A Known Blaze
2021: When the Smolder Became Known
A blaze is known only when it destroys property or takes life. An unknown blaze may smolder for months in a remote wild corner. Its smoke may eventually be seen from a helicopter and they’ll send in the trucks or build a road to get there. But if it retreats underground, it may remain unknown. I root for the unknown blazes out there making ash from the duff where no one notices them, despite our satellites and heat-sensitive photography to help us find and name the fires — evading detection even as more lightning streaks up the sky.
This year my smoldering ended with the publication of a book, and while winter is upon us and I’m adjusting to being a known blaze, it feels strange to not be smoldering underground anymore. How to be responsibly known, and how to behave best when the flames die down. People can’t be talking about you all the time, and I mostly remember that; the best days are when I look around and think I have enough. We’re not often encouraged to recognize when we have enough, in literary accolades or otherwise. I’m trying to cultivate more of that, and so in the spirit of enough, here is a brief taking stock of things I did this year:
I was very lucky to be in conversation with David Naimon on his Between the Covers podcast. Still kind of can’t believe this happened (thanks, David!) Give a listen if you’ve got a long car ride to get through.
The only class I took this year was on Reading Friendship with Zoe Tuck, and it was a delight! She’s got more classes coming up, including a very unusual and creative generative writing workshop that you should check out.
I got to be in splendid conversation with a number of brilliant authors, including Corinne Manning, Hazel Jane Plante, Torrey Peters, Andrea Lawlor, Helen Chau Bradley, Kama La Mackerel, Camellia Berry Grass, Kai Minosh Pyle, Kofi Opam, Jeanne Thornton, Eli Tareq El Bechelany-Lynch, many of which were recorded and available for watching on my website. Many of these folks also had books out this years. I hope you’ll track them down!
In November I was one of two inaugural residents in the Stelo // Variable West Arts Writer Residency just around the corner here in Portland. It was a wonderful chance to stop commuting for a week and live downtown polishing up my second book, and the connections I made through this to the vibrant world of visual art here in Portland are still ongoing.
And (duh) I published my first book in April, A Natural History of Transition, with Metonymy Press. Metonymy is running a 20% off sale on all their books through the month of December if you still need to snag a copy. Enter code DEC20 at checkout!
I also kept more plants alive this year than ever before. Very proud of this.
In January, you can join me for a one-time intimate talk on Zoom as arranged by The Seventh Wave. I’ll be talking about how we can reimagine our relationship to publishing, and therefore to our own writing, and to say I’m excited is an understatement. If you’ve been here for awhile, you’ll know that I’ve been in orbit with The Seventh Wave since early 2019, through residencies, publications, readings, friendships, and more. Out of all the places I’ve published, they’re the one that has continued supporting me in meaningful, tangible ways, and the one that truly has earned the moniker of ‘place’, despite being a digitally disembodied publication. This is a fundraiser to support both the magazine and a number of authors who had books published during the pandemic. There are some scholarships available, but you need to apply soon!
In February I’m teaching with the Tin House Writer’s Workshop. Applications are closed at the moment, so nothing else to say here except that I am thrilled to be teaching again.
If you’re smoldering away in your little remote corner this year, here’s hoping next year will be the year you become known, if you want that. I’ve known some blazes who want to continue underground, for whom the prospect of being named and known holds no special appeal. And them, I envy.
What I’m Reading
An overwhelming amount of things at the moment, if I’m being honest, but two titles from Two Lines Press that I want to highlight. Marie Ndiaye’s Self Portrait in Green, a slim book I just finished, translated by Jordan Stump, is bewitching, and contains beautiful sentences; however, I can’t pull any here to show you because each sentence is so of a piece with the rest of the text (only 102 sparse, electric pages) that it feels impossible to separate one and sever it from its beautiful context. Or maybe I’m suffering from what Elena Ferrante describes below (and which does merit quoting in full here):
“[T]he worst thing you can do is read with the urgent need to find a passage to quote. Books are complex organisms, and the lines that affected us deeply are the most intense moments of an earthquake that the text provokes in us as readers from the first pages: either one tracks down the fault, and becomes the fault, or the words that seemed written just for us can’t be found, and, if they are, they seem banal, even cliche. [...] How and when words escape from books and the books end up seeming like empty graves is something to think about.”
Self Portrait is not banal or cliche; it is very good and you should read it. And if it is an empty grave, then it is in the same tradition of Ana Mendieta’s empty graves, and this is the closest image I can think of to describe this book.
But I said two books. The second, That We May Live, is an anthology of speculative fiction out of China. There are only six authors included, but then I like brief anthologies, small collections that allow me to think about how they each fit together and repel one another. This is an early installment of Two Lines’ Calico Series, which I’ve written about before, and as much as I like reading the actual stories, one of my favorite things about this series is combing through bios and references for unfamiliar authors to see who I’ve been missing out on with my limited linguistic abilities. This is where I found Hong Kong author Hon Lai-chu, and when I went searching for more about her, I found her beguiling story “Puma”, about a woman who adopts a cat that grows to oversized proportions:
“In the beginning, the cat’s body had been as tiny and harmless as a comma; that was before the cat had learned to walk steadily or form a full sentence.”
I fell in love with this story, but I’m also pet-starved — we don’t have a cat, but hope to one day soon.
This space is usually full of links to different calls for work, jobs etc. that might be suitable for emerging queer & trans writers (like this call for work from beestung magazine), but as the year winds down I wanted to take a minute and say ‘thank you’ to all of you who’ve been reading and sharing this newsletter over the last year+ (about 200 of you now!). 2022 will bring some exciting things to Sex Weather Climate Death, including some giveaways and partnerships with small press publishers I love. I hope you’ll keep reading and tell a friend if you want to see what this space becomes!
In smolder-darity, you lovely little flames,