You may or may not have heard that I’ve been selected as an Artist in Residency at the Squire Foundation in Santa Barbara. (Yes, I happy dance whenever I think about it! So excited.)
I leave next Tuesday and will have an entire month to begin working on my new novella based on my short story, “Ancestry.com” which appeared last year in Nate Ragolia’s BONED.
The story is about a warrior queen whose bones rise from the sea upon being called forth by people like me, a black woman who doesn’t know from where she’s come and uses the actual Ancestry.com to begin dialing.
The time had come. She felt a shift in her bones as they answered the call for her to rise. From the depths of the ocean, buried deep in the sediment of which she had become one, her bones collected like particles of metal drawn to a magnet. Piece by piece, she was whole once again.
She rose, conjured to the surface by a force unknown, yet welcomed. It was time. She looked right and then left in the murky water of blues and greens. She wasn’t alone.
This will be my first time writing fantasy or speculative fiction. I’m not sure yet what genre it will lie in. I wanted to stretch myself and venture outside from writing in my favorite space, 1940s fiction and you know this stuff, blogging and creative nonfiction.
I got the idea because I literally had an image of a woman’s bones coming up from the sea to speak to me, and also because when I was in London a few years ago, a security guard stopped me as I was going to a meeting with a literary agent about Harlem’s Awakening.
He asked, “Where are you from?”
I said, “Wisconsin.”
“No! WHERE are you from?”
I caught on to what he meant and I didn’t have a good answer, “Sometimes people say I look like I’m from Ethiopia…?”
“No. NO. Do not let them tell you this. YOU are from Ghana. You are my people!”
This was the first time I’ve ever been told that I was from Ghana and I’ve by haunted by it ever since. I found it exciting, actually. I’ve always been somewhat jealous of people who can so easily say, “I’m Irish and French”, “I’m Dominican”, “I’m Italian and Hungarian” (Matt!). Identity goes a long way and does a lot of things for people; it can also fall short and leave us feeling untethered and truncated when we’re cut off from it by razor-edged question marks. Ask anyone who is adopted and they’ll tell you the same.
I don’t know who my people are, besides the ones I know about. And I want to know more. I am calling on my ancestors to help me out here.
So, I received my AncestryDNA kit today. I figured I would take the test and use it as my real first step in my journey to discovering my history as well as to use as research for writing this novella come October 1st.
I will tell you that while I was super excited to finally order this, I was also a little apprehensive about pulling the $100 trigger. For one, I’m cheap and if I had only bought it when I was initially going to, I could have gotten the thing for $59 during the Labor Day Weekend sale — only I didn’t know it was a sale. (Grumble. Grumble.)
Secondly, I’m concerned about going into a database. (#Privacy). There are stories about these things. DNA can be used for and against you and me putting my spit out there into the genome-iverse could affect more than just me and when I think about that, my head starts to spin and I get really nervous. Too much is unknown about this stuff and what if I’m putting myself and my family in jeopardy? Scary. (I’m writing a diabolical story about this very thing; more on that at a later time.)
And thirdly, there’s all this talk and evidence that Ancestry tests fail people like me for just about the same damn reason I’m taking the test in the first place: the information is neither complete nor expansive enough to really give a clear answer on where I may be from. (Read: How Ancestry.com Has Failed African American Customers). So, there’s all of that.
Nevertheless, I’m gonna give it a go. I apologize to all those who come after me that I may harm by doing this and to those currently swaying to and fro on this family tree known as The Chambers.
On a positive note, I send this forth: “Here Ye, Here Ye, I call on thee, oh great ones! Rise…Rise!” Let the spit gods come back with all kinds of answers, or even just one, that will give me a lead to somethin’. I’ve got a story to write, some ancestors to track and some roots to plant (or unearth, depending on how you look at it).