15 June 2011

i wrote a short story: flowers

For class this week {I'm taking a writing class: have I mentioned that yet? Well, I am}, I decided to do a short story.

I decided this for several reasons {you can skip all of this and scroll down to the beginning of the story, if you want}:

  • I wanted a challenge. I'm not so good with the fiction, and so I set a goal for myself of writing a short story during this class. So why not get it out of the way early in the semester?
  • I'm inspired by MFK Fisher, that lady I wrote about the other day. The one who writes about Aix-en-Provence just as I want to write about Aix. She has a very charmed-by-life tone, but it's more than charm. It's descriptive and educational and engaging, like you're being taught by someone who knows all the clues and wants you to play the game, too.

    MFK Fisher reminds me of my favorite short story writer, Laurie Colwin. It's that tone: that "come with me for a flight into someone else's rose-colored—but somehow still realistic—mind" tone. I want that kind of tone in my stories, so I decided to practice it here.
  • I already had the beginning of a short story, but I wanted to do more with it. You can read the original here: it's third-person, and I transferred it into first. As someone forever fascinated by the writing process, it's interesting for me to see the similarities and differences in the stories. What stuck in the re-write? Why did that line get to still resonate?

And a few caveats:

  • No, this isn't autobiograpical. There are elements I pulled from my life, yes, because I'm not that good at making stuff up. So here are the true things: I eat at Subway sometimes for lunch {it's just down the road from my office}, I watched the PBS show referenced in here, and I own pink plaid pajama pants.

    I hope this is enough of a teaser for you to want to read this, if only to find out how those three things are related.
  • This is stream-of-consciousness. You know, like Virginia Woolf in Mrs Dalloway or James Joyce in Ulysses. We're talking I typed with my eyes closed for part of this, just let the word fly—and then added nuances in the editing process.

    Bonus Detail: June 16 is Bloomsday, the day literary nerds celebrate Ulysses—a book that takes place entirely in one day {June 16, 1904} and mostly in the mind of one guy, Harold Bloom.  The book is something like 700 pages long and was one of those groundbreaking works that most English majors have to read. Let's pretend I wrote this as a stream-of-conscious homage to Joyce—instead of the reality, which is that I stumbled upon the fact that Bloomsday is coming up after I had started the story.

And now: the story.


I decided to buy the flowers myself. For who would buy them for me?

The thought wasn't even out of my mind, had just danced beyond the cusp of the mushy gray matter, and I realized that I was plagiarizing. No, not plagiarizing. Paraphrasing. I was paraphrasing, in my head and almost without realizing (how can you think a thought without realizing it? Where does the thought come from then?).

Virginia Woolf. “Mrs Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.”

A beautiful beginning to a novel, the kind of beginning where you're in the middle of the story before you even know you're reading. If you haven't read Mrs Dalloway, you should.

You should stop reading this story and go read that one, which seems like an unlikely thing for me to recommend, I know. I should want you to stay here and read about me, but that makes me sound so self-centered, so like a girl used to being the center of attention. And I'm not. Not used to that and not the center of attention.

I'm just a girl sitting alone in a Subway on my lunch hour, eating a sandwich and looking outside and wishing I could be sitting there.

But no. No, that isn't possible today, this first day when the air feels like fall instead of Indian summer. When the leaves no long blaze but instead are grayed-out versions of themselves.

And why would I want to be outside this Subway in a strip mall?

Outside, a silver Volvo whizzes by, exhaling fumes of burning money.

Outside, there's one table, a plastic table with a crack in the middle and dirt from generations of slobby diners—I imagine them as slobby, although I can't tell you why. I see people with uncombed hair grinding their elbow grease into the table as they shove in club sandwiches and three meat trios and the occasional vegetarian option.

Outside, there are horns interjecting and brakes arguing with engines and even the cement seems to have a noise. It's the noise of paved-over nature, of unnatural paths leading you on your journey, of hard facts.

(I'm reading too much into that, I know, but once I get Mrs Dalloway in my head, my thoughts tumble out in gymnastic confusion, in profusion. When Mrs Dalloway is in my head, I look for meaning in everything, even in the car horns and cement.)

But outside, even with all its detractions, has fresh air, not this Subway air of mayonnaise and bread. I’d rather be out there, outside.



Yes, I'm stopping there. For now.

You can read Part II here.

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