I found it online. It was just captioned “puppet.” I love it. That is all.
I found it online. It was just captioned “puppet.” I love it. That is all.
I learned a new term today, thanks to my favorite nighttime distraction, The Myths and Legends podcast, and I’m excited to share it with everyone (even though I suspect few people will want to hear it). Our history lesson of the week is the phrase “star kicking.” Though it sounds beautiful, it’s actually what famed Hungarian torturer, sadist, and murder Countess Elizabeth Bathory did to people she disliked. Well, it’s one of the many things that twisted bitch did—she also drained people of their blood, ate peasant girls, and murdered hundreds of people. (She preferred adolescent girls, because, let’s be real guys, even women hate women! That’s the real poison of the patriarchy.) But anyway, she also liked to stick pieces of parchment between her victims toes and light them on fire. They would then kick and flail in attempts to dislodge the flaming pieces of paper and animal skin. Thus: Star kicking.
Horrible, right? It sounds so pretty. Star kicking. It has a real rhythm to the syllables, a real swing to its iambic feet, those insolent i’s and careless k’s. But damn, Bathory was messed up.
The more you know, right?
Image: Sculpture by Mihoko Ogaki, part of an ongoing series of installations called “Milky Ways.”
Last winter, I submitted this lil’ bit of flash fiction to a contest. The winner would get a scholarship to attend the 2016 Iceland Writers Retreat. I didn’t win. (But I was a finalist, so that’s something.) I’ve never published the piece—it just languished on my computer and I kept meaning to add to it but never did.
I’ve decided to publish it here. Enjoy!
What the stones know.
Stones are the best storytellers. Few people know this, but that doesn’t make it any less true. Stones, with their ancient hearts and silent breath, speak the beauty of the world more eloquently than any bard, more honestly than any reporter. Even when they’re sleeping, even in the years where they lay dormant, waiting, even now, they still know.
But on the shores of Iceland, some stones still speak. In low rumbles, they reveal their stories. The newer stones, the ones that were forged by fire spit up from the earth (that angry infant still hasn’t cooled at her core), are positively chatty compared to their elder counterparts. And in the center of the country, where stones are split and torn apart, ripped by forces they understand all too well, there the stones speak with rage, telling stories that fall like shards from their mouths, knife-sharp and intended to hurt.
But don’t listen to those stones. Listen to the stones that curl against each other, smooth and round as merry wives. They roll shoulder to shoulder as the waves pull them up and down the shore, and they go with the ocean, happily. These are the stones that tell the best tales.
They tell of fish that are larger than cruise ships, with dull eyes and gleaming scales. They tell of pearl-white seawolves, creatures with large teeth that run through the waves, disguised by the surf and safe in their speed. They tell of men as large as mountains with faces only half as sharp. They tell of cloud women who wrap the air around them in diaphanous cloaks, their feet bare as they step down from the sky and onto the black sand shore, where they gather treasures to bring home to the moon. And sometimes, if you ask nicely, they will tell you of the drowned girl.
She was a child, a black-haired little one who belonged to a fisherman. She lived on a cliff over the sea, near a big stone bridge that attracted tourists with cameras and busses filled with foreign faces. But the little girl ignored them all. She wanted to learn to fly and at night she dreamed of airplanes and engines. One day, as she ran over the stone bridge, arms outstretched like wings, her mouth humming a quiet tune, one foot slipped. It was followed by the other. The bridge had tricked her. The jagged stones had shifted, and so she fell.
The girl was never found, and her father never knew what happened to her. But the stones knew. They curled around her body, one by one, as the waves granted them motion. Salt turned her skin white and the tide washed away the blood. The stones continued their slow crawl over her body, hiding her from sight, protecting her from any more harm. Or perhaps they wanted to keep her on earth, never to fly. Either way, she is gone, and only the stones know where to find her bones.
Above image: Detail from a painting by Rebecca Chaperon.
A Tokyo-based architecture firm designed this cluster of pods to serve as a retirement home for elderly Japanese women.
I feel about a thousand years old and I have been sleeping a lot lately, so I think I would fit right in with the old lady wood-pod lifestyle. Tonight, I’m going to shuck off my shoes and head off into the woods in search of a pointy pod of my own. The grass looks nice and soft and ahhhh yes, let’s all take off our tight jeans and sit on the floor and look up at the sky through the round holes in our domes and see the moon, just there, just now it fits there perfectly, like it was made for the chimney, all bright and full.
I was a druid in a past life. I wore a big cloak that covered my face, but not in a threatening, Sith lord-kinda way. Rather, it shielded me. My black hood was a protective, ceremonial garment. I held a flame, a candle or a lamp, a little shard of fire that I carried with me, leading the worshippers over a mossy green expanse of hillside, toward something, something that spoke to death without words or sound.
Or so I’ve heard.
Recently, I visited a spiritual healer for the very first time. I was waiting the pharmacist to refill my prescriptions at CVS. I had just added a new medication to my cocktail of brain-changing pills, and she told me that it was going to take longer than usual. So to kill time, I walked next door to the local crystal-and-tarot-card New Agey snake-oil-or-not purveyor. I browsed the bookshelves and snapped Instagram-ready pictures of the three-foot-tall “Amethyst Cathedral.” I picked up some incense, sage, and Palo Santo sticks. (My house smells like dogs. It’s fine, but you know, sometimes people come over and whatever.) In the back of the store, two women in long dresses sat in a pair of armchairs, facing each other and talking in that tone that I’ve always mentally called the “therapist voice.” A poster above the counter advertised “Spiritual Healing, Energy Readings, and Reiki.”
Reiki has always seemed like a pointless exercise for me. Like, touch me, or don’t, you know? So I chose the other lady. (I also asked them about their rates. The spiritual healer was willing to do a 15-minute session, and that’s how long my medication was going to take. The Reiki lady required a half-hour commitment, which just felt like a lot.)
She walked with me to a room in the back of the store, a little cupboard-like nook with two chairs, a small table, and a floor lamp that cast a soft, yellow glow onto the India-printed curtain that served as a door. (Say what you will about healers, psychics, mystics, and the like, but they know how to properly light a room.) We sat down, and she began her reading.
She talked for 15 minutes straight, so I think I got my money’s worth. And, you know, I don’t really believe everything she said. I don’t know whether Maeve, the Celtic queen whose name means “intoxicated woman” is really my spiritual guide and I doubt that there is an angelic presence around me that appears as a ball of “clear, blue light.” It would be wonderful if I had a guardian angel, but that ship has very clearly sailed. I don’t know if I will have children or not (she says I will have three, twins and a single child). I don’t know if I was anything other this current iteration of me, I don’t know if I believe in reincarnation. I don’t even know if I like the idea.
But also… I don’t not believe.
And honestly, it felt weirdly good to sit there with her. Really weirdly good. Her focus was so intense. It’s not often that we spend such an extended amount of time directing all our faculties toward another person. And she seemed to do this with her whole body, her entire self was pushed toward me in an unsettling way. She stared at the space around my body, examining the air. She sniffled occasionally, and I couldn’t help but wonder if she was trying to smell my secrets out. At one point, she reached across the table and held my hand. Hers were gentle, soft and dry, her grip felt like sinking my hand into a vat of flour, encompassing and forgiving. I know, logically, that I probably just paid someone to say nice things to me for 15 minutes, but I think that’s okay. I’ve spent money on far worse things. I left feeling satisfied, full and light, like I had just slurped down a plate of oysters. It was treat-yo’-self-behavior. A self-indulgent way to spend a portion of my workday.
But still. I don’t believe but I do hope. I hope she’s right. A world without even the possibility of magic isn’t one I want to live in.
Image: Painting by Martine Emdur
Except I’d like to be a little less angry. She looks pissed.
Anyway, I’m engaged and have been for a bit. I have no wedding date set yet nor any real plans. We might do a courthouse thing. We might do a backyard wedding. Whatever. Until recently, I thought I didn’t care too much about the dress… but damn, I want to look like this queen. Black and gold and crown and antlers and a fierce-as-hell armband? Yes, please. I never thought I wanted a “fairy tale” wedding… but I do! In the traditional sense, however, which means I want heads to roll and fairies to dance with and piles and heaps and piles of magical gifts. Sounds do-able.
The above image is by the amazing Artus Scheiner, who was a Czech illustrator and Bohemian painter. His work is considered part of the Secessionist movement, alongside my personal favorite artist, Egon Schile, and my second favorite artist, Gustav Klimt. I really do love me some Secessionists!
Learn more about Secessionism as an artistic movement here. See more of Artus Scheiner’s amazing work here (he illustrated lots and lots of fairytales, and the results are stunning and strange). Learn more about my wedding nowhere. Because this is probably the first and last time I blog about it.
1. My Bubba is a fan-freaking-tastic musical duo composed of two girls—one Swedish, one Icelandic—who make the kind of dreamy yet down-to-earth music that my heart is currently craving. Do you like smart, poetic lyrics with haunting vocals? Well, then you’ll dig these ladies. Start here. Fall down the NPR rabbit hole. Enjoy.
2. I’ve been reading a lot of mythology lately and one of my favorite stories comes from Japanese folklore. It’s about the moon-rabbit, a mythological creature that lives in the sky. There are so many different stories about the moon, but this one has stuck with me. Wild rabbits (like bears) show up in my dreams fairly often, and I feel a weird kinship with those scattered, scared creatures. Anyway, if you’re not familiar with the story, here it is….
On the internet, this series of photographs has gotten a lot of attention under the headlines “Old Finnish People with Things on Their Heads,” which, while funny, really obscures the purpose of these strange pictures. The series is actually called “Eyes as Big as Plates,” a rather beautiful name, if you ask me. Originally inspired by Scandinavian folklore, the series has grown to cover people living in New York, Japan, and Iceland. It’s the creative work of photographers Karoline Hjorth and Riitta Ikonen and while I do think it’s peculiar and humorous, I also think it’s a wonderful depiction of human dignity, just people being people in their natural environments. Sure, we don’t typically adorn ourselves with windswept sticks and stand atop a cliff… but why not? It’s not like I do anything better with my days.
I might just be in sleepy fiction mode, but each piece feels like a writing prompt to me.
Ilisia, the goddess of nightmares and daydreams, wonders whether she should claim credit for her most beautiful creation, the nightmare that incubated in an Englishman’s head until it was ready to spring forth, fully formed on Ilisia’s gracious loom, from his tingling fingers. Oh how she loathed the need for a human conduit! “Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks,” she whispers into the air, a fine mist of spit spraying from her cracked lips. “You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout, till you have drenched our teeples, drowned the cocks!” Her voice lowers to a rumble in her throat, barely audible, but the birds listen still: “Nothing will come of nothing.”
Marvin lay down for a little rest in the wood behind his house. He thought he could find his way back easily—if not by sight, then by scent, for his wife Nona had been making Borscht when he left and the savory red smell lingered in the air. Sadly, when he awoke, he could smell no stew and see no house. All had aged, for faeries trick time and men who stray from the hearth are seldom mourned.
“Who are you looking for?” the man asked. “Oh no, Lars is not here. I am Otso and I am a bear.” He took a piece of dried rabbit out of the pocket of his trousers and began to gnaw at it, making the most disgusting noises as he ground and gnashed his old man teeth. For a moment, his headdress slipped, and I’ll tell you this, my friends: He really did look just like Lars.
Did you know that the tradition of saying “rabbit rabbit” on the first of the month (or in the UK, “white rabbit” or even “bunny, bunny”) is a relatively new bit of folkloric superstition? This odd habit first appeared in the early 1900’s (FDR was a rabbit-rabbit devotee and reportedly uttered the silly phrase on the first of the month without fail). No one really knows where it came from or why the magic words vary from place to place. Most people think it has something to do with the tradition of carrying a dead rabbit’s foot on a keychain—another thing FDR was known to do. I suspect that the tradition is becoming even more widespread in the age of Facebook and Twitter, where everyone can digitally rabbit rabbit for good luck. Or just to show that you’re well versed in social media mysticism. (This is either the best kind of hoodoo or the very worst. I don’t really know.)
In America, rabbit-ing is a New England thing, and I rather like that. New Englanders always seem like such skeptical, cold folk. It’s nice to know that we’re also pulled toward the rabbit hole of nonsense (because if there is anything truly magical, that’s where it hides: in plain sight under piles of nonsense).
But I suppose I am thankful that it’s finally spring. The ground has turned to mud. Everything is coated in grime. Portland is a city of dirt and muck. Even the whitest of rabbits would turn hare-brown here. Wild, like a Dürer.
Today was incredibly long and not particularly enjoyable. So, I don’t have anything to say really about these tapestry “taxidermy” creatures except wow. So pretty, so clever. The lady who makes them is tres jolie, too. (Of course she is; she’s French and perfectly disheveled. Women like Frederique are the entire reason I’ve had bangs for the past twelve years.)
There are lots more beautiful pictures on her website—check it out.