We decided that we were going to write short stories.
An annual contest publishes the first and the last paragraph; contest writers must supply 18 paragraphs that fit neatly between them. That means, of course, that every story submitted will start and end the same way. It must be fascinating to read.
E and I decided to do it together.
We would each pursue the prompts in our own way, then take a look at each other’s work. We’d ask questions, poke squishy plot points, and encourage each other’s ideas into existence. We would not have the same story, but it would be a way of doing something long-distance together.
There’s a lot of that going around right now; people figuring out how to be together when they can’t actually manage it in person. It’s not all ye-old-plague-related, but that has stimulated community creativity on the subject. If you’ve ever played an online game with someone you know, invisible to you and yet present, that’s kind of what we did. Oh right, E said that was confusing; I’ll try to come up with three different ways to say this…Ok, if she laughed at that comment then I’m on the right track. E was my test audience and an editor; a friend and a critic. It feels like what friendship is supposed to be. This is why, I suspect, we had The Inklings and The Detection Club, the Wolfe Pack and, I’m sure, others. We need creative fellowship.
It took us both about three days. An old axiom of writing is that the fewer words you have to write, the more time you will need to write them. Thank goodness we didn’t decide to write haiku. Short stories turn like a key; they require the closest thing I’ve ever experienced to actually practicing magic. I’ve written a fair number of them where I knew good and well that I had mispronounced that incantation. The darn tumblers wouldn’t turn and I had to abandon the effort. But this short story, whether it will be a winner of said contest or not, had magic in its ether. I liked it; it had promise. But E helped make it sparkle. She asked, poked, encouraged and texted late into the night and little by little, the key turned…
I will probably never be good enough as a writer to be truly independent, but I don’t think that’s the point or the goal. (Is there even such a thing?) While writing may always be an inherently lonely sort of work, that doesn’t mean the entire process is accomplished alone. Most frequently, it isn’t. And in some ways, it never will be. For the process to be complete, there must be readers or listeners invited in. And as I work, I will always need another to give me a little shove, a good boot, or a lit match, as the case may be. The longer I do this, the more I value the small writing community I have around me; people who haven’t stopped writing, making, building, creating.
Creativity isn’t born into empty space; it’s nudged into being by something else. Anything else. Sermons, movies, scenery, broken things, new things, lost things, tears, goodbyes, chaos, calm, offhand comments, intentional words, memes, jokes, insults, songs, poems, trees, clouds, children, empty playgrounds, walkers, coffins; all of them light fires of thought. We are inspired to build, to make, to write, to try.
E is one of my intentional people. Her photography, persistent writing, determined shepherding (I mean that literally; she has a growing flock), and forward motion encourage me to keep creatively moving forward, too. You need that, sometimes. It helps to know that you’re not crazy for still turning keys.
This is what it means to be a member of a body—or more colloquially, a member of a community. No one really works alone, and much is lost by pulling away from the whole. It takes effort and deliberation to be a meaningful member of something. It can be inconvenient and irritating when we are opposed, but how often do we inconvenience or irritate others? This is what it means to live with others when we cannot read their minds. It’s inevitable. It is the effort to understand that counts; the sweetly persistent, intentional trying.
We turn keys.