Back and forth

Oh hi. Thanks for putting up with me for the entire month of November while I wrote a story backwards. What was that all about? If you’d like to investigate you can click on November 2015 in the column to the right and read the story forwards, which is not the way I wrote it but is actually the way I intended it to be read. For quite a while I’ve been thinking that since blog posts appear in reverse chronological order, then obviously to make a story appear in chronological order on your blog, you must write it backwards. Well. Sometimes I get these ideas and run with them. Sometimes they run with me.

In case you were thinking of asking, writing a story backwards is confusing, disorienting, challenging, and freeing. I recommend it to people with writer’s block. One thing you shouldn’t ask me is what the giant is supposed to be about. She’s a giant. Isn’t that enough for someone to be about?

I’ll be moving on to another writing project now. Probably writing forwards this time. For a change.

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Protagonist

Although it’s about giants—actually, one giant in particular—this is a small story. There are only a few lives in it and it doesn’t travel very far in time or space. It’s not an epic or an adventure—or at least not a very adventuresome adventure. Perhaps I should mention here that giants, as opposed to unusually large human beings, are not real, so I suppose you could call this a fantasy—but again, not a very fantastical fantasy. Sometimes I worry that the story is more about me than her. Sometimes I then remember that she’s not real so maybe it’s a sign of mental health that I’d rather write about me than about an imaginary entity. This is the kind of thing writers spend all day thinking about instead of writing.

spring again
always the flower
and never the pollen

Begin at the beginning: She was born. I don’t know how big giant babies are. I would like to see one but I never will because she’s the last one. How do you know? Well, that was what she told me, and anyway don’t you think we would know somehow, we would feel it, if there were more somewhere? I have to say that it feels more and more, to me, like giants have pretty much gone out of the world.

the last egg saved for target practice

When she was born I was much younger, of course, and not in any mood to believe in giants. I wonder sometimes what I would have done if she had come stomping down my road then. I wonder what I would have done about a lot of things then. Why is it, do you think, that we’re so convinced we’re the same people from day to day, from year to year, when we’re so changeable, so fickle?

inhaling the sparrow’s warble

Here’s one day she told me about, from when she was very small: maybe the first day she remembered. A fall day, full of warm colors that contradicted the chill in the air. A year when the harvest, the hunt, had gone well and they ate, and drank, and ate, and sang, and ate, and danced, and ate, and played games, showing off: tossing boulders, lifting fallen trees. She was beside herself with excitement and finally fell asleep in the early evening, and woke again sometime later in the night, but before the adults had gone to sleep. They were all gathered around a fire, leaning against each other comfortably, frank with drink and telling all the most scandalous and outrageous stories they knew, and she listened with increasing understanding for hours. In the morning she felt shy with her new knowledge and maturity, not realizing yet that no one could see inside her head and know her thoughts. Stories only change you on the inside.

first day of Advent I write the end

Improbability

It was always said that there might be giants in the mountains, the way it was always said that there were gods on Mount Olympus, Yeti in the Himalayas, fairies in the hills of Britain. It had been a long time since anyone actually believed that there were giants in the mountains but in fact there were, and the less people believed in the giants the less the stories about them had anything to do with the reality of them.

the more moon the more shadows

The giants did not carry clubs or eat people. They did not spend all their time beating each other up and they weren’t stupid brutes. They had no magical powers; they didn’t, needless to say, live in the clouds; they didn’t have any gold or other treasures. Who makes these things up, anyway?

sorry for everything I cross the river

The giants, as any sensible person might deduce, lived the hard lives of people trying to support themselves off the land in a hostile wilderness. They spent most of their time hunting and foraging. They lived in caves. They wore wool and leather. They were cold. They were hungry. There’s not enough food to feed many giants at the top of a mountain. Their numbers diminished rapidly. They could see well enough that the living would be easier in the valleys. But they had stories about us, too.

spring showers
the unidentified caller
finally speaks

They didn’t tell the stories to the youngest giant, the only child growing up among them in the days of their decline. They saw no sense in frightening her and they were in any case preoccupied with practicalities. You might think that without myths and fairy tales she saw the world more clearly and truly but in fact the opposite was the case. Without the stories she had no choice but to take everything at face value, and the face of things is often deceptive.

in the rebuilt wasps’ nest the same buzzing

Exposition

“I can’t go to bed without a story.”

She was six and looked distractingly like my sister. I tried to remember which stories Abby had liked when she was a child. “Do you like Madeline?”

“She rhymes too much.”

“That’s true.”

“Also, I don’t like books. You have to tell the story.”

“That’s a lot more work.”

“That’s what Mom does.”

“Do I have to do everything that Mom does?”

“Today you do. Today you’re Mom.”

“Well, not exactly. But I see your point.”

“Tell.”

She settled into a bed that was immensely larger than her body and I thought for a minute, then bravely began:

“One night as I was washing the dishes I looked out the window and saw a giant walking down the road to my house.”

There was a trilling noise from the small body. “I’m not sure I want to hear a scary story.”

“This isn’t a scary story.”

“Giants eat people.”

“Only in stupid stories. Giants are just big people.”

She looked at me skeptically, with Abby’s exact cast of eye.

“Trust me.”

Eye rolling, but silent eye rolling.

I continued. “She was crying.”

“It was a girl giant?”

“Yes.”

“I never heard of a girl giant.”

“I told you they were stupid stories. There are just as many girl giants as boy giants. Actually—there are more girl giants.”

“Why?”

“Because actually, there is only one giant. She’s the only giant left.”

Deep breath.

“This is too sad. I need a less sad story.”

“You know,” I said, “on second thought, I think I do too.”

she dances everywhere
I’m not
the heat

I told her a story about the treehouse Abby and I had when we were little girls and how we threw rotten apples at people we didn’t want to come up into the treehouse. She laughed in the appropriate places. Then she asked, “Was that a real story?”

“About the treehouse?”

“No, about the giant.”

“Oh,” I said. “Yes. Yes. That was a real story.”

“Good,” she said.

the roar of the lawnmower
just as I say
good night

Mythos

She wanted to know why everyone was so afraid of her, so I explained about stories and how whoever has the best one wins.

She wanted examples, so I brought my laptop to the barn and read to her all one long afternoon while the universe cooled a little.


From “Coyote Kills a Giant,” a Navajo tale

Suddenly Coyote met a woman who was crawling along on the ground.

“What’s the matter?” he asked.

“I’m starving,” she said, “and too weak to walk. What are you doing with that stick?”

“I’m going to kill the giant with it,” said Coyote, and he asked if she knew where he was hiding.

Feeble as she was, the woman laughed. “You’re already in the giant’s belly.”

 

I came here to drown but the sea, the sea 

 

From “How Thor Fought the Giant Hrungner,” from Norse Stories Retold from the Eddas, by Hamilton Wright Mabie

One bright summer morning, Thor, the God of Thunder, rode out of Asgard far eastward, fighting giants as he went and slaying them with his mighty hammer, Mjolner; but Odin, his beautiful blue mantle shining with stars and his helmet of gold glittering in the clear air, mounted his swift horse Sleipner, and went to Jotunheim, the home of the greatest giant of them all.

 

armistice day pulling blue out of the spectrum

 

From “Birth of Paul Bunyan,” from Maine Tall Tales, retold by S.E. Schlosser

It took five giant storks to deliver Paul to his parents. His first bed was a lumber wagon pulled by a team of horses.

…As a newborn, Paul Bunyan could holler so loud he scared all the fish out of the rivers and streams. All the local frogs started wearing earmuffs so they wouldn’t go deaf when Paul screamed for his breakfast. His parents had to milk two dozen cows morning and night to keep his milk bottle full and his mother had to feed him ten barrels of porridge every two hours to keep his stomach from rumbling and knocking the house down.

…Within a week of his birth, Paul Bunyan could fit into his father’s clothes. After three weeks, Paul rolled around so much during his nap that he destroyed four square miles of prime timberland.

 

you know what just burn all my books (sunset stage left)

Potentiality and Actuality

I was sitting around one night wishing something would happen

at midnight

The giant came striding down the road

the dandelion clock

She was twice my height and clearly half-wild, but

explodes


Dear editor, I’m returning your advance. This story didn’t happen, so I don’t know what comes next. It was foolish of me to presume I did. Sincerely.

statistically I’m about to be born

Mimesis

(Notes for this episode: This should be third person and funny. Preferably, something should happen.)

He had been trying to write a novel for some months now and he was still waiting for something to happen. Other people’s novels seemed to be quite eventful. How did they bring about this action? Where did it come from? Who perpetrated it? His characters certainly weren’t in the mood for anything too lively. He encouraged them to do outlandish things—take a trip to Tibet, have wild love affairs—but they stared back at him icily and continued to sit around in their dim apartments talking about their grim childhoods. He tried to get new characters, with more compelling personalities, but they laughed at him; they were too busy in the novels they were already in. And besides, he couldn’t figure out what to do with the old characters—it seemed heartless just to kill them off. He was beginning to suspect that the problem lay not in his characters but in himself. There was, he had to admit, a distinct lack of action in his own life. It was as if someone had forgotten to give him a story.

the apparition of these faces I scribble in the margins

But now. Now! He could barely breathe. Something was actually happening. He couldn’t be sure what, exactly, but it seemed almost…fictional.

never sure which duck is quacking autumn rain

That giant eye: he knew it hadn’t been a dream. And she was always wandering out to the barn, though she’d warned him to stay away because it was supposedly falling down. And there were noises—she said alternately that they were owls hooting or planes overhead but it sounded to him, frankly, like impossibly loud snoring. He hadn’t spent his entire childhood with his nose in a book for nothing. He knew a story when he saw one. It remained only to figure out what to do about it.

I told him to stop but only the wind