I’ve always had an abiding interest in religion, and in Buddhism specifically, thanks to early exposure from a family friend who told me about her conversion. We’d sit at the kitchen table playing gin rummy and she would try to tell me about her experience. She said it was like her head was splitting open and the universe was pouring in. I often wondered what it felt like and whether I’d ever have that sort of experience. I wondered whether I wanted it, or whether I was afraid of the loss of control such ecstasy might feel like.
I’ve written a handful of stories about female Buddhists and the uneasy place women must make for themselves in the world of religion if they wish to lead spiritually-informed lives. Women still aren’t given much space for spiritual excellence. The female monastic tradition is almost non-existent in historically Buddhist countries such as Japan. But still, women find a way to practice, and they find each other. Living in New York and Boston, I’ve seen women, both local and far from home, struggling to have some spiritual element in their lives. And when they talk about it, their stories are often followed by a self-deprecating laugh; it’s considered so trivial, so spirituality-lite, to explore Buddhism. I wanted to capture those many voices that populate the odd space of a meditation class, how they come together and separate again. I think finding your community is an essential part of belonging to a religion and making that religion part of your identity.
I think I switched the perspective of this story about five times while I was writing the first draft of this story. I’d write a scene in my notebook in the first person, then continue on my computer in the third person, then go back and switch it all to third or back to first. I couldn’t seem to get a sense of who was telling the story. But when I finally switched to the second person “you”, things started to come together. I realized I wanted my narrator to speak to the reader. She was like my old friend again, urgently trying to tell me what her life was like then and why it mattered. The second person places the reader in among the women’s community, rather than looking mockingly down on them. Then their failures and triumphs are the reader’s too.
Blair Hurley has been writing from a young age and has short stories published or forthcoming in Descant, Narrative Northeast, The Red Rock Review, Quality Women's Fiction, The Allegheny Review, The Armchair Aesthete, and the book The Best Young Artists and Writers in America. A graduate of Princeton University, with her MFA in Fiction from NYU, she is currently completing a novel. Her piece, "That Thing You're Thinking," appeared in issue 55 of Hayden's Ferry Review.