This post is about the story Canceled.
This story is one of my favourites, and I consider it one of my best to this day. It incorporates so much of both my style and the ideas that keep me up at night. This is the story that I consider what has brought me back to writing.
If you look at the pieces' timelines on this website, you'll see there is a considerable gap. From what I remember, I was writing fairly regularly right up until I finished secondary school around 2012. That was a lot of my creative outlet, and looking back now, I tried to grapple with complex issues I had little grasp on, like trauma and identity. After I finished secondary school and moved on to uni, I stopped writing. I had not made a conscious decision to, but I didn't have the time and energy for it. For the first time since before I went to school, I had a social life that I enjoyed instead of one that I considered a means of survival. I poured a lot of myself into that social life, which didn't leave much for creative writing. I have made a few attempts while I was at uni, but none of them culminated in much.
Then, I moved to Scotland for my master's. As happens to anyone when they move, I scaled back my social life. Not that I didn't make connections there, but replacing a social network of about five years is something that doesn't happen in a few weeks, as I had to find out the hard way. Still, that was part of the point for me at the time. I remember feeling incredibly stuck living in the Netherlands at the time and wanting to go somewhere new to get myself unstuck. And that I did, oh boy, did I ever.
During my time in Scotland, I still didn't take much time for writing. At least in the beginning. The coursework wasn't exciting to me as it was all stuff I'd seen in my undergrad but adjusting to my new life, there was challenging for me. However, I still remember the day I wrote this story. It was a day when I had an early lecture around the winter holidays. I'd put it around December, but I have no way of finding out the exact date.
I still remember that day, partly because it is more or less exactly how I describe it in the story. I got up, did my usual routine in the pitch black. I am terrible at keeping time, so my solution was to show up to lecture halls every day at the earliest time I had to and then figure out what I'd do. If I had a lecture, I'd go there; if not, I'd head into the labs to work on my homework. At this point, my life consisted of little more than my studies. On the ride to the uni building, I encountered no other traffic, which wasn't that unusual for the time but was somewhat weird to me, having lived in a decent-sized city for half a decade.
The buildings of the uni worked on a card-based system, so I could let myself in basically 24/7 into all places I'd have to be. After letting myself in, I sat at my regular spot in the lecture all, and then it struck me that I hadn't seen a single soul that entire day. I wondered what it would feel like if somehow I'd suddenly become the last person on earth. What would I do? How long would it take me to find out? After that lecture, I sat down and wrote the story in its entirety in about an hour or so. Living with ADHD has taught me many things, but one of the surest ones is this: when inspiration calls you pick up the phone.
It was also around this time that I started doing my micro-fiction. I had seen someone in a Facebook group I frequented do it and thought it was elegant. Writing Cancelled had wet my appetite for writing again. After that, I started writing again. Sporadically to be sure, but I wrote. I do remember feeling joy at writing again and realising how much I'd missed it. Not many things I wrote in that period are still alive today, but who knows. Maybe they'll make it back someday in some form or another.
The story itself is the first real story I remember deliberately writing in the implied voice. I think it was around this time that I heard the song "Sugar" by Sleepdealer, which I generally attribute as what sparked that style.
The first part of the story is mostly just setup and vignettes. The email is basically where all the punches fall, and the entire tale get's told. There it is revealed that not only is Yahweh real, but he messed up, a recurring theme in my work which I'll discuss some other time. Humanity's existence was all part of some elaborate research, and it did not go the way that Yahweh had wanted to. The investigation's point or details aren't revealed to us, but it is implied that Yahweh is just a cog in a larger machine of which we don't know anything. He's a scientist and a bureaucrat.
If I had to describe Yahweh's character in this story in one word, it would be misguided. Firstly he is misguided in that whatever he tried to achieve with the experiment has failed, but also that he had thought until recently that it could still have turned around. He believed that things weren't beyond saving but has finally changed his mind. But the most robust characterisation of Yahweh as misguided is in him leaving you and only you on the planet and considering this a favour. This is an implied premise that material things (in the most literal sense of the word) are what you enjoy about life. The sun, the food, the drink, whatever it is what you want out of life, it's all still there, just for the taking. But the story makes an excellent case against this in my eyes. After humanity is gone, none of that means anything. There is nothing left to frame any of it. None of it intrinsically has meaning. I consider this a very profound argument for the Ubuntu philosophy, which is sometimes characterised as "I am because we are". I believe in Ubuntu and in the messages of compassion it carries, but I consider this an argument for that phrase in a more literal sense. The existence of other people is what shapes our reality in a very fundamental way. Whether that be positive or negative, I shan't comment on it, but this story demonstrates that quite clear to me. If there is nobody left on earth to share things with, nothing is worth doing; humanity's soul is already gone.
I wrote this story the way it is because I wanted it to serve as a mirror for the reader. The first reactions you have to it tell you a lot about yourself and how you look at life, in my opinion. As I have shown this story to more and more people, they have all asked questions that had never occurred to me.
- Why did he like me?
- Can I argue with him to try and convince him to get humanity back?
- Are the animals still there?
- Would it be fair to those animals to decide on their behalf to end existence?
- What made Yahweh finally decide the experiment was failed?
- what was the point of the experiment?
- How long until infrastructure stops working?
- If you lose the phone, will you be stuck like that forever?
The point of the story is not to answer any of these questions but to ask them. Or rather, to get you to ask them, since in a way, which questions you decide to ask, says a lot about you in my opinion.