Saturday, October 19, 2013

Some thoughts about ageism, fear, failed posts and even more failed imaginations

Looking at the world through sepia-colored glasses
This is a failed post.

I originally wanted to write about age and ageism as it manifests in the Speculative fiction world, where protagonists skip from mid-30s to mid-80s with no in-between, and where writers like to pretend their older peers are the source of all evil in the genre.

I like to believe I had some zingers in the original post, particularly as regards complimenting the old by saying we're "young for our years" and the part where you tell us that after we die off the genre will be free of sexism, racism and everything else that is wrong with it.

HECF. Hazme el chingado favor.

The post-that-was very quickly turned into a competently phrased j'accuse that let all and sundry know it is as easy to be snarky and supercilious at 53 as it is at 23. But then I got tired.

It's tiring to repeatedly call out bias (overt or covert), and as it happens I do that a lot in my tweets, in my editorials & columns for Al Día News, in my fiction and often enough, here. And in my tiredness I realized that my sentiments about the extent of ageism in SFF could be summed up better by a meme of seven words than a blog post of 700.

The meme, as it happens, is one that I had snagged for the initial post because it contained the only character my co-participants in a panel discussion on Aging in SFF * could reliably come up with when challenged to name an interesting older woman main protagonist in SFF.

Preach it, Granny.

But enough about SFF. Let's talk about one of the root causes of ageism as we experience it here, in the U.S.: We're terrified of death.

Every grey hair, every sagging jowl, every age spot confirms that we are all slouching toward the same end. Which is probably why plastic surgery, hair dye and pop culture erasure of those who don't pass for young are so prevalent.

My mother, a Latina who could have given Granny Weatherwax a run for her money when it comes to formidable, used to say the reason there are so many old-folks homes in the United States is because Anglos don't want to live with reminders. Obviously this isn't the whole of it, nor even the main of it (nor is it restricted to Anglos) but it is part of it.

It isn't this way in all cultures.

Sugar skulls photo by Samantha Madera
A lot has been written about the Mexican tradition of Day of the Dead, much of it rubbish but some of it profound. All of it keys into the proliferation of skulls and skeletons — many of them dressed to resemble the living, others bearing our own frosted names on their bony foreheads. The home ofrendas for Day of the Dead are colorful and alive with photos, food stuffs and mementos associated with our beloved departed (as are the grave sites themselves) but the altars are as much about us as they are about our ancestors and those who have passed on. We're all represented.

My comadre's ofrenda in Mexico City
Anglos sometimes tell me they find this tradition a bit creepy,  which I find interesting given it shares Halloween's timing and some of its iconography. I think it's the real life stuff that bothers them — the names of the living on the sugar skulls; the whisky bottle my comadre includes in her ofrenda because her uncle liked that particular kind; the little stone my mother hand painted as a skull placed on my own ofrenda table from a few years back; the way the skeletons are clothed and bear the accoutrements of living (my Catrina has a cigarette held between her bony fingers).

But it is precisely the combination of living and dead, of what we do and what our departed did, that makes putting together an ofrenda such a great antidote to fear of dying. And fear of aging.

I have started to gather the items for my ofrenda this year. Selecting flowers (I'm doing safflowers and sunflowers); hunting down photos and items; dusting off my gaudily dressed Catrina from Guadalajara (purchased when I was there with my father a few years before his death) and the folk-art painted paper coffins my mother collected — all of these will sweep away the moments this year when people intimated I should cover up the grey in my hair, or rethink the way I wear my age. I've passed into that moment in which I am closer to death than to my birth — I've earned my grey hair and saggy jowls and the memories, both sweet and salt, that will crowd my ofrenda on Nov. 1.

"Death is still the terrible yet amusing entity that establishes a compromise between memory and a sense of humor," writes Carlos Monsiváis, a Mexican journalist, critic and political activist, "and between the sense of humor and the irremediable."

My ofrenda from several years ago
Memory. Sense of humor. The irremediable. Monsiváis may be explaining the persistence of Death as a motif in Mexican tradition and art, but he's also managed to articulate the components of the liminal  space we find ourselves in during our latter years. Which is why — getting back to my original failed post — it is so hard to believe SFF does so badly by aging.

Liminal spaces are beloved by SFF writers and readers: there have to be hundreds of stories that hinge on that moment on the borderland between faery and mundane world; the ritual that transforms child to adult; the step into the time machine. But not aging.

It is a failure of imagination of fantastical (pun intended) proportions. Because if SFF writers can't imagine this certain future, why would I trust them with any other?

• • •

*Kudos to Arisia for having a panel on Aging and SFF at all — they're light years ahead of other SFF conventions in this.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

A woman's work is never done: The personal is political, and the political is art

The mainstream will be discomfited, but women have long responded to social injustice with art ... in particular folk art, born of the everyday: thread, fabric, wood, paint, words....

Margarita Azurdia's sculpture "The Warriors" was created during the height of the 30+ year armed internal conflict in Guatemala that evolved into genocide and left 200,000 dead and some 50,000 disappeared.

Read my story: Collateral Memory

La superviviente 

Me habita un cementerio 
me he ido haciendo vieja 
al lado de mis muertos. 
no necesito amigos 
me da miedo querer porque he querido a muchos 
y a todos los perdí en la guerra. 

Me basta con mi pena. 
Ella me ayuda a vivir estos amaneceres blancos 
estas noches desiertas 
esta cuenta incesante de las pérdidas.

Feminist Cuban artist Ana Mendieta made art that blurred the boundaries of the self, often using her own body as the integral but temporary artistic image itself (as in the pictured "Incantation to Olokun-Yemayá" and "Untitled, Silueta Series.") Critic B. Ruby Rich says: "Her body was her art and she placed it in the ground. In doing so, she was trying to ground herself in the earth but also reconnect with the earth that she was standing on even if it was not Cuba."

Read: Nisi Shawl's Pataki

Listen: Celia Cruz's Ochún con Changó

Jesse Telfair's 1983 quilt was created when she lost her job. It strongly references Civil War era quilts patterned with abolitionist slogans, and pays tribute to the long tradition of African-American quilt making.

Nikki Giovanni

Like a fading piece of cloth

I am a failure

No longer do I cover tables filled with food and laughter

My seams are frayed my hems falling my strength no longer able

To hold the hot and cold

I wish for those first days

When just woven I could keep water

From seeping through

Repelled stains with the tightness of my weave

Dazzled the sunlight with my


I grow old though pleased with my memories

The tasks I can no longer complete

Are balanced by the love of the tasks gone past

I offer no apology

only this plea:

When I am frayed and strained and drizzle at the end

Please someone cut a square and put me in a quilt

That I might keep some child warm

And some old person with no one else to talk to

Will hear my whispers

And cuddle


Bordamos por la paz is a collective of extraordinary ordinary women (which started in Guadalajara, Mexico but now has chapters throughout the nation), who embroider a handkerchief for each death that occurs as a result of the brutal "War on Drugs" that has left more than 60,000 dead.

Stitchwork as a surprisingly popular form of protest:
During Pinochet's Chile
Get Knitted

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Nuestras Voces, Our Voices: Emerging Latina writers talk about their work - Teresa Jusino

Editor's note: this is the 12th in a monthly (sometimes twice-monthly) series of guest blog posts in which emerging Latina writers talk about their work, their process and what inspires them.

Teresa Jusino is a New Yorker who  lives and writes in Los Angeles. Her pop culture criticism has been featured on websites like,, Al Dia,,, Newsarama, and 2012 saw Teresa’s work appear in two Doctor Who anthologies: Chicks Unravel Time (Mad Norwegian Press) and Outside In (ATB Publishing), and she was also published in Mad Norwegian’s Whedonistas. Her fiction has appeared in Crossed Genres, and she is currently writing a webseries based on the short film, Incredible Girl, by Celia Aurora de Blas, which is coming in 2014.

Writing as escape

I got my first, and only, detention in the eighth grade. In English class. For writing too much.

I was working on some story the way I always did in every class — furtively, with a notebook hidden underneath whatever book we were supposed to be looking at, taking passes at writing words during a lull in class discussion, or when my teacher wasn’t looking, or when someone was asking a question…

I was good at listening to what the teacher was talking about and writing short fiction at the same time. I got straight “A’s” in English. Lay off.

In any case, I was working on some story or other and one of my best friends was sitting next to me and wanted to read it. So, I passed it to her at the exact moment my teacher decided to look in our direction. Thinking we were passing trivial schoolgirl notes as opposed to the literary genius that was actually taking place, Ms. Lind gave us both detentions.

Even honor students get in trouble sometimes. Still, it’s pretty funny that the one time I did get in trouble at school was for sharing writing in English class. That’s how big a nerd I was. I wrote so much that I got in trouble for it.

But that moment captures just how important writing has always been to me. It’s not something I can stop. It’s something I’ll willingly get in trouble for, because the alternative is worse. It’s either write or go crazy. It’s either write, or die.

However, there’s a huge difference in how I approached writing before and after I made the decision to do it professionally. I’ve been a writer since I could pick up a pen, but when I was about 10 or 11, I decided that I wanted to be an actress. I was a huge fan of Beverly Hills 90210 (the original, not the stupid new one), and I loved reading articles like “A Day in the Life on the Set!” I thought to myself, That’s a job?! Hell yeah! I like pretending to be other people! I like dressing up! I wanna do that! And I did, I joined drama club in junior high, and continued in it all through high school, eventually becoming the club’s president. I went to NYU and got a BFA in Drama from the Tisch School of the Arts. I spent a good six years after college trying to make a life as an actor.

But the writing was always there. During all my free time (and even time that wasn’t so free, as illustrated by my detention story) you would find me with a notebook and a pen, scribbling for dear life. In fifth grade, I wrote reams of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Alien Nation fan fiction, and friends would accost me during recess to read the latest “episodes.” In Junior High, I created a world of cartoon characters I called “bug people,” which eventually led to the comic strip, Cutsie-Wootsie and Friends, which told the story of Cutsie-Wootsie, her boyfriend, Hungry Boy (never w/out a hot dog in his hand to show you how hungry he was), her best friend, Maggie, and a cast of characters that lived surprisingly soap-operaesque lives for people who looked like little bugs. I drew that comic on looseleaf and passed it around to friends during French class. One of those friends STILL has them. Throughout high school, I was writing short stories and a “novel,” I submitted pieces to our literary magazine, and during my Junior and Senior years, I was the editor of the school newspaper. I was the girl who secretly cheered when teachers assigned essays, when all the other students were going “Awww, man!” In college, I was primarily there for an acting degree, but I double-majored in English Literature, because I just couldn’t let writing go.

This continued after college. I would write during auditions and play rehearsals. I would write in line for movies and museum exhibits. I would write on my commute to and from work. I would write at work the same way I did when I was at school - furtively, when I was supposed to be engaging in other things.

Writing was the best way I knew how to express myself. Despite my acting ability, I was never more clear, or more honest, than when I wrote, even when I wrote fiction, so I always sought it out and craved it.

Then I got older, and I decided to try to make writing my living.

Fiction doesn’t pay right away, so I decided to go the non-fiction route, and built a name for myself in geek pop culture journalism. For a while, I was passionate about that, as I got to write about things and people that excited me. It was thrilling, too, to chase interviews, and come up with new angles through which I could examine the sci-fi and fantasy that I loved.

But after several years of that, I was burnt out on trying to come up with new ways to talk about the same limited sphere of interests. I’d written myself into a box, and what’s worse, that writing sapped my energy from the writing I wanted to be doing.

I missed telling stories.

And yet, even now, as I work two part-time day jobs that allow me the flexible schedule I wanted so that I’d have more time to write, the writing doesn’t come as furiously as it used to. It used to be that I couldn’t contain my writing. It was how I spent all my free time. I had boxes and boxes of notebooks of things I’d written. I had several stories constantly going on at once.

Now, I wrestle with finishing one at a time.  

Writing was my way of escaping other parts of my life. Now, though, there’s less that I want to escape. When I was younger, I did a lot less participating in the world around me, and when I did I was always on the periphery, never wanting to get too involved. I was afraid, insecure. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown into myself, and become the kind of person that wants to experience everything. To me, it’s more important to tend to my relationships or try new things than it is to have a successful writing career. Don’t get me wrong, a successful writing career is my biggest goal - but not if it comes at the expense of the rest of my life. And maybe that means that success will come more slowly for me, if at all. But I can live with that.

Yet writing continues to be my truest, most long-lasting love. It’s just that our relationship has evolved. It’s not only the way I best express myself, but the way I best process my thoughts and feelings. For example, I’d never really thought about my writing in these terms before I was asked to write this guest post and talk about my writing. Suddenly, as I started to put words on a page, my feelings started making sense. More than talking, or drowning my sorrows in food and drink, writing is how I best understand myself and the world, which is strange considering that it used to allow me to hide from those things.

I don’t feel the physical need to write that I used to. It isn’t compulsive anymore. But perhaps that’s a good thing if it means I’m happier with the rest of my life. I have a balanced, healthy, adult relationship with both my life and my writing at the moment, and I’m very grateful.

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