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 nearly 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 recommend reading the reworked edition of this story, available on WordPress and Patreon.

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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Fiction: The Sorcerous Compendium of Postmortem Query

Cover image for The Sorcerous Compendium of Postmortem Query: A Marchverse Short Story by K. A. Cook. Cover shows a cemetery at night, with various tombstones in the foreground, surrounded by grassy rises and green bushes, with a tumbledown stone fence and trees in the background. A lit candle sits on the ground at the front of the cover, showing a glow of orange light illuminating grass and part of a tree branch. Cover and author credit are written in a white, fantasy-style text, the type bright against the dark sky and shadowed leaves.Necromancer Mara Hill has waited weeks for the Thinning: the one night the dead walk freely amongst the living. Her wandering great-aunt, Rosie, was wise in the way of magic and the world, and Mara knows of none other to ask. Books and magic alike haven’t restored her fading love, and Benjamin Lisabet is too wonderful to risk losing. Why can’t Mara keep herself from falling out of love whenever the girl she yearns for dares love her back?

She’s sure that Aunt Rosie’s spirit will offer up needed advice. She just doesn’t expect a deluge of deceased villagers set on unravelling everything Mara knows about what it means to love and be in love.

Contains: A sapphic, lithromantic trans witch fearing her shape of love; a bisexual aunt who adores girls; an aro-ace trans brother armed with pokers; a wealth of casual queerness; and a world learning to be bold about its own diverse aromanticism.

Setting: Marchverse, one day before The Mundane Progression of Premortem Colloquy.

Content advisory: The protagonist, the protagonist’s love interest and her mentor are all allosexual, so while there are no explicit sex references, there are references to having sex and experiences of sexual attraction. Discussions of amatonormativity and internalised hatred are a given. There’s also vague and non-detailed references to gender dysphoria and depression, as this story sets up further examinations of both in Love is the Reckoning. Please expect a fair bit of discussion about experience of romantic attraction and note that the protagonist is a lithromantic who is comfortable with being the subject of romantic interest. I don’t recommend this story for people who have severe sexual and/or romantic repulsion.

Links: PDF (read in browser) | Patreon

PDF, EPUB and MOBI editions are available for download from Patreon.

Length: 8, 221 words / 32 PDF pages.

Note the first: If you’ve read The King of Gears and Bone, you may find interesting here a few further revelations about necromancy and Ein’s demons/angels (depending on one’s theological position).

Note the second: In a world where names have power, people get around this by having a secret true name (heartname) they share only with close family/trusted friends and a nickname or common name (shroudname) they use with everyone else. Some cultures consider a signed heartname to be more emblematic of true identity than its verbal equivalent. Additionally, naming customs in this region involve children taking their brood parent’s shroudname as a last name, given the commonality of non-cisheteronormative relationships and marriages. If there is no known brood parent, the sire parent’s name or the shroudname of the adoptive parent will be used instead.

In a small village where everyone thinks they know everyone else, conversations become dangerous.

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Authorial Rambling, March Style

This week isn’t a linkspam post, because when I’ve hammered out 40k words on the conclusion of the first draft of the Kit March book, I don’t have time for anything else. At all. On the positive side, I’ve found a way I can strap my wrist and still type, although my occupational therapist may not be best pleased by this. I’m pretty sure that disability aids aren’t meant to assist my flagrant disregard of how one should manage severe chronic pain by enabling me to ignore it for longer. Because the strapping doesn’t decrease my pain; it just gives me a little more time before it goes from moderate to lying on my bed sobbing because I really want to type and my body won’t let me.

One day I’ll write about how I hide from being moderately depressed by throwing myself into a project, meaning that I’m often incredibly productive when showing a score of other signs mental health professionals consider concerning. But that isn’t nearly as important as the upshot. This monstrous book that I’ve been trying to write for three years, now? This book that was making me feel like my aspirations to novels were more illusion and less substance? This book that was defying my will to figure out a halfway-decent first act (first book) conclusion? This book I’ve spent the last six months despairing over while pretending that I hadn’t developed a desperate fear of being unable to finish it? A complete 190 000k word first draft.

I’m trying to find politer or more eloquent ways to phrase it, but I can’t move past the simplicity of fuck, it’s sweet.

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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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Current Projects

I honestly don’t know how people manage to create in conventional straight lines, the kind where one begins a project, stays with it and doesn’t get distracted by other ideas.

I’ve got two stories I’m working on that were supposed to be quick, short, flash-fiction pieces about aro characters I could post to @aroworlds before returning to my List Of Many In-Progress Works. (Like, for example, editing a Kit March chapter.) These pieces ended up being seven and eleven thousand words, and, for different reasons, they’ve become far too significant to the protagonists’ character arcs to be left as side stories. So I’m left pulling at my hair (literally) while wandering down lanes I never intended on travelling.

So let me talk at you about what’s forthcoming, since the writing gods have determined I must do this. I’m still not sure on release dates or how I’m going to go about it. One Strange Man is reasonably close to final proofing, but Love is the Reckoning needs a bit more redrafting.

Cover of One Strange Man: A Marchverse Short Story by K. A. Cook. Cover shows a wooden door, bolted shut, set into a stone wall, with dangling ivy and climbing roses obscuring the wall and part of the door. The ground in front of the door is brown earth and has a thin-bladed green bush growing in front of it. A glowing white marble sits on the earth by the base of one of the roses on the bottom left-hand side of cover. Text is written in a white, handdrawn, fantasy-style type.One Strange Man

How can the want for another person make an intelligent man gift something so precious?

When Akash’s former lover refuses to return a family heirloom, Darius knows only one way to help his mate—even if it means ignoring several laws in the process. The magic he mastered in surviving the College and the mercenaries has surprising utility in the art of larceny, at least once he gets past the stomach-knotting anxiety. When Darius makes the mistake of asking Akash why, however, getting caught in a stranger’s third-floor bedroom seems like nothing compared to comprehending the mysteries of romance and friendship.

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A Project of Threes

Does anyone want to know what projects I have settled on for the next couple of months?

I have decided to take more time over All The Trees in the Sky, but I still want to try having two more stories – with autistic protagonists – available for April, because there is no such thing as too many stories about trans, autistic characters being trans and autistic.

I would also like to post the next Kit March chapter in the next few weeks. I don’t know how consistent I will be with this, because pain leaves me a liar every time I try to put a date or schedule to my work, but I am trying to post a chapter every two months or so.

The Adventurer King

Cover image for The Adventurer King by K. A. Cook. Cover features a red leather-bound journal sitting on a wood panel background, like that of a tabletop or floor, with the text sitting on top of the book image in a gold fantasy-style handdrawn type. Objects sit on top of the book cover: a blue pen with a gold nib dripping ink, a screwed-up piece of white paper, a cream scroll with a green seal, a cream and silver compass, and a piece of rope. A grey single-edged sword blade sits underneath the book, and black handdrawn type atop the blade reads "an efe and darius story". The images have a cartoony, vectory feel.This is getting a re-write, but more from a matter of consistency and character/setting development than anything else. When I wrote this, I had the idea of following it up with a story or two showing Darius’s progression from thinking himself alloromantic to realising that he’s an aro trying to be alloromantic, but I’ve realised that this isn’t a narrative I wish to draw out. (This was why Darius didn’t respond to the belt, incidentally – that and it’s pretty obvious that the belt has narrow views on the nature of human sexuality.) There aren’t enough aro protagonists in the world (especially trans, autistic, allosexual aro protagonists) to make aro readers wait, and I find the idea of a following story where Darius is just aro and dealing with the allo Efe far more entertaining than the “shades, am I aromantic” or coming-out story.

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The Unnatural Philosophy of Kit March: Homecoming

Cover image for K. A. Cook's 'The Unnatural Philosophy of Kit March'. Vector/cartoon styling of a creepy folly/shack/treehouse with various gothic accoutrements and a crow or raven perched on the roof. Folly is surrounded by more vector images of trees, bushes and scrub set on a cartoony green-hill background. Typeface for author and title credit is white stroked with black. The whole thing is very flat/one-dimensional and looks like a still from an 80s cartoon.Tes Alden, collector of words, rescuer of books and counter of objects, knows ze isn’t like everyone else. This wouldn’t be such a problem if everybody else didn’t struggle with it. Hir mother prays a run-down school in the middle of nowhere may be the best place to stow hir brand of peculiarity, and Tes has nowhere better to go.

Darius Liviu lost a limb and his lover in the hell of Mul Dura. He spent the last three months as a guest of the Greensward, crafting a jointed hand from elf-sung wood and trying to ignore the mutterings of the ghost that haunts him. Now, he returns to the College to take up the second-most dangerous job open to a magician: teaching.

Tes just might be a magician in the making, if ze can survive adventures in alliterative magic and hir own lethal curiosity. Darius, though, keeps a secret that makes the usual problems of overgrown rhubarb, basilisk hordes, verbose eldritch objects, shrieking purple monkeys and cauliflower explosions look like nothing at all.

The elves are coming, and nobody fears elves more than Kit March.

Homecoming: Darius Liviu arrives in Greenstone to take up March’s offer of a teaching job, only for the belt to betray a certain confidence involving the dead Efe Kadri.

Chapter count: 9550 words

Content advisory: Hallucinations, at least in the eye of the protagonist, that play with the line between auditory hallucinations and fantasy genre conventions of the talking dead/spirits. A protagonist who has a less-than-helpful relationship with previous healthcare providers, has undergone physical and emotional trauma and expresses his grief through guilt and numbness and depression. A protagonist who uses the words “crazy” and “madman” to describe himself because, like most of us, he suffers from internalised ableism (and lacks a suitable language). A narrator who experiences a partial seizure: I experienced dissociation/aura writing it. Lastly, Darius’s approach to food from here on in is reluctant and disordered at best even allowing for SPD/autism-related taste, scent and texture repulsion, and his narrative (speaking as someone who experiences just this) after this chapter colours food in a negative light. This could be extremely triggering, in multiple ways, for a great many people.

Note the first: We first meet Darius in Certain Eldritch Artefacts and later in The Adventurer King. Fourteen years of study and adventure have passed since he met the belt in the Great Souk of Rajad, and seven since he met Efe and Aysun Kadri. The belt and Efe (later, Aysun) are fairly important in his life/narrative.

Note the second: I’ve lived the position of having to come back home in failure with the consequent feeling that that I’ve come back home only to be the person I was in that space before I left it. I came home feeling far less than I’d found myself to be, and that’s a peculiar, adult kind of despair. This is a character arc explored more in literature than in genre writing, but since the beauty of this story is exploring different adult character arcs, Darius, however bleak and depressed, lets me play with this narrative (and the truth that this is one of the many lies depression likes to tell us).

Note the third: I can only speak to my own experience, and I’m aware that my experience isn’t universal, but after some time my experiences with hallucinations shifted from “There’s a horde of spiders swarming all over me! PANIC!” to “Man, here’s the spiders nobody else sees again. What are the fuckers going to do this time?” I don’t tend to see this kind of relationship to hallucinations in fiction, so it’s important to me to write a character whose approach is one of awareness and annoyance—to the extent that it’s actually an exercise in tedium, one that wouldn’t be half so problematic most of the time if only other people didn’t notice.

You come through my doors battered and lost and alone, and I watch over you.

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The Man on the Hallway Floor: Disability and Writing Character

A writer friend of mine asked a question: why do non-disabled authors feel compelled to fill this gap by writing fictional books about disabled people?

This is important because we live in a world both where there aren’t enough disabled protagonists and abled authors actively, even if not intentionally, do fill this void. Sometimes I feel it’s for good reasons, as the abled author seeks to provide a more honest snapshot of reality in their fiction, or that the abled author recognises that most abled portrayals of us are dreadful and seeks to ensure that we too should have realistic, natural, empowering representations of our lives.  Sometimes I feel it’s for bad reasons, as the abled author is using disability to manufacture drama or throw a spanner in the works, especially if this is followed by complete recovery or a poorly-portrayed experience of actually being disabled. Sometimes I feel it’s for terrible reasons, as the author just wants to do something different, and abled authors often get a lot of attention and awards for daring to break the typical mould of what makes a narrating protagonist. It is, for some reason, seen as brave to write outside one’s experience.

I answered with a question: why do disabled authors feel compelled to write fictional books about abled people?

I see discussions about who should write what and why. I see disabled creatives discussing the works of abled creatives who write disabled characters. I see far fewer discussions that explain why I, a disabled writer, have struggled all my writing life to write my own lived experiences into my characters.

I’m disabled. Multiply disabled. (Not all people with my medical history will consider themselves disabled. That’s fine. I do. I have to.) I have been all my life, although I didn’t begin to know it until seven years ago. Not knowing labels, though, doesn’t mean that I don’t know what it is to be those things. It just means I lacked, for so long, the benefit of a label, and now I get context, dialogue and a community to accompany the experience of disability I had all along.

If we want to take my chronic hand pain as a case study, I’ve been in pain for six years as of this month. Six years. (I actually made a mistake on my hospital forms by writing it as five. I’ve been in pain so long now I can’t keep track of it.) So how many characters have I written with hand pain, hand limitations or some other hand-related disability in that time? As of two months ago, none. Most of my characters can be seen, with hindsight, as autistic, especially in terms of their sensory processing differences, but how many of them, before my diagnosis, were purposefully written to explore life lived as that collection of divergence from allistic norm and SPD (which I’ve blogged about, so I’ve known myself to have sensory processing differences long before anyone formally told me I’m autistic) usually called “autism”? Before beginning Kit March, one. As for anxiety, depression and abuse/trauma, well, I’ve written several characters purposefully meant to explore this, but none before I first saw a psychologist, even though I suspected I was depressed for several years beforehand.

But this isn’t even the beginning of what I haven’t talked about. My twenty years of chronic insomnia made it to a character once. I experienced complex visual hallucinations throughout childhood, and know well what it is to tell someone that something they can’t see is real to me, even when this thing has me shaking in terror, but those hallucinations never made it to a character. My partial seizures, my dizziness and headaches that come from both overstimulation and exposure to various scents and chemicals, my sensitivity and/or aytpical responses to various common medications, my motion sickness?

When I wrote Darius lying on the hallway floor because he’s spent the conversation breathing in coffee and oil and enduring glaring light, so now the only thing he can do is wait until the nausea goes away and then, hopefully, sleep it off if circumstances allow, I wrote something I’ve experienced at least once a fortnight over the past four years. No big deal. Or, at least, it isn’t to me, because it’s remarkable what the human body and mind can endure when one is given no choice in the matter, and I well know how much better I have it compared to so many. I wanted, in that story, to write a character who goes through what I go through, picks himself up, dusts himself off and keeps going, largely by arriving in a space where he doesn’t have to waste time on pretending to own a body absent assumed-unconventional demands, needs and oddities.

Normal, for me, is pain, unpredictable dizzy spells, the crashing black-and-white-striped wave of seizure rolling through my head, panic attacks, depression, the knowledge that the world that is too much and too present for me is somehow just right for most others. Normal, for me, is disability. It’s always going to be. There’s no changing that. Why shouldn’t my characters live that, too?

It’s taken me years, though, to get to a point where I can proactively, deliberately and gladly write characters who experience my normal.

Until relatively recently, I wrote characters who aren’t my normal. If they were disabled, they were disabled in all the ways people think of when they whisper “disabled” or its tangle of insulting synonyms: blind, wheelchair users, cane users. Anyone visibly, obviously disabled. When writers spoke of including disabled characters, it never occurred to me, as someone with many experiences of disability but does not appear disabled to others if I don’t wear my splints or let myself limp, to include me. I had to learn, first, that I was disabled, how I was disabled, and how to accept being disabled, and those things aren’t simple to learn.

But, and here’s the sticking point, why should they be?

Disabled authors aren’t encouraged to write about disabled characters. We’re not even encouraged to be disabled ourselves, so how are we supposed to write and express ourselves in our characters when we’re pressured into giving our whole lives over to the art of appearing as abled as possible?

This year is the first time I’ve found a psychologist who uses the word “disabled” in conversation with me and acknowledges me as a disabled person. Despite being in pain for six years, the closest I ever got was “limitation”. When I talked about writing on this blog, and psychologists asked if I were comfortable with them reading, it, I refused. Not because I was was writing anything I didn’t say in session, but because I dared refer to myself as a disabled person, and I feared how they’d respond to a word they refused to give me. I was on disability support at university, yet I still never had anyone refer to me as disabled. I have no real formal diagnosis as to my chronic pain, despite the fact it has persisted for six years, because doctors cannot or will not consider it an illness. Shall I mention how long it took me to be told I am autistic? Three weeks ago I sat through a series of lectures at the pain management clinic that was all about justifying why it was appropriate to take aids away from people with chronic pain – disabled people. I’m disabled, at least as regards my hands, because of a workplace injury, but it was deemed appropriate by my first-aid-qualified supervisor to deny me medical treatment for a second injury because she considered me a workcover cheat. She suffered absolutely no consequences for this, even when I filed a complaint. I, however, no longer have a (different) retail job because I make faces, unintentionally, that offend people. I’m only welcome in a retail job if I can successfully, completely and eternally mimic allistic people, but ableist arseholes can keep working just fine. Shall I continue? Because this is only a drop in the ocean! How many disabled people of colour have been murdered, massacred, in the US alone this year? How many disabled people have died from lack of treatment or access to financial support? How many disabled people are forced to remain in abusive and dangerous situations because they cannot afford to get themselves out?

Every time I turn around, I am faced with a new proclamation of the fact that I am not allowed to be disabled, and I’m saying this with the privilege of being white and Australian. I am not allowed to be disabled, says the world, and I deserve to not be treated, acknowledged, included or employed because of it.

Everything from a refusal to mention the word to a refusal to treat me is ableism, and all of it is diminishing and damaging.

When a disabled writer writes a disabled character, it is a powerful declaration of existence in the face of this ongoing dehumanisation. With Darius I am saying something that people do not tell me: yes, I lie down on the floor because the lights are too glittery and the smell makes my head compress, and I’m not going to hide this like the world tells me I should, but I am still a competent human being who deserves to be a heroic protagonistEven if I have to nap before we go hunt down this Dark lord. I am sticking my middle finger up at the world and saying that, actually, I am okay, I should exist and I can accomplish things (but my value should not exist in my accomplishment) because of, despite and irrespective of my disability. I am saying that the details of my experience, as a disabled person, are storyworthy and important, no matter what the world says about me and people like me.

I am saying I exist. I am defying the programming that has taught me, all my life, I am only valid if I can pretend to be abled.

When a disabled writer writes a disabled character, we have to confront our own internalised ableism, the ableism expressed by those who work with us and the ableism expressed by society. This isn’t a quick process. To get to this point has taken me years and I still feel like I have barely begun it!

I know why I am compelled to write books about abled people: ableism. After all, we’re taught from birth that abled people are the only ones who matter, so why shouldn’t we write about them? Why shouldn’t we hate ourselves so much we make the subconscious choice to excise ourselves from our fictional creations? We’re not taught to love ourselves! We’re not taught to exist for ourselves! We’re taught that our only worth lies in how well we can fit into and function within an abled capitalist mould but, if we can’t do that, we exist to teach the abled a lesson about their own worth, so we should take that and be happy. We’re taught to hide as much of our difference from the assumed norm of how to human as is possible, always, because we’re not allowed to be disabled. Is it any wonder so many of us end up depressed?

But why do abled people write about us?

It’s still ableism.

Why wouldn’t an abled writer write about us? Our lives are a quick and ready go-to for adding drama and misery to a character or plot because of the ableism that teaches it is awful to be us. Want to give a character something to overcome? Disability! Want to tug at your audience’s heartstrings? Disability! Want to position your writing as different? Disability! It’s all right there, an endless selection of options to make your audience feel anything from inspired to sympathetic to encouraged … but only the disabilities that don’t bore or annoy or frighten or dissuade or confuse or disgust an audience, of course.

But even an abled writer, who actively rejects the mode of thought behind that above paragraph either through knowing disabled people or just being a decent, self-aware person, will find it easier to write about us than we do.

No, I’m not referring to detail or accuracy.

Abled writers just don’t have to confront, examine and navigate self-hatred in order to acknowledge that their disability exists and is an acceptable thing to include in a character. They don’t hate themselves for being disabled, and they haven’t been taught to hide their disabilities away from society, their families and friends, and even themselves, the way disabled people have. When I write Darius lying on the hallway floor, I’m writing against every time I’ve staggered in the street with my groceries, terrified that I’m going to pass out or vomit before I make it home. I’m writing against every time I’ve dragged myself a few steps to my bed because I’ll look more frail and pathetic if I just lie down on the kitchen floor. I’m writing against every time I’ve crawled across my bedroom floor only to force myself to stand as I walk though the rest of the house to the toilet, because I can’t show my family, not ever, how dizzy I am. I’m writing against my own internalised ableism and self-hatred that says I don’t get to appear disabled and I am only a good disabled person if I hide my experience from others. If I believe that about myself, and I do, how can I not believe it about my characters?

An abled writer never has to do this. They can just write the character. At worst (best for us), they worry about accuracy and motive. It’s easier for them because the colour, difference, education and interest disability adds to a character is all external. An abled writer can write about us precisely because they aren’t us, and they often have more opportunities to do so with far more reward. We still live in a world where an abled writer gets all manner of praise for including, no matter how badly, disabled characters, even if those characters exist simply to make abled readers feel good about themselves and their lives. (We, on the other hand, are disabled, so writing disabled characters shouldn’t be considered special or courageous: the ableism here denies the impact of ableism on our lives and expression.) Ableism is the very mechanism that rewards abled writers for writing us while frowning on us for daring to express the real details of our disabled lives. Of course they can see the absences and seek to fill them – we’re too busy trying to hide our real disabled selves lest we be the subjects of hate and violence! We have far fewer opportunities open to us, fewer ways to physically or mentally access those same opportunities, and fewer means of physical, mental or financial support while we do so. If an abled writer doesn’t experience pain every time they touch fingers to keyboard and doesn’t have the speech quirks of an Aussie-accented autistic that render voice-to-text an exercise in absurdity, of course they can write about us with more reach, frequency and access than I can!

Without ableism, no abled writer would have the reason, the need or the ability to fill those absences. The question exists because of ableism.

When I finished by saying that the answer to both those things is ableism, though, I didn’t mean abled writers of disabled characters are all ableist arseholes who hurt, intentionally or accidentally, disabled people. It wasn’t even a criticism of the question itself.

What I meant was this: we are all, disabled and abled writers both, creating within the confines of a limiting, restricting social construct. My inability to write disabled characters is as dangerous and ableist as an abled writer’s free rein to write whatever disability inspires them regardless of knowledge or authority. All of us, always, are committing crimes of ableism: we’re all as like, without the benefit of self-examination, to write an abled mentor to a disabled character, because in this ableist world this is what we experience. Realising that this is wrong means facing life-long social programming, and this programming runs so deep one must expect to spend a lifetime itself challenging and deconstructing the idea of how disabled people exist. The only difference is that we disabled people have vested self-interest in learning not to hate ourselves!

To call something ableist isn’t something we should fear or resent. It is a mere statement of fact that arises from the natural state of creating anything within this construct.

Nobody will ever know, truly, what it took for me, and what it means, to write a man who just lies down on the hallway floor. It’s not an ability I possess myself. It’s not an ability I may ever feel safe enough to risk for myself. It is an ability that runs counter to everything I know about how I’m supposed to be human, and that’s why I wrote it, but the K. A. of two months ago couldn’t have done so.

At the end of the day, what and why we write what we do is shaped by that one eternal constant we must break down.

Why? Ableism.

Pain Study

The doctors look at you and ask you that dread question.

They asked it before. You answered it before. It never gets easier.

They look at you, while you try to find the right words, and the idea that you sit down and write stuff with any kind of eloquence but can’t tell this story to save your life leaves you flapping your hands in despair.

It’s not hard, surely?

Tell your story. Explain your pain. Do so in as few words as possible but in a way that has you taken seriously as a patient.

Right.

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