Ever since announcing that next year I will be shifting my writing priorities to my fiction projects, I’ve been feeling restless. I feel like I’ve committed to finishing out this year of monthly blogging, but my mind is buzzing with excitement, doubts, fears, and ideas about my fiction projects, and I find myself consistently dissatisfied with the ideas I have for blog posts.
I realized I’ve been writing about disability and chronic illness for so long now that I am not sure what kind of writer I am outside of that. I often feel like posting about my own inner journey as a human and as a writer, without framing it as a sociopolitical issue through the lens of disability, is self-indulgent and purposeless. Intellectually, I don’t believe this is true. I believe there is value in people sharing their experiences, stories, feelings, and art (even when those things aren’t intended to provide a service or catalyze change) just because there is value in people, period. However, it is still hard for me to internalize that belief about myself. It is difficult for me to give myself permission to invest my time into things that I don’t see as immediately useful to others. I think that this holds me back creatively, and it’s something I’d like to learn to let go of.
In the name of that growth, I want to spend the remaining months of 2019 using this space to share the thoughts and stories that I struggle to see as useful to others, but which are authentic to my journey right now. Part of that means starting to lean into fiction in a new way to help lay the foundation for achieving my 2020 goal of finishing a collection of short stories. So, I’d like to share the first scene of a short story I started writing around 5 years ago, called “Smaller.” The completed story will likely appear in the collection I’ll be working on next year.
The boy next to Nora smiled brightly as he looked out across the ocean.
He’d been joking with her, doing that thing some people can do where they make the sun seem brighter just by being. She looked at her hands, then placed them on either side of her hips, pressing them firmly into the sand beneath her.
“I’m going for a walk,” She said, trying to sound confident and breezy, “want to come along?”
“Sure!” He said with another smile. She smiled back and brushed off her hands as she stood up. The sand scraped against her hands as they swept against each other, leaving them pink and stinging slightly. For some reason the sting tugged at the ache in her chest. She had to run away from it. The ache wouldn’t catch her today.
The boy, Evan, followed her as she rushed to collide with the waves. The water smacked her knees, cold and rough with sand and salt. The sting was back, and she kicked the waves in protest. It was satisfying to kick, it eased the ache.
Walking towards the tall rocks at the end of the beach, they balanced on the wet line between land and sea. Nora dragged her toes through the ankle-deep water, watching it splash in foamy ripples with every step. Next to her, Evan shuffled the water between his feet like a soccer ball, creating small waves ahead of him. Nora’s stomach clenched as she caught herself studying him. They’d only known each other for a few days, but he didn’t feel like a stranger, and it made her nervous.
“We’ve been coming to this beach for as long as I can remember.” she ventured, hoping to nudge a conversation into motion. “There’s a picture of me eating sand over by that rock as a very fat baby. ” Out of the corner of her eye she saw him smile. Encouraged, she continued, “I used to climb on these rocks and pretend to be a mermaid. When I was twelve my brother and I used to call the area between the rocks up there ‘Mordor’ because we thought that the water splashing below the rocks looked like lava… we were really into Lord of the Rings.” She smiled at the memory and a puff of almost-laughter escaped from her nose.
“Have you always lived by the ocean?” he asked.
“No, when I was really little we lived in this tiny town in Michigan.” She responded, hoping this line of questioning wouldn’t lead them into a mire of polite small talk about trite geographical connections. Your family is from Michigan? My sister-in-law grew up in Lansing!
“Do you remember it much?”
“Bits and pieces.” She nodded, encouraged. “I remember snow, and this fence in front of our house that I used to climb on and would always give me splinters, and I remember once there was a nest in the door of the old barn we used for a garage.” Then after a beat she added a return question, “Before college, had you always lived in the same place?”
“No, we moved once when I was in elementary school.” He answered. “Just from Seattle to Olympia. I don’t remember the move much, except that when I switched schools they put me in a grade higher at my new school, which made me feel very smart.”
“I never thought I was very smart when I was a kid.” She hadn’t really meant to say it, it just came out. “I mean, I didn’t think I was not smart, but I wanted to be a genius. I really thought that if I was like, super smart, then when I grew up I could fix at least one big problem, like making sure that no kids in the world were starving, or finding a solution for climate change, or something. I would lay awake brainstorming these huge world problems, hoping that one day I would just have the right idea that would fix everything.” Hearing herself say it outloud, it sounded so preposterous that she half-expected Evan to laugh, but when she glanced at his face it was pensive and he was quiet as they reached the rocks.
She clambered up the first rock and stood atop it looking back at the beach. He followed, slipping just enough that she instinctively jolted towards him ever so slightly, fingers outstretched. Oblivious to her hand hovering two inches from the back of his arm, he steadied himself and walked beside her atop the rock.
She led the way, over one rock and up another to an jagged outcropping where, if you face the ocean, you feel completely surrounded by the swirling, splashing tide.
“When I was a kid,” he said, smiling to himself, “I wanted to be a superhero.”
“My brother, Owen totally went through that phase too.” she smirked as they lowered themselves to sit, with their feet hanging off the cliff, droplets of salt water flying up to pelt their toes and ankles. “He had this Superman t-shirt that he wore pretty much all the time for about a year.”
“My favorite was Spiderman and…” he paused, the corner of his lip twitching.
“Aaand?” She raised her eyebrows expectantly.
“And I had these Spiderman pjs and sometimes I would put them on and try to climb up the side of our house.” He covered his face with his hands in mock embarrassment and she laughed.
“Did you ever succeed?”
“Once I managed to climb to a second-floor window somehow, but then I fell and sprained my wrist.”
“Aww, poor little Evan.”
“I wasn’t that little, I was like, twelve.”
She laughed harder, “That makes it even better!”
“Okay, okay, what about you?”
“What about me, what?”
“Now or when I was little?”
“When you were little, I want to hear one of your embarrassing stories.” He smirked.
“What embarrassing stories?” She put a hand to her chest in mock affront. “I’ll have you know I have always been the pinnacle of reason and grace!”
“Right, of course. Forgive me for making such an outrageous assumption.” He said, his voice playful with sarcasm. “Still waiting on an answer though, favorite childhood superhero, go!”
“I didn’t really like superheroes when I was little. There were never enough girl options.”
“Okay, then who did you pretend to be when you were a kid?”
She smiled, “Princess Leia. Like, all the time. I would get really frustrated that my hair wouldn’t do the bun thing…” she gestured to the sides of her head, moving her hands in small spirals, “and that I didn’t have an excuse to fight with a light saber.”
“I am pretty sure even Carrie Fisher’s hair couldn’t really do the bun thing.”
“True.” She nodded. “Just don’t tell six-year-old Nora, she’d be crushed.”
He mimed locking his lips with a key and throwing it into the ocean dramatically. She laughed and looked into the water where the non-existent key would have fallen. Her stomach sank as she watched the water and foam swirl. Too late, she thought. Six-year-old Nora had been crushed by the reality of growing up. Nineteen-year-old Nora was so much smaller than six-year-old Nora had ever been.
Thanks to my patrons on patreon and my regular readers for sticking with me as I explore my dreams and find my voice as a writer! I may struggle to give myself permission to change things up, but I am lucky that the people in my life are encouraging me to go for it!