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?

Friday, October 7, 2016

Trolls, Hecklers, Hard Parts *WARNING: Swearing*

Before beginning:  There will be swearing today.
We are not addressing valid criticism or feedback in this post.  

Creating is amazing.  It's messy, exhilarating, glorious, a pain in the ass.  You make shit. You love it.

You create for yourself, sure.  But you also create things to share with others.  To help them.  Teach them.  Make them get... feelings.  Yeah, you love praise and the thought that you may one day be famous or rich, but it's really about one thing for those who are true artists:  Connection.

Oh, but the world doesn't just provide you, talented as you are, with an audience at your doorstep.  Nope.  Sorry.  They're scattered worse than the seven Dragon Balls or the Chaos Emeralds.  They're all over the place, and you have to go looking.  You poor bastard.

So, you take to social media.  You start a blog. You become ensconced in the electronic temple and begin to forge a chain link by link, and yard by yard in the hopes that your audience finds you. They will, with agonizing slowness, locate you, but... other people will find you, too.

There have always been assholes, those little balls of fun who would rather destroy than uplift.  The Internet is a fertile breeding ground for them.  Anytime you put your art out there, especially if you're a "different" artist doing a "different" thing, you will come across these delights of humanity.
They'll make you feel like absolute shit.  Even if you have a couple hundred fans.  Especially if you have only a few.  You'll question everything.  You'll want to give up because they don't.  Your joy becomes a nightmare.

You can ignore the trolls, engage them, throw your d20 and hope for a critical, but it will still damage the way you view your talent, art, and people.  It will sting no matter what some days, no matter how thick your skin.

But one of the best things you can do in defense is surround yourself with your audience.  Your fans, supportive family members, friends, and like-minded individuals will ease the blows.  They will provide you with a counterbalance to all the negative filth defiling your words, camera, brush, song.  They will lend you enthusiasm when others long to steal it.

Research the artists you admire.  Every famous person has had people putting them down.  It means nothing.  Well, maybe it does.  Maybe it means you're destined for something greater, too.  It definitely means dickwagons have existed for eons and generally have poor taste.

Keep going.  The best weapons are forged in high temperatures.  Kill them in your story.  Seek out songs of revenge to sing.  Paint worlds where evil people meet their untimely, brilliant demise.  But don't stop loving what you do.  Don't give them the satisfaction.

You have more potential than you know.
Two Twitter events soon my disabled, neurodivergent artists:

1.  On October 12th, at 7:00 p.m. Eastern, the next #CripLit Chat will take place.  It's about disabled writers, intersectionality, and diverse literature.  The conversation is always interesting.

2.  On October 14th, #ArtfulSpoons is having a virtual gallery night for artists of all mediums who are disabled, chronically ill, neurodivergent, etc.  You can see gorgeous creations of all kinds and meet some cool people.