The Velvet Chamber
An Anthology of Revisioned Myth and Fairy Tale

Explore the dark side of the female psyche --A CALL FOR WRITERS




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Monday, October 25, 2010

601 Bourbon Street


Streetcar under (de)construction

Esteemed members of the academy, why would Blanche let Stanley finger fuck her in the kitchen in the middle of the day? I asked for brains. We know she's sexy. We know she's damaged. We know that story. We know how it ends. There is no surprise, no third act twist. Isn't there any way to maintain her integrity, and have her survive? At the rate she's going, in the narrative you're proposing, she'll still end up in handcuffs at the end of the day. The white coats will be triumphant. In the immortal words of someone, this isn't going to end well. And isn't that the point of all this?

I think instead she meets a tall dark stranger at 601 Bourbon Street in the French Quarter. She's out for the evening, wearing mama's pearls and kid boots that button at the ankle. Fall is sweeping into the Quarter, so she's wrapped in a white silk shawl which flutters about her face, reminds her of the moth she dreams about every night. And about how she's really only comfortable at night; candlelight or streetlight. Moonlight. But she's also thinking about Belle Reve, papa's laugh in particular, and now the rustle of leaves from the Garden District. They could be ghosts. The moon is almost full. She's amazed at her audacity. Stanley and Stella admonished her about wandering the French Quarter alone. But if she doesn't get out she will certainly go mad.

Last week they tried to set her up with Mitch, one of Stanley's poker buddies, but he was just as stupid. Stella whispered that he'd tried to kill himself last year by jumping off a bridge, but only broke his leg. Blanche laughed, and treated him kindly, even lets him win a few hands, but would not kiss him goodnight. She may not be the brightest, most stable creature in the starry firmament, but is she also not that desperate. She can wait and find someone who loves her. She needs a man of substance, educated and urbane. A man able to appreciate the finer things in life, like her--- like her mind. That's the kind of man she needs or she needs no man at all.

She is drawn into a club by the sound of a saxophone. At the bar, she says, “Whiskey with water, and a twist, if you please.” The bartender leans in, leers, “I like a lady who knows what she wants.” She replies, “How lovely for you. You must tell me all about it. But not now. Just the drink.” He sniffs, insulted. Blanche swivels around on the bar stool, and sees him. Adjacent to her. He's sipping sherry. Insouciant. A bit of a moustache. He sees her, and smiles.

Time seems to stop.

Viven Leigh as Blanche DuBois
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Friday, October 22, 2010

some notes on female ghosts


The White Lady.  A legend found around the world. Often a harbinger of death.  These are tragic women who have suffered a trauma in life. She might be a banshee and a bitch, but she is also fragile.  If you see her, if you are inclined to believe in such things, she's on a rural highway late at night, mostly in the summer, dressed in Victorian garb: the diaphanous dress, the veil, the gloves, the pearls.  Is she a ruin or is she a menace? 

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Victorian Ghosts in the Noontide: Women Writers and the Supernatural (review). Victorian Studies - Volume 42, Number 4, Summer 1999/2000, pp. 677-679. Indiana University Press


 In the Preface to Victorian Ghost Stories by Noted Women Writers (1988), Richard Dalby asserts that women have produced more than half of the best British ghost stories. His claim remains uncontested, and in Victorian Ghosts in the Noontide, Vanessa D. Dickerson seeks to explain the attraction that writing about the supernatural held for Victorian women. She posits that, although the wanderer in Matthew Arnold's "Stanzas from the Grand Chartreuse" (1855) exemplified a pervasive Victorian condition of haunted "in-betweenness" (9), women were singularly situated in a spectral indeterminacy.
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Thursday, October 21, 2010

What a bitch


"Symbols and narratives of feminine power are secrets kept hidden not only from men but from women as well.  The literary critic rarely encounters feminine archetypes in their purely feminist form in women's texts,  because gender norms are often unconsciously internalized by women authors.  Many feminist critics would agree with Jung that patterns found in myths and fables reflect the psychological development of an individual.  In the quest, the male hero journeys from the familiar to the unfamiliar. First he encounters his shadow, then digs deeper and confronts his anima [the dragon, the monster, Moby Dick] wrestles it, contains it and returns reborn. In the female quest, however, women who venture outside the norm become social outcasts.  Strong autonomous women are often under suspicion of being witches."

--- Annis Pratt, Feminist Archetypal Theory

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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Good Dream

In that small two room apartment we could smell every inch of each other's bodies; Stella's unborn child, Stanley's breathing, the things they whispered to each other at night. I thought they were both gone for the day. I thought I had the apartment to myself. I poured a whiskey and opened the windows, musicians played on the street below. I ran myself a bath. I lit a cigarette. I took off my clothes.


It was a Saturday afternoon. I might've been dancing. I might've been touching myself. I am a woman after all, and it was hard to get him out of my head. Even though he hated me. Once when we were alone, he said, “You'd be attractive if you washed your face.” So I was naked when he walked through the door.

“You're supposed to be out,” I said, but I didn't make a move to cover myself. I might've been wearing mama's pearls, I might've been wearing white kid boots, lace gloves, diamond earrings. I might've been wearing stockings. I knew I looked good in that light, late afternoon, almost golden. I avoided the morning light, most unforgiving.

"You're supposed to be out," I repeated, the ice melting in my drink, a fly buzzing against the screen window.

I suddenly remembered the moth that followed me up the stairs my first night here, three months ago. It was a sign, an omen. I didn't see it then, but it became very clear to me as I stood naked in the kitchen, Stanley barely three feet from me. I saw the dark hair that covered his arms and his hands, a pelt.

“If you were a gentleman,” I finally said, “you'd walk back out the door and give me five minutes to get decent.”

“Blanche,” he replied, “you couldn't do that in five years, never mind five minutes.”

“You want a whiskey,” I asked.

“Sure baby.”

“Come and sit down,” I said, pulling out a chair, “you're making me nervous, standing in the doorway like that.”

“No,” he replied, “I like it here.”

“Aren't you going to tell me to get dressed?”

“You are dressed, Blanche, you're dressed as I always pictured you.”

My heart twisted, ripped right in half. But I didn't stop. I don't remember trying. I brought him the whiskey, and he put his fingers up inside of me, said,

“Is this what happens in the stories you teach, weren't you a teacher, Blanche? Didn't you instruct young minds, high school, was it? I was never much good in school myself, got into fights, pissed on the bathroom walls, chased girls, but you--- you taught literature, isn't that right,” his voice was gentle, teasing, “is this what happens in those stories, Blanche,” now he was whispering, tickling my ear, “a crazy woman dances naked around her sister's kitchen, drinking whiskey at three in the afternoon," he pulled me closer, I opened my legs wider, "looking for love," he continued, "but only finding heartbreak. Isn't that who you are Blanche, isn't that your character? Is that what you teach, or is that what you are? Tell the truth, Blanche, teach me something, do you like being fucked in your sister's kitchen?”

Then he brought his hand, the one that had been inside me, up to his mouth, and sucked on his fingers one by one. He took the whiskey from me, drank it down, walked into the bedroom, and closed the door. I stripped off my jewelry, unhooked my stockings, and went into the bathroom. I lowered myself into the cool water, closed my eyes, and dreamt I was back at Belle Reve.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The dangerous woman with her dangerous body


Beatified in 1909, and canonized in 1929, Joan of Arc, one of our favorite witches, was burned at the stake in the 15th century.  This set the stage or should I say lit the flames for thousands of other women burned for similar crimes in the 16th and 17th century; consorting with the devil, talking to him, making love to him, and generally being his bitch.  What myth or trope fed this fire?  That's easy: the dangerous woman with her dangerous body, her lustrous hair, her gleaming eyes, her sexuality, her wisdom and her knowledge.  Questioned and tortured by sexually frustrated monks, these women never stood a chance.  What about an alternative to this all too familiar narrative:  Danger+Female Sexuality = Death.  What about Danger+Female Sexuality=Transcendence?
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Thursday, October 7, 2010

Belle Reve


Deconstructing Stella

I don't know how this woman could be my sister. I tell her, I'm to going to run your bath, but it's an excuse to get away from her. Dear God in heaven it's like she's still a debutante. She's fanning a big white moth from her face, and drinking Stanley's whiskey. She's wearing a white silk dress, matching gloves and hat, still holding tight to mama's embroidered satchel. When I close the door, and turn on the faucet, it occurs to me to just drown myself before this goes any further. I run the water a little hot out of spite. I see the look she gave him. But I'm having a baby so I have to be careful. She's not the woman she used to be, but even so, still dangerous. I splash cold water on my face.

She walks unsteadily into the bathroom, and the moth follows her. Baby, she whimpers, why do you have bugs in your house? I reach out my hand, crush it in my palm, now we don't, I say. She's close to me now and she smells like a whorehouse; beyond cheap perfume and sweat, beyond desperation. It's sour and clings to her like dust. Help unzip me, she says. I take hold of the zipper but the dress tears at the shoulder, the lace practically dissolving. Careful, she says, unfazed, it's my last good dress. Steam rises up from the water, and I turn off the tap. I leave without saying another word.

Stanley is gone, the whiskey bottle is empty. I'm alone in the kitchen. I'm so glad I got away. I'm so glad I escaped the ghosts of that house, and the nightmare of those summer nights underneath the magnolias. Mama was always up in her room, sequestered and protected by the servants, doing God knows what. And on Saturdays, young men in linen trousers lined up to drink papa's bourbon, and get close to Blanche; flowers in her hair, eyes unfocused, why yes I'd like another drink you silly goose.

Later, I'd watch her slink off towards the barn with Philip or James or the captain's son. She'd return just as the sun was coming up. I'd ask, do you know what you're doing. It's not as if she was stupid. When I got older, I just wanted to get as far away as possible. I knew it was a dying world. By then Blanche was married to a man who would soon die of mysterious complications. Mama couldn't see me off because she had a sick headache. After all, I was just Stella, not brilliant, not beautiful, not even interesting enough to be missed. I got a a job as a waitress in the French Quarter, met Stanley one night in July. I don't need the past or the future.

She is shocked by New Orleans because it is dirty, chaotic, but it is also alive. Belle Reve is dead. I don't know if she'll be able to tell the difference. I can't bring myself to care anymore. The bathroom door opens and she makes her entrance wearing only a thin ivory chemise. Her breasts seem weighted. Careful Blanche, I say, Stanley will be back at any minute. She ignores this. Sits down at the kitchen table, says, there's no point in having servants in a two room apartment. I put my hand over hers, I know Blanche.

I still would like to kill her. When you are so thoroughly engaged in destruction, you shouldn't fall apart when your work is done. I could respect her if she brought her own whiskey and said, I'm a dumb stupid whore, and I've lost everything that ever belonged to us, and now I have nothing. Instead, she walks around as if she is hallucinating. As if she is still the mythical beauty of Belle Reve, instead of a moth trapped in the bright light of a single light bulb. She puts her head down on the table. I run my fingers through her hair. I can't help it, I still love her. Just then, Stanley opens the door, puts the bottle down on the table, asks, do we have any ice?

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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A ghost story

Resurrection Mary, so the legend goes, was out dancing with her boyfriend. He told her she was pretty but she wasn't beautiful, he told her Mary Ellen had better breasts and Emily Rose had silkier hair.  She begged him to stop, that he was hurting her feelings, but he wouldn't. She said, if you loved me, you wouldn't say such terrible things.  But he laughed and told her to relax, baby, I'm just kidding around.  They continued dancing; a lindy, a waltz.  She loved the smell of his cologne, his dark hair and dark eyes.  She liked the way he stole a kiss when no one was looking.  He was her first lover, and she thought they would be together forever.

She almost forgave him until Emily Rose danced by them.  He whispered something in Emily's ear, and she laughed.  Mary decided that she would rather walk home alone, in the dark cold night, than spend another minute with him.  While crossing the street, she was hit by a car and killed.  It was the 1930's.  Heartbroken, her parents buried her in a white dress and white kid shoes. But she didn't stay dead.  People still see her on the same highway where she died.  She's a beautiful girl, pleasant and polite.  She just needs a ride.  She's formally dressed and appears educated and prepossessed. Sometimes its the middle of the night, and sometimes its bright afternoon.  She always asks the driver to stop at the cemetery on the same stretch of road, the same place where she refuses to stay buried.  She always goes home.  She's a good girl who knows what's best for her.

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Saturday, October 2, 2010

Magic cauldrons


Ann Bedford Ulanov, in The Feminine in Jungian Psychology and in Christian Theology, contain descriptions of women's experience that are recognizable and worth exploring such as the development of intuitive cognition, a nonlinear sense of time, and an adaptation to natural cycles. The works of Mary Esther Harding, Toni Wolff, Emma Jung and Marie Louise von Franz, all Jung's disciples, fascinate us with their descriptions of triply powerful moongoddesses, magic cauldrons, golden bowls filled with generative power, and magical feminine landscapes.  Yet they also repel with their assertion that men belong to the realm of light and logic while women from primordial slime.

---Annis Pratt, Feminist Archetypal Theory

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

All women are bitches

"The man sitting behind me on a plane uttered, 'All women are bitches.'  The earnestness with which the phrase was said to a nearby stranger startled me.  After all, no one in his right mind would be talking like that...in public...in light of political correctness...surrounded by women.  Nevertheless, here he was, shaking his head, raucously trying to convince his neighbor that you 'gotta to women what you know they're gonna do to you,' clearly an understanding of type and a confession of emasculation. 

What startled me about this man's declaration was the unexpectedness of this comment because men just didn't talk or think that way anymore.  Women as bitches were another era and certainly not part of the second wave of feminist thought current in the media...Susan Appleton Aguiar's book, The Bitch is Back: Wicked Women in Literature attests to why it is possible to have this misconception. 

Aguiar observes that the 'bitch' as type, is absent from contemporary feminist literature because in the second wave feminist writers attempts to reverse these prevalent stereotypes, they homogenize their women characters.  She contents that 'for all her ubiquitous presence in every other form of the media, the bitch has been noticeably absent from the feminist literary canon.  Until recently.'"  Think Margaret Atwood, Toni Morrison, Fay Weldon, and Jane Smiley.

---- Donna L. Pasternak, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
MFS Modern Fiction Studies 48.3 (2002)

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So, yes, the bitch is back, in all her bitchy, nasty, slutty glory.  And not a moment too soon. 

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Thursday, September 23, 2010

So bad, so very, very bad

Hedy Lamarr as Deliah
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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Hard drinkers, bad livers, and invalids

Excerpt from an Interview with Joan Didion, The Art of Fiction LXXI
The Paris Review, Inc., Vol 20, No. 74

Interviewer
What are the disadvantages, if any, of being a woman writer?

Didion
When I was starting to write-- in the late '50's, early 60's-- there was a kind of social tradition [myth] in which male novelists could operate. Hard drinkers, bad livers. Wives, wars, big fish, Africa, Paris, no second acts.  A man who wrote novels had a role in the world, and he could play that role and do whatever he wanted behind it.  A woman who wrote novels had no particular role. Women who wrote novels were quite often perceived as invalids [myth].  Carson McCuller, Jane Bowles.  Flannery O'Connor of course.  Novels by women tended to be described, even by their publishers, as sensitive...I just tended my own garden, didn't pay much attention, behaved-- I suppose-- deviously.  I mean I didn't actually let too many people know what I was doing.

Photo of Jane Bowles

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Monday, September 20, 2010

Some harlot saints

"A number of Egyptian or Levantine harlot saints figure in the Church's calendar alongside Mary Magdalene.  Mary the Egyptian is depicted next to her as black in a window of the church of St. Merri in Paris and their iconography is sometimes very similar.  Mary came to Alexandria in the hope of earning her fare in Jerusalem, where she wished to venerate the true Cross.  With this end in view, she prostituted herself to sailors for seventeen years before retiring to the desert to live a life of penitence as hermit, clad in nothing but her hair and progressively blackened by the sun."

--- Ean Begg, The Cult of the Black Virgin.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

632 Elysian Fields

I'm standing at the corner of 632 Elysian Fields. Its hot, almost tropical, and a small breeze plays at the hem of my white silk dress. A moth flutters against my face. A woman tells me, your sister is at the bowling alley, but all I need right now is a drink. I got on the bus in Virginia ten days ago, but I feel like I've been traveling for months, years. I feel like New Orleans is a dream and I'm just a ghost.

The woman nudges me and says, like I said your sister's at the bowling alley, and I say, fine, she's at the bowling alley. She says, its just around the corner, and I say thank you, but I don't move. I'm remembering the last night in his arms. I'm remembering how good he felt against my skin. I try not to remember that he took a pistol, put it in his mouth and pulled the trigger, how people whispered, he was a married man. It's impossible I could be standing here right now.

I left home on July 10th at 8:00 a.m. in the morning. I didn't go to his funeral. The bus pulled up, and I got on. The sky was overcast, the morning air was cool. I didn't sleep the night before. I kept reading his letters. Searching for clues. It wasn't my first scandal, but it was the last. I knew it even before he pulled the trigger. Blanche, you can't stay here now. But he wasn't crazy about me. He was just crazy.

I see Stella walking up the street arm in arm with Stanley. She rushes up to me, screams my name so that it echoes in the dark streets. I wrap my arms around her, my little sister, my beloved, but I see him out of the corner of my eye. He's smiling and I can already taste his mouth on mine. If I could have a drink and a bath, I might be able to survive. He grabs my suitcase and together we walk up to the tiny apartment at the back of the building. The hallways are close, and I'm sweating by the time we reach the fifth floor.

A single light bulb dangles from the ceiling. Stanley drops my suitcase and gets a beer, leans against the sink like a wrestler. I see the same craziness in his eyes. Stella makes up a cot next to the kitchen table, apparently this is where I will be sleeping. A white moth flutters against my face. I wonder if it is the same one from the street, if it has possibly followed me up the stairs, into this kitchen. As Stella runs my bath, Stanley offers me a drink. I say, yes, thank you.

Vivien Leigh as Blanche DuBois
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Friday, September 17, 2010

the plight of the romantic heroine

Francie walked down the aisle, now strewn with rose petals, the small church now ablaze with candles, the priest in his white chasuble with gold trim.  As she walked, she noticed that friends and family looked like well dressed strangers. She peered out through the netting of her veil, and swore she saw clouds drifting high up in the rafters and small angels, the size of hummingbirds, darting in and out of them. But she wasn't afraid.  The music got louder, her groom turned to face her, but then he too was a stranger.  Surely this was too much? Surely this was not right. She stopped, pulled back her veil, and feeling very exposed, asked, who's writing this story?




"...unlike those fantasy patterns that appeal primarily to men, female protagonists [in romance novels] do not usually recur, like James Bond, from book to book.  Once a women's love story has been told, repetition would in fact undermine the entire premise of her story--- and her life, for dramatic purposes, over."

Kay Mussell, Fantasy and Reconciliation: Contemporary Formula's of Women's Romance Fiction, Greenwood Press, Connecticut and London.

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Friday, September 10, 2010

Am I Blanche DuBois?


Blanche

The frothy Southern Belle doesn't get laid either. Not with Stanley. That brute. And while she's not suicidal, like Anna K, she does engage in a pas de deux with a couple of white coats. Never a good thing in mythical antebellum New Orleans. She doesn't live happily ever after. If I may be so bold, I would start by giving this character a brain. Because when Stanley starts pawing through her suitcase, looking for the paperwork for Belle Reve, the family estate--- if she had a brain, she would say instead;

Asshole. I'm going to put my cards on the table. You're hot as hell. You're like a slab of meat in a butcher's shop on a hot July afternoon. I'd like to cut you and dissect you and serve you on a platter.

Speaker Two

I'm sorry who are you?

Blanche

But I can't and I won't because you're married to my sister. So put on a t-shirt for christsakes, but make it tight. I'm older now, men don't fall at my feet except when they're drunk. I don't keep as many mirrors in the house. I know this, Stanley, I'm not stupid. I may be fatuous, but it's required by the canon. Anyway. You needn't worry your pretty little head about my family estate, because I got it covered. I will never lose Belle Reve because I traveled 60 years into the future and invested in software. Don't ask me the details about time traveling because I'm sick of telling it, but it basically involves a “man” who visits from the future. We had our quiet moments together, our intimacies. I'm not the girl you marry, everyone knows that. Not even an alien. That makes me a bitch or a witch, take your pick, also covered in the canon. I would argue that both words belong there, except their iterations are fundamentally incorrect, anyway---

---let's get back to Stanley, that brute, that monster, that beast. He's sitting on the yellow linoleum chair in the kitchen listening to everything I have to say. The sun is going down, and he's covered in a thin film of sweat. My sister is pregnant with his baby, and I'm not jealous exactly, but I never have that experience. It's a bittersweet moment when I find out. But him? Stanley? He's not going to get a penny of that money. If I had a brain, if you, esteemed members of the academy, would allow me a brain, and perhaps some imagination, I could save Belle Reve.


Speaker Two

You're not on our list of scheduled speakers.

Blanche

If you let me subvert the canon, just a tiny bit, by the time I run up against Stanley in New Orleans, I'll have a stock portfolio worth millions. I'll be like,

Stanley, if I don't get some respect from you, you won't see a dime of this money. And don't even think of throwing me down on the kitchen table, or pressing up against me when the moon is full. Or any other of your sexual shenanigans. I freely acknowledge our attraction, but put it back in your pants honey, and treat me like a lady. Because if you do, you might enjoy a prosperous retirement.

And now he gets up from the kitchen chair, clearly seeing a new woman. Maybe a little afraid of her. He goes to the fridge because its hot, because he needs a beer. I pick up a paper fan and flirt with him. He sits down again but farther away. I laugh inside because now I know I got the little boy on the run. I say, Stanley, do we have an understanding. And he looks up at me with those dark brooding eyes, weak with desire, for me, Blanche, former Queen of the South, now reduced to such ruin, and he looks up at me, and asks, Can I kiss you?

Speaker Two:

But we still don't know who you are.

Jessica Tandy as Blanche DuBois in Streetcar Named Desire


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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A note on post modern fairy tales

"Archetypes of the genre--- the innocent heroine, the charming prince, the terrorizing witch--- offer clearly drawn gender roles.  But Christina Bacchilega considers the ideological dimension of this clarity fundamental to the genre's facade and a trap for the complacent reader, 'What distinguishes the tale of magic or fairy tales as a genre [...] is its effort to conceal its work systematically---to naturalize its artifice, to make everything so clear that it works magic, no questions asked.'  By relentlessly questioning, deconstructing and posing alternatives to this 'naturalized artifice', post-modern fairy tales rigorously hold these transparent stories up to the light."

---Soman Chainani, The Politics of Content Revision in Angela Carter's "Snow Child"
Marvel & Tales  17.2 (2003) 212-235
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Monday, September 6, 2010

A coda to Anna Karenina

"Self conscious fiction (Atwood, Drabble, Lessing) destabilizes [screws up, turns on its head, turns it upside down] the conventions of realism because fiction that includes within itself commentary on its own narrative conventions is subversive [scary], it begins to expose the edges of the female narrative [also scary]."

---Gayle Green, Changing the Story.


"Members of the academy---- as a romantic character, a woman, I am the embodiment of all your theories and desires. I particularly enjoyed my incarnation as a late 21st century hacker Anna Karenina, Tanya X. And Vronsky as the spy she falls in love with--- nice touch. But she kills herself before they can do it. I’m willing to go along with all these little literary experiments, but I’m still not getting laid with any regularity."

----Am I Still Anna Karenina

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Sunday, September 5, 2010

A season in hell

"Goddesses don't come down to us in their pure ambiguous form but in static dualistic fashion.  They don't serve as models for us to imitate."

--- Thelma Shinn, Worlds Within Women


If asked to deconstruct Blanche DuBois, I'd begin first with a brain.  The pallid, over-sexed, over-the-hill matron is a dizzying delight to be sure, but with a brain she might end up happy, or at the very least, not dancing a pas de deux with the white coats who come and take her away at the end of the play.  What trope did Tennessee Williams pluck out of the air?  What myth?  She's a damaged girl to be sure, affairs are alluded to, "fallen woman" hangs about her head like a halo.  Was it Eurydice?  Is this all she's good for after spending a season in hell?

Vivien Leigh as Blanche DuBois in Streetcar Named Desire

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Monday, August 30, 2010

Am I still Anna Karenina?

Speaker One

Members of the academy---- as a romantic character, a woman, I am the embodiment of all your theories and desires. I particularly enjoyed my incarnation as a late 21st century hacker Anna Karenina, Tanya X. And Vronsky as the spy she falls in love with--- nice touch. But she kills herself before they can do it. I’m willing to go along with all these little literary experiments, but I’m still not getting laid with any regularity. I’m not getting any S-E-X. And this is definitely getting to be a problem. It’s been five years now. I’d like to jump someone’s bones. Put me in a bodice ripper, let a half-wolf, half-man ravage me. Or something.

And so I’m honored this evening to have Professor Lucy Witter-Avedon, from a very prominent university in Bologna, as my first speaker this morning, and without any further ado I’d like to welcome her to the panel. As she takes her place here on the podium, once again I’d like to remind you, esteemed members of the academy, that you need to find me a narrative so I can get some action in the sack. I don’t know how I can be any clearer. Professor Avedon?

Speaker Two

You’re wearing a Balmain dress, your honey blond hair is wound in an elegant chignon revealing heavy silver earrings. You’re often photographed at Martha’s Vineyard at sunrise, Key West on New Year’s Day, Coney Island on Christmas, and variously at dive bars in Montauk. You’re a woman of a certain age and you are also a woman of the world. You’re a 21st century woman. You’re 40 years old, the 1st wave of feminism is ancient history. So if you’re going to commit adultery, it’s going to be an informed decision. Which means you have enough agency to do it on your own. This is my view. And for this, you don’t need a writer. Let me repeat. This story writes itself. It always has. Authors have always been incidental. You should know that by now.

You could be Anna Karenina again, but not a trashy mash-up. Instead of throwing yourself on the tracks and dying, Benito, a maintenance worker, rescues you at the last minute. As he pulls you to safety, his dark eyes blaze a trail through your heart. You find yourself in a supply closet off the main gate. He’s about to fuck you blind, but you don’t mind. He’s stupid, but that doesn’t bother you either. As he roughly unbuttons your silk blouse and rips off your expensive jewelry, you muse that fucking is better than dying. That would be a revelation for Anna Karenina. So you don’t fall in love, not at all. But at least you are not pulverized. Three days later, you are accidentally shot and killed.  It's tragic but at least your desire is fulfilled

Speaker Three

The story has to maintain its purity. I’ve said this many times before.  Otherwise what is the point? She is tragic, has always been tragic and must remain tragic, this is why she is so beautiful. So hear me out--- Anna K can finally have her orgasm just as the train is crushing her body. It can be a manual orgasm or a mechanical one. Perhaps the vibrating tracks quiver and shake as the iron beast approaches. And in this way, the story retains the same architecture. The same power.

Speaker One

The point is to get laid and stay alive.  But I could be that girl who is photographed at sunrise on Martha’s Vineyard. Why not? The image is beautiful, yet it hides my inner turmoil. I’m on the beach by a bit of driftwood, the sky is barely pink. Why am I alone at such an early hour? Or am I alone? It’s the moment that everything is crashing down around me. The night before, my husband  found out about my affair. We’d just finished dinner at a small but exclusive club in Montauk. I had a bowl of lobster bisque and monk fish with juniper berries, and a white rioja. The stars were out. It was the end of summer. I was wearing that Balmain dress, but my hair was loose, I liked the way it felt in the wind.

 I know that when we get home there will be message for him on his Blackberry. I know it will be the end of our marriage. I know that this will also disgrace his family. But I do nothing to stop this from happening. I’m supposed to want to kill myself, but I don’t. This where my desire differs from the canon. And maybe I’m on the beach at dawn because I getting my wits about me. Heads will roll. Shit will hit the fan. I know this. But all I want to do is call up my lover, the DA who is prosecuting my prominent husband for bank fraud. I want to fuck him for hours on the deserted moonlight beach. Because after that revivifying fuck, I want to steal my soon-to-be-ex-husband’s Porsche, sell it for parts in the city, and disappear. I’d like the story to start right here. When she disappears.
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She grabs him, and kisses him

"She adorns herself with many ornaments like a despicable harlot, and takes up her position at the crossroads to seduce the sons of man.  When a fool approaches her, she grabs him, kisses him, and pours him wine of dregs of viper's gall.  As soon as he drinks it, he goes astray after her.  When she sees that he has gone astray after her from the paths of truth, she divests herself of all ornaments which she put on for the fool. Her ornaments for the seduction of the sons of man are: that her hair is long and red, and from her ears hang six ornaments, Egpytian chords and all the ornaments in the Land of the East hang from her nape...her tongue is sharp like a sword, her words are smooth like oil, her lips are red like a rose and sweetened by all the sweetness in the world...yon fool goes astray after her and drinks from the cup of wine and commits fornications with her...that fool awakens...[and] she stands before him clothed in garments of flaming fire, inspiring terror and making body and soul tremble...and she kills that fool and casts him into Gehenna."
---Zohar I 148a-b Sitre Torah
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I like when she "grabs him and kisses him."  This is Lilith of course.  The only Biblical woman who has any agency at all. 
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Saturday, August 21, 2010

St. Catherine of Alexandria

"St. Catherine, another frequent companion of the Black Virgin, was for centuries one of the most popular saints in the calendar, whose fame was brought to the west by returning crusaders.  A native of Alexandria in its third century apogee, royal beautiful, rich and learned, she was, according to Everyman's Book of Saints, courted by Emperor Maximian.  She refused his advances and confounded a multitude of scholars assembled by him to overcome her scruples.  Enraged he had her broken on the wheel, scourged and beheaded, at which milk flowed from her breasts. But while she was in prison, she was fed by a dove, and received a vision of Christ...which some say culminated in a mystical marriage."

Ean Begg, The Cult of the Black Virgin

I'd like to see a modern version of this story.  A god descends down from heaven and consorts with a mortal woman.  Of course there are variations on this trope in Greek and Roman mythology, but none in the Judeo-Christian tradition, at least none with any panache or style.

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Salome danced

"Prepare the kingdom for my dance."
---Salome



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After we'd been on the highway about an hour, it started to snow. Sammy leaned down to pick up the roach he'd dropped, and we skidded off the highway. His black Cadillac landed gently in a smooth gully, the snow drifting around us. We finished smoking the joint, then he put the car in gear, and we took off. We got to the after hours club, all five of us, around 2:00 in the morning. I was out on the dance floor in my silk flamenco skirt and pink feather boa. Two guys shimmied up to me, two strangers, who got a little aggressive, a little too close.

Alarmed, I backed away, and fell into the arms of Artie, a rock star, who invited me out to his car to snort coke. I couldn't believe he had less than a half a gram. We must've been out there a while because when I went back in, I couldn't find any of my crew. I checked the bathrooms, the parking lot, back inside, everywhere. I looked in my bag and found ten cents. The sun was starting to come up. I was 90 miles from home.




The two men from the dance floor, one short and one tall, approached me in the almost empty parking lot, sodium lights glaring and said, What's up girlie? I said, Like my whole crew forgot about me. I need a ride home. The taller one said, Which way you headed? I said, North. He pointed to a tiny car, a Carmen Ghia. Powder blue. He opened the door, Get in. So I did.

I had to sit on the short guy's lap. We hit the highway going way too fast. I was annoyed it was almost dawn, and I felt like strangling myself with my pink boa. Beneath me, the short guy was moving his hips up and down. I could feel his erection. The driver said, So you didn't want to dance with us? Is that right? No, its not right, I lied, I was with my boyfriend. The other man replied, What kind of boyfriend abandons his woman in a parking lot. I answered, Not a good one, I guess. Damn sure straight, the driver laughed, pounding the steering wheel.

He turned on the radio, Do you like this song? I was like yeah I love this song. He swerved into the far right lane and parked on the shoulder of the highway. Then he turned to me and announced, Well I'm going to ask you to prove it. Prove what, I asked. Yeah, prove it, prove that you love it, the short one laughed. I laughed, too, like I was cool, in control. The driver leaned over, his breath smelling of bourbon and maraschino cherries, whispered, You don't have a boyfriend.

I don't, I asked. Naw, he replied. And I think you just didn't want to dance with us. Yeah, the other one said, Like you were too good. The sun was out now, and hurt my eyes. I was coming down off the coke. The occasional car streaked by. I just wanted to get home. The driver continued, And if you wanna get home you're gonna have to dance in the middle of the highway, and we get to watch. I said, I could hit by a car, dude. He replied, Not if you move fast enough.

I reached over, opened the car door, and fell out into a snow bank. I ripped off my fake fur coat, and threw it at the short guy. I adjusted the straps on my silver platforms, and strode out into the middle of I-94. I screamed at the driver, Turn up the music motherfucker so I have something to dance to. He did. It was a new song, one I'd never heard before, but I loved it. I knew I wasn't dancing in the middle of a highway for two strangers. Who now looked afraid of me. I was dancing for myself. It started to snow again, and I thought that was beautiful.



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Monday, August 16, 2010

Morrigan


Morrigan, the dark mother or the great queen of Celtic mythology.  Appearing on the field of battle as a black crow. A shape-shifter, now a beautiful woman.  Now, dark and sinister. No one would call her a virgin.  No one would dress her in a gown and take her to a ball.  She wouldn't wait by the fireplace for the prince.  No.  She would rather cut your head off in a moment of ecstasy.  She plucks soldiers from the field of battle and tells them, now is your time to die.  Or she is a gentle escort as you exit this world. 

Image: Picasso
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Saturday, August 14, 2010

Revisions in the Garden of Eden


"Unlike many of his contemporaries among deities of the ancient Near East, the God of Israel shared his power with no female divinity, nor was he the divine Husband or Lover of any.  He can scarcely be characterized in any but masculine epithets; king, lord, master, judge, and father.  Indeed, the absence of feminine symbolism for God marks Judaism, Christianity and Islam in striking contrast to the world's other religious traditions, whether in Egypt, Babylonia, Greece, and Rome, or in Africa, India and North America which abound in feminine symbolism."

--- Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels.
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I am particularly intrigued with the idea of "the God of Israel" as divine husband or lover who is subordinate to a female goddess.  Or at least equal. Maybe it's Lilith, Eve or even Mary.  Maybe she doesn't want to rest on the 7th Day.  She wants to keep going.  Keep creating.  They argue, they fight.  She wins.  In the Garden of Eden she continues to make the rules.  He bows before her wisdom.  I like it.
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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The abyss

"The concept of the archetype [in myth and fairy tale] shields us from chaos.  Yet a confrontation of nothingness, an abyss, is necessary, according to Mary Daly, if we are to become truly authentic.  This confrontation is the first step in creating not only an authentic self but new social order."

---Demaris Wehr, Feminst Archetypal Theory: Interdisciplinary Re-Revisions of Jungian Thought, ed., Estella Lauter and Carol Schreirer Rupprecht.
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Who would we be without the protective power of archetypes?  If we are not secretaries, mothers, whores, virgins, gorgons, prostitutes, giggly, wiggly and otherwise adorable--- who are we?  The definition begins in our narratives--- in the stories we tell ourselves, and the stories people tell about us.

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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Anima, animus

"Our understanding of archetypes can illuminate the way women's and men's psyche both reflect and conflict with images of women and men given to us by a patriarchal society.  In Jung's theory, the anima is internalized female in man, and the animus is the internalized male in women.  But Jung did not take into account that this theory is lopsided because of the differing cultural positions.  Emma Jung has said that the animus can emerge [in women] as harsh criticism in a male voice, and had she gone one step further in her analysis, the author contends, it is also an accurate reflection of culture's derogatory view of women."

---Demaris S. Wehr. Feminist Archetypal Theory: Interdisciplinary Re-Revisions of Jungian Thought. ed., Estella Lauter and Carol Schreirer Rupprecht.

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Sunday, August 8, 2010

Cinderella's Lament


My name is Wanda McClure and I lived in the foothills of Eastern Kentucky; a small town miles off the interchange, mostly in the middle of nowhere. I lived in a trailer. I was 52 years old. My unemployment brought me 388.00 a week before taxes, and the rent was cheap. I did a nice little thing with matching the rugs to the linoleum of the kitchen floor, and added some ceramic figurines I bought on the home shopping network, along with a painting. I'd been out of a job for six months.

Each day I sat in front of a computer, eight hours maybe nine, sending out resumes. I used about twenty different websites. I took an online skills test which rated me as a beginner. So that got depressing. Sometimes I took my coffee out on the porch just to get a breath of fresh air. I might've lived in the middle of nowhere, but I still loved it. Even now, just thinking about the cicadas in August, makes me happy. And that makes me think about how still and quiet it would get after the first snowfall.

For about two months, I had a ritual for Friday nights that really kept me going when things were bad, and things were bad for a long time. The sun would go down, and I'd put on a emerald green blouse with silver-tone buttons, home shopping, thank you very much, and skin tight blue jeans I would never wear out in public. I got dolled up. I made sure I had a nice cold bottle of white wine. I turned off the computer, lowered the lights, and ordered a pizza.

The buzzer would ring at 8:00 p.m. on the nose.

“Hello,” I'd call out. Like I was Juliet or something. It was totally a riot.

A deep voice, “Pizza delivery.”

But of course I knew it was Henry bringing my mushroom and onion pizza. And he wasn't a kid, he was 50. It was a part-time job he'd picked up months ago when he got laid off. Something kind of sparked between us one night.

“Come on in,” I'd holler, “the door's unlocked.”

He'd be sweating because it was the middle of July. And he wasn't Prince Charming by any stretch of the imagination. He might've been a quarterback in high school, but those days he was pushing 300 pounds. So he'd stand there, his brow beaded with sweat, his gut hanging over his belt--- dusty boots, smelling like garlic, but he'd always say,

“Mrs. McClure, you look lovely this evening.”

I used to think God, that's it, isn't it? That's all a body needs. Its not complicated. Sometimes he'd rip off every button on my blouse. They flew all over the kitchen, hitting the walls, the floors, the ceiling. Of course after he left, I found every single of them, and sewed them back on for the next time. But the sheer audacity of it. It was purely animal. We did it on the kitchen counter, on the table, once on the rug (never again) and even on the john. Also the bed.

We would never say much. We were both still married. Frederick wasn't coming home anymore. I knew that. Henry's wife? She was a boozer. Beyond that I didn't know, and didn't want to know. It was just a game we played on Friday nights in the backwoods of Kentucky. But this is what gave me the strength to go on every day, sitting in front of a computer screen, five days a week, eating a cup of noodles for lunch, and ordering up cable when I ran out of money for gas.

It was a tough, mean time, and it could be humiliating. But I had my Friday nights, and that was my everything; for awhile at least. One night, he showed up fifteen minutes late, and told me he wasn't going to be delivering pizzas anymore, he'd gotten a job, his wife wasn't drinking anymore, and now we had to act like adults. This from a man who pretended to be an 18 year old virgin delivery boy. Who fought off my advances with pleas of--- Please, miss, I'm saving it for my wedding night. Quite a performance.

To say I was speechless, told to act like an adult, is an understatement. I opened the screen door, and pointed the way out. But, he came at me all sexy, and said, why you got to get all mad. We can do it one more time, for old time's sake, that's not gonna hurt anything. I said, it'll hurt a lot of things. More than you know. And I prefer a nice clean break. I'd really like you to leave. But he had to be an idiot, and try to kiss me, after I'd said no. My hand shot out, picked up a skillet and without even thinking, I hit him over the head. But I didn't kill him.

He was just bleeding and crying in my kitchen. Apologizing. I told him, if the game was over, he wasn't getting any. He agreed. I put ice over the cut, and didn't argue with him when he said the pizza's on the house. I asked him, as he was leaving, what are you going to tell your wife? You got a big cut on your forehead. He said, I'm just gonna tell her it was a bad night. And then he was out the door.

Later, when I was cleaning up, I found a 100.00 bill tucked beneath the pizza box. For some reason that was more humiliating than food stamps and unemployment. Prince Charming had paid me. I found my ultra-secret stash of sleeping pills. I counted as I swallowed them; one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight--- and that's the last thing I remember. But I didn't kill myself. When I woke up, it was morning, a radiant blue sky. Then I threw up all over my favorite blouse, which wasn't missing a single button.
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Friday, August 6, 2010

Siren song


"Contemporary women novelists, aware of the effect of fictions (both literary and cultural) on themselves and their readers, also write cautionary tales, but they subvert the marriage plot.  Their characters leave marriages, or refuse them altogether, they have affairs and do not drown themselves or turn on the gas, they seek identity in work, their friends, and themselves rather primarily in men."

--- Nancy A. Walker, Feminist Alternatives, Irony and Fantasy in the Contemporary Novel by Women.

Writers can choose to avoid the "feminine ending."  But that is easier said than done.  It's hard to ignore the siren song of culturally ingrained myth.  I want the girl to fall in love at the end of the movie.  I yearn for it.  At the same time, I know there's got to be something else.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Recommended Reading

Evangeline Walton retells the four branches of the Welsh Mabinogion  First published in 1936, its considered to be ahead of its time.  The Mabinogion is a collection of eleven prose stories collated from medieval Welsh manuscripts. The tales draw on pre-Christian Celtic mythology, international folktale motifs, and early medieval historical traditions:

-The Island of the Mighty
-The Children of Llyr
-The Song of Rhiannon
-Prince of Annwn
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Monday, August 2, 2010

The 49 Days (Orpheus and Eurydice)


Where is she exactly?

Of course, there is no answer to this question. But that didn't stop me from asking it. Constantly. Obsessively. And when I didn't get an answer, all things and all people, including myself, became lopsided. Unbalanced. Like a fun house mirror. One event didn't follow another in orderly fashion. This is when a married man entered my life, and I started seeing my dead mother. Sitting in my kitchen at night. Sometimes drinking coffee.

It began three weeks after her funeral. I was in rehearsal for a play I had written. We were working in a loft on Forsythe. The first day I meant to take the D train downtown from the West Village, but somehow ended up going over the Brooklyn Bridge on the Q. At first I thought, wow, magnificent view, but then a moment later, said shit. So I was late. I finally got on the right train and walked up into the chaos of Chinatown. I thought, this is the only place on the planet where the fish for sale are still dangerous. This is how fresh they are. How alive.

But I was late, sweating a little. I pushed through the multitudes of people on Grand Street, turned south on Forsthye and rang the buzzer. Four flights up, like a ski run. And there he was. He played Dr. David Valentine, an oncologist. He was sitting with an actress with red hair. She played Our Lady of a Thousand Tumors, and lately had a starring role in a soap. The two were discussing the scene where they are locked in a passionate embrace in the morgue.

I liked the way he played it. I was glad his version of Dr. Valentine wasn't cloying. But I also saw his wedding band and thought stop. A dead mother is no excuse to be an adulteress. So I put it out of my mind, and got to work. One night, after eight hours of rehearsal, I fell asleep on the couch. The phone rang and woke me up. Hello? My mother said, hi, its me. Ma how is it that you can call me? She said I don't know. I hung up the phone and went back to sleep.

The next morning when I woke up and remembered what happened, I thought, holy shit, that really was my mother. She called me. It was unnerving. Frightening. But also kind of fun. Where was she? I didn't know. But I knew she had to be somewhere. You can't call someone if you're nowhere. Meanwhile, back at rehearsal, Dr. Valentine started to whisper, anybody ever tell you how sexy you are? And I'd say, yes, and you're married.

It got worse. The phone would ring at night, no one there. I'd walk into the kitchen, find her sitting, calmly, at the table. The lights low. Always after midnight. Around two a.m. I don't remember what she wore. Once I asked her if she had seen God, and she replied, don't be ridiculous. Other times she told me she'd been traveling down a river that wound through a forest. I told her I was rehearsing a play about her death, and she said, I know that. Once I said, this is very strange. And she didn't have an answer for that.


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The theater was in the basement of a restaurant on 42nd Street--- owned by a man who was on a hit TV show in the 90's. On opening night, after our standing ovation, we were upstairs at the bar. Dr. Valentine sat on a stool on his second beer, and I was between his legs. I leaned in and told him my mother is haunting me. She shows up in my kitchen at night and just wants to talk. He said, she's in the Bardo. In the Eastern Tradition, it's a way station between life and death. The Tibetan Book of the Dead says we remain there for 49 days.

I was impressed, how do you know all that? He said, my mother died five years ago. That was the exact moment I knew I was going to sleep with him. His wife and his children had nothing to do with this. I wasn't going to try and steal him away. I just needed directions. He might know. I had to get real close. The director pulled me aside, whispered in my ear, you know he's married, right? I said, we're just going for a cup of coffee. She laughed. We got into a cab and drove away.

At my apartment on Bedford, he said, we should fuck in the kitchen. Right where you see your mother. I said, Yes. Good idea. I straddled him on my kitchen chair. At the witching hour. Underneath fluorescent lights. It was exhilarating. Exclamation point. And when it was over, he couldn't get out of there fast enough. The spell was broken. The wife, the children, the home in the suburbs crashed through. I felt sorry for him.

He dropped out the next day. The director was very pissed at me. But my mother stopped showing up at my apartment in the middle of the night. Initially, I was relieved. A little further down the road, I was inconsolable.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Wolfskin by Roberta Lawson

1AM, and the wolf is at the door again. Such a long, long Winter. Mother is flagging. First it was chickens boiled in the pot, herbs and plump potatoes. First it was bacon sizzling on a griddle, splayed eggs and slabs of toast dripping butter. First it was family by the hearth; cosy, lazy evenings. But the Winter just went on and on, and father never returned home. Wolf's at the door. One freezing December day my youngest sister disappeared in the forest and who knew if it was screaming or the wind blowing we heard, mother, who knew? The forest is haunted, mother.

We curl in tighter in our house like a shoe, we wrap around one another and we will never be warm enough. No, we will never last out this Winter. Something dark and probing is eating mother from the inside. The wolf is rattling our windows, the wolf that looks like father. Griddled mice and dregs of whey, daren't leave the house now. Spiders on the grill in our blind, blind house. I sleep with a paring knife under my pillow and say prayers for Summer. The wolf watches my slumber, like he used to watch my sister. Paring knife under my pillow, I dream of skinning so many things...Three mice, a human arm, big bad wolf. Skin falls back like peach-fur. Is that the wind outside, screaming? Mother, mother the wolf is rattling the door-frame! I'm almost ready, though awful-skinny. (Our Mother is haunted. Mother stares only at windows, ceilings, looking for father and our stolen sister.)

The wolf is clawing through the tired door. Don't be frightened, mother! The wolf's breath pours in like carbon monoxide. Mother is shaking like a landslide, and I am lunging for my pillow. Mother, mother, I'm ready, my teeth and nails like sharpened knives, and I'll huff and I'll puff...

The whole house blows black, the colour of wolf-fur. Winter stretches wide as a spider, ready to gobble.

Roberta Lawson lives, breathes and writes in Brighton in the UK. Her writing has appeared in places such as Prick of the Spindle, Sein und Werden and Thirteen Myna Birds. She never grew out of (original) fairytales. This piece appeared in 'Disenthralled.'

Image: Isabella the She Wolf

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Maybe her psyche feels more at home in the shadows


In the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, much is said about his musical genius.  After all he played the lyre so well he eventually brought the devil to his knees.  He was a god walking among mortals. No man was happier when he wed Eurydice.  No man was more heartbroken when she died.  No man worked harder to bring her back to life.  We know that he played so beautifully that Hades changed his mind, said, "Yes, you can have her back again."  And we know that there was one condition:  That Orpheus never look back until they reached earth again. 

We know he looked, we know he lost her.  He was a musician, a lover, a god, a singer. But who was she?  Who was the woman who inspired such passion, such loyalty.  Was she beautiful, was she a seer, a priestess.  What were her gifts?  What is the story of her loss?  When her journey to the underworld begins, what is she thinking?  When Orpheus convinces Hades, is she happy?  Does she in fact even want to return to the land of the living?  Maybe she likes it better in hell.  Maybe its cooler, maybe she can think better.  Maybe her psyche feels more at home in the shadows.

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Sunday, July 25, 2010

Aphrodite in Ruins

It's been five years since my last fuck.

He was a former pilot from the Israeli army, with blue eyes. I met him at a coffee shop on Bleecker Street. It was a Craigslist thing. Not romance. Not initially. He needed an editor for his Yale dissertation; the shifting borders between criminal justice and the Internet. But the sex was inevitable. He was six two. I was blond. I don't think we liked each other very much, but that wasn't important.

I'd spent the last ten yeas of my life as a single woman in New York City. And that is a carnival of sex and love of epic proportions.  Its not recommended for the faint of heart. But I was on a mission. Other people may have bought into the stereotype that I was fragile, slutty, looking for love, looking for marriage. But that was not how I operated. I could be my own person. I could be out to have fun. I could sleep with you, go home that night, and never call you again.  I'm not saying that it wasn't lonely from time to time.

He'd call me in the middle of day. Ask me if I wanted to “get a coffee.” I'd play along and say, “Sure, why not.” He'd jump on a train at NYU, and I'd meet him at my Starbucks. We'd walk back to my place. Fuck from the instant we walked in the door. And then he'd go back to his library carrel on the 5th floor. I'd edit another twenty or so pages, email it to him. Or he'd call and say, “I'm done, you want to get a drink,” which like coffee, was code for fucking, but more insistent. That was my cue to hop in a cab, and meet him in the WestVillage. But also kind of hating him and myself the whole time.

We favored the tiny little dive bars on West Fourth Street.. The one's housed in decrepit 19th century townhouses, painted blue or pink. A little neon sign, almost hidden in the shadows, then, a sharp flight of stairs leading to a lower level. Inside and it was 1955 all over again. Old school cocktail shakers, wooden bar, turquoise banquettes, and place mats with drinks like Tom Collins and the Grasshopper. We stayed at the bar. I drank vodka, but he, a bit of a pussy, drank white wine.

We loved to talk about why we shouldn't be fucking because we worked together. That his dissertation was serious business. One night at Lucky's, he said, “What if you don't do as good a job because you're pissed at me? And I said, “What if you're overly critical of my edits because you're pissed at me?” Then he pulled my bar stool closer, and tried to kiss me. I pushed it back, said, “I'm serious. It's unprofessional.” He'd say, “Ok, ok. No more fucking until we're done.” That was the end of it. Until we stood on the corner of Seventh Avenue and Christopher Street , and he shoved me up against a store window, and kissed me.

But sometimes, I'd meet him, and he would be all moody and  sullen and not wanting to fuck for real. And I'd be very charming and flirtatious, and try to get him to smile, but I never could. And other times, we'd meet, and I'd be all moody and sullen, and not wanting to fuck for real. And he'd try the same tactics which also which also never worked. There wasn't too much I liked about him except his body and his brain, and I think he would say the same about me. 

And of course I had no idea that this was going to be my last fuck for five years. I might've done things a bit differently. The last time, in particular, he was zipping up, on his way back to the library. The same daytime routine. I lay there on the bed, the white sheets draped over my body, the bright afternoon, as he talked about the particular intricacies of using real time policing methods with online crime. And as he was talking, for no apparent reason, I didn't hate him anymore. I just hated myself.

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Friday, July 23, 2010

Minerva Gets Pierced by Love by George LaCas

Note:  Minerva  is the Roman goddess equated with the Greek goddess Athena. Loved poetry, was a virgin, often seen with an owl; her familiar and symbol of wisdom.


Her hand on the pill bottle, thought of endless sleep lulling her, Minerva one night had a change of plans, for Mr. Wright knocked on her door in the form of a potbellied perv with a Vaseline mustache. Through the open door she could see his Corvette was ruby red. She tried to see through his greasy sunglasses and waited to hear what he wanted.

“Feel like a date?” he asked her.

“Well,” she said, hiding the pill bottle behind her back. Her cat hid under the TV and watched all that transpired. “I don't see why not,” she said.

So she jumped in his car and away they went to the Adult Superstore, and to show his good intentions Mr. Wright treated Minerva to dinner and a movie. He swung into the McDonald's drive-thru and ordered two cheeseburgers while Minerva watched trailers on his sticky laptop.

Browsing arm-in-arm down the lanes of the Superstore, Minerva fell in love with Mr. Wright and he with her. She bought him a thick rubbery ring with suckers on it like something cut from an octopus. He bought her a piercing, a bright golden hoop for her hood. She thanked him with tears in her eyes. He smoothed down his mustache and smiled.

He kept his sunglasses on all through that motel-room night, as if anticipating the white-hot dawn that would pour through the curtains next morning. When morning came he was snoring, and the sunlight lay upon Minerva's buttocks in bright curves. She twisted round with new flexibility and watched her white body in the mirror. The light on her ass looked like a smile.

She wondered what her cat would do for breakfast, for she wouldn't be there to fix him Vienna sausages with jam. But as she fell asleep against her fiancée's pot belly she remembered she had left her front door open, in the haste of her flight. At some point her cat would realize he was free.

George LaCas is the author of The Legend of Jimmy Gollihue, forthcoming in July 2011, a novel that re-imagines the Odyssey from the point of view of a young Appalachian pool hustler. He is an associate member of PEN American Center, and his recent short fiction appears in Metazen. LaCas currently lives and writes in Florida.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Who is there?


"The quest for female identity seems to be a soap opera, endless and never advancing, that plays the matinees of women's souls.  A central question of feminist literary criticism is, who is there when a woman says, "I am?"

Nancy A. Walker, Feminist Alternatives, Irony and Fantasy in the Contemporary Novel by Women

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Morgaine

Women need to name themselves and their experience, and determine their own connection to cultural myth and revision them, in the words of Thelma Shin,“as the cultural myths of patriarchy are questioned, researchers and creative writers alike begin to reread the old myths and to reexamine old and new discoveries in their efforts to uncover the ancient myth behind the surface stories.

If we do this Carol Pearson asserts, “we have the potential to step off the edge and fall into ourselves and into an alternative utopian world by moving outside of concepts of linear time and casualty into the elliptical present of infinite potentiality" (35). That is, out of the straight jacket, and into a world where storytelling and mythmaking, could fall back into the hands and voices of women as a corrective to the all encompassing paradigm of male homogeneity. Out of the straight jacket into a liminal space, where time is not linear, where women are not punished for their agency, or silenced for their sexuality.

Hecate for example becomes not an ugly old witch, but a wise woman. The story of Camelot told for centuries through King Arthur, then Marion Zimmer Bradley, tells the story through Arthur’s sister, Morgaine, in The Mists of Avalon: “Bradley has chosen to examine the internal rather the external struggles of Arthur (Shinn 35). Not only the psychology but the powerful aspects of the Goddess as well. In Zimmer’s version, a whole new element is added; the waning of a female centric ideology, a polytheistic belief system and replaced by the monotheistic, male driven, Western Christian tradition.

Here are women to emulate; Morgaine isn’t evil, instead she is a wise priestess collaborating with the Merlin and with Arthur. It is her story as much as his story, the feminine and the male principle are intact. It is dynamic and fluid. Even the island of Avalon, where the old ways are worshipped, is a liminal and evanescent place. In the hands of male authors perpetuating the male paradigm, “goddesses don’t come down to us in their pure ambiguous form, but in a static dualistic fashion.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

More new mythology

Female protagonists who are empowering and powerful are written by female authors, who are aware of their relationship to the tradition, who do not adhere to male myths, who do not merely reverse the terms, but create new apatriarchal spaces for their stories. It is in these stories that women can go to literature to define themselves, to find female protagonists, heroes, myths that contain archetypes that are repositories of strength for women. In these fictive worlds, a woman can engage in sexuality outside of the marriage and not be labeled as fallen, abnormal or a whore. These women possess Eros, a goddess like quality of self determination.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The new mythology

In the new mythology, the female protagonist’s control of the narrative is sharp, unmistakable. She has author-ity, knowingness, and her control of the language is as finely tuned as her sense of self; they are one and the same thing. She is very aware of her agency, and one of the ways she exhibits this agency is by the precision of her narrative and her imagery; it is self consciously dense, romantic and even perhaps pornographic. It is her story, the engine of the plot rest firmly in her hands, as she takes us back to when the story originated. She then self consciously and simultaneously evokes the other versions of the story, bringing them into a sharp focus, and then revises them. She is EROS personified. 

Thursday, July 8, 2010

A creation myth

In the beginning, in the darkness, there was the word. In the beginning, in the darkness, the word said, "light" and a blue glow appeared on the horizon. Then the word said, "Brighter light," and it got brighter, brasher, cocky. It fact it just about killed the darkness, but it didn't. Soon after, it began to rain, and an umbrella appeared on the horizon. At the same time a path came into view, and then a man and a woman walking on that path underneath the umbrella in the rain. They were naked and wet, and the word said, “This is good.”

This is very good.

The woman held the umbrella over the man's head, already in love with his black wet hair, and he in love with her lips. And since there were no other words, except “light” they kissed instead, in the rain, underneath the black umbrella. They kissed for so long that small green vines grew which quickly became young trees,  swaying in the wind until a forest appeared and then a lake.

He kissed her lips, the lobes of her ears. She wound her arms around his neck, his waist. She dropped the umbrella, it skittered down the road, and a sudden gust of wind, threw it up in the air, where it became entangled in a tree branch. The sun came out, and they lay down in the green grass, the vines now caressing every part of their bodies.

Soon poppies, violently red, sprang up out of the warm earth. A turtle appeared in a mud puddle, a lizard darted between the yellow dandelions, his fingers entered her, and she sighed and said, “Love.” The first spoken word. The man thought, “This is good, this is very good.” As they lay there together, electricity was invented, and then the telephone. By then there were millions of men and women, who kissed each other every day.

There were other things, too, like science, math and money and language as well as eagles, devils, and gods. A multitude and a multiplicity of gods. And words, millions of words, Some words had more weight, more beauty, more color. But all of them told stories including the one about the man and the woman in the rain underneath a black umbrella.

Image:  Tamara de Lempicka

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

We can use the master's tools to rebuild our house

James Hillman, a myth scholar, incorporates a vision of archetypes that is more flexible, less patriarchal than Jung's.  His operational understanding of the archetype is not a fixed Platonic essence, such as anima and animus, but an image.  He writes,“‘by attaching archetypal to an image, we ennoble or empower the image with the wildest, richest and deepest possible significance." I would like this anthology to reveal this significance in the bad women archetypes, in transgressive and crazy women, because despite their negative connotations, they exhibit Eros which in its purest sense, is the drive for authenticity, for power, and the capacity of self actualization. 

Goddesses like Brigid in Briton, Sarasvati in India and Nidaba in Sumer were credited with the invention of the alphabet and the creation of language and writing.  They exhibited Eros, they re-drew the shape of the world around them. Yet, according to Annis Pratt, today “women like words have been considered symbolic objects of use in a masculine structure, linguistic tokens rather than wielders of words in our own right.”  Some feminist scholars have claimed its necessary to reinvent language to get the feminine back into the world, into literature.  I would disagree.  In the words of  Audre Lord, we can use the master's tools to rebuild our house.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

What is her story?

Here is the outline; the typology of one version of Beauty and the Beast.  Of course, there are many others, but this is one of the earliest.  Note that the girl, unlike later versions, saves herself.  Jung says that folk tales are a map or a guide on the treacherous and tricky road to maturation. From this typology, what is her story?

-The wealthy bride groom is a wizard in disguise.

-Three daughters, two die at his hand

-The youngest daughter is imprisoned by the wizard.

- A key motif, and a test

-The youngest daughter, who is Innocent Incarnate, passes the test

-Miraculously, she saves her two sisters

-She frees all the slaughtered women who have come before her.

-She rolls herself in honey, then feathers, and disguised as a bird, she escapes

-The wizard dies when his castle is set on fire.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Where Mary becomes the mother of Lilith


The anima, in Jungian terminology, female energy--- should not be a fixed, universal essence, but rather an image or template that is multi-layered, malleable and flexible. With this revision perhaps the one dimensional Virgin Mother of the Bible, could collapse and embody both the woman and the goddess. It might be possible to reinscribe these archetypes as feminine heroes who are both divine and human, sacred as well as profane. Lilith can merge with Eve, and the resulting story would be both modern and ancient.

Image