Tiny Stories, Tiny Tales

It has come. The Book 100.

The Book 100 is Heather Sellers' brilliant idea of reading 100 books that are similiar to the book you would like to write. And you dissect them and put down your findings on a notecard, one for each book. You pick apart the greats and see what makes them tick. And the not so greats as well because those are fine teachers on what works and what sure as hell doesn't.

You start by writing down 100 books to read. I think I'm around the forty count- it isn't so easy. But that's no matter because you'll take things off and put things on. I don't think Sellers believes in reading tons of classics, mostly moderns. That's just too bad. Maybe I'm (once again) setting my bar way too high but there are so many older books I want to read, why not pick them apart and see what I can use for emulation?

I decided to kick off Book 100 with Miss Marjoribanks by Margaret Oliphant. Lady Susan by Austen has joined in too. What do I have to say from my current dissection of Miss M.? That adjectives when piled three deep on any one noun leave little to the imagination. And also people interrupting other people's visits is as good a device as any to hurry the plot along. I wish I could say more. I'm sure there must be more, I just can't perceive it. The book was initially a magazine serial so that might have something to do with the lacking of "finds."

As for Lady Susan…there's no details about life only thrilling gossip and plot. I really enjoy reading great authors' early works because you see what they had to work hard on and how they managed to work around things they had little talent in. Lady Susan is a perfect illustration of this. It's a story written in correspondance form, a form that Austen doesn't shine in (as in later works) and while it was a popular narrative form in her day, she dropped it. Those are things that I, as a embryo writer, am currently wrestling with. Which narration form best suits me? How much detail is good detail? But that as Stephen King notes is something you figure out by writing tons.

The Book 100, I Salute You.

 

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The Taste of Tea

A favorite film of mine, The Taste of Tea, centers on an eccentric family living in the Japanese countryside. They spend a great deal of time sitting outside, sipping tea and staring into space. They sit as a family, alone, or in a small group and no one talks. They just stare out into the deep green that is the summer. And then they get up and go on walks or go off to work.

The first time I watched The Taste of Tea, I was shaken and delighted that the film gave space and respect to one of my favorite pastimes: sipping tea and staring into space.

When spring grew warm enough, I was inspired by the film to sit outside and stare into my backyard in the early morning. The Taste of Tea had given me a sort of permission to leave stress behind and take this time for one of my deepest desires: to enjoy and contemplate nature while sipping tea.

I named my new practice “Sipping Tea and Watching the Grass Grow.” I felt ridiculous whenever I mentioned it to anyone but that hardly mattered. I was doing what I loved so much, watching plants grow, watching the birds and small animals moving through it all, and sky glowing blue and serene over us all.

 

Grass grows slowly, imperceptibly but after each rain, it leaps up by inches. The violets came in May and they lasted for weeks. After that the dandelions bloomed and I lost a little bit of my heart to them. The wind picked up their seeds and sent the white fluffs floating into the air in sweet, downy clouds. After that, small wild strawberries, glowing like fierce red gems, appeared in the lawn. Now at the end of June, a luxurious, emerald green covers nearly everything. It reaches up from the ground, covering fences and stones or it high overhead, green leaves moving in tall, imperceptible breezes.

 

The heat has settled in so now even in the mornings, I pour sweat while drinking my tea. On some mornings the birds are noisy and busy and on other days they are not. Sometimes a great big bumblebee comes tumbling along, droning in that low, hazy buzz as it investigates every surface and flower. And then sometimes it does not come. Some days the clouds are like fluffs of cotton, other days there isn’t a cloud in sight. Each day brings a new configuration, nature is never still. I watch it all and at other times, I close my eyes and listen to my breathing. I’m not alone, never alone, a part of a whole.

A Tale of Two Worlds

I walk past a window on my way to get a glass of water and note the snow falling outside.  As I fill my glass at the sink, my thoughts have already turned back to my work on the computer. I’m wrestling with the household budget, when I’ll fit some reading in, how to get on with my writing work, when I’ll exercise, when I’ll catch up with email correspondence and the list goes on and on.

Anytime I stop my work and look up, past the chatter in my mind, the snow catches me off guard as if it’s the first time I’m seeing it. I debate whether I can put off the grocery store to avoid driving in the snow.

This is the world of the everyday. It’s full of a thousand petty cares, some essential to living, others not as much but all in a lump group, tugging us along.

But there are times my mind needs something more refreshing, and it’s time to take a break. And that’s where music comes in—as powerful as Circe creating a circle of magic with her staff. I pick out music without words (or words I don’t understand). Today is Rimsky-Korsakov, tomorrow might be the film Phantom Thread’s soundtrack, or a piece of jazz played by Lucky Thompson.

As Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Snow Maiden starts, the circle opens. I come out of the everyday world and enter somewhere extraordinary, where beauty converges with life and cares and worries exit for a time. And all it takes is a little music, a little snow, and entering the moment that is now.

I watch the snow falling, noting the wind direction as the snow blows southeast and then drops and then exhales again southwards. I note the density of the snow, how it’s light and sparkling and then downy, heavy, and wet.  My thoughts finally still and I turn off the music. A heavy relief passes over my body and mind and I am still, watching the beauty of the world.