I Have a Medium Account

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I have some things posted on Medium.com, now!  As my  portfolio expands, I’ll be posting my pieces, especially the longer ones, on that website.  Should you ever be curious about my creative writing, please check there.  I’ll generally post updates about my writing on this blog, but most commonly my actual writing will be posted there to avoid clutter.  You can find me at the following address: https://medium.com/@sydneyA.

Posted in Reading

Short Thoughts on “Fox 8”

"Fox 8" cover, black foxThis year, I seem to have made it a habit to read books that break my heart.  These include Monday’s Not ComingA Girl Like That, A Girl Like That, and now Fox 8.  I had not intended to have my heart broken once again by a book, especially one containing a story told in a mere forty-five pages.  This time, the story follows the eponymous Fox 8, who teaches himself to speak and uses his newfound skill to better understand the humans’ dangerous plans for a ‘mawl’ that may destroy his way of life.  In most other stories, this would lead to heartwarming lessons learned and taught between humans and the beings venturing to interact with them – one might call the movie Wall-e to mind.  Instead, I found little such happiness and lightheartedness in this book.

Though author George Saunders certainly can spin a lighthearted sentence and inject a bit of fun into a page, he spares little time for whimsical thrills and buoyant moments.  Rather, Fox 8 is fairly slathered in a growing sense of sorrow, and at least on my part, guilt.  From the very beginning, it’s clear that the reader is meant to place all emotional attachment into Fox 8.  The entirety of Fox 8 is told in the first person, and Fox 8 is a very sympathetic narrator.  He is honest and curious to the point of naïvete.  He learns to speak by eavesdropping as a human mother reads her children bedtime stories, and his subsequent attempts to write are endearing and adorable, atrocious spelling and all.  However, as Fox 8 and his skulk proceed to suffer at the hands of the humans and their ‘shopping mawl,’ this childlike presentation of the protagonist only led me to feel as though I was watching someone harm a child.  The entirety of the story, short though it might be, chronicles little more than Fox 8’s attempts to understand the ethos and pathos of beings far beyond his understanding.  The climax, suddenly horrible and told in unflinching detail, suggests that perhaps Fox 8 is too simply too innocent to understand something so horrible as humans, and that’s the worst part.

I doubt there’s a reader who can read Fox 8’s story and not sympathize with him as he explores the deeper meanings of the human ‘shopping mawl’ and the human effect on foxes.  I doubt there’s a reader who can end Fox 8 and not want to rush in and make everything okay for the foxes struggling through the story, but not a reader can because they are human.  Fox 8 cannot understand humans; he’s too good, too hopeful, too well-intentioned.  All Fox 8 wants is to understand, and the reader will want to help him, but they cannot because they are human.


Posted in writing

Grabbing the Cactus

Cactus, long thornsI’ve been having trouble facing myself in my writing, lately.  I suppose I’ve been having this problem my whole life.  I like to call it “grabbing the cactus” – just a strange term for leaning into all the prickly, uncomfortable parts of me and getting them down in writing.  It isn’t fun, it isn’t relaxing, and it doesn’t feel good, but it has to happen.  That’s where I find the truth and drive in my writing; I find it not only in my happiness but also in my sadness, fears, and disappointments.  That’s where my truth in writing is – in the spiny parts that I don’t want to touch.  It’s in the cactus.

In my experience, I’ve never had a problem looking at the ugly parts of the world.  There are so many of them, it’s hard not to write about them.  There is an overabundance of topics and horrors to cover when observing the world as it turns itself inside out.  At times, it’s easy to get washed away in all this and come to a point of completely focusing on the external.  Or perhaps it’s my own form of procrastination as I do my best to avoid the internal things I’d prefer not to look at.  Perhaps it’s my own attempt to keep everything nicely locked up where no one (me) ever has to look at all the messy pieces.

As good as it may be to never touch cacti in real life, it isn’t sustainable to avoid them in writing.  There’s too much of myself, and there’s too much of ourselves, that spills into writing to leave ourselves unexplored.  This isn’t to say that it’s necessary to put oneself through struggles for the benefit of other, so other can people can read all the hidden secrets, but it is to say that writing benefits from self-exploration.  It can never exist in a personal vacuum; it will starve and dehydrate.  It needs personal bravery to thrive, so it’s necessary to lean into the ugly parts of ourselves and expose them to the pen or keyboard, or whatever tool.  It’s necessary to grab the cactus.

Posted in Reading

Someone Look for Monday

Monday Charles was a girl who should have immediately been labeled as ‘Critically Missing,’ and yet, throughout Tiffany D. Jackson’s heartbreaking novel, very few adults ever dedicate the time to earnestly locating her."Monday's Not Coming" cover art  That task falls to Claudia the fourteen year-old protagonist of Monday’s Not Coming.  All Claudia wants is to find her best friend and know that she’s safe, but that task is filled with more obstacles than she could possibly comprehend.  There are her parents, who are more interested in politeness than asking the hard questions.  There are uninterested police officers and teachers, who don’t seem to care that Monday would never disappear for so long if she were alright.  There’s even Monday’s own family in Claudia’s way as they refuse to tell Claudia was could have possibly happened to her best friend.  For the most part, Claudia is alone in her search; in a city that should have more than enough resources to find Monday Charles, Claudia is her best defense.

In a blogpost for Epic Read’s “Real Talk” blog series, Tiffany D. Jackson discusses the disparity between how the news cycle treats the disappearances of white children versus children of color, especially those of black children.1  White children receive far more coverage, she states, than black children do, which wastes precious time for finding black missing children.  While white children are assumed to be critically missing (i.e. victims of kidnapping or foul play), black children are assumed to be runaways who will eventually turn up or return home in time, which makes them much harder to find than their peers once they are recognized to be in danger.  Claudia runs up against this same problem while trying to find Monday.  A detective disregards her concerns because he believes Monday has probably run away, and Claudia receives no help from the police at all.  Even as the months stretch on, the public ambivalence toward Monday’s whereabouts remains a theme of the story. 

In her post, Jackson mentions that she handed in a draft of Monday’s Not Coming a week before the #MissingDCGirls campaign went viral.  The campaign centered on a claim that fourteen black girls from D.C. had gone missing in twenty-four hours.  The claim turned out to be false, but the urgency it created was not misplaced.2  Its falsity did not change the fact that too many black girls were going missing while their disappearances garnered a paucity of media attention. #MissingDCGirls exposed a heartbreaking reality, one that Jackson captured perfectly through Monday Charles, herself a missing D.C. girl.  Nor did its falsity change the fact that many missing girls in D.C. felt they had reason to leave home, if they were runaways.  From cramped living conditions to abuse, many of these girls faced issues they should have had more help facing.  Jackson does not ignore this either; it’s clear she did her research in creating Monday’s character and background, and it makes the story all the more compelling to read. 

In honesty, though I would absolutely recommend it to others, this book was painful to read.  For all the reasons mentioned above, it hurt to keep going, but it also hurt to read Jackson’s beautifully accurate depiction of a desperate fourteen year-old.  At times I found myself growing frustrated with Claudia; issues that seemed so simple to me were problems for her.  I had to remember that this was an adolescent girl thrown into a nightmare where few people were willing to help her.  Claudia isn’t a hero; she’s not specially equipped to deal with this situation.  In fact, she’s woefully under equipped both in resources and even discernment and maturity.  Following her as she stumbled along, at times making brutally poor decisions, broke my heart.  At no point did I ever find it to not be compelling or unrealistic, though.  Monday’s Not Coming is not a sob story; moments of joy and love temper the sorrowful parts.  Saying this, though, the parts that cause grief come harder and harder as Claudia’s story progresses.  Jackson has not given us a happy story by any means, but she has given us an important one, so that we might go and find the Monday Charles’s in America.

1Jackson, Tiffany D. “Real Talk: Why Aren’t Missing Black and Brown Children a National Priority?” Epic Reads, 12 June 2018, www.epicreads.com/blog/real-talk-missing-black-children/. 

2 Dwyer, Colin. “D.C.’s Missing Teens: A False Number That Spurred A Real Conversation On Race.” NPR, NPR, 27 Mar. 2017, www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/03/27/521655564/d-c-s-missing-teens-a-false-number-that-spurred-a-real-conversation-on-race.

Posted in Reading

Care for the Children

"American Street" coverLately I’ve been reading Ibi Zoboi’s American Street, which tells the story of a young Haitian immigrant adjusting to life in America while trying to free her mother from an immigration detention center.  Fabiola Toussaint comes to America as a teenager in the company of her mother, but only she makes it to Detroit where she will live with her three cousins and her ailing aunt.  Her mother is detained upon entering the country.  Without spoiling the novel, I can say that the effect of Fabiola’s mother’s detention upon her emotional state is profound.  She dreams of her mother, panics because her mother is not with her, and makes reckless decisions in the hope that she can bring her mother back to her.

It’s that thought – such a prominent one in Zoboi’s story – that brings me mind to the mess America is facing today.  While it has finally been struck from official policy, no one can ignore that border officials have separated thousands of children from their parents as they sought asylum and attempted to cross into the United States.  My interest is not in discussing general immigration policy; that is a conversation for another time and often one where the difference in opinion is too great for any notable progress in just the span of a mere conversation or internet discussion.  My interest lies in the psychological toll of such separation on a child.  In the case of Fabiola Toussaint, this separation has a terrible effect on her, and she’s a teenager at the time customs officials remove her mother from her.  Even at her age, she isn’t able to immediately comprehend the meaning or consequences of such a separation.  She isn’t able to fully and comfortably adjust to the loss of her mother, and she is able to speak to her by phone at times.  She knows where her mother is, and she suffers.  How much worse could such a thing be for children who simply can’t comprehend their parents’ detention or contact them?

Throughout her struggle to see her mother released from ICE custody, Fabiola faces a considerable lack of compassion and understanding from the people around her.  Her aunt refuses to let her speak Haitian Creole, her native language, and her cousins mock the religion to which she turns to find comfort and control in her heartbreaking situation.  I personally believe that it should not be hard to offer some sort of kindness to a girl missing her mother, and yet Fabiola constantly faces mockery and hard treatment.  It seems that the people around her can’t, or won’t, comprehend that separation from her parental figure causes her enormous pain.  It would’t take much to extend a bit of sympathy or exercise a bit of empathy, but they won’t do it. 

I’ve been floored in the worst way by the widespread response to the children separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexican border.  Responses of satisfaction, self-righteousness, and outright hatred fill the internet and discussions about the morality in what is happening to these families.  These children are not Fabiola Toussaint.  By any estimation, they have it much worse than her, even with the callous treament she receives from her family.  Many of them are not old enough to understand what is being done to them; many of them may never see their parents again.  Yet, like Fabiola’s cousins, indeed worse than them, so many people have demonstrated little care and even outright pleasure at the suffering these children are experiencing.  Immigrants or not, these children are now in profound emotional pain that few people have taken steps to fix.  Many of them are babies, many of them are already traumatized from tragedies that have happened in their home countries, and some of them have suffered more at the hands of corrupt border officials and ICE officers.  No one, let alone children, should suffer as these children are. 

While reading American Street, I found myself wishing that someone, anyone really, would take seriously Fabiola’s unhappiness surrounding her immigration to the United States.  It seemed, though, that no one was willing, and so Fabiola spiraled.  In spite of her reckless actions and nights of fear, her story has a happy ending; I fear that their may be no happy ending for the children currently detained, especially since too few people seem to care.

Posted in writing

Write Your Thing

“Write this thing.  Write this thing.  Write this thing.”my writing jouornal  It’s a common mantra I chant to myself somewhere between the hours of 9:00 P.M. and 12:00 A.M., when I’m alternately scrawling notes in my writing journal and struggling to type coherent sentences and plot points into some word processor or another on my laptop screen.   Then midnight hits, at which point I commonly accept whatever I’ve done and go to bed.  Generally, I go to bed grumpy, and I wonder why I chose creative writing as a hobby, of all things.  Why didn’t I pick something easier, like alligator wrestling?

It’s not a common sight, but at 4:00 a.m. on Tuesday morning, a visitor to my apartment would have found me hunched over my laptop, writing furiously.  As a friend would call it, I was in a flow state.  My creativity was flowing freely, I was fully confident in the idea I on which I was working, and I was feeling a generally sense of satisfaction and enjoyment with my overall project.  Those nights, thankfully for my sleep schedule, are rare.  It’s more common to find me hunched over my laptop, still writing furiously but only because the ideas won’t come, and I want to go to bed.  It’s not possibly to always be in a flow state.  If it were, every write would be vying for the spot of most prolific, most well-known, and most well-paid author.  J.K. Rowling might not even be a blip on the radar.  Of course, that means writing when the ideas just won’t come, sometimes.

Writing through writer’s block is one of my least favorite things to do.  It ranks with missing lunch, needing a nap and not having time for one, and forgetting to bring an umbrella on a day where it pours.  Every little thing annoys me, when I’m writing under these conditions.  I vehemently dislike every mistyped word that I have to fix, every extended blank space left where a name or a place I haven’t yet chosen needs to be, and every moment of writing without direction just for the sake of getting words on the screen.  I’m a perfectionist; I want every word that I write in every draft to be the words that will make it to the final draft.  The idea  that I might write something imperfect or unnecessary isn’t a particularly welcome one.  Still, it’s necessary work.  There are so many ideas bound up that need exploring, and not all of them are good ones.  Some of them are pretty bad, others only make sense to me, and a few, of course, are pretty decent. 

It’s impossible to get to the pretty decent ideas and fully explore them without slogging through the mediocre ones.  For every idea jotted down in my writing journal that I’ve actually pursued, there are another four or five that will never get past my casual scribbling and bullet points.  I wouldn’t have a nearly full journal otherwise.  Sometimes the good ideas are born from exploring and expanding worse ideas.  Every so often there’s a gem hidden in the pile of false-starts and things we refuse to allow to leave the scrap pile.  Just casting things onto the scrap pile, without ever fleshing them out, ensures that even the good ideas go to the trash.  A lot of writing is just picking through trash trying to find the good bits in order to show them off to the world – which means a lot of writing is just knowingly generating trash.

Which means, of course, that sometimes it’s just necessary to write, even if it has to be done kicking and screaming the entire way through until the next session, which hopefully goes better.  So you’ll write, even as you grumble at your characters, and your topic, and your notebook, and your computer for simply existing.  You’ll write, and you’ll make yourself irritable and maybe even tired, but it will be worth it when the time spent begins to yield something in which you can truly feel pride.  So, write your thing.

Posted in Reading

A Review of “The Night Diary”

Veera Hiranandani’s The Night Diary is a heartfelt and also heartrending story of the Partition. "The Night Diary" Cover The story is told from the point of view of twelve-year old Nisha, who feels she leads a comfortable enough life.  Her life begins to crumble, though, when India declares its independence from Great Britain, and Muslim and Hindu politicians decide to divide the country.  Nisha and her publicly recognized Hindu family must now flee their home.  They live in what is to be Pakistan, and like so many families fleeing over the border of India and Pakistan, they must go to be with those of similar religion.  Nisha’s story is told through letter she writes to her deceased mother in the form of a diary.  While some letters seem only to chronicle the events of the day, most of them reveal an inquisitive yet fearful young girl. 

A large part of The Night Diary focuses on Nisha’s dual identity as both Muslim and Hindu, an identity that hampers her ability to changing world around her.  At times, she wonders if she might be accepted in both India and Pakistan.  At other times, she wonders what might happen to her if anyone outside of her family were to know the truth.  Though the conflict between Muslims and Hindus does not permeate Nisha’s familial life, it remains an ever present worry throughout the story, often manifesting in frightening and heartbreaking ways.  Hiranandani wastes little time showing her opinion of this conflict.  Kazi, the family cook and one of the most beloved people in Nisha’s life, is Muslim and commands a good deal of Nisha’s attention in her diary.  Life cannot be divided along religious lines; there are dear people to be found on both sides. 

The Night Diary also explores Nisha’s relationship with her twin brother Amil.  Amil, though Nisha’s twin, is in many ways her opposite.  At times, he offers an alternative viewpoint to Nisha’s much more trusting view of the world.  At other times, he seems just as trusting and forgiving as she is.  Hiranandani explores the relationship between the siblings, so different and yet so alike, with gentle and genuine detail; anyone with a beloved sibling will recognize in Nisha and Amil the love and companionship found in such people.  True to life, though, Hiranandani does not exempt Nisha and Amil from the pitfalls and struggles of sibling-hood.  Nisha worries over Amil’s awkwardness and writers to her mother about how she resents his inability to follow the rules.  At times, she wonders if it is Amil who attracts the hostility her family faces from other people.  Even here, though, Hiranandani is careful not to be unkind to Amil; he has his place and purpose just like everyone else in the book.

While it deals with the heavy topic of the Partition, The Night Diary is kind enough and light enough in its level of brutality and view of the world that it remains a good book for children.  Ultimately, though her family faces considerable hardship, Nisha’s view of the world still remains forgiving and hopeful.  Her story is not one for readers expecting a jaded and cold outlook on the disappointments and difficulties in life.  Through shining light on childhood resilience and hope, The Night Diary tells the story of the Partition and the division and heartbreak it caused but offers hope and new beginnings for those willing to still have faith in the world.