the tender gravity of kindness*

the tender gravity of kindness*

It feels like a year ago that a friend asked me, “How do people forgive themselves?” We were talking about how our 30s are like a process of unknowing and unlearning all the toxic shit we’ve brought along for our whole lives.

Their question has stayed with with me. I didn’t have an answer then, and I don’t really have an answer now. I don’t know how we forgive ourselves. “it is an intrinsic human trait. and a deep responsibility. i think. to be an organ and a blade.” (Nayyirah Waheed)

Over these past months, I’ve been considering what it is to be forgiven by someone else. Being forgiven will break you open. In ways that you don’t have words for. Maybe this is what some Christians feel when they talk about Jesus and being saved and forgiveness. It feels like a lancing brightness, and a tremendous weight. It feels divine and mundane.

Forgiveness is tough and sweet, and it will rock you. It’s an enormous kindness, which makes it sound like a privilege. But I actually think that we all deserve it. We all need it.

We hold back a lot on forgiving ourselves, though. I don’t know if we just don’t know what we don’t know. Maybe we don’t have enough role models to learn from.

Maybe it feels surreal to forgive yourself. Perhaps we feel like forgiveness is reserved for the other, not the self. To give ourselves this gift feels…selfish? Indulgent? I don’t know.

There are a lot of things that I work on forgiving myself for – from the smallest infractions to the much bigger trespasses. I know that it’s getting easier as I get older – where some things are concerned, anyway. I don’t know why.

Is withholding forgiveness like holding your breath? Does the body and the spirit just tap out after awhile, and say, “No more?” Is forgiveness an act of relaxation? A way to let go and admit that what we’ve been doing isn’t working, hasn’t worked, and because we are still here, we are entitled to some reprieve? We can take a moment and loosen the restrictions we place on ourselves?

There is a connection between kindness and forgiveness for me. I think forgiveness comes in those sometimes tiny moments of kindness to ourselves when we can say, “It’s OK that this happened,” or “It’s not OK that this happened.” I think it happens when we give ourselves permission: to fail, to hurt, to try, to wonder, to love, to be unresolved.

Sometimes you’ve been through so much shit that kindness and forgiveness feels like the only thing left. And until then, you don’t know how to reach for it. After that, maybe it becomes easier to draw it to you, to recognize it as something you’re worthy of.

I know some people go whole lifetimes without ever feeling the necessary fracture of forgiveness. All of us have some degree of the unsettled inside of us. I don’t know how we forgive ourselves.

But we must.

*from the poem “Kindness,” by Naomi Shihab Nye

Desperately Seeking Urban Fantasy Writers of Color

Desperately Seeking Urban Fantasy Writers of Color

A couple of weeks ago, I was looking for some good urban fantasy written by a person of color or an indigenous person.


Luckily, Daniel José Older has it covered. I’m grateful that he has started an ongoing list of writers of color in the urban fantasy genre. In the immediate, it helped me with one of the tasks for the 2016 Book Riot Read Harder Challenge: Read the first book in a series by a person of color. 

I decided early on that I’m adapting this challenge to read only books written by authors of color. For some of the tasks, that’s been easy. For some others, not so much (“Read a book with a main character that has a mental illness”).

But that’s part of what I’ve been challenging myself to do with the books I’m reading. I feel like I’ve become a lazy reader. Even as I type that, I feel my younger self look at me with scorn and I hang my head in shame. As a child, teenager and young adult, I devoured all kinds of reading material.

When I was in graduate school, one of my best friends got me into reading romance novels as a way to give my brain some relief from reading academic texts related to my area of study. It was a good tip; romance had never been a genre that I read a lot of. Now, I have read so much romance, I could probably produce a romance review blog.

These past few months/years have been crunk. So I’ve been reading a lot of romance novels. It’s not the only thing I’ve been reading, and even if it was the only genre, that would be OK.

But considering that this is my #YearOfYes, I’m trying to break out of the boxes that I often impose upon myself. And let’s get real: Mount To-Be-Read was getting mighty high. Like all bibliophiles, I see nothing wrong with buying books and having no “sit down and read this” date in sight.

Now I’m finally at a point where I want to carve out the time to immerse myself in new worlds like I used to. I want to discover new writers.

And the list by Daniel José Older has given me so many new writers to explore. For my challenge, I ended up going with Greg Van Eekhout‘s California Bones, a book which John Scalzi summarizes as a “cannibal magic Ponzi scheme:”

As an adult reader, when I think of urban fantasy books, I think of Guilty Pleasures, the inaugural book in the Anita Blake series written by Laurell K. Hamilton. I’ll have to write another post at another time to talk about what I think happened to that series over time and why I stopped reading it a long time ago, but suffice it to say, California Bones gave me a very different landscape than Guilty Pleasures did. And I’m so appreciative.

I’d like to think that people of color and indigenous people bring something different to urban fantasy novels, which, despite being fantasy, often reproduce the same busted ass racial, gender and sexual politics that we deal with in the “real world.”

This is not to say that just because a black or a brown person picks up a pen – or turns on the computer, as it were – and writes a story, that it automatically becomes a treatise on social justice. Or that it needs to be. However, it’s great to see fantasy and speculative fiction stories told through the lenses of different lived experiences. It’s great AND necessary.

Where would I have been as a teenager if I hadn’t picked up Octavia Butler’s Mind of My Mind and fallen in love with Butler and with the story of Mary, “a young ghetto telepath?” I don’t know if anyone ever labeled Mind of My Mind as urban fantasy, but I tend to think of it that way. It was urban fantasy before we had a name and a genre and genre conventions to go along with it. We need the Tananarive Dues, the L.A. Banks and the Daniel José Olders. We also need the people whose names aren’t on any list anywhere, writing stories that, like California Bones, take a theme like a heist, and flip it on its head. We need them – us – in order to trouble the genres and sometimes disrupt them altogether. 

So I’ll be reading the rest of Greg Van Eekhout’s Daniel Blackland trilogy. And I’ll be reading, per the Read Harder challenge, a nonfiction book about science and a non-superhero comic that debuted in the last three years. And a dystopian or post-apocalyptic novel.

All written by people color. Because, reasons.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

“Real” Writers

“Real” Writers

It’s easy to fall in love with the writer you SHOULD be. You SHOULD be the sort of person who gets up early every day to write for two hours. You SHOULD have the kind of attention span where you love to do that sort of thing. You SHOULD produce perfectly lush, ready-to-read drafts on the first go. You SHOULD like to write as much as you like having written. Nothing should disrupt the perfect flow of your priorities, and if you don’t put getting words on paper front and center of your day every day, if you don’t love writing enough to break up with your significant other so they don’t cut into your novel-writing schedule, maybe you don’t deserve success or to call yourself a writer or–

But all the “shoulds” of Real Writers is bullshit. You are a writer right now, because you have stories you are trying to tell. You will not be a real writer someday when you have met some magical production speed, or published a certain number of the “right” stories, or made a certain amount of money. You are a writer right now. And you should be proud of the little steps, as well as the big ones. Every journey is full of small steps. You don’t take any big steps without small ones first.

–Lev Mirov, “On Small Writing



When I was in my 20s, I really believed that I needed to say yes to a lot of things. Just add more things, especially professionally. Stir. Get exhausted. Repeat.

Back then, I don’t think I thought carefully about what it meant to give so much away and not replenish myself. (Isn’t that what being in your 20s is all about anyway – not worrying about the consequences? LOL)

I woke up and I was in my mid-30s and I’m tired. Really, I think I was always tired, but like an exhausted kid who didn’t want to go to bed, I fought it.

I’m tired. It’s that kind of day.

This music I’m listening to is bomb, but it’s gray outside because winter. I’m wondering why I still live somewhere where winter is on some Game of Thrones type shit, but here I am.

Now that I’m this side of 30, I’m in love with “no.” The idea of refusing to do things – especially things that people expect of me or take for granted that I will do – gives me great joy. The joy that comes from relief.

The load is too heavy; I’m about that jettison life so that I can stay afloat. Or even rise above.

There are days – like today – when I’m consumed with the “no” of it all. Surely, nothing else is required of me but human decency, compassion and a place on the couch where I can drink tea and watch Jessica Jones?

Saying “yes” on these days is a Herculean feat. I’m not ashamed to say that these are the days when I’ll use the dishwasher instead of washing dishes by hand (and I’m not a fan of dishwashers). I’ll warm something up instead of cook. Hell, I will tear up some cereal. I will power through that project, if only for the pleasure of being done and clearing the mental space I need to be able to say “no” to something later.

I don’t want the music to be too crunk, or the edges to be too hard. I need my armor, which usually takes the form of a cardigan, a very stylish scarf and my favorite boots. I own too much of these items, but efforts to break out of the mold and wear some wackadoo shirt that usually looks ridic on me never ends well.

I take shortcuts on days like this. I need a lot of love and affection and kindness on these kind of days.

I don’t fight the fact anymore that during this time of year, what I crave is stillness and comfort. I can’t be bothered to get all frothed up. To other people, it probably looks like I’m lethargic. Or aloof. Maybe mean. A little distant.

But really, I am just moving at a slower pace. It’s gray, and cold, and the struggle is real. The idea of bopping around makes me feel like I’m going to break. I’m grateful that I have a partner who understands that sometimes I just can’t even; I know it’s not always easy to live with my moods.

As much as I love saying “no,” I don’t often let myself really admit these things fully. So I’m writing it down because I think I have to. I’m trying to say “yes” to just being authentic.

I’m tired, and I will not be pushing through it to some mythical land of energy and productivity and triumph.

I’m going to eat these reduced fat graham crackers instead and do my thing…very slowly.


A House of My Own

Not a flat. Not an apartment in back. Not a man’s house. Not a daddy’s. A house all my own. With my porch and my pillow, my pretty purple petunias. My books and my stories. My two shoes waiting beside the bed. Nobody to shake a stick at. Nobody’s garbage to pick up after.

Only a house quiet as snow, a space for myself to go, clean as paper before the poem.

— Sandra Cisneros, The House on Mango Street