Tiny Stories, Tiny Tales

My life is in rework. Oh yes, this always happens- it's a part of life. Change, growth, etc, etc. But this time…this time its different. I've always been a stickler for inside change, praying and reading things till I've dealt with the turmoil inside of myself, shaking off old ways of thinking that don't work, getting on with the new ways, that sort of thing.
This time though, this time, my outward life is changing. This is odd because it hasn't happened all that often in my lifetime.
I write less. Oh, I write everyday. But I don't write fiction and I'm not focused on writing. It's turning into a dear old friend whom I love instead of a murderous conniving vixen. The murderous hold it had on me (write to be a success) is falling away. In fact, I don't view myself as a writer. Do you know what a relief that is? what heaven? Oh, I write but I don't have to. No one's making me. It's not my career. It's my choice. And everyday, I think…hmmm…I'll chose you writing to explore the day and the past days. Oh! You're great for that. I really enjoy hanging out with you.
I've stopped posing on paper- I've stopped trying to be someone else on paper. That was a revelation during this time that I haven't been able to write due the discomfort of post-hernia surgery. It came to me…I was trying to be someone else on paper. And now I'm me. I'm not sure when it happened but it did. I am many many things (thank you very much) but I am me. On paper. No more of this trying to be highbrow and meaningful and deep and symbolic and cool and tempered. Oh, I'm all those things all right but I'm so much more.
So there's that. But that's still an inside change.
No, it's this outward change I'm trying to get to and that is this: I sew. I'm a crazy sewing woman. I love to sew. I'm piecing together this child's quilt by hand and I just adore it. I'm moving slow as slow can be (because of the hernia recovery) but this gives such pleasure. I can savor. I can sew out straight lines and then just savor it for a day. It's such incredible satisfaction. I love to go slow. It gives this creation of things such a zest and tang. It gives color.
And I pour over sewing books. I took my beginning sewing class so things make sense and the books make more make sense. It's coming to me. I pour over my sewing machine manual. It's fun! Reading about my sewing machine (which I know so little about) is fun. Which sounds insane but there you are.
I'm finding what I really love and guess what? It's sewing. I do like clothes (okay, maybe it's more than just liking) but it's that sewing thing. You sew it and it exists. It's there. I think I like the process more than the awesome product. Funny like that.
Oh, I still love Literature. That'll always be there. I'm a bookish girl but I'm so much more than just a bookish girl with a BA in Literature and Writing. And because I'm more than that…things fall into my lap. Like a few nights ago…it came to me. Just came to me. I know exactly who I want to do my doctorate work on. I want to do it on L.M. Montgomery. She wrote all these fabulous novels and her writing is Good and her descriptions are Great and I have loved her since I read her at twelve and college made me ashamed of liking her but now that I'm past college and being out of college doesn't mean I'm not intelligent anymore…well, I just adore her. I love her mention of how Little Aunt Em is known for her spinning and her knitting and her cables. And this mention of knitting (because I've never seen Montgomery mention it for any other character in her novels) illustrates a ton about Aunt Em. She's a mysterious tiny woman, chock full of wisdom. Spinning and knitting give this breadth and depth. So yeah. If I get my doctorate, I'm doing it on Montgomery. My thesis study will definitely include something about the domestic arts because she was a big believer in them- while still being a professional highly successful woman. And I'm a big believer in them too. Montgomery was so highly successful and she left behind massive amounts of journaling and tons of interviews so the material is there and well…I have a strong resonance for her. Her descriptions of nature have always cut to my heart. I'd like to think my own ways of speaking about nature are influenced by her. My writing on nature has always been my most excellent and I'd like to think it has to do all those years of reading her.

Anyway. Things are happening. Changing. I'm growing and moving and pushing and resting. It's wonderful just to spend time resting and pondering. It's a good time.

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Cracks in Time

There are moments in time where the past overlaps with the present. Sometimes referred to as “thinning of the veil,” they are strange, illusionary moment when one season passes into another, when the silvery full moon shines its brightest, and when firelight flickers warmly in the cold night.

Right now in the Northern Hemisphere, the darkness is overtaking the days of light. Icy winter is just beginning to finger the edges of autumn’s beauty. The first frost came a few days ago and over the weekend, I awoke early in the morning and was greeted by the sight of downy snowflakes falling weighted from a heavy sky.

As the days grow shorter, I catch glimpses of color and movement out of the corner of my eye. I can’t say what I’m seeing exactly—perhaps it is the corners of autumn on the wane, the earth shedding its summer glory before it falls still. Perhaps I’m seeing the fast flicker of days as they shorten, when sunset comes around 5PM instead of later hours.

Whatever it is, I feel the shift and though it’s a cycle I’ve witnessed my whole life, there is something unearthly about the shift, as if something strange is lurking in the off edges of the exchanging cycles. There are tiny spaces in the exchange, little windows that open up into another world and as the darkness lengthens, perhaps it is the past that grows a little clearer, a little nearer.

Earlier sunsets and later sunrises means more darkness and with the dark and external stillness arises memories and with memories, the dead rise up. The dead is our own past, old and gone versions of people and ourselves which are still living. What people have been to us, what they have done to us, what we ourselves once were, lives in the murky shadows of memory and as the seasons change, one foot treading precariously before another, time slides a little and anything is possible.

There are many stories that deal with these strange moments in-between worlds and time.

One of my favorites is Still She Wished for Company by Margaret Irwin, first published in 1924. It deals with the lives with two women, Jan in the 20th century and Juliana in the 18th. The two women never fully see each other, despite their ability to see the past and future, but it is Juliana’s brother, Lucian, that travels through time between them. Jan first encounters him on a stormy afternoon on Hill Street, London. She takes shelter under the doorway of an old, preserved 18th century house and as the rain pours down, he appears near her side. The book follows and explores their strange relationships.

Another book about curious women existing in that magical land in-between words is The Brontes Went to Woolsworths by Rachel Ferguson. The three Carne sisters live in pre-war London. One is a journalist, one a young actress and the last is still under the care of a governess. They make up stories as they have done since they were very young, one particularly long lasting imagery saga about a real life judge they read regularly about in the papers. When they meet the judge’s very real wife, problems ensue and during a dark night, two of the Bronte sisters appear on their doorstep. Take a guess which two.

And of course, any list about the stories that deal with past impinging on the present would be incomplete with The Turn of the Screw. One of Henry James’ most popular short stories, The Turn of the Screw is narrated by a very young and sweet governess who isn’t entirely sure what she is seeing or what is going on with the two children she looks after.  The three (including a housekeeper and a few servants that are rarely mentioned) live in a great empty house but after a short while there, the governess begins to see lone figures in what should be empty spaces—the top of a turret, in front of a drawing room window overlooking the lawn, by the side of a still pond. She is never able to catch and speak to them for they always disappear and slowly, she gathers that these figures are not quite human nor, is the rumor, were they that human when they were alive neither. What follows is questions of belief, what is real and what is not, and the end plays out the consequences of her decisions.

Earlier than James’ spine tingling story is The Christmas Carol, a ghost story that largely takes place at night by the master of Victorian ghost stories, Charles Dickens. His lesser known Ghost Stories are a delight. The characters in his haunted tales travel through dreams, moonlight, firelight and meet all sorts of ghosts and other sorts of beings. My favorite “The Queer Chair” occurs when man dozing at night realizes that an old, quaint chair in his room has come to life and they have a long discussion about the future near the warmth of the fireside.

Another of my favorites is “The Ghosts of a Mail.” A drunk man on his way home decides to take a comfy snooze on the top of a wall overlooking a yard of wrecked and decrepit coaches. He wakes under a full moon only to discover that the coaches are being used once more and goes on to have a wild ride with a beautiful lady trying to escape her pursuers.

Dickens favors the moments between sleeping and waking for his ghosts to appear (his most famous ghost of all Marley can’t resist making his appearance during the ungodly hours) and it is small wonder.

Some of my own most fantastic nightmares, more real than the day, occur when I’ve been dozing off or are just beginning to fall asleep. My mind is in-between places here, not fully in one state nor the other. I’ve seen ghostly sad boys standing by my bed. For decades, my bedroom walls were covered in elegant cursive every morning as I slowly awoke.

M.R. James is another writer that uses the moments in-between sleeping and waking as some of his most terrifying moments. One such story is “Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad.” A professor comes across a strange bone whistle on his walk along the English coast and inscribed on it in Latin are the words, “Who is it who is coming?” As he makes his way back from his walk, he blows the whistle a few times. Nothing happens. But that night his bedclothes rise in the form of a blind man and attempt to strangle him.

It Leapt Towards Him in an Instant

Sleeping is dangerous time, indeed.  The mind lives in another realm while the body lies prone. And now as the dark and heavy hours approach, we turn on lights and stay indoors. But those strange corners still remain and in-between our waking hours, we sometimes see them.

The Willows Converse Among Themselves

I look across the river and catch sight of the willows, lost in their own world. They have no regard for me. They are speaking to each other in whispers so I hear nothing clearly but I see their long golden-yellow chains wavering over the water. It reflects their light.

There are presences in this world that are not human but sometimes, a human being comes across one of these presences and this is when poetry happens—when we interact with the strange divinity that moves through the world.

I caught sight of the willows and so complete were they within themselves, so beautiful to behold, that my mind stopped dead in its tracks and my heart eased. In the presence of an Other, human commotion becomes impossibly silly and pointless. The past and future converge into the present and there is only now.

I exhale the stress I’ve held this morning as I watch them. The willows, their long hair hanging over their faces, disregard me totally and completely and talk in their slow tree way, something to do with the air, water, and earth. I cannot hear much but what I do hear makes me recall there were other beings on this earth other than myself, older than myself. They exist in this time, in many times, living, dying, always reappearing. The willows hang their hair over the water as they have done for centuries, listening to the currents and moving with the breezes and eddies of the wind.

With a gratefully diminished self, I thank the universe for the ancient poetry that is the willow tree and move forward, reborn, into the bright day.

 

茶の煙柳と共にそよぐ也

the tea smoke

and the willow

together trembling

Issa

(Trans. David G. Lanoue)