spherical stones

Posted October 4, 2017 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Roundrock

so, round rocks.


bits and pieces

Posted October 2, 2017 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic

Tags: , ,

This is why I call the place Roundrock. I have hundreds of these (though this one is a better specimen than most).


I was born in Kansas City and raised in St. Louis. All of my children were born in St. Louis and raised in Kansas City. There was a time in my life when I had four children under four years old, and three were in diapers. Now my daughter has three children under three years old, and three are in diapers!


I dream in color. How about you?


Wow! This post was more than a year ago, and I’m still not “finished” with the One-Match Fire stories. But I do have an anecdote about another car restoration. The man in that earlier post did finish restoring the truck, and I often see it on my drive to the park to walk the dogs. But lately, at a different house not very far away, I’ve seen a vintage car in different driveway. It’s old and rusty and has obviously had some work done to it since the body shows bits of primer gray here and there. I began to fear that I would have a new car to watch as it progressed to mint condition again (but maybe not — it hasn’t been there the last few times I drove by). The beast is older than I am, but here’s the thing: I can remember cars like this one driving around in my youth. I’m feeling vintage.


I mentioned last week that I was interested in going to a book discussion about the novel The Things They Carried, but that it was on the evening of the day I returned from New York after a week away. Now it turns out that The Kansas City Public Library is hosting the author, Tim O’Brien, later this month, and he will give a presentation on the book. It’s part of the NEA Big Read. I’m tempted to go (though it is half way downtown on a weeknight). Part of me regrets not going to the earlier discussion, so maybe I’ll make it to this one.


I have a green light from my doctor to resume running, though we haven’t figured out what’s going on. He’s persuaded it isn’t my heart (I never thought it was), but I am scheduled for more tests, and he might refer me to a sports medicine specialist. So now I have to begin training, pretty much from scratch, for a half marathon on a hilly course later this month!


When I was a wee lad (long before I became vintage) I remember checking out a book from the school library called Little Dog Little. I couldn’t have been more than 10 years old at the time, and yet to this day I remember that book. I even remember parts of the plot. I recently looked for it on ABE Books (you know about ABE Books, right?) and found only two copies available. It’s listed as rare, which suggests to me it’s sought for, and the paperback copy (ex-library) is $14.00, which isn’t too bad. The hardcover, however, is $199.00! I must not have been the only boy who loved that book.

technical difficulties (?)

Posted September 27, 2017 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic

In recent weeks it appears that some of your comments to this humble blog have been getting dumped into the spam folder. I happened to peek into there the other day and found a few that I quickly released for posting. And since the spam folder is periodically purged by WordPress, it’s possible that there were earlier, legit comments in there that are now gone forever.

I’ll try to be more diligent about checking that folder, but please don’t think for a second that I am dismissing or deleting anyone’s comments because I am not.


Posted September 26, 2017 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic

Have you ever heard of the word “lookit”?

This was a not-uncommon word in my household growing up. Chiefly it was used by my mother, generally in exasperation. “Lookit, Paulie. That’s no way to meet girls!” and the like. I soon enuf reached an age when I disliked the diminutive of my name, but I can remember that I had always objected to the word “lookit.” Even in my tender years I was apparently paying attention to words, their usage, their meaning. (There was even a time when I was a strict advocate of “proper” grammar, but I don’t want to talk about that.)

If this citation can be believed, “lookit” is a word of international if nonstandard usage in the English-speaking world. Even so, I can’t recall ever hearing it in the wild (or even seeing it in print) since leaving my childhood household. Have you? I’ve wondered if it might be a regionalism and that I might someday stumble upon a nest of users as I travel. Hasn’t happened yet.

As I said, my mother was the primary user in my childhood home. Perhaps one or two of my siblings acquired it as a result, but if so, it seems to have withered on the vine of their lexicon. My mother had a peripatetic childhood, her father being an itinerant school photographer who went where the work was. She was born in Connecticut but also lived in New York, Michigan, Ohio, and Missouri (before settling in for the most recent decade in Kentucky). Somewhere along the way she picked up that word and it became a permanent part of her lexicon.

I certainly respect the fact that our language is continually evolving. (My use of “enuf” is my own effort at contributing to this.) From what I can find in my limited research, though, “lookit” is fading from usage. I’m fooling around with some notes for a story idea that would be semi-autobiographical, and I’ve thought about having the mother character use the word “lookit” in her speech. Obviously, I would have to go light on this, using it merely to give a gradation to her character (though also to give her dialog that doesn’t need an atrribution of “she said” or “she burbled”*). The fact that the story would be semi-autobiographical and the period of the mother’s presence would be in the past, her use of the word would be chronologically apt. And, assuming an editor would allow it to remain, it would re-introduce the word to the world. I want to do my part.


*For more on dialog attributions and my strong opinions about them, you might find your way to this ancient post on this humble blog (and its links, and the links within those links). I can remember that I was reacting at the time to several blogs I was reading then that were advocates of conventional writing wisdom, and I see as I re-read that post that even then it wasn’t so much the conventional wisdom I objected to but to the uncritical acceptance of it. Also, to that list of writers at the end I could now add Elizabeth Strout. Her use of sentence fragments (my own violation of choice) and even comma splices did not prevent her from winning the Pulitzer Prize.

the man with the notes

Posted September 25, 2017 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Process, Ramblings Off Topic

In a past life, in a different city, someone much like me only younger, say 30-or-so years younger, would spend his lunch hours freed from the office at the nearby library. He would pull the book he was reading off the shelf (unless it was checked out since his last visit) and read away his hour of freedom, feeling both righteous and blissed out.

There were plenty of regulars at this library, including one man who clearly had mental health issues approaching schizophrenia. He would sit at a nearby table, murmuring to himself for long stretches. Often he would pull out scraps of paper with notes written on them. He would generally just read his notes, but on rare occasions he would add to what was written there (using the stubby pencils that every library seems mandated to have). Then he would stuff them in his shirt pocket, only to take them out soon after to trouble himself over them again.

That fellow much like me (though 30-or-so years younger) would always wonder what the notes contained. Then one day the man rose abruptly and left the library, leaving his small pile of notes on scraps behind. Well, what was that fellow much like me to do but amble over to that table and fluidly slip those notes on scraps into his own pocket. Then he would return to his office nearby and read the notes.

Not surprisingly, he found that the notes contained gibberish. Inchoate and without context, the words made no sense outside of the schizophrenic man’s mental universe. That man much like me still has those notes somewhere, 30-or-so years later.

Fast forward 20-or-so years and that man is in a different city and participated in a book discussion group that attracted all sorts of people (what is it about libraries?), including one woman who rarely spoke but did often lift her purse from the floor and rifle her fingers through it, pulling out — yes — scraps of paper with notes on them. She would examine them, refile them, pull them out again, re-sort them, then put her purse down and seem to pay attention. All the while the rest of the group continued with the discussion of whatever book was the subject for the evening.

And then to the present day. That man much like me (now 30-or-so years on) is keeping his own notes on scraps of paper. They are ways to capture the brilliant thoughts he has for his stories when he is not before his computer (usually when he is working for the man though also when he is at his little cabin in the Ozarks). They are captured until they can be transcribed, for such brilliant thoughts escape him too often, hence his need to write them down.

And sometimes during the day he will take these notes from his pocket to re-read them, sort them, and even add a few thoughts to them. They all make perfect sense within the context of the stories where they belong, but one supposes that to someone who happens to luck upon them left unattended somewhere, they must seem inchoate and without context. But at least that man much like me doesn’t murmur to himself. Much.

a fire sermon

Posted September 20, 2017 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic

Tags: , , ,

Early in my college life I had decided that I needed to keep my handwritten notes for classes (do people even do that any longer?) in notebooks with my college logo on the front. As an undergrad, I attended the University of Missouri at St. Louis (UMSL, which we said was SLUM spelled sideways). Grad school was at the University of Missouri at Kansas City (UMKC, which we couldn’t do much with but you see above that the mascot is a kangaroo, named Casey, the original of which was drawn by a fellow named Walt Disney, who was living in Kansas City at the time).

Though none of my undergrad notebooks have survived (and why would they? I was a business major!), I had kept all of my grad school notebooks for some reason, and now, decades later, I still have them and haven’t opened them once. Thus as part of my ongoing effort to declutter and simplify my life, I’ve begun taking the old paper things to my little cabin in the Ozarks to burn in the fire ring.

You see above the first of these to contribute their essence to the ash build up. This was from one of my lit classes; of all of the notes I might have/should have kept to reread for possible enlightenment, this would have been the one, but it was the first my hand fell on in the cull, and cull I must, so off to the pyre it went. In the photo above it sits on the bed of coals I’d already created on a recent visit to Roundrock. Note the green fence parts also there.

The notebook sat for a surprisingly long time on the coals before the flames kissed it. Perhaps I was being given the chance to reconsider my plan. But I didn’t, and eventually the paper and cardboard pages were transforming themselves.

I burned the notebook whole. I didn’t tear out pages to use as tinder, nor did I remove the loose papers that were handed out in class, folded, and duly slipped into the notebook by me at some distant time. It was consumed as a unit, though it went up surprisingly slowly.

And thus one notebook is gone, its pages transformed to fine ash and its spiral spine now twisted and resting on that ash, eventually to be buried itself in further ash. I think I’ve said before that it somehow warms my black and shriveled heart to think that all of these unlikely things are accumulating in the fire ring and that someday, perhaps, someone will come upon them and marvel at why they are there.*

I have perhaps a dozen more notebooks from my school days to consign to the fire. There are also various files for projects that I was once in love with but that never happened (mostly ideas for magazine articles), so I have plenty of material for future cleansing fires. Plus, now that the chainsaw is fixed, I find that I have far more firewood than I can ever use for my infrequent campfires on overnight trips to the cabin. Burn it all!

*My engineer son says that the chemical composition of the ash combined with rainwater will likely cause the metal in the fire ring to dissolve relatively quickly and that little of this story-telling evidence will remain after a time. See, these kinds of things are the reason my heart is black and shriveled.


I also keep handwritten journals — I have for more than thirty years — in spiral notebooks with college logos on the front. I don’t intend ever to burn them, and at least one of my children has said that he intends to read them after I die so he can get to know me better, a task that might be better undertaken while I am still alive, no? My sister-in-law in Chicago has taken it upon herself to keep me supplied with these notebooks, and having raised three high-achieving children, all of whom have completed college and two of whom has completed grad school (with one currently in grad school), I am oversupplied with notebooks (Syracuse, Northwestern, Villa Nova, Loyola) and can’t write entries fast enuf to keep pace with her supply ambitions.

grandparenting is hard work

Posted September 18, 2017 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Fathers and Sons, Ramblings Off Topic

In its own way, of course, with a different set of benefits.

The twins are now two months old and have grown more aware of the world they’ve found themselves in. That includes the face and cooing of their grandfather (though Evie seems more responsive to low tones so I use a deep voice with her more often). There have been countless diaper changes, plenty of spit up wiped, numerous outfit changes, much bouncing on knees, miles walked with babe in arms, and never-long-enuf periods of patting and swaying to keep the little ones asleep. Added to all of this is their older brother, Kenneth, who demands (and deserves) equal attention. I am reluctantly getting used to “Me” being used as the subject of a sentence. (“Me no want go to bed!”) Plus mom and dad, somewhere in the background. (And a dog.) I’m just about over calling Everett, Emmett and Evie, Ela, and I’ve gotten good about passing through a room with my gaze averted as my daughter is feeding her babies.

And all of it ends for me soon as my week in New York closes. (My wife stays a week longer.) Then back to my quiet Midwestern life, ransoming the dogs from the kennel where they’ve been chillin’, restocking my refrigerator, possibly mowing my lawn, maybe going to a book discussion the day I get home (The Things They Carried), getting reacquainted with my bed and pillow, and back to work to face the hundreds of urgent emails and many missed deadlines waiting for me.

And yet, despite all of it, I have managed to get some serious work done on that One-Match Fire story, “Special-Blest.” The story, which I had intended as a chance to visit again with two of my characters (three if you count the flashback and four if you count another character mentioned and five if you include the dog) and a way to flesh out some relationship background. The piece has swollen to 4,300+ words, which is about double what I had expected it would be, and right now the ending seems rushed and incomplete. Some of that bloat will fall before the red pen. Some may get reworked to become more concise. But the bulk of it, I think, will remain. It seems that I began working on this story nearly a year ago, which is not quite right. I must have begun collecting notes for a story idea then for that is the origin date for the file, but I certainly didn’t begin working on a story with form to it until this summer.

And then, a comprehensive re-reading of the entire beast of a novel, looking for opportunities to make oblique references and foreshadowing as well as to make the tone more uniform (the earlier stories are lighter). Then, ugh, submission time.