As I some of you may remember from this post, I have decided to pre-schedule a series of posts based around writing exercises I’ve done during my monthly writers’ group meetings. This is the fourth in that series.
Here’s a quick breakdown of how this works:
Rule #1: These pieces of fast fiction were generated from a prompt chosen at random, and I will label that prompt at the top and where I use it in the prose.
Rule #2: WordPress allows me a ‘click here to read the rest of the story’ break, and that will be used before the fast fiction begins in earnest so people browsing through this blog are not overwhelmed.
Rule #3: The prose of the fast fiction shall be transcribed from my handwriting accurately: Line breaks, grammar, punctuation, spelling, what-have-you. The point of showing a 10- or 15-minute first draft is saying what you tried to do in that time, so what does editing really get me? The very rare changes I really do deem necessary shall be noted with an asterisk and an apologetic explanation at the end.
Rule #4: After the fast fiction I will include a few sentences about my first thoughts of the prompt. These entries are less about the actual prose and more about the exercise as a whole. Post-gaming that exercise will be a big part of the end result.
Rule #5: I have all these posts set up to go out through Twitter. If I’m going to queue up twenty or so of them into the distant future, I will schedule them to go out at 3 am. I would not want to find myself in the midst of a happy moment or a sad moment tweeting some piece of irrelevant and therefore inappropriate short prose. I also reserve the right to reschedule these posts based on other things that should take priority on this blog.
And that’s it. Here we go.
I don’t say I love it. I was born there is all.
The Prairie just is. It’s always what it is. Oh, it has its seasons and its rhythms, good days and bad days, but nothing ever really changes. It always comes back the same time around.
When I try to picture my hometown, I don’t see the one intersection with the four-way stop. I don’t see the gas station that is also the grocery store and the post office and the pharmacy and the autobody shop. I don’t see the girls walking from the one dress shop to the one diner and back again. I don’t see the two intersecting lines of clapboard houses, some needing paint, others immaculate, some with lawns straight out of a magazine, and others riddled with prairie dog holes.
No, when I picture my hometown, I don’t really picture the town at all: I picture the open road stretching all the way out to the horizon, the way out, the escape. I can close my eyes and see that ribbon of asphalt stretching out in front of me. I can feel the vinyl of the steering wheel under my fingers. I push down on the gas pedal, and the car peels out past the wheat fields, the thousands of acres of wheat fields spread out like the felt of a billiard table in all directions.
The engine roars, and the fence posts whip past in their hundreds as I flee my little town, and then on one post sits a hawk. He sits there because it’s the highest point in all directions for 100 miles, and he can see every mouse and gopher from that post. And then he’s in my rearview mirror, and he watches me drive away until I’m just a speck. He and I both know I’m never coming back. I don’t say I love it. I was born there is all.
Note: For a while, this was my favourite writing exercise I had done. Now that I type it all up I realize it really is just a dabble, four little paragraphs painting a picture that lend a little emotional weight to using the prompt as the conclusion. I’m sure this is back when the group did ten-minute writing exercises instead of our current fifteen. I’m confident I had this done in seven or eight minutes and then put my pen down for the remaining time, which is a rarity for me.
So where did this idea come from?
My mother –who reads almost all of my stuff at some point and who had this read to her on one of her regular visits to my home– thought I was projecting my frustrations about growing up in Chatham, Ontario. I don’t think that’s true. For one, Chatham has more than forty thousand people living within the city limits, is surrounded by corn much more than wheat, and I don’t know that I have ever seen a hawk sitting on a fence post during my time there. The little prairie town I describe here bears little resemblance to the small city in southwestern Ontario I lived in for ten year fifteen years ago.
No, I think these four paragraphs came from a couple of places. First, I had just a month or two earlier driven out on the Canadian prairie between Calgary and Drumheller in Alberta. I saw hawks on fenceposts, and I also marveled at how flat and beautiful and stark and, well, big everything was out there. The sky and the land peel out away from you towards a horizon in a way they don’t in most other places. It’s a little like being at sea. The vastness of the same repetitively immense something really makes an impression.
Second, I am a huge Simon & Garfunkel fan, and I believe I had recently listened to My Little Town. That’s a much better meditation on leaving the place you come from and not wanting to go back because it occupies a place in your mind where you are less than you are today than I managed with my four little paragraphs. Still, that and the hawk on the fencepost merged to make this prose.
What else should I say? I knew I wanted the prompt to be the last line. I knew I had to front-load the thing with the good and the bad of nostalgia for a place you don’t want to go back to so the last line would resonate. I went into that ten minutes with a plan and some inspiration. I have done better since, but I am still very pleased with this piece of fast fiction.