A note about comment policy

Some blog runners have a warning system for commentators. I don’t. If you spew vitriol on this blog, I just delete your comment. The thread will close seamlessly around the gap and no one will ever know you left it. For a first offence I generally don’t block you from commenting in the future (people can grow and learn, sometimes) but for a second I do. And I won’t bother to tell you that I’ve done that, and I won’t bother to explain why.

This blog is not a forum; it’s not my job to tidy up after the flotsam of the universe. I do not need to bring in page-views for advertising dollars. I am not looking for controversy for its own sake. This is my blog. Life is too short to fuss over this kind of crap which is why the comment policy is so simple: play nicely.

Playing nicely means that if you feel rage you don’t do rage at me or a fellow commenter. If you feel hatred, you don’t do it here, to anyone, for any reason, ever. No personal attacks. If you level an accusation, cite your sources and/or point to specifics, and do it politely. I have no problem with disagreement; I do have a problem with lack of common courtesy.

If you’re looking for a comment war, move on. This is not the blog you’re looking for.

Writing in difficult times

On December 4 Alice Wong and I co-hosted the fourth #CripLit Twitter chat, Resistance Through Writing. The whole thing is now up on Storify. It’s long, but if you have time I can recommend it. You might find some useful tips on how to sustain yourself as a writer in difficult times.

Here, for your convenience, is the essence of what I said broken into ten paragraphs to reflect my answers to the ten questions.


I’m Nicola Griffith, your co-host. I write novels. The latest is Hild. I also write essays, articles and blog posts to explore inequality and its solutions. Today I have a lot to say. More than usual. But I want to listen, too. To hear who’s here and what we all need. If I don’t read your words tonight I promise I’ll read every single tweet in the Storify of this chat tomorrow.

What we’re up against, most immediately, is the Trump administration. The first people to suffer will be those who are already marginalised—including crips.  Power and privilege in this and many other countries is rich, white, male, straight, and able-bodied. The fewer of those identities we can claim the more marginalised we become. I’ve spent my writing life centring and making visible the Other, showing we exist, we matter. Stories make culture. If we want to be visible in this culture we need our to see work about ourselves written in our own voices. We need to find each other. And coordinate. And support. Maybe a once a week coordination-and-support chat? I can’t think of a good hashtag… [Someone suggested #CripLitOT]

Here’s some work that’s made a difference to me. Nonfiction about crip representation: the work of David Mitchell & Sharon Snyder, history of disability representation, like @KatharineQ’s (Katharine Quarmby) Bringing Down the Wall. Nonfiction helps me think in new ways. But what moves and motivates me is fiction. I need fiction with crip characters! If anyone has recommendations, please send.

We are writers. We must write. We must use hard and honest words. Not ‘alt-right’ but white supremacist. Not ‘religious exception’ but homophobic hate. Not ‘thoughtless’ but ableist. Call it what it is. A writer’s job is to tell her truth, loud and clear. Sometimes our first audience is ourselves: we need to hear our truth, too. Sometimes our truth is overt, sometimes subtle. Different audiences can hear different things. Our job, no matter what? Keep telling that truth. 

Writing will be a large part of my resistance; writing is part of my life, always. In the next year I’m planning to write not only change-the-world nonfiction but apparently (but not really) non-political fiction. I will continue the story of Hild, with as many non-conforming characters in the past as I can—women, crips, queers, people of colour and different religions and different social status—because we have always been here. I’ll do my best to name things as they are, not let people hide behind weasel words, not let what is just and right shrink to nothing. 

My work will be aimed at everyone: Disabled and non-disabled, queer and straight, POC and white, women and men, oppressed and privileged. As well as novels I’ll write academic essays and opinion pieces. And I think it’s about time to nail down that dark fantasy novella about MS. It won’t be as good as I’d like, because I’m still wrestling with my identity as a crip, but I have to write it anyway so I can move past it. I’ll write some nonfiction for non-disabled people, like these Guidelines for Non-Disabled Writers, some for me, like Coming Out as a Cripple, and some fiction for all of us, like the second Hild novel, Menewood

My advice for other writers about how to get their work out there? Simple, though rarely easy: write. If you don’t write no one can read your work. So the most important writing advice: don’t stop, even when it’s hard. Write. Then be brave: submit to editors, risk rejection. Also, accept criticism; it’s the only way to learn.

Our job is to write our truth, not second-guess what a reader will do with our work. But one thing I know for sure: if you don’t speak out nothing will change. Last year I wrote a blog post that led to the creation of a new $50,000 global writing award for womenGender bias in publishing had been bugging me for years, so I spoke my truth, loud and clear. Someone was listening. 

These are difficult times. It’s vital to sustain our sense of self, to find joy where we can, and to be kind to ourselves. I’ve written a little before about what sustains me: The Dozen Daily Delights, which include tea, chocolate, wine, sex, conversation, trees, fresh air, reading… Another thing that keeps me sane is to take long breaks from social media—except for this community of course :) 

We must support each other. But remember those pre-flight safety messages: in the event of an emergency, adjust your own oxygen mask first. You can’t help anyone long term if you’re not safe. So ask yourself and your community, What practical things can we do to keep ourselves, and then others, safe? (Transport help? New locks? Better health advocacy?) Then consider expanding y/our visibility. Ask: When are we ignored? In what ways does invisibility reduce us? And only then set about changing others’ minds. These things are connected. We need all three: safety, visibility, and outreach. They are prerequisites for sustained bravery. In difficult time being brave once is not enough to create change. To create change in difficult times we must be brave over and over. As writers we must keep speaking our hard, clear truth.

Guidelines for Non-Disabled Writers

Just republishing this for future reference. First published in Literary Hub, August 23, 2016


Recently I have read several articles about disabled people written by non-disabled writers. The authors have clearly projected their own fears and prejudices onto the subject of their piece, and spoken for them from that place. If I could say one thing to those authors it would be this: Do not assume that empathy equals experience. You might think you know what it’s like for another person, but you don’t.

For example, if you think that using a wheelchair would make you feel trapped, isolated, broken, and shunned, you might assume a wheelchair user regards themselves as trapped, isolated, broken, and shunned and interpret what they do through that perspective. But they might not feel trapped. For some of us, a wheelchair represents freedom, the ability to get out and about autonomously; it is a device that makes more possible a life full of friends and work and opportunity—on our own terms.

In other words, one’s empathy can be unreliable. I offer these guidelines to help you find your way beyond it. They are general guidelines for non-disabled writers who may have occasion to write about a disabled person or people. They are (mostly) formulated to apply to all genres and categories of writer, for example, journalists, novelists, bloggers, critics, poets, essayists, academics, and dramatists.

I am not saying that if you are not disabled you may not write about disabled people. I’m a novelist; I won’t let anyone tell me what I may may not write about. I am saying that when writing about a person who identifies as belonging to a group you can never be a part of, tread carefully and thoughtfully. Also, bear in mind that no one can speak for a group unless they have been explicitly elected to do so. I don’t pretend to speak for all disabled writers; do not assume all disabled people feel and think the same on this subject. I’ve discussed this with others, of course[1], but in the end these guidelines represent one writer’s opinion—and just a beginning, at that. They are far from complete. Please add suggestions and comments below.

I’ve divided the guidelines into two parts, proscriptions and prescriptions. To some degree they mirror each other but you may find it easier to hear one set than another. Read them both. And then go read the Storify of the first #CripLit Twitter chat.

Never (First, Do No Harm)[2]

Never equate physical, psychological, or intellectual impairment with loss of personhood. People are people. Period.

Never speak for a disabled person unless you have explicit permission to do so—and then only use direct quotes.

Never assume you know what a disabled person thinks, feels, or wants. Empathy is not experience. There is no substitute for listening.

Never project your experience—your fear, discomfort, or unhappiness—onto us. Your experience is not ours. We might not be afraid, uncomfortable, or unhappy.

Never present your assumptions, projections, or guesses as fact.

Never use disability as “narrative prosthesis.” That is, don’t use a crip as a prop, or an impairment as a signifier of or metaphor for anything (especially evil, degeneracy, or corruption). Do not magically eliminate or fix the disabled person for narrative convenience. (For more on this see Disability Art, Scholarship, and Activism.)

Never assume that one disabled person acts, feels, thinks, or wants the same as another disabled person. We are as various as non-disabled people.

Never express astonishment when a disabled person performs what would for a non-disabled person be an ordinary, everyday act. It’s not polite to be too surprised.

Always (Nothing About Us Without Us)[3]

Always, before you publish, ask the opinion of readers with the disability you portray. Listen to what they say; believe their experience.

Always, if you are writing fiction (or lyric, or drama), be clear in your bio that you are not disabled; that you are writing from a center you imagine, not one you experience.

Always, if you are writing non-fiction, write from the perspective of a non-disabled person. Make sure you are clear that the piece is about you and yourfeelings/experience/opinion as a non-disabled person. A serious profile of, say, a disabled artist might be better being written by a disabled writer.[4]

Always, if you draw an analogy between some aspect of your experience as a non-disabled person and the experience of a disabled person, make it clear you are guessing. Bear in mind you could be mistaken.

Always, if you are told by a disabled person that what you’ve written is wrong—even if you don’t understand what the problem is, exactly; even if you meant well and feel hurt by the response—be prepared to accept their criticism. Be prepared to apologize. Learn from your mistake.

Always remember that disabled people are human beings with full lives; we are people, not medical or clinical conditions.

Always remember that words matter (see my post, “Lame is so gay.”) Be very careful with the words you choose and how you use them.[5]


[1] Many thanks to Alice Wong, Kate Macdonald, and Sean Mahoney. After I’d written this piece I read an article co-authored by Wong, “The Inspiration Porn Resolution,” which I recommend.
[2] There are those that argue that Primum non nocere is nonsense. (See, for example, the Harvard Health Blog.) I think it’s a reasonable way in to thinking about things—and it’s easy to remember.
[3] There are two books with that title, both written in 1998. Wikipedia will give you an overview.
[4] I’m aware that this is a provocative statement. But these guidelines are designed to help writers to think first and then proceed with care.
[5] This is particularly true of the word disabled itself. I prefer to call myself a crip; others loathe that term. I don’t much care for ‘people first’ language—I prefer disabled person to person with a disability. I actively dislike handicapped. In ten years I might feel and think differently about all of the above. If in doubt, ask. Just don’t expect the same answer from different people.

How to defeat an autocrat: flocking behaviour

Autocrats have always understood how to silence dissent and take control: divide and conquer. I’m watching it happen right now. Those who have been subjected to this kind of oppression before—women and queers, people of colour, crips, different religions, the poor—have sometimes been brave enough, persistent enough, and/or lucky enough to come up with working strategies. But those who have never felt picked on before, like rich and powerful corporate CEOs, are now facing new rules of business that they don’t know how to combat. For the first time, they understand that how it feels to be a potential target of someone stronger and less ethical than they are. They understand what it means to feel exposed and vulnerable (relatively speaking, of course). This matters for all of us. Not because I’m weeping a lake of tears for corporate titans but because those lower down the social and economic hierarchy need powerful allies. There is data about change only being enacted by those with power. The less powerful our potential allies feel the harder it becomes for all of us.

On the morning of Tuesday, December 6, the Chicago Tribune published an article containing comments made a few days before by the CEO of Boeing, Dennis Muilenburg, about Trump’s trade policy. Just a few minutes after the article went live, Trump jumped on Twitter to say the government’s $4bn  contract with Boeing should be scrapped. Boeing stock tanked. This series of events has captains of industry concluding they have to watch what they say about PEOTUS and his policies; perhaps they should not speak out in order to not become a target. It’s shocking to feel like a potential target, I know, but they need to stiffen their spines right now and get over it. This is not going to go away; it is not going to get better.

This particular kind of Twitter-based intimidation is one that some of us learnt to deal with a long time ago. To stand against bullying the most effective solution is to move and speak as one. If even half the Fortune 500 CEOs spoke as one, Trump could not attack them all on Twitter simultaneously. Even if he did—if, say, his minions tweeted for him—traders and followers could not read and react to all the tweets. And even if they could, they could not all sell all their stocks. In addition, investors are already figuring out that Trump has a short attention span. (Boeing stock has since recovered and is close to its record high of February 2015.)

Journalists are also getting nervous and with good reason. As Jay Rosen says, in an all-too-plausible scenario, “DOJ guidelines (which aren’t laws) and norms in government that said ‘tread carefully around the press’— these will vanish overnight.” He envisions a divide-and-conquer strategy (which we’ve already seen Trump use) in which Trump uses the full power of the US government against the press.

Collective action increases individual survival. Birds, fish, insects and herbivores have been doing it for a long time. It’s called flocking behaviour. In the presence of danger they run as one, turn as one. It makes it much harder for, say, a predator to single out an individual.

There is a persistent myth about the 1940 German occupation of Denmark:

From the German occupation headquarters at the Hotel D’Angleterre came the decree: ALL JEWS MUST WEAR A YELLOW ARMBAND WITH A STAR OF DAVID.

That night the underground transmitted a message to all Danes. ‘From Amalienborg Palace, King Christian has given the following answer to the German command that Jews must wear a Star of David. The King has said that one Dane is exactly the same as the next Dane. He himself will wear the first Star of David and he expects that every loyal Dane will do the same.’ The next day in Copenhagen, almost the entire population wore armbands showing a Star of David. The following day the Germans rescinded the order.

It is not true, yet the myth persists. We want to believe it. Why? Perhaps because we believe it might have worked.

More than ten years of research (see, for example, Consensus Decision-Making in Crowds) shows that humans flock, too. It takes only 5% of a crowd to begin to move for the other 95% to follow; we do it subconsciously. Flocking is emergent behaviour: it happens when certain criteria are met without the participants making any conscious decisions. Imagine how powerful that strategy could be if we acted consciously.

Trump and his people have already taken preemptive action against the planned Women’s March on Washington. (Though the march now has a starting point.) But he can’t preempt everything, everywhere, everyday. Not in America, not yet.

But if we do nothing perhaps one day he could. Many people laughed at Mussolini to begin with; few were still laughing once he had consolidated power by dismantling institutions and norms of behaviour.1

Fairness and diversity cannot happen until allies speak out. So, to those with power, platform, and access: You probably don’t like the idea of going from predator to potential prey. Oh, well. But you must not duck for cover, you must not hide. You must speak out. Speak out in concert. Talk to your friends and colleagues. Figure it out. Pick a day; do something.


1 Is this an extreme comparison? Read Umberto Eco’s essay about fascism and perhaps this article about Ruth Ben-Ghiat’s thoughts in the New Yorker and decide for yourself.

Support Disabled Writers, Artists and Creators

Alice Wong founded and runs the Disability Visibility Project.

The Disability Visibility Project™ (DVP) is a community partnership with StoryCorps and an online community dedicated to recording, amplifying, and sharing disability stories and culture.

For two and a half years it’s been a labour of love: everyone works for free. But Alice wants to be able to pay her contributors. She has always seen the DVP as a “home for disabled writers, artists, and creators. All are welcome and everyone’s labor is valued.” Now you can help make this happen by supporting the DVP on Patreon.

A while ago I wrote a blog post about coming out as cripple, and then started following disability activists on Twitter. I wondered aloud why there was no #CripLit hashtag for disabled writers to talk to each other and the world about their work. No one knew; perhaps it was just that no one had done it yet. So I started trying to figure out the best way to make that happen. That’s when Alice offered the DVP as partner. I went to look at her other work—things like #Cripthevote—and saw immediately that between us we could make this work. And between us we have. But #CripLit would not have the taken off the way it did without the support the DVP. Now it’s time to support the DVP.

Why should you support DVP? Culture is built from stories. Stories are communication. And DVP connects us so we can tell our stories, so we hear and be heard, know we exist. In a world where crips are often, at best, not understood or believed, where every day we are marginalised, talking to each other is a life-saver. Sometimes literally.

If you can afford a fancy cup of coffee once a month you can afford to give $3 to support the DVP. If you can afford one a week, how about $15? If you get coffee every morning, hey, you do the math.

Support Alice. Support the DVP. For the price of a cup of coffee once a month you’re making the world a richer, much less connected place.

Signed and personalised books for Holiday gifts

Read this great post by Robert Macfarlane on LitHub about the grace and beauty that is the gift of a book. I’ll wait.

Okay, now here’s my annual Buy Signed and Personalised Books for the Holidays thing.

I’m teaming up again with Phinney Books, on Greenwood Avenue, Seattle, to bring you signed books for the holidays. Why Phinney Books? Well, because it’s right next door to the pub! Which makes it massively, convivially convenient for me. Also, Phinney Books is my idea of a perfectly-sized bookshop with just the right stock.

Here’s how it works.

  • Go to Phinney Books’ online ordering page to buy any of my books, no muss no fuss, and get them shipped to any address in US, Canada, UK, Australia, or New Zealand. Everyone else, see the next step.
  • Email info@phinneybooks.com (phone is okay: 206 297 2665) with billing info: all major credit cards accepted. They use Square, so they’ll also need the 3-digit code on the back and your billing postal code.
  • Tell them what you’d like, e.g. Hild (paperback or hardcover or audio CD) or another of my books. (See below.) Or, hey, another book by somebody else—lots of books, any books! It’s the holidays. You (and your friends, your family, everyone you’ve ever met) deserve something nice. Splurge! For example, why not treat someone to all three Aud books? Or the science fiction set: Ammonite, Slow River, and With Her Body?
  • Tell them whether you want the books by me personalised (to you, or to someone else; if so, who; and what short thing you’d like me to add). If you give this order by phone, please spell out even the most common names.
  • Give them your mailing address and payment info.
  • Beam, sit back and relax: you’ve done your holiday shopping!

Tom, the owner, tells me domestic shipping by media mail costs about $4 for one book, $5 for the memoir. He is happy to ship multiple copies, to ship internationally, and to ship express/priority, but then there will be extra charges you will have to work out with him. (Shipping to the UK and Australia, for example, runs about $20 to $30 US.)

Deadlines: I haven’t checked with Tom on this but perhaps Thursday 15th December is a safe deadline for books shipping domestically via media mail, but if you’re willing to pay for priority mail, we could probably push that out a bit. International, well, I suspect that’s passed but if you order now it would probably get there before New Year.

So basically you have ten days for Domestic. Go for it! I’ll do my best to sign your books before I go to the pub, which means everything will be spelled right. Mostly…


My books (all paperback unless otherwise noted):

Novels:

  • Hild (paperback in stock; hardcover in stock; audio CD, special order)
  • Stay, Aud II (in stock)
  • Slow River (in stock)
  • Ammonite (in stock)
  • The Blue Place, Aud I (in stock)
  • Always, Aud III (in stock)

Stories:

Memoir:

Please Note:

  1. The Hild audio CD has to be ordered. Allow some time. Assuming the audio CD comes shrink-wrapped, I’d have to open the wrap to sign, so do please be aware of that.
  2. The memoir is also shrink-wrapped. However, all are already signed (on the back of the photo inside), so you’d get that pristine. Unless you want it personalised, in which case I have to rip off the shrink wrapping to sign the box.

Resistance through writing: #CripLit chat December 4

Power and privilege in this and many other countries is rich, white, male, straight, and able-bodied. The fewer of those identities we can claim the more marginalised we become. I have spent my writing life centering and making visible the Other, showing that we exist and that we matter. Stories make culture. If we want to be visible in this culture we must make our voices heard.


criplit-dec4

#CripLit Twitter Chat
Resistance Through Writing
Sunday, December 4, 2016
4 pm Pacific/ 7 pm Eastern
Co-Hosts: Nicola Griffith @Nicolaz and Alice Wong @DisVisibility

Co-partners of #CripLit, novelist Nicola Griffith and Disability Visibility Project’s Alice Wong, are proud to host the fourth #CripLit Twitter chat for disabled writers.
All disabled writers are welcome to participate in the chat including reporters, essayists, poets, cartoonists, bloggers, freelancers, unpublished or published. We want to hear from all of you! Check the #CripLit hashtag on Twitter for announcements of future chats that will focus on different genres or topics.

How to Participate
Follow @nicolaz and @DisVisibility on Twitter
Use the hashtag #CripLit when you tweet. If you only want to respond to the questions, check @DisVisibility’s timeline during the chat. The questions will be timed several minutes apart.
Check out this explanation of how to participate in a chat by Ruti Regan: https://storify.com/RutiRegan/examplechat
If you don’t use Twitter and want to follow along in real-time, check out the live-stream: http://twubs.com/CripLit

#CripLit Tweets for 12/4 chat
Welcome to our 4th #CripLit chat. We had planned a chat with disabled editors but the recent US election has made this topic more urgent.
We hope to bring you that editor roundtable next month but this chat will discuss resistance through writing. #CripLit

If you respond to a question such as Q1, your tweet should follow this format: “A1 [your message] #CripLit”

Q1 Please introduce yourself, describe your background in writing plus any links about you & your work #CripLit

Q2 As a disabled writer, what do you feel the need to resist right now? What forces are you ‘up against’? #CripLit

Q3 Whose writing has made a difference to you? In what way? #CripLit

Q4 What is the role of artists and writers in resistance and speaking truth to power in times of upheaval and uncertainty? #CripLit

Q5 Will writing be part of your resistance? What will you write about? #CripLit

Q6 Who do you want to read your work of resistance? Will you write in a different way to persuade your readers to resist? #CripLit

Q7 How will you and your work reach those readers? What strategies or advice do you have on getting one’s work out? #CripLit

Q8 What do you want your readers to take away from your writing? What actions or changes are you hoping for? #CripLit

Q9 What do you do for self-care during difficult times? What nurtures and sustains your creativity, passion, & ability to write? #CripLit

Q10 How can we best support each other in the next year? What critical conversations should disabled writers be having? #CripLit

This concludes our 4th #CripLit chat! Please keep the convo going. Be sure to tweet co-hosts @nicolaz @DisVisibility questions, comments, and ideas for the next #CripLit chat

Additional Links

Disability Art, Scholarship and Activism
Nicola Griffith (5/18/16)

No Place For Self-Pity, No Room For Fear
Toni Morrison, The Nation (3/23/15)

Writing as Resistance
Chris Hedges, Washington’s Blog (7/17/16)

About

Nicola Griffith is a British novelist, now dual US/UK citizen. In Yorkshire, England, she earned her beer money teaching women’s self-defence, fronting a band, and arm-wrestling in bars, before discovering writing and moving to the US. She was diagnosed with MS the same month her first novel Ammonite was published. Her other novels are Slow River, The Blue Place, Stay, Always and Hild. Her essays and short fiction have appeared in an assortment of academic texts and a variety of journals, including Nature, New Scientist, Los Angeles Review of Books and Out. Among other honours her work has won the Washington State Book Award, the Tiptree, Nebula, and World Fantasy Awards, the Premio Italia, and six Lambda Literary Awards. She is married to writer Kelley Eskridge and lives in Seattle where she emerges occasionally from work on her seventh novel to drink just the right amount of beer and take enormous delight in everything.
Twitter: @nicolaz
Blog: https://nicolagriffith.com/blog/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/nicolagriffith
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/amm0nit3/playlists

Alice Wong is a San Francisco-based disability advocate, freelance journalist, television watcher, cat lover, and coffee drinker. Alice is the Founder and Project Coordinator for the Disability Visibility Project (DVP), a community partnership with StoryCorps and an online community dedicated to recording, amplifying, and sharing disability stories and culture. Currently she is a co-partner with Andrew Pulrang and Gregg Beratan for #CripTheVote, a non-partisan online campaign encouraging the political participation of people with disabilities.
Twitter: @SFdirewolf
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/356870067786565/
Website: http://DisabilityVisibilityProject.com