After yesterday’s Witchy Weekends post (the final one for this year), I began looking around for another Annie Lennox video to share with you, because she’s just so fabulous and has had such an undeservedly underrated career. I thought about the 2004 Oscars performance of “Into the West” and the 2012 London Olympics performance of “Little Bird,” both of which are powerful in their own different ways, but instead I’m going with something more whimsical, her video for “Walking on Broken Glass,” which apparently co-stars Hugh Laurie and John Malkovich, as well as some stunning costumes and sets. That feels about perfect for Hallowe’en festivities. Enjoy!
Okay, so since last weekend we had an early earworm of Frank Sinatra, I’m going to offer a counterpoint to his song (and my commentary on it) that just takes what society and culture give and runs with it.
And wow, Annie Lennox is really amazing, isn’t she? I love her. Her rendition of this song is one of the most soulful I’ve ever heard.
Sometimes it feels like the news cycle is just a firehouse on full blast firing acid on everyone, doesn’t it? Well. That’s how it feels here. And among the recent horrifying developments was the federal government’s floating the idea of redefining gender, the practical result of which would be to limit or all-out eliminate protections for those of us who aren’t living in a strict binary.
That cannot stand, if we are to have a good and kind and compassionate world.
I cannot address this in nearly as eloquent a way as my good friend Sean Fitzpatrick can. He’s the executive director of The Jung Center in Houston as well as a Jungian psychotherapist. I’ve known him well since we went to college together; our families are close; he is one of the best men I’ve ever known. His thoughts on this matter are beautiful and conducive to healing, so I’m sharing them here (with his permission) with you. (You may also view his remarks online by clicking here.)
On Sunday, the New York Times published a report that the Federal Department of Health and Human Services is considering redefining gender in such a way that it would assign gender, male or female, at birth (or soon after, via genetic testing). As the Times reported, gender would become “a biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth.”
The consequences of such a policy, which would have the force of law, would be to radically restrict the civil rights of the more than one million Americans who understand their gender to be different than the one on their birth certificate. It would reject contemporary medical understandings of the complexity of gender. It would inflict government-sanctioned suffering on transgender people and implicitly legitimate discrimination based on gender identity. It would be an act of utterly unnecessary violence on the human psyche.
And, as a wiser man than me has frequently said in The Jung Center’s classrooms, it ain’t about what it’s about.
A few years ago, my elementary-aged son Daniel left our table at a local taqueria to head to the restroom while I finished my meal. Two men were eating at a nearby table, and one of them called out to me and wondered if I was scared to let him go into the restroom alone. No, I said. The man said he would never do that, because now anyone can go into whatever restroom they choose, and some awful person might molest my child.
This was during a brief moment in Houston when the city government supported the right of individuals to make their own choice about which restroom – men’s or women’s – to use. The successful campaign to end the policy via referendum deployed the rhetoric used by this man, who was genuinely scared for my son. That rhetoric had absolutely no basis in fact – none – but it has old roots in our collective imagination. Before transgender people were associated with sexually predatory and violent behavior, gay men were associated with it. Monsters have always emerged from our collective imagination at times of change, and often they have been created quite consciously to manipulate human behavior.
Fear is one of the prime, irreducible motivators of our thoughts and actions. When I was Daniel’s age, my mother told me a story about a child who had been sexually assaulted with a razor blade in a men’s bathroom. She said she was telling me the story to keep me safe. She was also voicing her own fear of the unknown, the ways in which she couldn’t protect me from the world, no matter how much she wanted to. I cannot say whether the story made my life safer. It did make it scarier. That man with the razor blade is still alive in my imagination.
The proposed redefinition of gender motivates fear and is motivated by it. It is no exaggeration to say that our understanding of the world – or at least the amount of information we have about it – is growing at an unprecedented pace that accelerates constantly. When something as seemingly unchangeable as the binary of male and female starts to change because of new knowledge and the courage of those willing to risk their lives to voice their experience, fear is an inevitable, even understandable response. (Although anthropological research tells us that the Western, historical understanding of male/female is not nearly as timeless and universal as we believe.)
We can fear what the erosion of old certainties may mean for the future. But we are responsible for carrying our fear consciously, for examining its roots closely, and for choosing our actions carefully. It is an act of avoidance bordering on cowardice to reject new knowledge by violently imposing a seemingly simpler order. Accepting ambiguity and complexity is a necessary task of human psychological growth – and the path to a life filled with curiosity, healing, and humility before the mystery of existence.
One of my all-time favorite songs ever is “As the World Falls Down” by David Bowie from the movie Labyrinth. The reasons for this are vast and varied. And since my family’s annual Hallowe’en party (this year, cleverly entitled Masquerade 2018) is coming up this weekend, I thought I’d choose a song for today that has to do with a costume ball. Well, sort of a costume ball. In the movie, this song happens during what appears to be a masque. (And I do love a good masque. There should be more of them near me. Someone please make that happen.)
And for several years one of my brothers and I attended a masked ball in Los Angeles entitled the Labyrinth of Jareth, which was originally based on the movie but then evolved into its own extraordinary world. And at this event, each night, several of the songs from the movie’s soundtrack could be heard in the various ballrooms, but one thing remained constant, which was that this song (Bowie’s original version) would play at a certain time in each ballroom, and then everyone would find someone to waltz with for a few minutes. It was a really interesting experience, because even if you didn’t already have someone to dance with, you would probably find someone, or someone would find you. And maybe you would become friends with that person (that happened to me in one instance) and maybe you would never see them again, not even at the event (that’s happened to me too).
So to my friends Tara and Margo and James and Yolanda and Leonard and Sarah and Adrienne and to my brother Mo: I hope you all, especially, will enjoy this. It’s not Bowie’s version (which remains my favorite), but it’s a pretty good one.
So what else is going on? Well, it’s early voting time here where I live, so I’m gearing up for that because for heaven’s sake, why wouldn’t someone exercise their right to an opinion? Srsly. Go out and make the world better, y’all.
Also, my Kickstarter project has just 19 days left to meet its goal. We’re almost 75% of the way there! Thank you to everyone who has joined on. If you haven’t yet, now is a good time. If we get to 80%, I’ll announce the extremely marvelous perks for some stretch goals. And either way, I hope you’ll share the link to the project with people you know who like poetry or like my writing or like supporting indie artists. Because that’s good for your karma, yo, and we need more art in the world.
Otherwise I’ve got some grading to do and some KS updates to write and some front and back matter for the new book to finish and the new galleys for the 3rd edition of FINIS. to proof. Woot! Busy night!
Here’s a cute little song from days gone by. It’s kind of fun to listen to, if you have fond memories of the music of this era.
But there might be more to it.
The premise of the song is fairly straightforward, fairly simple: “You’re an alluring lady, so much so that my attraction to you goes beyond normal, and so there must be something supernatural going on here. But that’s cool, I can roll with that.”
The subtext is also pretty clear: “You’re an alluring lady, and I’m going to enjoy pretending I don’t need to take any responsibility for my actions because of how attracted I am to you.”
I can already hear some of you protesting that I’m making this nonsense up. That I’m ruining something sweet and nice.
Buckle up, buttercup.
You can’t denigrate witches as the ultimate evil predator in league with the devil — a Christian concept if ever there was one — and then also say how lovely and fun and exciting and marvelous and sexy witches are at the same time, unless you do some serious introspection on your particular fantasies and fetishes.
In my English classes we spend a lot of time talking about character agency, or (rather simply) the ability of a character to make decisions and enact choices that have consequences, which in turn have bearing on the plot. (You can read an excellent explanation of character agency in stories here on Chuck Wendig’s blog.)
This song suggests that part of the allure of the “witch” in the song is the usurping of the singer’s agency, “[stripping] [his] conscience bare,” and he’s totally on board. But why?
In the current miasma of what passes for public debate these days, some of the more socially conscious have been talking a lot about personal responsibility.
One thing that comes up again and again is that — in fairy tales, for example — witches are those characters who are agents of change. Sometimes for nefarious purposes, such as the crone living in a gingerbread hut in the forest or a wickedly vain queen. And sometimes their magics lead to positive outcomes: think fairy godmothers and Glenda the Good.
In the Burning Times, “witches” were more often than not women; and more often than not, defenseless other than through their own fierce and fearless agency; and more often than not, opinionated or otherwise empowered in a way that threatened the patriarchy (in whatever form that might have taken, be it political or religious or social). These days one might imagine a representation of the greatest perceived existential threat to the patriarchy might be depicted as a flash mob of women, having the time of their lives bellydancing in the streets, wearing pointy hats.
Others have written on this subject more eloquently and more coherently than I. Right now, so much of this subject is just swimming around in a maelstrom in my brain. ‘Tis the season and all.
Please, discuss. What do you think of all of this?
Kickstarter projects, historically, fund all the way if they reach 60% funding. By historically, I mean 98% of the time. As of Sunday, my book is out of the danger and despair zone. It is, in fact, currently about where I worried it would be three weeks from now. So that’s good! We had an excellent opening and have gotten a little momentum. If you’re one of the contributors so far, thank you! I really appreciate your support! As if that weren’t enough happiness for one author, yesterday Kickstarter marked my book of poems as a “Project We Love.” It was in this exhilarating category with only three other active poetry projects, which, you know, made me feel awesome.
But I know that support tends to come in waves, and I also know that the “close friends and family” surge is winding down, so now it’s on me to hustle this campaign to its end in under four weeks. I’ll be posting updates to the campaign, of course, and those who have contributed to it and are following it on Kickstarter will get those. Some of those updates will be excerpts from the book, artwork, and even a short film or two.
I’m also going to be posting updates and goodies here on the blog now and then. Don’t worry, The Sharp Edges of Water won’t completely take over the blog. You can still expect Monday Earworms and (during October) Witchy Weekends. And I’ll be doing my own modified version of the NaNoWriMo as well, so there’s that to look forward to. (And wow, I’m looking forward to getting back to work on the current WIP, once the 3rd edition of Finis. and The Sharp Edges of Water are out the door. It’s been a busy season, y’all.)
Anyway, thanks for your continuing support of my work. I love what I do, and I love that you’re interested in it, so I guess I’ll keep on doing it!
This whole weekend Danny Elfman’s song “This Is Halloween” from Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas has been going through my head, and when I searched for a video of it, I discovered this little gem. It’s freaky.
This weekend let’s chat about some of the witchy work of Katherine Howe. Her debut novel, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, was so much fun to read. It contained a lot of the things I love to read about: smart characters, historical mystery, family drama, academic drama, a lush setting, a touch of romance, and an earnest belief in magic. What could be better, especially for this time of year?
Since then, Howe has gone on to write several more books to significant acclaim. (You should definitely check them out.) Her accomplished pedigree in academia — she holds degrees in philosophy, art history, and American and New England studies — shows in the subtle but unmistakable authority of her historical fiction.
And finally, at long last, a sequel to Howe’s debut is on our radar. The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs will hit the shelves in the summer of 2019. I can’t wait!
I’ll keep this brief because I’m basically zinging with nervous energy right now, but I just kicked off a Kickstarter campaign, which I’ve never done before, to launch my new book of poems, The Sharp Edges of Water. I am so very, very excited — and also? Maybe slightly terrified right now.
Doing this is, frankly, a huge personal and emotional risk for me, and it took quite a lot of talking me into doing it from some of my very close friends. But I believe that healthy professional risks can lead to growth, and so here I am! Wheee! Yikes! ZOMG.
Let me tell you a little about this new book of poems. It is a collection of work that I’ve written over the course of my adult life thus far. Quite a few of the poems have been published before in various places — a proper acknowledgement about this will appear in the back matter of the book — and some of them are brand-spanking-new, written just this year. When I turned in the first completed draft of the manuscript to my editor, the wonderful Sarah Cortez, she took the fifty poems I sent her and culled it down to just over three dozen, shaping them into a relatively cohesive narrative. As a storyteller and fiction writer also, I love this, and I’m truly thrilled with the way this manuscript has turned out.
Now let me tell you some about the way Kickstarter works, in case you’re not yet familiar with it. I’ve launched this campaign in the hopes that people will become interested in my project and support it. There are many levels at which to give support, and all of them come with rewards, or “perks.” (I guess crowdfunding is a type of investment, as it were.) If enough people support the project to get it to my goal, then fantastic! The project funds and the book gets made! One of the risky things about Kickstarter, though, is if the project doesn’t fund all the way…
It doesn’t happen. No funds at all. Backers don’t have to pay, and the creator sees no benefit.
So yes. It’s a risk.
BUT I am hopeful that we’ll have a successful campaign here! I love this project and am really, really proud to share it with the world. I’ve got an excellent professional team behind the finished product, including Sarah Cortez (the aforementioned editor), Lucianna Chixaro Ramos (the cover artist), and Jesse Gordon (the book designer). They all do amazing work, and I’m thrilled to be able to work with them.
One thing I love about crowdfunding platforms is how they foster independent arts. Indie artists are part of a creative movement that isn’t bound by what marketing departments know are a sure thing, and while that can be scary sometimes, it’s also exciting.
Anyway, I’m at risk now of babbling, so I’ll stop. Go check out my campaign, see what you think. I’ll be grateful if you do. And thank you for supporting the arts!
In honor of its being Columbus Day here in the States — or rather, Indigenous Peoples’ Day, or even Columbus-Was-A-D-bag Day (I know, I know, tomato, tomahto) — I thought I’d post Suzanne Vega’s song “World Before Columbus” for today’s earworm. But seeing as how it contains some questionable lyrics, I’m instead going to post one of her other songs which I love. Enjoy!
And if you’re in Canada, Happy Thanksgiving. I hope you’re having a wonderful time. It’s probably snowing there, and I’m jealous. I have to admit, though, the idea of having Thanksgiving before Hallowe’en might just be a cultural bridge too far for me to handle. I guess I’ll keep living here for now, at least to see how the midterms pan out.