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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The Light Changes: Books for the Autumn Equinox

Summer is coming to a close, as usual marked by heavy rain and fitful sunshine. I woke up to a downpour a few mornings ago. It took me awhile to fully wake due to the gloom-heavy atmosphere in the bedroom. When I finally got up and opened the bedroom door, the cats were waiting in the hallway, small triangle faces tilted and full of questions; they were unsure if it was breakfast time or not due to the strange murky light. It was so dim that even the street lamps were still on.

I padded with the cats out to the living room. Water was pouring down the western windows, giving the room a half-submerged effect as if it was about to give up and dissolve with the rain. The kitchen was a little better: I opened the eastern-facing window and a heavy, damp breeze rushed into the room, lifting napkins and papers and then setting them down again.

I set the kettle going and brewed a cup of green tea, sitting down at the kitchen table with the cat. She had gathered herself into the windowsill and we drank in the oxygen heavy air together. As the wind struck my face, the sensation of being sealed up alive in the house relented and I was able to breathe easier and drink the tea slowly, savoring the light, toasted flavor. The cat looked at me a few times as I drank but she inevitably returned to staring out the window, sniffing at smells I couldn’t detected but were utterly engrossing.

The loss of morning light in autumn makes the shortening days more noticeable. I love the night but hate early evenings and as sunrises comes later and the sunsets earlier, my fingers curl a little in my pockets. The long endless nights are coming. I’m not ready for summer to end but I attempt to reconcile myself by pulling out a few books.

As the light eases towards the darkness, I pull out the books that were once the spoken word, told during the long dark evenings to family members, friends, and the community; they’re usually called fairy tales or folk tales but “wonder tales” work just as well. I make a small pile: Franz Xaver von Schönwerth’s The Turnip Princess and Other Newly Discovered Tales, Zitkála-Šá’s American Indian Stories, Legends, and Other Writings, and Zora Neale Hurston’s Mules and Men.

Schönwerth collected fairy tales in the 1850’s when he traveled around his beloved Bavarian homeland, listening to fairy tales and writing them down. The Grimm Brothers were recording fairy tales at this time too, racing to preserve stories that were disappearing as print culture was erasing the need for verbal storytelling. In the centuries that followed, much of Schönwerth’s recordings was preserved but many stories were lost. In 2009, Erika Eichenseer found 500 previously lost fairytales of Schönwerth’s in the municipal building of Regensburg, Bavaria. She found a fairy tale treasure. The stories were recently translated from English to German and stand alongside The Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault’s fairy tales.

Next to my copy of Schönwerth’s The Turnip Princess is Zitkála-Šá’s American Indian Stories, Legends, and Other Writings. Zitkála-Šá was born during the Battle of Big Horn and was educated at a boarding school that enforced assimilation of First Nations’ peoples. Despite the school’s attempts to flatten her mind, body and spirit, Zitkala-Ša (Lakota for the cardinal bird) went on to be a political activist, writer, editor, translator, educator, and musician. She recorded Dakota Sioux legends, saving them for posterity. Many of them center on the trickster Iktomi, a spider fairy. I’ve included the beginning of a legend below.

Next to Zitkála-Šá’s folk tales is Zora Neal Hurston’s Mules and Men. Around the same time Zitkála-Šá was writing, Hurston was recording African-American folk stories that were fast disappearing. She recorded the stories she heard in her home of Eatonville, Florida and other nearby communities and logging camps. These stories often center on John Henry cleverly outwitting everyone, sometimes even the devil. Alongside the folk tales, Hurston recorded her experience learning hoodoo in New Orleans. It is not for the faint of heart.

These three books and the deep histories they invoke make the evenings richer, more bearable and in closing, I leave you with this opening of Zitkála-Šá’s retelling of “Iktomi and the Muskrat”:

Beside a white lake, beneath a large grown willow tree, sat Iktomi on the bare ground. The heap of smoldering ashes told of a recent open fire.  With ankles crossed together around a pot of soup, Iktomi bent over some delicious boiled fish.

Fast he dipped his black horn spoon into the soup,, for he was ravenous. Iktomi had no regular meal times.  Often when he was hungry he went without food.

Well hid between the lake and the wild rice, he looked nowhere save into the pot of fish.  Not knowing when the next meal would be, me meant to eat to enough now to last some time.

“How, how, my friend!” said a voice out of the wild rice. Iktomi started.  He almost choked with his soup.  He peered through the long reeds from where he sat with his long horn spoon in mid-air.

“How my friend!” said the voice again, this time close at his side. Iktomi turned and there stood a dripping muskrat who had just come out of the lake.

“Oh, it is my friend who startled me.  I wondered if among the wild rice some spirit voice was talking.  How, how, my friend!” said Iktomi.  The muskrat stood smiling.  On his lips hung a ready “Yes, my friend,” when Iktomi would ask, “My friend, will you sit down beside me and share my food?”

That was the custom of the plains people.  Yet Iktomi sat silent. He hummed an old dance-song and beat gently on the edge of the pot with his buffalo-horn spoon.  The muskrat began to feel awkward before such lack of hospitality and wished himself under the water.

The rest can be read in Zitkála-Šá’s American Indian Stories, Legends and Other Writings.

Please feel free to share your favorite fairy tale or folk tales in the comments section.

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.