Cultural Appropriation: When the Chicken Doesn’t Hatch from the Egg

I recently wrote a short story for a creative writing class that had a heavy emphasis on feminism, equality, and the removal of appropriative stereotypes (not the story; the class). Throughout this class, I’ve felt more and more dour about my place in it: every day we meet, I am told how I have flouted my power to oppress and dehumanize everyone not me. I am aware of this. I work hard to remove the bias in my life. I work hard to use my privilege for good, if possible. I watch preference given to others who have had to work twice as hard as me to get where they are, and I respect the preference. I don’t know how to write about what I want to write anymore because of all the boundaries and expectations. This gives me a whole new twist on “write what you know.”

But this short story has me confused and bewildered. A long while back, I wrote a story about the most fierce and independent women I had ever met: my ex wife. She was a warrior, a fighter, broken and not, flawed and abusive and everything complex about a person you could possibly want. And exotic. And powerful. Given this class is about the empowering of women, and minorities, and those traditionally without voice, and she’s as untraditional a person I had ever met, I revived it, revised it, reviewed it, revised it again, and handed it in.

If I had problems with the insane amount of, “you can’t write effectively about this because you’re white,” and, “you can’t write about this because you’re male,” restrictions–and then being told I must write it in a social justice vein, where I’m expected to write about an issue I have no business writing about–surely I found a way around it by telling a fairy tale story based strongly on a real life, honest-to-god person.

Not so much. Continue reading

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Nanowrimo Mistake. Short Story Instead.

Haha so. Here’s what NaNoWriMo did to me. It inspired me to write on something not WriMo material.

(I know. I can write on whatever I want as long as it’s writing)

So I had this dream. I woke up, spent all day thinking about it. Percolating like an old coffee machine. It started with a few paragraphs from the main character (me, in the story, but obviously not me).

            My dad used to collect, what’d he call them? Gutter coins. Sewer pennies. One of those, you know, psychological things. Leftover from his childhood. He’d show me his collection—which, after a lifetime of collecting, was quite ridiculous. He didn’t look proud or anything like that—this wasn’t a measure of success for him. It was a curiosity, I think, the only curiosity he ever allowed himself his whole life. Holding down three jobs for so long tends to beat curiosity out of you.

            Also, being physically beaten does that.
            It’s not like he lived through the Great Depression or anything, but he might as well have. Poor as a blind goat most of his damned life. Not like he’d fought in any war overseas and didn’t like to tell anyone, and grappled onto the things as some kind of survival mechanism. The war he fought was in America, then. On the streets.
            Shit, this wasn’t supposed to be about him.
            A gutter coin is a flat chunk of metal that used to be a penny. Or a quarter. Or whatever. And because it got caught in the sewers, or some riverbed, or fell in a garbage disposal, or whatever—whatever reason—everything got gouged up and cut off, or worn down. It wasn’t a penny anymore. It wasn’t anything but a discarded “piece of history,” he’d say. Just some damn piece of metal that you recognized at first glance, I mean you knew what it was, but you couldn’t spend it on a menthol or a bottle of Dos Ex. My father sometimes talked like that.

Clearly I never had that memory. Clearly my father wasn’t so impoverished to live on the streets. And when I first woke up, this whole intro had no connection to the story. It was a creepy, new-house-falling-apart dream where I investigated a domestic complaint of “dumping water” on the road into the neighborhood. So happens after going there, the ground falls out of their basement, I find an old dug-out mine, ancient, and a body laying there. Just a mound of clothes, boots, hat, and whatever remains lay underneath.

Dreams like these are what make me write, give me experiences I wouldn’t have otherwise. It was a bleak dream, unsettling, but not frightening. The body had been there a long time. It’s the whole gutter-penny opening that throws me: as in, how my character, somehow, knew the ending–the body is the gutter-penny, directly connecting the MC to his father’s not-so-distant death–while I remained in the dark even after I woke up. All day long, I thought about it, until I wrote it down and, lo and behold, the meaning came clear.

Like reading a short story for the first time from an author I don’t know. It was even a little gothic in its telling.

So call me crazy when I say I feel people speak to me in dreams. This whole thing is in a vein of writing I’ve adored, but not (until now) in my ability to write. It’s complex because I feel it isn’t mine, and I’m giddy to write it because it’s like some master writer gave me all the visuals–and even the introduction–to make this thing brilliant.

Yet I remain unpublished, so who knows. I might just spend my life walking the paths of a writer, where all my secrets are ignored by the larger audience. I think, for the chance to share these things, it is worth writing.