Someone recently asked me what my process was, a subject I've addressed of late in this journal, in that I have no process, though I always have a way, which is different, and the way is always made clear to me. It is something I simply know about my ability, that goes beyond me, goes beyond being a person, goes beyond anything any one person contains; how something should be made, how it will function, its structure, will be made clear to me. I try to share some individual examples on here. That is what I am going to do now.
Recently I began a short story that had to do with a town, in a valley, that had been flooded to create a reservoir. A young girl is staying with an aunt for a couple weeks in summer, and she meets another young girl, close to the house, on the shore of the reservoir, who seems, or is pretending, or is joking, that she still lives in a home in the flooded valley.
I had two short sections, and the start of a third. I knew what this story would be called, I had thought a lot about it over several days, writing it in my head. But then I took a different angle. I thought about a home, like a cottage, that had been in a family for generations, which various people had used at various times. To help them. For example, an aunt after a divorce, an uncle who was trying to stop drinking, or the parents of this girl who is going to be the protagonist of this story, after her sister has died, before they had her. It was shortly after this sister died--and we don't know the details of how, because we don't need to--that this couple has this other child, the girl of our story. One has the sense that, in part, they made her to deal with their pain. To create new focus. But they never had time alone, together. To heal, as best they could, and healing can often be ugly, and it can be violent. Sometimes, two people, in tandem, are hurt so greatly, in a shared experience, that that pain cannot be put upon anyone else, no one else could handle it, and they end up putting it on each other, the only two people who would also understand. Such is life. Such is tragedy.
They are some years into their lives together, the three people of this family, and it is the end of the summer, the second half of August. The girl is close to the aunt staying at the cottage, it's her favorite aunt. She had been single when the girl was five or six, and the aunt took her, just the two of them, to an amusement park, almost to see how she'd do with a child. And it bonded them. As the protagonist says, one day can be enough. She's telling this story as an adult. She's telling it to her husband. They have come to this cottage for his recovery after surgery for a blocked artery. He is supposed to take only light exercise, and one night, which feels like fall--or the advent of fall--because the second half of autumn can go one of two ways, it can go the summer way, with the heat lingering, or it can be crisp at night, signaling the arrival of the oncoming season--they put on their light coats and walk down the path to this reservoir shore.
She hadn't been her since that time as a girl. She talks about how people can know things before they should be able to know them. Their experience in life suggests that they couldn't know these things, the development of their mind, at that point, suggests they shouldn't be able to know these things, but they know them regardless, and they know they know them. We've all experienced this. And what this girl knew was that her parents need, in some ways, to be able to be with each other in a manner that they could not be with her in their presence, to deal with the pain, to unbottle what was bottled, as it were. The time had come, though they probably called it something else. And she prays the night before she goes, that they'll still love each other when she comes back. It was only two weeks, she says to her husband, looking back, but two weeks can be a very long time.
And as they walk at night, in the August evening that feels like autumn, she tells this story of this girl she played with on the beach. This girl always made sand castles on the beach, perfectly smooth on the sides, though she didn't have a bucket. Sand castles on the beach at a pond or a lake are quite different than sand castles on the beach at the ocean, aren't they? They stand out more. It's just how it is. And the girl was funny, she joked about how she lived where the water was now, the water that had flooded the valley to make the reservoir. The girl who is the main character thinks she's a kid being a kid, lonely, and as an adult she wonders aloud to her husband if people are lonely because they have great imaginations, and they can't fit in with others that easily, or maybe they're lonely and they develop imaginations because that's how they cope. She's not sure. As a girl that summer, she made other friends, the aunt would drive them to the mall, but the girl from the beach never went with them, and the other girls had never heard of her.
And the two adults walk this shore. They walk it one way, then the other, like a caress, after starting in the middle, because as the woman says to her husband, it feels like you always starting walking a beach at the mid-point. It's true, isn't it? And they have these discoveries between them, as they reconnect again, and their relationship has changed, or is seen differently, after what has happened. They get back to the mid-point of the beach, ready to return to the cottage for the night--they haven't been able to hold hands as they're accustomed to, with their fingers intertwined, because the man's hands are still swollen as his circulation gets back to what it should be--and they discover something on the beach. The story is called "August Autumn." I wrote that Tuesday.
So I think, okay, what do you want to do with the two short sections an the start of the third? The other work, the original work, that is just sitting there now. I copy and paste what I had into a new document. The story described above, "August Autumn," was 2000 words long. The thinking originally was that it would be quite short, a story for this book I now have more than enough material for, called Longer on the Inside: Very Short Fictions of Endlessly Human Lives. Norberg wants the "Endlessly" to be "Infinitely," but we'll see. The story that I had in the first place was going to be the longer one. What I'm amenable to now is having two different stories, perhaps the same length, that have one point in common--this idea of the flooded valley, the girl on the beach.
In several other instances, I've done this, or had two different stories with the same title, either completely different approaches, or stories that caused you to consider the words of the titles in contrasting ways, though the meaning of the word, before it was set in these contexts, was the same. "Crab Apples"--from Between Cloud and Horizon (and Boulevard)--and "Blinkered"--from the upcoming If You [ ] (and AGNI)--are both this way. I am banned, I believe, from both of those journals. I will be doing blog posts soon, exposing how they operate and also how their editors get their work published and how almost all of the work in these journals is secured, and I will go into many of their modes of behavior, including a phone call an editor made to me, not just about reviewing their book, but to say certain specific lines about their book which they tried to dictate to me over the phone. But more on that soon. I have extended the last bit of rope I am willing to extend. There is a story called "Potlatch" in The Anglerfish Comedy Troupe that is a universe away from the story of the same name in Buried on the Beaches. I am always doing this with intent, with purpose--I do nothing because I cannot think of something new, that has never been done before, because I can always think of such things. It is, in truth, who I am. Not even what I do. There are two stories called "The Brittle Star," about this talismanic mark in the ground, one of which involves only animals, as this is seen from their perspective, the other a man and a child.
I'm thinking a new version of something like that will occur, with both byplay and autonomy. That is, if you know both stories, you can mull the former, and if you know only one, you'd never think that it was anything but self-contained, whole. But that's not what begins to happen.
What does is I start to write the story, a new story, backwards. I mean this quite literally. Do I write stories backwards? No, not really, but each story I write is written a new way. In one sense, I don't know until I'm told, or the information is imparted to me, whatever one wishes to call it. And then it's like, "Oh, so this is how we're doing this one. Interesting." It is always new. I don't trust the universe or God or whatever it is to tell me. It's not about trust. It's simply how it is. How I am. For whatever reason. Reasons. I commence erasing sentences, three, four, five at a time. The page with black on it is becoming white, and as it becomes white, I write a new sentence at the bottom, where the others were. This sentence has nothing to do with the story I had been telling. But what it does come from, stem from, is the sentences that were just erased. I'm building a story out of that which I'm removing, I'm building it backwards to have it read forwards, I'm creating as I efface, and I'm using what is about to no longer exist as a springboard to something new. I'm leaping away, I'm not leaping up, do you understand? But there's still a diving board.
What I end up with is a story about a girl in her room. She stays up late at night. She has a brother, a father, no mother. And she watches this man across the road--it's close; her brother can even through a football that far, and as she says, he's not that great--who is alone, whose wife has gone. Chose to go. She cries in this room of hers, and she thinks this man cries as well, but she's not sure. The story begins with this line that a teacher of hers had once said, that it is every person's job to be a mother, in one way, and every person's job to be a father, in another way, which didn't have anything to do with babies. The girl thought she understood what the teacher meant, but she wasn't sure, and as we learn, it was some time ago. The man is agitated, he stands up, he's knocking at the window, like he's trying to get something to go away. The girl assumes it's a bat, because there are a lot of them in the neighborhood, especially in summer, and they try all kinds of ways to get in. Her family had a couple in the attic, which an exterminator took care of while they had breakfast as a family on a Saturday, something they never used to do, though her mother always wanted them to. She talks about her relationship with her mother, and the best ever vacation they ever took to the Cape, when the girl would eat loads of taffy, and her mother joked that she had taffy on the brain. One of those memories that always lodge in your head. They're not the memories of the wedding day. They're memories like this. She wonders if she has crying on the brain, and that is maybe why she thinks what she does about the man across the street.
She's thinking what she can do for this man. He did something for them, the winter before. You have the sense that the girl and her family have lived with their loss for a bit. Eight months or whatever. It didn't happen last week. These nights are common for her. She thinks about how it'd feel if someone left you forever voluntarily, would you take comfort in the fact that they were doing well, if they were happy, or would that hurt more, maybe even more than if they left you involuntarily? And she's ashamed by what she finds herself thinking. The man had plowed out their driveway for them when it snowed, early, before anyone ever awoke, like some magical visitation, like with Santa, only it was February, and her mother hadn't been there for the Christmas that had just passed. She wants to connect with this man, wants him to see her wave, and she's going to make another gesture, too, when she is so tired, and it feels like her bed is neighborhoods away, but she doesn't want to leave him on his own. She thinks about what she can do for him. Maybe she could bring him a plate of grilled cheese, because her mom taught her how to make that, and though she doesn't make them nearly as well, they're pretty good. But that's not much. She mouths things to him, but not one thing, above all, that people had said to her, because when they said it, they hurt her, and she doesn't want to hurt him, and that one thing is: "I understand." And the story ends in a way that, well, I will just say that it will absolutely wreck you in its pain and beauty. This story is exactly 725 words long, and I could have written my thesis on it. Or a book. It is that sophisticated, and there is that much happening on so many levels at once. It's called "Taffy and Grilled Cheese."
These are the works that the publishing industry does not want you to see, by the person the publishing industry hates above anyone else. That is what this person is doing on a daily basis. In a week when they also tape a podcast on the Beatles, are interviewed on the radio about their writing and the battle they are in, write a feature on an animated Fourth of July special that is hilarious, and yet is also about cancel culture, guns, cops, and do what they are going to do now, which is write a 2500 word cover story for JazzTimes on the greatest recording session in American musical history. While also covering thirty-six miles on foot thus far, running thousands of stairs, so they can physically handle the stress and what is being done to them, and to keep going, and also putting up all of these journal posts, any one of which is more than most so-called writers will write in two months, before we even start in on the quality, which is all that should matter, and the last thing that does. But as ever, I will qualify that with saying, "for now."