The pain of separation in Taryn Bowe’s “Surrogate Needs,” from our July issue. Scars follow:
1. Many parts of this story deal with transferenceâ€”of memory, guilt, Gracie; from person to person, from person to memory, etc. Is this a typical means of coping?
I donâ€™t think it is an entirely functional mechanism for coping.Â Thatâ€™s for sure.Â I think it sets folks up for some pretty serious disappointments when they finally come to terms with the fact that the people or objects theyâ€™ve invested all this guilt, angst, and love in have very little connection to the strong emotions they inspire.
In terms of whether or not transference is a typical means of coping, I can only really comment on my own experience, which has been to engage in pretty shameless transference in instances when Iâ€™m out of sorts and in need of genuine human connection.Â For example, at times in my life when Iâ€™ve moved to a new place or left behind old good friends, when Iâ€™ve had to start over from scratch, Iâ€™ve tried to find aspects of lost people in new people, and often this leads to the mistaken sensation of knowing a stranger very well when in fact you are just projecting a whole catalogue of longed for connections and characteristics onto them.
Regarding transference in fiction, thereâ€™s a fantastic Mary Gaitskill story, â€œDentist,â€ in which a woman becomes obsessed with her middle-aged dentist because he extends a small act of kindness during a time in her life when she is totally down and out.
2. The idea of transformation as a means of escape sneaks into this story, particularly in Mindyâ€™s character. How much can we change before weâ€™re completely removed from where we started?
Often, I wonder if we can really change all that much.Â Sometimes I think the act of trying to change, at least physically, is really just a way of avoiding difficult truths and trying to train our minds to obsess about something other than the thing we are really obsessing about.
For instance, in â€œSurrogate Needsâ€, Mindy focuses much of her time and energy on whittling away her body through diet and exercise.Â In a lot of ways, this is extremely convenient.Â Â All that time when she is thinking about the next five miles sheâ€™ll run or studying her weird pokey bones in the mirror or trying not to eat a brownie, she is relieved from the even harder task of thinking about Carter and her shattered future with him.
I donâ€™t think people can escape feelings.Â At least not while sober.Â Feelings have to be worked through and waited out.
3. There are some striking details in this story, of bodies memorized and scrutinized. How does this physical aspect of memory play into your writing?
It is so fascinating to me how much our bodies know, and how forceful they can be in asserting this knowledge even when it contradicts what we believe to be true in our minds.Â I was unhappy in a job for quite some time before I eventually quit it and started a low-res MFA program.Â But for the longest time, I couldnâ€™t bring myself to leave the job.Â I needed health insurance and 401(k).Â I needed stability and a paycheck.Â At any rate, about six months before I finally quit, my body kind of shut down.Â I couldnâ€™t eat.Â I couldnâ€™t sleep.Â My stomach always hurt.Â I plowed on regardless, showing up at my office, going through the motions, etc. but eventually I had to stop and acknowledge the fact that my body was basically screaming at me to notice that I was struggling hard.
I trust body memory and instinct more than cognitive memory and instinct.Â The body is wiser, I think, and less often manipulated by our desires to narrate our lives and give them meaning.
In fiction, a characterâ€™s body can tell us things thoughts or dialogue canâ€™t.Â The color of someoneâ€™s skin and the frequency of a heartbeat can suggest a person is physically excited when they claim not to be.Â A gazillion piercings and tattoos tell us a young kid feels tortured in his skin.Â Maybe a character suddenly recoils or shudders when hugged in the morning by their spouse who they claim to love perfectly.Â Body responses are so honest and basic.Â Rarely do they lie.Â I love that.
4. Which image in this story hit you first? From where did you start building?
From my earliest drafts, the image of Mindyâ€™s dog, Gracie, was very strong.Â I knew that Gracie was a survivor of sorts, with a number of physical and psychic scars.Â And I knew that she was the last remaining link between two people who had once cared very much about one another but who had been wedged apart by circumstances largely beyond their control.Â The first paragraph I wrote in my notebook took place in a veterinarianâ€™s office and involved a vet identifying various signs of past abuse on a newly adopted shelter dog. It took me many drafts to get the exact history and present day relationship of Mindy and Carter.
5. â€œSurrogate Needsâ€ seems to come from the love that remains after everything else. If youâ€™re comfortable, please share a scar that became a story.
When I first started writing fiction, pretty much all my stories originated from a scar. Â Some of my favorite scars to slide beneath a microscope and analyze were: significant relationships that ended without closure, major regrets, and the particularly painful and isolating experience of working to keep up sane appearances while feeling depressed, panicked, and absolutely OCD on the inside.Â These stories werenâ€™t really fiction though, although they were gesturing towards it, I guess.Â Â When I tried to use a scar as a springboard for a story, it was hard to move beyond my own scar to the unique lives of the characters I was trying to create.
Now, itâ€™s probably more accurate to say that my stories contain residues of scars, a line or a description or a thought here or there that probably wouldnâ€™t have entered my mind at a particular moment if I hadnâ€™t once experienced pain over a particular person or object or experience.Â Our most painful and wonderful experiences alter us, and Â Iâ€™m sure mine find their way into my writing in small shapes and formsÂ However, at a certain point, I like to think of my stories as a part from me, as something I created and birthed and am now sending off into the world to exist independent of me.Â I donâ€™t like to look too hard for myself in them.Â It takes away some of the magic.
6. What is your spirit animal?