Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Thirty Seven Years

Suzanne and I were married December 29, 1973. Gas prices had skyrocketed to nearly a dollar a gallon, but you couldn't buy gas on weekends so we took a Greyhound bus for our honeymoon trip to Montreal. The bus was packed and we didn't get to sit together. I sat in the last row of the bus with a couple of convicts who had weekend passes and were hoping that the bus would be oversold so they wouldn't have to return.

Later, as we got closer to Montreal and people got off the bus, I was able to move up to Suzanne's row. I sat behind a Hasidic Jew who was reading the January 1974 issue of Playboy. When he got off he left the magazine so I took it. It was the 20th anniversary issue of Playboy - a keepsake issue. I still have it.

Hugh Hefner was 47 in 1973.

Last year I dedicated this blog post to Suzanne as a special anniversary gift.

This year we're going out to dinner. 








Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Old Fashioned Christmas Spirit

My short story, The Old Fashioned Christmas Spirit  has been published on the ezine, Apollo's Lyre.This issue features poetry, reviews and flash fiction by Debbi Antebi, Linda Courtland, James Dalrymple, Farida Samerkhanova, Edith Y. S. Harris, Len Kuntz and Brad Nelson. 

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Nicole is 23

Nicole is in what we think is the last year of her undergraduate Art program at the School of the Art Institute. It has taken her slightly longer than anticipated because she switched her focus from Fashion to Fashion Accessories.

When Nicole started her second year of school I bought a condo near the school and leased it to her and three other Art students. This would have been a shrewd financial move if I had done it ten years earlier and leased it to accountants instead of art students.

The good news is that this fall, since all of the surviving roommates had moved out, we leased out the condo to four guys who do not appear to be art students and Nicole has moved back home, temporarily. And she brought her cat, Soche who has been warily accepted by Sammy.

It’s been great having her home. She does all the cooking – makes great meals and does all the dishes, too. Well she doesn’t do all the meals, more like one a week, but she’s a great cook. Although I guess since she doesn’t actually ever do any dishes, she’s probably a chef, not a cook.

Her specialty accessory is Hats. In April she won “Best of Show” in her Advance Headwear Concepts Class at SAIC and she has had some of her hats displayed at the Drake Hotel. Lately she and a couple of her colleagues have been making the rounds of local holiday shows. It’s a learning experience. I think one of the lessons has been that Midway and O’Hare aren’t the best venue for fashion.

Happy Birthday, Nicole! It’s been great to have you back home.


Nicole Modeling Zipline Headgear in Kauai

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Christie is 21

Last fall Christie decided not to return to Pratt for her second year of school. Instead she found a job at CVS and lived at home with us and worked on her portfolio. She liked Pratt and did well there, but it didn't quite suit her artistic aspirations (which I won't attempt to describe.)  She applied to several Art schools in New York, Chicago, L.A. and London. Her first choice was Central St. Martins College of Art & Design in London and when they offered her a spot, she readily accepted. 

She worked long hours on her portfolio and I was proud that she earned admissions to a great art school. But I was also proud when I got a call from her CVS boss last month wondering if Christie was coming home for the holidays. They missed her at the store - she was a good worker and she had been hard to replace. That was her first real job so it was great to hear she had done well.

Suzanne and I accompanied Christie and her three tons of luggage to London to help her get settled. She did a great job on her portfolio, but not quite so good on the minor stuff like making sure she had housing. It all worked out in the end, but it was a stressful week for uh, Suzanne and Christie. We don't have any pictures from the trip because there was never a time when all three of us were in a take-my-picture mood.

Happy Birthday, Christie!  Come home soon.

In the photo at the top of the page, Christie is modeling a hat designed by her sister, Nicole. The girls have always had very different approach to clothes.  In the photo to the left, Nicole in her classic silk nightgown while Christie has gone with a more eclectic outfit.  The picture to the right was taken in Kauai earlier this year. A few minutes later the girls managed to flip over their off road vehicle during the driving tutorial. The instructors decided they should ride with someone else, which was probably a good decision.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Stephen is 26

Our three kids were all born in the second week of December. I guess theoretically they are not kids anymore. Especially Stephen who is now 26.

Last year I came up with the idea that a great birthday gift would be to devote an entire blog post to each of the kids on their special day. Of course last year my blog was only read by seven or eight people (including close family members) but now the blog gets fed to my Facebook page so the readership is often in double figures, which makes this gift twice as good.

Stephen is now in the second year of graduate school at NYU where he is a PhD candidate in Chemistry. He teaches undergraduate chemistry and last year he won a teaching award. He’s now living in Queens with his girlfriend Anne. He hasn’t been home much in the last year so I don’t have any new embarrassing stories to report.

Stephen's sisters are both in Art Schools studying high fashion. Stephen has also always been very fashion-minded. Here he is in one of his favorite plaid ensembles.

He has always had remarkable powers of concentration (see picture above), but he's not just another science nerd. He's a science nerd who can build interesting useless devices, such as this Rube Goldberg contraption, which he assembled in his bedroom one winter.

Happy Birthday Stephen! 

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Triathlon Goal for 2011

My plan is to compete at Lake Havasu in March, Tempe Town Lakes in May, Keuka Lake in early June and then qualify for the Nationals at the Evergreen Lake Race on July 17, 2011. The Nationals will be sometime in August in Burlington, Vermont.

I'll need to make significant improvements in all areas to achieve the goal. It is attainable, but it is going to take a serious training commitment.
When I started this blog in July 2009, I set a goal to make it to the USAT National Age-Group Championship in 2011 and to finish in the top ten for my age-group, which in 2011 will be 60 to 64.

I managed to qualify and compete in the Nationals in 2009 in the 55-59 year old age group, but I didn't finish the race, because of hamstring cramps. This year, I competed in three Olympic distance events and two 70.3 Ironman events.

In my July 2009 blog entry I projected that I would need a time of 2 hours 30 minutes to make it to 10th place in the Nationals. Based on last year's results, I think that a time of 2 hours 34 minutes will be good enough. Here is how I did this year and my what I think it will take to qualify for the Nationals:
Total Time
Time / 100
Min/ Mile
Div Place
Lake Havasu Olympic -Tri
Tempe Intern'l Olympic -Tri
Keuka Lake Tri Olympic -Tri
Musselman 70.3 Ironman
Steelhead 70.3 Ironman
Wisconsin Half-Marathon
Ricky Byrdsong
Burlington, VT Nationals

Friday, October 22, 2010

Without a Trace

My short story, "Without a Trace," is now published on the webzine, the Foundling Review.  This issue features stories by Elaine Chiew, Doug Campbell, Mel Bosworth, Ethel Rohan, Jason Jordan, Ajay Vishwanathan, Nathaniel Tower, Gay Degani and Jack Swenson.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Age Limits

Why do they ride for their money
Tell me why do they ride for short pay

They ain't a'gettin' nowhere 
And they're losin' their share
Boy, they must've gone crazy out there  
Son, they all must be crazy out there

          “Night Riders Lament” by Garth Brooks

“Why?” is a common question for endurance athletes. If we’re not asking it of ourselves someone else is asking us why we do what we do. I used to think that someday I might compete in a full Ironman, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. I tell myself that it just takes too much training time, but the truth is I’m starting to think I’m too old for that distance.

There is no denying age in the triathlon world. One of the attractions of the sport is that you compete in your own age group. The only good thing about turning sixty next year is that I get to move up to the 60-64 year age group. I won’t have to compete against all those 55 year old kids.

In the past as I planned for an upcoming season of competition I usually predicted improvements in all events. That wasn’t totally unrealistic. I am relatively new to competitive swimming and my instructors don’t seem to have run out of suggestions for how to improve my stroke. This year my swim times improved significantly. Same thing with the bike. When I started doing sprint triathlons five years ago, my average time on the bike was around 17 mph and that was for twelve miles. This year at the Steelhead 70.3 Ironman I averaged nearly 19 mph for 56 miles. Better equipment has definitely helped and finally this year I actually got out on the road and trained with other competitors. It does make a difference.

Running is where I’ve broken down. Tight hamstrings, sore feet, tired legs. At Steelhead my run time was at an average pace of 10:50. That’s a good walking pace. My goal had been to run that segment at a nine minute pace (or better), but I didn’t come close in either race. I had cramping issues, but even when I overcame them my legs didn’t seem inclined to move very fast.

Denial has always been one of my better qualities. But it’s getting harder to invoke with all the nagging injuries and ailments. I’m not ready to give up, especially not when I get to be the young guy again next year, but there are some days when I ask myself why.

Maybe Garth is right.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Novel So Far - One Year Later

A year ago (October 9, 2009) I posted on this blog a report on my three year novel-writing endeavor. I concluded:

So it has now been three years since I started working on the novel. I’ve learned a lot in those three years, and managed to get several short fiction pieces published (including one of the chapters of the novel.)

Over the last couple of weeks I thought about whether I should continue with this project or start fresh on a new novel. I decided I’m not ready to give up on it yet. I’m going to hire another editor to give me a fresh perspective and then I’m going to write it one more time.

Hey - it’s only been three years—and it’s nowhere near the size of a Chicago phonebook. And I don’t look as old as that guy in the picture. Not yet, anyway.

So I started rewriting in November and by the time I attended the summer workshops at Skidmore and Norman Mailer I had another forty thousand words written. The workshops helped me to see what was working and what wasn’t. When I returned from Provincetown I had a clear vision of how to finish the novel.

I finished it (again) last month and have sent copies out to a couple of trusted reader / writers for feedback.

I have also hired  Marita Golden who was my instructor at The Norman Mailer Writers Colony to give the manuscript a critical reading. I am hopeful that she will identify the novel’s weaknesses and provide me with some ideas on how I can make it better.

It’s a good novel. I have a lot of confidence in the work, but I’m not satisfied that it is as good as I can possibly make it. And until it is I’m not going to send it out. I think I am getting close.

While I’ve been waiting for the feedback, I’ve been working on the query letter that I would send to literary agents to persuade them to represent me. Here’s my latest version:

Dear Ms Agent:

Dancer Stonemason hadn’t always been considered a failure. Fifty years ago he had a free-spirited pregnant wife, a son (Clayton) who thought he was perfect, and an offer to pitch for the St. Louis Cardinals. Baseball was Dancer’s life, but when he upheld the honor of the game, he lost everything – his career, his marriage and Clayton’s belief in him. Now Dancer’s a recovering alcoholic living in a trailer park on the outskirts of Maple Springs, Missouri, washing cars for his younger son. He’s reconciled to the world, but not to Clayton. When Dancer fails to show for his granddaughter’s wedding rehearsal he sets in motion a series of events that force Dancer and Clayton to finally come to terms with their imperfect lives and with each other.

Told against the backdrop of America’s postwar challenges from Little Rock to Viet Nam to Iraq, AMERICAN JUKEBOX is a mainstream novel (74,000 words) about how the decisions we make when we are young can reverberate through the decades effecting the lives of everyone we love. It will appeal to readers who enjoy Elmore Leonard, Richard Russo and Tawni O’Dell.

An excerpt from the novel was published by Annalemma Magazine in October 2009. In recent months I have had stories published in Pindeldyboz, Hobart, 3AM Magazine, The Daily Palette (Iowa Review) and Slow Trains.

I have attached the first chapter and look forward to hearing from you.

Len Joy

So I guess now I’ve been at this for four years. I hope by next October I won’t need to make another status report.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Leaving Home

Leaving Home - I

Three weeks ago, Suzanne and I accompanied our youngest daughter, Christie, to London to help her get settled into her new school – Central St. Martins School of Art and Design. Two years ago Christie had enrolled in The Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. She did well her first year, but wanted a program that had more of a fashion design focus. One of her professors had suggested she apply to St. Martins and the Royal School, both in London. So last year she stayed home, got a job as a cashier at CVS and worked on her portfolio and her applications to art schools. She was accepted at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago and Parsons in New York and then to her surprise at St. Martins and the Royal School. I had been secretly hoping that SAIC or Parsons would win out but she chose St. Martins.

I had really enjoyed the year she spent at home. Probably because she had been gone for a year and so I’d already had a chance to experience the empty nest (although our house is definitely not empty even when nobody is home.) She doesn’t drive so I would chauffeur her to work most days. We usually did the grocery shopping together – she’d take of the produce and cosmetics and I’d get the beer and wine. We were a good team. Her friends hung out at our house a lot (we had cable and they were all True Blood fans.)

Everyone tells me how exciting it is for Christie to have this experience – and intellectually I absolutely agree. But I will miss those silent rides to work, and the grocery shopping grand prix and all of those young people taking over my television. I will miss the casual encounters with Christie. Visits aren’t the same.

Life goes on. We don’t own our kids – we just rent them for a couple decades.

Leaving Home II

Last week I helped my sister move our mother into an assisted-living facility. My mom is 94. When my dad died two years ago, we didn’t want to rush a move, but figured sooner rather than later Mom would need to move out of the house that she and Dad had lived in since 1972.

Mom had other ideas. She didn’t mind living alone, although she was seldom alone for long. My sister Kendra and her husband Don, called on her every day and her neighbors checked in often. When I visited, I was surprised at the number of calls and visits that she had.

She continued to drive her car. Short trips for groceries and to the hairdresser. I told her no driving during the summer – too busy in town – I figured that would buy us some time. But while she agreed not to drive, she forgot that she agreed and continued to drive whenever she needed.

Last month we were notified of a vacancy at a great assisted-living facility six miles from Skaneateles. We took the room before someone else got it. Mom was not happy. In fact she was angry. Every day she would call each of her four children to complain. And this was highly unusual because Mom was raised in the era when “Long Distance” meant your phone conversations were about as wordy as telegrams.

However I think my sisters wore her down, because when I showed up last week, she was resigned to the move. We loaded up her bed and bureau and few chairs and Kendra helped her pick out clothes and on Sunday while Mom was at breakfast with her granddaughter and great-granddaughter, we moved the stuff in.

The room is only 350 square feet, but we managed to get things arranged so it looked cozy, not crowded. Still it’s just a room, not a big house with a view of the lake, like she had in Skaneateles.

We drove her up on Monday morning and she was cheerful. The other residents were welcoming and the staff was helpful. When I left her she was on her way to lunch with her new neighbors.

I know this is the right decision. But I will miss coming to visit Mom in her house. It was fun to be there and just hang around, watching television, having our own Happy Hour. Letting Mom read me the obituaries and listening to her rail about the delicate language like “passed away.” (I assured her that we would make sure that she doesn’t “pass away.”)

But life goes on.

On Wednesday Mom called my sister and told her she wanted to come home.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Materhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War

I just finished reading “Matterhorn,” by Karl Marlantes. The novel encompasses two months in the life of a Marine 2nd Lieutenant who has been sent to Viet Nam in the fall of 1969. It is the most compelling impossible-to-put-down novel I have ever read.

Karl Marlantes had been trying for some thirty years to get his 1,600 page manuscript published. No one was interested, until El Leon Literary Publishers in Berkeley convinced him to cut 800 pages from the manuscript.

They were proceeding with the publication of the 800 page novel as a paperback priced at $25. Prior to publication date, Marlantes entered the novel in a contest for first-time novelists. It was discovered by a buyer from Barnes & Noble who passed it on Morgan Entrekin at Grove / Atlantic. He loved the book and Grove made a deal with El Leon to co-publish the book as a hardcover. The book was released in the spring with a first production run of 60,000 hardcover.

Materhorn was on the New York Times Bestseller list for several weeks. This link to El Leon, provides a smattering of the critical acclaim that the book has garnered:  El Leon Literary

This book is great on many levels. It’s a riveting suspenseful, heartrending story. It has great diverse, well-drawn characters. (No tropes. The soldiers all sounded, smelled, acted real.) It has a cinematic scope that allows us to see events unfolding from the perspective of the grunt on the ground getting killed and from the perspective of the officers all the way up the chain of command that make the “tough” decisions.

But I think the most impressive aspect of this novel (for me) is the way Marlantes is able to convey to the reader the personal, individual terror that these kids endured day after day after day. And he shows how and why, despite that terror, they went forward following their orders, expecting to die, not for their country or some cause, but for each other.

The Marines sometimes lost all hope, but they never gave up. They never surrendered.  Neither did the author.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Norman Mailer Writers Colony

I just returned from Provincetown, Cape Cod where I attended a weeklong workshop at the Norman Mailer Writers Colony.

After getting my rejection notice from Sewanee in early March (thankfully they rejected me rather quickly this year) I went looking for another summer opportunity. I saw an ad in Poets & Writers for the Norman Mailer Writers Colony that had workshops and fellowship opportunities throughout the year.

I checked out the website and it looked pretty cool, a small group working out of Norm’s house right on the Bay. I figured it was worth a $20 application fee. I wasn’t clear what the tuition cost, but I figured they would let me know if I got accepted.

A month later I found out I had been accepted and the big surprise was that they don’t charge tuition – everyone accepted is a scholarship student. They charge a $250 administration fee and they don’t provide meals – which are not cheap in Ptown, but they put the students up in very cool, spacious condos (mine had wireless and cable and a kitchenette and I could see the beach from my front porch.)

During the summer months, they have one workshop each week at the Colony with 8 or 9 attendees. My workshop leader was Marita Golden, a novelist and essayist. ( I highly recommend her novel, “After” – a story told from the perspective of a cop who mistakenly shoots and kills an innocent man.)

Marita ran an excellent workshop. Everyone submitted thirty pages (a short story or novel excerpt) in advance by email so we could all read the work before arriving. Each morning we met for three hours and Marita set up a schedule to review two of the manuscripts each day.

Marita was very well prepared. She did not run a typical workshop where everyone comments on what they liked and didn’t like about the story. Instead she had each writer read specific sections that she selected and then she helped us to analyse the pieces using as a framework the tools available to the writer: plot, narrative, character, dialogue, atmosphere. She led the discussion through a Socratic approach – i.e. she asked questions of the class. She maintained control of the discussion – but not in a controlling way.

While she was focused on the specific writer’s piece she was able to draw lessons from the writer’s work to help us see things in our stories that could be improved. We only spent about an hour on each ms but I think everyone felt that their work was given adequate attention.

Marita also assigned published stories for us to read. We discussed those stories before moving on to the participant manuscripts. Breaking down a successful story helped us to see why the story worked. For example we read one of the Olive Kitteridge stories as an example of how to use narrative voice effectively.

Narrative was Marita’s big issue. (The N word as she described it. ) “Narrative informs the reader of the weight of something. It allows you to tell something from the inside of your character.” (She said a lot more about narrative, but I’m not a great note-taker.)

This narrative lesson was especially helpful for me. I have sort of a minimalist approach with “Show don’t Tell” beaten into me. As a result my writing suffers in places from a serious narrative deficiency.

I’m starting to understand how I can use Narrative more effectively. For one of the writing exercises, I wrote a prologue that was all narrative – no dialogue – and I think it worked well. I’m going to now revise / revisit all of the work I’ve done to date on my novel with a fresh perspective.

On the last day of the workshop we all read five page pieces that we had written during the week from prompts Marita had assigned us based on our writing excerpt. Listening to everyone read their pieces was my favorite part of the week.

During the week we also had a one on one hour with Marita to discuss our work and career aspirations. And because Marita was the only instructor on site – unlike the large conferences where sometimes I get the feeling the primary reason the instructor is there is to re-connect with old friends and fellow workshop leaders - she was quite accessible – joined us a couple of times for wine and beer on Norm’s deck.

Provincetown and the House is a great venue for a workshop. They gave us bikes to tool around the area – it is not easy to drive – not many places to park. The swimming in the bay was great – but I was the only student to take advantage of it. And the woman next door liked to swim topless, but that wasn’t why I swam ever day.

Happy Hour was fun too.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Steelhead Ironman 70.3 - The Results

As we pulled into the parking lot for the Steelhead Ironman 70.3 at 5:30 AM it began to rain. The parking lot was a mile from the race site and neither Suzanne nor I had an umbrella. Suzanne is not what I would call a morning person, but she didn’t really complain about the bad weather, perhaps because she was still asleep.

It took me about half hour to arrange my gear in the transition area – it takes longer when it’s raining and still dark out – and then Suzanne and I started to walk to the swim start. In this race, the old guys were scheduled to go off first (well right after the pros) so my wave started at 7:04 AM. It was a mile walk to the swim start and I made it there about thirty seconds before the start. No time to get nervous.

I had a pretty good swim – kept a steady pace and was out of the water in 39:21 – close to my goal of 38 minutes. It was raining, but that was only a problem for the spectators.

The transition area was twice as long as Musselman, and so even though I pushed it, my transition time was 4:42 – well above my goal of three minutes.

I mounted the bike and then ran into my first problem. I had inadvertently pushed the shift lever when I was getting out of my wetsuit and when I bega to pedal the chain fell off. I dismounted, slipped it back on and then remounted and but it fell off again as soon as I started to pedal. I finally realized that I needed to push the shift lever back to the right position. After I did that the chain stayed on. That glitch cost me about four minutes. I’m not too good at the mechanical aspects of this sport.

It was raining lightly, but soon let up and the weather was actually great for riding. Cool and not much wind. I tried to maintain a speed of more than 20 mph and, with the exception of some of the hills, rode consistently between 19 and 22 mph. I finished the bike segment in 2:59:26, which was just one minute and 26 seconds short of my goal. If I hadn’t lost the time with the chain I would have been on goal. I averaged 18.7 mph on the bike and it would have been 19.2 if not for the chain snafu.

Again it took me over 4 minutes for the transition, but as I headed out on the run I felt good. I had completed the first two legs in 4 hours and forty-eight minutes so I still had a good chance of achieving my goal of 5 hours 47 minutes. And if not that, at least finishing in under six hours.

I started out at a nine minute mile pace, but then a half mile into the run, as I was figuring out what my overall time would be if I kept at that pace – my left quad started to cramp and then as I slowed to try and work that out, I got a severe cramp in my right hamstring. I came to a stop. I pushed hard on the muscle, but the cramp persisted. I stared down at the ground, somewhat in dismay. Not sure what I should do.

It was a short walk back to the race site. I didn’t want to quit, but I didn’t want to try to fight through leg cramps for thirteen miles. It would take hours. Suzanne had the car keys. I’m sure she would have waited. Pretty sure.

I started to walk back. I didn't cramp up, so I turned around and started to walk the other way. Then I started to run, expecting the hamstring to immediately spasm. It didn’t so I kept running. I was slow. I don’t know if it was the effect of the cramp, or pushing it on the bike or because I had only had three weeks since the last Ironman 70.3, but my legs were heavy. Tired.

The good part of being in the first wave is that you get to start before everyone else. The bad part is that most of those younger folks catch up to you. On that run I felt like I was passed by everyone in the race, maybe twice. But I ran the whole thing – even up the hills where lots of folks walked. And in the end, as bad as my run time felt to me – it was five minutes better than my time at Musselman. I finished the run in 2:21: 46 – well short of my goal of 2 hours and five minutes.

My total race time was six hours, nine minutes, twenty six seconds. Even though I failed to achieve my goal, I’m somewhat encouraged. I have made some strides in both swimming and biking and I think I can continue to improve my times in both of those areas as I become more skilled. On the run, I need to build my endurance for the longer distances – right now I’m sort of unraveling at this half-Ironman distance. I know that I can run much faster than the times I have obtained in the last two races.

Now I have to decide what to do as far as training and / or races for the rest of the year. But for the moment I’m just looking forward to a relaxing week. Just a few easy workouts.

            Musselman       Goal     Actual
               ----------          -----     ------
Swim          41:43            38:00      39:21
Transition     2: 50            3:00         4:42
Bike         3:07:26         2:58:00    2:59:26
  mph        (18.0)            (19.0)      (18.7)
Transition     4:07              3:00         4:14
Run         2:25:34        2:05:00     2:21:46
Min/mile   (11:07)          (9:32)      (10:50)
---------     -----              ------        -------
Total       6:21:40      5:47:00     6:09:26