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

Tags: ,

“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

Tags:

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

Tags: ,

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.

__________

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.

__________

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?

__________

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.

__________

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

Tags:

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.

__________

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

__________

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.

__________

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?

__________

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

__________

Sunday Sentence

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

Tags:

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.

Yes, Britain can still teach America something; a mellow culture knows how to meander; steams nearer their source burst and rush and tumble.

Source: H.F. Heard, “The Enchanted Garden” in The Game Is Afoot

throwback Thursday ~ journal snippets

Posted June 10, 2021 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic

I can see from peeking into my second journal that I was beginning to find a broader use for it. I guess because I had filled one with notes for story ideas and then found that I still had more to put down and needed a second journal convinced me that I had another tool in my tool box. This was when I began dating my entries, and I started putting in things other than story ideas. Early in Journal #2 I find some notes I made about a writing group I was in. We met at a man’s apartment and presented our stories that we would go home and read to discuss the next week. I remember feeling bad because I couldn’t write stories fast enuf to carry my weight in the group.

But I also began making observations about life, or rather, writing down my observations with some thought to preserving them or developing them, I guess.

The one below is from 27SEP1972. I remember the second part of the two incidents but not the first.

One day I anticipated meeting in person an individual I had known only through telephone conversations. As they day dragged on I found in myself many surprising notions. Fear, lack of self confidence, embarrassment, anxiety, worry — all over meeting someone. Not only was I afraid he wouldn’t be as I pictured him, I felt he would be disappointed in me. As it turned out, the meeting came and went so quickly that there was little time for evaluations.

Later, I ran into an old teacher I had in high school. I had seen his face in the crowd several times during the evening and was hoping to avoid him. Back in school he was my confidant. I poured out my guts to him, so to speak, and became emotionally attached, in the way a high school sophomore can. Seeing him years later, I was sure, would be embarrassing, and drawn out and (not that!) much embracing and tears. When this meeting came about he didn’t even remember my name, and was in such a hurry to go somewhere he said little more than hello. My potential embarrassment that he would recognize me changed to indignance that he didn’t.

(Pretty sure “indignance” isn’t in the dictionary.)

overnight at Roundrock

Posted June 7, 2021 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Roundrock

Tags: ,

The dogs and I made a dash down to Roundrock on Friday afternoon. My wife had driven to St. Louis the day before to help care for Small Paul, leaving me unsupervised. My work day ended early, so I packed a few things, got the dogs into the truck (harder than it should be), and drove to my little cabin with plenty of daylight to spare. (Also, it was neighborhood garage sale weekend where I live, so I was happy to get away.)

I had no firm agenda for the trip, in large part because the dogs need to be managed. The little one, who is willful and disobedient, is coyote and bobcat bait, so I either have to keep my eyes on him all the time or shut him in the cabin. The big one can protect himself from any likely predators but not from his own insecurities. He is terrified of distant gunshots and nearby buzzing flies. Either will send him into the corner of the cabin where he’ll pant and drool. And if he’s not kept stimulated (that is, me throwing a stick for him), then he will pace through the trees in the same circle. He probably needs a therapist.

So getting anything done was going to be spotty. I had an idea of weed whipping the grassy area in front of the cabin, but when I saw it I realized it could wait till a later visit; it wasn’t very tall yet. I also thought about spreading more gravel around the cabin, but that would have involved pulling up a lot of grass and weeds first (see the background in the photo above), plus the gravel pile is diminishing, and I want to have some left for when my NYC grands come for a visit next month. I expect playing in that to be the biggest hit of their visit.

But I did have some unfinished business from my two most recent trips. I had cut down a tree earlier with a specific intention two trips ago. On my last trip I did a little refining of the stump, but the screws I had brought to finish the work were the wrong size (their heads were too small), so that left getting the job done for a later visit, this last weekend’s visit.

Well, I had better screws this time, so I got to finish what I had started. Behold:

That weather vane had perched on the peak of my garage roof for many years until we had a ridge vent put in. (We later had the ridge vent removed. Too leaky.) For at least a decade the weather vane collected dust in my basement, but when the four offspring were here for Mothers Day, they took some time to paw through their things in the basement, and this resurfaced with their efforts. So out to the cabin it went, and after three visits, I managed to get it installed, more or less vertically, and showing the cardinal points as accurately as I can without knowing the angle of declination for my bit of the world. (Basically, your compass doesn’t point to true north.)

And so the job was done. Sunset was going to be around 8:30 that evening, and campfires are at their best after dark, but building a successful one-match fire takes sufficient preparation, and I wanted the wood to burn down to mostly glowing coals by dark (so I didn’t have to worry about controlling a loose fire in the dark — I’ve never had a fire get out of control, and maybe it’s because I worry about it so much that I can say that).

My only other desire for this visit was to hear a whippoorwill call, and that generally happens after dark, so staying up tending a campfire seemed like a good way to be in the right place at the right time.

Seemed like, anyway. I did not hear the bird even once. That was disappointing. I think this is the prime season of the year for hearing them too. I’ve read that they are diminishing in their range, but surely my forest can support a few.

I eventually retired to the cabin for the night and slept in until the shameful hour of 5:30! I had been ambitious to make myself a hot breakfast (oatmeal and tea) and give the dogs a can of store-bought food, but when I rose, I lost enthusiasm and instead fed the dogs more treats and had a piece of cheese and some iced tea for my breakfast. The day was wide open for other chores or just knocking around, but it’s bug season, and the dogs still needed their management, so when I suggested we just go home, they rushed to the truck and stood by eagerly for me to open the door so they could get it.

With them corralled, I got about shutting down the place. Mostly this involves putting things away and cleaning up. I always make sure to close all of the windows (having forgotten only once). I swept the braided run in the cabin (how does it get so dirty when no one is there to walk on it?), made the bed the dogs and I slept in, swept the front porch, and locked the door. (Twice we’ve come to the cabin to find the door open! Not sure how that happened, but I’m guessing I didn’t latch it properly when I left before.) Then we drove out. I made a couple of detours to the small towns I pass along the way just to see how things are going, but I was home with most of Saturday still before me. Laundry. A hot shower. Fresh clothes. All of the usual comforts of a weekend.