State of Flash – The Flash!
The Flash, a DC Comics superhero, is powerful by virtue of his speed. He doesn’t have super strength. He can’t fly. He can’t move objects with his mind. But he’s fast. He’s incredibly fast. He can break the sound barrier. But that’s not all. His speed is so extreme that his powers approach the metaphysical. He can vibrate his body at such a rapid rate that he can move through solid materials, his molecules slipping in between the atoms of a reinforced steel bank vault with an innocent baby trapped inside, for instance. This same principle allows him to slip out of the confines of the physical universe, to visit parallel dimensions, to view strange worlds and alternate timelines. Superman could bend a steel bar. He could carry a battleship on his shoulders, yes, but the Flash would merely shrug, smile knowingly like a zen master at his student. What is the use of bending something when the Flash can take you to a world where that thing has never existed, where it has been transmuted into something else? That steel bar is now a dragon. That battleship is the face of your own father etched into the side of a mountain.
At the risk of stretching a metaphor so far that even Superman could not bend it back into shape, I think that when we write flash fiction, we are achieving a feat of perception identical to the Flash’s. We use speed to enter other worlds. And that speed is not a restriction, not something that makes the creation more difficult. In fact, it is what makes this creation possible. The one sentence that builds a city. The one image that expands in my mind, that splits and multiplies like a dividing cell, giving birth to new images and new ideas from the sheer power of a single suggestion. The one word that is spoken, that tells me where the speaker has been, where the speaker is going, what the speaker is destined to become. Finding those single moments, those lines that contain universes despite the fact that they are over in the blink of an eye: this is the province of flash fiction. It is the writer’s equivalent of the chef’s paradox. I have spent hours braising this chicken, roasting this pig, and the quicker you eat it, the more successful I’ve been.
Too often, speed and brevity are associated with frivolity, with superficiality, with the lack of an attention span. Is flash fiction appealing because we don’t have the ability to concentrate on longer work? The Flash says, “No.” He understands that speed is agility, that each new world experienced is a new way of looking at our own; that every hand in the crowd that we brush against in our haste belongs to a person whose life we can only glimpse. He knows we must make that glimpse count. He knows that time is not on our side, that we have more ground to cover. The universe is infinite, and we are not. You are taking too long. He has run on ahead, miles past the end of the story. He’s vibrating through the earth’s surface now, moving onto the next world. He is running so quickly that he can’t make out details—there is not one world or two or three trillion, there is not a woman or a man, there is nothing but one warm blur. He is awash in light. What is taking you so long? Catch up!