You Can Touch My Hair

I’ve heard it around the Internet how offensive it is to touch a Black woman’s hair. And maybe I’m feeling kind of left out that no one’s making requests for mine. Then I second-guess myself and wonder: Maybe they have been. Maybe they have, and it’s such a non-issue for me that it’s eroded from my memory.

My cultural collective says I should be enraged and offended if this happens. That it’s supposed to be some subtle form of micro-aggressive racism and I should feel objectified since I’ve had to overcome so much amidst the war against natural Black hair. But I’ve willingly tossed my locks into others’ hands so they can feel how lightweight they are. I’m a proud dreadhead and I’m proud of how far my own have progressed. And one thing I love about having them, is that I frequently receive compliments on them from across the race spectrum, from Black to Asian to Italian, from those I’ve worked with, to passersby on the street, to randoms at a service counter.

And I appreciate that.

I remember the turning point when I decided to lock up for good. It was after watching Floetry’s Say Yes music video.

Dreads are a vibe. A mood. I soaked up that vibe and ejected it out through my scalp and never looked back. I embrace my hair the same way I embrace questions about it. The only one I ever find mildly irritating is “Do you think you’ll keep them?” As if they’re some kind of throwaway hairstyle or fashion statement. Or a pet you’ll grow tired of. This question usually comes, surprisingly, from the Black community. As if I haven’t been cultivating a thriving garden of life on my head for the past 11 years.

But when those of varying races and nationalities find my hair impressive, and stop me on the street to let me know, I appreciate that. And if they say “Dude, I love your hair. Do you mind…” and reach out hesitantly with curiosity, because they’re afraid to finish the question and they fear some perceived inevitable wrath, I’ll whip some locks straight into their outstretched hand and say “Feel em!” The same way I would with a curious toddler who enhances their knowledge of the world through touch. I want you to be interested. Yes, we wash them, although not everyday (but most Black hair isn’t washed every day anyway). Yes, there might be a little lint stuck in there. No, not everyone chooses to let them grow into a tangled mass with little maintenance. Yes, at this point, if I wash my hair in the shower my dreads fall into my butt-crack. And yes, I also sometimes grab a bunch and hold them between my nose and upper lip like a mustache. It feels good.

I want to enlighten you if you’re interested in my hair. And as long as you don’t secretly cut them off from a seat behind me on the subway, we good.

You can touch my hair. Just ask first.

~Tael

P.S. If I get to know you, and you have an afro, I’m gonna ask to touch it. Because it’s an afro.

The Vilification of Shyness

I come from a family of acceptance and varied personalities across the spectrum. The outgoing, the charismatic, the loud and boisterous, the low-toned pipe-ups, the never-smile-for-photos, the Let’s-Take-40-Photos-at-the-Same-Angle-and-Only-Slightly-Mix-Up-The-People, the ones who avoid the center of attention like the plague. We’ve got it all. Maybe I was raised in a bubble. The New York one, I’ll get to in a later post, but the acceptance bubble. Because the real world is not as graciously accepting of the unfamiliar.

Assimilating into the world from beneath the comforting blanket of your family, one constant mind-boggler has been that there are many who treat shyness and introverted natures with disdain. Perhaps they don’t understand them; perhaps it doesn’t exist in their own families; perhaps it seems very Columbine-esque to them and they fear we’ll murder them in their sleep. Growing up, we brought many friends and lovers into the family, and half of them were introverts. They were shy, spoke quietly (and duh, why shouldn’t they be, they were just meeting us) and we respected this and surrounded them with our raucous laughter and love and never made them feel a certain way if they didn’t speak enough or remained on the sidelines.

Leaving my own family though, I’ve encountered the opposite throughout life. I’ve had people tell me my shyness and habit of keeping to myself has come off as rude, intimidating, and arrogant. When in the world did this happen? When did a lower voice and less speech and more social observation make you a villain? Sure, in grade school, it was more likely to make you a pariah, until you matured and realized not everyone is a social butterfly with a big mouth.

At family gatherings and events, you might have found me huddled in a quiet corner with a book on the outskirts. An only child until the age of 15, I learned early to be comfortable with silence and isolation. My comfort zone was in solitary. My mom constantly answered questions toward me for me, might have realized that wasn’t the best move, and once took me to a church function where she plopped me in a group of kids I didn’t know and demanded I make friends before walking away. I immediately burst into tears from the pressure. Middle school I was pretty friendless. I clung to what little social interaction was offered to me, played Gameboy in the yard, tried not to hide out in bathroom stalls at lunch, and dreaded when the teachers gave us the opportunity to choose our own groups for projects. High school I developed sweaty palms from the social anxiety, frequently wore gloves to hide this fact, and prayed I wouldn’t be questioned when I went to shake someone’s hand or I left damp palm-prints on the science tabletops.

Eventually, you encounter people in this world that don’t care if you veer away from social situations and probably even understand it (I would think it to be fairly easily relatable). But you also continue to encounter ones that still look down on it, as I did recently. And I’ll likely continue to encounter it the older I get, because not everyone is accepting to your personality, whether you’re in their face with it or not, and not everyone is willing to see the deeper you past your reserved layer. In our society, where partying and raucous antics are considered the epitome of a good time, if you deviate from this, you must be ready to defend yourself. Because if you hide on the outskirts and don’t drink as much, your motives will be questioned. Because if your anxiety gets the best of you at the wrong time, and you seek solace in isolation to recover, you lose worth in their eyes.

Thoughts

The ninja lifestyle can be misunderstood by most. But I am not lonely to continue its path. If you’ve ever been judged by your shyness, find me.

~Tael

The Holy Cage

If you’ve read Chaos (un)Controlled, you encountered tidbits of Rixa’s dark, arson-laced poetry during church. Uniquely written specifically for this novel? Nope. But the creative, rage-driven thoughts of an actual teenager forced to worship? Absolutely. I wrote The Holy Cage myself years ago and performed it as spoken word, when I was feeling very much like Rixa. I pulled excerpts from it because it was incredibly fitting considering the storyline. You can see the full original version in its entirety below:

I call it a cage.
Enclosed within those “spiritual” bars that consume me with rage.
Yes, I believe I am of age to lash out at the “holy hands”
Of my family that chain me with bands…
I am…forced…
To carry that torch, that as soon as I leave my house, I douse.
Wicked fantasies of flames, gripping at the lush carpet in exchange for my freedom.
Fire licking at the crumbling walls, the building falls.
I want to burn this place down,
while Last Supper portraits peel and blister, they’ll frown
at the demon achieving her freedom through an arson’s plough.

Wicked fantasies, of protruding my tongue to release my gum
Into the brass tray they pass.
“This is my contribution to your institution.”
This man at the pulpit will not control me,
His words do not hold me.
But they are all sold on a few scriptures riddled with holes
As he boldly shows what he thinks they mean.
They are lost in dreams that are not their own; they clutch at symbols and make them more.
The door to this building is just a door.
Polished wood and crushed velvet drapes, life-sized crucifix,
I need to escape.

I am constantly being nudged awake.
I have no respect
for an institution that forces people to come to its beckon.
That uses fear to control its prey,
Fear of a fate in a fiery pit if you don’t do it this way.

Many walk through that door that is only a door,
Walk back out no different than before.
Sanctification on only one day, the rest reserved for heathen play.
My spiritual stock is not derived from an edifice;
That path, is in my heart, and in pious actions
Not in concrete slabs with electrical wiring that fall apart
where the glue to hold is that so called offering that comes from your heart.
“Do you feel his presence? Well all you have to do is give us presents.”
In the form of tithes.
My spiritual connection resides in myself
While a minister, administers correction
when he may need the most help himself.
My spiritual faith does not rely on a guy in maroon robes
Assumed to be holy cause he told us so.
Breathing phrases from the leather-bound book in his hands,
He is no different from us,
Yet we lift him up and continue to pay his price like he’s Jesus Christ.
But they’ll continue to misplace their spiritual following in a mistaken faith.
Clung to as a savior, I call it a curse.
But they call it…church.

Why I’m Not LitRPG

I’m the first one to jump and say that Chaos (un)Controlled is a YA that blends gaming and RPG elements. When I was trying to box my genre for self-publishing, I learned of a newly emerging genre, LitRPG, which encompasses books that involve characters within a game. Basically a blend of literature and role-playing. My first thought was “Oh wow! I’ve finally found an actual niche rather than YA Contemporary Science Fantasy because that’s a mouthful.” Upon additional Googling research and website perusion (yea, I make up words that sound cool; I’m a writer, what of it?), I discovered I was WRONG.

The exemplary Ready Player One is a good fit for that category. Besides that one though, the books I found using this particular tag were far too literal. Like, avatars, hit points, NPCs and all that. And orcs. Chaos (un)Controlled takes RPG elements, but the entire story is not an RPG. I consider it more the story-boarding side of a game before the actual mechanics are introduced. Hardcore LitRPG seems like an extremely niche category not meant to have widespread demographic appeal; it’s meant to draw in those old Dungeons & Dragons and MMO players. I never got into PC gaming, with the exception of The Sims and the wildly entertaining Theme Hospital. I was strictly #TeamConsole, and PCs were generally the platform for MMOs. I remember the first time I got a trial disc in the mail; I believe it was EverQuest. It looked amazing at the time, but it required a subscription and A. My mom was not going to pay this for me and B. She also didn’t believe in putting her credit card online back then. -.- That would have been my PC gaming induction and I missed it.

Chaos (un)Controlled brings gaming elements into a real-life story, but could just as easily be bringing real-life elements into a gaming structure. It purposely creates a realistic world and a dream-like setting side-by-side, putting a magnifying glass to each world and blurring the edges. But I can’t call it LitRPG. Rixa doesn’t sign in with her avatar and follow a strict numerical hit-and-attack point system. She’s not hooked up to the OASIS online. She doesn’t battle harpies and goblins and griffins. She harnesses an internal power driven by focus and emotion. She crosses planes bringing her real life and fantasy life together.

While a LitRPG summary like “involves a character submerged into an alternate reality where characteristics of a role playing game are inherent,” is enticing and almost seems perfect, Chaos (un)Controlled’s storyline seems far different from novels with that genre tag. For now, I continue to remain the lone wolf on the sidelines. YA Contemporary Science Fantasy it is.

Ninja out.

*Fades into the shadows*

(Ya’ll remember fading in chat rooms, right?)

~Tael

Dat Writer Professionalism

Self-publishing should conjure up a desert wasteland backdrop with a hooded figure in black creeping along the outskirts of society. You’re avoiding big corporate publishers and taking your book rights into your own hands! You’re a rebel. You’re a revolutionary! You’re sticking it to the traditional industry route and to hell with all the rules!

Except, no.

The self-publishing world is not as vagabond as it once was, since the road to stand out amidst the millions of other indies who believe in their work is pretty similar to the corporate publishing route.

But I wanted to be an OUTLAW like one of these guys!!

Outlaws

Unfortunately, self-publishing may not give you the badass points you were hoping for. Remember, there’s a widely accepted code of conduct and professionalism for the most success, to help you stand up against those big-name publishers. My approach so far has been to be chill about it, like Spike Spiegel, because who didn’t like Spike Spiegel?? He remained composed, kicked so much ass because of it, and always came out on top. Until…you know.

Months ago, I tried to reach out to a website about possibly listing Chaos (un)Controlled during it’s free period on Amazon. It wasn’t one of the traditional promotion sites; I was trying to think outside the box and it was an NYC website I’d been following for years now. Since the main premise of Chaos (un)Controlled is Rixa climbing a ladder in the New York Public Library while working there as a Page to reach University Heights, it seemed fitting. Here was their response:

NYCOnTheCheapResponse

Welp, I’d gotten many query rejection letters before; I could handle this. I could see they were trying to scold me for my Vash-The-Stampede-like approach. Was my salutation “Hey guys”? Yes. Did I ask for a shout-out from “you guys”? Yes. Did I understand their offense? Nope, not at all. I guess I wasn’t “professional” enough. However, as a long-time visitor of their site and Twitter follower, I hadn’t found their site to be particularly professional at all. The layout wasn’t quality, site updates were only occasional, and they only had about 2,000 Twitter followers, so I hadn’t pegged their business as an uber-polished establishment that necessitated a suit and tie to email them. After that response I realized if that was what they were trying to be, then forget it, I didn’t need them. My whole premise for sticking with them had been their small-business-friendly feel. I love supporting small, non-corporate entities and other indie startups trying to make it in the world. So I stopped following them and no longer visit their site. Remember, I prefer Chucks. And I’m petty.

If someone enjoyed my work, and wants to come up and compliment me like “Yo, dude, bro, guy, your writing is sick, I really dug it,” I would appreciate that to the fullest. My go-to author profile picture is me sipping from a Pokeball mug. My descriptions don’t follow the standard “So-and-so Author was born in New England where she resides with her 3 kids, loving husband and dog. She has written numerous critically acclaimed pieces that have won countless awards from the Society of Great Writers That We Respect for their Professionalism yadda yadda.” Truthtrebles.com is my “author website,” I guess. I don’t try to professionalize my profile, because I’m a person first, indie author second. I’d rather read someone’s words rather than a list of their 30 awards or New York Times Bestseller rankings. I’d rather gain notoriety for realness, and go off guns-blazing like Gene Starwind. Professionalism doesn’t inspire human connection as much as realness.  It will hinder me, but that’s fine. Because outlaws are so much cooler. Especially when they wear peacoats with Chucks. And that’s kind of what self-publishing is all about.

See You Space Cowboy…

~Tael