Tiny Stories, Tiny Tales

It occured to me as I sat staring to space here, at my writing desk, how imaginative shopping can be. All I envisioned was myself at Trader Joe's selecting a chunk of Gruyere cheese out of their basket of cheeses. I read somewhere that Gruyere cheese is delightful in a grilled sandwich so of course, I have to try it out. Better yet, I'll go to the local Pennsylvania-Dutch restaurant that has a tiny local organic market on the side and buy some Gruyere from the cheese seller tomorrow. Perfect! The pleasure of imagining myself picking out cheese and purchasing it, is even greater then what I imagine the finished sandwich will taste like. Though I'm not knocking that! I wonder if the cheese'll be from Wisconsin or Vermont because that's where the seller's main suppliers are. There might be a cheese wheel or two out, imprinted with vines, flowers and the maker's name. Cheese wheels are the medieval monks' invention and whenever I see a golden wheel, I get an itch ot try and make cheese myself in some dark and cool springhouse.

No cows. Oh well. So I'll buy the cheese made by someone else's hands and why not pick up some fresh butter as well? Add local eggs too and some heavy cream- for an orgy of soup making. Two soups from this fine farmgirl.

The cheeseand now, the bread. Will I make the bread to toast or will I just use store bought? Store bought today. Still haven't picked up a baking stone. I wonder what it'll be like tomorrow when Jeff and I shop for a few of these local items? Will I just be stressed, hot from the humid heat and intent on moving onto the next errand? Or will I carefully pick up my small square of Gruyere and think how someday I may make a monkish cheese in a big hoop?

There's a 70% chance of rushing so I'm on the tinier 30% side, rooting for it. Shop imagninatively! Be interactive! Not a jerking puppet- a rushing maniac! It's very hard to imagine a life where I am creatively involved in everything I do. I come form a suriving people, where much to everything is done without pleasure but simply done because one must. Well, I must shop but the pleasure of it sprang to mind. To me! Who hates to shop! I was only trying to imagine myself into a story I'm working on, not finding a way to spontaneously enjoy obligations. And yet! I got a peek!

There is a pleasure in choosing. Sometimes it seems to me as I labor over a budget and pay off debts and try to create interesting and yummy food within the budget, that I have no choices and when I do, only hard and stressful ones. Real choices come only when you can have the freedom to fling money around at things. But this is not so.

Some of the greatest pleasure is in imagining out bits of my life and then in turn, those imaginings become a defense. A defense that is so calm that it isn't at all defensive. The habits of my lifetime and my ancestors float down the stream and then out of sight. In the meanwhile, I'll eat my bread…toasted with cheese.

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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.