Smoking With Mary Hamilton

Read the Story June 25, 2009

You seemed very excited that we were keeping this story’s title. Why is that?
I have a whole stack of these “me and Theodore” stories and, really, all of them started with a title or an image of that title and the story grew from there. For me, the titles are the biggest part of the Theodore stories, the arrow on the compass, you know? But I’ve found that a lot of the titles are a touch long and grammatically incorrect and seemingly have little to do with the story (but what good is a compass without the arrow?!) and a few editors have asked me if I’d be open to changing the title. I’ve always said “no” and the various editors have always been very generous in letting me keep my titles. But when I submit these stories, I’m always prepared for someone to ask for a title change.

How did the style of this piece come into being?

Total and complete frustration and hunger.

I had been spending considerable time in doctor’s offices and I had developed this habit of stealing stuff. Tongue depressors and giant cotton swabs and such. And then, one day, I was escorted in to an office and there was a giant machine that wasn’t being used—it was just there as storage (it looked like a photobooth from WWI).

I have no idea what that has to do with the style of the piece other than the doctor who helped me that day left me alone for 30 minutes and when he came back was giggling and admitted that he had to go look up my condition on the Internet.

It begins with bridge and ends with fly. How, when you were writing this amazing piece, did you get from “bridge” to “fly”?

Aww, shucks, you’re so nice. I just want to put you in my pocket.

Well, like I said, I had been spending a lot of time in doctor’s offices and also was having a hellish time at work (not my optician job, a previous job). So I started writing the piece, thinking in this obsessive, extremely focused way about wanting to get out of a particular situation in a very concrete way (bridge) and then, in some kind of huh-how-about-that way finding out that everyone else is equally as obsessive about getting out in their own way. We are all insane little gnomes on the inside.

Writer, teacher, optician. I do like the two i’s in optician, by the way. How do these three “jobs” work together in Mary Hamilton’s busy life?

I’d never noticed the two i’s, you’re clever!

Three jobs work together by allowing me to eat one real meal a day and also pay rent, ba-dum!

I absolutly love being an optician. I get to use parts of my brain that otherwise would have little exercise. Part of being an optician is really getting to know your customer and what they need their glasses for, so I meet and get to know people from all walks of life. Midwives, car detailers, tatoo artists, politicians, you name it, I’ve sold them glasses.

Writer is my blood and teacher is my Jazzercise.

Tell us all you can about the QUICKIES! reading series.

I co-founded and co-host QUICKIES! with the incredible Lindsay Hunter. We both really like short fiction and we both get bored easily. I was at a reading once and the poem had been going on for at least 10 minutes. The same four words for 10 minutes. Luckily I was in the back of the room, by the wine.

Personally, I was sick of asking people to go to readings with me only to get the fart-face in response, and Lindsay was getting chronic restless-leg-syndrome from so many loooooong readings, so we gave our readers a time limit and a couple of rules (prose only, no excerpts, no cheating). If the reader goes over five minutes, we blow a whistle and they’re done. The reading is the second Tuesday of every month. We have a website, if you don’t mind, at quickieschicago.blogspot.com.

About the Author:

Mary Hamilton is a writer, teacher, and optician living in Chicago where she is also the co-host and co-creator of the QUICKIES! reading series. Previous work has appeared in Fiction at Work, Eclectica, Thieves Jargon, and Storyglossia, among other lovely places.