The Winged Histories

Sofia Samatar has some of the most beautiful writing I have read in years. The words in this story feel like music more than prose.  There is a rhythm to them, description of people and places resounding like deep notes.  I won’t lie to you, THE WINGED HISTORIES isn’t the kind of book you dive into expecting high action ad massive battles.  No, it’s a far more intimate secondary world that has scatterings of fantasy elements, but the main focus is on the rich cultural and historical connections across different lands joined as one.  Then there are the women of this story and it is around their wonderful depictions that this novel turns.

Tav refuses to be bound to her cultural norms of gender or love. She goes off to war, returns a wounded veteran, falls in love with a woman unapologetically and then goes off to fight another revolution. She’s just a character full of fire and determination. Even her language when speaking is crackling with that kind of intensity.  It’s what makes the tragedy at the heart of this story so difficult to handle because someone like Tav should win. Someone like Tav should come out ahead and Samatar absolutely rips your heart out by not giving that to you.

Siski and her doomed love is the stuff of Shakespeare. It is so sad to watch it fall apart and yet Samatar manages to make it look beautiful the entire time.  There was an elegance to the way the tragedy was presented. Society and fate ultimately trapped her to an end that it seemed she didn’t really want to find a way to escape from anyway. Just wait till you see how her story ends.  It’s fitting and you still want to cry regardless.

You have to appreciate prose to read this book.  You need to be in the mood for long, beautiful sentences. Be ready to relish the intricate details of food customs and dinner settings. You’ll want to bury your face in its fabrics.  Each and every romance will leave its imprint on you long after you read it. Some books are like pizza, you love every bite but it’s really not a delicacy. THE WINGED HISTORIES is a four hundred dollar, three course meal with some wine thrown in. If you’re like me, you only do those every blue moon and you have to savor every moment of it.

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MOONLIGHT: Why I Can’t Stop Crying

This isn’t going to be one of those fancy think pieces or whatever.  My heart and mind are too all over the place after seeing this movie to even really be able to cobble something together on that level. So I’m just going to write this as a black gay man and hold it up to where I’ve been and where I’m at in this journey. I’ll be upfront that this piece is more to help me navigate my personal feelings than anything else. But if along the way I help someone else make sense of theirs too then that’d be gravy with me. My first priority though is to try and really lay out for myself why the fuck I can’t stop crying.

There are so many Chirons in the world and I think black gay men can all see a piece of ourselves in him. I know I did.  God, I just wanted to reach through that screen and hug that brother so many times throughout the movie. And I guess in a way it would be like reaching back in time and hugging myself. I know that pain of being bullied for everyone being able to see who you are no matter how hard you think you’re trying to hide it. I know what it’s like to wall yourself off from sexuality in the hopes that it might just go away.  Every time Chiron cried on that screen, I had to choke back my own tears. And the whole time I’m telling myself that my story isn’t completely like his so why am I sitting here so damn hurt?

His Mom.  Oh man his Mom.  She was a wreck and so much not like my own Mom. My Mom isn’t an addict, loves all her children dearly and really did do a good job with all of us.  But there was a part of Chiron’s mom that made me wonder about my own.  You know early in the movie that she understands her son is gay.  And as I look back over my life, I know my Mom did too.  I have this one distinct memory of telling my Mom when I was kid (don’t even know how we got on the topic) that I prefer to sit down when going to the bathroom. My Mom very sharply told me I better never tell my Dad that.  Even as a child, I knew what that meant.  It was a rebuke of my sexuality and seeing Chiron’s mom rebuke him just took me back to that moment more than any other.  (Don’t worry. My parents are accepting of who I am in this present moment and love me in my totality.)

But while that cut it wasn’t the dagger to the heart.  There’s a deep romance in this story.  I read something that the actor who played adult Chiron said when contemplating on the character’s future past the movie.  “I think about love on a scale from 1 to 10. Most of us find a 6 or a 7, and that’s why we have divorce. It’s the truth. We settle for that 6 or 7. But I like to think Kevin is Chiron’s 10. He’s found that and he realizes that there’s no reason to settle for a 6 or a 7 because, “I know this person is my 10. Whether or not this person believes I’m his 10, I’m going to devote my life to this person entirely.” That’s why the line where he says, “You’re the only man that’s ever touched me,” for me, was the most amazing, most beautiful thing I’ve seen in cinema, period. Because that’s what we strive for as people, to find that one person because they’re there.”

I absolutely have to believe that. It’s that kind of hope that gets me through the day sometimes so I gotta believe those two are out there living and loving the way they were always meant to. In the world of gay blackness, finding that 10 feel so freaking elusive. But that’s where the dagger went because I had to realize, there was a 10 in my life.  And if that 10 isn’t in my life now, am I just destined for misery?

I had a Kevin too and I lost him.  Hell, I’m not even quite sure if I had him in the first place. But I had a best friend that I was in love with. He was my 10, I never let him know that because I was too damn afraid and I lost him.

So there it is. I cry for the things Chiron lost, the trauma he had to endure, but I also weep for myself for never having the courage to be that vulnerable.

Hopefully, there’s another 10 out there waiting for me.