Homeric Tragedy for a Modern Me

The Song of AchillesThe Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow. The hype wasn’t wrong about what an excellent story this is. The development of the friendship and relationship between Patroclus and Achilles was very organic and sweet, and also bittersweet at times. Because this is based on the legend of Achilles, it got darker toward the end, and that was emotionally difficult to read sometimes. However, I don’t think it lingered too much in its own grimness or brutality, and Patroclus, despite being grieved by people’s deaths in the Trojan War, remained hopeful enough that I never felt so overwhelmed that I needed to put the book down for a while. There was a moment very close to the end where I was very scared and pained for a particular character, and I had to skim over that, but for better or for worse, that part is over quickly, and the story continues on toward its endgame.

What I was most struck by in the second half of the book — which is all about the Trojan War — is how the ending comes about. Anyone who’s familiar with the legend knows how it ends for Achilles and Patroclus, so it’s hard to write an ending that feels satisfying when the original Homeric tale is a tragedy. My fluffy little heart may have wanted a little more joy, but honestly, I’m still blown away with how she approached the ending. As someone who struggles with writing endings, I feel so inspired by how well she handled it.

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Came for the Doctor Who Reference, Stayed for the Story

This Is How You Lose the Time WarThis Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I don’t remember if I heard of this book through Instagram, a magazine, or YouTube, but I got it at the library the day it came out and read it immediately. I expected to like it and hoped even love it because it sounded poetic and magical and queer — all things right up my alley. And yes, I loved it! Still, the first 68 pages were — dare I say it? — a bit difficult. In her blurb, Kelly Sue DeConnick calls it “poetry disguised as genre fiction,” and that feels accurate. My struggle was that I haven’t read poetry in several years, and it took me a while to get back into the groove. Although, it also felt like as Red and Blue got to know each other better, their language became more grounded somehow. Their delight in each other was mirrored in a delight in the world around them. And so I re-learned how to read poetry, and I fell in love with this book.

I read the last half in a frenzy, unable to put it down. It was impossible for me not to get invested in these characters. There was so much yearning and desperation in this story, and especially where queer lives are concerned, that feels so relatable. And there’s something about impossibility that touched my heart here. I loved that while so much of this story felt mutually exclusive (in a “neither can live while the other survives” kind of way), the story was continually teaching me that, actually, no, I’m just not using my imagination enough. And if there’s one thing Red and Blue don’t lack for, it’s imagination.

I adored this story. It’s a beautiful, painful, gem of a fairy tale, and now I want a copy for myself to love forever. Can’t wait to read this again.

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Quiet Lives on the Edge of Space

Record of a Spaceborn Few (Wayfarers, #3)Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers

Years ago, I remember hearing buzz about Becky Chambers’ The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, things like what a different approach to science fiction this was and that it was super inclusive story.

This was in the back of my mind as I started Record of a Spaceborn Few knowing that this would be a “different” sci-fi story, but I didn’t really know what that meant. I enjoyed this book and will probably read more of Becky Chambers work at some point, but am left with mixed feelings about this first reading experience.

Things I loved: the characters, the genuine thought and consideration of the question of “well, how would a bunch of humans survive in space?”. I love the anthropologic curiosity and approach to all these different races, but especially to the born-in-captivity Exodans.

Things I didn’t not like, but wish I’d understood about the book going in: this book is slow. The plot is very barebones, and the actual big, inciting incident happens two-thirds of the way through the book. The description on the back of the book kept describing a big tragedy, but I didn’t even notice when that tragedy happened. The book begins with a tragedy, obviously, but then there’s something else “big” later in the book which starts the “plot” rolling, but to me, the tragedy in the prologue felt so much more moving and shocking than what came later. This is a quiet story, which I didn’t really understand before. The danger and suspense comes almost entirely from character’s internal mechanisms. I don’t not like it, because I do like the characters, but it’s also been a few days now since I finished Record, and I still feel like what I actually just read was just a very long first act.

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Blurred Lines in Life & Writing

This is a different sort of post. I don’t know even know what to call it. A meditation, maybe? I’ve just been thinking a lot lately and chasing down my thoughts in circles, and I want to put some of it out there.

As a writer, I can divide my writing into “eras.” There are common themes, tropes, even similar characters that appear over and over again in every era. It’s like I’m constantly trying to work out the emotional knots in my brain. Repression has always been my response to trauma, and maybe that’s why all my anxiety and hurt gets channeled into my writing like this.

When my grandmother died in 2014, it was a trauma that took me three years to be able to talk about with anyone. It took another year and a half before I could acknowledge it publicly. But even as I kept my public silence, that grief found its way into my writing constantly. I had a “grandma” writing era.

I published “Red Tides” in my 2017 writing collection, In The Nucleus.

I’m so proud of this poem — “Red Tides.” I’m so proud of verbalizing a grief that took me three years to accept. But still, I’ve never read this poem out loud. I’ve never performed it, never even shared it with anyone outside of workshop or my closest friends and family. There is so much symbolism layered into this piece. The idea of picking it up and saying publicly, “These are the things that haunt me every day of my life” feels so daunting.

And then there’s my “family dynamics” era. For the past three years, everything I’ve written can be traced back to an obsession with family sagas and dysfunction. I can’t stop trying to heal these fictional families and bring them closure.

Anyway, the main point is this. The first half of 2019 was rough. It felt like my life imploded in the spring, which is a very dramatic way to describe it, but there it is. My relationship ended badly, and a friend violated my boundaries, and both incidents — and the resulting gossip — left me reeling.

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Language Barriers

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Here’s a story. A bilingual baby goes to her first day of preschool. Her teacher can’t pronounce the Spanish name “Marisa,” the long stretched-out I or the rolling R. So she calls her “Marissa,” and the child learns to respond to this name that is not her own. The same day, that child with the wrong name asks an adult for agua. She’s thirsty, but no one understands her. No one knows what she’s asking for, so she doesn’t drink anything all day. Actually, this isn’t a story at all. These are just the facts. I’ll resist the urge to say that assimilation was an act of survival because nothing is that simple. The act of releasing whole chunks of your identity into the wind takes years, not a single day. It just happened — a Marisa became a Marissa, and a child forgot how to say her own name. . . . . . . #writersofinstagram #writing #latinx #mexicanheritage

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Word Scramble #2

Still Here