Word Drawing

I have been a little bit resentful, over the past few years, of the fact that I can’t draw. I have wished that I had been a visual artist instead of a writer. I think that, for people who are very dedicated to the work they’re doing, neither one is really easier. But… but. I am convinced that my finished product as an artist would come across much closer to what I’m trying to express. When I write, I often do not feel like readers understand the work. I say this in part because my very favorite flash fiction pieces are never anyone else’s favorite.

It gives me the impression that no one gets me (as a writer–let’s not to into no one getting me as a person). And how will any publisher or agent ever want to work with me if no one gets me?

That’s part of the purpose of editing and struggling to create the story you really want to tell. The reader can only do so much on their own. It is up to the writer to make it possible for the reader to “get” them.

I’m sure it’s the same, sometimes, for artists. But in a different way. I’m sure artists sometimes execute the picture just as they intended but do not really have any way to explain what it means. As a writer I can get my meanings across often just as I intended (or as close as I could possibly come, and of course sometimes the actual meaning is missed entirely), but I can’t convey the picture as I see it. I can describe a field dotted with trees under blue sky brushed with purple in the early dawn, but is my reader seeing the same field I envisioned? The most likely answer is no. They aren’t.

Imagery is very important in writing because it helps the reader understand and engage with the story and the world the writer has created. However, it’s also very hard. Chances are, no matter how precise your details are, readers will interpret them into various versions of the writer’s original image.

If I could draw or paint, the image, though processed differently by each viewer, would remain the same.

Thinking about it, this just seems like a control issue. So I’ll just say, “Lighten up. It’s no big deal.”


*** I was going to edit this, and then I didn’t feel like it, so here you go, totally raw writing.

Thoughts on Reading: The Tale of Murasaki

I’ve been reading The Tale of Murasaki by Liza Dalby for some time now. On some days I’ll sit and read 50 pages, others only 5, making the going overall rather slow. I’m about halfway through now, and having made an observation that I find interesting, decided to share it.

This book is description-heavy. On every page there is some description of the surroundings, so much imagery that the book is like an overstuffed furniture piece of a story. Now, I’m not saying this is a bad thing. On the contrary – overstuffed furniture tends to be very comfortable – the kind you can sink into and not want to leave for hours. And, as the story is told from the point of view of a writer (and we tend to be observant people), the extreme level of imagery is not out of place. I only notice because it’s not common to have quite that much description.

I recollect that even in other books that do seem to describe the scenery quite often, the author will give you enough to picture where the characters are and then move on. While seamlessly weaving in plot and dialogue among the bombardment of images, Liza Dalby seems, at times, to continuously remind you where Murasaki is. (Or, Murasaki constantly reminds you/herself of where she is.) It emphasizes Murasaki’s awareness of the world. I do think it’s brilliant, and the writing is so artful that it doesn’t get old – not to mention how beautiful a picture of Japan is created by the descriptions. It seems to me, as well, that it takes an extra dose of dedication to keep up such an approach throughout a 400-500 page book.

Now, out of curiosity, I ask: Would you have noticed such a thing in reading this book? Would you have thought it important? Do you think that too many writers get sidetracked with descriptions? – Because I think that a lot of writers do get caught up in telling the reader exactly what a character or world looks like, before they give us cause to care. While description is a good writing excercise, I think it shouldn’t dominate the writing. If you don’t have the content to go along with it, all the pretty pictures in the world will not, in fact, make the story good.

That is not to say that, sometimes, description can’t be an entire story. Flash fiction, at least, could utilize this idea.

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.

The End

One night the stars fell into the lake. Side by side we watched, wondering if the world was ending. I thought: if this is the end, at least I’m holding your hand.

Note: This is one of my favorite microfictions that I have written. If I ever publish a collection, I plan to put this one first.