Mari Alschuler’s story, “Revealed,” imagines a New York City in which every taxpaying citizen openly carries a 9mm Beretta.
L&L: When and how did “Revealed” come to you?
M.A.: I’m not sure. I may have dreamed it! Toward the end of the 1980s, I was living in New York City. At that time, the city was crime-ridden. There was a crack epidemic—you could hardly walk down the street without stepping on syringes and crack pipes. The story was triggered by that environment. I wrote the first draft after finishing my MFA in poetry at Columbia. During those years, I was surrounded by a “dangerous-city” feeling. I don’t think of myself as a dystopian writer—this was a one-off, yet this idea came to me that people needed to be armed to live in this city. I didn’t feel safe. By the end of the 1980s, I’d gone back to school, earned two master’s degrees in psychology, and gotten a job in a methadone clinic in the worst part of town—Alphabet City, which is the East Village. That was right around the time that HIV infections were moving into the IV drug-abusing population. My clients started dropping like flies, even though they may not have shared needles. About 70 percent of my methadone clients died of HIV/AIDS. I lost half my gay male friends. And at a certain point, I thought, “I can’t do another funeral.”
L&L: Once the idea hatched, how did the story take shape?
MA: The first idea was the policy—a new policy that everyone in the city must carry a gun. The bureaucratic, aloof voice came easily to me—I’ve been a supervisor and middle manager for about twenty years. Then, of course, I realized I needed to tell the story through a character, and I came up with Sydney, the protagonist. She is not like me at all, although Matt, Syd’s boyfriend, is sort of like an old boyfriend I used to have. Once I’d chosen a protagonist, I imagined what it would be like to leave your apartment, go to work, and get on the subway under these conditions. Imagine what those travails would be like! Just getting to and from work—you never knew when you were going to use your bullet. Or, when someone was going to use their bullet on you.
I asked myself, “Why is Syd who she is today?” I concluded Syd is a stand in, an “everywoman” for those who would be in the same boat, in the same city, during the same time frame, one person’s story living under these deplorable conditions. The city residents of the story have become inured to violence—there’s no value on life anymore. Though the story seems “dystopian,” there are people in the world for whom the constant threat of violence is real—people who live in war zones or crime-ridden neighborhoods.
Mari Alschuler has been writing poetry since she was eight years old. Today she not only writes, but is also a social work professor at Youngstown State University and a psychotherapist in private practice specializing in LGBT issues. She earned her MFA in poetry from Columbia University in 1982, and, later, two master’s degrees in psychology, a master’s in social work, and a doctorate in leadership and education. She will discuss, and read from the story, at Lit Youngstown’s Fall Literary Festival at Youngstown State University, Saturday, Sept. 22, 2 p.m.-2:50 p.m.