Will Hindmarch is a freelance writer and designer who co-produces the occasional off-shoot event with Story Club Chicago. (New South Side shows are coming this spring!) It’s possible he drank the last of the almond milk.
(Now and again, I plug into Chicago’s rich and varied live lit scene. Watching people tell their stories live—and trying to tell my own—has taught me a lot about story construction, audience dynamics, and how to let people into your work. The following is the first thing I ever read at one of these events. I read it at Dana Norris’s amazing Story Club series in Chicago. Though I’d read in front of audiences before—on stage, in bookshops and auditoriums, on the radio—the experience with the audience there was a delight. If you can find storytelling events in your town, maybe give them a shot as audience or reader.)
(You can also hear me read a variation of this piece on Installment 4 of the Broad Shoulders podcast, for grown-ups.)
In summertime, the sky above my neighborhood gets loud. Explosions live there. They set off car alarms. Sometimes the echoes of the explosions get drowned out by cheers or laughter, sometimes by what sounds like panic. Most of the time, they’re followed by silence. From my desk, I hear the blasts whistle and pop, crackle and boom.
I’m inside, at my computer, making a big deal out of stuff someone wrote on an Internet forum or on Google+ or wherever. I fret and fidget and dwell and obsess. I mistake forum posts for, pardon me, actual writing. I sometimes spend time trying to get the language and nuance of a forum post just right, to reward a deep reading for context and subtext and what I didn’t say in addition to what I did say. I craft tweets to work in series, to counterbalance doldrums with guffaws, to modulate the ups and downs to convey the ongoing arc of the character I portray online. I open the browser like it was a leather case and I fiddle. It’s like busking, except I tweet out in the hopes that others will send tweets back. I tweet for tweets and wonder why my novel’s not finished.
And my modem keeps cutting out, like it’s trying to spare me from something, like it’s trying to hide a newspaper from me at the breakfast table. For a few days, I dreaded what was happening on the Internet without me. What gags and dramas passed by? What glimpses into other people’s lives? Was I falling out of the conversation, falling behind the discourse?
Outside, a firework booms.
Fireworks are both grand and nerve-wracking for me. I like my fingers. I want to keep my fingers. Yet I don’t think too hard about the explosions going off outside my building. They zoom and pop and light up the night for a second—just a second—and then they’re gone. I think of them as atmosphere.
But I’m sitting at my desk, facing the Internet, when another big boom rattles the joint and knocks a thought off a shelf in my head.