The Art of Cameos in a Fictional World

a feast of shadowsMy introduction to the work of the Australian writer Angela Slatter occurred when I stumbled across the Tor.com reprint of “St. Dymphna’s School of Poison Girls” in May 2015. The story unfolded in slow waves, and it lulled me with its seductive beauty. My initial interest in this story aligned with the title as I had been reading about St. Dymphna through an extension of my research on the origins of “Allerleirauh.” The fairy tale elements appeared in Slatter’s story, but they appeared in unfamiliar ways. Interest stoked, I obsessively sought out Slatter’s stories, and soon discovered a whole new world of fairy tales to explore. I was hooked.

Allerleirauh_by_Henry_Justice_Ford_(1892)_02
Allerleirauh by Henry Justice Ford (1892).

In 2016, the U.S. publication of Slatter’s short story collection A Feast of Sorrows made her work more accessible; her other publications were released as limited editions in the UK. (A Feast of Sorrows includes the first three stories in The Tallow-Wife, which was recently released by FableCroft as a limited edition hardcover.) After a couple of readings, I discovered patterns that tied the characters together in a world of the author’s own making. In addition to cameo character appearances, Slatter also utilized subverted fairy tale references as a means of creating familiarity with the unfamiliar—a technique I would like to duplicate in my own work.

About halfway through my first reading of A Feast of Shadows, I noticed the repetition of a character from an earlier story. I stopped for a moment, thought about it, and then decided it must have been a mistake. Another of these moments came about two-thirds of the way through the collection. I recognized another character and sorted back through the stories to find her. That was when I realized that Slatter had deliberately seeded her stories with bits from other narratives. And, not only did her characters show up again and again, but settings made repeat appearances as well. The effect was a growing sense of familiarity even though the stories are all set in a secondary world.

tallow wifeBellsholm, which “sprawls along the banks of the wide Bell River, loose-limbed as a sleeping giant,” is featured prominently in “By My Voice I Shall Be Known” and is linked to Ballantyne’s Coffin Emporium in “The Coffin-maker’s Daughter” (143). Downstream from Bellsholm is Breakwater, the location of “the Weeping Gate” and the refuge of the criminal mastermind Bethany Lawrence from “The Tallow-Wife” series. And, far off in distant Lodellan, sits the Cathedral with its ghostly guard of six wolfhounds. Slatter takes her readers on a tour of Lodellan’s quarters in “Sourdough” and then into the Cathedral’s secret passageways to the palace in “Sister, Sister” and “What Shines Brightest.”

Rusalka_Bilibin
Rusalka by Ivan Bilibin, 1934

At first glance, the mention of these places in various stories might appear to be an after-thought. However, the subtle hints strengthen the underlying network of commerce and immigration that add complexity to the stories’ common world. For instance, even though “By My Voice I Shall Be Known” takes place in Bellsholm, the protagonist is gifted with a promise in the shape of a silver thimble “all the way from Lodellan” (149). She is, however, betrayed by her lover, who returns from Breakwater with a pretty bride-to-be on a clipper named Revenant: “…it plied the seas then crept up rivers like ours, to dispatch passengers and some cargo—mostly high end, expensive and small, cargo and passengers both…” (150).

Several characters, including Mother Magnus and Emmaline make cameo appearances, but the one who first made me conscious of these repetitions was Hepsibah Ballantyne, the independent, murderous protagonist in “The Coffin-maker’s Daughter.” An older Hepsibah makes an appearance as a guest teacher in “St. Dymphna’s School for Poison Girls;” Ballantyne’s Coffin Emporium is mentioned in “By My Voice I Shall Be Known;” and a weathered headstone reveals the trace of the name ‘Hepsi…tyne’ in “The Tallow-Wife.”

bitterwood-bibleOnce I saw the threads, I began to wonder what other stories existed with these characters in them. In my hunt for hidden treasure, I reached out to the author through social media. According to Slatter, A Feast of Sorrows was a U.S. collection primarily cobbled together from reprints, including pieces from The Bitterwood Bible and Other Encounters and Sourdough and Other Stories. Over the last year, Slatter’s work has become more and more available to U.S. audiences. With every story I read, I search for more connections tied to the cohesive worlds Slatter builds, worlds that exist long after the reader has finished the last page. If nothing else, I’m eager to learn more about the fates of the people inhabiting the ocean harbor of Breakwater, the ruslka singing from the riverbank near Bellsholm, and the ghostly wolfhounds guarding the Cathedral in Lodellan. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Dr-Angela-Slatter
Dr Angela Slatter (Photo by David Pollitt, June 2010)

Author website: Angela Slatter

Select short fiction online:

Short fiction collections:

Novels:

 

Legends & Myths: Immortality in a Butterfly’s Wing

Butterflies have always fascinated me, which is just one of the reasons I wrote this article for a regional magazine years ago. With “puddle parties” right around the corner, I decided to share this piece on the legends and myths found in the Southwest. Enjoy!

buttery_To Serve BrookeShadenOne bright summer day, the Creator sat under a tree watching a group of laughing children at play. A brown pup romped through a riot of wildflowers. The sun lit a bright blue sky dotted with wispy, white clouds. A songbird landed in the branches overhead, loosing a shower of pine needles.

The Creator watched the play of shadow and sunlight and fallen yellow leaves fluttering here and there in the late summer breeze and as he watched these things he grew sad.

“Soon these children will grow old,” he thought. “And that puppy will become a tired, mangy dog. And the flowers will die and snow will cover the land.”

The Creator became so sad at these thoughts that he vowed to preserve the afternoon for the months ahead. “All these colors should be caught forever,” he said to the songbird that watched him overhead. “I will make something to gladden my heart, something for these children to enjoy.”

He took out his magic bag and in it he put the black from a laughing girl’s hair, the brown of the pup’s floppy ears, the yellow of the fluttering leaves, a bit of blue sky and a touch of white from a cloud passing by. He added green from the pine tree and the orange, purple and red from the flowers all around. Overhead, the songbird sang her merry tune and with a smile, the Creator tossed a bit of her melody into the mix.

butterfly_Passage MarcoMazzoniBrimming with happiness, he walked to the children and offered them the bulging sack. The beautiful girl with black hair opened the magic bag and out flew thousands and thousands of butterflies in every color ever created. Enchanted, the girl said she had never seen anything so beautiful. The children agreed and the Creator was glad.

And the children danced with joy under the fluttering wings of these new, fanciful creatures. Then one, with wings the color of a summer sky, landed on the Creator’s head and began to sing a beautiful song. The other butterflies joined in and the children stopped to listen to the chirping melody.

The songbird flew down to perch on the Creator’s shoulder. “When you created the birds you gave us each our own song. Now you have passed mine around to these new playthings of yours,” she scolded. “Isn’t it enough that they have all of the colors of the rainbow?”

The Creator thought a moment and said, “You are right. I should not have taken what was yours.”

And he took away the song from the butterflies, which continued to dance over the children’s heads.

“The are beautiful even so,” the Creator said.

And that is why butterflies are silent today.

This delightful Papago version of the creation of butterflies is only one of a fluttering myriad of butterfly tales told throughout the Southwest and far beyond. The butterfly has symbolized the human soul since antiquity. The Russian name for these colorful creatures is babochka and the Ancient Greeks called them psyche – both words for the soul. The common name of the butterfly comes from the Anglo Saxon word buterfleoge for “butter” and “flying creature,” which linguists believe was the way of identifying Europe’s common yellow brimstone butterfly.

butterfly_the sound of flying souls, part 1BrookeShaden

Of course, butterflies actually flitted onto the scene long before people started making up myths to account for them. Butterflies emerged at least 38 million years ago with the earliest known fossil discovered in Colorado’s Green River Shale. Today, there are nearly 18,500 known species of butterflies ranging in size from Queen Alexandria’s Birdwing with a wingspan of 11 inches to the diminutive Western Pygmy, which spreads out to less than half an inch. Butterflies can be found on nearly every part of the globe with the exception of Antarctica and the world’s oceans. They grace flowery fields, meadows, hillsides, stream banks, forest glades, deserts and alpine tundra. They play a crucial role in the ecosystem as pollinators and in the human imagination as symbols of creativity, joy and rebirth.

Nearly 400 species of butterflies – more than half of the total number found in the entire North American continent live in Arizona. The Tohono O’odham, once known as the Papago, focused on the sheer beauty of these insects, as some 240 species flutter through their southern Arizona homeland. The southeastern portion of the state has biological links to the Sierra Madre range and the tropics in Mexico and its varied plantlife and climate account for the region’s diverse butterfly population.

The Yaqui, another southwestern desert tribe, believe that butterflies portend the coming of rain. When they spot approaching butterflies, the Yaqui sing a rain song and throw white corn kernels or dried leaves in the air.

butterfly_Funny how secrets travel Federico BebberWhite butterflies, they say,in a row are flying.

White butterflies, they say, in a row are flying.

White butterflies, they say, in a row are flying.

White butterflies, they say, in a row are flying.

Over there, I, where the flower-covered sun comes out,

they are emerging, all through the wilderness world,

in a row they are flying.

White butterflies, they say, in a row are flying.

As this song would suggest, the best time to search out butterflies in the Southwest is in the rainy season between the months of July in September, which is when the adults are breeding and laying their eggs. The highest concentration of species in Arizona reside in the southeastern portion of the state – specifically in Santa Cruz, Cochise and Pima counties. Chances of finding butterflies increases when two habitats overlap. Some of the best, easily accessible butterfly watching areas include Sabino Canyon in the Santa Catalina Mountains, Madera and Florida Canyons in the Santa Rita Mountains, and Ramsey and Garden Canyons in the diverse Huachuca Mountain range. Along with discovering them near their favorite flowers, butterflies might also be found congregating in “puddle parties,” depressed wet spots where the insects gather to replace vital trace elements.

But you don’t have to venture south — butterflies and their stories can be found throughout the Southwest. In eastern Arizona, the Chemehuevi, also known as the Southern Paiute, often represent insects in the designs of their highly prized baskets. The popular pattern of the butterfly shows up in these coiled baskets, which are woven out of such raw materials as willow, devil’s claw and juncus.

butterfly_A View from a Hole MarcoMazzoniLike many ancient Southwestern cultures, the Hopi often utilize the symbolism of butterflies. Prehistoric Hopi pottery shows this affinity as does the three Hopi kachina with butterfly origins — Poli Sio Hemis Kachina (Zuni Hemis Butterfly Kachina), Poli Taka (Butterfly Man) and Poli Mana (Butterfly Girl). However, the butterfly assumed a more menacing aspect to the Aztecs in Mexico. The goddess Itzpapálotl, or Obsidian Butterfly, was represented as a strong ferocious goddess with butterfly wings and big claws on her hands and feet. In Mexico, many people still believe that a black butterfly at the door portends an impending death.

Several Arizona-based cultures drew similar, disquieting morals from the butterflies fluttering, zigzag, seemingly demented flight. The Zuni sacred butterfly, lahacoma, is believed to make people crazy, especially young girls who will follow the yellow butterfly wherever it may lead. This belief is similar to the story of the Apache Bear Dance, in which butterflies entice girls from the underworld. The Tewa of Arizona also warn against the temptation represented by this colorful insect in “Transforming Bath: Butterfly Seducer” — a tale where a girl ignores her work to follow a beautiful butterfly up a mountain. Once at the top, the butterfly turns into a wicked boy who then tosses the girl down to her death.

The Navajo use the symbolism of butterflies to warn against vanity, temptation and foolishness. The Navajo story of “The Two Maidens and the White Butterfly” furthers the folly of butterflies. When the hero of the tale catches the wicked White Butterfly, he splits open the enemy’s head with an ax and thousands of butterflies escape from the mortal wound. The wise hero pulls one of the butterflies out of the air and insists that it tell the others they can no longer enter the brain of man. “You will be of little use to the people,” he says. “Only when they catch you and put pollen on their legs and arms and say – ‘May I run swiftly, may my days be long, may I be strong in arm.’” Even so, the Navajo consider the perishable dust of the butterflies’ wings a subtle warning on the fragility of beauty.

In the spring, the Apache sing the sorrowful song of the Flower Maiden, which also details the creation of the butterfly:

butterfly_Restlessness Federico BebberIn the first days of the people, many warriors sought the favor of the beautiful Flower Maiden. But of them all, she loved only two – Hidden Love and Iron Courage. They each contended for her love, but not even the Sky Father could help her make the choice. Then fate stepped in and both warriors were called to a great battle against invaders coming from the north. Flower Maiden bid them each good-bye with a heavy heart. Many months passed as she waited for her warriors to return, but when the war party rode back into camp, neither of her loved ones returned with the victorious.

Flower Maiden, who had lost any chance of happiness, took her tears and set out to find the bodies of the warriors she still loved even in death. She searched the hills and plains for years, sundered from herself in her grief.  When she could find neither of her beloved warriors, she pleaded with the Sky Father. “Please help me find their resting place,” she cried. “Please help me find their lost souls.”

“It was not my wish that your promised ones should die,” said the Sky Father. “But with them I also touched many others and in sorrow, I covered all of their bloodied bodies with soil and grass.”

The Flower Maiden lamented. “Then I shall never find them.”

Her sorrow grieved the Sky Father so, he ordered the ground to yield flowers in the colors and patterns of each fallen warrior’s shield to aid Flower Maiden in her lonely search. And when he realized she could not find the battlefield on which her beloved warriors had died in a single lifetime, he turned her into a beautiful butterfly so that each spring her spirit could wander among the flowers in search of her loved ones. And perhaps one day she will find them.

In the meantime, the Creator has given us the butterflies — ephemeral as the powdered memory of love lost, the black from a laughing girl’s hair, the yellow of falling leaves or the halcyon blue of a summer sky.

butterfly_the sound of flying souls, part 2 BrookeShaden

Images: To Serve by Brooke ShadenPassage by Marco Mazzoni, The Sound of Flying Souls, pt. 1 by Brooke Shaden, Funny How Secrets Travel by Federico Bebber, A View from a Hole by Marco Mazzoni, Restlessness by Federico Bebber, and The Sound of Flying Souls, pt. 2 by Brooke Shaden. All Rights Reserved by the artists.

 

 

Hath No Fury! Story Announcement!

It has been a year since a traumatic twist of fate sent me hurtling 20 mph, face-first into the gravel-strewn asphalt near the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs. Just days after celebrating the fact that I survived that cycling accident and all of the related complications, I received notice that my short story “A Seed Planted” had been selected for inclusion in the Ragnarok Publications anthology Hath No Fury. Nearly 400 submissions were received, all competing for the one coveted slot left open in this curated collection. I’m overjoyed to report that “A Seed Planted” has been awarded that spot and will be published alongside stories written by some of my favorite writers including Seanan McGuire, Carol Berg, Nisi Shawl, Delilah S. Dawson, and Lucy A. Synder.

hath no fury.jpgI couldn’t be more thrilled with the acceptance issued by co-editor Melanie R. Meadors (science fiction and fantasy author, blogger at The Once and Future Podcast), and the realization that I will be joining the incredible line-up of talented authors and artists associated with the project. The anthology description is as follows: “Hath No Fury contains…meaningful stories that defy the stereotypes. In this anthology, readers should expect to find super-smart, purpose-driven, ultra-confident heroines. Here, it’s not the hero who does all the action while the heroine smiles and bats her eyelashes; Hath No Fury’s women are champions, not princesses in distress. Embracing the strong warriors to the silent but powerful, to even the timid who muster up the bravery to face down a terrible evil, the women of Hath No Fury will make their indelible marks and leave you breathless for more.”

Sign me up.

Hath No Fury will include an introduction by Margaret Weis and nearly two dozen stories written by such speculative fiction authors including Seanan McGuire, Lian Hearn, Elaine Cunningham, Carol Berg, Gail Z. Martin, William C. Dietz, Nisi Shawl, Dana Cameron, Django Wexler, Delilah S. Dawson, Philippa Ballantine, Anton Stout, Elizabeth Vaughan, Bradley P. Beaulieu, M. L. Brennan, Michael R. Underwood, Erin M. Evans, Eloise J. Knapp, Marc Turner, S. R. Cambridge, and Lucy A. Synder. How incredible is that?

In addition to the stellar story selections, Hath No Fury will also include short essays by Robin HobbSarah Kuhn, Diana Pho, Monica ValentinelliK. Tempest Bradford, and Shanna Germain. But this anthology is not just a collection of stories and essays, it will also be filled with original art. Each piece of fiction will be individually illustrated, with the majority of the illustrations completed by Oksana Dmitrienko. However, the collection will also feature art by Wayne Miller and Keri Hayes, who were selected from the open art submission window offered as one of the project’s Stretch Goals.

The acceptance of my story also hinged on the open submission window made possible by all of the people who backed the anthology’s Kickstarter campaign. “A Seed Planted” is a tale about family, justice, and revenge. It was one of those stories that surprised me even as it was being written and I’m so glad I will be able to share it with you all soon. Hath No Fury is looking at a publication date in August. Stay tuned!

Disenchanted: Contemporary Issues Revealed with a Fairy Tale Twist

A Wild Swan_Little Man_Zohar Lazar_The New YorkerIn the fall of 2015, I happened across the short story “Little Man” by Michael Cunningham in The New Yorker.  As a collector of fairy tales, both old and new, I immediately recognized this strange and surprisingly modern twist on “Rumpelstiltskin.” Cunningham revisited this and several other well-known fairy tales in his collection A Wild Swan and Other Tales. With the popular surge in fairy tale retellings, I have often wondered why Cunningham’s take achieved publication in such a prestigious magazine. A close, in-depth reading of his collection revealed elements I seldom see in popular fairy tale renditions. Cunningham utilizes a variety of clever techniques in his stories, but the ones I was most drawn to the most as a writer were his use of sarcastic commentary on modern issues and the juxtaposition of classic fairy tales with contemporary parables.

Of all the stories in the collection, “Jacked”—a contemporary take on “Jack and the Beanstalk”—was the one that captured my interest the most as a deft and detailed commentary on the single parent, only child plight so prevalent among middle-class Americans. Cunningham creates a solid foundation with Jack’s character in the opening lines: “This is not a smart boy we’re talking about. This is not a kid who can be trusted to remember to take his mother to her chemo appointment, or to close the windows when it rains” (23). Forgetting a chemo appointment is a long cry from forgetting to close the windows on a rainy afternoon, yet it perfectly captures the entitled privilege we’ve come to expect from today’s youth.

Cunningham stays faithful to the original plot in “Jack and the Beanstalk,” but then modernizes it with a series of witticisms of a sarcastic nature: “The mist-girl tells Jack that everything the giant owns belongs rightfully to him. Jack, however, being Jack, had assumed already that everything the giant owns—everything everybody owns—rightfully belongs to him” (26). Personally, I’ve never been particularly fond of “Jack and the Beanstalk.” And, after reading the story, I was left with the feeling that Cunningham wasn’t in love with the original fairy tale either, which is why he pushes the unlikeable character to even further extremes. A “shockingly expensive haircut” and “200-dollar-jeans” can’t hide Jack’s self-entitled nature as a petty criminal. Cunningham makes the story relevant. He makes it his.

A Wild Swan Yuko Shimizu

All of the stories in A Wild Swan and Other Tales have roots in classic fairy tales with the exception of “A Monkey’s Paw,” which reimagines the supernatural short story “The Monkey’s Paw” written by W. W. Jacobs in 1902, and the opening and ending stories, which offer broad commentary on people at large. I especially loved Cunningham’s snarky wit in the opening pages of “Dis. Enchant.”: “Vengeful entities seek only to devastate the rarest, the ones who have somehow been granted not only bower and trumpet but comeliness that startles the birds in the trees, coupled with grace, generosity, and charm so effortless as to seem like ordinary human qualities. Who wouldn’t want to fuck these people up?” (3). Cunningham continues his observation of human foibles, allowing the reader the opportunity to connect with an array of fairy tale characters. He offers the opportunity to fantasize and to relate to even the most mundane and petty complaints.

A WIld Swan Yuko Shimizu illustrationThe evil stepmother in “A Wild Swan” is given sympathy after she turns her 12 stepsons into swans and commands them to fly away: “Do we blame her? Do we, really?” (5). The witch from “Hansel and Gretel,” finds her voice in “Crazy Old Lady”: “Were you relieved, maybe just a little, when they lifted you up (you weighed almost nothing by then) and shoved you in to the oven?” (20). In addition to identity, Cunningham plays with sexual themes; Rapunzel keeps her shorn hair so her blinded prince can make love to the piece of her that was lost in “Her Hair,” a boy marries the first girl who doesn’t treat him differently just because he has a prosthetic leg in “Steadfast; Tin,” and a girl agrees to play dead for exactly twelve minutes so her Prince Charming can play out his necrophiliac obsession in “Poisoned.”

Cunningham creates a cast of characters that we know intimately: the people who were only partly cured of their curses gathering in bars, the aging women with no families who become easy targets in their old age, the couple who plays out kinky sex fantasies behind closed doors, the single men who would give anything to have a child without the entanglements of a partner, the couple who finds their love renewed after tasting separation, the girls who wonder if their only choices for a companion are the asshole and the fool, and the men who prefer to forget their losses at the cost of the ones they love. These characters are fragments of ourselves and others, fragments many of us prefer not to face.

A Wild Swan_Beasts_Yuko Shimizu

As I pondered Cunningham’s treatment of old material in a new light, I realized that I tend to shy away from the very thing he embraces. There are opportunities there, but they can only be broached if I am willing to write from the hard places. Cunningham uses sarcasm to separate himself from his material. He allows the reader to make the obvious connections and then to bear the burden of the revelations mirrored from familiar tales retold in a contemporary setting. I think it’s a fine line to walk, but I also think that this is why Cunningham’s work rises above the multitude of other fairy tale retellings flooding the market. As a writer drawn to similar subject material, I am of the belief that fairy tale retellings work because there is such a breadth of material available to mine. However, I’ve also learned that it isn’t just the more obscure tales that need to be told; it’s the true tales. It’s up to the writers to find new ways to reflect the deepest, darkest parts of themselves through the comforts of the familiar.

 

A Wild Swan CoverWork Cited

Cunningham, Michael. A Wild Swan and Other Tales. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015.

Images: “Little Man” by Zohar Lazar, The New Yorker; “A Wild Swan,” “Poisoned,” and “Beasts” by Yuko Shimizu. All rights retained by the artists.

A Parliment of Owls: Native American Myths of the Southwest

calling_the_allies SSB

I spent 19 years exploring Southwestern deserts and the stories of the native peoples who live there. It didn’t take long to learn that certain stories are only told in the winter, when the world is at rest. Stories about owls fall into this category. Seeing as it’s snowing in Colorado, it seems as though this is the time to share a few of my favorites gathered during my desert years, which seem so far away they might have happened to another person entirely.
“There came a gray owl at sunset,
There came a gray owl at sunset,
Hooting softly around me,
He brought terror to my heart.”

                                                     — Pima Song

The Direction West 1994Terror poised on a tree branch, He swoops silently out of the shadows upon a victim unaware of his presence until, with a thudding impact, powerful talons crush its flesh. A curved beak flashes. A quivering end to one life brings sustenance to another.

Owl’s extraordinary nocturnal hunting abilities have inspired more fear, reverence and story-telling among Native Americans than almost any other figurative animal but Coyote. Nearly universal among tribal lore, owl tales reveal a sharp eye for ecological detail and a complex worldview embedded in the intricate weave of Native American storytelling.

Owl Wind 1992With fringelike leading-edge wing feathers that muffle the turbulent sound of wind rushing over wings common to other birds, owls descend in eerie silence upon their prey. And eyes with a retina equipped with an abundance of rod cells capture light for nighttime hunting. These capabilities are often linked to haunting Native Americans tales of death and ghosts.

Yet, owl myths also reveal complicated tribal worldviews in which traditional Western-society concepts of good and evil give way to ambiguous, contradictory and unpredictable forces of nature. Feathered ghost, protector of abused children, transformed monster, part witch, part keeper of souls — Father Owl assumes a baffling array of fierce, yet wisely just guises in tribal mythology. He’s often used as a spiritual foil to illustrate the value of reverence, obedience and right behavior — making him a favorite in the instructive world of children’s bedtime stories.

Young Owl 1994Parents receive instruction right along with children. For instance, in a tale belonging to the Tewa people, a disobedient boy sneaks out at night to watch his elders in the kiva. His father catches him, beats him with a stick and sends him into the darkness, where the boy cries and moans. Father Owl glides out of the night and lands before him, telling the boy to get on his back. Father Owl carries the child back to his nest filled with his own fledglings. “This is your new home,” says Father Owl. “I took you away from your mother and father because they were always scolding you.”

Ancestor 1987When the boy’s parents discover their son is missing, they regret beating him and begin searching for their lost child. After a time, seeing the parents nearly dead from despair, Father Owl lets the child return to his home on the high pueblo.

At first, the boy’s parents don’t recognize him — he has started growing feathers and his eyes are turning yellow like his owl brothers and sisters. Father Owl tells the parents that the boy must stay in a locked room for four days. After sunset on the fourth day, they may look in, but if they open the door before then, the boy will belong to the owls forever.

I Hear the Owl call my Name SSBBut eager to see her son, the mother can’t wait, and on the morning of the fourth day, she peeks into the room. That night, when the parents open the door, they find not their son, but a large owl flying from one corner to the other.

Overcome with sadness, the father says, “My poor boy, your mother was bad for looking too soon and now you are an owl.”

The owl nods.

“But if the enemy approaches or sickness is coming, you may come and warn the people,” the father says. And the owl, who was once a boy, flies off into the night.

So rather than simply concluding that children should always obey their parents, this story also illustrates why parents should not whip their children and explains why an owl’s call is often taken as a warning.

Ancient Ones 1991All Southwestern Native American tribes have similarly complex — usually foreboding — stories about Owl, who often serves as a specter to keep willful children in line. In “The Mountaintop Way,” a Navajo ceremonial tale, Owl Boy’s human mother abandons him because of his fearsome nature. Spurned and rejected, Owl Boy kills a member of his tribe when he attempts to return to his Navajo family. The narrator intones, “He went to them, but they were afraid of him: his big eyes, his long sharp fingernails, his voice that sounded like the wind playing a flute in a hollow tree.”

Most Native American tales also use this fierce, night-haunting predator to illustrate death, witchcraft and prophecy. The owl’s ghostly approach, keen vision and eerie nighttime habits prey on humankind’s fear of the dark and the unseen. Moreover, the owl’s strident, discordant vocabulary chills the soul and enhances its nocturnal image as a caller of death and singer of bad omens. The Apaches and Navajos believe that a hooting owl portends death and destruction. Historical records contain accounts of war parties or detachments of Apache scouts who would not fight if they heard owls nearby. To this day, a traditional Navajo will delay a journey if he sees an owl near his Hogan, and both Navajos and Apaches believe that if an owl calls your name, death is near. Similarly, Mojave, Tohono O’odham and Pima mythologies suggest that owls can hold the souls of the dead.

Owl Spirit 1981

Many cultures tell grim stories to account for Owl’s origins. For instance, one Navajo tale says that Owl is the child of one of the many monsters that once roamed the earth. In the Navajo creation story, Monster Slayer kills two winged giants called Tse’na’hale, which lived on Shiprock. After killing the adults, Monster Slayer transforms one of their bloodthirsty offspring into an eagle and the other into an owl to keep them from harming the Navajo people. Monster Slayer predicts the owl’s nature and its place in the Navajo realm saying, “In days to come men will listen to your voice to know what will be their future. Sometimes you will tell the truth and sometimes you will lie.” That note of ambiguity captures the complex, flexible and realistic role of the owl that animates many such tales.

Pathways 1988The oldest owl fossils in North America date back some 60 million years on the Colorado Plateau. Of the 133 species of owls found worldwide today, only 19 species live in North America. Southern Arizona, being the northernmost migratory range for several owls, hosts 13 species — more than any region in the United States or Canada.

Unlike most birds, the owl sees exceptionally well in dim light. Moreover, the owl’s disc-shaped face acts like a radar dish, catching faint sounds in a wide range of frequencies. The owl’s hearing is so acute, it often locates its prey in the dark undergrowth by sound alone — perching and hooting to panic mice and rabbits into betraying their position. Another oddity is the owl’s ability to swivel its head 270 degrees, which gives it wider range of motion to detect prey without moving and giving away its position. Add to these, the owl’s ability for ghostly flight, and you get a most successful predator. The owl’s flight is almost soundless thanks to the serrated edges of its leading feathers and the muffling effect of its downy upper surface feathers.

1989-DreamingTheOwlDream_SusanSeddonBouletNative Americans made adroit use of many of these remarkable qualities and often embedded such keenly observed details in their tales. For instance, the Hopis use owl feathers on their arrows to make the shafts fly silently and strike without warning. And Tohono O’odham medicine men, called “owl-meeters,” would discover where the enemy could be ambushed — relying on the owl’s uncanny powers of observation of the unseen. “Hoot owl medicine man, cut the arrow feathers of this my enemy,” the warriors would implore. “Gray owl medicine man, come with me! Yonder find my enemy and make him helpless!”

The Hopis also venerate the great horned owl, who is the protector of peach orchards, reflecting the owl’s skill in keeping rodent populations in check. The great horned owl also plays a prominent role as a Hopi katsina pantheon, but since it is a symbol of the dark, its feathers are not used on prayer sticks, which are offerings to the sun.

Through the Night Sky 1975

In the end, the picture of Owl that emerges from the fascinating wealth of tales remains as complicated, imaginative and mixed as the world itself. One of the most interesting and delightfully ambiguous tales is the Zuni story that explains how the world was divided into light and dark. In the Zuni tale — echoed by many other cultures — the birds and the beasts played a game to set the pattern of day and night. The birds played for day — for like human beings most birds are creatures of the daylight. However, the beasts played for night — the time when the mountain lion and other predatory mammals rule. However, among the beasts Squirrel took the side of the daylight-loving birds while Owl played with the night-loving beasts.

Midnight Sun 1984The game went on all night with each side trying to guess where the other had hidden a set of sacred sticks. As the sun came up, the birds had the most sticks and so won the sun’s daylight. Bear ran off for the cover of darkness and in his hurry put his moccasins on the wrong feet, which is the way his feet still are today. Mountain Lion’s fur was tinted golden with the sun, leaving only his mouth black to show his connection to the night.

Meanwhile, the children of the sun, War Twins, chastised Owl for playing with the beasts and said, “you have not stayed among the winged creatures. You have made a mistake. Therefore, you have lost the sun’s daylight.”

To this day, the owl prowls his dark domain, the soul of the night and keeper of secrets. But sometimes, if you listen closely, you may hear a warning in his haunted lament.

Keeper of the Mysteries 1985I am the owl.
I sit on the spruce tree.
My coat is gray.
I have big eyes.
My head has two points.
The white smoke from my tobacco can be seen
As I sit on the spruce tree.
The little rabbit comes into sight,
Nearby where I sit on the spruce tree.
I think soon my claws will get into its back,
As I sit on the spruce tree.
Now it is dawn, now it is dawn.
The old man owl’s head has two points.
He has big, yellowish eyes.
We see white smoke from his tobacco.
Ho, ho! Ho, ho! Ho, ho!”

— A Navajo song

 

Storyteller 1989

All of the featured art in this post was created by Susan Seddon-Boulet (1941-1997). Images: Calling the Allies (1982); The Direction West (1994); Owl Wind (1992);  Young Owl (1994);  Ancestor (1987); I Heard the Owl Call My Name (1982); Ancient Ones (1991); Owl Spirit (1981); Pathways (1988); Dreaming the Owl Dream (1989), Through the Night Sky (1975); Midnight Sun (1984); Keeper of the Mysteries (1985); and Storyteller (1989). All rights reserved by the artist’s estate. Archival prints and original art can be purchased at Turning Point Gallery.

New Beginnings

dites-le-avec-des-mots-by-catherine-chaulouxI suffer from acute procrastination, especially when times are tough. And times have been extremely tough the last few months. Seeing as it’s the first of March and there are no terrible deadlines hovering, I decided it was time to break the silence.

Blog posts are the most enjoyable during the research phases or as a way of reliving a fabulous event. I attended the World Fantasy Convention at the end of October and rode that high for nearly a week before the bottom fell out of my personal life. All of the wonderful words, the excitement, and the momentum gained from this wonderful experience disappeared when I was faced with a dramatic turn of events in my home life.

I don’t want to go into details, but someone close to me made a decision that sent me spiraling and unable to function more than at the basic level. My home, which had been my sanctuary and writing retreat, went up on the market in November and I was faced with the problems of figuring out how to survive on my own while finishing my MFA in creative writing at Stonecoast over the next 18 months. Luckily, I was greeted with love and support by family and friends both home and abroad. I knew the transition was going to still be hard, but it was eased with the knowledge that I would not have to go through these challenges alone.

la-dame-au-dragon-by-cathering-chaulouxA few weeks after this rupture in my home life, I went forward with a scheduled knee surgery to address chronic pain and mobility issues caused by my bicycle accident in June. The surgery was supposed to be a breeze, but it turned out to be more complicated than expected. (Go figure.) Boxing up all of my belongings and being faced with the prospect of moving when I couldn’t even walk put me in an even deeper despair that continued through most of December.

On a high note, I took a 10 day trip to Hawaii at the beginning of December. The whole thing had been arranged by my girlfriend’s husband without her knowledge. It was a wonderful surprise and it came at the perfect time. Her love and kindness helped to ease my physical and emotional pain. There is something to be said about stepping away from a negative environment, even if it’s just to take a breath. I wish I could say that my trip to the Paradise of the Pacific healed me–I even considered staying–but I had to return and face the turmoil waiting for me at home.

les-apprentis-by-catherine-chauloux

le-verre-a-moitie-vide-ou-a-moitie-plein-by-cathering-chaulouxThings started to look brighter in January. I went to Ireland for 10 days for my second residency at Stonecoast. A few of my classmates and I toured Dublin for three days before taking the train to Howth for a truly remarkable workshop experience. That trip could have (and should have) fueled the fire for half a dozen blog posts. Perhaps, in the coming days, I will return to that time and share some of the details. For now, it’s enough to say that it was a life-changing experience that ended with the thrilling announcement that Elizabeth Hand would be my second semester mentor. I was, and still am, over the moon.

A week after returning from Ireland, the house closed and I had my share of the proceeds in a bank account. Suddenly, I had unbridled freedom and a bit of cash in hand. On a whim, I attended AWP and met up with a few friends. Things started looking up. February was filled with writing my residency response, unpacking and getting (somewhat) settled, attending therapy sessions, preparing and submitting homework packets, and the decidedly uncomfortable process of down-sizing. I also went forward with what I hope will be the last surgery connected to the June ordeal and I am currently in my second week of recovery.

So now, it time to get back to business. As I enter March, I can take a deep breath and count my blessings. Are things perfect? Not yet. But I feel as though I am moving forward more days than not and I am slowly moving into a more positive and productive space. And, I can’t ask for more than that.

de-a-a-z-tout-sur-les-oiseaux-catherine-chauloux

Images: Dites le avec des mots (Say it with words); La Dame au dragon (The Lady with the Dragon); Le verre à moitié vide ou à moitié plein !i (The half-empty or half-full glass!); De A à Z, tout sur les oiseaux (From A to Z, all about birds). All rights retained by Catherine Chauloux. To see more of her work, check out the artist’s online gallery.

Looking into the Self with The English Magic Tarot

english-magic-tarotA couple of years ago, a vibrant rendering of The Magician showed up in my Facebook feed. I was immediately smitten. This was not The Magician I was familiar with, but he hinted at a wild power I was eager to explore. It didn’t take long before I tracked down the source and then became an avid fan of what eventually became The English Magic Tarot.

150px-rws_tarot_01_magicianFor more than a decade I had used a Rider-Waite tarot deck, which depicts The Magician as a static character with all of the elements at his disposal. He holds a wand upright and is crowned with the symbol of eternity. Roses and lilies crowd the foreground and a table is laid out with symbols of the minor arcana—swords, staves, coins, and cups. This particular card is one that frequently would show in my readings and it was a familiar sight.

the-magicianThis new depiction of The Magician drawn by artist Rex Van Ryn took my breath away. As the color was added, the card became even more stunning. This magician was not the tamed red-robed mountebank I knew so well. This English magus wields a wild magic. The symbols of the minor arcana are all still present, but they are his feet. This magician can work his spells without the sleight of hand. He transcends the mundane and has opened a portal to a fey world full of tempestuous beauty. This magician needs no wand to work his spells. He is skilled in his craft and he’s not afraid to use his craft.

tarot1I connected with Rex through social media and avidly followed his progress as he worked his way through the deck. My Rider-Waite deck was retired after the lifelong friend who’d originally given them to me betrayed our relationship. She had nearly as much energy in that deck as I did and it was time for me to separate myself from the past. Although The English Magic Tarot deck also utilizes the blues, reds, greens, and yellows that are so prominent in the Rider-Waite deck, these images contain darker hues that evoke the English countryside. I loved every single card that he shared and I waited for the deck to become complete. I knew from the beginning that this was a deck I wanted to get my hands on.

In addition to Rex Van Ryn’s work composing these new images, The English Magic Tarot project also drew on the talents of colorist Steve Dooley and author Andy Letcher. It was released by Weiser Books in October 2016. The wait was over.

“This captivating new tarot deck draws us into the vibrant but often hidden world of English magic, evoking a golden age of mysticism, a time when John Dee was Queen Elizabeth’s Court Astrologer, antiquarian John Aubrey rediscovered ancient sacred sites, and the great physicist Isaac Newton studied alchemy.”

When my new deck arrived, I spent some time getting acquainted with the cards and then decided to get down to business. The traditional spreads I had used in the past didn’t feel quite right, so I followed a layout described in The English Magic Tarot book—The Prism Spread, “named after Isaac Newton, and his discovery that light could be split into its constituent parts with a prism of glass.” The results were enlightening indeed.

tarot-3The cards revealed that I was in the middle of a full-blown identity crisis (Page of Coins, reversed) and that I felt isolated and trapped in a place of pain and sorrow (Queen of Swords). My creativity had been stifled (Three of Wands, reversed) and I was hoping for a return to good times and abundance, even if it was just for a short time (Nine of Coins, reversed). In the greater context, the cards showed that I was a sensual and creative person, but that my powers had been blocked (the Empress, reversed). I needed to put my emotions aside in order to make room for new ideas and intellectual insight (Ace of Swords). People around me realized my difficulty in controlling my intense emotional strife (Knight of Cups). The challenge was in accepting the fact that things were not going the way I had hoped, but that I still had the potential to eventually succeed (Six of Wands, reversed). However, with perseverance, I will eventually reach my goals and the rewards of material wealth (Seven of Coins).

Those of you who know me will see the uncanny truth unveiled in this reading. I have, indeed, been questioning my creative calling and have been dwelling on my lack of self-worth. My bicycle accident in June left me broken in body and spirit, which has put me in a place where I feel terribly isolated and desperate for the return of health and happiness. The concussion I received from the head trauma has created problems with cognition and has effectively blocked my creativity. This has left me struggling with volatile emotional swings and the depths of despair. I know that I need to accept the limitations placed on my mobility and intellect. Eventually, I will heal. I just have to be patient. It’s incredibly difficult, but I am slowly making gains and each day I’m able to accomplish a little bit more.me

My reading with The English Magic Tarot has reminded me that there is always a silver lining. You just need to know where to look. Magical, indeed.

Note: Rex Van Ryn gave me permission to include images of the deck and my reading for the purposes of this blog. All Rights Reserved by the artists.

 

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.

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.

18553461709_dc2e41aeec_z

“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.

8713331685_ace61ab814_z

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