I was lamenting not writing more, so Dave encouraged me to write. This is always a good piece of advice, and one I really need to follow more. One I would follow, if I wasn’t so distracted with the other many facets of life, which are all very important, of course, but frequently beg me to examine my priorities. Which is more important to me, straight As or the crafting of tales? Which is more important, keeping up perfect attendance for frisbee, or spinning stories from the ether of dreams? Which is more important, knowledge and glory and science, or performing and completing the work I love and always return to?
None of these are easy questions with obvious answers, but yet I return to them day after day. I lament not writing, so I say, “so write”! And then when I write, I think, oh, I should really be studying for that preliminary exam on Thursday…
As I said, no easy answers.
Recently (in the past 1.5 years), I have come to pride myself as a dilettante, one with many interests and skill sets. I’ll think, oh, yes, I can be a scholar and a scientist and a pianist and a consumer of media and still be a writer, of course I can. Yet, the caveat of being a jack of all trades is that second line of the saying, “master of none.” It brings to mind a statement made by Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers, that true mastery of a skill comes only after the magic ten thousand hours of practice. It’s ultimately a matter of time, the accursed thing. You can only master so many things.
Here is the writing I dashed off in twenty minutes when Dave advised me to write. It has only been marginally revised. It’s nothing I consider particularly amazing, but it has its good bits. Tell me what you think. I figure that if I’m ever going to be an author*, I had better start letting people read my creative pieces occasionally.
“So. Important questions. Have you ever been ice skating?”
The tree leaned above us, spreading its branches like lace over the sky. Milky moonlight dripped through onto our thick gloves and warm jackets. When we breathed, the mist of our air hung in the beams of light.
“No,” I said.
“What?” he said. He gripped a branch and placed a brown boot on the bark of the tree. “You haven’t? How is that even possible?”
I shrugged, clasping my woolen hands together in front of my mouth. “Never got around to it, I guess. My family doesn’t really do outdoorsy things.”
“Well. Looks like I’m going to have to remedy that,” he said with a grunt as he hoisted himself into the tree. “You have missed out on so much, Alison. Seriously.”
I took off my mittens, despite the bitter chill. The night was clear, and the meager heat of the day had long since dissipated into the stars and velvet black. I grasped at the branches. The bark of the old apple was biting.
“Yeah, yeah,” I said. “I know. Rub it in, Mr. I-climbed-Kilimanjaro-at-age-eight. And-have-a-black-belt-in-four-disciplines.”
“Five,” he said, sheepish.
“Precisely,” I said. I wedged my foot into the place where the branches met, and swung myself into the lower branches. As I steadied myself, I noted that he didn’t offer me a hand. Good. He was learning.
“Do you still want to learn how to throw people?” he asked.
“Hell yes. Teach me about pressure points, too.”
A car drove by slowly on the road beyond. We watched as it grew brighter and farther, taillights fading east.
“Do you ever think,” he said slowly, chewing on his thoughts. “Do you ever think about how everyone else is the center of their own existence, and they have this internal narrative running constantly and they’re the hero of it, for good or bad. And you’re nothing but a minor character. Maybe one of the people at the coffee shop, or the innocent bystander that’s killed by the villain or whatever.”
“My point is, that everyone has this massively complex and colorful world that we never even get a glimpse of. Maybe that’s what it’s like to be a god. You get to see all of the colors of everyone’s lives.”
“In all their average glory.”
My hands felt like ice to the bone, and I tried to put my mittens back on. The moon made his hair the color of quarters as he watched the stars in their slow revolutions.
“Don’t you wish,” he said, and I wondered how his bare hands didn’t feel the cold. “Don’t you wish that you could see those people’s lives?”
I paused before responding. “Yes. Then you would know precisely what to say when you ran into them on the street, or you could drop by with flowers when they were having a bad day.”
He was quiet for a minute. “Oh.”
“I don’t wish.”
He looked at me, and bit his lip. “There would be a lot of pain.”
I considered this. “You could make it better.”
He twisted his lips, and dropped into the snow beneath us, sinking into the layers of it. “I could,” he said. “But I don’t want that much responsibility.”
I swung down from my branch, and dropped gracelessly. He caught me as I stumbled.
“Aren’t your hands cold?” I asked.
He grinned. “It’s so cold, my teeth hurt when I smile. But that’s not stopping me. C’mon, let’s run.”
I groaned. “I’m terrible at running.”
“Slow poke!” he said, taking off through the field. I followed more slowly, but relished the thick snow and hunger moon and the starkness of the cold that reminded me that I was real.
*I was originally going to say “be a writer” here, but then I realized that it’s stupid to aspire to be a writer. Being a writer is defined by what you do, not what you accomplish.
Addendum: The word “ficlets” in the title comes from a writing site of the same name of which I was a part a few years back. A ficlet was a piece of very short fiction, 1,024 characters, and was meant to be whatever you could write in those constraints, prose or poetry or running mini-stories and the like. It was a great little site with a lovely commenting community, and I was very disappointed when it shut down. It was a lot of fun. At any rate, this is basically what I’m doing here: writing ficlets.