Yesterday, at a NeMLA panel called “Hybrid, Feminist, & Collaborative,” the writer and artist Mary-Kim Arnold talked about “feeling like a hybrid” as a child born in Korea then adopted into a New York family. Explore her whole amazing website if you have time, but here’s one piece that literally stitches image to text in a stunning way. Anna Maria Hong, who organized this panel, read “Siren” and showed a clip from a forthcoming Bennington musical theater production of her hybrid novel H&G, which looks extraordinary. Scheduled to speak third–and read for the very first time from Poetry’s Possible Worlds!–I revised my prefatory marks on the fly, having realized some things. First, I don’t feel like a hybrid. I often feel monstrous, though, like Anna Maria’s “Siren,” particularly in moments of apparently unwomanly anger. And I’m always deeply interested in who gets monsterized and how and why. Second, I’m interested in genres and the spaces between them because I have a powerful drive to understand the rules. This comes partly from watching my immigrant mother studying to be a middle-class American; it’s probably also true that I’m an observer by temperament. Maybe even more importantly, I’m the eldest child of an alcoholic father whose moods were unpredictable, intense, sometimes violent. I needed to figure out what genre I was in every day to navigate the plot twists.
March has already had a lot of ups and downs, but that panel was a peak for me. That’s academic conferencing at its best: you’re rattling around in your own head then a good conversation rings you like a bell. We also had a couple of chats over meals during which, in various ways, the masks came off. The surprise wasn’t only that I could see other people, but that they could see me. I’ve been startled several times lately at how people have described me: intellectual, intimidating, for REAL?! Maybe because I’m a Netflix-watching genre-fiction-lover in academia, I feel kinda low-brow, but apparently it’s relative. I told Anna Maria about how a student had recently described me as having “fairy godmother energy,” and without taking a beat she said yes, absolutely, within seconds of meeting me it’s obvious I’m a competent person who can make things happen. Huh. I guess that’s good? I find myself thinking about Jeannine Hall Gailey’s Becoming the Villainess: if you survive princesshood and still want any kind of power in the world, she poetically points out that it’s evil-queen-dom for you. Where does fairy monster godmother fit in the taxonomy?
Head of a scholar, feet of a poet, magic wand in my beak, except when the moon is full and my nose lengthens into a novelist’s snout.
I’ve also just agreed to wear an Interim Department Head costume for next year–another genre mutation. Cue the scary music.
Chris and I will drive the four hours home tomorrow–luckily for not-very-mobile me, he is also at NeMLA to chair a Comics Theory panel–and then I have dinner with the wonderful January Gill O’Neil, who’ll be visiting my class and giving a reading tomorrow. Thursday, I’ll head over to Charlottesville to speak on a panel for the Virginia Festival of the Book, and I’m excited about that, too. I’ll be wearing my novelist snout for this one but thinking about these other roles. Unbecoming begins just after the main character is named Department Head–or Chair, choose your metaphor–and the job is a horror show, as she tries to figure out what she wants and what might happen if desire works its magic. “Uncertainty Within” seems like another a great topic. I’ll read a couple of short passages in which my protagonist, who has expertise in literary “realism,” tries to work out what’s real for her, but what I most look forward to is the conversation. Uncertainty is where plot begins, but the best poems and stories don’t fully resolve it, I think. I hope we can talk about uncertainty as part of the writing process, too, because while I’m not sure who or what I am, in writing, as opposed to living (!), I find this indeterminacy generative. (Yeah, I guess that DOES sound a little intellectual.)