There were a few inches of powdery snow on the ground already, and according to the weather report, another foot was going to fall from the sky. It was our first storm of the winter. Chuck and I braced ourselves against an icy gust as we stepped out of the radio station, then made our way across the parking lot, past a few other buildings, and down to where the parabolic transmitter dish sat, surrounded by a tall chain-link fence. Chuck pointed to a ragged, snow-covered broom, calling it our “dusting instrument.” He showed me the protocol for preventing snow from deadening our radio station’s signal: pick up the broom, whack it against the dish, which had already accumulated an inch or two since he’d made his last trip outside an hour ago, and watch the snow slip down the dish’s gentle curves to land with a muffled whumpf
on the ground.
Chuck was the chief engineer at the public radio station where I worked that winter. My job was administrative, but my heart was in the engineering department — not because I actually understood what happened there, but rather, because I didn’t. All of that complicated-looking equipment seemed so unbearably, beautifully mysterious to me. I wanted to know, and at the same time, I wanted not to know; I wanted to imagine.
How do such strange stories make their way into the world, written by the hands of authors who have perhaps never experienced the things they write about?
We replaced the broom and locked the chain-link fence behind us. The snow thickened as we walked back to the radio station, and Chuck told me about how sometimes, during a blizzard, he would spend the night in the station, dozing in his swivel chair until the alarm went off and it was time for him to dust off the dish again.
Leaving my warm, well-lit office to venture out into the snowstorm and receive this tutorial, imagining how all of this might feel alone, in the dead of night — it planted a seed in my mind. The mysterious tether of radio, the isolation, and the otherworldly quiet of a dim, snowy landscape struck me as threads that belonged together. Over the next year or two, I began to weave them into a novel.
The genesis of a piece of fiction is an enigmatic thing. How do such strange stories make their way into the world, written by the hands of authors who have perhaps never experienced the things they write about? I have never lived in the Arctic, am not an astronomer, and have certainly never been to space, yet somehow these are the prongs of my novel. How did that happen?
I don’t have an answer, only a resounding appreciation for the mystery of it. There are elements of my own experience and observations in everything that I write, and there are also elements of something else. I’m curious about where that “something else” comes from, but there is also a part of me that wants to let that mystery rest. Because as much as I yearn to know, there is a magic in the not-knowing. Sometimes I suspect that it’s curiosity itself that is the fuel for my creativity — the yearning to know paired with the reality of being in the dark.
÷ ÷ ÷
is the author of the Oregon Book Award finalist memoir Motorcycles I’ve Loved
. She was born and raised in southern Vermont, and she currently lives wherever her truck is parked. Good Morning, Midnight
is her first novel.