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Trees in Winter

Oh, tree, once so full and green with leaves. How small you look now, with a single squirrel dropping acorn shells from your thinnest branch. How he balances on the lightest end, snatches his treat before it falls and flips back to safety nearer to the trunk, where he can rip that spare meat from its shell, and shed the rest to the ground.

Which is bare, too, you know. Bare and crumpled with dry, winter’s leaves that crunched beneath my feet as I came to you in the way of withered and dying things. At the stoplight, I spotted two faded butterfly wings, folded together like an overlarge purse before a polite departure. By the riverbed, which is always more stone than water, a bird nestled down into its coat, puffed itself into a ball and shivered into the wind. Shaking, I set my things down here, where my numb fingers could safely peck at the keyboard, a small defense against the advancing front.

But now I must leave, tree, as the air is cool and growing colder and it is time for me to slip back into a cave of my own. In the spring, we will both have fresh haircuts and emerge youthful and blushing to embrace the season.

Will this same squirrel join us then, or will he have leapt far away from here in his hunt for survival, ending his journey somewhere unknown to you and me? I cannot answer that, tree. But I look forward to seeing you then, and, too, all the furry rascals that call you home when times are good and the weather is fine and we are all so full of life and cheer.

 

Yeah! You Twine That Algae!

Most of the time, the story of how a story is made is boring. The Great Story Birthing often takes one of the two following forms:

  1. The Hollywood Version: I, THE GENIUS, shout EUREKA! while I’m in the middle of a shower, abandon the tub for my study and a pad of paper, and, shower still running, pen an entire story in one sitting.
  2. The More Often Version: I, THE GENIUS, shout EUREKA! while I’m in the middle of my shower, abandon the tub for my study and a pad of paper, remember that I most often write on a laptop, eagerly tap out five brilliant lines, go eat a slice of an entire box of pizza, forget about the story, return to it a week later, try again, hate myself for not being a better writer, eat an entire box of pizza, and repeat this cycle for several years until something finally manages to reach a somewhat conclusive ending, oftentimes because my house is at that point flooded and I have other things to take care of.

Sometimes, though, a story is something you carry with you throughout your life — something that grows as you grow, both personally and as a writer who goes from thinking ALL SENTENCES ARE COOL to knowing the precise rhythm and feel that make her heart sing.

And that, friends, is the story of the story I’ve just had published on InfectiveInk.com, And How the Algae Twines!

The first time I wrote this story, I was a sophomore in college, staring out my dorm window at the shifting snow drifts howling across the campus quad, thinking of another time when the world was also made of snow and I could feel my first real relationship reaching its zenith and beginning its long, slow descent into the frozen ground. The result: a creative short essay, and the feeling that I wasn’t done.

The second time I wrote this story, I was mored on the shores of a criticism-ridden grad school workshop, trying to be a better writer than I felt I could be. Somehow, I stumbled upon this old essay, languishing in an ancient Word file, and found myself horrified at my use of language, yet intrigued by the thoughts, images and emotions that lay behind it. I returned to my keyboard, and tried to remember what it was to feel. The result: a thirty page behemoth, with ten pages of striking imagery, ten pages of a writer reaching for a moral, and ten pages of a 24-year-old woman, demanding her true experiences find an outlet. And a workshop with an excess of praise and an excess of criticism that would change my writing forever.

The third time I wrote this story, I had been torn down to my core. There were no safe places left — not for me, not for my work. Everything I did was wrong. There was no warm hearth upon which I could nestle. After so many years of fighting for independence, I was on my own and barely able to breathe. Left with the few words that meant something to me. The few words that wouldn’t leave me alone.

It’s been three years since the third time. Three years, and this story has won awards, and finally found publication. The joy of finally seeing this story in print…well, I can’t quite put that into words. Nor can I promise I won’t write this story a fourth time, as I navigate the shriveled climes of my very non-snowy setting. But I can say that the story of this story — this story that began nine years ago and continues on — is one I will carry with me, wherever I go. This story has not left me.

You can read And How the Algae Twines at InfectiveInk.com.

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