The Velvet Chamber
An Anthology of Revisioned Myth and Fairy Tale

Explore the dark side of the female psyche --A CALL FOR WRITERS supports The Velvet Chamber

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Fairy Tale Review

I received a lovely email from Kate Bernheimer, Founder and Editor of the Fairy Tale Review, in support of The Velvet Chamber, by offering to send this call for writers to their contacts.  This is such wonderful news because it is one of the most valuable and best known resource for writers, scholars, artists and editors engaged in similar work.  From their home page:
"An indispensable addition to any collection concerning itself with the mythic material of childhood—both childhood's experiences and its traditional tales, and how they reverberate through adult lives."

 —Gregory Maguire, author of Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, and Mirror Mirror: A Novel
Ms. Bernheim also graciously suggested a list of possible contributors from her book Mirror, Mirror on the Wall; Women Writers Explore Their Favorite Fairy Tales, as well as My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me; which is forthcoming from Penguin with a foreward from Gregory Maguire.  Contributors include such authors as Shelley Jackson, Kathryn Davis, Joy Williams, Kellie Wells, Francine Prose, Kelly Link, Lydia Millet, Alissa Nutting, Stacey Richter, Joyce Carol Oates, Karen Joy Fowler, Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, Aimee Bender, Francesca Lia Block, and more.

The Fairy Tale Review also has an ongoing project; collecting volumes of fairy-tales which are in danger of disappearing from the world.  They are asking people to send their books, and  include a short narrative about how they acquired it.  I'm sending a first edition of The Life and Strange Adventures of Robinson Crusoe of York, Mariner by Daniel Defoe with
"nearly one hundred original drawings and decorations done from sketches made in the tropics specially [sic] for this work by The Brothers Louis and Frederick Rhead. By arrangement with Harper & Sons, New York, 1924."
The book is falling apart, but still very beautiful.  I had originally bought it when my niece was born--- as an investment for her, a college fund perhaps.  Now, it seems like a perfect addition to the library the Fairy Tale Review is creating.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Hera: Virgin Mother

"Hera, queen of the Olympian deities. She is a daughter of Cronus and Rhea, and wife and sister of Zeus was mainly worshipped as a goddess of marriage and birth. It is said that each year Hera's virginity returns by bathing in the well Canathus. The children of Hera and Zeus are the smith-god Hephaestus, the goddess of youth Hebe, and the god of war Ares. According to some sources, however, her children were conceived without the help of a man, either by slapping her hand on the ground or by eating lettuce: thus they were born, not out of love but out of lust and hatred."
Hera had other problems as well.  Notably, jealous bitch.  Maybe she's so unhappy because every year, her virginity returns.  Can you imagine?  Having to start all over, year after year after year.  What a tedious ritual.  It must really get on her nerves, and who could blame her?  Plus, how does she explain those two children?  The idea of a virgin birth is a bit far fetched.  Mary pulls it off in the Old Testament, but just barely.
"Hera." Encyclopedia Mythica. 2010. Encyclopedia Mythica Online.  26 Mar. 2010
Image: Marc Travanti

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Special thanks to Nick Daws' Writing Blog

Nick Daws posted a great link:  on his blog for this book project.  I am grateful for the support.  By the way, his blog is a great resource for writers.  Thanks again, Nick. 

Monday, March 22, 2010

Wounded Artemis

Artemis is part of the triad of the Greek Virgin Goddesses; which includes Athena and Hestia. Jean Shinoda Bolen in Goddesses in Everywoman: A New Psychology of Women, explains that “these three goddesses personify the independent, active, nonrelationship aspects of women’s psychology. All three represent inner drives to develop talents, pursue interests, solve problems, compete with others, [and] express themselves.”

This is the ideal. However, in popular culture, she is not represented as the ideal. She is wounded. This woman, she who goes out into the world, she who is independent, competitive, in other words, she who wants it all--- is often punished. I think of her as Wounded Artemis. I think of her as a woman with arrows piercing her side because there is always a price a woman pays for wanting too much.  God help her until she find her man.  This is one of our narratives, and we're stuck with it--- until we write something different.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Worlds within words

"As the cultural myths of patriarchy are questioned, researchers and creative writers alike begin to reread the myth and to reexamine old and new discoveries in their efforts to uncover the ancient myth behind the surface stories."

--- Thelma Shinn, Worlds Within Women: Myth and Mythmaking in Fantastic Literature for Women

Friday, March 19, 2010

Genesis Revised

Genesis 1:2

A blue river flowed into Eden to water the garden.  It came from the tops of the mountains collecting ice and snow until the water shone like the stars in the sky, and there it divided and became four rivers. And these four rivers circled the earth and brought forth trees and flowers. Then The Creator took man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.  His name was Adam Kadmon. 

As the man who was the first man, he alone, of all creatures, had a soul, a heart, and a desire for knowledge.  He saw the tree and said, You are tree.  He saw the river, and I said, You are river. And thus he continued for many nights and many days naming all the things that crept and crawled along the earth, all the things that swam in the river. All the things that flew over the mountains; the hawk, the raven and the dove.  He named the rain, the wind and the sky.  And on the 7th day he wept for although he named everything, he had nothing.

The Creator saw this and took pity upon him, and said,

"I will send you woman, and she shall be called Eve and she will be the first woman of all women." 

And so it came to pass that Eve was a born in the opaque light of the moon.  She slowly took shape from the dust of the stars and the ice from the mountains, until she stood tall in the light.  Adam Kadmon said to her:

"You at last are flesh of my flesh."

Genesis 1:3

Yet the serpent was more subtle than any other wild creature that the Creator had made.  He said to the woman:

"Come eat from the Tree of Knowledge.  See how the apple shines in the light.  See how round.  See how bright"
And indeed Eve was beguiled for the apple was both round and lush.  Above all living things in the garden; the cool river, the wild creatures, the tall grass filled with flowers and insects, none were as enchanting as the apple that hung from the Tree of Knowledge.  She had only to lift up her hand, and pick it.  It hovered in the air over her head, twisting in the light of the sun, glittering like a jewel.

"Come," said the Serpent, "What harm?  Surely you desire knowledge. The Creator knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like the Creator, knowing all good and all evil."

Eve saw that the tree was good for food, and that is was a delight to her eyes, and the tree was to be desired to make one wise, so she took of its fruit and ate it.  She bit into the skin and the juice dripped from her mouth, and she saw that it was indeed sweet.  She ate the whole of it, slowly, slowly until it was gone, and said to the Serpent:

"I am not as I was before."  And indeed she had been transformed.

At that moment, Adam Kadmon came into the glade and saw that Eve had eaten from the Tree of Knowledge.  Eve picked another apple, and he, too, partook of its flesh, and he too saw that it was sweet.  He said,

"We have eaten from the Tree of Knowledge, and now we shall eat from the Tree of Life, and we shall live forever.  We will be like unto the Creator, boundless in our existence, in our wisdom."

Then the Creator appeared and said, "Behold, man and woman has become like one of us, knowing good and evil, now lest you put forth your hand and take of the Tree of Life and live forever--- you will now return to the earth to till the ground from which you were taken."

He cast out both man and woman, and at the east end of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the Tree of Life.  Outside the Garden, the air was cold, and they covered their bodies with leaves and vines.  After they had slept, they made their way through other gardens, through mountains, and fields of wheat and corn.  They traveled for many days and many nights 

Finally, at the mouth of the blue river, the source for all the other rivers, they lay down together as man and woman. And so it came to pass, outside the Garden of Eden, that the first child, a daughter, was born.  Her name was Lilith.  And she was like unto her parents; eternally human, wise, and mortal.  And no man, woman or child has ever again beheld the Tree of Life for the way to the Garden of Eden had disappeared into the shadows of night.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Another look at Lilith

I've always loved the the virgin. She's so easy to perform.  The text is so secure. It is unchanging.  Predictable.  But its rare when I play the whore.  You ask yourself; should you ever be allowed to feel this good?  You'd think the choice would be easy, but it's not.  It's not an easy choice.

It's not easy dressing up in high heels and waiting for your lover.  It's not easy pacing around your small New York apartment, candles guttering in every room.  It's not easy knowing that tonight is the night--- the mask of Lilith lays like a shadow on the bed. 

I picked it up.  I put it down.  I tried it on.  I took it off. I fixed my make-up. I put on music.  I avoided the bedroom, the mask, the other, but not for long.  When the buzzer rang at 10:00 p.m., I swept the mask off my bed, and put it on. Done.  My heart was pounding.

When he walked in the door he said, Turn around.  And so I did.  He said, Turn around again. And so I did, but more slowly; more grace, more panache, more sex.   It was starting.  It was beginning  and I couldn't stop it--- I was giddy. I saw carnival lights blazing, the roller coaster before it begins its fatal drop. He smelled like cotton candy.  Lilith appeared, and I fell in love all over again. I think, why am I  always so afraid of her?  She's beautiful.    

Should you ever be allowed to feel this good?

I didn't notice or care that I was stripped down to just high heels, that he had placed a mirror next to the bed.  I wondered.  I wondered who we were looking at.  I wondered if we were voyeurs; a side-show for ourselves. I saw calves and thighs, tangled up with black boots and blond hair.  I saw another couple dangling at the top of a carnival ride, complete with screaming woman, gaudy lighting, and a man desperate for orgasm.  The clowns and the ghosts and the devils all begging for attention.  Dante finally meets Beatrice, but alas she is a witch.

We came at the same time.

He jumped out of bed, threw open the bedroom window, his chest heaving, "Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ" --- his naked body covered in sweat. And me?  I was a dream of a girl.  I was a girl inside of a girl.  I was no one.  I was nothing but black sky and blue stars. The shoes had flown off, but was that still my smile in the mirror?  He blew out the candles, jumped back into bed, and we both passed out.  The next morning, I only knew one thing: Do not look at your body

He got up to shower.  Even when I was alone, I still did not look. I lay hidden beneath the sheets.  I knew I was wounded.  He knew this, too--- don't look.  He knew this because after his shower, he threw on his clothes, kissed my cheek and left.  I heard my door close. I heard his footsteps in the hall,  down the stairs, out the door, then onto the street, an echo.  

When he was gone, I finally looked at myself--- saw that my legs were tattooed up and down with bite marks.  As if a rabid dog or a wolf had gotten control of me, sunk his incisors deep into my flesh, and wouldn't let go.  I needed a rabies shot, antibiotics, and cold compresses.  I needed to see a doctor, a shrink, a priest.  A shaman. I needed to call my mother but she was dead.

I couldn't walk for a week.  He never called.  Lilith, the cold beauty of sex and power, went back into the shadows.  I washed the dishes, cleaned the sheets.  I threw out the candles, and  the circus left town. Life went back to normal except for this:  I know she'll always come back.

Should you ever be allowed to feel this good?

Yes, yes, and again, yes.    


Image:  Original "Barbie."  Lilli by doll designer, Max Weissbrodt.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Marie Mutsuki Mockett: Picking Bones from Ash

Marie Mutsuki Mockett's novel, Picking Bones from Ash, has just been published to great acclaim by Graywolf Press in October 2009.  At a reading at Greenlight Bookstore, curated by Ron Hogan, Lori Adelman from a local  New York Times blog had this to say about the author and her work:

Ms. Mockett, who was born in California to a Japanese mother and an American father, transported the mostly Brooklyn-based crowd into her literary world of Greek gods and geishas. Her debut novel isn’t easy to label, as the author herself conceded in a recent blog post, but can loosely be described as a multi-generational story of Asian women that doubles as a fairy tale, complete with “girl power and ghosts.”
Then I understood with perfect clarity why Ron Hogan wanted me to meet her.  Her voice seems to be  mapping a terrain similar to this book project--- venturing outside the enclosure, outside the safe confines of established narratives of fairy-tales and myth, and creating her own. She's just submitted her story, Luminous Beings, for this anthology, and I am so flattered and pleased.

After a couple of emails, I clicked on the link to her blog, and read with great delight a post about her reading at Greenlight, and how the discussion afterwards veered towards the dreaded "F" word, feminism.

"What did I think of the fact that reviewers complained that the men in the novel were not redeemed at the end, while the women were? (I pointed out that the Asian guys were all pretty nice. It was the Caucasian men who took a beating). How did I reconcile the fact that Francois celebrated his daughter's talents, even as he denigrated other women? (Lots of men-hell, people-are compartmentalized this way. Remember: Zeus' favorite child was Athena, a girl). And did I think I had written a feminist novel?
I've been wrestling with this concept ever since my novel was published. It's pretty hard to avoid that fact that the early adopters of my book have been self-identified feminists and that the book strikes a chord with them. Others-including an editor who became upset with my main character-become angry with the way the women in my book behave, and with one choice in particular. That "choice"--sorry to be vague but I'm trying to avoid spoilers--is something that Amanda told me was "very feminist."
I like to think I can define that word any way I choose. I think of it as empowerment and as the freedom as a writer to step outside proscribed gender roles, and still tell a good story.  However, until very recently, women writers had to choose from precious few narrative options--- the most popular, she who gets the man, or my favorite, she who goes crazy and kills herself.  Nothing like a good Sylvia Plath story.  Yes, indeed. 

Is it really that difficult to understand that a good writer, feminist or not, should have the choice to subvert the male paradigm and tell her own story?  Finally I really love the closing to Mockett's post:
"Don't get angry at a female writer when she "fails" to soothe you in the way you wanted her to. That is your problem."
I couldn't have said it better myself.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Honored Guest: Patriarchal Poetry

Gertrude Stein gives us a lesson on how to subvert the patriarchy.  She says, in essence: Language itself is transformative.  Let's get down to brass tacks and tear apart grammar.  Let's reveal the subtext of nouns.  Explore the hierarchy of verbs.  Bitches, its not our language

Here below is an excerpt of Patriarchal Poetry.  Some say this piece is unreadable. Some say it has to be read out loud to hear the music.  I find it strangely familiar and instantly recognizable: 

"How do you do it?
Patriarchal Poetry might be withstood.
Patriarchal Poetry at peace.
Patriarchal Poetry a piece.
Patriarchal Poetry in peace.
Patriarchal Poetry in pieces.
Patriarchal Poetry as peace to return to Patriarchal Poetry
at peace.
Patriarchal Poetry or peace to return to Patriarchal Poetry
or pieces of Patriarchal Poetry.
Very pretty very prettily very prettily very pretty very
prettily" (Yale 133).

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Changing the story

"I am interested in narratives that are capable of effecting change...I describe a narrative process that can both '"represent women's experience and redefine the premises of representation."'

---Gayle Green, Changing the Story: Feminist Fiction and the Tradition.

Monday, March 1, 2010

I Am Snow White: Part 4

Read Parts One, Two, and Three.

I saw the girl to her tutors, then locked myself  in my chambers. I banished all the maids: "Yes, Madam can undress herself tonight.  Yes, I am sure that will suffice.  Thank you Esmerelda, Thank you. Good night."  When I was finally alone, I wrote a letter to my lover.  I told him he must never again come to my rooms. I folded it three times, sealed it, and drank several cups of wine from a silver flagon. After awhile, I rose up from my writing table, and looked out the east window---  cold, silver stars had come out, and the moon was almost full. I found myself drawn to the ancient stone chapel.

I thought about how it might look in the white light of the moon; a dark silhouette against a stand of evergreen. The Duke claimed it was five hundred years old. I did not doubt this. And now it called to me. I realized then that I was sad. I could not see my darling Harry anymore. But it was necessary to survive. It would not serve my reputation, and the girl could not be trusted.  Not at all.  She was mad. I threw my velvet cloak about my shoulders, made haste with my riding boots, and strode out into the night.

I could see it in the distance, on a short rise, heading toward the tree line.  I was aware of the wildflowers beneath my feet, the smell of the sea.  As I got closer, the chapel, directly in the path of the moon, shone as if possessed.  The large wooden doors wielded easily to my touch. The walls inside were thick with moss. A marble and gold cross at the altar was nicked and burnished by the smoke of a thousand candles. The statues of the Holy Mother and her Blessed Son, sat far back in the shadows--- as if brooding.  The prieu dieus had long succumbed to moths. Yet I still found it beautiful.

The frescoes along the east and west walls were faded, but it was still possible to discern a portion of each story as it unfolded; a lamb being led to slaughter, a virgin ascending into the skies, a white horse,  the birth of a child, and a prophet rising from his tomb. A silk tapestry hung directly over the marble altar; the moon, the stars and the sun set against an indigo sky. Though quite faded it was still possible to see each gold thread.

I sat on one of the carved wooden benches and noticed something quite unusual. Someone had hung a heavy cracked mirror, richly beveled and bejeweled, on the west wall. And though I’d visited the chapel on many occasions, I had never seen it. "How odd," I said aloud, startling myself, "Did the Duke know about this?

I slid off the bench to investigate, and as I approached---- the surface seemed to shimmer, as if it had suddenly become a lake. Then it settled, and I saw a young girl, 12 or 13, dressed in grave clothes, on a funeral bier---  in the forest, in the bright light of day.  Her face was impossibly pale, almost white. I stood transfixed.  In shock.  She turned to me, and said, "I am Snow White. And you have poisoned me."  

To be continued.