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Willa Cather in Acoma

April 5th, 2014

Abroad in the plain the scattered mesa tops, red with the afterglow, one by one lost their light, like candles going out. He was on a naked rock in the desert, in the stone age, a prey to homesickness for his own kind, his own epoch, for European man an his glorious history of desire and dreams. Through all the centuries that his own part of the world had been changing like the sky at daybreak, this people had been fixed, increasing neither in numbers nor desires, rock-turtles on their rock. Something reptilian he felt here, something that had endured by immobility, a kind of life out of reach, like the crustaceans in their armour.

—Willa Cather, Death Comes for the Archbishop

I have a never-to-be-published centaur story that expresses this sentiment pretty much exactly, even from the same setting, in grosser, less polished, but no less problematic terms. So many layers of interpretation to get through before we come across anything remotely like objective truth, yet the core meaning remains as plain as a scalpeled-open vein. I’ve felt this feeling and its accompanying shame.

This is Willa Cather, frontier-raised, classically educated white woman of the 1920s, writing from the limited experience of travel about a time and place eighty years and two thousand miles removed, the mesa-top, precolombian settlement of Acoma pueblo, New Mexico, as visited by a French missionary bishop in 1848.

Her comparisons to turtles and crustaceans signify nothing so much as alienness. No female character has yet had a line of dialogue. The bishop’s Indian guide speaks broken English, she tells us, deliberately, because he prefers its simplicity and sound. The bishop himself thinks in French and laments this desert’s dearth of olive oil and good wine.

This is just the kind of experience I was looking for when I opened this book, honestly. It confirms and stratifies what I already know, that there’s no expressing anything without wading across disconnect and alienation. The struggle to communicate is the study of otherness and loss.

   Monumental Metaphor, Precolombians, Reading | 2 Comments »

Boskone

February 12th, 2014

I’m at Boskone this weekend, mostly for the chance to see friends and drink delicious beers in the city that once was mine. But I do also get to read a bit of fiction, as part of this thing:

The New England SF/F/H Workshop Alumni Reading (Reading), Fri 9-9:50pm, A rapid-fire reading featuring the alumni from New England’s science fiction, fantasy, and horror writing workshops: Viable Paradise, Odyssey, and the Stonecoast MFA program. Featured Readers: Scott H. Andrews, Julie C. Day, Michael J. DeLuca, Sean Robinson, Margaret Ronald, Hannah Strom-Martin, and Fran Wilde.

Hope to see you there.

Edit: Actually, banning the miraculous, I will not make it to this reading due to weather. But you all have fun.

   News | No Comments »

A Penance in Verapaz

January 30th, 2014

IMG_0396
Volcán Agua from the Hill of the Cross overlooking Antigua, Guatemala

Verapaz means “true peace”. The neighboring Guatemalan departments of Alta and Baja Verapaz are so named because of the warlike Achí Maya, who like the Apache in the US stubbornly refused to be conquered until long after the rest of the country. When they finally did submit, it was because of the spread of religion, not the sword.

This is a story of breakdown and redemption, in which I strive again and again to interrogate and dismantle my assumptions only to find more awaiting beneath, until finally, mental and physical resources spent, I give up hope, only to be lifted up and saved by human kindness.

Before the dawn of January 25th in the mountainous jungle town of Lanquín, Alta Verapaz, I cursed out a small crowd of self-important American adventure tourists packed into a rickety minibus bound for Antigua. That evening, I danced goofily (the only way I know how) with a small crowd of teenage Achí Mayan girls to a marimba band at a saint’s day fair in the desert valley town of Rabinal, Baja Verapaz, then fell asleep on a cardboard pallet on their kitchen floor long past midnight on the 26th. These were serious breaches of character for me. I get angry, but I never vent it at other people no matter what kind of assholes they are; I bottle it up, then expel it into exertion or prose. I dance in public only under duress or the influence of strong drink, and I open up to people under more or less the same circumstances.

Understanding the cause of these transgressions perhaps requires a little backstory.

I’ve read much on the subject of Guatemala; I’ve written stories, blog posts; I’m working on a novel. I don’t consider myself any kind of authority. I’m a hobbyist, a tourist. But I try. I love Guatemala, and I want to do it justice, to treat its people and culture with empathy and respect. This is where the assumptions come in: privilege, whiteness, entitlement. I’m trying to see through these things to the truth, trying to understand what it is to be born to the opposite of those things in a place I love because of them.

At the end of this, my fourth and latest visit, I’d planned three days to myself. This concept was anathema to the white kids on the minibus, who with shrill laughter equated the notion of an afternoon alone even in Antigua, a city full of English-speakers, to waking nightmare. For me, though, those three days alone were a promise of release, a getting back to myself. Disinclined though I’d normally be to resort to Christian metaphor—particularly since the motivations in question include no small pagan influence—I thought of it as a penance. Penance for the cushy, full-bellied vacationing I’d done with my family up to this point; penance for the cushy, full-bellied living I’d been doing at home.

What I sap I am, I know. And this is long. So I’ll forgive you for not clicking….

Read the rest of this entry »

   Angry, Guatemala, Monumental Metaphor, Religion, Travel | 2 Comments »

Virginia Woolf

January 30th, 2014

“Nature and letters seem to have a natural antipathy; bring them together and they tear each other to pieces.”
—Virginia Woolf, Orlando

   Quotes | No Comments »

The Stone Horse of Flores

January 2nd, 2014

The new issue of Betwixt, out yesterday online and in print, features a new story of mine, “The Stone Horse of Flores”, what I’m calling a post-virtual retelling of a Guatemalan folktale.

Being as how my rendition takes significant liberties and the original is awesome and not likely to be something you’re familiar with, I thought I’d share the story here the way I first heard it. If you have any inclination to read my version, however, might I suggest doing so first so as not to spoil it?

Betwixt_Issue_2

Flores is a little city on an island in Lago Peten Itza, in the southern (Guatemalan) portion of the Yucatan Peninsula. It was settled in the early 16th century by the Itza Maya, a sect of water priests, after abandoning their former home, Chichen Itza, to the conquering Spanish. This turned out to be quite a prescient strategic move for the Itzaes: the natural protection provided by the lake and the trackless jungles of the surrounding Peten helped keep Flores under independent rule for the next 175 years, far longer than any other Mayan settlement.

Cortés himself actually visited Flores in 1541, but his supply train had been so decimated by disease on the long trek through the jungle that he no longer had the resources to muster an attack. Instead he only rested a few days and moved on. He did, however, leave behind one injured horse, asking the Itzaes to care for it until he returned.

They did the best they could, but having never cared for a horse before, they didn’t know what to feed it or how to treat it, and it died. Luckily, Cortés never came back. Under increasing protest against his tyrannical policies from the colonies he himself had founded, he fled the New World for Spain within the year, never to return.

In 1618, seventy-five years later, two Franciscan friars visited Flores on an evangelical mission. They found its people dedicated to their own religion and made no converts, but discovered a stone statue of a horse in the city square, erected in memory of Cortés’s gift. They claimed the Itzaes had taken to worshipping the statue golden calf style. which maybe wouldn’t be so hard to believe but for the tellers, without whom this story would in all likelihood never have been carried down.

When the Spanish did finally capture Flores in 1697, they razed it to the ground, along with all its oral and written history. The usual story.

Thus far in my travels I’ve spent all of half an hour on a bus idling in a grocery store parking lot on the shore of Lago Peten Itza at four in the morning, gazing at the orange lights of the island flickering reflected in the lake.

In a few weeks I get to go back and, with any luck, spend some quality time there.

   Guatemala, News, Yucatan | No Comments »

Bamboo Phone Case

November 14th, 2013

These people offered me a free phone case if I reviewed it. At first I figured they were spammers. Then my lovely Snugg iPhone 5 Real Bamboo Wood Case came in the mail. Figured I’d better hold up my end.

bamboo phone case

The case fits snugly, with no forcing required and no wiggle room, unlike either of the last two cases I’ve used (likely because they were cheap–you get what you pay for, it seems, unless you write a review afterwards). There’s a thin layer of something velvety on the inside to facilitate sliding. The two halves fit together leaving a thin, visible seam I soon forget to be annoyed by. In the hand It feels substantial, real, and quickly becomes familiar: a cross between a cutting board and a speaker case.

Unlike my last case, this one leaves the buttons uncovered; I am pleasantly surprised to rediscover how responsive they are when not encased in glossed rubber. Holes drilled in the wood to accommodate buttons and ports are correctly placed and centered; perhaps my only real complaint about the whole thing is that, as with many, many other cases, the hole for the headphone jack isn’t wide enough to admit any of the myriad of mini stereo connectors I possess other than the one for my headphones. Unlike all those other cases, it seems not impossible that I might widen the hole in this one with an appropriately sized drill bit.

The best thing about it is that it’s not plastic. A living thing was destroyed to make this, but a living thing that will grow back, quite quickly as I understand bamboo, and it’ll sequester a little carbon in the process. Sustainable materials! At least if it’s done right. And when Apple inevitably makes the form factor obsolete in their fruitless quest for perpetual newness and I must leave this case by the wayside, it will obligingly decompose into organic matter, as opposed to merely breaking up into smaller and smaller nurdles over centuries as it passes through the digestive tracts of birds and fish that might otherwise have felt inclined to take part in the food chain.

Update: My phone gave me a splinter. I like it even more now.

Update 2: I dropped it, from a height of maybe 4 feet, and it split in three places, in such a way as to make gluing pointless, though I tried anyway. Cutting bamboo that thin has its drawbacks, apparently.

I really liked this case. Guess I get what I pay for. I used it for kindling, so at least it’s not clogging any landfills.

   Design, Environmentalism | No Comments »

Through Woods to See the Wizard

October 6th, 2013

It’s an aspect of the nature of light, because it travels uniformly in every direction from the point of its source, that upon encountering any evenly distributed scattering of objects, it produces the illusion of an enclosing sphere. This is perhaps most familiar in the globe that surrounds headlights seen through a rain-fogged window or a distant streetlamp observed through heavily falling snow.

Early fall reminds me of a slightly different manifestation of this same effect. Overcast light, diffused through deciduous forest canopy, strikes thinning, yellow-green leaves in such a way as to transform trunks and branches into arching pillars and a gold-carpted trail through woodland to a corbeled, green-golden cathedral vault, like the grand passage leading through the Emerald City to the doors of the Wizard’s audience chamber.

   Fall, Religion, Transcendentalism | No Comments »

Summer Mushrooms 2013

September 10th, 2013

A mild, wet summer makes for a mushroom cornucopia! I’ve done this before, so I’ll try not to hit any repeats. I found all these in my local woods, Bald Mountain Recreation Area North Parcel, Lake Orion, MI, between July and August.

bankera_carnosa
White Hedgehog, Hydnum albidium, purportedly edible, but I was flush with chanterelles at this point.

old man of the woods - Strobilomyces floccopus
Old Man of the Woods, Strobilomyces floccopus
Old Man of the Woods
tremella_reticulata
White Coral Jelly Mushroom, Tremella reticulata. Heavily rotted oak stump.

Horn of Plenty - Craterellus cornucopioides
Horn of Plenty, Craterellus cornucopioides, also known as black chanterelle, black trumpet, trompette de la mort or trumpet of the dead. So velvety and beautiful. Again, could have eaten this but had a basketful of yellow chanterelles already.

And these are just the ones I could identify and take a decent picture of before the mosquitoes found me!

   Fungi | No Comments »

Bloom

July 3rd, 2013

“Blossom where you’re planted.”
—Saint Francis de Sales

   Quotes | No Comments »

Readercon Jitters

July 2nd, 2013

Behold, my schedule for this year’s Readercon, which is next week.

Friday July 12

12:00 PM    G    Writing Others I: Theory. Michael J. DeLuca, Andrea Hairston, Rose Lemberg, Maureen F. McHugh, Daniel José Older, Joan Slonczewski (leader), Sabrina Vourvoulias. Authors who want to write outside their own experiences of race, ethnicity, culture, gender, and sexuality face a multitude of challenges. How do we present each character’s unique perspective while celebrating their distinctive identity and avoiding stereotypes and appropriation? How is the research and writing process affected by differences between the author’s and the character’s levels of societal privilege? Is it possible to write about future diversity without oppression, or does today’s reality require us to write in today’s frame? Which authors have handled this well, and what form does “handling this well” take?

Proposed by Joan Slonczewski and Michael J. DeLuca.

1:00 PM    G    Writing Others II: Practice. Michael J. DeLuca, Rose Lemberg, Daniel José Older, Joan Slonczewski, Sarah Smith. This practical discussion, led by Joan Slonczewski and Michael J. DeLuca, is for writers who have read Writing the Other, or otherwise carefully studied the pitfalls of cultural appropriation, and decided to take the plunge of writing about people whose experiences differ significantly from the author’s. How does one go about acquiring sufficient understanding of another culture, gender, or sexuality to write about it respectfully, productively, and effectively? We’ll discuss research techniques and writing methods used by successful writers of the other, as well as problems and solutions we’ve encountered in our own work. Attending “Writing Others I: Theory” is recommended.

Saturday July 13

10:00 AM    VT    Reading Michael J. DeLuca reads “Remorse and the Pariah,” a mini-epic poem published in Abyss & Apex.

Sunday July 14

10:00 AM    G    Digital Marginalia: A Conversation with Your Future Self. Neil Clarke, Michael J. DeLuca, David G. Shaw (moderator), Ruth Sternglantz, Gayle Surrette. Electronic reading devices allow us to carry huge libraries wherever we go. They also provide us with the ability to highlight, annotate, and share what we read. In a 2012 blog post, Clive Thompson described this enhanced reading experience as “a conversation with the author, with yourself, and in a weird way, if you take it along as a lifelong project… a conversation with your future self.” According to Craig Mod, “The book of the past reveals its individual experience uniquely. The book of the future reveals our collective experience uniquely.” What tools will we embed within digital texts to signal this shifting relationship with literature, and how will readers use them?

I’m the token white guy on those Writing Others panels. This comes as no surprise—it was partly my idea—but that doesn’t make me any less nervous. I have only the shallowest command of the theory, have not read nearly as widely as I should (though struggling to correct that as we speak) and have participated not at all in the great debate. Believe me, I will be showing up prepared, with copious notes and humility. Not that it will do any good. You know what might do some good? A friendly face or two in the crowd. So please come. Because it’s an important topic, getting more important pretty much in real time. Because it’s something we all need to know. And because I have put myself in the unenviable position of really, really needing it in order to keep writing what I want to write.

Nerves aside, I’m sure it’s going to be a great weekend with people I love dearly and don’t get to see enough.

Come to my reading too!

   HM, News | No Comments »

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