Friday, December 21, 2007

Girl With A Loaded Gun

Iris Chang wrote the Rape of Nanking, a book about well, rape, the plunder of thousands of women and beheading of many men, the systematic and little explored massacre of the Chinese by the Japanese Imperial Army. It spent ten weeks on the bestseller list. Her book was the first to document this atrocity. Like any dedicated writer, she started on her next couple of books, one about the Bataan death march. This is a girl clearly after my own heart! But the terrible news is despite her success that her psyche collapsed under the weight of her own depression and the sadness of the stories she told and she killed herself. Which begs the question -- do we pick our subjects or do they pick us? And if it is as I believe that they pick us, what are we to do if our subject matter is a tad on the bleak side?

As a child, I was periodically grounded from books. By books, I mean the ones I checked out at the library that gave me nightmares -- the worst offender was the sermons of Cotton Mather. No more Cotton Mather for you, Shelley, my mother would say. You will stick to whatever kiddie books the librarian gives you. I, being bad, got around this prohibition. I'd cry and say, Yes, Mother, you're right. No more books about witches and being burned at the stake. No more sermons about hell. I'll read Rebecca of Littlebrook Farm. Promise! And with my eyes aglow with good intentions, I'd go off to the library with Daddy every Saturday and get around the matronizing librarians of Boyce Ditto and cruise over to the adult section, looking for my old friends, like a junkie waiting for his man. My mind never gave me any peace. It wanted what it wanted! Years later, I would find my subject matter or it found me. I can't say that I'm glad for it, but I'm not sad either. As a child, one of my favorite pictures was a lone woman on a city street at night, skyscrapers all around her. It spoke of danger and romance, glamour. It spoke of a kind of lonely that I wanted. The stories that I began to tell weren't the Rape of Nanking, but the stories of women I know who have suffered violence at the hands of men and sometimes found ways to turn it on themselves. We have been given guns of all sorts, and if we're lucky, we know where to aim.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"I had considered running away, but I will never escape my thoughts or agonies in my mind." Iris Chang (from the third and final draft of her suicide note)

Cocktail Hour
Drinking holiday song suggestion: Feed The World (what can I say, I'm a child of the 80s! I love this song!)

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Friday!


Brian in Mpls said...

Maybe they choose us and depending how we respond we accpet the invitation or decline a date you are not sure if you want to go on with destiny

the walking man said...

Them that write the same story over and over simply changing the background and the names of the characters pick their subject.

The rest of us just go down the road like vultures looking for a carcass to pick clean.

Now I honestly feel as if I have picked every carcass I ever came across and made reference or comment or story or poem or tale about it.

I understand completely the isolation of the woman in the picture, the demanding shadows saying "Do Something"; yet she is static, moved as far as she can move frozen forever in that place of tall buildings and loneliness.
Not a bad place mind you...just not a good place to have a gun.

Peace Michelle


The Ventures' "Live in Japan" said...

Domo arigato.

Cheri said...

I was the same way growing up, reading books that would give me nightmares but my mother couldn't ban me from them because they were free and they couldn't afford to keep me occupied otherwise.

Have a great trip!

Charles Gramlich said...

I sort of think the subject matter chooses us. From the first moment I remember the weird and the exotic called to me. My imagination went automatically to places that made others shiver or retreat.

And your comment about the lonely pictures. It was the same for me. Such emotion. Such power.

eric1313 said...

Aim at what?

Maybe the sky, maybe for my own feet.

I've done both, and done worse.

For all my grousing about the poor education system around here, in seventh grade, my history teacher had us watch a documentary about the rape of Nanking. I thought it was both powerful and nightmare inducing. It was horrific, really, and I've barely ever typed that particular adjective about anything. Some of the kids complained to their parents, and it wasn't shown the next year. That's sad--like we can shut it out, and poof, like m-m-magic, it never was.

To bad that doesn't work.

If it did work, I'd sew my eyelids shut with leather thongs.

And do have a safe and wonderful trip, as Cheri says.