• Kacen Callender

WIP: Energy

I was listening to Dr. Thema’s Homecoming podcast when she said something that stuck with me: I’m paraphrasing, but basically, there’s an extra layer of pain in being grateful for having what we do have, and knowing that we still deserve more and deserve better.

I’ve had many moments where it’s been difficult to be grateful for where I am in my journey. There are some unsavory echoes for me whenever people insist that I should be grateful for what I have. “Stop being so uppity. Be grateful for what we’ve given you.” Within publishing, it feels like we’re being told to be grateful for the honor that white supremacism has bestowed on us. Be grateful that the white people, the straight people, the cis people have even deigned to publish our books at all.

It isn’t in our heads. BIPOC, trans people, queer people, disabled people—every single one us of any and every marginalization knows that we have to work harder than our privileged peers, especially those of us with intersectional identities. For me, this knowledge is actually something that can make a beautiful emotion like gratitude feel triggering. Yes, I am grateful to have books published and to have received so many honors and accolades and the love of so, so many readers. Yes, it’s still a fact that my Blackness, my queerness, my trans identity means that, as someone who has worked so hard and is so talented, I might have received even more than I already have if I didn’t have to deal with racist, anti-queer, and anti-trans bigotry. (It’s uppity of me to even say this, right? To say that I am talented and hardworking. To think that I deserve more, to think that I deserve better, is what many would consider as "above my station.")

I’ll be real: this is the one thing that I think was the closest to breaking me in this industry. Wondering where I would be if I didn’t have to strain against racism, anti-queerness, and transphobia. As Dr. Thema says: no, it’s not in my head. Yes, it’s real that this is something I and others in this industry will combat, likely for the rest of our lives. Changing the industry would mean a change at the root, the core, of this society.

I see debut and newer authors struggling with the same. The very real consequences of mental health, often with public spirals on social media. This isn’t anything to be ashamed of. We should be able to have our cries for help, because we each deserve that attention when we’re struggling, especially when so many of us are isolated and don’t have access to support. But combatting bigotry in the industry is so overwhelming that I don’t know if many of us know how to help each other or ourselves, beyond commiserating and validating each other’s anger and pain.

Recently, a prominent white author was rewarded with four different variations of an ARC, while he has consistently profited off Asian-American aesthetics and pain, without giving true support to Asian authors, especially most recently after the attacks in Atlanta. Meanwhile, many Asian authors struggle to even stay afloat in this industry. It’s the same catch-22, over and over again, where the publishing industry sets up privileged authors for success and marginalized authors to fail, and then blame us for our failure. The pain I see in voices speaking against this is so heartbreaking, especially for the newer authors who already want to give up. What’s the point in writing, then? I’ve felt this pain every time I saw anti-Blackness in this industry from non-Black readers and anti-queerness and transphobia from Black readers. This pain eventually became anger, which at times consumed me every single day.

I’m not trying to give anyone any sort of advice or suggest how they are supposed to feel, or what they’re supposed to do with their emotions. We’re all individuals on our own separate journeys. It’d be assumptive of me to even think that we’re not supposed to feel anger and pain. Maybe that’s the journey some people are on in this lifetime: feeling and exploring and accepting anger instead of trying to ignore it and push it aside. But I do believe in sharing my journey, always with the hope that it might be helpful to some, even if it inevitably won’t be the answer for everyone.

I’ve been trying to practice forgiveness. Yes, yes, I know. There’re a lot of conversations surrounding forgiveness in this country, and how it is that most often, the marginalized are expected to forgive the privileged. This conversation, to me, goes hand-in-hand with the post I wrote about accountability vs. shame, where I wrote about how requests for accountability mostly go ignored. Because we often point out what is wrong, what harmful actions have been taken, but there’s almost never (if ever) any change as a result, we’re left with few other choices. What are we supposed to do when we point out harm and nothing is done to correct that behavior? We have pointed out publishing’s errors again and again and again and again, and still, a white man who has engaged in anti-Asian racist behavior is given four ARCs while Asian authors struggle to find support within publishing. A white woman who has engaged in anti-Asian rhetoric is rewarded with a platform and a film, speaking over Asian voices who have explained, in-depth, why Eleanor & Park is so harmful. We start to get the sense, after a while, that the industry is really fueled by a group of privileged people who, at the end of the day, just don’t care. What are we supposed to do with this realization?

Again, I want to make clear that my journey has been my own, especially when in response to the anti-Asian actions publishing has recently taken. I’m not Asian, and I would never presume to suggest how an Asian author should feel and act and think in response. But when it comes to the anti-Blackness, anti-queerness, anti-trans rhetoric specifically, in my experience, it’s been helpful for me to realize that the only thing that I can control is myself: my thoughts, emotions, and reactions.

I can see a different path I might have taken, one that I’ve already been on for a while now, to be honest: total anger and resentment and bitterness. The ignorance within the industry and from readers was practically the only thing that I could focus on. This sucks away energy from not only my writing, but my well-being, too. It takes away from those moments when I can sit and breathe and love myself and be grateful for the moments I still have on this earth, the moments where I get to know myself even deeper with every passing day, the moments I get to have to continue learning and growing. That’s yet another layer of harm if I let this industry take control of me: it's taking away from my well-being, too.

The only thing that’s begun to help me heal the bigotry of this industry has been taking control of myself and deciding to practice forgiveness. Forgiving people for their racist, anti-queer, and transphobic reviews. Forgiving people for not being as excited as my books as other titles, likely because it features a Black and/or queer and/or trans protagonist. Forgiving people, because I know they have been raised with anti-Blackness and anti-queerness and anti-trans rhetoric, and that’s truly the only option I have that will allow me peace, because society is still in a state that refuses to take accountability.

I can strain against this lack of accountability, try to fight it, put all of my energy into making sure people realize that they are being harmful in wanting to read only certain books by certain authors, for claiming to be allies while not giving the same level of excitement and love for people who don’t have other privileges. I can try to fight the industry as it continues to funnel money into white and straight and cis authors while expecting marginalized authors to do the jobs of the publishing companies, marketing and publicizing ourselves to save the companies money, which the companies then continue to give to privileged authors in a never-ending cycle. I forgive them. I have to.

But I don’t forgive them for them. I forgive them for myself, to give myself access to the peace that I deserve, the well-being that is mine—for the moments that are becoming more plentiful, sitting and breathing with love and life. I deserve that peace. My writing deserves that peace. My writing gets even better when I’m not consumed by hurt and rage, because I’m able to access a more expansive sense of emotion and self: not only hurt and rage, but love and peace and true gratitude for life and wonder and curiosity and excitement that might otherwise be dulled by resentment… This industry does not deserve my energy, beyond the books that I write. That energy is mine. I’m going to invest it back into myself with my healing and my writing. I’m going to sit in a place of realization that, if this industry is not healthy for me, then I am willing and able to leave. This industry and the privileged people who don't care enough to change can’t control me: my day-to-day life, my schedule, or where I put my energy.

I love everyone who is struggling with this industry that, as a reflection of society, is designed against us and has the potential to break each and every one of us down and make us give up before we’ve even started. Maybe the anger and pain and figuring out how to make systemic change within the industry is the path for some or even many of us. I’ve realized it isn’t the path for me—not right now, at least. Maybe not ever. I’ve wanted to focus on returning to myself. Forgiving, so that I can break free from that anger and repurpose that energy into love and peace for me. It’s what I deserve.

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