INVISIBLE THREADS: Can You Articulate That by ZZ Claybourne

By Jason Sizemore
on March 02, 2020

INVISIBLE THREADS: Can You Articulate That by ZZ Claybourne

CW: Racism

(Editor's Note: We asked our Invisible Threads authors if they wanted to voluntarily share their personal experiences with societal, economic, and/or cultural beliefs that they have had to overcome. These inspiring essays will appear in the Invisible Threads anthology.

You can back the Invisible Threads Kickstarter here.)


CAN YOU ARTICULATE THAT

by ZZ Claybourne

In school I was told don’t run with scissors.

They also told me how articulate I was.

Never said that to any of my white friends.

Told me how much potential I had.

Not once did I hear them say that to a white classmate, grade school to high school.

Teachers would pull me aside so often to compliment me for things I considered ultra basic, often in eyesight of my friends, I started feeling like Gulliver on the beach, embarrassed, straining against yet another rope. Having grown up in Detroit at a time when the city hadn’t fully committed to its unspoken racial Berlin walls, my friends included a German, a Syrian, a Pakistani, us black Americans and a Korean. Their ethnic groups were in the minority, but they were there.  Their parents were there, struggling alongside my parents. The neighborhood wasn’t perfect, but us kids managed to build something.

Every morning we’d go to school. School tended to tear down buildings bit by bit. Society wouldn’t teach us our true heritage, any of us, but it would certainly use every tool of social conformity to make sure we knew where we stood.

After a while I became actively resentful of accolades and attention. This reached a head when a teacher pulled me aside to deliver news of a great opportunity: advanced placement (me: YAY!) because they needed a black student to fill out a quota (me: GULLIVER). Understand, I was 11 or 12 years old when offered this placement; I had no firsthand knowledge of programs meant to boost chances, but I did know about merit, and I was a smart kid. I’d have been thrilled if they wanted me for me. Instead, a gigantic gong went off in my head. They wanted me for my skin. I turned it down.

The threads that bind us are extremely complicated.

It’s funny when a country is so inept it shoves you forward by holding you back. I knew my skin was a factor in everything related to my life. There’s not a black kid in the US that escapes that crushing awareness. I’d heard grown folks talk about quotas and affirmative action, heard the mountains of white folks brand a “level playing field” as those in the margins admitting some kind of inferiority, and been told by my mama countless times that I could do whatever I wanted but I was going to have to do it four times as hard. Twice as hard? That was done in our sleep.

I, apparently, wasn’t supposed to be articulate. The prevailing false narrative said so. So I was special, and wasn’t that special? I wasn’t supposed to have such a deft talent at capturing people in sketch, so I was told I might be as good as Dan, the white kid, if I kept at it. Dan was my friend; Dan would look at me with full WTF face when the teacher said this, because Dan openly admitted I kicked his ass up and down at drawing. I wasn’t supposed to have figured out the mathematics of triangles having sides of equal length having equal angles as well before the class ever heard the word equilateral. I was supposed to wait until someone well-meaning either helped me or nudged me. Anything outside that made me unusual, exceptional, or gifted.

X-Men comics being a staple of my life, I didn’t see Charles Effing Xavier in any hall in any school I went to. Maybe if the teachers hadn’t been so well-meaning.  Maybe if they’d gotten a clue and said, “hey, you’re a bright kid, wanna do cool stuff?” I’d have been all over that. But I was a black kid growing up in America. White people loved to joke about how much blacks loved fried chicken, but I noticed all the time how my white teachers loved some skin.

All that potential I had was apparently in opposition to the natural arc of an impoverished underachiever. My white friends never had to be told about their potential. That, to me, made it a known quantity. But I was always polite when they commended me. Mama and Daddy wouldn’t have had it otherwise.

I grew up feeling like these teachers I loved never knew who I was at all.

Which was sad, because some of those teachers were amazing. I remember an art teacher who was young and wild and had a new idea for the class every two minutes. My language arts teacher introduced the class to Ramona Quimby and Shakespeare on the same day. The homeroom teacher who told me about the advanced placement classes let me lead expeditions outside during class time to dig up worms for the class turtle. I wonder how things would have turned out for all of us if they hadn’t been constrained by their own threads. My life right now isn’t the worst, but it’s not the greatest. I don’t have Rosario Dawson on speed dial. I don’t shop Home Depot with Idris Elba on a maker-run. What would my life have been like if my teachers had seen “me” first, my color second, and had the psycho-social tools to work within both? I can’t help wondering how many other kids who were brown like me heard that they were articulate, clean, well-mannered, helpful, promising, worthy to be uplifted…and got turned to stone rather than felt ready to fly? I wonder if I could see clearer than I do now? Would I have learned how to help a kid without making them feel they were automatically a burden unto themselves?

I think I would have. I’m glad I did. I learned to unravel the threads of false narratives. I learned to see bias in a handshake. Became as familiar with the deadly tools of conformity as I did the Five Fingers of Death. I learned that subtlety can do more than conceal; it can reveal and heal. Not every compliment in our world is a compliment. Not every binding thread a visible rope. Not every gag in the mouth a tasteless rag. Sometimes we look back and we realize we were running with scissors the whole time.

As a grown-up I know the machinations behind initiatives designed to socially uplift. I’ve learned the scent of swamp and flower intermingled, know the binding weeds from the sturdy vines. I still run with scissors these days, eyes opened wider than my grade school self, and—for better, worse, but always with intention—I cut.

INVISIBLE THREADS: Late Bloomer by KT Bryski

By Jason Sizemore
on February 27, 2020

INVISIBLE THREADS: Late Bloomer by KT Bryski

CW: Queerphobia

(Editor's Note: We asked our Invisible Threads authors if they wanted to voluntarily share their personal experiences with societal, economic, and/or cultural beliefs that they have had to overcome. These inspiring essays will appear in the Invisible Threads anthology.

You can back the Invisible Threads Kickstarter here.)


LATE BLOOMER

KT Bryski

When I was ten, I harboured a hopeless, torturous admiration for a girl in grade six. Praying we’d be on the same gym teams. Agonizing over how to become friends. One time, she sits beside me at lunch. It’s the best thirty minutes ever, even if I can’t untie my tongue long enough to actually talk to her.

Seeing this, the other girls slip a new word into the change-room gossip like poison: 

“Lesbo…”

I’ve never heard that word before. Ill-defined, nebulous, but delivered with sneers that tell me that I want nothing to do with it. That year, I learn lots of new words. All whispered from behind; all honed to hurt.

Defending myself doesn’t help, but I try anyway. See, I’m not in love with this girl. That’s the bewildering thing. I don’t want to kiss her. I don’t even want to hold her hand. I just think she’s cool. She knows facts about wolves.

“I don’t like girls,” I say.

Still, those words. The whispers, the smirks. Like steel threads, they slice my skin and wrap around my bones.

In high school, the threads cut if I move the wrong way. Most of my elementary school class has carried through intact; some people remember my “crush.” Suspicion sticks to me like old gum, so I tell everyone — myself included — that I like boys. Armed with strawberry lip gloss and drugstore nail polish, I go forth and date.

It’s largely unsuccessful. The boys are…nice. I guess. But I hate being touched. I’m unaffectionate, undemonstrative.  So what? I’m not a romantic. I crack so many jokes about my icy heart that I start believing them. After all, it’s easier to claim a frozen heart than to admit what it feels. The words — the threads — hold me fast, but so much scar tissue covers them, I’ve almost forgotten they’re there.

Maybe I’m the problem. Maybe I’m meant to be alone.

So imagine my surprise when I meet a guy I actually like. We trade Doctor Who pickup lines and go on nice, thoughtful dates. For the first time, I enjoy kissing.

Thus, at twenty-three, I’ve achieved the millennial dream: okay apartment, decent job, nice boyfriend. As a grown-up professional woman (and girlfriend), I “improve” my style. Dresses and skirts for work; flowery, scoop-necked tees when out with the boyfriend. At last, I’ve buried the shame and whispers.

One slight hitch.  

In high school, sex stayed at a safe enough distance that I never had to blush my way out of it. And it was a moot point in university. But the “late bloomer” card is drawing raised eyebrows. Normal relationships don’t look like this. Another thread twists in amongst the others. In normal relationships, you want to sleep with your boyfriend. You don’t freeze up and cry when he undoes your belt buckle.

“You love me, right?” he asks.

“Yes, of course.”

“Then why…?”

I don’t know. Except that’s not true. For years, I’ve had a pretty strong hunch. Another new word enters my vocabulary — but I can’t force it out. We alternate between fights and earnest conversations until he asks, “Are you asexual?”

“Oh, thank God,” I retort. “One of us said it.”

We don’t last long after that. It isn’t his fault. It isn’t my fault. But as I stumble to a friend’s to drink and cry, I swear that I will never, ever put myself through this again. In writing communities, I identify openly as ace. Better to tell people upfront, I figure. Better to fight the erasure.

But I’m only dating men. I only want to date men. My fiction skews increasingly towards F/F romance, but that’s because I extrapolate from strong female friendships. The wide variety of relationships between women interests me, that’s all. It’s all very complex, and therefore, fascinating.

Watching two women kiss on the subway, I ache. Even if I wanted something like that, I’ll never get there.

Meanwhile, I purge my closets. No more dresses. No more skirts. No more lipstick. They always felt like costumes, and I’m done with that role. Prowling thrift stores and boys’ sections, I feel furtive, fugitive. Imposter, interloper, I ask for gift receipts and lie about nephews and brothers. Eventually, I stop caring and dive headfirst into button-ups and bow ties.

I fumble it, at first. My early attempts miss “dapper” altogether and land near “fourteen-year-old boy.” But I’m happy. Alone, but happy. I have my friends; I have my writing. Who says that I need a romantic partner?

“Would you ever date a woman?” a friend asks, slightly drunk.

“Maybe?”

“When we first met, I thought you were gay.”

The threads entangle, but they’re loose enough that I laugh. “I think I like…people. Personalities, not parts.”

“So would you date a woman?”

“If the right girl came along, I wouldn’t say no.”

Guess what happens?

We meet at a writers’ conference: author and editor. She seems to have a spotlight on her wherever she goes. Talking to her, I lose time. We’re friends — good friends — but we start hanging out more and more.

One night, I hit a party straight after work, arriving in formal trousers and blazer. “You always look so dapper,” she tells me. Her cheeks are flushed, but I blame the wine. Then I realize we’ve texted every day for two weeks. More threads snap, enough that I break free and say —

I like her. Like that. Deep down, I always have. But now it could be real, so I have to think about it.

A new text: “Can I come over and meet your cat?”

“Aren’t you allergic to cats?”

“Yes…but I want to see how allergic.”

At 2:00 A.M., we kiss in falling snow. It feels like shedding a coat that never fit right. And once it’s off, I cannot imagine wearing it ever again. It took me seventeen years to untangle myself from the threads of my own shame and fear, the threads of prejudice woven by those around me. For too long, I believed a story that wasn’t true.

But yesterday, I put on a tie for our date. Quickly, deftly; I’m good at ties. I shrugged into my suit jacket. And I looked in the mirror and thought —

It’s me.

KT Bryski is an award-winning Canadian author and podcaster. Her short fiction has appeared in Lightspeed, PodCastle, Apex Magazine, and Strange Horizons, among others. She lives in Toronto with her weird cat. Find her at www.ktbryski.com, and on Twitter @ktbryski.

Invisible Threads is live on Kickstarter

By Lesley Conner
on February 17, 2020

This morning we launched the Kickstarter for Invisible Threads edited by Jason Sizemore and Lesley Conner, and as of now, we have raised $1,032 towards our $20,000 goal.

Help us reach our goal! Head over to Kickstarter to back this project!

No matter who you are or where you come from, there are boundaries and barriers that dictate what you can do, where you can go, and who you can become. Invisible threads running through society, pulling you this way or that, tripping you when you try to better yourself, ensnaring and holding you back. Whether these threads come from others in the form of racism, misogyny, or ableism, from those in power through laws and rigged systems, or from within yourself through cultural ideals and values, they are there. They keep you locked in a constraining box of “who you should be,” rather than letting you grow into the person you truly are. Invisible Threads is an anthology of dark sci-fi, fantasy, and horror stories that examine these barriers.

What is Invisible Threads

Invisible Threads editors Jason Sizemore and Lesley Conner are striving to build a ToC representative of the world around us. The barriers each of us face in our day to day lives are dependent on where we come from. Not only geographically, but also dictated by economic standing, race, gender, and so much more. The goal of the anthology is to give room for as many of these stories as possible. With this mind, Jason and Lesley have invited a diverse and talented group of authors to create all new works of fiction. We expect the book to contain 20-25 stories and be approximately 100,000-125,000 words.

Confirmed authors include Alix Harrow, Maurice Broaddus, Fran Wilde, Chesya Burke, Merc Fenn Wolfmoor, Stephanie Malia Morris, Jordan Kurella, K.T. Bryski, ZZ Claybourne, A.C. Buchanan, Damien Angelica Walters, Beth Dawkins, Geoffrey Girard, Sabrina Vourvoulias, A.C. Wise, Michael Wehunt and more!

We’ve asked these authors to write stories that explore the inherent social and political boundaries in our society. Why do they exist? How do we overcome them? How do they affect us and our world? Which boundaries each author chooses to confront in their story is up to them. What we are hoping to highlight are the invisible struggles that our neighbors are facing but we never see.

Each of us is fighting something. Whether it is something larger and in the public eye such as racism, or something smaller and personal such as a parent’s expectation that you will set aside personal dreams to uphold a family obligation. The systemic boundaries tangle and knot around us, preventing us from reaching our potential. The contributors to Invisible Threads will shine a light on these injustices and light a fire to your anger. Join us in snipping the threads that hold us down!

With your help, Apex can bring you this important anthology written by a fantastic lineup of authors. Your pledge money will cover Invisible Threads’ costs and provide Apex with the means to enhance the anthology and pay our contributors, cover artist, graphic designers, and editors.

Back Invisible Threads today!

 

Do Not Go Quietly Kickstarter and Open Submissions

By Lesley Conner
on August 23, 2018

We are currently running a Kickstarter for Do Not Go Quietly, an anthology of victory in defiance edited by Jason Sizemore and Lesley Conner.

Resistance. Revolution. Standing up and demanding to have your space, your say, your right to be. From small acts of defiance to protests that shut down cities, Do Not Go Quietly is an anthology of science fiction and fantasy short stories about those who resist. Within this anthology, we will chronicle the fight for what is just and right, and what that means: from leading revolutions to the simple act of saying “No.”

As of this morning, the anthology is 60% funded with 17 days to go.

Head over to Kickstarter now to help us reach 100% funding and bring Do Not Go Quietly to life!

We have fantastic lineup of authors contributing stories that includes such writers as A. Merc Rustad, Rebecca Roanhorse, Maurice Broaddus, Nayad Monroe, Karin Lowachee, Brooke Bolander, John Hornor Jacobs, Laird Barron, Brian Keene, Cassandra Khaw, Sheree Renée Thomas, Catherynne M. Valente, Seanan McGuire, Fran Wilde, Rich Larson, Sarah Pinsker, Tal M. Klein, and J.F. Gonzalez (co-writing with Lesley Conner). But we're looking for more!

Submissions for Do Not Go Quietly officially opened once we passed 50% funding. You can find the online form to submit here.

Submission Guidelines:

1) Submit your work in Shunn Standard Manuscript Format.
2) Maximum word length is a firm 7,500 words. Anything more will be auto-rejected.
3) Payment for original fiction is $.06 per word up to 7,500 words. Minimum of $60.

We are looking for original work that has not be previously published. Stories should be about resistance and revolution set within the science fiction and fantasy genres. Resistance can be a small act of everyday defiance. And other times, resistance means massive movements that topple governments and become iconic historical moments. Either way, there is power in these acts. What your characters are resisting is up to you, the writer. The things we fight against, the inequality, abuse, and unjust treatment are personal, and each define an individual's life experience. Use your experiences, look at the world around you, and tell your story.

Apex Book Company welcomes and encourages submissions from writers of all race, color, religion (creed), gender, gender expression, age, national origin (ancestry), disability, marital status, sexual orientation, and military status. We want diverse voices. We value diverse voices. Having said that, please be aware that we do not collect any information that might clue our editors to any of these attributes other than your name, email, and address prior to any decisions made regarding your submission.

Assuming that Do Not Go Quietly successfully funds, submissions will remain open through September 19th.

Back Do Not Go Quietly on Kickstarter today.

Everything is turning Upside Down

By Lesley Conner
on March 18, 2016

There is a little over a week left in the Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling Kickstarter and we are well on our way to hitting our second stretch goal. The response to this project has been overwhelming and positively amazing, and we really can't say thank you enough to everyone supporting us in this venture!

Through the efforts of the awesome editors and contributors, Upside Down has gotten coverage all over the web, with guest posts and interviews popping up in a variety of places. I wanted to take a minute to share links to all of this coolness so you can learn everything there is to know about Upside Down.

Our first stretch goal was to add critical essays by Lucy A. Snyder, A.C. Wise, and Patrick Hester to the anthology. We hit that goal, and it was announced earlier this week that we would adding two more essays! These new contributions will be written by Keffy R. M. Kehrli and Victor J. Raymond. You can read more about them and their planned essays here.

There is still plenty of time to support Upside Down on Kickstarter and help us make it even more fabulous than it already is. If we hit our second stretch goal ($15,000), we will be able to give all of our short story authors a raise, paying them $0.08 per word rather than $0.06. With less than $700 to go until we hit that goal, I am sure we can do it. Help us turn tropes Upside Down!

Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling Anthology Kickstarter

By McKenzie Winberry
on February 26, 2016

We have a new project coming and we could use your help getting it ready to go!  Monica Valentinelli and Jaym Gates are working together to turn your favorite tropes on their heads.  Not only does this anthology promise to be a show-stopper, it's already got over 150 backers and is almost a third of the way funded...and there are still 28 days to go!  It was even chosen as a Kickstarter "Project We Love" and trended on twitter with 8k tweets!

The cover art was created by award-winning artist Galen Dara.  It has already been announced that Maurice Broaddus, Anton Strout, Shanna Germain, Sara Harvey, Delilah Dawson, John Hornor Jacobs, Rahul Kanakia, Haralambi Markov, Sunil Patel, Kat Richardson, Nisi Shawl, Alyssa Wong, and Princess Alethea Kontis will have pieces in the anthology, which you know means it will be a great anthology!  If that's not enough to entice you, just look at the ridiculous amount of stuff we are shelling out to supporters!

Check out this video they made for their Kickstarter, then go support it:

 

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