Podcast Up At Every Day Fiction

The first story I ever got accepted, From Here to the Sargasso, is now available as a podcast on Every Day Fiction. The podcast is produced and narrated by the inimitable Folly Blaine, who has my sincerest gratitude and thanks.

From Here to the Sargasso is special to me because even though it appeared on Every Day Fiction, it’s not really fiction at all. One evening in August 2006, my mother, my aunt, and I went walking at dusk on a Florida beach, shortly after my brother had left home for Los Angeles. And we watched the sea turtles hatch.

I wrote the first draft of this story that same evening in a paper notebook. It was the first story I had written since college, and it was the first tiny little snowball that started rolling down a hill, until I ended up where I am today as far as my writing. Given that I moved to Seattle at least partly to focus more on my writing, it’s safe to say that Freddy the Sea Turtle may have drastically changed the course of events in my life.

In the intervening six years, a lot has happened:

My brother, Charlie Williams, has taken roles in two major Broadway Productions, Memphis and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, where he performed alongside Daniel Radcliffe and John Larrouqette. He’s also been in numerous other productions and events (including the Tony Awards and the Radio City Christmas Spectacular), and has done some choreography work as well.

My mother took ill with breast cancer in 2009, and after a masectomy and chemotherapy, the cancer went into remission. A year ago, she had a seizure, at which point it became clear the cancer had metastasized into her brain and lungs. Surgery and radiation appear to have successfully removed the cancer from her brain, but the tumors in her lungs have so far resisted chemotherapy. The cancer also manifested in the form of two cysts under her skin, and she’s undergoing radiation treatment for those. Her cancer appears to be very aggressive, and we will be extraordinarily lucky if we achieve remission again.

As for me, I’ve moved across the country, had some stories published, dabbled in various hobbies, and probably fallen in love, though I wasn’t willing to admit it at the time. Of the three of us, I’ve lived the most mundane life, although perhaps I should be grateful for that.

So when Folly asked me about doing From Here to the Sargasso as a podcast, I readily said yes, and then didn’t think too much about it afterward. I went home to North Carolina over Thanksgiving, where I had Thanksgiving Dinner with both my Mom and my brother for the first time in several years. I spent ten days at home, accompanying Mom to doctor visits and catching up with Charlie; going to see Lincoln; decorating the Christmas tree. For the first time in a while, I wished I didn’t live in Seattle.

A few days after I got back, Folly sent me the mp3 of the podcast. I was staying late at work that evening, and I played it over my headphones as I worked. And everything cracked. I work in a large, wide-open room, and I found myself shaking quietly, suppressing sobs, as Folly read back to me the words I had first written six years ago. When it was over, I had to go to the restroom and shut the door, where I could cry without drawing questions from co-workers.

I suppose it goes without saying that I’m emotionally fragile these days. You only had to see my reaction to the Newtown shootings, both on Twitter and on this blog, to realize that. I don’t hold any illusions that other folks will have the same emotional reaction to this story as I did; it’s pretty much impossible to get across years of context in a few hundred words, and the fact that the story is so dependent on context and knowledge of my family is, in fact, one of its objective weaknesses.

But still, even if nobody else has even a tenth of the same emotional reaction I did, I’m glad it’s out there. It almost seems like an emotional disorder these days, that I feel this compulsion to vent my emotions in the form of public stories and blog entries and letters and tweets. I suppose it’s called “being a writer.”

Thanks for listening.

From Here to Florida and Back

Last weekend I took a road trip to Jacksonville, Florida (driving time: 8 hours) to spend a few days with my Dad, who moved there earlier this year. The purpose of the trip was many fold: to see family, to take some time off work, to see part of Florida that I had never seen, and also just to have a few days of relative quiet, a break from the hubbub of day-to-day life.

Our family lived in Tampa for two years when I was about ten years old, and much of my Mom’s family lives in the Orlando area, so I have a history with the state of Florida. That said, I don’t have any particular fondness for the state: it’s hot and humid, there are only three seasons (“early summer”, “dear god I am going to die”, and “late summer”), and so much of the state seems, well, artificial.

It’s tough to explain what I mean. When I drive through rural North Carolina, particularly the central and western parts of the state, I pass through series of individual towns and villages, each one with its own character, and each one usually containing a town center with a distinct history. In Florida, each town is indistinguishable from the other (often, it feels like there’s really one city in Florida, just with parts that are more and less dense), and no building that predates 1950, which the exception of certain parts like St. Augustine. In fact, most of rural Florida seems to be frozen in the 1950s, and I can’t help but wonder if most of the people who live there commute to the coastal cities and spend their days selling T-shirts to sunburned tourists and rich elderly retirees.

Maybe I’m being too harsh. But on this most recent trip, these impressions were reinforced when my Dad and I took a day to drive inland along the St. Johns River, to see what we could see. Dad had recently read a book overflowing with ornate language about the beauty and history of the river, and we were excited to explore and see what there was to see. The St. Johns is a massive river, up to three miles wide in places, fed by numerous springs along its length which are in turn fed by the massive underground Floridan Aquifer.

We found one such spring in a little green cove in a town creatively named Green Cove Springs. It flows at a rate of something like 1500 gallons a minute, which sounds impressive until you read the guidebook and discover that it’s less than half of what the rate was when the area was first settled. (Humans, it seems, are taking a toll on the Aquifer.) The water flowed about a hundred feet along a clear, peaceful creek that smelled strongly of natural sulfur, then emptied into the massive river.

Our goal for the day was the town of Welaka, about eighty or ninety miles south of Jacksonville. The guidebook described it as being located on a high bluff which overlooked the river, but when we got there there no evidence of a bluff, except for one place we could see where the ground rose maybe ten feet as it gradually sloped upward away from the river. I suppose ten feet is what counts for a high bluff around here– heck, the highest point in the entire state of Florida is only 345 feet above sea level. Even here, well away from the coast, the river was still a good half-mile wide, and amidst the 1950s architecture and mobile homes were plenty of decaying boats, sitting in old, rusty, broken-down boat docks that had apparently not been visited by humans since Ronald Reagan was president.

Feeling a bit let down, we drove back along the coast road, and consoled ourselves by staring at the miles upon miles of multi-million dollar mansions, immaculately kept but somehow even more devoid of personality that the miles upon miles of identical semi-rural towns that we had passed on the way down. Ah, the two sides of Florida.

Despite our underwhelming attempt at exploration, I still had a good trip. In the evening on the day I arrived, there was a cold snap, which meant the humidity faded and the temperatures were in the upper 70s for the most of the time I was there– perfect weather. I walked along the beach, dipped my feet in the still-cold Atlantic Ocean, had a few days of quiet time, and got to meet my stepsister and her husband, both of whom were great. So all in all, a good trip. I’m even the sort of weird person who can enjoy an 8-hour drive, as long as I have plenty of music and podcasts. But sorry, Florida, I’m still not a fan.