Sion Dayson is an American writer living in Paris, France. Her work has appeared in The Writer, The Rumpus, Hunger Mountain, Utne Reader, The Wall Street Journal, Numero Cinq, and several anthologies, including Seek It: Writers and Artists Do Sleep and Strangers in Paris. She has an MFA in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her novel manuscript, which also features a male protagonist, placed on the short list for finalists in the William Faulkner–William Wisdom Competition. She has been a writer-in-residence at the Kerouac House and has received a grant from the Barbara Deming/Money for Women Fund.
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From “Metal Man”
Tonight’s the first time Emily’s asked me up to her place. We just had dinner, but now I’m excited the plan might include dessert. She has the perfect body. Since I first saw her, I’ve wondered what it would feel like pressed next to mine.
“Is that what I think it is?” I say, pointing towards a sculpture sitting on a side table.
“It’s a fertility symbol,” she says. “In the Kivasa tribe, they carve a new statue before each hunt. The man with the biggest kill is seen as the most virile and becomes the statue’s keeper to bless the village with more children.”
Emily takes a sip of wine while I try to take that in. “But yeah, it’s a big phallus,” she adds, laughing. “Does it make you uncomfortable?”
“Symbol of virility,” I say. “I’m cool with that.”
She laughs again, and I wipe my sweating palms on my jeans.
When I met her, Emily jangled and sparkled. Besides the instant jump you feel in the gut when you see a beautiful girl, I noticed how much noise she made as she moved. Tons of bracelets ran up both her arms. She wore several layers of scarves with tiny mirrors all over them; I saw myself in a million fractured pieces. She brought her car, an ’87 Volkswagen Bug, into my garage for a routine oil change, but getting to know her has proved anything but routine.
I’m always a little wary of trying to interpret my work. Writing rises from the subconscious. I never sit down with an idea or theme in mind. Instead, images or certain lines float to the surface and I follow them. There’s obviously a very conscious aspect, too. It’s almost dizzying the number of decisions we must make in a piece; I consider every word and weigh each choice carefully. But I’m also a big believer in not poking too much at the mystery. I love both the craft and the magic of storytelling.
That said, I agree with Flannery O’Connor: “I write to discover what I know” – as well as explore what I don’t. So often, I’m surprised by what appears on the page. Fiction is a vehicle for fostering empathy. I frequently write from a male viewpoint, perhaps because I’m trying to better understand men.
I wrote “Metal Man” several years ago. At the time, I was newly living with a man who worked as a metalsmith. He didn’t particularly resemble Mike in the story and I certainly hope I’m not as clueless as Emily, but his background in a trade I’d never before encountered firsthand provided a spark. And eventually the story’s central metaphor.
A lot of my fiction has a melancholy air. This story has a much lighter tone which I enjoyed playing in. Levity doesn’t negate seriousness; I think it invites us in. I’m curious about what we think of ourselves internally – and how that picture can change when we imagine how others see us. I’m interested in how we (do or don’t) connect with one another, how people situate themselves in the world. I’m forever writing about relationships. In one way or another, I’m always writing about love.