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.

character study

She wakes up sometimes, thinking about her dilemma. It always takes a minute to remember what the dilemma is because it’s always a different dilemma than the last time she woke up. It’s that kind of story. The solution to her dilemma is often obvious to her, as it is to every reader of that kind of story, but she knows her own judgment makes no difference to the resolution of the dilemma. She’s made efforts in the past–to leave the man, to save the child, to cross the street, to pursue her ambition–but whether she succeeds or not is entirely up to the storyteller. He might be trying to write a cautionary tale, or make his readers cry, or make the heroine of the story look good in contrast to her, in which case she will surely make the wrong choice, do the foolish thing, die in poverty, be shunned by the townsfolk. By now she’s used to failure. By now she’s used to contempt. By now she’s used to losing things that seemed impossible to lose. It’s almost exhilarating to her now, that kind of loss. She knows it doesn’t really matter. The next time she wakes up, she’ll be a character in a new story. There’s always the possibility that this time, she’ll have magical powers, or a mighty army, or an uncanny ability to bend people to her will. There’s always the possibility that by the end of the story, she’ll be ruling the world.

these damn cicadas
with their confessional tone
I promise myself
I’ll admit everything
when nothing’s left to admit

(Prose: here, now. Tanka: Eucalypt, November 2011.)

flames

the year's first dream / the illusion bursts / into flames


Once upon a time people did not extinguish night before it had even begun. Once upon a time there was darkness and there was light; a full day. Once upon a time the phase of the moon decided whether you could see or be seen, whether you could venture forth or whether you should stay at home. Once upon a time lighting a candle was the only alternative to cursing the darkness. Once upon a time there were so many stars that no one could believe they didn’t mean something. Once upon a time night fell, like a tree, like a curtain, like a guillotine. Once upon a time the night swirled with stories because no one has any trouble hearing in the dark. Once upon a time stories were knit into our dreams, once upon a time our dreams were knit back into our stories.

the year’s first dream
the illusion bursts
into flames

June 11: A story in eleven haiku and one photograph

Photo credit: James A. Otto

Through the screenless window comes
a bird.
I watch it disport itself.

The house fills with wings.
The hearts of birds beat
more rapidly than our own.

I inquire of Google
what to do.
The response is dissatisfying.

The Russian story of
the Firebird.
A keen, glittering eye.

Many versions
of roast chicken.
I choose the most savory.

Dancing, I lift up my skirts
for the bird to pass
under.

The oven is still hot.
I stand beside it,
flapping my arms.

I don’t dream anymore
I can fly.
I have scraped my mind of such stuff.

I trap the bird in the closet.
When you get home,
it will amaze you.

I am reciting famous poetry
silently.
I am petting the cats.

The cats are hot, they breathe
rapidly. Wait, I say,
you will be rewarded.

*

I was feeling a little claustrophobic yesterday. Haiku seemed too small. Even the most wonderful of them — just a blink! I had a novel-lover’s need for extended narrative.

But I do love the haiku form and the challenge of containing an entire experience, a full impression, in just a few syllables. Several things I’ve been thinking about lately began to come together in my mind, things I’m hoping to write more about in the next few days — gendai haiku, renga. Unconventional ways of writing haiku, and ways of linking them together to create a larger picture than a single haiku allows.

I wondered what would happen if you piled a bunch of nontraditional haiku on top of each other to form a narrative. I wanted each haiku to be able to make sense separately on its own, and also to form a part of a coherent story. This photograph I’ve been thinking about for a few days entered the mix; a bird began to fly around in my head.

Writing this was a lot of fun. I’ve begun a couple other similar narratives, and I want to try more. This kind of structure seems to work the way my mind works — I’m really only capable of brief bursts of attention, but I also hunger for depth of character, for details of setting, for continuity of action.

(A bird really did get into our house through a screenless window a few years ago; but the rest of this is fantasy. In case you were worried about its fate at the paws of the cats.)