“This world is being made from our lives, our cries, our laughter, our bones. It is a world worth making, a world worth living in, a world in which there is a prevailing and decent wild sanity.”–Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype
Clarissa Pinkola Estes guided a generation to embrace the light and dark of the feminine self, like a waxing and waning moon. Women Who Run with the Wolves advocated connection with the natural world, retold myths of ancient times, and reminded us the conscious and unconscious are always at play. Estes is a scholar who mashes up academic footnotes, poetics, first person observation and advice without apology. Memory, myth and feminine voice inform recent short prose experiments by Meads, Farris and Chinquee.
Kat Meads’ Dear DeeDee addresses a college-age fictional niece in a series of short letters from Aunt K. It is a poetic fictional memoir of growing up with Southern roots in the 1970’s, surviving a failed marriage in the 1980’s, and fleeing to Los Angeles in the 2000’s. It is full of random humorous anecdotes: “One of the reasons he stayed so long and lean: if he gained a pound the girlfriend demanded he snort coke until he dropped that bugger.” Cars appear with regularity: “George Grandy’s fine Chrysler...”, and you could garner a fine reading list amongst the downright funny quotes: “When inquiring mind V.S Naipaul asked, Georgia born Anne Siddons told: ‘There are many drunk women in the South.’”
Aunt K’s legacies of family, spontaneously arise around a shared modern present. DeeDee’s correspondences are conspicuously not on the facing pages; they are only hinted at in Aunt K’s letters.
Meads’ beautiful sentences, light touch, repetition of form, and familiar narrative structure, keep the reader dipping back in. It is a Gen X devotional to all we carry, to family histories being lost to memory, time and lack of actual progeny.
In their own way these letters are stories of ancient times and archetypes which demand inheritance, like Estes’. Meads has a lengthy career and a long list of genre bending books to her credit. Does DeeDee and her generation really want to bear these histories, even if they need to, and will unconsciously? Are our ruck-sacking children traveling too light to take this in? Meads acknowledges DeeDee’s predicament:
“So what if it takes longer than the summer to plot your next great adventure? Neither of your parents will toss you out. And if they do, don’t panic. Your aunt owns and air mattress.
If Meads’ DeeDee took her gap year on Aunt K’s air mattress circa 2010, mined her bookshelf, and grabbed Estes to read on the flight to an ayahuasca ceremony, she might be Katie Farris.
boysgirls is a tiny volume vs. Estes sprawling bible. Like Estes’ Women Who Run with the Wolves it is written in plain language, and takes the reader into the gnarliest of places, using myth and story. It is deceptive, at first seeming like these are fairy tales which could be read to children, but like the original pre-Disneyfied versions, these quickly descend into helplessness and sex, shit and freak shows: “It is a bad day and age for the freaks we used to be: tattooed ladies, fat women, rubber-faced babas, those mermaid girls with sweet webbed feet.” Farris’ pieces are not taken from ancient times. She creates a new mythology for a new age.
The preface, in italic, is (perhaps) a trickster persona, “In this world (of which I am the author) I am not the only denizen, citizen, harlequin, doyenne. I have invented myself, surely, who hasn’t, but I unlike (perhaps) you have also invented others – assorted godlettes, hopefuls, poseurs and freaks.”
Are there as many readings as there are readers? If I try out a few metaphors that spoke to me, will I spoil the riddle? In “the devil’s face” hell is populated by a variety of common failures: The old masturbator with one strong arm: is this the writer who never stops and never finishes anything? The hollowed-out angels: are they those who could not be themselves on earth? Those who exhausted their spirit trying to quell the impulse to make art, by logic, duty or sloth? Ouch.
Confounding, astounding, boysgirls is a place where the female contains multitudes, gender is mutable, genre is liminal, ancient forms and new ideas collide to take on the changing times. Kristina Marie Darling’s introduction is helpful, and if you still exit the realm bruised and confused, there is Mary Rakow’s afterword to give another layer of clarity. This soul work is illustrated in pen and ink by a fascinating character named Lavinia Hanachuic. When you are done pass boysgirls to your most jaded literary friend, and wait for their “WTF??” text.
Flash fiction as a form born in the 1990’s around the time of Estes’ tome. In this age of short attention spans shouldn’t the shortest of traditional prose forms receive a larger embrace? Kim Chinquee’s Snowdog: Flash Fictions is realistic fiction, short films of place and time. She is a master of the tiny bite, like the swordfish taco in “Just a Little Tickle.” The narrator dreams of her son, the age of Meads’ DeeDee, now that he has moved away, seeing him in all ages and all places. She travels to Hawaii to visit him at his military base, linking several stories in the collection with this trip:
“... They drive around in Humvees carrying rifles.
Its illegal to kill chickens in Hawaii.
In certain parts of the state, tourists pay a lot of money just to wear leis on their necks.”
Such ends the piece, “A Dog Named Woof.”
Flash can be confounding because the narrative arc we expect in a short story is dashed, and Chinquee takes just as much space as she pleases to bring the realism of her scenes to the page, from nine lines of dialogue to two dense pages.
Chinquee has an academic career in Buffalo, NY and turns to the natural landscape and those that people it for the imagery of her shorts: the post-industrial city, the snow, rescue dogs, selfish boyfriends, being stuck on an elevator and looking at the people there looking at each other.
She writes often of women’s minor sufferings at the hands of ill-chosen men, a relatable dilemma, but cumulatively heartbreaking. No matter the men coming or going, the narrator has surrounded herself with the dogs of the title. In “Boots is a Lover” she prepares her four dogs for a walk. “... Bird is next. A husky mix... when she runs away, its like she is flying. She is a talker, the first to wake us in the morning, with her yowl, yowl, yowl. Sometimes I talk back to her, yowling myself.” In these descendants of wolves she finds her wild home.
As Estes reminds us, “Going home is sanity.”
Karin Falcone Krieger lives and writes in Oyster Bay, NY. Her writing appears in Contingent Magazine, LITPUB, The Laurel Review , The Literary Review and Able News. She holds an MFA from The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa. She taught freshman composition as an adjunct instructor at several area colleges for 20 years, and in 2020 took a self-imposed and self-funded sabbatical.