Self-Care for Witches

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I’m part of a pretty badass local creative community called Spiderweb Salon (started by the talented Courtney Marie and Conor Wallace). Every year they put on various creative showcases for local writers, performance artists, musicians, visual artists, etc. They also host zine-making workshops and various other meet-ups. I’ve loved being part of something that aims to create a community where people can come together without judgement and share what’s near and dear to them. That community has been particularly important to me in times of darkness.

For the past couple of months, I’ve been struggling with depression. There’s been a lot of change going on–some good, some not-so-good–and, like many, I don’t handle change well. I was feeling pent-up and frustrated when Spiderweb’s last zine-making party came along. I went because I needed to write something, needed to finish something, needed to be part of something that wasn’t me in my room fighting my cats for use of the computer.

Spiderweb’s zine-making parties take place in a living room strewn with typewriters and pieces of pre-cut paper. You go in, type up your poem or story or draw your artwork, then leave it alone. I like going in and working with a total of two drafts: one hand-written on paper to make sure it’ll fit onto the page, the other typed. There’s something therapeutic about not revising for days, not workshopping.

The theme of the last Spiderweb zine was The Spell Book. Here’s the piece I came up with: first the scan from the printed zine, then the cleaned-up version below.

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how to be happy: a spell for the sorrow-ridden witch

i. eat a tbsp. of cayenne every morning. mix with triple-filtered water (to ensure the ghosts are gone).

ii. repeat your mantra in the shower. the water knows when you are telling the truth, when you believe your straining voice. if you lie, you will feel a surge of burn. let that burn remove the first layer of your lying skin. rinse the dermis. repeat.

iii. eat one eye of roach. pop as you would one of those pills your dr. gave you, the ones you never took. bonus: your apartment will be one roach cleaner.

iv. sneak into your old lovers’ bedrooms. place both your hands on their cheeks and suck any last affection they have for you from their chapped lips. this is how you will love yourself again. get it all, every last whisper.

v. keep your fear and anger inside until your arms are hot to the touch. empty that fever into a cast-iron soup pot. cook the mixture until it is thick as glue. feed it to the barista who sold you shitty coffee in Arkansas.

vi. leave your apartment. walk down sidewalks and step on every crack. when you reach the woods, venture off the path. walk until your thighs burn. but not the burn of water and not the burn of anger. you need to get out more. you need to be a better person. when was the last time you went to the dr.? too long ago or too recently. get lost in these thought, until they make you shake. these thoughts will call the troll to you. offer him your hands, to smell but not to eat. you know him. you recognize his lips. you recognize his gait. you recognize your favorite shoes and favorite dress, the one you wore the last time you were happy. you recognize your chewed-off fingernails. face him head-on. call him every name you have ever called him, every name you have ever called yourself. let him swallow you whole. he will keep you bottled until his troll hands and arms grow hot. then he will let you go.

 

 

 

(witchy disclaimer: these are all terrible ideas. do not engage in troll-summoning w/o the expertise of a professional. do not eat that much cayenne without the expertise of a culinary sorcerer. make sure roaches are free from pesticide. get old lovers’ consent before sneaking in: they may be happy to be rid of old feelings. get help when you need it.)

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“The Damaged” in audio on StarShipSofa

Listen to my dark sci-fi story “The Damaged” on today’s StarShipSofa podcast.

“The Damaged” appeared in the January 2014 issue of Interzone and was reprinted online in January 2015 on Story.

I wrote this during my time in grad school at Stonecoast. I don’t remember the inspiration, but I do remember when I turned it into mentor Elizabeth Hand, she commented on the obvious inspiration from Philip K. Dick’s replicants and the whole Blade Runner/Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? story. The problem: I’d never seen or read either. Embarrassed to admit that, I rented the movie and was surprised at the similarities.

Listen to the story here: http://www.starshipsofa.com/blog/2016/01/06/starshipsofa-no-417-bonnie-jo-stufflebeam/

“Everything Beneath You” — Beneath Ceaseless Skies (January 2015)

My short story “Everything Beneath You” appeared in Beneath Ceaseless Skies in January 2015.

beneath-ceaseless-skiesFirst line: You don’t know me, but I changed the world.

Inspiration: In the late winter of 2014 I was having a rough time with depression. I wasn’t feeling excited about anything I wrote, and that combined with a break in therapy and the lack of sunlight brought on the worst funk I’ve experienced. Fed up with feeling awful, I decided that I needed to force myself to grab hold of any opportunities that presented themselves. When my sister asked me if I wanted to go with her to a local Lantern Festival, I said yes even though it felt like the last thing I wanted to do.

Each lantern display at the festival had a plaque. Most described Chinese myths. The myth that stood out the most to me was about seven fairy sisters. Having to keep up with my nephews, I took a picture of the plaque to read again later and moved on. I stood on a lantern boat shaped like a dragon. It cost money to board the stationary boat, and my partner only had enough for one of us. As I stood there looking at the water, I told myself I’d turn it into a story, partly as a thank-you to him for letting me have the experience over him and partly because I had to do something, anything, to lift my spirits.

The beauty of the festival–the bright lights, brisk air, and the presence of family–brought me out of my depression just enough to allow me to start the story. I wrote about a woman who felt confined to a body and a world that constricted her. I wrote about a woman with grand ambition; she wants a ship of her own, a body that she can alter as she pleases, love. Once I finished, I felt invigorated. Though the depression hadn’t completely gone, I was inspired to keep working. I pledged to write a novel within the year. I did. And when Beneath Ceaseless Skies took the story, I completed another goal: publication in one of my favorite magazines.

Read it for free: http://www.beneath-ceaseless-skies.com/stories/everything-beneath-you/

Art: Whisper by Jennifer Stufflebeam

“The Damaged” — Interzone (January 2014)

My short story “The Damaged” appeared in the January 2014 issue of Interzone and was reprinted online in January 2015 on Story. It was released in audio by the podcast StarShipSofa in January 2016.

Art by Ben Baldwin
Art by Ben Baldwin

First line: “I can’t escape my job.”

Inspiration: I wrote this during my time in grad school at Stonecoast. I don’t remember the inspiration, but I do remember when I turned it into mentor Elizabeth Hand, she commented on the obvious inspiration from Philip K. Dick’s replicants and the whole Blade Runner/Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? story. The problem: I’d never seen or read either. Embarrassed to admit that, I rented the movie and was surprised at the similarities.

Praise for “The Damaged”:

Buy a copy of Interzone, the high quality British SFF magazine where “The Damaged” first appeared (Issue 250): http://ttapress.com/interzone/backissues/

Read it for free on Story: http://www.storymagazine.org/2015/01/20/the-damaged/

Art: Oh Simple Things by Jennifer Stufflebeam

Highlights from Karin Tidbeck’s Jagannath

News

My short story “The Damaged” is in issue 250 of Interzone. Visit the link Here to check out the other issue contents and, if you so desire, to subscribe.

Review

This week, I’m briefly highlighting two of my favorite stories from Karin Tidbeck’s collection Jagannath, an interesting collection and one that I recommend for lovers of weird short stories.

In “Aunts”, three enormous women who live in a decadent myth-y world spend their time gorging in an effort to become so large that they split down the middle; this is their sole goal in life. When the splitting occurs, the three nieces who tend to them, cooking and serving their food, scoop out their organs; inside the aunts’ bodies are always three little aunts, ready to begin the cycle anew. The nieces cook the old aunts, and feed their bodies to the new aunts, who begin their own growing cycles. Until the nieces are unable to find new aunts within the old aunts’ bodies. This story is strange, and speaks to the cycle of life in a disorienting, bizarre way.

The title story “Jagannath” is my absolutely favorite of the collection, and also deals with the cycle of birth and death. Set in a post-apocalyptic world, a many-legged creature named Jagannath shelters some of the remaining humans in exchange for their living inside of her body and manning the ship, so to speak. Presumably Jagannath is not the only creature who has offered this exchange, as other creatures exist in the world as well, but the world of the story, for the most part, takes place entirely inside Jagannath. The main character is a girl who wants to be one of the drivers of the creature but is told she cannot, for women’s bodies are too big to drive, and only men may do so. This story pulled me in from the beginning, and kept me hanging on until the bitter end.

I’d also like to recommend Tidbeck’s story “I Have Placed My Sickness Upon You,” which appeared in Strange Horizons in March of 2013. I liked this story when I first read it but have to say that I have come to love it as I think about it more and more these days.