I’ve been thinking about some of the short stories I’ve read in the past lately and I find myself lamenting how some of the best, most obscure ones I’ve read are nowhere to be found nowadays.
When I moved to Boston in 2004, I was re-discovering my love for books and good writing that I had lost my first few years in college. During my first few years, I spent a ton of time hanging out with friends, drinking and leading a generally idle and wasteful existence. When I decided to move to Boston, I had a few people who pointed me in the direction of literary journals, writing workshops and influential people that I should know.
During this time, I got pretty obsessed with literary journals. The Paris Review was the first literary journal that I fell in love with. I still have the first copy of The Paris Review that I ever bought. Inside was stories about states in the former Soviet Union and gave me an unprecedented view into the gorgeous literary landscape that existed outside of American culture.
I recall the first time I was ever moved to tears by a short story. The story was about the Chernobyl nuclear accident that happened in Belarus in the 1980’s. This particular story was told from the perspective of a young couple who were woken up in the middle of the night by sirens from the Chernobyl power planet. The husband was a firefighter and was called to the scene to try and contain the disaster as it unfolded. This man and his wife knew that this was a potentially lethal job that needed to be done for the town and even the country, yet the man ventured to the scene and went inside with his fellow firefighters and battled to put out the fire with water cannons. As the fire subsided, the firemen took turns heading to where the plutonium was burning hot to separate the rods from one another to help stop the fusion that was causing radioactive steam from billowing into the atmosphere. The man, along with many of his comrades did eventually contain the fire until national and international help arrived, but this particular firefighter got very ill and eventually passed away from the radiation.
I was moved to sadness by this short story more than I had been up to that point by any novel that my teachers had assigned. Luckily, I still have that copy of The Paris Review and intend to hold onto it.
I also stumbled upon literary reviews put out by Tin House, Black Clock and the now defunct Zembla. I’ve read stories about Tom Waits interviewing the ghost of Miles Davis and even a fictional tale of Miles David and Jimi Hendrix hearing the same silent “scream” that enabled them to transcend music up until that point. They did everything they could to try and articulate the “scream” into a tangible for via their craft, but never quite were able to and it drove them mad. I even read a really humorous fictional story about Frank Zappa helping Bob Dylan get over a particularly bad case of writers block in the 1980’s by locking Dylan in the basement of his home and being pushy, bordering on abusive until he was able to bring enough high profile musicians by to force Dylan into making another album.
I talk about these stories a lot. Some of them I read up to 6 years ago and they haven’t left me. Why don’t I own most of these literary journals anymore? Well, it’s because I was so passionate about them that I needed to share them with people and let them borrow the physical copies. Of course I never got a lot of them back, which I kick myself in the ass about still. I also go online once in a while and conduct savage searches trying to find copies of what I can remember based off the titles and authors. I’ve been less than successful at that.
I wish literary journals archived these short stories a little better and made them at least partially accessible to consumers. Instead, you’d need to sign up with a paid subscription to these journals, which I’ve done, and even still I can’t find anything leading me to copies of what I’ve read.
Sometimes this feeling reminds me of the lost connections that I’ve had. I’ve shared a powerful moment with a stranger, something so powerful that I remember to this day, but because of my hangups or distractions, I didn’t get something from them, like an email or phone number, to cement these moments into my word.
It’s beautiful and sad at the same time.
Do you have anything in your life that has moved you so much, but is still just a fleeting moment in your memory, seemingly impossible to recover?