Summer of Flash by Julia Goldberg

I am a greedy reader, a pleasure reader, a literary hedonist. I want my coffee strong and my novels long. I want to escape for days on end into story and character. Some of my favorite writers are those such as Kate Atkinson, Ellen Gilchrist or Richard Ford, whose works include recurrent characters whose stories continue over spans of years in short stories or novels. I normally eschew food metaphors but, in this case, devour would be the apt verb to describe my relationship to fiction. I do not want taste a morsel, no matter how exquisitely prepared; I want to ravage.

So at first glance, flash fiction, micros, compressions, suddens, whatever you want to call them, struck me as yet another blow against expansiveness. As a journalist, I would consider myself as having been on the front line of the “short, shorter, shortest” campaign of the last several years. Yes, the power of 140 characters to topple a dictatorship, gather followers or keep everyone updated on your mood is, indeed, impressive. But, you know, some of us still like to read!
I needed a quick and radical adjustment to my attitude during the Intermediate Fiction course I taught at Santa Fe Community College this spring, after Miriam Sagan asked if I would be interested in curating a collection of flash written by my students for the poetry posts on campus. I liked the idea of the project, but didn’t think I could appropriately inspire my students with a tirade against abbreviated thought.
So I plunged in and read a whole lot of flash: the classics, the award-winners and the very, very new.
As a reader, I do not anticipate a huge change in my habits (for instance, when I fly to Europe this summer, I don’t anticipate I’ll bring 80,000 pieces of flash fiction versus a few long books). But as a writer, and a teacher, I have come to see the value of the form and have abandoned my view of it as yet another trendy excuse to shorten my already shortened attention span.
The students in Intermediate Fiction divided into groups and chose various themes for their flash projects: drought, family loss and The Outsider. The extent to which all the pieces adhered to these themes varied from writer to writer, but the resulting group of 20 pieces, which will be on campus June 1-Aug. 26, show, I believe, the amazing versatility offered by the form. The pieces range from writing I might characterize as prose poetry to simply short fiction. They also show the challenge of instilling the various attributes of fiction writing (character, plot, story, for example) into such short works.

Here are the writers for Summer of Flash, and their works. You can find a map of the poetry posts here.

Installation 1, June 1-July 14: Benjamin Lucas Buck, Meg Tuite, Ana Terrazas, Sarah Velez, Alona Bonanno, Lisa Neal, Tina Matthews

Installation 2, July 15-Aug. 26: Meg Tuite, Ree Mobley, Ken McPherson, Pat Barnes, William White

Post by Julia Goldberg

Mindfulness by Terry Wilson–the Buddha, a wetsuit, and hypothermia

MINDFULNESS
 
“Try to stay in the present,” my therapist said to me. I’ve been in therapy for years; in fact, I’ve retired five therapists before this one. But my current therapist hasn’t given up on me yet. She and I had been discussing how, even if I wasn’t good at meditating, I could still practice using my workouts as a meditation.
 
“Swimming could work as a mindfulness exercise,” she said. “Just try to notice what’s happening as you swim. Slow down the movement of your arms, your legs; be aware of how they slip through the water and what color the water is and the sky.”
 
This sounded good since I earned my Pollywog badge when I was six, but I mostly don’t swim indoors because the chlorine is too hard on my skin and hair. Luckily, though, it was still summer and there are a few bodies of water around Santa Fe. That weekend, I talked my husband into going with me to Heron Lake, about a two hour drive north. Since it was the end of August I was hoping the water would not be too cold, but as we got closer to our destination— near the Rocky Mountains—the temperature was hovering in the 60’s.
 
I was determined to swim though; I’m a little anal about exercising every day. Once we arrived at the lake, I sat in the open car door with my feet on the ground and squeezed myself into my rubber wetsuit. My husband zipped up the back for me, and we walked on the rocks down to the water.
 
I got in slowly, but damn, it was COLD! I kicked my legs and splashed with my arms as hard as I could to warm up, but it still felt like I was in the icebox. I had asked my husband to time me so I could get a good workout. But then I wasn’t mindful of anything but how long I had been in.
 
 “HOW much longer do I have before I’ve been in 40 minutes?” I kept asking him. I was aware of how numb my fingers and toes were becoming in the freezing lake.
 
I tried to swim toward the sun, but it was giving me a headache. I found a warm spot, but then I banged my knees on the rocks because that spot was only a foot deep. I again swam out where it was deeper, and I was shivering.
 
“HOW many more minutes?” I badgered Mark. I had promised myself that I’d swim three times a week, each swim being twenty minutes. Since this was a Saturday, and I’d only swum once that week, I had to swim two more times.
 
“I’m going back up to the car,” he said, being saner than I am.
 
“NO!” I yelled. “Don’t leave me here! I’m too cold!”
 
“Get out of there, then,” he said. “You’ve already been swimming for….” He looked at his watch. “Twenty three minutes.”
 
“That’s ALL?” I said. “I feel like I’ve been in here for weeks!” He began walking up to the car so he could get himself some food from our trip earlier to the Farmer’s Market. “How will I know when my time is up?”
 
“I’ll beep the horn,” he said. How I longed to be walking up that path again….up to the car…but I had to keep moving. If I stopped at all, I’d begin to shake. Shit. I need more bulging muscles on my arms and legs, I thought, then I’d be warmer.
 
Be mindful, I kept telling myself. Look at the sky! The water is so….aqua….and friggin’ freezing! Arghhhh! Beep the horn, damn it! I silently said to Mark. I watched him as I did every swim stroke I could think of. Backstroke, sidestroke, frog kick, modified breast stroke. My neck was hurting. Everything was hurting. Be mindful, I told myself again. But who wants to be mindful when you’re in pain?
Then I noticed he was walking towards the car…maybe to beep the horn so I could get out? No! All he’s doing is wandering around and munching on chips, that brat. Eating while I freeze to death! What if I drown? Sometimes people drown when they get too cold. Hypothermia! I’m sure I have hypothermia. I’ll probably still be swimming and I’ll go into cardiac arrest!
 
Finally he beeped the horn. I galloped out of the water shivering and shaking and was so cold that I couldn’t stand still long enough to get my sandals on. So I just ran like I was having a seizure, half falling down and not caring that I was running on dirt and rocks. I was utterly and completely un-mindful, which in the moment, seemed like the far better option. All I wanted was to get into the toasty car and rip off the wet suit (which hadn’t done its job) and get my warm clothes on.
 
When I finally did, I found a patch of sunlight through the trees before the sun went down, and I sat in it and then I faced the sun. Finally I was able to be mindful, mindful that I had stopped shaking and that mindfulness was not all it was cracked up to be. If the Buddha had ever gone swimming in a cold lake, he’d understand.

***
Terry Wilson teaches Eng. 120, Exploring Creative Writing at Santa Fe Community College, starting again, fall semester…..and any students who have questions can email her at tmwilson222@aol.com 

SIN FRONTERAS Submission Deadline is June 30, 2011

SIN FRONTERAS Submission Deadline is June 30, 2011.

Submit 4-5 poems or 1-2 short stories, essays, works of creative non-fiction (no longer than 10 pages), or very short play to Sin Fronteras/Writers Without Borders #16, c/o DAAC, P.O. Box 1721, Las Cruces, NM 88004. Manuscripts must be typed, with writer?s name and address on each work submitted. Although we publish primarily Southwestern writers, we do not necessarily prefer or require regional subject matter. Include a cover letter with very brief (2-3 sentences) biographical and publication information, your email address, and your phone number. Payment is one copy of the annual journal, which is perfect bound. Manuscripts will be recycled, not returned. A self-addressed, stamped envelope or postcard must be included for notification. If you work is accepted, you will be asked to submit your final version electronically via email attachment.

Unfinished Hoarding by Carolyn Stripling

This piece was written in Terry Wilson’s class at Santa Fe Community College. Wilson says: The student writer is Carolyn Stripling and this was an exercise done in class where students wrote as if they were specific characters, describing what was in their purses or pockets….(I love the part about writers as hoarders of words!)

Unfinished Hoarding

My name is Gluttony Anne and I am a hoarder.

Can I show you what is inside my bag?

A pack of Camels, which I smoke to the filters and sometimes past, packets of Taco Bell sauce with those funny quips on one side, and a Packers sticker I bought from a vending machine at KFC when they were offering that breadless Double Down sandwich. My wallet is heavy with coins that I hoard from friends and off the ground because change to me is like free money, like little Armenian babies that do count in the end. I have stubs from movies, the opera, and the bank, records of art and its expense. There are cards from people I’ll never call and some who don’t call back. I’ve saved a match box some boy gave me and inside is a stick of cinnamon some other boy gave me and a piece of a clay fish I found in my back yard. Floating along the bottom are three lighters that don’t work but three stories attached to each I refuse to forget and a Palm Sunday cross, but I can’t throw that away because it is holy.

A little pink notebook is dotted with things I overhear or oversee every day, a hoarding of moments, phrases, scenes, postcards to literature I will never send. My writing is a kind of hoarding. The little sketches I make of the punch lines that happen all around me is just a hoarding of the creativity of the lives of others. I find these sketches crumpled up in all of my pockets.

I save every picture I’ve ever taken, blurry road signs, crooked friends, and sunsets that turn out green. I even have photos other people took that I find on the ground and try to solve. If I weren’t too self-conscious walking about this tiny town, I’d pick up every scrap from the ground, every piece of torn up letters, broken toys, obscured CDs. I would glue them together and make a monster that would only be good for burning.

I keep emails and voicemails and text messages because someday I will decipher them. I keep old dirty tee shirts left over from old dirty relationships because someday I will turn them into punk rock statements. I keep pairs of glasses with the lenses popped out because someday I will be Andy Warhol and Marcy from Peanuts again. In my room among piles of other stuff is a bag full of wine corks, a journal of the hours we’ve spent drinking wine on the porch, hours we can’t seem to remember because (and this is something I refuse to believe) they are trivial and drunk and should pass naturally into the past, lying quiet and peaceful as if nothing had happened, as if it really was just a night, just a porch, just another person.

I hoard free things with sick pleasure. I’m sure the Catholics call it stealing. I take everything others intend to donate: records, books, clothes, leftovers, cigarette stubs. I am the poor man’s enemy.

To hoard is first to collect and then to keep. My spirit animal is the hamster, with his little cheeks full of dust as if he were out to save the world. I feel I have a responsibility to everything I touch and if I turn my back on anything, I’ll forget everything that has touched me. Nothing ever disappears but everything gets destroyed eventually. But if I could prevent all those mini genocides of the future maybe I could validate the larger ones of the past. I could prepare myself and unsuspecting others for the second coming of the Turks or Jesus.

But Jesus won’t have me if I don’t repent and I hoard my sins which is just to say I’m terrified of confession. I am a self-proclaimed martyr, the worst kind of martyr, a miniature Simone Weil, a quarter Armenian, hungry in America. My only battles are self-inflicted clutter that I constantly plan to get rid of at future flea markets.

The End of the World That Didn’t Happen: Devon Miller-Duggan on the Rapture and Dry Ice

Write about anything, Miriam said. Talk about being a grandmother. So, instead, I figured that I’d write about The End Of The World that didn’t happen.

As much as I am irritated/frustrated by Evangelicals and their even weirder cousins The Rapturettes, I was having a hard time figuring out how to think about the whole 5/21/2011 thing, and not for religious reasons. Unless you’re a really serious biblical literalist, that stuff has no traction at all. I was trying to work out what the benefit was for the folks who were all packed up (or however it was they prepped) and ready to go, aside from the attitude so beautifully encapsulated in The Austin Lounge Lizards’ lyrics: “…Jesus loves me, but He can’t stand you!” I mean beyond that, because most of those folks already have that whole Eschatological Superiority thing going. And I really can’t figure it. Which brings me to my son-in-law-the-uber-geek’s response, which was to threaten to leave a pair of sneakers in the middle of the street that he’d filled with dry ice. Fortunately, or un- dry ice is hard to come by in northern Delaware. But I figure there’s a haiku in there somewhere.

May Swenson Eats Some Celery

As I get older, I think back on some amazing poets I had the honor to meet, and I realize that while I often loved these folks as people I was oddly oblivious to their fame and influence. For example, when I was twenty five and spending an autumn at MacDowell, I was there with May Swenson.
There was also a small group of young very avant-garde composers in residence. We had almost nightly soirees in the library–a writer would read, a visual artist would show slides, and a composer would play. The music was often minimalist, electronic, and a la John Cage.
May Swenson was then in middle age. Raised a Mormon, she was also one of the first lesbian poets in the United States who didn’t hide her identity. She reminded me of a nuthatch–tanned, small, she had a sturdy birdlike quality. And it turned out, a sense of humor. Because she was busy recording her own avant-garde composition. It was basically of May Swenson eating lunch. She’d intro the theme–chewing on celery–and then record it. She played the whole piece for me and the composers and we found it hysterically funny.
It was only until some other poets–more ambitious and savy than me–arrived and began to network her that I realized May was a prominent poet. I like her poetry then and I like it now. It can be surprisingly emotional violent, but it has integrity. However, what I really liked best was her.

***
The Woods at Night by May Swenson

The binocular owl,
fastened to a limb
like a lantern
all night long,

sees where all
the other birds sleep:
towhee under leaves,
titmouse deep

in a twighouse,
sapsucker gripped
to a knothole lip,
redwing in the reeds,

swallow in the willow,
flicker in the oak –
but cannot see poor
whippoorwill

under the hill
in deadbrush nest,
who’s awake, too –
with stricken eye

flayed by the moon
her brindled breast
repeats, repeats, repeats its plea
for cruelty.