Why you should enrol in Writing the Other

Disclaimer: I’m a total newb at trying to express my thoughts and feelings on diversity and cultural appropriation. If I inadvertently write anything offensive or harmful, I invite you to let me know. But I have to start somewhere, try and fail, or I might never improve. Thank you, in advance, for your time, attention, and kind intervention (if required).

I’m not rolling up content as I have in other posts of this nature.

Out of the gate, I’ll recommend Writing the Other (WtO) to any writer concerned about writing inclusive fiction with respect and dignity accorded to characters unlike the authorial self. If you’re not concerned with these vital aspects of craft, then stop reading this post now. There’s nothing for you here.

K. Tempest Bradford and Nisi Shawl deliver an amazing and thought provoking course, the point of which is not to police creativity, but to ask authors to examine their fears, context, and assumptions, and to do their best to write inclusively. WtO will give you the tools to write characters of other ROAARS (race, sexual orientation, age, ability, religion, and sex) characteristics with integrity, and the resources to deepen your knowledge and understanding.

The point is that writing well is hard work, and writing well and respectfully of otherness takes effort and practice, like any other aspect of the craft. You have to be open, willing to learn, willing to practice, and willing to think critically about the creative choices you make in your fiction.

Those of us who come from a background of privilege (white, male, heterosexual, able-bodied, etc.) and those of use who align fairly closely with the unmarked state, still want to write inclusively. If we do so without due consideration, education, or research, we run the risk of harming the people from the same communities as the characters we write from sheer ignorance.

This can take the form of tokenism. Only have one character who is a person of colour? Why not include two, or even three, so readers can see that these characters are, first and foremost, people? Explore the experience of these characters in a fully-fleshed and respectful way. Give them voices. Compare and contrast them. Give them as much attention and thought to them as you give your main character. They may not have as big a role to play in your story, but they deserve to be real.

If your one gay character just happens to be the antagonist, you may inadvertently send the message that you think all gay people are like the antagonist. If your one trans character is the sidekick who gets killed, they become disposable, and that is another negative message you may unintentionally send.

If you have a disabled character who is “cured” by technology or magic, you effectively erase the character’s identity and struggle. If the character has to be able-bodied for the story you’re telling, then tell the story with an able-bodied character. Think about why you want to write a disabled character. If it’s to honour their struggle, then honour it. If you just think it’s cool, that may be true, but your choices may bear more thought.

Recently, in Canada, there was the “appropriation prize” debacle. [I’ve been curating articles and posts on the issues, in Tipsday and Thoughty Thursday, for the past few weeks. Peruse, if you’re so inclined.]

Last year, there was the Lionel Shriver controversy. [And yeah, I curated that one, too.]

Cultural appropriation happens when you take a story that belongs to a culture other than your own without permission and consultation (both are required) and write about it in a way that dishonours the originating culture.

This can happen in any of the arts.

The word diversity has been thrown about in publishing and writing so much in recent years that the word has almost lost its meaning. I’ve heard of speakers who have retreated from panels on literary diversity because they are often attacked or their statements taken out of context for the sake of theatrics or sensationalism.

Diversity, to me, means that people of colour, of other sexual orientations, of differing ability, age, religion, or sex, should write their own stories. And they should be welcomed into the publishing world. We need more editors, agents, and other publishing professionals who are from different backgrounds, too.

This doesn’t mean that no one should write a character that doesn’t share their background. If they do, though, they should be prepared to take the time and do the research to represent that character authentically.

For myself, I’ve decided that I won’t write a protagonist that is significantly different from me. That’s my personal choice, though. I won’t prohibit anyone else from doing that. And there are some writers who have written the other brilliantly, so I won’t say that it can’t be done. I choose not to.

But I want to write inclusively about a world that’s like the one I see every day. To do that, I have to educate myself. And WtO was a first step on that path.

As always, be well, be kind, and stay strong.

Muse-inks

Advertisements

Thoughty Thursday: Things that made me go hmmmm on the interwebz, March 19-25, 2017

I hope something in this mess gets your mental corn popping 🙂

Pete Mohrbacher has been painting surrealist angels since 2004. I would plaster the house with his work if I could. Angelarium.

Lori Dorn shares a documentary about M.C. Escher. Laughing Squid

Joel Levy shares some vintage photographs of the Toronto Islands. Toronto Guardian

Teodora Zareva: Disney is fulfilling on of Nicola Tesla’s dreams. Big Think

Matt Simon covers the revelation of the crazy-tough water bear’s secret. Wired

Phil Plait reacquaints himself with an old friend that has a new mystery. Is it a planet, or a star? Blastr

Then, a three billion solar mass black hole rockets out of a galaxy at eight billion kilometres and hour. Blastr

Umir Abrar: the big bang isn’t the beginning of our universe—it’s the ending of something else. Physics-Astronomy

Gobblynne provides a great reminder and lovely interpretation of the two wolves mindfulness parable. Vimeo

Tom Jacobs thinks America needs a crash course in critical thinking. I think everyone, everywhere, could use a primer. Pacific Standard

Ever twist yourself into philosophical knots wondering about the nature of reality? That’s okay, Professor Donald H. Hoffman says it probably doesn’t matter because living in a constructed fantasy world is the thing that allows us to survive. Robby Berman for Big Think.

Tori Rodriguez reveals that negative emotions are key to your wellbeing. Scientific American

Lee Suckling lists twelve signs that you may be an extroverted introvert. Stuff

Vicki Hall reports on Clara Hughes’ continuing struggle with mental illness. The National Post

Brian Resnick: if you’re not a morning person, science says you never will be. Vox

Mayim Bialik: girl vs. woman and why language matters.

 

Jim Moodie covers how Shannon Agowissa and Lisa Osawamick are helping to keep Sudbury’s indigenous girls and women safe. The Sudbury Star

Jimmy Thomson reports on the development of new maps that will depict the pre-colonial “Turtle Island” Canada. I’m eager to see these. CBC

Gregory D. Smithers examines the enduring legacy of the Pocahontas myth. The Atlantic

A Medieval abbey trapped by tides and time. Great Big Story

 

I love dance. So you think you can dance is the only reality television I watch. So this hip hop routine by Kyle Hanagami for Ed Sheeran’s “The Shape of You” kind of blew me away.

 

And that was your thoughty for the week.

See you on the weekend for my next chapter update.

Be well until then.

thoughtythursday2016

Clean Reader, censorship, and political correctness

The big news of the week has been Clean Reader, which, despite the rumours, is still an app. Essentially, it’s an ereader that disguises what the creators of the app see as profanity.

There have been two camps among writers. One would rather their work not be read at all rather than have it read in an altered form, particularly when the alterations were made without the author’s consent. If the reader doesn’t like what the author writes, they have the right not to purchase or read it.

The other writerly camp concede that once the work is out in the world readers can and often do what they wish with it and as long as the author’s work is still being read and they are still being compensated for it, they’re okay with it (despite how repugnant they might find the practice of altering the work without consulting the author).

Here are some of the posts that have made it across my social media streams this week. (They’ll all appear again in my Tipsday post, BTW.)

As I mentioned on Facebook, on which I shared most of these, I’ll let you read through and decide what you think about Clean Reader for yourselves.

I will, however, share with you, why Clean Reader disturbs me.

It is censorship. No bones about it.

But censorship happens all the time in all of the arts, you say. This is true.

Profanity in television and movies is *bleeped* or dubbed when these shows are televised on network television during hours when impressionable young people might be watching.

There is a rating system for movies and while cinema employees may not strictly enforce it, they do have the right to turn away patrons if they are deemed too young to watch the movie.

Trigger warnings are plastered on music in various formats and there are usually “clean” versions of songs released for radio play.

Books are routinely banned because they are considered profane.

It was just a matter of time before categories for books (adult fiction, YA, children’s, etc.) became insufficient for some readers, or their parents.

I assume that Clean Reader is using the same conventions that allow the bleeping or dubbing of profanity in movies and music to justify the alteration of the ebooks they provide their readers.

It’s a choice and it’s a validated approach as much as I might disagree with it.

You might get the idea that I’m one of those writers in the first camp (above). You’d be right. If people don’t like what I write, they don’t have to read it. Not that every other word I write is a swear word, but I do write about sex, and body parts are also words that the creators of Clean Reader are not comfortable with.

It also smacks of political correctness (to me). It’s like some thought experiment. If we change the words, we protect those who might be harmed by them. If we change the words, we’ll prevent our children from becoming violent or otherwise behaving in a way we find unacceptable.

Big Brother, anyone? Maybe that’s overstating the issue, but I’ve always thought that common courtesy and thoughtfulness were more effective than political correctness.

Why does this concern me? Political correctness is another form of censorship. It all comes from the same, admittedly well-meaning, place, but truthfully, it doesn’t help anyone.

Those of you who have young children will know what happens when they learn their first swear word. Even if it’s something merely socially unacceptable like poopy-head or fart-face (kids often return from daycare or kindergarten with words like these) is it ever effective to forbid them from saying it?

If you’ve tried that strategy, you may have had a wee tyke running through your house shouting poopy-head at the top of her or his lungs. They do that.

More often, parents will have (sometimes repeated) discussions with their children to let them know that their words may make other people feel uncomfortable or hurt and that these words are not ones we should say without thinking about them and about the consequences of saying hurtful words to others.

Parents teach their children respect and courtesy. They teach their children to think before they speak. They teach their children about context and about human failings (you might hear Mommy or Daddy say a bad word when we’re really upset, but sometimes even we forget we shouldn’t say these things).

These early lessons can be the groundwork for more important issues that need to be discussed as children grow older. From bullying to bigotry, sexism to sexuality, words that some people find offensive are essential to these discussions.

We need to use our words, all of them, to provide our children with the tools that will help them mature into courteous and respectful people. We need to use sexually explicit terms to discuss the facts of life as well as alternative sexualities and the respect we all should have for them.

We can’t pretend vulgarity doesn’t exist. We can’t ignore bullying, discrimination, misogyny, or homophobia, and hope they’ll go away just because we don’t use “those words” anymore.

We need to teach people to be wise about their use of words.

I think that’s why Clean Reader disturbs me so much. It’s a dumbing down of language. Censorship of this kind is for people who think reading profanity will corrupt them. Censorship is for people who can’t or don’t want to trust their own judgement.

We can’t engage in meaningful discussion without words, and yes, that includes the bad ones.

It’s only my opinion, but I think my life would be diminished by the disappearance of profanity. If I’d never discovered the Shakespearean Insult Generator (and this is only one of many such sites) or Rogers Profanisaurus (they have an app now too), I would have laughed a lot less and my vocabulary would be significantly limited. Mind you, my sense of humour is distinctly scatological 🙂

I wouldn’t want to read, or write, in a world without profanity.

There are some books I’ve read and enjoyed very much that would not be affected at all by the censoring of profanity, but I couldn’t imagine enjoying Diana Gabaldon’s books (for example) half as much without it, nor would I appreciate someone editing out all the profanity in them.

If someone feels, however, that they want this service and that they can’t read books without it, I support their right to choose Clean Reader. I also pity them for feeling that Clean Reader was the only choice they could make.

Nerdmaste, my writerly peeps.

Muse-inks

Two lovely thinks, er, things, that fell in my lap today :)

Some say that knowledge is something sat in your lap.
Some say that knowledge is something that you never have. ~~Kate Bush, “Sat in your Lap

First

Partook of a Webinar this afternoon offered by Training Magazine Network and delivered by the inimitable Jane Bozarth on social and informal learning.  I follow her bog, the Bozarthzone, and have attended a few #lrnchat sessions on Twitter.

Jane promoted the power of social networking tools in the workplace, of curation, and the need to let learners have more control over their learning.

I’m all for this.  Unfortunately, my employer isn’t quite on the same page.  Facebook is blocked, because ours is a production environment and pressures are mounting.  Though Twitter is not blocked, our connection is so slow, in part due to the massive security measures we have in place, that it’s hardly worth the effort.

Though we have 2 internal Wikis with the capability to blog and curate, these tools are not promoted for use by our front line staff.  Again, operational requirements make it untenable.  The tools are mostly used to push information and email is still heavily relied upon as a means of communication.

We have SharePoint sites too, but again, for frontline staff, it’s used as any other Web page or site, as a means to push information, and not to engage staff in their own learning.  All of this on our sprawling Intranet, which, while it’s had a facelift, is still an unwieldy beast.

Only when staff reach the advisory or managerial level do they have the flexibility to dip their toes in those waters, and then to do so means some serious workload juggling.  Fortunately, aside from being the Learning Mutt, with a certain share of tenacity and feistiness, another of my workplace alter-egos is Shakti.  Multiple arms do tend to make the juggling easier 🙂  I could always evolve into a land-squid.

Still, informal and social learning is a wonderful dream I foster for my workplace and Jane gave me a few tools to add to my arsenal, courtesy of Diigo: http://www.diigo.com/user/jbo27712/upskilling

Second

The second gift of my day waited for me when I got home.  It arrived in the form of an email from a friend with a link: http://www.cpsrenewal.ca/2012/02/think-write-repeat.html

Think, Write, Repeat is a wonderful post.  I think I’m going to have to follow cpsrenewal 🙂  In his post, Nick Charney states that good writing and critical thinking are not only skills that can distinguish one in the workplace, but that they also support one another.

He offers a reminder: It’s a knowledge economy, stupid.  Indeed.

Charney promotes blogging as a kind of living portfolio, and one that will serve the knowledge worker well.  It’s better than a static resume that can hardly demonstrate any skill other than communication and editing.

Strong communities of practice and personal learning networks are also critical.

Once again, Writerly Goodness proves to be teh awesome (misspelling intentional) as a platform for both of my professions: writing and learning and development.

How has technology and the world of social media had an impact on your professional development?