Jane Eaton Hamilton

"At the bottom of the box is hope." – Ellis Avery.

Tag: memoir

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.

 

Books by Writers with Disabilities

I love that slowly, slowly, we build a literature about disabilities written by the disabled themselves. Pain Woman last year by Sonya Huber is one such book. Another is the upcoming Sick by Porochista Khakpour. Dorothy Palmer, well-known for her clear reports/retorts about/to UBCA, has a memoir coming out this very year.

Now here is an interview with author Kim Clark on her book A One-Handed Novel. Her narrator has MS. Can’t wait to read this.

The BBC ignited fury after having 3 able-bodied spouses on to talk about the hell of having spouses with disabilities. I have threatened to write an essay about the hell it is to have an abled spouse.

My novel Weekend with one disabled character and plenty of romance wouldn’t pass my own Bechdel Disability Test, in that it is a romance, and there’s just one character with a disability, but Clark nevertheless recommends it as a good read.

Read Local BC

 

Maggie May Ethridge: Atmospheric Disturbances

 

The atmospheric disturbances that are part of a coupled union … most of us know them.  In Atmospheric Disturbances, Maggie May Ethridge, a talented US essayist and memoirist, takes our hand and walks us into the abyss of her long, abiding relationship to a man with bipolar illness. Because of Ethridge’s soaring talent, this portrait of a disorder becomes a searing, raw chronicle at the closing shutters of marriage, and their re-opening and re-opening and re-opening.

 

27 Books Every Person In Any Country Should Read

…but especially if you’re attending one of the hundreds of Women’s Marches around the world this weekend. Or should I say especially if you’re not?

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“These novels, essay collections, memoirs, histories, and more will help you understand why there is no feminism without intersectionality, why we should remember our history before we repeat it, and why Roe v. Wade is a lot more tenuous than you might think.” -Doree Shafrir

Buzzfeed Books

“To Write, Stop Thinking”

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An article on writing by Kathryn Harrison, author of “The Kiss,” at the Atlantic. Here is where we go to succumb.

To Write, Stop Thinking

On Writing Across the Curriculum

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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.

Mary Karr, Lena Dunham, Gary Shteyngart speak about memoir

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What an exciting resource. Mary Karr, Lena Dunham, Gary Shteyngart talk about memoir in videos up at Powell Books.

Powell’s Books

PDF City

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Hey, folks.  I just updated my “Pdfs of my work” page, so there’s a few more pieces to whet your appetites.  Let me know what you think if you read something!

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