Morph/eme/s

I always thought my mom was the language person in the family (in her career she has taught French, Russian, and Spanish), but it seems I’ve inherited at least some of it. I’m passable at Spanish, in love with American Sign Language, and currently brushing up on my Kichwa for my upcoming return to Ecuador.

I’ve spent a larger portion of this week that I probably should have working on creating a compiled Kichwa dictionary from a bunch of sources, for personal use. Kichwa, or Quechua, is the largest indigenous language in South America, and pretty dang fascinating,

First off, it’s only been recorded for about fifty years, meaning there’s a whole bunch of spelling variety, but it’s all correct. Secondly, there are no irregular verbs (you heard me). Thirdly, it’s an agglutinative language–so you can potentially have very long sentences in just a few huge words. Working on this dictionary has really allowed me to make sense of some morphemes, which is very helpful when learning the language. As my friend says, if you know the little chunks of a language, even if you don’t grasp everything in a sentence you can start to understand a little.

For example:

  • iyai: idea, thought
  • iyana: to think
  • iyarina: to remember
  • iyachina: to remind
  • iyashalla: thoughtfully
  • iyayuj: intelligent

So I might not get it all if a Kichwa speaker says something complex, but if hear ‘iya’ in there, I can at least take an educated guess. Pretty heckin’ awesome.

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Dodging Doubt

It’s that time again, when I depart from my mountaintop university, drive six hours, and end up back home in an existential crisis. It comes from lack of structure.

How will I attempt to abate this? Writing, of course!

I plan to knock out a final-ish draft of The Book of the Dead in the next month and a half before I leave for Ecuador so I can hit the ground querying when I get back. My goal is at least half a chapter a day, using the process I detailed in this post. I’m fighting a lot of doubt right now over just about every aspect of the story, so hopefully total immersion in it will belay that.

I found a quote on tumblr that I will be referencing when I feel  this way: “when u dont like ur art take a deep breath and remember u created it from nothing, like a god” —hypeswap

I think this can apply just as well to writing. Nothing like a power trip to chase away hesitation. I’d love to hear others’ ways of coping with doubt.

 

Published!!!

Way back in January I made some New Years Writing Resolutions, and no.3 was “Submit a short story to my school’s literary magazine.” Well, folks, I submitted one, and I was accepted! The release party was last night, and you can now find my short story “Cake” right here, in the 2016-17 version of The Peel, a very cool literary magazine.

I was asked to read the story at the release party, which I did, and I didn’t throw up, mess up, or start laughing uncontrollably into the microphone. The crowd was the kind that snaps when they like a line. It was an incredible experience, and the implications haven’t quite sunk in. I’m a person who’s been published. A published person. P U B L I S H E D.

The story is about a cake (surprised?) and only a page and a half long. It was actually a writing prompt I did last year and buffed up to submit on the last night of the deadline, which goes to show–well, I’m not sure what, but it goes to show something.

And after that brief celebration, it’s back to the despair of exam week. Good luck to any fellow students out there!

cake edit

Image 1: An attempt at a context-based visual pun

Mimesis and Magic: Michael Taussig

In a small room full of professors and students, the lights are dimmed, and an image of a woman transforming into a palm tree is projected onto the screen. At the head of the table, cast in dramatic shadow, is a man who resembles a very tall turtle. He peers over his glasses at a sheaf of pages in his hands. In an Australian accent, he reads aloud to us, the room hushed except for his voice and the hurried scribbles of pens attempting to take down as much information as possible but not lose track of the story. He is describing nighttime, and a donkey. In a moment that startles the affect of the room, he lets out a harsh bray that stutters everyone else into surprised laughter. 

If you’ve never read Michael Taussig, I can’t say I’m surprised, unless you’re an anthropologist. But I can safely say you’ll never read anything like him. He writes about magic and mimesis (to condense the uncondensable), and does the kind of writing that evokes what it is it’s about: writing about mimesis that is, in a very absolute way, mimesis. (Mimesis is, essentially, copying–reflecting and becoming other.) Taussig’s writing is breathtaking, befuddling, and unrevealing.

I had the privilege to not only spend a semester reading Taussig under the guidance of two of his former graduate students (now my professors), but actually hearing him speak in a public lecture and a private workshop over the last week. It’s going to take me a long, long while to digest it all.

I won’t go on too long, but I want to think briefly about Taussig’s theory of ethnographic writing, which I believe is applicable to all writing. To paraphrase Taussig, writing by engaging what the writing is about, ie. writing magically about magic, is the writing looking inward at itself, evoking a process of mimesis. It draws an emphatic connection between the writer, the reader, the text, and the subject of the text, blurring the lines between them, the reader or writer becoming other, becoming the subject written about.

If you haven’t read Taussig, I suggest you do so at least once (but prepare to be baffled). If not to understand the theory, then do so to learn something about a powerful way of writing.

Earth Day!

Happy Earth Day! It’s a good day to recognize that we are entirely dependent upon our planet and its resources, and if we don’t start making some changes we won’t like the results. It’s also a good day to remember that people worldwide are already suffering due to climate change, especially people who have the least power to facilitate the changes we need to make. Climate change affects populations disproportionately, and its effects cannot be separated from all other socioeconomic factors.

Rant over. In honor of Earth Day, along with some mindfulness, have a very, very cool resource: Planet Maker. This insanely cool site allows you to design a planet according to your very specific specifications. Awesome for worldbuilding.

Happy Earth Day!

Review: When the Moon Was Ours

cover

When the Moon was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore, number one on my 2017 must-reads list, has been read! As I have been waiting to read this book since before it was released, I consider this a victory.

The crux of the story is the changing relationship between two strange inhabitants of a small town: Miel, a girl who was found in a water tower, and Sam, the boy who paints moons and hangs them everywhere. It’s a story of identity, love, fear, and family.

The book is incredibly beautiful. The prose is poetic, and the plot moves along gently. I was surprised and pleased at the fairy-tale like quality the story has the moment I opened the book. McLemore did a stellar job with the two transgender characters in the book, which I learned after I finished was due to her experience with her husband, who himself is trans. I’m glad she included this note at the end, because the tone of the book upon reflection took on the aura of a long, carefully crafted love letter.

Beauty and delicate nature aside, I did struggle at times with the passivity of Miel, the main character. Quiescent protagonists have never quite been my cup of tea: the ease with which Miel lets the people around her manipulate her life drove me quite frantic. In addition, at times the drowsiness of the plot left me unmotivated to continue until about half-way through, when the conflict truly started to pick up.

On the whole, however, the book is beautiful and poignant, with excellently represented characters. There was one scene involving a rose and a wrist that to this day, a month later, makes me cringe and hold my own wrist, and if that isn’t a mark of good writing, I don’t know what is. If you’re looking for diverse characters in every respect and beautiful, etherial writing, this book is for you.

Surrealist Writing Games

Sounds kind of like Reindeer Games. But detailed instructions to surrealist writing can be found halfway through André Breton’s Surrealist Manifesto, which requires at least two hours and a strong cup of tea to make any kind of sense.

Essentially, the goal is to tap into your subconscious. Sit, clear your mind, and begin to write–not focusing on what you’re writing or what you’ve written, only moving forward with the flow of the act. Writes Breton, “the first sentence will come spontaneously, so compelling is the truth that with every passing second there is a sentence unknown to our consciousness which is only crying out to be heard.”

A friend and I tried the practice out: It’s absolutely harder than it sounds, equally fun, and I invite anyone to try it out. We certainly had fun laughing at our results. Below is my most viewable piece.

Slashing and violent do the urges come to us, the authors, creators, merry-makers, weaving lost threads under the suns of our ancestors: what is sense? But the moment to moment daze, understanding flashes of white, of the apples which bloom beneath our feet to perish and make merry the ebullient tomatoes of servitude, sorrow, reminiscing. Do not but fear at the faint thought of the scavenger, whom to all else is nothing. Let carnage strip from beaks, flesh from feathers that reach the night. Every thought is fluttering, passing, self-aware. It hurts!