The Cloud of Unknowing
“Mothra” is from Mimi Lipson’s collection, The Cloud of Unknowing (Yeti Publishing, 2014). Lipson’s stories have appeared in BOMB, Harvard Review, Joyland, Witness, Brooklyn Rail, and elsewhere. She lives in New York.
Lipson said this about her story: I submitted “Mothra” for my first graduate school workshop, and–to say the least–it was not well received. I’d never gone through this particular form of torture. The rule was, no speaking while your story is being discussed, so I clenched my jaw and fumed while the class tore my story open and looked at its guts.
Everyone agreed that no one who was not a desperate heroin addict would behave like Isaac. Also, the register was inconsistent: a narrator could not use both the word “reliquary” and the word “guy.” I remember one line being singled out for special criticism: “Mothra sat up in the back seat and watched the drive-thrus and car lots and clusters of vinyl-clad rowhouses roll past in the growing darkness.” This, supposedly, was anthropomorphizing. As though dogs did not sit up, I thought. Or look, or take note of what they saw.
Of course, I had a particular dog in mind when I wrote “Mothra,” and I knew very well that she had a consciousness. The story is about a relationship between humans, but its beating heart was my own Medusa, who was then already quite elderly.
Two days later, in another workshop, Sigrid Nunez gave us the best piece of advice I have heard about workshops. “Sometimes,” she said, “everyone might tell you to change something about a story, and they might be wrong. Even if the whole class agrees, and even if I agree. We might all be wrong.”
Medusa died a few months before I graduated. My hide had thickened considerably, but my grief was still too raw to include “Mothra” in my thesis. I couldn’t bear to subject it to another round of criticism. Instead, I took Sigrid Nunez’s advice and left it as it was. One of the great joys of publishing The Cloud of Unknowing was the opportunity to share this story with the world.