Fiction: A Gift of Naming

Cover of A Gift of Naming by K. A. Cook. Cover shows cartoon-style tall-trunked trees growing on a green mountain slope with a high green canopy before a blue and grey clouded sky. Brushes and small green shrubs grow at the base of the trees in the foreground. Text is written in a white, handdrawn, fantasy-style type.Even in the best of circumstances, it’s no easy thing to tell the parent who named you that your name no longer fits.

Setting: A village in the lower Crackenbush Ranges, on the border of Greenstone and Astreut, a few hundred years before Kit March. Please check the digital book editions if you require an explanation on the Marchverse’s handling of heartnames and shroudnames.

Content advisory: References to cissexism, particularly as it surrounds a change of name, both historically and from the protagonist’s great-grandfather.

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

Length: 1200 words / 4 PDF pages.

Note the first: Mountain ash (Eucalyptus regnans) is common in Victoria and Tasmania’s highlands, the world’s tallest flowering tree. By “fig” and “banyan” I mean the Moreton Bay fig (Ficus macrophylla), found in New South Wales and Queensland. I’ve seen both in the flesh, and, in my opinion, no human structure will ever match the awe inspired by the overwhelming immensity of these trees. There’s something intensely spiritual about walking under a path crowned by mountain ash that remains beyond my ability to describe or encapsulate.

Note the second: For Briar, chosen kin, who gave to me my own heartname.

If one’s parents provide a shirt that tears when tugged over their child’s shoulders, isn’t it cruelty to force the wearing, however well-intended the gift?

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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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Queering words: a field guide (part 2)

Hello. Last time I discussed the two basic rules for approaching the language used by the queer people in your life, which can be boiled down to don’t be a douche, but sometimes we say things that seem reasonable to us without understanding that they’re not-so-reasonable to the audience. After all, empathy, sensitivity and respect aren’t exactly qualities prized in Western society, and privilege makes it hard to develop these traits with regard to minorities. How does one be a genuinely empathic person if one doesn’t have some experience of pain and suffering? How does one relate to that pain if it is only an abstract concept?

I think this is why so many allies complain about misandry, reverse racism, heterophobia, cisphobia and other such reverse/anti isms coming from minorities. Think about it. If you haven’t been hurt, if you live in a society where you are privileged and prioritised, having somebody call you a cracker or a fucking cishet is probably going to feel like a hit to the face. Of course, there’s no systematic oppression behind those words, nothing but a tired, frustrated and hurting minority voicing their pain, but when one has no or little experience of pain, when society is set up to tell you that you are amazing, special and deserving of having every fucking book written about you, it probably feels like oppression. Imagine a spoiled rich kid getting a shock because his parents tell him he can’t have a new iPad after he threw the old one on the kitchen table and cracked the screen. We, who are not rich, just roll our eyes. Allies who don’t share the minority status in question are that rich kid. We minorities know it’s nothing like the knowledge of waking up in the morning knowing that people loathe you so much they deny you basic human rights, a scratch compared to a broken nose, but allies don’t. In my experience, the best queer allies are those who have hard-earned knowledge of oppression in other ways (my friends who understand chronic health problems, mental illness and misogyny, for example). They are the most able to put themselves into my shoes and do what they can to make life as easy as possible for me.

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Queering words: a field guide (part 1)

Nothing in these posts is in any way new.

However, I’ve had a few interactions with well-intended cishet allies who have missed the finer details on queer, trans and non-binary language terms and their use, so these words aren’t being said loudly enough to penetrate even those who are open to hearing us. Also, as a queer, non-binary person with editing experience, there may be something I can bring to the dialogue, I hope, that explains why we use our words the way we do.

For once, I’m speaking directly to allies on this post. Most of the time you’re incidental to the dialogue, or I’m talking about you, not to you: I’m talking ‘to you’ in the same kind of rhetorical, laden-with-frustration way I go about much of my dialogue about my experiences. However, I seem to have amassed a collection of cishet ally readers, so this one is for you, because my words matter and because I believe – or hope – my words matter to you.

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The ghost of a girl

I say it a lot, I think, but I am not the person I used to be.

I live in fear, in fact, of becoming the person I was: that I am still not enough different, that the miserable person I was is still who I am despite my efforts otherwise, that this newness is a fragile shell, thin candy coating over weaker chocolate that melts in the sun. My thoughts and feelings are a trifle suspect at the moment – I am in fact writing this because my new med dose has made me so groggy I can’t think my way to anything else – but this might be a fear I have to learn to live with. I am so much less anxious about many things of late – travelling after dark, meeting strangers, trying new things – which is amazing and something I don’t take for granted, but this anxiety might be forever with me. It’s scar-tissue, a burn healed: the skin is never quite the same as the unburnt skin that surrounds it and never will be. The scar will always be white and hairless, and I will always live with the ghost of who I was. I will always, I think, be a little afraid of that girl. That’s a sad and horrible thing to articulate in words, but it feels like my truth.

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Life in the world of monsters

Hey, all. My life has gone to hell the past few weeks. I want to put the sword down and take a nap for a while … said every hero ever.

So, here. Have a post on why singular they is grammatically correct, thank you very much, before I get started on the monsters.

Yes, I’m still riffing on the hero themes. What can I say? If the universe gives me lemons, do I decide to not make lemonade, lemon crepes and lemon tarts? Fuck no, I’m making baked lemony goodness.

I submitted a piece to the upcoming issue of Platform that is a snapshot through quotations (the things people have said to me) of my childhood/teenagerhood. It’s essentially an exploration of why the bullying I endured (and how it was handled) was so psychologically damaging. The editorial team read it, of course, and one of the team members made a very nice comment that he was sorry I had to endure a shit childhood, but I’m (quote because topical relevancy) ‘slaying’ now.

My issue isn’t with the comment but with my reaction to it. Not what I said – I said thank you and that I really appreciate it when people take the time to acknowledge my strengths, because the one thing I’ve learned in therapy is that the only appropriate, non-rude response to a compliment is to say thank you – but how I felt. What I would have said if I hadn’t been in therapy long enough to know to keep my mouth shut/fingers still when the Brain Demons of Low Self-Esteem start to gnaw on my thoughts.

See, I felt like a fraud.

I still do.

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Launch Week: Crooked Words

This is the week where some of my projects begin their journeys out into the world.

Now, to change tack entirely for a moment:

Threaded through most of my posts, I think, is an undercurrent of dissatisfaction with the depiction of minority identities in the media. In particular, I’m talking about the aspects of identity, and their intersectionality, that most affect me—disability, mental illness, queerness, gender and misogyny. (These are by no means the only aspects of identity in need of validation through positive, accurate and honest media portrayals, but these are the aspects I have the right to speak about in an authoritative way.) Throw in a touch of spirituality, personal development and what it means to be an adult, and that’s pretty much where I write from in terms of my current and future blog posts, but also my fiction. Yes, I’m a fiction writer, and while I tackle many other publication production/editorial/non fiction projects because I enjoy most things about the writing business, I’m primarily a fiction or creative non fiction writer: I believe that story is the medium that most moves audiences.

For one of my classes this year, we were asked why we write. I get asked this a lot; I ask it of myself on a regular basis. I started this course thinking that I write to change people’s minds, to make them think, to educate, and this is, in fact, why most other people think I write—to tell cishet people that I exist and am deserving of acknowledgement. That’s a pretty good reason, and if cishet people happen to pick up my work and think about the world in which they live and how they create an oppressive environment for someone like me, I’m glad my words have had that much impact. That’s not why I write, though. I don’t write for cishets (or the able-bodied, or cis men, or people without mental illness). I don’t write for the majority. I don’t even want to market my work at the mainstream; I have no interest in it.

I write for us.

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On why I ‘queer’, no person to follow

First post. Let’s make it memorable by talking about something close to my heart.

Queer. I use this word a lot. I surprise non-queer people with how I use it: they seem to expect me to use ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian’ or … something. I’m not those things, though. I’m queer. A queer.

Obviously, I like this as a general-purpose term that says nothing about my sexuality via declaring gender/sex. That should be philosophically self-evident. (If you know what book I’m quoting, be sad for me that I had to read it for Novel 1 because wow, another story about a cishet man. Sorry, Ian, but it’s true: the lack of female narrators in our booklist selection was not up to par with the feminist I know you are.) Quite obviously, I am happier with words that don’t have anything to do with what my gender is/isn’t or what bits my body has or hasn’t. Also quite damn obviously, I hate the phrase ‘same sex marriage’ and everything of the kind that assumes queer identity and relationships are about two people of the same bodily configurations and/or gender configurations.

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