“You’re a spring now,” says Hee-Bon, wintering Soo-Na’s complexion with a chilly setting powder. “Pink undertones, freckles—lot of sun in you. And I love your hair. Mom’s going to hate it. Why’d you dye it so bright?” Because her…
“Winters” spent a long time in my scraps folder as an unrealizable patchwork of abstract exposition, stranded clips of dialogue, and food metaphors. I found the first years-old draft attached to an email the other day. It’s deficient in heart, technique, and focus, but there ended up being a little something to it, maybe, as there is something to every incipient idea. I like to think that thing is, terrifyingly and beautifully, self.
I’ve always deeply admired fiction writers who can openly explore their own identities in their work. I think it’s a testament to incredible bravery. I purposely write away from myself whenever I can, and not as a result of humility or aplomb or anything close to nobility: I just rarely know what to say, or how to say it. When I revisited this project years later, the piece, while nowhere near autobiographical, asked of me a transparency and movement that frightened me.
So I approached it first on a technical level, which I used as a more peripheral point of entry. This isn’t always safer for me, but it was in the case of “Winters,” and I’m grateful for the space it allowed me. The language in this piece is meant to be alternately hesitant and deliberately aggressive. Climate is essential, both literal and emotional. I was interested in exploring a very sensory coldness through word choice, theme, and setting. I wrote most of it during the spring, and hope that I accessed that unseasonable chill with some accuracy.
In arriving upon my small cast of supporting characters, I found them straightforward—they very much wanted to be written, and they even reappear in different incarnations in some of my other works. I tried to be exact but accessible in their carriage, allowing each one a different body of imagery.
My protagonist was much more difficult. All narrative voices are in flux by some definition, but mine ended up lacking traction, and I eventually realized that a certain indecision was going to exemplify her. Her vacillation informed mine. There was a security in understanding that we shared an ambivalence, and from that uncertainty, I began building outward. Acknowledging it gave me confidence. Once “self” stopped being the fear, the rest of the work spilled free.
“Winters” is fiction, but it’s still close enough to me that I’m going to spend a lot of time agonizing over how it will be read. I just hope it is representative without being presumptuous, and that it speaks to other people’s experiences without speaking over them. Most of all, my wish for this piece is that it reminds us all to allow for some irresolution in ourselves and our fiction. We’re never standing as still as we think we are. It took me a long time to recognize this philosophy, and I think I can finally take some comfort in it.
MARILYN HOPE is a writer and visual artist who studied English literature at the University of Denver, where she was a recipient of the Academy of American Poets Prize. Her watercolor and oil portraits were featured in Chapiteux’s 2016 Winter Solstice Art Showcase, and she is currently working on a novel and short story collection. “Winters” is her first published work.