Commentary #13 (of 28): BEFORE WAKING


Every so often (weekly at the moment), I’ll be writing a commentary about a story from EMPTY ROOMS LONELY COUNTRIES. I’ll tackle the stories in the order they appear in the book. Given the nature of this exercise, I cannot guarantee that I won’t spoil specific details from the story. So you may want to return to the commentaries here when you’ve finished reading the book. If I don’t address an aspect of the story you were interested in, by all means leave a question at the end of this post and I’ll do my best to answer it.


“Before Waking” takes place in April of 2000, though the stories within the story were written in October of 1999 and February of 2000 (right before the events in “Maintaining”). This is the kind of story I’d write that would allow me the opportunity to use fragments from pieces I never got around to finishing. I suppose, in many ways, this kind of story is the literary equivalent of the flashback-clip episode of your favorite sitcom, so instead of Alex P. Keaton or Arthur Fonzarelli, you’re stuck with a younger version of me.

“Remember that time when…”

There’s not a lot to say about “Before Waking”. It’s a continuation of a story that’s been building throughout the book. In many ways, Empty Rooms Lonely Countries is one long story about finding love, and it ends happily, especially if you read the About the Author section at the end of the book. This part of the book is dealing with the aftermath of that one romance that felt like it could break the world.

It’s amazing to be able to read these stories objectively a decade later. If my writing has given me anything, it’s allowed me to see where I was and how I was doing at certain points in my life. Doing these commentaries have been like flipping through a yearbook, only without the awkward photos.

The talking ducks are just one of the many talking animals in the book:

The ducks continue to come out of the water, more and more still, until I am overcome by their gentle quacks and feathered persistence. I feel the texture of the bread between my fingers before I let go of it, and I can feel the winter all around me.

They seem to be full of questions, these ducks, and I try to answer all of them as best I can, without other people seeing me do so. I don’t want the reputation of being the man who speaks with the ducks; I would like to believe that my destiny provides me something a bit more meaningful than that.

“No, I didn’t wake up looking like this.”

“I want to someday be a writer.”

“I don’t know when she’s coming back. You’re stuck with me for now.”

“No, I don’t have anymore bread.”

Those playing the Official ERLC Drinking Game at home, remember: every time an animal talks in Empty Rooms Lonely Countries, you must take a shot of vodka.

A shot of tequila for every time I cry in the book.*

As for the stories within the story, you’ll notice a lot of real world details that compliment the fairy tale parts from “Pancakes, Wishes and Other Tales”. This would have been written a month before “Pancakes” and it is clear where my head was at the time. In many ways, I like the stories within the story better than the framing sequence:

The leaves fall, catching one last current of hope from a wandering wind, until finally, the concrete catches its crusty remains. The trees are empty, but the ground is littered with the soft colors of a mourning October. I hear the colors breaking beneath my feet and the whispers in the wind. This is the way autumn is supposed to be, that uneven paradox of witnessing the world die and flourish simultaneously; the palpable struggle of continuity.

Anyway, this story is concludes the New Jersey portion of my life. In May of 2000, I’d be moving to Philadelphia (strangely, this book doesn’t cover any of those stories). Next week’s “Re:Flux” is the final Washington, DC story before we return to Tampa, Florida.

I don’t know what else to say here. Maybe some of you have some questions?

Next week: “Re:Flux”

Previous commentaries:

#1 “Cowboys and Indians”
#2 “Little Conundrums”
#2.5 “Playing With the Dead”**
#3 “The Illusion of Swing”
#4 “Kicking Love’s Ass”
#5 “On Being Velma-less”
#6 “Muted Porn”
#7 “Defying Gravity”
#8 “The Fifth Ocean”
#9 “One Dead (Potted) Plant”
#10 “Remembering Drajra”
#11 “Pancakes, Wishes and Other Tales”
#12 “Maintaining”

*What’s that? You’re already out of tequila from the first 12 stories?
** Not included in the book.