"Keep working on a plan. Make no little plans. Make the biggest you can think of, and spend the rest of your life carrying it out." Harry S. Truman

Monday, April 27, 2009

"Bi-Racial, Not Black... damnit"

This above is the title of a trailer I saw on Facebook, a few days ago (watch the beginning, and then click again on the video to see the interviews.)

I have already commented on my feelings, as the mother of two biracial children, when facing the tendency to consider all children with some African or African American blood as black. It took me a while to warm up to Obama because of that only, because I felt that by declaring himself black, he somehow rejected his white mother AND white grandparents who raised him. I had to read his book, Dreams from My Father, to understand his search for identity and the way he came to terms with it, himself. And I've always liked and admired Tiger Wood's refusal to be labelled  a Black man, considering his diverse heritage, and how he came up with his own word (cablinasian).

Not that the subject comes up that often. We do not live in the US, and even though I often miss it and wish at times I could be back in Park Slope, Brooklyn, I've also always felt that it might be better for our daughters to grow up far from all the race issues that are so big over there. Not saying that there aren't race issues in other countries. Do I wish. But they don't seem to be as raw, painful and overly present as they are in the US.

Yes, racism is strong in India. The whiter the better. Still, Indians are brown people, which means that my children blend in perfectly, here. Recently, as we waited to hear about our next post, a couple of Latin American countries came up as possibilities, one of them being Argentina, and even though I did not veto it (I have a list of requirements that evolves with time, and our experiences; up till now, it included good internet access, a good school - although, as experienced here, what you see on the Internet or during a first visit of a school is in no way a guarantee that said school will live up to its promises - reasonable supply and security situation, not necessarily in that order) I had growing misgivings about it, and when it turned out that we're not going there, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. Why? Well, Argentina is known to be a country of white people, and as I said to my husband, "If we must live in a society that is more backward than forward when it comes to race issues, I'd rather be in a brown racist society than a white one."

Anyway, the video and its title stirred some conversation. The documentary film maker, Carolyn Battle's website, mentions "Private Conversations" as a title for the movie, so not sure how the other one came about - catchier, maybe. No matter, I found it very interesting. 

I often wonder about how my children perceive themselves? Do they even think about it? I'm not sure. As mentioned before, here, I always tell them they're cinnamon in the case of the older one, and toffee brown, for the younger. But they're very aware of the fact that I'm white, and Dad is Black. The other day, we were at the beach in Goa, and two dogs, a white one, and a black one, were walking together, and my husband took a picture and they ran to show it to me, saying " this is Mom and Dad." But do they, or will they, one day, feel that they need to belong to one race or another, as did most of the people interviewed in this trailer? Will they feel rejected by one race or the other and feel they don't belong anywhere? 

One thing is sure, as a white mother of biracial children, I was glad to see this video. It may not be politically correct to say this, but I refuse to subscribe to the "one drop rule." I've said it before and I repeat it here. It has nothing to do with rejecting the black race, and all to do with stating the facts. My children are no more black than they're white, so why should anyone (including themselves) deny their whiteness? Reminds me of a time when teachers would ask children at the beginning of the school year, in France, whether they were from another country, and I would get up, along with the few other children of immigrant parents, and the teacher would invariable ask me to sit back because "You are French." It made me so angry. I was and felt as much French as I was and felt Spanish. To me, there was a clear line running down the length of my body, right in the middle, and one part was French, the other Spanish, and telling me that I was French only just because I happened to have the "right" passport felt profoundly wrong. I was only 6 or 7 at the time, so unable to articulate this as clearly as I do it, now, but I vividly remember my feelings.

Children (and adults, too, for that matter) should be allowed to embrace their heritages and diversity in all their fullness, wholeness and richness. No one should feel that they have to cut or ignore parts of who they are just so they can fit into the boxes offered them. And if the need to fit into a box is stronger, then create new and accurate ones that "feel" right, like Tiger Wood. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Novel writing or the art of plowing through...

Uma just published a blog post about the Literal, Tedious Novel Draft. I like the concept that a first draft can and should even be drafty, with holes in it. Far, far, far from perfect, and even terribly flawed. What matters, I'm told here and there, in workshops, in books, is to write that first "shitty" draft (in the words of Anne Lammot), to get the story out.

I applied that scrupulously while trying to last as long as I possibly could, during the last Nanowrimo challenge. Did not go back to re-re-re-read what I had just written, yesterday, the day before, the beginning. Just went on... And it was a good experience, if only because it taught me that I can actually do it (don't laugh, for people like me, it's a wild discovery and a real break-through.)

One of Uma's tip to help us plow through and not give in to the temptation of going back to what's already written, but rather to pick up where you left the day before and just go on, is to leave a note for yourself about what happens next.

I'd heard her say that before, and so, I tried to think: why have I not done this until now?

Very simple : I often start writing late in the morning (I've said this before : I'm NOT a morning person), which means I have little time before the kids come back from school, and then I use up every second until I hear the door bell. And then what? I bound to the door, because these girls just love to ring the bell endlessly until I show up, and by then, said bell already made me jump out of my skin anyway, and that's it...  Until tomorrow, where I return to what was written before, start judging it, deleting, editing, changing... and, and... plowing through? NOT!

So, I just had a light bulb moment. I need to set the alarm clock 5 to 10 mns before the return of the brood, so I can think about what comes next and write said note to myself. Beginning today. Let's see how this works for me.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Reading in Hyderabad

When we first moved to Hyderabad, we often drove by a lovely building surrounded by a garden, and I always longed to walk inside. 

I finally did. My daughter took a couple of pottery workshops, there. And then, I attended a reading by Scottish author Margaret Donald in the lovely amphitheater at the back of the cultural center. 

If someone had told me, then, that three and half years later, I would be sitting under that frangipani tree, reading my book to an audience of children and their parents, it is quite likely that I would have laughed out loud, even as I secretly wished such a dream could come true.

Well, it did, on Friday evening.

My  youngest daughter here is doing her own reading, before everyone arrived.

Thank you to everyone who came to share that moment with me.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Thank you, Uma Krishnaswami

Ever since I stumbled upon her website, Uma Krishnaswami has been a major influence in my writing life. I sent her Ifeanyi Amadi's manuscript for a private critique, and she helped me get closer to my character, made me realize how important it was for me to follow his journey, his train of thoughts, and render that on paper in a way that made sense for the reader, that made them "care." After that critique, Uma suggested that I join her Manuscript Workshop at writers.com, and I did. That was about four years ago, and since then, I've attended four classes, and each time, it's been an incredible experience.

Uma's teaching style is what all teaching should be like : a combination of knowledge, passion for the subject/craft, wisdom, gentle firmness and humor, and last but not least, generosity. Uma truly brings all of these qualities into her teaching, and I can easily say that being "around" her, being exposed to her energy and vibrations have made me not only a better writer, but also somehow a better person (not that the work is completely done.)

We just concluded another workshop, and Uma announced that she's now stepping back from this online teaching, after 12 years. Even the way she organized her departure shows how much she cares. She had Sarah Aronson, a graduate from the Vermont College, join in as a teaching assistant, and after two workshops, Sarah will now take over the class.

We were all saddened to hear that Uma is leaving, but we all wish her only the best, and can easily understand how juggling her teaching position at Vermont College, the online teaching, plus her own writing (not to forget her life) would be hard, even for the most energetic person.

Thank you, Uma, for all that you have taught me over the last few years. You remain, forever, my mentor of the blue ink.