Story, via the Body

 

Narrative should be sensitive to the ways in which telling a story, believing a story, seeing yourself in a story—all that depends on an ability that can be hard to maintain when your body is changing, brain fogged, pain deep

 

–Zach Savich,  “Body Map: Memoirs of the Sick

Well said, Zach.  Couldn’t agree more.

On Writing and the Will

Here’s something Thomas Carlyle said about Coleridge:

 

His cardinal sin is that he wants will. He has no resolution. He shrinks from pain or labour in any of its shapes. …He would do with all his heart, but he knows he dares not. The conversation of the man is much as I anticipated — a forest of thoughts, some true, many false, more part dubious, all of them ingenious in some degree, often in a high degree. But there is no method in his talk; he wanders like a man sailing among many currents, whithersoever his lazy mind directs him; … I reckon him a man of great and useless genius: a strange, not at all a great man.

According to Wikiquote (yeah, I know, it’s Wiki, Font of Accuracy it ain’t), Carlyle wrote this in a letter to his brother on June 24, 1824.  (Hey, that’s 190 years ago today!  No wonder someone posted this on Twitter!  Har!  I iz genius cat!)  So this is a private meditation on Coleridge’s personality, not a book blurb–not something Coleridge would have found in a review of one of his books, not what he would have chanced across in a magazine and smiled a quiet, bitter smile at and muttered, “Thanks, Tom,” after he inhaled to suck up his own drool.  (That’s another happy detail that Carlyle noted: Coleridge, constantly fighting to keep spit inside his mouth.)  But still, wow, what a cutting, merciless summation of a person’s existence.  What would drive one author to say this about another?  Is it a young man tearing down the idolatry surrounding an older man?  (In 1824, Coleridge would have been 52, and Carlyle, 29.)  Is it the vicious drumbeat of Carlyle’s Great Man theory, twenty years before he officially formulated it, bearing down on the philosopher’s mind, compelling him to devalue any thinker who doesn’t dominate or colonize, influence or convert by force?  Yeah, I’d love to jump into readers’ minds, too, grab them by the brain stem and yank until they start paying attention to me.  Constraint is such an easy way to gain notoriety, but then, don’t you also need magic powers or a white face or money or the muzzle of a gun?

Words and ideas are such slippery creatures, Mr. Carlyle.  How is one supposed to know what a Great Idea is, unless the definition is tethered to the model of the Great Man?  Frankly, I don’t consider drifting among many currents to be laziness.  Fickleness, maybe, but the unfocused urges of the unconscious are nothing to be sneezed at.  True, Coleridge’s fame came to him in large part because of abandoned poems he decided to publish as “fragments”–purposefully incomplete, like newly constructed ruins.  And yet that aesthetic sleight-of-hand (which I think is one of the greatest cons in Western poetry–think of it! being able to collect the scraps of old pieces and get them in print as if you completely meant to do it) introduced stunning images and words and lines that still ferment in the minds of writers.  Know what I can recite off the top of my head? “In Xanadu did Kubla Khan / A stately pleasure dome decree.”  In Seattle a few years ago, I saw an African-American spoken-word poet named Christabel.  I can still hear her intoning her own name in one of her pieces…Om….Om…Om Christabel.  Om Christabel.  Artists feel empowered by the imaginings of Coleridge’s “lazy” mind.  Yours?  Not so much.

Want to know what I remember about you, Thomas Carlyle?

Great Man Theory.

That’s not even a sentence.  How useless.

Those Fickle Dreams from Fairyland…

Had a dream last night that I was in a pastor in charge of a small children’s Halloween party.  I was obsessed with writing down party instructions on every possible surface, including the passenger door of my car.  DO NOT forget a flashlight! I kept scrawling over and over in fluorescent yellow marker.  Suddenly I realized I probably shouldn’t write the private details of my life on my car.  I started erasing words and lines and then whole sentences, and discovered that if I erased in one place the same words disappeared everywhere else.  But erasing anything also took away the car’s identity.  The chrome letters that spelled out make and model vanished.  What was that information again?  Where did I get this car?  Was it my grandmother’s Buick, the one with the mushy steering that my friends and I had navigated through a snowstorm?  The old man’s Chrysler, acquired through my father, that had its stereo stolen twice and then was spirited away whole one night, only to wind up totaled in another part of the city?  I couldn’t tell.  Both cars were boxy and a sort of brownish maroon, like the covers of 1950s encyclopedias.  They were hand-me-downs that I never wanted, but I learned to make do.  The words, though.  The words kept adding up and blowing away and I could never tell what was important and what wasn’t.

So what does this mean?  Is it an anxiety dream about writing in general?  About the “vehicle” that sends my work out into the world?  Is it just my Mommy side unable to quiet itself, continuously generating lists for my son’s teachers to consult?  I’m not sure.  I will say, though, that this dream filled me with unspeakable dread, and I’d love to know where that awful feeling of terror came from.

Ideas?  Insights?  Analysis?  Want to share a dream of your own?  The comments page awaits…

Good Writing Break: Post-Summer Solstice Edition

Hey, fickle readers!   I’ve been involved with end-of-the-school-year festivities. (Yeah, they kept Little Fickle in school till Friday.  This is what happens when it snows the entire month of February.  Friggin’ winter.) But now I’m back to cheer about great writing and whine and gnash my teeth about everything else.  (Okay, sometimes good writing makes me do that, too.  But never mind.)  So let’s get things started…

Hey, didya know it’s summer?

Woo-hoo!  Sweat and socklessness for at least two months!  All hail the Goddess of Skin and Warm Weather!!!!

First, a new poetry venue: Tinderbox Poetry Journal, which not only has an attractive site (layout counts–right, Editors of the World?), it also has an impressive lineup of work in its debut issue.  For me, standouts are “In the Cottonwoods,” a contemporary twist on Romantic naturalism from Ray Gonzalez (note a hint of “Ode to a Nightingale” in the second stanza); “The Schooner,” Ed Bok Lee’s brutal, visionary “meta-translation” so brilliant it makes me want to put my head through a wall (seriously, I took a look at the poem “The Schooner” is based on and found it so beyond my skill level I couldn’t even bring myself to bury my self-pity in a pint of Ben and Jerry’s); “News,” Emily Yoon’s gorgeous elegy for the South Korean ferry that sunk on April 16, 2014; and “After the Death of a Friend, I Feel Enlightened for Approximately Three Days,” yet another amazing piece from the thoroughly wonderful Kelli Russell Agodon.  (That title alone should earn her a standing ovation.)  There’s quite a bit more to explore at this site, and I must say (in a very high-Edwardian manner) that if this first issue is indicative of the future of Tinderbox, then I shall surely be following the publication’s further endeavors with great anticipation.  Bravo, editors!

Next, an old favorite of mine, inkscrawl, has just brought out its seventh issue.  This particular journal focuses on short speculative poems (10 lines or less) and is like a breath of fresh air, especially when you’re writing long, involved prose or just generally find your brain engorged with the usual crap the world tends to wallow in.  Try Sonya Taafe’s “Facilior,” Jonel Abellanosa’s “Nonfiction,” Kendall Evans’s “Down the Black Sky,” and Noel Sloboda’s “My To Undo List.”  To describe each poem in detail would have me typing a week’s worth of posts (and my posts ain’t short), but all of these pieces manage to take their respective corners of the speculative–myth, magic, space and time–and nudge those boundaries outward with elegance and wit.  If you crave a mental dip in the pool or a short getaway to someplace totally unfamiliar, inkscrawl is a great place to find those much-needed exit doors.

And one last bonus site!  Roxane Gay’s Tumblr blog is a little piece of writing heaven.  There are few writers out there these days who can so effortlessly chronicle the meanderings of the human psyche.  At least one recent post contains material from an article of hers that got bumped, which is reason enough to follow her blog, but she’s also something of a multimedia artist, posting pics of what she discovered during the day and what she’s cooking for dinner.  Everything coalesces like some transcendent mosaic of the mind, and it’s all right there, for everyone, on the Internet.  Let me tell ya, there’s a reason why random strangers that follow Gay on Twitter want to cook her pancakes the second she asks.  She’s beyond amazing.  I want more.

Good Website Break: The ARE YOU FREAKIN’ KIDDING ME??? Edition

Okay, I admit the title of this post is a bit of a tease.  There are two parts, really.  The Good Website part and the Part That Will Cause Reasonable People’s Heads to Explode.

Everybody ready?  Great.

First, the Good Website stuff:  I just recently discovered this website (which, like everything I find out about in my old age, has actually been around for a while) called People of Color in European Art History.  (Actually, what I just linked is the original Tumblr site; there is also medievalpoc.org now, which boasts better searching capabilities and a cleaner look.)  The blogger behind the medievalpoc project began with a simple goal: to create an online collection of European visual art depicting people of color.  Pieces featured on the blog date from the fall of the Roman empire through the eighteenth century, with some ancient works from Greece, Egypt, and Celtic cultures thrown in.  The most common type of post on medievalpoc contains a photo of a painting, sculpture, or other type of art; information on the title, artist, and approximate date of the piece; and links to related scholarly sources.

That’s basically all there is to the site–art plus information.  But what an impact art plus information makes.  The medievalpoc blogrunner says that she wants to challenge the traditional perspectives on art history that created (and continue to create) a vision of an all-white Europe before the Enlightenment.  She points to the destructive power that modern racism has had over media portrayals of race in European countries and seeks to revise such a distorted image–and fantasy versions of that image, where all-white casts of characters are the norm–with a historically accurate visual narrative.

“Visual narrative” is, I think, a good way to describe the experience of visiting the site.  Certainly, that’s what I sense when I scroll through image after image and see brown-skinned angels, Black Madonnas, South Asian nobility, and others I’m surprised to see in European contexts.  At medievalpoc, not only are you presented with an easily accessible online resource about works of art that often are left off art history syllabi, you absorb a whole story told in faces, clothing, positions, and gestures, an account of medieval society that fills in the countless gaps left in the written record because of poverty, illiteracy, and oppression.

Go spend a while on this site.  The break from the same-old, age-old, narrow representations of Western culture is definitely worth it.

 

And now…

 

…ugh…

 

…on to the second part:

 

You know how I said medievalpoc is a blog of art plus information?

How do you think some people have responded?

 

Take a guess!  I’ll wait.

So what do you think?

 

If you said, “with slander, pornographic emails, breaches of privacy, and death threats,” you’re right!

Yes, the medievalpoc blogrunner reports that in the past six to eight weeks, Internet trolls, stalkers, and members of white supremacist groups have been systematically harassing her and her family and friends over the content of her blog.  Which, as I’ve said already, is art plus information.

Art plus information made these pathetic, hateful, cowardly shitbags even try to organize a confrontation at a convention where the woman behind medievalpoc was scheduled to appear.  (Luckily, the security on hand at the con was enough to prevent anything from happening.)

Christ.

To all those pathetic, hateful, cowardly shitbags out there, I say this: You do realize, don’t you, that Western scholarship has known for a long, LONG time that non-white Europeans existed in the Middle Ages?  Hell, anyone who’s ever read Shakespeare (not that I’m accusing you Internet vermin of that) know that Europe had people of color.

Here are five names I can rattle off the top of my head without even trying: Othello, Aaron, the Prince of Morocco, Sycorax, and Caliban.  All characters that Shakespeare wrote about.  All characters who are non-white.

And ANYONE who has even the teensiest familiarity with the history of Spain would know that Muslims from North Africa controlled most of the country during the Middle Ages.

North African Muslims = not white people.

So what the hell, Internet stalkers???  We’ve already had the War on Scientific Facts, on Cultural Facts, on Political Facts, and even on Historical Facts.  Do we have to have a War on Artifacts, too?

It’s ART, for Christ’s sake!!!  It’s THERE!!  Do you see it?  If you don’t want to gaze upon something that defies your precious, imaginary vision of a golden age of whiteness, TURN YOUR FRIGGIN’ COMPUTERS OFF!!!

For once, do everyone in the world a favor.

And, for everyone else out there in Internetland: please support medievalpoc.  Don’t let the Dumbass Posse for Ignorance,  Bigotry and Censorship let a fellow online citizen get bullied out of doing this vastly important work.

Fun with Shakespeare and the World Cup!

Mya Gosling, creator of goodticklebrain.com, has come up with yet another ingenious way to squeeze Shakespeare into pop culture: match teams in the World Cup to Shakespeare’s plays!  I have no knowledge of the World Cup, but I still say it’s brilliant.  Study the handy Shakespeare-team key here, and then move on to her further analysis in the group posts.  I’m rooting for Bosnia and Herzegovina, because the Windsor Falstaff always gets shit for not being quite as dignified (!) as the Lancastrian Falstaff.  Plus The Merry Wives of Windsor features smart, kick-ass, plot-hatching matrons.  Go, middle aged women of Windsor!

Mighty Tiny Bill would be proud of you, Mya!  Except that he’s still languishing away in his Original Packaging.  And he’s not coming out until he stops calling me a stinking stewed prune.  (Really, he’s just mad that it’s hotter than his buck-basket in here today.  But a girl has to defend herself against accusations of prunehood…)