Jun. 6th, 2014 08:09 am
intertribal: (peace)
"Blindfold" - Curve

Now I remember two days that mean a lot to me
I remember the two days when every hour was a minute
And every minute was a lifetime and the ocean was a sea
And you dragged me into the mountains with a flimsy guarantee
The stronger the man, the stronger the woman
If it ended now, would you be willing?
See how it feels for me - do you believe in me?

"Blinding" - Florence + the Machine

No more dreaming of the dead as if death itself was undone
No more calling like a crow for a boy, for a body in the garden
No more dreaming like a girl so in love, so in love
No more dreaming like a girl so in love with the wrong world

"Blindfold" - Morcheeba

Spring has gone
And summer keeps on coming on
I'm so glad to have you
And it's getting worse
I'm so mad to love you
And your evil curse

"Blind" - Michael Gira

Please don't ask me a question
It'd just be misunderstood
And if you could step inside me you'd feel what hatred brings
And if you saw with my eyes you'd see what self-deception means
I was younger once and I created a lie
And though my body was strong
I was self-deluded, confident and blind

"Blindsided" - Bon Iver

I'm not really like this
I'm probably plightless
Would you really rush out?
Would you really rush out for me now?

"Blindness" - Metric

What it is and where it stops nobody knows
You gave me a battle I never chose
I was the one with the world at my feet
Got us a battle, leave it up to me

-- side note: Can I just be Emily Haines?  Check out her fucking sunglasses in this "Help, I'm Alive" video.  
intertribal: (city)
I watched Norwegian Wood a few months ago (haven't read the book, I know, a thousand suns of shame).  I didn't think that I would ever be in the position of relating to the girl described as "outgoing and lively," but man, I was definitely Team Midori.  Maybe because like Midori, I've been hurt too much in the past and I just want to be happy now.  So Midori is in love with the main character, Toru Watanabe, who is depressed and attached to this suicidal girl Naoko who's off at a resort-sanitarium.  And I have no idea how it is in the book, but in the movie it comes across like he's just kind of like, man, I know Midori likes me, but I don't know what to do about it, so I'm gonna do nothing and just sit here quietly with my dark thoughts, blahrghgh. So there's this part where Midori finally tells him, "I'll wait, because I trust you, but when you take me, take only me"... fuck it, I'll just post it.

I'm reading through the Goodreads quotes from the book and they're a little eerie.  Especially this and this.  And this letter is from here (I guess this is from the book?  It almost made me cry though):

midori toru
intertribal: (balance)
i.e. Heather Havrilesky, my favorite advice columnist working today (now that Ask Barf and Dear Sugar are ended):

"If you have a big, imaginative brain and you naturally think think think in circles anyway, obsession is like coming home to mama. Only mama is more like a vengeful, unforgiving god. Mama is the fucking Heat Miser."

And when you have two people like this...
intertribal: (Default)

I promised Lindsey I would write this entry.

I recently decided to re-write a series of books I first wrote in junior high and high school (I wrote one book a year).  They were really quite terrible in too many ways to mention, but I was also a teenager.  I wrote most before I read anything truly good.  I decided this mostly because I think I had some really fun ideas in those books, especially pertaining to politics and religion, which are my favorite subjects, and like I "owed it" to the skeleton of this seven-novel series to not just let it crumble in obscurity (born in lust, turn to dust).  I think I also decided to do this because these characters were people I knew, long-forgotten friends who saw me through my most hormonal, unstable years.  And I missed them.  We've been through a lot together.  I named the series after Walton Ford's "Sensations of an Infant Heart" (this is the only thing I've ever written to Harper's Magazine about - I emailed the woman in charge of the art department and said, "So I have this picture from your magazine of a chained up monkey strangling a parrot and I have no idea who it's by, please help?" and she wrote back, "Oh, it's Walton Ford.  What a picture, amirite?").  I think I knew while writing it that it was juvenile and half-baked and that I wasn't ready for the story I was trying to tell.

I started publishing short stories a couple years after I finished the last book of this series.  I don't feel very much for my short story characters.  This enables me to do to them what I could never have done to these first proto-characters, my Adam and Eve.  It enables me, supposedly, to view them objectively.  There are some that have stayed with me more than others, like Lizbet from "Pugelbone" and the unnamed narrator from "Intertropical Convergence Zone," because they were drawn from places close to me emotionally - Lizbet was drawn from my blood, the army guy from, well, my dad and Suharto and other larger-than-life Indonesian men from my childhood.  But most of them are pawns.  I like to think they're reasonably well-rounded, but it's entirely possible that they read a little cold and distant because of this wall I put up.  I put the wall up for reasons that I thought were good: I was way, way too invested in my proto-characters, it got in the way of the story, and in the end their characterization suffered for it. "Are You Hurting The One You Love," indeed.  I know that Kill Your Darlings refers to words, but after this series I decided to use it with my characters.  These characters' next permutation were still near and dear to me, but much less so.  Because I was also becoming a better writer throughout this whole process, I associated the technique with good writing.

And I think this affected the way I read other books and watched movies/television, too.  I stopped getting emotionally involved with other people's characters.  I had gone through a period where I was very involved in fictional characters - incidentally, at the same time I started writing my overly-emotional series - and I was embarrassed by that side of me.  Sure, there were characters I liked, a lot, like Dale Cooper and Audrey Horne from Twin Peaks and Starbuck and the Agathons from Battlestar Galactica.  I think I only ever fell in love with Billy Budd, of all characters, after the calamity of The Song of Roland (and yes, they all end up dying, always), and maybe a little bit with Yossarian.  It took me a long time to find a female character I genuinely liked, and then I found myself much more sympathetic to a whole host of them: Eleanor Vance from The Haunting of Hill House, the narrator of The Bell-Jar, April from Revolutionary Road, Lily from Run, River.  But for the most part I appreciated these books and movies for other reasons - words or stories or ideas.  A lot of my favorite stuff, like A Sound and the Fury and The Violent Bear It Away and almost everything I've read by Cormac McCarthy, were populated entirely by noxious, terrible people. I wanted to see their worlds collide, I wanted to watch them climb over each other and go up in flames, but there was no visceral attachment.

Then I decided to rewrite this series.  Around then I started watching The Tudors (I know, I know), and I got all invested in the tragic queens.  I've gotten invested in television characters before though - I think it's an effect of spiraling melodrama, it catches you up the way sports catch you up - so that in and of itself was not worth much.  But I did end up writing a story based on Jane Seymour and Anne Boleyn, because they wouldn't get out of my head.  And then when I came back to DC this semester, I started watching that free Netflix series, House of Cards.  And I "met" Peter Russo.

Everyone I know who watches that show - and my sample size is all male, for what it's worth - loves the main character, Francis Underwood, because he's "boss" and callous and cool and is in control of everyone.  I think Francis is evil and horrible and shitty, but I totally fell in love with Peter's character.  I would start episodes being like, "Peter, you'd better not [insert stupid thing here]."  And Peter is a terrible judge of character and an addict, so there's a lot of "Oh Peter Russo no" in the show.  Peter is weak, while Francis is strong.  Peter has big dreams and really deep lows, while Francis is always level-headed, rational, logical, focused on the prize.  At the time I wasn't sure why I loved Peter so much.  I decided later that he reminded me of who my male proto-character was turning into, and man, I always loved/hated that guy - and it recently occurred to me that my proto-character evolved this way because he's like the id version of myself: the volatile, angry and depressive mess driven by resentment and self-hatred.  Starbuck is the female version of this, which is I think why I like her.  And my female prototype, the stoic good girl, is my super-ego side that most people see on a daily basis while I work and study and listen to people's problems.  This is a surprising realization, to say the least (and not one I was at all expecting), but may go along the way toward explaining why I keep writing this duo over and over, until the end of time.

Organizing and planning the rewrite is like a drug to me now (the outline for the first book - thankfully I scaled it down from seven to three).  I do think that the edited/overhauled version has a lot of potential.  I think it reflects how much older I am now - the characters and their relationships and the context they operate in are all vastly changed, having been boiled down to their core and seen for what they really are: damaged people, in many ways, the full extent of which I couldn't quite fathom as a high-schooler.  I also think it picks at a raw nerve in me, and I've always picked at wounds.

I still can't shake the feeling, though, that real writers don't write this way - not the ones that end up living relatively healthy, balanced lives, anyway.  I know that Caddy was Faulkner's heart's darling, but Caddy was barely ever on-page and never heard from directly - which mitigates, I would think, the detrimental effect of an emotional attachment to one's own creation.  Because writing is business, right, it's politics and nothing personal?

intertribal: (where would you go if the gun fell in yo)
I'm getting ready to write a story about self-immolation (what a great opening line that is) so I've been doing a lot of research on that, but I hadn't run across this.

At my internship I'm making this enormous insane database of internal conflict/collective violence in Indonesia since the beginning of the year, with columns like "# Houses Burned" and "Types of Arms Used" and "Army Deployed?" (you would be alarmed by how much of it there is), and this requires reading lots and lots of Indonesian newspaper articles that pertain, even vaguely, to the topic.  The latest one, an argument that these small conflicts are beginning to threaten national security, mentions Sondang Hutagalung, a 22-year-old law student (son of a taxi driver) who self-immolated a few months before his planned graduation in front of the Palace of Independence as part of a campaign against government corruption/graft:

From here (note the picture):
“Time for change, remember Tunisia, dissolve the legislature,” Rakrian Yoga said in his Twitter feed, alluding to the death of Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi from self-immolation, which sparked the Tunisian revolution that led to the ouster of the country’s president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Bung Karno University will grant an honorary bachelor’s degree to him. 

“A number of public figures and organizations suggested granting the honorary bachelor’s degree,” university deputy rector Daniel Panda said on Sunday in Jakarta as quoted by  He added that the granting of the degree should not been taken as encouragement for other students to do the same thing. 

“As an academic, I hope there will be no repeat of such a measure. There are other options. This is a too high a sacrifice.”
I had no idea that such things were happening in Indonesia - it is not a "tradition" here (see here).  We burn buildings and get shot by the military, but political suicide is not a thing.  I suspect the "remember Tunisia" line is key.  You always wonder about precedent though (in May - in an apparently completely unrelated, random incident - a 69-year-old Dutch citizen self-immolated in front of the Dutch embassy in Jakarta, but he apparently thought that the police were in collusion with the Balinese mafia and trying to chase him).  It is interesting also that Sondang was a devout Christian who always accompanied his mother to church.  A couple months later his girlfriend tried to kill herself out of personal grief, by overdosing on anti-malaria pills in front of his grave. 

This song was playing on my iTunes while I was reading about this:

intertribal: (Default)
Last year I read this sweet little article on Jezebel, "How Tragic Kingdom Saved My Life," about the writer's therapeutic "relationship" with the No Doubt album, and I remember thinking, hmm, I'm so obsessed with carving albums up into patchwork playlists (and leave the dregs behind!) that I don't really have any especially meaningful albums.  I think that's started to change a little - I can't imagine carving up The XX (The XX) or Loveless (My Bloody Valentine) because they're like 40-minute songs - and now I have discovered The Birthday Massacre's fourth album, Pins and Needles

The Birthday Massacre is one of my guilty pleasure bands - they're so ridiculously Hot Topic with their Goth!-Alice-in-Wonderland aesthetic that they seem kind of embarrassing for a 24-year-old pre-professional - and I can't say they're musical geniuses by any stretch.  I would not have discovered them had it not been for Pandora, which suggested to me "Lovers' End" and "Happy Birthday" off Violet.  Today Pandora suggested "Two Hearts" off Pins and Needles and I was instantly in love:

Obviously I was particularly drawn to the lyrics: "Two hearts beating, one beats the other while the other just looks away."  Yesterday I admitted in therapy that I'm attracted to people that seem damaged - instead of wholesome, normal, well-adjusted, generally sane, like they could go live in a little box made of ticky-tacky and be satisfied - because I see myself as damaged and dangerous, and at least if they're already messed up, I won't feel so guilty about the inevitable damage I will do.  This is what I was thinking about while dancing (painfully sober) at a bar/club in Farragut North on St. Patrick's Day (the song I declared to be "my song": a techno remix of "Somebody That You Used To Know.").  My friend Alicia was ecstatic as we left because she hadn't gone clubbing in a while - whereas I went to Pure and The Bank in Vegas this past weekend, and besides which I feel no great difference between a silver-glitzy club and a bar with a dance floor, so there is zero novelty for me - and I just ended up feeling claustrophobic and anxious to get home, which is I guess what happens when I go clubbing sober. 

So anyway, Pins and Needles.  Is very listenable, to start with, and has TBM's trademark sound, which I cannot describe as anything other than like, deathpop, although wikipedia calls it synthrock (they say that about almost everything I like, though).  They are named after Clive Barker's Imajica, which tells you something.  They go with Jack Off Jill/Scarling and Kidneythieves in  my head-catalog.  And this album in particular sort of perfectly describes the contrasting elements in my life - the high-pitched pop of everyday tasks and my "upwardly mobile" trajectory and my happenin' friends and contacts, vs. my melancholy, downward-sloping heartbreak.  And the words.  Even the title Pins and Needles pretty much accurately describes my existence. 

From "In The Dark": "I'm in the dark, I'm alone around you.  I've never been here before, nobody here to get me through."

From "Always": "Repeating words until they're true: it slows the breathing.  Pretend they never came from you: it kills the feeling.  I'm not what you want:  you said what I never could."

From "Pale": "I'm looking at a face, a pointed chin towards the sky in arrogance./  Imitation, a fabrication, a pretty fake, but counterfeit, an empty carcass behind the artist, is there a trait of innocence?/ And much to our dismay, they're ignorant.  The more that we make up, the more it fits./  This doesn't feel right, feels like everything's further away.  Dead as the nightlife.  Hindsight, watching another mistake.  We never feel right."

From "Control":  "Two-faced, too poised to shed a tear/ A new trend: indifference."

From "Shallow Grave": "She was always good for nothing when the good broke bad.  All she's got to lose is everything she never has.  Every back turned to her./  She never fooled us because she could never fool herself."

From "Sideways": "How can you criticize when you're not here to compromise?  Words fade as time goes by without you."

From "Midnight": "I can't decide which one of us will leave here alive.  Your fingers breaking as I place them over mine.  The only thing I need is time to change your mind, I said./ I can't decide which one of us is dreaming tonight.  I'm just a shadow in the light you leave behind.  The only thing I need is time to change your mind, I said./  It's always darker at the end of every answer, like a finger down the back of your throat."

From "Pins and Needles": "It's been so long, feels like pins and needles in my heart.  So long, I can feel it tearing me apart./ It's always a nightmare, it's never a dream."

From "Sleepwalking": "Wait, dear, the time is getting late here.  I'm all washed up and graced with feigned applause, dressed in a cheap facade.  I'm looking for a place I'll never see again.  A night turns to a day, a street I've never walked on.  I was never here, just a faint reflection.  A day turns to a month, a second of affection./  Faking, there's nothing here worth taking.  Just my reflection fading on the wall, not the fairest one of all."

From "Secret": "I woke up as I waited.  Bleeding slow, there was no way to make all this blow over, so I started writing the ending.  I said too much.  And you just kept on pretending for both of us.  I could never speak anyway.  What you wanted to hear, I couldn't convey./  All the days that I've counted, you'll never know."

I don't know if Pins and Needles will save my life, but it certainly gives my inner turmoil some voice.  It's alienation in a busy city, it's walking back to the metro at 2 a.m. alone, it's being "pre-professional" at all in this city of berserker networking, it's the pure sadness of unrequited love, it's the chase.
intertribal: (this land)
I'm Ludvig II, the Swan King of Bavaria!
Which Historical Lunatic Are You?

Born with the name of Otto, you became Ludwig at the request of your grandfather, King Ludwig I, because you were born on his birthday. You became Crown Prince at the tender age of 3, and soon after stole a purse from a shop on the basis that everything in Bavaria belonged to you. Tragedy struck when your pet tortoise was taken away; relatives thought the six-year-old prince was too attached to it. Your childhood was lonely and formal. Once, you were prevented from beheading your younger brother by the timeous arrival of a court official. From the age of 14 you suffered from hallucinations.

Despite striking an imposing figure with your great height and good looks, your speeches were pompous to the point of incomprehensibility. You became even more of a recluse, often spending hours reading poetry in a seashell-shaped boat in your electrically-illuminated underground grotto.

You are most famous for building three fairytale castles - Linderhof, Neuschwanstein and Herrenchiemsee - at tremendous public expense. Declared insane and confined to your bedroom by concerned (and embarrassed) subjects, you escaped on 13 June 1886, but were later found drowned with your physician in Lake Stamberg in mysterious circumstances.

intertribal: (book of black valentines)
The Gmail "call phone" function (the little green phone under Chat) has given me helpful tip today: "Reminder: Call dad."

I interpret this to mean "Reminder: Buy ouija board" or "Remember: Call medium" or "Remember: Hold seance."  This in turn is called humor to deflect pain.  It reminds me of that begging-for-donations letter from my alma mater around Mother's Day talking about how important our mothers were to us, how she was the woman that inspired us to go to this college - this wasn't true for me, but how much less true would it be for people who never knew their mothers? 

Ironically, Father's Day wasn't a thing for me when my father was alive (because it isn't a thing in Indonesia).

So, this is my Father's Day song:

intertribal: (black tambourine)
Sometimes I think my definition of "dark" isn't in line with other people's.

I recently finished Alan Heathcock's short story collection, Volt.  I bought it on the basis of the first story.  "The Staying Freight" is fantastic, by the way.  It's definitely on my very short list of favorite short stories, and is more pathos-ridden than the others on the list.  It's about a farmer named Winslow who accidentally runs over his only child with farm equipment, and then after the funeral decides that he must take a walk.  Though he keeps thinking that it's time to turn around and go home to his wife Sadie, he can't quite bring himself to do it, and soon he ends up on the wrong side of a mountain range.  He goes feral for a while, and when he tries to re-enter civilization by working on a stranger's farm he ends up becoming a sideshow freak, the man who can take a punch to the gut and not go down.  And it's really quite awful, especially because you can see inside Winslow and you can see that this is all he thinks he deserves, even though what he wants, by then, is to go back to Sadie.  It hit all the right notes for me, plucked all the right heart strings.  I thought it was wrenching.

With later stories, though, my emotional engagement went down.  I didn't connect to any other characters as much as I did to Winslow and Sadie, and their stories and philosophies and visions of the world started to sound the same.  I got a little bored.  A lot of reviewers seem to like Helen Farraley, the grocer-cum-sheriff, but I disliked her; she read to me as a remorseless vigilante cloaked in self-righteousness and astonishing amounts of self-pity.  She's unambiguously cast as a hero, though, toiling against a chaotic world, and although that world is full of murder and vandalism and animal-killings and vestiges of war, I never bought that this was a world any darker than the average Law & Order: SVU.  Heathcock gives his favorite characters a lot of dignity and "basic decency" (not a bad thing).  Bad people are few and far between.  Everyone gets redeemed (though their descents are not very deep).  The only story that I felt really got as strange as "The Staying Freight" was the Grey Gardens-esque "The Daughter," my second-favorite.  In the others you basically have decent folks having to deal with criminals and death and life's normal disappointments with a "traditional Midwestern" stoicism, and it all just got kind of hum-drum.  

So it's weird to see so many people comment on the grimness and darkness of Volt.  I was expecting another Blood Meridian based on the reviews.  "Abysmal world"?  The "grim, rural town of Krafton"?  "Macabre ill-luck"?  Macabre?  Really?  It baffles me because Volt is not gothic in any way.  The universe in Volt is a basically good one.  Save for the ones in "The Daughter," no character even feels anything so ugly as hate!  Here's the only negative review of Volt on Amazon: "revolting, reviling, unutterably bleak, and pointless.  I was reminded of Cormac McCarthy and some of his novels, and Flannery O'Connor came to mind, her "grotesque" characters. There's no question that this author has talent, however not as much as either of the above, I just wish he'd find something more palatable to write about."  I almost can't believe this reviewer has read McCarthy or O'Connor if they think there's any comparison here.  Roald Dahl is darker than Volt.

I thought of this again when reading about the Wall Street journal article lamenting that YA fiction is too dark.  YA authors and editors immediately leapt to the defense of the YA books that they perceived to be under attack.  I have never understood the appeal of YA or even the definition of YA since its most vigorous proponents seem to be adults, but anyway.  My general reaction to this article and all the commentary that followed was "content does not make for darkness."  The presence of profanity doesn't make a book "dark" to me (just a book with characters who use profanity).  Neither does having a character get beaten or raped or killed.  If it's an "issue book" then that applies doubly so, because then the whole point is to be an after-school special (maybe rated R; adults have their own after-school specials). 

So I've been trying to figure out what makes a book "dark" for me, and I think it's world view.  That may not be the right word, but it's the best I can do right now.  My usual example is McCarthy's The Road vs. Anything Else He's WrittenThe Road horrified a ton of people, some of them Oprah's book club readers, some not, because it depicts the end of the world, cannibal tribes, people roasting babies, basically everyone being dead, the sea being black, etc.  But the whole point of The Road is the idea of "carrying the fire" despite the over-the-top desolation of the world around you, of this Christ-like little boy who neither dies nor ever compromises his virtuous qualities.  When I read this book I was like "???" because the first thing I read by McCarthy was The Crossing, which features no Christ-like characters, and a main character who, while not a bad guy, spends the last scene being abusive to a dog that needs his help, then feeling bad about it, wanting to make it up to the dog, and then being unable to find the dog.  There's no apocalypse, no over-the-top violence (compared to The Road, anyway), but I found it way more painful to read.  The Road presents a stark vision of virtue and destruction that I don't find grim or dark at all, despite all the violence.  The Crossing, though, I find grim.  Genuinely dark. 

This is not to say that I think even "real" darkness guarantees merit.  I don't.  "The Staying Freight" is neither "really" dark nor pretending to be, ends on a note of hope, and is great.  But fiction with "surface-level" darkness does seem to be in these days (though I don't know if that's what Heathcock's trying to write - probably not).  Some people respond to it and extol it, usually as reflecting reality and truth and "what the world is really like" (or in the case of The Road, it's "what the world will be like after the government is taken out"), and what seems to be a minority really object to it on grounds that it's depraved or whatnot.  And I wish more people would read The Violent Bear It Away.
intertribal: (Default)
Last night I was researching Iris Chang (the writers who committed suicide page is always interesting!), a Chinese-American journalist-cum-historian who got noticed when she published The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II.  She wrote in her introduction that at a conference on the Nanking Massacre, she was "suddenly in a panic that this terrifying disrespect for death and dying, this reversion in human social evolution, would be reduced to a footnote of history, treated like a harmless glitch in a computer program that might or might not again cause a problem, unless someone forced the world to remember it."  It was an emotional response and an emotional book that was criticized by historians but was a bestseller in the U.S.  Chang was researching her next book - another account of another group of people victimized by the Japanese in WWII, the U.S. soldiers who were forced to participate in the Bataan Death March - when she suffered a break of some kind, was put on anti-depressants, and killed herself three months later.  

Chang immediately reminded me of Sarah Kane, the English playwright whose play Blasted used "extreme and violent stage action" to forge connections between England and Bosnia (Kane wrote "The logical conclusion of the attitude that produces an isolated rape in England is the rape camps in Bosnia and the logical conclusion to the way society expects men to behave is war"), whose personal despair was posthumously linked to a sort of global despair - that she was depressed "because [she sees] the world around [her] and think[s] what an awful place it is." 

But Chang's wikipedia page instead directed me toward Minnie Vautrin.

Vautrin was an American missionary who established and led the Ginling Girls College in Nanking prior to WWII.  During the Japanese invasion she tried to save as many women and children as she could by harboring them in the college ("up to 10,000 women in a college designed to support between 200 and 300") within the Nanking Safety Zone, established by the handful of Westerners in Nanking who stayed behind when the Japanese approached. 

The leader of the International Committee for the Nanking Safety Zone, interestingly, was a German businessman for Siemens AG, John Rabe.  He was a card-carrying member of the Nazi Party, and was elected leader for that very reason (the German-Japanese Anti-Comintern Pact, the Westerners hoped, would give him extra leverage).  Rabe wrote "there is a question of morality here... I cannot bring myself for now to betray the trust these people have put in me, and it is touching to see how they believe in me."  His efforts to delay the Japanese to allow Chinese civilians to escape were credited with saving the lives of 200,000 to 250,000.  When he returned to Germany in 1938 he showed photo and video evidence of atrocities committed by Japanese soldiers in Berlin, and wrote to Hitler himself asking him to get the Japanese to stop.  The letter never reached Hitler, Rabe was interrogated by the Gestapo, and ordered not to speak about the subject again.  After the war he was arrested by the Russians and the British for being a Nazi, but declared de-Nazified in 1946.  He and his family lived in poverty thereafter until his death in 1950, sustained by food and money parcels sent by the Chinese government.  His tombstone was relocated from Berlin to Nanjing.  An interesting flip-example is Chiune Sugihara, Japanese Vice-Consul in Lithuania during WWII who wrote travel visas on his own initiative to enable 6,000 Jewish refugees to escape death at the hands of Soviets and Nazis via transit through Japan - "an extraordinary act of disobedience."  He hand-wrote visas for 18-20 hours a day, wrote them all night before his departure when the consulate was closed, and was still writing them as his train pulled out of the station, throwing them into the refugee crowd gathered outside.  The Simon Wiesenthal Center, however, notes that these 6,000 were heads of household who were allowed to take their families, and therefore considers Sugihara to have saved about 40,000 - he and his family were granted permanent Israeli citizenship.  As his train left the station he said to the crowd, "please forgive me. I cannot write anymore. I wish you the best."

Back to Minnie Vautrin, who stayed in Nanking until 1940.  All she had was the somewhat less powerful American flag, but she went back and forth to the Japanese Embassy to get papers banning soldiers from committing crimes in overcrowded Ginling College (papers that were subsequently torn up by the soldiers themselves).  After the siege, "She even helped the women locate husbands and sons who had been taken away by the Japanese soldiers. She taught destitute widows the skills required to make a meager living and provided the best education her limited sources would allow to the children in desecrated Nanking."  Vautrin wrote in her diary - both her diary and Rabe's were discovered by Iris Chang - "I suspect every house in the city has been opened, again and yet again, and robbed. Tonight a truck passed in which there were eight or ten girls, and as it passed they called out 'Jiu ming! Jiu ming!'—save our lives."  Vautrin's diary, which I've read a little of (555 pages of her papers are available from the Yale Divinity School), consists of her running around the campus beating back Japanese soldiers with her presence alone: "Went up to South Hill three times I think, then to the back campus and then was frantically called to the old Faculty House where I was told two soldiers had gone upstairs.  There, in room 538, I found one standing at the door, and one inside already raping a poor girl.  My letter from the Embassy and my presence sent them running out in a hurry - in my wrath I wish I had the power to smite them in their dastardly work."  Days later she wrote, "The days seem interminable and each morning you wonder how you can live through the day; twelve hours." 

Vautrin was "unnerved" by the war.  Seeing doctors at home in the U.S., she "blamed herself... and added that she was a burden and a failure." She felt "responsible for not being able to save more lives."  She had written in late December 1937, "The looting of our residence has been light and even that would not have taken place if I could have been in about four places at one time.  Our looting, therefore, is all to be blamed on me, because I have been too slow!"  She killed herself in 1941.  The idea that Vautrin was a failure who had not done enough seems totally ludicrous.  Who among us would have stayed in Nanking if we didn't have to, let alone commit to trying to save tens of thousands of people at the risk of death-by-bayonet?  Without even a weapon?  And yet: a failure.

She reminds me of Roméo Dallaire, the Canadian Force Commander of the UN peacekeeping force in Rwanda during the genocide.  He had asked the UN for more assistance - the UN said no, because the US said no, and the last Belgian troops (Belgium had colonized the Congo, and was as such the de facto "babysitter") withdrew, leaving Dallaire's peacekeepers to try to stave off killings alone - an impossible task, although he is credited with saving 32,000 people.  Dallaire now suffers from PTSD.  He was dismissed from the army because he was not responding to treatment and "was trying to kill himself through work."  He has tried to commit suicide - because "After Rwanda, Dallaire blamed himself for everything."  He says, "I failed, yes. The mission failed. They died by the thousands, hundreds of thousands."  Again - he failed?  

Meanwhile, for the rest of us, the news is too depressing, so we need something to escape to, some way to shut our eyes and keep ourselves from even being witness.  We stigmatize mental illness.  We live "Fitter, Happier" lives - "concerned (but powerless)."  "(The ability to laugh at weakness)."

intertribal: (when I get what I want)

Sarah Kane, English playwright.  Her first play, Blasted (found through reading this post on Narrative, Politics, and Sexual Violence by Matthew Cheney), was famously called a "disgusting feast of filth" by the never-filthy Daily Mail.  She said, "The logical conclusion of the attitude that produces an isolated rape in England is the rape camps in Bosnia and the logical conclusion to the way society expects men to behave is war."  She killed herself in 1999, at the age of 28.  After this (and seemingly because of some sense of guilt), her critics reached "a sudden posthumous consensus - the work wasn't hateful, nor was it about hate; it was about love."  Bold in copied text below is mine.
But why have so few Americans been given a chance to judge the play for themselves? (It has had only a few sanctioned productions in this country.) Partly it’s because Simon Kane, Ms. Kane’s brother and the executor of her estate, has denied several production requests.  “Mostly they’re ridiculous,” he said. “There was a company that applied for the rights to ‘Blasted’ and said, ‘We’re the people to do “Blasted” because we’ve done a stage adaptation of “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” ’ ”  But gore isn’t the point. “The purpose of the violence in Sarah’s plays is diametrically opposed to the purpose of violence in most other people’s plays,” Mr. Kane said. “The purpose of the violence in Sarah’s plays is to resensitize people to what violence is.” (via

Harold Pinter was at the Royal Court the night after the first reviews came out. He says that he had never heard a voice like Kane's, that she hardly knew where it was coming from herself. "It was a very startling and tender voice, but she was appalled by the world in which she lived and the world within herself." [...]  "What frightened me was the depth of her horror and anguish. Everyone's aware, to varying degrees, of the cruelty of mankind, but we manage to compromise with it, put it on the shelf and not think about it for a good part of the day. But I don't think she could do that. I think she had a vision of the world that was extremely accurate, and therefore horrific. Because the world is a fucking awful place. It's a very beautiful place, but this species mankind is an absolute bloody disaster. The elements of sadism are astonishing. She wasn't simply observing mankind; she was part of it. It seems to me she was talking about the violence within herself, the hatred within herself, and the depths of misery that she also suffered."

As with Blasted, the critics suggested the violence in Cleansed was gratuitous and exaggerated. In fact, every violent incident in her plays was closely fashioned on real incidents. (The sucking out of an eye in Blasted, for example, comes from Bill Buford's account of football thugs' retribution against a policeman who had infiltrated their gang; the pole inserted up the arse and released through the shoulder was a Serb method of crucifixion; while the prisoner in Cleansed who learns how to count, discovers how much time he has left to serve and then hangs himself, is based on a man who was jailed on Robben Island with Nelson Mandela.) (via)
As thematic accompaniment, my current favorite Rammstein song, "Amour."
intertribal: (ich will)
You'll notice "suicidal mountain-climbing" is on my list of LJ interests, but I'm not sure how much I've talked about it.  I have read the wikipedia List of deaths on eight-thousanders many times.  I am especially partial to stories about K2 - its peril is not exactly a secret in the mountaineering world (and really I should start looking up Annapurna, the mountain with the highest fatality rate: over 40%), but I was surprised to read about K2 in college.  The overriding theme of most of these stories is the question of personal vs. social/communal responsibility: that is, if you pass a mountaineer in trouble on your way to the peak, do you stop your ascent and try to help them down, or do you say "well, he made the mistake of climbing without oxygen/training/equipment, we all have to look out for ourselves"?  See David Sharp.  Sir Edmund Hillary is by far my favorite participant in that debate (Hillary described Mark Inglis' attitude as "pathetic").  Also see the controversial Into Thin Air, which is probably the most famous contemporary mountaineering story.

I think the real reason these stories appeal to me, though, is the surrealism of the whole experience, the time spent "in the company of death," where frozen dead bodies who have been there for years are actually markers like "Base Camp" and "Camp IV."  The surrealism and the incredible desire of these chronic climbers to do something so difficult, so likely to lead to death.  You watch those Everest documentaries and these people just do not stop thinking about 8,000-ers, especially if they've already tried to climb them and failed.  It appears to be their driving purpose in life, one that subsumes family, work, health, finances.  These mountains fucking haunt them.  Then of course there's all the Type-A, competitive aspects of the whole endeavor (that tie directly into the responsibility question) - the "rarr I defy death and gravity and nature" triumph-of-the-human survivalism, the "oh yeah?  well, I'm going to climb WITHOUT OXYGEN" oneupmanship that more often than not leads to death, the extremely bitter disputes over whether the dead people reached the summit or not (I'm guessing it's a question of whether their death was "for nothing").  Note that this attitude does not extend to everyone - Anatoli Boukreev being just one exception: "Mountains are not stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve, they are the cathedrals where I practice my religion...I go to them as humans go to worship."

So here I have watched three mountaineering movies.  Touching The Void is a documentary about Siula Grande, in the Andes.  K2 is "based on a true story" about K2 (obviously).  The North Face is "based on a true story" about Eiger, in the Alps.  Touching the Void and K2 are contemporary stories, while The North Face is set in the 1930s.

Touching the Void is a superb movie.  Simpson and Yates are descending from the summit of the Siula Grande.  Simpson breaks his leg and Yates is trying to rappel the both of them down (an extremely tough pill).  Eventually, Simpson is dangling off a cliff.  Yates can't see him and he can't support the weight of them both, so he hopes that Simpson is only a few feet from the ground and cuts the rope (and becomes known forever more as "The Man That Cut The Rope").  Oh dear, turns out Simpson is 100 foot from the ground.  Yates sees this and assumes Simpson's dead, then goes back to base camp.  But Simpson isn't dead, and has to crawl/hop out of a crevasse and onto a glacier and down to base camp by himself.  Touching the Void may have a leg-up on the other two just because it's a documentary.  But it's a well-done documentary that totally captures the hallucinatory weirdness (for lack of a better term) that Simpson experienced on his horrifically painful descent.  It is also very darkly funny - probably the most memorable part of the movie is when Simpson (on the mountain) has the auditory hallucination of hearing "Brown-Eyed Girl" by Boney M, a band that he hates.  And he's like, "Bloody hell, I'm going to die to Boney M."  My second-favorite part was the guys at base camp hearing this noise that sounds like Simpson crying in the wind but because they're sure he's dead, are too scared to go out because they think it's some undead spirit back to haunt them.  Trufax.  Note also that Simpson has always defended Yates' decision to cut the rope (he reasons that they both would have died otherwise).  Simpson also still climbs mountains.  Really highly recommended.

K2 is not so good.  I don't know what the true story is like, but this felt quite overwrought.  I didn't really understand the motivations of the climbers, and I was totally on the side of the porters that ran away from the Savage Mountain in fear (sherpas, I should note, are incredibly bad ass).  The set-up here is that because the first two guys who tried to go up to the summit fell and died, the two best friends that were "cheated out of their chance" got to go up to the summit despite the great risk of bad weather.  The rest of the group has gone back to base camp and is going to fly away with a helicopter because the one guy has altitude sickness and will die if he doesn't get off the mountain.  But no, the helicopter can't leave!  They must go pick up the two climbers!  Even if the one dude dies of altitude sickness because of it!  Granted this may all be a realistic situation - in which case, quite frankly, it would be a shitty, dire situation exemplifying the tradeoffs and deals-with-the-Devil that people make on 8000-ers - but the presentation was so one-sided, and so straight-faced ("hooray they're dead!  now we can go!"  Huh?), that I found it more than a little eye-rolly.  Besides, the mountain didn't look very threatening - it looked like a tame mountain on a controlled set.  There was no darkness in this movie.  Just triumphant electric guitar.  Give it a pass.

The North Face falls between these two (but closer to Touching the Void).  The main characters are German, and the mountain is in Austria.  The Third Reich is just coming into power, and the German expats are sort of basking in their country's perceived inflation in global value.  Two German mountaineers have decided to climb the never-before-conquered North Face of Eiger, and Germany lets them leave the military to pursue their suicide-dream because it's a good PR opportunity.  Thus the media and onlookers watch them from a little chateau, taking pictures, eating feasts.  An Austrian team is climbing at the same time, and they join forces after one of the Austrians gets a head injury and the Germans discover the dead bodies of a pair that had gone before them.  The mountaineers know both they and their national honor are fucked.  Given these high stakes, they make the profoundly suicidal decision to keep going, lugging up the half-dead Austrian with them, in piss-poor weather.  This movie does not have a happy ending.  It is actually quite brutal, despite the mountain itself being a lowly 4000-er (probably partly because they have shitty equipment).  The movie's also trying to transcend the mountaineering genre and get to something broader - about patriotism, and voyeurism, and living vicariously through a couple sturdy young men who are then thrown around like rag dolls (militarism woo-hoo) - and, of course, about conquest and the predatory state of Nazi Germany.  Also highly recommended.

This song just came on shuffle, and I think it oddly fits [the pretend world being the veneer of achievement and conquest that accompanies these mountaineering missions, and the real world being what actually happens]:

In the pretend world, we all are very awake
In the pretend world, we all look sterile and fake
In this atmosphere we all could chatter for days
In the pretend world, we never admit our mistakes

But in the real world, we're hiding alone and ashamed
And we can't live well because we're addicted to pain
You see I cannot feel this no matter how you try
In the real world, we can't deny

In the pretend world, we gaze into empty eyes
We amuse ourselves with tawdry tales and white lies

But in the real world, where fools tormented for sport
We just stitch up our mouths so we can't admit or retort
You see I cannot say this, please don't ask me why
In the real world, we can't deny
intertribal: (can't look)

The Temple of Music, 1901

Now that I'm thinking about World's Fairs [it's in Shanghai this year, I have been informed]...  this is the story that I always think of, originally relayed by my History of US Foreign Relations professor. 
President and Mrs. McKinley attended the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York... McKinley had an engagement to greet the public at the Temple of Music. Standing in line, Leon Frank Czolgosz waited with a pistol in his right hand concealed by a handkerchief. At 4:07 p.m. Czolgosz fired twice at the president. The first bullet grazed the president's shoulder. The second, however, went through McKinley's stomach, pancreas, and kidney, and finally lodged in the muscles of his back. The president whispered to his secretary, George Cortelyou “My wife, Cortelyou, be careful how you tell her, oh be careful.” Czolgosz would have fired again, but he was struck by a bystander and then subdued by an enraged crowd. The wounded McKinley even called out "Boys! Don't let them hurt him!" because the angry crowd beat Czolgosz so severely it looked as if they might kill him on the spot.  [source]

Czolgosz's experiences had convinced him there was a great injustice in American society, an inequality which allowed the wealthy to enrich themselves by exploiting the poor. He concluded that the reason for this was the structure of government itself. Then he learned of a European crime which changed his life. On July 29, 1900, King Umberto I of Italy had been shot dead by anarchist Gaetano Bresci. Bresci told the press that he had decided to take matters into his own hands for the sake of the common man.

[Czolgosz's] last words were "I killed the President because he was the enemy of the good people – the good working people. I am not sorry for my crime."  As the prison guards strapped him into the chair, however, he did say through clenched teeth, "I am sorry I could not see my father."  His brain was autopsied by Edward Anthony Spitzka. Sulfuric acid was poured into his coffin so that his body would be completely disfigured, resulting in its decomposition within twelve hours.  His letters and clothes were burned.  [source]
I find all this shit really sad for some reason.  I think it's the combination of "Boys!  Don't let them hurt him!" and "I am sorry I could not see my father" that gets to me - plus, of course, the backdrop of a world's fair. 

It was supposed to be the big hydro-electric expo - hence the lovely appearance of the Temple of Music at night - but "the operating room at the exposition's emergency hospital did not have any electric lighting, even though the exteriors of many of the buildings were covered with thousands of light bulbs. Doctors used a pan to reflect sunlight onto the operating table as they treated McKinley's wounds."  From McKinley's speech at the expo: "Expositions are the timekeepers of progress. They record the world's advancements. They stimulate the energy, enterprise, and intellect of the people, and quicken human genius."  [source]
intertribal: (brights)
I've been listening to this song/watching this video on repeat since yesterday.  I was also finishing writing a scene of the novel's second installment that just wanted to be born - and while the scene itself is more disturbing than sad, while I was digesting it and its consequences I started watching "Live With Me" by Massive Attack (a random single they released all alone in 2006).  Then I couldn't stop.  And now I'm like, geez, do I really want to write something that's this depressing?  But of course I "have to."  It's what I want for the story.  I want to take what I've started to its logical conclusion.  I am writing it for a reason.  The logical conclusion just kind of sucks.

Warning: Video is HELLA DEPRESSING.

My MC actually isn't an alcoholic, mostly because it's not biologically possible.  He just has Complex-PTSD and he's been conditioned to kill and all that.

Bonus depressing song (I'm just a barrel of laughs today): "Follow the Leader" by Matthew Ryan.  It was in a House episode, that's where everybody seems to know it from.
intertribal: (strum strum)
I hate media coverage of the Olympics, and I actually have a lot of problems with the Olympics in general (chiefly, I think that the whole "bringing the nations together" thing is a bunch of tripe), but tonight I think I actually found an instance of the sort of thing I loathe and explain it, instead of resorting to frothy accusations of jingoism.  

It's the women's figure skating long program/freeskate - that is, the big decisive part of the skating competition.  The short program has already concluded several days earlier.  This is for the podium.  The big sob story of the competition is, admittedly, a mega calamity for the skater and her family - Joannie Rochette's mother died two days before the short program of a sudden heart attack.  Rochette is 5th in the world, and Canadian to boot, so she becomes an automatic media hotspot, especially after she cries after her short program.  This continues into the freeskate.  Big close-up shots of Joannie's face, looking heavenward; long shots of her father clapping in the stands.  Before, during, and after her skate the commentators cannot stop mentioning how "courageous" her performance is, what a true "Olympian" she is - it is, by the end, a feat of "superhuman courage."  On the New York Times blog, Todd Eldredge describes the experience thusly: "She had that Olympic experience of winning a medal but she also lived out her personal life, the death of her mother, in front of everyone and with everyone. That’s just really cool for her."  

Actually, Todd Eldredge, living out the experience of her mother dying - in front of everyone or not - was probably not really cool for her.  Maybe what you mean to say is: That's just really cool for me to watch.  And while I can't control the outpouring of rubbernecky-stranger-pathos toward Rochette - although I will say it creeps me out - I do object to the value judgment placed on the way she deals with grief.  Everyone deals with grief differently, and anyone who loses someone close - but especially kids who lose parents - need to be reminded of this all the fucking time.  There's incredible pressure placed on mourners to behave in a "certain" way that is deemed proper to society.  This we know from The Stranger and from Lindy Chamberlain's trial.  When you're told, "oh, you're doing so good," or "you're staying so strong," or the worst of all, "you're being so brave," all you hear is: fuck.  gotta keep this up, whatever I'm doing.  I don't want to disappoint.  I don't want to be bad, or weak, or cowardly.  They're gonna mess me up and steal all my children if I don't pay the ransom.  People get breakdowns because they stop being able to live in this facade.  My grief counselor would say that people would always ask her, "is this normal?" and she would say, "normal is whatever you are."  If Joannie Rochette decided she had to drop out of the Olympics, would that make her a coward?  Of course NBC wouldn't say so, but that is what they're implying.  There needs to be a lot less judgment of other people's grief processes, is what I'm trying to say. 

So I say, leave her alone.  Note the untimely death, send your thoughts psychically to her family if you must, but lay off the drip.  It's psychological mindwarp, it's insincere, and it's false.  There is no way to deal with the shock of death that is fucking courageous.  There is ketabahan, as my mother would say, which basically translates to endurance/the will to live.  See Juliane Köpcke.  That's not this strange thing, "courage," though - it's just the absolute refusal to die.  And you do that however way you have to.  There is no wrong way to endure, because all it means is the heart keeps beating.  You might radio for help or drink your own urine or chop off your own leg.  And guess what - if you can't endure, you can't endure, and I won't judge you for that either.

I didn't root for Joannie Rochette, by the way.  She's not my favorite skater.  I'm sympathetic to her loss, and I hope that she's dealt with it in the way she wants and needs (instead of acting under pressure).  I rooted for Kim Yu-na, who is so brilliant and beautiful to watch that she makes you want to move when she pulls her chin along the line of her arms.  She's like the Roger Federer of women's skating - she's pure fluidity.  The figure skater's figure skater.  When I watch her, my heart aches, and God knows I don't know shit about her personal life.  That's what makes her such an impressive athlete and artist.  She broke her own world record of 210 total points and got 228 total points, including 150 - another world record - for her freeskate.  She won the gold medal by a huge distance, and totally deserved it too. 

Her freeskate isn't up yet on YouTube, obviously, so I present her 2009 World Championship-winning freeskate to Scheherazade. 
intertribal: (Default)

The Wall Street Journal interviews Cormac McCarthy.

WSJ: But is there something compelling about the collaborative process compared to the solitary job of writing?

CM: Yes, it would compel you to avoid it at all costs.

WSJ: Does this issue of length apply to books, too? Is a 1,000-page book somehow too much?

CM: For modern readers, yeah. People apparently only read mystery stories of any length. With mysteries, the longer the better and people will read any damn thing. But the indulgent, 800-page books that were written a hundred years ago are just not going to be written anymore and people need to get used to that. If you think you're going to write something like "The Brothers Karamazov" or "Moby-Dick," go ahead. Nobody will read it. I don't care how good it is, or how smart the readers are. Their intentions, their brains are different.

WSJ: People have said "Blood Meridian" is unfilmable because of the sheer darkness and violence of the story.

CM: That's all crap. The fact that's it's a bleak and bloody story has nothing to do with whether or not you can put it on the screen. That's not the issue. The issue is it would be very difficult to do and would require someone with a bountiful imagination and a lot of balls. But the payoff could be extraordinary.

WSJ: How does that ticking clock affect your work? Does it make you want to write more shorter pieces, or to cap things with a large, all-encompassing work?

CM: I'm not interested in writing short stories. Anything that doesn't take years of your life and drive you to suicide hardly seems worth doing.

WSJ: Is the God that you grew up with in church every Sunday the same God that the man in "The Road" questions and curses?

CM: It may be. I have a great sympathy for the spiritual view of life, and I think that it's meaningful. But am I a spiritual person? I would like to be. Not that I am thinking about some afterlife that I want to go to, but just in terms of being a better person. I have friends at the Institute. They're just really bright guys who do really difficult work solving difficult problems, who say, "It's really more important to be good than it is to be smart." And I agree it is more important to be good than it is to be smart. That is all I can offer you.

WSJ: Do you feel like you're trying to address the same big questions in all your work, but just in different ways?

CM: Creative work is often driven by pain. It may be that if you don't have something in the back of your head driving you nuts, you may not do anything. It's not a good arrangement.
intertribal: (my russia (with hands))
I crossed my mind ahead of us
just there where the trees give way
do forgive, do forgive, I will forget your name
far be it from me, far be it from me to take care

- Woven Hand: "Your Russia (Without Hands)"

Interesting article about an extreme form of grief in the NYTimes today.

I don't have it, this "complicated grief" or "prolonged grief disorder," but it is surprising that 15% of the bereaved do suffer from it - and also wildly sad that this can go on for decades:
when patients with complicated grief looked at pictures of their loved ones, the nucleus accumbens — the part of the brain associated with rewards or longing — lighted up. It showed significantly less activity in people who experienced more normal patterns of grieving.

“It’s as if the brain were saying, ‘Yes I’m anticipating seeing this person’ and yet ‘I am not getting to see this person,’ ” Dr. O’Connor said. “The mismatch is very painful.”
I forget much more than I dwell, which has allowed me to carry on with my life.  Amnesia and denial only work so long, however, and when that reserve wore off I got another salve: group therapy.  Grief is so stifling because it's so isolating.  It's so personal.  You and your loss swallow the world.  Group therapy defuses that.  There are suddenly other people who feel their loss annihilates the world.  Suddenly it's not so personal.  And you start realizing - I know it's obvious, but bear with me - that it happens to everyone.  Just like truth, death and grief are "given by God to us all in our time, in our turn."  This calms you.  This has happened before and will happen again, to you or to someone else.  You move on, but by now it's changed you: grief has given you a certain outlook on life.

I think it changes people in different ways, realizing that they're a part of this cosmic club of loss.  Many people, I think, become overly sensitized to other people's losses.  I try to avoid potential triggers but my mother, for example, seeks them out.  Even if you don't seek them out they creep up on you - when you're watching ESPN Gameday specials, for example.  This happened to my mother recently: twenty years back a star player at Colorado died of cancer, leaving behind a girlfriend and son, who now plays football despite never having known his father - all my mother said when I saw her crying was "the mother was the coach's daughter."  These triggers doesn't mean there's some interstellar conspiracy against you.  It just means death is everywhere.  It's in commercials.  It's at the cat clinic.*  It's just that now you feel it like a live wire.

That's prototypical.  Grief does more curious things too. For example, I now hate movies like Pan's Labyrinth and Children of Men.  I was talking about roadside memorials - I don't really like them, and I think grief should be done in private - and brought up the point someone else had made: does that mean people who die in other places get their own memorials in those places?  What about hospitals?  And my mother said: "That's always something that bothered me about 9/11 memorials.  What's so special about them?  I mean, yes, it was very sad for the families of the people who died.  But what made them so much more important than everyone else who has died ever?" And she didn't say it but I knew she was talking about my dad - but at the same time not just about him, which is why I think she doesn't have complicated grief.  She'd taken her pain to the next step (applied it to the real world, as my chemistry teacher would say, not just used it to practice the same old problems), arrived at a realization about the way deaths get ranked in sadness and importance and nobility, even though people hurt for their dead regardless.  She said this with unusual vitriol, for my mother, and it's been ten years.  Grief's like that.

After you "move on" with your life (we used to say in group therapy that nobody ever "moves on" and "gets over it" and they're right), grief just sleeps most of the time.  It's sort of like the demon in Paranormal Activity - it latches on and follows you, and it may lie dormant for many years until something brings it up to the surface again.  You can ignore it and you can scream at it and you can call an exorcist on it, but it's not going anywhere.  Welcome to the club. 

medicine tongue and a heavy hand together made a list
row on row of cold and hardened hearts
that wish  my weeds and flowers  would together both grow wild
from a distance
from a distance
they come up close to smile

*: We were sitting at the vet's office, waiting for our cat to get her glucose checked, when this old woman came in with a Petco box and something inside that made the most horrific, scratched-up, Exorcist-inspired meow ever.  We overheard the woman tell the receptionist that the cat had had a stroke (which is what my father died of).  I just sort of pressed my lips together - the way I do when tsunamis and earthquakes kill people in Indonesia - but my mother started crying.  I said, "at least that's not our kitty," which was of course not the point, but you don't talk about The Subject.
intertribal: (Default)
Project Runway Season 5 is shaping up to be awesome, even if it is on Lifetime.

Interesting review of Rebecca Solnit's "A Paradise Built In Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster":  "Our response to disaster gives us nothing less than 'a glimpse of who else we ourselves may be and what else our society could become.'  Her overarching thesis can probably be boiled down to this sentence: 'The recovery of this purpose and closeness without crisis or pressure' — without disaster, that is — 'is the great contemporary task of being human.'

And now, the main event (thanks to [ profile] charlesatan for linking to this essay):

"Why I Write" by Stephen Elliott (whom I've never read):
I still go through heavy bouts of depression; it’s my nature. But I wouldn’t choose a different life. Time spent focusing on art is a privilege and a gift. The writing doesn’t make me happy, but it makes me happier, and it makes everything else easier to take.

When I got to know other writers I was surprised, but also comforted, to find that they were often as messed up as I was—especially fiction writers. They were just as insecure and obsessive. They went through periods of gigantic confidence when they felt like they could do anything, then slipped into cavernous depressions when they wondered if they had anything of value to say. It didn’t matter how successful they were. They wasted time, berated themselves mercilessly. Most of us have something wrong at our core. If we didn’t, we would write for television, where the standards are lower and the money is better and they throw bigger parties. But we want to create something good, and we want our names on it. Our creativity is our Nile flowing through us, all of our nourishment blossoming along its banks.

The hell with it, let’s take this metaphor one step further. It’s easy to forget the river, take it for granted. Like parents who love you no matter what, you don’t miss them till they’re gone. You might want to think before wandering away from the source of your inspiration. You might think you need things you don’t; you might think there’s something greater over the next berm, only to cross into a long desert.

But here’s the good news: The river is always there. You can always return, but getting back might require covering the same distance and take as long as the time you’ve spent away.
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