I've updated my portfolio with some of the paintings and drawings I created in 2019. It was a year of discovering new things. You can purchase prints and other merchandise at my Society6 store.
Here's my latest article in the September issue of Family Times magazine.
Transforming Tragedies: An effort to build resilience to trauma in school
Everyone experiences distressing events in their lives. You’ve probably heard about trauma, the emotional response to these events. Our emotional reactions to these events can have long term effects on the way we think, make decisions and relate to others. Developing resilience—our ability to cope with stress—makes responding to adversity easier.
Ever been helped by someone so intent on helping you that they can't see that they're actually trampling you? Some days this feels like the story of my life. Between well meaning friends and family and dysfunctional institutional structures I often feel that my life must be like the running of the bulls in Spain. Some days I'm the bull, other days I'm a runner. In either case I'm never quite sure what the crowd of on lookers is excited about. Are they cheering for my escape or my capture? Are they looking to see if I gore someone or get gored myself? I don't know.
So where am I going with this? Should you dear reader find yourself in a place to help someone who is essentially in their own bull run make that person's experiences the center of the help you offer. Like the runner staying just a few steps ahead of a frightened bull, and the frightened bull trying to get away from the crowd, people needing help have little or no use for lectures. A well executed extraction plan and a clear path forward? Bring it.
Warrior mom is a fashionable feel-good way to refer to mothers caring for their autistic children. I've earned the warrior mom title from others for my efforts on behalf of my children. Being labeled a warrior mom has always felt strange. What I do as a mother is not above and beyond the call of motherhood. To me, it's parenting 101, make sure the kids get what they need to thrive.
Being a warrior suggests two things to me. The first is that there is something or someone to defend. I can appreciate the recognition that as a mother, a big part of my purpose is to protect my children when needed and correct unjust treatment against them. The second is that there's an enemy to fight on behalf of my children. Again, I can appreciate the recognition that there are valid threats to my children that must be actively opposed.
I'm a big fan of the sci-fi and fantasy genres. The stories are chockful of epic battles between good and evil, where ordinary people become warriors and fight to save the day. Think of those Pevensie kids running around Narnia and taking to the battlefield for the showdown with the White Witch. Spoiler alert, not everyone in the story recognized who the real enemy was at the start.
When people use the term warrior mom, I often get the sense that they aren't clear about who the enemy is or what must be protected. I've seen parents of autistic children present themselves as being in an epic battle to fight off the autism in their children. It reminds me of the misguided allies of the White Witch in Narnia who feared the coming of summer. Autism doesn't need to be portrayed as an enemy, and it's not something anyone needs to fight against. Perceiving it as such changes what people choose to protect and defend in their children's lives.
So who, or what, do I perceive as my target when I'm doing things that earn me the warrior mom title? I'm always clear that my advocacy is about changing systems and attitudes that make life unnecessarily difficult for my autistic children and the rest of my family. Unbending and punitive policies and practices? Yup, I defend my children against those. Misinformation and factual errors? Definitely fighting back against that. Inadequate services and supports? Those are the bane of my existence, like the mythical Hydra monster of Greek legend. Autism? Not so much.
Treating autism as an enemy makes about as much sense as treating nearsightedness as an enemy. I'm nearsighted and rather than fight against the shape of my eye that makes things blurry, I adapt. My glasses and contact lenses bring images into focus so that I can see where I'm going and what I'm doing. There's no angst involved. I accept that the shape of my eye means blurry vision unaided.
Autism is not the enemy. Just like other traits that I have no control over, I talk about it, and I adapt to it. I've taught my children to do the same. The last thing I want is for them to believe that such an intimate part of them is an enemy.
The Daring Book for Girls by Andrea J. Buchanan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
My family has loved this book to pieces. It has been the inspiration of deep dives into history, science, art, and many backyard adventures. There are things to love about this book and there are things to not love as much. Treat them as opportunities to open up a conversation about what matters. The title alone is a great starting point for a thoughtful discussion about stereotypes about girls and boys.
View all my reviews
In the months following my sister Sanchia's death the song Hills and Valleys by Tauren Wells made me bawl. Of course I stopped to listen to it every time I heard it. I sat in driveways and parking lots to catch the last strains before getting out of the car. It's in my playlists, which is how I ended up writing this post. The song was one of Sanchia's favorites. As I listened to the song memories floated to the surface.
Following my sister's sudden death I was in my valley, walking in the shadow of death, wondering how long it would take for the pain and sorrow of the loss to become familiar friends. Each day I found new places in my life that Sanchia used to fill. The shock of stumbling into each new empty space was a fresh new wound to my tender heart How long, oh Lord?
It has been eighteen months of getting used to finding the empty places where Sanchia used to be. No more late night "Talk me down!" sessions when everyday injustice and indifference to suffering of others grate on our collective nerves. Y'all might want to behave by the way, she's not around to talk me down when I decide the world needs to change and it needs to change yesterday. Also pretty sure a couple of internal filters broke the day I realized I wouldn't hear her laugh ever again.
I'm starting to find new strength in places once weakened by grief. Old hurts are beginning to heal. In the place of open wounds healthy flesh is beginning to grow. They are still tender, some raw to the touch. I discovered this as I tried to hold back the tears that came while I wrote this. I'm learning to let the tears fall in remembrance of a beloved sister and out of respect for experience.
These tender healing wounds will one day be supple scars, the beauty marks of a survivor. Climbing in and out of these valleys, and up and down the hills, has kept my emotional muscles flexible. Sometimes I freeze. Sometimes I stumble. Sometimes I fall. Sometimes I wipe out so bad, I'm not sure I have the strength to get back up again.
"Life sucks. Bad stuff happens. Time to put your big girl panties on." I've found a place where sis managed to stay with me. She said those words to me so many times. I've already gotten back up so many times. How long, oh Lord?
One. More. Time.
I only need to get back up one time more than the times l fall. There's treasure in the hills and valleys. It's the truth of who I am, what I'm capable of, and what happens when I get back up.
And now I'm podcasting, because promoting my first novel, Voice of the Unheard, managing a family, a nonprofit organization, a business , and several projects at the same time just aren't enough to keep me going.
Inspired by my post, shared below, for Lessons On Paper, fellow writer Ashley Soden and I discuss the phenomenon of being perceived as atypically black and what makes a black experience in America.
Give it a listen. Idea Dynamo Podcast
"You Talk White": Stereotypes in Life and Fiction
“Mom, [redacted] was like, ‘Wait, your mom’s black?’” I never know how I get into these kinds of conversations with my daughter. Usually we just blurt things out to each other.
“Last time I checked, yes.” I’m preparing for an inner Riker facepalm because I’m pretty sure I know where this is going.
“They were all shocked because they think you sound white.” Yup, that's where I thought it was going. Facepalm engaged.
“Yeah? What does that sound like?” I break out my Mr. Spock face. My right eyebrow makes a heroic effort to reach my hairline.
Twenty minutes of debate later, “Do I need to go visit your friends?”
“Please don’t.” Teenager mortification complete.
Two decades into the 21st century and people in America still say things like “You talk white” to each other. Even young people from diverse backgrounds are tripped into making assumptions about someone speaking well or “proper.” There’s a certain level of confusion over the presumed differences between what behavior and vocabulary should be and what is. At its heart, “You talk white” and all its iterations (did I just use one of the “white” words?) is a racially tainted classist observation about a person’s interests that says, you don’t fit the stereotype and it’s making us uncomfortable.
Ask someone what they mean when they say, “You talk white,” and you might get some spin about word choices or chosen topics of conversation. Because people who don’t look white don’t use those words or talk about those things? Naw, son. I wasn’t down for that as a child. I’m even less down for it as an adult.
This is where I rewrite the limited view of being black in America to include the life experiences of actual black people. I’m black. If I say it, write it, think it, do it, it’s a black thing. That’s how that works.
In the mid-1990s, on a college tour in high school, one of my peers told me, “You talk white.” I probably said something, or several somethings, that I once read in a book. I read a lot of books. The information sticks in my head and flows from my lips. But somehow, in this dude’s estimation, my way of talking was at odds with the color of my skin and the neighborhoods I grew up in. I didn’t know any other way to speak, still don’t. The vulnerable insecure young woman I was then kept to herself for the rest of that trip.
I was born in a majority black country, Barbados, where almost everyone was some shade of brown. Even the white citizens were brown, most of them having some African ancestry. I shouldn’t have been surprised that one time my very brown father pointed out a wizened little white lady on a bus and called her cousin. We talked like we were from the island, visitors talked like they were not from the island. Those of us who traveled far from home talked like we were from two places at once.
I grew up in neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens. Some of those neighborhoods had reputations. I went to high school in the Bronx, it still has a reputation. What my peers on that college tour heard, and chose to react to, wasn’t white. It was a black girl who didn’t conform to the stereotypes they knew about themselves.
My father is a preacher and a teacher. Complex words, big ideas, and a thirst for knowledge come with that territory. Growing up I retrieved books for him as he worked on sermons, classroom assignments, and his own college homework. When I got bored reading the age appropriate books in the house--all of them including the encyclopedias--I started flipping through dad’s biblical commentaries and college textbooks.
When I was old enough, I turned myself loose on the libraries and museums of New York City without adult supervision. I imagined myself in every book and exhibit. I took apart some of the household electronics, only the broken ones, to see what they looked like on the inside. I chose to go to a high school that required a two-hour commute, one way, to focus on science.
Anyone find the white experiences in there that could produce something called talking white? Me neither.
As a science-fiction and fantasy writer, I have a powerful gift that can confront or confirm stereotypes. The “You Talk White” way of thinking permeates the writing and publishing worlds as well. Black writers in the genre are tasked with “redefining” a genre they were never expected to enter. A genre where black characters were hardly ever represented as part of the fabric of the stories.
I wonder how many promising black minds have been shut down by, “You talk white?” How many black writers have never considered writing science fiction or fantasy, or worse have been shut out from getting works in those genres published because black writers are supposed to write about “black things?” Instead of black sci-fi writers finding their place in the genre, they are still on the outskirts of the “norm.” An article terming sci-fi by black writers “afrofuturism” makes me question whether these writers are finding their place in the genre. Or are they being branded with their own kind of sci-fi, one with black characters mixed with elements of “black culture.”
I’ve always loved the science fiction and fantasy genres. They never required me to be anything other than myself to enjoy them. Each world created by a writer is full of possibilities. I can be whoever and whatever I want to be in every story. But as a writer, I decided to self-publish my work. I wasn’t confident in the publishing world’s ability see past color when it came to the genre I write.
It’s a tad amusing, as in I roll my eyes because I can only take so much of this, watching the publishing world wake up to the fact that other than white people have an interest in writing science fiction and fantasy. An article in the Christian Science Monitor titled, “After Decades of Dwarfs and Elves, Writers of Color Redefine Fantasy,” praises the rise of diverse writers in the genre. I can’t shake the feeling though that this excitement about diversity goes only as far as a one-dimensional understanding of diversity, as black sci fi writers that are successful bend the stereotypes only a few notches.
I’m still giving Black Panther the side -eye for creating a technologically advanced society that determines succession of leadership by mortal combat. That part of the culture didn’t evolve as Wakanda outpaced the rest of the world by every other metric? Really?
Meanwhile, I continue to curate a vocabulary that doesn’t fit my skin color, according to some. I’ll continue to be curious about everything and craft stories based on the fullness of my life experiences. I’ve read that a good writer writes what they know. I know what it’s like to be told, “You talk white” and not be able to identify the “white” in my speech. Makes me want to flip a table.
Has anyone ever told you that you behaved in a way that differed from what they expected for a [insert characteristic or identity here] person? Do you address that in your writing? What do you do when you realize you’ve written a character who’s all stereotypes? Asking for a friend.
I take a general what happens if I do this approach to life. It keeps things interesting.