Small Stories: Writing Microfiction on Mastodon

Microfiction Image

I am going to try do a few sequential days of writing microfiction, using daily one-word prompts by Wandering Shop Stories off Mastodon. It’s a challenge to write small but still capture the energy of a story or a character.

Here are two of my stories …

Word: Run

The rabbit ran, in zigzag circles, the unexpected pulse of escape. She sensed an entrance nearby — the map of the underground warren network etched into her mind — but it took everything to ease the panic in order to remember. Then she did. Then she was gone, a blip in the screen in the surface of the ground.

Word: Tongue

It was a word, just off the tip of her tongue. Something stuck in there that her mouth would not let free. He stood, watching her, waiting for her response, but all he saw was the silence. She shouted the word but only in her head. Clear as day to no one else. Her voice refused to respond. She swallowed the sound, then wrote it down. By then, he was gone, and so, too, was the meaning of the word, reduced to quiet ink on yellow paper, crumpled on the wood floor.

Word: Pomenade

From their seat on the sidewalk just outside the facility, Oscar and Tommy laughed. Their ruse to enter the prom had been hatched that morning, and foiled by evening. A one day disaster. Still, they had a story to tell, of deception and intent, born from a shared love of celebration, if not acceptance. “Move along, boys,” they heard Mr. Warton say, and they picked themselves up, a little jump in their step to the pulsing beat seeping through the walls of the venue.

Word: Paw

Paw on the door. Paw on the knee. Paw on the floor. The little dog was desperate to get someone’s attention and yet, all they saw were their screens on tiny machines. She was not a whiner, not a howler, not a distraction. She crossed her paws, resting at their feet, and hoped for some attention and maybe a little something to eat.

Word: Wave

There was such distance between them again. She didn’t like to think in metaphor, but there it was. Such distance, in fact, that Nan could not see if he were smiling or smirking or just staring, stone-faced, as was his wont. She did her little wave, the kind of finger dance with the palm as a stage that commits nearly nothing. She saw it then, the smile, and his hand lifted to his shoulder in a response of movement. She turned, happy, and walked back towards home.

Word: Scale

Five little figures, all out of scale. The mountain loomed, like a dragon asleep. It was too foggy for such an excursion, but here they were, following the trail. The mouth of the cave was inverse in size to the mountain itself, an opening nearly too small to squeeze through. But they did, and when Benji lit his lantern, the walls of the mountain’s interior glowed with eerie light. They felt small again, now in their own shadows, warped by stalactites. They kept onward.

Word: Arm

The ocean’s arm turned inward, and their small boat sluiced through the surf before settling on the sand. The cove was shaped like a finger. “Where are we now?” Tamson asked. Critter shrugged. “I don’t know. We followed the tide.” The beach was rocky. Erosion had created a ledge that led like steps up into a forest clinging precariously to its edge. “Onward?” Tamson suggested. Again, the shrug. “I suppose,” Critter said, grabbing the compass. “Further into the unknown.”

Word: Bat

He adjusted his gloves, then his hat, then his shirt. All of this was routine sequence. Hat – Glove – Shirt. He tried not to look at the crowd. “Get in there,” he heard a voice bark, and he stepped over the white line. The catcher whispered something to try to distract him. He lifted the wooden bat, noticing the dent, then watched the ball as if it were moving at him in slow motion. It hit the glove. “Strike.” He stepped back and restarted his routine. Hat – Glove – Shirt.

Word: Date

They rubbed a layer off the edge of the object. “Something’s there,” Tanker noted. They all leaned in close. “Keep going.” Santi brought out her brush and methodically removed the years, a pool of time’s dust now in the palm of her hand. Tanker looked around, nervous to be discovered. “It’s a date, etched in by a tool,” Santi observed. Tanker nudged her. “Not coordinates, then?” “No,” Santi replied. Later, they would remember the date, and know its significance.

Peace (small but wonderful),

Curating Silent Sundays (July-December 2023)

Each Sunday, I (along with hundreds of others – sometimes, over a 1,000 people) share out a single image for Silent Sundays. I share mine on Flickr and on Mastodon and on what was Twitter (Silent Sunday images are one of the only things I regularly share now in that space).

In June, I made a video of the images from the first half of the year (see below) and today, I am sharing out my images from the second half of the year.

Peace (and image),

PS — as a sharing experiment on Mastodon, I invited folks to share their last image of 2023 on a Padlet Map. About two dozen folks from around the world took me up on my offer.

Made with Padlet

Writing Small In Social Networking Spaces

Smaller than Expected

I am a regular contributor to the #smallpoems hashtag on both Mastodon and Twitter. I also post to #smallmoments on Mastodon (it used to be #smallstories but that is now a nice stream of fiction stories, as opposed to observational moments that I like to write, to force my attention on the world) and I daily dive into the DS106 Daily Create (which are creative prompts designed to be completed within 10 minutes or so). I am also a participant in the Slice of Life challenge via Two Writing Teachers. Years ago, I helped facilitate something called Day in a Sentence.

What’s my deal with writing small?

I’m not sure, but I wanted to spend a few minutes (small amount of time?) thinking along these lines (and I can only write for myself here, not for anyone else who joins in on these various social media hashtags and writing activities):

  • Social networks seem so large, expansive, and getting larger (well, maybe Twitter is going in reverse), that narrowing down to something small, like short poems or short writing, feels a bit like an antidote to the grand scale of a space;
  • I actually appreciate the limits of writing in the confined writing spaces of updates, as the revision and editing that makes something larger, like writing, into something smaller and more focused, and maybe more nuanced, is a good skill to develop. Yes, I sometimes get frustrated when I hit my character limit without being done with my writing but that just means decisions need to be made — what really needs to be there and what is  the fluff  that needs to be removed;
  • I enjoy when other people join in the hashtags and write their own small pieces, too. I try to engage, to humanize the space. Having smaller networks within the larger ones potentially makes interactions more personal. The opposite can be true, too, though. As folks abandon the Musk zone for Mastodon, and more people use the #smallpoems hashtag, which is of course a public space, it is feeling a bit like the smallness of it is undergoing significant change. It’s not a bad thing to have many poets and writers gathering together. It’s inspiring, but it is different than when it was 8 to 10 people hanging out on a hashtag.
  • I periodically turn my own small poems into visuals, so having fewer words to work with makes that manageable. I guess in that case, function follows form (do I have that right?) in that I set about writing, knowing the possibility is that it will later on become a media object. That’s odd to think about, I guess. A little unsettling in reflection. But, true-ish.
  • It’s a time-crunch thing. I write in the mornings, after walking the dogs and before getting ready to teach all day at school. My routine is to write, and write quick, and short form writing and sharing fits that routine quite well. I worry I am losing the ability to write longer pieces, though — that I have trained my brain for the short bursts of creativity and not nurtured my mind for deeper dives into writing.

Peace (in short),

A Gift of Calligraphy: Transforming a Nature Poem

Poem Calligraphied

I regularly share my morning small poems over at Mastodon each day, connecting with some other writers, and then share it on Twitter, doing the same. It’s just a few places where my poems might catch a breath and live for a bit. Sometimes, there’s reaction. Sometimes, not. It’s fine either way. I write poems for myself, to get my writing brain ready for the day.

So I was honored when a connection (Welshpixie is their social media name) on Mastodon (someone I have connected with there before — see their art site here) asked if they could take one of my nature/tree poems from the Write Out project and practice their calligraphy skills with the poem.

Of course, I said yes, and then I was so very pleased when they shared it out to me. It’s a beautiful remix, where the wording is art and the convergence of nature and calligraphy (plus, the trees at the bottom) was just wonderful.

Peace (in wonder),

Explaining Mastodon and the Federated Networking Space

I am still pretty active over on Mastodon social network, but I know some folks either don’t know about the federated social networking space (a kinder, safer, more thoughtful alternative to Twitter and Facebook and more) or ask, Is Mastodon still around? It sure is.

I saw this video and thought it would be helpful for anyone wondering what Mastodon is, and how to envision a federated network (basically, the network is a series of networks, all hosted by users and connected via hubs … there is no Mastodon corporation trying to leverage your activity for advertising money).

See this piece by Laura Kalbag about questions/answers about Mastodon and then, if interested, maybe jump here to get started with the Mastodon Quick Start guide. 

Peace (dispersed but connected),

(find me on Mastodon, too)

The Noise is the Story/ The Story is the Noise

NoiseVember BandCamp

For all of November, I took part in something called NoiseVember over on Mastodon — creating small soundtracks of music. Some of my pieces were intentionally noisy. Some were not. I experimented across a variety of different platforms to make the music — from Soundtrap, to WolframTones, to Garageband, to Thumbjam, to Google’s Music Lab, and more.

In my head, I had a vague, loose idea of what connected the tracks, a slow threading over the month. I could glimpse the music telling the story of a walk through a place — woods, or forests, or something. But it was only at the end of the month, as I listened again to the entire batch together, all of them unfolding, and finally gave discrete titles to each of the tracks that I began to “see” the story as a whole through the “listening.”

Maybe next up is the writing of the story itself …

It’s possible only I can “read” this story this way because I composed the music and that no one else can envision it. That’s OK, too. But all the tracks are up in Bandcamp, free for download or for listening, and if you are interested, I invite you to wander over. You could even write the story, too.

Listen to NoiseVember: Each Path A Story

Peace (what the story sounds like),

Photobooth: A Collaborative Song’s Construction

Photobooth Song Arc Collaboration

I am just wrapping up (but not rapping up) a fourth round of a inspiring collaborative song project called A Whale’s Lantern, which has roots in the Mastodon federated networking space. In each round, participants are randomly partnered with others, and all pairings are given an overall theme to work with as a connector thread, and then, the partners have extended periods of time (usually a few months) to get creating something.

I have been fortunate in each of my pairings to connect with collaborators who have been easy to work with (maybe this is an inherent quality of those who volunteer for the project and reach the ending point). Although each partnership has had a distinct and different feel to it, and my role has been different each time, each round has really pushed my abilities as a songwriter and musician. In the latest collaboration — the music tracks will be released in a few weeks after they get mastered and gathered and posted at Bandcamp — the overarching theme was “portraits.”

My partner, Bobbus, is someone who I had interacted sporadically with on Mastodon, and I know he is a talented and thoughtful musician. We hit it right off the bat in our emails, both of us expressing gratitude for the chance to try to make music in a different format than we are used to and both of us expressing an openness to try any idea the other pitched, and both of us open to a starting point.

With this mind, I sent forward a song to him that I had started on acoustic guitar after thinking a bit on the theme of “portraits.” The proposed song — Photobooth — captured a pining by the narrator of an old photo album of a relationship that is long since gone to dust. The “portrait” might be a picture taken in one of those box photo booths, where you put coins in and an image pops out.

Draft Lyrics Photobooth Song

Bobbus thought the song could work for us (although we were both open to starting over if it didn’t), and the chart/map/graphic at the top of the post here shows some of the ways the song was woven over a few months time, particularly as he used his skills as a sound engineer and solo guitarist to create the song’s sonic landscape, adding unexpected (to me) chord changes and suggesting other parts to break up what began as a pretty traditional pop song of verse/chorus.

On a technical note, we used PCloud storage as a way to share many audio files back forth. I would send him raw music that I was making and he would do rough mixing, and share it back, asking for comments and feedback, and so the revisions would flow. We also used a writing app called Turtl for sharing written notes, lyrics, chord changes and more. I was not familiar with either of those platforms, so it was interesting to try to collaborate with different technology tools. Both worked just fine for us.

My challenge with the recording process, as it is always, was with the vocals, and he did as much he could with effects to make my voice work for the song, although there are points where .. well… I’m not sure I hit the notes I wanted to hit. I did like the way he created the ending section, where I recorded three saxophone parts that he mixed under his guitar … there’s a sense of the world kind of coming apart that works well with the song’s theme itself.

I am grateful and appreciative of Bobbus as a musical partner and collaborator, and for the chance to make more interesting collaborative music and art with the Whale’s Lantern community.

Anytime anyone has the opportunity to make something out of nothing — to pluck melody and harmony and rhythm out of thin air and transform it into something that someone else might hear and maybe even appreciate — particularly when this magic is done with someone from somewhere else in the world connected only by a federated space, is a cause for celebration, and experiences like A Whale’s Lantern provide a powerful counterpoint to so much of the failure of other networking spaces to live up to the promise of a world made better by connections.

Peace (inside the booth),


SmallStories: Pedagogy of the Small

My friends Laura and Kate, along with Geoff and Tanya remotely, presented about the idea of Small Stories and the Pedagogy of Small at the OER19 Conference.

I’ve been part of the SmallStories gathering over at Mastodon for some time (often with CLMOOC friends), first drawn there by Tanya and Kate and others, and now find myself a regular SmallStories writer. SmallStories is the idea of small moments, shared in the open. They are typically short bursts of writing, often hinting at something larger. Sort of like Slice of Life, if you are a Slicer with Two Writing Teachers.

Laura and Kate: SmallStories

I’m enjoying watching Laura share the ideas of the writing (including work that Geoff has done with the Young Writers Project in Vermont) at a conference considering the possibilities of open networking. She begins by contrasting the push towards bigger, bigger, bigger networking spaces with small corners of writing, sharing, connecting like the #smallstories hashtag. (oops, then the sound goes out when she moves to chat about Mastodon. Read her lips!)

Laura and Kate: SmallStories

Kate then explores the difference between flash fiction (short creative fiction) and small stories (mostly non-fiction of a single event).

“This little thing happened, how weird was that?” is how Kate explains how our days, all of us, are filled with small stories. “Noticing is something you need to learn to do.”

It’s in that noticing that we bring forth the story, however.

Kate defines small stories as:

  • being composed of the details we notice
  • having something to teach us about ourselves or the world
  • notice our values in action, made visible

Thanks to my friends for gathering this together and sharing it out.

Peace (in the open),

Slice of Life Meets SmallStories

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

Maybe I am a bit lazy this morning. Maybe I just want to close the gap between the writing I do in one space with the writing I do in another space. Maybe I want to create a reminder to myself — this blog is how I curate my writing life, after all — that I have pretty consistently taking the concept of Slice of Life (the small moments, made larger through reflective writing) into pieces I create for Small Stories over on Mastodon, on a pretty regular basis.

I didn’t create the Small Stories ideas there on Mastodon. That was the idea of some networked friends who wanted to explore rich stories of connectedness and kindness. But I have been pretty consistent, using it as a place to wander with ideas and voice. Like Twitter, a character limit on Mastodon is a forced invitation to edit, to narrow, to find the exact word that means what you want to say and delete the extraneous.

Here are the last seven Small Stories I wrote over the past week:

Not remembering to check the forecast before sleep, as I am apt to do in these wintry days of New England, I was hit hard in the face this morning with a wallop of cold, biting wind. It made my eyes tear and then the tears froze on my cheek. I bent my head, kept trudging. The dog stopped with every howl of wind, as if listening to some ancient call of warning. Trees groaned but held their own against the violent sway. Some days just start wild and all you can do is forge ahead.

Who do you imagine in your mind as you write? Sometimes, an audience of one. You. Me. Sometimes, the sphere expands. Co-centric circles of Them. Yesterday, I found myself with an imaginary writer in my mind, watching her write. It was clear she was all paper/pen, not keyboard/screen. Something about font/ink brought her to life. Gave her form. From there, I had something underway before I knew it, as if she had written the song about herself through me. I can hardly explain it.

I was at a stop sign when I noticed a father and a son, maybe 7 years old, on the sidewalk. At their feet was something silver. Tin foil. A huge, massive piece of tin foil. The father was pointing at it and the boy offered up a questioning look. The father nodded. The boy leaped into the air, landing two feet on the tin foil. Then the boy began a puddle dance on top of the tin foil, a look of pure ecstasy on his young face. I couldn’t hear or feel the foil, but one can imagine.

My wife and I wandered downtown for “Arts Night Out.” An impromptu Bluegrass jam session took place in one store. In another, the son of the late saxophonist/composer Charles Neville was tucked in a corner, improving full jazz compositions to a small audience. We watched with wonder at Khalif Neville’s long fingers dancing over the keyboard, never hesitating on a note or melody, as songs flowed from his mind to our ears. We sipped wine, listened with appreciation.

We were walking out of the concert hall with our son, congratulating him on the concert band performance.
“We did OK,” he said, “but in the second song, the kid next to me let rip a huge burp.”
He stopped and looked at us.
“Did you hear it?”
Now, there were hundreds of people in the audience and nearly 100 musicians on stage.
“Nope,” my wife laughed. “We didn’t hear that.”
“Now, if he had farted …” I added, but my son quickly cut me off.
“Your fart jokes are the worst, dad.”

My son’s band director lost her mother this week. Yet there she was, in the lights, directing the middle school jazz and concert bands before a packed audience. She referenced her mother more than once from the stage, a presence in her musical life as performer and teacher. At the end of the night, a parent took the mic, expressed our collective support for this amazing teacher of our children. She truly is. The entire auditorium, hundreds of us, rose in an act of community love.

The box says “free” yet there’s nothing in the box. I pass by it two different days in my car but don’t have time to stop. So I am stopping now in story to consider the Box of Free. For, is it the Box itself that is free? It’s a nice box. Looks solid. Or is it whatever was in the Box that was free? Whatever it was is now long gone. Still, the Box remains. Perhaps it is this: the story of the Box is freely given and taken, and here I am, passing the Box along to you. Use it wisely.

Peace (made large by small moments),