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 Delicate Balance of a Crescent Moon

Spring is turning towards summer now. It began so delicately with a soft green — the hue of a tender rumor murmured only in off moments — but then the green rumor became bold, became the truth, and over the course of seemingly a night the grass is long, the trees are full, and the peonies are about to bloom. Every night I smell smoke and charcoal, my neighbors busy with their grills. They mow their lawns, weed their flower beds, dump their mulch, and then go to their backyards to cook up dinner.

I do none of these things. The rhythms of suburbia are pleasing to watch with their precise, ticking movements but they are less pleasing to indulge in. There’s a deep pressure to conform, and so I recede to the sanctuary of my old deck, watching the birds and bumblebees pass through my yard.

I’ve been toying with the idea of sinking a spade into the ground, ridding one area of hideous orange daylilies and planting a few tiny bits of bleeding heart and bluebell, gifts from a friend. It’s been years since I’ve played in the dirt, dug around, sorted things out, grimaced at the grubs and bugs that emerge from the dirt. Intolerable joint pain cut off many activities, and gardening was the first to go. But this year, after so many years of pursuing healing and wellness, I am feeling better and I think it might be time to poke and prod at the earth again. To see what I can do about weeds and debris.

But then again, this might not happen. The doctor told me yesterday that my body was “currently struggling with inflammation due to increased activity,” that I need to take it slower, that I needed to continue working on a low-inflammation diet.

Dreams of gardening haze in and out. It might happen this weekend, but it might not until later. Depression surges forward and I struggle with it. Life is hard with fibromyalgia and chronic pain, and there are always so many small, difficult choices to make. I chose to increase my exercises by a small amount last week; my body responded with intense shoulder pain and a flare up of inflammation throughout my system — primarily in my hands, shoulders, back, feet. It is just this way and I walk slowly through it, sometimes crying but mostly not, because life has been like this for years now and slowly, as time passes, the tears dry up.

Pain makes us discard some goals and pick others up.

There is a waning crescent moon in the sky, a thin sliver that sets in midafternoon and rises in early morning. It will soon be a new moon and then we will pass into summer.

The Melancholy of Tender Green Leaves

I’ve always thought that autumn was the most melancholy season with the its dying flowers and falling leaves, weeks of sweeping rain, and the ever plummeting temperatures but over the last few years of my life, Spring has stepped forward as a possible contender.

There is something brutal in the racing green, the tender spring flowers leaping forth before they’re smothered by the emerging foliage of tree and brush overhead. Birds and animals are racing too, hurrying to carve out territories, find a mate, build a home. Rainstorms and occasional snowstorm cause the river to overflow its banks and  the parks flood, ducks go floating by in puddles turned to ponds. Spring is the rush season.

Over the last few years as I’ve struggled with chronic joint issues, Spring has been a merciless time, it’s hurling push more like a joke than anything else. In the beginning years of unrelenting joint pain, I shut myself away, ignoring the season and reading instead. But even under the weight of immense pain, being locked away became boring and unbearable and so I sat outside last Spring, unable to walk but content to look and listen. I settled into my chair every early morning and watched the treetops, noting the first emergence of light green, the tiny buds unfurling, and finally the spread of a gorgeous green canopy, all the more momentous because I had watched it emerge every day over the course of weeks. I listened to the birds too noting who was new, local, or just passing through. At last came the buzzy bumblebees, ponderous and loud, like dizzy helicopters on a mission to gather pollen.

This Spring I graduated from sitting in my backyard to walking through my neighborhood, joint pain eased over time due to correct diagnoses, correct treatments, and my own on-going work with drawing boundaries and practicing self-care. I take walks in deep gratitude, admiring the greening grass, the children and dogs passing by, and my neighbors’ tulips, daffodils, and blooming magnolias.

But as Spring works hard to cover-up winter’s pulverizing blow, I find that I cannot forget the past. Time is passing and each day shoves us forward whether we’re ready for it or not. Some go forth happily but for many, going forth is complicated, complex, and more painful than easy. And so there is a melancholy in the soft green leaves backed by the dark bark of trees, in the bright tulips springing forth out of the dank heavy mud, and in the cold breeze that causes magnolia petals to fall just after blooming. Already everything is passing, clearly illuminating the transient nature of life which sometimes is sweet and other times too painful to behold. Holding both of these emotions at once is the place where poetry emerges and who better to linger in this in-between state but Li Qingzhao, the great immortal poet from China’s Song Dynasty. Below are a few of her ci poems, translated by Kenneth Rexroth and Ling Chung. 

The Day of Cold Food

Clear and radiant is the splendor

Of Spring on the Day of Cold Food.

The dying smoke of aloeswood incense

Floats above the jade burner.

My dream is broken and hidden

like my flower hair ornaments

Buried in a pile of cushions.  

The swallows have not come back

From the Eastern Sea, but already

People are gathering wild flowers and herbs

In the meadows. The plum blossoms by

The river are gone. Catkins

Appear on the willow branches.

And then—in the orange twilight—

Fall widely spaced drops of rain.

 

浣溪沙·淡蕩春光寒食天
朝代:宋代

作者:李清照

淡蕩春光寒食天。玉爐瀋水嫋殘煙。夢迴山枕隱花鈿。
海燕未來人鬥草,江梅已過柳生綿。黃昏疏雨溼鞦韆。

 

 

I Gave a Party to My Relatives on the Day of Purification

 

Tranquil and serene, the night

Seems to last forever.

Yet we are seldom happy.

We all dream of Ch’ang An

And long to take the road back to the capital,

And see this year again the beauty of Spring, come with

Moonlight and shadow on the new flowers.

Although the food is simple, as are the cups,

The wine is good, the plums sour.

That is enough to satisfy us.

We drink and deck our hair with flowers

But do not laugh,

For we and the Spring grow old.

 

蝶戀花
  
   上巳召親族
  
  永夜懨懨歡意少,
  空夢長安,
  認取長安道。
  為報今年春色好,
  花光月影宜相照。
  
  隨意杯盤雖草草,
  酒美梅酸,
  恰稱人怀抱。
  醉里插花花莫笑,
  可怜人似春將老。

 

Fading Plum Blossoms

 

Spring is hidden in my studio,

Daylight locked out of my window,

My painting room is profoundly secluded.

The seal character incense is burned out.

The shadows of the sunset

Descend across the curtain hooks.

Now that the wild plum I planted myself

Is blooming so well this year

I do not need to climb the waterfall

Seeking wild plum blossoms.

No one comes to visit me.

I am lonely as ever was Ho Sun in Yang Chou.

I know that although my plum blossoms

Are lovelier than all others

The rain will soon scatter them away.

The sound of the horizontal flute fills the whole house

With a melody of dense sorrow.

I will not feel badly when their perfume dissolves

And their jade snow petals fall.

When they have all been swept away

The memory of my love for them will remain.

It is difficult to describe the beauty of their shadows

Cast by the pale moonlight.

满庭芳
  
  小阁藏春,
  闲窗销昼,
  画堂无限深幽。
  篆香烧尽,
  日影下帘钩。
  手种江梅更好,
  又何必、临水登楼?
  无人到,
  寂寥恰似、何逊在杨州.
  
  从来,
  如韵胜,
  难堪雨藉,
  不耐风揉。
  更谁家横笛,
  吹动浓愁?
  莫恨香消玉减,
  须信道、扫迹难留。
  难言处,
  良窗淡月,
  疏影尚风流。