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Thinking About Backstory... and Cats

Last night I sketched the first of three cats I'm painting this month, trying for a March 13th deadline. This is ludicrous speed compared to previous cat commissions but that's also a matter of budgeting time. I felt confident enough to start it and seriously hope to finish all three by the March 13th Reveal Date. Not have them shipped yet, but posted so the recipient gets to see them and anticipate their happy arrival.

They're beautiful cats and I'm inspired again after some time off painting waterfalls. Also if I keep that schedule, I'll have my commissions done before the Rocks course starts and be able to devote my Saturdays to painting rocks. Which is always fun too. Rocks are easy but I may learn some fine points about them. So it's likely to help improve my art in general.

Beyond art, there's writing. My good writing buddy Nonny, who has been my muse and writing buddy before, during and after our brief relationship, is back to late night chats that stimulate both of us to work on our fiction. She's got a fantastic novel in progress that I enjoyed in its first iteration, the changes she's made since then are spectacular.

Tonight she was unusually quiet about her work and kept drawing me out about mine. She's providing a level of support that's priceless - letting me open up about my backstory and plot and plans, the details of the yet-to-be-written Garden of Earthly Delights and the future history that connects with it.

I wound up ruminating on the ways all of my backstories connect between novels - the Crosstime novels and their species and worlds connect through various races that discovered parallel worlds. Nomad universe never discovered that but they got faster than light travel. They colonized in a way that avoided contacting any aliens because worlds couldn't be terraformed if there was so much as a microbe on them.

Eventually they'll connect but I'm not ready for that book for a long time. Other than Nomads having some urban legends about lost ships and mystery sightings (many of which were just hallucinations or urban legends.)

Tonight I discovered the little short brilliant Hindu doctor is a widow and last time I talked to Nonny before this, I discovered she invented the rejuvenation process the Nomads have. That erased the last barrier between humans and vampires - they're different and equal if you don't need to have a liquid diet and different instincts in order to live for centuries. That affected society too - older people living longer would slow the rate of cultural change.

Demeter's got the hyper-complex ecology to keep on making medical and scientific advances and the brain power for it. Demeter's a very influential planet in the Nomad history. They were a breadbasket too for a long time before the Nomads really got a handle on that closed fishbowl sustainable lifestyle and they always provided more variety in food and plenty of arts too.

What I realized tonight is tremendous. I know why I lost the first version. It wasn't an accident. It was my unconscious telling me I was not ready to write this book. I didn't have the experience. I was living in New Orleans and until I got sick with a prescription side effect and went wandering stoned through the city, getting tireder and sicker and needing help, I didn't connect with black people the way I did afterward.

Almost everyone that helped me during that walkabout was black. I was welcomed and taken care of and treated well in poor black neighborhoods by kind people everywhere I went. I started smiling and feeling more trusting whenever I saw a black face. One old white hippie helped me out and some paramedics checked on me when I was trying to sleep in a park and asked if I wanted to go to the hospital, but I didn't. I'd just come from there and did not want to go back.

Eventually I got arrested and spent 21 days time served for the misdemeanor of trying to sleep on a streetcar without paying the fare. By then I was giggling drunk on sleep deprivation and Prednisone, hallucinating so tangibly I could only distinguish it from reality by logic - I did not turn into a white whale beached and unable to breathe, I just had an asthma attack and was too weak to stand up. Stephen King was not my cell mate, but the long conversation I had with him was a good representation of his views on writing as expressed in many of his novels and interviews. He didn't need to be there to be there in spirit. The jail was real. The shackles were real. Getting thrown down by guards because I threw a tantrum like a three year old about getting in the shower was real, that was why I got the shackles and wound up laying naked in my own excrement in a cell in the psych ward end of the jail.

When I asked for a shower coherently and agreed not to make a fuss about it they unlocked the shackles and let me shower, hosed the cell clean, gave me clean clothes. Stephen King told me to remember every bit of it because I'd probably never be in a jail again and it would be worth describing from life. He was right. He was my conscience telling me to take it like a writer, accept the adventure, hallucinations and all, as an experience that would enrich my writing.

I made a number of black friends in that jail. We got along well. Not everyone, some people didn't like me, but I pretty much stuck with those who did and some of them were among the guards. None of the guards really picked on me - or the others. It was the city jail, not the state prison or federal prison. Just the city lockup with a lot of misdemeanors and a significant number of innocents, many of them black.

That's where I met the fiftyish mother of a cocaine addict who was up on felony charges of possession with intent to sell cocaine because her son who was living with her and supposedly in rehab, slipped and was dealing dope out of her house behind her back. Caught between a rock and a hard place, she didn't have the kind of names and contacts to get off by turning over drug dealers. She was pretty sure she'd be convicted and she explained to me why she was up on those charges even though she'd never used drugs and she didn't tolerate it in her son and he'd successfully hidden it from her. She couldn't resist taking her son back when he showed up sober and in rehab and wanted help staying sober. She got lied to. She was more grieved that her son had backslid than about what happened to her.

I heard stories that broke my heart in that jail.

I let go of that novel after the three day walkabout. I gave it to a young black woman who'd helped me carry it home when I wasn't strong enough to carry the bag. I'd promised her money and I didn't realize I didn't have it till I got in the door and couldn't breathe, had an asthma attack, knew I had nothing to give her for all her trouble. So I gave her the laptop instead. I let go of it and the backup was in the pocket of the case.

I look back at the original and it was racist. Not totally, but I learned so much just in the three sick days of stumbling around on Prednisone side effects that I'd completely blown my previous characterizations. Everyone in the rough draft was white and Euro-pagan except the Hindu doctor - that may be why she and the painter are the only characters that survived the changes.

Maybe I could not do justice to this book until I came home to San Francisco and live in a building where nobody's the same, where the people across the hall are an interracial marriage and there's Filipino and Hispanic and gay and straight and black and Samoan and Asian - where the diversity is world diversity. Where my being me is one thin stripe in a very big rich rainbow instead of that rainbow-tints rough draft where I found the general story.

The events, the main plot of the book is sound. The big problem was the characters and the minor conflicts told from too narrow a perspective. The book was racist by what I've learned today - liberal, but not really progressive. It had serious flaws and now I know I can do better. In all ways, I can do better with the cast. It's no longer color blind casting of essentially white characters, like an opera cast for the Ring cycle with a black Brunnhilde - who in character is still a Norse Valkyrie even if her face is dark and the actress-singer is black. Now the characters will be truer to who they are and the book richer for it.
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( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 1st, 2012 06:50 pm (UTC)

I live in Wisconsin. As a highly intelligent, autistic, eclectic artist with orthopraxic leanings (not into orthodoxy), it's suffocating and most here can't deal with one major difference, never mind three.

I've been told that moving isn't the solution, one doesn't need to, but ... I think that's simply not true for some people.

Happy writing and art!
Apr. 1st, 2012 10:25 pm (UTC)
I don't understand why people say moving isn't the solution. Maybe it's some blind loyalty to the place they live, some horror at the idea that anyone else doesn't think it's perfect. I know the Midwest. Just saying "Artist" is enough to get people coming out with that ugly old trope "Nobody makes a living at art."

Funny, lots of people do in San Francisco, treating it like any other career or profession. Someone's an artist, you know they worked hard to become one and care about art. Being intelligent may be almost as huge a barrier as your autism. I can remember hearing over and over again "You think too much."

Suffocating is a good description. Why do you continue to put up with it instead of finding somewhere that you can thrive?
Apr. 2nd, 2012 04:15 pm (UTC)
My husband's job is here as are my children (four mine, two his) and grandchildren.

Our family is dealing with profound autism, Asperger's Syndrome, the ravages of the ongoing economic crisis and other things. I help watch grandchildren so family members can go to work and college so I don't work outside the home. If I left for the west coast, college education would cease for two, maybe three of my children (and probably one of their mates) and two of them would then actually loose money by going to work.

Outside the home, I have no social safety net, network of any kind, friends, college degree or personal references for jobs (everyone seems to want three personal references now). I was usually a target of and vulnerable to workplace abuse when I did work. A year of unemployment (husband's job was eliminated) a bit over a year ago completely wiped out our retirement funds.

I'm not considered autistic enough to qualify for any funds. There are no funds or programs for adults on the autism range here anyway.

Being self-employed is probably the best option for me. I'm good at making art but seem to lack the social aptitude or something to sell it, but not for a lack of trying (put years into it, even was a member of an art gallery for a year and a half).

Most people think a person in need should just join a church as if that would solve everything.

Head. Desk. Bang.

Being talented, intelligent, nice and ethical haven't proven to be enough for people like me because the vast majority of adults still treat me as if I have koonies. Seriously. Dare I hope that moving to a different cultural climate be that much different? For me?

I hope I live long enough to find out.
Apr. 2nd, 2012 08:54 pm (UTC)
You're in a bad situation. It seems like the biggest reason is that many family members depend on you to stay home and watch children while they finish college. Someone else would have to make that sacrifice and hold the family together if you left. If they all took off in their own direction it'd fall apart. If one of the children who couldn't work and be cost effective stepped up to take your place, the others might still manage just as they're doing.

It sounds like your Asperger's isolates you as thoroughly as my mobility limitations isolated me. In so many places I only had online friends and my offline friends were limited by my ability to get around and get out of wherever I lived. Depending on other people to drive me around was total isolation unless I was in a city like when I lived in Chicago or New Orleans.

Self employment probably is your best option. It's also the most portable one if you decide to relocate later, put in these years to take care of your adult kids and get them through college and then relocate. The up side of this is that preparing to relocate and saving up for it is going to go a lot smoother than the way I moved without much savings and on a short deadline.

I think you would find resources on the West Coast that you don't have in Wisconsin. A better social safety net for sure. Real treatment and therapy would be more likely to be in reach - and that's the whole West Coast, not just California. Seattle is good too. There are choices, it's just that for me San Francisco was the best of all of them for climate as well as other factors.

Out here it might be easier for you to find an autism or Asperger's group. If you can get along with other Asperger's people it's a start on being able to build an offline social life.

People suggesting you join a church are thinking of it as the only way of adults meeting new friends outside of work. Scary, isn't it?

Unitarian Universalist avoids a lot of the problems of other churches by not having dogma. I'm a pagan UU. I met my first pagan group because it was hosted by UU - CUUPs - Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans. Later on after many discussions about life and politics and general ideas, I began to see how my ideas about life and respect for other people's world views fit UU as well as they did modern paganism, joining UU was a process of recognition.

UU is a church that may be interested in finding out about the problems adults on the autism spectrum have in society and you might meet others there, or people interested in helping. UU in itself is a different cultural climate, so contacting them locally may help make your current situation easier to live with.

UU also had the only Sunday school group I ever met where the kids weren't age-separated by year and weren't bullying. In New Orleans, I saw the Sunday school group playing for hours outdoors while various adult activities went on - and so I was able to see hours go by where small conflicts emerged, kids resolved them fast, the only crying was from accidents and some other kid would always help and comfort the hurt kid. It completely amazed me. Children, left pretty much to their own devices, not turning into a miniature of "Lord of the Flies."

So aside from evangelizing, people who suggest you join a church are the ones who can't think of anything else that would let you meet other adults and make friends. I'd suggest looking into UU online, read the website for your local one, see if it's in range for you and whether you like their tone or activities. Then ask the local minister about whether there's any help facilitating someone with Asperger's into the local activities.
Apr. 2nd, 2012 08:54 pm (UTC)
Same Comment Part II

It can make a huge difference if the group knows what your symptoms are and accepts they're not something you can control. A lot of people who'd like you if they knew you better would be more likely to take the time to get to know you. This is also where hanging out with people online can help, online friends already know you at your best and once you explain, have some idea of what to expect from your symptoms. You've got as much explication to deal with as I do with the mobility limits and stuff.

To me there seems to be less stigma to being short on funds on the West Coast. If you say something like "I'm not chasing the dollar because I've got other values," people don't look at you like you grew an extra head.

Subcultures may be a way for you to build a social life where you are, subcultures based on personal interests. When I lived in the Midwest, I got into Blake's 7 fandom - a British science fiction show that PBS was airing in the 1980s. My ex found a flyer for a B7 club meeting and we went, so we were among the core members of the club. It grew to about 100 people, we went on trips, I ran an art workshop that was hugely successful in teaching beginners - I did have friends outside work in Chicago.

That was how I found them.

My son in law, who's an anthropologist as well as a carpenter and OMG good cook, called it "affinity groups." People get separated from family and childhood friends by the Brownian motion of changing jobs and relocating across the country. Today, people don't expect a job to last more than a year or two, it's scary when the odds of getting a new one are that low. So affinity groups on people's various favorite topics and activities start to take the place of what school and work and neighbors used to be, a pool of interesting people you had something in common with.

Back in Arkansas I made some attempts to find a local painting group to get involved with, but the monthly meetings kept coinciding with other commitments my daughter had. So I never got to meet them in person even though they were friendly and encouraged me to join.

Some of the things I've done wouldn't work for you. Teaching is going to be hard - unless it's writing online tutorials and demos. Writing is something Asperger's isn't going to impair, so website building and affiliate income is definitely in reach for you. Check out my Oil Pastels Site and click on the link at the bottom that says hosted by SiteSell.

SBI is cost effective. It pays out for 95% of the people who buy a site - mine paid for itself after 13 months and that was when I only put five months of work in on it before I got interrupted by an out of state move. The good thing is that after that break-even point, the sites are cumulative and self sustaining. I've meant to build more than one site ever since the first one really worked, have numerous topics to do them on, but of course haven't had the time between Moving and Health Issues. Everything takes me longer than it does for other people even if it's online, because of the fibromyalgia and what bad weather does to my time.

I lose whole days and sometimes weeks of getting sick and bored and not being up to doing anything. I'm trying to break that now by doing Daily Painting. my Etsy Shop is another interesting link and way to sell art online. 20 cents a listing plus final value fee if something sells, listings last for six months.
Apr. 2nd, 2012 08:56 pm (UTC)
Re: Same Comment Part II
Sorry about the links taking you off LJ - I don't know how to code them to open a new window. But if you read through first and then click them and then back up you can have a look at two ways I'm working on building an online business that'll someday support me IRL offline. Even though it's expensive to live in San Francisco, having more days when I can function makes that cost effective.
Apr. 2nd, 2012 10:21 pm (UTC)
Re: Same Comment Part II
I like the idea of more groups/subcultures. I think they'd create an atmosphere in which people would actually practice active listening regarding limitations. Here, people are entirely dismissive, minds closed before you even start to try to discuss...to them you're just looking for public funds, a hand out, if you're different. Aaaaaargh. No, I want to make my own way.

I like the idea of an online site and am going to give that a lot more thought...

I tried etsy but sold one, many two items after months of effort from learning how to take my own photographs, making banners and a whole lot more. Ack. But maybe I should try it again...
Apr. 3rd, 2012 12:43 am (UTC)
Re: Same Comment Part II
When it's a small group the necessary medical explication can get taken care of and become a done deal faster. That's a cool thing about the subcultures and affinity groups.

Etsy costs so little it's always worth a try. It helps to take good photos and post the link in multiple places.
Apr. 2nd, 2012 10:14 pm (UTC)
I'd be pagan UU here too, except our local UU church is pretty much Christian. They were going to put my then nine-year-old in three years of Christian Sunday school. Because someone had decided that that age group (9 to 11/12) should have that block of religious education. To me, this is a most crucial age, as the child enters "the of reason." I haven't heard of other Pagans going to that UU. We never went back.
Apr. 2nd, 2012 10:52 pm (UTC)
Sorry, should read "the age of reason."
Apr. 3rd, 2012 12:45 am (UTC)
OUCH! Oh that is frustrating. Yeah, if they're completely Christian focused that can be discouraging and if the religious education program is totally Christian that would defeat a lot of the purpose. I can see why you never went back.

I never made it to the UU in Little Rock but I don't know if they'd have been that welcoming either. Good luck finding any local pagans. Sometimes people get together leaving a notice in a new age shop, if there are any within driving distance of your house.
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )


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