Another Flash Fiction Story: “The Arrangement”

I had a lot of fun with the challenge of the 150-word flash fiction story last week, and I wanted to try again.  There’s something really rewarding about whittling down the story to its core.  What do you think?

Challenge: 150 word story

Using: 10/20 words: ladder, witness, prefer, alarm, kissed, clutches, seldom, orchard, excavated, arrangement, shrinking, heart, scythe, surrounding, tendency, mischief, misgivings, satisfy, drops, faithful

All words are taken from The Poetry of Robert Frost, edited by Edward Connery Lathem

Fall

The Arrangement

The wooden ladder lay abandoned in the orchard, soaking in the dew.   No sign of Lucy.  Peter fought his alarm.

Often, they had kissed and shared tender clutches under the apple trees, but when Peter spoke of marriage, Lucy shook her head.  Still, Peter was faithful.  

She was supposed to meet him here.

Heart full of misgivings, Peter approached Lucy’s home.  Her father was just exiting.

“Morning.”

He turned.  “Peter?  Bit early to call.”

“Is Lucy inside?”

“Haven’t seen her.  Must’ve risen early to pick apples.”

“Yes, sir.  Only, I came through the orchard—she’s not there.”

A shadow crossed his face.

They searched.  When Lucy’s father saw a ribbon speared on a branch, he sank to his knees.

“It’s my fault, Peter.  I made an arrangement.  I signed his book, in drops of blood—he gave me money for the farm.  Said in eighteen years, he’d take his payment.”

* * *

If you liked this story, check out my first attempt, “The Song in the Night.”  If anyone would like to try this experiment with these words or some others, I’d love to see your results in the comments section!

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Unseen Connections: Art Articulating Life

When I first started tweeting (this summer), I underestimated Twitter as a medium for finding out all sorts of information and getting exposed to great art and ideas.  A few days ago, I encountered the work of Shuli Hallak, and I wanted to share it because I thought it was so provocative and current.  Perusing her work today also reminded me of the work of a close friend and fantastic artist, Gayla Martin, who is seemingly at the other end of the spectrum.

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Shuli Hallak’s “Servers that Write Text Data” from her photographs of Facebook Servers – used with permission

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A photograph of one of Gayla Martin’s sculptures – used with permission

Fast Company magazine recently featured Shuli Hallak’s work in a piece called “Invisible Networks: One Woman’s Fantastic Quest to Photograph the Living Internet.”  There are all sorts of images in on Hallak’s website.  She’s photographed all sorts of cables, panels, and electronics which look foreign to the eye, like something out of a sci-fi movie.  It is interesting to be able to see the internet, which can feel like a bizarre abstract concept to those who remember life before it began and then became so prevalent.  There is so much involved that we don’t see–wireless networks, data storage–the physical part of what connects us “invisibly” to people all over the world.

In the Fast Company interview, Hallak explains that there is a lot at stake when it comes to understanding the concrete dimension of the internet:

“There are a lot of implications. If we know what this stuff looks like, then we can actually speak about it and think about it. It’s not actually very complicated or difficult. We’re visual thinkers. And we can speak about things when we have a visual concept.”

This is certainly true.  Language has an intimate connection with thought.  This is why expressing ourselves and hearing others’ expressions is so important, for one thing.  Through expression we can learn about ourselves and others, and we can evolve and change.  By understanding more about how the internet works, we can better understand something that many of us use daily without considering how it works and its physical place in our world.  I like that some of Hallak’s photographs show the technology on its own as an alien thing, while some of them integrate technology with people or the environment.  Her work asks that question–is technology now a true part of our world?  Is there a way in which it is still separate?  Can we see it as organic and part of a system which includes humans and the environment?

Deep See Cable Recovery

Shuli Hallak’s “Deep Sea Cable Recovery” – used with permission

Gayla Martin’s work at first seems very different.  She mostly works in thread and fabric, but lately has been making prints and paintings as well.  She has created organic weavings with variations in line, thickness, and light.  She’s created changes in space with large hoops suspended from the ceiling which have a rain of threads (ranging in length from two to ten feet) attached to them.  Martin hand dyes the thread and her work exudes personal energy.  The everyday materials, including a tea strainer (in the image above), remind one of home, and the processes involved in creating these pieces further add to their human feel.

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From Gayla Martin’s “Constructed Impressions” and “Weavings” – used with permission

For me, the common threads (haha–I’m not sorry for the pun, though!) are the way that lines are integral in defining space, as well as making something unseen visible and available for discussion.  With Hallak’s work, I see the straight lines of the data storage area and the curves of the cables and the way that space is defined by cables and rectangles.  There is an intricate apparatus that Hallak is making visible and available to us through her photography.  In Martin’s work, she’s added visual lines to articulate and describe invisible human ties to our surroundings.  Sometimes, her work shows our connection to our environment–places we grew up, or places that hold meaning for us.  Lines and weaving ask us to think about the very nature of connection: how are we tied to what we see and the people around us?  What if these lines are broken?  Are the  lines even?  Is the space around us rigid or fluid?

Both artists’ work, especially seen together, ask us to examine the line between the organic and the artificial.  Martin’s work uses organic, everyday use materials like thread, or even a strainer, to show us something unusual about our lives and make us consider them in a new way.  She often considers light and shadow, and when you see these pieces in an installation, part of the beauty and the experience is viewing them in context.  Hallak’s work shows how artificial objects which are part of advanced technology integrate with organic materials, like the ocean.  Hallak’s photographs, like “Multiple Subsea Cables” (below) can also show how these technological materials can imitate the organic: seeing the cables close up, they look like they could almost be vines, and we can see the fraying threads on them that remind us of weavings like the ones that Martin constructs.  There is a human element, even in very technological objects that we may imagine to be inhuman and abstract.

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Weavings by Gayla Martin – images used with permission

Multiple Subsea Cables

Shuli Hallak’s “Mulitiple Subsea Cables” – used with permission

Both Gayla Martin and Shuli Hallak are exploring important and often abstract aspects of life through their art.  What do you think of their work?  What does it remind you of?

Special thanks to both Shuli Hallak and Gayla Martin for providing the images including here and giving their permission for their use in this blog post.  All images belong to them.  Please check out their websites: ShuliHallak.com and GaylaMartin.com; they have much more work than appears here!

Shuli  Shuli Hallak – You can also follow her on Twitter: @ShuliHallak

cupid3.jpg  Gayla Martin – You can also follow her on Twitter: @moxiegm

Blog Title: “Unmapped Country within Us”

“There is a great deal of unmapped country within us which would have to be taken into account in an explanation of our gusts and storms.”

– George Eliot (Quote courtesy of Goodreads)

I wanted to take this post to write about where the title for my blog comes from.  I’m a fan of George Eliot’s writing, in particular The Mill on the Floss, Scenes of Clerical Life and Middlemarch.  I like Eliot’s view on the world and like that she examined the rules and norms of the world around her and wrote about her own observations.  Eliot lived an unusual life.  She was born with the name Maryann Evans in 1819, but she wrote under a male pseudonym and lived with her lover (who was already married to someone else) for several years.  (Click here for a PBS biography)

(Image courtesy of Wikipedia)

She wrote insightful critiques about the literature (and so, the life) of her time.  (Check out some of her essays here) She also wrote beautiful, passionate novels.  The passion in Eliot’s novels is perhaps what most appeals to me.  I love that the quote above talks about human passion in the form of “gusts and storms” as coming from the “unmapped country within” all of “us.”  We all have a psychological landscape, parts of it known and parts of it unknown, and certainly this is the source of much of our emotions and behaviors.  I liked the idea of all people having mysterious “countries” inside of us.  I think this idea emphasizes how important our humanity can be.  People are complex, and can contain whole worlds inside them.  To understand each other in moments of passion, whether positive or negative, we need to remember that all of us have a complex world inside us.

“Tom and Maggie” (public domain image courtesy of Wikipedia)

Here’s one of my favorite early passages from The Mill on the Floss:

“This attic was Maggie’s favorite retreat on a wet day, when the weather was not too cold; here she fretted out all her ill humors, and talked aloud to the worm-eaten floors and the worm-eaten shelves, and the dark rafters festooned with cobwebs; and here she kept a Fetish which she punished for all her misfortunes. This was the trunk of a large wooden doll, which once stared with the roundest of eyes above the reddest of cheeks; but was now entirely defaced by a long career of vicarious suffering. Three nails driven into the head commemorated as many crises in Maggie’s nine years of earthly struggle; that luxury of vengeance having been suggested to her by the picture of Jael destroying Sisera in the old Bible. The last nail had been driven in with a fiercer stroke than usual, for the Fetish on that occasion represented aunt Glegg. But immediately afterward Maggie had reflected that if she drove many nails in she would not be so well able to fancy that the head was hurt when she knocked it against the wall, nor to comfort it, and make believe to poultice it, when her fury was abated; for even aunt Glegg would be pitiable when she had been hurt very much, and thoroughly humiliated, so as to beg her niece’s pardon. Since then she had driven no more nails in, but had soothed herself by alternately grinding and beating the wooden head against the rough brick of the great chimneys that made two square pillars supporting the roof. That was what she did this morning on reaching the attic, sobbing all the while with a passion that expelled every other form of consciousness,–even the memory of the grievance that had caused it. As at last the sobs were getting quieter, and the grinding less fierce, a sudden beam of sunshine, falling through the wire lattice across the worm-eaten shelves, made her throw away the Fetish and run to the window. The sun was really breaking out; the sound of the mill seemed cheerful again; the granary doors were open; and there was Yap, the queer white-and-brown terrier, with one ear turned back, trotting about and sniffing vaguely, as if he were in search of a companion. It was irresistible. Maggie tossed her hair back and ran downstairs, seized her bonnet without putting it on, peeped, and then dashed along the passage lest she should encounter her mother, and was quickly out in the yard, whirling round like a Pythoness, and singing as she whirled, “Yap, Yap, Tom’s coming home!” while Yap danced and barked round her, as much as to say, if there was any noise wanted he was the dog for it.”

(Quote courtesy of Project Gutenberg – This is a link to the full text of the novel)

A little child who drives nails into a doll sh’s named the “Fetish” after being inspired by the “luxury of vengeance” she found in the Bible?  I’m in.  George Eliot makes fabulous characters.  Her books explore gender roles in fascinating ways as well.  I haven’t read them all, yet, but they’re on my mental to-read list!  Any other George Eliot fans out there?