Dear Collective:

I’m sitting in the glass-enclosed tin can that serves as Mapping the Edge Mobile World Headquarters, watching it rain. It’s time to fill you in on my plans for the summer.

The campground posts will continue as long as I’m here, but starting next week, I will begin posting on Mapping the Edge a series of stories consisting of prose and poetry. Some stories will be only text. Others will combine text with photographs and sketches.

The intention is to combine darker subjects with humor. I see three ways to fail: (1) Lack of humor, (2) Failure of being too dark or not dark enough, and (3) Failure to successfully combine humor with dark subjects. Writing these stories lets me become that kid playing in the sandbox again. If you’ve followed Mapping the Edge for a while, you’ll know that the sandbox is also where the baby snakes live.

It’s been said that fine art doesn’t do funny. If true, then my stories cannot be considered fine art. I’m good with that. If untrue, then “fine art” is broad, accepting and unpretentious enough to laugh at itself (even if some in the fine art world can’t). I’m good with that.

Primary inspiration for the series comes unresolved loss and absence – something that has haunted me most of my adult life. My MFA thesis exhibition was a way to put boundaries around the squishy topic by creating a fictitious space I call Absentia. That is the setting of most of my stories. Absentia is a not a specific place. It’s more like Appalachia, which is a region, not a town on a map.

Primary inspiration for the characters is from old family photographs – my own and those found at yard sales or antique shops. Family photographs are often the only tactile link to our heritage. We consider them precious, yet we rarely connect image and story.

It’s the narrative that gives life to the people and places in the image, yet we rarely document or record them. Over time, our priceless photographs (often missing names, dates and locations) are of people without true identities. They are more like characters with a history mixed with fact and failing memory living in a forgotten space.

If I am honest, my unborn children also live in Absentia. The presence of an unborn child is always felt to some degree. Sometimes we give the unborn an identity. We assign names and personalities. Since the children are not dead, we have no grave sites to visit to focus grief. The absence is present. There is little lasting resolution in that regard.

Boy does this series sound like a laugh a minute or what!

These are dark subjects, but the concept is not to create a place to wallow in grief or loss. It’s about the opposite. It’s about finding ways to accept and enjoy life as we live it, not being stuck wishing we could change it.

Absentia is the definition of a ghost town. It’s an active space filled with ghosts of the dead, the living, and the unborn. Sometimes I will exorcise a ghost, and pull the fence posts in just a little. Other times, I will expand the borders and move in a new family.

I never want Absentia to become uninhabited. It’s fictitious but real to me. Who wants another forgotten small town on the side of the interstate? We all need a few ghostly inhabitants in our lives, if only to remind us that there is always something more to resolve.

Author Wally Lamb once said that fiction is a collection of lies built upon a truth, with the intention of arriving at a deeper truth. I hope you enjoy my attempt to create an “oral” history of Absentia and the people in it.