MELISSA DAY SMITH
Excerpt from a Reading Journal, 2009
A most appropriate typo, with the words ‘fucking hell, it’s’ embedded in the exclamation mark. Now I can say I have two months to finish this book and be more or less right.
I read some of this journal to Mom yesterday, because she couldn’t imagine what form it might take. She could scarcely believe someone could get an MA with work like this, though she thought the writing was good.
A Short History of Myth is causing me to yearn for Palaeolithic transcendence and ecstasy. This is the most interesting level of human existence, our expression of what we can perceive beyond our senses and need to mythologize. If I am honest with my scientific self, this stuff is all I’ve ever been truly fascinated by and all I’ve ever wanted to write about. Stories about stories.
Is it acceptable for me to portray Ben as a kōkako when Māui journeyed to the underworld as a kererū? My thing for kōkako is all about their song. Kererū are beautiful, but their tiny heads make me want to be just friends. The serious question, however, is should I respect the original myths and the biology of the situation (kōkako can’t fly well) or just do whatever I like and expect my book to be as valid as a work that operates within certain parameters?
Later: I came home from the doctor and there was a kererū on the deck. They’ve been there all spring, gorging on the plum and the kōwhai, but this one was sitting on the railing, just sitting. In a spasm of magical thinking, I dumped the kōkako. Ben’s a kererū. Of course he is. That’s settled, then.
The last paragraph in the entry for ! September reads like the journal equivalent of bra-stuffing, minus the false advertising aspect.
Is that sexist of me?
Have I already written about Damien advising me to think of a book I love and how that book introduces its weirdness after a period of straight, of-this-world narrative? I had a reading experience today that caused my memory of the advice to recur. A Short History of Myth was down in the spider room, and so I took up The Wall of the Sky, the Wall of the Eye and started reading a story called ‘Light and the Sufferer‘, in which Light is a crack addict named Don, also brother to the narrator, and the Sufferer is an alien being who enters the story on the fifth page, as casual as you please. After the brothers execute an unsuccessful heist (they end up with crack, not money, so in Don’s opinion the heist may have been what he’d hoped it would be all along), they step out into the stairwell.
That was when we saw the Sufferer. It was sitting on the landing of the stairway above us, looking down. On its haunches in the dark, it looked just like a giant panther, eyes shining.
I assumed it was waiting for someone else. I’d only seen the aliens twice before, each time trailing after somebody in trouble. That was what they liked to do.
The Sufferer was such a good surprise, though I should have been waiting for him given this was a Jonathan Lethem story. Until he appeared I figured I was reading some kind of brother-buddy-caper-gone-bad-only-one-lives-to-tell-the-tale story, which is still what I figure I am reading, but with a Sufferer, who will tell me something I do or do not already know in a way that will make me work for the knowledge or the affirmation of the knowledge.
Later: I was right about all of that.
The humans in ‘Light and the Sufferer’ had to ascribe meaning to the presence of the Sufferers, though the Sufferers were only acting in accordance with their natural urges and did not attach themselves to humans to play a protective role, or for any purpose.
Maybe it’s my recent penchant for magical thinking (and its disparagement) that led me to this conclusion.
This morning, I watched the New Moon trailer (led there by what was supposed to be a quick glance at Stephanie Meyer’s website to see what she wrote about Dreamhunter and Dreamquake) and I cried.
Undying, supernatural love that cannot be is such an unfair way to raise the stakes.
I don’t give a shit about the writing, the plot, the characters, and I didn’t read the last 100 pages of Breaking Dawn because it was just one more bad vampires vs. good vampires war, but oh, Love magnified and eternal! Is it an elemental human desire or did my emotional development arrest at the sentimental teen stage? (Why do I have to explain everything to myself in terms of my deficiencies? Though perhaps this isn’t the forum for such questions.)
I had this thing in my story about love being meaningless without the courage mortality requires of us. That’s why the bird-child is mortal. So while we yearn for eternal love and even create a place for it to exist, we understand this would rob us of something we need to find in love. Its purpose is succour, and if there is no death, there is no need for comfort.
I have just re-read that paragraph and I don’t know what it means! It’s my attempt to discredit The Twilight Saga! This is procrastination!
I have just received a letter from Justine. She enclosed ‘I Go Back to May 1937’ by Sharon Olds. For any reader of this scintillating document who is not familiar with the poem, the poet considers stopping her parents from entering their disastrous marriage, but she wants to live. The last line goes: ‘Do what you are going to do, and I will tell about it.’ There is something of this poem in The Dredge.
No. There is something of this poem in my writing of The Dredge.
Here is my writing room: A desk, a chair, a dictionary. A selection of field guides. Also, a small square of light, the notes of birds, Sylvie’s coos through the floor boards, the spiders’ industry, and mine.
I think this is the end of this.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Melissa Day Smith was born in America in 1971 and moved to New Zealand in 1995. She lives in Days Bay with her husband and daughter.