We recently published Rick White’s elegant “Eric the Astronomer.”
Here, we ask him two questions about his story:
1) This piece was inspired by a photo, and the thing I especially love about that is … there doesn’t seem to be a tower in the photo. What made you create a tower from this inspiration?
Recently I’ve been going through my photos a lot, just remembering all of the good times back when we could go out and be with other people. I’ve got a bit of an obsession with time and the idea of ageing, not in terms of vanity but rather, it just freaks me out how quickly time goes by. I often think of myself, maybe thirty years from now looking back on my photos and wonder where I’ll be and if I’ll even recognise myself. That particular photo really struck me for that reason. It’s got a certain ‘old-timey’ feel to it anyway with the jetty and the wooden boats but what I really like about it is that although the weather is miserable, my wife Sarah and I are clearly very happy and enjoying ourselves. So I wanted to write about it in the context of a character looking back at one very specific, very happy memory (I’m getting to the tower…). We decided to decorate our bedroom, so we moved everything out of it and put it all in to the spare bedroom. It’s amazing how much you accumulate without even realising it and so while we were painting our bedroom, the spare room was absolutely full of stuff. Loads of books all piled up on the floor, a couple of guitars and amps, lots of picture frames, ornaments, candles, even an old typewriter. And I loved the room like that! That’s how the idea of the Tower came to mind. Just an old guy, sitting amongst a pile of things that other people might call ‘crap’ that makes him really happy. That became Eric and his tower of memories.
2) This story is so heavy with loss, but also with love and hope. Do you think Eric will ever reach the heaven he is nearing, or is it enough that he sees it from where he is?
This is such a great question, and so difficult to answer! Even though the story has to do with loss and isolation, I didn’t want it to be sad. I don’t think Eric is sad and I don’t think he would want us to feel sorry for him. I think that Eric is happy and proud of the life that he has lived. He’s spent his life accumulating all these wonderful memories which he rightly cherishes and enjoys. I think in this story ‘Heaven’ is simply the end of Eric’s journey, I don’t think he’s expecting anything else. But before the curtain comes down he’s just having a little fun taking inventory of the life that he has lived. All of us will experience loss in our lives and if you live long enough then you will reach a point where you’ve got more good days behind you than in front, which is quite a heavy thing to think about. I’m not religious at all but I do believe that the people we love are never really gone because they leave a mark on us and on our lives. We are more than just a physical presence, we’re something more ethereal and so in that sense, Eric is not alone.