On the Wing: A Natural History of Grief

h_is_for_hawk_cover450I began reading Helen Macdonald’s heartfelt memoir, H Is for Hawk in early June. Based on the author’s family history and intertwined with reflections on T.H. White and the history of falconry, Macdonald’s book won the Samuel Johnson Prize and the Costa Book of the Year Award in 2014. Her compelling take on “the archaeology of grief” and her decision to train a goshawk as a form of solace and redemption transform the concept of a memoir into something more than words on a page. It unfolds as a study on ways to move through the landscape of time and space.

“We are very bad at scale,” writes Macdonald. “The things that live in the soil are too small to care about; climate change too large to imagine. We are bad at time, too. We cannot remember what lived here before we did; we cannot love what is not. Nor can we imagine what will be different when we are dead. We live out our three score and ten, and tie our knots and lines only to ourselves. We take solace in pictures, and we wipe the hills of history.”

green-voices“It struck me then that perhaps the bareness and wrongness of the world was an illusion;” she continues, “that things might still be real, and right, and beautiful, even if I could not see them – that if I stood in the right place, and was lucky, this might somehow be revealed to me.”

In the past, I’ve written numerous articles blending fact and fiction in essays linking nature and myth. Macdonald takes this one step further with first-person accounts reflecting on concepts of loss and the experience of communing with nature as she trains a goshawk she names Mabel. As part of the process, Macdonald folds the narrative into shared experiences with T.H. White: “The lines between the man and landscape blur,” writes Macdonald. “When White writes of his love for the countryside, at heart he is writing about a hope that he might be able to love himself.”

night-hawk“Like White I wanted to cut loose from the world,” she continues, “and I shared, too, his desire to escape to the wild, a desire that can rip away all human softness and leave you stranded in a world of savage, courteous despair.”

This was something I could relate to. But her grief at the loss of her father was foreign to me. It wasn’t until I was in a traumatic bicycle accident a few days later that I began to connect with the rawness of her sorrow.

“Here’s a word. Bereavement. Or, Bereaved. Bereft,” Macdonald writes. “It’s from the Old English bereafian, meaning ‘to deprive of, take away, seize, rob.’ Robbed. Seized. It happens to everyone. But you feel it alone. Shocking loss isn’t to be shared, no matter how hard you try.”

I did not lose a member of my family or one of my friends. I lost myself. And I had no way to grapple with the devastation wreaked upon my body and soul until I once again picked up H Is for Hawk. This time, the text took on a new meaning.

hawk1My accident occurred when I was about halfway through the book, just as I had started Chapter 13, “Alice, Falling.” It seemed appropriate. “And me? I do not know,” Macdonald writes. “I feel hollow and unhoused, an airy, empty wasps’ nest, a thing made of chewed paper after the frosts have murdered the life within.” The author’s grief mirrored my own.

“The archaeology of grief is not ordered,” reflects Macdonald. “It is more like earth under a spade, turning up things you had forgotten. Surprising things come to light: not simply memories, but states of mind, emotions, older ways of seeing the world.”

And this proved true. Like Macdonald, I worked through the loss of who I had been. It was a slow process, one that still presents challenges as I continue the transformation. There are times when I want to run away, times I am overwhelmed with the desire to escape the realities presented by loss, but these impulses are coming further and further apart. And one day, I hope to find resolution in the way I see myself and the world I live in.horus-spirit-of-the-hawk

“There is a time in life when you expect the world to be always full of new things. And then comes a day when you realise that is not how it will be at all,” Macdonald writes. “You see that life will become a thing made of holes. Absences. Losses. Things that were there and are no longer. And you realise, too, that you have to grow around and between the gaps, though you can put your hand out to where things were and feel that tense, shining dullness of the space where the memories are.”

And that’s what it’s all about, growth through loss—“a reckoning…of all the lives we have lost (Macdonald)”—and the lives we have yet to discover.

mabel

Artwork: Green Voices, Night Hawk, and Horus-Spirit of the Hawk by Susan Seddon-Boulet. All Rights Reserved by the artist.

Fight or Flight: Words of Wisdom for Writers

lamott“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor,” writes Anne Lamott in her highly acclaimed book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (93). I first read this book more than 20 years ago in the only college writing class I’ve ever taken—and I hated everything she had to say. Lamott wrote about self-doubt, addiction, jealousy, hopelessness, and despair. None of these things applied to me. At the time it was published in 1995, Lamott was in her early 40s; I was in my mid-20s. I had just sold my first professional magazine story. Perfectionism was a tool I used to make my work shine. It wasn’t until my writing career plummeted and my personal life shattered that I returned to this book, seeking wisdom from a woman who has known self-doubt, addiction, jealousy, hopelessness, and despair.

Her words helped me rediscover my own voice during adversity and I returned to this book over the years passed. I’ve used it as a resource for teaching writing and I’ve also used it during times when I needed a push to continue with my own work. As a writer constantly searching for ways to improve my work, I’ve read numerous craft books on writing, but Lamott’s book is the only one I return to over and over again. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life offers practical wisdom for writers with an emphasis on some of the things that matter most: short assignments, shitty first drafts, and self-discovery.

cropped-gabriel-moreno-woman-bird-hybrid-art-pen-and-ink-illustration-beautiful-portrait

One of the most important things to take away from the advice in this book is on breaking your work down into short assignments. It is something my students have found useful as a tool and it is a technique I use frequently in my own writing. The title of Lamott’s book comes from an experience she observed while growing up. The memory she recounts is when her ten-year-old brother was panicked into inaction when he finally sat down to write a report on birds he’d put off for three months. It was due the next day. Their father, who also happened to be a writer, propelled him into motion. “…[He] put his arm around my brother’s shoulder,” she recalls, “and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird’” (Lamott  19). This common piece of wisdom can be elusive, especially when tackling large and/or complex projects.

Although I was able to write magazine articles in one sitting, I soon discovered that fiction needed a different approach, especially when written in the longer forms. The desire to know everything before sitting down to write can be crippling. My stalling techniques are similar to hers, so I followed what worked for her and discovered that it worked for me to. If the writing is going well, I will stay in my chair until a scene or a chapter is complete.

romantischer_spiegel_an10321aa_2_1012If things aren’t running smoothly, I use Lamott’s one-inch picture frame technique to focus in on just one thing: a paragraph detailing setting, a section of backstory, a character study. Lamott claims that an entire novel can be written one paragraph at a time by focusing on short assignments: “L. Doctorow once said that ‘writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’ You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice about writing, or life, I have ever heard” (Lamott 18).

I agree. When I find myself floundering, wondering if being a writer was the worst possible decision I have made in my entire life, trying to decide what other choices I might have left in the life ahead of me, I take a breath—sit down and work on writing just one more sentence, just one more paragraph, just one more page. Those short assignments add up and inevitably I’m surprised when each story finally comes to an end.

birdwoman-nancy-woodThere is always a sense of relief and accomplishment when a story or a project is finally finished, but it doesn’t take long before you realize that the first draft is only the beginning. There is a different sort of panic that sets in when you realize everything you’ve just put on the page is a jumbled mess: giant plot holes, inconsistent characterization, generic settings, stilted dialogue, information dumps. “Very few writers really know what they are doing until they’ve done it,” Lamott sympathizes. “For me and most of the other writers I know, writing is not rapturous. In fact, the only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts” (22).

I struggle with this every single time I sit down. There is the urge to polish each sentence, to listen to the lyricism of the words, to create a beautiful paragraph. However, it’s difficult to make any progress if you attempt to edit as you write. “The bottom line is that if you want to write, you get to, but you probably won’t be able to get very far if you don’t start trying to get over your perfectionism,” Lamott writes. “Perfectionism…will only drive you mad” (31).

gabriel-moreno-illustration-bird-womanIt can be a difficult pursuit to move past the desire for perfection in order to put the story on the page in its raw and garbled state. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to discover the places where a story might have missed its mark or characters whose voices might never be heard if you don’t get the words on the page. When I find myself struggling, I remind myself that what I’m writing is a shitty first draft. It’s an act of forgiveness. The creative process is for the muse; it’s the time to wallow in emotion and discovery. The critic has her turn, but that comes later—much, much later.

Lamott says, “We write to expose the unexposed” (198). The only way to uncover these hidden truths is through the process of emotional exploration and self-discovery. As a writer who has experienced the fear of putting too much on the page, I can relate to Lamott’s assertions.

fireeaglespirit“If something inside you is real, we will probably find it interesting, and it will probably be universal. So you must risk placing real emotion at the center of your work. Write straight into the emotional center of things. Write toward vulnerability. Don’t worry about appearing sentimental. Worry about being unavailable; worry about being absent or fraudulent. Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it. If you’re a writer, you  have a moral obligation to do this. And it is a revolutionary act—truth is always  subversive” (Lamott 226).

But the fear remains. What if the emotional center we expose, the sentimental truths aren’t of interest to anyone else? I believe this fear is universal, that’s why writing is a risky business. Writing becomes flat and generic without passion. We need to shine a light in the dark places, expose the hidden truths. “The core, ethical concepts in which you most passionately believe are the language you are writing,” writes Lamott. “Telling these truths is your job (103).

There is a plethora of craft books to choose from and many focus on the fundamentals: plot, character, dialogue, setting, and so forth. However, it is the rare gem that looks at the other aspects of living a creative life. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life is one those gems. Lamott gives writers permission to take breaks, to “free yourself to begin filling up again” (178). She focuses on practice and progress through short assignments, she encourages forgiveness and exploration with shitty first drafts, and she inspires with the advice to expose the unexposed through self-discovery.  The more I’ve lived, the more Lamott’s “instructions” make sense. Above all, she reminds writers that we are our own worst critic. There is a time to let it go in order to move forward with craft and life. “…[T]here will always be more you could do, but you have to remind yourself that perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor” (Lamott 93).

Suggested Reading: Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. Anchor Books, 1994.

Illustrations: Bird by Gabriel Moreno, Bird Woman by Nancy Wood, Butterfly by Gabriel MorenoFire Eagle Spirit by Susan Seddon-Boulet. All Rights Reserved by the artists.

Finding Beauty in Brokenness

In The Woman Who Watches Over the World, Chickasaw novelist and essayist Linda Hogan speaks to the vulnerability inherent to storytelling:

“To open our eyes, to see with our inner fire and light, is what saves us. Even if it makes us vulnerable. Opening the eyes is the job of storytellers, witnesses, and the keepers of accounts. The stories we know and tell are reservoirs of light and fire that brighten and illuminate the darkness of human night, the unseen. They throw down a certain slant of light across the floor each morning, and they throw down also its shadow.”

brooke-shaden-the-shadows-we-follow

The stories we know and tell. Could it be that easy to throw down the shadows of despair and doubt? This is something I’ve been thinking about quite often as I’ve been struggling to emerge from a place of pain and fear, the lingering trauma of a freak accident at the beginning of summer.

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“Fire, like pain, like love, is a power we do not know,” Hogan continues. “Yet from the ashes of each, something will grow. No one knows if it will be something beautiful and strong. But in our lives it is sometimes the broken vessel, as writer Andre Dubus calls it, that spills the light.”

I am a broken vessel, even though time is slowly healing my wounds. However, patience has never been a strong suit of mine and, not even a month into recovery, I pushed myself to a point where I created even more damage to a body and mind already weakened by trauma. There came a moment where I had to accept the limits of a broken body. There came a moment when I needed to take the words of T.S. Elliot to heart: “I said to my soul be still and wait… So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.” And I waited.

billie-bond

Now three months to the day of the accident that nearly destroyed me, body and soul, I am finally moving forward. This time, I’m attempting to be kind to myself. I am attempting to be patient. These are not easy things for me to do, especially as I feel the press of time and the uncertainty that comes with more surgeries on the horizon.  I still struggle with pain and my limitations (both cognitive and physical) each day, but I have hope that I will emerge from this storm stronger than ever before.

“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive,” writes novelist and essayist Haruki Murakami. “You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”

expansion

I am attempting to embrace my brokenness and the things I have learned from these months of forced quietude. People have shown me kindness I didn’t even know existed. I was so trapped by my darkest fears, I almost missed the opportunities presented through doors that opened up during this greatest time of need.

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One of the most beautiful things that came from this time of dark despair was in the interaction with Greg Hartman, a Colorado writer who I met a few years ago.  He showed his teenage daughter a side-by-side photo comparison of what I looked like with and without makeup just a month after the accident. After a long moment, she said she preferred the photo without the makeup. When her father asked why, she said, “I think scars are beautiful. They show who you are and your history.”  This girl I had never met shared the wisdom I needed to begin the journey past preconceived notions of beauty and self-worth.

A few years ago, I became fascinated with the art of kintsugi (or kintsukuroi). This art form centers on a Japanese method for rejoining the pieces of broken ceramics with an adhesive lacquer mixed with precious metals such as gold, silver, and platinum. “When the Japanese repair broken objects, they aggrandize the damage by filling the cracks with gold,” writes artist Barbara Bloom. “They believe that when something has suffered damage and has a history, it becomes more beautiful.”

kintsugi-1

Contemporary Korean artist Yee Sookyung expands on the concept with an explanation of her own process:

“The master potter was trying to create the perfect piece each time, and he would discard even the ones with the slightest flaw. So I chose to create new forms from them, because perhaps, I don’t believe completely in that kind of perfection.

“To me, a piece of broken ceramic finds another piece, and they come to rely on one another. The cracks between them symbolise the wound. The work is a metaphor of the struggle of life that makes people more mature and beautiful as they overcome their sufferings.”

yee_sookyung_close-up

This is the place I now find myself in. I will never look the same as I used to. I have been broken, shattered, and then pieced back together. Although I have been broken by violence in the past, those wounds are hidden. This time there is no hiding the scars. They have changed the landscape of my face and body. They have transformed me. And now it’s time to stop waiting. It’s time to emerge from the darkness. It’s time to embrace the light that is starting to seep through the cracks. For now, that will have to be enough.

let-loose-the-curious-being

“The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places.” –A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway.

Images: the shadows we follow, the song of time, phoenix, we are infinite, guiding lights, let loose the curious being by Brooke ShadenKintsugi Head 1 by Billie Bond, Expansion by Paige BradleyTranslated Vase by Yee Sookyung. All Rights Reserved by the artists.

 

 

 

 

 

A Detailed Absence

It’s been a while since I’ve been here–nearly two months. A lot has happened since I last posted.  I hope that as my health returns, I will be able to blog more consistently. I would like to post weekly, but we will have to wait and see what happens.

brother and sister
By Laura Makabresku, “Lovers”

Let’s start with the good news. My poem “Brother and Sister” came out on June 26 at Gingerbread House Literary Magazine. I’m pleased this piece found a home as I’ve always found the fairy tale compelling. Terri Windling once wrote a “Brother and Sister Duet” on the same fairy tale, which was published at the Journal of Mythic Arts. It was one of those poems I was drawn to read over and over again. So imagine my glee, when Terri shared my version with her Facebook followers. It was quite the thrill!

I am currently getting geared up for my first residency at Stonecoast. I will be in Maine from July 8-18 and will be working with David Anthony Durham as well as Theodora Goss and Elizabeth Hand during workshops and I have a whole line-up of seminars and graduate presentations I plan on attending. it should be an incredible experience and I can’t wait to be there. In addition to having been one of five candidates chosen to enter the Popular Fiction track this semester, I have also been awarded a graduate scholarship from The University of Maine for this semester’s 6 credits. It was a wonderful surprise and I feel blessed to have been chosen for this honor. It’s not something I take lightly. The last bit of news on my MFA program is that I was also chosen to be one of ten students awarded the opportunity to attend Stonecoast in Ireland for my January residency. It’s all very exciting.

Now a bit about the bad:

On June 11, I had a terrible bicycle accident. I was going downhill on a road, looked over my left shoulder to ask my companion which way to turn. I have only been riding for a little over a year, so I still have a tendency to turn my handlebars in the direction I am looking. I don’t remember anything after looking over my shoulder, but apparently I had a run in with a big patch of gravel in the street. It stopped my bike abruptly and I was thrown face down into the street and all of the loose gravel that had collected at the bottom of the hill tore me to pieces.

Luckily, my sister Nikki Couch was in her truck following us and was able to stabilize me until the ambulance arrived. I was unconscious for most of this time, although I do remember being loaded into the ambulance and seeing her arms gloved in blood. The next 12 hours were a blur. I was in and out of consciousness. I remember my sister’s voice, my boyfriend holding my hand, the techs cutting off the shredded remains of my clothes, the anesthesia. In the end, I was in surgery for four hours.

There was extensive road rash on the tops of my hands and feet and knees. My left knee was cut to bone and required 12 staples. My chest was abraded to the point where there was no skin left, which required it being treated as a severe burn case, as they have been trying to regrow skin from the bottom up. The worst damage was my face. My helmet saved my life and my glasses saved my eyes, but there was extensive damage to my mouth and right cheek. I had stitches inside my lower lip and from my upper lip to my nose. I also had stitches on a long cut across the cheekbone near my lower eyelid. Unfortunately the stitches under my eye did not hold as the skin died and I will be having reconstructive surgery on July 19, the day after I return from my residency.

I have been posting photos of my recovery on Facebook, but I’ve been asked to put them altogether in a sort of album. So here they are, so far. I’m not done healing yet. I have work to do!

Me Before the Accident
A photo of me before the accident.
Just out of Surgery June 12
The accident happened around 4:30 pm on June 11. This is a photo of me after 12 hours being treated in the trauma unit.
Evening June 12
This is in the evening of June 12 after my sister cleaned me up and washed most of the blood out of my hair.
June 13
A wonderful tech named Danisha washed and braided my hair and made me feel human again. This is from June 13.
June 14
June 14. Things are looking up, but I’m having difficulty transitioning to oral pain medications.
June 15
June 15. Notice the blue gown. My bed is no longer booby trapped. Time to go home even though they wanted to keep me another day.
June 16
June 16. Finally home and being treated like a queen by my guy and his son. I want for nothing.
June 17
June 17. Venturing outside.

 

June 18
June 18. Full body shot. Still pretty banged up.
June 19
June 19. Does the wavy hair detract from my poor beat up face?
June 21
June 21. Stitches came out yesterday. I thought everything would keep getting better. At the time, I did not know that the skin under my eye had died and that the stitches didn’t take.
June 23
June 23. I am about to discover that the surgery under my eye failed and that I have a long journey of facial reconstruction ahead of me.
June 24
The wound under my eye has completely separated and my lower lid has begun to droop. Big problems. But the makeup and eye patch helped a little. June 24.
June 27
July 27. The verdict is in. I need a skin graft on the skin under my lower right eyelid. The surgeon will be taking the skin from the upper lid, but he won’t do the the lid lift on the left eye in case the graft doesn’t take and he needs another source of skin. I am scheduled for surgery July 19, the day I return from Stonecoast. Once it has healed, I will be able to get the other eyelid done so my eyes will look symmetrical. The second surgery will be done in 3-6 months and the cost will have to come out of pocket. I am looking at needing some serious change to look somewhat normal. Scary stuff.

Although I could have had my surgery done on July 12, I refused the chance to miss my first residency, so I delayed the surgery until July 19. It has been an emotional time, but now I need to write. I need deadlines. I need reinforcement. And I need support.

I have a Patreon account that is set up for people who want to support my work. You can help with as little as $1 a month. There are levels with goodies such as poems and stories and other fun rewards. My gig with Bootprints went belly-up, so I am back where I started. Any little bit will help.

Carina

Selkies, Sirens, and Shark Boys

selkieI have a thing about selkies, those maidens of the sea who shed their seal coats to dance on land. Don’t get me wrong. Mermaids and sirens have their own appeal, but it’s the selkies that I feel the most connected to. That connection evolved into my poem “Swimming with the Shark Boys,” which came out this month at Mythic Delirium.

Found predominantly in Irish and Scottish folklore, selkies live as seals in the sea. However, when they come ashore, they shed their seal skins and reveal themselves in their human form. According to folklore, these  beautiful women can be trapped on land if their seal skins are discovered and hidden. In this way, they become fairy brides, who can be beguiled into a marriage with the mortal who holds their coats and their freedom at bay. These selkies are said to make good wives, but as soon as one of these fairy brides finds her hidden seal coat, she returns to the ocean without once looking back.

mermaid-vertical_2445977k“In Swimming with the Shark Boys,” I took a different approach. In high school, I always felt awkward and ungainly, especially around the divas and cheerleaders who scored with early beauty. Mine took a while, so I watched the courtships and drama from the sidelines. After a while, I found that I was much more interested in the bad boys than the guys who feathered their hair and dressed in pastel polo shirts. That fascination got me into trouble over the years, but I always found it more exciting to swim with the sharks than the schools. What can I say?

“Swimming with the Shark Boys” is a cautionary tale. Whether it’s for the selkie girls or for the shark boys is something I’ll leave up to the reader.

patreon_navigation_logo_mini_orangeOn a side note, I’ve created a Patreon account. For as little as $1 a month, you can support the work I’m doing in poetry and fiction. And with just $5 a month, you’ll be given access to new stories and poems created for my benefactors. Every little bit helps. Thanks!

Images: Selkie by zirofax at DeviantArt; Hannah Mermaid Swimming with Whale Sharks by Shawn Heinrichs.

Jumping Into Spring

John_William_Waterhouse_-_I_am_half-sick_of_shadows,_said_the_lady_of_shalottIt’s been a busy couple of months and it’s time to play catch up.

March was full of fabulous news, which I’d hoped to share. Unfortunately, I’ve been shut down as I transferred my content to a new server. As I am far from being a pro in matters of technology, I stumbled through the process over the course of several weeks. In the end, I axed all of my blogs prior to January this year, but I’ve finally got everything else back up and running.

This Spring, I was notified that I made the cut for the Stonecoast MFA in Creative Writing. I’m thrilled with the opportunity and have been gearing up for what promises to be a challenging and productive two years studying and writing in the field of Popular Fiction. My first residency will be held in Portland, Maine this July with workshops by David Anthony Durham, Theodora Goss, and Elizabeth Hand. I can’t wait!

Bootprints-logo-com-blackIn other news, I’ve picked up a freelance gig writing about travel along the Front Range for Bootprints. In the past two months, I’ve written about dinosaur hikes, the quirky town of Carbondale, snowkiting in Dillon, biking Denver’s urban trails, glamping, breweries by bike in Boulder, spring wildflower hikes, and a few other fun escapes in this state I love so. If you have any suggestions for story ideas, please send them my way.

800px-The_Lady_of_Shallot_Looking_at_LancelotAs to my writing schedule, I’m getting into a good routine and I’m planning to get back into a more regular pattern publishing posts. My blogs will be coming out once a week and will include a wide variety of material including book and  film reviews, musings on my current works-in-progress, fairy tales and folklore, commentary on the mythic arts, travel and leisure, and new projects. It’s going to be a busy summer.

See you in May!

Images: I am half-sick of shadows, 1916 and The Lady of Shalott Looking at Lancelot, 1894 by John William Waterhouse.

 

 

 

Poetry Publications

NBR Grimms Fairy TalesSo far, 2016 has been all about poetry. NonBinary Review has released all of the content for Grimm’s Fairy Tales (Issue #1), which includes my poem Wild Girl. This piece was nominated for Sundress Publications Best of the Net Award and the Pushcart Prize. It also marked the beginning of a wonderful relationship with the editors and publisher of NonBinary Review, a relationship that has resulted in the inspiration for of some of my favorite creative work of all-time.

womaninwhite_nonbinary6MEDNonBinary Review is a digital magazine with each issue publishing a well-known work in the public domain. The platform then provides a unique way of reading the content, which has been expanded with new works relating to the theme.

The current issue at NonBinary Review is The Woman in White (Issue #7), one of the first “sensation” or mystery novels, which was written by Wilkie Collins in 1859. My poem Tabula Rasa is included in this issue, which was released earlier this month.

Horror Zine 2016I am also pleased to announce that The Horror ‘Zine has published three of my poems – Figura Serpentinata, Paper Shadows, and Tinder— in The Horror Zine Magazine Summer 2016, which was released on January 29 at Amazon. Figura Serpentinata is a piece about the 13th hour, a creepy little wonder tale influenced by Edgar Allan Poe. Paper Shadows walks the edge of anorexia with expectations of cardboard cut-out women. And Tinder is a rendition of the fairy tale The Steadfast Tin Soldier, which I’ve imbued with elements of romantic obsession. These pieces will also be available to read online in the future.

Mythic DeliriumMy last bit of news is the release of the Table of Contents in the upcoming release of Mythic Delirium Issue 2.4. I’m exceptionally pleased that my poem Swimming with the Shark Boys will be in this issue along with work by some of my favorite authors including the fabulous Theodora Goss.

Stay tuned for the release date of Mythic Delirium Issue 2.4 in April. Happy reading!

Women Writing the Weird

twilight talesMy preference for weird and dark fiction is something that is often reflected in my writing. This wasn’t always the case.

When I was growing up, I tended towards fantasy. I would occasionally dip into murkier water, but the books in the horror section were most often written by men and that flavor of the macabre didn’t suit my tastes. The fantasy I penned often examined the dark places in the soul and I wished there were other women writing in the same vein.

armless maidenOver the years, I’ve been pleased to see more and more weird and dark fiction being produced and published by women. However, we are still a minority among writers working in a male-dominated genre.

There have been efforts in increasing the visibility of women writers of horror. In fact, the whole month of February (the shortest month of the year) is dedicated to spreading the word about women writing weird and dark fiction. During Women in Horror Month, lists of fabulous female horror writers are bandied about. The Horror Writers Association has even taken a stab at cultivating women writers in the field with the $2,500 Mary Shelley Scholarship (the first scholarships were awarded in 2014).

Erasures by Catherine Chauloux

 

It’s wonderful that the efforts are bringing women horror writers new readers, but what happens when February comes to an end? What happens to the visibility of the fabulous female writers working in the field the rest of the year? For the most part, we disappear.

armless maiden 2“Do we vanish from your minds the rest of the year?” writes Damien Angelica Walters. “I understand compiling lists and such, but is this the only time you pay attention to the women writing horror? If that’s the case, I’d ask you to ask yourself why. If your current reading lists or end of the year lists contain little or no work written by women or you typically don’t read horror by women, why? Yes, please read our work and talk about it in February, but please also read our work and talk about it the other eleven months of the year.”

These are questions that need to be broached. It’s a complicated business, but I have hope that women who are writing horror will continue to make their presence known. And that presence will grow.

Here are a few suggested reads (ranging from horror to dark fantasy) to whet your appetite:

Palingenesis by Megan Arkenberg
All the World When It Is Thin by Kristi DeMeester
The Maiden Thief by Melissa Marr
eyes I dare not meet in dreams by Sunny Moraine
It Feels Better Biting Down by Livia Llewellyn
Stopping by Woods by Lise Quintana
Fabulous Beasts by Priya Sharma
Armless Maidens of the American West by Genevieve Valentine
Sing Me Your Scars by Damien Angelica Walters
Even In This Skin by A.C. Wise
Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers by Alyssa Wong
Secondhand Bodies by JY Yang

Manuel Bujados (1889–1954), Illustration for 'La Esfera' magazine, April 1927

Images: The Mystic Wood by John William Waterhouse; Handless Maiden Series by Jeanie Tomanek; Erasures by Catherine Chauloux; illustration for La Esfera (1927) by Manuel Bujados

Textile Dreams and Velveteen Allies

finch5Today at Myth and Moor, an incredible blog on the mythic arts, Terri Windling-Gayton posted musings by C.S. Lewis accompanied with images of textile sculptures by artist Mister Finch. I’ve been fascinated with Mister Finch’s textile creations since first being introduced to his work in 2014. The combination of quotes and images struck a chord of inspiration with me this morning, so I started the day by composing a little tribute to all of my friends working in the mythic arts. Without your words and your creations, my life would be lacking.

finch9Velveteen Allies
by Carina Bissett

Weave me a web of friendship and love,
secrets summoned through a needle’s eye,
stitches threaded from cobweb wishes,
and I will return with new designs
to complement your patterns and style
binding the network of common myths,
elegant strings of human desire.

Despite what you’ve heard about spindles,
the hidden ways wind through warp and weft,
finch6inspiration shuttled between frames
bound by hand, an interactive stage
piled with the textured intensity
of tapestries woven from silk shared,
landscapes braided with tales of wonder.

Weave me a web of new beginnings.
finch4Sit at your loom with your wit and words.
Tell me satin stories on the wing,
colorful tales writ in every shade,
and I will gather the castoff threads
in my basket filled with odds and ends,
fibers ready to be pinned again.

“Velveteen Allies” © 2016 by Carina Bissett. The poem may be not be reproduced in any form without the author’s express written permission.

finch1Visit Mister Finch’s website and blog to see more of his incredible work. All rights to the art above reserved by Mister Finch.

 

A Great Start to a New Year

6a00e54fcf7385883401a3fc18bb0e970b-800wiWinter is my favorite season of the year. There is something about dark days and long nights that nourishes my soul. The cold and quiet that comes with deep winter allows me the time to contemplate the direction of my creative work.

In An Unspoken Hunger, Terry Tempest Williams writes about these connections between place and creative healing. “Writing becomes an act of compassion toward life, the life we often refuse to see because if we look too closely or feel too deeply, there may be no end to our suffering. But words empower us, move us beyond our suffering, and set us free. This is the sorcery of literature. We are healed by our stories. By undressing, exposing, and embracing the bear, we undress, expose, and embrace our authentic selves. Stripped free from society’s oughts and shoulds, we emerge as emancipated beings. The bear is free to roam.”

6a00e54fcf73858834019b047d4108970d-800wi“We are creatures of paradox, women and bears, two animals that are enormously unpredictable, hence our mystery,” Williams continues. “Perhaps the fear of bears and the fear of women lies in our refusal to be tamed, the impulses we arouse and the forces we represent….As women connected to the earth, we are nurturing and we are fierce, we are wicked and we are sublime. The full range is ours. We hold the moon in our bellies and fire in our hearts. We bleed. We give milk. We are the mothers of first words. These words grow. They are our children. They are our stories and our poems.”

indexThe duality represented by bears presents a balanced cycle that mirrors my own journey through each year. Summer and autumn months offer prime opportunities to explore my surroundings. I collect material, capture color, and walk through the world gathering material for my own personal hibernation. When winter comes, I travel inwards through collected dreams and senses. This is my chosen time for creative work.

6a00e54fcf7385883401a51093139b970c-320wi“If we choose to follow the bear,” Williams writes, “we will be saved from a distracted and domesticated life. The bear becomes our mentor. We must journey out, so that we might journey in. The bear mother enters the earth before snowfall and dreams herself through winter, emerging with young by her side. She not only survives the barren months, she gives birth. She is the caretaker of the unseen world. As a writer and a woman with obligations to both family and community, I have tried to adopt this ritual of balancing public and private life. We are at home in the deserts and mountains, as well as in our dens. Above ground in the abundance of spring and summer, I am available. Below ground in the deepening of autumn and winter, I am not. I need hibernation in order to create.”

6a00e54fcf7385883401a510c7aab2970c-800wiThere is a rich history of mythic traditions relating women to bears. According to J. C. Cooper in An Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Traditional Symbols, bears represent resurrection. In Women Who Run With the Wolves, psychologist and storyteller Clarissa Pinkola Estés links their transformative and regenerative power to many goddesses around the world.

6a00e54fcf73858834019b046fee95970d-320wi“The bear is associated with many huntress Goddesses: Artemis and Diana in Greece and Rome, and Muerte and Hecoteptl, mud women deities in the Latina cultures. These Goddesses bestowed upon women the power of tracking, knowing, ‘digging out’ the psychic aspects of all things. To the Japanese the bear is the symbol of loyalty, wisdom, and strength. In northern Japan where the Ainu tribe lives, the bear is one who can talk to God directly and bring messages back for humans. The crescent moon bear is considered a sacred being, one who was given the white mark on his throat by the Buddhist Goddess Kwan-Yin, whose emblem is the crescent moon. Kwan-Yin is the Goddess of Deep Compassion and the bear is her emissary.”

6a00e54fcf7385883401a510962d6f970c-800wi“In the psyche, the bear can be understood as the ability to regulate one’s life, especially one’s feeling life. Bearish power is the ability to move in cycles, be fully alert, or quiet down into a hibernative sleep that renews one’s energy for the next cycle,” she continues. “The bear image teaches that it is possible to maintain a kind of pressure gauge for one’s emotional life, and most especially that one can be fierce and generous at the same time. One can be reticent and valuable. One can protect one’s territory, make one’s boundaries clear, shake the sky if need be, yet be available, accessible, engendering all the same.”

It’s going to be a wonderful year, indeed.

6a00e54fcf7385883401b7c7354494970b-800wiImages: “Playing With the North Wind” by Susan Seddon Boulet (1941-1997), photography by Katerina Plotnikova, “East of the Sun, West of the Moon” by Kay Nielsen (1886-1957),  “Hibernation” by Susan Seddon Boulet (1941-1997), “The Snow Princess” by Ruth Sanderson, “Bear Woman” by Susan Seddon Boulet (1941-1997), “The White Bear King” by Theodor Kittelsen (1857-1914), and “Pink Moon” by Jackie Morris.