Christmas Countdown Day 15

A review of Mycophilia: Revelations from the Weird World of Mushrooms, by Eugenia Bone.

Review by Kim Bannerman

            As dusk settled over the woods, I spotted the thing through a break in the trees, where the underbrush was thinnest. Imagine, if you will, a floppy-frilly brain, about the same size and shape as head of cauliflower, squatting on the top of a rotten log, an eerie ghostly white against the gloomy damp.

            I crept closer, utterly perplexed. I’d never seen anything so alien. I took a photo, and once my hike was finished and I’d returned home, I sent the picture to a neighbor, who also happens to be a botanist, and asked her what it might be.

            Instantly, I received a text.
            ‘Where?’
            I told her the trail and location of the rotten log.
            ‘Tell no one,’ she urged. ‘Must get it immediately.’

            What clandestine monster had I stumbled across? The brain, she informed me the next day, was a sparassis, a difficult-to-find delicacy that, once washed of bugs and boiled, has the texture of egg noodles and a mild flavor. After my message, she’d immediately donned her boots and raingear, grabbed a flashlight, and headed out into the misty night to find the rotten log, harvest the beast, and devour it with butter. The reason for her excitement was made clear when she explained, that same rotten log will sprout more sparassis next year, and they are not easy to find in the wild. As for the precise location, she’s swore me to secrecy.

            There’s a certain type of madness that is mycophilia, the fiery passion for fungi that overwhelms all rational thought, that sends neighboring botanists into the black woods in the middle of the night with a only a jackknife and a canvas sack. Soon after sharing the discovery of the sparassis, I received a gift: a copy of Eugenia Bone’s book, Mycophilia: Revelations from the Weird World of Mushrooms.

            The book appears at first glance to be a compendium of fungi, but instead, it perfectly captures the characters and personalities of mushroom-lovers, and is more of a journey through this strange, bizarre, and multifaceted community than a simple field guide. Bone, an internationally-acclaimed journalist and food writer, divulges a slew of facts, figures, and trivia about mushrooms as we follow her on her voyage into the fascinating subculture of fungi enthusiasts — from scientists and mushroom hunters to truffle aficionados and medicinal researchers. It’s an engaging book, not only for widening your appreciation of the mushrooms on your pizza, but also displaying the hidden passions that lurk in people’s hearts. You may have a mycophile in your life, and not even know it.

            Bone’s writing style is casual, relaxed, with just a hint of bewilderment, and you can sense her own mycophilia growing as, chapter by chapter, she follows hunters into the wilderness, explores mushroom farms, and meets with mycologists around the world. Can it be a coincidence that, since writing this book, she has become the president of the New York Mycological Society? I sincerely doubt it.

            Mycophilia: Revelations from the Weird World of Mushrooms has doubtlessly sparked new generations of mycophiles to sprout in dark corners, and it certainly altered how I look at mushrooms, whether they’re on the forest floor or in the produce section of the grocery store. The book provides an eye-opening introduction to both fungi and human behavior, unearthing gems in both realms. I may have given up a cherished location to a prized and delicious fungus, but I received a book that revealed a whole new world in return, and that’s fine with me.

 

Women in Horror : Disability, Motherhood and Personal Autonomy

“I Never Saw You As A Mother”: Disability, Motherhood, and Personal Autonomy

by K. Bannerman

When Marc Quinn’s statue, Alison Lapper Pregnant, was revealed in Trafalgar Square in 2005, it sharply divided the art world. While the piece was originally inspired by the lack of positive representation of disability in public art, it was met with disgust by some critics, who described it as ‘like some 19th-century fairground exhibit’ and ‘rather ugly’. It’s a powerful piece, partially because it addresses disability, motherhood, and a woman’s right to control her future. Yet some critics seemed to ignore the fact that the subject is a real person, and reduced her positive portrayal into one of revulsion.

What does it say about the audience when they interpret an actual person – one who is firmly in control of her own representation – as ugly? Does it dig into the viewer’s personal insecurities, their fear of losing control? Does it frame motherhood as a prison, in which one has no agency or self-determination?

The trope of the disabled mother, which appears from time to time in the horror genre, plays upon those same insecurities. However, while it’s often played for shock value, it can also be subverted and challenged, depending upon the character’s ability to control their situation. Two examples illustrate this wide gulf between authority: the pregnant women revealed at the end of ‘Bone Tomahawk’, and the recently-pregnant matriarch in the episode ‘Home’ of the television show, ‘The X-Files’.

‘Bone Tomahawk’ follows a group of characters who are taken prisoner by inbred cannibals in the American West. Spoiler alert: the strongest and most masculine characters are killed, while the injured, the old, and the female characters triumph and survive. However, as the movie draws to its conclusion, the women of the cannibal tribe are revealed to be quadruple amputees, who hold no power over their existence and are used only for their reproductive qualities. All personal autonomy has been stripped away. They are seen as utterly without value by the survivors, and left behind.

In diametric opposition, Mrs. Peacock from ‘Home’ is in complete control of her situation. She is originally framed as a victim from the perspective of the main characters, and the audience is invited to be horrified by her situation. In fact, this was the only X-Files episode to get a viewer discretion warning, as censors felt it was too upsetting for the general public. However, the story soon revealed that she is in complete control. She is not a victim, for her boys have placed her at the top of their family unit, and she wields motherhood like a weapon, sometimes with murderous results. At the end of the episode, Mrs. Peacock is the one doing the leaving.

The use of disability or motherhood to provoke a negative reaction is not new in the horror genre, but using these subjects to symbolize victimhood subtracts from the reality of such an experience, where real people navigate their lives with intention, purpose, and strength. How we assign agency to the subject allows us to elevate the characters from helpless to powerful, from victim to victorious. It encourages an audience to see disability and pregnancy, not as frightening or imprisoning, but as a genuine expression of the human condition.  

  1. When Fox Mulder turns to Dana Scully and admits, “I never saw you as a mother,” he seems to be commenting on her expression of compassion. However, seen through the lens of the episode, perhaps the comment can be interpreted as a nod to Dana’s ability for leadership, calculation, and sometimes ruthlessness.

Monday Methods : Kim Bannerman Continuum

Kim’s final Monday Methods post for us. 

Monday Methods – Continuum

At the beginning, there are only words. They don’t necessarily relate. Like a pile of excitable puppies, they fall all over each other, tumbling out and racing around with too much energy, not enough focus.

awww

Adjectives aplenty! Adverbs gone wild! The craziest euphemisms you’ve ever seen!

Then, as the words progress, they start to fall into patterns. Fragments cohere and make sense. They start to move together, find their rhythm, and the words become sentences. There is no story yet, but there is motion. A pulse begins and the first signs of life flicker between the letters.

And then, at some point, the words and sentences begin to breath on their own. This moment of quickening isn’t a sudden revelation or a lightning strike, but more of a gentle recognition by the author that this are more than a mere clutch of words; ideas lurk below the surface. There is meaning. There is direction.

The sentences become rivers with strong currents, pulling the writer towards a conclusion. It may be a horrible ending, a boring ending, a sudden ending, an ‘it was all a dream’ ending, but it’s still an ending and that’s okay. With patience, stubbornness and perseverance, that first babble of random gibberish has travelled along a line to coalesce into a hero’s journey. The author might not be able to point to the exact moment that chaos became order, but it doesn’t matter. The first draft is complete.

Monday Methods : Kim Bannerman Time

The second in Kim’s series of three Monday Methods posts.

Monday Methods – Time

Once upon a time, when I first started to tell stories, I would write whenever the muse visited me. At first, we were madly in love, my muse and me, and we would spend hours in each other’s company. I looked forward to her visits, I anticipated her bolts of inspiration, and I couldn’t wait to see what adventures we’d have together.  I wrote every day, for hours and hours, because she was wonderful.

Then, we started to grow bored with each other. I mean, my muse was still great and fun to hang out with and everything, but there were other things needing my attention, too. I was working full time. There were some really great movies coming out. I had television to watch and dishes to do. I told her that, while I still thought she was lovely, maybe we should just be friends.

She visited less and less. Why would she bother to come around? I hadn’t been there for her, so why would she be there for me?

I started to miss her. I wondered how she was, what she was doing. I wondered if maybe she’d found someone new who loved her more, and that stung. I started to pine for her, looking for her in alleyways and libraries, but she was no where to be found.

Then, early one morning, I decided I was sick of waiting around for her to come back. The sun was starting to rise, and I needed to write something. So I did.

I guess that piqued her interest. I was writing without her, and she was curious to see what I could do on my own; she popped by to say hi, real friendly-like, and we hung out for an hour. It was fun, but cautious.  Could we repair the damage I’d done? Was this relationship worth it?

time

The next morning, very early, I started writing again. The words that came out were stilted and ugly, but they were words – they still communicated my ideas, even if they were without grace or beauty.  My muse watched, interested, and gave me a few pointers to make it a little better.

On the third morning, once more very early, my muse sat at my side in the coffee shop and we wrote together, and it was as beautiful and pure as the first time we’d met. I wrote until my wrists ached and my fingers cramped. My heart sang. She was so lovely, gracious and generous. She was funny and crass and full of surprises. I thought that yes, this might work, and I could see in her smile that she was hoping the same.

I don’t wait for her anymore. That’s unfair, to put all the responsibility on my muse. I wake early and I write in the morning, and I am happy when she chooses to join me, but I don’t begrudge her if she doesn’t come, either. Maybe she likes to sleep in. I’d never again take her for granted, or pressure her to be more than she is.  My muse provides the inspiration, but the work of writing is my responsibility, and I always make sure to show up to the job on time. She knows where to find me; I’m happy when she does.

Monday Methods : Kim Bannerman Space

For the return of Monday Methods, Kim is exploring three areas of importance to her over three mondays. First up Space. 

Monday Methods – Space

Writing demands that I seek out a place – a humble spot on the earth – that provides the necessities of creation: a table, a window, and a cup of coffee. This spot can be private, such as my office, or it can be public, such as the cafe down the street. Both have their advantages. But they must have those three items, or writing will fail.

The table is for my computer to sit upon, and the window is for my eyes to gaze outside at the passing world when I stop my incessant typing to think. If I’m writing in a public space that has no window, then my glazed and day dreamy eyes magnetically drift towards another coffee shop patron, and that’s just uncomfortable for both of us.

“I’m sorry, yes, I AM staring at you, but I’m not really LOOKING at you. I’m just imagining ways to kill someone. No, wait! You misunderstand — I’m writing a mystery — oh, please don’t have me kicked out again…”

In a public space, I’d rather watch mountain bikers ride passed on their way to the trails; in my private space, my window looks out over the forest, providing a clear view of an old hemlock tree where a couple of ravens have built a nest.  Private space also provides the helpful access to books aplenty, while public space provides rare moments of chitchat with friends who drift passed. Both of these are benefits. Books are awesome. And socialization, well… it’s helpful to remember that not all of my friends are imaginary.

space

The final piece in the puzzle, coffee, is most important.

If ever I questioned Pavlov’s research, I have only to look as far as my coffee cup to see, the man was on to something. One sip of joe and my imagination is whirled away to far off places, my fingers start to tippy-tap the QWERTY dance, and my characters come to life. I hear them, you know. They wake to the taste of a good dark roast, and start jabbering away in my head. Tea won’t cut it, and neither will hot chocolate – they symbolize other times, other functions. Tea is for family gatherings, hot chocolate is for wintertime, after snowshoeing. Drinking either of these beverages only confuses my subconscious.

Coffee is the starting pistol. Coffee is the clang of the gates opening. Coffee is pure magic.

When it comes to writing, the space I inhabit is the foundation of creativity and can’t be ignored. Over the years, I’ve had four offices and visited hundreds of coffee shops, but I’ve grown to love a few, and sometimes, they even become cherished settings in a story. I’m not picky about which coffee shop I visit, but it must have those three things: table, window, good coffee.

Where do you write? What elements do you need to spark the fire in your head?