• 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

  • A Little Revealing

    Peace Fire is due out 11 October and, oh yes, it’s time to show you the cover for it!

    Because maybe this little look at a blurb from Ernest Cline got you interested:

    White text on a dark background: "A smart, fun, fierce tale of geek revolution and high-stakes adventure." -Ernest Cline, Bestselling Author of Ready Player One

    And then maybe this cheeky little bum flash (aka the back cover) has you just too excited to wait:

    A circular metallic shape above the text: In 2050, the world is a little denser, a little greyer, and a little more firmly under the corporate thumb. Wriggling carefully under that thumb, in their dimly lit flats, Katja and her friends have tended to walk the fine line between cyber criminals and cyber crusaders. For them, no physical reality compares to their lives built on lines of aggressive code. But then somebody blows up the office where Katja is pretending to be a well-behaved wage slave and jolts them into the concrete and clouds of corporeal Seattle. Of brains infiltrated by a clandestine threat. Can a handful of digital warriors win a war that stretches into the world on the flesh and blood side of their computer screens?

    So, let’s just flip it around and pull back a bit and…here’s the money shot:

    Peace Fire cover: a silhouette with a red flare in the middle, in front of and a large, round, metallic shape

    I took a few weeks to research possible artists for the cover. Putting a cover on your book is like…dressing it up for a performance or a job interview or a first date with the person who may be The One. It’s not something I take lightly. I know that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, at least not when you’re metaphorically talking about people, but we all judge actual books by their covers. Oh, man, what if I got the wrong artist and my book showed up for its first date in something entirely unlike it and the person never called it back?!?!

    But I had seen George Cotronis’s work on my friend Mercedes’s books. And checking out the other pieces on his web site made me feel like this was the artist to make the picture in my head happen. In fact, I had the pictures in my head for all three books currently planned for this series. And, someday, I might pay someone to make them just so I can see those in the flesh (or at least in the pixels). And I totally admit that I braced for disappointment when he asked if he could try his own idea first. My brain doesn’t easily let go of its ideas about how a thing should be.

    Imagine my delight when even his first draft was awesome. When my bookseller friend who is obsessed with cover art declared it a great cover. Then George took feedback and poked and prodded and…And there it is. A cover I love, a cover that is the right outfit for this book’s first date, a cover now released into the world.

    A cover that I suspect gets even better when you’ve read the book. But maybe that’s just my delight spilling over.

    Either way, I hope that you see this cover and think that this is a book you’d like to take on a first date. (I am biased towards you buying the print version so that you can hold both the front and back in your hands. Isn’t that the goal of most people on first dates?)

    Want to set up that date now, for cheaper? (I won’t judge; cheap dates can be great.) We’ve got the pre-order live and at a reduced price (save a couple bucks!) from now until the night before the book is published. For now, that’s just for the Kindle version, but we should have some other early options posted on social media (Facebook or Twitter) over the next few months.

    If you do your ebook shopping somewhere else, let me know and we’ll see what we can do about pre-order prices there as well!

    Thanks for following along on my crazy “First Published Book!!” adventure. I hope there are many more !! to come for all of us!


    Pre-order your Kindle edition here.
    Sale price until 10 October

  • Warming Up the Blogging Machine

    Hello, strangers. After a streak of weekly posts, I’ve been quiet (too quiet?) the last 6 months. Did you miss me? Did you wonder how I could forsake writing?

    I’ll just assume you’ve answered “yes” to both. But! I come with news. You see, I wasn’t forsaking writing. Not at all. In fact, my first sci-fi novel will be published in a few months. See? Totally busy with writing things.

    Now, I know you’re all still due an updated entry on autism, now that it’s been over 18 months (close to 21 months, actually) since my diagnosis and I’ve had time to educate myself and process and so forth. And I swear that that is on my list; it is going to happen. But I think you can see how the impending publication of a book is kind of a massive deal to me. So, I’m going to get back to more regular blogs. Because writing a book is a journey and I have Thoughts.

    We’re about a week out from a cover reveal, but what I can reveal is this:

    The book is called Peace Fire, and the awesome Ernie Cline, bestselling author of Ready Player One, had this to say about it:

    White text on a dark background: "A smart, fun, fierce tale of geek revolution and high-stakes adventure." -Ernest Cline, Bestselling Author of Ready Player One

    So, keep an eye out! In addition to reading blogs here, you can follow me on Facebook. There should be a steady trickle (that will increase to a torrent!) of content for the next little while.


  • Not Ashamed: Someone with invisible illness

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

    First, in case it hasn’t come up for you anywhere before, I’m going to suggest you read this explanation of what we mean when we talk about spoons in the context of illness and personal capacity. I will surely mention spoons, but I won’t be explaining the theory of spoons. You might also find this post on different types of spoons interesting, or at least a bit helpful in understanding this post.

    Though not the last item on the Not Ashamed list, because I wrote a few things out of order, this is the last Not Ashamed essay I’m writing and publishing. As a fan of personal essays (at least when I’m the one writing), I’ve mainly enjoyed this. I love both the time spent in introspection and self-consideration, as well as the time spent writing. Fortunately, this looks to be a long post, so you will feel like you totally got your fill of me. Heh!

    This particular post has been rewritten more times than any other, and I hope that I’m still comfortable with what I choose to say here after I publish.

    Some context: I feel a bit uncomfortable writing about this because I know people whose invisible illnesses seem more impacting and unpleasant than mine. So, let me be clear that this isn’t a “who’s most ill” contest or anything like that and that, at least from my perspective, I’ve got it relatively easy on this count. However, the internet is full of posts by people with invisible illness, and you can google those and have a chance to put yourself in their shoes if you feel like that’s useful. (I, of course, feel like it can help us be more compassionate to do such things, so I’m voting that you do.)

    I also want to note that I’m uncomfortable writing about this because it rubs up against my desire never to give myself victim status, as well as the fact that one of my invisible illnesses isn’t something I really consider an illness (autism). It is too easy, it seems, to view yourself as ill and let that drop you into a mire of unhappiness and victimisation and so forth. However, I also feel like, at least for me, part of my learning curve has been to figure out how to be not-typical in a world that mainly makes token efforts to appear inclusive. And part of that, one of the hardest parts, has been getting myself to learn to work within the framework of my actual capacity rather than pushing past that, which is unhealthy and can make things worse. Sometimes, for me, thinking of even the things I wouldn’t change (like autism) as an invisible illness helps me to look for more compassionate approaches to life. If I had a brutal case of the flu, I probably wouldn’t berate myself for not managing what “normal” people do, nor would I actually push myself to even try to do things that are clearly just going to keep me sick or that are clearly outside my capacity. It’s not an exact parallel, but it’s one of the main reasons (the other is for solidarity with people who, I can see, have concerns similar to mine) that I don’t try to completely reject this label.

    With all the discomfort, I’ll not ignore my own privacy issues; I’m not going to give you a list (though you can look at the Not Ashamed list and figure that being autistic and bi-polar go on that list). In reality, my approach is that I don’t generally care to talk about my limits outside of specific moments where I’m trying to honour my body or mind’s atypical needs and limits.

    Okay. I think the last bit of context-giving is to just paste in some stuff from this page on a site that promote Invisible Illness Awareness Week, because I know some of you won’t go looking for this information (though it would be great for you to read that page; it’s full of really interesting and eye-opening stats on invisible illness). From that page:

    • Approximately 96% of people who live with an illness have an illness that is invisible. These people do no use a cane or any assistive device and may look perfectly healthy. (2002 US Census Bureau)
    • About one in four adults suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year.
    • 9 million people are cancer survivors with various side effects from treatment who may feel as though they have a chronic condition.
    • Current statistics on autism indicate that more children will be diagnosed with autism this year than cancer, diabetes, Downs Syndrome and AIDS combined, approximately 1 in 150 children.

    So, since it’s not clear from those bullets, I want to point out that the cold you are discreetly treating isn’t an invisible illness. Invisible illnesses are chronic; they’re not going anywhere. Some of them will progress and result in an illness no longer being invisible (my mum’s Multiple Sclerosis was an invisible illness until it progressed to a point where she needed assistive devices). They can have range, from the chronic insomnia that others think of as just a hassle (though even science will tell you it’s much more than that) to something famously painful like lupus, but all of them have an impact on quality of life.

    But the invisibility causes problems. You see, if people can’t see that you have an illness of some kind, they assume that you can do all the things they consider reasonable for a typical person. And that includes assuming you can do those things as frequently and to the same extent. If your illness isn’t visible, people can get Really Very Nasty when you fail to live up to their expectations. Even if you tell them that you’ve got something happening that makes you not-actually-typical.

    As far as I can tell, the nastiness comes from two places:

    1. They can’t see your illness so they think you’re probably lying. It’s not that you don’t have the spoons; it’s that you are a liar.
    2. They think you are just being lazy, using something they can’t even see as an excuse for special treatment.

    I know people who lie or exaggerate, but I know far more people who push themselves way past an actual healthy point just trying to live the life they want or trying to keep from being treated poorly by other people. I’ve had times that I was out of spoons for weeks, a complete physical and mental mess, but I still kept pushing because I hated feeling limited and because feeling limited and having the scorn of people who claim to love you piled on is a seriously miserable way to live. (And no wonder there are studies that show that, for both those with visible and invisible illnesses, there are high divorce rates and other markers of troubles with friendships and romantic relationships.)

    In an effort to be physically, mentally, and emotionally healthier, and because I really do like myself and believe in treating myself as kindly as I’d treat a true friend, I realised I had to make some changes.

    I had a difficult but honest bit of introspection and self-consideration, during which I admitted the things that aren’t ideal about my health or things that weren’t as I wanted, even if I was hesitant to call my wants objectively ideal. I also looked at the obvious things that were limited by that.

    I assessed people in my life and decided that I only have the spoons for people who treat me like I’d treat a true friend. I try to limit the time I give to other people. I talk myself out of feeling bad when someone doesn’t believe my truth. (And, if someone keeps treating me like they suspect I’m a liar or just looking for special treatment that I probably don’t need, I will bump them to the “limited time” list.)

    I made changes in my life (more changes; I hadn’t been wantonly ignoring my needs) that I’d been resisting that I believe will help me keep my maximum spoon capacity from diminishing and will help me spend fewer unnecessary spoons.

    I also tried to make a really clear assessment of which areas might have more spoons than others. You know what I can do for hours and hours with little spoon expenditure? Ponder and analyse myself and my connections to the world and try to pull some meaning or use or art from that. No wonder I’ve always been inclined towards that.

    I’ve also got unlimited mental spoons for typing up words…emails and blogs and novels and such. But it’s specifically typing. (Which makes sense, because our brain uses different pieces for typing vs handwriting.)

    Unfortunately, the physical spoons necessary for typing up words can vary drastically. One of my invisible illnesses is some persistent tendinitis in both shoulders, both elbows, and both wrists (it shouldn’t last for years, but the poor healthcare system in this country means I can’t actually afford to pursue any further diagnosis or action). On good days, it’s all a dull ache. Quiet enough that I’ve gotten used to it and I know I can handle it. If I keep busy, it’s a minor mental thread. But as soon as I try to take any kind of a break, and definitely whenever I try to sleep, it’s front and centre. On not-good days, or even on days that started good, it can flare up into excruciating pain. It can leave me unable to type, play guitar, pour myself a glass of water, lift a skillet from the stove, etc. And pain is exhausting, even if you’re just lying around…it’s a trickle (sometimes a steady gushing stream) of energy…so you’re in pain and you’re beyond-tired. And you feel kind of horrible because you can’t even get yourself a glass of water or cook yourself an egg sandwich. Which sounds really sad.

    If I didn’t have limited physical spoons, I could probably post some kind of blog daily, in addition to staying on top of email and writing my next book. Which means that there’s a persistent emotional toll (frustration, disappointment, etc) that adds to my exhaustion. I have rare spots of making peace with the limits, but my brain is constantly churning out ideas it needs me to write and I would really like to get it all typed and finalised and why won’t my arms just cooperate?

    (Before someone jumps in suggesting voice to text stuff…that also has issues. Unless something totally new comes into being, please trust that I love research and I love not being limited and I have looked into all the possible solutions for all my problems. When you make really obvious suggestions like that, it feels like you’re suggesting I wasn’t smart enough to consider it. And insulting my intelligence is not a great thing to do.)

    But we’re here to talk about shame, about how others would like me to feel ashamed of not being able to live up to their expectations of what a typical person can do.

    If you’re one of those rare people who does play it up, exaggerate, fake it, etc in order to get special privileges…you do realise that every single person who knows you do that is now going to be suspicious of and possibly unkind to anyone else who has an invisible illness, right? Honestly, shame on you. Shame on you for making it harder for people for whom “normal” life is already harder.

    On the other hand…

    I am not ashamed that my body and brain aren’t typical, that they don’t function like they would be expected to. I can be frustrated and disappointed, but I am not ashamed. (Also, just in case it’s coming across glum…whilst I do experience negative emotions, I’m still a positive person and find joy in my life. And I credit part of that to the fact that I don’t carry shame over this.)

    I am not ashamed that, rather than try to batter myself into living a typical life, that rather than treating myself like an enemy to abuse, I know myself and honour myself and respect my limitations.

    (Yeah, sure, we can talk about how trying to expand your limits can be healthy, but that’s not advice that applies to every situation. Because, sometimes, trying to expand your limits can actually tighten them up and leave you permanently worse than before. And unless you are my doctor or an accredited physical therapist or something like that, what makes you think you know which of my limits to push? Even if we have the same condition, each person is unique enough in their experience that you really don’t know what’s best for me.)

    Now, my brain has just had some thoughts on the next book, and I want to get them down before my Using My Arms spoons are all spent for the day.

    I hope that, at the very least, reading one (or more) of the Not Ashamed issues has helped you throw off some of your own shame. That stuff is rotten and doesn’t help anything. And so much of it is thrown at situations and characteristics that it’s absolutely unnecessary to feel ashamed about. Plus, life is sweeter when, instead of dragging around unnecessary shame, you’re loving what’s good, working on what’s not good, and learning to love yourself no matter the situation. I wish you the best of luck in pursuing that.


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

  • Writing His Own Requiem

    I want to be clear that this isn’t meant to be my tribute or eulogy post. For a variety of reasons, I’m a private griever and prefer to keep my mourning chiefly out of the public eye. In the days, weeks, and years to come, I will surely continue to reference and reminisce about David Bowie, and I hope those will be seen as acts of love and remembrance, not as public displays of grief.

    I also want to make sure nobody doubts that I really love Blackstar. What a fine album! What great videos! So, this is also not a critique or criticism of that work.

    And, as a lover of romance and fine stories, I surely won’t spend more time trying to ruin the ending that many people are enjoying right  now. (That I enjoyed myself and shall surely enjoy again…But, for now, I help myself move through emotion by trying to anchor myself in something like an intellectual moment.)

    What this is is my thoughts, now that I’ve had time to ponder and get my brain engaged, on the understanding and claim that Blackstar was meant as Bowie’s final farewell to us. I certainly see it as a farewell, but I think there are some nuances I’d like to point out that make me question that it was meant as a final farewell.

    I’ll proceed from the most public of my three pieces of anecdotal evidence to the most personal.

    Tony Visconti said…

    The clear starting point to address this belief is the statement from Tony Visconti, who is certainly more of an expert on Bowie and his mindset than I or most anyone else could ever claim to be. Only about 2 hours after news broke of Bowie’s death, Visconti posted this to his Facebook:

    Tony Visconti entry, as quoted in text that follows

    (Text: He always did what he wanted to do. And he wanted to do it his way and he wanted to do it the best way. His death was no different from his life – a work of Art. He made Blackstar for us, his parting gift. I knew for a year this was the way it would be. I wasn’t, however, prepared for it. He was an extraordinary man, full of love and life. He will always be with us. For now, it is appropriate to cry.)

    This seems a pretty strong argument for those who want to paint Blackstar simply as that final, parting gift. However, Rolling Stone reported:

    “About a week before his death, with Blackstar nearing release, David Bowie called his longtime friend and producer Tony Visconti via FaceTime, and told him he wanted to make one more album. In what turned out to have been the final weeks of his life, Bowie wrote and demo-ed five fresh songs, and was anxious to return to the studio one last time.”

    Which seems to at least call for some nuance in how we see this. Bowie himself does not seem to have known that Blackstar would be his final album, and it’s therefore arguable that he had other words waiting with which to say farewell or to extend the farewell of Blackstar.

    Let the record show…

    In the days since Bowie’s death, I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s listened to his discography multiple times. And as the rest of you who’ve done that have surely noticed, death and mortality were common themes for Bowie. And not just the deaths of others, but regularly the death of whoever it is that was the point-of-view character for the songs. Again, this doesn’t mean that Bowie wasn’t saying farewell in Blackstar, but that pointing to themes of death and mortality in the album as proof isn’t enough when we take in the whole body of his work.

    (For similar but expanded thoughts, please see Will Brooker’s interview in The Atlantic. He is, it’s fair to say, a Bowie scholar and actively an academic. I’m pleased I read this interview before I pushed publish so that you need not just wonder whether this was merely the misperception of my grieving mind.)

    Mummy come back ’cause it’s dark now…

    I hope you’ll excuse a bit of personal information here in what is, arguably, my most respectable essay since uni. You see, my mum is wrapped up in this. Not because she loved Bowie (she refused to believe he could sing or was a musician worth listening to until I played her Bowie’s Christmas duet with Bing Crosby) or because she played him for me (she didn’t), but because of her own last 18 months.

    My mum was born about a month before Bowie, in December of 1946. Skip ahead to her end. My mum’s death was almost exactly 5 years before Bowie’s (were those my five years left to cry in?), in January of 2011, and was also from cancer. In the same Rolling Stone article quoted above, Visconti revealed that Bowie had actually been fighting the cancer for 18 months before it took him. My mum’s initial cancer diagnosis was 18 months before her death. Visconti notes that the cancer resurged after some dormancy the November before Bowie’s death. My mum’s did the same. And, from the fact that Bowie was trying to make one more album just a week before he died, we can argue that the final blow was quite quick. For my mum, it was more like two weeks of warning. But, again, in my mind there’s that parallel.

    I don’t mean to argue that the loosely parallel endings give me mystical insight, but I lay out that context as part of the understanding that has lead to my third and final argument for a more nuanced view of Blackstar as an intentional final farewell.

    My mum did “wrapping up” things from the start of her 18 month journey with cancer. It’s a rather common human reaction to the spectre of a death that’s more solid than most. So, even without being sure it was his end, Bowie would certainly be normal (and his death is proof that David Jones, the mortal behind Bowie, was occasionally as normal as any other human) if he did some of his own wrapping up things. As an artist, that could easily involve a song or two directly addressing his own mortality.

    As time passed and as she became calmly sure she wasn’t going to beat cancer, my mum still fought on to put out every bit of love and farewells and goodness she could, to make sure that her legacy included a graceful approach to her own mortality. It seems completely fathomable, especially in light of keeping his illness and impending end a secret, that Bowie did the same. Rather than sit back and save his energy for healing, he fought on to put out an album and videos…and prepared to do more. One can be sure of one’s mortality without actually putting out only requiems and farewells.

    So, yes, I absolutely believe that Blackstar contains some brilliant farewells and glimpses of how Bowie saw his own mortality. But I also believe that there’s reason to argue he didn’t necessarily see it as his final farewell. I suppose this is just my long-winded way of, once again and on one more topic, asking for us to have a more nuanced view. (Even if I’m now going to go and, once again, sob along to the album in question.)

  • Not Ashamed: Sometimes, briefly, a little bit well-off

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

    This is the second post about the shame thrown at me (and others) based on economic situations. The first one was pretty obvious; poor shaming has probably been going on since humans came into existence. But, here’s the thing…

    At some point, long before I was born, the poor people got sick of being told they were worth less. They also realised that they were totally worth as much as not-poor people. In fact, they started to suppose that they likely had some awesome qualities that not-poor people could never hope to have. Honestly, it’s a pretty common thing for a mistreated group of people to compensate for the low self-worth that was inflicted on them whilst being mistreated by convincing themselves that, in fact, they are the better people.

    I’m not judging, just noting that.

    So, no surprise that poor people started to decide that, in fact, they were the better people. And, at some point, I felt that way too. Especially once I was living on my own and I was poor because of me, not my parents. I was poor but I was making it. Go me! And I wasn’t held back by the negative, stereotypical traits that obviously belonged to not-poor people. It soothed the parts of me that felt bad about being poor and the parts that had been told I should feel bad about being poor…

    I know, because we had conversations, that I wasn’t the only person who ever felt that way.

    There have been wee, short-lived pockets of being a little well-off (at least by my standards). And, the first time, I actually felt bad about it. I was now the not-poor person. I considered purposefully ruining that, as if my economic situation determined by personality. (Yes, I know, studies do show trends, but I’m a fan of not being defined by stereotypes.)

    And I’ve had people who were poor, when I wasn’t, being nasty to me because I was now one of the not-poor. But I didn’t respond because I actually understood where they were coming from, having been poor and judgemental myself plenty of times in the past.

    So, here’s my final word on judgement based on economic situation:

    Whether you are rich or poor, what matters is your behaviour. It’s your actions, not your money (or lack thereof), that determine whether or not you’re a good person. All humans are of equal intrinsic worth and full of great possibility.

    I’ve now known people who were both good and horrible at all sorts of points on the economic spectrum.

    I will never again judge myself or anyone else based on their net worth. And I won’t let anyone else make me feel bad about myself based on what money I do or don’t have. There are so many other things to judge me on…

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

  • 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).

  • Not Ashamed: Feminist

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

    Feminist: an advocate of social, political, legal, and economic rights for women equal to those of men.

    That’s the dictionary definition and the one that every feminist I know would agree is correct. We might have different ideas about how to procure those rights, but it is inherent in the definition that this is about equality, not about subjugating men (the way they’ve subjugated women for most of history).

    Anyone who says that it means something else is wrong. If they aren’t feminists or are opposed to feminists, well, why are you letting them define what feminists are? And if they claim to be feminists…they might be adding their own spin, and their spin doesn’t apply to every other one of us who wears this label without shame.

    I can’t even fathom the logic of expecting me to be ashamed of wanting myself, of wanting all humans, to have equal rights.

    I’ve been very lucky in my life to have parents who did their best to raise me to believe that my worth, and the rights and respect I deserved, was not tied to my genitals. That I was as capable and deserving as my brothers.

    I’ve had male friends all through my life, many of whom have not treated me as anything less than their male friends.

    If you don’t believe in feminism, I know better than to believe my personal essay will change your mind. I’m not going to waste my time saying things here that others have already said.

    Instead, I want to talk to people who believe in feminism but have never heard or taken time to find the definition of the phrase “intersectional feminism” or “intersectionality.” Again, there are plenty of essays online, so I’m going to paste in a definition, and then I’m going to say a little about why I care.

    Intersectional feminism: The view that women experience oppression in varying configurations and in varying degrees of intensity. Cultural patterns of oppression are not only interrelated, but are bound together and influenced by the intersectional systems of society. Examples of this include race, gender, class, ability, and ethnicity.

    Intersectionality: A concept often used in critical theories to describe the ways in which oppressive institutions (racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, xenophobia, classism, etc.) are interconnected and cannot be examined separately from one another.

    I have things that work against me in life. I’m not straight, well off, cis, or male. But I am white-skinned, fluent in the primary language of the country in which I live (and without an accent), and my parents made sure I was educated as best they could manage. So, that tells you about the mix of things that are part of the configuration of my oppression. Yes, that’s a dramatic word, but not a word that feels wrong as often as I’d like.

    However, there are also a few things that I have going for me (as listed in the above paragraph). And some of those are huge. The colour of my skin? Huge. Women who are arguably exactly like me but whose skin is not white have a measurably greater weight of oppression.

    And if I truly mean, in my feminism, that I believe in equal rights for all people, that has to include people of colour, people with accents or who don’t speak the language of the country in which they live, and uneducated people. I have to take their experiences into account, not just leave room for them in my feminism but make room for them.

    That means I will be constantly trying to learn, to keep an eye on my assumptions, to listen to the voices of those who aren’t like me. I feel like I’ve seen a lot and known a lot of different people in my life, but that doesn’t mean I know all I need to know to make sure that my efforts are for all people.

    I’ll give you an example before I go. This is something I only learned this autumn, in spite of actually having had multiple black female friends. Just knowing someone socially doesn’t mean I know their context. For instance, I didn’t realise that black women in so-called white cultures have traditionally been de-feminised. They have typically been portrayed as masculine or as too beastly (usually as sexual beasts) to be feminine or pretty. So, whilst many white feminists are often leaning towards non-feminine appearance or masculine behaviours and roles as part of how they try to throw off the oppression that comes with being female gendered, being allowed to be feminine is something that black feminists have had to fight for. (At least that’s how it was explained to me. My apologies if I’ve misunderstood or over-simplified.)

    Which means that feminists (white feminists) who look down on other feminists who wear dresses or makeup aren’t taking the context of black women into account in their efforts. (This is also part of why shows like How To Get Away With Murder and Scandal portraying strong, capable, pretty black women is so awesome.)

    My main approach to intersectionality in feminism, given I know that I don’t know everything that is relevant to everyone’s feminism, is to believe in choices. That it’s not about all of us having to be the same or having to take advantage of all the same opportunities. For me, it’s about having the options. The option to dress in a more masculine or feminine way. The option to have a job outside the home or to be a housewife. And so forth.

    That won’t solve all the problems that come up with trying to be intersectional, but it’s how I start.

    And, in this effort, there’s no room for shame. Because I am not ashamed that I’m female, nor am I ashamed to believe that being female should not give me fewer rights or opportunities than males. I’m only ashamed when I lose sight of the importance of intersectionality, because I really do believe in the equal worth and, therefore, equal rights of all people.

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

  • Not Ashamed Addendum: Isolation

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

    (Relevant to bi-polar, autistic, musician, writer, introvert, reclusive, but also to “my own biggest fan”)

    Stepping out of the flow of existing topics for this addendum, because it seems like an important one for people who care about me and are reading along.

    I was talking to one of my sisters the other day, and she made a comment about how depression is isolating. Which is true. Feeling isolated and alone is a very common part of the depression experience for most (all?) sufferers. Which got me thinking about me and solitude (and also the fact that I think my sister was trying to carefully express worry about me and solitude given the fact that depression is isolating).

    Now, I’m in a rush to get some things done, so I’m not going to google it, but…It seems like depression is isolating because:

    • Depression seems to be tangled up with the lying voice of low self-esteem, so you isolate yourself because you are pretty sure you don’t deserve friends or good times and that your friends probably actually hate you.
    • You have no energy or desire to do anything but lie in bed or binge watch TV or something like that.
    • You don’t want to be judged for being depressed, and the best way to avoid judgement is to avoid people.
    • Other people can be weird or uncomfortable around you when you’re depressed, so they stop inviting you around or you get tired of that and you stop accepting invitations.

    There might be more reasons, but those are the ones that seem to be the main issues.

    If you look at the list of labels you could apply to me (as laid out in my Not Ashamed posts), you’ll see that figuring out my own situation (am I isolated by depression?) is complicated by other things. In addition to being bi-polar (which, for me, is where the regular depression is seated), I am:

    • Autistic. Autism can be isolating for all the causes noted up in that first list, but also because of social awkwardness, sensory overwhelm issues, and how much work it can be to try to appear “normal.”
    • A musician and writer.Setting aside the oft-noted isolation of a touring musician…For me, and for every creative I know, alone time is essential for actually creating. Time to process, to try things out, to do the actual work.
    • An introvert. I won’t waste time dispelling misunderstandings of that term. The internet is full of that. But the root of what an introvert actually is is this: whilst extraverts are charged by being around other people, introverts need alone time to recharge. For me, I need hours every day—and sleep doesn’t count—to recharge from interacting with other humans. When I’m super worn out, that also includes avoiding online or on-phone interactions.
    • Reclusive. For reasons of pure preference, not due to any of the stuff on the first list or the rest of this list, I just really love solitude and enjoy being away from humans.

    In a case like me, it would be hard to tell if depression were isolating me, because so many other things in me either need or lend themselves towards isolation. So, to maybe relieve some concern from others, I want to address the usual reasons for isolation that I put in the first list.

    • Low self-esteem: This definitely used to be the case. As noted in another Not Ashamed essay, I have known the grip of self loathing. But, these days, I’m my own biggest fan. I know I’m not everyone’s cup of tea, but that’s good cos I can barely manage the friendships of those who do love the taste of me. And I’ve pretty much stopped spending time with people that I think actually hate me. So, nope. This one isn’t an issue.
    • No energy or desire: This happens. It sure does. But I’m never lying in bed and weeping because I wish I had the energy or desire to hang out with someone. And I know that, if I didn’t want to be alone in that, I have friends who would happily, quietly sit with me. Really, given my introvert nature, it is a relief to me to be alone on such days. Being around another human would only sap what little energy I might have.
    • Don’t want to be judged: I’m pretty lucky here. In addition to caring less and less with every passing year what others think, I happen to be mainly engaged with people outside the mainstream. One awesome thing about that is that such people don’t stigmatise depression. They don’t judge me; they feel compassion and—in some cases—empathy for me. Basically, I am totally blessed that my friends are awesome and not “normal.” (Again, see how I am Not Ashamed about my depression, so not even general societal stigmas can isolate me. Rar!)
    • Not invited cos I’m a bummer: As noted, I have great friends. I’ve always been very blessed with good people in my life. Even when I was a raging mess as a teen, my friends (again, not mainstream kinds of kids) invited me and welcomed me. We tried to support each other and care for each other and, at the very least, learn to work with each others’ messiness. These days, I think that I manage to keep my messiest bits out of the fun social times (which is something that is made easier by the lovely solitude I need, I want, I take for myself). And, even when I don’t, my friends aren’t weird about it but are thoroughly supportive and sweet.

    I don’t mean to sound like I’m bragging. I wrote all that with an immense sense of gratitude. And I sincerely wish that everyone could feel so blessed as I do. And, if you are struggling with something and feel isolated for whatever reason, I truly hope you can find friends and resources to help you have as little solitude as you want.

    But no worries about me. I don’t feel isolated, and I know there are people I can easily turn to if I ever did feel isolated. (And thanks for those of you who have felt loving concern over this. I hope this eased your minds.)


    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.