Tuesday, June 28, 2016

When Caretakers Write

Caretakers often write about those they care for.  It makes sense; the person needing assistance is a big part of the caretaker's life.  And caring for someone who needs help can be difficult, funny, bittersweet.  Many excellent essays have come from those who are caretakers in their everyday lives.

There are ethical problems with writing a story about someone else but, often, disabled/neurodivergent people's feelings aren't taken into account.  Our embarrassments, problems, and difficulties are exposed by those who care for us without so much as an acknowledgement of how it could affect us.  We become the subject, and not people.

Caretakers need an outlet for dealing with frustration and it can benefit them to write about their hardships.  It can also help other caretakers to read about others' struggles.  But an essay shouldn't be a gripe-filled diatribe against the person needing assistance, nor should it be humiliation of that person brought to light.
If a caretaker needs to let off steam, he/she should join a support group or keep a diary, not seek out a magazine.

Why aren't more caretakers seeking permission from (or at least talking to) the person they're going to write about?  If they would extend that courtesy to a neurotypical/able-bodied person, they can extend it to us!  If the people who help us the most can't see us as worthy of common decency, we're in trouble.
Here's another idea:  Why don't more caretakers write stories with their disabled/neurodivergent person?  It would make a more balanced, illuminating piece.

We need more stories about us, yes, but not if they come at the expense of dignity and are targeted at people who "other" us.  And if the people who care for us really care, they will write with honesty but, also, with an underlying respect.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Disability in Erotica (Sexual Post, NOT Explicit)

Most disabled/neurodivergent people have or want a romantic (and/or sexual) relationship with someone else.  Society, with few exceptions, can't comprehend this.  A fair amount of the ones who can, fall under the devotee category.

Regardless of your feelings on disability devotees, a fair amount of crippled sex stories probably originated because of them; I can't say for certain but, because people often listen to (and cater to) the able-bodied/neurotypical before us.... it's a fair bet in my eyes.
And many erotica stories that feature disability are still written by able-bodied writers.  Not a surprise, I know.

It is important for every type of person to see characters like themselves in all types of stories and adventures, even sexually explicit ones.  I contend, it is especially vital for representations of disabled/neurodivergent adults to show up in sex/body positive erotica.  Many of us internalize the crap society feeds us and can feel not worthy or capable of a relationship or sex.  It is even worse for someone who was fed the lies and misinformation as an able-bodied/neurotypical person and became different later in life.
Most of the sex stories featuring disabled/neurodivergent people are for the gratification of the able-bodied.  Some have a fetish for wheelchairs, crutches, caretaking.  Others find titillation in something they consider strange or odd.  There are even people who like the fact that "gimps can't fight back" and are therefore "easier to control" and that's what they want to read about.  It can be scary out there, folks.

But there are gemstone stories out there.  Stories where disabled people are partners, seducers, masters of the bedroom.  Where we are as desirable and confident as any vixen or Don Juan, where pleasure is given and received with carnal delight and embarrassing situations, if they occur, are handled with humor and grace.  I just wish said stories weren't so damn difficult to find.
I'm not saying every single disabled/neurodivergent adult should read erotica.  A lot of people find it dull, ridiculous, or just plain icky.  I also realize there are asexual people within our group who are perfectly content never having a physical relationship.  But the stories should be out there for those who do want them.  They should be available for those who change their minds about reading them, or for those who are tired of being told to go paint a picture when they want to be out in the world, hitting on people.

The stories should be written by more of us.  So much caters to what the able-bodied want to see.
Every erotic story I have read about people like us has not mentioned the "unpleasant" (to the majority) stuff.  There have been no stories where lifts are used as position enhancers.  No stories about peeing on a partner during a moment where it was not intended.  And almost no stories where both partners were disabled/neurodivergent.

So, if you ever find yourself wanting to write "the sexy stuff", go for it.  You never know who you could encourage, embolden, by not closing the door on the bedroom.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Writing Rejected Because of Disability/Neurodivergence

A lot of minority writers (LBGT+, PoC, disabled, etc.) experience discrimination in the Literary Community.  We don't have our panels accepted for conferences, are turned down for residencies, aren't found on many literary magazine mastheads, and are even absent from the pages of said magazines.

"But, how do you know you were discriminated against if they can't see what you look like?" people often ask, referring mainly to submitting.

That's the hard part.  We are discriminated against, but discrimination is extremely difficult (if not impossible) to prove.  When someone is reading your work, they can't see you.  So, according to a healthy slice of the majority, it isn't possible (especially without identifying information on a manuscript like some places require) for them to know.

So, the naysayers conclude, we have minority paranoia.  How can we even suspect that is, indeed, what's happening and we're not just, say, cruddy writers?
Well, let's go search for clues.

Subject matter:  Is the poem about a person's Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis?  Is a creative nonfiction (reality) about the Autistic writer's struggle for acceptance?

The VIDA count:  You mean WXYZ Publication hasn't ever, at least in the last year, accepted a piece by a certain minority group?

Veiled language in rejections:  "This essay would be better suited to a specialty publication for people like yourself."

Asking outright about minority status:  "Loved this piece!  Are you disabled?"  Writer answers affirmatively and gets a response like, "Even though I enjoyed this piece, I can't quite fit it in.".  (This has happened to me.)

Read the author's biography:  Many publishers don't want information stripped from a writer's work.  They want to know from the beginning who you are.  More and more ask for a photograph up front, as well.  So the editors do know who you are, at that point.

The editor holds specific views:  Some editors are just blatantly sexist, transphobic, racist, etc.  And they don't care who knows.  Or it's the most poorly kept secret in literary circles.  How likely is a bigot to accept someone in a group they despise?

The magazine wants your experiences not by you:  Essays on race written by white people without a single contributor of color to be found.  A poem about being a caretaker to a disabled daughter without any disabled people speaking their truths, in any recent issue.

"But, just because someone doesn't accept your poem about your wheelchair, doesn't mean they're ableist."  "And, just because an editor asked for your disability status, doesn't mean they rejected you because of it."  "Maybe your disability poem wasn't as well-written as the woman who wrote about being a caretaker,"  "And... and... and..."

I stated beforehand:  Unless an editor said outright that they didn't accept someone because of their minority status, it's difficult to tell.
But, when the numbers show disabled people just aren't published in a specific place (even if they publish disability-themed writing) and/or everything else listed... it becomes a distinct possibility.

Have you thought your work was rejected because of your disability/neurodivergence? What made you think it was?

Friday, June 17, 2016

Do You Disclose?

The majority of publishers in the world today ask for a potential contributor's biography to accompany their submission.  A lot of writers, especially those starting out, have to decide which details about themselves to include.  For disabled and/or neurodivergent writers, the question of whether or not to disclose their differences is a weighted one.

Some disabled and/or neurodivergent writers proudly list their status on everything (submissions/their blog/social media), not caring what anyone could potentially say.  Others, list it on their personal blog or social accounts without mentioning it on submitted work.  And the rest keep their status as hidden as possible.

If an editor knows you are disabled/neurodivergent, they may see your work differently.  And, most of the time, they will not take the most positive view.

As a disabled person, I like to see other people with my differences in media.  I know I'm not the only one who feels this way.  But, the potential prejudice from editors and the public make the desire to have minority anonymity paramount for certain individuals.

So, what do you do?  Is it more important to you to represent yourself as accurately as possible, or to have a safer online environment for yourself?    

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Chronic Pain Impacts Writing (Tips)

Writing is not as physically demanding as many other occupations.  When you have chronic pain (and/or fatigue) however, it can feel like writing wrings the mind and body totally, leaving you drained and hurting.  And, if writing is uncomfortable at best, marketing in person is often out of the question.

Writers are pressured to produce, submit, market, and repeat.  If you aren't constantly writing, fans supposedly get bored and drift away from your work.  If you don't submit/query (for months or years), your work doesn't find an audience (unless you go indie, but that can take even more energy and agony).  And you're taught to market your writing (and yourself) from the moment you decide to write.
So, how do you handle it?

Everyone has their own way of coping, but here are some ideas:

1.  Be okay with your own schedule - You're not going to write daily.  Sometimes, your blog will be neglected.  It doesn't mean you're not committed, it means you honor your limitations.  Being angry with yourself won't help (and may even hinder) you.

2.  Try to find a comfortable spot and compatible technology or devices - A lot of people with chronic pain write lying down.  There are tablets, tables that slide over the bed, voice recorders, and other things that may help you.  *I'm composing this post on the Wii U gaming system, for instance.*

3.  Maybe recruit a friend or family member - Some of us may be lucky enough to have someone close to us who will transcribe what we say or help us submit to literary magazines.  There are also submission services but most are outrageously expensive.

4.  Market online - You can reach many people using Facebook and Twitter alone.  You can even schedule posts ahead of time with programs like TweetDeck so you can allocate your spoons easier.

5.  And spread out in-person events - Figure out which events would have the biggest chance of boosting your career and/or sales.  Try to schedule them far enough apart so you have a chance to recharge.  Keep local, if at all possible.

6.  Seek out (or advocate) for online or elastic workshops or groups - Some writing groups dictate a page amount per week.  Some people with chronic pain/fatigue may not be able to produce the required amount.  Same with workshops.

7.  Reading is necessary - Don't feel guilty if you read more than you write.  Reading will only assist you in your craft.  In a way, you're working right now!

8. When brain fog sets in... eat chocolate, drink juice, listen to music, binge on Netflix. Because brain fog sucks.

Okay fellow spoonies, your turn:  Share your tips in the comments.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Other Minorities in Your Cause

Recently, in an online group, one of the better-known disabled poets said something prejudice.  She wanted to know:  How do you invite people into your group who don't include people like you?  Valid enough question, until she specifically calls out organisations for people of color and LBGTQIAPN individuals.
So many able-bodied organisations don't include disabled and/or neurodivergent people.  But, yet, she pointed out those for other minorities.

Possibly, she feels all minorities need to look out for each other (like we do at H.U.P.) and is disappointed that it doesn't often happen but, in her post, she makes it sound like she is ready to cut other minorities out of her group because there is no representation of disability in their groups.  And that's wrong.

It doesn't matter what other organisations do.  It doesn't matter what certain individuals in various other groups believe.  If you truly believe in equality, you make sure to include as many diverse people in your organisation as possible.  You seek out those who would bring something valuable, not caring if other people would do the same.

Often, minorities are so busy lobbying and promoting their own causes or their own equality to the masses, they sometimes don't think about joining forces or promoting the causes of others.  Some people think, to raise up other minorities, means dampening (or even silencing) the needs of people like themselves.  Because of this, it can feel like we're at odds with each other, instead of each other's allies.

For people who embody multiple marginalizations, the mindset of keeping to your own "set" of people means they fall through the cracks.  What of the Asian cripple, or the gay person with autism?  They exist in a space often outside of any group because they are part of multiple groups.  If everyone helped everyone else, there would be no one left wondering "what about me, which group am I in?".

Playing the game of "I'll only help you if you help me first" or "you didn't let me in your club, so you're banned from mine" is childish at least, and selfish/prejudice at worst.

Clamoring for rights, everyone's rights, no matter what group you belong to, benefits us all.  More voices, more unity.  All for one, and one for all.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Should We Make a Resource List?

There are a small handful of literary magazines with a disability and/or neurodivergent focus.  There is a stray writing contest or two.  There might be a few grants aimed at disabled artists.
As far as retreats and/or conferences, I have no idea.

Would you find a list of disability/neurodivergence-friendly writing resources helpful? As far as retreats and conferences go, I'm going to be chasing people down online to ask.

If you would find it helpful, could you please let me know what accessibility needs to look like for you?  I'm only one person and can only ask questions about the needs I'm personally familiar with.

Also, please share resources you know to be accessible to our community with me so we can have an expansive list!
And ask your friends, too.

The Internet, as far as I know, doesn't have a comprehensive list like this.  Maybe someone would benefit...

Thursday, June 2, 2016

No One Can Tell You How to Be a Writer

Hi, there.

I’m Katherine Lampe. In the unlikely event that you’ve heard of me, you probably know me as the author of the Caitlin Ross Urban Fantasy series. Or as a loudmouth with no censor, who doesn’t balk at sharing her bathroom habits on social media. But you might not know I have Bipolar Disorder (Type II).

Oh, who am I kidding? I don’t balk at sharing the details of my mental health, either.

Bipolar II isn’t the “fun” kind of Bipolar, where you do things like blow your savings on fantastic money-making inventions or tell random strangers you’re a movie star incognito. That is, it isn’t characterized by extreme mania. When those of us with Bipolar II experience mania, it’s generally of a milder sort. The kind that lets you clean your entire house in a couple hours, which is useful, but not particularly exciting. The main feature of Bipolar II is debilitating depression, sometimes lasting years. The depression has its own rhythm. There are days or weeks when you can’t get out of bed. Then there are periods when you’re kind of functional. You can accomplish stuff that needs done, but all of it is drained of emotional content. Nothing’s particularly worrisome, but nothing is particularly enjoyable, either. Sometimes duty and expectation are the only things keeping you going, because you don’t want much. Nothing appeals and nothing matters. And when you accomplish something, you don’t feel any internal sense of reward.

About ten years ago, give or take, a bunch of stressors fell on my head all at once. I’ve been in a Bipolar depression ever since. And before you ask, yes, I’m in treatment. Without it, I wouldn’t be alive to write this. Medication alleviates some of the distress. It doesn’t make me normal, whatever that means. I have about as many good days as bad days now. Of course, on the bad days the good days seem nonexistent. And even on the good days, good feelings are distant. More an intellectual recognition of “Oh, I don’t want to die today,” than true wellbeing.

At the same time as I’ve been experiencing this extended depressive period, I’ve written seven novels, six of which I’ve published (the seventh is due out in August). I’ve also written and published a book of fairy tales and another of short stories, and I’m piddling around with a trio of related novellas. All without any motivation or feeling of gratification from the process.

Okay, there were those twelve weeks when I was manic and I completed two novels. That was pretty cool.

Until now, I’ve never really thought much about how I wrote seven novels in the state I’m in. The first one, I’d been plodding along at for some time. When the depression got bad, I abandoned it for years on end. Then a new medication started working, and one day I went back to it. Rewrote most of it. That’s when the manic period hit, and I wrote the next two books in the series. The mania left, and I didn’t write for another couple years. After that, I found reasons. Sometimes reasons within the series itself: an event that needed to happen, an issue that needed to be addressed. Sometimes it seemed like writing was the only thing I could do, the only thing I’m good at. When all else fails, I can still put words together, whether or not they matter to me. Maybe sometimes I was just telling myself stories as a kind of distraction from the dreariness of life. This last novel has been an absolute nightmare, by the way. It took me two years, and in the process I tried and abandoned half a dozen different plots and tossed tens of thousands of words.

The thing is, it doesn’t matter how I did it. I found a way that worked for me. If my way doesn’t look like anyone else’s, who cares?

Well, sometimes I care. I care when I see people post writing tips or blog about How to Do It. I have a bad habit of comparing my process to other people’s process, and when mine isn’t the same, I wonder if I’ve Done It Wrong. When a writer I follow on Instagram or Twitter mentions in May they’ve completed three manuscripts since January, I wonder what’s wrong with me. What essential quality am I lacking?

I know the answer. What’s “wrong” with me is, I have a mental illness. What I’m lacking is the normative distribution of chemicals in my brain.

Most of the lists of writing tips you see, most of the posts about “how to be a writer,” are written from a neurotypical perspective. An ableist perspective. (They’re often classist and sexist as well, and probably racist, but I’m white so I can’t speak to that.) When you’re struggling with a chronic illness, be it mental or physical, advice like “write every day” isn’t just worthless, it’s actively damaging. Well-meaning saws like “it’s not always going to be fun” or “don’t wait around for inspiration or the right moment” are meaningless when you never experience “fun” or “inspiration” and every moment is wrong. Saying “push through and get it done,” without considering whether your audience has the physical and mental stamina to push anything is insensitive at best. It really drags down those of us who write but are unable to follow the directive. It contributes to an already frustrating experience, and sometimes provokes us to overextend the few resources at our disposal. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard a friend struggling with the balance of illness and writing say “I just have to knuckle down and do it,” knowing they can’t do any such thing, knowing they’re going to judge themselves later when they don’t “measure up.”

A lot of that advice comes from a capitalist standard where output at any cost is considered more inherently valuable than a person’s wellbeing, and where failure to make quota is taken as a sign of laziness or not trying hard enough. It relegates words to the category of product rather than art or expression, and it’s bullshit. If you perpetuate that standard (or suspect you do), I ask you, please, to check yourself and knock it the hell off. If you suffer from that standard, I’m here to tell you it’s okay to ignore it. The most anyone giving advice can do is tell you what works for them. Being a bestselling novelist does not make anyone an authority on you and your process. No one else can define “what works” for you. No one else can tell you how to do you, and you don’t have to feel guilty or beat yourself up for not listening.

Maybe you write every day for three months and then not at all for two years. Maybe you think for a week before every word. Maybe you don’t think about writing at all for weeks on end. It’s all fine. It’s fine if you finish things, and it’s fine if you don’t. It’s fine if you’re published and if you’re not, and it’s fine if you don’t care one way or the other. It’s fine if you want to write but health limitations mean you can’t right now, and it’s fine if you need to spend quality time with your cat. It’s fine if the stories go away. And you know what? If they never come back, that’s fine too. It’s a loss and a grief, maybe. Maybe it’s a relief. Whatever your feeling about it, it doesn’t make you, the essential you, worthless or invalid.

You have the moment in front of you. Nothing else. Do it your own way and screw the haters.