I hope, by being honest about what happened to me, to help nourish a culture of honesty that might make something different - and better - possible. We really need to squarely face the issue of child abuse in America, and to look at our perversity, our illness.— Laura Mullen
The most charming Laura Mullen quotes that are glad to read
We live in a culture that insists on "moving on" (even while our loyalty to and love of the franchise and the sequel give away a larger loopiness). But I tend to dwell or obsess or meditate, and I came back to, for instance, the figure of Dickens's "Miss Havisham" with some (self) recognition if not relief.
Is the professor who insists we read Ernest Hemingway again instead of Gertrude Stein "obsessing"? Because although I did a BA in English, an MFA in Poetry, and a year's worth of a PhD, Stein was an author I had to discover on my own. She wasn't on the syllabus anywhere in all that time.
Maybe one way to think about it would be in the context of the historical development of germ theory. The problem of childbed fever was not significant until the development of a male-dominated medical establishment made possible the situation in which a professional might move from touching a corpse (for the purposes of study) to putting his unwashed hands up against, or into, a woman in labor.
It seems all "protection" has to be monitored, considered, weighed and justified - I am suggesting we do that (but it's something Mary Shelley (and Gertrude Stein) also suggest). "Torch Song," the book's final section, looks at an arson committed by someone hired to protect the wilderness from fires, a catastrophic failure of protection!
One might say that "Torch Song" is, in part, about the urgency of the effort to pin things down and what wild dart throwing that desire leads to.
Admitting how ill we are, how deep the damage goes, how constantly the abuse cycle is repeated and how horribly we have failed those who most deserve our care and protection.
It's painful, but it's part of the recognition that makes real healing possible, if healing is possible (the jury is out on that, that's the usual phrase - should I say the jury is deadlocked?). Staying with the pain, attending to it, being present to and with it - that's the task, because that's the only (as far as I can tell) hope of finding a way forward.
Oh my research. Well, I got an English Degree. And I got that degree in a certain time/at a certain place. If you add UC Berkeley + 1984 the other side of the = is "new historian" meaning that I studied with and was influenced by those who were interested in how the personal shaped the political (and literary), how science and literature might interact, and what the body got to do with it.
Helen Vendler calls this kind of interrogation of a work "roads not taken," suggesting that it's useful, when writing critically, to consider what differences it makes to the work or the encounter with the work if changes are made. It's one way of better understanding your experience, comparing it to other possible experiences you can imagine having.
When I encountered "The Lady of Shallot" (to take a "for instance" allusion from the many in the book, this one from the "Etiology" section) it was still considered a "great poem." What does that poem - or rather a particular presentation of that poem (hey, admire this!) - do to a young woman?
Miss Havisham is a glitch in the smooth functioning of the Patriarchy, enforcing awareness of a moment of social disaster and personal shame, something it seems she would want us to forget (but no one would forget). (Maybe an interesting "discussion question" for readers of Complicated Grief might be, "What do Terry Barton and Miss Havisham have in common?"?)
Though we don't have a cure for cancer we at least have stopped being too ashamed to even say the name of the disease - and the trajectory of the AIDS epidemic is edifying, isn't it? Shame shuts down productive thinking, and I'd like to open the doors. It's a first step.
The boundary between expert and amateur was an imposed social-cultural "protection" which actually exposed a number of women to a fatal disease, because decaying matter, as the fireman said of fire (cited in the book's final piece, "Torch Song") "ain't got no rules on it."
The most important aspect of writing the pieces that make up this eighth book was yielding to my obsessive side, letting my own "complicated grief" in on the process. You can imagine how tempting it is to try to fight the part of you that loops and loops, caught up in tangled sorrow from which it seems there's no escape.
Is it possible that where the subject is socially approved (tah tah tah TAH tah, it's war) almost no one thinks we're "stuck," but when we think too much about what no one else wants to think about, as well as when we think without the thoughts evolving, then we're seen as trouble (and / or troubled)?
There's a case in Baton Rouge, haunting me, where a mother left her twelve-year-old daughter to be babysat (every day for months) by a known pedophile and his four perverse friends, and the news broke of the bodies of two children, dead after long-term physical abuse, found in a storage locker in California. What hardest for me is, I suppose, what's hardest for my country
There's a nice clear difference between real protection (wash your hands, or wear a condom) and the fake protection offered by institutions which often come, finally and sadly, to be much too interested first of all in protecting their own power.
Complicated Grief was written in larger and more coherent (if disparate) shapes.
The question was how they fit together. The mind is coherent, trust that was the best writing advice I ever got (I got it from Carole Maso and I pass it on). It's true, and clearer and clearer as one grows and gains an improved sense of who one actually is (as versus who one was supposed to be).
Star Wars film is breaking all previous box office records.
(Why might we want to revisit those characters, that narrative, those jokes and tropes again, in this way, right now? I wonder what it will turn out to reveal about the economics and politics of this moment.)
In a museum in El Paso, Texas, there's a map that shows all the places the border between the U.S. and Mexico has been (because it shifted) - I find it very clarifying (not confusing) to be reminded that everything we feel like we've really pinned down is transient, arbitrary, and marks the site of a painful if not violent negotiation, one that may not have ended.
Given our examination of the behavior of our police forces at this moment the question of protection has an extra resonance, yes?
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (whose mother died ten days after she was born) wrote a novel that anticipates Semmelweis's discovery and serves as a parable for the destructive power of decaying matter.
Wherever something is "pinned down" there's a little hole - at least one - more likely many.
I love that "furious and gorgeous barrage.
" That helps me see the relation between the introduction and the book's final section, where writing about a fire (and about the attempt to understand the event), also becomes an attempt to understand how writing might get closer to the fire, in so many ways.
I'm interested in finding new and more humane modes of safety, and in exposing the arbitrary and superficial protections that have failed us.
The failure of protection, the importance of recognizing the ways in which we influence (and infect) each other - the fact that being an "individual" can't protect you - these are issues I've been thinking about for a while.
If we take seriously the idea that the stories we want to hear shape the stories we can (and want to, and are allowed to) tell, then the canon emerges as something to examine very carefully.
So when we're told to "move on" or "let go," we should take a look at who is saying it and why, and when we see repetition happening it's worth trying to understand it before attempting to shut it down.
It is worth asking who decides what's an "obsession" and where it differs from meditation or the kind of deep dwelling on a subject we see in philosophy or the work of Robert Wilson, for instance?
With Complicated Grief I can say that there was a certain simplification in the process. Getting older means less wasted effort, things are clearer earlier. Being young meant flailing around a lot, especially as I was trying to invent new shapes without a ton of models.
And Complicated Grief is a text that announces, from the start, in its citation of influence, dense intertextuality and hybridity, a failure of some apparent or usual protections, and a need to re-examine "identity" in the light of an acknowledgement of our entanglements and interdependence.
I can tell that I shaped the book very deliberately, after a great deal of thought, and that I insisted this piece function as a prologue, but I find the word "intention," confusing ("trust the art," as D.H. Lawrence said, "not the artist"). These speculations are perhaps better responded to by text and reader, rather than author.
I had Paterson, and The Art Lover, to guide me for The Tales of Horror (written from 1988-'97 and published in 1999), but I still was so lost, back then, as I tried to understand what I was writing and how it went together. There was a draft of that manuscript that had all these brightly colored paper clips on the pages so I could visualize what I saw as the book's themes and threads - that was a long time ago.
What was toughest for me in writing "Trust," was reliving it, turning and facing this. We move on and we don't move on, you know? She's still there - and by "she" I mean me - caught in that windowless room, that bad bargain and that violation. No one can touch me, sexually, without activating that memory. But I had walled, I thought, that time off. I say that and then want to say "and I got off lightly"!
"Influence" is itself influenced, coming from an Italian word for the outbreak of a disease (influenza, outbreak). Influence is that which flows across - permeates - the boundaries of the self.
The performance group The Ant Farm redoing JFK's assassination in Dallas was an event that struck a chord with me, especially when one of the members said they'd only intended to do it once, but the Dallas audience insisted they repeat the performance.
In the "Intervention" section of the book we go into that looping from a battery of positions (where healer and sufferer are blurred). I'm very interested in "repetition and revision" (to use Suzan Lori-Parks's phrase) and in the culture's desire to loop or repeat.
In Frankenstein there is a transfer first of life into death (in the creation and animation of the monster), and then of death into life, as the monster takes his revenge on the father who gave him life but withheld recognition.