Aimee Bender on Fairy Tales

These days, self’s reading is all over the map.  She’s tried so many times to finish reading Sebastian Barry’s The Secret Scriptures, but despite him being such a beautiful writer, she can manage only a page a day.

Aside from that book, she’s also perusing her personal bookshelf.  The books she consults most often are lined up on the shelves in son’s room. Here’s an excerpt from one of those, Conversations With American Women Writers (University Press of New England, 2004).

It’s from an interview with Aimee Bender, author of the (magical realist?) short story collection The Girl In the Flammable Skirt.  The interviewer (Sarah Anne Johnson, one of the best) asks her about fairy tales. Self thinks about fairy tales a lot because she’s thinking of sending yet another piece to Café Irreal. And she’s also reading a book of Oscar Wilde fairy tales she picked up in Dublin.

I’ve heard you say that fairy tales present plot as metaphor.  What do you mean by that?

Mainly that a fairy tale character has no internal world, so the entire plot is a reflection of their internal life.  Or at least it can be interpreted that way, to good effect.  So suddenly the plot becomes wildly meaningful.  Instead of the truth of regular life, where I don’t believe in signs and symbols in the same way, in fairy tales everything is a sign for something, and the world is this strange, blinking ordered universe of actions.

How else do fairy tales inform your writing?

I feel like somewhere along the line I ate fairy tales. I ingested and digested them, and now they’re part of my whole person.  The way they move plot, the settings, the imagery.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

More Reading From the Personal Bookshelf: VOICES OF WAR, A Library of Congress Veterans History Project

Self bought this book for The Man last year, but ended up reading it herself.  It’s made up of a lot of little remembrances, interviews with various former members of the armed forces, some of whom enlisted for reasons ranging from “I was kicked out of school and didn’t know what to do with myself” to “I was the fourth generation to serve in the United States Army.”

Here’s a memoir from Rod Hirsch, who served in the Army during the Vietnam War:

I heard the strains of Reveille.  I was very dismayed to find out that it was recorded.  I had always thought there was some guy standing out in front of the barracks, blowing Reveille on a bugle.  And that made me very disappointed.

You’re eighteen years old, you just got out of high school, and you go into a situation where you’re going to be disciplined heavily.  There’s going to be a lot expected of you, and this is something that most of us had not experienced.  And so we’re all confused, we all feel stupid, we all feel like we have left feet, we don’t do anything right.  It’s a traumatic experience.

Whoo!  What a lot of posts self has written on just one day!  She’s enjoyed herself thoroughly.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Growing Up on Park Avenue (During the Depression)

The following passage is from Diane Arbus: A Chronology, 1923 – 1971.

Self stumbled across this book in April, after attending an Arbus exhibit at the Fraenkel Art Gallery, in downtown San Francisco.

In the summer of 1929, just before the stock market crash, Arbus’s family moved into 1185 Park Avenue.

This is from a radio interview conducted by Studs Terkel in 1968, for his book Hard Times:  An Oral History of the Great Depression.

The family fortune always seemed to me humiliating.  When I had to go into that store . . . I would come on somebody’s arm or holding somebody’s hand at what must have been a fairly young age and it was like being a princess in some loathsome movie of some kind of Transylvanian obscure middle European country and the kingdom was so humiliating.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

 

TREMORS: New Fiction by Iranian American Writers

The week before self left for the UK, she attended a reading in Keplers in Menlo Park, featuring contributors to Tremors: New Fiction by Iranian American Writers, which was edited by Anita Amirrezvani and Persis Karim.

Self finally got around to starting it today.  The Introductions quotes various contributors’ views on their Iranian heritage.  Here are three:

Sholeh Wolpé:  “I knew I was suffocating.  I do and did understand the sudden madness that takes hold of young girls in societies where women, grossly oppressed, pour kerosene on themselves and strike a match.  It is the madness of desperation. If all doors are shut in your face, if you have not even a single unbarred window to look out from, then death seems like the only salvation . . . “

Mehdi Tavana writes “about Iranians not only because I am one, but because our history is an epic tragedy, and I am attracted by sweeping narratives.  Iran’s story is one of espionage, loss, betrayal, religious celebration, glorious celebration, bloody revolution, and tragic love that ‘dares not speak its name.’  Because I was raised in this country, I have the audacity to write stories and send them into the world and expect that people will read them.  It is self-indulgent and it is bold.  But what can I say?”

Shideh Etaat:  “I spent most of my childhood embarrassed about my culture, and now as a writer I spend most of my energy trying to understand it.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Law # 13 of Robert Greene’s The 48 Laws of Power

Why, why, why when self has a ga-zillion things on her mind — like leaving the day after tomorrow for London, and figuring out how to use her new external hard drive, and leaving comments on a friend’s book-length short story collection, not to mention poring over those just-so-good-it-hurts Everlark stories on fanfiction.net (the one she’s most obsessed with right now involves Peeta working the Capitol as a male escort while a clue-less Katniss tends to her two children by Gale back in 12) — why, with all of these things going on, does self still feel the nead to reach up to the shelf above her Mac-Mini and pull down The 48 Laws of Power, by Robert Greene?  What could be the reason, what could be the attraction?

Nevertheless, open the book she does, and lands on Law # 13.

Keys to Power:

In your quest for power, you will constantly find yourself in the position of asking for help from those more powerful than you.  There is an art to asking for help, an art that depends on your ability to understand the person you are dealing with and to not confuse your needs with theirs.

Most people never succeed at this, because they are completely trapped in their own wants and desires.  They start from the assumption that the people they are appealing to have a selfless interest in helping them.  They talk as if their needs mattered to these people — who probably couldn’t care less.  Sometimes they refer to larger issues: a great cause, or grand emotions such as love and gratitude.  They go for the big picture when simple, everyday realities would have much more appeal.

(This sounds almost word for word like something one of her Bacolod cousins told her last year.  What very smart relatives self doth have!)

LAW # 13 OF THE 48 LAWS OF POWER:  SELF-INTEREST IS THE LEVER THAT WILL MOVE PEOPLE.

STOP BEING LIKE THE ATHENIANS, WHO THOUGHT THEIR WONDERFUL IDEALS OF DEMOCRACY WOULD SAVE THE WORLD FROM BARBARISM. INSTEAD, BE LIKE THE SPARTANS, WHO KNEW ONLY BODIES HOTTER THAN THEIR OWN COULD RULE THE UNIVERSE.

What, what, what is self saying.

Time to go to bed.

Stay tuned.

 

The 10 Books Self Keeps Near

Self loves surveys of reading habits.

This one’s from Kepler’s Books Facebook page:

Name at least five books you’d keep near.

Self can’t possibly keep it to five.

Here are the 10 books self keeps near (on a shelf right above her MacMini):

  1. 50 Stories From Israel:  An Anthology, edited by Zisi Stavi
  2. The 48 Laws of Power, by Robert Greene
  3. Myths and Symbols:  Philippines, by F. R. Demetrio, S.J.
  4. Drive-By Vigils, by R. Zamora Linmark
  5. National Geographic’s Field Guide to the Trees of North America
  6. Going Home to a Landscape:  Writings by Filipinas, edited by Marianne Villanueva and Virginia Cerenio
  7. Pinoy Capital:  The Filipino Nation in Daly City, by Benito M. Vergara
  8. Another Kind of Paradise:  Short Stories From the New Asia-Pacific, edited by Trevor Carolan
  9. Flannelgraphs, by Joan McGavin (Met Joan at Hawthornden, which was part of the reason self enjoyed Scotland so much)
  10. If I Write You This Poem, Will You Make It Fly, by Simeon Dumdum, Jr.

Lists are fluid; the books rotate per self’s mood.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Quote of the Second Wednesday of February 2014: Rabindranath Tagore

Thinking about poetry this morning, and about the lecture last night at USF.  Saw Melissa Dale again.

Melissa is the Executive Director of the USF Center for the Pacific Rim and also an Assistant Professor at USF.  Decades ago — in 1991, to be exact — she was self’s student assistant in the Center for East Asian Studies at Stanford.  Melissa took the picture of self that graces the back of self’s first book, Ginseng and Other Tales from Manila.  She lived on the East Coast for many years.

Eventually, Melissa and her two teen-aged daughters moved back to the San Francisco Bay Area.  Life is so mysterious.  But self rejoiced at this chance to see her again.

The poem self is reading this morning is by Rabindranath Tagore.  It’s from Rabindranath Tagore:  Selected Poems, translated by William Radice (Penguin Modern Classics edition).  She doesn’t recall buying this book, so it was probably given to her by one of her friends.

The poem contrasts a young singer with an old, and resonates so much with self.

“Broken Song”

Kasinath the new young singer fills the hall with sound:
The seven notes dance in his throat like seven tame birds.
His voice is a sharp sword thrusting and slicing everywhere,
It darts like lightning — no knowing where it will go when.

He sets deadly traps for himself, then cuts them away:
The courtiers listen in amazement, give frequent gasps of praise.
Only the old king Pratap Ray sits like wood, unmoved.
Baraj Lal is the only singer he likes, all others leave him cold.
From childhood he has spent so long listening to him sing –
Rag Kafi during holi, cloud songs during the rains,
Songs for Durga at dawn in autumn, songs to bid her farewell –
His heart swelled when he heard them and his eyes swam with tears.
And on days when friends gathered and filled the hall
There were cowherds’ songs of Krishna, in rags Bhupali and Multan.

So many nights of wedding-festivity have passed in that royal house:
Servants dressed in red, hundreds of lamps alight:
The bridegroom sitting shyly in his finery and jewels,
Young friends teasing him and whispering in his ear:
Before him, singing rag Sahana, sits Baraj Lal.
The king’s heart is full of all those days and songs.
When he hears some other singer, he feels no chord inside,
No sudden magical awakening of memories of the past.
When Pratap Ray watches Kasinath he just sees his wagging head:
Tune after tune after tune, but none with any echo in the heart.

To fully appreciate the poem, self had to turn to the Glossary in the back of the book.

Holi, self learns, is “a Hindu spring and fertility festival, characterized by the joyous throwing of coloured powders and sprinkling of coloured liquid at people.”

There were some other interesting words in the glossary, words like:

Jambu:  “Large tree that sheds its leaves in January/February, has fragrant white flowers in March-May, and purplish black astringent fruit in June/July.”

Kacu:  “The taro, a coarse herbacious plant cultivated for its tubers”

Koel:  “A bird that is frequently called ‘cuckoo’ by translators but which is actually different from either the European cuckoo or the Indian cuckoo, though it belongs in the same family.”

Makara:  “Mythical sea monster, representing the Capricorn of the Hindu zodiac, with head and forelegs of a deer, and body and tail of a fish.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Juxtaposition 3: WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge

January, 2012.  Self was in Bir, a village in Himachal Pradesh. She looked up Dharamsala. Hired a car and driver to take her up there.

The driver was a Tibetan who only spoke a smattering of English.

Self had no idea where she would stay when she got to Dharamsala. But she had looked up a few possibilities on Tripadvisor the night before. That was how she found the Snow Crest Inn.

The air was thin. Self was short of breath. It was freezing cold.

The mountains were massive. Self had no idea. Absolutely no idea.

What does this have to do with this week’s WordPress Photo Challenge?

Everything. Because when you live surrounded by such majesty, how can one avoid thinking of the spirit?

The Snow Crest Inn was managed by two brothers, who traded off accompanying her to town every day (Self stayed in Dharamsala five nights).  One day, upon returning from town, one of the brothers asked the one who had accompanied self:  “You went to the market?  What did she buy?” And the other brother replied:  “Just some old stuff.”

BWAH. HA. HA. HAAAAA!

View from self's room at the Snow Crest Inn, Dharamsala, January 2012

View from self’s room at the Snow Crest Inn, Dharamsala, January 2012

View from a Monastery, Dharamsala, January 2012

View from a Monastery, Dharamsala, January 2012

And here’s a picture that self took some years ago. She’s thinking of her Dear Departed Sister, Paz. Who died of pneumonia in 1991, in New York City.

She was a vice president in Citibank. Why has it taken self so long to think about subscribing to Granta again? Why?

By chance, the book just above the issues of Granta is one of her favorites: Maryse Condé’s The Children of Segu (Segu is the fictitious name Condé gave to her native Mali).  The book next to Granta is The May Fourth Movement:  Intellectual Revolution in Modern China, by Chow Tse-Tung, a required text in one of her Chinese history classes at Stanford.

Personal Bookshelf:  In the 1980s, self's Dear Departed Sis gave her a subscription to GRANTA. (Just above the magazine is a book by one of self's favorite writers:  Maryse Condé.

Personal Bookshelf: In the 1980s, self’s Dear Departed Sis gave her a subscription to GRANTA. (Just above the magazine is a book by one of self’s favorite writers: Maryse Condé.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Of Brienne of Tarth, Katniss Everdeen, and Other Favorite Heroines

Today, self watched “Frozen.”  What. A. Great. Movie. Self loved it so much, she almost wanted to sit through a second screening.  It was about sisters, one of whom has to shoulder the burdens of becoming Queen, while the other one gets to be brave and feisty and stubborn and wrong and lead a more interesting life. Well, both sisters are wrong, at various points.  But self identified with the older sister, the one who feels her lot in life is to live in sorrowful isolation.  Self cried, harder even than she did in Catching Fire.  As she walked out of the theater, self heard a couple of older teen-aged girls raving about the music:  “Wasn’t that song by Demi Lovato?”

Last night, she decided to get caught up on another of her favorite heroines, Gwendoline Christie, who plays Brienne of Tarth in HBO’s Game of Thrones.  In an interview in October, Gwendoline said that her part in GOT was done.  Self got such a shock on hearing that, because it can only mean one thing:  Brienne gets killed in Season 4.  Noooooo!!!

And, this little morsel:  self read somewhere that Jennifer Lawrence got hurt while filming a scene in Mockingjay — apparently the mishap involved choking.  OK, now, what scene could that have been?  Could that be the one with hijacked Peeta after his rescue from the Capitol?  Because doesn’t he put his two hands on Katniss’s neck and — self, STOP RIGHT THERE!

And now, to the ostensible reason for this post:

Lev Grossman of Time Magazine conducted a five-part interview with Suzanne Collins and Francis Lawrence on The Hunger Games.  The final part was published 22 November 2013.  Here’s an excerpt:

Lev Grossman:  When I read people writing about The Hunger Games, there seems to be a split between people who read it as an allegory of the emotional experience of being an adolescent, and there are people who read it more literally as an exploration of the moral issues surrounding war and political oppression.  Is it both?  Are you comfortable with both?

Suzanne Collins:  I have read so many interpretations.  There’s a whole Christian allegory.  There’s you know, I’ve seen people talk about it like Plato’s cave, which is really fun.  I’ve seen an indictment of big government.  I’ve seen, you know, the 99 percent kind of thing.  I think people bring a lot of themselves to the book.  When Hunger Games first came out, I could tell people were having very different experiences.  It’s a war story.  It’s a romance.  Other people are like, it’s an action-adventure story.

You know, for me it was always first and foremost a war story, but whatever brings you into the story is fine with me.  And then, of course, if a person interprets it as an adolescent experience or a Christian allegory, you can’t tell them they didn’t.  That was their genuine response to it, and they’re going to have it, and that’s fine.  You can’t both write and then sit on the other side and interpret it for people.

I can tell you that for me it was a war story.  But it also has so many ethical issues because you’re dealing with war, and there’s all these other ethical issues surrounding with, you know, there’s violence, there’s war, there’s hunger, there’s the propaganda, there’s the environment’s been destroyed, there’s a ruthless government, misuse of power and all these other elements that come into play with it, and people may respond to ones that are most important to them, and you know other people come for the love story.  That’s fine.

You can read the rest of the interview here.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Poem for the Day After New Year’s (2013)

Poem 53 of the One Hundred Poets (translation from the Japanese by Clay MacCauley)

written by Udaisho Michitsuna no Haha (937 – 995)

Sighing all alone,
Through the long watch of the night,
Till the break of day: –
Can you realize at all
What a tedious thing it is?

The poet was the daughter of Fujiwara no Motoyasu, and became the mother of the imperial commander Fujiwara no Michitsuna.  Self’s personal copy of the One Hundred Poets is the one published by George Braziller in 1989, and edited by Peter Morse.  Each poem is accompanied by an illustration by Hokusai.  Here’s how Morse describes Hokusai’s illustration for Poem 53:

The woman has been awake, for her clothing is rumpled due to her restlessness.  She has come out on the porch with a lantern, presumably at dawn, to look for her missing husband.  We see a pipe and tobacco pouch resting on the pillow within the house, the sign of an absent man.  Around the corner of the house we can see a cistern and water dipper.

This figure of the lone woman appears several other times among Hokusai’s drawings . . .  She is always waiting for a man, a situation generally suggested by the poem.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

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