Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Oliver Serang Kidnapped My Blog: How Stay Close, Little Ghost Came To Be

(Oliver Serang is an American lecturer at Universität Bremen and a research scientist at Thermo Fisher in Germany, where he swims in the river during snowstorms. He has published papers on computational biology algorithms and is the author of the novel Stay Close, Little Ghost. He can be found at colorfulengineering.org.

He has kidnapped this blog.

Regular content will return next week!)

How Stay Close, Little Ghost Came To Be

The idea to write a novel came from a former colleague back when I was studying for my PhD. We were playing pool after midnight at a grimy bar when he said he'd found some short stories I had posted online and he said that he thought I should write a novel, just like that. I hadn't thought of it before, but the what if of the suggestion took hold. Writing short stories had felt somehow necessary to drain the pressure from an inner tank that I carried. Now I let the tank grow more and more full and told myself that I was saving it all for something important.

As I discussed subplots with friends, the sharp edges of the ideas chipped away until I swam in what remained: the painted walls that erupt into a storm and consume a woman, the X-Ray Specs that see people's most private thoughts, the lost secret city where you can sample the all-too-rare taste of true affection, the woman shrieking in the subway as she smears into a shadow on the concrete, and above all, the deep and sincere love of which we are genuinely capable, in spite of our many imperfections. These stories began to pulse through my daily life and through my dreams, until it started feeling as if I was living within a dream that I had created. And the thread running through them all was this: do we have value that doesn't come from our objective qualities, that doesn't come from winning some contest that could later be ripped out of our hands?

People who have read Stay Close, Little Ghost have asked how much is real and how much is fiction, but this question is difficult to answer. I felt I had two choices when writing as this character, to either distance myself from his perspective and sanitize any partisan emotion I may have, or to climb inside his head and turn it all up to 11, his flaws and virtues and everything. Because the subject matter was so important to me, I felt I must choose the latter or else it may ring hollow. And so I set out to live as deeply in this dream world as possible.

Years ago a woman in my bed shyly told me that she'd never seen a man naked, and I got out of bed and turned on the light and took off all of my clothes and posed forward and backward as the Vitruvian man. At the time, it was the gentlest thing I could think of to do, and its obvious symbolic implications-- trying to emulate perfection as deeply as possible for the joy and safety of someone else-- were accidental or subconscious.

But if I was to grow a new world in my dream, a world where people handled each other as gently as if the other were made of glass, this memory seemed like a wonderful seed to start with. And so I planted it and watered it and let the dream world grow unattended until it became a dense forest where I still often live. Just as the narrator's recollection blurs fantasy and reality, I have remained deeply ensconced in my dream that we are greater than the sum of our objective qualities, that real love can exist if we want it enough. And that is the reason that I wrote a novel.

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