When I am Too Much

Recently, I had an essay published in one of my bucketlist magazines. See it here at The Offing. I have a story to tell y’all about publishing and what happens when you are in fact too much.

That essay came about because I was contacted by an editor I am familiar with and they asked if I could do a piece about race and gender. The first version of this essay was more dry. It lacked flavor to me and I felt like I was trying to engage too many things when this story was very enclosed to me. The original version had lukewarm feedback and the editor wanted more.

I did this version and to me this is it. I’ve been experimenting with trying to place more literary styled essays in not lit mags specifically. A successful example of that is here at Wear Your Voice.

Editor #1 had reservations. Some of their feedback:

  • I lead with fear of death as a Black Man
  • I refer to my masculine gender expression with a personified phrase “the boy”.

However, the most tap danced around feedback came down to the fact that this work doesn’t engage with gender in the way that they wanted. They wanted Sassy Black Queen and got Terrified Black Femme. The suggested edits stripped specific mention of Blackness to turn it into a #metoo piece without the connective tissue.

A story that is not mine.

I decided not to go further with that editor because the story they wanted was a pastel version of my story with a rainbow on it and not a memory and meditation on a real fear in my life.

I shopped the piece as it appears at The Offing around for a while. Most responses were lukewarm and boiled down to, yes this but not like this.

Much of the feedback was tentative and trying very hard not to say, this is way too Black while saying, this is way too Black. One editor said that they didn’t think it was broad enough. For a memoir based issue of a magazine. I read broad as relatable to White folks and I noped out. The feedback was never about the quality of the piece. Every editor said the work was solid, it was always related to my expression of Gender, Blackness and fear.

The problem here is this. If you are not a marginalized person and you are seeking work from marginalized people, insisting on “broader relatability” backfires. You won’t get authentic work. You won’t get the best work. If you can’t engage with things that aren’t strictly uplift, either mention it up front or don’t seek the work.

This is the same problem I talked about in this entry,  When in the Wear Your Voice piece I talk about being denied humanity, this is what I am talking about. I am talking about the idea that work from marginalized people must be palatable to whiteness is to deny us our humanity. When folks insist that, my story about gender expression and sexual harassment end on a more chipper note, that is a denial of what actually happened.

To demand this shiny version of someone, the happy ending, the creator is turned into a 2d version of themselves and that is erasure and it feels shitty. You can’t ask for the realness of talking about identity, and then say, no not like that. It just don’t work.

Back to the piece at the Offing. Chanda specifically told me they loved it and it made me cry. I’d put it on Etsy for a minute because y’all know that’s how I do. If I can’t sell a piece to a magazine I’ll do that. Or put it on Medium etc. Or tuck it away for later. Here’s the thing.

My experience with gender expression isn’t theirs and yet, they still enjoyed the work. I’ve heard from readers who are White cis folks who felt something and enjoyed the work. Some folks who read the piece thinking it would just be a nice read because they are not Black Femmes and found some part of themselves in the work.

And it is, what it is.

A note for editors.

If you want to feature or highlight marginalized folks, take what they give you. Don’t try and plasticize it or tone it down or make it nice for non marginalized folks to read. Be uncomfortable. Be willing to let your readership be uncomfortable because, isn’t that what art is.

That’s it for now.

 

Some Free Advice for Editors. V Eleventy Million.

The partner Uniballer and I almost have our wee fambly moved.

SO Imma talk some shit.

Buckle up babes.

Lately part of me decompressing after doing move related stuff has been research and note taking on what’s going on in the freelance world. Something I keep seeing is bothering the shit out of me.

If you are an editor for whatever publication and are seeking to diversify what you’re doing asking for what you want is great. It is amazing.

How you do it matters.

I’ve seen no less than about ten calls for QTPOC to contribute around places. What isn’t great is when the same editors can’t seem to name or come up with a single QTPOC they’ve published to serve as examples of the work they want. I feel like it leads to some of us side eyeing said editors because, if you have really not published us, why would we trust you with our work?

I had an editor with a call out contact me and on the face of things I was a little titillated. Largeish byline, good money. What I wasn’t so thrilled with was that the subject matter suggested to me had zero to do with what I do. This is an editor I know somewhat casually through friends and when I asked them why contact me with the request and after two weeks now no answer.

Something else I keep seeing is in um, groups of women and women id’d folks and femmes, I keep seeing white women big upping each other or trying to grab at opportunities being offered to QTPOC specifically. Stop.

If you are someone interested in expanding who you publish there are things to think about before you start taking work from folks or asking for it.

  1. Don’t come out of the gate patting yourself on the back.
  2. If you aren’t already publishing QTPOC for example, maybe think about why.

Let’s stop there for a second.

#2 means you have to be about some shit and not just in it to say, LOOK AT THE BROWN PPL I HELPED or whatever white saviour bullshit. #2 means, you have to get very uncomfortable with your own biases.

What biases?

Let me look at my own back catalog of ghostings and rejections.

I have a longer essay that is written as both memoirish, exposure and an object lesson in how we folks in the Black community MUST do better in order to save our children. I use myself as an example. One rejection said that it was “too focused” on Black people and that I should rework it to try and make it more universal.

I said no thank you and how dare you.

Another rejection came after some go rounds with other editors who were not comfortable with some of the subject material. Was it the childhood suidical ideation? Nope. It was me framing the religion of oppressors as part of why my community is fucked up.

Got a note to submit to a magazine “something really intense and personal that you do so well” (not a direct quote) I did. Ghosted for um, let’s say four months now.

Here’s the thing. Don’t ask for Blackity Blackness, or make it known that you are open to it and then be too uncomfortable to deal with it. I had one editor reject that piece because they “didn’t know how to edit it without coming across racist”.

Y’all.

If you are familiar with a writer enough to say, YO I WANNA PUBLISH YOU. Don’t be shook when they deliver.

I’ll be honest and say the piece I’m talking about needs some extra work but y’all, shit is good.

It is rough.

It will make non Black folks uncomfortable and being uncomfortable is okay.

If you are really into diversifying and using your privileged gatekeeping ass position for the good. You can’t just publish the Nice Negroes/Queers/Brown folks.

On one hand, I suppose that when a lot of our most famous voices write in very particular ways, it is very easy to use them as the measurement of what’s good in terms of stuff outside of your lane. It makes sense.

However, stopping at reading the most famous among us is not going to really help you out in the diversifying your editorial stuff. Some of what you find will in fact hurt your feelings. Some will come from folks who might not seem like the type of folks you want to just hang out with or squee about.

So at this point the decision is, is what do you really want?

Do you want the cachet of saying, you published X famous marginalized writer?

Do you want to really start dismantling the whiteness that is the publishing world?

Do you want to take a risk?

That is where you should start before you ask for shit you ain’t ready for.

Experiences like the one above are really a huge part of why I don’t freelance in a more ambitious way.

Frankly, y’alls. I am not famous enough to be acting up like this. I’m not. I’m not famous enough to say no. I’m not famous enough to be so choosy and so mouthy.

I know I am likely as has bee prophecied by others ruining my tiny career. That’s okay. I’ve accepted my role as Purple Lipstick Wearing Loudmouth.

I have some folks I like working with and trust.

So-

Fuck it right?

What I’ve been Doing.

What have I been doing?

I’ve written some new poetry that you can find here and here.

I’ve got a few new things over here at Medium as well.

I’ve been working on essays and while I was looking at some calls for submissions etc and I keep running into a few issues.

When editors post their calls and have conversations about it in the comments I wonder if they go back and read them? I saw one call where a person asked about “non-standard” English and there was some banter and an ultimate answer of probably it wouldn’t get published.

What does that mean?

No AAVE?

No Spanish?

No mixture of Engish and other languages?

As I am delving deeper into the places where my voice goes and how I use language, I see these things and realize that where I want to go does not intersect well with getting paid or landing the big bylines.

I keep promising myself that I will figure out how to write less uh, something. Be more, uh, general or something. So I try that and find that I have nothing to say. Obviously, because I am just not that writer for good or ill.

It is a strange state of affairs.

While I’m writing things I have doubts as to how publishable they are in terms of commercial sales, I’m still pretty happy and writing what the fuck I want to write.

While I’m researching where to try to place that stuff, I feel not as happy and hear the call of my sad little bank account.

Sometimes I am very sure that my ideas are just not palatable to 90% of people and sometimes that gives me pause.

Other times I hunker down and just tell myself- WRITE THAT SHIT.

Today I’m telling myself to write that shit.

Be about that shit.

Do that shit.

All by myself if I have to.

That’s all for today. Tomorrow we’re back in The World and later this week I may or may not geek real hard about some stuff I’ve read recently.

Showing up Bloody.

Recently, I’ve been trying to deal with some trauma that I thought I had pretty much handled. Poverty trauma that reaches deeper than I realized it did.

I found myself having a really terrible day, flashbacks, really awful feelings, repressed panic attacks, bad enough to give me the shits for three days.

So I did what I always think is the thing to do and started writing. I started an essay (maybe my first long form) that is a testament to a lifetime of mental illness and how it has manifested and how the idea of the Strong Black Woman almost killed me.

The thing I’m most surprised about is that given my memory issues (related to my sleep disorders mainly) is the clarity of certain memories. Smells, how my skin felt, I close my eyes and see it. This is beyond confessional writing, I’ve done a ton of that over the last 20 years. This is exposure.

This piece is not the sort of confessional, I can smirk about and shrug because Shannon is gonna Shannon and not be embarrassed. This is stuff that makes me cringe. I want to say I’m sorry if I ask anyone to read it because it burns me. I know it will hurt the people who love me to know that has been my life and in some ways still is.

I’m fucking terrified.

I think I’ve mentioned before that I find being a memorist of any seriousness fucking scary. I know that in the scheme of Black writers and Black people and Black women, especially, what I’m working on could be one of those important little pockets of solidarity. I’m considering pitching it when it is closer to being done.

As I’m thinking about/researching that, of course I stop to wonder outside of a handful of pubs I already know, who would give space and cash to this story?

I know it is still very hard for the world (Lemonade or no Lemonade) to see that Black people have feelings, that we are human beyond the photos of our bleeding, broken bodies or scoring points or generally being acceptable but not quite human enough to see into. I know that when some people look at me, they want the Sassy Shannon Don’t Take No Shit and Don’t Need Nobody type. I know.

What I don’t know is where do I go to be a different facet of the purple lipstick wearing loudmouth? Where do I go not to rail about racism or other fuckery, but to show the world my emotionally bloody self?

I don’t know.

Or maybe I will self pub it as a mini memoir.

Who knows.

What’s important for me right now is to get it written. To confess. To strip off the last vestiges of the stone faced person I thought I wanted to be and show up naked and terrified but fucking there.

I’m there and right now that’s what matters.

On Discomfort and Being Freaked Out.

OH Internets.

I’m still sick and at work doing some stuff and I have more confessions to make.

Craft related.

Sooo along with my general failures in accomplishing a lot of things I’ve also found myself in a very uncomfortable place with some of my work.

I’ve talked a bit about how hard it has been for me to teach myself how to write really personally. Not issue personally, not politic personal. The real naked, vulnerable Shannon personal.

I’m so uncomfortable.

Writing wise, my emotions are just right here. Bleeding all over while I sit in my chair at home or work quivering because I’m still having a deep anxiety problem and quivering because I just told y’all that.

After so many years of writing about somewhat personal shit, being fat, feminism, racism and how they’ve impacted my life but for as close to the bone as I’ve gotten with that, a lot of my new stuff is closer in ways that might be all in my head.

It’s been really fucking hard. And because I am who I am I worry a lot about things such as but not limited to:

  • If I’m not ranting or raving or pissed off does anyone give a shit?
  • Will anyone buy shit?
  • I know most trolling I can write off. But what if it’s really personal beyond OMG WE HATE THIS BLOGGER NOW SHE WRITES FOR A SITE WE HATE.
  • Who the fuck am I kidding?
  • I am not a real memorist.

Blablabla.

My general approach to fear in my work and often in my life (sometimes to my own detriment) is to put on my spiritual football helmet, put my head down and go.

However while I’m going, I’m also spending a lot of time staring at whatever I’ve just written talking to myself:

Me: The fuck did you just say?

Me: Uh, the thing I’m writing.

Me: Can you delete that please?

Me: No.

Me: DELETE ABORT ABORT ABORT ABORT

and it devolves into me sitting sweating swearing at myself.

But, I still write it.

And right now I have to go upload one of the things that has caused me bubble guts, sweating, trembling and cursing at self.

And I’m feeling echoes of this across other things.

I’m excited, but a little bit on the shit my pants in terror side of things too.

Now goodnight shiny people.

 

 

Yeah Write Entry #209- Book Slut

 

Book Slut: An Ode to Challenged Books

by

Shannon Barber

One of my fondest memories as a reader is the year when I was a tween I decided to read every book on the 100 most challenged book list as published by the King County Library System. One by one I devoured every one and thought about what made them so terrible in the eyes of a few people.

I cried. I got angry. I was sad. I read things I didn’t entirely understand and would return to years later. I read books I had no interest in and couldn’t connect to.

Given the frothy mouthed things I’d read about book censorship debates, I fully expected to be twisted by my adventure. I expected that I’d be struggling with being a drug addled, teenaged prostitute who was pregnant and running away and of spectacularly loose morals. I was under the impression that reading these books, that letting their wicked ideas into my head would change me.

I was down for it and I waited for some shift in my brain to happen. I waited for the inevitable rejection of my budding personal system of morality and ethics to dissolve under the weight of books like Private Parts by Howard Stern or The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison to just happen.

I waited.

I read more books.

I started reading really dirty books by Henry Miller, Anne Rice and other perverse people. I daydreamed about being a beautiful gay boy and having Kerouac or Burroughs or Corso as my lovers. I thought about running away to befriend Alice Walker and sit at her feet to learn to be a writer.

I thought about my Queerness and how to deal with it.

I turned 16 and started trying to plan a life as a writer.

I wanted a girlfriend.

I still hadn’t been ruined by my promiscuous reading.

I exposed myself to violent texts, queer sex, drug use, prostitution, smoking, bullying, offensive language, adult situations, weird or extreme political viewpoints- I didn’t only expose myself to these things I craved them. I gorged on them.

Inside those inappropriate pages I found visions of myself. I discovered worlds I might not have been able to reach out and touch, but that made sense to me and thus helped the outside world to make sense to me.

I was still a child.

When I had problems and questions I didn’t have the voice to ask, they were inside books. When I wanted to be deliciously terrified, books were there. When the whole world seemed too big and terrifying, I had books.

For every person who says that children or teenagers shouldn’t read this or that, I say calm down maybe you shouldn’t read it.

I joyfully encourage the kids and the teens and everyone to read promiscuously. Read things that churn your stomach. Read things that terrify you. Read about people you hate. Read.

The world is waiting for you and if you are a tween like I was, it just might save you.

###

PS for some more info on banned or challenged books, read here.

Because sometimes it just comes out.

For reference I’m going to talk about this essay of mine that is up at Nailed Magazine right now. It’s small and intense so go ahead and read it.

I wrote the above essay a few weeks ago in the middle of having fallen down a hole reading about Black victims of various crimes.

As difficult as I find writing the tear your heart out shit, sometimes it just happens. What’s on my mind right now is the fact that I felt such a strong need to write that. Also that as opposed to say five years ago, I would have maybe submitted it somewhere obscure gotten rejected and tucked it away.

Not because of the subject matter but because that is my fucking heart right there.

I bled to say that.

I cried and shat myself stupid.

It hurt while I was writing it, it hurt to edit it it hurt to get it ready for submission.

Today I’m pretty okay. I am proud of my work. I am happy to share my heart, bleeding and raw with the world.

But y’all, this shit right here is hard as fuck.

It really is.

Thanks for reading.