Blot Lit Reviews: Traveling by M. Mack
Traveling, M. Mack
Hyacinth Girl Press, 2015
Reviewed by Graham Bell
Growing up is hard. You’ve heard that before, right? The process of growing up– Learning about yourself, who you are, how you relate to the people around you, understanding society’s expectations, and adapting to the best of your abilities… it isn’t easy. It’s a journey–a rough one. Even moreso for those of us who ‘don’t fit’ those societal norms we’re taught. In M. Mack’s Traveling, we’re brought up-close and personal to the struggles of holding onto an identity not recognized by the rest of the world.
Traveling collects stories, some dreamlike and some painfully realistic, of a life lived in transit– not only in regards to jobs, relationships, and lessons learned, but personal transit as well– the internal and external processes of knowing oneself; understanding gender and body and persona; learning to put them together as a singular identity; and presenting that identity to the world. Mack’s words are moving and provocative, taking the reader into memories that are raw in their honesty. These memories and private thoughts, sensual and otherwise, elicit emotional responses such that the reader may forget those thoughts aren’t their own. The narrator tells us hir secrets and puts us in their place, in their moments, leaving we as readers immersed in a life that is not our own but haunts us with a hazy familiarity all the same.
The common themes through the work are identity, gender, and the body. Mack shows us a visceral and genuine glimpse into the heart and mind of a genderqueer individual’s travels through life, and the hard-fought journey of knowing who we are who we are not– and ze does not hold back. In ‘Discovery Narrative: An Act In Five Plays’, we are walked through varying moments and experiences, and shown the learning processes of touch and self-exploration, of teaching oneself identity in terms of the body, and other bodies. Take ‘Origin,’ the first of the five:
My shirt removed. A naked sculpture. I am encased in surgical mesh, my armature showing, stripped down to this. I am asking you to puzzle over me. The parts of me that are attractively masculine when clothed, attractively feminine when nude, are grotesque in this moment. I am packed into myself. The most naked I can be. I want you to help me out of my binder. To know what this is.
Here we are shown the body and the narrator’s introspective relation to the body, the raw truth of hir situation. Mack’s words are powerful in their simplicity, a statement that says, “Look. Look at me, and say what you’re sure everyone is thinking. Ask.”
See also ‘Avoidance,’ the fourth of the five, a touching look at desire, comfort, and the narrator’s relation not just to hir body, but to another’s:
I do not always bind when we are together. My body does not always bother me when we are together. I would like you to read my body with your fingertips, to glean information from my sounds. I imagine your hands upon me, cool and soft on my scars, my parts. Trace me, my rough-hewn assemblage resisting female form. Trace me. I will not be afraid.
The emotion lain out for the readers here is raw, beautiful in its plain honesty, expressing the ache to touch and be touched, and feel safe and loved doing so. It’s a universal concept that’s hard not to resonate with, especially presented in such an open way.
Traveling as a whole follows suit: readers are presented with experiences that are not their own and are inspired to identify with them, finding familiarity in the unfamiliar and the known alike– the transition, if you will– the journey toward knowing our identities and our place in the world. It is an understated yet wholly visceral work, a look into the life and mind of the narrator, and also into ourselves– we are, after all, all still traveling.