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.

 

Beyond the cupcake.

If you don’t know me, then you might not grasp how shocking the title of this post is. Anyone who’s encountered me on social media or in real life knows that I love cupcakes. My erotic fantasy is Ewan McGregor giving me a come hither look while holding up a tray of assorted gluten-free, vegan fairy cakes. (He can even walk away and leave the tray of cakes, really.)

But as much as I love icing, there’s more to me and my writing than that.

Life in the ’Cosm: not just cake in space

When you write a book you’re also tasked with some self-promotion. I normally would add this tagline: Life in the ’Cosm, a story about love, adventure, and dessert. Or, I’d call it a comedy sci-fi with an unusual amount of cake. beyond-the-cupcake

While my book is funny (I know this because people have told me), and my protagonist Virj Ofreesin loves eating sweets, the story goes beyond the cupcake. Even though every character is made up, a lot of different feelings I had went into the book.

Because I hadn’t planned to get published originally, I wrote without limits or expecting anyone to read it. So, I went down a few roads that I wanted to explore:

  • Discrimination against LGBTQIA people by para-religious organisations.
  • Truly gracious spirituality versus religiosity.
  • Gender fluidity and changing preconceived gender roles.
  • Diversity in sexuality.
  • Dealing with disability.
  • Cyber affairs.
  • Chasing fantasy to the exclusion of those who truly love you.

If you haven’t read the book, you’re probably thinking, This is a comedy? If life has taught me anything, it’s that even during the heaviest and deepest moments, something happens that makes me laugh. My darkest moments also have included some of the funniest memories. I think seeing the humorous side of things has kept me alive.

Warning: an expressive extrovert lives here

Writer Amy M. Young called me an extroverted tornado, but she admits that I am extremely introvert-friendly. So, I have that going for me. Whoot!

While I like to talk about cake and can do it forever and ever and ever, I will get passionate about issues that matter to me. One of the reasons my writing includes characters who are gender-amazing and/or are more than cishet (cisgender and heterosexual) is because the majority of my close friends can claim one or several letters in the LGBTQIA acronym. What they endure matters to me, and even though I’m cishet myself, I really want to include gender and sexual diversity in my books. To me, it’s a reflection of real life.

Because I also manage a disability, it was important to me to include a character in Life in the ’Cosm who deals with one, too. She is also feisty to a fault, and robustly sexually active. You know what? We who live with disabilities like sex. Yet, it’s often thought that it’s taboo to think of us that way. (See my post in the Spoonie Authors Network blog called, Sexy and disabled: yes, you can be both!).

So, I often use my creative writing, non-fiction blogs, and social media statuses to discuss my viewpoints in these areas.

(Btw, if you’re wondering why I didn’t include people of colour as part of my creative writing, it’s only because almost every single character is a different colour from each other. In real life, I am very pro ethnic and racial diversity. Heck, I grew up in Montreal, Quebec. It was like having the whole world in one city!)

So, yeah, and stuff like that.

Anyway, just wanted to share a wee bit o’ insight into my own character. But please do not interpret this as my putting cupcakes as a lower priority in my life. I can love people and be an activist and an author while eating dessert, too. I can multitask, you know.

Hm. This post’s made me hungry. I think I need to merge some ingredients now.

Later, peeps!

/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 Press). Cait’s also the editor of the Spoonie Authors Network blog.

My First Time in a Wheelchair

As many of you know, I’ve a disability that affects my mobility. In 2016, I decided enough was enough and I would make use of mobility devices so that I could have a better quality of life and stop saying, “I can’t,” to events. The reason it took me so long to get there mentally was because I was giving into other people’s ideas that exercise can cure me forever and ever. So, I suffered needlessly as a result. A singular thought– I am the boss of my body changed my attitude for the better.

Around my house, I very rarely use a cane. I mostly rely on my own power. Outside of the home, I carry a cane because it helps me to keep better hip posture and I walk faster. It also helps me when my knees randomly conk out. My next purchase will be a rollator (a walker with wheels) so I can spend more time at conferences or CONs, and to be able to stop and sit in the thing. Standing in line is extremely painful for me.

This past December, I sustained three sprains in my feet after a mishap on some stairs at a restaurant, which created a whole new world of nope for me. However, I was not going to miss seeing Kinky Boots at the NAC on Dec 31. I remembered that they had wheelchairs at the NAC, and when my husband and I went to the show, I used one to get around.

I must say the staff at the National Arts Centre are wonderfully helpful. They were stellar. But I didn’t have a great experience. Not because of NAC staff, but because of the NAC patrons. Humankind disappointed me that afternoon. I thought certain behaviour around people who are disabled would be common sense, but apparently it’s not. So, the next section of this article will be called:

Bleeding obvious things you shouldn’t do when someone is in a wheelchair

wheelchair-pinkI’m sorry if this insults your intelligence, but some people need to be schooled.

1. Talk down to us

Speak to me like I’m a grown-up person, okay? I’m just a woman sitting in a wheelchair. I can understand what you’re saying without you talking to me as if I’m four. You don’t have to patronise me because you feel sorry for me, either. I don’t feel sorry for me, so let’s put that one away, mkay? Thanks, doods.

2. Squeeze past me on a narrow ramp

OMIGOSH, can you not wait the 30 seconds my husband needs to negotiate the chair and me down the accessibility ramp? So many people pushed past us in a very tight space. This ramp is for people like me, not able-bodied people trying to dash by as if their trousers just caught fire. WAIT! Wait for us to go through. What is the matter with you???

3. Push past us into the smallest elevator in town and insist there’s room

This is when I wanted to slap people upside the head with my cane. My husband and I were all alone, waiting at an elevator, when several people arrived. The elevator doors opened and they piled inside, shouting, “There’s room, there’s room!” Yeah, no, you clueless trolls, there wasn’t enough room, because the wheelchair needs to be turned to fit inside the thing. I barked at them and told them we’ll take the next one. They looked sheepish, but I was fit to be tied.

4. Use the washroom assigned to disabled people

You know how I know when someone who is able-bodied is using the accessibility bathroom? The expression of extreme guilt on their face coupled by a bolting escape. This was rich, too. The only bathroom I could access because of construction at the NAC was through a parking garage, by a men’s washroom. Now, peeps, you know that men take no time to pee and flee from their washrooms, right? Welp, one fellow decided to use the accessibility washroom and the look on his face when he saw us waiting outside told it all. My husband was the one to pick up on that. I was still fuming from the ramp-crowding people. (This wasn’t the first time I’ve experienced this at the NAC, btw.)

Come on, people, you can do better than that.

I wrote a letter of complaint to the NAC about my experience, asking them if they would post signs and such at elevators and bathrooms, telling people to give priority to people in wheelchairs. The person who wrote back sympathised with my complaint and will take actions to inform staff to be diligent. They agreed with me that these things should be obvious.

Are we so disconnected from each other these days that we’ve forgotten common courtesy? Are we so self-centered that our being in a rush for everything makes us too impatient to (1) wait a few seconds for a wheelchair to pass, and/or (2) to catch the next elevator? Do we just have no more freaking manners?

I’d like to believe we can do better than this. However, it seems like we need reminders. So, here’s the thing, in a nutshell:

Make life not so much about you, but remember to consider others. Treat people with dignity and respect. If you have the privilege of being able-bodied, then kindly give priority to people with disabilities and don’t use their designated spaces as shortcuts for your own convenience.

Do we have that? Good. Because holy schnikies, peeps. Don’t make me come over there. I might have a disability, but I can go from friendly to cranky in six seconds if you disrespect me. Irish, you know.

/cg

CGAuthorCait Gordon is an Irish-Canadian warrior princess and author of Life in the ‘Cosm, a space opera about aliens with issues (Renaissance Press). She’s also the editor of the Spoonie Authors Network blog.

Everyone’s writing, and I’m all like…

Ever feel like everyone’s writing but you? I do. Now that I’m published and have all these new writer friends and acquaintances on social media, I’m able to read updates about their word journeys. To me it feels like they’re constantly writing. Meanwhile, I’m all like, Yeah, I need to lie down now. 

After working intensely on Life in the ’Cosm from May 2014 to January 2016, I was pooped. Feeling accomplished, but pooped. I casually continued writing the second book of the series, after I had submitted the first book to Renaissance Press in March 2016. Then in June 2016, I got the e-mail. They would publish ’Cosm. I danced around, cried to my husband on the phone, and spent the rest of the month in a haze of disbelief.

When my publisher asked me if I was up to a compressed editing schedule, so my book could go on sale for Can*Con 2016, I said, “Sure!” I figured this was an opportunity of a lifetime, so why not go for it? The editors had been fantastic and I loved the cover design. Life in the ’Cosm came out right on schedule and I was thrilled.

I attended Can*Con and did my first public reading. What a fantastic experience. I appreciated the chill atmosphere and truly enjoyed meeting all those writers and authors. But a month later, added to my chronic pain, came a sudden and severe vertigo. I could barely see, let alone write.

It’s December, and I’m doing better than two months ago, but I’m still quite drained. I’ve only finished a draft of chapter eleven in Book 2, and began chapter twelve. Writers on social media pounded out words during NaNoWriMo,  but I couldn’t even attempt it, with the room spinning all the time. There were other authors working independently of NaNoWriMo, on their books or short story manuscripts. And myself? Nope. Nada.

However, I did launch my career as an editor. I’d been editing as a technical writer for decades, and decided this past fall to take the leap into offering editing services for authors. It’s been great. One book has just been released and I’m currently doing a deep structural edit of a second. So, I am working with words. Just not my own.

I have to remind myself that I’ve achieved a lot as a spoonie. Still, I am not a machine. When I have enough spoons, I’ll finish the first draft of Book 2. Right now, I need to tend to my editing job. That’s enough on my plate at this time.

im-all-like-dec9-2016

It’s really important for me to celebrate my writer friends who are writing, and cheer them on. It’s also super vital that I do not compare my work output to theirs. We’re individuals, and I’m living with a disability that impairs my concentration. If I compete only with myself, then I see how well I’m doing. I learned that from runners, back when I could run: compare yourself only to yourself.

If you’re feeling insecure about your lack of energy, you’re in good company. I would just encourage you to take care of you. Self-care is a full-time job for many of us. I hope you can find good medical support, and people in your life who believe you. It’s okay to ask for encouragement from trusted friends.

I hope you’re writing words really soon! Your story will wait for you. (I say this to me just as much as I say it to you.)

Hugs and spoons!

/cg