She wanted to eat everything—the meat, the sauce, the bread, the greens, even the cake. She wanted it all. And still, she wanted more. After the wine, after the long sleep, she woke hungry and waiting. Her belly was a cave—damp and yawning, longing for one single shaft of light.
And then one day, the hunger stopped. The waiter brought her apples and cheeses and breads. They sat uneaten on the table. A slice of cake, its icing rich and full, remained on her plate. The cave of her belly seemed satisfied in its emptiness.
Those who knew her commented how the color of her skin matched the dry Missouri dirt she walked upon. They worried when the drought came. They watched the dirt open and crack. You could pick up pieces and crumble it in your hands. Dirt powder, everyone called it. And then they noticed her skin, just as thirsty as the earth, took on the same appearance. She tried to explain, but her parched throat would not let her. She tried to cry, but her tear ducts had gone dry.
Those who remember say her skin ached for water. That kind of thirst can cause damage—can keep the crops from growing, the tourists from coming. That kind of thirst can kick up dust that covers everything: houses, fields, cars—a thin film just enough to coat the windows and change the look of any day.
“What can I do for you?” The doctor rolled his chair so that he sat facing me.
“My eyes,” I said. “They hurt.”
I have been reading Aesop’s Fables and playing around with the form. I’m having trouble coming up with a moral to this story. One idea is “even a beggar knows good trash from bad.” Any other ideas?
The snow fell. It fell and fell. It fell so fast the air was white. It fell so deep, the ground was gone. There was only snow. The little girl stepped out onto what used to be her sidewalk, and she sunk. She sunk all the way up to the tops of her legs. She thought, “If this keeps up, I will be swallowed whole.” And so she shoveled through the night to make a path so that she could walk from here to there. And in the morning light she turned to see her walkway. But there was no walkway. The falling snow had covered whatever work she had done. She planted her shovel into a drift and leaned on its handle. She looked toward the sky, as if some answer waited there. But she could not see the sky through the snow. She opened her mouth to speak, and she saw her breath float out and disappear into the white expanse. That’s when she knew. And so she turned and shoveled her way back through the fresh-fallen snow. It was all she could do—to create the ground of each new step.
The cold air made her car cough. She followed the same path daily. Up the curvy road, over the hill, past the farm stand. Overnight, the temperatures had dipped to below zero. Even the pavement seemed harder. It occurred to her, just briefly, that nothing could live under such circumstances. Of course she knew that was absurd. Here she was breathing, driving. Still, the confinement of her coat—the static electricity of her scarf—made it all seem so plodding and old. It would be so much easier, wouldn’t it, to give in to hypothermia—that sweet, dark sleep? Before leaving the house, she had seen a cardinal in a backyard tree. A male—deep red against the snow. “Aren’t you cold?” she called through window. She stared a long time at its tiny body tucked neatly between branches of a Norway Spruce. Not a single feather shivered. Not one. And then, driving on that familiar road, she looked to her right and noticed a stream just beyond the local farm stand. Why hadn’t she noticed it before? And there upon it swam three ducks, happy and quacking and on with their day—as if it were just that—another day.
I confess to being caught up in the tides of change, in the steady mantra of “yes, we can.” Tuesday, November 4th, in Boston the sky was bright and crisp—the leaves were gems—and the lines were long. Anticipation hung in the air, and the evening news gave us early confirmation. The suspense did not last long. Still, the victory is bittersweet: on the radio yesterday, I heard that many of those drawn to the polls because of Obama’s call for a new day were the same voters who said no to gay/lesbian marriage in California. Other states created more barriers incuding Arkansas—stating that gay/lesbian couples cannot adopt children.
I just finished (I say that loosely) a new draft of my novel.
I all but threw out the last draft and started over. The protagonist is the same, and her best friend—a sort of sidekick—remains. Other than that, the story morphed ahead several decades, and its focus became much smaller.
This writing process confounds me, yet I am in love with it. I spend so much time alone, mulling over words and phrases, wondering, “How would she really respond in this situation?”
I recently read yet one more newspaper article that referred to Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama instead of addressing them both as Senator. But this part really confused me: in the same article, the reporter called Geraldine Ferraro Ms. Ferraro.
Back in the day—when Ms. came into the language, it was meant to replace Mrs. and Miss with the understanding that men had only one title—that being Mr. So, the logic went, women should also have just one title—no need to differentiate their marital status. It supposedly made men and women equal in name.
My cold and windy Provincetown retreat, as it turns out, was productive. I made discoveries about my writing. I have 23 chapters of a new and improved novel; and on the cutting room floor, I have stories worth keeping.
Sometimes, as I preach to my students, learning only happens through struggle; and while I try to make learning fun for my students, I know that sometimes, it just cannot be.
Okay—someone tell me—why am I so compelled to write?
These last few days, trying to solve the problem of my novel, have forced some hard work out of me. I might even say I’ve come face to face with a few demons. I might even say, I am taking a hard look at myself through my characters. Oh, to be human.
At a recent dinner party, a sports fan suggested to the rest of us, non-sports fans, that we would be happier people if we watched sports. “It gives you something to root for. It gives you hope,” she said.
I said, “Well, it is true, that a game is a great story—conflict, crisis, suspense, resolution.”
I was pleased to watch the film called Once about an Irish street singer/vacuum cleaner repair man and a young woman who changes his luck. What a beautiful tale of intimacy, music, and friendship. It had fairy tale qualities, but its content surprised me with its unpredictable turns.
And on a different note, but still in the folk-tale-once-upon-a-time category, I happened to watch Tim Burton’s adapation of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. I was so drawn to Ichabod’s Crane mixture of vulnerability and strength, and so wrapped up in the story’s theme of the rational as it comes to terms with the irrational.
Students in my classes have been writing summary paragraphs. They describe the experience as “tedious,” “frustrating,” and “boring.”
Yesterday, I gave them the task of unraveling the main idea of an essay by David McCullough: “Why History?” I said, “Think of this exercise as a problem to solve—an equation. It should be hard. it should be frustrating.”
Here is a portion of my most recent letter to students…
I’ve been having a hard time starting this letter. In fact, I wrote another letter and decided it was boring. I didn’t want to give it to you. I suppose that happens to you, yes?—writing something and not liking it—feeling the pressure of having something due and simply having no inspiration to do it?
Okay, so I’m starting to teach at yet another college, and my department chair tells me that students should write four major papers during the course of the semester. While many professors use rhetorical patterns: Description, Process, Definition, Argument, etc, I have trouble plugging myself into the confines of those composition types. If they don’t work well for me, why should I expect them to work for my students?
I think of expository writing as a problem-solving endeavor. Good writing, in its efforts to reach an audience, tells a story of sorts. For instance, a good story sets up a conflict and then takes readers through a character’s conflict and resolution. Similarly, a good composition poses some element of conflict that the writer wants to address and, in some way, resolve.