Recently I received a copy of Octavia Butler’s Kindred graphic novel, which was adapted by Damien Duffy and John Jennings. Reading the story in graphic novel form gave me a chance to see aspects of the book that I didn’t pay as much attention to as before. One was the mechanism by which Dana traveled back in time. On her second trip back to the past, Rufus mentions to Dana that he had seen her in the water right before she came traveled back to the past to rescue him. Rufus tells Dana that he saw her with his eyes closed and that he had stepped into a “hole” in the river where he saw her in a room full of books. He also heard both Dana and Kevin before the second time Dana came back. Rufus, although problematic, has inklings of visionary insight, but does he because of his connection to his future legacy in Dana (Rufus only has black descendants as he only had children with Alice) or because he was at the edge of imagining a different society but the slaveholding, racist, sexist, generally oppressive society around him impeded that?
One of my favorite mottos is to find the magic in the mundane because in doing so you realize how interdependent we all are to each other and to the universe. When we look at the sun and moon, we are so normalized to them that we can easily forget how we are dependent on them for our existence and how much they shape our existence. It has been our ability to use our imagination to see the world beyond the mundane and search for knowledge and meaning as well as our creation of technologies to observe the universe that has allowed us to see that. As I was reading Wendy Hui Kyong Chun’s “Race is/as Technology, or How to Do Things to Race,“she writes that “According to Martin Heidegger in his 1955 ‘The Question Concerning Technology,’ the essence of technology is not technological. Indeed, by examining tools, we miss what is essential about technology, which is its mode of revealing or “enframing.” So how does the creation of technologies to look and observe also reveal ourselves? Who is watching who and who is creating who at the same time?
Warning: some spoilers ahead!
I’ll be honest. These past couple of weeks has made writing for me difficult. I was lacking encouragement to keep writing my fantasy novel and wavering back and forth between if being a writer mattered. But attending events like Writers Resist in Queens and reading my own work, reading from Frederick Douglass’ speech “What to a Slave is The Fourth of July,” and listening to the various other writers in the room helped to reinvigorate me.
Oppressive systems and tyrannical leaders gain power off of our silence, our complacency, our acceptance of how it imagines the world should be. Stories have helped to motivate people to keep going when times were dire. To believe in a different possibility of the world. Douglass, an abolitionist who was able to break through the chains of slavery through reading and writing, said that knowledge was the pathway to freedom. His desire to learn to read and write gave him the tools to fight the oppressive institution of slavery and determine a different future for himself. Enslaved people learning to read and write was a threat to the social order of the day. They gave the enslaved tools to question authority and to imagine something else, which is a danger to the status quo.
Recently I’ve been reading Tracey Baptiste’s YA book, The Jumbies, which is a supernatural fantasy book that takes place on the island of Trinidad. I won’t give away what the book is about; instead I suggest for you to go read it, but I will tell you that one of my favorite characters is the witch because she is truth teller. Here is a poignant passage I resonated with and that I believe is relevant for now:
“Everybody thinks they need magic. Everybody wants answers. Get rid of this boil. Help me find money. She doesn’t love me anymore. Why won’t my cane stalks grow tall as my neighbors? Everybody wants a fast, easy solution. Maybe if you took care of you’re skin, you wouldn’t have gotten the boil in the first place. Maybe if you worked harder you would make more money. Maybe that person isn’t the right one for you. Maybe if you found a better way to farm, your crop would come up better. But nobody wants to hear those things. They want a bottle. Instant success! Something to drink, or sprinkle, or spill on the ground. They want magic from nothing. Magic doesn’t come from nothing. It comes from somewhere. And it isn’t so extraordinary. It’s just work. It’s just using your head and your heart.”
In many ways, the indoctrination of an instant gratification culture obsessed with instant power, wealth and fame is part of the blame to how we got to this point. Let us learn, as Baptiste teaches us in The Jumbies, that to create true change and to fight back, we must trust our true instincts, understand our connection to the earth and that doing real magic takes work.
Since I’m in Barbados with my mother for Barbados’ 50th Independence Day Celebration, I thought I should share a children’s story I had been working on inspired by my mother and Barbados culture. I wanted to write a kind of Bajan Cinderella story after hearing about my mother’s childhood and learning more about the culture in Barbados, like Crop Over festival and costumed characters like Mother Sally.
The story’s title and main character is Jenny, a shortened version of my mother’s name. Jenny lives with her aunt Sheila and three cousins who treat her unfairly and have left her behind to go to the Crop Over Festival. After they leave, Jenny is introduced to a new woman coming up the road named Mother Sally.
Beaming in from Barbados –Back with the Astro-Caribbean series…
The United States has a large comics book industry. But that doesn’t mean other places are not developing their own. As my parents are from Barbados and Dominica, I wanted to feature two comic book creators and publishers making it happen in the Caribbean:
“Beyond Publishing is a group of young and talented Barbadian artists and writers who are seeking to encourage reading and creativity by capturing the imagination of young people and the young at heart.
Beyond Publishing tries to showcase stories with a Barbadian or Caribbean flavour, through several genres: comedy, adventure, educational or drama.”
Who we think we are is a fluid concept. We might have a stable image of ourselves but in reality we are constantly in flux as we come into contact and collide with others. And it’s not just other bodies but other possibilities of your self that disrupts who you are at this moment. The realization that we can be something else we don’t recognize or can’t control can be transcendent and can be frightening.
Kiini Ibura Salaam explores those ideas in her latest speculative short story collection, When the World Wounds, where the outside forces of the world can break open spaces that lead to the displacement and reconstructing of the body, of the self, of identity and place. Salaam’s main grounding tool in that exploration is that of the concept of desire. Through her sensual and erotic descriptive language, as a reader you are opened up as much as the characters in her stories to the point of an ecstatic experience.