Monthly Archives: February 2014

Sunday Six

An only slightly belated six sentences for Sunday, February 23:

Here, the rain comes in when it storms. The wind plays what remains of the palace like a flute. The weeds creep across the broken marble courtyards and climb up over the statues there, small birds roost in the rafters and little unseen creatures – rats? raccoons? – make nests in the walls, shredding old draperies and books for their beds.

Some might look on this as a tragedy. They might mourn the mildewed portraits in the great hall and the dead leaves that drift in through the broken windows of the ballroom. But to the little maid in her white apron and cap, it is an inconvenience first.

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Sunday Six

Six sentences for Sunday, February 16:

I was fully twenty-five when we were married and already long acquainted with the silences of empty rooms. In the passing of solitary hours I was well-versed. I sometimes think that’s why he chose me. He imagined that, spinster that I was, I must have learned the trick of loneliness – its mystery, as the secrets of any trade are called. He thought I could be left and returned to with ease. That I would keep.

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Reading Recommendation: “Snow,” Shelley Jackson

This reading recommendation comes courtesy of LiAnn, who has impeccable taste and is forever suggesting the best stuff.

This one is particularly relevant, as we’re having yet more snow today: Shelley Jackson (author of Skin, a story in tattoos, among other awesome endeavors) is writing a story in the snow. She’s sharing it one word at a time over Instagram (weather permitting).

“Through a microscope one discovers that there are many kinds of snow: those made up of tiny paintings of shipwrecks in the style of Bonaventura Peeters, those made up of bowls of miniature wax fruit, very beautiful and realistically formed, except for the size; those made up of the fingernail clippings of babies; and those made up of the trimmed and tattooed scalps of shrews, used as money by certain native peoples of the southern Urals.”

— Shelley Jackson, “Snow

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“White Fire”

Discovering that I can use find/replace to change all the double spaces after full stops in my document into single spaces may be one of the most revelatory moments of my life as a writer.

I don’t even want to begin to consider what this says about me.

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Sunday Six

Six sentences for Sunday, February 9:

This lake was home to a white swan. Though the swan left every autumn to migrate south, it was to the lake that she always returned in the spring, and it was her favorite place in the whole world. She spent many long hours diving in the murky water to dine on small insects and watching the light write changes on the surface of the lake. One moment it would be radiant, the next it would turn dark under the shadow of the clouds. She never tired of looking at it.

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Dinner & a Movie: Miso Ramen & “Byzantium”

Last night I made miso ramen with butternut squash and cabbage and Susan and I watched Neil Jordan’s Byzantium. Both were great.

photo-1The soup was a really lovely combination of flavors — the sweetness of the squash with the rich white miso flavor,  the cabbage  crunchy and just a little brown from the oven. Yum.

I made this recipe with udon noodles instead of ramen, because that’s what I was in the mood for, and added a poached egg on top just for kicks.

The whole thing was tasty, definitely a recipe I’d make again, but possibly the most revelatory part of this whole experience was the discovery it’s very easy to poach an egg in the microwave! I read this Bon Appetit microwave poaching tutorial very skeptically, particularly since the instructions are basically just “crack an egg in some water and microwave it”, but it worked really well. I think it may be time to learn how to make a proper Hollandaise.

After dinner, we watched Byzantium, which has been on my to-watch list for a long time, and Susan and I both agreed that we were sorry it’d taken us so long to see it.

This is, in many ways, my ideal sort of movie. It’s a supernatural story but it’s not strictly horror. It’s about powerful women working outside the established system. It’s atmospheric and beautifully shot. And it seamlessly interweaves past and present, dream and illusion and reality. What more could I ask for?

The situation of the characters isn’t much of a secret, but it unfolds in a way that is a pleasure to see, so I won’t spoil too much about it, but in short: Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan) and Clara (Gemma Artertone) are a small family, immortals surviving on the fringes of society, living on the run. When they’re forced to leave the city they’ve been staying in, they return to the seaside town where their stories began, and their situation quickly becomes increasingly complicated — by love, death, and perhaps the most dangerous force of all, the truth about their past.

Storytelling plays a central role in Byzantium. Eleanor longs to tell the truth about herself, but she doesn’t fully comprehend the potentially fatal consequences that doing so may entail — in part because Clara, who is perfectly aware of how dangerous the truth can be, chooses to keep her secrets and has never told Eleanor about certain parts of her history. Clara lies to protect Eleanor, both to keep her safe and to preserve her innocence, because she cares for her, but ultimately it’s Eleanor’s innocence that puts them in danger. It’s about family histories especially, and the way what one generation can’t bear to remember comes to color how the next generation sees the world. In this way, Byzantium is not just about the lies we tell to obscure the truth and simultaneous fear of and desire to reveal that truth, but also about the way lies of omission can leave us vulnerable, as well.

Storytelling is also central to the formal conceit of the film. The film begins as a story told by Eleanor — she is writing out her life story on the page, narrating it to us in voiceover — but ultimately only Clara can fill in the gaps, and the moment when she steps in as narrator is both chilling and exhilarating.

The casting here is about as flawless as one could hope. Saoirse Ronan is wonderful as Eleanor, but it’s Gemma Arterton who really stands out. She’s sensual and sinister and stunningly fearless as Clara, who knowingly trades on her sexuality for power and refuses to look back with regret. There are moments, as we see the character of Clara come into her own, where Arterton’s self-assurance and strength are almost preternatural, embodying a perfect mix of rage and wonder and delight. Sam Riley, Jonny Lee Miller, and Tom Hollander also take excellent turns here, though their roles are comparatively small.

The last thing I’ll mention is the cinematography and score, which work together to create a startlingly beautiful gothic atmosphere. The seaside town of Hastings has a strong presence in the film, beautifully run-down, its long concrete promenades and stony beaches lit with the carnival glow of boardwalk neon. There’s a tension here between the natural world and the man-made — dewy fields of cabbages at dawn and murmurations of birds casting shapes on the sky presented in stark contrast to cold, impersonal council flats and hospitals. As Eleanor walks through town, she realizes that none of the buildings she’s passing existed when she was last there, but time can’t quite cover up the past, which keeps rising up to trouble her, memory seamlessly interpenetrating with the present. Sitting on the beach, she sees herself walking past as she once was, and hears the echo of the songs she used to sing. (The use of “The Coventry Carol” here is particularly eerie, along with a couple of other traditional songs and a haunting score by Javier Navarrete.)

I think what I liked best about Byzantium — besides the fact that it’s a gorgeous and unflinching feminist vampire story — is the way it embraces the wonderfully unreal as contiguous with the realities of the present day. The mysterious and arcane don’t disappear into the past, aren’t incompatible with modern-day logic. The unreal coexists with the real, sometimes uncomfortably, sometimes painfully, but never in a way that suggests one is better than the other, or that one will win out over the other. And the truth, when it’s finally revealed, is more mysterious, more complicated, than anyone could expect.

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A Belated Sunday Six

A belated six sentences for Sunday, February 2:

Sometimes, driving home, I find myself thinking of you. I don’t know what it is that reminds me—yellows squares of train windows sliding by, lights hanging in unfinished buildings, neon signs for hospitals, I don’t know. But sometimes you come back to me so vividly:

Sitting knock-kneed on the Metro in your school skirt on Friday afternoons. Dancing to the radio in my parents’ basement, your hair swinging, a curtain around you. That slow, conspiratorial smile as you leaned forward to whisper something secret in my ear.

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