Archive for the ‘Rants and ruminations’ category

memento mori

December 7, 2016

Some of you know that I’ve kept a paper journal for the last 35+ years. With a mechanical pencil I hand write entries into spiral notebooks with some college name/logo on the cover. In the early years, before I could have ever imagined the scope of my endeavor, I didn’t date the entries. But soon enuf I did. Then I began putting the time of day beside each entry since I was often hustling to my journal to get down whatever brilliant thought I’d had when untethered to it. Some entries might be a sentence or two. Others could go on for pages. And while I might make three and even four entries in a day, I could also go weeks without one. Still the words accumulated, and I am now on journal number 28 (from Syracuse University, where my clever nephew attended).

I will likely never go back and read my journals. A lot of it is probably embarrassingly immature or focused on some event/issue of the time that is no longer pertinent. Any given brilliant idea is lost within a hundred quotidian thoughts. There isn’t a search function in paper journals. My middle son has stated that when I am gone (not too soon, I hope) he intends to read my journals from start to finish. (Consider what a dampening effect this has on my entries once I realize someone I know will be reading them.) He was never much of a reader growing up, and now his job (and daughter) demands most of his time, and any reading he does should be in his field (oncology). I also suspect he’ll get bored quickly with my entries and skip a lot of it.

My point is that I have all of these journals that will likely never amount to anything other than ash after some cleansing campfire. I don’t suppose I would mind that too much as long as it was a campfire at my cabin.

Similarly, a couple of decades ago, I was busy as a freelancer writing feature articles for magazines and newspapers — back in the days of print. I wrote more than sixty of these things before I gave up the ambition. (I gave up in part because I could never break into the slicks and in part because I realized that in my ten years of effort I had produced the equivalent of what one cub reporter would produce in a single year. Plus there’s no money in it.) Nonetheless, I have kept a copy of every publication that ran one of my articles. The stack sits on a shelf within arm’s reach of me as I write this. And yet, I will never go back and read these things. Nor will anyone else. It’s possible that the stack I have holds one of the few existing copies of the publications — and thus my articles — available in the physical world. Yet I can’t part with them.

And it continues. There was a time in my life when I wanted to become an authority in the literature of the Midwest. (There is actual scholarship devoted to this!) I read widely (but not widely enuf), and I even began collecting books. But I saw that my subject was too vast, so I tightened my focus to the literature of Missouri. But even that was too vast. So I tightened it further to the literature of the Ozarks (a vast and satisfying literature of its own). In the glass-fronted bookcase across the room from me I have books I have collected for this ambition. Some I have were published in the 19th Century and are likely among the few existing copies in the physical world. As with my journals and my feature articles, I am unlikely to read them again (since creating my own literature is now my interest). Yet I can’t part with them. The thrill of the chase — finding a long-sought novel — means I can never dispose of them. My children will get that job. (I just hope they have the sense to find out if there is some collector or a library that would want them.)

And it still continues. I’m looking at a rack of medals I’ve earned from the half and full marathons I’ve run. (The NYC Marathon medal is my all-time favorite, natch!) I have another rack of medals from “lesser” races. Dozens of these things that will mean nothing to anyone other than me. What’s to become of them? Since no one ran the race inside my head, the medals won’t have any specific meaning to them. I don’t suppose the metal of the medals is even high grade enuf to be good for melting down. (And I currently have two drawers packed with shirts I’ve earned from races. This does not even count the tech shirts from races that I have hanging in a closet.) This will all mean nothing to anyone after me.

nyc-marathon-medal

(Gratuitous photo insertion.)

And consider my dead blog: Roundrock Journal. I kept that thing going for more than ten years, the first five years with a post every single day. Now it is lost (though I think you can find it through the Wayback Machine — I should try it myself). It existed and consumed a great deal of my creative self, and yet it is gone.

And so what is the point of this ramble? I’m not sure myself. I guess the ephemeral nature of existence or some such lofty thoughts. The traces we leave without even noticing? The accumulation of stuff?

splendid solitude

November 25, 2016

“The cure for loneliness is solitude.”

Marianne Moore
“If I Were Sixteen Today”*

I love my solitude. I live in my solitude. My creative ferment is most alive in my solitude. It’s why I rise at 3:00 a.m. on the weekends; I can enter the creative place in my mind and stay there without distractions to pull me out.

I love the quiet. I can hear myself think and dream and free associate. I can also hear my heartbeat, which was disturbing when I first noticed it several years ago but is now merely annoying.** (No, I do not have high blood pressure; I never have. I think my ears are — my right ear actually — just attuned to the flow of blood through nearby vessels.)

I think this is also why I prefer running alone rather than as part of a group, which I had tried for several years.

My solo trips to the cabin, while not good for actual writing, are nearly always great opportunities for ideas and problem solving. I generally come home with lots of notes. (There are distractions at the cabin, not the least of which being the itch to get out and ramble among the hills, though that is not necessarily bad for reflection.)

Of course, getting to whatever place of quiet solitude doesn’t automatically cause me to write pages and pages. Sometimes it still isn’t flowing.

 

 

*I have not read this essay.

**I have this idea that our bodies are actually very noisy places, with blood flowing, and food being digested, and glands secreting, and so on, but our brains have literally tuned these noises out beginning in the womb. Have you ever held a stethoscope to your stomach and listened? Sometimes when I lie in bed and I manage to turn off the censors (unwittingly) for brief moments I can hear all sorts of whooshing and crashing noises in my head, but as soon as I become aware of them, they go away. Tuned out.

just some things

November 18, 2016

My One-Match Fire story “Twice Blest” was declined by another magazine. That’s to be expected, of course. It’s a quirky story, but I’m still convinced that it has a niche out there. I’m not actively trying to get any more of the stories in the novel/cycle published, though “A Tree Falls in the Forest” is a likely candidate as well.

*   *   *

I’m making notes on a story I’m calling “Fire Sermon.” Although I don’t see it as part of the One-Match Fire collection, it does involve two of the characters. Once you get to know these people, it seems they have a lot to tell you.

*   *   *

I did not get any black toenails from running the marathon two weeks ago. That’s a first.

*   *   *

My hoped-for trip to the cabin this weekend doesn’t look like it will happen. Though we’ve been enjoying some balmy autumn weather, the temps are due to dip below freezing on Saturday night, which makes sitting around a (one-match) campfire drinking beer a chilly prospect. (Also, the head cold lingers, and I’m enjoying some terrific sinus headaches right now.) But we traditionally make a trip to our forest on Black Friday, pretty much to show that we are not consumer culture casualties, and that’s a week away. So it looks like November will not pass as a month without a cabin visit.

*   *   *

Since returning from New York (one week ago), I have worn my marathon Finisher hoodie every day and everywhere, and only one person has noticed and commented on it — and she had been excited about my run before I had left.

back to our regular programming

November 16, 2016

So it’s not all marathon news here at the humble blog. Obviously I’ve been pre-occupied for the last few weeks, and my writing life has “suffered” for it. But it’s time for me to ease back into this other part of my life and get to the big work that’s needed there.

I had intended to spend last weekend at my cabin, indulging in a last, well-earned debauchery of beer and cigars around a smoky campfire. But the head cold I had nixed that, and instead I found myself caring for grandson, Emmett, on Saturday as his parents had an actual date night. (I’m pretty sure I caught the cold from Emmett, so I don’t think it was wrong for me to be watching him while still suffering from it.) So maybe the cabin next weekend, though it will be a little cooler at night.

I’ve been peeking at the collected stories in One-Match Fire, looking for the tone and rhythm so I can get back to the big re-read and begin composing a query letter for it. No more dithering. No more distraction. It’s time for me to step up to this culmination.

Also, and completely unbidden, I had something of a revelation about that old novel of mine The Sleep of Reason. It had gotten some attention from a few agents but never went anywhere. But during my cold medicine-induced delirium on the flight home from New York, I thought of a different angle I could pitch it with. Looks like I’ll be unearthing that old project and see what I might do with it.

And there are a few short story ideas I can give more love to.

Plenty of work waiting for my return.

a bit distracted

November 4, 2016

So I’m a bit distracted about the thing on Sunday. It’s pretty much been my horizon since March, and now it’s two days away. Well or ill, it will be finished by Sunday evening. (Likely I’ll be crossing the finish line in the dark — I’ve never done that before.)

And then I must find some new horizon to stumble toward. Probably wrasslin’ with the One-Match Fire manuscript and finding my way into new stories not part of that universe. I’ll be a train wreck; you won’t be able to avert your gaze!

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.

what are you doing next?

January 19, 2016

“What are you doing next?” asks independentclause. What, indeed!

I’m not sure. It is clear to me that I should stick with the Fathers and Sons stories, now that I’m in the sprint to the finish line. (Do you know how hard that is? When you see the finish arch and decide to give everything you have to end the race well, as well as you can anyway, and then after sprinting for what seems like forever you discover when you’re still hundreds — millions!!! — of feet away that you’ve well and truly run out of gas?) The unfinished F&S stories are obligingly giving me insights and details daily about how they can be written, and I really should work on them in this state of febrile fecundity.

Yet they need to incubate. And I realize this is a legit part of my creative function. So I wonder what else my nimble fingers and plodding mind might do as I wait for those stories to “reveal” themselves to me. I have a number of old ideas, with pages and pages of notes for them, that I could work on. And at least one new story idea — “Stargazing” — is asserting itself as well.

Do I want a break from the F&S stories and the chance to work on something fresh and even fun? The Fathers and Sons stories are “literary” and “serious” while “Stargazing” would be a frolic. And another story idea I’ve had for years and years (literally) would be a comparatively easy thing to write because it wouldn’t be laden with so much “meaning.” I don’t have a decent title for it however, which sometimes really is important.

Or I could take up another story idea that came to me (years ago) when I was reading Faulkner heavily. I call it “The Hoega Sewing Circle” and it would be fraught with great seriousness and deep meaning. It would take hard work and effort and rewriting and even research (about quilting, of all things). They say the good ideas are the ones that won’t go away.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do next, but since it is no longer 2015, I’m actually able to “do” something, which is a pleasant change.