May 18, 2010

Off Into the Weeds

I was on Etsy the other day, checking out the shop of artist Leah Giberson.  I already own one of her prints, all of which have a certain lonely and sun-dazzled atmosphere. Since I have plans to re-arrange some artwork around the house soon, I'm in the market for a similar piece.  I think I may need this shiny Airstream (since it's probably the closest I'll ever get to owning a real one):
Leah Giberson print, "Avion" available here.

But another of her prints also caught my eye.  This print of a solitary little house, along with its title, put me in mind of something I wrote some years ago:

Leah Giberson print, "Roadside," available here.
"As the minivan rolled up to a faded stop sign, Molly raised her eyes from the Trixie Belden mystery in her lap and looked out at the white frame house across the street. The paint was peeling off in large, blistered swatches, the screen door was listing wide open, and the tiny yard was overgrown with tall purple flowers. The house seemed abandoned, except for the filthy compact car in the driveway and a box fan propped in an open window, blowing air into the dark interior. Molly cupped her chin in her hand and wondered about the people who lived in such a place. For a moment she wished that she could be the girl who lived there. She would be poor and have to wear clothes from the Salvation Army, but on the other hand, she’d be able to open the front door and count license plates from every part of the country stopping in front of her house on their way to Dairy Queen or Taco Bell. Then she imagined she was Trixie herself, stepping between the flowers and peeking into the windows to solve the mystery of a haunted house with eerie lights seen in the windows after midnight."
"In another small town nearly five hundred miles further west, another box fan shoved into an open window sucked hot dusty air from a backyard seeded with beer cans and broken bottles. The litter was the remnants of the parties attended only by Christa and her oldest brother, Rick. Once they’d had another brother between them named Daniel, but Daniel had gone and died, and then not a year later so had their mother, and their father had long ago disappeared to who-knows-where with who-knows-whom and so they were alone, Christa and Rick, but together for the first time in almost three years. Every weekend they celebrated their reunion anew, beginning on Friday evenings when Rick came home from the shop. They turned the stereo up very loud, loud enough to rattle the dirty plates and forks in the chipped porcelain sink, and shouted jokes and memories to each other while drinking through a case of Heinekens or a fifth of vodka until they were smashed and lay giggly and dizzy on the carousel of the living room floor.
The box fan was covered in grime, a long summer’s worth of dirt drawn in from the bare and burnt lawn clung to the spinning blades and coated each square with a layer of grit. Its breeze was welcome though, and ruffled the glossy pages of Christa’s magazines, scattered the piled ashes of her cigarettes, billowed the homemade curtains that came with the house, their cotton sun-bleached thin as dainty hankies flapping into the room. With their faded blue rickrack edging the hems, they seemed the only clean things in the place..."
The above is from my short story, "A Patch of Weeds."  When I was working on it, I workshopped it at the Squaw Valley Writers Conference and it drew a definite response. I remember one guy, a doctor writing a medical thriller, seemed genuinely angered  by it. (I think mostly because he hadn't read much short fiction and wasn't used to the dense, metaphor-jammed style).  Another woman came up to me a few days later and said that she'd had a vivid dream about my characters, Christa and Rick.

In any case, the story was later published at the journal New Millenium Writings  (which is not at all as New Age-y as it may sound).  You can even scroll down on this page here and see my little author bio.  Cripes.  That sure feels like a long time ago ('cuz it is).  

So, like my story title, I feel like I'm sort of running off into the weeds here myself, musing on my writing.  Back in early March, I was making a solid effort at starting work on a new writing project.  "Baby steps, baby steps," I kept trying to remind myself.  That and "let yourself play on the page."  And I was doing okay, writing longhand on a yellow tablet with a pencil, filling up lines and pages, one after another, slow but steady.  

And then? I took my cute and tentative little baby steps and tried to force them into a big, scary grown up sprint.  Started beating myself up on lack of productivity, commitment, talent.  You know the drone.  Mostly, it was because I'd set the dubious goal, at the start of the year, of having something substantial  to submit to the writing workshops sponsored by Tin House magazine every summer up in Portland.  Never mind that I personally wasn't ready, never mind that my work especially was no-way no-where no-how ready for outside scrutiny or workshopping.  I just wanted to be in that place again, I think. Out with my peers, swapping our work, putting those little check marks next to the scenes or metaphors that ring especially true. Talking craft and noshing on crackers and white wine. 

After the deadline for submitting to the workshop came and went, I beat myself up, stopped writing, stopped exercising, gained five pounds and have been in a general low-grade funk since.  I need to climb back on that horse (or is it a bike?) and keep on going.

When I was digging around in my computer files this week, looking again at "A Patch of Weeds," I found another, unfinished story.  I'm not even sure of its title, but good lord -- it was good. Really, really good -- and the damn thing is, I don't even remember writing it -- certainly not revising and beating it to death, like most of my other stories.  

So. Finish the story? Keep going with my little project memoir noodling? I'm not sure.  But for now: Baby steps, baby steps, all the way up that steep and scary hill.


  1. GET BACK ON THAT BIKE! (OR horse) and pedal it (or ride it) UP that steep, scary hill.

    Because you are good.

    Because it would be a shame not to.

    Because you will make it to the top.

  2. Thanks so much for including my paintings in your post, Kelly. I think of these kinds of stories as I paint and love the way you tell them.

    Please keep writing.

  3. Deb -- thanks for the encouragement. YOU are also a great writer, y'know. As for going up that steep hill...I was a lazy kid and always got off my bike & walked it up the hills. Still my issue.

    Leah, WOW. Thank you for stopping by here and I'm glad you're fine with me using images of your wonderful work. I cannot decide which print I'll buy...I love them all. So evocative of certain moods.


Thanks for commenting! :)

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