Shadows & Tall Trees 7 Reviews, Interviews, & Updates

I am trying to be better about website upkeeping. (I am bad at it.)

There’s a new review up at This Is Horror. I’ll admit to being quite pleased with what was said about “The Triplets.”

Tried to reblog V.H. Leslie’s post with pertinent links, but failed. Here’s a pasted excerpt:

With stories from Malcolm Devlin, Brian Evenson, Rebecca Kuder, V.H. Leslie, Robert Levy, Laura Mauro, Manish Melwani, Alison Moore, Harmony Neal, Rosalie Parker, M. Rickert, Nicholas Royle, Robert Shearman, Christopher Slatsky, Simon Strantzas, Steve Rasnic Tem, Michael Wehunt, Charles Wilkinson, Conrad Williams and cover artwork by Yaroslav Gerzhedovich (paperback edition) and Vince Haig (hardback edition) Shadows and Tall Trees 7 will mark the welcome return of this journal.

Award-winning writer Angela Slatter, has been kind enough to interview us all about our stories and the motivations behind them, starting Rosalie Parker, Michael Wehunt, Malcolm Devlin and Manish Melwani. And inimitable reviewer, Dew Lewis has already begun his Real-Time Review of the journal which can be read here.

Don’t forget to pick up a copy from Undertow Books.

To the 82-year-old Witch I Waited on Last Night

Welcome! Welcome! I hope you made it to my website! To be a witch is a glorious thing! To be a witch is to strive for wisdom and truth, to see through the lies that surround us, especially the lies about us. I was thrilled to spend a little time with you last evening. I hope you find something here you enjoy. I hope you live to be 100+ with birds in your wild, beautiful hair. I will keep you in my heart.


Harmony Fixes the Wonder Woman Script—SPOILERS!

Harmony Fixes the Wonder Woman Script—SPOILERS!

The featured image is by Castaguer93, a person who can envision a female fighter who wears actual armor (if not a helmet) and doesn’t make sure to pose provocatively while fighting. You might be surprised by how hard it is to find such an image. I wasn’t.

I will say there were things about the film I did appreciate. I spent the first 15 minutes or so weeping because you never get to see a screen full of women doing things and talking about things that aren’t men or childrearing or chores. A mighty fighter woman with wrinkles! Be still my heart and soul!

Too bad there were so many problems even within that setting, and that it lasted not nearly long enough before MEN took over the story line, and Diana, in all of her goodness, of course, allowed them to dominate most of the rest of the film.


So here are a few fixes I would have made, if DC had consulted me.


Don’t Make The Amazonians Exist From a Male Imagination:

There is actual racial diversity on the island, NOT tokenism with white women in charge.

The women don’t all shave and wear makeup, though some could. It seems more likely that most would not bother at all or see any benefit to shaving off useful hair or applying gunk to their faces that could run into their eyes during training/battle.

The warriors wear protective gear, not exposing lots of skin, which they simply would not do. It’s so preposterous. I understand that they could have been even more naked from a male perspective, but just give me a fucking break already.

The women can and do have sexual and romantic relationships with each other. While the movie makes it clear men aren’t necessary or even desirable for sexual pleasure, it does so in a way that implies the alternative is masturbation, which is dumb.


Diana in “The Real World”:

The first time dude tries to physically prevent her from doing what she wants, she breaks his fucking wrist. She does not allow him to keep limiting her physical movements, waiting for him to never really explain WHY he believes he has the right to physically limit her movement, then acquiescing to his demands.

She does not develop a romantic relationship with dude. That is dumb, unnecessary, and plays into all the aspects of patriarchy this film pretends to question, but actually reinforces and reproduces.

His friends are either not creepy toward Diana (what a limited male imagination to say most men are going to hit on Diana and make her uncomfortable), OR, if they must be creepy losers, then she is not asked to forgive and overlook their misogyny because they have their own crosses to bear (Ignore him! He doesn’t mean any harm). Preposterous. I’m sick of being told it’s my womanly duty to care about the trials and tribulations of men and forgive them for their misogyny because they have to deal with the problems Toxic Masculinity bring to them.

The film reinforces our dominant narrative that women just have to understand that most men are creeps and don’t have time to worry about not being creeps because they have to deal with racism or PSTD or whatever themselves. It’s our womanly duty to see past all their transgressions and feel sorry for them and try to help and support them even as they treat us like shit. Interestingly enough, the men are not asked NOT to be creeps… No, Diana must use her wit and charm to show them up (as a means of politely trying to get them to stop hitting on her) and then feel sorry for them. FUCK THAT.

In a better version of the script, the stupid man doesn’t get to play the martyr. I’m sure other people also reasoned out that if Diana hadn’t allowed him to keep physically limiting her, that she would have killed the super evil caricature German before he could have ordered that plane to leave with all that gas… Instead, the movie sets up a bullshit “they’re both right and wrong” pattern in order to justify the dumb love story, his controlling behavior, and then a super immature overall message, given to Diana BY a man and reinforced by her supposed love for a man who repeatedly tells her she’s too distracting and can’t do what she wants to do because he knows better.

Having her (once) say he doesn’t get to tell her what to do DOES NOT eradicate all the times when she in fact allows him to do just that. That’s a major problem. The bombshell can SAY a man can’t tell her what to do, if she actually lets him do exactly that MOST of the time. Enough already!

Aries raised many good points while he tried to recruit Diana, but the writers apparently couldn’t come up with any nuance or counterarguments that weren’t insipid and first uttered by the male character. The power of LOVE! Meaning what, exactly? No one knows. No one needs to know. What could be more revolutionary than a half-naked, shaved, plucked, heavily made up woman who can kick serious ass but also (blindly, it seems, based on finally having a penis inside of her) believes in LOVE, as is her feminine duty?

Well, asking more women for their thoughts might have helped… Plenty of us are able to envision truly revolutionary female characters and roles that aren’t all about exciting the male fantasy…


Broader Considerations:

Either all the fucking gods are supermodels or none are. The Amazonians all have to be 12s on a scale of 1-10, but Aries can be an average looking dude? I don’t think so. That is one of many things that points to Wonder Woman springing from a male imagination for the gratification of male fantasies while almost barely succeeding occasionally in moving away from gender roles and myths.

There can be an evil genius female character, but only if she too was a 12 on a 1-10 scale, then made ugly by her evilness. Just fuck off already.

Why was this script written by three men? I mean, they claim many writers in fact worked on it, while the three men get the main credit. You can do better than that, DC! Maybe Wonder Woman (and other scripts) should be written by women? Has that EVER crossed your minds?

So yeah, woo hoo, hooray, on a first glance, parts of the movie are revolutionary and better than what comes before, but really, when you get down to it, most of it is the same fucking bullshit crammed down our throats only gussied up a bit more to pretend at female liberation while continuing to keep women everywhere in their places (subservient to men and beholden to their “love” and penises and versions of reality they claim are fact and immutable). Thanks but no thanks.

These Are A Few of My Favorite Things


favorite things close upToday is the release date for Shadows & Tall Trees Vol. 7, where you can find my latest story, “The Triplets.” My copies arrived Saturday. When my partner went to read the soft cover version, a spider watched him from the ceiling, threatening to drop on him at any second. He wondered if the spider hadn’t been complimentary with the issues…

I couldn’t be more thrilled to be included in this amazing anthology with so many delightfully horrifying writers. Michael Kelly is the best editor anyone could ever hope to work with and an all-around phenomenal human being. I hope you’ll grab a copy while they last. Just look at those beautiful covers!

The Trial of Black Panther

I am super excited to have my novella “The Trial of Black Panther” up at The Fantasist. “The Trial of Black Panther” is the final story from my collection of linked stories: Real Life Superheroes: Crisis on Finite Earth. In it are many superheroes from many walks of life and backgrounds.
Before the whole world turned upside down, I was trying to write stories I’d want to read, stories with protagonists readers could identify with who weren’t the usual line up of a bunch of middle-class/rich, cis white dudes and white women OR a bunch of stereotypical characters of color or LGBTQ characters with the usual story-lines and issues mainstream publishing is willing to put in print for the edification of white cis people everywhere.
“The Trial of Black Panther” is particularly important to me because it’s in conversation with “The Trial of Thomas Builds-the-Fire” from Sherman Alexie which is in conversation with “The Trial” by Franz Kafka. It explores issues of our current police state and asks what each of us is personally obligated to do in times of crisis and what prevents us from doing the things we should do.

Read it here:

The Internet Makes You Stupid, but I Am Protected

4.30.05 This is the End

I sat in my car outside Lowtax’s, watching his white double door flanked by yellow siding, trying to keep my eyes from closing. After four hours of waiting, I really needed to pee. There was a QuikTrip at the corner, but I was afraid I’d miss Lowtax. Luckily, I couldn’t feel hungry while I needed to pee. It was lunchtime, and a few people walked by devouring fast food. Needing to pee helped me stay awake, but I worried that in my diminished capacity, I might have an accident. I dug around in the backseat and found a mostly empty Mountain Dew bottle, so I put my Chinese dragon sunblocker in the windshield then carefully rolled t-shirts into the windows, so I could still see Lowtax’s front door out of a crack in the driver’s side. I unzipped, got the bottle ready, and let go. It was the best feeling in the world for about 3 seconds until I realized the bottle was fast reaching capacity and my stream was not diminishing. I didn’t have much time to decide anything, so I got on my knees and leaned over to the passenger side floor mat.

I hadn’t slept in over twenty four hours. My coordination was off. The bottle slipped, and I ended up with piss all over the gear shift and a little on the front of my pants, not to mention the floor on the passenger’s side. All the while, I was glancing over my shoulder at Lowtax’s door. I was about to look for napkins when I saw Lowtax.

I didn’t think: I just acted. I zipped up, wiped my hands on my shirt (I know, I know, but I hadn’t slept in over a day, I drove 13 hours, and this was my one shot at getting back in the forums), grabbed my foam hand, and jumped out of the car.

My shirt caught on the seatbelt clip, and I slammed myself in the door. I jerked my shirt free, tearing the corner, and ran across the street where Lowtax was strolling in the direction of the QuikTrip. I caught up and got in front of him. He’s a lot shorter than I thought, skinnier too. He backed up, like I was going to ask him for spare change.

Hunched over and panting, dizzy from taking off running after sitting still, full of caffeine, I whispered, “Lowtax, I’m Duke Chocula.” He started to walk around me. I stood up straight. “Wait, Lowtax, really, I’m Duke Chocula. I came all the way from Ohio to talk to you about my permaban. I love the forums. The goons are my people, my community, this is my life.” I waved my foam hand for emphasis, “Please reconsider. I’m begging you, as one goon to another.”

We stared at each other, me with pleading in my eyes, and Lowtax, I don’t know what he was thinking. He looked me up and down a few times. “Why do you smell like piss?”

We looked down at the same time. My Dockers had quarter-sized dark spots on them, worse than I thought. My shirt had wet handprints on the sides. I shoved my hand in my pocket to feel Ashley’s quiz for moral support, but instead found a soaked and disintegrating mess. I panicked. “Lowtax, look, just hear me out.”

He glared at me. “No, you look. I don’t know who you are or how it is you know where I live, and I don’t want to know. You’re creeping me out. Now get back in your car or tricycle or wheelbarrow or what-the-fuck-ever, and take your ass the hell away from me. If I ever see you near me or my family again, I’m calling the cops.” He walked away.

I’m man enough to admit I started crying.

I stood on that sidewalk, pimped out in my SA gear, covered in piss, and I cried. When a hot chick with a mohawk asked if I needed help, I ignored her. I limped back to my car, climbed in the backseat, and cried myself to sleep.

I woke up to the sound of rain and the smell of dried piss, not immediately remembering where I was. My SA is #1 foam hand was in pieces, which really sucks, since I have no way to get another one. I climbed into the front seat from the back and pulled the t-shirts out of the windows, getting splashed with rain in the process. I drove straight out of Missouri, not stopping until I hit Illinois, which is where I am now, at a McDonald’s with wifi (who knew?). I’m in a corner, trying not to notice the people staring at me, eating a #3, and telling you, blog, my e/n story.

Posted by Duke Chocula at 10:36pm

0 comments so far…



4.30.05 Wish Me Luck

I drove all night, but I’m finally here, at a Borders with wifi, having a double espresso before I head over to Lowtax’s house with the gear I was saving for GoonCon. I washed up as best I could in the bathroom and changed into my natural color SA shirt with the logo on the front and “The Internet Makes You Stupid” on the back, and I put on my SA ballcap, which is good cuz it hides the greasy state of my hair. My English 101 pin is in the bill for an added touch. I also have my SA is #1 foam hand. I want him to see how dedicated I am to the community. He’s gotta let me back now. All the Red Bull and coffee and espresso are making me a little twitchy, but I gotta talk to Lowtax.

Posted by Duke Chocula at 9:11 am

0 comments so far…



4.29.05 Do You Have Stairs In Your House?

I am no longer protected. Fuck, fuck fuck fuck. Look at this fucking shit I got this morning!

“Duke Chocula,

Fuck you, rapist. Don’t ever come back.




Posted by Duke Chocula at 8:26 am.

0 comments so far…



4.28.05 Deaf Ears

I can’t believe this is happening. I went into IRC to plead my case with my fellow goons, but this is the reception I got:

<DukeChocula> Hey Guys, I need your help.

<goatse4lyfe> Hey look, it’s the rapist.

<happycat> Hay Guys, Raping Women is COOL. AMIRITE?

<DukeChocula> I didn’t write that post! That’s what I want to talk about.

<PhinPhin> Huh? What’s going on?


<BlasterCop> DukeChocula: You’re a fag, get out.

<DukeChocula> I’m telling you guys, I didn’t write that post. I was in the library on campus and this girl I like emailed me and I went to meet her and she didn’t show and I came back and was banned.

<PhinPhin> dude, you’re fucking sick

<freebird> He could be telling the truth. I know a goon who watches public computers and when he sees someone logged into SA who leaves, he’ll post ban-mes.

*** happycat changed the topic to: DukeChocula LOVES RAPING WOMEN

<DukeChocula> freebird: ty, I think something like that happened to me. If people would pm Lowtax saying they know I wouldn’t do that, I could clear all this up.

*** fuckyourmom [isotope@69A884.8B4117D0.A14AC03E.IP] has quit [Ping timeout]

*** xanadu [xanadu@2E2721E.8X34467D0.J28DC03E.IP] has joined #sa

<captainunderpants> Who the fuck is DukeChocula? I’ve never seen you before.

<goatse4lyfe> Some rapist fag.

<AlexTrebeck> We should totally kick his ass.

* munster slaps DukeChocula in his bitch head.

<JuvenileWhiskey> I’m down, where is the little rapist?

<AlexTrebeck> Bowling Green, Ohio

<JuvenileWhiskey> That’s only a few hours from me. Who else is in?

<threedollerbill> i’m in

<DukeChocula> Seriously guys, I don’t know what happened. I would never write that.

<CuriousBill> me too

<happycat> Seriously shut the fuck up and get out of here.

*happycat kicks DukeChocula


WTF? No one but freebird stood up for me at all.

DarthChrist emailed me and said he didn’t want to say anything in IRC, but I should just register a new account with a different email addy and credit card and handle and avatar and not let anyone know it’s me. But that’s a whole new problem. No one could ever know it was me, so I’d lose all my old friends. Then I’ll just be another stupid newbie and no one will care what I say. I’ll have to spend months trying to meet people again. I mean, I can’t imagine trying to make friends with old friends as somebody new.

No, I gotta talk to Lowtax and get my name cleared. I’ll take 3 months probation if I have to. So long as I can eventually return as Duke Chocula, the guy who isn’t a rapist, I’ll be happy.

I haven’t done any studying yet, and I missed the last Chem lab, which is really going to hurt my grade, but there was no way I could pay attention in lab with this shit going on. I’ve been reading the forums today, accountless, and it makes me feel hollow inside. Every time I want to post a reply or see the YOU HAVE NOT REGISTERED AN ACCOUNT YET banner, I just… it feels awful.

I accidentally tore Ashley’s quiz today while in IRC. I was stroking it, and before I realized what I was doing, I‘d torn a corner off. I taped it back together and it should hold ok.


Posted by Duke Chocula at 8:11 pm

0 comments so far…



4.28.05 It Wasn’t Me!

I got an email back from Ozma. She said, “I’ve seen the misogynistic shit you write in GBS. Fuck you rapist, get out.”

I’ll admit I’ve made a few jokes that were probably in poor taste, but so have other goons. I never meant anything by them. Jesus.

I could just pay the tenbux to reinstate my account, but this is exactly the problem. I don’t want people thinking I’m a rapist. I want them to know I didn’t write that post. What will Ashley think? I’m going to email Lowtax.

“Dear Lowtax,

My name is Duke Chocula. I am a goon registered January 12, 2002. During my 3+ years on the forums, I have only gotten 6 hours of probation once, which I deserved for posting a single emoticon reply, which is explicitly against the rules (despite which, people seem to do it quite often). Today Ozma banned me for posting a rape fantasy, but I was away from the computer when this post was supposedly made by me, so please hear me out!

Here’s what happened: I was working on a research paper at the library when I got an email from this girl I like telling me to meet her in front of the union at 5 because she wanted to talk. Before today, I didn’t even know she knew my name. I’d run into her an hour before on my way to the library, and she asked me if I had stairs in my house. I was so nervous I ran off like a loser. So when I got the email, I was excited and nervous as hell.

It’s finals time, and I didn’t want to lose my computer, so I figured I’d just leave my shit sitting there and it’d be safe for ten to twenty minutes. Big fucking mistake. After twenty minutes waiting at the union, it was obvious she wasn’t going to show. I headed back inside, fuming, fully prepared to take a break and write an e/n thread about how much girls suck and how they play mind games etc, to purge the incident from my system. I got to my computer, and it looked like how I left it, until I pull up the GBS thread I started about finals sucking, only to see that it’d been gassed. I scrolled through and saw a new post from myself that says, “Here’s something I just found that helps me get a little release during finals” and a very vivid description on how to rape a girl. I was like, what the fuck? I looked around the library, but everyone was doing normal library stuff, and I have no idea who did this.

I would never write a post like that. Rape is disgusting and not funny at all. I don’t know who did this or why they did it, but it wasn’t me, Lowtax!

Can I please just get probation for account sharing even though I didn’t intentionally share my account? I love the forums, all my friends are here, and I don’t want people to think that I am some sort of slimy rapist.

I throw myself on your mercy,

Duke Chocula”


God, I hope he emails me back soon.


Posted by Duke Chocula at 6:52pm.

0 comments so far…


4.28.05 I’ve Been Banned?!

Ozma banned me! Like hell I’d post this:

“Here’s something I just found that helps me get a little release during finals:

You know that girl you like who won’t give you the time of day and has some stupid ass jock boyfriend? Fuck her! Follow her home after class. Sneak into her dorm behind her, do this during the day so people won’t be as likely to notice your presence, then walk right into her room, unless she’s locked the door behind her. If she’s locked it, just knock, she’ll answer. Once in the room, mace her and have some balled up socks ready so no one hears her scream. Shove the socks in her mouth and duct tape them in place. She’ll be so shocked it will be easy to throw her on the bed for some good old-fashioned surprise sex. After you’re done, wipe your dick on her pillow and piss on her floor. She’ll be so embarrassed she won’t tell anyone, and you are now ready to get back to work on your finals.”


Posted by Duke Chocula at 5:43pm.

0 comments so far…



4.28.05 Oh No!!!!!!!!!!

On my way to the library, I saw Ashley. She was standing less than ten feet away in front of Olscamp Hall drinking a soda. I stopped for a minute, trying to decide whether I should approach her, then she approached me! She walked up, took a long drink from her straw, then said,

“Peter, right? We’re in Chemlab together?”

“Um, yeah, hi.”

“Do you have stairs in your house?”

Normally I’d be excited to find out a girl is a goon, but my brain flipped to all the e/n threads I’d written about her. I couldn’t say anything. Then this dude walks up and puts his arm around her like he owns her. He’s all super smooth,

“Hey baby, who’s this guy?”

“This is Peter.”

“Oh, this guy?”

At this point, I did what any reasonable person would do. I stuttered that I had to get to the library and ran away. The dude called something after me, but I didn’t understand what he said.

I can’t believe Ashley’s a goon. How did she figure out who I am? Maybe she doesn’t really know. And that guy, her boyfriend I guess, sure didn’t seem like the goon type. His hair was fucking bleached and styled, for christsake.

Fuck, this isn’t getting my Econ final written. I’m going to lay low for a bit and try to get this shit done.


Posted by Duke Chocula at 4:18pm.

0 comments so far…



4.22.05 I saw Ashley again!

I was downstairs eating lunch while trying to finish going over the last Biochem Lab for the semester when I looked up and saw Ashley standing three feet away, scanning the caf for a seat. I was taking a bite of pepperoni pizza, and I didn’t know what to do. Should I offer her the seat next to me? Should I say hi? Should I look away before she caught me staring at her? I wished I was wearing a better pair of Dockers than this pair that has a mustard stain by the crotch, but it’s not like she could really see my pants anyway. So I stared at her, pizza half hanging out my mouth, and she LOOKED RIGHT AT ME. Oh god, I thought I was going to die! But then, she smiled at me. She smiled! She didn’t say, “Ew, what are you looking at, dork?” Nope, she beamed a big beautiful smile at me then walked away and got a seat towards the back of the caf with some other girls. I don’t know if she knows we’re in Biochem 153A together or not, maybe she recognized me or recognized the textbook and figured she might know me or maybe she is just nice, either way, I love her now more than ever. I still have her quiz from the beginning of the quarter in my pocket. She only got a C+, and I really should have offered to tutor her, but then she might have suspected that I have her quiz and that is why the TA couldn’t find it. I think he ended up giving her an A, so really, it was mutually beneficial for me to keep it when I found it stuck to the back of my quiz (A-, if only I hadn’t spaced on the atomic weight of oxygen: -218.4).

I think her quiz has been good luck. You know, having something in her handwriting that I can stroke in my pocket any time I get bored or upset.

I know the goons think I should just get up the balls to ask her out, but I don’t know. I always seem to be doing something stupid every time she sees me, like tying my shoe or sitting there with half a slice of pizza hanging out my face.

And let’s not forget the year is ending so soon. L


Posted by Duke Chocula at 1:47pm.

0 comments so far…


4.18.05 SA is #1

It came today! My SA is #1 foam hand! This is so kicking rad! Now I can hang it on my wall by my Family Guy rasterbation and take it to the GoonCon in July. I’ll be totally pimpin SA style. I now own: 3 SA t-shirts, an SA hoodie, an English 101 pin, an SA keychain, an SA ballcap, and my foam hand. I’ll be the dorkiest goon at the ball. I do wish some of the goons around here were planning on going so we could carpool and share a room, but most of them say New Orleans is too far away. I wouldn’t miss it for the world. My parents never let me attend one before, but I told them it’s a Linux Convention. I guess I didn’t have to lie since I am technically an adult now, but I didn’t want to hear my mother worrying over whether it’s safe to meet people from the internet, and I definitely don’t want another lecture from my dad about how the Something Awful Forums are a waste of my time and how I should have more real friends and get away from my computer more often, blah blah. The goons are real friends. I guess I could have tried to make some new friends here at Bowling Green, but I’m really busy with my 18 hours of courses. It’s too late now anyway. Finals are coming up with the quickness. I better get back to work.


Posted by Duke Chocula at 4:22pm.

0 comments so far…



4.07.05 Welcome to the New Blog!

I have officially given up my crappy geocities page and moved into the blogosphere. I might move some of the old content over here, but maybe not, there wasn’t much worthwhile there.

Nothing much recently. College is fine. We’re getting close to the end of Spring Quarter. I still don’t know my way around Bowling Green, but I don’t really need to. Everything I need is on campus or Internet.

I still haven’t asked out Ashley. I know, I know. I have that huge e/n thread about it, and everyone is telling me to quit being a pussy and ask her out. I know. The worst that can happen is she says no and then I have to move on, but I don’t know that now is the right time. It’s only a month before school’s out. I don’t think I want to start a relationship that has to turn long distance in a few weeks.

On a happier note, I did reserve a hotel room for GoonCon. If anyone wants to share, let me know, we could easily fit four people in one room.

I also posted my aim again in the latest “post your info” thread, but no one has messaged me yet. L You can find it there or in my profile (blogger or SA) or here: dukechocula86

That is all for now.


Posted by Duke Chocula at 3:37pm.

0 comments so far…


An Open Letter to the Literary Community

An Open Letter to the Literary Community,

American Letters are in crisis. With the recent election, I’ve seen our community struggle with all the things we got wrong. For decades, we’ve told young writers not to be “political” in their writing, which somehow transformed into “don’t write about anything important. Only write in ways that quietly reinforce the culture we have now.” We took imagination out of fiction and said to write realism or your work wouldn’t be taken seriously, wouldn’t be important. We were wrong in our approaches, even when our intentions were good, and the results have been devastating.

Now more than ever we need writers who look at the broader picture, whose writing will help shape a new world for people to inhabit. We need writers who include a broad range of characters in their stories, essays, plays, and poetry; who don’t treat female, of color, LGBTQ, disabled, etc people and characters as anomalies, as stereotypes or spectacles; who don’t only include those people and characters in supporting roles or only focus on their seemingly “otherness.”

We need writers who look at the broader picture and question themselves and their work and what value it has or doesn’t have. Who think globally and locally. Who are aware of more than themselves and their lives. Who notice the environment and other people. We need writers who are helpful in workshops to all of their peers, who do not try to force their aesthetics onto people who are writing from different backgrounds and experiences, who won’t other their experiences or try to diminish or control their contributions. We need writers who listen. Who think. Who try to help their peers write the best work that they can, in the way they want to write it.

We need writers who read broadly and are familiar with a ride range of literary styles and the works of people from many different backgrounds, including female authors, writers of color, and LGBTQ writers. (And to provide such opportunities and requirements for all of our students.) We need writers who don’t show up to MFA programs and pretend they’re Ernest Hemingway like two-thirds of the men in my MFA program did. Who won’t belittle and diminish peers who aren’t writing from the white male canon of American Literature, and won’t attempt to replicate outdated ideas and norms in their own work (and actions) either.

Most people who attend MFA programs stop writing within a few years, and yet we do very little to protect people from harm while they attend our programs. Those of us who have MFAs, who aren’t middle class cis white men, have the battle scars from finishing our degrees, the wounds from being forced to listen to people who didn’t listen to us, who were unfamiliar with traditions outside the mostly white male literary canon presented in Kindergarten-graduate school classrooms across the country. Sometimes it wasn’t only our peers, but our faculty who didn’t take our ideas and contributions seriously, who didn’t have any knowledge of feminist schools of writing, of the reality of life and writing for people of color, for bi-lingual writers, of what’s being done in the LGBTQ writing community, of environmental writing, etc.

Ignorance and an adherence to a colonial point of view in our deeply white supremacist, misogynistic, racist, classist, elitist literary canon has pushed most of us to the margins and kept us there, maybe with a few electives on the contributions to literature by people like us (women, people of color, poor people, non-cis people, etc), as core courses replicate dangerous power structures and work to silence our voices on multiple levels. At the same time, people who are NOT us occasionally tell their versions of our stories and win awards for treating us as stereotypes and spectacles, then are told how brave they are for writing stories about those poor, sad marginalized people.

Now more than ever, it’s vitally important to American Letters to train a new generation of writers from a broader swathe of the population, and I know from personal experience that the only way that can be a truly productive and inclusive environment is if the majority of the people involved are on the same page morally, ethically, creatively, and intellectually, if we share the same commitments to equality and inclusion and hearing new voices speak to us in new ways. We all aspire to greatness in our craft, in our style, and now, we all need to aspire to greatness in our content as well. There are enough stories about the thoughts and feelings and experiences of middle class white men that don’t include the thoughts and feelings and experiences of other people. We’ve already exceeded the limits for how many stories we laud and force other people to read that are essentially about white men and their very important feelings. We need a better, more thoughtful, more inclusive, more forward-looking literature. Our courses need to be inclusive, and our MFA programs need to be inclusive and constructive in ways they haven’t been to date.

I am writing this as a person who has a BA and MFA in creative writing, who was the 2011-2013 Fiction Fellow at Emory University, who by 2014 decided to take a break from the “literary” community because of all of these problems. Literary magazines say they’re looking for diversity and inclusion, but then I’d read the same old stories told the same old ways. I was sick of it, so I started seeing other people. In genre magazines, I found important stories about a wide variety of people in a variety of circumstances. Stories with protagonists of color, female protagonists, LGBTQ protagonists, where the stories weren’t about their “otherness.” In genre magazines, I read stories that actually mattered, that were about important issues of the day and the wider world outside the precious thoughts and feelings of academic white writers.

Before the election, I was quietly filing for divorce from the “literary community,” but I now realize I need to make an effort to make the literary community a better place that actually lives up to the ideals it’s so proud of that it doesn’t actually practice. I am calling on each and every one of you to look at yourselves, at your courses, at your programs, at your literary magazines, at your admissions processes, at your own writing, and decolonize. Words are great. Of course I think so, I’m a writer too. But, as Octavia Butler said, “Belief initiates and guides action—or else it does nothing.” It’s time to act on our beliefs.

Harmony Neal

PS: Please feel free to share my statement and/or your own similar calls to action wherever you’d like, with no need for additional permission from me.

What’s Up With All the Unicorns?

Unicorns are awesome.

I believe most aspects of our culture to be toxic and in favor of creating wealth for the rich while preventing most people from living fulfilling, meaningful lives. Human flourishing isn’t a priority at all. In fact, in the past, major employers tested out shorter work hours and discovered that when people worked less, they spent their free time doing meaningful activities instead of buying crap. That’s a huge no-no in a capitalistic culture, so they took back the option of working 32 hours a week instead of 40+. The wealthy want us exhausted so we’re easy to trick into leading meaningless lives of consumption.

There are so many obvious ways racism, misogyny, toxic masculinity, advertising, consumerism, glorification of work for work’s sake, etc play into this, but there are also many many small ways human flourishing is blocked by cultural norms and expectations. One of the things that concerns me is ideas about what’s for children and what’s for “adults.” Creativity and imagination and fun are for children. REALITY (narrowing defined) is for “adults.” There are so many invisible forces working on us, telling us what we are and aren’t allowed to like, be, do.

I always loved unicorns as a child. Why is it bad for an adult to like unicorns? I prefer animals to humans on multiple levels. (My smileamazon account is linked to The Nonhuman Right’s Project.) A unicorn is an imaginary, wonderful, magical animal. I am into all of those things. Why am I not allowed to like those things as an adult? And if I do, why am I supposed to be ashamed of that fact?

Because a person who loves unicorns and isn’t afraid to say so probably also doesn’t love things like 50-hour-work weeks and rape culture, etc. A culture that wants to humiliate people for benign things like unicorns is trying to prevent people from expressing other unpopular ideas as well. I am committed to expressing my unpopular, anti-consumer culture, anti-capitalist ideas. A unicorn is an easy symbol of that. It’s not direct. It’s not obvious, but it does send a message. ❤

The Nothing

Currently included in What Does It Mean to Be While in America by 2Leaf Press.

The Nothing

PBS is helping adopted children “connect with their culture.” The children who need to discover their roots are, of course, non-white. I skim the article with a fury I know is un-PC. I’ve tip-toed around this problem, afraid to say anything loud enough that anybody might hear, to say, I have no culture, and I’m sick of people pretending I do.

It’s not that I think children adopted into US households from Korea and China don’t deserve to know about where they come from. But it’s problematic that the only children anyone thinks need a cultural identity and history are non-white children. I don’t believe Britain is exporting their children to the States, but if they did, would people see a need to connect those children to their roots? Would a typical middle-class American family understand there is a difference between the English, Irish, Scots, and Welsh? Would they take it one step further and understand there are distinct cultures within those distinct countries? The dividing line between Irish Catholic and Irish Protestant? Between Hackney and Greenwich? Or would they raise these children with American accents and slap braces on their teeth, and say, good enough? As if “White culture” is a monolith. As if you could swap out someone from Boston and Little Rock, from Edinburgh and New York, and nothing would be lost in translation. As if I’ve never felt an ache for a “culture” that wasn’t plain old capitalism.

Maybe if my hair or eyes were dark or I had a bump in my nose, I could pretend I had some heritage worth discovering. I have light hair and blue eyes and my nose is small and unremarkable except that it has a mole on the tip. I am pale with freckles. I am probably part Irish, but who knows? I don’t know. The thought of maybe being Irish does not make me feel found, like I could say “my people” the way so many around me casually throw out that phrase. If I ever uttered the words, “my people,” others would find those two words laced with bigotry. I am white. I am part of the problem, all of the problems, generations, decades, centuries of problems, from my race, my people.

Irish. What would that mean? I think of leprechauns and cloudy skies and men hunched over pints of warm beer—that awkward dance where the top half of a body stays completely still while legs kick in frantic patterns. The superficial evidence—my appearance, my father’s last name—points towards Ireland. Why would I bother to see if that’s true? As if I could find out and say, Ah yes, the Irish, my people.

I would like to belong somewhere. I have no culture, no known ethnicity, nothing but pale freckled skin to label me white. I do not have a beach house in the Hamptons or wear designer clothes, so my culture isn’t that sort of white. I am not interested in NASCAR and was never into Hee-Haw, so I guess I’m not that sort of white. I did not live in the suburbs or shop at The Gap while in high school—my family was poor—so I am not that sort of white. What sort of white am I? What stereotype fits best? Where is this culture everyone seems entitled to?

There are rumors of Native American blood on both sides of my family—as I assume there are in many white, history-less American households, as there are in so many black diasporaed households. I wish I had the sort of shamelessness that would allow me to hear such a thing and declare it true, drop everything, embrace the Earth Mother and say, Ah yes, it makes sense, my people. I could fashion myself a headdress, beat a drum, dance, and scream out the connection I’ve been looking for that I cannot find.

I’ve toyed with the idea of being Greek. I like olive oil and yogurt. In high school, I bought a picture book, Cats in the Sun, on a whim. It shows feral cats running and lounging about Greece. I suppose adults are supposed to call such artifacts coffee table books. I would probably remember that better if I was that sort of white person.

My mother’s father’s grandmother was 100% Greek, fresh off the boat. That makes me 1/16th. Am I Greek?

I doubt it. What customs were ever taught to me, what ritual performed? What secret language spoken in soft voices just within earshot?

I’m not anything.

If I ever had a culture, it was Christianity. That’s the closest I came. But I hate Christianity, hate organized religion. I am not interested in stories of mythical men in the sky who say you can sell your daughters into slavery if you need some extra cash, and if your wife or concubine pisses you off, feel free to cut off her ears and nose.

I’m sick of pretending I think there is such a thing as a “good Christian.” I think any thoughtful person who still calls himself a Christian is deficient in reasoning, intentionally blind, digging a few sparkling bits out of the steaming piles of evil in centuries old texts for no reason other than his fear of his own mortality.

I don’t mean it when I tell someone I think they are a “good” or “okay” Christian any more than the people who have told me I am a “good” or “okay” white person have said it with conviction, without a little shudder that betrays the belief in their bones that I am implicitly related to all the not-so-good and outright evil white people.

Fair enough.

Maybe I should believe in the mystical man in the sky. I could convince myself that I chose this life, chose this body, said, Ah yes, those two idiot teenagers, I’d like for them to be my parents. They seem stable, both coming from single, alcoholic mothers with their histories of being shipped back and forth across the country, their GEDS obtained from alternative schools. Those are the ones, Almighty White Man in the Sky, that’s where I want to be!

Given a choice to be born into a series of different hypothetical worlds, where lots will be determined at random, most people will not choose the world where everyone is equal, has the same amount of stuff, is comfortable. Few choose the world where a handful are at the very top and most are at the bottom (though some do, and I assume those are libertarians who believe they can beat the experiment one bootstrap at a time). Most people pick the world where some have a fair bit more and most have a little less. They’d risk having less than the Joneses’ for the chance to have more. For most people, an un-ideal world would be one in which everyone has what they need and no one has more or goes without

To the best of my knowledge, they’ve only run this test on Americans. Depending on culture, results may vary.

That’s my culture: capitalism, apple pie, baseball, imperialism, reality TV, oppression, brute force.

No one is going to adopt me. They tolerate me. I amuse them and probably piss them off more than they let on with my constant ignorance, my incessant questions, my endless epiphanies about what it might be like to not be white.

I was bonding with Alice Walker over Anything We Love Can Be Saved. I was envying her easy love, thinking of how to try it on. I was amen-ing her thoughts on being a woman, on religion, on mother-daughter relationships. I was crying in recognition and hope, but the whole time, I felt her arm stretched out from the pages of that book, her warm, worn hand planted firmly on my chest. That’s close enough, white girl.

I wanted a way in. I wanted to tear the pages from their binding, scrape the glue with my nails.

I must be a brazen asshole.

All the privilege seeping from my pores, and I want to complain that I have no culture, that people look at me and see the evil in the world, that they want to distance themselves from me, that they call me Other. It’s my own fault. My people called them Other, still call them Other. My people did this. My people created the chasm with boats and suburbs and fast food and entitled penises. My people

I flinch every time someone says “my people.” It reminds me who my people are, that I have no right to use that phrase, that generations of assholes sunning themselves in the Hamptons and dumping oil into the oceans and killing brown people for sport and profit have left me a legacy where I have no culture, and I do not belong. I am like a child brought about by rape or incest: people feel bad about not wanting me around, but they don’t want me around. They know it’s not my fault, but they can’t help the way their skin crawls, the way they sometimes think they see my father’s wicked eyes peering out from my face.

No one can tell me what white is, only what it is not. It is never Hispanic. I know from the countless Affirmative Action forms I filled out while trying to gain meaningful employment. The top box was always WHITE with a tag to specify “non-Hispanic.” I’d read over the forms, looking for some other box to pick, something that seemed to maybe almost define me as a person. I’d yell at the forms, Race doesn’t exist! But I know it does. Biologically no, but socially yes, so I’d read the forms carefully, look for a loophole, puzzle over people whose “race” was one thing on one form, something else on the next.

Each time, I’d cave. I’d check the box next to WHITE with a shaking hand. I’d swear I’d do better next time, but I never did. Once, in frustration, I read a sheet, and read it again. I couldn’t make sense of it. The lights in my room became too bright, my furniture sped out away from my body and I scrawled THESE CATEGORIES MAKE NO SENSE. I DO NOT KNOW WHAT YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT across the form.

There is no victory in denying my whiteness. Those forms are not for me, which is why they put my box at the top, expecting me to put in a neat little check mark or X and forget about it. Those forms are supposed to be a safety net or at least an accounting, a record of prejudice and bigotry overcome or not. Denying my whiteness would only slant the figures, would only make me that much more wrong.

My people, my people, my people, my people, my people.

What’s weird about my dawning realizations of my own possible Irishness is that two of the best friends I’ve had were obsessed with their Irishness. They know how to stand on their toes and lift their knees, the top halves of their bodies perfectly still. They do not think of leprechauns. The men with pints of warm beer are men to be embraced. I never understood their obsessions, never imagined that I too could be Irish. The dancing and music and stories never had anything to do with me.

Dyeing my blond hair red made me look more Irish. I should have gone dark brown, the hair I’ve always wanted, the hair I’ve envied on the dainty quiet girls and the self-assured badass women with dark eyeliner, bright lips, and straight across bangs. Maybe with dark hair I’d feel more Greek, but Greek or Irish, it’s all the same. None of it has anything to do with me.

My hair is red like my rage, my endless rage about everything I and everyone else have to endure. Told to pick an element to represent me during a writing exercise, I chose fire in the nanosecond it took the words to leave the professor’s mouth. I was surprised most people did not choose fire. They were wispy air, go-along water, sturdy rocks.

I forget other people are not like me.

I forget that so many of my people, who also do not have houses in the Hamptons or watch NASCAR, can walk through the world unaware that the majority of people on the globe do not like them, do not trust them, have a special face they put on when whitey is in the room. I know about the mask or second face. Or really, I should say I know of it since I will never experience it myself, never really know. Most of my people can walk through life oblivious, both to the suffering of others and their own bizarre privilege, can think all that matters is that they try to be a good person.

That is not enough.

The problem is, there is no answer, nothing I can do, no way I could get people who are important to me to show me their real faces. I’ve come so close with one of my oldest friends and mentor, but even she cannot show me her true face, would not begin to know how. When I was babysitting her toddler daughter, an old episode of Sesame Street came on and some black woman was acting the fool. I can’t even remember exactly how because it meant nothing to me. My beautiful, wonderful, perfect mentor blushed, turned away, said “I am so embarrassed.”

I know how to feel sorry for myself, how to take on burdens that aren’t mine, but I cannot imagine living every moment of my life as a representative of my people, of having to constantly turn away from Fox News or MTV or the speeches of politicians and CEOs and say, I am so embarrassed.

Because I have no culture, I do not have to be a representative. It is the dominance of my people, the economic and legislated and military dominance that keeps me above scrutiny, beyond blame, and completely without trust. How could I understand what it is to be co-opted, demeaned, deprived? How can you trust someone with no soul, no ancestors, no heritage or history? Someone who came wriggling and screaming into the world with pale skin, white hair, and blue eyes? My color is the absence of color. My culture is the absence of culture. My identity is comprised mostly by what it is not.

I am a product of my culture, raised on Kraft singles and 90210, living without extended family, an island of school and work, the only traditions national holidays, served with a hodgepodge of store-bought nothingness. No one in my family liked cranberry sauce, so we stopped having it for Thanksgiving. Since we had no traditions, we made everything up as we went.

One of my moronic epiphanies involved a good friend telling me he was in college before he read a book whose protagonist was like him (Asian). It changed his life, discovering that there were books by and about people like him. A new universe of possibilities opened in that instant when he discovered everything didn’t have to be white all the time.

I have no idea what that is like. I cannot imagine from a young age only seeing faces on the television that never resembled my own, and if one vaguely like mine snuck in, it was some horrible, grinning caricature of a human being who was ridiculed and humiliated by hordes of white people. I do not know what that’s like, what it does to you, how it starts to create your second face.

There are thousands of stories of white “everymen” with their mundane lives and families and monetary concerns and bosses and mothers and breakups. I have rarely cared or been invested in such tales. Occasionally a good essayist can move me, but in fiction, the plight of your average white cultureless, ungrounded, American-dreaming protagonist leaves me cold. Their lives are devoid of meaning and import in a way that mirrors my own nothingness. The Neverending Story nailed it: “A hole, that would be something, but no, this was nothing.” I think of that line when I try to figure out my culture, American culture in general, white American culture, the culture of my people in specific.

Yes, I am properly ashamed of my romanticization of indigenous cultures, my secret longings to be native, to be other, to be anything not white. I desperately want to belong, but not to “The White Man,” please. Just, please.

I once dreamt I was confronted with a faceless donkey. Inside the donkey was the nothing, it must have been, because what I saw there was devoid of anything. I drew a picture of its head with pastels, wearing the black stick down to a nub. After years of being chased by that vision, I had one of my obvious epiphanies. I was sitting at my desk, pissed off and paralyzed, when I realized:

That faceless donkey is me.

A lot of people think they know me. They think that because I’m loud and say things others wouldn’t, that they always know where I stand, what I think. They imagine they can see my face when all they can see is fire. The closest I come to showing my face is in my essays, but even then, it’s hard to make out. You have to get past the fire and confront the nothing. Most people cannot confront the nothing, it consumes them or they flee.

But I like to think I have a true face, that just for a minute, Alice Walker reached through my mask and caressed my true cheek with gentle fingers before pushing me back to a safe distance. I like to imagine my true face looks something like sunshine on a clear day, that it has room for birds and lush grass, that somewhere, under the fire, under the nothing, exists a soul of love, that loves and is loved, that might someday push through the nothing, extinguish the flames and say, look at me, I’m right here.

My secret hope is that we could start making our own cultures, our own traditions. That I could look around and say, this feels right, and not worry that I’m appropriating someone else’s heritage, their ancestors, their culture that includes so many plus signs while mine has never been anything but the nothing. I dream of a world where I could say, my ancestors are black, and not have people hate me. Because they are, and we all know this fundamental fact, but we do not want to say it out loud. We are all children of Africa, however far and wide our ancestors ranged, no matter the sunlight that fell or didn’t fall on their faces, creating the spectrum of melanin we find now. My appearance is the simple mathematics of Vitamin D absorption into the skin, what worked best for my recent ancestors who rarely saw the sun.

We know the superficial differences between us are not so vast as the similarities, the sinews and sweat and bones and blood of our relatedness. We know the entire world has been constructed by those who wish to maintain order, keep what is unfairly theirs from the rest of us. They created borders and race and poverty. It is nothing we chose. Nothing I chose.

I forget other people are not like me.

Given a chance to play the game, in the nanosecond after the experimenter read the rules, I would laugh and cry out, the perfect world! The one where no one wants, where everyone can be happy together. The world where we all support and love each other, where everyone’s needs are met, where we aren’t born powerful or weak because of our bodies, be they soaked in melanin or bereft, whether our genitalia is internal or external or both. A beautiful world where we could all walk around, proudly displaying our faces, our faces that look like a sunny day or the soft snowfall of winter or a gust of autumn leaves. We could hold each other’s faces in our warm hands, look into those portals, cry at the beauty, whisper, I see you.