Approaching Last Exit
Transmit the message / to the receiver
Last Exit hits bookstore shelves on Tuesday. I’m excited and scared, as the man wrote for the lady to sing. Those of you who ordered a copy through the big river store may have received it already—the big river people have been inconsistent lately with regard to release dates, especially release dates that wiggle around. If you have your copy already, I hope you’re enjoying the journey; if you don’t have it yet, I hope you will soon.
I’ve been writing guest essays and newsletters and blog posts for the last few months, and those will hit the internet soon. The first is up already, in fact, on Sarah Gailey’s Stone Soup newsletter. It’s about the days of the week and the Naval Toasting Round, and old friends, what we learn from them and how we keep those memories. Gailey’s newsletter is always a joy and a source of useful information, and I’d suggest subscribing. You can read the piece here.
On Tuesday—launch day!—you’ll be able to hear me on the Functional Nerds podcast with Patrick Hester and Tracy Townsend, talking about the book, of course, and about possibilities, multiverses, growth, memory. I hope you’ll give it a listen.
And, should you happen to be in the Greater Boston Area, and an extremely masked, proof-of-vaccination-required public event fits inside your personal risk threshold… I’m going to be launching Last Exit with the good people of Pandemonium Books and Games, in person, next Thursday, March 10. I knew this would be my first public book event in over two years—what I didn’t realize at the time, was that it would be theirs, too! Pandemonium is a great store and I’ve loved my book events there. I’ll be honest—I have many feelings about this. But among those feelings are, confidence in the Pandemonium team, and excitement about seeing readers face-to-face again. So: Come if you’re able! (Due to the extra costs of running a safe event in a pandemic, this will be a ticketed event—$5, which will also get you a discount on the cover price of the book.)
I’ve spent this week as flat on my back as I can bear. Omicron meant, as I’ve mentioned, a lot more child care, and while I did my best to manage my load otherwise, I’m worn out—so I’ve taken three days of my first close-to-vacation in about three years. The goal is to recover, take stock—see this book out into the world, and dive back in to the next thing. I hope I can share more about that soon.
As I rest, I’ve been browsing Matthew Aucoin’s The Impossible Art—a great little collection of essays on opera, from the perspective of an erudite practitioner—where I found this passage on Auden, and specifically his libretto for The Rake’s Progress, which seems relevant to our lives in and around “the genres,” especially fantasy:
A(uden… argues, in a more serious vein, that myths make the best subject matter for tragic operas because only mythic, archetypal characters genuinely invite the audience to imagine themselves as participants in the tragedy. Myths belong to all of us, whereas in contemporary stories, the audience perceives “a situation some people are in and others, including the audience, are not in.” When we cannot imagine that the suffering depicted onstage could be our own, “the pleasure we… are obviously enjoying strikes the conscience as frivolous.” This is the difference between empathy and voyeurism, a difference that makes all the difference. Auden’s viewpoint provides a welcome and bracing corrective to the attitude that tends to prevail in the twenty-first century: we are too ready to assume that audiences are capable of empathizing only with characters in contemporary situations, characters who look, talk, and dress as they do.
I’d argue that this is true even when the tale might not, in its broadest possible summary, seem to be a “tragedy.” In The Lord of the Rings, for example, Sauron is (spoilers!) defeated, the ring destroyed, the world saved—and this has given rise, through a game of reception telephone, to a false memory, a cultural impression that The Lord of the Rings is a cheery book about winning. When in fact it’s a book about what’s lost even in what looks like victory—what does endure, what can endure, what must and will change. Remember, Frodo both makes it all the way to Mount Doom, through his heroism and Sam’s… only to fail, in the final instant of the quest. At least—to fail in his own agency, by his own hand, though grace carries the day, or evil works its own and very practical end: rejoicing in victory all the way over the cliff’s edge and into the fire. We see this pattern throughout The Lord of the Rings. “Saving the world” from Sauron will entail the loss of so much of what has seemed noble and good: Lorien and Rivendell, the magic of the Elves and the Elven Rings, the mallorn wood. And yet, it was needful that these things be lost, grown beyond, transformed, that they pass away: they were good, and beautiful, and worked through with the evil of the One Ring. Yet their end does not, as in Wagner’s Ring, mean the end of all things, and a return to primordial chaos. It is a tragedy, but one in which resurrection is possible, written with enough wisdom to understand that resurrection is not without pain and loss, and does not mean that you can keep on with your life just as before. After Rilke: “here there is no place / that does not see you. You must change your life.”
Aucoin’s observations (and Auden’s) above, also strike at very live concerns in the world of genre: what, genuinely, invites “the audience” to see themselves as participants in the tragedy (or eucatastrophe), and to participate in the ritual of the tale? “The audience” is not composed of gray and uniform spheroids. What seems like an invitation to some, may feel like a bar to entry for others. What space are you preparing? What do you offer, and why? Who is welcomed to the ritual table?
I believe I’ve mentioned this poem by Kay Ryan before, but it’s been on my mind a lot in the last couple weeks, so: here it is again. “Why Isn’t it All More Marked?”
Be well. Take care of yourselves. Work for the liberation of all sentient beings.
And: happy reading.