Anticipation Post!

I’ve decided that I’m going to write a flash fiction or a poem or something of the like inspired by the transition into September. I plan to post it tomorrow. I don’t know yet what it will be about or exactly what form it will take, but it will be written.

I’m sure the question on all of your minds is “Will she actually post tomorrow?”

Stay tuned to find out!

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A Lyric Essay

Note: That is, someone might call this a lyric essay. It’s certainly prose, but it’s not exactly a story. I think I like to call it a Poetic Narrative. This is something I wrote for freshman English in high school, and then used as my admission essay for Bennington. This post is in lieu of my personal retelling of Beauty and the Beast, which I’ve realized I need to edit before I post it. In the meantime, enjoy this essay on fire.

From the first spark of a flame to the last dry ash, fire leaves a mark behind it that is hard to remove. It can bring warmth, or severe heat that causes fatal wounds. For most, fire represents both life and death. Some people fear fire more than a shark’s teeth ripping into their skin, staining the disturbed water red with their blood. Some people welcome the flames in the hearth as a wonder, never questioning its presence.  However, both of these types light candles without hesitation, not thinking that the flame would be large enough to start a fire.

Imagine you are young, six at the oldest. It is the middle of December. You have been playing in the park for an hour. The vast expanse of previously unbroken snow is now patterned with footprints and snow angels surrounding the fort you made while throwing snowballs at your five-year old sibling. Now, the sun has almost set, and you and your sibling are getting colder. You walk the few blocks to your house, trudging your wet boots through the thick but light snow, still laughing.

When you reach your house, the white one with the green shutters that you have lived in for most of your life, your mother opens the door for you and helps you with your soaked outerwear. Your snow clothes are hung up to dry, and the sweater you were wearing, which became wet as well, is hung with them. You are now wearing a dark sweatshirt with snowflakes painted on in white, but the chill that had seeped into your skin, as you played has not yet dissipated. Outside, fresh snow begins to fall, covering your tracks and turning the world pristine once again. You don’t have to worry about the snow, as you are inside. When the fire has caught on to the dry, slow-burning logs, you sit in a softly upholstered armchair, under the quilt usually lain over the back of the couch. You watch the flames crackle until the hot chocolate is brought in. You sip it carefully, but still the delicious chocolate burns your tongue. Still, it feels good going down your throat, and you grin as you set the mug carefully down. Your family is gathered in the living room with you, and you all sing Christmas carols until you can hardly keep your eyes open.

Imagine that you are now older, away from home, and nervous about being away. It is not winter, but the wind blowing outside brings the temperature down a few degrees. You were taking a walk with someone you met at this place, and now the two of you rush back inside. There is a hearth here, and you light a fire and make hot chocolate to warm your insides. As you sit talking, telling funny stories, you sip the chocolate. You are reminded of the times when you played outside in the snow, and came back in to a warm fire. You are reminded of home. This place is more comfortable to you now, and you are not worried that you will become homesick. In later years, you will return to this place, and think of it as a second home. In this way, fire served as a comfort, a security. There is nothing menacing or deathlike in the memories of home in the innocent years of childhood.

Imagine you stand in a small field. This field is lush with trees and plants, and the flowers bloom in all colors. You notice that where you happen to be standing, white roses surround you. Imagine that a wall of fire borders the field on all sides. This field is all you have ever known, including people and ideas. Up until this point, these things have satisfied you. But you have just learned that there are things on the other side of the fire, things you could not in your wildest dreams imagine.  You are curious as to what is beyond your field. What could be so fascinating that you could not imagine it?

You have never before thought of leaving your field. The idea frightens you a little. There is no break in the fire, and it is too high for you to tread over. There is no way for you not to pass through, if you decide to leave. You have no clue if you will like what you find, but the way your mind tingles in anticipation seems good. You bounce on the balls of your feet, weighing the advantages against the drawbacks. You look down at yourself. If you go through the fire, you will ruin the silky white that covers your body. However, you quickly realize that you won’t get another chance. If you turn down this opportunity, you may not be offered another.

After careful deliberation, you finally make your decision. Your heart pounds thinking about what you have resolved to do, an arousing mix of fear and anticipation. Slowly at first, but quickening with each step, you make your way to the wall of fire. It does not matter where you pass through; the fire is the same in all parts. First only reaching a hand through, you take a breath and pass into the fire.

The rush of emotions that surge through you at the fire’s touch hit you like a sledgehammer bursting through drywall. The heat of the fire magnifies them until they are all that fills your head. The flames feel somehow refreshing on your skin. Every feeling you acknowledge surges through your whole body, pounding with your blood in veins and arteries. The emotions feel like fire running through you. When you open your mouth the breath, the fire sears your throat. Simultaneously, you feel intense pain, dwarfing wonder, and gentle relief. You could never have imagined the feeling of the fire. Never in your wildest dreams.

The fire is suddenly gone. You look around you. The world you see is different from the one you have left, and yet somehow the same. You feel a bit crisp around the edges, but otherwise unhurt. You look down at yourself. Your previously white clothes are now singed and blackened. Your skin is covered in soot. Your hair smells burned, and it seems a little shorter when you look at it. The ends look strange, they look burned. You don’t care. You know now that this does not matter. It can be fixed. What is important now is not how you look. It is what you do.

You must survive in a world you know very little about. The fire has taught you something, but not enough. There are other fires for you to walk through in the future, each with a different lesson and different feelings. You will not be able to avoid them. The things in this world are new. As much as you will come to loathe the fact, you will need the fires. You will soon learn that this happens to everybody, but that information is not available to you now. You feel alone and small. Someday you will wish you had never entered the fire, but it was a one-way trip. You can never go back through.

Imagine that you are walking down a crowded sidewalk with five books, all somewhat large, in your arms. You are struggling to balance them all and see where you are going. Someone hits your elbow as they walk by. That person barely made contact with you, but it was enough. The books spill out onto the concrete as you catch yourself from joining them. Sighing, you brush off your clothes and begin to gather your fallen belongings. That person helps you. For a moment, your hands touch, and a spark catches on. You smile at each other, and the flame is kindled.
The two of you see each other more often. Every time you are together the flame grows. It fills your entire body, mind and soul, and you rarely think of anything else. Soon you are being consumed by it. The flames burn into you, leaving their everlasting mark. Even with the buzz of distractions through the day and night, the thoughts of this person linger, hovering above all others. If this flame existed in physicality, the entire world would be swept up in the fire.

After many years together, the flame has begun to die down. Now, instead of the passionate, searing fire you felt, the love you have for this person, and their love for you, is embodied in a gentle glow. Everyone who sees you notices this glow, and they walk away with a smile, as though your love is contagious. You know that the flame will never die completely. This knowledge feeds the flames the slightest bit, and they never shrink to anything less than that loving, warm glow. When you die, you know that the flame has not died with you, and so to your last breath, you are happy.

Fire can be these things, and more. It is the extreme of feeling; love, hate, passion, madness. It burns you and leaves you changed, for most things are changed with this contact. You must always remember the lush green world before the fire. If it is forgotten, then all will believe that the dry, brown, earth and stiff parched grass are all that has ever been. Fire sweeps through our lives, leaving barren earth or simply ashes. The way things used to be is just as important, as our roots play a part in the making of our lives.

Near-Crisis

Today I had a moment of panic, similar to the experiences of many writers, I’m sure.

I had looked in every place I could think to look, and I still could not find the flash drive anywhere.

Most of the files on this flash drive are ones of which I have copies on my computer. The ones that aren’t, I wouldn’t be too sad to lose – EXCEPT for my book of myths, The Krishnaverse Through Their Mouths.

I would not have lost all of my work, as I have printed copies and the original files on my computer and external hard drive. However, as of now I’m fairly certain that the revised versions of the stories exist only on this particular flash drive.

After all of the time I spent editing the stories, improving them I can’t even say how much, I would be devastated to have to do it all over again. While a writer can remember basic plotlines and recreate them if necessary, I very much doubt I’d be able to replicate the language I spent so much time perfecting – that’s not to say that it’s perfect, but… well, some of it is. Perfect. And certainly some of the stories need a bit more work before they’re actually published, but they’re so much closer to finished in the revised versions than they were in the original, it’s almost astounding sometimes. I’ve been so proud of what this project has turned into, and to have all that work come to almost nothing would have hurt me.

I managed to avert catastrophe, however, so I suppose all is well. I searched the same places over and over, started crying in frustration, and finally found the flash drive on the floor behind a plastic shelving unit on wheels. I’m immensely relieved, but I can’t help thinking, “What if I hadn’t found it?” I don’t know what I would have done.

Non-Sequitor: A Spontaneous Outpour

Have you ever noticed how some rain, and some music, while it’s playing or falling, is just the perfect reflection of some intrinsic thing in you? And in those moments you have no language to say why, but the world feels right – perhaps because it’s a rare moment in which you know for sure that you’re not alone.

Time passes so quickly. First a day has slipped by, and that’s no breaking news. Then a week has passed and you’ve hardly noticed the world turning – then a month, a season, a whole year goes by and in some ways it seems like only minutes. And suddenly, it’s coming up on seven years since the most important event of your life, and that number just can’t be right. It’s so long of a time, and yet so short. But even when it had only been a week since that event, it was too long. And no matter how much time has passed, it will seem like it’s been both more and less. Never does the actual passage of time feel accurate.

Oh, to be a cat. Fed every day by someone who pets you and snuggles you – if you want them to – able to explore all day, or just to sleep all day. If I were a cat, I would do little more than stand up, stretch and turn 180 degrees before lying down again to continue my nap. But it’s the leisure that I really envy. I could be just as nonchalant as any of these felines if I had as few worries as they do.

I wish that I knew, without trying, how to describe the sensation of tiredness in the eyes. Everyone knows the feeling, but few could actually describe it. There’s heaviness, a slight burn, and something else whose adjective/noun escapes me. There it is. Vaguely. But it’s a terrible description. If I were to come across someone who had never felt tired, and tried to explain what it felt like, I doubt it would result in their understanding.

A note to some contemporary writers, aspiring or published, who seem to have no sense of narrative at all: good writing =/= writing that is impossible to understand. If the readers don’t understand it isn’t because they aren’t as smart as you, it’s because you wrote for yourself (i.e. as your audience) instead of for anyone else. The rest of the world does not share your brain. True, some writers are just geniuses and it therefore can take multiple reads before you understand what they meant to convey (or what their writing conveys whether they meant it to or not), but I suspect that in most cases the writer is just being pretentiously, pointlessly enigmatic and no matter how many times you read it over, it will never become any clearer. Yes, I’m talking to you: STOP DOING THAT.

My Writing Won’t Shatter, It’s Not Made Of Glass

I had an idea that I think is a good one. Self-publishing in video! And what I mean by that is: I would record myself reading my writing and post it, most likely on youtube, for people to view. Specifically, I’m thinking of The Krishnaverse Through Their Mouths (which once again I feel needs a title change), my cross-cultural mythology work recounting important moments in Krishna’s life as he encounters characters from different mythologies, from Greek to Irish to Japanese. I want to publish this work so, so much, but I worry that its format will keep some publishers from wanting to publish it, even though it’s very well written and original, according to the feedback from professional writers Holly Robinson (The Gerbil Farmer’s Daughter) and Gregory Maguire (Wicked). You see, The Krishnaverse is a book of five stories, all written in the first person, each from the point of view of a different character. While all of the stories are interconnected, they can also stand alone – some more than others, in my opinion, but all can be read as individual stories. Although many publishers and agents say they want new, original, interesting, cross-genre work, I doubt most would be willing to take such a chance on an unknown writer. In order to get the work out there, I thought video publishing might be a way to do so. However, I wrote The Krishnaverse with the intention that it would be read. That is not to say that it shouldn’t be recorded – it’d be just like an audiobook. My biggest worry, of course, is that publishers might then refuse it on the grounds that it has been previously published, even though it would not be in written form. Any thoughts?

Incidentally, if anyone wants to help me write a synopsis for Krishnaverse, based on the information I provided here (or perhaps just give me suggestions?), I’d be grateful. I’m just having trouble getting started, but I know it’s the most logical next step for submitting for publication.

Unadulterated Thoughts of Alice James

I am having a weak day.

Today has been unpleasantly dreary. For a while this morning I watched the grim haze of rain. I complained of the cold and Katharine drew the curtains shut. Now there is nothing interesting upon which to fix my eyes. On any other such a day, I would certainly spend the time writing in my Journal, or composing letters – I have yet to answer William and Alice’s last letter. Today, holding a pen does not appeal to my fingers. I attempted it just following breakfast. After setting down a few words I had to set down the pen, as I could focus neither my eyes nor my hand on the paper in front of me.

Days like this one can be difficult. I have been able to do nothing but lie down, excepting the effortful meals during which I consumed a few bites before having to lie down again. If I must stay in all day with no visitors, I prefer to write something. It is, unfortunately, one of those rare times when the preliminary efforts of the morning sapped what little strength I have, and my exhaustion now prevents me even from dictating. Silent and helpless, my thoughts have nowhere to go. There is no choice but to content myself with thinking them.

Katharine sits beside my bed. She has been reading to me all afternoon, in a low, under-dramatic voice. The small pile of books next to her consists of ones I read as a child. It was thoughtful of her to select volumes with which I am already familiar. I could tune in to each at any point and understand what was happening. She must be aware that I am not listening attentively. Even so, her voice is a comforting and grounding presence, without which I might simply float away.

I wonder what the time is. Several hours should have passed since noon, it seems, but if that were so they would have disturbed me for afternoon tea by now. Perhaps it had only been an hour, or less, and time had decided to drag horrendously.

In one simple way, I almost prefer times like this to my most productive days. I have the chance to interact with my thoughts in their original, unadulterated form. Knowing that no one will write them down today, I allow the thoughts to come to me as they will, and then leave or sit still in my mind, being nothing but exactly what they are. The act of putting words to thoughts changes their shape. Once it is done, even the source of the thought cannot recall the original impression. Emotions are even worse in this respect, as well as being unjustly difficult to translate into words. I do not often write of complicated emotions in my Diary. I believe that any such account would be indecipherable by anyone but me, and therefore not worth recording. I expressed all of this to Harry once, and he nodded contemplatively, although I could not tell if he actually agreed with me.

I adore Harry’s visits. I am excessively glad that he has not come today, as I would be incapable of enjoying his presence. In addition to that, I do not think I have the strength today to endure his departure, which always strikes me as vastly unpleasant. I should cry hard for two hours, after he goes, if I could allow myself such luxuries. He is perfect company. There are times when I think that he is my sole reason for carrying on in this world. When my reason for carrying on comes by and I have no strength to greet it, I believe that to be a disgraceful state of affairs.

For as long as I can remember, I have enjoyed Henry’s presence more than almost anyone else’s. He is incontestably my most intellectually stimulating companion, as well as wonderfully empathetic. He comes at my slightest sign and gives me calm and solace by assuring me that my nerves are his nerves and my stomach his stomach. We are the kindred spirits of the James family. There is nothing to the fact that we are each other’s only family in London, or that we are the only living Jameses of our generation who are not married. The possibility that one of us is not married because the other one is not crosses my mind from time to time. It is, of course, nonsense – neither of us ever really intended to marry. Perhaps if I had gone to live with a handsome butcher-boy or married a Duke, certain people would have been happier, but I have no doubt that I would have ended up here regardless. I would feel much worse about my condition if I had children. I cannot imagine that I am missing anything that I was not meant to miss, and I have Katharine and Harry who are both wonderful.

Katharine reads on, her voice like a hum that has set me drifting. I have within me a cluster of memories testifying that this is not unusual for me to do. I am sure that I often listened very closely when Father or one of the boys read aloud, preparing myself for the day when the deep James family discussions would include me, the only girl. I am also sure that my mind had wandered during many such readings, despite my efforts.

I conclude, years later, that my mind had to wander. Most of my important revelations on life came to me during the years of my childhood; while my brothers soaked up the ideas of others, I was busy pondering my own. While family friends and dinner guests seemed to find me most amusing when I made comments like “I wish that your mashed potatoes might always have lumps in them!”(though I would bet that they remembered it as having been said by Wilky or someone else), I knew that my moments of delicious clarity while walking on the cliffs of Newport were vastly more important.

I understood too much for an adolescent, as the knowledge crystallized within me of what life meant for me. It was all I could think of, up on those cliffs, the winter sea and the gray sky melting into each other at the horizon like life and death. When I returned to the house, Aunt Kate would load me with a shawl and a cup of tea after placing me in front of the fire and Harry looked at me as though he could almost sense that I had solved the mysteries of life. For me, the moment had passed, and I settled into the heat of the tea and the fire, the comfort of home.

I thought that I would miss home greatly when I came here, even with Henry’s reposeful presence, and of course I did. Since arriving in England, the “home” feeling which you can fabricate between any four walls has slowly infused these two rooms. Every inch of wall-paper and carpet and every piece of furniture is by now so familiar that I can picture to the minutest detail the entire apartment as I lay with my eyes closed, and I can, with concentration, conjure the feeling of the place when I am elsewhere and wish to feel at home. When Harry visits, the feeling is most complete.

Yes, I am quite happy that he has not come today. It would have been a waste and a disappointment.

I can hardly remember what it felt like to be healthy. I can picture my present self traipsing through Europe as I did when I was a girl – indeed, with my mind it would be surprising if I could not – but I can’t imagine how it would feel. It is just as well; I should not try to feel the way things could have been, but the way they are. There is something very exhilarating in shivering whacks of crude pain. Most people avoid it avidly, undergoing all kinds of medications, sedations, and anesthesia to escape. I find that it is an important part of a life experienced through the senses, which after all is how we experience anything.

I covet the awareness of pain because it is awareness. My lazy state at this moment might appear out of character if I did not know how hard my mind now works. I may not be aware of the words Katharine reads, or the time of the day, or Henry’s present actions and condition, but I am aware of myself. There is nothing beyond that is worth observing, nor would I have the strength if there were. Perhaps I would be stronger if I could feel some sunlight in the room. Even with my eyes closed, I know that the afternoon is unsavorily dark.

A sound, one that has been perpetually pushing at my ears for a while now, causes my brow to furrow as I attempt to determine its source. I decide that it is rain, muffled by the curtains. There are so many layers between my awareness and the rain – thoughts, eyelids, curtains, windowpane – that I am slightly intrigued that I should notice at all. And how could I hear it over Katharine’s reading? Has she stopped – no, paused for a page turn, but she picks it up again in the middle of a sentence whose beginning I did not hear.

There has come a change in me. A congenital faith flows through me like a limpid stream, making the arid places green. It brings me back to the Newport cliffs, somehow, although I can see no similarity between the incidents. The revelations that come to you when you are approaching the end of your life are quite unlike any other. The difference in revelations and the difference in age are connected, I think. All that comes to us is surely only of interest and value in proportion as we find ourselves therein, form given to what was vague, what slumbered stirred to life.

I lay in a meadow until the unwrinkled serenity entered into my bones and made me one with the browsing kine, the still greenery, the drifting clouds, and the swooping birds. Whether the great Mystery resolves itself into eternal Death or glorious Life, I contemplate either with equal serenity.

“A letter has just arrived from Henry. He is caught up in work and will come to visit later in the week. Shall I respond for you, Alice? Alice?”

I hear her voice clearly, but I cannot answer as the subdued patter of rain and the gentle in-and-out of my breath pull me toward sleep.

Notes

I wrote this for a Bennington class on historical fiction. This narrative is based mostly on The Diary of Alice James, as well as other readings about the Jameses. Some parts of it are taken from the Diary, and those are listed below (make a note of this before you tell me you liked a particular line, because if it turns out it’s not one that I came up with it’s a disappointment to me). My intention, looking back, was to capture Alice James well enough that readers would be unable to distinguish my writing from hers in this piece. I think I succeeded. I can only tell the difference because when you work someone else’s writing into yours, it just feels different.

1. “I should cry hard … luxuries” The Diary of Alice James, p. 74. 2. “He comes at my slightest sign … my stomach is his stomach” Ibid p. 104. 3. “I wish that your mashed potatoes…!” qtd. in The James Family, p. 71. 4. “As the knowledge … what life meant for me” Ibid, p. 273. 5. “The ‘home’ feeling … four walls” The Diary of Alice James, p. 106. 6. “There is something … crude pain” Ibid, p. 129. 7. “There has come a change … arid places green” Ibid, p. 131. 8. “All that comes … stirred to life” Ibid, p. 27. 9. “I lay … swooping birds” Ibid, p. 130. 10. “Whether the great … equal serenity” Ibid, p. 131.

Selected Bibliography

The Diary of Alice James. Ed. Leon Edel. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1964

Matthiessen, F. O. The James Family. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1947

Strouse, Jean. Alice James: A Biography. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1980

Reflections on a Piece in E-mails

I came across a piece I did last year that is written in the form of emails between a brother and sister. It was my response to an assignment for Recent Innovative Fiction, a writing class I took during my last semester at Bennington College. It was fun to write, and very very experimental in nature. The plot is built on a rather strange premise and developed only as much as I needed to write a few pages. I don’t intend to ever finish it, and it’s not exactly fit to post online, but I want to talk about it briefly, as it is out of the ordinary and, despite its roughness, I am proud of it.

Many interesting considerations go into writing a piece like this. A skeleton of a plot is necessary to begin writing, but the main consideration was form. We concentrated a lot on form in RIF. It’s not enough to simply write a story in an interesting form – if you don’t take advantage of the form you decide to use, you’re missing an opportunity. So I asked myself: what can I do to play with email form? Of course I decided to create a parody of those ridiculous chain letters people send each other. In terms of language, I mostly stuck to the type of language people typically use in email. It makes the more poetic sentences really stand out. And what else? I could have given the characters interesting emails, but I never got around to assigning them email addresses.

The one thing I came up with that would have made this piece very interesting, if it were finished and published, was to get creative with the time stamps. You have to read them carefully in order to spot it. One character’s emails always originate from the same time on the same day, while the other’s are sent at random times, often weeks later than their last. The conversation progresses as if they were talking in real time, but the information they share about their lives indicates that he is stuck in time, while she’s speeding forward. They also relate strange occurrences in their lives, which is meant to be connected to the weird time paradox they seem to be stuck in. I suppose that makes it a sci-fi/fantasy type story. As I wrote I imagined that most people would interpret the weirdness as indications of end-times.

I think that this story could turn out well, but if I do return to it to write more, create a complete piece, it won’t be for a long time. I’d love to hear that people are intrigued by the idea.