‘SUM: Forty tales from the afterlives’ by David Eagleman
In the afterlife you have two main options for a Sunday. You pick your place of worship. Or you pick your sport.
If you come in as a non-believer – yes the gods are that generous, they will still take you – you now have a dilemma. And you have to choose on the first day.
Which of the many places of worship do you pick? Will you fit in amongst a congregation, amongst followers, who have had way more practice than you. You’re going to be doing it every Sunday for infinity. Would you rather kneel or sit cross-legged? Will you be too self-conscious to sing or chant? Will you wither under the gaze of a god you didn’t believe in. (Until now.)
It might be simpler to pick sports? Yes the gods are that generous, they will let you go and play. But it has to be a team sport. A chance to commune in some way.
You ask if you can stay in your room and read. (After all, the gods are generous.)
But the answer from your Administrative Guardian is a kind ‘no’.
‘How about swimming? It would be peaceful. A chance to think,’ you might say. And then rephrase it to sound better. ‘A chance to pray.’
‘No solo sports’ the Guardian smiles, and pats you kindly on the shoulder.
The gods are generous, and the Guardians are kindly, and yet, still you might find yourself dreading the first Sunday.
When you show up. In your kit. For your chosen game. Wondering how this is going to work. There’s such an emphasis on ‘nice’ here.
Nice smiles as the servers serve you your breakfast. Encouragement to be a good citizen. SMILE. BE KINDER THAN YOU THINK. GLORY TO THE DAY. On poster after poster, in every communal hall, and every communal lounge. You may feel the pressure to conform. After all, you don’t want to be thrown out of here.
Yes, the gods are generous, but you don’t want to risk your luck.
So you show up in your provided volleyball uniform, or football pads, or cricket jumper. Your basketball shorts, or your rugby jersey, or your lacrosse whites.
You’ll be assigned a side – even though the pre match literature makes it clear ‘you’re all winners’. You’ll follow the rules, as best as you can. And above all, for sure, you’ll play nice.
To help me write a short story a week, I’ve committed to reading at least one short story collection a month. (I love fiction, but have shied away from short stories and now is a great time to rectify that.)
First up was David Eagleman’s ‘Sum’, which is utterly brilliant and thought provoking.
Inspired by the ‘Mirror Game’ led by Maggie Stiefvater, Anna Bright and Sarah Batista-Pereira on a recent writing retreat, I used his amazing work as a stylistic prompt, and jumping off point. Many of the stories start ‘In the afterlife you…’ and are written in 2nd person.
I have never written in 2nd person, so that was one level of challenge. I also set a timer for 60 minutes to focus my efforts. I would have happily brainstormed for the entire time. Making myself stop at 3 ideas and work with the first was PAINFUL! And a very good practice for me.
My brain also had a screaming-thrown-down-full-on-protest when I got to the end. I immediately wanted to go back and start remaking it into ‘what it could be…with more time…knowing what I know now!’ Hence a frantically scribbled ‘Notes for Development’ so I could get it out of my brain and close the loop.
Do the rep. Learn. Move on. Grow through doing a new exercise each week. That is the game for me here.
Once I’ve done 24 then maybe I’ll come back…