A bee bobs over my stack of education — a Paperwhite Kindle in a tattered green case; a copy of Story Genius by Lisa Cron as worn as old summer flip-flops; a cheap plastic pencil box filled with colorful gel pens and peony-pink sticky notes; a folder full of plots and timeline notes. Despite the bounty contained there, the bee moves on to inspect the unfurling of French marigolds. The flowers are a deep cabernet, lined in dark gold. I grew them from seed and smile that the bee acknowledges my efforts to garden.
Will my thesis, one day, know such regard?
As artists, we require the interaction of readers, viewers, listeners the same way my courgettes requires the company of bumblebees. Otherwise, we labor without fruit. A writer writes, but there must be some sort of regard of the product. Even a private diary or feelings journal offers insights when reread. At the very least, reading our own output establishes literary art. We are the first to be transfixed or transformed by it.
Handing over our work to the gaze of unknown worker bees feels like exposure. We keep our blossoms close while we write, shading future fruit from direct sunlight with leaves broad as palms as if to say, hands-off. Yet, we must invite the bees in closely, open up tender petals of the page and allow for probing investigation. What does the reader see, we wonder, hoping they don’t see the parts we thought protected. But we put it all out there — our thoughts and feelings, our experiences and imaginings, our deliberations and unconscious biases — and call it fiction.
We call it many things, our literary art, our edible blossoms, our hopes of fruit and best sellers. We call it memoir or personal essay or environmental writing. We call it fantasy or romance or young adult. We call it prose or poetry. In the end, creative writing is fiction the way courgettes are zucchinis. Different names for something beautiful we grow to be consumed. The moment we push the seed into the soil is the same moment we press the keys. We start a story.
Some might argue the semantics or bristle at calling their output fiction. Am I writing fiction right now? Yes, I am. That doesn’t mean I’m deceiving you or making up stories, but I am reaching down into my heart with content from my head to place my philosophizing into a structure that connects with you. It doesn’t get more authentic than this. To me, I’m giving shape to my truth, hoping to link to yours. Wallace Stegner says we can’t invent without experience. Fiction is rooted in every essence of our lives, no matter what name we give it.
Stegner explains the importance of filling our containers the way we amend the soil of our gardens:
“What I meant was that experience sought for the sake of writing about it may produce reporting, or travel books, but it is not likely to produce literature. And experience is of many kinds, some of them so subtle and quiet it takes a good Geiger counter to detect them.
The way to gain experience is to live, but that does not mean one must go slumming for the exotic or outrageous or adventurous or sordid or, even, unusual. Any experience, looked at steadily, is likely to be strange enough for fiction or poetry.
By the same token, the individual who has lived deeply and widely—and I mean lived, not gone slumming or adventuring for literary purposes—has more to write about, and perhaps a better base for mature wisdom, than someone less privileged.
And yet, I don’t know. What did Thoreau know? He lived deeply in Walden, deeply in books, deeply in his mind. By occupation he was nothing spectacular, part-time surveyor and handyman.
The subject of fiction is not just what one did yesterday. It may borrow from the experience of others than the author.”
Stegner, Wallace. On Teaching and Writing Fiction (pp. 41-42). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Whether we write such experiences in our diaries or in stories constructed of craft elements, we dig first within. No wonder we can feel so exposed to the bees even though our relationships benefit what we write. Bees and readers want honey. We want to harvest what we planted.
So, it is a hot one. As I try to garden and write, summer arrives relentlessly. I’m missing Vermont, the summer lands of Stegner and Slaytons. What drew my mentor from the West, also draws me — roots. We are a restless sort, Westerners. I am what Stegner describes as the displaced person, “Acquainted with many places, he is rooted in none.” Thus my attraction to a region of placed people, where family has lived for many generations. It is hallowed ground and a sanctuary to someone like me who can appreciate transplanting among the deep roots, even for a brief time each year.
I think writers are a mixture of placed and displaced people. Even rooted, we don’t always feel we belong. Unrooted, and we seek community. We explore externally and then write internally. Stegner calls us to learn to be quiet where we don’t own our writing but belong to it. He was talking about land and rootlessness, but I see it as a driver of all art. The artist doesn’t own the seed, nor does the bee own the blossom, but together they belong to the harvest.
Take a long drink of water this week and share what comes up from the well.
July 2, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that includes the word blossom. You can use the word as a noun or a verb, or even as a name. How does it fit into your story? Go where the prompt leads!
Respond by July 7, 2020. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. Rules & Guidelines.
Submissions closed. Find our most current weekly Flash Fiction Challenge to enter.
Doing Right by Charli Mills
“What’s wrong?” Cate snapped open the canvas covering the freight-wagon. Three pale faces from within stared back in wide-eyed silence.
“Zeb broke my blossom.” Abigail, the youngest, wailed.
“Not-uh. Just made a pile of petals, teachin’ Joseph numbers like Ma did.” Zeb, the eldest, scowled. Joseph hid his face on his older brother’s shoulder.
Cate bit the stem of her pipe. She was a muleskinner not a childminder. With their parents buried three days back, none of the other families stepped up in charity. So, Cate found another blossom, wiped the tears, soothed the fear, and resumed her mules.