Nathanial White: Is Pain an Essential Part of the Human Experience?
In Conversation with Mitzi Rapkin on the First Draft Podcast
First Draft: A Dialogue of Writing is a weekly show featuring in-depth interviews with fiction, nonfiction, essay writers, and poets, highlighting the voices of writers as they discuss their work, their craft, and the literary arts. Hosted by Mitzi Rapkin, First Draft celebrates creative writing and the individuals who are dedicated to bringing their carefully chosen words to print as well as the impact writers have on the world we live in.
In this episode, Mitzi talks to Nathanial White about his new novella, Conscious Designs.
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From the episode:
Mitzi Rapkin: Your main character, Eugene, who is paralyzed, is having a conversation about leaving the pain behind if he creates a second self, which means you can put your consciousness, basically, into this box, and it can live on without your body. And the question is, do you bring the memory of your body with you? And do you bring the memory of your pain? The truth is that we are a sum of every moment that we live, and every choice we make makes us who we are. So, the question is, do you like yourself enough, or are you too afraid to see who you are without that pain? Something he was really grappling with was the question of if it would change him to get rid of the pain. I wanted to ask you about that for your character, but also ask you that about your own pain.
Nathanial White: Yeah, that’s a great question. One of the central thematic questions of this book is, is pain and suffering an essential part of the human experience? If we can eradicate pain and suffering completely from our lives, which we’re trying to do. This book is also a bit of a cultural critique about this kind of anesthetic world that we live in where we don’t value pain the way that we maybe once did. And the question is, without pain, are we still human? If we do completely get rid of pain, if we could turn pain off—both physical pain and the kind of psycho-emotional pain we experience—are we truly human?
And then of course, there’s this other question of if we can excise—and that word comes up a lot—these memories and the painful parts of Eugene’s past. He’s warned that if he does try to change his self and eradicate these parts of his past, then he won’t be Eugene, and he might not even be a person anymore. For me, I absolutely think there’s been so much value in my pain. I think it’s made me grow as a human being. And through writing this book, I’ve been able to ascribe some meaning from my pain and to ask these big questions about what does it mean to be human.
Nathanial White grew up in Maine and has lived in Mexico, Brazil, and Ecuador. His speculative fiction explores the human psyche, physical disability, culture, technology and consumerism. He currently teaches high school English in the Rocky Mountains of Western Colorado.