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the dictionary project presents: deep & Diana

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Last Saturday, the dictionary project presents! featured the word deep with our writers parsing out, responding to, delving into, working with the word in the multitude of possibilities the word offers. There was sex and intimacy. There was grief and grieving. There was hiding and uncovering. There was literal and metaphorical digging. There were altars and beaches and coalmines.

We videotaped the readers, but until we are able to offer those pieces, we are posting the long overdue readings from our third the dictionary project presents! event in spring which featured the word Diana.

Lisa O’Neill:

Kindall Gray:

Ian Ellasante:

Tere Fowler-Chapman:

Tc Tolbert:

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Diana

diana cropped

 

Last night, we held our third the dictionary project presents! reading at Casa Libre en la Solana. And we finally revealed the word that our writers and readers had been working with for two weeks: Diana!

We were all grateful for having to engage with Diana: Roman goddess of the hunt, of the moon and childbirth, of all things wild.

One of the most exciting things about our reading series is assigning the same word to a group of writers and seeing the different ways these brilliant minds and hearts experience and interpret that word.  I am grateful to Ian Ellasante, Hannah Ensor, Kindall Gray, Tc Tolbert, and Teré Fowler-Chapman for their writing and for reading last night. And I am grateful to everyone that came.

We will post photos and videos soon from the event, but in the meantime, I would like to share with you the piece I wrote as an introduction. Wishing you a beautiful day.

 

Diana!

As many of you know, whenever I bibliomance a word for tdp, I close my eyes and run my finger through the dictionary and then over a page. This time, I landed on the image of Diana.

 

 

In yoga asana practice, there are several poses named warrior. In my favorite warrior pose—I say favorite because I’m not holding the position for several minutes now—the right leg lunges forward, knee bent, while the back leg is straight and sturdy, giving the illusion of stillness even as the muscles are working and the tendons wrapping strong around bone. Arms are outstretched in a T-shape with palms facing down, hips positioned to the side. Shoulders are released. And the chest, the chest is open.

 

The first hundred times I did this shape, or any warrior shape for that matter, I focused on where I felt weak. My arms ached. My legs shook. Holding the position for any length of time felt impossible.

 

Years later, I have a different relationship to the pose. Instead of noticing my weakness, even though the pose is challenging, I can instead embrace my strength. I can feel my feet and legs holding me up. I can radiate out from the extension in my arms. I can be aware of my chest as it continues to press into the air, opening.

 

I realize now that the challenge of the pose also reveals my capacity to hold it, but first I have to choose to see it that way.

 

All week I have been thinking about the different meanings of the word warrior.

 

I have been tuned in to the presence of violence and the threat of violence, in our country and in the world. First, with the horrible bombings at the Boston Marathon that resulted in the death of three and injury of almost one hundred and fifty. Second, with the news of car bombs in Iraq that killed at least thirty-three people. I listened to politicians and advisors talk about the difference between the word “terrorism” and “murder” on The Diane Rehm Show. I heard a filmmaker talk to Terry Gross about how he survived an IED when he recorded footage on the frontlines in Iraq and about the documentary he just finished about his partner filmmaker who was killed from a shrapnel wound while filming the uprising in Libya. Then, I read and heard about the Senate’s decision not to pass revised gun control legislation that would require background checks before purchasing these weapons, and the responses of both our president and victims of gun violence saying “shame on you.” And finally, yesterday and today, I have watched the unfurling of armed robbery and gunfights and gun deaths and the ongoing manhunt as Boston police search for the surviving suspect of the Boston Marathon bombing. Perhaps by the time I read this, in front of all of you, he will have been found and thus we will have someone to hold accountable. Perhaps we will have some resolution to one particular tragic event that harmed so many and incited fear and anxiety in even more.

 

And without lessening the burden placed on those that committed all these individual atrocities, the truth is that every one of us is accountable. We are accountable for living in a culture where power and privilege aren’t always used mindfully but instead used with arrogance and thoughtlessness. Accountable for when we choose aggression over talking things through. Accountable for valuing purchasing more and more objects over spending time with our neighbors. Accountable for electing people whose job is to protect us and who have made decisions that do exactly the opposite. Accountable for every word said in anger, every aggressive face or hand gesture made while driving. Accountable when we harm ourselves or others, when we do not live up to our best potential.

 

At one point or another, we are all guilty of being the wrong kind of warrior.

 

I grew up in the South, in a city built on the backs of slaves, and in a time when I could count the African-American women who attended my private Catholic school with me on two hands. There were firm divisions by race in this town, ones I was never asked to question but merely recognize and keep. In every unspoken gesture, I read clearly who I was supposed to be friends with and how I was supposed to be. It took going to a poor bordertown in Mexico when I was ten to show me the devastating impact of poverty, as I witnessed children my age begging on the streets, because I never went to neighborhoods where I would have seen it in my hometown.

 

Life was constricted not only by issues of race and class but by issues of gender—by pantyhose, by scripture passages, by too few female role models giving permission by their presence for me to be creative and curious and strong. For a long time, I struggled to reconcile my femininity with my strength, so entrenched in me were the values of my culture which said that these things could not exist in one person, in one body, in a woman.

 

My freshman year of high school, I was assigned Edith Hamilton’s Mythology. The front cover of the paperback was black with bold white letters and an image of a man riding on the back of a winged horse. I had been an avid reader since early childhood so I was familiar with stories, but these struck a new note. These were mythological figures that I was allowed to think of as icons (as was not permitted with biblical ones). Here were stories I needed. They were the stories of men and women, trying and failing and trying and failing again. They were the stories of gods and goddesses, all of whom had tremendous power and inevitability colossal flaws. One of the goddesses that bewildered me most was the Greek Artemis, or in Roman culture: Diana. She bewildered me because I grew up in a town where pearls hung around the necks of the women who hosted garden parties and gathered children round their legs. I didn’t see any women walking around with bows and arrows, not even metaphorical ones. Even my mother, who I now see as one of the fiercest and most warrior-like women I know, didn’t appear that way when I was growing up. I read her through the lenses that were provided to me and as a result she seemed more careful and cautious than bold and brazen.

 

Diana, Giampietrino

Diana, Giampietrino

 

So when I first read about Diana, I judged her for what I perceived as her “overly masculine” behavior and I wondered how I could fit her into my perception of female heroines, who I had learned thus far were to be smart but not too smart, conversational but not in a way that took up too much space, and above all, beautiful.

 

Diana is the goddess of the hunt. She is also the goddess of the moon. And she is the goddess of the process of birth. In her, the power for livelihood, for the ebbing and flowing of tides, and for the creation of new beings come together. In her, masculine and feminine energies combine, and it is this balance that gives her so much power.

 

dianawithanimalcrescent

 

I’ve been thinking about Diana this week, not just because her name is the word for tonight’s event, but because I feel that her particular kind of warrior spirit is needed in our world right now. Hers is the warrior spirit that stands up against the would-be warriors who say that background checks aren’t necessary, that the solution to weapons is more weapons, that the solution to violence is to meet it with more violence. I’ve been thinking about her because her warriorship is not about using her power to benefit herself; it is not about killing innocents; it is not about encouraging war or bloodshed. Her warriorship is about living from the marrow of the bone, the tender tissue of the heart. Her warriorship is about expressing the fiery aspect of her being without entirely letting go of the reins. Her warriorship about being assertive but also compassionate. Her warriorship requires us not to back down from that which is right but also not to meet those who oppose us with unchecked anger. We will meet them with our minds, with the strength of our spirit rather than swords and shields, rifles and semi-automatics.

 

In 2011, the United States’ military budget totaled 644 billion dollars. We praise our servicemen  and women, but when we see images of them, we don’t so much see their human bodies as we do the items that cover them: guns, magazines, helmets. As a culture, we praise their power and bravery but when they suffer, we refuse to see their humanness, we refuse to recognize that violence does damage to everyone involved. We only honor the fierceness of these warriors without acknowledging their tenderness.

 

“I came to the Greeks early,” Edith Hamilton told an interviewer when she was 91, “and I found answers in them. Greece’s great men let all their acts turn on the immortality of the soul. We don’t really act as if we believed in the soul’s immortality and that’s why we are where we are today.”

 

Diana of Versailles, Leochares

Diana of Versailles, Leochares

 

In it’s most simple definition, a warrior is a brave or experienced soldier or fighter. It is up to us what we fight for. Because being a warrior at its core is not about death and is not about killing. Being a warrior is about responsible use of one’s power and energy. To be a warrior is to act with bravery and courage and to make wise choices in situations of extreme pressure.

 

It’s not that we don’t need warriors. We desperately need warriors. But we need the kind who soldier for love, compassion, and understanding.

 

When I was fourteen, I might have thought that a goddess could not be charged with the duties of hunting and also of midwifery. I might have seen these powers emerging in Diana as completely contradictory. But I don’t think that anymore. Both hunting and childbirth require intense physical and emotional strength. Both require fierceness working alongside wisdom and compassion. In both rituals, there must be encouragement, there must be patience, there must be integrity, there must be a time to hold still and a time to push forward.

 

–Lisa O’Neill, written for The Dictionary Project Presents!, April 19, 2013

 

 

Diana, goddess of the hunt and the moon, Hans Makart

Diana, goddess of the hunt and the moon, Hans Makart

 

Diana bathing with her nymphs, Rembrandt

Diana bathing with her nymphs, Rembrandt

 

 

Artemis

Artemis

 

Diana and Cupid

Diana and Cupid

 

dianadogs

 

Diana, David Swift Photography

Diana, David Swift Photography

 

 

 

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con·sort

con·sort (kon-sawrt), n. [Late ME.; OFr.; L. consors, consortis, partner, neighbor < com-, with + sors, a lot, share; cf. SORT],  1. originally, a partner; companion; hence.  2. a wife or husband; spouse, especially of a reigning king or queen.  3. a ship that travels along with another.  4. [Obs.], a) [OFr. consorte; L. consortium, community of goods < consors], association; fellowship; company. b) agreement; accord.  c) [altered  < concert] harmony of sounds.  v.i. 1. to keep company; associate.  2. to be in harmony or agreement; be in accord.  v.t. 1. to associate; join: usually reflexive.  2. [Obs.], a) to be or go with; accompany; escort.  b) to espouse.  c) to sound in harmony.

This week, the dictionary project‘s flash fiction february features a flash fiction piece by writer Kindall Gray. Enjoy!

The Cyclone

Gretchen waited at the entrance of the New York Aquarium for her former husband.  She wore a chartreuse scarf and carried a red handbag.  Above her the sky was the color of deep metal.  She tucked a hair behind her ear and looked at her cell phone again.  Nothing.  A rotund, mole-covered boy pushed in front of her to the ticket booth, and asked his mother why they’d come to Coney Island in the first place.

“To see the animals,” she told him, smiling apologetically at Gretchen.

“But I don’t want to,” he said, and stomped his feet.

Gretchen’s phone lit up and she pressed it hard against her ear. “Hello?”  She turned away from the mole child and his mother, who were now making their way into the aquarium.

“I can’t come,” Malcolm said.

Gretchen brushed hair out of her face.  The wind was cold and hard.  “What?”

“I’m not coming.”

“Why?”

“I just can’t,” he said.  “It’s stupid.  You know?  Like.  It’s useless.  It’d be cruel of me to go.”

“It wouldn’t be,” she said, and felt her fingernails digging into her palm. She could see the enormous Cyclone in the distance, rising above the Coney Island skyline like the skeleton of a dinosaur.  Even from far away the architecture looked haphazard, but still she wanted to ride with Malcolm, bump over the old, dusty tracks, and listen to carnival music.  She wanted to eat funnel cake and drink beer.

“I’m not coming,” he said again.

“But the roller coaster,” she begged.

“We’d probably have died on it.”

She waited a moment, unsure of how to respond.  This was the worst possible thing.  “I can’t believe you.”

“Believe me,” he said.  “It’s better for both of us.  I’m not going to pretend it’s okay anymore.  This thing we’re doing.”

“It doesn’t have to be okay,” Gretchen said, and meant it.

“She’s here right now.  Melanie’s here right now.”

“You said we’d still be friends.”

“I said it but I didn’t mean it the way you wanted me to mean it.”

Gretchen swallowed.  Hot tears ran down her chin.  A man passed with his jacket pulled around his shoulders.

“Fuck you,” she said, and ended the call.

She slipped the phone back into her pocket and turned to face the aquarium again.  Should she go inside?  Should she go on the coaster?  Should she locate a bar and get drunk?  Or take the subway home? Should she call her mother?

Malcolm.  Only a week earlier they’d gone to a club together, and then to a pizza place in Brooklyn.  They’d shared an order of garlic knots.  Sure, he talked about his new girlfriend most of the time, but he’d been paying attention to her, sharing with her.  He’d been her friend.

Suddenly she felt a presence at her side.  The fat boy with moles clutched her red purse.  He was alone.

“Where’s your mom?” she asked, alarmed.

“My mum’s inside,” he said.  His skin was like burnt almonds and his moles the color of dark chocolate.  They speckled his face like a constellation of stars.

“What are you doing out here?” she asked.  She glanced around and it was just the two of them.

“You’re crying,” the boy said.  “I hate maminals.”  He was too old to mispronounce such an easy word, which made Gretchen feel sorry for him.  She thought he was at least seven or eight.  “I want to go on the coaster,” he pointed.

Gretchen turned toward the coaster.  “The Cyclone,” she said.  “Why do you hate animals?”

“They’re always looking at me with their weird eyes,” he said.  “And I can’t speak to them.”

“Oh,” Gretchen said.  The boy’s reason made sense, in a way.  “You’d better go find your mother.”

“No,” he said.  “I’m going on the roller coaster.”  He turned from her, and began to walk toward the Cyclone, toward the boardwalk.

“Wait,” Gretchen said.  “You can’t.”  She couldn’t allow a smallish child to leave the aquarium.  What if somebody kidnapped him?  The mother would blame Gretchen.

The boy continued on and didn’t turn back.  Gretchen watched as his body grew smaller and smaller in the distance.  She checked her phone again and then dialed Malcolm’s number.  Her fingers were growing numb from the cold.  He didn’t answer.  She called again.  No answer.  Finally she left a message: “How dare you.”

She stood at the entrance of the aquarium for a long time and waited for the boy’s mother to come searching after him: “Have you seen my child?”  What would Gretchen say?  Would she lie?

The idea of lying to the boy’s mother filled Gretchen with a horrible guilt, and she cried harder.  She wasn’t sure if she was crying for the boy or for Malcolm or for the boy’s mother or for herself.

She took off running in the direction of the Cyclone.  She passed roller-skaters, homeless people, and couples making out on benches.  She passed tourists eating hot dogs.  At the entrance of the Cyclone she looked for the boy.  None of the heads in the crowd belonged to him.  Eventually she saw a small child standing dejectedly beside a ticket booth, staring down at his fingers as if waiting for money to appear.

She rushed over. “You’ve got to go back to the aquarium and to your mother,” she said.

“I don’t have enough money for the Cyclone,” he pointed.

Gretchen looked at the ticket booth.  Eight dollars a person.

“You’ve got to go back to your mother,” she said again.  She was still crying.  “I can’t have this on my conscience.”

“What’s wrong with you?” the boy asked.  “Will you just take me on the Cyclone?”
Gretchen looked up at the roller coaster.  The cars flew down the tracks at break-neck speeds.  They made the sound of clothes in a dryer.  She imagined the wind in her hair, the way the stale carnival air would fill her lungs and make her forget Malcolm.  Or maybe she’d even pretend the boy was Malcolm.  When they’d started having problems, and then after he moved out, she thought she’d be okay as long as he still cared for her.  Even as a friend.  Now he’d taken that care away.

“Okay,” she said to the boy.  His eyes lit up inside his face and he grinned, revealing a perfectly square gap in his smile as well as a silver filling in his back tooth.

She bought the tickets, and they waited in line.  A woman climbed off the ride, walked down the railing, and vomited in a trash can.  The boy grabbed Gretchen’s hand, and she let him.  When their car was ready, they walked to it arm and arm, and Gretchen let the boy get in first, as if he were the lady and she were the gentleman.  Gretchen felt dizzy with her own daring; taking the boy on the ride was risky, strange, out of character.

As the ride started, the boy said, “I don’t want to go on this after all.”
And Gretchen said, “You don’t have a choice, now.”

And the ride began.  As the world melted around her, Gretchen felt only air inside her lungs, icy wind on her lips, and laughter inside her throat. The laughter came out in a kind of hysterical scream.  The boy screamed too, but he was smiling.

Kindall Gray is a writer, a teacher, and an Arizona native (don’t hold that against her).  Her fiction has previously appeared in Back Room Live and Toasted Cheese, and she is currently at work on a collection of short stories and a novel. She can be reached at kindallg at g mail dot com.

On the creation of “The Cyclone”:

When I got my word, “Consort,” I immediately began brainstorming–and I kept thinking of couples, couples, couples; couples accompanying each other, “complementing” each other, and going on journeys together.  So I decided to write about unlikely couples–and the unlikeliest couples became a woman and her ex-husband, and of course a woman and a boy.  The story kind of morphed in front of me, and I let it.  At first I thought it would be more about Gretchen and her ex, but then it became about Gretchen and the boy and her reaction to the boy. — K.G.

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