Goosegrease



I realize it’s been a few weeks since my last post. Given that one of my most recent blog posts concerned whether or not to continue blogging you might have guessed that you were finally rid of me. No such luck!

On the contrary, I’ve actually had some interesting things going on on the writing front. I’ve been working on a few new pieces for the blog, but also, get this, I seem to have actually sold my first piece of writing for real money. Well, I haven’t got the check in my hot little hand yet, but I have apparently had an article accepted for publication in Plane and Pilot magazine. I’m not quite sure which issue it will appear in but I’m pretty excited about it and hoping it leads to more in the future. We shall see.

Also, I’ve joined a writing group based in Muscatine called Writers on the Avenue. It is comprised of local writers, some amateurs, some with a number of publications under their belts, and all friendly and eager to hear each other’s work. We get together once a month and bring something we have written to read out loud. There are poets and comedy writers and essayists and novelists. It has been great fun, so far.

One of the most entertaining parts is a word challenge exercise. At the end of the meeting each member, in secret, writes down a word on a piece of paper. The words are collected and make up the challenge list for the next meeting. Each member is obliged to write an essay, article, poem, short-story, etc. incorporating each word from the list. It can be a bit of a challenge, especially when our local comedy writer contributes words like GOOSEGREASE. It is interesting to see what people do with the list. Some are very clever, indeed.

Below is my first attempt. It uses all the words. That’s about all I can say for it. Hopefully mine will get better over time. The quote I use later on in this short-story is from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice and here is meant to give the protagonist hope that his hosts are good and thoughtful people. Our group leader, an English professor from the local community college, reminded me, however, just what a nasty little play M.O.V. was and that the speaker, Portia, hardly had clean hands when delivering these pretty words. Good point, I think. Though I still like the way it turns the anti-semitism of the play on it’s head a little bit here.


 

THE LIST:
affirm
classical
genesis
goosegrease
gumption
grit
heartless
inspired
prime
quality
repulsive
spout

THE STORY:

 

Goosegrease
by: Dustin Joy

The kitchen was redolent with goosegrease when Emily opened the back door and beckoned Mark inside. The aroma of freshly baked rolls enveloped him. A big, stainless pot of potatoes churned on the rear burner of the antique gas stove and an old-style percolator gurgled softly on the front burner, a curl of steam starting to rise from it’s spout. The pies cooling on the counter, apple, sweet potato, and pumpkin, carried him back to his own Memaw’s kitchen, another place of warmth and pie.

Still, Mark had hesitated, reluctant to enter this old clapboard farmhouse, at the end of the sidewalk, at the end of the gravel road, at the end of Illinois. “The end of the world,” was what he thought. The end of their fledgling relationship seemed a distinct possibility.
Emily had told her grandparents that Mark was coming with her for Christmas, of course. She had assured them that he was a nice boy and a fine student, endowed with grit and gumption and good manners despite his big city origins. He was studying English literature at the University of Chicago.

Likewise, Emily had assured Mark that her people were, like her, warm and loving. They were not heartless racists with repulsive opinions despite their rural origins. The fact that sweet, beautiful Emily derived her DNA from them gave him hope, but not much confidence.

The long voyage down Interstate 55, his Prius a very small boat on this ocean of corn, had inspired in him an irrational dread. The presence of no fewer than four pickup trucks in the driveway seemed to affirm his fear, as had the tattered confederate flag he had glimpsed near a fallen-down barn a few miles down the road. He was not certain that he was the first African-American to visit this township, but he was pretty sure he was the first to cross this threshold.

Emily, a smart girl who understood well the genesis of his fears, patted Mark’s hand and reached up to give him a kiss. Then she disappeared down the short hallway past the classical cupboard with its bird-claw feet, the mahogany washstand with its ceramic pitcher, and the oak bookshelf with its ticking mantle clock.

Mark stood alone in the kitchen, rotating slowly in his apprehension and indecision, the prime meridian of his gaze taking in the pantry and the sink and the pot-bellied stove and the refrigerator covered in unfamiliar photos, save one. Then he saw, in the far corner, a framed needlepoint and below it a basset hound slumbering on a big, puffy pillow.
He approached the dog gently, and she, waking to his presence, raised her nose and nuzzled his outstretched palm. He patted her head gently as he read the little name tag attached to her collar – Portia. He smiled – a coincidence perhaps? Then his eyes were drawn to the needlepoint again. It was a quote, one he knew quite well, and from his favorite writer, too.

The quality of mercy is not strain’d,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes

“It’s going to be alright,” Mark thought. He stood and followed Emily down the hall.

To Blog, or Not To Blog? That is the Question.

When I began this blog, in May of 2015, I had a desire, as I think we all do, to say something, to have my voice heard. I wrote in my introduction:

Every blog is an act of vanity. The idea that anyone else gives a damn about your “observations” on life is presumptuous at best and probably ridiculous. But I like to think it is also a hopeful thing. It is an effort, like Facebook or a phone call, to make a connection with other people in the hope of finding something in common.

I also wanted to hone my craft and see if I could develop a voice that someone other than my Mom would want to hear. I said, “I enjoy writing. It helps me organize my thoughts and better understand what I am seeing and thinking.” I still think that is a valid and worthwhile motivation. Self-improvement through practice can pay unexpected dividends. Still, I am reminded of the lyrics of the 1987 song Come from the Heart – “You’ve got to dance like nobody’s watching.” For a blogger I guess the motivational tagline would be “You’ve got to write like nobody’s reading.”

I certainly think I wanted some readers, though. I wanted this website to accomplish something, to have an effect. I had some goals, vaguely, about touching someone’s emotions, teaching someone about something, or persuading someone to think differently. I hope I have not been unrealistic in my expectations.

I believe that I have fairly valued the output of my pen. I assigned the exchange rate for my writing at exactly zero dollars and zero cents. After all, I acquired the domain name, registered the website, designed the website, and built the website. Critically, I also paid for the website. I did not even require my readers to suffer the inconvenience of looking at ads. As a novice writer the market dictates this. There are a lot of damned good writers out there and today they are easy to find. I acknowledged as much in my intro:

The internet is a big place with many options, so while my site is called stuffiminterestedin you can be sure that stuffyou’reinterestedin is only a click away.

It is said, although there is little research on the subject, that the average blog has a lifespan of 100 days. Another source says that 60-80% of blogs are abandoned in a month. I have been at this now for almost two years. I suppose this is an appropriate time to take stock of my little project. So, what has been the result?

In the two years since my post called Merle, which was a tribute to my Dad’s cousin, I have written and posted 52 essays, articles, or stories. These averaged 2,125 words per post which adds up to 110,509 words (feel free to count them if you like). Wikipedia says, in its Word Count article (somebody has too much time on his hands) that a novella is between 17,500 and 39,999 words and a novel is anything over that. They say, further, that “Numerous American universities limit Ph.D. dissertations to 100,000 words, barring special permission for exceeding this limit.” I am pretty certain that some of you who wandered into my blog unawares probably reflected that it reminded you of a bad Ph.D. dissertation at times. I guess I should ask for special permission to proceed.

My point here is that, for better or worse, I have gotten some writing practice in the last two years. My blog posts, as promised, were all over the map. Some were short (210 words for my story called Chicory). Some were long (8,117 words for my essay called Michael, about finding a dead body).

Some were good (I think The Boy in the Picture and A Step Forward are some of the best things I’ve ever written). Some could have been better (I loved the idea of St. Louis Breakfast when I had it, but I think the execution was a bit ham-fisted).

Some were self-indulgent (okay, a lot were self-indulgent: And the Loser is, Close the Door, and Being Ward Cleaver). Some were unabashedly sentimental (Missy, The Boy in the Picture, A Force of Nature, and The Sycamore). Some were nakedly political (Washington vs. Trump, Trump – A Retraction, President Trump – There, I Said it, and Mister We Could Use a Republican Like Herbert Hoover Again).

I hope some of my posts were informative (Glacial Erratics, My Giant, and Spiders, Ewww!). I hope some of them made you think (Thank God?, Tiny Glowing Screens, The Island, and Raise my Taxes, Please). And, finally, I kind of hope a few of them made you laugh (Minor League Hero, North Dakota – The Dirty White Pickup Truck Driven by Vaguely Threatening White Guys with Facial Hair State, Sex Appeal vs. Bacon, The Dude, and A Hero – of a Sort). All in all, I’m pretty proud of the output.

Still, I have two questions: 1. Has it been worth it? and 2. should I continue? Neither answer is obvious to me at this point. I like blogging and have gained some skill in writing short-form essays and stories This will come in handy in case I’m ever kidnapped by that Saw guy and find myself chained to a radiator and am required to save myself by writing a clever essay about the Westminster Dog Show or cutting off my own leg with a butter knife. Is that enough reason, though, to divert myself from legitimate concerns (working, spending time with my wife and kids, bathing)? There is also the non-negligible cost of maintaining a website. GoDaddy doesn’t advertise during the SuperBowl for nothing, after all.

To keep stuffiminterestedin.com going I think I need some evidence that it is accomplishing something worthwhile. My site view numbers are not impressive, and possibly never will be. I am content with that. What bothers me, a little, is that I receive almost no feedback from those of you who read my blog. Since August of 2016 I have had exactly 1 legitimate comment from a reader. Part of the idea of this, as you recall, was “to make a connection with other people in the hope of finding something in common.” If I write and you read but tell me nothing about the experience I’m not sure what I’m getting out of this except writer’s cramp.

Even a lack of feedback from my readers might be tolerable to me if I did not, instead, receive 3-4 comments per day from “spammers” whose motives I’m not sure I understand, who don’t seem to have a grasp of the English language, and who appear to be trying to hock Viagra on my website. Here is a verbatim comment left on my blogpost about the Illinois budget crisis from, apparently, the owners of the high-quality website sextoysfun.

Great beat ! I wish to apprentice even as you amend your website, how can i subscribe for a blog web site? The account aided me a acceptable deal. I had been a little bit familiar of this your broadcast offered brilliant transparent concept.

Attached to the comment, as always, was a link to their website. It’s like getting a Valentine in the mail and finding out it is from your insurance agent.

I have two or three good friends who read my posts religiously and can be counted on to offer some praise or constructive criticism. You know who you are and let me say, loud and clear, your attention means the world to me. But, realistically, I could email each of them my useless rants each week and “save the postage.” I could get on Facebook and dump my sage observations between the Trump memes and photos of people’s dinners. But, dang it, blogging is an act of vanity and I like the idea of this website.

There is a passage in Walden which has always captured my imagination. It is a critique of capitalism in parable form and I wonder if it applies to this situation. It goes like this:

Not long since, a strolling Indian went to sell baskets at the house of a well-known lawyer in my neighborhood. “Do you wish to buy any baskets?” he asked. “No, we do not want any,” was the reply. “What!” exclaimed the Indian as he went out the gate, “do you mean to starve us?” Having seen his industrious white neighbors so well off—that the lawyer had only to weave arguments, and, by some magic, wealth and standing followed—he had said to himself: I will go into business; I will weave baskets; it is a thing which I can do. Thinking that when he had made the baskets he would have done his part, and then it would be the white man’s to buy them. He had not discovered that it was necessary for him to make it worth the other’s while to buy them, or at least make him think that it was so, or to make something else which it would be worth his while to buy. I too had woven a kind of basket of a delicate texture, but I had not made it worth any one’s while to buy them. Yet not the less, in my case, did I think it worth my while to weave them, and instead of studying how to make it worth men’s while to buy my baskets, I studied rather how to avoid the necessity of selling them. 

Like Thoreau, I may continue to weave baskets, even if it is not worth anyone’s while to buy them. I find that my profession is, for the time being, lucrative enough that I can afford to take time for writing. Also, I spend a great deal of time in hotel rooms, so the bulk of my writing does not rob my children of my treasured presence in their lives (yeah, right). Even so, I’m confident that even Thoreau (with an ego such as he had) would not have minded some constructive feedback about the quality of his baskets.

I, quite frankly, am getting too old to want to make a fool of myself if I don’t have to. God knows I do it too often without intending to. If this blog is meaningful to you, please send me a comment. It’s easy to do. It doesn’t have to be a dissertation- a few words will do. And it doesn’t have to be praise. Rip into me. Point out my grammar mistakes. Assail my logic. Call me a doo-doo-head. If you are the type of guy who keeps a bust of Donald Trump on your mantlepiece with a candle burning beside it and you have been suffering in silence while I been “dissin’ your guy,” give me your two cents. I would love to have that conversation. And, what the heck, if you enjoyed my picture of the guy in the chicken suit reading a newspaper or were floored by the eloquence of my prose, you know, mention that, too.

by Dustin Joy

Chicory

I recently entered, for the second time, the River City Reader’s short fiction contest. It is an interesting little challenge for someone who tends to go on and on and on in his writing. The challenge is to write a short story of 300 words or less incorporating a writing prompt from Iowa Author Ethan Canin. About 10 prompts were available, consisting of sentences plucked from Canin’s novels and short stories.

If you are a writer you will recognize that 300 words is not a lot to work with. New Yorker Fiction editor Deborah Treisman says stories in the magazine average about 2,000 – 10,000 words. To give you another idea of this limitation, the word magazine, in the last sentence, was the hundredth word in this introduction.

Last year my story A Hero of a Sort, heavily edited to make the 300 word limit, got honorable mention in the contest and was published in the Reader. This year I got honorable mention again and had my story published on the Reader’s website. While I can’t seem to break into the medals I have enjoyed the challenge and am considering some more short-short story ideas for my blog. Please enjoy here, a story I call Chicory, the first sentence of which is a prompt from Canin’s novel We Are Nighttime Travelers. My story was inspired by walks with my daughter (who is not handicapped) and my father’s devotion to this beautiful roadside flower.

 

 

Chicory

by: Dustin Joy

My hand finds her fingers and grips them, bone and tendon, fragile things. She smiles and swings our two hands back and forth extravagantly. We walk together feeling the heat in the soles of our shoes as the blacktop gives up a day’s worth of stored up sunshine. I take baby steps. She can’t walk very far or very fast with her braces.

“What is that flower, Daddy?” She pauses to allow a honeybee’s evacuation and then bends at the waist until her nose touches the cornflower blue blossom at the side of the road. “It is sooooooo pretty.”

“That’s chicory.” I sound it out for her and she forms the word, “chick-ree.”

“It grows in the rocks, Daddy. It grows real pretty. It’s the bluest flower I ever saw. Isn’t it pretty?”

“Yes, it is sweetheart.”

She bends down again as if paying her respects to the chicory. She sniffs. “Why does it grow in the rocks, Daddy, and not in the garden with the other flowers?”

Our shadows lengthen, one long and one short.

“The prettiest flowers grow in the rocks, my dear.”

Now she grips my fingers, tendon and bone. We are all fragile things.

“Why, Daddy?”

“Nobody knows why, my dear. Nobody knows why.”

Slowing down – An update

I must apologize to my loyal readership (and you both know who you are).  It has been a challenge for me, throughout the Fall, to generate content for this site on a schedule. In October I spend quite a bit of time farming whenever I’m home from my full time job. I have recurrent airline training this time of year and it is this time of the year also when the kid’s school activities ramp up to a fever pitch. We have plays, and concerts, and scholastic bowl, and fundraisers and fundraisers and fundraisers. I also like to take a bit of time in the Fall to spend outdoors with my family before the dreaded Winter hits. All of these are offered up as an excuse for my sloth.

My real excuse, though, will be that my original pace was unsustainable. I do not want to post my writing just to post some writing. When I post something I want it to be of good quality and worth a few minutes of your time. And, of course, I’m paying for the site and not troubling you with advertisements so I think this is a  reasonable position. If you are someone who checks this space breathlessly every morning hoping for a new essay or story (yeah, right!) you can use the subscribe link and will be notified when any new content is posted.

I am working on several pieces. Whether they are of good quality and worth your time will be determined by you.

A couple of updates are in order, I think. I recently got my first piece of writing “published” on another website. My piece called “The Sycamore” appeared on the site called Naturewriting.com. It is a pretty neat site and worth your time to take a look if you are inclined to like nature and writing.

Finally, another tree related update. After our recent windstorm the last trunk of my big Cottonwood north of the house finally gave up the ghost and came crashing down. It is a pitiful sight to see such a giant prostrate on the ground. It took out two or three lesser trees on its way down. All good things come to an end, I guess.

IMG_2662IMG_2663

More to come.

 

Dustin