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Lara Eckener

Diorama of a woman exploding

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REDA #2: Look Up

It snowed in Boston this morning. Yesterday it was 60*, today it snowed. What is that people say? Time is an illusion, springtime doubly so?

It was that movie set kind of snow–that light, puffed, swirling in the eddies of the wind and gently falling to the earth where it melts immediately kind of snow. I’ve walked through many different types of snow since moving to New England, but very rarely have I felt like I was walking through an actual snow globe. The city didn’t not feel like it was being shaken up. Perhaps the glass is just on the edge of the horizon.

It was snowing so I looked up. I looked up to inspect the bits of it clinging to my eyelashes and the low ceiling of grey clouds beyond my eyelashes that those bits had come from. I watched as it swirled in dance motes, the white flecks contrasting against the dark brick on some of the buildings around my office. As I watched I thought about all of the times I have been told, while touristing in some city or another, not to look up.

Looking up is conspicuous. Looking up signals that you have an interest in your surroundings and having an interest in your surroundings signals that they are new to you. I find this to be both true and untrue. True because there’s something novel to be found in every ancient patch of sky, and untrue because I am never not interested in my surroundings, even the ones I see every day.

My morning walk from the train station to the office takes me across an open square and up a back street. In that four to five blocks there is a crazy mash of architecture, brutalist structures standing square jawed next to gilded, tiered art deco architecture. One of the buildings butts up against the street with a wide, tan colored wall that I mentally describe as derezzed sandstone, even though it’s probably concrete. It’s just pixelated in parts, there appears to be movement in an otherwise imposing and still structure.

My walk from the office to the train station in the evenings goes around the other side of the block. It is through park squares kept colorful and open with trees and flowers when they’ll grow, and art installations at all times of the year. I’m quite taken with one of the tall buildings that skirts this cluster of squares. It looks like a giant grey vent. It’s interesting and enigmatic and I have made it one of the important settings in a novel I’m working on.

Yet another, darker building serves as a backdrop for the squat glass pyramid of the train station entrance. It towers over it and recently they have started lighting the facade of the building up at night with changing stripes of purple to blue light. I’m not sure what point there is to turning the side of one building in a hundred into dance floor landing strip, but I am not one to turn down opportunities for good bisexual lighting. If only I was tall enough to take selfies in it. About twenty more feet on my height should do me.

I look up wherever I go, because I am a restless soul who just wants to be in the sky, but also because I find that cities in particular reward looking up. If it’s not the architecture it’s the lighting. If it’s not the lighting it’s NO HATE, NO FEAR signs taped to office windows or sexy leg lamps perched in government buildings. If it’s not the lived in spaces it’s the forgotten spaces, the colonies of grime and swirls of black somethingness living along the ceilings of the train stations, or the whorls in the wood of the scaffolding you have to walk under during construction.

I don’t think everyone should live in the clouds, and I’m not trying to discourage anyone from looking down either. There are lots of excellent things to see if you’re looking down which I might make a whole other post about another time. I just think that, every once in a while, it’s good to stretch your neck out. When you go about your days take your wonder with you. And if that’s naive and silly well, it doesn’t hurt to be a little naive and silly from time to time. We all have a lot to see.

I think tomorrow we’re back to plain old cold rain. I have faith in spring, but you know what they say. April showers freeze over March flowers.

In which there is helplessness and hope.

This post is ostensibly about a short story anthology I have the honor of having work accepted into, but it’s also about how important I think this anthology is and what it means to me to have been accepted.

UNDERCITIES: A Short Story Anthology – An anthology that focuses on queer narratives in an urban fantasy setting, featuring queer and POC characters.

I have this recurring thought about my own stories. I worry a lot of the time that they’re not relevant enough, that nothing I have to say is important in the scheme of things. Why should my words be important when I am mostly a frivolity of a person—a scared little girl who grew into an anxious woman who mostly feels helpless in the face of the oncoming future? Why should I even write these things? I ask myself. Why do I furiously jot down poetry that no one will ever read or build convoluted histories for main characters in novels that I may or may not write? Why, when the words won’t come, do I collage instead?

Why do I find such comfort in manifesting my small, awkward beauties when so often they’re only for me? If I was the last person on the planet, would I continue to leave my words splattered all over every surface? Would I feel the need to prove that I was here if there was never anyone else to see it? I think I would. Writing has always been a mechanism of hope for me and I learned long ago that even if I’m not Writing I’m writing. The words will out whether I want them to or not.

Lately, I am made of helplessness. I wake up every morning singing a little song I made up about it in my head, because singing my frustrations to myself is a thing I started doing a while ago so I didn’t shout them at others. This is not the romantic young Elizabeth Schuyler in Hamilton helplessness. This is not beautiful or desirous or even in tune. This is the overwhelming sensation of fear that is not creeping, but that is already here.

I wake up feeling helpless and I check my phone to see what new fresh horrors were perpetrated while I slept: what gag order has been signed, which environmental agency has been targeted, which group of people have been beaten or incarcerated for displaying the rebellious unrest that was to be lauded when it shook up status quo two hundred years ago, but demonized when it tries to shake up the status quo now. I don’t have to tell any of you that the current status quo is dangerous for the majority of people living not only in the US, but in the world. It needs to be shaken. I should do more shaking.

So I wake up feeling helpless. Helpless for myself and my friends and for strangers who are stronger and braver than I am and who are being vilified for it. My friends, who are from different places and made up of different ethnicities, who are mostly female or non-binary or transgendered and mostly queer, who are mostly millennials, who are mostly no stranger to being told that everything about them needs to be cleaned up and trimmed down and beaten into submission. My friends who are entirely, bravely, proudly non-compliant in the face of all of it.

I should stop singing quietly and go back to shouting loudly. I should do it for myself and for everyone I love and everyone I admire. There’s power to be had in making yourself seen and the words you use to do it. There always has been and always will be power in stories. That sounds trite, but honestly, when the day is being ruled by “alternative facts” that are little more than falsehoods spun into pyrite, what else can you do but counter with fictions that show actual truths more deftly and completely than their news sound bites ever could?

Fiction has always been a vehicle for truths and a way for those who have a hard time shouting—or who have already shouted until their throats gave out-to be heard. It’s a tradition I’ve always wanted to be a part of and it’s for that reason that I find telling stories to be a mechanism of hope. In fiction I can sing for myself and for others. In fiction I can see myself reflected and subsumed and reborn. In fiction I can find the tools I’ll need to move past this helplessness and into strength.

The main character in the short story I submitted to Undercities exists in my head because she was someone who didn’t exist outside of my head when I would have needed her most. She is made of my fears and doubts about being a bisexual woman and also being a woman with no real connection to her family’s history. At this point you can just imagine me as Molly Grue and my main character as the unicorn in The Last Unicorn. Where were you when I was new? I shout. I’m here now, she says.

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No person should live in a vacuum. No person should be told by their family that they don’t exist or that they need to hide themselves. No person should have to accept a false narrative that overwrites their own lived existence, and yet, so many of us do. Anthologies like this are one small step toward reclaiming our voices and our visibility. Being encouraged to share my stories and allowed to write things that reflect my hopes and fears is one small step toward working past the helplessness.

I am very proud to have a story included in the Undercities anthology, and proud of the hard work the editors and other authors have done in promoting the voices of people who aren’t often allowed the breath they need to sing. We need each other and we need each other’s stories. Please support them when you can.

As of this posting there are 21 days left for funding in the Undercities Kickstarter. You can check it out here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/dirtybirdspress/undercities-a-short-story-anthology

.007 – All the experiences.

As I mentioned in the video post from yesterday, I was in jury duty last week.  It was my first time showing up for a summons–I was called twice for my home county while I was here for school and both times my mother had me pardoned–so I didn’t know what to expect.  I certainly didn’t expect to actually be placed on a jury.  The entire week was a surreal blur to me.  I was there, and I was paying attention, but it hardly feels like any of it actually happened now that I’m removed from it.

That happens to me a lot.  I’ll finally realize an event that I was either hoping for or biting my nails over and in the end the replay is merely a car crash.  I mean to say, I almost blank out and don’t remember any of it at all.  I found it very true to my own experience every time a person on the witness stand mis-remembered something or amended a statement.  I do that every day, it’s just that most people don’t have enough invested in the proceedings to call me on it or even care.

I like to say that I want to have all of the experiences, by which I mean I would like to do as many things as possible in as many places with as many people as possible and be able to chronicle them somehow.  I want to be able to tally them up at the end of my life and say ‘look at all these things that I’ve done’.  (Yes, in this scenario I AM still quoting The Killers in 60 years.  Don’t be too harsh on old me, it could easily have been Bright Eyes.)  And even before that point, I’d like to be able to call on things that I’ve learned and apply that knowledge elsewhere.  That’s the best way to play this game, right?  Observe and conquer?

Of course, the flip side to having good experiences is having bad ones.  Every time I complain about something that I perceive as having gone wrong the boyfriend is there to remind me that I did want to have all the experiences and that whatever it was was certainly an experience. Not that I’m generally very forgiving of that point of view in the moment, but he’s right.  Don’t tell him I said that.

Being a lawyer, as far as I could tell in my seat as Juror #4, is two parts fifth grade science project and three parts community theater.  They have to present you with the facts in a biased way and highlight only those things they want you to see.  There are often bar graphs.  They have to wrangle the story and they have to try and drag it about to the place they want it to end. Their very diction is designed to make you feel a certain way and fill in other people’s experiences with your own background.  I must say that it wasn’t lost on me that I essentially do the same thing, it’s just that no one critiques me in real time and no one has to pay me a large sum of cash if I achieve the desired effect.  It would be nice if they did, and god willing one day, but you know what I mean.

In practical application all of those experiences help me write more well-rounded characters as well as becoming more well-rounded myself, but I think my hunger ties in deeper than that.  I think real life can teach you structures that reading cannot.  Some people are carefully rehearsed.  Some chaos is merely the final resolution of a long chain of carefully placed events.  And most importantly, not everyone’s story is important to the centralized plot.  Real life unfolds in a way that writing can’t, because of a need for specificity, but that doesn’t mean that incorporating some of those threads can’t make a textbook plot feel like it has more at stake.  I do like a little chaos and a lot of strings in reserve, as I’m sure my writing partner can tell you.

At the end of the day, even though I feel like I want to have all of the experiences, I know that rationally I can’t and shouldn’t.  There is not enough money in the world to make me exchange coming home at the end of the day with a clear conscience and crawling into bed to watch anime until I pass out, or dither about with a poem’s structure until I can’t keep my eyes open, for being in that witness stand come morning.  Perhaps the game should merely be to have just enough experiences to be able to infer the ones you don’t want to have.  Not that I can control that either, but regardless of which side of the counsel I find myself on, I pledge to myself that I will keep my eyes open.  I never do know when knowledge will come in handy.

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