Archive for the ‘Rants and ruminations’ category

bits and pieces

February 21, 2022

I’ve been searching for this rock in my woods for years! I had picked up a block of this purple sandstone and dropped it on another block to see how it would cleave. And then this teardrop revealed itself. Sandstone is a sedimentary rock, so its layers pile up over millennia. Yet at some point a big drop of this other-colored sand had plopped into the purple mix, remained undisturbed, and became part of the eventual rock.

What huge splash event might have caused that? And might there be other such errant teardrops in other rocks in my forest?

The day I made this discovery, we were on the outgoing portion of our hike, and I didn’t want to carry this rock with me the whole way. So I placed it on the east base of a tall tree, thinking I could go back and fetch it for the cabin curiosities another day. I’ve been years searching for it. This is a good time to resume my search since the scrub hasn’t leafed out and the autumn leaves on the ground have settled or blown away. Next trip to the cabin . . .


My writing efforts continue unabated. (You have to be self-motivated in this endeavor. The rewards, if they come at all, are tremendously infrequent.) Since the turn of the year I have written five stories that I think are worthy (including a 6,000-word one that I wrote in two days). That’s a brisk pace for me. Also in that time I have made 40 submissions. Most of these have been of the five stories and a few written before as well as some novel submissions to likely publishers. I also do a great deal of research into likely markets for my work, so even when I’m not writing, I am working. Write/research/submit/repeat! I’ve gotten quite businesslike in my creative world.

In that same month and a half, I have received thirteen rejections, four of which came in one day! I was surprised by that number since I thought it would be twice as many. It seems that every day I get another email telling me a story has been declined, but apparently it only seems so. (Yet, a pleasing number of these rejections have had personal comments of encouragement added to them, so that’s nice!)

This is an apples-to-oranges comparison since many of those rejections were for submissions I had made before the turn of the year. So I can expect a flurry of rejections still to come. Nonetheless, you don’t get rejections unless you make submissions, and you don’t get publication unless you make submissions.


I bought a new pair of running shoes last week. I work out almost exclusively on my treadmill, so my shoes don’t see much pavement, but I could tell they were getting spongy, and my lower joints were sending me signals suggesting I was due for an upgrade. One thing I noticed about my older pair was an odd bit of wear inside the shoe, at the heel beside where the Achilles tendon would rest. A hole had worn through the fabric all the way to the outer surface. It was pronounced on my right shoe and beginning on my left shoe. This seemed like a spot that would get very little wear, so I mentioned it at the running shoe store when I got my new pair. They were familiar with it in this brand, saying several people had reported it. The manufacturer knew of it as well they said. And this reminded me of when I was at the expo for my first marathon (in Portland with my son). I went to the table for my shoe manufacturer and mentioned that the insole tended to slip toward the front of the shoe. The man at the table was familiar with this problem too. (He suggested using double-faced tape.)

I’ve tried various brands of running shoes, and this brand has served me best, so I’m going to stick with it despite it’s bugs. (For all I know, other brands have their known bugs too.) I guess it’s just good to know that they exist so I can watch for them becoming problems.


In addition to writing and research, I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately too. (Essential work for a writer!)

Here are the books I’d read in January:

Oh William by Elizabeth Strout – I’ve read all of her published fiction, and I snapped this one up while in New York (when I worked the water station at the marathon my daughter was running). The writing and human insights were wonderful, but the character referenced was a minor character in another of her novels I had read some time ago, so it was harder for me to connect.

A Man by Keiichiro Hirano – This was a great book for me. I have been trying to read more non-Western literature (coupled with what is available at my library) and this one came up on my search for books about identity. Every single page of this novel has some reference to the many, many ways we identify ourselves. I really recommend this one!

Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman – This is apparently a well-known novel in the young adult genre though I had never heard of it. It’s about a teen who is sent to a hospital for people with mental health issues (his being schizo-affective disorder) with alternating chapters of his fantasy/mania trying to understand his “imprisonment” in terms of a sea voyage with untrustworthy authority figures. It’s an achievement, and it pulls together in the end, but I felt lost a lot of the time. (Though maybe that’s part of the point.)

Visible Man by Chuck Klosterman – My first (and likely last) time with Klosterman. It’s about a therapist whose client claims to be able to become invisible so he can watch other people in their lives. Can he really do this or is he hallucinating? And when he demonstrates it for the therapist, does it really happen or is she hallucinating? It got tedious for me and I thought the ending betrayed some of the themes that were being developed through the story.

The Frightened Ones by Dima Wannous – Another attempt to read non-Western literature, this time a novel set in war-torn Syria. Displacement, disease, and death and the toll they take on the humans who must endure it all. This wasn’t a good connect for me, perhaps because I had read Silence is a Sense by Layla Al Ammar several months ago, which did connect. In this novel the protagonist is a Syrian refugee living in England but unable to speak because of the atrocities she suffered.

Disappear Doppelganger Disappear by Matthew Salessas – Another novel about identity, in this case of a Korean-American man who feels he is disappearing because he is not seen as a person. It’s surreal in parts, and it holds together well though I think I need to read more about this subculture to appreciate it better. I heard this book discussed on a podcast and I was mildly interested in it, and when I found it was on the shelf at my local library, I gave it a try.


author safety survey

February 7, 2022

A writing forum I visit (Absolute Write) had a post recently about an Author Safety Survey, which sounded odd to me so I clicked on it. I expected to see something about writer’s cramp or carpal tunnel syndrome or maybe the perils of too much caffeine.

Instead I learned that the survey, conducted by an organization known as Bookangel (which apparently gives away free ebooks), asks about online harassment, stalking, death threats, and even physical attacks on writers. The decision to conduct this survey was based on recent discussions in their own forum about such things happening to writers. Based on what I’ve read, these attacks aren’t necessarily based on the nature of what is written (though that too) as on the nature of the writer. Skin color, sexual orientation, faith, and even politics seem sufficient for a burgeoning body of trolls to attack writers.

I haven’t ever experienced anything like that. Granted I’m not a high-profile writer, but I thought I would take the survey since the more people who do, the more accurate the results. (Proving that I actually did learn something from that horrible statistics class I had to take in college.) Yet as I was ticking through the questions (the whole thing takes about ten minutes), I recalled a specific incident that did happen to me.

Long ago I maintained an online presence using the name Pablo. (A few old-time internet friends still call me by that name occasionally.) Specifically, I was posting on a forum about rural living (because cabin). I made some assertion or gave some explanation, and I got a response from a man (?) who said he would never listen to anything said by someone with a name like “Pablo.” I suppose it was intended as a ethnic or racial slur, which bounced off my white skin but was no less ugly for it.

I realize this is pretty mild as online abuse goes, but it did speak directly to me about the level of hate that has apparently always been around and has been given voice recently by internet anonymity and reckless demagogues.

If you’re interested in taking the survey and adding your voice to the results, you can find it here.

bits and pieces

February 4, 2022

It is not currently porch-sitting weather at the cabin. I’ve made a few trips to the cabin in the last month when the weather has allowed, but as I write this, it is 8 degrees F there, so I’ll stay in my warm house in suburbia. (I’m sure the dogs agree with me about this.)

We’ve gone through a lot of these chairs at the cabin. They’re comfortable for sitting back and watching the lake and musing about the world, but I suspect they’re designed to fail. No doubt this is hastened by their exposure to the weather, but since they are intended primarily as outdoor furniture, weather exposure ought to be factored into their design. Unless it is. Unless they’re intended to last for a year or two and then break apart, sending you to the store to buy replacements.

The slats on the back and the seat tend to be where these fail. You can see a break in the top of the back slats of this green chair. Such breaks are tolerable for a while, but when they begin to snatch at your hair (or the seat of your trousers) the time has come to replace them.


Why are “elbows on the table” wrong? I can clearly remember my mother admonishing me when I was a boy about not resting my elbows on the table at meal times. Well, it turns out this was just one part of our elaborate table manners rituals originally designed to prevent outbreaks of violence among our barely civilized ancestors. (Hands held below the table, resting on your lap, were less likely to impulsively grab the neck of the person opposite you.)

I don’t know how well this worked among my barely civilized siblings, but I doubt if my mother knew the origins of the request. It was just something a polite person did not do. And so the behavior was reinforced without understanding why, existing only because it existed. (I’ve read that knives beside plates should have their blade facing inward so they don’t seem a threat to others at the table. And I’ve read that the blades should face outward because reasons. It’s almost as though we’re being taught what should offend us. Kind of like the “rules” of grammar in a way.)


Small Paul (and his family) was here last weekend. His other grandmother, Nya Nya is grandmother in Swahili, will be returning to Kenya soon, and she wanted to visit with us a last time. I had taken the opportunity to sign us up for another 5K for when they would be here. It was the Groundhog Run, and it’s one I had done a couple of times before. What’s unique about this run is that it is all underground. It is held in limestone mines here in town. Thus the weather outside may be frightful, but the race course temperature is a consistent 60 degrees. Nya Nya lives just a few miles from the equator, so the ice and snow we’ve had recently were a (mildly disturbing) novelty to her. So too would have been running a 5K underground, but it didn’t happen. The rise of the Omicron variant of Covid 19 caused the race organizers to reschedule it for this coming August (when the weather could be frightful in a different way here in the Midwest). Nya Nya will not be here then, so her race fee will be donated to the cause behind the race. Small Paul’s mother, however, intends to be here to join me for the run.

Here are Small Paul and his Nya Nya after he had a bath:


Lest you think my life is all fun and games, let up update you on my writing efforts.

I continue to submit Obelus to publishers. While I had originally submitted it to dozens of likely agents, I received not a single response (other than some form rejections). In mid-December I began my campaign of approaching indie publishers with the manuscript, and while I’ve had a few nibbles, nothing solid has happened yet. Just the other day I heard a discussion of this approach on the Otherppl podcast. The guest (Lindsay Hunter, whose podcast I’m a writer, but I also listen to) suggested that this is the new way for writers to do it. The indie publishers are generally more interactive with writers than agents are, and they can serve as a kind of slush pile reader for the major publishers. If a book is picked up by a boutique press, the major publishers can suppose that the indie publisher has found a worthy writer. Thus the worthy writer’s next work has a better chance at getting the interest of the major press. (But it’s worth noting that publication by a boutique press can be just as creatively satisfying, often allowing more creative control for the author.)

I’ve researched a few dozen indie publishers for Obelus (also for my other novels), and it’s currently on submission at 14, 12 of those having been submitted since December. Reported response times vary, and it’s mostly too early to know anything, but I’m now at the point where I will begin submitting to my “second tier” targets. These are more problematic for me because many of them ask for my “marketing profile,” my “brand,” and my “marketing plans.” My marketing plan consists mostly of sitting on the porch of my cabin, so I don’t really have any of these. Nor am I comfortable IRL, especially with promoting my self.

Since mid-December I have also been busy writing short stories. I’ve written three solid pieces in that time, including one 6,000-word epic I wrote in three days! It’s been a productive time, and when creative Paul gets exhausted, business Paul steps in to research markets and make submissions. In between this, regular Paul likes to read books.


food for thought

January 19, 2022

I listened to a podcast with John Scalzi while on the treadmill this morning, and he mentioned that creatives tend to be over thinkers. (You can read the transcript, from 2017, here. Or listen to the podcast.)

I’ve been told a number of times that I over think things, mostly by people I don’t respect for life advice, but if over thinking is part of what fuels my creative engine, then I’m going to keep doing it! (Or at least think about it.)

Also, here’s a round rock:

Blue Monday

January 17, 2022

Today is the third Monday in January, called Blue Monday by some. It’s supposedly the day of the year when people are most depressed. The holidays are past. The bills from the holidays aren’t. The weather (in the northern hemisphere) is generally bleak and cold. And it’s a Monday. That’s the argument.

But it’s a hoax. The term “Blue Monday” began as a promotional stunt by a Scottish travel agency to induce people to buy more travel packages.

The trouble is, it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. For many, having a day declared as the most depressing of the year can seem like permission to feel down. I’ve read that one of the reasons some people will accept conspiracy theories so readily is because it gives them an outside factor to blame for their problems in life. Mysterious, malicious forces are at work to keep them down. So it can be, I think, with something like Blue Monday. I can indulge in my feelings of defeat or depression because someone told me this was the day for it.

I do wonder what date Blue Monday is scheduled for in the southern hemisphere. And I understand that the Happiest Day of the year is supposed to fall around Midsummer (in the fourth week of June) in the northern hemisphere. So get your party hats ready, I guess.

contest fees ~ what am I missing?

October 19, 2021

What are your thoughts on fees for submitting to writing contests? I just can’t seem to find the will to pay a fee to enter a competition.

I’ve had a fair number of my short stories published, so I think I have some small measure of talent, but the ratio of acceptance to rejection for me is ~ 1:7. (Check my math: Duotrope records 287 rejections and 41 acceptances of my stuff. Add in a handful of submissions that I haven’t recorded there.) Given that ratio, and assuming it’s indicative of my prospects in general, it seems obvious to me that paying to submit a story is going to be mostly a way to lose money.

Does this thinking apply to story-writing contests as well? Given that my likely chance at publication for stories in journals is 1:7, would it be similar in contest submissions? And if so, why would I pay to enter a contest? Is the “competition” in a contest lower than in a normal journal submission? Are there some where the prestige of the prize is worth the cost of admission?

I target my fiction submissions based on themes the journals announce. I know that most competitions are also this way, so I could target a submission there to make my money be better spent. But if the ratio would be the same as my targeted journal submission, then this targeting doesn’t seem sufficient enuf to justify the cost.

What am I missing?

I realize that fee charging is one way to filter the volume of submissions to make them more manageable for the editors. (I’ve seen it referenced as meaning only “serious” writers will then submit.) But I also know that I am not the only serious writer who refuses to “pay to play,” so potentially good stuff never comes across the transom at some of these fee-charging outfits.

And I realize that charging a fee gives small publications much-needed funds to continue operations. (Though how do the non-fee outfits continue to operate?) Similarly with contest fees: they can fund the award (though that seems circular: pay to submit to our contest so we can have money to give an award for our contest). But the conventional wisdom for novel submissions is to never pay a publisher to make a submission. (Unless you intend to submit to a vanity press.)

So it seems to me I’d just be throwing my money away if I paid a submission fee for a fiction contest. (I’ve seen several No Fee contests, and a few that had fees around $2. But the average fee seems to be about $15, and I’ve seen it as high as $49. Again, given my ratio, I would pay about $100 in $15 fees for the chance at acceptance.)

What am I missing?

bits and pieces

June 1, 2021

Latest Big Project is coming along well. I think I’m about finished with the “assembly” portion of the work. The big revelations, which were coming to me rapidly a few weeks ago, have more or less stopped. (In fact, the latest revelation I had for it would have upended the story completely, and while that would have given it more psychological depth, I think it would have weakened the intended punch. Sorry to be so vague.) Now I must do the hard work of sneaking the actual story into it. I’m not sure if I should step back and work on something else or if I should stick with it and do what I can. I suspect once I begin adding the story part of it, further revelations will come to me, so I don’t feel the need to rush it. Actually (a word my grandson Emmett uses more frequently — and accurately — than you might expect from a five-year-old), there is some research I can do to help flesh out the story part of the work, so maybe I can stay productive doing that.

Latest Big Project is currently at 26,000 words, and I don’t see myself adding more than maybe a thousand more words, which will make it a novella, and everyone knows you can’t get novellas published.


I heard a writer on a podcast say that she’d had a piece rejected but then changed the typeface from Times New Roman to Garamond and got it accepted. This is not the first time I’ve heard of a possible bias against Times New Roman (though nearly all guidelines I’ve seen that express a preference ask for it).


Maybe I should consider that since my year of no acceptances continues into June.


I’m no good with writing challenges. My creative mechanism just doesn’t work in a way that would flourish under a challenge. My ideas need to brew in my head (sometimes for years) before I can successfully pull a story together (see revelation reference above), so if I had a targeted word count for each time I sat down to write, I think it would result in frustration rather than production. (I guess this is why NaNoWriMo never appealed to me. Also, that seems more like stunt writing than actual craft.) A friend is now participating in the 1000 Words of Summer Project with the goal of writing 1,000 words each day for two weeks. That’s an admirable volume of words produced by the end, even if the pace isn’t sustained the full time, but I couldn’t do it. Certainly I have written a thousand words and more in one sitting, but then days may go by before I write another word. And not leaving the screen until I hit a given target seems like a force fit, at least for me.

I think this is also why I don’t/can’t work from outlines. Latest Big Project has made several major shifts in direction from what I started with. (Obelus was the same.) Had I been guided by an outline, even a superficial one with the knowledge that it wasn’t a commitment, I wonder if I would have had the revelations that changed the course of the mighty river.


Did I tell you that all four of my grown children came home for Mothers Day weekend? As a surprise to my wife? That involved clandestine flights from New York and Seattle as well as a drive from St. Louis. It’s always good to have them together again and always bad to fear this will be the last time (no reason to think that, but some of us are over thinkers, okay?).


The apple above is a Honey Crisp. I used to eat one every single day for years until one day when I just couldn’t. Then I turned to bananas, and the same thing happened. Right now I’m between fruits.


May was a lean month for me in terms of book reading.

Black Card by Chris L. Terry – I heard the author on a podcast and immediately checked out his latest novel from the library. This is the kind of cultural broadening I must do more of.

The Sacred and Profane Love Machine by Iris Murdoch – My second time reading this as I make my way chronologically through her novels again. She never disappoints.

meta musings ~ blogs for bucks

March 15, 2021

Recently, I’ve seen a few people with writing blogs who are considering “monetizing” them. To my understanding, this means rigging the blog in a way to make money from it. Most commonly, I guess, is to add a plug-in that would post advertisements on the blog. The blogger would then get paid for allowing those ads, and I think in more sophisticated operations, would get paid more if readers actually click on the ads. (I understand this humble blog has some ads that appear from time to time. I’ve never seen them, I guess because I’m the administrator, and I certainly don’t make any revenue from them.)

In another case, I knew a blogger who had a natural history blog, and she was very good at what she did, writing informed posts in an engaging style. I read her blog regularly. She proposed making it pay by charging a fee for readers to see the content, citing several celebrity bloggers who did this and lived off the proceeds. I commented that I would never pay to read anyone’s blog (she had asked what readers thought of the idea), and I think I insulted her because while she used to respond to my occasional comments, she abruptly stopped after I said I wouldn’t pay for the privilege. The last time I looked, she was not charging an admission fee.

There are several websites I visit that have pop-up ads appearing on the margins. Many of these are animated and/or have video and audio. I’m never interested in what they are shilling, and I’m annoyed enuf with the ads I already see elsewhere apparently based on Google searches I made years ago. I don’t want to add to that intrusion by clicking on mindless ads further. Regardless, for me, these pop-ups slow down the scrolling. I can click them off, but they generally return if I click on some actual content on the site I want to see. And then the article I want to read won’t load fully for a while and I leave in frustration.

Aside from the fact that I consider “monetizing” to be sleazy in a way and part of the idea that a writer must have a “platform” or a “brand,” I don’t think this humble blog would pay me the price of a cup of coffee (if I drank coffee and knew the price). I have followers in the triple digits, but I don’t know how many actually visit the blog when I post. I do have a visitor counter, but that’s not only shown pathetic numbers, it’s also shown unreliable numbers. There are days, for example, when I receive one or two comments about a post and the counter shows that no one visited at all. Doesn’t seem possible to me. The little research I’ve done suggests that when followers visit, they are not counted. (Also, I’ve tried using Google Analytics to get a better picture, but I can’t seem to make it work. It shows zero visits to this humble blog.) So if revenue is based on visits, I’m going to be in the poor house.

So I remain baffled by this idea of “monetizing” the blog. It seems sleazy, it wouldn’t pay, and it would likely be one more thing I would have to manage.

Here’s a picture of a round rock:

books of 2020

January 4, 2021

I’m sure I’ve written here before that I’ve long thought the new year should begin on the first day of spring, as has been done by the Persian culture for centuries. It’s a celestial event, measurable by everyone in every culture. It’s not arbitrary the way January 1 is. But January 1 is what we’re stuck with for the most part, so that’s what I’ll use for my beginning/end date.

This is the time of year when I see people’s lists of what they read in the last year. I’ve done that before, too, though not consistently. Sometimes I’ve listed all of the books I read in the past year. Other times I list only the highlights. Some years, nothing at all.* Well, this year I’m just going to touch on the books that I thought were worthy to me and leave out the stinkers and those that left little to no impression. And so, from the back pages of my journals where I keep my list of books read, here we go:

Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout – I loved the characterization of Olive Kitteridge, so when I learned a sequel was coming, I grabbed up the first copy I came across (which happened to be in a bookstore when I was traveling in Kentucky — remember traveling?). Godfrey, what a good book. The story continues, and Olive begins to see beyond herself.

Interpreter of Maladies by Jumpha Lahiri – I read this because I had read her novel The Namesake and really enjoyed it. While I thought it was well done, and it gave me a glimpse into a different world view, I didn’t enjoy it as much as The Namesake.

Nat Tate by William Boyd – The biography of an utterly forgotten New York painter, which turned out to be a novel because the painter never existed. It was part of an elaborate hoax on the New York art set and people like Gore Vidal and David Bowie were in on.

Absalom, Absalom by William Faulkner – It took me two tries to finish this monster of a novel, purported to have the longest sentence in the English language (1,288 words!). Faulkner’s typical esoteric style was at its peak here.

Stone Diaries by Carol Shields – This is one of those quiet looks at the deceptively simple life of a woman over a long time. I came to it when the novel was more than 25 years old, and I regret having lost all of the time not having known it.

The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles – Another novel I regret not having taken up sooner. I had read a good deal of Fowles in my callow youth, so I was surprised that I had neglected this one, especially after I enjoyed it so much. (Metafiction, folks!)

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith – We’ve had this on our shelves pretty much since my daughter moved to Brooklyn more than a decade ago. With the pandemic, I was prowling the house, looking for things to read (so I didn’t have to go to the bookstore with the unwashed masses). I enjoyed it, and I suppose it can be taken at face value, and the Brooklyn she describes is long past. Notable: Smith did not adhere to the sad dictum that only the word “said” could be used as a dialog tag.

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry – I was given this book by the man who sold me the 80 acres where my Ozark cabin now lies. He even inscribed it to me. Westerns were never my thing, but again, I was taking up many novels I had left untouched around the house (or in this case, at the cabin), and was engrossed from the first page. (It helped that I’d just watched the miniseries.) I think McMurtry got a little tired of writing it near the end (my copy is 900+ pages).

Upstate by James Wood – He is better known for his literary criticism, but I saw this on the shelf (at one of my rare bookstore visits) and bought it. Not much happens plotwise, but the look into the character’s lives and the development of Thomas Nagel’s philosophy in the story captivated me. I intend to read this one again, and soon.

Passing by Nella Larsen – A forgotten novel in the huge literary sub-genre about the movement of light-skinned African Americans into white culture in the U.S. This was a gift from a friend. A worthy read.

A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley – I mentioned this novel in a recent post. Her retelling of King Lear in the Iowa farmland left me cold, but it is well done and won the Pulitzer.

Because I am not haunting the used bookstores as much as in years past, I’ve also read a few books in the public domain I can find online. Two notable works I read last year were The Story of a Bad Boy by Matthew Bailey Aldrich, which is said to have influenced Twain when he wrote Tom Sawyer, and The Unpublishable Memoirs by A.S. Rosenbach. Not a memoir at all but a series of stories about rare book collectors and rare book thieves. A bit of fun. If you’re familiar with the Raffles stories, you might like this book.

There were other books I read last year, including a smattering of nonfiction, but many were just things I got through on my way to the next work to read.

*I’m trying to be less quantitative about many aspects of my life. I think over-measuring and comparing my performance was one of the reasons I lost my love of running. I’m cautious about tabulating my creative life too much as well.

changing signs and blurring lines

October 6, 2020

I dashed down to Roundrock over the weekend, passing through a deeply red part of rural Missouri to get to my little cabin. I’ve made this drive hundreds of times and have grown familiar with the homes and farms and small towns along the way. For the most part, the people who express their political allegiance along this route are not shy about it. Where one flag would do, most have two. Beside the highway with its fast-moving cars, the dozens of political signs tend toward the larger, held upright by two fence posts slammed into the neatly mowed easement before well set-back homes. There is no doubt about dominant political tenor of the region and no visible expression of any alternative leanings.

But on my recent Saturday drive I saw something so unexpected that at first I didn’t trust my eyes. The roadside political signs have large blue letters on a white field giving the name of the presidential candidate favored. Except in one case it appeared to my glance, as I drove past just over the legal limit, that the first letter of the candidate’s name had been covered with white paint so the name read R U M P. I dismissed it as sun in my eyes or bugs on the windshield or obscuring plants by the sign. But then I saw it again, and it was clear to me, because I was looking more deliberately, that the sign had been altered. Here again was R U M P. And then a little farther along, a sign was further altered to spell H U M P.

This went on for miles, and I could see it on both sides of the highway.

What to make of this? Was it merely a bit of naughty pranking by some rowdy boys with a can paint and too much free time? Perhaps, though the signs have been in place for months, and they weren’t altered when I last passed through two weeks before. Or did this perhaps indicate some shifting allegiances, given the recent news from the campaign trail? Is the more timid leaning become more assertive?

It’s impossible to say, of course. This is the first election in my life where I have placed signs in my suburban front yard. This is so unprecedented that my daughter posted about it on her social media. Yet in my red state I’ve read accounts of yard signs being stolen in the night (yard signs that must be purchased, for a nominal fee, but still some effort and expense is put into getting them). So far that hasn’t happened to me.* About the only reaction I have seen, and it may be merely coincidental, is that my neighbor up the street moved a contrary political flag on his front porch so it is slightly more visible from the vantage of my front yard. In fact, there are far more signs in my neighborhood in support of my candidate than for the opposition, which would be surprising in a normal election year in this purple county of a red state, but this year is far from normal.

In fact, rural Missouri might be shifting slightly from normal this election year as well. Not only have I noticed the altered signs (and I’ll be watching for them the next time I pass through to see if they’ve been fixed or replaced), but at least two farms that regularly flew flags in support of the incumbent no longer do so. They still have their usual American flags and POW flags, and often a flag for the Kansas City Chiefs, but the pennant of the incumbent are missing. Coincidence? Perhaps. But perhaps not.


*I found, on the morning I wrote this post, that one of the signs — about diversity, not a specific candidate — in my front yard was uprooted and lay on the grass. It hadn’t merely blown over but was clearly pulled out of the ground. At least it wasn’t stolen. Fortunately, since I rise freakishly early on the weekends, I discovered this in the predawn hours and restored it. Perhaps the pranksters will be disappointed.