Sunday, April 21, 2013

Secret Origins, Part One

Each Spring, the College of Arts and Sciences holds a Colloquium on a different topic -- one year it was Thinking about Evolution, one year it was Thinking About America.  And for every Colloquium, creative writing faculty and students get together and run a lightning-round reading, ten or eleven readers in about fifty minutes. I like writing something new for each topic.  I work well with formal constraints, and deadlines.  If you are an editor and want to get me to write something for you, please issue the challenge of a title and a word count and a deadline.  And the promise of payment.  ;)

In 2012, the topic was "Thinking About Space."  I started writing at first in a typical vein for me, pop culture mashups, blenderized prose.  Here is my first start:

Will Robinson is an old man on an asteroid wearing a crinkly spacesuit and sitting in a recliner watching the stars.  Behind him The Robot is singing in his deep baritone while he refines fuel out of asteroid rocks.  When I say that Will Robinson is an old man I mean that he has outlived his parents and Don and Judy and Penny and Gleep the space monkey.   It is hard to know if he has outlived Dr. Smith since he disappeared in the Unfortunate Incident with the Space-Time Continuum Box. Sometimes a TARDIS wobbles by overhead.  Sometimes the sky is filled with TARDISII, though they are all the same TARDIS.  Sometimes thinking about time is thinking about space. 

I was that kid obsessed with Lost in Space, in love with my fuzzy orange and black velour shirt because it made me feel like I was one of the Robinsons.  For a while, I toyed with something essayish:

My very favorite show when I was a boy was Lost in Space.  I would watch it wearing my favorite orange and black striped velour shirt.  The Space Family Robinson were marooned again and again, planet after planet.  Each time they set up gardens, mined ore, repaired their vessel, made a little identical home of each new space.  

Did I mention how much I loved that shirt?   But all of this seemed kind of easy, expected -- I was getting a little tired of my slipstreamy pomo riffery, and the obviousness of the Lost in Space essay.  I started thinking about story, about space, about the ways that narrative was almost always in temporal motion, but fixed in space (book, computer screen, Kindle, etc.).  I jotted down these notes:

A spot on a map is a marker of space, a fixed point, unwavering.  Time is like the silk scarves knotted together which we pull from the empty sleeve of space. A page is a space, and sentences are the silk scarves that we pull through it.

That was a starting point, a way for me to start thinking about a new way to tell stories.  What if space was as central to the narrative as time?  What would that look like?

That would look like Secret Origins, Part Two....

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