My Reaper’s Gettin’ Old, And So Am I

I was just wandering through the house, muttering to myself, “I’m looking for a scrap of paper to write a list on,” and I was so careful to repeat it every time I passed a threshold, LEST I STRAY because of DOORWAY EFFECT!

(I read that article in Scientific American and was suddenly more forgiving of myself about losing track of what I was doing on my iPhone. ALL THOSE LITTLE APP-SHAPED DOORWAYS EVERYWHERE! Most particularly, doorways into the INTERNET! But if I say out loud to myself, “I am just here to check the temperature,” I can usually escape unscathed…)

…And then I found an old journal, and I brought it down to take a scrap of paper out of the unused part, and something I don’t remember writing caught my eye.

A poem? A song? About a, what, someone’s old TATTOO??? Something that begins with the words, “My reaper’s getting old, and so am I.” Why did I write it??? It reminds me of my friend Jeanine.

So I thought I’d copy it here for you. Thus SUCCUMBING to the very thing I’d tried to AVOID with my WIZARDLY incantations.

Ahem.

MY REAPER’S GETTIN’ OLD AND SO AM I

by C. S. E. Cooney

My reaper’s gettin’ old
And so am I
The ink beneath my skin
Is pale and dry
O his scythe’s a blunted sickle
And his grin is sick and fickle
O my reaper’s gettin’ old
And so am I

My reaper’s gettin’ old
And so am I
And my bicep in the mirror
Makes me cry
For his robe is black and torn
And his red eyes seem so worn
O my reaper’s gettin’ old
And so am I

My reaper’s gettin’ old
And so am I
And I guess we’ll both be dyin’
By and by
But my reaper makes me mind:
Live my life so wild and kind!
‘Cause it’s old–but also wise
And so am I

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“Connect, George, connect.”

I go months sometimes without talking to people I consider dear friends. And then there are days like yesterday, where I had three separate 90-minute phone conversations, mostly catch-up, with some industry, some encouragement, some plans for the future.

And so, yesterday, I found myself repeating a few things that have been on my mind: this constant sense of discombobulation, not knowing whether I am coming or going, a floating feeling of disconnect from the present world, as if I am myself only as I was in the past, in some time before change (whenever that was), as if in my confusion I hit some sort of mental re-set that flung me back a few decades. A childlike fog, a barrier, both protective and smothering.

Since moving to New York in August, my years in Chicago have slammed me. Shattered more recent memory. Five years in Rhode Island? That quiet, bounded place. My time there is a satellite broken free of orbit, or at least cast into a long elliptical.  Now at apogee.

Meanwhile, back in a city, the biggest city yet, my memories have begun to cross. All the cities I’ve ever lived in are sinking into each other like layers of wet onionskin lightly written upon. If I write down my address, and I do not concentrate, it becomes three addresses in one. Penn Station is Ogilivie; I don’t even hear myself when I speak wrongly. My internal map is blitzed. Rego Park is Oak Park is Forest Park is Forest Hills.

All subways of the past, CTA or MTA, commingle in a single subway to nowhere, no place, just this limbo of movement filled with Scrabble. I have trouble sleeping if I play too much Scrabble too close to nighttime: my brain tumbles bright Tetris-falls of meaningless letters, trying to polish them into usable jewels. Can I somehow rearrange this Q and this W and this V and this Y and those three A’s in a single 7-letter word outside of whatever fantasy world I currently inhabit? If I can, I shall be like Kai, spelling ETERNITY in shards of ice for the Snow Queen.

The subway is infinite, an endless roaring wormhole of peeling cement, darting rats, the redolent strata of urine, staircases mosaicked black and gray with the random dispersal of chewing gum. I descend into that perpetual florescent dimness, ascend again to a white-water-rapids of humanity whose currents clip along faster than my walking pace, my heartbeat, my ability to think. All I do is cry sometimes. I have to stop and put my back to a wall, or a gate, or a pillar.

I love my work. The commute is three hours one way. I am away from home for 3 days, maybe 4, staying with friends or, more recently, Air BNBs. My work is sitting in a black box, sunk into the architecture of an alien mind, talking to myself, unspooling their storylines, exploring their characters, in all the voices at my command. My work is wonderful, absorbing. If I don’t strictly adhere to a particular sleep pattern, it doesn’t work. My flesh resents me talking to anyone on a night after I’ve been working; my spirit is willing; my spirit yearns. Sometimes it wins, and my face goes numb, my throat scraped. It’s worth it? I bought yoga balls to help ease certain pressure points in jaw, neck, back. It’s possible to sustain this pace without popping preventative Aleve every morning? It’s possible. It must be. My bladder swims with “sour water”: my drink of choice. Hot water and apple cider vinegar and honey. Sometimes a Sleepytime tea bag. Sometimes a splash of pineapple juice. It varies. What doesn’t is the amount.  I am well-hydrated. I am at capacity. And yet, still dry and greedy, gaspingly, graspingly. When I am not working, I do not drink like this.

Time away from home, away from a kitchen to call my own, it is harder to control food. Difficult to exercise regularly beyond the walk to and from the train station. Perhaps I am not trying hard enough. I am not disciplined enough. I am not, I am not, I am not. And of course, with contract work, the possibility of never working again seems to loom every month, even if that’s unlikely to happen if we go by what pattern suggests. Sometimes I do not know if I long for that guillotine blade. For someone to tell me, “Stick with writing; your narration work’s not up to par, your ratings are low, you’re a hack, really, and ruinous.” Writing, of course, is even less certain, but I’ve been at it longer. I am better at it. It exercises a hold over me.

I go from this quiet, solitary, physically tasking world, my black hole, my whisper box, back to the rails, the long ride home. Transition time. Liminal space. I have been using this time well; I have been watching TV or listening to audiobooks–something I haven’t done much of over the last few years at all, and even though sometimes I have to force-feed myself pleasurable entertainment, it always seems to charge a battery I keep forgetting is on empty.

And then, here I am again, New York, and there you are, New York, and I am crying on your sidewalks, and I am crying in your underground, I am ascending in Queens, and there’s the moonlight, and I’m almost home, and there is Hernandez, waving from the window, pointing to the door below, miming turning the key, beckoning me up, quick, quick, and I start to laugh, and my tears are drying on my face, and he throws open the door, and voila! It’s all right again. More than. More than all right. I never dreamed this rightness.

A few days at home work to unscramble me. Cooking grounds me. Writing mornings with Hernandez. Long walks in these quiet neighborhoods surrounding me. Sitting here, between the two windows of my study, looking out at the clifflike brownstones against the luminous overcast that Hernandez calls “The Other Sky.”

A certain hour of twilight, nacreous with mystery, recalls all my other twilights in a long string of opals that end here, right here, this blue fire opal burning on my breast. I am caught in the water-swirl, perfectly enraptured, utterly myself. It is fine, fine to be alive. To dream only of death and destruction eliminates an infinity of options. Is a failure of the imagination.

“I can’t be contented with yesterday’s glory
I can’t live on promises winter to spring . . .”

(Today, John Denver)

Writing-wise (is that like sunwise? or widdershins? depends on the day), I am finishing revisions for my novel, for my agent, who is wonderful, who answers my elaborate emails with courtly courtesy and encouragement, and I haven’t had so much fun writing or liked my writing so much for the last two years at least.

It’s all I wanted: to remember what it is to love writing, and I dare not think of this book’s future, or even if it has one. That’s not my job right now. I do not even know what I want from it beyond this. Beyond finishing. Beyond making myself laugh at the footnotes. I feel this fondness for the book, and for myself, and it is like a friend I have been missing.

I miss my friends, near and far, old and new, constantly, an ache of failure. Of failing to be for them what I was at fifteen, what I was at twenty five. I can talk to a friend and miss them at the same time. I see them like burning brands, like signal flames flaring across the umbral reaches of the Internet, and I still miss them. They send me emails, and I do not reply, and I think about them all the time, and I miss them. I send them emails and they do not reply, and it is all right; we’re no longer what we were, nor have the time to spare for all we desire. This decade is about something else. Wide flung nets, circling the wagons, self-care, household, career, relevance. Something. Branching out into the World Tree. I have friends who have gone missing, who feel as distant to me as I sometimes feel to myself. I do not know how to reach them, or if they want reaching. It seems best to leave them be. That ache of failure.

But joy.

Joy is local, Hernandez tells me. And whenever I do feel affixed to my location, I tend to snag on joy. I want to do better, to double-down on it, in all wry awareness. Is there a way to purge foulness but not complain about it? Is there an expression of complexity, of exploring the facets and fractures that is not also just whining? Dig my heels in, without resentment. Engage in community without fear of unfurling. Do some more dishes. Start singing again. Something.

It is not enough to know myself; I have to keep knowing myself. Whatever I say now will probably all be different next week, unpindownable, no matter how you jab. The future is tremulous quicksilver, an incoming tide. Nevertheless, I set my face to it. We have plans. We are an anthology of hope. A florilegium of possibility.

Anyway. It’s spring.

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Graduate School: An Outsider’s Perspective

my friend is Clytemnestra, my friend is an eagle

my friend is eating salmon, onion, pumpernickel

and telling me she has no hope

 

my friend has taught in China, my friend has worked in Burma

my friend has backpacked Europe, toured India

but can’t imagine a future

 

my friend is a rare intelligence, my friend was chosen for this program

my friend was one of six in the whole wide planetside

my friend can’t breathe

 

my friend is a gilded serpent, the sea-salt fruit of the world tree

a long red tongue lapping honey and pomegranate seeds

in the underground

 

my friend is tired beyond desire, my friend needs a couch to sleep on

costume jewelry for her Cleopatra, a cup of coffee, a symbol

she takes a nap in a panda mask

 

hush, household

hush, woes

hush, weariness

my friend is sleeping

 

now the kettle is quiet as a candle flame

now that old overcast sky gleams with a glancing slyness

and outside the window while you rest, a sex-crazed

sparrow cries piteously for love, for love!

he calls and calls, and then falls silent, and the Earth is rounded

like a mother’s breast, can you see it?

everything is horizon

 

 

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Boskone 2018 Schedule

Folktales Within Poetry
Friday Feb 16, 2018
6:00 PM
Marina 3
1 hour

All the Universe’s a Stage …
Friday Feb 16, 2018
7:00 PM
Marina 3
1 hour

Reading by C. S. E. Cooney
Saturday Feb 17, 2018
3:00 PM
Griffin
30 minutes

Open Mic: Myths & Legends!
Saturday Feb 17, 2018
Galleria – Stage
8:00 PM
1 hour

Sound and Fury: Storytelling in Audio Drama
Sunday Feb 18, 2018
10:00AM
Marina 2
1 hour

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RHINOCEROS

 

RHINOCERUS

for Carlos Hernandez, on his birthday

 

many are the wonders

of our waterlogged city

 

one turquoise coat: canal-colored

velvet-silk, with silver lacings

one silhouette of lagoon-maid, sleeping

on mossy steps, hair wet and

red as a painted door

one mask, black as cuttlefish served

in its own ink

one glass stylus, one glass dagger, one seal

 

then the circus came

and all these marvels

palled

 

she knew at once

Pasiphaë’s passion, and burned

bucintoro-gold

to behold the Rhinoceros

 

calm, oblivious beast

mighty in his withers

ignorant of woman

who groans behind her mask

stricken

by double-horned desire

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Dark Have Been My Dreams Of Late.

My brain took “smash the patriarchy” very literally last night, as I took a hammer to the head of a Stephen King-esque father-figure (think Rose Madder, The Shining, It), who kept trying to kill me by making me fix the roof, and then boobytrapping all points of access to it.

Finally, when a huge hammer (meant for my head) fell from the roof to my feet, I took it and went after him. He had lined up his wife and children, and was waving a gun around, talking about how he could kill all of them with a single squeeze of his trigger.

I hit him in the head.

He scoffed at me, told me to do better. I hit him again. I kept hitting him, hard. He wouldn’t go down. After one really good blow, he turned to me, eyes kind. In a gentle voice, he said, “Keep hitting me. Don’t stop till its done.”

And he was much more like my father then, and I was crying, but I kept hitting him with a hammer, because he’d kill everyone if I didn’t. He wanted me to stop him. Anyway, brutal.

In another part of the dream, we had a Gaston-like villain shouting racial slurs and abuses at the top of his lungs. A line of Live-Action Disney Princesses stood against him, shouting back in Arabic.

One of the princesses was the Cinderella. She said, “I lied about my age to work here. I’ve been 22 for 15 years. I’m 37 years old. I used to be a janitor.”

She had a sparkling blue ball gown that was an AI. It had been with her since her childhood, and grew as she grew. It had once been sort of like her teddybear and nursemaid/nightgown, and now it was her confidante and Disney Princess costume. And it looked fabulous.

Then I had to teach a class about the anthology Mad Hatters and March Hares to schoolgirls who didn’t speak English, and only spoke a little French.

So in English, French, and really bad pantomime, I started telling the story of Merlin, figuring you have to begin with King Arthur to even get up to speed on Lewis Carroll? I have a strong memory of saying, “Merlin . . . vie . . . backwards!” And walking backwards.

I tried to explain that Merlin would die just as he was about to be born by pantomiming a pregnant woman. This, the girls understood, and all started talking about how many babies they wanted to have.

So.

There was more. But those were the highlights.

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Paris est SUPER-BON!

Things I have learned:

1. My tush is PLUS TROP PLEIN D’AVOIRDUPOIS for Norwegian Air. At least, for the Exit Row seats. (That wasn’t real French, BTW. That was bruised-tush-patois!)  However, bathrooms were convenient! MERCI, MES MILLE BONNES DÉESSES, MERCI!

2. NOTRE DAME IS REAL! It was real in the 12th century, and it was real during ALL THE REVOLUTIONS, and it was real when the Nazis occupied Paris, and it is still real RIGHT NOW, RIGHT ACROSS THE STREET! MERCI, MES MILLE BONNES DÉESSES, MERCI!

3. When you go to buy a BAGUETTE, you must hit up EVERY SINGLE BAKERY and get SEVERAL, and then, as you are walking home, it is IMPERIAL TRADITION to taste them RIGHT AWAY and compare them! The “emperor” in this case being Ellen Kushner. MERCI, MES MILLE BONNES DÉESSES, MERCI! (Et merci, Ellen! Wahoo!)

4. Delia makes really good great good great chicken soup! SUPER-BON! SOUPE AU POULET! MERCI, MES MILLES BONNES DÉESSES, MERCI! (Et merci, Delia! Ga-DOING!)

5. Liz Duffy Adams has a sparkly green coat and she got it for $15 before she came to Paris and it was made for Paris and it was made for her and it was made for her in Paris, et VOILA! MERCI, MES MILLE BONNES DÉESSES, MERCI! (Et merci, Liz! HOT DIGGITY!)

6. Mon mari est très gentil. Il est mon chevalier. Je l’adore. Also, he wiggles.
(Dit-on “remouer” ou “se trémousser” pour “wiggle”, je me demande???)
MERCI, MES MILLE BONNES DÉESSES, MERCI! (Et merci mille fois, mon cher Carlos!)

7. What else? Bakeries? Open air markets? Grocery stores? We’ve been here about 27 hours, 13 of which I was asleep, but so far it’s been all about the food. Writing to come. Soon. Right now, in fact. And so–AU REVOIR, MES BEAUX AMIS!

– C. S. E. Cooney

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New Vlog! SWORD AND SONNET Kickstarter!

I made this VLOG!

I wrote a story for SWORD AND SONNET, an anthology now funding on Kickstarter!

Only five days left to back this great book about women and non-binary BATTLE POETS!

The editors have solicited contributors Alex Acks, Malon Edwards, Spencer Ellsworth, Samantha Henderson, S. L. Huang, Cassandra Khaw, Margo Lanagan, Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali, Tony Pi, A. Merc Rustad, A. C. Wise, and ME!!!

Then, when it funds, the anthology will open to submissions!

 

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For Virginia in Autumn

 

For Virginia in Autumn

for Virginia Mohlere, authoress
by C. S. E. Cooney

not
to be crushed under-
foot, nor to fall
gently
like a bird at worm
but to walk
empurpled
as an empress
dispensing autumn
to the populace

she is the untucked
leaf
of a tallow tree
pretending to be
human
wearing her Orion bracelet
pink hair piled
high, a ragged flag
flying
in the face of winter
showing her reds, her reds
her gold

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Three Feminist Books I’ve Narrated: GILDED SUFFRAGISTS; THE EXTRA WOMAN; GEEK FEMINIST REVOLUTION

GILDED SUFFRAGISTS: The New York Socialites who Fought for Women’s Right to Vote

SYNOPSIS (from Tantor)

“In the early twentieth century over two hundred of New York’s most glamorous socialites joined the suffrage movement. Their names—Astor, Belmont, Rockefeller, Tiffany, Vanderbilt, Whitney, and the like—carried enormous public value. These women were the media darlings of their day because of the extravagance of their costume balls and the opulence of the French couture clothes, and they leveraged their social celebrity for political power, turning women’s right to vote into a fashionable cause.

Although they were dismissed by critics as bored socialites “trying on suffrage as they might the latest couture designs from Paris,” these gilded suffragists were at the epicenter of the great reforms known collectively as the Progressive Era. From championing education for women, to pursuing careers, and advocating for the end of marriage, these women were engaged with the swirl of change that swept through the streets of New York City.

Johanna Neuman restores these women to their rightful place in the story of women’s suffrage. Understanding the need for popular approval for any social change, these socialites used their wealth, power, social connections and style to excite mainstream interest and to diffuse resistance to the cause.”

WHY I LOVED NARRATING IT

So many reasons! It was beautifully and entertainingly written, for one. Deeply researched. It also seemed to make century-old gossip seem as fresh as the latest scandal-tweet.

It had just enough gilding to make it glitter, and indulged enthusiastically in sartorial and architectural descriptions–but it also (and this was the most shocking yet somehow hideously unsurprising part), took a keen and measured look at erasure in history: how white women have erased black women from the feminist movement over and over again; and how a new generation of the women’s movement will ruthlessly work to obliterate evidence of the old, as if liberation were their–and only their–story to tell.

Though the concentration of this book was focused on the nineteen-teens, it stretched tendrils into the 1890’s, and tentacles into the 1920’s, giving us a hint of whence came this major shift in women’s–and human rights’–history, and where, inevitably, it was going.

THE EXTRA WOMAN: How Marjorie Hillis Led a Generation of Women to Live Alone and Like It

SYNOPSIS (from Tantor)

“Marjorie Hillis was working at Vogue when she published the radical self-help book Live Alone and Like It: A Guide for the Extra Woman. With Dorothy Parker–esque wit, she urged spinsters, divorcees, and old maids to shed derogatory labels, and her philosophy became a phenomenon. From the importance of a peignoir to the joy of breakfast in bed (alone), Hillis’s tips made single life desirable and chic.

Now, historian and critic Joanna Scutts reclaims Hillis as the queen of the “Live-Aloners” and explores the turbulent decades that followed, when the status of these “brazen ladies” peaked and then collapsed. The Extra Woman follows Hillis and others like her who forged their independent paths before the 1950s saw them trapped behind picket fences yet again.”

WHY I LOVED NARRATING IT:

Well, for one, I had that song, “Live Alone and Like It,” from Dick Tracy by Stephen Sondheim stuck in my head all week. Here’s Dr. Who’s own Captain Jack (AKA John Barrowman) singing it at a review in 2008, though I’m more familiar with Sondheim: A Celebration at Carnegie Hall version, from 1992, found here.

Anyway, that was very cheerful. And also–this book, chronologically, follows so closely on the heels of Gilded Suffragists that I about near fell over. It’s like I knew all these things happened in history, but I didn’t understand the order, or how one thing fed into the next, and how the cumulative view brings us to where we are today. This book covers the 1920’s-1960’s, from the flappers, the the Crash, to the Great Depression, to WWII, and then the strange, strange 1950’s, through Kinsey and the 60’s!

And through it all, this woman, Hillis, keeps insisting that women are people, that it was okay to live alone–could even be joyful and glamorous. That it was okay to be single, or divorced, or widowed. That it was okay to be old. That it was your business. That your home was your space to claim.  Not to bother “keeping up with the Joneses” but to pay attention to no one else’s numbers but your own. And to budget the luxuries.

I loved it.

INTERESTING FACTS: 

The author Joanna Scutts is curating a special exhibit at the New York Historical Society called “Hotbed.”

…WHICH I PUT IN THE CALENDAR AND I’LL BE GOING TO! It’s on from the first week of November 2017 to March of 2018.

From the website:

Hotbed explores the vibrant political and artistic scene of Greenwich Village in the early 20th century, where men and women joined forces across the boundaries of class and race to fight for a better world. At the heart of the downtown radicals’ crusade lay women’s rights: to control their own bodies, to do meaningful work, and above all, to vote. Immersive installations and more than 100 artifacts and images—drawn from New-York Historical’s archives and several private collections—bring to life the bohemian scene and its energetic activist spirit. The exhibition is curated by Joanna Scutts, Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Women’s History, and Sarah Gordon, Senior Postdoctoral Marie Zimmermann Legacy Fellow in Women’s History, under the direction of Valerie Paley, vice president, chief historian, and director of the Center for Women’s History at the New-York Historical Society, and is on view in the Joyce B. Cowin Women’s History Gallery.”

GEEK FEMINIST REVOLUTION: Essays on Subversion, Tactical Profanity, and the Power of the Media

SYNOPSIS (from HighBridge Audio)

“As geek culture goes mainstream—from Game of Thrones to the Avengers—it’s never been more important to look at the role women play in it, and the future they’re helping to create. Kameron Hurley’s smart, funny, and profane voice guides readers through the world of fandom and the coming revolution in pop culture.

Kameron Hurley—one of the most influential young voices in science fiction and geek culture—presents The Geek Feminist Revolution: Essays on Subversion, Tactical Profanity, And the Power of MediaThe Geek Feminist Revolution is Bad Feminist for the Comic-Con crowd. This powerful collection of essays is about overcoming misogyny in geek culture, the persistence required to succeed as a woman writing science fiction, and imagining a better world and a better future through the stories we write.”

WHY I LOVED NARRATING IT:

This was the first of these three books I narrated, and the first piece of feminist non-fiction I ever had the pleasure to put my mouth to. Egad, it set such FIRES in me. I was buzzing for days. It made me feel very fierce, and very informed–particularly since SF/F is the genre I write in, and I kept bumping into names of peers in my field.

But when taken together with these other two books, and thinking about where women are, and where we came from, and what it means to be a woman right now, working, struggling, trying to rise above apathy, and move toward justice, it just . . . it makes me want to read it all over again–this time for pleasure. And buy copies for friends.

It is a very specific set of essays, focused on a particular time (now) and place (the internet, mostly) and community (geeks everywhere!), but some of that specificity has wide repercussions. Gamer Gate, for example, and trolling, and cyber-bullying, and identity, and survival. I recalled it strongly as I narrated the two more recent releases above, and felt the honor of having narrated it all over again.

(Link to comprehensive audiobook discography here.)

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