Short Stories – Seven Icelandic Short Stories

This post is part of a year-long series about short stories.  Read about my “Year of the Short Story” HERE.

Seven Icelandic Short Stories

I’m trying to offer as much variety in this series as possible. So, when I saw this collection, I grabbed it. Something from a different literary tradition offers a great chance to expand horizons.

Keep Calm and Focus on the Short StoriesThere’s always a certain “loss” in a translation. Rhythms will change, idiomatic and colloquial phrases will suffer because they never make the transition cleanly. This translation seems very good. There are no awkward, overly formal English sentences which seem to be a telltale of bad translation.

The introduction offers a very interesting background to the stories. The idea that the Icelandic language remained largely unchanged from the 13th century to the 20th century fascinates me.

The stories are:

  • The Story of Audunn and the Bear (13th century) by Anonymous – The oldest known Icelandic short story. Language hasn’t changed since it was written.
  • A Dry Spell (1905) by Einar H. Kavaran – A story of death and sadness
  • The Old Hay (1909) by Gudmundur Fridjónsson – An old man can help all his neighbors if he is willing to give up something he has saved for years.
  • When I Was on the Frigate (1910) by Jon Trausti – A curious trip with a captain who might be mad.
  • Father and Son (1916) by Gunnar Gunnarson – A boy and his father are inseparable even in death.
  • The Fox Skin (1923) by Gudmundur G. Hagalin – A story of status and obsession
  • Laxness in New Iceland (1927) by Hallder Kiljan – A family leaves Iceland for the New World and aren’t impressed.

The stories that I keep coming back to are “A Dry Spell”, there is something about the sadness of this story.  “When I Was on the Frigate”, the image here was an Icelandic “Old Man and the Sea”. “Father and Son”, the amazing story of dedication at the core of the concept of family.

The Icelandic approach to the short story form is different than much of the Western European style. I’ve gotten criticism of some of my own stories that they are focused too much on a single moment or character. There seems to be an expectation of the classic novel format – exposition, rising action, climax, descending action, denouement. The classic model for this shows a steep rise and fall. It never felt that way in these stories. The action felt more “real”, coming at an even pace and without a dramatic climax. I came away with a feeling of calm from the stories. They give the reader something to think about rather appealing to emotion. On the whole, I found the experience different and interesting.

Another great collection of short stories to add to your list!

Advertisements

Time To Change – On Diets

So, what’s the goal here? I believe that a lot of folks struggle with the whole diet/weight loss/exercise journey because we’re told to aim at the wrong goal. So, let me offer up my thoughts on where we should all be aiming.

Right away, some folks will have an objection. We’re all in different places, with different physical and medical starting points. How can we all have a common goal?

Easy. The goal is a concept rather than a specific number. It’s not about ideal weights or perfect measurements or getting your glucose/cholesterol/whatever numbers just right. Those are markers of where we’re headed but it’s too easy to get caught up in some artificial numeric goal. The height and weight charts, the guidelines for the correct test numbers lead too many of us to focus on a “number” that will make everything all right. That encourages quick-fix solutions. The sooner you can get to the “right number”, the sooner everything will be fine.

The history of it all shows that this is a failed theory. Sure, you get there quickly. But can you stay there? Or do you bounce right back up again? I believe that shows that your objective was wrong. Fix that. and the chances of success (which are never guaranteed) will improve.

So, what should be the goal?

In simplest terms, a healthy lifestyle.

Any other objective will open you up to decisions that look right but won’t stick. This entire process is best when it is focused on a long-range goal. And that’s a way of living that keeps you healthy. Your healthy numbers may be different than mine, how you get there may be different than me. Our culture wants to believe that there’s only one body type that’s “correct”.

Forget it. Focus on what you need to do to be healthy. I need to lose weight. A few years ago, I discovered that when I was in the low 170s, all my blood test numbers were good. My blood pressure improved. I felt great. And I liked the way I looked. No six pack. Not ripped.

Healthy.

Laziness, my stroke, and some downturns in life pushed me out of that healthy place. But I know what I need to do to get back to my objective.

Don’t settle for the right “look”. Don’t make it about reaching the right “number”.

Be healthy.

Onward.

My resolution remains:

 

want to am going to be The Guy again.  The Guy weighed 175 pounds and looked good and felt good.  And his blood pressure was good and his blood tests were good.

 

 

Active Minutes – Goal is 150/week

Steps – Goal is 10,000/day

Watch my activity on my Fitbit page

Biking Mileage – Winter Break

I track my mileage with MapMyRide

The next milestone is getting back below 185.  I will get there and go on.

Official Weigh-In Weight

192 pounds

Weight Change this week: -1.0 pounds

Total Weight Loss To Date: 1.0 pounds– Goal is 17  pounds

Goal Weight and Total to Lose – 175/35

Writing – I Sold One!

I am really, really excited about this news. While I have been a “published” author for over a year now, I will confess that part of me has been looking for outside validation on my writing.

(Rather pathetic for a man of my age, I know.)

Yes, I’ve sold a few books, gotten some reviews and comments. But the question has remained – can I be out in the marketplace with my wares and compete with other writers?

I can answer that now.

The answer is “Yes.”

Some 15 months ago, I submitted a short story to a publisher looking for real-life stories about the radio industry. I wrote about an incident very early in my radio career that centers on the little gray metal boxes that littered all the small market stations I worked for during my career. I thought it fit the bill nicely.

And they agreed. The email telling me it had been chosen left me surprisingly emotional. Very much a Sally Field/Norma Rae kind of thing. They liked me! And they’re going to pay me, too!

To this point in my life as a writer, I don’t write for a market (as I did here.) I write the stories that bubble up inside me and hope that I can find a market later. So, this was a novel and inspiring experience from a variety of standpoints. My writer’s ego has been given a quick shot of reinforcement. Writing is a solitary occupation and my bet is that most of us need a pat on the back now and then.

So, here’s what I know so far:

The story was submitted with the title “A Box and A Blast” and will be published in an anthology of radio stories titled “Air: A Radio Anthology“ from Books by Hippocampus. The anticipated publication date is March 2019. So, we are still in the “many a slip, twixt the cup and the lip” phase.

At the moment, I’m not thinking about any of that.

I Made A Sale!

Peace

JD

Adventures in Cycling – First Turn of the Wheel

I am not now, nor have I ever been an athlete. Both my brothers can make the claim, but I’ve never been more than a weekend warrior/sports dilettante. Over the years, I’ve dabbled in softball, indoor soccer, and volleyball. I can’t even claim to be a dedicated cyclist, as my history shows three separate “eras.”

Like almost all of us (I’d wager), I began as a child. My first bike came with training wheels, and I eventually made it to a fat-tired, single speed classic with fenders. It carried me around my neighborhoods through elementary and junior high.

By the early 1970s, the ten-speed craze had hit and I upgraded to a bright yellow Sears bike with drop handles and hand brakes. It was still just basic transport around the neighborhood.

Shortly thereafter, two friends pushed me in a new direction. They were “serious” cyclists, and introduced me to the finer points of frames, gears, derailleurs, and riding for the joy of riding. That would carry me through college and another upgrade. This time to a beautiful silver-gray bike by Soma. That company has long since gone out of business. The bike traveled with me for a good many years, even if the miles ridden dropped to zero.

It took another decade or so before I got back on a saddle. The Soma was on its last legs. A friend sold me his old Fuji 18 speed. That group of riders was a way for us to get exercise and spend some time together. We had two fit riders and two strugglers. The two stronger ones graciously waited at the top of hills for the two stragglers.

Beyond the friendship, the great thing I gained from this phase in my riding career was the challenge to push my distance limits. Prior to this, my longest ride was about 20 miles. We would routinely do that distance. Eventually, I rode the whole way around lake Chautauqua, a total of about 42 miles. Beautiful scenery, decent roads, and a mix of challenging hills and easy flats. I did the ride multiple times. It inspired me to ride to work as well. Both my house and office were on the route, so it was a familiar ride.

When we moved to Richmond, I faced a list of new challenges. Roads here generally do not have berms. Beyond the side stripe is grass and, too often, a deep ditch. So there is nowhere to go and no room for error. This is also a much more populous area than rural Chautauqua County. More cars, many of whom drive very fast. Add to that the fact that I had to carry the bike up and down to the third floor, and I wasn’t inclined to jump in the saddle. For most of the first two years here, I just didn’t ride at all.

A local friend encouraged me to try again. In Richmond itself, there is a thriving biking community and the city is pretty bike friendly. So, I began to explore urban riding. I’s always tried to avoid that. With a lot of mostly flat riding on the west side of the city, broad, well-maintained roads, and designated riding routes, RVA has brought joy back to my riding.

Adding to the joy is an extended riding season. Riding can start in late March or early April and extend into October. There are plenty of hardy riders who ride 12 months a year, in fact. I salute them from my warm and comfy chair inside.

There’s also a wonderful walking/riding path that runs between Richmond and Jamestown. Called the Capital Trail, it offers 52 miles of paved, off-road path between two of the historic capitals of Virginia. I’ve completed it several times. It’s a challenge (especially the climb from Richmond to Varina) but a beautiful ride. I’m looking forward to riding it several times this year.

Looking back, I am certain several younger versions of myself would be surprised and impressed by what this old guy version has been doing. It certainly feels good from this point on the timeline.

Wonder what I’ll be doing ten years from now?

Writing – Flash Fiction

I came across an interesting challenge a couple months ago.

It said every writer should try working in six different writing forms.  The idea was that we should challenge ourselves.

To stretch creatively by stepping outside of our usual forms.

If memory serves it showed up in a forum that focused mostly on long-form writing, which would explain the choices.  They are:

  • Poetry
  • Six Word Story
  • Flash Fiction (50-1k words)
  • Short Story
  • News Article
  • Opinion Piece

I’m always up for a creative challenge, so let’s give it a try.

This month I’m trying my hand at Flash Fiction.  Now some folk who have read my short stories will complain that I write a lot of flash fiction already.  That’s not the way I think of them so I’m going to ignore that charge.  The reality is that trying to get a clear definition of flash fiction is much like nailing jello to a tree.  In the original challenge (above) you’ll see that it’s anything from 50 to 1,000 words.  That’s ludicrously large from my point of view.  I needed a word count that I thought would offer both a challenge and enough room to make it interesting.  Why 100 words?  Why not?  Above that and you’re moving into the realm of the “short short”.  Any less than that and I find the storytelling a little thin.

So here’s my attempt (with an Afterword!)

Flash Fiction – 100 Words

Every day begins as a mystery. Drive to the building. Get there on time, get there on time!

Sign in, pick up a packet, a key, and ID badge. Out into the hall. The young people mill, huddle, and clump. They laugh, shout, or stare into a distance beyond. They don’t see you. Adapt, glide, moving toward your destination. Check the room numbers and the hall signs. This hall? No, the next.

Juggle your backpack, lunch, and the keys. Open the door. Find the lesson plan. Honors class, period three!

Mystery solved. An easy day.

“Hey, we got a sub!”

 

I’ve been substitute teaching for just over a year now, and it’s an interesting kind of gypsy life.  This is the second story I’ve written about it.

Feel free to jump right in.  Let me know what you think.

Peace

J

 

Author Interview – Stewart Smith “The Van Dammage Report”

I have gotten to know some other writers over the last couple years.  To break up the sound of my own voice on this blog, I thought I’d ask them to answer a few simple questions about their most recent work and how they create.
First up is Stewart Smith, author of the “Van Dammage Report Vol.1”.  In addition to being brilliant, good looking and extremely knowledgeable about movies, Stewart is also my cousin.  Despite having so much in common, we disagree on movies at times.
1. Introduce Yourself – Born in Louisiana but consider myself a Texan. Father. Husband. Cinephile. Award-winning film critic. Addicted to video games. Spent a decade as a journalist before venturing off into the world of non-journalistic writing.
2. And now introduce your book –  Van Dammage Report Vol. 1 is a comprehensive look at the films of international action star Jean-Claude Van Damme, beginning with his first starring role in No Retreat, No Surrender in 1986 to his widely-acclaimed dramatic performance as a quasi-biographical version of himself in 2008’s JCVD.
3. Why Van Damme? Because for years I considered him and his films to be a joke. But I found myself being drawn back to them again and again until eventually I started to see beyond the elements I considered ironically entertaining and realized there was actually more going on than I gave him or the films credit for. Then I found him legitimately entertaining. His persona, fighting style and choice of characters set him apart from the majority of the action stars of his day and I find all of that fascinating now.
4. I’ve never watched a single JCVD movie, where should I start? Best place for anyone to start is near the very beginning of his career. You can’t go wrong with either Bloodsport or Kickboxer. Both are great showcases for his martial arts ability but also his unique acting charms. Many consider Bloodsport still to be his best movie, but I’m of the opinion that Kickboxer is a more robust “JCVD experience.” Its fight scenes are better and it also has a greater array of elements that you’ll see are integral to the types of films and characters that Van Damme is drawn to.
5. What was the hardest part of writing this book?  The hardest part was just sitting down and cranking it out. It’s (almost) always a pleasure to sit down and watch a new Van Damme movie I’ve never seen before (and most of these pieces are based on my first time watching the film). But like any writer, procrastination is often my worst enemy. If I had really put my nose to the grind I could have had this book released at least a couple years ago.
6. What are you proudest of about your book?  First and foremost, I’m mostly proud of just getting this thing finished and published. I’ve published countless writing assignments before thanks to my years as a journalist, but this is the first personal project I’ve ever finished. As for the content, there are at least a couple entries where I feel like I truly brought something to the table in terms of analysis and consideration of Van Damme’s work. Your mileage may vary, however.
7. Other writers and some readers are fascinated by the writing process.  Please describe yours.  My writing process involves sitting at my computer, opening up a fresh document, picking out what music I’m going to listen to (lately internet radio stations playing chillhop music has been incredibly helpful), getting a paragraph or so written and then goofing around on Facebook and Twitter for way, way, way too long before finally snapping back into concentration mode and getting another graf or so onto the page. Wash, rinse, repeat for as long as it takes to be productive. When writing analysis pieces like what this book contains, I’ll have a good idea of what I want to say and where I want to go, but I never outline or do any sort of real planning. 100 percent of what I wrote for this book is extemporaneous and stream of consciousness. And if that means I maybe miss a point or two that I had previously thought about touching on, oh well. Unless I feel it will drastically improve my points or just be a killer addition to what I’ve already written, rarely do I go back and make significant modifications. Generally, I trust my instincts and ability to flow in my writing that if I couldn’t find a way to add it in organically during that first draft, it probably doesn’t really need to go in.
8.  Who or What Inspires You? When it comes to film analysis, it may be a bit cliche’ to say it but I will forever consider Roger Ebert to be among the gold standard of how to write an informative and yet also entertaining piece. Reading capsule reviews by Pauline Kael is a tremendous primer on how to communicate a lot with only a few words. And if I could ever find myself writing an essay that contains even a fraction of the insight, humor, thoughtfulness, compassion, and wit of your average David Foster Wallace piece then I will consider myself a fully accomplished writer.
9. Are There Any More Books Coming? Yes! More books for sure. I definitely want to put out a Vol. 2 of the Van Dammage Report, but that will also require continuing to dig into his filmography, a process I intend to rev back up soon. I’m also trying to get back into writing a novel I’ve been chipping away at for a few years now.
You can find Van Dammage Report Vol. 1 on the Amazon Kindle store for $3.99:
https://www.amazon.com/Van-Dammage-Report-Stewart-Smith-ebook/dp/B07BCQRP94

Faith – Why Do Church?

This past year, I was honored to be asked to sponsor a young friend for Confirmation. At the beginning of the process, I took him out to lunch so we could talk about what he needed from me. The question he was pondering was this:

“Why do we do church? Why do we need to gather together as part of our faith?”

I may have changed his words a little but I think I have the concept right. I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

This is a quintessentially American theological question. I’m not sure any other national culture has placed individualism as much at the center of our identity. We want to believe, against all evidence, that we can “go it alone”. So, naturally, we pull against the idea that we need a group or organization.

It brings to mind another discussion from years ago. Are we “American Christians” or “Christian Americans?” While they may seem the same at the surface, the order of the words is of vital theological importance. The first word serves as a “modifier”, it changes our understanding of the word that follows it. So, is our “American-ness” modifying our faith, or is our faith modifying our “American-ness”? There’s an impulse to put our faith in the “center”, that we are Christians who are Americans. I think that’s backwards. The very essence of a life in faith is one that changes who we are, that “modifies” us. To allow our national culture to modify our faith places the importance in the wrong place.

So our call together will stand against our cultural individualism. And that’s a good thing. Overemphasis on the individual results in an inward, self-centered focus. The opposite of what a Christian life in faith does. (This is true for most religions of the world. But it’s not appropriate for me to speak for traditions other than my own.) Christianity does not call us to me, me, me. Over and over, it is clear that the call is to us, us, us.

If we are to take care of ourselves first and foremost, then the men who passed by the beaten man in the parable of “The Good Samaritan” did fine. The disciples who were going to send away the crowds during the feeding miracles were right to weigh their burden against the needs of the many. There is certainly no need for Stephen and the order of deacons in the Acts of the Apostles if it’s every person for themselves. Over and over we are shown examples of believers coming together.

So, there’s our first reason. Scripture clearly and repeatedly models a life together. A life that is outwardly directed and otherly directed.

That’s probably all the answer we should really need. Scripture clearly shows a model for life. A model of a body drawn together. But the American personality isn’t one to simply accept authority. The inevitable next question is “Why?”

Why does Scripture point us to this model? What advantage is there, what do we gain? If I might borrow a term from the business world, a faith community is a “force multiplier.”

A force multiplier allows you to get more results from the same or less effort. In simplest terms, “many hands make light work”.

A life in faith works the same way. The work of learning is easier when you are surrounded by other students. It means that every person doesn’t have to start at the beginning and discover everything from scratch. It means that we are not alone in doing the work that we are called to do as we try to improve the world. And it means that we are not alone in times of sorrow or times of joy. Our burdens can be shared. Our happiness can be magnified.

Perhaps most especially in worship can we see the effect of the amplification offered by a community. A single voice can be beautiful, but it can be drowned out or even swallowed by a larger silence. Our voices raised together can be heard above the noise around us. It is together that we create the power that brings the Gospel to life in our world.

Hope that helps my friend.