Where really do butterflies of imagination fly? And who assigns their trajectories?
But fly these butterflies do. And sometimes the culmination of our intellectual endeavors (the WORK) grants us abstract nets, modes of netting our indwelling captivations. I use the word netting because the artist, over time, learns how to gracefully contain these bursts of inspiration.
The artist, when great, may put these moments on display. Ideally, the enjoyment of viewing them is bestowed upon the observer, while the pains of harnessing this brilliant insect is obscured.
There was a week period in which I drafted iPhone (scheduled for May/June 2015 publication in Litro Magazine)—a short short vignette about an iPhone that houses a tiny Chinese man who, like a perpetual motion machine, makes miniature iPhones, over, and over, and over. Our narrator carries the phone with him everywhere, encouraging the worker to take a break. But the tiny man just keeps working. Eventually the narrator has to flip the phone over so he can pleasure himself.
The story has no plot, no conventional narrative. One could hardly call it a story. Instead, this piece of flash functions as a fictional portal into a space without motion. A space where ideas like harmony, compassion, empathy can exist, vectorless, free from the bickering forces of reality.
Although deceptively simple and incredibly short, iPhone is political.
VICE online had been promoting a story about FoxConn workers in China who’d committed suicide but left behind haunting prose of arguably literary merit. These were powerful poems, written by anybodies doomed to lives of endless redundancy and increasing pressures to produce efficiently. What a nightmare! (Note: I’ve no clear recollection of the piece’s actual publication date.)
Ironically, I read the article on a computer possibly made by one these workers. This content, of course meant to incense, shock, cajole, harrow, etc. and elicit “engagement”—this being a term of fabulous endearment for those practicing the dark art of media in the 21st century—and I found myself, intellectually, in my head, pacing around a dark garden, deliberating, ineffectively, under the moonlight, allegorically of course, constantly checking my smartphone, in both this vivacious assemblage of orchids and ferns, and physically, in reality.
I then began to write a long-form poem that could be likened to a searing pitchfork. An object of reddened scorn one might jab into the fleshy mass of Western society.
But these moments of poetic outrage only reinforce our subservience. In fact, I believe, when we yell at something, we further bond ourselves to it. We invigorate our “already” dependencies.
But back to iPhone as kind-hearted flash fiction.
We, the West, are surrounded by objects made by invisible people who live in invisible places, factories. Fiction, though, is a place where we can glimpse into these dangerous realities. The purpose is to read the fiction, enter a world that does not exist, per se. If written effectively, the reader may fall under a spell, and feel something, soothing, a hush. Perhaps they perceive certain connections, sense something that was otherwise invisible before. The reader should feel rewarded for having read.
In the case of iPhone this hush is elicited when the narrator senses that the small Chinese man is, besides working nonstop, also eavesdropping on the narrator’s conversations with his mother. It’s implied that these conversations do not go well, and that the worker empathizes with his possessor, hence causing the calls to mysteriously “drop” whenever the mother expresses unnecessary vitriol.
As for physically writing this story, I did so at a cafe in Los Feliz. Late one night. It’s those butterflies I mentioned. If you can see them in your mind, see them flapping, they eventually produce a tiny wind. This silent breath of creativity. I follow it when I write. It slows my breathing. Stabilizes my pen. Solidifies my posture. Perhaps this is a holy moment (a comical one, though, were you to see me from the outside, drooling, bent over a pad of paper).
It is then that I may lean over my notebook and allow the fiction to reveal itself on the page. iPhone was a rare catch. A lepidopterous wonder made of soft blue wings punctuated with tiny polychromatic stitches. Typically, my writing is tedious, precocious, involving deranged iterations of editing, rephrasing and—but here was the exception.
It was as if the tiny story existed on the page all along. I flattened this creature’s wings. Then carefully blackened the excess, as tracing the outline of a container. Within this container, a moment, harmonious.
Minutes later I had the story. I was with a friend in a booth (I failed to mention the friend, she’s a quiet withdrawn girl). I stopped and read it to her. She hushed aloud at its conclusion.
Writers, may it be known, that sound, that physical release, air spilling from the listener’s lungs. That’s perhaps the only way we may perceive the effect of our labor. A magical moment indeed. Keep searching for it. Don’t be afraid to mangle a few abstract wings in the process. To jar even one of these precious fabrications, and be permitted its holding, its showing, its sharing, this, this is why we write. To add another jar to these infinite shelves of wisdom and folly, tragedy and humor… Go!