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  • Autistic (2 Year Update)

    If you haven’t already, please read the introduction post. That will give you context for this page.


    Note: This wasn’t on the original list, but it seemed like a necessary update to the topic.

    As of today, it’s now 2 years since I was diagnosed as being autistic. I’ve been meaning to write an updated post for my Not Ashamed series, but I’ve been so busy. And, even today, I should be writing things for my upcoming blog tour, so this will be shorter and less detailed than it could have been.

    I wanted to write because I’ve learnt a lot since my diagnosis and because I no longer want to hold back on details of the reality of my own autistic experience and challenges. Frankly, if you don’t want to know me or work with me because of that, then it’s just best for us all if you don’t. (Not that I have time to enumerate my particular autistic traits right now…)

    I’ve learnt a lot about autism in general, about ableism (because, with the current structure and expectations of society, autism is a disability), about the difference of being a woman or girl on the spectrum instead of a boy or man.

    A lot about myself and what it means to be me and be autistic. A lot about how it feels to admit that I am disabled in the context of this society in which I live. A lot about how much less disabled I am online.

    I’ve read so much, trying to keep up as the new studies roll in and as the neurodiversity movement helps frame better ways of talking and thinking about autism and other forms of neurodiversity.

    I’ve been infantalised by people who should know better once they learn I’m autistic. I’ve tried to process the best ways to respond to people’s unintentionally rude, ableist, and hurtful behaviours and comments. How to gracefully educate (or encourage them to find other autistic voices with which to educate themselves) parents and other neurotypical people who have reasons to have opinions about how to help (often “help”) and care about someone on the spectrum.

    I’ve had opportunities to explore and try to snuff out my own internalised ableism. As with any time spent processing one’s prejudices, it has been uncomfortable but important and, ultimately, rewarding.

    I’ve posted a bajillion articles about autism on a couple of my social media accounts, resulting in some annoyed people and some appreciative people. I’m trying to help people who care about me understand my reality and to spread the new knowledge I have. But I’m also coming to have one more realm in which I understand that it is not the job of the minority to educate everyone, especially when people have access to the same resources I do.

    It’s been an intense and enlightening couple years. I’ve had great experiences and horrible ones. I have no doubt there’s still more for me to learn and still more “opportunities” ahead for me to try to not end up hitting anyone for insensitive or uninformed comments.

    So, before I get back to writing about my book, here are some quick thoughts and statements.

    I still regularly discover ways in which my autism has shaped me and my experiences, and I appreciate the friends and family who have believed me when I have said who I am and what I need. We should do that for people in general, non?

    I love how much nicer it feels to be me now that I recognise and honour the ways that I need to function and structure my life. I have, for so long, thought that everyone else felt and experienced life very much like I do and that I was just being weak to let it bother me so.

    That said, there are things that are important to me, that I’m choosing not to give up, that are difficult. That, having discovered how non-difficult some things can be now that I know how to better care for myself (or what to cut out), I am acutely aware of the difficulty of. I do what I can to mitigate the discomfort and I have very little, if any, patience for people who criticise or prevent those efforts.

    Autism Speaks is a pretty problematic organisation. If you truly care about someone autistic, including yourself, please don’t listen to them. Please find places like the ASAN or Autism Women’s Network to start or continue/improve your learning. (And if you want to know why adult autistic people have been saying Autism Speaks is terrible, this is a great opportunity for you to take your education into your own hands and google that.)

    Here’s a handy post someone made about how to understand what it means when we talk about autism being a spectrum.

    You might also want to consider how that better understanding of a spectrum informs the reason that many of us eschew “high function” and “low function” labels. (Hint: You can be highly functional in one way but not in another, and get labelled based on which trait a person or society puts more emphasis on. And because people will use that label to determine your overall capability and, sadly, your worth, that’s a pretty crap approach.)

    If you’ve met one autistic person, you’ve met…one autistic person. There are so many ways we can differ from each other that you can’t just assume your past experiences have totally prepared you for me. (But, really, that’s always been true when it comes to me. Ha!)

    Anyway, I need to get back to writing things about my book, and the two links I gave you are great starting points if you want to better understand autism from an informed perspective that involves autistic people in the conversation. (A lot of my best learning has come from things posted by the Autism Women’s Network.)

    Two years from now, I should be back with some kind of militant autism manifesto. Woohoo!

    I am not ashamed to be autistic. In fact, if given the opportunity to not be autistic, I wouldn’t take it.

    xx

    Cross-posted to the Not Ashamed section of my site (so that it’s all tidy).


  • First Time Is Novel

    There came a point where I decided I was no longer a writer and would not have a book published.

    Some stuff was going on in my head and with my chemistry and I wasn’t doing anything creative other than my makeup. (And even that was mostly just doing things I’d done before…Yeah, not my most vibrant era…)

    When that stuff got sorted, I poured out a mass of rough material for possible books, a few poems, and began a torrent of lyrics that has me with lyrics for over 250 songs now. Yeah!

    Then came the next point where I decided I was no longer a writer (well, except for lyrics…and then blogs…) and would not have a book published.

    I had started a band and realised that I LOVED making music (it let me combine writing and performing and it was MUSIC) and that I only had time for one creative endeavour until such time as I ceased to have to work a day job or until I somehow became a person who could live on way less sleep than I actually need. I chose music. (I 99% don’t regret it.)

    When the way that things work with my day job shifted so that I started having long periods where I was between projects…Okay, to be honest, I just spent all that extra time and energy on music-related things. Because music was doing things for me that writing hadn’t (and probably at least partly because I hadn’t put in the effort on writing).

    And, listen, a lot of people consider themselves aspiring writers and never get around to writing. They’d like to write a book, they dream of writing a book, but they don’t. There are plenty of reasons for that, and I’m sure that a few were in play in my situation. Plus, I had stopped thinking of myself as a writer…

    Me posing with a guitar, a laptop, and a plastic laser pistol in front of music gear and a poster of Buckaroo Banzai

    Trying hard to make it up to Buckaroo these days…

    Then, my buddy Ernie Cline basically gave me a deadline. And not a “far in the future” deadline, but a “write a book in a month” sort of deadline. (I suspect he didn’t realise the situation and had generously given me the benefit of the doubt, had assumed I was working on it all along like I should have been.) A book that would be good enough that he wouldn’t regret spending the time on me. And here are a few things I learned by finally writing my first novel and following it through to the end:

    • If I spend all my possible free brain time (you know, where I don’t have to use my brain to do other stuff, like when I’m showering) telling myself the story in great detail before I write, I can write it at a speed that shocks me. Every time. I expect it won’t always work like that, so I’m savouring this whilst it’s working for me.
    • If I didn’t pause to edit whilst I wrote, if I just let it flow out of me without analysing it, that was the key. I’m a perfectionist and it kind of killed me to write like that initially. But it also freed me to just get the story out. Because, as I reminded myself constantly, everybody has to do edit passes or re-writing. I wasn’t saving myself that step if I agonised over every word as I put it on the page, I was just making the most enjoyable part of the writing process less enjoyable.
    • On a related note to those first two things, I learned not to stop myself when I suddenly realised I was writing scenes I didn’t expect or plan whilst in my writing flow. I’ve heard about people who say that their characters speak to them or make the choices so that the stories write themselves…I definitely found that knowing the characters well meant I didn’t have to spend time deciding what they would do. But the closest I got to stories writing themselves was times I got lost in the flow and it was obvious to me what the results of all the variables would be. Flow is the best!
    • The joy of even just finishing writing that first draft was enough to make me dance around the flat, loudly proclaiming my potency. Quest completed! Achievement unlocked! And then I finished editing and it was totally done. More dancing and proclamations. And then there was cover art and there were physical proofs in my hand and…Listen, even just hitting a daily word quota can be a rush for me now. I can’t believe I deprived myself of this.

    My computer screen, showing the word count of a document at almost 110,000 words

    I Instagram my word count like you do your food

    So, what was it like to write my first novel? It was terrifying and exhilarating and satisfying. It was hard work (brutal hours and much aching finger/hand/arm time) and enjoyable. (If I was a seeker of fun, I might even call it that…) And then it was incredible to realise that I was, indeed, a person who could write a whole novel. A novel that didn’t suck. Oh my stars!

    I think I had a unique experience. I know full well that novels don’t usually go this way. But I guess the only way to find out whether this is how novels go for me is to keep writing them. I’ve had worse obligations…

    Peace Fire cover: a silhouette with a red flare in the middle, in front of and a large, round, metallic shape
    Peace Fire is out 11 October!
    Pre-order your Kindle edition here.
    Sale price until 10 October


  • I Swear…

    A friend once noted that a film about my life would get an adult rating due to casual swearing, to which I replied that there is nothing casual about my swearing. And I actually mean that. And, because of that, I’m writing this post especially for my friends and family who don’t like swearing in their books or who don’t mind it for themselves but do mind it for their offspring.

    The short version: There is definitely swearing in my book. There is also a version I made just for you without it. You’ll have to scroll (or read) to the end for information about that. (Pre-order that version here at a discounted price.)

    The long version…

    Someone asked if there were things I worried about with my book. And, yes, there definitely are. Some are, I think, pretty universal artist concerns. I also had two specific worries that, whilst not unique to me, are less universal. You see, my book has bracing quantities of swearing and has characters with names that you might think are yours. In this post, I’m going to talk about the first. There will be another post for the other later on.

    I was raised in a strictly “no swearing” home. The only time I recall swearing as a child, I didn’t know that the “f-word” an older kid gleefully taught me whilst walking home was one of the fabled “bad words” that weren’t allowed in our home. So, being chased about with a bar of soap to wash out my mouth when I used my new word at dinner that night was…unexpected. After that, I made it through my teens and into my 20s without swearing. (There was one time and it kind of slipped out and I was mortified. Mortified. By that point, I’d bought into the belief—that I now think is incorrect—that swearing showed laziness and/or a poor vocabulary.)

    Lighting gel called "Bastard Amber"
    When I did lighting for theatre, this oft-used colour gel was the bane of my existence

    I won’t name names, but I was once shocked (shocked!) when someone I respect, someone who was in the anti-swearing camp, shared a short story of theirs in which a character swore. (Just once. And a pretty minor word. But you better believe my world was rocked.) When I asked them about it, they said that you have to stay true to your characters. And that’s what I did here. Which resulted in some pretty bracing swearing.

    When I started swearing, it was after a long and logical conversation with myself. I chose to swear. And I won’t try to convince you non-swearers to swear (though one of my reasons for the choice shows up later in terms of a choice I made about edits). In fact, most of you non-swearers haven’t heard me swear. You might be shocked. (Or you might, because you were small-minded and stereotyped me based on appearance, feel vindicated in believing I was the kind of person who’d swear…Whatever gets you out of bed in the morning….)

    After I wrote my book, I had conversations about this with assorted people who held all kinds of opinions. In the end, I absolutely believe that the swearing is a more authentic approach. I absolutely believe that the normal version of my book is the better version, but…

    I understand that there are friends and family who’d like to support me, that there are parents out there who’d love to put this story in their offsprings’ hands, and probably some groups of people I haven’t thought of, people for whom the swearing is a deal breaker. No judgement; I get it.

    Instead of judgement, I wanted to consider options for letting you anti-swear folks read my book. Some of you have been vocally excited about the book, and I’m trying not to let you down.

    Before I tell you what I’ve done, I want to be clear about two things:

    1. This is all the discussion I’m really interested in having with anyone who judges me for the swearing. I won’t be engaging if you ask for a private explanation. Please understand that I will be ending such conversations as quickly and gracefully as I can manage.
    2. I am not at all ashamed of my normal version of the book. If I were ashamed, the version I’m about to describe would be the normal one and the one with swears would be the Swear Jar Edit (that would get sold secretly).

    A jar labelled "swear jar" and filled with large denominations of money and a credit card

    I had the chance to discuss this with one of my anti-swear people about whose opinion I was actually worried. They took it in stride, so I’m counting on the rest of you who don’t have nearly the stake in me they do to do the same. I believe in you!

    Final bit of information before I tell you about the edited version. See, I suspect some of you might underestimate what I mean when I say the swearing is “bracing,” so I’m going to give you some numbers (whilst using enough censorship that this post stays swear-free). In my 340 pages of story, the following words (or conjugations thereof) show up the number of times listed here:

    • F-word: 111
    • S-word: 105
    • D-word: 60
    • H-word: 52 (but some might be in words like “shell” because I used Find to do a word count, which introduced some uncertainty for some of these)
    • Rude words related to male genitals: 4 (all uses of one variation show up in uses like “cocky” or “cocked the gun,” so that’s not included here)
    • A-word: Whether you spell it the “usual” way or the variant that includes an R, it’s the sort of thing that might show up in words like “parse,” “assume,” “password,” etc, so there’s no easy way to get an accurate count. But those of you who didn’t run away after the f-bomb count can probably handle this…
    • B-words: 10 of one and 12 of the other
    • Shockingly, any other words I might have used, including the c-word (which makes my US English friends particularly uncomfortable), didn’t show up when I searched for them. I was surprised, but, there you go…
    • Because it is of special concern to some of you, whether you read the normal or edited version, I want to note that I did not use the Lord’s name in vain.

    So, plan to run into an f-bomb about once every three pages. Same for the s-word. And, if you make it through one page with no swears, there’s a good bet it’s just clustered up somewhere else. The total of all the sweary words used comes out at over a swear per page.

    Bracing.

    That swear jar in the picture up there is now starting to look a little less imaginary to you, isn’t it?

    Now, this other version…May I introduce you to the Radio Edit.

    Peace Fire (Radio Edit) cover: a silhouette with a red flare in the middle, in front of and a large, round, metallic shape. Red stamp on cover with text "Radio Edit"

    I called it the Radio Edit because, as most of you probably know, music is a massive part in my life. When I think about voluntarily censoring something I’ve created, my mind immediately goes to radio edits of songs. Though I could totally use words on the radio that I’ve taken out of the Radio Edit. I could also have way more sexiness on the radio than you’ll find in the Radio Edit.

    Because it’s the culture in which the story takes place (and, yes, what counts as swearing varies based on which English-speaking country you’re in), I did the edit based on US English swearing. It should be good for you non-swearing folks in general, given my experience has been that, overall, US English is the most limiting variation. Unless you have a problem with words like “crap,” “piss,” and “jerk,” in which case I really can’t scale it back enough for you. (I also left in phrases like “the evidence was damning” because there are non-swearing uses of words that US English considers swears in other contexts.)

    Actually, here’s a count like the list above:

    • Bloody – 6 times, some of which had to do with actual blood. Left in because I opted for US English ideas of swearing, and it’s not even seen as a remotely rude word at all in the US as far as I can tell.
    • Crap – Whilst it shows up only 8 times in the regular version, it shows up 70 times in the Radio Edit. Left in or used as a replacement for the same reason as “bloody.”
    • Piss – 11 times, but…listen, I hear some of you non-swear folks say you’re “pissed off,” so I feel pretty okay about this. After all, you’re not giving this book to your kids. “Piss” seems like a pretty reasonable non-swear rude word these days.

    The swearing was not removed just by using the Find and Replace function. (For instance, I did not just, as one friend suggested, replace every f-bomb with “frick.”) That would have left a massively inferior book (instead of one that I just feel isn’t as authentic sounding). What actually happened is that I made a list of every swear word I could think of and a few extra-rude words, and then I used Find to locate them. (If I missed anything, please accept my most sincere apologies. The cost of a full line edit and the impact on timelines was not something we could work out.) I then made changes on a case-by-case basis. (Which only confirmed my belief that swear words serve particular purposes and carry their own, unique connotations and nuances. But this edit isn’t about me; it’s about you. So, I did my best for you, all things considered.)

    If the Radio Edit does well enough, it will be part of the plan from the start to do it for the books I write after this. If it does well enough and enough interest is shown, we can totally look at the option of print copies later on. For now, because it’s not the way things are normally done and due to the cost (in terms of time, money, and energy), it will only be an ebook. Currently, Amazon is the only place I’ve confirmed it will be available for pre-order. (If you don’t have a Kindle, you can download the Kindle app to your computer or device. That’s what I use!) I’m working to make it available more widely, and should at least have it available through Barnes and Noble (as an ebook). If you search for Peace Fire at your preferred ebook supplier, unless the cover is the one you see above (with the Radio Edit stamp on it) and the description notes that it has been edited for swearing, I can’t guarantee that’s what you’re getting. Shop carefully!

    xxx

    Peace Fire (Radio Edit) is now available for pre-order here at a discounted price


  • Why I Sci-Fi

    In assorted ways, not all of which are insulting, I get asked on a regular basis about why I write sci-fi. This is attempt #6 to write this blog in a way I don’t hate. Because this is tied tightly to my tastes in media, and, like any other taste (why do you like your favourite food or preferred musical genre or fave Ghostbuster?), there’s some aspect of “it just hits my brain/heart/taste buds right.” But “I write sci-fi cos I love it” doesn’t really seem like enough answer. So, list! Because I find refuge in bullet points. I’m going to give you five. Five is a nice number.

    I write sci-fi because:

    • I love it. Heh.
    • I was raised on it, so the inside of my head is basically a multi-verse of all the realities and worlds I’ve experienced via books, films, and TV. And I wouldn’t change that.
    • It can be a non-threatening way to let people consider issues (political, social, environmental, etc) and experience points of view that differ from their own. That’s super important.
    • It’s not constrained by reality, not if you can find a way to justify or kind of explain a thing. So, even if those people who say there are only a certain number of actual plots are right, you have in sci-fi an infinite number of places, people, and props to use for those stories.
    • The real world has often been a place where I was treated unkindly, belittled, told to give up on my dreams. Why wouldn’t I want to take breaks from that to, among other things, ride Shai Hulud, wield a light sabre, or fight Lectroids after putting on a rock show? (After I publish this, I’m going to be upset at all the fictional worlds I didn’t mention here…I’m noting that in order to have this place to tell myself “PUT DOWN THE KEYS; this is fine.”) I might be a poor kid who can’t afford to go to the cinema or on a holiday, but I have always been able to leave this planet or time behind.

    Amber and a friend in cheap silver costumes, making silly duck faces and throwing peace signs in front of a picture of space. A filter makes their colouring look alien.Remember that I am a serious space explorer. Is this how Earth girls selfie? (Sorry, Cat.)

    So-called literary stories usually leave me depressed. Horror, unless it’s sci-fi horror, often leaves me unimpressed or laughing at things I’m not supposed to. Fantasy often leaves me pining for the past (where all the elves and dragons lived…though there are also some incredible fantasy stories that make it my second favourite genre, many of which happen other places or in the present). But sci-fi…Yeah, it might make me pine, but it also lets me escape, lets me be amazed, and, most importantly, gives me hope.

    I write sci-fi because it got me through and still does. (Frank Herbert and the mantra against fear would deserve my first born if he were still alive and if I had kids.) Sci-fi made me a more thinking, compassionate, open person. If I’m going to consume resources on this planet, the least I can do is try to pass that on to someone else.

    Peace Fire cover: a silhouette with a red flare in the middle, in front of and a large, round, metallic shape
    Peace Fire is out 11 October!
    Pre-order your Kindle edition here.
    Sale price until 10 October


  • Not Ashamed: Poor

    If you haven’t already, please read the introduction post. That will give you context for this page.


    One’s economic situation has long been used as a point of shame or pride in…well, I’m guessing in every society. And, by “long been used,” I probably mean “always been used.” This is the first of what will be two entries on economic class as it concerns me. This one is the one that is most obvious, because being poor was probably the first economic class to be shamed for their situation.

    For about the first 16 years of my life, my family lived below the poverty line. And then I pretty much fell right back down below that once I was on my own. I have mostly lived there. If the poverty line were the limbo pole, I’d mainly be winning.

    Because I was raised that way and because my parents made sure to teach me about budgeting and priorities, I was pretty well as ready as I could be for living below the line. I also learned how to work hard, how to keep what I owned in good repair, and a variety of other skills and habits that help. My parents also did all they could to prioritise my education. A lot of people never get any of that.

    Plus, I’ve been really lucky; I’ve never been so far below the line that I didn’t have a roof over my head (which let me have reliable contact information for potential employers, a place to do homework, and somewhere to keep myself and my clothes clean) or something to eat. And, related to a lot of poverty and homelessness issues, I also had enough of a handle on my mental health issues that those didn’t get in the way of work and education and taking care of myself.

    I want to point out that there are a lot of broken things in the way the world works that can push a person underwater financially and/or hold them there. (I’ll spare you a list, because you probably either are already aware and as angry about it as I am or you profit from the reality and don’t want to hear about it.) Some poor people got there due to their own bad choices; most, in my experience, were born there and had no actual chance to get out or got there due to the ways society is broken. Judging another human as less worthy because they have less money or they are less good and/or lucky with their money is a reprehensible thing. If you’re one of those who would judge…I just have no interest in dealing with you.

    Amber and some ones
    Too busy with my fat wad of cash

    Since I’m clearly not ashamed of being poor much of my life and obviously think it’s people who want me to be ashamed who should be ashamed, I figure I’ll talk instead about some of the impacts that being poor has had on me that I find interesting. (So, just a few of them, not an exhaustive list at all.)

    The main impact on my social life has been that so much of what people do for fun costs money. And friends who aren’t poor often don’t think about the fact that the amount they consider small is the same amount that I can eat off of for a week. It’s a good thing I’m reclusive, but it sure sucks given that I do actually enjoy my friends. This isn’t about my friends being jerks; studies have shown that, even if they used to be less well off, people are really crap at keeping the reality of less-well off people’s finances in mind.

    The impact on my belongings has had two aspects I wouldn’t expect. Sure, you’d expect that I’m a fan of sales, that I look for ways to get deals, that I’m careful about what I buy. But you might not have immediately jumped to “I was a pack rat for a long while because I was afraid that I might need everything I could get my hands on.” I wouldn’t get rid of things unless they were thoroughly unusable because things cost money and what if I needed things? It took me a long while to realise it wasn’t doing me any good, possibly doing some harm, and that it showed a lack of faith in my proven capacity to take care of myself. Sure, something could go horribly wrong, but I feel like I’m respecting myself by not being a pack rat (and no longer at serious risk of being a hoarder). Also, it is really awesome not to have all that useless stuff. In fact, once I actually feel like I have time for more projects, I’ll enjoy doing another round of clearing things out. I don’t have extra that you’d notice, but I now feel great when I keep it light, make it lighter.

    The other aspect of being poor’s impact on my belongings is that I have a hard time spending money. If it’s going to cost more than £20 or $20 (yes, I know, those two aren’t equal; that’s just where my brain gets hung up), I have to talk myself into it. If it’s something regular (like a recurring bill), I only have to do it once, but I probably check back in with myself once in a while. But for…food or clothes or fun or anything at all…I take quite a bit of time making sure I think it’s a good buy, and then I have to talk myself into it. And then, after I spend the money, I have to talk myself out of guilt. You might think that sounds handy, but it’s really a massive pain. Stop and think about how many times you spend £20/$20 or more. Now, imagine it feeling like a big deal every time. Yeah.

    I’m actually doing much better, because it used to be any expense that wasn’t totally necessary…until I had a friend a few years ago give me a talking to over not wanting to spend money on a chocolate bar, assuring me that “if $2 is really going to leave you unable to pay a bill, you can come get it from me.” Much thanks to that friend for making my life less hellish. But, given I’m not entirely better, thanks to those of you who are patient when, for instance, it takes me ages to choose what I want to order off a menu. I guarantee that it feels even less fun in my head that it does to you, waiting for me to choose my meal.

    And finally…One might hope for some kind of awesome break in the arts, but it’s much easier to commit oneself to pursuing the arts—rather than pursuing increasingly large paychecks from normal jobs—if one is already used to not having much. So, yeah, having been poor means I’m not really scared of at least a certain level of poor. The manner to which I am accustomed isn’t exactly posh, so there’s a little more room in what I do outside of art to keep myself in that manner. Not a bad side effect of being poor.

    Fortunately, I don’t get any sense of my self-worth from money. Not being poor definitely has perks, but being poor isn’t anything I can ever recall being ashamed of. Sorry to disappoint you, people who think your money makes you better than me. I’m totally as good as you.

    Cross-posted to the Not Ashamed section of my site (so that it’s all tidy).


  • Word Warrior: Retired

    My parents did not agree on all points when it came to parenting style. The one point that seemed to me to cause the greatest disagreement (though not arguments that we kids saw) had to do with one of my favourite things about how my dad parented. I’m not even sure that it’s one of which my other four siblings took advantage, so that exclusivity, in a world full of sharing, hand-me-downs, and limited resources, surely increased my enjoyment of it. My dad’s policy with disagreeing with him was this: if you can state your objections or contradictory case in a calm and logical manner, I might change my opinion, but I will certainly try to listen and understand your point of view. Massive, right?

    In addition to being a very EMOTIONAL person (yes, all caps are warranted), I’m also very logical. That’s eroded a bit as I’ve focused my life on the pursuit of creative dreams, but it’s still there. It’s one reason I love writing code, I got great feedback as a technical writer, and I ended up with a degree in Philosophy. I wasn’t sure I’d end up there, though my dad predicted it very early on in my life and got surer after the many times I showed him the error of his logic and caused him to reverse his decisions on things like Going to a Party and so forth. I had too many things I loved and actually, given my intense, lifelong love of music; my early, applauded forays into writing; and the refuge I found being in theatre, I assumed I would go into the arts or at least critiquing the arts.

    But philosophy worked for me on many levels, whilst also spoiling me in terms of discussing differing views with other people. In philosophy discussions, you bring in what facts you can when making an argument for your points of view, and you can even take courses on logic (which I did and loved) in order to try to help you in making sure that the argument you are building is logically sound. But there are few provable theories in philosophy, much as in the non-scientific parts of life, so you can’t just “google it” and walk away with answers. As a result, I spent many hours in passionate, intense discussion with my fellow students over issues.

    In short, my life up to and through uni taught me how to disagree respectfully and logically. It taught me to research, to think carefully, to speak clearly, to leave out personal attacks (because they don’t actually help your argument), and to listen to others’ views. They taught me how not to be rude to someone even when I thoroughly disagree with them.

    There were other things in my life that helped me learn and apply all that as well. For instance, I often disagreed with my peers on spiritual matters. But I applied the parts about being respectful even if you disagree, and I managed to accrue friends with a wide variety of beliefs, opinions, viewpoints, and the like with which I disagreed. And, especially with friends, we managed to discuss those things without getting heated.

    However, once I was in uni, I found myself online constantly. And I used my intellect, logic, writing skills, and any other thing I could get my hands on—short of lies—to engage in arguments (aka to clearly, explicitly, in more detail than was needed, and with great sneering tell people online how wrong they were). Oh, the hours I’d spend on forums or email lists dissecting someone’s words. Oh, how I relished it and earned myself a bit of a reputation.

    So, when I tell you that what this post is really about is why I don’t argue online any more (and even hold back often in person), I want to start with the understanding that I don’t avoid it because I can’t do it. I most certainly can do it and, for some meaning of the word, can win at it. I’m intelligent, educated, a researcher, a professional word writer (yes, really), determined, capable of turning off my compassion when in competition (which is part of why I avoid competition), and so forth. I can do it. I have done it. And, MRAs with their threats and SWATting and doxing and such aside, I don’t fear much of anyone. I have extremely healthy self-esteem, much to the sorrow of the so-called suitors who’ve tried to use negging on me, which means that I don’t think there’s anyone—not even famous people whose work I think is brilliant—who’s worth more than anyone else. And that includes me.

    But, here’s the thing…

    I don’t have loads of spare time or energy. I’d rather use what time and energy I have to create new songs, write new books and poems, or engage with people and cats I like (who, therefore, are more deserving of my limited time and energy). Especially given that I no longer get anything out of the online arguing and, no matter how respectful and logical, never seem to change anyone’s mind.

    So, there’s your next reason: people seem wildly set in their opinions. Even in the face of overwhelming scientific proof. I’ve read essays on why that is, and I know our brains are wired in a way that tend us towards that. I might try to fight against it, because I like to believe there are actual truths and I want to know them. But it sure seems like most people don’t care to put up a fight.

    When I look at how people engage, including the conversational markers that indicate they aren’t really looking for a discussion of differing opinions, there’s a complete lack of respect. Most of the time, the very first message to express disagreement is filled with nasty personal jabs against the person with whom they disagree. Someone who does that is probably actually there to shame anyone who disagrees with them.

    On those occasions where I’ve tried to politely call someone out on that (“that sounded a bit uncivil” or something along those lines), I’ve run into one type of a display of a larger, problematic behaviour: the person often claims that they were just kidding or that I’ve misunderstood their tone because everyone knows that conveying tone in text is hard. How can you actually have a discussion if you won’t own your words? Granted, writing is a thing I do and for which I have a talent, but I think we’ve got millennia of written word to show that, in fact, a little effort can allow clear writing and (a related missing skill that stops me engaging) reading comprehension. In fact, it’s even easier in this age because emoticons are ridiculously widely used. Not sure you’re coming across as “just kidding” or wanting to be careful (without having to really take care with your words)? Throw in an emoticon before anyone accuses you of being uncivil 😉 (See how that works?)

    On the topic of reading comprehension, I have a few issues that add to my reasons for not engaging. The second two of which are also issues in spoken communication, so you should already know the problem is a problem. First, things are written down. If you miss words, that’s because you went too fast. They’re right there. But people often skim or don’t take the time to really read it because…Second, everyone is in too big a rush to get in their next slam, so the words I might carefully write in response are wasted. And, third, everyone seems committed to assuming that those with conflicting points of view are writing with nothing but the nastiest intent. I’m not sure what the root of that is (I have theories, but I know this post has already gotten too long for the average internet reader if past length complaints are any indicator), but the result is that I could say or write, “I’m actually seeing that, on page X of book Y, Expert says (something other than what you said),” and it’s seen as an attack. (True story: I once did that in a Humanities class and a girl broke down in tears and I was called numerous unflattering names by many classmates the rest of the term because I was, obviously, a heartless monster.) In other words, I could say, “The article actually says dogs aren’t cats,” and people read, “You are a total knob and you should die and dogs aren’t cats and that is because you are the worst person ever and I am a monster!” But shoutier.

    Of course, people don’t help encourage reading comprehension with their sloppy writing. I get that we aren’t all paid to write or naturally skilled at it, and I know that not everyone had the luxury of prioritising the education they got as children and holding onto the basic skills they might have learned then. That’s really okay. I’m no longer the 15-year-old who didn’t read notes from her boyfriend because his grammar and spelling mistakes pained her too deeply. I’m really trying to understand the intention behind your words. But it seems people have given up, even in professional correspondence and certainly in their unpaid hours, on using anything like proper grammar, spelling, or punctuation. Listen, I throw strict propriety to the wind in my personal hours as well. But I think we’ve all got to step back and ask ourselves whether someone outside our head wouldn’t appreciate a comma or a thought that is written out clearly, especially a nuanced thought that you’ve cut down to five words. I’m not being a “grammar Nazi” over it; I’m truly just looking for people to express their thoughts in a respectful and coherent way. (Not to be a jerk, but I’d note that I’ve got a number of friends for whom English is not a first language, who live in countries where English isn’t much spoken, who manage to write things that are much more elegant—in English—than some of the things I read from native English speakers who are trying to explain to me why I am wrong.)

    And, actually, there’s another issue. Sure, part of even the most civil and logical of my philosophy discussions might include explaining why the opposing viewpoint is wrong. But the more important part, especially in the real world, is approaching it from the perspective of trying to explain why you believe your viewpoint is correct or even just why you hold your viewpoint.

    In some cases, it’s actually okay if your viewpoint is based on your instincts, intuition, faith, or the like. But there are a great many more cases where it’s probably better and completely reasonable to have and expect reasons beyond that. Again, I don’t expect that every reason will be a scientific fact, but there are some lines (“Tuesday is the best day because dirt is green” is an example of a line I will draw…unless you live on a planet where dirt is sometimes green but only on Tuesday). And if you actually have no logic or facts or reasons beyond faith, instinct, intuition, covering that with hostility doesn’t make you more right. I might not agree with you, but I’ll respect you more if you just own it and do it without hostility.

    On a more personal point, since I’m willing to own my issues, it pains me to admit that my brain often seems like a full, slightly faulty hard drive. Where I used to remember loads of facts and all my smart reasons for things, I now have to go back and re-research if someone wants me to justify myself. It doesn’t matter the hours put into researching objective sources in order to come up with my viewpoint. It doesn’t matter that I found it interesting or that I wanted to remember. My brain, these days, doesn’t even do much good remembering fun things, like that film I watched or book I read. I have no idea how my brain managed to work so well back when I wasn’t sleeping and was starving myself…But there it is. So in-person conversations of a controversial nature really can only happen healthily with people who are already proven friends and make room for this issue. I could re-research for online conversations, but that adds even more time and that makes it even less worth it.

    There are other reasons, but those are the most pertinent (and this post has also gotten even longer than the much-past-140-characters length people online seem to prefer). If you’ve been in online arguments and not loved it, you can probably insert your own reasons.

    In short: online arguments rarely change anyone’s mind, they are usually rife with poor communication practises, and they are unlikely to leave anyone feeling good (beyond whichever person thinks they’ve won and gets to be smug…but that’s a kind of ooky kind of feeling good). I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound like the kind of thing I want to spend my limited time and energy on.

    So, to the nasty guy online today who thinks he won because I didn’t reply to his passive-aggressive, nasty, reason-free comment, it’s more that I’m trying really hard to be a grown up and not spend my time on you. (I can justify the time spent on this post as having wider applicability and as helping me work through the residual annoyance I’m feeling at how I was treated and at the racist views you were espousing. Especially since dancing, music, kittens, food, ranting aloud, and reading didn’t help. But writing this did!) And to the next person I walk away from instead of getting sucked into an Internet Argument, ditto.

    Of course, I’m now considering re-opening my long-ignored LiveJournal so that I can rant out my frustration every time someone attacks (well, some times…every time would get excessive). I’m not a robot; I do have feelings. Including anger. I like to keep that out of all my other public places, aside from certain songs, because I really do like to keep my contributions to the world more on the positive side. Now that I’m no longer the online verbal assassin I once was.


  • Not Ashamed: Goth, Punk, Not Goth, Not Punk

    If you haven’t already, please read the introduction post. That will give you context for this page.


    I tried to find a way to write this as 4 different posts, because I know we’re getting near the end of the list and some of you who have let me know you look forward to these weekly posts. But it didn’t feel right as 4 different posts, even though it’s 4 different labels. Sorry. In my next life, I’ll try to be more objectionable.

    These days, I see myself as a richly multi-faceted person. I like what I like, even if it seems at odds with other things I like. I wear the clothes that make me happy, even if others—including friends—don’t know how to classify me. That such classifications are important to humans is a thing I’ve felt and kind of understood, but that also has always seemed a little silly. (The need to classify others is silly, to be clear. I don’t think figuring out who you are or figuring out that you truly fit quite neatly into some specific label is necessarily silly.)

    The anger and aggression and political disgust of punk speak to me. The acceptance of darkness and depression and pale skin and loads of black clothing and makeup of goth spoke to me. Plus, I like the music and aesthetics of both and the fact that both are spaces with room for people who aren’t typical, that celebrate that. It’s a nice contrast to being made to feel like a lesser person for the fact that I’m not normal.

    Me. Looking goth.
    Here. Cos I know you’re curious.

    Of course, when you’re visibly punk or goth, all the normal kids shame you. It’s so expected that loving family and authority figures will say, “Of course they harass you. What do you expect when you look like that?” (For the record, it’s not okay and you shouldn’t have to expect it.)

    But I wasn’t ashamed. And I’m not ashamed now. I loved (and still mostly do) all the good things I found in being punk and goth. And there’s nothing requisite about being either that’s harmful. Sure, your looks can make some people uncomfortable, but anything else that’s usually attributed to one of those as part of a negative stereotype can be found outside them as well. And I was part of some great community…

    Until I wasn’t. Until I realised that my tastes and aesthetics and interests stretched outside that to extents that, apparently, suddenly earned me the derision of those still firmly planted in punk or goth. So, basically, humans are kind of prone to being crummy towards people outside their group. Even the subcultural humans. None of us get to feel morally superior on that point.

    Interestingly, I’ve had multiple experiences where people assumed that I was saying they sucked when I didn’t think they were in the same group as I was. Because, as humans, we are hardwired from an evolutionary perspective to crave belonging and to assume that any kind of not belonging means there must be hatred and mocking and so forth.

    The thing is…we are no longer wandering tribes that have to beat each other to limited resources. At least not in most the western world. And, much to my delight, it seems like the lines between subcultures and genres are blurring…I’ve also learned, as an adult, to get along with all kind of people with whom I share very few tastes or beliefs in common. (Though I still insist on some serious overlap in a romantic relationship. But that’s a whole other story.)

    Which is to say that it is silly to treat different as dangerous. And it isn’t helpful to assume that being different to another person makes us less cool.

    You know what’s cool? Being genuinely you. There’s a lot of power for you there. Plus, the friends you make are friends with real you, not the person you’re pretending to be. That’s how you make real real friends.

    So, yeah, I have thrown myself full into punk and goth. No shame. And I’ve still got those facets. No shame. But I have other facets and inclinations. Again, no shame. I’m going to like the things I like and wear the things I want to wear and enjoy the friends who outlasted my self-discovery.

    Oh, and apologies in advance if you try to shove me into a single facet and I get snippy. I just really refuse to be single-faceted again and I’ll thank you not to push it. (Also, please don’t mistake my objections as hatred of things I’ve been. It’s the single facet thing I’m against. I’m cool with goths and punks and all sorts of people.)

    Cross-posted to the Not Ashamed section of my site (so that it’s all tidy).


  • Not Ashamed: A Gamer

    If you haven’t already, please read the introduction post. That will give you context for this page.


    Gaming is a weird thing when it comes to shame.

    Given no other details, there are loads of people who feel any gaming of the types I do is a waste of time. Shame on me!

    Given no details of which games I play, the fact that I’m a geek means plenty of normal people feel like I deserve mockery. (No joke: I’ve overheard dudes talking about a video game they played all night the night before, and then they immediately shift to mocking other players who are obviously just sad geeks…)

    Given no details, there are plenty of my fellow geeks who’d like to shame me for gaming just because I’m a girl. The fact that I happen to have a vagina is proof that I’m a fake gamer or means that certain games aren’t serious enough gaming so I dare not enjoy them. (Or non-geeks will think there’s extra shame here because it’s gaming and because it’s barely excusable when a boy does it. But a girl? Tsk tsk!)

    To make it “worse,” I’m not just talking video games. Oh, no. You see, for a variety of reasons, my access to video games was limited in my formative years. So, though even “normal” and “cool” people play video games now (and there was always some room in video games for people who wouldn’t be treated like their hobby was something to be ashamed of)….and though I do enjoy video games (I kind of suck, or at least I do compared to guys I know who’ve been video gaming their whole lives) and can lose days to them…

    3a-1000
    All those hours as a square…

    The bulk of my gaming experiences didn’t involve screens of any kind. No TV, no arcade console, no gaming system.

    When I was three years old, in order to help me deal with some nightmares, my dad ran a D&D game for me. Yeah, that’s right, old school geek action at a tender, tender age. Dungeons and Dragons! (And I still have some of his old books and figurines. Plus my own small—compared to other friends—handful of dice that aren’t six-sided.)

    I grew up bugging him to run games for me. And happily gave up hours and hours every week to playing tabletop RPGs once I was older and found friends to play with. (In case the term is unfamiliar…RPG = roleplaying game. Basically, the players use rules of the game to create characters and, with the help of the game master—the person running the game—and some dice, they all weave an improvised story together. “Tabletop” comes because, as opposed to sitting in front of a screen, you’re usually sat around a table to roll those dice and create that story.)

    2a-0900
    Rolling 20s! Talk about fictional stories…

    Even “worse,” and opening me to the mockery of other geeks (aye, even those who play tabletop RPGs), I’ve also happily given hours to LARPs. That, my friends, is live action roleplaying. Which is a bit like improv theatre. (It actually is. I’ve done both…And found LARPing more interesting and prone to creating better stories.) I have happily run around in public pretending to be someone else and weaving those shared stories. In fact, my favourite and longest running character was a 600 year-old vampire who, in the end, sacrificed herself to save Seattle. Yep.

    rick3a
    These are the only pictures I have of that character. So, I’m an actor (for real) playing a vampire who’s an actor and who’s performing a scene…

    rick3c
    …(with another actor playing a vampire who’s an actor) from Shakespeare’s Richard III. We practised hard and did a legit job and these tiny pics are all that remain of the night we performed.

    (Note: No, I didn’t believe I was actually a vampire or, outside the context of the game, pretend to be one. In fact, the people I knew who did do either of those thought they were too cool for gaming…)

    Now, I could stoop to drawing parallels with other theoretically more legitimate hobbies or to the behaviours of people who are most likely to be rude about what I enjoy. But, you know, I’m not going to sully my enjoyment with that or make this about reverse-shaming. (I’m just putting this paragraph here to make myself feel like I deserve a gold star for restraint.)

    I tend to be ridiculously busy these days. In order to live up to my commitments and the demands of my Muse, I don’t really have spare time. I haven’t really gotten to game in years. And certainly haven’t had enough reliable free time to commit to playing either tabletop RPGs or LARPs in even more years.

    I do love the things I give my time to now…But I kind of miss, at the end of a long work week, staying up all Friday night to eat and laugh and game with friends. Or, before a night out dancing, to get my sense of fun going by running around creating fictional drama. So, I might feel a little abashed because I get tired of the stigmas and teasing that come with such hobbies, but I am definitely not ashamed to be a gamer. Creative fun that’s harmless to others? Obviously awesome! Obviously not ashamed!

    (I did some pictures as part of a birthday surprise for a fellow geek and gamer friend earlier this year. Figured I’d get a little more use out of them. You’re welcome!)

    Cross-posted to the Not Ashamed section of my site (so that it’s all tidy).


  • Not Ashamed: Precocious

    If you haven’t already, please read the introduction post. That will give you context for this page.


    I was able to read at a bit of an early age. And one of the things that often happens to kids who read above their expected level is that their ability to read outstrips their vocabulary. Now, fortunately, I was able to figure out a lot of things from context. I quickly extended that skill to being able to figure what word likely meant when spoken, not just when printed.

    I used big words earlier than expected. I developed big thoughts earlier, and I was too young to know to keep my mouth shut (whether it was to protect someone’s pride or spare them a hard truth).

    So, little person…big thoughts without the usual, learned filters and social niceties…

    I heard the word “precocious” a lot. And I wasn’t really sure what it meant, but the tone and context let me know that it was a bad thing to be. And I was so used to working from context (and sort of loathing finding out what this horrible, shameful thing was that I was) that I didn’t bother to look the word up. I was going to just feel ashamed and try to figure out which thing I was doing that was “precocious” so that I could stop it. I could at least be smart enough to figure it out from context; that should balance out my shame, right? (Yeah, I know, pat wee-me on the head.)

    Just in case you have somehow never heard the word before, I’m just going to copy in a definition for you:

    precocious (adj.) unusually advanced or mature in development, especially mental development (example: a precocious child)

    Right. Do I even need to explain why I’m not at all ashamed of that label? If anything, I’m a bit ashamed that, in this adult world, I am certainly anything but precocious.

    And what I really want to say here is this: Yeah, a kid whose brainpower is ahead of their social skills (aka doesn’t know when not to speak smart truths that might upset adults) can be more difficult than your kid whose brain is like you’d expect. But don’t you ever shame them for that, not even just by saying “precocious” in a negative tone. Intelligence is a brilliant resource. You just help them develop the social skills or the sense to equal that brainpower.

    No worries, precocious kids. That brain could serve you well.

    Cross-posted to the Not Ashamed section of my site (so that it’s all tidy).


  • Not Ashamed: Unconcerned with Acting my Age

    If you haven’t already, please read the introduction post. That will give you context for this page.


    I can’t even recall when I was first shamed for not acting my age. Sometimes it was for doing things that were culturally considered “too young” for my age. Sometimes it was for things that were culturally considered “too old” for my age. I’ve never seemed to get age right.

    The things that were “too old” weren’t as exciting as you might think. In fact, it was always for times I was “too serious” or my intellectual pursuits were above my expected level. Yes, really. Obviously, when balanced with the “too young” stuff (so that you know I didn’t forget being young), I find this particular one almost too ridiculous to even address and I’m certainly not going to feel ashamed of this.

    The “too young” stuff, of course, is a common one. “Act your age!” seems to be something most of us have heard at some point. Of course, most people eventually take that to heart. Even when it’s not reasonable and related to immature behaviours (like adults throwing tantrums and such things). Even when it’s not true to who they are. They change their clothing and hobbies and goals and so forth to fit what society has declared the correct ones for their age. (To be clear, if those new clothes and hobbies and goals are who you really are, I’m not criticising. I know adults who fit the grown up mould.)

    Here’s where I stand on the topic of societally mandated grown up-ness: As long as I fulfil my commitments (which includes paying my bills, so I’m not a drain on your precious society) and take care of “my people” (which includes my cat and other non-humans I might consider part of my circle), I’m adult enough. And I strive to make sure I have emotional maturity, but that has nothing to do with my hobbies, my appearance, etc. I doubt I shall ever be a grown up, and I’m just fine with that.

    Interesting note: Apparently, it’s common for females on the autism spectrum to have disregard for and confusion over age.

    I guess, if you want grown up friends, you’re probably going to want to look elsewhere, as I am entirely uninterested in giving up the magic and delights that have been declared “too young” for me. Especially as there appears to be no good reason for those things being relegated to kids and/or teens. I’m just glad I live now, when it seems there are more of us questioning at least some of what society has decided is not age-appropriate for adults. Glad that, as an artistic type, there’s more room for me to go off the popular, socially sanctioned script.

    Amber with nerf gun and stuffed hunting companions
    Don’t make us come for you. Adventure penguin and Hedgehog will get you!

    Man, those who get upset about me now are really going to hate it when I’m an old lady who hasn’t grown up, aren’t they? Unconcerned with acting my age, now and forever. Yay!

    Cross-posted to the Not Ashamed section of my site (so that it’s all tidy).