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 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.

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

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Survival of Naming

My mother, most of the time, can’t remember my real name.

It doesn’t matter how many times I correct her. She isn’t good at remembering things. The birth name, legal name, dead name, the name that I never speak or use myself, slides from her lips, and she never sees me wince. If I do protest, if I correct her, if I show exasperation or annoyance, she gets angry. I know her reasoning: she has a bad memory. It isn’t fair that I expect her to remember a name that isn’t the name she chose for me, isn’t the name she gave me at birth, isn’t the name ingrained in her understanding of the person I am. It’s too hard, too much, to ask her to think something that isn’t there in her own head.

Sometimes I feel strangled, as an autistic person who knows with painful understanding what it means to forget names. I should be more understanding, shouldn’t I?

But it’s my name. It isn’t even as though I’ve changed it to something wildly different: I’ve just hacked off six letters. Why is that so hard to remember?

Her anger works. It holds me rigid and silent. There’s no point in correcting if she’ll only yell at me for being an ungrateful arsehole who isn’t considerate of her memory struggles. She’s patient with me, isn’t she? So why can’t I be with her?

Here I am, strangled again.

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The Unnatural Philosophy of Kit March: Connection

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.

Connection: Tes meets hir new roommate Holly Naoko, learns from the chattering historian Iris Edmé and discovers ze does, in fact, possess a valuable trade.

Chapter count: 7080 words.

Content advisory: Casual mention—and casual handling, deliberately akin to the way we talk about the latest character to die on Game of Thrones—of the fact Darius ended the Lord of Mul Dura’s life with no small amount of violent, even torturous enthusiasm. Ableist slurs like “stupid” used by a non-verbal autistic woman to describe how people regarded her. A salutary lesson in matters of trans characters’ access to gender-affirmative clothing. An aro-ace protagonist who thinks of hirself as frigid because nobody ever told hir ze’s fine and real and perfect as is. (This will happen.) Also, the word “strange” may not be an in-universe neurodiverse-specific slur to Tes, but given that Efe uses it in such a way and Darius considers it as such, I’ll note that Tes uses it, in moments of despair, to describe hirself as well.

Note the first: Why, yes, a trans narrator ends up at a school with a trans headmaster and is introduced to a trans teacher and then to two trans students who introduce hir to a third trans student related to the trans headmaster (and we haven’t even met the second narrator yet, who is, well, trans). In fact, I’ll mention that there’s one cis staff member, and most of the named students are, ye gods, trans. I don’t see how this is remotely unrealistic, but, if you feel that way, I’ll mention that, thus far, nobody’s commented on the unrealistic walking corncob. (Who objects to humanity’s habit of forcibly opposing notions of gender on a sapient species that doesn’t require it.)

Note the second: A lord is a noble of no specific gender. A Lord is a noble, magician, mage, ruler or other personage of note, also of no specific gender, who practices certain dark arts and often seeks to live out dreams of global domination. Efe Kadri assassinated several of them.

I want to know. I want to know things. History and magic and talking with my hands. Is it hard?

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The Unnatural Philosophy of Kit March: Introduction

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.

Is this what it means to be dangerous, to speak words aloud and bear the tangle of confusing feelings that follow?

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The Unnatural Philosophy of Kit March: Welcome

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.

PDF | EPUB | Master Post | First: Welcome | Next: Introduction

Welcome: Tes Alden arrives at a school impaled by giant rhubarb, faces the bacon test and finds an ally in the College’s headmaster.

Chapter count: 7, 400 words

Content advisory: Tes’s allistic (non-autistic) mother repeatedly dismisses her adult offspring’s stims and movements and responses as childish behaviour. “Hands down” is this universe’s equivalent of the dreaded “quiet hands”. General autism-specific ableism. Shutdown/quasi-verbal moment. Use of the word “normal” to describe allistic people (on account of autistic narrator’s present lack of language).

Note the first: I want genre stories about autistic queer and trans (especially trans) adults. (Surprise, surprise, it’s hard to find this outside of fanfiction and internet-form writing.) While all my novels feature autistic trans protagonists with the benefit of hindsight, they need rewriting to make this purposeful, not accidental. So I’m writing this in order that something exists in the interim. It will be far from polished and it’ll suffer all the plot holes and editing failures of a serial work written on the fly, I’m sure, but it’ll exist. Right now, I believe representation to be more important than perfection. So I’m writing a horde of autistic, trans characters travelling different paths in adulthood, just to make my heart happy.

Note the second: The College, March and Darius, among other characters we later meet, are featured or referenced in my Crooked Words short stories ‘Certain Eldritch Artefacts’ and ‘Old-Fashioned’, set in the same universe, but I don’t think they’re required reading at this point.

Magic rests in the space between what you are and what you should be, if you’re willing to look at the should and dismiss it to the dark where it belongs.

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Not Only the Label

Before I came back to writing and posting it here (for me a profoundly terrifying thing) I was considering whether or not I should just build a new website from scratch. I’ve got a lot more .org experience now, thanks to my work on the Twilight School website, and I would definitely have fun building my own self-hosted blog where the CMS allows me more control over certain elements and I’m not constrained by a client’s finances and design requirements.

There were two reasons why I was contemplating this.

One was that the Twilight School is sponsored by the Salesian College Sunbury, and I’m so far out of the closet I’ve lost the way back to Narnia. Maybe it would be safer to have an online identity that’s a teensy bit less, well, queer?

This is now irrelevant, since I’ve outed myself to the Twilight School community and the world hasn’t imploded. In point of fact, I experienced the entirely underwhelming reaction of … nothing. Man, when I’m steeling myself up to cop homophobia that might even extend to the loss of my job, it’s bewildering to then experience silence. Good, certainly, and I hope this is the beginning of interactions with people of Christian faith who are, if not accepting, at least considerate enough to keep their beliefs about my legitimacy as a human being to themselves, but bewildering.

(I’ve also been sitting on a post about how community does in fact comprise those of us who dare to be queer, and any school promoting their community outreach initiatives doesn’t get to pick and choose which parts of the community are welcome, which is something like being all dressed up with nowhere to go.)

The other was … well, most of the things I’m feeling and exploring right now aren’t all that queer, taken in a separatist/isolationist view that denies the importance and relevance of intersectionality. I’ve been asked to write a piece about turning points for a publication, and while my first thought was to write about the subtlety of turning points, I’m actually thinking that what I’m feeling right now is the turning point encapsulated in the word “autism”.

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All The Puzzle Pieces, Please

I have a roller bag/trolley. It’s a battered railway-issue bag I’ve had for a little over a year, and it goes almost everywhere I go. People comment on it as though it’s funny: they can’t imagine why I need to take it everywhere.

I consider it an accessibility aid for anything that involves leaving the house.

I have things I need to take everywhere with me. My wrist and thumb splints, because my pain is something I can’t plan, and being in pain at work without a splint is a nightmare. A thick hooded jumper, because my hypersensitivity to cold means that waiting at railway platforms at night is agonising. A woollen, hooded scarf, ditto. A large tub of Play-Doh, for stimming. A bottle of water, for timetabled and non-timetabled medication. An umbrella, because I live in Geelong/Melbourne where we can get five seasons in a single day. Lunch, if I’m going to work, because I can’t afford to just buy two meals a working day on the hours I get.

I’ve also got optional things I take everywhere with me, like my netbook (I use all time I spend on trains), deck boxes and a dice bag (you never know when you might run into someone and regret not having a deck on you), a playmat (this makes it so much easier for me to pick cards, even sleeved cards, up off the table) and other odds-and-ends (wet and dry tissues, nail scissors, deodorant, a tape measure because the Warhammer players never bring their own and sometimes the store one gets lost). Yes, I have the bloody kitchen sink, but you’d be amazed at all the times someone has needed something I just happen to have.

I also have a rainbow-striped satchel over my shoulder for absolutely-bloody-essential things like wallet, headphones (I need something to drown out the noises made by other people/traffic/trains), coin purse, meds, bandaids, notepad and pen. A satchel bag where I can just reach in without pulling the bag off a shoulder and unzipping is so much better than a backpack, even if a backpack is less gendering.

I also need, quite simply, a place to put anything I buy.

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A Dialogue in Good Faith

I haven’t said it here, yet – there are a great many things I’m yet to speak about here on the matter of finding my way back to myself – but I started freelance work this year designing event flyers and administrating the Twilight School website.

The Twilight School, run by Bruno Lettieri (of Rotunda fame, one of the most amazing and generous people that ever lived) is the community outreach project of the Salesian College Sunbury. The Salesian College sponsors something quite unique: an after-hours education service providing classes, guest speakers and other community events, at low-cost, for the Sunbury community. Most of these conversations involve literary personages and community health workers, and the classes run from cooking to writing and gardening to photography. The Twilight School also sponsors the Good Man Project, which is about fostering and developing healthy and open emotional dialogue with, between and among men. Barn Owl Journal is another of Bruno’s pet projects for getting creative writing out into the community, and you can read the current issue here.

(For an event example, you can go and see actor, comedian and writer John Clarke this month for $10 plus drinks, and all you need to do is bring a plate of food for the communal table. We’re talking an evening with a seriously famous, at least in Australia and New Zealand, seriously clever satirist for $10 and however much it costs you to bring a plate of sandwiches or cake. If you’re in Melbourne and this interests you, book now, because places are filling up. If I were living anywhere reasonably close to Sunbury at the moment, I’d go.)

I can’t overstate how important this sort of thing is. The Twilight School is offering and allowing real connection, expression and education in a world where the privileged have an infinite number of avenues in which to communicate yet we are still discouraged from being honest and vulnerable in the company of others.

(When your feminist goddess of a friend is telling you that she’s not sure she should have written about her experiences with depression and anorexia because it’s not appropriate to tell that kind of intimate story, on her own damn website no less, we have a problem with communication.)

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The Agency of Hardwiring

A friend sent me this article on the correlation between transgender identities and autism spectrum disorders. (Please read on before clicking.) I don’t ever want to say that being trans is an autistic thing – although it happens that all the trans people I know are also autistic, which is a bias most likely explained by the habit of like-minded people flocking together – but when I look at the significant amount of non-binary (which, I remind everyone, is a transgender identity) autistic bloggers, I’m all for acknowledgement. It meets my lived experience, after all.

What I didn’t quite expect was some scientific bullshit about “extreme male brain” and lack of empathy used to rationalise the existence of binary trans-masculine autistics, i.e. the assumption that female-designated autistics are “more masculine” in brain function and therefore it’s reasonable for many of them to be trans men. This invalidates every conversation I’ve ever had with another autistic person (whom I generally find to be more empathetic towards me than the average neurotypical), ignores the fact that autistic trans women exist and furthers an assumption that often denies female-designated people diagnosis (because if we’re not autistic in ways commonly expressed by men, we’re not seen as autistic). It also comes with a massive misunderstanding/mislabeling of the trans experience and forgets, entirely, about non-binary people when it’s not contributing to even more gendering. It’s okay; we non-binary folk are used to not existing. It’s the story of our lives.

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Your geeky, my geeky, girl geeky

This is long.

Also, as of time of posting, Wizards’ website is down for maintenance, so links may or may not work.

You may or may not know that I have two major fandoms. (I like a great many books and most things that are European melodic metal, but they’re not fandoms for me; most of the time I don’t discover that Eluveitie or Dark Tranquillity released their new album until six months after the fact. Likewise, I can wait a few months to get the latest Robin Hobb, even though every time I read her books I grin because I had a friend who was ultra-conservative Catholic and a Hobb fan, but cut off contact with me as soon as I started coming out, and I bet she just about imploded when she started reading about Sedric and Carson in The Rain Wild Chronicles.) One is Magic the Gathering, because it’s a trading card game that’s amazingly feminist for a mainstream property targeted at dudes, and while I think the technical writing in Uncharted Realms is most often terrible, predictable or bleh, I’m always impressed by both the worldbuilding and the lack of gender-essentialism in MtG’s terms, titles and characters. Now, if Wizards can only continue their impressive work on gender-equality in Legendary characters (in Tarkir block more than half of all Legendary characters are female, and the number goes up when you count twice-printed characters like the original Khans and the Dragonlords) with equality in their roster of Planeswalkers, and take the great move that is Alesha, Who Smiles at Death and Ashiok (but only if they stop avoiding pronouns and declare Ashiok to be specifically genderless, please) to more queer Legendaries and Walkers, I’ll die happy.

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