I tend to write autofiction, and I think it stems from this compulsion to revisit my memories and search for some kind of meaning in them. However, most of these memories subjected to my scrutiny don’t turn into stories unless there is something in them that resists an answer or an interpretation or an easy understanding. “When You Visit Manhattan on Saturday and Your Boyfriend Who Lives in Queens Says He Can’t Come” (what a mouthful!) was one of the exceptions.
This story couldn’t exist without Jenny Offill’s luminous novel Dept. of Speculation. Despite her extensive elision, the writing immersed me in a more unfiltered world. I occasionally wondered if the details she chose contradicted or undermined or muddied previous assertions, but, of course, style includes deliberate selection and omission. And, truthfully, the not-quite-in-agreement details sparked an appealing tension. Through an intensified complexity and uncertainty, something akin to insight shone through Offill’s writing, and it moved me and felt profoundly real.
I’m an under-writer who is often scrapping words, paragraphs, even whole scenes before they can end up on the page. I’m obsessed with Dept. of Speculation’s brevity, but I mistakenly channeled that energy into an indiscriminate, word-hungry black hole that was always asking, “Is this relevant to the story?” I’m sad to say my first few drafts fell victim to the black hole. And things didn’t feel right because of it. I let my piece sit for a few months, and when I returned with fresh eyes, I thought, “What would Jenny Offill do?” I think the answer is to not shy away from conveying the mess our lives can be, to not feel obligated to neaten my writing for the sake of producing a more streamlined narrative.
I reconsidered my characters: those in the spotlight, those in the periphery, those in the trash can, and those who didn’t exist yet. I asked myself what relationship the two men in my story had with their parents. In an earlier draft, I kicked out the taxi driver, then I reinvited him back in. Ikkyū nearly exited the stage too because I was under the misguided impression that stories should always end with their main characters. In my final draft, Winnie the Pooh and Piglet joined the fray to inject some warmth into the ending. I’m so glad you can meet them all. Unfortunately, some beloved works of art I removed from the story didn’t return, but if I may feature them here: Pink Studio (Rendezvous) by Lisa Yuskavage and “Loving Someone” by The 1975.
NATHAN XIE lives in New York. He is a recipient of One Story’s 2023 Adina Talve-Goodman Fellowship and a Periplus Collective Fellowship. His work appears in SmokeLong Quarterly, Waxwing, Ghost Parachute, and more. He is working on his first novel. He can be found on Twitter @n897x1974 and Instagram @find_mucked.