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

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.

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

I like when she "grabs him and kisses him."  This is Lilith of course.  The only Biblical woman who has any agency at all. 


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.


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Salome danced

"Prepare the kingdom for my dance."


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.


Monday, August 16, 2010


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

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.

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.

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.

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.


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.


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.

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

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.

* * * * *

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.