In the 55th in a series of posts on 2010 short story collections entered for The Story Prize, Tina May Hall, author of The Physics of Imaginary Objects (The University of Pittsburgh Press), runs through her attempts at self-expression outside of writing.
If you dabble in any other non-literary forms of expression, what do you do and how does it inform your work?
I buy cookbooks and look at the wonderful glazed and frosted and perfectly-browned things in them. Then I make a list and go to the store and buy baskets full of pork belly and saffron and kale that I take home and put in the refrigerator. Then I make myself a peanut butter and honey sandwich. Sometimes I go through a drive-thru on the way home from the grocery store. And all that lovely food sits in the dark of my icebox.
Seasonally, I festoon my house with appropriate items, pumpkins and gourds and Indian corn and several black construction paper bats and a string of orange lights most recently. And then I forget to turn on the lights and a wind storm knows down half the bats and they end up disintegrating in the neighbors’ yards, from which I have to retrieve them by the dead of night in an attempt to pretend it never happened at all, and a squirrel comes and drags off all the Indian corn and leaves the cobs in the street.
Once upon a time, I took art classes and actually imagined (albeit very briefly) wearing paint-daubed jeans and stilettos and living in Paris or Hoboken in some kind of grotty flat. And then I realized most high heels, especially the ones that look sexy and artistic at the same time, are impossible for me to walk in, much less run in while eluding any of the suspicious types who would no doubt populate my Parisian/Hobokenian neighborhood. And I brought home a painting I’d done in my college class on “Color and Design” to my mother who is an actual painter (though she wears cowboy boots and lives in the suburbs) and she looked at it carefully and held it at arm’s length and said in the kindest way possible, “This is not really something you would ever want to give anyone as a gift.” I still keep watercolors and pastels and clay around—my son and I make monsters and trucks and maps of our town with them. Turns out I can draw an awesome swamp thing atop a semi-truck while juggling three juice boxes and giving a toddler a piggyback ride.
Every once in a while I am overtaken by a strong conviction that I could make my own clothes. This is patently untrue and has been proven so many times over. I have a very old heavy sewing machine that I haul out and spend a few days remembering how to thread. The foot pedal sticks and often the machine just keeps sewing without me which makes for some postmodern seams. There is also a problem with the bobbin so that sometimes I’ll be sewing along happily for a long stretch and pick up the fabric to find out I was never really sewing at all.
All of which is to say that reading and writing are the only things I ever have been very good at finishing. I am the kind of person who, once she starts reading something, can’t stop in the middle, no matter how awful it is. I’ve read my way through countless regrettable books, tomes on railroads, the Twilight series, books that got onto my pile by accident; once, when I was thirteen, I made my way left to right through an entire library, although admittedly it was a very small library in a very small town with only one wall of books. And though I don’t finish every story I start writing, I am willing to spend years trying to do so. Writing is the one thing I have a lot of patience for; I have an abiding faith that the words will make it onto the page, into the right order, that all of the seams will eventually line up, the picture will come clear, the lights will blink on, and a story will gradually emerge, plump, shining, lovely to the eye.