Tag Archives: Short story

“How fascinating!”

I am reading The Art of Possibility by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander and I am all lit up with its ideas. Their book is grounded in many concepts similar to those of non-violent communication — a technique that has informed my writing, see here.

Fascinate (1999)

Fascinate (1999) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

They emphasize perceiving mistakes as fascinating (as in, that didn’t work? How fascinating!); on hearing others’ “no” as an invitation to spark a fire within them; on looking at what we, ourselves, have done (or not done) that has created the circumstances in which we find ourselves; accepting that whatever those circumstances, they are, simply, what is — not good or bad. It just is. Plus there’s Rule Number 6 (don’t take yourself so seriously). I LOVE IT ALL!

And as I’ve been devouring the Zanders’ words, it’s struck me that much of what they encourage as practice for possibility I do not do. I flee from interactions with  fellow writer-artists who lament (loudly and at great length), oh, literature is dead; publishing is dead; no-one even knows what a good sentence is any more, the only thing that gets published is violent and/or sexy dreck; no-one understands MY (brilliant) work; I’m  self-publishing; here, it’s a thousand pages, would you edit it for me I can’t pay but it’s so good you’ll be glad you had the chance.

This fits the “how fascinating” practice in two ways, for me.

First, how fascinating that when eighty-four agents decline your request for representation the problem is with agents/the industry/the reading public, not your concept/story/writing.

Second, how fascinating for me that I want to run away from you. Actually, I sprint away from these folks. You’d be surprised how fast my 47-y.o. legs move.

The Zanders also espouse the concept that those who are in a “downward spiral” haven’t received an invitation to engage in a way that lights them up — and it’s incumbent upon those of us who want to live out our imagined possibilities who must extend invitations that lights up others.

Invitation to the Dance (film)

Invitation to the Dance (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am not the world’s greatest invitation-issuer. I tend to think no one will want to come to whatever literal or figurative party I throw. However, upon reflection, I realize that this has never happened. How fascinating! that I have so effectively told myself this story that I am not acting on some of the possibilities I imagine for writing — possibilities, I realize as I type, that are still so tender that I’m reluctant to put them down in black and white. Holy cow. I’m pushing fifty, I have every possible advantage available to humans at this point, and I’m not going for it? How fascinating.

Pathetic is also a word that springs to mind but I’m sure the Zanders would re-cast that into: it’s not good or bad, it just is. And, don’t take yourself so seriously.

That said, the Zanders quote William James to great effect, and I will repeat it here in closing as well … this will be my summer of living and writing in the small moments (literally: we have a lot of family stuff happening) — and of striving to invite others into the possibilities I see, of noticing what is rather than despairing of what is-not-yet. And, to the relief of Engineer Hubby and sons: not taking myself so seriously.

I am done with great things and big plans and great institutions and big successes. I am for those tiny, invisible loving human forces that work from individual to individual, creeping through the crannies of the world like so many rootlets, or like the capillary oozing of water, yet which, if given time, will rend the hardest monuments of human pride.

— William James

Standing on the table, howling

My younger son has a gift that many of us lose as we mature: he makes wishes and believes, with an open, hopeful heart, there is a fair-to-middling chance they’ll come true.

1914 Santa Claus in japan

1914 Santa Claus in japan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The universe has, in fact, provided bountiful gifts after his requests — and no, “the universe” isn’t code for “mom and dad bought it at the store and pretended it was from Santa.” The two most obvious fulfilled wishes have been (two years ago) for another cat, and, this January, for another dog (Rosie, introduced earlier this month in How many words do you need for a story?).

Virginia Kitty

Our perfect cat

Because the cat (truly, a perfect kitty) appeared within 24 hours of his expressed wish for same, when he expressed his desire for another DOG, I had an inkling that the universe might well again answer affirmatively. I sprang into what I thought would be preventive action: I talked with him, extensively and repeatedly, about the extra responsibilities and time another dog would require. Walks even in foul weather. Picking up poop. Brushing. Extra dog hair to sweep. It didn’t matter. He was game. Adamantly.

And yes, seventy-two hours later, a friend found “the perfect!” dog wandering on a rural road. Its owner didn’t want her anymore. This dog wasn’t too big, was friendly, didn’t chase cats, was house-broken and about two years old. Plus she didn’t bark! Barking is my major complaint with the current dog. The new dog would be perfect.

Engineer hubby and 12 y.o. went to meet the dog while the 15 y.o. & I were outta town. EH texted me photos: she was adorable! She wasn’t too big! They took her home.

15 y.o. & I return: turns out the dog is in heat — a fact not obvious, or mentioned!, in the text messages. Bloody drops everywhere. Well, that’s OK. We’ll get her spayed. No worries. While elder son & I have been gone, she’s been sleeping all snuggled up with the 12 y.o., who’s been walking her twice a day. All is well.

The first night we’re all sleeping under the same roof since Rosie’s joined us, I’ve given both dogs their last walk of the night and gotten into bed. It’s midnight. I’m the only one still awake. I’m savoring the silence.

Until the silence is sundered by Rosie’s howls.

howling dogs

howling dogs (Photo credit: andrevanb)

Who has made her way out of the 12 y.o.’s bedroom, descended to the main floor of our house and vaulted onto our dining room table. Where she raises her sweet doggie face to the heavens (well, the ceiling) and gives voice to all the longing a horny dog has. Which is too much, decibel-wise, IMO. But not enough, apparently, to wake any one else in my house.

And this is my extended metaphor of my story-making these days: I look around me and something ain’t quite right. I wish for another story and it arrives. It’s inevitably a mutt, not a purebred. And it usually shows its true colors only after I have settled down to what I think will be an easy night, as it were. Then it raises its head and howls and I have to get up at one AM and take it off the table, strip off the now-stained tablecloth, and sit up with it, console it with a little treat, some kind words and lots of loving. In story-making, this consists of printing it out on nice paper, then ruthlessly highlighting every single phrase that works and eliminating those that don’t; writing myself a list of things to fix in a pretty colored marker, and then shutting it in a drawer for a week.

And then there are the extra walks. And the poop-in-a-bag to be disposed of. And though I complain, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Rosie — and my howling stories —  are lively spirits of unconditional joy, alongside their demands and their poop and their decibels.

Plus I’ve stocked up on stain remover and erasers. Joy is messy.

How many words do you need for a story?

Rosie the running dog at rest

Rosie the running dog at rest

We have a new dog, Rosie, younger than our “old” dog, Penny. Rosie is a different variety of mutt: the more energetic variety. Rosie likes to herd Penny with nips to her withers, and wants to run run run run run.

Problem is, Rosie is more interested in the world at large than in us and the treats we offer, so we don’t let her off leash at this point. Penny, on the other hand, always returns to us if we remove her leash, after investigating tantalizing smells (near as I can tell, what most fascinates her are logs that serve as chipmunk mausoleums).

Last week I met a neighbor’s father in the woods during the morning dog walk. He doesn’t speak English; I don’t speak Chinese. He sized me up: one dog ambling, leash-free, the other leashed and, frankly, a bit angst-ridden. He gestured to Rosie and asked, with his face and his hands, why she wasn’t loose like Penny.

I responded, “Oh, she [I mimed running] spwhhht” (this made-up word represents sort of quick whistling windy sound made by a fast-running-away dog. I swear.).

Ah, he nodded, and he continued westerly whilst I went east.

I’ve returned to this exchange several times over the past several days, as I’ve revised, and tweaked, and tinkered with, and edited and revised again, a short story.

Which words do I need? Only the necessary ones.

I made up an exercise for myself during my latest effort at word-smithing: I subjected every single word in the story to what I now call the walk-in-the-woods test. Would I try to pantomime and make up new sounds to express what that word meant, if I were conveying my fiction to someone whose language I didn’t share? If so, it’s earned its place. If not? Delete, delete, delete.

Of course, a story written in English is intended to be read by those who understand the language, and there’s depth and nuance available to native speakers that even the best sound-effecting pantomime among us can’t touch.  But a story that doesn’t run at the heart of what I’m trying to say? It’s a miserable dog on the leash of a writer’s vanity.

Stories can show us all the places life teems invisible to those who walk fast and talk too much. Set your stories loose, and aim them at the best, most interesting part of your figurative forest, be that chipmunk mausoleums, the creek bottom, or gopher holes.