4/17/2017 0 Comments
A couple of months ago, I had the distinct pleasure of curating and hosting a NYRSF Reading at the Brooklyn Commons where Phenderson Djèlí Clark, S.A. Chakraborty, and Haris Durrani read from their latest speculative fiction stories and engaged in a discussion around the topic of otherness in America.
One of the strengths of speculative fiction as a genre is that it takes difficult topics and makes them a little safer to discuss. Bigotry, racism, climate change, cultural appropriation, war, they all become a little less scary relative to the red dragon swooping down to destroy your village and send you on your quest. In this case the, the big scary thing is "the other."
Who is it that decides what is American? Who gets to wear the cape? Who gets to sit at the table and tell its stories? This election has really put these questions front and center as America gropes around blindly for a new villain. They found brown immigrants and Muslims. While that isn't surprising, it is no less disheartening, considering the demographics of our country. Which brings us to these authors.
Phendersan, Shan, and Haris are all current or former academics. All three have a deep knowledge of history, America's and the worlds. All three are in some way interstitial. To become the people they are now and tell the stories that they do, they needed to cross at least one border. Their stories and those like them allow for interchange of ideas, perspectives, understanding. They allow one to breath, so are more like skin then concrete and barbed wire.
Their stories are outstanding and for some, possibly life changing. For many, possibly life saving, because a living breathing country that tells stories only of the past is sucking on dead air and that can't last very long without obvious consequences.
Please, buy their stories and follow them on Twitter at @pdjeliclark , @SChakrabs , and @hdernity
The "trending" preliminary autopsy results of the 2016 election of Donald Trump is best summarized in one sentence: "Liberals live in a bubble."
Relatively speaking, this is bullshit.
Of course there are self-serving narratives and truthiness on all sides of this debate, but it's not as if we didn't know that already. A bubble implies that there's a barrier to understanding. The left's barrier is significantly thinner. The problem wasn't our bubble, it was the rights.
The conservative bubble was well fed and re-enforced for years (there's a reason why Googling "Hillary Clinton" and "corrupt" gets you quick results, but it has nothing to do with the validity of the claim). During Obama's presidency the anti-liberal narrative was scaled up, outsourced and targeted. But during this election cycle, the problem became epidemic. In this case the term viral defines both the speed at which misinformation spread and the nearly fatal impact it (has) had on the body politic.
Conspiracy theorists, the unholy alliance of Nazi-KKK (fuck this Alt-right bullshit), apolitical capitalists, and even liberal-minded programmers trying to prove a point (and make that $$$), fed this beast. It got to the point where even Google and Facebook either couldn't tell the difference or didn't care to (the jury's still out and the two are not mutually exclusive). Now, if they couldn't tell, then media consumers already in the bubble had little to no chance. Their water suddenly became extra watery, practically orgasmic in its water qualities. The right's phobias and insecurities were magnified, confirmed, and fetishized in the totem that is Donald Fucking Trump.
So, I will freely admit that the DNC made damaging, strategic errors, including playing dirty with Bernie (he still wouldn't have won, so it was an unforced error). That's true and can be discussed separately. However, when going up against the Great White Whale that is the bloated conservative narrative, there simply hasn't been invented a harpoon capable of penetrating that blubbery hide.
I'm a story teller and liberal (officially registered independent). I'll certainly continue having conversations about how to change minds and hearts. I believe art can do that. I believe stories that we tell can affect change by subverting the place of the other and providing succor to the toxic masculinity that is such a part of our culture (including sub-cultures. It's a huge problem for African American communities). I believe there can be integration of ideas and peoples. This conversation has already started and will continue.
However, stories and political activism are not silver bullets. This cannot be done without mass media markets going on a strict no-bullshit diet. In other words, the internet has to grow up.
(New paragraph, so as not to mix metaphors) Clean the water.
This is not a pejorative statement. I like science fiction. I write science fiction. But it is a truth that I think is unabstracted from the skin you inhabit, thus sometimes difficult to see unless you've had certain kinds of out of body experiences. Not the type of experience that comes from crystals or chanting, but the kind that comes from trauma, near death, narcotics, or a mind that refuses to shut down after the third day without sleep. Then, you are a satellite collecting data.
The American dream is science fiction because it looks forward to a place carved out of time and space and dense with the illusion of permanence. The American Dream is walled by a blinding white event horizon. But if you somehow make it inside the Dream, you are bound only by the strength of your desires, your own gravity, and you have the power to reshape yourself. Rearrange your being into something upon which histories of the old country bead and roll off into black and white photos and Polaroids of family members whose names you've been told but never committed to memory. This, like most things, is not good or bad, it just is; initially existing beyond judgement in the same way as an asteroid hurtling through space.
If you should be so lucky as to make it into the dream without tearing yourself to bits, you will find that community is certainly an option. It is not something required for survival, but if you've crossed over, social bonds are guided by only two principals: level up to your final form and be as white as possible. White is flexible as the mitten in the snow as all sundry of fauna squeeze in. British, French, Russian, Italian, Catholic, Protestant. You become milk in color, in language, in tastes, in accepted history, in hegemony. I said before that you must have an out of body experience to see my point, that the American Dream is white dependent...unless you're not white. Then it is painfully obvious.
So let's switch gears here. That was a lot of words, some of which were pretty. But my point was rather simple; it is harder for some than others to be American and benefit from it's promise. A simple idea, yet often under-analyzed. I was at panel discussion on Utopian concepts in science fiction this past weekend and one of the panelists held his name card up next to his face and declared, "This is white, I am not white, there is no such thing as race." This argument is an academic parachute and there are fewer of them than there are passengers on the crashing jet.
Whatever your ethnic background, if it comes in a caucasian package, you get to blend in to the mainstreamed American culture that was made with you in mind, and at the same time be more of yourself than you could otherwise. Your stories are the ones told, your language that is legitimized and declared "Good English" (by people who know fuck-all about language), your history that gets first person perspective. There is a very different narrative for those who come in a different package, and really it is all about the narrative, which, for many of them, often crosses genre boundaries, mixing sci-fi, fantasy, and quite a lot of horror.
I try to keep these posts short. To be continued.
If you're still reading, even if you don't agree, that means you're still listening. Feel free to comment, but don't be a dick.
In 2004, I was driving down I-90 from the University of Buffalo's Amherst campus to downtown Buffalo when everything went black. I don't remember it going black. I do remember that the part of my brain that was still aware that I was driving 65 miles per hour in the middle lane between two tractor trailers punched me in the heart with adrenaline. I woke up scared shitless, with a pounding headache, and searing pain in my chest from said adrenaline punch. That's when I realized I might have a problem.
A week later I checked myself into the Buffalo Sleep Medicine Center at 3 Gates Circle in Amherst for an all night sleep study. They placed 21 electrodes on my head, chest, and back then let me sleep for 15 minute intervals the entire night. It was as fun as it sounds. I still have the results.
Normal sleep latency at 7 minutes with normal sleep efficiency of 89.7%. Latency to REM sleep was mildly prolonged at 138 minutes. There were 11.7 arousals (WTF?) per hour, mostly associated with respiratory events (oh, okay). Baseline respiratory rate was 12 - 20 breaths per blah and REM sleep 10 - 18 in NREM sleep. Obstructive sleep apnea was blah blah blah index of 10.3. Events were relatively evenly distributed between REM and NREM sleep. blah, blah, blah between Supine and non blah position.
There's a pretty succinct website that gives the layman a good run-down of the symptoms. One that surprised me was the depression. It comes suddenly and with no explanation, even after particularly good days. Another is a kind of sensory overload. Those started in college (narcolepsy often presents symptoms late). Everything would be too loud and too bright, even my own thoughts. I'd lay on my bed as still as possible with my head beneath my pillow to muffle the world. Haven't had those in awhile.
Another symptom I didn't expect were the hallucinatory effects. I actually like those. I try to ride them like a wave; pen in hand, I wait for the swell. "America is drenched in its own sugary light. You're soaked in it. So, you may not realize we suffer from a kind of cultural diabetes. Which is why I think my tattoo confuses people." More on that later. But you get the point.
Why am I talking about this now? I think I am a writer. I write, therefore I think that "I" should come out from behind secrets. Or, at least make the attempt. Even in failing, the struggle is where the story is. Writers, who are artists, should try to see the world clearly, but through multiple lenses of experience, and be seen doing so. Telling your personal truth makes it easier to write universal truths; flames throwing shadows at the cave wall of beautiful and terrible things.
The Clockwork Phoenix 5 Launch Party will be live streaming here...http://livestream.com/thecommons/events/5083616
Also, I have an Amazon page. http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B01DLZVI5G
Buy my stuff!
Just got another outstanding review that singled out my story along with Barbra Krashnoff's, Carlos Hernandez & C.S.E Cooney's, and Benjanun Sriduangkaew's stories from Clockwork Phoenix 5. And if you haven't heard it yet, another version of the story is playing on the Kaleidcoast, read by Jon Hoche.
Hope to see you guys at the New York Review of Science Fiction Clockwork Phoenix 5 launch party on April 5th at the Brooklyn Commons at 7. pm.
This blogging game is harder than I thought, but every once in a while, I get to pull a Stephen Curry. The reviews for Mike Allen's Clockwork Phoenix 5 Anthology, of which I'm a part, received a starred review in Publishers Weekly. So, already epic winning and I don't feel at all dirty for quoting Charlie Sheen.
But wait, there's more. Just so happened that the reviews for individual stories are starting to trickle in too, and guess who got a shout out! The full reviews can be found on Goodreads, Tangent, and the 365 Short Stories blog, but I clipped the ones about my story, Squeeze, and added them below. Reviews like this let me know I'm doing something right. The whole point of taking the time to craft a story is to touch the reader's heart.
On top of all that, I'll be joining Mike Allen and other NYC based contributors to Clockwork Phoenix to do a special reading for Jim Freund's, New York Review of Science Fiction on April 5th. I hope you all can make it. Come for the stories, stay for the hard cider.