I didn’t post my Lit Bit last Sunday, though it was finished. I had thought I’d had it all ready to go, posting scheduled and everything set. Nope. I forgot to hit the “publish” button when I saved it and set the schedule. Silly bird.
Instead, I will save it for next post, but give you this timely writing-related announcement! My short story, “Suburban Pixies,” is set for publication in Daily Science Fiction on Tuesday, July 3rd! That means if you are subscribed to DSF (it’s free), it will arrive in your inbox on July 3rd. If you are not subscribed, you will be able to see it one week later, on July 10th, when it goes live on their website.
Now that my egregious failure in simple internet usage has been exposed and addressed, I will now return you to the regularly scheduled posting routine.
I’m watching the boy in the green shirt, blond hair flipped up at the forehead, cigarette tucked behind his ear. His mouth hangs open in a kind of dull or vacant way, observing everything, observing nothing. His arms are crossed over his chest, sitting at the front of the bus, aware of at least one social rule, if no other: you must see and be seen.
When asked his age, he replies in a high shy voice, “Thirteen,” and adjusts his cigarette.
Rain and sea are a great comfort. On days when I am pouring out my heart, onto the page, into doomed crushes, the rain is like a blanket, and the ocean like a cloak. I wear the water and it warms something hard inside me, something as knotted as the seaweed that washes ashore in clumps. I can feel easy, then. I can untie those sacks of pebbles I’ve been carrying around all day, the stones of a thousand worries and disappointments I’ve collected up, and let them loose in the tide, pray the sharks will eat them. The sharks will eat them, yes. Little pieces of my heart.
It was partly a joke. And, as my roommate said as I mused on it worriedly, it doesn’t have to mean anything. After all, meanings are slippery things. But the fact remains: I put a silver wedding-style band on my ring finger, and I tell everyone who asks that I’m married to my writing.
In many ways, I am. I’ve passed up dates to be a hermit and write. I’ve cancelled plans to find better writing nooks. I’ve brought my notebook, my computer, my note taking apps on my phone, with me when I go out to bars to simply sit and drink and write. I’m never without a means of recording my thoughts.
In this, it’s an apt symbol. But it doesn’t have to mean anything. It doesn’t have to do more than that, reflect a silly joke in a snarky way. The fact is, I want it to mean more. I want people to know where my allegiances lie. I want any potential loves of mine to be aware that my deepest emotional commitment is to the stories that I tell and the poems that I compose.
Love? I don’t want to be head over heels so that I can’t focus on my words. Others want that very much. If that makes them happy, I’m happy for them.
People have told me that this makes me cruel, careless, frigid, and a host of other things. You know better and so do I. Everyone is going to approach this whole life thing differently. This is my way. And I’m happier for it.
It’s the little things, I tell you, juxtaposed:
1. Just outside the palm, the palm was heavy with flowers. Not big ones, nothing flashy, but yellow-white dusty plumes. Nothing so big as to make a person even look twice, only tiny petals were falling like snow. There was no wind. And so I looked. The entire mass was swarmed with bees. The branch, which would dry and fall after the flowering and fruiting were done, was vibrating with tiny gold-black bodies. So I stood under the palm snow, watching the bough breathe and thrum until the I noticed how the sun’s angle had slipped, and I hurried back to work.
2. You can’t hear it from your car. You need the air around you. That crackle, that hum. Under the wires of the electric station, it snaps and buzzes as though the metal were thick with bees.
3. It comes as a wall here, sometimes. It was not a clear day, but the clouds were that bright silver that says they’re thin, that says there’s no rain, until I turned the corner, and the black rose up against the high rises, competing for space. I saw it. There is a line. Here, it is dry. There, it is not. That line rushed me, and the deluge was a blow. After that first shock, every drop was a needle, every turn of my bike pedals drove them deep under my skin.
In these, sharpness. But there is it. Little observations, left raw. I let them shift and settle.
It’s always personal. But then, a good writer takes these characters, these places and ideas, breathes into them, fills their lungs with air, fills the hearts with yearnings using only a pen or a keyboard, and gives these strange people to us. And they come to mean something. These people, made-up and and make-pretend, become as real as our own families because that’s what a writer does: spies on his or her own family, and those nearby. That’s how these ink-on-paper people become real. No blue fairy. Just careful watching and a lot of thought.
And that’s what Ray Bradbury did: he made Martian boys, careless of their parents’ warnings, sucking down lungfuls of thin Martian air, wild and exuberant and unself-conscious, blind to the irony of the bones and ruins that made their games, he made them real. He made me one of them. He made it so that I could see myself among them. That is no easy thing.
For years in SF I’d felt like an outsider. There were never stories about me, this tangly weird girl-thing. But Bradbury was so sharp about catching childhood by the toes, holding community in his arms, capturing what is the very human, that I never felt excluded, even though he mostly wrote about men and boys, through he eyes of men, about men’s lives. I could see myself in almost all of them. He never shied away from tenderness, which is common to us all.
“Sunflowers are scary,” and I don’t think I could forget those words from my creative writing teacher in community college. I’ve heard ugly, goofy, ungainly, stupid, clumsy. Scary was new.
Michael Pollan talked of tulips in his book The Botany of Desire, gave the reader a wonderful image of a child’s first garden experience, bright colored tulips like lollipops planted by small hands. Mine were sunflowers instead, yellow heads like cog wheels, tilting faces to our star.
They aren’t pretty things, stalks like hairy legs. They aren’t so frail as jasmine flowers, browning where you touch them. They aren’t like roses or peonies– hell, even carnations have a kind of elegance and poise over a sunflower. Terribly unfeminine. But that’s why I love them. The unfailing annual, like love they will grow anywhere. Hardy. Solid. They are the flowers that grin– it’s infectious.
This is my best kept secret; it is no secret at all. I’ll give you the recipe. This is how to make me melt.
First, open a book of very good poems. You know the poems I mean. Something cutting, like Marge Piercy, or filled of vowels like Vénus Khoury Ghata. Something a little of home, say, Nin Andrews. Something vast and aching: Atwood. Something with just-so juxtapositions, to the flavor of Bob Hicok or Kathleen Graber. Then read them to me aloud. Make your voice a cello; execute the piece line by line, each phoneme sliding like sex against the next, curling over your tongue and into the open air.
Next, take a bit of prose. Something balanced and fine, a passage from Gene Wolfe. Something rich and rounding, an essay by Le Guin. Find me Twain’s dialogue. Hell, let’s get fancy; bring to me Calvino’s books, even in traitorous translation. Pull the meaning out with your teeth and make it live in the vibrations of my ears. Orate. Fix it in the moment with your larynx, then let it go.
Last, take something dear and sweet and well-remembered of childhood, like Blackberries in the Dark, or Catwings, or The Giving Tree, or Outside Over There, and read it slowly. As if to a child. We are all children. Let it drag across your lips, let the last sentences quaver in your throat as you speak them.
This is how to hold me: cradled in the curve of your voice.