Briefly, since these remarks introduce a book titled Briefs, I’d like to share a few thoughts about why and how I’ve been working the past three years on a volume of very short stories. My first novel was published in 1967 and I’ve been in print since, so my writing career’s far from brief, but brief an accurate, merciful word to describe a parcel of time which has rushed past so swiftly, stealthily, brutally, it feels some days like I just got here and it’s nearly time to go already. The micro-fictions in my collection are about losing time, saving time, enduring time, fearing and escaping time.
About the ubiquitous, silent pulse of time and how people learn to dance to it or not, to stumble through or find themselves graced by time or ignored or get their asses kicked.Time, the immaterial medium nobody can see, hear, smell, taste, touch, a vast neutral sea containing all creatures living and dead, a mysterious presence allowing us to move and speak and suffer our collective being.
Time-out. For a brief fifty years, longer than I’ve written fiction, I played basketball. Loved hoop so much I anticipated the end of my playing days would be a kind of death. In a hoop game a player can call time-out and stop the action. Refresh. Recoup. Rethink. Briefs is meant to perform something like that. Its stories are designed to be read in brief swatches of time. They freeze, review, highlight the action. As if you can press a pause button and be released temporarily from the game’s intensity, from time. Each story an artifice allowing a player the luxury, for a minute or two, of being somebody else watching the game, observing the action from a great, quiet distance, through simultaneously enmeshed, implicated within it, just sitting still awhile, long enough to consider things impossible to see or reflect upon in the hurry of the action. Imagine inhabiting an imaginary parenthesis, an arc of safety without confining brackets that nevertheless holds back threatening vastness always surrounding you. Not extinguishing the game, but time-out. The play escaped for a secure instant or two, allowing you to measure the toll of participating in the game’s unrelenting pressure. Time out to check the score, your condition, the hour, think about everything that’s ever happened before and what might come next.
Next. When you holler next to fellow players on a playground court, it means you want part of the action, the play, the game. Next shouted because you have just arrived on the scene or because your squad got whipped by another squad and was forced to sit or you won till you got tired and needed a rest. Anyway you’re in line again and next expresses your determination to try your luck when your turn comes round. Next is challenge, plea, hope, offer, demand. In this sense, Briefs claims next. If Brief’s short shorts are successful, they should provide, one by one, or in sequence, respites outside the game, not exactly ruptures in the action, but moments disciplined, crystallized like intervals of silence in music that revive, pace and extenuate music. Small stories can offer quick exit and re-entry into the immensity surrounding them. Represent in miniature the complex negotiations, the meticulous elaborations of the best work on any scale. Holes, spaces, reminders, mirrors, the unheard pattern of silences that organizes a composition’s meaning and moves its audience.
The last project of Briefs I’m going to mention is its attempt to celebrate fiction’s enormous range. Prose fiction’s history and development remain open-ended, never stand still. Each time a writer essays the first tentative steps of a new work, he or she may discover possibilities for re-inventing the medium. I’ve learned that such possibilities, usually considered the fruit of whole books or whole careers, are recognizable also (if writers teach readers how to look) at the smaller level of single words, sentences, and minimalist forms. After all, writing is present and accessible only in the word by word flow, the stop time of small parts colliding, combining, evolving in novel, intriguing ways. Ways demanding and fun to watch whatever the scale.