Sleepless Nights by Elizabeth Hardwick

I didn’t quite want to do a post on this one because it is one of those books I feel went slightly over my head, but I made myself a goal to blog more than once a month so here it is. I recently read this as research for my ever-fluctuating dissertation, and I’m actually pretty glad I did. It reminded me of what I didn’t quite want my dissertation to be like. However, that is not to be taken as a criticism towards the book itself. I picked it up after researching books that contain similar themes to Jean Rhys’ writing, without any prior knowledge of Elizabeth Hardwick herself.

“In Sleepless Nights a woman looks back on her life – the parade of people, the shifting background of place – and assembles a scrapbook of memories, reflections, portraits, letters, wishes and dreams.”  The narrator dips in and out of her memories, and narrates the lives of people she has encountered in her life from maids to men to families and even Billie Holiday in mini stories and snapshots. The parts (or chapters) seem to be divided by the people she reflects about, sometimes via letters to ‘M’. Who ‘M’ is, is unknown, though at the end of the book she does address ‘Mother’. The book is neither fiction, nor non-fiction; the narrator is and isn’t Hardwick herself, even though her name is Elizabeth and those who have better knowledge than me of Elizabeth Hardwick’s life associate many events as autobiographical. There is no plot, yet you get an urge to read it like a novel due to the writing style. There simply seems to be a need to put all the memories down on paper to store them, tell them.

“I have always, all of my life, been looking for help from a man.”

productimage-picture-sleepless-nights-48Hardwick plays on the idea of memory as unreliable. “If only one knew what to remember or pretend to remember”, remarks the narrator at the beginning. Memory is fragmented and subjective. This is by no means a neat and tidy factual memoir, if even a memoir. We know less about the narrator’s life in comparison to those she observes, and there is a great deal of observing. From noisy Canadians on trains to to the life of her homosexual roommate in New York, the book is about people and how they come in and out of our lives, and the shifts in perspective when they go from being the minor characters of our lives to the central character in their own. Hardwick creates huge empathy for the lives she tells, and the differences in living, situation and class. The book has a very distinct sense of class due to the artistic lifestyle that is depicted in different cities.

And the stories hurtle out like the thoughts that go through one’s mind on a sleepless night. Jumping from this to that in a muted haze. The writing is thought provoking, lyrical, descriptive, yet economical. In fact I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed it much if it wasn’t for the writing because at times I was frustrated by the lack of plot. The book is pretty short in terms of length – about 130 pages and it has a sense of wandering to it due to the writing. Every now and then you come across a line or a paragraph that stops and makes you think and smile a little at the wording of it. For example: “Pasternak’s line: To live a life is not to cross a field. It is not to climb a mountain either.” 

I would say it is not to be approached as a text from which you should deduce great analysis and between-the-lines snapshots of Elizabeth Hardwick’s life, but simply as a collection of fragmented memories from the past. I feel like I understand it no better having gotten to the end and part of me wants to re-read it to do so. It is less about the future or the now, or the punch at the conclusion, but simply a reminiscence of a life lived. The overall tone of the book is sad. At the beginning the narrator reflects on her time and New York, saying, “I was then a “we””. This is a book about men and women’s loneliness and loss.

A Girl is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride

It was by the title of this book that I knew I needed to read it, more than the plot itself which, I didn’t even fully know until I ordered it. A Girl is a Half-formed Thing is Eimear McBride’s debut novel, winner of Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction along with the Goldsmiths Prize, the Desmond Elliott and the Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year Award. It took her 6 months to write it, and 9 years to get it published (make note, writers). For a while (and still is but on a smaller level), social media was flooded with readers praising the novel and eventually, I got around to reading it.

The novel is about a young girl and her growth to a young adult, with a childhood overcast by her brother’s brain tumour, a crazy Catholic mother, a dysfunctional family, an abusive uncle, and a string of unhealthy and anonymous sexual encounters.

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The novel begins with: “For you. You’ll soon. You’ll give her name. In the stitches of her skin she’ll wear your say.” And this jagged, bitty, stream-of-consciousness style of writing continues intensely throughout the novel. Eimear McBride uses pronouns, such as he, she, my friend, those boys, lads, or Uncle, Mammy, instead of giving her character names. ‘You’ becomes her brother, disabled and scarred by the tumour which later resurfaces and leads to the inevitable. Among all these pronouns there is a sense of an impersonal detachment from the people in her life. Yet McBride’s writing paints a very vivid picture of the characters behind these pronouns.

The novel is about creating a voice via the jagged sentence structures. As a reader, it makes us engage with the writing to complete them. Some might find this difficult and off-putting, others will find it exciting to read a character’s inner state and turmoil on the page. The short, snappy, one word sentences make the reading intense and fast paced, as we hurtle through her thoughts and her conversations with other people. Yet there is a rhythmic repetitiveness to the writing.

Everything about the novel seems half-formed. The sentence structures and the narrator’s thoughts actually reflect how our thoughts are half-formed, yet we structure our sentences when we speak to be appropriate. It is a book that reflects contemporary life and fiction. The words ‘half-formed’ also nod towards her brother, and arguably, also her formation into a 20-something year old, and how that has been affected by her childhood – her mother would beat her and her brother both until they bled, their father walked out on them, her uncle sexually abused her at 13 and up until the end of the novel, from a young age she was riddled with guilt and a sense of wrong-doing in her every action due to the religious upbringing. Is Eimear McBride then stating that an inadequate childhood results in an inadequate, half-formed adult? It is an obvious idea, but to me it stands out, and points to the constant need to be whole that is often emphasised upon in fiction, society and everyday life. That you are not something or anything if half-formed, but simply a thing that is incomplete. And that our society has no space for something incomplete. It also reminds you of the narrator’s need to believe her brother was whole, and not disabled as a result of the tumour at the beginning of the novel, until she realises otherwise.

The novel is separated into sections, each section with its own title, and chapters. The first is titled ‘LAMBS’ during which the narrator and her brother are young children. The second is titled ‘A GIRL IS A HALF-FORMED THING’ and rightly describes her half-formed teenage years with the final ending in ‘THE STOLEN CHILD’. Through each segments, themes of religion, identity, growing up, death, sexuality and dysfunctional families are explored. Her sense of panic is associated with grappling, marshy and earthy imagery and her love for the lake and water create a prolepsis for the ending of the novel.

Despite the highly experimental style of writing, the themes of A Girl is a Half-formed Thing are conventional of a coming-of-age story. Schools, bullying, sibling relationships, death of a grandfather, rich/snobby aunts and uncles, judgemental neighbours and church goers, rejection of religion, moving for college and leaving the family home, all underpinned by her brother’s tumour. Yet it is with the intensity of language and storytelling that Eimear McBride’s novel shocks us, by presenting familiar themes with a slant and a direct manner. After all, all the stories have been told already, and it is how you tell them, right?

It might not be a read for everyone. If you want a book that relaxes you and cheers you up then you should probably try something else (but definitely read this one at some point). For me, it was actually quite refreshing despite the themes. I like books to leave a mark and stay with me for a long, long time and this one surely will.

‘Frida Kahlo to Marty McConnell’

I couldn’t not upload this after coming across it following my last post. Poster of this for my wall please.

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‘Frida Kahlo to Marty McConnell’

by Marty McConnell 

leaving is not enough; you must
stay gone. train your heart
like a dog. change the locks
even on the house he’s never
visited. you lucky, lucky girl.
you have an apartment
just your size. a bathtub
full of tea. a heart the size
of Arizona, but not nearly
so arid. don’t wish away
your cracked past, your
crooked toes, your problems
are papier mache puppets
you made or bought because the vendor
at the market was so compelling you just
had to have them. you had to have him.
and you did. and now you pull down
the bridge between your houses.
you make him call before
he visits. you take a lover
for granted, you take
a lover who looks at you
like maybe you are magic. make
the first bottle you consume
in this place a relic. place it
on whatever altar you fashion
with a knife and five cranberries.
don’t lose too much weight.
stupid girls are always trying
to disappear as revenge. and you
are not stupid. you loved a man
with more hands than a parade
of beggars, and here you stand. heart
like a four-poster bed. heart like a canvas.
heart leaking something so strong
they can smell it in the street.

http://www.martyoutloud.com/frida-kahlo-to-marty-mcconnell/ 

Frida Kahlo Love

 

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“I am my own muse, I am the subject I know best. The subject I want to know better.”

“to feel the anguish of waiting for the next moment and of taking part in the complex current (of affairs) not knowing that we are headed toward ourselves, through millions of stone beings – of bird beings – of star beings – of microbe beings – of fountain beings toward ourselves”

“You deserve the best, the very best, because you are one of the few people in this lousy world who are honest to themselves, and that is the only thing that really counts.”

“I was born a bitch. I was born a painter.”

“I never paint dreams or nightmares. I paint my own reality.”

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I keep seeing quotes by her floating around everywhere on social media or on blogs and thought I’d jump on the bandwagon. Despite her being an artist, so many of these can be applied to writers too. Always that correlation between art and writing. There’s just something so raw, honest and unapologetically self-focused about her and her work. Somehow, while it can be called self-absorbed, it becomes something positively celebrated as opposed to negative despite the subjects of her paintings. I guess because it’s done in a more artistic and sophisticated way than we are used to seeing nowadays.. Because why shouldn’t we take all our pain, happiness and experience and dash it all out on paper or canvas? Some of us are living the best stories we could ever tell. I salute those who have the imagination and will to step out of themselves completely, but for those like me who often draw from ‘the self’ and take it into fiction, people like these are pretty inspirational when you get stuck on writing and begin to doubt yourself. And I’m always a sucker for any stoic, enduring, outspoken female who had no other way to express herself but therapeutically through art. I’m now going to spend the rest of my day on the internet, rewatching the film based on her.

 

Some thoughts on #womenagainstfeminism

I recently found out about this via BBC news. My first thoughts were: frown, what?, hmm okay, No. I call myself a feminist yet at the same time refrain from doing so because of the social stigma that comes with it and trends such as this one. On one hand, being a feminist gives me a community of women to relate to, share experiences with. On the other hand, it makes me wonder about the message I’m sending out, what I’m fighting for, and whether these issues are actually issues. However, a hashtag of women against feminism instantly makes me align myself with the feminists. Because it’s one thing not calling yourself a feminist, and another being against feminism. It is disappointing, because this is another example of women vs women, still competing and slandering and completely missing the message entirely.

After looking around a bit on the Women Against Feminism Tumblr, I understood where some of the women were coming from. i.e. the deconstruction of family life, the extreme anti-men agendas. No, being a housewife by choice and having a loving family does not make you weak. No, asking a guy to open a jar or carry something heavy for you instantly does not make you a ‘weak’ woman. Yes, these attitudes as this towards other women are definitely toxic and belittling.

But we still need feminism when 200 Nigerian girls are kidnapped because Western education is a sin. When women are expected to be housewives or perform certain ‘gender roles’ without a choice. When still, in current day, girls as young as 14 are sold into marriage and childbearing, prohibited from learning any other skill or pathway because ‘they will have no use for it’. When I see descriptions of tablets made for women who aren’t inclined to family life and children, to make them more so. When FGM still exists in our society and has crippling effects on its victims. When women are labelled as ‘mad’ or ‘crazy’ for speaking out. When they’re frowned upon for approaching taboo topics that might be harsh for their gentle manner.

What the hashtag #womenagainstfeminism misunderstands is how feminism is not about anti-men, anti-hetrosexual relationships and nuclear families. It is about choice and equality and having the freedom to make those choices and recognising individual circumstances and desires. And the extent to which we, as a society, make people feel comfortable with such choices. I also couldn’t help but notice that most of these problems are rooted in privilege of the ‘first world’. We have the privilege to choose to educate ourselves by going to college or not. To love, marry and have a family with who we want or not. To dress how we like. To walk free in public spaces and compete for almost every job. To drive, to live alone, to move out. Things that we take for granted which women in other parts of the world are still fighting for.

Even in our society, the media dictates and socialises young girls into looking pretty, and the most appealing they possibly can through the way they dress and appear. When it leads to women getting cosmetic surgeries at young ages, anorexia, bulimia, to social insecurities, suicide, to infinite stress and the hours we spend on making ourselves beautiful according to someone else’s pre-defined standards. When women judge each other as a form of inverted misogyny. Yet even these are still first world problems compared to the examples given on this blog which sums it up way better than I could.

To me, the hashtag #womenagainstfeminism calls out the privilege that it is rooted in and ignorance of the wider world and even often their wider communities. Most of us live in multicultural societies where problems like these still go on even if on a smaller scale. It ignores considerations of race, ethnicity, class and backgrounds. Those using the hashtag may not feel oppressed because of their gender, but there are still thousands, even millions of women who are. Yes, modern feminism does need to move beyond rallying naked in New York streets and the cm measurements of the hair on our legs, to the bigger world. But to be against even recognising that there are women, even young girls who still need feminism isn’t simply ignorance, it’s attitude devoid of any human compassion.

Some other pretty great articles I came across while reading on this are below:

http://iwantedwings.wordpress.com/2014/07/21/a-response-to-women-against-feminism/

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/i-was-a-woman-against-feminism-too-9623742.html

http://www.buzzfeed.com/rossalynwarren/heres-how-one-feminist-responded-to-women-who-say-they-dont

Blogging

I’ve been having one of my quiet spells, mainly to give myself some time to grow. My blog entries had begun to feel quite forced and I realised that the reason I blogged so little is partly because I never felt sure about myself. While blogging is a very cathartic process, it is also a very vulnerable one at times. And blogging constantly about my own self/life had begun to feel too self indulgent/angsty teenager as of the past 6 months or so. The whole world does it, I know. And it’s all very current, sharing your life online and kudos to those who do because it requires something. But I guess I prefer to make connections and talk to people personally as opposed to sharing publicly. That and the fact that I have been reading some pretty great articles about the pros and cons of blogging, and other pretty awesome blogs in general. These lead me to clean up the blog, draft the ‘journal’ posts that I wanted to keep for my own eyes, and blog about something else worthwhile. I could just not blog entirely, but I missed having a voice.

The aforementioned articles are below, in no particular order (the ones that I remember and can find links to anyway):

Litro Magazine: Blogging Towards a Publication - Even if you don’t want to be blogging towards a publication, the basics apply.

- Blogging Your Passion: Why No One Cares About Your Blog - Nice and to the point.

- Book Careers: Is Your Blog Killing Your Job Search? – They are definitely worth subscribing to.

Point Omega and National Poetry Day

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We recently read Don DeLillo’s Point Omega for a workshop  and came across an interview of his in which he says he changes the words of his sentences to fit the rhythm, even if it completely alters the meaning. I find this bizzare, brave and liberating at the same time. We’ve all put a word in a sentence at some point that has never seemed right and then spent hours trying to find one that says exactly the same thing. As writers, we attach a lot of meaning to our pieces and we hate letting that meaning go. Especially those of us who have been brought up to constantly ask ‘what does the author mean? What meaning can I take away from this?’ when reading other texts. Some of us don’t think that capturing the essence of meaning, as opposed to tying it down to each end is sometimes enough. I must admit it has made me less hesitant to write poetry. Because for me, that’s one of the difficulties of it; capturing the meaning yet being concise with it in such a short form.

A while ago someone sent me a YouTube link to performance poetry and it gave me a clearer sense of writing poetry too. Made me wonder why I hadn’t found one myself before. Also got me thinking of how poetry has always been written to be read aloud and performed. I’m not saying it has made it writing any easier, I still struggle and fret about whether it’s any good, but it helps having people around who you can trust to give you honest feedback. I guess I’m not ready to give up on poetry. It was what got me into writing, was what I wrote to begin with. Even though now, I look back and cringe horribly  at my younger self at the quality and teenage topic choices. But even back then I wrote to express. The best writing comes from the inside but it can sometimes be the worst because of our attachment to it.

I hadn’t actually meant to come on here and blog about poetry but I guess it’s fitting as it is national poetry day. I’ve written about five lines of two different poems in draft form on my phone over the past week just before dozing off to sleep. Lately I’m embracing the high points in life that not only make you write, but make you write fearlessly and worry about the ‘quality’ later. Being self critical can sometimes be counterproductive.

It wouldn’t be a proper entry without me sharing a poem. I really could list so many from Maya Angelou’s ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’ and so many of Emily Dickinson’s… I came across Carol Ann Duffy for the first time at A-Level and since then, this has been my all-time favourite poem. I find it so beautiful. Another one worth checking out is ‘Answering Back’, an anthology edited by her. What I love about it is that it’s contemporary poets responding to poets of the past, and you can see the comparison and how the poems compliment each other. Makes you appreciate and understand the works even more and smile at the witty responses. Reading the anthology, you really do get a sense of a conversation being carried on through the ages, and how time has altered opinions and attitudes. Definitely worth checking out. For now, this is my all-time favourite Duffy poem.

Words, Wide Night by Carol Ann Duffy
Somewhere on the other side of this wide night
and the distance between us, I am thinking of you.
The room is turning slowly away from the moon.This is pleasurable. Or shall I cross that out and say
it is sad? In one of the tenses I singing
an impossible song of desire that you cannot hear.
La lala la. See? I close my eyes and imagine the dark hills I would have to cross
to reach you. For I am in love with you
and this is what it is like or what it is like in words.

Creative Procrastination

I was meant to be doing essay planning/research. Instead, I downloaded some Photoshop brushes and slapped out a background. Haven’t used photoshop for things like this since.. well.. over 4 years now. Hence the amateur feel. And they came out way girly than I intended but I had fun doing it. Sometimes it’s good to do things in the moment rather than later even if it means putting off some necessary work. Sometimes. I guess I miss art. After being lost in a world of words it’s a nice, silent, visual escape. More cathartic than anything.

Any tips/comments welcome.
floral original

Floral-3

Floral-blue

flower-black-and-white

Brushes thanks to:

Abstract Grunge Pack by ~salvager

Floral Brush Set by =Lileya

Vintage Scratch by ~melemel

Experimental writing/pastiche

So I realise I talk about writing a lot but this blog does not really contain much of it due to that whole fear of keeping your work safe, plagiarism etc. This is something I wrote in the style of Jeanette Winterson as part of an assignment. It explores the themes of cliches, love, postmodernism and of course, the theme of pastiche in itself. We had a pretty amazing tutor for the module and I actually found it really inspiring. I thought doing this piece would be a bit difficult. It kind of was at first because with every single line I wrote I had to stop myself from crossing it out because it sounded so cliched. But when I got into it, it actually came in a really nice flow. Sometimes it’s nice to loosen up your writing.

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When you fall in love it will hit you like a truck. But I am the observer of the crash. The blood splatters onto my clothes, the ambulance lights dance across my face. You have struck me but the hospital tells me there are no broken bones to mend, nothing I can recover from. But I can see the scars. In the nights they are my silver linings.

I love you. We say it not always as a declaration but as a question. And the answer is not always what we want to hear. You told me not to love you. You had nothing to give me. No pearls picked deep from the ocean, no chains strung around my neck. But you have chained me with never ending syllables and letters, joined by conjunctions and there are no full stops, no place for lack to find a weak link to plot against us. Against me. It could catch us trying to trick words for presence. I did not want the lack of you. Your face is in a glass. I can stare and listen but I cannot touch it. In the silence of the night your voice breaks the hum of the frequency. My eyes search the darkness for a shape that is not there. I did not want this.

I wake with your name lodged in my throat. It rakes the sides of my veins, and I keep trying to swallow down the salty taste of blood with saliva. The mirror tells me I am guilty. It has evidence to prove it and I have to hide it out of necessity. Secretly, I admit my guilt and stay locked in your virtual prison. The screen becomes my four padded walls and I sit on the three-legged chair with wires hooked to me in a state of paralysis. It is not long before my lips lose their corpulence and pouts turn into prosaic. 

When you fall in love it will hit you like a truck. I walk bare footed, back and forth across the wide, empty highway. The skin on my soles tugs against the tarmac until my feet are crimson and dry with blood. I hear a horn multiple years away. There is a tiny ball of light in the far distance. 

We create the story from the beginning, romanticize it and rehearse it. The cinema trips, the dinners in the dark. We act it out and if the plan goes accordingly we call it fate, destiny, soul mate. If the plan fails we call it heartbreak.