juushika: Photograph of a stack of books, with one lying open. (Books)
I originally posted this on Tumblr, but it belongs on my rereads tag, aka my favorite tag in the history of all tags.

I’m doing another co-read with Missy, George Orwell’s 1984, a reread for both of us. He read it in school, and hasn’t reread it since then; I read it ages ago and many times since—but not in the last few years, so I suppose I was due.

My copy is inherited/gently stolen from my mother, and was published in 1961; there’s a typo on page 17 ("her sweep supple waist") and pencil notes on the first page, an about the author, to underline Orwell’s name and list "Winston—the everyman; Julia—the everywoman"; it has that distinct almost-musty scent of used books of this specific page weight and quality and era; it once sold for 95 cents; I remember reading it as a … preteen? young teen? while accompanying someone else’s trip to a college campus, and feeling very smug that I read literary canon of my own volition & and that’s why I, too, would belong at college some day.

It’s impossible for me to have a discrete experience with the book, to judge any sort of objective or relative quality or how it’s aged (objectively, relatively); I’m still tied up in that early encounter, because what I took away wasn’t the value of literary canon—rather, it was that the Important, Classic novels I would one day read for school* were also speculative; that genre was literature. It was the first time I encountered that overlap, between "real" books and speculative books. As speculative books go, it’s the definitive opposite of fun, even though dystopias have their own "what if" hook; it’s a weird book to memorize, to fondly recognize all these scenes were people are miserable, miserable in grindy petty banal ways atop the high-concept stuff. But there’s a perfect fondness: the velvet-smooth worn paperback, that distinctive scent, returning to a novel that literally changed me as a reader.

* I never did read it in school, but I did do projects comparing it to other dystopic novels!
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (I should have been born a cat)
I encountered a discussion on [tumblr.com profile] why-animals-do-the-thing about bi/pan/trans/ace/aro animals, or rather, about the non-existence of cis/straight animals, and how gender identity and sexual orientation work in the animal world, and the relationship between biology, gendered pronouns, and anthropomorphization, and nothing has ever better articulated my gender identity.

I've discussed my pronoun use before with a tl;dr of "female pronouns are convenient and acceptable; non-gendered pronouns are equally accurate: because I'm a cat and cats don't have genders, and using these words isn't the same as embracing their connotations"—which has always been about as close as I can come to a gender identity. I present as cis female due to my body shape/the clothing that flatters in & in which I feel comfortable, but don't identify anywhere on any human gender spectrum. My spay/neuter status as a desexed cat has always been the defining factor of my identity—and that's not even a measurable real thing; it's complicated, it has no particular overlap with human gender identities or agender/genderqueer experiences, and more to do with the way gender (doesn't) work in animals, particularly desexed domestic animals.

I'm quoting that post here, for my own record keeping and future reference, with all credit to anon submitter and the parent blog. I just want to make sure I never lose it. It's such a good post! The personal connections I make to therianthropy/my gender are a smaller, secondary conversation, but it was elucidating to see these things laid out and they helped explain some of me to me.

Read more... )
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (Default)
Title: Goth
Author: Otsuichi
Translators: Andrew Cunningham, Jocelyne Allen
Published: New York: Haikusoru, 2015 (2002, 2005)
Rating: 5 of 5
Page Count: 295
Total Page Count: 165,855
Text Number: 485
Read Because: fan of the manga and film, novel given to me by [personal profile] thobari
Review: Two strange high school students meet over their shared fascination with a local murderer. Goth as a light novel is even better than I expected, and I'm an enthusiastic fan of both the manga and the film. The light novel has more: the strongest atmosphere*, the finest detail, and the most clearly delineated character arcs for both protagonists; it filled in gaps that I didn't know were missing. It's not flawless—the machinations of the plot are often transparent, although the payoff of the solutions are enough to compensate; Morino's character growth has some oversights. But I remain entirely satisfied. All versions of this story are worth exploring, but if you can only have one then the light novel is the best. The English translation is strong (Cunningham's slightly moreso than Allen's), and I appreciate the afterword included my imprint.

* How to describe one of my favorite stories of all time? Goth is macabre, seductive, cold, intimate. It has a stark monochrome aesthetic with the contrast and bloom turned too high: surreal and beautiful, dark and monstrous. There's a surprisingly subtlety in the relationship between the protagonists, despite their inhuman coldness. Otsuichi has superb eye for detail, and so this atmosphere is at its strongest in the light novel--and I love it more than I can possibly describe.
juushika: Screen capture of the Farplane from Final Fantasy X: a surreal landscape of waterfalls and flowers. (Anime/Game)
I just finished rereading this! I frequently start lists of media-mentioned-in books I love, and now that I'm making those lists on OneNote via my phone, it's remarkably easier to complete, edit, and publish them! Bless. So:

Media and pop culture mentioned in The Cipher by Kathe Koja
(In order of appearance, except where references reoccur; including just about all media, but probably not exhaustive.)

From the epigraph: “Mukade”, Shikatsube no Magao (poem); Rick Lieder (author)
Wise Blood, Flannery O'Conner (novel); later, “The Enduring Chill”, Flannery O'Conner (short story)
Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll (mentioned multiple times, including: the Rabbit Hole, the White Queen)
Artists: Paul Klee, Francis Bacon, Hieronymus Bosch; The Garden of Earthly Delights, Hieronymus Bosch (mentioned in specific later)
The Twilight Zone (television)
Weekly World News (tabloid)
Typhoid Mary
Tabu (perfume) (some aspects of this list are weirdly exhaustive)
Films: Streetgirls II, Dead Giveaway, Dogs Gone Wild (cursory searching and common sense indicate these are fictional); later, also fictional: Booby Prizes, Mommy’s Little Massacre
Faces of Death, dir. Conan LeCilaire (film)
Wild Kingdom (television)
Art Now (magazine)
Artists: Caldwell (can’t pin down who this is), Richard deVore (Malcom’s mask is compared to these)
“Borscht Belt (Jewish comedy) parody of Hamlet (Shakespeare) doing humble”
Pied Piper
The New Testament: Peter on the water; the Old Testament: Shadrach
Romper Room (television)
Author: Ben Hecht; in the final epigraph: “Love is a hole in the heart.”
Vulcan (Roman mythology)
(Obliquely) Inferno, Dante Alighieri
Phantom of the Opera(’s face and mask)
“Saints and idiots, angels and children.” (“It’s a quote, you dipshit.” From where? I don’t know! Enlighten me.)

I started recording media mentioned in books because I'm a dork because, as I may have said about 40 times, using narratives to create or explain your narrative is my modus operandi and thus my favorite thing to see in narratives. (Narrative-ception.) There's a danger of creating self-referential and -congratulatory recursive narratives that require googling rather than reading because without immediate knowledge of the referenced material you're in the dark. That's occasionally lampshaded, particularly in books where the references are fictional and their excess is intentional (the navelgazing of House of Leaves, Mark Z. Danielewski; the aesthetic and plotty footnotes of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Susanna Clarke).

But, more often, narratives about narratives do one or both of these things:

The references create a palate. I've described The Cipher's atmosphere and aesthetic as "thriftstore decadence" and the characters as "gritty dirty poor horror-kids," but what describes it better is the book's references: Alice's rabbithole as metaphor for the Funhole, the grotesque art prints cut from art magazines, Flannery O'Conner's heartless black humor and the parody-titled sensationalist films; the combination of sleazy and Weird is never meant to be pleasant, but it has as strong an atmosphere as the most stylized, idealized fiction.


The narrative not only extends itself to contain the referenced material, but builds a whole greater than the sum of the references. Reader, I adore this: texts played against each other, narratives that address the reader/writer/character meta-relationship. This was what made Fire and Hemlock, Dianna Wynne Jones, so exceptional. Polly spends most of the novel internalizing, creating herself around Tom Lynn, but he also challenges her when she merely regurgitates the influences he throws her way—Tom Lynn's creation of Polly extends so far that he demands that she create herself, a contradiction they must both confront in the denouement. Fire and Hemlock borrows structures and dynamics that Polly is unaware of (Four Quartets, T.S. Eliot; Cupid and Psyche); it's about the dozens of books that she reads and internalizes; it's about the story that she turns around and writes herself, and about the necessity and limitation of the inspiration she's taken from what she's read. And it's so good.

Most examples—often the best examples—do all of these things. In Catherynne M. Valente's engaging The Labyrinth, some references are in Latin; the fantastic The Game of Kings, Dorothy Dunnett, made me read it with google in one hand and book in the other. Both are exhausting, both are worthwhile. Caitlín R. Kiernan is (obviously) my favorite, because in this way her brain works like mine: her stories are a web of narrative influence, mentioned by name and date or casually misquoted; the way I process wolves/werewolves/black dogs is how her protagonists process their experiences, from their ancient failed romances to their trespasses into the bizarre: these external narratives have become their internal metaphors, necessary tools for interpreting the world. The Red Tree and The Drowning Girl in particular are stories about telling stories, by necessity, imperfectly.

(And all of that is who I am, and what I do.)
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (I should have been born a cat)
It's fairly common to see Flight Rising users put name/timezone/preferred pronouns on their profiles, which I adore. But it meant I had the opportunity to just state my preferences, and thus I discovered that wiggly hand gestures and "it's complex" are not a statement.

The reason I prefer FR's habits—compared to LJ/Tumblr/journal spaces, where it's more common to use labels like cis/trans in combination with preferred pronouns—is because I'm adverse to discussing my gender identity; I don't know how to do it without co-opting those labels. I don't talk about therianthopy much these days because my intense period of self-discovery has passed. I don't have much more exploring to do or a lot to express; it's simply an aspect of my identity, definitive but known and, frankly, no big deal.* But I really do identify as cat, and for me that also defines my gender—and cat gender is complex. Domestic cats have some gender dimorphism, but it's effected by their neuter status and life history (namely, when they were neutered)—and none of it has corollaries to human concepts of gender. To me, the defining aspect of a neutered domestic cat's sex and gender is their neutering—they have a third non-sex identity and social role.

Yet I call Gillian my little man, and I call August my pretty princess, and that's simultaneously accurate and irrelevant. Gillian has a developed face structure, and so looks like a male cat; he also has a bossiness and noisiness that we associate with masculinity. August is a very pretty cat with silky fur, and is spoiled and demanding, which fits a feminine princess archetype.

I identify with both halves of that. My gender identity is "domestic neutered cat," which means a near absence of any aspect of sex or gender, physiological or social, human or feline. But I appear as feminine, and so I'm assigned feminine pronouns. Those pronouns aren't accurate, but they're functional. To call a pet "it" is (for lack of a better word) dehumanizing; gendering pets is a way of fitting them into our worldview, of interpreting/projecting/interacting with them as individuals. I'm especially aware of this with Devon—the parallels between Devon's relationship with me and my relationship with August are startling; he's my person, and I'm his girl in the way that August is my girl: the gendered identity is a useful tool, a way of interpreting and defining my identity and our relationship.

In some ways, the gender projected and assigned to me is important because it puts me under the "female" umbrella and that's not unburdened; it effects how I interact, as a human, with humans. But it does not make me a woman, any more than what I call Gillian turns him into a man.

The hand-waving complexity nudges up on the territory of agender and genderqueer, but I'm not comfortable with those labels because they indicate an experience that I respect and don't share. There's a massive cultural difference between the experience of gender identity and species identity—in short, my circumstances are meaningful to me but make nary a blip on anyone's social radar; agender and genderqueer identities do, in loaded and painful ways, it would be disrespectful as fuck to co-opt that experience.

Given the freedom to identify myself as I see fit, without needing to justify it, I freeze up. I presume that everyone intuits the unstated complexity and silently demands that I explain myself, which is classic social anxiety: the belief that everyone cares a lot about everything I do, and they're all judging me for it. I want to footnote in some handwaving and, I don't know, an apology. But when I'm able to step away from the paranoia, it's liberating. All those wiggly hand gestures are important to me, occasionally important to those close to me, and in adjunct ways important to society at large. But they're not always relevant, they don't always need to be expressed and defended.

My FR profile says "she/her or they/them." What that means is "female pronouns are convenient and acceptable; widely-recognized non-gendered pronouns are equally accurate" with subtitle "because I'm a cat and cats don't have genders, and using these words isn't the same as embracing their connotations." I care a lot about that!

The people glancing at my FR profile don't, and that's lovely.

* The primary exception: I feel like domestic therian species are underexplored, and yet domestication is the defining aspect of my therianthropy. As example: the effect of neutering, discussed here; also neoteny and its effect on my relative immaturity/continued dependence on caretakers. Gimme discussions about domestic therians pls.
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (Default)
There's a negative review of A Tree of Bones which I quite like. It critiques the way Chess and his relationship with his mother change at the end of the series. Expect spoilers.

I don't think that the series takes an interesting, bad character and turns him into a boring, good one, but there is a certain charm to A Book of Tongues, a wanton grotesquerie, amoral and rude and indulgent, which is quite fun—but it, and Chess, stick in the mind because it's not simplistic, evil for the sake of evil or plot progression; Chess is emotionally motivated and complex. As the series progresses, he can't but mature. It makes the character more tempered, and the books as well—and while that's not the same thing as restrained, it is a bit less fun. But I appreciate it in the same way do any narrative that builds a complex antagonist.

I also appreciate the relationship between Chess and Ooona in A Tree of Bones. I believe it's important to portray abusive relationships as complex, and that abuse victims are entitled to complex feelings about their abusers, and that they have the right to feel forgiveness, or not feel forgiveness, or to feel both simultaneously. I also had a worried extra-narrative whisper in the back of my head: Chess isn't a real person, entitled to any feelings at all; is his forgiveness problematic on a larger scale, a faulty example of how to be a good abuse victim and a false example of the power of healing love?

I admire this review for calling that out; ultimately, Chess's forgiveness works for me because I don't see it as simplistically as that reviewer did, and I find his mixed reaction resonant. When I reread A Book of Tongues I talked about my formative mantra that loves is not enough; acknowledging that love still exists has been equally formative for me in these last few years. I am able to carry that contradiction within me: partial forgiveness, and shared love despite hurt. To see the same reflected in Chess validating and authentic.

It certainly continues to amaze me that I found this series so affecting.
juushika: Screen capture of the Farplane from Final Fantasy X: a surreal landscape of waterfalls and flowers. (Anime/Game)
Title: The Princess and the Goblin
Author: George MacDonald
Illustrator: F.D. Bedford
Published: New York: The Macmillan Company, 1926 (1872)
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 267
Total Page Count: 146,172
Text Number: 430
Read Because: rereading a childhood favorite, from my personal library
Review: Young Princess Irene lives in a distant castle, protected from the goblins which haunt the area at night—until a fateful encounter that begins her journey deep into their mountain stronghold. The Princess and the Goblin has MacDonald's trademark luminous imagination atop a solid and directed plot—it fails to be as profound as some of his more metaphorical work, but it also more consistently engaging and, arguably, successful. Its twee Victorian style takes some adjustment, but is balanced by the darkness of the content; the ending flags, but the book's climax—where willful, unrepentantly feminine Princess Irene, aided by creative magics of graceful simplicity, carries the day—is an image that has held with me since I read the book as a child. The Day Boy and The Night Girl is the best MacDonald that I've read, but The Princess and the Goblin is easily my favorite—it doesn't stretch itself as far, but it's more concrete and as such able to leave a stronger impression while still resonating, as MacDonald's writing does, like a plucked string.
juushika: Photograph of the torso and legs of a female-bodied figure with a teddy bear. (Bear)
Trying to find something distracting to consume hasn't been working overwell, so I reached for something comforting instead and am rereading Mossflower. The book was published in 1988; my copy was published in 1990, but I probably stole it from a Montessori library sometime around 1995. It looks like this, now:

My beat-up copy of Mossflower

If memory serves, the cover came to me with a small crease (it was in a school library), which developed into a second crease, which tore a couple of years ago; I still use a liberated corner of the cover as a bookmark. Again if memory serves, I think the book has gone with me to two nations, two states, two colleges, and about seven different residences.

And it isn't even that good.

It's comparable to comfort food both because food is a recurrent aspect of the Redwall series and because it doesn't have to be objectively good to be comforting. I actually don't much care for Redwall, the first book in the series: the plot is central to the world's history, but it's distinctly a first attempt and while it contains many of the aspects which would become cornerstone to the series—puzzles, food, dialects, multiple adventures running in parallel—the setting and tone is only half there. In Redwall we know there are humans somewhere, building barns and horsecarts, and suddenly an abbey full of talking mice is ridiculous.

Mossflower is the change into what the series would be. It discards the human world, and without making any more justifications or sense (badgers weigh twenty pounds, a mouse stands three inches tall) the setting becomes far more convincing: talking mice and weasels, get passed it; they're not even weasels, really--species function as a stand-in, problematically, for a group of people. It takes those cornerstones and reiterates them, defining what the series would be from here--but coming early enough in the series that it feels familiar rather than redundant (both in publishing order and upon reread). And it's less insular, showing Mossflower as a place entire rather than a central building, journeying as far as Salamandastron, in a way establishing so much more than Redwall did. Redwall was a practice run, but Mossflower determines the future: it builds the Abbey and the series. And I love that series, I read it while growing up and have almost the entire thing in handsome hardback, I celebrated every new release well into my college years, and Jacques's death in 2011 crushed me because that was the death of my childhood.

All the descriptions of food, the shallow puzzles, the existentialist and/or exaggerated characterization*, are rather glaring to me on this reread, but I find I don't mind them. It's almost nostalgic, to see as an adult what it was that made this book work for me as a child. The hardest books for me to review are those with which I have history, because how to separate that history from the book itself? Mossflower is perfectly competent, utterly decent, not awfully well-written, and I love it to literal pieces—the cover has come right off.

* Except Martin. Martin, man, whose one-word characterization may be "Warrior" but whose character arcs are almost always about the conflict between warring and living: fighting is necessary to protect what he loves, but it divides him from what he loves. That conflict is reiterated in all his stories, but it's so bittersweet and surprisingly gentle—quiet, powerful, lonesome Martin, so eager to accept the first hand extended to him in friendship even though he remembers exactly how that ended last time—that I don't much mind.
juushika: Screen capture of the Farplane from Final Fantasy X: a surreal landscape of waterfalls and flowers. (Anime/Game)
I rereread The Princess Bride, as one does. Often, rereading is my favorite time to talk about a book.

A review is intended to be an equal-minded encapsulation: the whole book, with purpose, succinctly. My review of The Princess Bride is outdated and a far cry from succinct, although I still stand by it as a critique of the 25th Anniversary edition. The "abridgment" motif is the story's crowning moment in both forms, but the anniversary additions add too much; it wallows in straight upper-middle class male mundanity in a way that makes it wearying and far less poignant. On this reread I skipped "Buttercup's Baby" and I should have skipped the introduction—which, however brief, still pads the framing narrative by an unwelcome ten pages.

Rereading isn't equal-minded. It's an entirely biased return to something I know I love; it's an indulgence. This isn't to say that it's routine—I see my favorite books differently each time I reread them, and this time was particularly struck by the critiques I mentioned above—but it certainly rests on familiarity, as it's the familiarity that lets me concentrate on specific details.

And The Princess Bride is all about familiarity. I first read the book in my early teens; I assume that I was raised on the film, because it's been a part of my life for as long as I know. I remember being delighted—and duped—by the abridgment motif on that first reading. What I don't remember was feeling that the book wasn't quite as good. It's criminally easy to prefer whatever version of something you discover first, but to be honest, if you forced me to chose, I might say I prefer The Princess Bride as a book (the Zoo of Death! I understand why it was excised, but I love it). But I never quibble about which version does what better and why, or even how the best lines get a changed when written by Goldman or acted by Billy Crystal.

I can put the film on the background while I do something else and I do, all the time; the book needs my whole attention. So I hear the book lines in movie voices, and rather than preferring one version of them I'm simply glad I know them all. It's the familiarity of anticipating "oooh, the part when..."; it's the equivalent of child Billy Goldman in the framing narrative asking his father to reread the first sword fight: the framing narrative is our father, sometimes rushing us to the best parts, sometimes stopping to tell us what it all means; and we know the story already, even if we've never heard this version or maybe even the whole thing ever before—we know that life isn't fair, but true love makes it through to the end. It is a classic both in scope and by luck of the draw, and never stops benefiting from that fact.

I cried exactly where I was supposed to in The Princess Bride—its cues aren't subtle, just satisfying—but it wasn't the gross sobbing which accompanied my reread of His Dark Materials. I don't read popcorn books/beach reads/fluffy comfort books, less out of judgement and more because those books don't fulfill those requirements for me: they don't tickle the pleasure/comfort part of my brain. But The Princess Bride does. It's fencing, fighting, torture, poison, true love, hate, revenge, giants. It's a story I know inside and out, a story that works even better because I do, which is more poignant because I can't skip Westley's death but I can promise myself a miracle.
juushika: Screen capture of the Farplane from Final Fantasy X: a surreal landscape of waterfalls and flowers. (Anime/Game)
Yesterday night, Dee, Devon, and I saw Florence + the Machine.

I saw Florence + the Machine.

I cannot overstate the importance of this music in my life; it is how I became friends with Dee and why I live here now and a vast part of how I aim to live at all; her first album means the world to me, and Dog Days are Over is one of my formative songs. I've written about her too many times (1, 2, 3). I never got to see her first tour (but I have a shirt! Dee got it for me, and it is heather gray and orangey-pink and literally the worst thing for my complexion, and I love it to pieces), but I got to see this one.

I've been doing a fair bit better lately in the realm of depression and back pain, but we've had a few busy days and when Devon is here my defenses all drop and I tend to dredge up lingering ick, hoping, perhaps, that he can cure it. I was tired and couldn't find the shirt I wanted to wear and we got there almost but not quite lateish and had seats in the far back with almost no visibility and they were out of chocolate ice cream and I worried—I worried hard—that this event that I had looked forward to for so long and needed so badly to be Important, as important to me as her music , would be an opportunity lost to my incredible potential for melancholy.

And when she came on stage the whole audience stood and I, at just over 5 feet, could see nothing over the sea of heads; not an inch of the stage.

But Florence is not music for missing out—not just because I love it but because it is about living life with spirit and abandon and foolishness and love and the whole of your heart. I put on my shoes, and Devon and I made a loop out through the back, through the food court, and in towards the heart of the audience. And when the stage came into view and I could actually see Florence, blue and red and glowing against the stage, I burst into tears.

Most of the audience stayed standing through the entire show, and what had been precious space became almost abundant, and we shared breathing room with strangers and found a place at the tail end of the truly enthusiastic, foot-of-the-stage crowd. I haven't actually been hugely fond of Ceremonials so far, but—again, I always do this with F+tM—I heard each song as if for the first time, and all of them said that that was exactly where I needed to be: not feeling despondent in the back, but watching and raising my hands towards hers and singing along to Dog Days in the same full-throated voice she taught me.

F+tM songs are two things: whole-hearted euphoria and fear. They are dedication and failure, they are giving yourself over and being terrified of the thought. In the same way that Stephen Dedalus's epiphanies contradict one another without losing one whit of their individual truth, there's nothing hypocritical in the fact that you can swear to live life fully in one breath and then cry with the next. One is the price we pay for the other; we are our own human sacrifices, raised up, offered to the sky.

I live in the moment, and too easily forget one half for the other. These last few months haven't been difficult so much as they've been a vague and endless Swamps of Sadness, and I can get immured there and forget that I have seen glimpses of the other side. But I was there, yesterday, in the crowd, and I have been reminded.

And I am so, so thankful.

And it's hard to dance with a devil on your back
So shake him off
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (Default)
Ray Bradbury died this morning.

So! A book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Burn it. Take the shot from the weapon. Breach man's mind. Who knows who might be the target of the well-read man?

Fahrenheit 451, 58

I have, as we know, a strange relationship with death. I never know when I'll mourn, or how. But I mourn this.

Bradbury wrote a certain sort of nostalgia literature that never appealed to me—the golden midwestern summers of 8-year-old boys were not my own, and I can't wish to revisit them. He wrote short stories I adored, not always in collections I loved—Bradbury short fiction is always a delightful tossup: inspired, pulpy, emotionally resonant; in short form, the same nostalgia which never drew me to a lost childhood often drew me to the barren landscapes of post-colonial Mars. I can look back now on some of his most impassioned diatribes—in their stylistic repetition, their rhythmic restatements—and see a number of flaws.

But it doesn't matter. This man helped to make me who I am. I've reviewed Fahrenheit 451 before and I did a shit job of it—moreover, I now disagree with much of what I said about its message. Again, it doesn't matter. Bradbury wrote as someone who loved books, who saw them as magical and valuable and defining, who fought to save them from every fire, who could cast a man in the shape of a book and book in the skin of a man, and I had never encountered that before. When I read F451 as a high school freshman, I discovered for the first time the same sentiment and passion for books that I had; it was validated, and set alight. That changed everything.

This year I've been taking a break from reviewing books, given the casual exception; as such, I've primarily been rereading old favorites—a happier compromise than reading books and then angsting about my unwillingness or inability to discuss them. Some of these books I read every year, and it's never a waste. I want to internalize them, to hold them within myself, to become what they are. I haven't gotten there, yet; they're new every time. But it's a worthy effort.

Bradbury taught me to consume pages like fire, and he told me I was not the only one who thought doing so was important, essential, a vital part of society and self. Indeed, he told me, it is one of the most important things anyone can do.

And to do so is beautiful.

Against that, every specific is irrelevant.

"Would you like, someday, Montag, to read Plato's Republic?"

"Of course!"

"I am Plato's Republic. Like to read Marcus Aurelius? Mr. Simmons is Marcus."

"How do you do?" said Mr. Simmons.

"Hello," said Montag.

"I want you to meet Jonathan Swift, the author of that evil political book, Gulliver's Travels! And this other fellow is Charles Darwin, and this one is Schopenhauer, and this one is Einstein, and this one here at my elbow is Mr. Albert Schweitzer, a very kind philospher indeed. Here we all are, Montag. Aristophanes and Mahatma Gandhi and Gautama Buddha and Confucius and Thomas Love Peacock and Thomas Jefferson and Mr. Lincoln, if you please. And we are Mark, Luke, and John."

Fahrenheit 451, 151

My reviews of:

Fahrenheit 451
From the Dust Returned
The Illustrated Man
The Martian Chronicles
Something Wicked This Way Comes
juushika: Screen capture of the Farplane from Final Fantasy X: a surreal landscape of waterfalls and flowers. (Anime/Game)
So I saw Wicked over the weekend.

I went in with reservations fostered by my experience with the book, which was promising but underwhelming and made me think that maybe there was just something here I wasn't getting. I worried that maybe this wasn't my story.

I needn't've. It is.

It's a fantastic adaptation, too—good adaptations are rare enough; superior ones are half a miracle. What makes it a success, I think, is that where the book is a constant combination of subtlety and stylization, one that makes for strong character and intense detail but also makes the story fragmented and, eventually, stylistically repetitive, the musical begins with overblown, comical generalization and then develops intense subtlety and ambiguity, a combination that finds the same depth but does so in a more cohesive, concise, more effective fashion. I also agree with you, [livejournal.com profile] tabular_rasa: the links between retelling and source material were a little bit more clever in this version.

So it was a delight to watch. It was also—though I'm hesitant to say—a little life-changing. I think it's telling that I know so many people that identify with this story; telling too that I'm hesitant to do so: alienation and reclamation are powerful things, and I don't want to co-opt them, to lessen them by equating them with my underwhelming life. My sister and mother and I were all in tears, and between us we cover a wide spectrum between normal and weird, good and wicked. But then I can't speak for all of them, and I don't know if it was emotion roused by a story well-told or by...

Oh, I don't know. I'm still recovering from being too social and I shouldn't try to tackle words. Even if I were doing awesometastic, I don't know how I would express this. I am not Elphaba, not in the good or the bad: she had it worse, she does more, I can't hold a candle to that.

But I collect women, girls—fictional females with whom I identify, or something close enough to that. The Evil Queen from The 10th Kingdom. Maria, from Umineko no Naku Koro ni. GLaDOS, from Portal (and Dev is playing Portal 2 right now, and it's a little life-changing too, for different reasons). ETA: Rip van Winkle, from Hellsing. And yes these character are cruel and fantastic and delightfully evil (even in name!) and what that says about me I don't know. Elphaba is one of them, now: women who I am, sorta; who I want to be, maybe; who I admire for doing what they do, because of, despite, who they are, who we are.

It's hard to talk about that sort of thing without equating yourself to some evil queen (and I'm many things, but not that) or trying to put yourself on the level of an immensely talented, criminally neglected little girl (and I have no pretensions of being either of these things). But fiction uses lies to tell the truth. I'm not green but I'm different; I'm not an incredible witch but I have my talents; I understand tragic ends and I'm still trying to wrap my head around a happy ending. I understand Animals losing the ability to speak. I understand "Of course does, she just pretends not to."

And I know that I'm not the only one. It's not alien to feel alienated. That's telling, too.
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
I was contemplating (and eventually decided against—the thing is overlong already) mentioning my beloved The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock in the email I'm currently writing. You know me: you know this is one of my formative works, one of the things I point to and say "me," and it matters not at all that I'm barely an adult and the poem is about an old man. It is a part of me.

But today, in writing this letter, I intended to make reference to daring—

To wonder, "Do I dare?” and, "Do I dare?"

—and to say for how a long time I dared not do anything.

I still dare not disturb the universe.

But these days, I do dare to eat a peach. I am making a friend as I write this email. I play games with someone on the other side of the internet and I hear his voice. I spent another weekend in Portland and screamed lyrics at a Decemberists show. There is juice dripping down my chin.

This, for me, is a revelation. This is just a peach, but it changes everything.
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (I should have been born a cat)
A couple of days ago I was lying in bed not long after dinner, watching Devon play StarCraft II—and I realized that I desired nothing more than what I had. This is remarkable, for I am a creature of whim and discontent. There is never a time when I don't want something—as silly as a certain dessert* (usually desired an hour either side of midnight, when the store that sells it is quite closed), as essential as physical or mental comfort. I've mentioned Cats before, just a few dozen times, as one of those formative things which I can point to and say: "me." I am a Rum Tum Tugger (oh how I wish the original Broadway cast soundtrack were on YouTube! this version is good but not great; meanwhile, you can read T.S. Elliot's original poem here):

The Rum Tum Tugger is a Curious Cat:
If you offer him pheasant he would rather have grouse.
If you put him in a house he would much prefer a flat,
If you put him in a flat then he'd rather have a house.
If you set him on a mouse then he only wants a rat,
If you set him on a rat then he'd rather chase a mouse.
Yes the Rum Tum Tugger is a Curious Cat—
And there isn't any call for me to shout it:
For he will do
As he do do
And there's no doing anything about it!

This is not a cruel thing, it is not intentional—but just ask Devon: it can be infuriating. I can't help it! My disobliging ways are a matter of habit. I am whimsical and discontent, desirous and melancholic—there are often many things in my life that I want or wish were different.

That night, belly fully, curled on my precious modal bedding, entertained by game and conversation, I was comfortable and content. Devon asked me if I needed anything—and I wanted, for once I wanted, for nothing. There are times, these days—and they surprise me each time—when I am happy.

Since then I've been dealing with a sudden spike in back pain, the sort that has made it difficult to do things and harder to be happy. After all, the universe much maintain its delicate balance. And I'm not pleased about it, of course. But that wonderful evening is still worth mentioning and remembering.

* Number of times I spelled "flourless" as "flowerless" before I edited that entry? Two. This is why you should not live by spellcheck, kids! It gives you words, but not always the right words.

Adopt one today! Adopt one today! Adopt one today!
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (I should have been born a cat)
I have lately been enraptured with these poetry readings by Sylvia Plath (starting with my favorite, Lady Lazarus):

Daddy. )

Or, links: Lady Lazarus (full text) and Daddy (full text).

I love these poems because they are beautiful, of course, but there is more to it than that.

I stumbled upon "Lady Lazarus" two days ago after not reading it for years and was surprised to discover I still have it nearly memorized. When and why I learned it by heart I can't remember, but it is firmer, deeper embedded there now for having heard—dozens of times, sometimes on repeat—Plath read it. "Daddy" is incredible too, better also for having heard it—it's an auditory poem, thick with rhyme and halfway singsong as more than benefits its content. But where "Daddy" for me is a work of art and a window into Plath, "Lady Lazarus" peeks also into myself.

My suicidal ideation is purely that, just thought, just the idea of it, and it's usually fairly tame to boot, more a thought of "if I could die" rather than "how I could die." But for much of my life I've gone the way of a phoenix: living, glowing, burning, falling to ash, and rebirthing. I used to fight through my depression, fight the society that didn't suit me, until it all dragged me down in a burst of pain. Then I rose to try again—and fail again, eventually. The phoenix isn't reborn, small spring-fresh, wiser each time, able to live longer, burn slower; the burning is inevitable, and for me it came ever-faster, ever more painful. Which is why these last few years I've settled for something more passive, content not to try so hard and so not risk such spectacular failure. But the tradeoff is that the less combative life is less colorful: I do less and achieve less, so while I'm safer and happier living like this I do miss how I used to live and I idolize the pain that came with it as a badge of honor. In a way I mourn who I used to be—it hurt like hell, but it felt real.

My heart—it really used to go.

And other, pithy, bastardized quotes. "Lady Lazarus" is a part of me—the part of me that used to be.
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (I should have been born a cat)
I just completed a reread of Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle. No better time for it than while living in dread of my jury summons. There are some books that I reread often simply because I like them—they're enjoyable, engrossing, artistic, escapist, intelligent, thoughtful, beloved, any such combination, and those are all meaningful things themselves. But there are some books that I reread slightly less often but still come back to again and again, books which I do find enjoyable but which are more importantly a part of me. They are formative, or self-descriptive; they are the sort of books which I can hold up and say: Me. This made me. This explains me. This is a part of me. Shirley Jackson writes those sort of books, and We Have Always Lived in the Castle is one of them.

I've always had a fondness for stories about individuals and small groups who, by choice or by force, must recreate society in isolation. I call these desert island paradises: you're stranded there but you refine it, you recreate it to fit you, yourself to fit it, and it becomes home—moreover it becomes a home better suited and more beautiful that normal society used to be, despite the inconveniences of isolation. I idolize the concept because, of course, it's my ideal—if somewhat modified to allow the wonders of the internet and occasional trips outdoors. But books based on the premise fascinate me and they make me feel less alone for my own tendency towards hermitage.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle is my favorite of that would-be genre, the desert island paradise. Unlike many of the books that I've read built on the premise, it's not cheap escapist literature—it's beautiful written, it gleefuly reverses so many gothic images while still preserving the genre, and the darkness it reveals in both the townspeople and in Merricat is chilling. But the book is still wish fulfillment, and that may be what I love most about it. It is a letter from one agoraphobe to another than reads: You are not alone. Just because you are paranoid does not mean they are not all out to get you. You isolated yourself, you brought much of it upon yourself, but they are still unreasonably close-minded and cruel and they will tear your safety from you if they can. But if they do you have been wronged and, whether in shame or in fear, they will know they have wronged you. They will give you leave and little favors, and from the rubble of your life you can build your castle, small and odd but, to you, beautiful; to you, everything you need. You will be safe there and happy, in your castle on the moon.

That's an idealized message, wish fulfillment in the purest sense, but I find no shame in it because it is as if it were a wish made just for me. It frightens me and comforts me as if it were written for me, as personal as my own name. I am thankful for it, and loved it this time better than ever.

Relatedly: All of you are wonderful, and for you messages of support regarding jury summons (which seems like such a small, arbitrary thing to arouse such angst), I thank you. I'm sorry I left all those comments hanging. True to form I've been an anxious mess lately. Poor sleep, no sleep, dizziness and listlessness, and absolutely terrifying nightmares. But I've been keeping as busy as I can and Devon has been an absolute savoir, gifting me with dinners out and distractions and most of all with endless patience. And—what do they say? This, too, shall pass.
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (I should have been born a cat)
In trying to find a way to write this which was neither staged nor made me sound like a crazyperson, it became quite through and long. I could divide it into reasonably sized posts, but I might as well keep these first thoughts all in one place. By all rights, it is a bit early on to be writing anything at all, but these thoughts have been so noisy in my head that I needed to write them down. In writing them, I've also made sense of them—and so it benefits me, which was the point. Perhaps it may interest others as well.

I am locking this post, however, because the topics are still messy and quite personal, and while I am figuring them out—and coming to terms with the label—I want it to stay at least a bit private.

Therianthropy (therian: beast; anthropos: man) is the belief that one has an intrinsic, personal, internal connection to an animal or animals. Therians believe that for whatever reason (reincarnation, energy resonance, atypical neurology) that part of their core being/soul/identity is animal. Unlike a totem, which is external, the animal identity is an internal part of the self. Unlike "fursona", the animal identity (theriotype/phenotype) is not created but rather discovered, an aspect that a therian is "born with."

And I start that way because after months of viewing, in glimpses from the outside, I've finally taken the plunge and joined a pair of therian communities. I discovered the concept and groups by the blogger/pagan author [livejournal.com profile] lupabitch. I read [livejournal.com profile] therianthropy every six months or so, avidly tracking back through memories and taking in information. The concept certainly interested me, but I was somehow never brave enough to self-identify with it until now. But recent time spent with the boy, in Second Life, and in thought has lead me to actively, rather than passively, approaching the concept. But it scares me—because it is atypical, because it's hard to express, because I feel like it groups me in with some crazy things. For for all that, it feels right—and has felt right for some time.

I identify as a domestic housecat. (To say it simply.)

Why I identify as a cat, and what therianthropy means to me. )

Why I'm hesitant to call myself therian, and why I still will. )

Where I will go from here. )

And so, certainly not in short, those are my first thoughts in this whole thing—as identifying as a therian, by name. I don't know how actively I'll post on it, of if I'll think that these careful, serious thoughts are lengthy foolishness in another week. I'm more than happy to talk about it, though, if anyone wants to—questions, concerns, clarification, the distanced option of someone not currently consumed by the subject. And beyond that, I should cut myself short before I tack on another thousand words, and end this here.

Partial crosspost on [livejournal.com profile] therianthoughts.
juushika: Photograph of a row of books on a library shelf. (Books Once More)
I recently came back into contact with an old friend—Lizzie, from England. She was one of the closest friends I've ever had, and on of the greatest forces in perhaps one of the most formative of my life, although she may not know it. We've been out of touch for some years now, but at the urging of [livejournal.com profile] aep (after he heard me talk about England), I sent an email to the last address I had for her—and, luckily, heard back. We've been trading emails back and forth since then, reintroducing ourselves, catching up on lost time. It's been wonderful, of course, though there always seems to be more that I want to tell her—but I'm wordy and overly-analytical and intense by default, and so I feel like I'm cramming my letters with heady information and heavy honesty. With is fine, but, well, I don't want to overdo it.

The amount of catching up that there is to do has made me wonder, once again, about writing up a brief summary of myself and of my life. A single space with all the important background information, easily accessible, cleanly written, useful and organized. I've written introductions of me before, which is one thing—but there's still a lot that doesn't get included in there. Things I'm curious about in other people, but seem almost inappropriate to communicate about myself.

I watch a few journals of people with lupus/fibro/seizures, histories rape trauma/drug use/abuse, mental health issues, and the various combinations of such. Why these people interest me so much is probably a discussion issue in and of itself (although, in part, I find it puts my own history in context, and moreso, I admire them and appreciate what they have in-depth background info, chronicling their lives, ailments, who they are and how they got there. It puts their daily posts into a greater context, but it's interesting in its own right as well. These hidden diseases, mental and physical both, as well as past traumas, they all a particular impact on the sufferer, they are personally and socially trying, and I identify and I want to understand. I appreciate the open, clear communication.

But do I have the right to write such things about myself? Would it be healthy for me to do so—would it be educational and cathartic, or would it keep me constrained to a limited identity, defined largely by all the things that are wrong with me?

This above all: to thine own self be true )

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be
The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock 111, T.S. Eliot
But the truth is that I often am—I am so caught up in knowing myself that I am limited by myself.

For the record, the issues I'm talking about writing about are my mental health issues, my back problems, and the merry little downward spiral that I've traveled as I've gone from school to school to no school.

I mentioned this, almost just as obtusely, in my last letter to Lizzie: the labels I have gained and use are hugely important to me because they make me definable and categorizable to myself, because they validate what I feel, how I act, who I am; however, I am so attached to these labels that I am limited by them, constrained by what they say about me, reluctant to deviate from them. On one hand, yes, I do not want to be and am not ashamed of who I am and how I (dis)function; on the other hand, I know that this desperate self-definition is a form of enabling, allowing me to remain motionless because I am consumed in contemplation, allowing me to remain unchanged because I am limited by the labels that I've been assigned and have adopted.

All that, coupled with that is the very real consideration that, as a self-concerned twenty-two year old with almost no life experience, my life just ain't worth writing about. In many ways, nor are my problems. I'm depressed, sure. I have problems with anxiety, or better, agoraphobia. I'm largely housebound, and largely by choice. I have chronic back pain. But no matter how greatly these issues, these labels, define me—and they do—they are not that interesting, not that big, not that bad. I have no past trauma beyond rocky moments in my relationship with my mother, no physical diseases greater than a moderately fucked spine, no mental issues greater than your run of the mill stuff. There are a few stories, the progression of my depression into anxiety, of my agoraphobia into being housebound, of how the back pain started and why it continues, of why I've transfered away from and dropped out of some wonderful schools, but yanno, there's no biography to write here, not one that would matter. I don't think so, anyhow.

I'm having the distinct impression that I've had these same thoughts, wrote this same sort of post, sometime before.

So for a change of pace, why not open up the issue a bit. Would you, flist, friends, readers, be interested in that sort of selfish, self-important backstory? Would it interest you, or be useful to you? Have you wondered what that backstory would be like, condensed and coalesced? I can deal with these doubts and these self-referential episodes of circular reasoning (and literary illusions). But if the information might benefit another, well then it means more than if it's just me, considering, defining, contemplating me. And if you want to tell me that you think this sort of contemplation of my own backstory is or isn't healthy, hell, do have at. But I certainly don't expect anyone to resolve my concerns for me.


juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (Default)

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