From my February 7, 2021 newsletter. Reprinted in full with a few grammatical corrections.
“You don’t sound Cuban.” “Where’s your accent?” “You speak great English!”
I should be flattered. And I am. I know imitation when I do it.
For almost 40 years, I have been listening for, and speaking into, the echoes.
What will resonate? At what pitch? In which direction of the void should I address myself?
In high school, I learned the ropes of speaking into the void by writing for, and then editing, a public affairs journal (thank you DK and KD.)
But, also, literally, in darkened halls filled with applause, I learned to speech and debate.
In college, I learned that this void has many names: the reader, the audience, the public, the future, the unconscious, the past.
We speak into the void because the void speaks through us.
This void that is in me, is in you; we are part of the same culture, the same language, the same games. Our writing is a form of speech, our speech a form of writing.
And ever since, I have spoken well enough into the void that powerful hands still provide me with food and shelter.
Yet I remain forever in awe of how speaking into the void works. And when.
(Is it time yet? Are we ready to have that conversation?)
So, I was heartened to see resonance for my ongoing critique of the media modes of production that led to the star of The Apprentice almost being made king of the USA .
As someone who has to think consciously about sounding out spaces, let me tell you:
I sense profound echoes today. The contours of reality have changed.
As many pundits have joked, the Democrats appear to have learned something in the last 10 years. Inshallah. Like bats, they are echolocating their way to our freedom.
Of course, that newly “shaped” reality also includes the world’s most powerful empire turning its weapons on itself.
Holy sharp corners of Plato’s Cave, Batman!
The stakes are high. I hope we make it!
See a scary movie, make a scary movie.
I maintain that the scariest movie I have seen in my adulthood is Rich Hill.
It foretells a credible apocalypse: whiteness, stripped of money / power, destroys America.
For almost 9 years now, I have been learning to write fiction by iterating on the following story: minority identity struggles against power structure. Reality is altered.*
One such story is coming out in a very short amount of time.
It’s called Loops.
I picked the main character in a moment of pique; on a quiet sunny morning in the Spring of 2019, I was driving through the bucolic streets of Pasadena (where Halloween was shot, for a reason) when I heard a sound that… triggered me.
A white voice on a podcast was telling me that I should be surprised that a Black kid, in juvie, was inspired by The Bonfire of the Vanities.
The gall. It rises in me still.
Now, dear reader, I invite you to listen carefully to not just what I’m saying but rather how I’m saying it: if there’s one thing this Cuban-American kid knows, intimately, deeply, it’s the power of speaking with the right voice, the whitevoice.
ESL is an everyday experience for me.
“You don’t sound Cuban.” “Where’s your accent?” “You speak great English.”
Every time I speak, I choose to come correctly.
When I speak “perfect English”, I am making a political choice.
As when I use the language of my chosen people. The vulgar.
The words we use are how we sound out the void for invisible traps.
What feelings do we allow, and which do we gatekeep?
Where on the line between C-suite and the street are we standing?
For whom do we speak the Queen’s English?
For whom do we speak the Queens English?
So many times in my life, I have heard the most damning sentiments uttered in the most vanilla phrasing. I’ve come to suspect “vanilla” serves primarily as camouflage. Decorous language: window dressing.
I’m here to tell you we don’t need no water.†
Which brings me back to our forthcoming horror story, and that fine sunny morning in Pasadena, when I heard a perfectly “articulate” voice say something so crooked that I knew I had to set it “straight.”
Wheels went into motion. A price was set. The real work began.
Of course, as with all creative work, the real work was being done by others.
Millions, in fact.
By every one and every body that took a step forward for Black lives and Women’s lives. And yes, even some immigrant lives.
And so, as last summer heated up, I cooled off.
I realized I didn’t have to run the same play again.
In that heated moment in 2019, I had written our flawed protagonist as a stand-in for the white voice.
By 2020, I came to understand that this voice is a meme. And it can be dislodged. Deconstructed.‡
The choice of the voice you hear in your head matters.
That’s why we ultimately cast Vivica Fox as our lead.
And, much to their credit, the team at Audible agreed to hire more writers to let us write for Vivica Fox’s voice. To “fine tune” the language. To be true. To be timely. To be free.
In Loops, as with Reversion, the protagonist is a Black woman trying to live her best life behind the gates of the empire.
But this time, there is no Daddy to be seen. Instead, Daddy is everywhere. Daddy is a speech virus.
I’m being metaphoric! The story of Loops is quite different. But, for the sake of this conversation, let’s talk about a meme called Affluenza.
Like a virus, affluenza hooks into whiteness and so whiteness becomes a vector.
The virus itself, its blunt self-replicating logic, is to abuse living bodies as instruments for generating surplus wealth – wealth that then remains in the hands of the few, the well connected, the unaccountable.
This would be fun if it were a dark fantasy!
But I’ve spent a little bit of time behind <cough> enemy </cough> lines to know it’s our incredible reality. §
The shocking reality we need horror to sound out for us – to “spell” out for us – is that we already live in a world where some bodies are worth less than others.
That’s even more obvious and quantifiable this quarantime.
We take it for granted that bodies that do less labor are worth more. That is amazing.
We assume that raising the next generation is not labor.
Again, this is amazing – in the original sense of that word.
In a less significant but related way: we regard some vulgarities as business friendly; others not.
For example, it is permissible for a man like Trump to curse me over the air. Doing so will get him offers to create more TV shows.
But for me to curse at Trump in mixed company… is still a walk over landmines.
All of which is to say, there’s a decent amount of powerful language in Loops as well as some choice language about power.
I look forward to your hearing about it from other people. 🙂
If the echoes resound this time around.
take care, and thank you always for your time!
Here’s the Twitter thread about reopening schools that triggered this newsletter.
*Some of the once-in-a-lifetime stories that Ana and I have been polishing, often with your help, include a 4-quad action adventures (Nobody Walks in LA), teen Brownsploitation (Happy Cinco de Mayo) and two are the fruits of a lifetime of returning to the same questions again and again (Cachita, Hummingbird).
What they all have in common is a total rejection of the status quo. We believe there is an audience of millions around the world with similar expectations. Millions who are eager to follow rebels in the struggle against empire.
† Speaking of why Queens is the best: look at what happened to Brooklyn! I mean. Come on. 🙂
Where is the roof still on fire? The Queens of AOC and the Bronx of Desus & Mero.
If The Warriors were shooting today, would they be taking a train to Brooklyn at the end of their epic journey? Of course not. They’d be on a bus going over the Bronx-Whitestone bridge. You know I’m right. 🙂
§ The benefit of the current regime goes to the graduates of schools with private dining halls and somehow even more private eating clubs. We stand atop a pyramid of Skull and Bones.
I am not making an original observation about the spirits that possess us.
See “Get Out!” (It’s the 2001 of our generation, no? And somehow also Jaws?)
‡ What is deconstruction but when outsiders speak to one another, breaking English with one another?
If English is broken here, it’s because its bones are being reset here.
So that we may grow more limbs; a wider, stronger shelter from the burning sun.