Author Mariam Kobras on the great mystery of being a writer

1376084_10201438612779684_1304077167_nThis week, Mariam Kobras, awarding winning author of The Stone Trilogy romance novel series, contemplates the mysteries of being a writer, as her next book, Waiting for a Song, Naomi’s Story, has just been released.

Being a writer…one of the great mysteries of life.
by Mariam Kobras, guest blogger

It’s right up there with: why do we dream, why do foods that aren’t good for you taste so good, why are some feelings good, and some bad, why do we make wishes, and where does that deep, almost painful yearning for something that we don’t even know come from? Why does it grip us in unexpected moments, like when we’re standing on the beach and breathing in the tangy sea wind, or when we’re at the opera, and Cecilia Bartoli sings Casta Diva?

Why do we feel that something big, some big, colossal, and yet unfathomable force is moving around us, unseen, unheard, and yet we can sense it, knowing in some mysterious way that it’s there.

Isn’t that how writing works too? Isn’t writing the attempt to catch moods, feelings and the elusive memory of something that never even happened?

Just last night, chatting with my publisher, something she said made me pause and ponder this. We were talking about the impostor syndrome, and why so many writers encounter it at some point in their career. That’s when I paused. We’re celebrating the release of my fourth book, Waiting for a Song, with this blog hop. The launch of the fifth is within sight, and the sixth is written and waiting its turn.

I said, “I have no idea what to write for Cindy’s blog. I’m no academic. I’m just a writer.”
And my publisher said, “And you know a lot more about the writing process by now. So write about that.”

But do I?
When do we turn from hopeful amateur into author, into someone who actually knows what they’re doing? Is it when an agent or publisher accepts our first book?
I think not. Writing one book is easy. Most of us have a story to tell, even if it’s only one. Only when you’ve submitted it, and a publisher has accepted it, everything changes. Publishers don’t want a book. They want an author. They want a person who—sooner rather than later—will turn into their own brand.

Following up on that first book isn’t quite as easy. Expectations and hopes are looking over your shoulder, and their shadows can be mighty daunting. Writing my second book, Under the Same Sun, was pretty daunting. I never knew I could do it until it was finished, and printed.

Did I feel like an author? No way. I felt like a bumbling amateur, again
Book Three, Song of the Storm, was a bit easier. I knew by then that I could please my publisher. She wasn’t thrilled that I wanted to write about 9/11. I understood her hesitation. It’s a difficult subject, but it was something that I had to do. My heart was demanding for it to be written.

But did it make me feel like an author? Not at all.

Strangely enough, it was only after the Stone Trilogy was finished and I’d recovered from the emotional turmoil of leading my characters through that blackest of days, after I’d seen all three books together and held them in my hands, that I could let go. It felt as if I’d done the task that I’d been set, and done it well, and now I could do whatever I wanted.

Writing Waiting for a Song, Naomi’s Story and the other prequel, The Rosewood Guitar, Jon’s Story, felt like being on vacation, like walking along that shore that Naomi and Jon walk on nearly every morning. The words bubbled from my imagination right into the keyboard. They danced onto the screen of my faithful little MacBook in no time at all.

So do I feel like an author now?
The truth is, I’m still not sure. It’s good enough for me that my publisher is sure. I’ll just keep on writing and pour out the stories, and let others judge if they’re good enough to be read or not. And anyway, does it matter whether I feel like an author or not?

Stone-Series-WEB

I’m in a happy place.
That’s really all that matters in life. That’s the real mystery, happiness.

Thank you so much for hosting me today, Cindy!

Photo on 5-2-14 at 4.37 PM #3This was the ninth stop in Mariam’s Book Launch Blog hop & Giveaway to celebrate the release of Waiting for a Song, Naomi’s Story. Don’t miss the next stop on June 19th on Nita Beshear’s blog where Nita will review Mariam’s new book!

GIVEAWAY: ONE LUCKY WINNER will receive a red leather journal with cream pages and a ribbon marker—like the one Naomi used when she wrote the lyrics that won Jon’s heart. To enter, just leave a comment below (US and Canada only please). Prize courtesy of Buddhapuss Ink LLC.

For more chances to win, please visit the Buddhapuss Ink or Mariam’s author page on Facebook and click on the Giveaway Tab!

Rafflecopter giveaway – a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

Posted in Book publishing, Creative writing, publishing, Reading, The Writer's Life, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

In the quest to free my Persecuted Ugandan friends — SUCCESS — and more…

We are getting there!

We are getting there!

As it turns out, Bryan, one of two gay Ugandan men I have raised money for (with the help of very generous friends) is leaving with another friend for South Africa THIS WEEK! I am very excited for him. Harold’s passport is being held up. Practically, this means I could use another $500 for Harold, who will need to make the trip at a later date. The campaign is still on until June 25th, so if you could make small (or large) contributions until then, anything would help. That will be three people saved. I will get Harold out on my own if I must. I’m so excited for Bryan!!! He is leaving this coming week. Thank you, everyone.

For more on this story, please go to the campaign to read all about it: We have met the goal but need another $500!

Or, see my post on Lesbian.com about the situation in Uganda where an entire population of people are being persecuted.

Thank you, everyone.
Cindy

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Is the MFA Worth It?: Guest blog by Message from a Blue Jay Author Faye Rapoport DesPres!

Blue-Jay-Cover-10.2-for-webuseToday my friend, Faye Rapoport DesPres, is guest blogging! Her book, Message from a Blue Jay, was released just yesterday, and it sold out on Amazon in half a day! It’s a fabulous and beautiful read about one’s woman’s journey home. You can still order on Amazon as more copies are being shipped ASAP. Below, please read Faye’s guest post, then enter the giveaway by leaving a comment after the post!

Faye Rapoport DesPres

Faye Rapoport DesPres is the author of the new memoir in essays titled Message from a Blue Jay(Buddhapuss Ink, May 2014). Faye was born in New York City and raised in upstate New York, and she has also lived in Colorado, England, and Israel. Her personal essays, fiction, poetry, reviews, and interviews have appeared in a variety of literary journals and magazines including Ascent, Connotation Press: An Online Artifact, Fourth Genre, Platte Valley Review, Superstition Review, and the Writer’s Chronicle. Faye earned her MFA from the Solstice Creative Writing Program at Pine Manor College.

The MFA in Creative Writing: Is it Worth It?

 By Faye Rapoport DesPres

It is appropriate that my first guest post for the Message from a Blue Jay “blog hop” (or virtual book tour) is being published on Cindy Zelman’s blog. I have been a fan of The Early Draft since Cindy began publishing her lively, insightful posts here several years ago. That was before she was stolen away by larger blogging venues like the Huffington Post – I hope she shares more of her writing here soon. Check back when she does – you won’t be sorry.

Cindy and I met as Creative Nonfiction students at the Solstice MFA Program in Creative Writing at Pine Manor College, so I thought I would use this space on her blog to address an often-asked question: Is earning an MFA in Creative Writing worth the money, time, and commitment?

Before I began my own studies at Solstice, I posed this question to several friends who are writers. Two of the people I spoke to had graduated from well-known MFA programs, and one held an MA in English Literature. Perhaps predictably, the two MFA grads recommended that I apply, while the third friend did not.

The writer who felt that an MFA wasn’t necessary basically told me this: “If you want to write, just write.” Armed with a strong background in literature and the experiences he’d had in his MA workshops, he felt motivated enough to read and work on his creative writing on his own. He noted that there are writing workshops, writing groups, and plenty of other opportunities to practice and perfect one’s craft without making the commitment (financial and otherwise) required to earn an MFA.

I have seen this work for some writers. I have a friend, for example, who has published five novels and a memoir with several independent presses. She even owned her own press at one point – and she never studied creative writing in any formal way. She was simply an avid reader from a very young age, and writing comes naturally to her. She is also highly disciplined, and because she loves writing and reading so much, both are a major part of her life.

On the other hand, the MFA grads who I spoke to felt that their MFA programs contributed in important ways to their experiences and eventual successes as writers. One person is still writing regularly as part of a writing group, and his MFA qualifications helped him land a job as an adjunct writing instructor at a state university. The other grad won a major poetry prize a few years ago that resulted in the publication of her first book; since then, she has published several chapbooks and a second book-length manuscript. She also teaches creative writing at a well-known college.

In the end, I decided that the discipline and experience of a Creative Writing program would help me – and that decision proved to be the watershed moment that propelled me toward the publication of Message from a Blue Jay. Before I studied Creative Nonfiction at Solstice, the bulk of my writing experience included a few poetry-writing classes I’d taken years before and my ongoing work as a professional journalist and a business/non-profit writer. I read a lot of classical literature during college and the years that followed, but I was out of touch with contemporary literature and the literary community in general. Most important, I had never learned some of the basic aspects of creative prose-writing craft.

I chose the Solstice program because it is a low-residency program that allowed me to continue with my professional freelance work while I pursued my interest in creative writing. Solstice is a small, more affordable program with an incredibly talented faculty, and it is located in the Boston area, where I live. As I had hoped, my creative work improved leaps and bounds during the two-year period that I participated in the program. I also met other writers and became part of an unexpectedly supportive community of writers and teachers.

Message from a Blue Jay was written one chapter at a time, starting in the early days at Solstice when I started practicing the personal essay form. Slowly, over the two-year period of my studies, I began building a body of work I could be proud of. Still, the essay collection that became my final Creative Thesis was not the end of the road – not by far. I revised the essays many times after graduation and continued to produce new work. I also struggled through the process of submitting to literary journals and wrestling with the standard rejections, which came far more often than the acceptances. Through it all, my teachers along with fellow students and graduates encouraged me by believing in my work.

It wasn’t until two and a half years after graduation that I finally felt my essays merited inclusion in a publishable collection – the manuscript that eventually evolved into the memoir-in-essays that is Message from a Blue Jay. The study, the revision, the persistence, and the waiting were all worth it. I finally have a book that I’m proud of.

As to the argument that MFA programs produce robotic, unoriginal writers, all I can say is that Cindy Zelman, whose blog I’m posting on today, and I couldn’t be more dissimilar writers. Yet we graduated from the same MFA program and had many of the same instructors. We’re different people with different perspectives and different voices – yet we enjoy and respect each others’ work. We’ve celebrated each others’ successes over a hot cup of coffee and we’ve encouraged each other to keep going after the sting of rejection. When one of us says, “This is it! I’m done! I can’t do this anymore,” the other listens patiently and then says, “Okay. Now get back to work.” Having colleagues like that on your side is priceless.

So – is an MFA worth it? I think the answer to that question is different for different people. All I can say is that in my specific case, the answer was definitely “yes.”

 

This was the second stop on Faye Rapoport DesPres’s Virtual Book Tour.

Don’t miss the next stop on 5/16 at Chloe Yelena Miller‘s blog!

The publisher is offering a personalized, signed copy of Message from a Blue Jay plus swag to the winner of their Virtual Tour Giveaway.
We invite you to leave a comment below to enter.
For more chances to enter, please visit the Buddhapuss Ink or Message from a Blue Jay Facebook pages and click on the Giveaway Tab!

Posted in Book publishing, Creative Nonfiction, Creative writing, Essays, Memoirs, MFA Programs, publishing, Reading, Solstice MFA Pine Manor College, The Writer's Life, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The good news, the bad news

revisionangstThe good news is that I’ve started blogging again for the lesbian.com website, whose mission it is to bring the best in news, entertainment and opinion to the worldwide lesbian community. However, straight people are encouraged to read the articles, too!

Click here for Cindy’s latest post on lesbian.com.

And the bad news? Well, I don’t know if it’s bad news exactly, but it is anxiety-provoking.

I still need 150 people to give $5 or 100 people to give $10 to my campaign to free two persecuted gay Ugandans. PLEASE GIVE.  Just that small donation combined with other small donations will give these men what they need to travel and make it to South Africa. To learn more, you can read the lesbian.com article or click on the PLEASE GIVE link for the full story.

Thank you for caring.

Cindy

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Baton Blog Hopping: Hey, it’s Cindy’s turn.

It’s my turn to talk about writing for the Baton Blog Hop. 

                                              Showing off the muscles

Writer Cindy Zelman posting her picture for no apparent reason…except vanity.

This is the baton

This is the baton

The official blog hop BATON was passed to me by…

 

Author Mariam Kobras!

Author Mariam Kobras. This is a blog hop in which writers discuss their work and their writing process. Mariam is a successful author of five novels, three of them published and available for sale and two to be published in 2014 by Buddhapuss Ink. The three currently available are known as The Stone Trilogy. Mariam has won awards for the quality of her novels.  As Mariam describes her own books: They’re not romance, not mystery, not crime, and somehow, not even women’s fiction. They’re less than each of these pieces, and yet, taken together, more than all of them combined. Mariam’s books are absorbing reads, so if you want to get lost in a good story, please see her wesbsite: www.mariamkobras.com

And now I answer the baton blog hop questions:

1. What am I working on?

Right now, I’m trying to sell my new chapbook, What’s in a Butch’s Purse and Other Humorous Essays. It includes seven short essays that you can read in less than an hour. Most of them have been published online, but now they are available as a collection. Hopefully, the writing will make you laugh, as you read about me bumbling through life and especially tripping over my romantic relationships with women.  I have found that both men and women, straight or gay, enjoy these pieces, because really, relationships are relationships. A dysfunctional romantic interlude always leads to disaster no matter who you are.

20140329-215956.jpgThe chapbook is available for pre-order as a print book and available immediately as an e-Book. If you want to order my book, please see 

www.wingedcitychapbooks.com.

Selling the book is important to me for many reasons, not the least of which is raising money for the the gay and lesbian population of Uganda. For those of you who don’t know, Uganda’s government recently passed a bill that punishes gay people with up to a life sentence in prison just for being gay. Even if you are suspected of being gay, you can be arrested.The bill was passed by Uganda’s Parliament and signed by the president. The specifics of the bill make it impossible for gays to work or rent apartments, as those who give them jobs or homes can also be arrested for helping to “promote” the gay lifestyle, as the government so erroneously labels it. The populace has essentially been given license to beat up and torture anyone they suspect of being gay without consequence.

So if you buy the chapbook, you also help the persecuted people of Uganda. I am donating all proceeds to help them escape. I have gotten to know several Ugandans personally, and I call some of them friends.

Uganda head

He cannot show his face because he could be arrested.

In addition to selling the chapbook, I’m working to complete a full length book of memoir in essays that examines my relationships with women in more depth and with more seriousness than the chapbook does. The working title has changed a few times, but right now, I’m calling it Romantic Defectives, Narcissists, and Other Dykes. That’s a bit of a tongue-in-cheek title, and it may just be reflective of the sardonic mood I’ve been in lately. I think that title may not do justice to the serious essence of one woman’s struggle to find a life partner. And here she is middle-aged and has never had one — that’s the why the word “defective” came to mind, as in “What the hell is wrong with me?”

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Well, first I need to say that I don’t write in what most people think of as genre; I don’t write mysteries, or romance novels, or inspirational books, for example. If I work within a genre, it is within the broad one known as creative nonfiction (or CNF) which includes, among many “sub-genres,” personal essay and memoir. I guess we could ask how my essay and memoir writing differs from others.

Any author who has developed a distinct voice makes his or her work different. Once you have found a voice as a writer, no one else sounds like you. There may be similarities — a few people have called me a female David Sedaris — but I don’t write like David Sedaris and he doesn’t write like me. What we have in common is that we can both be funny and we can both be jerks. He is much higher paid jerk than I am.

A reader can identify a writer’s voice, even without looking at the title page, assuming the reader is a fan and reads this person’s work on a regular basis. That’s not to say a writer doesn’t jump into a different voice and persona throughout the course of his or her writing life, but generally speaking, no two writers sound exactly alike. When I state this,  I’m not talking about those mass-produced titles where you don’t even know who is writing the book, and perhaps the name on the cover isn’t even a real person. I’m talking about creative writing or literary writing or whatever term means the opposite of supermarket paperback.

That said, readers of my work and other writers have described my essay and memoir writing  as wry, humorous amid great sadness, raw and honest, tender yet robust. I think I tell a good story, I think people tend to get absorbed in my work, but a lot of writers can say that. I tell my stories  in my own voice and style and that’s what makes me different.

3. Why do I write what I do?

In answering this question, I will describe what happened to me more than two decades ago. I enrolled in an MA (no MFA available) program at the University of New Hampshire. The year was 1988. I was accepted as a fiction student. It’s not that I didn’t have my glorious moments (few and far between) as a fiction writer, but at UNH I received a great deal of (not often nice) critique that went t like this: That’s not fiction! That’s not a credible character! You’re just writing about your life!

So, fast forward twenty years and I am having my first mid-life crisis and find the Solstice MFA in Creative Writing program of Pine Manor College. This time I am accepted into a genre called “creative nonfiction.”  People have been writing creative nonfiction since humankind learned to write, any sort of writing that is based on the actual experiences and “characters” of the writer’s life. But when I was at UNH all those years ago, the “genre” of creative nonfiction was just on the verge of being defined as a genre. Sometimes it’s referred to as the “fourth” genre, with poetry, fiction, and drama, being the other three.

Regardless, writing personal essays and stories about my own life felt entirely natural. I read somewhere that fiction writers like to “imagine” the world and that creative nonfiction writer’s like to “record” their “observations” of the world.

While no one has to be just one or the other – fiction writer or nonfiction writer – I definitely fall into the camp of wanting to record my observations of the world, my life, and the characters who have inhabited it or merely crossed my path. It comes more naturally to me to write an essay that tells you the story of a relationship in my life that fell apart than to imagine a fictional character who may experience something similar. So, I write what I do because it’s my natural tendency.

In terms of topics, I do write a lot about my life as a gay woman, but also about my battles with panic disorder and agoraphobia, and about my family,  mother especially, although I am hoping to write more about my father going forward. He was quite the character. Even in saying that just now, I have a vague notion of an entire book I could write about my family.

4. How does my writing process work?

I don’t know if this is the correct term but I call myself an “organic” writer, meaning my process doesn’t usually involve a lot of pre-planning like outlining or storyboarding. I think those methods are very important for long works and especially for novelists who have complicated plots and subplots and many characters. I have no idea how they keep track of all that and I admire them so.

But for me, my work may start with a word, a phrase, a memory, a feeling, a song lyric, a smell, or the way the sun lights the cars in a parking lot. I might write a sentence about whatever small thing has latched onto my brain and emotions. If it feels like I need to say more, I keep writing, but without a plan, so I make this big mess on the page, so to speak. I try not to worry about organization or grammar or spelling or the quality of the prose.

The piece grows sideways and upside down and inside out as I keep adding to it, with a vague notion as to where I want to take it. I think I know what it’s about but as I keep writing, the piece tells ME what it’s about, and once I hear the piece tell me, then I can start to shape it and work toward an end.

For most of my process, the prose is pretty weak, because strengthening prose comes later for me, but I feel a lot of excitement in the beginning and middle of my process because I am creating something from nothing.

Of course, to make the piece coherent and well-written takes many drafts and involves the use of “craft” in terms of being conscious of sentence structure, cadence, scene, dialogue, reflection, transition, paragraphs, and how to create a beginning, middle, and end. Even an essay should have some kind of story arc. People tell stories, fictional or not.

Unlike most writers, I can’t count my drafts because I don’t start at the beginning and go to the end, at least not every time. I do that more often when I’m close to a final draft, and I’m checking for stupid errors of diction, grammar, and typos. 

But during the really tough revisions before we get near the final, I jump around in the piece. I may randomly open up a page and start working on the sound of the paragraphs and sentences. I may take things out — that old “kill your darlings” writer’s cliche — or add in some new darlings that I kill the next time. Once in awhile I marry my darlings and keep them. All the while I’m doing this, I have in my head the idea of where I will end this work.

All this jumping around leads to strengthening pieces of the essay, but at some point I need to make sure it all makes sense as a whole. I need to make sure I have a coherent beginning, middle, and end. I accomplish this by multiple revisions and rereadings, until I am so sick of what I’m reading that I can’t look at it for quite some time. Shorter pieces come together quicker, but I have been known to work on a piece periodically for years. I recently had an essay published in Tinge Magazine that I started working on seven years ago. And if you think tha’ts a long time, I just had a short story accepted by Steam Ticket: A Third Coast Review that I began working on nearly 20 years ago!

Most of the time, I can get a piece into publishable form much sooner than a decade or two, but  it’s a good thing I’ve been writing for most of my life and have a body of work that’s ready or close to ready for publication as I continue to churn out new work that will take some time to be good.

In case you are interested in reading some of my pieces. Just follow the link. And again, you can find my chapbook of humorous essays at this link: www.wingedcitychapbooks.com.

Thank you for reading, everyone.

I now pass the baton to a wonderful writer:

Angie Foster who will be posting on April 21st.

 

First, Angie Foster: Angela Foster

Angela Foster is a poet and memoirist who lives in Pine City, Minnesota. She teaches memoir at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis, MN, and holds an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Pine Manor College in Boston, Massachusetts. Angela’s poetry book, Farm Girls, co-authored with her sister, Candace Simar, was recently released by Riverplace Press of Brainerd, Minnesota. For more information about Angela, please visit her website at www.angelaffoster.com.

Below is information about her book:

Farm Girls: Reflections and Impressions

Written by Angela F. Foster and Candace Simar

If you learned to swear in Norwegian or shared a two-holer outhouse with your cousin, you’ll enjoy the poetry and prose of these sisters. From memories of Norwegian ancestors and growing up on a Minnesota Dairy farm, to dreams of Oprah’s couch and rapping with Eminem, Farm Girls will take you back to the days of rural schools, moon light, star light, hope to see a ghost tonight, and the auction of the family farm. n or shared a two-holer outhouse with your cousin, you’ll enjoy the poetry and prose of these sisters. From memories of Norwegian ancestors and growing up on a  swear in Norwegian or shared a two-holer outhouse with your cousin, you’ll enjoy the poetry and prose of these sisters. From memories of Norwegian ancestors and growing up on a Minnesota dairy farm to dreams of Oprah’s couch and rapping with Eminem, these farm girls will take you back to the days of rural schools, moon light, star light, hope to see a ghost tonight, and the auction of the family farm.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Blogs, Creative Nonfiction, Essays, LGBTQ Movement, Solstice MFA Pine Manor College, The Writer's Life, Uncategorized, Writing, Writing Humor | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

What’s in a Butch’s Purse will soon be available for download and pre-order

20140329-215956.jpgHello out there,

I have yet to mention to my blog audience that my chapbook, What’s in a Butch’s Purse and Other Humorous Essays, will soon be available for pre-order for hard copy and as a download for e-book, according to my editor at Winged City Chapbook Press. She says it’s just a matter of days. When it’s official, I will provide the link for ordering and/or downloading.

The chapbook (meaning a short book) is a compilation of some of my briefer essays that have been published on lesbian.com and in Gay e-magazine, as well as on  my blog, The Early Draft. One essay has never been published at all, so this will be its debut in print!

butch's purse#2

I wish I had a cool purse like this!

 

Last summer, I entered the Winged City chapbook contest, as I saw they were looking for creative nonfiction submissions, which seemed unusual, since most chapbooks are poetry books. My manuscript was one chosen for publication, which has been very exciting for me.

I have since learned that the shorter form of the chapbook is becoming more and more prevalent for both fiction and creative nonfiction writers. I say hooray to that. It’s a great way to showcase an author’s work along  a common theme or voice or something that pulls together the writing. In the case of What’s in a Butch’s Purse, the overarching thread is the wry humor, and dare I say it, the self-deprecation.

From a completely dysfunctional relationship with a woman named Jan, to seeing my first and last name linked to a hardcore porn site, to meeting a man in the coffee aisle at a supermarket and contemplating my “hetero-curiosity” in middle age, you will see the narrator (me) bumbling through her life. I certainly hope you will enjoy all that bumbling.

I have a Facebook Page devoted to the chapbook, so if you can link to it here, please LIKE the page and make me a very happy butch. :-) On Facebook (please scroll to the thumbs up button and click on LIKE.)

And if you can’t link to the Facebook page, no worries. I will keep you informed here on my blog.  Thank you, everyone.

Cindy

 

Posted in Creative Nonfiction, Essays, Facebook, Humor, publishing, Uncategorized, Writing, Writing Humor | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A new laptop or people’s lives?

Treasure Uganda LgbtRecently, I complained to my brother that my laptop was slow, so we ended up window shopping at a local Best Buy. It’s so enticing to drive  into the parking lot where the blue and yellow sign is lit up as bright as a full moon. The layout of the store welcomes you into a fantasy world of electronic gadgets: tablets, laptops, smart phones, flat screen TVs, all to make you a happier person. If you have a passion for electronics, the lure of Best Buy is hypnotic.

So we amused ourselves as we investigated the latest laptops with Windows 8 and touch screens and computers called “Yoga” that literally bend over backwards and become a tablet, as well  ones that twist and contort, and which would take me months to figure out what the hell I’m supposed to be doing with it in each position.

We moved on through the aisles to the TVs and were jaw-droppingly dazzled by the 50″ 3D ulta high definition televisions. We were equally enthralled by some of the new tablets with laser pens, with screens so high def you can’t stop staring at them. And when you hand-write your name on the screen with the pen, it turns into typed text! 

One could really dwindle her life away staring at so many screens and playing with laser pens.

In the end, we both left the store having bought nothing at all. My brother had his reasons and I had mine. I am going to tell you mine (you’d have to ask him about his.)

You know, I really do love America and believe there are so many wonderful things about this country. I hate it when Americans put down their home with blanket disgust. But of course, we have our issues and serious ones: economic inequities, racism, poverty, crime, and in a prime example of of what Best Buy showcases: excess. There’s not one thing in that store you need to in order to live.

I have partaken of American excesses in the past and will likely do so in the future, but not today, not yesterday, and not tomorrow. Right now, my mind is on other things.

With so many causes screaming for attention at home and around the world, I find myself connected to one cause in particular — the plight of the LGBTI population in Uganda. Why would an American girl like me, who lives a fairly comfortable life, feel so much connection for gay Ugandans?  Perhaps because I have come to know several of these people via Facebook (FB has to be good for something) and I have grown very fond of them.

For the most part, the continent of Africa is a terrible place to be gay or what we often refer to as “queer” in this country to cover the gamut of sexual orientations that are not heterosexual and genders that are not our “norm” of male or female.  Uganda is among the worst of the worst countries in which to exist as a gay person in Africa, or anywhere. And as is usually the case, white colonialism in the past, and current misguided American religious fundamentalist missionaries have had a hand in making life miserable for these people.

At the prompting of such America missionaries, the Uganda Parliament has been trying for several years to pass a “Kill the Gays” bill. They toned that down due to international pressure, but the Ugandan Parliament recently passed the Anti Homosexulality Law which requires up to life imprisonment for living as a gay person.  Passed near the end of 2013, the speaker of the Parliament, a woman named Rebecca Kadaga, said the the bill was a “Christmas gift,” to the people of Uganda. At the end of this blog entry, I will provide you links if you are interested in learning the particulars of the Ugandan bill and situation, but for now, I will keep this at a personal level.

Gay Ugandans support LGBT rights in Russia, but who is supporting the gay Ugandans?

I have been in touch mostly with Uganda men, who had informed me of their lives. Not one ever asked me for a dollar.  But recently, I spoke with a Ugandan woman. She said she had to get out of Uganda. I said I didn’t know how I could help. She said outright, “I need money.” I asked, “How much money do you need?” and she responded “80 dollars.”  She added that she could use another $15 for food because it was a two day bus ride to Kenya. Kenya is no panacea for gay people, I have learned, but it is the closest and easiest country for Ugandan gays to get to, and it also is by degrees, less dangerous for them. They have a small chance at a better life.

I did not know this woman or necessarily trust her, but I asked her to have Bryan (not his real name) be in touch with me. I have been talking with Bryan for more than a year, and I find him to be earnest and kind and loving. He was in touch with me very quickly after my request, so I figured the woman was probably legit, and I sent money for her and her girlfriend to get out of Uganda. I hear she has made it to Kenya, although I have no real proof. I have asked that she send me a postcard from that country.

Today I had a conversation with Joseph (not his real name) who also wants to go to Kenya. I asked, “Do you have a boyfriend?”

He said, “Yes, his name is Ron.”

I said, “Would you go to Kenya without Ron?” To this, Joseph sent back to me a resounding, “NO!”  And in the end, Joseph told me he was very grateful for my offer to help him out of Uganda, but Ron is in the middle of his studies and wants to stay in Uganda, and he “would not go without him.”

Joseph would rather stay in a country that persecutes him than go to one where he might have a chance, if it means leaving his lover – or should is say – his love – behind.

The love is so pure, and yet, most people in his country, as well as many in our own, would call his relationship “abnormal.”

Have you watched episodes of that ridiculous show, “The Bachelor?” Don’t try to tell me that Joseph and Ron are not okay, but featuring one man and a bunch of air-headed women fighting and screaming over him are okay. Let’s not even talk about how such a show sets back women 100 years and is an insult to our entire American culture and intelligence.

To make a long story short, instead of buying a new PC that could bend over backwards and become a tablet, I decided to send money to a number of Ugandan gays who want to go to Kenya as their only chance at a better life. Right now, Harold is on his way to try. Harold could not stop crying when I spoke with him. He has been jailed several times due to his activism on behalf of the gay community in Uganda. He was evicted from his apartment for being gay (that is legal in Uganda.) He is desperate. I hope he makes it.

My lovely friend, Bryan, recently tried to get out, was questioned at the border, realized he needed to bribe the Kenyan border guards with much more money than he had, was nearly jailed, and then sent back to Uganda.

Bryan and I got upset with each other recently because we were so disappointed that he didn’t make it.

“I threw money at a problem,” I said, “and it was a mistake. Throwing money at a problem doesn’t solve anything!” Of course, had Bryan gotten out, it would have solved something, and it provided him some small hope for a better life. It showed him someone cared.

“I was unlucky,” he said to me. Sometimes, people do get lucky and are allowed to cross into Kenya, he added. 

I have spent a certain amount of personal funds to try to help a number of gay Ugandans cross over into Kenya. I am still waiting to receive proof that even one has made it. It could happen, if one or more of them gets lucky and doesn’t run into a corrupt border guard. I’m waiting for postcards to be sent to me with a Kenyan postmarks. Then I’ll know someone or a few have made it.

I am not telling you this story to show you what a great person I am. I am telling you this because it’s what I did recently rather than partake in American excess yet again. In the last year, I have learned that a friend of mine, just 50, died of cancer, that my own mother has stage 4 cancer, and these events, along with other issues, have me reassessing my priorities.

These Ugandans are young people, in their 20s and 30s,  who deserve a better shot at life. I could write a similar statement about any number of gay people in other African countries, but it so happens that it is the Ugandans that I have gotten to know.

Below are links to tell you more precisely for the situation of LGBTI people in Uganda.

This is a good article from NPR that explains the Uganda situation well.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/parallels/2013/12/20/255825383/uganda-passes-anti-gay-bill-that-includes-life-in-prison

And although the Ugandan President vetoed the anti-homosexuality bill, he did not do it to protect homosexuals. He calls them abnormal. He believes they need to be repaired. He has been known to support corrective rape for lesbians and god knows what to cure gay men. His veto can also be overthrown by Parliament. And regardless, gays are persecuted severely. See this article:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/ugandan-presidents-veto-of-anti-gay-bill-a-rare-victory-for-homosexual-africans/article16384374/

Eventually, I will buy a new, faster PC from Best Buy. I live in America and I have this option. It is a privilege I have. And eventually, I hope to wrap my mind around a way to raise money to help gay Ugandans find a better life either within their own country, or by leaving Uganda.

Posted in Activism, homophobia, LGBTQ Movement, Queer Movement, Uganda, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments