Today, we’re excited to share this interview conducted by editor-in-chief Cole Meyer with the author of “The Physiology of Arriving,” Michele Wong! “The Physiology of Arriving” was selected by Kim Chinquee as the second place finalist in our 2022 Flash Fiction Contest, and published on Monday. First, read this terrific story, then dive into Wong’s interview!
“The Physiology of Arriving” reads like a catalogue of physical reactions—primarily in response to the protagonist’s arrival in Australia. What inspired this approach to storytelling?
I am an avid fan of anything biological or to do with quantum physics. This often leads to a lot of reading of deconstructive texts where things are at the organ or molecular level. And I really wanted to deal with anxiety and hope in that way, particularly as it affects us differently physiologically.
The second person works so well here, I think because of that mode of storytelling. Did you try writing this piece in other POVs before settling on the second person?
That’s a question I love. POV can be problematic for me. But somehow, this particular piece called for second person. It’s a way for the writer to talk to oneself especially if a piece has some personal experience attached to it. The feeling of newness in Australia was personal. The death of Yui Yan was in the sub-conscious as I’ve had two writer friends who took their own lives within the last two years and there is no proper way to process this. The first person would have been too difficult. The second person puts the writer in a sort of close yet not too close of a distance.
Central to the emotional core of “The Physiology of Arriving” is the narrator’s push-pull relationship with home; she wants to leave but she doesn’t want to lose who she is, either. She is excited about the journey, nervous about leaving, excited about living with her brother. (These are my favorite kind of stories, those that explore our complicated relationships with home and family.) Is this a common theme for you? Do you find yourself writing about identity and family often?
Family is a big one as there’s complexity upon complexity. I am still trying to navigate my way through my own baggage and as family members, we are long-term witnesses to the baggage of our immediate family. Having studied psychology, I have this weird filter in which I try to be more observational and less judgmental. I think writing allows us to process things we don’t understand and things we are trying to understand. Although I do write about cultural identity, I’m really more interested in existential identity, or more so, personhood and what people do to establish meaning in their lives.
Tell me about the eel! The eel features so prominently and vividly in this piece—where does that come from?
I wanted a metaphor to express that awkwardness that one feels at the worst of times. Something that could slip from the stomach to the throat, which goes back to the eel touching the parts of us that feel that pang of anxiety. A snake is a bit of an overused idea with negative overtones. The eel felt more neutral and yet equally as troubling. I also like Unagi so that might have slipped a little into play.
Do you often write flash fiction?
I only seriously wrote flash fiction about a year and a half ago. I like it as it really is about condensed ideas and compressed writing. It forces you to forget about the extraneous or about setting up a story; in a way I found this kind of liberating. It also allows you to be much more lyrical which might be considered too much stylization in a longer story. That said, some stories do need to go beyond a thousand words and as I’m writing a novel right now, I am trying to switch gears constantly.
What does your ideal writing day look like?
I try to read a little before writing in the morning. But I also am dealing with a time crunch with work. So ideally, I snatch time in between to pen down some thoughts. Sometimes, this ends up in a memo on my phone. A few flash stories were started that way!
Interviewed by Cole Meyer