Jane Eaton Hamilton

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

Tag: ” Carmen Maria Machado

image credit: Jane Eaton Hamilton 2019, acrylic on paper

I’ve been reading author Carmen Maria Machado’s new memoir ‘In the Dream House’ this week. Luminous, queer, wry, broken–it’s smart and vulherable about IPV in queer relationships. Fragment to fragment, it builds a sharp wounding story.

Some of her anecdotes, though, have been hard on me.

Some anecdotes Carmen described are similar to ones I experienced. In particular, I remember one night where my ex raged and stomped so hard and long that I, terrified, locked myself into my office. This infuriated her and for about 4 hours she pounded the door. That night, I thought she was going to kill me; I didn’t know whether to call 9-1-1 or resist (I’d been warned off it by my lawyer who said the cops wouldn’t support me; in the end, there were about 5 times I needed police or ER help but didn’t call because of that advice). In ‘In the Dream House’ Carmen says that if there had been a gun around, she’d have been killed by it. Me too. I’ve been relieved I lived in Canada, where household guns are rare. That night, I gauged the ridiculous awning windows we’d had put in that opened only about 8″–wondering how I could slither my fat, disabled body out onto the second floor roof. My ex carried on for so long and at such volume, pounding the door, yelling abuse, wheedling, that eventually I had to pee into my coffee cup, and when I did, a pure vein of hatred for her erupted. I had never hated her before. I didn’t again. That’s what Machado understands. She gets it when you are too beaten down for hate. Hate is beside the point. Horror, incredibly sadness, the fall-out of love’s betrayal, the realization you could die–those are what replaces hate. My ex finally stopped trying to pound the door in and things grew quiet, but that was the most ominous thing yet–had she quit? was she waiting until I turned the knob?–and I went back to shaking and waiting, waiting. Waiting for what I didn’t know. Waiting for something to happen.

A few Christmases ago, two fathers in BC killed their families over the holidays. We like to think of familicide as uncommon, but it isn’t. The next fall, I started a book that takes place 10 years after a family homicide. I’ve been considering this novel as my winter rewrite (I work on several). Like Carmen’s book, oddly, it is written in fragments. And it’s illustrated. (Or at least I have envisaged it as such.) I decided to just write a novel I wanted to write (and read). This is how my experimental ‘The Grey Closet’ came to be.

Now I’m going to crawl into bed with the last third of Carmen’s luminescent masterpiece.

The book I’m most looking forward to this fall is…

 

…Carmen Maria Machado’s “In the Dream House.” It releases Nov 5. What’s one of our least-discussed social problems? Intimate partner violence in the queer community. We avoid talking about it. We even avoid acknowledging what a problem it is. Everyone understands how fragile queer acceptance is around the world–how can we start saying that our relationships are (in this way) just like straight relationships, subject to domestic violence and rape? So we pretend. When a queer woman assaults another queer woman we know where that’s going to go … right under our big rainbow queer carpet, where we’ll all keep tripping over it, getting up, dusting off our knees and going about our business. What lump under the carpet? What the heck are you talking about?

The offender will not be held to account. The victim will be spurned, just like straight violence survivors often are.

Here is the Publisher’s Weekly starred review of “In the Dream House” in its entirety:

“In this haunting memoir, National Book Award–finalist Machado (Her Body and Other Parties) discusses the mental and physical abuse she was subjected to by her girlfriend. The book is divided into short, piercing chapters, in which Machado refers to the victimized version of herself as “you.” (“I thought you died, but writing this, I’m not sure you did.”) Machado discusses meeting the girlfriend (her first) in Iowa City, where Machado was getting her MFA. She masterfully, slowly introduces unease and dread as the relationship unfolds. The girlfriend turns threatening if Machado doesn’t immediately return her calls, starts pointless fights, and inflicts physical discomfort on Machado (squeezing her arm for no reason, for instance). The hostile environment turns utterly oppressive, yet Machado stays, becoming further disoriented by someone who inflicts harm one minute and declares her love the next. Machado interestingly weaves in cultural references (to movies like 1944’s Gaslight and 1984’s Carmen) as she considers portrayals of abuse. She points out that queer women endure abuse in their relationships just as heterosexual women do, and queer abusers shouldn’t be protected: “We deserve to have our wrongdoing represented.” The author eventually leaves her toxic relationship behind, but scars remain. Machado has written an affecting, chilling memoir about domestic abuse. (Nov.)”

I have my own stake in the topic. I was battered in a long-term queer relationship. A few years later, I was raped in another. Once, I tried to get enough submissions to edit an anthology of essays about queer IPV, but there weren’t enough writers. Still, that was how I was introduced to Carmen Maria Machado’s fine writing. Now you can be, too, and you can stop to think about how her writing represents all the rest of us who’ve experienced domestic terrorism in our partnerships and marriages. Now we know. So let’s work on effectively dealing with it.

 

Gay Magazine!

illustration borrowed from Gay Magazine by Michelle Mildenberg, 2018, Randa Jarrar’s piece

Roxane Gay, author of “Bad Feminist” and all-around bad-ass role model and social activist, has started up Gay Magazine at Medium! The first issue, on the topic of pleasure, launches in June.

For those of you who haven’t heard the good news, my own essay, provisionally titled “The Pleasure Scale” is going to be included, although I haven’t heard in what issue yet.

Last year, she put together a month-long magazine at Medium, called Unruly Bodies, full of stunning essays I urge you to read.

What Fullness Is, Roxane Gay

Hysterical!, Samantha Irby

What Love Is, Randa Jarrar

Unruly, Adjective, Carmen Maria Machado

There are more, every one of them as good as the last, but these are some of my favourites. I re-read “What Fullness Is” a week ago or so, and loved it even more than I did last year.

 

 

Best American Experimental Writing 2020

I’m delighted to announce that editors Carmen Maria Machado and Joyelle McSweeney have chosen one of my pieces, Battery, for the 2020 volume of Best American Experimental Writing. Battery was chosen by George Saunders as the winner of Lit Pop 2015. He said, “I admired and enjoyed the wit, clarity, and compression of this story. It’s fast, funny, precise in its language. The author is really using language as a tool of persuasion. The story also has real heart – the narrator manages to make us sympathize for both chickens and executioners. The details of the operation are chilling and terrific. The story is beautifully shaped and minimal – the writer seems to recognize that the essence of making a work of art is choosing. The story makes us face a certain harsh truth, but without any sense of preaching, and even a sense of wonder. Above all, the story is musical – it zings along, making a world as it goes, with its confidence and its sense of curiosity.” —George Saunders

Joyelle McSweeney says this about the compilation on Twitter:

“I agreed to guest ed BAX 2019 only if I could undo every word in that title: our re-imagined antho that is defiantly anti- ‘Best’, de-prizes the category “American”, is not always ‘Experimental’ & or even ‘Writing’! It’s up to the series eds and authors to shape what’s next-“

Indeed. Should make for an exciting anthology!

“I want my cup of stars.” -Carmen Maria Machado

Carmen and I go back a bit, and I’m finally reading her collection My Body and Other Parties, and, so far, adoring and admiring it, and I’d like to see if she’ll agree to an interview even though this is not a going-concern blog and even though she is much much too busy, but in the meantime, here is a great and sparkly interview with The Atlantic’s Joe Fassler. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson haunts me still, so I understand how she got riveted. Jackson’s idea that she could transcend the many limitations of her lived life by entering other worlds, much as the disabled quite often do, in fact, and the stunning skills with which she brought her points home, still flabbergasts and inspires me. We need her in the world, and now we need Machado, too.

How Surrealism Enriches Storytelling About Women

Read Your Way Back to Wholeness

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Emily Temple has gathered LitHub’s 10 Great Essays That Should be Made into Films

I look forward to making my way through these essays, some of which are familiar already, and some of which I’ve read recently, including Carmen Maria Machado’s fine ‘A Girl’s Guide to Sexual Purity.’

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