Lovelies! You are all fantastic! And all of you had the questions I expected and then some. Thank you so much for all of your comments. Let's hope I can clear things up. You might find a few extra questions here. Some people have sent extra questions via PM since ffnet will only let you give one comment per chapter. You will also find really long answers. Please don't be overwhelmed. I apologize in advanced for how ridiculously wordy I can get, but I had a lot of duplicate questions, so in hopes of combining some, I ended up having to remember to cover a little more ground to really answer everything.
1. Why the ½ format?
To be honest, it had to do with presentation. I thought the story looked more aesthetically pleasing when the format was ½ because then the paragraphs looked compact and full and boxy as opposed to looking spread out and thin and short in the normal format.
(At some point I had wanted to play with the paragraph lengths so that when you turned your screen on its side, you'd be able to read the story like a graph with longer paragraphs showing the moment of highest emotional intensity. But this website doesn't lend itself to cool format.)
The story itself is short and every sentence matters. Alas, many times when we're reading, we tend to put less attention to thin paragraphs because we assume they're not as important, or just stressing something we've already read. I was afraid some of you might start skimming. But when we see block paragraphs, we have two reactions: we stop reading, we read through it, or we look for bolds and italics. I figured it'd be easiest to weed people out at the second chapter this way. Some would stop reading. Others would continue. To those that continued, did you notice how many more italics I started giving you in chapter 3?
This has to do with the way in which our brains process information. For example, did you know that you could be reading the same material online and off-line, but your brain will always exercise more areas of the brain with the off-line material? Our brains are often less likely to concentrate with online material, unless you're highly used to reading long articles online – but trust me, 80+ paged articles online can be a pain.
2. How long did it take to write the story? – And other questions relating to the length of editing process and keeping track of timelines, etc.
First, this is a draft. What you're seeing is not a final piece. For that matter, not all of it is the original draft, either.
The original story itself took 2 ½ weeks to write from beginning to end. It's around 25,000 words long, so barely retains the title of a short story. Some might consider it a novella, actually. There wasn't much editing, unfortunately. I didn't have time, so I had to trust that the first draft would get the point across. I did try reading it on nights when I was being a bit of an insomniac for tiny spelling mistakes, or other little things. Obviously because of my sleep-deprived state, I still missed quite a few along the way.
Many times I just kept thinking of withdrawing the story from release, which is why it took so long to put up chapters. On a night of particular frustration, I deleted the last chapter by mistake. I immediately retyped the chapter again. Still didn't like it so I took a few days and then wrote Part IV again. Then to make sure the structure I was using, the construction of the narrative, etc, actually made sense once all of it was together, I contacted a few friends and asked them to read over it to see if they could pick out all the things I'd put in there. Each of them showed different degrees of comprehension, but all agreed that there were no tricks. In fact, you could have figured out the story if you really tried in Part I and Part II. If you trusted me, as I think many of you did, then by Part II you began to see the storyline morphing, more and more until, if you really didn't get it by Part III, well, you hopefully did by Part IV. If you're interested on more about the writing process, then you'll find more information on the questions below.
3. Did you really always have this plot in mind?/Was it a fluke?/Okay, be honest: the story just sort of ran away from you, huh?
Typically I never know what will happen in a story until it happens. It's true I can't always give minute details of how a story will end up approaching all the ideas I have. It's true that sometimes I just write and let the story shape itself. However! HOWEVER, I can assure you this was not one of those stories, and it drove me insane because I couldn't let it run away from me and fully create itself if it was to have the originally intended effect. And it still ran a little beyond my capabilities. The early symmetry in chapters 1-3 and shifting time parameters should give you an idea of how crazy everything was…
So, the short answer is that yes, I always had this plot in mind.
The long answer is that this story almost didn't get written. It's actually a Frankenstein baby born from lots of different things. The original idea was to write a story that I could only describe as description-on-steroids. I literally wanted to give readers a map of a location in words – create a story where there'd be so many details that people could reach out and touch places. To create the story I was envisioning, I needed artists, so I called on some of my favorite illustrators to see if they wanted some sketch practice and could draw my descriptions.
I also wanted to create a romantic comedy and I wanted to bring my original stories' team together to help beta, test, and do lots of different things, including illustrate as you see above. Typically I only call on them for BIG stuff, so you can just imagine how much of my heart I had poured into the original concept behind Fragments, which wasn't even originally called Fragments.
I went as far as writing the first chapter for a story called "The Finalist" and a couple of scenes and then pitched it to my awesome team and only one got on board… and it was not the artist. And the rest proceeded to explain why they wanted to work on something a little different called Anatomy of Hegemony. Except the illustrator also didn't get on board with that, but this is a tangent. Unfortunate circumstances sums it all up, lovelies.
"The Finalist", though, had Arthur as a fresher economics student and Alfred as an undergraduate physics finalist (last year student,) who tries to mentor Arthur into having some fun and, essentially, hopes to teach him how to really survive his first year. The infamous duet and bike scene you all keep asking about? – It's a nod to this original idea. There was a scene like it, only it ends with Arthur eating with Alfred because they're friends.
Personally, I really like to think that in one of those alternate universes, Alfred really was older and helped Arthur find beauty in his undergraduate years and their friendship grew into a beautiful idealistic romance. It's not the same image we get in Fragments. Still, you can see how much this story plagued me.
Now, if you mean because the beginning really doesn't seem like it would lead to that ending? – I can be a bit of a troll at times. If you read carefully, the first chapter remains particularly confined within the parameters of a linear narrative. Would you have taken me seriously if I'd thrown you into the chaos of Part III from the get-go? Probably not, which is why the structure of the story was so important and the reason why I couldn't show you everything, or tell you sometimes when things were happening after a while because it really was all to do with deconstructing time and our ideas of time as a linear concept. Now I'm not saying I succeeded! But I tried. And I am ever so thankful you all did read that author note in Part III and trusted me when I asked you not to panic at the first sign of chaos. Thank you for that. All a writer can ever ask – especially an amateur – is for trust. It's a beautiful relationship and really inspired me to want to make this draft as good as possible for the final version, whenever I get around to it, if ever.
4. What inspired you to write this fic? Anything in particular?
I think I explained some of it in the question above. Definitely, the original concept for The Finalist inspired this story.
Other than that, I would say real life. A lot of my stories, no matter how crazy the plot, have a basis in real life, which is to mean that some scenes are real, and some quotes came from people that let me use them, etc.
At the minimum, the emotions are always real. And I think in this case what inspired me to write Fragments were my emotions and were I was in that point in my life, from how I felt about my health, my love life, etc. My life moves very fast in its insanity sometimes, and I tend to use writing as a way to explore a lot of my different emotions, or quirks, etc.
It's also not uncommon for me to use theory and philosophy and metaphysics and anything else that interests me as a basis for my plot construction. So, really, Fragments was inspired by the same things that typically always inspire me, including music. :D
You're welcome to ask for an elaboration, or what scenes are real, if that's what makes you most curious. I'd just rather not blast that to the general public.
5. What is the main reason why Alfred suddenly re-applied to Oxford? Was he not scared he would encounter the same brain condition? Why does Alfred choose Oxford as opposed to a US school – there are so many good US schools!
I like answering things from the bottom to the top, so let's do that.
Asking why Alfred would choose Oxford as opposed to a US school is trying to make sense of his decision to go back to school as completely logical, as in the way in which you or I might pick a school to finish a career. But that's not what his decision was really about. It wasn't about getting an education so much as it was about finishing something that Alfred once thought impossible – it was about overcoming barriers and restructuring a dream.
Unfortunately, we can only understand things sometimes as far as our experiences let us, which is why I'm telling all of you lovelies now that these are my thoughts, these were my feelings, but your interpretation – with enough textual evidence – is equally valid.
I think the fact that many were confused as to why Oxford when it might have been cheaper or easier to go to a US university speaks to an unfortunate privilege many of us don't have in choosing where we ultimately go to school: we tend to choose what we can afford, what we can access, not where we feel we belong, or where we instantly connect with a place, which human geographers might denote as that sense of place. That is not to say these two things are mutually exclusive: with the right privilege, then you can fall in that small intersection of people that end up in both the place they can afford and the place they can call home. But my point here is that we imbue places with emotional symbolism and significance.
Places don't tend to give us significance as much as we give it to places – although obviously the right architecture can inflate that sense of importance. I think this is important, though, to understand Alfred's decision. Oxford means something to Alfred. It's as simple as that, really.
I mean, we can think about it logically, if you'd like. I wrote about Oxford, not about Alfred's US University. Why would I do that? – Because that's what Alfred wanted to show Arthur, and, as a default, us as spectators. Alfred tells Arthur about Oxford. He doesn't get sick in Oxford, though. He actually finishes the year fine as the story tells us… so why does he choose to tell Arthur about Oxford? He doesn't tell him about his actual illness. He tells him he was in the hospital. (To those wondering, when? – We can assume because if Arthur is writing the story, then how would he be able to without knowing? Remember his words: "I only know half the story.") Oxford means something to Alfred. And it also means something to Arthur, too. Arthur understands the Oxford system having been an Oxonian himself. He doesn't understand why Alfred would want that for himself, but he accepts that Alfred is going to go no matter what because he knows that it's not so much about the school as it is about what Alfred always wanted and had to give up.
Alfred spent a year studying abroad there, just making the most of everything because in his plans that's where he'd envisioned being. Why he envisions himself there? Who knows? He envisions himself there before even going for a year. That's something personal only Alfred really knows and he certainly hasn't shared that with me.
Now, I think the important question is why not before as opposed to why Oxford.
The point of fear is very valid. Ever been in a Doctor's office and been told you need to slow down. Not as in a general suggestion, but having someone telling you that you really need to let go of what you love doing because you're over-exhausting your body? Had that feeling of getting your heart stuck in your throat, like a panic-attack a minute away before it pounds into your knees so you buckle into a chair? I think Alfred doesn't apply for a long time because there's fear there, but I don't know if it is so much about a possible relapse as it is about getting back into his old routine.
Alfred's character is hard to understand: 1) because we hear about him through Arthur and we hear about Arthur through me, so that's double-translation; 2) because his past-self, pre-illness exists in a level of achievement and competition that few of us might be familiar with, and that's problematic because our first instinct is to always try to analogize what we read with something we can understand… and 3) because we don't know his motivations. So let's look at these points! :D
1) I think we can see this during the scene with Alfred's friends. Ivan is very blunt about everything. "No more brain problems. Alfred can return to school," he says. And I think this is a good point to make: Alfred has gotten over his illness. Is there a possibility for a relapse? – The experiences I based it on and the situation/illness I was looking into dictates that it's unlikely, considering he would now have better tools to deal with the original causes. I based it on real life people, and I also based it off some of my early neuroscience major before I switched into a more exciting world for me. But we see this from Arthur's POV. We see him transcribing what he's experiencing and that level of confusion and being out of the loop – just listening and not understanding, and maybe that makes it more difficult to understand what changed later on…
2) I mentioned award names and his Oxford ambitions to give people an insight into the kind of person Alfred was – as in, we're mentioning that he'd already built some organizations by age 19, won an international big name award, etc, etc. Accepting the context of Alfred's success without trying to analogize it with our own experiences is key, but so very hard. I'm not a fan of analogizing experiences, pain, happiness, etc. Each person's context is special and unique and by asserting that we give people a level of respect and their emotions validity. So I think the problem is that Alfred's not supposed to be relate-able, but we still try to relate.
It's what makes us so beautifully human – you're all very empathetic people, and this shows it. That's a beautiful thing, lovelies, but also deeply intriguing for me because I did find it fascinating how many people would say they found Alfred relate-able as opposed to Arthur, which I thought was really interesting because Arthur's writing about a genius fallen, someone he can't understand half the time. Arthur's working to make it day to day. Alfred? – We can infer he's getting help from somewhere. Arthur is choosing to go into a profitable career as opposed to what he might love because he wants to work with the sobering reality of his employment prospects. Alfred? Alfred dreams and feels almost entitled. Arthur works for half a year to get into a graduate school. Alfred? He studies for a few weeks and makes it to Oxford. This is not to say Arthur isn't smart. He is. I don't think Alfred would love him if he wasn't. But it's intriguing that we all (including myself) tried to understand Alfred… felt connected to Alfred… and not to Arthur, who was probably more accessible in his fears and frustrations than a twenty-something with major investments, choosing to live in lower standards and with a past of excellence the like few of us would fully understand.
I think in a way this story gives it all to you. But at the same time it doesn't work under fair parameters. Nothing is said explicitly, and I trust you're all brilliant to read beyond what is there – between the lines because in the case of Fragments, what was said outright was only half as important as what was tucked in between sentences. Details, then, counted for a lot.
3) Expanding on the above… we know very little about Alfred's motivations. We know he was once highly driven. But we can't understand all that moves him. We know he was extremely competitive and was in a pretty high level of competition and stress, which led to his problem. So I tend to think he was afraid – but maybe more afraid of having to go back to that type of life style… I think Alfred chooses to live a certain way because it's the opposite to where he was in the past.
Yes, there's that element of fear very present. But I think Fragments is a different kind of love story. It's not an ideal love story. It is a story about two people that love each other, but can't commit to trusting each other at first because they have so much baggage from their past. And I think just like Arthur wanted to be better for Alfred, wanted security for himself, well, Alfred, too, wanted to be better for Arthur, but he wanted to do it under his own terms. For Alfred, then, being better wasn't about making more money or buying a bigger house or anything substantially material, which is why he tells Arthur it was all such a struggle for hm. For Alfred, being better for Arthur meant finally letting go of his past, trusting Arthur with his present, and, well, looking to overcome his fears – he wanted to be braver.
You have to almost respect that from Alfred, to go from refusing to have agency to suddenly exerting it 110%.
6. Is this story focused on just one variant of reality, or are some of the fragments talking about Al and Art in different realities?
Actually, there's only two things meant to make you question if we're ever in one variant of reality or not, and that's quite intentional. I wanted to mention the cats – only one of you picked up on the changing number of cats, I think? None of the cats disappeared and were all there by the end, but for a while in the middle, one of the cats went sort of missing, didn't he? And reason is because I figured if someone was paying attention to the cats, when at the end they saw that one seen in another possible variant of reality, well, they might look back and – if they wanted to – create their own theory on how many variants there are…
There is one scene where it is very questionable whether we're still in one variant of reality or not, and that's intentional to play a little with your brains, but otherwise everything is quite firmly set (or there's enough evidence to assert this) in one variant of reality. That I can guarantee if it will give you a little peace of mind.
The questionable scene is the bike scene. If you thought there was another scene with questionable possibilities, bring it to my attention, please. I'd love to see your analysis. It'd make me happy.
Alas, for all you or I know, the bike scene isn't an alternate reality at all, but real, because if you pay attention to the timelines (there is some greater detail about time in relation to when Alfred and Arthur were in Oxford and when they left, too) it could work…
Someone PMed me asking about the timeline crossing together sometime back, and had interesting ideas on the matter. A shout-out to the adorable super shy reviewer that had patience with my imperfect French!
But this question is up to you as a reader, and how well you kept track of timelines or how carefully you read everything. There's a lot more than the explicit in this story, I'm afraid. :)
7. Th-They do get back together right? I'm not sure if this question is valid since it goes beyond this story, but I was just wondering if they do or don't... I really hope they do!
Alfred originally wanted me to show you all a beautiful scene involving a very happy Alfred walking down Parks Road holding hands with Arthur. He'd also wanted me to show you all another beautiful scene involving Alfred and Arthur walking down the cobblestone road behind Christ Church College (the Alice in Wonderland College) with Arthur carrying a red-headed toddler in his arms and telling her the story of Alice in Wonderland. Alas, I put my foot down and said, "Alfred! That answers nothing! – It could be an alternate universe." And then I woke up from my dream, drank tea, and read about 500 pages worth of homework.
And now that I have trolled a bit by implanting those visions in your mind…
The question is totally valid because the answer is technically in the story so don't even worry about it! Thanks for asking. Many had the same question, and yours is probably the most inclusive of what they want to know. :D
"It's a promise that after a long break, they will return to each other."
(A—and what about all the stuff I added about destiny next to tim—time… it wasn't just to make it sound pretty. None of you paid attention? I—it's fine. I'm going to go cry in my corner. I'll be fine. I will. Please eat these complimentary e-cookies as I type the rest…)
Of course, to those of you that don't want them to get back together, well, you can imagine that somewhere along the line in those years of long-distance loving, something went wrong, but that's kind of pessimistic and really sad, you guys. So let's just stick with the "promise to return to each other" and think that Arthur finished his degree, went off to England after two years to join Alfred in Oxford and they lived together until the end of Alfred's degree. And why the hell not? While abroad, they got married, because they can. And Sazzles ate part of the small reception cake. There.
(And in the meanwhile they kept their relationship going strong thanks to skype, naughty web times, and Christmas visits.)
8. Why did Artie choose America to go to after he dropped out of Oxford?
B—because if he hadn't he wouldn't have met Alfred? – In some other reality there was an Arthur choosing to not go to America. Okay, that's a cop-out answer.
Personally, I think he chose America because of the relative ease with which it would mean getting away from Western Europe and the United Kingdom without putting himself in an absolutely foreign location and situation. In terms of acquiring a visa, the monetary conversion, and facility of language mobility, I think the US was a better option. Some might be thinking, "but there's Canada and Australia, too!" But a ticket to Australia would have been very expensive. Canada has a large landmass, but I don't think Arthur felt very inspired by Canada. His reasons for moving had to do with finding a place that would inspire him to be a writer, and during those early months in the United States, Arthur travels a lot, just looking for excitement and adventure and things to write. And I think the United States is big enough and still considered exciting enough for people that don't live within its borders.
9. When Al walked into the bar for the first time and saw Artie, did he recognise him as the blonde haired, emerald eyed stranger he'd met from his past?
Your interpretation is just as good as mine.
It's kind of hard to tell because first we need to settle whether you believe that the bike scene was an alternate universe or not. If you do, then you'd have to settle whether that beginning section is also set in an AU, or if it isn't, then is it just a feeling of recognition, like an inexplicable déjà vu? Either meaning is completely acceptable, especially considering the ending. It could be Alfred believes it was a reunion because somewhere they'd met before, or they really had met before, which is also incredibly likely.
If we look at the scene in question, there are certainly hints to validate your hypothesis, maybe in the opposite direction – was it Arthur that recognized Alfred?
""Hello sir," he coughed into his hand, eyes glued to his shined shoes. "May I interest you in a booth seat? Perhaps one with a window-view?""
Why is Arthur looking at his shoes? – Why does he not look at Alfred directly? Is he trying to hide his face?
""He's probably just a broke college student just waiting for the storm to pass," Arthur made his excuses."
Why is Arthur so sure Alfred must be college-aged? Or affiliated to a college? Is it because he's young? But then, why a college student and not simply broke or something else? For that matter, it could be Arthur just thought Alfred was handsome, or maybe he remembered him in some way.
""Oi," he leaned against the tabletop of the bar, sliding with perfect suavity and just the right pinch of annoyance next to the young blonde, who geared his large blue eyes at him, "not that you've been much of an annoyance, but I'm afraid I'll have to ask you to either order or leave."
The level of bluntness seemed to catch the young man off guard.
"Oh," he mouthed, still gaping a bit before pushing away from the bar – one hand pressed tightly against the wood — "uh, yeah, I guess I should be on my way now. I lost track of time, I think. Sorry, uh… oh, you have a nametag, cool. Arthur." He chuckled, scratching at the nape of his neck. "Thanks for the water," he shrugged on his bomber jacket, slipping on a thick hood."
^ Maybe they recognized each other? The first time Alfred sees Arthur, he flushes. It could be he's just embarrassed he hasn't bought anything, or he recognizes Arthur, or both. This is probably not helpful for you, but I just really want to stress that this story was written intentionally to make sure the reader had as much freedom to hypothesize and analyze as they'd like. That's not to say the story is complicated, or needs huge analysis to be understood, but that I posit everything here as probable because I believe the point of the story was to put a spotlight on probability and destiny, etc, etc. So I hope the information above gives you some ammunition to take this simple narrative and give it beautiful meaning, like maybe Alfred was right and they were just destined, or maybe it was a lot of luck and Alfred was just reassuring Arthur…
10. Was the Alfred-and-Arthur-singing-90s-pop-music-while-strolling set in the same reality as the main story (i.e. they met before Alfred had to quit Oxford and Arthur left for America) or was it an alternate reality?
Clarification: Alfred didn't quit Oxford. Alfred studied in Oxford for a year as a visiting student. He was a US college student and at the end of the year went back. He quit before he could finish his final year of university. Arthur quit Oxford when he was doing his master's in creative writing.
The answer to this cannot come from me, but from you. It depends on how you read the story. I discussed this scene in some detail in the questions above, but the summarized answer is that a) the timeline does work out that Alfred and Arthur could have met in Oxford, albeit with some tweaking, and this could just be Alfred thinking as a physics student, and b) it could more likely be an alternate reality with Alfred, again, being a geeky physics student and not knowing, which then impacts how you might read different scenes in the short story.
Personally, I like to think it's both – it's a universe where the timeline is the same, and then diverges at that point in time. But maybe I like to think like this because of the fact that the scene is a happy nod of acknowledgement at The Finalist and my own life (for information on The Finalist and this scene, look at question 3).
11. The story Arthur writes in his little black book - am I misinterpreting it, or is that story the entire story in this fanfiction? Arthur writing the 12 in the book at the end of Section 11 and Section 12 consisting of his monthly budget is throwing me for a loop...
That's correct. What Arthur starts writing is his half of Fragments. He tells Alfred distinctly he only knows half the story in the first part of Part IV. The fact we read a narrative that shows us some of what Alfred went through lets us know that Alfred did have a talk with Arthur but we don't get to see it because it would have been superfluous. The second part of Part IV can be thought of us either written by Arthur trying to understand Alfred, which is why everything is so chaotic, or as Alfred typing out his last thoughts to Arthur and leaving them for him to make sense of in his final draft, which is quite fitting seeing as Fragments: A Love Story is a draft – mine.
12. Why did Kiku act so upset during Alfred's mini-reunion with his classmates? Was he uncomfortable with the public display of affection? Bitter that his friend had seemingly given up on a promising future? Jealous of Arthur's relationship with Alfred? All of the above?
All of the above for the win! 7 No. Okay, not all of the above. Just one. But all those reasons are so good it makes me want to write an AU in which Kiku is Alfred's ex-lover and … where was I? Oh right.
Kiku only acts upset before he needs to leave, and that only comes after Alfred and Ivan have that exchange about his past illness and school.
It's quite simple, and I think it has to do with Kiku not knowing what to make of Alfred's reaction. On the one hand, I think it does have to do with his disappointment that Alfred has given up on a promising future, and maybe his own understanding that Alfred's childish display showcases a lot of fear. I think it also has to do with Kiku not wanting to get involved in re-introducing Alfred to societal pressures: he knows his friend is brilliant, but he's not going to be the one to push Alfred back to school if he doesn't want to even if he understands it is a good idea.
I don't think Kiku is jealous of Arthur, much less of his relationship with Alfred. He seems to be the nicest in the whole group toward Arthur.
Kiku is talented, and he follows a family legacy. His father thinks Alfred is talented. But Alfred is not using his talents. It's difficult for Kiku to understand, like it is difficult for Ivan. But unlike Ivan, Kiku is not so blunt. So he takes his leave, not being impolite because he has somewhere to be, but refusing to even broach the subject with Alfred. In a way, Kiku is both a good and bad friend in this… but we can't know all his motivations because that half seems to fall on Arthur's symmetry-half of the story, so we're only seeing him through Arthur's eyes, and in Arthur's eyes (someone that doesn't know Kiku well) he's pouty and distraught, not concerned and uncomfortable.
13. Why 'Fragments' as the title? (Other than the way it is written, and the time skips, of course)
Fragments as the title has actually nothing to do with the format. ^^
Fragments refers to how we see time. We see time as fragmented. We only think of time as being divided by specific events with specific end-times. The skips certainly help give greater insight into the narrative. To quote myself on that:
"The first chapter remains particularly confined within the parameters of a linear narrative. Would you have taken me seriously if I'd thrown you into the chaos of Part III from the get-go? Probably not, which is why the structure of the story was so important and the reason why I couldn't show you everything, or tell you sometimes when things were happening after a while because it really was all to do with deconstructing time and our ideas of time as a linear concept. Now I'm not saying I succeeded! But I tried. And I am ever so thankful you all did read that author note in Part III and trusted me when I asked you not to panic at the first sign of chaos."
But to be honest, Fragmentsas a title had to do with the irony of physics conceptualization of time and the fact Arthur (and all of us) don't view time as an eternal continuum that happens all at once. Instead, we view time as fragmented bits we call the present and the past.
Slaughterhouse-Five has characters that continually can only explain these differences in time by alluding to the fact that humans have fragmented vision. In this case, the structure was a visual cue, but it wasn't the reason behind the title. The title was inspired by Slaughterhouse-five and Alfred's physics.
14. Why did Alfred not tell Arthur about the past for so long?
Lovely question, asking why Alfred waits, not if Alfred shares his story. I adore you, reviewer. Make yourself known to me so we can co-write beautiful story babies.
In my point of view, it falls into two categories: 1) poor communication, and 2) thinking it wasn't important to mention it. I think it also falls into Arthur and Alfred reasons.
I think something that I struggled with as this story came to an end is that it's not really an end. I'm not supposed to give you what will happen because, well, I don't know. I can make assumptions that are equally as valid as anyone else's… I always tell my readers: I see as far as you see, and I come to terms with it when you do. So here's my take.
Real life, moments like the ones in Fragments don't really get a nice packaged ending. Alfred and Arthur always had communication problems. This story worked to highlight that, but it wasn't realistic that they would fix those problems over night, so when Alfred leaves, those problems are still there, really. They'll have to fix those communication problems eventually and I think long-distance will either help them resolve those problems by force, or accentuate them enough that the relationship will fail.
As to my second point: I think it falls under the 'well, you didn't ask…' rule for Alfred, which is quite true. There's this inherent assumption that it should fall to Alfred to be responsible for telling Arthur, but Arthur never asks Alfred about his life, either. Go back to the first 3 chapters. He doesn't ask until the end. Communication is a two-way street. People don't always offer information freely, especially because what needs to be mentioned to some is something that's not quite as interesting to another. There's a talent in extraction, or else there wouldn't be secret agents, right? – So that's not a good example, but my point is that Arthur doesn't share many of his own feelings until they're too much to hold onto. It's part of that communication fail that further keeps Alfred from telling Arthur much of anything. In Alfred's mind what matters is what is happening now – and now he has Arthur, so why should Oxford or hospitals or anything like that matter?
And, really, Arthur assumes a lot of things, which doesn't make communication any easier. The romantic in him seems attached by the hip to that more pragmatic half of his personality to create this awkward combination that allows him to take in what he sees about Alfred's meager life and just say 'this is NOT okay!' and go into 'I must save you!' mode.
There's this beautiful poem by a spoken word poet Sarah Kay and in it she says: "And "Baby," I'll tell her "don't keep your nose up in the air like that, I know that trick, you're just smelling for smoke so you can follow the trail back to a burning house so you can find the boy who lost everything in the fire to see if you can save him. Or else, find the boy who lit the fire in the first place to see if you can change him." I think this is a really great way of thinking about Arthur in Fragments and a reflection of this relationship in general because it's all about two people that love each other so much, they just want to see the other happy, but instead of realizing they're each others' happiness as they are, they assume they have to become or give something else to make that happen. It's both a confidence and perception issue, and it just gets to be too much…
I think in a way we all do this at some point – not with boys, sometimes, but I think when we're young, there's still this idealistic part of us that wants to hold the world in our hands, save it from itself by keeping it from falling through the netting of our fingertips… and there's nothing wrong with that, except sometimes we get hurt and the bigger lesson is in how we learn to get back up after life has gutted our hearts and broken our kneecaps, you know?
15. Why did Alfred not tell Arthur about everything?
Good question. I think I already answered this earlier. Can I quote myself?
"[Arthur] tells Alfred distinctly he only knows half the story in the first part of Part IV. The fact we read a narrative that shows us some of what Alfred went through lets us know that Alfred did have a talk with Arthur but we don't get to see it because it would have been superfluous."
16. Is there any pattern for reading Fragments in a chronological order?
There is a pattern. And this I will take with me to the grave! xD It's easier in the beginning, not so easy near the end because then you have to find the pattern in the entire story as opposed in only the specific parts.
Alas, if I told you, then it would defeat the purpose of us trying to deconstruct time. (Or maybe I'm just lazy and explaining it from my head to paper would be painful?) I think a good tip on reading Fragments, or re-reading it, maybe, is to look at my comments on how I structured things to try to deconstruct time (which wasn't successful, but let's pretend…) found in 'Why Fragments as the title' and 'Did you always envision this plot' (or something like that).
17. What actually is Alfred's brain disorder?
Oh dear. I knew someone would ask.
As an ex-neuroscience student, I'll tell you right now it isn't an exact condition with a name, or set of specific symptoms. (For that matter, just as a response to your comment about how common/general the symptoms I used were… well, symptoms can be generic: they're what a patient personally feels and can pinpoint to a doctor, which tend to be changes in mood, or headaches, or pain and fatigue and nausea, etc. This is not the same thing as a sign, which is typically noticed by other people, including a doctor, and which helps bring the general symptoms down to a diagnosis. On that note, some symptoms can also be signs.) Alfred's situation was based more around experiences I've seen in others. However, in the spirit of full disclosure, I'll go into how I created this experience for Alfred.
The English language only has one word for stress fatigue and that's, well, stress fatigue, which can trigger Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), which also has different versions with their own triggers and definitions.
In the French language and in parts of South America the word surmenage exists to describe a similar type of exhaustion that makes the body rebel to the point of hospitalization, many times because of stress, but mostly from 'too-much-focus.' Today more practitioners would consider it CFS, but the term surmenage is used more around the concept of stress fatigue, typically now as a popular reference to a culture of too much stress. Today, we also don't talk about surmenage as a medical condition so much as a descriptor of high stress, but if you look it up in university journals, you'll find some interesting articles from the 1980s and 1990s written in Spanish and French that differentiated it from "just" stress fatigue or CFS, almost like an intermediate. So in a continuum, this would be "super stress."
On that note, the history of the term surmenage and its utilization among psychology circles is complex and has evolved to the point of no longer being used by more modern scholastic journals, so, again, remember that I didn't use a set brain disorder for Alfred, nor did I ever say he had a tumor. I always attributed his illness to stress. As such, I would suggest taking my explanation more as a basic documentation of changing terminology and the ways in which symptoms are very similar from one illness to another at times as opposed to anything else.
Just in case, to clarify, this is not to say that in the US and in other languages we don't recognize the effects of stress, but that this was what I was thinking of in the case of creating Alfred's almost mythical condition (mythical as in not particularly real, though based on real life symptoms because stress and fatigue and the pain from it is very much real.)
The case of surmenage I was thinking about affected an economics major, actually. And I decided to call it surmenage because this is how she attributes it when she tells her story. (And who am I to rewrite someone's personal narrative?)
So, psychologically, the concept of surmenage is based on the meaning of the word, which refers to being 'submerged' under work, under stress, under the focus of X-thing. So it isn't just stress, but could come from even repetitive and habitual activities that lead to fatigue, which is why I chose it because I felt it important to note that while Alfred was under a lot of stress, it was less the stressful aspect of his situation and more the constant amplification of work that lead to a very physical break-down. In this way, we can really akin it to burn out.
(Burn-out is not just a histrionic term, ladies and gents. Burn-out is very real, and quite severe for many young organizers, campaigners, and activists like Alfred seems to be in this story. Not all get physically sick, but some suffer through great socio-emotional consequences.)
On that note, I personally think we don't tend to think of the problems stress can bring about very often. We know stress if bad, but we seldom consider how serious it can really be…
To give you an idea, high levels of stress can lead to false-positives for Lupus examinations (for that matter, some of the symptoms also fit the Lupus description, don't they? – Except Lupus is an autoimmune disorder, not a brain disorder: fatigue, aches, pains, depression, headaches). High levels of stress can cause a level of anxiety and lead to depression that destabilized chemicals in the brain to the point where it isn't uncommon for doctors to recommend medication for 2 months to re-stabilize the body's hormones, chemicals, and more. And it is usually the same medication used for anxiety, or depression.
We tend to think stress, much like the word burn-out, is a really fun word to throw around when we feel we're in over our heads. To be fair, though, some people have really low stress thresholds, and others have an extremely high one, which might actually be bad because of the high level of further duress the body must endure to prove its resistance.
But back to my original point: the case I was thinking about involved an incredibly bright person literally ending up in the hospital with her face distorted. She experienced muscle-spasms, a bad case of convulsions, constant nausea, much like Alfred. The anxiety of leaving education and everything behind only led to greater stress and greater symptoms. She took a break for two years, went back to school, and is now getting a PhD.
So, in other words, the symptoms are highly vague because the body responds quite violently to the level of repetitive stress we're talking about in Alfred's case, but can also react very differently from that of anyone else experiencing fatigue.
However, another case I was thinking about involves a case of childhood pseudo-epilepsy. What this refers to is a condition similar to epilepsy in children, as in the symptoms are similar, but the causes are unrelated to the natural synapses of the brain and have a connection to something extra in the body.
I tend to think Alfred might have suffered from convulsions as a child – whether due to epilepsy or not, because his condition sounds very much like the return of a pre-existing condition making itself known through high levels of stress. It also made sense for me to cite his condition appearing during stressful times because in some studies, emotional stress was reported by 25-55% of people prior to seizures, making it one of the leading causes.
If it was a pre-existing condition he just wasn't aware of as a child, then it would make sense that it was treated until it was under control again.
For that matter, though, stress-induced convulsions are not mythological, and like the PhD student's example, it could have appeared out of nowhere. The EEG exams for them are interesting for sure.
I hope this answers your question, but if you want a follow-up medical chat, well, I can definitely give that a try, though I'm not sure I'd be very helpful.
18. The books. Why did they fight over the books? Why didn't they fight over the books? Just, the books. Tell me about the books.
You want titles? – Pretty please don't make me go find the titles again.
So, the books were ridiculously symbolic. This answer is going to be so short…
The fight had little to do with books or space, and everything to do with poor communication. Arthur had no idea why these books meant something to Alfred, and he remains confused the entire time. The idea is that by telling Arthur his half of the story and letting Arthur write it, Alfred is giving him insight into what those books really meant: his past, what he had to give up and couldn't…
Some asked why I didn't show them fighting over the books. The fight itself wasn't important. If you were writing a book about yourself, would you want to show your petty fights? Probably not. But what was important is that the fight was there because there was prevailing tension and so much of it that it finally flooded over something that seemed insignificant but wasn't. Maybe I'm along in that experience, but sometimes when relationships are really charged, all emotions come toppling out over the least expected exchanges and events.
19. Was Arthur attracted to Alfred? What is Arthur's issue? He's sorta clingy!
Oh, totally! Agreed 100%. Arthur is clingy. Arthur's problem, though, is not so uncommon.
I already answered this, sort of, which is why I will now quote myself. :)
"The romantic in him seems attached by the hip to that more pragmatic half of his personality to create this awkward combination that allows him to take in what he sees about Alfred's meager life and just say 'this is NOT okay!' and go into 'I must save you!' mode.
There's this beautiful poem by a spoken word poet Sarah Kay and in it she says: "And "Baby," I'll tell her "don't keep your nose up in the air like that, I know that trick, you're just smelling for smoke so you can follow the trail back to a burning house so you can find the boy who lost everything in the fire to see if you can save him. Or else, find the boy who lit the fire in the first place to see if you can change him." I think this is a really great way of thinking about Arthur in Fragments and a reflection of this relationship in general because it's all about two people that love each other so much, they just want to see the other happy, but instead of realizing they're each other's' happiness as they are, they assume they have to become or give something else to make that happen. It's both a confidence and perception issue, and it just gets to be too much…
I think in a way we all do this at some point – not with boys, sometimes, but I think when we're young, there's still this idealistic part of us that wants to hold the world in our hands, save it from itself by keeping it from falling through the netting of our fingertips… and there's nothing wrong with that, except sometimes we get hurt and the bigger lesson is in how we learn to get back up after life has gutted our hearts and broken our kneecaps, you know?"
20. Why Fall, Winter, Spring and Summer (and Summer!)?
It's just to show that everything happened in a year. They're relationship was ridiculously fast!* It also was easy to be able to say 'five years ago' and because it was in a specific season, it still gave you some concept of time. I figured taking all measures of time away would have made me look crazy.
*Ahem, I'm not going to lie – this was me trolling a bit and trying to make a statement in poor-taste about how weird it is when you have those fictions or love stories that have everything happen in relatively short-time, though, to be fair, I once wrote a romantic comedy that happened in the span of a week because the main character had amnesia. But to be fair, it was supposed to be comedy, and it was also trying to point out some problematic aspects of consent, and the main character and her boyfriend already knew each other. Compared to that, a year is totes acceptable, especially for a predestined couple. Right?
21. What does Arthur really want to be? – An economist? A writer?
He wants to be married. To Alfred. And have lots of cat babies. :D
Oh gosh. Why are you still paying attention to me, darlings? Right, because I promised answers. My humor gets progressively less humorous the more tired I am, I'm afraid to admit.
First things first: career changes are very common, dears.
I asked Arthur, and he seemed very adamant about making it known that he probably really wanted to be neither. Loving a subject matter does not imply you want to make it your career. In Arthur's case, he studied economics as an undergraduate, and we are to assume he was very conflicted about his education. An Oxford education is very streamline and classes are pretty settled so he wouldn't have had much room to choose from other subjects. Changing subjects would probably have been hard for him, too. This is not to mean he might not have enjoyed his education or the subject, but that maybe he wasn't fully fulfilled by it, which is why he decided he'd try for writing – something he seemed to enjoy a lot more.
But a Master's in Creative Writing in Oxford was also a bit too streamlined for his taste. In a way, I think Arthur was looking for a different education style, or just more freedom, which is probably why he chose to leave and travel somewhere different.
When was considering going back to school (mostly because he decided being a writer was too idealistic) he chose to try for a post-graduate degree in economics because that's what he had done before. Also, economists have pretty safe career prospects, which I think really appealed to Arthur's more pragmatic side.
I think Arthur likes to write. I think he enjoys it like a lot of us do, but maybe doesn't feel like he has the talent, or the drive to take it further. Francis and Arthur's conversation gives us some insight into the fact Arthur doesn't feel like writing is what he wants to do anymore – not to the level he'd considered it before. But who knows? – Arthur needs to decide what he wants to be. Though, really, philosophically speaking, phrasing a question that way gives me a serious complex. So, I think Arthur needs to decide what he wants to do next. In the meanwhile, he seems very poised to challenge himself to get his degree in economics, and later? – Who knows!
Unfortunately for Arthur, it takes a lot more planning to not have a plan than to have one (there's a bit of philosophy for you).
22. What happens to Arthur after those five years?
Oh boy. You guys really want an answer, huh? I will give you this, but not tell you if it is set in our timeline or another.
Arthur graduates with his Master's. He returns to England to be with Alfred and shortly before Alfred graduates, they convince Arthur's sister to become a surrogate for their first child, a little girl.
In the interim, Arthur publishes Fragments. He adds many chapters and changes much of the narrative until it is no longer anything akin to his first draft and resembles more a fictional novel. It receives a nice level of acclaim as an introductory novel, but wins no awards and sells little compared to his publisher's expectations. He decides he was right all along and was not meant to be a writer of fiction.
Alfred is offered the opportunity to continue his research in Oxford, where he pursues his post-graduate opportunities and lives with Arthur in a flat in Summertown. They have one more child, a little boy. Both their children are red-heads. For a time, Arthur is a stay-at-home parent.
During his time as a stay-at-home parent, though, Arthur begins to take on some free-lance jobs, starting local before he begins to make some connections thanks to Alfred's role as an Oxford tutor and researcher.
Arthur starts with what he knows. He mostly writes about economics, but soon starts a career in investigative journalism, in which he likes to document on the history of anthropological economics. (He's very good about understanding human economic behavior.) He writes books filled with real-life narratives, exploring all the things that once disappointed him about the economic system and what fills him with hope. His most successful book focuses on the importance of a living wage, and the income-gap in the United Kingdom. And, eventually, when he has earned security as a writer, he begins to write different types of narratives, exploring other facets of his life – from his early travels to parenthood. He finds that stories have power and meaning, because people have meaning and power, and he can't think of something more beautiful than telling a story that's real.
23. Character Profiles.
There was a request for character profiles, but the person never mentioned for who they wanted the character profiles so…. ^^
Did I miss anything?
I don't think I missed any questions posted before Saturday, but if I did, someone please let me know? I'll answer you via PM.
Now that Final Week is over, you have about a week to reply, or follow-up if you feel you need to, but only if you asked a question during Final Week and want more clarification for your question, or didn't like a specific reply. To those of you that replied after Final Week, I did my best to incorporate answers within the questions I did have, but I might not have been too successful.
So, Rebuttal Week ends May 20. I will answer you via PM if you take advantage of the Rebuttal Week.
Thanks again for following me in this journey. Hope you have a lovely week!