I am interested in precipitating events.
When I was a very small person, I used to look out the car window at everything we passed and make myself crazy with the knowledge that I could never truly know everything there was to know unless I’d stood in every single spot on earth, inside the eyes of every single person on earth, and looked in every possible direction, including inward. I’d try to lessen the burden of that impossibility by imagining standing on every square inch of the land where I grew up, and absorbing the visual information that belonged to it. Even that much lesser task was, of course, impossible. So for a while I tried drawing that information in great detail – the swath of forest visible from our living room picture windows, in all seasons: lush and urgent with leaves and evergreen needles, naked and whispering with fallen leaves in autumn, silent and bowed with a heavy, crystalline snowfall. I’d try to record the shower of white at the exact moment when the weight of snow became precisely the right degree of warm to melt and slump off onto the ground, sending a storm of sparkling dust into the winter sunshine and leaving the branches darkened with moisture but lightened in weight. None of these attempts were successful. They would have failed even if I had possessed the skill to render them perfectly on paper. There is no way to archive every moment of breath or change or action or stillness in every thing that lives. But the attention to detail gave me the ability to accurately record the obsession decades later, and it gave me an interest in the beginnings of things. Where we mark the start of the story, what minutiae is important in the engine of narrative. There are ways to draw attention to what matters, to assign value.
What interests me now is first things. When I stop to notice a landscape that’s inhabited by people, I never fail to wonder who was first. What made them stay? How hard did they have to fight to carve a life out of the space where I’m standing? Is this town here because someone once lost the will to go any further? Or because they saw this view from further away and thought – there. That’s where I’m going. That’s what I want. I’m interested in the tiny thing that triggers the combustion of recognition between two strangers. I’m curious about where to position the first point of story. Which tiny element of something different belongs to which thread of narrative. I love these things, and I fall prey to following them through whole improbable scenarios in my head.
So far in doing this writing project, my favorite things have been two pieces that were sort of creation myths. Some of my favorite reading recently was a book of short stories called Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day by Ben Loory. They’re very simple, pared down parables that tell of absolutely epic, sweeping events in the lives of ordinary people, or very ordinary events in the lives of wondrous strange people. Every time I sit down to write something here, I am conscious of wanting to write those stories, and having to think about not writing someone else’s work, but still wanting to use it as a jumping-off point for my own work. The creation myths have been very much my own, and have not read like those stories, but I’m conscious of a flavor of thought in my mouth that owes something to this book. I’d like to keep doing them; I suspect that reading this book was a precipitating event for me.