fiction

Exercise 1, Part 2

Like many creative (or crazy—same thing?) people, I tend to get obsessive occasionally. When my brain attaches to an idea, I dig deep. Which is why I am currently reading four books about writing at the same time (outside of the 7 or so other books I am currently working on). If you write, or want to write, take time to read The Triggering Town by Richard Hugo. I am still processing much of what he has to say, but one sentence in particular bears repeating here: 'An act of imagination is an act of self-acceptance.' I find this brief statement full of hope and mystery.

In my previous post I mentioned Steering the Craft by Ursula K. Le Guin. I am moving through it slowly, but it is no less intriguing or helpful than Hugo's essays or the others I am reading. I have completed the second part of exercise 1, and I welcome comment and critique. It is very brief; here it is:

 

New green grass pushed up between grey-brown oak and orange leaves. The leaves stuck together in clumps, still damp from the third and final rainfall of the year. Next to the wire fence a backpack sprayer pump filled with water and weed-killer waited. On the outside it looked cheerful in its red and white livery. On the inside it was poison.

Sage wasn't ready. It felt like there was a sock in his throat. The morning light, glittering with that almost unbearable brilliance of new sun on a soggy, rain-fresh world, mocked him. Everything was too colorful. Oversaturated. A fake orchard filled with fake trees. And fake brown hills behind, set off by a fake blue sky. He wasn't ready for this day, for this work, or for the happy Mexican men gearing up for a day among the orange trees. He picked up the backpack sprayer. The morning was already hot.

Yesterday afternoon, standing at the curb at LAX saying goodbye, something had broken in Sage. Two weeks of punk rock alarm clocks, long days working in the trees, skateboarding after dark. Coffee at midnight and hot dogs in the mini-fridge and cigarettes out the window. It should have been a fresh start. Hope. But his brother was already far away. The upcoming surgery, and after that, a new life, a new job—back to his old girlfriend. He wasn't coming back here. Sage knew that, and he didn't want to know it. The rented room they shared was stripped of everything that meant anything. All of it stuffed into the bags around their feet. Everything was going north. His brother held out his car keys. "You can have it." He smiled. "It's a pile anyway."

Glossy leaves brushed against his cheek as he pushed deeper into the orchard. Working the lever of the sprayer as it settled more steadily onto his shoulders, he fought the urge to cry. The hardness in his throat and the ache in his chest were making him nauseous. He avoided the other men. Tears stabbed at the corners of his eyes and his vision swam. He pumped the lever steadily. He soaked every weed with poison.

Exercise 1, Part 1

Steering the Craft by Ursula K. Le Guin, like other work of hers I have read, is direct, blunt, and oddly tender. Her lessons make me feel ashamed and hopeful by turns. I see my mistakes exposed and many issues in my approach and intention. I also see new techniques and fresh understanding peering from the obscuring trees of my failed attempts. Under her firm clear hand I despair and take heart in the same moment. Writing takes work—I do not need to be convinced of this, but I need to be reminded because I am lazy—and the resulting sentences are inconsistent, often disappointing, always personal. Not lazy. Scared. Fear pushes me out of my chair to the stove for tea, or outside for a view of the street from my porch, or to the reading nook with a graphic novel. I sit down at the table again and write about writing. Anything except actually writing. Reading about writing, something new for me, has been galvanizing. That, and the healing effect of down time over the holidays. Hope has returned, and maybe the most important thing I have embraced (once again) is the intention to practice. The following is my response to the first exercise from Steering the Craft:

 

We stood together in the white room. Brushfuls of caked white paint, indicating many rebirths, glossed over every seam and crack, a smooth, rounding skin covering the decades. Filling, spilling, dripping, schlicking, schploching, thick over the room's sins. This room, at least as old as my great-grandfather if he was still alive. But he died with a bottle in his hand. We stood in the white room filled with a setting September sun and the air of cold summer coming in through the open window. Shh and hhhrrush and brusshhh, went white curtains against white walls. A small wind, cool and dry as chaff. They turned and moved down the hall, talking. I stayed. My breath rising and falling, inaudible, swaying with the breeze that was sneaking over the sill, I stayed. Was I waiting? I was still for another tick. Though the tock and click of a clock was surely imagined in this unpeopled house. This house as empty as the hilly fields of after-harvest stubble outside. This room without a bed. This space without a living shadow but for today, ours. Was I waiting for something? For the paint to peel back and reveal the cracks and stains, the whisper of lives that once watched the same September sun sink over stubble-fields? Maybe an enameled steel bed under those windows, a dresser by the door. A desk with a pencil or a hairbrush on it's scarred surface.

Someone was in the curtain. Feet and thin legs with the white wall behind, the rest of her under white folds of cloth that bellied and billowed like the soul of the stubble-and-dust wind. She was there until I looked. Silent. She was cracks and seams, a stain on the white, a gap in the glop that sealed everything in. She was under the paint, bump and texture beneath filler. She was a shape that brushed-over years could not gloss away. She was shaped air or imagination. Clear glass. She was there until I looked. Silent. Light moved over the wall, shifting yellow and orange, bent by the breeze and the form of her, there and now lost, and me standing and waiting and breathing until they called me from down the hall.