Friday, December 16, 2016

Hiatus and Helpful Links

This blog will be on hiatus from today (December 16th) until Friday, January 6th.  I'm a spoonie and, with the holidays, I'm finding it severely difficult to keep all cylinders firing.  (I will still be on Twitter.)  I love this blog, but it's mostly a solo operation.

Before break begins, I want to leave you with a resource page from my personal blog.  It lists helpful writing newsletters, free classes, free (legit) ebook sites, and more.  I hope you find something of value.  CLICK HERE.

Also:  The Perch Magazine (an online journal about mental health) will be added to the "Links of Interest" page.

Lastly:  Thank all of you for reading/listening.  I hope this blog continues to have value for you all.

Have bright holidays, my lovelies.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Interview: Sami Jankins of Tiny Tim Literary Review

Sami Jankins:  Editor of the Tiny Tim Literary Review.

Why did you start Tiny Tim Literary Review?

I spend a lot of my time looking for what isn't out there. After college I created a non-profit that encouraged access to arts programs for teens and young adults with chronic health problems. Now that I've graduated from graduate school, I feel like Tiny Tim isn't quite going back to that idea, but instead retooling...and redefining the purpose of how I can accomplish the encouraging of the arts for people with chronic illness or disabilities. While the arts is a great means of expression for the disabled populace, it's not always an entirely welcoming place. I guess I've always tried to be a bit defiant to naysayers to show that disabled doesn't mean that we can't create and do awesome things, but we're doing awesome things regardless - it's not that "it's awesome because someone disabled created this." This is why I decided to name it Tiny Tim. It's tongue-in-cheek about the inspirational disabled trope. I want this review to be authentic and that includes the full spectrum of the human experience. It doesn't just have to focus on disability narratives, it can be an ancillary aspect to a piece. The arts are often the only place people are exposed to people not like themselves and I wanted to provide more visibility for medical and disability narratives. The more, the better. 

How does your publication differ from other literary magazines focused on disability?

I know some focus on specific disabilities whereas we are kind of welcoming to anyone. I can speak about the difference between other health magazines. I've been fortunate to be published numerous places, but the pieces that were always easiest to place were on dating or being a twentysomething. A lot of general health-based online magazines want pieces on how people are overcoming the odds, what they do to make their disability easier (vitamins, yoga, etc), and there are definitely a lot of parent narratives about their children who have disabilities. It's easy to place those types of work. When it comes to a critique on the medical system or the rawness of how not pretty disability can be, it can be more challenging to place. What's great is I notice there are other lit magazines popping up trying reach these groups that don't fall within mainstream neutralized disability stories, and that's awesome! I've seen great work get rejected because an editor couldn't understand the structure of a piece from someone who is neurodivergent. Those aren't the kinds of things that should be altered. I think those are the works that are the most exciting. Why are we trying to fit everyone into the same literary box just because it's different? I think other places are catching on, but mostly when I started this I noticed a lot of people asking questions of where to place work that I wanted to see read by as many people as possible.

Medical professionals will also have a place within your publication.  What factors were behind that decision?

Yes! I'm very excited about this. I wanted to create a duality in the spectrum of health, disability, and overall medical narratives. I was always very interested in books by Atul Gawande or Oliver Sacks. It was unique for me as a patient to read the flipside of the experience. Since a patient journey can be frustrating, it can be easy to assume that doctors are either these gifts or roadblocks in our lives. It's easy to forget they are fallible humans too who have a great deal of responsibility upon them. I researched a lot of film and TV portrayals of doctors in graduate school that really illuminated the aspect that medical professionals as a whole are also so often reduced in public portrayal. Again, if people assume all medical professionals are like what they see in movies, it's rather reductive. Reading Paul Kalanithi's memoir at the end of my MFA program solidified for me that there is a great need for the full medical experience to be included in the entire range of the health narrative spectrum. I hope poetry from a patient perspective juxtaposed to a nonfiction piece by a nurse will help destigmatize the disability aspect while humanizing the sometimes sterile view of those practicing medicine.

What does your ideal submission look like and do submissions have to have a disability-related element?

The submission does need to have some tie to disability, health, medicine, mortality, etc. Again, the health aspect doesn't need to be the main element. There isn't really a specific ideal submission. I hope to include pieces that may have unique structure to them. Above and beyond it just needs to be solid work. I'm looking for work that people put their hearts into. By no means do the stories have to have a specific message to convey or somehow be wrapped up in a bow. There doesn't need to be a moral to the story because sometimes those moments just don't work out that way in real life. Authenticity and heart are the two big important factors. While we do light editing, we want pieces that are generally complete without much need for further input. We're looking for writers who have an opinion and something to say. Passion tends to shine through.

Do submitters have to disclose disability/neurodivergence status in the cover letter or biography?  Why or why not?

No. Again, we're also including medical professionals who may not have any kind of disability. Who am I to ask what someone's disability is? I've had people ask along with their submissions if they are disabled enough to be included. This generally makes me sad. I wonder who made them question that in the first place, and I'm not sure how I became the authority on disabled enough. We accept submissions that will get published under anonymous as well as a pseudonym. These are topics that can be challenging to write about, in order for it to see daylight, there needs to be anonymity to go with it, that's perfectly alright. Just frankly it's not my business what their health status is beyond what they wish to disclose. I want people to feel safe to submit great work. This isn't like applying for a job where the options are yes (you're disabled), no (you're not disabled or you're just saying you're not), or prefer not to disclose (maybe disabled?). It's not a trap. These are sensitive topics and we appreciate that. 

Who are writers (disabled/neurodivergent and not) you admire?

I guess this is my mix of writers who have inspired me disabled or not. When I was in my senior year of college, I saw Spalding Gray:Stories Left to Tell. It changed everything for me. I never wrote actively before seeing that. I didn't realize that I could write in a way that could be so conversational. It spoke to me. Before starting graduate school I read a lot of Jonathan Ames. I'm also a huge fan of his screenwriting. Screenwriting is what I went to graduate school for and found Stephen Falk's attention to getting the details of mental health issues right more important than whether the viewer would continue to categorize his show You're the Worst as "funny enough" a bold thing to do. 

Emily Rapp Black was my professor for non-fiction throughout graduate school and has taught me a great deal about essay writing. Her essays are also some of the best I've read. Instead of just looking as an essay as something flat, I began to see the intricate weaving between dialogue, imported knowledge, description, and exposition that needs to take place. Writing started to feel almost like painting to me after a while, a delicate balance of many things. I hope to be as good of a writer as her someday. Karrie Higgins is one of the most outstanding and outspoken disability advocates that I feel more people should be paying attention to. Her writing is arranged in non-typical formats because that's just how her brain works, and it's an amazing brain at that. Her photos are equally effective and moving. I find Jillian Lauren's writing to be exceptionally raw and candid. I know that's not an easy thing to do, and reading her work and hearing her speak has pushed me to write outside of my comfort zone. Lastly Jennifer Pastiloff and her entire Manifest-Station, Girl Power You Are Enough, and other movements have been hugely influential to me. 

Where do you see Tiny Tim Literary Review five years down the road?

I'd like to gradually expand beyond the the online presence and be more interactive with writers and the health community. I would like to hold workshops for medical professionals and disabled individuals to attend to work on finding their voice. Everyone has a story, it's just a matter of finding it and feeling like you have the right to own it and tell it. I also want to find a way to get audiobooks and books available for patients in the hospital. I know that stories were everything for me during my lengthy hospital stays whether in book or other creative format. However, unless a patient brings something with them they may not have access to that escape of sorts. I know some hospitals have general libraries for medical literature, but I think there is something worthwhile to having patient libraries, even if they are small. Long-term patients especially would benefit a great deal from it, and I'd like to help make that happen however possible with whatever medical facilities are interested. Provide access to stories, encourage the realization and power behind their own story, and hopefully have more people wanting to share their work.

What advice can you give to someone hoping to get accepted into your magazine?

I know how frustrating the process can be. Truthfully, we were only able to accept about 10% of the submissions we received. I encourage people to keep writing. Even if a specific piece didn't work for us, it might be placed elsewhere. Also, always submit for the future. I never want someone to feel defeated by a rejection. You don't have to be at a certain level to submit and get accepted. We have everyone from college students to professors to beekeepers. Write what speaks true to you. That's probably the best advice I can give. 

Is there anything else you want people to know about you or Tiny Tim Literary Review?

I wanted Tiny Tim Literary Review to fill a void that I saw within the writing community. There's been a longstanding failure of including the disabled community or caring if disabled characters were even accurately portrayed. I hope this review acts as a branch of sorts. Who better to address how disabled individuals or health professionals are portrayed than the people themselves? As for me, I've spent a lot of time doing patient advocacy and being involved in a variety of patient communities. I'm also disabled. I've been told in my life that the arts aren't possible for people with disabilities. Idina Menzel was my "kid's wish" almost a decade ago. She told me if you can't find a niche for yourself within the arts, make one. It's something I've continued to try to do. While I do love publishing work of my own, I also like having outlets that work to encourage other people to share their stories as well. I hope that any accolades or praise that may come as a result of Tiny Tim is for the incredible writers whose work is being made available. I'm happy to take a backseat and let them shine. 
Sami Jankins, Editor-in-chief and Founder of Tiny Tim Literary Review says:  “We can be found at and come mid-December our website will launch with the first on-line issue at Submissions reopen on December 5th and close February 19th for our mid-March issue”.
In the first issue they have:

*Multiple Pushcart prize nominees, Fulbright scholars, Yaddo fellows, and individuals that if you like their work enough you can buy their already published books. 
*Appeared in The Bellevue Review, The Boston Review, Jezebel, Broadly, The Fem, Wordgathering, and Deaf Poets Society (along with so many other places).
*College students, MFA candidates, college professors, editors for other reviews, doctors, and beekeepers who manage one of the oldest rare/used bookstores in DC.

Friday, December 2, 2016

How We Write About Ourselves

I've gotten flack for referring to myself as a cripple.  I don't understand disabled people who prefer the term "differently abled", but wouldn't want them to stop using what terms they identify with.  "Disabled" is a decent standby word.

No one should force anyone else to use a specific term for themselves.  If you fall under a certain umbrella of words/terms/phrases, you should be able to use any that apply.  It means not taking crap over whatever people think is best.  You know what you like.

People who aren't disabled can't generally use the words you choose.  The umbrella of a minority group offers the protection to claim the words those outside will never have, even as an ally.  A stranger shouting "cripple" at me on the sidewalk is a jerk, no matter how many times I've said it of myself.
Disabled/neurodivergent writers are often policed for how we write about ourselves.  Not for just how we identify, but the topics we do (or don't) cover and what the slant is.

The surprising thing I'm seeing, is a fair amount of people criticising disabled/neurodivergent writers, are other disabled/neurodivergent people.  They aren't taking writers to task about inaccuracy or cardboard portrayals.  They aren't boycotting a disabled Jojo Moyes.  They are tearing down phrasing that isn't problematic, criticising how authors (legally, without spam) market their books, what topics are covered... because of what an able-bodied/neurotypical audience is going to think.

While a few rare instances might have a bit of merit (like leveraging disability the wrong way for sales) most do not.  We have become scared to let them (the majority) see inside the iron box of our lives and truths, the secret spots where it is vulnerable... or the fierce, barbed pieces.  We want our tales to garner attention (only a specific kind) then have them stroll away, satisfied by what they glimpsed.

I understand writers pandering to a market and watering down the hard parts.  I understand problematic portrayals giving people the wrong notion, and the disabled readers who won't put up with shoddy literature... from any writer.  I don't understand the need to hide when it isn't your story, to bash what is thoughtful and complex, honest and raw.

Fight when you need to, but figure out why you're fighting.  The opponent might not be who (or what) you're expecting.

Write (and read) on, my lovelies!

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Sagamihara: Family

We feel your presence
Gentle rain tickling leaves
Disappears too soon

Today, I am with my family.  But my thoughts drift towards Sagamihara.  

Did each victim have at least one person who mourned them, who lost something fierce and precious when they died?  Everyone should have someone who would miss them, who knew them personally.  Someone who knows just what the world lost, even when the world doesn't. 

Friday, November 25, 2016

Ableist Language in Dialogue

The majority of the population still thinks words like "dumb" and "crazy" are fine to lob in everyday conversation.  Even a lot of disabled/neurodivergent folks use them without being in the position to reclaim them.  Then, there are some who don't want to use the words because of ableism.

For the writers in the "hell no" camp of using certain words, telling a story without them can become complex.  A character doing something ridiculous in modern times is rarely told he's being preposterous.  A highly erratic protagonist isn't going to be told by each character her demeanor is strange or odd, though it might work for a few characters' interactions.  

Child characters are even more difficult.  Few children know words like "ludicrous" or "off-putting", and probably wouldn't use them if they did.  Unless one avoids putting kids in a situation where they need to address someone (or something) with extreme behavior and/or properties, the writer will need to address it, somehow.

Do writers who see words like "stupid" as ableism give themselves a pass when writing fiction?  I haven't asked every single writer, but a fair amount do.  Especially when writing realistic, modern stories.  It isn't easy to work around words the majority of people use.  It's not as simple as avoiding vulgar language.

But a small section of writers refuse to use those words, regardless.  Some set stories in strange lands with made-up words.  Some don't put characters in a situation where they need to address another's odd mannerisms... at all.  Or place their books in a past where different words are said.  Or, maybe, they use words like "odd", "strange", "preposterous".

It's up to each writer to decide.  
What words do you use?

Friday, November 18, 2016

Uncertainty and the Writing Life

Writers rarely have job security.  There are always other writers hungry for an assignment, or a spot on the bookstore shelf, or a page in that high-paying anthology.  To get in, writers often have to edge each other out, whether we're aware of it or not.

When change happens in a country's government, a natural disaster befalls a region, or an industry suddenly bottoms out, it can cause ripples that affect everything, even writers' careers/options.  People will buy more (or less) books.  Publishing companies will combine (or fold).  Selling rights overseas becomes more complex.
Often, disabled/neurodivergent people feel turmoil keenly.  Certain government changes could kill (some of) us.  Our evacuation plans for natural disasters can be more complicated.  We are already rooted in contingencies.

It's easier to let our writing careers slide on a "wait and see" because they don't feel vital (excluding those of us who actually pay bills as a wordsmith).  Why worry about writing in the chaos?  Who has the spoons for another worry?

I get it, I do.

But, I contend, writing should be in any plan a writer makes.  Your words matter, especially in uncertainty.  Who will know how things are for you if you won't tell them?  Squeeze in places you can fit yourself and scream, sign in exaggerated gestures, turn up your gorgeous, mechanical voice and curse.

Join writing groups, submit more work, form publishing co-ops with other cripples.  Keep trying to crack any gate locked against us. Amplify each other, support one another.  Don't stop.  Be brave.
We are stronger together.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Stories With a Cure

We all hope for cures for diseases and illnesses that kill people.  No one would shed one tear for the eradication of AIDS or cancer.  But things become more complex when the condition/disability/divergence isn't fatal.

A disability like Cerebral Palsy, for example, has people split.  Some with it say they'd take the cure this second.  Others, never in their lives.  And another group would want it for certain aspects (remove the disabled accent, perhaps) but not others.  It depends.
In a fair amount of books about disability, the focus is on the cure.  The character with the disability/neurodivergence wants nothing more in the world than to be able-bodied/neurotypical.  Everyone desires to be normal, the author thinks.

An entire tale may focus on nothing but the journey to normalcy, whatever the hell that is.  Which tells disabled/neurodivergent readers:  It doesn't matter how funny, badass, or talented you are, the only worthwhile pursuit is fixing what society sees as wrong.  Not even personality flaws like selfishness trump those stick legs, those stimming hands, clubbed feet, or that impared vision.

But, not all books take the entire plot to cure our plucky disabled/neurodivergent protagonist!  There is often romance, family relationships, swashbuckling!  Wow!  What disabled character gets to do that in a book where a cure for their disability is part of the plot?  One where the potion, shot, or surgery comes at the beginning.  Probably in the first couple chapters.  Definitely before the heroics start because, you know, we're just not heroes (unless it's inspiration porn, which doesn't usually happen in cure stories).
Though the issue of curing someone's disability/neurodivergence is complex for the individual presented with the choice (even for a great deal of people who'd love a cure), most stories make it seem like an effortless decision.  It isn't.  Because, though our differences aren't everything we are, they are a part which has shaped our very self.  In a world more intent on valuing it's version of wholeness, we need more stories stating that we are whole, no assembly required.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Q&A With Katharine Quarmby (Nottingham Festival of Literature)

Photo of Katharine Quarmby
Credit to Tom Green
You are well-known for your disability advocacy.  How did you come to advocate for disabled people?

There are a number of reasons - as I will say in my speech, I have had chronic migraines myself since I was a teenager, so have quite an intimate knowledge of pain. We also have a rich history of disability within our own family. When one family member suffered (and I use the word consciously) a traumatic brain injury, it become clear during the recovery period that our relative was treated very differently after the injury. I became much more aware of how some people in society view disabled people. That led on to my work on disability hate crime - along with particular cases of that crime where I felt justice was not done. I then wrote my book, Scapegoat: why we are failing disabled people (Portobello, 2011). I also became a co-ordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network and have served, or continue to serve, on a number of expert committees related to disability. 

What are your favourite books on disability as a topic, theme, written by disabled writers, or starring disabled protagonists?

I think there are some particularly good ones but of course it depends on how one views disability. Do we, for instance, count writers who experienced mental distress? In that case, I would single out Virginia Woolf as one of my favourites. She wrote about war-time traumatic stress, famously, in Mrs Dalloway, for instance. But, crucially, I think she wrote well about the experience of difference in all sorts of ways - sexuality and gender, in Orlando and of course being a woman in many of her books. For me one of the key tests is can you make your writing about difference universal? Does it break down walls? Then there is much of Audre Lorde, who again writes so brilliantly about all forms of difference. Susan Sontag is another key writer, for me. Then there's Hugh Gregory Gallagher, whose books on both the only disabled US President, and then on how disabled people were murdered during the Holocaust, are key texts. But there are so many it's hard to choose. 

You are giving the Keynote Address at The Nottingham Festival of Literature (which runs from the 8th of November through the 13th). How did it come about?

I was asked to do it and gladly agreed as I think this is a crucial time for writers to address certain themes - difference, universality and cultural appropriation.  

Your Keynote (on the 11th of November) is going to focus on portrayals of disability in literature, spanning from the ancient Greeks to modern writers like Jojo Moyes.  That's quite a large amount of time. How did you decide what writers and trends to include?

I drew on some of the research in my first book, Scapegoat, as I think it's important to give a sense of the historical and cultural context in which disability representation sits. I also wanted to look at some modern (and controversial) texts as I think it's important to address current concerns. 

You are also talking about appropriation of disabled culture.  Do you think able-bodied/neurotypical people see disability as its own culture?  Why or why not?  Has the attitude shifted in the past two decades?

I welcome the fact that more writers are including disabled characters in their works. I think it's always important, however, for writers to do their research and be respectful. I think attitudes have shifted - and mostly in a good way, with more disabled people writing, for a start, and some non-disabled writers wanting to write about key themes in disability current affairs.
What trends do you see happening in CripLit?  Are they positive?

I welcome CripLit as I feel it asks some very searching questions of both writers and publishers. However, it's important that non-disabled writers do not get the impression that writing about disability is off-limits. Some 83% of people acquire their disability during their lifetime, rather than being born with a disability. Most of us will die, impaired, in one way or another. For me disability, and writing about it, is about humanity itself at a very deep level.
In what ways does the publishing industry fail disabled people/writers, in your opinion? Are there ways it is getting things right?

I'm not a publisher so it's hard to say, but it's important that all new writers are encouraged to find 
ways to the marketplace. The test should be whether the writing is good, however.
Lately, at least in some countries, there has been a push to include disabled writers in retreats, conferences, etc.  What do you attribute to this push?

I suspect there is a growing awareness that disabled writers are bringing great richness to the mix of diverse voices.  

What role do able-bodied/neurotypical advocates have in the careers of disabled writers?

I think any alliances are good as long as there is respect on either side.  
Biography:  Katharine Quarmby is a writer, journalist and film-maker specialising in social affairs, education, foreign affairs and politics, with an investigative and campaigning edge. She has spent most of her working life as a journalist and has made many films for the BBC, as well as working as a correspondent for The Economist, contributing to British broadsheets, including the Guardian, Sunday Times and the Telegraph. She also freelances regularly for other papers, including a stint providing roving political analysis for The Economist, where she has worked as a Britain correspondent. 

Her first book for adults, Scapegoat: why we are failing disabled people (Portobello Press, 2011), won a prestigious international award, the Ability Media Literature award, in 2011. In 2012 Katharine was shortlisted for the Paul Foot award for campaigning journalism, by the Guardian and Private Eye magazine, for her five years of campaigning against disability hate. Katharine and her fellow volunteer co-ordinators of the Disability Hate Crime Network, were honoured with Radar's Human Rights People of the Year award, for their work on disability hate crime in 2010.
A Description of the Keynote Speech:

FRIDAY 11 NOV 7-8.30PM

American author and disability advocate Hugh Gregory Gallagher wrote eloquently of the “land of the ‘crippled”, adding, “a great wall surrounds this place, and most of what goes within this wall is unknown to those outside it. What follows is a message from over the wall.” In this address, Katharine Quarmby will explore the canon of literature to look at the characterization of disability, as a message within both mainstream literature and emerging disability literature. For writing about disability – invisible and visible – is a message about humanity itself, and the stories we tell ourselves about what it means to be human, and to live with impairment.

NOTTSFOL.CO.UK  WARNING:  The website to the festival has a lot of red.  Be aware epileptics, migraine sufferers, etc. 

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Disabled/Neurodivergent Literary Links (Part 3)

Please see the Links of Interest tab for a full list of disabled/neurodivergent literary links.

A couple notes before today's post:

1.  The Facebook group Poets and Writers with Disabilities has disappeared after some turmoil within it.  Fear not, there has been discussion of a new group by some capable folks.  I'll keep everyone posted.

2.  There will be a post on Monday.  Katharine Quarmby is giving a keynote address at the Nottingham Festival of Literature on disability portrayals in literature, and has graciously answered some questions for the blog.
It's that time again!  Another round-up of links for disabled and/or neurodivergent poets and writers is here.  But, unfortunately, I've pretty much run out.  Unless any of you can think of any I'm missing.  Please share!

1.  #LiterarySpoons is a hashtag on Twitter where any disabled/neurodivergent writer can Tweet links to whatever they write, even blog posts!  There is even a "showing" time where everyone can share.  The next one is November 10th.  Remember to use "trigger warnings" when applicable.

2.  #ArtfulSpoons is a hashtag similar to #LiterarySpoons, with the difference being any form of art can be included   I've seen some gorgeous jewelry, lush fabric creations, delicious-looking culinary delights, and more displayed.  The next "Gallery Night" is the 18th of November.

3.  Zoeglossia is a community for disabled writers run by Jennifer Bartlett, Sheila Black, and Connie Voisine.  The only project listed, as far as I can tell, is a retreat program for poets.  But, since they're just getting off the ground, things may expand.  Currently, their Facebook page appears non-operational.

4.  Autonomous Press is a press that wants to further academic access and "promotes the representation of disability and/or disabled voices".  There is also a NeuroQueer Books imprint which "focuses on queer issues, queering, sexuality, gender, or critical response to other aspects of identity (such as race, class, disability) as they interact with neurodivergence and psychological development".

5.  The Writing in the Margins Mentor Program matches up an experienced editor or traditionally published author with an emerging writer from a marginalized group (in this case, writers of color and disabled writers).  The purpose is to get a manuscript prepared to send to potential publishers.  There is no cost, and the application form is straightforward.  Applications are due by November 30th, so don't delay too long.

Related Posts:  

 Disabled and/or Neurodivergent Literary Links

Disabled/Neurodivergent Literary Links (Part 2)

Friday, October 28, 2016

Interview With Poet Lucas Scheelk

Poet Lucas Scheelk

1. What influenced you to start writing and how old were you when you started?

I started writing poetry when I was 13. I was infatuated with a boy, and that was the easiest method to express my feelings at the time. I remember having a class on poetry when I was 12, but completely scorned it and had zero interest in it. It was mostly due to the teacher, but it's easier to get into poetry if one discovers it on their own.

2. Do you have a writing routine? If so, what is it? If not, why not?

I can't write daily, or for long periods of time. I've had long term projects, but for poetry I work best in short spurts. In a short spurt, I can write without anyone else around, with the option for background noise, should I choose. Sometimes I'm working on more than one project at a time and have to divide up what I write and when.

Sometimes I have no motivation to write at all so poems will sit untouched for a while.

I don't know how other writers can write everyday, and/or can work in loud public spaces; I'd be unable to separate the noises enough to properly focus.

3. Your chapbook, This Is A Clothespin, deals with autism, being transgender, and self-harm. It is not a "fluffy" read. How did you decide to tackle those aspects of yourself in a chapbook? Was there ever a moment when you thought you shouldn't?

I wrote a lot of it as I was going through those experiences in my life (specifically the self-harm burns), either during or immediately after the incidents. At the time, I used that writing as a coping mechanism, to make sure I knew it was happening, that it what real, that I was't imagining it, that the pain exists.

As far as being autistic, once I started being more honest about it in my early 20s (after being diagnosed as a toddler and attempted to hide it for many years), it became the easiest thing for me to write about. The hate directed at me and other autistic people - I could turn that into recognition, solidarity, hope, love (though it might not seem like it in TIAC) on paper.

I did have moments where I questioned whether I really wanted people to know some of the darkest parts of me, the self-loathing that still manifests, in part, from the shame of being disabled. But, the thought that always overpowered my hesitation that was someone else would need this affirmation more.

The market for autism writing is STILL mostly written by non-autistic people.

The literature on self-harm for autistic people mostly only talks about stimming. There's very little literature about non-stimming related self-harm, very little mention about the fact that many of us also have co-morbid diagnosis of mental illness, and how it affects us as we live in a world that actively hates us.

There were more moments of, "I need to write more about my pain" than not. It's been healing for me as well.

4. What draws you to writing poetry, and not, say, novels?

The length!

I used to be an English major for 6 years, and writing essays was figuratively the death of me! I can't imagine being able to write a novel.

There's a lot of wiggle room in poetry regarding length. I learned a lot of different poetic forms while in university, and after a while I got a feel as to which forms worked for me, and which didn't. I love writing acrostics and free verse especially.

5. Your second poetry chapbook, Holmes Is A Person As Is, is about the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes who, as I understand it, is neurodivergent.  What other projects are you involved with that revolve around Holmes and his variants?  What about him interests you so much?

Other than frequently finding ways to write poems about Sherlock Holmes (that's where my acrostic writing comes in!):

·  I run a tumblr blog called Autistic Sherlock in Elementary. I started it in March 2014 as a way to recap, in each episode, the ways in which Sherlock Holmes in the Elementary adaptation is autistic-coded (meaning not canonically autistic, but there are signs). In early 2016, the show introduced Fiona Helbron, a canonically autistic (she prefers the term neuroatypical) woman who becomes Sherlock's romantic interest. With Fiona's inclusion into the show, I wrote about Fiona, whether she counts as good autistic representation, and the differences between how a canonically autistic character and an autistic coded character are written within the same show.
·  I am sometimes a panelist at fan run Sherlockian conventions. In 2015, I was a panelist for "Neurodiversity in Sherlock," and "Elementary, My Dear Watson," at 221B Con. Later this month, I'll be one of the panelists for "Neurodiversity in Sherlock and Watson," and 3 other panels, for Sherlock Seattle/Watson Washington 2016.
·  In 2015, I was a consultant for S(her)lock: The Web Series []. Their Sherlock Holmes is autistic coded (because Maine in 1995), so I looked over the scripts to oversee consistent mannerisms, sensory issues within the character, etc.

The thing that interests me so much about Sherlock Holmes is the fact that they're so relatable to me in many ways. Even back in the original canon, the mannerisms and interests, to me, scream that they've never been neurotypical. 

Of course there's arguments over whether the original was autistic (of which I say - even if you disagree with Holmes being one of us, autistic people have always existed, even if the modern terminology hasn't), but the safest route in my opinion is to find other disabled Holmesians to squee and debate with. I'm not joking.

6. You self-published Holmes Is a Person As Is. Why self-publish?

Mainly because I could choose my own publishing schedule.

Also because I could choose my own price as well. For this chapbook, it's completely free on PDF format.

Other than the commissions I got to write some of the pieces in the chapbook, it wouldn't be right for me to charge for solely Sherlock Holmes poetry. There's a limited amount of accessible Holmesian poetry out there, so by making it free, I could make it accessible to more people.

7. Have you had to deal with ableism in the publishing industry?  If there were any specific incidents, how did they turn out?

Thankfully nothing too terrible in comparison to others' experiences.

One publisher, two years ago, only wanted to publish a quarter of my "This Is A Clothespin" poem. At the time, it was 4 pages long (now it's only 2 and 1/2 pages long). Cutting some of the poem for editing/space in the publication is understandable.

However, cutting out the majority of the piece, where it talks about how neurotypical society disenfranchises autistic people, was very suspicious to me.

So I rejected the publication.

My literary baby was going to have a home in its entirety, or not at all.

Most of the ableism in the publishing industry comes from the not-so-subtle language, both from publications and from other poets.

Starting with "blind submission" - I won't speak more on that because I'm not blind, but that's one example.

8. Are you working on a new poetry collection or project?  If so, how is it going?

A poetry chapbook that I completed before "Holmes Is A Person As Is," entitled, "A Prayer For A Non-Religious Autistic," is still in search of its literary home.

One would think that I should take a break from writing, given that Clothespin was published in Jan 2016 (Damaged Goods Press), Prayer was completed in May 2016, and that Holmes was started in July 2016 and published this month.

But one never knows. Earlier this year, I started on a project where I'd write an acrostic poem based on each of the original Sherlock Holmes stories by Conan Doyle (the ones in the public domain, anyway). I might start that up again after some rest.

9. Who are your literary influences/favorite writers? (They need not be disabled/neurodivergent.)

I'm glad that this says writers and not poets, because I tend to lose people when I say I read more fanfiction than anything else.

With my executive functioning and attention span always rollercoastering, it's a lot easier for me to just start off with a fanfic already knowing the characters and their universe.

When I was younger, I was really into Anne Rice's Vampires, Dracula, Phantom of the Opera, Frankenstein, Stephen King novels, etc. I'm drawn to characters who are shunned by society, whether because they're queer-coded, disabled, etc.

I'm a big fan of John Finnemore's. He wrote Cabin Pressure, which is a radio comedy about airline pilots. There's transcripts available online, which really really helped me out back when I got into the show.

10. What advice do you have for aspiring poets?

Figure out which writing style and schedule works for you. 

Don't be afraid to go raw (or be afraid as you do so; some of it is frightening!). 

Acknowledge where you've gone wrong as a writer (racism, sexism, ableism, etc.) and don't do it again. 

Don't compare yourself to any other writer.


Lucas Scheelk is a white, autistic, trans, queer-identified poet from the Twin Cities. Lucas uses they/them/their pronouns. They are the author of This Is A Clothespin (Damaged Goods Press, 2016), and Holmes Is A Person As Is (2016). Their writing has appeared in publications such as Sibling Rivalry Press – Assaracus, Barking Sycamores, Glitterwolf Magazine, THEM, and QDA: A Queer Disability Anthology, among others. Lucas Scheelk was a recipient of the VSA Minnesota Emerging Artist grant for 2016. You can reach them on Twitter [@TC221Bee], and Facebook [@lucasscheelk].

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Sagamihara: Lighting Candles

A photo of a lit candle.  Credit to Shawn Carpenter on Flickr.
We remember you today, each life a lit candle in the darkness.  Each flame a hope, a soul.  A small trace of love in cupped hands.

Our prayers and wishes for you rise up like the smallest whisper of smoke.  The wax running over like our tears.  You brought light to the world, regardless of if anyone ever told you.  You are missed, no matter how many people don't say the words.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Guest Post: Negative Stereotypes of Autism

Well folks, today's post is something different.  I am the husband of the lovely lady who usually posts blogs on here.  As you may have heard, I do have a form of autism, which seems to still have quite a negative stigma to this day.  Just recently, a movie came out with a main character on the autism specturm.

Since this character has nothing seriously negative and is, in fact, very calculating like a supercomputer, the reviewer seems just a tad disappointed.  Here are some excerpts from Kansas City Star's review of the movie "The Accountant", which I have screen captured in case it ever gets taken down, and also copied and pasted so our blind readers can hear the excerpts as well.

A killer with autism.

How has it taken Hollywood this long to glom onto such an awesome concept?

Consider: An efficient, ruthless assassin whose singular type of Asperger-ish condition means he won’t empathize with his targets no matter how much they beg. A stoic largely immune to crippling emotions like guilt. A wrecking machine who can pass for civil but at heart cannot create lasting attachments. An obsessive who, once he has started a job, is driven to finish it.

I’d pay to see that movie.

Unfortunately, that movie isn’t “The Accountant.”

Well, isn't this interesting.  According to this lovely review, anyone on the spectrum can't be capable of empathizing with anyone or anything.  I wonder how this person came to this conclusion?  Did he happen to catch an episode of a crime show that had an autistic antagonist who acted exactly as he described?  I mean if one person does it, all people who are in that group must be the same!

This way of thinking about anything be it race, religion, disability, etc., is always wrong.  It would be like me saying the person who reviewed this must hate almost everything, because some reviewers only complain about everything they see.  This still would not be the right thing to say.  I have no idea why people even think this way today, but I'm getting off track.  Back to the autism spectrum issues at hand here.

They go on to say anyone on the spectrum would not be able to get attached very long to anyone.  Well, sorry to disappoint you there.  I've been married to the same woman for almost 10 years now, and I definitely want to be with her as long as humanly possible.  Why?  Because I love everything about her, from the way she smiles to the cheesy running jokes we have together.  Gosh, I'm sorry there, reviewer.  I just can't help myself.

I know, I know, I should be in a cold, dark room, alone at all times, jealous of anyone who is happy, right?  Wrong.  Everyone deserves to be happy as long as they don't hurt anyone.  Calling us cold and machine-like is dehumanizing, which in all instances is just wrong.

Now I'm certainly not perfect.  I have my own stuff that I struggle with on almost a daily basis.  I get through it though, thanks to the support of my wife and not letting myself succumb to anything that tries to dampen my day.  There are of course, variations on how much people might struggle.  Just like any disability/neurodivergence really.

So how do I feel about these assumptions he has made?  Well when I first read it, I cringed pretty bad.  Honestly I don't know how something so insensitive could have even been published to begin with.  In the end, what I'm trying to say is no matter what you're discussing, you shouldn't assume one equals all.  Are there some people like what he has described?  Sadly, yes.  But they are certainly not the majority.

And do you want to know a little secret?  There are people like that who don't have autism, they could just be a horrible person at heart.  In conclusion,  I leave you with this ironic line that was in the middle of said review:
READ MORE: How filmmakers tried to be sensitive to autistic people

Well, at least someone tried to be.  Maybe you could learn something?
Jennifer's Note:  I have tweeted and commented on the review, so have others.  As of this post, nothing has been changed and no one has been addressed.  While I can contribute the comments made to ignorance, being unwilling to listen and educate yourself is when ignorance becomes ableism and bigotry.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Poem-a-Day and NaNoWriMo

November.  Poets test themselves by writing a poem each day.  Novelists attempt to write 50,000 words of a book.  Pumpkin-spice everything still saturates the atmosphere like cinnamon smog.  And I get an unhealthy dose of inadequacy coated in guilt.

"All the real writers are doing interesting projects this month", my mind hisses as I skim past blog posts and articles about maximizing efficiency during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).
I try to ignore tweets about who is doing what challenge.  I push down hollowness when people say they find the most support during November's marathons of words; I struggle a lot with finding anything resembling a writer's group, so it's difficult to swallow... just a bit.

But, when I express how I feel to some of my able-bodied writing acquaintances, they don't understand.  I can join in whenever I want, in their point of view.  Some imply I'm lazy without saying it outright... which does nothing beneficial.
I've completed the Poem-a-Day challenge a few times.  It's a cool feeling, all the progress I can make in thirty days.  The ghost of pride sinks into my soul for a small rest.
 It's also nerve-racking.  Exhausting (at points).  Something that interrupts my Thanksgiving visit to my family's place.  There are even flickers of self-hatred, when midnight nears and words are far.  Damn it all, though!  I'm a REAL WRITER when I do the challenge...

Oh... there's the word "real" again.  Real still.  Is this the fire I must roll through, to be real?  Who came up with this concept?  I'm leveling it against myself, but... is it "mine"?  Have I swallowed ableist junk just to regurgitate it?  Do I compare myself too readily to those without my... intricacies?
Maybe, this November, the challenge shouldn't be a specific word count or a mountain of new poems.  Maybe it should be a month of self-kindness.

I'm a writer no matter how many words get written by 11:59 PM on November 30th.  I was a poet before it, and I'll be one after.  Now, if I can just remember that in November...

Do you have complicated feelings about November writing challenges?  How do you reassure yourself when you're feeling like a phony or lazy?