Khristian mecom | things that cannot be tamed
an excerpt & interview
from We All Come From Somewhere
Ida’s grandmother often told the story of their family’s origin: a girl with the gift of prophecy was visited by a raven in a dream. The raven told her that she must leave her family behind and wander the wilderness. But when the girl asked why she must do this, the raven spread his wings and vanished. When the girl told her grandmother about the dream, the grandmother told her that one must always listen to ravens who come in dreams. The grandmother gave the girl a token; a fine bracelet made of whale bone. Then the girl set of into the wild; she traveled over ice that broke apart below her feet, through woods that no man had ever set forth in, and eventually came to the openness of the sea. On the beach, the bones of a whale lay in the sand; huge and cavernous. The girl approached the bones, knowing somehow that she had reached the end of her journey, and as her bracelet fell from her wrist, it rejoined what it once had been a part of, and the remains of the whale transformed back into a young man. The girl returned to her home and married the whale-boy. She became an angakkuq and healed all those who came to her.
You are a whale and you are an eagle, Ida’s grandmother told her once. And the one place you will never belong to is the earth itself.
Sometimes, Ruth wondered if she was real. She had moments when she felt fully foreign to herself like her own bones didn’t belong to her. As a child, her mother used to tell her that she was made up of old whale and seal bones that had been gathered on the beach. Wanting a child so bad, her mother had cobbled all those bones together and made her. Ruth imagined her mother told her that story as a way to make her feel special, feel the absence of her father less as there was no father in her mother’s story to help put her together. But the only thing the story ever made her feel was loss, a sense that she belonged somewhere else, in the sea, in the sand, anywhere other than where she was.
Why write? And how has embracing your identity as a writer fed your work?
Writing is the only way I have of understanding and making sense of the world. I struggled for a long time with the idea of even calling myself a writer (who amongst us hasn’t felt like a fraud sometimes?). And I used to be self-conscious about the subjects I chose to write about, mainly domestic, family-drive stories about women, as somehow I didn’t think such subjects were as serious as more social, political masculine-driven work. But as I’ve grown older and more comfortable with defining myself as a writer and a woman, I’ve become more comfortable with the types of stories I tell, and I see their importance more clearly. In the current political climate, I think it’s vital as a woman to tell stories about women. Hopefully, as the act of writing helps me order and comprehend the world, it does the same for the reader.
Things That Cannot Be Tamed explores themes of belonging; what are your personal experiences with wrestling with the idea of belonging? And how does this colour your work?
I was born in Oklahoma but moved to Florida at a very young age with only my parents and brother—all of our extended family remained in the Midwest. Because my parents so closely identified with Oklahoma and Kansas (where they were from), it never felt right to call myself a real Floridian. After all, it wasn’t my birthplace just as it wasn’t my parents’. Yet, even as a child, when I went back to Oklahoma, I didn’t feel as if I belonged there, either. I didn’t have the same accent as my cousins, didn’t live in a rural area, didn’t share their language (I mean, who calls soda pop? It was weird). That never-quite-belonging mindset is why I always found it curious and interesting how people define themselves so completely with the place they were born (and even the place their ancestors originated). In the chapbook, that was the question that I was trying to find an answer to: does the place you’re from intrinsically define you? Or is letting a place define you a choice that you make? Through writing these stories, I came to realize that maybe it’s both. You belong where you choose to belong, and you belong among those who claim you.
In the story, the protagonist's grandmother told her a gorgeous folklore of their family's origin; are folklores or mythical origin stories something that inspire your work? Can you please share some more about that?
I’m in love with fairy tales, folklore, and that mix of history, magic, and strangeness that is inherent in them. Magic realism has always been my genre of choice for the fact that you can take the real world and add in elements that create a sense of that same strangeness and magic that fairy tales and folklore contain, and those elements then reveal, highlight, or resonate with your themes or characters. In the chapbook, the Sedna myth (a woman forced into marriage to a giant bird by and ends up as the mother of all sea creatures) and the other folklore elements work to add that additional layer to one of the main themes: woman struggling against outside forces and overcoming them.
Alaska, being the location of the narrative, seems as significant as a central character in the story. Do you have any connections to Anchorage, Alaska? And what are your thoughts on writing locations as characters i.e as elements woven thoroughly into a narrative?
I don’t actually have any connection to Alaska. I choose that location because the first story I wrote for the chapbook, “We All Come From Somewhere” demanded it (the original idea was writing a short story about a female bush pilot). Through writing that story, I became very interested in how a place could or couldn’t inform someone’s character. Like I said before, I was born in Oklahoma, but at times, I haven’t felt completely connected to that place. Yet at the same time, it informs who I am—a daughter, a granddaughter, a Choctaw, someone who was born in Oklahoma because my ancestors were forcibly moved there. So as a writer, I see location as something a character can fight against, like many characters in the chapbook do; something that can create vastness or claustrophobia; something that can mirror what a character feels inside. Alaska, in this chapbook, became all of those things for the characters.
Khristian Mecom is the author of the novella Love & Black Holes (1888Center). Born in Oklahoma, she grew up and lives in Florida where she earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Florida Atlantic University. Her fiction has appeared in Slice Magazine, Fourteen Hills, Iron Horse Literary Review, Passages North, and elsewhere.