Strong Women Project

I'm feel excited and passionate about this project, so it's time that I write a bit on my author website about how it's shaping up. Over one hundred women have been interviewed (my original target goal), and because I'm enjoying the process so much, I'm still interviewing more women, asking questions and listening as deeply as I can. The research began with a simple seven-question survey, then came the follow-up stage of Skype interviews, in-person interviews when and where possible, and just spreading the word to women I find influential and inspiring. And there's no shortage of them - I could do this for the rest of my life. And unofficially, that's exactly what I plan to do. Please stay tuned and if you want to share this on your social media networks, please shoot me an email first at d.aylett.stewart at gmail dot com and hashtag your post as #thestrongwomenproject. News forthcoming!

Charles and Jungsoo

He stays in the hospital until the man opens his eyes. When the nurse leaves, he washes the man’s feet. He can see the veins spiraling across the man’s ankles, near the base of the feet, at the sides – threads of many colors, strained blood, dancing now, a red-and-blue alarm call. The skin of his limbs, thin as paper. His face is built of thicker, coarser material. Charles holds his hand for awhile, warmth pouring into his fingers. The man’s hand is cold but strong and his eyes are lit with thankfulness, as though he is looking at his own son. Charles returns to the hotel. He receives a call from Catherine. She is irate, how could he possibly ignore an urgent call. He listens. She calms down. She goes into the details of a Georgian-inspired necklace she has collaborated on with a designer friend of hers, a man who has visited their apartment for dinner once before. She talks about social media. Her tweets have atrophied, she says. Her voice fades out. Though he doesn’t mean to, his left ear presses against the surface of his iPhone and the call ends.

Interview Forthcoming with Joel Whitney of FINKS

It is a pleasure and a privilege to be able to interview someone whose work has such resonance for our time of political transition. Joel Whitney's book on the CIA and American literary history in the 1950s and 1960s is impressive, and I'm happy to say our conversation will be going up live very soon. I have learned a lot from speaking with him; the art of the interview is always changing. I expect to see many exciting interviews with Joel popping up in other places, print, broadcast, and online as FINKS makes its way across the country.

Scott and Marianne

Scott does not want to see what is happening next to Marianne. She is not a woman or a bush but a cow at the slaughter. Her blood spills everywhere. It doesn't matter that she has been happily grass-fed. Lightning fast game processing: her body is being processed in under fifteen minutes. A tall blonde-haired man is sharpening his knives above her. She is a slab of meat on a table. There is a savagely skillful art to the swishing stabbing movements the man makes, cutting hard and fast into her body. She looks like a red closet waiting to be opened. A hook is flung deep into the flesh to secure the cuts being made on the other side of Marianne. Slash and rip. It is already dead. Marianne is dead. He can smell her, and she does not smell like lilacs.

Smith and Jacob

Jacob rolled down his window. He didn’t say anything. His eyes were closed, and the wind was blowing back his light brown hair. We passed by the house where I had snorted heroin for the first time, about two years ago, though the house was on the market again, now that Nick’s family moved to an even swankier neighborhood. I’d had an argument with Dad about something I can’t remember, probably my ripped-up jeans or my haircut, even though I wondered how he could notice anything about me while Mom was dying. He’d pulled out the gun, and described in detail what my brains would look like once he’d blown them out. As I ran out the door, I told him my brains weren’t worth blowing out. I thought about seeing Mom at the hospital, but that was when Nick texted me and told me to come right over. Nick’s dad was screwing our friend Brandon’s mom, and Nick’s mom worked late hours as a nurse, so the house was always empty on weeknights. By the time I came home from Nick’s, Jacob was there. Dad had been working on the paperwork all along. Six months later, me and Nick were shooting up.

Tin and Flynn

Tin, stop. I’ve never heard you weep like this before. What’s the matter with you? You know our late thirties were meant to be hard. We have everything we want, and these people know it. They see it. It’s all out there to be seen. That doesn’t mean our late thirties weren’t meant to be hard. It’s always a test. It’s our age. It’s expected. We’re thirty-nine this year, next year you know what we’ll be. It’s always a test. We’re tested in our ability to feel more, or to feel less, and not only that, but at the right moments. Get a hold of yourself. You just said goddamn twice now. It’s unheard of. Exactly when did you turn into your mother?

And that did it. Sweet silence on the phone. Tin stopped crying. Perhaps she’d even dissolve herself in something other than a cocktail for a change. She could dissolve herself into all the fragmented corridors of self and memory instead, beyond control or reason, beyond propriety. And grow to genuinely appreciate those eight-and-a-half inches for what they could do. Words and tears were both dream-like things. How inane they were, compared to a real live muscle flexing down your throat. She could hear Robert rustling in the closet for the fourth time that morning. The first Saturday of the month had been something to look forward to until now.

Young Maxwell Ray

In 2016 Maxwell’s teachers were concerned that the child had acquired sphinxian appetites and should be held accountable, particularly for falling right into a developmentally inefficacious chasm, thrashing against the hurdles of the mind, instead of clearing them sequentially. Was the child prodigy despairing over a line vanishing into the distance? Or did he think he was above looking at what was directly in front of him?

These were among the topics of the after-school meetings. The purpose of an education was to set the correct tone for the rest of the child’s life; the tone of achievable knowledge. This was especially true of a preparatory school for gifted children, and, they agreed, Maxwell was among the most gifted. It wouldn’t be appropriate to have Maxwell return to a public school education, but the more wholesome values of a public school could be grafted when necessary. The gym teacher suggested that the boy should start with the knowledge all other boys had come equipped with and were anxious to develop, the knowledge that not only separated boys from girls, but along the ultimate trajectory, boys from men – the art of attack and defense, from which Maxwell Ray was curiously sequestered. It was a shock and a disgrace that Maxwell had not been the recipient of a smidgen of full-frontal or full-dorsal violence by now, not a single tooth was sent into orbit, not an arm twisted behind his back to breaking point, not a section of the spine treated like a trampoline by his fellow young enthusiasts of testosterone. The boy was coddled, separated from the rest, and exhibited the most improbable behavior. Vagaries! Shenanigans! The rapture of the gym teacher was such an impressively primitive song of ribald self-contradiction that there was applause from the meekest and morally progressive of female teachers; all were persuaded that the child would benefit from having his expressionless face pushed into the lion-colored sand. Even Maxwell’s mother agreed, in a subsequent private meeting with the teachers – white-collar resentment leaking from the corners of the room, Venusian mascara running freely, a single bug dragging itself across the organic lightbulb – that the boy was chafed by too many unresolved questions and unable to finish his sandwich, self-conditioned to living levels removed from life, and is this how life would continue, at further and further levels of removal, the act of knowledge spinning itself out of control, taking her little boy with it?

Whitman Seymour Harrison

I was the first, surprisingly enough, to call him “Whit” for short — after which I was casuistically knighted “Sage” — and as we all know, this was apt, if not downright precognitive. Within the hallowed walls of Damian Preparatory High School on Orange Grove Avenue, Pasadena, California, these names “Whit” and “Sage” echoed, bellowed, even, in a manner that many still consider legendary. I’m one of the few who can say I knew him since high school, and there is, of course, a good reason for that. Whit didn’t socialize much. It was so odd to watch him go on to become a huge star because — well, you know. We knew him. And we never did stop knowing him because he knew how to keep in touch. I don’t mean that he took us to the Hamptons and worked us up to levels of debauchery that couldn’t otherwise be contained by the suburbs we lived in. I don’t mean that he visited and talked to us about our quiet drinking problem and negotiated with our wives to stop disciplining the kids and start disciplining us. I talked to him late at night all these years — something that speaks to the inner adolescent in a way that moves you, really moves you, have you forgotten what that feels like? Your inner adolescent? We all have one, and Whit maintained a straight line to my inner adolescent by calling me late at night. He called me once Margie was asleep and I could hear my own heartbeat again. He called me, uncannily, within eleven minutes of Margie’s descent into slumber, which reminded me of how much I loved him for his timing, that goes all the way back to our Damian days when I was accustomed to calling him a four-letter word that was the space between his gut and his — well, I thought I was clever back then — I won’t repeat the word now but I guarantee you, I once dated a foul-mouthed Welsh ballerina, years before I met Margie, God rest her soul, who taught me the word in the first place, which certainly means that you, as the elegant crowd standing before me today, can make a solid inference when called upon.

 

Terrence Gelb

Indeed. I have cratylistically abolished all attempts at reproduction of the self through language, a displacement of the foreclosure of meaning. There can only be deferral of self-knowledge, the continuous rustle of the cape, the fall of toy soldiers, the private language of childhood, the unsolvable riddle of man. I recall the words that confirm the veracity of your observation:

She, the faceless, screamed, “Where is the photograph? Where is it?”

I had taken away the photograph, you see, and placed it in our bread cabinet. She was still weeping and screaming under the bed covers. I said, “I don’t see how it can possibly matter where it is. It should never have been sent to you. You ought never to have seen it. It was a mistake for you to open the envelope and look at it so closely. You could never pull off a close reading, anyhow. You think, you incorrectly assume, that it is evidence of an orgy, of oblique bodies soiling a mattress, and you are afraid, afraid of so much, afraid to go back to London, afraid of the secondhand smoke, afraid to attend Richard’s parties – remember Richard? just because he stabbed his wife in the thigh last November, afraid of death in general...”

“Aren’t I real to you?” she sobbed.

I said, “No, you are a bit of sullen abstract flab to me, I’m afraid. You evoke nothing in me other than an unsparing clarity.”

In the midst of her throes of glassy-eyed sobbing, she looked beautiful once again. I was awestruck. I said nothing to her after that. I couldn’t. 

Edgar Guest

Lucinda was the mother tongue. Lucinda’s tongue was a mother. Lucinda was from a little shit town in Texas, where every man wanted to see her peel off her tube top at the gas station on Blowing Rock Street when she was fourteen years old. Lucinda’s mother was the type one had to be careful to distinguish from the rest of the mothers, just as her daughter had to be carefully distinguished from the rest of the daughters. Oh the tongue of Lucinda, an ungraphed variable, a serious pedagogical complication, a worker that could always find some use. She used it amply upon him, Edgar Guest, at fragile moments, between, through, nearly within his anatomy, as though his name were no longer Edgar Guest but something much greater than the sum of his Edgarly parts, and as he came, as one does with a Lucinda upon one’s aging body, a number of dead languages were revived, including Etruscan, Gaulish, Iberian, Cornish and Manx. A little error, he spoke Cornish as a second language, of course, having learned it from the books. Still, the language had been rather honestly dead and was graphically revived through the body of work of the great Lucinda. He would teach his children Cornish, as a first language, and raise them in New York City. The thought of it, having a son and a daughter, little ones with Lucinda, was really quite strange, and the four of them as native speakers of an even more obscurely dead language than Cornish to be revived through the usual method (a family of linguistic missionaries!) gave him a thumping cancerous sensation in the spleen. Spleens were not discussed at the family table, regarded effectively as taboo, working-class mythology. The deictic position of the spoons expressed the love that was in abundance among them. They were a family that sat at varying distances from the speaker, Edgar Guest, for there was much rejoicing before and after the moment of speech, albeit not deictic in nature. The vague and supple body of Lucinda! Unintended for the honest man and the ultimate reader, Edgar Guest: he was waiting for a different opacity, written into pages pure, white, less dominated by patterned and deeply felt compulsions. Lucinda’s finality was, finally, too much to bear. Confronted at last with an extradimensional being, there was nothing to do but lose his erection. How literal it all was. The set of eyes fixated upon the nape of Edgar Guest on a bus that had seemingly taken off into the blue, without a hint of the poetic, meant little compared to the devastation lurking within his trousers. The greater part of him, as his mother had always whispered to him as the gentlest of warnings, was in a better place. But not in Lucinda.

Dearborn Russell

With bone-deep fatigue, or whatever is deeper than bone, perhaps the content of bone, the very stuff of bone, bone marrow or whatnot, I admit to you that my character holds very little interest for me, as author, and this psychological confession regarding the absence of genuine passion and tenderness for my unnamed character I have noted separately on a piece of paper folded into a notebook that I thought had been soaked in rainwater but was in fact saturated as a result of a punctured can of Coca-Cola in my workbag. On the second day of the year, I am drying out the pages of said notebook near the radiator in my home office, which does not exclude this confessional page, with which I am tolerably pleased, as I am with most minor articles of truth. I am also authoring further minimal prose, which has not yet been cruelly dampened by brown liquid sweetness, or high fructose corn syrup or whatnot.

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