I wrote Sip
over the course of three or four years while living in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas — a region of farmland that sits along the Texas-Mexico border near the Gulf Coast. I lived in that area, off and on, from the fall when I was 23 to the winter when I was 37. But they don’t have traditional seasons down there. Christmas is often a warm day. The lowest temperature of the year might be 40 degrees. Summer runs about nine months long. There are more 100 degree days per year than there are occasions to wear a sweater, and I was looking for a metaphor.
, the story aims to play with the idea of addiction and the destructive nature of addiction. If you think you’ve never had an unhealthy addiction, you’re probably lying to yourself. Most likely, there is some pattern of behavior that stands between who you are and who you’d like to be, and I believe that any behavior that we engage in that keeps us from being our best selves is an unhealthy addiction.
Diddling with your phone too much. Eating food that makes your own body repulsive to you. Being angry at people you’ve never met. Smoking crack. Drinking whiskey.
Any of these endeavors damage us physically, mentally, emotionally. And yet it’s possible to lock ourselves into a routine that routinely brings us down.
If you’ve ever tried quitting a destructive behavior, you understand how compulsive habits can become. Even after we articulate to ourselves what to avoid and how to avoid it, and even after we bring logic to bear (if
I do this then
I’ll hate myself), severing attachments to personal tendencies is complicated.
For many with a morbid past, their personal history is for some reason seductive. It’s hard to be the way we should be, and much more natural to be the way we are.
If you think you’ve never had an unhealthy addiction, you’re probably lying to yourself.
I think this is because the instrument we use to navigate our lives is the same instrument we use to capture our existence. Wouldn’t it be nice if our memory and our consciousness could be divided and run on separate engines?
I was looking for a sign or a symbol that could articulate this in image form, when I realized that these behaviors — good and bad — could most easily be rendered by light and dark.
It’s pretty obvious, really.
It’s like the oldest trope.
God is the way of the light and the Devil is darkness.
Blah, blah, blah.
But I wanted to subvert this a bit, because addiction is an internal conflict, a warfare that occurs in the mind. With addiction, Gandalf cannot shine daylight on the stone trolls of our lives.
The most personalized, physical relationship we have with sunlight is our shadow. Because of this, many people think they have
a shadow. Children play a game called Shadow Tag where they step on each other's shadow to freeze their opponent, screaming, “I tagged your shadow!”
But you don’t own a shadow. You cast a shadow. A darkness in your image, made by your body blocking the straight line of some light source. Really, your shadow is just billions of holes happening over and over again, each hole traveling at the speed of light.
I feel like addictive behavior is ingesting a hole, willingly welcoming an absence, consuming the dark parts of the universe that are shaped like us. See, they fit, the bad behaviors, or else we’d avoid them. They’re comfortable, like old jeans or whatever.
Thus the metaphor came.
I got this idea for a world where you could drink your shadow. And I got this idea that if you could drink it, someone else could drink it, too. And then I got this idea that shadow consumption would fuck the world up pretty good.
Anything you put into yourself affects your behavior. A sip of water. A syringe filled with morphine. A porcelain dildo.
Put one inside you. You’ll be different.
÷ ÷ ÷
Brian Allen Carr
is the author of several story collections and novellas and has been published in McSweeney’s
, and The Rumpus
. He was the inaugural winner of the Texas Observer
short story prize as judged by Larry McMurtry, and the recipient of a Wonderland Book Award. He splits his time between Texas and Indiana, where he writes about engineers and inventors at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. Sip
is his first novel.