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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Tides of Snow and Ice

This winter has been a continuous series of freezes and thaws: it’s the warmest winter on record, the tenth one in a row. A more usual winter starts with a deep freeze and then stays cold for months. Instead, snow falls, piles up and vanishes; rises up again and retreats, now falling as rain, swelling rivers and creeks. Rain and snow mingle together until everything runs with water; hillsides and flat-sides are coated in a deep, dark mud.

I stopped on my walk today, halted by a sudden flash of gold. The sunset rays were falling into a tiny puddle spanning the space between the root and trunk of a maple. The puddle reflected gold and silver on top and below was dark mud, black and brown, full of microorganisms and other tiny creatures unseen by the human eye. I briefly considered putting my hand to the shining surface. It beckoned, winking like a diamond, but pull of my walk was irresistible and I continued forward. 

Mud is for March and April, mud so thick and heavy that it can pull shoes off and make them disappear like a magic trick beneath the solemn and still brown. Mud in February is a strange slight, an awakening that shouldn’t be occurring yet. It’s all the more cruel because even though the temperatures rise, they inevitably dip into the single digits and everything freezes solid. Many times I’ve spotted squirrels and tiny birds on the creek’s ice, searching for openings to drink from.

During this particular thaw, the creek casts off ice, it’s center opening like a dark cut. The water sings as it cascades over the rocks, proclaiming it’s momentarily relief from the grip of winter. In Scandinavian folklore, there is a belief that given the proper offerings, a creek could teach a human how to play the most bewitching music. I crouch down near the creek, record a video of it singing on my phone and replay its music in the evening while lying on the couch. I should give something in return for the pleasure of its song and I consider. Perhaps some lavender buds I have stored away for a certain recipe, or a small pinecone I keep on a shelf to admire, or birch bark I retrieved from a favorite tree cut down years ago. 

The next day I return, and after waiting for a few dogs and their owners to pass by, I crouch next the side of the creek and sprinkle lavender buds into the small, clear stream. The buds vanish as soon as I drop them into the water– as if they never existed. I drop some more in and the same occurs; they’re gone before I can blink. The current flows by, washing over stones, fleeting by banks of mud, until it vanishes around the bend where the pine trees tower overhead.

As I gaze at the water, first downstream and then upstream, my own self quiets, stills, and momentarily dissolves into the landscape. The relief, though short, is palpable. Alone becomes together and perhaps that is what’s this practice of thanking the creek has been about all along.

Winter in the Time of Climate Change

There is a stream near my home and I walk along it nearly every day; I know its moods and seasons nearly as well as I know my own. We are family and our connections are pure: we’re both made of water.

Every day brings more distressing news about the environment. Big changes need to happen but whatever change that does happen is so slow. Global warming is now being felt by everyone, some more than others. I go out and walk along the stream when the news and all the unfortunate future unknowns press in too hard. Right now, it is running fast. This winter has been a series of freezes and thaws. November hit hard with a heavy, deep freeze and I expected this to lead to a  white Christmas but instead, it’s been a muddy, wet winter, full of more temperate days than frosty ones. The thermometer rides up and down, every day propelled by a bouncing ball rather than a steady progression of tiny fluctuations.

The stream locks and then unlocks. It accepts each freeze and thaw with inestimable grace. After reading the news, it is hard to know what is near or far, here and up in the sky, in the mind or in the present moment. But the stream is always present, it knows no other moment. It lives in eternity; as David Hockney said, “It’s always now. It’s now that’s eternal.”

The creek is still here, I think to myself whenever I see it, it is still living. It runs forward through this strange January, sometimes under the ice and sometimes not. Patches of green moss dot the banks nearby, beyond that the nearby plants are broken, brown, and dried. They are asleep, listening to things I cannot hear, dreaming of things I barely know of.