Verso XXIX – A Poem (excerpted from the poetic ethnography I’m working on)

At times, I regret my etic perspective,
with its hues of fish-belly,
ceviche and flour tortillas,
white on white.
I will always be warned:
“You know that’s really spicy, right?”
by those concerned for my safety.
And sometimes I pretend I can’t take the heat after all,
because the laughter that it brings
makes me feel almost emic.

Literary Lacunae: If you can’t find the book, write it.

I spent a lot of years complaining that the books I wanted to read did not exist. And amazingly, I then proceeded to spend years writing other books. That’s not to say that the books I’ve written aren’t books I would want to read, or that the stories they tell weren’t desperate to get out, or that I consider the time I spent writing them to be time wasted. The stories I have written were stories I had to tell, full of characters I love, and there is still quite a bit of Lost Knowledge that still needs to be put to paper.

But they do not address the very specific lack I have always felt. 

I knew from a very young age exactly what sort of person I wanted to be when I grew up. I wanted to be Sherlock Holmes and Rupert Giles, Spock, Milo Thatch and Abraham van Helsing. Maybe Victor Frankenstein, minus the playing-God bits. I wanted to be every professor-archetype character whose weapon of choice is knowledge, who has the answers or at least knows exactly where to look for them, and whose hand-dirtying, while formidable, always remains dignified. I wanted to be the one whose in-home library was vast enough to require bookcases with rolling ladders, whose hands were perpetually ink-stained, and whose personal appearance, while never neglected, immediately proclaimed intellect

That sort of power appealed to me. It is not measured by the size of the biceps, the size of the guns, or the number of sex scenes the character gets. It is measured by grace, knowledge, open-mindedness, drive… 

That’s what floats my boat. I love some good action, the Indiana Jones sort of intellectual who’s got the guns, biceps, and girl-du-jour as well as some butt-kicking brains, but that’s entertainment, not objective. 

But there’s a problem. Do you see the problem?

They’re all men. 

There are smart girls in fiction, sure. But when I was growing up, Willow was shy and silent and socially awkward, Hermione was an explicitly annoying know-it-all, and those two exemplified smart girls in fiction. Shy and silent or obnoxious and pushy. I liked those characters. I identified with them. But I did not want to be them. I had Mary Russell. I loved Mary Russell. She was the female Sherlock Holmes, with observation and deduction and books and trousers and an amused disinterest in all the absurd trappings of Society. She also had skirts and long hair and the need to find clothing that hid her scars without hiding her self. She had to interact with other characters as a girl, then as a woman, assert intelligence and strength and femininity, find her authority in ways that male characters never do. But she was all I had. I never found another. I had one single model for my aspirations, and that was not enough. 

This is not a complaint. I did not grow up lacking books to read or movies to watch. It’s just that one of the characters I desperately wanted had only been written once, to the best of my knowledge, and I don’t accept that anymore. 

If the book you want isn’t out there, you write it. 

I’m not going to take a break from Lost Knowledge mid-series, or anything, but once I’ve got The Mora out, finished up The Siren and put it out like I’ve been saying I was going to for ages, there is going to be a new project in the works, and it might stretch out the time between new volumes of Liminality. It’s important to me, though, that I fill this hole I have always felt. 

Questions:

Do you know of any books, movies, or television shows that fill this gap? Not that I’d scrap the ideas I’ve been hoarding, but it would be lovely to know the hole is smaller than I thought it was.

What stories or characters have you always wanted, but been unable to find?

Gimmicks and free ebooks.

Dear friends, I am launching a shamelessly gimmicky promotion. I say shameless, but it’s so gimmicky that I actually am just a tiny bit ashamed. I suppose time will gauge its success and the validity of my shame.

I am making In the Shadow of the Mountains free for an indefinite period of time. It is currently free on Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and the iTunes book store, and I’m working on getting Amazon to match the price. (You can help with that by hitting the Amazon page, scrolling down to below the Product Details, and clicking the “tell us about a lower price” link.) It will remain free until it has collected a total of a hundred reviews on the above mentioned sites, and will continue at $0.99 until it has collected a total of two hundred reviews. 

We’ll see how this goes, shall we?

I’m not dead yet.

I have not died, my friends. I know it has been some time since I last blogged. The fact is that, like many blogging folks, there are times when I simply have no idea what to write about. Tragically, that hasn’t changed.

I have not been idle, though.

I have not been writing blog posts, but I have been writing fiction, digging into The Mora with a vengeance and tinkering with a few other budding ideas that will see light whenever I decide I need a break from Lost Knowledge.

I have been reading a lot, enjoying the freedom of choice that comes with having no more textbooks piling up on my desk.

I have also made an Instagram account, and I invite anyone interested to follow it, even though I’m not sure yet that I’ve figured out how this whole thing works. I promise I will not post photos of my lunch — unless it’s a really mind-blowing lunch.

Verso XX – a poem

The crosswalk is clear and the light is red,
but the woman on the corner stands still
and watches the clouds roll north.

Eyes close as the first drops touch her,
and she stops her music to listen
to the rain.

 

I have been working on something I can only call a poetic ethnography. Moving to the Rio Grande Valley hit me with culture shock – it is like nowhere else in Texas, and I have learned from friends that neither is it truly like anywhere in Mexico. This place is utterly unique. As an anthropologist, my first instinct on being confronted with something new is to dig in deep, notice everything, and catalogue it. As a wordsmith, my first instinct has been to catalogue it in verse. And so el Valle has inspired a series of poems that will eventually become a short book – vignettes, observations, snapshots, and occasionally a mention of my own responses. It is the expression of my gratitude for the things this place has taught me.

The Bay Laurel and the Bird – a poem

The human animal is, in truth, a vine.

It puts down roots and sends out shoots

and flourishes in the sun.

It clings to its brick and mortar,

extends runners to embrace the walls.

It knows the soil and the light and the taste of the air.

It has counted every rock in the yard.

 

“I grew up in this house. I watched my brothers

throwing baseballs in the back,

my sisters twanging on Grandmother’s piano.

I smelled Mother’s cooking each time

I sprawled out on the carpet.

I know every ink spot speckle of Father’s pen.”

 

The average human puts down roots

and never leaves the fortress of the familiar,

even at the end.

 

“Bury me between the oak and the fence,

where I can see the sunset. Tell my son,

my brother, my sister, my daughter –

tell whomever that he, that she, that they

can have the old place. Just keep it in the family.”

 

The average human molders and feeds the ants

and the grass, and soon a vine grows

up, to cling to the brick and mortar,

extends runners to embrace the walls.

 

I was a bay tree in a pot. My roots were

cramped and curled up tight. They sought

deep soil, but found only white beads

of artificial fertilizer. When I reached

for the sun, my shoulders hit glass.

 

“Plant me here! Let me taste real rain.

I have grown inside for all my life, stunted

and crabbed like a bonsai. God, please,

let me get to know the birds.”

 

In the first place, the air was dust and

ground comino. My roots scratched at

the limestone they put in my pot. I felt

shells and a rusted crucifix, and mountain

laurels dropped their burning seeds

outside my window.

 

“Can we stay? It’s spicy here, and the water

is thick with faith. I could thrust my roots

into the missions and smile at the tourists.

Here, I could be scorched, and grow, and marry,

and die.”

 

In the second place, the air was exhaust, with

traces of shrimp and petroleum. They gave

trees to the rich and guns to the poor, in case

of hurricanes. I heard ballet and buskers rapping

for the first time.

 

“Can we stay? Life is so fast, here. It smells

like reality, photographed in high contrast. Things

are so tall here, so tall and black like the forests

in my dreams. Here, I could be cut, shot, and so

living is all the sweeter while it lasts.”

 

In the third place, pines ruled the sky.

Marionberries crept up my legs and begged me

to stay,

and I wanted to,

even though it was a place where all Catholics

go to hell. I reached out, there, and felt others

reaching for me. Then they clipped my roots again

and we flew North.

 

“No! Let me stay, let me grow, let me live.

Let me twine my branches with the native vines!

There was light and shade and deep black earth!

There was water and birdsong and love.”

 

In the fourth place, the sky overwhelmed. There

was wind and dust, and I was parched. The sun

blinded, and the winter cracked; my finger-leaves

bled. But there were smiles and careful hands

and a mentor, whom I miss.

 

“I love you, but the air has sucked me dry,

there are tumbleweeds in my hair, and the heavens

are so close, they stab my eyes. I love you, but

there is dust in my teeth. Goodbye.”

 

In the fifth place, I flowered amid books and

other potted plants, a greenhouse. I was trimmed

and pruned and shaped. They clipped me into

a bird

changed my leaves for feathers

tore out my roots

taught my blood to run red.

I shall never land

again.

Dear friends, it’s done.

I disappeared for a month, and for that I apologize. I certainly didn’t mean to, but life sort of attacked me, and certain things fell by the wayside.

It’s done now, though. I have achieved a Masters of Education with specialization in reading. Two years of textbooks, and I am very much looking forward to doing a bit of leisure reading this summer. Two years of research, and I am very much looking forward to knuckling down on my own writing.

With luck (and by ‘luck,’ I mean brain-squeezing), this year will see The Mora out. With a bit more, I may be able to get The Siren out, as well. Or early next year. We’ll see. I must seize the free time I’ve got!

Look at all the joy that just arrived!

I entered a giveaway over at Triscelle Publishing and won a full set of the Morrigan’s Brood books by Christopher and Heather Poinsett Dunbar! Nothing like a slew of books on the doorstep to make my day.

Isn’t their design wonderful? Isn’t their cover art gorgeous? I’ve got good reading for months, now.