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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Tides of Snow and Ice

This winter has been a continuous series of freezes and thaws: it’s the warmest winter on record, the tenth one in a row. A more usual winter starts with a deep freeze and then stays cold for months. Instead, snow falls, piles up and vanishes; rises up again and retreats, now falling as rain, swelling rivers and creeks. Rain and snow mingle together until everything runs with water; hillsides and flat-sides are coated in a deep, dark mud.

I stopped on my walk today, halted by a sudden flash of gold. The sunset rays were falling into a tiny puddle spanning the space between the root and trunk of a maple. The puddle reflected gold and silver on top and below was dark mud, black and brown, full of microorganisms and other tiny creatures unseen by the human eye. I briefly considered putting my hand to the shining surface. It beckoned, winking like a diamond, but pull of my walk was irresistible and I continued forward. 

Mud is for March and April, mud so thick and heavy that it can pull shoes off and make them disappear like a magic trick beneath the solemn and still brown. Mud in February is a strange slight, an awakening that shouldn’t be occurring yet. It’s all the more cruel because even though the temperatures rise, they inevitably dip into the single digits and everything freezes solid. Many times I’ve spotted squirrels and tiny birds on the creek’s ice, searching for openings to drink from.

During this particular thaw, the creek casts off ice, it’s center opening like a dark cut. The water sings as it cascades over the rocks, proclaiming it’s momentarily relief from the grip of winter. In Scandinavian folklore, there is a belief that given the proper offerings, a creek could teach a human how to play the most bewitching music. I crouch down near the creek, record a video of it singing on my phone and replay its music in the evening while lying on the couch. I should give something in return for the pleasure of its song and I consider. Perhaps some lavender buds I have stored away for a certain recipe, or a small pinecone I keep on a shelf to admire, or birch bark I retrieved from a favorite tree cut down years ago. 

The next day I return, and after waiting for a few dogs and their owners to pass by, I crouch next the side of the creek and sprinkle lavender buds into the small, clear stream. The buds vanish as soon as I drop them into the water– as if they never existed. I drop some more in and the same occurs; they’re gone before I can blink. The current flows by, washing over stones, fleeting by banks of mud, until it vanishes around the bend where the pine trees tower overhead.

As I gaze at the water, first downstream and then upstream, my own self quiets, stills, and momentarily dissolves into the landscape. The relief, though short, is palpable. Alone becomes together and perhaps that is what’s this practice of thanking the creek has been about all along.

Winter in the Time of Climate Change

There is a stream near my home and I walk along it nearly every day; I know its moods and seasons nearly as well as I know my own. We are family and our connections are pure: we’re both made of water.

Every day brings more distressing news about the environment. Big changes need to happen but whatever change that does happen is so slow. Global warming is now being felt by everyone, some more than others. I go out and walk along the stream when the news and all the unfortunate future unknowns press in too hard. Right now, it is running fast. This winter has been a series of freezes and thaws. November hit hard with a heavy, deep freeze and I expected this to lead to a  white Christmas but instead, it’s been a muddy, wet winter, full of more temperate days than frosty ones. The thermometer rides up and down, every day propelled by a bouncing ball rather than a steady progression of tiny fluctuations.

The stream locks and then unlocks. It accepts each freeze and thaw with inestimable grace. After reading the news, it is hard to know what is near or far, here and up in the sky, in the mind or in the present moment. But the stream is always present, it knows no other moment. It lives in eternity; as David Hockney said, “It’s always now. It’s now that’s eternal.”

The creek is still here, I think to myself whenever I see it, it is still living. It runs forward through this strange January, sometimes under the ice and sometimes not. Patches of green moss dot the banks nearby, beyond that the nearby plants are broken, brown, and dried. They are asleep, listening to things I cannot hear, dreaming of things I barely know of.