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Author Topic: PC198: Urchins, While Swimming  (Read 9003 times)
Talia
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« on: February 28, 2012, 10:14:31 AM »

PodCastle 198: Urchins, While Swimming

by Catherynne M. Valente

Read by Diane Severson (of StarShipSofa)

Originally published in Clarkesworld Magazine. Read the story here.

In the morning, she called me always by my name, Kseniya, and her eyes would be worry-wrinkled—and her hair would be wet, too. While she scraped a pale, translucent sliver of precious butter over rough, hard-crusted bread, I would draw a bath, filling the high-sided tub to its bright brim. We ate our breakfast slick-haired in the nearly warm water, curled into each other’s bodies, snail into shell, while the bath sloshed over onto the kitchen floor, which was also the living room floor and the bathroom floor and my mother’s bedroom floor—she gave me the little closet which served as a second room.

In the evening, if we had meat, she would fry it slowly and we would savor the smell together, to make the meal last. If we did not, she would tell me a story about a princess who had a bowl which was never empty of sweet, roasted chickens while I slurped a thin soup of cabbage and pulpy pumpkin and saved bathwater. Sometimes, when my mother spoke low and gentle over the green soup, it tasted like birds with browned, sizzling skin. All day, she sponged my head, the trickle ticklish as sweat. The back of my dress clung slimy to my skin.

Before bed, she would pass my head under the faucet, the cold water splashing on my scalp like a slap. And then the waking, always the waking, and hour or two past midnight.


Rated R: Contains some disturbing imagery.

Listen to this week’s PodCastle!
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« Reply #1 on: March 01, 2012, 10:31:12 AM »

I really got interested in this story when she finally explained her origins, with the mother drowning herself in the pond.  I wish that had come rather sooner, since that was about halfway through the whole story.  Up until then, it wasn't clear what the point of the obsessive hair-wetting was all about, nor that her mother was of a type such as her (rather than a human who had abducted a water creature). 

I felt really bad for her and for her drowned mate, but was glad to see that she'd forged a good relationship with her daughter at least.  But I guess, to me, the conflict in the story wasn't the kind of conflict that really makes it a good story in my eyes.  Her mother died, but that's just the cycle of life, and she healed and moved on from it very well.  She admitted to her love of her nature, and he was very good to her and did everything he could.  Her lover died through an uncontrollable manifestation of her true nature, but there was nothing she could do about it.  She has a child and she did the best she could for it.  Yes, her life has certainly not been easy, but she made do, and there was never really any major obstacle to her that wasn't just overcome by living as she always had.  Maybe that's the point, I don't know.
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« Reply #2 on: March 02, 2012, 10:00:08 AM »

Also, does anyone have any idea what the title is supposed to mean?  Obviously it is water-related, which relates to the watery nature of these people, but beyond that, I have no idea.  "While swimming" suggests that something about the urchins is more significant while swimming than while not swimming.  Is there even such a thing as lake urchins?  Etc...
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lisavilisa
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« Reply #3 on: March 02, 2012, 02:02:37 PM »

It's from the quote at the beginning of the story.

On the third day the ardent hermit
Was sitting by the shore, in love,
Awaiting the enticing mermaid,
As shade was lying on the grove.
Dark ceded to the sun's emergence;
By then the monk had disappeared,
No one knew where, and only urchins,
While swimming
, saw a hoary beard.

--Aleksandr Pushkin
Rusalka, 1819

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malaclypse
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« Reply #4 on: March 02, 2012, 08:07:39 PM »

Best story ever. More Valente, please. I love hearing her work read aloud.
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benjaminjb
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« Reply #5 on: March 04, 2012, 08:28:44 PM »

I really enjoyed this story--potentially more as an audio piece because of the singing, which is probably why I'm tiptoeing around calling it "lyrical," but it very much was.

As for the question of the title, I thought there was a play on "urchins" as sea creatures and as street, often orphaned children: so here we have a chain of fatherless and soon-to-be motherless girls, going on to repeat the actions (we carry our lakes with us).
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InfiniteMonkey
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« Reply #6 on: March 04, 2012, 10:58:01 PM »

Before I say anything else, I must say:

HOLY CATS, Catherynne Valente Sings Beautifully!!!

I generally liked this story; I'm sometimes skeptical of "ancient mythical creatures in the modern world" stories, but this one managed to be convincingly poignant and also be of a manageable scope.

And I too was going to mention that the "urchins" here refer to children.
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kibitzer
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« Reply #7 on: March 05, 2012, 05:52:19 AM »

Story: Beautiful. Heart-breaking.

Reading: Gorgeous

Singing: Piercing, sorrowful and filled with as much longing as a Ressikan flute.
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Sir Postsalot
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« Reply #8 on: March 05, 2012, 09:34:19 AM »

Before I say anything else, I must say:

HOLY CATS, Catherynne Valente Sings Beautifully!!!

I generally liked this story; I'm sometimes skeptical of "ancient mythical creatures in the modern world" stories, but this one managed to be convincingly poignant and also be of a manageable scope.

And I too was going to mention that the "urchins" here refer to children.

I think that Diane Severson sings beautifully (she was the reader).  I do not believe I've heard Valente sing so I will reserve judgment on that count.

Hmmm... if urchin was meant to refer to the children, that doesn't make much sense to me.  Yes they were orphaned and fatherless, but after being raised by parents for a good portion of their childhood and becoming self-sufficient.  Webster says "a mischievous and often poor and raggedly clothed youngster", which isn't what I pictured--she could afford to get an education after all.

And, thanks for repeating the poem, I'd forgotten that.  But I'm still not really sure what significance the phrase itself has, as out of context those three words are the ones that mean the least out of the poem.

But that's fine, I don't have to understand everything.  Smiley
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InfiniteMonkey
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« Reply #9 on: March 05, 2012, 12:02:54 PM »

Before I say anything else, I must say:

HOLY CATS, Catherynne Valente Sings Beautifully!!!

I generally liked this story; I'm sometimes skeptical of "ancient mythical creatures in the modern world" stories, but this one managed to be convincingly poignant and also be of a manageable scope.

And I too was going to mention that the "urchins" here refer to children.

I think that Diane Severson sings beautifully (she was the reader).  I do not believe I've heard Valente sing so I will reserve judgment on that count.


AGGHH!! Quite right, I meant Diane Severson. Wasn't paying close attention. My apologies to both Ms. Severson and Ms. Valente.
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benjaminjb
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« Reply #10 on: March 05, 2012, 12:40:39 PM »

About the title again (because, honestly, I can't remember so much of the story anymore), I think we need to recognize a certain elasticity to these words--that is, not all urchins are totally parentless children. (Although, no matter how old you are, when your parents die you become an orphan. That's not the way we usually use the word, but it is where the word comes from.)

So, for instance, the section introducing Artyom is called "The Ardent Hermit," and he's certainly ardent, but is he really a hermit? Not in the sense that Pushkin's hermit is: Pushkin's hermit literally lives alone and (in the great tradition of mystic hermits) spends his time praying; Valente's hermit is a fellow medical student and soon-to-be lover. (Or when they are "By the shore, in love," the two are actually in his little apartment.

So I don't think it's too far to think of rybka--all the rybkas--as orphaned and alone but also carrying this watery legacy from their mothers.

But I think we can all agree that this was a great story, read and sung beautifully.
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olivaw
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« Reply #11 on: March 05, 2012, 01:19:28 PM »

We sometimes forget that an Urchin is properly a hedgehog; the sea-urchin is named after that spiny creature.

Apparently they swim quite well.

(I suppose it could also be a very old mandible front)
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benjaminjb
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« Reply #12 on: March 05, 2012, 05:03:35 PM »

I'm prone to forgetting things, like what words mean, so I looked up "urchin" before posting--and I couldn't figure out how "hedgehog" would fit in.

(Frankly, I think it's interesting that the word in the Pushkin poem gets translated as "urchin" which is a word I associate with urban settings, when what we first hear is all about this hermit living away from everyone. Maybe my earlier post is wrong and he's not such a great hermit after all. Is he living in a city park?)
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Max e^{i pi}
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« Reply #13 on: March 06, 2012, 06:00:19 AM »

I see that I'm in the minority here, but I don't care. I'm not afraid to voice my opinions.

Diane Severson sings beautifully. This is a fact not an opinion, and what saved the episode from being a total disaster.

People, it is impossible to drown in a bed.
First of all, there's gravity. See, that's that force that pulls water from a high place (the top of a bed, where people actually lie) to a low place (the floor). I urge you to experiment with this, but only on a bed that you do not mind getting wet and that you clean up when you are done. No matter how much water you pour on the bed there will never be enough for a person, no matter how small, to lie underwater.
Second of all, let's assume that the person is lying directly underneath a powerful flow of water, say a lake gushing from somebody's mouth. Now, it is an inborn natural instinct of every oxygen-breathing organism on the planet to not drown. The practical upshot of this is that if a human person, who relies on oxygen for life, is being deluged by a waterfall he (or she as the case may be) will fight it. He (or she) will buck and twist and do everything in their power to not drown. This is not a controlled or controllable action. It just happens. And even a tiny little guy will be able to at least get his head out from under the deluge, if not throw the woman off him entirely.
Thirdly, and I know that some of you will try to bring this point up, what if our tiny little man wanted to die? Somehow managed with superhuman will to overcome the instinct to breathe and willingly drown. Well, there is absolutely nothing in his character makeup that would even suggest the merest hints of suicidal tendencies, let alone the iron-willed conviction it takes to drown on purpose.

And that, coupled with the annoying whine that I was never able to successfully tune out is what made this episode into one those little life episodes that happened and are quite embarrassing and you really want to forget ever happened.
By the way, I'm chalking the wine up to poor recording equipment and poor editors who have too much to do and too little time to do it in. Nobody's fault really, just a casualty of circumstance. In a better story it wouldn't have mattered so much.

ADDENDUM
I will not be held accountable or responsible for soaked and/or ruined mattresses, linens, carpets and/or bedrooms. Nor the subsequent wrath of Significant Others and/or parents.
On your own head be it.
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Sir Postsalot
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« Reply #14 on: March 06, 2012, 09:23:50 AM »

I see that I'm in the minority here, but I don't care. I'm not afraid to voice my opinions.

Diane Severson sings beautifully. This is a fact not an opinion, and what saved the episode from being a total disaster.

People, it is impossible to drown in a bed.
First of all, there's gravity. See, that's that force that pulls water from a high place (the top of a bed, where people actually lie) to a low place (the floor). I urge you to experiment with this, but only on a bed that you do not mind getting wet and that you clean up when you are done. No matter how much water you pour on the bed there will never be enough for a person, no matter how small, to lie underwater.
Second of all, let's assume that the person is lying directly underneath a powerful flow of water, say a lake gushing from somebody's mouth. Now, it is an inborn natural instinct of every oxygen-breathing organism on the planet to not drown. The practical upshot of this is that if a human person, who relies on oxygen for life, is being deluged by a waterfall he (or she as the case may be) will fight it. He (or she) will buck and twist and do everything in their power to not drown. This is not a controlled or controllable action. It just happens. And even a tiny little guy will be able to at least get his head out from under the deluge, if not throw the woman off him entirely.
Thirdly, and I know that some of you will try to bring this point up, what if our tiny little man wanted to die? Somehow managed with superhuman will to overcome the instinct to breathe and willingly drown. Well, there is absolutely nothing in his character makeup that would even suggest the merest hints of suicidal tendencies, let alone the iron-willed conviction it takes to drown on purpose.

And that, coupled with the annoying whine that I was never able to successfully tune out is what made this episode into one those little life episodes that happened and are quite embarrassing and you really want to forget ever happened.
By the way, I'm chalking the wine up to poor recording equipment and poor editors who have too much to do and too little time to do it in. Nobody's fault really, just a casualty of circumstance. In a better story it wouldn't have mattered so much.

ADDENDUM
I will not be held accountable or responsible for soaked and/or ruined mattresses, linens, carpets and/or bedrooms. Nor the subsequent wrath of Significant Others and/or parents.
On your own head be it.

I disagree.  I got the impression that the outrush of water was very unexpected by both parties, and also happened as she was moving in for a kiss.  I got the impression that it was as if the valve of a firehose had been opened in his mouth--Even if he'd managed in his shock to close off his lungs, that volume of water forcefed down his throat would probably also kill him when his stomach burst. 

So, it totally made sense to me!
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Sir Postsalot
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« Reply #15 on: March 06, 2012, 09:25:35 AM »

I'm prone to forgetting things, like what words mean, so I looked up "urchin" before posting--and I couldn't figure out how "hedgehog" would fit in.

(Frankly, I think it's interesting that the word in the Pushkin poem gets translated as "urchin" which is a word I associate with urban settings, when what we first hear is all about this hermit living away from everyone. Maybe my earlier post is wrong and he's not such a great hermit after all. Is he living in a city park?)

According to Merriam Webster, definition #1 of "urchin" is:
archaic : hedgehog

(I have never heard anyone use it that way, but that's to be expected for something labeled archaic I suppose)
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Talia
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« Reply #16 on: March 06, 2012, 09:54:50 AM »

Quote from: Max e^{i pi} link=topic=6130.msg97925#msg97925 date=1331031619

People, it is impossible to drown in a bed.
[/quote

It's also impossible to pour an entire pond out of one's mouth.

Just sayin'. Tongue

Magic and stuff.
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Max e^{i pi}
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« Reply #17 on: March 06, 2012, 11:38:27 AM »

<clipped>
People, it is impossible to drown in a bed.
</clipped>

I disagree.  I got the impression that the outrush of water was very unexpected by both parties, and also happened as she was moving in for a kiss.  I got the impression that it was as if the valve of a firehose had been opened in his mouth--Even if he'd managed in his shock to close off his lungs, that volume of water forcefed down his throat would probably also kill him when his stomach burst. 

So, it totally made sense to me!
Allow me to post some relevant passage from the story.
Quote
...but already he convulsed under me, spluttering and spitting, reaching out for me from under the growing pool that was our bed, the bubbles of his breath popping in the blue—the bed was a basin and the water steamed and I wet his hair in it, but I did not mean to, I could not close my mouth against it, I could not stop it, I could not move away from him and it came and came and his bones beneath me racked themselves in the mire, the whites of his eyes rolled, and I am sorry, Artyom, I did not know, my mother did not tell me, she told me only to live as best I could, she did not say we drag the lake with us, even into the city, drag it behind us, a drowning shadow shot with green.
....
He never tried to push me off of him, he never tried to sit up. His face became still. His lips did not shake. His skin was pale and purpled. The water rippled over his thin little beard as it slowly, slowly as spring thaw, seeped into the mattress and disappeared.
It certainly looks like the description of somebody drowning in enough water to cover him completely, which is impossible while lying in a bed.
Furthermore, your larynx has a seldom-used additional purpose, and that is to seize up and protect your lungs from fluids. (http://www.voicedoctor.net/content/laryngospasm) So that if a huge gush of water were to be propelled down his throat it would protect his lungs.
And the death describe is death due to drowning, not exploding stomachs (which is a lot harder than you think).
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Max e^{i pi}
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« Reply #18 on: March 06, 2012, 11:47:35 AM »


People, it is impossible to drown in a bed.
It's also impossible to pour an entire pond out of one's mouth.

Just sayin'. Tongue

Magic and stuff.
I got nothing against magic. Proof: I regularly listen to Podcastle. The whole breathe-underwater-and-die-if-her-hair-dries-out lady doesn't bother me in the slightest.
But a person who is not described as being magical in any way must die a non-magical death. (That's the death being non-magical, not the cause of death being non-magical. Nothing wrong with dying of dragon fire or runaway spells).
« Last Edit: March 06, 2012, 11:49:31 AM by Max e^{i pi} » Logged

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Talia
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« Reply #19 on: March 06, 2012, 12:09:39 PM »


People, it is impossible to drown in a bed.
It's also impossible to pour an entire pond out of one's mouth.

Just sayin'. Tongue

Magic and stuff.
I got nothing against magic. Proof: I regularly listen to Podcastle. The whole breathe-underwater-and-die-if-her-hair-dries-out lady doesn't bother me in the slightest.
But a person who is not described as being magical in any way must die a non-magical death.

I'd argue that the killer being magical is enough to get the job done one way or the other.
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