Saturday, September 3, 2016

Short Stories that Wake Me from Sound Sleep

This morning, I spent over 80 minutes waiting for the automatic updates to my computer to be finished. While I have no doubt that those updates are important, I'd have liked to have known ahead of time that the next time I turned on my computer, I'd need to build in 80 minutes for these updates. If Microsoft can set up updates to come to me automatically, the company could give me a heads-up about how long it would take.

What upset me most is that I have short stories that I'm burning to write--and then I had to cool my heels.  I tried to write a poem and then to revise.  I looked through old poetry notebooks to determine what should be typed into the computer--if I was ever allowed to use it again.

But let me focus on the wonder of having short stories that appeal to me so much that I get out of bed burning to write--my plan was to write first, do blogging and Internet noodling.  And then I had to wait . . . and wait and wait and wait.

The first short story came to me whole on Thursday night during spin class, and I wrote part of it yesterday.  It's part of the collection that I'm thinking of as the activists at age 50 series.  So the stories are linked because all of the characters work at the same type of for-profit artsy/techy/designy school, and they've all had some type of social activism in their past--some have worked to overthrow apartheid, while some just built Habitat houses.
So, in the current story, a Photography teacher who has a certain physical and fashion similarity to me (specifically, a bit larger and a bit frumpier--OK, actually more than a bit--than the usual fashionista) has just been asked to take over the Fashion department--but she has an interesting secret in her past which may come to haunt her.
I've had elements of the other story bubbling around in my head for weeks now, but I wasn't sure how to weave them together.  Earlier in the week, I read a story in The Washington Post (which I can no longer find) about how to prepare your house/household for possible disasters.  It asked you to imagine camping in a tent in your front yard--possibly for weeks--what would you need?
Yesterday I went back to the Survivalist posts, a great series that Slate did in 2006.  I remember when I first read them, I wanted to stock up on some of the supplies mentioned.  I kept lots of bottled water in the bathtub in case terrorists attacked the water.  I kept a couple of gallons of water in the trunk of my car in case I needed to evacuate quickly--not from a hurricane, but from some other kind of disaster.
I was still traumatized from the disastrous hurricane season of 2005, and so I started to prepare for every possible catastrophe.  Now I am less traumatized--and less prepared. 
I thought of all the disasters I've prepared for in the past--keeping my 76 Monte Carlo a few years longer than advisable because the ignition would survive the electromagnetic pulse that would come with a nuclear blast.  I've prepared for terrorist attacks, keeping a supply of food and water in my office, just in case I can't leave the building and get home.  I'm somewhat prepared for hurricanes--and it would only take me a day of picking up last minute supplies and filling water containers to get prepared.
But then I think of all the disasters that have surprised me: friends dying from cancer, my mother-in-law's death by medical-industrial complex, various addictions roaring up decades after we might expect them to affect us, on and on I could go.  Rarely a week goes by that I don't say, "Wait, I was preparing for a different disaster, not this one."
Yesterday, during yet a different spin class, I figured out how to weave it all together into a story that will fit with the collection.
The short stories feel important, in the way that the work I was creating in undergraduate school felt important--a way of documenting facets of 20th and 21st century life that haven't been done yet.  The stories wake me out of a sound sleep.  And even when the computer isn't cooperating, my mood remains up--ah, the joys of stories that have come again!

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