The Unnatural Philosophy of Kit March: Flight

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 accountrements 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.

Cover credits: OpenClipart-Vectors (stock images) and VAGDesign (typeface).

Flight: The obligation a rescuer has to a ward gives Darius a sense of purpose and the added benefit of avoiding Amelia, but finding Tes means negotiations with the belt and Tes hirself…

Chapter count: 10 890 words

Content advisory: Ongoing depiction of depression, restricted eating and hallucination. Depiction of cutting that is both blood magic and self-harm, given that it’s Darius. A few moments of executive dysfunction and the belt prompting as a result, although not in a demanding way. Self-harm and violence directed onto a horse and Tes because of meltdown; discussion of violence, overwhelm and meltdown. The anxiety and self-doubt over communication when that ability to communicate, through disability, is impaired.

Note the first: It’s hard trying to run a daily-updating blog and write at the same time. (I haven’t touched my other writing projects for months.) I am thrilled beyond measure that people trust me with their questions, but it leaves me few spoons left with which to write and redraft and redraft and edit. (And my pain has been severe, of course. Not to mention the insomnia.) I suppose we’re going to updating once every two months, as much as I’d like to have it otherwise. It might help to tell you that the next section is written, drafted and only in need of editing. It won’t help to tell you that we’re not even at the middle and I’ve reached 100 000 words two chapter drafts from now.

Note the second: Because I’m still very much trying to figure out how to be a disabled blogger on a busy blog and write occasionally, I haven’t yet figured out how to do anything that isn’t Tumblr. I’m pretty much posting here and running back to queuing stim toy posts. If you want to talk to me about anything, message me or mention me in a post as @eldritchesoterica on Tumblr: I’m more like to see that and respond in a reasonable time frame. Y’know, within a few days (probably) as opposed to never.

Note the third: Speaking as someone with executive dysfunction, it amazes me how in a situation I know exactly what I must do and can do it, but when it comes to everything less urgent, well, everything is harder. I really wanted to write a heroic protagonist who can step into beckoning hell like a bad-arse but struggles when it comes to the steps between “getting out of bed” and “leaving the room”.

Note the fourth: There’s this deep sense of shame connected with that, when I am excessively distressed, angry or frustrated (I know now the word is “meltdown”) I am not in control of my body and less able to effectively verbally communicate. I hit things and scream and swear. (As a kid when upset, I bit other people, and my parents talked at length about their extreme embarrassment and shame, not about why biting someone was the only language I had.) I know that this is Not How People Behave. I actively fear being like this and the judgement it brings, which is why I avoid situations that trigger this degree of feeling. People don’t know just how thin my veneer of control really is, how hard-earnt it is and how deeply rooted it is in self-hatred, fear and my parents’ shame of me. So, I wanted to write an autistic character who gets physically aggressive in meltdown, who self-harms, who hurts others, who loses all language but that of aggression, who experiences all those things I’ve been taught to never be. A character who speaks aloud those moments I’ve been taught to cut out of the story I tell about myself.

Don’t be less. Be here.

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The Unnatural Philosophy of Kit March: Skin

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 accountrements 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.

Cover credits: OpenClipart-Vectors (stock images) and VAGDesign (typeface).

Skin: Darius survives the gnomes and contemplates the stories told in scars. Amelia tries to make a well-trodden point. March waves a spoon. What do their words matter to Darius, though, when all he hears is the choking, insufferable envelopment of safety?

Chapter count: 10 500 words

Content advisory: Ongoing depiction of depression, grief, suicidal ideation, self-hate and hallucination. The belt being … well, the belt. The ableism in hating one’s self for not appreciating one’s formerly less-disabled body (see below). The word “broken” used frequently, and with a score of edges at that, by a multiply disabled man to describe himself. A little more description of the violence wrecked on Efe Kadri. Discussions on self-care edging around the fine line between blood magic and self-harm. The impact of hearing the word “suicide” voiced aloud. References to suicidal ideation. Amelia and March at loggerheads. Amelia’s spoon revenge is meant to be a nasty and horrible act wielded at an obsessive autistic, even though neurotypicals may not understand why this is so cruel.

Note the first: Darius’s self-hating “why didn’t I…” monologue only exists, to such an extent, because of the ableist world in which we live. It’s a construct of ableism. It’s also every part of me that looks back at everything I used to do with my hands, so unthinking, and wonder with grief that isn’t dead after six years why I took it for granted. (Why? Why didn’t I write then when it’s so hard for me to write now?) While it can be argued that, like Darius, I’ve been disabled from birth (autism), I’ve also become disabled in an entirely different direction as an adult (chronic pain) and I know the sheer gut-wrenching grief of having ability unexpectedly stolen from you, especially an ability that ties deeply into the person you were. I know, too, like Darius will realise, what it means to stare into that pain and knowingly do as much of it as you can anyway, because anything else is unthinkable. That can be difficult and dangerous for ourselves and/or the people around us. But to do otherwise is unthinkable.

Note the second: Oh, this chapter. This chapter. Ten drafts. I wish that were in any way hyperbole; I’d like to be exaggerating about the amount of times I’ve tangoed with this wretched thing. If I had more spoons available to me (read: weren’t trying to blog and write with unmanaged chronic pain) it wouldn’t have been such a problem, but since I have a chronic spoon shortage, it was.

Understanding isn’t the same thing as forgiveness, but it is, sometimes, enough.

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The Unnatural Philosophy of Kit March: Consequences

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 accountrements 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.

Cover credits: OpenClipart-Vectors (stock images) and VAGDesign (typeface).

Note the third: The species of caterpillar Tes calls “spitfire” bears no relation to the actual spitfire sawfly larvae (which aren’t caterpillars) and are very likely some variety of Chlenias moth (I think Chlenias banksiaria, but this has proven difficult to confirm online, despite these caterpillars and moths being exceedingly common in regional western Victoria). Knowing this, these “spitfires” (I was unable to find a colloquial name) are very likely harmless in addition to being incorrectly named. However, locally, I’ve always known them as spitfires and my classmates (I think knowing they were safe, for they cheerfully handled the caterpillars themselves) spoke of how much they’d hurt before tormenting me with them. The actuality, here, is rather irrelevant, although my intent is for Tes to later learn that speaking of a harmless creature as dangerous is another form of bullying.

You’ve the ability to dare a tower and dare magic. Dare this.

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The Unnatural Philosophy of Kit March: Shadows

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 accountrements 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.

Cover credits: OpenClipart-Vectors (stock images) and VAGDesign (typeface).

Aren’t human lives the shadows of the stories we share?

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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.

Cover credits: OpenClipart-Vectors (stock images) and VAGDesign (typeface).

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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Certain Eldritch Artefacts (A Kit March Prequel)

Alliterative magician and College graduate Darius Liviu has travelled half the world in search of the rarest of rare magical artefacts: a tolerable talking sword. He knew it wouldn’t be an easy quest, but, after a year of failure, one last rumour sees him risk Rajad’s chaotic, cluttered, terrifying Great Souk. The noise, the smells, the people and his inability to move without provoking disaster make everything difficult, but Darius dares the nightmare in hope of an item that just might draw the eye of the man he loves.

The sword he finds may or may not be tolerable. It may not even be a sword. It has other ideas on the matter of being a lover’s token, however: ideas that make Darius ponder the reason he travelled at all…

PDF | EPUB | Kit March Master Post | Next: The Adventurer King

Word count: 10, 530 words.

Content advisory: Darius is seventeen, and young for a magician, but—being short and transmasculine in a time and place where medical transitioning is less of an option—not so young as he appears that the ageism others display is justifiable, if it ever is. (Personal experience time.) “Normal” used to mean “allistic” but, I hope, in a tone that is meant to be snide-leaning. Depictions of anxiety/social anxiety provoked by being a dyspraxic autistic having to navigate a world (a crowded, chaotic, noisy, busy, smelly, cramped world) truly not designed for him. The behaviour of the stallholders is an exercise in unthinking ableism. The belt is a pushy, demanding, frustrating entity who is nonetheless somewhat ideal as a mentor for an autistic teenager because it isn’t an easily-offended allistic neurotypical human. Whether or not the belt is being transphobic, deliberately provocative or both is open to question. Since mainstream autism portrayals tend to be light on the SPD aspects of autism, I wanted to show both the Sensory Hell of the setting and what Darius does to try to survive it.

Note the first: Yes, this is a rewrite of something I’ve already written. I thought I’d do PDF versions of Kit March so that people (like me) who don’t love reading long-arse chapters on backlit browsers have an alternative. If I’m doing that, well, I should throw in the prequel short stories for context, because the problem with making one of your protagonists a thirty-one-year-old magician with history is that he has history. If I’m doing that, though, I should rewrite this in light of worldbuilding and character development (mostly that Darius is knowingly autistic instead of accidentally so) and make it a proper introduction to knowingly-autistic-Darius and the belt. And if I’m making those changes, well, I should post it on the off chance somebody is interested…

Note the second: Aside from missing sensory realism and deliberate stimming—and Darius’s frustration feels so much more natural to me when accompanied by flapping hands!—the original story’s conclusion strikes me as a direction to learn a set of skills to better mimic Real Neurotypical Adults. As someone learning how to move more in tune with my actually autistic self after a lifetime’s pretence (being the kind of person who falls going up stairs and has destroyed my ankle by tripping over a tennis ball), I’m desperately uncomfortable with this, even knowing that someone who doesn’t know that they’re an autistic author writing an autistic character isn’t like to avoid ableism. So this story has suffered quite a drastic reframing toward an autistic man having the opportunity to discover how he might learn to move, as a Real Neurodiverse Adult, in ways that both serve his needs and see him less abused by the neurotypical world. I don’t want Darius to learn how to be another neurotypical soldier (yawn) who gains great proficiency in the combat arts—he’s here to learn something else entirely, and the belt knows it, even if Darius doesn’t.

Note the third: In societies where pansexuality is the default, which is everywhere seen/referenced so far save Astreut, exclusive monosexuality is a little bit weird. Not so weird that it results in oppression and restriction, but weird enough that that the terms used to describe it by most pansexuals are unthinkingly not-quite-positive.

I don’t think they taught you how to move as you are in a world that isn’t for you, but why can’t you learn that?

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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.