I’ve got a lot of ideas brewing right now. Some are old, clinging to the grave and ready for a shot in the arm. Others are fresh off the grid and if I don’t write ‘em then I’m gonna’ lose ‘em. Thinking about interactive fiction again. Nervous about long-form writing as always. Been reading more poetry for guidance on structure (physical, aural, temporal?). Not sure if it’s actually helping, but at least it’s fun.

December is almost over and that terrifies me.

Short Thoughts: Blue Is the Warmest Color

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(Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos for Interview magazine)

A month has passed since I watched Blue Is the Warmest Color. It is undoubtedly the best film I’ve seen this year. It is also one of the more emotionally difficult stories I’ve encountered to date.

There is much talk about the NC-17 rating. True, the sex scenes are clinical and voyeuristic. A bit unreal. But at only—what, seven?—minutes of a three-hour film, they hardly distract from what is, after all, a meditative piece about a young woman as she navigates her first and most haunting romantic relationship with another woman. Or, at least, that’s what it seems to be.

I realized, about half-way into the film, that it is neither about being a lesbian nor even about being bisexual. Rather, Blue—more aptly titled La Vie d’Adèle (The Life of Adèle)—is about a young woman’s inability to belong, in any space, whether that is among her school peers, coworkers, with men or women, or even, especially, in the font of her love, blue-haired Emma. Adèle’s story, which begins in the usual way of adolescent coming-of-age journeys, becomes a monograph on isolation and how difference forms insurmountable barriers to human connectedness.

Although “being different” is a common LGBTQ narrative, director Abdellatif Kechiche subverts the related notion of finding acceptance in a counterculture through Adèle, who is by most modern reckonings at least a little bit queer but who never fully belongs in queer society. In fact, when juxtaposed against conventionally heterosexual and queer groups, it is apparent that Adèle is foreign to both—when she discovers her attraction to girls, she is alienated by her classmates (in one of the most vicious and infuriatingly realistic high school cat-fights I’ve witnessed on screen); later on, Adèle is shy and gauche among the lesbian academic-artist clique, who debate, to varying degrees of cliché, Klimt, Schiele, the beauty of woman, and the male gaze.

To be fair, maybe none of us would belong in these crowds. But we are allowed glimpses, shown stills of actress Adèle Exarchopoulos’ immensely expressive face, which say all that her character cannot articulate. In them we see that Adèle is separated from the external world not just by her sexuality or social class and education, but by her dreams and appetites and undiluted physicality, by her inwardness and wellspring of emotional sincerity, which everyone is so ready to mistake for simplicity. Adèle cannot help what she is, indescribable though it may be, and she cannot help wanting to live with integrity. And because that runs contrary to everyone else’s expectations, it sets her apart.

Adèle realizes early on that she is different, but besides some tears of frustration, she does not dramatize the discovery. She goes on to live as fully as possible, much in the same way that Kafka’s Gregor Samsa attempts to salvage his existence after transforming in The Metamorphosis. And just as Gregor finds even the motions of living to be emotionally depleting, so too does the burden of difference creep into Adèle’s life, riving apart her relationships and then her spirit, until at last, in the film’s most difficult scene, she confesses brokenly, “I felt so alone.”

Blue Is the Warmest Color does not preach. There is no moral and no cathartic release. Instead, by inviting us to take part in Adèle’s life, we are only reminded that living is never easy, and that understanding who we are, and failing to do so, is a monumental task that deserves compassion and forgiveness.

God inhabits the desert and everyone finds him there. The hatred only sprouts on the roads of roaring crowds and in the din of language. There is no hatred in solitude: to be alone means to purify oneself. In solitude everything becomes elevated, the highest, the deepest. If a man is a philosopher, he gives himself to solitude to know the price of life, the higher meaning of the world, and to approach the gods. The solitude only makes a small man sick, poisons his soul with doubts and fills it with fear.

Jovan Dučić, Towns and Chimeras

On Writing: A Progress Report

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Man Ray - Waking Dream Seance (1924)

Finally. After much hemming and hawing, thumb-twiddling, and not-so-metaphorical arse-scratching, I am here. You are here. Engaged across time and space, minds reflected and conversing.

Let’s talk about writing today.

Over the course of the year, I’ve learned a lot about myself. Mostly re-affirmations of data—that I am, for instance, a dark-dwelling creature, an eternal student qua woman-child, who lives on a diet of meat, cheese, and fruit—but also harder-to-grasp nuggets, such as my obsessions, my weaknesses and strengths. All of which emerged, of course, through writing. 

Surely you sometimes wonder why you do things. In my case, I’ve found that I return time and again to the same old chestnuts, dig them up and parade them; that must mean something. For example, the last story I completed, “Akin, II”, was very enjoyable to write. It is aimless and mundane, painfully imperfect, and it touched on a theme I’ve been trying to explore for a while now: the incommunicability of feeling. How is one supposed to verbalize a body of joys, fears, and terrifyingly personal hopes? How do people connect without knowledge of each other’s minds? Is it even possible? Does it matter? Aren’t girls cute? And so on. Solipsism, you see, is one hell of a drug.

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John Singer Sargent - In a punt (1889)

To expand, “Akin, II” and the other stories that came before it revealed my obsession with the intensity of small moments. It is very hard for me to write about—to want to write about anything else. Chalk it up to introversion, but large-scale drama no longer attracts me in the same way that it did years ago. I enjoy grandeur and multitudes, love its thrills, but I always return, at the end of the day, to smaller things. A conversation between friends. An observation of a room. The way a girl moves a lock of hair behind her ear. Gentle myopic stuff.

However, there has been a lack. Undoubtedly. Because while I do enjoy beauty and elegance, minutiae, and inward living, what is more important to me, thematically, is the grotesque. Grotesque as the fantastic, bizarre, and tragicomic ugliness of being human. My notebooks from this past year have seen a dramatic increase of it. Pages of weird dreaming, freakishness, and casual destruction. I visited my university’s library the other day and found a book at random. It was in a language I didn’t recognize, but I flipped through it, stopping at a black and white figure. It was the detailed portrait of a man lacking eyes and a nose. I replaced the book. And let me tell you, it feels good, in a vaguely nauseating way, to think about.

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Ilya Repin - Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan on November 16th, 1581 (1885)

This is all to say that I think I’m making progress. On a technical level, my writing suffers from the same issues of day one—stilted, unrealistic dialogue, plot-what-plot, characters masquerading as myself, and pacing utterly bonkers. It is hard to be a judge of your own work. I am learning. Last month, in a spur of longing so pathetic it could be smelled from over a block away, I submitted a poem to a journal. Yes, it was bizarre. Totally out of character. Insane. Not just because I don’t (usually) write poetry, but because up until then I was adamant about writing exclusively “for myself”. So when the poem was rejected (naturally), with minimal devastation, I had to own up to a real and awful fact—I’m not doing this just for myself anymore. Writing has become so embroiled in the framework of my life that it is no longer a private hobby but a kind of desperate foghorn that I’ve been sounding out for the last few years or so. I have no idea who is even listening, but I’m trying to connect. I want to find you, but I don’t know where you are. 

As Zadie Smith writes in one of my favorite essays: "When I write I am trying to express my way of being in the world." That is, I think, exactly right. It is not about pleasing a readership, though that, too, is very important; rather, writing, on the most fundamental level, is about offering a perspective that is uniquely our own. My own. I write to illustrate a part of my experience, and I’ve shared it thus far in the hopes that it might be experienced by others as well. Not that I’m even sure it has succeeded. "A Gesture" is the closest I’ve gotten to saying what I want, and even then, at a mere 452 words, it was almost nightmarish to write and the result is wide off the mark. Once it was finished, I felt as if a layer of dirt had been cleared away and I could finally see through the window, so to speak. Figuring out what is on the other side of that window is the next challenge. Then maybe, once I’m ready, I can break the glass and climb through.

My plans for the upcoming weeks and soon the next year are not so ambitious but with any luck I will make even more progress. Writing at least a little bit each day is part of it. Living a more full and varied life with kindness and understanding for others is a greater portion. Because, Reader, if not for such connections like those and ours, writing would be a dull thing indeed. Thank you for taking the time to read my words. It’s not been easy going, but if I may be so bold as to say, a smooth road is not always the most interesting one. Hopefully I have more to share with you in the future. Hopefully you will return when that time comes. As always, be well.

Akin, II

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(Henri Martin - The Arbour)

There was never enough time to say what one wanted, thought Shura. Never a place or moment that felt right. She was cowardly perhaps. Oh, but how could it help, when the object of one’s affection was both so close and so far away?

'Shura, Shura, I've got the best idea! Let's go to Arkady's today and borrow his boat! Of course he'll let us have it—he owes Father a crop of wheat—then we can go find that place beyond the lake. Doesn't that sound perfectly thrilling? Just imagine, Shura! I only hope it doesn't rain…'

Mitya perched on the edge of her seat, hair dark and wild. She looked at Shura with the fervent energy which had once unsettled, but now filled her companion with similar joy. Instinctively, Shura reached and replaced a curl behind the younger girl’s ear.

That was how things went between them. Next to each other in the garden and close enough to touch, they inhabited two worlds—the fair, older girl reading under a shawl, and her friend brimming over with movement and purpose. There would be time on the lake, Shura knew, but by then the courage would leave her. Here in the garden, glowing in afternoon light, with a samovar full of hot spiced tea and a platter of eggs and fresh bread with jam, with the air smelling like cloves and the grass still dewy from rain a day before—here, Shura drew strength and hovered at the edge of feeling.

'Perfectly thrilling. Once I finish this chapter…'

Mitya ‘hmm’-ed and settled down in a heap. Disappointment, naturally. Shura lowered her novel to observe. Good, bold Mitya whose eyes were full of laughter… dear Mitya who sulked now! How like a young animal, climbing, running, pawing at the ground and tearing at grass, sometimes nibbling on bread. It was all Shura could do to wait (seconds—a heartbeat, far too long) before taking the other girl’s arm and bringing them both to stand.

'Oh, let us go now then! After all,' she laughed, dizzy with excitement, 'after all, the book was so dull to begin with.'

Mitya looked at her for a moment, as they both still did after so many months, when they found themselves in states of wonder. Then she cheered. Together they left the garden and dove into the surrounding fields, where the world was crisp and bright.

'I'm so glad—!'

'Yes! Yes, so am I!'

As they ran to Arkady’s, Shura found that she could not say the words any longer. They were drowned in light and dragonflies and trees which moved in the sound-likeness of waves. She could not remember what the use of words were. She felt that tomorrow was time enough.

theparisreview:

“This is your life. This is yours. You can establish an exact inventory of your meager fortune, the precise balance sheet of your first quarter-century. You are twenty-five years old, you have twenty-nine teeth, three shirts and eight socks, a few books you no longer read, a few records you no longer play. You do not want to remember anything else, be it your family or your studies, your friends and lovers, or your holidays and plans. You traveled and you brought nothing back from your travels. Here you sit, and you want only to wait, just to wait until there is nothing left to wait for: for night to fall and the passing hours to chime, for the days to slip away and the memories to fade.”
—Georges Perec, from “A Man Asleep”Illustration credit Reanimation Library.

theparisreview:

“This is your life. This is yours. You can establish an exact inventory of your meager fortune, the precise balance sheet of your first quarter-century. You are twenty-five years old, you have twenty-nine teeth, three shirts and eight socks, a few books you no longer read, a few records you no longer play. You do not want to remember anything else, be it your family or your studies, your friends and lovers, or your holidays and plans. You traveled and you brought nothing back from your travels. Here you sit, and you want only to wait, just to wait until there is nothing left to wait for: for night to fall and the passing hours to chime, for the days to slip away and the memories to fade.”

Georges Perec, from “A Man Asleep”
Illustration credit Reanimation Library.

A Gesture

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(Auguste Rodin - Danaïd, 1890)

‘Living is a lonely business. Wouldn’t you say, doctor?’

The innkeeper’s daughter reached into the pooling mass. I watched as she retrieved the fire iron, then the skull of a gyrfalcon, fastened to a chain, which she cleaned on her apron and draped once more around her neck. Then I passed her the sickle and she began to decapitate the man who was once her husband. ‘Well?’

In another lifetime, another land, she would have been worshiped, standing guard at the fire where men fed bulls to war. She was chthonic, intransigent—powerful. She would have passed judgment on kings. I could not look at her without feeling my blood drain away.

‘I’m not sure that I do. Agree, or understand, I mean.’ 

'You wouldn't, I suppose.' She sawed at the man's neck with terrible strength. 'If that's what you call living, in your letters and books.”

'There is much to be gained in them,' I said, unsure if I had even the spirit to argue, much less believe. 'The contemplations of great minds recorded and passed down through the ages. Why, just by reading one can live countless lifetimes, or, or escape to faraway lands—'

The weight of the man fell lopsided. I held up the ankles, at a loss. Then I saw her. The sixteen-year-old daughter of an innkeeper, a girl who could not write her own name. She had killed her husband and together we had carried him into the woods to bury. I stared, first at the shapeless blur of the man’s head rolling gently to one side, then again at the other, whose mouth moved in the darkness like a wound.

'Help me with this.'

'Yes.'

We shuttled the corpse into the recess of a stinking bog. At first it would not go. We watched for a time as it drifted beneath low hanging trees and butted against a mossy formation. The drone of lantern flies gathered around us. Finally, with all the grace of turning a stew, the innkeeper’s daughter found a branch and stabbed at her husband’s body until it vanished into the mud, gurgling and gasping and sighing.

I whispered a prayer and dusted the area with hyssop.

‘What’s that for?’ She asked.

Menua is a country of rituals. In our temples, we burn hyssop at the altar as a reminder of our debt to the Consecrator, the Great Faceless One, whose bones shape the universe, and who asked, at the beginning of time, that we do our best to live.

‘Forgive me,’ I said. ‘It is only a gesture.’

***

The head was buried some place, she would not tell me where.

aanniimmee:

Indeed, if woman had no existence save in the fiction written by men, one would imagine her a person of the utmost importance; very various; heroic and mean; splendid and sordid; infinitely beautiful and hideous in the extreme; as great as a man, some think even greater. But this is woman in fiction. In fact, as Professor Trevelyan points out, she was locked up, beaten and flung about the room.

A very queer, composite being thus emerges. Imaginatively she is of the highest importance; practically she is completely insignificant. She pervades poetry from cover to cover; she is all but absent from history. She dominates the lives of kings and conquerors in fiction; in fact she was the slave of any boy whose parents forced a ring upon her finger. Some of the most inspired words, some of the most profound thoughts in literature fall from her lips, in real life she could hardly read, could scarcely spell, and was the property of her husband.

- Virginia Woolf, “A Room of One’s Own” (1929)

The Turtledove - A Prologue

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(Gerhard Richter - Station)

THE SUN WAS RISING ABOVE CYNOSURA when the station bell rang and a young man shuffled out of the covered seating area, hands in his pockets, scowling. He carried a duffel bag and wore a green jumpsuit with a nameplate that read only: REINHART. Except for the guard to the man’s left, and a few gently whirring bufferbots, there was, of course, no one else on the platform.

"Boarding Platform Y for the 05:22 Class D-11 commercial shuttle service to Algenib Harbor Station. Calling at Naos, Rukbat, and Trion Major…"

Reinhart glanced around. No incoming transport. No sighing hatchbays. No loud, rumbling docklift. Not a sign. Nothing. Pacing back and forth, Reinhart wandered over to the refreshment machine. There were only a few bits to spare on his voucher card, but what the hell. He purchased a canteen of Mare Vaporum Springwater and a packet of ChocoNebulas. He snacked in silence, gazing at an advertisement for a holiday on the winter-star of Memnon.

"Hoy there! Hoooy!"

Far down the runway, by Platform U, a small figure ran toward Reinhart, who scarfed down the last ChocoNebula and began walking in that direction. It was an elderly man dressed in an identical, albeit smaller, green jumpsuit. His nameplate read: JANOS.

"Terribly sorry!" Janos wheezed. "An accident on the Olympic Causeway… a shipment of saber-tooth manatees… and tourists… very nasty…" 

"I been waiting damn near three hours." Reinhart crossed his arms. "Where’s the ship?"

"Of course! Right this way." The old man took Reinhart by the elbow and walked back toward Platform U. They passed a number of impressive freighters and mining vessels before descending a flight of stairs. "Due to the, ah, nature of the ship, it was necessary to dock in the landing bay…"

"You mean the ship’s small."

"To that effect, yes. Do you know something about flying? They informed me that you might…"

"I’m a pilot." Reinhart paused. "Well, I used to be, anyway."

"Oh! Civilian or military?"

"Civilian. Kind of. I was… a courier."

"How wonderful! As was I, back in the war. Of course I am as you see now." Janos chuckled. "I think we will get along beautifully, Reinmark—"

"Reinhart."

"Oh, yes—ha ha, terribly sorry, RagnarDid you know that the average rehabilitation period for new parolees is six-and-a-half years? Why, with our rapport, the years will go by in no time at all.”

"… Yeah."

"And here we are!" They stopped at an alcove in the landing bay. "May I introduce your new matron – the Turtledove!"

Reinhart stared. The ship was a decrepit thing salvaged from the rigs of a tugboat, a trawler, and an old-war schooner. It was the color and shape of a dead fish. There were two sub-light engines rotting aft, a shaky mining apparatus and drill bits starboard, and a fuselage-mounted weapons pod that looked more like a sewage pipe.

Reinhart drew a hand across his face. “Holy hell.”

Janos laughed. The port-side door hissed open. “What are you waiting for? Climb in!”

As Reinhart feared, the interior was just as appalling, if not worse, than the exterior. There were food wrappers in the flight cabin. Something had charred the escape unit. The control panel was begrimed and several knobs were taped over with a note that said: DON’T.

"Listen," Reinhart breathed, "I don’t expect a luxury cruise liner but when’s the last time you got a safety e-val? Looks like you tried to roast a pig in the escape hatch, or what, I can’t even…"

"Fear not! The Turtledove is a sturdy old girl. Besides, she has a few tricks up her sleeve, you’ll see."

Reinhart said nothing. Tricks. The last thing he needed. He buckled into the co-pilot seat and looked out the canopy while Janos initiated the Turtledove’s take-off sequence. 

"I saw your file, you know." The old man said at last. "You were a runner for the Korjev Syndicate, weren’t you? Arrested for smuggling ten years ago."

Reinhart did not reply at once. He scratched his nose and cleared his throat. “… Suppose I was. You gonna do something about it?”

“I was only going to suggest that you take that control stick over there and fly us into the infinite beyond. Or at least,” Janos laughed, “to the next station. Unless you can’t manage?”

So that was it then. Would it be this easy? Reinhart gripped the controls. “Like hell I can’t. If there’s one thing I can do, it’s manage.”

"Splendid! Spoken like a true Korjev vassal.” Janos winked. “Once a faction man, always a faction man, eh?"

"Wouldn’t go that far." Reinhart adjusted the flight tunings and set the coordinates for Naos. The landing portal dilated. A sea of darkness, with so many stars, rose up to meet them. "Just that a bird never forgets how to fly."

***

Written for a project I’m working on with my friend Adam. Different from my usual output, but it was a lot of fun! It may have a continuation… we’ll see!