Catching Up: WisCon and What I’ve Been Reading

It’s been nearly a month since WisCon 41. After six years, I’m getting much better at not breaking down into tears as soon as I leave the hotel like I did for a couple of years. I’m also getting better at taking the little actions that make the con better people other than me (pronoun stickers and such). Most of all, I’m getting that family reunion with new additions as well as familiar faces. Overall, it’s always the thing I look forward to most during the year.

This year I got the chance to finally meet a couple of people I’ve gotten to know online, missed a few I got to meet at the event these past few years. I’m getting to the point where I don’t need to spend most of my free time in the safe space. And I’m getting more comfortable as a moderator and probably had my best year yet with this task.

In fact, I ended up modding five panels this year, all of which I proposed. But to that later. My favorite panel was actually one I attended on Friday afternoon, Exploring Identity Through Food and Fandom. The panel made me think of all the ways I use food in my writing (and in real life). For instance, love interests for my characters tend to cook for them or feed them in some way. One of the things I lament most being alone on holidays is that I don’t have anyone to feed. I also thought a lot of the points made about weaponizing food as well as the ways food access is weaponized on a systematic level.

I thoroughly enjoyed our five panels. I had the pleasure of paneling with Nerdgasm Noire Network again on several of them and the wonderful Krys was the common factor in all of them. We discussed The Year in Black Movies and #OscarsSoWhite on Friday afternoon and gave me a great start to my modding duties. I also found out the only thing more terrifying than reading Mikki Kendall’s Get Out story is actually hearing it. The New Golden Age of Black Television on Saturday morning was also a delight and De Ana decided to join the panel. In the afternoon, we had a great Black Panther panel making connections among the upcoming film, the comics, the animated series and the extended Marvel universe. I was most nervous about this one, but it went well.

Well, Sunday afternoon was one of the most anticipated for me, The Women of Luke Cage. We had a great discussion about the awesome and complex portrayals of Black women. We discussed the show within the larger context of the Marvel universe and the possibility of Misty Knight-Claire Temple slash fic. Last panel on Monday morning also went well and was more well attended than I hoped. Apparently, there are a few of us interested in Older Black Women in Romantic Relationships on Television. Overall, this was probably the best WisCon I’ve had so far.

But alas, WisCon came to an end as it always does. I immediately missed my friends and prepared for another year of hermitting in my home. Which might be a good thing if I actually took the time to read or write like I always tell myself I’m going to do. However, the new job that’s sustaining me takes up much of my time and it zaps much of my motivation to write and read. However, I have managed to read two books over the past couple of months and have started on Edwidge Danticat’s nonfiction work The Art of Death.

alice pung

Lucy and Linh by Alice Pung

I picked up this book from one of the Little Free Libraries around town. Yes, I was racially profiling as I do, so I took a chance on this one. I didn’t know then it was about a 15-year-old or that it was set in Australia, but I’m glad I kept with this YA entry. I liked the protagonist Lucy Lam. The narrative starts as a series of letters to her friend Linh, whom Lucy says she lost as she became more a part of the prestigious private school where she won a scholarship as part of a diversity initiative.

Lucy’s experiences bring to light the underlying racism, classism and gender politics that run through the school. Furthermore, as Lucy experiences the pressures from her classmates and school authorities as they treat her like a project, an experiment in transforming the poor child of immigrants into one of them, her mental health weakens. While the influence of The Perks of Being a Wallflower are evident (Pung even mentions the book), this story is wholly original and one of those young adult books that will probably be on English literature reading lists in the near future.

tomoyuki hoshino

ME by Tomoyuki Hoshino

I won this book from a Goodreads giveaway. Hoshino took the premise of this book from a scam in which strangers called unsuspecting targets by only saying “it’s me” before pretending to be in great distress and in need of money. However, in this story, Hoshino’s protagonist Hitoshi Nagano accidentally takes the phone of a young man named Daiki Hiyama and prank calls Daiki’s mother and cons her out of several thousand yen.

However, three days later, Daiki’s mother shows up at Hotoshi’s apartment and acts as if he is Daiki. Hoshino later tries to go back to his own family and finds that they do not recognize him. He gets another surprise and finds that his life will not be the same. While it takes a turn that Hoshino must live Daiki’s life, it becomes much more than that.

In the interest of avoiding spoilers, I’ll just say that Hoshino’s writing style reminds me of Banana Yoshimoto’s, whom I adored during my college years. Not only does this story have echoes of great scifi shows such as The Outer Limits and Black Mirror. Interestingly, another turn the story takes reminds me of the films of Chan-wook Park.

In the meantime, I’ll make my way through Danticat’s work and hopefully get back to my own writing. I’ve managed to do a chapter outline for both high fantasy and urban fantasy works. I’m still working on the outline for the graphic novel. Hopefully, I’ll get back to it sooner rather than later.

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WisCon Schedule and Possible June Livetweet Event

As most of you know, I have the opportunity to go to WisCon every year and in a couple of days I’ll be having a family reunion of sorts 😀 I usually don’t post my schedule coz for some reason I kept myself anonymous, but that really serves no purpose. I’m doing five panels this year, moderating all of them. If you’ve ever been to a panel I moderate, I like to keep it fun, keep it Black, keep it mostly womanly. Hope you’ll join us and look for a short announcement about a possible livetweet event I might hold in June.

May 26

The Year in Black Movies and #OscarsSoWhite

Conference 1

Friday, 4p-5:15p

MoonlightFencesHidden FiguresQueen of Katwe and Birth of a Nation were all major releases in 2016. These first four films offered refreshing depictions of blackness and Black people beyond what we have been used to seeing from Hollywood films. However, more than the controversy surrounding BOAN prevented it from living up to its hype from Sundance and it cannot be excluded from the conversation. This panels discusses these films and why they inspired so much hope for further representations of blackness.

 

May 27

The New Golden Age of Black Television

University B

Saturday, 10a-11:15a

In addition to shows such as Empire and Survivor’s Remorse, television has seen a resurgence of Black-cast television shows. In 2016, we got Queen Sugar,  Atlanta,  InsecureLuke Cage and The Get Down among other shows. Queen Sugar was especially impressive in its depictions of blackness and its decision to hire all women to direct the show. The Get Down was not only nostalgic but also depicted a multicultural setting with POC. This panel discusses these shows and how they gave room to explore blackness in ways television has failed in previous shows. We will also discuss any problematic aspects of these shows and what we hope for them in future seasons.

Can We Really Wait Until 2018? In Anticipation of Black Panther

Conference 2

Saturday, 1p-2:15p

#BlackPantherSoLit! Two years before the film is scheduled for release, Black Twitter trended the hashtag in anticipation. While we’re waiting for 2018 to get here, let’s talk about why we are so eagerly looking forward to Black Panther. Let’s discuss what we are hoping for from Black Panther and Wakanda, especially after the success of Luke Cage. Let’s also discuss what we are afraid could go wrong and whether we have faith in Ryan Coogler and company to give us the MCU film we all deserve.

May 28

The Women of Luke Cage

Assembly

Sunday, 1p-2:15p

Who knew we could break Netflix! Less than 24 hours after it debuted, Netflix crashed as we all tuned in to the first Black-cast MCU show. The response was overwhelming. However, within this culturally specific and complicated context, the women of Luke Cage made a lasting impression. Misty Knight, Mariah Dillard, Claire Temple, Priscilla Ridley, and Betty Audrey were among a plethora of well-rounded Black female characters with depth and range in this world. This is not to say that all depictions were perfect, but they were far from one-dimensional. This panel will discuss the women of Luke Cage and how they were essential to this show.

May 29

Older Black Women in Television Romance

Caucus

Monday, 10a-11:15a

This panel will discuss what it means to see Black women in various intersections finding and receiving love and support, especially at an older age. We will look at Annalise Keating from How To Get Away With Murder, Mariah Dillard from Luke Cage, Cookie Lyon from Empire, Violet Bordelon of Queen Sugar, Cassie Calloway of Survivor’s Remorse and Jessica Pearson of Suits.

So that’s my WisCon schedule. Of course, I’ll be attending other panels and will hopefully see some of you on my downtime.

After WisCon, I am contemplating doing a livetweet in June in honor of Black Music Month. What I plan to do is livetweet a few music documentaries: WattStax, Soul to Soul, A Band Called Death and Buena Vista Social Club. Right now, I am considering Wednesday or Thursday evenings, but I don’t have a set time. I will be off work and hoping the queue from my transcription job has work again. Whether or not there is, I want to make time for these livetweets that each celebrate some element of Black music history. If you are interested in co-ordinating or want to do this on a day that has five weeks in the month so that you can add a film, hit me up. I’m open to suggestions.

In the meantime, I’m looking forward to seeing my WisCon peeps!

Catching Up and Moving On

It’s been a while since I last posted here. Blog neglect gets to be very real this time of year 😉 Also it’s hard to write when I have no theme or coherent thoughts on a subject. Then again, most of my thoughts seem incoherent.

However, I am also reflective again and find myself with time on my hands while I wait to hear back from job prospects and wonder how to keep myself afloat during this lean period with no income. Most of my thoughts focus on WisCon, which I attended last month.

This year I anticipated the con even more than last because this is the one time of year I get to be in the same physical space as people I adore and feel safe with. I anticipated more so this year because it meant seeing a dear friend who no longer lives in the same city. Of course, I looked forward to the panels and other events the con brings and found it to be an overall enjoyable experience.

Each panel I attended had some excellent points and only a few had some WTF moments. Then again, most of the panels I attended were all or mostly Black women. However, the two panels I attended Friday got the weekend off to a great start. Manic Pixies, Magical Negroes and Other Iconic Harmful Tropes discussed many of the tired tropes and stereotypes still found in speculative genres. However, the panel did not simply list the tropes. It also explained why these tropes continue to prevail and gave some examples of works (books mostly) that do credible jobs in averting these tropes. Drawing attention to the tropes has the power to show writers how to do it, but it also works to show what not to do and may even make writers more creative.

The Misandry, Reverse Racism, and Other Imaginary Creatures panel was also quite informative but approached with a lighthearted, fun spirit. Our moderator showed us some great artwork capturing these imaginary creatures and the panel explained some encounters in which they were said to be these fascinating mythical creatures. While the panel was enjoyable, it brought to light the ways in which writers and those of us derisively called social justice warriors must deal with the tears of the privilege who for some reason want to believe they are oppressed.

Saturday was a great and not-so-great day for the panels. The day started off great with an early morning panel, Podcasts for Beginners. Whether or not you are interested in podcasting, there was some great information to help understand what indie podcasters endure with the only reward as the possibility of reaching like minds and adding a much needed voice in a predominantly white, male landscape. Anyone considering starting a podcast or needs tips on sustaining an existing one would have learned so much from this panel.

Size Acceptance 201 had a great premise but was marred a bit by a generation gap and apparent unawareness from the moderator. The panel touched on many issues connected with size/fat acceptance and the ways sizism harms people who do not fit the thin ideal. For instance, finding sympathetic doctors who treat symptoms rather than perceptions of fatness can be difficult when seeking medical care. However, there were some issues about who should be centered in discussions as well as crediting those who pioneered fat acceptance movements. Still, the overall discussion had quite a few productive moments.

The next panel I attended was one I proposed and moderated, Just Say No to #DollarStoreThor: A Sleepy Hollow Panel. Due to a last minute addition, we ended up with seven people on this panel and it was so much fun. It wasn’t all about trashing the show even though we definitely had a lot to say about that. The tone was more of betrayal and had we been given a bait and switch with the series, especially given the Fox Network’s history with Black-led shows. And Struggle Witch. We talked a lot about Struggle Witch. Of course, we also talked about how the show could get back on track and what we hope to see with season 3. I really enjoyed the passion the panel brought to the subject and wish that TPTB actually listened to their insight on the show. But…

Tired as I was after that panel, I attended “Infodump,” “Mary Sue” and Other Words That Authors Are Sick of Hearing. Admittedly, the panel was not about what I thought it was about. It focused on an article of the same name printed in i09 about what words authors would like to see retired. While the panel went over the terms listed in the article, there was some defense in why they were sometimes useful, especially in helping to identify what was problematic with the writing. However, there was some random fuckery on the part of an audience member who thought it was a good idea to unnecessarily use the n-word as an example. Fortunately, the situation was handled rather professionally because in my sleepy state, my filters were off and I was planning to meet this person out in the hall.

Sunday was another great day for panels, mostly because they were primarily led by Nerdgasm Noire Network. The morning panel Is Anyone Listening? Black Women’s Experiences in Podcasting addressed the issues the panel faced as Black women trying to make themselves heard in a medium with an overwhelming white, male, cishet presence. Podcasting gives many people (such as myself) access to voices that more closely align with their own, but sometimes they are difficult to find amidst the more dominant voices. Furthermore, growing and sustaining an audience can often be difficult when Black women are considered niche.

Nerdgasm also led another awesome panel called Leading Ladies of Color. The panel discussed some of their favorite women of color in television right now. While they focused on the WOC they loved, they also addressed problematic aspects of these characters even though many are given more complex characterizations than many WOC have found in the past. Then of course there are also problematic leading WOC (who will remain unnamed) who failed to live up to expectations whether through their own doing or because of what they had to work with. A favorite moment of mine was when an audience member brought up web series and how they are also giving us more nuanced representations for WOC.

I had to make a choice for which panel to attend during the first afternoon session and I chose Standing in the Sun: How Shonda Rhimes Redirected Hollywood’s Spotlight onto Intersectional Feminism. Great choice because the panel came from the perspective of fans with great admiration for Rhimes even though they were rightly critical of her work. They explained what she did right in her shows as well as addressed where she could do better. As a newer fan, I had to explain why I thought that Rhimes has gotten to a place where she can make her feminism do what feminism is supposed to do. There were also squees over cast members, favorite and least favorite moments from the shows and lots of feelings about having a Black woman practically take over the biggest night of television. [The panel I also wanted to see, Are Casual Gamers Considered “Real Gamers,” should be available as an NNN podcast in the coming weeks.]

The last panel I attended at WisCon was also my most highly anticipated: Nerdgasm Noire Network Live at WisCon. For the first time almost since the show started, NNN had all six members of the podcast in attendance and totally brought the spirit of the podcast to the con. I had so much fun listening to debates about John Diggle vs Joe West, Gotham City vs Hell’s Kitchen and other topics and even won some awesome nerd swag: the premier edition of the En?gma comic by Kimberly Moseberry and Jonathan Price and some artwork of a character called Prodigy from a series I forget the name of but I think it’s got something to do with Trinity. Although I’d planned to attend another panel on Monday morning, it was canceled, so the live show was the perfect way to end the panel sessions.

Otherwise, I spent the weekend as the official NNN groupie and wouldn’t let them shake me 😀 I had a great time hanging out with the girls and talking with them about lots of random shit. I also got to see some other friends and wished I could have spent more time with them, but we didn’t catch up until Sunday and I was only able to sit with them during the morning panels. A rainy day left us in the hotel room and became a hostage situation when we were forced to watch The Room. Yeah that movie. Thanx, Maria. At least I did get to show off my Concrete Park and Nuthin’ Good Ever Happens at 4 a.m. comics…

Spending time with my Nerdgasm friends also leads me to the moving on part. I got some positive reinforcement on some things I’m writing. I told them about the series I’m working on and there was some interest. I’ve also gotten some feedback from an awesome beta reader, so I feel like I’m on the right track. I’m planning on posting it once the summer solstice hits. I still have not decided whether to post biweekly or monthly. I feel that biweekly could possibly push me a little harder than I’m ready for at this point, but monthly could be too long of a wait between chapters, a confusing fear of mine given that I already believe that people could get tired of me if I post too often.

Anyway, I will hopefully have my mind made up on the posting schedule by the time I post the first chapter. In the meantime, I am trying to bring myself to submit a short story to Tor. This is a major market and could be a great opportunity if the story is accepted. However, I don’t have lots of confidence that the story lives up to speculative expectations as it is primarily character rather than plot driven (as pretty much all my writing is). I am also working on a grant that could really change my life if accepted, but the deadline is months from now.

I am also participating in the Clarion West Write-a-thon in a couple of weeks. The Write-a-thon was great in helping me maintain writing goals last summer and this summer I plan to use the time to focus on the series and maybe the novel. People are allowed to sponsor me but, if I am honest, I’m not really sure how that works. Believe it or not, this is my third time participating…

Anyway, that’s what’s been up with me these past few weeks. I haven’t started to panic about no work yet and hopefully I won’t have to. In the meantime, hopefully I’ll still have some writing from For Harriet and I’ll hear about the proofreading positions. If you wanna stay on my butt about keeping up my writing, I won’t mind at all. Now let’s just hope I get something fiction published sooner rather than later…

Separating to Decenter

I am a writer. I occasionally blog. I am an independent scholar and a former academic. I am a geek. I am also a womanist. I often spend lots of time pondering what these things mean in terms of my identity, but I also consider how these points of identity affect others’ perceptions of me. I use them here as a point of disclosure.

As a writer and scholar, I intentionally focus on black women. I include them in the center of the story or scholarship every time. This arose out of a need to see me whenever I look around at the things I love. As a grad school student, I fought a losing battle to center my work exclusively on the works of black women and their representation in spaces created for and by African Americans and lost my taste for the academic life.

At the time, I had no vocabulary to understand whiteness even though I had heard of whiteness and white studies. At the time, it did not occur to me that the very people who were supposed to guide my academic career were too heavily invested in upholding whiteness that they would render my work invalid. After six years, I let go of my dreams of making an impact in an institution that never intended to let me work on my terms because that would have actually shifted focus of dialogue away from whiteness.

Since then, I have drifted, but three years ago, I attended my first WisCon, a feminist sci-fi convention in my new hometown. One of the things I like about the conference is that people of color have their own safe space. Like whiteness, I had no academic or intellectual context in which to discuss the need for a safe space before this point. I had been involved in student organizations for people of color at times, but I had never given them such a formal name or recognized them as safe spaces.

However, I often find that whiteness often invades these safe spaces as well. White people are not the only ones invested in it, as I learned during my grad school years. I once took part in a discussion on a podcast I frequent, GeekSoulBrother, on the subject of geek segregation (we’ll get to this word in a moment). Inevitably, the question arose that asked what if whites suddenly want to make a name for themselves as white geeks since many black nerds refer to themselves as blerds.

Questions such as these illustrate the pervasiveness of whiteness in our lives. When people of color create spaces for ourselves, we are often accused of racism or reverse racism as if societal and institutional structures do not still call for the need of these spaces. Yet, when we come together in our safe spaces, we still preoccupy ourselves with what the white folks think. How are they going to see us separating ourselves from them?

I understand why some of us would ask this question and why there would be reluctance to leave whites out of safe spaces. In academic and geek circles, some of us grow close to whites who share our interests and sometimes our lives. Leaving them out can be tough, but it is often necessary. People of color experience life in ways whites do not have to, and at times, these “allies” and other close friends and family can contribute to our distress even if they do not realize it.

There are even some of us who feel we should make an effort to live “in harmony,” so to speak, with others and separating ourselves defeats the purpose of unity. They do not like to talk about concepts like whiteness and white privilege and instead discuss why we should “blend in” or assimilate to dominate cultures. I cannot deal with someone who does not deal in the reality that whiteness does not respect our differences and wants us to check them at the door when we enter mainstream spaces.

I also find it problematic that using safe spaces is referred to as segregation or self-segregation. Segregation refers to institutional and legal practices used to systematically keep out marginalized peoples from certain spaces and opportunities; safe spaces respond to segregation and the distress that comes from dealing with systematic oppression once we are “allowed” to integrate spaces. On the other end of the spectrum, there are those who criticize marginalized people for demanding inclusion even though this inclusion can be painful and traumatic. They say we are begging for crumbs and say we should make our own spaces while not supporting those very spaces they say we need.

However, what all these conversations miss is the underlying assumption of whiteness and how we cannot seem to get it out of the spaces we create for ourselves in order to be safe. Because sooner or later, we have to leave these spaces. We have to deal with what the world we live in throws at us whether or not we are ready. The concept of “colorblindness” that so many people of all races espouse does not make the centuries of systematic oppression that continues to facilitate the ways of the world magically disappear. Refusing to acknowledge race, gender identity, sexuality, religion and other differences does not mean the forces they no longer matter.

I do not live in a world in which race, gender identity, sexuality, religion and other differences do not matter. I live in a world in which I want to believe in one thing but have to behave in contradiction to those beliefs in order to survive. I have to anticipate how others will respond to me based on what they see and how they expect me to behave. I do not have the luxury of not seeing color or other differences. I strive to create safe spaces for myself and the people I love because I know none of us is safe once we walk out into this world.

Third Time’s the Charm: #WisCon and #NergasmNews

For the past three years, I’ve attended the feminist scifi conference called WisCon. I first discovered it as sort of a happy accident when I moved here to Madison and found information from someone I followed on Twitter. That first year, I was pretty terrified but made it through the conference in tact and even found a friend here in town. Last year was okay but barely memorable because I decided to participate and presented a paper, which left me pretty terrified as well. Yet I made it through the weekend with the help of that same friend I’d made the year before and even made a couple more friends in the process. Otherwise, I was pretty much another face in the crowd.

However, this year I looked forward to WisCon for more than a few reasons. One: I’d decided to participate on panels and found myself moderator for two I proposed. Two: I was finally going to meet a few people in person that I’ve met online. Three of these women were on-air personalities for my favorite podcast Nerdgasm Noire Network and another blogs for the sister site.

I first have to explain what NNN means to me. I’ve grown rather attached to podcasts over the past few years and I’ve listened to NNN for probably more than two years now. At some point, I’ve not only gotten brave enough to participate in the chat while the show airs live, but I also connect with these ladies online. NNN has done so much to make me feel less alone and know that there are like minds. But while getting to know the ladies over the past couple of years, I’ve felt a lot less like a listener and more like family.

I not only looked forward to meeting De Ana, JP, Jamie and Maria, but they also genuinely wanted to meet me in person. I was so excited and nervous about this whole weekend even though it quickly became apparent I had no reason to be. All of these ladies treated me with nothing less than kindness, love, welcome and support as they always have when we talked online. Those gestures of embracing me, bringing me into the circle and keeping me protected are so appreciated but so unfamiliar to me.

You see I felt just a little intimidated even though everyone I met is far less intimidating than they appear online. Nothing anyone did made me feel this way. I was brought into the fold with open arms and treated as an equal and as someone who matters. But I say this embrace is unfamiliar to me because I still come from this perspective as someone who has spent a lifetime trying to shrink herself into the nothing I’ve always felt myself to be. I spent the weekend with the ones who’ve always been the cool kids in my eyes and they let me be one of them and here I was an equal.

Yet I still felt ugly and inadequate with them. Nothing they did made me feel this way. These women have gone through some of the same struggles in life I have, probably much worse, and I am in awe of them seeing how they can come together in a safe space and breathe life into a room just by being themselves. I still haven’t reached that point and they worked so hard to help me get there this weekend even trying to make me see something that was right in front of my eyes but just not connecting with that part of myself who still feels like that little girl everyone called ugly and unwanted. (Yes, De Ana, I still find it hard to believe that this “situation” exists.)

I know we’ll still connect online as always, but I’m incredibly sad this weekend at WisCon has had to end. But I want all the ladies in Nerdgasm to know how much I love, respect and adore you. I know you’ll have your bad days, but I want you all to know that you have more compassion and class in one eyelash than anyone who has tried or will try to make you feel less than. You may have started this podcast and site just to get your jollies out and have a good time, but what you do matters and I know it makes a difference to more people than just me. As much as I’ll miss your physical presences, that distance between us will never diminish the impact you’ve had on my life. When you brought me close to you this weekend, you took in someone who only believed she took up space but had no presence.

I hope that on those days things seem like can’t get any worse you’ll remember that you have made a huge difference to at least one person and how much that means. If all I can ever offer you is love and support, you’ll have that from me as long as you need it. WisCon may come to an end, but everything I’ve learned about myself through you goes a long way toward the lessons I need to learn about my own self-worth.

For anyone else I’ve connected with this weekend, if you took the time to speak to me or acknowledge my presence and made me feel like more than a shadow, it was not unnoticed or unappreciated. Everything I’ve said to the Nerdgasm ladies applies to you as well. You never know when you’re being a light just at the right moment of darkness and I hope you all know how much you matter in my little world.

Yeah, cheesy, but apt 😉