This past week has been both humbling and trying. Like many people of privilege, I have been reading, listening, conversing, and learning about the current state of racism, police brutality, and overall civil unrest. I silenced my published creative efforts unless they were to help raise the voices of the unheard. I sometimes consider my social media presence to be a thankless part of my “job,” and one that I do not always look forward to. That has been changing of late as I shift my focus to that which brings me joy; however, it was still surprisingly difficult to not share images from the beautiful world around me for a few days.
Even after all this reflection, it was not until yesterday evening that a thought occurred to me about my Afterworld series. Before you continue to read, be warned that the following will contain minor spoilers for my Afterworld novels. The following is also not seeking a pat on the back. Art is art and I stake no claim to the airy voices that come to me and demand to be heard through my words.
Minor book spoilers below.
I live in a little liberal bubble in my corner of California and I take a great many of the cultural conversations held in my community for granted; as I have now seen, many communities do not strive to address issues of race, inequality, privilege, etc. While my community is not perfect, at least there are many who have always spoken and even more willing to listen. This, however, can blind me to the world outside.
I write very quickly, without outlining, so as I stated above, I often only feel a conduit for story. It flows through me freely and if I try to place a bit in its mouth and guide it, the work suffers terribly. This may be the reason reviews of my work often say that just when they thought they knew where the story was going, it took an unpredictable turn. As a result of my little bubble and feeling as if my characters are speaking through me, rather than me cultivating their voices for them, I was naively unaware of the ways the content of Afterworld made it dangerous in the eyes of several traditional publishers until I was on a panel of female authors at Denver Comic Con.
There to represent the indies, I felt like a little kid in the big kid’s playground and was more excited to learn from them than to share my meager experience. An Indian American author shared the story of how her publisher asked her to change the race of her heroine because it would be too hard to sell a book about someone with brown skin – someone who reflected the author, mind you. Another woman was told to change the sexual orientation of her protagonist from gay to straight for essentially the same reason. My stomach grew cold. I am white. Ophelia, my main character, is not, and her best friend who shares much of the story is gay. At the time, I was still actively attempting to traditionally publish my novel. This news shocked and frightened me. Both of my fellow authors shared that they followed their publishers’ advice and altered their stories because, at the end of the day, they had mouths to feed and bills to pay.
This moment was pivotal, for it made me realize that I had written a story that, was not about, but included, two vastly underrepresented groups in our society, and that that fact would make it unpalatable to some, unsellable to others.
Ophelia, I realized after I finished her tale, represents the modern “everywoman.” Her skin is brown. In Ophelia, her heritage is part Trinidadian – chosen because it is akin to being American – no one race or group. Over the course of the series, her appearance helps her somewhat seamlessly blend in with several cultures on multiple continents. I didn’t want to include an image of her on the cover, because as the everywoman, the reader should be able to make up their own mind about her appearance. That was easier said than done, for it is a fact of our species that we respond more to faces than we do objects. As such, I drew an illustration of the character which I included on the cover. I did not mind because it was vague.
However, an independent author needs more than just one image when it comes to marketing. I decided to hunt through stock images in an attempt to find a woman who even remotely resembled my character. It was difficult, especially with no budget, but I eventually settled on a woman who was “good enough.” I used my limited photoshop skills to try to alter her appearance to better resemble my heroine, but even when I introduced her to the world, I made it clear that this was only an interpretation. Now I am left with some feelings of shame. Did I choose a woman whose features were too Caucasian? Was her skin too pale? Her eyes too wide? My focus in the selection was less on race, but more on the concept of the character having an “open face” – approachable, capable of both wonder and ferocity, and yet able to blend in to many different ethnic backgrounds. I do not think my end product ultimately achieved that, but it was the best I could do.
I will not say that I understand what it is to be a person of color or even a gay or trans person in our society, nor will I say that in any way did I attempt to speak for those groups with my books. Instead, the racial background and sexual orientation of two of my characters plays out as parts of their identity that contribute to but do not control the narrative, the same as Brennan’s eye color or upbringing in Ireland and Adam’s love of surfing. Now that I look at it through a racial lens, there are at least two interracial couples in the book.
None of this was intended as a means to be subversive to traditional publishing or storytelling. I was only the conduit and stake no claim over the characters being who they are. To me, they are real, breathing people – a reflection of the world around me – and I am merely the artist who had the honor to pen their tale for them. That said, in light of the current cultural conversation, I am glad that it never once occurred to me to change the race or orientation of either Ophelia or Alex before submitting to publishers, even after learning of the risk.
As artists, we imbue our art with our values. I am still waiting for Ophelia to blink, step out of the page, and walk out into the world on her own with all her stature, cunning, wit, and vulnerability. Her journey reflects that of all woman, and I am honored to be her friend.
The above photo was taken in May of 2016 by a newspaper photographer as they opened the gates to a Bernie Sanders rally in San Jose, CA. The temperature was already in the 80s early in the morning. It reached the high 90 if not 100s. While I am sweating in this photo, I soon ran out of liquids in my body. Succumbing to heat exhaustion, sheltering under my sign with gooseflesh and a dazed mind made the whole experience feel as physically desperate as it did politically.
At this rally, a young woman approached me with wonder in her eyes and asked repeatedly who I was and who I was with. Not understanding what she was after, I eventually told her that I was an author, and she said, "What you're doing is very powerful. Archetypes are very powerful. Is there somewhere I can go to see your work?" Dressed as Katniss Everdeen from the dystopian novels The Hunger Games, I realized then that I never posted on my author social media about my political beliefs. At that moment, however, after seeing her response, I did. I unabashedly shared my political views. I volunteered for the campaign, I canvassed, and I marched. It took a thick skin that I didn't have going in, for to wear your heart on your sleeve is to open yourself to attack. I had volunteered in an attempt to pull myself out of my first real bout of clinical depression by fighting for something I believed in, and thankfully, it worked. My skin thickened, my heart softened, and with each new experience outside of my comfort zone, I grew.
2016 was a year of massive change both personally and politically. I lost my beloved aunt and my dog. I was cracked open by a mental illness I had never experienced so gravely, and I was remade all the more vibrantly. I traveled, I adventured, I advocated, and I met my current beau in a pub in Ireland. My energy was powerful. Change is a cataclysm for reforging identity.
We are going through that same experience now as a nation. These are birthing pains. We shall overcome and we shall emerge renewed.
My political views do not align with any one party. In some ways, I am a liberal redneck. There was a lot of hatred flung at me in 2016 for simply wearing a shirt, and no, it was not generally from Trump supporters. My mother, sister and I were shrieked at by another woman that we should all be guillotined for marching in the local Pride parade, holding a Bernie banner. This woman's partner was wearing a Hillary shirt. I won't list the rest of my experiences here, but pretending that I didn't see her rabid expression and the veins bulging in her neck as she shrieked hatred at us, continuing to smile and march on even though I was trembling inside, gave me a glimpse, just a glimpse, of what it is like to live without the protection of my privilege.
Where does such hatred come from that we neglect basic decency? That we can fling scornful words at each other? That we can harm one another? That we can kill?
When Bernie lost the nomination in the summer of 2016, I shared my belief that Donald Trump would be our next president. I was laughed at, mocked, and told that I was in with a "fringe group" and that I'd been brainwashed. Now, in 2020, I can say that I was right. I was on the streets. I was talking to locals. I knew how fierce the desire for radical change was, even back then. That desire in the general populace is far stronger now, and the people still are not being listened to.
I haven't posted anything about this election on my professional social media and hardly any on my private. I am in a different place in my life than I was in 2016. There are a lot of health issues going on with my loved ones, including my mother's cancer, and I knew I just didn't have the emotional bandwidth to expose myself to that hatred again and again.
That was a choice I made. Most people of color do not have that choice. They experience it every day. Every day.
The events unfolding in our nation have left me shocked and horrified. The murder of George Floyd should never have happened. Guns should never have been pulled on my friends based on the color of their skin. Even my brother has had a gun pulled on him my police because they decided he looked poor and assumed he had stolen the TV in the back of his truck. Racial and socio-economic profiling is a very real thing and it is getting out of hand.
The police brutality showcased in the past 48 hours turns my stomach. There is no excuse. However, we also ask an impossible thing of our police officers: to serve as soldiers with PTSD on the front line where the "enemy" is their fellow citizens. They should not be allowed to serve on the streets following a traumatic incident. Our force should be rotated regularly to give officers' minds a chance to heal so that their sources of trauma are not repeatedly reinforced.
I don't have the answers. I'm just a girl whistling a mockingjay tune. But I stand with my black brothers and sisters. I stand for the forging of a new America that does not turn a blind eye to corruption and hatred. I stand for our right to non-violently protest and to take to the streets when our voices go unheard.
I stand for justice and liberty for all.
While I live in a beautiful spot, I have also rarely left the house and have not seen people outside of my family for 3 months now. Even at my most reclusive, that is hard; not so much not seeing strangers, but not going out into the world. I was and remain more claustrophobic than I have ever been before - even the wild spaces around my home - protected land, I should add - have been invaded daily by humans looking for places to roam. This may sound ridiculous, I feel hemmed in.
I am used to falling asleep to crickets and owls and awakening to birdsong. To relaxing to the tones of nature. Instead, due to my neighbors being home all the time, there is the constant drone of leaf blowers, saws, woodchippers, the bass of music, the rev of engines, etc. People have every right to live their lives, work on their projects, and thrive, don’t get me wrong. But it is just a change from the usual relative quiet I experience here in the weekday working from home. Even more upsetting, the nature surrounding our property that I so cherish has been infiltrated by people using it for what they will, leaving behind rubbish, damaging the fragile ecosystem, having illegal campfires, and more.
A few days ago, I went out for what has only been my third adventure in the outdoors since before the beginning of our “Shelter in Place” order here in California.
I knew my favorite hiking place would be busy, but since it is a county park and they are one of the few open spaces still allowing the public in, it was busier than I have ever seen it. The territorial side of me came out. This place has always been an escape into nature, and now it was filled with humans. Everywhere. Leaving trash. Carving the sandstone. Soiling the natural beauty of the place. I understand that they all just want to get out of the house and hike as I did, but I have little forgiveness for the disrespect. Indeed, I have often wished I were or could invoke a vengeful goddess to drown these defiliers in their own litter. And the selfish, cavewoman side of me hopes they all stay home once the pandemic is over.
I am conflicted by these feelings. I realize these are very much entitled, “first world problems,” but is anyone else having feelings of claustrophobia from the pandemic?
My intention was to spend the day at the park, testing out my new camera and enjoying nature, and despite it being so crowded, I did just that. I greatly enjoyed myself and the mindful, meditative state I entered while filming. It was exactly what I needed.
While the sense of being hemmed in hasn’t completely faded, and while I admit to feeling like a dragon, wanting to hoard all of my financial resources to secure my own vast tract of land one day (for which I’d have to be a billionaire in California), going out did me good and I am very thankful to live where I do!
I have been so entrenched at my computer over the past few days that my body is aching in strange ways. Ergonomic issues aside, I am happy to have spent my time thus: learning more about editing photos in Adobe Photoshop. Given that my sister Alex is an amazing photographer and editor, I had always let this be her realm. However, now that her health issues prevent her from taking and editing photos like she used to, I realized that I needed to step up and educate myself!
While my sister goes for natural light and looks in most of her work, which is beautiful, I am currently having fun making more whimsical portraits. I have been working on a batch of photos from a shoot Alex and I did ages ago when we were taking my author photo for Priestess (Afterworld Book 2). Intellectually, I know that the woman in the pictures if me. However, I am my own canvas at the moment, so it is important for me to separate myself from the woman in the photos. She has simply been called the "lady" in all of my file names. Not me, just a woman who may bear a passing resemblance. The Lady is far more glamorous with glowing, flawless skin and an enchanted bearing. I am currently sporting a chin covered in healing acne, more greys than I care to count, and tired lines. But the Lady... she has none of that!
I naturally made this separation at the start of the editing process. Over the past decade, I have become very adept at isolating myself from my image. Having a pen name helps tremendously. "K.M. Rice" can do all kinds of things that I would find a bit self-indulgent as "Kellie." I took a one-day acting seminar when I was 19 or 20 with the casting director Judy Bouley - a wonderful human being. She gave me a part from one of her films, Deep Impact. I was paired with a young man and we did our emotional "the world is ending scene." I was enrolled in "Intro to Acting" in college at the time, had never had a boyfriend, and had just been given my lines. Under Bouley's direction, however, I was later shocked by what happened.
I did the scene. By the end I had the necessary tears welled in my eyes. I would have kissed my acting partner without reservation if the scene had called for it (kissing a boy was a huge deal for me at the time). It was like I had gone into a different place in my mind. I was no longer Kellie. I was the character.
Later, Bouley would congratulate me as having real talent, remind me that I hadn't even finished my first acting class and that I was pretty. "She's good," she said to my mom when she came to pick me up. "I mean, she's really good." I think my mom was as shocked as I was to hear that praise, for most of the films I made at home were my excuse to be a lunatic! I still cherish Bouley's encouragement to this day.
Even with such a promising start, I quickly realized that acting wasn't for me. I enjoyed it and do so still, however, I didn't want to go through rejection after rejection. It was difficult enough to feel comfortable with my appearance on my own without being constantly judged for it by strangers. And while this story sounds like the push I should have used to launch an acting career, the truth is that I attended the seminar because I wanted to learn how to be a horseback-riding extra in a film like Lord of the Rings. A few years later, I did my one and only "modeling" photoshoot with a photographer, not for pay, but for a free headshot... because I also had it in my head that I could audition for a small role in The Hobbit. My youthful naivete warms my heart. Though those dreams never came to fruition, the law of attraction works in mysterious ways, and none can say that I did not eventually find my way to Middle-earth!
This division of insular self and public self is important for an artist. I may be my own canvas at this point, but the Lady is not me. She is K.M. Rice. She is an elf or a faerie, a witch or a sorceress. The Lady is whoever and whatever I need her to be. She has me in her, but she is not entirely me. Instead, she is a fragment, a reflection, a moment in time. The Lady is imbibed with my passions and aesthetic and yet remains an ideal, separate from the artist who looks like a ragamuffin most days and has to remind herself to eat.
It's strange how there are so many different sides to people, but we would be terribly boring otherwise. For now, I am having fun exploring the parts of me that are embodied by the Lady. Who knows what she will come up with next!
I never really thought I wanted to get back into blogging, but it is a sign of things to come in my creative world. I had a blog a decade or so ago then shifted my focus to my video content. It seems that a similar shift is once more occurring, only this time, the other way around.
I have been wanting to restructure my online presence for some time now. I write, I take photos, I film, I vlog, I am one half of a webseries, I paint, I craft, make jewelry, I bake… the list goes on. For a long while, I could not see the obvious thread that connects everything I do into one intricate web. I branded myself as an author under my pen name and as such felt torn among my many passions. Yes, writing is my profession and the core of my career, but there is also much more that makes me “me,” and most of my loyal followers, or wildlings, have not become so from picking up one of my novels, falling in love, and looking me up online. Instead, many seem to come to me from Happy Hobbit, my vlog, or my social media posting. At some point, they grew curious and picked up one of my books, liked what they read, and stayed. No matter your path to our little community, I am so thankful that you are here.
I ran a poll last year asking my followers what content they would like to see more of from me. The overwhelming result was more vlogs of any kind, just not on writing. I was happy with that result, for I was running out of steam on my author vlog where I shared writing advice, but I didn’t know why. I am still struggling with the direct causes, but I now understand that they are linked to the same reasons I did not immediately pick up the camera and begin filming new vlogs on different subjects.
Was it imposter syndrome? Lack of time? Lack of confidence?
I have asked myself these questions again and again, for I carry the guilt of knowing what my followers want yet being unable to deliver. The nearest I can come to explaining my hesitation to jump back into the word of vlogging is this: it does not bring me fulfillment. Don’t get me wrong. My vlog was a blast at first (anyone else remember “Linda”?) and I found the engagement very enjoyable. At some point, however, it had started to become a chore. My viewers deserve my best efforts, not false enthusiasm for something my heart is no longer invested in. I slowed down then stopped my vlog altogether without ever making a conscious decision. I still stand by that, for I hold to the creed of picking and choosing where I invest my time and energy. If I was not capable of filming with authentic joy and enthusiasm, then I could not expect anyone else to take precious time out of their day to listen to my thoughts on camera.
Another reason I found it increasingly difficult to film was the emotional debris from my personal life. I am facing a challenging chapter in my story. Exerting energy on my ailing loved ones means that I have less for my creativity. Striking this new balance means that I need to be more discerning about where I invest that energy. For a long time, I shamed myself for not having the creative drive in the same way that I did five years ago, for not delivering to my audience what they wanted, and for not being a successful “booktuber.” It has taken a while for me to realize that it all comes down to one simple fact: my life, and myself along with it, have changed.
And that’s ok.
I no longer felt confident and safe enough to share so much of myself with the world. I no longer trusted the strangers who walked through my virtual door. Yes, this is in part due to several negative online stalking incidences, but as someone who has had an online presence of some kind since before YouTube began, I have a decent ability to ignore the trolls. Instead, this was more of a shift within me. I was no longer comfortable holding up aspects of my life or personality for public scrutiny.
I have always been a private person. For years I have struggled to push myself to become something against my nature – a public persona with the energy to give to strangers and receive energy back. While I do love sharing, interacting, educating, meeting readers/fans, etc., and while it does gift me so much emotionally, it is draining energetically. Perhaps it is the introverted side of me that needs to rest but sharing joy and giving to my followers is a delight that also requires me to take a step back and regenerate with some quiet time.
I find nothing more restorative than nature. And that’s when it hit me.
Nature is the common thread to every passion I follow. It influences my writing, my art, my jewelry, my crafts, my photography, and yes, often even my baking. Nature, the great Mother, fuels me endlessly. So long as I can lean into nature, I my creative roots can drink from her plentiful well of inspiration and energy.
As such, I am in the process of restructuring my public presence to celebrate the natural world, which in fairness, I have been subconsciously doing on my social media for a long while before now. While this may not come across as a big change to my followers, it is already making a difference within me.
I am energized again and excited about creating to share with you all once more. I invested my stimulus check into a fancy new camera that I am just beginning to learn how to use. I have (obviously) begun this blog and who knows, may post the occasional vlog with a new aesthetic. I will continue to write my books, help other writers bring their visions to life by story editing their novels, and following wherever my writing path takes me, but for now, most of my projects will be created under the beams of light gifted by nature’s perfectly imperfect hand.
Thank you so much to those of you who have followed me on the journey this far. I can’t wait to see where we all go from here!
Blessèd Beltane and welcome to my inaugural blog post! Since this is a time of sowing seeds to bear fruit, it felt an important moment to begin this new venture. To learn more about this sacred time of year, read on and please feel free to leave a comment below.
In ancient Celtic times, the peoples of the North Atlantic Isles observed this period of time as the beginning of the summer pastoral season marking the halfway mark between the vernal equinox and the summer solstice. Beltane, or Lá Bealtaine in Irish (a Gaelic word I still struggle to properly pronounce, much to my Gealetacht beau’s dismay) is one of the four Celtic “fire festivals” that mark the shifting seasons, the other three being Samhain (end of autumn/Halloween), Imbolc (beginning of Spring), and Lughnasadh (end of summer/first harvest). Though Ireland was largely Christianized after the era of Saint Patrick, there is a growing interest in the ancient festivals that were never truly extinguished. In the rugged southwest of Ireland, far from Dublin, the British were less capable of enforcing their rule (which included suppressing the native language and customs). There are still communities of Irish speakers (known as Gealtachts) and Beltane is still observed. In fact, Beltane is a several-day festival celebrated in Dingle, County Kerry, and includes a celebration of the arts and a traditional burning of an effigy in mumming garb. There are similar, larger Beltane festivals across the isles, including Scotland.
As the term fire festival would suggest, bonfires have traditionally played a large role in Beltane. Cattle were driven to their summer pastures by passing between two large fires meant to bless their wombs and protect them from illness and malice – the latter being from either human or the otherworld. The Aos Sí, or sí (“shee”), commonly referred to now as the “faeries,” often meddled with the wellbeing of mortals, both human and animal. Feasts ere held and dances around the flames. Even the ashes were thought to be protective.
The tradition still sometimes observed in the modern world of decorating a May pole also comes from this ancient belief of merging with the land in its time of fertility. The pole was once a tree, decorated and venerated (it doesn’t take much imagination to understand what an erect tree or pole symbolizes) and the “May Queen” often a virgin – a symbol of the goddess’ transition from maiden to mother. The May pole symbolizes the union of the feminine and masculine – two forces coming together, celebrating each other’s respective power.
In ages, past, couples would join together in lovemaking, either sneaking away to their own abodes or to the fields and plains and groves where they wished to add their fertile energy to that of the landscape, and vice versa. To this day, we often excuse distracted, flirtatious behavior as “spring fever.”
This coupling, both literal and symbolic, brings forth fruitfulness and ensures survival. It is as natural as the budding leaves and the blossoms pollinated by the bees, gifting us future sustenance. It is the way of the world, and all too often, we are taught to suppress this natural state of being, rather than to venerate lovemaking, whether with the goal of a child or not, as something powerful, sacred, and giving.
Beltane marks the waxing of the sun – the source of all life on our planet. That is no trivial thing, nor is this a time lost to the annals of folklore. The suntides are as alive and well in all of us as the turning of the seasons. We have only to learn to listen.
While we may no longer live agrarian lives, and while the pandemic is greatly restricting our ability to come together and to visit places of natural beauty, there is still much we can do to observe this time of hope, optimism and growth. Instead of a bonfire, lite a candle with the intention of blessing the growth both in your life and in the world. Take a moment to meditate on the endeavors in your life which you wish to bear fruit and take a symbolic step toward achieving those goals. Even those of us in the most urban areas can find a tree on the street. Observe the new leaves, so fair and green, thin and fresh, ready to absorb the gifts and energy of the sun.
Let the golden light fill your heart and run in your veins. Today is Beltane.