Smoking With Sean Lovelace

by Beth Thomas Read the Story December 20, 2009

Where did the inspiration come from? Is it too easy to say it came while in line at a Walgreens pharmacy?

It came from Place (all its connotations), any of these pharmacy stores. They amaze me. They have us trapped—we have to get our meds (all of us eventually) for something, and then they slather the area in potato chips, vodka, pocketknives, and books about bible verses for your cat (I am not making this up), etc. You know these companies pay a great deal to these pharmacies for “placement”—where in the store the product will appear. You don’t want it bottom shelf, middle of some aisle, down there with the dust bunnies. The best (and most expensive) place is where you and I have to stand, to stop and hesitate and look at all this crap. So it seemed an interesting Place for a story, I felt. Lines are fascinating anyway, the way we handle them.

Who is the narrator here? A pharmacy worker? Someone else in line?

I’d say the narrator is someone waiting to get their medications for some unknown chronic mental illness. This narrator sometimes takes the meds, and often does not. This narrator is highly functional with his illness. He is also observant, possibly due to the very brain chemistry causing other problems in his life.

The language ebbs in and out of specificity, sometimes feeling grounded in reality and sometimes not. I love, “I wish we could hinge, then unhinge, and have photographs of ourselves along the river. We flow right now; I think we do, as we stand here, with this proud display of 43 Pringles cans.” Is the intention to let our minds wander, then bring us back to the harsh reality of the Walgreens pharmacy with something so detailed as the 43 Pringles cans?

More and more, I myself feel, as you put it, “grounded in reality and sometimes not.” So I think I have been working this terrain in my fiction. I don’t really know what the hell is going on, and I’m not sure I am going to learn. So I just exist in this state, and it’s a fine state for a writer. I also think time and space for the mind to meander, for the imagination to bloom, is under attack! If people would quit trying to sell me something, I might just think a little. Etc.

What is happening at the end? This person wants something, anything. What? Who? What has been lost?

The person is explaining a technique called “cheeking.” All patients know about cheeking. In this moment, they do NOT take their medications. I have to tread delicately here when discussing psychotropic medications. I worked for many years as a psychiatric registered nurse and am an advocate for the mentally ill. Medications revolutionized treatment for the ill, and are often very effective. They also have numerous and often debilitating “side” effects (not really on the side at all). So there is a tension. You would be surprised at the number of Americans who do NOT take medications prescribed for whatever (antibiotics and so on). Why? Many fascinating reasons.

Tell me about the tornado paragraph. Tornadoes are full of meaning. but what is it? What did the tornadoes, then lack of tornadoes, do to him?

Tornadoes are chaos. They don’t give a fuck. They are the unknown, uncaring, odd—we simply have no control over tornadoes. If you ever lived in a tornado rich area, you know what I mean. They might skip over you or kill you, who knows? Having said this, I have no idea why the tornadoes left this character. Possibly they did not at all.

About the Author:

Sean Lovelace lives in Indiana, where he directs the creative writing program at Ball State University. His latest collection is about Velveeta and published by Bateau Press. He has won several national literary awards, including the Crazyhorse Prize for Fiction. He reviews flash fiction for Diagram Magazine. He likes to run, far.