Key Terms

The following is an incomplete list of key terminology I will be using with some frequency in this column. More will be added as the adventure continues–but please let me know if you think I’m missing any that I use quite a bit!


atheist: To me, this term simply refers to the absence of belief in a godhead, a sentient and immense creative force underlying the cosmos. I also happen not to believe in an afterlife, or miracles, or anything else supernatural beyond the veil of nature, but I don’t see these non-beliefs as intrinsic to the term “atheist”. I also do not regard “atheist” as synonymous with “critical thinker” or “scientific materialist” or “logical human being”, and I find it dangerously sloppy for many on the non-religious side of the spectrum to assume that being atheistic intrinsically makes a person any of the above. See: secular humanist for a term that reflects what I do believe in.

Colombia: Do you see the two “o”s? North Americans, trained on terms like “British Columbia” or “District of Columbia”, routinely misspell this country’s name. Please don’t. It’s a basic show of respect to learn to spell someone else’s labels correctly.

god: I have written a whole post outlining five of the most common narratives I find myself invoking this term–but I have to warn you, I will only use “God” with a capital G when citing someone else. I find it deeply disingenuous to use this term myself–not because I do not believe in any gods, but because the use of a proper noun implies a coherent single character, whereas “God” is a signifier with far too many possible signifieds–and as someone who does not claim any relationship to any godhead, I cannot in good conscience imply commitment to one referent over the other. Instead, I will often say “the god of Christianity” or “the god of Abraham” to narrow the field somewhat.. but this has deeply angered people in the past. As such, I want to be clear here that the dropping of G is meant with respect to those who have a clearer sense of the other party in their “relationship with God”. I have none, since I believe that no such being exists outside the minds of believers… but precisely because I feel that the god-concept has such a deep hold within the minds of many, I leave presumption of a coherent, singular character, “God”, to those of faith.

Medellín: Pronounce this word like a paisa, please! Colombians refer to this capital of the department of Antioquia /me·de·ʒiːn/ (or, for lay readers, meh·deh·JEAN, with the “j” as in “Jacques”). Many Americans stick to their Spanish variant, with a “y”-as-in-“you” sound for the “ll”, but why not show a bit of respect for the local Spanish?

secular humanist: I use the term “secular humanist” because the adjective, “secular”, offers a pointed reminder that humanism is a spectrum–and while some religious people actively despise humanity, regard the world as a brutal contest between the righteous and the unrighteous, and pursue human suffering to achieve their own territorial, financial, or hierarchical aims under the banner of one faith or another… the vast majority tend to regard humans as the creators of human problems, and thus, humans as the vessels that need to be engaged in order to solve those problems. Granted, religious humanists tend to feel that a god will invariably be the agent of that change… but at the end of the day, we’re on the same “side” of seeking the diminishment of human suffering through the exertion of human effort. I use this term to remind myself of my allies in this struggle.

writer: I write diversely, and have published short (science-/speculative-) fiction, poetry, book reviews, film reviews, and essays. I am currently branching into article-writing, too, so I can share more excellent slices of Colombian culture with the world, but I am also trying to finish a novel of speculative history set in the early-to-mid-20th-century Soviet Union, and my output of short stories (both sci-fi and mainstream) has exploded since fully settling in my new home. We shall see which projects win out in the end. Whatever I write, though, I tend to gravitate towards characters who are their own worst enemies, or who do not have traditional narrative agency due to their social status. My aim in this partiality, I suspect, is to create worlds in which all persons, no matter how complicated, flawed, or disempowered, still have roles in the socially restorative work ahead. Only time will tell if my skill ever grows to meet this aim, of course, but at present this is where the process finds me.

[And yes, I am a very busy beaver with all of these pursuits, so please do not message asking me to mentor you by reading your latest manuscript or by letting you talk at me about the novel you haven’t written yet but for which you already have all the worldbuilding. But here’s a bit of general writerly advice: READ the publications to which you want to submit work. SUBMIT only to places with work you like, and which seem a good fit for your stories, as per a careful review of the writers’ guidelines on each magazine’s website. ACCEPT rejection gracefully, without arguing with the editors or griping unduly on social media: rejection is part of the process, and a great step towards future success. LET GO of a story once it’s in a submissions queue, or rejected by all the relevant markets. If a theme in the story truly matters to you, it will emerge again in your future stories, which is why you should KEEP GOING, by writing another story, and another, and allowing the hard work of practice yield improvement over time. GOOD LUCK!]