Saturday, January 31, 2015


South African climbing onion at W. W. Seymour Botanical Conservatory.


There are moments when a line of poetry or a photograph or a song or a few frames of film will remind me of another piece of art. Jung would call these moments synchronicity. Others would call them  juxtapositions or echoes. Lawrence Weschler has a great name for these moments: convergences. But for my own purposes, I will simply refer to them as connections.


Upon completion of reading The Genocides by Thomas M. Disch, the song "Kids" by MGMT popped into my head. I kept hearing the lines "Control yourself / take only what you need from it / a family of trees wanted / to be haunted." These lines are both related to the storyline and are not. I am certain that they weren't based upon the novel, but I've made some sort of connection between the two—or, better yet, it appears that my mind has informed me of some kind of connection it made between the two, perhaps even independent of "me" and informed of the same.

The novel is filled with colossal invasive Plants, which are planted, farmed, and harvested by some unknown extraterrestrials. These aliens are never seen. Instead, only small floating gray orbs, intent on burning up any fauna (including humans) that they find on earth's surface, and larger floating gray orbs, which harvest the Plants later in the novel, are ever seen. And they could very well be the alien lifeforms, for all that the characters (and we readers) know.

But the humans who have survived the environmental catastrophe wrought by the introduction of the Plants, and the ensuing alien slaughter of higher order animals, spend much of their time in the second half of the book living in the tunnels of the roots and tubers of the Plants. In essence, they haunt these "trees." And there are references to ghosts and monsters, even though they are merely nightmares of the mind influenced by the situation. So the lines play in my head.


Tonight, while I was sitting in a school gymnasium waiting for a play to start, I was once again reading Notes on Sea & Shore by Greta Wrolstad. My reading was loose and distracted as people came up to greet me, as I caught snippets of conversation around me, as I recognized some of the elementary kids (in the play as actors) to whom I have been teaching art lessons and drawing techniques once every couple of weeks.

But then about halfway through I came upon lines from a section of the poem that opened up Area X for me right there on that metal folding chair in the third row back from the stage.

"Forget this northern shore: cold and colder by the day, an owl inking the night with its throat." and "When I awaken, I row out to the barrier island where a woman dressed in blue once lived in a wooden house silvered by the sea." and "I have forgotten myself."

I wondered how Greta Wrolstad could have "dreamed" these lines that feel as though they are from a novel that she would never see since she died years before The Southern Reach trilogy was published. And I am in no way suggesting that Jeff VanderMeer "borrowed" imagery from this poem to inform a section of a novel in his trilogy. However, my mind wandered again, and made connections for me and then showed me how those connections functioned—how the "dots were connected," so to speak.


I'm in my second reading of Area X: The Southern Reach Trilogy, although I'm reading through the books in a different way this time around. Instead of reading the books sequentially—Annihilation, Authority, and then Acceptance—I am reading particular narrative threads. So I started with the biologist's story, which is the whole of Annihilation and the "Fixed Light" section of Acceptance. In my second reading of the biologist and her tale(s), I am noticing things in greater detail than I did the first time through. I am taking more time with the text and my "reader radar" is at a fever pitch. In fact, I think the tension of this reading is much higher than the first, partly because I know what happens throughout her story (and that of the others).

And there in chapter 04 of "Fixed Light" is "the owl."

The final two sentences of chapter 03 are the set up: "I could not say there was anything preternatural or unusual about the island itself. Other, perphaps, than the owl."

I can hear this owl "inking the night" with its call, although I can't find anything in the text that informs me of the same. The owl is a "companion" to the biologist during her time on the island, but she is the one who talks to the owl. The sounds of the owl tend to be the whisper of its wings when it heads off into the night to hunt. And there is plenty of time for the owl to "ink the night" with its cries since it lives into old age and, finally, death, even though those moments don't live on the page like I think they do, like I remember them doing.

But the connection is mine and it is vibrant and vital in its own right.


(In the same way, I can see some of the "monsters" that inhabit Area X and the Plants of The Genocides in a recent visit to Tacoma's W. W. Seymour Botanical Conservatory. One only need look at the strangeness that is a South African climbing onion to "go there" into the dark, indifferent places of VanderMeer or Disch (or Robinson Jeffers or Herman Melville or Joseph Conrad).)

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