Um, peeps without disabilities, we need to talk.

making-the-splot-face2

Yeah. So. Here’s the thing. People without disabilities, many, many of you need sensitivity training when it comes to disabled folks like myself. Like, big time. Because you don’t even know what you don’t know. And you’re hurting us with your ignorance.

Last weekend at a conference, I was scheduled to be a panelist to discuss how to write characters with disabilities in speculative fiction. I was all like, “Whoot, this is my jam! I am so gonna sit back with my fellow peeps and we’ll share stories and learn from each other.”

Except.

Except.

Sigh.

Nobody gave me any heads up that of all the panelists, I would be the only one with a disability. I discovered it as the talking began. My heart went into my throat but it’s not like I could flee the room. There were people who had come to learn. I have journeyed the spectrum from being invisibly to visibly disabled. I’ve a voice to speak about the prejudices hurled against people like me. I know how I want to be represented in writing. I’ve written characters with disabilities myself. I had stuff I could contribute to the discussion.

Oh. Shit.

I did my best to bring across the points I felt should be addressed: give us personalities, make us sexy, don’t create inspiration porn, we don’t need to be cured in your stories, and don’t write us to be pathetic and sad.

When I felt more and more questions were being directed at me, by a pretty rockin’ audience I might add, I felt really on the spot but I reached into the knowledge I did have and answered as best as I could. Without prep. Without another panelist in the know to correct me or add to my perspective.

Because I don’t have all the disabilities. There is a wide diversity of them, and I would have loved to have seen that representation. You just cannot have a panel about a marginalised group of people that should be own-voices, and fill it up with non-disabled people. Even if others with disabilities had to cancel, it’s better to cancel the entire panel, in my opinion, than have one person try to carry it. Or at least ask the one person left if they mind being a soloist. What if I had been ill? The entire panel would have had no representation of people with disabilities.

It’s akin to an LGBTQIA panel comprising only of cisgender, heterosexual people.

Now, I must say I have no issue with writers who aren’t disabled including disabled characters in their stories. Go for it! Get your sensitivity readers and make sure you don’t tread into own-voices territory. But just like how I include queer characters in my stories and have them thoroughly vetted by sensitivity editors, I stay away from certain stories I couldn’t possibly write because I wouldn’t have that personal, experienced perspective.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate non-disabled authors who do their research and want to offer their experience on a panel such as this, but I feel the vast majority of the panelists should be own-voices. Ideally, all the panelists would be own-voices, but we’d encourage you all to include disabled characters and then give you advice on how to do it best.

You know, like how I thought we’d do on that panel.

*cough*

I was shaken, livid, and really upset when it was over. I know I carried myself in my fun Cait ways, because I liked the audience and again, wanted to offer what I could. But throwing me into that situation with no warning was not acceptable.

Thankfully, I have the support of other friends with disabilities and we’re going to work together to help educate in these spaces.

Because an education is needed.

No one should be made to feel marginalised in what should be their safe space.

I’m making the Splot face right now.

/cg

CGAuthorCait Gordon is an Irish-Canadian warrior princess and author of Life in the ’Cosm, a space opera about a little green guy who’s crushing on the female half of his two-headed colleague (Renaissance). Cait’s also the editor of the Spoonie Authors Network, a blog featuring writers who manage disabilities and/or chronic illness. She likes cupcakes.

 

 

 

 

Why Every Author Needs Neil Armstrong

Imposter syndrome—every writer with a pulse gets it. I sure as heck do, and I’ve noticed that every single one of my author friends has been struck with it, too, from time to time. It’s when you are overwhelmed with feeling you don’t belong somewhere, even though people have invited you into that space because they recognise your credentials, talent, and [insert awesome thing here].

In the last few weeks I’ve been knee-deep in imposter syndrome. I will be sitting in on three panels at Limestone Genre Expo 2017, and though I enthusiastically entered my name for them, I’ve nearly drowned in a sea of self-doubt about my validity to attend the conference at all. I mean, I’ve only written one novel. It has cupcakes in space. I’ve edited a few manuscripts, but does that make me a person who knows things?

Then last week, too-amazing-for-words Derek Newman-Stille asked me to be the guest author on an hour-long radio show (Speculating Canada: it’s only won five Aurora awards, so, no big deal. GULP!). The topic was about writing, being a disabled writer, and writing characters who have disabilities. EEEK! I don’t know anything about that, I thought. Except maybe that I am a writer, with a disability, who writes characters with disabilities. Oh. Oh, yeah.

I’m not going to lecture you, saying, “Stop having imposter syndrome! Believe in yourself!” Instead, I’m going to advise you that whenever it strikes, think: Neil Armstrong.imposter-syndrome

Read this incredible anecdote from author Neil Gaiman (you might have heard of him):

Some years ago, I was lucky enough invited to a gathering of great and good people: artists and scientists, writers and discoverers of things. And I felt that at any moment they would realise that I didn’t qualify to be there, among these people who had really done things.

On my second or third night there, I was standing at the back of the hall, while a musical entertainment happened, and I started talking to a very nice, polite, elderly gentleman about several things, including our shared first name. And then he pointed to the hall of people, and said words to the effect of, “I just look at all these people, and I think, what the heck am I doing here? They’ve made amazing things. I just went where I was sent.”

And I said, “Yes. But you were the first man on the moon. I think that counts for something.”

And I felt a bit better. Because if Neil Armstrong felt like an imposter, maybe everyone did.

(Read more on the Official Neil Gaiman Tumblr post!)

Right? If Neil Armstrong feels like that, maybe we all do.

Besides screaming, “NEIL ARMSTRONG, NEIL ARMSTRONG!” I cope with imposter syndrome in the following ways:

  • Medicating with cupcakes (don’t judge me).
  • Reminding myself that people wouldn’t get excited by my presence if they didn’t feel I could contribute.
  • Remembering that everyone started somewhere, and even the seasoned ‘experts’ probably feel uneasy on occasion.
  • Taking a deep breath and writing down the things I do know about topics, or how I can offer something in the space where I’ve been invited (notes make me happy).
  • Reminding myself that I can learn a lot from the experience and make new contacts.
  • Realising that if everything goes topsy-turvy, I can always snuggle under my furry blankie when I get home, because it understands me.

So, I get you, fellow impostery-feeling peeps. I do. Would you do one thing for me right now? Would you take a deep breath and say it loud, and say it proud with me? Okay, here we go:

NEIL ARMSTRONG!

Ahhh. I feel better. Hope you do, too. You’re all right, and you deserve to do the thing and be the person. Okie-dokey?

I’ll try to remember that, too.

/cg

CGAuthorCait Gordon is an Irish-Canadian warrior princess and author of Life in the ’Cosm, a space opera about a little green guy who’s crushing on the female half of his two-headed colleague (Renaissance). Cait’s also the editor of the Spoonie Authors Network, a blog featuring writers who manage disabilities and/or chronic illness. She likes cupcakes.

 

I’ll be at the Limestone Genre Expo!

Limestone Genre Expo
Saturday June 3 and Sunday June 4, 2017, 10 am-5pm
St. Lawrence College
100 Portsmouth Ave., Kingston, ON


Really looking forward to sharing with and learning from other authors! I’ll be sitting on the the following panels: Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation in Speculative Fiction and Extraordinary Bodies – The Portrayal of Disability in Speculative Fiction. I’ll also be moderating a panel called When to Listen to and When to Ignore Writing Advice. See the schedule for this event!

My First Week with Noola

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Isn’t she a beaut?

After years of needlessly suffering, I finally bought a rollator, which is a walker with a seat and wheels. I named it Noola, after the feisty character in Life in the ‘Cosm. Fellow author Jamieson Wolf said he was glad I named it that because, as he stated, “Noola would roll!”

Noola and I have been rolling, too. Because of the neuropathy I experience daily from fibromyalgia, I find it difficult to walk or stand for long. I’d been using a cane for years because nobody told me there were other options. HINT TO MEDICAL PROFESSIONALS: If you want your fibro patients to move regularly but they consistently cannot, please suggest accessibility devices!

Glad I got that off my chest. Ahem. Anyway, I’ve taken to the rollator like a fish to water. We had the worst weather, which was basically all seasons in one day, and I still went out for my walkies. It’s so much easier for me to get around and last week there were three days in a row where I clocked 3K each day. That’s enormous for me! Having a seat with me all the time helped. If I felt tired, I’d sit down, text my bff, drink an apple juice, and then continue on.

Even my first test-drive at a mall was super fun. I kept saying to my husband unit, “Let’s go here! Let’s go there!” I zipped around all over the place, like a hyper animal let out of a cage. After a few days I realised I had probably developed coping mechanisms for years, to keep myself from going insane due to being cooped up inside all the time. But since having Noola, you cannot keep me indoors.

I know I’m new to this, but . . .

Okay, so here’s something not as super fun that I’ve discovered: bathrooms, while using an accessibility device. Stuff has happened to me in bathrooms that made me feel pillow-wallopy. (I often threaten to get out the Whacking Pillow when I’m miffed.)

Now, I have a micro-bladder, and I understand if there are only two or three stalls and you feel like you’re going to explode, you use the larger stall if it’s the only one free. Also, if you have several children and a stroller and such, or have a genuine need to use the wider stall because those narrow stalls can sometimes be ridiculously narrow, I totes get it. But here’s a few things that I’d like to suggest if you do not have a disability and/or can use the regular stall:

  • If you are standing in front of the line inside the bathroom and see a person with an accessibility device and the larger stall becomes free, don’t go into the larger stall. Allow the person with the mobility aid to use the stall. We cannot fit into a smaller one.  (Totally happened to me this past weekend. More than once.)
  • Maybe don’t hold open the actual stall door for us. I’m not sure if it’s just me, but I found it a bit invasive and kind of creepy. A++ for effort, though. I could tell people were trying to be kind.
  • When there is no automatic door to enter and exit the bathroom, you can ask if a person with a mobility device needs help with the door. If they say no, don’t argue the point. Personally, I can get inside no problem, but it’s a pain when exiting. I wish all bathrooms had the automatic door openers. I really did appreciate when someone helped me there. But ask first.

Saying yes instead of no

The most wonderful thing about having Noola is that I don’t have to say, “No, I can’t,” to everything. You’d be surprised how much stress I would carry from thoughts like, Do I have to stand in line? and, I hope there’s somewhere I can sit, and, Is there much walking involved? Having a rollator takes a lot of that off my plate so I can just go out and enjoy myself. I spent last weekend at Ottawa Comiccon for all three days. Okay, so, it hit me on the Sunday that I overdid it because I was an enthusiastic puppy, but I had a great time. Last year I’d been almost weeping from pain. This year I zoomed all over the con, sat down when I wanted to munch on a snack, and zoomed around some more. I felt so independent!

I like how my future looks like it will be full of more yes answers than no answers. As an author, I want to see people and do all the things! When I’m not authoring, I want to get out with friends and see my family. My husband and I have started walking together again. I missed that.

It was author Madona Skaff-Koren who suggested I try her walker last year and then sent me to the amazing people at Ontario Medical Supply. Thanks, Madona! I owe you big time.

When we with disabilities encourage and support each other, amazeballs things happen.

Whee! (That’s my internal thought when I’m rolling with Noola.)

/cg

CGAuthorCait Gordon is an Irish-Canadian warrior princess and author of Life in the ’Cosm, a space opera about a little green guy who’s crushing on the female half of his two-headed colleague (Renaissance). Cait’s also the editor of the Spoonie Authors Network, a blog featuring writers who manage disabilities and/or chronic illness. She likes cupcakes.