A few years ago I wrote Carry the Winds and the Open Spaces about a young man abandoned as a toddler and left to foster care who turns to arson as a release. After he flees yet another home, finds refuge sheltering under trees in public parks and ultimately, in the mutual need of a stranger. I've posted the title and epigraph here, (I removed the story text since a friend told me that some editors consider publishing on a personal blog, publishing. Hmmm, I should know this.):
Carry the Winds and the Open Spaces
Even those trees you planted as childrenbecame too heavy long ago –
you couldn’t carry them now,
But you can carry the winds…and the open spaces…
Sonnets to Orpheus – Rainer Maria Rilke
- Frieda Hughes
She is the gypsy
Whose young have rooted
In the very flesh of her scalp.
Her eyes are drill-holes where
Your senses spin, and you are stone
Even as you stand before her.
She opens her lips to speak,
And have you believe.
She has more tongues to deceive
Than you can deafen your ears to.
If you could look away, the voices
From the heads of her vipers
Would be hard to argue.
If you could look away,
The pedestals of your feet might move.
If you could look away,
The song from the cathedral of her mouth
Would fall to the floor like a lie.
In one form or another, Lilith and Medousa have been a presence from the beginning of human existence: goddess, virgin, mother, crone, whore, prophet, healer, witch. Through the centuries, both were initially revered, then appropriated, revisioned, maligned, ignored, and their original form forgotten. Lilith was Adam's first wife, made from the same clay, and banished from The Garden for refusing to be submissive, and therefore trouble. She was also a figure in the Summerian version of the Garden of Eden, and again, in this version she was trouble from the beginning. Medousa was a Lybian goddess revered by a snake-worshipping culture. Fast forward to Greek mythology: Medousa was once a beautiful maiden that incurred the wrath of Athena, one for being more beautiful than the goddess, knowing it, and bragging about it, two, for getting raped by mighty Posiedon before the altar of Athena's temple. Sacriledge, and not to be tolerated, especially since Athena always took the guy's side in a squabble, but a little back story on Athena: Metis, first wife of Zeus, and mother of Athena, was pregnant and it appears Zeus swallowed her to avoid being dethroned by the son she was predicted to have, plus Metis had a serious mind of her own and had power all her own. Soon after Zeus dissappeared his wife, Athena, emerged fully grown from her father's head and got to work defending the patriarchy.
I'm not a mythology scholar by any stretch, so I may have my information and timeline off a few degrees, (hence the links), but here's the question I've been asking for a very, very long time: How is it that a goddess can fall so far that she is no longer remembered or is relegated to a consort, or is transformed into a scold, a flesh-eating screech owl, a seductress, a dutiful wife, a snaky-haired terrorizing mortal that can turn a man to stone with a look? Memory is short, Time is long, and coupled with seismic cultural shifts, these three are the culprits. Well, and of course the Indo-European invasions, the paradigm shift to monotheism, and, the Medieval Period officially pounding the nail in the matriarchy's coffin: women were no longer sacred, they were either Madonna or Whore. The more research I come across, the more I'm beginning to believe that Lilith and Medousa were the original blueprint of the first god/dess, and to mix my metaphors, the seed from which the monomyth every religion and belief system bloomed. Joseph Campbell, in (Un)like Subjects: Women, Theory, Fiction, by Gerardine Meaney, "identifies the Medousa as a 'Great Mother' goddess...'She is the womb and the tomb of the world: the primal one and only ultimate reality of nature' (25-6).
Myth as inspiration: Very late the eve of November 1, 2007, after numerous fights with myself and an inability to gel the Isis/Osiris myth into a workable storyline, I finally relented to the insistent voice that the Medousa myth should be my subject. I decided that I would write a modern adaptation which blended Persephone and Medousa with a character named Kora, (Kore is Persephone's name). I also decided I would use lines from random poetry found on poets.org as prompts. I've shared excerpts of this novel with a handful of people, mainly, I've posted excerpts over on Zoetrope in friends' private offices. My writing mantra is, Your visions gain power when you don't talk about them. I absolutely believe that silence is the rule in the early stages of creativity. It's so easy to talk the energy right out of the work and then there's nothing to write.
I wrote this novel in exactly one month during NaNoWriMo - National Novel Writing Month - gained twenty pounds in exactly thirty days, became obsessed with reaching the daily NaNo word count even though I HAVE to edit as I write, which made making the daily word count nearly impossible unless I wrote for hours on end; I wept continuously until wearing makeup became irrelevant and I looked something akin to a bag lady surviving on potato chips, Cheetos, Coke and coffee, I neglected my normal routine, duties, responsibilities. Fill-in-the blank here, and I neglected it. I did shower, brush my teeth, and go to work every day, but I spent my lunch hour holed up in my room writing until colleagues cautiously asked if "everything" was okay, probably because my eyes were red-rimmed and swollen, or perhaps because I'd worn the same outfit more than once that week, wasn't wearing makeup, and had tied my hair up in a yet another messy ponytail. I know I drove my daughter to distraction with my typing late nights at the computer desk outside her room, (You're typing, AGAIN?; It's time to go to bed!; Are you seriously crying, AGAIN?; What are you eating out there? Stop typing so loud, Mom!)
I have a laptop now, and it's much quieter, plus I can set up on the couch, the swing out back, the deck, whereever, and type away and it 's nobody's business.
A disclaimer that should cover about everything that can be disclaimed: The novel is very dark: lots of turning over stones to see what's underneath, lots of substance abuse, much swearing, lots of bad behavior. The novel employs the myth of Persephone's abduction to the underworld and her rape by Hades, and the myth of Medousa's descent from goddess to mortal, to tell the story of Kora, a young girl who is raped at a very young age by a neighbor, subsequently develops depersonalization disorder, initially, dissociative, and then as she matures, fugue, in which she internalizes Medousa, (in an abstract way similar to how Zeus swallows his pregant wife Metis, except there's no cracking of skulls or Athena emerging ready for war in Kora's story). Kora periodically self-destructs, disappears and remerges without explanation, gets tattoed at every important juncture, becomes an addict, tries and fails at therapy, quits, becomes a confessonal artist with her life as subject matter, and finally emerges from the Underworld, with chocolate cake! See, a happy ending! All the bad guys are satyrs, so goats really take it on the chin in this novel. Zeus is also a bad guy, (the reasons for this pretty much go without saying). I don't have a title for the novel yet. I plan to spend NaNo 2009 adding and reworking to the novel - it's missing a root, and I don't know which one, but will discover it when I throw myself headlong back into Kora/Medousa's life.
What I've learned is that how I write is that I become all the characters and live thier lives, hear thier thoughts, feel every emotion, see the world unfold through them. I suppose it's a form of method acting or more likely, a mild psychophrenia. Whatever is happening in the writing feels real when I'm writing it and it's very hard to disengage from the characters or the story.
A disclaimer I almost forgot: Just so you know, I do not have an axe to grind with any one religion or mythology, the ones I chose just happened to make themselves available and were expedient to tell this particular story. Oh, and before I forget: The novel is told in a series of flash fiction vignettes. I took the excerpt post down, but once it's published I'll repost all the drafts it took to get a final draft.
Very superstitious, writing's on the wall
Very superstitious, ladders bout' to fall
Thirteen month old baby, broke the lookin' glass
Seven years of bad luck, the good things in your past
Very superstitious, wash your face and hands
Rid me of the problem, do all that you can
Keep me in a daydream, keep me goin' strong
You don't wanna save me, sad is my song
Very superstitious, nothin' more to say
Very superstitious, the devil's on his way
T hirteen month old baby, broke the lookin' glass
Seven years of bad luck, good things in your past
When you believe in things that you don't understand
Then you suffer
Superstition ain't the way, no, no, no
Every evening the last four days, literally thousands of seagulls and geese have crowded the land behind my home until the ground has transformed into an ocean of feathers. A kestrel falcon has adopted my backyard, and barely notices when I approach, so intent is it on the mice scurrying from shelter to shelter. My hibiscus flowers still bloom, and the tomato, eggplant, and pepper plants are heavy and ready for harvest. The pear and apple trees are loaded, and my basil plants are pungent in the crisp air. It's time to gather and prepare for the snow.
The Fall Equinox ushered in the new season this week: the earth is heading into the time of the bear, the season of hibernation. I'm not ready for the sun to fade, or for the rituals of Fall, the honoring of the dead, or the coming west winds. Even so, the darkness is coming, and this year, instead of looking for portents, railing against the shortening days and lessening sunlight, or flinging myself into a slate-colored depression, or worse, succumbing to a host of superstitions, I plan to spend the sunlight and the waning hours working on my novel. The novel. The novel that every time I begin writing in earnest, close to two weeks to the day, someone I love heart attacks, strokes, and so on, times ten. Bullshit? Well, yes, and no. The logical Danna knows this is coincidence, knows written words scribbled in a journal do not have the power to maim or kill, knows that there aren't supernatural forces working against writing this novel. Yet, the tribal Danna knows otherwise, knows that an ancestor/s must be placated and acknowledged, knows there must be an offering, knows that the dead must have their say.
What I know for certain, is that in order to write this novel, I must say no, and loudly, and as Joanna Smith Rakoff, author of A Fortunate Age advised in the July/August issue of Poets & Writers:
You must make your book the absolute center of your life. Doesn't matter if you have kids, aging parents, a demanding job. The novel has to take precedence.
The novel has to take precedence. Yes. I hereby contract with the logical and tribal, and vow that I will make Superstition my friend and companion, that I will give myself permission to make the time to write, and that I will absolutely enforce this boundary, and, that I will give the dead, my dead, a voice. No matter what happens, I will finish the novel this year.
An Augury: The best way forward
The Magician (Significator): Mastery over word, mind, and matter. The ability to turn ideas into actions, handle problems, and control one's life. The initiation of new projects, great works, or a new way of life. Eloquent and moving communication. Arcane and eldritch technologies.
Seven of Pentacles (Assessment): A pause to check on the progress of your labors. Making difficult financial decisions. Exercising patience and perseverance. Evaluating the status of your work and your options for the future.
Superstition (lights) the way, yeah, yeah, yeah
may favor obscure brainy aptitudes in you
and a love of the past so blind you would
venture, always securing permission,
into the back library stacks, without food
or water because you have a mission:
to find yourself, in the regulated light,
holding a volume in your hands as you
yourself might like to be held. Mostly your life
will be voices and images. Information. You
may go a long way alone, and travel much
to open a book to renew your touch.
I came across Molly Peacock’s poem “Chance” today on poets.org, and the lines, “you have a mission: to find yourself in the regulated light, holding a volume in your hands as you yourself might like to be held”, resonates. Deeply. Some of the biggest “aha” moments of my life have occurred in a public library, sitting cross-legged on the floor, leaning into a book. I know just how nerdy that sounds, but I can’t imagine who I’d be now if I hadn’t spent my early years in libraries, or later, if I hadn't chanced upon Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party when I was 28, and then spent the next year in a militant search and devour frenzy reading everything about women’s history, and subsequently, multicultural and world literature.
A Mercy - Toni Morrison
Lighthousekeeping - Jeanette Winterson
And where is the house of darkness?
Go about; walk the limits of the land.
Do you know a path between them?
-Job 38: 19-20
A few weeks ago I dreamed of a young East Indian man wearing a brightly-patterned kurta, and dark pink paijama trousers, hurrying between his two houses. When I woke up I realized the man in the dream was me, and that like him, I am constantly hurrying and choosing between my artist house and my writer house. So, instead of worrying that I'm giving too much or too little to one or the other, I'm looking to find common ground and a path between both.
A book for us to write, like this:
you'll uncap the pen and hold the barrel
you'll press the iridium nib against soft paper
you'll draw a line--extend
it to a word
it will run from your hip up your heart to your hand
and it will say
...How does the land know
what the map is making it do?
Which way does a word point
when we look through each other
whoever we are?
And it goes there,
nobody's listening, let the word go,
let the map pour out of your hands
you know something you almost remember.
-Robert Kelly "Mapping" from Grand Street