The wonderful Marie-Helene Bertino suggested my story “Bar Joke, Arizona,” which originally appeared in One Story, for Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading. I wrote the piece around eight years ago, it was my first published story, and this is my first experience with looking back on my own work with anything like this level of hindsight. Reading it again, I’m struck by a couple of things. Firstly, it has a real manic energy to it, which might be accounted for by the fact that it was written in a series of long sessions in coffeeshops, back when I was twenty-two and had really nothing else to do with my time except drink endless cups of coffee in coffee shops and crank out sentences. Secondly, it does a pretty admirable job pushing to the very end of its premise – once again, this might be because it was written in a few marathon sessions, which meant that I didn’t have much time to question what I was doing, and you trust the process better when you don’t have time to think. Finally, it strikes me as really quite a sad little piece, despite its preoccupation with jokes. Certainly loneliness is one of its primary preoccupations, too, and I like how its final statements are a kind of indictment of its earlier verbal ingenuity.
I read the piece at a reading last weekend, and that was interesting too. After all this time, it feels a little as if I’m reading a piece by a person I used to know intimately, and who I enjoy spending time with, but who isn’t quite me anymore. Not to say that I don’t think the story holds up – I actually really enjoyed re-reading it, in a way I don’t always enjoy re-reading my work and I think you will too – only that it’s inevitable (and maybe good!) that the work we create ends up existing separately from us, growing stranger as the years go by, a separate world. Maybe an old story is like a room you used to live in, and which you now look at like any other passer-by, through the open window.
You can read Bar Joke, Arizona here.