Sharing some goodness

Despite the advent of summer rains, we’ve been having our fair share of sunny days here in The Netherlands. Sunshine is always a good thing–regardless that I tend to get all sneezy and puffy-eyed from hay fever. It’s still good to open the doors wide and to look out at the sunshine. It’s also great to not have to put on a coat each time I leave the house.

My Bahamut Journal author copies arrived in the late part of last week–it’s a pretty slick looking journal and I love being part of this publication. I’m sharing pics here and encouraging folks to go check out Bahamut Journal’s website.

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Bagi, which I wrote about in an earlier blog entry is in this issue. I’m very pleased.

Today, the postman delivered my copy of Wiscon Chronicles 9 edited by Mary Anne Mohanraj.

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I’m delighted to have two of my essays included in this publication–more so because it’s been a dream to be published by Aqueduct press. The pub itself is a beauty and I love that I get to bask in all the non-fiction goodness–challenging and thoughtful work is necessary as we move forward and Aqueduct press continues to be one of my go-to places for thought-provoking reading.

After close to a year of not doing anything much in terms of submission, I’ve gathered up my courage and resumed the task of sending out work again. Getting stories out the door has helped to boost my morale and made me feel like I can do this again.

Another rambly post with a word for the journey

This is a rather rambly and somewhat personal post, but I’ve been thinking a lot about things and I’m remembering a day conference I attended where one of the women leaders reminded us that if we’re going to be engaged in social change, we need to bear a number of things in mind. One of these things is a word that I think we all need to carry in our backpacks.

Watchfulness.

We already know that in life, there will always be someone waiting to bring you down. When we’re starting out on the journey, we’re all eager and full of faith. It’s real easy to be made to believe that everyone who claims to be on our side really stands on our side, when the truth of the matter is that each and every person has an own agenda and that agenda may not be the same as the one you carry. I’ve learned the hard way that just because a person uses the right words and claims to stand on the same side, it doesn’t mean that person is someone you can open your heart and your soul to. It doesn’t mean that person is someone who wishes you well.

The thing is, when you’re engaged in struggle, you’re vulnerable too. It’s easy to get sucked into the kind of talk that will derail you from your original purpose. Because we long for companions in the struggle. Because it’s lonely out in the field and it’s hard. It’s even harder if you feel like you’re struggling all alone–like you’re a voice shouting into the void

Watchfulness.

Some people can’t conceive of success that makes room for others to enjoy greater success alongside of you. Some folks can’t understand the joy that comes from seeing people you love receiving praise and accolades. Some folks don’t see how the success of someone else does not diminish your own success. But we who are working for change must keep our eyes focused on the goal. Don’t be distracted by folks to the back or to the front or the side of you. You might share a goal with some folks, but in the work of change, in the work of creation, it’s not a competition as to who gets to reach the goal first.

When you have your eyes fixed on that goal, accolades and praise diminish in importance. What becomes important is that the mission gets accomplished, that we reach change, that we achieve that hoped for state. And maybe you won’t get awards for the work you do, but in the work towards change, awards aren’t a proper measure for the work that is done.

The true measure, the true reward comes when you see change taking place for real.

I keep my eyes fixed on the goal.

Sometimes, when the darkness crowds around me and I’m tempted to lay me down and not rise up again,  I think of all the hands that have lifted me up and of the folks who’ve gathered around me and chanted a mantra of love telling me to keep on writing and I know, I cannot give up. Not ever. I won’t give up until I see each and every one of those I love blossom and reach their full potential.

I don’t know when, I don’t know how the dream of proving Filipinos can write well enough in English morphed into a dream to witness how those who travel alongside me come into their own.

I don’t know when I started dreaming of a future that’s different from the present we occupy. Perhaps it was always there, lurking at the back of my mind, perhaps that dream just blossomed into maturity as I experienced what it’s like to be held up and given wings to find my dream.

My dream is to see more voices rising. To see a field occupied by a multiplicity of voices to see a field where there are no minorities.

Watchfulness.

We move through different stages in life. From not knowing, to slightly knowing, to full knowing. From apathy, to fear, to outrage, to anger, to compassion and understanding what it takes to truly work for change.  Not caring about others that is the most deadly state of all. It means, you lose your ability to feel with, to empathize, to feel deep down to your bones–you lose your soul.

Be watchful of your soul. Be watchful of your heart. No matter how hard or tough or how angry-making the struggle becomes, remain watchful.

When you’re doing the work, you need to accept that not everyone will love you. You need to accept that more folks will hate you than love you. Because who wants the world shaken up and changed? Who wants the world order to be turned upside down on its head?

Working towards change is terrifying work because it can at times feel so gigantic and overwhelming and if you’re invested in it, there will be moments when you’ll go: Oh shit, what was I thinking when I said I would do this? When you work towards change, you need to put your hands to the ground and do the dirty work. You need to invest your time and energy in creating and bringing into being a new world order. That’s not easy work. It’s an investment of time and energy and other resources and you won’t even get headlined or praised for that kind of work.

We’ve been taught to be modest, to erase ourselves, to downplay our ambitions, to keep our heads down. Don’t rock the boat.

So we don’t talk about the vision we hold in us because talking about that vision is terrifying. It’s baring your soul and making yourself vulnerable to arrows and spears. I say: We must not be quiet about the future that we want. We must not be afraid to rock the boat or to put ourselves at risk. Because without vision–without taking that risk, we don’t have a future.  And if we don’t share the vision inside us, we can’t blame folks if the world goes on as it’s always gone. Rock the boat, I say. Do it to the rhythm that beats inside you–to the tune of that song that says: we have big dreams and our dreams have a place in this world. We’re not waiting for permission, we’re taking hold of it. We’re shaping the future we want to see, marching to the tune of a song that belongs to us.

When we speak about diversity and inclusivity, it’s much more than paying bucks for merchandise. When we speak about diversity and inclusivity, it means we invest time, effort, resources in cultivating, nurturing and making sure there are no minorities in the field.

James Baldwin talked about the need to create a country where there are no minorities. We need to do that in this field. We need to show that we stand on the same level–equals in every discourse and we won’t let ourselves be treated as less than equal.

When we talk of change, we’re talking about a vision we share. A vision we want and we need to see become reality. How hungry are we for change? Are will willing to put our money where our mouths are? Are we willing to invest ourselves? Are we willing to put ourselves at risk?

It’s a fearsome thing to propose an end to hierarchies and pyramid structures. It’s a fearsome thing to say, let us all realize the power we hold inside us. It is a fearsome thing, but it is not impossible.

Instead of traditional hierarchies let us bring in horizontal fractals where a multiplicity of voices and a multiplicity of stories abound. Set up institutions with built-in nurturing and supportive systems, install programs that will encourage instead of discourage, invest in the development of multiple voices, reinstate the chains that bind older generations to younger ones. It’s a giant endeavour. It requires investment of time, energy, economic resources; it requires willingness to take the risk and it also requires a hell of a lot of love.

**Tade Thompson made a series of tweets on diversity which I’ve storified. Do take the time to check it out.

About Bagi: Ada ti Istorya

It’s June and Bahamut Journal’s first issue is now available for purchase. There are stories and there are stories, but Bagi (included in this issue of Bahamut) is a marker for me when it comes to delving deeper into the heart of story. I wrote this post to provide a little bit of insight into what went into the writing of this piece.

I remember when I lost fluency in the use of my childhood tongue. We had just moved to Manila from the mountains and our parents had chosen to enroll my sister and I in an exclusive school. You know how you have those schools where kids come from the same social circles, grew up in the same exclusive neighborhood and went to the same kindergarten? It was that kind of school. It was a school that projected the image of: all our students come from high class families.

My sister and I were admitted as partial scholars because we both scored high on entrance exams. We were picked up by a schoolbus, and while we didn’t have a house in one of the exclusive gated subdivisions, at least we lived in a subdivision. Not well-off but at least middle class. Unfortunately, we didn’t speak tagalog very well and no one spoke Ilocano or Ifugao with us. Not even the one student who had moved to Manila from Baguio City.

Our saving grace was the fact that we could both speak English that was clearly not provincial English. As time passed, I realized that speaking English was the one way to be acknowledged and accepted somehow. Slowly but surely, I forgot all about Ilocano. By the time we graduated from highschool, I spoke Tagalog and English…mostly English because that was the posh language to speak.

I find myself thinking these days of what gets lost when we lose a language. As I grow older, I find myself yearning for more fluency in the native tongues. To be able to speak without fear of stumbling over words, to be able to burst into conversation with childhood friends on Facebook or on twitter. To say things that can only be expressed fully in the language that feels closer to my skin. I feel language bubbling just beneath my tongue, but I am often afraid because I have not exercised it for such a long time.

While thinking of language recovery, I found myself thinking too about what lies buried in language. What narratives had I chosen to erase when I chose to leave behind that language? What narratives could be pulled out of a text or a few lines or a word? What memory–what emotion would rise up from the use of a language that has lain dormant for so long.

This is how I started writing Bagi: Ada ti Istorya. Bagi is the word for body. I was drawn to the fact that Bagi contains the same letters as biag which means life. I liked how these two words spoke to each other and thinking about these words, Bagi : Ada ti Istorya came into being.

Writing Bagi was also a physical experience. There are stories that you draw from the air, there are stories you draw from things that have happened or from other stories that inspire you, and there are stories that you draw from deep inside your body. Bagi, inevitably draws from the body. As I wrote about trauma, I was going through an escalation of chronic and psychological pain. At one point, I was writing with only one hand on the keyboard as I could barely move my other arm because of the pain coming from inflamed joints.

By Loncon, I had written more than 2000 words, I still did not have an ending and I worried that I would not finish the work because my head was filled with many other things. Then, came end of August and the Rainy Writers Retreat.

In the company of beloved women friends, I finally was able to write the ending passage to Bagi. It was like descending into the deep and then coming up utterly changed.

I think of the ways in which we sustain and support each other and I remember that story comes into being within the collective. I think of how being within the collective, being supported and surrounded by the warmth and the light of beloved ones, women and friends, precious faces, dear hearts, I think of how being within that collective enabled me to complete the circle of Bagi.

This to me is the joy of the work. It comes into being from some deep and hidden part and blossoms into the life as it is watered by the circle of true comrades.

I sent Bagi off to Bahamut Journal and kept my fingers crossed hoping and praying they would accept it so I could finally write about the experience of writing it. I don’t think I’ve been more joyful to receive an acceptance email. Bahamut Journal is my dream home for Bagi and I am so happy and proud that the editors chose to say “Yes, we want to publish this.”

Bagi: Ada ti Istorya shares a toc with other amazing authors for Bahamut Journal’s first issue (now available for purchase). My thanks to Darin Bradley and to Rima Abunasser for their support and encouragement, to Nisi Shawl who told me to submit work to Bahamut, to Nick Wood who provided me non-Ilocano speaker feedback, to my beloved friends, fellow Pinay writers and the circle of women. It is an honor to know that I’ll be able to share this work with you.

**I didn’t have time to blog about it, but Lightspeed Magazine reprinted my PSF 6 story. Breaking the Spell is now available on their website along with an author spotlight where I talk a bit about what went into that story. You can also purchase a copy of the entire issue.

**A bit late with this announcement as well. The movements column on Use of Anger can now be read on Strange Horizons.

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.