Thursday, December 06, 2007


In May the anthology LOGORRHEA was published to coincide with the National Spelling Bee contest in the US. You can read a little more about it here.

The word I chose was ECZEMA and the editor, John Klima, asked me to explain why (you can find links to other accounts here).

Why I chose the word ''ECZEMA"

When I was young it seemed like I was allergic to the world. A rash afflicted my arms, legs and fingers. It was itchy and it stopped me doing things. I scratched. It bled. It was something that as far as I could remember had always been there, and with the unthinking acceptance of a child had assumed it always would. But luckily for me in those days there was a cure. In the evenings my mother would smear a cream I have heard is considered too potent to be used now: Betnovate. She would then cover it with sheets of polythene (on my hands I would wear polythene gloves) and I would go to bed. Either this uncomfortable regime worked or I simply grew more tolerant of the world, in any event the eczema eventually retreated.

It is still there though, inside me. From time to time it breaks though on my elbows or on my feet or fingers and it has left a legacy: ridged nails on the worst afflicted fingers and a vulnerability to TB (a rash meant you were not vaccinated which caused me to whoop joyfully back up the corridor at the time until told to be quiet).

So that is my experience of eczema. I know I had a mild case and I know that for some the condition is pernicious and difficult to bear: WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN describes such an example. Even so the word resonated enough with me when I read down the list of possibilities for Logorrhea for me to want to chose it. A person with eczema scratches. It is difficult to resist, and inevitably the skin comes off - only in tiny fragments - but still it comes off. Since fantasy often starts with the exaggeration of the mundane I thought the word had potential. Not just a few flakes of skin could go but a whole hide - rather like a snake. Why? What caused it? What would happen then? And, most importantly - what lay beneath?

If you want to read the result the text, together with several other examples, it is here.

Extract from "APPOGGIATURA" - Jeff VanderMeer's take.

Certainly the most ambitious story in the book was Appoggiatura by Jeff VanderMeer. In this story, which had a saga-like feel, Jeff used all of the words that all the other authors had used. Here is the section dealing with Eczema. You can listen to it here (Jason Erik Lindburg has kindly made a podcast of Jeff's work).

ECZEMA by Jeff VanderMeer

Anyone who has seen Eczema’s act for the Babilim Traveling Circus knows it is only enhanced by the equal and opposite reaction created by Psoriasis. Touring erratically throughout Central Asia and the Far East (where not banned by law), the circus has only rarely been captured on film or in still photographs.

Although myths about Eczema’s act abound, most eyewitnesses agree on the basics: Eczema, so nicknamed by her late father, a doctor, for the predominant condition of her formative years, enters the ring accompanied by helpers who carry several small boxes under their arms. Eczema is heavily made up in whiteface and wears a man’s costume more fitting for a sultan, including curved shoes. A fake mustache completes the illusion. In the background a local band plays something approximating circus music.

Eczema’s assistants, dressed all in black, fan out around her. Some of them place shiny green models of buildings upon the floor while others arrange a variety of insects in amongst the buildings, including scarab beetles, praying mantises, and grasshoppers. Some are green or have been painted green, while others are red or have been painted red. A few flies, large moths, and butterflies weakly buzz or flutter above on long, glittering strands of hair plucked from the heads of Tibetan holy men, the leads held by specially trained insect handlers.

Eczema stands in the background as an announcer or ringmaster comes forward and says, “The King of Smaragdine now recreates for you, using his minions, the Great Battle between the Smaragdineans of the Green Tablet and the Turks.”

Reports differ on the battle’s historical accuracy. Certainly, the Turks ruled the area around Smaragdine for some three hundred years, but records from the time are often incomplete.

As for the act itself, some describe it as “insects wandering around a badly made scale model of an ancient city, after which the crowd rioted to show their displeasure.” Others describe “the incredible sight of beetles, ants, and other insects recreating miniature set pieces of ancient battles amongst the spires and fortifications of a realistic and highly detailed cityscape. One of the most marvelous things ever seen.”

During this spectacle, Eczema stands to the side, gesturing like an orchestra conductor and blowing on a whistle that makes no sound.

Most accounts agree that the act comes to an abrupt end when the insects that have not escaped are swept up by the helpers. A few eyewitnesses, however, tell tales of an ending in which “huge bass-like mudskippers hop on their fins through the cityscape, gobbling up the insects.”

Eczema then comes forward and says, in a grave tone, “What is below is like that which is above, and what is above is like that which is below for performing the miracle of one thing. And as all things were produced from one by the Meditation of one, so all things are produced from this one thing by adaptation.”

After this short speech, the audience usually leaves in confusion.

Psoriasis does not join Eczema until the end of the act. That Eczema and Psoriasis are Siamese twins only becomes evident when they stand together and bow, and the declivity between them—that outline, that echo—tells the story of another act altogether.


Blogger Anne S said...

A good way to prevent eczema is to take an evening primrose oil capsule a day.

I used to get very bad eczema on my hands and feet, but since I have been using EPO it has never recurred again.

I once used an aboriginal ointment called Koori Skin Balm which also worked a treat, but I could never find it again as the business went bust or something. That was before I heard about the properties of EPO.

Thu Dec 06, 10:17:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Anne, I'll try that next time - sounds like that stuff is good in lots of other ways too!

Thu Dec 06, 12:19:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Aren't we dutiful? I did one too!

Thu Dec 06, 05:18:00 pm  
Blogger Tania Hershman said...

This sounds like a fascinating anthology, I love the idea of taking an almost-unspellable word and using that as a springboard for a short story. I will see if I can get a review copy and review it for The Short Review - quick shameless plug: Issue 2 is now online with ten reviews of short story collections and anthologies, if you want to find something good to read!

Fri Dec 07, 11:18:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Titiana - I'll just go and take a look at the Short review now.

Fri Dec 07, 07:37:00 pm  

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