Tiny Stories, Tiny Tales

it's one of those weeks. Nothing works. I sit around and struggle inside instead of doing Anything. I'll take Lamott's advice and take the voices in my head and drop them into jars like mice, close the tops of those jars. Here's the first mouse/voice:

Perfect to Semi-Perfect Housekeeper
Is she that? No, she’s far more malicious then that. She’s the woman who does everything, keeps everything clean and orderly, everywhere and makes everything and never loses energy. She sleeps only at night and only for six hours and then leaps up again for the next day. She knits, embroiders, quilts, sews clothes, sews curtains, shopping never fatigues her, she plans out three square meals a day and always knows how to have a good time. She does regular deep room cleaning and never thinks she won’t. She gardens, visits the Arboretum weekly and keeps up on the latest tv shows. She reads male and female authors, takes notes on everything she’s read and answers emails promptly. She never forgets what she’s said or what she’s promised. She’s frugal, shops sales, buys all her furniture on sale. She knows when to get rid of clothes and when to keep them. She works out every other day. She has no problem with space and always knows how to relax. She’s cheerful, thinks out deep questions without terrible inward strife and goes to the midwife without hatred in her heart for the medical profession’s treatment of women. She is diplomatic, can handle anyone and never gets tired from droners, bores or selfish people. She is immune to fatigue and depression and has never thought of ridding the world of her person. She has a church, a community and researches the Bible on her own, each day.
She also writes at least one poem each day and works on her novel and at least an essay for part of the day. She bakes cookies and visits her neighbors, crooning over their small children. She always gets a good haircut and takes regular walks by the river, being sure sometimes, to bring the camera along.
She visits Chicago from time to time and keeps up on museum exhibits, symphony schedules and other interesting art-community events. She knows enough people to keep her friends meeting other friends of hers and she’s a great matchmaker and everyone loves that. She’s eaten at all the good restaurants around and can afford to do that because she’s frugal in other areas. She goes on vacation at least once a year and once again, she does this because she knows when and how to save. She watches her investments, she has investments, she earns money off of money.
She knows exactly where her dream home will be and saves towards that too. She knows what German appliances that are safe for the enviroment she needs for her home to be and when the time comes, will get them on sale or on deep discount. She knows how to take care of all sorts of animals and she knows how to harvest and dry vegetables and herbs. She also knows how to can. She also knows the best places for fresh produce and fresh meat. Her pantry is incredible in its organization and common sense. She could live in the wild if forced to. She knows natural resources and what can be eaten and what can’t. She recognizes trees, wild flowers, bushes, birds, she knows always which way is north, south, east and west.

And so, I now know that I like Virginia Woolf, have an Angel in the House. How I hate her. How she hates me. I can never be that woman, try as I might. Because I have tried and am trying. Oh, how we hate one another. We’re locked in this endless battle, one trying to strangle the other…or brain sabotage the other. Tricks, sneering, slapping, mind games, manipulation, and just plain stomping on the other. Nothing works.

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How to Get Through a Big Book

How to get through a Big Book and have a little fun too.

  1. Make and eat food mentioned in the book (big books always include food, usually in meticulous detail).
  2. Read a little bit each day.
  3. Make a soundtrack.
  4. Dress like a character from the book for a day. Or a week. Or a month if it really grabs you.
  5. Ten minutes to kill? Daydream about the landscape or what the characters are seeing as they move through their day.
  6. Read passages you enjoy out loud. If you’re in the right mood, record yourself reading passages and share it (Instagram is great for this). Include illustrations if you like (thank you, Shirin).
  7. Whip out a highlighter or some sticky tabs for those great parts.
  8. Pace yourself and remember, reading gigantic books isn’t a race. It’s about the journey. Might as well bring along snacks, good drinks, great lighting, and enjoy the ride.

How to Search for Story Settings

A big city not far from mine has a casino. I’ve heard a few stories from friends that have worked there. Most center on being treated badly by a customer and revenging themselves by throwing the customer’s car keys into the Fox River. Karma is enacted on a regular basis at the casino.

There’s something about that river, flowing by, murky green during the day and black at night, a bottomless pit for car keys.

The river divides the city in half, east to west. The Fox flows along the old warehouses, limestone and brick, built back when the city had manufacturing plants and industry. Now the warehouses sit sturdy and silent, crumbling ever so slowly. Their roofs are flat and give the illusion of brick walls running straight into the sky. Some were built like prosaic wedding cakes, higher and higher, until the final topping is small square with tiny windows. Industry has never been about aesthetic needs and wants.  And yet by some miracle, these old turn of the century warehouses have achieved it just the same.

I observed the warehouses from the back deck of the riverside café, clutching my cup of earl grey and wishing I had put sunscreen on. It was the first time I had ever been to this café and I came because I needed a new setting for a fiction story I was working on. None of the cafes I remembered from the past were working for me. I needed this kind of café, one that hung out in an old manufacturing city where there wasn’t much industry left. There was, at least, a casino and many local businesses and this café hung on, here at the water’s edge.

A little further up was the casino where my friends had thrown those keys into the water. From my point on the deck, I could see the grimy metallic white heel of the building jutting out. Another friend told me that he goes there regularly to play black jack. It relieves stress and earns a little extra cash for his family.

The wind picks up a little and despite the sun, it’s chilly. Spring plays these tricks on us.

There is no sign of life in the warehouses all around me. We’re all boxed in together and the light plays off their empty windows, open and blank to the sun. I sip some tea and play “Over the Hills and Far Away” by Led Zeppelin just to see if this café will work for my story. It only takes a few bars of listening to the song and I know that this place is perfect. This spot on the river is perfect for many stories. It’s  been perfect for all the stories I know nothing about and the ones that I’ve caught the smallest glimpses of.

A mallard suns himself in the weeds that line the water’s edge. The river moves fast and sure and I turn off the music. No need to for further noise. The song is already there.