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.