Twelve Ten is a first step
It’s a space to look at
write and talk about
the world we live in
in all its myriad forms.
Easter, or: Life, Death, then Life. Creation. Procreation. Being alive. Living.
Easter is one of those palimpsests* we live in without much ado, a celebration of life in two parts: the Christian Resurrection story superimposed on more heathen reproduction stories (all those eggs and bunny rabbits). Which is fine, palimpsests are what we live in, meanings inscribed on more meanings inscribed on yet older meanings, until they blend into a whole space we usually call culture. The fancy word for that is intertextuality, another two would be cultural production, the negative of which is considered to be cultural appropriation, but where one ends and the other begins is a science on its own. Nevertheless, we live in layers of meaning, they’re an integral part of our lives, and larger holidays like Easter simply push this to the foreground. Which is why this Twelve Ten edition qwas initially about creativity and imagination, the engine behind any of our creations.
Creativity is an odd creature, illusive and yet so present. The Ancient Greeks had nine muses to pinpoint the various types of inspiration, the wellspring of creativity: Calliope (Epic Poetry and Rhetoric), Clio (History), Euterpe (Music), Thalia (Comedy), Melpomene (Tragedy), Terpsichore (Dance), Erato (Love Poetry), Polymnia (Hymns and Songs of Praise), Urania (Astronomy). And all nine originated from the mother Mnemosyne, goddess of Memory, which is “two full hands” as a child would say, speak, all ten fingers of mystical women to help you (traditionally a male “you”) along. Or so the Ancient Greeks. For more contemporary minds, one could go into Freudian dream theory, Jungian animus/anima, Lacanian tomfoolery (yes, I said it), or your basic postmodern stance that is somewhere between “Meh.” and “Bah, humbug!” but I won’t, not today.
So why isn’t this edition about creativity?
Life happened. You see, while jotting down notes for Twelve Ten, No. 7, several highly unpleasant things happened in the world, near and far, that made for some hard going. It was increasingly difficult to focus on creativity while beyond our notebooks and keyboards the world was getting ever more topsy-turvy: from continuous wars hiding yet more atrocities, to brutal power-brokering at the expense of human lives, to the lies and lies and more lies and, oh look, yet another lie, on highly important levels of public life, (giving every script and fiction writer a run for their money), the past three months have been a perfect example of Interesting Times.
At one point it seemed almost ridiculous to try and write anything since very often writers across the board were left speechless. What could one say? What could one write? It seemed callous to put together a Twelve Ten edition that did not take recent events at least somewhat into account. Only, how write anything meaningful – fictional and non-fictional – if truth has become such a dicey thing? It seems difficult, at times impossible, but then maybe all it needs is for us to focus on the details, on the moments that are full of meaning, and piece everything together from there.
So, this Twelve Ten edition, only a few days from Easter, mirrors what has been going on (in a fragmented, off-beat kind of way), both in the conversations with writers, bloggers and essayists I’ve had lately, as well as the majority of those within VR’s network of creatives: everyone is searching for words, trying to overcome the speechlessness. A lot has been violently thrown off-balance, and everyone is scrambling to reach a modicum of equilibrium again.
My option is an old one, but I hope it is helpful: past words, written before truth became such a fundamentally contested space – again. Because that is part of the shock: that it is all not new, but like a relapse, like a very bad habit coming back to bite us all. Even so, it’s Easter in a few days, and since the holiday is really about being alive, living, even surviving (against all odds), no matter what story you prefer to tell, the following is really about that:
The first is a personal piece from blogger sakurasui on a chance encounter that led to a thoughtful consideration of what peace really means. The second is an animation from the incredible Daniel Martinez Lara and Rafa Cano Méndez, a short film that has been making gentle waves these past weeks with its uplifting message, a nice, positive break to the more sombre tone of this edition. And finally, an excerpt from Ferin Mews by j.d. may to round off the edition – non-fiction, film, then fiction. As for the visuals: all the snapshots and photographs in this edition are from von reuth‘s Instagram account @vonreuth, titled Details, Regensburg.
*Oxford Dictionaries: palimpsest, n.:
1 A manuscript or piece of writing material on which later writing has been superimposed on effaced earlier writing.
1.1 Something reused or altered but still bearing visible traces of its earlier form
Origin: Mid 17th century, via Latin from Greek palimpsēstos, from palin ‘again’ + psēstos ‘rubbed smooth’.
Peace and Time
Public transport. The door opens, I look and see someone enter the compartment, someone I haven’t seen since graduation, eons ago. He doesn’t recognise me, but I remember him due to something fairly harrowing: the few war stories he felt comfortable enough to tell when we met by chance on campus, usually during a break between courses, sipping bad cafeteria coffee while others smoked Gauloise on the college green.
The stories were genuinely disturbing, not for the details but the things he didn’t say, or stopped himself from saying mid-sentence. And the scars, visible proof that something genuinely violent, traumatising, had happened to this particular individaul; one war biography out of very many.
Then, as now, this is not news. There is always a war somewhere, unfortunately. As a friend of mine recently said: “Somehow people always find reasons to pick up a weapon.” And then they begin to ‘terminate with extreme prejudice’ (what a phrase). You would think humans would learn, not that they ever do. And no one is immune, no one. Whole societies destabilise and fall apart in a matter of minutes. Torches and pitchforks are found, old grudges dug up like hidden treasure, and feuds boil over like it’s Renaissance Verona and the Capulets already had their summer ball.
Then, after the worst has happened, after the bombardments, after the UN Resolutions, after the killing, there are the Peace Treaties, the Contracts, the new borders drawn (only everyone still remembers the old ones), the new names given, the ICC called, and suddenly there is order, there is that thing called Peace. And the soldier of then is a student now, exchanging the merchandise of the Lord of War with paper, pens, books and bad coffee, talking to inheritors of a near-century of Peace who know nothing of War; to whom War is something that happens to other people, on TV. To whom War is “conflict”, “a tragedy”, a “humanitarian catastrophe”, a “crime against humanity” and other official things.
It is not the scars splitting a cheek, a face, in two. It is not severed limbs, lost forever; scorched skin, charred, flaking; a body half covered in white, hiding the terrible wounds. It is not the despairing fatigue in a young woman’s eyes, whose plight is written so clearly on her body. It is not the starkness of a child’s scarlet blood on marble tiles, expensively bought during those lost days of apparent PAX, and now simply another stable hospital floor, all the pretty things still in place, for what can a human carry on the run?
This is no tale, no story. It is happening right now, at this very moment. It really makes you think of what it means to live in peacetime. It definitely made me think, this unexpected encounter on such a mundane thing as a bus; a reminder of what happens when Peace is broken, and War the fact of every day and night.
Yes, the reasons for War are always complex, often old, even ancient, and always red in tooth and claw. In hindsight many things that seemed random, unexpected, make far more sense, though serious historians will refrain from formulating a definitive It-was-inevitable (hi)story. They will establish “This was known at the time”, “This was not known at the time”, and these were X, Y, and Z’s interests, which was why their goals were A, if possible B, and at all costs C. Put it all together, mix heaped tablespoons of Cleverness, Stupidity, and Cunning, a teaspoon of Luck, and three cartons of Human Psychology, add a generous serving of weapons and artillery, and there you have it: C’est la guerre.
Then again, no one ever sees the disaster coming. A least 6000 years worth of recorded history and everybody’s surprised. Though, this is probably not the time or place to be cynical. Rather, we, who live in Peace, we should rejoice in the absence of the human madness called War. And acknowledge in full the true pain of those displaced in violence and bloodshed from the places they loved and knew as nothing else but Home. So, go hug a loved one and be happy you can spend time together in Peace. These moments are the precious ones.
Alike (Short Film)
Daniel Martinez Lara and Rafa Cano Méndez
This is an uplifing short film that has been popping up on feeds over the past week or so, prodding its audience gently to think about their own imagination and creativity. There are many things that keep us from our creative side and, sadly, often enough it is our own expectations, our own lives.
Ferin Mews (excerpt)
When the other kids asked Caden Tellis about his past, he first word that came to mind was ‘volatile’, followed closely by ‘violent’, both accompanied by an image: the man they called his father standing over him, red with rage, raising his fist to strike. The pain had long since subsided, but the impact, that crash of knuckle and bone into his body, that stayed. For the first years after he ran away just seeing a fist fight on the school grounds made him feel it again.
Caden was known to be quiet, both in his old as well as his new school. Claremont Comprehensive was in the better part of town, up in the hills where the big houses with the two garages were, where there was grass and trees in the back yard and you could ride your bike in the streets without being run over. Until he ran away, Caden had only seen such houses on TV. But then he packed his backpack with biscuits and crisps, a few bottles of something orange, an extra jumper, his favourite comic books, and the nice picture of his mother, and slipped out the back while the man they said was his father was snoring in front of the TV.
What exactly triggered the impulse to run away, Caden could no longer say. He remembered thinking that it was his ninth birthday, and that the next year would be his tenth, which meant that he had lived ten years under the same roof with that violent drunk everyone said was his father. Maybe it was that. In any case, he packed his things and left. He’d taken up what money he still had left from Aunt Vicky, the money that the man they said was his father hadn’t taken from him, and with that Caden was able to get on a train and reach the biggest city he knew. He wanted to go to the top of the highest building and see how it was to be a bird. And he did see how it was, it was breathtaking. When he came back down again the constable was waiting. He’d gone missing for three days and Aunt Vicky had filed a report. While waiting for Aunt Vicky to pick him up a doctor asked him to sit on a bench in a quiet room and he was asked to remove his shirt. Caden still remembered the look on the doctor’s face, it had been calm first and suddenly turned very serious. He touched the sore spots gently, asking Caden where it hurt and if he felt any stinging. Caden answered and the doctor asked him to remain very still, he would be right back. An officer was called, who looked as serious as the doctor, and then the officer brought someone else in who took pictures of Caden and all the sore spots. Once that was done and more questions were asked and answered, Caden watched while the doctor bandaged him. He counted five bandages next to the wide strip around his chest.
Since it would take a day until Aunt Vicky arrived, Caden was taken to the doctor’s sister’s family, a Mrs Corrigan. They lived up in the hills in one of those big houses with the two garages and the large garden in the back. Mrs Corrigan did charity work, which meant she collected money for poor people. Mr Corrigan was an architect. They had two children, Matthew and Stephanie. Matthew was only a few months older than Caden and Stephanie was two years younger than both of them. They looked at him with wide eyes and for so long, Caden felt like an animal in a zoo. He had been to the zoo once, no twice, with Aunt Vicky. In the Corrigans’ house, Caden sat uncomfortably on a chair in the parlour while Dr Martin explained ‘the circumstances’ to his sister. She said she would be glad to help, Caden could stay the night. So Caden stayed with the Corrigans, ate at their oval dinner table, tasting food he had never eaten before, eating with real forks and real knives, and drinking out of glasses made of real glass, always aware of Matthew and Stephanie watching him like they were waiting for something to happen.
Caden didn’t remember much more of that first dinner with the Corrigans. After dinner there was the bath Mrs Corrigan made him take, wincing herself every time she removed the bandages, shaking her head and murmuring, calling to Mr Corrigan (she called him Fred) so he could see ‘what happened to the poor boy’. To Caden’s embarrassment, Matthew and Stephanie came along and saw him half naked on the closed toilet, though they said nothing and Stephanie even gasped. Mr Corrigan moved them out of the bathroom, closed the door and knelt down next to Caden, asking him if he was feeling any pain. Caden answered that after Dr Martin gave him two pills the stinging left. Mr and Mrs Corrigan exchanged a look, a look Caden would come to recognise in later years, and then Mr and Mrs Corrigan got to their feet. Then Mr Corrigan said something to Mrs Corrigan that Caden couldn’t hear. He took a bath then and Mrs Corrigan was nice enough to look away when he was naked. Caden hated it when Aunt Vicky would never leave the bathroom while he was in the tub.
After the bath he was given one of Matthew’s pyjamas and allowed to sleep in the guest-bedroom. The bed was enormous and the mattress heavenly, not to mention the covers and the pillows. Caden had never slept in such a bed before, it didn’t feel real. Mrs Corrigan brought him chocolate chip cookies, the American ones, and warm milk, even though he had already brushed his teeth. Then she asked him if he would like her to read a story. Since Mrs Corrigan had been so nice to him, he just shrugged, though he was certain she had no stories he would like. Mrs Corrigan took his shrug as a yes and asked if he knew The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Caden nodded, they’d had one of the teachers read a few chapters to them in school. Did they get to the end? No, the Pevensies were still with the Beavers. So Mrs Corrigan left the room and brought back the book and read on from where Caden’s teacher had stopped. He finished his milk and cookies while he listened, Mrs Corrigan could read as good as a teacher. Caden didn’t know when he fell asleep, but he had a very nice dream of sleeping in a cave and waking up at the North Pole where he helped the Christmas Elves pack up the presents, though the presents themselves were odd, enormous toffees, tires the size of houses, or a very small cavalry and a settlement of Red Indians. They were all alive and you had to keep them apart otherwise they kept on fighting.
The next day, Caden was brought back to the police and Dr Martin, where Aunt Vicky was already waiting, arguing very loudly with a large black woman Caden later found out was Mrs Julian. She worked for The City. She was the one who took care that children in orphanages found parents, or if parents weren’t good parents, then the children got new ones. Caden came to like Mrs Julian, she didn’t make a big fuss about things. That day though, she was shouting with Aunt Vicky, though the shouting stopped the moment Aunt Vicky saw him. She knelt down and spread her arms and Caden, seeing everyone was watching, went and let her hug him, though she still smelled of too much perfume. She asked how he was doing and if he had had a nice stay, and said he’d been a very naughty boy for running away like that, which made Mrs Julian huff, ‘From what I can see, that boy had all the sense to run away,’ which made Aunt Vicky angry again. After some more shouting, Mrs Julian asked Caden to come to her, which he did, Mrs Julian wasn’t someone you wanted to say no to. Mrs Julian lifted his shirt and showed Aunt Vicky the bandaged sore spots. Mrs Corrigan could have been a doctor for the way she covered the spots after his bath.
Aunt Vicky didn’t really understand until Dr Martin gave her the pictures. She looked very shocked. She started crying. Someone gave her a tissue, but it just got worse. Mrs Julian looked satisfied. Then Mrs Julian found out that Aunt Vicky was not really his aunt but Caden’s mother’s best friend. Since Caden’s mother died she always took care to see after him. She knew Greg, the man who apparently was Caden’s father. She knew he drank too much and had a foul temper, but this. . . ‘If Mary saw this,’ she kept on saying. Mary was Caden’s mother’s name. Then Aunt Vicky asked, ‘Darling, why didn’t you tell me?’ which made Mrs Julian angry again. ‘Tell you? Dear God, are you – ‘ Caden was sure she wanted to say something rude, but instead Mrs Julian said, ‘In a situation like this children don’t talk. And what should he have told you anyway, Hi Aunt Vicky, Daddy tried to kill me today?’ Caden wondered how Mrs Julian knew. Once he only escaped by kicking him where it really hurt. He ran out into the street and didn’t come back until late at night, but by then the man they said was his father was sitting with someone in front of the TV drinking cans of beer.
Aunt Vicky only cried more. There were more arguments, more shouting, and while Caden waited, sitting on a chair facing the door with the glass window, he saw how Mrs Julian and Aunt Vicky went at each other like bulls on TV, only female bulls, and Mrs Julian was winning. Finally, Mrs Julian came out and Aunt Vicky was sitting on a chair, crying again. There was some more talk Caden didn’t understand except for ‘temporary arrangement’ and that the Corrigans were mentioned as well. The long and short of it was that Caden was brought back to the Corrigans, and what started as a temporary arrangement turned into a final one. By the end of three months’ time, Caden was the Corrigans’ Foster Child. From what Caden heard the man everyone said was his father was arrested and then set free and then arrested again, and this time he had to stay in prison for some time, though not due to Caden. Apparently he had stolen something or hurt somebody, a grown-up this time. Caden didn’t listen carefully, nor did he want to know. It was enough that he would never have to see that man again.
34 Willow Drive was a very tidy place, with a neat front garden and perfectly cut grass in the back. You took off your shoes before stepping into the main house, and you took your plate to the kitchen after dinner. Prayers were said before you ate, and on Sundays the whole family dressed up smartly and went to church, where there were other families with Sunday clothes on.
In the beginning, the other parents were very curious about Caden and asked Mr and Mrs Corrigan questions, giving Caden pitying looks after those conversations. The children were more honest, asking him if his Dad really almost beat him to death, they wanted to see the bruises. The Willow Drive kids were fascinated, and Caden was thought to be tough and dangerous since he’d survived such violence. Matthew and Stephanie, (who liked to be called Steff, with two fs), liked to brag about him as long as Caden was a novelty. In school, they introduced him as a cousin from far way who had a dark past that made everyone curious, but after a few weeks, the latest computer game came out, and there was Christmas to think of, and Caden was like everyone else.
After the excitement had worn off, Matthew and Stephanie realised that Caden was not a guest but had actually come to stay, and soon lost their benevolence. They did their best to ignore him after that. They enjoyed calling him Rice or Riceboy when their parents weren’t listening, mostly because Caden liked rice. He’d never eaten it outside the curry shop, and they only went if Aunt Vicky remembered to. When allowed to join in their games, Caden was responsible for all the menial jobs. He was always the servant, the worker, he villain. He enjoyed being the Red Indian most, though Steff kept on telling him he had to say Native American, except that Caden always forgot until he just called them by their real names, they sounded way better anyway, Sioux, Navajo, Cherokee, it was like having secret agent names.
Others might have thought Matt and Steff’s behaviour ‘sub par’ as Mr Corrigan liked to say, but Caden, who had never lived a day in peace since Mother left, Caden who didn’t know how it was to have siblings, not to mention the opportunity of regular meals, clean clothes, and a bed that didn’t turn into a trap if someone came home drunk and violent, Caden didn’t feel the effects of it until much later. In the beginning, he was just content with having another life. He often looked to the sky and wondered if his mother had seen how bad things were and finally found a way to save him. He went to church and heard about God, but what the Father said didn’t really interest him. Caden said the prayers at dinner and made sure to tie his tie correctly before church, (Aunt Vicky had shown him, mumbling there was nothing sillier than a man who couldn’t tie his own shirt, her cigarette hopping up and down while she talked, ashes flying all over), but otherwise that part of life at the Corrigans’ remained closed to him. Caden preferred to think that his mother was on a cloud somewhere, or that the Force actually existed. To Caden at ten that made way more sense.
Mr and Mrs Corrigan were what people called ‘steady’. They treated Caden as one of their family and didn’t really favour any of them, whether Matt or Steff or himself. They worked hard, had strict schedules, and did not like being interrupted when they were busy unless it was serious. Every Wednesday, Mrs Corrigan went to her book club, and on Thursday nights Mr Corrigan liked to play darts with his friends. He always came home smelling of cigarettes then. The Corrigans were not the kind of happy couple you saw on TV, the kind that always laughed and cuddled their kids, living in big shiny houses with a dog and frisbees. They smiled if they did something well, or patted their heads. Physical contact, as they called it, was rare in the Corrigans’ house, even between Mr and Mrs Corrigan. They didn’t hug Matt and Steff either like parents always did on TV, and Caden, who had had enough physical contact for his first ten years, was relieved that no one would be touching him constantly like Aunt Vicky liked to do.
Speaking of Aunt Vicky, she always came at least once a year to see Caden after he moved to the Corrigans’. In the beginning, Caden thought it a little annoying to have her come, but in later years he came to enjoy Aunt Vicky’s chaotic visits that always lasted a whole weekend. In his teens, Caden discovered her great talent for making people laugh. She was one of the few people who didn’t expect anything from him except that he enjoyed himself and had a good time. She smoked a lot and drank too much, she was loud and what Mrs Corrigan called ‘vulgar’, but she was also the kind of person Caden could ask anything, she never flinched like that, so Caden took advantage of that when it came to those questions he would never ask the Corrigans. To Joan and Fred Corrigan, the world was made up of fixed facts of good and bad, order and chaos, enemies and friends, and for Caden their answers were always lacking.
Aunt Vicky was different that way, she mostly just listened, maybe asking a few questions here and there. For the first few years, Caden never fully understood her questions, but at least she asked. And she tended to let him come to his own conclusions. If it was good, she smiled and nodded. If she thought it could ‘do with some improvement’ like Joan liked to say, she would purse her lips and continue with whatever she was doing. Another thing Caden enjoyed about Aunt Vicky was how she irritated Matt and Steff. They never knew how to take her. She wasn’t fashionable, but she was fun. She wasn’t posh, but she was funny. And she made Caden feel normal again. Having Aunt Vicky come visit always felt like a holiday, a three-day holiday from his life in 34 Willow Drive. By the time Caden passed his GCSEs her loud weekend visits weren’t something he would have wanted to miss.
We hope you enjoyed our seventh edition. Twelve Ten, No. 8 will be published on 12 July 2017. Submissions are currently closed for this edition, however if you have an ideas for future editions don’t hesitate to send us your suggestions at:
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We look forward to hearing from you!
Your von reuth Team
Image source: @vonreuth Instagram
2 comments on “Twelve Ten, No. 7”
Dear Maya, inspiring as always. Thank you.
Thank you, Nuria, that’s very kind of you!