Clouds

The sun blared down, drowning out colors and sharpening shapes and flattening everything into paper cutouts giving off shimmering heatwaves that were liquid rainbow invisible.

“It would be better if there were clouds,” Jenn groaned.

“No, it wouldn’t,” Brian retorted, languid as a heat-overwhelmed lizard. “Then it would just be humid, too.”

“I can’t believe we moved here,” she groaned (something that happened at least once a day). As always, she looked at the house, fake adobe with just enough texture that everyone could pretend it wasn’t mass produced. It was worse in there, of course, but she could wish they had a working air conditioning or even a swamp cooler. Or that there were clouds—they were in the shade anyway, of course, in the bush-sized mesquite tree’s shelter, but at least clouds would keep the sun from heating everything to a burns-at-the-touch heat that radiated back at them all as the day went on.

“When do classes start?”

“August 10. Why are you reminding me?”

“Because you can always go up there and use the library for … something. That’s air conditioned.”

“I don’t even have money for the bus. I just got fired, remember?”

“What about the corner store?”

“They kick you out after ten minutes. And I know it’s only a block away, but walking in this heat is not worth ten minutes.” Even sitting in the shade was exhausting; the heat seemed to suck her energy dry as the desert air. She’d thought Pittsburgh summers were bad—but days like this, she’d give anything to have humidity paired with below-90 weather! She’d even take back the snow and ice and awful driving.

“I’m gonna go get us some water.”

“’Kay.” Even Brian moved slowly, as if through tar—of course, the street outside had almost liquefied back to tar. The reminder didn’t help.

The heat weighed her down; memories of summers back home, of garden beds bursting with flowers and vegetables and of that special fresh, dewy smell of summer mornings as the sun came up, would have made her cry if not for the sucking heat. Perhaps that night, tossing and turning and slithering with sweat.

She fingered the keychain she’d gotten on her first day of work—even the cheap plastic was hot! This state—she didn’t finish the thought, couldn’t think of anything serious enough.

Could you drown in heat? It was suffocating.

“How do you survive?” Brian was back; he handed her a chipped pink plastic glass, then sat down with his own blue one, misshapen by a broken dishwasher years ago.

“You get used to it, I guess,” he shrugged. “And never do anything once the sun comes up unless it’s dire.”

“When do you have to go to work?”

“A few hours.”

“Thanks for coming by to hang out. I really appreciate it.”

“Sure,” he shrugged. “No problem.”

“I mean it.”

“Me, too. I miss seeing you around.”

“I just got fired,” Jenn corrected, but she was almost laughing for a second.

“I am sorry about that.”

“It wasn’t your fault.”

“I know. But still.”

They both let the heat crush them for a few minutes. Jenn drank most of the water in one prolonged series of gulps. It was a relief to set it down; her fingers were sticky-slick with sweat. “This is stupid, okay? Don’t laugh at me.”

“Okay,” Jenn promised as Brian stood up.

“I found these on the kitchen counter inside, and I thought you could use a cloud.” He held up a cotton ball, pulled apart to resemble a mythically perfect cloud, complete with wispy edges. His hand turned dark with the sun’s intensity, his fingers stuck out oddly, and the cotton-ball cloud was far too solid when placed against the porcelain sky—but she smiled.

“It’s not stupid.”


 

Thanks for reading! I wrote this as part of Rosalie Valentine’s The Penprints Flash Fiction Dash. Head there over the weekend to see what else people wrote for the challenge.

EDIT: Here is a link to all of the entries to the Dash.

And, for the curious, here is my prompt for the story:

Cloud

 

Perfect Writing

One of the reasons I haven’t been writing much lately is because I want everything to be just right. I want to feel that sweet spot of confidence and inspiration; I want to be somewhere that’s exactly the right mix of quiet, comfortable, and interesting but not distracting; I want to be sure what I’ll be writing while also knowing I’ll be flexible enough to accept if the piece doesn’t go exactly as I’d planned; I want to feel surrounded by God and loved enough that I know I’ll be able to trust myself and trust God. I want everything to be just so when I sit down to write. 

And some days, I really am not ready to write, or something else really does come up. And that’s fine.

Most days, however, when all of those factors don’t line up exactly, it’s also fine. It doesn’t feel like it; I feel unsettled enough that it’s harder to sit down to write, or I use it as an excuse for not writing. I can’t do it just so today, so I just won’t do it. I don’t feel capable of perfection, or my best, or the impossible standard that I perceive as my best, or even something that’s ‘good enough.’ 

Like I said, some days I really can’t write well. There’s nothing wrong with that. But most days when I don’t feel ‘ready’ to write, don’t feel like I’ll be good enough–it’s not true. What I write may not be perfect (well–I hate to break it to myself, but duh), but editing exists. There’s value in writing anyway, in listening to the words and to God and sitting in that space of ‘I don’t know what to write’ and ‘Can I really write?’ and ‘What am I doing?’ There’s value in writing anyway. 

Sometimes I just needed to start, just needed to reassure myself that I still remember how to write. Sometimes the words really aren’t ready, or I’m not ready to write them. Sometimes I really just wasn’t ready to write.

But there’s value in writing anyway. 

That’s what I’m learning, and relearning, and relearning, in this season.

Writing Challenge, Week 3

It’s time for another update! Here’s how the past week went:

Tuesday: 40 minutes

Wednesday: 0 minutes

Thursday: 15 minutes

Friday: 0 minutes

Saturday: 0 minutes

Sunday: 150 minutes

Monday: 25 minutes

As I looked over my times for this week, I was left wondering what I was really trying to accomplish with this challenge. I mean, obviously, I wanted to write more, but as I look at my results this week I remember that writing is intricately bound up with the rest of my life, at least for me. Everything I’m doing is feeling rushed and fragmented and isolated from everything else. And that made writing hard.

Why am I writing? Having a time goal alone isn’t working. It makes it easy to forget that writing feeds my soul. Words feed my soul. Writing gives me joy and life. So, yes, writing every day is a professional goal as I strive to make a part-time career in writing, but writing every day is also a personal and spiritual goal. Writing connects me to God as few other activities do. 

I want to write because writing is good for me. I want to write because it is good for my soul.

I want to write.

Bacon! (Five Minute Friday)

Today I’m writing about bacon, the prompt for Five Minute Friday.


I’m not gonna lie: I saw the prompt and just thought, “Ugh. What am I going to write about?” Somehow the recent health scandal didn’t appeal. (Apparently it’s an inside joke? From before my time. Bacon, I mean, not the health scandal)

And I was all set to skip this Five Minute Friday. “I’ll wait until it’s something easier, something that immediately sparks a reaction.” I had other things to do this morning, after all. I opened a new tab, got all ready to sink into some useless Internet time-wasting.

Really? It occurred to me a few minutes in. Really? I was just going to give up, without even trying, just because it might not be the easiest thing ever, just because in ten seconds I couldn’t think of anything to write about? Really?

So, here I am. Writing about not wanting to write about bacon. But here I am, writing. I came after all. I’m not sure this is any good, but sometimes coming at all is good enough. Sometimes that’s enough of a victory to start with.

Rag Rug

Rag Rug 1

This is the rag rug I’ve been working on for more than a year now. Overwhelming, isn’t it? What I’ve done so far feels tiny and insignificant, and I feel so far away from the completion that it feels impossible.

I’ve been working on it in little bits: choosing cloth to cut up (old clothes that were far too ragged to give away for re-use), cutting it into painstaking strips, and finally, one by one, threading the strips into the holes. In a fit of excitement at my awesome project, I cut up the black shirts and made the border all in one day. “Oh, this wasn’t so bad!”

Every tutorial I looked at warned me that this was a long process, that the rug is created SLOWLY. “I’m sure it will be fine.”

My strips of cloth, waiting to be threaded into the rug.
My strips of cloth, waiting to be threaded into the rug.

Trying to build a writing career feels overwhelming. Heck, going on with my day feels overwhelming sometimes. Getting the dishes done feels overwhelming, leaving homework and relationships completely out of it! And all I can do is focus on the small things, one thing at a time, one moment at a time. That doesn’t mean I can’t or shouldn’t plan for the future, because I absolutely should. I must. Otherwise my focus is always just in the present, doing whatever presents itself. But I can’t focus on the entirety of what needs to be done. It’s huge and overwhelming, and that makes me freeze up, worry so much that I can’t get anything done. Instead, I have to look at what’s right in front of me, decide what my next task is going to be and focus on that. Just as with my rag rug, I can’t try to put ten strips in ten different holes at once. Instead, I have to go one at a time. Each one feels insignificant, just as each task sometimes feels insignificant. But, if chosen wisely, each task builds on the others, until eventually something beautiful has been created.

 

Reflections on Reading, Lately

I used to be an absolutely voracious reader–in some ways I still am, when I give myself the chance, but I often don’t. Readings for school are overwhelming and draining, and sometimes take away all desire to read anything. Reading gives me ideas for my own writing, in a bad, all-consuming kind of way; reading changes my whole writing style if I allowed myself to become completely absorbed in the writing and style and world.

And that is my favorite way to read. I want to enter into another world, totally and completely. I want to enter into a world that inspires, that forces me to think and ponder and look for God in unexpected places. And in some ways that’s the root of why I haven’t read much lately: I have high expectations, and I’m afraid that those expectations won’t be met when I pick up a book I’ve never read before. I don’t want to waste my time on something that isn’t good.

I’m not entirely sure when the shift happened, when I realized that this was an utterly asinine reason to stop reading. But I’ve been reading, these past three weeks, and it’s been beautiful.

The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis This has always been one of my favorite Narnia novels–it’s just so clearly applicable to real life, day-in and day-out, unlike some of the more epic, battle-filled novels. I read this all in one day when I went home, where I have my nice copy of Narnia, which includes all the original illustrations. It was the first time in a long time that I’ve allowed myself to sink into a novel, utterly be absorbed by what’s happening and the world that’s being painted.

The Girl on the Road by Monica Byrne I picked this out of the library, based on the fact that it was a sci-fi book written by a woman and set in Africa. It’s intriguing: it’s set in the near-future, when the center of culture has moved to Africa and Asia and global warming is an acknowledged fact. The world-building is amazing. I still haven’t finished it; rather, I’ve been slowly savoring (by which I mean reading before I go to bed, forcing myself to put it down when I’ve read an hour longer than I meant to).

The Preaching Life by Barbara Brown Taylor Yes, it’s about preaching, but it’s also about the Christian life, and it’s beautifully written. Taylor writes vividly, full of Christian hope and joy but also achingly ????. I finished the first half, various essays on her own Christian life, all in one sitting, when I walked to the park last weekend. It was like drinking when I was dying of thirst; even when I felt full of insights and emotions and words, I couldn’t put it down. I’ve been using the second half, a collection of sermons, as part of my devotional practice this week.

Nameless book I read most of it while I was home and of course didn’t take note of the title, because I had no intention of writing this post at the time. It was a collection of short essays about established writers’ first experience of reading–not necessarily reading individual words so much as their first realization that reading is magical, reading is something that can show you whole new worlds. It was a great one to read as I was getting back into reading myself.

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver It’s heartbreaking and beautifully written and I’ve been reading it every chance I get.