Friday, January 29, 2016

What's the story, "Sound Space"?

I started drafting "Sound Space" when we lived in the house on 1st Avenue in Fort Lauderdale, surrounded by feral cats and orchids, across the street from Daryl, the guy with a huge always-accurate clock ticking away on the front of his house and a sign in his yard that warned against letting your dog "go to the bathroom" on his lawn. Those were days when we might think, on a Saturday afternoon, "let's have a party," and a few hours later 15 amazing people whom I love would fill our house, playing guitars and singing and laughing under the light of the moon.

At that time I had a room for writing and creating. The house only had two bedrooms, but one of them was mine to use to create. It's something I miss. I had things taped up on the walls, and weird little things I'd made piled up on the shelves. I tend to collect "interesting garbage" -- like custom-cut cardboard packaging materials that make interesting shapes -- thinking that someday I'll make it into something. And maybe someday I will. I still have it all. But now it's crammed in the corner of a room that Brian uses to process orders of "Write Like a Motherfucker" mugs, behind a baby gate to keep our two little barbarians from destroying everything -- or getting hurt themselves. Our lives are less loose and jolly than they used to be, not that I would trade it for the world.

I had the idea at that time for a character who could hear the sounds of other lives -- other selves who had made different choices or been affected by different acts of chance. And that by the time she was an adult, this character would be able to hear so many different possible selves, so many so similar to her, that much of it would mush into white noise, and the only ones should would *really* be able to hear would be the ones so desperately horribly different that they have nothing in common in at all. I imagined Penelope hearing June. 

I first imagined the story written non-linearly. In fact, that's how I originally composed it: right into inDesign, in chunks of text free-formed and variously floating. I tried to get it published like that for a very long time. I took it with me to an artists' residency for experimental literature, and worked on it there, too. But years passed and the story wasn't getting anywhere. Finally I stripped it all out of its inDesign boxes and sent it out in paragraphs, as a normal-looking story, and it was accepted. It's currently printed in the Spring/Summer 2016 issue of Louisiana Literature.

I am overjoyed to see this story in print. The day it was released I received a facebook message from someone who'd read my story and had taken the time to let me know how much she loved it (always do this: every writer wants -- needs! -- to hear this!), and that feeling of being acknowledged and appreciated for something you've poured your soul into is, well, utterly beyond words. In that moment, I am made of gratitude, the greatest thing a person can become. But when I look it it spelled out in clean left-right lines from margin to margin, well groomed into its tidy paragraphs, I can't help but feel like something got lost in the process.

The question is: was this a good loss or a bad loss? As the creator, I am biased and blinded, but I can try to assess it objectively, and when I do, I think I come to the conclusion that although the story needed to be written the way it was, in the end, the story was more about sound than sight, and the visual aspects may have actually been working against the musical qualities of the story. The story is very rhythmic, very auditory. Just as a song with an unusual melody benefits from a steady beat, maybe my odd story needed the structures we take for granted -- the shapes of the "standard" page, the blocks of paragraph -- to come together. The character, Penelope, lives in a disordered world of auditory overlap, a near-chaos that makes it difficult to think. Perhaps in trying to reflect that on the page, I was making it hard for my reader to think.

Nonetheless, those are the shapes in which the story was born. And so as the author, when I look at this story, happy as I am to see it in print, the loss will always stand out to me.

Readers often want to turn to the author as the "authority" on stories -- tell us what it means, tell us why you wrote it. Writers rarely know. Writing a story is such an amazingly complex process that at the end of it I usually sit back, read the story, and ask, wow, did I really do that? Especially once a little time passes, the author is as much a "reader" of the work as anyone else.

And then there are a cases like this, where the author has an insight into her own work that nobody wants, or needs.



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