Our hotel in Rome is a former monastery, darkly shadowed, stone. There is no elevator. He hauls both of our suitcases up three flights of stairs. I wait for him at the top. His muscles flex, his forehead creases.…
This story “Sacred and Profane” contains three main features that I love writing about—place, art, and marriage. They are a mine for me. Fundamentally, because these subjects are beautiful and rich, evocative. I also think they are transformative. They change a person.
Every place I have visited has stayed with me. Every piece of art that speaks to me, makes me think about my life, about this world. My marriage was precious and pivotal to my life and now I remember it with such love, together with immeasurable sadness and longing. I am no longer the person I used to be.
I think the world is bearable because of the immense beauty inherent in its places and art, but most of all because of love. I want to only ever write about these most fundamental aspects of our lives.
Each of these three—place, art, and marriage—are full of implication, codes, and unspoken language. They speak all by themselves. By the writer incorporating these elements into the writing, the reader can interpret the story, read into the story, on the basis of their own lived experience.
I don’t read many books about the craft of writing, but one in particular that I come back to time and again is Verlyn Klinkenborg’s book, Several Short Sentences About Writing (Vintage Books, 2012). He describes “one of a writer’s most important tools” to be “the ability to suggest more than the words seem to allow. The ability to speak to the reader in silence”.
I have found that my writing relies upon silences. By using small insignia of place, art, and marriage, a whole world emerges and so much of it is what the reader has found themselves in the writing.
In addition, the style of this story, mosaic, uses white space. It gives the reader space between each fragment and these spaces, or silences, give them a moment to find meaning, to perceive the arc of the story, as the fragments coalesce into a whole.
This mosaic style also reflects memory, the way we remember in pieces, rather than in a chronological narrative. Often when I write about place or marriage, I remember being in a place or being married and all that entails. A piece of art that speaks to me, evokes feeling and memories, whether seeing it for the first time or for the thousandth time. This world is given to us in pieces and moments and silences. I want this reflected in my writing.
For me, writing is bearing witness. Writing allows me to say—this is what I see. In the case of this story—this is what I see in Rome, this is what I see in Titian’s paintings, Salome and Sacred and Profane Love, this is what I see in Bernini’s funerary monument, this is what I see in a marriage. In the end, with everything I write, I say to the reader, this is what I see when I see love.
MELISSA GOODE’S work has appeared in The Penn Review, CutBank, Best Small Fictions 2018, SmokeLong Quarterly, Superstition Review, Wigleaf, and Monkeybicycle, among others. Three of her stories were chosen by Dan Chaon for Best Microfictions 2019, including her story “I Wanna Be Adored” (CHEAP POP) which was also chosen for the Wigleaf Top 50 for 2019. She lives in Australia. You can find her at melissagoode.com and on Twitter @melgoodewriter.