The urge to craft a story surpasses available material. Sometimes I forget my sketchbook and resort to what I have at hand — the blank side of the insurance card in the car, a discarded grocery list at the bottom of my purse, a recycled envelop.
When I was nineteen, I waited tables at a casino dinner house. Between serving meals and refilling ketchup bottles I wrote bits of stories on napkins. More often than not, I tossed the words in the garbage along with food scraps at the end of my shift. Back then, I was practicing stories. I had no desire to share them.
It’s not until the story develops into an emotional being that takes on a life of its own that the need grows into one of sharing. But what if all you have are scraps?
I’m sitting at an oak library table, casting my eyes between the bank of windows overlooking Portage Canal and the magazine I’ve opened to read. Outside, snow falls like drifting down feathers. Seagulls still circle low over the water that has yet to freeze but looks dark gray as if it were slowly morphing into steel.
This space that envelops me in books and snow-scape is called the Michigan Room. It’s where I lead a small writing activity called Wrangling Words once a month. It’s just like our weekly flash fiction challenges but in person. The snow has returned without ceasing, and likely everybody has stayed home to hunker down. But I love this space I’m in, outside my desk, filling my mind and imagination. Wood grain, pages, snowflakes — scraps of the moment.
The book review I’m reading of Retablos by Octavio Solis has introduced me to a folk art that I’ve seen in the southwest but did not know by name. It’s as old as the Spanish Conquest, based on the religious decorative panels found in Catholic Churches. As a storytelling medium, a retablo often uses scraps of metal to commemorate a near-disaster by those who survived.
The book reviewer, Deborah Mason, writes:
“By commemorating the event, the retablo can transform that story of salvation into myth. But memory is slippery, and retelling a story, even on a buckled sheet of metal, results in embellishments and refinements.”
I’m staring at snow, realizing no one is coming today, and I’m relieved for the moment to grab a scrap of paper from by box and start scrawling ideas. It’s an old woman’s story. It’s a story about me embellishing the natural wonders of a humble bog pond. It’s a story I’m trying not to kill beneath the hammer blows of revision. I feel surreal, writing in this strange and yet wonderous space.
None of it makes sense to read. I’ve been writing every day on Miracle of Ducks, pushing aside my inner critic who has rolled eyes so much I think I’ve blinded the annoyer. What I’m writing feels like a train wreck. I was almost ready to give up, to concede that one’s first novel is indeed practice. It’s not saying what I want it to say. I keep TUFFing my drafts and overhauling chunks to fit a new scene.
But it is this idea of myth of slippery memory that brings me back to a character who once emerged in my flash fiction. She actually fits into Danni’s story like a missing puzzle piece. Ramona is now Ike’s grandma who helps carry the story and solidify my decision to relocate it in Idaho.
It took 30,0294 words, a scrap of paper, and a book review about Retablos to figure out my blueprint, the underlying motivations of my protagonist.
I never stop writing. I write every day. But that doesn’t make me productive. Often, it’s exploration and communicating the stories of now. It’s about creating and connecting. I’m hardly accurate in my goals, but my vision, my north star shine brightly, and so I write my way through it all.
Deborah Mason continues in her review:
“Yet despite its imprecision, the retablo expreses a profound truth not only about its maker but also in the world he or she lives in. The retablo itself becomes part of the myth as well.”
Fiction or non-fiction, we write into the truth. We feel the story and layer the details onto the page. We rework the scraps until they bloom — the quilter, the painter, the metal worker, the writer — we all work in scraps until we have captured the story that speaks our truth.
And speaking of table scraps, I hope to be enjoying left-overs next week. It is Thanksgiving. I’ve decided to take that week off, something I don’t often do at the Ranch. After posting this collection, I’ll be on turkey duty and savoring leftovers until the next challenge on November 29.
Submissions closed. Look for our latest Flash Fiction Challenge.
November 15, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that uses scraps. It can be scraps of dried flowers, paper, metal, fabric, food — any kind of scraps you can think of. Then write a story about those scraps and why they matter or what they make. Go where the prompt leads you.
Respond by November 20, 2018. Use the comment section below to share, read and be social. You may leave a link, pingback or story in the comments. Rules & Guidelines.
Scraps of Imagination (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills
Cleaning out Ramona’s dresser felt wrong, but Danni could no longer sulk over coffee at the kitchen table. She heard Ike tell his Uncle Logan, “At least she wasn’t a hoarder.”
True, Danni thought. Ramona was frugal but wrapped in her sock-drawer were rolls of dollar bills. She thought about showing the men and making a Grandma-was-a-stripper joke. Ramona would have chuckled. Danni spied a scrapbook beneath. Curious, she opened up pages to fairy drawings and cursive writing. Scraps of dried flowers mingled with Ramona’s fertile imagination before dementia robbed them all of who she was.