Please keep this word in mind.
In the last week my wife Susan and I have watched three movies, two in the theaters and one on a DVD at home. The movies were, in order, Hidden Figures, Moonlight, and I Am Not Your Negro. Each presents, in its own way, a view of the black experience in these United States of America. You already knew that. Moonlight, clearly, and I Am Not Your Negro, less so, also shine their light on the experience of growing up gay in the USA.
Last night, driving home in the cold Portland rain, having just watched the James Baldwin penned I Am Not Your Negro, Susan and I took turns discussing how we felt about the movie. You’ll have to check with her about her opinion. It will be worth your time. For me, as I sat in the nearly all-white audience in nearly all-white Portland, I was reminded of a thought I had had earlier in the week. Regarding my writing – my fiction. And I explained the connection to my wife as best I could.
I have been trying to market my first published book – “Ring Around the Rosy” – and I have been actively promoting it on Twitter, with, realistically, poor results. In terms of sales anyway. I’d been thinking, earlier in the week, that I was getting very little response from the many LGBTQ and Trans folks I follow on Twitter, and to whom I fairly regularly comment and like and retweet and do all the twitter things to do. Then I had this clarity – why should they? There are no gay or lesbian or trans or questioning characters in my novel. There are characters with what are considered disability – down syndrome (2) and cerebral palsy (1), and as such I have had a some positive response with folks connected to that population, and have sold some books. But, in Rosy, there was and is no gay/lesbian/trans character to be found.
Then I began, the middle of last week, thinking about my second book, currently in what I hope will be its final editing stage and therefore ready for self publishing within the next four to six weeks. That book will be titled “Astoria Strange“, an interwoven collection of 11 stories that live in the genres of supernatural and horror. And, lo and behold, narry a LGBTQ character there either. I am neither gay nor trans but this isn’t a case of the admonition to write what you know. It’s me not coming to my writing with what I’ll call “Big Mind.”
Anyway, last night on the drive home I told my wife of the earlier-in-the-week conversation with myself, the smallish “aha” moment, and that sitting in the theater I was feeling that feeling again. James Baldwin’s crystal clear conclusion – the trouble in the United States is race trouble – and it was and is therefore everyone’s responsibility – No, the word was Obligation – it was and is everyone’s obligation to work hard at understanding the other experience. Or else. That was how the movie ended – You have an obligation, white people, to do everything in your power to commit to and thoroughly understand the black experience in America. Or else.
And for me, sitting in the theater, I had the clear awareness that, as a writer – certainly as a Blogger like right now, but as a writer of fiction – I have the obligation to be more expansive, to write with Bigger Mind, to read and study and learn and hang out with and experience and do everything I can do to know more, within the reality of my white skin and heterosexual template, and to get that more-ness into my writing.
It’s my obligation.
I am happy to say, well, it makes me feel better somewhat, that my “Rosy“, within its 14 characters, has three who are black – Marvin, his mom Bonnie, and latecomer Greg. That’s better than no gay, lesbian, or trans characters. And three characters with disabilities. And that the forthcoming “Astoria Strange” has as one of its primary characters, a black man – Sergeant Rennie Moss. As does my story/novella waiting for me to get back to it – “Bennie’s Berkeley“. Plus, thinking about my obligations, and I shared this with Susan, I am going back into stories in progress, including a collection of short stories and one not yet complete novella, and see where I can be more inclusive, more expansive, more commited to my obligations to help the planet, and in particular help my badly bleeding Country, and to do that the best way I can now, in March of 2017, with my writing. My stories. The stuff of life I sit here and make up out of my imagination and therefore, in a rare instance, have virtually complete control over to create whoever and have them believe and do whatever, whenever they feel like it.
Because it’s my Obligation – capital O – to do my part, to shine my little light, to keep my eyes on the prize, to hold up my sign that says “I Am Somebody (and so are You)” and keep marching to the freedom land.
I’m a writer. I write. I’m a published author. I publish. And I can make a difference.
I might be a straight old(er) white guy, but you know what? I am not your honkey. I can bring Big Mind to my otherwise White writing and do my best to be part of the solution.
Because not trying to learn more and understand more and be your best at empathizing more means something else – that you’re part of the problem.