I think a lot about diversity both as a queer woman of color and as a creative professional. It’s one of the things that keep me awake at night. In my original writing I have a few firm rules I follow:
1. If 10% of the population is LGBT+ then a minimum of 10% of characters should be LGBT+. Strive for more.
2. Just because a story is happening in a historical setting doesn’t mean diversity ceases to exist. People of color, LGBT+ individuals and the disabled didn’t magically spring into existence in the 1980s.
3. Representation doesn’t have to be a plot point or a major bone of contention within the story but it does have to be explicit
I like to think that those are good rules of thumb for me, especially with the amount of historical fiction I write. I’m sure other writers have their rules and ideas of how to make their writing more diverse. Those rules aren’t what keep me up though, at least they haven’t since I created them. What keeps me up is when to subvert common tropes and when to keep them.
In a piece I’m working on long-term I have a character who has died since draft one. Recently I made the decision that one of his compatriots will die in his stead. There’s every possibility that will change again in a future draft or it might not, but I agonized over the decision for days. I didn’t have a problem killing him when I first wrote the story- I also didn’t know he was into men when I started writing the story. It took me a long time and a lot of character searching to make sure my decision about not killing him wasn’t related to LGBT+ characters having the tendency to end up with unhappy endings and was in fact related to the betterment of the plot. Ultimately, I decided it was, by and large, for the plot.
There’s always room for diversity. There’s always room to learn about things we don’t have innate knowledge of. As a writer I want to push the envelope and challenge stereotypes and give the reader an story and an ending they might not expect. Writing historical fiction adds an additional layer of challenge- respecting the people you’re writing about while still maintaining historical accuracy. That’s what keeps me up at night. When characters do things I would never personally approve of or trying to make sure I’m not subverting tropes for the sheer purpose of subverting them (which has its place too). Creating diversity in my writing is the easy part- making sure that diversity is done correctly and for the right reasons at the right time in the story is the hard part.
Unfortunately during my last bad anxiety week also happened to be a deadline week. I accidentally quit my job. And by accidentally quit my job I mean almost as soon as I had my head on straight I realized not communicating with my boss and having my contract severed was not a good thing. In addition to creating a situation I’m going to have to make the best of through some creative self-publishing probably it also got me thinking about the stigma regarding mental illness, more so than usual.
I try very hard to not think of myself as a victim of mental illness, that it’s something I can work with. Anxiety isn’t something that’s ever going to go away for me. There are times where going out and spending all day in a coffee shop or thinking of actually doing something about the many ways the local library has failed me isn’t that bad but there are also times where the thought of going to the grocery store is enough to make me go back to bed. Too many people, too much noise, too much interaction.
Working freelance doesn’t exempt me from the decision of whether or not to disclose my illness to my boss. How do you say hey I might need to ask for an extension on this three days before its due because I may not be able to get out of bed? Also I’ll probably too scared of you to ask you. Trying to explain mental illness to someone who has never experienced it is like trying to teach a cat to swim. It can be done but it’s going to take a certain amount of stubbornness and a willingness to learn. Most people don’t have the luxury of knowing that if they do choose to share that and they get fired there’s another job around the corner.
Sometimes I feel guilty writing, like I don’t deserve to enjoy to what I do. A lot of the time focusing on one project for an hour is a major accomplishment. My day in and day out is coping with just a hint of starting to learn how to thrive. It’s a hell of a lot better than it was a year ago. Daily life is exhausting sometimes and working is more so, but I can work most days. I have a hard time stopping sometimes. I’m looking for a new gig, hopefully one that’s more short term so I don’t have to worry about this happening again anytime soon. In the meantime I’m going to take the opportunity to work on my own fiction and figure out a way to balance my life better.
I just finished Sight Reading by Daphne Kalotay and even three-quarters of the way through I wasn’t entirely sure why I was still reading. Then something just sort of shifted and I got it. I understood the point. It’s ultimately these kinds of books that make me think the most and enjoy the most in the long term. What seems to be a message of a family torn to shreds and struggling to move on ends up being something quite different.
I’ve been drawn to the sort of story that does that for almost as long as I’ve been reading chapter books. I love the ah ha! moment that happens when you realize the point the author is trying to make and understand the struggles the characters you’ve been reading about for the last two hundred pages. Remy in particular hit home for me. Even if I spent half of the book feeling like I was missing something as soon as I read the last word I knew that was the point. You don’t really know what the significant moments in life are going to be until they’re gone and it’s quite nice when books reflect that reality. Sight Reading does that with a grace that’s impressive.
I apologize for absence the past few weeks. Believe it or not work’s been crazy. Well, I guess work is only as crazy as I make it but my Etsy shop is basically firing on all pistons again with nearly 20 items in the shop and more waiting to be added. Designing tote bags has taken a surprising amount of time, but I’ve been really happy with the results for the most part:
I’ve also started offering a wide array of custom bags. As always there’s also jewelry available. There hasn’t been anything new. I’ve been learning new techniques and getting into an consistent argument with a pair of mini triangle earrings. I love the design but it seems like no matter how careful I am I always manage to mess up in such a way that I don’t actually notice until I tie the last knot. Its been incredibly frustrating, but I will prevail.
I had my first foray into square stitch yesterday. It uses a lot more thread than what I’m used with peyote, but I really like the way the beads sit and the opportunities it opens up once I get the knack of it. Its definitely a lot easier to get the thread paths tangled. I’m pretty sure I’ll have to use my John James needles the next time I attempt it.
Ultimately its been a busy couple weeks- I also made my first double stranded bracelet. I’ve been looking at a variety of schools in my area and elsewhere, hoping to at least be able to expand my education that way. If you’ve gone to a jewelry design school or even just taken classes someplace awesome I’d love to hear about it (or if you just want to talk design jewelry or tote bag wise).
I told my Tumblr followers that I’d be talking about how I got into the arts, particularly jewelry design today, so that’s what I’m going to do. I’ve always been pretty interested in art, but it wasn’t until we moved when I was eleven that it really became something I was interested in. I had an awesome art teacher that year, that ultimately became the reason I probably survived that year. Its also what inspired me to choose “Folk Art” impulsively, and over the next three years in the class learned the basics of sculpting, color theory, and design (and developed a bit of penchant for corny 80s pop). During high school I got more into the theater aspect of things where I learned of practical skills- sewing, painting, as well as honed by sculpting skills and improved my creative use of materials.
That’s one of the things that I’ve carried with me through learning about jewelry design- from paper beads to hair ties. Jewelry design itself was something I stumbled onto mostly by accident and through necessity. I needed to start making some money for school (it was the summer before I started college) and was unable to get a job. Necessity became the mother of invention and I started looking for ways to use the only skill I really have- creativity. I remembered a bead weaving project I had done back in junior high and started Googling. I stumbled upon a basic bracelet making tutorial and started playing around with a basic set of beads. Needless to say my first attempts weren’t all that great, nor was the site I originally started on. Eventually I got an Etsy account and started to get a hang of beadweaving and stringing.
Ultimately there are days where I feel like my skills haven’t progressed much beyond those first few weeks (wrapped loops are still the bane of my existence), but as I expand more, both with jewelry and my 2D work I like to think my skill set is expanding more.
There’s always that person in an art museum- “I could make that. Come on its just a line.” They’re rude and insulting and no one want to go with that person. In addition to writing I work designing jewelry and have delved back into what originally got me into art- 2-D geometrically and color oriented art. Its taken about 6 hours to get one piece sketched and inked properly.
I’ve always been aware of art, of color and pattern in the world, but in the past few months its really dawned on me how much art there really is in the world. The lettering on a lotion bottle, the photography on your calendar and packages, the designs on your bags, on every product you use there’s some form of art. We live in a culture so oversaturated with art we don’t see it and don’t appreciate it. Its why “Oh you’re an artist.” is said in the same scathing tone reserved for contagious disease and why students get asked what they’re back-up plan is if they focus on any of the arts.
For me, art was always my back-up plan, what I was good enough at to get by if everything else falls through. No one expects to use their back-up plan. No one expects to succeed at it. That’s why its a back-up plan. But take a moment to appreciate the non-traditional art surrounding you and creditless artists who exist in the background of the world. Maybe desigining packaging was their dream or maybe it was their back up plan. Either way we can focus on the art in museums or what surrounds us.