Tiny Stories, Tiny Tales

taking a siesta

I've been using all my brain cells for the fiction I've been writing. Now's the time to sit down and write here. It's an off day for me today. I have no scheduled writing program for myself.
I'm starting to learn the habits of writing. It's funny how hard it is for me to do the things I most desire. But that's how it is. I'll easily give up my writing time and process by saying I'll go to lunch with a friend, or I'll go and do a chore- get clothes or food. I haven't yet figured how to balance all this out. With a normal job, you'd say, I have stay here, I can't go out and spend a few hours in the middle of the day with a friend. No, you work. And you wouldn't say…hmmm…we really need milk and this and that and I'll just go out and do this and then come back and do my job. Nah-uh. Because no matter how many times I promise myself that I'll get back to my writing after I do all these things, I can't. I mean, I can but it's like dragging ten dead oxen to their burial ground ten miles away in the burning heat (like that metaphor, huh?). Writing is hard enough. Why add ten dead oxen in the burning heat that you have to drag single handedly? Right. So.
This is my process without the oxen. I get up (the earlier is always better) and I go downstairs, get myself some breakfast and proceed to read something. I always have novels and biographies and somebody's letters going on so I read one of those. Then I take my shower, dressed, etc. So okay, I've eaten, I've read, I've cleaned myself. Sometimes, after I clean myself, I have to clean my house just a little! So I sweep or vacuum or wash the dishes. Then I leave. I take my keys, shut the door behind me and go out on my walk. Sometimes, I just meander through the neighborhood. And it's a pretty nice neighborhood. It's old and well cared for and I haven't even walked to the end of it. Everyone has flowers out and lawns trimmed and trees trimmed. The neighborhood is old enough (before 1900) that every house is different. Different architectual styles, different renovations, different landscapes. So I meander all through this. I meander past the fascinating houses that tell all sorts of curious possibilies about their owners and I go past the ship-shape ones and the ones where people live so intensely in them that there's barely time to do yard work.
And that's where my mind chatters to itself. I try to get myself to think about what I'll write next but lately I've stopped doing that and just let my mind think about whatever it needs to. I just tell my sub-conscious to simmer on things. “You, think about what to write next about so-and-so,” I tell it. And since it's my sub-conscious, I don't get a response. But it's there because everyone has one, simmering on whatever…sub-consciouses simmer on. I walk for about an hour, or I go down to Fabyan park, next to the Fox River, take some knitting and take a walk that ends up on me sitting at the base of a very large sculpture. Sculpture? It's some conconction of Fayban's. He lived around the turn of the century and was a whacky millionaire. He left scatterings of sculpture all through his property and the one I sit on is one of the few that still stands. It's a tall pillar with an eagle on top. Very ugly, very huh? But it makes a perfect seat. And I sit on that and it sits on an island. So I look out at the river and knit and people jog and bicycle past. There are moments that I spazz out thinking, “OH MY GOD, I NEED TO RUN/BICYCLE/JOG/WORKOUT TOO!” but that simmers down and I just think about my characters in the shade and knit row after row.
Then it's home and time to write (minus the ten dead oxen).
Obviously, this process takes time but it's really the process that works. If I don't take a walk before I work, I find myself getting all twitchy in the middle, with the attention span of a gnat. So I just gotta walk. And if I don't eat before I do anything else, I get to feeling pretty strange and dizzy (don't worry kids, I know why I get dizzy if I don't eat) so I just gotta eat. as for the reading…well, it's a way to get a jump start about all sorts of interesting thoughts!
So there you have it. Catherine's writing process. A day of. It's so damn easy to split the process up and to go and do other things. And that happens more than I would like it to. But I'm getting to know what works, what doesn't. And the morning really does work. The morning is a fabulous free time and I'm growing to love it more and more. The panic I used to wake up with every morning is receeding and I'm finding if I get up in the morning and go to bed at night, then I don't need naps. Novel, right? Hah. It's sad to give up the night-life but I do so love the mornings.

It's been good to chronicle this. Thanks for reading.

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The Taste of Tea

A favorite film of mine, The Taste of Tea, centers on an eccentric family living in the Japanese countryside. They spend a great deal of time sitting outside, sipping tea and staring into space. They sit as a family, alone, or in a small group and no one talks. They just stare out into the deep green that is the summer. And then they get up and go on walks or go off to work.

The first time I watched The Taste of Tea, I was shaken and delighted that the film gave space and respect to one of my favorite pastimes: sipping tea and staring into space.

When spring grew warm enough, I was inspired by the film to sit outside and stare into my backyard in the early morning. The Taste of Tea had given me a sort of permission to leave stress behind and take this time for one of my deepest desires: to enjoy and contemplate nature while sipping tea.

I named my new practice “Sipping Tea and Watching the Grass Grow.” I felt ridiculous whenever I mentioned it to anyone but that hardly mattered. I was doing what I loved so much, watching plants grow, watching the birds and small animals moving through it all, and sky glowing blue and serene over us all.

 

Grass grows slowly, imperceptibly but after each rain, it leaps up by inches. The violets came in May and they lasted for weeks. After that the dandelions bloomed and I lost a little bit of my heart to them. The wind picked up their seeds and sent the white fluffs floating into the air in sweet, downy clouds. After that, small wild strawberries, glowing like fierce red gems, appeared in the lawn. Now at the end of June, a luxurious, emerald green covers nearly everything. It reaches up from the ground, covering fences and stones or it high overhead, green leaves moving in tall, imperceptible breezes.

 

The heat has settled in so now even in the mornings, I pour sweat while drinking my tea. On some mornings the birds are noisy and busy and on other days they are not. Sometimes a great big bumblebee comes tumbling along, droning in that low, hazy buzz as it investigates every surface and flower. And then sometimes it does not come. Some days the clouds are like fluffs of cotton, other days there isn’t a cloud in sight. Each day brings a new configuration, nature is never still. I watch it all and at other times, I close my eyes and listen to my breathing. I’m not alone, never alone, a part of a whole.

A Tale of Two Worlds

I walk past a window on my way to get a glass of water and note the snow falling outside.  As I fill my glass at the sink, my thoughts have already turned back to my work on the computer. I’m wrestling with the household budget, when I’ll fit some reading in, how to get on with my writing work, when I’ll exercise, when I’ll catch up with email correspondence and the list goes on and on.

Anytime I stop my work and look up, past the chatter in my mind, the snow catches me off guard as if it’s the first time I’m seeing it. I debate whether I can put off the grocery store to avoid driving in the snow.

This is the world of the everyday. It’s full of a thousand petty cares, some essential to living, others not as much but all in a lump group, tugging us along.

But there are times my mind needs something more refreshing, and it’s time to take a break. And that’s where music comes in—as powerful as Circe creating a circle of magic with her staff. I pick out music without words (or words I don’t understand). Today is Rimsky-Korsakov, tomorrow might be the film Phantom Thread’s soundtrack, or a piece of jazz played by Lucky Thompson.

As Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Snow Maiden starts, the circle opens. I come out of the everyday world and enter somewhere extraordinary, where beauty converges with life and cares and worries exit for a time. And all it takes is a little music, a little snow, and entering the moment that is now.

I watch the snow falling, noting the wind direction as the snow blows southeast and then drops and then exhales again southwards. I note the density of the snow, how it’s light and sparkling and then downy, heavy, and wet.  My thoughts finally still and I turn off the music. A heavy relief passes over my body and mind and I am still, watching the beauty of the world.