Binder's debut collection of short stories, Rise, will be released tomorrow.
Unease. Michael Chabon calls it “the midnight disease” in his novel Wonder Boys. “He was the first one to have the midnight disease,” his narrator says of a writer he knew as a boy, “to have the rocking chair and the faithful bottle of bourbon and the staring eye, lucid with insomnia even in the daytime.”
This unease is probably essential if you want to write. It can be generalized or exceedingly specific. Unease in our skin, in our appearance or our relationships, in our place in the world. Unease about writing or about not writing. It probably started in the sandbox. It will follow you where you go, and you should be grateful. If empathy is the fuel for a writer then unease is the starter that turns the engine.
Dr. Richard Barager, a nephrologist who writes fiction, notes the anxiety inherent in both writing and practicing medicine. “This mysterious, discomfiting anxiety reliably and predictably dissolves shortly after greeting the first patient I see,” Dr. Barager says. “Like an alcoholic needing a drink or an addict needing a fix, I am addicted to patient care, because the act of placing myself in the service of another human being makes me blissful.”
Bliss. Knifemakers know it when they are working at the forge. Pianists and painters and woodworkers. Fishermen who work all week so they can drive up to the reservoir Saturday before dawn. They’ve found something they love and they’ve made it their sharpening stone. They could live a thousand years and still they’d be learning. Their anxiety goes away every time they come back to what they’ve started.
Ernie LaMere was a maitre d’ for years before he retired to Los Angeles. He lived in Studio City, right beside a desolate stretch of the L.A. River basin. It was nothing but concrete and weeds when he started planting geraniums in 1987. By the time he died eight years later he’d planted a quarter mile of flowers. I walked that path right after his passing. I sat on one of his benches, and I thought how lucky he’d been. He woke up every morning and did what he loved. And how sad it was, too, because once you’ve found the thing you love eight years isn’t nearly enough, and neither is eighty. (To read about Ernie, click here.)
Bliss and unease. The thing you love pulls at you. It needles you when you’re lazy. Get back to work, it says. You have less time than you think.
I’ve been gone from Colorado more years than I lived there, but it’s August now and I can’t help but think about my childhood summers. The dry heat and the sky shimmering above the mountains before the storm clouds came. First silver and then black, they rolled in like ocean waves. Three o’clock in the afternoon and the electricity in the air. Waiting, waiting for the thunder and the first fat drops on the cement. All these years later and this is what I remember: There was nothing better than the moment just before it started.
The stories in Rise are fairy tales, except that the witch, lucky Hans, and the frog prince are all characters at the fringes of everyday life. There are rockets, swells of starlings, and children who disappear into thin air. In "Nephilim" angels mate with mortal women and birth giants; Freda is more than 50 and still listening to the creak of her bones growing. In "Halo" a nimbus appears above the heads of those with only a short time to live. The hospital, of course, is full of them, but so is the mall. These are stories where a man can be blind and still see the stars. L. Annette Binder writes magical tales with authority and restraint, and we believe her stories, every one.