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The fact is (I’m not sure)

17 Sep

It has been brought to my attention that from time to time people actually stop by and read this blog. So I thought I’d do the three of you a courtesy by actually posting something. It will not be particularly interesting I’m afraid. Only new. I hope that for now ‘new’ is good enough.

I had the genius idea of starting this blog as a way to jumpstart my creativity which in recent weeks has been severely waning. I thought if I could start each writing day by composing a blog post it would get the juices flowing and be a warm-up for what I imagined would be vigorous daily literary exercise. Instead I have merely found another form of writing that causes me to experience total brain freeze when I sit in front of my computer.

It’s disheartening and discouraging, this seemed lack of things to say. After all, that’s the whole PURPOSE of what I do. When I feel this way I read instead of write and consider myself a scholar of the craft. But inevitably, one of two things will happen. Either I’ll be stupid enough to read something by, oh I don’t know–say Zora Neale Hurston–and then I think there is no way in hell this is what I should be doing. Or I’ll read something… else…and think that there is no way that (insert author of said “else”) should be published (a New York Times Bestseller, no less) and I shouldn’t. Moral of the story: It’s damn hard being a schizophrenic writer.

Will say more things as I think of them.

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Problems Writing “The Other”

29 Aug

I take issue with the phrase “writing the other”. I write author Elizabeth Bear a probationary pass for using it because she is a sci-fi/fantasy writer who, for all intents and purposes, really does write the “other”–other galaxies, other dimensions. other kinds of creatures, real otherness. I bring her up because she caught some flack a few months back when, arguably, the characters of color in one of her stories (she’s white) could be said to feed into racial stereotypes, at least in terms literature. But Mandingos and Tragic Mulattos aside, I personally find that it really can be difficult to write characters of another race; and especially to do so with dignity, sensitivity, and credibility.

I don’t write this as a chastisement of authors who have either actually or by accusation, dropped the ball while “writing the other”. I have never even read Elizabeth Bear and take no position at all on the credibility of her characters of color. But hers was an interesting and timely dilemma that prompted me to write a study into my own difficulties writing characters of other races. I recently finished a short story (no small feat for me) and I absolutely love every word. It’s no Zora Neale Hurston’s ‘Sweat’ but it was fun to write and it’s fun to read and the words on the paper serve the purpose that I intended for them to serve. Here’s where things get tricky: One of my main characters is Chinese.

Big deal you say. And you’re right. You will remember me saying (in fact, the first line of this post was) I take issue with the phrase “writing the other”. Mostly because, the phrase infers that someone outside of your race is “other” than you; as if you’re the default and they’re another kind of being altogether. The simple solution would be to write characters that are of a different race the same way you write characters of your own race–like people. Fact. BUT in writing a character of a different race,  you have second-hand, limited or no knowledge about these “others'” personal or cultural experiences and are therefore out of bounds if you try to personify them employing said knowledge limitations. Right? Well, yes and no.

See, I love my Chinese character. She actually steals the show from my main character. She’s cute and funny. She’s not a foil for my protag, she’s a very important part of the story. It wouldn’t even matter that she was Chinese except that it’s kind of the whole point. The story is called “How I Learned Chinese” and the main character is taught Chinese by another character who happens to be Chinese. Sounds simple enough, right? But here’s where it gets trickier.

My Chinese character doesn’t speak great English. And when I went back and read the story, I felt like a bit of a jerk. I knew there would be people who would not be able to read between the lines. These people would not understand my intentions or feel tenderly about the bond that is formed between the two women despite a language barrier. They would instead, read a story where the author is making fun of Chinese people or showing ignorance about Chinese Americans through the broken English of a Chinese character. And while I know in my heart of hearts that the story was written with the best of intentions, I can’t help but think about how I cringe when I read stories that are padded with Black stock characters: the Mandingo, the tragic mulatto, the hustler, the mammy: used by authors, sometimes even Black ones because it’s all they know or care to portray about the Black experience.

 And so, I wonder, while literature would be an awfully boring and segregated place if no one race could write about the other, what precautions must an author take to ensure that no one is hurt or offended by the words they have written to describe another person and that person’s culture and heritage. Can it even be done? Thoughts?

sometimes i don’t write.

8 Aug
(originally published Feb. 13.08 but definitely still applies)

 sometimes i don’t write.  this somehow does not mean that i am not a writer.  at these times, i am rather, a voiceless poet, a literary vagabond, an aloof artist bursting at the seams with emotion and knowledge (learned and earned), opinions and superfluous trivia.  it could all translate to verses upon verses of poetry, prose, essay, memoir, fiction, creative non-fiction, hell SCIENCE fiction, something, anything. but sometimes, i just don’t feel like it.

and i have all sorts of excuses too, for not writing when i just don’t feel like it.  since i do fancy myself an artist it can sometimes be as simple as not having the right “canvas”. mind you, i have at least 30 journals. one cute lavender one that i was given by a dear friend. i have used it mostly for grocery lists and notes-to-self.  one sober-looking pastel green one inscribed with bible verses that was given to me by a sister who was probably genuinely concerned, in her own way, about my spiritual growth–in an “i’m-so-scared-you-gon’-go-to-hell-if-you-don’t-get-like-me” sorta way.  i lost it, either accidentally or on purpose, because being judged, among other things, makes me nervous. i have another one, a rather new one, that Ty gave me, hand-made in Zimbabwe from elephant grass, river reed, and wild fig leaves but who would ever dream of writing in such a beautiful treasure from the motherland?!  and then, last and least, there’s my favorite and most hated–the one he gave me.  too damn pretty to write in which is just as well because every time i open it the letters seem to spell his name.

i have run out of topics actually. that’s the real reason.  my predecessors have already done the black power thing and having never known h. rap brown or attended any sit-ins, ain’t nothin i can say on that subject that nikki giovanni hasn’t already said better (not to mention, 20 years ago). there’s always love, i guess. problem is, i’m not real sure that i still believe in it. when i did, i had it down to just the right kind of science and i all but exhausted my vocabulary on a man and an emotion that i would very soon thereafter bury in a locked box in the blackest corner of my soul. trust me, at this point, no one wants to hear me talk about “love”. 

i have given up, on just about everything. yet somehow, this does not mean that i am not a writer. i have managed for 30 years to escape labels (okay, let’s not be dramatic, let’s just say 10 years because that’s when people started caring). i am a series of adjectives that negate themselves. an under-achieving over-achiever. ghetto-bourgeois. a sweet, unfriendly, outgoing recluse who has been known to be a meat-eating vegetarian and a drunk non-drinker all at once.

there are, of course, some labels that can’t be escaped.  black, for example.  and i guess, fat or thin–i have been both although not at the same time. and my favorite inescapable label–mama.  but “writer” i always thought was a choice. i’ve come to find that it certainly is not.

some people can write well but don’t like to. these are not writers. some people can’t write well but do it anyway because they think they can or wish they could. sadly, these too, are not writers.  writers are like most other types of artists in that they are normally not made, they’re born. i say this, not with a sense of elitism, but instead, with acceptance. there are certain things that i could change about myself and arguably, things i should change. but this i couldn’t change even if i wanted to so i do the next best thing–i procrastinate. i know writing is something i have to do, must do, in order to be who i am and fulfill my divine purpose. it’s my gift. but in complete defiance of all that i cannot control, i’ll do it in my own sweet time. this doesn’t just apply to writing. oh no. i, very carefully and painstakingly, make sure to defy absolutely EVERYTHING in my life that i cannot control. impressive, i know. i am just that kind of perfectionist.  

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