artist : Oh Fair New Mexico

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by Karen Fayeth

Slowly Fading Out of Sight

I drove a 1979 Mercury Bobcat. It was a Ford Pinto made by Mercury. Less flammable.

It featured a rigid manual clutch and four speeds on the center console. With a good tail wind and a steep New Mexico hill, I could get some speed in that tin can of a car.

Its vintage meant that it was too new for an 8-track player and too old for a cassette player. Only an AM radio was provided. You’d pull the button out and shove it back in to save your favorite station.

There is a lot of wide open land in New Mexico. So uninhabited that radio signals from faraway populated areas don’t always reach. Spin the dial and listen to different kinds of static. Only static.

I grew up in Albuquerque and went to college at New Mexico State in Las Cruces. The same day I moved into my freshman dorm, my parents moved to Carlsbad.

To go from Las Cruces to Carlsbad, you get to the other side of El Paso and face about two hours of nowhere and nothing. No people. No animals. No radio.

The seatbelt on the passenger side fit nicely around my boom box, a Christmas present from my mom. A stack of cassette tapes queued up to take a turn in the dual slots.

The Mavericks, Patsy Cline, Foster and Lloyd, Dwight Yoakum, Buck Owens, Alan Jackson, Keith Whitley, Marty Stuart, Willie Nelson.

Merle Haggard.

And that’s the point of telling this story, isn’t it?





Those voices, those songs, those musicians. Then and now, they are a part of telling my life’s story. The music of Merle Haggard lives in my DNA. It’s a short hand between friends. An access code for memories, to instantly revisit a time and place.

There was this blue eyed cowboy. He loved to sing. Occasionally he’d even sing to me. There was this dance in Mimbres. The band let him do a song, “Silver Wings.” Merle’s music and that cowboy’s voice. Everyone talked about it for weeks.

I wasn’t even there (he and I had parted ways by that point) and it’s still a part of my story, the collective story of all of us Ag College kids from that era.

Back then a band or a jukebox or a cassette tape would play a Haggard song and we had to dance, had to sing along.

When I was taking acoustic guitar lessons, I spent a lot of time learning how to play “My Favorite Memory.” I never quite got it right.

Merle Haggard told stories. His stories became our stories. His stories became timeless. The opening cords of any number of his songs thrum a string in my soul.

Seventy-nine years is a lot and yet somehow not enough. I had recently been trying to get tickets to a show. He’d rescheduled February and cancelled March. I knew he was having trouble.

Knowing the end is near and the arrival are two very different things.

We last got to see him in December 2014. He came out to the stage looking tired and at half a lung down his voice was a little thin. By the end of the show he had energy and that smooth Merle Haggard sound rang clear, filling the venue and spilling out onto the streets.

We left the show full up to the top with the music of Merle Haggard. Though we’ve lost the man, his music lives on. In that way, we’ll always have Merle.

I’m saddened for his family who lost a husband, father and friend. We lost a good man yesterday. Today seems a little paler for the loss.

Rest easy, Hag.




December 2014 at the Uptown Theatre in Napa, CA




Black and white photo from Ben Haggard’s Facebook page all rights stay with the originator. Color photo ©2014 Karen Fayeth, taken with an iPhone6 and the Camera+ app and subject to the Creative Commons license in the right column of this page.




The Blues & The Words

The 26th of February. That what today is. February 26, 2016.

My, my, how time does fly.

Speaking of flying time, I see that the last time words were posted to this space was in November. That was like, yesterday, right?

Nope. 26th. Of February. Of 2016. Whew.

Well, okay, gotta try to shake that off and keep rolling. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about this little ol’ blog. It used to be that I’d knock out a post every weekday. Then three times a week. And then nothing since November.

Been wondering what got in my way.

Three things, really. First, I got a little worn out. I’d pushed The Muse and it was getting harder to think of interesting ideas to write about. Eventually The Muse asked me to give it a rest.

Another contributor was starting a different job. I used have a free lunch hour where I both ate and knocked out the words for this blog. In my new job, I am in so galldarn many meetings each day that my lunch break is now me eating while my staff streams in the door to grab a few moments of my time.

Finally, I started wondering a little bit about the fate of so-called long form blogs in an ever-shortening attention span world. I read an article a few years ago declaring blogs dead in favor of tweets and Tumblr. I kind of took it to heart.

So I let my word field lay fallow. And maybe that is okay. It needed some rain and some decay and some time to become fertile again.

One of the most compelling reasons that I started this blog was to be a place for writing practice.




Practice, practice, practice. When I kicked off these pages back in 2007 I felt like I had something to say and needed a venue, so I made my own.

Over many years I wrote something every weekday and watched my writing both inside and outside the blog become stronger, sleeker, and more concise.

While I still benefit from all of that work, the last few times I’ve been working on a short story, I’m noticing the flow just isn’t there. It’s always an uphill climb but without the many days a week practice to keep me limber, the hill got a little steeper (and a lot more pedantic).

There is a widely debated theory that it takes ten thousand hours of practice to become a master at something. I am not sure that is true because any artist I know would say you never master your medium, no matter how much or how hard you practice.

But what I do know is that as of the moment I am putting these words into print, there are over six hundred thousand words that I created and added to this blog. That hasn’t taken me ten thousand hours to create, but it’s still not nothing. It’s something that matters and something I am proud of.

Last weekend while I was sprucing up the blog and giving it a Spring cleaning (I’m kind of in love with this shade of blue) in preparation for my return to the words, I looked hard at that number in the footer of this page and thought to myself “I’m not done.”

And so I’m not.

One added benefit is that I get to grab those crazy thoughts from my mind and get them down. There’s good stuff in there. No more trying to blog it out loud to my kindly understanding spouse or my long-suffering coworkers.




So here I am, back for today and hopefully back again soon. I want to push out my elbows and make the space in my world for the words, the practice, and the ever wonderfully agonizing quest to get better at what I love to do most.




Carnegie Hall cartoon found here.

Blogging out loud cartoon found here.






Good Things Come In Twos

A two pack of good news! No, not Tupac, may he rest in peace, but a jam-packed, happy, good thing, ain’t-it-grand, times two!

I have been waiting a REALLY long time to share the news that over the summer two of my stories were accepted for publication.

Now both are finally published and out there in the world, flapping their little wings and taking flight.

I am SUPER proud!

Here’s the details:

You can find the magazine cover and link to each of the stories in the first column on the right side of this page.

Or…

I’ll just tell you.

The first is a story called “When Opportunity Knocks You Down” and it’s published in The Griffin Literary Journal, 2015 edition.

I wrote this story over fifteen years ago and I have always just loved and truly believed in it. The words capture a lot of what I was feeling in those first years living in the Bay Area and prowling the streets of vibrant San Francisco.

I have edited and shopped and polished and shopped this story for so long, determined to find that one person who got what I was trying to say.

Turns out it was the editor of The Griffin, Dr. Donna Allego, who was the one I’ve been waiting for. Seeing this story finally make it into print is just beyond my wildest dreams.

It’s a real testament to tenacity and accepting that a story will get a lot of no’s (like about 150 of them) and can still eventually find a yes.

Whew!

Here’s where you can go to read the story

Or go to the The Griffin Literary Journal main page for the link to download the entire edition.

Yay!






The second story is a little bit of a surprise. It’s such a quirky little tale that even as I was submitting it to a lot of magazines, I was just sure no one would pick it up.

To my utter shock, it was quickly snapped up on it’s first round of submissions by Ragazine.cc, The Global Online Magazine of Arts, Information & Entertainment.

This acceptance process was a one eighty-degree turn from the one above. Sometimes that one quirky story is just in the right place at the right time.

The story is called “The Seal” and the genre is a bit of a departure for me. It was written for the final round of the 2014 NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Contest. I loved the story and really believed it would do well in the final round of the contest.

We were just twenty writers who made it through to the final round, whittled down from a starting number of about 1,500. My odds were good.

Turns out this little story didn’t even place in the top ten. I was irked. There and then I decided that the best revenge for that stinging loss was to have the story published. A royal eff you to those judges.

I just had no idea it would be accepted so quickly! Double eff you! LOL!

I had a lot of fun writing my story about the Inuit god of icebergs and I hope you have as much fun reading it!

You can find the story here.

While you are there, poke around the other corners of Ragazine.cc, it’s a really cool place.




So yay! Give ’em a both read when you have a moment.

I’ll be over in the corner celebrating times two!





Broke Through

Since I am a native New Mexican, it seemed mandatory that I watch the television series “Breaking Bad,” which is set mostly in Albuquerque.

I missed it during its first run on AMC but found all five seasons are available on Netflix.

The Good Man watched some of the pilot episode with me and found it just didn’t work for him. Okay, fair enough. This meant I was on my own to get through it.

If you are part of a couple that shares a Netflix account, you know how hard it is when one of you wants to watch something and the other doesn’t. You have to carve out time to watch when the other isn’t in the mood to be watching TV.

I had to look for times when either The Good Man was off doing something else or I had to set up my iPad and watch it while sitting in the same room with The Good Man. Which, let’s face it, seems kind of silly.

Breaking Bad is not the kind of show one can really binge watch. I found that after getting through a single episode I had to step away from the television and go out into the world and remind myself that nice things still exist.

So it ended up taking me a really long time to watch all 62 episodes, but finally a few weeks ago I did it. I summited the mountain. I reached the peak. I got through the final episode of Breaking Bad.

I have to admit, the last five or so episodes are pretty hard to watch. The whole story and its characters are unraveling and there is a lot of violence and ugly things happening. I found it hard to finish, but I prevailed.

And now that I am on the other side, I broke through, so to speak, what is my final analysis?

As a writer, this is genuinely some of the best writing I have ever experienced. The character development, the original ideas, the pacing, the language. All of it. Genuinely amazing and enviable. Easy to understand why the show won so many awards. And easy to see why it’s been hard for Brian Cranston to find other projects to work on. He’s said he wants projects where the writing is as good as Breaking Bad, which has to be a real challenge.

As a New Mexican, it was at times really hard to watch. I’m not blind, I know there is a lot of bad happening in my homestate. That said, a lot of dramatic license was taken for the sake of a good story. It’s possible to live a nice life in Albuquerque without encountering meth. It really is.

I cringe when I see posts on social media where people say they moved to Albuquerque just because of the show. To each their own, I guess.

I did often have a chuckle when I saw familiar places in the show. The carwash that Walt and Skylar own? I lived about two blocks away from it. The dark restaurant with candles on the tables where Walt and Jesse would often meet? It’s over on Gibson (closed now) and my boss and I used to go have lunch there when I worked for Sandia Labs. Saul’s office? Used to frequent the liquor store in the same strip mall.

The list goes on.

However, seeing all of those locations in the show didn’t really make me homesick. They seemed so out of place in the context of what was happening.

Anyhow, I guess in summary, I can say I have mixed feelings. The writing and acting are profoundly good. And I am glad I watched the show so that I at least understand all of the cultural references. I do kind of wish New Mexico could have gotten a better shake. It’s a beautiful state with a lot to offer including a unique culture and way of life.

Nevermind. I take it back. It’s awful. If you aren’t already a resident, you don’t want to live there. Seriously. (Much love to the 505!)

I am glad that New Mexico got its moment in the spotlight, and I think the story, writing and acting changed the game for television. Hard to believe something so culturally groundbreaking came from a deceptively simple story about a cancer stricken chemistry teacher and his ne’er do well former student cooking meth. It’s a fine though challenging show.

And now the big question……

Do I start watching “Better Call Saul?”

Hmm.

______________

In other news, apparently the actor who played the DEA Agent known as Gomie is running for Bernalillo County Commissioner. Weird. He’s a legit New Mexican though, so okay.









Image found here.





Swinging For the Fences

When I began to seriously focus on submitting my writing to literary journals, I was schooled on the concept that it takes about one hundred rejections to get an acceptance.

Since submitting to one hundred journals takes a lot of research work, I began working with a really awesome service that helps me target submissions and keep track of rejections. Over the past several years, I have found that the one hundred rejection rule is pretty much true.

What this means is that I now get A LOT of rejections. In those first years most submissions were done by regular mail so I’d often have a mailbox crammed with rejection notices.

Now most submissions are done electronically and it is my email inbox that is filled to overflowing with rejection slips. They tend to come in waves. None for a while then six or eight at a time. Rejections usually show up when I’m having a really crappy day.

Receiving a pile of rejections just makes everything SO much better.

When I started getting that many rejection notices, it hurt at first. Each one was a tiny “ouch” and made me sad. Who could reject my perfect little carefully crafted babies?

Over time, I became immune to the sheer volume of no-thank-yous. The skin hardens a bit, the outlook toughens and now I just shrug and say “okay” and move on.

It’s what makes those occasional acceptances that much more sweet. A barrage of no and then a glowing, shiny, joyful yes.

Since I have had the good fortune to receive quite a few acceptances, my submission service has been trying to up my game a little bit.

By up my game, I mean in addition to the regular submissions to a lot of fine magazines that no one has heard of, they have been adding a few more well-known and highly regarded journals to my submission list.

I’m not quite up to the point of hitting up the New Yorker for publication, but names on the list recently include McSweeney’s, Harvard Review, Zoetrope and The Paris Review.

I always giggle just a little when I hit “submit” on those queries. That’s because the odds of my work seeing the light of such highly regarded and high circulation magazines is pretty slim. That said, you don’t hit a home run if you don’t swing at a few pitches. So I swing away.

The Good Man has a different view on the rejection process. He is always happy to see the rejections in the mailbox. His firm belief is that if they are saying no then at least they considered my work, if even for a moment.

He especially loves the so-called “good” rejections. The slips that have a personal note from the editor, or say something like “while we were unable to use this particular story, we’d like to see more work from you.”

Those good rejections are a tiny bit of bread to a starving writer. Those few words are enough to keep me working hard to get to yes.

Anyhow, all of this was on my mind as this morning I sorted through a stack of mail and opened a couple rejection slips. I can recognize them right away because when I do paper submissions, I include a self addressed stamped envelope.

When my own envelope returns to me, it’s almost always a no. Almost. I did get an acceptance one time in my SASE. I’d neglected to open it for almost two weeks and couldn’t believe it when I did open it. That was a nice surprise.

Anyhow, this morning’s envelope had a postmark from New York and inside resided the tiniest sliver of paper. What I estimate to be about one-eighth of a sheet of paper.

It’s from The Paris Review. A highly revered title.

They were able to spare just a tiny sliver of paper to tell me no way, Josephina.

And for a moment, I’d like to think about some low to no paid intern reading my story, considering it and then thoughtfully sending this slip.

I’m sure they LOVED my work, it just didn’t fit the themes on their literary calendar. Right?

Right.








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