Mild MBTA Misbehaviors: Overdue Apology #3 – Sorry I Weirded You Out


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Skin is so soft and smooth and warm. Sometimes I can’t help but kiss it. Which isn’t a problem, not really. Though perhaps . . . inappropriate if that skin is my own? My soft, smooth, warm bicep, presented to me so alluringly as I hang, drunk with exhaustion or maybe simply distracted, by one arm from the too-high stainless steel grip bar on the Green Line, Red Line, Orange Line.

Perhaps you do this, too? I can’t be the only smooth customer holding myself aloft by an act of might, resting my mouth against my arm, too-early in the morning/too-late at night.

Boston transportation planning

Anyhow, fellow passengers, my apologies. Sorry if I weirded you out.

A Visit to Sandy Hook National Park


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My birthday wish this year included visiting Sandy Hook, a barrier spit and Jersey Shore National Park that my family frequented in our younger years. I remembered the long, flat, pale landscape sandwiched between the Lower New York Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. Smell of salt and pines and sand. Charming tide pools and holly trees.

But I’d forgotten the abundance of prickly pear cactus. The visage of old armaments.


Remembered horseshoe crabs. Forgot fiddler crabs.

Remembered how the ocean pushes. Forgot how it pulls. Remembered seeming stability of sea-earth beneath a swimmer’s toes which can just . . . disappear.

Then, driving past blond, brick buildings, most now dilapidated beyond use, I remembered the smell of thick, shiny floor varnish, the sound of a wide, wooden door squeaking shut for the evening, warm light in a kitchen, and camp counselor taking time to be silly with just-me. I remembered the fierce bloom of affection for that person, those moments among preteen GirlScouts I met once then never again. The swoop of a windsurfing board catching wind to take my ten or eleven-year old body, long-limbed, nervous yet ecstatic, tacking across the water beneath a sky that stretched, pure blue, over everything.

There was the special treat of the holiday weekend: a Sandy Hook I’d misplaced, regained.


Fanfictions I Have Loved: An Interview with Nonymos


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Welcome to my first WHL interview! With a writer no less! A fanfiction writer! I’m so excited!!! Clue screaming and wavy arms, a la Muppets.

Okay. Now I’ll quit with the exclamation points. But I can’t stop won’t stop my gratitude towards Nonymos, whose exciting, smart, adventurous, and well-composed fics prompted me to establish a OTP before I even knew what the term meant. It was through interacting with her in the comments section of a story that an idea was birthed: maybe other folk who’ve been curious about fics but feel too shy to try ’em . . . or people who love learning about artists’ processes . . . or maybe even interview-junkies, will want in on this conversation, too. You’re welcome.

Nonymos was ever so gracious as to embark on this effort with me. Who knows where it will lead? Here we go. Oh, wait. In the spirit of full-disclosure, some non-graphic but nonetheless adult themes are discussed below. If you click through to fics, please be aware of the same (save for the non-graphic part).

1. Starting from the beginning, what did your early reading life look like and who are your writing influences?

Most of my life has been devoted to reading. Even as a little girl it was all I wanted to do—I exhausted my parents asking for my favorite books to be read again and again and again, and that is actually how I learned how to read, when I was four years old.

When I was a kid, I read a lot of early YA stuff and a boatload of Franco-Belgian comics (I still know them by heart.) I’ve also been very interested in manga for a couple few years. After I got into fandom I started reading American comics, and my collection is steadily growing. All of this taught me about the importance of having good characters and an engaging plot.

The love of beautiful writing came when I started my Literature studies. During those years I caught up on all the classical reading I hadn’t done before. It taught me how to analyze, criticize and dissect a piece of fiction; and it also helped me understand the value of poetry in language—aka why it’s possible to write a good book about nothing as long as it’s well-written. But I firmly believe truly great books are the ones that know how to combine good writing with good content. I was already writing a bit then, but that’s when I really started seriously, and I haven’t stopped since. Won a couple of prizes for short stories, which was very encouraging.

My Masters thesis was about the fantastic in modern fiction. Most of it focused on Argentinean author Julio Cortázar, who taught me how to use words beyond their immediate meaning, and Neil Gaiman, who… NEIL! GAIMAN! I think I can safely say he’s my favorite author. I’m still not done talking about American Gods. I never will be.

I’m in the middle of another Masters now (in publishing) and working a part-time job in a publishing house. My job there is to screen the manuscripts, which as you can imagine fits me perfectly. It’s also teaching me to see books from the other side of the publishing barrier for the first time. I’m still learning a lot inside and out.

2. When and how did you arrive at fanfiction?

I first became familiar with the concept of fanfiction when I was fifteen, thanks to the manga community. What little I read was in French, and as embarrassing and cringey as you can imagine. Baby’s First Fandom! I quickly lost interest in it, and for a couple of years I was convinced I was done being into stuff “so obsessively.”


Illustration by Parisa for ‘War, Children’

Oh what a fool I was.

The year 2012 was a game-changer. It’s ridiculous but it’s true. If I hadn’t decided to go and see Avengers with friends, my life would have been very, very different. I came out of the movie absolutely hyped up on fun. My classical training infused me with a vague contempt for mainstream stuff—but Avengers smashed through those barriers. To the point that I yearned to stay in that universe for a bit longer; a feeling I hadn’t had since my manga days. Mostly I longed to explore the fallout of what had happened between Clint Barton and Loki Laufeyson. So I wrote a fic. It’s still on the AO3. It’s absolutely terrible. But it sated my need at the time. I stepped back thinking I was done.

But then I wrote another one. And then another one. I fully expected the obsession to fade eventually, like it had every time such a thing had happened to me before. But it didn’t fade. It just branched out; through it I discovered a lot of new things (Tumblr, its particular brand of deadpan cynicism, and many things about gender and sexuality) and learned a helluva lot about writing, thanks to the feedback of my readers and my own continued discontent with what I was posting.

3. Your style has a lot of interesting rhythm: bold sentence variation and moments where characters go completely stream of consciousness. Is this flow intuitive, are you drawing from influences and/or writing instruction? Maybe a mix?

Thanks! And no—I am utterly unable to follow instructions when it comes to writing. Europeans in general consider that writing cannot be taught, only learned. I mostly agree. I write what feels right. Same goes for influences; I let myself be influenced, it’s not conscious work. So yes, it’s mostly intuition.

It’s when I reread myself that some instructions come into the mix—kill your darlings; show, don’t tell; substance over style. I try to delete as much as I can. Tighten up my writing to the max. If I’m using several sentences to express one idea it’s not good. Reread, delete again, aim for maximum efficiency.

4. What’s easiest and most difficult about writing fanfic?

Writing fanfiction is addictive. Mostly because it’s so easy. (It’s a slippery slope, too—my first stories were bad because I mixed up easy and cheap.) The characters are already there. The universe is already there. All you have to do is combine them in new and exciting ways. And you get so involved in it—because you’ve spent so much time there, it’s like home. I’ve read stories I would have found absolutely inane if they’d involved original characters; but since they were about my OTP they were suddenly fascinating.

There’s nothing I find difficult about writing fanfiction in itself. The difficult part happens when it’s time to break the habit—aka when I work on my original stuff. I get frustrated with my characters because I do not immediately love them and know them. I must relearn patience and worldbuilding.

5. What’s it like writing in a second language?

Immensely satisfying regarding the punctuation. Bet you didn’t think I’d say that!

The French dialogue is in hyphenated form, and it’s absurdly frustrating.

“Wait,” said Bucky. He was shaking. “That’s not what I meant.”
Ahh. So clear. So clean-cut.

And now with French punctuation:
— Wait, said Bucky. He was shaking. That’s not what I meant.

I HATE THIS. Of course you could use French quotation marks, but it’s a tiresome and frankly old-school business. Punctuation forces me to pace my writing (and particularly my dialogues) differently in English and in French. Same goes for vocabulary. Some things cannot be translated. Such as “What the hell?” There is no equivalent in French. Of course, it goes both ways—I’ll think of a perfect French phrase, and then I’ll grumble trying to express it in English.

Mostly I’m a lot more confident when I write in English—and that’s because I am tone-deaf to a lot of preconceptions and subtleties. I learned English at school. I’ve become more comfortable with the language as I wrote and I read and watched movies in it. But it’s not organic to me and it never will be. When I write in French I agonize over every single detail; I am aware of the hidden meanings under every single word; every single sentence seems either too heavy or too bland. In English, I’m happy when I achieve proper grammar and when I manage to get my point across. It’s relaxing.

6. In the first story of yours that I read, “In The Details” from “The Marvel Fractions” series, New York City factors largely. Have you ever visited? What is important to consider about describing a location not your own?

Nope! Never been to New York! (I did spend three hours in JFK once, on my way to Arizona. But that was after writing the fanfic, anyway.) But it didn’t matter. I wasn’t writing about New York; I was writing about Clint’s building in Bedford-Stuyvesant, which is largely described and explored in the comics. I didn’t feel the need to learn anything about the real New York. That happened later—when I wrote War, Children. For that one I did a lot of research.

I think the most important thing to consider is this: if you’ve never been there, then you’ve never been there. You don’t know how it actually is. No amount of research is gonna change that. So don’t spend too much time waxing poetic about the atmosphere of the city—describe the building or the street you need, and move on.

7. Continuing with “The Marvel Fractions,” this series was my first time reading about a deliberate and positive mismatch in sexuality. One protagonist – Clint Barton, aka Hawkeye- identifies as straight and the other -Bruce Banner, aka the Hulk- doesn’t specify any sexual identity, yet [spoiler alert!] they get together. Of course, both are solidly heterosexual in the Marvel Comics canon. What drew you to depicting the characters this way?

I actually already wrote a huge rant about this here if you’re interested.

I’m tired of heterosexuality as the norm. But I’m also a bit tired of “everyone is inexplicably queer” rewritings in fandom (though I ain’t judging—I’ve done it before and will do it again!) I wanted to try something different. Clint Barton is conspicuously heterosexual in the comics, having had many affairs with numerous women. Bruce Banner spends too much time on the run to ever really focus on romance, so his canon is more flexible and so he was the one I chose to depict as (presumably) pansexual.

And I really like writing about uncategorized love. In the end, are Bruce and Clint boyfriends? Are they “just” friends with one-sided benefits? It doesn’t really matter. They’ve become family to each other. The rest is just… technicalities.

8. Continuing with this subject, sexuality and sexual situations factor significantly into fanworks. I’m fascinated by the idea that many (female?) writers are not only focusing on same sex male pairings, they’re also imbuing men with feminine values, strengths, and cultures while at the same time remarking on masculine values, strengths, and cultures. What are your thoughts on this?

Fandom is definitely a female-dominated space. It’s amazing in many ways, but it also has its shortcomings. People have criticized the staggering amount of M/M pairings by accusing the female writers of fetishism (the same way straight guys enjoy lesbian porn.) For some of them it’s definitely true, but in our general defense (speaking for the MCU fandom here) I can say this:

– Setting aside love interests (Peggy Carter, Pepper Potts) and secondary characters (Maria Hill, Darcy Lewis) we only have two female characters: Natasha Romanov and Wanda Maximoff. Neither of them has their own movie, and I can’t recall a single line of dialogue between them.

– Fanfiction is about pushing back against a very patriarchal mainstream media; so we write lots of queer characters, lots of men who are actually allowed to access and express their feelings, and lots of women who do not engage in sex and/or romance. When you add all those factors up, you get a predominance of M/M pairings.

– Seriously. We’re desperate for male characters to finally get a bit of sweet lovin’, and we’re desperate for female characters to do literally anything else with their time. Look at how Tumblr reacted to Pacific Rim, Captain America: Winter Soldier and Mad Max: Fury Road. It was like a breath of fresh air.

Society and entertainment influence each other. People do what they see, and write what they do. I think writing stories is essential to shaping ourselves as a culture. Despite the very real threat of fetishism, I think fanfiction is mostly a feminist endeavor.

9. It’s not an exaggeration to say that fanfic writers crave comments! How does reader input impact your process? Do you have rules around criticism or negative comments?

In my author’s notes I’m regularly screaming I LIVE FOR COMMENTS! and encouraging readers to leave comments as long and detailed as they want. Feedback is essential to understanding what works and what doesn’t when it comes to posting a story. You learn how to reference it better, so readers find it more easily; you learn how to pace it better, so your readers will be hooked after the first chapter and willing to bear with you for several thousand words; you learn how to maximize the emotional impact of your writing, so readers will want to read more of your work. Puzzling out all that would be a lot more difficult without comments!

And it’s about the joy of sharing, too. The happy feedback loop of fanfiction is so pure. I had fun writing this; you had fun reading it; let’s rant about the things we love!

Criticism is always difficult to absorb, but it’s also needed. If it’s polite and legitimate, I’ll welcome it. But negative comments—people who just come in to say “I didn’t like it”—those are just malicious. If I’m reading something I don’t like, I just close the tab. The author doesn’t need to know about it. Thankfully, gratuitous rudeness isn’t encouraged in fandom at all, and I’m happy I never had a lot of comments like this.

10. Name three other artists, writers of fanfic or otherwise, to whom you’d like to give a shout out. What should we know about them?

Speranza! One of the most amazing writers in the MCU fandom, imo. (20th Century Limited should be illegal.) Everything they touch turns to gold.

M_Leigh! Her works are spectacular (I am still sobbing over Middletown)—and she’s the co-founder of Big Bang Press. Now that’s applied fanfiction.

bluandorange! Their writing and drawings leave me breathless—but mostly it’s their meta I’m awestruck by. Their opinions on Steve Rogers heavily influenced the way I write him.

11. Okay this last question is inspired by one of my new favorite podcasts, Fanbros. At the beginning of each episode, the hosts dub themselves with funny and clever code-names, which they call AKAs (also-known-as). In the spirit of fanfic, where writers largely go by pen names, what other monikers might you choose for yourself?

Oh, I didn’t know about that—thanks, I’ll go listen to them! And um… I don’t know… This is Nonymos, aka Nobody Expects the Superhero Obsession. Keep writin’!

Love Wins



Back in my high school days, I made a choice. Can’t say what it was born of, exactly. Can’t say what the future will hold or whether today’s ‘forward’ momentums will one day seem ‘backward.’

Can say: I’ll try the best I can to understand and hold space and embrace. Can say: If and when I fail, I’ll hold tight to the truth of Love. Even just a moment spent loving grants strength that’s hard to deny.

Love wins.jpg

Woke/Re-Woke: A Conversation



I’m on the third floor of City Hall, checking out the topographical map of Old Cambridge (then called Newtowne.) A young, energetic photographer beside me, gazing on the faded gray and little bumps of green, the expanse of woods and winding Charles River, says, “Wow. Can you imagine living back then? So much green!” She sighs wistfully. I slant her a look.

“Mmm,” I respond. “I’m all set. In that Cambridge, I would have been a slave, and you’d probably be an indentured servant.”


My mother, my partner, and I are doing that ridiculous thing where we’re waiting outdoors in a line, in winter, to get tidbits of free chocolate. We’re at Harvard Square’s annual festival because it’s fun, and we apparently enjoy riding that edge of discomfort and delight. As we bob and wiggle to keep warm, a young woman makes her way down the line, handing out flyers. I want to avoid her but politeness makes me meet two bright eyes as she asserts her message: come to our rally to help end human trafficking!!

The irony slaps me and I want to laugh: how do you think I got here?

Matter window sign.jpg

By my early twenties, I had settled on how it was going to be for me, life-long:

  • As a person of primarily African heritage, my perceived value to this country is best exhibited by a mental ‘game’ I made up as a child: Who Matters Less [than me] In the US? (my childhood answers: Native Americans, disabled people, the poor, anyone not-hetero. Sometimes, I’d make combos to see how low I could go – poor/female/Afro-Native? etc. )
  • As a woman in the world, I expect to be paid/trusted/listened to less
  • Growing up ‘straight’ was an un-arguable given (unless a person was willing/able to fight)
  • Being mixed-social class is invisible; there’s barely any language to describe it
  • As a feminist, I fight relentless, confusing de-humanizing perpetrated by both men and women
  • Raised radical, many of my personal views don’t make it into casual conversation
  • There’s much I’ll never share with non-Black friends (polite company don’t talk race)
  • Any claimed ‘wokedness’ changes zilch about how I’m viewed, as much as it influences everything about how I see


Nearly halfway through my life and so, so far from the front lines, why am I writing about this now?

I guess ’cause eight years ago, when Obama was first getting elected to our country’s most public/most maligned office, white strangers with tiny HOPE buttons suddenly started striking up conversations with me on public transit. Because kids-these-days are using crazy terms like intersectionality and finding ways to classify and re-see unseen gender identities (cis & trans & ???). Because in three out of three cities where I regularly spend time, residents have various and continued opportunities to engage in conversations about race and gender.

Norms that I’ve long wished weren’t the norm are getting Grizzly-smacked right out of the water while I watch.


As a kid learning about American Civil Rights, I assumed the effort was something with which everyone got involved, for better or ill. The whole country, struggling. Text books failed to get across the nuance of those decades where some joined, some didn’t, some hid, some fought, some died, and some weren’t even cognizant -absorbed in childcare or studying Latin or pulling lobster traps over the side of a boat.

Now, I understand as I watch young people define a new movement. It’s a strange, somewhat disembodying experience, walking past Black Lives Matter signs. Part of me says duh! and another part says wow. I can taste the desire to re-establish the platform of faith and ideals from which we’ve been slipping. In my imagination, today’s efforts reverberate back to the folks behind me – the original Sinclairs and Newbys, whose worth was written: sugar, cotton, blood. In a way, I understand those signs hanging over churches and in stores and dorm windows to be a whisper: We hear you. Thank you.

But did you notice that distinction, how I keep walking past –my multi-partial self who hasn’t yet found it in me to act as activist, to choose? I want a way to choose ALL the sides, without devaluing a single one. I want to devise a cyclone-of-uplift that gathers up Asian folk and Native folk and generationally-poor whites who see #blacklivesmatter and feel tightness in their chests. I want a way to look across my cities and see versions of me with my hair represented at all levels, for it to not be a surprise or special treat. I want an end to supposed firsts, a ladder leading back to variation upon variation. I want to discover a solution to forgetting.

I mean, why should my slave heritage be any less proud than a ship to some island where they changed your name? Both were taught to me in school; far as I’m concerned, both histories are mine.


I’m strolling through Harvard Yard. It’s early spring and the sun is warm, dappled, and accenting the beauty of two brown students as they stand beside a redbrick building, amicably arguing about ‘wokeness’. The young man claims depth and veracity. The young woman teasingly, amicably shakes her head: unconvinced.

Woke. The poet in me loves that term. The MTV Generation punk, the alt-view malcontent, who is learning and making mistakes, who feels equal parts curious and cautious . . . and hopeful.

Smiling to myself as I catch snatches of the students’ debate, I half applaud/half mock them, conjugating: She woke. He a-woke?

We re-woke to the reality.

Mild MBTA Misbehaviors: Overdue Apology #2


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Dear Stranger Whose Business Suit-clad Rear I . . . Bumped:

Remember me? I’m the ‘little black girl’ who ‘smacked your butt’ on the Red Line headed towards Alewife. I swear it was an accident.

We must have been crossing the salt and pepper bridge because I remember the train car being well lit. I recall the echo of train wheels rolling up and over and across, Charles River glinting below. It wasn’t a packed car, but it also wasn’t empty, so probably other passengers witnessed my transgression.

Business Suit Dude: you had leaned over to fuss with the bag at your feet when the train swayed and my arm . . . swayed. There was contact: your tush, my hand. I remember thinking a muzzy uh-oh! when I realized I was too late to resist the motion.

You shot up, squeaking in surprise. Or maybe it was a gasp. (I assure you, the sound you produced maybe wasn’t was very manly.) However it’s best described, your response contained an implicit ‘oh!’, which, if you were a 80’s-raised black woman like myself, may have been followed with an outraged ‘you didn’t just do that!’ But you were a white dude, probably late 30s, early 40s, and, judging by your shocked expression, this was not an interaction you’d ever envisioned.

You gaped. I shrugged one shoulder and, as an afterthought, added a disarming, half-sorry smile.

My bad. I probably should have been less amused?

In any event, dear Business Suit, you have my 78% sincere apology. I hope you don’t mind that I’ve re-told this story many dozens of times. Don’t worry, you’re always the victim.

Statues in American Indian museum

‘We send reproach for your regrettable behavior.’