Thoughts on the Journey: Self-care: Play and the child self

My mom has this story she likes to tell–how when I was a child learning the piano, I would always at the end of each piano piece add my own notes or my own embellishments–putting in things that weren’t there.

I wasn’t very good at playing the piano the right way because the right way somehow didn’t match how I felt it should be like. ( I got much better at following the rules when I grew older, but my piano teacher always complained that I was too passionate about whatever I was playing. Which is actually pretty cool, now that I think of it.)

Growing up in the mountains, I discovered the perfect hideaway. The mountain behind our home had a small incline with no path leading up to it–no one could see from below because of the tall grasses and the view from behind was blocked by large rocks. From this perfect place, I could look down at our home, I could see the hospital compound and I could even see the road that wound up the mountain towards our home.

I can’t think about any place more ideal for a child to be because of all the endless opportunities for adventure. Everyplace could easily be transformed into elsewhere–into another place, another world, another planet and I could be anything from a secret warrior to an otherworldly alien.

One of the things I liked to do was test out what people would do if they couldn’t find me. During hide and seek, I would hide behind those rocks and no one ever thought to look there. Eventually, they would tire of the game and the sky would change its color and the other children would head home and I would still be sitting there, hiding. I sometimes wondered if they ever missed me.

At times, I tested my mother’s patience by staying hidden even after the supper call. I would watch from my perfect vantage place as the lights in our house went on and my mother called and called. When night descended, I realized that it wasn’t quite as cozy up in my hideaway in the dark. So, I would race down the mountainside and run towards the warmth of light and the warmth of my mother’s scolding voice.

My mother’s father, when she came to live with us, would pinch me in exasperation.

What a child. What a child.

I was not very obedient. Not at all. Also, I dreamed too big for my size. I wanted too many things I couldn’t have, things I shouldn’t want, things beyond my reach.

So there I was a rather mischievous chubby child who was also rather rebellious and who couldn’t fit into a pattern, no matter how hard I tried. One time, when the evening prayers were being said and everyone was all solemn, I burst into a fit of laughter–I don’t know why. But I couldn’t stop laughing. I laughed so hard that I had to leave the room and had to be scolded again afterwards.

I guess, I’m still pretty irreverent. I tend not to take myself too seriously, because honestly, if one can’t laugh at oneself one turns out to be a complete and utter bore. My kids have also given up on having a mom who fits into the mold of being what other mothers are.

I’m so sorry, I say. I know you wanted me to give you the scientific explanation, but the fantastic one sounds much more interesting, don’t you agree?

So, I may not be the most solemn or perfect mother, but at least, my kids know how to laugh and we do laugh a lot together these days.

I know I had a point in writing this, so I probably should get to it. I think that even when we are engaged in the most serious of matters, it’s absolutely necessary to keep in touch with the child self. That we don’t forget about play, about not taking ourselves too seriously. Sometimes, we may lose our way or the way is just so densely overgrown that we don’t know where it leads to anymore–but that’s really okay. Life has no tried and true map of what works and what doesn’t work, but it’s an adventure and there is always something to discover, something to learn, something precious to be found.

Today, my kids are teaching me to stay in touch with my child self. I poke fun at myself and laugh at myself. I dance together with my kids and growl like a dinosaur. I play dead or do the zombie walk–I give myself over to my child self and that gives me the strength to head back into the arena and embrace the work because everyone deserves the room to play and the space to play and this is what this genre is all about. It’s about giving yourself room to reconnect with that child self and giving yourself permission to have fun and play and create.

Spread your wings. Fly. Dream. It’s a struggle, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun along the way. Laughter and joy, indulging in play–these too are acts of resistance.

**

(1) I admit I learn things best when they are fun.

(2) I still struggle with the big black dog, but I am thankful for the moments when my child self kicks in and decides it’s time to play.

(3) This post was partly inspired by Laura Mixon-Gould’s post on Our Nerdish Legacies. It’s a seriously good post. Do take time to read and absorb the meat of it.

(4) Adding big love to Nalo Hopkinson who reminded me to think of the joyful and happy things in life. Thank you.

Happy things

First of all, Lightspeed’s May issue is out and Breaking the Spell is appearing in it as a reprint. I’m delighted to share this story with more readers as it’s one of my personal favorites.

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I also wanted to share this bit of joy that came to me at the end of a difficult week.

Yesterday, I went walking in The Hague with a friend and we found ourselves in an artist’s atelier. The artist, Ibrahim Lodia Diallo, was there and took time to talk to us about his art and the work he does.

Today, I went back to the artist’s atelier to pick up the carving that captured my eye. I also brought home an exuberant painting that made me want to jump with joy.

In conversation with the artist, he said: when you make art, you make it from your spirit. There is no need to worry about who will buy it or who you are making this art for, because the art you are making is meant for someone. Sometimes, it takes a long time before a piece of art finds its proper owner. He told me about a painting that had been hanging in his atelier for three years before its owner found it.

This is art, he said. You don’t have to stress about it or make it fit with people’s expectations. You make art from your connection with where art comes from.

I think of how the work that digs deep comes from that place and I find myself thinking of a panel at Loncon where I sheepishly admitted to not adjusting the work or even thinking about the reader when I write. But I think that there is always someone out there who the work is meant for. I don’t need to compromise my vision in order to fit into what the world sees as proper narrative. I am able to do this now after spending years in training, after honing craft and use of language and understanding what it is that really matters to me.

I continue to learn. I continue to explore. I also am keeping hold of the truth that there is no room for fear when we embrace the work.

Praise and accolades are not important. It’s the work that matters. The reader the work was meant for will read it and will rejoice. Just as I rejoice in being able to have some art. (I don’t have lots of money, but it’s a sorry day when I turn down the opportunity to own a bit of happiness.)

I’ve hung up the painting over our table and will hang up the carving over my desk. Tangible reminders to embrace the work without fear and to keep walking forward with hope, with expectation and with joy.

I dream of a future. It may not be everybody’s dream, but that dream future is mine. It’s a future I may not live to see, but it’s a future that I long to be.

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Looking towards Dysprosium: an open confession

Here’s where I admit to suffering from a serious bout of pre-convention anxiety. I’ve been to Imagicon and that went well, but it was a convention based in the Netherlands and I went there knowing that most of the folks I’d meet have no connection to anything that went on last year. For a while I considered backing out of going to Dysprosium–and as the convention drew near I’ve vascillated between extreme moments of anxiety and trying to hide in my bed while trying to maintain the household. It’s just that I’m taking my eldest son to Eastercon for the first time and I know the con experience has given him the confidence boost that he’s sorely needed–it’s like he’s found a space where he’s free to be the person that he is.

But anxiety…it haunts me. Regardless of the fact that I know I will be surrounded by friends who care for me, I have heart palpitations and am filled with the same kind of terror that I had when I was preparing for Nine Worlds last year.

There’s this thing about having experienced hostility in places that you once felt at home in. During my sessions with my therapists, I talked about the struggle I’ve faced as I try to prove wrong all the stereotypes leveled against third world women in a relationship with a white person. It’s a damned hard struggle because I’ve already been confronted with it–because some folks have judged me as being that third world woman who latches onto a white person for economic gain. And that isn’t even counting the in-your-face racism where people tell you exactly what they think of people coming from your part of the world–but “oh, I don’t mean you.”

The greatest source of my pre-Dysprosium anxiety comes from this being a London convention. It comes the possibility of being in the same area as people who have judged my right to my choice of friendships and my right to form my own opinion and my right to support what I wish to support–for not being angry enough or outraged enough–for being robbed of the choice when to speak and how to speak. This outright act of racism, coupled by the experience of knowing that I am “a piece of shit” to certain people–it’s what makes me feel anxious and unsafe.

Why now? People may ask. Why write about this now?

In writing this, I want to bring home the truth of what it feels like to be a person of color who has been treated like “the shit” certain people think I am simply because I did not fall in line with some unwritten party policy.

At the height of last year’s incident, someone questioned my right to write what I have been writing–after all, I am not a person with academic credentials, no MA’s no doctorates–only passion. Today, I grab hold of courage and remind myself that I am not here because I have the right degree. I am here because I have something I want to say and regardless that I’m not considered a “proper scholar”, I am committed to change in my lived life, in the society I occupy, and in the field I work in.

There are those who’ve questioned too, the depth of my relationship with Tricia Sullivan. Holding up this relationship and using it as an excuse to say I identify as white. What people don’t see and what people have never seen is how during my second year at Eastercon, when I still knew nobody and when I was barely anybody, Tricia Sullivan opened herself to me and treated me as an equal–not because I had attained something but simply because she saw me. It’s hurt me deeply to see Tricia vilified and made to appear as someone who is a villain–but in all these things, I have always seen Tricia’s heart and that she’s been made to feel unwelcome and unsafe where she only sought to create a wider space–that the beloved friend of my heart should be treated as if she were nothing more than trash–I cannot put into words how it’s made me feel.

I find myself wondering how people cannot see the double standards that are applied in this case. How is it that people do not understand that it is possible for a woman of color to stand up and choose to stand by a white person? How hard is it to comprehend that I would rather be hurt, because I know my own heart and I would rather take that hurt than to see my loved ones harmed? My choice. My decision. My stand. To me these are the things that have been on the line–my right to be a self-governing person who makes the decisions I make and to be treated as an equal when I choose to speak and to say what is on my mind.

I think it’s hard for most people to understand this pain and I am writing now from a place of pain and deep grief and I have to put this out there because to paper over this pain, to pretend it isn’t there–that’s something I can no longer do.

For some, deep friendships between white folks and people of color seem an impossibility. I will tell you, it’s not. It’s not impossible to love a white person so much that you see their flaws and their faults–to see their heart–to understand and embrace that person flaws and all because love sees and embraces all things and understands.

I think too of how narrow our vision is if we cannot see that.

I certainly can not and could not have come this far without my beloved friends, without my companions, without kadkadua and dear ones who have embraced me as I am, flaws and all.

So yes, I am anxious–terribly and incredibly anxious. But I am going to Dysprosium. I will be there. I will be doing barcon and will be sitting and catching up with beloved friends and companions on the journey. I will be there because I am doing what every woman of color has done before me–I’m facing down the dragon of anxiety that comes after you come to realize that not all those who call themselves ally truly see you as a person in your own right.

I refuse to become invisible. I refuse to be erased. I refuse to go away. No matter how anxious I may be, I will be there. I will not be silent.

Signal-boosting: House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard

Today was the cover reveal day for the US edition of Aliette de Bodard’s upcoming novel, House of Shattered Wings. I remember Aliette talking about this novel before it was the novel and I remember thinking–that is the novel you have to write. It’s wonderfully written, evocative and deep and the concept is mindblowing and original. As Aliette writes on her blog: A book about devastated Paris, fallen angels and the ruins of a once great House.

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From Aliette’s Blog:

“In the late Twentieth Century, the streets of Paris are lined with haunted ruins. The Great Magicians’ War left a trail of devastation in its wake. The Grand Magasins have been reduced to piles of debris, Notre-Dame is a burnt-out shell, and the Seine has turned black with ashes and rubble and the remnants of the spells that tore the city apart. But those that survived still retain their irrepressible appetite for novelty and distraction, and The Great Houses still vie for dominion over France’s once grand capital.

Once the most powerful and formidable, House Silverspires now lies in disarray. Its magic is ailing; its founder, Morningstar, has been missing for decades; and now something from the shadows stalks its people inside their very own walls.

Within the House, three very different people must come together: a naive but powerful Fallen angel; an alchemist with a self-destructive addiction; and a resentful young man wielding spells of unknown origin. They may be Silverspires’ salvation—or the architects of its last, irreversible fall. And if Silverspires falls, so may the city itself.”

Jump to Aliette’s blog for more info on pre-orders and such.

On the road to recovery

A lot of things have happened since my last post on this blog. I am slowly but surely regaining strength and energy again. Not as quickly as I want to, but there is progress. I consider it a gift that I have a wonderful mental health carer and that social services considers my situation one where I am in need of more support. Recovery would have been slower than it already has been otherwise.

These past weeks, I’ve been working hard on the extended story set in the world of the Body Cartographer. I had originally intended this story to be one novella, but it’s grown far beyond the minimum length. So far, I’ve completed work on part one which is comprised of 17700 words. An immersive and cathartic experience. I had to laugh a bit because just this month I attended an event at the American Book Center featuring Jeff VanderMeer, Ann VanderMeer and Thomas Olde Heuvelt.

Jeff talked about the process of novel writing and how when he’s immersed in a novel, he’s so engaged with it that even food becomes an afterthought. At one point–close to the end of part one, I had to stop because it was time to prepare dinner. I opened the fridge and stared at emptiness. I had forgotten to pick up groceries and so I had nothing to cook. Thankfully, eldest son offered to go for groceries and that evening we had french fries for dinner.

Then there was the time I wrote a scene replete with food goodness. After writing it, I was so hungry, but we only had Chicken Tonight. At least it was warm and there was steamed rice, but I would have rather had the dish I was writing about. It happens.

After finishing part one, we went off to grab ice-cream and cake, and when I came home, it was to find a message from Jaroslav Olsa, who is the Czech Republic ambassador to the Philippines. Harinuo’s Love Song, which appears in Alternative Alamat, was picked by PLAV’s team of editors for translation and inclusion in an upcoming edition. To say I’m gobsmacked is an understatement. I mean, I’ve been working towards resuming work on the translation project, but I never dreamed I’d have work getting translated into another language. How cool is that? :)

This afternoon, I did a bit of tweeting after I came home from speaking at the International Women’s Day celebration held by an organization I do volunteer work for. It was a lovely celebration. I spoke about the challenges we face as migrant women in the Netherlands and the effect of being uprooted. That we exist in a structured society that is meant to favor status quo but we are not without means and it is possible for us to think of strategies that will allow us to grow and to thrive in this environment.

I’m struck by how the conversations we have around the structural challenges migrants face, mirror the conversations we have around the structural challenges that marginalized writers face. It’s not exactly the same, but these two things speak to each other and strategies that work within one structure could also work within the other. The important thing is to see which ones work best and to find the support we need to thrive and take hold of our dreams.

It’s also been made clear to me that in conversations around race, we often fail to consider nuance. That race is not a black and white conversation. It’s more complicated than that.

This week has been full of things that I need to digest and I don’t doubt that some of it will find its way into story. For the next two days, I’ll be taking a break before immersing myself again in the writing.

I am thankful for friends and for loved ones, for the kadkadua who continue to walk with me and who remind me of what it is that matters most.

Salamat.

**PS. I think nonny is a really cute word. It might show up in one of my works someday. ;-)

Writer’s Journey: doing the work

I have been silent for quite a while as I moved through the necessary steps towards full recovery. Sometimes, we have our hands so full with the business of trying to make it from one day to the next that we don’t have much energy to think of much else. I deeply appreciate the kadkadua, the friends and comrades who have sent me encouraging notes even when I had no strength to answer.

What follows are things that bubbled up as I worked on the columns that I want to see published next. Fellow traveler on the journey, this is for you too.

. . . who  know what it is to be afraid to speak because to speak is a matter of life or death.

… who know what it is to hunger or to be anxious about where the next day’s meal will come from.

…who know what it is like to turn over every coin as each coin spent means a balance between what is needful and what is less needful.

…who have not been cushioned by the luxury of wealth, not owning anything more than what your two hands can hold.

…who do not own the privilege of position or class.

…who have not been shielded by the color of your skin or gender or sexuality…

…who know what it is like to go to sleep praying that you will not wake to the sound of guns in the distance.

…who know to lock the doors at night because there is no safe place…there is no safe place…there is no safe place…

…who stubbornly remain vulnerable in the face of fear because there is no safe place…no safe place…no safe place…

…who know the cost of dissent, the price of resistance, the punishment for rendering criticism.

…who know what it’s like to always be judged based on the color of your skin, the flag to which you pledge allegiance, the country of your origin…(fill in the blank)

…who know what it is like to be reviled, rejected, judged, ridiculed, belittled, cast out, ignored…(choose your own synonym)…

…who know what it’s like to hunger for words…to fight over words…to want to own words…to chase after glimpses of story in whatever form because there are never enough words to speak the stories that have grown and grown and grown…

…who understand what it’s like to dream of one day being that adventurer, that star traveller, that explorer, the one who discovers, who charts, who lays claim, who takes hold of–planets, countries, kingdoms…becomes ambassador…becomes forger of peace…savior instead of saved…redeemer instead of redeemed…

…who reach out in anxiety…who having found voice speak tentatively…because you have never had that freedom…to speak…to speak without anxiety…to speak without fear…to render criticism and not be cut down or imprisoned or taxed or punished or sent into exile…

…Oh who have fought not to be silenced….and having won…struggle not to fall into silence…do not fall into silence…do not allow yourself to fall into silence…do not…do not…do not surrender…do not give way.

Speak on.

2014: updates and lessons learned on the journey

I have been rather quiet online as I’m going through a seasonal dip. It sometimes feels like I have to wrap what little energy I have around myself in order to make it through the day. My apologies for the radio silence.

2014 has been one of my most challenging years. I am thankful for those I’ve come to know this year. For true friends, for kadkadua, for comrades who walk beside me. I would not have been able to make it through without the presence of these dear ones.

I’ve started work on a new group of columns for Strange Horizons, the first of which was published a little while ago. Anyone interested in reading it can find it here. I also took part in the Smugglivus celebration over at The Booksmugglers. This is my look at 2014 and some of why I’m excited about 2015. I see movements towards nurture and positive change and that always heartens me.

I believe in a principle that recognizes how people who write and create art embrace vulnerability. I also believe that hardening ourselves is not the solution. I believe that it is to us to create the environment in which we want to create and if we create environments that support and nurture the vulnerable, we are allowing the creation of mindful work–we enable visionary and emergent work as we remember that the writer writes from a place of vulnerability.

This doesn’t mean that there is no room for criticism or dissent. I believe that criticism and dissent are vital to living and dynamic art. I also believe that it’s possible to practice criticism and dissent in a spirit that protects what is vulnerable.

I have learned so much about my work and about myself as a writer in this past year.

The stories I’ve written are part of the journey I undertake towards becoming the kind of writer I want to be. To write from a deep place, from a place that recognizes the effects of history but also chooses to envision a place where we are not shackled or tied down by that history–to be liberated in every sense of the word and to become a person who inhabits a world of my own making–we create our own histories and it is to us to decide what kind of record we wish to leave behind.

I am thankful for teachers and guides whose works and whose spirits have accompanied me throughout this year. I am grateful for the work of Audre Lorde, Octavia Butler, Leny Strobel, Barbara Jane Reyes, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Gloria Anzualda–there are so many that I cannot name them all in this one post.

I am still in the process of learning and reaching for more understanding and more knowledge. I do not know everything, but I am grateful for fellow travelers who open my eyes to the realities that I don’t see–I am grateful to you who teach me understanding and love and what it means to be a citizen of the world.

Here’s to a 2015 and the vision of a future that is home to all of us.