"With every passing instant a human life comes to a pair of doors. As it is impossible for anything to exist in two places at once, the human life can only enter one door and not the other. And it is impossible not to choose. In this way we have no freedom. We must choose and reject. Every single instant. And so the lives that might have been lived beyond the rejected doors never come to pass. Although sometimes it doesn’t feel that way. Sometimes the choice we desperately want to make is the wrong choice. And when that happens, no matter which choice we actually do make—the right or the wrong—the choice we didn’t make will shimmer brilliantly with something like the life it never became. For years, perhaps. For a whole lifetime. But it is not life. It is nothing."
In some ways, Thomas Jefferson finds death more appealing than life. Nothing he does matters anymore, and so he is able to lose himself more completely in the moment. Now he is lost in the emerald translucency of locust leaves in dawn light. Now in a cloud of indigo butterflies fluttering over meadow grass. And now his heart is broken by the contest between joy and despair in every note of birdsong. Birds have three springs inside their heads, and seven cogs, and are not actually capable of choice, and yet, all day, every day, they sing of joy’s inability to outlast despair. There is something in this that Thomas Jefferson finds unspeakably beautiful....
"The Zip," Conjunctions (fiction) -- Spring '14
"Con," The Common (fiction) -- Spring '14 (April)
“As Long as He Knows You Love Him,” WHEN FIRST I HELD YOU, Brian Gresko, ed., New York: Berkeley Books (essay) -- Father's Day 2014
"Next to Nothing," Best American Short Stories 2014, October '14
"Off on a Comet," "Now and Again," "Brass Ring," No Tokens (Poetry) -- Autumn '14
"Biology," (see below) will be mounted on the wall at The Atrium Art Gallery of the University of Southern Maine in an exhibition entitled "Secrets of the Sea," Sept. 18-Nov. 22.
Is this happiness or oyster-life?
This flexing of muscular torso-foot
joy’s wonder? This sifting of silt
from food in the shifting chill-dark?
If, in my mind, there is a life of flight
in the light beyond the over-swirl,
must I unfix my lips from this rock
to be right? Or is my apex to worry
quartz against my shell?
Please click either of the links below to hear Tim Curry's reading of Stephen O'Connor's "Ziggurat" on Selected Shorts, hosted by Parker Posey. On the WNYC.org link it is also possible to hear an conversation between Stephen O'Connor and Hannah Tinti. Both the Selected Shorts program and the conversation can be downloaded for free from this site.
"Most people imagine ghosts as the leftovers of cancelled lives, but, in fact, they are only possible lives that never happened. That doesn’t mean ghosts exist, however. They don’t. Possibilities exist. And life is dense with possibility. But as long as something is only possible, it is nothing. Ghosts sorrow. They are haunted by the lives they might have lived. Their longing has no end..."
For the full story, click the link below:
"...[T]he single most important lesson I have learned standing at the front of a classroom is never to fake it. I can’t help my students by pretending to know something I don’t know, or by relying on some impressive but only half-comprehended bit of critical dogma or vocabulary. If I speak to an issue in the classroom, I want to be sure that I completely understand every aspect of the problem I am dealing with, that I can express what I understand clearly, and that I truly believe everything I am saying. I apply exactly the same standards to my writing. Some of my work strikes many readers as profoundly mysterious, if not downright impenetrable, but I work as hard as I can to be sure that I understand the implications of every scene, image and word, and that they all work toward some sort of effect and/or significance that seems right to me...."
"Roland’s longing trailed after him as he walked, a sort of dirigible, attached by a silver filament that tugged and tugged without ever lightening his step. 'Why’s that thing always following you around?' his brother asked. 'Haven’t you already got everything you could possibly want?'...”
"Hope" -- APOGEE
A NEW excerpt from NOBODY HERE KNOWS ANYTHING, a novel-in-progress.
"So anyway. My foster mother’s name was Mrs. Bingham. She weighed like two hundred and fifty pounds. This big, fat woman. And there was this other girl there. Chardonelle. She was a foster child too. Mrs. Bingham was getting paid for keeping us. That was the only reason. She used to make us. You know, when we been bad. She used to make us get down on our knees and thank God she was so generous that she took us in. “Without me y’all would both be dead!” she used to say. “So y’all thank God for bringing you to me!” And she would sprinkle sand on the floorboards so that it was extra painful...."
[For the whole excerpt, click the link above and turn to p. 46.]
"You Must Be Strong" - BIG BRIDGE
A brief excerpt from NOBODY HERE KNOWS ANYTHING, a novel-in-progress.
"I saw that my mother was gone and I picked up my pasteboard suitcase—sand-colored, with the loveliest honey-brown leather on all the edges and the handle, and two shiny brass fasteners—and I moved with the crowd...."
"I Would Never Do These Things" - CONJUNCTIONS: 58
Click on "Archives," then "Conjunctions: 58 - 'Riveted,'" and then scroll down.
"It seems that this story is actually happening and that I am one of the characters in it. I am at a vacation resort—rattling fan palms, turquoise harbors, chickens everywhere (crowing, making fretful clucks)—and a gigantic golden cloud is making its way toward us across the ocean. This cloud, gleaming sublimely in the vacation-bright sunshine, is death—but not just death; it is the end of the world. No one seems to know what brought this cloud into being or why the world is ending, but there is no question: When the cloud finally rolls onto our shores it will be as if none of us, and nothing we have done, seen, heard, or believed in will have ever existed...."
Photo: Carolyn Kellogg / Los Angeles Times
Sunday, March 27, 2011 "On Saturday, Tim Curry captivated the sold-out crowd at the Getty as he read Stephen O'Connor's story "Ziggurat." It was part of the three-program "Selected Shorts" series at the Getty, run by New York's Symphony Space..." -- Carolyn Kellogg
To read more about this amazing event, and to see a slide show featuring Stephen O'Connor, Tim Curry, T.C. Boyle and others, please click on the links below. The program will be broadcast three times during Selected Shorts 2011-12 season, and will be available as a CD and on iTunes.
The first time I read Franz Kafka’s “A Country Doctor”—at around age twelve—I had the distinct impression that I was discovering myself, that in his language and images, and in particular in his always surprising juxtapositions and narrative turns, I was experiencing something essential about the way I was and wanted to be in this world...
My favorite way to start a story is to get myself into a jam. I try to sit down at my computer with an utterly blank mind—that is with no idea of what I am going to write. As rapidly as I can, I jot down a sentence that is both surprising (to me, at least) and has some form of narrative potential. Then I try to follow the sentence with another that would seem profoundly incompatible with it, at least in a sane or coherent world. That’s the jam I like to be in, because then my challenge is to make this impossible world seem as natural and real as the world outside my window, and out of that challenge come all sorts of unexpected images and ideas....
INTERVIEW BY CATHERINE LACEY
Catherine: What one attribute (or attributes) do most (or all) of the characters in Here Comes Another Lesson have in common? (Feel free to answer this question by inverting it.)
Stephen: One of the things that has most disconcerted me about my books is that almost everything I have written — fiction or nonfiction, realistic or not — tells the same story about a character who tries to do the right thing and fails. In my memoir about teaching in the public schools, Will My Name Be Shouted?, I am that character. In Orphan Trains, a nonfiction account of a controversial 19th century child welfare effort, Charles Loring Brace is that character. But this character also appears over and over again in Here Comes Another Lesson, just as he (or she) also did in my first collection, Rescue. He’s the Minotaur in “Ziggurat,” the Iraq veteran in “White Fire,” Charles in the “Professor of Atheism” stories, and so on. The reason I am disconcerted is that I never set out to write about this character, and only find out that I have after the fact….