Commentary: Ghosting

I wrote “Ghosting”, originally titled “Static”, when my father was first diagnosed with lung cancer in December of 2013.  I wrote a very short version of it in a day as a way to process this information and the idea of “Numbers” took off from there.  I then spent most of my time working on the other stories in the collection- most of which did not make it into this project.

I revisited “Static” when my father passed away a year later and from there, the story evolved.  Initially, I had glossed over the loss of Ba in Kaleb’s short story and focused on the fact that Kaleb’s position in life was stuck.  He was, as the title suggested, static.  He couldn’t move on from anything but the story at the time had been more of a skeleton than a story.  It wasn’t until the loss of my own father that I began to understand that Kaleb’s story was never meant to be one about not changing or growing up – it’s a story about grief.

While a lot of Kaleb’s experiences stemmed from my own, I also really wanted to explore what it meant to be a man in a household that expected so much out of you.  Unlike me, Kaleb does not have the luxury to deal with his loss.  To him, the loss of his father comes with a set of responsibilities, familial and cultural pressures that only people in his position can understand.  And yet, Kaleb is young, he is sixteen, he is hardly a man, but as per his role in traditional Chinese familial structures, he has to be.

This change in focus meant that I had to change my structure and I kept almost none of the original first draft in my final one.  My first draft was written as if it was a set of bulletpoints for each year that Kaleb aged.  For example, “When Kaleb was sixteen his dad died” and “At New Years, when Kaleb was seventeen, he decided to… ” but as the story was restructured to focus on this one specific event in his life, all of that had to be cut completely. Then, after writing a second draft, with the help of my classmates as well as my Professor Bruce Snider in workshop, I realized that this story isn’t just about a boy who is resisting grief- he is a boy that is haunted by his father’s presence even when the man is not there.   It’s because of the absence of a father that Kaleb has to step up into his father’s role and claiming that responsibility for his family means that he is unable to spend his time grieving.    It’s this haunted aspect that made me decide to break up the chronology of my story.  Originally, I had written the story in a very linear fashion but upon realization that plot and story are two different things, I began to break up the scenes and play with their positioning.  It’s through the way I was able to play with time that I was able to more successfully create this sense of eeriness in the loss of something to death.

I’m still playing with the story.  I’m unsure if I will ever fully complete something as I’m always playing with things but for now, Kaleb’s story remains at a state that I am satisfied with.

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