Tag Archives: stories

Kwanzaa 2015: Kuumba (Creativity)

Myth 1502015 has been an amazing year for me in a lot of different ways, but one of my absolute favorites is learning about the wonderful people who are putting themselves out there with their stories. This year I got to meet Nora Jemisin (author of “The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms”) at Writers With Drinks in San Francisco; I saw “Danger Word”, a short film put together by Tananarive Due at WorldCon — and I got to speak with her for a long time about black horror, writing and storytelling; I learned about Afro-Futurism and its history from Ajani Brown at WorldCon as well; I was introduced to Mark Oshiro, Arthur Chu, Mary Anne Mohanraj, Troy Wiggins, K. Tempest Bradford, Daniel Jose Older, Ta-Nehisi Coates, G. Willow Wilson and so many others who are shaping the discourse of what it means to be a minority in the science-fiction and fantasy space. There is a community of people out there working hard to show the world the power of a distinctive voice. It really has been amazing to discover this; it’s instituted a shift in my thinking about what I can do with my own writing, what I should be doing.

The principle we focus on today, the sixth day of Kwanzaa, is Kuumba or Creativity. I took this to mean that today we celebrate the different perspectives we have in viewing the world and how that translates to our stories, which I can totally get behind. Telling stories to make sense of our environment is one of the oldest and best things we do as humans, and I don’t think that its given the proper appreciation.

However, in researching up a bit on the theme for today, Kuumba can also mean “continuous improvement”. It’s not enough to just “get by”, or to “do all right”. We must keep striving for the ideals we set for ourselves — there’s always a purer, uncomplicated expression of it that we can aim for. Kuumba is having the insight to see the many different facets of Nia; to see the shapes and sides it can inhabit. How can we stretch our purpose even further to be better people, to encourage our communities to be better?

Ryan and I watched the final few episodes of “How I Met Your Mother” yesterday, and there was an exchange that blew me away. One of the characters is having a crisis about what to do in life, and someone asks her what she wants her life to be about. She says, “I want to end poverty,” and her friend says “Well, every choice you make in life should be in service to that.” It’s such a simple idea, so powerful, but so incredibly difficult.

Applied to myself, I have to think about how every decision I make serves my purpose — to connect people to each other, to make them feel more comfortable with their world, to be OK with the fact that change is constant and they can weather it. How do my stories serve that purpose? How do my blog entries? How can I creatively refine my actions to make sure they achieve that?

My favorite protagonists in stories are the paladins — not the people who sit on a mountain and reflect upon some ideal without having to make the attempt to engage it in the real world, but the people who come down off that mountain, who struggle to be the living embodiment of those ideals, who have to find ways to uphold it in the complicated and messy struggle of life. I believe that being an idealist means becoming intimately connected with failure. We’re imperfect creatures moving through an imperfect world, giving ourselves over to a perfect idea that we’ll never attain. But the struggle to achieve it means that we accomplish amazing things in the meantime.

Creativity is about so much more than telling stories, but that’s one of my favorite expressions of it. It requires creativity to make it through life, simply to improve yourself when there are restrictions and road-blocks in front of you. Creativity is one of the best expressions of intelligence, making connections that aren’t readily apparent, improving our understanding of life by viewing it from a radically different perspective. Creativity is a requirement for empathy; you can’t put yourself in someone else’s shoes without it.

It allows us to take ancient lessons and apply them to modern, more complicated times. It allows us to replace the lessons that don’t work anymore because our understanding of the world has changed so much. It allows us to accept the tragedies in life with the hope that we can move past them and become better people. It makes us better thinkers, more compassionate people, more connected and sensitive to what’s around us.

Over the next year, I will try to strengthen my creativity — I will do my best to find creative ways to deal with the challenges in front of me, and to deal with people I might find challenging as well. I want to live and breathe the stories I create, and the stories I take in. I will use my creativity to sharpen my purpose, to make my actions precise and efficient, to trim the fat in my life. I will use my creativity to make myself lean, powerful and focused.

I would just like to thank all of you for reading these essays this week; your response has been amazing and much appreciated. I was very nervous about tackling this — Kwanzaa does not have the best reputation among the people who know about it at all, and while I really wanted to make this holiday my own I was also sensitive of the history it comes with and the possibility that I wouldn’t understand or explain the principles well at all. This has been a wonderful learning process, and I’m so glad we got to go through it together.

Have a joyous Kwanzaa today, folks, and a wonderful New Year. I’ll check in with all of you tomorrow — probably after I’ve recovered from my hangover!


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Opening Up the Hidden Heart

Buddhism 150There are very few things as alienating as feeling like some deep part of yourself isn’t understood, or worse, hated. We each have core aspects of ourselves that we prefer to keep hidden — only showing them to a few people we trust. Sometimes we don’t get to trust anyone, and we move through life feeling as if no one knows us, as if we were aliens who just happen to be born here.

Sometimes the disconnection between our secret selves and the world around us is some deeply personal quirk of biology or personality; we can’t help the things we feel, even if society doesn’t understand it. Most of the time, even we barely understand it. Sometimes that disconnection comes because we find ourselves uprooted from a place and a people that gets us and transplanted somewhere different. Customs and ideas clash with everything we’ve come to know, and there’s no interest from the broader world in easing that tension. So we have to make do with whatever small and imperfect connections we can find. We spend so much time and energy finding ways to be a little less alone with each other.

This is an aspect of the human condition that fascinates me, so when I see stories featuring characters fearfully reaching out towards someone — anyone — with this precious, tiny, hidden part of themselves I’m all in. The first season of Bates Motel struck that chord with me, for example. Norma and Norman Bates are both legitimately insane, seriously damaged people, and as protagonists they’re very hard to like. But what kept drawing me back were the timid, small ways they tried to show the core of themselves to each other. That desperate need to be seen and acknowledged, even in the worst of people, is one of the things that will almost always make me empathetic.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this, about our need to transmit our experience and inner lives to other people and how astonishingly inefficient words can be for that. It’s a minor miracle that we can ever think we know each other at all; it’s hard enough to describe a concrete object so that everyone has a consistent image in their heads, but it’s next to impossible to discuss something as ephemeral and nebulous as emotion, or an idea that grabs us in just the right way. A few really talented people can find ways to use the right combinations of words to awaken the same kind of feeling in us, but most of us just flail at it.

And I think that’s why I feel such a connection to characters who try to express what’s going on inside their heads. It’s an act of bravery to talk about the things that lurk within our recesses, to pull them out and expose them to the light. There are so many things running against our chances of success — we’re not equipped to give words to these things, and almost nothing will pinpoint our emotions. Even if we find the words that make the most sense to us, there’s no guarantee that the person we’re speaking to will understand the intent behind those words. Maybe it’s the order, or the tone we use to say them, or the baggage they’re carrying with them — so many things could get in the way of true understanding, but we try anyway. It’s a fool’s errand, but it’s also one of the most hopeful and noble things we could do.

I love stories about the pain of realizing you’re different from everyone else around you, of trying to deal with that. I love stories about people who connect with other people — suddenly, as a surprise; or gradually over a shared experience. I love reading stories by people who are trying hard to transmit the particulars of their experience, broadcasting their most secret selves out into the world in the vain hopes that someone out there will feel the way they do if only they get the right words in the right order, and their audience reads it at the right time.

The most tragic stories, to me, are the ones where people attempt that connection and fail. The ones where they’re forced to be alone because of some impossible barrier. Requiem For A Dream makes me bawl every time I see it because the ending forcefully puts that final nail in the coffin. Each of the main characters are in a hell of their own making, but not because they’re evil people. They were simply broken, too broken to see that the ways they were trying to connect with each other weren’t working, that they had different perspectives, dreams, priorities.

I love these stories because I come away with them feeling a kinship with everyone around me. I have my secret heart, but so do you. And I know that we’re both looking for the people we can show it to, who will understand and accept us. There’s no feeling quite like showing someone else who you really are and being told “I see you, I know you, and I love you.”

On my best days, I want to give that feeling to everyone I come across. It requires a radical sort of acceptance, a lack of judgement that is very difficult to achieve and maintain. But the people who try? Those who understand that fundamental desire, who want to lead people to it? That’s my tribe. Those are my people.

This isn’t something that comes up consciously in my writing so far — at least, I don’t think so. But I think it might provide me with a direction with stories I have trouble finding a proper hook for. I just wanted to get these words down as a statement of intent; these are the things that interest me, these are things that I wish to do.


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