"I Disappeared Into the Woods" Countdown to Muse 20 with Maria Pinto
The Muse and the Marketplace 2020 will soon kick off on April 3rd in Boston! This year’s theme is “Imagination and Reality,” as many presenters are exploring the boundaries between fact and imagination, and how each contributes to great writing. Here, presenting authors have selected a passage from their own work, highlighting in green which elements came roughly from their direct experience, memory, or fact; while highlighting in blue which elements came from their imagination or speculation. In this post, Muse presenter Maria Pinto shares an excerpt from her short story "To Reap Where She Did Not Sow", forthcoming in Harvard Divinity School's Peripheries Journal.
One day she knew only about mushrooms. As if she’d awoken from a coma speaking a language she’d never heard. She no longer responded to the jokey, gossipy texts among our friend group, but shoot her a photo of the glossy bracket growing on a neighbor’s pine and she would reply with a Latin binomial, followed by five additional texts abstracting everything science knew about the role of that fungus in the tree’s life or death.
Her knowing made those closest to her nervous. Mushrooms are mysterious to us, and her knowledge had sprung up alongside a tendency to see the future as optional. She stopped going to work at the library, to tutor at the high school. She refused to look Isis the cat in the eye. She stopped singing over chores. She no longer watched prestige television, which created a riot of unaccounted-for hours between dinner and bed and lost her her place in those conversations of which every get-together consisted now that we were 34, among our other childless, cohabiting, likely-to-marry-as-not friends. When asked about all this suspension, she said, her face serene as a videogame face: “I’m vacant. I’m a motel in an irradiated theme park town. Nothing has cause to pass through me.” Her therapist told us she had to breach confidentiality, because “old girl might be addicted to grinding to a halt.” What did that mean, practically? Nothing or everything! A phase or terminal! The situation was either quite dire or utterly harmless!
[End of excerpt.]
The above excerpt is from a short story in which a woman’s sudden fascination with mushrooms and their culinary use coincides, uncomfortably for the speaker (her partner), with the woman’s depression and suicidality. Historically, one way I myself have survived seemingly hopeless sadness is to find an obsession to lose myself in, which is a far more socially acceptable form of self-obliteration than taking your own life. During a recent depressive episode, I disappeared into the woods and the mycological literature and when I returned from both wildernesses my friends and family thought I’d finally lost “it” for sure. This story was written as a meditation on what it might look like to have truly never returned. Those closest to me have remarked on how out-of-the-blue my hobby has seemed to them, and I am always getting texted pictures of mushrooms, and you can tell I’m sad if you haven’t heard me sing in a while, and I do tend to lose interest in television when I’m sad. The remaining details are invented.
You can catch Maria's craft discussions, "Bottling the Muse: The Not-So-Impossible Task of Writing on Command" on Friday, April 3rd at 9:00am and "Place as Character: Bringing the World to Life on the Page" on Friday, April 3rd at 1:45pm at the Muse. For all the latest Muse news, follow #Muse20.
Maria Pinto is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared or will appear in Frigg, Necessary Fiction, The Butter, Word Riot, and Dostoevsky Wannabe Cities: Boston. She studied Creative Writing and Women’s and Gender Studies at Brandeis University, where her work was awarded the Dafna Gesundheit Prize for Fiction. She was an Ivan Gold Fellow at the Writers’ Room of Boston and a Melville Resident at The Mastheads. When she's not reading, writing her second novel, teaching creative writing, or freelance editing, she can be found in the woods exercising her left brain functions, studying fungi as an amateur mycologist. For more, go to https://mariapintowrites.wordpress.com/.
Maria Pinto is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in Frigg, Necessary Fiction, The Toast, Word Riot and elsewhere. She studied Creative Writing and Women’s and Gender Studies at Brandeis University, where she was awarded the Dafna Gesundheit Prize for Fiction. She was an Ivan Gold Fellow at the Writers’ Room of Boston shortly after graduation, and in the summer of 2017 was selected to spend a month with four other writers in the Berkshires as a resident at The Mastheads, working in a studio on Herman Melville’s estate. When she’s not reading, writing her second novel, teaching creative writing, or freelance editing, she can be found in the woods exercising her left brain functions by studying fungi as an amateur mycologist.See other articles by Maria Pinto