By Katharine Beutner & Kirsten Kaschock.
Jen Pastiloff here. Welcome to The Converse-Station: A dialogue between writers. With the site getting so much traffic, I can think of no better way to utilize that traffic than to introduce the readers to writers I love. The dialogues created within this series have stayed with me long after I’ve read them on the page. Enjoy!
Matthea Harvey’s “The Straightforward Mermaid” begins: “The straightforward mermaid starts every sentence with ‘Look . . . ’ This comes from being raised in a sea full of hooks. She wants to get points 1, 2, and 3 across, doesn’t want to disappear like a river into the ocean.” If you were a mythical creature, what would you be? How would you start every sentence?
Katharine Beutner: Kirsten, hello! Thinking this over, I’m surprised that I find it much easier to say how I would start every sentence than to decide what kind of mythical creature I would be. I would start every sentence with “What if–” and sometimes the what-ifs would be marvelous and speculative and sometimes they’d be practical and sometimes they’d be anxious. I’ve cut down a lot on the anxious what-ifs since I got divorced, but they still creep in sometimes.
Since I ask questions all the time, I think I’d be a sphinx, though I’d rather be the guardian Egyptian sort than the riddling kind that has to eat hapless travelers. People tell me I always seem calm and collected, though I find that hard to believe.
What about you? And I’m curious, do you feel a pressure to choose from a particular mythology? I’ve been Greek-mythology-obsessed since I was a kid, so I felt like it would be cheating to claim another source — and I’m really leery of appropriating another culture’s mythology, though for some reason I don’t feel that guilt about Greek myths, maybe because they’ve become a sort of symbolic language for writers and readers in Western literary traditions.
Kirsten Kaschock: Hello Katharine. Lovely to meet you in this imaginary space.
I’d have to be a shapeshifter, skinwalker, facedancer, changeling. A creature for whom metamorphosis is identity. I’d start every sentence as differently as possible, trying on language like shoes. How do I want to move today? I’m not satisfied that my own identity is accurate, so I collect more–writing is a place to do this less tragically than other places. I love my life, just not enough to live there and there only. The thing is, I’m pretty sure when I wear others’ faces, pasts, and bodies—I end up leaving something (my scent? my trace? my soul?) everywhere. P’raps it’s only by being other that I prove I exist? Or some comparable nonsense…
As far as traditions go–dark European fables and folklore are most resonant with me, but you see facedancer up there too (from Frank Herbert’s Dune). I’m fascinated by the mythologies that surround, the ones we are ever recreating. I’m not that interested in writing vampires or zombies, but trying to figure out their function in the current North American cultural imagination… that would be a project.
I have another life where I’ve danced, and being trained in classical ballet and modern dance seeded in me a profound awe of the human ability to transform the self. In the Greek mythology you love (and that my sons are just discovering now), I’m wondering if the everpresence of physical transformation–for punishment or reward or to facilitate seduction–is part of the draw. Some creatures seem simply elemental, others are created or made god. Still others, like the Sphinx, are hybrids. I like what happens to them/me when I think through such manifestations as real, i.e., not (purely) metaphorical. Tell me–in addition to your hypothetical tendencies–does the sphinx-body appeal to you? Continue Reading…