Smoking with John Sperling

Read the Story December 15, 2006

This piece arrests our attention from that very first line—”My daughter became the moon one day”—and never lets us go. A truly remarkable first line. From where did it arrive to you?

The credit for that first line goes to my long-time teacher and mentor, Lisa Glatt. We students were given a list of nonsensical openers, and then asked to choose one and continue the story. I chose the “daughter” sentence because of the sweetness, the fragility of it.

This piece, you mentioned, came out of your time in Lisa Glatt’s workshop. What did you learn in that workshop that translated into specific aspects of “Small Waves”?

From Lisa I learned that in short pieces, each word must have a reason for being there. That if I wanted to become a better writer, I must also become a better reader. To use fresh imagery, be willing to move things around, discard clichés, and never give up. I still give up all the time, but I’m pretty good about following the rest of her suggestions.

The ending leaves me awestruck each time I reread it. “…so bright and charming, defying gravity, making small waves in the aquarium, surprising the fish.” Each phrase both delights and surprises. How did this flash come to end with her “surprising the fish”?

I couldn’t seem to get to the image I was after until I made the connection between the moon and the “tides” in the aquarium. I didn’t know it at the time, but I think I ended on the fish because they are small and vulnerable, like children.

An eighteen-pound cat. We need to hear more about this little kitty.

Her name is Dash and she loves ham. She is drawn to the smell of bleach, and very much dislikes physical activity of any kind. When her food bowl is empty, she stands next to it and bats at me when I walk by. “Meh,” she says. “MEH!”

The 2005 Edge Annual World Question ( 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 believe that if I were able to fly over the treetops, it would feel exactly as it does when I dream it. Therefore, I’ve already done it.

About the Author:

A short story of John Sperling's will appear online in the next issue of Swink. He is 42 and lives in Los Angeles with his eighteen-pound cat.

About the Artist:

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