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Monthly Archives: January 2018

(Personal) Accounting for January

Self Improvement 150At the beginning of the year I mentioned how I’d like to hit a few specific goals with my writing: 100 posts here at The Writing Desk, 50 episodes posted to The Jackalope Serial Company Patreon, and 10 stories submitted to various publications throughout the year. In an effort to hold myself to that goal, I thought it would be a good idea to take a look back on what I’ve done over the month previous, figure out what went right, what went wrong, and how I can adjust to make next month even better. So how did I do in January?

The first month of the year was fairly busy right up through Further Confusion: in addition to coming down from the holidays, I put a little elbow grease into preparing for panels at the convention. The highlight, for me, was the “Afrofuturism and Furry” panel — it was pretty well attended and I got a lot of great, thoughtful questions from the folks who showed up. After that, it was mostly a matter of settling in to the new routine: there aren’t any really big events until May (when My Husband, the Dragon and I will be going to England for Confuzzled! Hooray!) so for a few months there shouldn’t be any disruptions. That…didn’t go as well as I’d like.

The Writing Desk
Number of Posts: 11
Most Popular Post: What I Want From White People

If I had kept a full post schedule I would have had 14 posts this month, but still…not bad. I really fell down on Fiction Friday, though; I think the trick is to make sure that those posts are written well ahead of time, so I can tighten them up and make the stories a lot more engaging. Veniamin Kovalenko will have to wait until March to continue his adventures, as it stands — but that’s not a bad thing. He’s a wonderful character and he deserves more respect from me than he’s been getting. I’m committed to having him come back strong next month.

I’ve noticed a trend with my posts: the ones discussing current events in the fandom and the political arena almost always do much better. Not gonna lie, it’s really tempting to shift towards those subjects more often but I know that’s a fool’s errand. Political and fandom posts are the hardest for me to write because I sweat the language in them so hard; I want to make sure I’m clear in what I’m saying and that I’m writing in a way that doesn’t alienate the people I most want to reach. It feels like the effort pays off, even if it takes a lot out of me.

In February I’m definitely going to focus a lot more on reading and writing. You might have heard that Black History Month is starting up tomorrow, and I’ll be joining the #ReadingBlackout then. It’s a lot less confrontational than it sounds — it’s just a project to center black authors as much as possible. It’s an excellent excuse to catch up on a lot of the books on my to-read shelf! I’ll be starting with Bluebird, Bluebird┬áby Attica Locke, a crime novel set along a stretch of highway in east Texas that connects so many small towns where people of color have put down roots. It’s really great so far, and I’m looking forward to talking about it. After that, I’m dipping back into a classic: Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. It was the best book I ever read in high school, and it’s high past time I give it another look.

For Fiction Friday in February, I’m writing bits of fiction in the Br’er setting. I wrote about my designs for it here, and now that I’ve gotten much more experience with talking about where I fit in to my community I think it’s time to give it another shot. We’ll see how it goes, but I’m excited to plunge in.

The goal for February is twelve posts — three every week.

The Jackalope Serial Company
Current Serial: Boundaries (Episode One)
Episodes This Month: 3

The Jackalope Serial Company hit the same roadblock it usually does: I get to a place where I feel I can really dive in and take off with it, and then end up burning out. After two revised episodes put up for free at the Patreon, I managed just one additional episode before promising another one and…never releasing it. The pressure of deadlines hasn’t been the incentive towards completion that I had hoped.

There are a few reasons for this. I couldn’t get ahead as much as I had wanted before Further Confusion, and after that much of the free time I had was taken up with a few other things. There are so many projects I’ve fallen behind on, and collective guilt over each of them makes it harder for me to move forward on any of them.

One of the big issues with the JSC, however, is the lack of engagement. I should be grateful that there are a couple dozen people out there willing to give me money to write erotic serialized fiction for them — that’s a niche offering if ever there was one. But it’s also really difficult to get folks to open up about the stories I’ve been posting, and at this point I wonder if folks are supporting me financially but not reading the stories themselves. There’s been no feedback on most of the stuff I’ve published so far, so I can’t even tell what’s working and what’s not — what people would like to see more of, and what experiments aren’t really panning out.

At some point I’m going to have to muscle past that expectation for feedback and just write what I’m passionate about. I’ll also need to work on being a lot more consistent with releasing episodes; one of the things that drives me crazy with web-based creatives is the stutter-start nature of the release schedule, with no strong idea of when new stories come out. Either they promise updates and don’t deliver, or drop off the radar entirely. Over the course of the JSC Patreon, I’ve done both. It’s not a great feeling.

In February, I’m implementing a new rule: the Marshmallow Ranch Gazette goes up every Tuesday, but if I don’t have the next episode of the serial completed by the previous weekend I won’t say that it’ll be posted on Thursday. I’ll use the JSC Twitter to keep patrons appraised of progress. I’ll also shorten the release window to the general public for stories; I wanted to have the serials Patreon-only until they were all finished, but now I’m thinking a month-long lag is plenty of time. I’ll also double back and edit previous serials so they can go up on SoFurry, but ONLY once I’ve written ahead for the current one.

Next month, my goal is to post five new episodes — that’ll finish off Boundaries and free me up a bit to work on a couple of short stories before I dive into what comes next.

Other Projects
I had hoped to finish Bluebird, Bluebird this month, but alas it did not come to pass. I did get a lot of reading done, however, as a slush-pile judge of sorts. That totally counts, right? One of the things I really liked about the project was getting to think critically about why a story did or didn’t work for me and how I can transfer discoveries that stemmed from that into my own writing. All that advice about writers needing to read in order to become better writers? Totally true, you guys.

I’ve also been serving as the editor of another project that’s finally, hopefully getting off the ground again. If momentum holds, I’ll be able to talk about it in a few months and you’ll be able to read it by the summer. Fingers crossed!

Ultimately, getting better about time management and managing stress so I can avoid burn-out are the things I should be doing for the next month or two. I could always be making better choices about how I spend my time, but I also really need to set aside time for relaxation and decompression; life is incredibly stressful even without the ambitious goals I’ve set, and making time to rest is essential in replenishing energy. In the scramble to get things done, it’s all too easy to forget that.

I hope all of you have a wonderful February! What are you plans for the next month? What was your biggest success from this month?

 
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Posted by on January 31, 2018 in mental-health, Reading, Self-Reflection, Writing

 

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(Movies) Oscar Season

Entertainment 150Yesterday the Oscar nominations were released, signaling the beginning of the Academy Awards season! There’s a small subset of us who love this time of year; in the months leading up to it (beginning in December), my ears perk up to see what’s opening — especially in limited release — to get a bead on what studios hope to qualify for an award. I collect accolades from the Golden Globes, the Screen Actors’ Guild, the Directors’ and Producers’ Guild of America, and best-of lists from major critics to see how the race is shaping up; it’s interesting watching movies rise and fall from the pack, and after a few weeks you hear the same actors, directors and films again and again.

Then, some magical early morning in late January, the nominations are released and we begin the breathless conjecture about the surprises and snubs, who will win and who should win, or why certain baffling choices were made. The Oscars are a big deal for cinephiles, is what I’m saying, and this year is shaping up to be really interesting based on the nominees alone.

The first big shock is the film that received the most nominations — The Shape of Water. Guillermo del Toro’s indie fantastic romance got 13 nods, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress (for Sally Hawkins), Best Supporting Actor AND Actress (Richard Jenkins and Octavia Spencer), Best Screenplay and a bevy of technical nominations. Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, a summer blockbuster I slept on earlier last year, came in second with 8 (including Picture, Director, and Score). An interesting fact! Christopher Nolan has NEVER been nominated for Best Director before, despite four nominations from the Directors’ Guild of America for previous work.

I did not see The Shape of Water coming. My understanding of the chatter was that del Toro would likely get in for Best Director and Sally Hawkins was a dark horse for Best Actress, but the amount of love the movie got on Tuesday morning was really something. I haven’t gotten a chance to see it yet, but I’ve heard nothing but great things — it’s definitely bumped up several notches on my ‘must-see’ list. It’s really cool to see a movie like this become a flag-bearer for quality cinema in 2017, and I’d like to think diversifying the voting body of the Academy had a lot to do with it.

Get Out, the ground-breaking horror film from Jordan Peele, was nominated for four Oscars — Best Picture, Director, Actor and Screenplay. Peele is only the third person ever to have nominations for Best Picture, Director and Screenplay after their first movie, which is mind-blowing to think about. In fact, the whole Best Director field is a crazy one this year. Greta Gerwig is only the *fifth* woman to be nominated for the award (Lady Bird, which also has a Best Picture nomination); there’s Nolan and del Toro picking up his first nominations; and then there’s Paul Thomas Anderson with his second nomination for The Phantom Thread. It’s truly strange to have such an accomplished group of neophytes, especially where two white guys feel like underdogs.

Denzel Washington, the Greatest Actor of All Time Period, picked up his eighth nomination for Roman J. Israel, Esq. (who?) while Daniel Kaluuya picked up his first nomination for Get Out; this is the first time two black actors have been nominated in the category since 2001, when Denzel beat Will Smith (Ali) for his performance in Training Day.

Octavia Spencer is joined in the Best Supporting Actress race by none other than Mary J. Blige(!!!) for Mudbound, a Netflix film that serves as the streaming channel’s breakthrough to the big dance. Mudbound also boasts the first woman ever nominated for Best Cinematography (Rachel Morrison, who also filmed Dope, Fruitvale Station, and BLACK PANTHER), as well as the first black woman ever nominated for multiple awards in the same year — that’s right, Mary J. picked up another nomination for Best Original Song. Fun fact! Rachel Morrison, in addition to being my new favorite cinematographer, is in a same-sex family with her wife and son.

There are so many other nominations to be excited about. While The Big Sick only picked up one nomination, it netted a big one: Best Original Screenplay for Pakistani-American Kumail Nanjiani and his wife, Emily V. Gordon. Gary Oldman might finally get his long-overdue award for his turn as Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour; Willem Dafoe has his third nomination for The Florida Project; Allison Janney and Laurie Metcalf scored Best Supporting Actress noms with portrayals of difficult mothers; Logan(!!) picked up a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination, making history as the first screenplay adapted from a comic book to do so.

I’m really looking forward to watching as many of the Oscar-nominated movies as I can, speculating on what will win, debating which movies I like best with my husband and friends, and hosting a party to watch the ceremony in just over six weeks. I’m deliriously happy that our activism for diversifying the Oscars — both the Academy membership AND the nominations and awards — is starting to pay off with exciting filmmakers being recognized for telling exciting, unique stories. There’s still a long way to go, mind — representation for Asian, Native American, LGBQT (ESPECIALLY trans people), and people with disabilities is still an issue that needs to be addressed. But this year the nominations aren’t a parade of period pieces or biographies; the Best Picture line-up of the last several years have really broadened to reflect the best (and even most popular) films of the year.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll post thoughts about the Oscar race, especially as I see more and more films. I hope you don’t mind me geeking out about movies, because that’s what’s happening next.

 

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(Personal) Perpetual Tharn

Myth 150We’re three weeks in to 2018 — just long enough to settle into the new year and whatever new habits or goals we’ve set for ourselves. I wanted to push myself towards more mindful behavior this year, doing my best to really dive into right speech, action, and livelihood. While last year was definitely stressful, a lot of unresolved anger bubbled towards the surface in so many interactions. I didn’t like the way that made me behave, and I can’t help feeling that my relationships suffered because of that. I ended up retracting socially through a good bit of the year; while a lot of that was probably for the best, I have the feeling that I could be handling these difficult interactions with a lot more equanimity — but that’s way easier said than done.

My anxiety has been very hard to deal with over the past several months. The current state of our country, and the world, has elevated the level of ‘ambient’ anxiety I’m dealing with and that makes it a lot more difficult to take on additional stressors. Surprises or an increase in workload are harder to absorb, and recovering from those episodes of anxious lashing out or simply being overwhelmed takes longer.

So much of the time I feel like I’m in a state of perpetual tharn, so overwhelmed by anxiety that I freeze up and simply can’t do anything. Today, for example, my mind is racing with thoughts about the government shutdown and why it’s such a terrible thing. I’m worried that Republicans will successfully shift blame for this to Democrats, who are taking all the wrong lessons from this and seem to be allowing the public discourse to be pulled further to the right. I’m worried about what this means for all of us — especially those of us who are self-employed, need health insurance, or just happen to be federal employees.

I’m worried about our environment and the fact that the weather has been so obviously unusual over the past year or so. I’m worried about my finances and how I’ll be able to meet my obligations there. I’m worried about so many friends who are going through a difficult time and my diminished emotional capacity to help them. I worry about our ability to talk to one another in a way that connects us instead of dividing us. I worry about my family, who I avoid talking to because I simply can’t handle the possibility of more stress.

I worry about the promises and obligations I’ve made and my ability to keep them. I worry about trying to maintain a balance between being principled and being too rigid; I worry about standing up for myself in a way that doesn’t make other people feel bad. I worry about our apartment and keeping it clean. I worry about learning the technical skills I need in order to move to the next stage of my career. I worry about the people I know on Twitter, and can’t shake the feeling that most people only tolerate me because I’m so frustrating and weird and hesitant. I worry that I talk a good game but can’t deliver when push comes to shove. I worry that I’m just a fundamentally untrustworthy person.

This is what anxiety is like for me. Almost every action I take is connected to a worry that is never far away from taking over my thoughts. Am I talking too much about myself here? Is there a better way to communicate this? What kind of response am I after? Is this just for attention, or reassurance, or am I really just trying to help people understand how anxiety works so that others can deal with those of us who suffer from this better? What are my motivations? Are they corrupt and selfish?

Existing in this state of paralyzing doubt is exhausting, and it just doesn’t leave me with much energy for other things. It can be difficult when I’m struggling with anxiety to remember my promises, or keep my focus away from distractions, or not to simply bail and spend large chunks of time chasing idle happiness. It’s hard to put in the work because setbacks and obstacles are a lot harder to handle rationally.

For the next few weeks, I’ll be focusing on building and rebuilding the habits that help with anxiety. Taking care of the basics is essential, which means that I need to get good sleep, eat good food, and exercise regularly. On top of that, building a meditation, reading, and writing practice will help provide some measure of virtuous stability that always keeps mindfulness with me. This might mean that I’ll be quiet and withdrawn for a bit longer; I need time and mental energy to put these into practice, and that may mean less to deal with other people. So, apologies in advance if I’m a bit slower to respond to things, or have to decline requests for favors for a little while.

Ultimately I would like to be able to interact with people, help them wherever I can, and find ways to have difficult conversations without surrendering to anger and fear as drivers of behavior. But in order to do that, it’s clear that I need to get on a more stable emotional footing. That means mindfully withdrawing to renew the foundation of my practice and hopefully coming back in a better, more hopeful frame of mind.

 

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(Fiction Friday) Veniamin Kovalenko, Werebear Detective #2

Writing 150It’s been a couple of weeks — sorry about that. This time last week I was knee-deep in convention fun with other geeks! I had meant to write ahead so that the second part of Veniamin’s story was up and done, but time, as usual, caught up with me.

Today, Veniamin is exploring the part of the BART system that lies underground — this mostly happens right around the “Transbay Tube”, a tunnel under the San Francisco Bay connecting Oakland and the peninsula, but there are significant portions of BART that go underground within the cities themselves. I find these little bits fascinating; unlike a lot of other subway stations, BART underground feels fairly empty and there are all kinds of fun surprises that could be lurking in the shadows there.

The Lake Merritt station sits in easy walking distance of downtown Oakland, and it’s right where the trains go from street-level to underground. It’s as busy as you might imagine most of the time, one of those hub stations that commuters need to get to before they can catch other trains to Fremont, Dublin, or Daly City. This late at night, though, there weren’t too many people lingering around; maybe word had gotten out that strange and dangerous things happen around the neighborhood when no one is looking.

Which is precisely why Nunes and I were here with nothing but flashlights and cell-phone cameras. This wasn’t his usual beat — he patrolled closer to Hayward — but he noticed something slipping out of the shadows and, in his own words, wrapping a tentacle around a homeless gentleman who then dissolved like he was being dipped in acid or something. The suckers on the tentacle slurped up the stinking, steaming mess before it retreated. This happened three nights ago while he was covering a shift for a friend, and he swore on his badge that he wasn’t intoxicated at the time because he never drunk at work. I don’t understand how he could stand to do the job if he weren’t, but some people are just weird that way.

“Are you sure you should be doing that?” He swung his flashlight in my direction as I took a swig from my flask, wrinkling his nose at the sharp bite of vodka that filled the air between us. “I really think we need to keep our wits about us.”

“What do you think I’m doing?” I snapped at him before tucking the half-empty canister back into my trenchcoat. “You have your way of keeping your wits, and I’ve got mine.” He might not like the smell of alcohol, but I don’t like the smell of human piss that clung to the concrete all around us, so we both have to deal with things we’d rather not.

I was uncomfortable enough already with this whole deal. Nunes insisted on joining me on this little expedition despite me warning him off. The way he saw it, he still had a job to do even if he was calling me in as a ‘consultant’. There was no way he was going to let me wander off into those tunnels by myself; he had to know what was there, and he had to know how it would be stopped before he could rest easy. With just about anyone else, I could understand that motivation, even respect it. But there was something about him that rubbed me the wrong way. He was scratching an itch that was better left alone, and I got the feeling his reasons for doing it weren’t entirely on the table.

“If that’s your way of keeping your wits, then we’re both in trouble.” He trained the flashlight on the tunnel, the meager beam of light diffusing into the darkness ahead of us. The sound of his footsteps were crisp and neat, just like his polished shoes and his pressed uniform. They echoed around us with a rhythm that made me anxious. My fingers itched for the flask again.

“You want someone else here to find some shadow tentacle monster, that’s fine by me. I can go home and catch up on my Netflix queue.” I walked right next to him as we passed through the door that would lead us into the maintenance tunnels running along the side of the subway track. I admit, I was in a rotten mood. It wasn’t just the smell, as bad as that was. It wasn’t the fact that I was wearing clothes, either, though the detective get-up I stuffed myself into was as uncomfortable as hell. I liked the way I looked in my cheap off-the-rack suit and trenchcoat, but I hated the feeling of that tie around my neck and the belt around my waist. They were reminders of what I was supposed to be, a civilized Joe protecting other working stiffs from the worst of the worst out there, but more and more the costume felt…restrictive.

I snorted to myself and resisted the call of the flask one more time. Maybe it was time to get out of the city for a while. My parents would be glad to see me for a spell, and it had been ages since I caught fresh fish right out of the ocean.

“No…no, you’re the guy I want. It’s just…don’t you care about the quality of your work? I can’t stand it myself when things are sloppy.” Nunes was working to keep his voice light, conversational. I couldn’t tell if he was trying to cover up his nerves or his disdain for me.

“Things are already sloppy by the time I get called in,” I said. I took a deep breath to try and dispel the tension building up my spine. “It doesn’t much matter if I tie things up in a neat little bow at that point. I fix the things that you and your people can’t.”

“I guess so.” Nunes had a question on his lips, but he didn’t ask it. That’s just as well. He wasn’t going to get an answer he liked.

The darkness closed in around us as we walked deeper into the tunnel, and the scent shifted from an overwhelming crush of people to stale air, rats, damp metal and concrete and…something else. I couldn’t quite place it, and that rankled me too. If I could shift here, I’d be able to isolate it, maybe pick up a trail, but…there’s no way I would take my clothes off in front of a civilian.

The strange scent grew stronger by degrees, and it seemed like our flashlights were dimming as we went along. It’s possible we were under the Bay at this point, but I couldn’t be sure. After ten minutes or so, I noticed a change in Nunes’ scent. He was getting more nervous, agitated. Around a bend in the track, I discovered why.

Standing in the middle of the tunnel was a girl who couldn’t be older than 18. Even from a hundred yards away I could smell her fear, and the wind carried quiet sobs towards us. As soon as Nunes saw her, he rushed forward. I should have stopped him, but I didn’t. I knew it was a trap, but there was some part of me that just went for it anyway.

“Maria!” He stopped short fifty feet away from her, even though there was nothing stopping him from going right there. “Are you OK?”

Maria nodded. When I got to him, I could smell that alien scent much more strongly. The air felt charged with something, a tension, a feeling that it was fighting against something that shouldn’t be displacing it. I felt the hackles on the back of my neck stand up; something was wrong here. All around, something was fundamentally wrong.

That’s when a pale man stepped out of a shadow clinging to the rounded wall of the tunnel. Nunes turned to him, his eyes wide. “I brought him to you. Now give me my daughter.”

“Fine.” The man was short and sallow, his face familiar and disturbing in a way I didn’t remember. He raised a hand, brought two fingers forward, and Maria flew with a shriek towards Nunes, collapsing at his feet. The officer helped her up, looked at me, and whispered “I’m sorry” before he turned and ran.

I should have been angry at him, but I wasn’t. If someone had kidnapped a member of my family, I would be willing to do some pretty intense shit to rescue them. Still, bad form, Nunes. If I ever got out of this tunnel, you owe me one.

“Hello, Veniamin.” The pale man turned towards me, pitch-black eyes narrowing in recognition. His accent, his manner, the way he said my name — it all came back to me at once, and I realized too late that I was alone in a pretty bad place with the last person I wanted to be stuck with.

I sighed, pulled out my flask, and drained it. If I was going to be torn apart by an outsider from some other dimension, I might as well be drunk when it happened.

“Hello, Ed,” I breathed. “You look different. Did you get a new haircut?”

 
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Posted by on January 19, 2018 in RPGs, Thursday Prompt, Writing

 

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(Fandom) Afrofuturism and Furry

Fandom 150Over the weekend I attended Further Confusion 2018 with over 3,400 other furries in San Jose, CA and let me tell you, it was a pretty great time. I got to catch up with a lot of friends from all over the country and meet a few new ones, including folks I’ve had an internet crush on for a good little while now. Nice seeing all of you, and I hope you folks come back next year!

The highlight of the convention for me was getting to run my very first “Afrofuturism and Furry” panel on Sunday. I had a good little group come in to listen to me jaw on about the Afrofuturist movement, its history and purpose, and why it actually makes a good fit for furry fiction. Whenever I talk about race in furry circles, I worry about the pushback — it can be a surprisingly touchy subject for those of us who pretend to be talking animals, especially in this political climate. Everyone was awesome, though, and I appreciate the openness and respect from the audience as they asked questions and related some of their hesitations about tackling things. When the panel was over, I promised the folks in attendance that I’d write up a follow-up here so they could grab additional resources if they wanted.

First, here are a few good places to go if you want to learn more about just what Afrofuturism is:

Now that you’ve got a primer, here are a couple of places you can go to sample Afrofuturist music:

If you’re interested in a few essential Afrofuturist stories, don’t worry man — I’ve got you covered:

And finally, a few furry-specific Afrofuturist stories:

  • Elephantmen! (Image Comics) – I included this here because of the many parallels between the titular genetically-engineered chimera and the historical experience of black Americans; brought to a strange country for a specific purpose that has now ended, with a history forged by the theft and ruination of black bodies and a present that alienates and disrespects them.
  • The Pack (Midas Monkee) – This is a comic about a pack of Egyptian werewolves, which is LIT AS FUCK
  • Yohance (Midas Monkee) – Space opera with a purely African aesthetic and absolutely amazing art.

Afrofuturism deals with the alienation of belonging to a group that has been historically segregated; the reclamation of an identity that was lost long ago; the water that both erased our cultural connection and serves as a fertile environment to uncover new life; and how being who you are disgusts or angers people who have nothing to do with you. It is longing and sorrow, hope and determination, anger and defiance, provocation and self-reflection. It asks us to know who we are, know how we work within a culture that is hostile but promising, what values we want to take with us into the future. It challenges us to question so many of the assumptions we’ve made about science-fiction and storytelling in general. There’s so much that can contribute to furry writing and deepen the themes we deal with in our fiction. I highly recommend checking out a few of the links above; there’s bound to be something for just about anyone!

 

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(Politics) What I Want From White People

Politics 150When I write about contentious subjects here at The Writing Desk, I try to make sure that I use a tone that comes across as collaborative and inclusive. I know what a minefield sociopolitical topics are — especially on the Internet — and you can find someone shouting another person down anywhere you can find a comments section. But in order to engage in an actual dialogue, where people actually listen to one another, you have to find a way to show there’s no need for defenses; things that are hard to talk about get easier when you’re talking about it with someone on your side.

It’s important to me to talk about the political situation we find ourselves in because it directly affects me. It’s important to me to be heard because my background and community are far too often ignored. I’m black, I’m gay, I’m Buddhist, and there are a lot of things I see from outside the dominant culture that needs to be talked about. It’s hard for me to speak up because I abhor conflict; but it’s necessary because I want to help make the world a better place and that won’t happen by staying silent.

Over the past year, I’ve had a number of contentious conversations with friends, acquaintances and strangers about all kinds of things — but mostly about race. I’ve learned a lot through those conversations, even though it’s been hard for me to absorb and apply those lessons. Race is still a hard thing for people to talk about, especially white people, because there’s a misunderstanding about the goals we ascribe to each other when we talk about it. I think — and correct me if I’m wrong — white people feel guilty when the subject comes up and you think that we want you to feel guilty. As a black man, I’d like to tell you now that’s just not the case.

So…what do people of color actually want when we bring up race in a conversation? I can’t speak for everyone, but I can tell you what I want when I bring up race. I’m hoping that this is a good starting point for a conversation about conversation. We need to step back and take a look at how we think about discourse so we can jump into the hard stuff secure that we’re trying to hash things out in good faith. I know that a good deal of my white friends are paralyzed by fear of making a mistake and having someone take offense, and I get that. The Internet be scary! But here are a few things that might help make sense of my perspective — and others’ as well.

A couple of caveats first: I’m speaking from my experience of a cis black gay man, but that doesn’t mean I speak for ALL cis black gay men. Black culture is not a monolith, and what I say here may not apply to every black guy you see. If you have friends of color, talk to them about what you read here if you have questions to get their perspective. It’ll likely be different, and that’s a good thing. Having a broader range of perspectives allows you to find what’s consistent and what’s different.

Just as I expect you to know that not all black people are the same, I also know that not all white people are the same. I’m going to use the term ‘white people’ here to categorize a small subset of the white people I’ve interacted with — I know not all white people think a certain way or do things as described here. But I’ve had enough experience with white people to feel pretty confident that most do. If this doesn’t describe you, consider this a pre-emptive acknowledgement alright? Don’t come into my comments with anecdotal counterexamples, because I’m just going to point you to this paragraph.

Cool? Cool.

One of the hardest things for white people to do is to simply admit that racism as an institution exists and it still affects the lives of people of color to this day. But guys, I’m going to need you to acknowledge this is reality. Here in the United States, racism has been a huge part of our social fabric since before the founding of the country. European settlers decimated the Native American population, took the land, and brought over my ancestors from Africa to till the soil and grow the crops that made the US rich in those early days. That history of exploited labor has touched just about every other ethnicity, too — Chinese immigrants worked to build infrastructure for trains to bring people and supplies to the West; Mexican and Latin American immigrants are an essential part of our food production right down to this day; people in Asia, South America, and Africa work on poverty wages to build our clothes, technology, and baubles.

Even though slavery has ended, institutions designed to disenfranchise black Americans, Native Americans, and immigrants have been in place ever since. In the south during Reconstruction and the Jim Crow era (and right now), barriers have been in place to make sure people of color either can’t vote or have an incredibly hard time doing so. The justice system targets people of color much more often for infractions and punishes them far more harshly when they’re convicted, and this has been the case for decades. Banks and businesses are far less likely to hire people of color — especially in positions of power — or give them loans that might help them build successful businesses. The historical redlining of America’s cities have segregated communities of color into the worst neighborhoods with the lowest property values, which means that children of color are forced into underfunded, overcrowded schools where they receive substandard education. It’s harder to learn the skills needed to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps; it’s harder to build successful businesses or influence industry; it’s harder to exert political will to actually change the policies that make this so.

Racism affects almost every aspect of civic life for black Americans. Harmful stereotypes are perpetuated by politicians and media; our attempts to correct these problems are dismissed and deflected; our increasing anger is used as justification to keep ignoring us. It’s not OK to be forced to present proof of our own oppression in a manner that white people find acceptable, especially when the goalposts keep moving.

So white people, the very first thing you can do for me is to just admit that racism isn’t over, it’s never been over, and a lot will need to change before it CAN be over. Trust me, I’d LOVE to stop talking about race and I’m pretty sure other black people would love it too. But we didn’t make everything about race in the first place; white people did, and still do, and won’t even acknowledge it happening so we can move on to dismantling racism.

One of the reasons white people have such a hard time even acknowledging racism is a lack of perspective. So many of the conversations I’ve had went nowhere because white friends have not been able to step outside themselves to see what the world looks like to someone who isn’t them. It can feel like you’re saying “I’m not racist, so therefore racism can’t be a problem” or perhaps “If it’s not a big deal to/for me, it really shouldn’t be a big deal to/for you”.

But racism, especially as an institution, actually has object permanence. It exists even when you can’t see it. Racism isn’t just a white person using slurs against a person of color in a hateful or demeaning way; it’s not just burning crosses or beating up or killing us. Racism is having a double standard for how white and black people behave; it’s taking aspects of different cultures while marginalizing the people in those cultures; it’s a complex network of attitudes and policies that keep us from being treated as equal even though those same policies were built in a framework supposed to promote equality.

Racism is bigger than any one person, and if you have never been exposed to its effects that doesn’t mean those effects aren’t there. It just means that your social position insulates you from them. White experience in America is a fundamentally different thing from black experience; it’s not an accusation, or a judgement, it’s a fact. That’s what we mean when we bring up the dreaded ‘white privilege’. The term doesn’t mean that white people get $100,000 a year automatically and their own team of servants; it means that the system we all live under gives you a different experience than it gives me.

If you’re white, you don’t have to be terrified of the police. I do. If you’re white, you don’t have to watch talking heads on TV argue about whether ideology painting you as inherently inferior or sub-human should be allowed in the public square. I do. If you’re white, you don’t have to keep up with a list of code words and symbols that might mean you’re dealing with someone who subscribes to that ideology. I do. I could go on, but there are many MANY different aspects of the black experience that are virtually invisible to white people and are never thought of. That’s the privilege.

Understanding this means decentering yourself and trying to see the same situation from a different point of view. As hard as it can be to grasp, a lot of the problems we’re talking about are literally not about you. They’re about us, and what we go through, and why that is. So, unless I’m specifically referring to something you said or did, please try to check the impulse to defend your words and actions and heart. This isn’t about that.

So once you acknowledge that racism is still an active institution, and put aside your experience to engage with someone else’s, there’s one last thing I’d love to see: empathy. Note I didn’t say pity, or guilt, or even anger at the thing I’m angry about. I’m specifically stating that I would like white people to have more empathy for black people and the things they must go through.

Imagine getting up in the morning and having it reinforced — in so many ways large and small — that this culture doesn’t fully accept you because of your background. When you take a shower, shampoo and conditioner might work differently on your hair; if you’re a woman, finding makeup or skin care products for your skin tone is harder. On the news, the President talks about how crime is ‘out of control’ in the ‘inner cities’ and you know the image he’s conjuring — one of young black men in the streets of Chicago or Detroit or Atlanta shooting each other. The crowd cheers when he says he’s going to ‘take care of it’. Meanwhile, family in New Orleans or southeast Texas or Puerto Rico is still struggling to recover from hurricanes.

At work, you find out you make less than a colleague of another race and you have to wonder if it’s your skillset or your skin color that’s caused that. Throughout the day there are dozens of interactions — with coworkers, service folks, customers and strangers — that might have been peppered with racially-coded comments ranging from innocuous to offensive, but you’re not sure. Instead of talking about it, you decide to let it slide but it still rankles you and you can’t stop thinking about it. After work there’s more news and commentary about your race, mostly from people who are of a different one. The TV shows, movies, books and games you use to have fun or feel better mostly feature people who aren’t like you; on a forum for one of your favorite sci-fi universes, a debate rages on why there needs to be a reason to make a main character someone of your race or else it’s just political correctness being shoved down the collective throat of the community.

Despite all of this, you love your life and you feel lucky to have it. You’re in a stable relationship, you make enough money to live comfortably, you have great friends and so many things you’re excited about. You love the country you were born in, even though there are no authorities you can expect to be friendly or helpful, even though your race hasn’t been treated kindly — let alone equally — by your country in the entirety of its history, even though protests and successes by members of your race are almost always dismissed or rejected or destroyed. You love your country, but you wish your country loved you back, and that your friends understood it doesn’t, it never did, it likely won’t for a long time.

You have a good life, but it’s complicated and painful in ways that most don’t see. And it’s hard to know what to do with that — because illuminating it might just blow it all up. It makes your friends more distant and nervous; it invites hostile and ignorant demands from others; it just makes you feel more alienated, frustrated, sad.

Imagine being that person. Imagine what that’s like. Sit with that feeling; hold it, remember it. Access that feeling the next time a person of color talks to you about race, white people. Treat that person the way you would want to be treated if you felt that way. Can you do that? Because it’s really all I want. Not guilt, or shame, or even an apology; just acknowledgement, perspective, empathy. That’s it.

 
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Posted by on January 10, 2018 in Politics, Pop Culture, Self-Reflection

 

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(Fandom) Further Confusion 2018

Fandom 150Further Confusion 2018 is just around the corner! The first major convention of the year will be held at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center starting this Thursday, January 11th and closing down on Monday, January 15th after five days of furry fun. I really love this con; it’s super close to me, and I get to show so many friends from out of town the best parts of the city! Not only that, but I’m usually on a few panels about writing and/or spirituality where I get to chat a bunch about things that really interest me. Good times all around!

If you’re planning to go to the convention, please let me know — I’d love to meet you! Chances are you can find me bumming around the Dealer’s Den, chilling out in one of the many hang-out spots around the convention center, or attending a boatload of panels (that I’m not on). If you’re interested in attending a panel I’ll be hosting, here are the four I’ll be working with.

Adult Furry Writing (18+ Only)

Saturday, January 13th @ 10:00 PM (Salon V-VI / Marriott)

Writing adult scenes in furry fiction are a bit more complicated than ‘just add sex’. How can you make sure adult themes are woven into stories in ways that not only engage your readers but also enhances the work? I’ll be on this panel with my husband (The Pen Drake) and Kyell Gold for the first time this year to talk about how to handle the more graphic aspects of our fiction.

Developing A Writing Practice

Sunday, January 14th @ 11:00 AM (Almaden / Marriott)

One of the biggest pieces of writing advice for the neophyte is making sure you write on a regular basis. But in an age where so many things compete for our attention, how in the world do we manage that? I’ll go over strategies that have worked for me and answer questions about specific stumbling blocks to the best of my ability along with prolific writer Kyell Gold!

Afrofuturism and Furry

Sunday, January 14th @ 5:00 PM (Guadalupe / Marriott)

Just what IS Afrofuturism and what does it have to do with furry fiction? I’m very excited to offer this panel for the very first time — I’ll explain just what Afrofuturism is, detail its history in brief, and show how the themes, aesthetic and values of the movement are more at home in furry fiction than you think. I’m on this panel solo, so expect a more conversational panel.

And here are a few panels that I think are so cool they need to be promoted!

Titanium Tea XXIX

Friday, January 12th @ 1:00 PM (Los Gatos Suite / Marriott 4th Floor)

Watcher Tigersen has been running this tea-based social at Further Confusion for years now, and it’s always a fun time. He even brews an exclusive tea just for each year, and this meet-up will be no exception! If you’re a tea afficianado and you’d like to meet other furries who love a good cup and a sit-down as much as you do, you should definitely check this out!

Native American Cultures

Friday, January 12th @ 3:00 PM (Almaden / Marriott)

Julzz, Yasuno and Tonya Song are bringing back this panel from last year, exploring various aspects of Native American culture including art, stories, music, philosophy, history and more. It’s really exciting to get more of this kind of panel in furry; more insight into the beliefs of Native Americans is sorely needed so we can approach aspects of it with more care and sensitivity.

Reveille and the Swingin’ Tails

Saturday, January 13th @ 1:00 PM (Second Stage / Marriott)

This is low-key one of the best live performances at Further Confusion, featuring a six-piece band playing jazz, funk and blues! Scheduling conflicts mean I don’t make the concerts as often as I’d like, but I always try to see the Swingin’ Tails if I get the chance. You should too!

Let’s Talk About RAWR: the Furry Residential Writing Workshop

Saturday, January 13th @ 4:30 PM (Guadalupe / Marriott)

Did you know that there is a one-week intensive residential workshop dedicated to helping furry writers refine their craft? WELL THERE IS! Alkani Serval, Kyell Gold and Ryan Campbell will be hosting this panel about RAWR (the Regional Anthropomorphic Writers Retreat) — they’ll be talking about what previous years were like, and what you can do to apply if you’re interested!

Mindfulness and Meditation Workshop

Sunday, January 14th @ 1:00 PM (Santa Clara / Hilton)

Kannik will be hosting this panel all about the benefits of building a regular meditation practice and how it can lead to being more mindful in all aspects of your life! He’s an engaging and down-to-earth teacher who’s been doing this for years. The panel has been wonderfully informative and enriching for years, so if you’re curious about the transformative aspects of meditation and mindfulness I highly recommend spending a bit of time with him on Sunday afternoon!

Unsheathed Live! (18+ Only)

Sunday, January 14th @ 10:00 PM (Guadalupe / Marriott)

Unsheathed began life as one of the very first furry writing podcasts, and it continues on as a live panel at various conventions. It is a BLAST. Last year, Carrizo Kitfox outfitted 3D models for presenters Kyell Gold, K.M. Hirosaki and The Pen Drake for extra hilarity and immersion. Kyell, KM and Pen will discuss what they’ve been reading and writing, then take questions from the audience in a lively, loose event that’s consistently one of the highlights of my con!

So those are the panels I’ll be trying to make this year, but there’s a ton of other stuff to do. In addition to the Dealer’s Den during the day and dances at night, there are charity auctions; a gamer’s lounge for board games, tabletop RPGs and video games; poker tournaments; late-night Jackbox games; and all kinds of meet-ups for furries of all kinds of interests. Around San Jose, there are amazing restaurants, art installations, nightclubs, museums and events as well. FC 2018 is going to be really, really fun — I can’t wait to see some of you there!

 
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Posted by on January 8, 2018 in Furries, Writing

 

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