Untitled.

I have a little boy. He likes math and sciences. He likes stories. He likes Beyblades. And he likes wearing hoodies.

Right now, he’s seven years old. Right now, he’s adorable. And right now, I’m terrified.

I’m terrified because right now, he’s going through a major growth spurt. He’ll continue growing. He’ll get taller than me. He’ll get as tall as his dad. Maybe he’ll even go over. Who knows. But at some point, he’ll get big.

And he’ll stop being adorable.

Girls at school would still think him cute. Friends, even the extended "acquaintances" on Facebook, will think he’s cute. But let’s say he’s walking down the street, and a woman is on the same side of the street, and she looks at him, and crosses over to the other side. Or say a police car slows down just a little, just a little, to watch him.

He would’ve crossed that line into being…suspicious.

A few years ago, on his first day of school, the teachers mistook him for another kid with the same first name. So they put him on a different bus, and sent that kid to me. A frightened, teary-eyed Mexican kid.

"How," I railed at the bus driver, "could you think my son is Mexican?"

But you know what? He does. Curly brown hair. Big brown eyes. Light brown skin. If you never met my son before, or never seen who his parents looked like, you’d be hard-pressed to say he doesn’t look Mexican. Or Hispanic. He will have to deal with this. As a family, we all will have to deal with this.

And it still makes him a person of color, which in this world, will be a strike against him.

I suppose this is where I write that being Christian, I am to trust in God for his safety. That I am to pray every day and night for God to send his angels to protect him, and to keep him out of harm’s way. This, I have been told by countless pastors and Bible study leaders, is all one can hope to do when one feels helpless and powerless.

But it is not enough. It is never enough. After all, Trayvon still died, didn’t he?

So right now, I’m terrified. I want to lock my son up. I want to put bricks on top of his head to keep him from growing. I want to shield him from all the weirdos and freaks and police who feel they need to slow down to check him out and people who take a look at him and instantly see "Other". I want to hide him from all the well meaning folk who’ll say, "Oh don’t worry, he’s mixed. He won’t have as much trouble as say darker-skinned boys…"

Because that’s not right. That’s not right at all. No one should have to worry about their kids walking down the street and being counted as suspicious. It shouldn’t matter what color of skin they are. It shouldn’t.

We say that, over and over. And then another kid gets shot.

I have seen too much death these past few weeks. Not family members or close friends. People I barely knew deaths. Celebrities who have been part of my life growing up deaths. Deaths I hear in the news. Ongoing wars.  Probably would be better if I shut off the internet for a while.

I feel helpless. Powerless. Terrified.

And you know what? All the chatter about reproductive rights, about freedom of religion, politics, gay marriage, Romney says this, Obama says that. It’s all so much noise. So much fucking noise. I could give a rat’s ass about it. Really. Because right now, while everyone yells and blabbers and screams and push each other, all I’m going to do is go into the other room and make sure my son is covered up, because he’s been feeling a little sick. And I’m going to look for another book to read after Wind in the Willows, because he enjoys it when we cuddle together and read at bedtime. And I have to return the Muppet Show DVDs to the library, because they’re overdue, because my son loves to watch them, and I like sharing my childhood with him.

And I have to figure out how to talk to him about being black, and how that might be a detriment to him. But also, how that is the greatest thing in the world.

And I’m going to pray every day and night for God to send his angels to protect him. Because I’m his mother. That’s what I do.

I have a son. And he will always be adorable.

First Ever Video Post at the Cafe

Trying a little something new—a video post by Yours Truly. Too busy to watch? Post notes are below!

0:00 Hi there!
0:53 Why am I doing this anyway?
1:15 Showing off the new office digs
2:09 Real reason why I’m doing a video: blogging burnout
5:15 Con info: Madcon, A Low Key Gathering with Neil Gaiman (I’m gonna be on a panel there!), Wiscon Book Festival
7:50 NEW STORY! "Out of Such Desperation Are We Born" is up at Expanded Horizons. Go check it out!
8:40 Other writing project updates, including Willow
10:50 Wrapup. Do you like this format? How often should I do it? Once a month? Every few months? Is it a horrible disaster and I should hang my head in shame? Let me know! (well, not the last one. Please be courteous and nice.)

Going to Art on the Square in a Red Dress

The white boy is putting on his brown leather beret.

I say ‘boy’ because he can’t be no more than 18 or 19. He is beanpole skinny, with a long brown ponytail going down his back. If I was twenty years younger, I would’ve instantly fallen in love with him, pretended to mind my own business while surreptiously following him. As it is, I’m finding him too androgynous for my tastes, his face too delicate, skin too pale. I am bemused to see that he, too, is heading towards the Capitol Square and the Art Fair, all alone.

I reach the Square just as the first few raindrops fall. Jon told me there was a storm front headed our way, so I was glad I took my umbrella with me instead of leaving it in the car. I didn’t think I’d stay long anyway; I would see as much as I could, then head back home. Being out by myself is more of a treat than seeing the art. I could take my time and linger as long as I like, without worrying about people being bored or confused, or just wanting to get to the next booth.

So I was able to stare at the tree woman statue as long as I liked. She stood about half a head taller than me, green leaves for hair, acorns a band holding them back, creased bark for skin, mushrooms sprouting out from her shins, moss on her cracked feet. As people flowed around me, I studied the tree woman, walked around it, noticing little details: she had small boles for knuckles. Her teeth and eyes were human. She had four feet. I walked around her, thinking that couldn’t be right—her back and buttocks curved as human, but something else stood behind her, like a stump—I couldn’t exactly tell. As I studied the feet, what I took for a thick boll of acorn and mushroom behind her heel was actually a baby, curled in a sitting position on the ground. That made me wonder: mother, child. Did father get chopped for firewood, leaving behind the stump of his feet?

The rain began in earnest. I ducked into another stall, marveling at a line of children silhouetted against an African moon, led by a pied piper(site is under construction for now). Another stall held huge Moroccan domes painted on flat stone plaques. More plaques within held scenes of Tuscany, and Egyptian hieroglyphics. As I talked to the artist, soft piano music played from a speaker set on the curb. Beneath it, water gushed through the gutter, a river canal in minature. Another stall held small statues of old woman, all of them sitting on the ground, laughing uproariously. I didn’t want to leave—I wanted to know all of these old women, wanted to sit at their feet, hear all their stories. I think I know what to get my grandmother for Christmas.

The rain did a good job of winnowing out artists. Some rushed to close their stalls, packing things up, zipping up the tarps so you couldn’t see inside. Others kept their stalls open, knowing that the rain would drive passerbys inside. And some artists didn’t mind their art getting wet at all. One artist talked blithely as water poured around her and her painted tiles, some sitting in water an inch deep, colors bright, shiny wet.

I wandered over to see brass wire dancers high above me. The gray sky their stage, their audience below, they spun and danced, undeterred by the rain. The artist detailed how they were made—they started out as clay models, then made into larger wax replicates. Then thin wire lines are overlaid upon the wax until they cover the models completely. The wax is melted away, and what is left is a wire frame in the form of dancers, light, aery, but full of vibrant motion. Human mobiles, I thought, watching a pair of dancers pirouette around each other in the wind.

The streets soon emptied of passerby. The only people were left were those like me, unwilling to let rain stop them. I saw Brown Beret Boy again, perusing vases, his satchel slung over his back. A pair of women called out to me, yelling that I need a martini, and when I looked, they stepped aside to show a huge painting of said martini. I swung around the north side of the square (east? northeast? I get so confused on directions), and there, coming down the mostly empty street, was another black woman. She had no umbrella–her hair was her umbrella. Thickly splayed as a split-open fig, her hair drunk in the rain with wild, abandoned joy. She did not hurry as she strolled towards me. I slowed my pace to watch her pass, and she smiled at me.

"There’s benefits to going natural," she said.

I turned to watch her, envying the thickness of her hair, envying how easy she made it look to enjoy the rain.

I reached the corner and entered a booth that held photographs of all varieties of people. A Buddhist monk boy studying. An African couple and their baby staring off in the distance. Beneath them were printed short quotes. As I studied a Haitian girl sitting in an overlarge chair, the people at the booth next door started shouting "Free beer! Free beer!" Because of the rain, they needed to close up shop quick. Everyone around them cheered.  I would have gone over, but then a photo caught my eye—an elderly African woman staring at the camera with mischevious eyes, holding a pipe stuck jauntily in her mouth. The quote below it read Well-behaved women seldom make history. It reminded me so much of the laughing old women from the other stall that I started to laugh. The photographer, who had dreadlocks that put mine to shame, came over.

"You like that one?" he asked.

"It’s awesome," I said.

"It’s yours," he said. He pulled it out, wrapped it in a bag, and gave it to me with a hug.

There are benefits to going to an art festival in the rain.

There wasn’t much to see after that. Actually, there was a lot, but it all blurs in my mind. The only other thing that stood out was passing landscape photography and freezing in place. "Is that for real?" I asked, staring at a castle too richly hued, water too bluish-green to exist. I went in, and goggled at white sandy terraces, weathered walls with a single brilliant green door. Seeing the pictures online don’t do it justice. At that point, I wished Jon was there with me to see it.

But then my stomach noisily reminded me I was hungry, so I went to Michaelangelos and treated myself to a decaf mocha and a slice of apple pie. The slice was huge, filling up most of the plate with apple and crust. The mocha was sweet and hot. I sipped and watched a guy play with the 360 feature of Google Maps. The scenery he zoomed into didn’t seem much at first—mostly alleyways filled with cars. A wall covered in grafitti. As he passed some storefronts written in Spanish, I suddenly realized he was looking at a 3-D view of somewhere in Mexico. Intrigued, I watched him click on a street, squint at the screen, then follow the street down. He did this several times, zooming out (and confirming my guess that it was somewhere in Mexico) and then zooming back into the 360 view. When he started looking at what appeared to be a single paved road, bordered by vast tracks of greenery offset every so often by a dirt road vanishing into the undergrowth, I couldn’t stand it no longer.

"What are you looking for?" I asked.

"Oh, just looking," he said.

"Have you ever been to Mexico?"

"Me? Oh no. Never been. Don’t want to. It’ll take too long to get back."

===============

As I exited Michaelangelo’s, I unwittingly got into a conversation with a homeless guy. He was old, swarthy, the smell of alcohol ripe on him. He’s been living on the streets for many years. Actually, I surmise this—he’d start off talking clearly but then his voice trailed into mumbling, then silence, so all I could do was shake my head in agreement as his lips moved silently. I thought of extricating myself, but people kept pushing past him—a guy pushing a stroller yelled "EXCUSE ME!" when he obviously had enough room to manuever around. So I held my tongue and listened, even when tears began rolling down the old man’s cheeks.

It reminded me of my dad.

It could have been an obvious ploy. It could have been he was full of regret. Or maybe he a weepy kind of drunk. But I gave him some money and told him to get something to eat. He took it and looked at me. "Can I tell you something?"

"Um, sure."

He gave me a large toothy grin. "You have yourself a good day. I mean it. Have a good day." Then he tipped his hat to me, bowed, and walked off.

Think I’ll heed his advice.

Rambling Thoughts on a Rainy Cold Night…

I’m sitting here in my chair, a mug of decaf hot Lipton tea next to me (my third one), and an episode of Babylon 5 playing on the TV.

Rainy nights always make me moody.

Our cable went out a couple of months ago. I haven’t missed it at all. Been too busy working on Willow and other short stories. I’m starting to watch movies again. Last night, I watched Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Brilliant movie. Absolutely brilliant. The storyline and editing was wonderful. I want to watch it again, pick it apart bit by bit.

What makes a good story? Is it plot? Is it in the writing itself? Language? Is it the ability to empathize with the characters? Is it turning a twist on a cliché?

I’ve thought about it for a long time, and I realized that one of the ways to learn is to become a slushreader. A couple of weeks ago, Fantasy Magazine put out a call for new slushreaders, and I was lucky to be chosen as one. So far, it’s been good. I’ve read stories where the ideas were so-so. And I read stories where it pulled me in, but something about the story was off…not quite right.

I’m trying to figure out how that applies in my own writing. I’ve been making good on my goal of releasing a story a week out to markets, though this week might be a little hard because of this cold. But for the most part, it’s been fun fore me, mainly because I’m not agonizing over every little word. And these stories have sat on my hard drive long enough. They deserve to get a chance, though it’s more likely they’ll get rejections. But still, better than just sitting there, unread by anyone.

Well, my mug’s empty, and my nose is drippy. I think I’m going to turn in early tonight, read a book. The rain patters against the windows, and I want it to be background noise for Barrick as he travels in the Fae Realm.

Writing Goals for 2009

Yayyy! I get to start off 2009 by setting up my goals again. Hooray!

Just think–around this time last year, I had no clue what the year would be like. My hubby and I had just started working on our house, stripping out the carpet and painting the walls, while we interviewed real estate agents who could best sell our house in the quickest time. In fact, I’m pretty sure–yes–around this date, I sat in what was our office and bemoaned the fact I hated painting, I hated having my life in disarray, I hate home improvement altogether.

Interesting how life can change from year to year.

I’m pretty sure this year would involve another move at some point. But this time, it would be a lot less stressful–at least, that’s what I hope. But this post is not about the fun of moving. This post is what I didn’t get a chance to do around last year–setting up my writing goals for 2009.

Believe it or not, I got a lot more accomplished in 2008 than I thought. Which is a more optimistic way of saying that when 2008 started, I didn’t think I would get anything accomplished at all. I figured by the time we moved to Madison and I adjusted from being a stay-at-home mom to entering the workforce on a part-time basis, I then would be able to figure out how I would do my writing schedule. And indeed, during the first half of the year, there were times when I only were able to work on writing five, maybe ten minutes a day. Sometimes not even that.

But once we got to Madison, things got settled more quickly than I thought. In fact, around July I was able to seriously take a look at where I was in my writing. So let’s bring that up:

Willow: Finish reading by Fall 2008, start edits by Winter 2008.
Well, technically I finished the readthrough on January 5, 2009. But at least I never specified exact months. So as far as I know, I can easily say start edits by Winter 2009. Okay, yes, that’s cheating. But frankly, I don’t care.

Short Stories/Essays/Poetry: Polish 5 stories and submit them. Write 2 essays and submit. Polish 2 poems and submit.
Let me take a look at what I did accomplish in 2008:

I wrote 5 new short stories and 1 poem, ready for revision.
I submitted 3 short stories, one of them being “She’s All Light”.
I had 3 short stories published (all in the beginning of 2008).

I also had a partial recap posted for the Agony Booth. (Southland Tales). So that can be applied towards an essay.

Critiques: Do one a month. Find a writer’s group.
Ha! It’s a miracle I even remain on some on my writer’s lists. However, I not only did I find two writers’ groups, I also joined up with a Wiscon book group.

Contest: I’ll give myself a break. Enter 1 contest, fee or non
“She’s All Light” was sent to the Writers of the Future Contest at the end of September.

Craft: Attend the Wisconsin Literary Festival in October (I don’t know when the Midwest Literary one is–the website seems to be down). Plan to attend Wiscon in 2009.
I attended the Literary Festival, and was somewhat disappointed. They didn’t offer as many writer workshops as I thought. Seeing that it was more of a Book Festival, I’m not all that surprised. Wiscon I’ll talk about it in a bit.

Looking at what I did accomplish in 2008, I’m pretty happy. Granted, it wasn’t that much of a productive year, but I could have done worse.

Looking ahead to 2009, I can tell it’s going to be a novel-heavy year. Weeping of the Willows is ready for its second rewrite. I managed to get it down to 50 chapters, and I want to shoot for a second draft that’s at least 150,000 words. I’m hoping that will cut down the amount of time spent working on it, because I no longer have the luxury of a stay-at-home status to write.

But I still need to get some short stories circulating out among the markets. I happen to be working on one right now, though it’s not for a market per se. I’ve also been seriously thinking about the advice Neil Gaiman gave on the Adventures in SciFi Publishing podcast about writing every day. I’ve been trying it out, and while I don’t always write something new everyday, I have been managing to write out a whole story a week since 2009 started. All right, yes, that means so far I’ve written two new stories, but maybe there’s something to this ‘write every day’ advice.

I’m thinking with all my energies going to Willow, this would be a good time to churn out stories that are relatively short, easy on the word count, and don’t require all that much. Of course, this brings me to my next hurdle, the Writers of the Future Contest. I confess–I’m really having fun writing stories for it. Maybe it’s that Honorable Mention I got the first time I submitted something. I’m curious to know how high I can get. Semi-finalist? Finalist even?

The Contest’s deadlines are quarterly. If I can revise four good stories this year and send them off, what are the odds that I reach the Finalist stage? Don’t know until I try, I suppose. But time is the factor here. Again, I don’t have as much time that I did when I lived in Chicago. I’ll have to budget my time wisely.

So let’s do this:

Willow: Begin 2nd draft in February 2009. See if I can do two chapters a week for completion by Fall 2009.
Short stories: Freewrite a story each week. Revise four stories to send to Writers of the Future. Submit rejects to other markets. (This means that while I’ll be writing more stories, I won’t be submitting as much. A bummer, because I want to get more of my work circulating out there–but I think Willow takes higher precedence, so I don’t mind putting submissions on the back burner. And at least this way, I’m getting something out.)
Essays: Although I’m not going to work on any essays this year, I do want to do a full recap for the Agony Booth since that is so much fun to write for. That would probably happen in latter portion of 2009.
Contests: Focus on submitting a story for each quarter of Writers of the Future.
Critiques: With all the writing I’m doing, my email critters lists have taken a very low priority. Conversely, I’ve been working more with my face-to-face email groups. I’ll have to keep doing that, I guess.
Conferences: There are actually several conferences I’ll be doing this year, but seeing that it’s getting late, I’ll reserve those in my next post.

So there you have it. More writing, most of it concentrated on Willow. If all goes well, who knows? Maybe the beginning of my 2010 goals will be “sending Willow off to publishers & agents…”

It’s rest time; Cafe going on Christmas hiatus

So if I was Daniel a couple of years from now, I’d be like, “Wait a minute. We live about an hour away from Wisconsin Dells, with all the water parks and rides and fun, fun, fun…and we can go up anytime we want, and you didn’t tell me? Why aren’t we up there EVERY SINGLE DAY?!?!?

And the part of me that’s Daniel’s mom would be like, “Well, yes, sure it’s fun, but we can’t be up there every day.”

And the Daniel me would be like, “WHY NOOOOOOOT?!?!”

And the Mommy me would say, “Because we don’t have the money to go up, and even if we did, if you go up every single day, eventually you’d get bored and don’t want to go anymore.”

And the Daniel me would be all, “YOU SUUUUUUUUUCK!”

And the Mommy me would say, “All right. Time Out. NOW.”

And the Daniel me would stomp off, all sucky and pouty, and the Mommy me would be all “DON’T YOU MAKE THAT FACE AT ME!” and then there would be tears and gnashing of teeth and high drama, yadda, yadda, yadda…

The point being…I need a break.

Actually, I’ve needed one ever since I finished my short story and sent it off to WOTF. The relief in knowing that’s done, in combination with all the Christmas parties that’s been happening here, has made me one tired chick. I need to recharge, start going to bed a little earlier, get my creativity meter back to full again. And seeing that most of my energy nowadays seem to be focused on reading through the Willow draft (now that She’s All Light is done, I’ve been zipping through Willow; sometimes getting 3-4 chapters done a week instead of just 1-2. Now that’s nice), I’ve decided to cut down on my writing chores a bit. That means that the Cafe will be closed for a couple of weeks.

This will be a good thing. There’s some cleaning out I’ve been meaning to do, like taking down links I don’t go to anymore and doing some reorganization. I’ve also wanted to re-evaluate what exactly I want the Cafe to do. It feels like I’ve moved away from a lot of the mothering posts I did when I started the cafe–which makes sense, me no longer being a stay-at-home mom. At the same time, it seems like my book reviews are quite popular. Don’t know why…considering that everyone and his grandmother can post a book review. But go figure.

Anyway, don’t expect much from the blog in the next couple of weeks. I’m not going to be on total hiatus–there’s probably going to be a goody for you pretty soon, and if something really catches my interest, I’ll post it here. But don’t expect long winded posts either.

And yes, it is super, super cool to live an hour away from an awesome place. This past Monday, we spent a day at a water park. Yes, it was a balmy 85 degrees inside while outside the temperature read 9. Yes, I floated in a wave pool while overhead music played “I’m dreaming of a White Christmas”. Yes, if I was Daniel and a few years older, I would be be begging to go up to Wisconsin Dells from now until I graduate with a PhD from UW-Madison.

But luckily, Daniel is only four. And apparently, he doesn’t like rushing water tunnels that disappear into pitch blackness…especially if ‘Mommy’ went into it head-first screaming her lungs out. It feels good to know that I probably contributed to my son’s first traumatic experience.

And on that note, Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good rest.

The Juxtaposition between Mourning and Celebration

So yesterday was my co-worker’s funeral. Today was Family Fun Night at my son’s school.

It was surreal, seeing so many people dressed up. Ours is a laid-back office, so seeing dresses and suits with ties was distressing. Most of the office is still in shock. It would’ve made a difference if our co-worker died from an accident, or had a heart attack, or died of natural causes, or got shot by an assailant.

What happens when the assailant is yourself?

The only time I dealt with suicide was back in high school, when a guy from my Spanish class killed himself. I didn’t know him all that well–he pretty much kept to himself. When we heard what happened, I remember feeling sad, but not really broken up over it.

But this is different. We knew this guy. We saw him all the time. He took my hubby and me out to dinner. We saw them at church last week. He walked by my desk every single day. I would say “Hi,” and he always had a smile for me.

It makes what he did last Tuesday so out of whack, many of us still have trouble believing it.

I’ve been trying to sort it out in my head and on paper. Mainly there’s sadness, but there’s also anger too. Why didn’t he tell anyone he was in distress? Was there anything we could have done? Could have said? Would he even listen, or was he so far gone that nothing would have reached him? He was always cool, always calm, always collected. Nothing seemed to faze him.

I don’t get it.

Today, we went to Daniel’s school for their annual Family Fun Night. Daniel took me to his schoolroom and show me the picture he drew, the cubicle where he hangs his jacket. We ate soup and salad, watched a Celtic band. Daniel threw a tantrum because he didn’t want to wear his crocs. Later, he jumped in the bouncy house for about five minutes, then came out and put his crocs on, saying, “Okay, I’m done.”

And all throughout the evening, the thought kept running through my mind: He will never experience fun with his family again. He won’t get to see his kids laugh or cry. He won’t be there to dry their tears or laugh at a joke with them. I can’t stop thinking of it. No matter how hard I try.

On Saturday, I went to the farm. I pulled beets out of the crumbling dirt, roots and bugs dangling down. I washed them in ice-cold water, plunging my hands in, feeling their knobbly hardness, marveling at the crimson red of the skins, the striped pink of the stems. Later on, I washed cherry tomatoes, my fingers reaching through the clear water, searching for the smooth orbs. I felt them round and fleshy in my hands: scarlet, tangerine, orange-yellow, grass green. I popped one into my mouth, felt its warmth flood my cheeks with pulp and seed.

Each following day that comes, we will step a little further away from his death. The pain will soften, the sorrow lessens, and we will start remembering more of what he was rather than how he ended. I can feel it happening now, each minute that passes. In the meantime, I’m going to hug my son a little more, hold my hubby a little tighter. I’m going to try to experience life just a little more before mundanity makes me forget.

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