Going Public with “The Border”

Six Minute Story is a website that provides you with a random image, story framework, or first/single sentence prompt and demands “Tell me a story, and make it quick!” With a six minute timer counting down, you’re under the gun to flesh out a story and once your time is up, no editing is allowed.* At that point you can choose to post your story or trash it. The site’s tagline is “A cure for writer’s block” and for me it certainly is.

When audiobook narrator Xe Sands declared that during the month of September she was going to pull from the Six Minute Story pool of Creative Commons licensed pieces for each week’s Going Public Project recording, I was reminded that although I’d found writing while timed to be an excellent way to prompt myself to write outside of the site, I hadn’t utilized it in a while. I’m usually a slow and deliberate writer and pushing myself outside that comfort zone is a really good thing: the quick scramble to put something down is invigorating and every now and then the ticking timer seems to short-circuit my conscious writer and drags my subconscious writer to the front of the class, as it did with this random prompt:


From the Flickr photostream of h.koppdelaney and CC licensed as noted on that page

The end result was a piece of flash fiction named “The Border” and I think it’s pretty much the coolest thing ever that Xe picked my (re)entry piece at Six Minute Story to record for this week’s Going Public post.


I live near a border between two countries that’s very clearly demarcated on the physical landscape but in addition to the lines that can be found drawn on a map, there are often less tangible boundaries that we transit. When you push yourself to move outside your comfort zone and venture into the new and scary – whether it’s having a go at public speaking, starting a new job, letting down your emotional barriers at the beginning of a new relationship, or any of a thousand steps forward you might try to take – you can find yourself in a new country. If you’re lucky you find a home there: sort of an emotional upward mobility, as it were. Or maybe you go back to where you were before and can set out in a new direction the next time.

There’s also an emotional crossing that exists that’s a less welcome journey: not the day trips back and forth between happy and sad or success and struggle but the open-ended ticket that takes you into a depression that you think will never end. It’s a walk into a landscape that’s so overwhelming it’s all you can see and the memory of a place where you’ll be happy again and there are people who love you and things you look forward to doing has faded from sight, even though it might be just around the next curve in the trail you’re mindlessly trudging along.

I had a relative who committed suicide when I was a teenager and for a long time I was confident I could at least point to that metaphorical country on a map and reel off statistics about its topography and population. I would have told you that I was pretty sure I’d even visited it a time or two or at least been to its border, maybe had my picture taken next to the “Welcome to Depression” sign, maybe even taken a few steps across. As it turned out, I was wrong. (In fact, I’m pretty sure that was Greenland I’d been pointing at.)

I have taken a trip there now (no, I don’t mean to Greenland) and if you don’t already know, it has a population of one. You. No family who would be permanently marked by your absence. No dog who displays irrational joy at seeing you emerge safely from that small room with all the falling water you seem to like to stand under EVERY DAY OMG ARE YOU CRAZY!? No bookseller who has the next in that series where you seriously considered pretending to be a blogger just to try to get an advance copy to see what happens next. Nothing else existed in that country except me, sitting on a bed, looking at the loaded revolver I’d gotten out because it was the largest caliber I had and vaguely wondering whether I shouldn’t do this outside so there’d be less of a mess for someone to clean up.

Here’s the thing, though. It may be out of sight but there is a country other than that one and you deserve to live there. If you’ve gotten lost and can’t find it, I suspect there’s someone in your life who can if you just talk to them. If there isn’t someone on hand, there are experts at navigation who can help you find your way back. In the U.S. you can find some of them at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Please, if that’s someplace you are or might find yourself, never let your journey end in depression.


*When you’ve written a few stories and gathered a certain “Reputation” count, you get the ability to edit your posted stories

A Defining Absence

The roots were absent but you could still see them. When the tree has died and it’s time to clear the land, it’s easier to burn what’s left but when you burn a stump, you often end up with a chunk of its heart that doesn’t turn to ash. The interesting thing is how the fire always seems to follow the roots, no matter how far they go, burning away every trace of them. Sometimes, even a year later, a fire can rekindle from deep in the earth where it was banked in some hidden location. Looking down from above, you can see the faithful reproduction of the root system but it’s really the absence of the roots. Hollows that disappear into the ground, holding the shape of what used to live there, faithfully mimicking the form of the living organism that, let’s face it, was only using the ground as support and to pull nutrients and moisture to sustain itself. I suppose some people have relationships like that. Where they’re left with nothing but a deep-running void that marks the presence of something that once considered them essential to existence. Sometimes those winding cavities collapse. Sometimes they’re filled by something else. Sometimes it just stays that way. A wound open to the world. An odd puzzle for anyone who happens to run across it while wandering in the woods.

Those missing root systems rarely trouble me. There’s always new ground for a seedling to cultivate. I seem to stumble over the ones that are still living. The ones that are greedy for space. Pushing up through sidewalks, shifting underground piping, cracking foundations. All in their need to force themselves closer to the sun. Unwilling to cede space to another thing, living or dead, and blocking the light from reaching what they’ve left behind. If you can bring yourself to do it and if you have the tools, you can cut the tree down. A word of warning: be careful where it falls. It can cause a lot of collateral damage on its way down and its roots go deep. I’ve taken a poorly sharpened axe to a tree like that and over time – so much time – I brought it down. With even more time the memory of that tree outside your window will fade as sunlight chases the shadows across the room but when it’s time to turn the ground for a new planting? It’s a harsh surprise when the shovel hits nothing but the hardened gnarled roots left behind.

One thing is true, though: life is resilient. I’ve seen a pine cone fall to the top of a boulder and somehow, in a small depression on that unyielding surface, a seed will grow. Buffeted by the wind and unable to sink its roots in deep but sustaining itself through small gifts of rain and wind-blown earth. The rock seems unaffected and unaware of that which clings so desperately to it in an effort to thrive and if the seedling is torn away, it leaves a raw spot, almost like tender new skin. If they’re both lucky, the tree continues to grow and its roots slowly scrape away at the hard surface until the stone has given – or had taken – enough of itself to become a safe harbor and a strong foundation. On occasion, unexpectedly, the seedling becomes a tree. Its roots can exert such force and its will to grow is so strong that the rock cracks and gives way, its heart exposed.


Creative Commons License
A Defining Absence by kayemnic is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Story genesis: Six Minute Story