Musings on Default Whiteness.

This post is brought to you by me having to navigate the Default and Correctness of Whiteness in my literary life this week.

A few things.

I’m very low on spoons. I will not link to any of the trash I discuss, you’ll have to google first. Also if you don’t know what I mean by default Whiteness, or Whiteness as a concept and destructive construct, do not comment and be mad. Either google or go watch this puppy video cause shit is about to get real.

brace-yourself-shit-just-got-real
[image description: photo of character Ned Stark from the TV show Game of thrones, text says Brace Yourself Shit Just Got Real]
There are a few articles going around that are anti-sensitivity reader and I’ve been involved with three very distinct (as in zero overlap) conversations about it with White people who have all made the same assertions that sensitivity editors/readers are:

  • Looking to profiteer off of censorship.
  • Will change the voice of the original author.
  • Don’t know what they are doing.
  • Are “forcing” identity politics into writing.
  • Are actively trying to as a whole rook poor White people out of money basically.

AGAIN for the cheap seats. Some things are censorship other things are not. Things that are not censorship*:

  • Being told no.
  • Being critiqued and dare say I fucking DRAGGED and publicly read for filth due to writing, editing or publishing fuckshit.
  • Being told that you’ve written, said, produced or published something actively harmful.
  • Being called an asshole (taken from a real comment to me by someone RE: the Paris Review post/s I made way back).
  • Not being given primacy in writing about a thing.

These are things that come up constantly in my lit life. Most of the time cries of censorship begin when White authors feel threatened by POC talking to them about their use of their Whiteness when it is a problem.

By that I mean things like, saying hey just because you can write about something, doesn’t automatically make yours the voice. This is what I was talking about in this entry. And in saying it, I spent months being harassed and often the first “criticism” was that I a writer am pro censorship because I said they could have used the opportunity to feature a Black Poet during such a time of historic Black action.

Here’s the thing. I am against censorship. Censorship as enacted by religious concerns and the government.

Publishing is not magic, it doesn’t happen by vote and publishing companies are not the government. Nobody is entitled to publishing. Nobody is entitled to be the primary voice on an issue just because they can talk.

I go on at length about this because over the past, let me be generous and say five years specifically, it is only White people who apparently lose all ability to think critically and if I a Black person, dare to correct or instruct them, or even just talk about Weaponized Whiteness (and by extension using Whiteness as both Correctness and the Default) suddenly, it is censorship. That is not how censorship works.

Now in the context of a sensitivity reader, the conversations I was a part as if the very idea that they, Paragons of Correct Whiteness they were, could ever fuck up writing something.

Um.

Okay look. I fully believe that you and everyone else in the world can write what the fuck they want, when the fuck they want.

I also believe that is you say, write a children’s book that portrays a slave child as a happy little worker yeah, you deserve to get dragged.

Now, what amuses and frustrates me in these things is the assurance that oozes from the assertions of how terrible “identity politics” are and how, if only those people could see, Whitey Whitepants writer didn’t mean to write a racist polemic that would give Lovecraft a boner, GOSH.

Of COURSE a White writer or a straight writer etc who is trying to create or delve into the world of marginalized peoples is going to likely not always do a bang up job. No wait let me put it into a different context.

If you are a nerd like me, you probably see stuff in TV or movies are like, WHO THE FUCK GREENLIT THIS SHIT, THAT IS NOT HOW THAT WORKS…

That’s reasonable right? It’s reasonable to expect that something presented as a professional thing, was researched beyond wiki.

So why would it be any different than writers who are writing say Black folks in their stories to check in with real live Black people to see if they are doing things wrong?

If your voice is so fragile as an author, it can’t withstand something like:

Hey Whitey Whitepants writer, here in chapter 4 you have X character seeming to have an “urban” meltdown calling the one Black character homie over and over again and doing their MTV showed me what Negroes be doin schtick and it is not great for these reasons:

  1. BLA
  2. BLA
  3. BLA.

That is how it works. This is a professional service, that is not designed to censor or ruin your precious work. It’s to help you uncenter yourself and your experience and have a moment to connect with your readership on a far deeper level.

The other problem I have is this.

Ahem.

Aside from perambulating around for about 40 years in a Black Queer body, I have been studying, writing about, talking about, dealing with racism for about that long. Depending on who I’m talking to, sometimes (as y’all know if you read me regularly) I use very academic language, sometimes I don’t. I code switch like a mother fucker.

That said, for the last two weeks or so here’s how those conversations have gone. Without rancor on my part.

Person posts link to shitty article about the terrors of Sensitivity readers/editors or posts a link to a blog post by a semi famous White lady writer: OMG They are going to censor us and ruin our work! How terrible! We can’t stand for this.

Me: That is not what sensitivity readers/editors are for. They do (insert examples of stuff they do) nobody -has to use them- dude you’re fine.

Random other White people: fall all over each other to “correct” me (not that they use or have acted as sensitivity readers), explain to me how having this option is automatically censorship, how it is an attempt to co-opt or otherwise fool innocent White writers into being SUPER PC.

Me: ………..no it is just like asking an expert in a field you’re writing in.

Them: NO IT IS NOT.

Me: *retreats*

The problem isn’t the arguments. The problem is that even in instances where I am/have shared my work/thoughts on these things, Whiteness is always given the immediate trust that they are correct. Even when they are loudly proclaiming something that is dead ass wrong.

Then, regardless of what I say or how it is said, it takes another White person to come along and occasionally repeat what I’ve said verbatim and then, OH WOW I NEVER THOUGHT OF IT THAT WAY.

I’ve spoken with MANY poc about this. 90% of the time, we are thought to be wrong. People say things like: knee jerk, bullying, mean, trying to “turn” someone PC, that we’re silencing, pro-censorship.

If the people speaking up happen to be Black women, the language is carefully not overtly racist but, the impression is always either that Black women are mean and aggressive or liars or otherwise are the perpetrators of violence even when what’s actually happened is that folks have been given some high level major education on anti-Blackness.

Intent and impact are vastly different and White folks, men especially if your first instinct is to “prove” someone wrong, maybe it’s time to examine that. More so if part of your remarks are to say that you don’t actually know about the thing and don’t use it.

Now, I could have posted this in the spaces I was talking about but it is easier for me to leave them. As I’ve said many times in the last year, y’all I have written about this shit so fucking much.  And you know what the actual worst thing is?

It’s not the Default and Correct Whiteness.

It is the fact that it doesn’t matter how I talk about these things, because I am Black and use words, I’m put into the ANGRY NEGRO corner and then White folks who don’t like what I have to say can be like, oh well you’re so angry I can’t listen to this/take it in.

Tone policed to fucking death.

And I’m not mad. It’s painful.

It hurts to be dismissed out of hand because White is Right.

It hurts because writing and literature have been my driving passions since I read a book about a pregnant dog when I was 3 years old. It is my blood and my bones. It gets me through bullshit ass days at my dayjob. It has led me to meeting some of the most important and most wonderful people I’ve ever met in my life. It has led me to my chosen family and to a place in my actual soul that feels free. It is my passion and my companion and the work of my heart and I love it so much.

And my love of literature and writing is the only reason why I keep talking about these things. I don’t try to change shit I don’t care about.

And yet, all this passion and there have been moments where I’ve literally said hey, person you are causing me harm right now or I’ve said that I’m hurt and you know what?

I’m not a White woman so White folks are relentless. Harm to me doesn’t exist because I’m always perceived as angry, aggressive and scary.

And after so many years of trying so hard to be a good literary citizen and use my knowledge about these issues to help- I’m just kinda done.

This entry wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t have a migraine and need to keep my brain busy at work and I needed to get out some hurt without yelling at folks.

The take is this.

When used as the only measure of calm, competency Whiteness will fail. Not only will it fail but in the context of the literary community, will drive folks out and if that’s the point hurrah! If that’s not the intended consequence, then think about how you interact with POC before you decide they are wrong about the thing you don’t even know about.

That’s all.

woosah
[image description: Photo of Martin Lawrence from the film Bad Boys rubbing his ears, the words say “woosah…woosah” on top and WOOOSSSAAAHHH!!! on the bottom.
*There are times when these behaviors are rooted in the spirit of censorship and are actual censorship as in done by the government but we’ll talk about that later.

Who to Blame for where we are now.

books
[image caption: Two books side by side. one cream colored called (close to the bone) memoirs of hurt, rage and desire. On the right a blue book title sarah by j.t leroy)
Okay y’all.

I decided to start a new project and it has to do with these two books.

Let me tell y’all a story.

When I was a babby writer, I spent a lot of time working to emulate other writers. I did that thing where I copied lines of things, everything from bits of Hamlet to Henry Miller, Anne Rice. Lots of stuff.

I would often save up for the month and take my 20-25$ and I had a few favorite book stores. One of them was owned by an old gay couple, I would prowl around until I found the perfect brand new book. I was so shy, I went there regularly for months before I was brave enough to have a conversation with the owners.

When close to the bone came out, one of the gents got down a copy and told me to read it. I’d read Permanent Midnight by Jerry Stahl already and his name caught my eye.

If you were to point to something that changed everything about how I was learning how to write and what I as a young Black, freaked out, traumatized weirdo was allowed to write- that book changed it all.

Y’all.

Y’all.

I read it and reread it and it opened up a whole new world of subject, tone and expression.

So if you want to point to some people who set me on a path, this is them.

I’ll explain how jt leroy fits in somewhere else.

I had a really visceral emotional reaction to getting these. I haven’t read the antho since probably 1999.

I’ll post more, but um, this is gonna be a big thing.

A Weird Lil Thing

I’m finally heading out of the holy fuckballs I am so sick I want to die.

I’m back on the grind, writing fiction and poetry and shit.

Tis the season for me feeling some type of way about too many lit world things that aren’t the outright usual fuckery of the lit world but enough to hurt my lil feelings. The events I can’t go to, the residencies I can’t even afford to apply to, etc etc.

I’m trying to tuck those feelings away so I can work but, I realized recently that I have to let myself go through it otherwise it festers and I wind up creatively and physically constipated and I can’t work that way.

I struggle with a lot of feelings and as I’ve said before, it is part of my process.

That said, the struggle always ends with me, figuring some shit out.

So here’s what this round has brought.

I felt like I was regressing a bit. I’ve set myself a goal of continuing to write whatever the fuck I want to write and accepting that my profits are prolly not gonna happen. I’ve been wrestling with it and frankly, it is just not worth the stress.

That said.

I want my Patreon to flourish so, I have some expansion plans. I’ll talk more about that next month. Now, I may still make my expansions a separate thing. Stay tuned for some Be That Shit University news.

I’m actually going to be talking about this a lot more in my next tiny letter. Y’all should sign up. I’m pretty awesome and shit.

Basically, I’m tryin to lay the groundwork that will enable me to do more in the lit world that I wanna do without the financial stress BUT also not freak out about said hustles.

There is one other thing I want to explore, a little coaching but I’m still researching it and trying to figure out how I could invest the time.

The big change I’m experiencing is that I am aware of and understand what skills I just don’t have/have difficulty learning and am accepting it.

So if I’m gonna be side hustling, it is going to be doing shit I love not shit I feel like I have to do.

So that’s where I’m at y’all.

Now probably next week I’m going to do some major nerding about some books and writers I love so come back for that.

AND lastly, If you have some money and need to learn to write the other. Please go take this class. The Writing The Other by Nisi Shawl and K. Tempest Bradford. Y’all. If you are not a marginalized person, please take this class. These folks are experts.

On Rejection and Returning to the Lit World

I don’t think I’ve mentioned it, but I’ve been doing a little slow step back into the lit world. By that I mean doing a little submitting here and there.

So pardon me being in a really navel gazing mood here, but I’m in need of reflection.

If I look back 20 years, what was I submitting?

I had about ten “done” stories (done as in I could only ruin them) I printed them out for five cents a page on paper I was ashamed of at the library. I bought expensive envelopes and hand addressed them to various magazines. I probably had about a 20% answer ration. Zero actual publications. I recall hiding my few rejection slips because I didn’t tell anyone I was doing it. I wish I’d have kept them to be honest.

My stories back then were sort of erotic horror mainly, a little slasher, gore and a few that I thought of as literary. Not one character was Black or queer. They were all nice White folks who were attractive and I was very careful not to reveal or infuse any Blackness because, the places I was submitting didn’t really publish a lot of Black stories aside from the occasional racial pain porn or paean to Maya Angelou penned by White women.

I was also deeply reticent about the literary because I bought into the idea that in order for me to be a writer on that level, I had to be in a writing program.

My earliest publications on the internet were all porn or horror. My favorite early publication was Gay smut and that story is still one of my favorites. If I can find it, I’ll reprint it.

After a couple of years I went for it in the lit community but, I kept my stories either pretty White or unspecified so White by default. I was a very nervous submitter. I probably ruined more stories editing and trying to hone them for specific publications than I did submissions sent. Looking back, I have to laugh a little bit. I wanted so badly to get published, I pushed my instincts and real desires down and tried so hard.

Fast forward another few years and I read this piece on the Rumpus. It low key changed my entire writing life. I mean as far as writing advice goes this:

So write, Elissa Bassist. Not like a girl. Not like a boy. Write like a motherfucker.

Now um, y’all.

That set me on a whole new trajectory.

I hit literary fuck it.

For the next four or so years I wrote and submitted like a mother fucker. Sometime in HA I found it 2011 I stumbled on a thing by Brett Elizabeth Jenkins (who is a badass poet) and it took me a while but I got there. Proudly. I wrote Blackness into my work purposefully and with zero fucks given.

It was liberating and telling.

All these years and submissions and rejections have served to teach me some invaluable lessons in how I submit.

Lesson one: If I find guidelines too confusing or too twee, fuck that publication.

Lesson two: Write whatever the fuck you want to write. Regardless of whether or not you think it will be published. Really, write that shit.

Lesson three: Every now and then, it is okay to pushback against a rejection. For instance: once upon a time yours truly got a sweet job writing custom porn. I passed the initial writing test magnificently, the editor was all about it. And then he looked me up and read my personal online diary (anyone remember Diary-x?) and decided to question me. He wanted to know if- because I am Black and Queer and Out in my personal life) I was capable of writing not those things. I was fucking livid and though I desperately needed the money I read him the riot act and flounced from the job. Sometimes, you just gotta tell somebody they done fucked up. That said, do not be the asshole who emails editors back wanting all their damn time or telling them how stupid they are for not publishing your brilliant treatise on whatever bullshit.

Lesson four: Do please read, the places you are submitting to. That said, if you want to blaze a trail for representation, don’t stop get it get it. On the other side of that coin, you are under no obligation to blaze the trail. Remember, care for your heart y’all.

Lesson five: If you can’t be a certain type of writer, accept it and do what you can do. Don’t be like me and punish yourself for years because you suck at quick turnaround work. Don’t be me. Do you boo.

Lesson six: If you write some bullshit, be ready for blow ack. Also, understand that if you write something offensive or deadass wrong and people call you on it, question the editor this is not censorship. This is what’s called consequences for maybe showing your ass. Don’t be a douchebag about it.

Lesson seven: Trust your Weird Voice. Read all about what I have to say about that in the archives of my newsletter here.

Last, cherish the great rejections. I got one earlier today for one of my weird essays and it was wonderful.And when they say we like your voice or something, submit again.

Now that’s all for now. I’m off to get rejected some more.

You go do you boo.

Do. You.

 

My Body is Ready

Let’s talk about what happens when my ass is in the chair and I’m getting ready to put in work.

I thought I had no ritual but, apparently I do.

I get my beverage. Usually fresh coffee or tea. I have my smokes nearby if I’m at home. I need noise so if I’m at work and music ain’t cutting it, I’m a sucker for the trashiest of trash tv. Reality TV where people are hollering and fighting usually is the thing.

I get office open and go.

If shit is really good, I am rocking and/or somehow wriggling in my chair between sitting up stiff and weird, my feet kick, my tongue pokes out, I pull other weird faces. If I’m really cooking, I mumble, sometimes I read a bit out loud, yell FUCK or NO NO NO NO NO.

authoratwork
[image description: Black femme person wearing a lavender bob style wig, black framed glasses, the tip of their tongue is sticking out]
If I’m being honest, things get weird. Like it’s that scene from that movie Swordfish where NERD!WOLVERINE is at his fancy mega computer, mumbling, dancing around, spinning in his chair. If I’m alone enough, shit gets that real.

I mean, y’all see. Granted I’m looking a lot more put together in this photo than I am at home when I work. But yeah, this is the start of me evolving into your fave indie weirdo writer in composition mode.

Something I find really funny is that the older I get the more I feel writing in my body. Back in the day, while I wrote I fancied myself to be very uh, pretty in doing it. Like I imagined romantic poets to be. All loungy sex and artistic glow.

Y’all nah. When I’m really deep in it, I’m sweating and stinking and grumbling. The other night while I was working on PoetryBookBaby#1, I bit the inside of my fucking cheek so hard it bled and then I was like HOW ABOUT NO FUCK U POMES! Out loud.

It just makes me giggle because the actuality of being a working writer is so not what I thought it was going to be. I thought things would be like, okay BOOM I’M PUBLISHED AND PUBLISHED AGAIN BANG ZIP BOOM MONEY YEAH FUCK YEAH!! PARTIES!! BOOTY!! FAME!!

I’m giggling while I write this, but it is what I thought would happen.

I didn’t think I’d be sitting and swearing at a computer screen at a job that mostly pays my bills, and hoping the phone doesn’t ring and fuck up my flow.

That said, it is not bad.

It’s not always greatness and cash, but you know.

I’m working through some shit and writing and writing and WRITING AND WRITING AND FUCK…I’m feeling kinda prolific but at the same time like there’s not enough energy and time in the day.

I think I’ll feel like I’m not getting the output I want forever. I’m not a machine but I want to be a word machine.

Now that’s this. I have LOTS of stuff to do.

So go read/subscribe to my newsletter. There is a fart joke AND I talk about Impostor Syndrome. come back next week and I’ll talk some more (GEEK SHIT YO) about some recurring themes in my work and how I deal with them in various genres.

 

 

I nerded hard

SO the thing happened this weekend.

I sat in a room full of writers and nerded hard on them about writing.

It was pretty great. I feel like I babbled a bit more than I planned but I was only super nervous for the first couple of minutes. I really, really enjoy talking to folks about writing. I talked a lot about just letting yourself do it.

You can find the handout with an attached story here. Feel free to download it and play with it.

And right now I can say with a lot of enthusiasm that I would like to do this more often.

I heard that folks felt inspired and ready to write and that is perfect.

So, um.

I don’t know how to make that happen but it does make me want to do some classes even more.

The reading on Monday was great though I have stuff to say about being on the UW campus that isn’t so great.

The event itself was……holy fuckballs y’all. It was fire. There will be some video, taken vertically (all apologies) but it’ll happen.

Okay I think that’s all for right now I have a cold and I’m terribly tired.

Influences and Artistic Desires.

I’m having a hard day today so let’s talk about influences.

I have listened to Solange’s new album A Seat at the Table three times this week. Don’t tell the Beyhive but, I’m a way bigger Solange fan in general. The track that just knocks me down is the one Don’t Touch my Hair. 

What inspires me about this track in particular is that I want to make a little music video for it. Listening to the song put me in mind of strong visual like this video but maybe a bit more eh, violent maybe.

I dunno.

My interest in learning film making was rekindled a few years ago when I stumbled upon the Show Studio and fashion/art films. I HIGHLY suggest going to youtube and search for some of the work with Nick Knight and Gareth Pugh.

The thin/whiteness of it aside, conceptually I really love these type of things. I find a lot of inspiration in thinking about my writing in a very cinematic way. Very often I not only fan cast my work but I think about it in terms of movement on screen, how an actor may need to be in the scene in order for me to get deeper inside a character.

I also harbor delusions of film making myself.

Also I have a hankering for arty self portrait projects that experiment with my own concepts of ugly beauty and monstrosity and whatnot.

Eventually I’d like to be able to do 90% of the make up, styling, making of costumes and filming myself. I want to play with this as another outlet for me. I want to use those skills (that I’m working on learning) to create literature and poetry films I make myself.

I’m really attached to the idea of engaging with my own art and expression that way. For a while I was deeply shy about it. I don’t have a background in this stuff, I’ve never studied it beyond watching/consuming it in my way. I don’t really understand the academics of this kind of art/performance. And for a long time that put me off of trying it out.

And then of course, the Pretty Thin White Girl self portraits took over everything and honestly the bit of experimental self portraiture, I did years ago got such a weirdly racist/sizeist response I stopped doing it. Once upon a time, I also had some inclination to do some of it in a more erotic vein but that urge has mostly passed.

Every now and then I get the hankering to make self shot art porn but, not enough to really do it honestly.

I keep writing up ideas and plans and ditching them. I have a lot of boxed up garbage feelings about it based largely on interactions with “artists” and other weirdos back in the day. It left a bad taste in my mouth. It’s a lot like most of my other passions (horror, heavy metal, nerd shit) in that racism and other assorted bullshit really just put a stink on it that’s hard to get rid of.

I legit hate it.

I also am trying out being gentle with myself about it because honestly, I have zero built in coping mechanisms for this. Trying to heal myself of a particular kind of trauma through art is proving to be way more difficult than I anticipated.

I am starting. I have allowances in my fundraiser for some equipment. I’ve been practicing shooting myself and I have a couple of video editing software programs at home to learn.

I don’t know what I will produce, but it will be something. I might start documenting my feelings about this and vlogging it. I dunno.

More coming.

Maybe a video???

I got my new phone so some things is gonna happen.