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(Travel) A Jackalope in France and England

Myth 150My Husband, The Dragon and I got back to the United States last Wednesday afternoon, and it’s taken us a minute to catch up to things after two weeks out of the country. We’re still not entirely done; news moves fast these days, and laundry piles up faster still. We really wanted to take it easy over the few days we had between vacation and work, and I’d like to think we did a good job! But that only means that the news cycles have moved on without us; we’re still in shock and disbelief over the things that happened a week or two ago. So I’m declaring a kind of “news bankruptcy” for now, and I’ll jump in again when I feel able.

First I wanted to take a minute to thank the staff of Confuzzled for being so amazing. Ryan and I had a wonderful time, and I was incredibly impressed by just how smoothly the con ran for the most part. The convention clearly has a great rapport with the hotel, which enables them to do a lot of really cool stuff with the space. Kitting out one of the rooms with beanbag chairs for the more interactive and crowd-oriented panels is a stroke of genius, and I think the tabletop RPG room was well-designed and really fun. Setting aside con space for newbies and “quiet groups” is also wonderful. The gender-neutral bathrooms were great to see and well-used without a hint of trouble throughout the con. Confuzzled is a great example of putting its attendees first. It was awesome.

I played in two tabletop RPGs there: a D&D5e module and Honey Heist, a Fiasco-style game where you’re playing a group of bears who intend to pull off an impressive theft during Honeycon 2015. It is just as ridiculous and hilarious as it sounds. Our group was able to get the motherlode of ultra-dense mega-honey AND take over the venue at the same time, so I’m quite happy with how things turned out. In D&D, I played a Goliath cleric named Harcourt Weatherby (Thanks, Jeeves!) who managed to piss off a were-tiger into climbing an enormous tower.

The weekend was a tremendously good time, filled with great conversations and beer. I even got to see a few friends from Arkansas that I never would have expected to catch up with in England! Now that I’m back and settling into life again, I’ll definitely have to reach out to them. There’s always the danger, especially with me, of just falling off the radar as life takes over and I’d like to do a lot less of that if at all possible.

After Confuzzled, we visited Paris and London in order to be proper tourists. The deep, rich history of both cities were a source of fascination with us, and we really wanted to visit a lot of the places that made each city what it is. I wasn’t expecting to see this difference between how each city interacts with its history, but that’s a side benefit of travel, let’s say.

Paris is a beautiful city that reminds me a lot of San Francisco — at least, the modern parts of it do. There are cafes and shops almost everywhere, for just about anything you could think of, with apartments above them for folks to squeeze into. Pockets of history dot the city, far enough away that they’re a good walk from each other but close enough to encourage you to walk it anyway. The language barrier, at least for me, was fairly strong — we had to rely on our guide most of the time to navigate situations (and thanks so much for that necessary and exhausting work, friendly guide!). It could be isolating at times; there was the constant feeling of disapproval for speaking poor, broken French but that could just be my brain being an asshole about it.

We went to so many places: Notre Dame, The Louvre Museum, Palais de Luxembourg, the Church of Saint-Sulpice, the Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Pres, the Arenes de Lutece. They were all great — I cried in Notre Dame (again) when a service started and the voice of the featured singer filled the space. It was unexpected, and completely magical. My favorite day was Louvre day, though — SO MANY GREAT PIECES beyond the Mona Lisa and the fact that the space itself was a huge part of Parisian history was really cool.

As much as I love Paris, I have to say that its approach to history (at least to this relatively ignorant American) makes it feel alienating. Everywhere you go, it feels like you’re meant to enjoy history and beauty at a distance, like you’re at your auntie’s house with plastic covering all the furniture and delicate ceramic figurines that you are not to touch under any circumstances. It’s really pretty, but mostly you just walk around to look at it. There’s a distance there, a reverence for the glory days of France that doesn’t include us here and now. With the exception of the Arenes de Lutece, there aren’t many places you can go in Paris that allows you to interact directly with its past, or that the history of the city is baked into the fabric of daily life. It can feel like that Paris is two cities, really — the historical romanticized Paris, and the one where everyone lives.

London felt different. History is all over the city as well, preserved and available, but it’s included in the foundation of the city as its grown. You could be walking down the street and spot an alley that dates back to the 16th century, or worship at a community church that’s been around in some form or another since antiquity. Even the big churches, like Westminster Abbey or St. Paul’s Cathedral, have regular services open to the faithful public. (To be fair, Notre Dame offers public services too.) So much of the ancient parts of London are part of active businesses and organizations, still in use today. It makes the history of the city so much more lively, direct, and connective; when you’re there, it’s cool to know you’re on a road or using a door that has been in use for hundreds of years.

In London we went to the Tower of London, Greenwich Observatory, a river-boat of the Thames, the Tate Museum, Westminster Abbey, and we visited Geoff Ryman, one of Ryan’s Clarion instructors and a passionate advocate for science fiction and fantasy from the African continent. He turned me on to SO MANY writers and resources to connect with the speculative fiction scene there, and the clear knowledge, affection and appreciation he had for the authors and their work there meant so much to me — the only time I cried in London was in this dude’s living room, which he was kind enough not to say anything about. But seeing someone who’s gained so much fame and authority in the space work so humbly to lift up the writers of Africa (and the diaspora in general) is amazing, and I appreciated it so much.

If you’re interested in learning more about African sci-fi/fantasy, I highly recommend his series of articles in issue 18 of the Manchester Review hereĀ or the African Speculative Fiction Society website here. The Nommo Awards is a tremendous resource offering a yearly short-list of the best in speculative fiction that comes from the continent.

It was an amazing trip, and I feel incredibly fortunate to have gone. You learn so much about yourself, your culture, and your place in the world through travel like this; connecting with other people who have entirely different backgrounds and frames of reference really helps you to shake loose things you thought were fundamental. It feels much more possible to change ourselves and the communities we’re in for the better, just because we see how different people have set their priorities. Travel keeps me from calcifying, from seeing only one way of doing things — I can’t wait to do it more.

For now, though, it’s time to come back and build on this experience. I’m looking forward to doing that.

 
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Posted by on June 11, 2018 in Furries, Self-Reflection

 

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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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(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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(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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