In the essay, the husband tells the narrator, “You have a hard time picturing the infinite.” That line resonated because, for me, the essay functions as a study of how to picture the infinite. Was that the purpose you had in mind when you wrote or did something else inspire you?
I definitely had that in mind while writing, along with the ways the infinite manifests itself in our everyday lives. Also, I think a lot about how parenting is this mix of surreal, sort of magical moments next to seemingly endless quotidian tasks. And then, there’s the way that parenting feels like trying to hold onto the infinite. You have this baby, this person, who didn’t use to exist, and now here they are in the world, with wants and needs, and soon opinions and hopes and dreams. Life starts out infinite, but doors close every day, and it’s our job as parents to keep as many of those doors open for as long as possible for our kid(s). So, like, no pressure.
And I’ve spent a lot of time reading about space, watching videos about space, listening to songs about space, etc., etc., since having a child, and it always gives me a bit of an existential crisis to think about the vastness of the universe, the smallness of my life, space junk, what we’ve done to our planet, what we do to each other, all given the fact that we live inside a universe that is infinite. All that “sad space” writing stuff.
I love that “Conversation Topic” rebels against dialogue conventions and sentence structure. It creates a breathy, energizing feeling verging on anxiety, which is quite an accomplishment. How did you decided to write the whole story in one glorious, spliced sentence?
Thank you! Those are very nice things to say about the piece. I had been reading a lot of one-sentence stories and thinking about trying to write one. Around that time, this conversation happened, and one long sentence just felt like the right format to capture it. Parenting feels this way to me sometimes, just one thing after another after another in quick succession, and there isn’t always time to reflect. Conversations can happen so fast as well. I often feel like I’m having two conversations at once, one with my husband and one with my son; sometimes the conversations are related and sometimes not. I tried to capture that feeling of things both mundane and significant coming so fast and in different directions while I’m just trying to be in the moment to feel and observe everything as it’s happening.
You’ve published magical realism, such as your wonderful story “Fragments,” and you’re an Assistant Editor for American Short Fiction, but “Conversation Topic” is nonfiction. What similarities or differences do you find working with different genres?
Thanks for reading that story! “Conversation Topic” is the first nonfiction piece I’ve written with the hope that it would be published. It was fun to write, but I’m not sure yet how I feel about having something personal out in the world.
I’ve discovered that I find ways to incorporate constraints into my writing projects (as you may guess by now, the infinite possibilities of writing fiction can feel overwhelming to me), whether it’s word count or trying to work around a particular scene, or in longer projects, writing my way to and from certain things I know I want to include. This piece had the natural constraints of needing to be true to the moment it’s depicting, and that was comforting to me as I wrote.
Besides, you know, black holes eating black holes, what other topics does your family like to talk about at the dinner table?
There’s a lot of talk about, and pretending to be, various fictional characters. Usually, my son prompts us to go through dinner having a conversation as if we are each a certain character. Sometimes, I’m a witch from Minecraft, which means my son just calls me Witch a lot, which I think is great. My son will be the Ender Dragon, and my husband is an enderman. Or I’m Kirby, my son is King Dedede, and my husband is Meta Knight. Sometimes I’m Squirtle or Bulbasaur, my son is Charmander, and my husband is Snorlax. I’ve created a persona for Squirtle where he loves to spend time in a compost bin for some reason, so there’s a lot of my son trying to convince Squirtle to get out of the compost and take a bath. We sometimes have mock trials, where I’m the judge and my son and husband are various characters causing trouble for each other, and I have to rule on who’s right and who’s wrong and give out punishments. As I’m writing these answers, we’re discussing origami frog races.
What is your favorite sauce to cook or eat (or what’s the sauce most likely to splatter a picture book at your house)?
In this piece, it was pasta sauce (marinara). I used to be a bit more creative, but all the pandemic cooking kind of burned out my culinary creativity, and now, if there’s sauce, it’s usually from a jar and it’s usually accompanied by pasta. I recommend Rao’s.