Speak Large in the Smallest Spaces

Last week, I noticed that I had been tagged on Twitter—and followed the notification to Vela magazine. In it, Amber Sparks had written a brilliant and incisive essay about the importance of flash fiction, and the reception of writing by women. She included profiles of five writers to watch, and number three is me:

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I was impressed at this generous act of literary citizenship demonstrated by Sparks. So many journals and magazines are not able to pay their writers—Vela among them. It frustrates me when hours of work (writing book reviews, reviewing manuscripts, jurying residency applications, and even writing blog posts) are mostly unpaid labor—and I suspect that women do more of this unpaid or minimally-compensated service work. I saw it all the time in academia.

Of course, the literary / art / creative world does run in large part through a gift economy, but sometimes one can forget the upside of that sort of economy in the frustration and reality that so many of us are working for so little financial remuneration. My flash fiction has taken me hours to craft. And I bet yours has, too.

Here’s an important excerpt from this thoughtful essay:

I submit that women are better at flash fiction because they have learned to speak large in the smallest spaces. They have learned to be heard through the cracks; to be brief because that moment is all they’ll get; to make the most powerful case, the most powerful art, in the seconds between the men and their doorstop novels. I submit that women have learned how to make small fictions because they have had to, and like everything women writers do, they have turned a “small” form into an art and started a fire in the world.

Do read the rest of her essay here.  You can read my (micro) story, “Skin,” here.

***You know, I love reading, writing, and teaching short forms. It’s something I stumbled into, but felt right, right away.  Thank you, Amber Sparks, for writing about flash fiction beyond (the admittedly wonderful) Lydia Davis—and for critiquing the way it is too often dismissed and minimized! It’s not needlepoint—but even if it were, needlepoint too takes skill. Flash fiction: it’s not latch hook.

Storychick: Rochester Stories 2015 at the Fringe Festival

IMG_5309Two weeks after I survived my stereotypically large / stressful Indian wedding, my friend Marijana picked me up to take me on a Saturday morning excursion to the public market. The public market is one of the more diverse places to be in Rochester—you interact with people of all ages, backgrounds, ethnicities over shopping for produce, cheese, honey, meat, clothing, plants, and knick-knacks. Everyone needs to eat; many of us need to browse through random stuff. There’s also a  bakery, artist studios, and food stalls.

Marijana dragged me with her, I think, because of my post-wedding slump. We had a beautiful ceremony, but I had hated wedding planning. I have never in my life watched “Say Yes to the Dress” nor bought a bridal magazine. So it surprised me to find that my wedding was the happiest day of my life thus far—and that we felt sad and depressed after our friends left town. We assumed we would feel only relief to have made it through the madness. Our friends, writers Holly and Matt, who married last year, described the experience as passing through a crucible.  We didn’t understand the metaphor until we were in the thick of it ourselves.

At the public market that day, Marijana and I briskly wandered (Marijana is brisk; I wander) through different stalls of vegetables. I found myself drawn to a table, which had no produce and no colorful Indian shirts to sell. “Storychick,” the sign announced. The woman behind the table, Storychick, aka Aprille Byam, explained that she asks Rochesterians who approach her to tell her a story, which she then records. I instantly agreed, and spilled a story about the wedding. Marijana took a pass and returned to the produce stalls. Before I rejoined Marijana, Aprille asked for my zipcode / neighborhood and gave me a pushpin to find and pin my location on her map of Rochester. I hesitated before deciding where to pin (although we were paying rent at the new place, we had not yet packed up and moved).

I loved Aprille’s idea of recording these individual personal histories, and was thrilled to learn she included my story in the show she created. Aprille directs actors in interpreting the stories she’s collected. I am not a playwright, so I wonder how it will feel to hear my words (which were spoken and not written) recited by someone else. Am I nervous?  A little. Rochester Stories is part of the Fringe Festival, and will be performed at Writers & Books (where I also teach writing) on September 20, 2015 (3:00 PM) and September 26, 2015 (6:00 PM). I’ll be in the audience at the 9/26 performance and hope you’ll join me to see the show. For more information about Rochester Stories or to buy tickets, click here.