I have a favorite experience, sitting in a train station late at night. Philadelphia, and the station is under renovation. Plywood walls have been erected between some of the tracks and platforms. A man sits alone on a bench: dark glasses, cane, veteran’s cap. I know he cannot see. He stands and signs ‘peace’ as a train rattles through the basement terminal two platforms over. He signals to the onboard passengers, though none can see him because of a plywood barricade I suspect he does not know is there.
I enjoy playing events over and over again, letting them insinuate their way into essays and fiction, telling many stories, allowing perspective to shift, the definitions of obstacle, perception and audience to change. How does architectures drive narrative events; how do essay and story cross-pollinate; how does a sequence of appropriated boxes shape character; how does travel makes for the most beautifully flawed thing in this world—a first conversation? I’ve never met a person with a tiny house who doesn’t love to host a party. I’ve never entered a room that hasn’t told me where to sit, or convinced me it didn’t hold something back, an unexpected depth, danger, or vulnerability. The train station is always under renovation in ways that are invisible, and none of us can see all the barriers, the transformations impressed with each passing diesel, each pulse of a colonizing population—disembarking, boarding, gone again.
I write characters who are viscerally conscious of physical distance: distance to others, to running water, to their next meal, like two sources of heat or gravity that sense each other from infinitely far away. I write essays and stories about microculture and kinesics, that vocabulary of gestures that determines the course of community. Whether a town, a theater company, or a ship’s crew amid sea ice, all cultures are vulnerable to tides, to fracture and cataclysm, to the heavy burdens of ebb and flow, this taking in and letting out of breath.
I make art to meditate on the practice of conversation, to wonder at its architecture, at what is unspoken, and the purport is always largely or entirely gestural. My writing almost always arises out of movement, my own turning of corners on a street, turning rocks on a river bank—but every so often I return to the fixed points, the train station, that resilient community. In these towns, there is always some renovation, a rethinking, a door that no longer goes someplace, a corridor grown narrower, some change in trajectory that prior experience has taught me not to see coming.