Archive for January, 2009

Friday Night Date Place – Embracing the Truth

Continuing our conversation from last week, I know it’s not easy to free ourselves from a lifetime of false lessons and beliefs about ourselves. It’s easy to get trapped in a mire of “woe is me,” a self-fulfilling and self-perpetuation spiral of self-hate. I don’t live under any illusion that we can just flick a switch and change.

But you don’t have to be who you are.

The overwhelming majority of folks I talk to know exactly when they are doing this emo dance of self-delusion and pity and simply can’t get out of their own way to stop it. It’s their default setting, a comfortable response to help them cope with the reactions they’ve come to expect from people. It’s the flip side of the chip on the shoulder posturing.

So I can’t say just stop it. I will, however, start by saying … stop it.

You are a precious creation of God. Precious. Accept yourself. No, better stated, accept the truth of yourself. Recognize that you, too, are an eikon, an image-bearer of God; worthy of respect, value, and love. We participate in the Divine Being, meant to partake in the Divine Life and Happiness*. We were created in love, for love, and are to open ourselves to the possibility of love. Embrace that love.

Draw on the love already in your life. I have several people in my life who are “sick” of how I see them. Because they don’t see themselves the way I see them. People of value, who deserve to be esteemed and appreciated. Whom I’m thankful God brought into my life and have made my life all the richer for knowing them. You know what makes them most uncomfortable? The idea that they don’t know if they can live up to how I see them … because they had had it so drummed into their heads that they weren’t beautiful or were somehow unworthy of being loved.

I’m ready to cut someone again.

Sometimes the only way we can really see ourselves is when we are reflected back in the eyes of someone who truly loves us. It gives us courage, strength, and a sense of worth we may never have known that we had. Find it in God, find it in the overflow of His love in your friends and family, and let that love begin to transform your thoughts.

Embracing the love and finding freedom and empowerment in it to love and be loved is a good second step. The next is to demand it. You DO deserve better. It’s okay to have high standards for yourself, to try to live up to them, and in so doing, help others to have higher standards. It’s okay to demand to be treated better.

In the end, part of the transformation is a matter of faith. You see, it takes a lot of faith in yourself to make such a step and make such a transformation. Confidence is little more than faith in yourself and that’s hard to teach. But embracing your value, that much of a step I think we can handle. As a start.

Because you deserve better.

*Special thanks to M. Basil Pennington’s True Self/False Self

My First Publication

Today’s writing related question: Your first publication – which market, how you found out about the market, how it felt to finally be published, and how many rejections you racked up along the way.

Well, I figure for the point of this discussion, we’re not talking about letters I got published in comic books or the first story I ever wrote (back in fifth grade). The first three stories I wrote once I started taking my writing seriously—the stories that were published as “Soul Food”, “Nurse’s Requiem”, and “Dark Knight of the Soul”—were originally written as creative writing assignments in college. “Soul Food” will always hold a special place for me because it was the first time a story of mine saw print. But, as will become a common theme in my life, it wasn’t exactly the usual route.

My last year of college, a professor I was working with encouraged me to send out my stories. He suggested this fledgling magazine called Cemetery Dance since it looked like the solid kind of market that would give good exposure. I thanked him for his advice and promptly trunked my stories. A few years later, I dug them back out worked on them some more and thought maybe I ought to send one out. I don’t know how I heard about this market (though I believe it was after I stumbled across a market magazine called Hellnotes), but I screwed together what courage I had and sent “Soul Food” off. A month or two later, the editor called me with an acceptance.

Called me.

New to the game, I figured this was how things worked: editors want your story, they just call you. He told me how much he loved my story and that he looked forward to working with me. I sat in my bed, stunned, and then proceeded to call several friends of mine to share the news. Of course I immediately became insufferable because I was now one for one is submissions and acceptances and figured I was going to corner this writing thing.

Months went by. I didn’t know what came next in the process. We hadn’t discussed payment, no contracts had been signed, no clue when it was coming out or if the editor wanted me to make any changes (though he CALLED me, so my so my words were obviously perfect as they were), so I continued waiting. Well, the anthology comes out … without my story.

I dug out any contact information I had and contacted the editor, all full of righteous indignation (read: on the verge of “why, Lord, why?!?!” tears). Turns out the project originally had two editors and one walked away from the project (guess which one?). My story fell between their communication gap.

Of course that anthology went on to massive sales and critical acclaim, with everyone published in it getting a huge career shot in the arm.

So I send my story off to the next couple of markets, and after one rejection, it got accepted. A start up (and now defunct) magazine called Hoodz. And I got to see my story in print.

Still … published on my third try … two acceptances in three tries … not too bad. I’ve not enjoyed that track record since.

Bingo Day – Cultural Appropriation Edition

Since I’ve already written on Writing the Other (which, if there’s been any evolution in my thoughts it’s been the realization that everyone is other to me, including other People of Color)–and for that matter, my thoughts haven’t changed much since I wrote on Sexism in the Genre–I’ve decided to forego this latest round of hand-wringing over cultural appropriation.* Two years from now during the next go around, I’ll try to add something new to the discussion.

Instead, I’ll leave you with today Bingo (joining the “Fantasy and Science Fiction Bingo” and “Stupid White Folks Bingo”): Cultural Appropriation Bingo!

(thanks elusis!)

*To get caught up on this round of the debate, see the redux and the redux continued.

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Nip/Tuck (Season 5) – A Perfect Lie

“Make me… beautiful. Perfect soul. Perfect mind. Perfect face. A perfect… lie.”

Nip/Tuck is one of those shows that I started watching then lost track of after season two. Season five came out on DVD and despite having not watched the show in a while, it was as if I hadn’t missed an episode. The season has the feel of being a jump on season and the show takes advantage of the opportunity to reinvent itself.

It retains its over-the-top sensibilities. Our two stalwart plastic surgeons, the brains, Dr. Sean McNamara, and the body, Dr. Christian Troy, have relocated to Hollywood and have experienced a bit of a role-reversal. Sean gets some play, landing on a television show that mirrors—more ridiculously over-the-top than—Nip/Tuck while stealing Christian’s spotlight, the spotlight Christian assumes he deserves. In one move, the show gets to skewer reality television and Hollywood’s obsession with deeply superficial beauty.

“Where did this idea come from?” –Sean

We put on masks, masks that become part of us, ones we wear in order to interact with others and the world. Before too long, we become trapped by these false ideas of ourselves. These false selves, these lies of who we are and how we see ourselves, start developing when we’re young. How our families shape us, how we let our friends define us, the fronts we put up in order to appeal to potential mates. We may derive our self-worth from what we do, we’re of value because of how we behave or what we have. Or how we look. We have so lost sight of true beauty that the idea becomes twisted up so that one patient of McNamara/Troy can remark, “Beauty is an Olympic ideal.”

“Tell me what you don’t like about yourself.” –Sean/Christian

Each person walks through the doors of their clinic searching for something or trying to bring themselves back to life. They want to become real, find happiness, like themselves, find something to take away the pain, look for perfection, or search for something to make them feel complete. They want to be whole.

“We all make mistakes, right? We all just try to do better, be better people, overcome our weaknesses.” –Sean

One of the things that I wrestled with for a long time, even without realizing that this was crippling my spiritual walk, was the idea of perfection. The Bible seems to not only demand perfection, but it seems to imply that perfection is attainable now. Then someone pointed out to me that I had a screwed up view of “perfection.” When we read the word “perfection” through our modern mindset, we see the Greek ideal of perfection. We can’t attain that. Yet for most of my spiritual life, I was tormented by the guilt of failure because I couldn’t reach this goal of perfection. My life was littered with seemingly endless failures. But when you read perfection more through the eyes of the original audience, you find the Hebrew idea of wholeness. Being complete is something that we can attain.

“I feel like I’m being authentic for the first time in my life.” –Julia

The rest of the cast of characters are still floating around, little changed. Julia, the third figure in the Sean/Troy/Julia trinity is now gay(ish). Perennial hanger on Kimber goes from meth head back to her porn days. Sean’s son, Matt, continues his disastrous relational streak. Nip/Tuck continues to ride high on our cultural misogyny and sense of self-hate, taking a scalpel to the rotting underbelly of our unhealthy fascination with false ideas of beauty. It’s both uncomfortable and ridiculous. Just like the old days.

[BIB/ReadersRoom] Online Billboards?

You remember when we were told that everyone had to have a website? Then participation on message boards was a must. Then we all had to have a blog. Now life is all about the social networking sites. I’m having a hard time believing that all of this stuff is worth putting my effort into. I have precious few hours to write as is, yet I find that when I sit down, I have to do a lot of what amounts to maintaining my online presence. It varies from checking in on a few message boards (my own included) to e-mail to the various social networking places … and eats up hours of my life. Is it all worth it?

JA Konraths blogged about fixing your online billboards and casting your net because to him, the answer is yes. Online billboards, as he defines them, are places “on the Internet where you have a little bit of property people pass through.” Your online presence may not directly translate into book sales, but it is a way for new potential readers to find you and for you to interact with them. So in short, your online presence, whatever they might amount to, is designed to attract new readers.

So I made a list of my online presence:

My website – which I’m preparing to re-vamp a bit

My Blog – where I touch on a lot of my favorite themes: race, spirituality, pop culture, and writing

Twitter – for the record, a lot of gibberish runs through my mind

My Message Board – my main interaction with folks

MySpace – I mirror my blog over there

FaceBook – this can be a sink hole of time, but other than my message board, I hang out here the most

The remainder of my billboards I need to do more with:

Goodreads

LinkedIN

SmallerIndiana

RedRoom

So, I have a few, some I’m more active on than others. I can think of quite a few writers who have made names for themselves with absolutely no web presence and I know I’d rather be spending my time writing (cause, wow, have I mentioned how FaceBook and MySpace can be time sinks if you let them be?) Whether this effort translates into sales is debatable. At the very least, you’re out there talking to new potential readers. Don’t get me wrong: FaceBook alone has destroyed any hopes of a serious professional image on my part. (Yay Broaddus Christmas party pics!) However, the more signs you have pointed to your books, the better. And a little bit of effort goes a long way.

At the very least, if you’re already on one of these sites, come friend me.

Bougie* Down Productions

“No one ever means bougie as a compliment. It’s never ‘Oh, you’re so bougie!’ It’s ALWAYS a negative trait.”

I guess this starts with a confession: I’m a black nerd. A Dungeons & Dragons playing, Magic: the Gathering crushing, comic book loving, occasional Dream Theater listening nerd. I’ve been thinking about some of the “iterations” of blackness (no worries, this isn’t another round of my Ontological Blackness series). I know how so many folks, within and without of the black community, like to define blackness by some sort of standard of ghetto crackery. But class plays as much a role in defining a culture as anything else, and there is the burgeoning folks whose blackness strays to something more middle class. And for our troubles, we enjoy a different epithet: Bougie.

We’re the folks who get compliments like “You speak so well” or “You’re a credit to the race.” We enjoy that tension of being accused of forgetting where we’ve come from vs. remembering where I’ve come from … but wanting to get the hell out. Look, my soft bougie behind wasn’t built for the streets. Me trying to “be real” would only end up with me being real dead, real quickly.

It’s rare that I’ve actually been labeled bougie. Mostly I’ve escaped that because 1) I’m England born, with Jamaican roots and therefore excused due to cultural differences; and 2) I’m given room because I’m just so much the weird one to family and friends and just about any community I’m dropped into.

Bougie, as an epithet, strikes me as a reaction to the idea of betraying community, a term to keep us in line as we’re policed by other bougies projecting their black insecurities. The Blacker than thou crowd demonstrating their superiority by shaming us back in line. It’s bad enough when I don’t live up to people’s idea of true blackness from inside the culture, but then it can also come from those outside (which strikes me as “you’re not black like the hip hop guys I see on MTv”) which then borders on the ridiculous.

This all points to a class fall out issue as I maintain that we have more a class problem than race problem in country. A middle class white guy has more in common with a middle class black guy than a trailer park living white guy. And don’t get me wrong, I’m barely clinging to middle class as it is. But the “policing” does serve a positive role: it’s a reminder to not separate. It’s a call for all of us to remember that we share the same fate as we are bound by community.

It all comes down to what “being real” actually means. Being real doesn’t mean clinging to some sort of ghetto aesthetic and value system. Allow me to say that me doing down would make me a minstrel, not being real because that’s not close to who I am or what I’m about. And as I look at many hip hop videos, I see enough minstrels to last us for years. No, it boils down to be personal authenticity. Putting on airs, if that’s my attitude, I can take my bougie ass to the back of the bus.

*Bougie as in the short form of Bourgeoisie, taken to mean that someone has a bourgeois personality. By rights, bougie should be “bourgie” – but I can’t stand the r, and if we are going to bastardize the term I would rather bastardize it phonetically. A variation on bougie is siddity.

Friday Night Date Place – Believing the Lie

After my “dating teh crazy” blog (which mind you, wasn’t meant to be the most serious of posts), I was troubled by a recurring theme among some of the comments. It was as if they were battling against some sort of image forged in high school or something which they have carried with them well into adulthood. An image of themselves that tells them that they aren’t worthy of “doing any better.”

We are the fruit of a lifetime of listening to voices. Such formative listening too often results in us listening to lies, many of which we tell ourselves or allow ourselves to believe. We’re told we’re crap by enough people that we start to wonder and doubt; then we become quick to leap onto any bad appraisal of ourselves and end up in a self-defeating loop. That’s why it is so important to choose carefully the voices you choose to speak into your life.

This false idea of ourselves begins in small ways. You may have well-intentioned parents or teachers who trade on their love, attention, and/or favor to get you be behave a certain way. You may have grown up among peers/friends who constantly judge one another on who’s the funniest, has the most stuff, the prettiest, the most athletic. The take home lesson absorbed through all of this: you only have worth if you behave a certain way. What you are amounts to what you have, what you do, and what others think of you.

Too many of us have had life beat us down and feed our insecurities like a bulimic at a buffet to the point where we don’t think much of ourselves. We believe the lies these “lessons” have reinforced. We live in a closed off place, afraid to let others into your life because you secretly believe they might find out that we are what we believe ourselves to be: ugly, unloveable, unappealing, and unworthy of attention. suddenly we not only can’t see why someone else would like us or see anything of worth in us, but also think we better take whatever comes our way and be grateful (even if it means dating teh crazy).

You deserve better. Stop believing those lies. Self-destructive and self-hatred are not cute. There’s no need for you to keep putting yourself in “relationships” or situations not worthy of you. You deserve better. You have the right to be picky. You have to put to death this lie you’ve created of yourself. You deserve better.

Show me who’s been filling your head with those lies. Don’t make me have to cut somebody.

You deserve better. You are loved and worthy to be loved.

Next week I’ll talk about what it means or might look like to accept the truth about ourselves.

Because you deserve better.

Ten Random Things

Since faithful assistant Lauren David tagged me with sixteen random things and grumpy old geocacher Mark Rainey tagged me for six random things. I’ve decided to split the difference and go with ten random things.

1) I first started writing in fifth grade. I carry a notepad with me constantly because I’m always writing. At any given moment, I have 20+ blogs in progress.

2) I collect salt ‘n pepper shakers, comic books, dvds, and three sets of China.

3) I have both a British and American passport. You never know when you’re going to have to flee a country on short notice.

4) “Voodoo Chile” by Jimi Hendrix is my theme song. I’ve been known to burst into my bedroom at three in the morning spouting the lyrics. My wife loves this as much as my Mojo Jo Jo impersonation as bedroom banter.

5) Though I’m not one for life verses … John 15:1-2 has been a theme: “”I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.”

6) I always wanted to be a tap dancer. In fact, I daydreamed that my brother and I would grow up to be the next Nicholas Brothers

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P4zHeVSQLoQ]

7) I love grape Nerds and white gummy bears. Yes, I will pick through a bag of gummy bears and only eat the white ones.

8) I refer to my church, and my small group in particular, as the Island of Misfit Toys.

9) I have a plastic rod along my spine to correct severe scoliosis. When it’s about to rain, my bones ache.

10) I’m not big on following rules. I also hate being tagged with stuff. Actually, Lauren knows this and specifically tagged me just to annoy me. I see her working. In that spirit, I’m not going to tag anyone. If you’re reading this and feel so moved, consider yourself tagged.

Oh, and since I was tagged in another “About You” meme, I’ve chosen to answer one question randomly:

1. WERE YOU NAMED AFTER ANYONE?
Yes, my dad’s favorite drunk uncle.

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If you want to make sure that I see your comment or just want to stop by and say “hi”, feel free to stop by my message board. We always welcome new voices to the conversation.

It’s Stoker Season

It’s that magical time of year. The Horror Writers Association goes through the machinations of gathering, collating, and nominating various works to be nominated for their Bram Stoker’s Award. Here is the 2009 Preliminary Ballot (I thought about reproducing it, but since I’m going to rant, I’ll need the room. Yes, Orgy of Souls made the long list.).

For those who have even heard of the award, it is pretty much the main thing the HWA is known for doing (which, unfair or not, serves as a bit of its own commentary). The reason the award has sometimes been derisively called “the Strokers” is because of the perception that folks sit around and back-scratch each other. (As if a good chunk of most of our sales aren’t to other writers in the first place).

It’s an age-old debate, one that rages within the organization as well as without. The nominating process has the feel of backroom handshake deals determining the nominees. Here’s how it works (and I’m not betraying the secret handshake or anything here): for a year, anyone in the organization can make recommendations for nominees in the various categories. When the nominating period is over, a preliminary ballot is determined and the actives vote on who gets to be on the final ballot. After that, the actives vote on the winners. The first part is public to all the members of the organization which is good: often you can pick out the circle of friends who rec each other just by looking at the tally sheet. A lot of that gets sorted out between the preliminary and final ballots though (and there is an additions jury which weighs in on a few items in each category folks might have missed).

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not exactly complaining because Stoker season is when I get my dues money back out of the organization in books. This time of year, I’m offered all sorts of free books to read and possibly rec, which works out well because I rarely get a chance to buy as much as I’d like. Although, already you can see part of the problem with the nominating process: my vote is going to be skewed toward those books I’ve received free through campaigning.

In the interests of full disclosure, even I linked to story I semi-campaigned for, because I want the story read.

So I began a conversation with a fellow professional writer whom I will call Elvis on this topic. Mind you, discussing things with Elvis is pretty much me poking him with a stick then getting out of the way.

Me: So how are the Stokers doing more harm than good?

Elvis: No one outside the HWA knows what they are and those that do it’s because of the intense bitching over the Stokers as the public face of the HWA. All that cat-fighting takes a ton of time that should go to writing and leads to the kind of political bullshit that causes a fair number of people to either tune out or leave the organization. And did I mention the politicking?

Me: I actually don’t mind the stokers. I look at it mostly as a peer award. If we have a peer award, a “people’s choice” (The Black Quill or the Rondo Hatton Awards), and a juried award (the International Horror Guild awards and now the Shirley Jason Awards), I think all of our bases are covered. And if the Academy Awards are any indication, there’s all sorts of politicking that goes into any award (for those who want it bad enough)

Elvis: There are a couple of things hanging off that argument. The HWA is a small enough group that a writer can gain prominence by derailing/controlling the process. The Stokers need to have a greater value outside of the organization. Mind you, I’m not saying abolish the Stokers. I’m saying making a concerted effort to make them useful and beneficial.

Me: Open up the voting to all horror pros, send out ballots industry wide (which doubles as marketing as the organization can put itself in front of a lot of different professionals).

Elvis: Even if King, Barker, Romero and Craven don’t actually vote, saying they’re part of the voting body carries weight. And limiting recommendations means that a lot of the back-scratching goes away. You have to think about what you’re reccing.

One of the unstated points of the awards is to sell books, so why not make it easier for publishers to get the books into the hands of voters? Call it the Stoker Discount, or allow freebies, or whatever. Put a page up on the HWA website for PDF downloads of recc’ed manuscripts.

Me: a one-stop resource for recced material that’s OUTSIDE of the message board. Because in the end, we want the stories read, not just by our fellow writers/friends, but by fans/book buying public.

Elvis: Which means that, again, it moves away from “who has the most message board friends”

When all is said and done, neither Elvis nor myself is turning one down should we get one. And winning one certainly wouldn’t stop us from plastering that fact on our book covers and in our bios until we quit drawing breath. Of course I wait until I get nominated to do this rant. Nothing like biting the hand as it feeds you.

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If you want to make sure that I see your comment or just want to stop by and say “hi”, feel free to stop by my message board. We always welcome new voices to the conversation.

Not in My Lifetime

I watched an old black woman laughing. Crying. Laughing and crying and saying joyfully “I’m glad I lived long enough to see this! Oh God! I’m glad I lived long enough to see this!”

They looked like people taking their first breath and really enjoying it. I didn’t see the haggard, submissive expression. I saw enthusiastic joy, free from restraint. If you saw it, if you heard it, there’s no way that a human being couldn’t be touched by it. How many people last night and this morning took their first real breath?

A friend of mine recently commented that she’s “just a white girl from a small town” but she just doesn’t get the near-messianic expectation surrounding Barack Obama being black and elected. Not why people broke down and cried, not why folks danced in the streets, or stayed up so late. Or why my cell phone blew up election night as every black person in my directory called or got called, all sharing a similar refrain. It boiled down to four words “not in my lifetime”.

Being just a white girl means, directly or not, she’s lived in the comfort of being in the majority and of white privilege. It means she’s never had to worry about being excluded from a system or the feeling of being targeted by that same system. It means she never had to live under a government whose constitution saw her as 3/5 human. It means you haven’t had to exist in the toxic mentality of “you can’t do that if you’re black”, “white people are against you”, and limited opportunities leaving you half-defeated before you start. It means you haven’t had to deal with images of you, in television and movies, leaving folks saying/thinking things like

You gold-teeth, gold-chain-wearing,fried-chicken-and-biscuit-eatin’,monkey, ape, baboon, big thigh,fast-running, three-hundred-sixty-degree-basketball-dunking spade Moulan Yan. Go the f*#$ back to Africa

It means that all no matter how false you think the majority of that mentality and stereotypes are, we’re still left with the reality of our history and experience: slavery was during my great-great-grandmother’s lifetime, segregation during my grandfather’s, the Civil Rights struggle during my father’s, the Tuskeegee Experiments during mine.

We still live in a world of rampant drug use/trade, a lack of educational opportunities, ghettos, and people incarcerated at alarming rates; however, progress has been made. At least my kids won’t have to face the dilemma of whether or not they should “pass” and forever hide and be tacitly ashamed of the fact that they are half black (“Daddy I’d be white cause it sounds easier.” –Malcolm Broaddus when I tried explaining to my six year old the idea of segregation).

Most important to the Obama victory was the long struggle of black Americans to be incorporated in the public sphere. No, President Barack Obama won’t redeem white people from the sin of racism (or whatever else some folks might imagine the import of his election might mean). But he represents a beacon of hope and the promise of change. His election might portend a true shift in our culture and how we see and treat one another. That is the root of the expectation: the hope of a better tomorrow in light of our many tragic yesterdays. Something many of us never thought we’d see in our lifetimes.

Edited to add this:

My Country
The Day Before, January 19, 2009
By Linda D. Addison

Here we stand, breath held,
sweet land of liberty
of thee we dream,
land where my ancestors
sleep easier now, freedom
will ring brighter in coming days.

Stars and stripes forever
red, white and blue
bringing us all home
finally, willing to be
responsible, each person finally
willing to be American.

History confronted, the stain,
violence, oppression faced
in the light of today, moved aside
for the Grace of Presence,
allowing forgiveness to begin,
the dissipation of karma.

Here we stand, breath held,
the day before liberty
dances, full and bright,
a land of humans, each
needing hope and peace,
willing to be American.

–linda