A message to fellow white people

There’s a lot going on in the U.S. right now. I want to take this time to make it very clear that I support the Black Lives Matter movement, and am doing my best as a white woman to be anti-racist. I’ve been more outspoken on personal social media platforms – but just so that I’m clear and consistent across all my platforms: I am committed to working on myself, working with other white people, and taking action.

While I am now doing my best to be anti-racist, I failed spectacularly in the past. I admit that as a younger person, I said and did things that hurt people of color (including black people, but not just black people), and that’s something I’m ashamed of. I behaved badly and wrongly. I’ve made concerted efforts, as I’ve gotten older, to examine my belief systems, own my shitty behavior, and commit to change. All white people need to do this.

Because here’s something that’s important for white people to understand: I never perceived myself as racist, even when I was saying and doing things that were racist. There was a huge disconnect in my head between how I perceived myself and how I was acting and impacting those around me. I thought racism involved white hoods and burning crosses. Some things I didn’t understand were racist, other things I knew were problematic but didn’t give much thought to – because they didn’t impact me.

This image (not mine, it was sent to me) perfectly explains how I once was:

Most of what I was doing was in the covert category, and what I thought racism was is solely in the overt section. Thus, a disconnect, and me being a shitty person without understanding that I was being a shitty person. That’s not an excuse, and it doesn’t in any way negate the negative impact I had on others. But it does explain why so many white people claim to not be racist but still engage in speech and behavior or support things that are racist – the disconnect between overt and covert that this graphic illustrates is part of the issue. They think not engaging in the overt is enough. It’s not.

The only reason why I’ve been able to evolve and be better is because I had that realization and have been working at continuing to learn and change. Part of practicing anti-racism as a white person is realizing that you are likely still engaging in or complicit in racism, and continuously working to root that out and change it. You may not be doing it on purpose, but it’s an intent vs impact thing – they’re not equal. Impact is what really matters. Ignorance and good intentions don’t mean you’re not accountable when you have a negative impact.

Which brings me to another important point: As a white person, being anti-racist isn’t an event – you don’t suddenly cross the anti-racism line and get a gold medal for it – it’s an ongoing, lifelong process. A lot of black people have pointed out that you can’t ever, as a white person, be 100% perfectly anti-racist. The sooner we accept that, the better we can be – because truly accepting that means learning to not get defensive when someone points out missteps and bad behavior, and being able to self-reflect, reassess, and evolve.

Listening and educating ourselves is important, but action is even more important. Educate yourself, but also…do something. Do a lot of somethings. Do as many somethings as you can, and then keep doing more. There’s a lot of good information out there about ways that white people can take action to be anti-racist and dismantle racist systems.

I’m not going to tell you where to find that information*, because one thing white people need to do is learn to do the research. Learn to find those sources. Figure it out. Don’t bother the black people in your life or wait for them to call you out – do the work yourself. That’s another important step. We need to be proactive rather than reactive.

(j/k I added a page. But it’s not exhaustive and you still need to do your own reserach.)

When the narrative just won’t evolve

They say art reflects life, and the older I get, the more I turn to it and see within the very same lessons that I’ve learned, or am grappling with myself.

I realized recently that there’s a reason why two of my favorite books are The Great Gatsby and Love in the Time of Cholera. They’re very different stories, but are united by one thing: A character who idealizes a love narrative, to the point of it becoming a lifelong obsession that never waivers.

I’m hardly a muse in the artistic sense of the word – I’m a fairly ordinary person, and quite proud of the fact. But even those of us who revel in their ordinariness can become someone else’s hinge. I was once a young person with rather literary sensibilities, and the youthful idea that I was going to be different. I wasn’t going to succumb to the quotidian world – I was going to rise above it. So when I encountered people with similar convictions, I tended to gravitate toward them – and the more outlandish their convictions, the more fascinated I became.

I smile at my younger self now. I understand why she felt that way, why many young people feel that way. But with experience comes evolution, and like many people, I evolved into the early middle ager that I am today. I have no particular regrets about giving up on those romantic sensibilities – as I have said to more than one person, there are certain things that interest me in art, but would repel me in real life.

One of those things is that person who becomes so attached to a youthful narrative that they aren’t able to let it go.

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A little faery nonsense

For a long time, there has been a strong association between faeries and mushrooms.

At night, it’s said, the faeries come out to dance around in rings of mushrooms. If there’s a full moon, they’re particularly likely to be out. If you hide in the shadows and keep very, very still, you might manage to see them and hear their strange, otherworldly music.

They may use clusters of mushrooms as a place to meet, or play, or perhaps even worship. And in those places, the mushrooms grow in a ring. It conjures up images of other ancient circular monuments such as Stonehenge. Circles are, after all, powerful symbols in many cultures, both ancient and modern. Circle dances go back into ancient times, existed in various cultures, and may have been considered sacred.

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A playlist for the longing

I think all of us are desperately longing for something right now.

The Rose II – Ola Gjeilo
Concerto for Violoncello and Strings: II. (Longing) – Dobrinka Tabakova
Illirion – Lubomyr Melnyk
Burnt – Lubomyr Melnyk Rework – Lubomyr Melnyk
Five Cycles of Minor and Major Keys – Roberto Cacciapaglia
Opus 2,5 – Dreamers’ Circus

Gjeilo sets a poem to music in The Rose – this is the instrumental version of that, a poem-as-music. Tabakova’s piece aurally embodies longing – you’ll feel this one somewhere deep under the ribs. You’ll get absolutely lost inside Melnyk’s piano, a gorgeous catastrophe that will have you soaring and drowning. Cacciapaglia is a nice cool down that will have you feeling like you’re rocking on ocean waves. Dreamers’ Circus will take you to a more playful, nostalgic place.

Bonus track: Scarborough Fair – Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra

Scarborough Fair is a middle English tune, popularized again by Simon & Garfunkle in the 1960s. In it a young man gives a series of impossible tasks to his former lover, who sets some for him in return. Then, near the end, this astoundingly pragmatic stanza:

If you say you can’t, then I shall reply
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
Oh, let me know that at least you will try
Or you’ll never be a true love of mine

We may not always get the things we long for, and our desires and needs and burning ideas may seem impossible – but at least we can try. And now, more than ever, that’s an important message.

Tower of Memories

Over the fall, a friend suggested an outing to the Tower of Memories near Denver. It’s one of those strange local sites that I wasn’t even aware existed. We were there on a particularly hot day – it’s not unusual in Colorado for summer weather to continue well into fall. I found this place impressive, cinematic, unusual…and unsettling.

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The things we replace

As a young child, I had a small music box that played Fur Elise. I carried it everywhere. It looked much like this…

My childhood one was smaller, and enclosed in plastic, but you get the idea.

A really nasty adult, who was irrationally upset by my innocent obsession, took it away from me. Years later she admitted to having thrown it out.

I can’t begin to speculate as to the motives of someone who takes a harmless, beloved toy from a child. What I can do is say that this tiny piece of heartbreak has been mended >30 years later, as I happened upon the small device pictured above and purchased it.

It’s cheaply made and slightly off-key. If you play it slowly enough, it sounds like the soundtrack of a bad horror movie trailer. But I don’t care – this silly little contraption with it’s high-pitched song has made that sad little child crying over the loss of her toy unbelievably happy. No longer a lost little ghost, that particular restless spirit-memory has been laid to rest.

It’s a small reminder that the person who took things from me can’t do so anymore. And while I can’t reclaim all that was list, I can and have recovered a lot.

On writing programs and pen names…

A little confession… Because I like to keep my identity private, I’m sometimes cagey about the details of my life, but I need to share this: The writing program I’m in is the Book Project through Lighthouse Writers in Denver. You don’t need to live in Denver to participate.

The Book Project isn’t an MFA program. You don’t get any sort of degree or certification. It’s a 2-year intensive that gives you the support you need to finish a book. There are classes, both in-person and online, three weekend intensives a year, an optional retreat, and an annual literary festival where you get to talk to agents. Through the process, you get a mentor who’s a published author who will work with you 1-1 and give you constructive feedback on your work-in-progress.

My mentor is the amazing New York Times bestselling author Eleanor Brown, best known for her book The Weird Sisters. The other mentors are equally distinguished and all awesome.

Eleanor’s fantastic debut novel.

You don’t need to be an aspiring novelist, by the way – we’ve got people working on poetry, short story collections, and non-fiction. It’s a really nice variety.

Why this feels a bit like a confession? My name isn’t really Leah Kent. I mean, it is, but it isn’t. I decided to use a variation of my legal name for two reasons:
1. I have a day job, and likely always will even if I do get published, because most writers, even bestselling authors, have day jobs or side hustles, and…
2. What I’m writing could get me in a bit of trouble professionally and, you know, I like being able to pay my mortgage.

How would you get in trouble? My novel-in-progress explores several major issues in the United States that are very political. My job requires me to not be openly political. We’re actually told to politely excuse ourselves and walk away if anyone tries to engage us in a political conversation during one of our meetings or events.

If I publish a book that takes a strong stance on the particular issue that impacts the industry I work in, it would be a huge headache for my employer. Therefore, I blog and tweet and will (hopefully!) publish under a pen name.

A note on pen names… The Lighthouse has a former literary agent on staff, who is amazing and supportive and will answer all of your questions. I asked her about using pen names, and if that’s something that’s off-putting to agents. She says no, it’s not. It’s no big deal. So if anyone else out there is considering whether to pen name or not to pen name…I have it from someone with experience that it’s totally fine.

In fact, she said that the possibility of me getting in a bit of trouble professionally and using a pen name for that reason could be intriguing to potential agents.

Keep writing, all you writers who quietly follow me. Keep going.

In which the writer is plagued by the supernatural

I don’t believe in magical thinking, and yet I find myself being careful what I say, in case my words somehow change the course of the physical or metaphysical world. I suppose that means that there’s a disconnect between what I think I should believe, and what I fear – I know I’m supposed to eschew the idea that my thoughts can influence events external to my own mind. However, I honestly fear that certain types of words or thoughts open doors to a mischievous universe that takes perverse delight in making us face what we most dread.

Continue reading “In which the writer is plagued by the supernatural”

Writing program!

I got into a two year intensive writing program for people writing books – fiction and non-fiction, though mine is fiction.

Emotions are high – I’m excited, I’m terrified, I’m confident, I’m plagued with self-doubt. The word of the week is vacillation.

I knew I wanted to do this, but I didn’t know how much I *needed* this until I got my acceptance. The need is similar to a compulsion, of which I have several – it’s that sort of feeling – like anxiety swirled with desire and sprinkled with just a tiny bit of queasiness. Looking at the first year’s curriculum is honestly terrifying – 9 classes and 3 weekend intensives.

I owe this to the 3-Day Novel Contest. It was last year during 3DN that I wrote the very first draft of my book – and it was one of those years that something magical happened. If the writing process in general is like driving through a traffic-burdened city, with lots of stops and starts and turns and merges, then 3DN is (if you do it right) like driving down a deserted desert highway in a convertible with the top down and your hair blowing everywhere.

In 2018, it paid off. I ended up with a story that…well, I have no idea where it came from. Characters just came to life, as if I swallowed inspiration and they all burst from my forehead. It was a strange experience, one I’ve had before but not for many years. It makes me understand the what the ancient poets meant when they said it was the Muses working through them. I felt as if I was merely taking dictation. The story wrote itself.

I had a feeling about that messy, complicated story that started to emerge. I worked at it months, developed a robust outline, turned in application and a writing sample…

And now, 1 year and 1 week after I began it, I will be formally beginning a writing program during which I will be doing a lot of skill-building and working toward having a complete first draft by next summer. Second year focuses on revising and editing.

I’m still a bit stunned. It feels so unreal – and I keep waiting for the universe to drop something bad on me to balance out the good. That’s how stories go, after all – the protagonist never follows a straight line. It’s obstacle after obstacle, it’s moments of doubt, it’s lots of questioning and sacrifice before they finally reach the end.

What challenges will come my way? Muses, gods, fates and faeries ~ be kind.