Storytelling is the first and oldest spell, cast around lamps and fires since before there were cities, alphabets, and domesticated herbivores. The lives we live through stories intermix with our own memories, and because of stories our experiences multiply; our apprehension of the humanity of others is broadened, improved, and complicated, and each voice we hear becomes a small part of our own experience on this earth.
Upon your penitential morning,
some skull must rub its memory with ashes,
some mind must squat down howling in your dust,
some hand must crawl and recollect your rubbish,
someone must write your poems.
…from “Mass Man,” by Derek Walcott, in The Gulf and Other Poems
….their destiny is tied up with our destiny.
…their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.
We cannot walk alone.
Both listening to and rereading this speech are visceral, unifying joys. It gives you chills. It’s the height of achievement with the English language, and it’s as important today as it’s ever been.
This is why young men and women fall in love with the composition of the written word: the belief that they too can make people feel something so immense that their lives, and their worlds, are irrevocably changed.
I urge you to read the great man’s greatest speech today. It will remind you of all that is good and worthwhile in humanity.
You are always new. The last of your kisses was ever the sweetest.
…John Keats, from Selected Letters.
The calendar has a magic that makes us imagine a memory can be resurrected and revived, but nothing returns.
…Naguib Mahfouz, Palace of Desire: The Cairo Trilogy
At six o’clock he rises, creaking, and says “How are you?” to the flower pot on the table. It is empty. Outside, smog saddens the day. The tram’s copper bellchime sounds through the balcony, and this is a bad Tuesday, he thinks, though it is Wednesday. He checks the clipboard, then wanders off to water your Aglaonema.
My very, very short story, Flower Pot, was recently published in decomP Magazine, for which I am grateful. Very short stories can be very fun, but I like them best when they hew close to prose poetry.
It is sometimes useful to remind ourselves of the simpler aspects or things normally regarded as complicated. Take, for instance, the writing of a poem. It consists of three stages: the first is when a man becomes obsessed with an emotional concept to such a degree that he is compelled to do something about it. What he does is the second stage, namely, construct a verbal device that will reproduce this emotional concept in anyone who cares to read it, anywhere, any time. The third stage is the recurrent situation of people in different times and places setting off the device and re-creating in themselves what the poet felt when he wrote it. The stages are interdependent and all necessary. If there has been no preliminary feeling, the device has nothing to reproduce and the reader will experience nothing. If the second stage has not been well done, the device will not deliver the goods, or will deliver only a few goods to a few people, or will stop delivering them after an absurdly short while. And if there is no third stage, no successful reading, ,the poem can hardly be said to exist in a practical sense at all.
Chiara’s father had a bright face once. In the sapphire dusks of the garden in Naples, her father had the smile of a saint. But now he is smudged, and he falls asleep on the couch with his mouth wide open. Sometimes he wears a mask.
Absolutely charmed to see my story, “Chiaroscuro,” appear online in Scoundrel Time, where it was edited by the luminous Karen E. Bender. Scoundrel Time is a wonderful magazine. You’d generally be a better human for reading it.
Dinghao squatted on a flat stone ledge, peering out over the swamp and the town and the torchlights that flickered in the darkness like a zodiac of doom.
“What now?” Coffin Maker Wang whispered.
With a coolness to his gaze, Dinghao turned to the opposite direction, looking out over the illucid darkness and the landscape that stretched for miles.
“Now,” he said. “We walk.”
Eunoia Review is a Singapore-based online literary journal committed to sharing the fruits of ‘beautiful thinking’, and one which just did me the great honor of publishing my very long short story, “Chinese Poetry.“
Weeks went by, then months. I am speaking of a far-away time – a vanished happiness. It fell to me to befriend, to console with whatever words I could find, one who had been the fairy, the princess, the mysterious love-dream of our adolescence – and it fell to me because my companion had fled. Of that period … what can I say? I’ve kept a single image of that time, and it is already fading: the image of a lovely face grown thin and of two eyes whose lids slowly droop as they glance at me, as if her gaze was unable to dwell on anything but an inner world.
To his surprise, she leaned over and kissed him on the forehead, a kiss so full of affection that it dispelled the awkwardness, even as it caused Miles’s heart to plummet, because all kisses are calibrated and this one revealed the great chasm between affection and love.
I will argue until convinced otherwise that the greatest television show of all time is a children’s show, one that is also perhaps the greatest act of American storytelling in any medium of the last twenty years, and is also one that, I freely admit, I’ve watched to completion no less than three times. Avatar: The Last Airbender isn’t just close to perfect. It is perfect. I can think of only two novels that I consider superior acts of storytelling, and I’ve never met anyone who’s actually watched the show that disagrees. It includes a character arc that puts Jaime Lannister to shame, plots out madness in a way that makes Daenerys Targaryen look silly, has terrifyingly exquisite animation, has no less than six show-stealingly powerful female characters (balancing three poignantly complex male wannabe heroes), and has been known to make grown men and women cry on occasion. It also has a sky bison.
Avatar: The Last Airbender. Trust me.
Good guys lose the Battle of Winterfell. Nearly everyone dies. Jon, Dany, Arya, Sansa, Jaime, Tyrion, and Bran live (Bran only to later reveal that Night King was a victim whose people were slaughtered and whose humanity was stolen and who has suffered immortal human exile and madness for thousands of years and seeks vengeance and death, in that order). Good guys flee to Iron Islands as The Dead move south. At last, Tyrion and Cersei collaborate to destroy (most of) The Dead with wildfire. Cersei finally does one good, noble, human thing in agreeing to work together. Jon faces Night King in single combat amid wildfire and dragon flames. He’s mortally wounded. At the last moment, just as he’s about to die, Jaime Kingslayer kills Night King with a stab from behind. Good guys win. Arya kills Cersei anyway, because: her list. Jaime and Tyrion have mixed feelings. Heartbroken Dany establishes the Two Kingdoms (and eventually Republics), the North, in honor of Jon, to be Queened by Sansa, and the South, also known as the Dragonlands (including Essos/Slaver’s Bay). Dany retreats to Dragonstone where she dies giving birth to Jon’s son, name of Aegon, who will be raised by Regent Tyrion and Varys. Her last dragon, Drogon, grows weak and dies. And like The Bear and The Maiden Fair and the Dance of Dragons, the Song of Ice and Fire is the myth ballad told for thousands of years of how magic disappeared from the world and Westeros transitioned into modernity. Maester Sam writes the book.
See guys, good storytelling isn’t that hard.
For the record:
Dany dies in childbirth
Jon dies in battle
Jamie Kingslayer kills the Night King
Arya kills Cersei wearing Littlefinger’s face
Sansa becomes Queen in the North
The Night King, a Stark, was the first double-duty warg/greenseer
The Three-Eyed Raven is his arch nemesis, the only other double-duty warg/ greenseer
The White Walkers aren’t exterminated, but only retreat until the next long night
The Hound kills The Mountain
Theon sacrifices himself to save his sister
Brienne acquaints herself with Tormund’s member
Tyrion is elected Secretary General of the Westerosi Federation
It is known.
To acquire even a degree of self-control, he had had to ponder the question of life and death for many years, discipline himself at every turn of the road, force himself to undergro the rigors of a samurai’s training. With no training or conscious self-discipline, this woman was able to say without the slightest hesitation that she, too, was prepared to die if he did. Her face expressed perfect serenity, her eyes telling him she was neither lying nor speaking impulsively. She seemed almost happy over the prospect of following him in death. He wondered, with a tinge of shame, how women could be so strong.
I love this book.