The Other Word for Thesaurus

by Bruce Holland Rogers

He graduated three months ago and has so far managed to use the bad economy as an excuse for why he hasn’t been able to find a suitable job. He wears a tie when he goes out, letting his parents imagine that he spends his day knocking on doors. He spends his day walking along the river, sometimes stopping to chat with an old man who watches birds through binoculars, or with a pretty girl.

He knows it can’t go on like this. In fact, what he wants is the opposite of what he is doing each day. He wants to stand outside the ten thousand doors, open them all at the same time, and enter. All of them. Marry each of the pretty girls. Get a job in a bank, in a national park, as a day laborer, overseas, in New York, in Vancouver, as a teacher, as an assassin for the CIA. He wants to have six children, and three, and three different children, and an only child, and none. He wants to be a Muslim convert, a Christian convert, a Jew.

Not choosing is also a choice. A door opens regardless. He thinks of his cousin, busking with his guitar on the sidewalks of his hometown.

One day he will be older and will look back on this time, the beginning of the end.

Bruce Holland Rogers has lived in Toronto, London and Budapest. He loves big cities but finds himself in Eugene, Oregon. Eugene has much to offer, but it really needs a metro…and somewhere to go on it. Rogers teaches fiction writing in the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts MFA program. His stories have been translated into over two dozen languages, including Pashto and Klingon. For sample stories and information on his stories-by-email subscription service, see www.shortshortshort.com.

How did this piece get this title? Were there other alternatives? Do you have a process for finding the right title for your compressed fiction pieces? I write so many stories that by the time anyone asks me about how this story or that one came into being, got its title, or arrived in its final form, I don’t know. This could have been one of those stories that actually started with the title. Or I might have written the story and been casting about for a title about choices and limitation when I recalled a one-liner about “no other words that mean ‘thesaurus.’ ” (And, of course, there is another term for thesaurus: dictionary of synonyms.)

In general, the title is the last thing I know. Sometimes I begin with what I think is the right title, but the story I end up with is never exactly the one I set out to write. As soon as words are written down, they begin to define and delimit the story, even a story devoted to getting across one simple idea. The story becomes something more, I hope, than what I first envisioned. (Sometimes it becomes something less, and the story is broken, not worthy of showing anyone.) By the time I get to the end, the proposed title has been demoted to working title. I need to find something better.

I used to have an editor (she was actually much more than that) whose most frequent criticisms were that the ending was off or that the title needed to be changed. So now I’m suspicious of my titles and my endings. I’m in the habit of striking them out, even if I think they are perfect. Getting rid of my initial titles and endings opens the space for me to think of something better.

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