Saturday Short: The Crow in the Tree

photograph of a crow sitting on a branch

“The bird in the tree does not mock you,” she says with the quiet assurance that came with age and study. Her smile creases the corner of her eyes into crow’s feet. You have never understood why wrinkles were called that. They looked no more like crow’s feet than the lines on the palms of your hands.

“You move too slowly for them to notice you.”

You bristle at that. You have always been the fastest in class. You’ve won ribbons out of the hands of competitors who underestimated you. If anyone is too slow, it is this old woman. “I’ve been coming to your lessons for four months now and still you haven’t taught me a thing that’s useful.”

She leans her head to the side. It reminds you of the crow in the tree that flew off a moment ago, after laughing its harsh call. You’re not amused, though she seems to be. “Perhaps you simply have not been learning.”

You cross your arms and have the urge to stick out your tongue at her, even though you are far too old for such childish things. “I came to learn earth magic and all you’ve talked about for months is the weather and the birds that have come to your garden and made me read books about identifying shorebirds that all look the same. They’re just little brown birds, who can tell the difference? Who cares? And now you think that standing here looking like scarecrows is somehow teaching? It’s ridiculous.”

She takes your rant that has been building in your chest like a festering boil for the last month and spilled out of you as if you were not in charge of your tongue without interrupting. She doesn’t cross her arms or look away. It is unnerving to be watched with some emotion you can’t put your finger on. It makes you angry though you couldn’t say why if asked. She doesn’t ask you.

“Everyone learns at their own pace. I had one student who took a year to be able to name the sparrows in the field and another who took two to identify all the trees on the farm.”

“That doesn’t matter!”

“Perhaps not to you, not yet. But it will.” She stretches her arms above her head, carefully so as to not hit you with her cane. “I think it is time for a nap. I will see you back at the house when you are finished.”

“How will I know when I’m done?” You want to scream, but don’t. You will keep some dignity even though there is no one around but you, your teacher, and the crow that is still sitting on a branch over your head.

“When you can recall what a flock of crows calls itself.” And she turns and begins walking back to the house without waiting for your reply.

You want to stamp your feet and yell, but she would hear and you won’t give her the satisfaction. Though you’re not sure if she would feel anything one way or the other. You look up at the crow and scowl. “I don’t suppose you know what she’s on about?”

The crow cocks its head to the side, in mimicry of your teacher. “Of course,” the crow says as you fall back, almost hitting your head on the side of the stone fence. “But you wouldn’t understand, not yet. I’m still not sure why she wastes her time on you. ”

Your voice is still not working as you watch the crow take to the air and join a flock, winging its way toward the farmhouse. But the word comes to your mind and you are relieved the crows did not want to act it out.

A flock of crows is a murder.

You reflect on that as you slowly rise and walk back to the farmhouse, not sure now at all where the world ends and the magic begins.

Saturday Short: One More White Rose

photograph of a white rose in bloom against a black background

Lili looked over her shoulder before cutting the white rose and stuffing it, thorns and all, under her jacket beside her heart. It was forbidden to cut white roses if they bloomed in the winter. And it had already snowed. It wasn’t technically winter by the calendar, but she didn’t want to have that argument with the Queen’s security forces.

She doubted they would consider the calendar reading valid.

She scuffed her footprints as she made the return journey. She pulled her scarf tighter around her face as the wind bit and caused the tree branches to claw at her as she passed. Lili didn’t curse the wind though, not this time, it would obliterate any trace of her trespassing before dawn. Perhaps sometimes even the bitter wind was kind.

It was a fifteen minute walk to her house. It took her twice that long as she slid into the shadows and held her breath not once but three times, avoiding the notice of the night guards. Their scarlet capes flapped like angry birds wings in the wind and they muttered to each other, as if they had caught a scent but could not find it again.

She did not bother opening the gate. It always creaked in the cold. Instead she vaulted over the wall surrounding her neighborhood’s houses and scrambled up the trellis on the side of the building until she came to her window. Its hinges glistened with oil and slid open on a whisper and closed on a sigh.

Though she was eager to finish her work, it would have to wait. Not even a god could cause a plucked rose to dry before its time. So she tucked the rose underneath one of the loose floorboards beneath her bed and tried to fall asleep as she listened to the coughing in the next room.

“One more and done,” she said before she fell asleep, but only the moon heard.

Saturday Short: The Girl Who Loved Cats

This is my first short (short) story of the year. I hope you enjoy it. I couldn’t help but start the year with a cat!

 

photograph of a long-haired cat with blue eyes

“They can’t understand you,” her brother said with his hands on his hips. He always stood like that when he was gearing up to lecture her. And it seems like all he did was lecture her. It would have bothered her, except he did it so much that she learned to not listen while looking like she was paying close attention. It served her well.

She nodded, as if she agreed, without breaking eye contact with the orange tabby sitting in on the rock in front of her. His eyes were blue, like the sky on the first clear day after a rain. He still hadn’t blinked. She would have to soon.

“You are too old to be talking to cats. What will the neighbors say?” He shook his head. She could see him out of the corner of his eye. She knew enough not to answer. “They’ll say you are weird. They’ll never be your friend. Don’t you want friends?”

She went still, just as the cat cocked his head to one side as if he heard something new that she did not. It was an old nail he drove into her heart, but it still hurt. She did not give him the satisfaction of a reaction.

He huffed, turned on his heel, and walked away.

“Finally,” the cat said as he blinked. “I thought that horrible human would never leave.”

The girl smiled in a very feline grin and settled down for a lovely conversation.

Looking Ahead to 2021

Hello, dear readers! Happy Boxing Day to those who celebrate it. Happy almost 2021 to everyone. It is hard to believe we are at the end of another year, but even a year as odd and hard and exhausting as 2020 must come to an end. And this is the week of looking towards the new year. So, let’s look ahead, not behind, and not get maudlin, but instead get ready for another new year for us to create and to learn and to grow.

While the turning of a calendar page won’t make things magically better or create more time in the day to write or to do anything, it does always seem to me o be a fresh start. There is hope at the beginning of the year. Another 365 days to play with, to create in, to live through, and to make better. I don’t do resolutions anymore, a bit too much pressure to make grand statements and, let’s face it, I have no desire to have any more guilt in my life.

But I do find setting some goals or intentions and making sure my schedule reflects them to be useful, not only for writing, but for every aspect of life. In the new year, I want to ensure I hold time for family and friends. (One of the few upsides of the pandemic, and let’s be honest there have been very few, has been more time with my immediate family). I need to continue to make time in my schedule to write, even if it means getting up early to have a few minutes to myself every day. And I need to continue to learn so I can show up and be in community with others doing work I believe in.

And, at the end of this year, I’ve found that it is so important to have time to exercise so I can keep up my energy to do everything else. I know it isn’t for everyone, but breaking a sweat is one way that I keep balanced and calm (even more than meditating, which I’m horrible at, but keep trying). I hope you’ve found what keeps you balanced, even through this year.

So what does any of this mean for this blog?

Expect some short (very short) stories in the new year and other posts as I work to be more intentional about not letting this blog atrophy. And hopefully we all create something we’re excited about in this coming year.

I wish you all the peace, joy, and energy you need to create and care for and be in the new year. Thank you, as always, for reading and I’ll see you in the new year.

A Very Belated Post on 2020 NaNoWriMo

Hello, dear readers. How are you? No, really, how are you? My mother feels that this question is only a social pleasantry and that to say more than “fine” is really TMI. I feel like the question is an invitation to get to know someone more deeply, to take a moment to pause and be human with them, to care, to empathize.

And I mean it when I say I hope you are doing well. And if you are not, that you have someone to talk to that will hear you and listen deeply and sit with you. And if not, that you find someone to do that.

How am I? I’m exhausted and happy and sad and angry and all of these things all at once. I wish we had a word for it. I haven’t found one yet that feels right to me. But mostly I’m feeling a bit embarrassed that this post about NaNoWriMo is so late after November ended. However, I wanted to do a bit of a reflection on this year’s NaNo so here it is. I’m going with the “better late than never” philosophy for today’s post.

Did you do NaNo this year? If you did, yay! If you didn’t, I understand. This year was hard and I thought about just opting out, but in the end I’m glad I signed up for it.

Did I win?

Well, I didn’t hit 50,000 words. I almost wrote 27,000, which was a win for me. And I wrote every day, which was another win.

I think everyone who wrote anything during NaNo is a winner. Sitting down and writing is a win, any day.

But what was really great for me for NaNo was hosting a couple of virtual write-ins. I was really nervous about doing that, but they ended up being so much fun. We had a small group, but it was the first time I’d seen some people in almost a year. It was great to write in community and to support each other.

It was also one of the few times during this school year that Zoom felt like a gift rather than completely energy draining. It was so lovely and made me even more excited for next year’s write-ins that will hopefully (fingers crossed) be in person.

So NaNo for me this year was a great way to reconnect with some writer buddies, get a good start on a new novel draft, and remember that it is okay (even good) to prioritize making some time every day for my projects and passions (even when the work and home to-do lists are never-ending).

I hope that you are finding ways to take time for your writing, your creative activities, your passions, too during this year of really unprecedented times. I have the privilege to do so, even when I feel overwhelmed, and I hope you have space to do so, too. If not, I hope the next year brings the space and ability to do so into your life.

And I hope the end of the year inspires you to take some time to plan what you want the next year to be and how you will get there.

For those of us who have the ability, consider supporting NaNoWriMo as they help support us with Come Write In Program and the Young Writers Program. Everyone has a story to tell and this is one way to help others tell their story.

Thank you, as always, for reading and listening. I hope you find joy in your writing and the work you are doing. Until we meet again, friends, take care and keep writing.

Hi, yes, I’m still here

Happy Saturday, dear readers (if any of you are still out there). I know it’s been quite some time since I’ve posted anything on this blog. I keep thinking about it and meaning to, but life has gotten in the way. This year has gotten in the way. I’m sure you can understand that as we’re all living through the same year, even if we are experiencing it in different ways.

But, yes, I’m still here. And, yes, I’ve still been writing.

I just wanted to check in with this blog and with you before the end of the year. And I wanted to say that one of my goals in the new year is to post here more regularly (and for me that means once a week). I need to get back in the habit of writing very short stories while working on my longer writing. It is good and it keeps the ideas flowing. Even though sometimes it is hard to find time for both.

I also wanted to say that I need to write more here about what I’m thinking about and reading about and doing in life. Because life influences our work and our writing and our creativity. So you might see more posts about the process than before. You might see more posts about how my activist work impacts my writing and thinking than before. You might get posts about what I’m reading than before. Or not…we all have to see what this next year brings. But I wanted to let you know there will be changes. And if you keep reading, that’s wonderful. And if you don’t, that’s fine, too.

We’re all just stumbling through this year, this life together. And some of us our writing our way through it, too.

I hope that you are able to find moments of relaxation, reflection, and rejuvenation as we come to the end of the year. I hope that you are able to find moments of joy. I hope you are able to fill yourself up so you can create and share your creations with the world.

I hope.

I continue to write, and take deep breathes, and figure out this whole writing and living thing and I know you are, too.

I hope you have a wonderful day and find wonder in the small things that can bring us joy. Like twinkle lights and hot cups of tea and an unexpected card in the mail or text from a friend. Let’s continue this journey together. Thank you, as always, for reading, for listening, for creating, for being.

In Solidarity

Yellow Peril Supports Black Power

“Yellow Peril Supports Black Power” by Monyee Chau

Hello, my friends. I hope that you are staying healthy and safe. That you are fighting the good fight and writing the good write. I’m straying today from posting a new short story or updates on writing and reading, to say on this site what should be obvious to all, but seems to still be falling on some unwilling ears: Black Lives Matter, violence against peaceful protesters is unacceptable, white supremacy needs to be dismantled in our country along with structural racism and the militarization of our police forces that support this continued inequality and inequity. It is ridiculous, shameful, and immoral that we have continued to allow the state of affairs to continue for so long and that we still have people who are more concerned for their own privilege and comfort than for their neighbors’ very lives.

I stand in solidarity with the Black community and with my other siblings of color in wanting and working towards a world where white supremacy and institutionalized racism no longer exist. Where we have equity and justice and peace. These are hard days and hard times, but those of us who have privilege, in whatever form, need to use our voices, dollars, and actions to support, uplift, and affirm the work and very lives of our siblings who are being threatened.

As writers, readers, creatives, people,  we have the responsibility to use our voices, our words, our actions to uplift each other, support each other, and challenge each other to do better. In the words of Maya Angelou, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

I want us all to know better so we can do better.

It is incumbent on us to see our everyday lives as the space where we need to continually challenge ourselves and each other to become anti-racist allies. To educate ourselves, instead of forcing BIPOC to expend more emotional labor to educate us. I say this as a mixed race woman who is of Japanese and German descent. I have both been on the receiving end of racism and received the privileges of “passing” as white depending on the mood and makeup of the white people around me. I work to use my relative position of privilege not to keep others down, but to work on myself and to work with others to use that privilege, in whatever (small) ways I can, to work to end white supremacy and create the kind of world I want for my daughter and for all children of color.

There are many, many creatives, activists, organizations who know so much more and do so much more and I want to highlight just a few things that may resonate with you as a creative, as a writer, as a reader. Read Ally Henny’s post on how to begin to decolonize your bookshelf.  Read, watch, follow, or all of the above, any of the resources/sources listed on this Forbes article, “First, Listen. Then, Learn. Anti-Racism Resources for White People.” I have to point out especially, Dr. Jennifer L. Eberhardt’s book, Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice that Shapes What We See, Think, and Do as an amazing resource among so many others.

While we, as writers and creatives, may create worlds of fantasy and daydream about distant galaxies. We all live on this one planet, in this one world. We cannot be apart from it. And we can use our creativity, our solidarity to make it better. To say we are sorry for our complicity in these structures that we all live in and to help shape new structures that uphold the dignity and humanity of us all.

Thank you for reading. Stay safe, stay healthy, and stay kind. And use your talents for the good because at the end of the day, it’s up to each of us to do what we can for the good to squash the insidious evil that wishes we didn’t see it for what it is.

Camp NaNoWriMo Reflection

Hello, dear readers! I hope you and your loved ones are staying safe and healthy. What a few months and what a year it’s been! I know this is a bit late as Camp NaNoWriMo finished at the end of April, but I wanted to share a few reflections.

I don’t presume to know about you, but it’s been hard to find time to write since all the shelter-in-place orders have been in place. Working at home with a toddler is hard and finding energy, either in the morning before everyone is up or at night after it’s quiet, is hard, too. So I found Camp NaNoWriMo more useful than ever this year.

Not because of the (almost non-existent) cabins or because of the emails during the month or any of that, but because it was a promise to myself that I would make my writing a priority for the month. That I would do something that I wanted to do, that others might find frivolous, that made me happy in the middle of the pandemic.

I gave myself permission to create and to enjoy the process. And, during the month, I wrote every day and got down 13,000 more words in the draft I’m writing. It was a great success and it has given me motivation to keep writing this month, even if sleep schedules, teething, and the chaotic end of the semester have meant that it has been a bit more slow going than last month.

Did you do Camp NaNoWriMo this year? Do you plan to in July? I hope you did and you do. Give yourself permission to continue creating. Creating is such a joyful act, even during these times.

And, since I know sometimes reading other’s reflections can be a bit boring, I thought I’d leave you with a bit of a short story I just started working on. We’ll see if it becomes a serial like Close Enough. I’m not sure yet, but it was fun to hear some new characters in my head. Enjoy and take care!

“We have no idea which moment in our lives will be the defining one on this earth and yet we let them slip through our hands like chaff. We convince ourselves that we will know that moment when it comes, but how can we when we spend so little time in the moment?”

“You speak nonsense, woman.”

“Says the man who cannot remember what he ate for breakfast.”

“I…”

She laughed, unkind ones might have said cackled. ‘At least I know what I ate for breakfast.”

He tossed in a handful of coins into her upturned hat, more out of habit than conscious reason. “No one cares what I ate for breakfast.”

“Perhaps they do. Perhaps they don’t. But you should.”

“Utter rubbish. You should concern yourself with more important things.”

The train’s whistle sounded and he did not hear the woman’s reply as he hurried across the platform.

That was the not the last moment in his life where fate spoke and he failed to listen.

 

 

Writing in the Time of COVID-19 and Camp NaNoWriMo

Hello, dear readers. I hope you, your family, and your friends are staying safe and healthy. It is a strange, unsettling time for the entire world. It seems odd to even be writing about writing during this time. Or honestly doing anything at this time, but I find it good to have something to do other than reading the news obsessively and trying to get work done at home with a toddler under foot (who thinks that every video conference call should include her). And writing provides an escape, a way to process, and a tether to a more normal time.

And it happens to be Camp NaNoWriMo this month. What a fortuitous event to have in April. Not as stressful as NaNoWriMo in November as we can pick our own goals and yet, it provides some structure for our writing. An anchor for whirling minds and worried hearts. A goalpost under our control and a small foothold in certainty.

I’m doing Camp NaNoWriMo this month and I hope you are (or will consider it), too. I’m using it as a commitment to making more progress on the draft of my novel. It gives me the “excuse” to prioritize taking some of my time for writing rather than the dozen of other things that need to be done for work and for home. And it provides another avenue for community in this time when we are all distant physically.

Because of this, I won’t be posting short stories this month as my writing time is limited (as I’m sure yours is, too) and I’ll be focusing on my Camp NaNoWriMo project. But I’ll be back with more stories after April and hope you continue to find them good reads.

I wish us all health and safety and kindness as we continue to life through this pandemic together (even as we are physically apart). And I wish us good writing, no matter what form, and inspiration found even in the darkest times. Keep writing, keep creating, and keep living. Help those you can with your actions and with your words. Be safe.

Saturday Short: Close Enough, Part XVIII

We fell onto our faces in the middle of a country road with the scream of the Inversion cut off by the portal snapping shut behind us. I turned my head to see only blue sky above and no darkness on the horizon.

I pushed up to sitting, thankful that I had not landed on my sword and folded it. I wiped my hands against the shredded cloth of my apron and felt a lump in my pocket.  I pulled out a teaspoon and laughed. Its back was dented where it had taken a blow from one of the goblins that tried, and failed, to sever my leg at the hip. The universe truly did have a sense of humor.

Then I turned to Sami who groaned, then went as still as a cornered mouse when her eyes met mine.

“That was lesson three,” I said saving her the trouble.

“I…I don’t understand.”

“Lesson three,” I said, standing and reaching out my hand for hers. “Blood is not thicker than the Sisterhood.”

She blinked her eyes and looked away. “Am I still in the Sisterhood?”

“No.”

Her shoulders sagged.

“You are still my apprentice and it is time for lesson four.”

She looked up at me, “Really?”

“Yes. Now come, we have work to do.”

And she took my hand and looked around, a new line of worry creasing her forehead. “Um, we’re not near the farm, are we?”

“Close enough. It is over there.” I pointed to a speck far across the valley, almost a half-day’s walk.

Sami sighed. “Of course.” Then she surprised me by not complaining further and beginning the walk home.

“Silas is probably already there, isn’t he?”

I made a noncommittal noise. I didn’t want to make her feel worse, but it was almost certain that Silas was already in the house, curled up in a sunspot, waiting to chide me for being late in getting him cream.

“Of course, that damn cat.” She said it without malice and I had to hide a smile. “Is there really another lesson?”

I nodded. “There is always at least one more.”

Sami sighed before beginning to laugh. She was Found, the Sisterhood was whole, and I joined my apprentice in laughing because somethings cannot be said. They must only be shared in the relief of laughter or the sharing of tears, but they bind us thicker than blood and always will.