Monthly Archives: July 2021

Stories from Memory

Memories are stories we revisit, fragments of the self, quick glances into a past life. They’re some of the greatest short stories.

From time to time, I write Medium articles. If you’re not familiar with Medium, it’s an open platform for readers and writers. Some of the biggest names across the geopolitical, literary, you name it world are on there.

A recent curated article was titled, and I paraphrase: I Hate Short Stories. The funny tag attached suggested a humorous story, and since I had consumed my reading for the month, I couldn’t read the piece. But it got me to thinking how much I love to read and write short stories.

And why.

Since I wrote the article for Medium, they have the copyrights. But I’ll offer the memories that inspired it (quotes), and the link for the article below.

As Neil Gaiman said: Short stories are tiny windows into other worlds and other minds and other dreams. They are journeys you can make to the far side of the universe and still be back in time for dinner.

I LOVE SHORT STORIESTINY WINDOWS INTO OTHER WORLDS

A rich imagination sets the scene for Neil Gaiman’s quote above.

As a child, I lived in Bucharest, Romania. There were residential buildings scattered throughout the city called blocks, similar in color and design. They were called sister buildings, having been build around the same time, 1980s, and due to their similarity and proximity. We lived on the fourth floor of one such apartment building sandwiched between several others.

In the evenings, I’d spend time watching the world outside my window — a universe within a universe — and there was a lot to see. People rushing along, kids playing, commuters getting off busses and trudging home.

Then there were the wide open windows — people airing out the heat of the day. Welcoming the breeze. They didn’t seem to care the open windows invited onlookers inside their homes. They lived as if no one was watching.

Day after day, I could see families going through their routines. In the building across, a young family — mother, father, and young child — would start their dinner routine with remarkable punctuality. The father would always bring dishes to the table, so I pegged him as the cook. He gesticulated a lot in between moving dishes. A hand talker. The mother threw her head back quite often, laughing. Easily amused. Or her husband had a knack for humor. The young child would pop in and out — the top of his head barely visible. It would take forever to set up the table, but once they sat down, they attacked the food, consuming it in record time. A fun, no-nonsense family, living an organized life, at least around dinnertime.

In the lateral building, there was a young woman, in breezy summer dresses, always in pale colors, reading. Every now and then, she’d set her palm on the page and stare out the window. I imagined she had read something powerful and needed a few seconds. Or maybe she was watching someone also though open windows. She was two floors below and couldn’t see me. Same as the young family across.

Years later, I realized that someone from the floors above was probably watching me stand there, head swiveling between windows, pegging me as a nosy little brat.

The wide open windows were journeys I made into other people’s lives, not far from where I stood, yet a world away. They were short stories, complete, profound, filled with rich characters and enough detail to briefly let me into their lives. They were encapsulating narratives contained to those moments in time.

A novel is different, although many short stories are later expanded to novels. In a novel, the reader is invited to step across the threshold of a home and inside, rather than catching stolen glimpses through open windows. The entryway might look enticing, so the reader keeps going. Moving from room to room, the reader may be enchanted or disappointed, but she’s gone in and has more rooms to see. She must decide whether to continue or go home.

Short stories are about one feeling, one mood, from start to finish. More is implied, less involved. The reader rides one emotional rollercoaster from beginning to end. If the story is well written, it’s a worthy ride.

Source, Via Medium

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photos credit Unsplash: Jan Jakub, Dawid Zawila

The Value of Good Memories

This memory of mine appeared at The Scheherazad Chronicles years back – a literary blog I highly recommend. I’d like to share it here, as I am preparing to release START AGAIN.

Bloggers need bloggers and writers need writers.

If you’d like to reach a different audience, and want to share your tales, I’d be happy to publish them here and share with my audience. Blog-length stories, no longer than 600 words.

GOOD MEMORIES

Tonight, I sit for long spells in wakeful silence while sudden memories encroach upon my world. Lines stretch across the pages of my journal. Sleep abandons me. My eyes are open but not to the present, to a time and place from long ago. I ride my breath in and out as if it were the swells of a sea. Although my body grows calm from sitting still, I rock slightly with the pulse of my heart.

I drift away on a memory.

~~~

A thirteen-year-old girl is sitting cross-legged in a tent no larger than a closet, reading. The tent is on a beach along the Black Sea coast; a place so quiet she could hear the pulse of the earth, the moaning of the sea. It’s not her ideal getaway, but Mom insisted this was what the family needed. A long vacation to the sea, in a tent, camping. All summer long, Mom said, so bring lots of books. Sure, the young girl loves reading, but why travel three hours by train, another hour by car, then forever by foot, and spend a whole summer in a tent on a secluded beach with her books? She can do that comfortably, at home.

Nature is fuel for the soul, Mom said. We’re separated from it by walls of concrete and steel, too busy for the wonders of life. This vacation will make up for that.

Now, here they are in Navodari Beach, an untouched plot of coastline off the beaten path. A stretch of Romanian seashore devoid of much human intervention, accessible via a narrow, partially unpaved road. One of the quietest places on earth, no doubt. Navodari is the campers’ beach, several hours north of a famous seaside resort, Mamaia, where four-star hotels line the boardwalk.

At Navodari, they don’t leave the campgrounds, and depend on what they brought along and the bare necessities available within the camp. There is daily walking on the beach, swimming, fishing. There is storytelling by the campfire. When not playing, or helping with chores, the kids read.

Camping all summer takes adjusting, but the sea has ways of calming the mind and working things out. The endless stretch of fine sand that sparkles under the sun adds to a sense of increased vitality. The very presence of the blue immensity of water under the sky helps ward off feelings of seclusion and boredom. Nature calms the mind. The sea becomes the story.

At night, with the help of her flashlight, the young girl reads about the sea as an intersection of culture, the dramatic role it played in world history, all the way back to the Great Flood. The Black Sea, a wonderful creation of nature still in the process of change.

Since the Black Sea is connected to the Atlantic Ocean by the Bosporus, Sea of Marmara, and the Mediterranean, the young girl feels connected to the whole world. A comforting thought, this world-wide bond. It explains the human tendency to travel to the water’s edge, our obsession with water — listening to waves lap against the shore, swimming or fishing. It explains our love for writing, and creating memories along the water’s edge.

More kids arrive in Navodari with their parents and their tents. Some traveled from landlocked countries like Switzerland. They study each other in the manner kids from different countries do; realizing they’re not that different. Soon, the shyness melts away. The kids strike up tentative friendships.

The young girl teaches her new friends Romanian words, and learns how to say sea and wind — among other things — in their language. When all else fails, they alternate between improvised sign language and broken English.

What starts as sensory and stimulation withdrawal turns into a heightened awareness of the elements. They listen to sounds picked up by the wind from afar — broken sounds, but easily heard. They listen to the lapping of the waves, the sea whispering its own language or that of creatures inhabiting its depths. They listen to the seagulls chirp and flap their way down to the water. Sitting on the beach for hours, they try to decide if the whistling sounds come from dolphins or some other fish. They laugh so much.

Before falling asleep, the young girl tucks away memories in safe corners of her mind. One day in the future, they’ll flash before her eyes like wonderful, old movies.

~~~

Drifting back, I close my journal and lie awake in the still night, holding on to the mental images a little longer. Soon, the day’s toil prevails. My ears fill with the pulse of crickets and cicadas proclaiming their desires. Breath and the clouds ride the same wind. Sleep lulls me away, but not before I see a young girl, in a tent, on a far-away beach, listening to the waves of the sea as she falls asleep in her tent.

Photo credit: Unsplash, Sebastian Staines

I send out stories and interesting links from time to time. Tidbits about my publication journey. It’s free. No spam. You can unsubscribe whenever you want.

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When and How Did You Start Writing?

Fountain Pens, Fountain Pen, Filler, Ink

What’s the first thing you remember writing?

The first time I wrote on my own – not for a school assignment – was after an argument with my sister (over something trivial, I’m sure). My mother was working rotating shifts in a factory. She was a day sleeper, so we had to keep quiet in the house. Unable to have a proper argument, I pulled out a notebook and wrote down my anger. Just dumped it all on paper.

I was eleven or twelve, my sister two years older.

As you’d imagine, the process was therapeutic. I later learned that behind every piece of writing there are emotions and feelings, and putting them down helps. We all have little stories inside us and very few get told. Since I couldn’t argue away my story, I retreated to the intimacy of writing, an emotional exercise that calmed the mind.

Years later, my sister read what I wrote. By then the notebook had become a journal, full of stories and musings. To this day, she claims her role as the muse that set me on the road to writing.

I kept my journal for occasional thoughts until high school; but with time I wrote less. As all writers know, it’s not easy writing deeply personal thoughts – heart break, loss, the daily grind of feelings. There is a fine line between therapy and dwelling on the tedium of life. But fiction is different. Fictionalizing the truth fed a creative need, allowing ideas freedom. I suppose that’s what escapism is about.

“Once you’ve escaped, the world is not the same as when you left it. You come back to it with skills, weapons, knowledge you didn’t have before. Then you are better equipped to deal with your current reality.” Neil Gaiman

Or as Shirley Jackson as said:

“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality.”

I needed a form of fictionalized reality, which writing provided.

Eye, Iris, City, Skyscraper

Writing as Creative Outlet

Creative expression, in any form, starts early. I didn’t know the first thing about plotting out a storyline in those early days. It was just story dumping, no rhyme or reason, just internal expression. It was freeing, writing away unbothered.

The mechanics came later. Learning the craft brought organization, a better use of time and skill. More importantly, it brought the understanding that writing is not just about me. We need other writers and, of course, we need readers.

I’ve heard writing referred to as the lonesome of creative endeavors. It doesn’t have to be. By design, we need time alone in order to write. Whether in front of a computer, or staring out the window. Driving or lying poolside. We have ideas and look to put them into action. And for that we need peace. But we also need one another, a community of creatives, and those seeking to escape the tedium of daily grind – the readers.

We are stories, fictionalized or painfully factual. Stories waiting to be written and shared.

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photo credit: pixabay/adifferentperspective985, lars niessen

The Art of Thank You

Clouds, Sky, Lake, Water, Loop, Heart

You get out of your way to help someone you don’t know all that well. It’s not much you’ve given, just a little of your time and money, but it’s enough to show you want to help. You imagine the response would be a simple thanks, some form of gratitude.

You hear nothing back.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, everything you say or do, even when part of your job, is greeted with over-the-top thanks.

A constant string of thanks. An inbox full of thanks.

Which annoys you the most?

I like to err on the side of thanking. I am horrified of having forgotten to thank someone. And I don’t particularly like blanket thanks, yet I use the method from time to time, so as to avoid the over-the-top version.

Tough, eh?

I recently answered to someone’s post, congratulating them on all they do to help a marginalized group.

The reply to my comment was an immediate invitation to donate to this person’s efforts.

I usually have a certain amount of money set aside for charity (many times it involves family members because as a former teacher used to say, charity starts at home). But, because this person replied with links and additional information, while reiterating how much this group would benefit from every penny, I donated. Not much, but I went to the website and put my credit card number in.

Never heard anything back.

Should I expect to hear back?

Maybe not.

I don’t know.

This behavior — this silence — did something to my way of thinking. Whereas I used to actively look for this person’s notices, postings, musings, I no longer feel the urge to do so. I scan the notices, but not in depth. Not anymore.

Sounds small on my part, doesn’t it? Picky.

I didn’t donate to be lauded or with a scheme in mind. Yet, the lack of response affected my thinking.

While writing this, I’m stricken with fear that maybe I forgot to thank someone.

Or maybe I overdid it with my thanks.

There’s got to be a balance between the two. Thank-you notes that don’t read like platitudes with just the right amount of wording. Or maybe it depends on personalities. It could very well be that what I see as over-the-top thanks sounds normal. Or it could be that a thank-you is implied and doesn’t have to be spoken, particularly if the person is extra busy.

Which do you prefer?

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photo credit: pixabay/geralt