Exploring the Self by Honoring the Magical: Lessons from Lisa Marie Basile’s Magical Writing Grimoire

Photo by petr sidorov on Unsplash.

I’ve long been fascinated by the concept of witchcraft — the idea that ritual, spells, and willpower can effectively shape the world around you. No doubt movies like The Craft and Practical Magic had a significant influence on this interest. As a teenager, I would roam through the public library seeking out some old leather-bound tome to guide me (something that always seems so easy to achieve in movies).

If it had existed back then, The Magical Writing Grimoire by Lisa Marie Basile would have been a book that I would have found compelling. Even as a teenager, I already had the sense that the written word — and poetry in particular — had a kind of magic to it. Reading was empowering for me, conjuring up deep emotions and manifesting new perceptions of the universe around me. At a time when I was just starting to figure out who I was as a writer and a human, this book would have felt like a gift.

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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.

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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.

On Writing In Stressful Times

My commute to my day job was effortless this morning. The roads were nearly clear and traffic was almost nonexistent. As someone who generally drives a minimum of two hours a day, this would normally be a cause of celebration. But these open roads are the result in numerous Silicon Valley folks working from home in the face of the corona virus — a reality that left me melancholy.

Turns out, nearly empty roads are a strange, haunting sight.

This month, I started a challenge to write 30 poem drafts in 30 days (a challenge I normally do in April during National Poetry Month, but I got confused and started it early, so here we are). I found a nice rhythm to the work at the start of the month, but have since fallen behind and am having to play catchup.

As more and more news flows in about all the messed up goings on in the world, the writing of poetry or fiction feels like a frivolous thing. How could putting words on a page possibly help anyone or anything?

And yet, I keep writing.

Writing is a way to help me process how I feel — about myself, the people around me, and the world. Words are a way of processing or compartmentalizing what’s happening. Not to mention that I feel more whole as a human when I remain connected to words.

In the end, I hope it goes beyond serving myself, as well. I hope that the words I write will also reach others, that they might mean something to some one else, that they might help them process their own emotions or serve them in some way. I can’t know — during the act of writing — whether the words will every be read by anyone else, let alone move them.

All I know is that here and now, the words help me. Sometimes the act of writing itself is enough.


Announcements

A new episode of the New Books in Poetry podcast is up. I had a delightful conversation with Franny Choi about her new book Soft Science (Alice James Books 2019). As she notes in this interview, “this book is a study of softness,” exploring feeling, vulnerability, and desire. How can you be tender and still survive in a hard and violent world? What does it mean to have desire when you yourself are made into an object of desire? What does it mean to have a body that bears the weight of history? You can listen to the interview here or on the podcast app of your choice.

I also have a new video up, in which I talk about my love of reading and writing and my plans for making future videos.


Book of the Month

I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to read Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado — a phenomenal collection of short stories that explore the place of women in the world, with each story having its own intimate horrors. Many of these stories also explore female desire and sexuality, diving into that longing for pleasure in a world that would traditionally deny them that. All of the stories in this collection are complex and powerful in their own unique ways.

For my full review of Her Body and Other Parties, check out my Culture Consumption for February, where you’ll also find other books I read for Women in Horror Month, as well as the movies, TV, games, and podcasts that I’ve enjoyed.


More Good Stuff

Chuck Wendig provides some sage advice on running a con, conference or festival in the age of a burgeoning pandemic.

“I want to feel what I feel. What’s mine. Even if it’s not happiness, whatever that means.” — Toni Morrison in a thoughtful, moving conversation with Emma Brockes (before her death).

For Fantasy Author N. K. Jemisin, World-Building Is a Lesson in Oppression (Wired):

“I’m most interested in character. However, character is informed by culture, and culture is informed by environment. In a lot of cases, to understand the character I need to understand literally everything about their world.”

10 female mathematicians who changed the world (Telegraph)

Why Do So Many Medieval Manuscripts Depict Violent Rabbits?

Reflecting on My Work in 2019

I tend to start off each year with high hopes for what I’ll be able to achieve — and 2019 was no different. But looking back, the first half of the year was a struggle for me. Having set myself a single goal for the year, I was pushing and punishing myself to finish a novel that wasn’t connecting for me. That frustration overshadowed a lot of my work and my perception of my value as a writer.

When people asked me what I was up to, I often answered that I was hermiting — which sounds like a purposeful withdrawal from word in order to delve into self reflection. However, in reality, I was hiding, too timid to come out of my shell.

But recent months have been more positive. Letting go of the need to finish the novel was the wisest decision I made, providing a huge sense of relief. Subsequently participating in National Novel Writing Month and allowing myself space to dive into a new story and just enjoy the process of writing was a giant boon for me. The work was no less difficult, but the joy of writing was more present.

And then, I recently learned that Corvid Queen nominated my short story “How Bluebeard Ends” for a Pushcart Prize — a delightful acknowledgement for a story that was rejected numerous times before finding a home. (Here’s all the wonderful works Corvid Queen nominated.)

These recent wins have provided me a different perspective on my year. Looking back with a more positive lens, I can see more clearly the huge amount of work I’ve done.

I had three poems published this in the year — “Belatedly, The Refusal”  (Glass: A Journal of Poetry), “A Little Background Information” (Cotton Xenomorph), and “Bride of Frankenstein: Our Lady of Rage” (Star*Line). I’ve also received an acceptance for a project coming out next year that I can’t quite announce yet.

I’ve also done a tremendous amount of work on my blog, publishing around 70 posts. Among these, I’ve conducted 15 interviews with poets — seven Poet Spotlights on my blog and eight podcast interviews for New Books in Poetry (the fact that I started cohosting a podcast alone is a wonder). Not to mention the number of other blogs, newsletters, poems, stories, and projects that I’ve have been and am continuing to work on.

In the midst of all this, I took three major trips this year to Venice, Iceland, and a family trip to Alaska. All while consuming an enormous number of books, movies, tv shows, games, and podcasts.

I’m grateful for this year. I’m grateful for words — those I’ve written and those I’ve read. I’m grateful for the breath in my lungs, for the rain pattering outside my window, and for the cozy sweater wrapped around me. I’m grateful for making it through the adventures and struggles this year has brought me — and I’m grateful to you for being here to share the journey.


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My Year in Review

Every year, I look back at last years goals and try to assess what worked and what did not work for me. 2018 was an interesting year, bringing a considerable amount of stress and anxiety — and I’ve noticed a number of others have experienced the same, if not more in that regard.

Just looking at my goals from the previous year, I can see that I’ve accomplished a couple of things: my blogging year was pretty consistent and I did manage to launch and successfully fund a kickstarter, among other things. But some of the major projects I was hoping to complete (finish the novel, run a half marathon) did not reach completion.

During the second half of the year, I’ve especially been felt a sense of stagnation. I stopped running, attending few writing events, and in general felt that there was little progress on my personal projects.

But this feeling of stagnation is a bit of self deception, because if I consider things as a whole, then it’s actually been phenomenal year for me in terms of writing and travel — a year I could and should be proud of. So, instead of worrying about what didn’t work for me in the past year, here are some of the good things that have gone down in 2018.

Continue reading “My Year in Review”