On the Nature of Hope

It’s come to my attention that people are shutting off their social media, turning away from the news, closing their eyes to what’s going on, or even becoming numb to the state of the world. And I get it. I’ve been fighting this fight for years. It’s gotten exponentially harder. Friends of mine are suffering. Some fear for their lives and the lives of their families. We’re tired. It’s exhausting hearing about every injustice that’s occurred. Every headline is like a cut, and it can feel as if we’re slowly bleeding to death. I’d like to point out that this exhaustion is because we all recognize something.

It’s not enough.

For all the marches and protests and donations and screaming, it’s not enough. So we shut down. It’s easier to be numb than it is to face reality, and some part of us holds onto this hope that somehow things will get better.

There is a hope that is dangerous. It’s a hope that keeps us idle, waiting for a savior that will never come. A hope that keeps us complacent. A hope that keeps us watching as the boat sinks and thinking that somehow it won’t.

But there’s another kind of hope, a willful hope, a confronting and determined hope. It’s a hope that calls you into action because that hope is a possibility, a vision, for the future. I envision a future where the Dakota Access Pipeline never comes to fruition, where all Americans have affordable healthcare, where working class people are paid a living wage, where our politicians look out for the people’s interests over their own. I also recognize that waiting for someone to come in and save us will never see that future come true.

This is an invitation, an opportunity if you choose to seize it, to get up and do something. This is bigger than you. This is bigger than me. This is bigger than all of us. So if not now, when? If not you, who? If ever there were a time to do something, it’s now.

Donate. Boycott. Protest. Educate.

This is about more than petty disagreements. We are not petulant children. The fate of our country rests in our hands, as it always has. Millions of people are relying on you, and you just don’t know it yet. You matter. You are important. You can make a difference. You can also cause great harm with your silence. It would be a disservice to your friends and family and, yes, even the world to believe otherwise. Together, we have the power to change the trajectory of this country, but it starts with you taking a stand.

Don’t look away. You are a witness to the greatness of humanity, with all its goodness and faults. Generosity is born of watching suffering with an open heart and listening into the world of another. Witness it. Look for what you can do, not what can be done for you.

And if you ever need support, I offer my hand and my heart readily. I stand with you, maintaining a determined hope. Always.

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November 9, 2016

It is November 9, 2016, 7:23 am. Seven hours ago, I saw Donald Trump win the presidency of the United States. I watched as states turned red. I watched as people of color, LGBT people, disabled people, and Muslims sobbed–many of them my friends.

7:23 am – I’m awoken by a phone call. It’s a friend of mine. He’s sobbing into the phone. His girlfriend was attacked on her train to school. Her attacker pulled her hair and grabbed her breast hard enough to leave a bruise. He called her a n*gger. He told her she couldn’t do anything about it because the president would protect him.

9:17 am – I get an IM. It’s another friend. He is Sikh. He tells me he’s in the hospital at the moment. While he was biking to work, a truck of Trump supporters swiped him with cheers of “Make America great again!” He has a broken femur and three fractured fingers. He sends me pictures. I feel sick.

10:41 am – My Chinese professor stands in front of 40+ stony-faced students. 80% of them are people of color. She asks us to stand in a circle and hold hands. We share stories. We cry. We’re afraid, but there’s comfort in having each other. I tell them about my friends. They hug me. We cry some more.

12:07 pm – Another friend texts me. She wants to be proud as she wears her hijab today. But it was torn from her head.

2:44 pm – Six of us students find the will to make it to class. We discuss what’s to happen next and what we can do. No one really knows where to go from here.

4:47 pm – Friends of mine who supported Trump tell me I’m being dramatic. I tell them about the friends who’ve been hurt. They say not all Republicans are like that. I agree. But my friends were still attacked. More people are being assaulted. I ask them to defend those of us in danger. They agree. I ask them to defend us politically, even when Trump says they shouldn’t. They don’t think Trump would really follow through. I show them his 100-day plan. They look perturbed.

6:45 pm – People say nothing’s changed yet. But things have changed. My friends bleed. They are afraid for their lives. The world may not be ending, but I must confront that many people, people close to me, could die from hate crimes.

7:36 pm – A white friend says that he plans to move to Canada. I ask him not to. We need his support.

It is November 9, 2016. We are Americans before we are Democrats or Republicans. All of us need to protect our people–especially our people of color, our Muslim brothers and sisters, our LGBT people, our disabled, our women and children. They will be targeted. Democrat, Republican, or independent–we need to support each other.

It is November 9, 2016. I am a queer person of color. This is my country. And I will fight for it.

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A Writer’s Guide to Understanding English Grammar

Firstly, you can’t understand English grammar. Like all languages, English is constantly evolving. Many hundreds of years from now, English as we know it will have changed beyond recognition. That being said, you probably came here to learn the standard English we have right now, based on arbitrary rules of “correctness” assigned by a group of white guys wearing funny hats who tried to fit the standards of Latin (a Romance language) with English (a Germanic language).

I mean, look at these guys:


Those are some funny hats.

1. Read an ESL grammar book 

This is a tip I got from another editor, Anya Kagan–she’s awesome, and you should check her out here–and it’s the best advice I’ve gotten. What’s great about ESL books (English as a Second Language) is that they come from the position that the grammatical structures natives take for granted are new concepts. Because of this, ESL books not only take time to explain the finer points of English, but don’t use over-complicated verbiage (“big words”) to explain grammar. Native speakers rarely take the time to analyze English, and in truth, they don’t have to. They speak their regional variant(s) fluently and can navigate social waters well enough. Culturally, there’s this concept that “proper” grammar equals “formal” speech, so native speakers rarely have to follow the grammatical “rules” those white guys with the funny hats said were correct. In this instance, I’m talking specifically about American and British English, but chances are the current standardization of grammatical rules in any variation of English was made up by a bunch of white guys with funny hats (because, you know, Britain and that whole world domination/ colonialism thing).

2. Get familiar with some linguistic terms

Someone once told me that the only reason we failed to understand something was because we read a word we didn’t know, and instead of looking it up, we kept reading. Everything after that became gibberish, and eventually, we decided the subject wasn’t for us. With that in mind, I insist you become familiar with the following terms:

  1. Word classes (parts of speech)
  2. Noun
  3. Pronoun
  4. Verb
  5. Adjective
  6. Adverb
  7. Subject
  8. Predicate
  9. Verb tense
  10. Comparative
  11. Superlative

I know it seems like a lot, but I promise you’ll be proficient with these after an hour or two on Wikipedia and Dictionary.com. Pinky promise.

3. Get familiar with your regional variant

American English is different from British English, which is different from Irish English, which is different from Indian English, which is different from Australian English. And how many English-es are there? A lot. And they’ve all got their own rules. I don’t want you to memorize all of them–unless you want to. For the purposes of this step, I’m just going to insist that you know your own English variant’s rules and remain consistent with it. (Ex: Using “color” in American English, rather than “colour,” which you’d find in British English.) There’s flexibility with the rules in some cases. For those, it’ll be a stylistic choice on your part.

4. Learn punctuation rules

Perhaps the more rapidly changing aspect of English, punctuation rules can be a bit tricky. Where you place commas can change the meaning of the sentence, and there’s been controversy over punctuation rules, such as with the Oxford comma. I’m personally fond of the Oxford comma to avoid mishaps like:

I love my parents, Steve and God. 

Now, your parents might be Steve and God, but we shouldn’t be left questioning that. You’ll find people who firmly believe the Oxford comma is erroneous and that it should never be used, but really what it comes down to is your stylistic preference. Just remember to be consistent and read up on all your punctuation.

5. Don’t be a Grammar Nazi

It took me several years to stop correcting other’s grammar (unless I’m being paid to do that). I mean, I was righteous about it, and the only reason I stopped was because I took a linguistics class that explored the history of English and how it evolved. “Proper grammar” as we know it was made purely as another way to belittle the largely uneducated lower class who didn’t speak like the bourgeoisie. (Remember those white guys in funny hats I was talking about? Yeah, they were highly educated professors who often came from the higher classes.) Policing other people’s speech is just about the most pretentious thing you can do, and there’s absolutely no reason for it. If someone says, “Where you at?”, because that’s a colloquial phrasing, keep your opinions to yourself. That whole “don’t end a sentence with a preposition” thing came from the white guys with the funny hats who tried to impose Latin rules on a Germanic language. So don’t be a Grammar Nazi.

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Bizarre Prompts No One Should Use

1. Time has a mind of its own.

Character A builds a time machine. Character B has given said time machine a sense of humor. So when A tries to use the time machine, the machine only pretends to transport them to another time, and B pretends to be a member of said time, so as not to tip A off.

2.Mosquitoes are liars.

Character A is an intelligent mosquito capable of speech. Character B is a boring human. A has taken up the habit of whispering relatively believable lies in B’s ear at odd times.

3. Shooting stars are tired of your shit.

Character A makes a wish upon a shooting star only to hear it yell back that they should lower their expectations. Character B may or may not be the disembodied voice yelling.

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Tips on Writing an Invented Culture

What is culture? Those of us in the anthropological community may define culture as a common set of practices, beliefs, attitudes, and lifestyles within a group of people that is passed on through generations. Many writers, especially fantasy writers, will take on the challenge of designing an entire culture. As someone who’s studied anthropology, I’ve made this article to address common pitfalls with designing culture and how to avoid them.

1. Don’t use your own culture as a point of view in your narration.

As humans, we tend to have a mindset that there’s an “us” and a “them.” Seems obvious, right? I have my culture, and then there’s the “others.” This is the easiest trap to fall into when you’re designing a new culture, and it is blatantly obvious in writing. An easy way to identify this is if you find yourself explaining cultural practices more often than your character(s) engage in them. If your character is part of that culture, they’re not going to have a concept of us v. them within their community. They’ll think like all humans do when acting within their own culture–with an attitude of “that’s just how it is.” Your writing should reflect that. When a reader asks themselves, why are these people eating their dead relatives? The character(s) within that culture shouldn’t have anything to say on it because it’s not even a question until an outsider asks why.

2. Do study other cultures.

Your culture isn’t the only one, and if you haven’t studied cultures that aren’t yours, chances are your worldview is limited by that. For instance, I didn’t think anyone had the cultural practice of consuming their dead, but there are a several cultures that do. Their reasoning is that they want their deceased loved one to return to the community in some way. After someone dies, the community will typically burn the body and cook the ashes into different dishes that the community feasts on. So study different cultures. You might be surprised by what you find and get inspired. Just try not to be ethnocentric–making the cultures wrong for their practices or shaming them. Your culture probably seems weird to a lot of people, too. (Why all the flags, America? No one needs that many flags.)

3. Don’t ignore regional variation.

Culture isn’t fixed. It’s constantly evolving, and like everything that evolves, you’re going to find variation. The culture of the southern United States, for instance, is vastly different from that of the north. In fact, the culture of eastern San Francisco, California is different than western San Francisco, and that’s just in one city. Keep this in mind when you’re designing your culture because, realistically, one nation isn’t going to have exactly the same practices and cultural traditions, especially if you have things like frequent immigration. Actually, this is just a good thing to remember in everyday life. My southern Vietnamese grandfather would burst a blood vessel if someone claimed he was northern Vietnamese. Not all Vietnamese people are the same, and a lot of us southerners still aren’t over the fact that Saigon is now “officially” called Ho Chi Minh City.

4. Do study a bit of linguistics.

Just a little. If you’re designing a new culture, you have to design a new language, as well–at least, a little bit. In fact, many of us in the anthropological community separate different cultures by linguistic distinctions. I had the opportunity growing up to experience the difference in spoken Southern Vietnamese from a majority of my family, Central Vietnamese from my grandmother, and Northern Vietnamese from popular Vietnamese media. The various dialects of the country also reflected cultural differences amongst them. Central Vietnamese takes its accent and some words from aboriginal people who were present before modern Vietnamese people. Southern Vietnamese also has roots in Khmer, a Cambodian language. Similarly, word choices can reflect what cultures place value upon. For example, many people have heard claims of Inuit people having several words for “snow.” While they don’t have as many words as people think, they do have quite a bit more than English, and these words are actually used to describe different types of snow–powder snow, new snow, firn, etc. This linguistic emphasis on snow makes sense considering the people who speak these languages live in cold environments where it would be important to differentiate between snow types. Including linguistic elements to your created culture adds to its depth.

If you have any questions, leave them in the comments, or shoot me a message.

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Writing BDSM (For People Who Aren’t in the Community)

If you aren’t into BDSM, chances are your best understanding of it comes from 50 Shades of Grey. The only thing 50 Shades exemplifies is how NOT to write BDSM. So strap in (pun intended) because I’m going to lay out how to write BDSM correctly.

1. Safe, Sane, and Consensual (SSC)

This is the first tenet of BDSM. Any responsible Dominant or submissive will follow SSC, and you’d do well to write this into your work, especially if experienced players are involved. I’ll break this down further for you.

  • Safe – This first principle is about ensuring that all players involved play with safety in mind. That is to say, STDs, mental health, physical health, activities, and safewords have been addressed, with the appropriate accommodations made. “Safe” ensures that, regardless of the intensity of the scene, all players walk away only with the harm they desired.
  • Sane – This second principle is no less important than the first. The power dynamic between a Dominant and a submissive is one built on trust–trust that all players involved will play responsibly, especially the Dom. As we often like to say, the Dom has the power, but it’s the sub who controls it. A Dom only has as much power as the sub is willing to entrust. Any Dom who takes power that hasn’t been given freely is an abuser.
  • Consensual – Perhaps the most important of the three, this principle ensures that a scene never becomes forced. If it’s not consensual, it’s not play. It’s abuse; it’s rape. All activities need to be agreed upon, and if a safeword is said, that’s the end. No questions asked.

2. Safewords

Firstly, safewords are signals used to either affirm, slow, or end BDSM play. Everyone has different preferences for safewords, and it’s up to you to decide how you want to incorporate that into your work. Just remember to incorporate it into your work. Safewords are not optional.

Different types of safewords:

  • “Stop” safewords – These safewords are meant to end the scene, and they have to be something one wouldn’t normally shout in bed. You’re probably familiar with these safewords. They’re the most commonly talked about in literature, and what we commonly refer to when we “safeword out” of a scene.
  • “Traffic” safewords – These safewords follow a “red light,” “yellow light,” “green light” structure. Sometimes they’re just the colors red, yellow, and green. Sometimes people use different safewords with the same structures–as in “red” is “stop”; “yellow” is “slower” or “I’m about to red”; and “green” is “keep going.” Green is typically used when a Dom is checking in with their sub. Some Doms and subs may choose to replace the colors with personalized safewords, like using “Los Angeles” in place of “green.”
    • Ex: D – “Where are you?” s – “Los Angeles.”
  •   Safe signals – Sometimes a scene prevents the sub from talking, such as when a ball gag is being utilized. It’s a good idea in these situations to have safe signals.
    • Ex: Three grunts, a dog trainer’s clicker, hand signals, glow sticks, Dom places hand in sub’s periodically and waits for a squeeze to continue or stop, etc.

Note: Yes, Doms can safeword, too!

3. Scene Negotiations

Perhaps one of the easiest and most fun parts of writing BDSM, and E.L. James still fucked it up–scene negotiations are (you guessed it) the negotiations players have about an upcoming scene concerning what activities they are willing and unwilling to do. A lot of romance writers outside of the BDSM community think writing negotiations are boring. In truth, negotiations are one of the most fun parts of BDSM. They’re like the teaser trailer to the main event, and it’s your job as the writer to make negotiations fun for everyone. Make jokes about shared likes. Use the soft and hard limits to add to character development. Negotiations are hot–like foreplay.

Here’s a checklist you can use to get started, and remember negotiations are not optional–like safewords.

4. Soft and Hard Limits

A limit is anything a player is hesitant or unwilling to push. A soft limit is a limit a player might push, but generally is avoided. A hard limit is a limit that must NEVER be pushed. Ever. If a hard limit is intentionally crossed, that is abuse because it has already been agreed upon that it is a hard limit. It would be a huge violation of trust. Similarly, a soft limit must never be pushed unless with explicit permission.

This is obviously an incomplete list, but it’s just for beginners. If you have any questions for me, don’t be afraid to ask in the comments or shoot me a message. I promise I don’t bite (unless you want me to).

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When You Need to Revise Heavily

There are very few writers (arguably none) who can write a perfect first draft. Some of us revise just a little. And some of us revise so much we end up with a story completely different from the original. Wherever you fall on the spectrum, chances are there will come a time when you need to heavily revise your story (e.g., major plot changes, adding/removing characters, changing the setting, etc.). There are few things more painful than turning your story into something different–sometimes entirely different–so here are a few tips on staying sane through this process.

1. Don’t act like it’s plastic surgery.

You’re not enhancing your stories lips or sucking out its cellulite. It may seem like that right now, but any time you approach revising as making your story “prettier,” “better,” or “more,” you’re going to end up with a weirder looking version of what you already have. This is not plastic surgery. A better (and easier) approach is to think of the story as a puzzle with extra pieces. Right now, you’re using pieces that weren’t meant to be there. It either looks like a science experiment gone wrong or a picture that just isn’t quite right. That’s because the extra pieces are taking up spaces that were meant for something else. It’s your job to take out the extras and put the right pieces where they should be. That may also mean not replacing pieces or creating entirely new ones.

2. Experiment.

You got into writing because you liked it (hopefully). So have fun. Try out new ideas. Take out old ones. See what adds to your story rather than hinders it. Experiment with ideas. Sure, some things might explode, but maybe that’s what you needed all this time. Don’t be afraid to try something new. If it doesn’t work, get rid of it. This is your story, and it doesn’t have to look any one way.

3. Cut everything you hate.

I really mean this. Everything you don’t like about your story needs to go first. Don’t try to change it. Don’t try to make it better. Just cut it out. You’ll feel like a weight has been lifted off your shoulders. Trust me.

4. Get at least three opinions on the gray areas.

You’re going to have aspects of your story that you’re not in love with but aren’t sure you need to cut. Get at least three opinions on these areas before you cut anything. Chances are someone is going to see the gold in it that you couldn’t, or you’ll be met with overwhelming indifference. In the case of the former, see if you can add more to the gold. In the case of the latter, cut it. Your story doesn’t need dead-weight.

5. Get a partner…or two…or ten.

Get someone you can bounce ideas off of. The more people you have, the more ideas you’ll get. I know; I know. You want to hole up in your house and keep your mess of a story to yourself, but I promise the sun won’t kill you, nor will letting people read your work. Part of becoming a better writer is taking criticism. It’s also disagreeing with criticism. Get people to do some of the brainstorming for you. The ideas you can both agree on and that light you up are going to be the best ones.

6. Keep writing.

Sitting idly will get you nowhere. You can think up entire novels, but that won’t make a difference in reality if you don’t sit down and write it. Even if it’s just a couple notes on your phone, write something.

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