I’ve just read a small article about Alice Munro, born 1931, still alive, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2013. Says she never started with a connecting theme in mind, or ideas about what kind of fiction. “When I’m writing, what I do is I think about a story that I want to tell.” Though this article mentions that she’s been credited with having “revolutionized the architecture of short stories, especially in the tendency to move forward and backward in time, and ‘embed more than announce, reveal more than parade,’ another article mentions that she never set out to write short stories. She wanted to write novels, perhaps, but being a mother, especially in the days before conveniences such as washing machines, meant that she had to write in very short blocks of time, and though others may have been able to write very successful novels under such conditions, she herself had not.
I think about these descriptions, as I sit in the heat of the attic bedroom, coughing with a summer flu; I turn them over in my mind. I forget what I’ve learned or tried from one day to the next. Writing requires only one thing to be successful, that is momentum, in my opinion; if I write each day I never need to wonder how on earth to do it. On the days I haven’t written it’s as though the magic has disappeared, I shall look back and think however did I do it? Lay so many words upon a page? And then I become hopeless, and I shall not write that day, nor perhaps the next.
I’ll now think, “ah yes, Alice Munro, she has it right, one must know the story one wants to tell. This is the golden key. If one has such a key, one can unlock the gilded cage and allow the trapped songbird to fly out, alight upon the branch and sing of all that its mind’s eye sees without the slightest hesitation.” But no, for that is but cliché. And untrue. And not what Munro meant at all.
The heat is climbing, climbing upon the ridge of my nose and prickling the hairs of my scalp. Any moment now the children will be banging on the bedroom door. Mama, will you enter the password, mama? Mama, will you enter the password, mama? Fledglings flapping out of their nest. Shall we continue the cliché? Yes certainly, why not. It is not yet seven-thirty, but I am far too late awoken to be original.
Such is the life we live now, that the children desire screens from morning till night, and life is no longer experienced with one’s whole body against reality, no longer felt with one’s hand upon rough bark, one’s foot upon the sand, one’s waist encircled by the lake, of a summer day; now reality is only experienced through one’s fingertips against plastic, eyes fatiguing as images race upon the mirrors of the cornea. Three times I asked them to come with me, yesterday; let us immerse ourselves in the silky waters under the sweltering sky, allow the lake to soothe us even as the sun bakes us, but not a one of them preferred that over product reviews, cartoon idiocies, and strategic portal-hurling. And I had not the strength in me to drag them. I become afraid of disturbing peace. Peace, peace at all costs…. all costs. I’ll resort to prayer instead. *Universe, give me my children back, Universe, give me my children back…*
I imagine a story I want to tell, a story that shall win a prize, or gain publication. What of the petunias now struggling in the garden? They and their memories of cigarette butts and beer bottles. Does that story not need proper telling? And recent enough to remember well? But there again, she is paralyzed by the desire for an easy and monochrome life, one in which peace is preserved. Why dig up old graves? And for the sake of contests? That could never end well. She envisions any story she wants to tell completely and quickly, the story of the past surrounded by another story of the future, and then both stories end, as two concentric circles completed, white with black outlines, and what do we see in this object’s final form? A target. In the middle are thrown the darts. It will never do. For she herself is the story. She is the dartboard. No! She has given up on martyrdom. Let the martyrs beautifully bear their crosses. She shall only be there, at Mary’s side, to weep for them later, and smile sadly upon the wholeness of the world, in a swirl of black and white.
The only way is the blind write. We begin with the pricks of sweat upon the ridge of the nose, the dull ache of a virus in the head. Melting clocks in a red landscape. Water hovering tabled, in the background. The children not yet having knocked, giggling and concocting a mischief in the hollows of the house outside the attic room. The blankets balked to the side on the desert of the bed, the skylights tipped wide, the propeller seeds of the linden tree strewn along pine floorboards. A book carton from a country across the ocean lain open on the desk for weeks now. A novel, unrelated, “Unless.” The calendar says June, though the month is July. A handmade jewelry box of oak, a small note attached to the back of one of its oiled drawers; the hand that wrote it is now ash. A fine art drawing affixed to unfinished plaster above the desk, black and white, a woman, naked, blinded by a soft crown of flowers, hands crossed over her chest, a butterfly illuminated in gold above and below.
The only way to properly make a circle, said a wise monk, was to dip the brush in black ink, place it upon the page. Inhale, draw the first half, exhale, continue the second half. The breath is the circle, all life is housed within it.
The door opens. “Hi mama. I need to—”
“Always knock first on a closed door.”
“Train yourself. Go back out, close the door….”
The child backs out. The door closes. Knock knock.
“Come in! Hi!”
A monkey’s grin. “I need to hide this coconut.”
Moments later, another child, knocking with a treasure map.
Prayers answered. *Thank you, Universe…*
Today, it will be lake before passwords.
08:15 I didn’t even finish the way I wanted to… i was going to include the line about melting clocks…
there, now I’ve added it in.
- Legends: Alice Munro by Martin Reaves (http://martinreaves.net/2019/05/20/legends-alice-munro-8/)
- How Alice Munro Chose to Write Short Stories by Tim Miller, Human Pages (http://wordandsilence.com/2019/07/26/how-alice-munro-chose-to-write-short-stories/)
- The title “The woman of hope” was suggested by my third son, who sits beside me as I hit publish, tossing the found treasure and begging me to crack it open.
- Image: crop of “Alchemy of Soul,” by the amazing Patricia Ariel
Nadine inhales & exhales words & images from current vantage point in Zone of Emptiness, France. Thank you for reading. ❤︎