A Thousand Words (give or take) – Writing From Different Places
By Michele Sayre
First, I’ve retitled my blog yet again because the title I had before was a bit limiting. But it wasn’t just the title I was having trouble with.
For the last three and a half years I’ve been wanting to write book-length non-fiction and also shorter non-fiction pieces like blog entries and essays. Yet I couldn’t stay with that type of writing and I’ve been trying to figure out why. I knew I was coming to non-fiction from a very personal and emotional perspective but I wasn’t quite aware that I write from a completely difference place inside of me unlike how I write fiction and poetry.
Here’s how I figured out I write from two different places inside me.
With fiction, I write from a place of excitement born from my imagination and inspiration. When I get an idea for a fiction story, I get really excited. My heart pounds and my nerves hum and all I want to do is write the story. I don’t plan our plot out my stories and yes, I get bogged down and even driven nuts by that. But it’s still a place of excitement even when the story is emotionally gut-wrenching.
With non-fiction, I don’t feel that excitement at all. I don’t feel my heart pounding and my nerves humming in anticipation. I write non-fiction sometimes starting out with a weigh on my chest that almost makes it hard for me to breathe. I write it sometimes on the edge of bawling my eyes out. I write it thinking so hard my brain almost hurts and my eyes cross and burn.
With fiction I feel great joy in telling a story. Sometimes I feel like a kid sitting down to hear a story read to me, or opening a book for the very first time, or sitting in a darkened movie theater. It’s a need and an intense desire to be a part of that rich storytelling tradition.
With non-fiction, it’s about getting my emotional baggage out of my head and a ton of difficult thoughts in order. It’s a need to share, but not from a place of joy like fiction. And this has been a hard realization for me, but a much-needed and very welcome one for me, too. This realization has lifted a big weight off my shoulders I’ve been trying to lift for a long time. Knowing I write non-fiction from a different place inside me and that it’s not a joyful one helps me understand it’s okay to feel like I do about it. It also tells me I’m okay in not working on the non-fiction all the time because if I did I’d probably go clear around the bend to crazy-town. I thought it was because they were big projects with a lot of moving parts but it’s what I have to think and feel in order to write them.
Writing is like falling down a rabbit-hole into Wonderland sometimes with all its’ assorted pitfalls and weird shit to deal with. For me, understanding why I write what I want to has been a big part of my life over the four years. I say I have a complicated relationship with writing and not just because I’ve been doing it for so long, and not just because of how I started, but because of what it’s led me to.
I’ve written a lot of stuff over the last four years that’s been very intense and emotional as hell for me. I’ve shared some of it but most of it has been trashed as I’ve deemed it too raw and unfocused. I see it was now just me venting off excess thoughts and emotions because I know as a writer I can’t just rant-and-rave on the page and edit the crap out of it to get something meaningful. For me, there has to be focus in what I put out there. I’m very good with fiction now in terms of staying on track so now I’ve just got to figure out how to do that with my non-fiction work.
And another thing that’s interesting is how I write poetry. That’s a bit of mix between that humming energy of fiction with the weight of non-fiction. My poetry comes out pretty fast and then I edit it down from there. It flows pretty quickly out of me but it’s almost like I’m desperate to get it out of me.
I think a lot of writers would refer to my difficulties in writing as ‘writer’s block’, and I think that’s a valid term here. I’ve never dismissed the term ‘writer’s block’ as I know that there are times when a writer can’t write and they have to figure out why. Stepping away from the keyboard and going inside your head, especially into the storage unit as I call it, isn’t easy. But like I’ve said before, it’s more than worth it.
I feel better now having written this out. I feel a weight coming off me and a clarity that is sharper than before. I’ve had a lot of these moments of clarity as I call them over the last four years or so and though this one doesn’t have me jumping for joy, I’m grateful for it.
About Michele Sayre:
Writer of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. Native Texan, Uber-driver, taco lover, mom to chonky cat and diva dog.
Welcome to Write the Story! Each month Writers Unite! will offer a writing prompt for writers to create a story from and share with everyone. WU! wants to help our members and followers to generate more traffic to their platforms. Please check out the authors’ blogs, websites, Facebook pages and show them support. We would love to hear your thoughts about the stories and appreciate your support!
The Red Bench
By Cheryl Ann Guido
I have always loved this place, so quiet and serene. I could spend hours just gazing across the peaceful lake, its calm, crystal clear waters only broken by the occasional family of ducks creating gentle ripples as they swim across to the other side, or a bird diving under the surface in hopes of catching one of the plentiful fish living in its depths. In all the years that I have visited, I never saw another human soul either on the lake or enjoying the natural amenities offshore. I myself only stumbled across this place as a child exploring the vast conservation behind my rural home. I was an only child with friends who lived too far away to play with every day, so I often had to create my own entertainment, and on many days that meant an adventure into the woods with my dog.
When my folks passed away, the old farmhouse became mine and I moved back from the city in order to reclaim my roots. My divorce had been finalized the year before and my children were grown and living on their own, so it only seemed natural for me to return to the rural area I loved so much growing up. Besides, since my own golden years loomed before me, it seemed like the perfect place to live in retirement. After selling off the remaining acres of farmland to a few urban farmers who wanted to build their own charming country retreats, all that was left was the two-acre plot on which our almost one-hundred-and-fifty-year-old three-story farmhouse sat. It was a picture-postcard home, painted white with a classic styled peaked roof and a wrap-around porch. The government-owned wooded area behind it had been designated a park before I was born, thereby remaining untouched by commercial or residential development. I liked that. It meant that my secret place would always be there, pristine and perfect.
Each afternoon, I strolled down the tree-lined dirt path that led to the edge of the lake. There, I would sit on the same big boulder I had perched on all my life while I dangled my bare feet into the cold waters below. Sometimes I would bring a book and sometimes I would just spend my time staring off into the distance, drinking in the sheer beauty of this hidden gem. I never felt threatened or afraid I would be attacked by a wild animal, even though I often saw deer nibbling on low hanging tree leaves and heard wolves howling somewhere deep inside the forest. Once I even saw a black bear emerge from the thicket not too far from my viewing point. It saw me too. For a moment, we locked eyes and then, as if it agreed that we would respect each other’s right to be there, it turned and disappeared back into the dense underbrush.
One day, as I neared my destination, I saw something odd and quite out of place. A red park bench had been placed underneath an old, tall oak only a few feet behind my boulder. I rolled my eyes and grunted. Obviously, someone else had discovered my getaway. That did not sit well with me. I had no wish to share this little piece of heaven with anyone.
I scanned the area in search of the culprit, but I was alone. When I reached the bench, I absentmindedly traced my fingers along its ornate wrought-iron arm rests as I wondered who had put it there. At least it was alone. There were no others, nor was there a picnic table or any kind of camping equipment anywhere in sight. Upon further inspection, I discovered that the bench appeared to be of antique design and sported a shiny new coat of paint. The red pigment glistened in the sunlight that streamed through the tree branches. I resisted the urge to sit on it. In fact, I refused to. It had invaded my space. There was no way that I would patronize it. Annoyed by the presence of the new intruder, I climbed onto my rock. But instead of facing the lake, my narrowed eyes focused on the enemy in red.
My mind created impossible scenarios. It was too far from civilization to drag it out of the park. I thought about setting it on fire but ruled out that idea since I did not want to risk any errant embers setting the trees or surrounding woods ablaze. I considered returning home to get an axe, then come back and chop it to pieces. But the bench was constructed of both wood and metal and I would have to dispose of the wrought-iron arm rests and legs. A few trips back and forth to the lake would have effectively made the bench disappear, however, I had no wish to pollute the lake with trash. Besides, I wasn’t young anymore. Lifting those heavy pieces and tossing them in would have definitely been an ordeal. I closed my eyes in frustration. Apparently, I had no choice but to share my little Shangri-La with some unknown person. Now the only question was, with whom?
My eyes snapped open. Either I had dozed off or the stranger had appeared from virtually nowhere. I cocked my head to the side in surprise. He stood with both hands gripping the plain wooden handle of a cane burrowed partially into the dirt in front of his feet. His blue jeans were well worn, but clean with a red checkered shirt neatly tucked inside. The straw hat that sat on top of thick black hair was a bit frayed but still had enough of a brim to shade him from the sun.
“You must be Lena Hart.”
My brows arched. “Yes. How do you know my name?”
He ignored my question and gazed up at the sky. “Beautiful day, isn’t it?”
I lifted my chin. “I’m sorry. You appear to have me at a disadvantage, Mister …”
“Sorry ma’am, I seem to have misplaced my manners.” His laugh was deep and hearty as he extended his hand. “I’m Mike, Mike McMasters. I own this land …”
I pulled back my palm in surprise. “Wait a minute Mister McMasters, this land is a federal park. How could you have purchased it?”
“I bought it from the government. When I first saw this spot, I knew that it should never be spoiled or desecrated. It’s beautiful, possibly one of the most amazing places I’ve ever seen, so I bought it.”
“Yes, it is beautiful. I’ve been coming here since I was a kid. I didn’t know that parcels were being sold. If I had, I would have bought it myself.”
Mike started to sit down on the bench but stopped mid-way. “May I?”
I laughed. “It’s your bench. You don’t need to ask me.”
“Well, I always try to be a gentleman when there’s a lady around.” He winked.
I rubbed my chin. How could I have missed hearing about the park being sold? Mike McMasters perched on the edge of the seat, shifting his weight from side to side. Although grinning, he seemed a bit uncomfortable leaning on the cane between his feet. I smiled back, waiting for him to continue our conversation, however, he simply sat there, grinning like a Cheshire cat. I shook my head in an attempt to focus.
“Mister McMasters …”
“Call me Mike.”
I nodded. “Okay, Mike then. Are you planning on building a home nearby?”
“Ayup, also bought a big piece of land. Gonna build a house and hope to raise a passel of kids. Gonna plant some wheat and corn. Already ordered some hens, a rooster, and two cows.”
“Oh, that sounds nice. Most of the farms in this area sold their land for housing developments. It’s good to hear that there will still be at least one. Where is your land?”
He turned and pointed behind him. “Right over yonder.”
His finger wiggled in the direction of my own home. Could he be one of the people who purchased the land I had sold? The sales had all been conducted online since at the time I lived half a country away. I racked my brain trying to remember if Mike McMasters was one of the buyers but I could not place him.
“Well, Mister … um … Mike, it seems that we are going to be neighbors.”
He stood up slowly, pushing the cane further into the ground as though to help steady himself. As he advanced toward me, his right leg dragged a little, causing his gate to be a bit lopsided. I wondered if he would have help with his farm since his bad leg would obviously be a bit of a hindrance. Finally, he reached the edge of the water, bent down, scooped up a flat rock and sent it skipping across the glassy surface of the lake. I laughed.
“Hey, I used to do that too when I was a kid.”
He turned and faced me. “Ain’t no reason you can’t do it now.”
Jumping to my feet, I picked up a flat stone and sent it skidding across the water. It was not the best shot I ever made. In fact, I was amazed that I could even make it at all, but for some odd reason, the act gave me great pleasure. The smile faded from his face as he grew serious.
“You know, Lena, nothing is forever. One day, someone will clear this land and build houses all around the lake. People just can’t leave nature alone.”
I nodded my head. “I hope not. But at least it won’t happen for a while since this land belongs to you now.”
His eyes bored into my own. Then he inhaled deeply. “Well, I best be goin’. The sun will be settin’ soon enough.”
“I probably should go too. It was nice meeting you, Mike. Maybe once you get settled, you and your wife can come over to my place for a nice country dinner.”
My cell phone rang. Startled by the sudden sharp tone, I removed it from my pocket and looked at the screen. It was Tom Harding, one of the few friends I had grown up with. Tom had never left our small town and now owned and operated the local hardware store. He also ran a realty business as a side line and had handled the sale of my land. As I brought the phone to my ear I looked up. Mike was gone. Shaking my head, I wondered how he could have disappeared so quickly considering the difficulty he had walking.
“Hey Tom, what’s up?”
“Lena, just thought you’d want to know that the government is selling off the conservation behind your house. I hear a big developer has his eye on it. He wants to build a subdivision around the lake.”
“What?” I was dumbfounded. How could that be possible if Mike McMasters owned it?
“Tom, I just met the guy who owns that land. It’s not government land anymore.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Lena. I thought you knew the history. Years ago, a big fire destroyed the courthouse where all the land records were kept. Without written records, the owner could not be located and when nobody came forward to claim it, the property was designated abandoned. The government then took it over and turned it into a park but it’s not protected. I guess they decided they wanted to get rid of it and make some money too. So, unless someone produces a deed, you’re going to be looking at a nice little suburban community in your backyard.”
“I … uh … okay Tom. Thanks for the heads-up.”
When I got home, I poured myself a glass of wine and settled into the old comfortable armchair next to the fireplace. As I put my glass down on the small table beside me, I spied the bible that sat on top of it. The holy book had belonged to my parents. Not being a religious person, I had never touched it except when dusting, so had never opened it. Something compelled me to look inside. As I pulled back the well-worn leather cover, I saw that the first page consisted of a long list of the handwritten names of my ancestors along with their birth dates. But it was the two at the top that made my jaw drop. The date was 1850 and next to it, recorded into family history, were the names of Michael McMasters and his wife, Laura. An entry under their names revealed that Michael McMasters had suffered an unfortunate industrial accident in 1877 which left him with a severely injured leg. The paragraph went on to say that in spite of his handicap, he had built my home in 1879 and successfully operated a small farm. My finger followed the list of names, each containing a tiny bit of their individual history. The last name at the bottom of the page was my own. There was nothing underneath it. Apparently, my history had not yet been written. More astonishingly though was the fact that a man named Michael McMasters was my great-great grandfather. Their only daughter Emma had married Joshua Hart, and from that time forward, the McMasters’ property had belonged to the Harts.
The information, though interesting, was hard to process. The fact that someone named Mike McMasters had been my ancestor was too coincidental. As my fingers slid under the parchment to turn the page, I felt something and pulled out a small envelope. Hart House was written on the front. My hands shook with anticipation as I carefully opened it. After removing a small key, I unfolded a tattered, yellowed piece of paper. The crude drawing of the slatted bench under the tall tree seemed familiar. Turning the key over in my hand, I wondered what it all meant.
A light bulb went off in my mind. In the olden days, people often buried their valuables. Perhaps the tiny skeleton key opened a treasure box. A quick glance outside the window told me that the sun had not yet set. After shoving the key inside my pocket, I grabbed a shovel and raced back to the lake. Upon reaching the tree, I saw that the bench was gone. The earth was undisturbed. It was as if it had never been there. I shook off the impossibility of how and why the bench had vanished. My fingers touched the key in my pocket and I whispered a plea to the wind. Now ready for any possible reveal, I positioned the shovel on the ground and used my foot to push it deeper down into the dirt. After I managed to get through the top grassy layer, my labor became a little easier. I shoveled for the better part of an hour, making a neat pile of earth that I could replace easily. The sun was beginning to set. I had to either work faster or come back in the morning. Finally, the metal tip thudded against a hard surface.
I got down on my hands and knees and brushed the soil off of whatever was down there. My fingers felt a vertical metal band and I squealed with glee. It took a few more moments to remove enough dirt from the sides of the object to loosen it a bit and finally, I was able to lift it out. The chest was only about twelve inches wide and ten inches high. It was constructed of wood with a metal clasp. I inserted the key and turned. It worked. I took a deep breath and opened the lid. Inside, a gold locket rested upon some paper documents. With trembling hands, I opened the locket. A tiny image of a stoic Mike McMasters looked back at me. He was formally posed beside a woman I guessed to be his wife Laura. Exhaling with amazement, I clutched the locket to my chest.
Next, I removed one of the documents. It was a birth certificate for Michael McMasters. Another for Laura McMasters lay underneath. The last piece of paper was folded three times. As I unfurled the one-page document, my heart leapt with joy. The deed was dated March 12, 1879, and it detailed the acquisition of all of the land purchased by Michael McMasters including the original farm my house sat on, the lake, and all of the surrounding acres of forest. Since I was a direct descendant of Michael McMasters, the property belonged to me.
Tilting my head toward the sky, I closed my eyes and whispered, “Thank you,” and decided that the addition of a red bench overlooking the scenic perfection of nature would be just the thing.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: Although entirely a work of fiction, this story reflects my own belief that we should protect and preserve what little wilderness we have left. Every day more and more natural areas are being bulldozed for expensive new housing developments. Trees, our natural protection against wind and erosion, are being cut down at an alarming rate. Wild animals are being driven from their natural habitats then invading the neighborhoods that were once their home. It needs to stop. Because once nature is gone, we will be too.