The realization washed over me like a monstrous, rogue wave flushes the air and hope for the future from a quiet cove on a peaceful island. (Too much? Yeah, probably.) A deadline looms and I am utterly unprepared for it.
I’m in quasi-panic mode. It’s not that the deadline is new to me. I’ve known it for months. It’s just that I have again delayed action on a task I should have long since taken. I tend not to be a professional procrastinator, but I’ve honed my skills in this situation. In less than a week, five and a half days to be precise, I must write (or select and revise recently written materials) two or three pieces of fiction or poetry to read at an upcoming even. The event is L’Audible Art, an annual event at which members of our local writers’ group read selections of their work to an adoring audience. We hope the audience is adoring. Each reader is given five minutes to read. This year, for a variety of reasons, readers may choose to read two or three five-minute pieces (not consecutively). The event will be held May 14. But the pieces must be delivered to the club leader by midday next Monday, following which we will each read our pieces in practice for the real thing. My panic arises from the fact that I want to read something new or, at least, something freshly and radically revised. Not only must I finish the pieces I will read, I must practice reading them aloud so I do not stumble over my words and so I can time myself. Five minutes it the absolute limit. My piece can be shorter, but no longer. I don’t write shorter. At least not well.
I have a few ideas. One is an über-abbreviated short story involving a young Norwegian girl. The story begins with a snapshot of her grandfather, a crusty old fisherman, taking on the dual role of father and grandfather after the girl’s father, also a fisherman, is lost at sea. It ends when, years later, the now grey-haired granddaughter, reflects on what the old man taught her and what he failed to teach her, that is, how to deal with his loss. The reason for the Norwegian setting (this is outside the story, by the way) has to do with a German word I’ve heard before; only yesterday, though, I was reminded of it while listening to a piece on All Things Considered. The word is fernweh, which has no English equivalent, though the closest thing to it would be “farsickness,” according to the program’s host. It means an aching longing for a place one has never been. For me, one such place is the rugged coast of Norway. I have plenty more. I write about them fairly often. I have fernweh for a lot of places in the Maritimes. I’ve been to Halifax, but haven’t explored anywhere else in Nova Scotia. And I’ve never set foot in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, though I long to go there and blend in with the locals as if I were one of them. It’s an odd sort of longing. I guess it must be related to the idea that, if I were able to shed my “self” in a new environment, I might find who lives beneath the façade. Old story. Speaking of stories, I recognize what I’ve just done. I’ve successfully put off doing instead of doing. I’m writing about what I should be writing. And, for a short while, I’ll continue.
Another idea is to take the skeleton of another story, one I’ve written in full, and flesh it out in a new way. The story in question is set in a tavern in the fictional town of Struggles, Arkansas, a once-thriving town that has fallen on hard times. The tavern provides a certain sense of community to the characters in the story. But the community is like that one might find in a leaking life raft hopelessly adrift at sea. The entry of someone from “outside” who sees in the derelict town possibilities for renewal provides a spark that might turn things around, at least for the denizens of the tavern. The trick (one might call it magic or one might call it miracle) is to tell the story in about 700 to 725 words and read it aloud in less than five minutes. Again, I’m thinking about doing what I should be doing.
Another idea, and one I’m seriously considering, is to revise (read: shorten and improve) my story entitled The Awful Secret, which was inspired by a neighbor’s painting (I posted it here some time ago). It’s 1135 words, more than 400 too long. I think I might be able to shorten it that much…maybe. I think, perhaps, my procrastination is paying off. I’m getting some ideas here upon which I might build a plan. I’m not there yet, though. I could dust off a poem or two, which certainly would take fewer than five minutes. One of these two might do:
You and I have lived this life for an eternity,
detritus of our dashed dreams serving as bricks
and the two of us as mortar, cobbling together
this fragile, monumental tower in which we reside.
We have scuffed our emotions against sharp,
sentimental objects so many times they have
shredded into strings like worn cotton,
as soft and ephemeral as clouds.
The scowls and snarls of daily battles
between us have become so comfortable
I know I could not live without them and
the easy fit between us they concede.
I would not last an instant without them or you,
sitting in your study behind a closed door, book in hand,
exploring fantasies and frustrations, by proxy, of writers
who know you without ever having met you.
I would crumple into a useless hulk of a man
were you not there to inflate my emptiness into a
figure in which you somehow find substance,
a man, in your wisdom and courage, you somehow can love.
Poverty slams doors
and binds them shut
with shackles purchased
with the fruits of avarice,
thick ribbons of greed
sewn from raw hubris and cold
Devoid of the fibers of
kindness, these braids
weave a crusted cloth, woven into
clothing worn in unearned
shame by victims of circumstance
thrust upon them by someone else’s
Destitution strangles budding
aspirations with colorless scarves
stitched from hunger and ignorance
left in the wake of frenzied gluttony,
as gold leaf becomes fare to feed the ego,
leaving the soul begging for more noble
Carving through this brutal
tangle of malevolent threads and
sinister fabrics demands passion as
stark as cold-blooded murder, skills as
sharp as a surgeon’s healing blade, and
love as tender as a new mother’s
The means to rip those damnable doors from
their twisted hinges are the same needed to
shred those shackles and scarves into soft
bandages: a lethal commitment to ending
indifference, a steadfast resolve to rewarding
decency and generosity, and the boldest tool,
All right, I’m done here. I need more coffee and I need to get some actual writing done, rather than so assiduously avoiding it.