Nanowrimo Day Four

Ultimate goal – 50,000 words.
Daily goal – 1,667 words
Goal total so far – 6,667 words

Words written today – 1,722
Words written so far – 7,100 words
Words to goal – +433

Oak Point Nature Preserve

From this picture you would think I was out in the country somewhere, cruising the Great Plains, rather than in the heart of the urban, tony suburb of Plano, Texas.


“I ain’t a Communist necessarily, but I have been in the red all my life.”
― Woody Guthrie

As I committed the other day I am doing Nanowrimo – the National Novel Writing Month this November – writing a 50,000 word (small) novel in a month. Not necessary a good novel, or even a readable novel, but one of 50K words.

This was a tough writing day. Since I was off work, I wanted to really spend some time and maybe double my word count in case I needed a day off this week (which looks awfully busy). But shit happens and a good bit of it did. I managed to write a couple hundred words at lunch and didn’t think I’d be able to get a lot done at night, but I managed to sit down and hammer out my quota.

I’m not to happy with what I wrote, but it is what it is. I wrote the backstory of a new character – I originally intended him to be killed early, but now that I’ve spent so long on his backstory I might keep him around for a while – maybe make him an antagonist. He is a nasty piece of work with an odd name – Prime Meridian.

I started out with the story of how his grandfather, Isaac Meridian, established the start of the family fortune by foreclosing on the misery of the  people of the plains during the great depression and the dust bowl. Too much exposition – but this is Nanowrimo, so I keep typing.

Snippet of what I wrote:

Each little town had its own movie theater, city hall, and carefully tended town square. Every weekend there would be picture shows, dances, and even traveling entertainment – tiny circuses, barnstormers, or small concert orchestras – moving from town to town earning what they could – which was usually enough. People would travel from town to town enjoying the times, making friends.

Nobody ever thought the good times would end. Until they did.

It all happened with horrific speed. The rains stopped. Nobody had understood that the rainy time was the rare exception, not the rule. The land quickly reverted back to what it had always been – a wind-blasted near desert. The crops died and then the soil began to blow. Vast dust clouds began to form as millions of tons of topsoil were blown off barren fields and carried for hundreds of miles.

Walls of dust, moving mountains of dust, shot across the plains, devouring everything in sight. To be hit by this was like walking through a storm of razors. People caught in their own yards would be forced to grope for the doorstep. Cars were forced to a standstill, and no light in the world could penetrate that swirling murk. They lived with the dust, ate it, slept with it, and watched it strip everyone of possessions and the hope of possessions

A Month of Short Stories 2017, Day 21 – Only Sunshine by Becky Mandelbaum

Belle Plaine Service Area, Kansas Turnpike

Over several years, for the month of June, I wrote about a short story that was available online each day of the month…. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.

Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year – In September this time… because it is September.

Today’s story, for day 21 – Only Sunshine by Becky Mandelbaum

Read it online here:
Only Sunshine by Becky Mandelbaum

Baby Julia was a baby, but even she understood that she was nothing much in the grand scheme of things. She would never be one of the greats: the rain or the wind or the dirt or the sky. But maybe, just maybe, she could participate in some peripheral way—by touching or tasting or, even better, by eating the celestial thing that she admired most. Why not? All around her, things were consuming other things: caterpillars were munching leaves, the mailbox was ingesting letters, the soil was drinking rain. Not to mention that every night, some invisible glutton took another bite of the moon. Eventually there’d be a new one—full and silver and miraculously intact—but without fail, that anonymous mouth would slowly eat it back down to a measly grain of rice. And then there was her mother who, every day, without fail, put the same plastic spoon in her mouth: pudding, applesauce, mashed peas. So why not this? Why not her and why not today and why not the sun?

—-Becky Mandelbaum, Only Sunshine

The most difficult question I get asked, and I get asked it a lot, is, “Where are you from?”

For most people that’s pretty easy, but I have no idea what to say. The most accurate answer is “nowhere,” but that seems pretty insolent as does “everywhere” which means exactly the same thing. Usually I say, “I’ve lived in Dallas for a long, long time,” which is accurate and probably the best answer. I am from where I live and I live where I’m from.

One place that does hold a claim on me is Kansas. My family is from there. I lived there as a youth whenever my father was on combat tours and couldn’t take his family along. We were stationed in the Northeast corner of the state for a while (on a base and in a town known for its prisons). In high school, for a few months I was a refugee there after being evacuated from a terrible earthquake. I went to college there (since my family was from Kansas, I was granted in-state tuition, which made the decision easy. My nickname for at least the first year or so was “banana boat,” as in “Bill, you are an American, but you act like you fell off the banana boat.”) My first job, for three years, after school was in Kansas.

So the state does have its hooks in me to some extent. But is it home? Nah.

There is no home. I hear stories like, “So and so went to school in Shreveport but after a month she was homesick and came back.” I have no idea what that means. Homesick is an emotion that I have never felt. When I travel I feel as much at home in some bland business hotel as I do in my bed in the house I make payments on. Which is, not at all. Or completely. Which means the same thing.

Today’s author, Becky Mandelbaum, is from Kansas and writes about Kansas (though she no longer lives there). Her book of short stories is called Bad Kansas – which is a pretty compelling title.

I read several of her works online and chose one that doesn’t have any obvious connection to that state. It’s called Only Sunshine and is a bit of magical realism (light on the realism) about an infant that eats the sun. It’s an effective piece – you really feel for the parents of the doomed baby and their futile attempts to stop the thermonuclear fusion.

I enjoyed the delicate tone and the simple story. I’ve been around enough babies to be pretty sure this is how they look at things and they would gobble old sol if they had the chance.

While I was in school, even though I was a chemistry major I tried to slip into as many advanced literature classes as I could, wedging them in between Differential Equations and Physical Chemistry. One that I took was “Literature of the Great Plains.” On the first day the professor apologized, “there isn’t really any great literature written on or about the Great Plains – we will have to make do with what we have.”

One concept is still with me. In the classic Giants in the Earth by O. E. Rölvaag, a women is essentially driven crazy by the sky and the fact that out on the plain, you can lie down, look up, and see nothing except the sky.

Beret had now formed the habit of constantly watching the prairie; out in the open, she would fix her eyes on one point of the sky line–and then, before she knew it, her gaze would have swung around the whole compass; but it was ever, ever the same. . . . Life it held not; a magic ring lay on the horizon, extending upward into the sky; within this circle no living form could enter; it was like the chain inclosing the king’s garden, that prevented it from bearing fruit. . . . How could human beings continue to live here while that magic ring encompassed them? And those who were strong enough to break through were only being enticed still farther to their destruction! . . .

They had been here four months now; to her it seemed like so many generations; in all this time they had seen no strangers except the Indians–nor would they be likely to see any others. . . . Almost imperceptibly, her terror because of the stakes which her husband had burned had faded away and disappeared. . . . They had probably belonged to the Indians, so it did not matter; he had become fast friends with them. . . .

People had never dwelt here, people would never come; never could they find home in this vast, wind-swept void. . . . Yes, they were the only ones who had been bewitched into straying out here! . . . Thus it was with the erring sons of men; they were lost before they knew it; they went astray without being aware; only others could see them as they were. Some were saved, and returned from their wanderings, changed into different people; others never came back. . . . God pity them: others never came back! . . .

At these times, a hopeless depression would take hold of her; she would look around at the circle of the sky line; although it lay so far distant, it seemed threatening to draw in and choke her. . . .

. . . So she grew more taciturn, given to brooding thoughts.

But then the unthinkable took place: some one from outside broke through the magic circle. . . .

Today’s story made me think about Giants in the Earth… I’m not sure why. Maybe the opening line of Rölvaag’s book.

Bright, clear sky over a plain so wide that the rim of the heavens cut down on it around the entire horizon. . . . Bright, clear sky, to-day, to-morrow, and for all time to come.

. . . And sun! And still more sun! It set the heavens afire every morning; it grew with the day to quivering golden light–then softened into all the shades of red and purple as evening fell. . . . Pure colour everywhere. A gust of wind, sweeping across the plain, threw into life waves of yellow and blue and green. Now and then a dead black wave would race over the scene . . . a cloud’s gliding shadow . . . now and then. . . .

Interview with Becky Mandelbaum:

How do you feel about social media to promote your writing, and do you use it?

I usually don’t like using social media to promote my writing. I like to write because writing feels, in many ways, like a rejection of all the technology we’ve come to rely on. A story on paper is so simple. You have the text, the reader, and the exchange. I think bringing other mediums into the picture can ruin that interaction. Of course, it can also enhance it in other, peripheral ways. I’ve liked several of my favorite journals on Facebook, and it’s nice to see what’s going on with those publications.
—-From Midwestern Gothic

Keeper of the Plains,
Wichita, Kansas

Outside, For A While Anyway

“They had laughed. They had leaned on each other and laughed until the tears had come, while everything else–the cold, and where he’d go in it–was outside, for a while anyway.”
― Raymond Carver, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

One of my favorite new places in Dallas is the Cold Beer Company. It’s on the far east side of Deep Ellum, and has been built as the rebirth of an interesting old building. It’s in a good location, has nice outdoor seating, and, of course, a good selection of cold beer.

I rode my bike there and noticed the brick patio entrance. Right in the middle of the paving was a single brick marked “Lawrence, Kansas.” I asked the waitress about that and she said one of the owners went to Kansas University, my alma mater.

“And he likes to talk about it,” she said.

So when he came out of the back I asked him about KU and the waitress was right – he liked to talk about it. He seemed a little sheepish about the brick. “They weren’t supposed to put it right there in the middle.” I’m not sure I believed him.

We talked about Lawrence and the Kansas winters. When I would look around, the waitress and bartender would roll their eyes.

I think they had heard it all before – many times before.

Paving brick in front of the Cold Beer Company Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas

Paving brick in front of the Cold Beer Company
Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas

Patio in front of the Cold Beer Company, Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas

Patio in front of the Cold Beer Company,
Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas

My Xootr Swift folding bike in the cool bike rack in front of the Cold Beer Company Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas

My Xootr Swift folding bike in the cool bike rack in front of the Cold Beer Company
Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas

What You See Over There Aren’t Giants, But Windmills

“Destiny guides our fortunes more favorably than we could have expected. Look there, Sancho Panza, my friend, and see those thirty or so wild giants, with whom I intend to do battle and kill each and all of them, so with their stolen booty we can begin to enrich ourselves. This is nobel, righteous warfare, for it is wonderfully useful to God to have such an evil race wiped from the face of the earth.”
“What giants?” Asked Sancho Panza.
“The ones you can see over there,” answered his master, “with the huge arms, some of which are very nearly two leagues long.”
“Now look, your grace,” said Sancho, “what you see over there aren’t giants, but windmills, and what seems to be arms are just their sails, that go around in the wind and turn the millstone.”
“Obviously,” replied Don Quijote, “you don’t know much about adventures.”
― Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote

(click to enlarge)Wind Turbine Blade on a tractor trailer, Interstate 35, just south of the Kansas/Oklahoma border.

(click to enlarge)
Wind Turbine Blade on a tractor trailer, Interstate 35, just south of the Kansas/Oklahoma border.

Man’s Heart, Away From Nature, Becomes Hard

“Wherever forests have not been mowed down, wherever the animal is recessed in their quiet protection, wherever the earth is not bereft of four-footed life – that to the white man is an ‘unbroken wilderness.’

But for us there was no wilderness, nature was not dangerous but hospitable, not forbidding but friendly. Our faith sought the harmony of man with his surroundings; the other sought the dominance of surroundings.

For us, the world was full of beauty; for the other, it was a place to be endured until he went to another world.

But we were wise. We knew that man’s heart, away from nature, becomes hard.”
― Chief Luther Standing Bear

Another view of the Keeper of the Plains sculpture, Wichita, Kansas

Another view of the Keeper of the Plains sculpture, Wichita, Kansas

We Are The Goon Squad And We’re Coming To Town, Beep Beep

There’s a brand new dance
but I don’t know its name
That people from bad homes
do again and again
It’s big and it’s bland
full of tension and fear
They do it over there but we don’t do it here
—-David Bowie, Fashion

Belle Plaine Service Area, Kansas Turnpike

Belle Plaine Service Area, Kansas Turnpike

As a tiny young kid I rode in cars along the Kansas Turnpike so many times that the strip of asphalt took on a life of its own in my tiny young mind. Looming large in the imaginary mythology inside my bean were the oddly-shaped proto-spherical water towers that emerged from the featureless plains at each service area. They were like silver spaceships marking off the molasses crawling miles.

This photo is of the Belle Plaine service area – recently rebuilt after a devastating grease fire in the resident Hardees. The one I remember most is the tower from the Matfield Green service station – one of the most oddly beautiful and weirdly desolate places on earth (in my opinion… and I know desolation when I see it).

A Vision Was Given In My Youth

And I, to whom so great a vision was given in my youth, — you see me now a pitiful old man who has done nothing, for the nation’s hoop is broken and scattered. There is no center any longer, and the sacred tree is dead.
—-Black Elk, from Black Elk Speaks

Keeper of the Plains sculpture, Wichita, Kansas

Keeper of the Plains sculpture, Wichita, Kansas

That Student’s Letter As A Precious Treasure

“The poor girl ws keeping that student’s letter as a precious treasure, and had run to fetch it, her only treasure, because she did not want me to go away without knowing that she, too, was honestly and genuinely loved; that she, too, was addressed respectfully. No doubt that letter was destined to lie in her box and lead to nothing. But none the less, I am certain that she would keep it all her life as a precious treasure, as her pride and justification, and now at such a minute she had thought of that letter and brought it with naive pride to raise herself in my eyes that I might see, that I, too, might think well of her.”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes from Underground

Woman writing in a Moleskine Notebook, Wichita, Kansas

Woman writing in a notebook, Wichita, Kansas

Woman writing in a Moleskine Notebook, Wichita, Kansas

Woman writing in a notebook, Wichita, Kansas

Woman writing in a Moleskine Notebook, Wichita, Kansas

Woman writing in a notebook, Wichita, Kansas

I have a stack of Moleskine notebooks, going back years. In the times I didn’t have a blog – I wrote in them every day. Now, it’s more hit and miss – collections of thoughts, ideas, and stuff I want to remember. Some snippets of truth and more of lies.

It’s the slightly oily cover, the cream paper and the way that fountain pen ink feathers. A permanent part of a person’s mind – converted into reality and held there for posterity. Writing in a Moleskine notebook is a calming thing – maybe because of the way it holds the relentless advance of time at bay for a little while.