On Death, Rebirth, and the “Shiny Bits in Between”

Georgina Key’s debut novel Shiny Bits in Between was published by Balance of Seven Press two months before my own debut novel Grey Dawn. While I have crossed paths with Georgina in online spaces run by the press, only recently did I remedy my oversight of not having read her work sooner. What I found was a haunting, profound meditation on death, rebirth, grief, and the things that are points of light in the darkness.

We queer folk often reinvent ourselves by necessity in a world that is not always accepting. We constantly seek community and moments of joy and respite and whatever closure we can find– the things that bring light in the dark. In that regard, I resonated strongly with Dorie and Clementine’s respective journeys. Through a journey that weaves like footsteps in beach sand, they stumble and grasp and seek, sometimes imperfectly, for new beginnings after the unthinkable loss of both their children. My favorite author, 19th-century educator and soldier Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, wrote “What has gone takes something with it, and when this is of the dear, nothing can fill the place. All the changes touched the border of sorrows.” There is, ultimately, nothing that can quite fill the void of two children lost to sickness and the waves.

And yet, as Chamberlain also said, “indeed, in the hour of sorrow and disaster, do we not all belong to each other?” Dorie and Clementine find that belonging, and manage to find a new sort of reconciliation, healing, and community on the Bolivar Peninsula.

In light of recent anti-trans legislation coming out of that state, it was heartening to read a story this hauntingly beautiful, set in a part of Texas that I’d never heard of before. It was heartening also to note the plot thread that featured a young lesbian, Izzie, finding understanding where she least expected it, in Dorie and Rennie and other straight adults who might not have understood perfectly, but were profoundly decent where she rightfully expected ostracism. This, like the rest of the story, was artfully woven and speaks to what could be, if people in positions like the adults in her life stop and try to be decent and kind rather than jump to denunciation and harm.

I eagerly await more from Georgina Key, and I urge you to read Shiny Bits in Between and ask your local library to acquire it for others to enjoy in turn.

Source Spotlight: “Man-of-War Life,” by Charles Nordhoff

As I write the draft for this week’s Friday Night History, I feel like from now on I ought to introduce some of the sources that factor into each week’s finished product. The one that particularly has my attention this week is Charles Nordhoff’s Man-of-War Life. A German-born American writer, Nordhoff (1830-1901) served in the US Navy from 1845-1848, all aboard the 90-gun ship of the line USS Columbus. While his reputation is as a writer and journalist, he spent 9 years at sea, in the Navy, the merchant service, and on whaling and fishing ships.

What’s particularly surprising to me about Man-of-War Life is that Nordhoff was aboard Columbus when, serving as Commodore Biddle’s flagship, it visited Japan in 1846. Nordhoff wouldn’t have known, but this brought him in close proximity with a number of Japanese leaders who would go on to become influential voices in the late-Edo period conversation on opening up to foreign relations and military modernization– one of them being Nakajima SaburĊsuke, a political and military leader who went on to involvement in building Japan’s first modern warships.

The section in his book that covers Japan is ultimately short (all of 18 pages) but this, too, is a primary source on late Edo history that I’m excited to put to work in Friday Night History.

You can read Man-of-War Life online in its entirety! Check it out here.

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