Completely gratuitous picture of Sylvie wearing a pink foam crown. She looks a bit apprenhensive about her responsiblities as a monarch, don't you think?
Yesterday Lorrie Moore's A Gate at the Stairs, which I'd preordered a few weeks ago, arrived. As soon as the kids were asleep I dove into it. It's written from the point of view of a college-aged babysitter (or perhaps more accurately, a middle-aged woman looking back on her experience as a college-aged babysitter) and so there are plenty of funny, insightful passages about pregnancy and babies. Like this one, about the protagonist Tassie's potential employers:
One forty-ish pregnant woman after another hung up my coat, sat me in her living room, then waddled out to the kitchen, got my tea, and waddled back in, clutching her back, slopping tea onto the saucer, and asking me questions. "What would you do if our little baby started crying and wouldn't stop?" "Are you available evenings?" "What do you think of as a useful educational activity for a small child?" I had no idea. I had never seen so many pregnant women in such a short time -- five in all. They alarmed me. They did not look radiant. They looked reddened with high blood pressure and frightened. "I would put him in his stroller and take him for a walk," I said.
It's true. Most forty-ish pregnant women look far from radiant. It's only the twenty-something pregnant women who look radiant. Mind you, most twenty-somethings tend to look radiant anyway.
Lorrie Moore is one of my favourites -- I absolutely adore her self-conscious jokiness and word-play. She's so zingy and yet heartrending at the same time. Take this little remark, apparently tossed off, from a description of Tassie's depressive mom:
...one year the holiday card my mother sent out was an October photo of my brother and me, with a caption that read The children. In some dead leaves.
Remove the "one year" (for the purposes of word count) and you've got an entire award-winning twitter-sized short short story right there. Ernest Hemingway and his "For sale: baby shoes, never worn" can eat his heart out.
As my two or three regular readers may have noticed (Hi Mom! Hi Grampa! Hi imaginary third regular reader!), I started using twitter a short time ago. I'm not sure I get it. There's something a little disconcerting about keeping up with the constant chorus of the fifty or so different voices I follow, each barking out a telegraphed message about some random thing and then moving on to the next completely unrelated thing. I've often thought, while reading my twitter stream, that this must be what ADHD feels like. Then throw in the fact that, unfortunately, one or two of the people I've chosen to follow are dead boring, one or two are a bit batty, and several are astonishingly prolific. (How does Stephen Fry have time to do all the stuff he does and tweet about it, too?) And while Stephen Fry certainly wouldn't notice if I stopped following him, the nice but boring or batty people probably would. Or maybe I'm insane and they totally wouldn't because no one on the internet actually notices what anyone else says or does -- they're too busy talking to themselves. Still, I miss the olden days, when people put this stuff on their own blogs and then, when I wanted to know what someone was thinking, I went over to his or her site for a one-on-one visit, as opposed to this crazed party atmosphere at twitter. And personally, I find the 140 character limit on tweets irritatingly constraining*, both when I'm trying to figure out what someone is saying and when I am trying to compose one. But I'm an achey, cranky, 400 year old pregnant lady and YMMV. (See how I just used that incredibly hip acronym that was popular ten years ago?)
Today, though, (through this Globe and Mail article) I discovered arjunbasu, who writes tiny twitter stories, all exactly 140 characters long. I've always been a fan of flash fiction and, although 140 characters is an incredibly tight constraint and not many of Basu's stories actually work, I love the concept. Writing 500 of them will be worth it if he ends up with one or two that sing.
*If I tried to post this entry on twitter, it would end up looking like this: "Don't get twitter, am fat, cranky, but am intrigued by concept of twitter stories even though haven't read one yet that works. Might try it."
Because she knows I am an Amy Hempel fan, Maud gave me the heads-up about this very short and intriguing video from the United States Artists site featuring the writer reading from her story "Harvest" and talking about her work. I've been reading very slowly through Hempel's Collected Stories at bedtime. I have to ration them -- each one of these short but very powerful stories should be savoured. I like to be careful with them, too, because they make me want to write back. Inspiration this good shouldn't be wasted.
This week's short short "Overcast" is by Aaron Burch, editor of Hobart. It begins:
I want the sky to open up and just empty itself on us, she said.
Thank God for the rain, help wash away the garbage and trash.
Taxi Driver, she said.
I loved that nothing got by her.
Not exactly, she said. That isn't how I would have put it.
Go here to read the rest.
In the comments Sara asked for more short short stories like Papatya's. Since Papatya doesn't have any (unless she wants to start plucking them out of her novel), I thought I'd link to a couple by other writers I like. As I love short shorts with a passion all out of relation to their diminutive size, I think I'll make this a regular feature. The only difficulty will be in having to find and link to ones already online. It'll be hard not to pluck them out of the many collections of short shorts on my shelf. (If you want an introduction to the form, try Flash Fiction -- I go back to that one often. Or pick up the latest Sudden Fiction anthology, which contains pieces by a number of terrific writers I've met online including Pia Z. Ehrhardt, Roy Kesey, and Claudia Smith.)
It's funny, I was reading Francine Prose's Reading Like a Writer in bed last night and she seems to have a penchant for the (well-written) long, wordy sentence. I like entire stories that are shorter than her fancy favourite sentences.
Here's my friend Elizabeth Ellen's Talk. Some subjects are just so perfectly suited to the form.
And this one called Shots, by the aforementioned Claudia, is very topical for me. I've been putting off Luke's flu shot because I find the experience too traumatic.
Finally, here's one of my old ones, "Sleight of Hand," from issue five of Quick Fiction:
All her closest friends had babies. She sculpted tiny likenesses of the faces of these children out of pills -- aspirin, antacids, the leftover contraceptives she didn't need. She used a powerful magnifying glass, a fine needle, and a pair of tweezers to do it. It was well known that she'd started soon after she discovered she couldn't have any children of her own. Everyone felt sorry for her. What they didn't know was that she was perfectly happy. It was true she'd once wanted a child but now she much preferred to labour over this. Many of her best pieces were on display in important museums and collectors offered her increasingly large sums of money for her work. Her husband, her greatest admirer, had been able to leave his unpleasant job as an insurance adjuster years earlier than they'd anticipated. In the past he'd been distracted by his own interests, but now he liked to sit beside her and watch her as she worked. From photographs, of course. A child, with its giant grasping hands, would've only gotten in the way.
Have any of your own you want to share, Sara?