Monday, November 29, 2010

2007 Self-Reflexivity

I just found something I had written about writing from 3 years ago. Must have been for an interview that never got published and it is pre-publication of Girl on a Stick. I find it hard to believe I wrote it just for myself, but I found it in longhand. It was a little bizarre to read because to my memory I have never written about my artistic process before (I kinda hate to).

I think it's like taking photographs and stealing your soul when you dissect your OWN art too much (and possibly other people's, too).

It's like overanalysing GREAT SEX.

It's like living your life FULL-TIME on the Devil Facebook. It's like...

Well, it's like this. Kathleen on Art, specifically Writing, circa 2007:

I had my first novel published in 2001. It was called Mush. I got some nice reviews for it. Most reviews and personal feedback used the word "haunting". That's flattering, the idea that something born from my brain and life affects other people, like some movies like The Wicker Man, Donnie Darko, Lost in Translation, Event Horizon, Strange Days have affected me the day after. But I'm not trying to haunt anybody. Although I am doing paintings of ghosts. Some dreams do this haunting too; everyone knows this.

I think I like this "haunting" feeling.

But it's not a very pure emotion; it feels complex and perverse.

Many of my favourite authors (Atwood, Murakami, Ryman), painters (Kiefer, Chagall), singers/bands (Pulp, Tricky, Cadallaca), filmmakers (Maddin, Lynch) could be described as complex and perverse.

So at the end of the day I like the idea that Mush has haunted people.

What I've written since Mush is less "decaying" and more in the present, like second novel Girl on a Stick (which is a grab-you-by-the-neck-and-shake-you kind of present) and third novel He's Lucid, which is also "in the moment" (a phrase from acting class that troubles me but is apt when it needs to be), and is also calm, crazy and playful, though still also complex and perverse (I have had the most fun writing He's Lucid, and it feel it is written in my "truest voice", another writerly phrase that troubles me).

I think whatever I'm reading at the time colours what I'm writing.

When I was writing Mush in 1997 and 1998, I was also writing an MA dissertation on essentialist qualities of male (hard, dry, structured) and female (soft, wet, free) and how our society forces these dichotomies/assumptions on us when actually it's a bunch of bullshit. So the characters of Nicky and Carol (and Ellen as a mutable third way) were my way of labelling and then rejecting both masculinity and femininity. I was reading a lot of Foucault at the time and it probably shows. And I think I was re-reading Keri Hulme's The Bone People several times too, with its love of green, green nature and power dynamics mixed with dark sex and violence, and that probably shows too.

Halfway through my first draft of the feature film The Viva Voce Virus, I saw Mullholland Drive. That probably shows.

I was introduced to and then devoured Angela Carter all the way through the writing of Girl on a Stick. I think there was a little bit of Bulgakov reading going on, too. I was purposefully writing in a Tama Janowitz anti-chick lit style that I remembered from the early books of Bret Easton Ellis (I haven't read any recently).

Some of my recently published short stories like "The Werfox" and "Sister Six" were influenced by a freedom I felt after reading Frances Gapper's Absent Kisses short story collection. I realised that she was breaking all the rules and that I wanted to do that, too. Other short story influences would have to be the open-ended humanity of Ali Smith's work - and the wry freedom of Tove Jansson's Fair Play, which I was translating at the time.

HOWEVER. I am very careful not to read anything too similar in plot or theme WHILE I'm writing something. So, surprisingly, I did not read Surfacing by Maragret Atwood for the first time until after Mush had been published, and heard the details of Oryx & Crake only after I'd precisely plotted out the scope of He's Lucid. I was worried about crossover or subconscious plagiarism because Atwood is from a place very similar to my home and also I think I like to write lyrically (to be clear: I am not comparing myself to a Booker Prize winner in terms of quality). Likewise, I could see a lot of whimsy in my writing BEFORE I read Carter and Gapper, but reading them made me feel that I was allowed to be playful - and better yet, not care if it was right or wrong.

I think I have at least 4 separate writing styles: the Mush style (Mush, the short story "Winterland"); the open elliptical style (the short stories "Ring Us" and "Worms"; the verbose, Carteresque style (the short story "Scratch", parts of Girl on a Stick), the rambunctious, playful anarchic style (He's Lucid, "Sister Six"). Oh yes, and "genre" writing. Writing erotica for money and publication allowed me to work through these different styles and now I write using just what style I feel like at the time.

Usually there's an image in my head and I work towards that. I don't want to think too much about how I write (as opposed to what comes of what I write), because I don't want to over-analyse or pin it down. Right now it's flying free.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

In just an interesting aside, my university is currently occupied at the moment (I let the students go a few minutes early from their tutorial so they could go to the protest). The anthropology department does not seem to be occupied, however... (security guard at the entrance, though, and all major buildings locked this morning).

I am reporting from the heart of Trotskyite resistance, the second-floor paleoanthropology lab of UCL, otherwise known as the bone room! People keep soldiering on here with their baboon craniometry.

Courage, comrades!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Last night I dreamt of whales, many of them. It felt kind of Jungian or something, I can't explain. I woke up in the middle of the night. It was such a gorgeous dream. At first I only saw one, but they were passing under a bridge I was near. Initially it seemed like a beach, but then it was a bridge like an aqueduct and they were going to survive. I went down to their level and got up close and saw one of them and its huge eye. It was gentle, beautiful, and it wasn't going to hurt me. I took a picture of all their grace in the water because I wasn't sure anyone was going to believe me. So fucking beautiful. I think I will do a painting of their tails.

The image feels rooted really deep inside me; I have seen it before.

I think I must have seen it somewhere before in real life as a kid.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Trains of Stumptown (2008)


No-no, yes-yes.
There are ways in which we yell
or whisper to them:
Ouija boards, lit candles in holy copses,
even someone from the future
walking over your grave,
you shudder in cramped delight,
your shoulderblades prescient
and bony science fiction,
an old Twilight Zone episode.

We write letters to them,
to which they never respond.
That is very rude.
We use the common business-school
Dearly Departed.
And they never get back to us,
even with an R. S. V. P. S. V. P. S. V. P.
with rock sugar on top.
We will not beg.
We will not go on our knees.

There are ways in which
they are said to signal back:
coughing radio static, ouija boards, again, yes-yes,
like angels, they leave freckles when they kiss us,
or they roll over in fury;
bump their noses against lead-lined oak,
regarding those hideous curtains
we just put up in their former living room,
over our bisexuality,
over our marriage to a Jew,
over our habit of not scrubbing
behind a cistern clogged with hair and piss and dust.
Their mediums are often old themselves, bigots,
and frequently related to us.

There are no happy mediums.
All psychics eavesdrop on the late lamented, eventually.

Dimes are New World myths, star-spangled, shiny new:
and every time you spot a dime
someone dead is thinking of you.

Yes, dimes appear, we’ve heard it said
when we’ve been thought of
by someone dead.
Why not nickels or quarters? It makes no cents.
Those other grimy discs of steel
embossed with presidents.

And yes, the dime myth is especially frequent
amongst right-wing housewives,
who find dimes on streets, in garage corners.
The Christian wives say the dead person
is just telling us “hello”, innocent enough.
But perhaps the dead person (cut off in their prime)
is thinking about the man on the dime,
Franklin Delano Roosevelt,
who started up the health-care movement in the United States,
reminding us to pay more attention
to labor unions and social security
otherwise the dead person might not have died prematurely
from cancer bills they couldn’t pay.
That’s right, goodwives, they went before their time,
oh brother, can you spare a dime?
Yes-yes, no-no, hello-hello.
You fundie bitches.
That one was from Grandpa, who sent his best wishes.

Dimes, IM chats with the deceased,
who say how nice that you’re still kicking,
and that you have your health,
no vestigial guilt, just minor wealth,
spare change, something you might have willed
or been willed anyway,
the prettiest of coins, these thin-lipped peppered mints,
silver-scalloped edges flung all the way
across the U.S.A.
A Hansel-und-Gretel moment,
That’s what they do say.
The dead do like to say hello.
Bonjour and Guten Abend.
Willkomen, bienvenue, welcome.
The witch at the end of the long white tunnel
sharpens her teeth.
That is a joke.
That only happens if you mess with ouija boards.
No joke. Non-nicht joke.
Dimes are much safer, when all is said,
for communication with the dead.
One-way conversations are always on par.
We’ve unanswered prayers. They’ve got FDR.
Stay away from ouija boards.


Portland is a town with cognitive-dissonance issues.
Portland is a town that,
having ditched its lively Stumptown moniker
and re-named Asylum Avenue
to shopping-district-friendly Hawthorne,
has never dealt with its 19th-century train problem.
The whistles go off on the hour through the night, loudly,
and probably explain why the citizens
drink so much dark-roasted Fair Trade coffee.

I walk Stumptown’s tracks in the rootless dark,
these cursed hoots mean I cannot sleep,
I leave dimes along the rails
for the carriages to crush to plate.
Such alchemy from one still kicking,
they say (admiringly).
This is why they call me the witch of Stumptown,
and why all the housewives phone me
when they need more than just hello.

Niceties (2006)

Central Oregon, grass seed capital of the world.
It would suck to have hay fever,
but luckily I am not a sufferer.

The mouth of the beast, now that I’m back in it,
always says have a nice day
and asks too many personal questions
during casual shopping transactions.
No, I have a girlfriend, actually.
I stayed in Europe for ten years
because it’s not legal in the United States
for me to bring her here.
Don’t you think that’s homophobic,
and aren’t you glad you asked? I am, nearly.

My country hoods its enemies and tortures them
with anal suppositories and menstrual pads
(fags and women the dirtiest threats conceivable,
from both sides of the electric fence).
Unspeakable. The government won’t speak out. Unspeakable.
The government at last speaks out,
and makes allusions to promoting torture,
but the beast never says sorry.
I mean, that’s Business Management 101, you never say sorry.

We don’t know the first thing about suffering.
Citizens float dead in the taint waters,
though Barbara Bush thinks it’s working out well for them.
Network, cable, FOX news, such pleasant manners.
A mouth (devoid of duct tape) drones on, it’s ceaseless.
You scum, unspeakable.
Have a nice day; it’s all good.

It’s now legal to spy on Average Joe.
Let’s make a good Patriot Act obediently.
Make a nation outraged, simply disgusted, over media cursing.
The FCC will worry for us, furrow its brow
and censor the Anglo-Saxon shit and fuck, also known as bad words.
Make a people mourn for lone white girls
while a quarter million in South Asia
slither back across the Styx with the undertow.

The last item of every news program,
(which lacks any statewide context,
let alone federal or international)
is always a dog-up-the-tree story.
Or cat. I forget.
The anchormen and women wink and sign off.
You know what that is?
That’s a four-letter word not permissible on live TV
by order of the Federal Communications Commission.