1) It was the first time I’d tasted Sofia, champagne in a can, a venture of the Coppola vineyard. A Blanc de Blancs, it’s 70% Pinot Blanc, 20% Sauvignon Blanc, and 10% Muscat Cannelli. Very eye-catching and the perfect “art event” bubbly.
It wasn’t bad, but my taste buds may have been influenced by the extremely salty enchilada dinner that left me parched and wanting something to wash away the bad taste in my mouth. Others agreed, though, that it was very drinkable. A caveat: watch out for the champagne headache if you have more than one.
2) I discovered an author who’s view of life is simpatico with mine. Dan Chaon’s collection of short stories, “Stay Awake,” has been described as “eerily beautiful,” “powerful and disturbing,” “superbly disquieting,” and “mesmerizing and gripping.” The book cover’s blurb describes the stories as filled with “scattered families, unfulfilled dreamers, anxious souls–lost, fragile, searching characters who wander between ordinary life and a psychological shadowland.”
The cover of the collection depicts a typical suburban house in a dreamscape darkness with only a single light glowing in the window of the attic. Chilling.
At the back of the collection, there’s an interview with Chaon where he talks about the collection’s genesis. He wrote the first story for McSweeney’s Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales, edited by Michael Chabon and published in 2003.“Chabon’s project was to combine so-called literary writing with pulp and genre storytelling elements, and I was very much inspired by what he had to say. I felt like “The Bees,” [the story written for Thrilling Tales] was a breakthrough for me, and after that I set out to explore that ghostly/horror story element…It opened me up to the idea that “literary” didn’t necessarily mean “realism.”
So Chaon read the stories of Edith Wharton, Elizabeth Bowen, and Shirley Jackson. And he thought “maybe we need the uncanny to find a way to express the way it feels to be alive right now.”
I think the stories are surreal in the way personal tragedy often feels like some cosmic joke, while the tragedies they contain are very much a part of reality.
When Chaon was developing the collection, he began to see images repeated throughout. This repetition hadn’t been planned, and his first instinct was to change the details to make the “echoes” less noticeable. But on further thought, he decided to add even more echoes and connections until reaching the last in the collection, “The Farm. The Gold. The Lily-White hands,” the story that contains all of the echoes from the earlier ones.
So we have variations on a theme until all the instruments in the band combine their solos to form a single whole. Chaon recognizes that he is very much inspired by music. The origin of the collection’s title story, “Stay Awake,” lies in a Disney Mary Poppins lullaby. Chaon describes how a version of the lullaby sung by Suzanne Vega came to haunt him,
and how the story developed as he slowly gathered factual information about malformed babies and couples’ desires to have children.
The story, “Stay Awake,” begins with the lines: “Zach and Amber’s baby was born with a rare condition that the doctors told them was called craniopagus parasiticus. This meant that their baby had two heads.”
Sitting in the darkness of Z-Space’s theater, the discomfort in the Word for Word audience was palpable. I don’t want to give away the plot and ending of the story, so I’ll let you muse on that startling opener.
During the audience Q&A after the show, it was fascinating to hear the director’s perspective. She described the “lightness” that ends this tragic story, a rising up supported by imagery that builds throughout.
And that’s something to take to heart when we’re writing, isn’t it? Many authors and editors say that no matter how dark the subject matter, one should at least feel a kind of hope when the reader reaches the end of a story. But the form that the hope takes can be as slight as the shudder felt on the surface of an earthquake miles below.
The main character in Chaon’s story repeats to himself, “Even when our death is imminent, we carry the image of ourselves moving forward, alive, into the future.”
Wouldn’t you call that some kind of hope?