I’ve been trying to see things differently. Getting sick helped. That, or it just played to my mild hypochondriac tendencies. As the discomfort (I hesitate to call it pain) from my stomach bug lingered, I wondered if some insidious fragment of food poisoning would remain in my system, waiting to do a number on my kidneys and eventually do me in. Let’s hear it for paralyzing fear of death. I was overreacting, but it made me realize that I have no time to waste. I may be past the halfway point in my life and I’ve got thing to finish.
I’m working on a story about a man who’s just been thrown out (though gently) by his wife, and then his nomadic parents arrive at his new bachelor apartment with a bunch of boxes—seven, actually—full of stuff that used to belong to him as a kid. Only, when he opens them, he finds they don’t belong to him, but rather to his brother, who died when he was sixteen. When I originally workshopped this story, seven years ago, he’d only opened three of the boxes before the story ended. An obvious omission. He has to go through all those boxes, everyone said, and of course they were right. Since then, the contents of the boxes have changed from my original ideas, along with what they meant. A lot about the story has changed, but that makes sense. When I spoke with the workshop leader about it, he said there were enough things going on in the story to spend a career unpacking. At first I thought that was a compliment, and maybe it was. But there’s also a criticism in that, which is justified.
There’s another story I’ve decided to rework. I’ve sent it out about ten times—actually, I’ve sent it out exactly ten times. I keep track of these things in a spreadsheet, otherwise I’d never be able to keep it all straight. It was a finalist in a contest in 2009, which is as close as it’s gotten to seeing the light of day, but it still hasn’t quite made it. I don’t know that there’s anything exactly wrong with the story—in fact, I asked a friend, whose opinion I value highly, to read, it and said, “Tell me what’s wrong with it.”
“Um, nothing?” he replied.
But, it’s tricky. It’s hard to fit it into a particular bin, which is why I’ve decided to revise it. I have an idea where I’d like to see it appear, and so that’ll mean some changes, and it’ll also add another layer to the story. So apparently, I think the answer to a story that’s hard to pigeonhole is to make it harder to pigeonhole. No one ever said I did the smart thing.
After something Alex Chee wrote in his Twitter feed, I’ve decided to revise that second story by retyping it. I’m starting at the beginning and typing until it changes, and then I’ll keep typing and see where it goes. It may end up going somewhere I’m not expecting. That’s the fun part.
I’m borrowing more than that from Alex. He often writes his blog posts in numbered blocks, and something about that appeals to me. Maybe all of these parts aren’t directly related, but I’m just seeing where they lead and hoping the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
I think there are a lot of things I need to learn to see differently.