My novel is going to be a best seller!

If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him.

                                                         – John F. Kennedy

If your goal is to be the next JK Rowling… writing may not (there is a slight possibility) be right for you.

The Talent: It’s going to be a best seller

Voice of Reason: Now that I think about it, I’ve never even seen you read a book.

I’m not going to emphasize the importance or writing, I’ve done that in enough posts. Nor will I emphasize the importance of writing, because I’ve done that a few times as well, I think. You can check out my old posts in this series here if you want to.

There is something that I want to stress, and that’s the importance of money. As humans we need it, can’t live without it because it ensures life’s necessities: food, water, shelter, clothes and other great stuff. Money is important because it allows us to obtain these things, to continue doing the fun, stupid, pointless, amazing things we as writers do. All money does is mediate, acting as a means to something else. Money’s importance comes from a capitalistic interest in placing an arbitrary value on everything. There’s no reason, really, why a tomato should cost a dollar and a loaf of bread several. There’s no reason why essentials should be marketed to begin with, but that’s another post.

So what does being a millionaire, or a billionaire in Rowling’s case ensure? Even if you are a mildly successful author you’d be able to cover your necessities and guarantee that you continue doing what you love: writing.It’s easy to preach when the audience is a screen, but seriously , two for the money, ten for the art. Your skill as a writer has already been commodified, there’s no need to place added stress on yourself to be an international best seller. No disrespect to those who are of course, or those who desire success, but it shouldn’t be your sole goal.

Don’t compromise your novels, poems, paintings, films or essays solely for the fame or the money. You’ll regret it. At the end of that long, never ending day that is life, you owe authenticity not to your friends, family, job or self; you owe it to your work.

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Out of mind, out of sight

Why do people assume that a “broken” brain means a “broken” mind, heart and soul?

I can’t speak on behalf of the difficulties that people dealing with mental health issues experience, but I can give my perspective as an observer. Mental health, like Black History Month, is a conversation that doesn’t end with its delegated time. This will hopefully be the first of many posts and discussions to ensue from this topic.

Why is mental health so stigmatized? I don’t mean poor mental health or good mental health, just mental health in general. People are afraid to suggest the topic, it’s like the brussels sprouts of conversations. If you have a problem with your heart, leg, lungs or stomach, you can go and see a doctor with little fear of being judged or looked down upon. Why does that change when we shift to the brain? Why do people assume that a “broken” brain means a “broken” mind, heart and soul? You’d think that something so central and vital to the human body, something so intricate and sensitive, would be approached with openness and impartiality.

Mental health, like one’s sex, colour or sexual orientation is not something rooted in choice. No one wakes up one morning and thinks ” you know what, today feels like a good day to start my depression” or “bipolar disorders are trendy, I’ll try that!” These aren’t garments or fashion pieces picked out of a wardrobe. They are garments one is forced to wear, that societal voices make only more suffocating.

Take sex. Sex deals with the physical difference between men and women. We’ve heard this before (sorry if I’m the first person to tell you this): women have vaginas, men have penises, men tend to be taller than women, women tend to bear babies. Then what society does is distort these differences, taking the physical and moving it into the societal, stereotypical, gendered and political. You have sex and then you have distortions of sex in gender, which is similar to mental health, only the distortions are amplified.

Millions of people are affected by mental health issues. With increased joblessness, stress, engineered hormones, media exploitation and other factors, the “issue” of mental health isn’t going anywhere. There are misconceptions about mental health out there, and I’ll admit, I’m in the process of re-educating myself. I wouldn’t want to be judged by my skin or sex, so it’s only fair that I take that approach with others.

Are you a feminist, sexual rights activist or humanitarian? Do you believe people are more than their skin, hair, sexual partner, situation, upbringing or religion? If you nod yes to any of these, then by default you should also be a mental health activist.

There is no such thing as colour

When you’ve worn the coat of oppression or superiority as an identity, how can you simply shake it off: the suit makes the man doesn’t it?

What does Black History Month mean in the modern, Western world? People don’t practice racism. The colour of your skin doesn’t affect your career opportunities. Interracial marriage is universally acceptable. People, regardless of their skin, have access to education. It sounds so easy, forcing the image of democracy and freedom over inequality in the world. It is a comforting image; it allows us to function without guilt, but sometimes reality reminds us of the falseness of this image. The idea of democracy, freedom, and equality, now function as ideologies that don’t allow us to question the actual state of people. Sure I’m free, yes everyone is equal and colour doesn’t matter. If we think there is no racism, we’ll be blinded by blatant acts of it. Black History Month, among other things, reminds us that some features of our society (people, institutions, law), are still coloured by prejudices. I believe there is racism is the world, not because I go looking for it, but because the media lays the pickings at my feet.

Is race never an issue? To that I answer by asking: when you’ve worn the coat of oppression or superiority as an identity, how can you simply shake it off: the suit makes the man doesn’t it? Changing dominant views, societal conditions and prejudices towards people of colour isn’t something that occurred alongside freedom. Being a free black person did not mean that you were a living human being. Human recognition had to be earned by devoted people like Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X and others who took up the cause against racism. Freedom doesn’t equal equality, respect and love.

Great black people fought, made art and invented things so we commemorate them in February. A single month, out of the entire year dedicated to their achievements. People don’t have to think about racism, slavery and lynching in any other month, only in February. Are you witnessing something racist in your culture? Wait until February, that’s the appropriate time to bring it up. Just like there’s an app for that, there’s a month for thinking empathetically.

On Martin Luther King Day I read posts and heard rants from people saying that it doesn’t make sense for them to go to work. However, the argument I heard these people make was that Martin Luther King Jr. was a great man therefore it doesn’t make sense for them to go to work on a day dedicated to his greatness. Those two things – work and Martin Luther King – are unrelated. If you want a day off from work, that’s fine, but don’t use the pretense of a great man to get that. That’s not what the day should be about. What if we all demanded the day off because racism against people of colour is still prevalent; black men are stereotyped as stupid, dead beet fathers; black women are painted as loud, obnoxious, uneducated, ghetto characters; black people are asked to tailor their hair to Eurocentric ideals; inner-racism exists in cultures of colour; and sexism, homophobia and racism still exist even though they are rooted in biological occurrences that are under no one’s control? What if we demanded that we will neither participate in nor contribute to a society in which not all members are treated equally? Why don’t we talk about that, instead of using the sufferance of people for our own benefit?

I’m waiting for the right “opportunity” to change

Here’s a video celebrating 25 great African American women.

This is NOT directed specifically towards Cristen, but to the greater issues of Black History Month. I’m just taking offense to the idea of Black History Month as an “opportunity”. The video was very informative (and hilarious, as Cristen always is) and I learned a lot about the contributions of black women. Cristen explicitly says in the comments that her intents are not to capitalize on the opportunity, but to show some really cool women that most people otherwise wouldn’t pay attention to. Check out her other videos, she has a fresh and analytical take on women and stereotypes, norms and roles. She also has some down-right-choke- yourself-laughing videos that are just fun to watch.

So it’s Black History Month, as many of you know by the posts, videos, interviews and essays springing up everywhere on people of colour. Some choose to celebrate the accomplishments of black women and men, and others highlight how far we still need to go as people. However, with all the awareness and attention given not only to issues of prejudice and racism, injustices in sex, sexual orientation, mental health, disabilities and religious discrimination are discussed as well. A lot get’s done in these 28 days, yet I find fault with February’s identity as “an opportunity for change.” Black History Month is a means for discussion and change, but it is not the only month to discuss what’s wrong with the world. Did someone call you a racial slur in passing? Were you discriminated against at work for your colour? Are people giving you hell and their unwanted thoughts for being in an interracial relationship? Wait until February, that’s the appropriate time to discuss it!

Though Black History month isn’t blatantly advertised as the sole time to bring up issues of colour, we shouldn’t use the existence of the month as the only opportunity to be pissed off. Autism Awareness Month should be a year long event. Mental Health Month should be discussed everyday. If you are dealing with sexual assault, depression, racism, or anything else of that nature, your voice should be heard everyday of the year. And that’s the thing, people do voice their concerns, but we don’t hear them until their voices are amplified by their assigned time, and then we have no choice but to listen. These concerns don’t expire with the end of their allocated month, day or week, so why should we act as if they do?

With that said, I’m not going to ignore February and pay attention to racism only during the other eleven months. That would be no better, really, than paying attention only in February. Let’s force people to focus on what’s wrong with the world 365. Let’s see them constantly uncomfortable, squirmish and self-reflective so that the only way to make us stop blabbering about our issues is to actually listen to them. Everyday is a good day to disrupt societal norms and effect change.

Do you feel Black History Month, and others months and days dedicated to change, work towards change while simultaneously undermining their efforts? Do you focus on issues of race, sex, sexual orientation, environmental destruction, poverty, mental health and physical health on a daily basis? If yes, what are you doing to stir things up? What are your thoughts on the video and “opportunity?”

Black History Month: Such Strange Fruit

I was in an Introduction to English class and my professor played this video (this is graphic, if you’d rather not watch, the lyrics to the poem written by Abel Meeropol and sung by Billie Holiday are down below).

Abel Meeropol: Strange Fruit

Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black body swinging in the Southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Pastoral scene of the gallant South,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolia sweet and fresh,
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.

Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for a tree to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.

We need to reflect on how far we have come with issues of social injustice, but be critical of how far we still need to go. Discussing racism, sexism, and homophobia should not be reserved exclusively to February,  we should be outraged all twelve months of the year. Though lynching may be outlawed, stones, guns, words, gas chambers, atomic bombs, nuclear weapons and words serve the same purpose.

Attack of the Crack!

The Writer in the Politician

We can’t simply record facts and experiences objectively because everything is tainted by our subjective lens.

This is a continuation post to Tyranny of the Minority.

If Ford is smoking crack do we attack is actions or his person for engaging in such activities? If he is able to reduce the deficit, do we praise his actions or his determined, efficient self? We don’t know his character. In both instances it wouldn’t be fair to associate his personality with his actions. We have no problem divorcing the executioner from the act of execution in writing, so why not with public figures? The words on pages, and images created speak on their own. The identity of the writer doesn’t, or shouldn’t, affect the analysis of a work.  The words of the writer speak for themselves, and are separate from the person who created them.

Or maybe it isn’t that easy to separate the man from his actions. As writer’s we write our experiences, experiences that are essential to who we are. We can’t simply record facts and experiences objectively because everything is tainted by our subjective lens. Sight, smell, touch, taste, hearing – these things colour our narratives, no two people will describe an apple in the exact same way. We put ourselves in the text, so do we not open ourselves up to criticism?

So maybe it is fair to bring the writer into the work, maybe it is fair to criticize a politician for her/his actions. Maybe it isn’t. While writing this piece I went back and forth, considering both sides, and I still don’t have a conclusive answer.

What are your thoughts? Should the personal lives of politicians be publicly discussed? Or are the lives of politicians exempt from criticism? Is it fair to shoot the messenger? And what about the writer, do you bring writers into criticism?