Anne Bean

I make delicious words. // I make words delicious.

Tag: Litter-A-Chewer

Wordstock!

I roadtripped down to Portland last weekend to attend the Wordstock festival, a gleeful gathering of authors, small presses, and literary folk. I got to also reconnect with some college friends, which was great. It turns out that what we all did with our early twenties involved wandering and writing novels.

The conference was a good time: I saw Aimee Bender read from her new novel (delicious prose that makes me catch my breath). I chatted up two of the MFAs I’m looking at, Pacific University and Goddard College. I got to see a range of local publishing houses and their products. I gave a copy of Freedomland to a young adult press. (It could be young adult-ish? Yes?)

There were some roving editors in the conference, as well, and I snagged a session with the sci-fi editor from Indigo Editing to dicuss The November Girls. It was really useful; I asked her about some of the structuring issues I’d been having and got a really useful structure to try out. At the moment, my main structuring tool is a bunch of excitingly colored post-its on the basement wall, which I believe comes from a long tradition of writers and conspiracy theorists. She also talked about “Jaws of Life” characters; in the same way that the Jaws of Life are a tool that does a job no other tool can do, certain characters do things that can do what no other character can do. In my case, it’s the elusive Robin.

Also! I signed up for a sweet new site that’s a little bit like literary twitter. It’s called Typetrigger. Every six hours, they spit out a word or phrase to write about for up to 300 words. Their motto: “Not highbrow. Not lowbrow. Just moustache.” Right now it’s invitation only, so five lucky commenters who ask for one could totally get an invite. Holler!

It’s the End of the World as we Know It…

Who loves dystopias? Me, clearly, because I wrote one, but still. A good dystopia story is totally cathartic, the ultimate act of schadenfreude.

Holy crap. Too many big words. To review:

Dystopia: a “negative utopia,” i.e. a supposedly perfect world gone horribly wrooooong.

Schadenfreude: A German word meaning “happiness at the misfortune of others.”

…Anyway, dystopias. I’m sure you were forced to read one or two in school, if you went to school in the US…in any case, here’s a few of my favorites, in no particular order (with Amazon links for your convenience):

Utopia by Sir Thomas More


This is worth a read for sure, even if it does mean putting on your Literature Hat and slogging through some archaic language. A traveler is describing this perfect land of Utopia that he’d visited. I was interested in what parts of the society actually seemed like a good idea (women working) and what sounded like utter crap (people will stop caring about gold is we make our toilets out of gold and don’t use gold for money).

We by Yevgeny Zamyatin


This is a rebellious book. It was first published in Russia in 1921, and immediately banned. While it was available in other countries, Russia kept it banned until Glasnost in 1988. I think anything worth strict government quashing for 67 years is worth reading! Really, We is a Classic Dystopia, in the vein of 1984 and Brave New World. The society in We is authoritarianism complete with names-as-numbers and lack of emotion. It wrestles with the question “How do you break out of your own mental prisons?”

Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess


I admit it: I have never seen the movie. While I intend to, I think I’ve been putting it off because film can never capture the voice of the book. The story is told in first person from Alex’s point of view. For those who aren’t familiar, Alex is an insanely criminal 15-year-old in a dark future England whom the government tries to “fix” with mind control. The entire book is written in dialect, a strange Russian-based language to which you don’t know all the words and have to pick up as you read along. The language removes you a bit from the visceral violence of the plot, and allows you to read with more of a cold, Alex-like mindset. Whether or not you liked the movie, the book is absolutely worth reading.

The Giver by Lois Lowry


Yes, you probably had to read it in middle school. Here’s what I appreciate about The Giver: While most dystopias are a conservative or authoritarian society gone wrong, The Giver is a liberal society gone wrong. When I read it again recently, I was a little embarrassed to admit that I really liked a lot of the things in their society…the lack of cars, the open sharing of emotions, the coherent role for young adults… of course, there’s a lot about it that is Horribly Wrong as well. Lois Lowry actually wrote two sequels, Gathering Blue and The Messenger. They were good, but not as genius as the original. I think the ambiguous ending was one of the great things about The Giver, and its sequels make it a little less ambiguous. Nevertheless, they’re interesting enough to read and draw your own conclusions.

Y: The Last Man (series) by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra, et al.


In 2002, a mysterious plague wipes out any animal, embryo, and sperm with a Y chromosome. The only survivors of the plague are a man named Yorick and a male capuchin monkey…and, of course, all of the females in the world. Perhaps this series is a little more “post-apocalyptic” than “dystopian,” but in either case, its vision of what the world would look like if all the men died is pretty damn fascinating.

Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler


I’m about a third of the way through this so far. I am reading it in small doses, because it’s depressing as hell. I think it’ll actually have a redemptive ending, but good lord. I have to be in a masochistic mood to read it; it’s set in a grim and horrible future America where crime and corruption are so rampant that people live in these little walled enclaves, growing their own food and trying not to get robbed/raped/shot.

In another post, I’ll touch on dystopian film, which is a delicious subject too big to be broached here. Lately Mikeatron and I have been doing double feature movie dates, where each of us rents a video that the other one hasn’t seen. So far I’ve managed to pick out weird and disturbing movies (Cube, eXistenZ), and he’s managed to get heartwarming 90s films (Enemy Mine, The Professional). I don’t know what this says about our respective personalities. Perhaps he is a big softy at heart. Perhaps I am not. Perhaps it’s just a coincidence.

And Another Thing…

Apparently, it’s Things That Bother Me Week. Well, who am I to say no to the opportunity to complain on the Internet. (Complaint is the purpose of the internet, after all. That and porn.)

So. Something that bothers me: Chick Lit.

Chick Lit, to me, literature by women for women that probably has some literary merit, but at the end of day is about Getting A Man. It’s Bridget Jones’ Diary, Sex in the City, modernized versions of Jane Austen that don’t involve zombies* (e.g. Clueless), and other works of literature where sassy spunky heroines decide that their existence is sad and pointless without a man. Chick Lit is the magical lifestyle that Cosmopolitan is trying to sell to you. Chick Lit is close to a lot of feminist ideals that I treasure (sassy spunky heroines, for example), but then falls on its face and undercuts said ideals. Bridget Jones must lose weight to feel worthwhile. Charlotte isn’t allowed by her friends to stop dating just because she has a more fulfilling relationship with her sex toy than she does with men. I love Elizabeth Bennet to death, but she really couldn’t function without eventually finding Mr. Darcy.

The biggest appeal of Chick Lit, to me, is that most of the heroines are Bad Girls. Cameron Tuttle, author of Bad Girl’s Guide series, says, “Bad girls make it happen. A bad girl knows what she wants and how to get it. She makes her own rules, makes her own way, and makes no apologies. […] A bad girl is you at your best–whoever you are, whatever your style.”

This sounds remarkably like my definition of badass. I’d like to see more Badass Girls.  I’m talking girls with a wide range of interests and abilities, for whom romance may be a factor of life, but is not the be-all and end-all of existence. (Who knows, perhaps I’m just sick of stories about marriage.) Now, I’ll admit that I’m a sucker for a woman who’s willing to kick butt and take names, but that’s not the only type of Bad-Ass Girl I can think of. I’m thinking of women who can hold their own, keep to their ideals, and shape their own destinies as much as possible. To name a few:

  • Scout Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • Emilia, Othello by Shakespeare (tragically bad-ass, but still.)
  • Molly, Neuromancer by William Gibson
  • Mary, Mind of my Mind by Octavia E. Butler
  • Morgaine, Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
  • Tiffany Aching, The Wee Free Men and series (In general, Terry Pratchett’s writing is filled with Bad-Ass women.)
  • Many many heroines of young adult literature. Really, most female characters in the fantasy genre tend to be quite Bad Ass…except Bella Swan, who is the most milquetoast human being possible.
  • And, I’ll admit, of the 1800s British Chick Lit characters, I find Elizabeth Bennet and Jane Eyre to be the least obnoxious. Secretly, though, I think they’ve got nothing on Becky Sharp out of Vanity Fair

Anyhow. While making that list, I found that it was way easier to come up with Bad-Ass heroines for whom marriage wasn’t an option: the very young or the very old. Also, a lot of young adult literature is filled with exciting strong women. So then what happens to our girls (and boys!) who grow up reading books filled with strong girl characters? As adults, the literature featuring women that gets any kind of publicity is Getting Married Stories with varying levels of Sex and Plot. I guess it begs the question: How much of modern femininity is still defined by the woman’s societal duty to marry and/or pop out babies? Am I just jaded because so many of my high school and college friends’ Facebook pictures are weddings and pregnancies and babies?

I’m curious. What’s your take on Chick Lit? How do you define it? Do you find it appealing? Worthy? Vile? Subconsciously antifeminist? What say you?

*I have not yet actually read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and I think I should. Perhaps I would like it better?

Why I’m mad at David Foster Wallace

To begin with, David Foster Wallace.

I’m not his number one fan. I don’t dislike his work. I have a love-hate relationship with his writing in that I can’t decide if it’s tripe or genius; it flip-flops in my brain like one of those optical illusions where you’re seeing the old woman and the young woman at the same time. The man had a very laissez-faire attitude towards sentences, and tended to avoid paragraphs in many of his so-called “short” stories. I have yet to attempt his epic novel Infinite Jest, which is 1,079 pages long, has its own wiki page, and I suspect the joke is on the reader.

None of these is the reason why I’m mad at him. In 2008, he hung himself in his home. Now,  I know suicide is something that famous writers do, from time to time. And I know he got a major posthumous publicity boost. But that’s not exactly why I’m mad at him, either.

I’m mad at him because he knew exactly what he was doing, and did it anyway. What do I mean? In 2006, I saw him read at my college. It was a pretty big deal. David Foster Wallace. He read some of his unpublished stuff (never to be published stuff?) that I thought was pretty good. I gained a lot of respect for his style after hearing him read out loud. His stream-of-consciousness rambles make more sense when rambled aloud in a stream of, as it were, consciousness. At the end of the presentation was a question-and-answer session. I got to ask a question. I was trying to think of something clever. I asked him what the strangest piece of fan-mail was that he’d ever received.

He said, “That’s a clever, witty question to which I have a serious answer. A man once called me and told me if I didn’t call him back, he’d kill himself.” He called the guy back, and their correspondence lasted a few weeks. He said it was “the most devious piece of sadism” that he’d ever experienced.

So what the hell, David Foster Wallace? What was your intention? Did you only want to be sadistic? Did you forget what happened, or did it eat away at you and eventually kill you? Not sure if I’m justified in this line of thought, much like I’m not sure if I’m justified in my like and/or dislike of his work. (In either case, there’s a part of me that wants to reanimate him, just so I could punch him.)

But so it goes, as they say. So it goes.

The first rule about Fight Club….

So, I was just writing a fight scene in “Changeling,”* a real fists-flying-guns-drawn fight scene. It made me think of two things:

1. I don’t write fight scenes very often. In Freedomland, there are no actual FIGHT scenes. There are people dying gruesomely scenes and blowing stuff up scenes, but no hand-to-hand combat, period.

2. I was trying to think of fight scenes that I really like in books. It’s easier to think of fight scenes in movies that are really good, but harder in books. My taste in movie fight scenes runs to the hyperbolic Kill Bill style combat, but that’s not exactly what I’m going for in the scene I was writing. I wanted something more along the lines of Brad Pitt’s character in Snatch punching out some dudes way bigger than him. I’m decently pleased with my first go at it, but it leaves me wondering: what are all the good fight scenes in books? Why don’t I remember many of them?

Please, help me out! Post your favorite book fight scenes!

Blatant Balladry

So, I suppose it’s time I talked about Novel No. 2. It’s tentatively titled Changeling, because I love me some single-word titles. Currently, it consists of a few more than 50,000 words of text (thanks, NaNoWriMo), a couple of outlines, and a bunch of research into the wacky, wacky world of British folklore.

Specifically, I’ve been doing some serious reading of The English and Scottish Popular Ballads compiled by Francis James Child in the late 1800s, a.k.a. the Childs’ Ballads. It turns out that most of the things I was really nerdy about as a kid (Robin Hood stories, some aspects of Arthurian legend, Steeleye Span, and a boatload of British fairy tales) all come from these ballads.

A surprising number of these ballads have wicked strong female characters in them. They aren’t always, y’know, moral, but they are often pretty badass. Consider the heroine of The Elfin Knight…some otherworldly prettyboy rides up and says, “La di dah, you can’t have me until you make me this totally magical and impossible shirt, ’cause I’m so fabulous, prance prance.” (or that’s how I read it, anyway.) Her response? “Okay, ask the impossible of me and I only ask the same of you. Fair!” She’s having none of his tomfoolery. The Childs’ Ballads are chock full of badass ladies like this.

To further make my point, and in honor of National Poetry Month, I present to you a version of The Elfin Knight. It’s pretty heavily Scottish/difficult to read, but persist! I beg you. You’ll totally recognise it, or at least you will if you listen to Simon and Garfunkle. Helpful notes: 1. If you can’t figure out what it’s saying, try pretending to have a heavy Scottish accent and see if that helps. 2. A sark is a kind of shirt. 3. Maun=must.

There are many, many versions of this song. I have chosen this one because it’s semi-intelligible and totally channels Tiffany Aching.

2D.1	THE Elfin knight stands on yon hill,
      Refrain:	Blaw, blaw, blaw winds, blaw
	Blawing his horn loud and shrill.
      Refrain:	And the wind has blawin my plaid awa
2D.2	‘If I had yon horn in my kist,
	And the bonny laddie here that I luve best!
2D.3	‘I hae a sister eleven years auld,
	And she to the young men’s bed has made bauld.
2D.4	‘And I mysell am only nine,
	And oh! sae fain, luve, as I woud be thine.’
2D.5	‘Ye maun make me a fine Holland sark,
	Without ony stitching or needle wark.
2D.6	‘And ye maun wash it in yonder well,
	Where the dew never wat, nor the rain ever fell.
2D.7	‘And ye maun dry it upon a thorn
	That never budded sin Adam was born.’
2D.8	‘Now sin ye’ve askd some things o me,
	It’s right I ask as mony o thee.
2D.9	‘My father he askd me an acre o land,
	Between the saut sea and the strand.
2D.10	‘And ye maun plow’t wi your blawing horn,
	And ye maun saw’t wi pepper corn.
2D.11	And ye maun harrow’t wi a single tyne,
	And ye maun shear’t wi a sheep’s shank bane.
2D.12	‘And ye maun big it in the sea,
	And bring the stathle dry to me.
2D.13	‘And ye maun barn ’t in yon mouse hole,
	And ye maun thrash’t in your shee sole.
2D.14	‘And ye maun sack it in your gluve,
	And ye maun winno’t in your leuve.
2D.15	‘And ye maun dry’t without candle or coal,
	And grind it without quirn or mill.
2D.16	‘Ye’ll big a cart o stane and lime,
	Gar Robin Redbreast trail it syne.
2D.17	‘When ye’ve dune, and finishd your wark,
	Ye’ll come to me, luve, and get your sark.’

This, and so many more are available in awesomely accessible format at Sacred Texts.

And I’m spent. More fairies, balladeering, and tomfoolery later.

Kitchen

The kitchen says so much about a household. It is a place of creation, a place of gathering, a place sacred to me in the house, and one of the hardest places in the house to share. You are what you eat, and what you eat and how are always on display in the kitchen, from the functional efficiency of microwave food that one of my former roommates stocked to the fancy spices of another roommate and her gourmet vegetarian cooking.

Emotions are constantly tied to the kitchen and food: one friend of mine went to teach English in Japan and sorely missed childlike junk food that spoke of her home in Taos: Fritos, old-fashioned stick candy, and carne seca (Taoseño beef jerky).  My cousin moved to London for several years; she said whenever she got homesick, she’d go to Chinatown. The Chinatown in London was remarkably similar to that of Seattle and San Francisco, and when you get right down to it, “a dried squid in the window is a dried squid in the window.” Even the eternal party gathering in the kitchen phenomenon speaks to the depth of emotions that soak into a kitchen. I fondly remember my first year in AmeriCorps, oftentimes one or more roommates and I would end up in the kitchen, sitting on the tile floor (our house had oil heating, so that was the warmest spot in the house), and chatting an evening away. “Kitchen Time,” we called it.

My parents are going to retire soon and move into a new home; they keep reading architecture and interior design books and talking about “the work triangle” between sink, fridge, and stove when it comes to kitchens. My current kitchen has a mediocre work triangle and relatively little counter space. Nevertheless, it sees regular love from me and my roommates, endures the occasional ignored sink of dirty dishes (mostly my fault, I admit it), and otherwise is a relatively clean little corridor in my house, shoved in between the back door and the dining room. The fridge has a photo of my class, a drawing by my neighbor’s kid, information about garbage and recycling pickup, pictures of my roommates’ cousins, and a few yellowing comic strips. The cabinets are peppered with quotes I put up at the beginning of last year, and the shelves by the sink are stacked with an assortment of sake cups, wine corks, and decorative bottles. Sometimes my roommates keep a live basil plant there, but the last one died a few days ago. Overall, it’s a space that’s well used and filled with as much light as anywhere in the house gets.

Under the whimsical exterior of my kitchen, you can see the organization of the house: it’s not quite the literal line of duct tape across the apartment, but it’s a definite segregation between the two couples that make up my household, my upstairs roommates, and then me and Mikeatron. We share milk and baking supplies; everything else is separate. Two cabinets of dry goods. Two veggie drawers, one for each couple. Two blocks of Tillamook cheese in the cheese drawer. As a natural communal eater, I feel sad that the kitchen is so segregated; it serves as a metaphor for how little connection I have with my current set of roommates. Nonetheless, I deal with the divided kitchen well enough. I give myself props for learning how to share a kitchen. Preparing meals with Mikeatron is a big step up from my first method of cooking, which was more or less me taking over the kitchen and guarding it with a Monty Pythonesque attitude (“None shall pass!”).  I’ve realized that sharing food and sharing kitchen space are as sacred to me as the kitchen itself. I’m grateful to have a partner to share food with as well as weekly or more opportunities to cook for my friends and/or coworkers. There’s a reason why in many faiths some kind of sacrament involves the communal eating of something: shared food is sacred, a symbol of togetherness, and a bond of trust.

Also sharing fresh-baked cookies is awesome. So there.

***

Recommended gustatory reading: Kate Lebo’s excellent food blog, Good Egg; Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto; In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan; Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver; Cloudy With a Change of Meatballs by Judi Barrett; the Redwall series by Brian Jacques*.

*As an adult, reading back over Jacques’ delightful kids’ series, I am stuck by many overly analytical thoughts. Jacques’ characters are mainly in the rodent and woodland creature genre, and seem to have a mainly vegetarian/pescatarian diet. I’m not sure if real mice like to eat fish, but Redwall mice certainly seem to.  Much of their diet is made up of nuts, greens, and notably cheese and cream. Where, my adult mind asks, did the milk come from? Are the mice milking cows or goats that are a hundred times their size? Are badgers milking cows? Or is the milk from the woodland creatures themselves? How creepy is the idea of milking something that can talk to you? My brain shudders, contemplating all the possibilities.

Adolescent Passions, or, Things I am not so Sure About Anymore…

I picked up a book at the library the other day: A Season In Hell, by Arthur Rimbaud. I know little if nothing about Rimbaud. To be perfectly honest, I picked it up because of a line from a Gregory Corso poem (Marriage):

What a husband I’d make! Yes, I should get married!

So much to do! Like sneaking into Mr Jones’ house late at night

and cover his golf clubs with 1920 Norwegian books

Like hanging a picture of Rimbaud on the lawnmower

like pasting Tannu Tuva postage stamps all over the picket fence

like when Mrs Kindhead comes to collect for the Community Chest

grab her and tell her There are unfavorable omens in the sky!

It’s a fabulous poem, and I recommend you go read the whole thing. Anyway, Rimbaud. I knew very little about him, and from the introduction I learned that he wrote A Season in Hell in 1873 at age 18, after going on a drug-fueled homosexual love journey that ended in violence, alcoholism, heartbreak and apparently, this essay. I’m not quite sure what to call it—essay, poem, rant, generalized adolescent freakout put onto paper. It’s really what so many people feel in their raging, hormonal hearts.

The remarkable things to me about this work are twofold: One, the raw passion of the work for the time. The 1870s in France were a time of political turmoil—the Franco-Prussian War, reflections of Eastern European communism. Somehow the inner turmoil in the work is even fierier than the world at the time. Secondly, the age at which it was written. I know I couldn’t turn out prose of that quality at age 18.  It feels like Salinger of the 1800s.

What I can’t decide is a) if I like it or not, and b) if it’s “good.” By “good,” I mean effective to its aims. I think it actually is decently effective at being a part of the throes of adolescent “passion as suffering.” I guess I’m just not sure whether or not the suffering stirs me much. Part of me is impressed, feels cathartic fierceness in his words. The pragmatic woman who’s passed through the gauntlet of the teenage years and the first bit of the 20s wants to say, “Hey. Arthur. Get over it, you silly man.” I’m not sure what to think.

Here’s the overture*, so that you can come to your own damn conclusions (which I would be keen on hearing):

“Once, if I remember right, my life was a celebration where all hearts were open and all wines flowed.

One night I saw Beauty in my lap. And I found she was bitter, and I called her names.

I found weapons to use against justice.

I ran away. Poverty, hate, you witches, my treasure was left in your care.

I managed to wither all human hope inside me. I attacked like a wild animal, and strangled every joy.

I called for executioners, I wanted to die chewing on their gum butts. I called for diseases, so I could suffocate in sand, in blood. Unhappiness was my god. I lay down in the mud, and dried off in the crime-infested air. I played the fool until I was really crazy.

And by spring I had the scary laugh of an idiot.

Now, a while ago, when I saw about to go Argh! for the last time, I thought I’d try to find the key to that lost celebration where—maybe—I could recover my appetite.

That key is Selfless Love. (—which goes tot show you I was dreaming.)

“You stay a hyena, etc….” shouts the demon who once crowned me with pretty poppies. “Go find death—use all your appetites, your egotism, and all the Seven Deadly Sins.”

Oh, I did too much of that. But Satan, please, don’t look so upset! And while we’re waiting for a few last-minute cowardices, here. You like writers with no talent at all for description or instruction, so take these pages. They’re for you I tore them out of my notebook of a lost soul.”

…mon carnet de damné…

What do you think? Deep? Pointless? Any good? Option D: Other?

*This being from the version translated by Robert Maplethorpe and published in 1986 by Bullfinch Press.

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