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Monthly Archives: January 2016

(Personal) A Glance Back, A Stare Forward

Fandom 150Further Confusion 2016 is in the books, and I for one am quite glad it’s over. Not because the convention was terrible (it wasn’t) or because there’s something great on the horizon (but there is), but mostly because I have this small hoard of memories to treasure and sift through for the next few months. The panels I participated in were all awesome; the people that I met, reconnected and conversed with were amazing; and the ideas that we batted back and forth are in serious need of tending, shaping and realizing. I really can’t wait to get started.

“Power and Privilege in an Anthropomorphic World” and “Furries and ‘the Other'” were both well-attended writing panels that generated a lot of lively discussion — it’s really cool to know that folks are excited to deal with these kinds of topics and not shy about diving head-long into what could be some really thorny things. My co-panelists — Watts Martin, Ryan Campbell, Mary Lowd and Chandra al-Akani — were all excellent partners in crime for this; we were able to at least try to keep the topic close to furry writing, and we incorporated audience points and personal stories fairly well. I’m really looking forward to being a part of these next year, and I already have an idea or two about even more panels!

“Write Now!” and “Brainstorming in Real Time” were both loads of fun. Kyell Gold is so much fun to be on a panel with, you guys — there’s something about Coke Zero that makes him really silly and it’s an irresistible mood that you get swept up in. Hopefully folks got some use out of our advice on how to think about the structure of a story or how to brainstorm ideas that could generate a whole flood of strange and different ideas. It’s truly an honor to be talking about these things I’m passionate about with smart, funny, dedicated people in front of other really smart, funny and dedicated people. There really isn’t much better than being in a group aiming for the same thing — excellent and thoughtful furry fiction.

I had so many conversations with so many people, and so many of them were so great. I got to see a replica of a Buddhist meditation scroll from 15th century Japan that featured rabbits, foxes, frogs and monkeys doing regular things to illustrate the general folly of artificial restrictions and castes — and got a wonderful idea for an art commission that I can’t wait to develop with corgi extraordinaire, Zia. I spent a ton of time with Kannik, a wonderful and thoughtful guy who loves movies, games and Eastern philosophy — so we’re two peas in a pod. I got to meet a lot of friends from all over the country and indulge in such a wide variety of interests over the weekend, from cartoons to comics to drinking to macro/micro silliness.

Yeah, Further Confusion 2016 was a blast, and I can’t thank the staff enough for putting in so many hours to bring it all together. It’s a largely thankless job and people only really notice them when something goes wrong, but they were (for the most part) super-friendly, knowledgeable and ready to help whenever you need it. A million points to those folks!

Now that the convention is done, it’s time to head into the very busy second part of the month. This week I’ll be doing my best to catch up with the Jackalope Serial Company to make sure parts 2 through 4 go up on time. I also need to sketch out my project plan for the JSC, New Fables, The Writing Desk and so much more next month, just to make sure I know what I’m doing and when. The big trip to New York City for my day job happens next Tuesday, and I need to make sure I have warm clothing, all of my work supplies, medication and a way to bring my morning routine to New York City. I’ll be staying there until Sunday, where I fly back and immediately head back into work the next day. Once Friday rolls around, I will not be able to sit back and enjoy the Super Bowl weekend; I will instead have my first on-call days.

There’s a LOT going on over the next two or three weeks. I’ll do my best to make sure everything gets done, but The Writing Desk might be a little empty for a little while. As much as I would love to make sure this blog is updated three times a week, chances are very high that something will have to give.

Besides, writing about writing isn’t the best thing to do when you have stories that are begging to be finished. Once “A Stable Love” is done, I’ll move straight into “The Tourist”. That’s my entry to People of Color Destroy Science Fiction, which is gearing up to be an amazing anthology — the Kickstarter is live, and you can chip in to help them meet their stretch goals here! If I can manage to get “The Tourist” written and edited for submission, there’s one more commission to tackle before I can return my focus to simply the Jackalope Serial Company and The Writing Desk for a little while.

What’s the Jackalope Serial Company, you ask? So glad you did! It’s my Patreon for serialized erotic stories (mostly featuring M/M, macro/micro and muscle content). I’m a sucker for a good serial, and the time has come for me to try my hand at making one of my own. If you’re interested, please head on over to my Patreon page to check it out. The first serial — THE CULT OF MAXIMUS — has just gotten underway, so now’s a good time to hop on board!

Now that I’ve pimped out several things, I think it’s time to go back to the old word mines. Hopefully there will be a new chapter of Br’ers on Friday — you might see a very hastily-scratched apology here instead. At any rate, wish me luck!

 
 

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Self-Care and Conventions

Fandom 150Further Confusion 2016 will begin tomorrow, and for most of us furries we’re just counting down the hours until we can head to San Jose to immerse ourselves in fandom for four glorious days. I know I’m itching to get there myself. But one of the things that rarely gets talked about at these conventions is how big a disruption they are to our daily lives, and what that disruption can do for those of us coping with mental illness. While the potential is there for a brilliant weekend, the craziness of the convention alone can throw us off-kilter.

For many of us, FC 2016 is one of our only chances to be with people we feel truly understand us; for four days we can put aside the problems of our regular lives and enjoy company and kinship in a way we rarely get to experience. We become so attached to the promise of a non-stop great time that any disappointment or gap in pleasure can send us spiraling into dark places. Unfortunately, downtime and disappointment are both facts of life; we can do ourselves a huge favor by learning to roll with them.

I want folks who are going through rough times at the convention to know that I see them, and I sympathize with what they’re dealing with. I’d like to share a few things that have helped me get through conventions and have made sure I have the best time possible.

Absolutely take care of the basics. 6/2/1 is a mnemonic I’ve seen floating around recently to remind people about the basic things you should do every day during a convention. 6 hours of sleep, 2 meals a day (at least), 1 shower. Making sure you’re well-rested, well-fed and well-groomed can have a profound effect on your mood — this goes doubly so for those of us with mental issues.

If nothing else, making sure you get enough sleep and enough to eat is absolutely essential for managing your mood. Sleep allows the brain to recover from daily stresses, and your body needs nutrients to keep it running properly while you’re awake. And making sure you’re clean and wearing comfortable clothing you feel good about being seen in helps tremendously with self-esteem. Those three things alone are vital, easy things we can do to keep us on a stable footing emotionally.

I know that sleep and showers can go by the wayside pretty easily, especially for those of us stricken by FOMO — the Fear of Missing Out. It can feel like leaving our friends is a guarantee of not getting to see or do something awesome. But it’s important to remember that the convention (and your friends) will be there when you’re awake, cleaned and your hunger is satisfied. It’s a trade-off of quantity of time for quality time. When you feel better, you will have more fun. Trust me on this! I’ve stuck around for things way longer than I should have, when I was hungry or tired, just because I didn’t want to leave. It was miserable.

For those of us who need a little extra self-care, I would recommend sleeping at least 7 hours a day, eating 3 square meals, taking 1 shower and making absolutely sure you take any medications that you’ve been prescribed.

If possible, adapt your routine for travel. One of the ways I manage my mental state is by doing my best to establish a routine. I get up at a certain time, I go to the bathroom, I meditate, take my medication, then get to writing. Doing this every day gives me a nice foundation to center on through the craziness of the day; it’s how I try to put my best foot forward. Obviously, it’s a lot harder to stick to it when traveling, but I give it my best shot and I recommend you do the same.

If you have a small set of activities you do at certain times, find ways to stick to them when you’re traveling — especially if it helps to center and calm you. If that’s just not possible, think of alternate activities that provide you with the tools you need to be mentally resilient through the day. It can really help you through the marathon of interaction that conventions tend to be.

Learn to be OK with being alone or having downtime. This can be difficult, especially if the convention is the one time you get to spend with friends you only know online. But the fact of the matter is sometimes your friends will be doing something else or you’re waiting to join up with someone; you will find yourself alone with nothing to do. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing; there’s an enormous convention happening all around you, with new people to meet and all kinds of interesting things to do.

If you find yourself having downtime — unexpected or otherwise — take advantage of the events being set up by the hard-working convention staff. Take a look at the schedule to see what’s open and where things are; the gaming area tends to be open most of the day and night, and there’s a number of meeting areas that you can camp out in and hang out. If nothing grabs your fancy, pre-planning an “alone time” activity or two to fall back on can help keep you occupied for a while. Take advantage of downtime to center yourself and collect your thoughts. Being alone doesn’t necessarily mean being lonely.

Allow yourself to feel what you’re feeling. Sometimes, despite our best efforts and careful planning, we’ll fall into a bad mental state. That is OK! No one — not even at a world-class furry convention — feels great all the time! Sometimes we’ll be sad, or bored, or angry and frustrated. There’s a huge emphasis on avoiding the negative feelings we have, but that can make things worse. I know for me, I’ll think that I “shouldn’t” feel the way I do and that guilt or frustration (What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I just be happy?) just makes things that much worse.

If you’re having a bad time, or you’re feeling low, take a moment to tell yourself that it’s OK you feel this way. It’s a valid emotion to have, and it’s only temporary. It will pass in time, even though it might not feel like it. What’s more, you don’t have to necessarily *do* anything about what you’re feeling. It can be a powerful thing to accept your feelings, even when they hurt. You may not feel better, exactly, but it can ease the pressure that we can feel about our emotions.

Further Confusion is a wonderful con, and I hope that everyone who attends has an amazing time. If you find yourself struggling to deal with emotions, please reach out to someone. You are not alone, even though it may feel like it. But you have to take care of yourself before you can expect others to take care of you.

Make sure you get enough sleep, get enough to eat, and present yourself as best you can. Plan to take care of your needs ahead of time if at all possible. Accept who you are and how you feel. It can be difficult work, I know, but the work is worth it. I’ll see you folks in San Jose in about 24 hours.

 
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Posted by on January 13, 2016 in Furries

 

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Further Confusion 2016!

Fandom 150Folks, it’s that time again — the time when downtown San Jose is suddenly flooded with bizarre people descending onto the Convention Center to engage their weird hobby. The volleyball girls are back! Oh, and also Further Confusion is coming up this weekend.

Of course I’ll be there — just look for the portly black dude probably wearing a sweater vest and a backpack and some sort of jackalope badge. I’m really looking forward to meeting lots of you coming from all around the country, or hooking up again with friends I haven’t gotten to see for a while, or chatting with fans about the things that we love and care about. It should be a blast!

One of the best things about Further Confusion is the robust slate of panels, seminars and events that encompass almost every aspect of the furry fandom — art, writing, music, performance, science, spirituality and crafts are all well-represented there. As a writer, I’ll be on a few panels this time and I wanted to tell you about them, just in case you were interested!

THURSDAY, JANUARY 14TH
OUT OF POSITION Release Party (Marriott: Almaden) – 7 PM
My good friend Kyell Gold will be releasing the latest novel in his Out of Position series — Over Time — at the convention! His release party will be pretty awesome, and one of the best ways to kick off a weekend-long party is by celebrating a friend’s success. The book won’t be available for sale there, alas, but he’ll be there to chat and sign things, so it really is the next best thing.

FRIDAY, JANUARY 15TH
Power and Privilege in an Anthropomorphic World (Hilton: Santa Clara) – 1 PM
I’ll be talking about how to illustrate the societal effects of different species co-existing within the same world with Chipotle and my husband, NotTube. I’m really excited about this topic; it’s not necessarily all about how power dynamics from the real world translate into our fictionalized furry ones, but what a whole different set of dynamics borne from the traits of vastly different species might look like. Would carnivores really dominate the power structure? How would physical characteristics shape the world? And what advantages would humans have once we lose opposable thumbs and sapience?

Write Now! (Hilton: Santa Clara) – 3 PM
Kyell Gold and I will be talking about ways to think about the shape of your short story with an eye towards finally sitting down and banging it out! We’ll break down the basic elements of your story — what you’ll need to get started, most of the time — and then providing 30 minutes to work on it using the tools you have at your disposal. How generous!

SATURDAY, JANUARY 16TH
Mindfulness and Transformation in Action (Marriott: Almaden) – 11 AM
Kannik and I will be discussing the transformative power of bringing mindfulness into your life. We’ll talk a bit about our perspective and background working with it, discuss examples illustrating exactly how clear and present thinking can redirect negative experiences, and engage in a brief meditation session and a few exercises to give folks a feel for using it. This is always one of my favorite times at the convention; I look forward to it every year.

Furries and the “Other” (Hilton: Santa Clara) – 4:30 PM
Here we’ll be discussing how the concept of “otherness” applies to furry — or if it even does! Mapping real-life social and political differences to furry fiction is an interesting thing; there’s often not a direct parallel, but what can we learn from the way divisions are drawn? What does that say about us as creators and readers? I’ll be talking about this with Mary Lowd and Chandra al-Alkani.

SUNDAY, JANUARY 17TH
Brainstorming in Real Time (Hilton: Santa Clara) – 11 AM
One of the biggest things I’ve learned in writing last year is to always try out multiple answers to the question “And then what?” Your first answer is going to be the most common one, and the further out you go with ideas the more creative opportunities open up! Even ideas you instinctively discount can be the best ideas you have for really pushing your story into new territory. My writing group — Chipotle, Kyell Gold, NotTube and myself — will be hosting this panel detailing the brainstorming process and how you can use it to your benefit.

Unsheathed Live (Hilton: Santa Clara) – 10 PM
To close out the convention, the adult writing podcast is all set to go for another year! Kyell, KM Hirosaki and NotTube will talk about furry writing for adults, take audience questions and probably have a lot of wine. This is always a blast, and I’m really looking forward to going out on a high note with FC 2016!

So that’s my schedule! Feel free to join me at any of these panels or say hello if you see me bumming around the convention. I’ll even have business cards for the Jackalope Serial Company! Whoo!!

See you at the San Jose Convention Center this weekend, folks. It’s going to be legendary!

 
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Posted by on January 11, 2016 in Furries

 

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(Friday Fiction) Br’ers: One on One

Writing 150Today’s post is a little bit late; sorry about that. It feels like I’ve been playing catch-up since the year started! I’ll be working double-time for a little while to try and get ahead of things.

Anyway, in this installment of Br’er fiction, Gregg meets his boss for the first time in six months to have a conversation about returning to work. I’m still stumbling around a little bit with this setting, but I’m making slow but steady progress with getting the feel down.

“On behalf of everyone at GBI, I’d like to welcome you back to the fold.” Horace Bolton smiled at Gregg across his shabby particle-board desk, leaning forward to indicate his sincerity. Underneath the smile, there was a distinct nervousness that Gregg had learned to detect by scent. His boss was doing a very good job of hiding it through body language, though.

The woman standing next to Horace was also nervous, but kept her emotions hidden under an impassive expression. Joyce was the office manager, and she kept the office managed to within an inch of its life. Once you understood her rules and followed them to the letter, you couldn’t have a better friend at work. She was here to translate Gregg’s sign language to the manager; he found it wholly unnecessary, but they had insisted on providing the accommodation for him to prove how dedicated they were to keeping him employed and comfortable.

Gregg signed at the expectant look Horace fixed him with, and Joyce turned to him with exacting precision. He found himself wondering if there was something about her Korean background that made her so detail-oriented, then banished the thought. “Thank you,” she said.

“You’ve been a vital part of GBI’s success, and I just want you to know that you have a place here as long as you want it. We’re committed to providing a comfortable, friendly environment for everyone, no matter their race, religion or species. We’re a family here.” Horace slipped into his familiar pitch. Gregg had heard it countless times at meetings and functions. He was what you would call a “true believer”.

And to be fair, Horace walked the walk. He worked hard (mostly through Joyce) to build a culture of informal, easy-going labor. GBI was a little internet service provider that gave dial-up and high-speed access to people who had never heard of cable — or simply couldn’t afford it. Despite the marketplace the company had done well enough to establish itself in the city. They didn’t offer quite the same perks that a big corporation would, but the people were solid here. Gregg loved his job, and who he worked with.

He smiled, though he wasn’t sure how that would translate. He signed, and Joyce said “Thank you.”

“If there’s anything I can do to help you transition back into your position after…well, considering your new situation, don’t hesitate to come to me, OK? My door is always open.”

Gregg signed. Joyce said, “Thank you.”

Horace smiled, letting a silence creep into the conversation for just a beat. That was the end of the introduction, apparently. He put on his glasses; that was usually the sign that it was time to get down to business. “Now, as you’re aware, I’m sure, there aren’t any laws on the books offering legal protections against discrimination for you…uhm, what would you prefer to be called?”

Gregg detected a tightening in Joyce. He could hear the way her suit jacket shifted around heightened shoulders. He wasn’t sure if she noticed his ear swiveling in her direction, but he signed. She relaxed when she spoke. “Br’ers is fine as a term.”

Horace barked a surprised laugh. “Br’er? I hadn’t heard that one, that’s pretty cute.”

Both of Gregg’s ears swiveled forward as he signed. He wasn’t sure if he was hoping to catch his boss in something inappropriate or if he was genuinely curious. Joyce hesitated before leaning in. “He wants to know what other terms you had heard.”

Alarm flashed behind Horace’s eyes. He shifted uncomfortably for just a second. “I…well, you know….never mind, it doesn’t matter. What matters is what you prefer to call yourself. Br’ers it is.”

Horace cleared his throat and began speaking immediately to bury the moment. “As I was saying, there aren’t any laws protecting you, but I spoke with legal to make sure we added anti-discrimination clauses to the company conduct policy. I can guarantee you that you will not be paid less, looked over for a promotion or raise, or experience any hinderances to your career because of what you are. Anyone who uses slurs or engages in inappropriate behavior will be called in for a disciplinary review. If you hear or experience anything, I want you to come to me or Joyce first thing, OK?”

Gregg nodded. He wasn’t sure what to say to that, but he was sure that Horace was serious about it. It warmed him to know that someone had his back, even after all this, and was dedicated to at least trying to make sure he could live a normal life. Or as normal as it could be, anyway.

“Good. Now…is there anything you need to do your job efficiently? Some accommodation that would make you more comfortable? I’ve given it some thought…”

Gregg’s nose twitched a bit more rapidly now, and one of his ears flicked towards Joyce. Her nervousness was a lot more apparent now, the stone-faced mask slipping at last. He felt that sensation transfer to him, as if he should be readying himself for something bad. This was the other shoe, he realized, and his heart sank.

“…and maybe we can convert part of the storage room into a personal office. With those ears and that nose, I can only imagine how distracting sounds and smells must be for you.” Horace leaned in, a look of grave concern on his face. “It’s not too overwhelming in here, is it?”

Gregg looked bewildered. What did this dude think his senses were like? He simply shook his head.

Horace relaxed. “Ah, good. I can’t imagine what it must be like, having those senses that you do. It must be kind of like being a superhero, right?” He chuckled.

Gregg looked at Joyce, who slumped. He signed to her, a longer response this time, and she repeated it back in halting and uncertain rhythm.

“He says that no, it’s not like being a superhero. He has good hearing, and smell, but it’s not like everything’s louder or stinkier than before. It’s just different.”

“Oh really? That’s interesting. Good to know!” Horace smiled with the pre-emptive satisfaction of being able to correct someone else later on down the line. “And, as far as…well…using the facilities…”

Here, Joyce’s pale face drained of all color.

“…are you going to need space close to the bathroom? My niece has a rabbit, and that thing just goes wherever it wants. I remember hearing somewhere that rabbits can’t hold it when they’ve got to go, so we want to make sure you can avoid any potential accidents.”

Gregg was stunned. It took him a moment to understand what was being insinuated here, and when he did his ears swept back. He looked at Horace as if he was insane, but was pretty sure the man couldn’t read his expression. Joyce frowned at him; he was sure it was a look of sympathy.

“I’m not a rabbit, though. I’m a man. Just different, like I said. I’ve never had an accident, and I don’t plan to start now.”

Horace laughed at that, long and loud. Gregg felt that initial flash of annoyance melting away, and allowed his ears to swing upright. Joyce even smiled, and just like that the moment passed.

“Well, good to know. Listen, Gregg, it’s so good to have you back, I really mean that. If there’s anything you need, just ask.” Horace stood up and offered his hand. Reflexively, Gregg stood up and shook it. He allowed himself to relax. The meeting was over. It wasn’t as bad as it could have been, and now he could go back to work.

He turned and walked out of the small office, flicking an ear back to hear Joyce hurrying after him. She reached up and touched his shoulder; when he stopped, she rose on her toes to whisper in his ear.

“I’m so sorry about that. Welcome back.” She patted him once and rushed back into Horace’s office.

Gregg grinned to himself. It took three steps for him to forget about the awkwardness of that exchange; he had to think about the mountains of email he would have to wade through in order to catch up.

 
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Posted by on January 8, 2016 in Furries, Writing

 

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(Writing) Howdy, Br’er!

Myth 150This month for Fiction Friday, I’ll be giving the Br’er scenario another try. I’m not sure what people thought of the couple fragments I posted last month, but I wasn’t really happy with them — I think they came across far too “woe is me, poor special snowflake” and less “these are some things that folks like me have to deal with”. Not my best look, fam; sorry about that.

I’m writing a little about what I’d like to do with the idea here, not to prime you to read the upcoming bits of fiction in a certain way, but to hopefully solidify my intentions and use this as a guidepost to look back on at the end of the month when I want to know how I did with them. I know it’s important to let the work speak for itself, right? But this is the first tentative step to more involved and more ambitious stories, and this writing desk here is going to be my workshop for now.

I’m writing Br’ers as a way to dig into my experience as a black man on the fringes of black society. In a lot of ways, my folks can tell there’s something different about me just by looking — either it’s the clothes I wear, or the way I carry myself, or how I speak. There’s this impression that I give off almost immediately that codes me as “other”, and that feeling only deepens once I start talking.

At the same time, I am undeniably black and the rest of the world sees me that way. I’m lumped in with a community that has distanced me from itself by the dominant culture, and there’s not much I can do about that. I occupy this border between the world of black America and the wider one, maybe not by choice, but by simply being who I am. And here, my options are somewhat limited; no one thing is going to be wholly satisfying.

I could forsake the black community entirely and step out into the wider world in search of an adopted people. That’s what I’ve done for most of my life; in my senior year of high school I found Dungeons & Dragons, Changeling: the Dreaming and the furry fandom. I didn’t look back for 15 years. These are the people who understood me, who’ve accepted me as one of their own, whose excitement I’ve shared. I’ve been a geek for about 20 years now; it’s an enormous part of my identity.

But over the past couple of years I’ve felt a calling back “home”. Maybe it’s being in touch with my family again, learning about the first deaths that will signal many more for my older relatives, getting to talk to my nephews on the phone. Maybe it’s knowing that I had an aunt who was a lesbian and never reaching out to her; now she’s gone and it’s too late. Maybe it’s seeing this awful parade of abuse and death to our young black men and women and thinking that it could have been my sister’s children on the news, or even my sister. Either way, something within me told me it was time to reassume this part of my identity, and I’ve been working out how ever since.

Learning about the black geek community has been a wonderful thing for that. These are people who’ve grown up in ways that I recognize, who have experiences that I share, who love the same things I do. What they haven’t done is given up their racial and cultural identity the way I did; they’ve stayed on that border and made a settlement there. They’re influenced by both worlds — the black American culture that I’ve found so difficult to deal with and the bigger, whiter space of science-fiction and fantasy. Their space looks like nothing else, this fusion of a long, painful history combined with wild and unbridled imagination.

The concept of Br’er came to me as I was thinking about how to marry my furry identity with the larger world of black geekdom. I like the idea that someone waking up one day as markedly different forces them to the fringes anywhere they go; no matter where they are, chances are they’re the only one of their kind in the room. A new species borne out of the antagonistic relationship we have with our planet is an idea I couldn’t let go of. Br’ers, just by being who they are, remind us of the awful things we’ve done and force us to deal with that on some level.

I imagine that Br’ers were a sudden and immediate phenomenon. One day, one in twenty people — mostly in the most blighted urban areas — woke up to find themselves some weird combination of human and animal. Because the change seemed to be based on a type of environment, it disproportionately affected minorities and the poor. You know, the kind of people who tend to live in areas of urban blight. What these animal-human hybrids are called varies depending on the culture naming them; in black circles, they’re named Br’ers.

Those who’ve undergone the change feel like strangers in their own skin, even after the six months to a year has passed where our story picks up. They have to rediscover their own bodies, wrestle with strange and different appetites, move through a world that simply has no idea what to make of them. Because of the vastly different shape of their faces, they have no idea how to speak up. They’re voiceless, and any method of communication they can use as an alternative probably won’t really capture what is they’re feeling, what it is they want to say. It’s a frustrating and lonely existence, even if they know that they’re not alone, that there are other people out there like them.

Their families and neighbors are weirded out by them; this is something beyond their experience and they have no idea how to relate to them. The world at large might be more accepting, but there are trade-offs. Chances are they come from minority or low-income backgrounds, without a lot of social or political power; they’re kind of exotic, but kind of dangerous, objects of fascination more than living breathing people. Folks will stop them on the street and ask to touch their fur, or wonder how they manage to do things with their claws, or — only when they’re drunk or feeling REALLY comfortable — ask them if what they’ve heard about their sexual characteristics are true.

The world of the Br’er is one where there is almost no safe space; your neighborhood holds you at arm’s length, anything beyond that might be well-meaning but ignorant at best and downright abusive at worst, and there’s no guarantee even among your own kind that you’ll find kinship for a whole host of reasons. On top of that, it’s a long and arduous process to find peace about yourself and who you are. You may never truly fit in anywhere, and you have to be OK with that.

That’s the experience I want to capture here. It’ll take me a little while to get it right; I’m still a novice at writing fiction and working with subtext is something I’m going to have to learn. But it’s an idea I believe in, and I’ll keep trying to express it until I get it right.

So thanks in advance for being patient with me on this. Any feedback is welcome — even if it’s critical, even if you don’t believe in the idea in the first place. I want to hear from you. I know the first passes are going to be rough, but I sacrifice my ego to the altar of story. I will crash and burn publicly, because I want to forge myself.

 

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(Writing) New Year’s Resolutions, 2016

Writing 150It feels like I swing back and forth with resolutions from year to year. One year, I’m all business with concrete resolutions that have a pass/fail success condition. Write 6 short stories. Read 10 novels. That sort of thing. The next year, having been beaten down by life and the unexpected, I ease back to more vague resolutions that have more subjective measurements of success. Be kinder to myself. Run more. Things like that.

This looks like it’s going to be a year where I have soft and fuzzy resolutions. It’s not necessarily that I don’t trust myself to make big goals and keep to them; it’s more that I just don’t know what’ll happen this year to take my eye off the ball. The more I settle in to the shape of my life and who I am, the more I realize that planning for November in January is just something that leads to disaster.

So I’d like to make resolutions that help me to refine my focus and habits towards a single goal this year. Instead of promising myself to hit a certain concrete measure of success, I’d like to make promises that help me fulfill my purpose. What is that purpose? To become a better writer, reader and person this year of course.

Finish what you start. This is a big one for me. I’ll often jump into projects easily with grand plans about what the end result will look like, with a vast underestimation of the time and effort it will take to achieve them. Sometimes, I just don’t have the space in my life to do what I would like to do; so it’s better to pick my projects carefully and devote time to making sure they’re finished before moving on to something else. If something that initially grabbed my fancy is really something I should do, then it will wait its turn in line until I get to it. It’s more important that I do what I set out to do. You don’t learn anything from a project until you have a finished one to look back on.

Be more organized. The ADHD diagnosis last year helped me realize that my brain just works in a certain way and I’ll likely never get it to be as clean and straight-forward as other people’s. Thankfully, I can rely on external tools to pick up the slack — notepads to write down bits of information that I need to remember; to-do apps that help me keep track of projects and deadlines to provide structure for my day; rituals that prime me to do certain things in certain spaces. Writing stories isn’t a science, or a project that lends itself to concrete and significant planning. But finally providing structure that allows me to focus on the important work will really help me to be more productive.

Read a LOT more. There are so many great stories out there you guys. SO MANY. As a writer, it’s really important to read. Period. You have to discover the stories you enjoy and the way you love for them to be told to learn more about your craft. A writer who doesn’t like to read is someone who has no idea how to create stories with an audience in mind. Besides, in order to come correct to the broader science-fiction/fantasy community, I’m going to need to know a lot more about what’s out there. In order to be a part of the conversation, I need to know a lot more about what it is. I’ve got a reading list of short stories and novels prepared, and I’ll be working on it throughout the year. I’m really excited to dig into books, comic books and other stories again.

See the spiritual in the mundane. The draw of Buddhism for me is the fact that its entire purpose is to push the mindset of the temple out into the world. For Buddhists, there’s no distinction between the you that’s on the meditation bench and the you that’s answering customer calls at work. Every aspect of your life deserves your complete attention; every interaction you have with someone else is a chance to worship the Divine. As I’m running through my day trying to meet deadlines or do the things I need to, it’s vitally important to remember this. Sometimes, that means slowing down, centering yourself, and doing the best you can to live up to your principles. It’s something I forget in the thick of things, and I’ll try to find ways to remember them this year.

Don’t forget to take stock. This year I’d like to save concrete goals for weekly and monthly check-ins. This week, I’ve set goals to make sure that something goes through the Writing Desk three times; that the first two parts of my serial will be written; and that a review for a furry anthology is finally edited and sent off to another blog for posting. I’d also like to make sure I get in a couple of runs and I keep a tighter leash on what I spend. We’ll see how that goes when I take my pulse for the week next Sunday.

So that’s it: this year, I’m focusing on seeing things through, putting myself in the best position to do that, reading and connecting with people more earnestly, and making sure I’m mindful of who I am and what I’m doing. Concrete goals will be set every week; project updates will happen every month. That’s the plan.

How about you fine folks? Have you set any resolutions for yourself this year? What does a successful 2016 look like for you, creatively?

 

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Kwanzaa 2015: Imani (Faith)

Myth 150Happy New Year, everyone! Aren’t you glad that words typed on a scream can’t shout? I sincerely hope that this first day of a brand new year is a great one, and that you are able to spend it doing exactly what you want to be doing — whether that’s recovering from last night’s festivities, getting a jump-start on your New Year’s Resolutions, or anything in between.

This last day of Kwanzaa is the first day of 2016, and it is meant to be spent in quiet reflection and meditation. We are supposed to ask the three questions of Kawaida, what we tackled when we spoke about Kujichagulia. Who am I? Am I really what I say I am? Am I all that I ought to be?

Imani, or Faith, is not necessarily a religious faith — it is a belief with all our hearts in ourselves, our people, our parents, teachers and ancestors, our communities and the righteousness and eventual victory of our struggle. It is the belief that despite our flaws and mistakes, that we can achieve greatness in ourselves and our communities; that the problems we face aren’t impossible to overcome; that by applying the Seven Principles to our lives every day will see us through.

One of the dangers of being an idealist is burning out on hope. When I look at the shape of the world today, it’s really easy to do. We’ve known about the dangers of greenhouse gasses since the 1960s and scientists have been sounding alarms about the effects of climate change since the 1980s, but we still have to go around in circles about whether or not it’s a real thing and the worth of adopting more environmentally-friendly policies that reduce our reliance on fossil fuels — a non-renewable resource that will likely run out within our lifetimes. We must still remind people what happens when fear creeps its way into the core of our politics and way of life; how it makes us ugly, intolerant, even insane as a society. We must engage with illogical mental and philosophical gymnastics just to prove that the way racial, religious and other minorities are treated in this country is not OK — and in fact runs counter to the tenets of Christianity and our Constitution. We are still debating issues that have the potential to tear our civilization apart, pushing us past the time for immediate action.

When I think about where we are as a society and the progress we’re likely to make within the next generation, it’s easy for me to despair. I don’t think we’ll be able to get our act together in time; I think even if things can get better, they’re far more likely to get worse. I feel that my purpose, to connect people and promote and practice compassion, is simply putting a finger in a dyke that is failing. There are so many problems in the world, and so little being done about them. It feels hopeless.

Imani is our bulwark against that fatalism. It starts with ourselves, believing that we can change our thoughts and behavior to become the best version of who we are. We can take that progress to our communities, our fellow human beings, and band together to make our societies the best version of what they are. Our community can then rise up and be a beacon of light, or progress and greatness, that others can use as encouragement to continue the work that they’re doing. Eventually, somehow, the world becomes a better place — a kinder, more compassionate place; a just and equitable place; a sustainable, respectful, responsible place. But not until each and every one of us takes on the work to become kinder, compassionate, just, equitable, respectful and responsible people.

This is why we must ask ourselves who we are, whether or not we really are who we say we are, and whether we’re living up to the fullness of our potential. Because the immense problems facing us won’t be solved until we start working on us.

I may not have faith in the world, but I have faith in myself and my values. That will have to be enough for now; as I bring my progress to my community, I will see the strides taken by everyone around me; I will see how our self-improvement contributes to the improvement of my people; and I will see how the improvement of my people makes the world at large a better place. Think globally; act locally.

I have spent several days contemplating these Seven Principles and how they apply to my situation. Now, as I face a new year, it is time to put those principles to action. Today, I will contemplate how to start that process, how to continue it, how to encourage it in everyone I see.

Happy Kwanzaa, everyone. Happy New Year. Let’s work together to make 2016 a great one.

 

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