Smoking with Aaron Burch

Read the Story December 15, 2006

“Whatever it was, it looked so cool, so defiant.” That indefinite “whatever” clings to “Gum” throughout, holding it together. What role does such indefiniteness play in this short short?—and the short short in general?

Indefiniteness and uncertainty are probably what this short is all about. I think. I’m not totally sure. Personally, my memory sucks, and I’m not very good at making decisions, two not very good traits for a writer. A number of my stories are thus pretty bland and wishy washy. So then, with this, I tried to work that to my advantage and build combinations and situations where that sense of uncertainty is a positive; instead of detracting from what the short is about, it is what it is about.

Math takes on a wonderfully expansive, metaphoric power as the story progresses. What do you make of “math” as it appears in this piece?

I am a total dork and love math, so try to work it in whenever possible, really. I think I always liked it because it is so concrete, your answer is either right or wrong. It is like a puzzle and I enjoy that dorky good feeling of getting the right answer. So, in this, it worked to that effect because most of the short is about indefiniteness but math is just the opposite. It is like the one certainty, the one thing that makes sense and that this kid understands.

Titles fascinate me. This piece came to SLQ with the title “Untitled (Gum).” What’s the significance of such a title? What essentials of titling a piece have you gleaned from seeing all those titles as editor with Hobart?

I am awful at titles. OK, while typing this, I just came up with this metaphor, though it probably isn’t really a new idea or anything. But, titles are kind of like your first impression. And most are thus probably trying too hard or kind of bland and forgettable. Mine tend toward the latter and so, with admitted laziness, and maybe a little pretension, I thought it would be cool to leave it untitled, to let myself off the hook. I thought it would be “arty” or something. But then it worked to the story’s advantage, I think, because of all the above stated uncertainty.

What’s going on at Hobart these days? What has Aaron the editor taught Aaron the writer recently?

Hobart‘s chugging along nicely. The website reigns were handed over earlier this year to a trio of web editors—Savannah Schroll-Guz, Claudia Smith, and Jensen Whelan (along with photo editor, Sean Carman)—and so all website goodness as of late is their doing. And we published a book earlier this year, through our “minibook” division, Short Flight/Long Drive Books, which is headed up by Elizabeth Ellen. So, they’ve all been working pretty hard, doing good stuff, and I’ve been writing little stories about math and bad memory and watching HBO shows on DVD.

When writing, I try to forget about editing as best I can, otherwise it can be kind of debilitating. I’ll barely get a sentence or two in before I start thinking of the lame cliches I’m working with and all the other reasons why I would reject it if it were sent to me.

The 2005 Edge Annual World Question (www.edge.org) asked a question that the BBC called “fantastically stimulating.” One year later, we ask you this same question: “What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?”

I’m not sure, though I’ve actually been thinking about this lately as I’ve been reading the new Best American Nonrequired Reading here and there, and it includes a number of these responses. I believe I spent way too long trying to think of a good answer to this, to no avail. But I can’t prove it. Maybe I spent just the right amount of time. Or too much. I have no idea. I believe this is going to be the worst answer to this question in this issue, though I can’t prove that yet. I believe there is something inherently cool about beards.

About the Author:

Aaron Burch is the editor of Hobart.

About the Artist:

René Magritte was a Belgian surrealist artist (21 November 1898 - 15 August 1967).