short story

Spring, sprang, sprung

First, I must holler a mighty Congratulations! out to TW, who on March 1 successfully defended his thesis, Notebook, for his M.F.A. in Book Arts from the University of Alabama. Here is a digital scan of one version of his 50-edition handmade book: notebook tw. He will be posting more details soon on his website. Thus completes a wild adventure that spanned three years, two towns, and the unfailing support of family and friends. Thanks to all. I could not be more ecstatically proud of or happy for him.

So. Spring again, I see. Turned out to be quite the fallow winter here in Blogsville. Now that I’ve typed the word fallow, I’m stuck on it. I meant it initially only in the sense of inactivity, but of course it’s first meaning is related to farmland that is “plowed and harrowed but left unsown to restore its fertility” (New Oxford American Dictionary). Many writers use this word about their time between major projects, thinking of it as a restorative period. I wish I could reach that understanding about my own long uneventful stretches: to see them as beneficial — in fact, necessary — rather than as frustrating.

This past week was Spring Prep-Grade, er, Break at my school, and I had planned to squeeze in work on a short story, one I about which I had been taking notes. Here I am at the end of the break with two new pages … of crap. Ugh. That’s what happens, I suppose, by trying to “squeeze in” rather than “work on”; the latter takes time and intense focus that I can’t devote right now. (I knew this wasn’t going to work out, Semester.)

Writing two pages of crap, of course, is not wasted time. I know it’s not. I’ll figure it out when I’m ready to figure it out and no sooner. That’s the way this writing thing goes sometimes. Alas, such “failure” doesn’t help with my bluesy — nay, borderline morose — mood of late. Oh, the lack of spring in one’s step in the springiest of times! A most nettling (ha) irony. It’s not that I’m blind to the beauty and bursting forth around me. More like myopic, swaddled in a haze and befuddlement of my own making.

There are many factors at root, none of which I care to navel-gaze at here. There will always be factors. I suppose my frustration lies in my inability to see or move past those factors, on my tendency to allow them to build a nest and roost. On my tendency to broooooooood. (To betray my age and pop-culture-clogged brain, I just thought of Say Anything: Lloyd: Why can’t you be in a good mood? How hard is it to decide to be in a good mood and be in a good mood once in a while? Constance: Gee, it’s easy.)

These moody old moods are just part of my writing territory. The good news is, I know this terrain well, these old stomping grounds, these uneven highs and lows. I will traverse and stumble across them through all of the days that I am fortunate enough to be here — and with someone who will take my hand. Whether the sun is out or not, those uneasy clouds have their own beauty, don’t they? Yes, they do. When I finally remember to look up.

A love letter to the short story

Hey Short Story:

(I’d address you as “Dear” but “Hey” apparently is the American greeting of choice these days. You know, it’s sort of like, what-evs.)

This kind of comes out of the blue, I know. You might have wondered where I ran off to (although, maybe not, since you’re inanimate and all). Anyhoo, after our years-long love affair, I took a turn into Novelandia, then detoured off into Academiaville, found in the middle of the DeepSouthistan. But I hope you know that I never really forgot you. I didn’t abandon you as many have, adopting the novel as the form for “serious” writers, as though length equals depth, even as you plod on as the workhorse of myriad writing workshops. Not me. It’s true that I love novels, and films, too, anything that tells a story. But I find myself turning to you again and again, as a reader and writer. Why is that? What is this hold that you have on me, Short Story?

You’ve been especially on my mind these past few weeks as I teach a contemporary short fiction class. It’s all story, all the time, a kind of language immersion — REPETE, S’IL VOUS PLAIT, AVEC MOI– and boy howdy are the students tired. But I think they’re starting to see, as I do, all of the worlds and beauty and mysteries that you contain in your tiny, ever-evolving body, how you twist, contract, expand, fragment, and still somehow come together in the end, like origami or animal balloons or a math proof (or none of those things). You’re pretty fearless, now that I think about it. I admire your chutzpah, Short Story.

The point, if I have one, is that I feel that I owe you a declaration: I love you, Short Story. This isn’t a drunk dial, either. I’m perfectly sober, perfectly clear-eyed. I love you like I love the sky: for your seemingly endless permutations, for your sly ability to surprise after all these years, for your moments, those small, fragile turns that haunt and move me in incalculable ways.  How do you do that? You’re a mystery, I tell you. It keeps me coming back. In short, Short Story, you’re fabulous. You’re the one I’ll never get over.

The X of Y, or something

During my first year of full-time teaching, my fiction writing of course took a hit. In those last days of spring semester, I was barely holding on, slogging with clumsy feet, clawing at my throat with an eye on the glimmer in the distant sand: summer writing time.

It’s a strange thing, though, to have a substantial — though ultimately limited — stretch of time before you. I spent part of May panicking, like, shit, shit, I only have X time to do XYZ and PDQ. Plus, it’s hard to return to the focus — that “self-forgetful, perfectly useless concentration,” as Elizabeth Bishop calls it — that new writing demands each time, especially when you’re scrubbing off the rust of months of neglect. I spun in my chair, my worst fears embedded in the blank screen: the summer was going to be a bust. Here I was, with the perfect conditions, everything I needed, and I couldn’t do it.

But come on, little peanut. Everything’s not going to get written in a summer. That’s not how it works, or at least not for me. I have to work consistently, year-long, even when many of those months are unproductive little bastards. When I reminded myself of that, and I switched off Radio KFKD (thanks, Anne Lamott!), the knots in my psyche finally unclenched a bit. I’ve done steady work, much of it messy and some of it total disaster, but some of it not half-bad. I feel all right as the summer days begin (alas) to grow shorter, as my mind drifts more frequently to thoughts of fall planning. Rather than flog myself over what I haven’t accomplished, I thought it might be a nice change to step back and see what I have done. Imagine that. Oh, age.

I didn’t set a specific goal for pages or word count, just more of a grunting Write More. I started a new novel (the one  I have been working on the last few years is in the drawer for the mo’) and am trying to get my story collection into better shape. Here’s the tally:

Novel X: 76 pages

Short-story Y (draft 1): 16 pages

Short-story Z: 7 pages (finished-ish)

Okay, okay, okay. Back to work.