Closed Systems, Institutionalized Oppression, & Orycon's Sad Failure to Overcome Ableist Practices

Last year, the science fiction convention Orycon announced a panel on autism (in our world, not in science fiction) that did not include any autistic individuals, though it had plenty of parents. As this is like a LGBTQ panel comprised of straight parents, the Autistic community became obviously troubled. Classic ignorance and ableist tactics ensued. These are already well-documented.

At which point, I thought, gee, if this is coming from a place of ignorance, maybe we can keep it from escalating into anger and ugliness and all end up winning.

I went to the convention site and talked to the directors. We had a civil discussion about civil rights and why the panel had elicited such a negative response from the Autistic community. The panel was cancelled, and I was promised that when planning time came for 2013, the community would be involved.

Unfortunately, some individuals decided to hold the panel anyway. Additionally, bizarre lies were spread within the conference about retaliation by the Autistic community. Not smooth moves for building trust.

The 2013 director, however, was good to her word and met with me and another community rep in January. We talked about autism and science fiction, and got excited about a panel on disability representation in sci-fi. We broke bread together and found common ground.

I also learned that Orycon a closed system, much like a sponsorship-based fraternity. Only members of Orycon are typically allowed on panels, and panels only happen by explicit invite of the presentation committee. The director has little or no control over what is presented, and does not review presentations prior to the convention. There is no mechanism for oversight or external input. Feedback comes only from within.

Which might explain why, several days after another seemingly-successful meeting with a director, my friend and I received an email embedded with deeply ableist assumptions, contradicting our discussion, and stating that if we could come up with "someone who is both on the spectrum and a licensed medical person of some kind, preferably someone who deals with diagnosis issues" they could be on the same panel that caused the problem in 2012. Either the 2013 director is a master of deception, or someone within the closed system of Orycon put pressure on her to parrot their own agenda.

Which puts me, and the community, in a very awkward position.

That diplomacy failed is clear--at least the nice kind of diplomacy where each side engages in mutual perspective-taking.

But what comes next?

To say, "Oh, OK, you win," is not an option. It makes me--all of us who worked on the issue--all of us in the community--complicit in our own oppression. Silence = Compliance.

To continue to encourage systems change from within is not an option. There is no way to penetrate the closed walls of Orycon's administration, at least not without years of infiltration.

Alternative outreach and education is difficult because anything one says or does risks the provocation of rumors and lies from whoever within Orycon has a chip on their shoulder against the Autistic community, and has already demonstrated they find no action too petty. Plus most people don't give a shit about disability rights anyway; they just want their fun annual convention, and they want it unblemished by pesky trivialities like civil rights violations.

So where does this leave us as a community?

What action do we take next?

How can we effect change in a deeply ableist, closed system with significantly more resources and power than most of us have ever known, or will ever know?

In this sense, the Orycon failure is merely an echo of broader civil rights dilemmas we face every day in our lives. It is the privilege of those who do not experience oppression to be able to engage in it without repercussion or guilt for the destruction, despair, and crushing inequity it leaves in its wake.

Where to from here?


NaNoWriMo 2012 Tips for 50K

30 Days; 50,000 Words; 300,000 writers: NaNoWriMoNovember is Writing Season! Tis the season of good creativity, bad literature, extreme word counts, and the smiling satisfaction of unleashing the Muse. It's time for National Novel Writing Month! That's when one writes an entire novel in the month of November. And it is ridiculous lots of fun.

This is year 3 for me. I won the last two--meaning hit the 50k word count by the end of November. Yesterday at the kickoff a man was filming a documentary on NaNo locally in PDX for Northwest Film Projects. He asked me some questions about how to reach 50k words in 30 days on a limited schedule. Here's what I told him. YMMV

  • "Don't think: Do!" (advice from Ray Bradbury's Zen and the Art of Writing) Don't worry about writing poo, whether your grammar stinks, if your plot makes sense; don't worry about why your MC has suddenly killed his BF--just keep writing! 

  • NaNo is made for the Muse, not for the Editor. Like the Greek poets of yore, invoke your Muses! Let them tell you a story! You can invoke the critics in December, but for now, keep your editor-brain out of the book. The Editor thinks, doesn't do (see previous point). The Muse does!

  • Small sessions add up to big word counts.  Write during your morning coffee, on the bus, waiting at the dentist, or other similar times when you have a small bit of time that's not otherwise filled.

  • If you have a day off, use it for writing. If you don't have a day off (this would be me), pretend you do have one and use a chunk of it for writing. This is just for one month. You can go back to doing whatever else you usually do on your days off come December 1st. (Unless that's also writing ;-)

  • Remember you will be graded purely on word count alone. Huzzah!  NaNo is about quantity, not about quality. That's one of the reasons why it's so much fun. When else do you have full permission to revel in an orgy of words without any cares for repercussions? 

  • Take advantage of the social aspect of NaNo. Attend write-ins, participate on the forums (but not so much that you don't write your novel!), stay tuned to the competitive word-count-wars between your region and another--whatever pushes and motivates and guilts you into keeping your fingers moving. Write-ins are also great for creating dedicated writing time. Some include fun word-count challenges and games and competitions. This is another part of what makes NaNo so ridiculously fun. (Note: This item is coming from someone who struggles so much with social events she gets official permission from bosses to work through mandatory social events. The write-ins are very friendly for introverts and people who prefer parallel play!)

  • Give yourself over to the freedom of writing without rules. The Spirit of NaNoWriMo indiscriminately loves everyone from larking first-timers and hard-core career-published professionals. The recklessness and risk with words that can only come with having to create 50,000 of them in 30 days is a unique opportunity for anyone's purpose, from finding your poetry, to finally finishing that project you always dreamed of, to jotting the first sketch of your next best-seller. The Spirit of NaNo gives permission to explore and despises preciousness. Get caught up in its whirl!

  • "Don't think: Do!"

Happy writing!


The Partially Fictious Travel Log of Madeline Ray: Day 11

I arrived at the beginning, at the house where I (for the most part) grew up. Being here means:
Finding caches of small stones and shells, left by my father
Lining them up in satisfying patterns
To complement the fruit
Warm blankets and inviting entry ways
Four generations of decorations and trinkets
Dried heather and beach glass
(also to line up in satisfying patterns)
Delicious cheeses
Delicious seafood
Mixed greens straight from a friend's garden
(whose business it is to sell organic vegetables to gourmet chefs in town)
And lining up the cheeses, seafood, and greens in satisfying patterns
Making baby cthulhu jewelery with my sister
Making memories with my grandmother
Making every minute magical with my parents
Having the local spirits of wind and wave and sky smile and remember me well enough to welcome me by name.
rocks and shells lined up in front of a fruit bowlpeeking into a room through curtainscheese and salad

The Partially Fictious Travel Log of Madeline Ray: Day 10

Another travel day, but this one made easy by the grins of my family.

I had forgotten how strange this northeastern land can get. I grew up here for the most part, used to the strangeness as one is used to air. But now, after long absence, the New England hoodoo buzzes over my skin, raising the tiny hairs.

For example, the inexplicable occurrence of a sink that spouts flowers.
a sink filled with flowers
An indoor swing and a wall of boxes each filled with a different mystery concealed as a book and obfuscated as a painting.
a box of clocks with clocks overlaid on it
A street lamp that serves as a way-station for monsters and gods and a cross-roads for magics both ancient and fay.
old-style street lamp against a sky

There is a reason this land breeds such as Lovecraft and King.

We went down to the beach where many generations had left standing-stones. Some for protection; others as a lure. Standing-stones to tell the time and seasons or stones to predict when the ships would come home. Some made by the young and others by the old and all made to withstand wind and wave and waiting. Some for cursing and others for blessing--all for something. There I built my own standing stones, a gateway between the future and the past. The light shone through and we made the rest of the journey home.
a stone arch, post-and-lintel style

The Partially Fictious Travel Log of Madeline Ray: Day 4

a disarray of papersMany apologies, but Day 4 of my travels became lost in a spacetime breach and I have only now been able to recover it. While some fragments of Day 4 remain lost in the temporal fissures, this photograph shows that all vital papers from Dr. C's and my talk on Getting the Most Out of Healthcare as an Autistic Adult were recovered (as well as showing just how disarrayed a spacetime breach can make your stuff!). You can view the slides from our presentation, if interested.

Beyond the presentation itself, the day was filled with many other wonders, kindnesses, and truths. However, about them I shall not post.

The Partially Fictious Travel Log of Madeline Ray: Day 6

lion-headed banisterThe wonderful M (whom I am staying with at this point in my journey) and I began the day with the Lions of Discovery leading us to the spacetime port. From there, we took a few short trips to various destinations in Earth's solar system.

model of a lunar colonyFirst we visited the colony on Luna, which has recently begun setting up a habitation, primitive space port, and solar farm. Mainly they were working on the space elevator and setting up the liquid mirror telescope. I met a few members of a certain Corporate Interest who were digging around for helium 3, but, obviously, they refused to speak with me on the matter. In this photo, you can see Earth faintly in the sky toward the horizon. (Hard to believe that in a few hundred years Madame X will set up her massive crime syndicate in this place.)

person in a sleek pressure suit climbing a red cliff faceFrom Luna we journeyed to Mars to do a little rock climbing. Pressure suits sure have improved since Earth's early days of travel! There was a strong focus on terraforming Mars, which, while history shows did indeed happen, made both M and I question certain aspects of scientific ethics. This is interesting to me, because my own research revolves around human subjects research that holds ethics as a central theme. In fact, Dr. K and I have presented on the topic in professional fora and I have several ethics papers sitting in my queue to be written. But back before I started working with human subjects, when I was interested in robot brains, topics regarding ethics never came up during the course of my studies. Are there IRB-like entities that monitor research that does not involve human or animal subjects? What are the ethics of machines, atmospheres, and space-mirrors? Our experimentation and exploration with the intimate are necessarily tangled with the animate, connected to us and the living world around us, there will always be impacts and effects, particularly unanticipated ones over time.

After stopping off at an asteroid to refuel, we took a brief jaunt out to Europa (which anyone who knows me well knows I can go on and on about nigh endlessly, along with sister-moons Io and Ganymede), but at the point in time we visited no one had yet discovered the alien life that would become so important later to the Terran system's expansion into deeper space.

raven atop an apple sculptureM and I returned to Earth then, and walked home. Along the way, our path was protected by Ravens.

Back Bay, I.3

← back to installment I.1
← back to installment I.2

III. Daylight: Charlie

I wake in softness. Feathers cradle me below; feathers warm me above. I think I'm in heaven, but then my eyes open on M's guest room, looking just the same as it had the night before.

How many nights before?

I stretch and feel fine. I poke my feet out from the feather comforter and peel away layers of bandages. The gauze comes away bloody, but the skin beneath them is pink and whole. I'm fine. More than fine. My mind is clear, my body strong, my feelings calm.

I push away the heavy curtains from the window and moonlight streaks across the bed.

Have I slept for a whole day? Two whole days? More?

The moon still looks full so it couldn't be too long--unless it was a whole month.

I shiver and notice a large, silver shoe box on the foot of the bed, an envelope reading "Serena" in spidery sepia ink taped to the top. I crawl down the field of feathers to investigate and discover a thermos of coffee, a cup of OJ, and a buttery almond croissant on the floor at the foot of the bed. I work on breakfast as I unfurl the letter.

I had to go to work. The box is from Charlie. Lock the door when you leave. Good luck.
Inside the box I find:

  • A photograph of Charlie looking about 10 years old and holding an infant in front of a stand of trees. On the reverse, cracking blue ballpoint dates it: June 1968 - C & S.
  • A brass key tagged with an address on a yellowed label attached by a shred of rough twine.
  • A black velvet pouch containing a large purple crystal the size of my fist, and a smaller purple crystal on a silver chain.
  • A very heavy metal cube with a seam around the top and no obvious latch.
  • A set of Polaroids showing a big white house and a bunch of people going in and out, none of whom I recognize. Well, one of them looks just like the thin-faced man from my vision, but that has to be my imagination.
  • A sealed envelope, with my name written on it in strong purple ink.

Inside the envelope I find:

Dear Serena,
The key is to my house. Everything mine is now yours. I wish I could have hugged you again while I was still alive. You were, you are, and you always will be, dear to me.
I love you,
P.S. Do NOT open the box until you face the Beast.
I close the shoebox and finish breakfast. I don't want to stay here and I don't have anywhere else to go, so I put on an old too-big black dress and pair of China slippers I find beside my breakfast, slip the brass key in my pocket and the shoebox under my arm, and step out into the night.

Portland, Maine.
My name is Serena Lynn Penny, and I am 17 years old.

I have escaped the Ankill Institute for Emotionally Disturbed Teens, which is where the state put me after my last failed foster placement. I have no idea what happened to my real parents. I don't remember them at all. I do know the authorities are looking for me by now, and I've never been any good at evading them. But this is the longest I've evaded them.

This is also the longest I've been without medication since I was 11.

And this is the first time I've felt secure in these facts of my existence or hopeful of my continued existence in even longer.

The street is slick with moonlight and the air holds the promise of summer. "Where can I find..." I ask a man on a corner, showing him the address on the tag around my brass key.

I follow the man's directions until I'm standing before a two-story brick building fronted by a low cast iron fence and topped with an octagonal widow's walk. The building has been split into two townhouses, and I make for the one on the left, as though I know where I'm going.
The brass key fits in the lock easily and twists. And then I touch the crystal knob and--

blood and iron
green eyes, wild with mortality, clawing for the door--

"Oh please Serenity, you can't possibly think you can get inside your house and be safe," the thin-faced man shakes his head. He's in his 40's, a little white at the temples, goomed and tidy in a dark gray suit and black turtleneck. A pendant of twisted shapes swings on a thick silver chain around his neck, moonlight catching in the round eye-shaped stone at the center. A dead eye, a fish eye, a cancerous goat eye--

Charlie smiles around claw marks that have shredded the right side of her face as her left hand contacts the door knob. "You will take me to the Bhrunhil now, Evan Ethridge," she says.

The thin-faced man nods, made slightly uncertain by Charlie's out-of-place smile. "Yes. Finally. Take my hand."

Charlie gasps breath, buckling over her right side where she tries to hold in a river of blood from a deep gash made by a huge knife or maybe a sword. Then she straightens, looking not at the thin-faced man but past him at someone who isn't there (yet). "The Cult of Icthar has the Sword of Deliverance and the Magus. The Cult of--"

The vision is gone. I stand panting, alone on the doorstep, the mild night innocent of violence. Breeze fluffs my ash-colored hair. It's only the madness. Only that I'm off my meds. But that's the safe and easy answer, isn't it? It doesn't explain the shoebox and the key and how Deliverance and M know my name.

I walk through the door.

A warm lamp glows in a living room cozy with mismatched antiques and shells and dried flowers and small works of art. On a low table beside French doors that open into an overgrown garden, a large framed photograph of a smiling Charlie beams. I start toward the photo but am stopped by a breaker of sadness. The room smells of safety and kindness, of Charlie who always came to me when the nightmares were strong, when I would get beat near unconscious by a foster da or a playground kid or someone from protective services or an orderly at a hospital. Charlie who'd always been there for me, comforting, more real than the people I could touch. Charlie, the only one who loved me in the entire world. Charlie who was dead. Charlie, who until just now, even I hadn't believed was real.

But she has to be real. She lead me out of Ankill. And then there is the key, the photo...

If she is really real, what does that mean about my visions? I want to ask Charlie, but she's gone.

I collapse around a tattered teddy bear on the sofa, sobbing for the loss of something I'd never really had.

Later, I find the second shoebox behind the teddy bear. Inside is a Maine driver's license, passport, title to the townhouse, and birth certificate, all in the name of Serenity Banks. The license and passport both have a photograph of me. A slightly older and better kempt me, but still quite clearly me.

I can't make sense of how that can be until I find the green contact lenses and red hair dye in the pretty tile bathroom. Green the color of Charlie's eyes. Red the color of Charlie's hair. Only, they weren't the color of Charlie's eyes or hair.

I pull out the old photograph of Charlie from 1968 and take a closer look. The patina of age hasn't distorted the colors of the print after all. Charlie in the photo has ash-colored hair, same as mine. She has blue-gray eyes, same as mine. Same as the fuzz on the head of the infant cradled in her arms. The infant's eyes are the same as mine.

Wedged in the pages of the otherwise empty passport I find a poem written in Charlie's strong purple ink:

Two sisters had she, the mother of the sea,
Two sisters pure of heart.
The one saw the future,
The other the past,
But each other they never would see,
For foresight had no future
And to hindsight would future's fate be.

Back of the photograph: June 1968, C & S. Charlie and Serena. Charlie's blood was same as mine.

Photo of the Day Set 2

  • One photo per day
  • Of ordinary things displaced
  • So that they tell a different story

photo-of-the-day set two
robot made of kitchen tools
D.A.R.T., the Decorated Automatic Robot Terminator, arrived to save the day.
If only the gigantic rose had eaten Godzilla before it ate Manhattan!

a luminous, greenish, globular glassy thing
The shimmering, gelatinous biosphere of the Great Old One floated soundlessly toward me.
a truck that looks like a brontosaurus
The brontosaurus evolved.

a violet sky and futuristic buildings
The violet sky of my home world was stormy over the space port.
tattered cloth with ambiguous heart-shaped impression
Shroud of an Insectoid Race #38

Further fun and games: Your stories and/or captions are welcomed in the comments.


Back Bay, I.2

← back to installment I.1

I. Daylight: M

Deliverance delivers me to a three-story brick Victorian.  It used to be beautiful, but it's spent decades crumbling into the cracked 1950's slum buildings to either side of it.  The neighborhood feels dense with history and that makes me nervous.  I step out of the taxi but nothing happens, despite the history.

The rain has stopped but daylight doesn't come.  I look at the half-flight of weathered wooden stairs to 315 Grant Street, shrug, and limp up.  The wooden door at the top with the cracked black paint swings open easily, and I head up another flight to the second floor landing, looking for apartment 2A.  The inside of the building is clean and white and freshly painted, recent enough I can still smell the chemical tang.  A shiny brass "A" hangs a little crooked on the door down the hall to my left, and there's a "B" on the door to my right.  I head left because I don't know what else to do and put my hand on the scarred old brass door knob and--

three men wearing woolen great coats dusted with snow and

a stray cat with a white tip on its tail bounds to

the sharp smell of fire and burned meat, choking and

two men holding hands, tall and beautiful, knocking

with sharp knuckles, the angry, round-faced woman calls

the taste of mint and tears

charlie, her red hair half-bound in a blue tie and slipping out all over her face, breathless and--

Black blots out the vision like the night killing the sun.  The darkness unfurls into an eye, big as a city, round and flat like a fish but with the iris and pupil elongated and lumpy, like a cancerous goat.  The dizzying smell of rotten sea creatures chokes me and I pull back, retching, but am frozen by its basilisk gaze.  I stand before the eye for a lifetime.  And then another.  And then--

black out, blink back, charlie knocks again
rage and pain and the smell of iron
a pool of blood on a marble threshold

The man with the thin face looks and me and smiles. "Hello Serenity Banks.  You will make a lovely new sacrifice.  Your power is just delectable."

I fall across the threshold of apartment 2A, the vision having lasted only the time it took to turn the doorknob.  Like dreams or a trip to Avalon, I live terrible lifetimes in the visions, while only a fraction of a second passes in reality.  Like dreams, the visions linger.  I paw at the back of my head with my fingernails, feeling the itchy gaze of the awful eye on the nape of my neck, hearing the chuckles of the man with the thin face echoing through the hall.  Seeing Charlie, who I'm too late to save and can only hope to avenge, lying dead as people with hoop skirts dance across the floor, disconnected from time.  I'm drowning in history, whimpering beneath the weight of the years.

Finally, I snap out of it enough to sort out what is possibly real.  Candle light.  Warm, yellow, flickering.  The smell of paraffin and kerosene and wood smoke.  A woman stretching on a divan, propped on one elbow.  Long, black hair coils and contrasts against her white breast; a complicated black corset clasps over a flowing white gown; huge black eyes gaze at me with an expression on the edge between beneficence and savagery.  I'd think it was just another vision, but to the right of her on a little table a television sits on top of a VCR and CD player, so I must be in the late 20th century again.  Maybe I was wrong to stop taking my meds.  Not that they helped.  My breath catches on a snag of doubt and fear and I choke on it as I take three steps into the room, closing the door behind me.

The woman on the divan sits up, alert.

Like someone has thrown a blanket over my feelings, the ball of terror woofs out.  My knees go wobbly with the abrupt change of state.  I don't feel anything.  Anything at all.  It's like I've entered a world without madness.  And that seems, rationally, mad in itself, but I really don't care.

A small, satisfied smile curls around the woman's face. She extends a pale hand and says, "Hello Serena.  I'm M."  Her voice is soft, calm, deep.

I feel nothing.

I expect her hand to be cold as death when I take it, but it's warm and dry, and her grip strong.

"Charlie told me you'd come tonight; I have a room drawn up.  Here, drink some tea."

I drop her hand and fall back into an easy chair.  An elaborate cast iron fireplace dominates the room, probably the original central heating unit in the house.  Delicate scroll work of ivies and roses curl up either side, and a father time holding an hourglass floats frozen in wrought iron above the softly glowing coals.  Heat radiates.  A short antique table has been pushed off-center, between M and I.  Small trays of tiny bones cover it.  The trays are black lacquer.  The bones are very white.  A mis-matched tea set rests on the edge of the table nearest me, next to the bones.  Steam curls from the thrift-store ceramic teapot.

I feel nothing.

Maybe a little comforted?  Just briefly though; the feeling evaporates as soon as I name it.  "What--"

"You've had a very long night," M pulls herself the rest of the way into a full sit, and I can see her thin bones move beneath her white skin.  Small bones.  "You need tea.  And rest.  There will be time for questions in the morning."  She pours tea into the cup and hands it to me.

The tea is slightly bitter, but not in a bad way.  Warmth spreads through me.  When I'm done, M reaches out her hand again for me to take.

I glance over at the little white bones in the little black trays.  I take her hand.

M leads me a short way around the glowing fireplace, through a kitchen, and down a short hall into a back room.  Thick curtains pile over what might be a window.  A queen-sized bed fills most of it.  I lay down on the soft duvet and sink into a billow of warmth and feathers.  I feel nothing at all.

M removes my pajamas.  She bathes me in warm water from a kettle, and puts cream and bandages on my feet.  She dresses me in a soft sweatshirt and sweatpants and tucks me under the covers, and I realize the mattress is made of feathers too.  M brushes her hand over my forehead like a mother and leans down and kisses me lightly with warm breath and soft lips.  "Hush," she whispers, "sleep."

I do.

foward to installment I.3 →

Photo of the Day Project

  • One photo per day
  • Of ordinary things displaced
  • So that they tell a different story

photo-of-the-day set one
supermoon over the castle
The Super Moon rose over the castle.

swirly thing
It rotated and hummed as it came at me, shining.
murder, mystery, and a nostalgia that never existed
Murder, mystery, and a nostalgia that had never existed.
unaware of the next adventure
She was unaware that she had stepped into her next adventure.
shells and wires and the god thoth
The presence of the god brought life to the crystal matrices & wires.
a wall of steel; a wall of trees
A wall of steel; a wall of trees: which to climb first?

Further fun and games: Your stories and/or captions are welcomed in the comments.