Why Voting Matters

Today is Mid-Term Election Day and I encourage everyone to go out and vote.

I once had a conversation with a young woman who said that she doesn’t vote, has no plans to vote and doesn’t give a shit about politics. Given the way politicians and political issues are spun and obscured, it is completely understandable that people are so turned around that they don’t know what or who to vote for, but to say that they don’t even care to know and that voting is pointless makes me angry. With the minimum wage, reproductive rights, and voting itself actually being voted on in many places in this election, it surprises me that more people don’t vote. And it just absolutely boggles my mind when I hear people say that voting is a waste of time. What?!

I’m a control freak and because of that, I am often flabbergasted by anyone willfully abdicating control over their own destiny. As a kid, I was often subject to the whims of people who could not be trusted with authority of any sort. As I grew older, I became “rebellious” and “argumentative” when I disagreed with the adults who were in charge. I use quotations because those were words others used to describe my behavior when I openly questioned their knowledge and “wisdom.” I’m not ashamed of this; indeed, I believe it makes me a proper American. I believe in shaping my own fate and I believe in protecting the inalienable rights described in the United States Bill of Rights.

I agree with the sentiment that freedom is not free, we must all work for it. It must be fought for, but not always with violence and bloodshed. The most radical and defiant thing our Founding Fathers did was state that they were done with England’s bullshit and that they were going to take up the reigns of their own fates. It is often said that the pen is mightier than the sword, and the Declaration of Independence is a very specific historic example of that axiom. That document was literally signed proof of high treason–an offense that is punishable by death in every society around the world, past and present. That document was not composed lightly or on a whim, it was done with grave and serious forethought and conviction that it was the only true course for them to follow to maintain their human dignity. With so many people around the world fighting–with words and with actions–for the right to decide their own futures, I believe it to be irresponsible to squander this right that so many have fought and died for.

Now some may argue that it is their choice not to make a choice, and I would partially agree with that idea, however, I might also point out that those people who refuse to even be bothered to vote are the same ones who grouse incessantly about how this country is going to hell in a hand basket. That’s like refusing to breathe because you’re angry about air pollution–it accomplishes nothing and only harms you in the end. It is my belief (and everyone is certainly welcome to disagree with any of this –respectfully, of course) that if you don’t vote, you have no right to complain. You can’t leave the decisions for your life up to others and then turn around and bitch about how it’s not the way you wanted it to be–what did you expect would happen?

So, my fellow Americans, I encourage you go out there and vote. Grab your friends and family and even the occasional stranger and tell them to vote too. Tell the senators, governors, representatives, county commissioners and the like that they work for us and that it’s literally in their job description to listen to us.

Vote because you want your voice to be heard, because you want your preferences and desires and views to be considered. I know some people are laughing as they read this. How naïve am I to believe that in a country of well over three-hundred million people that my lone voice will actually be heard? I’ve heard that very derisive question, or variations thereof, by people my whole life and my response is:

You definitely won’t be heard if you remain silent.

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National Novel Writing Month

You may have noticed the layer of dust on my blog, my apologies but I’ve been neck-deep in my NaNoWriMo prep work. For those who have never heard of it (or who are tired of following my hyperlink rabbit holes), NaNoWriMo is an annual challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in the span of 30 days. That’s an average of 1666.6 (repeating) words per day, every day for a month! It is definitely not for the faint of ink. This Saturday at midnight is the official beginning of the month’s challenge and I am stoked!

As you can imagine, in order to actually write such a word beast in such a short amount of time, a great deal of preparation goes into the endeavor–indeed, you are making ready for a literal (and perhaps literary) writing marathon. Make no mistake, for the unprepared it is grueling, daunting and very humbling. I participated last year, filled with hopes and dreams of writing the fabled Great American Novel, but crashed back down to reality when I stalled at 10,000 words. The wonderful thing about failure, howver, is the opportunity to learn from it. In the wake of my less-than-stellar performance last year, I have been deep in thought on why I didn’t succeed and how to ensure a different and more gratifying result this time.

As a Pantser (someone who writes a story by the “seat-of-your-pants,” and no, I’m not making that up), I loathe outlines because it takes the magic out of the writing process. And yes, I have actually tried to plot out stories and every one of them has caused me to lose interest in my stories. Although I love the suspense and wonder of discovering a story like a first-time reader, I must admit there are certain impediments to writing this way. One of the main drawbacks for writing on the fly is that you don’t realize how much you don’t know until you need to know just how chain-of-custody works in a crime procedural novel and it hadn’t occurred to you to find out beforehand. In a normal writing setting, I just Google it or hit up my local libraries for books on the subject of forensics and evidence handling. Unfortunately, that is a much less practical option when you’re only twenty words into the day’s writing and have to stop to figure out if what you wanted to write even makes sense or if you’re completely wrong about how it works. When the clock is tick-tocking away, having to stop mid-flow to fact check is a time eater, not to mention the time is consumes just trying to get back into the trance-like headspace of creator mode. Add in the problems of getting to know your characters as you go and you can see why Plotters (folks who love outlines) take the time to micromanage every aspect of the story before they even begin the novel proper.

I’m not writing up an outline. That is just not going to happen, but I have come up with a couple ideas that I’ll be testing out this year.

Character Arcs— This isn’t a new thing, but I’m using it for the first time to get a better handle on the motives and desires of the gang of fifteen(!) characters that I’ll be writing about. Like character sketches, I can figure out who my character is, but there is also the added bonus of knowing who or what that character will become and why. The upside to this is that the plot is still mysterious, but this just whets my appetite to find out what happens to all of the interesting people that I’ll be following as I chronicle their movements and motivations for the duration of the story. Not to mention that it gives me a glimpse of the plot without actually ruining it for myself.

Rules and Perks— The older I get, the harder it is for me to remember things. In the case of my yet to be written novel, I’m having a hard time remembering werewolf folklore, so I am using this little cheat-sheet method to remind me of the rules and fringe benefits of being this particular type of shapeshifter. It’s also a great place to remind me of the places where I got my rules and perks from, a citation list as it were, just in case I need to go back and make sure of a few things.

Music— I have loved music for a very long time. My appreciation began a long time ago when my uncle made me close my eyes and really listen to the different layers of a song. What I discovered later was the visceral nature of music, how even just a simple drum beat can seep into your bones, or how a singer’s voice can trigger an experience of transcendence. I could never write well in silence, I’ve always needed a soundtrack for my stories, even if I was the only one who would hear it. This year, as last year, I have compiled a playlist to keep me in the headspace of my plot and characters. As you can imagine, the playlist is different from last year because it is a very different story than the one I tried to write last year. Some songs are a duh to include, such as the ones that easily talk about a type of experience within the story. Other songs are listened to with a differently perceived meaning; for instance, the song Taking Over Me by Evanescence is one on my list that I listen to but with a changed meaning other than the obvious love story intent. As I listen to it, I keep the love story aspect, but change it to the idea of a werewolf’s human side singing a love song to their wolf side.

It’s weird, I know, but then so am I.

Anyway, these are just a few of the things I’m doing to prepare for NaNoWriMo. In the coming month, I will do my best to check in with y’all on my progress and I hope those of you who are also participating will leave a comment, note or even advice to me and others about the craft of writing.

Aloha, Ohana!

National Coming Out Day

“So, what are you?” is an invasive question I was once asked by a homophobic customer (this wasn’t my only run in with him since we lived in the same small, conservative suburb) I was serving about ten years ago. At first, I didn’t understand what he was asking, thinking he was referring to my job function (I was a video store manager at the time), so I asked him to clarify to which he replied, “You don’t date guys, do you?” I told him no, even though that wasn’t true (I date people, not gender labels). I just wanted him to go away because the last thing I wanted to do was attempt to educate someone that used the word “what” instead of “who” when he was talking directly to me. With that simple word, he turned me into an object, a thing, not a person.

And that is why National Coming Out day is so important, to show people that LGBTQI folks are just like everyone else–People! According to the Centers for Disease Control, LGBQ teens are twice as likely to have attempted suicide as their straight peers. Coming out can be a very scary experience (especially if you fear rejection by your loved ones), but staying in the closet is much scarier–just in a different way. The main difference between coming out and staying in the closet is how you feel about yourself: do you love or hate yourself? Coming out is an act of self-love that has nothing to do with narcissism and everything to do with realizing that you are a valuable human being who deserves to love and be loved just like all the other human beings on earth. Staying in the closet, however, teaches you and others that it is ok to hate you, to not think of you as a human being but as something that doesn’t deserve to be loved or accepted. That’s wrong, no matter what the hypocritical homophobes in power say.

Coming Out is an act of great courage, even today because, even though we’ve made great strides toward equality, there are still those who want to turn back the clock and push people back into the closet. That’s just in America; there are 81+ countries around the world that criminalize homosexuality and homosexual acts. The act of Coming Out isn’t just about not hiding, but it’s to show solidarity; to show others that they are not alone in this struggle, that they do in fact have a right to be who they are without fear.

And that is why, like so many out and proud folks, I’m lending my voice to the chorus of people coming out all over again. So here goes:

I am Queer.

I don’t identify as a woman (or a man for that matter), but I won’t be offended if you say “her” or “she.” I’ve been called “sir” numerous times, and once I was called “young man” by an Army recruiter. I’ve been called a “dyke,” a “lesbo,” and I was even mistaken for being a Trans-Man once. I have dated men and women and a pre-operation transgendered woman since I came out over twenty years ago. Although I find many different types of people attractive (I’m a major fan of inner beauty), the number of people I’ve fallen in love with can be counted on one hand. I am not ashamed of who I am, nor will I allow people to tell that I should be, and I damn sure know that there is nothing wrong with loving people.

And what I should have said to that jerk way back then is, “I’m a Human Being.”

10 research tips for finding answers that elude you

This is also a great way to research for fiction writing as well. Thanks!

TED Blog

Online-Research

Before Danielle Thomson was our TED Prize researcher, she wrote trivia for Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? and spent years finding difficult-to-source info for The Late Show with David Letterman. And she has quickly established herself as our staff secret weapon. When one of us can’t get our hands on a piece of information that we need, we turn to Danielle and — voila! — there it is.

We asked Danielle to share some of her best research tips to help you in those “why can’t I find this?” moments. Here’s what she had to say:

  1. There are no new questions. Have a research question? Trust me, it’s been asked before. Put your exact question into quotations as a search term, and you will find, at the very least, a lead to your answer. Want to find out how much of the ocean has been explored? Type…

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Saturday Morning Cartoons: My Top Five

Clicking through my usual round of favorite websites, I came across an article on Blastr.com about Saturday morning cartoons. As I scrolled through the article, I was hit with my own wave of nostalgia and felt compelled to come up with my own list of my top favorites from those carefree, footie-pajama, breakfast cereal days. To be clear, this is not even close to being an exhaustive list of my favorites, nor is this in any particular order, but these are the ones that stuck with me even as I became an adult. Also, these are the cartoons that played on Saturdays, not during the week…that’s a whole other list.

Also, fair warning for those of you wanting to check some of these out, there are spoilers below. You’ve been warned. J

 

1.) Dungeons and Dragons

Based on the tabletop role-playing game system of the same name, what I liked about the show was their 1980s diversity. In addition to the usual cast of white males, there were also two girls and one of them was even black! As a little half-white, half-asian kid in a black neighborhood, the whitewashing of cartoons was also confusing to me. But it wasn’t until Diana the Acrobat and Sheila the Thief that I started thinking about, in my own little nine year old way, the ideas gender and racial inequality (although it wasn’t until high school and college that I gained the vocabulary for the confusion I was wrestling with). Honestly, I was just thrilled to have this little geeky gem on my screen.

2.) Challenge of the Super Friends

Two words: Wonder Woman. I mean, seriously, how do we not have a Wonder Woman live action movie already? Or a television reboot? Sorry, I get a little carried away sometimes…

This was my introduction into the world of DC comics and the Justice League. This show, more than any other, made me want to be a super hero, not because they had cool powers (although that was certainly a perk), but because they saved people and stopped the bad guys. For an out-of-place kid, who got bullied a lot, it was comforting to know that not everyone with power was a jerk. It gave me an ideal to aspire to, and provided an escape from the less than perfect world I lived in. Also, there was Wonder Woman. Once again, she was a welcome change from the white male monotony, but more than that she was accepted as an equal; not a girl playing dress up, not someone’s girlfriend or meddlesome sister, she was a hero in her own right. And that was pretty bad ass to me.

3.) Thundarr the Barbarian

Ok, so it’s heavy on the Conan the Barbarian like characterization, but the post-apocalyptic stuff was still pretty neat. Obviously my favorite character was Princess Ariel, not just for the girl power thing, but she was also the smartest person in the room most of the time. In many ways, she was the one explaining the science to our swordslinger, not to mention she was a sorceress in her own right. Smart women are cool.

4.) Princess Knight

One of the most obscure on my list, my memories of it are a bit fuzzy memories because I was only six years old when I saw it for the first time. It stuck with me for a few reasons; first, it was the first Japanese anime outside of Speed Racer that I had ever seen; second, the main character, Princess Sapphire, was masquerading as a Prince; third, the cross-dressing was by royal decree–that is, the King ordered that his daughter and only heir be raised as a boy so that she would be able inherit the throne. Personally, I thought it was the coolest shit ever! I mean, I wanted to be able to ride around on a horse, and carry a sword so that I could rescue people like she often did.

5.) WildFire

A few years ago, my best friend and I were talking about our favorite Saturday morning cartoons. She began to describe a show about a flying horse, that didn’t have wings but could still hop dimensions. When I asked if it also had an exiled princess, her eyes became huge in amazement because I was the first person who finally knew what she was talking about.

A campy short-lived show about a 12 year old girl named Sara who finds out that she is actually a princess who was hidden in our world to protect her from an evil sorceress. What I loved about the show was it appealed to my fantasies of being secret royalty; Sara and I were the same age and, most importantly, she was the hero of the story. Despite its campiness, it could still be a pretty dark show such as when you find out that the sorceress, Lady Diabolyn, is actually Sara’s aunt! Not only that, but Diabolyn is the one who killed her own sister, Queen Sarana. Process that for a second! Your aunt killed your mom and is now trying to actively kill you–talk about dysfunctional family dynamics. Another cool bit, when Sara was hidden away, she was left on the doorstep of a man who we later find out is her father. His memory of Sarana and Sara had been wiped away to protect them both. Voice acting footnote: Jessica Walter is the voice of Diabolyn, you might also know her as the voice of Malory Archer on the animated series Archer.

Finally, honorable mention to Schoolhouse Rock!

Their musical shorts do not exactly qualify as their own show, but it was definitely part of my Saturday morning experience and, as with the other cartoons listed, stuck with me well into my adult years.

I hope you enjoyed my mini-stroll down-memory lane as much as I did writing it.

So now, what about y’all? What old cartoons are you nostalgic for?

Garage Sales, People Watching and Prejudice

I love people watching.

From a creative writing perspective, it’s fun to come up with stories about the lives of strangers. I usually start with the obvious observations about people’s hair, eyes, ethnicity or clothing. Then I move on to observing the way in which they hold things or drink their coffee (I used to do a lot of my people watching at cafes). I would try to guess their professions, imagine the type of music they listened to or even the type of cars they drove. Often these little visual cues were all I needed to build elaborate stories about the lives of total strangers, with little care as to whether I was accurate or not.

Recently, I agreed to help a friend with her annual garage sale. In between making change and making small talk with the various customers, I started analyzing the people who came to the sale. It was different than many of my previous customer service jobs, mostly because there was haggling over prices. 

At one point during the day, one of the customers (a guy who could not seem to stay away because he came to buy stuff on four separate occasions), began to monologue about how garage sale goers were a notoriously cheap bunch, but he went further by pointing at Africans and Asians as being the worst of the lot. Being part Asian myself, I was offended by this–even though my white friend and I had actually been talking about this very thing the day before. Why did it offend me when an old white man, as opposed to when my white female friend, had said the same thing? I think the main difference was that I didn’t know the man personally, while I had known my friend for over twenty years. After all, it is often the intention behind what is being said that carries most of the meaning; I didn’t know the intentions of his words and I couldn’t necessarily trust that it wasn’t borne from ignorance or prejudice.

And, as I listened to this old white man, I smiled politely and said nothing. Perhaps I should have spoken up, but I wonder what that would have accomplished? Sure, I could’ve justified an angry verbal confrontation by saying I was educating him, but in all reality, would he have listened? Or would I be just another (insert “angry” minority stereotype here) who didn’t know how to take a joke? Worse still, because I am one of those people who can “pass” as white, was I in fact being a coward for not correcting his casual racism? And by the way, how fucked up is it that I’m the one questioning myself about this when he probably hasn’t thought about it since he said it? Sadly, I have no answers for these questions.

Sorry.

I have no insightful or ingenious ways of combating the ongoing, yet completely idiotic way in which race and racism is perceived and discussed. I’m not a hero, or a crusader or an activist. I’m a creative writer. And no, that is NOT a cop out, it is reality. And race is not the only area in which the world is screwed up. Classism, sexism, homophobia, religious and political shenanigans abound, and every last one of these things–and oh so much more–is important and needs to be addressed. But, as everyone who has ever witnessed me losing my temper has told me, “You have to pick your battles.” And my personal war is in changing and expanding the way in which I see the world. Because, in reality, my perceptions are really the only ones that I can reliably and honestly change.

Through the years of people watching, I learned to dissect the ways in which we make judgments about people and how those stereotypes are so easy to engage in even when we should know better. In many ways this simple, almost voyeuristic act helped me understand my own preconceived notions based solely on looks. After all, what can you actually tell about a person from the shade of their skin? Would that perception change if we were unsure of someone’s racial heritage? What about gender or, for that matter, gender-presentation? What about the fashion someone chooses to adorn themselves with? Should a woman wearing combat boots be taken any more or less seriously than a man wearing heels? What about an Asian woman with a Mohawk or a black man in a kimono? Is a soul-food place any less legitimate because white people work there? What about Hispanic people in a Chinese restaurant? And none of this even begins to address the issues of body-shaming, mental illness, or marriage equality all of which carry their own ingrained prejudices and out-dated attitudes of “right and wrong.”

As a writer, bearing all of this in mind, I do my best not to perpetuate stereotypes but also not cram my political views down peoples’ throats. It’s hard and, sometimes, downright impossible not to inject my own (and possibly flawed) version of morality and ethics. I am only Human after all, and an opinionated one at that. However, that’s also part of the challenge of writing, showing people an aspect of the world they’ve never seen or even imagined before. Science Fiction, Fantasy and even Romance hold up a mirror to show how the world is, but goes further by inviting you to imagine how the world could be. The world can be a crappy place sometimes, but remember that things used to be worse (there was once a time when cell phones, penicillin, and Freedom of Speech didn’t exist). It is in this vein that I believe that I can actually do the most good–by showing people a world full of possibilities, unlimited by the preconceived notions that we are sometimes unconsciously enslaved to.

In this shrinking world of ours, it is all the more important to really think about the things we think we know about each other. It’s not just about religion, race or sexuality, although these are still worthy topics of discussion, it’s really about relating to the other people on this planet as…well, People. No matter what you may think of someone’s choice of attire, hairstyle or politics, we are all still Human Beings underneath and it is this commonality that we must keep in mind whenever we are tempted to pass judgment on each other.

Now, while we do have to stop getting caught up on our differences, we must still learn to honor those differences too. Homogeny is boring and is really only suitable for milk. When I people watch, I like to think of the unconventional, the contradictory that still makes sense. The sophisticated-looking business woman who has a secret fascination with mixed-martial arts; the greasy mechanic who enjoys opera, or even the rap artist who holds a degree in microbiology; all of these seemingly incongruous ideas are entirely possible once you stop seeing the world through the narrow blinders of our local community. Go to another country, another state, city or hell just another neighborhood. As the Prophet Mohammed said in the Quran, “Don’t tell me how educated you are, tell me how much you have travelled.” Go out and experience the wondrousness of our shared yet varied Humanity, because sometimes it’s interesting to watch the way in which another stops to smell the roses.