Saturday, June 4, 2011

Chapter 56: In Which I Discuss My Roots

So last weekend was Memorial Day weekend. A lot of Americans forget the purpose of this four-day-long holiday: to commemorate soldiers who have died in American wars over the last 200-some years. It's not a holiday I celebrate, because I have no investment in military culture. I would never join the army and inflict the same imperialist agony that's been done to me on other brown-skinned people. Being a young black man, I still get approached by army recruiters thinking I'm a dumb 18-year-old who wants to blow shit up. No, not interested. I've been hearing "these people die for your freedom" pretty much since the day I was born, and I've had a hard time connecting the murder and rape of children, or the acquisition of oil wells, to any freedom that I personally enjoy. I feel more of a kinship with black slaves turned guerilla fighters in the Americas than anybody who willingly signed up for the US army. I have one uncle who served in Vietnam (my father and his other brothers dodged the draft any way they could, and for that I honor them). He didn't want to go, and was left permanently traumatized by the experience. So I don't celebrate Memorial Day, since I am not a soldier and have no direct relation to the military other than anger that they fucked up my uncle. To celebrate such a holiday would be disingenuous.

I do, however, feel strongly about honoring the dead. I live in a society where the mainstream media constantly tells me that my own history is unimportant. It should be forgotten, as the remembrance of it makes certain people uncomfortable. So I have always made a point to write about black history and honor traditional black art forms, to make certain that these things are not lost. As long as I breathe, my ancestors are with me.

In addition to my obvious blackness, it is less obvious at first sight that I am a fantasy writer. It is my favorite school of writing. I exalt when it is good, I ache when it is bad, and I never stop seeing its potential to tell the truth of the world. That's how this latest tour comes in. Over Memorial Day weekend, I read at Baycon. One such reading involved Diana Paxson, who, unbeknownst to me at the time, was Marion Zimmer Bradley's co-writer and successor on the Avalon series. It's worth noting that she was part of a large pagan presence at the convention, which was pretty cool. She read a poem she did in tribute to her friend, the science fiction great Poul Anderson. I'm not going to tell the story she told about his last days, because I don't want to say anything incorrectly and dishonor it, but it was very lovely. Everyone, if they are lucky enough to know the general time period in which they will die, gets an opportunity at life review. Her talk of Anderson's was deeply affecting to me.

Later, I did a reading with urban fantasy/crime writer Chaz Brenchley. It was an interesting pairing: a debut author and a well-established one. During Q&A, someone asked us about our influences. Brenchley told a story about how he loved Lord of the Rings as a kid. One day, when he was a boy studying at Oxford, his class did a production of "Farmer Giles of Ham." Lo and behold, who walks into the dressing room but JRR Tolkien. Brenchley says he cannot remember what the elderly don said to him during their five-minute conversation; he just remembers being awestruck. Brenchley went on to write fantasy that is about as far from LOTR as you can get, but he always keeps those influences in mind.

As stated, I am not a Tolkien fan. His style of writing does not appeal to me. He is still a great, and as a fantasy worldbuiler is unparalleled more than 50 years after his trilogy came out. It is amazingly cool to think that I am a generation removed from him, or Marion Zimmer Bradley, or Poul Anderson. I am feeling a great pride in being a fantasy writer. That I can see my connections to the ancestors, even talk to those who walked with them at conventions, is an absolute gift.

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