Friday, February 3, 2017

A Commentary on a Hiatus (which is really just a commentary on other things)

Dear Reader,

Once, I was the type of person who'd roll my eyes at a blog that spent half its posts apologizing for not posting enough.

Now, it seems, I am that eye roll-worthy blogger spending half my posts apologizing for not posting enough. As Boy George says, karma karma karma karma . . .
Yes, I'm still here (no, I didn't move to Canada). But the world has been messy and I have been a mess with it. I wish I could be like Mary Oliver, who has said that she is simply too busy loving the earth to become political about it. Though I suppose as a hopeless empath, it's not really the politics, but all the restless emotions of others that get to me. Anxiety, anger, confusion, suspicion, vainglory, despair -- and how these things knot together to make walls between souls. I'm blessed (though some may call it cursed) to know and love people of all different shades of ideologies. (And no, it is not a one-side-or-other-side fence, it is not even a two-ended spectrum. Did you think humans could be that simple?) I'm blessed for that exposure, because it's given me a glimpse of how complex and un-boxable real people are, and I can say with respect that every person I know and love is good, and is motivated by goodness. So it's the intolerance, the simplifying, the categorization of others -- which I see coming from all branches of political thought -- that bothers me.
"Can [the patriot] hate it enough to change it,
yet love it enough to think it worth changing?"
 ~ G.K. Chesterton

I don't believe in assuming there's hate where there's disagreement, or malice where there's differences (despite sadly knowing that there is so much hate and malice in the world). I don't believe in that any more than I can believe that the mind of a terrorist, or of a man in the Oval Office, defines what every mind within an entire social group looks like. I'm a naïve idealist: I believe in dialogue and open-mindedness; in kindness and giving the benefit of the doubt; in understanding past pain and blame and agenda that the person in front of you isn't a robot of partisanship or ideology, but a complicated human trying to make sense of the world, too. I just wish more people believed in that nowadays.

Well, now that I've gotten all the somber stuff out of the way, I promise not all aspects of my life are so despair-filled. Grad school is still good to me, especially as I'm getting opportunities to branch out of my usual areas of writing and study. Last semester, I worked mostly on non-fiction for workshops; this semester, I again have the haven of the additional workshops in poetry. Note: this is my first experience critiquing and being critiqued by graduate-level poets, and it's terrifying, but enlightening, the way a massive moose that's vague about whether it wants to stand still and be beautiful or run you over is both terrifying and enlightening. (Oh brain, where do you even get these metaphors?) Then there's History of the English Language -- a far jump from my routine literature courses, instead looking at language with a left-brained nerdiness, while the right-brained geekiness in me still exclaims, "The growth of words! The blending of cultures! The metaphorical compounds! What a poetic story." (Did I mention I'm loving the class so far?)
Manuscript of "Caedmon's Hymn"
Oh, and possibly the nicest perk of the Last Full Time MFA Semester -- notwithstanding that, f**k, it really is the LFTMFAS -- is the four-day weekend schedule, consisting of Sleep-Til-Noon Day, Family Day, Unapologetic Writing Day, and S**t-That's-Due-Tomorrow Day. Well, there's also the perk that thesis ideas are finally flooding in, and I suppose that's a bigger deal.

Publications are still happening, albeit at turtle-pace as I've been anxious about searching for new publishers. If you appreciated my announcement about the goddess poems, you'll be interested to know that Bibliotheca Alexandrina recently published another collection with one of my poems, "Ammit Plays with Her Food." You can read about the collection "The Dark Ones: Tales and Poems of the Shadow Gods" here, and purchase a copy here (I'm on page 235). I also received word recently that I'll be getting an academic essay published soon -- more on that later.
The Egyptian goddess Ammit
(in case you want a sneak-peek of the weirdness of my poem)
That's all I can really say for now, folks. I'm hoping that, on a day when seasonal-depression isn't hitting me so hard, I can give the blog a proper revival, complete with literary gushing and philosophizing about the writing process and self-given pep talks. Thanks (assuming you're still there) for your patience, your reading, your interest in what Silly Me is doing.

Happy New Year. Grace and peace to you.


**UPDATE**

A preview of the above-mentioned poem is now available below (image may be clearer on Web Version):



Thursday, October 6, 2016

Publication Alert: Bibliotheca Alexandrina

Dear Reader,

First, I should note that I'm in a perpetual state of disbelief these days. (And no, I'm not talking about the election, although that's all pretty surreal lately, too.) In the last two months I've become a home-owner (!!!), been researching post-MFA degrees, and begun my final full-time year at SCSU's MFA program. Pardon the expression, but holy freaking $h*t -- when did this adulthood thing happen, and how is this program almost half over already?? To clarify, I'll probably be working on my thesis for several months after the spring (especially since I'm still figuring out what my thesis is going to be... oops), so I won't be completely graduated for awhile. Still, despite my short time here, it's going to feel bittersweet to leave this great network of writers soon.

But one more happy bit of disbelief: a new set of poems published! (This announcement is actually a month late, so I apologize for that. House-buying an' all.) I am exceptionally excited about this publication, as it has been long in-the-works and features what I consider some of my best work.
No less than three of my poems -- "Guan Yin's Lullaby," "Kuka Mama, Sown," and "Papatūānuku: A Lament" -- have been published in Bibliotheca Alexandrina's newest anthology, "Garland of the Goddess: Tales and Poems of the Feminine Divine." For those of you who haven't uncovered this gem yet, Bibliotheca Alexandrina is the printing company for Neos Alexandria, an online community of Neopagans and anyone interested in the worship or study of polytheistic deities. Now, if you're a staunch monotheist like myself, don't let that description deter you. Neos Alexandria is a beautiful, comprehensive, and fun resource for simply exploring global mythologies and polytheistic cultures. And of course, the creative work in their anthologies is enchanting. In this "Garland" anthology, we see depictions of legendary goddesses as exotic, glorious, tragic, seductive, vulnerable, humanized -- in short, as femininity in all its sublimity. I also had wonderful communications with NA/BA's editorial staff throughout the entire publishing process, so being a part of their publication has been a great pleasure.

You can read more about the "Garland" anthology here, and purchase a copy at their CreateSpace store. My poems are on pages 152, 193, and 228.

About the work:
You can find this information in my author's notes, but each of my poems are based on non-Greco-Roman goddesses that are lesser known to the Western world. I wrote "Papatūānuku: A Lament" first, years ago in a poetry course. It's inspired by a native New Zealand creation story, which I'd fallen in love with for its portrayal of longing and loneliness. After submitting it to NA/BA, I was asked to send more, so after a flurry of research and reader feedback I wrote "Guan Yin's Lullaby" (about a Chinese Buddhist deity) and "Kuka Mama, Sown" (about an Incan goddess). It was amazing how much the mythologies of other cultures fueled my writing. These stories were so powerful, but also had a surprising humanness to them, and I tried to capture that balance by re-imagining the goddess-psyche in an intimate way. I hope you find the results as rewarding as I did, and that you explore the other contributors' marvelous work, too.

Fun fact: I also had a fourth poem accepted by NA/BA for another anthology -- so be on the lookout!

Enjoy and share away! Grace and peace to you.

** UPDATE**

Previews of above-mentioned poems are now available below (images may be clearer on Web Version):









Thursday, August 25, 2016

"Lolita" Afterthoughts

Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta. She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita.
~ Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, Chapter 1

The first time I came across these lines was in 2013, in a creative writing class. As a novice to writing, I was far more naive in my reading of stylistic technique, even those mere three years ago. But reading this excerpt on a small handout -- an analytical exercise in which we treated it as a poem -- I instantly fell in love with the strange playfulness of its imagery: uncomfortably intimate, neurotically shifting verbal mechanics into music and a picture. Despite having never heard of Vladimir Nabokov -- and my professor's description of the novel as "really creepy" -- I knew I had to read Lolita in full one day. This summer, I finally did; in fact, it was the only novel I managed to finish this break. While grad school has conditioned me to read multiple books in an insanely short amount of time, I'm grateful I didn't speed through this work. Like that first excerpt, it deserved to be examined slowly, attentively, lovingly, as any great work of literature does -- not binge-read like it was just another Fifty Shades off the shelf.

The reason I bring up the Fifty Shades contrast, by the way, is to emphasize that Lolita is not the apotheosis of forbidden erotica that everyone thinks it is. (And by the way, Fifty Shades is utter trash, so get over it, America.) Delving into Lolita on the beach, in waiting rooms, at home, I received plenty of bewildered looks from scandalized strangers and friends. My own dad gagged in a horrified tone one day, "Why are you reading that awful, disgusting book?" Most of these scandalized persons, I should mention, had never read the novel. But Lolita's controversial sexual themes have made it famous even among non-literature buffs -- and given it a heinous reputation, apparently.

Nearly everyone knows Lolita is about a pedophile enamored by his step-daughter; what bothers me is that this is all that most people know about it, even within the English field. Yes, pedophilia and semi-incest are central to Nabokov's plot, but that should not obscure the miles of literary worth that exceed and, to an extent, redeem the vileness therein. Most of all, what makes Nabokov's book literature instead of trash is that it always remains a critique -- though not the kind we expect. Nabokov, you see, is completely aware of our silly expectations for a sexualized, "scandalous" novel, and toys with those expectations mercilessly. Those looking for a porno trip will be disappointed, because sex scenes are few and stubbornly abstract. Those looking for a clear-cut villainization (or condonation) of the narrator will be disappointed, because H.H. is more frequently a bumbling idiot than a sinister predator. And those looking for any semblance of a love story will be sorely disappointed -- just as grandiloquent, neoclassical, poetry-spewing H.H. is disappointed. What the reader will find instead is a deformed beauty: philosophical depth, dark humor, and hopeless poetry beneath a sickened voice.

Credit: Lyuba Haleva, via venusfebriculosa.com
It's difficult to defend Lolita without plot spoilers. But what I love about it the most is this: humanity at its best, smothered under humanity at its worst. The humanity Nabokov envisions, in other words, can never be definitively categorized as good or evil. There are surprising moments of shame (though never enough) in which H.H. tries clumsily to reconcile the ideals of a hopeless romantic with disordered desires. H.H. is a sick bastard, yet somewhere beneath all his filth, an infinitesimal part of him can still express profoundly the love and worship of another human being (however deluded that adoration may be). There are many passages in the novel that, had they come from any other narrator, might strike one as the most romantic words in literature. Coming from a pedophile narrator, of course, these words are in effect only a parody of romance; all the more so for rhapsodizing an inamorata who, incidentally, is no Beatrice. But clearly, Nabokov has meaningful intentions with such parody. He wants us to view the ideal of human love writhing under mud, with only sparkles of it visible. Lolita's image is the antithesis of that trope that depicts animalistic instincts threatening to break through a civilized exterior. H.H.'s desperate, interior outbursts of love -- or attempted love -- give us glimpses not of primal lust but of a primal tenderness, which wrestles beneath a surface of erotic perversion. Nabokov, you see, is reversing all our black-and-white concepts. He wants us to question, first, whether the ideal and the worst of human nature are truly mutually exclusive; and second, which of the two is the most basic, the most driving, the most subversive to our existence.

Out of H.H.'s vulgarity, beautiful love wants to emerge, even if it can only do so satirically.

Let us make no mistake: Lolita is not for the faint of heart. While its sexual taboos are really only one, small part of a much deeper story, they are significant enough to be disturbing to the most vulnerable of readers, I imagine. (I would not recommend this book to former victims of sexual abuse, for instance.) For everyone else, I encourage you to give this so-called "filthy" book a chance. You will undoubtedly be surprised by what you discover in the richness of even a perverted, fictional mind -- and consequently, you may discover something about your own frail, imperfect self.

Grace and peace to you.