MORNING COFFEE 21 - shoebox nation

by Susan Weber

This world is beautiful. If you want to read a book that starts off the new year on this solid footing, I recommend Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel. It’s science fiction without the rocket ships—not even a plane in the sky. It’s a story of what we might long for if we settled down enough to listen to our longings. And what we might appreciate in other people, in nature, in ourselves if our inner critic gained a bit more perspective and considerably more grace.

A friend visiting from France recently discovered our phrase navel gazing, and likes it very much—as an expression, not as a literary genre! St. John Mandel’s novel is anything but an ode to self-involvement. Her characters are too busy reinventing the world. You’ll like them. They’re well-meaning and flawed and, despite their challenges, able to direct their gazes and ours onward and upward.

Recently I went to hear James Rollins talk about his new book, The Demon Crown. He’s a veterinarian known for the mixed genre novel. Action-adventure-horror-mystery-thriller is how he might describe his style. I’m guessing, not having read him yet, that navel gazing is not a standard feature of his work. He did say that he dreads the question everyone asks at these talks: Where do you get your ideas? He said he’s afraid that if he goes into the process too deeply, his ideas will evaporate. Then he described the shoebox he keeps stocked with articles and thoughts that interest him. When he’s culling the hoard to make room for new specimens, he often sees odd combinations around which to structure the next bizarre What If? Concrete, which describes this process fairly well, is not known for its evaporative properties, but hey, when it comes to angst, artists are entitled to their signature brand.

I’m thinking Emily St. John Mandel must have one helluva shoebox stuffed with references to acting, journalism, celebrity, technology, psychology, graphic illustration, curation, parenthood, corporate-hood, religion, shipping containers, friendship, weaponry, ecology, and basic survival on a planet where all of that hangs in the balance.

Just before Christmas, as I walked through Macy’s still steeped in Station Eleven’s world, I came upon a manikin wearing a knit sweater dress emblazoned with motifs of the season. I watched myself, or rather heard myself pass by the display of like-themed finery, a lilt, a sparkle to my laughter. I felt so lucky to be alive on this earth, with its glitz and glow and boatload of work to be done. All because of one story in the hands of a preternatural master of her art.

Photo by Acabashi CC BY-SA 4.0