My Fanfiction Origin Story

The title is more epic than it actually sounds, but when I think about it the entire thing had been a story long in the making.

Some writers believe that fanfiction is a waste of time. Certainly, you can’t really profit off of it unless you have the original writer or creator’s permission, and you do not want to run afoul of copyright infringement. But that’s not what I’m here to talk about today. I’m partly here because it’s been a while since I’ve put anything on this Blog, my Writer’s Blog, that hasn’t been a repost from my Sequart work, or elsewhere.

I suppose I’d … always written fanfiction. In fact, I did it ever since I even learned how to write. Often I’d watch the 1990s Peter Pan cartoons and attempt to write the further stories of Captain Hook, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and more. In the eighties and nineties though, as a young child, I was mostly interested in horror stories and mostly rehashing the old urban legends and Hammer film derivatives of horror classics more than anything else.

I don’t know if I remember it properly, but I think it really began in Fine Arts Camp. It was at the MacDonald House in Thornhill, once owned by the Canadian Group of Seven artist James Edward Harvey MacDonald. At the time, in the 1990s, I fancied myself something of a graphic artist. I was really passionate about drawing and creating cartoons. It made sense given my interests and my immersion into old DC and Marvel comics and a lot of the stuff coming out in the nineties. Certainly, I wasn’t all that interested in landscapes or other forms of graphic art. Just cartoons. Just comic books.

To be honest, Fine Arts Camp for all its fascinating old MacDonald House that was a good place to tell children urban legends and horror stories near a church and a community swimming pool, wasn’t always so ideal for me. For one, I had terrible allergies and being almost always in the middle of a woodland, surrounded by many trees, did not do me or my lungs that felt like they were getting kicked by horse hooves at night any favours. Also, well, when you are a child and generally an indoors one you have to understand that for all a camp will call itself a Fine Arts Camp, they will still force you go outside in various temperatures and play sports more than you will want. It was the same in the Computer Camp I went to, thinking I’d learn about animation and programming, and it was the same here before it.

Also, when you are extremely introverted like I was, you don’t tend to make a lot of friends: especially not from children your age or, worse, older. To make a long story short, aside from arts and crafts, and even some walks, I didn’t really always like being at Fine Arts Camp. But, I did discover something there that has sat in my head, with me, for the rest of my life.

I don’t remember his name. I’m not even sure he was the same person. But I knew a kid there, a few years older than me. He had in his hands, at the time, something I coveted the most. It was the Wizard Magazine: X-Men 30th Anniversary Special. In that magazine was all the information I’d been looking for about the X-Men and more, so much more than the Marvel cards and their lore that I had been collecting then.

For all the little squabbles we all had there, being kids, this guy was generous and he let me actually read parts of the Magazine. And, even though the other campers really thought I was weird for doing this and it probably gave them more fuel to push me around later, I was actually taking notes on all the information I could find. It wasn’t enough and eventually, after much pleading on my part and my grandmother’s reluctance to spend or let me spend all of twenty dollars, I got my own copy: which is still somewhere down in my basement somewhere.

But the important thing I want to note here is that this same guy, and may not necessarily be the same guy, liked to write. He told us that he would type up his stories on an old computer. Somehow, I remember him saying he had the Internet and frequented BBSes looking at stories based on franchises like Star Trek and Star Wars. I might just be projecting that, as I had no idea what the Internet beyond school was or what a BBS even was at the time. But I remember him saying that he liked to write stories where Star Trek and Star Wars crossed over, and perhaps something about Locutus of Borg meeting the Empire.

It blew my mind.

I don’t remember all the details, but I recall the way he described his ideas and his stories. I think he even brought in some old computer paper with rings on the sides and clunky font. And I definitely remember wanting to write franchise stories.

I wanted to make those crossovers. I wanted to write Star Wars. I wanted to write comics and all the things.

That’s how it really started. There was an attempt at a Star Wars expanded universe story in my Seventh or Eighth Grade Writer’s Club anthology: where Luke Skywalker and the others meet a Dark Jedi fighting against the Empire and the Phantom Fleet. But you can imagine how well that was written at the time, and even more so how it aged since.

But I roleplayed out original Star Wars, X-Men, and Power Rangers episodes with my best friend Sean, and I kept writing. I still attempted to write my own works, but they were derivative of R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps and Fear Street, along with some Christopher Pike, so you can imagine what those might have been like.

I think my writing skills started to be honed after high school, after reading more and writing an original short story in which I won a Senior Literary Award in 1999. I joined TheForce.Net again in 2005 and wrote what I thought were clearer iterations of Prequel stories. Unfortunately, despite all their assurances that everything would be saved, a lot of my works were lost when the Board attempted to transfer its data to a new server and most of my old works were heavily truncated.  It’s something I never really got over, after all this time and, frankly, it’s kept me from really writing there as much anymore.

But I learned a lot out of writing in different pre-made worlds.. I learned about what writing I liked and what I didn’t. They gave me ideas and frameworks for them. And sometimes they gave me an outlet to tell stories I wasn’t prepared to tell when I didn’t have a voice for them. Yet I think, most of all, fanfiction keeps me writing when I don’t feel inspired to write my own work, or when I’m getting overly critical and analytical.

Recently, I’ve joined AO3 to give some of my fanfic pieces a broader audience. I didn’t really like the freeform administrative style of Fanfic.Net, and TheForce.Net’s administration can be … sporadic and highly dogmatic in terms of poster interaction at best. But AO3 has a lot of variety and also maturity at times with regards to their work. So far I am liking it. And I cross-post all the time. Right now, in-between writing critical and opinion pieces for Sequart and thinking of some of my own original pieces, I’ve been writing a Fate/Stay Night fanfic I’ve been pondering over for a while and a few other shorter vignettes as well.

They keep me going, and I don’t think I realized how I missed it until I stopped. In addition, they also keep me writing new things and attempting stuff I hadn’t thought of or had the metaphorical balls to dare try. At the moment, this variance helps keep my mind fresh: and, who knows, I might have some of my own creative breakthroughs.

Some might even say that this how literature itself continues, minus all of these labels and copyright issues. Someone creates something and others want to emulate it: with perhaps reading and interacting with the materials that the original creator made to understand it better and eventually find their own voice.

Even so, fanfiction allows me to interact with the material that I love on a creative level without the pressure of feeling like I have do it professionally or for a need for money. I think there is a lot to be said about it, if you learn and grow from the experience, and even just have fun. I don’t know. I do know that I have come a long way from coveting wanting to write a Star Wars story, which I thought was beyond my ken at the time. With time, research, and will I can write almost anything now.

I guess that, in the end, I just need to remember that. After all, I think it is always useful to pursue inspiration: wherever you can find it.

What’s Going to Happen

I’m not sure when I’m going to be on here next, so I thought I’d stop by and tell you about some of my plans and perhaps a few upcoming events.

A little while ago, I decided to write full-time for Sequart. This means that I write 15000 words a month: including integrating graphics into those articles that talk about comics and sequential art. When I made this decision, it was part of my plan to supplement my writing and keep generating content while I spend time on my more creative works.

Something happened though. I began writing about LGBTQ+ issues through specific works. Then the 2016 American Election happened, and I have been writing about that a little bit. These have been areas that I have skirted around and didn’t really engage beyond acknowledgement as they weren’t in my area of lived experience, or my comfort zone. But this crop of articles has challenged how I write and I’ve realized since then that I do have a non-fiction writing style: something I cultivated on this very Blog.

The Editor-in-Chief of Sequart, Mike Phillips, gave me the following LinkedIn recommendation:

“Matthew is a great writer. One of the best Sequart.org has ever had, actually. Some smart people don’t know how to successfully, stylishly convey their intellect to the written word, but Matthew doesn’t have this problem. His non-fiction is meticulous, yet prose-like. That’s no mean feat! I’m so glad to have him on board here, and any publication would be better with him on their team.”

It really hit home for me that I am particularly specific in what I write about, what terminology I choose to use, and that I put in a little bit of flippancy and no small amount of geek references into my writing. But even when my writing is non-fiction, I write it as if it were a story. I particularly honed this after reading a few key books in a course at York University called The Literature of Testimony by Professor Sara Horowitz. I noted the power of their narrative voices and tried to emulate that and bring my own experience into it. It was on Mythic Bios, though, that I really started to let my voice come publicly into my own and put my ideas where my keyboard is.

But lately, with regards to Sequart, I feel like I’ve really been challenging myself. And I’ve realized that I’m actually fairly good at what I do. I was burned out from academia and I vowed never to go back to it after completing my Master’s Thesis. But when you make an article for a magazine, depending on what that magazine is, voice, relatability, your audience, and your enthusiasm can matter more than footnotes.

It’s been almost two months already and it took me a while to realize that I can actually do this, and if this is what I can do — along with making contacts along the way to keep doing it — then I can more than live with that. It’s funny. If you’d told me years ago, when I was a kid and I just read superhero comics that I would be writing articles on Sandman, LGBTQ+ issues, some politics, and Alan Moore I would have no idea what you were even talking about. It’d have been beyond my ken. I wouldn’t have understood what I was even making right now: even if a few years later some part of me, after discovering Philosophy, would do my damnedest to try and figure out just what the hell my future self was talking about and why it was so important to me.

Some things still get lost in text and you can only really figure out in experience. I wouldn’t have even dreamed of doing some of the things I do now. It’s funny how that works.

I’ve also applied for another writing job and we will see if anything comes from that. And I want to finish my comics script, possibly adapt a story of mine into a novel, and keep working on something that is the equivalent of a novel. I also have a lot of ideas for more articles.

But right now, I can’t focus on any of that. For the next two days, I’m going to be busy. I’m going to the opening night of Rogue One tomorrow and then the next day I will be roleplaying more Star Wars with my friends.

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Some of my life is still not ideal right now, but it does feel like a few steps in the right direction. I may well be onto something if I keep up this groove.

If you’re interested, you can find my Sequart articles right on my profile.

I think, really, I wanted to write here about how far I’ve come: if only a little bit more before next year starts. I might have one or two posts on here before then, but if I don’t, I hope you all have an excellent New Year better than 2016 and that this amount of progress will continue. Take care all.

Finding My Friend in Steven Universe

I remember when I would come home from school and turn on Fox 29. I’d watch Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Blossom, Bonkers, Goof-Troop, and all the Disney cartoons. Even in the morning, I recall enjoying Gargoyles and the Saturday afternoons with Hercules, Xena, and Sinbad. And I practically lived on YTV. It felt like they were always there. It felt like they would always be there.

But that’s not right either. I think what I always thought was going to be there was that mid-to-early nineties time. You know: that period where you’re at school, where it’s sometimes easier to meet up with your friends, you’re outside a lot more, and you have more child to adolescent responsibilities going on. That is a lot of generalization, I know, especially given how no one’s childhood is exactly the same for a whole lot of different reasons but I hope that I said enough to which somebody can relate.

Fraggle Rock

Yet what I think about the most is the early nineties, perhaps even the early to late eighties when musical shows like Fraggle Rock existed. Talk about a belated nostalgia alert. Fraggle Rock was like the Rainbow Connection Muppet Movie Song extended and made into a race of beings that lived all communally with one another, discovered things in wondrous environments, and took care of one another. God felt like a kindly but brusque and clueless old man named Doc whose Dog Sprocket only occasionally was a well-meaning force nature intruding on a world of friends. I think I like that version of God more than some others I’ve seen.

I think aside from Under the Umbrella Tree, Today’s Special, and Alvin and the Chipmunks, that was the first time I really felt like there was a show that was a friend to me. They all felt like my friends and perhaps more real than the rest of my life at the time while, somehow, also managing to encompass it.

I remember the Fraggles Gobo, Wembley, Red, Boober, and Mokey. I recall how close they were together. I think about that episode when everyone got sick and they took care of each other complete with a song “Sister and Brother,” and there were lessons about life and death and storytelling. And I remember really thinking the world was like that. I definitely wished that it was.

Fraggle Friends

But time goes on and no matter how much I wanted to stay with my friends, it always going to be different. I grew up and saw sing-alongs as something silly and embarrassing. I saw talking about feelings openly as something children did: as something that made adults weak. Despite how much I gained the habit of not trusting, and even detesting the world as an adult, of wanting to go back to some idyllic time that can’t exist again, I gave up on ever really feeling like I belonged again, that there was some extended communal family like Fraggle Rock that was there somewhere in the back of my heart. It’s all differences, and hard angular edges, and expectations that you put on others.

It was Gaming Pixie that introduced me to Steven Universe.

Steven Universe

As with most recommendations I’m given, especially towards shows that everyone is talking about, it takes me forever to watch them. This is especially true when I have a whole lot of other things going on.

When I came to visit her almost a year ago, she had the opportunity to get me to watch the series as it was. It started off very slowly. It seemed silly and strange. A child’s cartoon. I’ll admit, I wasn’t even fully paying attention as I was on social media responding to people about The Force Awakens that we’d just seen recently.

Then … there was this point. It was about the point when I became to realize there was continuity to each episode. When the background of the world began to spread more constantly, and seemed to tell a more quiet and larger story while Steven, Garnet, Pearl, and Amethyst were more vocal in theirs. It may have been when the Gem species and the Crystal Gems’ Homeworld was introduced that I started to pay attention.

With more questions and mysteries to match each answer, I rewatched the old episodes with Gaming Pixie and then the others afterwards. I remember just watching Power Puff Girls casually when I was younger, and then hearing about the renaissance of My Little Pony and thought Steven Universe was something along those lines. Back in the day, I might have thought it mostly geared towards a mostly younger female audience and felt ashamed of watching it due to some perceived notion of masculinity, but nowadays I know better: especially coming to grips with having been invested with Sailor Moon on YTV.

Perhaps it all ties together. I just thought it wouldn’t relate to me. Or I didn’t want to become emotionally invested into something else. Combine that with the fact that music, especially musicals, can create a sense of vulnerability in the layer of irony making up adulthood and you might have a greater picture as to why it took me some time to get into Steven Universe, and why it affected me so much when I let it in.

Steven and the Crystal Gems

There is something very Scott Pilgrim about Steven Universe himself with his neotenous features, his pink shirt, and the star in the middle of it. But whereas Scott Pilgrim as a character lacked a lot of maturity, even though Steven continues to grow he has a lot of wisdom for a young child. He grows up in a non-normative family, with three moms, aunts, sisters, whatever role they are, and his father. The Gems themselves are all, from human understanding anyway, female.

Describing this show is a lot like trying to explain a certain kind of music without actually just getting you to listen to it. I think what really gets to me, aside from watching Steven grow, is how the show deals with diverse contemporary issues like ethnicity, gender, and sexuality without being preachy, and by telling an excellent story with natural character development. But more than that, it isn’t afraid to be vulnerable. It isn’t afraid to sing, and its song isn’t oppressive or intrusive. It allows you to get used to it first. It allows you the choice of listening to it and perhaps remembering part of why you loved music, and imaginary worlds to begin with.

It also makes me really value Steven. It makes me appreciate the wonder and the heartbreak he goes through as he grows. It also reminds me that he has a large and diverse family, not unlike the communal one that Fraggle Rock will always be in my heart: that perhaps Sense8 might be in a more live-action and grittier adult sense if the series continues on as well as it has.

Above all, watching Steven makes me want to paraphrase something his biological mother told him on video tape, and tell the Gems, his father, and his friends that he will need them, to take care of him: to encourage him to continue to be the awesome person he’s meant to be.

 Steven Universe feels like this generation’s Fraggle Rock, with Rebecca Sugar and her crew’s storytelling equal to Jim Henson, and I’m just glad that — in some ways — I can feel that way at least twice in my own life. We are lucky to have a friend like this — with friendships like these — again.

Displacement: A Twine About A Learning Disabled Experience

People almost always gravitate towards personal stories. I’ve probably said this already in some way or form, and I know if I haven’t many other people have.

For the longest time, even though I’ve been very busy, I’ve wanted to have an excuse to make another Twine story. I almost did a few times: such as when I was tempted to create a Twine called Bureaucracy Quest in which you have to go on a scavenger hunt of varying documents, while keeping labyrinthine and mandatory appointments, while running into dead-ends and recursive story loops which are specifically designed to make you shut off the Twine from complete and utter frustration. But, fittingly enough, I didn’t have the patience to make this game while living the experiences that inspired it.

It was one night, between other projects I’ve been attempting to work on, that the cynical idea came to me. I was still waiting to hear back from my legal counsel as to whether or not I was going to get on the Ontario Disability Support Program settled out of court, or if I were going to need to attend the hearing that was going to happen this month. The good news is that the community lawyer working on my case was excellent and got me onto this new system. But at the time, I’d been waiting to hear back from ODSP for about a year and I didn’t know what was happening at the time.

There was a series of muscles I must have been holding for over a year, and a few days before I finally heard the decision on the phone from my lawyer, a lot of different elements began to gather in my mind. It began with the first rejection letter I’d ever gotten from ODSP: essentially stating that according to their guidelines I didn’t have a permanent disability.

I had been diagnosed as being learning disabled, as being what nowadays might be called “non-neurotypical” since I was a child. I had to attend special kindergarten, then classes, and then alternate classes. I had an especially hard time in high school: as I only had one class that dealt with learning disabilities and I had to get extra help from the teachers themselves without much in the way of a department to back me up.

My plan was simple. I had gradually weened myself off and away from the programs that I had difficulty completing. I mean, you can imagine how disabilities such as dyscalculia, spatial difficulties, and even challenges in hand-eye coordination and mental focus — in needing finer instructions — can get in the way of mathematics, geometry, fine arts, geography, and even aspects of the hard sciences. Phys. Ed was especially bad for me due to physical coordination issues. So I got through them with the bare minimum. And then I replaced them with philosophy, sociological, historical, and literary courses. I focused on what I was strong in doing: and even then I needed special help with regards to tests and exams.

But I was told, and I hoped, that by University I could take the courses that I wanted and build the education that suited me: making me ready for a career in academics. I was going to focus on my strengths and leave my weaknesses behind. I was going to make it so that my learning disability was irrelevant and I wouldn’t have to identify with it anymore. I believed that I could succeed through sheer merit, through personal work, discipline, and sacrifice: and that, with some help and support behind me, I could excel.

What I didn’t understand, at the time, was that our society is not — and has never been — a meritocracy. It is a bureaucracy: with specific rules and procedures. Networking is also a social skill that is integral to navigating the labyrinth. And while I had instructors and academic representatives that told me about the importance of this element, I just couldn’t relate to it. Not really. Again, I thought it was about what you did and not who you know: or even who knew you.

Then there are the psychological factors to consider. Other kids are hyper-aware of differences and if you have trouble socializing, or counting fast enough, or telling directions, or the fact that you rock back and forth when you are excited or nervous and your hands fidget, or even when you talk to yourself they will notice. They will notice and they will laugh at you, or bully you, or avoid you.

And those are just the children: your peers. I’m not even talking about the adults. Between having my grandfather thinking of my math disability as a sign of laziness, and others snapping at me to stop fidgeting or talking to myself — for fear that I would “look ridiculous” — you can already understand why I’d want to leave that all behind me. You can also more than imagine where a lot of my anger comes from, and where some of my own present difficulties spring.

I was also lucky. My parents recognized that I had cognitive difficulties and got me as much treatment for them as possible. But as such, most of the family emphasis was less on me learning life skills as it was actually succeeding in school: as that was a major difficulty of mine. But it cost me: as by the time I moved out a few years ago, I didn’t really know how to take care of myself. I didn’t really have a stable network of people to help me with that, and I was left to figure out a lot of these things on my own, or deal with people and organizations that gave me basic — or bad — advice and nothing really of substance.

There was a lot of weight on my mind in getting through my Master’s and juggling real life: and I hated, absolutely resented the idea that my learning disabilities — that the make-up of my brain — was still affecting me despite all the calculators and GPSes of the world.

So you can imagine that when I finally swallowed my pride, the first time with Ontario Works, and the second with ODSP that when I got my first rejection letter telling me: “By our guidelines you do not have a permanent disability” that it was the equivalent of a slap to the face.

I had a long time to think about this. It took a while but I had to accept that my disabilities, that my “non-neurotypical” brain are still parts of my life. It took me even longer to embrace the fact that I have to identify what is just another wiring of my brain and experience as a disability: in order to get the current social structure to help me survive it. I thought about all the people that have told me to “suck it up” or just tolerate what I can’t focus on in order to exist. I’ve had to fight against the idea that I am “coping out” when I identify as being learning disabled instead of “earning my place like everyone else”: whatever that means.

And so I decided to call ODSP on its punitive structure. I sent in my forms and my diagnosis from my therapist, which they rejected the first time. I had them do an internal review, in which they found no fault in their decision. And then I faced down a hearing in a game of “Chicken” to see who would give way first. I am a really stubborn person when I have a mind to be. In fact, I do extremely well when I have something passionate and real to focus on instead of settling for something less than.

I’m also aware of how privileged I am. Between my family that actually recognizes learning disabilities and finds itself there for me, to the community counsel that got my case settled out of court, to the best therapist I’ve ever had with or without Canadian OHIP, and a lot of Affirmative Action protocols, I have been exceedingly lucky. And I know that just as all learning disabled people aren’t the same, many others haven’t had — and don’t have — the backgrounds or resources that I do.

But there is one other thing that stuck with me after that experience of having my disability and experiences not acknowledged until I faced them head on. I thought about how we all experience and interact with the world. And that night, a few nights ago, when I was thinking about how best to communicate what it was like to be in the world with a learning disability, I came up with this idea for an interactive story.

I asked myself this: how would someone navigate a world if they had trouble reading maps or telling directions? What would it look like, in words, to see someone with dyscalculia doing equations or basic math? How would I portray the psychological baggage that comes with dealing with these issues since childhood? Can I do all of this and show they have something of a commonality?

And can I communicate my experience — my voice on this — through a creative medium with which I still have limitations? Can I express my story simply through the description of perception and emotion?

I realized, a few days before the bittersweet moment of finally having ODSP recognize that I have a permanent disability, that living with spatial, mathematical, and even body movement issues is like existing out of the same space-time as most people. You are somewhat out of synchronicity with the rest: both cognitively and socially. And that was where I eventually got the name for my story idea the following day.

Displacement.

It’s by no means an exhaustive story about all learning disabilities, or even the different gradations of the ones that I possess. It came out very rough in its first iteration — I had to par down the psychological elements — and even now I think I could have portrayed the experiences of the narrator more effectively: such as using that recursive loop of repeating hyperlinks I mentioned earlier to symbolize getting physically lost. But I also don’t know how accurate that would be and, honestly, I think right now this is as good as it gets.

This will have been my third post dealing with learning disabilities on this Blog: or at least the latest one after my experiences from this past summer. I hope, after this, to go back to writing posts about video games, comics, fictional universes, and projects that I’m working on. Those are the things which I want to be known by and remembered.

That being said, I would like to thank Gaming Pixie for looking over and providing input into the Twine story that I have linked above. Whatever else, I hope you find the story, and this post, educational at the very least.

Anthony Martignetti From the Mouth of the Wolf

I met Anthony Martignetti in 2013. Actually, that is something of an exaggeration on all accounts. I read about Anthony at the time and not long afterwards I read his memoir Lunatic Heroes. Then I wrote a review of it and sent it to him. After all, he had put his email address and Twitter handle at the back of the book: and Amanda Palmer had his information on her Blog.

It was about that point that Anthony and I started talking. And while he took issue with the fact that I gave Lunatic Heroes a four out of five (I knew that he could do better: that he had more stories to tell), he liked my review. He put a link to it on his Endorsement page and he and Nivi Nagiel — his editor, writer peer, and friend — sent me a green Lunatic Heroes T-Shirt that I wear when I know I am going to be facing something particularly tough with which to deal.

Then we sometimes played games of witty pithy words on Twitter. There was even one point he accused me of getting my new budgie drunk as he wore his bell as a party hat. And then he challenged me to write a review of his next book: Beloved Demons. It was challenging: not just because it was about his adult life this time around, but also due to the fact that I had other projects and Toronto had been hit by a freak ice-storm that made me aware of just how powerless I really was. That pun was unintended, I assure you, but I suspect Anthony would have appreciated it.

The last time we really talked though, and I mean really interacted, was outside my parents’ house for a change. I was staying overnight at the Toronto Global Game Jam of 2014. I had my own computer and everything. So here I was at this computer at George Brown College’s School of Design, surrounded by creatives in a field that sort of related to my own, and having come from a particularly bad day with Ontario Works and bureaucracy when I got an email from Anthony.

He sent me a link and, sure enough, all the work I’d done with Nivi to polish my review of Beloved Demons had paid off and he included a link to that article on his Endorsement page as well. It inspired me. It encouraged me even more when I sent him something that I wrote and he gave me some feedback on it. He promised, when he had time, to give me a more indepth critique of the work and to look at some of the other things I sent him.

But there was one thing he sent me during that time, when my own loneliness was changed by into gentle solitude by the creatives around me, that I won’t forget. In response to the story that I sent him, Anthony quoted an old operatic and theatrical Italian saying:

“In Boca al Lupo . . . crepi il Lupo.”

I admit I actually took a while to find a good translation of the idiom, but ultimately it seems to amount to this: “In the mouth of the Wolf … may the Wolf die.”

I knew, somehow, that I could use this. I knew it even before I found a smooth enough translation and it was appropriate. In a small, but meaningful way that was the apex of our conversations: our relation to each other.

These words stayed in my head as I introduced my own therapist to Anthony’s work and they had actually had their own interaction. I am glad I did my part to help them meet at least on some level. But I wasn’t entirely accurate when I stated that the Game Jam was the last time Anthony and I interacted.

The last time we actually talked was when I sent him a copy of my first published story “When You Gaze Into An Abyss” in the Heroes in Hell anthology Poets in Hell.  It too was appropriate, all things considered. Anthony emailed me back to let me know that he got the book I mailed him and that he would read my story first.

I never met Anthony. I only talked with him online. He had touched many peoples lives: and that doesn’t even include the books he wrote after Amanda all but had to strong-arm him into doing so. I always knew he had been sick, and sick for a long time, but it’s weird. Even with that knowledge there are times I still find myself expecting to see something on his Facebook page, and I even ponder sending him more things. But I never really forget that he’s gone.

I’ve been sad for a little while and it took me a while to actually put one of the reasons into words. Last week, there was a memorial service for Anthony: held by his writing group the Souled Out Artists. I unfortunately couldn’t attend as it was in the States, in Boston, I have been dealing with anxiety issues, and I just didn’t have the logistics for a stay there. But I were to be perfectly honest, those are just part of the reason. Anthony said, once, that he and I should one day meet for owl sandwiches. He also said he wouldn’t have minded a phone call.

The fact is, I didn’t know whether or not he was being facetious. I didn’t dare ask, but jokingly said sure. But as I said, we never did physically meet. And I never phoned him. I regret that sometimes.

Many people that attended that service, or didn’t attend, actually knew Anthony personally. And, in retrospect, I would have felt weird being there. I was just a person on a fringe of lives that happened to appreciate his writing and influence. I wasn’t a family member, or a patient, or a student. At best, I’d to think we were casual friends that sometimes had time for each other for non-serious things and an appreciation for good writing.

I am glad that people went to Boston to the Souled Out Artists to celebrate Anthony’s life. His stories will continue on as living signs in the people that loved him. And his idiom of the Wolf will be an epigraph at the beginning of a novel that I plan to release one day: and it is all thanks to him.

Anthony understood the importance of mythology. He knew that the Wolf was symbolic of a great many dark things. And in so knowing, he created stories that fulfilled his old Italic proverb.

In the mouth of the Wolf … may the Wolf die.

Those are some words that I hope I will continue to live by. You can find more about Anthony’s stories here. Trust me: they are worth reading.

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SilSol: A Dark Crystal Vignette

Here is my second, and last Dark Crystal character sketch. I made a lot of speculation as to which urSkek SkekSil and urSol came from: especially from the second volume of The Dark Crystal Creation Myths. To me, this writing represents what I could have done, and what I did actually do. I hope you will enjoy it and appreciate this in the spirit that it is meant. 

SilSol flew through the lines of stars and suns with his brothers as they finally left Thra through the Crystal of Truth. His own mind, though clearer, now was no less blurred as they passed the point beyond space and time and perception.

He looked down at his form: such as it was now. It was a brighter orange: almost a bright white light. Once, UngIm would have told him that a white corona symbolized a process of healing. And he, above the rest of his brethren, shone the whitest of all.

Even now, travelling with the others, it was hard to think of Thra: of the place of their banishment. He remembered wanting to leave and rejoin his people so badly. He hovered in the skies far across the ocean and sang in a place where he thought no one else would hear them. To the Gelfling people, he taught them songs of growth, and peace, and love. But to himself, singing to an audience that no longer listened to him, that he was no longer a part of by virtue of being a “he,” of being an individual, he sang of loss and loneliness and the clinging to of false hope as temporary staving off of despair. But it had been a deceptive salve, one that ate away at his very being, that stained his reddening form with a spreading blackness … it had proven just as corrosive and as ineffectual a balm as essence, as vliya

Deep regret flowed and passed through SilSol’s ethereal form. He had not known the mariner Gyr had been there that day, listening to his song. It hadn’t been the Gelfling’s fault. It had been none of their faults. In his spite he thought them primitive savages and only Aughra was considered even remotely equal to his kind. But she had been wiser than he in many ways, though he did not spend nearly as much time with her as TekTih had, and the peoples of Thra had their own songs, their own rhythms and variations. It was the very opposite of the former unity and symmetry—the perceived perfection—of the communal consciousness of his own race. Once, long ago, SilSol knew his music had been as precise and perfect—as crystalline—as mathematics and the physics of the cosmos. But he had split away down a quantum path into something else, like the rest of his brethren and he hadn’t been able to find that perfect note again, that rhythm that he needed, that he craved for balance …

Is there no place in all the realms of the Crystal where a single being will show me compassion!?

It wasn’t even Raunip’s fault that he had finally unleashed his anger and bitterness. That one had his own imbalance, his own lack of connection with himself to deal with and SilSol had not envied him. In the end, SilSol blamed Thra, the place that graciously took them in, for this sense of loss: though the fault, he knew now, lay within himself.

Dark Heart, Raunip named him, once.

Is there truly no love for me in all creation!?

The Crystal, and Thra, and the Universe had answered him. They had always spoken to him. He just did not hear it. He chose not to hear it. Like the Chanter that he had been, he closed his hearing to everything but his own song, letting it play around him and drown everyone out, let it deafen the world, let himself become deaf …

He knew now that his brothers had been the same: had denied their darker impulses, had secretly hoped to purge them with the light of the Crystal, to go home … SilSol had just been the catalyst to ignite and rip apart their wilful ignorance.

But it did nothing to assuage his guilt. Better urSkeks than he: so many others including TekTih and the great SoSu passed on fragmented while he, the catalyst that made the Crystal divide them, remained. He recalled the Division vaguely: remembering the scorn of his brothers and their hatred of his one discordant note: for the vestige, that grating reminder of what he had cost them, of what they had lost and he had taken from them when they were all whole. He went around and used that crooning voice, that one note, to tell lies and ruin lives … At the same time, he recalled the Valley and the peace, though unearned, that he had finally found for his soul there, for the love he had of the planet he once disparaged, and the time he spent singing with his brothers, with the Gelfling Jen that was like their child …

As these fragmented memories unified, the pain in SilSol eased and flowed out of his body into the darkness of space, into the streaming of his brothers’ light. Even fragmented, he taught Jen his songs, and his selfish part—the part that caused so much pain—guided him to where he needed to go. Unity and symmetry won out at the end of the day, disparate notes becoming a single song again.

Around them, as they continued to travel, his brothers began to sing. UngIm, at their forefront where SoSu had once been, beckoned him forward. SilSol found his light becoming a brighter white and gold again. He understood that he would heal—that they all would heal and had healed—together. With this thought, this solace, his two voices—become one once more—joined the rest of the chorus as they, all of them, continued on their final and eternal journey together and whole again.

Urskeks

Jen: A Dark Crystal Vignette

Two years ago now, I immersed myself in the world of Thra: in an attempt to write a novel for The Dark Crystal Gelfling Gathering Contest. Every day I would write notes on my novel outline in my journal while reading the old novelization and the visualized encyclopedia. Before this, I had only taken smaller creative challenges that I displayed on this very Blog. But taking this on, even though I didn’t end up creating a novel, actually helped to save my sanity and cultivate my own creative energy. 

Still, sometimes I regret the fact that I didn’t write that Gelfling Gathering novel or the short story I had planned. To be honest, though, sometimes I’m just sad the contest itself ended: with all the interactions on the Community Forums and the possibilities of making myself a part of this world. During this time I wrote a few story sketches on the Board: to immerse myself and my writing into that world. Basically, I wanted to see if I was capable of writing Dark Crystal stories. So in honour of that special time in my life, I want to present to you one of the first story sketches that I made: from the point of view of our favourite Gelfling Jen in light of everything I learned afterwards. I hope you will enjoy this, my friends for I know I did, in writing it. Take care. 🙂 

Jen watches the luminous beings—the urSkeks—as they ascend into the air, through the Crystal, dissipating into mist, into space, and time and energy, and all the other elements and concepts that his Mystic teachers and friends attempted to instill in him until they were gone completely: as though they had never been there to begin with … as though they had never come to Thra at all.

But Jen knows better. The gleaming palatial white of the Castle that houses the Crystal of Truth—once blackened and warped by the filth and depravity of the Skeksis—is a testament to the beings that were here: that did all of these things. He sees the inscriptions on the newly clean walls: with art and frescoes rivalling that of the ruins of the Gelfling cities … so many cities … so many people … so many of his own kind gone.

UrSu had known. All of the Mystics—the urRu—had known. Even when they taught him, he sensed their collective weariness—their awful guilt—and a few moments ago he realized why.

Jen looks out through the window at the sky. The three suns have passed other another. The Great Conjunction has ended: not to begin again for another one thousand trine. And the wake of those three mingled suns leaves Jen with much to think about.

The urRu and the Skeksis had been one people: two halves of the same being.

His Master had always instilled into him that everything has symmetry and balance: and that when balance was broken, Nature—abhorring a vacuum—would adapt accordingly. UrAc, the Scribe of his people, of his brothers, once showed Jen a myth that his long-departed brother—who Jen now remembers as urLii the Storyteller—used to tell in which a race of great and powerful beings challenged the gods and for their hubris were torn asunder into two peoples. They would spend the rest of their existences trying to live and yet always searching for their other halves. UrAc had written this tale down: as one of the many chronicles that urSu let him see when he was learning to read, and the irony of this story does not escape him now.

He saw them. After the Skeksis cut down Kira, even after he saw her graceful, beautiful winged form crumple to the ground reaching for him and he slammed the burning shard into the Dark Crystal with a righteous fire in his veins, he saw his teachers come into the Chamber. They surrounded the Crystal and he saw them … He saw the light refract from the whitened Crystal blazing as they drew the panicking Skeksis towards them.

The usurpers of Thra were so afraid: as their moment of triumph became one of their greatest fear. It was as though the Skeksis feared death and, in a way, that is exactly what happened. Jen saw that even the Skeksis that tried to trick him and Kira, become drawn into the waiting arms of urSol. The urRu had always been so hunched over, so old, so humble but when they came before the restored Crystal they towered powerfully … majestically over the quailing Skeksis. They were beautiful as their thoughts and considerations finally followed through to definitive action.

The words of the long-dead Storyteller flashed through Jen’s mind of two becoming one again. So much more happened after that. The urSkek—the one that had ordered the Garthim and urIm the Healer both—told him so little, but enough. One mistake had cost them their unity, one mistake had cost the lives of the Gelfling people, and almost the life of Kira. But then … the urSkek sang and his brothers sang with them. It was urSol’s chant and the deep resonant hum of the other Mystics only with another chord running through the sound, a high pitch to match the heavy thrum. For a few moments Jen thought he had heard what was once the squealing “mmm” of the Skeksis he met before, which he now saw as just a broken fragment, a base echo of the brilliance surrounding him as his heart glowed against Kira’s body: clutching it for dear life.

And as the music filled him, it was like the dreamfast … only different. There was no touch of skin, but it went beyond that. He saw stars and a crystalline world, and the urSkeks, Thra in the beginning, Aughra younger and his people all whole and spreading throughout the world … the urSkeks aligning crystals to make the Crystal brighter, cultivating it … the Great Division, the inhibitions of the urSkeks turned into the Skeksis and their horror, the compassion and conscience of the urRu powerless to do anything but protect and pain, and sorrow, and joy, and peace and yearning manifesting into one place through another people entirely: Jen’s people … Jen and …

The joy of Kira stirring against his breast would never leave Jen as long he lived. And that was when he saw the glimmers of the urRu through the strange and ageless forms in front of him, the active power that was once embodied by Skeksis made into something positive again.

And now they are gone: the urSkeks leaving them with the mysteries of the Castle and the Crystal: with hope. Kira is at Jen’s side: stirring against him. Jen realizes he isn’t angry at the urRu for not telling him. They did in their way. But he wonders. What of the urRu and the Skeksis that died before the Conjunction: fragmented and separate? Were they consigned to a void? To an abyss of nothingness? Did the gentle and inquisitive urTih cease to exist? And what of urSu: the wise Master that shared his fate with a dying corrupted Emperor: who Jen now knew had finally let himself die so that he could succeed this day?

But then Jen remembers. He recalls his Master telling him about another life, and Aughra saying that urSu could be anywhere. Jen smiles and closes his eyes: basking in the light of the Crystal and Kira by his side: for he now remembers another lesson. For just as urSu once told him that Nature abhors a vacuum and that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, the urSkek also taught him another lesson.

Everything is connected.

It is with this thought that Jen knows he and Kira can build again: and that there is again, finally, hope.

Jen and Kira

It’s Almost Time Now

Sometimes you have this dream. You have a dream, or a memory of a good moment in your life. And you run with it. At some of the worst, or most challenging points in your life you let it fuel you. You let it keep you going.

You keep telling yourself that one day if you work hard enough, if you’re honest enough, if you’re brave enough, or if you maintain that dream in your heart that you will attain it. After preserving or holding onto that memory you will find the means to bring it back to life.

But more often than not what really happens is that you hold an ideal in stasis. It never changes, even as you continue to do so by virtue of being made up of flesh and imperfect recollection. Sometimes it rots and becomes a heavy weight inside you that keeps you from moving on.

Somewhere along the line I realized that this one vision of what I wanted just wasn’t going to happen. It simply isn’t possible: at least not in the way that I held onto. A little while ago, I gave up on a Twine novel idea of mine. It was going to be the first Twine creation I ever made and it was going to draw from my life in a heavily abstract but emotionally poignant manner. There were some interesting ideas in that work, and at some point I may rework them into something a lot less long-winded and laboured: something smaller, sleek, and to the point. There is another work I want to continue as well and, perhaps, it may be more doable.

But here I am at the crossroads, or the threshold where I knew I was getting to for a very long time now. The truth is, once I realized that dream was over, I’m wondering what my next one is going to be. Perhaps parts of the old can be integrated into the new. I do know that I want to make new articles and stories. I want to be writing.

And I want to be paid for my writing. Some of you have been reading about how I Have A Disability, and how I am also dealing with Depression. It sucks to be virtually unemployed for about three years, and practically house-bound for a good portion of it: remembering the good old days even if they didn’t actually exist. I will always be dealing with those struggles. That’s just how it’s going to be.

By the time this Blog entry gets posted, I am going to my first orientation at the LDEEP. It is a program that helps people with learning disabilities find employment and perhaps begin to shape their career paths. I’m not going to lie to you: a part of me is afraid. My routine is going to be different very soon. I most likely won’t be able to keep the hours that I have, and my time may well be used differently. I’ve been in something of a twilight world for so many years now that sometimes I don’t know what I’m going to do, or how this is going to work out.

I’m also, through a legal clinic, attempting to get ODSP and get — unironically — the Social Justice Tribunal to reconsider my status: to get me the aid that I need. My hearing is next year. We will see if the clinic will take me on as a client and all I can do is deal with bureaucracy with bureaucracy and hope for the best.

I’m lucky that I had the resources to find this help and that I also have access to psychological counselling: which may give me some more resources in dealing with my anxiety. I’ve realized that I’ve had anxiety and panic attacks my entire life: I just didn’t name them until now. And now that I know them for what they are, I can make strategies in dealing with them.

But what it comes down to, for me, is the fact that I know I can’t go back. I can’t look back. I need to be at the point where I can finally move on and begin that process of actually living my life. So this is my Blog entry to start off this scary but exciting week.

There’s this thing about archetypes. They might be a constant or an essential idea, but they are never in the same form twice. Not really. The myth is the same in essence but different in form and execution. It’s adaptation. I’m terrified of not feeling comfortable or lost in memories anymore. Maybe that is a good thing.

Maybe it’s an old idea waiting to be reborn again.

Looking Outward

I Have A Disability

Disclaimer: This is a post that comes from my experiences but, ultimately, they form my opinion on this matter. As such, this will get into some “life story” content. This is also a very long post, so if you don’t like reading long posts, don’t read this. Reader’s discretion is advised. 

I was going to post about this earlier, but I wanted to have fun first before getting into something so serious and personal. Hopefully we can get back to those fun things later.

A little while ago, I read some articles about gifted children: or children that are considered gifted. More specifically, these articles were written by the adults that these children would one day become. They wrote about a lot of things: how difficult it had been to focus in mainstream classes, behavioural problems some of them had, and the culture shock of being in a gifted class only to have to deal with “the real world.” Some suffered burn-out, or high expectations of reality that didn’t pan out as — for the most part and barring notable exceptions — their gifted statuses didn’t translate into independent adult success.

I wasn’t a gifted student.

In fact, some might tell you that I was on the very opposite end of the spectrum.

I’m what the educational system calls learning disabled. It’s a misnomer in a lot of ways. The way it’s been described to me, it’s more like I have a different form of brain wiring: or, really, I just learn differently. I have great difficulties with mathematics: in the form of dyscalculia. I can add and subtract basic numbers, but multiplication and division can only happen with a calculator. And even adding and subtracting, without a calculator, takes me a while to do: and a lot of mathematical formulas are beyond me. Certainly, it can get in the way of a game of Dungeons & Dragons. I also have spatial difficulties. I literally struggle to read a map and unless I’ve passed through a place several times and know the landmarks, I will get lost. Sometimes, even then I will still get lost. And this doesn’t even go into a lack of focus or attention that I have sometimes: which can lead to a total lack of motivation. I need to move around a lot. I get very stressed out and tense when I have to sit in one space doing one thing for an extended period of time.

All of this really doesn’t sound like much and, indeed, there are people with far more severe disabilities than I. And I was lucky. Early in my childhood, my parents identified and placed me into programs with professionals that could help me adapt as much as I could to mainstream programs and interactions. They knew and accepted what a learning disability is and gave me the help I needed to get the tools to deal with it and one day live an adult life: as much as anyone really can.

I was also lucky in that by elementary school and after a lot of childhood therapy there were various teachers in an administrative capacity that dealt with a lot of the bureaucracy involved with getting me help. All I had to do was focus on the activities and my studies. Aside from a class or two I had outside my main one, I was otherwise like everyone else.

In fact, I improved. I learned how to hide my fidgeting fits and my poor fine-motor coordination. And after years of childhood teasing over not being in touch with my surroundings, or being tricked out of money, I embraced my strengths. I focused on English and literature. I built up and focused on what I could do: and even though I can always improve and learn more, what I can do I do well.

The point is, I had to work — twice as hard — to be better.

I did so well, in fact, that in elementary school I got a Most Improved Student Award along with my best friend at the time. But by high school, things had changed. Suddenly, the onus was on me to deal with math and geography. There was no extra class or space I could do my work and I had to take extra classes and tutorials to get help: to do the work from those classes in addition to the work I needed help with. And high school kids did notice that I was different and they took pains to remind me of that fact. At least by this point, I wasn’t wearing velcro shoes any more: as laces were an anathema to my motor skills at the time. Still, I had extra time for exams, tutoring, and after dropping many of those courses I did what I always did: I focused on my strengths.

I thought by University my learning disability wouldn’t matter any more. And I wanted that to be true. I took the extra help when I could and when it didn’t interfere with my own time. I was facing more and more stress as finished high school and then got into Undergrad. But I found my stride eventually in Humanities and I had this whole plan figured out. I would ride through the stress, take the Tylenols when I needed them for my headaches and Gravols when my stomach bothered me. I would stay in the academic system. I was good at it: in my way.

My plan was simple. I would work in the system, using what aid I had from learning disabilities and Affirmative Action policies at York to rise up through the ranks. I’d graduate Undergrad, then my Master’s and then get my PhD. I would then get a contract and get a position and teach while writing on the side. I figured it all out. I’d focus on my specialization: on the words that I learned to compensate for looking weak to everyone else from my childhood. And I would use it all to gain personal independence and build a life for myself.

I had it all figured out.

There is something else that some gifted and learning disabled students have in common. In addition to learning in different ways from a mainstream program outline, and having different mindsets, we also have trouble dealing with that same culture shock that I mentioned before. And I thought I’d grown immune to that.

It’s true. I’d become a University Graduate and I was working on my Master’s. I even got my Master’s Degree. But as I worked through the stresses of the academic life, the lack of money, and the personal losses and learning experiences of actually living on my own for the first time in my whole life, I realized I’d lost something. It was a sense of guidance: that sense of guidance and understanding that I’d almost always had.

Of course, I’m not talking about an authoritarian sense of guidance: where someone tells you what you can and can’t do all the time. That kind of authority can be necessary when you are a child, but when you want to be an independent adult it can be extremely counter-productive and patronizing. I will get more into that.

These things all fit together. You see I always thought, and I was always taught, that the work was the most important thing: that academic excellence is what you should strive for. It makes sense when it’s a central force in your life at that time and it will, theoretically, become an important element in determining your social status in the future. For me, things like jobs, dealing with bureaucracy, learning how to drive and so on weren’t particularly on the list in the beginning. And despite my parents’ and even my schools’ best efforts, socializing wasn’t really high on my list either.

So I didn’t really network with many people at my University. Most were nice enough, but I just didn’t relate to many of them and I didn’t know how to approach my professors for help. So I didn’t do the networking, or the grant or bursary seeking. I didn’t realize, or want to realize that these things were just as important as writing that thesis: a thesis I didn’t think anyone in the field was interested in, or — deep down — that I thought was worth it. And I think it’s safe to say that from mid-Undergrad to Grad School onward I was getting intensely frustrated with bureaucracy and student loans: with being run around, having my status changed, dealing with illogical government websites, and not having enough money to live on as a Grad student complete with budgeting.

And all I could think of was that when I was younger someone else dealt with this stuff, or it wasn’t even a factor. Yes, adulthood brings adult responsibilities but when most of your life is made up of people helping you deal with these matters so that you can study and keep studying so that you can get a career, you have certain expectations that others in positions of authority will be just as helpful. And some of these people are, and some of them really, really, are not.

I didn’t want to use my learning disability status to help me. I wanted to think I’d grown past it: that I was finally achieving what I sought to do on my own terms. You can read into this however you want. But I have used it, and I still use it because I’ve realized that the system — however broken it may be — has those statuses for a reason and to those who need them.

It wasn’t just my learning disabilities. I have difficulty handling stress. It gathers into my body. Most of the time it’s headaches, but I have stomach problems and, like I said before, I can’t stand sitting down in one place being passive for too long. I was also burning out on academia: fast. And after I moved in with my girlfriend at the time, I was running out of money only at a slightly slower rate.

I had to get a job.

I got my original job through a learning disability organization outside of my university, though I was hired by my merits. My university’s program was a Career Centre one and, as such, only asked me questions about what I wanted to do and offered a whole ton of workshops. By that point I was so burned out from academia and I’d done so little work outside of it that I had nothing really to offer and resumes confused me and I just didn’t feel motivated to go to a workshop — especially after accidentally going to “the wrong workshop” by the administration’s own error — just to do that.

I needed a job almost immediately. At the same time, I wasn’t going to take just any old job. That is not how it works. If I am not interested in what I’m doing, the task will simply not be completed. It won’t happen.

But I still had that drive, right? I wrote stories and tried to publish them but I didn’t know — and to some extent still didn’t know — how to send them in and everything just seemed to take so much energy from me. It was pretty obvious at this time that my stress and frustration was changing from burn-out into depression.

One of the most frustrating and soul-destroying moments for me during this period was having to move out of my girlfriend’s apartment and go to an Ontario Works appointment that we arranged after I went under her ODSP plan that would have paid me $100 dollars a month for volunteer work — with the worker even offering me an adult teaching program for adults — until we could find an actual job together. This was in the Ontario Works branch of Toronto. Ontario Works is designed to be a relatively a short-term social service program that finds you work of some kind in the community. It theoretically encompasses all of the Province of Ontario.

And I was confronted with the fact that my resume, edited by my university’s Career Counselling Services, was more like a CV: with a list of achievements that couldn’t be applied to the outside world. I was told I had to tailor make each resume to match the job I wanted. I was also told by others to “Cold Call” my resumes in a cookie-cutter style. It was confusing and, honestly, I got sick of it really fast.

And that was the last time I dealt with Toronto’s social services and the city’s benefits. I ended up moving back in with my parents. As of right now, I pay rent and I applied to Ontario Works in York Region. I thought that I could have a similar arrangement to them as I did with the Toronto branch. I thought they were integrated.

I thought a lot of things.

What Ontario Works was, and is, is a program that I had to fight to get into. You know that sullen feeling that seethes in your stomach when you’re put on hold and there is nothing you can do about it? I ended up feeling that sensation more than I ever had with National Student Loans: though they would have their turn. I had to prove that I had a disability and phrase it as such. And when I finally did get in, I ended up needing my dad to drive me to their Woodbridge location as their Richmond Hill one, closer to where I live, “wasn’t in the right jurisdiction.” A situation where a person navigating their way to a long-distance location with a spatial disability and stress issues has all the makings of an insanity tale.

Their counsellors are only temporary and they cycle out a lot to take on new clients. I had to full out a long legal size sheet of paper listing all the jobs I applied for: as if my set of skills and interests could easily be found in the newspapers or the Internet. I simply couldn’t fill out all of those papers. Applying for jobs that don’t, ironically, apply to you for the most part plays on that lack of motivation that I was talking about earlier. It becomes a cycle of de-motivation. Some of my counsellors understood this and let it go. But others would phone me up and tell me I wasn’t “doing my part” in the process. None of them suggested any concrete ideas based on talking about my skill set or my leanings. And I had to re-apply — twice — to be exempt from filling out the sheet because I have a learning disability and stress issues: complete with a note from my psychotherapist (who is, by the way, one of the most awesome human beings I’ve ever met).

The York Region branch didn’t have any community services or job workshops I could participate in. After a few years of making appointments whenever was convenient for me, as adults do, I was assigned appointments with my status in Ontario Works always on the line if I couldn’t show up. I even got some pre-generated punitive letters from time to time stating that I was suspended from the program when, in fact, I met their specifications.

And I’m not even talking about my National Student Loans. University costs money, as does living on residence. Being on social assistance makes sure I don’t have to pay the government money that I don’t have, while theoretically helping me get a job with some benefits to do so. It got to a point, up until fairly recently, where I would wake up almost every weekday with dread coiling in my intestines: wondering if a voice message was left on my phone, or if I got a letter from NSL or OW.

Recently, I’ve been trying to apply for ODSP: which is specifically a government social service that deals with people that have disabilities. So far, I’ve been rejected: on the grounds that I don’t have a recurrent or permanent disability.

Even though I’ve been diagnosed as having both, and I had a doctor’s note. They invited me to write them a letter for an internal review. I can’t begin to tell you how hard it was to write that letter. It felt like NSL all over again where I was applying to go further into debt: except this time I felt like I was arguing that I was crippled in some way: that I wasn’t a complete person. One thing I was taught in school, no matter what direct help I was given, as that being learning disabled isn’t about what you lack, or what kind of deficiencies you have: it’s the fact that you just learn differently and you need other strategies to deal with the obstacles in your way.

So here I was: taking a lifetime of being taught that I could help myself — to the point of getting a Master’s Degree — and being told, now, that the only way I could get the help I needed was to tell them about how ruined I was.

And I did. I told them about the nature of my disability and how it manifests. I told them about the stress I suffer from and how it manifests physically. I even went as far as to give them examples of how this would affect me in most job situations. And, after a while, that sullen anger I’d been feeling became this righteous fury towards a broken system. But my words were cordial, even polite. Even though I was sure nothing would come of it, perhaps nothing will come of it even now, I used my words to take what was there — in me — to help me.

And oh, I wanted to tell them the rest of it. I wanted to tell them about the life I had in Toronto. I wanted to tell them about the loneliness and the peaceful solitude I had in my own apartment. I wanted to tell them how my girlfriend at the time used to tease me about being “independent in the city” and how it chagrined me and made me proud.  I wanted to show them the stories I wrote and the essays I made in my own place. I wanted to tell them about the dreams I had for my university life that never happened, or could have happened, or almost happened. Or how I could come and go with sheer impunity. Or how I explored down town Toronto for new opportunities and to discover new people, and to grow into a better person.

I wanted to tell them about my triumphs and my failures. I wanted to show them that I am a human being and that I gradually retreated from Toronto and that whole other into a small little box of memories and regret that I only occasionally leave: all the while envying the other people who “made it” and dreaming about those times when my life was better, when it was expanding … when I actually had one.

Do you want to know what one of the most important moment in my life was? I think you’d actually be surprised. Almost all my life, even though I didn’t live in Toronto proper I had access to the Toronto Public Library. That place contained the largest amount of books that became my life. And every Saturday I’d go to a branch and get a new book. So when I moved out of the Greater Toronto Area and moved into Toronto itself I realized that I could, for the first time in my whole life, get myself my own card.

And I did. It had my name on it and everything. I took out books and comics. I read them on the TTC, in my apartment, at my girlfriend’s, and everywhere. For the first time, despite the schizophrenic nature of living in and feeling detached from Toronto, I felt like I could belong.

But I don’t own property in Toronto. I don’t go to school in Toronto any more. I don’t work in Toronto any more. And I don’t live in Toronto. Any more.

So I lost my card.

A good part of me died that day. And I became a ghost: remembering all the times when I was still, fully, alive.

It got so bad I sometimes felt tempted to re-enrol in school: to go for that PhD program I used to dream about even if a Degree didn’t guarantee me a job, or a position in today’s market, or if the thought of even more deadlines looming over my head didn’t terrify me. Even if it only bought me a little more time and would never get back the life I had before.

My Mythic Bios saved me. It made me into a writing ghost: of which I can see where a certain pun or turn of phrase might come in. I wrote: keeping as much of my life away from here as possible. I wanted a space where I wasn’t a failure, where I wasn’t bound, or held down into one place. And sometimes, I wasn’t always a ghost. Sometimes, like Tiresias I got to drink the vitality of imagination and companionship and I had inspiration and vision again. I could believe that I was alive and that my body wasn’t a liability.

I’ve accomplished a lot of good things during this time when all these other elements were happening in the background. I published a story, I published some articles, and I started writing for an online geek magazine. I networked and I even made some new friends. I realized that this place, right now, even without money or steady employment isn’t hell because I’ve written about hell and there are still some chances here.

There is something else you need to understand about having a learning disability and, again, it was something taught to me in school. In addition to problem solving, I was also encouraged to ask for help. I think one of the most difficult challenges in being an adult with a learning disability in addition to all the other gritty and uncomfortable adult things is the fact that I didn’t feel like I had an advocate.

An advocate is different from having a teacher or a counsellor. A teacher will show you how to do something, but will ultimately have you do it. A counsellor will advise you or tell you the status quo or the party line and stick to the minutiae of the system. But an advocate can not only teach you, or advise you, or know how the system works but they will listen to you and stand beside you in getting to that place that you need to be.

I haven’t really had an advocate of that level since childhood. But I might be getting one like that right now. For the first time in ages, I don’t feel the dread coiling inside of me. Just yesterday, I turned thirty-three. I’ve been unemployed, but working and trying to find my way — trying to find a focus — for almost three years.

I’m still scared, but in the sense that I know there will be challenges that I’m going to have to face: that I’ve always faced. I am going to need to deal with this world and its realities of rules and regulations. But maybe I won’t have to do it alone. There are already people behind me but maybe, just maybe I can take those obstacles that I have been in my way and turn them into goals, into goal posts until — eventually, I get to where I need to be.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go sleep now. Tomorrow, I have an appointment to keep.

Looking Outward

Connecting the Doughnuts: Amanda Palmer’s The Art of Asking

Even though I’m not a musician, or even a complete music literate (whatever that ultimately means), I had been looking forward to Amanda Palmer’s first book for quite some time. And now that I finally finished reading it a few days ago, I’m now in a place where I can actually say something about it.

Amanda Palmer

It wasn’t easy and, to some extent, it’s still very challenging. The Art of Asking is something like what might happen if you take a blender, to borrow one of Amanda’s creative sayings, put it on a low setting, and introduce autobiographical anecdotes, self-help philosophy, social media excerpts, a few literary quotes, and of course musical lyrics, to the blade and mix. Chronological events are sometimes parallel with each other in the narrative, but these instances are often separated by philosophical musings and personal moments.

Whatever else, The Art of Asking is, it’s definitely not an ordinary book: as if something that’s a fusion of the creative and the personal can ever be ordinary.

I’ll also admit that it took me a while to get into the book, and sometimes I had trouble actually staying inside it. I mean, I knew that — even based on the title — that Amanda’s book would have some significant roots in her TED Talk of the same name, but it is both fascinating and sometimes off-putting to consider that there is a fair amount of her book that you can already find to some extent in her Blog and even in her introduction to Anthony Martignetti’s Lunatic Heroes.

The intertextuality, the way her book relates to the narratives and circumstances behind Anthony’s Lunatic Heroes and Beloved Demons, as well as to Neil Gaiman’s Ocean at the End of the Lane really does intrigue me and it puts some elements into perspective. I’d argue that The Art of Asking has details that can give you something of a holistic approach to looking at all four narratives upon risk of falling into the authorial fallacy: of looking at the people behind the works instead of the works themselves on their own merits.

I mean, it’s no secret that Amanda encouraged Anthony to hone and publish his personal stories — many of which he’d already told her before during their time together — and that Neil’s Ocean was the result of a story that he actually wanted to tell her while she was in the middle of her own solitary creative struggles. When you look at how those narratives talk to each other, like the people that made them and talked to each other in turn, The Art of Asking is almost something of a bridge between three different and creative spaces. It is my opinion that they all belong together.

The downside was that sometimes these references felt like filler. I think what really confused me was something that Amanda said which, ironically, I truly appreciated. It was a reference to another part of her creative process. After a fascinating look at different types of creative processes from her perspective, Amanda mentions that to create something is to “connect the dots” between things that you gather or experience. This, for me, pretty much sums up how creativity happens. As a creator, you take things that don’t seem to relate to each on the surface and you find or make connections between these elements. This thought particularly jived with me.

Unfortunately, at least from my perspective as a reader, I couldn’t always see how Amanda connected the dots of her ideas and anecdotes or even her musical lyric interludes within the structure of The Art of Asking itself. Perhaps I just don’t have a good eye for it, or for that matter even a good ear. Maybe, as Amanda herself isn’t generally a book writer — this being her first one — she writes prose much in the way her mind generates rhythm and lyric: through music. This is just a thought that I’m throwing out there myself. However, maybe the narrative is a lot like Amanda herself in that her art and her performance seems to be a 24/7 deal where you cannot particularly separate them: even in another medium.

The Art of Asking, to me, felt like a balancing act: much like the way I reacted to it. The tone of it got to me sometimes. On one hand it sometimes felt like it was rather self-involved, but on the other hand it is to some extent a memoir and of course Amanda would be talking about her experiences and her feelings. At times I felt a self-help vibe from the book and I had a personal reaction to whenever Amanda would talk about giving herself to trust and love as, in my own experience, most people who expose surrendering themselves to absolute abstracts of benevolence, revolution, peace, and love often want something from you and are anything but the ideals that they claim to represent. Something about Koolaid comes to mind.

Then again, these very sentiments on Amanda’s part are tied into some considerably shrewd business and people sense. The Art of Asking specifically outlines how love and trust are relational. What I mean is that by opening yourself up to other people, by interacting with them, by actually relating to them as fellow human beings you create a bond — at least on some level — and they will become more willing to actually help you. Amanda very correctly identifies this precept in why some crowdfunding campaigns excel and why others fail completely.

In asking for help without shame and taking what is offered you without forced expectations or, again, humiliation, you are attempting to embrace a different mindset. I can personally respect and even understand this idea. Amanda even applies it well to just why her former label and the music industry are simply failing to understand their customers: as they only relate to people as customers, artists as commodities, and not as people.

Really, what I learned from this as a potential crowdfunder artist myself, is that I have a long way to go — in building relationships of some kind with my readers, in networking, and in relating to others — before I can even begin to approach the place where others can support me: and where I can provide consistent content for their support. It’s actually very humbling, and sometimes discouraging as I am not a natural extrovert and I don’t have access to the support that I need to get there, or a coherent and stable vision to attract others. Yet.

In this sense, it’s not about connecting the dots per see.  It isn’t even about giving out “the flower,” a metaphor and literal fact from Amanda’s time as a living bride statue in her early busking years that can be accepted or rejected in an attempt at staring someone in the eye and relating to them.

To me, it’s about doughnuts.

In late November 2014, I actually attended the last part of Amanda’s Book Circus Tour in Toronto. As we waited in line outside of Lee’s Palace, a volunteer kept handing out Timbits: small, round, balls of assorted doughnuts. During the event itself Amanda actually read us a part of her book in which apparently David Thoreau, during the time he wrote Walden, accepted free food from his family as help in completing his work. And Eric Alper, Amanda’s guest and interviewer bought us all tons of Timbits to hit home the point that it is okay to “Take the doughnuts.”

The way I ultimately see it, The Art of Asking is a collection of Timbits: a collection of little doughnuts of many kinds. Some might prefer specific flavours of Timbit, or all of them, or none at all. Yet all of them are doughnuts and all of them are offered to the reader.

As for me, I took my favourite doughnuts from Amanda. Some of them were crisp and instrumental. Some were multiple flavours that branched into different places, that reminded me of other things, and gave me insight about my favourite people behind the scenes. I know I ate one or two confections that Amanda had never offered before outside of her book: and the flavours hit me hard and without mercy: that were real. At least one was a moment that touched me to the core.

But all of them, even the ones I don’t always like or require an acquired taste, are in the same box of words: a bread and circuses on paper thanking everyone that it asks.