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December 20th, 2017

Old Habits Return...

I've been doing art for all my life. I've been doing writing too, mostly fantasy and science fiction. Fantasy is often about a mythical past, science fiction about a speculative future. Fantasy involves a maguffin that works according to the principles in folk tales. Science fiction often does too, but it does so often on the basis of what technology does to change life. Social science fiction explores what would happen if society believed different things than what it does, if it were organized in different ways.

In that it was important to me growing up. Both were escape from an unendurable daily reality. Net result, I didn't commit suicide.

At age four, I decided to become a science fiction writer. In the year 2000, I did it by publishing Raven Dance.

That book is actually two books conjoined at the last and first chapter. If you take the starting paragraph of the chapter that starts most of a year after the events of the last chapter, you're reading the opening of volume two. It's a big fat cumbersome 700+ page volume that would be two fat novels if I edited it.

My first edit would be to take an ax to the fusion and just renumber all the chapters in the second volume, then retitle the first volume because the actual Raven Dance event didn't happen till volume two. Not even a spoiler, you can know this going in and that may give you a more enjoyable read. The rest of my edits would tighten it and both volumes would lose weight.

That's because right now today, I'm a much better writer by 50+ trunk novels than I was when I finished it. Various circumstances caused that. I believed in a series of five books that almost got agented. But for the cost of a printer, cartridges and a whole lot of paper, I might have been a much more mainstream science fiction writer with those books in print.

I'd also be embarrassed at them, because I've grown personally and politically. I'm aware of things that I wasn't when I wrote them. I wouldn't treat cultural appropriation the same way. I wouldn't treat race the way I did or drift away from it into the aliens and other themes. There's meat in that setting and those novels, but I wimped out on a number of good issues.

I did so again in some others. I wrote books that were very mild and palatable, easy for publishers and liberal readers to enjoy without being that disturbed. I didn't handle my hero's transgender well at all because while it's there, it didn't come up much after the first book. His trying to fit into an alien culture greatly defused it and he romped onward into a life where because it stopped being a problem he stopped thinking about it and just didn't look at his past much.

This is the narrative that gender clinics pretty much promised on transition. It was the narrative promoted by everything at the time I got diagnosed. It's what makes surgeons who do transitions smile and know they're saving lives. It is a solvable problem for the binary trans person. Transition solves the problem. I had not transitioned and when I wrote those books I didn't know what would happen, what life would be like once I didn't have to worry about passing and had legal ID.

It's taken me a long time after transition to reach a point where I can write again at all. Instead I've been doing what my grandmother wanted me to do all through my childhood, painting pretty pictures. I don't knock this. She was right about it in one regard. Contemplating beauty will cheer you up and give you a reason to get up in the morning. My idea of pretty pictures also involves a lot of beautiful cats, because cats are wonderful at emotional support. They are easy to take care of and very loving. They're quiet and generous with their time. It's easy to get along with a good cat and you can trust the cat to take care of you as easily as the reverse.

But for the first forty or fifty years of my life I was obsessed with becoining a science fiction writer. I refused to die unpublished. That prevented thousands of suicide impulses and dragged me out of death in more than one life-threatening illness.

My transgender hero wasn't disabled. For him transition ended the major grief of his life. I've been disabled all my life and was marginal back when I worked, beating my body hard. Every physical activity took five times the body energy with my skeletal distortions, so where everyone else was walking, I had to run to keep up. I was on a death march just doing everyday activities. Often I failed and flunked out, like flunking out of college on campus size.

I couldn't emotionally accept the fact of disability anywhere near as easily as I did the truth of being transgender. Diagnosis did solve something. It meant I was not delusional, not crazy, not going to be locked up just for being who I am. It meant there was hope of life beyond transition even if I had no idea of how to get transition if I couldn't make a living at a high enough income to buy it.

I did eventually get it by way of a lucky tumor, a group of tumors, and it was covered. I had to go back to the place I was abused and face everything that ever hurt me in life. I had to see it all again as an adult and understand just how monolithic it was, how hopeless my life was. I could not have faced the truth of those obstacles at that age. Intersection - the stigma of physical disability got driven so deep it was unconscious.

Everything in gender treatment emphasized manly physical activity, manly jobs doing physical labor and stoic manly sports that I hated. It took a lot for me to convince them that my view of manliness was shaped around a mostly sedentary scientist who wrote and thought and lectured, that for me it was intellectual and artistic. It helped that all the personality tests said "You'd be happiest in an artistic career."

What a good deal of that meant was that living around physical disabilities is easier to manage for the self paced self employed person. I'd have had a very long row to hoe getting adaptations to my limits and body needs even if I'd understood them at the time instead of just grunting and ignoring it, because men don't cry at mere physical pain.

Some events online broke my heart about writing and writers' groups, also some events offline while I was not homeless but just staying with friends. IE, homeless and couch surfing, dependent on whoever would take me in. I was a human housecat. I am not ashamed of this, I did a good job of it and many of those housemates were glad I was around. I watched kids for some of them, without being paid other than in shelter and food. This would've been good money if I'd been paid and had an apartment, but I needed transportation too. A lot of things just weren't feasible. Until I actually transitioned, I lived like an illegal immigrant. I couldn't use ID so I worked under the counter at things I could actulaly do.

I needed time to rest. I've been living with Kitten for years now. Lived with her in Arkansas, then moved to San Francisco and had my little cool room in a residence hotel. Then came back to Arkansas where I've got Kitten and my family again instead of unrelated professional caretakers giving me the physical assistance I need to have a normal healthy level of hygiene and nutrition and cleanliness.

I can't live on my own any more. My body's not capable of it in the long term and even back in the day, I couldn't sustain it without moving several times a year to be able to start off in a clean place and get help reorganizing my stuff. I did some weird things to adapt to what I couldn't do, but that takes the cake for wasteful.

Living with Kitten and her Viking and my grandkids, it's been quiet, drama-free and happy. I have no romantic interests but no interest in chasing one at this time. I'd need more body energy, a cooler wardrobe and transportation to get out and look. That "more body energy" is a big thing, because if I couldn't keep up with the relationship it's not fair to my partner.

This doesn't mean I plan celibacy, I've started getting involved again with the Society for Creative Anachronism and it's possible I could wind up meeting a con-friend sort of romance - sharing my tent at an event with a lovely interested person and staying in touch and friends after. But any romance would be long in the building and light in the dating before it got going. I'm good with that and can be patient. I just had to be stable and secure enough to handle having an offline social life to have the possibility again.

As I worked on coming to terms with being a disabled man, flushing out decades of internalized ableism, I had to heal. I'm not normal. I never will be. Getting transition did not give me the ability to take up SCA fighting and win tournaments, the physical thing I wanted to do once in transition. I did not work out and get muscular, but I got muscular nonetheless because just living my life is an Olympic training kind of thing. I'm okay with how I look and have gone a long way to internalizing the image of my body as a kind of human bonsai, beautiful in a weird way created by harsh conditions and adaptation.

From there to get back to writing I had to come to terms with the fact that so much of what inspired and freed me as a child was sexist, ableist, racist, creepy and full of right-wing economic ideas. It was a bummer to go back to old boyhood favorites and find out how misogynous they were. Even back when I was transitioning I had a problem with that and wanted to do something like - recreate the good bits, the fun stuff, the boys adventure stuff without it being misogynist.

I had a lot of philosophical introspection to do. I had a lot of healing to do. Somehow my writing went numb, a lot like the way I burned out on art after I bombed at making a living on it due to wearing out my body and no longer being able to do enough work to live on. I got stopped by physicality at every turn. Well, writing is something that is still within my reach physically. But that was itself a depressing thought. That changed it from high aspiration to desperate adaptation.

It was both. Just as I am both a writer and an artist, I adapted to my unlivable life by becoming a writer and an artist. I have retired. I'm not selling art at the moment and it'll be a while before I start selling my writing. It'll take a lot of editing and backstage work to get it to that point again.

This year I've started uncoiling and waking up. It's like when I dug out my Prismacolors and drew again, just for myself. When I did my Nanowrimo, I goofed around and did an unpublishable self indulgent fan fiction off my series that basically let me get introspective and deal with these internal problems, banish some of these demons. It worked. Because now I'm starting to get different ideas and they are good ones. I'm starting to look at it differently again too, not to dread editing or this and that but just, think through the mechanics with the expertise that comes of practice. Same as the art really except markets are different and selling's different.

I know I can do short stuff again and sell that for money because it worked and was bringing in good money when I did it. I know the readership is out there. My readership is probably screaming for good scifi fantasy that has my left-wing inclusive slant. I want to bring in new characters based on the wonderful people I met in my adventures, especially in the shelter and in San Francisco. I want to be able to write from life again... and I might do so.

No spoilers about the idea that broke the dam. Suffice that it'll take some research because it's set on Earth and it's a good one. A rather marketable one that should reach a good audience. I have gotten comfortable enough in my own skin that I can do this thing again, this thing that I'm good at. I can reclaim that big part of my identity that is Writer and de-retire comfortably. If it ever puts me into an income level that I don't get Social Security any more, no biggie because then I'd actually have it to do so. My old age Social Security is stable but very small, once again so far under the poverty line I'd crick my neck looking up at it.

Dreams like that don't die forever. Talents and skills like that don't go away. It's still worth doing and a great thing to do. When I do it right, it flows like water. There's a lot of pressure behind the dam and it'll go fine this time. I just had to get my life in shape before I could pick it up again.
Explore-Oil-Pastels-With-Robert-Sloan.com Articles at eHow.com, ETSY shop, My Bonanzle Booth, deviantART gallery, SFFmuse and look for art by robertsloan2art on eBay. Listed on Art Blogs 4 U
Proud member of the Oil Pastel Society
Interesting art blog: Patrick's Art Blog focused on realism!
New Topical Blog: www.robs-art-supply-reviews.blogspot.com for all the cool art stuff that isn't oil pastels!


2013 Nano Winner
Robert A. Sloan, author of Raven Dance

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