Seth Sawyers

Writer

Month: November, 2014

Been listening to a story

So I, like a lot of people, have lately been listening to this radio story, Serial. It’s very entertaining, and of course terribly sad (it’s the story of an 18-year-old girl who was murdered back in 1999, and about whether or not the young man who was convicted of the crime really did it), and one of the things being noted about the show is its ability to evince from listeners a wide range of reactions. How the show’s sort of a skeleton key for whatever’s inside you. And it’s doing that because it’s complex, and deep, with lots of layers, lots of conflicting information, lots of personalities, lots of mystery. It works on both levels, on the top level and on that murky other level. Did he really do it? And: the fact that the victim and the convicted are from families who’ve recently immigrated to America, young love, jealousy, adults looking back on their teen years, the passage of time itself, who to believe, and lots more. It feels a lot like how art makes you feel. Confused, elated, sad, eager for more.

And so I guess I have my own reaction, too. Mine is kind of base, in that it’s not especially metaphysical, or emotional. Emotional for me, maybe. Because I went to college right around the corner from this story, and I was there when it happened. I was in my last year of college in 1999, my last semester. UMBC is just a few miles from Woodlawn. My roommates and I played pool in the two pool halls talked about in episode 8. We bought CDs from the Best Buy where some say the girl was killed. We saw movies at the Westview Mall. I rented a tuxedo for a sorority formal from the Security Square Mall. I know the cliffs where the convicted guy’s buddy say they smoked a blunt.

Another part of it, if I’m being candid, is this certain feel you get from those kids. I’m generalizing, of course, but in general, it’s true. I grew up in a fairly small city, a rural city, an Appalachian city far from any real crime, any real diversity, any real grit. But these kids, they’re gritty. Not urban, have-to-strut-down-street gritty, but a certain kind of tough suburban gritty nonetheless. Tough suburban kids, I guess. More specifically, tough inner-suburb kids. I may be splitting hairs here but there’s a lot of hip-hop swagger. A lot of blunt-smoking. A lot of fly-girl-era attitude, a lot of kids sitting around apartments listening to rap and getting high. And I recall that, too, from my college days. Not really before, and not really since, but in college, these were the kinds of people I hung out with. I even tried on that swagger for a little while. And though it didn’t fit, and I moved on to other things, I remember that pose, that tried-on toughness, that half-city, half-suburban thing.

Which all makes for a strange listening experience. These human voices they’re playing for us, taped in 1999, using those slightly different 1999 words, with this tough-kid suburban swagger, it’s all taking me back. It’s some time-travel shit.

Digging in

Have been trying to consciously knock off more of the “classic” books and writers. But it’s daunting (Anna Karenina is up next) and so I’ve begun with the big ol’ Norton anthology of short fiction. One of those enormously dense (in both senses) brick-thick anthologies with the onion-skin paper, so heavy it feels in your hand like, I don’t know, a cow’s liver. Some of them just sit there like well-built dead fish but generally I’m glad I’m doing it. Highlights: “Gusev” by Chekhov and “Barn Burning” by Faulkner. It is a way to start on this education that perhaps I sidestepped.