Research Notes · 01/01/2021

The Trouble with Language

Our Research Notes series invites authors to describe their process for a recent book, with “research” defined as broadly as they like. This week, Rebecca Fishow writes about The Trouble with Language from Trnsfr Books.


1. Naturalistic Observation

Anything can be hidden. Fiction writers are spies, thieves, magicians, inventors, but they do not want to lie. People lie, but they reveal when they do. A group of elderly friends visited the same Dunkin Donuts each morning, and I listened and took note. Time sometimes feels like it’s moving through us, not the other way around. Garfield nightlights give a warm orange glow. Crickets come through cracks in the walls, and are promptly butchered by the cat. The Greeks believed there was an entire race of cyclops who lived without law and order, far away. My father says consciousness is the opposite of entropy. Beauty can be used for deception or distraction. Beauty can save the world. Cigarettes are good, then gross. Glass melts slowly. Love is full of fractals. Love is a chemical in the brain. Love is a habit. It is possible to have a peak experience driving down the road. Matter and energy cannot be created or destroyed, but we do not know what happens after death. On long hikes: tall trees, fern beds, mountain laurel, woodpeckers. Quiet people may be secret hoarders, their condos full of yellow newspaper, toilet bowl maggots, meat under the bed. Moving, breathing, and water are essential. Quiet people may be just observing. Forgiveness is possible? Not all truths are best expressed through realism. A girl who pulled out her hair was always a psychic. Yes, and no.


2. Case Studies

D: Female. Blond hair, blue eyes. Resistant to social constructions of beauty. Resistant to gender norms. Quarrels with her mother. Strong lung capacity. Talks to dead people through shapes in clouds. Cuts her skin. Swallows a handful of pills. Pulls out her hair. Experiments, sexually. Smiles through pain. Fills her pink, frilly bedroom with small animals (ferrets, chinchilla, fish, cat, guinea pig). Rides horses through the woods. Protests injustice. Practices magick. Summons the dead. Heals the living. Soul searches, and strengthens. Heals herself. Marries. Purchases a farm (goats, cows, chicken, cats). Gives thanks. Opens a studio. Writes a book.

A: Male. Handsome. Deep brown eyes. Sculptural bone structure. Born in Pittsburgh to immigrants fleeing the Sicilian Mafia. An artist through and through. Never meant to be a businessman. Moves to Canada. Chased by the mafia. Am I making this up? Goes to war, then art school. Becomes a casanova. Masters the execution of art deco design philosophy. Models for print advertisements, once as a pirate. Has a child out of wedlock. Sings like a crooner (Frank Sinatra, Dead Marten). Inherits the family business, then runs it to the dirt. Homeless, pretty much. Kills a pigeon for food. Follows a daughter back to America. Is told “I love you” a thousand times. Becomes a very quiet man with impeccable penmanship. Enjoys slow walks. Discovers that anything can be hidden, for a time.


3. Correlational Research

Hurt people hurt people. The less a person travels, the less likely they are to see an untouchable or be offered a light by a stranger. The more a writer reads, the more she understands the possibilities of language. Editing gets easier over time. If time heals all wounds, it also creates them. There is a strong relationship between listening to music and feeling inspired. The more time passes, the less we dance (a shame). All work and no play makes… Greater levels of humor correlate to more positive self-concept. The sicker a society, the sicker an individual. Those who keep going have greater chances of success. Time does not necessarily heal all wounds. The longer one stays knee-deep in the ocean, the more one triangulates the sky, the water, and the human condition. The more you hide, the more you feel you have to. The longer the illness, the greater the hurt. The less you have, the less you need. The more you fear, the more violence will find you. Two dogs are more likely to fuck than one dog alone. There is a strong relationship between one’s childhood and one’s desire to give tea bags to a homeless man. The more time we spend together, the less certain we are of where our selves begin and end. As love increases, love increases.


4. Causal-Comparative Research

If I start writing about a severed head, then I must continue sincerely. If elderly folks discuss a woman who lost both her legs in a subway dilemma, then they are expressing a very human fear. If there is nobody to talk to, then you may talk to yourself, or walls, or a cat. If money is necessary, then a woman may take off her clothes. If a woman takes off her clothes for money, her relationship to her body and money morphs, yet again. If a person believes in ghosts, they may be remembering their mother washing dishes in a quiet kitchen. If infinite space between two grains of sand, then we don’t know very much. If someone needs to overcome a life-threatening illness, and if that someone hits rock bottom, but survives, then by golly they might make it. If birds sing urgent songs outside your window, then I am more likely to think the world is so big, it is almost too much. If my memory serves me…


5. Longitudinal Studies

Mother: blanket > bear > monster > robe > radish > tablecloth > love

Illness: bread > mold > rotting corpse > acid > monocle > lithograph

Sex: lute > mace > milk > money > silk > sterio > vapor > glow

Writing: pony beads > bioluminescence > landfill > razor blades > oak tree > finger symbols

Body: pink > comet > pinwheel > skyscraper > dungeon > dandelion > lotus


6. Experimental Research

What happens when a man has a day unlike any other day? What happens when three girls go to Tijuana? What would it be like to be inside your mother’s head? What if you just decided to stop being afraid? When a tall, thin man comes to town, then tries to bribe his way into power, is it possible to run him out, and also avoid becoming him? What happens when I am obsessed with the same six questions my entire life? Who cares what people say? Is it possible to stop looking? Can a man forgive, if shown enough love? How much sentimentality is allowed in a book? How much violence is allowed in a book? What is the value of anger? How much anger is allowed in a book? What matters? Who are they? What can you do with your love? You saw something? Look again. You felt something? Feel again.


Rebecca Fishow is the author of the chapbook The Opposite of Entropy (Proper Tales Press, 2018). Her work has appeared widely in print and online, including publications in Tin House, Quarterly West, Joyland, and Smokelong Quarterly. She holds an MFA in fiction from Syracuse University, where she was a Cornelia Carhart Ward fellow. She lives in Maryland with her husband, and teaches creative writing.