Disequilibrium

Disequilibrium can be a gift. Great art doesn’t come from comfort Delilah S. Dawson

For a writer or an artist, disequilibrium can definitely be gift.

I think about the ways I’ve challenged myself as a writer in regards to the some of the themes/subject matter in my next novel.

The challenge was not so much in dealing with the topics themselves. The challenge for me was not to allow anybody to negatively affect the story I wanted to tell. The minute I allow anyone to hold me back from being faithful to my characters’ stories, I have done a disservice to them. I would not have been faithful to them.

So far, I’ve been fortunate in not having to wrestle heavily with anybody’s concern about the language (i.e. swearing) that I use in my writing. When I started figuring out and exercising my literary voice, I had the odd person express their discomfort in how freely I used coarse language.

All that tells me is they have a limit to what they’ll tolerate in their reading material. I’m fine with that. But let’s be clear – I’m not changing a fucking thing just to make my writing more palatable for one person or anyone who has a ‘delicate constitution.’

So, either let your toleration levels limit you or gird yourself and see what else I have to offer as a storyteller aside from turning the book pages a beautiful jewel-toned shade of blue.

Reining in or dialling back my creativity means reining in or dialling back who I am. If you want milquetoast, you’re not getting it from me. You’re more likely to get nothing but murderous silence from me. And that’s not a good thing.

If my unbridled creative tendencies to have my characters swear like a mad motherfucker (among other things) turns your stomach, I would like to say thanks for trying to read my writing, and have a nice life.

Disequilibrium can be a good thing for the reader. As a reader, I like to be sucked in and challenged by the author. I’m saying “Bring it on. Do your best to wreck me.” I have mentioned I have masochistic tendencies in previous posts, right? Well, I bounce between masochist and sadist, to be honest.

So as a result of the kinds of stories I’d like to and want to tell, I can’t help but inevitably make life interesting for anyone who is willing to read my stories.

When I decided I wanted to try my hand at fiction writing, I didn’t set out with the intention to make people uncomfortable with my storytelling. I just wanted to figure out how to tell a good, if not great, story.

But it’s starting to look like I’m comfortable with the uncomfortable. I seem to have a tendency to want to explore things that some folks might have set specific boundaries regarding anything uncomfortable. My willingness to ‘go there’ with certain topics probably makes some folks nervous. But as an artist, the uncomfortable is interesting, exciting, probably unnerving and makes my imagination gleefully unruly and chaotic.

To be honest, an unruly, chaotic but focussed imagination is my happy place. That’s what it’s been like for me and my characters since I started writing the second novel. My happy place is untouchable. And yeah, life’s bumpy roads have tried to pry me away from my happy place in the past. That’s when disequilibrium had become too much, too heavy, and threatens my happy place. That’s when I get unruly and maybe a little too feisty to handle. At that point, I’m pretty much ready to fight anyone who gets between me and my happy place. Actually, I would do more than just fight.

I’ll just leave that thought right there.

Great art doesn’t exist solely to make the viewer or the reader feel good about themselves and about the world around them. Great art will also ask the tough questions. Great art will make the grotesque beautiful. Great art will make you think and ask questions. And great art will challenge you.

Through words or through images, those are some of the reasons I embrace disequilibrium and push myself to create.

Look of colour

Characters of color are crucial but are not a replacement for creators of color — Saladin Ahmed

The first time I became aware that I was deliberately including a character of colour in my writing was when I started writing The Raven Sonata.

The female lead character is Chinese/French-Canadian. Another female character is Chinese/Scottish-Canadian. Yes, I have a thing for interracial or biracial characters. I just naturally lean towards them.

Maybe deliberate is a strong word when it comes to my first fiction novel. I didn’t set to deliberately, to purposefully choose to have one of the lead characters be a character of colour. It just happened. 

After that, I became more aware of the issue of representation in the arts and entertainment industry. I’m not sure what category writers/novelists fall into within the industry but I made a point to tell the stories that included characters of colour.

It was also during that time I became aware of how I really felt about representation. How representation affected me when I was growing up. I grew up in a neighbourhood and in schools where ethnicity was everywhere. But on TV and in movies, ethnicity in lead characters were slim to none. 

Anyway, I won’t harp on that. I’ll leave that to those who know the history of representation.

During the writing of the second novel (don’t worry, I will reveal the title of the book when the time comes), I realized that none of my characters are ‘white’. But given the storyline and the setting, its not surprising that there isn’t a caucasian character. I suppose you could insert one, but why? I didn’t think it needed it. Also, it was a question that never came up.

I’d rather not think about the ethnicity of my characters but it seems I eventually have to. But I don’t think about it until I’m well into writing the story. That’s what happened when I was writing the second novel. My reaction to what I had done? I shrugged my shoulders, thought it was interesting and went back to writing. I didn’t care to ‘whiten’ anything. And in the same token, I didn’t vigilantly stay ethnic to avoid ‘whiteness’.

I think, for the most part (but I could be wrong), readers don’t notice these things unless they’re wired that way or taught to notice them or someone brings it up and then it becomes a footnote or a trivia question somewhere down the road. 

I don’t put extra emphasis on ethnicity when I’m creating my characters. To be honest, my characters decide their ethnicity and who they are. They tell me and I roll with it. I may refine the small stuff but, on the whole, the question of the ethnicity of a character has already been decided for me.

Other factors go into creating a character, ethnicity is just one piece of the puzzle. But it is an important piece that shouldn’t be overshadowed by everything around it or overshadow everything else. There is a balance. What that balance is, I have no know idea. I go by instinct.

The stories I tell and will tell in the future, and the characters who inhabit and will inhabit these stories, are framed by my experiences, my hopes, my dreams and my desires. They won’t be to everybody’s liking. And I really don’t give a shit.

But as a person of colour (if one wants to think in those terms), I believe my voice should be out there, along with other creators of colour. How loud my voice will be depends on who is willing to listen. I can’t make people listen to me. I don’t plan on making grand statements. Too much responsibility. Plus, I’m not narcissistic enough for that bullshit.

I just have stories to tell. I have characters whose voices want to be heard. Like me, they’re happy to have the ear of one person or a hundred people. 

Just being me

I find that labels are the worst thing in the world for artistic expression – Ornette Coleman

Underground. This is a word my writing mentor used to describe the second novel I’m working on. Initially, he thought I was writing in the crime genre. After reading the last excerpt I sent him (he’s essentially read 80% of the draft), he has removed the crime genre moniker and replaced it with ‘underground.’

I could not be fucking happier. If you have to label my work as a fiction writer, label it underground. I don’t care to put labels on what I do, but apparently, society demands labels on people, places and things in order to bring forth the appropriate reaction to what’s in front of them. So, if I must label my work, then I will label it ‘underground’ just to shut everyone up.

For those who need a little clarity on the definition of underground in this context, here it is courtesy of Urban Dictionary. I had to correct the grammar. I have no idea who submits stuff to Urban Dictionary but I really like this person’s take on ‘underground’:

Underground is about passion. Of course, the word is misused and abused. A true underground artist will create music/art from the heart as opposed to something tailored to a commercial market… Underground artists can have a long career out of the often destructive gaze of mainstream media…

There are people who are good, even great, at following the rules. I’m very competent at being a good citizen. I’m a decent photographer. I’m a decent CrossFitter. I’m a decent dressage rider. I’m decent at a lot of things.

But when it comes to writing — fiction, in particular — I want to be the best I can be. There is still lots of room to grow and develop to do in that regard. Being the best isn’t measured in the number of books I sell — although it would be nice to sell a boatload of books. But that’s not the brass ring for me. It’s about being able to tell the best story I capable of telling. It’s about becoming a really good, and hopefully great, storyteller.

For me, being a storyteller isn’t about understanding the various genres that inhabit the literary world and adhering to their individual conventions. I see conventions as rules. Are they rules? Guidelines, maybe. But they feel like rules to me. While I’m pretty competent at following the rules. It’s been hard to abide by any of the literary genre conventions that have popped up in front of me.

Why should creativity and artistic expression operate within a box of rules or conventions? I’ve proven to myself and to my writing mentor time and again that following my gut instincts has served me well in my development as a writer. My instincts couldn’t give a shit about conventions. When I dive into the art of storytelling, the last thing I give a shit about is genre conventions or genre, for that matter.

The sign says ‘Go right.’ I spray paint the words ‘fuck you’ on the sign and go elsewhere. It’s not a blatant show of rebellion on my part. It’s just I can’t abide by it. My instincts won’t let me. There are people who thrive under conventions/rules. I’m not one of them. I know whatever I create by following conventions will be subpar. It won’t be the best I can do. I’ve tried. It hasn’t happened.

But leave me alone to focus on storytelling with the barest of rules — i.e. make sure the story has a beginning, a middle and an end and loaded with complex, interesting characters — and I will to explore, experiment and discover to me heart’s content. Free to create something I would be proud to have my name attached to.

It seems labels are necessary. For better or for worse. Labelling creativity shouldn’t be necessary. In fact, it’s harmful.

I was talking to a friend yesterday evening. I keep nagging him about going out for coffee and catching up since we seem to see each other every six weeks or so. A little more frequency would be nice. We talked about the label of ‘underground.’ He gets where I’m coming from as an artist, as a writer. In the important ways, we’re very much alike. He likes ‘underground’ as a label applied to me and my writing and the way I look at life. I like to it, too. A lot.

So, if you feel compelled to label me because you don’t know what to make of me or my work, label me underground. I won’t bite your head off for calling me that. I’ll thank you if I’m in a good mood.

Ultimately, underground just means I am being me.