Butterflies, Forest Sprites

I believe that the greatest pleasure in life is a good nap. That, and sunsets. Oh, and blackberries too. I’d eat blackberries for breakfast and lunch and dinner if I could, but they’re so hard to find these days… The other sprites in the forest love blackberries almost as much as I do, so the blackberry bushes are always bare – if a sprite finds a blackberry, he takes it. A sprite will never share his blackberries, ever. Which is annoying. I don’t share my blackberries either though. Why would I?

But see, that’s why naps are so nice! Naps aren’t like blackberries. Not a bit. I can take a nap whenever I want. And I can take as many as I want! I took eight naps in a day once. I promise I did, I’m not making it up. Ah, I remember it was a lovely day, that day I took eight naps. I remember it being warm. Really warm. Maybe that’s why I slept so much.

Oregon doesn’t usually get that warm. Oregon is chilly for the most part, even during the summer sometimes. A few winters ago, I got so fed up with the wind and the sleet that I thought about moving. I considered California – I have a friend who lives in the Sequoias that I could stay with. He always talks about how nice the weather is. I admit, I would enjoy nice weather for a change.

But I’ve decided that I don’t want to move. For one, I’m lazy. And, two, if I moved I’d have to leave my friends – and we’ve been together for hundreds and hundreds of years. There’s no way I could leave them. So that’s why I decided not to move in the end. I guess I can tolerate the cold – it’s much less painful than leaving.

And there’s another very important perk about living deep in the forest – no humans anywhere! None at all! It’s just us Sprites here in the forest. (Well, and the birds and the butterflies, and the pinworms.) I haven’t seen a human being in several decades! I’m so glad. Human beings are awful things. Awful is a good word for them. And smelly. They smell absolutely terrible. And they make such a mess of things. Oh, and they complain a lot too – and about such useless stuff.

One time a tiny human sprung up on me and tried to put me in a jar! I still have nightmares about it actually… I was playing with a pinworm when the ground suddenly became very dark. A shadow! I expected to see a large boar or some other fat animal, but when I turned, I was face to face with a tiny human. When the tiny human saw me, it grinned a malicious grin. I remember being frozen in terror, I couldn’t move. And then the tiny human bent down and I noticed that it held a small glass jar in its hand. Luckily, Francis – one of the other Sprites – came to my rescue. Francis threw an acorn at the tiny human’s head. The tiny human blinked a few times in shock and then began to cry. Humans make such ugly sounds when they cry. And they’re so dumb too! It just sat there and cried and cried and Frances and I threw some more acorns at its head and then we left it there.

I’ve seen a few humans pass by since then, but only a few. Maybe one every 15 years or so. Imagine living in the Sequoias… Apparently humans love the Sequoias because the Sequoias are so tall and humans are fascinated by things that are taller than them. I don’t think I could bear having to tolerate the human smell everyday. And if I had to listen to them jabber on about nonsensical things all day long I’d go insane, I really would. Just imagining it makes me cringe!

Wait… You’re not a human, are you?

 

Lavazza Beans

His jacket always smells of ash. I don’t mind; I find it comforting. It reminds me of a fireplace, or a bonfire pit. Today he’s smoking American Spirits. When he smokes an American Spirit, he only smokes half. He says they’re so harsh, half is enough. He says they taste minty.

Sometimes, he talks about quitting. He’s been saying he’ll quit since last August. He says he needs to quit, he wants to quit. Once a month he says that this time he’s really going to quit, for real. Once, we made a bet – I said to him, if you don’t smoke a cigarette in three weeks, I’ll buy you a bag of espresso beans. And not just any kind of espresso beans – the organic, fair-trade, local kind; the kind you get at those independent coffee shops with cherry oak tables and hand drip coffee.

For the next three weeks I thought about what type of beans to buy – they needed to be good, smooth, strong, so that every time he took a sip of coffee in the morning, he would remember that he does not need to smoke to survive because once he went three weeks without a cigarette and he survived.

I chose Lavazza because a bag is 80% sweet arabicas and 20% robustas, which I guess are the two best kinds, but I didn’t buy it in the end because he smoked a Newport a week after we made the bet.

 

McConnell’s

I’m six years old and I want to go to McConnell’s.

My dad decides to make it a family outing, so we all go – dad, mom, Nathan, and me. I climb into the Barbie car and back it out of the garage. I push the lever to reverse, press onto the pedal and look behind me as the Barbie car inches backward. I shift to D and then I drive forward.

I’m driving down the street at five miles per hour, but it feels like fifty, at least. My brother sits in the passenger seat and my parents walk beside us, hand in hand. It’s a short walk to downtown – seven minutes at most. I know the route by heart. I can follow it with my eyes closed.

I drive through the neighborhood, onto the sidewalk and past the Edwards Cinema. I park outside McConnell’s and the four of us funnel into the ice cream shop. I order vanilla ice cream with marshmallows mixed in. I don’t really like vanilla or marshmallows because the marshmallows freeze up too fast from the cold, but I’ve never ordered anything else before. I feel sick after I finish, but a good kind of sick.

Reno, 2009

It’s September in Nevada – the air is sticky with heat. The sun is brighter in Nevada – and hotter. My cousin Megan and I sit inside the hangar to avoid the sun for a while. We try to talk over the roar of engines echoing against the metal walls. When we get bored we step outside and look up at the airplanes zipping above our heads with a zzz, about to complete another lap. They have many more to go. I think about my dad and my stomach knots – it’s his race next and I’m a little worried. He’s a good pilot though, I tell myself, he’ll be safe.

My mom and Nathan and Kalli and I don’t usually go to watch my Dad, Uncle Bill, and Grandpa fly at the Reno Air Races, but this year we do. I don’t know why – maybe because I’m thirteen now and Nathan’s ten so we’re old enough to watch over ourselves. My mom and Aunt Dawn and Grandma Marilyn are playing cards in the shade behind the table with the t-shirts on display. I wonder why anyone would want to buy a t-shirt with an airplane on the front.

I ask Megan if she wants to ride our Razor scooters and she says yes, so we pick them up (hers has a pink bow, mine’s gold), carry them past the airplanes on display, and through the throngs of spectators. There are lots of middle-aged men with red baseball caps and khaki shorts, their cheeks the shade of their hats. Megan and I ride down the runway, side by side. The runway is long and straight and the asphalt is smooth – the wheels glide over the surface like bread on butter. And I push faster, faster, until I feel like I’m floating. I’m moving at the speed of the airplanes above my head. “It’s the Eberhardt girls!” I hear someone say as I sail past. My cheeks flush with pride, proud to be an Eberhardt. I reach the caution tape and then turn back. I want to wish my dad good luck before his race starts.

Suggested Reading: Reunion by John Cheever

Reunion is two pages long. It’ll probably take you less than ten minutes to finish. But the story will stay with you for a lot longer than that. You’ll get immersed in the dialogue, attached to the characters, and wholly invested in the story. And the final words will echo in your mind and sink into your stomach and will leave you fuming, dissatisfied, and overwhelmed with an inexplicable sense of regret. I don’t think there are many stories that have the ability to hold that much power in so little words, which is why I believe Reunion is a necessary read.

At its surface, it’s a simple story about a father and son. But even the first line, despite its brevity, conveys the depth and emotional complexity of the boy’s relationship with his father:

“The last time I saw my father was in Grand Central Station.”

Charlie hasn’t seen his father for three years, since he divorced Charlie’s mother, and is now meeting him for a few hours in New York where his father has been staying. Throughout the meeting, the reader watches both of them struggle to repair and make sense of their relationship. Trying, but not succeeding. In the end, both Charlie – and the reader – come to the saddening, but inevitable, realization that Charlie can never have the relationship he has always hoped to have with his father.

Cheever’s prose is simple and bare and shaved to the core, which is what makes it effective. And his ability to manipulate the flow of every single sentence makes the reading process so smooth, so effortless, that it comes alive in your head. The black inked letters become animated – you can almost hear the muffled voices of a crowd, can nearly smell the rustic scent of the father’s coat. Rather than reading, you’re watching the story unfold, scene by scene.

Though the language is what makes Reunion accessible, what’s most compelling about the story is its poignant honesty. It is raw and brutally real: an unfortunate depiction of the stark brokenness that underlie many father-son relationships. Throughout the course of Charlie and his father’s short time together, you empathize with, and even internalize, the deep, complex emotions – from frustration, to disappointment, to regret – that Charlie is forced to endure. You become so emotionally invested that you, like Charlie, hope that their relationship can be salvaged by the end. But deep down you know, just as Charlie does, that there is nothing left to salvage.

“Goodbye, Daddy,” I said, and I went down the stairs and got my train, and that was the last time I saw my father.

Here’s the PDF version. Like I said, it’s a quick read – you won’t need more than 10 minutes. But it’s worth every minute and more.

“Just write. Write everyday of your life.”

Writing is hard. Even the best of the best, the masters of the craft, can attest to that. Jim Tully said, “Long patience and application saturated with your heart’s blood—you will either write or you will not—and the only way to find out whether you will or not is to try.”

Thinking about writing is easy. We all have ideas for our creative pieces – fuzzy visions of our own fantasy world, deconstructed plot lines, conversations between characters – running rampant in the depths of our imagination… Developing the blueprint of our story in our heads takes time, yes, but it’s straightforward and it can even be fun. It can be easy to get carried away and imagine the story sent to a publisher and printed onto paper. But sitting down, translating those thoughts into coherent sentences and getting content onto the page? That’s hard – really hard.

With the advent of the internet, distractions are rife – why gruel over a blank Microsoft Word document when you can read the daily news or scan weather reports or watch Buzzfeed’s latest feature on an artisan doughnut shop selling maple-dipped doughnuts flaked with gold? It’s so easy to to find some excuse as to why we don’t write – why we don’t have time or the resources, why our attention is desperately required elsewhere.

I too experience this tireless, hair-tearing, teeth-grinding process of not being able to translate my creative ideas into words. I understand how exhausting and disheartening it is. I’ve tried multiple ways to try to overcome writer’s hump. Waking up at 6am, reading classics and emulating the author’s style, responding to writing prompt after writing prompt – I’ve tried it all, hoping to find a cure-all elixir-like technique that whips me into shape, channels every ounce of my creative energy, spurs my artistic writerly senses to the point where thoughts start overflowing onto paper in the form of beautifully crafted prose. But I’m sorry to say that nothing worked; there’s no easy way around the grueling-ness of the writing process. But although I can’t tell you the magic formula for writing (because there isn’t one), I can give you one piece of advice: write something every single day.

Ray Bradbury, author of Fahrenheit 451, said “Write. Just write every day of your life. Read intensely. Then see what happens. Most of my friends who are put on that diet have very pleasant careers.”

At the start of the new year, I made a promise to myself that I would write something everyday. I created a Google Doc on January 1st and wrote about a page on what I did that day. On January 2nd I did the same thing – and then on the 3rd and 4th. I left the document open on my desktop as a constant reminder. During midterms and finals week, I didn’t have time to write a page-long entry, but I made sure to at least write a sentence or two. I wrote about anything that stuck out to me that day – who I was with, what I ate, how I felt, why I felt that way etc. It’s not glamorous and it’s not the kind of content I’d submit to a literary magazine, but it’s still writing.

So if you’re serious about writing and developing as a writer, but find yourself unable to write, this might be a helpful exercise for you. Buy a cheap notebook or start a new document, title each entry with the date, and write whatever your heart desires. Don’t agonize over what you choose to write down or the quality of what you write. The most important thing about writing something everyday isn’t necessarily the content – though the content does has value – but developing the habit. All you need to do is spit something into a notebook or an open Google doc for a few minutes a day and that alone will suffice. Because at the end of the day, you practiced writing. In the process, you’re developing your voice, your style, and the habit.
And hey, maybe one day you’ll reread what you wrote and use it as the frame for your next novel! So stop making excuses and start writing.