Short Story Review – Martha Bátiz – Still Watching; Watching, Still

Please note – this short story collection was kindly provided to me by Martha Bátiz.  

What would Father say now, seeing himself in bronze, his name on a plaque, flowers adorning our flag placed at his feet?  Did he like birds?  I don’t know.  But he’ll be surrounded by them in the park.  They’ll defecate all over his statue.  In this country, even the most sacred things become shitty.

When it takes seventy-two bullets to kill a man it is clear that perhaps the death of an ordinary man has birthed a Great Man, one whose deeds will resonate throughout history, or at least for a little while.  But Great Men have wives, and children, and what happens to them when they are dead and gone, immortalised in increasingly cloying tales and songs?

Martha Bátiz’s short story, Still Watching; Watching, Still, is a story about the young daughter of a man who glimpsed immortality through the lens of guerilla warfare and dissent.  When she was very young he was absent, returning only rarely, and exhausted, his breathing ‘devoid of peace’.  Her mother kept the house running though she, too, was a rebel.

What were they rebelling against?  It doesn’t matter.  The government, I suppose.  This isn’t about the heroics of a populist struggle but the damage it, and any military retaliation, leaves in the wake of their battles.  The adults choose death and conflict, the children suffer and die.  So it goes.

The majority of this story is set decades later, with the daughter grown now, her young son with her.  She remembers.  She can’t help it – the legend of her father has grown, and invariably she will see his face on the television.  A revolutionary becomes part of the government institution, and the wheels that grind, grind on.  She remembers.  She wants the best for her child but is constantly on the run, unable to set down roots, unwilling to relax and breathe.  The trauma of her childhood has poisoned herself as a woman, and nothing will ever be good or feel safe.

Her father – dead from seventy-two bullets.  Her mother – disappeared.  Her guardian – beaten for her silence and courage in the face of violence.  She can’t trust anyone, and knows that she has been broken beyond repair.

But, at least, there’s a statue of him now.  The filthy revolutionary has become the celebrated Great Man of contemporary history, helping pave the way from a violent Then to a peaceful Now.  Good enough substitute for a living, breathing father, no?  No.

Still Watching; Watching, Still is a short story written by Martha Bátiz.  This collection was published by Exile Editions and is available from their website.

Other stories from this collection include:

Author Martha Bátiz (Twitter)
Title Still Watching; Watching, Still
Nationality Mexican
Publisher Exile Editions

Please visit the Short Story Reviews page to see all of the available reviews.

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I Remember – #982

I remember walking the streets of Shibuya and Shinjuku in Persona 5 and really, truly, appreciating the warmth and fond-feeling that it engendered within me for my own time in Tokyo.

-30 May 2017

This post is part of the I Remember series.

I Remember – #981

I remember sending, on birthdays, photos to two different friends.  This was at its strongest with my friend David from ~2013 onwards (and still going, more or less), and it involved doctoring photos of either ourselves or writers we admired with streamers, hats, balloons, googly eyes and other such nonsense via MS Paint.

-29 May 2017

This post is part of the I Remember series.

The Journal of Failure – Week 22 of 2019

Week 22 of 2019 – 20 May 2019 to 26 May 2019

Goals

Reading

  • Goal – 101p / day, or 707 / week
  • Achieved – 856/707 – Success!

Writing – I Remember

  • Goal – 7 / week
  • Achieved – 1/7 – Failure!

Writing – Small Projects (Fragments, short stories, etc)

  • Goal – 28 minutes / week
  • Achieved – 26 minutes/28 minutes – Failure!

Writing – Large Projects

  • Goal – 35 minutes / week
  • Achieved – 1 hour 37 minutes/35 minutes – Success!

Getting myself out there

  • Short story reviews – One (Six total for the year)
  • Submissions – Two (Ten total for the year)
  • Rejections – One (Five total for the year)
  • Acceptances – Zero (Zero total for the year)

Commentary

Overall, a week of success.  Let’s unpack why.

Reading went very well.  I didn’t read a thing on Saturday and Sunday, because I have a seven month old daughter and that is impossible, but all other days were quite fruitful there.  My to-read pile is ridiculous – I think fifteen books – and growing larger rather than shrinking.  Happily I think I bought zero books, though, so at least I am making some headway.  But there are, I am sure, books I own now that I will die before reading.

The short story rejection was unpleasant.  It’s a story I really like, and I just haven’t found a good home for it.  Alas, alas.  This time the rejection was from 3:AM Magazine, which is a prestige publication for me.  But it wasn’t to be.  I will continue to post this story about for a little while yet, and then if there are no acceptances at all I’ll put it on ice for a couple of months and see what fresh brings in, say, 2020.

I submitted two stories, Automatic/Typewriter Keys and Liberty Leading the People, to Meanjin this week.  I saw a call for submissions and so I did.  There’s really nothing much else to it than that.

I am running low on ‘submittable’ work, though, as I haven’t written a new short story in a while, and as can be seen, didn’t spend too much time working on short pieces this week.  That can be explained by my enthusiasm for the longer piece (see below), but it is obviously quite difficult to submit short stories when, ah, I don’t have any at hand!

I have gone completely away from the flash fiction concept because I realised I just didn’t like reading them.  So, why write them?  2,000 – 4,000 words seems more my wheelhouse.  The sub 1,000 word stories seem, at times, too ephemeral, needlessly quirky, needlessly experimental, flowery without purpose, and so on. I want a bit more time to breathe a story.

I wrote quite a bit on a new, novel(la)-length piece, and I’m pleased, so far, with how it is going.  I mentioned last week that I was cribbing from Roberto Bolaño to get me started, but it has moved sufficiently away from his writing that it’s off in new territory.  So, give me another couple of thousand words and I’ll start to remove the Bolaño ties at the start and then have my own distinct piece of writing.

I took the piece from basically 0 words at the start of the week, to just under 3,000, so it has enough meat there that I can start to see a shape.  I am attempting to do rushed-writing, so I substitute names of characters or ideas with TK and just keep on writing, with the intention of returning to them later at some stage.  There are, currently, 75 TKs in the document, which is frightening – but most of those are repeated names that I haven’t yet determined.

The primary talking point this week is, I think, my shift from pen and paper, to computer.  I love writing with my pen.  I use a Mitsubishi uni-ball eye blue micro pen.  I have for years.  The feel of the pen against a notepad immediately puts me in the right frame of mind for writing.  But.  I find it very difficult to look back at what I have written and continue on, and this is mostly because my hand writing is shocking and I spend just enough time trying to decipher my writing that my brain starts to switch to some kind of editing mode, and the creative drive diminishes.  And so I am writing in a Google Docs word document.  My main concern there is, I suppose, versioning and the history of the text, but I know that Google saves these things.  And, there’s something rather wonderful about having a stack of paper of my scribbling, and I definitely lose that using my computer.

But in the end, it meant I was able to write for 1 hour and 37 minutes which, while it isn’t what I want to end up doing, is much better than the usual 0 minutes.

Oh, and I only wrote one I Remember, which is terrible, but of all the areas to fail in, that one bothers me the least.

And that was my week of failure.

Each week I aim to provide an update on the Journal of Failure.  These reports are intended to provide an impetus for me to achieve as much as I should/more than I do, and also to provide a further ongoing record of my life, as it is. 

The first 40 books – 2019

As of 20 May 2019 I have read 40 books for the year.  Let’s take a look at some statistics:

  • 7/40 or 17.5% were written by women
  • 29/40 or 72.5% were translations
  • 4/40 or 10% were by Nobel Prize winning writers
  • 5/40 or 12.5% were fantasy novels

Before we discuss the elephant in the room, I will say that, broadly speaking, I am definitely pleased with the number of translations.  I aim to keep that number high, and really it’s the fantasy novels that tend to drag it down, as they are very often written by people writing in English, very often by men, and very often by Americans.  Not always, but it’s a clear difference to the majority of the literature that I read.

I started the year quite heavily focused on fantasy, which I have put down to wanting to ease into the year with some books that weren’t going to challenge me and which would ensure that I started the year strong in terms of page- and book-count.  And I did, or near enough.  But at the same time, I would like fantasy to challenge me more, to push me.  I recognise that this is largely due to the kind of fantasy I tend to read – the fantasy of my youth, of nostalgia, of memory.  Of my teenage years, when I had no taste whatsoever.  Sometimes I wander down more interesting paths, but so far, not this year.

In terms of translation, I spent a good chunk of March reading Roberto Bolaño, because I love his work and I wanted to celebrate my birthday in some way.  So that was the way.  Curiously, I have not read a single work by W. G. Sebald this year, and only one by Enrique Vila-Matas.  Very often these works dominate my year, and yet here we are, close to halfway, and not much to speak of.

Ok, so the elephant in the room.  17.5% of all books read this year so far being women is just not good enough.  I haven’t put enough effort in here, and that’s really all there is to say.  That number should be much higher, nearer to 50%, but it isn’t.  I could explain it away by saying that I don’t own anywhere near as many books written by women as I do by men, but isn’t that also part of the problem?

(I will note that since writing this I have read one more book, and it was by a woman, but even still).

Consequently I’m going to make a great push over the next month or so to even those numbers out a little more.  I have Rachel Cusk’s wonderful Outline Trilogy at hand, and while I’ve read the first two I haven’t yet read the third, and this is, I think, a fine time to read the full trilogy.

But I do fully recognise that I need to read more widely and regularly, and that I am neglecting a significant part of literature by doing so.  I have the books.  I have them – translated writers, prize-winning writers, big books, small books.  I own them, they are there.

Time to act.

Short Story Review – Empar Moliner – In Search of a Man for Friendship and Possibly More (trans. Novia Pagone)

I work alone, and I don’t keep secrets from myself.

Empar, probable homebody, is on the search for a man who will take her to the Ebro River Delta, a place where ‘boyfriends tend to take their girlfriends’.

By the third sentence of this story she’s off to a dating agency to see what they might be able to do for her.  Why can’t she find someone on her own?  Doesn’t matter, I suppose.

“What don’t you like about your personality?” she ventures. “I like everything,” I tell her. And it’s the truth. When she asks me about my life goals, I declare that I don’t have any. “How important is sex to you in a stable relationship?” she wants to know. If I say five, will that look bad?, I wonder. In the end, I rate it a four, but only because I’m feeling romantic this year.

Empar, or rather, the character in the story named Empar, is an entertaining and funny woman.  Her inner self makes jokes and pokes fun at who she is and what she’s trying to achieve, though outwardly she comes across as a touch awkward and uncertain.

She seems here, at this dating agency, less to find a match, and more to understand the kinds of questions a dating agency would ask in order for her to better know the milieu that is contemporary dating.  It’s all so much to think about, so much to plan for.

The idea that we can boil down a potential partner to a series of questions and answers is absurd, of course, but it is an appealing concept nonetheless.  But how can it possibly be true if we find it difficult to boil ourselves down in such a manner?  We don’t know ourselves well enough to condense our personality on to a single page, and yet here Empar is attempting to recreate a full man from a series of yes/no.

Empar, the character, recognises this absurdity, and she loves it.  And then Empar, the writer, finishes the story with a fine comic twist, and away we go, off to write an email to a fascinating woman.

In Search of a Man for Friendship and Possibly More is a short story by Spanish (Catalan) writer Empar Moliner and was translated by Novia Pagone.  You can read the story at World Literature Today.

Author Empar Moliner
Title In Search of a Man for Friendship and Possibly More
Translator Novia Pagone
Nationality Spanish (Catalan)
Publisher World Literature Today

Please visit the Short Story Reviews page to see all of the available reviews.

The Journal of Failure – Week 21 of 2019

Goals

Reading

  • Goal – 100p / day, or 700 / week
  • Achieved – 738/700 – Success!

Writing – I Remember

  • Goal – 7 / week
  • Achieved – 8/7 – Success!

Writing – Small Projects (Fragments, short stories, etc)

  • Goal – 21 minutes / week
  • Achieved – 26 minutes/21 minutes – Success!

Writing – Large Projects

  • Goal – 28 minutes / week
  • Achieved – 41 minutes/28 minutes – Success!

Getting myself out there

  • Short story reviews – Two (Five total for the year)
  • Submissions – One (Eight total for the year)
  • Rejections – Zero (Four total for the year)
  • Acceptances – Zero (Zero total for the year)

Commentary

Well, I gave myself an easy week.

I suppose it is nice to succeed at an easy week, right, friends?

The main ‘win’ here for me this week was to truly benefit from late night writing and reading.  I struggle, it seems daily, with the idea of whether I wake up early or I stay up late.  As my daughter becomes a touch older (she’s seven months now), it is becoming clear that staying up late works best.

So, each night this week I stayed up until about midnight, and very often I would read and write.  It went well!  I certainly wasted quite a bit of time, but I gained some momentum with both reading and writing.

One of the books I wasted 150 – 200 pages on was Murakami’s 1Q84, which is proving itself to be a simply horrendous book.  Murakami is, it seems, something of a slimy old man, one who is devoted to the breasts of women and their propensity to masturbate and/or enjoy sex.  It’s really quite something, because his fixation on genitals and pleasure isn’t written particularly well, or even particularly poorly.  It’s just there on the page – like a lot of his writing.  At least Updike gave his schoolboy fantasies a bit of a vocabulary polish.  At least Roth tried to connect his fondness for sex to cultural and political movements in America.  Murakami?  No, female characters just take off their clothes and look at their naked bodies in the mirror.  Sure, sure, sure.  We’ve all been there I guess – but multiple times when in your late twenties?  I don’t know.

I’ve reconnected somewhat with Hermann Hesse, which has been nice.  He works best in the small realms, the short stories and novellas, though I do have an immense fondness for The Glass Bead Game.  I expect I will be reading quite a bit of his work over the next few weeks.

And Rachel Cusk!  I finally have the third book, Kudos, from her recent trilogy.  She is an author I came to late last year, and I hold her up alongside Karl Ove Knausgaard, which I promise is actually high praise because, well, she’s a woman, and womens’ stories are less told, or at least less read.

In terms of writing, I have been working on a short piece which is intended as a bit of a departure from my ordinary writing in that it involves gambling, violence, and the stink of the underworld.  We’ll see.  I’m enjoying writing it, though I don’t quite know yet if it has any kind of legs.

The ‘long’ writing I am doing is, basically, a complete and total copy of Roberto Bolaño’s Woes of the True Policeman.  I am using the general framework to basically just start moving my pen across the page, and that has been reasonably successful.  The intention is to use it as a guiding mechanism to write and then eventually to jettison all of the copy-work and go out on my on.

Or, more likely, to use it as an exercise to start writing properly.  At the moment I don’t mind much as long as I am writing, which I think is the primary goal at this stage. I’ve gone too long without writing.  I feel it, my muscles ache for it.

Each week I aim to provide an update on the Journal of Failure.  These reports are intended to provide an impetus for me to achieve as much as I should/more than I do, and also to provide a further ongoing record of my life, as it is.