lessons from a distance

lessons from a distance

The A-ha Moments We Never Go A-ha To: A Lesson With Jennifer Fliss

Why would I tell a story about that?, you might think. Do you veer towards fires and drownings and divorces and storms and thrown vases? These make for wonderful, usually loud stories. But I don’t often read about the more quiet things. The usual. The, let’s call it “mundane.”

Why would someone want to read that? (If you break it open, they will!)

Going to the bathroom, using the credit card pad to pay for groceries, hair on the shower wall, clipping toenails – the things we’re embarrassed of, but if you mention it, everyone will be – oh yeah, FEEL.

What are things that don’t go together or that you don’t usually think of? Well, now think of those things.

A story can be set in small things, not necessarily in big events. Or a writer can use that small thing as a way into something bigger. Often I veer towards domesticity in these kinds of stories, but it doesn’t have to be that.

A story can be set anywhere, doing anything. I think a lot of writers forget this. Almost anything, any object, any action, can be a wonderful launching point for a story. Why? In addition to the familiarity – which will bring authenticity to your work, our lives – the big moments – are still happening, even while we still have to go on with these small tasks. Therein lies the poignancy of these supposedly mundane things.

While changing the sheets, changing a tire, logging into a six person virtual work meeting, picking out drapes, or in the toilet paper aisle trying to decide whether to splurge on the 2-ply. The things we do without thinking. The things we do by rote. Scrubbing children’s paint off the dining table, getting gas, in the split second of holding the door for someone, getting a hole in your oldest sweatshirt, cleaning the fridge, planting seeds, harvesting tiny wilted failed crops, getting the mail, doing a 1000 piece puzzle, stomping in your recycle bin to fit more in, playing Rummikub with your aging grandmother, starting a new calendar, rewriting an address book, finally pulling that nail out of your deck – the one you always scratch yourself on.

We do not have life changing moments only at big deal life events. We can’t schedule or plan for an a-ha moment. And neither can our characters.

Do this. Write a story like this. Fiction, non-fiction, or poetry. Perhaps it’s the next thing you do, or look at after you read this. It should open so much emotion and that familiarity will be an instant connection, for you and for your reader.

Here are some examples:

I stand Here Ironing – Tillie Olson

The Sandwich – Monet P. Thomas

A Fingernail is Nothing – Francine Witte

After You Texted – Janet Frishberg

Ribs and Other Things We Cling To – Kathryn McMahon

Twenty Five Minute Wait – Megan Giddings

Bloom – Lori Sambol Brody

Eulogy – Dina Relles

All I Have Left – Dina Relles

When in the Wendy’s Drive Thru, They Ask Me What Sauce, And I Say – Taylor Byas

Pieces of Her – Jennifer Fliss

This Heart Hole Punch – Jennifer Fliss

Jennifer Fliss (she/her) is a Seattle-based writer whose writing has appeared in F(r)iction, The Rumpus, The Washington Post, and elsewhere, including the 2019 Best Short Fiction anthology. She can be found on Twitter at @writesforlife or via her website, www.jenniferflisscreative.com.