AAW Words of Wisdom (I hope!)

So! It’s the second day of Asexual Awareness Week, and the theme for today is Words of Wisdom. I’m not an artist so I was a little hesitant for yesterday’s theme of art, but I am a writer. If I can’t come up with some at least passable Wise Words then clearly I am a bigger slacker than I’d previously given myself credit for.

Well. Wise words on the subject of Asexuality. It’s tricky really, because a large part of me is keen to stress that it’s no big deal, that hey, I’m not trying to intrude on anyone or be an attention seeker, or invalidate other Queer people by claiming a space for myself in the MOGII (Marginalised Orientations, Gender Identities and Intersex)/LGBTQIAP+ community.

But really, isn’t that part of it? Part of the problem? Asexuality is the new kid on the block, orientation-wise. It’s only just been recognised as an orientation and not a condition (and about time!), and frankly, most people haven’t even heard of it. So, much as I don’t want to stand up and claim to be some sort of special snowflake, another part of me feels that I have something of a duty to be Out and proud, simply so that another teenager out there maybe escapes the teenagedom I had.

I’ve probably mentioned before that I had a pretty sheltered childhood. I never did get out much – mostly I stayed at home reading books, playing computer games, and writing.

Boy, that writing though. I’ve never been a poet, but teenage me was blissfully ignorant of that fact, and wrote heaps of the damn things. Heaps of kinda rubbish stories, too. And you know what? A whole bunch of them might have been about being lonely, or death, or being different, but oddly enough, love and crushes weren’t a feature. It was a running gag among my friends that I’d skip over any scenes like that in books. I felt (and still feel) distinctly uncomfortable even watching people kiss.

And yet, for all that, I knew that I wanted a family (naturally, wanting children has nothing to do with orientation, and neither does someone’s fitness to be a parent). Which meant that I knew that someday I’d end up with a man, even if for a long time I was adamant that I could still adopt, and avoid the whole icky kissing-and-more thing. The thought that maybe I didn’t have to? That it wasn’t an inevitability? That wasn’t on the table. I went to an exceedingly hetero-normative school, and in those pre-internet days, there was no one to tell me that what I was feeling was normal, or that there were others like me.

For years I was the odd one out; the only one who really didn’t understand the point of boy bands (I still don’t understand the fascination with manufactured pop groups, btw), or who didn’t have a crush on an actor. Instead, I told myself that clearly this crush or infatuation stage was just something I’d skipped somehow, and boy, wasn’t I lucky? After all, adults didn’t go all gooey over boys or men (or women) the way my classmates did, right?

Yeah, wrong. I think I managed to miss the fact that I was deluding myself by reading over and over accounts of people who fell in love through adversity, or over time. I wanted a partner – and in my head, I always made that distinction of “partner” over “boyfriend” – and that was just what fantasy novels offered. Relationships built on friendship and trust, with any physical affection nudged to the background or off-page. When I finally entered a relationship, I had no idea that I wasn’t experiencing sexual attraction because I had no idea what it even was. It’s not as though we live in a world which encourages women to be open and honest about their sexuality, after all.

The first time I encountered the term “asexual” was in the webcomic Girls With Slingshots. I was…perhaps 25? It didn’t register, because the asexual character in the comic did not engage in sexual activities, whereas I fluctuate between indifferent and favourable. (For those unfamiliar with the terminology, this describes my willingness to engage in sexual activities myself, and not my view of sex in general. I am also sex-positive, in that I believe people should have as much – or little – sex as they want, without being shamed by anyone.) I had been surrounded by a hetero-normative society for so long that I was unable to divorce the concept of sexual attraction (and acting on it) from love. It has taken me the last two years to unpack that, and to grow into a space where I feel comfortable to state that I am Asexual, with a capital A. I arrived via the label of Demisexual, because for a while I was unable to accept that the attraction I feel/have felt (to only a very few people throughout my life, it has to be said) was romantic and sensual, not sexual. It was a huge shift to really think about what I was experiencing, and not try and make myself conform to what society told me I should feel.

Nowadays, the more I look back on my teenage self, the more obvious it is. I start to wonder how I ever missed it; from writing a fantasy series about a reproductively asexual race of people (so I didn’t have to include romance, because that inevitably led to kissing); to my conviction that I wanted someone to sit quietly with and talk to for a partner; to my squishes on classmates which I knew couldn’t be crushes because I never wanted to kiss anyone; to my utter blindness to anyone flirting with me up to and including the point where I went on a date without realising that the other person wanted to kiss me until they actually kissed me.

And the common thread through all of it, the one single, solitary thing I wish I had known through it all? That hey, it was okay. There was nothing wrong with not wanting to have a relationship, and I didn’t need an excuse like “I’m too busy writing”, or “I’m just awkward”. I’m not awkward at all. I’m just not sexually attracted to people, and after almost a lifetime of teaching myself to pass as straight so that I didn’t seem so odd, I’m a little muddled up inside still. For example, I have a tendency to point out innuendos all the time simply because for years I never saw them and was the butt of jokes in that regard. Now I over-compensate.

Another, less healthy example, is the fact that I had huge self-worth issues as a teen because guys only seemed to notice my breasts, and people would compliment my hair, and I didn’t see the purpose of either of these types of comment. I have moderately large breasts – did that mean people were only interested in those, and my value in their eyes derived from my appearance? I have shiny, thick hair – did that mean other women would judge me based on how my hair looked? I had no measure of what was “attractive”. I still don’t, really. I judge my appearance based on how society tells me a woman should look, because I had to learn what “sexy” meant from books and television. I don’t have a metric for what attractive is. I look at myself and I see….a body. I look at other people and I see…also bodies. It’s something humanity as a whole has in common; isn’t that great! But beyond that? Nope, not a clue.

I’m rambling now, because frankly, there is so much I could say on this subject that I’m pretty sure I could write a book. Honestly though, the one thing I come back to time and again is the wish, the passionate wish, that somehow I had learnt about all this sooner. That I hadn’t spent my entire teens and a chunk of my adult life feeling that I must be strange or weird because there was something out there which other people all seemed to understand and which I didn’t. And now, here’s a week about awareness, and I can take a step to make that wish come true for someone else. I can be visible for another teenager who feels kinda weird and different and out of the loop with all the kissing nonsense going on around them. I can stand up and say “THIS IS REAL. YOU ARE NOT BROKEN.”

I am not broken. I am not wrong. I’m just asexual. And I’m not alone, either.

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Mirror Image

You know, I’ve always had this weird obsession with reflections. That’s possibly overstating the matter, really, but I can remember reading Through the Looking Glass at a young age, and the whole concept really resonating with me. Everything being reversed. That disorienting sensation where things are on the wrong side. For years I’ve looked at reflections – in mirrors, windows, puddles – and imagined a mirror world, where everything is the other way round. Back to front.

Which is a neat sort of image to open with really, because it turns out (to my own surprise) that today is International Letfthanders’ Day. I wasn’t aware that it was a Thing, but hey. It is! Unite, my fellow lefties!

Most likely, the connection doesn’t make sense at first. But really, the more I think about it, the more I see how linked those two thoughts are. Being left handed in a world where more than 90% of the population isn’t, you quickly learn to adapt. Some with greater ease than others, to be sure, but you do work things out. You manage. Maybe you never even consciously think about it most of the time, because that’s just how things have always been. It’s still there though.

I will admit, I did roll my eyes when the Lefthanders’ Day thing popped up. Because… it’s just a hand, you know? I don’t usually see a big deal in it. Most people use their right hand, I use my left. No problem. And then I started thinking, and looking back over my childhood (always a dangerous pasttime, that), and I realised that no, maybe there is something in this after all.

Being left handed is a lifetime of micro strategising. It’s adapting to a world which was made for people who work the other way around. It is, when you get right down to it, like growing up in the mirror world. Where everyone reaches for something on the opposite side to you. Where you need that extra second to go: “Oh, no, the handle/pen/mouse is on the other side.”

Of course, being an adult, that’s mostly instinctive. Being an adult in my own home it’s also mostly unnecessary. I leave my kettle with the handle on the left. I own left handed scissors and vegetable peelers, and a tin opener which works for both hands. The rest I learnt to deal with years ago.

It’s childhood really, where it can be a problem. Which, if you look at the Wikipedia page for International Lefthanders’ Day, is  sort of the purpose of having a Day (with all the emphasis of capitalisation that it implies) in the first place.

Because when I look back on my childhood, there’s that little undercurrent all the way through. It’s the green and yellow handled scissors which were always blunt, because there were so few lefties to use them that they never got replaced. (I learnt to use right handed scissors in my left hand – other solutions include really sucking at using scissors until you get proper ones, or just using your right hand to cut with.) It’s the moment when everyone else in year four was writing with a pen, and I was told I couldn’t because I made a horrific smudgey mess of everything I wrote – if you’re left handed, writing left-to-right is a bit of a bother. I can remember very clearly – even twenty years on, nearabout – the day that someone told me to turn the paper so that I wrote towards myself instead of horizontally. It was a revelation. It was a chance to not be the Odd One Out. To not be held back because teachers just didn’t have any practical advice for someone not being the same as the rest of the students.

Plus this is so damn comfy, you know?

Seriously. A revelation. Revolution, even, if I’m feeling Punny.

I mean, it’s pretty sad, in a way. Because I can recognise that it’s not a big deal. We’re not talking serious, life-changing stuff here. And yet I remember that. I remember feeling different, just because of the hand I use. I remember sitting in lessons and having problems because I would knock into the elbow of the person next to me if I wasn’t careful. If I didn’t sit on the left. I remember that frustrating moment where I picked up a peeler and I couldn’t use the damn thing because the blade was on the wrong side. I remember my frustration with the brief, short stint I had learning the piano because my right hand just wouldn’t do the fiddly bits. I remember PE lessons where I was just plain backwards to everyone else. Holding the bat or the racket in the wrong damn hand.

I remember going into hospital for problems in my teens, and having a cannula put in my left wrist, and feeling completely helpless because suddenly I couldn’t move it properly, and there went my ability to do pretty much anything. I’m a writer, and could no longer put pen to paper. It was hell. (These days I make a point of getting them to put it on the right side. That there is a “these days” for that statement is something of a bugbear of mine, but never mind.)

And I remember the jokes. The stupid, irritating jokes. Not often enough for me to class them as anything other than an irritation, but there, all the same. The implication that being a leftie is weird. That I’m awkward. That I’m clumsy. The constant “bad handwriting” association. The weird looks when I pick up knives and apparently “just look awkward”. To be honest, the fact that it’s anything to comment on at all, outside of making adjustments for it. Why does it matter?

Because, you know, kids aren’t stupid. I mean, you tell a child often enough that they’re different, and they’re not just going to gloss over that fact. When you make a fuss about a child who smudges their writing and don’t offer a solution, you can’t just expect them to be okay with that. I had years of feeling self-conscious about my handwriting. To the point where I would apologise for it before anyone even saw it. To the point where, these days, I have this compulsion to show my handwriting to people just so they can comment on the fact that it’s tiny, not scruffy. To get that validation that I overcame the problem. It’s a minor insecurity which never went away.

And I’ll be honest, I’m not even that left handed. In some respects, yeah, I am. I do most stuff with my left hand. But I don’t have a different setup for my computer – I use a mouse in my right hand. (I type slightly weirdly though because my left hand does most of the work.) I eat “right-handedly”, whatever that means, and I can use my right hand for stuff when needed. I have a degree of ambidexterity. There are plenty of people out there who struggle to adapt as well as I can. Who need to change keybindings on their computer to make things work. Who really need left handed scissors, instead of liking them. Who grow up feeling short-changed because they were born on the wrong side of the mirror, and everything is back to front – and instead of helping, people just make idle jokes associating lefthandedness with clumsiness or being “wrong” in some way. “Cackhanded” is one of my least favourite words, for that exact reason. (I also super hate “southpaw” but I accept that’s a personal bugbear and lots of other people like the word. For me it’s like a tic. I hear it, and I want to thump someone. I have a HAND. I do not – and am not – a fucking PAW.)

I guess the point I’m trying to make is this. Left handedness isn’t something I really think about until I’m reminded of it – and then the floodgates open and I realise just how many things irritate me on a near-daily basis which I’m so used to tuning out that I seldom think of it. It’s cash points having the Chip and PIN reader on the right hand side, so I have to stretch to do it (that was worse when cards still had signatures, btw. Super fucking annoying trying to fit in the awkwardly-placed gap). It’s those study chairs at colleges and in sixth forms having the desk attachment on the right arm (although the 90 degrees trick for handwriting helps there). It’s so-called ergonomically designed utensils being shaped so as to be nigh unusable. It’s the oven controls being placed in such a way that I have to stop myself reaching over the hob in order to turn the temperature down. It’s every till I ever used while working in retail being geared for right handers.

It’s teenage me getting flack from the teachers when I cut my left hand on a glass bowl and they didn’t believe that I was unable to write my homework. Because hey, it was my left hand. (Not even joking about that one. I went in with my hand bandaged and the response was “use your right hand”. To take notes. In a GCSE History lesson. Yes I am still bitter. No, I wasn’t able to take notes.)

I am a leftie who spawned another leftie. So some of these issues I’m starting to see from the other side, too. I see my daughter writing with a super awkward grip on her pencil. I see her struggling with scissors (I made sure to buy a leftie pair so she had some with blades that actually cut). I can already foresee future hurdles as she moves outside of my leftie-friendly home into a mirror world which really doesn’t give a lot of allowance at times. I wonder if I should present her with the same challenges I had, so that she learns to adapt young. In a sense, she already has – my right handed computer setup means that she, like me, will grow up able to use regular computers without issue.

There’s a correlation between left handedness and creativity. I think the general public assumption is that it’s genetic, but really, I think it’s as much growing up in the mirror world as anything. It’s a lifetime’s experience finding solutions to the problem of everything being back-to-front. A childhood adapting to the almost limitless minor inconveniences of the world around. Of the locks on every single locker being on the right hand side of the door. Of fumbling your own way to writing legibly. Of manhandling implements so that they work backwards. Of being super glad to live in the UK when you learn to drive because ha! At last, something which seems tailor made to me! (And then not being able to drive any more, but oh well.)

So, ultimately, on International Lefthanders’ Day, I want to stand up and gesticulate wildly. Not so much to celebrate the fact that I’m different (although at one time I did pretty much do that about being a leftie), or to make out that I’m super hard done by (although, again, I was a teenager, so I had that phase about leftiehood too). It’s more just… if you know someone left handed – particularly a child – maybe take a minute to appreciate that all those little obstacles do add up. They’re small hurdles, but they can have an effect. A lifetime of hopping over them adds up to a lot of extra energy spent. And maybe there are some hurdles which don’t need to be there.

My daughter is not the only leftie in the class. There’s a stupid number of them in her year group. Nine in one class, eleven in the other. It’s amazing. She won’t spend her primary years being the odd one out. And that’s good. But that’s also not the case in every school. Not every child is in such good company, and sadly, some children are subject to bullying or put-downs because of it. To struggling because of illegible handwriting. To finding it hard to use scissors or computers (ever important in our technological age). Is that really how things ought to be, in this day and age? Should we be letting children grow up being othered just because of the hand they use? It’s all rather Lilliputian, to my mind. Surely we can make the world a more adaptable place. For everyone.

The Subtle Art of the Request.

For those of you who don’t know, I have a fanfiction account. It was neglected for a long time, and then I got this idea, and I had to write it, and then one thing led to another and now I am in the middle of another story, which is over 50k long and shows no sign of winding to a close any time soon (I mean, in terms of story, we’re about to get into the real plotty part).

But anyway. I digress.

Fanfiction.net has been an experience. Mostly a good one, I have to say, although that could be because I’m hanging out in a fandom which seems to have a core of really good writers, and not so many of the sort of fic where you read it and then go grab the eyebleach. While reading (too many) fics recently, I have noticed that some are written as commissions, or as requests, or in response to prompts. I though it was interesting, but ultimately didn’t really pay it that much attention.

And then last night, someone sent me a PM requesting that I write a fic. And I was hugely flattered, because I literally have three fics on the site and two of them are 5k and under, and holy shit SOMEONE IS PAYING ME ATTENTION! FEED MY WRITERLY EGO, PEON! So I replied, and said, well, depending on what it is, I don’t see why not. And I asked what they wanted me to write, including the disclaimer that hey, I will readily agree that I don’t have so much writing time at the moment.

What did they request, you ask? An AU version of the first series of Digimon Adventure. Now. This made me pause a moment. A very “what the fuck?” moment. But, you know, I’m new to all this requesting stuff, and maybe I just misunderstood, right? So I tap out a message asking if they mean the whole series, or just, say, a specific part of it.

They want the WHOLE DAMN SERIES.

Here’s the thing.

This person has not been rude. They’ve not been especially polite either (we’re talking a bare minimum of words in the PMs), but they’re just asking. They’re not demanding or anything like that. It’s a question, not “urh, you have to do this or you suck”.

But.

It really makes me think about how much people take for granted. I mean, this person who knows nothing about me save for the little bio on my about page, has requested that I spend I don’t even know how long writing a fic about an entire, 54-episode anime series. Based on, presumably, one (unfinished!) fic that I’ve been writing.

Sure, you can argue that it’s a great compliment. That hey, I enjoy writing anyway and it’s not like I have to say yes. The fact is, as it happened I had an idea lurking in the back of my mind that the prompt sparked a little anyway, so you could even make the argument that it’s something I would probably have written at some point even without the request.

But really, if I write that fic. If I write an AU version of the entire first series of Digimon, that’s the work of hundreds of hours. For a fanfiction which I can’t really benefit from save for a “yay me” if people leave positive feedback.

Don’t get me wrong here, I am currently writing a hella long fic for the fun of it, which I have never expected to get anything for. I don’t mind writing for no gain. I love writing. But I remain very uncomfortable with the attitude that allows someone to ask a person they don’t even know – with no preamble – to make that kind of commitment to something. For nothing.

I mean, just… this is the commissioning/fic request equivalent of bumping into someone on the street and going down on one knee there and then. There’s nothing wrong with proposing. There’s nothing wrong with requesting a fic. But you know, there’s a teensy bit of interaction which reeeeally should happen first. With the proper context, everything is hunky dory.

Without it, at best you come off as a bit of a twat. At worst, you’re going to make people feel really awkward and uncomfortable. Either way, it’s fucking rude, peeps. Let’s not do this thing, yeah? CONTEXT. CONTEXT IS GOOD.

Cold White Light

When I migrated this blog over here, I don’t think I had a very clear image in my mind as to why, exactly. I knew I had something I wanted to say, but I wasn’t really sure what that something was.

Well, it would certainly be expected and mundanely appropriate for me to announce with a flair that I have now discovered that purpose. Unfortunately, I haven’t. And the more time goes by, the more I realise the inherent truth in that. Not everything has its epiphany moment. Oh, we all have our moments of self-discovery, and the epiphanies are the easiest to spot and to share, but sometimes, the most important and fundamental realisations we can make about ourselves take time to arrive.

If an epiphany is like a light turning on in our heads, the slow-burning, life-changing ones are more like a dawn. Hear me out. Dawn doesn’t start when the sun breaks the horizon, filling the world with a new day. It’s not a “no sun/YES sun” kinda deal. It started long before those first bright rays crest over the hill, or peep past the tops of trees or buildings.

Dawn starts when the world gradually turns away from night. When the sky takes on a lighter sheen, and the stars begin to fade into the background. And that light isn’t yellow and warm. It doesn’t shine brightly and joyfully. That light is cool, and white, and it inches over us so gradually that it’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment when it started. You don’t see it getting brighter – you just look back and know that five minutes ago, or maybe ten, it was dark. That now it’s less so.

Life takes us on many ups and downs. If we let stories dictate what we should be feeling, we expect epiphanies. Sudden dawns, which spring from the darkness to fill us with all the energy of a new day. Love. Happiness. Achievements. All the good things are portrayed as a sudden uplift – a washing away of all our problems. Or a bridge which helps us walk above them. They don’t tell you that sometimes the first thing you notice is that the stars are fading into a sky which can’t yet be called blue.

The truth is, so often there is no sudden rush of knowing. We just muddle along, and then we look back and realise with hindsight how much brighter things are than they were before. Maybe one day that sun will crest the horizon and I’ll bask in the warmth of its rays. Until then, I think I’m content with knowing that it’s no longer night.

Welcome to 2012, Year of 366 Days!

So, here we are. It’s a Sunday afternoon and the rain is falling, welcoming the New Year in a particularly British fashion. It’s not that cold, not at all warm, just damp and a bit grotty.

I’m not here to write an obligatory “It’s a New Year, so I promise to do Better this time” post. For starters, I’m a realist, and I’ve started too many diaries with the best of intentions, and then by the time February rolls around, not only have I stopped writing every day, I’ve gone and lost the dratted things. Heck, I could say the same for about halfway through January. And then, to be honest, I don’t know that there are all that many things I could say I got wrong in the last year. 
Okay, so my organisation could stand to improve (heck, it could always stand to improve), and there are things I want to achieve this year that I had put on the back burner last year (there’s only so much you can get done with two children under the age of four around), but overall I don’t think I did that badly. 
I had surgery twice, made a wedding dress, got married, and completed NaNo (even if the story still needs major work). That’s nothing to be ashamed of, especially when you add up all the little things that get done on the side. Actually, there are a lot of little things on the side. Maybe I should have a New Year’s Resolution to not start too many things. But then, where’s the fun in that?
I start the year one e-reader the richer, so I think that by the time the next January rolls around I’d like to have taken at least one step towards publication in some form. I tend to stick my head in the sand a little, and have spent the last few days discovering what is rapidly turning into an epiphany about e-publishing. Still not completely sold on that one, but I could give it a go for some of the things I’ve written, if not all. 
And of course, my CBT rolls on, too. Next appointment is on Tuesday, so we’ll see how it goes. Having seizures around big family holidays is a real drag (and I had a fair few, so I know from experience), so that would be a good thing to get under control. I’m not going to set myself a “goal” with seizures though. My inner realist knows it’s too much to hope that I’ll be seizure-free within a year, and yet, aiming for anything less seems a little pessimistic. 
Plus, setting goals for health sets you up to fail, and then, not only are you more ill than you wanted to be, you’re down about it too, because you promised yourself in a cloud of hope and optimism that it wouldn’t happen. The way I see it, making promises about things you only have a finite amount of control over is setting yourself up for disappointment when circumstances beyond your control intervene. If something stressful happens to me, I will probably have more seizures. If I’m then stressing about the stress, and the fact that I wasn’t “supposed” to have any more seizures that month, I don’t think it’s really going to help much. 
And, in other news, O and I decorated snowflake-shaped gingerbread biscuits today. They were delicious. Biscuits and sugar are a good start to anything. That’s a new family tradition, right there. 

Out of the Frying Pan…

…And into the writing trial by fire!

Honestly, for someone affected very negatively by stress, on the face of things I don’t make life easier for myself. No sooner is the wedding stress out of the way than I pitch face first into a writing marathon.

Still, it’s not going badly so far. And, although several people who I’ve told about the annual creativity drive that is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, have told me that I’m crazy, or it sounds impossibly hard to write 50,000 words in 30 days, I actually find it rather theraputic.



That’s not to say the seizures have stopped. No, they’re still plodding along at more or less one a day. Mind you, I’d put that more down to the nice little health Questionnaire that ATOS sent me a few weeks ago to make sure I’m not a fraud, and the rather daunting prospect of changing my name in goodness knows how many places (I haven’t even started that task yet) or the great big wodge of a form that I have to fill out for my CBT. (Honestly, the thing would work equally well as a draught excluder. And while I know all the questions are important, filling them out has been killing my hand!)

Oh, and did I tell you I finally got a response from my MP? I wrote to her, way back in August, and apparently in September she replied. Only, somehow I only got the letter in November. Despite the fact that her office is around the corner from me, so it would only ever have to go via the local sorting office, which is, oh, let’s say a ten-minute walk away? I’ll be charitable and say it got lost in the post, or someone accidentally dropped it down the side of a desk or something, because she did say that she’d written to both the head of the local health care trust and Andrew Lansley, asking the former why local access to specialists was so poor, and the latter how he plans to address the “provision for epilepsy patients more generally”. So, not too shabby. It may not actually achieve anything, but it’s better than nothing.

And so, to round off a much-longer-than-I-expected post, here is a picture of me in wedding attire, because I’ve read that people who read blogs like such things:

…Well, it was the only
 one of just me.