Year of the Witch

I don’t appreciate the word “soul.” Maybe because I was raised Catholic and it usually meant something greasy, evoking all this dirtiness and nausea that you could never be rid of. Maybe because I am tired of the idea of transcendence, of the desperate desire to remove ourselves from our bodies and the sensory world. But also maybe it’s just because the word doesn’t belong in poetry anymore. It had its time in the spotlight. Emily Dickinson sang it. But who needs a soul? Who wants a soul?

This Halloween, I trick-or-treated. “But you’re like, thirty,” said my sister. She dripped red paint on a white gown she bought for five dollars and I put a fake parrot on my shoulder. Adults and children alike asked me if it was real and they weren’t joking. My sister turned pumpkins into the Sanderson sisters. I brought them to work and they won a prize.

I read the Penguin Book of Witches, edited by Katherine Howe, which is a collection of historical accounts that detail the witch trials in America at the end of the 17th century. It was terrifying. Not because of the witches themselves of course, but because of all the condemnation. All the “evidence” that was presented to the court. How it was almost always middle-aged women who were poor and didn’t care for their era’s social norms or abiding by their village’s code of conduct. I sunk my teeth into those particular stories about the women who cackled in court, how they made fun of all the hysteria around them and remained steadfast in their innocence until they were brought to the gallows.

penguinbookofwitches

November is already halfway through. The elections came and went. I did my part, but a lot of people my age didn’t. I wish they had. I was ill the day the results came in. When I was able to keep my food down again, I donated to the Human Rights Campaign. Maybe you should too.

When I’m feeling stuck, I enjoy reading about all my friend’s creative outlets. Something you might not know: most of my friends actually aren’t writers. They often enjoy reading, but they don’t write like I do. Everyone has their thing though. I was freshly inspired after finishing my essay for The Rumpus and browsing through photo galleries of a friend’s soapmaking projects. I read more about DIY projects like this and fell through an internet rabbit hole. I stumbled across this piece on Rookie and now I suddenly want to experiment making my own perfume oils and fragrances. Something bottled and concocted. I want to name these potions specific things and add in fragments of rough emeralds or amethyst. I want to turn the kitchen into a heavy-scented apothecary. I want to be like the mom from Kiki’s Delivery Service.

kikideliveryservicemom

Lots of witchiness this year, or perhaps not enough. Maybe never enough.

In response to the recent rejections I’ve accumulated, I’ve been sending out more and more submissions in flurries, before I even have time to process the sting that I figured would’ve dulled by now. But my soft parts haven’t numbed to it quite just yet. So far, this other technique seems to be working.

A friend asked: Why do you buy all these literary magazines that continue to reject you? My answer: Every writer is a masochist. We take pleasure in our pain. What else could it be?

Here’s the latest helping of chocolate ice cream sprinkled with tears:

nanobwr

We don’t need a soul.


Carousel #12

  1. You can see what people are reading on the subways over at The Underground New York Public Library.
  2. Another great blog I discovered: Pen and Ink. Tattoos and the stories behind them.
  3. Many people were upset earlier this year about having no Pulitzer Prize awarded for fiction. In the New Yorker, writer Michael Cunningham (who was one of members of the jury that decides which three books are to be judged) discusses how exactly the process worked.
  4. Over at the Rumpus, writer and internet hero Roxane Gay talks about women writers, “women’s fiction,” and gender disparity in the publishing landscape. Also good books that I want to read.
  5. Here’s a collection of really weird book titles. Some will make you laugh out loud, some will leave you scratching your head.

Carousel #5

  1. All I really want for my birthday this year is Scrivener. Sounds absolutely perfect.
  2. Have some chiptunes I came across. Music made with a GameBoy, for those not in the know.
  3. Here’s an interesting article about Tumblr as the modern commonplace book. I’ve never kept one of my own, although I suppose this blog has become a sort with the inclusion of these carousels.
  4. I recently discovered the fantastic Dear Sugar advice column. Anonymous questions (often difficult, sometimes quite strange) are sent in and eloquently answered by the always compassionate, level-headed Sugar (who recently revealed herself as the author Cheryl Strayed, by the way).
  5. While the movie adaptation of The Hunger Games enjoying a huge success at the box office wasn’t all too surprising, it was surprising to see how some fans reacted to some of the characters being portrayed as black. I haven’t read the books myself, but the response is quite shocking to say the least. On the heels of this whole debacle, here’s Toni Morrison discussing racism.
  6. Aaron Burch, the fantastic editor over at Hobart, wrote a eulogy for the closing of a bookstore he used to work at. Sad to see all these bookstores go.
  7. Something I’ve noticed when it comes to fiction novels these days: there are a ton of books out there with the titles “The _____’s Daughter,” or “The _____’s Wife.” Apparently though, I’m not the only one who has picked up on this. Maybe the titles have a nice cadence, and maybe people do pick them up because they’re familiar, but I think it’s about time we retire them.
  8. Flannery O’Connor is one of my favorite short story writers, and it was her birthday last week. A big volume of her complete works sits on my shelf. Lacy Marschalk, a writer and a teacher, recounts her visit to Ms. O’Connor’s house in Georgia and the farm. Plus peacocks!
  9. This week, poet Adrienne Rich passed away. She was one of my favorite poets as an undergrad. Read and listen to her poem “Diving into the Wreck.”

Names and Pseudonyms

I’ve never really felt particular attachment to my first or last name, which is something I try to avoid mentioning around my dad, even though I’m pretty sure he knows how I feel about it. Maybe it’s because I just don’t enjoy being named after someone else at all – I just don’t like the concept of being a namesake. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I still feel like a teenager in that I always want to be my own self, my own distinct personality outside of family ties (or any ties, really), and I find it strange at times to be a part of a family with a lot of shared identical names. Maybe it’s also the very simple fact that I just crave originality.

For those who don’t know this already, Dante isn’t my surname – it’s actually my middle name. “Joseph Dante” is the writer pseudonym I’ve chosen for myself. I had ideas about completely reinventing my identity and coming up with something entirely new, but I ultimately went down this road instead. It’s simple enough, yet it also sounds writerly. It has some kind of commanding presence, despite my understated tendencies. My middle name is a literary allusion too, which probably helps, although it’s probably not the one you’re thinking of. My mom didn’t actually name me after the Medieval Italian poet, but rather the protagonist of the novel The Count of Monte Cristo, Edmond Dantès. She was so smitten with the character at the time that she decided I had to have it. So I guess this actually makes me both a namesake and a reference. I’m really glad she decided to do that though because she was particularly adamant about avoiding having a son that’s a complete copy. I’m content with the Dante part.

I started thinking about my real name and my writer name and what they both mean to me after reading this fantastic essay by Kathleen Alcott. Unlike myself, Kathleen comes from a family of writers and feels a very special affinity for her name. I can’t help but feel slightly jealous of her in these regards. I’ve also been thinking a lot about names and how they relate to our sense of identity in terms of my own fiction – it was just recently, in fact, that I sent out a coming of age story to an up-and-coming online literary journal about a boy who feels so little attachment to his name and real identity that he actually starts to forget it entirely. He creates all of these aliases for himself for comfort yet he continues to feel so completely detached from all of them that he starts speaking his own language. I’ll be sure to let you all know about that story when it finds its proper home.