Favorite Books of 2016 (#FaveReads)

Welp, 2016 is over. Not to say that a specific space of time can be a crapshow but hell if 2016 wasn't. That said, I think it showed many more than ever the importance of books. You can find solace in them as well as an inspiration. As per usual my initial blog posts for the new year are to celebrate what I enjoyed in the previous year: Books and Dessert. So here's the latest in terms of the best books I read in 2016 (not ones that necessarily released that year).

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#DumplingCrawl 2016 (Lower Manhattan Ed.)

Summer rolls out and fall formally comes in with a nice (yet unexpected) chill in the air means the end of food stalls/events outdoors with the impending winter. This also means it's a damn good time to have yourself a food crawl before the weather gets really unpredictable. As such, and as promised, we had ourselves a Dumpling Crawl in late September. 

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America, You Broke My Heart

I know I don’t need to go into the specifics of this year’s presidential election. We all watched it and felt it in various ways. But the endgame isn’t what many of us saw or hoped for. At this moment I haven’t eaten anything solid in almost 24 hours. My stomach actually dropped when someone passed by this morning and I saw the headline with the winner declared and a smug if not disturbing grin on his face. 

I went to sleep when the odds weren’t in the Democrats favor figuring I’d wake up to the sad confirmation. One of the first things I thought when I opened my eyes was that I finally understood the way my grandmother saw America. My grandmother was born in South Carolina in the 1930s. This is a state known for having some of the highest rates of (reported) lynchings in the early 20th century. Colored vs. White was the norm for her and she never expected to live to see a Black identified president. She probably did not expect to live to see a female and sadly she may not. But she’s always been hesitant when it came to embracing the perceived “greatness” of this nation as well as it’s supposed welcoming nature. She's a woman who saw the hardships of Blacks (and allies) fighting for the right to vote. She’s a woman who was called the N-word to her face regularly. I am of a world when it’s said under wraps and even then punishable by shame and other consequences depending on the party. I was born during the Reagan era not feeling the effects directly of his and his cabinet’s hold. Today though I woke up to see America split in half and it’s a viewpoint my 83-year-old grandmother never stopped seeing. 

I came into work to a morose staff. My co-workers’ faces and eyes rimmed red from tears. One co-worker who is often jovial gave a slow shake of the head to say “No, I am not okay.” We left it at that. I asked around in my department. Some are very open to discussing it others prefer to respect that they want to remain in their misery for the moment or for a longer duration. I understand both sides of this. 

I am not so much worried for my immediate physical safety. I don’t think someone is going to come and hit me over the head with a brick after this electoral process. (Perhaps that’s naive and very privileged of me.) I’m in a blue state, in a blue city but that does not mean that racism isn’t apparent. (Hell, I was called a monkey only two months ago in my neighborhood on the way to work.) What I am more concerned about are our civil liberties. Rights that have been attained through hard-won fights. Roe vs. Wade, Obama-care, Same-Sex marriage, EPA, sadly we lost the Voting Rights Act last year (and I do not doubt that had an impact on yesterday’s results). It’s these specific laws that are currently in place I worry may not be retained in the upcoming presidency with an entirely GOP/conservative base taking over every area of the U.S. government. I’m also worried about artist colonies, grassroots campaigns, and other nonprofit organizations seeing a severe drop in funding. Let’s be clear: A maniacal, xenophobic, reality TV show star is now the United States’ president-elect over a competent political officer. The reasons for that are being continually analyzed.

Thus far blame is being placed all over. Primarily with the (I hate to say it) president-elect and his supporters, where it should be. But then there’s also blame thrust at the 3rd party supporters due to the narrow margin wins in battleground states. There’s the apathetic who simply didn’t vote and whose turn out could have possibly switched things around. There’s Clinton herself for not reaching out to the PoC/Native demographic more or not being as some oddly and unfairly said (likeable). There’s the Bernie Bros who may have split the vote in some areas. The finger points all over but the biggest issue is the one people like my grandmother have been aware of and never shook off in the first place: This is a place not made for us but built by us. And by “us” I mean the marginalized who were and remain the most terrified of the results. “Us” as in those who hoped, really hoped, that this would be a blow out and instead we see that even by some narrow margins this country remains in many ways broken.

I’ve had my heart broken before. I’ve been broken in general. You do or don’t learn to sweep up the pieces and reattach what you can to keep going. I’ve seen friends broken more than myself and do amazing things, gather themselves up in a way I didn’t know possible, and proceed to make change for themselves and others. I have to come to terms with the fact that I’m a citizen of country that has always been broken. My grandmother saw it, she and my grandfather spoke of it to me and my now (ex)-husband. They spoke of keeping to themselves, of being second-class citizens, of the underlying fear of how you speak to white people and knowing your place at all times. But then there are those who won’t sit by and take it, not that that makes them better or my grandmother weak, it’s a different frame of reference. I thought of those who had been broken (broken bodies, broken hearts, broken minds) who pushed through if not to survive (it’s own form of activism) then to show we deserved a seat at the table. This made me think of the March series I recently read about John Lewis’s life and his pursuit of justice, of equality, of recognition. There’s a moment when all he says is: “We march” over and over. When told about the issues, the potential violence that may ensue, what is at stake not just for SNCC which he headed but for those helping SNCC and the larger Civil Rights Movement he did not waver: “We march.”

I don’t want to make light of the feelings so many people have right now. My Muslim friends in red states fearing for their lives. The co-worker and her girlfriend who got engaged when the same-sex marriage law passed. Those who rely on Obamacare to get the medications they need for mental and chronic physical illnesses. My transgender & genderfluid identified friends who have fought to see their genders recognized and not placed in the binary. Yesterday the Dow Jones dropped, stocks are wavering, and who is to say the unemployment rate may not skyrocket so that we’re veering towards another Great Depression. Perhaps that is too bleak or not bleak enough, but the concerns are valid based on what we’ve seen of this party, of it’s candidate, and of those coming into office. 

When I woke up I saw that nothing had imploded, yet. People were rushing to work. The courthouse I live near had cops stationed out front as usual. People were ordering bagels with cream cheese from the vendors. The subways were actually somewhat efficient this AM as well. And yet, the underlying feeling for many is that we are broken and broken-hearted. But we keep on, we make strides, we make progress. And I do believe in that. I believe in what we can do because I know too many good people not to see that on a daily basis.

So, while America has broken my heart this time, I can say I believe I know how to pick up the pieces, at least for now. 

See you at New York ComicCon!

In the next week I'll be on/moderating 3 panels. Two of which are at New York ComicCon this week!

First up is the Women and Gender-Nonconforming Writers of Color in Digital Media panel on Thursday, October 6th at 1:30pm!

Second is the Geeks of Color Episode IV: The Force Awakens panel on Saturday, October 8th, also at 1:30pm! There'll also be a Geeks of Color meet up after the panel at 2:45pm in Room 1C03.

If you're around in general would love to see/meet you! I'll be wearing (WNDB/MiP) buttons!

A Reminder: Your Voice/Work Is Necessary

Last Friday, I had the opportunity to read at the 5-year anniversary of the Boundless Tales reading. What I read, and submitted, was a portion from my short story collection. Yes, the one I've been working on longer than I like to admit though not as long as I guess warrants complaint to some.

If I'm honest, I haven't looked at my fiction, let alone this collection, since I was at VONA in June. For the most part I've dedicated myself to writing a lot of nonfiction this and much of last year. When I returned from VONA I was tired, dehydrated, hot (read: irritable), and stuck on what to do to fix my work. This is par for the course, at least it is for me. You get a lot of feedback and suggestions. You receive some blows and some praise you have to sit with. Plus, your mind is filled with all this (potential) material as you return home from priorities you briefly escaped and now have to deal with.

I think a form of escape for me has been nonfiction because it ties to a reality and I can better report that story. It's a different way of thinking but there are correlations to fiction and fiction writing, hence the genre tags of narrative nonfiction and creative nonfiction. I have professed I am not a "fast" writer. It takes me a long time to get it “right.” I feel dejected that the output isn't generated as quickly nor is what seems complete actually done.

For more than two plus months I put this collection aside. I figured, as I have before, perhaps the collection is not the work that will be my debut. Perhaps this is not the tome that will land the agent or the publishing deal, despite the requests for full when it’s done, despite the intrigue on faces when I describe it. Perhaps I have a lot more work to do elsewhere to help me get to where I want to be. In my most recent podcast interview with my friend Rion Amilcar Scott he said that spending years on something "unpublishable" isn't the worst thing that can happen. You learn from it. It's its own form of education.

But then, I went to Friday’s reading. I had applied to be part of the anniversary reading when I was at VONA, before my work got critiqued, when I thought I may actually finish it in fall. I was the last reader of seven. It was a small, hot space with a packed crowd. I was glad to see three friends in the audience and several familiar faces. I waited and listened to local poets, playwrights, and fiction writers read their work and applauded them all. I looked around before I went on and whispered to my friend, "I am the only reader of color on this roster." She gave me a slow nod and said, "I know."

I wasn't so much worried about how the audience responded, but I talk about racism, I talk about a mother almost losing her child in a store, I talk about insecurity and identity in a span of 6 pages. We'll see how this goes, I thought.

I went up, a camera was on me from my right and another directly in front of me. I made a few quips about how wonderful Queens is but don't move her because my rent is low (for NYC), please and thank you. Then I read. I got laughs when I didn't expect it, gasps on certain (very descriptive) lines, and I saw when I panned the audience people paying close attention. When I finished there was applause, but it felt different in a way, it felt like they hung on to every word and truly grasped the trepidation of Mikayla as she almost lost her child.

When people grasp your hand and tell you they appreciate your exploration of humanity, it means a lot. When people give you a hug and say "Are you a mother? Because you got that spot on," it means a lot. When people stay back to tell you they really enjoyed their work, it means a lot. When someone emails you that they taught one of your published stories in their writing class, it means so much. And it especially means a lot because—what you don’t admit out loud—is that you doubt yourself. When I read Mikayla’s piece to the audience, and later again to myself, I was reminded how much I loved it, how much work I put into it, how it was successful in many ways. This was one of those times I needed a reminder. And sometimes those cues come just when you need and least expect them.