Monday, November 19, 2007

The Body as Ecotone - Part 9 - Jessica Goodfellow

How to Describe the Desert Without Saying Water
- Jessica Goodfellow

Wanted: bauble of milky mouth.
Fat knee of shameless need, kneading.
Wanted: fontanelle ticking, a fist
of collateral tightening. Frightening
whorl of faintest resemblance—thin
as glaze, angle, or desire.

What I wouldn’t have (forsaken).
Crone whispered, Bridegroom hissed—
My groggy head in vespers once
northward canted. Cant = can’t.
My fault. Crone’s nostrums: always
it was water, variables afloat, science

listing. Crone intoned the Water Deva,
snake in the well. From feminine flotsam
infused a brooding brew. Awoke my desert(ed)
troth to sit unsheathed in a rainstorm.
The one constant was water—no planet
without it breathes. I was no planet.

And now. My moon blooms amphibian.
Glory, my taproot has plummeted.
My matrix is configured. Hosanna.
Madonna figure, de rigueur,
who once beleaguered be.
Full regalia my penetralia is.

Jessica describes "How to Describe the Desert Without Saying Water" as "an expression of my own body's transitional place between infertility and pregnancy (but not infertility and fertility; my experience has been, once infertile, always infertile, even after the babies come. And they did come.)

Friday, November 9, 2007

The Body as Ecotone - Part 8 - Nicole Cartwright Denison

the smuggler speaks of maim
- Nicole Cartwright Denison

I dreamt the phantom limb
past the crook of arm
back of knee
tingling, tugging
an affront
to purpose,

notice, then practice their
leers at the appendage

do they not recognize
offending members
bared in the marketplace,
my crimes for all to see

pity they clamor
for bloodlust
terrible sport

single digit
left counting,
one foot saved
to ease my travels

Thursday, November 8, 2007

The Body as Ecotone - Part 7 - Jarvis Slacks

On Keloids - Jarvis Slacks

It’s called keloid. Key. Loid. It is when the skin won’t heal like most people’s skin heals. Think of the skin healing cross-sectionally, lacing together and then melting to produce a seamless reality where a mistake happened. A keloid is the opposite. The skin lumps together and then just tries to figure things out the best it can. It is like the skin says, Can blood get out? No? Then we’re done here. No one really knows why the condition exists. And, yes, it is most common in black people. My people. In some counties, they still call us “you people.”

Keloids are the most wonderful scares. They rise up off the skin, or make the skin appear completely different than it did before. I have one on the back of my right hand. It happened after a bad night with a bad girl. I was riding my bike and flipped and slid and there they were: five new scars that will never go away. When people ask about it I tell them the truth: a mistake. But I’m not talking about the bike accident. I’m talking about the night before. Scars are direct representations of the things you do—I am a firm believer that, somehow and sometime, you have to pay for your mistakes.

For example, there is a scar on my belly. On the left side, up and down. I called my sister a foul name (bitch). Then I climbed a tree. Then I slid down the tree, and my belly took off some of the bark. It was huge, then, the scar. The length of my body. Now it is as long as my pinky. There is also one on my shin, from my foot to my knee, where I refused to help my mother do something. I can’t remember what. Then I ran into the underpinning of my house on a four-wheeler. There are scars from where I dated this girl for a week, this girl I shouldn’t have, and then I got ring-worm and now there are dozens of little places where the skin is dark, places where it should be light.

Recently I’ve been having conversations about plastic surgery with beautiful women. These women are older, yes, and they are afraid of what aging may bring in thirty years. The conversations seemed to bounce off me. My body isn’t something to fix. It isn’t something that can be remedied. My body doesn’t have scars, I have scars. Emotional, physical, whatever, I’m riddled. My belly isn’t big. I’m big. My leg doesn’t hurt. I hurt. I am slowly understanding that this place that I spend so much time with, my body, is so much of me. People say, Get rid of the physical. Look past the flesh. I’m embracing my flesh, fully accepting of it. This is me, I say, sometimes, to people. These days, I tend to walk around my house naked, the windows open.

This could be me getting old, not caring about the ideas of beauty as much as I used to, when beauty was obtainable. Or it could be me getting more arrogant, thinking my body is the most beautiful body in the world. And I really do think that. When I look in the mirror, I don’t want to be anyone else. I couldn’t imagine it. A certain level of arrogance can save you a lifetime of doubts, some costly medical procedures, or some therapy. Scars aren’t so bad. As long as you remember where they came from—how not to get them, again.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

The Body as Ecotone - Part 6 - Kate Sweeney

The Tattooed Lady Speaks
- Kate Sweeney

My first tattoo isn’t small. I live in a southern town, which means that any season other than the dead of winter, you’ll see it. The other one is pretty readily visible, too. Because now there are two. Somehow this happened, and intrinsically, it pleases me. But still, I don’t want to be identified as “The Tattooed Girl.”

Did this ever get to the Lion Tamer? Did he long for the world to know he could also play the kazoo so sweetly it could lull a babe to slumber? I heard no one bought it when Snake Woman mentioned she’d taken up photography. And the Fat Lady. Well. She’s still battling it out.

Except of course, the difference is that every ounce of unwanted attention in this matter is my fault. No one else forced me into first one tattoo studio and then another, a few years and hundreds of miles later. Oh, and nobody forced my hand in deciding Tattoo Number One would be a primitive explosion of vivid red-orange rose blossoms just beneath my shoulder blades. It’s this that introduced me to the phenomenon of people I didn’t know well identifying me as The Girl With That Tattoo. All my doing.

I did this. And not just because I thought the design was pretty, but because of how I imagined it identified me. The obvious problem, however, is that I don’t get to control the significance other people place on my tattoos. Other people do not see this ink and think, “Ah. Bookish and creative.” The men at the truck stops see it and send up wise smirks. My grandmother saw them only recently—not my idea. (Thanks, sis’!) To her, the tattoos amounted to disappointment; marked me as “common.” To some guys at bars, they signify “promiscuous but scary.” In reality, I am both shy in a number of matters and neurotic, but not psychotic. Then there’s the typical “Ah, trendy!” reaction, followed in the same breath, with “Foolhardy.” As in, “She’ll regret that in five years.” When I told a colleague once that I got those roses done in my mid-twenties, she said, “Oh! I’d assumed it was like, one of those regretful things you did back when you were eighteen.”
Um, no.

The worst though, is people who assume because I have a couple, that I am a fan of tattoos in general. That I’ll
1. like
2. want to talk about
that dolphin on your belly/the Celtic band across your arm/your future plans to map that scene from Gladiator across your back.
Listen: I’m not a conventioneer. I just don’t want to talk about tattoos, yours or mine.

It’s unsettling to be reminded of one's physical appearance by people you’ve just met. I feel for the pregnant woman whose fate it is to have strangers in grocery stores reach out to brush their fingers across her swollen belly, as if her body somehow no longer belonged to her.

What makes it especially irritating is that in large part, the reason I got these tattoos has everything to do with claiming my body as my own. If there’s anything I want people to get when they see me, it’s that I’m someone who tries not to buy into fashion norms or conventional consumerist hoo-ha, thank you. The word “fashion” makes me squirm. Like malls, like thong underpants. I’ll say so with my body. I’ll say so right up front.

The agonizing, hilarious irony is that of course, in fashion’s predictable arc, tattoos, like Chuck Taylor shoes and so many things before them, long ago went from being anti-fashion statements to being signs of hipness. Where was I when this happened? Maybe at this bar, wearing a variant of the same outfit I’ve worn since I was 17: Converses and some $2 thrift store dress. And hey, look: everyone around me here now looks like this too, although that's no sign that they share my politics or passions. And yet maybe tonight I’ll make some sort of connection. Because listen: there’s this guy trying to get my attention over the music; wait, what? He leans over. Shouts into my ear.
“My ex-girlfriend had a tattoo sort of like that!”
Oh, really?
“She was a real bitch!”
All right.

Friday, November 2, 2007

The Body as Ecotone - Part 5 - Jeannine Hall Gailey

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made; or, How Am I Like the X-Men?
- Jeannine Hall Gailey


We all start out as children wondering if we are special, unique. We secretly believe we are not like anyone else; that, like Superman, we are orphans from a different planet, with phenomenal superpowers, being raised by "regular" humans. Sometimes these beliefs come true, but not in exactly the ways we had hoped.

There's a verse in Psalm 139 that goes something like "I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; I know that full well." When I studied biology for my undergraduate degree, and had the opportunity to do some real life dissection of the human body (a rarity for an undergrad, usually reserved for med school students) I did marvel that everything turned out so well: the layers of fascia, the bones beneath the sleek muscles, the fascinatingly complex eye and heart. I remember the professor saying, "None of your cadavers will look like the pictures in the text books; every body has a little abnormality - an enlarged liver, for instance, in this person, or a collapsed lung in this one. Some people have too many vertebrae in their spines, or too few, or an extra dozen feet of colon in their digestive tract." It was a wake-up call for me as I worked on the cadaver with my scalpel, not to take anything for granted. Maybe an organ was hiding beneath another organ, or it was on the wrong side, or it had a different shape and color.

My little brother and I read the X-Men comics together in the mid-eighties, a comic that focuses on characters who, through genetic mutation, have developed powers (like spontaneous healing or controlling the weather) that make them extremely helpful to the human race but also make them outsiders who have to battle bigotry against "mutant kind."

Recently, my hematologist, the kind of doctor that everyone should hope to have (caring, smart, dedicated, and a persistent detective) asked me to come in to her office to meet a few other doctors who were experts in the research of their respective fields, visitors at the University of Washington, where my hematologist teaches. One of the doctors, a woman about my age who looked like someone they'd cast as a doctor in a show like Grey's Anatomy (I think she was a pathologist, an expert in rare infectious diseases - now there's an interesting career!) was asking me about my various genetic and congenital abnormalities and health problems: an extremely rare genetic bleeding disorder called PAI-1 Deficiency, a "horseshoe" or single, long kidney hugging the front of my abdomen, a "twinned" uterus, an abnormal heartbeat, asthma, an enlarged thyroid, an allergy to sunlight (blisters and flu symptoms when I go out in bright sun for too long) and alcohol (I pass out after less than half a glass of wine.)

"Wow," she said, "Genetically, you've got to be one out of, like, 50 million. Have you noticed yourself developing any special powers? You know, like the X-Men?"

"Not yet," I responded, "but I'm pretty sure they're going to manifest any day now."

I know I am unique. Different. Special. Fearfully made, yes. Wonderfully made? I'm still working on coming to terms with that. A sense of wonder. Wondering.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Body as Ecotone - Part 4 - Laurel Snyder

Bris as Ecotone - Laurel Snyder


_____Priest: To what part of your body do you refer most often?

_____Young Man: To God

__________~Antonin Artaud

So—a baby gets born, and the baby has a body, and the body is good. Then God says, “Cut off a bit of that body, why don’t you? Just the smallest part—”

God wants to see what we’ll do. It’s an experiment.

We prove to be good subjects.

We cut. We snip. We hack a bit of the body away. We prove our excellent listening skills. We get a gold star, a lollipop. We get a god.


Except that now we’re the maker. Or the tiniest part. This dominion is now ours, not because it has been given to us but because it has been taken by us. We held the knife.

And who holds the knife? Who takes?

We have taken charge of the body with the body. And the world has followed the body’s lead. Our ears heard a voice. Our fingers fumbled for a blade. Our offspring (next, better selves) lay before us, waiting.


Our hands become his hands. Our knife is his knife. And his knife is us.

We turned.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Body as Ecotone - Part 3 - Alison Stine

The Earrings
Alison Stine

The earrings are small, hand-beaten gold disks. They look like they were shaped by tiny thumbs. I bought them in London, when I was twenty years old. They were displayed in an aquarium, the tiny jewelry hung from tiny driftwood branches. They cost forty pounds, which was a lot, especially for a twenty year-old girl without pierced ears. I think the store was called Bloomsbury, but the black velvet drawstring bag they came in is so old, the name has worn away.

The name has worn away from me touching it, opening the bag, and dumping the earrings into my hands, and touching them, as I do every few months, every few days, lately.

They are the only pair of earrings I own or have ever owned.

Because I don’t have my ears pierced.

Because I am deaf in one ear.

Because of a rare birth defect which is often much worse.

I have no other piercings. I have no tattoos. I often dye my hair, but it’s usually mistaken for my natural color. I am plain and bare as a plain tree, and I want that to change.

This year for my birthday—January25th—I am getting my ears pierced.

I am getting my ears pierced to prove to myself that I can change, that I can change my body, that I am not too old. I want to change in preparation for a larger change: I am getting my hearing fixed, or at least, I am going to see a doctor to see if it can be fixed.

I’m afraid of the gun, and I’m afraid of the needle, and I’m very, very afraid of the doctor, and what he might say, and how it might be no.

The gold earrings are one of the greatest gifts I have given myself—although most would say I have not gotten any good out of them, as I have never worn them. But buying them, spending so much money to buy them, was a sign to myself. Hang on to myself.

One day you will be strong enough to change.
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Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Body as Ecotone - Part 2 - Ann Ropp

When Ann Ropp emailed, suggesting her images might fit nicely with the idea of the human body as an ecotone--an ethereal, transitional space--I immediately moved to view her Body of Water series housed at the Wynn Bone Gallery. And what I found were subverted imaginings of bodies in space, the shapes suggestive of the human form, but inhabiting space in ways not immediately recognizable. And then the title: Bodies of Water. And I began to think of her images, sometimes suggestive, sometimes mystical, as translating the body into something more fluid, more liquid than our true form suggests. But given our makeup--mostly water--I suddenly began to think of my own body differently: as a moving, shifting pond full of organisms and undercurrents and gravitational desires.

Suzanne Stryk, whose image graces the mast of this blog, says this of Ropp's work:

Looking at Ann Ropp's Body of Water series, I'm reminded of a line by author Camille Paglia: "Sex," she writes, "is the natural in man." Ropp's recent fleshy-colored watercolors of intertwining bodies and suggestively sexual shapes make the erotic natural. The images in Body of Water led me to think not only of human bodies but also of actual bodies of water, with all their inlets, pools and rivulets. The water marks and bloom of the medium itself conjure up our own anatomy as well as the geological or botanical, again connecting the human and the natural. As an artist myself, I'm aware of how these seemingly simple shapes lock the white of the page into place and how their watery matrix creates form as if it just "happened." This painterly spontaneity feels absolutely right for the sensual subject matter.

The Body as Ecotone - Part 1 - Pregnant Bellies

I never thought that having a baby was particularly odd until my friends started having them. I very distinctly remember the day that my friend Lili went to the hospital to give birth. The idea that my friends Lili and Ben would go to the hospital but Lili, Ben and A BABY would come home from the hospital seemed just unfathomable. While sort of obvious in an abstract way, it just didn't make any sense to me when it was something I was actually seeing happen.

Around the same time, I was the witness in my friend Sarah's City Hall wedding. It was quiet and lovely, we went out to lunch in Williamsburg, Brooklyn after, the husband, Guy, the wife, Sarah and me, the witness. Even though we were close friends, I felt a little bit like an outsider, like the child, the less evolved one, even though we were all essentially the same age. Now, they were my married friends, not my friends who lived together in sin. And I was the witness to it! Again, getting married seemed so normal until I actually participated in it.

Now, Sarah (in the photo), who lives in LA, just had a baby. It seems less weird when you don't see the person every day, but looking at photos, I am struck with that same uncomfortable sense: this is my friend, her expression is so familiar, but now she has a baby. It is quotidian and yet, mind-blowing. This photo of her sums it all up. She is still Sarah, she has funky taste in art and would put a weird-ass drawing on the wall of her baby's room, but her body is doing the thing that we were put here to do--the least funky thing possible, really.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Body as Ecotone - An Invitation

Ecotone: a transitional zone standing between two connected, yet separate ecosystems.
Body: the physical representation of a soul in transition.

We're interested in exploring the body as an ecotoneas a transitional place separating past and present, fantasy and realityand invite you to submit artistic expressions of this idea. (We're open to anything: striking text, video, finger paints, sand sculptures...)

Has your body served as a transitional zone physically through body art, pregnancy, injury, plastic surgery? Or perhaps through grief, stress, starvation or alchoholic binges? However you view your body as an ecotone, we're interested. Surprise us. Give us something brilliant, something edgy, something addictive, and we'll launch your piece into the blogosphere (also called rogue publishing). You never know who might be watching.

You can send blog submissions to davidhg[at] or associateeditor[at]

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Blogosphere as Place

When a journalwhich attempts to redefine and reinvent the concept of placedecides to enter the blogosphere, what should happen?

Sitting around the table, discussing this very question, the immediate answer amongst our editors was clear:
We'll do exactly what the journal does, except edgier. With cameras and lights and reckless abandon.

And I agreed—couldn't wait to enter the Wilmington, NC environs with pad and camera and analytical mind ready to observe the ideas of place that exist around us which have been constructed out of thin air: the contemporary, main street mall with apartments located above the Banana Republic; the streets that run up to Wrightsville Beach, upon which city workers regularly attack the sand with leaf blowers; the airport terminals where nobody is meant to be for any period of time, and so find ways to escape even while there.

But then I thought,
Is the blogosphere, this ethereal landscape we've now entered, a place? And if so, how would it look on a map, or in a photograph, or roughly etched into the grain of gypsum?

The idea of the blogosphere
as place—this virtual landscape in which physical landmarks are connected by thematic, relational or irrational links—is not a difficult one to enter. But consider this: the screen, two dimensional, flat, pixilated, contains the idea of three dimensions, reflections of three dimensional lives digested mostly through text. And the text contains multitudes, contains regional cross-sections of lives pulsating upon a three dimensional globe spinning wildly, contains the daily struggles and milestones and rants and musings of people plugged in, sitting in an office or living room or coffee shop, plugging all of this into—where exactly?

Try stuffing a basketball into a business-sized envelope. And when you cannot, instead produce a paring knife and peel off a small sliver of orange-tinged leather. Slide it into the envelope. Seal it.

Now call that envelope a place, disconnected from the vandalized, publicly exposed ball. It seems to me all that can be said about the envelope is this: it's nothing and everything. Nowhere and everywhere.

And if this is true, then the blogosphere, like God, exists independent of us, but cannot exist without us. In other words, it is the absence of physicality. A body without form.

Is that a place?

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

On Airports and Ecotones

I was thinking about this last time I was waiting around in Charlotte. Since this was Charlotte, every single person there was on a delayed flight, and everyone had his laptop open and was not even there, at the airport, really, but instead, in his own personalized internetland.

So right away you have: this physical place of transition which is not even really the city where you are, just the changeover spot, and then you have this added internet element, so no one is even in the nonplace. They are there, twice-removed.

In crowd situations, I'm the first person to retreat into my book or yeah, to the internet, if I have my laptop, but since Everyone was doing this, it made me feel petulant and rebellious. Usually we solitary types like being solitary alone. If everyone's doing it, you're just a sheep, you see.

Right. So I’m there, feeling kind of self-important about wanting to be Present and Seated in my Environment like a living, breathing creature on this planet. For about…a minute. I mean, you might be seated in the damn plane next to whomever you talk to. Then you're stuck together for the next five hours in some space that’s really got no intrinsic value all its own. Which can be uncomfortable for both of you. So I did end up opening up my laptop after all. And that was that.

Then there are airport bars. All these young men watching their home teams, all these businessmen talking about cities like they're not cities, in this sort of modern-cowboy frontierspeak: “Oh, I did Charlotte, today. Tonight, it's Daytona, and then (low whistle), I am gone-!”

There's this complex thing that happens to your brain when you are in an airport. I think it happens because you're still in the place you were leaving (or in some weird middle place that you would never want to go to like Charlotte) but you haven't yet gotten to the place that you are going. So, you aren't exactly yourself. You are place-less, adrift. All you have is a gate number and the bizarre food choices that the airport has chosen to offer you.

It's a liminal space, really, where you are both free from yourself but SO MUCH yourself. In the real world, I have trouble sitting still and I can't make decisions, so when I am in airports, all that gets oddly exacerbated. I wander around, I stare at the screens, I try to get on earlier flights, I go through this elaborate decision-making process about whether or not to eat the bad-for-me food they sell there. Last week I talked myself into and then out a McDonalds snack wrap. Even though in my real life, I would never each such a thing. In an airport, when things are going well and you aren't having to fight with a customer service representative about how to get yourself home after your flights have all been cancelled, it's all you have to think about.

I walked away from the McDonalds with the intention to go to the airport bar, in LaGuardia it's the Brooklyn Brewery, but I have such a complex relationship with airport bars. All I want to do in airports is drink, and yet, I don't want to be the KIND of person who drinks in airports, even though I AM totally that kind of person. I drink all the time: why can't I drink in airports? So, I walked up to the bar and then I realized that there wasn't one woman in the bar at all, just a bunch of middle-aged dudes watching the Jets on big TV's. And I imagined someone asking me about the book I was reading or talking to me about why the Jets and the Giants play in New Jersey, but they are still said to be from New York, and I just couldn't handle it. So as quickly as I had talked myself out of the snack wrap and into a Bloody Mary, I was talked out of it and then I had nothing to do but just go to the gate and watch a woman pick up the Cheerios from the floor that her baby had thrown there.

I hate that the moments we have free time end up being when we’re in places like airports, doing things like that: watching the woman pick up the Cheerios. Like we were born for that moment. But maybe we were.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Skiing the Beach

In the blogosphere, nobody pays attention to beginnings--unless what progresses from such a beginning becomes striking enough that the masses are inspired to go back. To investigate. To see from where all the brilliance originated.

Oh, and we will be brilliant. You'll come back to us, to this post, where our editor-in-chief--David Gessner--sets the tone for this online companion to Ecotone, UNCW's national literary journal.

What is an ecotone? Well, technically it's this. And as you'll see, it's also this: