Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Of Sea Witches and Racial Appropriation

My Photoshop skills are strong
My friends keep asking what I think about Rachel Dolezal.

I know, I can feel the whoosh of wind from your eyes collectively rolling. But I do have thoughts and it’s taken me a while to do this because I wanted some time to look at the bigger picture. When the case first came about, it was a hilarious train wreck. Now with some time and some reflection, I'm not laughing.

I suppose I can't start any discussion of her without talking about gender identity too since people won't stop comparing them. Heading to the right, there were a lot of conservatives using Dolezal's situation to point out the hypocrisy of liberals. Then you have lots of woo-woo white liberals on the left mocking Dolezal so they could prove how understanding they are about racial issues. A bunch of tales told by idiots, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.

I'm gonna dismiss the comparison to Caitlyn Jenner. It's an understandable one on the surface, but it's fundamentally flawed underneath (much like Dolezal herself). Kaitlyn Jenner may have felt like a woman all her life, but until recently her experiences were those of a heterosexual male. No matter how she felt inside, she was still treated to all the privileges (and struggles) that came with being a man. So transition or not, she can’t speak to the shock of having her first period or being catcalled in middle school. She can't say that someone made her feel ashamed to be a girl who played sports. And no one made assumptions that her only goal in life was motherhood. She didn't experience those things and more importantly, she's not claiming that she did.

The trappings of race are not the same as the experience of race. Rachel Dolezal didn’t simply live a black woman with her cute ‘fro and an over-application of bronzer. She appropriated the hardship stories of living as a woman of color. And not only did she relish sharing these stories, but hers were the most harrowing. She claimed to be stalked by the KKK and that she was a victim of numerous hate crimes. Tales that now appear exaggerated or fabricated.

Make no mistake, Dolezal was grown and harvested in the same cabbage patch that spawned another famous pathological liar, Alicia Esteve Head, who faked being a victim of 9-11. Like Dolezal she was smart, educated and people valued her. But that wasn't enough for Alicia. So she crafted a heartbreaking story of bravery and loss. She claimed that families of 9-11 victims stalked and harassed her because she lived and their loved ones didn't. Her narrative was so powerful that other survivors felt guilty about their own grief because their pain paled in comparison to hers. Much like Dolezal did with the NAACP, this woman became the leader of her community. And as a voice for the World Trade Center Survivors’ Network, she really was a force for good. But she was also a liar who used the other survivors to fuel her narcissistic, parasitic desire for victim-hood and in doing so, she siphoned off compassion and sympathy that should have gone to actual survivors.

So when did the laughter stop in regard to Dolezal? It was about the time I watched a bunch of her interviews on YouTube. I spent far too much time listening to her talk about the difficulties of being mixed race and acting as a bridge between black folks and white folks. She went on for a long time saying that dating black people or having mixed children not give white people a free pass to appropriate black culture (okay I laughed a little here). On one of the videos she gave a talk on the history of black hair. After that, I watched a video where she talked about cultural assumptions and how she didn't feel safe leaving her house with her 'fro messy because she had to represent the race. A vein in my forehead pulsed when I read that.

My hair has been the touchstone for every act of hate that was ever perpetrated upon me by strangers. Growing up as the lone person of color in my itty-bitty town I experienced the things that Dolezal claimed as her own. Harassment, intimidation, violence. Powerlessness when I was punished for defending myself from acts of aggression. Every curl on my head is a reminder of being repeatedly thrown off the school bus for refusing to sit with the kid who punched me and called me a nigger. And thrown off again when I refused to sit with the other kid who routinely spat phlegm into my 'fro. It represents the counselor who straightened my hair. The dead animals in my mailbox. The unwelcome demands to touch. This tangle of beautiful, complicated hair is stubbornly knotted up with my feelings of worthlessness. Of ugliness.

I don't speak for all minority women, but if you spend a lot of time talking to us about our hair, there's a word that comes up a lot. Protective. We are always looking for the most protective hairstyle, the best way to keep our fragile, overworked, disparaged hair safe. I think that's an apt word. There are many blogs and videos out there about protecting our hair. And underneath the twist outs and expensive products these videos and posts have deeper meaning. They are about women of color communing about the pain of invisibility. We are rejecting the notion that our hair is ugly. We are telling each other that we are beautiful. And in doing that we are creating another way to protect our hair.

So Dolezal's smug claiming of the black hair experience makes me feel a little protective and a lot unsafe. It also makes me want to scream, how dare you? How goddamn dare you steal our most profoundly painful experiences and shrug them on like a ratty old coat that you can cast off whenever you're sick of playing dress up? I'm not mad about her hair or her duck-faced selfies. I'm mad because she appropriated the pain of being a minority to feed her ego. She absorbed our history, invaded safe spaces and then felt entitled to speak for us. It’s privilege at its worst. This wasn't the appropriation of our looks, it was the appropriation of our stories. In order to sing, she stole our voices.

So, dear friends, how do I feel about Rachel Dolezal?

Fuck that bitch sideways.

That's how I feel.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Tweet Child O' Mine

Can you believe that's the post title I went with? I know. I should be ashamed. I'm not. But I should be.

Though I am too long-winded for it, I'm finally on board with this whole tweeting thing. I still don't think it's gonna catch on though...


Let's be Buddies or Tweeters or Twatters or whatever. Just follow me. Gah, I find your new  language confusing. Why is everything so bright and shiny? What are these magical screens full of pornography and cat pictures? How do I surf the webernets?

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

IWSG: So many much things happening!

Click for the Blog Hop List

It's been a crazy couple of months. Deaths in the family, some life changes, writing career choices... being a grown-up is exhausting. Where to begin?

Let's start with some awesome news. I was asked to join the board of directors for the Capital City Writers Association! Squee! I feel honored and all that. Mostly I feel completely unprepared, overwhelmed and worried that I'm gonna screw up. That usually means I'm doing the right thing.

Beyond that, I'm in a full re-write and it's crazy. I'm struggling a bit with it because I feel like I'm carving the funny out of my novel. I'm replacing it with depth but I miss the funny and I'm worried that I'm writing something more dour than I wanted. We'll see.

Speaking of this damnable book, I made a dumb decision.My heroine is a rock singer/song writer and there is a bug-fuck crazy part of me that decided I need to have a line or two from each of her songs at the beginning of each chapter. A great idea, if I were in any way talented at poetry or song-writing. But alas, I'm too long-winded and literal. But what is life without completely stressful and unnecessary challenges? So I've been writing song lyrics and I can confidently call them, "Not completely awful." So yay?

Also I found out that someone I really respect as a writer (and general smart person) has decided to self-publish. This paused me for a bit. I have no problem with self-pubbing and it was always in the back of my mind as a possibility but now I'm seriously considering it. 

I absolutely believe I can get an agent and get my books published traditionally, but do I want to do that? I feel like my options are the prestige of being "chosen" or the checking account of someone actually selling books. If you have a solid business plan and do it right, you can make a living for yourself with self-publishing. Everything I've been reading and researching tells me that if you choose traditional, you'll be eatin' crackers, waiting years to see your book in print, still doing all the legwork of pimping your work and you'd be making next to nothing. But boy would people respect you more. Sadly, I cannot buy a house with the respect of my peers. I am an artist but I'm a practical one. 

 Anyhow there's more but this is long and rambling enough. Oh yeah, check out my pretty new blog logo and template design. I did everything, including all the coding myself. Take that web designer-who-must-not-be-named. It looks a million times better. I'm so happy with it. I still have some jiggering to do, especially with my footers and my sidebar but I'll get there. Now that I don't hate looking at it, I can take some time to do it right. 

How YOU doin'?

This post is part of the Insecure Writers Support Group blog hop. We are here, we are insecure, we are legion. Go check out some other blogs on the sign-up list and give a neurotic writers some love and support.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

IWSG: Neurosis - Writer Edition

 I had to bow out of the A-Z challenge. I'm starting to get unstuck in my rewrite and I need to focus on that. Maybe next year. In other news, I'm unstuck in my rewrite! This has been a strange journey.

My first go-through, I connected strongly to my heroine but I didn't know my hero. Now I feel like I connect to my hero but I've lost my connection to the heroine.

Writing is hard, yo.

 I'm feeling all kinds of things these days about writing. Scared. Excited. Jealous and judgmental of people further along in their career path than I am. Worrying that my unpublished novel will get made into a crappy movie and I'll have to be embarrassed about it forever, like I bet Ann Rice is about Exit to Eden. That book was lovely and sexy and heartbreaking and that movie was... a buddy cop story with wacky S&M hijinks. WTF?

I digress.

Most of my process involves me worrying about stuff that I'm nowhere near ready to worry about and then those thoughts meandering into non-sequiturs. What if I don't find an agent? What if I never sell a book? What if I get in a tractor accident and lose my writin' hand? It happened to that girl in Drop Dead Gorgeous. What if Denise Richards rigs my tractor to blow up just so I can't win the Sarah Rose American Teen Princess Pageant?

What if I took a Xanax and watched Drop Dead Gorgeous and shut the hell up?

What does your neurosis look like?

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

IWSG: Reaching for Help and Appreciating Your Lobster

The first Wednesday of every month is Insecure Writers Support Group. A fabulous blog-hop. Head to the list and support some other writers today.

Outlining my novel has been a struggle. Because I'm a pantser and I suck at outlining and fall asleep when I try to type one up.

So after a month of spinning my wheels, my writing lobster** Meika showed up at my house with markers, index cards, poster boards and a give-em-hell attitude. She taught me a way to outline that didn't bore me until I passed out. Two hours later, I had my first completed outline in storyboard form. I'm so grateful and thrilled to have it done. Yet... some small, squeaky part of me wonders if I'm a hack because I couldn't do it on my own. Meika is a plotter. She  knows how to structure her novels and how to outline. Her process is fascinating, though incomprehensible to me. I started to wonder, what is wrong with me that I didn't come pre-programmed with those same abilities?

Right after this happened, I was struck by something I read in the Washington Post about Harper Lee. After writing To Kill a Mockingbird, she did a rewrite based off critique from her literary agent. Then it was shopped around and rejected by a publisher who kindly handed it to an editor and then sent it back with many notes and asked her to resubmit after more revisions. When the book was finally picked up, she was given that editor again, who worked closely with her for months to craft her lovely words into a story. “The manuscript we saw was more a series of anecdotes than a fully conceived novel. The editorial call to duty was plain. She needed, at last, professional help in organizing her material and developing a sound plot structure.”

That's interesting and not the first time I've read of the amazing synergy that used to exist between writers and agents and editors. But nowadays most writers don't have an agent or publisher who will hone a rough story. You are expected to come at these busy professionals with a polished, well-structured manuscript. They aren't going to teach you how to write tension or how to break your novel into three acts. You'd better already know how to do that. To get published, it's not enough to have pretty words, or vague good ideas. You have to be a structural craftsman, building everything yourself and if it's only half built, ain't nobody gonna help finish it before they agree to move in.

Huh. So maybe I'm not a real writer because I can't outline and I don't know when to, use commas :) Maybe I'm a weak, pansy-ass hack who can't get by without a little help from her friends.

Or maybe not.

I've decided that I'm not a hack. Or if I am, it's not because of that.

Having someone, a partner or a group of partners who help make you a better writer is not a flaw or a weakness. Maybe all writers - even the great ones I'll never compete with- needed a community. Or at least, a writing lobster. Someone who tells the truth and holds your hand through the all the fast turns and sharp learning curves that come with navigating the waters of writing and publishing. 
Whoohoo, outline completed!

There is power in community. In writers banding together to create our own synergy and partnerships in a world where everyone is moving too fast to help and the hours of our lives are traded for cash. In such a world, the simple desire to have a space to learn and ask questions and grow cannot possibly be a weakness.

It's a necessity.

Do you have a lobster or a group of lobsters who lift you up and make you a better writer? Tell me about them.

**Losber? You keep using that word. I don't it means what you think it means.**

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

IWSG: In Which I Practice Avoidance of My Manuscript

So I'm stalling.

Totally stalling.

Mmm, yep.

See I'm supposed to begin editing my reunion love story. It's gonna be great. This is the furthest I've ever gotten. I've written the whole thing. I've got tons of notes for editing it. I went to two different writing workshops with the amazing and funny Donald Maass and I'm ready to make this story into a something publishable. I'm focused! I'm ready! I'm on the ball-- hey did you know there are ten seasons of friends on Netflix and I've never seen the show? I should probably watch that. Also the living room needs vacuuming. And I need to wash my hair.

This is how it's been for a month.

I got it in my head that I needed to make a better town map and apparently that takes precedent over say, tackling the large issues I have with my hero. It's super important to know exactly how my characters get from the town grocery store to the restaurant says I. So I've been building a handmade, painstakingly detailed street map of my fictional small town. It's more detail than I need or will really use.  But I keep working on it every night. I suppose I'm avoiding the much needed outline I should be working on.

I really hate outlining. As you may or may not remember, I have a rare but serious disease called Outline Induced Narcolepsy. Very serious stuff. I pass right out as soon as I start working on one. I could fall and bump my head if I'm not careful.

I need a system for editing. I need a deadline and I need to quit worrying about this frackedy-fracking map that is eating my soul right now. Though, I'm pretty sure I can finish the map tonight. if I put my mind to it.

And if dinner doesn't take too long to eat.

And if my cat isn't too demanding. 

And if the next Friends episode is dull- and by that I mean a Phoebe-centric episode because I hate those.

Oh look, there's something shiny over there!