The Crew of Esher Hill: Absence of Language

Summary: Three months ago, Kit March abandoned his fiancé without even a note of explanation for a deserving man. Leaving Lauri should have brought him a wondrous freedom from the pressures of romantic expectation, so how does a talented magician end up performing flash magic for buttons and hairpins in Raugue’s worst tavern? Kit doesn’t know, and doesn’t care to think about it as long as he can keep drowning guilt in beer and spellworking, but when a stranger offers the word “aromantic” followed by a dangerous quest to the Gast, Kit may have more distraction than he can survive.

Word length: 7, 209 words.

Content advisory: Please expect depictions of or references to amatonormativity, allosexism, cissexism, heterosexism, depression, autistic-targeted ableism, alcohol and alcohol used as a coping mechanism for depression. This story takes place in Astreut where heterosexism and cissexism are endemic, but there’s also references to the way people see aromantics in particular as heartless or hateful. There’s also several non-explicit sex references, Kit’s use of sex as another coping mechanism, some casual references to and depictions of violence, and a heaping mountain of guilt.

Chronology: This chapter takes place three months after Ringbound, one month after Love is the Reckoning and a little under a year before Old Fashioned. The chronological order for these interconnected stories featuring both Esher and (young) Kit is The Sorcerous Compendium of Postmortem Query (Esher), Ringbound (Kit), Love is the Reckoning (Esher), The Crew of Esher Hill (Esher and Kit) and Old Fashioned (Kit, taking place after Kit’s return from the Gast). Please note that, as ever, Kit rarely meets a truth that he feels obliged to preserve for later taletelling.

Note the first: Welcome to the first chapter of The Crew of Esher Hill, a serial story about six trans, a-spec, neurodiverse folks on a quest into a weird part of the Marchverse, there to face monsters, find an artefact and learn to trust each other. Because Kit is the narrator and knows nothing about Esher, this chapter is readable if you haven’t read Love is the Reckoning. I’ll mention, however, that there is an unfinished story between this chapter and Love is the Reckoning, detailing the deal Esher makes with the Grey Mages. This chapter does not reveal all that goes down in the creation of this deal, but if you don’t want to read things out of order, I’d recommend waiting on reading this. If you’re desperate to know what happens in terms of Esher’s saving Mara, on the other hand, this will assuage some curiosity. Some.

(I am not sure on a posting schedule. Please don’t get excited about the spectre of new, regular content!)

Note the second: Some folks may remember that I posted Old Fashioned last year for @aggressivelyarospec’s #AggressivelyAroSpectacular. I liked the symmetry of this year posting the interaction that provoked the explanation Kit gave Amelia on the subject of aromanticism, so here it is. Old Fashioned kicked off for me the posting of twelve short works with aro-spec protagonists, so I want to say a huge thank you for starting me off on a year of aromantic fiction!

Awkward words spoken by a stranger shatter a lie so ordinary that Kit never stopped to question its falsehood.

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Fiction: Love is the Reckoning

Summary: Two and a half years ago, Mara Hill took her depressed, dysphoric brother to Sirenne in the hope of saving his life. Now, Esher returns to Dead Horse Hill with two dogs, a blade, a new career and a new body—the shape of masculinity he always felt he should be. A miracle the priests who cared for him deny. A miracle the Grey Mages claim cannot exist without something precious sacrificed in exchange. A miracle Mara refuses to explain, even though Esher knows she is the only person willing to make such a trade.

Esher wants to know what she did and how she did it, but finding the truth isn’t just a matter of enduring stares, whispers and the condescending pity from those he left behind. Not when this isn’t the only secret Mara keeps from him…

Theme: A non-amorous, grey-asexual, aromantic trans man dealing with family, love, suicidal ideation, dysphoria and amatonormativity. Consider this story as about complications of these things against a backdrop of coming home, consent and an acceptance of mental illness as something that doesn’t always have a bow-wrapped cure.

Word length: 11, 561 words.

Content advisory: Please expect depictions of or references to terminal illness, depression, body horror, suicidal ideation, dysphoria, cissexism, heterosexism, allosexism and amatonormativity. Trans readers should note that Esher has undergone what seems a near-perfect medical (magical) transition, which may be difficult to read on a high-dysphoria day. I also have two characters who have engaged or will engage in actions I can only term as a voiding of Esher’s right to informed consent with regards his magical transitioning and soul ownership. Esher doesn’t have time or space to even begin to figure out how he feels, but most of his later stories are about, in part, exploring this and the consequences of a culture of denial and avoidance wielded by those who love us.

Note the first: This story takes place three years after The Sorcerous Compendium of Postmortem Query. There are a few references to Mara and Aunt Rosie that will make better sense if this is read first, but the passing of time between the stories is such that I think Love is the Reckoning is readable on its own. (Much of the history on which this story is concerned takes place after Mara’s night in the graveyard.) If you don’t read it, know that Mara spoke to her dead great-aunt one night for reassurance on her own lithromanticism.

Note the second: I am working on the digital editions for this and the aforementioned piece, for folks who dislike reading in a browser and would rather wait for a PDF or EPUB version. I’m posting this now, though, for the #AggressivelyAroSpectacular event run by @aggressivelyarospec.

Yes, and that’s what scares him: his erasure writ in the words of love.

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Fiction: Maybe When the Bones Crumble

Summary: His hand broken, his father dead, his brother rebelling and his mother dancing the bones, Einas ein Iteme has nobody at the Eyrie but the chancellor and one cursed question he can’t escape.

Content advisory: This story depicts several shades of ableism targeted at autistics and chronic pain patients, along with a good amount of casual cissexism and more direct heterosexism. I’m intentionally writing about the ableism that isn’t seen by the abled as ableism, but for this reason it may be more distressing for disabled readers. It also takes place in the context of civil war and familial abuse, with references to both. Please note that there’s references of medical mismanagement and poor handling of meltdowns; there’s also depictions of and references to self-harm, one of which may be interpreted as suicidal ideation. It’s also worth mentioning that this story does not have a happy ending, at least for the moment. This begins to change in Birds of a Feather.

Word count: 4, 945 words.

Note the first: Maybe When the Bones Crumble takes place before, during and immediately after Their Courts of Crows, detailing Ein’s time in the Eyrie while Paide and Zaishne war it out across Ihrne and Arsh. Please note that this isn’t written to be accessible to newcomers: I don’t spend words on detailed explanations on how Ein came to be injured or the fact of Ein’s autism.

Note the second: I have a relative who breaks me every time she asks me this same question. (What part of chronic pain do abled people not understand? All of it, including the fact that it doesn’t just magically go away.) Her latest rendition took place on the eighth anniversary of the injuries that caused my chronic wrist pain, an unexpected double-blow, so I wanted to put this hurt and frustration to story—the growing knowledge that just as my pain won’t change, neither will the attitudes of the people who hurt me. So this is a short, personal piece that I’m posting, fairly unedited, to get that weight of feeling outside my skin. I’ll also mention that this story is a deliberate examination of the way autism, anxiety and chronic pain come together, things inseparable in Ein and in me.

It seems to him then that pain is its own irrevocable truth.

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Linkspam Friday: September 28

This is one of those weeks that hasn’t been all that remarkable, beyond the worst migraine of my life, to the point that I was considering discussing the terror that strikes the autistic-inertia of my heart every time I open up my dashboard and see WordPress cheerfully promoting the Gutenburg editor. (I still use the .org layout because it’s quicker to load than the current “improved” editor, which never seemed in any way improved to me.) In some ways I feel change doesn’t bother me too much, at least in the sense of someone asking me to go somewhere without little preparation or offering up an unexpected activity; I can handle the disruption of someone coming in and upending my plan for the day. When people ask me about change, that’s the sort of thing that comes to mind. Of course I can handle it … can’t I?

Thinking on any change to WordPress has my toes clenching. (Tumblr is a disaster of constant changes I don’t like; the new coloured text ability is just awful, partly from the glare of the green against a backlit screen and mostly because I’m not accustomed to seeing coloured text. Thank all gods for XKit.) Changes to foods I like are a nightmare of why did they do that made worse by the narrow selection of foods I do like and the horror of trying new ones. Then when I consider the nightmare in going somewhere new and how many panic attacks I had last week over a new therapist, I realise that yes, I do not handle change. Not to mention that all the worst mental health spirals I have suffered took place against the context of change for which I wasn’t prepared for or supported in…

In many ways, I don’t understand it myself. I like learning new things and I like experimenting with design: part of the reason I find Adobe CS enjoyable is the wealth of discovery! I love trying out new crafts I saw online. It seems as though these things should be similar, change and learning, but they’re not, and I don’t know why I like trying new things in a complex program while I fall apart at the thought of having to try a new brand of microwave rice.

All this has made me realise that my goal in Kit March is to get both Darius and Tes comfortable in a new place and circumstance: to showcase the growth of a sense of stability after a change neither can quite handle, and then (perhaps not metaphorically) burn the house down. I have no plan to end the story there, mind, but I do plan to disrupt what looks like a happy mid-point.

Lastly, my severe anxiety has left me struggling with a few ordinary things like checking my PayPal account. This is an extremely belated expression of gratitude for this reason, but I do want to thank the people who have been so kind as to buy me a ko-fi. Thank you, so very much, for your support: it means the absolute world to me!

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Linkspam Friday: September 21

I wish psychologists and therapists didn’t give me the “we will work together to find options but you will have to work to have to implement them” speech. It wasn’t so bad before I had horrific therapeutic experiences, but now, when I struggle to trust medical professionals generally and have little reason to do so, I feel unseen right from the beginning.

That speech has always been the basis of why therapists pushed me towards traumatising-to-me things, like mindfulness meditation. (I will admit that most people won’t have my trauma around mindfulness, but explaining this often didn’t stop psychologists from making me try it for the umpteenth time.) When something wasn’t working for me, I wasn’t working hard enough to implement it. If I couldn’t do something, I wasn’t giving it a fair try. My not trying became the reason describing the failure for all the standard tricks pulled from the therapeutic grab-bag, and that’s now all I hear in that speech. A ready-made excuse that the therapist won’t look past.

I want help with making and sticking to routines, and I’m saying this as someone who has alarms on my iPad, who writes lists, who has tried all the conventional ways to make one work. Like many autistics, I do well with externally-imposed routines, like school, while severely floundering without its supporting structures. (No, the answer isn’t pretend I go to school, because I’ve been trying to do that for over a year!) I don’t know how to make myself not distracted; I don’t know how to stop writing and go to bed like I should. Obnoxiously-loud, jarring thrash metal alarms do not work. Getting up to turn off the iPad several feet away from my desk does not work. Now I’m afraid, because of that cursed speech one session in, that my failure to get a routine going will be my fault. Again. Or that, when I’ve dismissed every single pain-management strategy suggested because they do not work for me, I’ll be branded as difficult. Again.

When I’m constantly trying my hardest against a brain that isn’t and never will be made for an allistic universe, to encourage me to work without recognising my efforts now only makes me feel already a failure. After so many frustrating, bad, terrible and downright traumatic experiences with therapists, such a speech takes my suspicious tendencies and lets them run riot with distrust. After all her reassurances, I already feel like I’m too difficult for her.

If you work in mental health, especially if you’re handling people with more complex diagnoses and disabilities, cut the “you need to work hard to get better” line from your spiel. Start looking instead at the ways we’re already working hard. Because we are. And sometimes it takes all our strength and courage just to get out of bed, and we need the world to see it.

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Linkspam Friday: September 14

In the last fortnight, I’ve written twenty-eight thousand words on Birds of a Feather. It isn’t the reason why I didn’t put a post up last week–medical appointments and my birthday were the reason–but it is the reason why I didn’t work on the post earlier in the week, knowing that I had things going on which would likely stop me from posting. A complete 40k first draft, though, is worth it to me, and the time spent writing meant I didn’t have enough links for last week’s post anyway, so…

In personal news, I am yearning for the chance to have a proper shower. I’ve got stitches right where my thigh and hip meet, which is proving an inconvenient spot for conventional and commercial-but-affordable ways of sealing a wound against water. They should be coming out tomorrow and I’m praying that the wound will be okay to risk getting slightly damp after that. Showering as quickly as possible with my leg poking out is awkward, and not washing my hair every day (to try and limit showering time) is driving me to distraction. I’m sure this will sound quite privileged, but small changes like the amount of oils in my hair bother me. I can feel the oils left by someone else’s hands on my Tangle after they’ve touched it, so I can definitely feel two days’ worth of oil in my hair. Since short hair is a stim toy attached to my body for stimming convenience and I’m always running my hands through it, I badly want it back to its usual daily-washed state.

On the positive side, I have a new bout of lived experience to fuel a few fictional characters. Not that it was necessary, but I suppose there’s something to be said for fresh realism. I’ll now have Tes pacing back and forth because the stitches across hir palm won’t stop itching

Photo – My Gaming Gear and Unicorn Squishies: In which I show off my gaming box, my Meren of Clan Nel Toth playmat and two unicorn squishies, still trapped in their cling-wrap packaging, watching over proceedings. I started going for viewed-as-feminine colours and decorations for my gaming things as a protest, because I had girls come into my old job afraid to pick out pink card sleeves from fear they’ll be mocked or harassed. Being misgendered because of it wasn’t comfortable, but I do feel there was worth in showing that gaming accessories don’t have to be masculine-coded.

Teaser Post – The Performance Magician: In which I post a scene from the first draft of the aforementioned work. Read this if you want spoilers for Amelia’s feline naming philosophy, more of March’s passive-aggressive renaming of elfish people and creatures, why Darius named his pony after the swordseller in Certain Eldritch Artefacts and hints of how Efe is going to drive Darius into throwing a dictionary at the wall. I will confess that Darius’s irritation at words being used the wrong way is mine, and I am also hypocritical enough to not mind when I do it…

Photo – My Redecorated Notebooks: I was given some rainbow washi tape for my birthday, so I covered a notebook and three scratch pads in stripes of bright washi tape. It was nice having an afternoon to be crafty in a way that isn’t writing.

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Linkspam Friday: August 10

I’m trying to get used to a new keyboard/desk arrangement on the advice from the OT at the pain clinic, which is making typing difficult for me. Even the slightest of changes in posture and arrangement throw me off to a ridiculous degree in terms of body memory, pain and not triggering migraines–I will get used to it, probably, but the adjustment period is difficult, more disabling for me than my pain. I’ve now also got to hunt down an affordable sideways mouse to see if that helps me use it more comfortably.

On the positive side, I do keep my shoulders and neck in the correct position, and I’ve been using my iPad as well as it is possible to use a tablet in terms of propping it on pillows and my bag. His opinion is more that I shouldn’t be trying to use it with the tucked-in-no-arms-out-everywhere position wielded by everyone else … but it’d be so nice to be able to comfortably use my devices on the train without needing to occupy two seats. I still don’t know how other folks do this. Not being autistic? Souls sold to demons? Who knows, because I don’t.

Apparently I type fast, but I talk, walk and read fast, too, so this should be a surprise to nobody. I’ve never operated at normal human speed.

Post: “Heartfelt”, The Good Doctor and Autistic Character Arc – In which I prove that I am still not over this ableist disaster of an episode by complaining about it and discussing the need to centre our need for representation instead on the works of autistic creatives. I admit that I have a few horses in this race, but I am so tired of seeing The Good Doctor praised for including a character who moves like me when the story is still so focused on seeing Shaun become more allistic. One day I’ll have the spoons to write a long-arse essay on why I am not a fan.

Post: Trans Characters Versus Trans Fiction – In which I rant about the phenomenon of seeing any book with a trans side character (by a cis author) recommended (by cis reviewers) as trans fiction … while trans authors of trans fiction with trans narrating protagonists struggle to get the same recommendations and audience. I have horses in this race as well to say the least, but am I tried of having well-meaning folks recommend me a story as important trans rep only to discover that the character is a side character.

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