A short story of mine

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Life from a Distance

Life from a Distance

© Sperry Hunt 2011

As with most men, Luther and I spent nearly an hour talking about half a dozen things that didn’t matter just to avoid the one thing that did.

It was a sunny morning last July. We sat in our rockers on the deck outside the Menagerie with our feet on the rails. The Menagerie was the rickety lodge he and I built on top of the White Cliffs. The grain silos, the schools and the houses of Beeville spilled out across the prairie a thousand feet below. The old drive-in movie screen listed toward the rim of the world where nearly every evening the sun sets into a pot of gold.

During the first half-hour of our conversation, we peeped around town through Luther’s telescope speculating on what we observed: Sam Black was late to work for the third day in a row. Coach Jacobs and Father Dupree drove out under the willow grove where the river bends. And, judging from the consistent vacancy in her driveway, Lucy Malloy hadn’t taken up with anyone a year after Roy ran off on her.

When Luther was too sore to put his eye to the telescope, he leaned back and spoke in short breaths for a while about the virtues of tying flies and coffee can stew. In the middle of his stew story, he turned away and said something I didn’t catch. When I asked him to repeat it, he wiped his eyes with the crook of his arm and turned toward a silver drape of rain sweeping across the highway to the east. “Back when this state was a territory, know what its motto was?” he said.

“Can’t say I do,” I said even though he’d often told me.

“I long to see what is beyond.”

“Is that so?”

“Yep, and that’s just the way I feel today.”

I squeezed his shoulder. The bones slid around like they were in one of those over-roasted chickens you sometimes get at the market.

Luther snatched up the shot glass of smoky, green juice he’d set beside himself earlier. He raised the glass once toward me and again toward the horizon before downing the contents.

A shiver of disgust roiled through him. Then he grabbed my hand, hauled himself to his feet and threw the jigger with all he had into a long arc. The glass sparkled past a wheeling hawk then tumbled down into the hay field waving like the ocean on Karl Schuster’s back forty.

Luther fell back into the rocker and winked at me.

“See you, Jake.”

I stared at him feeling that low-voltage, bilious sensation you get when your car spins on the ice.

“See you, Luther,” I said into his eyes.

He groaned once then slumped back against the slats peacefully, like he’d done a hundred times listening to a ball game.

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Eighth-graders on Eighties Day

Eighth graders

Eighth-grade Critique Group

This was the second round of criticism for these students.  They read a very early version of The Inventors’ Daughter – so early, in fact, that it was called Erin Isabelle and the Wicked Uncle.  All of those who read the first draft were invited by their teacher Brian to read the second.  I don’t know if one can draw a strong conclusion from this, but only girls volunteered to critique the rewrite. 

As you can tell from the photograph, they are a wonderful and spirited group, and they were very generous in their opinions and support.   Though their comments were somewhat more detailed, they agreed with the assessment of the fifth-grade group entirely.  (See next post above.)  Those points were exactly what I was looking for.  I tend to ignore a single person’s comments, unless they resonate with my own feelings.  But I take the unanimous enthusiasm for the work and the pinpoint critiques of sixteen middle-grade readers very seriously indeed.

One thing that inspired me about this group is how close they are.  Obviously they know one another well after at least three years together, but there is something else.  The very fact that they volunteered to re-read a manuscript demonstrates a shared intellectual curiosity and enthusiasm for exchanging ideas that is a credit to their school, their teacher and most especially to themselves.

Clarity and patience

princessandtheburl I’ve learned a great deal about writing from reading.  You are what you read.  Everyone says it.  Stephen King in his On Writing, for one.   John Lennon became the songwriter he was by listening to stacks and stacks of pop 45’s.

And yet, good writing doesn’t just come from reading, nor education by itself.  Satisfactory writing, for me at least, comes through quite a lot of unsatisfactory writing.  It’s easy to beat yourself up about it.  Indeed, I’ve gone to the school of self-flagellation wearing my sack cloth and ashes.  By in large, that time was wasted.  Vanity and modesty are both illusory.

Good writing comes in the effort of making your imagination clear.  Clarity informs everything.  It tells you what is overstated, ommited and overdramatized.   To be clear is to tell a tale or sing a song without deviation, and isn’t that what we all look for in art?

And patience can’t be underestimated, for it implies two qualities one brings to a piece:  First, the dignity of labor.  To be patient means you will show up on time with a willingness to work for as long as it takes.  Patience further suggests that you will leave your negative nature behind and not infect the words with it.

The photograph, by the way, is of my granddaughter Erin who at three-years-old exhibits a remarkable degree of clarity and patience in so much that she does – especially her storytelling. As an example when she was barely two, she created an imaginary sister named Wall. Her hands and feet are mermaids and such.  Each has a name and a set of traits. She has stories about them all, and talks to them regularly. The remarkable thing is how clearly she remembers each vignette and how consistent are the properties of each character. I know this because when I confuse them, she corrects me with an all but imperciptible show of exasperation.  She is my inspiration.