Sunday, August 11, 2019

Guest Post: Why Write Stories by Michael Chin

I write stories because I’m scared. Global warming is going to end the world if the president doesn’t do us in first. I’m powerless in these things. As powerless as I was, twelve years old, when a group of five punk teenagers, one, two, three years older than me, wearing Halloween masks jumped out from behind a hedge to give my friend and I a scare when we were out for a walk. They didn’t do much—just pushed us around a little, probably cursed at us. The moment stuck in my mind, though because they’d caught us—must have been waiting on us, because it was a sleepy street without much foot traffic, and they could have given us a pounding, stolen our wallets if they wanted to. Of course, the other truth of the matter is that I ran. In principle, I’d like to think that if my friend was going to get his ass kicked, I’d at least keep him company getting mine kicked, too, but in that moment of fight or flight, there’s no mistaking which instinct my six-foot-tall, hundred-thirty-pound body picked up on. My friend was shorter, squatter, slower, didn’t have the same option.

I write stories fast. I’ve always been fast. A fast talker. Fast to pick up my multiplication tables. A fast runner. The last day of kindergarten, the teachers staged a series of foot races and I won every one I ran, last of all a race with every kindergartner running across the same field at the same time. It’s the best story I’ve got from my athletic career, the greatest glory achieved a few months shy of my sixth birthday.

I could tell you the story of when my uncle gifted me a stopwatch on the premise that he knew I was at the age when boys ran races. I wasn’t. I was sixteen and couldn’t remember the last race I’d raced someone, but I smiled and nodded along because gifts were scarce in my family and in that era before smart phones or laptops, a stopwatch was a cool gadget to have, even if I had no discernible use for it. I nodded along, too, when the same uncle told me that I should have played on my high school basketball team because I probably would have been good—a comment predicated on the fact that I was the first person in my family to stand taller than five-nine, a comment oblivious to my complete lack of physical coordination. When I said I wanted to be a writer, that uncle told me I ought to take a penname, because no one would want to buy books by someone with the last name Chin.

I write because it runs in the family. Not just the Star Trek fan fiction my mother wrote before I was born, nor the romance novels my sister took to publishing in her thirties. Not just the abandoned, hand-written manuscript about gambling I found in my father’s desk drawer, or the book about how to quit gambling that my uncle self-published.

I suppose gambling runs in the family, too.

Maybe that has something to do with my stories, too. Maybe that’s how I wound up in Vegas.

I’ve never been much of a gambler myself—just five-dollar buy-in games of Texas Hold ‘Em over kitchen tables and video poker the once or so a year I found myself in a casino. But when I approached a decade out of undergrad and had scarcely published and felt all my youthful potential as a writer slipping through my fingers, I gambled on leaving a stable, well-paying office job behind in favor of moving across the country to do an MFA and put my writing first. The woman I was dating came along and we lived together for the first time. I read and wrote and lesson planned for Freshman Comp by day, and came home to her to watch old episodes of Beverly Hills 90210 at night. Idyllic days, humble as they may have been.

Three years out of grad school, two years into adjuncting, I got an interview for a job I’d applied for on a lark, teaching writing at UNLV. There was a song from the Sara Bareilles musical, Waitress, in my head when I boarded the plane for my campus interview, the song, “Take It From an Old Man,” the lyrics, “Bet it all on yourself at least one time, ‘cause honey win or lose, it’s one hell of a ride.”

I bet.

I won.

I got the job. We packed up and moved—that same woman who’d moved with me to Oregon, who’s moved back east with me, married me, carried the financial load while I was teaching part time, and not least of all—heck, most of all—had carried our son to birth.

I write because my wife’s stories deserve to get told in a way that sticks past oral telling, in a way that rings more authentic than what’s technically true. In print. I write stories so that my son might come to know me in the years ahead in the way I know best how to express myself and so that he knows sooner than I believed in it myself that his stories do matter, do carry weight.

Stories tell families. Stories tell fears—better than chasing them away, they live in them, making them no less scary in content, but maybe a little less bleak for yielding a sense of understanding.

I'm not powerless in that.

And so, I write stories.


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Michael Chin was born and raised in Utica, New York and currently lives in Las Vegas with his wife and son. He has three full-length short story collections on the way: You Might Forget the Sky was Ever Blue (Duck Lake Books) available for pre-sale HERE, Circus Folk (Hoot 'n' Waddle), and The Long Way Home (Cowboy Jamboree Press). He has also published three chapbooks: Autopsy and Everything After with The Florida Review, Distance Traveled with Bent Window Books, and The Leo Burke Finish with Gimmick Press. Find him online at miketchin.com and follow him on Twitter @miketchin.




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