Vol. 4 – Tell Me Snow

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You’d think that all the editing would happen on the computer: rearrange sentences, delete words, add a detail here, experiment with different punctuation. And that does happen – excessively. I arrive at an arrangement of words and ideas that seems satisfying and so I begin to write them out, pen-and-ink style, on a small rectangle of graph paper.

There’s something in the physical process of writing out the story that results in a different perspective though. I discover new inconsistencies, new problems within the story that I had missed while editing on the computer. I feel the flow of words differently because I’m forced to slow down. Watching sentences appear from the tip of my pen creates a different rhythm in the story-voice I hear in my head.

But it’s frustrating to get halfway through a handwritten piece and decide I want to change one word or the order of sentences. That will make this copy less-good than the possible copy I could create if I start over. Do I really need to? Does it matter that much? Who’s going to see this anyway and will those people even notice the care with which I’ve chosen words?

But I care. Deeply.  Writing is the art of using language – that includes sentence structure, punctuation, the rhythm and prosody of word choices, even the etymology that lingers in them like ghosts. These tiny stories allow me the luxury of laser-focus on a work of manageable size where I get to play with all aspects of language that advance a story.

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Why graph paper? I have a bunch of it from some idea of a project years ago that never happened; I don’t even remember now what it was. The lines are faint enough to not distract from the reading but helpful enough to keep my writing aligned. But I also find poetry and symbolism in my use of graph paper. It seems like a funny juxtapostion: paper generally used for subjects that seem so far from fiction. But flash fictions demand a tight geometry, proportions cannot be lax. Like a well-drawn graph, a flash fiction must include just the right details in a very small space, so that an outsider comes away with a meaningful story that she’s helped create through her reading.

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Hoping the snow doesn’t keep me from getting these five new copies of the fourth edition of Lost Mitten Fiction out into the world this week!

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On Being Exquisitely Mediocre

20170120_144500_hdrDo you ever get down on yourself for being exquisitely mediocre?

Heading in to week three of this strange little project, I’m really struggling. Somehow in the past four or five days the demons of self-doubt and self-disappointment have come to sit on my shoulders and dig in their claws, the bastards.

Nine handmade copies of two different stories float out there in the world. I haven’t heard if any have been found or read. That doesn’t surprise me; it’s what I was expecting but not what I was hoping.

I went to the diner on Thursday morning and felt the  stomach-drop of embarrassment when I saw that the copy I’d left the week before was still there. It had been moved, placed into the molded-plastic pamphlet holder, but not taken. Why did that make me feel so disappointed and so full of embarrassment?

My whole life I’ve had an awkward relationship with trying. Trying usually means doing something you don’t yet know how to do or don’t know how to do well. Trying means something is important to you, that it’s something you’d like to be good at, something you value. Trying often means that you’ve allowed, or asked, other people to watch – whether a teacher, a friend, our strangers out in the world. Trying means that you care, and to care is to risk getting hurt. Not trying, and its evil twin, quitting, seem so much easier. Of course, not trying has its own risks, its own hurts.

I also might be more of a perfectionist than I like to admit, which, if you’re trying and not being perfect, (which – isn’t that all of us?) than that feels pretty uncomfortable and embarrassing. So I guess that means that with perfectionist tendencies, trying always involves what feels like failure. That’s just the way it goes. It takes a lot of emotional and psychological energy to understand and counteract my inner nature. Those shoulder-demons of self-doubt and disappointment weight a lot.

This week it’s taking more energy than I feel I have to keep trying. Not just with this weird little project, but with anything expressive – my ‘cello practice, a demanding overhaul of a short story, or just believing I have the ability to say anything worth listening to. There are so many amazing voices already out there doing work that is so far beyond anything I could ever do, why do I even bother to try?

Most weeks the only logical answer to that question is: You’re right, so stop trying. That’s when I have to throw myself a pizza/red wine pity party and keep trying anyway. There have been many things I’ve tried and quit; writing has never been one of them. No matter how low I might get about it, the stories always find me again and I can’t help but try to tell them.

Field Trip Fun

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The final piece in the gigantic installation Until by Nick Cave

Last Friday I took myself on a field trip to Mass MoCA in North Adams, MA. I’ve had mixed experiences with the contemporary art there and by mixed I guess I mean: perplexed. Example: several 6-7 foot tall cairn-like objects made from interleaved foam-rubber and cleaned mango pits. Didn’t get it, don’t get it. But sometimes you need to shake things up and present your brain with ideas it doesn’t quite get. It’s good to question and to wrestle with ideas that make you stretch: what does this make me feel? why? do I call this art? In a time of such deep division in our country, where one side disdains, dismisses, and demonizes the other, maybe it’s good to practice being challenged and seeing things from a different perspective. Maybe we should think of art museums not just as places to admire what we already think of as beautiful and valid, but also as public places to practice the art of seeing from different viewpoints, of seeing thoughtfulness, curiosity, and humanity even in things we don’t fully understand, things that don’t easily reinforce our strongly held biases.

That’s not what I set out to write…but, the ideas, sometimes they arrive unbidden when you sit down to do some work!

My recent visit to Mass MoCA was easily the most fun I’ve ever had looking at art. Yes, fun. Explode Every Day – An Inquiry into the Phenomena of Wonder nailed it’s stated mission. From meditative, thought-provoking videos, to beautiful but unsettling color photographs of 1950s-era nuclear weapons testing, to new ways of perspective drawing, to a new appreciation for silk from the perspective of the caterpillar – this exhibit invited the viewer to get closer, study longer, in some cases even to touch! Can you imagine – being allowed to touch the art?!

The consciousness-tickling, massive installation by Nick Cave (Until) left me wowed but still trying to puzzle out how spinning lawn decorations, among other curious objects, answers the question: Is there racism in heaven? The installation was over-the-top. Jaw-dropping. Mesmerizing. But it’s starting premise – wondering about racism in heaven, just didn’t work for me. However, it wasn’t until I got home that I noticed in a photo I took, that the final sculpture, with industrial fans and long, colored pieces of shimmering Mylar, spelled the word Flow. It was right there in the title of the piece, and still, at such close range I couldn’t see it. Maybe that tells me something about the exhibit as a whole. I need more distance and to consider it from a different viewpoint.

I hope people discovered copies 4 and 5 of the first volume of Lost Mitten Fiction. On Friday, they were left lying about.

I’m trying to decide if I should record the text of the stories here or just leave them to the IRL world. If you’re reading this and didn’t come here from Instagram, you can check out my feed @lostmittenfiction. I’ve been playing around with photo-fiction – writing a micro-story for a picture that inspires me. There’s probably some plug-in or widget I can add for an Instagram button, but haven’t figured it out yet.

And here are this week’s copies of Vol. 2. “Backhoes and Marshmallows.” Each one handmade, the text of each every-so-slightly different because I’m a writer and can’t not tweak a story when I have the chance. Now to leave them lying about.

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Lost and Found

20170111_091133_hdrTurns out I’m not that keen on leaving pieces of fiction lying around like I’m some kind of religious fanatic sprinkling pamphlets in the paths of unsuspecting citizens. I did leave one copy at a library; I hope someone’s found it by now. That person will have the only copy with the title “Public Display of Fiction.”  When I got home yesterday, I tried doing a search for this site in its original form”publicdisplayoffiction” and got the helpful Google message: No results found. Did you mean public display of erection?  I promptly changed the title of my site.

Here is copy three of the first story, “Butterflies.”. I might head over to the Country Girl Diner for a20170111_092427_burst01-1 blueberry pancake and real maple syrup. Could be a good spot to drop and run.

Why this experiment? I’m tired of all the digital stuff. I’m tired of flat screens under everyone’s fingers. Do we even remember the different textures of paper? Do we remember what it’s like to see other people’s handwriting? Do we remember what it’s like to discover a note or a list or an envelope inside a book and feel like we get a tiny glimpse into some unknown life? I want to put something out into the world that offers a sense of discovery, a moment of surprise with something other than our phone screens. A minute’s pause to look in a different direction.

I toyed with the idea of not having any web presence at all to really keep the experiment analog. I even thought about renting a P.O.Box where readers could drop me a note if they wanted to tell me they’d found a story. But even to me, an epistolaphile (I probably just made that up), that seemed too much to ask of the modern person.

My hope? That people will enjoy finding these little stories. That it will motivate me to practice the art of micro-fiction. That a few people – after finding a copy of Lost Mitten Fiction – will look for this site, leave a comment, feel a connection that started with something real. Maybe a copy or two will get hung on refrigerators next to drawings of rainstorms and a wallet-sized school photo. Maybe a few will be passed along to friends: “Look what I found today. What do you make of this?” They’ll pass a stranger’s handwriting between them – my hand touching theirs. That would be success.