#52weeksofnaturepoetry, Poetry

Conversation With A Flower – Week 39 #52weeksofnaturepoetry

Oh, purple, pouting flower

towering over me,

won’t you tell how you got your name?

Through tales of gifting socks and gloves

to heavy-pawed foxes

(thereby lessening the chance of them alerting prey).

Are they true?

These legends, these yarns?

Who can say, curious one?

I have flowered and perished

and flowered again

many times.

Any tales about my past

may contain slices of truth,

or none.

Surely you must know

of one that’s factual?

Come on, share.

Please.

Have you heard of dead men’s bells?

No?

An alternative term spoken in some parts,

spun from whispers

discussing my aptitude for raising the fallen

and souring the living.

You’re a wild thing, then?

Doing what you will

with any who trample your roots?

Nay, it’s simpler than that.

If a failing heart and high blood pressure

lay among a person’s troubles,

ingesting the right dosage

of my leafy makeup

can send the reaper scarpering from their door.

Nip too much, however,

and even the healthiest of souls

might find themselves snoozing

with the worms.

And other creatures?

What do they think of you?

Ask the carder bees.

Watch them kiss each tubular set of lips

and run off with pockets full of brilliant powder.

Listen as their buzzing wings proclaim

not all riches are jingling coins,

and I am a mine of treasures.

This poem is part of a project I’m doing to raise money for the RSPB, a UK wildlife conservation and protection charity. If you’d like to help, please share this poem to encourage others to take joy in nature, and if you have the time and means to donate, you can do so here. Let’s help keep our wildlife wild!

[Apologies for how these poems are formatted. I do write them in stanzas, but WordPress rarely decides to keep them, no matter how much I argue with it.]

#52weeksofnaturepoetry, Poetry, Uncategorized

Hello, My Name Is Dandelion – #52weeksofnaturepoetry Week 29

Let me start

by saying I sprout anywhere

that needs my help,

and I leave only when my job is done.

Fight me all you want,

I’m a stubborn one.

You might consider

calling me ‘Magical Nanny’ of flowers,

for all I do to help others;

my head of closely-packed florets

is plenty big enough to take the title.

Not convinced I deserve it?

Well, take a peek at my résumé.

Item One:

My tough taproot easily pierces

compact soil, splitting it apart like a geode,

loosening clumps, aerating,

making space for weaker roots

to settle in.

Item Two:

I can survive with few minerals –

in fact, when my leaves wilt

as I snuggle close to the earth,

they leave a healthy stock behind

so new seedlings

won’t taste hunger.

Item Three:

Every spring, up I pop,

(even if your soil’s a touch acidic),

offering both pollen and nectar

to ravenous emerging insects.

I’m quite popular with them, you know.

Item Four:

Though my blooms may close on chilly days,

waft some warmth my way

and I’ll stretch, blink open my golden lashes.

There, aren’t I glorious?

Item Five:

Need to make a wish?

Blow on my seed head, observing how many

fluffy white parachutes break away,

and it’s sure to come true.

(Okay, that one might be a myth.

But you’ve got to admit,

it’s a cool myth.)

Now, have I stated my case enough

for you to let me grow in peace?

This poem is part of a project I’m doing to raise money for the RSPB, a UK wildlife conservation and protection charity. Being autistic, nature is often my only place of solace, and I want to do all I can to protect it. As I’m not very comfortable around other people, most of the standard ways of helping out (volunteering, social fundraisers etc) were not a good fit for me, so I came up with #52weeksofnaturepoetry, where I have to post a nature poem here on this blog each week for an entire year without fail.

If you’d like to help, please share this poem to encourage others to take joy in nature, and if you have the time and means to donate, you can do so here. Let’s help keep our wildlife wild!

(You can also become a member of the RSPB and support them month to month. Members receive Nature’s Home magazine and seasonal guides for what to look out for when out and about. Details are on their website.)

[Apologies for how these poems are formatted. I do write them in stanzas, but WordPress rarely decides to keep them, no matter how much I argue with it.]

Uncategorized

Querying, rewriting and ADHD

Hi everyone, it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything other than my fundraising poems, which, though I’d appreciate you all having a read of them and sharing, aren’t the sole purpose of this blog. I like sharing my writing journey and the struggles I have, in the hope that others currently struggling with writing (or anything, really) don’t feel so alone.

And wow, have I been struggling.

Last year, I did quite a few edits of older projects, drafted a new book — something I try to do every year — and starting querying literary agents for the…seventh time, I think?

Meaning that come New Year, I was quite worn out. Add to that a broken laptop, and work became rather hard, to put it mildly. (I’m currently still using my partner’s laptop, which I’ve grown used to and he’s more than happy to let me use for as long as I want, so I got over that hurdle pretty quickly). My focus, however, has been particularly bad.

I wanted to rewrite a project that, from feedback I got from agents, was about 15,000 words too short for the genre. As I never know how to relax and get bored between projects, I actually tried to start the rewrite just before Christmas, but then my laptop failed and it got put on hold until I could grab the files from the hard drive. (I’m usually good at backing up my stuff, but as I’d only started the rewrite about three days beforehand, I hadn’t gotten round to it. Naturally, the one time I delayed, ‘disaster’ struck.) When I did manage to get back to it again, despite engaging with the story and characters, it took hours to go over four double spaced pages. I tried repeatedly to go faster, to try and be more productive with my time, but it simply wasn’t working. By the time I reached the half-way point in the book, working on it felt comparable to digging a trench with a teaspoon, and I’m incredibly impatient with certain things.

Now, here I’m going to jump in with the ADHD part, as it’s likely relevant. I’ve been on the waiting list for assessment since mid 2019. I knew it’d be a long wait, just like for my ASD one, and when the pandemic happened, I resigned myself to an extra long wait. Several times I considered getting it done privately, but it does cost a lot, and as I get imposter syndrome, one week I’d be convinced I needed a diagnosis, the next I’d be unsure — I’ve heard this is common regarding ADHD in adults, particularly as it can present quite differently depending not just on age, but gender too. That aside, I was then super surprised when I got a phone call last month saying in-person assessments where I live were no longer supported due to costs, so the people in charge had decided to go with online assessments and mine wouldn’t be too far off. After another phone call and some screening questionnaires to make absolutely sure I’m eligible, I was finally given an assessment date. It’s early next month, and I am nervous as hell. But I already sent them extra notes, so hopefully it’ll go smoothly, whether the conclusion is ADHD or something else.

Anyway, back to writing talk. I’ve always struggled with focusing on and maintaining projects, but I’m stubborn and refuse to quit. So I ended up giving myself a tight deadline and marathoning the work until it was done. It worked, but as always when I do that, I ended up exhausted as it’s really not good for me. That’s the main reason I haven’t posted much lately. All my energy has gone to rewriting, recovering, or writing poetry. (I am happy with the way the rewrite tuned out though!)

As for querying, this round is going better than past attempts in that I’ve actually had a couple of full and partial manuscript requests, but not as many as I’d hoped. Which is disheartening and has led to many hours of ‘what if I never get an agent?’ thoughts. Of course, there are many options, one of which I’ve already pursued for my previous books — finding indie publishers. But the rejections piling up still hurt.

On a side note, though, my publisher recently informed me that two of my contracted poetry books are moving to the editing stage, so that’s something to look forward to (and also be anxious about. You may be thinking I’m anxious about a lot of things, and you’d be right. That’s just my brain.)

So, to bring this ramble to a close: if, like me, you’re a creative struggling with current projects, I see you and I understand. My family keep saying productivity shouldn’t be linked to self-worth, and while I get the idea of that sentiment, I haven’t yet found a way to make it stick. Even writing this post, which I could have left until I felt better and had more energy, is part of that. I didn’t feel like I’d done enough today, so words had to be written. But maybe someday, I’ll have a healthier approach to self-worth.

#52weeksofnaturepoetry, Poetry

#52weeksofnaturepoetry Week 6 – Starlings

Morning. The sound of dustbin collections

and eager motorbikes.

Occasionally the fire alarm test

that startles me into hiding.

Parents taking their kids to school:

answering questions, making jokes, scolding.

But underneath it all, the unmistakable song comes.

A joyous layer punctuating the urban air with spirited notes.

Clustered, drawn out, mechanical, fluid.

Hard to describe,

yet easy to know

despite the borrowed snippets.

When I go to look, only the bricks of the flats opposite

greet me, occasionally with a gull stomping along

the roof tiles.

Even stretching my head out the window,

the vocal murmuration is too far away to spot.

A rooftop or two, as always.

The flocks around here are large, though.

On evening walks, where no towers block the view,

I catch a few minutes of their regular performance:

synchronised sky-swimming,

organised by a chaos of glossy, speckled plumage and direct beaks.

And my day is richer for it.

This poem is part of a project I’m doing to raise money for the RSPB, a UK wildlife conservation and protection charity. Being autistic, nature is often my only place of solace, and I want to do all I can to protect it. As I’m not very comfortable around other people, most of the standard ways of helping out (volunteering, sport-style fundraisers etc) were not a good fit for me, so I came up with #52weeksofnaturepoetry, where I have to post a nature poem here on this blog each week for an entire year without fail.

If you’d like to help, please share this poem to encourage others to take joy in nature, and if you have the time and means to donate, you can do so here. Let’s help keep our wildlife wild!

(You can also become a member of the RSPB and support them month to month. Members receive Nature’s Home magazine and seasonal guides for what to look out for when out and about. Details are on their website.)

Reviews, Uncategorized

Non-fiction book review: Living on the Spectrum: Autism and Youth in Community by Elizabeth Fein

At the beginning of last month, I received an email from Elizabeth asking if I wanted a review copy of her book. She stated that there were some sections in it which looked at the connections between autism and fantasy literature, and thought I might find it interesting. (If you’re new here, hi, I’m autistic and write fantasy books.)[Also, please excuse the bird images, WordPress is being odd and not allowing me to use paragraphs, so I decided to cheat and break up the text this way.]
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Elizabeth Fein is Assistant Professor of Psychology at Duquesne University and a licensed psychologist in the state of Pennsylvania (as stated in her bio on the book’s back cover), and so actively works in the field. At first I was unsure of whether to take up her offer, not only because I find academic texts extremely hard to read, but also because I was afraid that the book would take a very medical approach to autism and possibly speak positively of a cure. However, after re-reading her pitch a few times, I decided that her approach sounded a lot more considerate of autistic people as actual people, rather than patients with something solely negative that needs to be removed.
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Here is the pitch she sent:
The book combines approaches from psychology and anthropology to look at how youth diagnosed with autism spectrum conditions reconcile controversies around autism as a disease vs. autism as an identity.  I spent several years doing research in places where people on the spectrum come together to work, play, live, love and learn. The book describes how youth on the spectrum are looking beyond medicine for narratives that make sense of their lives, re-telling their own stories through a shared mythology drawn from roleplaying games, anime, and other forms of speculative fiction.
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(The book delves into these things solely within America, as that’s where Elizabeth is based, and only briefly mentions other countries. It also mostly focuses on teenagers and young adults diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome.)
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The book starts with a very comprehensive introduction, which outlines how her research was carried out (lots and lots of field work, much of which was talking to autistic individuals and the people who work with them), where her personal interest in autism started (I found this part extremely heart-warming) and also a bit about the history of autism as a diagnosable condition – she mentions both Leo Kanner (who noted what is still sometimes called ‘classic’ autism; meaning individuals with high care needs who may be non-verbal) and Hans Asperger (who looked more at individuals who are often highly verbal and excel in topics they’re interested). She also mentions the controversy around Hans Asperger (which is highly Google-able), and notes how terminology around autism has changed over the years, and presently all variants of autism are diagnosed under one umbrella term of Autism Spectrum Condition/Disorder (some places prefer to say ‘condition’, others use ‘disorder’). When I was diagnosed early last year, it was under this umbrella term, though the psychologist I spoke to said the way my traits manifest are closest to what was previously called Asperger’s Syndrome.
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Elizabeth also notes that she uses both autistic person and person with autism to refer to individuals on the spectrum throughout the book, taking particular care to use the version the person she’s interviewing prefers. (Many people, like myself, prefer to say they’re autistic, however, there are some who like to say they have autism.) I actually liked this, as despite my own preference, I felt she was trying to be as inclusive as possible. Other notes she includes are that everyone interviewed has been given a different name in the book to protect their identity, and that as her research was done over a number of years, the way the participants referred to themselves in terms of gender may also have changed. There are many others, which all helped to put me at ease with the prospect of the topics the book talks about.
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Now, onto the main parts of the book:
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The first chapter looks at the idea of structured socialising, in this case through a live-action role-play camp specifically for autistic kids, and how having that structure can put people more at ease in social situations. Basically, the kids were given the ‘rules’ of the particular fantasy world and their characters, and interacted with those in mind. For me, the idea that having more structure makes socialising easier seemed kind of obvious, but then, as that’s how my brain responds best, I suppose it would. I also really enjoyed the journal/diary based style that parts of this chapter were written in – Elizabeth attended this camp and took a very active part in it.
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The book then moves on to looking at how autistic kids navigate school and followed a number of individuals and schools themselves. This section was particularly interesting for me, as because I was diagnosed as an adult, I attended mainstream schools without any assistance (I ‘coped’ by taking a lot of work home and getting my family to help), whereas theses kids were already diagnosed and trying to access the services they needed, which were often limited and difficult to get.  The difficulties in accessing suitable support for autistic people were highlighted strongly, which I appreciate. This isn’t often talked about.
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Following chapters talk about the different concepts of what autism is and whether the two main views of it can co-exist, and how individuals on the spectrum feel about them. One of the chapters is called ‘The Pathogen and the Package’. The pathogen part referring to the view that autism is a negative thing akin to a disease that is stopping someone from being the person they ought to be; whereas the package looks at autism as a different way of being that has positives and negatives, and that the idea of removing it (or curing) would change a person’s very being.
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This was the part that I was the most concerned about reading, and parts of it made me angry – not what Elizabeth herself was saying, as she deliberately maintained a very neutral discussion of the different views so as to fully explore them, but where she quoted speakers from talks she attended. She mentions the organisation Autism Speaks, fully explaining how it was formed and that one of the organisations that it’s made up of was previously called Cure Autism Now!. She notes how, because of the controversy of a cure, Autism Speaks removed finding a cure from their list of goals and also makes use of very careful language (which, as Elizabeth quoted so much of it, I interpreted as the organisation still being willing to spend money and resources on finding a cure while not directly saying that’s what they’re doing).
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There is a chapter where Elizabeth looks specifically at the idea of a cure and what people on the spectrum and their families think of the idea. This section was delightfully heavy in interviews with said people, and very much reflected the difference in opinion between autistic individuals and their family members. The trend seemed to be that the autistic people themselves viewed a cure as something that would stop them from being who they were, while their family members, who saw how much these kids struggled in the world, thought a cure may ease some of those struggles and thus might not be an inherently bad thing. Elizabeth speculated that this may also be because of the age difference and continuously evolving views on autism and neurodiversity as a whole. However, there were one or two autistic individuals who thought that maybe something like a cure would be useful, and I’m glad she included these too. 
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(My personal view is that my struggles are largely due to the fact that the world around me is not designed for people outside the norm; therefore, the problem is more with the environment rather than my brain. I’d hate not to have the insights and fascinations that come from being autistic. To my mind, non-autistic people miss a lot of things. Thus, I find the idea of a cure utterly repulsive.)
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The last chapter moves on again (or perhaps back) to looking at the use of fantasy in how autistic kids see themselves and their position in society. Again, this chapter made excellent use of interviews and quotes, and I identified with a lot of it. Many of the examples were of characters kids had made up based around their own behaviours. There were a lot of half-demon, half-human concepts, which I suppose reflect the things we struggle with and often feel we have to hold back versus the things we’re good at.
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Elizabeth ends with a conclusion, which summed up, says that autistic people should be allowed to carve out their own space in society and that perhaps current medical views and interventions might not be as effective as others involving more active settings (like role playing or going about town in a group to explore and learn how to do/interact with different people and things – something that I feel would have benefited me greatly, and probably still would).
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So, as you might notice by how long this post is, there’s an awful lot to consider about this book. As I mentioned at the beginning, I’m not very good at interpreting and understanding academic texts, and some of the sections were very heavy with that kind of writing, so my take on this book may well be very different to that of someone who is actually able to take in all of that rather than getting the general ‘gist’ of things. However, though I found parts difficult to get through or follow, the more narrative parts and interviews were very fun and fascinating to read. I think Elizabeth’s research was conducted in a very careful, considerate way with full respect for everyone involved (this is also confirmed at the end of her acknowledgements).
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Though I was worried about the segments surrounding ideas of autism as a disease and whether it needs a cure, the very fact that she was so thorough in every part of the discussion (everyone was given space for their voice to be heard) left me with little doubt that she is very much a person who cares about autistic people being allowed to be their own selves (and make their own choices). My one peeve about the book is that few individuals with more drastic care needs were included, however, the reasoning for this is clearly explained in the introduction, so I can’t complain too much. Still, it would have been nice to hear from individuals from all areas of the spectrum. I appreciated the voices from autistic adults as well as young people, though, as I feel that autistic adults are often forgotten about.
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I very much appreciate and respect the level of work that has gone into this book, and I’m more than grateful that she reached out to me about it. If you can happily read academic books or are open to the challenge, I would easily recommend this one. I hope it gets read and shared by as many people who work in the medical field as possible, plus many more (perhaps it should be a library staple).
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The book is published by New York University Press (www.nyupress.org), and I believe Amazon has it too.
Elizabeth book cover
Uncategorized

Processing my autism diagnosis – watching home videos

So, as I mentioned in previous posts, I was diagnosed as autistic in January this year. So far I feel I’ve done a pretty good job of processing it and letting myself recover from all the strains of masking throughout my teenage years and well into adulthood. (For those who don’t know, masking is a way for neurodiverse people to act so as to fit in with society, but it’s intensely draining and goes against all our natural instincts, causing anxiety, depression and other mental health issues. Think pretending to be a movie character for your whole life without ever getting chance to be yourself for fear that you won’t be accepted/judged/bullied etc – I’ve pretty much made a vow that I’ll only mask if it’s absolutely necessary to preserve my future mental health.)

However, one of the things I wanted to do was to watch old videos my family took of me as I was growing up to see if I could see any autistic traits, mainly because I’ve seen lots of vlogs by families with autistic kids and wondered if I acted the same as they did. I knew my nan said I flapped my hands and made other stimming/self soothing gestures when I was less than a year old and that she suspected I was autistic (sadly, not much was known about girls on the spectrum in the 90s, so I was dismissed by the doctor, a story I know is only too familiar for women my age who are only now being diagnosed), and I remember feeling on the outside of a lot of social stuff like birthday parties and playgroups.

After speaking with my awesome mother, she dug around and found some tapes of past Christmases, birthdays and holidays for me to watch. When I put the first one on, within minutes of watching myself and noting my body language, where my focus was, how I spoke and interacted with people around me, I knew that the signs I’m autistic have always been painfully obvious, the only problem back then was that no-one knew what they were looking for.

And it hurts that something so obvious was missed. But seeing myself so natural was also liberating, because I’ve spent all these months post-diagnosis trying to relax myself and not worry about being judged enough to drop my mask, especially regarding stimming – knowing that how I stim now is the same as back then makes me feel that I’ve found myself again. I didn’t lose myself in the masks I’ve had to wear.

I cried because of this, and rocked and flapped and did all the things that help me express my emotions.

Of course there will still be times when I don’t feel my difficulties are valid, because there’s always going to be people who don’t understand, don’t have patience and some who just don’t care, not to mention my own thoughts of feeling completely fine until I have to be social, but this has definitely helped me to realise that though I might have hidden things well as a teen and adult, I have always had these difficulties.

And if I need more time to think when I’m asked a ‘simple’ question, need help doing everyday tasks, or if I need my ear defenders just to walk down the street because the world is so loud, it’s perfectly okay.

(Side note: along with my difficulties, there are many cool things about being autistic, and I’d never want to change how my brain comes up with all the crazy ideas I have.)

Anyway, that’s my ramble for today. Time for dinner.

Uncategorized

I finished my WIP!

Well, by finished, I mean I have a complete first draft that still needs a lot of work, but I’m still pleased with how the ending turned out, even if I completely broke down in tears. There must be some part of me that secretly loves to add sad touches to endings. It’s like I can’t help it. However, given that this WIP involves time travel, I guess I can let myself off, as it was inevitable for the plot.

Anyway, it’s late and I used up the last of my energy trying to type the final words through the rivers of water running from my eyes.

But at least I can say I’m finished (at least for a while, until I’ve decided I’ve left it long enough to go over it with fresh eyes). Hooray!

 

Poetry

Untitled

Untitled, I am simply me

to walk around and sketch the day

as I please. Or that’s what you might expect

if you spy me from a distance,

the woman who can take her time doing this and that,

including moulding time itself into whatever shape she likes.

Underneath the glass, however,

I have a structure that demands I do something deemed as an achievement

each day, and my body won’t let me rest

nor will my mind,

and in those rare times when I beat it back

guilt wraps its fingers around my heart and squeezes

until the enjoyment of whatever I’m doing for fun

turns dull and grey, as ash in my mouth.