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  • Sara Tucker

Desert Doll

On the art of writing short.

Once a week, I get together with an old friend to talk about writing. Nancy lives in New Mexico and I'm in France, so we meet by phone. Sometimes I get so excited during our rambling conversations that I leap out of my mother-in-law's tomato-red fauteuil and begin pacing around our flat in Butte Montceau. I scribble little notes on odd pieces of paper, and gesture wildly, even though Nancy can't see me. (Not because she's blind or anything but because our phones are the old-fashioned kind.)

Recently she mentioned that she intended to write . . . someday . . . about some of the objects that occupy her work space—artifacts she's collected over the years, each one of which contains a special meaning.

"Do it now!" I yelped. Then I began pacing.

Objects are often my way into a story, and I use them in my writing workshops.The book I've been working on begins with a little story about a spoon. The same book contains stories about a French passport issued in 1923 and a wooden stool with a secret hidey-hole. For years, I've been wanting to do an entire book of little essays about objects that tell stories, complete with photos or drawings of the objects. I asked Nancy to please, please send me an essay. So she did.

I was hoping for one essay, but she sent two, on the same subject, one long and one short. I read the short one first, loved it, and then read the longer one—and loved it, too. I've posted them both here.

The shorter of Nancy's essays is 219 words. Do you know how hard it is to squeeze an essay into 219 words? Most professionals, given such an assignment, would roll their eyes and go"You gotta be kidding me."

Read the two essays and decide for yourself, but if you ask me, they are equally effective. Both delve into the connection between human beings and the natural world. Both navigate between the ephemeral and the eternal. Both evoke the mystery and austerity of the desert. Both address the companion themes of loss and renewal.