How the fantastic shapes the mundane, and vice versa
(originally published March 5th 2021)
I meant to have another one of these for you far sooner. A portion of this one was actually supposed to be out days ago, even, but it’s… been quite a couple of weeks to say the very least.
Nevertheless, here is another cup of Tea for you! I hope you enjoy.
I had the good fortune of being invited by Rebel Women Lit to read for their inaugural Caribbean Telling Tales chat over on Clubhouse on February 24th, and lemme just say, it was a vibes.
I got to read a portion of ‘The Howling Detective’, which I hadn’t read aloud in some time, alongside an absolutely stellar reading from Jamaican writer Jovanté Anderson. It felt really good to share work in a Caribbean space and read a bit of horror that the audience already has some context for.
I am always excited by the level of commitment and thoughtfulness that Caribbean readers have for the elements of story which intrinsically belong to us. It was so rewarding to receive challenging questions from the audience, digging deep into the ideas from which our folklore springs: what questions we try to answer with them, what fears we try to stave off when we refer to them, and what they can teach us about the people we were and the people we can become. I’m not a folklorist, but knowing that there are diligent people in the region who commit themselves to that work is very inspiring in itself.
When I wrote ‘The Howling Detective’, I was attempting to channel the social value and metaphorical power of folklore in a particular direction. I’ve recently grown fascinated by the lagahoo as a character; if you’ve read any of my recent poetry, this would seem like an understatement. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that some part of it was just adolescent fascination: shapeshifters are always really interesting folkloric images, and imagery of death and brutality is always cool. But it has always triggered in me a depth of questions: why does it walk with a coffin chained to its body? Are the contents its own? And if not, then what is inside the box, and why does this thing have to parade it in the night for all of us to know? Perhaps it is a warning—either of pain to come, or of the reckoning we must endure as penance for ignoring the pain of the past.
I attach to that image because in a lot of ways I wish I had the power to bring that kind of reckoning to bear. In my lagahoo poetry, I imagine that I am, or that I can be—that it can allow people to see the harms that they otherwise ignore or plaster over with platitudes about ‘minding dey own business’, and that in so doing I can gain some clarity about my own body, and about the body that is our collective social unconscious. I’d be lying if I didn’t also admit here that I think that such a reckoning is always violent—not always a matter of blood and brutality, but always a matter of never letting those who are unwilling to see resist the act of seeing, just as those who wish to avoid their suffering have not been able to be spared.
I’ve been working in this lagahoo-mind-space for a bit, and spending time again in the body of Ben in this story has been daunting and inspiring in equal measure. 2021 has been a year of painful observation for many in Trinidad and in the Caribbean region as it pertains to violence, and March has only just begun. Being able, in my own way, to watch the days through the dog-yampee-laden eyes of someone willing to witness the lagahoo in all its rage and reverie gives me not so much hope, but a kind of power that I have sorely needed. I can only hope that by sharing it, those claws are of worth to others.
Controlling the Horizontal and the Vertical
By the time this is out, the finale of WandaVision would have been out for a few hours at the very least. I probably will have already seen it by the time you read this (although at time of typing this sentence, I have not), and I suspect that it’s going to be very intense, both in the typical MCU punchy-kicky-high-octane-action sense, and the equally interesting dramatically arresting sense. I promise not to spoil. (At time of typing this altogether new sentence, I still can’t! So you’re safe!)
I’ve been thinking a lot about how compelling the series’ inspection of the nature of grief has been for us as an audience. On the one very obvious hand, I love that the show has given us very powerful instances of a woman confronting her own years-long and frequently avoided trauma in a franchise that has for a long time been dominated by male characters and their responses to their own emotions relying on expressions of (still very complex to be sure) raw violence, and moreso a franchise that from Iron Man to Captain America: Civil War has been trying to confront its own relationship to those expressions of violence with complicated results. Beside it, I’ve been contemplating less-obvious revelations of grief and confusion from many of the other characters in the show: from Monica Rambeau’s sense of place after returning from Thanos’ oblivion only to not even witness her own mother’s passing, to Vision’s struggle to make sense of his own mortality in the wake of his (third?) resurrection, to even the surely accidental metaphor of a community of people inside and outside Westview trying to make sense of being trapped in a place, and displaced from time and identity, during a real-time global quarantine that has just recently had its anniversary.
It is through that last lens that I’ve been thinking a lot about its visual metaphor: television. For a lot of us, media has been our only real lifeline for the past few months. Streaming subscription numbers have gone up during the COVID-19 pandemic while we have nowhere to go. More streaming services are showing up, some are changing shape to accommodate the newfound growth in the space, and many are even expanding their global availability in order to reach even more receptive communities.
Meanwhile, media itself is… somewhere between changing and staying the same. Movie theatres are compelled to try to find new ways to survive. The film industry has made some peculiar decisions in an attempt to make it through: some filmmakers and distributors have kept betting all through 2020 that at some point the world will have to let people sit in the dark over a paper bag of popcorn and watch something, while others have bet it all on a move to streaming (even if it means paying $30 extra on top of your Disney+ subscription just to see Raya and the Last Dragon on release day in the comfort of one’s own home instead of waiting until late June like everyone else).
So what does WandaVision offer us through this lens? I’m still unsure. On the surface, we’ve fully unraveled Wanda Maximoff’s relationship to the television: classic sitcoms were her family’s connection to a better and more fruitful life during a childhood marked by war, were a source of comfort during personal tragedy, and were the blueprint for the life Wanda deserved in the wake of even greater grief. What of us? Many of us right now struggle in similar ways: watching our loved ones work to keep clear of a deadly virus, reacting in real time to a political climate that just a few weeks ago was on the brink of terrible violence (in the wake of a prior year that has been marked by even starker violence), and working under great emotional fatigue to make a happy and productive future at home and on Zoom under new rules with no guidance.
What answers may the show potentially give us, as Wanda inches closer to her own closure in the world of the show? Well, again, I’m writing from the far-flung past of ten-minutes-before-the-finale-airs, but it would be utterly disappointing if the lesson Wanda ultimately learned was to give up on media and embrace reality. For one thing, put simply, reality is not in a hugging mood right about now. For another, it would be terribly rich for a piece of media under capitalism to make a point of telling us that we can gain nothing of value or inspiration from it, and I happen to think far more highly of this story than to settle for that.
I can’t tell what it may be, though. Right now, everyone is struggling to hold on to something that can give them the energy to commit to each other day under these strange new rules. Media has been such a touchstone for ages. May this finale reveal something much deeper about why—and how—the stories we consume can continue to ground us throughout the next few months, and hopefully even teach us something new about ourselves and our resilience in the interim.
If you’re into anime, I’d like to make a recommendation:
watch Hypnosis Mic: Division Rap Battle: Rhyme Anima.
It is an absolutely wild series the very premise of which seems ultimately broken and insufferable on its face: a party of female politicians succeed in ruling Japan via coup, and their first order of business is to destroy all weapons. To replace the community’s outlet for violence, they reveal the Hypnosis Mic—a microphone that literally does psychic damage to anyone who listens to you drop a dope rhyme. Its introduction catalyses a rap battle between the various districts of the nation as various young, scrappy teams of rappers compete to earn bragging rights for their city (and work out a fairly old beef between their group captains).
It sounds absolutely silly, doesn’t it?
But it doesn’t hurt that the rap songs are absolutely legit. The multimedia project from which Rhyme Anima stems has all its songs written and composed by actual rappers and producers, including DALLJUB STEP CLUB, who worked on ‘SCRAMBLE GAMBLE’. They’re often a little lyrically stifled in the business of sticking to character (for instance, Dice, the ‘character’ performing this song, has a gambling problem, so of course he uses gambling analogies in his lyrics), but hey, sometimes that’s charming, and sometimes the rapper behind the character is the best fit for that kind of thing, like DOTAMA, who wrote and performed ‘BLACK OR WHITE’, and who gives up just as much or more fatigued Japanese salaryman energy in his own music as the character he’s performing as.
So this song is just a bop. It doesn’t appear in the anime, only as part of the longer-running multimedia project (so far, I don’t think I’ve seen anything about a second season of Rhyme Anima, where maybe the song would show up). Still flames tho.
So that’s all for today!
A reminder that you can help keep this newsletter and the rest of my work afloat by supporting me on Patreon, buying me a coffee on Ko-fi or sending a donation via PayPal, or by buying one of my small game projects over on Itch!
But before I go, some questions:
- What’s your favourite character from folklore? Or if you don’t have one, your favourite character from Marvel Comics lore that has not appeared yet in the Marvel Cinematic Universe?
- What rap songs have you been listening to lately?
Until next time, I hope you enjoyed the tea!