You're reading The Ponder, and I'm Devin. Welcome! This is where I connect the dots between feelings and ideas, trying to find meaning. Thank you for being here. I hope you stay awhile.
A flock of birds came to rest on the electrical wires in the alley behind my house and I felt dread build inside of me. They leaped into the air and swooped and circled, then returned.1 Their song grew louder until I wanted to run away from it. A few birds are welcome, a hundred felt grotesque.
Grotesque is a word I don’t use much because it seems so subjective. Almost regressive. Grotesque feels harsh, used to label something objectively but actually is wildly personal and cultural. What has the world told me is grotesque? I thought: aging, menstruation, birth, incest, bodily fluids.
In recent reading2, grotesque can be a gut-punch (BODY HIGH by Jon Lindsey) or playful (TREASURE ISLAND!!! by Sara Levine). It can also be tender, or subverted: In A GHOST IN THE THROAT, Doireann Ní Ghríofa writes about the bodily realities of motherhood that are often treated with disgust but under her gaze receive love. There is a tradition of writers holding our eyelids open to grotesqueness.
Grotesque seems to be connected to mystery. Reading about the word, I found it has connections to the Italian word grottesco, literally “of a cave.” The word was first used to describe paintings found on the walls of Roman ruins revealed by excavation (according to OED.) First it meant "wildly formed, of irregular proportions, boldly odd," (c. 1600s) and then after the mid-18c the meaning became pejorative, "clownishly absurd, uncouth.”3 The literal cave became the figurative one: Something we don’t know about and don’t want to know about. Some days, that is how I feel about 2022 (sad laugh.)
Scale is involved too. Why else could I go from being delighted by watching the birds in the sky, to feeling like it was some dark omen when hundred of birds darkened the air? I was outnumbered, and I didn’t know why, and there was no way to find out, and so my heart sank.
- Video: Gretna Green Starling Murmurations (Note: The one in my backyard wasn’t this magnificent, but it was still moving)
- Book list: BODY HIGH by Jon Lindsey, TREASURE ISLAND!!! by Sara Levine, A GHOST IN THE THROAT by Doireann Ní Ghríofa
- Grotesque etymology
P.S. Still marvelling that it's now 2022! I'm hoping you had some rest in the last few weeks. I plan to write this newsletter slowly, but consistently (2-3x a month.) If you reply with what you're reading or your personal definition of grotesque, I'd be so happy. – DKP
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