Monthly Archives: June 2013

Pins and Needles: A Type of Flash Fiction

Today I would glow to voice the “Pins and Needles” flash fiction. Why do I ponder it Pins and Needles? Well, pins and needles is an euphemism for anxiety, but also pins poke and prod and sneeze, while the needles sew up and pick at and cackle…Imagine a giant ball of mental yarn, a mind, circled, pushed, scrutinized with an instrument (this instrument will be words). The Pins and Needles flash breaks down a subject, but also holds itself to mirror. Mental loops, circles, caterwhomps and the saliva of a scalpel. These circles are metallic, possibly barbed wire, a ball of barbed wire…yes, that’s the image. But this ball is making love with a battery. It thrums. It can also shock. It crackles. It causes anxiety. It is anxiety. The humming is something like the pulse at the throat, fidgety fingers, tapping at the windows, thunderings, fingernail soreness, shredding out the hair…etc.

Do you need more?

No. I’m moving onto examples. If you can’t snag the image above, it’s possible you’re at the wrong blog, like Judy Garland eating nachos.

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Let’s discuss Mary Ruefle. Most know her a poet, but I would like us to suspend that knowing. Let’s contemplate her as a person who obsessively erases books and then replaces the words with paint and snakes and birds, etc.


Mary Reufle REMOVES words. She understands COMPRESSION and DENSITY. Juxtaposition, too. She would like us to meet her HALF WAY. So, let’s now know her as a glow of Flash fiction, specifically, Reufle’s flash collection, The Most of It. As essential and piercing as:

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BTW, George Plimpton, in his immersion/participation journalism days, once played the triangle in a professional orchestra. Don’t snicker. Playing triangle in a symphony is not as easy as it appears. Producing a musical sonority, striking in the right place, at the right time, stricking at just the right velocity and pressure, etc.

But I digress…

Reufle’s book is a vibrant red and gold, not so unlike a salamander you might find in the jungle and squeeze/fondle for your little Mason jar back home on the ranch-by-the-riverside then all the sudden you fall over into a greasy container of seizure because that salamander was cradling a toxin in its fur coat.



Poets make excellent flash writers because they already have the harpoons in those things you store harpoons in (a purse made of sighs?). DENSITY drives a taxi made of ankle braces. Poets go for DENSITY. Words that bring several things to the picnic, including drugs. DENSITY knows how to sneak Doritos into a diet center by hiding them in a shampoo bottle. DENSITY is a customized book-carrying bicycle. DENSITY knows how to have sex in the shower while on a treadmill. Density was born in Leningrad. Was only there for three years. Then moved to Molotov, which is now Perm. DENSITY, when asked if it needs new spikes (since it fell over home while scoring the winning run), pats the reporter on the back and winks and reminds the reporter it wears new spikes (made of butter and silver) EVERY game and then says, “So don’t worry about it.”

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–STRIKE three, you’re out!

–Nice STRIKE, all the pins when flying!

–No? Then I shall begin my hunger STRIKE?

–You are one STRIKING young lady.

–Don’t STRIKE a match in here!

–Unless I STRIKE gold…

On and on, onto density. We need echoes. Words that do many things. Poets know echoes. Flash fiction writers know echoes. It’s why we can hear what they are saying. With Pins and Needles, they so want you to hear. They want you to join them in these pickings at the charged and sizzling thread (more a coil) of our tilted days and seclusion room nights. It is an empathetic genre, really, in its relentless scratching.

Let’s examine a few Pins and Needles flash, shall we? In The Most of It we have 30 individual texts. I will not chomp all of them (this isn’t a book review), but I’d like to hit a few to make my point. This book is a holy text (like many holy texts, it is somewhat under-read by those who should know better) of the Pin and Needle flash, and I will now use its shards to SHOW you.

Let’s begin at the beginning.

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The opening flash is titled, “Snow.” Here it is entire:

Every time it starts to snow, I would like to have sex. No matter if it is snowing lightly and unseriously, or snowing very seriously, well on into the night, I would like to stop whatever manifestation of life I am engaged in and have sex, with the same person, who also sees the snow and heeds it, who might have to leave an office or meeting, or some arduous physical task, or, conceivably, leave off having sex with another person, and go in the snow to me, who is already, in the snow, beginning to have sex in my snow-mind. Someone for whom, like me, this is an ultimatum, the snow sign, an ultimatum of joy, though as an ultimatum beyond joy as well as sorrow. I would like to be in the classroom — for I am a teacher — and closing my book stand up, saying “It is snowing and I must go have sex, good-bye,” and walk out of the room. And starting my car, in the beginning stages of snow, know that he is starting his car, with the flakes falling on its windshield, or, if he is at home, he is looking at the snow and knowing I will arrive, snowy, in ten or twenty or thirty minutes, and, if the snow has stopped off, we, as humans, can make a decision, but not while it is still snowing, and even half-snow would be some thing to be obeyed. I often wonder where the birds go in a snowstorm, for they disappear completely. I always think of them deep inside the bushes, and further along inside the trees and deep inside of the forests, on branches where no snow can reach, deeply recessed for the time of the snow, not oblivious to it, but intensely accepting their incapacity, and so enduring the snow in brave little inborn ways, with their feathered heads bowed down for warmth. Wings, the mark of a bird, are quite useless in snow. When I am inside having sex while it snows I want to be thinking about the birds too, and I want my love to love thinking about the birds as much as I do, for it is snowing and we are having sex under or on top of the blankets and the birds cannot be that far away, deep in the stillness and silence of the snow, their breasts still have color, their hearts are beating, they breathe in and out while it snows all around them, though thinking about the birds is not as fascinating as watching it snow on a cemetery, on graves and tombstones and the vaults of the dead, I love watching it snow on graves, how cold the snow is, even colder the stones, and the ground is the coldest of all, and the bones of the dead are in the ground, but the dead are not cold, snow or no snow, it means very little to them, nothing, it means nothing to them, but for us, watching it snow on the dead, watching the graveyard get covered in snow, it is very cold, the snow on top of the graves over the bones, it seems especially cold, and at the same time especially peaceful, it is like snow falling gently on sleepers, even if it falls in a hurry it seems gentle, because the sleepers are gentle, they are not anxious, they are sleeping through the snow and they will be sleeping beyond the snow, and although I will be having sex while it snows I want to remember the quiet, cold, gentle sleepers who cannot think of themselves as birds nestled in feathers, but who are themselves, in part, part of the snow, which is falling with such steadfast devotion to the ground all the anxiety in the world seems gone, the world seems deep in a bed as I am deep in a bed, lost in the arms of my lover, yes, when it snows like this I feel the whole world has joined me in isolation and silence.

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I can think of little better introduction into Pins and Needles. Note the techniques, as you will see them again and again in this form of prose.

The sentences. They grab your hand, but not always to comfort, sometimes to push your hand into, well, something. Possibly sharp or icky, as in something your mind doesn’t want to consider, but would rather avoid. They guide you down slippery paths unknown. They don’t like to behave. Look at sentence two. It is exactly the type of sentence you will see in this variety of contemplative flash. Eye the sheer length, but then the commas. You start, you pause, you take a step, you pause, you pause for another short stay, you start. You’re never allowed on exactly stable ground. Where are we going?In this form, sentences like to circle, coil, intertwine, much like a vine, a vine snaking its way about the grays valleys of your brain. Imagine Kudzu. Many of Reufle’s flash fictions are one long, long (gripping) sentence.


First Person POV is common, and often very personal, almost as if revealing secrets. Secrets and lies are often integral to Pins and Needles flash fiction. You will get third POV, at times, but usually when delving more into the philosophical (see below), using the POV to gain distance, and to universalize the characters (as us).

Diversions are central. We wander/wonder. From snow to sex to birds to gravestones to birds to sex to snow…yet these diversions must have threads. They are expertly knit–the pattern is intricate. It only looks like a ball of yarn. It is a spherical machine. This is the Pins and Needles flash. Feel its anxiety? It gnaws at stated or implied ideas (Where do the birds go when it snows? Do the dead feel snow?), and re-gnaws–seriously and unseriously (not a word at all, poet)–and then gnaws again, needle, needle, needle tooth by tooth. This type of flash doesn’t care for pithy generalizations like SHOW DON’T TELL, because it tells first, and tells so vividly the rule collapses on itself. This genre likes to play, with its “snow-mind” and its image-jokes (a lover disengaging physically from the act of sex to enter a car to go have snow-sex), but is primarily serious. To not see entropy, falling, brevity, mortality, and so on here would be silly in a most serious way. The Pins and Needles flash picks at larger issues, thus its foundation of anxiety. Issues we’d rather avoid.

BTW, several subjects come up again in “Pins and Needles” flash fiction. These would include relationships, sex (as aspect of relationships), humor (always dark–the type of humor you need to deal with life), animals and nature (as a existential foil to humans), the act of writing, violence, juxtapositions of. Often stark, quick juxtapositions. Why? most likely to create the substrata of this entire affair–not to be redundant–but I mean to say anxiety. Modern existence. Alienated. Anxious. Analysis (of the self, exhaustively). Now you’ve hit the heart (pumping hard) of the Pins and Needles flash.

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The Pins and Needles flash is a master of the opening line. Why? Because this genre is talking to you (again–not scene setting). It’s like, “Hey! Hey you! Listen to me for a minute!” Here a few from Reufle’s book:

“This morning I want to talk a little bit about killing.”   (Camp William)

“If you were very, very small, smaller than a leprechaun, smaller than a gnome or fairy, and you lived in a vagina, every time a penis came in there would be a natural disaster.”  (The Taking of Moundville by Zoom)

“If you bother to read this at all it is a clear indication your life is intolerable and you seek a distraction by engaging in the activity you are presently pretending to engage in.” (If all the World Were Paper)

And so on…

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Lastly (though I could go on; as you can see, I do glow Pins and Needles flash), as I intimated earlier, this genre often delves into philosophy. I don’t mean formally, but the whole genre is about Big Questions. This is the well-spring of much anxiety, no? We didn’t ask onto this odd stage, poor players, but here we are: now what? Indeed. Here is an example, a microfiction, the final text in the book, titled “On Burial.”

There are only two tombs: the tomb of Jesus and the tomb of Tut. Roll away one stone and you will be given everything: food, clothing, shelter, gems, cloth, seeds and oil, a replica of the world in pure gold. Roll away the other stone and there’s nothing.

For further Pins and Needles authors, read:

Lydia Davis. Probably the Queen of anxiety flash fiction. Cerebral, personal, deadly. A flash writer wins the Booker Prize!



Nearly every morning, a certain woman in our community comes running out of her house with her face white and her overcoat flapping wildly. She cries out, “Emergency, emergency,” and one of us runs to her and holds her until her fears are calmed. We know she is making it up; nothing has really happened to her. But we understand, because there is hardly one of us who has not been moved at some time to do just what she has done, and every time, it has taken all our strength, and even the strength of our friends and families too, to quiet us.


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Or try Diane Williams. Sentence master. Sex disaster. Nausea and Nerves.


Science and Sin or Love and Understanding

I am not going to look it up in a book or do research. There are those of you who probably know why the small switching tail of a small animal makes me remember how I want to copy lewd people.

If the answer to the question is: Animals set an example for people, then I accept the answer. Do I have a choice?

I gave my husband no choice.

The last time I shoved something down my husband’s throat was when I cheated on him. Now I say to him, “I didn’t want to shove anything down your throat.”

“It’s because I love you,” was the puny thing to say. It was puny compared to the size of the power which had made me say it to him.

The power had made me see things too. The power had turned him into the shape of a man wearing his clothes so he could leave me in the dark, standing beside his side of it, our bed. I knew I was seeing things.

He said, “I hear you.”

I may or I may not cheat on him again. But the last time, I was standing up when I knew I was going to do it. I see myself on the street, deciding. I am holding onto something. Now I cannot see what it is. This is no close-up view. I am a stick figure.

I am the size of a pin.

or try Angela Woodward. History, biology, psychology.



And there you have it.


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