The Story Behind the Story: Concentric

Susan DeFThe Story Behind the Story, UncategorizedLeave a Comment

Have you ever thought back to when you were a teenager and wondered where you thought you’d be at the age you are now? And if so, what do you recall?

The short story I’m releasing this month to my Patreon subscribers, “Concentric,” is about a woman the age that I am now (late thirties). I wrote it when I was an undergrad, and I think it reveals a lot about where I thought I’d be at this point in my life.

In some ways, I was right: Like the protagonist of this story, I’m married to someone I really love, and just as in the story, our house is filled with reminders of our memories. And just as in this short story, the question of children is central at this point in my life–though in “Concentric,” the protagonist is grappling with whether or not to have kids, while my question is more the how and when of adoption.

But unlike the protagonist of this story, I did not wind up teaching college, the way I thought I would, nor do my husband and I own a house–both of which I cannot help but see as the result of economic factors I could not possibly have imagined in 1999.

Fiction is fiction, of course, so there’s also plenty in this story I put there simply to create conflict–namely, the sort of mysterious nervous breakdown the protagonist has gone through and subsequent reordering of her life.

But reading back over this story–a version of which was published in Voicecatcher last year–I’m reminded that many people who study neuroscience as it applies to the arts believe that the evolutionary purpose of story is to prepare us for threats we have not yet faced.

In the concerns of this story, I see my young self doing just that, trying to anticipate and work through threats that seemed far off (and in some ways seem far off to me still), such as the death of my mother.

What a pleasure it is to look up from this time-capsule and realize that the world is still beautiful and mysterious; my mom is still alive and well; and my husband and I will be entering an adoption pool this summer, one way or another.

House or no house, academic job or not, my life turned out in many ways better than I could have imagined.

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