Instead of “Why Me?” Can We Do “What If?”

My mind is so bored. I wish to be inspired. Help me!

I’m having a hard time working through contemporary fiction novels as of late. Once the story gets going, I feel less involved and more talked down. Once the story reaches it’s epoch, I feel a, ‘yeah, so?’ instead of an investment. Endings leave me thinking, ‘and so…now what?’

These modern day stories are yawns. Where’s the wisdom? Why so much celebration of ‘why me’? Have we completely eradicated the fundamental purpose of storytelling, that is, to impart wisdom among our community then carry forward as knowledge-empowered people? It feels like that to me.

I won’t divulge which authors I have been reading nor titles, because that wanders into the role of “book reviewer.” I respect you are a person of intellect, capable of free will and imagination who can make decisions (such as whether a book is good or not) on your own. I will let you know these books are all modern setting (20th century to now), modern language, modern places, fictional stories, and have either received international acclaim or blockbuster movie status.

I feel it undeserved.

In every contemporary fiction work I’ve read lately, each author has demonstrated a promotion of the Why Me, and some successfully demonstrate some movement beyond the Why Me. To those writers I ask, could you teach us how to move beyond the Why Me? Just because you can voice it through character and exposition doesn’t mean you’ve provided a resolution. For me, I feel nothing is out there which is helping us move beyond the fears of our ancestors. Some writers attempt to move us forward but only within the afterward or in book release interviews. Never in the work!

When I digest a contemporary modern day fiction novel, I frame the question, “what does this author want me to know?” The award-winning, movie rights selling authors I just read want me to know:

  1. White people are scared of Black people
  2. Black people hate other Black people
  3. Women rather keep silent
  4. Men are afraid no one likes them
  5. Americans know there is a struggle and I have the right to say, “Oh yeah, I feel that way about that issue too!”
  6. Other nations hate Americans

The authors I despise most are those who write deeply on the cruelties of racism, as opposed to writing deeply on rising above racism. Within more than a few novels, I sensed the writer was at a pivotal arc during composition, leaned back in his/her writing chair, vigorously tapping the tip of a pen to his/her tightened mouth, plotting: “If we actually solve racism, then there can’t be any money made on racism, now can it? Why solve it when I can get rich exacerbating racism? Huzzah!” Then he/she takes off rabidly composing the next New York Times Bestseller. To me, if all you write about is racist activities, novel to novel to novel, then you must LOVE racism and want to keep it going! If you’re not a racist, can you demonstrate for the racist rest of us how to grow beyond it in modern times? No? Then stop writing about it. You’re not helping.

Okay, that was a slight rant.

Storytellers, I challenge you to promote the What If? If you wish to demonstrate strife, give us an experiential aspect, not your dream world aspect. I would like to experience writing in which the author has actually taken the time to do leg work, meaning, put yourself in the shit you want to write about. It’s clear with many of these contemporary works the writer did no more than conduct a few interviews and watched some classic movies. Get in there! Wanna write about prison life? Go to prison. Seriously. Go to prison. Don’t want to do that? Don’t write about it.

I guess my complaint is…I’m reading fiction suited for people who would rather live active lies then push beyond, excel and make better their surroundings, their community and the cultures they associate with. I’m reading works where I’ve been intentionally excluded as a member of the audience. Here is where I enter a plea for help. Help me locate contemporary/modern era novels which offer clear examples of how one can move past common hurdles and function in society. And please, oh sweet Venus please, leave the racism-celebrating volumes out. They bore me.

In the original picture, I'm posing with the #amreading novel. In protest of its content, I cropped it out. Unfortunately I appear more chipper than disgusted. Ah well.
In the original picture, I’m posing with the #amreading novel. In protest of its content, I cropped it out. Unfortunately I appear more chipper than disgusted. Ah well.
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Artistic Equality in America

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Lorraine Hansberry, the first Black American woman to write a play performed on Broadway.

The Case For Supporting [Adjective] Authors*

Union Station, Washington DC, circa 2004
Americanism requires my artistry to match my organic matter.

 

I was raised an American.

I physically developed, formulated a personality, practiced social graces, and made friends living abroad, almost entirely outside of the United States of America.

Beyond America, as an American, no one gave a shit if your father was this race, your mother was that ethnicity, and certainly, without a hometown to tout, nobody cared which city/town/state in America your people came from. The determinant of a shared drink at the bierstübe or an all-out beat down was simple: conciliatory manners, meaning, demonstrating respect towards the culture one is ensconced in, for the sake of peace. This is how I came to understand “relationship building.”

Thus, my confusion when I arrived on these shores to find the Americans acting rather…feral…towards each other. As soon as I smiled hello, the marginalization began: What are you? What are your parents? Where do they come from? What neighborhood do you live in? Marginalizing box after box after box instead of just a, ‘nice to meet you’ in response. I thought it was a phase, but, twenty-three years later, that fervent need to make a person fit in a narrow-minded box is still definitive Americana.

Artistically, my race/sex/ethnicity/nationality/sexuality/etc does not matter. I have voiced men, I have voiced South Asians, I have voiced transsexuals through my artistry. It’s because I allow myself to be infused by these cultures that these stories and poems manifest, and manifest with respect to the attributes of the culture.

As an independent author, I had to manage my own marketing, so I tried assimilating into the literary world fold without utilizing Americanism, because it belittles me. If I’m only an [adjective] author, then I’m saying my art is only valuable to [adjective] people, which would be me belittling my target audience, the global community!

The last two months During the summer of 2014, I did decent with general sales but abysmal in representing my work without getting forced into a social cubby-hole. I incurred derogatory statements regarding my sex, my race, my ethnicity, and those statements then erroneously defined the quality of my novel.

While I try to respect the perspective of those who protect their “-ness,” I won’t allow my principles to be subjugated to the -ness. Does that make sense? That’s not my crutch; that’s that person’s crutch, and I needn’t lean on it. Here’s a sample of that:

There was an opportunity for I Blew Up Juarez to be featured in one of Tampa Bay’s [adjective] bookstores. This [adjective] bookstore, according to its owner, is the signature bookstore for the area’s [adjective] community. As well, the owner was a contributing committee member for a major area festival celebrating the [adjective] community, and she was THE person to talk to in order to be a featured artist in that festival. Struck gold, right?

The bookstore owner felt her endorsement of my work would be integral to achieving success in the Greater Tampa Bay reading community. It was here in the conversation I started to experience trepidation, as I observed her mentally pushing four boards together around me in the middle of her shop.

A bystander to our conversation felt compelled to declare, “We need to support all [adjective] authors!” He nodded heavily, proud of this statement. He supplemented his declaration by talking about inspiring the future generation of [adjectives], and the struggles of being [adjective].

Very rah-rah-rah this guy! I saw an opportunity and replied, “Thank you for that! I have copies in my car, would you like to purchase one?”

He blinked at me.

He looked at the bookstore owner.

The bookstore owner burned eyes into him.

He looked back to me and declared, “I wasn’t going to buy a book today.”

I retrieved my review copy of I Blew Up Juarez from her weeks later, as it became more evident her intentions were to puppet my [adjective] self, not my artist self. Even if she was a fellow [adjective] person in the literary community, she behaved like a complete asshole.

Unfortunately, it is socially expected to accept marginalization and profitable to -ness it up.

It’s disparaging, but…I suppose I’m the only one who sees it that way.

*: original post 06.24.2014 – edited content and toned down cynicism

My 1st Grade Self Declares You All Idiots

birthday

I had a rare event occur: a childhood flashback. I believe it was triggered by the discussion regarding American bigotry on BrainRant’s blog, then called forward when the girls working out next to me switched the gym TV to Fox News:

One typical work day at the elementary school office, Ms. Robinson (I think? Let’s go with it.) stood before her students with a stoic expression across her face and a handful of sheets pressed to her chest. “Class, this is an exercise on following directions,” she announced with a glint of glee in her eyes. I gave her a stern look while my colleagues chuckled dismissively. “Once I hand you your assignment, I want you to read the instructions first.” Simple.

She walked down our neat rows and coolly placed the sheet face down on our desks. “Can we get started?” an eager voice called to her. “Go right ahead,” she offered. I waited until everyone got their assignment, then flipped mine over. Furious scribbles and anxious chair scrapes carried around me as I caught the first direction.

1) Write your first and last name on the bottom of the sheet.

Mistaken groans and winces grew in crescendo. Eraserheads were decimated.

2) Solve this jumble and write the answer to the side: r y s p u

3) Write the name of the person sitting to your right on the top of the sheet.

The room had fell into concentrated silence.

4) Write down your favorite color, but spell it backwards.

A few students were halted, trying to figure out how to spell out the favorite color normally before inverting it.

And the final direction:

5) Ignore directions 1 through 4. Turn the sheet over, write your name on the back, and take it to my desk for a grade.

A cacaphony of disgust exploded around me. A pencil may have flown across the room. Of the 15-20 students in my class, only three of us followed directions.

I should have said something then, because now these yahoos work in media, in government, and have WAY more money than you or I have yet to see.