A Healthy Level of Sanity–Story # 6

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After surging into the top 150,000 in book sales over the weekend, it’s becoming clear I don’t have a best-seller on my hands.

I am, of course, joking. Like all writers and artists who don’t sell well, I’m proud of the paltry sales. I’m no sell-out (but only because I haven’t been given a chance–feel free to tempt anytime you want).

“A Healthy Level of Sanity” is one of those stories whose title and opening paragraphs have changed about 100 times. At one point, I had this story titled “Scenes From Stango’s” but that was way back when the scenes appeared in the opening paragraph. While many of the stories benefited from readers, I think this story got much better after some advice from Jerry Craven (editor at Lamar UP).

The first version (and published version) of this story was also in the first person. When I sat down to revise the stories for this collection, though, I wanted some distance between the character and the audience in a way that first person doesn’t allow. The “I” often distracts readers into forming a kind of bond that the third person seems to avoid. While you can’t read it in the paragraphs below, this story is about a Charles and the hazel eyed woman forming a relationship via email. At the time I wrote the story, I was thinking about how technology allows us to form these kinds of cyber relationships that can be just as real as our face to face love.

In essence, I think email, texting, snap chatting, and other electronic forms of communication allow some people a chance to re-invent themselves and create relationships that are no less real than anything they experience face to face. Charles and his wife are at a museum looking at photos (the Scenes from Stango’s) taken from a cafe table by an artist every Tuesday morning at 8:00. Those images capture a type of human interaction in the same way that emails, etc can also capture a type of relationship. Just because it’s different, we might argue, doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

I’ve heard a good number of writers tell audiences they have a difficult time picking a favorite things they’ve written. I think that’s true. Stories are like these little children you release out into the world and you value each one in unique and important ways.

But, I think many writers can tell you which stories they might like the least of the ones they’ve written. “A Healthy Level of Sanity” is probably that story for me. In many ways, I like the content and I really like the concept behind the story. There are parts of this story that are strong, but it’s also a story that I think I can’t quite pull off the way I want. Even now when I read the story, I think I never quite found the narrative voice I wanted. I wonder if there’s time to go back to the first person. Forget all that stuff I wrote above.

In some ways that’s ironic since it’s story about maintaining some measure of sanity when writing the thing just about drove me nuts.

Either way, and now that I’ve written such a stellar review, I hope you enjoy the paragraphs below.

A Healthy Level of Sanity

Charles and his wife were in the art museum’s foyer enjoying a glass of wine before viewing the new exhibit. He’d been on the road a good bit lately, and this was one of their first opportunities to talk without small children hanging on their legs. While Charles scanned the crowd looking for the wine server, his wife updated him about their two sons. Their oldest was perfectly content at home, but he would start kindergarten next year, and they worried about his social skills. They were discussing the merits of pre-school when his wife grabbed his shoulder and held her glass high to keep from spilling the wine.

He heard a soft “umph” and an “oh my” as he put his arm around her waist and pulled her close. Out of the corner of his eye, Charles saw another woman’s knees buckle and as her glass fell, he grabbed her elbow. She already had one hand on his wife’s shoulder, and her other rested on his forearm as she regained her balance. Charles could feel his wife’s body against his side, but he also felt the heat of the other woman’s skin through the sheer fabric of her blouse. His wife took half a step back, sliding her hand to his bicep as he put both hands in his pockets.

The other woman turned toward them. Her hair shimmered as she brushed a loose strand away from her face. Hazel eyes. Skin slightly freckled. A woman comfortable without makeup. She tucked her hair behind her ear and an earring caught the gallery lights. She had taste, “someone who knows how to dress without ostentation,” his wife would say later. “I’ll bet she comes from money.”

(If you want to find out who the hazel eyed woman is click on the link above.)

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About John Wegner
John Wegner is a Professor of English where he also serves as the Dean of the Freshman College. He and Lana, his wife, have been married over 25 years. They are the parents of two great sons who (so far) haven't ever needed bail money.

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