This intro to a beguiling episode of Selected Shorts featuring work by Aimee Bender and Etgar Keret, written and read by Aimee Bender, struck me as one of those things that's both honest and inspirational and, of course, like most things writers write about writing, a little confessional. I found it so on the mark that I transcribed it and am putting it here, for you.
If for any reason you are either unfamiliar with Aimee Bender or Selected Shorts, both are well worth your time.
I wrote my story Drunken Mimi while working on my 1st book of stories, and largely it was coming from a feeling of grand freedom and permission. Finally I'd been encouraged enough to try using the words and structures of fairy tales for my own purposes, and even the idea of using a mermaid as a character, even to put the word mermaid on the page in a serious story, felt to me like running free in scarves thru the streets.
I had previously thought of stories as objects that had to conform to many rules. As rigid as jam jars. But I'd been thinking then that maybe the form was a little more flexible than I had realized, for example, I had not thought a story could be considered a real story unless the people in it were all people.
As with Etgar I think both of our stories tend to be about the playing out of consequences. You set up a skewed world and then you see what's in it. You mess with the logic, and then you follow the logical consequences of the change. It's both out there and also not. Everything doesn't go. There are rules always beneath the story structure. For me, by bending the usual rules I'm trying to access a feeling I can't quite get to otherwise. Often I'll feel inhibited trying to get to reality on the page. The page isn't reality anyway, it's a bunch of words, so a writer's job, I believe, is to try to be honest and pinpoint a genuine feeling or idea, to put on the page something we can look and and discuss. The reader can feel this.
Realism or not isn't what's important, what's important is what the captured or what the writer's trying to capture. The sincerity of the butterfly net. So in that way I see both Etgar and myself as trying to grab onto something ineffable, to frame a feeling with words, to hold it inside the inner working of a story and to tell it in the only was we know how, which is often thru a very strange lens.
You know that feeling when you're walking around in your day and you're maybe going to get a coffee and there's a faint remembrance of last night's dream that floats thru your mind? Sometimes it's so faint and wispy you can't quite catch it. That territory interests me quite a bit and Etgar's not here, he wanted to be but he couldn't be, but I bet it interests him as well. Trying to slow down the speed of thinking, to catch that butterfly of a memory or thought or image and to turn it around and look at it. This wisp of a thought is as much a part of who we are as the coffee we drink and the to-do lists we make, even once it has drifted back down into the darkness and the recesses.