Non-fiction Saturdays

Black Firsts: Octavia Butler

The “Queen Mother of Science Fiction”

Octavia E. Butler. Image via curiousfictions.com.

Octavia Butler, born on June 22, 1947, gifted us with a genre of writing we had not experienced from African-American artists and writers before her or alongside her. Her work transcended time, broke down universal barriers, and shifted the category of “science fiction.” She wrote with a vigilance that somehow felt oneiric yet quite real while reading her work.

We could have been her characters. We are her characters.

The way she beckoned a plot and described her settings could pull you from wherever you were while reading her books, short stories, and essays and deposit you to that very spot. She was mythical yet real. She was defiant yet obedient. She was skillful yet willing to learn more about her craft.

She was a writer I simply had to read. My first book by Octavia Butler was the enthralling and still incredibly popular, Kindred which was given as a reading assignment in my African-American Literature class when I was in college.

It is a story of a young writer (Dana) shifting through time, traveling from her current period of the 1970s in California back to the days of antebellum slavery in Maryland. There, in the throes of thriving slavery, she meets her ancestors (Rufus and Alice Greenwood) and experiences the life and times of what it meant to be enslaved, but in temporary doses brought on by dizzy spells that initiated the time traveling.

She was mythical yet real. She was defiant yet obedient. She was skillful yet willing to learn more about her craft.

Butler depicts just how painful the shifts in time can be by bringing on dizzy spells that land Dana in various places during the antebellum slavery days where Rufus always seems to be in some sort of trouble and Dana arrives in the nick of time to help him.

By her third trip shifting, she and her white husband Kevin are both placed at Rufus’ home where they had to prove to the young master that they are indeed from the future and their stay in that time gets longer and even more intense.

It is an invigorating and impressive read as well. However, I did not expect anything less given the reviews I read before diving into reading the book for the first time. Plus, my African-American Literature professor gushed openly about it and was sure it would change our lives after we read it. It changed mine.

I wanted to know more about this writer who was unafraid to test the waters and completely transform the way I looked at science fiction. Thus, over time, I bought Parable of the Talents, Parable of the Sower, and Fledgling. I was not disappointed. Butler shares her gift of diving into the unknown, encountering mystics, and the push and pull of spiritualism with every read. I read her work and want to know what was growing in her mind — how did she come up with the talented work she gave us?

Butler became a receiver of firsts. She was the first science fiction writer to earn the McArthur Fellowship, class of 1995. She was forty-eight years old when she received the award. A few accompanying her within this class was journalist Alma Guillermo Prieto, writer Sandra Cisneros, and filmmaker Allison Anders. Butler also won the Hugo Award and Nebula Prize respectively, for not one, but several of her written works; Bloodchild and Speech Sounds, and Parable of the Talents and Parable of the Sower.

She is also known as the “godmother of Afrofuturism” which is a title never bestowed upon anyone else. Much of her vision for her work can be seen in videos by Beyoncé, in episodes of Black Mirror, and in movies by Ava DuVernay.

Butler shares her gift of diving into the unknown, encountering mystics, and the push and pull of spiritualism with every read.

When I mention my favorite writers, she is on that list. I have written a few pieces that toe the line of science fiction, spiritualism, and fantasy because of reading her work. She inspired me to push the envelope and never be afraid to try new genres in writing.

Read: The Trinity Marson Two-Part Series and Calypso, the Robotic Woman

Octavia Bulter died at the age of fifty-eight on February 24, 2006, from a stroke. It is hard to believe that it has been nearly fourteen years since her death, however, the work she produced lives on. I will always remember her as the “Queen Mother of Science Fiction.” Butler’s body of work, the way in which she devoted her time and skills to encourage young writers via workshops, and public speaking about her personal growth in the sci-fi genre (which was traditionally dominated by white men) are symbols of Butler’s willingness to help writers hone their craft.

Also read: Sky’s Falling Girls

At first, I thought Butler’s work an esoteric brand, but as time passed, that view has changed. Not only is her legacy a strong one in the African-American community — she is widely known and acknowledged for her efforts and accomplishments as an African-American science fiction writer.

To Octavia Butler: the first to do so many things in the world of writing. There will never be another.


Originally published in Our Human Family via Medium. The link shared is a friend link as the piece is behind Medium’s paywall. Thank you for reading.

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Non-fiction Saturdays

I Don’t Want To Lose My Mind

I watched my paternal Great-Grandmother deteriorate over time. A woman who stood at 5 feet, 8 inches tall and weighed over 200 pounds. She was the epitome of “a strong tower.” For years, she carried us. We descended from her bloodline, all of us; her eyes piercing through each of our faces — her voice found in mine and a few of my cousins’.

We did not think she would become the person she was before she died but she did. When you watch the woman who helped raise you in her home for the better part of three years lose her sense of self, there is a depth to that which cannot be explained.

Everything about her demanded attention. She was not only vocal, but she also commanded a room with her presence. Her voice would echo long after she left. When she spoke, people listened. I envied that. I knew that when I grew up, I wanted people to listen to me the way they so easily listened to my pistol of a Great-Grandmother.

She married once and never remarried. I did not know my Great-Grandfather. He died while my Dad and his siblings were young. I do know that like my paternal Grandfather, he was an Army man and died before he reached his sixties.

My parents were teenagers when I was born. A bout with lead poisoning landed us a temporary stay with my Great-Grandmother whom I’d learn to call “Grandma Tiggs.”

The following story has been told to me many times . . . Shortly after I ingested paint chips from our apartment’s walls, I became sick and was hospitalized. Grandma Tiggs let me know her advisement to my parents was, “I don’t care what y’all do, but bring my baby to me.” And to her, I went. We all went. And with her, I’d find the beauty of a soul with a hard shell.

She potty-trained me by placing my potty in the living room in front of the television while letting me know that I could not get up until something was in the potty. There, in front of her television, I became familiar with Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy, and As The World Turns. I snacked on apple and peach slices, whole milk, and homemade ice cream. I could not drink any juice or water until after I cleaned my plate. We ate our meals at the family dining table and nowhere else inside the house.

Her home. Her rules.

She taught Sunday School, was a “Mother” in our small church and swam at our local YMCA to relax and strengthen her muscles when she got older. I recall being in Grandma Tiggs’ Sunday School class and not only did I learn more to add to what I had already been taught in her home, but I also grew to respect her at an entirely different level.

We would begin our class by singing Jesus Loves The Little Children and end it with Jesus Loves Me. There was no favoritism issue toward me. If anything, I had to show and prove myself more than my peers. She expected that.


Photo by Malcolm Lightbody via Unsplash

Every Sunday after church, we’d have dinner at her place. My family, all of us, gathered at her table with growling bellies and mouths watering from the various delicious smells from her kitchen. We would wait until she plopped her buttocks down in her seat at the head of the table. She was our matriarch — she blessed our food.

When I went to college, I came home every other weekend and one of my pastimes would be sitting on Grandma Tiggs’ porch with her and talking. This, I did for three years. Right before my fourth year, my Great-Grandmother started showing signs of dementia, specifically Alzheimer’s disease.

Little things like my name, if I wore glasses or not, where I was born, if I used to live with her, what her address was, where she was born, etc. were foreign to her. There would be moments of lucidity but they did not last long. The disease became so crippling that her remaining living children made the decision to place her in the care of a small facility where a home health nurse and her team took on salvaging the last of Grandma Tiggs’ mind as best as they could. This is to say, they made her shift into this new era easier to bear.

She was leaving us. There would be no turning back.

I visited her. I had to make an appointment in advance. Our days became Friday or Saturday whenever I came home for a particular weekend. At first, she knew who I was. She would sit and hold my hand — pat my leg while I spoke. We would have what seemed like hours of memorable conversation. Soon after, we fell into the comforts of our past, she’d forget who I was or call me by one of my older cousin’s names.

There were many moments that I had to fight off tears because she would be escorted away from me if she stirred up the environment. I was often frightened by her behavior, however, I had to remind myself that within that withering body with the twin-like withering brain was my life-source, my Great-Grandmother.


Photo by Nashua Volquez via Pexels

I watched this tower of a woman turn into a rude, senseless, and ruthless flailing spirit. I still cannot put into words what it feels like. I realize upon writing this that there are many moments I repressed because they are too painful to recall.

Grandma Tiggs died when she was eighty-five years old. Her funeral was a home-going celebration in a church full of devoted and loyal family members and friends. It was a detrimental period of my life — her passing. For years, I would be reminded of just how quickly her mind faded and how she left me longing for more of her and her presence.

My Grandmother, Grandma Tiggs’ second oldest child is eighty-four and while she is still fully capable of making certain decisions and living on her own, she too began showing signs of some form of dementia two years ago. Gradually, her demeanor is shifting from peaceful and mild-mannered to impatient and outlandish.

She repeats herself. She forgets to turn the stove off. She refuses to listen to members of authority in certain situations. She is adamant about not moving away from her current living space and will let you know in a heartbeat that she is still very much in control.

But, she is not.

I have watched the women in my life lose their faculties, their primal sense of being and purpose, and personalities too. The one thing I fear about aging is losing my sense of self — losing my mind. It terrifies me because I have seen what can happen. I know what outcome lies ahead. I have no children to care for me or ensure my safety. Who will come to my aid?

I don’t want to leave this world a shell of a person. But I don’t get to plan the way I will die or what may cause my death. I can only hope that any major changes or disturbances won’t break the hearts of those I love who may outlive me.

I want to be a good memory for them. I hope I will be.


Originally published via Medium. The link shared is a friend link as this is a piece behind Medium’s paywall.

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Non-fiction Saturdays

Protecting My Inner Child

Respecting My Youthful Spirit

Photo by Daniel Edeke via Pexels
 

Our psyche, with its vast inner-workings, is crucial to maintain. The childlike layer of the human soul, mind, or spirit is categorized as the inner-child. I joke with people who connect with me for the first time — “I am a big kid.” This is what I share openly. Although in most cases, it’s meant to break the ice, there is much truth to this phrase.

I build bonds, strengthen love, and laugh loudly with and around children. I am at peace in their presence. Not only do I find fun and productive things for them to do, but I also enjoy most of what they enjoy too. Watching cartoons or animated films, coloring or finger-painting, and playing at the park, just to name a few.

As adults, it can be easy to lose ourselves in the bowels of adulthood and forget how happy we can be experiencing a few things that children often do. We sometimes tend to believe that our personal worlds will crash if we take a moment to lose ourselves within our younger selves. How else are we going to stay youthful if we forget how to live fully?

Seline Shenoy offers “5 Ways To Keep Your Inner Child Alive” by listing and going into detail about the five things she believes will keep you young at heart.

Creative pursuits and hobbies: Children thrive on creativity and find immense joy in expressing themselves. They just grab those crayons, paint brushes or Play-Doh and let their artistry unleash. Without the worries of being judged.

Treat yourself to nostalgia: Have you ever listened to a song on the radio that instantly took you back to a certain phase in your life? You can experience these pleasurable sensations of nostalgia by creating opportunities to remember or relive the things that you loved as a child.

Laughter, music, and dance: As we grow older, we lose our spontaneity and our ability to have a good time because we’re so worried about what people might think. I believe that we can regain our spontaneity by enjoying three universal pleasures of life – laughter, music and dance.

Schedule playtime with children: When you immerse yourself in an environment with children, you’ll notice that you take on a more bouncy and playful persona.

Go off on adventures: We can break the monotony of our routines by bringing back that enthusiasm for adventures. While it would be great to travel to exotic destinations such as Paris or Bali, we can create miniature adventures in our own backyards.

I agree with her viewpoint and the five ways to keep your inner child alive. I believe we owe it to our aging minds and bodies to try to find and keep the good parts of us thriving. When I tap into my inner child, I have happier days, I sleep harder and longer, and I feel an encapsulating sense of peace at the end of those days.

Photo by Kiana Bosman via Unsplash

When I spend time with my younger cousins, I glow. It is often hard to tear the smile away from my face whenever they are around. I entertain them by joining them in their imaginary games, I give piggy-back rides, we play choo-choo train, and take walks up and down their neighborhood, or we visit the park. With them, I succeed in completing all five things Seline Shenoy mentions above. They are keeping me young and young at heart.

The fact is that the majority of so-called adults are not truly adults at all. We all get older. Anyone, with a little luck, can do that. But, psychologically speaking, this is not adulthood. True adulthood hinges on acknowledging, accepting, and taking responsibility for loving and parenting one’s own inner child. For most adults, this never happens. Instead, their inner child has been denied, neglected, disparaged, abandoned or rejected. — Stephen A. Diamond, Ph.D.

It is important to protect and take care of our inner child. The very parts of us that give us pure joy and elation and allows us to be free without second-guessing ourselves as children often do are the same parts of us that hold on to childhood trauma. Balancing how we cater to our innermost fears and succumbing to maturity in adulthood can save us a lot of pain and sorrow.

If we silence the inner child or suppress it, we could find ourselves struggling even more in adulthood. It is okay to embrace your quirky sense of humor. Go on and tell a few appropriate yet funny jokes. Are you thinking about enjoying a ride on the bumper cars or circling around on a Ferris wheel at a State Fair or theme park? Sure, do it! Let your inner child run free. Give yourself the freedom to dance openly outside while the sun kisses your skin. Your inner child will thank you.

Balancing how we cater to our innermost fears and succumbing to maturity in adulthood can save us a lot of pain and sorrow.

For many, it is not an adult self directing their lives, but rather an emotionally wounded inner child inhabiting an adult body. A five-year-old running around in a forty-year-old frame. — Stephen A. Diamond, Ph.D.

The above is what we want to and should avoid in our adulthood. I have been blessed to always have little ones around to keep me focused on just how joyful one can be even with the pitfalls waiting for me to lose my balance. I am also aware of when seriousness is necessary and childlike behavior is not. Knowing when to give your inner child attention and allow your psyche the ability to let loose depends on the person.

We are all different and we have ways we think work for us, however, if we drown this part of our psyche, conforming to what society believes an adult should be, we could lose it forever.

I will strive to keep my inner child happy and my youthful spirit alive. I have seen the positive results from being a “big kid” and balancing my adult duties too. I think I may go outside and hula hoop or jump rope.

Care to join me?


Originally published in The Startup via Medium. The link shared is a friend link as this is a piece behind Medium’s paywall.

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Non-fiction Saturdays

Experiencing Frida Kahlo

And The Connection Her Art Has To Firsts

Capturing me capturing Frida. Photo by Sherry Kappel

At the invitation of Sherry Kappel, I traveled a stone’s throw away from my city to the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh, North Carolina. The purpose? To meet up with Sherry in order to experience the Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Mexican Modernism from the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection. I had never been to this museum before. Firsts are nerve-wreckers for me. I knew I’d be around quite a bit of people, perhaps in close proximity to them as well and I tried my best to subdue any anxiety that was drumming up.

Add to this the fact that I would also be meeting the young ones Sherry was hosting from Brazil and I had to talk myself down from becoming a bag of nerves and worry. I cannot be anyone but myself and oftentimes, I worry how I will be perceived.

It was evident moments after meeting the young ones — I had no need to worry or fret. I was met with big smiles and delightful personalities and I was instantly reminded of just how glorious it is (sometimes) to meet new people.

The North Carolina Museum of Art, from what I could cram into my scope with the amount of time allotted, is vast, with structural art pieces perfectly placed on its grounds. To be one of the many people attending this popular exhibition blew my mind. I was going to experience Frida . . . This was huge!

Kahlo’s work is deeply personal, often depicting her own dreams, painful personal experiences, and affinity with Mexican culture, while Rivera’s more public art portrays everyday people swept up in industrial and cultural revolution. — NCMA

I cannot be anyone but myself and oftentimes, I worry how I will be perceived.

Taking in my surroundings, I gave myself a silent pep talk and a pat on the back. The experience would be a remarkable one. And it was.


Calla Lily Vendor, Art by Diego Rivera. Photo Credit: Tremaine L. Loadholt

The layout of the area for the exhibition did not seem overwhelmingly large but big enough for us to wind around several times, getting lost in the indescribable creativity set before us. This was a bucket list event I did not know I wanted, but now, it can be scratched off. The exhibition begins with a few of Diego Rivera’s mural-styled vibrant pieces and some noted others but jumps into the eye-catching portraits of Frida Kahlo as well as many pictures of her and Diego taken by friends and family.

Girasoles (Sunflowers) by Diego Rivera. Photo Credit: Tremaine L. Loadholt
Self Portrait with Braid, 1941 by Frida Kahlo. Photo Credit: Tremaine L. Loadholt
Frida Kahlo With Magenta Rebozo, “Classic”, 1939 by Nickolas Muray. Photo Credit: Tremaine L. Loadholt

We all filed down the line pressing our eyes upon the many works before us, reading their descriptions, absorbing their intensity, and snapping photos to capture their beauty. Everyone came with their “inside voices” and their “listening ears.” It was as if each of us understood the importance of this first and how Frida Kahlo and her art demands our full attention.

Few artists have captured the public’s imagination with the force of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo (1907–54) and her husband, the Mexican painter and muralist Diego Rivera (1886–1957). The myths that surrounded them in their lifetime arose not only from their significant bodies of work, but also from their friendships (and conflicts) with leading political figures and their passionate, tempestuous personal relationships. — NCMA

It was hard not to snap photos at every turn. I wanted to be able to have my own digital file to reflect upon how exceptional being in attendance for this was for me. Sure, I can rely on my memory to recall the visual displays, but I want to be able to view the details of the pieces I found astounding. And with these photos, I am able to do that for years to come.

Self Portrait with Necklace by Frida Kahlo. Photo Credit: Tremaine L. Loadholt
Nickolas Muray, “Frida with Olmeca Figurine, Coyoacán”, 1939. Photo Credit: Tremaine L. Loadholt
The Love Embrace of the Universe, the Earth (Mexico), Myself, Diego, and Señor Xolotl, by Frida Kahlo, 1949. Photo Credit: Tremaine L. Loadholt

The exhibition took about an hour and ten minutes to view. The girls were just as astounded as both Sherry and I and it was interesting to hear their thoughts and their excitement about an artist who lived and was of high caliber status before all of us. What was also evident is that we all seem to have in common great appreciation and love for her work. Not only did we enjoy this first together, but I also had the opportunity to have lunch with all of them. We traveled to a pub-style deli restaurant aptly named Village Deli & Grill not far from the museum.

There, I ordered the shrimp po’boy and sweet potato fries (which was delicious, by the way). While munching on our food, we fell into conversations with the young ones on how different their areas of Brazil are and how at their current view of the United States, the similarities and differences promptly jump out. I was listening to these two young ladies — both very strong-minded and outspoken, share their thoughts and the first thing that popped into my mind was, “I wonder if they write.” What they said and how they said it needed recording or documenting of some kind.

I also thought, “Yes, these are two of the people who will lead us into betterment.” It was a pleasure to watch them express themselves, yet allow one another the floor when necessary. Their cultural differences related to ours stood out and I had no choice but to take notice. I learned a lot during my time spent with them and it all began with an invite and Frida Kahlo. The connection I felt from one common interest is what I needed this past weekend. I am looking forward to many more firsts this year.

I have more growing to do.


Originally published in P.S. I Love You via Medium.

 

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Non-fiction Saturdays

I Am Saving My Tears For Something Else

I Challenged Fear And It Fought Back, But I Still Won.

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood via Pexels

At the tail-end of last year and the beginning of this year, I challenged fear. I told myself, “You will submit your work to prominent literary magazines, online journals, and poetry hosting sites. You can and you will.” I did this. I stepped out of my reserved comfort zone and decided to dive into the shaky waters of the publishing world again. I found out three things: I am a “polished writer,” I have what it takes, but my “work isn’t quite what we’re looking for at the moment,” and I have a “unique voice, distinctive, however, the work submitted is just not a good fit” for this magazine.

I also found out that my poetry, although denied by a couple of literary journals is hosted far more than my essays and non-fiction work. Because I made the decision to submit my work once again for consideration to several entities, three of my poems have been published. I would be lying if I said I was not elated by this, but poetry does not draw in the big bucks.

I have a goal set for myself and that goal is to write one to three articles that will turn heads, make eyes water, become key pieces of conversations for years to come, and warrant a decent amount of money with each article published. I want to do this in hopes of having writing become closer to a full-time profession for me in the near future. Even if I do not succeed in having it take over as my main source of income, I want to at least decrease my normal full-time work-week by four hours each day.

On average, with some of the big-name magazines and online journals, a writer is paid $0.50 to $1.00 per word submitted. If those articles are anywhere from nine to sixteen hundred words, a significant payout would be issued.

Two of my essays were denied by a prominent partnered publication here on Medium. I love this particular magazine. I read it religiously. I see what is published and my work falls in line with most of the articles there, so I am not submitting and have not submitted something that does not meet their requirements.

After receiving both rejection letters, I started to question myself — my ability as a long-form writer. The first question was, “Am I losing my spark?” The second question was, “Is my work not likable enough for even a chance at being published in this magazine?” I sat with those questions and I worried over them.

It was easy to slip — I almost fell . . .

I came close to finding myself back in the grimy holes of depression because I felt unworthy and unheard. I wondered more than I probably should have about whether or not my work was actually read or if my profile and credentials were reviewed and considered. I mourned the rejections, tweaked both articles, and self-published them here to Medium. I refused to let any tears fall that welled up in my eyes over my hard work and tireless efforts.

I came close to finding myself back in the grimy holes of depression because I felt unworthy and unheard.


Photo by Dominika Roseclay via Pexels

“Enjoy your own life without comparing it with that of another.” — Marquis de Condorcet

I mindlessly started comparing my writing to the works of others that were published. I skimmed and scanned them, read and re-read them, and tried to pinpoint where I was going wrong with my own submitted articles. Then, I remembered — I am my own person. I have my own voice. And I thought . . .

You just need to get louder but do so with class.

I remembered that I should also not take it personally, but when you spend a significant amount of your downtime fine-tuning and editing your work, then sending the drafts to your editing and journalist friends for their notes and tips, it is hard not to take a rejection personally. Add to this the fact that you “stepped out on faith” and “took a chance” and challenged fear, the blows hit a little harder than they should.

I opened up my mind and heart and I asked myself, “Is it the rejections or is it who your work is being rejected by?” I decided that I was bothered so badly by these two rejections because of who bore the rejections. When there is an opportunity to possibly have one’s work hosted by a major publishing brand, the excitement that comes with submitting is indescribable. The natural high for me at that time, cannot be explained — not in common words.

As I stated in an earlier article, I am being gentle with myself. I did exactly what I planned to do and in the process, did have some work published. I challenged my fear of reaching out to publishers and even though a couple of them has knocked me down, I have not been knocked out.

I will save my tears for something bigger — something heavier-hitting. I won’t waste them on things outside of my control. I keep telling myself this. I have been trying to make it my personal mantra for a few months now.

“Is it the rejections or is it who your work is being rejected by?”

I do plan to continue submitting other essays to a few different entities. I still feel as though I have much more fight left in me and that an article of mine could be picked up sooner than later. I am claiming it. I believe it. I am not a person who backs down all too easily, but I do know when my steps have been ordered and when a break is necessary.

Fear will not hold me back — neither will rejection.


“I believe that my skill at taking ordinary words and using them to provoke thought or stir emotion is a divine gift that I should utilize more often, if not for profit, then to free my spirit.” — Darryl Brown


Originally published in CRY via Medium.

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