Winter Solstice
December 18, 2020 1:18 PM   Subscribe

Winter Solstice: Inhale the Darkness. Nina MacLaughlin, author of Wake, Siren, here introduces Part One of her latest column for The Paris Review: "On moving into winter, on the dark getting darker, on swans and hawks and spiders, on the great cosmic tug. The first of a four-part series I’m writing for the @parisreview about the Winter Solstice. Part One asks: what’s death in a world of stories?"

Nina MacLaughlin’s newest column, Winter Solstice, will run for four weeks, finishing on the solstice on December 21.

Part One: Inhale the Darkness, November 30, 2020.
What’s death in a world of stories? Is it merely one more story? Maybe in a world of stories, there’s a door that leads to the possibility of a different ending. Maybe in a world of stories, death is infinite potential, just another means of moving on. And on we go, absorbed into the wet, warm belly of eternity, back here as a robin or a wren, a pelvic bone in someone else’s skeleton, riding the underside of a cloud.

No matter what, it’s scary, yes?

Here you are. And you’re confused and frightened like the rest of us, angry maybe, too, but that’s just the fear again. A little mixed up about where you are, dangling between two eternities like a drop about to fall from the faucet. Grab a beer. There’s wine on the counter and glasses on the shelf. You’re looking backward to a source, you’re looking forward (but not too far), you’re looking for the warmth of understanding, the warmth of being understood.

The opposites are right now in tension, twinned and twined, the great cosmic tug. The tug is never stronger than in this moment, as we sink into the deepest part of darkness. A bashing against, a blurring with, a pulling away, and a drawing in. The boundaries are beginning to dissolve. Khaos emerged at the birth of the universe, preceding the rest of the primeval gods. A state of disordered darkness, a void where nothing was named. Her name meant gap, chasm, yawn. Absence. Form was exhaled from the lung of the darkness. Right now, darkness takes a deep breath in. Hold tight. We’re riding the backs of the swans. There’s no flying without land, no emptiness without an edge. What world are we living in?

Twitter intro to Part Two:"Demeter, Saturnalia, Black Phillip, mistletoe, Newgrange, ecstasy, the monsters we haven't met---things are getting weirder and we're heading to the underworld here in Part Two of my series on the Winter Solstice for the Paris Review."

Part Two: The Shadows below the Shadows, December 7, 2020.
Fleshing the shadows is one way to know the shadows better. When fears get faced and named, aren’t they easier to encounter? When they come creeping, slithering, spidering in, as they always inevitably will, it’s better, no, to see a familiar silhouette, a recognizable cut of the jaw, that same tongue, that same staticky charge, those wild underworldly eyes, you again, we’ve met before. Still unpleasant, still frightening, but at least it slots into a taxonomy of the monstrous. It’s the formless unfamiliar, the shadow that lives below shadow, the one we sense but have not named or cannot yet name, there’s where real terror lives. And so we name our monsters. Perhaps the pull of the dark is the urge to introduce ourselves to the shadows below the shadows. Come in, come in, let me know you better, let me look upon you, I have never seen the like of you before. Maybe they all have something to offer. After all, wouldn’t we all like to live deliciously?

Twitter intro to Part Three: "On sledding and snow and the erotics of winter. With Emily Dickinson and Issa and Mary Ruefle and @signifyingwolf and Into Great Silence. We're less than a week away from the shortest day. Part III of my series on the Winter Solstice for the Paris Review."

Part Three: In Winter We Get inside Each Other, December 14, 2020.
In winter, we get inside each other. The erotics of the dark, cold season differ from that of summer—not the flirty, sundressed frolic, not sultry August sweat above the lip, not tan lines or sand in shoes or voluptuous tulips. It’s a different sort of smolder now. Quilted, clutching, we wolve for one another, ice on the puddles and orange glow from windows against deepest evening blue. In summer: lust and laze, days are loose and lasting. In winter: time tightens, night’s wide open, the hunger says right now. In winter: the flash of wet light reflected in another’s eye, close to yours, half closed in the dim. That eye shining in the dark, that blurred wet glaze and shine, everything else in shadow, form and heat, that light for a flash as lid closes or head shifts, that is a mysterious and singular light. That is the burning animal inside trying to run through the walls of its pen. I see in that flash the burning animal inside you. I feel my own there, too. This winter feels not like the rest. It’s not ease that drives us in these dark days, but fear. The dark and the cold settle at the back of your skull and tell you secrets of the longer, longest, endless dark and cold to come. Grip tight, press hard. Such is winter love.

Part Four will emerge on the 21st.

MacLaughlin also wrote a four-part series on the lengthening light of the summer solstice, which you can find here: Summer Solstice.
posted by homunculus (8 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
These are just gorgeous
posted by not_the_water at 3:23 PM on December 18, 2020 [1 favorite]

I love these; thank you for posting them!
posted by rewil at 5:37 PM on December 18, 2020 [1 favorite]

posted by CMcG at 5:56 AM on December 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

MacLaughlin's most recent book Wake, Siren: Ovid Resung is a retelling of Ovid's Metamorphoses, and it sounds quite excellent. Here's the description:
In fierce, textured voices, the women of Ovid's Metamorphoses claim their stories and challenge the power of myth

I am the home of this story. After thousands of years of other people’s tellings, of all these different bridges, of words gotten wrong, I’ll tell it myself.

Seductresses and she-monsters, nymphs and demi-goddesses, populate the famous myths of Ovid's Metamorphoses. But what happens when the story of the chase comes in the voice of the woman fleeing her rape? When the beloved coolly returns the seducer's gaze? When tales of monstrous transfiguration are sung by those transformed? In voices both mythic and modern, Wake, Siren revisits each account of love, loss, rape, revenge, and change. It lays bare the violence that undergirds and lurks in the heart of Ovid’s narratives, stories that helped build and perpetuate the distorted portrayal of women across centuries of art and literature.

Drawing on the rhythms of epic poetry and alt rock, of everyday speech and folk song, of fireside whisperings and therapy sessions, Nina MacLaughlin, the acclaimed author of Hammer Head, recovers what is lost when the stories of women are told and translated by men. She breathes new life into these fraught and well-loved myths.
Every review of it I found sings its praises. Here's a (Spoiler, Trigger Warning) scan from a page from Medusa's story where she confronts Minerva (Athena.)

Also, there's a new and annotated edition of Ovid's Metamorphoses which is recommended by The Mary Sue.
posted by homunculus at 1:34 PM on December 19, 2020

Thank you so very much for posting these, they are indescribably beautiful, the kind of essays I've always wished I could write, and I almost certainly would not have come across them.
posted by fairlynearlyready at 1:00 PM on December 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

You're all quite welcome and I'm glad you enjoyed them so much. The final installment should go up tomorrow.
posted by homunculus at 1:20 PM on December 20, 2020

And here's the final installment: Twitter intro to Part Four: "Happy solstice, everyone, happy longest night of the year. Fear and love and flames, and the strands of light between us glow, here in the crescendo of this solstice series for the @parisreview. Come get warm."

Part Four: Burn Something Today, December 21, 2020.
It’s dark. I am up early enough to see the stars. The porch light on the house across the street shines bright enough to bring shadows into the room. The neighborhood is still. The rattling newspaper delivery truck has not yet been by, the morning news not yet tossed on stoops. Frost not dew, the grass is stiff; a woman scrapes ice off her windshield and I feel it in my teeth. Mothwinged darkness opens itself widest now. Today is the shortest day of the year.

Wasn’t it just summer?

Or was summer a thousand years ago?

Was summer?

Now it’s now. Here we are. The Winter Solstice. The close of the year, the opening of a season—welcome, Winter—the longest night, and light gets born again. Today is tied with its twin in the summer for the most powerful day of the year. Light a fire. Light a fire on this day. Let something burn. That is what the solstices are for. Summer flames say, keep the light alive (it’s never worked, not once). In winter, a more urgent message: bring light back to life (it’s worked every time so far).
posted by homunculus at 8:41 AM on December 21, 2020

Here's the Amazon link for Wake, Siren: Ovid Resung
posted by homunculus at 3:07 PM on December 25, 2020

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