Flash Fiction Friday: I Made it All Up

Hello Readers, Writers, and Friends,

Welcome back to Friday and the fiction that happens here each week. I hate this week’s prompts. There. I said it.

I’m feeling really uninspired of late, and I have to keep reminding myself that the the writer writes even when it’s hard. The writer returns to the work, even when it feels like work. And today it feels like hard work.

I’ve been reading more than usual lately too. Tamsyn Muir’s Harrow the Ninth, second in the Locked Tomb Trilogy, Holly Black’s The Modern Fairy Tales compendium, Jordan Peterson’s Beyond Order:Twelve More Rules for Life, not to mention the stack of TBR and the Basque folklore I’ve been reading as research for my current WIP.

I’ve been watching lectures and listening to podcasts on poetry as it is nation poetry month. I have heard really valuable insights and airy fairy fluff in equal measures. I’ve written a smattering of haiku, half a children’s book, and a few hundred words in the WIP. It hasn’t been glorious, but it hasn’t been nothing. I keep trying to tell myself that for now, this spring, this year, this moment that’s okay.

So today, I am just going to riff. No prompts. Nothing but a notion, and we will see how it plays out.

If you have any interest in using the prompts I pulled (I have none) they are: inspector, talking dog, home movie enthusiast. P.S. I guess my prompt to myself ended up being: invisible pet. Feel free to use it instead.

A dear sweet friend gave me this little guy. He’s been sitting with me while I read of late.

Remember when you were a kid and you dreamed about having some insane kind of pet? You’d see a rhino on Animal Planet and ask if you could get one. Or you’d consider it a reasonable possibility that a crocodile could live in the bathtub. I think we all do it. I think we all get a little awe struck by the idea of confining mega fauna of some sort to our rigid human dwelling spaces.

Well, I ca tell you with no uncertainty that this is a child’s fantasy that is absolute bull. There is nothing delightful about having a massive roommate that could stomp you to powder at a moment’s notice.

I know because I accidentally adopted an elephant.

In North America this not merely a near impossibility, but a crime. At least I’m fairly certain it’s a crime. Elephants are endangered. They don’t just wander around like feral cats and have a litter in your backyard.

But Shelly did.

Shelly wandered up my street, clearly dehydrated and distressed. I pulled up one of those ten gallon planters I had in the back yard, filled it with water and sat there with her while she drank it down six times over. Then she walked through the open gate into the back yard, laid down and went to sleep.

I called animal control. They hung up on me.

I called 911. They reminded me that prank calling emergency services was a crime and then hung up on me.

I decided that a loose elephant was not a thing that would go unnoticed, so I turned on the news hoping some sanctuary or zoo or attraction would be asking for information about their missing elephant.

Nothing. I figured my neighbors would call it in at some point. She wasn’t small or quiet. I mean we had a home owners association that fined for weeds in your yard. An elephant would surely be an issue.

But it never was. No one said a word. The elephant in the room simply wasn’t. So I bought some hay from a local supplier. I sprayed her down twice a day and gave up all hope for my garden boxes. Shelly just became a part of my life, a big part.

Manure disposal, keeping her fed and watered, giving her a sense of security ate up all my time and resources fast.

I sat on my porch watching her munch one day, when a snake went slithering through the far side of the lawn. It was a big one, but not a dangerous one. That didn’t matter to Shelly. She trumpeted, stomped the heck out of the snake, and then the fence next to the snake, and then my neighbor’s raspberry bushes for good measure.

My neighbor came out of their back door screaming at me, asking what had happened. All I said was, “snake.” Then I pointed at Shelly.

My neighbor said I was insane and they were suing for damages.

I said that wasn’t necessary, I’d pay for the fence, though I wasn’t sure how, and that something like a lawsuit would force me to get rid of Shelly.

“Shelly?”

“Yes, that’s what I call the elephant.”

“What elephant?’

My neighbor searched my yard, her eyes roving right over where my elephant stood huffing and puffing from the exertion. It became immediately apparent to me that this was the explanation for Shelly’s apparent absence from the news. No one could see her or hear her but me.

Somewhere in my brain six year old me was screaming with glee, “An invisible elephant?! We have the coolest pet ever!”

And then on the other side of my brain rational, grown up me was experiencing a dread so profound I would call it existential. I had in my possession an invisible elephant. I looked around my yard carefully, hoping to see piles of uneaten hay, or a garden box that had not been trampled as I’d imagined. A psychotic break would be much easier to understand and explain than an unprovable pachyderm.

But there was nothing. Nothing but my neighbor’s rampaged fence and the lost dreams of summer ripened raspberries.

Nope.

I couldn’t deny it, not without sounding just as insane as if I tried to explain its validity.

Anyway, that’s when I rented a trailer, bought a bunch of land in New Mexico, and relocated. Me, Shelly, and the jackalope that showed up when we arrived.

So take my word for it kid. You on’t want a giant pet. Get a gold fish. One your mom can see. You’ll thank me.

All my best, and happy Friday.

Good Questions Get Good Answers feat. Cal Newport

I’ve been an advocate for devoting personal, solitary time to the completion of worthy endeavors since I was in high school. It didn’t make me popular then. I don’t really expect it to now, but I take so much hope from seeing an increasing number of people applying the kinds of principles espoused by the author of “Deep Work,” Cal Newport.

eyeglasses on book beside macbook

Photo by Fallon Michael on Pexels.com

He has recently started a podcast called Deep Questions with Cal Newport where he fields questions from his email list subscribers about living a deep, intentional life that is aimed at skill acquisition and work/life balance. He expands on the concepts in books (which if you haven’t read them, why not?!) on a slightly more personal level.

Well, in a moment that surprised the heck out me, I popped onto iTunes to listen to the latest episode, titled “Battling Email, Online Learning, and a Game Plan to Escape the Shallow Life,” and guess what?

He took my question! By accident naturally. It was part of a segment he calls question roulette, where he pulls a random question from the many he gets and answers it on the fly.

And he pronounced my name correctly!! Please take note for anyone pronouncing my name in the future.

If you just want to hear my question and his response you can click the link above and skip to 21:45. But the information is golden across the board. And really you should just subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts.

I do think we are experiencing a transition within certain sectors of American society. The frenetic, distracted, stress-glorifying pace we have been told is optimal in the technology age is just not satisfying us. And it’s not producing high quality content that is meaningful and resonant. That can only be accomplished by the slow, practiced, dedicated attention to building skills and conscientiously applying them.

If that intrigues you at all, Cal and his books are a great place to start.

Enjoy!

 

Update: Winners!!

Congratulations to Peggy, Jamie Hixon, and Jacqui S. on winning the paperback copies of The Accidental Apprentice!

I’ll be contacting you about your prizes soon.

The rest of you can still get your hands on the new paperback edition of The Accidental Apprentice on Amazon. It’s available in ebook and audiobook too! For kiddos who like to read along with the audio you can read the ebook for free with Kindle Unlimited and snag the audiobook with a credit on Audible.

I think everyone could use a good escapist read right now. What’s yours?

XvaDwcV2Qy+d14OH44F3Bg

Wild Irises making the most of a long spring in Northern Arizona

This week I am on vaca in the Rockies, but I am working on the final draft of Ideal Apprentice. I know I’ve become a better story teller since I wrote my first book, and if the responses from beta readers are any indication, you are going to love it!!

Be smart and stay safe.

~Anika

Tomie DePaola: A Legacy in Narrative Craft

This is my copy of Strega Nona.

IMG_2546As you can see it has been well loved.

As I’m sure most of you know yesterday saw the passing of the artist and author Tomie DePaola. The tragedy is not that he passed. As the Stoics remind us, we are all mortal and our end must come. No, for DePaola much of the loss is in the timing. With the modern equivalent of the Black Death running rampant anyone who simply passes on of natural causes, regardless of their impact go mostly unremarked upon and are quickly brushed aside in favor of blame-laying, fear-porn headlines and the growing lists of those taken by the CoVid Reaper.

Tomie DePaola would have been mourned with vigil and sincere outpouring of emotion. Curated galleries of his prints would have appeared in museums, and may still yet. He defined what it meant to craft a narrative in picture and word, and sometimes without word. There might have been a parade, and certainly a retelling of how he told his elementary teacher that he didn’t need math because he was going to write and illustrate books when he grew up.

If you are looking for a list of his books or vignettes about his life or his art, Google is your friend. There are those that did not let his passing go unmarked, but ever since I learned of it, I cannot stop thinking about what his work has meant to me and what he left behind.

So right now, I just want to talk about mortality.

There are two legacies we can leave in our wake: 1. The relational, who we were to other people and who they were to us, how we treated those around us, and were we connected in positive or negative ways to many or few and 2. Our craft.

The deep work required to build a skill to the point of excellence is a shrinking thing in modern society. Too many of us feel and succumb to the pressure to be everything, do it all. But in chasing this many faceted ideal, we make our own purpose unclear and never cultivate talent into craft. We lose touch with the authentic bits of ourselves that really matter, and we never give ourselves the chance to transcend the mediocre.

And let me be clear, “the World” (whoever that is) doesn’t have to know your work for it to reach a level of technical and artistic mastery that makes others sit up and take notice. My grandmother passed away late last year, and based on the numbers at her funeral you might suspect that she had a minimal legacy. Maybe in some quantity based metric she did. But all who knew her spoke of her service. Her constant attention to the needs of others was the hallmark fo who she was. And her quilts!! She made some of the loveliest, softest, most beautifully stitched quilts in the world. They are considered treasures among our family. The masterpiece she made for my wedding, one of the last before arthritis rendered her hands unable, is undergoing quilting triage at the able and expert hands of my mother-in-law who shares her talents, because we loved that blanket a little too well.

In my office sits a framed 3×5 canvas depicting a cabin in winter, a delightful monochrome painting done by my paternal grandmother that reminds me every time I sit down to work that I am an inheritor of a legacy of creativity. She was a woman so gentle and intuitive that hummingbirds would sit in her hands. Her paintings are treasured possessions among our family, not merely for their beauty and proficiency, but for the piece of her they carry into the future.

If either of these women had said, “Well, I don’t have time,” or “I’m just not that creative,” their families, if not the whole of society, would have lost out on an example of what it means to strive to develop oneself and examples of what expression channeled by skill can manifest.

The world, most school age children of my generation, and those of future generations can thank Tomie DePaola for doing the same. For learning craft and technique and applying it again and again in ways that were not always successful, but left indelible imprints on those that experienced them. From the levity and silliness of The Popcorn Book to the wordless quiet of Sing, Pierrot, Sing he invited all audiences to feel and laugh and wonder with him. He embraced his own style when illustrating the words of others and his distinctive voice when creating his own. He illustrated the tales of his Christian faith, unabashedly loving Christmas and illustrating multiple yuletide tales.

IMG_2544

Just a few of my newest acquisitions. Story time!

He was himself. And he was an artist. And because he simply set out to do work that he enjoyed, pursued the skill that resonated with himself, and didn’t stop he leaves us a bounty. Not only will I get to introduce my children to The Knight and The Dragon, but a tiny piece of Tomie will linger in the learning of my children and perhaps theirs. It will inform and inspire my own work, as it did my development as a child. All artists cultivate a creative lineage, master storytellers and artists that leave their mark on us as we grow into the artists we will be.

It is my desire, arrogant though it may be, to leave such a legacy. To construct a body of work, one story at a time, that others (though perhaps not many others) will cherish. The greater challenge, for me anyway, is to be the sort of person that even if unremarked on by the world, would be a touchstone of my family’s ethic. I am the recipient of the love and example of so many good people who simply sought to do good in the world, to beautify it, to make it a little more livable for those around them.

If my work is remembered with fondness because I am remembered with fondness, I think that might be enough. And if the work itself is good enough that others know it and carry it on, well that’s good, too. I think it is the change in our nature, not production numbers, wrought by humble creation– daily pursued– that brings us peace in the end.

I hope he had such peace. I hope he knew how many of us loved him and were grateful for how willing he was to share himself with us. And that his passing, despite its appointed moment, did not go unmourned or unmarked. We will miss you, Tomie.

~Anika