These questions are about the short story “That’s Just How It Works”, and definitely contains spoilers which, once seen, cannot be unseen. For the actual short story itself, please go here.
So this was one of the ten stories you wrote in ten days for the Swinburne Microfiction Challenge in 2017, wasn’t it?
Yes, it was! I’m actually touched that you know about that. Makes me feel like, I don’t know, like you’re really following my work or something. It’s nice.
Well, you know, I do my research.
Good, nice. Yes, this was the very first of that series. Each day at 9am they’d give us a one word prompt word, and we had 24 hours in which to write a 500 word story. The word for this first one was “Next”.
And you thought “next life”, huh?
Yeah. But also the feel of the word “next” is an impatient one to me, like a “hurry up, get on with it” kind of vibe. So I combined the two into a metaphysical treatise on The Betweenworld.
Is that what you call it.
Just came up with that just then. So yes, that’s what I call it, now.
But you didn’t win, did you.
Depends what you mean by “winning”, doesn’t it. If you mean by “winning”, “wrote a cool story that I’m actually quite proud of, in a challenging scenario of both limited time and limited words”, then yes, I totally won. I really love how this story-
No, no, I mean “winning” in the traditional sense of “entered a competition and won it”.
Well, no, sure, not in that old-fashioned literal sense, no. But like I was saying, I really do love how this story works, with her whole life condensed into the first paragraph: it felt like a unique way to tell a story-
If by “unique” you mean “kinda like the credits sequence of the movie ‘Up’ ”.
There are some similarities, maybe.
Hey, why is her life so filled with shitty sexual harassment?
Well, because she was a woman who lived between 1946 and 2017. You didn’t get all the “me too” stuff on your Facebook feed? Because I sure did.
What did you mean by the line “Based on your previous choices, we thought maybe a ‘single parent, only child, metropolitan, utilitarian’ scenario might suit you best, but of course, it’s totally up to you”?
I meant that, the system somehow gathers data on your life experiences for each life and suggests your next life based on your previous choices. Based on her choices of lives so far, and the data generated by living those lives, it suggests a bunch of new ones. It suggests she might like an experience growing up as the only child of a single parent, perhaps based on experiences she’s had with siblings or parents (we know her relationship with her mum is strained in this life, for instance). Etc. And in the next section we learn that she selects the next life based on which “preview trailer” she stops on, subconsciously. Kind of like kinesiology.
I wouldn’t know, I don’t know much about kinesiology.
Fair enough. It’s not really very similar, really, it’s just something that occurred to me just then as kinda vaguely similar in feel.
Do you believe in an afterlife? And if so, do you believe it’s like this?
Not really. What I think happens is probably just like what happens before we’re born, or when we’re in deep sleep: consciousness just isn’t present. I think we’re just not “on” any more. But what would I know? Numerous cultures suggest there is some kind of afterlife, and reincarnation is a pretty common theme too, so who knows. It made an interesting nihilistic tale, so I went with it. I’m not super interested in what is “true” and what “isn’t”, I’m more interested in the stories people tell themselves about reality, about the different ways it’s possible to believe reality operates. Even completely and knowingly fake realities like the Church of SubGenius or the Kvlt of Kek have interesting perspectives to offer, I think, on how the universe might function.
So you’re an ontological anarchist, then.
Is that what people are saying about me?
Is that meant to be some kind of droll quippery?
Sorry, yes. I do like this story though, to drag this discussion back to the FAQ-type structure I had planned it to be. I like how it’s dense, overwhelming, kinda claustrophobic, and rushed: like, it’s just sinking in, and then we’re suddenly chucked straight back into the World of the Real to live yet another meaningless life of difficulty and inconvenience. I like the way it suggests that existence is some eternal chore that just never ends, is completely illusory, and utterly non-negotiable. It’s tiring and daunting and infinite and it just is what it is, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. I especially like the bit where she asks “Can’t I sit this one out?” and the voice says “Why do you always ask that?” before briskly going back to business – the idea that every single time she’s keen to have a rest from it all, and every single time is thrown back into the Living.
Why would you like that?
I’m not sure. Perhaps I’m metaphysically perverse and spiritually mean-spirited?
Perhaps you are.
Or maybe I’m just tired. I mean, lately, I’ve been really-
Thanks for your time.