community, pop culture

The Death of A Fandom: Could It Actually Be A Good Thing?

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I debated not making this post.

I’m concerned about a lot of things when it comes to the current state of fandoms in the bookish community. I’m concerned as an author, and as a reader.

Basically, the last several weeks have led to two things. One: Everybody who’s decided they still like Harry Potter is being demonized for not wanting to give up a beloved fantasy series they have fond memories of. Two: Everyone who’s decided JK Rowling is an absolutely terrible person, and they’re done with a beloved fantasy series they have fond memories of based solely on their new opinion of the author, are bashing and bullying the folks who took Option One.

Here’s why this state of affairs bothers me a lot: While people are completely entitled to their own perspective — especially when it comes to something so subjective as literature — I don’t like to see an entire body of work, and the readers who loved/love it being treated like total garbage because of the unwise words of said work’s creator.

The weird truth about any sort of art is that it does exist in a sort of separate world from its creators. Honestly, there are many books I’ve enjoyed whose authors I don’t believe I’d meet for coffee — or, in fact, want to get anywhere near in real life. But I can set my feelings about the person aside from my feelings about the work. Maybe most folks can’t do that, I guess?

Enhanced Castle Wallpaper 4K Edition Update : Bloodstained

When it comes to the raging debate over the actual words of JK Rowling, I do think her remarks were generally offensive, but that she didn’t consider them such. Being brutally honest, I truly think she’s so arrogant as to believe she’s an expert on something she knows little about (and don’t ask me how she made that determination).

Do I feel deeply for readers who are aching at what they see as the destruction of one of their favorite series? Yes, I do. Can I also agree with those who are deciding to firmly keep the books and the author in those different realms of existence? Yeah, I can.

I loved Harry Potter. I’ve read all 7 books and seen all 8 movies. There were, of course, some I liked more than others. But although, after seeing a few interviews with Rowling, I didn’t necessarily care for her as a personality, nothing about her writing irked me enough to make a difference.

But a few years ago, as my copies of the novels were wearing out, and we’d seen each of the films at least twice, I decided to pass on getting fancy new editions, or on collecting the DVDs. It wasn’t just that I knew the story start to finish and there was nothing new to discover; I realized that the parts I didn’t care for were really starting to nag at me.

I could write an entire review on which things fell short for me on this series. (Maybe one day I will.) But for now, let’s suffice it to say that I was only satisfied with about 25% of the last book. I remain disappointed on several plot points and character arcs, and I’m allowed to be.

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However, I don’t have the right to tell others they need to share my exact views of the series, and it certainly isn’t my responsibility, obligation, or even prerogative to force those same people to concur the author is a massive jerk.

Nor is it all right for me to tell those same people that if they can’t see she’s a massive jerk, they can go crawl in a hole and die.

This has been the defining aspect of many fandoms in recent years: which have the most division within. Harry Potter is high on that list — and now it’s been made even worse.

Realistically, the fandom as a whole is doomed. Thinking about it, though, I don’t believe that’s quite a bad thing.

As long as people keep buying them, the books will live on. But the intense in-fighting, the vicious online battle royales, will fade away. People who now stand against the author will continue to make their point known (as they should be able to). Those who don’t know or don’t care about the grievious offenses (and, yeah, I know that’s problematic, but also a discussion for another day) will carry on in liking the series, or not bothering either way.

Fantasy Art: Tea Party, by Yoshioka – Aethereal Engineer

Overall, though, we may actually go back to a bookish world where people simply read books and share their enjoyment of them. HP was one of the hugest phenoms in entertainment in the early 21st century, and it was the catalyst for a massive niche culture, there’s no denying it. We all sorted ourselves into our Hogwarts houses, found our patronuses, fit multiple references to HP into our own (utterly unrelated) WIPs. We knew whether we’d choose an owl, a toad, or a cat, what sort of wand we wanted, if we’d more likely fail Potions or Magical History. It was a big deal.

Some of us haven’t actively engaged in this part of it for a while, though, and we’re already not missing it. Maybe we’re missing it a little, but are okay with that. Others are grieving right now, and that’s permitted, too.

In the end, I’ll look back and still say I enjoyed Harry Potter. I’m going to keep my views on the books and the author separate. And I’ll support anyone who goes the opposite direction.

Though, from this moment in bookish time onward, I will appreciate if the fandom craziness of the past decade starts to quiet. Sincerely, I miss when we’d all just flail over our favorite characters in a popular series, and look forward to what came next. There’s so much disunity in the world right now, I’d really like to maintain a few spots of peace and happiness.

Maybe fandoms are something we can learn to do without.

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Autism, community

Autism Acceptance Is The Goal

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So, today is Autism Awareness Day. There have been and still are and will most likely continue to be a variety of debates around this phrasing. Why? Because making neurotypical people simply aware that autism exists accomplishes about nothing as to what happens next.

Every time the human race learns about something new to them, the immediate question then becomes: Well, what do we do about it? Humans, in case anybody hasn’t noticed, aren’t really content to just let things be. This includes autism.

Autism has been seen as everything from an inconvenience to a plague upon society. (No, the irony of saying that while a real pandemic is going on does not escape me for a second.) Autistic people have, for years, been made to feel that how we naturally are is some sort of horrible mistake, and that we should either strive to become “like everyone else,” or at least feel bad about being different.

After being stuck in this cycle for decades, forced to believe it, and not fight against it, finally, one day, we autists became convinced there had to be a better way…and we started saying: “What happens next?”

The research, the stats, and our own experiences showed: Autistic children grew into autistic adults, and our sensory perception, social interaction challenges, and emotional processing difficulties did not go away. Yes, we could learn what others considered appropriate speech and tone and mannerisms; yes, we can frequently apply them. We can go to concerts, sports matches, the cinema, the theatre, camping and college and work. We can take public transportation, go to the grocery store, figure out how to create a Facebook account. Yes, we function very well in civilization.

But at what cost?

Because the bus is ALWAYS too crowded, the campground too muddy, the bar too loud. We will NEVER stop craving peace and quiet, and wondering if it really mattered that we didn’t get that joke all our co-workers laughed at.

In the midst of transitioning from thinking of ourselves as how the world thinks of us, to how we view ourselves, we discovered that the biggest barrier is NOT a lack of awareness of autism: It’s a lack of acceptance.

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You probably hear me banging on about this pretty often. With good reason. This is the hill I will die on: Being autistic does NOT make people less, nor should we have to change to make others around us feel more comfortable. We don’t need more organizations founded by neurotypicals explaining to other neurotypicals that we have “an intellectual disability that impairs motor function and social connectedness.” We need people who don’t relate to how we live our lives being OKAY with us being US.

We don’t need pity; we need tolerance.

We don’t need cures; we need accommodations.

What’s the point of making us just like the rest of the world?

It makes us less scary to those who place conformity above equality and liberty. And the god of Conformity has a pretty big altar in many civilizations today.

Who does it actually benefit when we’re forced to stop stimming, to mask our natural behavior? Not us.

Who will have a better quality of life because we aren’t automatically picked out of a crowd as neurodivergent? Not us.

This is how those of us diagnosed with ASD have been forced to live, for a very long while. When does it change? What happens next?

Art I love | fzwta19

I’m only one of many who wish for a world that doesn’t find it necessary to draw attention to my “quirks.” That sees the value in looking at things from another perspective. That won’t strive to take away parts of myself, claiming it won’t hurt.

It seems we’re born autistic, which means we don’t have any more control over it than our skin color or ethnic heritage. We can’t decide to be on the spectrum. But you can decide how to treat us.

Today, please note that #ActuallyAutistic individuals on Twitter are promoting a new symbol, a rainbow infinity sign that we are pushing over the blue puzzle piece, selected for us by neurotypicals who feel autism is a plague that needs a cure. We want to present as fact that we do, and should, feel pretty good about being us.

That ideal world I spoke of does not yet exist. (At least, not here on Earth. If it is somewhere in the galaxy, let me know, okay?) So we have to keep trying to make it.

Yes, it is a fight; people with intellectual disabilities being seen as equal is one of the newest waves in civil rights struggles. And we need advocates on all fronts: In our families, our schools, politically and legally, medically and socially.

If you’d like to join us, please, today, speak of acceptance. That’s the crucial word now. The cause, the goal.

We’ve already accepted that you think we’re different.

Now we’re asking you to accept that it doesn’t matter.

Fox painting by Art Jongkie | No. 657

blogging, community

What It’s Really Like to Work in a Library

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You think you know libraries. They’re quiet, calm, tranquil places of wisdom, learning, a corner of the world where you can hide away and lose yourself in someone else’s fictional creation.

None of this is actually untrue; but there’s more to the story than the common image. Also gone are the days of librarians being 100-year-old ladies with blue hair and huge glasses who threateningly shush you if you dare to whisper a reference question to a fellow patron. We tend to be moms with kids still at home, politely checking out whatever materials you pass our way, no judgment, only shushing you if you’re really pushing the limit.

And we are busy. You wouldn’t believe how much we have to do to complete the supposedly simple tasks that result in you having those coveted books and discs in your hands. It isn’t just scanning the barcode and placing it on a shelf or in a bag. Oh, no. It’s not more complicated, but the process is more time-and-energy-consuming than many realize.

For example: We begin our day with collecting all the items people returned the evening before, or early in the morning, when we weren’t open. Most libraries have a “dropbox” outside the building, which does just what it says on the tin. And we go out in whatever sort of weather to toss into bags and haul inside the realistically several dozen returns.

Then we can begin processing which returns are going back on our shelves, to other libraries, or are going on hold for someone else who has requested that title. When you need to scan the barcode and find where an item is going…at least 50 times…all in the half hour before the library once again opens to the public for the day… You get the idea.

And when people start arriving, they bring more returns with them. And they need things (how dare they). They need to collect their holds, and check more stuff out, and print or copy or fax things, and…

And when the printer is down and the IT guy is forbidding you to get near a single computer, even to make the literal 3-foot-high stacks dwindle quicker… Yeah, you get it.

Being a library clerk is a position that requires patience, and flexibility.

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And if you thought that working in a library would be a bookworm’s paradise… Well, not quite.

The fact is, we simply don’t have the time to peruse all the interesting new titles that cross our paths. Even when we’re not at work. And there are days when you go home and the thought of handling another book just…isn’t appealing.

But there absolutely are bookworm perks to this position, too. Free ARCs, and first shot at brand new releases. Not being charged to use the copier, fax, or printer. Not having to wait in line to check out your selections, because you can glide right behind the desk and do it yourself!

You also never have to wonder what next month’s book club pick is, since you’ve just been discussing it with your co-workers (and you get a copy early, too). If there are extras in giveaway piles (leftover from programs and events), you may not even have to ask for those.

One thing that definitely has not changed about libraries since I was a kid is: They are positively overflowing with books. And not just regular fiction and nonfiction; there’s also large print and paperbacks, audiobooks and movies and TV series, plenty of YA and MG and picture books, not only currently bestselling authors, but plenty of great writers you’ve never heard of. One of the joys of the job remains seeing readers (and watchers) find their next favorite.

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I also have a new appreciation for the community services libraries provide nowadays. Yes, I’ve been taking advantage of sending White Fang to the kids’ programs for free for years. But since being “on the other side of the desk,” I’ve begun to realize just how important a library can be, as a fixture in a small town where many residents have few resources when it comes to technology and extracurricular activities. Until the means catches up to the vision of how people are supposed to be living in the 21st century, we’ll be here.

And I’m sure even long after that. The general public being literate is a relatively new concept in the world. We librarians still have a lot of work to do.

And some complications or frustrations or obstacles aside, most of us really enjoy what we signed up for.

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books, community

Literary Snobbery Bites

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Just what is literary snobbery, and why does it make us say ouch, and want to avoid it? Well, most of us who are avid readers, or writers and readers, are aware that there are some people in the world who simply feel one type of literature is “better” than all the rest. This perspective ranges from demeaning certain genres, styles, and/or authors, to being downright nasty on social media or in real life socializing, to concretely boycotting and encouraging boycott of particular titles, or — again — authors or genres.

Just like any other kind of snob, literary snobs are just eewww. And like other kind of snobs, literary ones feel they are absolutely right, no matter what, why can’t you see that, and, no, you aren’t going to change their perfect and complete minds.

A-hem. Okay, let’s temper this salt just a little.

The biggest reason literary snobs get under the skin of those who just plain like to read what we like to read is their superiority attitude. Bookworms — and especially bookdragons — are always going on about how much their favorite titles mean to them, and how everybody they know should read immediately, and love them just as intensely. However, what makes us not-a-snob is the fact that, if someone doesn’t like our favorite book, we may be disappointed or even miffed, but we will not proceed to formulate plans to hunt down these individuals in the night and…

Oh, right, less salt.

Unfortunately, we have probably all had an experience (more than one?) where we either got into a heated argument or a very uncomfortable debate with somebody based on literary snobbery. I know it’s happened to me. But what’s really the best way to deal with it? Other than passionately defending your dear papered loves…particularly when the party opposite refuses to be swayed, even a tiny bit?

And really, what’s our end goal? To get them to admit our favorite book is the best ever? Or just to get off their stupid soapbox and admit something that simply isn’t to their taste still has value?

For most of us, it’s the latter.

So, how do we do this constructively? While retaining our own sanity?

Maybe there are reasons literary snobs are this way. Let’s start with that.

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Do they genuinely realize how hard it is to be a writer? A lot of enthusiastic readers probably don’t. This may be surprising, but since becoming a self-published author, I’ve come across a monumental amount of misconceptions or misinformation among readers about writers. One is this notion that if you’re talented and trained, or at least educated via academia or the school of life, about doing a thing — such as writing a book — that it should come easily. Very intelligent people can have no concept of how the creative brain operates.

There’s also the fact that society tends to decide what’s “mainstream” and what’s “fringe.” Science fiction and fantasy, graphic novels, horror, speculative religious or spiritual fiction, tends to be seen in our society as “fringe.” The reason romances and mysteries and biographies of politicians and celebrities are in bookstores and libraries everywhere is because they’re more conforming, more generalized, easier to get ahold of (for sellers or distributors), and more people consider them acceptable to read — and be seen reading.

Changing people’s minds about what’s “acceptable” can be a hard road. There are lots of people I know passingly in my area that find fantasy and juvenile fiction to be “beneath” authors, and readers. Because this is what write, I am not always appreciated wherever I go as a card-carrying author. This gets tedious, but also, I get used to it.

Not that I like it. So, again, what’s the solution?

Maybe there isn’t one when it comes to taste?

Or maybe we can at least try to encourage broadening horizons? What if someone reads a book in a genre or style they swore they’d never try…and they enjoyed it? This does happen, and not as infrequently as we might believe. It’s a step forward…

How do you make sure you don’t accidentally turn into a literary snob yourself? My advice is to always have a variety of authors, in at least two different genres, that are your go-tos for new titles/releases, and don’t be afraid to try suggestions. Generally I read YA and MG fantasy, but there are a handful of adult fantasy or adult romance novelists I return to now and again. Sometimes I shake it up with a biography or memoir or a title I haven’t read since about 1998. It’s all good.

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If someone will never agree with your recommendations, learn to let it go. Live and let live. Peace (and your sanity) is more important.

What to do if you’re surrounded by literary snobs?

Well…is there any way to change your circumstances? I mean, if your co-workers fit this category, but you’re more open-minded, but can’t just quit your job, there are always online communities where you can find those sharing your interests and views.

If it’s something you don’t have to be involved in — like me and a certain book club I mentioned recently — then just remove yourself from it, and be glad of the escape.

What if pushing forward with your own intention to broaden is the way it has to be — because the literary snobs are your family, students, or you’re — for example — the head of the book club?

I know someone who refuses to give up. She’s making a bunch of retired grandmothers (who are very picky on their reading selections) get through Stephen King’s Bag of Bones in October.

And if you are well-read, please be kind to those who may not be. You could unintentionally turn somebody off from reading a certain genre or author, depending on your reaction to their lack of knowledge.

And there are many reasons why people either don’t have the time or inclination towards reading something you feel they should’ve finished years ago.

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Since we all love reading, we want to encourage others to pursue it. If we make it feel like reading for pleasure is something that’s unreachable or unrelatable, our passion won’t get much past us.

Let’s grow the flock.

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community

American Creed

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On this Memorial Day, I thought it would be fitting to share this essay that White Fang recently entered into a contest sponsored by our local library. (By the way, he won!) The topic was “American Creed,” based on a PBS documentary discussing patriotism now and in future.

My American Creed involves what it means to be an American, how America should be in the future, and how it could be accomplished. What being an American means is to be a patriotic citizen (whether it be from immigration or from being born here). You support what you believe in, you support the government, and you want to make active changes for the country. These days it is hard to determine what an American is. With a lot of education on all sides, though, a better citizen can be forged.

The government and populace are heavily divided on political issues such as racism, sexism, religion, and people that are “different” from another’s point of view. Each side is similar in many ways, but they do not seem to want to work with each other to achieve a better nation.

With multiple issues dividing us, how do we even know what an American citizen is like? How do they identify themselves? What beliefs do they follow? Which football team do they like?

A lot of things can separate us, whether it be race, gender, or state of mind. They should not always result in an argument of who or which is better.

One of the best ways is to educate the masses that stereotypes are just that: stereotypes. Not true, not false. Sure, some people do live up to stereotypes, but that does not mean everybody does. One of the biggest issues is that people are not educated on things, and it creates a lack of respect and acceptance.

The best solution is to reform the government, and the Constitution in some way, to stop corruption from running rampant. The next is to reform the educational system, to teach more facts of historical importance, and things needed for real life, everyday situations.

To help find what it means to be an American, go back to what this country is built upon. The 13 colonies were made up of immigrants, and the immigrants wanted change. That is what the Declaration of Independence is about. But nothing stays fresh forever, and now change is needed again.

To see true Americans is to see citizens who know what this country was really built upon, share it with others, and enact needed change for the nation. That is my American Creed.

– White Fang

Autism, community

Get Ready For Autism Pride Month

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I really hope you’re ready for a whole lot of autism.

April is Autism Awareness Month in many English-speaking countries, and many of us #ActuallyAutistic folks have an issue with the way we’re often portrayed during this time period. “Autism awareness” all too frequently translates to “being aware of the affliction of autism.” When we don’t consider ourselves afflicted, generally. Some of us suffer with physical difficulties, such as seizures or food allergies or other medical conditions, that happen to go along with our being on the spectrum. But just having autism is NOT what creates our “affliction.”

To us, we just ARE how we are. Our normal IS having autism. We don’t know anything different. Some of us don’t care for that status quo, and some of us would change it. But most of us don’t see the need. And all we want is to be ACCEPTED for taking that point of view.

We don’t need to conform, we don’t need to become just like everyone else. We can bring so much value to this messed up world simply by being ourselves.

There’s a push in the #ActuallyAutistic community this spring to TAKE BACK the month devoted to “raising awareness” about us. We’re going to call it Autism Pride.

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So, throughout April 2019, every post I make on this blog will be dedicated to something about autism. Once or twice a week, I’ll pick a topic and share all the positives and negatives, all the “it is what it is” of the subject.

The prevailing theme for all of this WILL be taking pride in being autistic — no matter what the rest of the world says. No matter how hard it gets sometimes. No matter how much we do struggle.

It took me most of my life to figure out I’m on the spectrum. And when the realization finally did come, it was AMAZING. All the human behavior and perspectives I never could understand, now I got WHY I didn’t grasp it. The environments and hobbies that made me squirm because of the noise and heat and too many other people all made sense. I stopped feeling the push to apologize for wanting to be introverted, for not wanting to look at other faces the entire time I was talking, for not joining groups or having a very small social circle. I no longer cared if I wore makeup, high heels, or dresses more than twice a year. I embraced sticking to my comfort zone, at last comprehending that all my boundaries had developed from a very real physical reason of protecting my extremely sensitive nerves — not at all from shyness or stubborness or a refusal to adjust. wasn’t what required adjusting.

Knowing that, for the first time, finally, felt LIBERATING.

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For years, I’ve been speaking up on behalf of my autistic son, fighting for his acceptance in a world that would rather change him before tolerating him. Now I’m also fighting for myself, and for the next generation of ASD girls, so that they can be heard, and not have to spend their lives doubting, fearing, aching.

Neurodivergence is the civil rights platform most of us never thought we’d have the opportunity to stand on. Now that we are, and on the cusp of turning the corner, we can’t give up. We’ve been abused and mistreated for decades, and at last that’s being exposed and shamed. It’s not too late for our children to have a great life, their strengths applauded, discrimination scaled back.

Who’s with me?

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community, entertainment, family

The YouTube Discussion

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So, many of you are probably aware that there’s this website called YouTube, where you can find EVERYTHING — clips from movies and TV shows, often whole episodes of cancelled or long out-of-production series, extended trailers for upcoming films, music videos, and plenty of original content by contributors who might be your neighbor down the street, or world famous in their own right.

It’s an interesting cultural shift, one that most likely never would have happened without the internet. Remember just 20 to 30 years ago, when your relatives invited everybody over to watch their vacation slides, and we all groaned and grit our teeth and wracked our brains for something polite to say? People came up with excuses ranging from, “I can’t, I’m having my wisdom teeth out,” to, “I’d love to, but I just sat down in this comfy chair.” Now suddenly, random strangers from around the globe put their home videos of their family getaway to Cancun on YouTube, and it hits 15,678 views in less than 24 hours.

The major difference between YouTube and the sharing-of-home-videos-of-olden-days is the fact that YouTube can make overnight celebrities. I think pretty much everyone and his dog knows by now that YouTube will pay people whose channels reach a significant number of subscribers and/or views. It’s not a foolproof instant way to hit a high salary and quit your day job; there are only a lucky few who make it to more than 10,000 subscribers, and fewer still who actually have a million or more people regularly tuning in.

But this is now an established, accepted part of American entertainment, and it doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon.

And we’re certainly feeding the beast — YouTube is among the top pick for media platforms regarding movie trailers, music videos, original videos, and lots of artists (in traditional corporate contracts as well as indie) release production news via their YouTube channel. The public finds the free features extremely appealing (myself included), and so do indie artists who can’t afford thousands of dollars for a marketing campaign that could reach potentially millions of people.

However, for all that’s good, just like with anything else, the scope and scale of this phenomenon have created some dark sides.

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For example, there’s no rating system, G, PG, etc., so it’s criminally easy for your 4-year-old to stumble on recorded game play of Doom or Five Nights at Freddy’s. (And for those of you who claim, “Well, parents should be watching their children,” let’s see you stick by that argument when it’s either race to the bathroom or wet the floor, and your misbehaving, headstrong preschooler will climb the furniture to grab the stashed remote while you’re literally indisposed.) While plenty of contributors do keep their uploads clean and family friendly, there are just as many who don’t consider that necessary, nor do they leave a note on their channel that what they post may not be appropriate for all audiences.

Yes, there are parental controls available on a variety of devices, and we don’t have to let our children watch certain things; but as the “parent network,” YouTube should bear some of the responsibility. After all, the major broadcasters — NBC, PBS, FOX, HBO, etc. — either relegate more mature viewing to hours when small ones are in bed, or they advertise all over the place that particular shows aren’t meant for those of us under age 18. We genuinely can’t say we weren’t warned about The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones.

YouTube doesn’t appear to have the same concerns about their viewers that traditional TV networks do. The trad folks are very aware of lawsuits and fines and even threats of jail time. And, yes, they’re doing “the right thing” primarily to keep their business earning money; but at least they’re following a code of values that most of us feel pretty good about — and if we don’t, we always have the option not to watch.

Do we have the option to block or turn off YouTube as well? Of course. Though with this platform becoming ever more prevalent, that’s growing slightly difficult.

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Because YouTube is now featuring many “regular people” contributors who have hit it big on their platform, children especially are very attracted to the “kids just like me” they see in a lot of these videos. One of Muffin’s favorites is Ryan’s Toy/Family Review, which is run by an Asian-American family in California, that has gone from posting 10-minute videos of their son playing with new toys to a multi-million-dollar empire of several channels on YouTube, a line of toys and clothing being sold at major retailers, and enough income for the parents to quit their jobs and build a new house. Yes, you read all of that right. As a parent myself, I have some serious moral qualms about what this level of fame at such a young age (the “star,” Ryan, is only 7 years old!) might do later in life, but I’m evidently in the minority. Lots of families are coming up with concepts for their children to film and upload, and actively help them do so. The hope, I’m sure, is that one day they all end up with a similar situation to Ryan.

All Muffin knows about Ryan is that the kids are playing with lots of fun toys and seem to be having a blast, and there’s no swearing or violence or anything that Mummy finds objectionable, so he is allowed to watch it as often as he wants.

And when faced with the alternative of something horribly inappropriate, I know I will keep letting him choose Ryan.

I’d be lying, though, if I didn’t add that I pray this family knows what they’re doing.

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What happens if, one day, YouTube executives wake up and decide they don’t need certain channels anymore? What happens to the celebrity families who have now made this platform their career and sole form of wages? How hard would the transition be back to an “average” lifestyle? For the kids as well as the adults?

And, as a child of the 1980s, I remember all too well hearing about former “child stars,” young actors and actresses and musicians that my generation grew up with and admired, getting arrested or checking into rehab, again, or dying from some tragic, preventable occurrence. In another decade or so, will that be the fate of the current YouTube-famous tweens with 1.1 million subscribers?

Unfortunately, only time will tell. But if we hit the year 2025 and all of today’s YouTube kid stars are happily married with a rescue dog and tons of security guards around their inground pool and giant Lego playhouse, then I’ll thank God.

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I let White Fang start his own YouTube channel a couple of years back, and it was mostly to post videos of himself playing Minecraft to share with his friends. He has around 200 subscribers, last I knew, and while he hasn’t updated it in a long time, it still exists, and he may go back to it one day. He’s proud of what he did accomplish, in terms of learning how to use his camera to film the videos, upload them, and be brave enough to share his passion with others.

He’s also found some of the most inspiring and talented individuals by getting involved with the Minecraft and Warriors fan communities on YouTube. Captain Sparklez, anybody? TryHardNinja? And Rainimator has taken the Minecraft community by storm (his work even inspired a character White Fang helped me design for The Order of the Twelve Tribes world.)

And many famous YouTubers are kind and generous; ToyLabTV (they make Jurassic Park styled less-scary dinosaur videos for younger kids) recently hosted a family whose sick child’s “wish” (through the Make A Wish Foundation) was to film a video with them. (Just thinking about that gets me choked up.)

So, YouTube itself is far from evil. But in a world that didn’t even imagine it would be in all our homes until, suddenly, it is, I think we’re still in the infancy of learning just how all this may go.

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Autism, community

Autism and Mental Health Treatment (Trigger Warning: The Most Serious Post I’ve Ever Written Here)

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And because it’s me, here are plenty of cute cats to break up the (sadly) quite serious nature of this post.

Advanced news: After composing this, I shall be an utter wreck for a bit, so send the cake and kittens now. And probably some vodka.

Also, necessary disclaimer: Because of the sensitive nature of some of the information here, there are some details I can’t (or won’t) provide. Some things you’ll just have to wonder about.

Okay, 3, 2, 1…here we go.

The week of Thanksgiving, I had to be without my oldest son; he was in the hospital, at the pushing of a social worker who did not understand that he was suffering from an emotional shutdown, and that, as an autistic teenager, this is in fact somewhat normal and does not mean he’s about to go jump off a bridge or throw a bunch of people off a bridge. Neither did she understand that this would pass (most likely within hours), and that he’d find a way to keep going (as he does), and that transferring him to a locked ward in the hospital — a situation that he would then not be allowed to leave, regardless of his or my own wishes — was not the way to handle it.

White Fang is 15, and a couple of traumatic instances have occurred in his young life (no offense, but bugger off, you’re not finding out what), but suffice it to say, it took a toll on his emotional processing recently, and he is rubbish at dealing with it on his own (despite his valiant efforts to do so). So he reached the point a lot of ASD adolescents do — he became despondent, morose, and overall struggling. What’s the best thing for families to do? With ASD teens, maintaining their routine and a secure, familiar environment is PARAMOUNT. Being in a locked hospital unit for 4 days hardly fits this description.

Now, as a parent, I was stuck in between wanting what was best for him, knowing what was best for him wasn’t necessarily what many medical professionals would recommend, and my heart aching for his aching. For the first and second day, he was very cooperative, and did everything that was asked of him, even when it went directly against his sensory input or an introverting need.

And I prayed that this experience would be a positive one, and that he would feel he got some help on the particular tough issues he’s facing. He wasn’t aware when the initial social worker told him that going to the behavioral sciences unit at the hospital would mean becoming nearly a prisoner; he actually agreed to go have an evaluation, hoping that he’d be out of there quite soon with a solid plan for how to proceed and start feeling better.

But by Thanksgiving Eve, he wanted me to get him discharged, as quickly as possible, by whatever means. It was a combination of the environment not being ASD friendly (constant bright lights, not being allowed to go outside, the uncomfortable bed), and having his personal belongings taken away and a number of protocols enacted around him that prevented him from doing such regular things as wearing shoes or asking to use the phone — and NONE of this being explained to him that it would go this way.

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Meanwhile, I was at home, not receiving frequent updates on his treatment, his regular activities, what the prognosis was, what tests they were running on him (for example, I knew he’d have a lot of blood drawn, and never did find out all of what they looked for) — just that they’d conducted an initial evaluation with him, and were double checking in with me to see if he had a history of being delusional (lovely to have that trust), and if it was okay if they started him on a medication.

Oh, and all of this was told to me 2nd or even 3rd person via a nurse or some other staff member on the unit. The doctors assigned to White Fang’s case didn’t actually speak to me. Didn’t call. Didn’t ask questions, update me on what they thought, planned treatments, possible outcomes. Didn’t try to meet me when I came for visiting hours. Until one of them was apparently forced to at a family meeting the morning after Thanksgiving Day.

By then, I’d already had some very unpleasant and upset conversations with some quite unhelpful people, and — praise God — some very helpful people at the hospital. And I had my legal rights issues ducks in a row, regardless of the particular safeguards for mental health exceptions — since White Fang had proven he wasn’t a danger to himself or others, and that the unit had never taken the crucial step of establishing that early on in his admission, which meant that they had to discharge him after he and I had asked for it and filled out the correct paperwork.

Long story short: We were successful. The day after Thanksgiving, I took him home with me.

Pause for cheers. And tears.

Side note: The first thing we did was go to Starbucks.

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Soon after, I was able to make him an appointment to get started with counseling (though I had to call around, and the first place never did get back to me). We’ve met with his primary doctor (who was, pardon the language, pissed off), and I know we’ll have the GP’s complete support on whatever treatment we want to pursue. There have been other issues as well in the last couple of weeks, such as the medication prescribed didn’t work at all for White Fang, so we’re back to the drawing board on that, and I’m really debating how to handle the first social worker who really read this so wrong and didn’t give White Fang the information he needed so that he wouldn’t suddenly find himself in a bad 1970s movie about behavioral health wards.

Now, before I go any further, I need to say this: As a former psychology major and a previously mandated reporter in daycare, I do understand that when it comes to mental illness, doctors and nurses involved have specific policies and procedures to follow, and sometimes they aren’t pleasant for the patients, and sometimes they are necessary to keep people safe. I’m not saying any of that is evil. It’s a tragic truth of living in a fallen world where some individuals do need to be locked up so they won’t hurt others. Here’s my problem with it: The psych ward is, most of the time, NOT the place for autists who are simply having a meltdown, shutdown, or a series of either.

And here’s my other major problem with it: Too many medical professionals do not realize this. They don’t know enough about autism specifically, or have preconceived notions about ASD. They look at the common symptoms of a meltdown/shutdown (raging anger, intense brief sadness, inability to comprehend others’ perspectives or advice in the heat of the moment, headbanging or some other form of hardcore stimming that may be mistaken for intentional self-harm, rather than a desperate need to blow off steam), and see a crazy person. We’re as sane as a stack of hats; we’re simply experiencing the lowest point of an overstimulation crisis.

On top of the grave misunderstandings still surrounding autism, in this particular, personal instance, the lack of communication I — and White Fang — received from the staff on the unit was disturbing. It made them look like they could’ve cared less about our feelings regarding the treatment — and in the 21st century, in a civilized society, there should be no excuse for that. Indeed, it shouldn’t even happen.

I’ve also met with some of the administration at the hospital, who (thankfully) took my concerns (and complaints — of which there were a lot) seriously, and I was informed that staff involved were spoken to, as the administrators agreed with me that what occurred wasn’t acceptable. They also concurred that my ideas about unit-wide education on how to work effectively with autistic patients were valid and were, in fact, going to happen soon at their facility.

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So, that’s the story.

Give me a moment, please.

… … …

So, what can families of autists who may be experiencing depression and anxiety — as a result of something, or just as part of being alive on the spectrum — do to help their loved one? As long as safety isn’t an immediate and true concern (like, if you find them standing on the roof of a 3-level building, do call 911), leave them alone during a meltdown or shutdown. Make sure they’re somewhere secure and familiar, where they’ll calm down more easily and faster. Block out the yelling and screaming and crying and swearing and throwing things. Don’t try to restrain them (unless they’re physically hurting someone else, or about to leap off that roof).

Take them to therapy. A counselor that understands autism — and ACCEPTS it as a condition that simply makes for a somewhat challenging and unique life experience. Go to therapy yourself. Form or join a support group for parents or guardians or caregivers in your situation.

Even if you really don’t want your child taking medication, if it’s prescribed, try it. During certain stages of hormonal surges in our lives — for example, puberty — our already-struggling emotions will feel overwhelmed, and some anti-anxiety or anti-depressant meds could really help.

Don’t punish them for going through this. Let them stim as much as possible. Don’t take away computer time or force them to socialize more, because it won’t get them out of their slump. Soooo many autists’ lives have become SO MUCH BETTER by the invention of social media, because we communicate SO MUCH BETTER in writing and not directly face-to-face. Our support groups are more often than not online, with people in different time zones or even countries.

And if you — God forbid — find yourself in a situation like White Fang and I, don’t take flack from underperforming hospital or facility staff. Go to administrators and Patient Relations departments. (Even on a holiday, you can find someone to help you. I used the hospital’s Facebook page to accomplish my task.)

Don’t be afraid to speak up if you feel you or your loved one received unfair or poor treatment. Hopefully it’s resolved quickly and to your satisfaction; if not, keep finding authorities and people — media, Congress, autism advocate organizations — to talk to.

And NEVER, NEVER, NEVER GIVE UP. You will all get through this. It will get better.

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Okay, I can’t anymore. Invisible moth signing off.

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community, reading

Stretching Your Wings: The Importance of Readers (and Writers) Trying New Things

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I could’ve just as easily called this post: Why Genre Matters, and Why It Shouldn’t Have To. But that feels a bit tongue-twisty, and mind-bendy, for this early in the morning.

Anyway. So, here we go: When you tell someone you like to read, or you announce you’re a writer, the next question is inevitably — Which genre? Which genre do you read or write? And, yes, there has to be a classification, a distinction — Mystery? Romance? Thriller? Historical? Fantasy? Science fiction? Biographies? People are persnickety about it.

Here’s the part where it gets a little confusing (in an existential crisis way): I don’t necessarily disagree with the finnickyness — and yet I do. Because I think it does — and at the same time doesn’t — matter what genre(s) you read and write. As a writer, if you’ve declared a genre for your work, it should fall into the guidelines of that category, at least for the most part. And I’m not talking tropes or cliches; I’m all for originality, so I think crafting a ghost story or a chick lit with fresh characters and an unexpected ending is excellent. But readers are also looking for certain things from genre works, and they will reward authors (financially, by buying their books, and with praise) for delivering that.

However, as an author myself who likes to stretch the boundaries of the genre I have loved my whole life and do write in, I will put forth that being able to cross the category divides is a good thing. My YA fantasy series has garnered some high praise from middle-aged (and above) adults who may not be well-versed in speculative fiction. In my view, this is an absolute plus. When I started on Volume 1, I wasn’t intending to create a novel that would immediately be granted status among the classics of epic fantasy; I simply wanted to tell the story I wanted to tell.

And, yes, it was one hundred and ten percent going to have pixies and talking cats and references to Doctor Who in it.

Some readers take issue with that.

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SFF authors meet them everywhere we go — those few that literally turn up their noses when we answer the genre question. As if speculative fiction isn’t as worthy as other types of novels. There are a bunch of excuses — we’re avoiding reality by delving into myths and legends and implausible theories; we’re only in it for the money, and we aren’t crafting anything that will be taken seriously a decade from now; we need to bite the bullet and grow up already.

Well, let’s see: Who wants to be in touch with the current reality? Turn on the evening news for 5 minutes and you’ll be wishing you were on a rocket to Neptune in the year 2100. Or that dinosaurs would come back and just obliterate entire societies. When we write about what could be, not simply what is, we’re doing our part to make the world better for our children.

And what money? How many of us are Neil Gaiman and Maggie Stiefvater? Neil Gaiman and Maggie Stiefvater. There are reasons Tolkien and CS Lewis held down professorships, and classic sci-fi authors were also journalists or teachers or worked in some other field. Making a ton of cash as a SFF writer is a new thing, and still quite rare. If we wanted an instant bestseller, we’d choose a different plot, characters, and themes. Nope, we do this because it’s where our hearts are.

And growing up is overrated. Everybody knows it; they just won’t admit it yet. What period of life do adults get all nostalgic about? The grueling early days of being at the bottom rung of their career ladder? No! Their childhood! The carefree afternoons frolicking in meadows barefoot. This is precisely why Narnia and Middle Earth and Hogwarts are places people in their 30s and 40s still love to visit. (So much for the “what you published will be forgotten in a decade” bit.)

So, why isn’t spec fic as “important” as other types of literature?

It is as important. Full stop.

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How do we change the minds of those readers who claim differently?

Get them to actually read SFF. Take them out of their comfort zone. Stretch their limits.

They might, in fact, like it.

The same people who insist on drilling into their children: “You won’t know unless you try,” really need to abide by this themselves.

On the other side of the coin, SFF readers (and some writers) could stand to be a little less snobbish about other genres. How can they be sure that “traditional mystery” is a bore without having skimmed a single page of it? Or that they’ll despise the characters in that historical romance they never checked out of the library? Yes, we all have personal taste, and there’s nothing wrong with that — key point: nothing wrong. If you want to draw more unconventional SFF readers to your own work, try branching out yourself.

In the end, genres do exist with good reason; but we really shouldn’t be judging each other as people based on what we like to read.

And since we unfortunately already do this, how about we stop?

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