“Nature and letters seem to have a natural antipathy; bring them together and they tear each other to pieces.”
—Virginia Woolf, Orlando
“Nature and letters seem to have a natural antipathy; bring them together and they tear each other to pieces.”
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
“Votadini” was the name Roman occupiers used to refer to those Iron Age hill tribes, nearly lost to history, whose descendants were celebrated in the ancient Welsh war-poem Y Gododdin:.
Men went to Catraeth at dawn:
All their fears had been put to flight.
I spent the weekend at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and have returned with the resurgent impression that it would be more fulfilling and about a million times more effective if I laid off writing fiction and computer code and became an angry environmentalist full time. At this moment I literally would rather sit around watching my garden grow than struggle with some story that progresses at an equally glacial pace towards far less bountiful fruition. Nothing I make will be as beautiful as that which no hand hath made. Were all I’ve made to disappear, who would care?
This is not meant to be bleak or mopy. On the contrary. Thank God there is still something other than the internet.
I suffered through the recent horrible events in the city that was once mine from a distance of about seven hundred miles. I tried not to look at the news; I didn’t do very well. I didn’t know anybody directly involved. Until recently I didn’t think I had any great attachment to my city beyond that it was the only one I’d ever really known. I don’t love cities, though I can’t say I’m not fascinated by them. I love trees. I don’t consider myself a particularly emotional person. But for some reason, distance and homesickness combined with disturbing current events to make me cry silently while watching the news, wait to wipe away tears when my wife wasn’t looking, and dread the moment when what had happened came up in conversation (inevitable, since it was all anybody seemed able to talk about, even from seven hundred miles away).
Then, a few days after it had all wound down (except for the questions), I found myself obliged to return, as a result of an entirely unrelated tragedy, a sad, strange, serendipitous coincidence that allowed me an excuse to walk around and feel the breeze and drink beer and hug people and take pictures of spring in the city I only irrationally realized I missed when fear and uncertainty and mortal danger beset it.
Everybody seemed a little jittery, shell-shocked, not sure how to act. Freshly printed t-shirts for sale everywhere said “Boston Strong”. But otherwise everything was still there, pretty much how I’d left it, except for the person I’d come there to mourn. And even she, wiser heads soon made me realize, was still there too.