2018 American Fiction Finalist (22)

My short story “Between My Ribs” is a finalist for the 2018 American Fiction Short Story Award from New Rivers Press. The 19 stories selected for their anthology are now with the final judge who will choose the first, second and third place winners in the next few weeks. I’ve been eager to tell you, my readers, wanting to share this sweet news, knowing you’ll feel glad for me and wish me well in this. But I’ve been shy about it, too. As I write, I feel big gratitude and quiet glee. But I’m not sure I can do justice to all the feelings this evokes in me. I feel thrilled and grateful and lucky. Of course. And I’m delighted my first publication will be with this university press who I’ve been so fond of for years now. But I feel afraid and sad and uncomfortable, too, and I can’t really point to why. I know I’ve been grappling with my discomfort over wanting to win. I feel honored to be chosen for the anthology, but I would very much like to win the contest, too. I worry about being greedy, so I wrestle with it. “Of course you want to win,” I say. “That’s only natural.” But it sits awkward in me, this wanting it to be more. But maybe I am only afraid of being disappointed if my story isn’t chosen for first place. Maybe it’s as simple as that.

But there is a deep desire in me to win. I want that recognition. I’ve held myself back in so many ways for most of my life, I think. I want to just step forward here. I want to lead this collection. So I’ll ask for your good wishes in this now while the judge is still reading our stories, still weighing his responses to each of them, still sorting through them for himself. I whisper my own prayers into the palms of my cupped hands. I can hear the house finch in the courtyard, and the mountains are clear this morning for the first time in months, keeping vigil with me. I kiss the center of my palms, fold them around each other, bring them to my heart. I sit very still, holding my hope. And then I open my hands, slow movements, the bird released to take to the sky. I grin, lightened, filled with the honor of this gift, at peace in this moment with whatever is meant to unfold next.

And thank you, too, for holding this in your own hearts with me. Just the thought of it makes me want to cry.

[Editor’s note: I don’t know much about Facebook, so this is clunky. But below is both their announcement of the finalists and my own section of that post when you scroll through all the photos. Here I am in my goofy head covering—I got the news when I was staying at the hostel and had to get a photo to them right away, so I took this with my iPad in my favorite chair outside. You can also access the post in their Facebook page here.]

Announcing the finalists for American Fiction 17! We've sent the stories on to our finalist judge (Colin Fleming), and expect to announce the winners within about a month. Stay tuned for the announcement!

Posted by New Rivers Press on Thursday, August 16, 2018

If Only You Could Hear My Sparrows Sing (59)

I didn’t know if I was going to manage my 59 posts this year while I am 59. I lost so many large chunks of the year. For long weeks now, I was still hoping to pull it off, but I knew I might get here and find out I’d have to let go of it, have to let myself not meet my goal for the first time in eight years of this. And I know cranking them out doesn’t allow for as many “gems” as might otherwise occur. I even worry that this crazed flurry of posts might be annoying for some folks. But I feel pretty good about getting them done. And if they aren’t what they might have been given more time to grow on their own, they still tell my stories, yes? (Or that’s what I am telling myself.) I hope to return to one post each week while I’m sixty (and two posts for eight weeks in the year). So I won’t inundate you like this again, and I won’t desert you like I did this past year. I can’t promise, but I think I have a good shot at it. Thank you, my dear readers, for hanging in here with me this year. I didn’t expect to fall so crazily behind. But I’m glad I got caught up. I feel tired but satisfied. Now, if only the recordings I’ve been trying to make of my white crowned sparrows had turned out, so I could share that delight with you, too. Then I’d be tired and gleeful. Here’s to another year of blogging. And thank you all again, for coming, for visiting, for reading. It means a lot to me. You matter.

Catching Up—or Not Giving Up (29)

I hope this flurry of posts isn’t annoying anyone. It’s only that I don’t want to give up on meeting my goal of 59 posts while I’m 59. Now I’m only eight posts behind where I should be (instead of 15 behind, which sounded much more daunting). I have every hope that my days ahead will return me to my self and the kind of writing I love. That I will find ways to weave my dreams or my daydreams into my daily life (and into my blog posts again) in a way that feels right and satisfying to me. I have a hunch I might be getting close to a kind of return to that, to making room for my writing, room for things to unfold as they will. But I’m not certain. So, in the meantime, I’m going to see if I can’t just post things anyway. Here you had a smattering of short timed writings from prompts. Oh, and I decided I can even claim that fiction is a kind of dream, yes? Or maybe I’m just using poetic license here. But claiming I am. (It makes me feel like I am still sticking to the intention of this year’s blog.) And I’m hoping you’ll be glad to see something from me, too, even if it comes in a mad flurry, even if it’s mostly short, odd bursts of imagination. Because I notice I’m missing feeling connected to you here, so I’m glad to be back. And I’ll hope to keep it up, accepting what comes. Wishing you all good things as we near this ending of our year. And thank you for still being here reading.

October Morning (19)

I move the curtain from the open window by the bed just enough to greet Venus in the eastern sky. I’m glad to see her there, glad to catch the scattering of sunrise-colored clouds, but I don’t want to be awake yet. I let the curtain fall and snuggle back beneath the blankets. Blankets, I think. I grin, so pleased it’s autumn now, and I return to blankets. I have a nine a.m. videoconference call this morning. And I want to remember to mention the aloe vera gel to my mom for these last stages of the wound that’s finally healing on her leg. I’m going to focus on building next week’s online classes today. I want to write a blog post, too, I think. I can’t believe it’s been so long. Is this the longest gap in over seven years of my commitment to posting? I must be a zillion weeks behind by now. I don’t even want to know. I can feel the tension mounting in me with each thought. For a little while I even replay all the well-worn reasons I believe I was wronged by someone years ago. I take a deep breath, smoosh the pillow beneath my head, settle down on my left side, close my eyes. I hear bird calls in the distance. I think of my two cats, dead now these two years. I whisper to them, send their spirits love. And then I let myself imagine them going back to sleep with me in this cool early morning air. They used to flank me, Sofia wrapping herself in the curve of my legs and Sable curling up against my belly. I know it’s unlikely I’ll fall asleep again, but I let myself drift, using my imagination now, reaching for memory. I remember waking in the middle of the night, their soft little bodies pressed against me, the comforting weight of them. It always made me feel like the luckiest woman in the world. Drifting, I wonder what that makes me today. But even in that dreamy place shaded by a longing for them, I know the answer. It makes me the luckiest woman in the world because I had that, their dear companionship, night after night for years. And because I get to love them forever.

How the Dead Return to Us (10)

Being a writer can be kind of weird. And writing a blog or a newspaper column can be even weirder. I once had an email exchange with one of my favorite columnists for the L.A. Times who pointed out to me we are dependent on what happens. It sounds crazy obvious now, but I’d never put it together before. There’s always the interior world, too, of course. But when we can “hang” that inner world on a scaffolding of outer events, when there’s enough happening both within and without to make connections between them, the possibilities seem endless. This is my eighth year for writing a blog, and I seem to either have endless “Blog?” markings on the pages of my notebook, or I have a dearth of ideas. It feels like a long time since the floodgates were open. Yesterday, I was so glad to have something happen I could write about. But then the weirdness peeked around the corner. I meant to show my ugly bias arising even in the midst of it all. But a sneaky voice hisses at me after I post. “It sounds like you’re trying to pump yourself up, like you’re trying to make yourself look good.” Does it? Really? I only wanted to tell the story the way it happened, so glad there was a story to tell. Maybe, I think, I should’ve explained more about the connection I was making to the day I found out my father was dead, how this time I got to be the stranger who wanted to help. That day all those years ago I let the policemen inside my father’s apartment and wait outside on the concrete landing. One of the women from the place next door comes out and asks me if there’s anything they can do, anything I need. “Do you have any beer?” I ask. (I remember feeling foolish asking.) I’d already found out he was dead. I’d already asked the policemen if there was any beer in his fridge. (That would remain a lingering regret, that he died without any beer in the fridge, without any cigarettes. What was I thinking?) Instead of bringing me a beer on the porch, the woman brings me inside, sits me at their dining room table, hands me an icy bottle of St. Pauli Girl. She and her two roommates gather round. They tend to me through that long afternoon, the lazy Memorial Day holiday, 1985. And then in the fall of that year I dream about my father. “What are you doing here?” I say. “You’re supposed to be dead.” I remember the shock of that first dream. I must not have learned yet how the dead can return to us, living again and again in our sleeping dreams.

Mish Mosh Kind of Day (15)

Today feels like my first day in a long time without any commitments out in the world. I bask in the luxury of it. I go out early, trim the big yellow tecoma. I sit writing in the courtyard, sip fenugreek tea, my left arm getting wet, the hairs on my forearm dusted with mist. (It reminds me of the way the squirrel’s tail was misted in the early morning when I found him dead on the side of Tilton Road in Sebastopol, all those long fine hairs surprising and beautiful. His little form was lying in the crook of “Scary Corner” where the vultures liked to gather. The next day I found a pellet of his tiny bones. I put the collection in a matchbox. I still have them.) My right arm faces away from the misters. It’s wet, too, but just from sweat. It’s muggy and hot. I eat cold watermelon. I do my sitting practice. I have to fight to stay awake. A mourning dove coos from his perch above the tray feeders, and a goldfinch comes to nibble a big leaf on the new batch of sunflowers, that sweet fleeting time, all fresh blooms or buds just about to open, the new bursting energy of them. In between there is work and errands, in and out of the heat in the middle of the day. Later when the sun sinks behind the mountains I sit on the front step to cut my toenails. A bird I don’t know lands on the wooden fence and sings a little song. I’m pretty sure he’s talking to the house finch who are enjoying their evening meal, but I don’t know what he’s saying. He has a graceful curving arc in his throat and beak. When he leaves he flies in a loop above me, as if he wants me to know he knew I was there all along. I write my blog post for this week. I have a story to tell about a gem I uncovered during sitting practice last Saturday, but I am not ready to write it yet. Maybe I am not ready to reveal it. I take warm clothes from the dryer in the dark. I stop to look at the stars. This was a pretty good day.