I tried to put something together for the Black Inc. callout for Growing Up Queer in Australia, I really did. But I didn't grow up queer in Australia—I only realised there was something non-straight/linear with me recently, realising it was a non-binary disagreement I had with the world. I like existing in this limbo, it feels better to be nondefinite about what I want myself to be. I feel comfortable. I don't want to talk about it. Did I inherit it? I am still talking about it. I think that's okay, not to have an established or set narrative to tell. It's still fluid. I’m still talking about it.
Having read Sick: A Memoir by Porochista Khakpour recently, I am captivated by Khakpour's story of resilience. And her struggle, compartmentalised into 266 pages, feels inadequately expressed. What captured me was the resolve to show vulnerability (in print, because showing it online is getting to be a tried and true practice), not the sheer will in trying to find an answer to her chronic illness over decades, but the myriad ways she constructed an identity–i.e. her illness does not define her, despite the title of the book.
An impressive book, done in a compact way, especially compared to someone like Knausgård who gets a shocking 1,150 devoted to his fruitless rendering of a breathtakingly banal life.
Khakpour is careful to qualify her queerness, however. It bothered me, at the very end of the book, that Khakour chose to summarise her queer relationships into one clean paragraph; when she spends a chapter listing one relationship per male partner, and of course, the four chapters dealing with Ryan and Jacob and Alexander and etc. What does queerness bring to her narrative? What bothered me was the absence, the lack of explanation—what is the worth of mentioning your queerness if you regulate its presence to a small percentage of your story? Perhaps she feels the same way as I do; that we don't have a narrative around this, yet, or maybe it's not anybody else's business.
How We Desire by Caroline Ernst similarly, brought these questions to my mind: what does queerness bring to the forefront? Are these formats failing to capture the story of a queer narrative? How do we navigate our sexuality if it reinvents itself when our desire changes? (Of course, when I say 'our', I mean queer) Or the dangers of being defined, caught, in that exploration of your sexuality, especially as a writer—that frightens me. Desire is limiting if it's fixed, freeing if it's fluid, and we need to avoid conscribing it down to a choice. In this very good review written by Louise Omer in The Australian, she says this particular line which I am mulling over: '...witness enforces behaviour under threat of punishment". Whatever the punishment, an ineloquent or misguided expression of desire and eroticism is frightening to someone whose sexual identity is really not fit for definition (yet?).
I come back to this piece in Electric Literature semi-frequently now, because it seems to talk about these very things, how form can subvert the intention of queer expression: ‘the potential that they will slip away from the queer minds that have nurtured and developed them into a place of commodification that erases these queer traits.’
As the space that queer authors take up in their subversive forms becomes more widespread and intriguing, the formal experiments and implementations are adopted by non-queer authors.
I am in a period where I have begun to recognise my strengths as a writer—how distinctly I am folding into the practices of a traditional mold of literary criticism (even though I morph, and suggestively call myself a ‘literary journalist’ to emphasise the inventive-investigative nature of my work). Form is limiting!! Yet my practice as a creative non-fiction writer still remains private, experimental and ultimately, very queer. It is this space that gives me the permission to exercise myself, to bring myself to the forefront of my work.
Gone and passed, the great Adrienne Rich. A new collection of her work Essential Essays: Cultural, Politics and the Art of Poetry has recently been published. Rich is one of the greatest advocates for the 'personal is political' mantra, on how a life of art is, and can never be, never divorced from a life of politics and beliefs. One informs the other. Her essay 'Motherhood and Daughterhood' was recently extracted in Lithub—"It was not enough to understand our mothers; more than ever, in the effort to touch our own strength as women, we needed them"—and it's powerful, rendering me guilty, shameful of the singular lens I perceived and shaped my own version of my mother. How critical I am, of her, of myself, of so much.
I'm working on a piece about my mother, about motherhood and trauma and inheritance, and last week I met with a psychologist, Sophie, that Maria recommended to me to further discuss how the topic of trauma relates to memory and storytelling, especially its disruptiveness. The piece was interrupted in April with the breakdown of my family; it’s now part of this story. The piece is intended to be a tightly-woven story containing two narratives: the literary history of trauma affecting Polish/Slavic literature and the biographical history as recalled to me, from memory, by my mother. It’s meant to show how fragile memory is, how destructive trauma is, how utterly subversive memory is when it comes to storytelling. It can undermine your best efforts at representing a truth.
Please donate to Subbed In's Pozible campaign: it'll help them publish two more of the entries for their 2018 Chapbook Prize.
I'll be performing at National Young Writers' Festival this week, the last week of September. I'm performing at one of the late night readings, a piece called 'Pre Raphealite Bodies'. Please come and hear me pour my heart out.
YOU SHOULD READ THIS
'Blue Moon' by Hiromi Kawakami, translated by Lucy North in Granta: In this essay Kawakami yokes together the inevitable failure of translation and the fragility of life, the closeness of death and the potential haphazardness of communication. Things are always, at best, a ‘near miss’. We ‘get through,’ sometimes just barely. In this episode, she shows what is involved in composing – not a dull and uninspiring report of an event, but a poem, evoking an indefinable feeling (a sadness? a sensitivity to ephemera?) that might flash across one’s mind on a snowy day.
Porochista Khakpour on LARB Radio Hour: Khakpour talks about her struggle to be diagnosed and cope with her Lyme disease, especially as doctors and others dismissed her suffering as merely psychosomatic. A very good interview.
'There's a Reason I'm Telling You This' — A Review of Meera Atkinson's Traumata by Jini Maxwell in The Lifted Brow Review of Books: 'Concealing trauma isn’t the same as knowing how to live with it.' [CW]
Stephanie Bishop on Sheila Heti's Motherhood and Jacqueline Rose's Mothers: An Essay in The Monthly: 'The social critique that results – one concerning the broader expectation that a woman will choose in favour of motherhood, “or at least try” – segues, however, into a secondary conundrum.'