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(Friday Fiction) Br’ers – Break

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s that floating in the air?”

“I think that’s fur.”

“OK, that’s gross.”

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

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

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

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

<<To go.>>

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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(Wednesday Fiction) Br’ers – Orientation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 
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Posted by on December 9, 2015 in Furries, Writing

 

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My Writing Guide to November 2015

Self Improvement 150October was a pretty intense month. I went in for full training on changing my position at work, which means there are a LOT of holes in my technical knowledge that need to be filled. The shift also means that I’m down in the trenches with coworkers a bit more, and that means an opportunity to change the culture that I’d feel awful not taking. It’s important to me that any community I’m a part of feels more like a community because I’m a part of it — that may sound egotistical, but I like being a glue. I want to make people feel more connected, like someone has their back.

But that means paying attention to work in ways that I hadn’t before, which also means that it has to get a lot more of my time and energy. Because things happened so suddenly, I had to drop any other plans I had made in order to make sure I had the emotional space for it. Now that there are a few weeks of this under my belt, I think I’m able to take a beat or two to see where my head’s at and what I feel I can do.

I’ll still need to set aside a chunk of time to learn more about the technical aspects of my job, like getting to know Linux from the command line and how to work with PostGreSQL and maybe even learning more about SOAP API. But I’d also really like to use whatever remaining time I have for writing and reading — immersing myself in stories that matter to me and learning how to tell them better.

I won’t be able to join NaNoWriMo this year; there’s simply too much going on, and I’m too far behind on a few other things. Still, in the spirit of the month I’d like to set a few goals. They’ll be a bit more modest than what I may have originally planned, but I think they’re a good challenge for what I can handle right now.

WRITING
Ugh, I’m so far behind. On everything. But no worries! This month I’d like to focus on making writing a regular practice, so projects are geared towards that. In addition to making sure The Writing Desk is updated three times a week, I’d like to work on articles for other blogs like [adjective][species] and perhaps Claw & Quill. I’m not sure I’ll have anything ready to show this month — besides, at least with [a][s] they have a pretty solid line-up of posts to take us through the holiday season. Seriously you guys, I really think you’ll like what they have planned.

But there are things about the culture of the fandom I’d really like to write about — what we want out of an art/writing/music community portal, how the broader politics of other SFF fandoms influence our own, how the fandom treats mental illnesses, social maladjustments, and the expression of fetishes that aren’t seen as acceptable or respectable by the society at large. It’s interesting stuff to me and there are no easy answers for this, but it’s all top of mind and I think we should be talking about it, at least in a high-level way.

Here at The Writing Desk, I’ll try to tighten the focus to storytelling and the lessons I’m learning from it — which means more reviews of the stuff I’ve been reading, more thoughts on the lessons we can take from our stories to the broader world, and how our experiences in the broader world are baked into our stories. I’ll talk about the bricks of my Afro-Futurist philosophy as I discover places for them, and the ideas that are taking shape in my mind as I’m writing stories.

As for the stories themselves — well, I’ve got three short stories that I’d really like to finish before I really dive into anything new. “A Stable Love” is a commission that a friend of mine has been waiting on for years, and while I’ve been marching towards completion it’s well past time it was done. Another friend generously donated to my Clarion Write-A-Thon fundraiser, earning a commissioned story that I’ll begin as soon as “A Stable Love” is draft-complete. And then there’s a short story that I would love to submit for the People of Color Destroy Science Fiction anthology coming up next year. I have the idea and the outline for it in my head, and I’m really excited to get started on that.

I’ll also be working on a collaborative project with a few friends called “A Changing Perspective”. It’s a choose-your-own-adventure story spun off from an interactive over on writing.com; since that website has issues with advertising for their interactive space, I can’t ask friends to go read those chapters in good conscience. A group of four writers has made an informal pact to revisit the interactive through Twile, and cone we’ve got significant chunks of the story underway we’ll find a way to host it.

So for November, I’d like to finish “A Stable Love” and write 12 chapters for “A Changing Perspective”; update The Writing Desk three times a week; and have at least one complete article for both [adjective][species] and Claw and Quill. It’s an ambitious schedule, but I think I can do it if I keep my focus.

READING
I haven’t been reading nearly as much as I should. I’ll be honest — I’m a slow reader, and I often spend time I could spend reading doing something else, like playing mobile games. Making an effort to read more means spending more of my downtime devoted to it, and that’s something I’m very much in favor of.

This month, I’d like to finish two (I believe) short novels that I’ve been wanting to read for a very long time — Kindred by Octavia Butler and Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin. The former is a great introduction to one of the biggest black voices in science-fiction, and has been served to me as an Outlander-type story of the slavery South. It sounds like it’ll be incredibly rough, but an illuminating read. The second is a good introduction to one of the best black intellectual voices from the Harlem Renaissance, and that alone has got me tremendously excited. Reading up on black literature — not just sci-fi/fantasy, but novels, essays, and poetry — is something that I want to feel better rooted to the tradition I’m coming out of. I’m hoping that it will help me better understand why my community is the way it is these days, and better imagine what my community will be like in the future, or how it would deal with magic, or how my personal experience fits in to an Afro-Futurist context.

I’ll also be reading through the slush pile for New Fables, though we generally only have poetry to deal with at this point; short stories and novels from friends, of course; and the comics that are coming through the pike as part of All-New, All-Different Marvel. Exciting times, and as usual there is no shortage of reading material.

ELSEWHERE
There is no shortage of demands for attention these days — it’s tough to distill your life down to the essential things that you want to be doing. One of the things I’ve been trying to remind myself is that everything I do is a choice; if I spend a lot of time doing something that doesn’t get me closer to being a writer or someone with good technical skills, that’s a choice I’ve made. If I goof off instead of do something equally enjoyable but possibly more enriching, that’s a choice I’ve made. At this point, it’s important to make good choices about how I spend my time. There are only so many hours in the day, and it’s in my best interests to make them count.

This is a bit of a tangent, but it’s a bit like shaping your diet so that you eat better. If you’re trying to make sure you only eat a certain number of Calories per day, then it becomes a lot more important to make sure those Calories are doing something for you — either helping you with your exercise routine, or making sure you’re full for longer, or helping out with your digestion. When your Calories become precious or finite, the impact of empty Calories — those in say, candy or a milkshake — becomes startlingly apparent. If I’m holding myself down to 2000 Calories in a day, I really can’t afford to spend 650 of them on an Oreo milkshake, no matter how much I want to. It’s either that, or dinner.

Bringing that awareness to my time is a lesson steadily, painfully being learned. There’s only so much free time that I have on a weekday; an hour before work, if I wake up on time, and maybe two or three afterwards. What am I doing with those four precious hours? Am I playing Marvel Puzzle Quest on my phone? Am I looking at Facebook without actually absorbing any of the information I see there? What else could I have done that would help me get closer to the life I’d like to be living?

This month I’ll try to make more responsible decisions about how I spend my time. Don’t get me wrong — I know that I’ll need to blow off some steam, or do something inconsequential sometimes to relieve some stress. I’d like those activities to be a mindful choice, though, not the easiest option available, or some sort of default.

To those of you participating in NaNoWriMo, good luck! This will be a crazy and exciting month for you. I hope it’s fulfilling as well. Let’s get to work.

 

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Have a Joyous Kwanzaa!

Myth 150Habari gani?

My estrangement from the black community happened really early. To be fair, I didn’t have a lot going for myself when I was a wee leveret; I was mousy and had strange interests, and my mother was an older woman who had adopted me and my sister even though she had her own problems. We didn’t have much money, we didn’t share the same religion that everyone else did, and I didn’t have the temperament that let me overcome any of that.

So I was teased a lot in school. I had a few friends, but even they were fickle in the singular way boys are. I tried to keep my head down and be a good kid for the most part. I was only really passionate about school and books — I read just about any science-fiction and fantasy stuff I could get my hands on. I loved The Wind in the Willows and The Chronicles of Narnia. I wanted to live in fairy tales, where you could actually live in the forests and wild animals were your neighbors. I wished I could be more graceful, playful, charismatic, less afraid.

Over the years, there would be a few chances to connect with various pockets of community — but at a price. In order to fit in at school, I would need to develop a swagger that didn’t come naturally. I wore suits to stand out from my peers; I gave myself nicknames and personality traits to see how they fit. In high school, I developed an offensively-stereotypical Australian character for writing advice columns in the school newspaper. None of it really fit. At church, I could sink in with a group of people if I filled my days with trying to evangelize the Word that I couldn’t bring myself to see as the truth; some of my brothers and sisters there liked more of the same things I did, but I couldn’t share my love of fantasy for fear of being labeled as a dallier with the demonic.

In my junior year of high school I discovered the furry fandom. When I graduated, I had plans to work a lot, save my money and go to a tiny liberal arts college in the south of Maryland to get a pre-veterinary degree. The tenuous bonds I had to the communities of my youth were completely severed there. I found acceptance in the theatre geeks and pagans on campus; there was only condemnation and “prayers for my soul” among the other black people. This fit with my previous experience; the only place I felt I could truly be myself, where I felt ultimately accepted, were with the sci-fi/fantasy geeks. As I’m sure you could imagine, almost all of them were white.

It’s been about 15 years since then, and I haven’t felt the need to double back towards the community I’ve always felt rejected by until now. This year has been something of a revelation for me about race. Through Ryan’s involvement with Clarion, I’ve learned that there’s an entire community full of people with one foot in the sci-fi/fantasy fandom that I love while keeping one foot steeped in the traditions and interests of our shared ancestry. Afro-futurism is an excitingly new concept to me, and a great chance to learn about narratives other than the ones I’ve been exposed to. For the first time, I can actually read stories written by people like me, about people like me, dealing with things that I can personally relate to. It’s a chance to construct our own stories, determine who we are, to respond and contrast to the things that are said about us in our own words. It’s a delicious idea.

I’ve also been exposed to more intense and varied forms of racism this year than I ever have been through my entire life. What’s happened in Ferguson, MO (and Ohio, and Nevada, and Florida, and New York…) and the reaction to it has opened my eyes about the many, many forms inequality can have in this world, and how people like me are still subjected to it. Even though I don’t feel like I’ve been a part of the black community for a long time, I couldn’t sit by any longer and watch this happening without saying something, without doing something. Speaking up about this exposed me to really surprising viewpoints, and showed me that even if I haven’t considered myself a member of the black community, I was going to be seen and treated like one.

This has forced me to confront my place — not only how I see myself, but how others see me and where I feel I should be right now. I think, after all this time, it’s time to reunite with my heritage and background. I can do so on my terms, and lend my own voice to the diaspora of the many African-Americans making their way through this deeply fragmented country.

So, this year, I plan to observe Kwanzaa. I know the reputation it has among the African-American community, and I definitely know it doesn’t fare much better outside of that. But I think it’s a great gateway towards reconnecting with my heritage, and I’m hoping that an honest examination of it will help to make it my own. I want this to be a legitimate celebration where honest discussion doesn’t necessarily mean that I take the holiday too seriously; there needs to be a sense of perspective and joy that weaves through the proceedings.

Today is the first day of Kwanzaa, which celebrates Unity (Umoja). I’m happy that I’ve come to a place in my life where I feel the need to reconnect with my roots, and I’m overjoyed to have found a small branch of my ancestral tree that shares my interests and priorities. At the same time, I feel well and truly planted in many communities already — this virtual one I’m speaking with now; the wonderful group of intelligent, hard-working writers and artists I’ve had the great fortune of knowing for over a decade; countless friends, guides and teachers who have shaped me into the man I am today, spread out across the country and the globe. Far from narrowing my focus towards one part of myself that’s been neglected for a while, I feel that this sense of unity has expanded my ability to consider all of myself, and the many varied relationships I have with the world around me.

So that’s my focus today. I’d like to open myself up to kinship with the people around me, to unite with my fellow black geeks and well — anyone else I come across. There’s always a way to feel connected to someone, even if you think you couldn’t be further apart.

 
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Posted by on December 26, 2014 in Politics, Pop Culture, Self-Reflection

 

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