Just to show you how mind-numbingly slow her mind is, there are stories she’s begun five, even 10 years ago, whose words sit in her MacBook, languishing.
Five years ago, while self was in Hawthornden, she met two British poets: Joan McGavin and Jenny Lewis.
After dinner, while we all gathered in the parlor, these two would talk. And if self did nothing in that whole month she was there (June 2012) except listen to the stories, she would count that month well spent.
She also remembers visiting the National Museum in Edinburgh, and seeing there a figure of Dolly the Sheep. And dreaming of a giant Dolly the Sheep looking in through the manor windows.
Dolly the Sheep was the first successfully cloned sheep. She was born on 5 July 1996 and died on 14 February 2003.
Self was channeling sheep apparently because she even began writing a Dolly the Sheep story, which began:
The ghost of Dolly the Sheep, and three dun-polled cows.
Hawthornden was the place where self worked on editing Magellan’s Mirror for J Journal. And that is quite a fantastical story (The Philippines populated by a race of giants).
Then she began going to Ireland and started writing dystopia.
Goal for today: Finish that Dolly the Sheep story!
Sylvain Landry’s blog is a meeting place for photographers. Self loves participating in his photo challenges. The first of his Year 2 photo challenges is: SELFIE.
Self hates posing for pictures, but not when she’s taking a selfie. When she takes a selfie, the inner imp emerges and self’s smiles are always big as big. Thank you, Sylvain Landry, for the start of another great year of sharing!
This selfie is special for another reason: She bought the jacket from an Edinburgh department store, and the dress from a Tesco, the year she did a residency at Hawthornden. She was there June 2012. And that is where she met two British writers who ended up being fast friends: the poets Jenny Lewis and Joan McGavin.
Our village was visited regularly by ghosts. Of these, the most horrifying were the small ones, the children. They simply sat on smooth boulders by the sea and stared, arms open wide as if imploring for comfort.
Self has a yen for the supernatural.
She can say that boldly now because even though she is alone in her apartment, for the past week, the theatre downstairs, directly beneath self’s unit, has been alive with voices belonging to the cast of the play Quills, which opens on Thursday.
In contrast, last year, in the same unit, self heard the most awful racket, late at night, a woman screaming on and on and on and on. And at first she debated whether she should call 911. But the woman might be DEAD by the time 911 sent troops. Instead, she flung open the door to her unit, and ventured to the (brightly lit, thank God) ceramics studio, and burst in the door, surprising (she thinks) three people, and told them: “For God’s sake, don’t you hear the screaming? Can’t somebody help her?” No one moved a muscle. Finally, one of the three artists there said, skeptically, “Are you sure you’re not hearing the play?”
Oh. My. God.
“But,” self flailed on, “I thought the play was Gaslight. I don’t recall a woman screaming that much (in the movie version).”
“Well,” said one of the artists, “they might be interpreting it different.”
Oh. My. God.
Could a black hole please open up and swallow self whole?
She also doesn’t know if she was influenced by watching too much of The Grudge and The Ring. Or by a conversation at Hawthornden, in which the English poet Jenny Lewis (who once dated Michael Palin) told self: “Ghost children are the worst.”
Or maybe it was the tour of Underground Edinburgh, in which there is a small room piled to the rafters with children’s toys, dolls and such, because people (tourists) keep bringing them specifically for the child ghosts who live there.
Whatever the reason, self does remember cowering in her room in Hawthornden because in one corner was a nook shut off from the rest of the room by curtains, and in self’s imagination, there was a wraith sitting there. Emerging from there. With spectral eyes.
And she has only belatedly realized that Sarah Waters’ novel, The Little Stranger, is next on her reading list, and it’s supposed to be about a haunted house. If so, then the “little stranger” of the title can only be referring to one thing: a child ghost.
Sorry, Sarah Waters. May skip you (even though self has read: Tipping the Velvet, Fingersmith, and The Night Watch, and has loved them all). There’s too many ghost children wandering around already in movies. She can’t take it, simply can’t take reading a big, fat novel that’s just going to end up scaring the bejesus out of her.
Self’s first experience with angst came from fairy tales. She fell in love with Hans Christian Andersen’s The Ugly Duckling and The Little Mermaid. She always cried at the end of The Little Mermaid.
Then, she read Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris while she was a grad student at Stanford. She found the idea of a sentient planet mind-blowing! Positively transcendent! The movie with George Clooney was terrible!
On to her reading of the afternoon: the Preface by Maria Tatar to her TheAnnotated Brothers Grimm (Self has been reading it and stopping every other sentence. This is a problem. Possibly, she won’t finish it in this lifetime. Oh! She also downloaded the episode of Face/Off with Josh Hutcherson as a guest judge. The guy is just too adorable. Too. Too. Too!)
Back to Maria Tatar! Here’s a passage she just finished reading:
Danger lurks in every corner of the world, and the encounter with it has a fierce inevitability that becomes a rule of the genre. Villainy: this was the . . . function that fuels the plots of fairy tales.
It just occurs to self that she has a long list of horror stories she’s written. She’ll see if she can append them to this post — when she has a little more time. But, right off the top of her head, here are a few: Seeing in PANK 9.5, The Departure in Philippine Genre Stories. Ghosts really get to her. Ghosts and the Apocalypse.
The writers she met at Hawthornden (June 2012), Joan McGavin and Jenny Lewis, told the most excellent ghost stories. They fueled her imagination and sent it roaring out of the gate. We’d talk about everything from Dolly the Sheep (whose likeness is in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh) to ghost children (Self recalls Jenny saying, “The worst ghosts are ghost children.” Wheeee! Couldn’t sleep after that because she kept thinking there was a ghost child lurking somewhere in her room).
Des Dillon is a Scottish writer and a stand-up comic. Self picked up a copy of his book, Scunnered: Slices of Scottish Life in Seventeen Gallus Syllables, when she was doing a residency at Hawthornden in 2012.
Here’s a piece called ATTITUDE:
Treating every time Like it’s the very last time feels like the first time.
In Edinburgh, in the Surgeon’s Museum (which is located in the University of Edinburgh Medical School), there is a special exhibit on the man who served as the inspiration for Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes (Doyle studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh). Since self is extremely nosy, she decided to open a closed door that was at the far end of the exhibit area, and saw an empty amphitheater, with rows and rows of wooden desks all facing a proscenium. Class was not in session.
Today, self is thinking about Sherlock Holmes because she is once again tackling her Pile of Stuff (which is absolutely exploding with unread magazines). The January 27, 2014 issue of The New Yorker is what she is looking at this afternoon. There’s a very interesting article by Emily Nussbaum called FAN FRICTION: SHERLOCK AND ITS AUDIENCES.
As self proceeds through the article, she learns that a particular scene in Sherlock Season 3 was inspired by Sherlock Holmes fan fiction. Can you guess which one, dear blog readers?
One thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three, one thousand four, one thousand five . . .
We’re at a critical moment: Holmes is on the roof of a building, preparing to jump. Somehow, Moriarty winds up there, too, and leans in for a kiss. Self’s jaw almost dropped to the floor.
Self knew it! She knew it! Because it’s in the same episode where a group of London geeks (fan fiction practitioners) sit in someone’s cramped and cluttered apartment and conjecture about the two years Sherlock was thought by everyone to have perished. (They also tweet theories using hashtag #sherlocklives)
Anyhoo, self loves the Benedict Cumberbatch Sherlock. The first time she saw the actor was in a movie called Amazing Grace, where he played anti-slavery parliamentarian Pitt. At that point in time, there was only one reason self wanted to see the movie, and that was Ioaon Gruffud. She had absolutely no idea where the filmmakers had picked up the beady-eyed Cumberbatch. Only years later, after watching her first episode of Sherlock, did self finally “get” the Cumberbatch affect: the lankiness! The floppy, messy hair! The cigarette pants! The sexy!
In the series, “when Sherlock reads a crime scene, enormous words appear on the screen, like an on-line word cloud.”
Sherlock, Nussbaum writes, “has inspired reams of slash fiction.” Today, “you can find slash fic about almost any character you can imagine, from Harry Potter/Draco Malfoy onward.”
Self recently registered for membership in fanfiction.net, and she can attest how addictive it is. There are actually people who leave comments like these:
“I work as a waiter and I’m right now in an alley behind the restaurant, hoping for an update to your story before my boss comes out and catches me . . . “
“I’m on a cruise of the Mediterranean and I keep thinking up excuses to go back to my room so I can check for any updates of your story. My family thinks I’m nuts . . . “
Never, ever will self reveal her fanfiction.net identity, because she’s doing very fluffy writing. She follows seven writers. She hopes with all her heart they don’t turn out to be 14, but they might be. Because they still worry about getting “caught” during chemistry class or skipping math class to do some urgent reading in the bathroom!
She’s heard it so many times: The internet is the death of books. It may be the death of books, but it is definitely a clarion call to the imagination, and to the power of the simple act of reading.
Self is musing about how lucky she was to visit Scotland in June 2012. She had received a fellowship to the Writers’ Retreat at Hawthornden, about 45 minutes by public bus from Edinburgh. She loved every inch of Edinburgh. Every inch. (She also loved Hawthornden).
She wrote like the Dickens. She asked the program manager how many years she’d have to wait before re-applying. He said, five years. Five years !!!! NOOOOO !!!
Self’s first time to brave the city was in the company of another writer, the poet Joan McGavin. Joan had grown up in Scotland but now teaches in a university in England. She was one of five other writers doing their residencies in Hawthornden that June. One day, Joan invited self to accompany her to the University of Edinburgh, there was something she needed to check out of the library there. So self, who never turns down an invitation to go anywhere, happily went along.
Right outside the library was this piece of art work (pictured above). And only a short walk away was a plaque on the wall of a narrow house, saying that this was the house where Roget, creator of Roget’s Thesaurus, lived while a medical student at the University of Edinburgh. Right away, self felt a shiver. That shiver she only feels when she is approaching something really stupendous (Around the corner, some workmen were having heated discussion, liberally laced with “F—!”)
On that same walk with Joan, self walked past The Elephant House, the place where J. K. Rowling hung out while writing the first Harry Potter book. In the comfort room of the Elephant House, there’s graffiti about Hermione. Never mind what they say. Use your imagination! If self were Hermione, she’d be conflicted.
Anyhoo, self is thinking about Scotland again because in the 9 November issue of The Economist (Self still woefully behind in her reading, boo) there is a long article about whether or not Scotland should declare its independence from the United Kingdom. Having spent all of one month in Scotland, self thinks she understands the impulse. In the small library in Bonnyrigg, the closest town to Hawthornden, there was a section called The Scottish Bookshelf. And there she saw the books of Ian Rankin, J. K. Rowling, Irvine Welsh, even J. M. Barrie.
The one author self thought should have been there but wasn’t was Morag Joss, the mystery writer. When self mentioned to Joan that Ms. Joss was one of her favorite mystery writers, Joan said, very casually, “She teaches at my college.”
Self has three favorite mystery writers, and they are: 1) Morag Joss 2) Ruth Rendell 3) Karin Fossum. Fossum is Norwegian, Rendell is English, and Joss is Scottish.
Self remembers so clearly a sentence from Joss’s book, Half-Broken Things: “People are so hard to kill.” (Yes, especially if one is an amateur, like the two people in the story. In an extended scene, two people try SO HARD to kill a third, but even though the target is very old, the whole exercise becomes convoluted and appalling)
An Economist article called “A Unionist Pin-up” dissects the legacy of William Wallace, he who defeated the English at the Battle of Bannockburn and who, many centuries later, had the good fortune to be portrayed by Mel Gibson (in “Braveheart”), back when Gibson was not yet crazy.
They’re opening a museum to Wallace this year, “in time for the 700th anniversary of the battle.” It will be in Stirling (Alas, self never got to see Stirling Castle, Wallace’s seat). The 1320 Declaration of Arbroath states: “As long as only one hundred of us remain alive we will never on any conditions be brought under English rule.”
Stirring words! According to The Economist, “polls consistently show that about 30 – 40% of Scots will vote to leave” when the vote takes place, September 2014.
The five other writers and self who spent June 2012 in Hawthornden forged lasting bonds. We sometimes refer to ourselves as the Quidditch Team. When self goes to Tyrone Guthrie, in a couple of months, she fervently hopes the Team can reunite in London.
Oh, self also should mention that one of the Quidditch Team used to date Michael Palin, of Monty Python.