Pick up the fucking phone

We are in a constitutional crisis. If you are a citizen of the USA you must do something. Not convinced? Look at this list of “actions taken or proclamations made by the government of the United States of America and its states from the day before DT’s inauguration, as well as reactions to those actions and proclamations by the People of the United States of America, recorded by Suzan Eraslan.” As of Sunday the list runs to nearly 40 pages.

Not all of us are in a position to donate money or time or put our bodies on the line in public protest. But if you are a US citizen, the odds are that you can spare half an hour once a week to phone those who represent you in Congress and urge them to action.

Don’t know what to say, or where to begin? Look up the contact info for your Senators and find your Representative. Then read this, which explains why you should use the following format:

Hello, my name is [Jo Bloggs].
I’m a constituent of [Metropolis], zip code [12345].
I don’t need a response.
I’m opposed to [any ban on—/nomination of — for the post of —] and encourage the [Representative to oppose such a ban/Senator to vote against this nomination].
Thank you for [taking this call/doing the work/answering the phone].

Keep it short and sweet. Play nicely. The people on the phone are working very, very hard.

It’s difficult to get the TTY numbers for those Senators and Representatives. (I managed to find the TTY for my Representative, Pramila Jayapal (202-225-1904), but not for Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell. I’ve asked them to provide those numbers for both local and Congressional offices.) But here’s the TTY number for the Capitol switchboard: 202-224-3091.

Calling is what works best to influence elected officials. If every citizen in the country phoned once a week (even just once, full stop) it would move the world. You might have worked yourself to bone on these issues already, but do this. You might not have bothered to vote because you hate politics, but do this. You might have lost your mind and voted for Trump, but do this. It’s not too late to redeem yourself.

Pick up the fucking phone and call. And then do it again next week.

 

New novella—and writing from identity

I’ve been off social media for nearly two weeks in order to write a novella, working title So Lucky.1 I finished a draft at the weekend. In terms of genre it lives somewhere between crime fiction, dark fantasy, and rage. The draft weighs in at 28,000 words: 100 manuscript pages exactly. I suspect I’ll lose a good chunk of that in the rewrite. This draft was mostly about figuring out where I was going. It was not easy.

Thinking with my fingers is something I’ve done a lot with short fiction; I have a vague notion, or a starting image, and am happy to follow it and see where it leads. After all, a short story is, well, short. How lost can you get in a few thousand words? So when I start a piece of short fiction I expect to meander; I look forward to it. Oddly, though, this rarely happens. My short pieces tend to come out in one clean take, needing only a bit of tidying up before publication. Novels don’t work that way. They’re too long and complicated to blunder about without knowing where I’m going. I never start a novel until I know how it ends.

This novella was unusual in several ways. First, and most obviously, it’s something I had drafted before, many years ago. I actually sold it (under the title Season of Change), then pulled it from publication because it wasn’t right; it didn’t ring true. It took me a while to figure out that the problem was the ending; it was basically a narrative prosthesis.2 Over the years I’ve revisited it many times, but I could never get the ending to change; the final image just wouldn’t budge.

Second, there’s no lyricism, no nature writing. (The closest I’ve been to that before is “It Takes Two.”) It’s all plot and dialogue, with some internal processing thrown in.

Third, it would be easy to read the protagonist as me. It’s set in a city, Atlanta, where I lived for five years; it’s contemporary; and it’s about a queer woman being diagnosed with MS. However, while it uses many autobiographical details it is not autobiography.3

I often use parts of my experience in my fiction. Slow River is set in a city where I lived for ten years, and the essential question embedded in the narrative revolves around a question I asked myself then—but it’s also set in the future, and the protagonist is a rich kid. The Blue Place is about a woman who largely grew up in the north of England; Stay uses my experience of grief; and a big chunk of Always concerns teaching women’s self-defence—but the Aud novels are about a 6-foot tall, über competent, well-connected Norwegian woman. And Hild, well, while Hild is positively stuffed with autobiographical details it’s also about an aristocratic woman who lived 1400 years ago. All these novels are written from the perspective of a queer woman. None of them, though, is about being a queer woman.

The autobiographical elements in this novella are not what made it so hard to write. What made it hard was that it’s about disability. I don’t mean it revolves around a disabled character, I mean it’s about disability. This is a first for me. Not in terms of writing characters with disabilities (see Slow River and Always) but writing fiction about how being disabled makes you Other.

I’ve spent my entire writing life creating protagonists who are queer women. But I’ve never made any of the stories—short fiction or novels—about being a woman or about being queer.4 I’m generally not a fan, as Kelley would say, of eating from the theme tray. I didn’t want to do that with this one, either. But it kept dragging me in that direction.

I have some theories about why that should be.

I’ve known I was a dyke since, well, I knew I was a girl and that my name was Nicola. It seemed perfectly natural to me, as natural as breathing or climbing a tree or eating when hungry. It took me a bit longer to understand that there were labels for those who were attracted to one, or the other, or both, or neither. With that understanding came the realisation that some labels were considered Good and others Bad. But for some reason my first understanding did not allow of the second: I simply didn’t give a shit what anyone thought. I knew I was amazing. And if I fancied girls then fancying girls was amazing.

I didn’t really start to write until I was in my early 20s. I’ve been female and queer my whole life. It still took a while to learn how to write from that identity but not about that identity. My first few attempts were heavy on irony and satire. After a handful of stories I didn’t like very much I realised writing about being a dyke did not interest me; for me it was an old story, settled.

This is not true for being a crip. I was diagnosed with MS in 1993 (the same month my first novel came out). Illness came first, physical impairment later (I was still doing aikido in 1998). I did not start to use a cane until 1999. For many years even though I walked with a limp and used a cane I apparently did not match others’ perceptions of Disabled. Strangers would say, Was it a climbing accident? (Seriously, that was the number one assumption: rock climbing, mountain climbing, free climbing. Any kind of climbing. Why? I haven’t the faintest idea.) And when I said, I have MS, they would looked puzzled and say, But you’re so strong!

Strong and Cripple do not fit together in their heads. It did not fit together in my head. My community was not other crips; it was writers, women, queers. They were as ableist as anyone else—as ableist as me. It took me a long time to unlearn some attitudes (and I’m not convinced I have unlearned them entirely; we are products of our culture, and our culture is aggressively ableist).

It takes years to learn to write properly from one’s identity. Just because I had written a lot before, just because I had chosen/accepted my identity as a crip did not mean I was ready to write from it. It’s taking me a while to wrap my head around the whole thing.

So when I first wrote the novella the narrator (whose name keeps changing, so I won’t use it here) I thought that the ending, in which Our Woman Has an Epiphany, seemed okay. Gradually, though, I realised that was ableist crap: the problem isn’t personal attitude, it’s cultural attitude. It’s them, not us. One snag: I could not get that ending image to change. No matter what I did, it just sat there with its arms folded and refused to move.

Then a couple of weeks ago, after the most recent #CripLit chat, I realised: I don’t have to change the ending, I just have to change the meaning of the ending. At that point I was ready to rock and roll. I kept getting a bit didactic, a bit unsubtle, but I wrote it anyway. Sometimes the only way past a phase is through it. I needed to say this stuff so I said it.

That what’s what I’ve been doing while I’ve been away. Fixing the draft won’t take half as much time and attention. So: I’m back.


1 Working titles almost always change.
2 For more on this, see Disability: Art, Scholarship, and Activism.
3 I get so tired of having to say that. But I’ve found that the further an author is perceived to be from the Norm—straight, white, male, able-bodied, middle-class, etc.—the more likely she to be deemed to be writing from her experience. If a straight white male college professor writes about a straight white male professor having an affair with a young student then, hey, it’s art! But if a queer woman writes about a queer woman then, hey, she must be writing her life story! After all, she couldn’t possibly be making this up. Because, hey, women aren’t very inventive.
4 I’m writing a long nonfiction piece about why this is so. But I’m not ready to share that. Yet.

#CripLit: Editor Roundtable, Sunday 1/15, 7 pm Eastern

criplit-jan-14-1

For our fifth #Criplit chat for disabled writers we’re trying a slightly different format. We’ve invited editors and staff from some of the leading disability-focused publications to come and chat for an hour about what they’re looking for—everything from style and format to length and tone. This is a chance for writers to learn about some of the venues that would welcome their work, and to ask their own questions of specific editors.

This is a great opportunity for disabled writers. I hope you’ll drop by and take part. Read on for more details.


#CripLit Twitter Chat: Editor Roundtable
Sunday, January 15, 2017, 4 pm Pacific/ 7 pm Eastern

Co-Hosts: Nicola Griffith @Nicolaz and Alice Wong @DisVisibility

Guests: Editors and staff from Autonomous Press, Barking Sycamores, Breath & Shadow, Deaf Poets Society, Intima, Monstering Magazine, Wordgathering, and more

Co-partners of #CripLit, novelist Nicola Griffith and Disability Visibility Project’s Alice Wong, are proud to host the fifth #CripLit Twitter chat for disabled writers.

This is the long-promised editor roundtable in which we talk to the staff and editors of some of the leading disability-focused publications. The format will be slightly different from previous chats. It is designed to get basic information from each of our editors that we think would be useful to writers, and to allow writers to then ask their own follow-up questions.

We will divide the hour into six segments. We have prepared a question for the editors to lead off each segment, which should provide some time for writers to ask their own follow-up questions. Editors will answer as many as they can. Editors may also have questions for writers. And writers may have questions or suggestions for each other.

All disabled writers are welcome to participate in the chat including (but not limited to) reporters, storytellers, 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.

Follow guest hosts: @monsteringmag @thedeafpoets @AutPress @BarkingSycamore @The_Intima @wordgathering @AbilityMaine   

Use the hashtag #CripLit when you tweet. The questions will be timed several minutes apart. Note: this week’s questions are aimed specifically at the editors and staff of disability-related journals and magazines.

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 1/15 chat

Welcome to our 5th #CripLit chat. This is the editor roundtable featuring staff & editors of some of the leading disability-focused pubs.

The format for this #CripLit chat: Our chat’s questions are for the editors & after they respond you all can ask them follow-up Qs  

We want to give you all the chance to talk with editors directly with our questions as a way to start the convo #CripLit

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

Q1 Please introduce yourself and your publication, including any links to Submission Guidelines or other useful info. #CripLit

Q2 What is the mission of your journal? (Has that changed since the election?) Who are your readers? #CripLit

Q3 Describe your role with writers. How hands-on is your process? Do you give feedback on submissions? #CripLit

Q4 What do you pay your writers? What other rewards can a writer expect from publication in your journal: Peer recognition? More? #CripLit

Q5 What advice do you have for writers? Any actions or strategies you can suggest? #CripLit

Q6 How would you like to see publications by and for disabled people change? #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

Autonomous Press: Access First
Barking Sycamores: Neurodivergent literature and its craft
Breath and Shadow: A Journal of Disability Culture and Literature
Deaf Poets Society: an online journal of deaf and disabled literature & art
Monstering: Disabled Women and Nonbinary People Celebrating Monsterhood
The Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine
Wordgathering: A Journal of Disability Poetry and Literature

About

Nicola Griffith is a British novelist, now dual US/UK citizen. 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
Website: 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

My blog stats for 2016

I didn’t blog much in 2016: only 59 posts, exactly half as much as 2015 (which itself was a super low-volume year: a new site built several months into the year following an extended period of not blogging). So I had fewer visitors: 64,077, down from 84,620. The top post was Coming Out as a Cripple, which attracted 5,093 people. The blog has close to 1,500 followers who see the posts by email or on another platform and so don’t register as part of that number.

Here are the most popular posts of 2016:

Four of the posts (*) were perennials. One, the Tiptree essay, went up in full on the site only this year, though, so depending how you look at it maybe it should be classified as new for 2016. Some of the posts either were published elsewhere first or appeared subsequently in other media.

This might be the first time that the top ten were almost wholly political, whether on a global scale or more personal. Not surprising, really, given the year we’ve had.

The top ten countries where my readers live haven’t shown much change. This is, essentially, a site for English speakers, which makes sense seeing as the posts are written in English and my books appear first in English. Here’s the list, in order:

  • US
  • UK
  • Canada
  • Australia
  • Germany
  • Sweden
  • France
  • Ireland
  • New Zealand
  • Netherlands

No surprises regarding how readers were referred to the blog. The top three, in order of number of referrals (though frankly there’s not much between them):

  • Facebook
  • Google
  • Twitter

Fewer, though still significant, referrals came via my old blog. I’ll probably leave it up for another year or two.

I’m guessing I’ll blog more next year but I’m still engaged in three large projects and numerous smaller ones, and the universe has a habit of laughing at plans, so we’ll see.

Tannenbomb*

Holiday tradition: blow up the Christmas tree. So, here, a bit later than usual, but with the presents still not yet wrapped, are some explosions.

Let’s warm up with an old favourite, the hellfire missile:

Then, because 2016 was so fucking special, I went nuclear on its arse:

Then the tree gets tired of always being the butt of the jokes and fights back (imagine a label saying, “You are here”…):

Then, well, what the fuck, it’s Christmas. Enjoy!


* Hat tip to, er, someone on Facebook. Will update the info when there are fewer libations in my system or when someone reminds me, whichever happens first. Or happens at all…

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.