One 4th of July, I was sitting in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena waiting for the sun to set so that the fireworks display would begin. I was 25, and I was in the midst of a quarter life crisis. I had told myself that by 25 I would have made up my mind about my career and I would have finished my first novel. Neither one of those things happened. My dogs were getting old, and I was also waiting to figure out how they would die.
So, here I am at the stadium, and a kid several rows ahead of me accidentally lets go of his white balloon. It floats up into the sky while he gets comforted by his mom. I was fixated on unfolding paths. Where was I going? How would my dogs die? So, while I was wrestling with these ideas, I somehow got it into my head that I would stare at the balloon until it disappeared. I wanted to see the end of the story. I wanted to see if it just got smaller and smaller until it became nothing. That was a foreign concept to me. I had never followed anything through like that before.
I looked. I squinted. My eyes watered. I never realized how painful it actually was to look up at the sky for any extended period of time. Over and over again I was tempted to give up. The balloon kept going higher and higher, and I kept waiting for that magic moment when the something would become the nothing.
I realize now that this has been an important theme in my life. I often say that nothing ever happens in my stories. The reason that's true is because I'm fascinated by the idea of natural endings to life, the limits of nature. Thinking about Wild Grass, both the title story and "Red Man, Blue Man" deal with that issue. The original concept of The Pagani Project--six people signing up to live forever--also deals with that issue.
But, like life, I question if this is an experiment in distraction. What happens to me (and I think what happens in life) is that our attention gets pulled in different directions as we wait to see how things naturally unfold. I can't pinpoint the balloon disappearing. It probably got dark before it happened--I don't remember. In my stories, I wonder if, as I'm pulling my characters closer to the limits of nature, I'm just adding in distracting scenes that make me stray from the path of finding what I'm actually looking for. The Pagani Project has an end, but it doesn't really deal with the moment of the disappearing balloon. Instead, as I was writing, I kept adding in scenes that felt real, and those are the scenes that fill the book. Maybe my search for the limits of nature has set me up to be distracted by my own natural limits.
What's Peanut eating? A green plastic fish with red eyes. He didn't swallow.