May. 27th, 2014

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This year at Wiscon, I did a couple of things differently from previous years. One thing I did differently was recognizing people, and the other was talking to them.

I spent a lot of time at Wiscon this year complimenting people on their outfits. Since I don't recognize faces, I have to look for other things to help me fix them in my brain, and while clothing changes from day to day, it is a useful short-term reference point, and even works a bit from day to day when someone asks me if I'd met someone. Saying something to the person about the detail I'm focusing on helps to solidify the connection... and it's not like you need a reason to pay someone a compliment. It was never insincere, either, It's not hard to find something worth pointing out when you start paying attention to people.

Last Thursday wasn't the first time I met Nora Jemisin, but it was the first time I successfully fixed her--along with a lot of people I see once a year or so--in my brain. I told her that I liked the way the studs in her top coordinated with her earrings, which she appreciated because it turned out to be a happy coincidence. I might have also used the phrase "business casual steampunk" and called ensemble "riveting", because not only do I not know when to stop, but would not be capable of doing so if I did.

When you meet Nora Jemisin, you can't help being impressed with her gentle amiability and graciousness of spirit. She was very kind about the way that travel fatigue steals my strength, that first evening I was in town. It was a very small gesture, and possibly she doesn't remember it, but it was very important to me.

And then when it's time for her to stand up in front of a crowd and speak, you can't help realizing that gentleness and grace are not the same thing as weakness or timidity.

There are a lot of things wrong with the paired stereotypes of the Angry Black Woman and the Strong Black Woman. A lot of people with direct experience have written about this, and when I'm not waiting for an airplane I might make a round-up post to put this information in front of people who've never considered it before.

But one of the simplest is that they simply aren't true. They don't reflect reality. They don't reflect the complexity of a human being, a person who sometimes gets angry and sometimes does need to be strong but is so much more than that and needs the freedom and ability to lay a burden down more than she needs the strength to keep bearing up under it for the convenience or entertainment of others.

A lot of things are going to be said about N.K. Jemisin as her amazing speech makes the rounds. Don't let her detractors reduce her grievances, her resolutions, and her hope to solely anger, and don't let them suggest that the anger which is there is not natural and not necessary. Don't let your support of her consist solely of admiration for her strength and bravery. Be brave enough to share the load, in whatever capacity you're able. She has sounded a call to arms, not announced a plan to single-handedly dismantle the power structures she describes.

But I want to close this quickie of a post by talking more about N.K. Jemisin, the amazing author of the Inheritance Trilogy (the kingdoms one, not the dragons one) and the Dreamblood books. She who is warm, witty... frequently looking absolutely delighted at the warmth and wittiness of all the wonderful people around her. I spoke above of her hope, which might surprise some people who heard or read her speech. But what is it that tells her it's worth fighting, if it isn't hope?

When I say hope, I don't mean the naive optimism of thinking that things simply will get better over time, that time is the same as progress so all we have to do is wait. I do not mean the willful ignorance that claims that things have gotten better in an absolute sense, because some of those things have changed form and we've stopped talking about others.

And look at that... I'm talking about the speech again. Well, it's quite a speech. In order to actually close on a personal note about one of our guests of honor, I'll simply say: Nora, it was so very good to see you.

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