Barking Sycamores, Issue 1: A Review

So, I don’t like non-paying markets. This is probably not a surprise; I have a vested interest in being paid for what I write. Writing is work; and there is a time and place for volunteer work, particularly in an activist context. But when one is expected to work for free as part (or all) of one’s career, or told that working for free is the only option because of one’s marginalization, bad things happen.

I don’t like non-paying markets. And I don’t, as a rule, review non-speculative stuff.

So why the heck am I reviewing Barking Sycamores?

This is a zine which is dedicated to showcasing the work of neurodiverse poets (and artists), but doesn’t pay them. There’s a “donate” button, but the money goes to distribution, not contributors.

And I could rail about this being an unethical way to showcase poetry from an already-underrepresented group. Or I could roll my eyes and go do something else. Yet here I am, writing an actual review of Issue One. Possibly because this is exactly my thing; possibly because I don’t know of any other market, paying or not, with the same mission. Possibly just because my brain grabs on to things sometimes and doesn’t let go.

So.

You might expect that, in a non-paying market, the work will vary in quality. It does. But there are many good pieces in here, and the issue as a whole is enjoyable to read. There is a strong sense of shared mood and theme: topics vary, but each poet conveys a sense of a slantwise sensory and cognitive approach to life. Each poet owns and validates their difference, even though many are painfully aware of surrounding forces that wish to erase them.

The best of these more-painful poems, dealing with the sheer weight of NT expectations, is Savannah Logsdon-Breakdone’s “Sleep“. Emily Page Ballou’s coordinated pair of poems, comparing her “real” self to the self adults wished her to be, is also intriguing, as is Barbara Ruth’s “At Sixty-Seven, Still Brain Damaged, Still Brilliant“.

Those readers looking for speculative fare might be satisfied by Sarah Akin’s magical-realist “To George“, or by a few of Christopher Wood Robbins’ poems; meanwhile, Lucas Sheelk’s “Dear Allistic, Love, Autistic” is not quite a poem, but is well worth reading as an intimate, true-to-life look at a type of relationship we don’t often get to see in what’s published about us.

There are several poets in these pages who are very interesting to me, and whom I’ll (eventually) be looking up for further work. If you’re interested, as I am, in both poetry and neurodiversity, then it’s all worth a look.

One wishes, however, that each of these worthy poets had been paid something for their efforts. I totally agree with trying to distribute neurodiverse poetry to a wider audience, in order to give new readers a sense of neurodivergent authors’ experiences and personhood. But if we really wish to honor the poets’ personhood, surely that should include paying them something for their published work, as other poets are paid – not simply using them as a convenient source of free words to use in furthering a cause.

So a few people did my likeability exercise back in June. Not many, and not nearly enough for any of these to be scientifically rigorous conclusions (lol), but I’m gonna summarize some stuff anyway, because I’m in a posting and summarizing mood!

It seems that people are pretty consistent in their preferences. Most folks seemed to have a set of traits that really endeared them to a character, and most or all of the people on their list would have most or all of those traits. However, the set of traits was completely different for each person, and was heavily based in their own values.

Likeability contained an element of moral approval for some people, but not others. Some people’s preferences changed slightly based on a character’s gender, but others didn’t change at all, and even for the former group, there was considerable overlap.

So it seems that likeability isn’t objective – there’s no one formula to make everybody like one character – but it’s also not completely arbitrary and meaningless. Instead, it’s a question of what appeals to an individual reader.

Oddly, I found that I had more of a double standard / change in preferences between genders than anybody else who dared to do the exercise. I also had more difficulty doing the exercise than I thought I would. Neither of these was what I expected!

If you’re curious, here are my answers:

Male Characters

This part was easy, and I just wrote down the first / biggest three that came to mind out of many runner-ups:

  1. Miles Vorkosigan
  2. [A player-turned-recurring-villain from a D&D game I used to play in – anybody who’s done an RPG with me or talked about large projects with me recently will probably know who I’m talking about.]
  3. Loki, as played by Tom Hiddleston

Shared traits, between these and nearly all of the runner-ups: Extremely clever, quick-thinking, charismatic, unconventional, a bit devious, and larger-than-life.

There seems to be no real moral component here, as I have heroes, villains, and morally-ambiguous antiheroes (O HAI, Vlad Taltos) crowding up this runner-up list with about equal aplomb.

Female Characters

This part was way, WAY harder than the male characters, and I have no idea why… As before, there was a sizeable runner-up list, but with the male list, the runner-ups were like “Oh yeah, I like him, too.” With this one, it was more like, “Could she go on the list? Should she go on the list? MAYBE ALMOST she goes on the list but I am not sure and not happy about this and I’m not sure why I’m unhappy or feel reluctant/awkward? I DON’T KNOW WHAT IS GOING ON WITH THIS LIST. I thought I PREFERRED books/shows with female characters, what even IS this.”

Anyway, after a lot of confusion, the actual list ended up like this:

  1. Melinda May (from “Agents of SHIELD”)
  2. Adelle DeWitt (from “Dollhouse”)
  3. Granny Weatherwax (from the Discworld novels)

So clearly this is different from the other list? Hyper-competence is still an aspect, but it’s defined more broadly, and there’s also this aloof, closed-off, unfriendly quality which is suddenly all over the place.

(It also seems like the opposite of the male list, personality-wise, except it isn’t quite. It’s possible to have the aloofness and the showoffy unconventional-thinking-charisma at the same time – Benedict Cumberbatch’s character on “Sherlock” comes to mind – although it is not typical.)

(Also, speaking of “Agents of SHIELD”, I belatedly noticed that Skye fits all of my “male character” criteria at least to some degree, though not as flamboyantly as some and with a degree of inexperience. I quite like Skye; she’s on my female runner-up list. Despite the fact that half of the fandom apparently hates her? And I don’t know what’s up with that, either?)

Anyway, so apparently I just have WAY more internalized sexism than all of the rest of you for some reason. And I’ve had enough crushes on girls that I can’t even blame heterosexuality… I have no idea at all.

If this doesn’t scare you away, you can still do the exercise for yourself here.

Autism News, 7/10/2014

I’m readjusting my habits (again) and we may actually have a small and on-time news post for once. First, here are some posts about social skills and social coping:

  • The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism on how to avoid becoming hateful when people are cruel
  • Real Social Skills on the idea of NTs “instinctively knowing” social rules that autistic people don’t, and why this idea is not actually correct
  • Emily Brooks on learning to date while autistic

Some pan-disability stuff:

Misc:

Sad things:

  • Lisa Daxer has some kinda-good news on a very sad topic, with a couple of people who murdered autistic teenagers being brought to justice.
  • A new law to help prevent organ transplant discrimination
  • Real Social Skills on a version of ABA that doesn’t use punishments, and why there are still problems with this version
  • A safety warning for people who post pictures of their autistic family members
  • I missed this when it was first posted, but lately this article by Stop Hurting Kids, and an accompanying myth-busting fact sheet about seclusion and restraint in schools, have been making the rounds again.

My spooky science-fantasy poem, “Evianna Talirr Builds a Portal on Commission”, is now available in Year 1 of the HWA Poetry Showcase, along with works by Geoffrey A. Landis, Ann K. Schwader, and many other famously spooky poets of spook. These were the Horror Writers Association’s favorite poems out of what was submitted to them in their contest back in April.

Ev, a sort of Lovecraftian mystic-scientist who both invents and destroys things, has been creeping around and showing up in different works of mine for some time now, but this is the first time one of them’s actually sold. So, I’m pleased.

More later. IRL stuff has been keeping me away from the blogosphere, but it’s slowly getting back under control.