Black Lives Still Matter

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Me in Washington Park, Albany NY (Tulip Fest 2015)

Me in Wash­ing­ton Park, Albany NY (Tulip Fest 2015)

I am on a short vaca­tion to vis­it mom in Con­necti­cut. I need this time off, more than you know, and I thought it would be nice to see her for Mother’s Day. It’s been a busy few days, but enjoy­able. Yes­ter­day me, mom, and baby took a trip to Albany, NY for the Tulip Fes­ti­val in Wash­ing­ton Park. They crowned the Tulip Queen, who, if I recall, will go on to head a lit­er­a­cy cam­paign and oth­er inter­est­ing social­ly con­scious stuff, along with her court. The may­or was there. Lots of ven­dors, with cool, inter­est­ing and friv­o­lous wares for sale, food for which you want to take a lax­a­tive to get out of your sys­tem, thou­sands of gor­geous tulips, sun and hot and gen­er­al hap­pi­ness, a lit­tle lake where you could sit under trees and catch a breeze, adult bev­er­ages, peo­ple with kids in strollers, live music… It was nice.

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There were also a cou­ple of small but sig­nif­i­cant (at least to me) protests.

Just as the Tulip Queen was about to be announced a group of about 20 folks stepped for­ward to shout “Black Lives Mat­ter!” They did this for about five min­utes and moved along. This thrilled me. I mean, isn’t that a thing to be proud of? In the midst of tulip queen crown­ing there are still peo­ple who want to come out and remind us of the things that are tru­ly impor­tant to the coun­try and world at large. The Tulip crown­ing is impor­tant in the city of Albany, part of its Dutch her­itage, and a vehi­cle for ser­vice for the young woman crowned, but there are things even larg­er than this. The bru­tal­i­ty that young black men encounter on a day to day basis is enor­mous and trag­ic. Though the spot­light shines bright­ly on this issue now, it isn’t near­ly bright enough, and it isn’t new. Mod­ern tech has been said to make slaves of us, but I say it is a God­send. There are few things more beau­ti­ful than a cam­era phone.

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Lat­er, as me and fam­i­ly strolled through Wash­ing­ton Park, I saw a group of elder­ly white folks also tak­ing a stand for Black Lives. This struck me hard­er and deep­er than even the first protest. I had to stop, take a pic­ture or five or six, give them my thanks and a thumbs up. I know there are good peo­ple out there, but we (and by we, I mean, I) often expect the old guard to be out of step with cur­rent issues of race. Espe­cial­ly the old white guard. This is an erro­neous con­cept, at least in part.

After this, I was stopped by the local press. Well, a man with a cam­era and a mic. “Can I ask you a few ques­tions about what you saw over there (refer­ring to the Black Lives Mat­ter protest)?”

Sure,” I told him. I’m sure he saw me and thought, this lady is a for­tune in diver­si­ty. And, you know what? I’m hap­py to be.

He asked me what I thought of the protest. And also, “Have you ever expe­ri­enced racism?”

Mwa-ha-ha-ha! That was the jack­pot ques­tion of the day. And a slight­ly stu­pid one, if I may say. I’m African-Amer­i­can, I’m Mus­lim, and I’m a woman.

Have I ever expe­ri­enced racism? Take a guess.

It’s easy to get caught up in our day to day busy. Our day to day busy quick­ly and eas­i­ly becomes more impor­tant to us than the huge things that are hap­pen­ing out there in the world. Our car trou­ble, or the fact that we need to pick up eggs and milk for tomorrow’s break­fast, or the cof­fee stain on our work shirt, is emi­nent­ly more press­ing than say, the plight of the Pales­tini­ans, or hun­gry chil­dren in our own coun­try, or the sex­ism women face in the work­place, or the lives of black men that are being stolen whole­sale by the very peo­ple employed to pro­tect and serve them.

This all made me think about a brief but very mean­ing­ful Twit­ter con­vo I had with a few friends recent­ly about what it means to be an allie. Admit­ted­ly none of us had all of the answers, but I can say this. Being an allie is more than lip ser­vice. Being an allie is stand­ing out­side in the heat, hold­ing up signs in silent protest, when every­one else is walk­ing around drink­ing gal­lon size mugs of lemon aid. Being an allie is tak­ing a chance at ruin­ing every­one else’s good time to remind them that dammit, there are lives at risk out there and that it affects us ALL even though it may seem like it doesn’t. Being an allie is tak­ing time out of your day to stand in the midst of a Tulip Fes­ti­val only to be ignored and over­looked by every­one else. Except me.

#Black­Lives­Mat­ter

Still.

Amistad Memorial in New Haven, CT

Amis­tad Memo­r­i­al in New Haven, CT

Amistad Memorial in New Haven, CT

Amis­tad Memo­r­i­al in New Haven, CT

Off To A Nice Start

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Last year this time I was not feel­ing very accom­plished with regard to my writ­ing. I was writ­ing, don’t get me wrong, but I couldn’t have been any less focused. The book I had planned to com­plete by my birth­day (Sep­tem­ber) seemed more daunt­ing by the day and there was a point when I con­sid­ered giv­ing up this “writ­ing thing”.

I didn’t, of course, and I am glad for it.

This year is off to a fan­tas­tic start. I sold a sto­ry to Escape Pod and it will be fea­tured dur­ing the Artemis Ris­ing event dur­ing the month of Feb­ru­ary. I ful­ly expect you all to check out that series of pod­casts because they’re going to be spe­cial. They’re all writ­ten by women. If you know any­thing about me, then you now that I am total­ly ded­i­cat­ed to see­ing more women, more POC, more Oth­ers writ­ing and pub­lish­ing sci­ence fic­tion and fan­ta­sy. We need var­ied voic­es, yeah?

I’ve also qual­i­fied to become a mem­ber of Codex, which has seri­ous­ly hum­bled me. Many of the won­der­ful writ­ers that I have been read­ing and lis­ten­ing to for the last 3–4 years are there. They have been insane­ly invit­ing and won­der­ful.

Today, I took a moment to update my writ­ing career bin­go card. Look­ing good. Many of the white squares are now pur­ple. (Thanks Rach by way of Christie Yant) for hook­ing me up with that won­der­ful moti­va­tion­al tool.

Here’s to more accom­plish­ments this year for me and YOU.

 

The Responsibility of Self-Discovery

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The pow­er of the self and self dis­cov­ery…

Tehran Sunset

Hamed Saber via Comp­fight

I read a cou­ple of arti­cles over this last week about the (mis)appropriation of cul­ture in writ­ing. This got me think­ing about our respon­si­bil­i­ty as writ­ers and read­ers and also as human beings.

We all have our respec­tive roles in life and we all have many. I am a Mus­lim, moth­er, daugh­ter, nurse, writer, wife… As I grow old­er I will, no doubt, adopt oth­er des­ig­na­tions and still yet slough off oth­ers. What we have here, hope­ful­ly, is the mak­ing of a strong bal­anced evolv­ing human being.

I start­ed to won­der how much of this per­son­al devel­op­ment influ­ences my writ­ing (or vise ver­sa) or anyone’s par­tic­u­lar pre­ferred form of artis­tic expres­sion.

When I wrote An Unpro­duc­tive Woman over a decade and a half ago, my life was under­go­ing a major spir­i­tu­al upheaval. The process of writ­ing AUW was cathar­tic and, believe it or not, I was in many ways buoyed by the strength of my main char­ac­ter Asabe.
Those who know me and have read AUW have told me that they envi­sion me as the main char­ac­ter, Asabe. I take that as a high com­pli­ment but I quick­ly set them straight. Asabe is the kind of woman I’d emu­late and I believe this is what I was going for on the sub­con­scious lev­el when I wrote the sto­ry. Asabe is a deep down good woman who is imper­fect.

These days I find that my main char­ac­ters, usu­al­ly women, reflect less of what I’d like to become and more the pas­sion­ate rebel­lious spir­it that already resides silent­ly with­in me. They are usu­al­ly good but deeply flawed and grow­ing in ways they nev­er antic­i­pat­ed. This would explain also, I sup­pose, why I fre­quent­ly hit char­ac­ter devel­op­ment road­blocks, because I don’t know that silent part of me as well, that alter ego

Whether right or wrong, my writ­ing is informed by me and me by it.

Recent­ly a movie enti­tled The Inno­cence of Mus­lims by Sam Bacile received more pub­lic­i­ty than it deserved. The film is an inten­tion­al­ly inflam­ma­to­ry piece of tripe meant, I would assume, to offend and harm the Mus­lim world com­mu­ni­ty. Most of the Mus­lims I know found it laugh­able and unwor­thy and then of course you know, if you’ve watched the news, that oth­er Mus­lims, to my cha­grin and mor­ti­fi­ca­tion, protest­ed loud­ly and unfor­tu­nate­ly vio­lent­ly. I cer­tain­ly don’t believe that the film was wor­thy of any action or reac­tion bar­ring dis­gust, but it does beg the ques­tion about the filmmaker’s intent.

We could begin by argu­ing about the right to free speech and thought. I believe Bacile had the right to make the film (with will­ing well informed actors), but what about his respon­si­bil­i­ty as an artist, as a per­son with the pow­er, how­ev­er small, to cre­ate change, to enlight­en, to objec­tive­ly protest what he may per­ceive to be wrongs. Obvi­ous­ly he had some griev­ances.

I feel that sense of respon­si­bil­i­ty when I sit in front of my key­board. It weighs so heav­i­ly on me that some­times my writ­ing lit­er­al­ly hits a wall. I am forced by some inter­nal check to eval­u­ate not just the direc­tion of my sto­ry but “why” it took that direc­tion.

I once felt as if my per­son­al mores choked my cre­ativ­i­ty, but now I would say that they have actu­al­ly checked my heart and moti­va­tions. This is a dif­fi­cult bal­ance to main­tain no doubt, if one is so inclined, but not a bal­ance I’m will­ing to forego just to main­tain my right to say any­thing that comes to mind with­out giv­ing thought to the poten­tial con­se­quences. I have a respon­si­bil­i­ty to myself and my craft and to a degree I also feel respon­si­ble for those who may read or be influ­enced by what I’ve said.

I des­per­ate­ly want to give life to char­ac­ters that are human, not per­fect cook­ie cut­ter fairy tale crea­tures (even in the midst of a fairy tale), but true rep­re­sen­ta­tions of, in par­tic­u­lar POC, women, and Mus­lims.  As we all know, no two peo­ple of any group are alike, so that is cer­tain­ly not an easy task. While I wouldn’t say that only a mem­ber of a cer­tain demo­graph­ic can give true life to such char­ac­ters, it cer­tain­ly helps. Also there are peo­ple who man­age to write their own demo­graph­ic wrong. I don’t believe any­one has the monop­oly on get­ting it right or wrong.

I lis­tened to a book a few months ago in which the main char­ac­ter was a woman, a very stu­pid, child­ish, whin­ing, woman, whose only appar­ent worth appeared to be her petite body, her fair skin, and her red hair. Grant­ed the book was poor­ly writ­ten dri­v­el, but this char­ac­ter exist­ed hap­pi­ly as a face and body. I don’t know a sin­gle woman who would wish to be seen in such a shal­low light. I kept scream­ing, “Real­ly? What woman acts like this?”
This brings us to the issue, in a very round about way, of the sub­ject of not just cul­tur­al (mis)appropriation, but gen­der and racial as well.

I can not expound on this sub­ject with the flu­id elo­quence of Nisi Shawl or Aliette de Bodard, but I can say this: Writ­ers have an oblig­a­tion to get the facts right, even in fic­tion, and to tell the truth the very best way they know how even if said truths hurt and ran­kle the author’s own sen­si­bil­i­ties, even if in the end their per­son­al prej­u­dices have been nul­li­fied.

Isn’t that what true art is all about?

This requires, in my opin­ion, the hon­est desire to do jus­tice to the work of art and an hon­est effort to make that hap­pen. Even if the facts are wrong I think most of us can tell the dif­fer­ence between will­ful deviance from truth and human error. I’m will­ing to make allowances for that. That said, none of this can be accom­plished with­out self-explo­ration and the under­stand­ing that must nec­es­sar­i­ly be born of that.

When I was in nurs­ing school, one of my pro­fes­sors spent an entire class dis­cussing the impor­tance of under­stand­ing our per­son­al lim­its. The con­text was this, that every nurse will come across a patient(s) whose cul­tur­al, reli­gious, per­son­al prac­tice may come at odds with their own. Some­times enor­mous odds. Do you ignore your lim­i­ta­tions and fail your­self and even­tu­al­ly the patient as well? Do you admit to those lim­i­ta­tions and seek help, guid­ance and/or a solu­tion? Before doing either, you have to under­stand your­self.

You have to know you.

reflections (B)

Camil Tul­can via Comp­fight

It is because I under­stand my per­son­al lim­i­ta­tions (to a degree…I’m still learn­ing and grow­ing every day) that I step back and eval­u­ate my actions with my most chal­leng­ing patients. I do this so as to ensure that I don’t cheat them of appro­pri­ate care just because I was annoyed or hav­ing a bad day.

Ques­tion: If an author is unable to approach a sub­ject with hon­est objec­tiv­i­ty, should they approach it at all?

We could hold up, as an exam­ple, the deba­cle of Reveal­ing Eden, which I could not fin­ish read­ing. Even today in the midst of near­ly unan­i­mous opin­ion that Foyt  is racist for hav­ing writ­ten some­thing as bla­tant, I still take issue with call­ing her such. I’m more con­vinced that she is instead, woe­ful­ly igno­rant about how to write an intel­li­gent­ly nuanced piece deal­ing with the immense­ly touchy sub­ject of race. I believe Foyt was lazy and that she did not do her research. I think she is guilty of being arro­gant enough to think she didn’t have to and for not fes­s­ing up when called out on her fail­ure. Besides being ter­ri­bly writ­ten, as we all know that there are many ter­ri­bly writ­ten best­sellers, I think she failed because she didn’t do the self-dis­cov­ery required to write a sto­ry with a sub­ject mat­ter so poten­tial­ly charged.

Did she ever ask her­self, “How do I real­ly feel?” Or “Why do I feel this way?” Or “What do I hope to accom­plish?” Had she asked any one of these or oth­er ques­tions requir­ing true self-dis­cov­ery, she might have been able to antic­i­pate the neg­a­tive back­lash that has since ensued.  She might have been able to write a tru­ly enlight­ened and reveal­ing piece of lit­er­a­ture

I think it is just as incum­bent upon read­ers to call out those authors who were too lazy to make the effort at self-dis­cov­ery, let alone fact check­ing.

As for the man who pro­duced the deroga­to­ry film about the prophet of Islam, well that thing (which I could not and would not ever watch) is akin to a tem­per tantrum. And as such, it was, like any oth­er tantrum, emp­ty of sense or worth. It was a lit­er­al mess. I’m not angry that he had the tantrum but I am dis­ap­point­ed that he didn’t try to do bet­ter, or that he couldn’t be both­ered to at least be hon­est with him­self and the verac­i­ty of his obvi­ous anger, which he is enti­tled to, if he wants to live with it.

But what has he ben­e­fit­ed? What have we ben­e­fit­ed? What was the point?

Only I can decide what my per­son­al moti­va­tions are and as much as I may want to, I can’t decide that for any­one else. (Don’t wor­ry, I don’t real­ly want to. That’s too much respon­si­bil­i­ty and work!) In the end the truth of it lays solid­ly in the lap of the artist. In the end the artist has to be at peace with the results, opin­ions be damned.

But isn’t that what the artist is in search of any­way? Opin­ion, prefer­ably the favor­able kind?