Culture Consumption: March 2021

Hi, lovelies. Here’s my month in books, movies, television, games, and podcasts.

Books

The Octopus Museum by Brenda Shaughnessy

In The Octopus Museum, Brenda Shaughnessy envisions a future in which cephalopods have taken over the world. The museum of note is not a museum of cephalopod history, but of human history, a record of our present moment interpreted by strange new rulers. Each poem in this collection if beautifully, richly contextualized, presenting a vibrant capsule of the human experience, like a carefully curated museum exhibit. This is a powerful and stunning collection, one I highly recommend reading.

“And there will be no other way to be, once this way’s gone. The last song on earth, the last jellybean. Last because nobody wanted it, or everybody sang it, till the end.

Once this day in November’s over never another. Each day nothing like the last except that it’s the last and that’s new too.

Each moment broken glasses, a covered mirror, foxed. The waste stays in place. The rest disappears. The unrest, too.”

— From “No Traveler Returns,” The Octopus Museum

The also read Red Velvet, the sixth issue of The Hellbore, which provides a beautiful collection of poetry, art, and a personal essay. A few of my favorite pieces from the issue are highlighted below.

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Poet Spotlight: Meg Johnson on Illness, Persona, and the Performance of Poetry

Meg Johnson

Meg Johnson is the author of the books Inappropriate Sleepover (The National Poetry Review Press, 2014), The Crimes of Clara Turlington (Vine Leaves Press, 2015), and Without: Body, Name, Country (Vine Leaves Press, 2020). Without: Body, Name, Country was nominated for the 2020 Goodreads Choice Awards. Her writing has appeared in Bust Magazine, Hobart, Ms. Magazine, Nashville Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, Sugar House Review, Verse Daily, and others. 

Without: Body, Name, Country by Meg JohnsonYour latest book of poetry is Without: Body, Name, Country. Tell us a bit about the project and how it came into being. 

Without: Body, Name, Country is my third book. It was published by Vine Leaves Press in 2020. Vine Leaves Press had previously published my second book, The Crimes of Clara Turlington. My first book, Inappropriate Sleepover (The National Poetry Review Press) came out in 2014, and my second book came out in 2015. I had Guillain-Barré syndrome after my second book came out, and it was a long recovery process. I was writing throughout the entire recovery process, but I didn’t stress about writing a certain amount because I was focused on my health. I think because there wasn’t very much time between the first book and the second book coming out, I didn’t feel the need to rush the publication of the third book. I waited longer to submit the third book for publication after finishing it than the first two books. 

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Culture Consumption: February 2021

Hi, lovelies. Here’s my month in books, movies, television, games, and podcasts.

Books

Network Effect-Murderbot diaries by Martha Wells

I bought Network Effect, the latest book in Martha Wells’ Murderbot Diaries, a while back and I’ve been meaning to read it ever since. When I picked it up this month, however, I realized that I really wanted to reconnect with the original novellas that made me fall in love with the character. So, one by one I ordered and reread each book in the series (in ebook format, because I wasn’t willing to wait) — discovering nuances to the characters I hadn’t noticed the first time around and falling in love all over again.

Network Effect is a beautiful, action packed addition, bringing back beloved characters and introducing new ones. Murderbot (aka Sec Unit) is hired on to protect the crew of a research mission. As the group is heading home after a dangerous encounter on another planet, they are suddenly attacked by a strange ship and dragged through a wormhole. Murderbot is once again faced with trying to keep it’s humans safe against insurmountable odds.

One of the things that strikes me about each of these books is the level of humanity that they bring. Though the story features threats from evil corporations and the danger of death, the focus is on a a variety of characters (both human and otherwise) who are flawed and imperfect, but nevertheless care and love each other, offering compassion and understanding for each other’s differences. They’re smart and work together to work through the dangers they all face. It’s the kind of story that gives me hope for humanity and for what we can achieve if we try to really see and understand each other.

Honestly, these books have been providing the same level of comfort as rewatching some of my favorite TV shows. Even after finishing each of the books, I’ve returned multiple times to my favorite scenes.

As I was finishing the book, I was delighted to discover that the sixth book in the series, Fugitive Telemetry, will be out in April. I immediately preordered the book and I can’t wait to read it. (I may or may not do a second reread of each of these books before reading the sixth.)

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Diving into the Deep

ocean waves - Thierry Meier - Unsplash
(Photo: Thierry Meier.)

I recently rediscovered the joys of swimming in the ocean. In Northern California, this means plunging into the Pacific, which is bitingly cold. The water when it first hits your feet is almost unbearable, and it takes patience to go deeper—skin tingling as the salty waves reach your belly and then your chest and your shoulders.

On my most recent trip to the seashore, I waded into the dark blue waters until I was neck deep. In the distance the line of the horizon was broken by undulating water, which swelled in front of me—rising up, up, up higher than my head, leaving me no choice but to dive into and through the water.

I had delved past the line of breaking waves. Nevertheless, with every swell of water I wondered, Is this the one that will curve into a wave too big for me to handle? Is this the one that will crush me?

Entering the ocean is always a risky business. The ocean is immense. It obeys its own laws, rhythms, and tides. At any moment, it can push you under and sweep you away.

Many times as a child, I’ve braved the shallow water along the shore, leaping through the waves. Many times, I’ve been surprised by a wave larger than I expected and tumbled, caught in a seemingly never-ending spiral of water, buffeted against the sand and rocks below, bubbling foam swirling all around with no sign of which way is up. Anyone who’s been submerged by a wave has experience a moment of terror, a moment when you realize you might not surface at all.

As I returned to the shore after my most recent ocean swim, I began to think about how the risks faced by writers and artists seem to parallel the risks of the ocean. The act of creating prose, poetry, or other forms of art can sometimes feel fraught with danger. Yet, we continue writing, continue creating, continue delving into the depths.

Continue reading the article on Medium.


What I’ve Been Working On

  1. My work adapting “How Bluebeard Ends” into an interactive fiction game continues to progress. Learning to incorporate interactive elements and story branching (allowing the player to make decisions that effect the outcome of the game) is an interesting process. Although my original story presents a series of alternate endings, the adaptation is not simple or straightforward — as I have to connect those endings in a way that allows the player to feel as though they are experiencing a cohesive world.
  2. Some of my efforts on the game were derailed when in a reassessment of Once Upon the Weird, my blog and newsletter focused on horror and weird movies, TV, games, and lore. The short version is: I’ve been migrating the blog from the WordPress blogging platform to Medium (for reasons), a time consuming process that I’ve finished as of this weekend. I’m not opening it up widely yet, but if you’re on Medium and would like to contribute to Once Weird, send me a message.
  3. I’ve been editing and submitting a few poems, something I pretty much stopped doing over the course of 2020. I enjoy working on large projects (like my novel), but there’s also a pleasure in finishing and accomplishing smaller pieces. And I’m already seeing a reward for my efforts, as two of my poems have been accepted for publication by Yes, Poetry.

Good Reads

The Poet and the Spider,” a short story by Cynthia So (Anathema Magazine) —

You saw the Empress once, when you were still a pillow-cheeked and blossom-mouthed child. She was tall and severe, and the train of her yellow dress flowed behind her for miles and miles, a river of pure gold. You stood behind your mother and wanted to bathe yourself in that river, and the Empress turned, her crown twinkling like a cosmos of cold stars, and she looked at you.

Make Believe,” a poem by Navya Dasari (Liminality) —

as a kid I made believe I was Morgana
born whispering curses over smoke
and I know you would have been
Guinevere, the one who wanders

More of the books, stories, and games I loved recently can be found in January’s Culture Consumption.

Culture Consumption: January 2021

Hi, lovelies. Here’s my month in books, movies, television, games, and podcasts.

Books

Initiated Memoir of a Witch by Amanda Yates Garcia“An initiation is a beginning, a rite of passage, a ceremony that signals an advance of some kind, into adulthood or a new form of knowledge.”

In Initiated: Memoir of a Witch,  Amanda Yates Garcia shares her journey as a witch, beginning with being initiated into the tradition by her mother, which she pulls away from as a young woman. Her path takes her through abuse and hardships, through which she struggles against the expectations that society tries to place on women. In her desire for beauty and love, she find herself surprised by a number of initiations over her her lifetime that guide her back toward the practice and ritual of witchcraft. Garcia’s prose is beautifully poetic and interlaced with mythology and the stories of magical women throughout history, which I found enlightening. I really enjoyed taking this armchair journey.

I read two great poetry books this month. Meg Johnson’s Without: Body, Name, Country (Vine Leaves Press) presents poems and flash creative nonfiction that explore identity, illness, and politics. Broken into two parts, the first section offers poems that explore various personas, while the second presents memoir the author’s experience with a harrowing illness in the form of short, evocative flash pieces.

And the Whale by Sonya Vatomsky (Paper Nautilus) is a gorgeous chapbook, filled with powerful poems that weave mythology and Russian folklore into an exploration of love, sex, grief, and trauma. I was personally in love with the persona of the Widow, who features in several poems that examine the shadows of the past.

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