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Writing, learn-ing, jewelry, deconstructing t-shirts and reality - it's what I do. I live to be inspired, and to inspire.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Get Your Read On: Little Brother

I’ve been devouring books like a starved woman this summer, in between all my many other adventures. Certainly summer 2011 is one for the books in so many ways (I know. I'm corny. Don't judge me).

So, the most recent one I’ve read, Little Brother by Cory Doctorow stands out. It’s not so much science fiction as science possibility. Set in San Francisco in what seems like a very near future, the story follows a 17 year old techie genius named Marcus Yallow whose life takes a sudden sharp turn from being a normal teenager (if there is such a thing) to being a revolutionary activist fighting against a government that has turned against its own people.

Doctorow is brilliant in his ability to draw the reader into the world of Little Brother. The book is entertaining yet socio-politically charged, touching gracefully on tricky topics such as terrorism and racism. Doctorow manages this in an echo of the style of George Orwell whose classics include Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty Four. In fact Little Brother is a clear tribute, sort of like an “are we there yet?” analysis of Nineteen Eighty Four; a book published back in 1948 which looks into a futuristic (at that time 1984 seemed like a distant future) dystopian world in which society lives under oppressive scrutiny and control by a leader named “Big Brother.” Privacy and freedom of expression is nonexistent in this society which is constantly reminded that “Big Brother is watching you.” If you haven’t read this classic kick yourself in the ass and go read it now.

In this modern twist, Doctorow looks at modern-day security privacy infringement by the government through the eyes of opinionated, intelligent and rash teenager Marcus. When his hometown starts to resemble the insane dystopia in the name of security on the heels of a terrorist attack, Marcus uses his tech savvy to fight back against the terror inflicted by his own leaders. As the tag-line on the book cover elegantly puts it: “Big Brother is watching you. Who is watching back?”

So that's two books for you to pick up: Nineteen Eighty Four and Little Brother. Go ahead. Read them. You'll thank me afterwards.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Dead Still Dream

by Kelene Blake

The dead still dream

As they turn in their graves

Whenever we fail to grasp

The freedom for which they died

The dead still dream

Because we are still slaves

To corporate agendas

Corruption and crime

The dead still dream

Of the roads that they paved

With their blood, their tears,

Hopes, courage, ideas

The dead still dream

And the living still crave

And the chains are still stifling

Our hearts and our minds

The dead still dream

Of the love that they gave

To a future that stands indifferent

To a struggle which is not yet over

The dead still dream

And they dream of us

Walking with courage

Into the future

(Photo by Kelene Blake)

Friday, June 17, 2011

Don’t Judge My Flow

I’m trying to squeeze several lives into one lifetime. That’s how it would seem if I explained all my interests, hopes, dreams and goals. An advisor correctly observed, “Kelene, you need to be challenged.” Many people don’t understand it, and some people judge it as a negative. It’s not negative, it’s just my flow.

Everyone has a different pace of life at which they are comfortable – a different flow. Some people, like me, seek challenges. We like to collect experiences and see new places. We like to learn new things and achieve mastery of what we learn. There are those of us who like to take it easy, who like to find balance, achieve an equilibrium. Some of us prefer to not have our feathers ruffled, and cannot understand the manic quest for success and the need to have more, do more, see more. Rather some of us want less, preferring to keep it simple.

It’s just how we’re wired and it’s important to be true to ourselves. If you like balance and quiet, you will not be happy climbing the corporate ladder or keeping up with frantic schedules. If you like to keep it moving you will not be happy seeking a quiet, uncomplicated, meditative life. Furthermore, we all find it hard to understand people who have a faster or slower flow than ours.

Those with a faster flow consider the person who doesn’t have big ambitions, who seems to be going nowhere in life, to be lazy. In fast flowing impatience they want to shake them up, tell them that life is going by and they’re going to miss the ride. They call them deadbeats, unmotivated. Those with the slower flow say that the person who is running around seeking more and more and more are superficial, trying to fill their emptiness with worldly things. They say they have no balance, or put worth in empty career achievement and success.

Rather than judge each other’s flows, let’s appreciate each other’s differences. The fast flowing individual can learn how to unwind, relax, have fun from a slow flowing friend. The slow flowing person can learn to set goals and get things done with motivation from their fast flowing friend. Balance cannot be found in one, or the other. Balance is to be found in both. Balance is when we love and accept ourselves and, to the same extent, love and accept others. Balance is when we can both meet the challenge of this fast-paced world, and step out of the traffic and take it easy when we need to.

This sort of acceptance is also a good way to approach how you work with others. We all know the person who is too easygoing and we all know the workaholic. Rather than force them to work at your pace, work with their strengths. Don’t undermine their flow, because the greatest genius comes out of one’s flow. The slow flow person may be great at planning the company retreat or social activities. The fast flow person can handle the logistics of the annual company dinner. The fast flow person is ideal for that time-sensitive project. The slow flow person can be brilliant working on the long-term project that will strengthen your company’s future.

Know your flow, its strengths and weaknesses. Understand that your way is not the only way. Understand that someone who works differently from you is not fundamentally flawed or living empty lives. They are just full of a different type of energy. We benefit from the fast-paced achievers and the slow-paced seekers equally in this world. Rather than judge, respect and appreciate. There’s a place in this world for all of us.

What's your flow?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Friends in Low Places

I recently graduated from Morgan State University where I’ve encountered many talented peers. I hear their music, I’ve read their writings, I’ve seen them clock long hours completing projects, I’ve seen them win races, I’ve seen them climb scaffolding to get the perfect photo, I’ve seen them hone their craft time and time again on and off campus, I’ve seen them combine their hearts, talents, uniqueness and beauty into what they do and what they dream of doing. And what I want to see is all of us succeed.

When we slam against a barrier to career success… or a career, we’re told, “It’s who you know.” Apparently the world runs on nepotism and favors. To get your foot in the door you need to know someone on the inside to unlock it for you. So what does this mean for those who don’t know people on the inside? Are we doomed to struggle until we’ve clawed our way up to success, bloodied and bruised from being kicked about then ignored by those at the top? And when we do get our feet in the door, do we have to put up with rankism and prove ourselves to those who decide to make it tough for us under the guise of preparing us for the “real world” ?

Hell-to-the-NO. Time for a new M.O. Our apathetic generation is finally rallying to stand up for themselves. It was the youth who came out in Arab nations to demand democracy. It is the youth who are gathering all across Europe to demand employment and a better future. (Read more here)

I’m ready for a revolution of mindset. If it’s about who we know, then I know many, many talented people, all of them hungry, like me, for success. Facebook, Twitter, we have hundreds of “friends” and “followers”. That is the power of our generation – a legion of friends, one click away.

What would happen if each of us committed to supporting and promoting each other? Someone needs a photographer: “Hey I know a couple of great photographers!” One friend wrote a screenplay, another is starting up a film production company, and yet another produces music… “Let me introduce you all!” Someone you know is starting up a website and needs help with content. You know someone who’s helped edit your essays – “I know just the person who can help you with that.” Christmas is coming and you want to give original gifts this year: “Oh my friend makes jewelry! Gotta hit her up.” Moved into a new place and the walls are bare: “I know this great artist!” …You get the picture.

Let’s stop passively being “friends” and “followers” and actively start looking out for each other. Let’s push each other up that ladder. In the words of science journalist Robert Krulwich to the Berkeley Journalism School graduating class of 2011:

“Instead, think about getting together with friends that you admire, or envy. Think about entrepreneuring. Think about NOT waiting for a company to call you up. Think about not giving your heart to a bunch of adults you don’t know. Think about horizontal loyalty. Think about turning to people you already know, who are your friends, or friends of their friends and making something that makes sense to you together, that is as beautiful or as true as you can make it… And maybe, for your generation, the Trojan Horse is what you’ve got, your talent, backed by a legion of friends. Not friends in high places. This is the era of Friends in Low Places. The ones you meet now, who will notice you, challenge you, work with you, and watch your back. Maybe they will be your strength.”

This is what I propose: a movement of Friends in Low Places committed to promoting and helping each other succeed. I propose friends share information, give each other feedback, strategize, brainstorm, challenge each other and make each other better. I propose that Friends in Low Places make it a point to celebrate each other’s achievements, without envy or backbiting, with a genuine brotherhood and sisterhood of friendship.

Then, when we achieve a measure of success, when we reach to our higher places, we reach back, and help those coming up behind us. Wave upon wave we can help each other along, closing the gap between the haves and have nots, never forgetting the low places we have come from.

Who is with me?

(Photographer Kalil KZak Zaky)

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Brown Skin of Fantasy

I just read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by author N.K. Jemisin. I have long had a love for mythology and fantasy. J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit & the Lord of the Rings trilogy; C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, and Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea series... I loved them! I still love them. I always wanted to write in this genre. I still do.

I once told a friend, a well read friend, that I wanted to write fantasy. He thought I meant erotica. It occurred to me from that episode that perhaps it wasn’t as obvious a genre for the likes of me to be interested in. The likes of me: a black woman. When I think of black female writers I think of Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, even Zane pops into my head (who at the time was quite popular and featured heavily in my school bookstore making me think maybe that’s why my friend thought I meant that kind of fantasy).

I started to look out for something, anything African/Black in fantasy fiction. I would walk through the fantasy/science fiction aisle in Barnes & Noble and look at covers, names, anything that can draw me in, hook me, something I can identify with. So many books with beautiful covers. No people of color on the covers though. So many names. I couldn’t see anything indicating African heritage. Eventually I did see something I recognized, identified with. I saw Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman. First thing I did was flip to the back to see the author’s picture – a white man. That didn’t sit too well with me. I fully expected to see a writer of African descent writing about this African folk character. Went back to the same friend and complained. My friend shrugged and effectively said you snooze you lose.

A different friend, who has loads of books in the fantasy genre, lent me Wizard’s First Rule by Terry Goodkind. I liked it. Then I read the Kushiel’s Legacy series by Jacqueline Carey. I enjoyed it. Later I borrow and devour the Night Angel series by Brent Weeks. Loads of fun. But there was still something missing. Most recently I start watching Game of Thrones, an HBO series based on A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin and I, like so many, thoroughly enjoy it. One time, I commented to my brother that, as usual, there were no black protagonists. In answer he handed me N.K. Jemisin's debut novel. And I loved it. It is a fantastic story, not because the writer is a woman of color, but because she’s a colorful storyteller. I hold that the quality of a work, not the artist, is the important thing in art. And the quality of this story is art, it’s beautiful, captivating, fun, well paced, intriguing. I loved it!

But I must admit, that little kernel in me, that little emotional need toward kinship, is leaping for joy at the fact that the writer is a black woman, young, beautiful, smart, a counseling psychologist from New York. Her skin is undoubtedly brown, like mine. The protagonist’s skin is brown, like mine. It is a little thing, but it fills me with… something. Jubilance, relief, the knowledge that even in the world of epic fantasy I have a role-model, maybe more than one.

Psychologist Albert Bandura noted that the most effective models are those that the learner most identifies with. We can’t help it. When we gaze over a vast unknown frightening territory we can’t help but look for someone who looks like us. We can’t help but rejoice when we find that, even here, we can fit in. This is why it was such a big thing among African Americans, and African diaspora worldwide to see Barack Obama become President in the U.S.A. This is why I’m happy about fantasy fiction writer N.K. Jemisin. I probably doesn’t do me any immediate good that Obama is U.S. president or Jemisin is an exceptional fantasy fiction writer. But I’m glad all the same. Really glad. And I thank them.