On Grace

On Grace

As a counterpoint to kvetching about schedules and priorities, some words for grace:

Beauty may not be easy, or easy to bear, but often it’s a gift, an assemblage of the right elements in the right proportion.

Like most I’m a sucker for beauty, genetically predisposed to it we’re told by evolutionary biology. My definition of beauty may differ from another, but it still has a power.

Even when people say have a dominant feature that allows them to be extraordinarily beautiful, it’s often a single one that stands out on a field of other proportionate charms.

People strive to be beautiful, work to maintain it. It’s the same with manicured spaces. In contrast, wild beauty ebbs and flows as growth and die-off reach and exceed balance.

Grace though more often than not is a choice.

Grace is a steadiness in any wind. A movement, a moment, a word. If you’re particularly adept, it can last a lifetime.

The people I most admire have grace. They may not know their left foot from their right, but they also have the uncanny ability to be beautiful in the ugliest times. (This is not to say that one defers or keeps quiet. That is merely obedience, obeisance, perhaps fear, but never grace.)

The writers I most admire have it as well—when they’re overarching themes come together as effortlessly as their sentences.*

Grace is aspirational. It does not belong to a religion, a gender, or a class. It is a practice, a skill you can hone. That’s my approach to writing.

When it is achieved, for however long it lasts, grace captures you. But it only wants to hold you and nurture you and set you down soft in some place better than you were before—this lovely, lit place it’s made in your mind, in the center of you, if only until something comes to cover it up. But until it does you revel.

That’s something worth pursuing.

–Tenea D. Johnson

*Notice I didn’t say flawlessly. Flaws are subjective. I’ll spare you the philosophical argument and just say that effort is less susceptible to the same reductions.


Update: Hustle Hard

Update: Hustle Hard

A few weeks ago, I was kvetching about my irons in the fire. (yes, ‘kvetching’ –  I’m a strong proponent of proper diction). It only seems right then to provide an update before I go.

  • putting the finishing touches on a new novel years in the making and handling the release. In progress.
  • writing and recording compositions for a multimedia project. In progress
  • applying for a grant. Complete.
  • making peace with social media and marketing (it may just be a ceasefire). Back to the negotiating table. (Devising a strategy I’ll adhere to.)
  • writing. As you can imagine, in progress.
  • learning new programming languages for multimedia pieces. I can write programs now, currently pretty simple, but correct and executable. I now know phrases like “close to the metal” and can pass arguments.
  • creating (a) piece(s) for the Creative Pinellas show in September. Complete.
  • meeting about collaborations (perhaps more on this as it materializes). Complete, but mum is still the word. I’ll update at teneadjohnson.com once the dust settles and the ink is dry.
  • setting up an umbrella business for established and new ventures. 85% complete.
  • scouting for and finishing freelance editing/proofreading work. As ever, in progress.
  • wrestling with the age-old question: to day job or not to day job? I’m creating my own job. Designate as you see fit.

For a month’s worth of work, I’ll take it. Progress supercedes perfection.


In lieu of today’s manifesto

In Lieu of Today’s Manifesto

Recently someone suggested I write a manifesto. Maybe. Part of me is resistant to explaining work, that it should stand alone and if it can’t is it successful? Also why guide interpretation? If you define the meaning isn’t it more artifact than art?

So no manifesto today (not for artistic work anyway). In lieu of that here are a few favorite author observations:

I am what time, circumstance, history, have made of me, certainly, but I am also, much more than that. So are we all.  –James Baldwin

Choose your leaders with wisdom and forethought. To be led by a coward is to be controlled by all that the coward fears. To be led by a fool is to be led by the opportunists who control the fool. To be led by a thief is to offer up your most precious treasures to be stolen. To be led by a liar is to ask to be told lies. To be led by a tyrant is to sell yourself and those you love into slavery.–Octavia Butler

. . . make a virtue of your peculiarities.–Ursula K. LeGuin

Find a subject you care about and which you in your heart feel others should care about. It is this genuine caring, and not your games with language, which will be the most compelling and seductive element in your style.–Kurt Vonnegut

They’ve said it so well. So for now at least let’s just leave it at that.





Like a lot of creative people I expect, concepts compel me. For the exhibit I’ll be doing a site-specific work so I can encompass performance and multimedia work, two ways I like to get the story off the page. Given it’s an exhibit I thought it a good fit because as much I appreciate books and stories I’m not sure how engaging it is to read one in a gallery—though come to think of it that could be an interesting challenge.

Remember what Edison said about inspiration and perspiration? Notions of genius aside, that 1:99 ratio is where the truth is. So as much as I enjoy conceptualizing, it’s the hard work that matters most—bringing it into being, perfecting a design or finding and fixing flaws. Still it’s the idea that’s both fuel and fire. And if it involves ingenuity, that actuated potential, all the better. One thing can be so much more.


Powers of Magnitude

Powers of Magnitude

A few weeks ago I referenced some of the limitations of speculative fiction. Now I’d like to concentrate on one of its strengths.

Speculative fiction lets you take a theme, a question, an environment to orders of magnitude, magnifying them until those elements are not just inescapable, but the very foundations of a reality. Take for instance Toni Morrison’s Beloved, a brilliant work that is speculative at its core. The child’s spirit comes back embodied in a woman she never got the chance to be. Her life had been taken as an act of kindness under threat of slavery’s brutality. Murder at her mother’s hands was better than the fate her mother believed awaited her.

Someone could try to tell contemporary audiences about the horrors of that time, but horror is a just a word.

Even the testimony of the very people born and bred in bondage became something to be ignored, relegated to a corner, but not engaged with by the zeitgeist. Morrison overcame this not just creating a fictionalized account of real slavery* and its aftermath but by breaking the rules of the overarching shared reality create to something powerful enough to address that kind of power. She enabled readers to imagine ‘the unimaginable’ and with such skill that generations have looked through that portal into a past that otherwise might remain unspoken.

In the right hands that’s the power of speculative fiction.

Sure as we can look through a telescope to spy on planets half a galaxy away, we can use literature’s tools to materialize any reality before our very eyes.

*Margaret Garner’s life and acts inspired Morrison and other authors.



Here’s to you

Here’s to you

Chances are these last few weeks of the grant period will rush by. So before time picks up and blurs this all into warm memory, I want to say thanks to Creative Pinellas for making the space and funds available for artists to pursue their work. I’ve spent a lot of time lately talking to creative professionals, artists and business people about forging a viable path to success.

It’s not news that it’s a challenge and one that can seem that much more difficult because often folks have to blaze their own trail, cut their own path, build the bridges that lead them to the next place. Just getting recognition that their work is actual work with value is sometimes a chore and one that other many professions don’t require. Opportunities like this one play a pivotal role.

Even the application process has its own rewards and lessons. So for those who’ve considered applying, do and to those who already have I hope in some way or another it got you closer to your goal — and consider applying again, if not to this grant (though why not?) the lessons(s) you gleaned from it. To those who work with/for, fund and enjoy Creative Pinellas and its mission, ‘ppreciate it. I’ll see you at the show.


New Publication

New Publication

I’m pleased to report that Creative Pinellas Magazine’s first Creative Writing selection includes my short short, “Bare.” The occasional beauty in horror and the intimacy of our extremes shape it. “Bare” does one of things I most enjoy in speculative fiction: It departs the realistic world to illuminate one of its stronger forces–the things we do for love, to connect, to express. 

For those who’d rather listen, there’s audio available here.

At well under 1,00o words it’s flash fiction. Just as brevity is the soul of wit, flash can waste no words.  fill speculative fiction. Think Fantasy and science fictions tomes and lengthy series. For instance, A Song of Fire and Ice Series (Games of Thrones) is on Book 5 of a planned 7 and Terry Pratchett’s Disc World series clocks in at 45 books. Flash fiction follows a different aesthetic. It delivers a concentrated resonance often reserved for poetry or song. Seeing as I’m a sucker for both, flash is a favorite form.

With the right words and a central scene, it’s possible to immerse a reader quickly. In the case of horror it’s interesting to see if the author lets them back up for air.


Getting Ready for the Show

Getting Ready for the Show

Last week the emerging artist grantees met at Creative Pinellas to take a look at the space and evaluate the best spot for our work. Meeting the other grantees was a pleasure and you’re all in for a great show. I’m looking forward to seeing everyone’s creations. The former Gulf Coast Museum of Art is a big, light space with plenty of interesting pockets inside and out. Xavier Cortada has a show up there now.



Right now
it looks like it’ll be a performance and at least one multimedia piece to (hopefully) enjoy when I’m
not there.


Revision & Perspective

Revision & Perspective

Revision can be more fun than writing. For me work either comes out fully formed or I have to sculpt it, chipping away to discover what beauty lies beneath and chuck what’s weighing it down. (I also start rewriting the plot halfway through but that’s another tedious, labor-intensive story).

In order to do this well, there comes a time to put the work away.

writing box

Literally. Put it away.

It’s too easy to stay in conversation with my intentions, too blinded by what’s in my head to see what’s actually on the page. Time and distance can help me regain perspective, and perspective is key.


From the Imagine Museum in St. Pete. The collection is well worth a visit.



Only when I fully transition from author to editor does each plot point, character, setting and scene settle into a story. That’s when I found it if was the one I meant to write, the one I discovered along the way, or something else altogether.

I have to say this is one way I find poetry, songwriting and multimedia narratives to be easier labors. They’re quite sure of what and where they are and most certainly where they’re going. Even when they come in pieces.

Each form has its own charm of course. What novels lack in ease they make up for in capacity. Few structures can hold the complexity or allow the same immersion. (Though I admit the challenge of creating stories off the page that can and maintain their grace is compelling.) But first, it’s time to open the box and look at the novel with a fresh perspective, one last pass.

Wish me luck.


These Are the Breaks

These Are the Breaks

The time I take away from writing allows me to come back. Some ideas hound me until I get up and capture them while others have to be coaxed into being. Either way, the time between work sessions play a pivotal role–like the distance between two points in journey, and these are, at least some of, the breaks:

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