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Monthly Archives: December 2015

(Friday Fiction) Br’ers – Break

Fandom 150And here’s the next little bit. Still figuring out the setting while trying to make connections between Greggory’s experience and experiences I’ve had being a “black face in a white space”. This one stems from SO MANY TIMES being the only black guy with the feeling of “you don’t belong here” heavy in the air.

Oliver’s Cafe had a strawberry and cheese danish that made Gregg salivate just thinking about it. In the long weeks and months that followed his transformation, it was one of the things on a small list that he brought to mind whenever he needed something to look forward to. Under quarantine, his diet was restricted to little more than hay and various vegetables — he could eat them, but they weren’t very appetizing.

The doctors and scientists discovered that it wasn’t just the features that were a mixture of animal and man; his palate and nutritional needs had changed as well. He was technically still an omnivore, but his stomach frequently revolted a meat-rich meal and he found the smell of cooked flesh alarming, almost disgusting. Over time, once the shock of his new body had worn off, he found he preferred vegetables and fruits; a little bit of dairy here and there; and a powerful craving for sugar. Six months ago, Greggory had never been one for sweets. Now, he couldn’t get enough of the stuff.

The cafe was on Calvert St., right on the way to work. Greggory would stop there every morning to pick up a large cup of coffee and a danish, and this was his first day back. As he squeezed out of his small coupe and made his way across the small parking lot towards the little row of shops Oliver’s was nestled between, he felt himself tensing. This was supposed to be a small step towards normalcy, the first brick placed to put his life back in order. When he opened the door, he realized it simply wouldn’t be that simple.

A sea of faces turned to stare at him. The room went quiet except for the folk-rock playing over tinny speakers. Greggory felt the burn of thirty pairs of eyes all centered on him; half the expressions were surprise, even shock — the other half looked vaguely displeased. He had to imagine all of them were wondering what he was doing here.

Greggory smiled and lifted a hand. He waved clawed fingers at the gathered, and made his way in. He had no idea how he looked, but he wished more than anything people would stop staring at him. He was used to being the only man of his kind in one of these spaces, or so he thought; here, the difference burned at him, seeped into his skin in a way that made him feel acutely self-conscious. He felt like a foreign element contaminating the purity of a scene.

The tightness in his chest didn’t ease when the barista smiled at him and asked, “Hey, what can I get started for you?”

He pulled out the tablet tucked under an arm and opened his writing app. His pointer claw acted as a natural stylus, but it still felt strange dragging the point of it over his screen. It wasn’t something he thought he could ever get used to, even though his doctor swore he would. At least, until he relearned how to speak.

<<It’s Gregg.>> He wrote, then showed it to the barista.

Her eyes flashed with recognition, surprise, and sympathy in the span of a second. “Oh! Greggory, hey!! It’s so good to see you!” Other workers behind the counter glanced in his direction when they heard the name. Some smiled weakly and nodded, some went quickly back to work, their expressions unreadable. “I’m so sorry about…” Her voice trailed off, suddenly unsure.

<<It’s OK. I’m fine. Hope you’re fine too.>>

“Oh yeah, I’m good! It’s gotten a lot busier here since they finally finished the construction.” The barista glanced behind him, and her smile faded. “What can I get you?”

Greggory flicked an ear behind him and heard one…three…four people shuffling in line. He couldn’t see their expressions, but he didn’t need to. His chest felt tighter. He wiped his app and started writing quickly.

“What’s that floating in the air?”

“I think that’s fur.”

“OK, that’s gross.”

He tried to ignore that as he wrote, flattening his ears against his head to keep from hearing any more. <<I’d like a large coffee, two sugar, three cream. And a strawberry danish.>>

The barista — her name was Karen, according to her name tag, and Greggory felt a small pang of shame for not remembering — smiled at him, glanced at the line, and nodded. “I got you. Is that for here or to go?”

“I hope it’s to go,” someone said behind him, a little louder.

Greggory’s ear flicked up of its own accord, and his nervousness soured into anger. He was tempted to tell her that it would be for here, damned being late for work, and then sit in the middle of the cafe. He’d pour his coffee into a saucer and lick it up like a God-damned animal, lift up his shirt to scratch his furry belly, pluck out loose hairs and let them flow in the air…

<<To go.>>

Karen gave him a friendly and sympathetic smile, and it lightened his mood a little. “OK. Just hang on and your order will be waiting for you at the end of the bar.”

Greggory stepped out of line and waited near the condiments. He could feel the eyes of people in line on him, saw people look up from where they were seated as he passed by. He did his best to ignore them, kept his ears folded, but he couldn’t help but hear the conversation of the next person in line.

“So you’re serving those animals in here now, huh?” The man was tall and white, with grey hair and blue eyes that looked down a strong, proud nose. Greggory imagined himself punching it.

“He’s a paying customer here, just like you are.” Karen’s voice had a hard edge that he had never heard before. “What do you want?”

“Nothing, with that attitude. I’ll get my coffee somewhere else.” The man turned to leave. “Your manager will be getting a call from me.”

The man glared at Greggory as he left. Greggory did his best to look anywhere else but at him.

“Here’s your coffee dude.” Another barista slipped a cup towards him, along with his pastry. “I gave you two pastries because…you know. Welcome back.”

Something in Greggory’s heart broke open. He perked his ears, stared at the young, skinny Indian man across the counter, and nodded. He couldn’t say how much he appreciated it, but he hoped the other man knew it just the same.

He walked briskly to his car, opened the door and tossed his pastries into the passenger seat. He barely managed to fumble the keys into the ignition before tears started to flow. It took him ten minutes before his vision cleared enough that he trusted himself leaving the parking lot.

 
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Posted by on December 11, 2015 in Furries, Self-Reflection, Thursday Prompt, Writing

 

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(Wednesday Fiction) Br’ers – Orientation

I wanted to find a way to marry two of my interests, and came up with this setting. I’m still figuring things out, so the snippets will be a little rough for the next two weeks, but I thought it was time to share it. 

Greggory looked in the mirror and saw an alien staring back at him. There were big brown eyes spaced too far apart. There was a broad flat nose with nostrils he didn’t recognize. There were those strange lips, those big ears, features that couldn’t possibly reflect the way he saw himself. He opened his mouth wide and saw prominent incisors — four on the top, four on the bottom, stacked two deep. There were large gaps on either side, and past those he could dimly see his cheek teeth; premolars and molars that were strange and sharp. His canine teeth were gone.

It had been six months since the shift. One day, Greggory woke up and he realized he was different. His brown skin was replaced with a thick pelt of cinnamon fur; his fingernails thickened into digger’s claws; his features had taken on leporine traits. He was the same size, just under six feet tall, but his enormous ears extended his height by a foot or so and when he stood on the toes of long, broad, powerful feet he could tower over most anyone. A lot of good it did him. Despite the strangeness of his look, people weren’t frightened of a six-foot rabbit.

One in ten people in his neighborhood had undergone the same transformation. Some had turned into raccoons, hares, squirrels — he had even heard that there were birds that hadn’t been released from the CDC just yet. Others had become something fiercer — dogs of various breeds, black bears, cougars. He had even heard of a lion or two, though he hadn’t seen them for himself. Not for the first time he wondered how he would react if he spotted one walking down the street. Would some alien instinct take over? Would something lodged deep within his new brain leap up and take over, force him into running before he could stop himself?

A shiver raced up his spine, and he watched the fur of his reflection puff out. He sighed and brushed his chest, his arms, his shoulders. Six months with this fur coat and it still hadn’t gotten too much faster to groom himself. There were many days where he would have given anything for his pelt to simply fall away, but chances are that would make him look even funnier than he already did.

“You done in there?” A voice popped from just behind the closed door of the bathroom. It was followed immediately by a series of knocks. “Some of us have to get ready for work too, you know.”

Greggory grunted his response. He swiped his tongue over the strange shape of his mouth, feeling the contours of his jaw, his palate, his gums. He had been told that he would have to re-learn how to speak; according to the many, many doctors and scientists he had seen he should be able to do it, but it would be an uphill climb. Just one of those things he would have to do in order to re-integrate himself into society. But for now, he was voiceless.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” The voice was annoyed and confused. “Is that a ‘yes I’m coming out’ grunt or a ‘leave me alone’ grunt?”

He looked at the long ear in his reflection swing towards the door. He saw that odd face crease in consternation. It was expressive, but in so many different ways. His mood has moved from the curve of his cheeks and knit of his brow towards the bounce of his whiskers, the twitch of his nose, the movement of his ears. He had learned how it all worked, but his family was still figuring everything out.

Maybe that’s why his mother didn’t recognize the swept back tilt of his ears when he threw open the bathroom door, or the way his whiskers flared as his nose wrinkled and then fell into an agitated beating rhythm. She simply looked at those passive, dark eyes staring down at her, took a step back and glanced at the brush in his hand.

“Looks like you’re almost finished.” She was trying to keep her voice even, he could tell. “I don’t know why you have to spend so long brushing yourself. Ain’t nobody going to see you.”

Greggory simply grunted. He couldn’t easily tell her that it wasn’t about what other people could see, it was about how he would feel. It was bad enough that he had to go back out into the world before he felt ready; he didn’t want to do it feeling disheveled and slovenly, too.

Something must have passed through, because her expression softened. She reached up and brushed her hand through his whiskers, set it on his cheek. He flinched; those fingers brought an explosion of sensation through him and he was still trying to figure out how to deal with that. He only relaxed when she stood on her toes and kissed his chin. It felt weird to him; he could only imagine how it must have felt to her.

“You look fine, son. Breakfast is on the table. I…didn’t have what the paper said to feed you, but I didn’t think it would matter. You’re still my boy, right? Ain’t nothing changed.” She smiled, then pushed beside him to slip into the bathroom.

He glanced at the clock; he’d need to be out the door in ten minutes if he wanted to have a prayer of making it into work on time. His clothes went on fast; a loose polo shirt that didn’t aggravate his fur too much and a pair of shorts that fit a bit snug around his thighs. The sandals took the longest time; he still wasn’t quick working those leather straps with his clawed fingers.

Breakfast was not going to happen. He smelled the stench of bacon and eggs before he even got to the dining room, and his eyes glanced over the plate in vain for a piece of fruit or a vegetable. Greggory left a note next to the plate before grabbing his things and slipping out of the door. If he left now, he hoped, he might be able to pick up something on the way.

When his mother stepped out of the bathroom, she saw an untouched hill of scrambled eggs and bacon on the side, with a small piece of paper next to it.

“No eggs. No meat. My stomach can’t handle that any more. I’m sorry. I love you. Later.”

 

 
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Posted by on December 9, 2015 in Furries, Writing

 

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(Personal) Going Back to Go Forward

Myth 150My childhood was spent in a procession of hostile places. At home, I had a severe, distant mother and an alcoholic father to tend with; my sister got into trouble a lot and ran away from home several times, so there was always something terrible going on there. At school I was a poor, shy kid who had no social skills and a meek disposition. I got along with the teachers well enough, but that only made life worse with the students. At my church, I was a “spiritual orphan”, more a pity project for elders in the congregation than a colleague and certainly one of the least popular kids there. I spent most of my life growing up with few friends and a certainty that I didn’t fit in any of the places that surrounded me.

So, when I discovered the Internet and the furry community it was a lifeline for me. There was a whole community of people out there who shared my interests and mindset, no matter how strange it was. After I graduated high school, I worked two mall jobs and spent what little free time that gave me talking to people online. I would often get home after midnight, wake up at 6 or 7 AM and catch the bus to do it all again.

When I went to college, I accepted my sexuality. When I came out to my mother and she rejected me, I knew that was my last link to my community gone. I would absolutely be disfellowshipped from my congregation, and after that my mother would more than likely be encouraged not to speak to me. My sister and I weren’t close at that point, and I hadn’t developed a strong bond with anyone else in my family. I left home in the summer of 1999 and I haven’t been back since.

For a long time, it was hard to think of myself as a black man. I felt thoroughly rejected by my tribe and just as wholeheartedly accepted by a new one. I’d rather think of myself as a geek and a furry because that was the community I had jumped in with. And they’re still a huge part of my life — I love the furry fandom, and I love geeking out with other people who love science-fiction, urban/modern fantasy and post-apocalyptic stories. This is still my tribe, and I feel more comfortable here than I ever have anywhere else.

But over the past year or so, with my discovery of the black geek community online and my slow but steady connection with black geeks through Twitter and the blogosphere, it’s occurred to me that the black part of my identity is still there, will always be there, and continues to wield its influence over me. I’ll see social dynamics differently than most people, and my experiences of being marginalized in both the dominant culture and my little minority tribe will continue to have some bearing on the way I see the world. To deny that would be dishonest to myself, and I can’t do that any more.

I’ve been trying to absorb what that means for myself, but over the past year I’ve found myself making small and hesitant overtures back to at least the part of black culture that overlaps with the tribe I’ve chosen for myself since leaving home. And it’s been a wonderful experience; learning that our shared history and experience can be used to create wildly different stories that are just as vital and interesting and imaginative as a Euro-centric tale is nothing short of a revelation. I’ve been so intrigued by the idea of it, and it’s made me want to dig back into not only my own personal history, but the history of my people to better understand my place in the fringes of it.

So I’ve been dabbling in telling stories borne out of my experience and the way it’s shaped my understanding of the culture I came from. I’ve been seeking out the voices of other intelligent black people who’ve been making a place at the table for themselves within the broader SFF community. I’ve been slowly trying on my blackness, but I’ve had trouble feeling it, had trouble feeling connected to the place where I’ve come from.

That was until I saw The Wiz Live.

For those of you who don’t know, The Wiz is a musical re-imagining of The Wizard of Oz featuring an all-black cast. Most people know it as a somewhat campy 70s movie starring Diana Ross, Michael Jackson and Richard Pryor but it was a surprise hit on Broadway before that, winning seven Tony Awards in its first year (including Best Musical). I had never seen the 70s movie up until now, when NBC decided to put on a live staging of The Wiz as part of its nascent Thanksgiving tradition.

I won’t go into too much detail here, though I can spaz about The Wiz for a really long time. But the musical re-contextualizes everyone’s desires through issues that affect the black community at large in really interesting ways. Dorothy finds herself stuck in a place she doesn’t want to be, though it’s the only home she’s got and she can’t go back to the one she had; the Scarecrow can’t think of a way out of his situation, which is a losing game that he’s forced to play; the Tin Man loved the wrong woman, and now she’s stolen his heart and left him without the ability to feel anything; and the Lion struggles to muster the courage to deal with the very real difficulties he faces in life.

The performances were nothing short of amazing — for the most part. But what really hit home for me were the songs; numbers like “You Can’t Win” and “What I Would Do If I Could Feel” talk about the depression and bitterness that build up through a lifetime of feeling helpless, but “Be A Lion,” the brand-new “We Got It” and “Everybody Rejoice/Brand New Day” acknowledges the difficulty of the black struggle while also encouraging us to live the virtues that have gotten us this far — perseverance, fearlessness and compassion for the struggles of others. It’s a uniquely black American story, steeped in our culture and concerns. I’ve never seen a story quite like that before, told so excellently, with such care and such pride, on some a big stage. It was a revelation.

It was the first time I felt connected to the community I had come from, or felt like I had a strong sense of its values, its struggles, its worries. It was the first time I ever saw a story that made me feel like this was something specifically told for me and mine. Seeing all of these immensely talented black people stepping up to tell a story to the best of their considerable abilities was….it made me realize what I could be. And it connected me to where I came from.

So now I feel I have a better grasp of my background — not only of my personal history, but the social and emotional history of my people. I’m sure it wasn’t just The Wiz that did it — I’ve been digging around, learning more and pushing myself to interact more — but it felt like a piece of the puzzle that clicked into place and allowed me to see a much more complete picture than I ever have before.

I’m going into my background and the storytelling around it with much more excitement and confidence now. I have a stronger sense of who I am, and an even greater desire to connect to my culture and its history. The specific troubles I went through are shared by a lot of black geeks like me, who find it difficult to be truly who they are while being a part of a community that encourages sameness for its own protection. I want to go back and rejoin it, while at the same time embracing my individuality. There’s a place at that table for me, even if I have to make it myself. It’s something that black geeks are used to doing at this point, right?

The story that I’m writing to put up on the blog this week is my first attempt at writing a furry story from a black perspective. I’m excited to share it, while at the same time I realize it’s just the first step along a path. My understanding of my own history will continue to deepen and evolve, and hopefully my writing will reflect that over time. But for now, the first bit of that journey.

 

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(Personal) Three Pounds of Flax

Buddhism 150A monk asked Tozan when he was weighing some flax: “What is Buddha?”
Tozan said: “This flax weighs three pounds.”

It is so impossibly hard to do one thing at a time in this day and age. As I sit to write this, I’m thinking about a number of other things — the 500 words I promised myself I would write on a short story, populating the latest to-do app with all of the steps I’ll need to take to finish all of my projects, the salmon in the oven, the vegetables on the stove, the friends who are hurting very far away, the people who dislike me. It’s difficult to consistently bring my attention to the present, to the words I’m writing right now. Why is that?

We live in a time of instant gratification. If we want to know something, most of us who are reading this have a way to look it up instantly. A lot of us are lucky enough to be able to buy something we want — if even only for a fleeting moment — just as fast. All we have to do is go to a website, click a few buttons, and expect that what we want will arrive in a few days. This is a wonderful time, but it also means that we’ve lost the ability to wait for things, to be uncomfortable, to anticipate something we’ve worked or waited long for.

Don’t worry — I’m not going to spend this entire post talking about how instant gratification has ruined our ability to actually enjoy the moment. But it has hindered it. Because we can get so much done so quickly, it’s easy to take care of business and move on to the next thing without thinking about it. Sometimes we’re already thinking about the next thing before we’ve even finished the thing we’re currently doing.

I’ve fallen into this trap. There are so many things I’d like to do, and there are only so many hours in the day I can do them. While I’m at work, I’m thinking about all of the writing I could be doing. While I’m home watching TV, I’m thinking about writing, or email, or work, or studying. While I’m writing, I’m thinking about all of these other projects. I’d like to try to send Christmas cards this year, and there’s a limited amount of time that I can actually put that together. Same with Christmas presents. Same with any Kwanzaa plans I’d like to organize.

My life has been filled to the brim, which makes it difficult for me to find enough space to take a breath. Those breaths are absolutely necessary for orientation; they give me a sense of perspective about how far I’ve come, how far I have to go, allow me to enjoy the distinctive place in which I find myself. I’ve spent a very good part of these last few months rushing around, trying to get things done, but not enjoying the process of doing them.

The koan at the top of this post is one that I use to center myself often; Buddha nature is three pounds of flax, no more and no less. Buddha nature are these words that I’m writing, the feeling of my fingers on the keys, the sound of video game music in my ears. It is here and now. That’s it.

Because I’ve made such great strides in determining what’s been blocking me from being productive this year, the anxiety I had about my ability to do things has been replaced by a different anxiety — one in which I’d better be doing things all the time. When I try to step back to think about all of the things that I have to do, it makes me think that any time wasted is another goal that won’t be met.

This month, I would like to take a moment and focus on the three pounds of flax. I’d like to re-center myself so that I’m fully engaged in what I’m doing. It might mean that I’ll be doing less, but hopefully it also means that I’ve invested so much more of myself in what I do achieve. Stripping away the distractions that surround me all the time to give myself over entirely to a project for a certain length of time is the only way to really enjoy the process of working.

I know how difficult this might be to pull off. December is a frenzied time of the year; we’re trying to manage our daily lives — which are full enough — while also trying to find and buy presents, send cards, prepare for parties and Christmas itself, decorate our homes and trees, prepare for New Year’s…the list goes on. This year I’m trying to do quite a bit more than I ever have before; I have a feeling a strong sense of organization, a great to-do list and a determined, efficient managing of my time is a necessity to make it to the next year without completely losing my mind.

But first, I have to make sure that I only focus on one thing at a time. First, the blog; then, a breath; then, the next project. So on, and so on, taking pleasure in the doing and completion of each task. The holidays provide an excellent opportunity to practice mindfulness and embrace single-tasking. It’s high time I took it.

 
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Posted by on December 2, 2015 in Buddhism, Self-Reflection

 

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