Ramblin’ B


Since B is no longer capable of long runs, we ramble a lot. A ramble is at least an hour long, and we have several routes about and around. One of B’s favorites is this park that has a Little Free Library. I want very badly to put one in my front yard, but each time I mention it, someone tells me it’s a bad idea. (Sometimes I even tell myself that.) So I get my little free library fix during the rambles.

Today is the last day to get in on THE MARKED Indiegogo campaign! Remember, even if it doesn’t fully fund, you still get your perks, and the book will still be published. It will just take a little longer for the latter, and I built that time into the schedule for the book. If you like the idea, please spread the word.

And that’s it for this week, my dears. I’ll be huddling in my office for most of the weekend, ignoring the artillery fire outside. Some idiots have already started blowing up bits of native soil. My nerves are already raw, and Miss B’s are almost gone. It will be a relief when the Fourth is over.

Internal Notes

alla nazimova I’m back in my body again, mostly. I can feel the edges of “me” and the edges of my physical parts aligning. I’ve never endured quite this sort of thing before, and was busy taking internal notes. Who knows when a character will need this particular sensation?

All things serve the work.

After writing for a while, there’s always a section of your brain thinking, “okay, going to have to remember this, a story might need it later.” Heartbreak, car accident, joy, panic–everything serves the work, everything goes into that hopper inside your head. Everything is material. Maybe there’s a bit of self-protection in there too–when you’re taking internal notes about the exact sensations and what the other parts of you are thinking and doing, you aren’t losing your shit over what’s going down.

Of course, motherhood means you can’t lose your shit, either. When there are small humans depending on you, you just can’t afford to let go, no matter how satisfying it might be to have a monkey tantrum. I can’t count the number of times a good old-fashioned screaming meemie fit would have felt luxurious, but if Mum starts losing her cool, the little humans will lose theirs, and then everything is just so much more difficult. Who has time for that?

So, yeah. The interesting thing is, as my writing partner suggested, that this may be how I deal with severe stress when I have meds to even everything out and make the anxiety manageable. It’s preferable to a half-dozen physically exhausting “I am going to die” panic attacks per day. Some research suggest a feeling of derealization or depersonalization is common with high anxiety and can trigger panic attacks, so maybe this is what it feels like when it doesn’t? It wasn’t painful, or even really distressing, it was just…odd. Allowing myself to experience it, knowing it was more than likely temporary, turned out to be the best way through.

It’s more Cormorant Run revisions today. I think I have to write a whole new scene, and expand another in a new direction. I knew the complexity of this book was under the surface, but my first run through it I was too busy getting the bones down to really dive. Now I have the luxury of uncoiling the strands and peering deeper, and it’s turning out to be fascinating. Sometimes I am a little chary of the worlds that apparently lurk inside my head. It’s an odd thing, to think that maybe one is simply channeling or taking dictation from somewhere else. There’s a certain submission to the shape and the strictures of the work, difficult for anyone stubborn to practice. Especially when that stubbornness must be fed and grown monstrous to keep you writing day in, day out.

First, though, Miss B needs a walk, and so do I. Maybe it will clear my head and bring me fully back into my body. You never know.

Over and out.

Slightly Out Today

Eeyore There is very little reason for it, but I feel slightly out of my body today. Yesterday I had to force my eyes to focus, but today I’m just a few inches out of my own skin.

It’s not disassociating–I know what that feels like, and it’s in my head rather than a whole body thing. Disassociation, for me, is accompanied by a roaring in my ears and a folding up, curling around myself inside my brain and leaving my body behind. Coming back when it’s safer is the big trick, you have to have a sense of how long the bad will last. Coming back too early or too late are both equally dangerous.

Anyway, this isn’t that. I’m still in my body, yet just moved a couple inches outside as well. It’s not a feeling of unreality–I am still aware that things around me are real, and (to a lesser extent) that I am. It’s just a strange, lightheaded feeling, my essential self just a fraction to the side. Maybe my soul is a little stronger than my body can contain at the moment.

Or maybe I’m breaking down under the stress. WHO KNOWS.

I’m no stranger to divisions of self–at any moment, during any task other than writing, I may be untangling a plot or exploring a character inside my head. Training your imagination until it is agile as a ferret has the unintended consequence of making it the size of Godzilla as well, a truly fearsome proposition. Not only can it break all the china in your shop, but it can also turn on a dime and lay waste in many directions at once.

…well, that metaphor has been well and truly pummeled, I must say.

I’m wondering whether caffeine will make the slightly-outside-myself feeling better or worse. It’s not unpleasant, and it doesn’t seem dangerous, but still…I think I’d prefer not to be outside my own skin today, thankyouverymuch.

That said, I’m off to work on Cormorant Run revisions. I’ve reached the part of the book where the dominos are all set up and need only a flick of the finger to bring them down, but the real trick is, the finger-flick is not what the reader expects. It’s all but invisible. You can probably imagine me rubbing my hands together with glee, can’t you.

Well, you should, because that’s what I’m doing, in between using them to type.

Over and out.

The Wisdom of Trundles

The pre-morning-nap nap.
The pre-morning-nap nap.

Trundles knows the world is a crazy, sometimes very scary place. Trundles hasn’t read or watched the news–he was too busy trying to roll over, a perennial goal his corkscrewed body rarely reaches but that doesn’t stop him from trying. However, he has heard me discuss current events with Miss B (who always listens, but rarely ventures an opinion, unless it’s to growl every time she hears a certain tiny-handed orange-haired demagogue from the computer speakers) and various others. And Trundles, being the kind giving soul that he is, offers this by way of consolation:


And there you have it, my friends. At least we still have naps. (And pooping.)

Onward, I Suppose

summer queen

I finished reading Volume 1 of Nevins on the Civil War yesterday morning. I’m going to go on to Shelby Foote instead of diving into the Brothers Karamazov; I am just not mentally prepared for the Russians right now. After The Vegetarian, I think I need time to scab over.

Nevins has some drawbacks, but this particular edition’s from 1971, so I can forgive a few quibbles and inconsistencies. With both him and Foote, I am struck by the overwhelming sausage-fest-ness. It’s as if women didn’t matter unless they were married to a great man. I feel sorry for Mary Todd, she really had a hard time of it. That marriage can’t have been less than OMG stressful once Lincoln was elected. Even if you were built to handle stress, that would have been Too Damn Much. The real wonder is that she bore with it as well as she did.

I find myself reading and wondering what the other half of the population was doing, thinking, feeling, during the events described. The number’s probably three-quarters if you count the enslaved–I had never realized before how much even people in the North wanted to wriggle away from the the fact of enslavement. Current events are, of course, just another unfolding of that horrid legacy, and there are still asshats trying to deny it ever happened, and trying to deny that racism is still institutionalized in America.

*shakes head* You can tell what I think of that.

It’s turned cloudy and damp after a couple too-warm days, and I’m grateful. Revisions on Cormorant Run continue apace, with new scenes and expanded passages. Considering the speed with which that book tore itself out of my head, and the fury and havoc it wreaked on its way out, I’m pleased to find it doesn’t completely suck. It’s lean and tight, yes, and needs the brushstrokes filled in, but all in all, it holds up reasonably well in revision.

Sometimes, that’s all one can ask for.

Over and out.

That Simple

The Little Prince just came home from a friend’s house.

ME: Oh, hi. How was it?
MY SON: It was okay. They didn’t have a pump for the soccer ball, but I hung out to talk with X and Y.
ME: *trying to place the name with a face* Y…is that the girl who was here the other day?

I think I remember her. Tall, coltish, shy, hair over the face.

MY SON: Transgender. So…yeah. It? *glances at me for confirmation*
ME: Well, do they identify as a girl now?
MY SON: Yeah, male to female. So, a girl.
ME: Okay, so then she.
MY SON: Okay. We hung out. They might be over later. *goes to unload the dishwasher, since it’s finished*

I stood there, a great swell of pride and love breaking inside my chest.

Okay, so then she. To him, it’s just that simple.

This is how our children teach us; this is how they crack us open. This is how they give us hope for a better world.

REVIEW: The Vegetarian

Vegetarian I read a review of Han Kang’s The Vegetarian not so long ago, and was intrigued enough to pick it up. I read it all in one sitting–well, mostly, with only a short break to make and consume dinner with the Little Prince–and, when I had finished, felt as if my interior space, physical as well as psychic, had been violently pummeled and made larger by the experience. The writing, translated by Deborah Smith (who also translated Kang’s Human Acts) is stunning, simple, and incandescent.

The book centers on Yeong-hye, a young Korean wife who has a disturbing dream one night and consequently refuses to eat meat. But that’s a little like saying The Metamorphosis is about bugs. The Vegetarian is densely layered and extremely brutal in the way only true things can be.

The structure of the book is interesting–three interlinked novella-length sections, each told from a different point of view. The first is told Yeong-hye’s husband, the second by her brother-in-law, and the third by Yeong-hye’s sister In-hye. If that seems odd, you’re right–we are given almost nothing from Yeong-hye’s point of view except two very short passages that might or might not detail the “disturbing dream” that sets the entire book in motion. Those passages could be read as her husband Mr Cheong’s imagining what the dream might have been, and that’s only the first of several layers of contrasting interpretation, meaning, and allegory.

At first, The Vegetarian seems to be about the dissolution of Yeong-hye’s marriage, since she not only steadfastly refuses to eat meat but also to wear a bra. She simply Bartleby the Scriveners her way out of both things, simply, quietly refusing to ingest what she doesn’t want to or confine her breasts. Mr Cheong, having married her thinking she was absolutely ordinary Korean housewife material, is alternately ashamed of and infuriated by his inability to “control” her the way Korean society thinks he should and he has come to expect. Mirroring his fury is Yeong-hye’s father, who at one violent family dinner tries to assert a right over what his (until now passive and obedient) daughter will do with her body. Young-hye’s resistance is largely passive and turned inward–since patriarchal strictures hem her in so thoroughly, the only way she can opt out is through refusal and, eventually, self-harm.

The middle third of the book shifts to Yeong-hye’s brother-in-law, a visual artist who allows her sister In-hye to support him while he’s “blocked” creatively. He’s obsessed with using Yeong-hye’s body as a canvas for one of his works, and the attempt to do so destroys his marriage as well. Paradoxically, his obsession gives us an insight into what Yeong-hye might actually want, although in the following section, we find out she may have still been heavily medicated all during the interactions and thus robbed of even that small measure of consent or agency.

The last third of the book is where everything is truly ripped open and The Vegetarian ascends to the level of a masterpiece. Everything leading up to it has been filtered through male perceptions and a patriarchal search for control of a female body, as well as the violence that ensues on several levels when said female body (not to mention the female owning it) refuses even tacitly. Yeong-hye’s sister visits her in a psychiatric hospital, and the unflinching examination of the stripping away of Yeong-hye’s bodily autonomy by the medical personnel is only part of the agonizing pain. In-hye has done everything “right” and been a model child, wife, and mother, and yet she’s in desperate agony. In-hye is forced to examine her relationship with her sister, the cruelty of their upbringing, and the pressures on women in Korean society. Wondering if her sister’s methods of coping with said cruelty and pressure are any better or less self-destructive than her own is a powerful question, one In-hye can barely bring herself to articulate, much less face.

The complexity of In-hye’s emotions around the caretaking of her sister and her son, the utter betrayal of her husband, and the emotional labor she performs for her family, all hit me right in the solar plexus. Realizing, once I had finished, that I had identified so thoroughly with In-hye that I had come to regard her sister as a symbol just as Mr Cheong and In-hye’s husband had was a nasty shock. Colluding in the strictures that attempt to rob women of bodily autonomy is almost impossible to avoid in most of the world, and Kang deftly performs the almost-impossible trick of implicating everyone, even the reader, in the violence of trying to make Yeong-hye conform. Not only that, but the allegory of the pressures on women in Korean society is so stunning that it also eclipses her, implicating the reader even more thoroughly.

I suspect I have not done this book half the justice I want to. It went straight back on my to-be-read pile for another go once my head has cleared, which is not at all usual. I feel like I have to go back and reread, maybe to try and find Yeong-hye under all the differing perceptions of her, maybe just to marvel at the sheer effortlessness with which Kang piles on and pulls away different layers of meaning. I also want to find Kang’s other work and devour it whole, which will either have to be through interlibrary loan or maybe selling some plasma to pad out my book budget next month.

TL;DR: Simply amazing, completely savage, and well worth buying in hardcover.