alternate Pi Day?

Posted July 22, 2021 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic

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Traditionally, Pi Day is observed on the 14th day of the third month, 3/14, because the mathematical value of pi is 3.14. Back in my running life, I would run 3.14 miles (basically a 5K) on Pi Day. Increasingly, Pi Day observations involve eating pie, which is sort of wrong and sort of right.

Another way to think of the mathematical value of pi is to set it as a fraction, which is 22/7. Thus the 22nd day of the seventh month could also be observed as PI Day, don’t you think? (And eating pie could also be involved.)

throwback Thursday ~ my journal journey

Posted July 15, 2021 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic

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I continue to pick my way through my old journals. I’m up to #11 now, written in a notebook from Rockhurst College (now University) here in Kansas City in the last months of 1989. Beginning with journal #8 I had started using notebooks from colleges when my brother gave me one from Clemson, where he was attending at the time. Somehow I got one from the University of Nebraska at Omaha during this time as well. Not sure how that came into my possession.

I’m not finding much in the way of profound entries. In fact, I’m not finding anything profound. The journalling evolved in this passage from exclusively about story ideas to some musings about the state of my life or the world and then into notes I was taking for the feature articles I had begun getting published. For me anyway, there aren’t any rules about what should or shouldn’t go in my journals, so they’ve grown eclectic over the years.

I was also in grad school at this time, so some of my entries relate to that, and on the back pages the list of books I’d read reflects what I had been assigned in class. This is also the stretch where I began adding stickers to the inside of the front and back covers. Just tentatively though, with a few random stickers here and there. Today the inside covers are covered, and I collect so many stickers now that I put them on the walls of my cabin too.

I went on for pages and pages with notes about novels I would write some day, and for the most part I’m glad I didn’t. I think I was still searching for my subject and even my style. Would I write Thrillers? Mysteries? Science Fiction? Literature? Young Adult fiction? I was all over the board, and while I still don’t have a good grasp on my subject, I know what styles/genres I won’t be writing.

Oddly, I remembered having written extensively about a certain person I had worked with back in my St. Louis life, and these are the journals where those entries appeared. But it turns out I’d written far less about the matter than I thought. I also made far fewer entries than I would have expected about my move from St. Louis to Kansas City.

bits and pieces

Posted July 13, 2021 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic

The latest version of Word that has been pushed down to my laptop includes a feature that tags phrasing in documents to offer suggestions for improving it. This is more than just catching spelling errors or possible wrong word choices. This new feature suggests rephrasing of the highlighted text. So far, in all cases, the suggested phrasing is shorter and simpler. While this might be useful if I were writing a high school term paper or news article, it’s pretty much anathema to the playful narrative voice I tend to use in my stories and especially in Obelus.

For example, here is a sentence from Obelus that was cited: And he thought he could use some of that alive feeling at the moment, and not just because of the hangover. Word suggests that I change “at the moment” to “now” to be more concise, saying it would be clearer for the reader. The sentence is out of context, so it’s a bit unfair to use it as an example, but in context the character is pondering each moment in his so-called life, and I think my wording is exactly right to carry that point. Plus, my playful narrative voice. So far it hasn’t flagged any of my hundred-word sentences to make them more concise, but I’m sure that will be in a future upgrade. I guess my point is that this latest enhancement seems to be directed toward dumbing down the writing to make it more accessible to the lowest common denominator.

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The ponytail is now gone. It was never flattering; I don’t have silky hair that looks good on a person my age. I’m proud that I held out as long as I did since it meant staying out of a typically crowded and chatty place. Plus when I did finally get it cut, I went into the shop just as it opened, so there was only one other person present.

My hand still strays to the back of my head to touch the ponytail that’s no longer there. I think the experience of growing out my hair won’t be repeated (unless we face a new quarantine).

Anyway, civilized again.

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So I’m listening to podcasts, and some of them are very old (from more than ten years ago). In one I heard the participants discuss whether having work appear in a new-fangled online magazine was actually being published or not. Was it more legit to appear in a print journal instead? And the (tentative) conclusion at the time was that maybe it was good to appear online since so many more people would have the chance to read the work.

In more current podcasts (during and post-pandemic) the conversation sometimes turns to whether we should return to in-person readings at bookstores and similar venues. And the (tentative) conclusion is that doing a Zoom reading means appearing before so many more people than could have shown up at a bookstore reading.

Sunday Sentence

Posted July 4, 2021 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic

This is part of the SundaySentence project established by David Abrams to share the best sentence I had read in the last week, without context or commentary.

It is a road I have walked hundreds of times, a lovely lost tunnel through the trees, busy this morning with birds and little shy rustling things, my favorite road anywhere.

Source: Wallace Stegner, Crossing to Safety

Friday Feature ~ “Velvet Elvis”

Posted July 2, 2021 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Friday Feature

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“Velvet Elvis” was a watershed story for me. In some ways I feel like this was the story that signaled I had finally become a writer. This must be so because I’ve written posts about this particular story four times on this humble blog. This one gives the genesis story, and it was fun for me to go back to read how it had evolved in my head. Here is where I announce its original acceptance; I had forgotten that the acceptance email had been shunted to my spam bucket. (It still amazes me that I read some writing advice once that said you should never use a semicolon!) This post is a brief announcement that the story won an award. And this post was a self-congratulatory one, which just shows you how happy this story made me at the time. (Since self doubt seems to be written into every writer’s resume, I think I’m entitled to this little bit of satisfaction.)

I think what was most important for me with this story was that I had discovered my preferred writing style. It’s something that first appeared in “Moron Saturday” and continues to this day in Obelus and Latest Big Project. What I had achieved, and sustained, was a snarky, comic voice in the narrator. It is playful and fun. It feels engaging and congenial, yet it allows me to hide some commentary and judgment within it. It also feels the most natural to me when I sit down to write. It’s easy for me to call up and put to work. (I don’t know why I try to write any other way.)

If you go to those links about the other posts, you’ll see that this story had a busy life. I’m glad it’s still online, though the editor told me it will eventually drop off since the journal is no longer being published.

A completely unexpected outcome of this story was that I made two new writing friends because of it. The editor, Nathaniel Tower, was very forthcoming and supportive in his comments about the story, and I’ve maintained an email correspondence with him to this day. And out of the blue, one of the other writers published in that edition, Wesley Scott McMasters, friended me on Facebook, perhaps because he liked my story, and we now have a postcard correspondence going. The postcards are supposed to be of museums we visit, but the pandemic quashed that a bit. I’m hoping we can revive it, though I’m still a little hesitant about getting out in public.

So I like revisiting this story. It re-energizes me when the unavoidable frustrations of trying to be a creative person in a crass world come. Plus I think it’s a pretty good tale worth telling.

throwback Thursday ~ my journal journey

Posted July 1, 2021 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic

I continue to dip into my old journals when the mood strikes. So far I haven’t discovered anything profound (in the scribbled musings of a twenty-something) but I am recalling a lot of lost memories and puzzling over why certain story ideas seemed so compelling to me back then. (I seemed to have had a speculative fiction bent at the time.)

I’m through Journal #5 now, which carries me into the early days of 1986. Somewhere in Journal #4 I had transitioned to writing exclusively with a mechanical pencil, which I’ve always preferred. Just the feel of my hand pushing a mechanical pencil across a page seems therapeutic to me. I’d also become consistent about dating my entries. And I’ve found a few notes I made about the notes I made, so I must have gone back sometime to re-read what I had written. I am now penciling in current dated notes as well, reflecting on what I’m reading from my murky past. Not surprisingly, many of the sentiments I wrote about those long years ago are still pertinent to me now. Others I’m glad to leave behind.

An interesting development in Journal #5 is that I had begun recording things other than story ideas. Specifically, I made a number of entries about some of the people I was working with and how petty they were. Granted, I was a callow youth at the time, but some of my coworker’s/superior’s behaviors still strike me as unprofessional and embarrassing. I guess I was learning more about the ugliness of life.

And Journal #5 is when I began listing in the back pages the books I had read. (I’ve said several times that someone will eventually take this comprehensive list of these books and say, “This explains everything, Your Honor!”) I continue to record my read books today.

The final entry in Journal #5 was about a new class I would be taking at night school. (I had completed my undergraduate degree a few years before and had begun taking evening classes to indulge this crazy notion I had of being a writer.) This particular class was about Feature Writing, and I was amazed that the instructor actually intended us to write one or two articles that we would get published! Heady stuff! (And it worked. This was a very important class in my life.) One of the class requirements was to keep a journal that we would turn in periodically for his review. Well, I was a veteran journal keeper by then, and I would be starting a new one — Journal #6 — coincident to beginning the class.

nothing special

Posted June 28, 2021 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Roundrock

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Just a couple of round rocks on the retaining wall behind my cabin. When my daughter-in-law first visited here, she saw the random piles of round rocks I had collected and placed some of them atop the retaining wall. Now, of course, they must stay there. Except I generally find at least one that has fallen off the wall. I’m not sure how that can happen. Surely the wind isn’t strong enuf to do that. Critters, maybe? But why?

The New York grands will be here for the entire month of July and I expect we’ll be making a trip to the cabin to burn some burgers and make s’Mores (S’mores?), so there will likely be a lot of rock rearranging and marble scattering then.

bits and pieces

Posted June 21, 2021 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic

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The photo above is one I took out at Roundrock back in 2007, on a wet July day. There was water on my gravel road, and these bubbles were rising continuously in one small pool. I understand this is tessellation, which is an arrangement of shapes closely fitted together without gaps or overlapping. I didn’t notice until now, fourteen years later, that there is a tiny grasshopper in the photo at the lower left. I wonder what it’s doing today.

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I found a sentence I wrote in Obelus that is 238 words long, with one colon, 14 commas, and four parenthetical phrases. The word “pausing” appears in it five times. The narrative voice is supposed to be self conscious and even playful, so I don’t consider this monstrosity to be out of order. Perhaps it’s a kind of verbal tessallation. And it ain’t nothing compared to the 1,287-word sentence in Absalom, Absalom that Faulkner wrote (and I managed to read after two tries).

Also, the word “potentate” occurs four times in Obelus.

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The forays into my old journals continue. 1984 was a productive year it seems. I’m getting reacquainted with old story ideas I had, even well-developed plots for novels that never happened. But what strikes me most about these visits is getting lost memories sparked again. I found an entry recounting a particularly vivid dream I had had, and as I read my old account of it, the memory of the dream came back to me as though it had happened only last night. The same has been true with most of the general musings I’d had. I read this or that random thought and remember it fully now. That’s interesting and all, but what’s more interesting to me is that without these triggers, I think those memories would be lost to me forever. And if they were, would part of my make up be erased?

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I rode the 26-mile route on the Indian Creek and Blue River Trails on Saturday morning. It was already 81 degrees when I got to the start at 5:00 a.m., and I worried that it would be a bad ride. But the sun stayed behind the clouds most of the time, and by constantly moving, I had a nice breeze, so I was never hot. This was the first time this year that I’d ridden that route. A number of factors had conspired to prevent me before including the weather (flooded/muddy/messy trail) and my pit crew being in St. Louis on some ideal weekends (or me choosing to go to the cabin instead). But all that gave way last weekend and I got going.

About nine miles into my ride, I came upon this:

An immense red oak had fallen in the night and blocked the trail. (We didn’t have bad weather, and the tree looked to be healthy. But it came out, roots and all.) These things happen on the trail, and usually there is a way around them, but this one was more of a challenge. I ended up carrying my bike on my shoulder and stepping branch to branch on the left side of this photo. My feet never touched the ground until I was on the other side. And I only got a slight laceration on my left calf. But then it was back to riding.

I expected to have trouble completing the ride since I hadn’t ridden that distance since sometime last fall, but it all went smoothly. I did get a little tired near the end, but I attribute that to having been away from it so long. My legs never tired (though my quads got very tight and I decided to foam roll them when I got home), and my heart and lungs were in the game the entire time. So now I look forward to riding the route again.

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I am still wearing a mask when I go to public places even though I’ve been fully vaccinated. My county, purple in a red state, mostly well educated, and fairly affluent, still reports that less than half of the eligible population is fully vaccinated and just over half have had both shots. I don’t know what that’s about. A neighboring city (well, three hours away) is reporting an upsurge in COVID cases because of prevailing resistance to the vaccination. As the last election showed, they live among us, and they are more common than believed.

Friday Feature ~ “Not Close”

Posted June 18, 2021 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Friday Feature

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This story of mine is quite different from just about everything else I write. First of all, it’s short: only 930 words. Plus is deadly serious. And it’s structured oddly. I have alternating snippets going on inside my protagonist’s mind and then with her interacting with her boss. She’s trying to ask for some days off during a busy time but doesn’t want to give the reason why. The story ends with the words “not close.”

I’m not really sure where this story idea came from. It’s an anomaly in my works. I don’t remember setting out to tell this story or making notes about it. I guess it will always be a little puzzling to me.

But it was published in The Adroit Journal in the fall of 2011. This was in the early days of The Adroit Journal, and it was online only then. And now that issue isn’t even archived. It’s gone altogether. Shame.

bits and pieces

Posted June 16, 2021 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic

My journey through my old journals continues. I’m on #3 now, which began in the last days of December in the long-ago year of 1983. I’m not finding profound insights yet, and a lot of it is cringe worthy, but it’s fun to see how I could go on for pages about some plot idea I had at the time — usually about a young man who was misunderstood — developing directions and characters. So far, one of those nascent notes did make it into a published story and another impressed me enuf that I wrote it into my current journal with the thought of developing it further. I was still making my entries with whatever pen or pencil was at hand, though a red felt-tipped pen seemed to be uncommonly available. But I was beginning to make entries with a mechanical pencil in this journal, and I think I was starting to see how much I enjoyed writing with .05 lead, which is what I use exclusively today.

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I received a rejection from The Saturday Evening Post, if you can believe it!

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We’re both fully vaccinated, but we’re still being cautious in public. We carry masks (and wear them) in stores, but we don’t go “shopping” as much as dash in, get what we need, and get out. We’re seeing family and friends more but there’s no rush to return to the old normal.

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There are six cereal-suitable spoons in my kitchen drawer. Only two of them match. I can wonder where the other matching spoons have gone, but it seems more intriguing to speculate on where the four oddballs have come from. How did they find their way into my kitchen drawer?

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I’m still on the look out for interesting podcasts, so if you have a suggestion, let me know.

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