This very base question, about the hows and whys of plumbing, has brought the narrator literally to his knees. Have you ever been gut-punched by something so (seemingly) innocent?
Well, sure, I think everyone has. Or maybe I am just strange? I see symbolism in everything – ironing a shirt is a profound thing, it was wrinkled and you apply heat and pressure and it is smooth, and maybe you see heat and pressure as more of a beneficial process? But go another step: who decided wrinkles are bad and should be removed in the first place? When you wipe out a nest of ants in your basement, do they see you as an impetuous and wrathful god, and should you feel a hint of guilt? And the first snowfall of the season is always comforting, I think, Oh, see, it is still here, this snow, no matter what! Water itself is so amazing – I have read several things lately about water, how we are connected to it, when we are very happy or sad we cry, as if we contain water just wanting to burst out and collect itself. Is this what you mean?
This story gets to the gut of “the human condition” (right?), and it packs a major emotional punch. Did writing this story affect you emotionally? Or can you separate yourself from your words while writing?
Everything I write affects me emotionally, even grocery lists! Especially grocery lists – what if the store is out of the right kind of cat food (do you know what happens to people who run out of cat food? They are found three days later with their faces eaten off after the neighbors complain about the stink), or if the milk is so far back in the case I cannot reach it (this has happened often lately and I have to find a store person and I feel bad and embarrassed and then I get annoyed they set up this situation – the supermarket is a nightmare!) and wow, they have baby artichokes today, how exciting! In this story I looked at my compassion for this narrator, his need to figure it out, his powerlessness to do so, his fear and loneliness, especially the loneliness – he has to keep up a strong front for wife and kids so his tears happen in the bathroom. Sometimes I cry as I write a story, but this one, I cried when I read it. I am at the age now where people I know are dying, people my age, not of weird accidents but as a matter of course and I am just beginning to grasp, in a visceral way, that I am going to die some day no matter how unprepared I am! And sometimes I write happy stories – really, I do! – and they make me sing. Or at least hum. Maybe bounce around a little in the chair. Why write if it does not affect you emotionally? You might as well scrub floors. Then again scrubbing floors affects me emotionally too. I am a very emotional person!
This story came from a prompt in the Flash Factory workshop. What was the prompt? And how did you get from *there* to *here*?
The prompt (from Tara!) as posted by Richard Osgood was:
Write a story that takes place entirely in a bathroom. Public restroom, powder room, shower, bathtub, outhouse &mdash you pick it, but the entire story has to be set in the bathroom.
Limit: 750 words.
I started paying attention when I went into my bathroom! That was strange! Like to how the towels were folded and the spots on the mirror. I started with a different idea, a woman putting on make-up, maybe because a man had hit her, but that never came together. Then I tried a man using the bathroom to get away from the small-talk of a party, but that did not work either. But those were ideas I had to write to get them out of my head, out of the way, so it was not a waste of time to write them. And then at one point I washed my hands and went with that, the water, how important water is, and I remembered a song that made an impression on me, I heard it a couple of years ago, “The Fiddler’s Hymn” by John Sutherland, “Where does the music come from, where does it go?” And I thought about the water that way and then somehow “punch biopsy” came into the picture and when I looked up terms associated with “punch biopsy” I came across “pagetoid spread” which I just had to use, people think medical terminology is boring but it is sometimes fun – I keep a Merck Manual for fun reading, do you know “elevator fart” is described in there? Yes, I just looked it up, sixteenth edition, 1992, page 846. I love medical stuff!
Tell us about your writing process. How many iterations did this story go through? Were there any major plot or character changes to speak of? Why or why not?
This was more or less “as is” from first draft to submitting, though Tara helped me with some editing on my original last line. I have noticed my last lines are often in need of editing. I was worried about the cancer angle. I have read the Rules and one of them is Do Not Write About Cancer. I do not really think about this as a Cancer Story, it is more of a Mortality Story. I tried to make it a heart attack, but 1) that made it over the top dramatic moment of death and I did not want that, I wanted it to be quiet, that “seemingly ordinary” thing you said, more about the moment of realizing mortality on a gut level, I am at that age now where people I know are dying and it is not considered a freak thing, and 2) I could not use “pagetoid spread” if he had a heart attack. So I left it and figured I would hear people complaining about cancer. But I guess it was ok anyway. I got lucky!
What can you tell us about your time in the Flash Factory?
Today (March 1) is my Zoe birthday! Happy birthday to Zin! My Zoe-godmother Liesl got me into the Flash Factory way back then, maybe a few weeks into Zoe because we traded reviews on short stories we both had posted, and I thought they would laugh at me but they have been so nice! Sometimes I think they are putting me on, my weird stories do much better than I thought they would, but everyone there gives wonderful suggestions and there is much information floating around and I have learned a lot! It is a wonderful place! I had some trouble at the end of last year and could not write and I fell into a hole, and people from the Flash Factory came and got me! It was so sweet, and I started writing flash again and I am very grateful. The motivation of a weekly gig is very helpful to me. I try to play every week except when I give the prompt, because even if I put up a bad story, it still is something I can learn from, in terms of what does not work! And that is as important to know as what does work! Sometimes a story I thought did not work, does, and I really depend on the Flash Factory to tell me what is good and what is not. I loved this story, and I am glad it turned out to be good, but I loved other stories that did not turn out to be good so I still need objective feedback. I hope some day I will learn how to tell for myself!