Jane Eaton Hamilton

"I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year’s fashions.” – Lillian Hellman

Category: short story

I love watching art and writing play off each other

study for Ice Queen: Jane Eaton Hamilton

I have to work in perfect silence but for the chirping of the fridge the songs of the birds, because it lets my subconscious rise. I was working on a painting this morning where I’d worked a study, and without conscious thought, or really even without realizing that I’d done it, I bounded up to the computer and started writing a pandemic meets factory farm short story.

Literally, the two have nothing to do with each other.

The art is about the arcane but nevertheless still sometimes practiced habit of leaving babies out in the snow and sleet. I’d lately read a BC Back-to-School guide, where it advised parents to dress their children warmly as the windows would all be open, and I thought back to a time in my childhood.

I’d come home from half-day kindergarten during a snow and wind storm. I kept tugging my own hat out from my face to shield the wind. My mittens were covered with pills of snow turned to ice. I found my baby sister’s squeaky, big-wheeled pram on the back porch. She just stared up at me, expressionless, her big brown eyes registering nothing, her cheeks flushed, her lips shaded blue. I remember begging my mother to bring her inside, where I was then shucking off my coat and boots so I could melt in front of a heat register, but was sternly told that taking “air” was good for her and that it happened to all babies.

That made me wonder where the tradition came from. We didn’t put babies out in 100 degree heat, did we? So was it disease-related? Had it in fact come about during the 1918 flu epidemic and was never dropped (or from an earlier plague time)?

The short story, though, flows back to a tweet I read where a writer kept walking into the same spider web every morning, and the spider would just rebuild it. I wondered whether a spider could feel ennui or have an existential crisis. “I work and I work and I work and just seems to get nowhere. And why do I never catch a fly? I’m losing so much weight?” Something like that. It triggered work on the short story that anthropomorphizes animals. The story, so far called Mom and Pop, is part of a larger project of short fiction from factory-farmed animals’ perspectives.

 

The little bubbles of a short story for your reading pleasure

 

This short fiction Phosphorescence about love, pregnancy and beluga whales from Room Magazine’s Queer issue, now online.

Phosphorescence

Autostraddle, and Room

Imagine my good luck to appear in the Bad Behaviour series at Autrostraddle, and in Canada’s oldest feminist journal, Room, in their queer issue, all in one month, alongside the grooviest writers (people I’ve admired far and near for years), and, might I add, the most amazing visual artist, Ness Lee. (Their cover is above.) The former magazine is online, and the latter is available at your favorite independent bookstore or from Room, link below.

My essay about being non-binary, ‘The Nothing Between Your Legs,’ appears here, but check out the awesomeness of the entire series at Autostraddle here.

And a link to my short story, ‘Phosphorescence,’ in Room.

Hunger–my story collection (not Roxane Gay’s memoir I’m reading now)

When I was sorting through my archives, I discovered two reviews of my 2003 short story collection Hunger, one from Event Magazine and one from The Fiddlehead. I thought folks might like to read them. I’d forgotten they existed, and I so loathed the cover the publisher gave that book that I immediately orphaned it. Don’t get me wrong. I am a sizable fan of the artist Egon Shiele, but I didn’t think the chosen image evinced hunger, and the book design was, frankly, pug ugly. I was stunned by the back cover, or lack of back cover, which wasn’t even designed. I know I could have checked the typical stylistic quirks out when the press asked me to publish with them, but I didn’t. At the time, I was on a Gulf Island, and there were none of that press’s books I could find in the library, and it was before the internet was really going. I didn’t see the mess of that book until the press had gone to print (probably on purpose … some presses respect their writers and some don’t) and when I got my author copies, a signature fell out of the first one I picked up, proving that the production values sucked. I felt embarrassed and humiliated. After that, I just–refused it. I always knew it contained great stories, since most of them had won pretty major awards, and it went on to be shortlisted for the Ferro-Grumley, earning it a lovely quote from Emma Donoghue, but I hated its look, so I orphaned it.

Anyway, what a difference 14 years makes–and doesn’t make. I still loathe that cover and the production values (you’ll note the cover is not included in this blog post, and it doesn’t appear on Amazon either) but I now imagine I might like the book if I read it again, because in tearing apart litmags and anthologies to make tear sheets for the archives, I found these:

Event review of Hunger

Painting the Babys Room Green review of Hunger

TNQ 140, cover and a bit of innards

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The New Quarterly, cover art: Jane Eaton Hamilton

I did the cover for The New Quarterly this issue, and also have a story, “Angry Birds,” appearing inside. Just arrived today! I look forward to exploring the other writers.

National Coming Out Day

JEH nude 2016

painting Jane Eaton Hamilton 2016

It’s National Coming Out day. If you’re feel safe and protected enough in your circumstances to do so, I hope you’ll join us as out and proud people! It can be uplifting, unnerving, relieving, and thrilling to take that step.

Many, many of my short stories are queer, as are many, many of my poems and my novel WEEKEND. Here are some of my short fictions specifically about coming out:

Smiley, by Jane Eaton Hamilton, not yet collected: A young man in Cape Town works up his courage to tell his mother he’s trans.

Hunger, by Jane Eaton Hamilton from the collection HUNGER: A young runaway tries to escape the clutches of her older Vancouver lover.

Territory, by Jane Eaton Hamilton from the collection HUNGER: A woman leaves her husband for another woman.

Kiss Me or Something by Jane Eaton Hamilton from the collection HUNGER: A butch partners tries to get pregnant with her sometimes-straight woman partner.

I hope you’ll help me identify more short stories by other authors which celebrate coming out by responding to this post!

Here are the responses so far:

“Angel” by Elise Levine

“This is What You Get” by Benjamin Alire Saenz

“Ashes” by Nancy Jo Cullen

“From the Gloria Stories” by Rocky Gamez

“No Bikini” by Ivan Coyote

“My Marriage to Vengeance,” by David Leavitt

“Brokeback Mountain,” by Annie Proulx

“Smiley” by Jane Eaton Hamilton

“Her Thighs” by Dorothy Allison

“Fisherman” by Nalo Hopkinson

“Am I Blue” by Bruce Coville

“A Dad Called Mom” by Anne Fleming

“Skin” by Racquel Goodison

“Aye and Gomorrah” by Samuel Delaney

 

 

On Writing Across the Curriculum

Magnolia2JEH

magnolia: Jane Eaton Hamilton, unknown year

Instead of asking me to repeat myself, why don’t you challenge yourself to expand? I am not ever going to make myself smaller, my talents fewer, my range tiny, in order to garner your praise.

George Saunders on story

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sketch: Jane Eaton Hamilton uncertain date: 2011?

Here, from The Atlantic, is George Saunders talking about how to write a good story. I love George Saunders’ heart. Sometimes, the Semplica-Girl Diaries, a story of his that IV-dripped into me, swirls in my brain.

After listening to this video, now I will hear this:

“…what you try and do with the person you love. You come back to them again and again and try to intuit their real expansiveness and you try to keep them close to you and give them the benefit of the doubt.” I have never heard this expressed quite this way before and I hope George Saunders wouldn’t mind if I say that this is why women stay with battering spouses.

This, indeed, is why I stayed with her. I continued to try to intuit her real expansiveness. It was this expansiveness under her crabbed expression of rage that bound, fascinated, compelled and tugged me closer.

It’s discontent and generosity that builds story. May I always remember this.

George Saunders

Here’s another interview from Triquarterly:

An Interview with George Saunders

“We just got our submissions for our grad program [at Syracuse] and we got 600 this year for 6 spots. And I read 165 of those. And it’s so interesting. Everybody has a beautiful life. And everybody has an intense childhood. And everybody has, I think, some ability to be moved by literature. But then you see 165 people stepping forward to try to make that magic on their own, and it’s not a given. You can be a really smart, really well read, really well intentioned person, but somehow the thing you’re writing doesn’t come alive. Every year we do this, I’m kind of stunned by how many people are writing and also how well, and also how few of those people really get into the zone of speaking to me or speaking to another human being at the heart level. It’s kind of a mysterious thing. It’s kind of terrifying.”

Social Discourse, 1944, The Missouri Review

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I’m pleased to say that one of my stories, ‘Social Discourse, 1944,’ from print in 2003, is online now at The Missouri Review as part of their ‘textbox.’

When I was a kid, our family owned Royal Oak Dairy in Hamilton, ON. While the story here is entirely fabricated, I based it loosely on a famous Hamilton fire where the dairy employees were targeted by a disgruntled former employer. My uncle, a dairy co-owner, was one of the people badly hurt in the melee, and when I was researching a family memoir, many years later, I spoke to people who showed me their burn scars.

I vividly remember not only the dairy, its production line (the smell of spoiled milk!) and the horse barns, but also that my pony, Toby, was borrowed for the last horse-driven milk-delivery and how excited that made me. I thought he was a very lucky pony to go to the city and have his photograph made. I’m not sure of the year–maybe 1960 or so?

I found such pleasure in milkmen! I thought the men who delivered our milk–who would never, ever allow us a ride in their trucks–were the neatest people I knew. They had chocolate milk in their trucks! What a wonderful job, I thought. Far superior to my father’s job where he wore a suit and sat in an office–though he did get access to the dairy’s amazing stationery cupboard.

Social Discourse: 1944

Lionel Shriver reads TC Boyle

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Lionel Shriver, asked to read a favourite story from the New Yorker for the New Yorker fiction podcast, chose TC Boyle’s “Chicxulub,” from 2004 and joins fiction editor Deborah Triesman in a discussion.

I’ve been a big fan of TC Boyle since the 80s and a fan of Lionel Shriver’s since “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” a book much beloved and admired. Wonderful to pair the two.

Lionel Shriver reads TC Boyle

Get Yer Writing On

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What makes a great fictional character?  Do you know how to develop one?  Here is a course with MacArthur Fellow Yiyn Li about writing character-driven stories.  There are other courses available here, too, by such lit lights as Susan Orleans.

Writing Character-Driven Stories

Ocho again

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detail: La Petite Danseuse de Quatorze Ans, Degas, Norton Simon Museum

I am lucky to be included in the spring issue of Ocho, edited by Wendy C Ortiz, author of Excavation: A Memoir, with my flash fiction called “The Commitment.”  I join a talented group:

Charlie Bondhus, Nathan Wade Carter, D Dragonetti, Myriam Gurba, Megan Milks,

Rick Sindt, John Pluecker, and Jai Arun Ravine.
I noted “The Commitment” was written in Paris while my apartment walls were covered foor to ceiling with my art pieces.  It forms part of my flash fiction collection “Soon I Will Be Dead.”

Ocho

 

Lambda nomination!

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Nominated for a Lambda:  Outer Voices, Inner Lives, a collection of LGBTQ writers over 50, ed Mark McNease and Stephen Dolainski (my contribution: the short story “Just Be Glad You Have Heels”).  Nominated as well were Canadians Sina Queyras for MxT, Anne Marie Macdonald for “Adult Onset” and Shani Mootoo for “Moving Forward Sideways Like a Crab” and many other Canadians.

Read Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian for a full round-up.

 

Bird Nights

JEHblackdress1art by Jane Eaton Hamilton, 2014

Starting off a morning with a night, with this travel/relationship fiction from Numéro Cinq in 2012:

Bird Nights

 

Acrobat

JEHbreast1

painting by Jane Eaton Hamilton 2013

The first few paragraphs of my short story “Acrobat.”

 

Acrobat

Giving me away for your mama was how it had to go, Jet, I couldn’t rock that cradle. (You said, Mama?) All of you a drum over blood, hot in a rocky shell, so protected you burned against asbestos, keeping your fires tight and banked.

That night coming into you from behind I wanted to hurt you. You thought it was later but it was that night, me inside you too hard and gritting my teeth, grinding myself up into you till you came from it like a tic, squeezing around me. In the place I was touching you were highly polished, a susceptible pink. I wanted to hurt you–I was in love with you.

Your mama would tell me leaving was clinical, a simple wound, a parting of skin, a small surgery. But your mama never stood with you under a piñata. You said, Mama? You told me to dream in colour, running the loops of my brain in blues and yellows.

Jet, I called it love and read all your bumps and valleys. I was willing. I took you in the bathtub, I took you up against the purple hallway wall. I said I was never tired. You were the one thing I had a story for. You weren’t pretty but I called you beautiful, Jet, you with the name that made me think of a vapour trails, that name you wore like jewellry, like the one earring in your ear of a lizard or a spider.

Bird Nights/Nuit d’oiseaux

I am working my slow way through the translation, determined to learn this language well enough not only to read the French, but well enough aloud not to be laughed out of the room.

The beginning:

Bird Nights

Here is a story. It is true, but it is also full of lies. And small axes, the kind that make tiny cross-hatchings on hearts.

1)

A surgeon flayed open my wife’s chest and removed her breast: stiches and staples. This was several years ago. While she sleeps her scar unzips (top tape extension, top stop, slider, pull tab), her flesh unfolding like a sleeping bag. Some nights I only see the corset bones that girdle her lungs, gleaming moon slivers in murky red sky, and I say a prayer for them, those pale canoe ribs, those pickup sticks that are all that cinch her in. I wish I could do that: I wish I could hold her together. Some nights I think she may fly away in all directions, north, east, south, west, a huge splatter. She will go so far so fast I will only be able to watch with my mouth fallen open. She’ll be gone, and all I’ll have is a big red mess to clean up and a sliver of rib sticking out of my eye.

NUITS D’OISEAUX

Traduit de l’anglais (Canada) par Cécile Oumhani

Voici une histoire. Elle est vraie, mais elle est aussi pleine de mensonges. Et de hachures, le genre qui laisse de tout petits quadrillages sur les cœurs.

1)

Un chirurgien a ouvert la poitrine de ma femme et lui a retiré son sein : des points et des agrafes. C’était il y a plusieurs années. Pendant qu’elle dort la fermeture éclair de sa cicatrice s’ouvre (ruban rallonge du haut, vis de butée supérieure, curseur, tirette), sa chair s’ouvre comme un sac de couchage. Certaines nuits je ne vois que les baleines de corsets qui entourent ses poumons, des éclats de lune luisants dans un ciel rouge foncé, et je fais une prière pour eux, ces pâles nervures de canoë, ces baguettes à ramasser qui sont tout ce qui la sangle. J’aimerais pouvoir faire ça : j’aimerais pouvoir la maintenir. Certaines nuits je crois qu’elle pourrait partir dans toutes les directions, nord, est, sud, ouest, une énorme éclaboussure. Elle ira si loin si vite que je pourrai juste regarder la bouche ouverte. Elle sera partie, et tout ce que j’aurai c’est un grand gâchis rouge à nettoyer et un éclat de côte qui sortira de mon œil.

Easter, a story

Easter by Jane Eaton Hamilton

winner Federation of BC Writers award

Vermillion, a short story

Vermillion

 

My wife painted a fresco on one wall of our living room and now my wife needs surgery on her hands.  Those two things are not related.  Her nerves were not damaged by plaster and pigment work; her problem, the doctor says, is intrinsic, a degenerative disorder that robs her of tactile sense and causes her pain.

My wife’s name is Mary.  You have probably seen her signature on canvasses but if you haven’t it doesn’t matter.  I wish no one did; I wish my wife had never sold a painting, not one painting.

There are words I wish I had never heard, too: chartreuse, I wish I had never heard the word chartreuse.  Turquoise is another one.  That word turquoise goes right inside me; that world turquoise is a bad word.  Vermillion.  Is there any other word in the English language that goes to work on a man the way vermillion does?

The world is filled with unpredictability.  Things wait around corners; words lie in wait around corners.  Once I was a boy and I lived with a mother and a father and all that waited around corners for me was love; I wasn’t surprised for the first time until I was eleven and came around one corner too many and there was my mother and there was a man and kissing.

I am a man who appreciates a good kiss.  I like a good kiss as well as the next man.  What man wouldn’t appreciate a kiss?  An excellent kiss can make a man overlook corners and words like chartreuse.  This is just the way of things.  In this world a wife and a kiss and a sunset make a fellow stop.  They make a fellow stop in his tracks just outside some doorway and they make his eyelids widen.

Let us say the sunset seen through the window was chartreuse.

Let us say my wife Mary was kissing someone else.

Let us say her damaged hands were against the breasts of an artist named Diane.

This is the truth.

The truth is two women were kissing and Diane’s shirt was undone and her breasts were bare.  My wife’s hands fit Diane’s breasts perfectly; I saw how well they fit.  They fit so well an artist could have drawn the four as parts of one body.

One of Diane’s paintings is of a vermillion figure poised on the edge of a globe, bending over.  My wife Mary’s fresco is turquoise.

This is just how it happens, a man turns one corner too many in his life and then it happens, that kiss, and he doesn’t know how to act or what to say or how to impart one color, the one he saw, black.  He hits his chest with the flat of his hand over and over, he does that.

Here is a photograph: a man, a woman and a woman.  Here is a sculpture: a man, a woman and a woman.  Here is a story: a man, a woman and a woman.  Here is a sunset and a fresco.  Here is a painting by a woman named Diane.  Here I am.  Here is my wife, Diane.

In the photograph I age and age.  Soon I am fifty.  Soon I am eighty-four.  Soon I am a hundred and two.  I am lucky to be so old, such a very old man with a thin windpipe.

The Arrival of Horses–a Christmas story, of sorts

This morning, the NY Times published an article on the west’s ongoing trouble with wild horses, the yearly culls, and the diminishing numbers of private adoptions of culled horses as the price of hay rises.   I am deeply sorry to hear that this issue is still with us.

I wrote this story a long time ago, but it transpires in this milieu, in the American west, with guns, to a family trapped on both sides of the issue, at Christmas time.

The article about the issue appears here first, and then my story appears here afterwards.  Please let me know if you’ve read it by leaving a comment here.

Wild Horses

THEARRIVALOFHORSES_JEH

Telling Stories

I’ve just read Chekhov’s “The Student,” Kafka’s “The Sirens,” William Carlos William’s “The Use of Force,” David Leavitt’s “Gravity,” and Russell Bank’s “Just Don’t Touch Anything.” This is good use of sleepless, cranky, sick time. Go, boys, go. (From “Telling Stories,” ed J C Oates, 1998, Ontario Review)
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