20 years of Yahoo Groups

The nicolagriffith Yahoo Group began Sept 11, 1999—started more than 20 years ago by my friend Dave Slusher. Membership, at last count, was 283 people. There were many excellent conversations over the years, peaking in May 2008, many of them long and meaty.

Not coincidentally, 2008 was when I launched my blogs (personal and research) and joined Twitter. Just as with the rest of the world, interactive conversation gradually moved away from the NG email list and onto social media. So the last few years have been very quiet on the NG group. For the last couple of years I’ve been meaning to shut it down but I kept forgetting; I kept forgetting it even existed except once or twice a year someone posted something and there was a brief chat.

But for ten years it flourished: an amazing conversation about art, politics, gender, publishing, neuroscience, love, and intersectional oppression (before we had a word for it). And now Yahoo Groups is folding its tent. So all content, all those marvellous conversations,  will go away mid-December: all files, folders, and back-and-forth emails for the nicolagriffith group will vanish. Poof. Gone.

“Beginning October 28, you won’t be able to upload any more content to the site, and as of December 14 all previously posted content on the site will be permanently removed. You’ll have until that date to save anything you’ve uploaded.” (Ars Technica

So if there are any past or present members of the group—or of any other Yahoo Group— reading this, if you want access to content you’ve previously uploaded, go get it now. You can request a download of your user data, but I did that and what I got back was non-useful. So go to individual files and download them one by one.

Here’s the irritating part, though: there’s no way to download the email conversations. If I had money to burn, I’d pay someone to go download the whole lot, one email at a time, because some of that conversation is worth saving. As there are thousands and thousands of them, I don’t have the time, energy, or patience myself. Apparently someone out there has written a Python script that will scrape the data but I’ll freely admit this is outside my competence. If this might be an interesting challenge for you—one you’d be willing to undertake in exchange for, say, a signed, first edition, first printing Hild hardcover, or the last available memoir-in-a-box—please get in touch, either via the contact form or the comments below.

I don’t know which readers of this blog might still be a member of the NG list—another failing of Yahoo Groups is their seriously crap UI, particularly for administrators; there is no searchable list—but to any reading this: thank you. You made a big difference to me during the writing, editing, and publishing process for Always, the third Aud novel, and I was not happy.

If you’re reading this then you probably already know I still talk about my work—the progress (and not), the successes (and not)—but now I do it on my blog and on Twitter. The best way to keep up with my news is to sign up to get these blog posts via email. If you’re reading this on a mobile browser, scroll to the bottom of the post and add your email address to the box. If you’re using a laptop or desktop, then look at the right-hand sidebar, and add your email address to the box at the top.

On Facebook, I mainly link to this blog, but some good conversations develop in the comments. LinkedIn is just a mirror of this blog. And I tend to post photos first to Instagram. YouTube is mainly for posting my blow-shit-up videos, which I link to from here every holiday season, but also some readings.

But, again, to all those 283 member of the NG Yahoo Group for twenty years of conversation: Thank You.

Kitten Report #07: the chameleon twins [photos]

Charlie and George are now 5 months old, which, apparently, is the human equivalent of 5 years old. That can sometimes be easy to forget because both of them, but George in particular, can look very grownup, like young adults. I look at them and think, If the house got hit by a comet right now they might stand a fighting chance of surviving on their own. Then in the blink of an eye they revert to the itty bitty new-to-the-world kitties we brought home two months ago.

Here, for example, are two photos of George, taken one second apart. In the first he looks like the small,  uncertain kitten we first brought home. In the second: a young cat in charge of his world.

Tabby kitten sitting on a carpet looking very little and uncertain

George looking about 15 weeks old

Tabby kitten sitting on a carpet looking very grown up

George stands tall

He seems a little less maniacally focused on food acquisition this week, but his brother is still in eat-everything mode. Here are two pictures taken two seconds apart. In the first, Charlie’s cast himself on the bed, full of ennui, breathing slowing in that tumble-into-instant-sleep way kittens have. Then, at the other end of the house, Kelley opens a can of cat food…

Tabby kitten stretched out on a green, asleep. Yellow hand-written text reads, "It's all so bloody tiring!"

Charlie stretches out on the bed, and begins to fall asleep—

Tabby kitten flicks open his eyes at the sound of a catfood tin being opened. Hand-written text reads, "I hear... A tin opener? A tin opener!"

—then, on the other side of the house, a tin opens…

They are becoming chameleons, fitting their apparent age to the situation. When they don’t want their games disturbed: haughty adolescent. When they want food, or to play, or a warm lap to sit on: instant itty-bitty. It can be a bit confusing. One minute I’m thinking, Oh, we can leave them on their own all day, and then I think: No, they’re too little. They are basically terribly mobile, curious five year-olds running around armed with deadly weapons: their bodies are way, way ahead of their brains. A rough rule of thumb during the first two years of a cat’s life, one month is the equivalent of one year’s human brain development. Most cats reach their full size at around one year old, but—like humans—their brains aren’t finished for a while after that.

So they can look almost adult—here Charlie seems to be trying to grow a ruff (the kitty equivalent of a teenage boy trying to grow facial hair?) and his tail seems too long:

Two tabby kittens on a kitty condo. On on the lower level seems to be trying to grow a ruff.

Charlie (left) and George (right)

And then he can want to be in my arms like a baby:

Little tabby kitten asleep on an arm

Charlie, looking big-eared and young

Half the time they look like perfectly proportioned young adults, and then Charlie’s ears and tail look huge, or George’s back feet:

Tabby kitten sprawled on read cushion; the camera perspective makes his back foot look huge

George looking like a roof rabbit

Yes, that’s a camera-position/distortion thing, but if you look at the other pictures of George in this post you’ll see his back feet really are big.

Meanwhile, they are still teething. Chew chew chew, sigh. And Charlie at least still seems to think he’s small enough to claw his way up my back (and legs, and ribs) to sit on my shoulders. Assuming I haven’t bled to death by then, more kitty news towards the end of the month. Amuse yourselves meanwhile with previous kitten reports.

So Lucky wins the WA State Book Award!

Blue folder with a gold embossed seal: The seal of the State of Washington, 1889. On top is a name tag: Nicola Griffith, So Lucky.

So Lucky just won the Washington State Book Award for Fiction! Wow. I am surprised and happy. Both the Seattle Times and Seattle Review of Books have more info so go read those for details on where, what, who etc. What I want to talk about here is my surprise.

As the night’s MC, Paul Constant, pointed out, this really was one of the strongest groups of finalists I’ve seen for these awards. Every single book on the fiction list would have been a fine winner. (Yes, writers often say these things as a courtesy; this time, it’s true.) I did not expect to win, both because of the other books nominated but also because of the nature of So Lucky itself.

I’ve never been a fan of false modesty or excessive humility. I can write; So Lucky is a good book. But, by its very nature, it is designed to force the reader to look inside themselves and face their own ableism—because, oh, we are all ableist, even if we don’t want to be; it’s how we’re raised. If the book works as intended, it will make the reader uncomfortable (as well as thrilling, amusing, delighting, all that stuff—but, definitely, some discomfort). In other words, So Lucky is not the kind of fiction that wins awards. Nonfiction that makes the reader squirm? Sure, maybe. But fiction? No.

So when I saw the finalists I knew I wouldn’t win. I showed up at the ceremony a) because it really is an honour b) free party! and c) I wanted to support the friend who I was convinced was going to win. Of course I had thought about what I might say if I did win—doing otherwise is like going for a drive and, though not expecting to crash, not taking a moment to fasten your seatbelt: just plain idiocy—but I hadn’t thought deeply, and I hadn’t polished my thoughts or committed them to memory.

Then when I got to the auditorium I saw that the only microphone at the front was a fixed mic attached to a podium—utterly inaccessible to someone in a wheelchair. So then I was sure, with rock-bottom certainty, I wouldn’t win. So when Constant read out my name I was shocked. I wheeled out, totally blank, and they handed me a handheld wireless mic. And I thought, Fuck, should have practised…

Luckily, I did in fact remember most of what I’d intended to say (because I’ve been saying it for a year at various book events), though not nearly as elegantly as this (now polished—yes: stable door, meet bolt) written version:

SO LUCKY is about a woman with MS, written by a woman with MS. The first word of the book is it, and it is a monster. But the monster is not MS, the monster is ableism.

Ableism is the story we’re all, disabled and nondisabled, fed from birth: that to have intellectual or physical impairments makes us less, Other. Ableism is a crap story.

For one thing, it’s wrong. What disables a person in our culture is not impairment but society’s attitude to that impairment. We are disabled by assumptions. By, for example, the bookstore owner who, when asked why there’s no wheelchair ramp, says, with no trace of irony, “Well, none of our customers use a wheelchair.” Or the editor who says to their author, Can you make the disabled character a bit more lonely and sad, more authentic?”

Ableism is not only factually incorrect but poorly constructed, an inauthentic story told by those who have no clue. Next time you read a book about a quadriplegic who kills himself because he can’t bear to live in a wheelchair, next time you read about a blind woman whose happy ending relies upon a magic cure, ask yourself: Is the author of this story disabled?

According to the CDC, 25% of Americans has an impairment that has a serious impact on their life. One quarter. But what proportion of novels on our shelves are by and about disabled people? According to my back of the envelope calculations, about 0.00013 percent.

Ableism is a crap story. I wrote So Lucky to counter it. So for giving this book—this anti-ableist story—recognition, thank you.

I added a few more thanks, I think. At least I hope I did. If I’d had more time—and less shock—I would have thanked the judges, and Washington Center for the Book, and Washington State Book Awards. I would have thanked my agent, Stephanie Cabot, for having faith in me and my work (no matter how odd it gets); my editor, Sean McDonald, at FSG who found a way to publish a weird thing as an actual novel, and to do it in a vast great hurry because I felt it was urgent; Kate Macdonald, publisher and chief energy source at my UK publisher, Handheld Press (ditto); and all my friends who were sincerely puzzled at my sincere puzzlement over this book. Librarians and booksellers have been amazing; they expected HILD II and got this odd little thing, but embraced it anyway. But most of all I want to thank Kelley, my rock and my beacon, who always had faith in me and my book even during those times when I didn’t, quite. She took the picture, below, of me at the afterparty, still looking a little bemused.

A short haired white woman in a wheelchair signs a book for a reader.

I got to sign a lot of books at the afterparty—photo by Kelley Eskridge

I suspect the bemusement may last a while. But right now the sheer delight is gaining, so I think I’ll stop here and go party some more!

Saturday 12th October: Washington State Book Awards

So Lucky is a finalist for the Washington State Book Award in the fiction category. The event will be held this Saturday at the Central Library, downtown Seattle. It’s free, and all ages are welcome.

Central Library
1000 Fourth Ave., Seattle, WA 98104
206-386-4636
Sat Oct 12, 7–9 pm
All Ages
Free

Awards ceremonies can sometimes be a bit dull—though this one, hosted by Seattle Review of Books‘ Paul Constant, might not be—but the afterparties never are! So come meet the authors, get a book signed, have a glass of wine, eat some tasty nibbles, meet some more authors, quiz the judges on their choices, have another drink, meet some more authors, listen to their scurrilous stories…

Last time I went to one of these things, I was jet-lagged out of my mind (just off a plane from the UK—with time only to change my jacket) and by the time the evening began had been 27 hrs without sleep. I talked to a few people but I honestly don’t remember much of it. This time will be different. I’ll be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and ready to chat with one and all. So come and be part of the state’s literary civics, and have a free drink. And come say hello!

Neither Dying Nor Being Cured

Image description: Composite image of two book covers of So Lucky: A Novel, by Nicola Griffith. On the left, the UK edition. On a black background, a burning torch flames in orange and yellow up and across at least half the image. At the top, in between the flames are quotes from the Independent ‘a short, fast-paced whirlwind of a novel’ and BBC Culture‘a sophisticated thriller’. Below is the title, So Lucky in salmon-coloured type, and the author’s name, Nicola Griffith, in white. On the right, the US edition. The background is matte black with the title “So Lucky,” and the author’s name “Nicola Griffith,” in big uppercase type rendered as burning paper. In smaller, brighter letters between title and author is, “A novel,” and, below the writer’s name, “Author of Hild”

This is the essay version of the Ethel Louise Armstrong Lecture I gave last year at Ohio State University. It was first published in the UK edition of So Lucky (Handheld Press, 2018), along with two other bonus essays. My list of book-length fiction for adults that passes the Fries Test now stands at 65 — but there are many more novels out there that could be on the list but are not, because, frankly, I keep forgetting to publicise it and solicit entries. So if you know of any, please add a comment here, where I can keep track of it, rather than on Twitter or Facebook or this post, where it will get lost.


Neither Dying nor Being Cured

by Nicola Griffith

 So Lucky is, at heart, about the body — a changing body, and the way bodily change also changes our understanding of the world. (Just after my MS diagnosis I wrote an essay about this, ‘Writing from the Body’.) So Lucky is the story of Mara, a woman on top of her world, who’s never met a challenge she couldn’t deal with — until, in space of single week, she is diagnosed with MS, divorced by her wife, and loses her job.

Unlike a lot of fiction written by nondisabled people, in this book Mara doesn’t die, and isn’t cured. She ends up figuring out a lot of stuff, falling in love again, making idiotic decisions, making money — and fighting monsters, human and otherwise. There’s a lot of exterior action in this novel. It is a novel, not a memoir, although it does have autobiographical elements. Like me, Mara is queer, diagnosed with MS, and loves martial arts. Like me, she is a creature of the body.

The body is my language. It’s how I learn about and relate to world.

That physical relationship to my surroundings influenced the kind of wheelchair I chose, when the time came. I could see immediately why a full power chair might be a good idea. In a manual wheelchair: you need two hands to move; while you are moving you can’t use your hands for anything else. A power chair controlled with a joystick means you can steer one-handed: hold a beer and move through a party, open a door and go through it, pick something up in passing. Despite all that, I chose a manual wheelchair with electric-assist — the same kind of power boost as an electric bike. I really wanted to feel the relationship of my effort to my movement: to go fast I have to push hard. I need to feel the laws of physics operate through my body.

As a cultural producer and performer, I am thoroughly embodied. As a writer, I bring the reader into my fictional world through the character’s physical, embodied, experience. What a character feels, what they notice of their world — and how they feel about that — tells the reader a vast amount about who they are: their temperament, attitude, and experience. (Lovers walking into a forest might look for a private glade. An ecologist notes the fallen leaves that form the soil that feeds the worm that feeds the bird that feeds the marten that feeds the bobcat. A logger would see board feet.)

There’s a lot of evidence from cognitive science to show that we as readers take the experience — the emotion, the thoughts, the struggles — of well-drawn characters as our own: books are empathy machines. But writers aren’t machines, we’re people. We are not separate from our work; we imbue our work with our own experience and perspective. With my fiction, I’ve always written from who I am and where I am, emotionally and physically.

I’m a queer woman, and the protagonist of all my seven novels, and all (but one) of almost twenty stories, is a queer woman. This is what comes naturally to me: I am a queer woman so I write about queer women. And in my fiction, queer women’s bodies are sites of delight rather than struggle — because I never associated being woman, or queer, with internal struggle.

I’m lucky, I think. Growing up I somehow avoided internalised homophobia and internalised misogyny, or perhaps I learnt to automatically counter-program them.

I knew as soon as I knew my own name that I was girl who liked other girls. I didn’t see anything wrong with that: I was utterly fabulous, and I was queer, so being queer must be fabulous, too. Writing queer protagonists was natural and good and easy. But I didn’t write stories about being queer, or the difficulty of being queer, or realising you were queer. My characters just were queer — and the stories were about something else. In story terms, queerness was not interesting to me.

It’s different with disability.

I did not grow up disabled. I did not develop an awareness of this culture’s bias against, horror at, and disdain for physical and intellectual difference; I did not learn to defend against it or counter-program it. Instead, sadly, I absorbed and internalised it. I bought the ableist storyline whole. The ableist bias I absorbed was implicit, not explicit — I didn’t even know it was there — but it constrained my thinking and understanding of the world as surely as an iron cage.

I was diagnosed with MS 25 years ago. Perhaps because my physical impairments gained on me slowly it took years to feel the sting of nondisabled people’s dismissal. It took years for me to begin to understand that I’d been dismissing my disabled self. But more likely it took me a long time to recognise the ableist narrative I’d absorbed, the implicit rules I’d been bound by without realising it, because I had nothing to compare it with, nothing to contradict it. I had no role models.

Growing up I hadn’t seen disabled queer women — in real life, or on page or screen — at all. When finally I began to see disabled characters in books and on screen they were distorted clichés: tragic cripples, angry cripples, helpless cripples. Cripples whose bodies, like those of queer people, were portrayed as sites of difficulty rather than delight. In other words, the only disabled people I watched or read were written by the nondisabled who have no clue of the lived experience of a disabled person and so were just reiterating and reinforcing the ableist narrative.

I believe that today the majority of disability fiction for adults — YA and kidlit is a different case and beyond the scope of this piece — is roughly where queer fiction was 60 years ago: full of protagonists who are remarkable only as a piteous creatures crying out to be treated as human, and relying on the kindness and forbearance of strangers. Who are, in Mitchell and Snyder’s term, narrative prostheses, that is, narratives that use disabled people as a metaphorical opportunity — usually to inspire or teach or otherwise manipulate the emotions of nondisabled people.

Last year, disability activist Kenny Fries formulated the Fries Test (inspired by the Bechdel Test in which a film must have two names female characters who talk to one another about something other than a man). He asked:

Does a work have more than one disabled character? Do the disabled characters have their own narrative purpose other than the education and profit of a nondisabled character? Is the character’s disability not eradicated either by curing or killing?

If you can say yes to all three questions, the book passes the test.

The Fries Test is a low bar: the characters don’t have to have names, they don’t need to talk to one another, and certainly not about something other than disability. But it’s what we have.

In late 2017 I put out a call on social media for book-length fiction that passes the Fries Test. Half a year later I have exactly 55. Some of the 55 are old. Some out of print. A handful are not in English.

Think about that. More than a thousand years of English literacy — and we have 55 book-length works of fiction that pass the Fries Test.

Stanford Literary Lab suggests that the number of novels extant in English is on the order of 5 million. Given that 1 in 5 people in majority English-speaking countries are disabled, you might hope that 1 in 5 novels in English would pass the Fries Test (actually you’d hope for more, because the test is such a low bar). So there should be one million novels that pass the Fries Test. But there are 55.

There are 999,945 stories missing. 999,945 voices missing.

We need those voices. Without mirrors, without seeing ourselves, we believe the bullshit that is fed to us by nondisabled people. We believe the ableist narrative. I certainly did. I saw myself as a failed able person, a second class citizen, wrong. I was taught to pity disabled people and so saw myself as pitiable.

To write So Lucky I had to unlearn all that.

I wish I’d been able to get over my own ableism earlier, to transition to a wheelchair years ago. The wheelchair is changing my life; it’s easier for me to be me in a chair than on crutches: on crutches I struggle; in a wheelchair I don’t. In a wheelchair my head isn’t fogged with anxiety: ‘Can I walk that far? If so, will I have any energy when I get there?’ In a wheelchair I have the freedom to notice the world, to notice people, to be in the world, not fighting the world, or feeling fought against. But I was afraid of being in a wheelchair; I was afraid of being one of Them, of being Other.

Perhaps this is how it felt for most queer people growing up decades ago: afraid, alone, feeling wrong. And then queer culture flowered. People found each other, built their own communities, lived in neighborhoods where they became the Norm, where they could see themselves as they really were, not as a straight people saw them. At that point queer people were no longer hiding, no longer pretending to be straight (and, in some cases, desperately wishing to be). We loved ourselves, our queer bodies. We were out, and — finally — proud. And only after that were there books and films and music — and, eventually, TV — worth watching.

But as a crip, even 20 years ago, I felt as though I had no good models. I didn’t know how to write the kind of novel I wanted and include disabled characters. All I saw around me were interior, angsty stories of characters pleading for recognition. I didn’t want to write that. And I didn’t want to write a novel in which a character like me had to sacrifice herself at the end to benefit a nondisabled character.

What I wanted was to write a novel the way I’ve always written a novel — full of joy, and will, and agency, and event — with lots of queer women, but this time also with crips; with a disabled protagonist. But because I had no models, I didn’t really know how. So, again, I did what queer writers decades ago did: I wrote a kind of Coming Out novel. Mara is diagnosed with MS and figures out what that change means.

Having said that, in many ways So Lucky is not a Coming Out novel. It’s not about learning to love yourself just as you are and fighting for acceptance. It’s more about learning to see clearly:

  • Learning to see the lies we as disabled people have been, and still are, fed; the box we’ve been put in.
  • Unlearning our own ableism.
  • Breaking out of the box.
  • Overwriting the ableist narrative.

Ableism is a crap story. We can make better ones. But to do that we need to see ourselves. We need mirrors. We need to hear our own voices. Our strong, beautiful, ordinary, disabled voices. We need to see and hear ourselves. That’s what So Lucky is about: getting past the bullshit fed to us by society and then figuring out how to break that narrative, how to free ourselves and others, and how to build something of our own. Because it’s only after you’ve broken out of and thrown away the old story that you can start to build your own.

Kitten Report #06 [photos and video]

Two tabby kittens fast asleep on a white sofa, spooning, one with a protective paw over the other

The kitties are now 19 weeks old. Two visits to the vet since last week. Happy to report all is well (even after episodes of trying to eat broken glass—glass which, of course, they broke—and steel wool). All up to date with rabies and feline leukaemia vaccinations. No sign of regrowing polyps. George is still sneezing, but less often, and mainly when the pollen outside is high and I’m sneezing too. Another family member with allergies…

They’re both gaining weight, but George is still 25% bigger than his brother: Charlie is 2.16 kg (4.76 lbs) and George 2.74 kg (6.04 lbs). The thing is, Charlie still adopts a protective attitude to his brother, always being between him and danger. They are a week shy of 5 months old and, apparently, this is the age of wholly focused food acquisition; on the vet’s recommendation we’re monitoring their food; they not thrilled. At five months, kittens are supposed to have reached about half their ultimate height and weight. If this holds true for our beasties, George will be big, well over 12 lbs, while Charlie might be a smidgeon below average.

Charlie has learnt (again) that water is wet: he fell in the bath (my fault—I introduced them to a family of rubber ducks, which they couldn’t resist, and both tried to climb onto the narrow tub edge together with predictable results). George has learnt that when he tries to eat glass or steel wool, he gets shouted at, and grabbed, and subjected to various indignities. I doubt it will stop either of them trying again.

We think we may have a mouse. For two days George became wholly focused on the underside of the stove, then the counter next to it, then the wine fridge: he spent two hours without moving one afternoon. All I can say is, that mouse must be suicidal. Their hunting instrincts are running full bore. At least one large spider has met its doom (as I discovered when I was down on the carpet to do some stretching and found shiny bits of leg and torso here and there). Well, at least it’s not glass.

Their latest Fun Times are exploring kitchen appliances: the microwave, dishwasher, and oven. Charlie more than George (who is too busy with his self-appointed role as imaginary-mouse catcher). No one (or appliance) has been harmed in the making of this experiment. Yet. They have also discovered the joys of lying in front of the fire, which we turned on for the first time this week. The fire is most definitely a hit, with only one slightly singed nose (Charlie) as a result. One scary thing: the wheelchair lift. I live in fear that one of them—that is, Charlie—will dart underneath it just as the whole steel box come grinding down. As a result, we keep it in the down position by default, and I make sure neither of them is in the room when I start to raise it. So it adds some tedium to my days—but better than pancaked kitties.

Their eyes are becoming quite different colours. George has Armagnac eyes; Charlie’s are more like peridot.

Tabby kitten facing camera; his irises are the colour of fuming Armagnac brandy

George of the Armagnac eyes

Tabby cat facing the camera; his irises are pale green, like peridots

Charlie has peridot eyes

They both sleep a lot, and have a tendency to do so upside down. George in supported fashion, Charlie just letting it all hang out and down. They love to sleep on me. They sleep on each other. And they sleep near each other. They are sociable beasties.

Two tabby kittens on a lap, affronted at being disturbed, staring into the camera

Excuse me, we’re TRYING to get some sleep! (Charlie at the front, George behind)

Two tabby kittens on a lap, falling asleep

And down they go…

Tabby kitten out cold on his back, mouth agape

George is totally out

But oh my god they run a lot, too, thundering up and down, up and down, the hardwood floors. Thundercats are go!

Sometimes, though, they prefer to ride. They approve of my new Rollator.

Two tabby kittens sitting on a blue Rollator, waiting for a ride

Charlie: Drive, James! And don’t spare the horses. George: Horses? Charlie: You’re right, let’s just eat the horses.

It’s so new I haven’t got all the stickers off yet; I had to replace the old one recently because they tore the brake cable out.

I don’t know how long this one will last. Yesterday I caught Charlie trying to fit the whole triangular handle-tightner assembly in his mouth. It looked like some gruesome special effect; I had no idea those little mouths could stretch so wide. Then he tried to eat the metal leg of my sit-stand desk, and, when talked-to sternly, moved on to the cable that connects my display and Mac Mini. I can’t wait for this teething crap to be over, about another two months.

For the last week Charlie has definitely been able to see birds outside. Here’s a brief video of him noticing one of our family crows, and making his first chittering sound.

Another sign of growing up: they’ve learnt to find and follow patches of sunlight on the floor. There are times when they look wholly adult. Here’s Charlie posing as a  miniature Bast.

Tabby kitten in three-quarter profile looking like an Egyptioan statue

Charlie as Bast

George, meanwhile, is much less concerned with dignity and focuses on standing on his head to aid digestion.

Tabby kitten asleep with his head smuched against the sofa and pink tongue sticking out

George stands on his head

And that’s where I’ll leave them. More next week when they hit their 5-month anniversary of trying to eat the planet. Amuse yourselves meanwhile with previous kitten reports.

Kitten Report #05: Visual rehab [photo and video]

Charlie and George are growing at an insane rate. Here’s a photo taken about four weeks ago. And another taken ten days ago:

Tiny little tabby kittens on a kitty condo. One, at the top, is curled tight taking up only about a third of the shelf. The second is on the third level down, semi-reclining. of the spac

Four weeks ago, they didn’t take up much space

A tabby kitten hangs off the top shelf of kitty condo, taking up every inch; below. another tabby lies sprawled over most of the surface area

Charlie now takes the whole top level, and George half of the third.

And they’ve grown a lot since then. When Charlie first came home from his operation he was 3.5 lbs. I’m guessing he’s close to 5 now, but George is far bigger and heavier, more like a young cat. Charlie, though smaller, still gets his preferred perch—the highest level on the condo; George mostly likes to hang out on the third, shaded and sheltered by the second where, when he’s bored, he can grab at Charlie’s tail and chew.

Charlie is still a kitten, still fearless, and still visually impaired–still a nightmare combination for kitty wranglers of a jumpy disposition. But you’ll note I no longer say blind. Neuro-plasticity is an amazing thing, and Charlie’s brain has been frantically rewiring. He can definitely see some things. Equally definitely, he can’t see others. And, most confusingly, that seems to be variable. At first I though the variability might be related to non-visual compensation: being able to sense the movement of air when the feather passes closely enough, or fast enough; or perhaps he can hear it; or smell it. But through experimentation—which both he and George thoroughly enjoy; they’re getting hours of focused play a day—I’ve determined that this is not the case. I think sometimes his brain just sort of fritzes.

On top of that, some part of his visual field is missing. I’ve been researching acquired brain injury and visual impairment and suspect he has some kind of hemi- or quadrantanopia (or -anopsia). There are all kinds of variants. Perhaps the left visual field of both eyes is missing, or maybe part of the right visual field that is, homonymous hemianopia. Or the centre, or the outside (heteronymous hemianopia). I’ve been trying to work out ways to test that.

The games/tests I’ve been using are tracking/chasing games. Sometimes a cursor against a white screen, or a red laser dot on a pale carpet (neither of which he can feel or smell or hear); sometimes Feather (bunch of feather at the end of a line), and sometimes dropping a variety of things from a height.

The first time I tried the laser pointer on the carpet, he lost the red dot about 70% of the time and took a lot of patient tempting to reacquire it. This video was taken about ten days ago:

You can see the difference between Charlie, who doesn’t seem sure he’s really seeing the dot at first, and George, who’s all Kill! But Charlie is improving rapidly. And this morning he did not lose it once at normal twist-and-turn speed, but did lose it when I flicked it away suddenly. And it no longer takes him long to reacquire it. George, on the other hand, can follow it almost anywhere, at any speed, and he reacquires almost instantly.

In terms of the cursor, well, see for yourself: he seems to track left more easily than he tracks right. What does this mean? I’m not sure.

He might be missing some of his right visual field. But that’s not the only problem. Chasing Feather gives a more interesting, 3-dimensional view of what he can and can’t do (though of course complicated by compensatory sound/touch etc.). Here’s a video taken about a week ago of Charlie chasing Feather.

As  you can see, most of the time his coordination is fabulous, and then sometimes it goes to pieces. And he can’t seem to see things right in front of him. So I thought: binasal hemianopia, that is, the middle is missing.

There again, one test he fails consistently is seeing/tracking an object falling from a height, whether it’s his white miniature soccer ball, one of my juggling bags, or a piece of white cottonwool. So it could be that he simply can’t process at speed, or perhaps that an upper part of his visual field is missing—maybe heteronymous quadrantanopia. Apparently, while occasionally those with this damage can recover, it’s not massively likely:

The prospects of recovering vision in the affected field are bleak. Occasionally, patients will spontaneously recover vision in the affected field within the first three months after the brain injury; however, vision loss remaining after this period of spontaneous recovery is traditionally thought to be permanent

It’s now been about five weeks since Charlie’s brain injury. So there is a faint possibility of recovery but unlikely. The goal now is adaptation. I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I’d feel much happier about the possibility of letting Charlie outside occasionally if his vision were wholly intact. Right now, I don’t think he’d see a barred owl swooping in to snatch him away. On the other hand, he has a wonderful time indoors and sees everything he needs for a full life, and indoor-only cats do tend to live longer. So we’ll just see how well he adapts with constant training-as-playtime. I suspect he’ll be happy either way.

At this point, though, my main suspicion is that I’m not training Charlie and George, they are training me: hours and hours of play time a day, plus treatsies for playing, and endless comfy lap time afterwards. Oh, well. I’m getting a lot of reading done.

In a few days I’ll do another post, this time about all the non-vision-related adventures of Charlie Kitling and Master George. There are many. Meanwhile, catch up on previous kitten reports here.