my search for the great homeschooled novel

Back around 2011, when I bought an up-to-date Guide to Literary Agents and did market research while sincerely believing I could sell a middle grade book despite my utter distance from the literary market, I read that there was a gap in the market for book about homeschooled kids.

As a homeschooling grad, I thought (and still think) I could fill that gap. But not right now; right now, I don't know what the Great Homeschooled Novel looks like. I'll probably be fumbling towards that as I continue to write, for adults as well as for kids.

There are a couple of things that resonated with me as a homeschooled grad, and I feel like these influences will bring me closer to figuring out how to portray the experience:

  • Where the Red Fern Growswhich struck me as a kid as familiar and vivid and adventurous, same as it would strike any other kid, right? There is a scene where the wild boy protagonist comes face-to-face with a normal schoolboy from town, and someting in that scene make me realize that I was the wild boy and not the schoolboy.
  • Captain Fantastic, which I had been dying to see since it came out but have watched only recently. Based on the childhood of the director Matt Ross, the family in the movie has a particularly White Anarchist back-to-nature philosophy, but so much of it rings so true to my life. It would be easier to list the differences:
    • That we were seven siblings, not six
    • That my dad plays flute and drums, never bagpipes
    • That our mobile home wasn't a renovated bus named Steve, but a brougham of some sort
    • That my dad doesn't make fun of christians, not that much
    • That my dad would never buy us knives (wth?)
    • That we didn't celebrate Santa OR Noam but Ramadan
    • Oh, and my mom is still alive
  • The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, which I haven't seen yet. I know the show covers themes of innocence/shelteredness that I am afraid I will relate too strongly. In my mind, the set-up is too close to the narratively-ironic innocence of Room, which gets way into the darker side of seculsion from society, way into abuse and neglect. I haven't seen that either, and don't really want to...
  • Similarly, Dancer in the Dark, and the rest of Lars Von Trier's Golden Heart Trilogy. The sweetness/darkness of Dancer in the Dark resulted in it being the only movie that's ever made me cry. Having Bjork portray an immigrant who believes in Broadway musicals but gets screwed over by America is just too cruel. I haven't seen the others in this trilogy, but I got into his unfinished American Trilogy through Dogville, which smacked the martyr out of me and also killed me a bit. (It was a good idea to watch them both entering the nonprofit world! 🙂)
  • On a lighter note, I loved The Wild Thornberries, or anything else where the kids live in an RV and learn from books and nature but not teachers. That show gets special bonus points because Nigel Thornberry's job is the one I once wanted. (RIP Steven Irwin, forever love and admiration for you and your wife and your kid 💙) This was one of the few kids cartoons I could watch not set in a school, but there should be more. I like to think the lack is what drove me to anime like Pokemon, which featured preteens running wild, free of all institutions, and learning about fauna and flora.
  • I occasionally read up about the Quiverfull movement, although I have been shy of watching or reading too much about the Duggars or Jon + Kate, because of all the hate aimed at them. A lot of the homeschool movement is Christian, though, so I'm obligated to know about them as well as the anti-establishment hippies, I guess.
  • Speaking of hippies, Sufjan Stevens, but also anything related to Wardorf schoolsMontessori schools, or other kinds of alternative education. Since I really don't know how to portray school in fiction, I really have no choice but to set my child characters in settings where they have more choice, freedom, or democracy in how they learn. Oh well.
  • Anything Jaden And Willow Do Or Say Or Think Or Make Or Sing, on a similar weird-schooling note.
  • And last but not least, J. D. Salinger's Glass family stories. I can't and won't say too much about how this series affected me for fear of spoiling an upcoming project, but I know me and my siblings bonded over this series. It's already providing me a roadmap for how to write my life.

a community story

Fun facts about my apartment complex:

  • It's a nonprofit. A lot of their actions, I know from the other side of the table. Their community-building exercises are transparently an attempt to decrease crime within the building. [community volunteers chosen by staff and they get special keys and stuff]
  • It's a tough job, and I can tell because there's a lot of turnover. I really like the current staff, though (actually, I liked all the staff, but they had variable levels of competency ). One of the staff members had a hardass bootstrappy approach to the lower-income tenants in the building, and it almost seemed justifying given her experience and success.
  • It may be gentifying. I started seeing more and more cute young people in the building. A black dude moved in across the hall from me. I met a cute black girl on the stairs that I'd never seen before. I gave a Puerto Rican boy advice on moving into the area. One day I saw a student-looking white boy in the building, and I thought it won't be long now.
  • I got them a card recognizing their hard work because I could. Unfortunately (and unbeknownst to me), this was shortly after a body was found in the building. Oops.
  • I was being sexually harassed by one of the top community members, although I didn't realize at first, because I was good at deflecting it and putting my foot down. But when he came to my door with a rumor of me being male... Shoot, these facts aren't fun anymore, aren they? Oopsy!

The harassment is fascinating to me because it was basically my worst fear. It happened for the reasons I expected it to happen, reasons that could happen to anyone.

  1. TIME IS CAPITAL: I was too stressed/overbooked busy to be part of "the community" whereas he was retired with the time to clean the stairwells in the middle of the workday. So he was trusted and I was not.
  2.  AGE IS CAPITAL: I had only been in "the community" for a year or so, whereas he'd been there for who-knows-how-long.

Recently, I've been coming to terms that this is one of my greatest fears: people with greater social capital using it to dominate me. I feel like this colors my experience with community, especially my hatred of call-out culture. 

I see a lot of advocates talk about centering those most in need, but I wonder what it looks like to center the homeless and not the community organizing celebrities. Some organizers I have met (My gratitude will never wane towards a certain CEO who took time out of her day to speak with me at Sammy's Eatery.) treat everyone as equally valuable, but sometimes I see people positioned as The Voice for something and it scares me. Landing on their wrong side due to my ignorance or missteps scares me. The replication of hero worship scares me.

more on sad black girls: nervous black girls

I know it's lame to explain a piece, but still I will: There aren't many avenues for black people to express negative emotions other than anger.

Black sadness is fairly easy to find: we had blues, we have afropessimism, and even Cornell West talks a bit about black sadness. But when Chester Bennington, I saw many tributes that positioned him and Linkin Park as a necessary outlet for kids of color who didn't have similar outlets in their cultures.

This is why Kid Cudi, who helped my brothers cope with depression, had to go to rock. This is why Kanye, who helped usher a confessional form of backpack rap into the mainstream, had to come from elsewhere than the streets. #niceguy #sadboy canuck Drake is half-Jewish, so of course he's got a lot of non-black influences to draw upon when he's not borrowing slang from Toronto's Somali community or borrowing beats from the islands.

Odd Future is full of sadness, and it's been affirming for me. From Earl Sweatshirt on Burgundy to Frank Ocean's existential despair over California's consumerism. Now Tyler is on some #selfhatinggayshit and I've been listening to it on repeat.

I'm the loneliest man alive But I keep on dancing to throw 'em off

He might be gay or bi or pan or queer, who knows? I'm not super into speculating about people's labels. He'll either identify as something, or he won't, or he's just clowning, or he can do what he wants so long as it hurts nobody. Who knows?

I TRIED TO COME OUT THE DAMN CLOSET LIKE FOUR DAYS AGO AND NO ONE CARED HAHAHHAHAHA

I could go on and on about queerness and loneliness in the OFWGKTA family (I haven't mentioned Syd yet) or other sad rappers who have sustained me (like Bino. Or even Jaden's pop-philosopher androgynous-ass, who's been featured by Bino, Cudi, Tyler, and remixed Alessia Cara's introvert anthem. And then Logic goes and makes a suicide hotline song with Alessia Cara & Khalid...)

I do love that hiphop, and therefore blackness, is having this open and public conversation about LGBT identity and mental health struggles. I was watching as Cudi went to rehab and low-key hoping it would have an effect on my dad's view of psychiatry. I've been praying for Cudi since Just What I Am, and those prayers are mixed up in my prayers for my own fam because God can multitask like that.

But.

I don't have depression. I've struggled with it before, yes, but I would say that the underlying issue is trauma, which black culture still doesn't even know how to address in the mainstream.

My main symptom, main illness is social anxiety, which still seems to cast as a White People Thing. Quick, think of an anxious black girl? Came up with nothing, right? Because we're supposed to be Strong or whatever. Black girls, I feel, are not allowed the delicacy to be afraid of people, so I have to turn to other cultures for understanding and comfort. I'll never be able to knock my love for manga as long as they make so many stories about having bad social skills that I can't find in American media.

I wish there were a place to connect all the anxious black girls so we'd know we weren't alone. Do we even exist in great enough numbers? Do we need to build that place?

On that note, I just remembered that I intended to subscribe to Doll Hospital.

[songs for normals] & guerilla poetry

On Monday, I sent out 19 of 24 poems I challenged myself to write as part of a GoFundMe reward. It's a super rewarding experience, and I may have just doubled the number of poems I've written in my whole life. 🙌🏾

The [songs for normals] project is an idea I had maybe 10? 7? years ago. I kinda hate love songs because they have nothing to do with me, so I wanted to write a couple dozen songs (not poems) on feelings that were not romantic love. My dream was to go all Sufjan/chamber pop with them, using glockenspiels and thumb pianos and timapanis and marimbas and violas and tablas and anything but the normal boring rock set-up. But I can't play music in the first place lol so it might never happen.

The theme was overlooked emotions and situations, everyday life instead of Hollywood hyperreality. So instead of ooh baby i love you i want you i miss you you hurt me we're over we're done i'm sorry i want you back i know you want me you were made for me etc etc etc; what about following the train tracks and finding an abandoned side of your city you'd never noticed before?

What about the second thoughts you have about changing jobs on the day after you've put in your two weeks'?

What about the feeling of waiting in line at the grocery store? (Especially if the "the checkout line is incredibly long, which is stupid and infuriating.")

Maybe this project is actually about mindful. idk I just know that God comes up a lot no matter what I'm talking about b/c pantheistic belief system or whatever.

I have also been working on a similar project called All Flowers for Other Lovers, where I'm challenging myself to write a 100 love poems, in which the breadth of the definition is so that I can include things like storge and caritas/charity. Those are the kinds of love I know.

I'm supposed to give out non-roses with the non-romantic poems, and that's not quite how the pilot went... I may make the poems into 100 business cards, although I'm not sure when I'd give them out. Still thinking about it.

The kicker is that I don't consider myself a poet and probably never will. Why?

  1. I didn't study poetry other than writing "songs" for anime I wished I could make and idolizing Emily Dickinson (#foreveralonegirlcrew) and e. e. cummings
  2. Fiction will always be my main love and submitting fiction is enough work. My submitting poetry almost never happens.
  3. I'm not interested in publishing chapbooks because I generally don't like the insular side of the lit world. I don't want to make anything that I wouldn't be able to find were I not in this world.

For those reasons, most of my poetry will be given freely.

My relationship to poetry is kind of like a Poetry Popularizer, I guess. I want to bring it to unexpected places. It can be on my blog, it can be in my pocket, it can be at an arts festival, it can be in your email or snailmail, and it will sometimes be onstage. But a collection won't ever happen, I'm sorry, and I think that precludes me from ever being a real poet.

oh well. 🤷🏾

sad black girls

Everyone knows about Angry Black Woman. Everyone sees them everywhere. Anger and sadness are two sides of the same coin called dissatisfaction. One is external, one is internal. Woman internalize, men externalize.

(Women should be sad, huh? So does anger make black women masculine?)

I am not angry, and I’m not a woman. Blackness is perceived regardless of my will, but what I’m really into is crying. I’m a Sad Black Girl. Sad Black Girls listen to King Krule and Radiohead. We read Kafka and shouldn’t read Schopenhauer. We smoke loud and we’re lonely clouds. We own hi-fis. We ruminate. We close our eyes.

Sad Black Girls are tomboys and robots. We don’t wear pantsuits. We know that anger is a secondary emotion that hides fear or hurt or sadness. Our emotions are purer, primary? We hurt and we fear and we cry. We don’t have formal diagnosis. The doctor says we’re not in pain.

Sad Black Girls are probably too passive. Some of us are maladaptive daydreamers, still talking to imaginary friends at the age of 21. Between the lot of us, we have millions of paracosms. If you’d like to enter one, listen up for a bit.

Sad Black Girls existed all over everywhere, until the 60s. And then there were afros. “By the 1970s, a majority of empirical studies found that Blacks had high self-esteem,” but we weren’t born then. Some of us have natural hair and some of us have been teased for it.

Happy black girls compare themselves to other black girls, but Sad Black Girls go to lily-white schools. We blame ourselves, but maybe it’s not our fault. Is it? Isn’t it? "The person of color is caught in a Catch-22: If she confronts the perpetrator, the perpetrator will deny it." Sad Black Girls tend to overthink and do nothing.

Sad Black Girls have learned culture-bound syndromes from white girls. Some of us vomit, slit our wrists, become hikikomori. We use self-deprecating humor, sarcasm. We get all As. Our moms are not tigers but our peers’ moms are, and we care about our peers.

Sad Black Girls cannot be seen by God. We aren’t blessed. We should smoke less often, be less fatalistic. Someone tells a Sad Black Girl to pray, and she doesn’t, and she stays sad. We are too rational to believe in #BlackGirlMagic.

Sad Black Girls maybe kinda know the difference between self-esteem and racial-esteem. Kinda? Collective self-esteem, right? Sad Black Girls are loners, of course, we don’t have reflected glory to bask in. We have cut off the reflected failure with a boxcutter, but we cut too much, oops.

Some of us secretly love To Be Young, Gifted, and Black even if we can’t get past the corniness.

Angry Black Women are out there fighting for something today. They are empowered, entrepreneurial, independent. They are role-modeling. They have overcome adversity.

Meanwhile, the Sad Black Girls are crying until their defense mechanisms rust. We are giving up, learning helplessness. We are being abused right now, physically or emotionally or without realizing it. We are doing what we're told. We’re being silent. We bear with it, thinking of other places, maybe England, anywhere but here.

(A roach skitters. A siren screams. A couple argues in the street. What are we doing here?)

Someone mistakes a Sad Black Girl for an Angry Black Women and calls her strong, places a burden in her arms and sends her along. There are no Evergreens for us, no all-girl schools or sanatoriums. There is no place for weakness in blackness. Sad Black Girls are crushed by life quite quickly, maybe there are none already.

dreamyshit (welcome)

this is not my first blog. i had one when i was a teen and tried to quit humanity to become a dandelion

i had one when i was molting and i tried to be popular and failed

this was 'maya the being' but it slept under 'black [bile] swan'. it's a joke no one gets, but i'm saving it

my final arts class in college wanted me to suddenly make a portfolio website

my older sister was helping me. i ran my site title through her: 'coo-sough'

it's a homophonic transformation of kuusou, japanese for dream/ fancy/ ideal/ daydream/ illusion

it sounds like kuso, japanese for shit, but with shorter mora

she told me no. anyway, there's more than one way to pronounce 'sough'

still i'm saving it.