Behind the Words: Rachel Warecki

Posted by on Jul 6, 2018 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Behind the Words: Rachel Warecki

Rachael Warecki received her MFA in Fiction from Antioch University Los Angeles. She is also an alumna of Scripps College, Loyola Marymount University, and the 2008 Teach for America Los Angeles corps. In addition to winning the 2017 Tiferet Prize for Fiction, her work has appeared in The Masters Review, Midwestern Gothic, The Los Angeles Review, and elsewhere. Here, we discuss her flash story from Issue 4, “The Language of Little Things”:

Cathy Ulrich: Right off the bat, a technical question: How hard is it, getting everything set just so, punctuation and syntax and all, for a one-sentence story like this?

Rachael Warecki: Honestly, for me, it wasn’t that difficult. I’ve always had a tendency toward what’s charitably been called “Dickensian writing” — my undergraduate thesis advisor once suggested that not every sentence needed to have a semicolon, an em-dash, and a parenthetical aside. My thoughts tend to come in huge, paragraphical rushes, so a one-sentence story felt very natural to me. I guess you could say I think in run-on sentences.

The allusions to Gone With the Wind are very powerful for the narrator, even though she admits she might be getting the scene wrong. Why Gone With the Wind?

You know, it’s kind of funny: I’ve never liked Gone With the Wind. I’ve only seen it once, when my mom took me to see one of the big-screen anniversary re-releases, and I remember my twelve-year-old self finding it long and irritating. But despite all the ways in which that movie perpetuates many, many toxic ideas, Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler have been held up as a grand romantic couple for decades; even before I’d seen the movie, there were certain scenes, mostly revolving around their relationship, of which I had some consciousness. They’ve achieved cultural osmosis.

Re-reading “The Language of Little Things,” I think I was trying, on some level, to explore how certain concepts or societal standards of romance can still permeate someone’s thinking, even as she’s realizing that she actually rejects those standards. For most of college, I dated someone who was very into the grand romantic gesture, and over the course of the relationship, I realized that I was very much not. And he’d get angry with me when I didn’t show what he thought was the proper amount of appreciation for these gifts and gestures that felt not only very intense and impractical, but also weirdly impersonal — like he’d thought what would a woman in a movie like as opposed to what would Rachael like. It was an additionally weird situation to navigate because everything and everyone around me was telling me that I should love these gestures. Partly, I think, because of how these romantic standards permeate our film and television, and partly because no one had explicitly told us that it didn’t have to be that way. (This same ex once told me he modeled his relationship behavior on the trio of men in Friends, to really emphasize the point.)

To demonstrate how deep this goes, look at how the protagonist chooses to tell John about Michael: even as the narrator’s rejecting John and his over-the-top gestures, she’s doing it in a very cinematic way! Maybe she chooses that moment — making out in the rain — precisely because it’s cinematic, and she knows that’s the language John speaks, that maybe he won’t understand otherwise. Or maybe that’s an aspect of that osmosis that she hasn’t been able to shake yet.

All of which is to say, I chose Gone With the Wind because it seemed like the ne plus ultra of a movie relationship that’s constantly romanticized, but shouldn’t be — the perfect reference point for a protagonist who’s beginning to figure out what romance looks like for her, personally.

This is a story about a relationship that’s not working, the narrator overwhelmed by John’s grand romantic gestures. Do you suppose she sought out Michael because of this, or is it because of Michael that she realizes things aren’t working?

I think it’s because of Michael she realizes that things aren’t working. She likely recognized, prior to Michael, that her relationship with John wasn’t working, and she probably even had an inkling why: as you say, she feels overwhelmed by these grand romantic gestures. But it takes Michael to show her what she does want, which are smaller, intimate moments that arise out of the things she actually likes, as opposed to the things society tells her she should like.

I love the comparison of the two kisses, the epic early-days MGM feel of John’s passionate lip lock in the car against the quiet em-dashes of Michael’s calmer kiss. You give so much power to these two (relatively) small moments. Did you consider, at any point, making both moments more than a kiss?

Not really. This may open up a broader discussion, but I don’t think about sex. It was something I got criticized for as a younger writer. I was in this series of online novel classes when I was first out of college, and we were far enough in the course series that we were all reading the entirety of each other’s novels, and the feedback I got was: I don’t believe in your characters because they don’t think about sex, and normal people in their early twenties think about sex all the time. And I thought, but didn’t respond: Well, I’m in my early twenties and I don’t think about it at all. And then I thought: Well, sex sells, so maybe I should add some. I trunked that novel, but sexual desire is something I consciously included in the novel on which I’m currently working, because there’s always that idea lurking in the back of my head, no matter the genre: Sex sells, sexual desire is relatable to 99% of readers. ***

I don’t know how much of that I was actively processing when I was writing this story — I think I mostly wanted to keep the piece as condensed and focused as possible — but looking back, I like that the story sticks to those small moments of the two kisses.

That last line is so potent, that image of Vivian Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara saying she would never go hungry again, choosing security over love. That doesn’t seem to be what’s happening here, more a trading of one kind of passion for another. What do you think?

Oh, gosh! I’ll admit you caught me off-guard with this one, haha. Every so often, I write some line or phrase that readers really like to examine in a careful, textual way. And I love when readers do that! I love doing that myself! I was a literature major in college! But sometimes I wonder if any of the authors I’ve studied would drop into an English class and think (with apologies to Freud), “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.”

It’s been more than four years since I wrote this story, so I don’t remember whether I was trying to consciously set up a passion vs. security parallel, but I like that you’ve picked up on it. And I hear what you’re saying about this being a story about swapping one passion for another rather than swapping passion for security, but I think Michael does offer a potential security, in the sense that the protagonist feels emotionally safer with Michael than she does with John. Maybe she’ll run into other problems with Michael down the line, but right now she doesn’t have to brace herself, wondering what grand romantic gesture Michael’s going to spring on her next and whether she’ll be able to sufficiently police her emotional reaction to suit his mood. Notice the first reference to Gone With the Wind: it’s not a romantic one; it’s a scene where Scarlett is scared and uncomfortable. That’s how the narrator feels about John.

“The Language of Little Things” is such a great title and a great phrase. The narrator has clearly made a choice, here, of the little things over the larger. Do you think she’ll be satisfied with her decision?

I do think she’ll be satisfied! Mostly because this was an intensely personal story for me to write in some ways (as I’m sure you’ve guessed from my previous answers), and it’s a choice I’ve had to make in my own relationships, and I’ve been satisfied with that choice. But this is also a protagonist who’s always paid attention to little things, as evidenced by her reaction to rain and water droplets. So I think choosing little things over larger gestures is consistent with someone who’s always appreciated minutiae, and that choice won’t let her down.

Cathy Ulrich is a writer from Montana. Her work can be found in a variety of journals, including Wigleaf, Jellyfish Review, Former Cactus, and Spry.