by Jacqueline Doyle
followed by Q&A
A writer at the party last weekend was wearing a long black dress and a kind of iridescent green fanny pack. This other writer came up with a screech, "A fanny pack! If I wore a fanny pack no one would know it was ironic!" Can you believe I once submitted something to her magazine? Do you think if I sent in an "ironic fanny pack" story it would get in?
This morning, one of the crossword puzzle answers was Manila, and our son just flew there yesterday for a two-week stay. He's living in Malaysia this year. In fact there was a lot of synchronicity in this morning's crossword puzzle, but don't get me started.
I used to have a fanny pack, but I don't know where it is. More recently, like less than a week ago, I lost a small zippered bag of makeup. Just lip gloss, mascara, and eye shadow, but it's unnerving not to have it. I've been using a spare mascara that leaves black rings under my eyes. Mornings, and even at the end of the day, I look like a raccoon.
My fanny pack wasn't ironic, of course. There have been short periods in my life when I felt like I was cool, but not many. Others when I didn't worry about it. Others when I did. My son wears a fanny pack when he goes hiking in the rain forest outside Kota Kinabalu where he lives. His fanny pack isn't ironic, either. Though, he's pretty cool.
Raccoon wasn't on the crossword puzzle, but skunk was. Last year, we paid a trapper to get rid of what we thought was a raccoon in the attic. He caught one raccoon, then another, then another, then a skunk that was probably just passing through the yard, then a fourth raccoon. The biggest raccoon, the mother, got away. Our son says this is their habitat, not ours. He's working for an environmentalist group.
I wonder who invented the fanny pack. Most people wear them in the front, I think. One of the crossword clues today was derriere, not a word you see much. The answer was rear. You wouldn't see ass in a family newspaper crossword puzzle probably. Or even butt, which is the first answer I tried.
After the raccoons left, the house filled with fleas, jumping from the floor onto our ankles and legs, sailing off tables and windowsills, leaping onto my desk. With the animals gone, my husband and I were the only remaining hosts. An exterminator had to spray the attic, the crawl space, and the house. Twice.
Biting insect was on the crossword puzzle, too. Sometimes the answer is flea. Today it was a three-letter word and turned out to be ant.
During the open mic at the party last weekend, I read a story about a magician. It started out as an allegory about not being able to pull any more words out of a hat. It had an epigraph from F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Big Crack-up": The conjuror's hat was empty. My writing group told me to get rid of the epigraph, and the story got more realistic as I revised. The magician got a name, and a recently departed girlfriend, and a life. I remember its beginnings, though.
On some level, it's still about me, and the fear I won't be able to pull more words out of my magician's hat.
Hare was on today's puzzle. A kind of rabbit, the clue said.
I just started doing daily crosswords this year. Often the clues seem way off, with little appreciation for linguistic accuracy and the fine lines between meanings.
The magician story was published in a better magazine than the ironic-fanny-pack editor's.
Some days, it's still hard to pull words out of my hat. Once in a while, it's like raccoons in the attic or clowns in a Volkswagen at the circus. They tumble out in unimaginable profusion. One, then another, then another. More of them.
And just when you think that must be all, another!
They do handstands and somersaults and cartwheels. There are no rules or numbers. No one tells you what they mean, or don't mean. You can carry them around in a fanny pack during the day and look at them without worrying about "irony." You can put them in quotation marks if you want to. Or not.
You can mix them up in a hat like Tristan Tzara did and toss them onto the table to create Dada poems. Conjure a Paris café with lots of red wine and other writers, crumbs from baguettes strewn all over the checked tablecloth.
You can imagine a flea circus and write about it. Make the words leap and crisscross. March in orderly rows, and then suddenly jump off the page.
This morning the five-letter word for "end" turned out to be "cease." That was the last word I filled in to complete the puzzle. More synchronicity. But don't get me started.
Jacqueline Doyle's creative nonfiction and fiction have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Prick of the Spindle, Bartleby Snopes, Front Porch Journal, Blood Orange Review, and California Northern Magazine. Her flash prose has been published or will soon appear in elimae, 5_trope, Tattoo Highway, flashquake, LITnIMAGE, Monkey Bicycle, Staccato Fiction, Everyday Genius, and many other online journals. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area where she teaches at California State University, East Bay.
Q: Can you tell us about the motivation behind this piece?
A: I was sitting at the kitchen table on a Saturday morning doing the crossword puzzle, sun streaming through the windows, and found myself meditating on synchronicity, the criss-crossing of events and associations, and words marching vertically and horizontally on the page.
Q: What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given? Did you follow it? Why, or why not?
A: "Scene, scene, scene," someone in my writing group said to me. I've found her admonition very useful as I write fiction. But in my creative nonfiction, I love to play with ideas, which sometimes leads to scenes, sometimes doesn't.
Q: Please share with our readers a little about your own writing process.
A: Writing flash is fun, because the first draft often emerges suddenly, after a flash of inspiration. I'm a compulsive rewriter, of flash and longer pieces. I've learned to wait at least a day or two before sending out something that I think is finished, because usually it isn't.
Q: How do you organize your home library? Tall to small? Alphabetically? Or, have you converted totally to e-reader?
A: I once had a system, and the poetry is still alphabetized, all in one bookcase. But there's no clear organization for the rest, and at this point I have rows of books in front of rows of books, making it very hard to find anything. I don't even have an e-reader, which seems a poor substitute for this fruitful chaos.