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.