Archive for the ‘Ramblings Off Topic’ category

wherever I was

May 10, 2016

Hello again. Sorry I was away for so long. It wasn’t my intent, but time just slips away.

I have no great news on the writing side of my endeavors. I’ve been tinkering with my Fathers and Sons stories, and I’ve been making notes on a couple of other stories, but I haven’t taken/made/stolen the time to put any real effort into any of it. (I’ve been getting some insights — where do these come from? — about how to integrate the stories, how to carry certain themes and motifs through them, and I can see that I really need to commit to doing them right, which means . . . hard work!) But I think I’m in recovery mode right, having told myself that the stories are now written and soon will need to be rewritten. So a break. Perhaps. Or maybe I’m just a lazy bum.

I spent four days around Mother’s Day weekend in Paducah, Kentucky visiting with my mother, my aunt, and my sister. Everything was low key. Too much eating. Too much sitting around. Too many excuses not to get out and run. There was actually a half marathon there that weekend (on mostly flat ground, too) that I had been considering for a while. But my runs in the week prior were dreadful, embarrassing things, and I knew I didn’t have a half marathon in me over the weekend. (Still recovering from that marathon in St. Louis. Or at least that’s what I tell myself.) So I didn’t sign up. I did, however, lace up and run to the start (about three miles from my mother’s condo) to watch the pack take off. That was a mistake since it made me regret not participating and made me chide myself for not being able to participate. Next year!

While at my mother’s, I took an evening to go through the many, many photo albums she has, looking for a particular photo of myself. I mentioned in this earlier post about one of my characters finding a photo of his father in his grandfather’s albums and being greatly affected by it. And then I realized that there was a similar photo of me in the real world. So I knew that when I went to Paducah, I would be in search of that photo. My mother doubted that she still had it and had even made a preliminary search for it. But there it was. I have no memory of the matter depicted in this photo, just as none of the characters in my story have any memory of it. Both of us were tiny boys at the time. But I do love the serendipity.

So the coming days stand before me. I managed to get the lawn mowed before the forecasted thunderstorms. I’m hoping to get out to my little cabin in the woods on Saturday. More writing work. More running. Whatever.

sick leave (I think)

April 21, 2016

Home today from the office, possibly sick. I came home yesterday after work and immediately fell onto the couch, fully dressed, with a heavy blanket over me, shivering. Every muscle in my body ached. I subsequently slept for 12 hours straight. I woke this morning exhausted and spacey, but I didn’t have any typical cold symptoms. (I had my flu shot earlier, and I don’t think I’ve been exposed to anything anyway.)

So rather than dragging my sorry self into the office only to likely leave early, I just stayed home. (I think they can survive without me for a day.)

I suspect my affliction is actually some sort of delayed fatigue response to the marathon more than ten days ago. It was a horrible run for me (and all my fault, a combination of inadequate training and foolish fueling), and I think I’d been pushing myself through my days since then without getting sufficient rest. (Also, some tough gym sessions.) And then it all caught up with me. Muscle aches and sleeping for 12 hours (absent of any head cold symptoms) suggest fatigue rather than sickness. I intend to try a long-ish run on Saturday to assess my status. They say you should rest one week for each mile you run after a marathon. “Rest” is an ambiguous word in this usage. I don’t think it literally means stop running, put your feet up, and drink a lot of beer, though maybe for the first few days immediately after. Rather, the rest is more likely just a much easier exercise schedule, with slowly increasing levels for 26 days.

After the Kansas City Marathon last fall I literally took off the next two months, running little more than 30 miles in that time. And I paid for it in St. Louis, so I can’t slack now given I have New York in November.

And so I am home today. My intent is to fool around with my stories since this windfall of free time. Though I may take a nap as well.

Update at mid-day: I am holed up in my writing room upstairs. My wife is downstairs with Emmett, Emmett’s mom, and my sister who is in town for business but stopped by briefly. I am (possibly) sick and shouldn’t infect any of them, especially a 6-week-old baby, but even my presence has not been acknowledged. As far as our guests know, I am at work. And so I try to make as little noise as I can, creeping about, hoping the floor boards do not creak as I pass from one room to the next. I’ve been drinking iced tea all morning, yet I do not dare flush the toilet lest I give away my presence.

I have been fooling with my stories, and I think I’m doing good to them.

The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes

April 8, 2016

I’ve been picking away at this book for months, and I finally finished it this week. (My motivation may have been so I could start a new book and take it with me on my little St. Louis adventure this long weekend.) It is a 700+ page collection of Victorian-era short stories about sleuths other than Mr. Holmes, compiled by Stefan Dziemianowicz.

This isn’t so much a review of the book as a personal reaction to it. I had to read it in small doses because I just couldn’t stomach so much of the mindset of the Victorian age. (I think it crept into the Edwardian era a little too.) Although a few of these stories are set in North America, the great bulk of them are set in England. I’ve said here before that I think England (and Europe) is the only place the detective story could have originated because of its rigidly stratified society at the time. Whether true or false, people could be categorized by their class, and conclusions could be drawn about them, which facilitated the logic and inference of the detective mind (as well as made characterization easier). I think this is why crime novels are more successful in the U.S.; we have a more free-wheeling social structure. (Also, more guns.)

Before they were “detective novels” they were known as “enigma novels”, and apparently they were much bemoaned by the literati of the age. I suspect this taint is still on them to a lesser degree today. They are a genre of fiction that is seen as less serious or meaningful than Literature, which is baloney, of course.

Nonetheless, many of the stories in this collection seemed less stories than constructions. They have some elaborate enigma about them that is designed to show off the skill of the sleuth, in some cases based on unfounded or unsupported leaps and insights (as well as the class hierarchy). But keep in mind, these writers were pioneering a new type of fiction, and what might seem “unacceptable” writing today was innovative at its time. Curiously, many of them involved the emerging technology of the age: the railroad. Timetables, the immense speeds of the machines, the individual compartments in the cars (which conveniently provided the setting for “locked-room” mysteries), even the noise they make (to cover the sound of the gunshot) were handy for contriving the puzzle that the detective had to solve. I imagine in a hundred years, much of our fiction dealing with, say, the internet, will look quaint and short sighted. (Maybe I’ll be around long enuf to find out.)

I have a half dozen of these rivals of Sherlock Holmes books on my shelf. Once the genre caught on, it seems, the stories were pumped out by the hundreds. A four-book series of these was curated compiled by Hugh Greene (brother of Graham Greene), and many of these were made into part of a television series. Should I ever stumble upon another collection of them, I will likely read it.

But what am I reading now? A book titled A Race Like No Other, which is about another little adventure I’ll be making in November in a place called New York City.

new character, new stories to be told

March 14, 2016

On Friday, at 9:04 in the evening, my grandson Emmett James was born. Two years ago I lamented ever having grandchildren, and now I have three!

Emmett was a difficult birth (apparently — I wasn’t involved). Due to whatever precautions her doctors wanted to follow, my daughter-in-law had been induced on Friday morning to begin her contractions. After more than twelve hours, culminating in a plateau of unproductivity, they did a Caesarian section and brought Emmett into the world. (His cousin Elaheh was also a C-section baby.) He weighed 8 pounds and 10 ounces (which is larger than any of my children and certainly larger than his father, who was my smallest birth-weight child).

While my grandson Kenneth lives in New York and my granddaughter Elaheh lives in Portland, Emmett lives just 40 minutes down the road, and I expect to see a great deal of him as he grows up.

bits and pieces

March 9, 2016

So I’m having a slow start on the last Fathers and Sons story, “Little Gray Birds.” It’s not a bad start. Just a slow one. I don’t want to push it and get frustrated should it go in the wrong direction, but I would like to get it moving. I blame the good weather, which had me out at my little Ozark cabin on mornings when I might otherwise have been writing. Also, the fact that so much must come together in this story, and I haven’t quite figured out how to do that. It will come. And then it will be revised. And then I’ll have to go back over all of the stories and muscle them into some kind of final form. And then, well, that will deserve some thought.

 *   *   *

I’m still picking away at the book Roth Unbound. It’s fascinating to me since I love Roth’s writing so much. Each chapter (and I strive to read a chapter each night and sometimes even achieve that) takes up one of his novels (though the most recent chapter squeezed three shorter, related works into one) and gives background into the sources of the stories, much of which came directly out of Roth’s personal life. But I must confess that I don’t altogether like peeking behind the curtain. Learning how much of The Ghost Writer, for example, was a transcription of actual events in Roth’s life (okay, not the Anne Frank part of the story) de-mythologizes the story a bit for me. I’ve read that novel more than thirty times, and I’ll go on reading it, but knowing that it isn’t all some fabulous creation new to the world makes me a tiny bit sad.

*   *   *

Two years ago, my daughter (who lives in NYC) gave me a book titled A Race Like No Other, by Liz Robbins. It’s a mile-by-mile account of the New York City Marathon. The book has been sitting on my to-be-read shelf since then. I’ve meant to pick it up and read it, but other books always got in the way. Now the time has come to read it, to study it, to scrutinize it. The reason is that by some random bit of chance, I won the lottery and am now going to be running in the New York City Marathon in 2016! I’m thrilled and terrified. This will be my fourth marathon — I’ve run two: Portland and Kansas City, and I have St. Louis coming up in a month — so I hope I’ll have some lessons learned and good training figured out to make this one more than a festival of grinding pain.

what I’m reading now

February 29, 2016

Happy Leap Day to you and yours!

I know most of you have been anxious about whether or not I finished The Village. I did. It pulled itself together somewhat at the end, but I think I’ll scratch David Mamet off my list of novelists to read going forward. (There are so many books, and a fellow can’t read them all in a single lifetime.)

So, you’re asking, what is he reading now?

Well, I have an anthology of Victorian-era detective stories on my nightstand that I’ve been dipping into off and on for months. It’s called The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes (which, I should add is only one of many anthologies with that title, most of which I own and have read), and I’m nearly finished with it. So I decided that after I finished The Village, I would pick up Rivals and make my sprint to the finish arch.

Except I picked up a book on my to-be-read shelf to have just a quick look at the introduction. Pretty soon I had read the whole introduction and was started on the first chapter. And so the Rivals have a rival.

The book I am now reading is Roth Unbound: A writer and his books by Claudia Roth Pierpont. It is a literary biography of Philip Roth, which is to say it is about the influences, creation, and consequences of Roth’s writings more than it is about his life. I’m only just a short way into the book, but already it’s clear that much of his life has influenced his fiction, thus there is a good deal of biography included. That’s fine. Much of it I already knew, but every page offers some nugget of insight, which makes me appreciate his fiction more. (I suppose I’ve already told you that I’ve read his novel The Ghost Writer more than thirty times. Do you have one go-to book that never lets you down?)

Philip Roth is my favorite writer. I get the sense that every word, every bit of punctuation, is thought through and exactly right. Let me hasten to add, though, that Iris Murdoch is my favorite novelist, if you appreciate the distinction.

So I expect to make quick work of Roth Unbound, and then I’ll be on to the next book. Maybe Rivals. Maybe the next Murdoch novel in the series I’m re-reading from start to finish. Maybe something else altogether.

approach/avoidance conflict

February 23, 2016

So I’m reading this book, The Village by David Mamet. I found it at a used book store a couple of weeks ago and was eager to immerse myself in Mamet’s writing world since he is known for his searing, snappy dialogue, and I thought I might learn a thing or two.

I’m not much liking it. There isn’t a whole lot of structure to it, and it’s often as difficult to understand who is speaking (or, more commonly, who is introspectively musing) as in a Faulkner novel. There really isn’t a lot of dialogue either. It’s mostly monologue. I’m about two-thirds of the way through it, and I think I have a few of the characters worked out in my mind, but then a new chapter starts and I’m adrift again.

So I’d like to just finish the thing, turn the last page and then put the book on my donation shelf. I want to get to the end. And I simultaneously don’t want to pick it up to read it. I want to get started on the next Iris Murdoch novel in my reading ambition, but I don’t want to give any time to this sluggish book that I really ought to finish first.

I’ll do it. I’ll read the book to the end. And then I’ll get rid of it and probably forget it and only console myself with the idea that at least I gave some money to one of the last surviving used book stores in Kansas City. And I’ll move on.

Update 25FEB2016: Despite emphatic advice that I just stop reading it, I actually hope to finish this novel tonight. Whether I pick up the Iris Murdoch novel or one of the many other books I brought home from Portland, I can’t say.


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