The scene: a bunch of anthropology students in a van on the way to Asheville.

Professor: “I thought we could stop by the anarchist book store. What do you think?”

All students in tandem: “YEAHHH!”

I can’t think of a more fun group of people to go to Asheville with than my experimental ethnography class. We spent a day and a half going to both Black Mountain College campuses, the Western Regional Archives, and the Black Mountain College Museum in order to really get into the play we’re performing. But we still had time to visit Firestorm Books and Coffee, a really neat place that you should definitely visit if you’re in Asheville. It’s the kind of bookstore where all the queer books are on display in the window, and is an altogether refreshing place to be in. Everyone had a collective heyday. I picked up a lovely copy of Queer: A Graphic History.

Our trip was filled with strange coincidences and resonances, the most bizarre of which I shall share. It starts in my junior year of high school, when I made a collage, and then a painting of the collage. I consider this piece a breakthrough, when I stopped messing around with art and started getting serious. It’s technically rough, but my conceptual basis was doing a 180. This is one section of the painting–notice the two-headed snake (it’s hard to miss):


The story continues six years later, yesterday, at Firestorm Books. One of my classmates has picked up the zine “Birds of a Feather: Flights of the Anarcho-Surrealist Imagination” by Ron Sakolsky. One of the pages catches my eye as my class mate flips through the book. I seize it from her and splutter incoherently.

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The very same snake. Rather unbelievable, no? I’m still coming to terms with it. My professor told me it means something, and I’m inclined to agree. The same motif appearing in my life six years apart–though in The Book of the Dead (my current project) there’s a two-headed snake as well, the god Nehebkau. So maybe it’s not that strange.

Resonances like these seem improbable and ridiculous, and require a certain suspension of disbelief when read about. But maybe they happen more than we think.


Sweet (on) Polly Oliver

So I just read the book Bloody Jack for no other reason than that it was on my to-read list and I wanted something short and sweet. It ticked of a lot of boxes of what I like to read about, primarily pirates and girls disguising themselves as boys to become pirates/sailors. It was a good book, written in a dialect but done well so that it drew you in instead of disengaging you.

However, it did bring to mind exactly what disappoints me about these narratives so often (these narratives being: girl disguises self as boy to accomplish goals). It’s that every. single. time. her disguise is blown when she falls in love with a boy/a boy falls in love with her and she “has” to reveal herself to prevent serious awkwardness on his part.

Number one, it’s heteronormative and usually comes with the implicit assumption that if the girl doesn’t reveal her “true” gender, and instead lets her love interest believe he’s interested in a guy, she’s the guilty party. If you’re wondering about the name for this post, it’s actually the name of this trope. Find out more here.

Number two, it places potential embarrassment on the part of the boy above an often life-threatening situation for the girl. Who’s the protagonist here, again?

Number three, it messes with her objectives–suddenly keeping her secret is no longer her prime directive, it’s shacking up with the guy. Her goals, which were so important that she disguised herself for (potentially) years, fall by the wayside in a way that breaks my suspension of disbelieve every time.

I’m not wringing Bloody Jack out here specifically–it’s a good book. But it happened to catalyze a lot of my frustration around girl-disguised-as-boy narratives. There’s so many interesting ways to take a plot like that, but inevitably they all end the same. It’s one of my goals to write one of those more interesting ones at some point.

If you know any books that take this trope in more interesting ways, please send them my way in the comments! I’d love to hear them (and, better yet, read them).

Conference Weekend

I just got back from attending my first conference ever, The Southeastern Commission for the Study of Religion (SECSOR), wherein I also presented my first paper ever! The paper is about how Gaia Theory is altered through three works of science fiction: Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler, “Vaster than Empires and More Slow” by Ursula K. LeGuin, and the Young Wizards series by Diane Duane. It was incredibly fun to write and even more fun to share with a room full of academics.

Meanwhile, I stayed in my second fanciest hotel room ever and generally luxuriated. I had good intentions to be productive in my down time, but instead found myself taking advantage of the huge bathtub, the not-too-atrociously-expensive room service, and the free soaps.

Some things I learned from this conference:

  • Fun topics at conferences get people excited
  • I’m better at public speaking than I thought I was
  • I’m way better at networking than I thought I was
  • Sometimes it’s ok to be a little hedonistic in your fancy hotel room

In sum, I spent this weekend making really cool friends, learning really cool things, and ignoring the little voice in my head that worries about stuff like impending thesis deadlines. So, to everyone out there who can’t fathom taking a break right now: do it anyway. Just for a day. It’ll be time well spent.

✿ Black History Month ✿

Hey all, sorry for not posting last week! Things got desperate in thesis-land for a bit. (Well, they still are.) Anyway, we’re coming up on the end of February, and thus the end of Black History Month. In honor of the occasion, here are some of the works by black artists that I’ve been immersed in this month:

  1. The Inheritance Trilogy by NK Jemison; I finally barreled my way through the third book in the series, Kingdom of Gods, and as a whole this series blew me away like little else has in recent memory. I’m not normally one to get into adult high fantasy, but NK Jemison does it as never before. These books are unspeakably rich in worldbuilding detail, and the storylines are oftentimes deeply tragic, but also hopeful. I actually wrote a post entirely devoted to Jemison’s worldbuilding prowess. Next up: The Broken Earth Trilogy.
  2. Zahrah the Windseeker by Nnedi Okorafor; An outstanding  author of many genres, Okorafor is the author of one of my favorite YA books of all time, Akata Witch. I was thrilled to see my library had Zahrah on it’s display for Black History Month, and I grabbed it immediately. It has what made me love Akata Witch so much: deeply evokative, lush, and unique worldbuilding. I haven’t yet finished it (see above thesis crisis), but when I do I plan to keep devouring all of Okorafor’s work.
  3. Black Panther dir. by Ryan Coogler! Of course! I said black artists, not just authors. Highly anticipated and even more highly received, Black Panther is easily one of the best films I’ve ever had the privilege to see. To deepen your understanding of the creation and implications of the film, The Black Panther Challenge provides a list of critical readings for before and after seeing the film. Check it out, then go see the movie.

What do all of these works have in common? For me, it is their worldbuilding: so ebullient that you leave these works with half your heart still behind. In the cases of Zahrah and Black Panther, for me this is partially due to the novel experience of being immersed in fantasy Africa, rather than fantasy Europe. It provides an entirely different set of worldbuilding tools that feel so vivid to me partially because I have experienced them so little in popular books and movies. It is enriching to both the genres themselves and to the audience consuming them.

Black History Month might be ending, but our celebration of black artists doesn’t stop for March. Go read about Afrofuturism from the Black Panther Challenge, see the movie if you have the means, and pick up a book by a black author at your local library. Enrich yourself.


The Ruse of Medusa

This semester, departments and classes across my university are devoting themselves to creating a website and producing projects and artistic works to commemorate Black Mountain College, an alternative university which ran for less than 20 years near Asheville, NC. My part in this initiative? Helping to put on The Ruse of Medusa, a surrealist play by Eric Satie performed for the first time in English at Black Mountain, the cast a host of the most famous Black Mountain teachers. It’s a surrealist play that doesn’t make much sense at first pass, and only slightly more at second, but that’s the nature of the thing.

I spent four hours yesterday in a workshop wherein fifteen anthropology majors tried to learn anything about theater. And it must have worked at least a bit, because by the end we had a host of brilliant ideas, a timeline, and a whole lot of enthusiasm. I’ve heard enthusiasm can make up for a lot, so fingers crossed.

All this to say that group bonding is important when doing a creative work, together or individually. We’ve been discussing the play in class for weeks, but the excitement and inspiration only came when we all got together and played games and brainstormed. It’s so much easier to get energized and inspired when you have other people around you wanting to be inspired. Ideas feed off each other, and we should strive not to be competitive but collaborative.

Writing Prompt: The Replacement

I have nothing interesting to talk about this week beyond my renewed obsession with knitting, so here’s a writing prompt that I did today with my writing group, from the excellent Deep Water Prompts. I posted another of their prompts I did here last year, though I usually do them weekly. Enjoy!

They took away my grandmother and sent in a replacement. She wanted something from me that I could not let her have. How did I know she was a replacement? It was in the way she talked, always recycling phrases, sentences. Ever since they swapped her I never heard her speak an original word. The same “rise and shine, dearie” in the morning, the same “sweet dreams, my sweet,” at bedtime. Her inflections never altered, nor the facial expressions which accompanied them.

My mom explained it away as getting old, but I saw further. I caught her snooping in my room, time and time again. A ninety-year old, however malevolent, could only be so stealthy. The first time I found her rustling through my sock drawer I asked what she was doing. With a smile I’d never seen my grandmother wear, she spit out the same “just tidying up, dearie” that she’d said last year, when we caught her in mom’s closet looking for Christmas presents.

Now when I catch her I say nothing, just stare her down ’til she leaves, those eyes–not my grandmother’s–glinting at me with concealed wrath.

I began locking my door from the inside before I left, but she somehow had the key. I bought a padlock and came home to find it cut clean through, lying on the ground. After that I lay string across the lock before I left every day, and after school find it fallen to the floor, a sure sign she’d been looking.

In a way, it was reassuring. So long as she kept searching my room, she didn’t suspect it was in my brother’s.

Was it cruel to have endangered him by hiding it among his action figures? Perhaps. But I couldn’t leave it somewhere easier for her to find, and I absolutely couldn’t hide it outside the house. They needed a fake grandmother to even begin to search inside. Outside, it would be easy pickings.

But my fake grandmother still had to conform to her predecessor’s life, and so could not refuse when mom took her to her doctor’s appointment. It was then that I made my move.

I entered my brother’s room, ignoring his outrage at the intrusion, and opened the drawer stuffed to the brim with his superhero toys. Before he could start throwing things at me, I snatched what I had hidden a week before and left. There was only one safe place I could take the thing now they had an an agent in my home, and that was a place I had sworn never to return to.

I grit my teeth, swallowed my pride, and descended into the cellar.

My First Novel

I wrote my first “novel”, entitled Absolute, in middle school. It’s 26,000 words and rather obviously based on the Maximum Ride series, featuring a group of kids whose parents are mad scientists engaged in illegal genetic experiments. One day they successfully manage to clone a wooly mammoth calf, on which they will be performing untold hideous experiments. Cue the kids stealing the mammoth and leading their nefarious parents on a wild cross-country chase. At a distance it doesn’t sound half bad, but the illusion ends once you get closer.

Some highlights include:

  • knocking people out with car doors
  • being so bad at driving you’re actually excellent
  • stealing away in cargo planes
  • surprisingly accurate care of a wooly mammoth calf
  • secret passages inside walls
  • children who are good at pick-pocketing
  • a radio star called Gravy Lester
  • the acronym KOES: Kids of Evil Scientists

…and more excellent plot devices by yours truly, age 13. However, I didn’t write this post to bash my middle-school writing. Absolute was a stepping stone to where I am now. And in the grand scheme of things, The Book of the Dead is a stepping stone to where I’ll be in ten more years. It’s important to not be too harsh on where you were as well, as where you are now. Everything is valuable. Everything is improvement. And to be honest, I’m still invested in that cheesy story about genius kids stealing a mammoth. Maybe I’ll take it somewhere someday.