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(Fiction) Sergei & Bunkin #2: The Glade

Writing 150The Essex Freehold was on a large lot of land mostly covered by wild forest broken up by small clearing — some of which had buildings and some of which didn’t. The freehold itself was right at the front of the property behind locked gates; you either had to key in a five-digit combination or say a secret phrase to the chimerical gremlin sitting on top of the key pad. Bunkin had gotten them in with the phrase, then argued about whether or not Whitney or Beyonce was better for ten minutes before Sergei dragged him along.

Now they were definitely not lost in the young woods and bushy undergrowth a half-mile behind the huge brick mansion, according to the pooka squire. The clearing with the “problem” chimera should definitely be around here somewhere. However, Sergei was getting the feeling that they were going around in circles. The deer paths were starting to show the signs of their previous passings, and the lower branches along the trees bore familiar scrapes from where his horns brushed them the first time.

Bunkin was a little ways ahead of him, squinting at a map that had obviously been printed by his school library’s dying printer. In an effort to make it more legible, he traced the faint outlines in pen. This might have been a fatal error; if he had marked in landmarks that were mere flights of fancy to make the travel more interesting, neither one of them would have a clue. It was a hazard in having a pooka for a squire, he supposed.

The troll tapped Bunkin’s shoulder lightly to get his attention and then signed. What are we looking for?

The map says that we should have seen the unicorn trail by now, and that we can follow that to the glade. But I can’t tell if these tracks are unicorn or deer. And since the big trail splits off three ways over there… Bunkin pointed to the east, southeast, and due south, then shrugged.

The squire had a point. Sergei had never seen a unicorn before, but he knew that it was roughly the same size as a deer with split hooves more than likely. He would have guessed the unicorn to have a gait more like a horse, but that wasn’t a given. He stared at the three paths Bunkin had marked out and tried to figure which was which, but they were far too similar. Unless…

He took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and focused on the Glamour around him. There likely wouldn’t be much — this was mostly new growth on private land, and the natural magic of the place would be drawn to the balefire within the freehold’s mansion. But there should be enough for him to spot a basic trail.

When he opened his eyes again, he saw Bunkin’s true fae visage more clearly — an upright six-foot rabbit with wood-brown fur, a basic tunic and trousers, and a hand-drawn map of the Duke’s lands. In addition to the oak, hickory, and sassafras trees there were others that shimmered with rainbow bioluminescence in the afternoon sun; squat bushes bearing, impossibly, mushrooms with red and white spotted caps and little button eyes; and tiny trails hugging roots and vanishing under the undergrowth. Sergei thought he saw something moving the grasses there, but looked away before he could find out what it was.

He peered at the three paths again. The first path, headed east, showed prints that seemed to dance along the dirt, with a crystalline glint catching the sun whenever the wind blew. Somehow, he knew this would be the way to go. He nodded in that direction and made his way forward, with Bunkin scrambling to catch up.

I’ve never seen a unicorn before, Bunkin signed to him. I don’t think I’m dressed right for the occasion. I hope she likes me.

When we get to the clearing, we’ll probably see Beyonce but not the unicorn. Of course, they might be surprised…but if they stuck to tradition, the mythical creature certainly wouldn’t want to have anything to do with him.

What? Why? We’re the good guys. Unicorns can be shy, but they know someone pure of heart when they see them. Bunkin puffed out his chest a little. His eyes, huge and black and liquid, were surprisingly effective at broadcasting a purity he didn’t have.

We might be pure of heart, but I’m pretty sure you’re not a virgin. Sergei grinned down at his squire, then ruffled his ears with a broad, heavy hand.

“Gross.” Bunkin frowned as he stopped to ‘fix’ his ears. “I’m still in high school, dude.”

Sergei blinked and turned to look at his squire. You mean you are?

“When would I have had sex? During exams? When I was working for you over summer vacation? There’s just no time.” Bunkin was exceptionally stone-faced, or maybe Sergei wasn’t good at reading the expressions of a rabbit after all this time.

Well…maybe we’d better let you lead the conversation, then, Pure of Heart. Sergei stepped aside on the unicorn path to give Bunkin the right of way. You learn something new every day, he thought to himself.

It only took them a few minutes of walking to reach the edge of the clearing. The trees parted suddenly to reveal a small meadow no more than a hundred feet across, impossibly bright with sunlight. There, in the center, was a tall, almost elfin woman whose skin seemed to absorb and reflect the golden glow. She was in a sheer white dress, ribbons of fabric floating off her arms and around her ankles. Prancing around her was the unicorn, its pelt as white as her silk, its horn as bright as her skin. It stopped as they approached, looking their way with a warning, nervous snort. The woman’s gaze followed. Both Sergei and Bunkin knew at once this was the chimera they were looking for.

“No way,” Bunkin whispered. “I will never understand why so many people get so lost in their head over Beyonce.”

“Hello?” the chimera’s voice rang through the clearing like a bell, though Sergei couldn’t see her lips moving. The unicorn pawed in agitation at the grass, lowering its horn towards them.

Well, Pure of Heart, you’re up. Sergei pointed to the clearing, and Bunkin nodded.

I’ve got this, he signed, then strode confidently out of his hiding spot.

“Yo, Bey-Bey, what’s up girl??”

 
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Posted by on November 3, 2017 in RPGs, Sleepwalkers, Writing

 

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(Writing) I’m A NaNoWriMo Cheerleader

Writing 150National Novel Writing Month is almost here, and it’s one of the many reasons I love the end of the year! In just two days, beginning on November 1st, thousands of writers all around the world will band together to accomplish one insane goal: create a novel of at least 50,000 words by November 30th. This will require them to write at least 1,667 words per day — that’s around 90 minutes of work every day for the entire month, including days where you just don’t feel like it, or you have to cobble together those minutes between other tasks, or weekends, or Thanksgiving. In order to be successful at NaNoWriMo, it’s almost imperative that you WRITE. EVERY. DAY.

That’s a daunting prospect for anyone, even writers who have been at this for a little while. For most of us who aren’t professional, writing has to happen in the margins of our lives — when we can snatch a block of time from the world in which we feel motivated, relaxed and capable. The cultural shock of shifting from writing when you have the time to making time to write can be enough to get even the hardiest author to bow out over time, and that’s understandable. Writing isn’t easy, especially on a deadline. In order to make your word count, you have to turn off the inner critic that demands your narrative spills from your forehead, fully-formed and ready for print.

This is an incredibly useful skill to develop, especially for perfectionists like me. I’ve wasted so much time being overly-precious about my work, where I write and scrap the first chapter, scene, paragraph of a story over and over and over again until I’m just sick of it. So many saplings have been pruned back into the dirt from the needless hyper-criticism I subject to everything I write; I’ve spent so long never finishing anything that it’s taking significant time and effort to undo that impulse so I can be productive.

NaNoWriMo is a bootcamp that forces you to turn off your inner editor in the service of getting something done, and for a writer that’s one of the most important things you can do. No one expects a 50,000-word-story written over 30 days to be any good, but that’s OK. Your goal isn’t to produce the next great American novel; it’s to hit your word count, every day, for 30 days — rain or shine, feast or famine. The great thing about the goal is that it doesn’t tell you how to achieve it. You are empowered to build your own practice to get the words in however you can. But you have to build the practice. You have to get the words in.

You won’t be alone in this endeavor should you choose to accept it. A wonderful community has sprung up around NaNoWriMo over the years, and you can hit the official website or any number of forums, blogs and other resources for all kinds of writer groups for insight, tips and encouragement to keep you in the zone. That’s perhaps the best part of the whole affair — you forge and strengthen bonds with other writers all over, and the cheering circle you create begins a virtuous cycle. Writing leads to learning, editing, collaborating. Before you know it, you’ve got a novel to show for it and a number of new friendships.

This is a great thing, and to everyone participating in NaNoWriMo this year, I salute and whole-heartedly encourage you! In solidarity, every Monday this month I’ll talk about a different tool I use to keep myself organized and offer notes on how my personal journey to becoming a more consistent, productive and professional writer is going. Also, I’ll keep a running tally of my word count for my blog and Patreon stories over the month.

Good luck, you crazy writers! I wish you nothing but the best for the coming month!

 
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Posted by on October 30, 2017 in Better Living Through Stories, Writing

 

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(Writing) Writing and the Anxious Rabbit

Writing 150Generalized Anxiety Disorder is a mental illness that can be difficult to talk about, mostly because it looks like one of those ‘special snowflake’ disorders that someone claims to have in order to justify certain behaviors. Even with an official diagnosis and some significant time in a group therapy class, it’s the aspect of my mental health that I understand the least but still has a huge effect on my ability to get things done from day to day. I’m not sure what to say about it, though, especially these days when it feels like everyone is on edge for very good reason. Still, I’m going to try to talk about my anxiety disorder — especially as it relates to my quest to develop a consistent and productive writing practice.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder is, for me, a constant tension that travels with me every day, all day. It most often settles around performance anxiety — making sure that I send an email just right so the person I’m speaking to doesn’t get offended, or trying to tackle a case at work in a manner that’s quick and thorough, or replaying conversations back through my head to pick out possible indications that it didn’t go at all how I thought, or thinking about all of the things I should be doing, or all of the things I forgot to do, or an undiscovered asteroid that could plow into the planet, or being stopped by the police, or suddenly being fired, or the possibility that I could just lapse into depression or insanity, or something might happen to my husband, or….and so on. No matter what I’m doing, or how happy I might be otherwise, there is always some part of my brain that is screaming with worry.

Now that I know what it is, I know that I’ve had this since I was a teenager. I could never relax when I was a kid, because there was no place that felt safe to me. Even when I was alone, I worried about a home invasion, or a fire, or being abducted by aliens, or… There’s always something that needs to be done, or always a way something can be handled better. The constant pressure regularly becomes too much for me to handle, and I end up doing something mindless for hours because I can’t think about anything without freaking out.

This all happens under the hood. It’s difficult to put across how relentless worry can fray you, especially when you’ve been dealing with it for so long you’ve learned how to function through it.

However, without chemical help (like alcohol), it’s…impossible to relax. I’ve developed coping mechanisms over time, like zazen, ashwaghanda supplements, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), but the disorder is still there — I just have an expanded toolset that allows me to deconstruct the underlying thoughts behind the worry, cope with stress, and forge ahead with whatever triggers performance anxiety a bit more easily.

This month I’ve been working hard to build a more consistent meditation and writing practice; I would love to bring more readers to The Writing Desk, have more folks sign up for my Patreon, and submit short stories to various publications. Doing that requires me to confront my anxiety about writing in a very real way. Every day is a battle against that screaming part of my brain that tells me I’ll never be good enough to do what I want to do; that whatever I publish will be mocked as both pretentious and pathetically deviant; that what interests me is not even interesting enough for other people to hate it.

I created my Patreon, for example, as a means to hold myself accountable for producing content on a deadline. For the most part, that’s been a failure. The first serial I wrote was scrapped after 14 or so “weekly” installments over the course of six months, and it’s been really hard to build any kind of momentum with it. The folks who have stuck with me over the past two years are saints of the highest order, and I appreciate them every day. But anxiety clearly has won out here so far. Because of it, there is no way that I can possibly write something “just for fun” — I really wish I could, but everything I put to paper eventually gets stuck in the weight of that self-imposed pressure.

So with the stuff that matters to me, the pressure can quickly reach the point of being unbearable. Over the past few months, I’ve tried to focus on ‘making friends’ with that discomfort, knowing that anything worth doing, anything that would help me to change and grow, would be uncomfortable. It’s a sign that I’m pushing myself to do something difficult. And that has helped, honestly. It’s allowed me to progress — but that progress is still very slow.

The best thing I’ve found to combat my anxiety is to focus on the story I’m telling, the characters that I’m working with, the setting, or structure, or feeling that I’d like to evoke. The more I think about the work itself instead of how it’s going to be received, the easier it gets to push that screaming aside until it fades into the background. At some point, you have to realize just how much about a situation is outside of your control; all you can do is make sure what’s under your control is handled as best as you can. It’s a really difficult lesson to learn, and I’m still in the middle of that process, but it’s worth learning for sure.

I’m still not sure what to do about this anxiety. I think I need to go back into therapy to deal with it and a number of other issues that are increasingly difficult to fight against. But for now, the march of progress goes ever on.

 
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Posted by on October 25, 2017 in mental-health, Self-Reflection, Writing

 

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(Fiction) Sergei & Bunkin #1: The Negotiation

Writing 150“I do know ASL, so it’s not necessary for you to be here.” The man sitting on the other side of the booth, tall and lithe and poured into a suit it would have taken Bunkin two months to afford, stared with a raised eyebrow. He brought his hands together, sleeves pulling back to show an obscenely-large gold watch. “I would feel more comfortable if I could discuss my problem in private with the man I’d like to solve it.”

Bunkin leaned forward to mimic the well-dressed man’s posture, though he had to lean around Sergei’s bulk to do it. “Sir Kolov appreciates that you prepared so well for this meeting, but he would like to remind you that I am his squire and assistant in all things. I am as much a part of your solution as he is.”

He stole a glance at Sergei, who looked down at him with a smile. After a pause, he nodded. Bunkin beamed, then remembered his composure. Still, he couldn’t help keeping a triumphant grin on his face as he turned back to their client. “So, Mr. Washington, what can we do for you?”

Mr. Washington frowned at Bunkin, looked pleadingly for some give on the part of Sergei, and sighed when he found none. “Very well. I need your word that what I’m about to tell you will be held in the strictest confidence. You cannot divulge any of this to anyone — not even to other members of any motley or freehold you belong to. Do I have your promise, Sergei Kolov and Bunkin Johnson?”

Sergei nodded immediately; Bunkin could feel it in the shift of that great arm jamming him into the wall. The pooka, on the other hand, closed his eyes and forced himself to swallow the multitude of interesting possibilities he could have offered as an answer. He took a deep breath, forced himself to look at the boring grey brick of truth, and coughed it up out of his throat. “I promise. You have my word.”

He slumped and looked down at the table. Suddenly, his burger was just a mess of processed beef and a slop of condiments. His shake tasted more like chemicals and less like strawberries. The sheen that made Mr. Washington’s skin glow wasn’t some fine grooming product, but nothing more than a two-dollar coat of cocoa butter. Bunkin resented this man for making him see things as they are. It left an awful taste in his mouth that lingered.

Mr. Washington, however, relaxed with a sigh. “Good,” he said.

He drew himself up, attracting Bunkin’s attention once more. Under his flawless brown skin and tailored suit was an even more supernaturally-perfect sidhe with robes of spider-silk and woven silver, spun rubies and emeralds. Mr. Washington allowed his disguise to fall, revealing himself as Count Akkin, ruler of the Freehold of Essex.

“I have a small problem with a…chimera…who seems to have become rather obsessed with me. It’s causing disruptions at my court, and I’m afraid it’s gotten to the point that I need it to be removed.”

“How do you mean, removed? Do you want us to destroy it?” Bunkin’s long ears perked and swung forward. The pooka relaxed his mortal seeming as well, revealing his large dark eyes, the suggestion of a muzzle on his face, the fine coating of fur on clawed hands. His green tunic, emblazoned with the crest he himself made for Sir Kolov, felt shabby and rough on his shoulders as he looked at Count Akkin’s fine dress.

“I would rather it not come to that, of course.” The Count spoke carefully, glancing to Bunkin before focusing on Sergei. “I believe that it could be persuaded to go elsewhere, if the right Kithain of noble intent were to intervene.”

Sergei shifted in his seat uncomfortably. Bunkin said, “Sir Kolov would like to know why you would like to be rid of this chimera. What sort of disruption is it causing?”

The Count coughed. “Well, you see…as you know, I have recently been engaged to Lady Tenithia and our wedding will be held in four weeks. This chimera did not take the news of my betrothal very well and it seeks to, er, persuade me to reconsider.”

The fur on the back of Bunkin’s neck bristled and a bolt of delight struck right down his spine. “You mean this chimera is jealous of your fiancee?”

If the Count were less composed, Bunkin was sure he would have seen the blush. He glanced at Sergei, and gave a short nod. “Yes.”

“Sir Kolov would like to know if you have any personal history with this chimera.” Bunkin pounced immediately, wiggling around Sergei’s elbow when it threatened to pin his chest.

“We might have…there is history, yes.”

“Could you elaborate?” Bunkin felt himself being compacted further into his corner of the booth by the Silent Knight, but he couldn’t let this go.

“I may have…created her.” The Count was not looking at either of them now. He was staring at his hands.

Bunkin’s chest felt tight and light at the same time. He had never seen a sidhe so uncomfortable. His ear flicked, and he felt his smile grow so big it stretched his entire face. “Her?”

Sergei’s elbow slammed into Bunkin’s chest. It was a short, almost subtle movement, but it was enough to knock the wind out of him and force him to leave off the chase. The pooka coughed and rubbed the point of impact. He was sure there would be a bruise.

I apologize for my squire, Sergei signed. He is still learning the etiquette of gentlemen. Of course I’ll help your chimera find a new freehold to call home.

Count Akkin took a moment while the troll signed, deciphering the movement of those massive hands. “Thank you,” he said, after he was sure he understood.

Think nothing of it. How will we recognize the chimera when we arrive?

The Count took another minute to translate the movements, and when he understood an indecipherable expression crossed his face. “She is…quite recognizable. You shouldn’t have any trouble spotting her.”

“Could you give us a description?” Bunkin recovered enough to resume his function, doing his best to keep his composure.

“She…uh…she looks like Beyonce.” The Count’s lanky frame slunk into its seat. His shoulders hunched further at the sound of Bunkin’s long, loud laughter as it echoed through the restaurant.

“Beyonce?!?” The pooka shouted giddily, and caught another elbow in the ribs. This time, the air left him with an audible whoosh; but he kept giggling around wheezes of breath.

Sergei arranged a time to arrive at the Freehold, and the Count offered an official title in exchange for his services. The troll, in the interest of shortening the meeting as much as possible, told him he’d think about it; Akkin left before Bunkin could get his breath back, darting out of the booth and walking out of the restaurant as quickly as his dignity would allow him.

Bunkin caught Sergei’s disapproving glare and folded his ears with appropriate abashedness. “Oh come on, though, you have to admit that is hilarious. Dude dreams up Beyonce to love on him and tries to kick her to the curb, and we’re supposed to think he’s the victim here? What a fucking idiot.”

Sergei’s glare melted into exasperation, then the slightest hint of amusement.

 
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Posted by on October 20, 2017 in Sleepwalkers, Thursday Prompt, Writing

 

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(Personal) Moving Forward, Looking Back

sankofaThe picture on the right is a sankofa bird, a symbol from the Akan art culture of West Africa. Sankofa is a word that comes from the Twi language, and it roughly means “Go back and get what was left behind.” The sankofa bird has been a big symbol for a long time in Africa and among the African diaspora, and it stresses the importance of remembering your past in order to ensure a better future. I came across it researching Afrofuturism, and I think I first heard about it in the This American Life episode highlighting the movement. The idea, of course, is that even while we step into the future we keep an eye on the people and events that have shaped us.

Afrofuturism is an idea that exemplifies this attitude: we go back to retrieve the things we might have lost along the way, the things that are worth preserving, in order to take the best of ourselves into the future with us. No matter what we think about the past — that it’s irrelevant, or that it doesn’t define us — it’s as much a part of us as our self-determination and our idealized selves. We can’t escape it, no matter how much we try, but we can learn from it and take those lessons with us to build a better future.

Personally, this means going back to pick up all those things I dropped when I fled Baltimore: the black part of my identity; the trauma and complicated feelings I have around my family; the fact that there are so many people still trapped in poverty and hopelessness in our inner cities; addressing the problematic attitudes that alienate so many LGBQTIA brothers and sisters. It’s important to hold all of this with me as I forge ahead with my writing and my life. They’re a part of who I am, and I can’t hope to make an honest future without them.

Culturally, it’s so important for us to recognize and accept our history. The United States has abandoned the lessons of our history — and knowledge itself, it feels like — because acting on those lessons means hard work, discomfort, and acknowledging truths about ourselves that can be really difficult to admit. None of us are as altruistic as we’d like to think. We can be selfish, mean, willfully blind. But not taking an honest look at the worst within us will always lead us to justifications for some truly monstrous shit: take a look at the political rhetoric burning through our population right now and tell me I’m wrong.

Our past is called our roots for a reason: our experience, culture and traditions ground us firmly in the world and give us something to hold on to when the wind kicks up and storms are lashing us. We obviously don’t have to keep every little thing from our pasts, but I think we’ve swung too far in our desire to look forward. We’ve lost something valuable, and it’s time to look back and retrieve it.

 

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(Writing) A Future With Me In It

Myth 150It’s getting harder for me to look at the news these days without feeling like I’m staring into the void of our own self-destruction. The current US administration seems obsessed with assuaging the bruised ego of the President, making the lives of the poor and working class as difficult as possible, and letting the rich and powerful get away with whatever they want. It’s times like these where I need an escape more than ever, and science-fiction/fantasy provides a wonderful avenue for that — up to a point. It’s also getting harder for me to ignore that most characters in science-fiction and fantasy stories don’t look like me or even share a lot of my same experiences. That’s why I need to read and write Afrofuturism stories more than ever; I want to have characters like me going on adventures, and I want to imagine a future where people like me can thrive — but most importantly, I want to be comfortable in my own skin and tell stories from my particular perspective.

There aren’t a lot of characters of color in modern science-fiction and fantasy, even though there are a lot more than there were. The biggest thing going in the genre right now is arguably Blade Runner 2049, the incredible sequel to Ridley Scott’s seminal cyberpunk masterpiece. While it’s wonderful to be sure, you see more Asian writing on the screen than actual Asian characters; there are only a few black characters who are never seen beyond a single scene; and Hispanic characters are limited to a cameo appearance or two. Like so many movies in the space today, people of color are used to fill out crowd scenes and give the appearance of diversity, but the characters you spend the most time with are overwhelmingly white — with a few exceptions. American Gods and The Expanse, I’m looking at you.

We never get to read a portal fantasy where the protagonist pulled into a strange new world is a person of color, or how their race and background experience would influence their reaction to such an incredible event. We don’t often get to see people of color doing their thing in some far-off future, especially in stories where we extrapolate the history of their culture into that distant imagining. When people of color are stripped out of these stories by casting directors, the pushback against the outcry revolves around not making everything about race; whenever people of color are added to these retellings, people often complain by posing the hypothetical question of taking one of “our” characters to illustrate how silly that is. “When do we get a movie with a white Black Panther?” “I can’t relate to Rue as much now that you made her black.” Boosting our visibility is always decried as political correctness run amok; erasing us from a possible future or an imaginary past is never a big deal, though.

The #OwnVoices movement has been in full swing for a little while now, at least, and we’re starting to see stories told about people of color, queer and transgender people, people with disabilities, and all kinds of other minorities, written by members of those groups themselves. The space is changing, and these stories are getting recognition for introducing us to different ways of thinking and being — not only in different times and places, but right here and now. That’s tremendously exciting to me, and I want to be a part of that. I want to read and promote stories that center on non-white experiences; I want to write stories with non-white, LGBQTIA protagonists, or characters with disabilities. I want to promote worlds in my fiction that has a place at the table for all of these people, that present the world not as we wish it to be, but as it IS — a diverse and wonderful place filled with folks from different backgrounds. Poor, inner-city black geeks deserve to go to Narnia too.

We also deserve to go into space. We deserve to have the lands of our ancestors share in future advancements, have their economies explode in ways they never thought possible, reach the stars and explore the galaxy on their own terms. There are so many futures written where black people are all gone, or alluded to as poor sods worse off than the protagonist for some reason. There are so many books where Africa has been left out of the unified government taking humanity into its next phase as a multi-planet species, or where African scientists are simply along for the ride as exceptional examples of a culture that still hasn’t ‘caught up’ to the rest of the world. Even those stories that feature Africa as a technological power — like Black Panther, for instance — finds ways to skirt around spotlighting the culture and history of the continent, or the astonishing variety of civilizations that flourished before being stamped out or forever changed by European colonialism. One of the only SFF movies I can think of set in Africa, District 9, used aliens as a metaphor for the actual treatment of people of color in South Africa and refugees of color all around the world.

There aren’t many stories that spotlight African culture without exploiting the problems or historical bloodshed that has taken place on the continent. Where are the stories that feature a healthy, confident African diaspora honoring their culture and traditions while also embracing the future? Does every story that centers on blackness have to be about slavery, rape, poverty, or war? Where are the hopeful stories about what Africa could be? About what her many children all around the globe could aspire to?

We desperately need these stories. All around us, there are these markers that point to how little progress we’ve made overcoming the historical disadvantages forced upon our ancestors. The natural resources of Africa are being plundered to increase the wealth of foreign corporations; the many African-descended people who live elsewhere around the world are forced to suffer continued institutional racism that others refuse to even acknowledge; in America, so many of us live and die in hopeless poverty, unable to believe in the possibility of getting a fair shake. We need to be able to envision a world where that’s true if we hope to make it so. Stories give us that power, a signpost to work towards. We have to conjure hope for the people who have none.

This deeply matters to me, personally. I grew up in inner-city Baltimore as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and I never felt accepted by the culture I was raised in. At school, my religion and my geekiness made me an easy target for the students who fit in more easily to the black experience; at the Kingdom Hall, my family situation and lack of social skills made it impossible for me to be accepted by my peer group. I grew up thinking that my own culture was hostile and dangerous, that there was nothing there for me, that my only choice was to leave and never look back.

Now I see that’s not true. There are a ton of black geeks out there with varying experiences and relationships with black American culture. It’s been a revelation to me, the idea that I could be myself — a gay black Buddhist furry — and still embrace my culture and background at the same time. Now that I know it’s possible, I can’t stop until I make it real.

That means learning how to absorb my personal history and accept what happened, putting it in the context of the societal pressures that drive that behavior, and teasing out the lessons that I can take from that to improve myself — but also talk about how black American culture can be improved. We limit ourselves by adopting the limited historical perspective of the past; we dishonor our own values by denying our brothers and sisters the right to self-determination; we keep ourselves down by continuing to dismiss and demean those who think and believe differently. We are so much more than what we have been; we could be so much more than what we are now. Wild, imaginative, authentic stories could show us how.

Afro-futurism is more than a genre to me; it’s a lifeline. It feels like the thing I’ve been moving towards all my life, the thing that will give me hope at a time where that’s been so hard to come by. It’s a framework I can use to understand my past and imagine my future; it’s what I need to have a complete sense of myself. It’s a beautiful, complicated, contradictory thing. That suits me perfectly.

 

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(Gaming) Meet Bunkin Johnson, the Devoted Squire

ctd20

Last Friday I wrote up one of my characters for the Changeling 20th Anniversary Edition — Sergei Kolov, the Silent Knight. Now, meet his Devoted Squire Bunkin Johnson! I’ve had these two in my head for a very long time now; I had a vague idea for a Changeling-based TV show called “Sleepwalkers”, where faeries were running around as normal people except for folks who had “the sight”. They’ve gone through many different iterations, and I’m happy that they get to come full-circle to the setting they were always meant to be in.

Bunkin Johnson is (of course) a rabbit pooka with a whip-crack wit and a keen desire to give himself over to a cause that’s bigger than him. He finally finds it in Sergei — as his eyes, ears and mouth if necessary. They’ve thankfully relaxed the rules on pooka lies in C20, but I imagine that Bunkin’s lies are still fairly frequent, serving the purpose of advancing Sergei’s agenda and reputation. Also, they serve to deflect attention away from him; he works best when no one’s looking.

BUNKIN JOHNSON, THE DEVOTED SQUIRE

Background
Even though Carver Johnson comes from a family of Baltimore natives, the half-black/half-Irish student has never felt at home in the city. His father — a police administrator — couldn’t reconcile the fact that his son was interested in his office for all the wrong reasons even from a young age, so he left the bulk of the rearing to Carver’s mom, a veterinarian whose work often came home with her. Animals were one of the only things that young Carver could focus on, so his parents assumed he would follow in his mother’s footsteps someday. It was a mild shock when he chose to go to Baltimore City College for high school instead of its science/engineering focused rival, Baltimore Polytechnic Institute.

Carver’s love of words rivaled his love of animals, though, and he quickly became one of the most popular “nerds” in school. He was the class clown the teachers couldn’t get angry enough to punish, the geek that somehow avoided beatdowns by the jocks. As easily as he navigated the treacherous landscape of high school, however, he still felt something was missing. He found what he had been looking for all his life the night he saw the Silent Knight rescue one of his teachers from a couple of thugs.

He thought he went crazy when he noticed the huge stranger grow horns and lupine fangs, or saw that his teacher had pointed ears and two eyebrows. His sense of hearing and smell grew sharper; colors popped way too brightly; voices cheered on one side or the other from the shadows. When the overly-pierced monsters were finally dispatched, Carver ran up to the stranger and begged to be his squire. He had no idea why; it just felt like destiny.

Nine months later, Carver has learned much about his own pooka nature and the world of the fae. He sees himself as the voice for the voiceless knight, making sure Sergei’s needs are attended to. His parents are quite suspicious of this newfound passion for helping the homeless, but they chalk it up as just another phase their strange son is going through. Hopefully, eventually, he’ll settle down and be a vet.

Mortal Seeming
Carver is one of those kids who looks reasonably put together; his fade is fresh, his edges are lined up, and his clothes are bright and well-kept. He presents a really nice silhouette. But that doesn’t change the fact that there’s something in his expression and demeanor that gives him an air of awkward discomfort, like he’s just waiting for something frightening to happen. His eyes are spaced notably wide apart, his nose looks like it wants to lead right towards his lips, and two large incisors are prominent due to an overbite. His cleanliness looks fussy; he will never be calm or still.

Fae Mien
As a fae, Bunkin looks much more calm and collected. His brown eyes are huge and dark, taking in his surroundings with calm alertness. His long ears are often pointed in different directions, though it’s unclear how much he can actually hear. For all intents and purposes, he comes across as a tall, self-possessed bipedal rabbit in “simple” Victorian clothing. He prefers his feet to be bare, covered with tailored spats at most, with a messenger bag slung over one shoulder and across his chest. His companion, a tiny cockroach in a top hat, can frequently be found on the other.

Vital Statistics
Court: Seelie
Legacies: Squire/Beast
Seeming: Wilder (16)
House: Commoner

Physical: Strength 2, Dexterity 3, Stamina 2
Social: Charisma 4, Manipulation 3, Appearance 3
Mental: Perception 2, Intelligence 3, Wits 3

Talents: Alertness 1, Athletics 1, Empathy 2, Expression 3, Intimidation 1, Kenning 2, Subterfuge 2
Skills: Animal Ken 1, Etiquette 1, Performance (oratory) 2, Stealth 1
Knowledges: Academics 3, Computer 3, Enigmas 2, Investigation 1, Law 1, Politics 1, Science 1, Technology 1

Arts: Chicanery 1, Legerdemain 1, Metamorphosis 1
Realms: Actor 2, Fae 2, Nature 1, Scene 1
Backgrounds: Companion 2, Contacts 1, Dreamers 1, Resources 1

Tempers: Glamour 5, Willpower 4, Banality 3
Merits: Acute Hearing 1, Good Listener 1, Loyal Heart 2
Flaws: Echoes 2

 
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Posted by on October 13, 2017 in RPGs, Sleepwalkers, Writing

 

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