Sunday, November 11, 2018

certain harm (or writing dead girls)

I interlibrary-loaned this book quite a while ago and devoured it in the course of about a weekend, but have had a hard time getting time til now  to actually formulate some thoughts about it, particularly the first 3rd of the book,  a section titled "Toward a Theory of a  Dead Girl Show"  that covers everything from Twin Peaks to true crime. (with a good dose of Veronica Mars & Pretty Little Liars)  There is quite a lot here in addition to that--meditations on California life and girldom filtered through the lenses of pop culture that I loved greatly.

I always used to joke that there were way too many dead girls in my poems, to the point where I wrote an anti-dead girl poem for major characters in minor films called  "no girls were harmed in the making of this poem."  I mean, there are the obvious dead girls in that early work...the vanishing hitchikers and beautiful suicides of in the bird muse`um, the missing mothers and sisters of the fever almanac. girl show might only have one or two, but there is still that sense of women and girls in peril. the shared properties.... only has one dead girl, and it's less important that she is a girl and more just that she is a sibling (a boy would have worked, it was only important they were twins.) By the time I reached that 5th book, I realized I was feeling a little pathological and self-conscious about it.

Admittedly, part of this might have roots in my fascination with horror, girls were dying all over in there.  I mentioned in another older blog entry, my early love of Annabel Lee, and even from then some weird fascination with the beautiful dead girl--the Ophelias and Juliets of the world. Beautiful dead actresses--the Marilyn Monroes, the Natalie Woods. It carried into writers-- probably part of my initial draw to Plath, Sexton, artists like Francesca Woodman. There was something about their beauty and youth that was tragic, somehow that they never grew old and normal and commonplace as the rest of us gave them an extra sparkle somehow. I always laugh about Denise Levertov, comparable in age to Plath & Sexton and a fine poet in her own right, but she'll never have the gloss of dying before her prime.

And no doubt all the dead girls are problematic in many ways. As a symptom of a misogynistic, toxicly masculine and violent society that creates so many of them.  As a construct that places her at the center of a story but rarely allows her to speak for herself. That sometimes makes her merely a vehicle for male characters to work out their own issues.  A black hole into which so much falls--our own expectations and neuroses.   Much of her power, unless you're going all supernatural, lies in what we ascribe her to be.   As much as I love the Virgin Suicides, I  think it is simultaneous evidence and comment upon this kind of male gaze. This is maybe why I liked Sharper Objects so much, these dead girls were feral somehow, bitey and wild, no matter how much you tried to make them sit still.

I had friends who were really into Twin Peaks when it was on my last couple years of high school, but I was more into Beverly Hills, 90210.  I didn't join the Lynch fan parade until I saw Mulholland Drive in the early aughts and decided to delve into Twin Peaks, which I was able to appreciate much greatly in my late 20's than I ever would have been able to as a teen.  As I've been working on the murder mystery games, particularly our 80's prom, they are very much inspired by the pretty young girl full of deadly secrets. 

There is also a strong  tendency for my work to also explore danger and knowledge, violence and sexuality that carries across many book projects.  Despite my promise for no more dead girls in that fifth book, there is at least once glance in salvage, and an entire section devoted to a zombie girl in the upcoming little apocalypse, that  whole section called "songs for dead girls." I like to tell myself the dead girls are less romantic as time goes on--here and in the latest book, where the /slash/ poems do much more head-on work.  Ditto for the explorations of exquisite damage, which is all about middle class gothic, whose central figure seems to be that poor beautiful dead prom queen.  Even amongst the things I am currently working on, there are bits and pieces (though I do have would be killer girls in the Slender Man series, so maybe I've come full circle.) 

One of the manuscripts I'm working on right now is about mothers and daughters, but the other is centered around that midwestern gothic-ness, so of course there are dead women there.  Projects early in the works include a series devoted to the Murder Castle at the Chicago Worlds Fair, another haunted hotel project, and also maybe a series about the Black Dahlia.  So who knows?

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