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Boomtron just published my latest Sandman Meditation, this one on Chapter Two of The Wake.
"Sandman Meditation?" you say. "That sounds ... vaguely familiar..."
In July 2010, I started writing a series of short pieces called Sandman Meditations
in which I proceeded through each issue of Neil Gaiman's Sandman
comic and offered whatever thoughts happened to come to mind. The idea was Jay Tomio's, and at first the Meditations were published on his Gestalt Mash site, then later Boomtron
. The basic concept was that we'd see what happened when somebody without much background in comics, who'd never read Sandman
before, spent time reading through it all.
I wrote 71 Meditations between July 2010 and June 2012, getting all the way up through the first installment of the last story in the regular series, The Wake
. 75,000 words.
And then stopped. I read Chapter 2 of The Wake
and had nothing to say. I tried writing through the lack of words, but the more I tried to write the more what I wrote nauseated me. I couldn't go on.
I got through 71 Meditations by only looking back once — in the piece on "Ramadan"
, I misread a word (yes, one word) and completely misunderstood the story. When Neil gently brought the mistake to our attention, I was shocked. So I went back and re-read "Ramadan" and what I'd written about it. Though in the immediate moment, I felt like a total idiot with entire chicken farms of egg on my face, I've come to cherish that mistake, because it showed just how carefully and subtly constructed so much of Sandman
is, and how a simple slip in reading can make a text flip all around. It gave me a certain freedom, too. I'd always been terrified of making some dumb, obvious mistake in my reading of Sandman
, because I know it's so well known by its passionate fans, and I didn't want to either let them down or annoy them. Once I made that big mistake, I felt somehow freer to go wrong, and that kind of freedom is necessary for writing. I went forward, trying hard not to think about whether I was writing well or terribly, thinking well or thinking badly, reading well or reading as if I'd never learned to read at all.
But by the 71st installment, my confidence fell apart. I was terrified that I'd written nothing but drivel, and the weight of that fear pulled me back. Why should anybody want to waste time reading what I've got to say about this?
I wondered. This is a beloved series of comics, a beloved story full of beloved characters, an intricately woven tale that I'm just blundering through blindly.
I couldn't do it.
Eric Schaller kept bugging me. "So are you ever going to finish your Sandman
stuff?" he'd ask, and I'd change the subject.
I figured as more time passed, everybody would forget about my crazy reading experiment.
Jay Tomio remembered. I felt terrible for letting him down. He'd been so supportive, and I'd failed in the end. But he never seemed to hold it against me; he seemed to understand. It had been a long run. Boomtron went through some changes. The Meditations disappeared for a while. Then Jay started reconstructing, and so out of the blue one day I got a note: "Any chance you'd like to continue?" he asked.
I was terrified. A lot had changed. What would it mean to continue?But continue I did, and continue I will.
(I'll finish The Wake
in the coming weeks, then continue on to Endless Nights
. If all goes well, I think it would be fun to finish up with the recent Overture
, to return full circle back to the beginning. Fingers crossed.)
As you'll see from the new piece, I thought of David Beronä
, and I knew exactly what he'd say if he were here for me to ask about it. "Use the time you have," he'd say. "Do it now."
It's nice to be back.
In my latest Sandman Meditations piece, I discussed the unconscious shame of reading comics in certain settings, and at the end I promised I would read some old G.I. Joe comics while my students worked on their final exam activities.
I have kept my promise -- and gone beyond it. Since today's class was called Media as Popular Culture, I thought we should all enjoy some popular culture for a moment, so I loaned everyone in the class a G.I. Joe
|click to enlarge|
I had to skip a week of Sandman meditating because of a billion other commitments (you might have noticed this here blog has been quiet...), but the column is back this week with some thoughts on the final chapter of A Game of You.
I try to avoid looking at any response to the columns, including the comments sections, because I discovered early on that if I pay much attention to what folks are saying about the columns, I then start tailoring what I write to those responses. And for various reasons, with this particular project I don't want to do that.
I have to admit, though, I loved this tweet from Neil Gaiman:
I promise that whenever I come to an end with The Sandman
, I'll write a column that looks back over this whole strange endeavor, because I've really pushed myself to write these pieces quickly and as a kind of first response, without a whole lot of reflection, which means, I'm sure, some of the columns are just barmy. My perception of individual Sandman
issues has changed as I've read others, and my perception of the whole series has changed again and again. There are days when I think the real
way to do this experiment is to go through it all once, then start over from the beginning, but I probably don't have the stamina for that
. (Heck, when I agreed to do this, I was thinking I'd write one column about each story arc, not each issue! Then Jay told me what he'd really been thinking. And I, being somewhat susceptible to crazy challenges, said I'd give it a try. And as they say, I'm not dead yet...
I've got a couple of new pieces elsewhere:
At Tor.com, "Mr. Modesitt & Me", a personal essay in honor of the 20th anniversary of L.E. Modesitt's The Magic of Recluce. An interview I did with Lee for the anniversary will be posted later this week.
And after a week's break, I'm back with a new Sandman Meditations column (the 41st!), this one on "Parliament of Rooks".
Also, I'm not the only one writing an issue-by-issue chronicle of The Sandman -- fellow Caine Prize blogger The Oncoming Hope is doing so as well. Check it out!
I've got a couple of pieces of writing floating around out in the internets this week—
A new Sandman Meditations piece has been posted at Gestalt Mash. This week, the penultimate chapter of Brief Lives. If my counting is correct, this is the 50th Sandman Meditation. (The 50th issue of Sandman was "Ramadan", but because I'm reading the stories in the order of the trade collections rather than the original publication, I wrote about that issue back in June when I read it in Fables and Reflections.)
Over at Strange Horizons, it's Pat Cadigan week, and I've contributed an essay about some of the 1980s short stories that helped make Cadigan famous. It's a somewhat odd essay. I expect the nice young men in their clean white coats to show up at my door any moment...
Also, it's Strange Horizons Fund Drive time! The site exists through contributions. The staff are not paid, but the writers are (the reverse of many publisher's policies). Except for a brief hiatus during the end-of-the-year holidays, SH brings you new fiction, nonfiction, and poetry every week at no cost to the, uh, consumer. Donating is easy. Try it, kids, it's fun!
By: Matthew Cheney,
Blog: The Mumpsimus
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, Jeff VanderMeer
, Strange Horizons
, Ann VanderMeer
, Sandman Meditations
, Derek Jarman
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Google has done gone and broke Google Reader, removing the sharing function to encourage people to use Google Plus instead. This means the "Fresh Links" section over on the sidebar is no longer able to be refreshed, and I'll probably go back to occasionally doing linkdump posts. Here, for instance, are some links:
- My latest Strange Horizons column, "Reading Systems", has been posted, as has my latest Sandman Meditations piece. (The Sandman pieces are going to be biweekly for the rest of the year rather than the regular weekly schedule because I'm just too busy to keep up with a weekly schedule right now, and I was getting really frazzled.)
- Team VanderMeer has launched The Weird Fiction Review, an online journal about kumquats. Famed kumquat collected Neil Gaiman is interviewed, and there's an interesting selection of nonfiction, art, and fiction about kumquats. Don't believe me? Well, go over there and see for yourself!
- In publishing news, it turns out that libraries are actually good for the publishing industry.
- Fandor has a great set of tributes to the great Derek Jarman. I'm working on something about Jarman's Caravaggio (25 years old this year!) and also a piece about Jarman for Rain Taxi, but I'm finding Jarman much harder to write about than I expected, and both pieces are vastly late. But I shall persevere!
- And here are 92 open-access film e-books. Never again will you complain about lacking something to read!
has started a new website, mostly (but not only) devoted to comics, called Gestalt Mash
, and he very kindly asked me to be a regular contributor. When he first asked, I thought he must have me confused with somebody else, because though I have some good friends who are comics experts, I'm only an occasional reader of them myself. The only comic I read regularly as a kid was G.I. Joe
, and I didn't read my first graphic novel until I was well into my 20's. Jay asked if I'd write about Neil Gaiman's Sandman series
, writing a short essay for every issue. I told him, with a bit of embarrassment, that I've never read Sandman
; indeed, I only know Neil Gaiman's work in prose (and like some of it quite a bit
). Jay said that would be the fun -- plenty of comics afficionados have written about Sandman
... but what happens when somebody who doesn't know much about comics does?
Well, the first of my "Sandman Meditations"
has now been posted, and you can see for yourself. This is just the beginning of a journey, and who knows what it will all look like in the end. It's intimidating to write from a position of naivety about a work of art that is so beloved by so many people, but it's also a challenge that offers some interesting opportunities, and I hope to explore different ways of writing about the series as I go along.
We're planning on posting a new piece every 7-10 days, which means this endeavor will take at least a year and a half to complete. Let the journey begin...
My latest "Sandman Meditations" column has now been posted at Gestalt Mash. This particular column seems transitional to me, bringing myself as a reader to the foreground, because sometimes that feels necessary; the next installment goes in the opposite direction to some extent, and I expect as the experiment continues I'll be trying out different modes of narration, simply because doing all 75 or so of them in the same way would get rather tedious for all of us...
Here's an excerpt:
The third Sandman poses some problems for me, someone who has read almost no DC comics and has only the vaguest sense of their characters and history. The vagueness and sense share a source: popular culture in general. You’d have to live in some remote part of the world, away from billboards and newspapers and televisions and radios, to avoid all references to DC characters, given how many of them have metamorphosed into stars of movies and TV shows. I was going to write a sentence in which I listed them, but then I realized I don’t know how many of the characters I’m thinking of are DC characters. Many, I’m sure, are Marvel characters. In fact, I probably have a greater sense of Marvel characters than DC characters, because the only comic I read as a kid was G.I. Joe, and that was a Marvel comic, so there were ads in it for other Marvel comics. At least, I think it was a Marvel comic.
The end of summer continues to be busy for me (in good ways), and I've neglected a few things I should have linked to. Actually, I've probably neglected many things I should have linked to. For now, though, just a few...
I'm continuing to explore Neil Gaiman's Sandman comics over at Gestalt Mash, one issue each week. Last week was issue 5, "Passengers"; this week issue 6, "24 Hours".
And for Amazon.com's Omnivoracious blog, I interviewed Nnedi Okorafor, author of the wonderful novel Who Fears Death. (And Nnedi has just been interviewed over at Tor.com, too.)
Finally, my favorite internet item this week: a film called "Words", presented as an extra feature to a Radiolab program.
I'm doing a terrible job of posting links here to my Sandman Meditations column every week (following Gestalt Mash on Twitter is the easiest way to be updated). We've finished with Preludes & Nocturnes and have now moved on to The Doll's House with "Tales in the Sand" and "The Doll's House".
I also wanted to mention that Tor.com recently reprinted one of my favorite Gaiman stories, "Bitter Grounds", a story I've admired since its first publication, and one I'm thrilled to see available online.
Since I've been spending the past few weeks preparing a Gender & Science Fiction class, there's very little I seem to want to write about at the moment other than the thing Kate Bornstein calls "the gender cult".
Thus, we have yesterday's Strange Horizons column (written a week and a half ago), "The Failure of Masculinity" and today's latest episode of the Sandman Meditations, "Men of Good Fortune". They are in many ways companion pieces.
By the way, I haven't had a chance yet to mention that Strange Horizons is holding their annual fund drive. SH has paid contributors, volunteer staff, and no advertising revenue other than that which comes through Amazon Associates links to books. This is SH's tenth year of putting out a new issue nearly every week. It's an amazing endeavor, and the archives are rich with a wonderfully varied collection of material. They are able to do so because each year lots of readers thank them with a contribution. Let's keep thanking them!
My latest Sandman Meditations column was posted earlier this week. This one is about "A Dream of a Thousand Cats".
In the column, I mention my new cats, Alex and Oliver. As an added bonus to all that, here's a picture of them dreaming...
Things are likely to remain quiet around here for a little bit, because I need to force myself to kill the demons of procrastination and write a bunch of things for which I have deadlines.
But as one little hiatus begins, another ends -- Gestalt Mash is back (in beta) with new and better hosting, having suffered what any new site likes to suffer: faster-than-expected growth. Kudos to Jay Tomio for a huge amount of work migrating the site over the past few weeks.
Anyway, my latest column is about Season of Mists, Episode 3. (Previous installments are still here.) It contains this brilliant nugget of subtle insight, sure to recontextualize the entire Sandman series for you: