Portrait of the Autist as a Young Woman

Sometimes – my memory being short and this blog being long – I have to do a quick search when I’m planning a post to see if I’ve done it before.  But a quick entry into the box brought zero results so we’re on for today’s title, which is of course a parody of James Joyce’s ‘Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.’  Before I’d read either I used to confuse it with the Henry James novel ‘Portrait of a Lady’, which could hardly be more different.  But I digress.  Today’s post is linked to my upcoming short story ‘Alien’ (working title) about an alien coming to earth in human shape and trying to fit in.  This is not so much sci-fi as psychological narrative: the experience of being slightly autistic, or feeling that you might be, is analogous to being an alien among humans.

I’d better say at once that I’ve never had a diagnosis of autism, and I’m far from certain that I am actually ‘on the spectrum’; however I did a fairly lengthy test online which indicated that I might have some autistic features.  Be that as it may, if I were to have autistic traits it would certainly explain such things as my total failure in many situations to know what the hell is going on.  It explains the prevalence of so-called ‘tumbleweed moments’ where I say what is on my mind and there’s a prolonged awkward silence. 

In such situations I am reliant on people telling me what I’ve said wrong, otherwise I don’t have a clue – but people mostly don’t want to do that because it’s the social equivalent of breaking the fourth wall; in other words, of shattering the social veneer and admitting what is going on underneath.

At other times it isn’t so much my words as my manner.  Like many a ‘Professor Branestawm’ type I get carried away by subjects sometimes: I get a passionate gleam in my eye; I lean forward and converse animatedly, I go on and on.  It’s much easier for people to get this if you are obviously a geek (which nine times out of ten means being male) but alas, if you’re a woman talking like this to a bloke they’re likely to think it’s a come-on, and this really drives me crazy.  I’ve even had women on occasion think I was coming on to them: and in one case I didn’t find out why I’d lost a friend for ages afterwards.

To summarise: I often find social norms baffling.  Everyone else seems to share a series of assumptions to which I have no access.  When I say something out of line the usual reaction is a tumbleweed moment, and I rarely get anyone to explain to me what I’ve said, though sometimes I figure it out afterwards.  I find all this very difficult.

Should be a good story I think: sometimes I wish I looked more like a geek so people would know what to expect.  But then I wouldn’t be so pretty.  Ho ho.

Perhaps I should get this lovely t-shirt:

Image result for Professor Branestawm

Lazy Carrot t-shirts: image removed on request

Kirk out

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My Seven Tips for Better Blogging

One of my recent followers is The Art of Blogging:

https://artofblogging.net

where you can find tips on how to make your blog better; all of which set me thinking, what are my tips on blogging?  Do I even have any?  Is the way I blog personal to me and not relevant to anyone else?  Well, let’s find out.

I began blogging because as a writer I wanted readers – and blogging is an instant way to get them.  In theory.  In theory, you just hit ‘publish’ and your words are out there in the world for all to read.  But blogging is like a miniature version of self-publishing; the publishing’s the easy part: in order to get readers you have to do the marketing.  Which presents me with a problem: I’ve always eschewed self-publishing because frankly the thought of doing all that self-promotion makes me feel a bit faint and then I have to go and have a lie-down.  Nowadays we’re all supposed to be self-promoting, self-starting, self-aggrandising little market forces, and that’s just not me.  And what’s the point of writing if you have to be someone else in order to succeed?  So I guess my first tip is this:

Tip No. 1 – Be Yourself. 

If you don’t know what that is, you’ll find out in the process of doing this stuff, but don’t assume you have to be like others in order to succeed.  You are unique and you have unique and individual things to say.  So whilst you can learn from others, don’t try to be them.  Be you.

Tip No. 2 – Communicate. 

It sounds obvious, but make sure others can understand what you’re saying.  If you’re blogging on a specialist topic don’t use words a lay person wouldn’t know: people have very limited tolerance for looking up words.  As I’m continually telling OH whose main blog can be found at:

https://zerothly.wordpress.com

try to look at it from the reader’s point of view.  Are you being too technical?  Too abstruse?  Too long-winded?  This brings us on to:

Tip No. 3 – Don’t Go On And On.

OH maintains that a post of 2000 words is ‘not too long’: I disagree and aim for around 500.  There’s no set limit but I tend to think that more than 1500 words puts a strain on the reader’s time and attention span.  Remember, you’re competing with 1001 other things on the internet, all demanding time and attention.  Which brings me to:

Tip No. 4 – Make It Worth Their While.

Just because you’re interested in something, doesn’t mean your readers will be.  If you’re describing an experience, make them feel it; if you’re giving instructions make them clear and doable, so they’ve really learnt something.  Nothing is more frustrating than a ‘how-to’ blog which skips important sections or assumes knowledge you don’t have: nothing is more dull than a description of someone else’s holiday which doesn’t take you there.

Tip No. 5  How Often?

When I started blogging I made it a rule to blog every day.  My posts were a lot shorter then; but the every day rule was a daily discipline for me, so that I’d get into the habit.  Nowadays I’m more relaxed and several days can go by without a post.  There’s no hard and fast rule but I think that too much content can weary the reader: you don’t want your followers to be getting too many emails.  On the other hand, if I’ve been absent for more than a week, I tend to find my readers drifting away, so I post something to let them know I’m still here.  There’s no point in posting just for the sake of it, but you don’t want people to forget you – so find a balance which works for you.

Tip No. 6 – Don’t Be Ordinary.

Avoid cliches and everyday phrases; without being contrived, try to think of different ways to describe things.  Depending on the topic, use humour; and if you’re writing about something serious like death or depression or suicide, be helpful.  Don’t leave your reader on a total downer – nobody likes that.

Tip No. 7 – Edit.  Then Edit.  Then Edit.

Don’t just write, finish and hit ‘publish’.  Your readers deserve better; hit the ‘preview’ button and check it through.  Then click on ‘edit’ (I usually bring this up in a new tab so I can check back and forth) and look for errors: it’s amazing how many typos slip past even in a few hundred words.  Then look at how you’ve expressed yourself.  Is it clear?  Does it flow?  Could you substitute a colon or semi-colon for that full-stop?  Are your sentences too long, too short, just right?  Could the vocab be sharpened up?  Does the title hook you in?  What about the first sentence?  Think of it like a newspaper article – you need an attention-grabbing headline and then a really good first paragraph (though as with tags, make it relevant to the article).  None of this means the rest of it doesn’t matter, but hooking people in is half the battle.

Tip No. 8 – Categories, Tags and Sharing

These are the kinds of things you usually get tips on and I’m not an expert on these so I’ll just say this: categories are a means for you and others to understand the areas the blog covers and search it accordingly so think about how to divide up your content in the best way.  As for tags, don’t misrepresent the post.  If there’s nothing about Johnny Depp, don’t put him in a tag just to get more readers: if people want Johnny Depp they can go to other blogs.  Make your tags short, punchy and above all relevant.  For example, when I’ve finished this post I’ll probably put tags like ‘top tips for blogging’ or ‘how to perfect your blog’.  Tags are picked up by search engines and are a really good way of getting accidental readers, so make them count.  As for sharing, social media is a great way to reach more people; I connected my blog to Facebook years ago and got a sharp spike in views.  I’m not on Twitter but if you are, use it: I recommend connecting to any social media platforms you’re on.  You may find readers comment on those sites rather than on the blog itself, which some find annoying; but I tend to think all comments are worthwhile and a basis for engagement.  Which brings us to:

Tip No. 9 – Respond!

When readers take the time and trouble to comment, respond.  If you’re in the fortunate position of having too many comments to reply to, make some general response.  Always thank people for commenting: not every time as that becomes a bit wearisome, but make sure commenters feel listened to and appreciated.  One of the most enjoyable aspects for me is engaging in conversation with readers.

So, turns out I do have some tips for blogging – so please comment below and let me know what you think.  If you like the blog, please click the ‘follow’ button on the bottom right, so you’ll get an email whenever I post.  I cherish my followers – and I will ALWAYS look at your blog when you follow me.

Kirk out

 

 

 

 

There Must Be Dialogue

Sunday viewing in our house is always catching up on ‘Casualty’ (unless we watched it the night before) plus the unmissable ‘Handmaid’s Tale’.  I shall hold off on a review until the end of the series; all I’ll say right now is that its reputation for tense, unpredictable and thrilling drama is by no means exaggerated.  It’s a tribute to the makers that they’ve managed not only to maintain the level of drama of the original story but to build on it and ramp up the tension to an almost unbearable degree.

Meanwhile, since it’s impossible in our house to watch programmes without talking, here’s a smattering of recent conversations.  Incidentally, in my view there’s an optimal level of talking while watching TV: not so much as to interrupt the drama but enough so as not to feel silenced (this level of course varies with the programme: the bar is set quite high with ‘Casualty’ but low with ‘Handmaid’s Tale.’)

So it was that during an outbreak of cystic fibrosis in Holby ED, OH happened to mention, ‘I always think of cystic fibrosis whenever I use our yeast extract.’

Pausing only to grab my phone and record the utterance on Facebook, I continued with the drama, but later saw this ‘explanation’:

‘It’s low-salt and not as spready as Marmite. Reminds me of the higher viscosity of mucus caused by the poor transport of chloride ions across membranes in cystic fibrosis because salt includes chloride ions too.’

Yeah, we’ve all had that thought… he followed it up with this little gem:

‘Why do you think they replaced voiced consonants with the glottal stop? I mean, how did that happen?’

Seriously, you couldn’t make this stuff up – unlike ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’; or so we hope, since a defining feature of the drama is that no-one is free to voice their thoughts.  Offred/June has to show her reactions rather than telling them (Elisabeth Moss does this brilliantly) and the wives can no more voice their feelings than the handmaids, being just as much victims in this gruesome drama.  Even the Commander is playing a role and has to indulge any deviant desires in secret: the architects of this hell are in it just as much as its victims.  And unlike ‘Casualty’ where as soon as you see a car you know it’s going to crash, you have absolutely no idea what will happen next.

Three more episodes.  Sunday nights will never be the same…

Oh, and since I haven’t mentioned this before I’ll mention now that I was mentioned in dispatches (ie the Loughborough Echo) along with Baroness Chakrabarti:

No automatic alt text available.

Kirk out

That Wash The Week That Wash

We’ve had some very good drying days of late, so I have got to grips with a backlog of horrendousness which was found lurking in the son’s room.  Normally I take a strict view of washing, having introduced both children to the washing machine at the age of fourteen and then backed off forever: I simply cannot understand parents who allow their grown-up offspring (usually their sons) to return from uni with a pile of washing.  They’d get short shrift from me.  But in this case Son had not only cleared out his room but made strenuous efforts to keep it clear, so I thought I’d pitch in and finish the job.  There’s something quite satisfying about doing several loads of washing if by the time the second lot’s finished, the first lot has flapped about in a strong breeze and fierce sun and is now ready for folding (not that I do fold, not in any real sense of the word.)

Since all that, I am now shocked to discover that it’s been nearly a week since my last post (I can’t help writing that like a confession.)  A week in which I didn’t get the writer-in-residence post in Scotland but did get the loveliest rejection email I’ve ever had; a week in which a story of mine was returned at lightning speed (never a good sign), a week in which early spuds have been dug up, tennis at Queen’s watched (Murray is not in great form though considering he’s had 50 weeks off it’s not surprising) and the local contender to oust Nicky Morgan launched.

I’ll give Nicky Morgan this: she’s ubiquitous.  Any local event you go to, she’s right there – and not just for the photo-op either.  She’s thought of as a good constituency MP, which makes her a hard person to oust – but if we want a change of government (and god knows we do) we have to get rid of her.  So let’s put aside the pleasant manner and the local events and consider Nicky Morgan’s voting record.

Here are just a few of the things she’s voted for (or against):

AGAINST equal rights for gays and lesbians

AGAINST investigations into the Iraq war

AGAINST a right to remain in the UK for EU citizens post-Brexit

AGAINST higher taxes for those earning over £150 K pa

AGAINST a bankers’ bonus tax

FOR more restrictions on Trades Union activity

FOR replacing the Trident nuclear missile system

FOR the Bedroom Tax

FOR a reduction in spending on welfare and benefits

FOR reducing capital gains tax.

I think it’s quite clear where her priorities lie.

In other news, I am now acquiring more material for my next sitcom; a follow-up or possibly a rewrite of ‘Waiting for Theo.’  This morning’s material went like this:

OH: You know about fully-automated luxury gay space communism, right?
Me: What?
OH: (shows me the phrase written down) It’s a thing
Me: But what thing?
OH: It’s basically Iain Banks
Me: Well that tells me nothing. What’s the gay bit about?
OH: It doesn’t mean anything really. It’s just put there because it’s a three-letter word
Me: Oh, for god’s sake! This is getting less clear by the minute!

OH:  All right.  Consider a lesbian automated checkout.

(pause)

OH:  Have you considered it?

Me:  No, but I’m writing THAT down.

And so on – in fact OH could legitimately say like Alan Bennett’s mother (The Lady in the Van), ‘by ‘eck, I’ve given you some script!’  OH really has given me some script too; stuff you couldn’t make up if you sat at your desk for a thousand years – which by coincidence is about how long ago I invented two characters called Ladimir and Oestrogen (a rather clever pun on Vladimir and Estragon, or so I thought).  Here are a couple of examples:

Ladimir:  God!  Three degrees in Edinburgh!

Oestrogen:  What?

L:  Three degrees!

O:  What – temperature?

L:  Of course, temperature!  What else?

O:  Oh, nothing

L:  It’s so foggy

O:  Really?

L:  You can’t see your hand in front of your face!

O:  Wow!  So I guess they’ll be singing when will I see you again?

L:  (groan)

 

Ladimir:  Here you are!  I’ve been looking for you

Oestrogen:  Here I am

L:  what’s this then?

O:  It’s my putting shed

L:  Your putting shed?

O:  Yep.

L:  Not a potting shed?

O:  Do you see any pots?

L:  OK then.  Is it for golf clubs?

O:  No.

L:  Well, what is it for then?

O:  It’s for putting things in.

L:  Oh, I see.  How foolish of me not to realise we were in a written conversation.

 

L:  In Fortran it was ‘right’ and in Basic it was ‘print’

O:  Okaaay…

L:  Fortran was hard.  Everyone learnt Basic

O:  Even I learnt a bit of Basic

L:  Oh?

O:  On my computer programming for morons course

L:  Was it really called that?

O:  No!

L:  Well, they have ‘Computer Programming for Idiots’ and ‘Internet for Dummies’

O:  Well it wasn’t.

L:  You’ll know all about the ‘go to’ problem then?

O:  Go to?  There’s a problem with ‘go to’?  It was the only bloody thing I understood!

L:  It didn’t have an equivalent ‘come from’ function.

O:  Oh, I see.  So it wasn’t quite finished.

L:  No.

O:  You might say it was antiquated

L:  I guess

O:  Even Shakespearian?

L:  Unh?

O:  “Go to, my Lord”.  You know, that sort of thing.

 

And so on… I think our real conversations are better.

Kirk out

25th Wedding Anniversary

IMG_0597

Well, today is our 25th wedding anniversary.  Yes, the OH and I have been manacled together for a quarter of a century and I feel as if I ought to do some sort of ‘summing-up’ post but I really can’t because as OH points out, if you sum it up, that’s the end.  A life is only summed up at a funeral; a calculation is only summed up when it’s finished.  And yet it is a kind of calculation because if you add up the days and the weeks and the years and put them one after another eventually you get to 25 years and then you have to stop and think… and what do you think?  Bloody hell! is the obvious thought.  And then bloody hell once more, but when you’ve thought bloody hell enough times you begin to be coherent.  And that’s when it gets hard.  I mean, what can you say about two and a half decades of conjugal manacling?  Well, you can say without fear of contradiction that there’s a history there – a history which means, for example, that I only have to say the word ‘Gerald’ for OH to know that he is being pretentious (see the gorilla sketch on ‘Not the Nine o’Clock News’) or ‘the mushroom pate’ which encapsulates the history of our first meeting or references to herbs such as ‘it doesn’t comfrey you know’ and ‘go the extra chamomile.’

Half a day has gone by and I still don’t know what to say about the last 25 years.  Still, it’s been a good day so far; the tribute to Gaz was lovely, featuring my poem and Chris’s song and a dozen or so people who came along (not bad at half a day’s notice.)  One person however was not having the best day as she had to get to work and had ordered food which took a while to come; then when she tucked into it I spilled my water all over it.  No sooner had this been mopped up than she discovered her dog, a rather nervous rescue animal, was missing.  A short panic ensued till the dog was discovered at the back of the cafe.  Anyway, an enjoyable if emotional event.

Before that I went to the hairdresser’s by mistake: I was just walking down the road and saw a sign advertising half-price cut and blow-dry, so in I stepped and on discovering that the half-price offer was very cheap, sat down in one of the chairs and prepared to be cut and blown dry.  I’m really pleased with the result.

And tonight we’re off out for a meal at Pizza Express.  All this and a free CD from Chris Conway as well!

What more could one ask?

A quarter of a century not out.

Kirk – erm – out

Hugo What? Hugo Who? Longlisted for Where?

OMG.  That’s all I can say.  O – M – G.  It’s just one of those moments where you sit open-mouthed and just say:

https://tenor.com/view/friends-janice-omg-oh-my-god-gif-4089127

It all started this morning.  We were – well, we were doing what I can only describe as praying and OH said, in a list of things, ‘Oh, and thanks for Steve’s email about Hugo.’  I kept my peace till Amen and then I said, ‘Steve?  Hugo?  Who’s Hugo?’

‘Oh, yes,’ says he.  ‘I got an email from Steve at GAILE (his publishers) saying I’m on the list for Hugo.’

Gritting my teeth I said, ‘and who is Hugo?’

‘Not who.  What.  Hugo is a Sci Fi award.  In fact it’s THE Sci Fi award.’

‘What?  You’re up for an award and you didn’t even tell me?’

‘Well, I only just found out.’

‘And you decided to tell God before me?’

‘Well, to be fair, God already knew…’

‘Exactly!’

So, all we know is that ‘Replicas’ –

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Replicas-Galactic-Association-Intelligent-life/dp/1973482177/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1522478286&sr=8-1-fkmr0&keywords=Replicas+Amanda+McIntyre+Ure

– is up for a Hugo award and that the shortlist of five will be announced this evening, 8 pm our time.

http://www.thehugoawards.org/hugo-history/2018-hugo-awards/

I think it’s unlikely he’ll make the shortlist but bloody hell, to be considered is a huge deal.

Kirk out

 

 

 

I Self-Identify as a TERF

We hear a lot these days about ‘self-identification’ – the right to define yourself as whatever you feel you are and not be defined by society.  Now, in theory I am all for this; but in practice none of us exists in isolation.  We all have relationships, we all have contexts in which we exist.  There are tensions between the individual and the family; between the individual and group; between the individual and the wider society in which we all exist.

The individual ought not to be completely defined by society.  The society in which I grew up tried to define me in certain ways: that I should look a certain way (wear skirts and make-up), behave in a ‘ladylike’ manner (no swearing, no drinking pints) and aspire to a certain level (marriage and work as a teacher or nurse).  The career options for most girls were office work, factory work or the two professions I have already mentioned.  You were expected to work until marriage and if you worked after marriage, to do so part-time.  You were not expected to aspire to anything higher.

But nor do I believe that the individual has an unfettered right to self-identification; to demand that society (which is after all, other people) accept whatever they say they are and adapt itself to their needs.  And my fear is that the gender debate is heading in this direction; of saying that there are many genders and that a person should be accepted as whatever gender they say they are and called by whatever name and pronoun they wish.

Now, leaving aside the wider issues, which I’ll come to in a minute, this presupposes certain difficulties right away.  It’s hard enough to remember names at the best of times: we live in a mobile society where most of us meet new people all the time; so that to remember a variety of names and pronouns which do not correspond to our previous experience of gender, can be confusing and difficult.  To be berated if we fail adds insult to that injury: I once went to a ‘conference’ on gender where there were seven or eight of us, and to remember who wanted to be called ‘he’ or ‘she’ or ‘they’ or – god help us – ‘ze’ was beyond me.  I suspect the average person in the street wouldn’t even try.

https://lizardyoga.wordpress.com/2016/08/21/may-you-have-an-interesting-day/

To sum up so far: society has certain expectations, that a person will present as either male or female, and be addressed accordingly.  Some people don’t fit into those categories – or don’t look the way you’d expect their gender to look.  Some people demand the right to be treated as whatever gender (or non-gender) they say they are.

So much for the social difficulties.  Now for the relational ones: as I’ve said before, if you are in a relationship and one partner decides to self-identify as a different gender, that has implications beyond their individual rights.  It has profound implications for a marriage or long-term relationship because that relationship is effectively being expected to switch from straight to gay – or the other way round.  It may be that some people’s sexuality is fluid, and that they can make those adjustments without too much hassle.  Equally it may not.

As far as parents are concerned (I don’t speak from experience here, so feel free to argue the point) I suspect it’s less of an issue.  The parent/child relationship doesn’t depend on gender the way that a sexual relationship often does, and although there may be profound adjustments to be made it doesn’t threaten the basic relationship.

So much for relational problems.  Now to speak of wider society, and a number of issues which are emerging.  Should transgender people be able to use the public loos of their choice?  I guess where there are cubicles it might not be so important; but I can’t say I’m totally comfortable with someone who may still be physically male using a public toilet at the same time as I do.

But this is the tip of the iceberg.  Should trans women be able to join women’s groups?  Should they be able to sit in on sessions where women are discussing intimate issues such as abortion and abuse?  Would you feel comfortable with that?  I’m not sure I would.

Then there’s the thorny question of what you might call privileges gained as one gender being carried over into another (I realise I’m concentrating on M to F trans people here, but that’s where most of the problems are).  Should athletes who still have a lot of masculine musculature be allowed to compete as women?  Should men who gained certain positions at work be allowed to retain them as women?

And why is all this happening now?  Is there an element of men wanting what women have, now that women have (supposedly) equal status?  Is it womb envy?  Or can you be born in the ‘wrong body’ and if so, how?  We must be free to ask these questions, but there is a great deal of resistance to debate, particularly in what I’m going to call the trans lobby.  There’s an orthodoxy emerging, that we must accept the new status quo without question.  Well, sorry – but I never accept anything without question.  Ever.

Which leads me to my tongue-in-cheek title.  Because of course I don’t self-identify as a TERF: nobody self-identifies as a TERF because it’s like one of those irregular verbs:

‘I have doubts about the trans debate; you are prejudiced: she is Germaine Greer.’

TERF is a label used for others; hence no-one is likely to self-identify as one.  But we need to debate these issues, and we need to do it respectfully.

And we need to do it now.

Kirk out