Tiny Stories, Tiny Tales

hmmmm…for the last few months, something has been stirring in the depths of my mind. It is now finally coming to light…

About a month ago, I started watching two documentaries on the artist/eccentric Tasha Tudor. She is an children's book illustrator. She also…lives in a time of her own. You see, Tasha believes when she dies, she will go straight back to the 1830's. She lives her life then, as close as she can to the habits and conditions of the 1830's. She lived without running water or electricity for six years while raising four small children. Now she continues to spin her own wool, work her own looms. She gardens, she knits, she cooks on her wooden stove. She paints, she draws, makes dolls, makes clothes, makes cheese and butter and on and on. She's somewhere in her 90's now but somewhere in her 80's, she decided it was time to be interviewed and documented.

Her videos are called Take Peace! and Take Joy! and once I got them, I watched them. And then I watched them again. And again and over and over till it was a ritual.
I knew something was going on in the back of my brain as I watched these videos. I had no idea what it was but it was happening back there. Something very slow and very deep. At times, it was tough. I felt obsessed and a fanatic for watching these videos daily for I'd say, two months. I knew though, something was stirring. I was watching this woman really closely. And I mean closely. I was watching her do something. Something…but what was it?

And now, only a few days ago, it started to dawn on me. The idea was very slow at first but now it's spreading through. I was watching Tasha Tudor enjoy her work. And not just fun work but ALL work. Even the hard work, like weeding and lugging around buckets of manure. She enjoyed all of it. You could tell. She was 86, trotting around and glorying in the process. The process. She loved the process of work. She liked the outcome but she loved the process. That's why she had three million projects. She said, “I don't believe in hurry,” and you could tell. At 86, you don't hurry. You can't. And she doesn't. She meanders around, doing things, sauntering barefoot with her dogs tagging after her.

And then after that, I started noticing things. Kinda scary but they were adding up. I started noticing people enjoying their work. I even started READING about people in books who enjoyed their work. They enjoyed ironing. Not for the straight clothes in the end but for the ironing. The process of it. And this keeps happening everywhere I looked and look. People enjoying the process of work.

Well…I knitted my brows. I still knit my brows. It is dawning on me that work doesn't have to be the hell-land, spawn of despair ordeal I thought it out to be. That it always has been.
I have started to enjoy my writing. Believe it or not, I haven't enjoyed writing. I felt it was my vocation and that I could be good at it sometimes but there was no enjoyment there. I liked it when people liked it but otherwise…who the fuck cared? I didn't care for writing. I did it because I felt I had to. And that's still there, of course. But…but…there's a window now, isn't there? I read in “Art and Fear” (which probably started it all, really) that creating art isn't about the product. It's about the process. Enjoying the process. And that's what I have come to. And slowly but surely, I'm getting towards there. And the landscape inside of myself is getting wider. I hopped a fence and am walking into a bigger area. It's scarier than…well, it's damn scary but is it interesting. Not having the eye glued on the end perfection opens all sorts of places.
I keep hoping that sitting down to write will stop being so terrifying. That the love-hate relationship will end. It hasn't yet. But…somethings are beginning to open up. I need a few more keys, a few more steps in the process…

I've also been reading Richard Rohr who comments on the product-result drivenness of the West. The obsession with success and results. And then he goes on to say that prayer is not about results or success. It is not about product. It is about relationship. That also keyed me in…I thought…wait…work is a relationship. And relationships are not about the end project that leads to money and fame.
I have no idea, none whatesoever how I could ever pull apart perfect product from writing but I do know that I want something more. And that I intend to go straight towards it. Again, I have no idea but I intend to pursue this. This relationship. This joy in the process. Ending this fixation on the perfect end. And we'll see…

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How to Get Through a Big Book

How to get through a Big Book and have a little fun too.

  1. Make and eat food mentioned in the book (big books always include food, usually in meticulous detail).
  2. Read a little bit each day.
  3. Make a soundtrack.
  4. Dress like a character from the book for a day. Or a week. Or a month if it really grabs you.
  5. Ten minutes to kill? Daydream about the landscape or what the characters are seeing as they move through their day.
  6. Read passages you enjoy out loud. If you’re in the right mood, record yourself reading passages and share it (Instagram is great for this). Include illustrations if you like (thank you, Shirin).
  7. Whip out a highlighter or some sticky tabs for those great parts.
  8. Pace yourself and remember, reading gigantic books isn’t a race. It’s about the journey. Might as well bring along snacks, good drinks, great lighting, and enjoy the ride.

How to Search for Story Settings

A big city not far from mine has a casino. I’ve heard a few stories from friends that have worked there. Most center on being treated badly by a customer and revenging themselves by throwing the customer’s car keys into the Fox River. Karma is enacted on a regular basis at the casino.

There’s something about that river, flowing by, murky green during the day and black at night, a bottomless pit for car keys.

The river divides the city in half, east to west. The Fox flows along the old warehouses, limestone and brick, built back when the city had manufacturing plants and industry. Now the warehouses sit sturdy and silent, crumbling ever so slowly. Their roofs are flat and give the illusion of brick walls running straight into the sky. Some were built like prosaic wedding cakes, higher and higher, until the final topping is small square with tiny windows. Industry has never been about aesthetic needs and wants.  And yet by some miracle, these old turn of the century warehouses have achieved it just the same.

I observed the warehouses from the back deck of the riverside café, clutching my cup of earl grey and wishing I had put sunscreen on. It was the first time I had ever been to this café and I came because I needed a new setting for a fiction story I was working on. None of the cafes I remembered from the past were working for me. I needed this kind of café, one that hung out in an old manufacturing city where there wasn’t much industry left. There was, at least, a casino and many local businesses and this café hung on, here at the water’s edge.

A little further up was the casino where my friends had thrown those keys into the water. From my point on the deck, I could see the grimy metallic white heel of the building jutting out. Another friend told me that he goes there regularly to play black jack. It relieves stress and earns a little extra cash for his family.

The wind picks up a little and despite the sun, it’s chilly. Spring plays these tricks on us.

There is no sign of life in the warehouses all around me. We’re all boxed in together and the light plays off their empty windows, open and blank to the sun. I sip some tea and play “Over the Hills and Far Away” by Led Zeppelin just to see if this café will work for my story. It only takes a few bars of listening to the song and I know that this place is perfect. This spot on the river is perfect for many stories. It’s  been perfect for all the stories I know nothing about and the ones that I’ve caught the smallest glimpses of.

A mallard suns himself in the weeds that line the water’s edge. The river moves fast and sure and I turn off the music. No need to for further noise. The song is already there.