Mermaids and Other Stories

Activity Being Avoided: bookkeeping
Music In My Head:  Above the Clouds of Pompeii — Bear’s Den
Tea Being Drunk: peppermint
Book Being ReadTrigger Warning–Neil Gaiman; Sweet Thursday–John Steinbeck

An ideal reader reads to find questions. – Alberto Manguel

This whole train of thought started because I was reading Jeanette Winterson’s Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal? and I had a hard time swallowing it—not just because her writing was rather sloppy, and not just because it was non-fiction—because I find it difficult to trust a fiction writer to give me an unembellished story. I’d much rather—just because of the good writing style, and just because it’s fiction—read Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit and be content that it’s as close to Winterson’s reality as I’m ever gonna (hafta) get.

Doesn’t the human race get more than enough of that reality shite?

On the weekend, someone was relating some personal account (nothing at all juicy; entirely run-of-the-mill human activity), and announced that they were sharing too much and they should stop. I said something to the effect of, “Or else I’ll take interest in it and you’ll end up in one of my stories.”

Why do these things fly out of my mouth?

I was treated to exhortations to not use this in my stories. It was personal, they did not give permission for me to use it, and it would be a terrible thing to see it in a story.

Eventually, I did break in enough to make it clear I wouldn’t use the information. I promised.

I consequently promised myself that I was going to shut up around people who can’t understand sarcasm.  Shall let you know how that goes.

I started wondering how non-writers view writers. Do readers really think that we merely jot down scenes from mundane life? Do they stop to look at their day in 15-minute increments and consider how interesting it would be to read? Do they actually read the novels they claim to have read, and therefore understand that stories are possibly conceived in reality but are gestated in a far, far better place?

I went home, feeling very proud of myself that my brain is able to come up with things extraordinary. I’m off work this week, and the stories up on the editing block are the six Psychopathia Sexualis stories:

  • A teenage girl suddenly abandoned in upper-class society
  • A man who finds his soulmate despite a dress
  • A woman who can only find release sexual release through blood
  • A girl caught between state and church, society and family
  • A sexually-insatiable man
  • A prostitute and a jar of soot

Does the quotidian fit into one of these? Probably not: that’s why we’re not all in the news or medical case-studies.

That night, when I fell into bed, I picked up Steinbeck’s Sweet Thursday—the latest from my father’s pile. I was at that humanising chapter entitled There’s a Hole in Reality:

The seer said, “I saw a mermaid last night… There was a color in the night, not like the black and gray and white of an ordinary night. Down at the end of the beach a shelf of rock reaches out, and the tide was low so that there was a smooth bed of kelp. She swam to the edge and then churned her tail, like a salmon leaping a rapid. And then she lay on the kelp bed and made dancing figures with her white arms and hands…

“Was she a dream? Did you imagine her?”

“I don’t know. But if I did I’m proud that I could imagine anything so beautiful….”

(John Steinbeck, Viking Press, 1954)

I’d like to think that my stories are more remarkable than the information told to people one doesn’t know very well and doesn’t care about.

I hope that I write mermaids–because this reader reads to find questions and mermaids.

One response to “Mermaids and Other Stories

  1. I like reading to fascinate me into a world beyond my own. I’m not a writer, but I do scoot amidst the blogs to learn the world’s of others.

    Years ago I had a good friend tell me, “You are so stupid, ignorant, and there’s no reason for it! Why don’t you try opening a book and reading it?”

    Well, I couldn’t fight the wisdom of this double major, college educator. English and French, being her majors, I figured she had a good hold on what kind of dimwit I truly was.

    I simmered for a few days, pissed off that she had so blatantly accused me and did so in such a factual manner. (I was coming out of my comatose self-centeredness and facing her truth as my carpetbag.)

    Downtrodden, I went to her and asked her for some advice. She told me she’d get back in touch with me as soon as she could, she had a bit of research business to do. I left and headed toward home, still saddened that I had been such a huge disappointment in her life. Or, at least that’s what I had perceived.

    A knock on my door a bit later in the evening, and there stood Bonnie, with a Manila-colored folder in hand.

    “Are you busy?”

    “No, come on in.” (I think this is where I broke down and began sobbing and she began rocking me in her arms and telling me to hush. At some point I pulled my $hit together.)

    Opening her folder, Bonnie pulled out several typed sheets of materials. Upon them were the titles and authors of years gone by. She explained to me that these were some of the books she was required to read as part of her college years. She also had lists of others she felt were great and worthy of my attention. She asked me to look over the lists, broken into fiction and non-fiction. Did I recognize any of them? Most likely I mumbled a mere, “Maybe?”

    Sometimes the greatest gift we can give someone comes folded up in an imaginary box, tied with a ribbon and handed lovingly with the aura of truth bound tightly about its midst.


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