Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2015  v14n1
 print preview

Pathogen: Gestation of an Idea

I envy writers who are forever in the thick of creation, producing work out of a combination of talent, inspiration, and sheer effort. For me, stories are few and far between, slipped in between academic articles, yet just as weighty in my mind. I suppose it’s not surprising how often my research in women’s writing and the medical humanities seeps into my stories. I recall researching small waves of infectious diseases, like syphilis and the plague, which threatened population centers in the eighteenth century. It was at this time the image of the plague started rattling around in my head.

As an Arizona native, I knew that Yersinia pestis, the bacteria that causes the plague, is endemic to the Northern Plateaus. I became haunted by an image of bacteria, floating freely in bloodstreams, a nod to our evolutionary fear of contagion. The bacteria became a sort of character for me, devoid of the emotion and desire that motivates a traditional human character. The plague was both the story’s gestational image and the vehicle with which to express protagonist Elizabeth Burt’s emotional impotence.

Of course when one thinks of the plague, one immediately thinks of delicious baked goods. Maybe. No? In any case, the entry of vegan baking found its way into “The Joy of Baking” in a practical way—my loyal and forever love affair with cupcakes. The sensory pleasure of freshly baked bread, cupcakes, and scones represents the perfect balance of scientific precision and the inexplicable longing for family and community—an emotional thread I didn’t realize I was trying to pluck until well after the final scene.  end  

return to top