PERIPHERY BLOG

‘Japanese Woman’

This week’s blog post comes from Emily Albers, the Art Director for Periphery 57. She discusses the piece ‘Japanese Woman’ by Agnes Jung that was featured in Periphery 56. The Periphery Blog is a blog about writing, narrative, art, and everything in between.

Artist Agnes Jung did not just deliver in her incredible line art and coloring for “Japanese Woman”, but in her ability to create a piece open to storytelling. 

What first caught my attention in this piece was the woman’s gaze. Unlike a traditional portrait, this woman is sitting very relaxed, with a look in her eye like she knows something the viewer doesn’t. Her traditional, red getup also juxtaposes the scenery around her, offset in blue. Her smirk and the bottles around her make me want to be in on the secret. 

From the artist’s bio:

Agnes Jung is attending an international school in Seoul, South Korea. Her inspiration comes from the people and places in her daily life. She also admires the director Wong Kar Wai and his use of color.

Looking at Jung’s work next to her favorite director’s work, I can see her inspiration. Kar Wai makes many artistic choices that reflect a similar atmosphere as “Japanese Woman”, such as block coloring and character posture.

I wanted to touch briefly on Jung because she is also one of several international submissions Periphery 56 received! We are incredibly excited that our Art and Literature Journal is reaching people all over the world. The fall submission window for Periphery 57 opens September 1st. We are so excited to see what you all send our way for the newest edition!

‘The Mulberry Tree’ Part 3

            This week I am so thrilled to unveil the once-lost ending of ‘The Mulberry Tree’.  Huge thanks to the author Kara McKeever for helping me be able to show off the ending of her wonderful story.  So without further ado, here is the original ending of the story:

It was Oscar who was sent to retrieve Elliot later, when his mother was ready to drive them all home. He ascended easily up to his cousin, wrapped an arm around him and started to climb down. Elliot fought him and gripped hard at the branch, but Oscar extricated him little by little and brought him closer to the base of the tree. Near the bottom, Elliot kicked furiously. His glasses were knocked from his head and Oscar accidentally crushed them scrabbling to yank Elliot from the trunk.

On the ground they separated, breathing heavily. Elliot had clutched the tree so hard that his hands bled from being torn away.

There was no one around outside when Oscar stood by the tree the next morning. His father had dropped him off at the house on his way to work, to see if he could help his grandfather. Oscar looked at the scratches Elliot had made in the trunk, and bent over to pick up a few pieces of Elliot’s broken lenses lying near the tree’s gnarled roots. Elliot was being taken to get new glasses that day. His eyes had looked smaller without them. Yesterday he had snatched the broken rims from the ground, and Oscar saw that he was sweating and trying not to cry.

Oscar went to get the weed cutter from the shed. Between this house and his cousins’ and his own, Oscar felt like he had been cutting grass all summer. He was actually looking forward to the hot, dry spell of late July and August when the lawn almost ceased to grow, even though the dried grass pricked bare feet.

He had long been aware of the ax hanging against the dark walls of the shed, shrouded in dust-laden cobwebs. Just looking at it had brought on a delicious sort of terror when he was smaller. But today he put the weed cutter back and for the first time reached for the ax, the rusted head heavier than he expected, the long wooden handle worn smooth. For a moment he had the ridiculous thought that it must be so old it wouldn’t work. The blade didn’t look especially sharp. But it could probably still do something. He hefted it in one hand and went back outside.

The mulberry tree’s dead branches swayed slightly, though there was only the smallest whisper of a breeze. There was almost more dead in the tree than alive, Oscar thought. He approached the trunk and studied the base, then put his hand in the hollow that used to be hard to reach. The inside felt damp and dirty—in fact, it really felt rotten, diseased. Oscar brushed his hand across his jeans, gripped the handle of the rusted ax, and swung.

Oscar knew that it was only a matter of time before the sound drew someone from the house. He moved the ax as hard and quickly as he could. And then his younger cousin Megan came around the side of the house and screamed.

“Hey, Meg,” he said, turning toward her.

“What are you doing?” she asked. He could tell that just the sight of the ax—so large and rarely used, present in tales of horror even little girls had heard—scared her.

Kate appeared around the corner, following Meg’s outcry.

“What are you doing?” she repeated, but with her horror directed at the tree. She rushed over to the trunk where Oscar had pounded a crack into the wood. It had been harder than he’d expected, but he thought that if he could get far enough inside the rotting flesh would be soft.

Kate knelt and touched the tree’s new wounds tenderly.

“Are you crazy?” she said in a quavering voice. “What’s wrong with you?”

Oscar stood and glared at her with the ax in her hand.

“What’s wrong with you, Kate? It’s a tree. Stop being a baby about it, and get out of the way.”

“You’re worse than Elliot. This is stupid—this is insane. Just leave it! What’s wrong with you?”

“Move, Kate!”

“There’s no way…”

Oscar swung the ax. Kate shrieked and jerked back, but Oscar had aimed above and to her left, into a crevice where the trunk split into branches.

Megan started to cry.

The look Kate gave him made Oscar wish it hadn’t seemed like he wanted to hit her. She took the younger girl and went quickly into the house. Oscar tried to pull the ax from the tree and realized it was stuck. He left it.

“Someone thought he’d do it the hard way today,” said one of Oscar’s uncles at supper that night. “The good old-fashioned ax.” He grinned over his hamburger.

Elliot noticed that Kate was barely eating, and that she glowered at Oscar across the table. He saw Oscar mouth the words “grow up” to her before pushing back his chair and taking his plate to the sink. Elliot had seen the ax sticking out of Mrs. Mulberry that evening through his new glasses. He thought it must have struck her heart. But the fact that it had gotten stuck there meant the wood hadn’t given way. That part of her, at least, was not sick.

Elliot set his sandwich on the floor for the cat.

Later Kate went out to the front porch to sit with arms folded and stare at the firefly-filled yard. Her parents were still talking with the other adults in the kitchen. Kate wanted to go home, but she was also afraid to leave, afraid that when she got back things would have changed before she was ready. Soft lamplight from the living room window lay in a distorted square beside her. After a little while she got up and went back in the house, entering the room with its single lamp glowing in the corner and the shag green carpet cushioning the floor.

“We have to cut down Mrs. Mulberry,” Kate told her grandmother while she slept. She could feel all the bones in her grandmother’s hand.

Kate wasn’t there when it happened. She was watching the kids at home while her mother was at her grandparents’. That evening their father picked them up and took them over to the house for supper. It had been a long day for everyone and supper was very late.

The door to the living room was shut and the adults gathered the children around the kitchen table with plates of spaghetti, before sitting down at the dining room table themselves.

“Sit by me, Kate,” her cousin Patrick insisted, so she had squeezed between him and Donald, scooting her chair as close as she could and elbowing gently for room to use her fork. It was only then that she realized the sun, bright and red in the west, was cutting across her eyes, obscuring the faces in front of her. She looked up through the window and straight into the sunset.

“Uncle Jim cut the tree down today,” Patrick announced to Kate, sitting on his knees on the wooden kitchen chair and stabbing his fork into his noodles.

“And Daddy. And Uncle Pete helped when he got off work. Uncle Jim had a chainsaw.”

“You shoulda heard it, it was loud!” Donald chimed in, and then reproduced the sound to his best ability until Kate shushed him and made him sit back down.

“He cut the big trunk and it crashed into the ground,” Patrick continued, smacking one arm onto the table. “Then he cut another one and it crashed into the ground! Then Daddy made me pick up the branches.”

“I picked ‘em up, too,” added Donald, looking pleased when Kate praised him.

Elliot’s lip trembled a moment. If only he had held on tighter. If only Oscar hadn’t been stronger than him. If only Mrs. Mulberry had never started rotting. If only they had all cared more. If only Kate had helped him. He glanced at his sister’s face, the sunset brushed pale over her cheeks. He watched as she urged the boys to eat their supper, to keep their restless bottoms on the kitchen chairs as they reenacted different moments of their day, watched as she gave an approving smile to the girls eating quietly across from her, their chins only inches above the tabletop. She seemed older all of a sudden.

Oscar got up to pull the kitchen curtain over. The sun was at an obnoxious slant, filling the room with a thick, red ray that illuminated dust swimming in the air and made it hard to see; Elliot looked bug-like with his lenses reflecting it. Oscar glanced outside, irritated suddenly that with the tree gone the sun would shine in this way. Even half-dead, even rotting, the tree had been useful. And it had been his grandmother’s tree. Quite unexpectedly, Oscar found himself remembering when he had first bent to pick up a fallen mulberry and had put it in his mouth. He had been very small, as it was one of his blurriest memories, and he had been holding his grandmother’s hand. He remembered her smiling and letting him feed her one. She had looked up and thanked the tree, and she had called it Mrs. Mulberry.

Oscar gripped the edge of the sink as he stared out past the clean-cut stump at the sunset. It shone on the faces of his cousins behind him and he ached that the tree was no longer there to block its brilliance.

But that, he thought after a moment, was maybe the wrong way to look at it.

The Mulberry Tree: Part 2

   This week’s post is my take on an ending for Kara McKeever’s “The Mulberry Tree” after the original ending was not printed with the story. This ending picks up right where the original story ends. Did it meet your expectations? Let us know what you think of it!

          With growing discomfort Elliot remained in the Mulberry tree.  He had been comfortable, hours ago when he had climbed up into the branches of Mrs. Mulberry.  Now the flies had found him, and the branches scraped and clawed and numbed his limbs.  Kate had come out several times, and once threatened to climb up the tree.  Grandpa had come out and talked with Elliot, as calmly and routinely as if they had been talking across the kitchen table about species of bird. 

            As the day faded, and darkness crept onto the farm, the family left Elliot, and returned inside.  Elliot sat in silence a long time.  He remembered climbing to the top of Mrs. Mulberry, long before Kate could scale her branches, in order to escape the younger cousins.  Back then, he would steal away and come to Mrs. Mulberry, wrap his hands around her branches and hide in her canopy.  It was the only time he could get away from the younger cousins.  Now, the bows sagged beneath his weight and the bare branches failed to hide him.  He could see the farmhouse’s lights through the dead branches.  He could see the hospital bed through the window, could see Grandpa holding Grandma’s hand.  He could see the adults gathered around the hospital bed, see Donald crying in behind them, the other cousins growing uneasy from the quiet.  Slowly, Elliot climbed down the tree. 

            “Mrs. Mulberry, if you don’t fall on the house, then we don’t have to cut you down, so just don’t fall on the house ok?” Kate’s voice wavered in the darkness.  Grandma used to voice Mrs. Mulberry during picnics or when the other kids weren’t around.  Mrs. Mulberry’s voice was kind and calm. 

            “Mrs. Mulberry why did you have to get sick?”  Don’t go away Mrs. Mulberry, please don’t die”

            “Are you talking to Mrs. Mulberry?” Kate hadn’t heard Oscar walk into the room. 

            “No!” Kate said too quickly.  She turned away from him, hoping he hadn’t seen her wet eyes or red face. 

            “I used to talk to Mrs. Mulberry too.  Grandma did voices for her when we played outside”

            “She did?”

            “Yeah, Mrs. Mulberry always sounded so, wise”

            Kate turned back to Oscar.  “Why does Grandma have to be sick?  Why does Mrs. Mulberry have to be cut down?  Why can’t things stay the same!”

            A movement up the stairs made them both turn.  Elliot passed by the doorway, he was sheparding Donald and the younger cousins to bed. 

            “I should go help him” Kate said, starting to walk past Oscar. 

            “I still talk to her too, Kate.  Just like the adults talk to Grandma, I think she can hear us”

            “Maybe” Kate said before leaving. 

            The next day Grandpa and Oscar’s dad got out a big saw early in the morning.  The kids were still in their pajamas in the kitchen when Donald spotted it. 

            “They’re going to do it!”  He burst into tears, knocking over his cereal.  The rest of the children jumped from their chairs and raced outside.  The first few cuts had already been made. 

            Grandpa and Oscar’s dad were sweating with effort, the cut growing with every stroke.  Kate felt something leaking from her, like she was losing something with every cut.  Donald was screaming now, as Oscar tried to quite him.  The rest of the adults were inside with Grandma, only the children stood watch over Mrs. Mulberry. 

            Already Mrs. Mulberry was sagging away from the house.  The motion of the saw jittered the tree incrementally.  No one turned as the door to the house slammed.  Kate and Elliot’s mom can running from the house.  She was screaming.  It was grandma, something was wrong.  Grandpa jumped, the saw vibrating from where it sat deep in the trunk of Mrs. Mulberry. 

            He was on his feet and running towards the house before the door slammed behind Kate and Elliot’s mom.  Oscar’s dad soon followed.  As the children turned to face the house a crack shook the ground.  They turned back as Mrs. Mulberry’s trunk snapped, her branches shook as she came crashing to the ground.  Splinters shot from her trunk as branches snapped.  A splintered stump arched from the ground, as the rest of her body lay dead on the ground. 

            Oscar’s dad came back out through the door, and called everyone inside.  Oscar, Kate, Elliot, and the children came into the house to gather around Grandma’s bed. 

            As Kate and Elliot got into the car to leave the farmhouse for the last time that summer, long after funeral plans had been arranged, and the remaining stump of Mrs. Mulberry had been long cleared away, Kate would remember looking out to the patch of empty dirt where Mrs. Mulberry had stood.  She would remember the hum of the car’s motor, and dust thrown into the air from the screeching tires.  She would remember later, long after the summer had faded into autumn and then winter and then spring, she would remember seeing a sprig of something growing from that patch of empty dirt.              Though she could never say why, she knew it was not a part of Mrs. Mulberry.  Mrs. Mulberry was dead and gone.  That sprig was something different: the start of something new. 

The Mulberry Tree: Navel Gazing with Purpose

            The Mulberry Tree by Kara McKeever from Periphery 47 caught my attention for a couple of reasons.  Firstly, it was a delightfully fresh take on the tale of growing up.  As an undergraduate literary journal, many of the stories we receive reflect that transitional time.  The balance we often grapple with is showcasing these stories because of their universality, and keeping them from being stale.  The Mulberry Tree avoids that conundrum all together by focusing not on a single character, but an entire family, and how the shifting tides of memory and tradition crash against changing times.  If that nostalgia for a place that has changed from one’s childhood isn’t universal, I don’t know what is. 

            Secondly, and most infuriating, the story doesn’t have an ending.  After exactly 2100 words, the story stops midstream claiming the rest can be found online.  Our website has undergone several changes since the nine years ago that 47 was printed and unfortunately the original ending of the story, is lost.  I am heartbroken over this.  The Mulberry Tree breaths life into that three-story farmhouse draped with cats, and my heart aches for the loss of Mrs. Mulberry just as Oscar and Kate and Elliot mourn the rotting symbol of their childhood.  So the week of the August fourth, (Next week the blog will be taking a break) I will unveil my own ending to The Mulberry Tree.  In the time before then, I would love to hear what you all think was going to happen, or if you are feeling ambitious you could write your own endings as well.  All I want to know is: what will happen to Mrs. Mulberry?!

            In the meantime, I want talk about how The Mulberry Tree uses navel gazing purposefully.  Navel gazing is defined by Merriam-Webster as “Useless or excessive self-contemplation”.  In popular culture it is often used to describe someone who is obsessed with themselves, and refused to talk about anything else.  In writing, it is a term for large breaks in the action for the narrator to ponder something or explain their feelings.  Navel gazing is generally criticized for breaking the pacing of a scene, and jarring readers at both ends of the break in a story.  If a reader can understand a scene, and how a character feels in that scene without internal comment, there shouldn’t be any need for the author to further describe how the character feels at great length.  Of course there are exceptions to this, and The Mulberry Tree is one of them.  Take a look at this passage:

            “Mom,” said Kate, carefully stacking too many cups in the dish drainer.

            “What? Oh, I wish you kids would stop talking about this tree.” In the kitchen’s light Kate thought her mother looked almost haggard, “You shouldn’t have named it.”

            Kate turned her back to the window. She wasn’t sure whether she or Oscar had named the tree. For as long as she could remember they had called it Mrs. Mulberry. She remembered using Mrs. Mulberry as a character in make-believe games, remembering standing with her forehead pressed to the bark and her hands cupped around her eyes, being “it” for hide-and-seek, remembering building snow forts around Mrs. Mulberry’s wide trunk. Sometimes she had perched on Mrs. Mulberry’s lowest branch and waved to her grandmother working in the kitchen. Sometimes her grandmother had brought out an old blanket and let them have picnics—crackers and grapes, sugar cookies and orange soda—under the tree. She remembered being proud when she could climb as high as Oscar into Mrs. Mulberry’s open embrace.

            Kate began to dry the dishes in the drainer with a towel, for lack of anything better to do in the hushed house.

The scene of Kate washing dishes and attempting to talk with her mother is bisected with the block of text describing some of Kate’s earliest memories with Mrs. Mulberry.  Through Kate’s memories we can see what is at stake if the tree is cut down, the audience understands what it means to her, and her inability to let go of it.  The importance of the flashback is clear, but why does it have to come in the middle of the scene?  What makes that choice significant within the story?  

            Kate is fighting to keep her childhood alive in a changing world.  The quick breaks to memories showcases how torn Kate is about letting go of her childhood.  She wants to keep building snow forts around Mrs. Mulberry’s trunk, and keep having picnics beneath her bows.  But time keeps moving on.  The reality of her situation sits juxtaposed to those memories, fighting with them.  Breaking scenes with elongated memories makes the audience sit somewhere in the middle of those two images.  They are seeing Kate wave to her grandmother from Mrs. Mulberry’s branches while also knowing that Kate is actually washing dishes and the grandmother is in a bed dying.  Breaking up these scenes puts the reader in the same liminal position that Kate finds herself. 

            Characters that navel-gaze seem out of the action, unable to deal with what is outside of their own heads.  Authors can accidentally create characters that seem unable to interact with other characters because they are bogged down with emotions and observations.  Navel gazing, however, makes sense within The Mulberry Tree because the farmhouse is an area laded with memories that are constantly being reminisced.  Every location from the porches to the inner rooms, to the lawn all hold deep meaning for the children.  That meaning comes out because of how often the children stop and remember good times with Mrs. Mulberry.  In this case, McKeever used the breaks within her story to underscore how important these memories are, and how little control the children have, both about their own nostalgia, but their current surroundings. 

            Like many aspects of writing, the medium allows for an incredible amount of variance on how to construct even a single sentence.  There are many ways to do this well, and many, many ways to do this poorly.  Doing it purposefully, however, is what separates stories like The Mulberry Tree from others.  Knowing why a single sentence was structured, or how a specific clause is used, can be an important question to ask about one’s writing.  The Mulberry Tree shows us that. 

In Loving Miriam: A Study of Spoilers

            It is not often that we get definite genre fiction here at Periphery.  While looking back through Periphery 50 I stumbled across In Loving Miriam and had to share it.  

            What I was reminded of the first time I read through Asmita Gauchan’s wonderful story was a Shakespeare class I took (Bear with me here).  The class was about the four great Shakespearean tragedies with which, at the time, I was unfamiliar.  The professor, early in the lecture, mentioned off-handedly that all of the protagonists died in the end of their respective plays.  I was shocked that the endings would be spoiled so cavalierly for those students like myself who hadn’t read the play.  Apparently I was not alone in thinking this, because the professor stopped, turned to the class and said, “It doesn’t matter that they die, that isn’t as important as the path that brings them there”

            I think about that quote now, every time someone tells me they binged through a full season of a show because they ‘just had to know’.  I wonder about that validity of my professor’s statement.  The pull of knowing what happens at the end of a story is incredibly powerful, be it who sits on the Iron Throne or what is happening in Hawkins Indiana.  No one was asking what foreshadowed those things, or how character development and agency caused it; but how come we don’t ‘just have to know’ why that character become king or queen, or what caused the incidents around Hawkins Indiana?

            I have to imagine the richness of the story, the depth of it, comes from the road to that explanation.  Once the pieces of ones world have been put back together in a post understanding revelation, why does one revisit a story? It can’t be to experience the shock again, it has to be how the story got to that shocking point. Certainly my professor was correct about Shakespeare, but what about In Loving Miriam?

            What I find so interesting about the structure of In Loving Miriam, is that despite the fact that it holds its own twists, the start of the story is the biggest: Miriam’s suicide. From her suicide note, the story works to show how Miriam came to take her own life. The story of Peter’s journey to resurrect her is mostly about what caused her to take her own life in the first place. Reading the story again, the world painted by Gauchan with it’s interactive ads, floating buses, and futuristic milkshakes all take a backseat to fleshing out these characters, to showing their relationship and it’s eventual end.  Even the title seems to take the stance that the importance of the story is not its end, but what the effects of what happens when one loves Miriam.  The story skips the shock factor in order to allow the reader immediate access to the richness of how the story came to that shocking point.

            A now (in)famous study at UC San Diego found that people tend to like stories more if they are ‘spoiled’ first.  I wonder if that is because spoiled stories allow reader to see deeper into them upon a first reading.  I think this is an incredibly interesting topic and would love to hear what you all think about spoilers and In Loving Mirriam, so drop a comment and let us know!

            Here is the link to that study for all of you skeptical readers out there

https://www.universityofcalifornia.edu/news/spoiler-alert-spoilers-make-you-enjoy-stories-more