’t really interested in cooperating, and I don’t think I had enuf weight on the end of the line, so my cast didn’t go more than ten feet from the shore.

And I almost instantly got a hit! It was a fighter, too. Libby was still coming down the hill as I reeled in what turned out to be some kind of sunfish of edible size. (I took a photo of it, but it came out blurry. Sorry.) Well, we weren’t in eating mode, so I wanted to release the fish as soon as I could. I’d had some practice with this when I caught bass during my callow youth, but this sunfish had a much smaller mouth than a bass, so I had some trouble getting the hook out. I did eventually, but I’m pretty sure that poor fish had a sore mouth for a while. Libby was at my side, giving me guidance.

So I cast again, thinking it was purest chance that I got a strike right away. And I got another strike by another big fish. It fought as I reeled it in, and it turned out to be a bass of keeper size if I were a fisherman (rather than a dilettante). I was determined to get a good photo of this one, but the bass jumped off the hook and fell into the dusty grass at my feet, flopping around and perhaps considering great existential questions. I managed to usher it back into the water, and I suppose it had a story to tell just like the sunfish I caught.

Then it was Libby’s turn to cast. On her third try, she got a strike as well! Hers turned out to be another bass, even larger than the one I had pulled in. I managed to get a somewhat decent photo of this beast:

With no scale and no ruler, I can’t tell you how big these bass were, but they were big enuf to fuel my imagination that my old lake is packed with lunkers just waiting for the right gear and patience to find them. (Or not. It is kind of cruel to do this to a fish if you’re not intending on eating it.) In all, we pulled out three keepers on seven casts.

So I think about the grands coming for their annual visit next month. I have enuf old poles that I could affix some static lines with some bobbers and hotdogs for bait that they could fool around with. But if they got a strike at all like the ones Libby and I got, I’m pretty sure the rods would get yanked out of their hands and disappear in the tea-colored water. So I need to think on that.


Not that I’m counting, but so far this year I’ve had six stories accepted by lit mags (and two reprints). One is a story I had written thirteen years ago that got rejected 25 times! That’s a record for me (the six acceptances, but also the 25 rejections). I told Libby the other day that if I had worked as hard at anything else in my life as I have been about my writing ambitions lately, I could probably offer to buy Twitter for $45 billion.


Here’s a bit of my undergraduate years, consigned to the fire:

bits and pieces

June 2, 2022

Although we had some 90-degree days in April, spring around here has been cool and wet for the most part. Flowers are robustly blooming everywhere, and my scandalous lawn is currently thick and green. (Come back in August and we’ll reassess.) One consequence of last summer that lingers is the huge harvest of cones from the cypress tree in my back yard. The dogs continue to bring shattered remnants into the house (it’s like stepping on a tiny, sharp Lego), we sweep shards by the thousands off our porch and walks, and miniature cypress trees are sprouting in the flower beds. In years past, a bountiful cone season has been followed by a year or two of no cones from the tree, and that’s what I’m hoping for this year.


June is opening day at many lit mags and publishers, at least in terms of reading/submission periods. The month has barely begun, and I’ve already made more submissions than I might normally make in an entire month. I’m hoping one or two find a home.

One of my submissions was to a contest that had a 5,000-word maximum limit. The story I had that I thought most suited was 6,000 words. I spent three days trimming the fat from the story. There were several instances where I needed to word the text more concisely, others where I was repetitive or indulgent. But even with those trimmings, I’d only dropped about 250 words. Determined, I began looking for more substantive edits, removing solid bits of enhancement to leave behind only the basic story. Many conversations got shortened. Images and some sensory details were removed (my protagonist was taking many walks around her neighborhood). Some development of minor characters — nice but not necessary — got dropped. In the end I got the story below 5,000 words and made the submission. Fingers crossed.


Speaking of rejections, I received a detailed rejection for Obelus from one publisher. Specific mention was made of what parts they liked/thought worked, but their reason for declining it was vague to me. Still, it was nice, as rejections go.


Here are the books I read in May:

The Atmospherians by Alex McElroy – One of the first things I did when I got to New York in April was go to the bookstore near my daughter’s house to buy a book. I’m happy to support any indie bookstore. This was the book I bought. It’s a tale well told, but it took me a while to get into it. It’s about a pair of people who set up a sort of commune to help men rid themselves of toxic masculinity. Like most well-intentioned endeavors, it takes on a life of its own.

The Luxury of Exile by Louis Buss – I picked this one up at the used bookstore here in town to take with me to New York (in case I couldn’t find anything while there). I ended up reading this one after I got home. It’s about a shady antiques dealer/bookstore owner who goes on a quest to find Byron’s lost memoir. In some ways this is like my novel Obelus. Along the way, the protagonist learns a lot about himself.

Such Good Work by Johannes Lichtman – A roaming-the-library-stacks find, this one is about a recovering addict who finds purpose serving refugee families in Sweden. It felt like two books to me. The first half is nearly all about the man’s fight to not relapse, and I suppose that’s important to contrast with the person he becomes, but it seemed overdone to me.

The Wrong End of the Telescope by Rabih Alameddine – I’ve been devouring Alameddine’s novels since I first crossed paths with his An Unnecessary Woman several years ago. This did not disappoint. The novel tells the stories of two strong women whose worlds intersect at a refugee camp on the island Lesbos. One is a refugee from her family, the other from the horrors in Syria. It also has a nice metafictional touch that I liked because the protagonist speaks directly to (and about) the author.


Here’s a picture for Throwback Thursday:


That picture was taken when I was on an epic road trip with my grandparents from their home in western Kentucky to the Outer Banks of the Carolinas. We stopped at some formal garden along the way, which probably didn’t have much appeal for the boy I was then.

One thing I do remember from the trip was that while we were in some random store, I saw some books on a spinner rack and picked out The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester. I’m sure I just wanted something to help me pass the long hours in the car, but it was a good choice. That novel is one of the classics of science fiction. I remember my grandparents’ house having a room full of books of all kinds, so I doubt they minded spending a few dollars on a book for me at the time.

throwback Thursday ~ my journal journey

May 19, 2022

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.


*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.

#Sunday Sentence

May 8, 2022

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

#Sunday Sentence

April 24, 2022

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

April 17, 2022

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

bits and pieces

April 11, 2022

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.

#Sunday Sentence

March 20, 2022

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.”

Her own parents died in debt, like good Americans.

Source: Lionel Shriver, The Motion of the Body through Space

#Sunday Sentence

March 13, 2022

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.”

It was an act of pure faith to pick up the receiver, dial a number, to be answered by a wall of silence and speak anyway.

Source: Laura Imai Messina, the phone booth at the edge of the world