So, right now I am in San Leandro, getting ready to film a short screenplay, “Asura” I wrote for Neelu Bhuman’s Transfinite project. :) I get to play a role, as well. Kelsi Umeko is playing my granddaughter–so inter-generationally queer!  It is exciting to see a project come together; I usually work with only a few people as a writer. Here, there is so much teamwork and activity! Amazing. :)

Day 3 4:47PM: Lost Hills Love’s, Arby’s, and Forgetting My Own Poetry.

And, yes. Because I had to come back here. Lost Hills. I had not intended to come here. We had so many good times. I didn’t want them to end. Coming here was an acknowledgement it was over. And it’s over.

It’s over. Shit. I had intended to come here, triumphantly, with the road behind me and the newfound wisdom it had bestowed. I had intended to talk about the acceptance of what is unresolved. I had intended to write about the peace of resolution.

In other words, I had expected some kind of resolution on this return to Lost Hills. Whether I accept stopping, I accept moving on… All good. But not this.

The Love’s I enter seems a lot smaller that I remember. Everything is there, but bunched together. More rummagy. The hats with the Shiny bands are there. The fireball candy and beef jerky. All there. The audio books claiming “Like a Movie in Your Mind,” there. That stupid caterpillar toy with the thin fishing line that you can make crawl up your arm. Yes. It’s there. I remembered these things, and here they are.

But this is an Arby’s, not a Del Taco.  And there’s a Pilot across the highway, and I know we spent some time in there, too., and I realize there is, besides remembering and forgetting…acceptance and denial, motion and stillness–there is another type of memory. It’s a difficult poetic memory, where details are concentrated and crystallized and forced together with the heat and pressure of the soul.

And this makes the poems shine. It makes the writing sparkle, the scenes unforgettable.

But when we apply it to our own memories… Especially if we diminish ourselves before our pasts and our surroundings, which so many of us do. We begin to put all the good parts of ourselves, all the good parts of our histories and our memories into the relationship we have at hand. We concentrate all that good stuff and attribute it to the love we feel for that special person, those special moments, that special connection. It is so special, we give our relationship the greatest gift we think we have.

We turn our relationship into a poem.

And then what? Sometimes I look at the work I created, all shiny and sparkly, and glowing and I cannot believe it came from me. I refuse to believe it. It’s all the setting, it’s all the inspiration, It’s all the community. It’s all their stories. It’s all their brilliance. I just write shit down about it, but it’s all them.

And I do this to my own history. I cede my identity, my self-esteem. I put everything into the Love’s I am in infusing it with any literary magic I can offer. And then I forget my own role in the result.

But now, I come in here, and think–if it looks like this now, in the daylight–out of the photoshop poetry of my memory. If it is just this–then where the heck did that other stuff come from? It wasn’t a wrong memory. It wasn’t made up. Where did that magic come from?

It must have come from me.

Me. Wow. Me.

There were many good things about what we had. But not all the good things. There were many things I could not have done without her. But that goes both ways. I am a poet, a writer. I am also a pretty magical person, and kind of neat. Let’s remember all of that goes wherever you go, girl, and that’s yours to keep no matter what, K?

Okay. <3

I get into my beautiful Honda with my Arby’s version of the Diet Coke/lemonade I always make. Hey, maybe there was a bit of resolution here after all.

But I am not thinking of Lost Hills.

I am thinking of me.

Day Two (no idea what time) : Santa Nella (1)

I am driving in a daze after Firebaugh. I am telling myself come on, girl, get yourself together. But I am not really together, to be honest. And so I miss the Santa Nella exit. You can also see the gap between this and the last Day Two recap. Sometimes existential thunder happens in the desert and it leaves you shaky. We don’t have much time in our day-to-day to be in this mental state and it’s more than “getting away from the city.” It’s being on the road, dealing with trucks and rough patches of road. Of changing lanes. Not changing them.

A whole lot of nothing, where you are still aware that your Honda is careening down a highway at 80 mph, and if you hit something you will get very injured. Plus, I am alone on the road. So it’s this dull, placid, bucolic, slightly terrifying focus, driving here.

The periphery of the I-5 is far more beautiful than I think people give it credit for. Not for what it has, but for what it has not. The hills roll gently, plants and trees grow gently. Cows! Outside of the occasional political sign, there’s really nothing breaking up the rather featureless scenery. It’s like a Bob Ross canvas, colors blending into each other, the occasional highlight, the Van Dyke Brown, Indian Yellow, Phthalo Blue (use just the teeniest bit).

And driving here, the only thing left is you. Where are you in this world. It’s like Genesis, right?  But the Lord called, “Where are you?’” Where will you place yourself, put yourself. And the weird thing is, rather than the generalities that come forward–it’s the details. Not “queer or not, we are all human”–but its opposite.

Human or not, I am queer. Trans. I am Asian. I am Japanese. I lost family in Fukushima. My car is green. I like donuts. I don’t know how to make love last. I wish I did not have to pee so often. I really like my hair. My pinky hurts.

As Bible God would say, “Where are you?” As Bob Ross would say “This is your world.”

Where am I, in my world?  What would I say–if I had to do it over again. Me, with all of my aches and poems and closet of clothes I do not wear enough. In love with someone I cannot love? What would I say? Have I really travelled so much? How do I go forward in my world?

So I miss the exit. Not that it really matters. I think I need more time here, with myself, on the highway, in my world, wondering where exactly I am.

Martial Arts Stuff

Happy that I finally worked out that rough spot in our basic hanbo (half-length staff) pattern. It works so much more like I intended it to. A little overbuilt to compensate for size differentials, with deflections, misdirections, targeted strikes to weak points. All key to what we do. We really are becoming our own school, and I have the best students in the world.


The Spheres

(This is a song I wrote years ago, back when I had a band. SInce my band is gone, I play once in awhile, and think of past times. This is a pretty rough recording, but I felt it captured my mood, right now… Thinking of so many departed beautiful friends… So I’m sharing.)

I never meant to kiss you
I never meant you any harm
I never meant to love you
I never meant for you to love me

But the spheres can’t be denied
Perfect as sunsets, and silent as time
The spheres can’t be denied
I never meant to want anything
But to be beautiful in your eyes.

With the Good Book behind us
Like a tangle that untwines
Our tears, they shall release us
We’re two comets escaping the sun.

For the spheres can’t be denied
Perfect as sunsets, and silent as time
The spheres can’t be denied
I never meant to want anything
But to be beautiful in your eyes.

I never want to mean anything
But to be beautiful in your eyes.
(c) Words and Musics Ryka Aoki

Thoughts on the Killings and Aftermaths

Right now, six trans women have been killed this year in the US. I suspect this is not a complete list, and I know this number will grow in the coming months. It doesn’t count the fates of trans women outside of the US, either.

Anyone who is surprised by this must understand–this sort of body count is business as usual to our population. We handle grief in our own ways. Some people are public, others are private, some protest through devoting themselves to their work, families, art or simply their refusal to die.

I notice on Facebook and Twitter, many well meaning people talking about needing to do something. Yet, what is it, exactly, that one would ask trans women to do? Go to an official vigil? Sign an Internet petition? Or maybe give hugs and reassurance that “you’re not like those others—you are different?”

Just after Leelah Alcorn died late last year, another writer messaged me saying “I just wrote this article about Leelah’s passing. Could you read it and tell me what you think?” I think that was very insensitive. Leelah’s death hit me, not because of her youth or her visibility, or the color of her skin, but because she left a suicide note that sounded very much like what I was feeling at her age.

I understand and am grateful for what must have been a show of respect. However, mourning is a special time, and should be approached with compassion and humanity. Shouts and calls for action are good for some people, but those who prefer other ways to mourn or respond should not be questioned or doubted when they don’t show up at the local candlelight vigil.

Especially for a group that has far more practice mourning its own than is fair or even sane. Also, if each murder demands that all trans women interrupt their lives to behave a certain way, go to certain events, comfort others whenever asked, and display themselves on the diversity carousel, then that would simply be adding to the violence they must endure. Yes, some of us demonstrate and react, and do this well, and they are amazing. Yet, even more amazing is the variety of voices and souls and genius our sisters possess.

Even those who are silent–silence also does not mean we need others to speak for us. Yes, in our times of need, it is good to have friends–but do not mistake silence for apathy, or helplessness, or ignorance. Do not think silence must be filled with frenzied, short-lived indignity. Do not think someone has to come in and save us. Not even you. When it is time for each of us to act, we will, and it is far better to begin fresh, without having to correct words that were not ours to begin with.

Besides, if we are worth demonstrating so loudly when dead, then we surely must be worth supporting quietly when alive–right?

Help us, observe, be there when someone isn’t hiring us, or laughs at our appearance, our voices. Be there when people think we owe them some sort of honesty at the cost of basic human privacy. Find us magical and compelling and human–now–not when we are dead.

And instead, of speaking for us–perhaps listen to the silence, understand its power, and the power of those to face it so often from their friends and loved ones the moment they decide to live, finally, as themselves.

Tuesday, Feb 17, 2015 LITERARY UPRISING at Antioch!

One of the least expected and most rewarding developments has been my Queer Studies position at Antioch University. I was asked to create a Queer Studies Program, and I am currently teaching the core course. Plus, I get to do this excellent reading! :D I will be reading from He Mele A Hilo, Seasonal Velocities, and something special for my Queer Studies Class!:)

AULA Literary Uprising Reading | Tuesday, February 17th | 6pm reception, 6:30 pm readings, FREE
Come to Antioch University Los Angeles’ free Literary Uprising reading series and hear Faculty and students share their latest work. This quarter features BA faculty reader Ryka Aoki (author of He Mele A Hilo: A Hilo Song and Seasonal Velocities) and MFA alum Lisa Cheby, (author of Love Lessons from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.) They will be joined by Ajay Ravi, a student from Jim Krusoe’s SMC Advanced Fiction Class and BA student reader Azeen Kazemi. There will be wine and lemonade, food, words, conversation and books for sale!

Antioch University Los Angeles Room A1000
400 Corporate Pointe, Culver City, California 90230

Thursday, February 12, RADAR (San Francisco, CA)

Come meet 4 of Radar’s abso fav artists this February!

Thursday, February 12, 2015
SF Main Library – 100 Larkin Street
Latino / Hispanic Rooms (Basement Level)
Hosted by Virgie Tovar
Featuring fresh baked cookies during the artist Q&A

CHLOE CALDWELL is the author of the novella, WOMEN (Short Flight/Long Drive) and the essay collection LEGS GET LED ASTRAY (Future Tense Books). Her work has appeared in Salon.com, The Rumpus, The Nervous Breakdown, Men’s Health, and Nylon. Her essays have been anthologized in “Goodbye To All That; Writers on Loving and Leaving NYC” and “True Tales of Lust and Love.” She lives in upstate New York. Visit www.chloecaldwell.com

BRENT ARMENDINGER was born in the small town of Warsaw, NY, and studied at Bard College and the University of Michigan, where he received an Avery Hopwood Award in Poetry. He is the author of The Ghost in Us Was Multiplying, a book of poems published by Noemi Press, as well as two chapbooks, Undetectable and Archipelago. He teaches creative writing at Pitzer College and lives in Los Angeles.

RYKA AOKI is the author of Seasonal Velocities, He Mele a Hilo (A Hilo Song) and the forthcoming Why Dust Shall Never Settle upon this Soul. She has been honored by the California State Senate for her “extraordinary commitment to free speech and artistic expression, as well as the visibility and well-being of Transgender people.” She was on the first Trans 100 list of most prominent and influential trans people in the United States, and was named as one to 11 Tran Artists of Color you should know by the Huffington Post. Ryka has MFA in Creative Writing from Cornell University is the recipient of a University Award from the Academy of American Poets. She is a professor of English at Santa Monica College and of Queer Studies at Antioch University.

NIA KING documents and shares the work of political artists through her podcast, We Want the Airwaves, and her book of interviews, Queer and Trans Artists of Color: Stories of Some of Our Lives. During the day, she rings up customers at the UNofficial copy shop of the revolutionary communist party.

Small Presses and Expectations

I am posting this as a reminder that one can work and negotiate with publishers.

I was asked to contribute a piece to a small-press anthology. I was swamped at the time, but I put my other work aside gladly because it seemed like a project I could explore, and because I have a deep respect for the editor who asked me. We did not discuss rights or anything at the time.

Then I saw what the publisher wanted me to sign. There are times and reasons to give up such rights, but not for this. Writers are in the business of producing work–to be asked to simply give away virtually all rights to what we’ve created–there had better be a compelling reason. Money, royalties, obviously. Opportunity to publish with a major press, exposure, maybe. Charity or special situations, for sure. But just because one asks for it? And the press (or any employee or representative) can edit, cut it, own it, copyright it, or reprint it with or without my name?

“By signing this form I acknowledge the following:
I understand that my entry will become property of _____ Press and may be edited for length or clarity. I grant to ______ Press, its representatives and employees the right to use my entry in connection with the above-identified subject. I authorize _______ Press, its assigns and transferees to copyright, use and publish the same in print and/or electronically. I agree that _______ Press may use my entry with or without my name and for any lawful purpose, including, for example, such purposes as publicity, illustration, advertising and web content. I have read and understand the above. In return for assigning these rights to ________ I will receive one (1) copy of___________, mailed to me upon publication.”

On the other hand, I would be thrilled to share my work. So I modified the agreement to:

“By signing this form I acknowledge the following:

I grant first-publication, and continuing non-exclusive, print and electronic rights of this essay to____ Press. I grant to ____ Press, its representatives and employees the right to use my entry in connection with the above-identified subject. I agree that ______ Press may use my entry with my name and for any lawful purpose, including, for example, such purposes as publicity, illustration, advertising and web content. I have read and understand the above. In return for assigning these rights to _____ Press, I will receive one (1) copy of _______ mailed to me upon publication.”

And the publisher agreed, understood, and thanked me. I am happy for the quick agreement, but I shudder to think what would have happened if I had not been careful.

Again, in some cases, one must sign away rights. A big press may ask for rights. But a big press will also discuss advances and royalties, and not just offer a copy of a book. Signing over full rights and ownership to intellectual property is a not and should not be an automatic expectation, especially when there are now so many small presses out there that do respect a more equitable and collaborative arrangement with writers.