Woman in fragments

Here's an excerpt from my short story published in Westerly, 62.1

The story consists of five fragments, focused on women's experiences. This fragment is called 'Who is Sylvia' (the title alludes to Sylvia Plath's poem, 'Mirror,' about the female fear of ageing). It describes an academic feminist who believes that the different stages of the feminist movement have been increasingly liberating for women, only to succumb, in her later years, to self-denigration, based on her ageing appearance. Part of the intent of the fragment is to suggest the difficulty for even the most intelligent and knowledgeable feminist woman to free herself from the tyranny of appearances. 

Sylvia was the proudly steadfast product of 1960s feminism. Vigorously supporting the empirically verifiable claim that women as a group were subjugated by a pervasively patriarchal ideology, she also refused to be a victim, valiantly adhering to the social constructivist argument that patriarchal culture could be deconstructed and hence reconstructed to serve the interests of female empowerment. Later in the century, Sylvia eagerly embraced the philosophically liberating belief that the very category of femaleness was ambivalent and provisional, if not entirely untenable. 'Woman', she now saw, was gloriously elusive, defying the epistemologically reductive binary model of gender that historically rendered the female inferior to the male.

On the morning of June 23rd, 2016, Sylvia noticed that her bedroom mirror was leaning to the side. She stepped back, stepped forward, made the necessary adjustment. But then, as both the subject and the object of her disconcerted gaze, she was jolted into studying her refection: for although her lover called her comely and her friends extolled her dignity, all she could see was a sadly wrinkled forehead and two listless, sunken cheeks; five deep rows of lines around a tight, scrawny neck; two sagging, dispirited breasts.

She could find no words to rescue her. 



I was invited to write a 200-word short story to be included in  an anthology of microfiction called Landmarks, edited by Cassandra Atherton and published in 2017 by Spineless Wonders. While the writing of short stories requires combining economy and evocation, brevity and resonance, being confined to 200 words was for me even more difficult, and an interesting exercise in precision and exactitude. Here's the outcome, a humorous piece of metafiction called 'The Bright Silver Pin':

A prize-winning, best-selling and internationally acclaimed writer once pronounced, to general approbation, that "if a novel was a map of a country, a short story was the bright silver pin that marked the crossroads." Another writer, who'd never won a prize or sold a single copy of his only short story collection, had never received any form of approbation, whether general, colonel or sergeant, and who had always considered narrative (both the longer and shorter forms) to be an unequivocally temporal mode, pondered and puzzled over the use of those spatial metaphors by the prize-winning, best-selling etc etc writer. Did "the bright silver pin" refer to a structural landmark, a means of illuminating our crucial psychological, moral and existential choices in life? And did the writerly act of using said pin presuppose that our life-in-time was essentially comprised of turning-points, crises, epiphanies? In which case, those spatial metaphors were indeed misplaced, since they did not escape the inescapable temporality of our miserable life-in-time. And on re-reading what he had just written, hadn't he, the non-prize-winning etc etc writer, used a tautology in the preceding sentence. Or was it a redundancy? 

Self-editing had never been his strong point.