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Archive for the ‘writing’ Category

June

I’m writing poetry on the phone, hold music
like fingernails-on-spine, the creak
of objecting bones, thank-you-for-your-patience
please-hold. Student loans. Twenty five. Tired. Twenty
six this fall. Not wanting to be back in school but wistful
for sprawling in the grass half sleeping, the feel
of cobblestones underfoot and leaves turning and bagpipes
that skirl at night and in the rising dawn.

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Let me tell you something: I wrote this so young that I was misspelling my best friend at the time’s name.

That means I must have been within a few months of having met her for the first time, which puts me at no more than thirteen. I’d already been murmuring poetry and stories to the air since I started working at the barn at nine, to soothe myself and my horses. Writing it down was a new thing, at that age, and I had so many ideas, so many wild directions I was going in.

This is the first of those directions. The first step on the first road. The first signpost and dirt path and bridge to the other side and doorway and game track through the underbrush.

It’s also really, really awful. Oh god, it’s so bad.

The first sign of what kind of horror the reader is in for comes in the title: “Year 2017”. This makes me laugh–we’re only six years out from that now. When it was 1999 or 2000, that was forever away. The second thing is that it’s covered in edits, and yet, it’s clear that they were as effective as taking a cup of water and trying to empty the sea.

What follows is all I could bear to type up of it.

It was the late December of the year 2017 in southmost New Mexico. Nearly sixteen years ago, on January 1 of 2002, a scientist established contact with the wolves, who were more intelligent than anyone had suspected. On the same day, a girl was born in a nearby town, and a boy was born on the other side of the same town at exactly the same moment. Neither of them knew.

All you need to know—the entire plot—is inherent in those four sentences. It was super simple: the girl was Lia, the boy was Rowan. Their wolves were Icefall and Shay, respectively. On one level I am so totally humiliated by this. I didn’t understand how to tell a story. How to start and where to go.

But I was learning, moment by moment. It wasn’t a great piece of fiction, but by the end there were glimpses of good dialog and not entirely one-dimensional characters. Later, I would take the plot and gently transpose it onto a different setting, and removed the wolves, and set it in motion to see what would happen.

The best thing, really, is that I didn’t realize it was bad, and no one told me–so I was never discouraged, as a young writer, from doing what I liked, as terrible as it might be. By the time I met and started writing with Melissa, the dearest of all my most darling friends, I was visibly better—and that wasn’t much more than a few months after I began. There’s never a steeper learning curve than the first one, yeah?

Melissa and I were writing these parallel narratives during seventh and eighth grade; totally different characters and plots, but similar in pacing and content. I don’t remember much about hers, but this is mine. It’s called Child of the Dragon; it’s a good 123 pages handwritten. I’m rereading it now, and there are some moments that delight me for the promise they show, and some that make me laugh out loud because they are so very silly. Also, I apparently really liked the word “truly”.

This is also where I started using in media res.

April groaned, and lifted the heavy pail of water, arms straining. She truly hated this job sometimes.

“Need some help, Rill?” Mikel grinned at her, and took one of the bucket’s handles. “Does the mistress even know you can’t lift one of these without my help?”

She shook her head, honey-colored hair just brushing her shoulders. Her eyes flicked to Mikel’s face through her lashes, and he noted with amusement that they were emerald green today. Yesterday they were sky blue, the day before, lilac. The whole village talked about her eyes, saying servants, especially scullery maids, should not be so noticeable, and spreading rumors. Mikel was willing to admit he’d never seen eyes like hers before, but he could not accept the idea the April was anything more than human. Surely a girl with magic or the blood of dragons or demons would not submit to hauling water and scrubbing floors. He had known her most of his life, and though she seemed to sometimes have a flash of wisdom beyond her words, she was in most respects a normal sixteen year old girl.

I love being able to see that I was learning. I don’t write fiction these days anymore, and that’s too bad—it doesn’t come as easy anymore. I’d like to try writing more fiction; I have ideas, and some excellent characters living behind my eyes. I want to let them help me write their stories down.

I think if I were to write that first story again, just the first few sentences, it would be almost unrecognizable. I think there would be the same undertone, the same conflict, maybe even still the same animals prowling through it. Lia becomes a zookeeper’s daughter or a circus-act kid, or, making her older, a conservation advocate—and always a runaway from something; Rowan remains what he is, a loner, solitary and intense and moving steadily away from everything until something brings him up short.

Or maybe he’s a girl now.

It’s an old story, and everyone tells it. But that doesn’t mean there’s not still a way to come at it fresh and vibrant and laughing with glee with the fun of it.

It’s just finding that way again—hunting out that little deertrack leading into deeper woods—that’s hard.

 

(Truly.)

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I intend for this to stand as a prologue, and on its own. This is very typical of how I propose and defend any thesis, and a very early start at looking at gender and sexual identity. I am sort of proud and sort of embarrassed of it; I see a fairly clear lack of thinking about the importance of clothing and gender presentation in the trans community, which is fair because I knew little about it. And I also think there’s also some genderbendy stuff going on with dykes and butches, so that’s fine.

When I wear a skirt, I stand with my feet planted firmly on the ground, wide apart, with a hand on my hip or in my pocket, with my chin up and my shoulders square. I sit with my legs apart, the material of my skirt or dress dipping down for modesty, my elbows on my knees, my spine curved down towards my thighs so that my head is held up, my eyes level. I lace my fingers in the empty space between my knees. Or I get myself into impossible contortions in a chair, one leg underneath me and one pulled up to my chest, or Indian-style with my hands in my lap. And I wear sneakers with thick tights, and collared polo shirts, and one of two caps (newsboy and British) or a bandanna. In other words, when I wear a skirt, I look like a dyke.

This is not an accident.

It started out as an accident, though, and for a long time I thought that it was purely one. There is even a half-started essay on my hard drive whose central point was the idea that I don’t dress like I do on purpose. It’s only in the past three years that I’ve started wearing skirts on a regular basis; when I traveled to Australia I had to struggle to choose three to bring, and purchased another one after arriving. Not coincidentally, it’s over the past few years that my presentation of myself as a dyke – more on that word later – has solidified.

I don’t present as “tiny, bull-headed dyke” so strongly in spite of wearing a skirt, but because of it. A skirt is by very definition stereotypically feminine, something I am not that keen on being seen as, but I like wearing them – in summer they are cooler and easier than shorts, in winter a heavy skirt and tights keeps me warmer than jeans ever will, and there’s just no joy in dancing when your clothes don’t move with you when you twirl. But straight girls wear skirts, femmes wear skirts – and in my head I am neither, nor am I the occasional enlightened male. So how do I wear a piece of clothing I am comfortable in when I don’t wish to deal with the stereotypes associated with it?

The answer turns out to be a classic answer for queers – subvert. Make the clothing (the words, the attitude, the style, the lifestyle) your own, in a way that changes its meaning, its connotations and its stereotypes. Define it, don’t let it define you.

So I made skirts the thing that showed me clearly as a dyke. It wasn’t as hard as it might seem. Loose-legged jeans and khakis are technically men’s clothing; acting male in them doesn’t actually draw that much attention to you; it’s almost what people expect to see, and so they ignore it. But when a girl puts on a skirt and continues to act in what are traditionally male-gendered ways, she gets noticed. And if she puts on sneakers with that skirt, and a newsboy hat and a loose-fitting teeshirt…?

Think about it. Who is more noticeable sitting with her knees wide, or walking with long strides down the street, or sprawled on the floor – the woman in the skirt or the woman in pants? The former is unexpected, a direct contradiction of gender norms. Women sit with their legs together. Women walk delicately, with swaying hips. Women recline. Women wear blouses and heels, nylons and pearls. Men are the ones who are expansive in their motions, long of stride and careless of how they set themselves down, relaxed in what they wear.

So a girl who chooses – and notice I say chooses, because this (like calling one’s self a dyke) is at least partially a conscious decision – to pair the male-gendered way of moving with the female-gendered way of dressing instantly sets herself apart. And that’s the way I want it; if I wear a skirt or a dress, I don’t want to feel like I’m becoming someone else when I put it on. Instead I find ways to subvert that feminine ideal, to change and undermine it. I call myself a dyke for the same reason, despite the knee-jerk reactions of my mother’s generation; the word was and still is an insult, but in happily choosing to apply that word to myself, I challenge its definition and reinvent the meaning, making it both more and less.

I love wearing skirts, and I am proud of who I am. For a long time I was unable to reconcile those two things in my mind – what kind of dyke wears a skirt? So it was jeans, sneakers, and boy’s sweaters for me. But when I left high school and started to meet butches and femmes, dykes and tomboys, transgenders and genderqueers, I began to question the saying I’d always been taught: “The clothes make the man”. Maybe they do. But I’m a woman, and my clothes do not define me. I define my clothes by how I choose to wear them. So, when I wear a skirt and still look like a dyke, it’s not an accident.

It is a choice.

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The water thrusts me towards it, until
I am ankle-knee-hip deep,
mouth already tasting salt, hands
cupping up the liquid as if
there is no other choice, small ripples
cresting on my skin, muscles
tight and shivering against the cold, sand
pulling at bare feet, reluctant toes. It takes
everything not to fall down into buoyancy, let
the ocean overtake me,
waves breaking down a body
(no more than bones and meat
and sun-scarred skin) that is
no longer fully mine, letting something
out to swim and twist and sink
as wind and tides will let it, within
the boundaries of the blood-deep sea.

(I continue not to make this a poetry journal, but it’s easier to talk about the ocean in poetry for me, so this is what you get.)

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I have a huge problem with this.

Contra dancing is an enormously powerful experience for me – because I mostly follow (by which I mean dance the girl’s part), I spend a lot of time being extremely in tune with my partner and following all his or her cues very precisely. In a lot of ways it’s a giving-up of control, something that I hate to do in my everyday life but is also a relief. Dance is a form of meditation for me as well, and expression of joy, and flirtation, and exercise, and a way of courting — I show-off-danced for Jim very early on, although I didn’t realize I was doing it. (Seriously though. I danced blindfolded. It should have been a major tipoff for both of us.)

And because I am at heart a poet – and more on this later, I suspect – I frequently try to write about what it’s like to dance. I’ve succeeded only once admirably, in a short story/vignette called “Surrender”, although I repeatedly try. Something about dancing expresses itself in cliches – I think maybe because there is power in cliches, because everyone says them for a reason, because they are what run through our collective consciousness, because on some level we know they are real and true and powerful. When I say that dancers move like flames, I know both that it’s terribly cliched and terribly accurate. We flicker and twist and our bodies are on fire with it. But to write it that way sounds stupid, and I constantly wrestle with it, because I both want to sound unique and to get across what it’s like.

I danced tonight beneath a thunderstorm that shook the walls of the meeting hall we use for contra, where lightening was lighting up the sky. It was one of the single most powerful experiences I’ve had dancing, and I wanted/needed to write it down. I wanted to tie the thunder and the dancing, and it was hellishly hard – my first go at it contained the phrase “sky shot through with lightening”. When I sent it to Jim, as I often do when I’m futzing around with lines, she pointed out that line as cliched, I tried changing to “struck through”, he said no and suggested running the idea of thread through the poem instead — Jim too is a poet, and much, much better at images than I am. I’m more narrative. I thought she was mad, but tried her suggestion (“strung through”) and discovered to my delight and dismay that it worked rather well.

I think I will keep her — if for no other reason than that because of him, I seem to have found a way to write about dancing.

We dance like thunder

under skies strung through

with lightening, wet-wool-heavy

with water, rain beading

our necks — heatflash flickering,

breathing in the wind, threading through

each other, needle-sharp.

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