Monthly Archives: October 2013

Another Belated Sunday Six

Since I’ve missed posting my six sentences the last two Sundays, here are twelve sentences for Monday, October 28:

The museum has only just opened when we get there, and the marble corridors leading to the exhibit are all but empty.  The space is so quiet I can hear our footsteps, each distinct – my father’s long, brisk gait, my slower step, and your light, near-silent tread.

You stop reading the plaques on each display after the first room, wandering instead from room to room, flirting lazily with the museum guards.  One of them, the young one, has very white teeth.  I worry you’re mad at me.

In a glass display case, a dozen intercept sheets from Bletchley Park, marked by the delicate strokes of the analyst’s pencil.  I start crying at the sight of them, I don’t know why. I keep thinking how precious that paper was, how tenderly it had been made to yield its secrets.  I rub my fingers against my eyes, hoping nobody sees, but you aren’t even there to notice.

That’s when I notice you are gone.

After a little while my father notices, too, and when he asks me where you are, I shrug helplessly.  “I think she went to the bathroom,” I say.

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A Witch and Her Cat

And speaking of my one-eyed black cat, I tried on my Halloween costume the other day and Susan took some pictures, during which Daphne was unbearably cute, and then climbed on my back, which is her new favorite game.  Because I can’t resist, a preview for your viewing pleasure:

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George Saunders on Talent

From George Saunders’ “Confronting Talent,” his introduction to the issue of Guernica he guest-edited in 2006:

. . . the essential thing is having a talent for having talent. You have certain abilities, certain defects as a writer: how do you accommodate these? There are certain things you can’t seem to do—what form can you invent to circumvent these things? You have certain fears, obsessions, neuroses, patterns of thought and speech—can you let these into the work, accepting them as part of the wonder that is you, and accepting the wonder that is you as part of the greater wonder that is the world? Or do you lunge back to the shore, taking comfort in the conventional?

The young writer is called upon, in other words, through work and craft and persistence, to take the raw talent he or she has, and force it into some deep, dark corners. . . to try to wrest from “mere” talent a kind of iconic originality…to confront the parts of himself or herself that, in the early days of a career, one thinks can be ignored, or overcome, or hidden under a mattress somewhere.

But no. Turns out, everything must be used.

This is, I think, one of the most difficult things about writing — to not only acknowledge your flaws, but to struggle against them daily, to turn them inside out and make them produce.  I often get to a point in a story where I find myself thinking, ‘Yeah, this is pretty good, OK, we’re in good shape here,’ and then a workshop discussion or an incisive reader will point out all the ways I’ve been fooling myself and holding out, and I have to go back and really work at the story, open it up, dig deeper.  I don’t have a good metaphor for that process, but it’s often painful and very hard work. When I do it well, though, it yields enormous results.  I won’t pretend I’m anything like a writer Saunders would consider ‘great’ rather than just ‘good’, but I understand that transition he’s talking about, from being satisfied with a story as it is and really striving to find the best version of a story as it should be.

What I can’t help wondering is, when will I be able to call myself on my own bullshit the way other people are able to do?  When will I have a strong enough sense of the work that I’ll be able to push myself to do this kind of deep excavation of a story?  Because that does seem to be the goal, doesn’t it?  We do it in class, with instructors and peers, so that we will learn how to do it once we’re on our own. I won’t always be lucky enough to have truly insightful readers around to keep me in line, so what I should be doing is learning how to turn those methods on my own work.

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Sunday Six

Six sentences for Sunday, October 13:

Nobody else matters but us, you told me once.  You were sleeping over that night and we were lying chest-to-chest in my little white bed because you said your sleeping bag was too hot.  The lights were out and in the dark your eyes looked big and empty and bright.

Nobody else matters but us.

I asked you once, years later, if you remembered saying that. You said you didn’t.

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Amy Hempel in The Paris Review

The Paris Review‘s ‘Art of Fiction’ interview with Amy Hempel isn’t new, but it’s a good one.  The whole thing, obviously, is worth a read, but I wanted to excerpt a bit I particularly liked here:

HEMPEL

The term [minimalism] had meaning in the art world, but quickly became meaningless and pejorative when applied to literature. It came to denote what certain reviewers felt was missing in fiction—conventional plot or obvious emotion, for example. I had the sense that these reviewers who leaned on the term felt that certain ones of us were getting away with something. Some of these critics had a very limited sense of what story could be.

INTERVIEWER

So what do you think a story is?

HEMPEL

Years ago, Lenny Michaels was publishing some really fine short-short paragraph-long stories in good literary magazines. And I asked him if he took some heat from people who thought they weren’t really stories. He said, “You tell them what a story is. They don’t know.” This corroborated what I already suspected. It harkens back to the way you examine experience. Some writers have a more defined sense of cause and effect. Plot. My sense of life is more moment, moment, and moment. Looking back, they accrue and occur to you at a certain time and maybe you don’t know why, but you trust that they are coming back to you now for a reason. And you make a leap of faith. You trust you can put these moments together and create story.

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Belated Sunday Six

I neglected to post my six sentences last Sunday, but here they are, rather late and perhaps a little worse for wear, six sentences for Sunday, October 6:

We talk in code.  In homeroom, during study hall, on the bus, we use Caesar and Atbash, simple ciphers. Last summer, when your parents got divorced and sent you to sleep away camp, you mailed me letters that began, Uryyb, Juvfxrl, and I traced the deep grooves of your pencil marks over and over again. We taught ourselves Morse code and the NATO spelling alphabet, repeating the letters back and forth to one another until we’d learned them by heart, •—, —•••, —•—•, like that. On the telephone we communicate by tapping our fingertips against the receivers — be careful, someone might be listening. Dit-dah, dit-dah-dah.

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