MY HAUNTING IS A LOAMY SKELETON…
or so begins my new poem, Ekphrastic 22/The Drowning Girl, now up at Strange Horizons, as part of their special speculative poetry issue. It features a number of excellent poets, and poems (I recommend Jessy Randall’s Food Diary of Gark the Troll, and Rose Lemberg’s The Rotten Leaf Cantata).
When I first wrote Ekphrastic 22/The Drowning Girl, I said this about it:
…(an) ekphrasis made by the book I’m sharing my bed with now. The Drowning Girl by Caitlín R. Kiernan. It’s a haunting of a book; already it’s dredged up echoes in me. I dreamt with the light on last night, and felt the resounding truths all day at work (two pieces of sausage in a cup of soup, a ribcage in what I wish were the wind, empty bowls, crab forks). (Will write them down later.)
Anyway, many thanks to Sonya Taaffe for contacting me about this piece. I’m glad it’s found a home outside my skull (both bloggish and bone).
For months, I’ve been sick of sitting. I perch on my chair, well-intentioned and driven: I will write 4,000 words, a blog post, answer emails/interviews/facebook messages from friends who deserve more, better attention than my easily-distracted mind can offer. I have a butterfly brain, regularly diverted by the winds of tangent (tumblr, for example, is a temptation-ridden custom-tailored black hole overspilling with Lokis, blood-stained elk skulls, Totoro gifs, and cosmic jellyfish).
One thing I know about myself is that I function better when I move. Anger can be destroyed with a bike ride, deadend cyclic anatomical self-antagonizing can be crushed by thirty minutes of high-intensity interval training. So I’ve known for awhile that the reason I spend more time aimlessly flipping tabs when I sit at my computer is because I’m sitting, stationary. The solution, naturally, is to stop.
The past few weeks, I’ve been sitting (bad!) and thinking of various solutions. I knew I wanted a standing desk, and that I didn’t want to spend any money, or nail something together, if I could avoid it–mostly because I wanted to be standing, now, and not work too hard to do so (which, really, just sounds like another bout of laziness). At any rate, two days ago, I decided that my computer was staying off until I’d solved my problem. I stood for a moment, thought, and promptly found a solution.
My solution was percussive: I found a drum. As a drummer, this wasn’t exactly a challenge–my apartment is full of them. But the trick was finding the right one. The right one turned out to be a cajón. Which is amusing, since this particular drum is meant to be sat upon. Happily, though, when resting sideways on my desk, it adds just the right amount of height for me to stand and type on my laptop (or distract myself with an inverted drum, which loses none of its sonic potential). Return it to the ground, and I have my drum again–or a chair, if I’m being lethargic.
I like my instruments to be instruments, but I’m also the kind of person who like an uncluttered, multifunctional space. The musical desk satisfies my obsessive-percussing and organization-addiction in a single hit (a gong hit that rattles through my skull and satisfactorily shakes the compulsive quirks of my brain).
Where have you been, Tattertongue?
lying with pelvis and ribcage
reading the mouth for
sugared ginger for
Why did you leave?
there was a forest
of snapping saplings
What did you find?
they were chopped
(An excerpt from my poem Tattertongue, which secured third place in Strange Horizons’ 2013 readers pole. A poem about starvation, Loki, and suspension. Thanks to all who voted. Other news: I recently sold an ekphrastic to SH; it’ll be out in February.)
TODAY is the last day to vote for my poem on eating and horse-boiling (Tattertongue), published last year by Strange Horizons. There are a number of different categories to vote in, and lots of excellent writing to explore, if you feel so inclined. If you happened to enjoy my poem, and feel it deserves ranking, please vote! It’s under ‘poetry,’ then ‘Tattertongue, by Jenn Grunigen.’ Many thanks!
Is fanfic the new folklore?
That’s the thought that’s been pacing in my skull for seven days (and counting). Ultimately, my answer is probably no. But I can’t stop thinking about fic in relation to other things. I’ve spent half a decade avoiding fan-communities/works, because as much as I love it all, getting involved is hugely invasive and hungry for attention–and then Mjolnir struck me in the ribcage, cracking it open for heart-access, and when I got up, it was with obsession. The THOR/Norsk fandom wriggled in past my cracked ribs, crawled up my throat, and eventually settled in with my (very few) intellectual faculties.
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about folklore, and literature, and the headstrong crossover between the two, mythpunk*. With the appearance of an old obsession (fanfic/art), all these electrochemical signals naturally collided with all the force of mid-Ginnungagap (am I giving myself too much credit? I am.), and I began noting the similarities between fanfiction and folklore.
(Warning: most of this is brain-vomit. I’m just letting my thoughts dance about unchecked.)
Obviously, there’s a lot of fic that spins around rewriting lore, replacing traditional characters with, say, Sirius Black and Remus Lupin; tweaking gender roles; contorting tropes to better fit plotlines and character arcs; and, of course, the addition of lots (and LOTS) of sex (not that folklore shies from fucking–it just tends to be more graphic and long-winded in fanfic). This use of lore is especially prevalent in the THOR fandom–which is only to be expected, given the source material, though in this case, replacing the characters isn’t always necessary. However, the re-imaginings are frequently slant, are often re-imaginings of re-imaginings, as a lot of fic is based on the movies, which are based on the comics–etc, etc, you know what I mean; stories are reincarnations of stories are reincarnations of stories; it’s just the nature of the beast…
Anyway, my point is folklore can be like fanfiction: a retelling.
Call them tropes, stereotypes, fanon, canon, tale-types, or motifs plucked from the Aarne-Thompson Index–fanfiction, like folklore, is full of repetition, darkened mirrors, and doppelgangers. Think of the endless pairings, the descriptions (hurt/comfort, angst, AU, PWP, etc)–they’re all filters, methods for us to pick and choose how we like to feel. To find a new iteration of the familiar. I often read fanfic for the experience, to get that certain clutching of the upper-chest and throat, to find an emotion catharsis, to experience the characters I obsess over, until they’re more, deeper, than obsessions–until they become human.
Perhaps that’s elevating fanfic too high. But maybe not. What do we seek in fanfic? Humanity–a potent, emotive dose of humanity. And isn’t folklore for learning about humanity, for feeling it like a punch to the gut? The stories aren’t always right, sometimes they say wrong things, and in this way, reveal the many, amazingly snarly, nasty truths about the nature of human creatures–but all the repetition that occurs in lore, all the circling, all the characters with news faces, but familiar hearts? Sometimes, it’s all just the human-beast’s collective voice speaking to us.
So maybe folklore and fanfic are just two different voices speaking to, and of, the same spinal things in us. Folklore’s a primal, bone-fed voice; fanfic is a spitfire tale-spinner that feasts on and subverts our memetic hearts.
*For the record, I don’t think mythpunk has much to do with the bridge between fanfic and folklore, as I don’t feel that bridge is particularly anarchic in nature. But mythpunk’s been on my brain, so I mentioned it. I think the reason it came to mind is that there may be a parallel relationship between mythpunk and myth-driven fanfic (mythfic?)…
Like Thor and Loki? Listen to folk metal.
Before I go further, let me freely admit that I am biased. I play in a neofolk metal band. I listen to folk metal. But hear me out–folk metal is obsessed (sometimes too much, I admit) with putting myth and lore into song. Feral, shadowed, gut-pounding song, that is also sometimes cheesy, sometimes terrifying, sometimes so sad it’s all you can do not to freeze and sink into the earth and bury yourself with its bones.
But folk metal is especially keen on Norsk lore. Give me some time, and I will post songs very appropriate to Thor and Loki, but for now, have this song-tale:
Fejd’s Gryning, played with all traditional Swedish instruments (minus the drum set and keys). Admittedly, not quite folk metal, but I still call it such, because its spine is wild and chaotic and dark (also, heavy percussion and double kick–which as a drummer, is always satisfying). Also, lead vocalist Patrik Rimmerfors is kinda how I imagine Thor when I read fic…
Anyway. Personally, I think Thor would be a great lover of folk metal. Loki not so much, perhaps. He, I think, is more of a melodic doom-metal sort of
This is hard. It’s the worst, and I never imagined myself back here, again. I’ve put myself in a gauntlet, I sprint down it–all brimming with feral bliss–but it only grows longer. It stretches out before me, wide and vast as space, sharp-edged with the ice-shards of stars, and pockets of anti-matter that make my heart flutter.
I love fanfiction. It got me through high school. But after my first year of college, I found a community , one that didn’t exist on the internet (or with a group of friends I sadly had to leave behind when I moved miles and miles away), beautiful and glittery and full of highs and lows–I no longer had to retreat to find warmth. But does anyone really move on from the things that grab their heart?
For five years, I’ve done a good job of hiding from all this, this great temptation and weight (because sometimes fandom is a weight, in fact, often it is). I’ve had books and stories to write, three albums to craft and record and release. There’s been no time for the great, seductive time-suck that is fanfiction, fanart, fanvids, and beautiful, beautiful gifs like this one that make me crumple up and grin grin grin (and cry):
(gifs reaped from ikolsim)
And then I saw THOR: The Dark World, and something broke off in me. And maybe I’m broken now, or maybe it’s more like that breakage has freed me. Right now, its all so new and raw and bloody that I just don’t know. All I know is that it didn’t hit me right away–sure I was amused by Loki’s quick grin and games. And I thought that was it. But then, I got on tumblr and I found this–this mass of art and stories, and really, since it’s all Loki related, it’s all just trickery and I should have known.
This fandom has a trickster god for a heart–I should have known there’d be no escape.
I recently read two books that gently removed my brain, fiddled with it as softly as a piranha eating breakfast, and put it back in all reconfigured, chewed upon, and terrible. The first was At the Mouth of the River of Bees, by Kij Johnson. The other was Catherynne Valente’s The Melancholy of Mechagirl. Both short story collections, both heart-eaters.
Before this year, I wasn’t sure what I thought of short stories. I knew I couldn’t write them, and wasn’t sure I liked reading them. I certainly hadn’t read many of them. But because my attempts at making them always churned out glittery, half-masticated beasts with broken legs, I knew it was time to get better. This meant reading, because as a writer, reading is possibly the second most important thing to do (the first involves going outside and letting life punch you in the gut—again and again and again).
So I went to Clarkesworld. I read some E. Lily Yu (who I love, and please, Ms. Yu, won’t you finish your novel so I can eat it?) and then listened to some more E. Lily Yu, while I was working on this piece (which explains why the elk in the drawing looks a little tragic). But as much as I inhaled those pieces, short stories still weren’t utterly my thing. So I decided to trick my self. I got a couple collections, which are like novels-in-disguise (because when you sardine a bunch of stories between two bread-like covers, you get something that looks pretty much like a book). I began with Wonders of the Invisible World, because this review said it wasn’t going to be “like consuming a box of crackers.” And it was right! The stories in this book are not crackers. Or at least, they aren’t saltines. They’re more like pita chips–far more delicious, but still missing something (hummus, obviously).
The next collection I read was At the Mouth of the River of Bees. It contains The Man who Bridged the Mist, which won the 2012 Hugo Award for best novella. Whatever your thoughts on the Hugos, this probably means it may have been pretty good. At the moment, I don’t feel like commenting on the Hugos (just don’t want to dive into that particular bag of slugs just this moment), but the story is most definitely good, and most definitely deserving.
What happened after Bees was an accident. I never meant to buy Catherynne Valente’s The Melancholy of Mechagirl–though I desperately wanted to (after all, it in contains my favorite poem ever in print form). But then I was writing this paper about myth and story and hearts and robots–and suddenly, this book became very necessary. So I bought it, because I had a reasonable excuse (wanting something so badly I found a way to trick myself–again–into getting it).
At this point, you might want to know more about the piranhas and brain-eating I mentioned earlier. It’s this: because of these two books, I love short stories so hard right now. I’m learning so much about form, and what a short story can be, sometimes I can hear my brain clanking around in my skull it’s still so shock-frozen (the piranhas obviously have ice-picks for teeth).
Now for the funny thing: I just sold my first story, to Shimmer–a story I wrote months before reading these books. So, while I’m not so confident I feel could free climb El Capitan, I’m feeling a bit better about my ability to write short pieces. I have a number of new stories with sharper edges, that do stranger things with stronger grins, and soon they’ll be sent out–and if I’m lucky, find homes.
The piranhas ate my brains, but they left a few scraps, a few loose teeth, and right now, I think I can feel it all regenerating.