5 Things: In and Around Media


Here’s another 5 Things: I published an article; I am doing a reading in Seattle; there is a new online school for alternative and LGBTQ-friendly interpretations of Islamic texts; two feminist/progressive publications to read and submit to; and yes, I love Hamilton: An American Musical.

  1. Publishing news — A piece I wrote was recently published in the UU World: A Filmmaker’s Quest. It’s a profile of Natalie Fedak, a young, indie filmmaker in Bellingham, WA. I interviewed Fedak in August, and found her to be a really admirable, thoughtful person. She has done a lot of creative work and dived right into a tough industry. Being creative, caring, and productive all at the same time, is no small feat, and I wish her all the best, personally and professionally. Remember the name! (This piece appears in both the online and paper editions.)

    Photo of Natalie Fedak feature

    Photo of Natalie Fedak feature

2. Come here me read! — If you’re in Seattle and not familiar with Minor Arcana Press (motto: Good Books for Weird People), you should check out their site. Or even better: Attend one of several upcoming events.

The free Beer and Poetry Holiday Gathering will be held on Thursday December 3rd at Vermillion Art Gallery. There will be four or five readers, including Evan J Peterson, Natasha Marin, and yours truly! I’m not sure what I’ll be reading yet, maybe some poems or an excerpt from a short story. Normally readings in galleries terrify me but the folks of Minor Arcana Press are really kind and normal people. If you want to venture out to a poetry event for the first time, or for the first time in a long time, this is the one.

If it’s writing you want to do, check out the free Community Writing Circle this Sunday November 29. The event, which usually involves intros and a prompt, writing time and brief, voluntary readings, will be held at Douglass-Truth branch library from 2-4pm. I’ve been to several of their CWCs, and I have to say, they are all welcoming spaces. Also, the prompts have been generative for me. One session got me started on a brand new short story for my Lysithea collection. I’ve since finished the piece and submitted it to various publications. I intend to be at Sunday’s event as a writing participant. These are really non-intimidating, inclusive (racially, gender-wise, class-wise) sessions that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. And again: FREE.

3. The Mecca Institute — I heard about this new venture via Twitter. I read a Truthout article about Daayiee Abdullah, noted as being the first openly gay Muslim Imam in the United States, founding an online school and think tank that examines alternative, contemporary and inclusive interpretations of the Qur’an and other Islamic texts. to host classes on inclusive interpretations of the Qur’an and other texts. Read more about the program here. Classes will be open to both Muslims and non-Muslims. I will be keeping my eye on this. Even though I am no longer Muslim and have no interest in ever being Muslim again, I still have interest in the theology and culture of Islam. My family of origin is still Muslim, too, and after 25 years of having been a believer in that faith, I am connected to it, even though I have chosen a different path for myself.

4. Read and Submit! — I’d like to let you know about two great projects. One is an online magazine, founded and funded by women called The Establishment. They launched only a month ago (October 26) and feature fantastic content from women all over the country on a wide range of topics. I met several of the founders earlier this year and they were great: enthusiastic, experienced, and looking to really contribute something of value by feminist women, for feminist women. I am enjoying many of the articles.  Go check it out. And they are also seeking pitches; and they pay.

Anthropoid is a literary project that is currently seeking submissions for its second issue, FOLK – but the deadline fast approaches: Sunday, November 29. You can check them out here. Anthropoid is looking for poetry, fiction, visual art and whatever else you’ve got related to these themes: “examination of the human condition, participant observation, experiential narrative, anthropology and the business of living, culture, “humanesque stuff,” etc.  Through Twitter, I know of several people involved and they are awesome women. I have a piece I want to submit to them and it will be a scramble to finish in time….

5. The Hamilton Musical — So, I love this piece of musical theater. I heard about it on Twitter, of course (it’s where I hear about most things these days). People I knew were going ballistic, posting lyrics and going loopy with fandom. I was thinking, “Oh boy.” I thought I’d do my usual thing of not getting caught up in a product or project until long after the majority of people had forgotten it was The Best Thing Ever.

And then. I remembered my regret of not seeing Tracy Chapman when she toured one of her albums. And so many other bands. And The Lion King. And I remembered how I had seen the musical Chicago on Broadway, the very last week that dude from Dexter was playing Billy Flynn, and how awesome that was. And I thought, “Maybe I should just give this a listen, because who knows.” Trust that Hamilton: An American Musical is an entertaining, exhilirating work of genius! At least give it a try. If you dislike it, that’s all right (though it will still be a work of genius). I love it. And so does Kidlet. Her favorite song is Non-Stop, and mine is Wait For It, but so many other numbers (there are 23) are wonderful. What a feat! Read about it here.


About the Dark


This post is a few musings about the dark. Recently I was looking at some notes, and came across this line by the Syrian poet, Adunis: “The road to light / starts in a dark wood.”

That got me thinking about how I get so much inspiration in the late night hours. Actually, it’s better than inspiration. I feel most alive to myself. In the quiet of the night, I feel less occluded, closer to the things I love, and most like whoever it is I am.

I’m reading a book called The Words and Wisdom of Charles Johnson, and the very first entry (dated January 8, 2011) is called A Day in the Life of Charles Johnson. He writes, “My day is the reverse of what a day is for most people. Typically, I’m up working all night until 5 or 6AM, the same kind of schedule kept by Descartes and Balzac. Those are the quiet hours I need to concentrate when the phone isn’t ringing and there are no other distractions.”

This is reasonable. Even online chatter is less after 10PM. There is a line from Passenger’s song, Whispers that I often think of: “Everyone’s filling me up with noise, I don’t know what they’re talking about. / Now all I need’s a whisper, in a world that only shouts.”

I have to acknowledge that I’m part of the “everyone” who fills others up with ‘noise’ … but at night I feel more conscious of the sound I’m making. There is less of it overall, so it’s a bit like butting into a conversation at the very moment it lulls.

Late at night I like to read or write. That’s pretty much all I do after a certain hour. Before I took up rowing, I’d stay up late and crochet while watching movies or tv shows on Netflix. Now that I’m not rowing anymore, I thought, maybe I should pick up a handcraft again. I enjoyed it, it was soothing. But after some consideration, I realized writing would be the best use of my night-time. I am running out of life-time, and I’d rather have a stack of finished stories than a closet full of scarves.

Seattle residential building at night.

Seattle residential building at night.

One thing I miss is taking walks at night. I used to do this often when I was younger and lived in downtown Portland. What a gorgeous, fortunate experience. (At the time it was also affordable.) Back then I was incredibly lonely, but those late night walks were magic. Walking for leisure has always made me feel connected to something bigger than myself.

Walking at night nowadays is not as satisfying anymore. I feel the magic in the beginning, but then I spoil it for myself by wanting my family to be with me. I resent being alone in the magic. But why should they leave the warmth, comfort, and Internet of home to roam around in the dark. For what? What purpose does it serve?

Put that way, I can understand it. So I stay inside. And it’s pretty good in here, too. At least, I can read better with a lamp, and I can write better at a table.

The Violet Act (Part 2): A Short Story


Here is the second and final part of my short story, The Violet Act. (Part 1 is here: The Violet Act)


Zeb wasn’t a believer. Of the President he’d said, “That fool turned into a false prophet, and now people practically worship him.” The whole situation made him angry, and he jabbed at his own clavicle with an index finger. “I should’ve started a religion. I’d be rich by now!” 

Odessa was appalled. “It’s not a religion. People don’t have to change their beliefs. It’s happening to anybody.” She paused, thinking of accounts in the news, the testimonials in online forums. “If you think about it, really, it’s science.”

“Science! How do you figure that one?”

“It’s our origins. No different than, than Kennewick Man, or – or Lucy.”

“What? Those are physical specimens.”

Odessa fiddled with the silver bracelet on her wrist. She was stepping into deep waters here, and she was not a strong swimmer. She’d double majored in English and Spanish. Zeb had a degree in Chemistry. She took a deep breath. “But don’t you think the origins of our spirit are just as important as the origins of our skeletons?”

Zeb was dumbfounded. “That … is ridiculous. Do you even know what you sound like?”

“How is it ridiculous? Knowing where we’ve come from tells us more about who we are. Look how the President changed. You can’t say that wasn’t good.”

The look she got from Zeb was severe. It was the one he gave to his students when they confessed to not reading any of the assignment.

Odessa flushed all over. “All I’m saying is,” — but already, her voice was trailing off — “people can change.”


Jacob finally spoke. “Hey. Are you okay?”

Odessa rubbed her eyes. Jacob Bitterman. He was a good listener. He held an ordinary job, managing bulk paper supplies, but she remembered what he did before: he’d built houses made of mud and clay, he’d worked with his hands. Whenever she looked at him it was like seeing two bodies at once, a kind of double exposure. Other things were that way, too. His voice, his stance. Everything was … twice. Sometimes she meant to grab his arm and was off by a few inches. It seemed to her that the past wasn’t just the past, it was hovering over them, trying to get a lock on.

She glanced over her shoulder at the house. The girls’ things, and Zeb’s things were still in there. All her things were in the trailer. “It’s just that, this is it. You know, in this life, I’ve always been so careful ….”

Jacob nodded.

“… But now I’m leaving Zeb, and he’s saying he’ll keep the kids from me—”

At this, Jacob took her by the arms. “No, no. He can’t do that. The law is on your side, Tempest.”

Tempest was her name from before. They were going to live in a place more like where they’d lived before. Jacob’s name in his other life had been the same. He was Jacob in both lives. He’d never married, never settled down. It was as if he’d been waiting for her, for 40 years.

But she had married. She saw that as more evidence of her weakness. She’d been weak all her life, and that was the woman Zeb knew. The woman who’d never felt right in her body — not when it was young and not now, when it was growing heavy around the middle, when her hair and smile had lost their shine. She was the woman who dithered, and wasn’t sure, and didn’t mind, and supposed so, if that was all right with you. Zeb couldn’t understand what she was doing because he didn’t know what she was capable of. But Jacob knew. He knew everything about her that she’d forgotten.

Before she could reply, a dark green sedan sped toward them. Odessa recognized it and warned Jacob with a hoarse yelp; then she went stiff. He hauled her onto the sidewalk. The car squealed to a stop inches from the rear of the trailer and Zeb jumped out. He was shouting.

“You’re really doing this? You’re really doing this?”

Odessa gaped at him. He was a mess, his shirt untucked, his shoes not even laced. He’d spent the previous night at a friend’s house in Massapequa. He should be at work right now, she thought. That was the agreement. He would be at work, and the girls would be at school — she’d put them on the bus herself.

As Zeb approached, Jacob shielded her with his body.

“Get out of the way and let me talk to my wife.”

Jacob put out a hand and said calmly, “Don’t.”

Zeb’s eyes bulged. “You! Are an asshole. And a liar. And you —” he pointed at Odessa, “Are fucking delusional! Can’t you see what’s happening? What the hell is happening?”

Odessa felt strange in her body, as though she were losing a layer of skin. It felt as if someone was tugging at it, trying to snatch it off of her like a blanket. She shivered and crossed her arms. When she spoke, it was difficult to make out the words. “You’re not supposed to be here.”

“Wake up, Odessa! Wake up!” Zeb’s face was nearing the shade of the maple leaves littering the ground. “You think there’s some other life out there for you? Well I got news for you — this is it! We’re it! You made this! You don’t get a second chance.” All the while, he inched closer.

“Hey, hey,” Jacob stepped forward.

Zeb flailed his arms. “Out of my way! You’ve got her fooled, but I know.” He said to Odessa, “This guy is nothing – he’s a loser. Oh you think he waited for you? He wasn’t doing anything! He’s a nobody. Now he’s got you hot to go commune with cow skulls or some shit!”

He was trying to get around to her, but Jacob was a wall, silently blocking him at every maneuver. Zeb screamed, called the bulk paper supplies manager a fat fuck con-man, told him he’d have a heart attack in the desert. Odessa stood behind Jacob, marveling at his composure.

When Zeb broke into a wheezing cough — his throat had squeezed up from the strain of shouting — Odessa tapped Jacob on the shoulder and said, “Let’s go.”

Jacob guided her to the car while Zeb stood on the sidewalk. He resumed his screaming, but it was more of the same. “You can’t do this to me! The whole thing’s a lie!”   

Once Odessa was in the car, Jacob locked it with his key fob before going to the driver’s side. He turned the engine, and Zeb ran up and started kicking the passenger door. At this, Jacob stepped out and said to him over the roof, “Get away from the car.”

“Or what?” Zeb’s face was mottled pink and white. There was goop in the corners of his eyes, and his nose was running.

“Or I’m calling the cops.”

Jacob sat back in the car, and pulled away carefully, checking in the rearview mirror that the trailer was coming along. Odessa regarded Zeb through the glass. He was looking at the ground, like a man hanging from a rope.   

They were on the Cross Island Parkway before Jacob broke the silence.

“How are you feeling, Temp?” Jacob spared her a glance from the road. In that split second, his eyes were on hers, his thick brows furrowed. He was focused on her, fully. He looked back to the road, but she could tell, he was still thinking about her. She stroked the arc of hair above his ear. He was losing his hair, but in that manly, fleshy way. In his other life he’d been bald, too, but on purpose, shaving it.

He sighed. “I’m sorry how things went back there.”

“I don’t mind.”

“No, really, Temp. I’m sorry. That was ugly.”

“I don’t mind,” she said. Then she recalled Zeb on the sidewalk, and the edges of her mouth crept up.

He had both hands on the wheel, but Jacob was watching her from the corner of his eye.

“What?” she asked. By now she couldn’t keep the smile off her face.

His face suddenly brightened, and he gave her thigh a little squeeze. “There you are!” he said. Then he laughed. “There you are.”

The Violet Act: A Short Story


I’m posting a short story I finished recently. I’ll post the first half today (~1800 words), and the second half (~1400) tomorrow. I’m posting it here because I don’t have any idea where to send it (researching markets is very time consuming), and it’s not part of any larger project. Just a one-off short story. If you have any feedback or questions, I’d love to hear from you. Thanks!

The Violet Act

They were in the office of the Integrationist.

“I knew it was real,” Odessa said. “It happened to Nicole – we were roommates in college – so I knew it was real. I just never thought it would happen to me.” Her tone was matter of fact. It matched the room. Sterile with a smooth carpet of gray that hushed one’s steps. There were no windows or pictures, only a wall print — just the one wall of four not white. The decal was a tangle of sunlit firs, ferns and pines.

Her husband Zeb was looking at her sideways, his face stretched with disbelief. “I can’t believe you’re doing this.”

The Integrationist urged Odessa, “Describe for me what happened.”

“Well. It was just like they say. Like what happened to the President and Violet.”

Zeb scoffed loudly.

Odessa continued. “I was at work — in a meeting with the Registrar and the Assistant Registrar. I was taking notes for supply orders. It was completely by accident that I was there because, normally, I’m not the one who does that. But Maddie was sick with an early flu or —“

Jeez-us, will you get to the point already?”

From the other side of the glass desk, the Integrationist’s gaze shifted and settled on Zeb. Her blond bangs barely moved as she spoke. “That was rude.”

“Rude?” Zeb struggled to stay in his seat. “Rude is your wife, deciding after sixteen years, that she’s not supposed to be with you – she’s supposed to be with some other guy she just met because they were together in some past life!”

  “Maybe not past life,” Odessa said quickly. “Maybe just another life. Maybe past … maybe parallel.”

The Integrationist nodded. “There’s so much we’re still learning about this phenomenon.”

Zeb smacked his forehead with the heel of his hand. “What are you thinking? Sixteen years. The kids? You don’t even know this is real!”

“I know.” Odessa said, her eyes fixed on the chrome legs of the glass desk.

“How? How do you know?”

Odessa shrugged. She was beyond apologizing and explaining. That was all done, weeks ago.


Odessa stepped out onto the front porch. The white screen door eased with a hiss behind her. She scanned the street for sign of Jacob’s station wagon and the cargo trailer, but the road was quiet. Full-figured maples heaved in the crisp air, their russet leaves trembling. She shook debris off the floral cushion of a green plastic chair and sat down to wait.

The house wasn’t theirs, they were renters. “We feel more free this way,” she told people. But more often, not owning had been a source of shame. Only now did she feel the totality of possible gratitude. She’d met her other. She’d remembered who she was before. It was only possible to return to her old lover and life so easily because she and Zeb didn’t own this house. She would not have to split it, sell it or buy out her share. I am free, she thought.

Leaving was not without consequence. Zeb was baffled, furious. He’d always been a skeptic, but a quiet one. Now … Zeb rumbled like a dormant volcano, and Odessa did not know whether he would settle down again, or blow his top.

In his presence she was paralyzed with guilt, but when he was working and not sending her panicked messages, — “Are you really doing this? How can you do this to the kids?” — she felt more than happy. It had happened to her. It was like winning the lottery.

Odessa’s childhood on Long Island had given her little exposure to the concept of reincarnation. Throughout her early adulthood, it was no more than a fanciful, mathematically improbable idea, subscribed to by people living on the other side of the world – and some local, oddball spiritualists. She never took it seriously.

Until the President of the United States met his match. On live, streaming broadcast. Before then, the President had been an unruly, incredibly wealthy man. He was entirely unelectable until the day he was elected. After taking office, he embarrassed the country with his monthly addresses. Every issue, the President had preached, was the result of people violating one rule: Keep It Simple, Stupid. He had an answer for everything. If there was no simple solution, then the problem was the problem. He said things like that.  Keep it Simple, Stupid! The Problem IS the Problem. And had them printed on t-shirts and ballcaps.

He was on his thirteenth monthly address, when a reporter approached the microphone with a question, and her eyes met his. In that moment, they recognized one other, and consequently, they remembered themselves. It was another time, and another place, but it felt like yesterday.

After that, the President became a different man. He made shocking statements, about the value of all people — even people who couldn’t work. He prioritized equitable funding in public education, and levied heavy corporate taxes to make it happen. He brought an end to many of his own policies. Then he stepped down from his post, gave away most of his money and set up a modest home with the reporter, whose name was Violet.

The President and Violet weren’t the first, only the most public and dramatic. But they paved the way. Everyone had witnessed that moment: the President and Violet caught, like moths in a narrow beam of light, the rest of the world fallen into caliginous shadow.

Those who had thought they were going mad were vindicated.  Now everyone knew, it wasn’t madness. People had lived another life, in another world, before this one.

Not everyone remembered. Most didn’t. But enough did, enough to force accommodation. Legal protections. No one should be prevented from honoring who they truly were, if they wanted. By the time Odessa graduated college, there was accredited coursework in Integration Therapy. There were government funds to help with transitions. Society agreed, it was better this way. People were better this way.


An older model, white Peugeot turned onto the street. There was plenty of space in front of the house. Most of the neighbors were gone to work, and taken their cars with them. Two and a half weeks before, Odessa gave her two-week notice at the community college. On her last day, several co-workers stood around her desk, and presented her with an 8-inch chocolate cake and a sparkly paper hat that said, “Bon Voyage” in ecstatic gold cursive.

The hat caught her off guard. “Bon Voyage? Isn’t that for a cruise?” 

“I figured. Since you’re going to Mexico,” said Jennifer, the oldest woman in the Registrar’s Office.

Before she could stop herself, Odessa replied, “We’re going to New Mexico. And we’re driving.”

Jennifer froze under the stern looks of the other office women. A jack-o-lantern sweater pin flashed alternatively green and orange, lighting up the underside of her pale chin. “Oh,” she said.

Odessa widened her mouth into a smile and put the hat on, positioning the rubber band carefully. “Don’t worry about it. I’ve always wanted to go on a cruise!” That wasn’t true, but it was the thought that counted.


Today, she ran down the red porch steps to greet Jacob. He walked around to the curb with keys in hand. As they neared each other, she paused. He closed the gap, and pulled her close to him. Odessa hooked her chin over his shoulder, her left ear touching his right. They were the same height. Jacob was warm, like an engine left running, and smelled of fresh bread and spiced apple.

After a few moments they pulled apart. She moved a strand of hair from her forehead. “Wow your heart is beating really fast,” she said.

His voice was gentle and reverberant. “I’m having several, significant physiological responses.”

Odessa’s eyes flew open and then she squeezed them shut and turned her head away. He said things like that, as he always had, but she was still getting used to this. “Well,” she said, feeling silly, and half her age. “I guess we should load up the trailer?”

There wasn’t much. Some books, but she’d gone on a de-cluttering binge last year, and kept only several dozen favorites. She was using her e-reader more. They were headed to a different climate, so all her clothes fit into a four piece luggage set. There was a box filled with thick photo albums from her college years and trips abroad. She confessed to Jacob, “I didn’t have time to scan them.”

“Don’t worry about it,” he said.

There were a few pieces of artwork: three paintings; the first was left to her by her grandmother, the second two she’d picked up at estate sales during each of her pregnancies. And then there was the tabletop sculpture made by her old friend. Wrapped in paper, then cloth, then bubble wrap, and placed in a box. Nicole had driven all the way from Boston just to see Odessa, and give her the piece. It was a bronze woman falling in a bed of flowers, rapturous.

Nicole was the closest person to Odessa, who understood what it was like. Nicole reported being happier than she’d ever been. “I can’t even describe it to you, Dess,” she’d said, over tea. “You feel like your whole life is gathered up and handed to you. You feel complete, in perfect alignment.”

“This is it?” Jacob secured her bicycle in the 4×8. There was still a lot of empty space.

“Well, my laptop and jewelry will go in the car with us. There are some things from when I was little, but they’re still at my parents’ place in Deer Park. My sister has the family heirlooms they’ve let go so far. Because she has that big house in Stony Brook. I wouldn’t know what to do with all that china, anyway. Lana’s husband is a golf club manufacturer. Or his father was ….” Odessa frowned, simultaneously trying to get the facts straight and wondering if they mattered.

Jacob opened the hatchback and started moving his things out of it and into the trailer to fill it more.

Odessa watched him. “I’m sorry. I should’ve left the bicycle, then you probably could have gotten away with just a cargo box.”

“Listen,” he said, sliding shut the trailer door. “You’ve got to stop apologizing. You’ve done nothing wrong. Don’t worry about it. Now, if we see something we like along the way, we have somewhere to put it, no problem.” He grinned and patted his belly. “Wouldn’t be a bad idea for me to get a bicycle, too.”

He reached for her again.

She felt self-conscious, snuggling with this man in the middle of the street. Maybe Mrs. Hutchinson across the street, was peeking through a window. Then again, everyone knew.

After a minute, she pulled away. “Well I guess this is it,” she said, glancing at the house, then at the side of the trailer. There was a scene painted on it, of cacti and blue sky. Jacob was watching her, waiting to hear what she’d say next.

—-end of part one of two. The second half of the story is here: The Violet Act Part 2

What I Am Reading + Am I Going the Right Way?


My Goodreads “Currently Reading” virtual shelf is a bit out of control. There are 28 titles in there. Some of them were books I began but had to return to the library, but most are books I have on hand and simply haven’t finished yet.

I often characterize myself as a “slow reader.” I don’t have difficulty interpreting the letters, but my habit is to read a little, let the words marinate, then read a little more, and let that marinate. Or, I’ll re-read a paragraph or page several times before moving on to the next. My brain sometimes works like a manual credit card machine, where one has to slide the metal bar numerous times across the card before obtaining a clear impression.

All that being said, I’m slow-reading some interesting stuff, and I’ll highlight a few of them:

What I Am Reading

  • I just started Manituana, which I mentioned in my previous post. It’s a historical novel written by an Italian writers’ collective. The idea of a writers’ collective producing a fictional piece of work intrigues me. (I have been feeling the need to collaborate on a creative project.) In any case, the book is set in mid-18th century North America and centers on the conflicts between the English, Dutch and French migrants (“settlers”) and the First Nations that already inhabited the lands. There were a lot of players, a lot of deals, alliances, and legalities (few of which benefitted the Native peoples as a whole). What’s most striking to me is the lust for land — a single man seeking 5,000 acres, for example. Why does any one person or family need so much land? To create wealth for himself, and ultimately, to be the master of his own destiny. Human will is an incredible thing to behold, but when it’s motivated by the desire to be dominant lest one be dominated, I don’t consider it heroic or admirable. The novel depicts the settlers as having a clarity about what they want; I found this refreshing. All we need do is look around us today to see that our nation rewards — financially and socially — those whose first priority is acquiring resources for themselves. We all know that’s not what makes a moral/ethical person, but we’ve come up with ways to make it seem moral and ethical … we smooth things over.
  • For several months I’ve been reading a collection of interviews with Seattle novelist and retired University of Washington professor, Charles S. Johnson. It’s called Passing the Three Gates: Interviews with Charles Johnson. I’ve been savoring it. There is a lot of stuff he says on race, identity, and art that resonates with me. Johnson has a PhD in Philosophy, and he’s been an artist (first a cartoonist and then a writer) for some 50 years. He’s also been engaged in Buddhist practice for about 45 years. I enjoy his tone, his ability to step back and attempt to view things from multiple perspectives, and the way he engages. He sometimes reminds me of another African American writer and practitioner of Buddhism: bell hooks. Both make candid observations without coming across as judgmental. That can get one in hot water sometimes — e.g. hooks’ critiques of Beyoncé’s public persona that many people mistook (imo) as personal attacks. Every human is fallible, so it’s not that someone like bell hooks is incapable of being petty, jealous (!) or out of touch (as many claimed), but it seems to me that people are not comfortable with clarity, and honesty, when it comes to their own idols. Oh, and to bring it back to Charles Johnson, I was fortunate enough to recently attend a day-long workshop on writing, creativity and Buddhist practice in which he was one of the three instructors. The day went by so quickly. I chose the little writing workshop with Johnson and found him to be more than gracious; he was kind, and thoughtful, and very learned.
  • I’m also reading a short story collection of Johnson’s called The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. I’ve only read three of the stories so far, but all have been good. The best one, The Education of Mingo, was an incredible read. Rich language, excellent characterization, sly social commentary irrevocably folded into wise parable, all leading to a fitting, seemingly inescapable end. It’s the kind of fiction writing I aspire to. And it’s my favorite kind of fiction to read, too. For me, Johnson and Saramago go hand in hand. I’m aware of and am exploring a few other authors who consistently speak that same, fictional language … hopefully I can come back to that later, in a future post.


Autumn in Seattle, view of the Lake Washington Ship Canal. November 2015

Autumn in Seattle, view of the Lake Washington Ship Canal. November 2015

A Question from Twitter

I solicited questions on Twitter, because I feared my post for today would be too brief. (Proving that, after all these years I still don’t know myself.)

One of the questions posed was from “Heather Tarrant,” aka @jitterbug212, who asked: How do you know you’re going the right direction?

My initial reply was: “the right direction in terms of what? Like, driving/GPS?” (Realizing now that may have come across as abrupt? Was not meant that way, should have added a smiley face!)

But the answer, as Heather later alluded to, may be the same regardless of whether we’re talking driving a car or moving in life. If I was driving in an unfamiliar area and wanted to make sure I was going in the right direction, I’d use some guide. A map, a GPS, another person in the car who knew where we were going, etc. I think most of the time, we know whether we’re going in the right direction. It’s the roads that get us tangled up! We tend to freak out if we’re on a street that isn’t the fastest or safest route possible because — that’s what we’re taught to do? Someone might get mad at us for not following their turn-by-turn instructions precisely? So many reasons.

We might choose to go in the wrong direction. Like, if the person in the car with us acting as navigator is wrong but we’re afraid to speak up. Or if there is a lot of traffic on the roads going the right way so we go the opposite way in the hopes that the long way will really turn out to be a shortcut. Sometimes we can be misled. Sometimes we are not in a hurry so we can “risk” going the wrong direction for a while, and in fact, find some cool things over there before making it back on track. None of this may matter if we don’t have a destination, if we just want to “go for a drive,” and are truly open to driving anywhere.

Personally, I know I’m going the right direction (or not) because of what I’m seeing out the window and how I feel inside. I look around and realize, “this isn’t where I want to be (anymore).” It can be very hard, though, if it’s someplace nice. I pull over and review my map or try to piece together what I remember of the landscape I’m wanting. And what are the boundaries of this space I’m navigating? If there’s a sea to the east and a forest without roads to the west, I get a sense of what is possible in a car. Am I willing to get out of the car? I could go places on foot or in a boat that I couldn’t in a car, but if I do that, I’ve given myself more decisions to make, more possibilities for going in the wrong direction.

I could elaborate on this metaphor (forever), so I’ll wrap it up:  I try to be open to a lot of possibilities. I’m one of those lucky people who can be happy with a lot of different kinds of things. I try to minimize the number of wrong directions in my own mindset, so that I don’t have to worry about it as much. My issue is less going in the wrong direction, and more … spending too long driving in circles.  In a couple of years, I should revisit this and see what I think. Thanks for the question, Heather!

5 Things: A Time for Everything


It’s been a few months, but I want to share some thoughts. So in the style of Ashley C. Ford’s 5 Things, here is a blog post.


1. Today is the birthday of the late Portuguese writer, José Saramago. People who’ve followed my blogging for years will have heard me mention him. He would be 93 years old today. From August 2008 to September 2009, he kept an online diary (a blog) for which he wrote something nearly every day. I didn’t even know about this until several years ago, by which time the Senhor was already dead. Fortunately the diary was compiled and is available to read in book form. It is called The Notebook, and it’s a wonderful insight into the mind and heart of a man I’ve long admired.

I was driving this morning and at a stop light, my thoughts wandered to him. Suddenly, my heart seemed to squeeze a beat longer than is normal, and I felt in the grip of something – a zeal. I’ve never been one for hero worship and idolization. It doesn’t come naturally to me, all humans are fallible, and my attention span seems too short to trust. But in that moment, I realized that I loved Saramago, as a religious person loves a saint. For all my years of Islamic worship and genuine devotion, I could not conjure for the Prophet Muhammad what I feel for Saramago with so little effort.

Maybe sometimes your heart just feels soft for someone, even if you’ve never met them. Maybe Saramago was just that skillful with words — even translated words — that he could transmit some part of himself to me at a frequency I could receive. (A luxury unavailable to the ancient prophets.)

2. Last night I began reading a novel called Manituana. I was struck by the opening lines of the first several chapters: “The sun’s rays followed the squad, blood-light filtered through the forest,”  “They had brought the children along as well, so that they might one day tell their children and grandchildren,” and my favorite: “Sitting in his armchair, Jonas Klug chuckled in the gloom.” 

This caused me to think about the opening lines of my stories and novel chapters. Of course, I’ve heard loads of writing advice urging brevity and vividness in opening sentences, but …you know how it is. You hear so many worthy things but can only apply a few of them at any given time. (One reason why repetition is important.) So I looked at a story I’m actively revising, and altered the opening to give it more lift.

I’m desultory by nature, and enjoy understated art and conversation that approaches a worthwhile point from surprising angles. In an ESL training years ago, I recall learning that in some cultures (a particular African subculture was highlighted), “beating around the bush” is the stylistic preference in conversation. But I’m also aware that any reader is giving my words the gift of their time. We give in to so many Anglocentric, American norms; a punchy opening is hardly the worst.

3. Homeschooling is going well. Kidlet is busy this quarter, with drama school, a weekly language arts class, Lego robotics, martial arts, and a research group that tests and develops educational game tech. I spend a lot more time in my car than I’m used to, driving her around. But we’ve adjusted to the routine, and she’s enjoying all of her classes. At home, she’s become an avid Minecrafter. She’s stretching herself with reading and writing, and I get a kick out of watching her type on a keyboard, two-fingered and with increasing speed. She mostly Minecrafts alone, but is practicing online etiquette and safety. She records herself doing gameplay and reviews the recordings to improve her presentation. I see her desiring to learn, to iterate and experiment. I see her having fun, having confidence, and welcoming feedback.

She turned seven years old this Fall, and we are in a smooth period of parenting. It has never been easier. She is becoming more independent, and even more interesting and pleasurable to be around. She has a stubborn streak, which I admire, as I never had the guts to stick up for myself as a child; I didn’t know how to be indignant, instead internalizing every offense directed at me as humiliation, as a punishment from God for being imperfect, and as shame.

Hubs and I work on positive parenting – that is, parenting that is neither permissive nor authoritarian. It’s been a lot of learning for both of us, and we’ve certainly flubbed up — leaning towards authoritarianism when we get stressed or flustered. But we seem to be finding equilibrium. Kidlet expresses appreciate for us even as her eyes are opening to the bigger picture. The world outside of us (the people she knows) is still a far off place to her, but she is beginning to ask questions ….

This morning we had to go out for a quick errand, but Kidlet didn’t want to leave the house. In the car, she complained about it. I began with a micro lecture on how we sometimes need to interrupt our play to do things that need doing, but it evolved into a conversation about appreciating and taking care of what you have. This led to introducing her to those Ecclesiastes verses from the Bible about there being a time for everything.

Somehow we wound up on the topic of theft, Kidlet was concerned about people who had less than us taking our things. “Robbers.” I told her yes, there are burglars, pickpockets, and other petty thieves. But these pale in comparison to the theft of land, natural resources, and the labor and health of human beings. She thought about this and her distress grew. She went from being distressed about someone stealing her computer, to trying to wrap her around the scale of theft committed by governments and corporations. She cried. My inital reaction was to assure her that she would be okay, that we could afford to replace her stolen personal property, if it ever came to that, but I could not comfort her about the theft of rainforests or mountain communities destroyed by mining, or the theft of health by reckless polluting. All we can do is work towards a world where people are held responsible for that kind of theft and injury.

“Why do the people let companies do these things?” she asked. Last year, I would have tried to stop her from crying, but today I told her crying and feeling sad about these bigger problems was an appropriate response. She will no doubt still cry about the theft of her own personal things – a stuffed animal, an iPad, for example. But I reminded her, “people are precious, more important than things.” Through tears, she repeated this to herself, “People are precious, more important than things.” A discomfiting prayer if ever there was one.

4. In general, I am feeling good. I sought more help for my depression. After decades of dealing with it on my own, and managing and not spectacularly exploding my life or the lives of others, I accepted that was not enough for me.  I was tired of being emotionally drained all the time, exhausted of always hanging on to life’s edge by the elbows (and -when things got stormy, by the fingertips). Right now I’m feeling well. I’ve found a competent care provider who recognizes that my needs, though not desperate, are real; that my day-to-day life can be about more than just “hanging in there.”

5. I am looking for ways to be more available, in a concrete way, to my community. To provide service, and also to value others. After seven years of focusing on parenting and Kidlet, I feel ready — not to retract or withdraw from her, but to extend other parts of myself more seriously in other directions. Kidlet is doing well and so am I. It’s time not to hold so much in reserve, but to give more.

Black Lives Matter: Just Keep Going


Seattle is in the news. Bernie Sanders came to town yesterday, and an event he attended was disrupted by two young activists from the local chapter of the Black Lives Matter organization. All across the internet, there are links to cell phone video clips of the yelling and arm-grabbing that took place on the stage in front of a crowd and crew seemingly taken by surprise. This is the very stuff of an Internet frenzy.

I haven’t blogged here about Black Lives Matter for a few reasons. One, there are many people doing a great job of it, and I’ve had little to add to what has already been written. Secondly, I don’t blog much in the first place, and when I do it’s mainly about writing, Kidlet, travel, and little life shifts.

Maybe this counts as a little life shift?

When I watched the 2 to 4 minute video clips from yesterday’s event, my heart sank. I was in shock. I especially didn’t expect the outright screaming at old people. I was dismayed, because on the stage I saw confusion among other people of color, and I saw two young black women clearly in distress.

The Internet reaction was swift. Those supportive of the GOP were thrilled to point out how “liberals are eating themselves”; hardcore Sanders’ fans with almost no analysis of race were chiming in about targeting “the wrong guy”; and Black people were split — at least the ones I know. Some of us were quick to offer unmitigated support of the action, and others – like me – wondered aloud some variation of what did I just witness? Is this right?

I’ve struggled with my own reaction. On the one hand, Black Lives Matter. The torturing and killing of Black people (as well as other marginalized people) by law enforcement with little accountability and near-impunity is what we should all be upset about, and what should matter more than anything — certainly more than this event, or any single nominee candidate.

On the other hand, what I saw alarmed me on a deep, personal level that I can’t deny. To say otherwise would be a lie. Some people may be more desensitized to screaming matches; that doesn’t change how it affects me. I have watched the videos half a dozen times and each time I still can’t believe what I’m seeing. Not only is there the triggering association to videos of protestors standing up to police and being beaten/arrested for their troubles, but the sight of all these people in distress, distresses me.

The other fact is that the times I’ve been berated and screamed at to my face as I’ve stood there like a deer in headlights, have all been deeply humiliating experiences that served no purpose except to let me know to put as much distance between me and that person, as quickly as possible – forever. No grown person has screamed in my face more than once because I’ve never spoken to them again. It’s difficult for me to watch the videos and perceive that kind of action as healthy or productive because I’ve never experienced it being so.

So here I am, conflicted. My personal feelings around anxiety and appropriate conflict are seemingly at odds with the larger issue of wanting systemic racism addressed no matter what.

I didn’t sleep a single minute last night. I am on my 33rd hour of being awake. My worry is a generalized anxiety for Black people — what next? How do we communicate to each other? I was seeing Black people I respect on either side of the issue. Do I need to brace myself for more of this? Can we work together? A lot of people are hashing this stuff out, and we are being reminded that there are many tactics to ending systemic racism in the U.S., that BLM is a multi-pronged approach. I don’t have the answers. I have feelings, but not a lot of answers.

Recently I read a book by Joseph Marshall III, a Lakota teacher and writer. In the book, Keep Going, he speaks on the importance of training ourselves to continually take steps, no matter how small, towards our goal. Even one inch crawling on our hands and knees is movement. The steps we take don’t have to be perfect, strong, or long. Sometimes “keep going” might mean gathering the strength to get up, even if we just take one small step and fall flat on our face again.

I do know this: I am not a brave person. The same me who wouldn’t have what it takes to get in someone’s face and demand they give me the microphone is the same me who probably wouldn’t have what it takes to stand against dogs and rubber bullets, or a wave of militarized police shooting tear gas – all of which Black people have been doing for quite some time, including as part of peaceful (on protestors’ parts) Black Lives Matter marches and vigils. There are people who are braver than I am, and thank goodness. I might not like this one particular action at Westlake yesterday — where, by the way, no politician or bystander was harmed or ever in danger — but that was a step taken. Even if some argue it was a misstep (and that is very arguable), we can keep going. Black Lives Matter can keep going.

I d hoped Sen. Sanders would put out his arms and respond compassionately to these young women who were so clearly hurting. That would have been a powerful, transformative step, truly befitting an elder statesman. Instead he chose to withdraw and took some action in private a few hours later. He missed an opportunity to take a big step and give many people hope by modeling humility and a willingness to stand beside. It looks as though, in hiring Symone Sanders and having speakers at his next event speak clearly to Black Lives Matter, that he chose to take a small one. That’s disappointing, but maybe he will keep going.

It’s important to me to be able to speak honestly: “I didn’t like that,” or “I think that could have been done better.” Some people might not like that or want to hear it, and that’s their choice. I hope we can keep going. I think part of my distress about all of this in the past day was wanting to retreat – but where can a Black person retreat to? There isn’t really anyplace; this is reality. So I have to learn to keep going, even in disagreement, and accepting disagreement as part of the process. Even in anxiety, even when individual sensibilities aren’t being catered to, we can keep going. And I do believe plenty of people are doing that — I’m just playing catch-up.

How to Write Diverse Characters


There was a comment to my last post that essentially asks, “How to write diverse characters?” and I’ve been mulling it over for a few days. My response is long enough that I’m putting it in its own post. Here is the question, asked by Stacey:

What I always wrestle with as a white writer, and a conscious person is how to include people of other races to my stories in a way that feels real. For that matter I have a hard enough time trying to create real characters who aren’t Jewish, not overtly but having the background experience that is of my own. How do you do that without fear of making inadvertent mistakes or only changing the physical description (this is primarily in children’s fiction)?

Hi Stacey —

First let me preface this by saying: This is not my area of expertise. I’m not even a successful writer. I’ve not studied the subject, I only have my opinions based on observations and readings I’ve come across, and my own feelings. I know of some others who have studied and written on the subject, like Daniel J. Older and Nisi Shawl (author of Writing the Other). And a quick google of “how to write diverse characters” shows a lot of results, perhaps most of them worthwhile. There are lots of people of color who have studied this, thought about this, dialogued about this and given advice.

Also: I don’t write children’s fiction. I read some because I have a young child, but her preference is stories about animals and machines; the human race barely interests her.

So now that you know all my lack of credentials, I will proceed. I will stick to a few, high-level thoughts.

The wrestling you’re experiencing ought to happen.

That’s not a bad thing at all. I’m from the school of self-torturing artists. If I’m not beating myself up about it, if I’m not growing, what’s the point? Creating art should be a character-building experience. I wouldn’t try to wriggle out of that.


Ask yourself why you want to create characters of color.

Or characters that are not of your Jewish background, etc. What and who do you want to write about? Keep knowing yourself as a writer and a human being. (Some say write what you want to read, and that’s advice I fall back on a lot to provide clarity.)

Personally I prefer for people to be honest and admit to themselves, “I’m not interested in writing about anything other than A or B” because it’s going to come out anyway in their writing (more on that later). If they try to pass off their story as being “diverse” or progressive in some way and it’s really not — yet that’s what sold me on it, I’m going to be annoyed.

What I want is for people to be honest about what they’ve created and to write about what they genuinely care about, so that I can find something that is true. Granted, I don’t tend to read for entertainment. I read for edification or information, so my opinion might not be the majority opinion. But inevitably, as diversity rightly becomes an issue in the industry, you have people trying to write diversity so they can market themselves better or worse yet – calm their nagging fears that they might not be the good, open-minded people they thought they were.

Ew, ew, ew. I hate that. I hate the murky marketing soup of lies. I hate that “diversity” can be distorted into another way to bullshit readers, and I hate that there’s now even more bullshit for me to sort through. More honesty, please.


Love your characters.

Some people really worry about whether their not-white character is a token. Well, why not make a character you initially envisioned as white, not-white? Or male, not-female? It’s okay to challenge those unconscious biases, and there are a lot of articles out there about doing that.

There’s a character in one of my stories who is of Indian descent. Any particular reason? No. Except that whenever I go to a hospital there is always an Indian doctor there, my child’s pediatrician is Indian, and it’s not even remotely a mental stretch for me. Is it a stereotype? Sure, I guess, but so is a doctor being a man. Nevertheless, a lot of doctors are men. A lot of doctors are Indian. I’m not going to freak out about whether it’s okay for my doctor to be of Indian descent with an Indian name. And beyond that, he is a good character, thoughtful and compassionate, and gives warm, bear-like hugs. [Taking a moment to squee over my Indian doctor.] He’s not a token, in part because there are other characters of color in my story, but mostly because he is real to me.

I strive to embrace my role as a writer-goddess. That’s not me being pompous, that’s me treating my characters like my babies; I made them. Even when they turn out to be assholes, I love them. I made them, and they didn’t ask to be born. It’s something of a condescending view to be sure, but I feel that way about all my characters, equally. (I do have favorites.)

Which leads me to something else I wanted to blog about: Don’t be a bully writer. I was tempted recently to mock one of my characters. It was very tempting because he is a fool. Deep down I knew that wasn’t right, but I was still undecided on how to act. Then I read an interview with author Charles Johnson that sealed the deal for me.

There is one character [in Faith and the Good Thing] … who was based on a good friend of mine, but I objected to many of his ideas, and so I used him as a straw man in the novel. John [Gardner] wrote in the margins: “Shame on you. Why present this character to us just for us to dislike this person, or to disagree with him. Why not dig as deeply as you can into his motivation, his background, his biography, his thought process, so we can understand how someone can inhabit this position?” And, you know, I think he was right. You have to see each and every character in their totality and from their own perspective. We can disagree with them, but they have integrity as human beings that has to come through at some point in the fiction.

You can take that advice and apply it to any character, who is like you or unlike you. Have respect for your characters, have affection for them, love your babies, I say. If you find you are having a hard time embracing characters who do not share your ethnicity, or class or gender, then you’ve learned something important about yourself.


Intentions are not enough.

If you’re trying to write outside yourself, you’re gonna have to learn things, you’re gonna have to work on yourself. That’s part of being an artist. Now if you’re just churning stuff out so you can pay the bills, that’s totally fair, and people do that, and I probably don’t want to read your work, but millions of other people will.

Once you decide that you want to write outside of your race or some other identity — not to be hip or marketable or to pat yourself on the back — but as part of using art as a way to explore the deep questions of life (such as who am I?) … well, that doesn’t come easily. Of course you’re going to wrestle.

The reason you still feel discomfort or anxiety despite your good intentions is because there is more to you and your work than your intentions. I’m a big believer in the unconscious, and let me tell you there are few things scarier for me personally than the possibility of unwittingly writing something I thought said one thing, but actually conveys how shitty I am. Shitty in this case mostly relates to trying to put up a front, “oh yeah, I am totally embracing this concept of X but I have no idea what I’m talking about,” or “I am a bigot in this area even though I thought I was so good.”

What terrifies people is that nasty and outdated ideas are being looked at and talked about in even the most popular literature. Oh wow, this author feels like that about fat people? Women? Muslims? Native Americans? Black people? Bisexuals? YUCK. The conscious person like yourself doesn’t want to be that writer. I get it, I don’t want to be that writer either!

So what’s a writer to do? I don’t know — I’ve already told you I only have unstudied opinions. All I can say is I treat my writing as something serious and integral to who I am as a human being. I struggle most of all with acknowledging my limitations — I don’t know it all, I am not perfect, I have prejudices, I can be an asshole, etc.

There’s a tough balance to strike with only putting out work that I perceive as genuinely Good and responsible, and not avoiding vulnerability. I haven’t achieved it. The pain of being any artist is that sharing your work opens you up to criticism. (Not to mention the risk of offending/hurting people). But these are worthwhile challenges to have. Where does my responsibility to myself and my responsibility to others in the world intersect? I’m still searching. I hold back a lot – not just worried that I’m not a good enough writer, but also that I’m not a good enough person.

That’s the path I choose, though. Others choose differently. For me, it’s about all the different kinds of integrity – artistic integrity to “go for it” and to be bold, and also a commitment to be kind and truthful.

That’s why I try to love my characters, all of them, to have compassion for them and to be kind fair and truthful about them no matter what they are like. When I’m tempted to mock a character, I ruminate on it until it’s transformed into a better kind of humor. Don’t pretend you are something you are not. Don’t pretend to know things you don’t know. If that means you need to learn more and sit with something longer in order to write with intelligence and integrity, then that’s what you have to do. It might take years for you to be able to do that, but I like to quote the Buddhist monks: “What is the difference between having a problem and having something to do?”


Writing Outside Your Race – A Follow-Up


Several days ago I wrote about writing outside your race, including a little bit about my own experience with it. As is often the case after I update my blog, I kept thinking on the topic, feeling out my feelings about it.

This morning I woke up and the first thing in my inbox was a recommended Medium post from Black and Jewish American astrophysicist Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, called “Hold Fast to Blackness.” I read that closely and made some sidebar notes and also left a comment.

I enjoyed the post very much and even though I haven’t had the same experiences as Prescod-Weinstein, I arrived at a similar conclusion, which I described as: “Even if people are not Black, aren’t read as Black, or are ‘one-quarter’ Black, they can recognize this ‘tent’ of whiteness and choose not to take shelter under it.” (If you are unfamiliar with the phrase “tent of whiteness” feel free to read CPW’s linked post.)

The Cover of Hardcovered Book: Uncle Remus: The Complete Tales

The Cover of Uncle Remus

Purely by chance I was in a children’s toy store in Ballard a few hours later with Kidlet and a friend. I came across the store’s sole copy of Uncle Remus: The Complete Tales as told by Julius Lester with illustrations by the great Jerry Pinkney.

I bought the book and began reading it over lunch. While Kidlet enjoyed the stories of Brer Rabbit I read aloud to her, what made a stronger impression on me was the clarity and insight of the Forward by Lester. Among other things, he discusses features of Black English vernacular, which made me think about a piece I’m working on and some questions I’d had about my own voice in writing and where does it come from.

The remarkable thing was that the Forward brought me around to something I’d wanted to address in my comment to Prescod-Weinstein’s Medium post, but deleted before hitting Send (because it was muddled and tangential). And that was this: if you are not Black (or Black is one of numerous racial identities you hold) and you are not under the tent of whiteness, what tent are you under? Where are you?

Over lunch and on the walk and bus ride home with Kidlet I kept turning this over in mind, thinking about Lester’s Forward, thinking about what Prescod-Weinstein said about “holding fast to Blackness” and I came to a realization about the white male protagonist I talked about in my last post — he is not white, after all. Or rather, he never really was in the first place, I chose to make him white, but I do not think he ever really was.

What I hadn’t talked about in my last post was that making him white wasn’t my initial choice, I actually considered it quite a lot and then settled on that as a decision. But it’s one of the few stories I’ve written recently with a first person narrator, and his voice arises in me from some place I can’t name, but which feels as real and true to me as any other part of myself — and I am Black.

So I’ve changed my decision. And due in large part to what Prescot-Weinstein wrote, I’ve decided not to put this fellow in the tent of whiteness, but to claim him for Blackness, as is my right — and his.

From a logistical standpoint, I haven’t got to change anything I’ve written about him so far at all — the possibility was always there, just not expanded on. Now I’m free to expand on it moving forward. It’s fitting that his Blackness is from his mother’s side; and it all fits in with the themes of the story — better, in fact, than if I kept him as white.

And that is why I love writing fiction these days, because it is like dreaming while awake. And I am grateful that I came across those two writings today by Chanda and Julius, and was able to be informed by them, to have taken another look at what I’d thought my dream (my story) was about and realize something crucial I had missed. And also, ultimately, something crucial about myself.

So we’ll see what more unfolds, as it does.





Writing Race: Writing Outside of Ones Race



I read a lot about writing, and wanted to respond to a recent blog post on the subject of writing race – or specifically, writing outside of ones race.

Over at Zetta Elliott’s site, she published an excellent piece on July 16, 2015 called Race & Representation in Asian American Kid Lit.

The post looks at numbers related to children’s literature about people of color (published in the United States) and who is writing it. Elliott, a Black Canadian, was surprised by the statistics showing Asian American authors wrote a high percentage of children’s lit that was not about Asian Americans – in fact they published more literature not about Asian Americans than they did literature about Asian Americans. So she did the admirable thing and invited five Asian American children’s lit authors to offer their thoughts on why this might be.

Their responses are truly worthwhile to read, a lot of thought went into them and the result is a range of perspective and a great deal of nuance. Please go to Zetta Elliott’s site and take a look.

There were two thoughts that occurred to me as soon as I saw those numbers. But I didn’t see them addressed in the responses, so I’m thinking my thoughts are way off-base? I wondered if transracial adoptees (growing up in non Asian families) might be having an impact here, and also whether high out-marriage rates might be a factor (which would also increase the likelihood of an Asian American author being biracial). A good comparison might be to look at what numbers look like for Jewish American kid lit, as Jewish Americans also have a very high out-marriage rate (higher than but closest to that of Asian Americans). Are their numbers for writing within or outside of their ‘race’ comparable?  I don’t know if that information has been gathered, but I’d be interested to know.

At any rate, I am not Asian American so my ponderings on the topic are not that serious – please read the interviews if this topic interests you because they are very, very good.

For my part, I write fiction about Black people and non-Black people. And it only just occurred to me that I’ve yet to write a Latino character at all – not ever in my fiction, not even when I was a child. Isn’t that something? Hmm. I’ve obviously been Latina all my life, so why don’t I write Latina characters? Hm. A few theories comes to mind, but I’ll think about it some more before blogging about it.

There are Black people in my stories about Lysithea. The story I got stuck on recently is about a little girl who is a recent transplant.  She is Black, as are her mother and grandmother who’ve come with her.That whole short story collection is about relationships between people and their various hierarchies and plays for power and relevance. I talk about race alongside other markers of status and value, history and privilege. I also wrote another story from Lysithea about a young man who — though it is never explicitly said — benefits from his ability to pass as white. I write about these things subtly because it’s in the gray, less examined areas that I find the subject most interesting.

In the newer story and novel I’m working on, the protagonist is a young white guy whose father “might be Hungarian, might be Czech.” A PoC character has been taking shape in the back of my mind for this tale, but they won’t be featured in the short story, only in the novel. Research will be required.

I don’t feel any difficulty writing from the point of view of a man vs a woman, or a black person vs a white person. I attribute that to a high level of comfort and familiarity with those ‘identities’ even when I don’t possess them myself.

However let me be clear that writing another gender or race is not the same experience for me. When I write about men, I don’t even feel like I’m writing outside of my gender, I feel like I’m writing a less-emphasized aspect of myself. When I write non-Black characters, I’m drawing on a lifetime of immersion and observation.

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