Twenty-Seventeen

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A quotation from the walls of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

I am
afraid. Folded in by the weight
of postcards and calls
links and 140 characters.
Always thinking about the invisible scales of equality  
between the unborn, the refugee, the immigrant, and those not living in privilege.

I am
certain that I have fingers
toes, a heart with blood pumping
slowly through my veins
as do you,
and them,
and us, but those that lead find
different ways to say
You Don’t Belong.

I question
my ability
my strength for this
test.
Yet I know that one cannot expect miracles
And God cannot do all the work

And so

Although I am afraid, I am certain. Although I question, I am ready.
I can be brave. I must be brave. I will be brave.


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Pulitzer Prize winning author Anthony Doerr put up this panel during his talk for the Arlington County Library. I wrote about that talk here.

Whenever I begin writing my annual New Year’s post I take a look at what I wrote the year before. Here is what I said in January 2016:

Continue reading “Twenty-Seventeen”

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Dream Gardens: Talking Number the Stars with Jody Mott

I’m sure everyone is on the edge of their seats waiting for my annual New Year’s Post.

This isn’t it.

I’m struggling a bit this year – trying to find a way to stay optimistic and see the promise of the future in a world that feels like it’s gone a little bit crazy. And then there was my two-week cold that pretty much demanded a lack of productivity.

All that being said I did one thing in the early part of this month that was interesting and new. As many of you know in January of last year I published a children’s book called The Heart of the River. When I did that I also joined the Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). It’s a great organization that supports its members by providing resources and marketing through events like the Book Blast (here’s my page which will be live for another week or so).

number-the-stars Continue reading “Dream Gardens: Talking Number the Stars with Jody Mott”

Who Do I Want To Be? Art, Literature and Choosing Your Own Identity (Part II)

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In the first post of this series I wrote of how the miniseries Roots and Guy Gavriel Kay’s Children of the Earth and Sky tackled a simple question of individual identity amidst displacement  – “Who am I?” But there is a second question that both the show and the book addressed that looks beyond the status quo and the present revealing active identity creation. “Who do I want to be?” is a question that is both aspirational and forward looking.

And so two other art/history pieces I experienced this spring – the Smithsonian’s Crosslines and the Folger Shakespeare Library’s District Merchantsdemonstrate that not everyone wants or chooses to internalize their heritage in the same way. Rather they make it clear that answering the question “Who do I want to be?” is a combination of conscious and unconscious choices we make in the process of forging identities.

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One of the many exhibitions at Crosslines: A Culture Lab on Intersectionality

Continue reading “Who Do I Want To Be? Art, Literature and Choosing Your Own Identity (Part II)”

Who Am I? Art, Literature, and the Shaping of Identity (Part I)

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“And he, Marin Djivo, younger son of a merchant? What was his life about? Trade? Clever, profitable dealings? He was from a city state that flourished by letting no one hate them enough to do anything disagreeable. Where you are situated in the world, Marin thinks, digging a grave in a Sauradian meadow, shapes how you act in the world.

Then he amends that thought: It is one of the things that does so. Rasca Tripon and Danica Gradek might frame it differently. Or the old empress living with the Daughters of Jad on Sinan Isle might do so. They are all exiles, he thinks, taken from what they were, where they were.”

–Excerpt from Children of the Earth and Sky by Guy Gavriel Kay (emphasis mine)

For those of you that are fans of musical theatre the title of this piece may prompt you to belt out a singular name. A man whose identity at the moment of questioning had long been obscured by a series of numbers.

Continue reading “Who Am I? Art, Literature, and the Shaping of Identity (Part I)”

Never shall I forget that night: On Elie Wiesel

In the foreword of the new translation of his book Night Elie Wiesel wrote:

“In retrospect I must confess that I do not know, or no longer know, what I wanted to achieve with my words. I only know that without this testimony, my life as a writer—or my life, period—would not have become what it is: that of a witness who believes he has a moral obligation to try to prevent the enemy from enjoying one last victory by allowing his crimes to be erased from human memory.”

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Like most American teenagers I encountered the words of Elie Wiesel in an English class. The stark white cover, Wiesel’s name in blue lettering, a shadowed image of barbed wire obscuring a singular figure: we were two years from my first visit to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum (of which Wiesel was the founding chairman) and while I knew about the horror in abstraction, this was the first witness testimony I had ever read. Continue reading “Never shall I forget that night: On Elie Wiesel”

WordPower

Words have power. Fact. We live in an age where anyone can say anything and be believed. An age where fact checking is only reliable if it aligns with your beliefs. Words. Have. Power.

But power to what? To sway, to innovate, to encourage, to bring hope – and in their absence limit important forms of expression necessary for real communication. A few weeks ago two events brought these thoughts to the surface. And while both cases are based in fiction there are real world implications.

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Meeting Anthony Doerr.

Continue reading “WordPower”

A Twinge of Loss. The Aftermath of the Star Wars Expanded Universe

This post originally appeared on FANgirl.

Han shot first. A toy in a prime television viewing spot at a friends house.
Han shot first. A toy in a prime television viewing spot at a friends house.

In eighth grade science class my friend Tracy slid me a folded piece of notebook paper. Scrawled across the top were the words “Star Wars Expanded Universe and Ratings” or something like that. On this paper she had painstakingly written out the name of each of the books marking each in turn with a series of stars. One for Children of the Jedi. Five for The Last Command. A blueprint for a newly inducted fan.

Soon I found myself devouring each book as it came along. Wanting to stay current, and let’s be honest, to know everything. In 1995, the internet was in its infancy, and my sphere of conversation on this topic was limited. But, boy, did I read.

I read regularly until the end of the New Jedi Order. Then things took a turn towards darkness. bugs, strange adventures, twisted Solo children. So I moved on, returning occasionally for a book by Timothy Zahn and to read about Mara’s demise firsthand. I felt like I owed it to her to read about her death, to pay my last respects.

Despite all this the internet kept me informed and it was enough. A single toe in a larger pond.

Enter Disney.

Let’s get this out of the way: I am hopeful. Cautiously optimistic. Filled with anticipation. Even thrilled now that we have three films in three years.

Seriously all — ROGUE ONE. Even if it isn’t linked to Michael Stackpole/Aaron Allston, the idea alone… Whew.

Then there was a notice about the new books, including a blurb about Star Wars: Aftermath, and there it was: an unexpected twinge next to my heart, a sudden moment of loss.

WHAT HAPPENED AFTER ENDOR? FIND OUT IN STAR WARS: AFTERMATH Continue reading “A Twinge of Loss. The Aftermath of the Star Wars Expanded Universe”

Epic Storytelling: Fantasy, Magic, Honor, Truth

This is the second of two posts on epic storytelling. You can find the first here.

I have a theory about why we are attracted to epic storytelling. It’s all about the history. However, for many that past is not our past, but rather history created in the minds and imaginations of writers around the world.

For an example we should look no further than the incredible popularity of Game of Thrones. A medieval fantasy filled with political jockeying, power struggles, zombie like ice walkers, and dragons. A story nerds have been following long before it ever hit the small screen. Now others are discovering the show and going back to read the novels and get more out of this world that George R.R.Martin created.

Why? because the power, the love, the danger all speak to something within us. A subliminal ping that we recognize as familiar. A sense of history. Continue reading “Epic Storytelling: Fantasy, Magic, Honor, Truth”

Epic Storytelling: The Pull of Dystopia

Dystopian Hardware in Montreal by imcallahan via Flickr and Creative Commons.

In the middle of last year a friend asked why we as a culture seem to be drawn to epic storytelling. These are stories where grand visions of what a world could be are garnished by the magical, the mystical, and the fantastical, spanning nations and many worlds. Stories where fights for truth and justice are disguised metaphors for what authors and readers see as missing from our current way of life. After months of letting the question circle around in my head I’d like to spend two posts presenting my answer largely based on musings from recent experiences and readings.

We’ll start with epic storytelling of the dystopian sort:

There was a moment in high school over a decade ago when I was tasked with reading post-apocalyptic books of all manner of styles. 1984, On the Beach, Fahrenheit 451 — each with their own set of rules and commentary on privacy, nuclear warfare, and censorship. I realized then that the dystopian fiction I am most attracted to are narratives with something to say beyond death, destruction, and warfare. I am also attracted to post-apocalyptic fiction that provides a commentary on choice. Stories that juxtapose our reality against a world we can barely recognize.

Two weeks ago I finished two books, The Bone Clocks and Station Eleven, that illustrate why some dystopian fiction enthralls me. They reveal how their ability to tell stories on a larger-than-life//larger-than-reality scale really hits home.

[Some over-arching plot spoilers below] Continue reading “Epic Storytelling: The Pull of Dystopia”

Andre Agassi: Image Isn’t Everything

I was young when I first fell in love. I was raised on tennis the way a lot of kids are raised on football and baseball. I was raised on Pete Sampras, Monica Seles, Patrick Rafter, and of course Steffi Graf.

But Love? That was how I felt about Andre Agassi. It wasn’t a romantic love, but a fan’s love. Whenever he would play I would sit on the edge of my seat knowing that he would pull it out of a fifth set. And when he said goodbye in 2006 I cried.

My knowledge of his personal life was limited to broad strokes — he was married to Brooke Shields, then Steffi Graf. I knew he was Armenian-American. And I remember talking to my dad about how when Agassi was happy in his personal life his game seemed to suffer.

Continue reading “Andre Agassi: Image Isn’t Everything”