signaling a lane change

Posted May 29, 2015 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Humble efforts

Maybe. Perhaps. Possibly. Dunno yet.

Long-time readers (both of you) will recall that along with the Fathers and Sons stories that have monopolized my creative self for a couple of years, I also have a finished novel titled The Sleep of Reason that I really should be shopping around. I had some good nibbles for it in the past, but my enthusiasm to submit had waned, lethargy and entropy ensued, and now I’m mired. Poor me, right?

You may also recall that I had embarked on writing a series of murderless cozy mystery novels with a husband and wife team of reluctant sleuths, all set in or featuring the bed and breakfast inns where they would stay on their travels. (They were my original purpose for starting this humble blog.) I’ve written four novels in that series, one of which I think is actually good, two of which I think can be salvaged, and one of which may remain forever on the self of apprentice work. In recent weeks, ideas for a couple of the unwritten entries in this mystery series have been presenting themselves in my tortured little brain. I pretty much have the basic plots worked out for these, and I’ve compiled lots of notes for them over the years. I think I have critical mass achieved for one of them. (It involves running!)

And so I wonder if maybe it is time for me to step away from the Fathers and Sons stories (so fraught and literary they are) and put some time/effort/creativity into the less demanding cozy mystery stories. I wonder if my current seeming stalemate with the F&S stories combined with the fresh ideas for the cozy mystery stories might be a sign that I should change lanes for a while.

Can I travel freely and easily between styles and genres as I propose? I think so. I’m not prohibiting myself from doing one or the other (or even some third thing if it presented itself — but not poetry; I can’t do poetry). I like to think I could work to exhaustion on one and then pick up fresh with another since they are quite different. I think that’s what I’m going to try to do.

My mother told me long ago that you should always use the turn signal in your car, even if you don’t see anyone around you, because you may be signalling for the car you don’t see. And that’s kind of what this post is like. Maybe there is someone actually reading this and will appreciate my signal.

I finished a story!

Posted May 25, 2015 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Fathers and Sons

I know! I can barely believe it myself. I rose early this morning and stared at the screen long enuf to put down nearly two thousand words of new material to double the size of my Fathers and Sons story “Father’s Day” and brought it to something like a conclusion.

Sure, it still needs work, and it does not comply with the standard structure of a short story (the normally rapid falling off after the climax is more lingering), and I’m not sure I have the closing words just right, and the supporting character has come much more to the fore than I expected. But it achieves everything I’d set out to do. And best of all, it’s finished (in first draft).

Given my creative torment of recent months, this is an achievement. (Actually, it may be imagined creative torment. I think since the turn of the year, I’ve written three stories: “Boys are like puppies,” “Twice Blest,” and now “Father’s Day.” That’s a decent volume of output.)

Regardless, it feels good to cross this particular finish line. Now to see what lies ahead.

parallel universe

Posted May 20, 2015 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Rants and ruminations

When I lace up for a run, I always doubt my ability to complete the miles.

When I sit down to write, I always doubt my ability to complete the words.

thick skinned report

Posted May 12, 2015 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Humble efforts

I got two rejection letters over the weekend (coincidentally on my drive home from the miserable half marathon).

One was for “Twice Blest” and it came all the way from Jerusalem. A journal there was looking for pieces about “men” and since that story is part of my Fathers and Sons cycle, I gave it a try. They chose not to use it, and they sent a form email, but it was a fair attempt. (Plus, I’d since modified the story in what I think was a necessary way, so now I have something better to submit elsewhere.)

The second was for “Been Lonely So Long,” which is accumulating encouraging rejection letters. This email was personalized and detailed. I was told that I am a good writer and that my thematic use of the first person plural narration was clever, but they found a few faults as well. One was the intervention the characters stage for one of their own. The editors didn’t find that they characters knew that other person well enuf to stage an intervention. But that was pretty much exactly my point. Maybe I was too subtle about this and need to draw it out a little more clearly. They also didn’t like the last sentences, which seems to be my weakness. I’m not sure what (if anything) I want to do about that. It speaks to the theme (the nature of compassion), but again, maybe I’m too indirect about that. I’ll ponder it.

Running with the Cows 2015 ~ recap ~ or, “Fear and Loathing in Bucyrus, Kansas”

Posted May 11, 2015 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Running, Uncategorized

Tags:

cows kit

The wheels fell off on this one.

I didn’t feel right about this half marathon for the week before and certainly the morning of. I can’t put my finger on why, but I suppose such a vague feeling can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. I don’t know.

Running with the Cows was the third in the Heartland 39.3 Series that I had signed up for last summer. I expected this series of half marathons to be tough, and I was surprised when I managed the first two races, on consecutive weekends, with my legs and lungs still intact. I thought I would be destroyed by two such long runs so close together, yet I wasn’t.

As I reflect, I think Running with the Cows went so badly for me because of a perverse, oil-and-water mix of over confidence and lack of confidence.

I should tell you right now that I did finish the half marathon. In fact, of the eight half marathons I’ve now run, my time was better than three of them and very close to another. I found a kick at the end and ran across the finish line as fast as I could, but when I did, I was ready to be done with it, to walk away and not look back. Such was the mess I felt it to be.

I’ve said here several times that I’m trying to make the half marathon my distance. I want to get confident and competent with it. I want to feel assured that I can lace up and accomplish that distance, not without effort and concentration, but with a knowledge that it is in me. I also noted above that I had done surprisingly well on the two prior halfs in this series (Rock the Parkway and the Garmin Half). I think that’s where my over confidence came from. I think I believed I had reached my mastery point with the half marathon. I think I believed that Running with the Cows would be simple, especially since I got two weeks of rest before it. I trained, but maybe with too much confidence and not enuf doubt. Nor did I take my fueling seriously enuf. In the week before the other races, I was slamming a bottle of Gatorade each day, eating more carbs, rolling my leg muscles, and getting more rest. I didn’t do that with Cows. That was a mistake.

But I was also talking myself into a near panic about this run. I had driven the course two weeks prior and saw the long, rolling hills that were on the agenda. They aren’t steep, but they are long. (This is not in the flat part of Kansas that every thinks is the case statewide.) I dreaded those hills, and somewhere within me I “knew” I couldn’t run them, that I would have to walk at least part of them to get to the top. I don’t know if I would have run better if I hadn’t known those hills were coming. If I had gone out on the course as an innocent and just taken whatever came, maybe I would have done better because I wouldn’t have already excused myself from tackling them.

Running sure can be a road to self discovery. Or self doubt.

So all of that was swirling in what passes for my mind as I got to the race early Saturday morning. The forecast had called for thunderstorms then, with up to a half an inch of rain (“except higher amounts in thundershowers”) and I resigned myself to getting wet and perhaps cold. When I rose on Saturday (3:15 of course) and let the dogs out, it was 63 degrees, and though I knew that might drop some before race time, I was comfortable that at least I would not be cold. Parking was going to be iffy because we would be using farm fields, and they were already sodden from the week of storms before. We took my truck (named the “Prolechariot” by my third son) rather than the little red Honda just in case we needed the four-wheel drive. But it turned out that we were directed to park on the side of a road far from the start and then get bussed in. I didn’t like that at first, especially since my wife, who would be waiting as I ran, would be far from the car if she needed anything (like shelter from the storm). This arrangement didn’t turn out to be a problem however.

So we rode the school bus in and got off at the Catholic church that was hosting the runs. (There was also a 5K.) We passed through the school cafeteria, where they were already setting up for the big, well-regarded after party. I looked around for people I knew but didn’t see any. I used the portable toilet three times (always prudent and evidently very necessary this time). I wandered about more. I found my wife on a bench, passing the time with a runner from Iowa. (There were runners from 46 states and several countries. That’s pretty good for an event having only 1500 runners altogether.) I waited for the time to pass. The sun had risen but was behind the gray clouds. The latest forecast said the rain would likely hold off until 8:00, so I’d be at least a few miles into the run before that particular misery visited.

Eventually I got myself into the starting chute and waited. There were no waves or corrals. We would start as a mass and sort ourselves out later. I was far enuf back that I could not hear whatever announcements there were (or might have been). A drone flew over. (These are getting ubiquitous at races.) I did hear a countdown, but several minutes after that, our mass of humanity had not moved. Then I heard another countdown and realized the first must have been for some special runners. Generally wheelchair racers are let fly before the rest of us. But we were finally off, and I started my watch just as I crossed the mats. On my way.

We left the school parking lot and got on the two-lane blacktop road that, a hundred blocks to the north (in my neighborhood), swells to eight lanes and is lousy with traffic. Out here in the rurals, it was just a country road. A country road with a mile and a half uphill incline. It wasn’t long before I found myself crowding against a thick pack of people who were taking up the entire width of the two lanes. It took me a while to realize that I was stuck behind a pace group. In part because of my negative self talk, I didn’t intend to run this race hard or fast, but this pace group was going more slowly than my legs and lungs wanted. Compounding this was the chatty nature of the lead pacer. Her job is to encourage those who have chosen to run with her group, to advise them on how to tackle the hills, how to get through the water stations, how to outsmart their fatigue. And she was doing this, keeping up a nearly constant patter of words to the people depending on her to get them across the finish line at a given time. And boy was it annoying to me!

I figured if I could get ahead of this group and put some distance between us, I could still fall back to their pace if necessary and yet not have to listen to the encouraging words. So that was my plan. To get around them, I had to run on the narrow gravel shoulder, and then when I was back on the road, I had to hustle to get that distance. Because annoying patter!

My plan worked. Soon I could only hear the pacer when she had her group shout at each mile marker. This was the last time in the race when I felt like anything was working for me.

At mile 3 I took my first walking break. As much as I really did not want to do this, I didn’t see how I could keep running, not with the many long hills still to come. It’s possible that I had been running too fast. I wanted to leave that chatty pacer well behind, and regardless, I wanted to finish faster than her group’s promised time, even with a slower run for me this time. So maybe running too fast to get ahead of her had caused me to walk too soon, which would allow her, ironically, to close the distance between us. Plus, walking revealed to me that I wasn’t (yet) a master of the half marathon, at least not on a challenging course.

This was not my only walking break for the remaining ten miles. There were plenty. And as the miles passed, the breaks came more frequently. Had I been on a flat course that morning, I think I still would have needed (or taken) walking breaks. My overconfidence blended with my lack of confidence was visiting me repeatedly. With a smirk.

I ate my GU every three miles. I took the water and Gatorade at each of the (well staged and staffed) water stations. I ran all of the flats and downhills, and I powered as far as I could up those long hills. But I was disappointed with myself. I was disappointed that I was exhausted and panting. I was not going to turn in a good time, and all I really wanted by the halfway point was to stay ahead of the chatty pacer.

The halfway point was a turnaround. We had climbed what seemed like a two-mile hill to get there, and I relished the thought of returning that distance going downhill. (Of course I forgot that it was a rolling stretch.) As I made the turn and saw the runners behind me still heading toward it, I was encouraged to see how many there were. I guess I wasn’t as pathetic as I feared.

By this point, any goodwill or milk of human kindness was drained from me. I didn’t care about much except finding the flattest part of the road and sticking to it. Often this required me to run in the empty lane (we runners having thinned enuf that most were just using one lane). All along the run, service vehicles were zipping up and down the course, mostly staying on the shoulder (when there was one) but sometimes coming into the lanes that were supposed to be dedicated to us runners. I don’t know what it is that was so urgent, but plenty of ATVs and mules were going back and forth. Some were apparently delivering things to the aid stations. Some were, I guess, looking for runners who could not finish. Some seemed to have no other purpose than to cheer to us, but they were using the road that was supposed to be ours. So I got feisty and decided I wasn’t going to yield my empty lane to any of these vehicles. They could pull over and let me pass, or they could grind through the gravel shoulder to pass me. But I paid to use that road that day, and I was going to use it. I suppose you can guess what happened next. I heard a vehicle coming behind me, in my personal lane of blacktop, and I just stayed in the way, plodding along and letting it deal with this.

Fortunately, I happened to look back (thinking I might make a rude gesture) and learned that I was impeding the progress of an ambulance with its lights on. Um. Oops.

I was better behaved after that. Fortunately, we runners were well thinned by then, and I could find my flat part of the pavement in the other lane with the other runners.

Somewhere around mile 11.5 I looked to the south and could see the steeple of the church that was our finish. Only a mile and a half to go, and yet it looked so very far away. There were no uphills left, and since we were returning on part of the same route that was at the start, we had mostly just gentle downhill before us. But so very far away. There was more walking in this last mile and a half. I didn’t care any longer. I hated the world by then. Sometime in the last ten miles I had caught up with the next faster pace group and even got ahead of them, but they passed me and left me behind within sight of the finish. Sigh.

I came toward the finish and made the turn into the school parking lot. What little energy I had left I poured into my legs. I think I made a decent enuf finish of my run, and I was still coherent enuf to hear the announcer mispronounce my name as I came hurtling across.

And that was that. I turned off my watch, waived away the proffered bottle of water, and only remembered that I needed to have the chip removed from my shoe when I saw a line of people having this done. I had to find the table where I was (unceremoniously) handed my medal (see below). The thing hanging from the cow’s neck is a copper bell with the number 6 on it, this being the sixth year of this run. (I understand the church makes something close to $100,000 from it. I’m not sure how since there weren’t that many runners times the race fee to reach that number. But I’m sure races are money-making rackets or they wouldn’t be held.)

cows bling

I staggered around for a while, hating the world and myself most of all. Somewhere ahead was another tent where I could collect my special medal for completing all of the races in the Heartland Series (see below). It was handed to me unceremoniously as well.

heartland bling

Then I made my way to the school cafeteria where the after party feed is legendary. The whole community apparently has a hand in it, and the church ladies are busy baking and cooking and fixing food a week in advance. I’d heard again and again about this spread, and I was eager to see it (even though I am not generally hungry after a hard run).

Every runner had a support crew, and since I imagine this event is the biggest thing to happen in Bucyrus, Kansas all year, every little kid in the community was there for the excitement and glamor of sweaty runners shouldering each other for free food. Thus the cafeteria was packed with people, most of whom I suspect weren’t actual runners. I stood in a long line just to stagger up to the table to see what was being served. Unfortunately, it was mostly nothing that I wanted to put on my stomach at that time. Burgers, pulled pork sandwiches, BBQ, potato chips, nachos, burritos, fajitas. There was a table dedicated to baked goods, but they were all so thickly sugar coated that I knew that wasn’t going to work for me either. About the only thing they had that I wanted was CHOCOLATE MILK, and I drank five or six cartons of it before I pulled myself from the throng and decided just to go home to a hot shower.

Remember that the Prolechariot was miles away, and I had to fold my weary, adult-sized legs into the seating of a school bus then drive most of a section of land to get off relatively close to my truck. But I managed. My wife drove us home, and I was about as cranky as I could be the entire way. It was not a good run, and that weighed on me. (And my grandson, Kenneth, never did send me his customary congratulatory text. I guess he was busy planning Mother’s Day stuff.)

But the rain never fell. There was a constant mild breeze throughout the run, and that relieved us of the oppressive humidity. The water stations were very well staged and well run, and I think every high school kid in the county had turned out to help and offer hydration, encouragement, and smiles. The course was challenging, and maybe if I had trained more intelligently and diligently, I would have welcomed the challenge rather than merely endured it. My knees did not give the slightest hint of complaint, and when my hips began to bark, I swallowed the Advil I had brought along. I didn’t see a single cow until the last half mile, but I guess they fulfilled that part of the deal, so no complaints there. I beat the chatty pacer in. I now have my eighth half marathon behind me as well as some lessons learned. And at least it wasn’t a really bad event like the Garmin half. (Ugh!)

There are only three things I would have done differently on the course had I been race director. I would not have allowed all of the back and forth of the support vehicles. And I would have not had us cross the path with faster/slower runners at mile 5. This was where we began the out-and-back stretch with the turnaround. The monitors on the corner needed merely to direct us to the left side of the road (after our left turn), and we would have come back on the right side of the road. As it was, this was switched, and though it didn’t affect me as far back as I was, many of the runners ahead of me had to find their way through a line of runners crossing directly in front of them. Finally, I would have asked the police and sheriff staff and other security people to turn off their engines as they idled at intersections. I realize it may be protocol to leave their engines running in case of sudden need, but there were several intersections I ran through where I sucked in nothing but exhaust. Did ALL of their vehicles need to be left running? Did they ALL need to be parked immediately beside the course?

So I completed the Heartland Series and got the bling (plus the special shirt that shows I’m badass). But I don’t think I’ll sign up for it again next year. When two-thirds of the events are disappointing, that doesn’t encourage me to come back. Maybe I’ll Run with the Cows again someday to prove to myself that I can deal with long hills over long distances. We’ll see.

In the meantime, I have nothing on my dance card until the Plaza 10K in September. Yes, it’s likely that I’ll do some races between now and then, but I think my regular training runs will probably keep me happy for a while.

meanwhile, in suburbia

Posted May 5, 2015 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic

We’ve lived in our current house for 28 years. And for 27 and a half years, we’ve had a picket fence enclosing our back yard. We hired a local company to build it. Originally it was intended to contain our little children and their toys. Then came dogs (and even a bunny). We stained it dark green so that it would blend into the grassy color of the open yards behind and around ours. This was, apparently, unheard of. Even scandalous. No one stained a wooden fence in these parts! Cedar fences are apparently supposed to bleach into a uniform gray (uniformity being a hallmark of suburbia, of course). Even the man who built our fence couldn’t believe it when we had him out years later to talk about repairs. (He did not get the job!)

To me, a gray wooden fence just looks uncared for, like an unmown lawn or peeling paint. I suppose it was the way I was raised. I can remember spending good parts of my St. Louis boyhood summers, when I wasn’t in Kentucky at my grandparents’ farm, staining the privacy fence of our backyard. I can remember going to my sister’s house for a party and her husband being unable to join us because he had to finish staining his fence. Tom Sawyer is famous for his fence staining acumen. And as I’ve driven around suburbia, I have spotted the occasional stained fence. I’m not alone.

In the nearly three decades of the fence’s life, I’ve replaced at least half of the pickets, many of the posts, and most of the rails. It is my own Ship of Theseus. The wood rots. Insects invade. Plants grow in and through. Mishaps with bats and balls. (One neighbor boy used our fence as his backstop for pitching practice, and he openly stated that his goal one summer was to knock off the top of each picket. Fortunately, he was a poor pitcher.)

But in all of that time, I’ve never encountered the danger to the fence’s integrity that has suddenly arrived this year.

As you probably know, we have two dogs: Flike and Queequeg. No one has told them they are dogs, so they don’t consider themselves to be such. And so they will bark at other dogs with disdain. Our neighbor (beyond on green picket fence) now has two dogs. (One her son left with her after he moved out, though he’s moved back in again. The other she got because she didn’t want the first dog to be lonely.) They do know they are dogs, and they recognize Flike and Queequeg as dogs despite their airs. These two neighbor dogs would love nothing more dearly than to play with our dogs.

In our yard.

And so they have. One of the dogs, Archie, has learned that he can grab the 27-and-a-half-year-old pickets in his jaws and wrench them free. All he needs to do is get one of them out and he and the other dog can slip into our yard and romp through the flower beds. Great fun.

Flike and Queequeg go nuts at this intrusion, and we are out there ushering the dogs back into their yard and slamming a few more nails into the pickets. A couple of years ago we had bought a hundred spare pickets to use as the occasional need arose. Now with Archie at work, the few I had left are rapidly being put to use.

My neighbor apologizes for this, but it is happening now almost daily. Eventually, (after I buy more pickets I guess) I’ll have that entire side of the fence replaced. Sturdy enuf to withstand Archie for a few years, I hope.

bits and pieces

Posted May 2, 2015 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Finnegans, Rants and ruminations, Running

I’ve never understood why troubled characters in literature always needed to “hit absolute bottom” before they could begin to recover. I suppose that’s because they wouldn’t make good story unless they were high drama.

*   *   *

I am both happy and surprised to report that I’ve had a flurry of note taking for my stories, including for one of those Finnegans stories that I’ve never been able to fully abandon. And the Fathers and Sons stories continue to clamor for me to get them completed, at least in draft form. I think I have three or four stories to write to get them all down, then it’s a “simple” matter of integrating and refining them. After that, I don’t know. Submit them to agents? Story collection contests? Move on?

That’s all a hopeful sign that my brain is beginning to release me from the prison its kept me in for the last year. This might be a false alarm, of course, but I have actually been getting some quality writing done when I force myself to take the time to try. Perhaps I’m facing a dearth of motivation rather than one of creativity.

*   *   *

As for my running adventure, I’m doing well. As of today, I am two-thirds of the way through the three half marathon series I signed up for last summer. Don’t get me wrong. Running a half marathon is HARD WORK for me. But overall, this has not been the brutal festival of pain I feared it would be. I have the third of the three next Saturday, and I made the choice to drive the course recently, which is nearly always a good and bad thing. Lots and lots of long, rolling hills. Lots of them. Long ones. I don’t expect to set a personal record on this one.

I did managed to log 100 miles in April. I didn’t expect to given that I needed to allow for rest days before those half marathons (and those would cut down on my mileage), but I was three days from the end of the month and saw I only needed 14 miles to break triple digits, so out I went. My April 30 run was only four miles, but that was possibly the very worst run of my life. Maybe I hit absolute bottom on that one, and now all of my runs will be better in comparison.


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