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The Swift and The Sardonic

11 Jun

An Elegy for the Gentle Art of Viciousness. 

Three days after my aunt Saroj died, I was surveying her library in her new house. Her husband, who blamed their new house for her death, wanted it packed up; he planned to go as far away as he could, take as little as he could, and stay gone as long as he could. Like any library, it was a glimpse into her soul, in this case the soul of a practical oncologist who had little time for the finer pleasures of literature. It was only on two shelves, stacked behind her desk, that my aunt revealed she had an astonishingly coy heart: every Georgette Heyer novel in the world, each stamped with a date, a place, a memory.

In the weeks since, I have often wondered about my own comfort shelf, a mix of science fiction and Wodehouse, and why it is that I, unlike so many other women, find no comfort in the cheery plots, regency settings, and smooth prose of Georgette Heyer. I like my relationship-novels to be arch, biting, even cruel—not for me the dashing dukes and modest maidens that make up so much of her world. Georgette Heyer is witty and often wise, but I don’t enjoy the illusions woven into her work, and I despise the convention of the happily-ever-after. I need my humour to arrive from a dark place, to be carried, as it were, upon the winds of satire. What puzzles me, of course, is why. Why do I need a twist, either of irony or, even worse, of malice?

All that thinking happened later.  That day, surveying my aunt’s upstart romances, all I felt was a slight, affectionate twinge of pity: there was no one left to cherish these old paperbacks that she had so painstakingly collected. Then the phone rang, and a familiar tingle of dread surged up my spine.

It had all started about ten days before. When the first call came, I went into shock. My oldest friend’s mother was dead. Two days later, another. Cancer. Then another. Car accident. Then came Saroj Mausi, by which time my mind had been pummeled into resignation. I asked no questions, spilt no tears, was just grateful that this time, at least, I could show up and be useful, for the only thing lonelier than unrequited love is grieving alone. But here was my phone again, announcing another call from another continent, and it told me K was dead.

K, whom I had loved so long ago I had forgotten I still loved him. But this time I knew that I could no longer stay away; that I had to go home and greet his end. I could see it unfolding. I’d march straight up to his stranger of a wife, and announce myself to her: “I loved him too. A decade ago, your husband and my brother were sleeping together. They broke up, we got drunk…” and, once done with the whole salacious shambles, I’d likely find myself being offered tea and samosas and a baby to hold.

So there I was, staring at a shelf of Georgette Heyers and planning a prodigal return, living through a postmodern Barbara Pym novel, laughing uncontrollably. Life, they say, is sometimes weirder than fiction. It’s not. Death is weirder than fiction.

Kara Walker, An Historical Romance of a Civil War as it Occured between the Dusky Thighs of One Young Negress and Her Heart (detail), from Guernica.

Kara Walker, Gone, An Historical Romance of a Civil War as it Occured between the Dusky Thighs of One Young Negress and Her Heart (detail), from Guernica.

The book I was thinking of, in that instant, was The Sweet Dove Died, one of Pym’s most melancholy novels and the last one published in her lifetime. It takes its title, like many Pym novels, from a poem, but the title isn’t the only reason it floated into my memory. The novel is about a cold and elegant woman who finds passion late in life, with a man half her age, only to lose her lover to another man. The novel was a departure for Pym, featuring as it did a fading beauty caught in a whirl of shifting sexuality she doesn’t quite comprehend. Most of Pym’s heroines are dreamy, shabby women who survive on the fringes of gentility and grasp reality rather better than they let on. Leonora, Sweet Dove’s protagonist, is their foil: a woman whose confidence derives from her beauty rather than her wit, who believes herself worldly until the world proves her otherwise. A Sweet Dove Died seemed, in the circumstances, to be an uncanny parallel of my situation. I am the quintessential Pym heroine—a dowdy spinster who knows her way around a quote—and I had once fallen for a bisexual man who discovered he preferred elegance to intelligence. It was a reversal to do Pym proud, and I thought, yet again, what a deep misfortune it is for literature that there is no such thing as a postmodern Barbara Pym novel.

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Stammersong.

2 Jan

2012 was a year of silence. I am a person complacent in my silences, and for a long time I thought of my quiet as reserve. I even believed it a dignified reserve until one unexpected morning six years ago I realized it was fear.* Something unspoken is something that might not have happened, and within that ambivalence I can construct another universe. A reality that isn’t as cruel, one in which I’m not as vulnerable. My plan, a poet once said, is to sow myself a shroud out of small pieces of silence.

*honestly, I’m a hobbit.

Words are deceptively fragile things. They bend and they blend and they bleed, until suddenly they don’t. Until suddenly they break you. They impose meaning upon memory and dispel shadows and exact sense where there was once only sensation. Words are spells, and spells are promises: of control, of coherence, of consequence. I am not, though I try very hard to pretend otherwise, a person gifted with words. I write not because I can or must, but because I cling. I write from desire.

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Merely Pilfered.

1 Dec

I am apping

when I’m not napping.

and what is a blog

if not a medium

escaping daily tedium

… and now you know why I stick to pilfering my poetry. For the next few months (or however long the fancy takes me) pilfered poetry is migrating. In an effort to recover bogey’s intimacy, I revived her tumblr outpost this week.  Also I’m a lapsed essayist and miss dithering. I started tinkering with the architecture of this blog a month ago, only to realise she’s damn near perfect.  This is especially true on the ipad, where she’s so exquisite I want to fuck her.  I write prose, long and grim though it may be, not “posts”. That is what this space will always be about, and I’m proud of her standards.

Essays, that said, take forever and a day to write.  And frequency I could use. Q.E.D.

As for aesthetics, we struggle along. I believe chaosbogey is plenty navigable, even if no one else does. Think of her parts as the variables of an impossible equation. One day, with sufficient magic, I might piece her together. Until then I’m content inventing formulae.

It’s hard explaining how precarious my identity as netizen is. I’m as close to a Luddite as can exist in the digital age. I flail around gadgets. I barely get my laptop to function outside pages and iCal. I plan on whiteboards and cork-boards and paper and think in trig. I read print, being enough of a pedant to want to type up each quote myself.

As the world around me tipped online, as apps and smart phones and tablets and 3G invaded India, I went into hibernation.

There you have it, world. Something new. Now for an old essay that was mostly pilfered in its own right,

Borges & I

Am I these things and the others

Or are there secret keys and difficult algebras

Of which we know nothing?

– Lines that could have been written and lost about 1922.

I began this essay on a wednesday, 24th August, Borges’ 112th birthday. At the time, I was working on another essay, about Kapuściński’s Travels with Herodotus. As it turned out, it was to be Bookslut’s 112th issue, and I can never resist some satisfying symmetry.

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we apologise for the inconvenience.

23 Nov

In one week, a fantastic essay will be published. In two, I turn 25. For all my abundant solipsism, I’ve never written a birthday post to myself. I don’t intend to start. If you wish to celebrate that I… arrived, buy a copy of December’s Caravan*. It hosts epic dithering on epic fantasy by this din. In print, too. Cheers all.

*January’s Caravan, which means I will have to get that tattoo after all. and the rest of you have to buy me books.

The  reverberations of age have me thinking. This year, bogey steered clear of din. Once the quest was to highlight the pest. The tipping point, for those who care, was a prophecy about the transience of digital identity I wrote during the mylaw chronicles. After the whedon essay back in march, bogey became my cave, a safe vantage for netscapin’. Best, I figured, to plan for redundancy and assume irrelevance in one’s experiments. If bogey were wholly whimsy, she would stay solely mine.  There’s a price, to be sure. My arcana were abandoned while reviews were drafted and articles assembled. Hebdomad plods along, pilfered poetry has been banished to twitter. We teetered along the brink of 50 posts for six months, bogey and I.

This is It.

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tis black/out back.

8 Apr

The only reason this post isn’t called this fuckin’ ‘verse! is cos I was scared of the search-spam said title would generate.

I have been burned, and I repent, whatever Gibbon might think.

Well, then. Last month the mylaw books column was all about women. It was an exercise I undertook with a fair measure of derision — and it was one I didn’t want to be ‘seen’ taking. It wasn’t camaraderie, or redressal, or anything so simple; it was, if anything, acknowledgment. Women aren’t talked about enough in our world, in any field, and four weeks of me writing about female writers is hardly about to change this.  The women I wrote about – Barbara Ehrenreich, Diana Wynne Jones, Zadie Smith- are all in their own way spectacular, but in no way representative. They aren’t the women I look to for guidance, or direction; they are merely the women my eye turned to this month. I felt it was important to make a statement, thus I did, and shall we leave it at that? I equivocated with Zadie, I gad about with Diana, I damn Don Draper with faint praise. The death of Diana Wynne Jones a week after I wrote about her makes an unhappy tribute out of that essay, much as I ardently wish she was still around spinning capital yarns. If I had known, I’d have made a grander task of it. The grim reaper stalks us all, and seems determined to steal away the best of us.

Richard Teschner

You can read it all over at mylaw. One of these blessed days, I am assured by editors and doyennes over at that illustrious website, information shall scuttle free. That will be the day I provide links. Till then, er, sign up? It’s a crash insight into what the legal community is thinking at any given moment, and surely y’all know us lawyers have our tentacles in bloody everything. Last week, pimping apart, I tackled my first graphic novel. Twas my first attempt at a negative review, something I’m ambivalent about. Books speak differently to each of us, and I don’t see the point of denigrating them when I’ve personally found them unappealing. I suspect I’ve been phenomenally bitchy to compensate for the terseness of the review; it was a tightrope between clarity and charity, and insincerity is a terrible vice in a writer. It’s not the best thing I’ve written, but this is my job, and I do it the best I can. This week, in expiation, I wrote about Micheal Chabon’s Kavalier & Clay, and all is gawking and gushing about genius.  In other news, my Whedon essay is published, and I am inordinately proud of it, so perhaps one of you could trash it and restore the karma of the universe.

This is the unedited version. It holds the ‘temperance’ card in my arcana, inspired as it was by Macaulay: virtue is vice in just temper.

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