Event(s on the) Horizon

(See what I did there?  In the title?  It’s a pun.  About space.  It’s a space pun.)

If you enjoy awkward puns like the pun above, and if you enjoy people even more awkwardly over-explaining their already awkward puns, then you might be excited to learn that soon, very soon, depending upon your geographical location, you may in fact be able to see me a.) make awkward puns and b.) awkwardly over-explain my awkward puns in person.

I am proud, humbled, honored, super-nervous, and super-exciting to say that I’ll be part of Writers Week Symposium at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.  I am all of those adjectives largely because Writers Week was one of my very most favorite things about the MFA program at UNCW, which makes me even more proud and humbled and honored and super-nervous and super-excited.  You can find the entire schedule here, along with a list of presenters.  I’m still not sure how I’m on that list, and I feel a little bit like it’s an elaborate version of that One Of These Things Is Not Like The Other skit from Sesame Street (in case you follow that link, as you probably should, I am the big bowl of bird seed that has Big Bird so confused).  I’ll be giving a reading from Maleficae with several of my favorite fellow alums — Xhenet Aliu, Yvette Neisser Moreno, and Kate Sweeney — on Friday at 2:00.  I’ll also be speaking about life and writing and teaching and watching ANTM marathons and writing some more after graduation at 3:30.  I can’t promise a Miley Cyrus karaoke session, but, given my other choices when I was at UNCW as a graduate student (those pink-and-magenta-striped spiked heel ankle boots, that homemade Sifl and Olly t-shirt, that weird phase when I dressed like an extra from Valley of the Dolls), anything is possible.

And the excitement doesn’t stop there!  If you’re in the greater Statesboro area, then you should know that the third annual The Write Place Festival takes place next week.  I am especially excited for the main event, which takes place on Thursday, November 14th, at 7 PM in the Emma Kelly Theatre.  This year, six incredible local writers will be reading their work in the Festival.  Readers include GSU faculty member and fiction writer Sarah Domet; GSU faculty member and poet Christina Olson; GSU alum, faculty member, and poet Zach Bush; GSU alum and novelist Jordan Fennell; and Maya Van Wagenen, a local fifteen year old and multi-category winner of last year’s Write Place high school literary awards competition, whose first book is coming out in 2014: Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek (you may be thinking to yourself, oh, how cute, she’s fifteen, but really you should be thinking to yourself, oh my God, she’s fifteen and she’s an absolute firecracker of a writer with a dynamic and original voice and just wow).  I’ll be signing books after the reading, and am again proud and humbled and honored and all of the other adjectives to be part of this wonderful event and included in this group of writers, big bowl of birdseed or not.  You can find more information about the Festival and see the dates and times for the full schedule of events here.

American Horror Story Is Kind Of Horrible (Episode Four)

This is a sentence I never thought I’d write, but: I’m kind of bad at watching TV. I missed the last two episodes of American Horror Story, but, from what I’ve heard, it sounds like that’s not necessarily a bad thing, since what I’ve heard mostly involved whimpering and saying that all innocence died in the last episode.  I did catch episode four, and here are my thoughts.  Just imagine them like Tweets I was too lazy to send while watching the episode.  Oh, and: spoilers.  Though I mean, really, I think we’re all pretty clear on what’s going to happen all season.

Also, it’s Halloween.  Here’s a picture of Alice B. Toklas refusing to wear her Yoda costume.




Here it goes.

American Horror Story


Episode Four

“Fearful Pranks Ensue”

Continue reading

What’s Really Horrible About American Horror Story

NOTE: I thought I understood the “insert more tag” feature, but I was so very mistaken. So, hey, there are spoilers at the end of this.  But Ryan Murphy has already told all of the Internet how this show unfolds anyway, so ….

So, here’s the thing: witches are everywhere right now.  Like, everywhere.  And not just because it’s almost Halloween.  It seems as though American pop culture has jumped on the proverbial broomstick and intends to fly it to Walpurgisnacht and back.  Walpurgisnacht, as you may know, is a 17th century German term for a meeting of witches on May Day.  Today it’s often celebrated with bonfires and booze and the like.  It’s been co-opted by pop culture, like many things related to witches, and changed into something light-hearted and fun.  But if you take a deeper look, the term refers to something similar.  In the Czech Republic, for instance, you might look at those Walpurgisnacht bonfires through your beer goggles and think, This is a great deal of fun.  But then you might sober up.  You might look closer.  You might notice that many of these bonfires have figures in the center of them.  Female figures.  Female bodies.  Yes, they are made of straw, but they’re female bodies meant to represent the witches who were burned at the stake.  And then it might hit you: you are boozing and bonfiring in celebration of one of the most horrific periods in human history: the witch trials.  You’re commemorating the persecution of hundreds of thousands of women.  You’re celebrating gendercide, and you had no idea — which is part of what’s so terrifying.  While it’s true that there aren’t as many witch trials (please note I say “as many,” and not “aren’t” period) these days, it is also true that the intellectual framework surrounding the witch trials still exists.  There are populations who are marginalized and brutalized.  There’s an increasing urgency in the idea of “us” versus “them,” and every time I forget this, all I have to do is sign into Facebook and scroll through my newsfeed to see that polarization at work.

It seems to me no accident that witches are back.  These histories — and herstories — seem unsettlingly resonant to what’s going on in our culture today. I started doing research into the European witch trials in 2006.  I read histories, sociological treatises, religious treatises, analyses of torture, contemporary pagan lore, trial transcripts, oral histories, everything I could possibly find — and I could already see similar threads.  And though the resulting book was published in April of this year, I’ve never been able to — and I never will be able to — shake the images and stories that became Maleficae.

When I saw that the third season of American Horror Story revolved around witches, I was intrigued.  I wondered what kind of “horror” they would focus on: the horror that so-called witches experienced, or the horror that accusers falsely claimed they caused?  I wondered if the show would support or debunk myths about witchcraft.  I wondered if they would tow the same lines that started the trials centuries ago: the idea that different is wrong and wrong is punishable, the idea that women are inherently dangerous, sexually deviant, evil beings.

I decided to watch and to blog about watching.  I then questioned my decision, because I am the person who still gets really seriously freaked out by the boat part of Willy Wonka and the part with the scientists and tubes in ET.  But I stayed resolute and watched the first episode — and about thirty minutes in, I was terrified.  It had nothing to do with gore.

So here’s the plan: I’m going to try to watch AHS every week, and I’m going to keep a log of my reactions.  I’ll post the reactions after a break, because, of course, spoilers will happen.  And I’m going to try to keep them as close to my initial responses as possible.  This week, for instance, I started out kind of amused and made some jokes.  And then there came this point where I realized things were definitely not funny anymore.  And then I was very, very angry.  Which is kind of reflective, in many ways, of how things moved in the witch trials — from some accusation no one took seriously to mass hysteria.  Due to the nature of the program, I will at times have to refer to ladyparts.  Also, I recognize that I’m leaving a lot out, because honestly there’s way too much wrongness for any one blogger to cover when it comes to this show.

Here it goes.

American Horror Story: Coven.  Episode One. Continue reading

Shedding Light on the Book of Shadows

So last night, I was watching television with my mother, which meant, as usual, that we had flipped around with great despair until, finally, we’d become resigned to watching something ridiculous.  In this case, the something ridiculous we watched was The Biography Channel’s Celebrity Ghost Stories.  No, really.  That’s seriously a thing.  It features a number of people who are almost or once were actual celebrities describing, with great suspense, their almost or actual hauntings.

This particular episode featured a typically almost-recognizable man who was scruffy enough to be believable as an almost- or once-celebrity.  Predictably, his wasn’t the most coherent story ever.  He’d been staying at a friend’s friend’s house in LA, where he found a box containing tarot cards and some really creepy cassette tapes full of really, really creepy chanting.  Then he had a bunch of girls over and something happened, and then something happened with a painting.  I don’t know, exactly, because I wasn’t exactly paying attention.  I was in the middle of this enormous paint-by-number project that required a great deal of focus.  Anyway, I started half-listening when the creepy music ramped up, implying that we were about to reach the cliffhanger before a commercial break.  The friend’s friend, it seems, had called because she somehow knew that he had unearthed the box with tarot cards and creepy cassette tapes.  She’d called to warn him not to mess with them.  “And then she said” – here, the story paused for maximum suspense and creepiness – “‘I’m a witch.’”

At that point, I wasn’t just listening.  I was furious.

After the commercial break, the almost-recognizable man repeated the sentence, pausing again before saying it: “a witch.”  Things in the house got worse and worse, until a demonic voice screamed “get out of here” and the man obeyed.  And that, he said, was the end.

Where do I begin.

This is the cover of the Malleus Maleficarum, or The Hammer of Witches, which lays down the system of beliefs that led to the European witch trials.  It's chilling beyond chilling.  Wicasta and Christie Jury transcribed the text and posted it online to further education on the text and the trials. It's a very, very difficult thing to read, but it's very, very much more important to build knowledge and make sure nothing like this happens, in any form, again.

This is the cover of the Malleus Maleficarum, or The Hammer of Witches, which lays down the system of beliefs that led to the European witch trials. It’s chilling beyond chilling. Wicasta and Christie Jury transcribed the text and posted it online to further education on the text and the trials. It’s a very, very difficult thing to read, but it’s very, very much more important to build knowledge and make sure nothing like this happens, in any form, again.

I was terrified, but it wasn’t the story that scared me.  It wasn’t just the flagrant disregard for paganism, or the absurd and inflammatory equation of paganism and Satanism (not the same thing, Mr. Almost-Or-Formerly Famous.  Not anywhere close).  It wasn’t just the complete ignorance about witchcraft (I’m guessing that the producers, Mr. Almost-Or-Formerly Famous, and/or The Biography Channel weren’t aware of the Wiccan Rede — An it harm none, do what ye will – which, I mean, perhaps they should take a look at that?  And stop with the harming?), it was the perpetuation of said ignorance, without thought.  It was the off-handed carelessness with which they perpetuated misinformation about an ancient, beautiful, and terribly misunderstood system of belief.

You’re probably thinking, Emma.  Come on.  It was just a ghost story.  Lighten up.  And yes, it was just a ghost story.  But I’m not sure I should lighten up.  It’s the mindset behind the ghost story that’s really, truly frightening – so frightening that it’s definitely worth discussing.

When I was doing research for Maleficae, I came across countless explanations for The Burning Times, the witch trials that happened in early modern Europe between the 15th and 18th century.  I read theories about ergot poisoning from central stores of grain, about movements of mass hysteria.  I read about how property laws changed to allow women to inherit property, which in turn made women less dependent on men – which many men wanted stopped, so they accused women engaged in pagan practices of consorting with Satan.  I read about how the Catholic Church gave midwives the power to perform baptisms so that babies who died shortly after birth wouldn’t be damned.  Women began to ask questions: if they could give this sacrament, why not the rest?  And the Church, the theory goes, responded with witch trials and executions.

Though the explanations differ, it all seemed to boil down to the same series of actions: one group feared or hated another, and so they turned against them.  That energy built and built.  People spoke out of ignorance, and that ignorance became dangerous.  That ignorance led to action, which led to persecution.  And the trials began.

It’s estimated that between 40,000 and 100,000 people were killed.

There’s something missing here that I think is important, and that’s another group, another set of voices.  What’s missing here is the group that speaks up, the group that speaks for the persecuted, the group that says, at the very beginning, that perhaps everyone should cool off and actually talk to and understand each other.  Silence, it seems, is an action in itself.  Silence is acquiescence.

So yes, I probably did take the story too seriously.  But isn’t that the point?  What happens if you keep letting things go, telling yourself that you shouldn’t take them too seriously?  What happens if those things build and build, accreting a power of their own?  If silence persists, if no one says hey, wait a minute, if we continue to speak out of ignorance and ignore the fact that ignorance can become dangerous, and fast – well, that’s when the story becomes really, truly frightening.  Better to risk speaking up at the beginning than standing powerlessly by the story’s terrifying end.

A Reading and A Dinosaur

Are you going to be in the general Statesboro, Georgia area around, say 2:30 tomorrow?  And are you looking for something awesome to do?  Because there’s something awesome going on in the general Statesboro, Georgia area around 2:30 tomorrow — specifically, that something awesome is going on the Georgia Southern University campus, at the Georgia Southern University Museum, at exactly 2:30 tomorrow, April 19th, 2013.  More specifically, the something awesome that’s going on is a reading from some of the Georgia Southern University Department of Writing and Linguistics faculty — including, yes, yours truly.  I’ll be reading from my book, Maleficae, and I’ll be selling and signing the book as well.  I’m super-extremely-very-much-for-real honored to be sharing the stage with two of my talented colleagues, who also have had or soon will have books come out: Jared Yates Sexton, who’ll be reading from his recently published short story collection, An End to All Things, and Laura Valeri, who’ll be reading from her soon-to-be-published short story collection, Safe in Your Head.

And just in the off-off chance that that’s not enough to bring you to the general Statesboro area around 2:30 tomorrow — and, specifically, the Georgia Southern University Museum — there’s the added excitement that there IS A DINOSAUR THERE (insert approximately twelve thousand exclamation points).  Well, okay, it’s not a real dinosaur.  Neither is it, as I imagined, a giant dinosaur sculpture that you can somehow operate through animatronics or get inside, as I had dreamed.  Still, it is A DINOSAUR, which is awesome in general.  Specifically, it’s a Mosasaur, which is basically like a giant dinosaur alligator eel (SO MANY EXCLAMATION POINTS).  The Google Machine tells me the Mosasaur looks like this:



But I think that this is probably more accurate:



That’s not to frighten you, of course, but just to say — things? Will be AWESOME.