Extra Dimensions & Misplaced Shadows: Maranda & Cee Interview One Another on Creating We Are the Weirdos

When was the last time you read a book by a queer non-binary mad disabled high school dropout and survivor of incarceration on social assistance? Well, We Are the Weirdos might be the first one?!

Although Cee and I both have unreliable internet connections right now, we managed to get together today to interview one another about our work on We Are the Weirdos. We’ve got just a couple days left to reach our goal on IndieGoGo, which you can contribute to here. We’ve intentionally kept the “stuffness” of the rewards minimal – totebags and merchandise are boring, and we live in tiny apartments anyway. Instead, all you get are books! Books for you, books for your local library, books for your friends. You can also have Tarot readings with me, and custom Tarot illustrations with Cee. And! You can read more about the novel here, including details on which Tarot cards I used to help me write the damned thing.


{image description: A photocopy of my Grade Nine school picture, age 13, and my Grade Two school picture, age 7. I’m frowning in both photos. In the Grade Nine photo, I have long, black hair and I’m wearing a Kurt Cobain t-shirt. In my Grade Two photo, I have long dirty blonde hair, wide eyes, and I’m wearing paisley overalls with a purple turtleneck. I’ve written M.E. + M.E. in black ink.}

♥ CEE INTERVIEWS MARANDA ♥

Cee: This book is about magic – the personal magic that Indigo and Grey (and their mothers) are able to wield and shape, as well as the unexpected and external forces that bend and mold the characters’ lives in wholly unpredictable ways. What role did magic play in the process of writing this novel?

Maranda: Magic is such a daily, moment-to-moment experience for me that it can be tough to suss out which roles magic didn’t play for me. I spent a lot of time reading Tarot cards while I was writing this novel, and using them for making decisions around the process of writing. The cards I drew didn’t interact with the characters or storylines as much as they guided me through making my own personal, creative decisions. For example, two years ago, I took an online writing course with one of my favourite authors, Francesca Lia Block, where I worked on a very messy draft of this novel. It was a big investment for me, not only cash-wise (I scraped the fee together by not-quite-legally AirBnBing my apartment and staying with my then-partner, something I could write an entire novel about on its own) but emotionally and psychically as well… And I waffled on my decision for a bit, reading my cards to see what to do. I didn’t feel I had anyone around who I could ask for advice in that particular situation, but I had my cards.

It was a dream come true to work on fiction with one of my favourite writers, to receive guidance and feedback and care from her, and it was vulnerable to send out drafts of my writing to others in the class, and to provide feedback for their work as well. As I dealt with those feelings (vulnerability that is a good kind of scary), I noticed that sometimes somebody would comment on something in my story not being “believable” when it was something that actually happened to me, and would then note something else in the draft as being “more believable” when it was something I’d just made up. Since believability is a major theme of the novel, and something I struggle with in day-to-day life as an undereducated crazy disabled high school dropout with chronic illness/pain, I thought that was an interesting parallel.

A lot of little coincidences happened to me while I was writing We Are the Weirdos as well. Birchwood Centre for Youth, aka Bitchface, is based on a juvenile detention centre where I was incarcerated multiple times in my early teens. I’ve never named the actual place out loud, though I’m sure many who were or are incarcerated at the ages of sixteen or under in or around the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) would be familiar with it, whether by experience or stories. I remember one day last year, I was walking to the Parkdale Library (where I’m writing this interview from!) to work on the book, and there were two teenage girls walking behind me, discussing the very same detention centre. It felt really eerie, as it’s a place that resides in my mind almost as if not-quite-real. It was the first time in my adult life that I’d heard the place named out loud. They were talking about some friends who were there. This afternoon, while walking to the library, I saw a lone black pointy witch hat sitting on the ground, and nobody was claiming it. A lot of the magic in my life comes in these small moments of just moving through the world, being quiet and observant, noticing these odd symbols and coincidences that arrive, and making my own meanings with them.


{image description: One of Cee’s illustrations! From a chapter called “PUKE.” Black ink on white background. Vomit on a cop’s boots! To the left are a few freezies and a pair of scissors to cut the plastic packages open. To the right are a few roses.}

Although Milthorpe, aka Milcorpse, is a fictional place, it’s obviously based on my hometown of Lindsay, Ontario, which I re-visited several times while writing We Are the Weirdos. Like listening to the music of our youth to return to a particular emotional space, to conjure memories and feelings, I spent a lot of time in Lindsay doing the same. When I write of tangible objects having auras and stories, this is how I feel about physical space, buildings, and land as well. In We Are the Weirdos, there’s a corner downtown where the misfits gather, sometimes misfits among misfits, sitting alongside one another on the same benches but rarely speaking to one another. And I write about these shy, angry queer and trans teens hanging out at the same corner as older teens and twenty-something men who were nazi punks, because that’s how it was in my hometown. I remember stitching an embroidered patch of a crossed-out swastika to my backpack to differentiate myself from them, and I remember the tiny hippie store I bought it from, with my group home allowance, dropped off for the afternoon to keep myself amused and get some fresh air. Well, I went back to that corner this Spring, shortly after the snow melted, and I sat on one of the benches, allowing myself to feel. I took selfies, I took pictures of my feet and the tip of my lavender cane against the cobblestone, I got stared at by passersby the same way I did back then. The red bricks were crumbling. I took a piece for myself and a piece for my twin, who was often by my side at the corner, when we had nowhere else to go, when we walked each other around on heavy metal chains hooked to pet-store dog-collars. Those are the kinds of found objects I like to keep in my pocket for the day and then add to an altar.

I thought about invalidation a lot, especially self-invalidation. All the jokes I’ve made about being a teenage goth, being a cutter, being obsessed with Marilyn Manson, practicing witchcraft. I’m pretty sure I have a zine where I tell a story about my teens and say, “back when I thought I was a witch.” I think I said that as a way of distancing myself from some of the embarrassing and painful memories of my early-teens, but that that’s no longer the kind of distance I need, and I’ve been a witch all along. But anyway, I sat on that corner and had a conversation with my teenage self, showed them that we were still alive. Indigo and Grey are 13 in We Are the Weirdos, and I’m intentionally publishing it at age 31 because the reversed, symmetrical numbers feel meaningful to me.

Also, some of the crystals I got when I was 13, I still have. I have this tiny, pointy clear quartz that was probably the smallest, thus cheapest, one available at the time, and I use it to connect with who I was back then, to remember what it felt like to find witchcraft, which was the only thing I felt could give me any sort of power – it’s so interesting to me that witchcraft is so often considered irrational, fake, immature, embarrassing, when so many of us found it because everything and everywhere else made us feel hopeless and helpless. So I hold onto that object as a 31-year old now, and marvel at the fact of my survival, and of so many of my spells and wishes and dreams coming true despite everything I’ve endured and continue to endure. I keep it with silver sequins that fluttered over the crowd at a Marilyn Manson concert I attended as a grown-up, which was a gift to teenage and adult selves, and other such junk. It feels like time-travel. And I did/do the usual things, working with the Moon, working with Mercury, doing my own inner recovery stuff while working on the novel, much of which led to little revelations in my own life that impacted the way I wrote the novel, and the choices I made, such as finding books whose pages change and warp and fade, letters with no responses to fill in the blanks, a multitude of loose ends, etc…


{image description: Illustrations from my diary last Summer. Black ink on white paper. Multiple renditions of my adult self hanging out with my teenage self, holding onto their metal leash. There are some notes about the joy of being a loner in public, eating messy food, panic, meds, and sensitivity.}

Cee: One thing I really love about this novel is that the characters feel intensely familiar and lifelike yet are always kept an emotional arms’ length from the reader – we rarely know what Grey is thinking, for example, or the breadth of the experiences that have led Caroline to make the parenting decisions she does. How do you balance intimacy and mystery in the development and portrayal of your characters? Did any initial drafts of this book do this differently?

Maranda: It’s interesting that you bring up intimacy, because that’s always been a tough one for me, in reality and fiction alike. I’m reading more self-help about it right now, ha. It’s a word that used to make me cringe, but it doesn’t anymore. It wasn’t until a few days after I finished the final final final draft of We Are the Weirdos that it occurred to me that nowhere in this book do any characters hug one another. Friendship and family are major themes of the novel, yet nobody hugs anybody else. Once this dawned on me, I tried to remember if I had hugged anybody at that age, and what it felt like (I did, but somehow these moments never came back to me while I was creating Indigo). Then, like now, having a flesh-body felt alien and bizarre to me, and if I could have retained consciousness to think and dream and read books, but not have a body, that’s what I would have done. Those kinds of alien-body feelings and lack of physical intimacy are part of why Indigo and Grey connect so deeply to the Mechanical Animals incarnation of Marilyn Manson. At a time when I had almost no language for my feelings of discomfort and disconnection from my physical body and from my gender, that album, and Marilyn Manson’s transformation to the character of the androgynous alien fallen to earth in a strange drug-fuelled Hollywood, heavily influenced by David Bowie, totally captivated me.

To have created characters who feel familiar and real, yet are kept at a distance, was partly my intention (actually, I wasn’t sure about familiarity all along – I was worried about the characters seeming petulant and whiny, which was one reason I began trying to unlearn self-deprecation, so they could move beyond that tone), but partly something else… I think my own experiences with lack of intimacy, and with not feeling embodied with where or who I am a lot of the time, are what led to that kind of distance between my characters, whether it’s in their own friendships, or their distance from the reader. I wonder how much of that was intentional, and how much was inevitable. Intimacy is something I want to write more about (and am actually feeling in real life sometimes!), but with their age and circumstances, it didn’t feel quite possible for Indigo. Mystery, also, was both intentional and inevitable. For a long time, I wanted to know more about Caroline and Madelaine, Indigo’s and Grey’s mothers, and I did have previous drafts that contained more of their pasts, but something about it just didn’t jive, so I scrapped it. I was thinking about how long it took me to even fathom that my mom had a life before I was born, and I wonder how much of this would have occurred to Indigo at 13. There are moments when Indigo wonders about their mom’s past, but they’re not able to learn much, and almost never ask questions directly.


{image description: Another of Cee’s illustrations! From a chapter called “STEAL.” Black ink on white background. In the centre is an unzipped backpack. On the left is a debit machine and on the right is a cash register.}

Another theme in this novel is the incomprehensible scope of what we can’t know about the people around us. We can’t fully grasp their thoughts, their pasts, their internal worlds, or their concepts and perceptions of who we are. With that in mind, I also tried to capture one of the ways trauma impacts memory – to jumble it all up and scatter it, move things out of order, delete entire conversations, for memories to contradict themselves. I’m not sure how much of that comes across the way I want it to in the novel, and how much looks like me, the author, fucking it up a little, but that was one of my intentions. And while doing so, I also chose to refrain almost entirely from using diagnostic language.

Cee: In our process of developing the illustrations for We Are the Weirdos, it was important to you that there be no depictions of the characters (save for one glimpse we get of Indigo’s middle finger!). Instead, the visual emphasis is placed on a multitude of objects. Why did you make this choice? What significance does allowing readers to visualize the characters on their own hold for you? And what called you to make the decisions you did for the chapter headings?

Maranda: Cynically, for a while, I had a tough time imagining something that wouldn’t look cliché. Sometimes the popularity of witchcraft and magical symbols, etc., in recent times felt like a barrier to making the kind of work I’m trying to do, because I was having a tough time watching my traumatic teenagehood be rebranded as cool. I didn’t want to participate in the odd, but understandable, witchcraft nostalgia machine, or for my work to be misconstrued as being related to nostalgia. I questioned whether or not complete the project in its current forms many times, and even considered ridding the story of references to The Craft altogether, because I was actually just getting sick of seeing all those .gifs. Ha. There were all kinds of directions the novel could’ve gone. Obviously I chose to keep The Craft, and keep the title, but I think my readers will be smart and thoughtful enough to ascertain what the novel is really about.

The characters struggle so much with their bodies in this book that the idea of trying to make them visible seemed almost disrespectful. I’ve written a lot about feeling like I am being looked at but not seen – whether that’s through my body or through my work – and the idea of creating images of my characters made me worry that they would somehow feel the same way. Instead, I wanted to capture the world around them, to place emphasis on the importance of what was around them. I also wanted the reader to visualize the story in a multitude of ways. While all the flowers and plants in the novel have magical meanings known for centuries, I rarely elaborate on them. For the chapter headings, I read and re-read the novel and observed what stuck with me the most, what felt important. Sometimes these images were beautiful – I was seeing flowers and swirls and vines and stars – and other times they were what one might consider ugly – vomit on a cop’s boots, a speculum, a windowless van. I want the reader to have their own associations with these objects, their own memories, and to imagine them from Indigo’s point-of-view, too. Which objects feel protective or useful, which objects feel frightening? How come?

♥ MARANDA INTERVIEWS CEE ♥

Maranda: When I began working on We Are the Weirdos, I wasn’t initially imagining illustrations, but as time went on, I realized that the novel felt very visual to me. I was writing about emotions and powerlessness, the confusions and restrictions upon small town misfits in early adolescence, but it was often objects and tangibility that became important to the characters. Poverty was one reason for this, and magic was another. Back then, and today still, objects have felt to me like they have their own auras, their own stories, and they’ve also served as safety objects, something to keep me grounded and present during uncomfortable times. In your bio, you describe yourself as a scamp and a big kid, and your art as containing curiosity, delight in details, and a disregard for rules. You use words like amateur and play. How would you connect these particular words to your process of creating illustrations for We Are the Weirdos, an experimental novel that also shows that same delight in details and disregard for rules, albeit through text rather than image? Your illustrated work is often non-fiction, depicting meaningful moments in your adult life. How did it feel to use your artistic gifts and skills toward imagining and rendering the lives of fictional teenagers?

Cee: One of the chief joys, and also pains, of working on the illustrations for We Are the Weirdos, was allowing myself to retreat deep into my adolescent consciousness while I worked. I had a very different experience of childhood and teenagerhood than Indigo or Grey, but I felt it necessary to approach getting to know these two characters from the closest place of reference I had. These characters immediately felt very dear to me, and I wanted to be closer to them before I tried to illustrate their world. And I wanted to do that as a kid, not as another adult who claimed to understand them while really not actually getting it. So, I listened to the music I listened to in high school while I began the sketches – a way to warm up and get back into that headspace; really to feel in my body the sensations and emotions that permeated it about 16 years ago. I thought and reflected a lot about what 13 felt like to me while I worked. Once I was inking, I was listening to Grey + Indigo’s (and your!) adolescent favourites – Hole, Marilyn Manson, Garbage, Nirvana, etc. That helped me feel like I was hanging out with them and conspiring with them. So, really, I was playing in my brain, letting myself be a kid again, sometimes a different kind of kid than I really was.


{image description: Another of Cee’s illustrations! From a chapter called “RITUALS.” An open spiral-bound sketchbook with a cassette of Marilyn Manson’s Mechanical Animals atop the pages, and a scribbly circle-A anarchy symbol. There are pens and Sharpie scattered across the pages, and lit tealight candles surrounding the notebook. There are also multiple crystals and a Ouija planchette pointing in multiple directions.}

When I first read the novel, I immediately felt a very deep affection and protectiveness towards Grey. Part of it is that she is a very lovable character in her own right, and part of it is that Indigo’s love and admiration of her is so palpable in your writing. The way Indigo is so astonished by Grey’s drawings, how they’re so impressed with her skill, is so sweet and perfectly conjured for the reader. That way we who had few friends or connections had so much reverence and awe for the love we did get to have, and so much respect and pride for our beloveds. I really wanted to honour the everyday magic of amateur art, of the miracle that a teenage girl’s scribbles in her sketchbook can perform for her best friend. So I tried to draw with the same principles, or lack thereof, that shape a teenager’s art. What was important was creating stuff that was recognizable, that had details that maybe were extraneous and silly and “not realistic” but that showed a love of the tiny hidden things and small magic of the mundane, of the everyday. I think that’s how Grey would draw. Everything having an extra dimension, or a misplaced shadow – because that is how Grey and Indigo’s lives are.

How did this feel? Like an honour. An honour to connect to these two beautiful fictional humans, and an honour to bridge and build something with you. It felt like a collaboration between your and my childhood selves, too, who had never met before this book.

Maranda: You and I have been friends for a long time. Each of us have been witnessing the other as we become more skilled at what we do. We often have conversations about things like imposter syndrome, feeling like our work is misunderstood, having dreams and ambitions that we feel like we’ve earned but are somehow still beyond our reach, etc. You’ve made zines for a long time, you’ve designed tattoos and typography, you keep an illustrated diary that is a wonder to behold, and you’re currently working in graphic memoir. In your wildest dreams, where would you like to see your art? Who do you make art for? What are some further skills you’d like to develop in your practice (be they technical or emotional)?

Cee: Like you, I think, I’d really love to see my work in libraries. I want my art to be free and easily accessed. I make my art as a way to manage feeling so thin-skinned in this very scary world, as a way of arming myself for the battle we are all called to every day. I want people who feel like they are too much, feel too much, want and need too much, to feel contained and held by my work. I want the stories I tell to be felt deeply, and I want the people who read and identify with my writing and drawing to say, ok, I can do this too. They did it and I can do it. I don’t have any formal art training and I really try to talk about that as much as possible. I loved to draw as a kid and as a teen, but I didn’t think I could draw until I was 19 I think. I wasn’t exceptional at art growing up, or if I was, so were lots of people. I want to destroy the narrative of talent. I want the idea that you can only be an artist if you were committed to drawing in the fifth grade to be laughable. Or that you need to study anything institutionally in order to do it well. Fuck that! I’m so bad at photoshop. I’m constantly learning how to do stuff as my paid work has skewed towards the design end of thing (posters, book covers, logos, etc), and I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent asking friends to walk me through something or watching tutorials online or frantically googling how to do a specific thing. My friend, the incredible artist Morgan Sea, was once watching me design a poster in photoshop and had to leave the room because she was so stressed by how few shortcuts I took! She was like, “you’re doing everything the long, hard way!”. So I guess I’d love to learn how to do things the best way and get way better on the technical side of things.

Interviewingly Yours,

P.S.: If you’ve benefited from my writing in any way – if my words have inspired you, helped you feel less alone, or sparked some weird feeling within you; if you’ve felt encouraged, or curious, or comforted – please consider compensating me by offering a donation of any amount. Whether you’ve been reading my writing for years, or just stumbled into me this afternoon, I invite you to help me sustain the process!

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We Are the Weirdos – a crowdfund pre-order for my next novel!

Long time no write! Despite all the notes I’ve been taking, I haven’t completed anything I’d intended to write for my blog over the last few months because most of my attention has been devoted to finishing my second novel, We Are the Weirdos. And now, it’s done! On the New Moon in Leo, my BFF Cee Lavery and I launched our IndieGoGo campaign to make this novel tangible and get it into your hands. The novel itself is complete, I finished editing the final draft on Courtney Love’s birthday, and it’s nearly 90,000 words long (which, yeah, I cut back from 100,000)! Now we’re working on the layout and design. Cee is illustrating the book cover as well as header images for each chapter, and each of us are offering Tarot readings (from me!) and custom Tarot card illustrations (from them!) as rewards.

You can support We Are the Weirdos here!

We’re hoping (and spellcasting!) to raise $3,613. Yes, it’s quite a specific number! As well as the costs of printing and shipping my novel, and acquiring more copies of my other books, I’m also paying Cee for the time, skills, and magic of creating custom illustrations. If (well, when!) we’re fully funded, this’ll also help cover the annual fee of maintaining my P.O. Box. Etc etc. Along with the boring, practical stuff, the numbers three, six, and thirteen were chosen for multiple reasons. Over the last few years of working on We Are the Weirdos, the Tarot cards that became the most meaningful to me were the Three of Pentacles, Six of Cups, and Death.

marandaelizabethwearetheweirdostarotcards

While each of these cards have a zillion meanings, in terms of the novel (and of the writing process itself), the Three of Pentacles keeps me feeling encouraged to conceptualize my writing as a contribution, a valuable, tangible, and spiritual contribution to mad & queer & crazy & cripple literature and art; the Six of Cups is a card I use to interact with my past selves, which is something I’ve been doing a lot as I created teenage characters who, although this is obviously fiction, are also very directly related to my own selves and based deeply in personal experience; and Death is Death, you know that one. Indigo Carson, the main character in We Are the Weirdos, is a 13-year old goth struggling with gender and poverty – they are one of the creatures who came to me as part of my process of making magic outta trauma, showing my past selves that we’ve survived, we make art, many of our dreams are coming true. We’ve survived more than we know how to tell you, but this is one piece.

♥ ♥ ♥

In this work of experimental fiction and magic realism, Maranda Elizabeth writes a vulnerable tale of perpetually misunderstood and powerless teenagers in a small town. We Are the Weirdos is an exploration of trauma, gender, poverty, invalidation, and memory, as well as themes of trust, abandonment, confinement, and revenge. The characters encounter one another, as well as authority figures and ghosts, at home and through institutions: school, court cells, a detention centre, and a group home, dreaming of magic and escape.

Indigo is a 13-year old goth and teenage criminal with a history of antisocial tendencies, shoplifting, destructive impulses, cutting, and dysmorphia/dysphoria. When they start bleeding petals and flames along with their blood, they make connections between alienation, magic, and survival.

Grey is Indigo’s best friend, a shy trans girl with stolen Sharpies and heavy sketchbooks whose illustrations come to life and make spells come true.

Both are the only children of poor, depressed, single moms in a small, mostly-white town in Southern Ontario. In 1999, their favourite movie is The Craft, their favourite band is Marilyn Manson, and their favourite activity is spell-casting. When they find a book about witchcraft hidden among a series of letters written to and from their mothers, who claim not to know each other and refuse to speak – one is mostly-absent, the other is obsessed with a talk show hosted by a psychic and Saturday night episodes of Cops – they choose to communicate with ghosts, and each other, instead.

As the two are separated, and Indigo is charged with crimes they barely remember committing, each of them continue casting spells – or trying to – in dangerous and painful attempts to stay alive. Shuffled through the juvenile injustice system, Indigo encounters Sea, a clumsy and curious social worker who hates her job and feels complicit in the pain of teenagers, and Mint, a 16-year old Black girl with a stick-and-poke tattoo of moon phases on her wrist, rage of her own about isolation and incarceration, and a longer sentence for a non-violent crime.

Each of them wants to be believed, to be real, and to create their own form of justice.

♥ ♥ ♥

I’ve shared the first two chapters of We Are the Weirdos for free online! Please read it here! I’d really appreciate it if you set aside some time, maybe curled up with a yummy drink and your diary, and if you could share it, that’d really help make my spells keep coming true! Please note that I’ve included the novel’s content notes with the excerpt, and they’ll be published inside the e-book and paperback as well. I know it’s not common to print content notes in fiction, but it felt necessary for this particular story, not only because it deals with abuse and youth incarceration, but because those experiences are still (forever) so close to me.

Speaking of that, it’s also not common to find novels about incarceration, and juvenile detention centres and group homes more specifically, so I had very few points of reference for creating this story, aside from my own experiences as a teenager. Being a high school dropout as well as someone who accumulated multiple charges and sentences as a teenager is still, at the age of thirty-one, something that often makes me feel quite separate from potential queer community/ies and literary community/ies, and sometimes I wonder where folks like us end up. I know it’s a cliché to say that we write the books we wanna read, we write the books our younger selves were looking for, but that really is what We Are the Weirdos is. Back then, and even now, I found very, very few stories that felt even vaguely representational of what I went through – the way(s) I struggle(d) with alienation, not-belonging, bodies, gender, loneliness, and isolation. I’m still searching for them. I’m still writing them. There were many times when I thought I would die writing this novel, but I didn’t wanna leave an unfinished draft behind.

As I write this, ten days after launching the crowdfunding campaign for We Are the Weirdos, we’re already 47% funded, thanks to you! Cee and I have been spending a lot of time together, working on a cover design so dreamy I’m definitely gonna get it tattooed to celebrate the completion of this project, and now we’re working on approximately forty (yes, forty!) more illustrations, one per chapter. This novel is about 90,000 words, forty-ish chapters, and told from multiple points of view. It’s been an intense process, to say the very least. But it’s done. It’s written, edited a thousand times by me, a few more times with some friends, and yet again by me. It’s done. I’m writing my acknowledgments now, something I didn’t do with my other books, and some dedications, too.

I also wanna ask y’all a quick lil favour: Will you please share our IndieGoGo on your social media, with your friends, and maybe even with your pets? And let them (and me!) know why you’ve chosen to support We Are the Weirdos? As you know, writing can be lonely, vulnerable work, and it would mean a lot to Cee and I if you could pass along this novel and share your encouraging words. Thank you again! To spells coming true!

Novellingly Yours,

P.S.: If you’ve benefited from my writing in any way – if my words have inspired you, helped you feel less alone, or sparked some weird feeling within you; if you’ve felt encouraged, or curious, or comforted – please consider compensating me by offering a donation of any amount. Whether you’ve been reading my writing for years, or just stumbled into me this afternoon, I invite you to help me sustain the process!

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Won’t You Celebrate With Femme Cripples and Other Storybooks

content notes: incarceration, suicidality, charcoal, cops, racism, colonialism

Last November, I tried to go to as many workshops and panels at Naked Heart Festival as I could – these things are extra tough for somebody who is in such tremendous pain that I am often-housebound and usually need a few days or more to recuperate from attending a one-hour appointment, but I felt that I needed to be there, and I was determined.

One of the events I was looking forward to the most was Hannah Harris-Sutro’s Femme Lineages writing workshop. The description read:

“How do we channel creation through our bones and blood, to keep our momentum and confidence as creators? This is a workshop for femme-identified & femme-adjacent* folks of all genders to come together and write within a lineage of femme creators and ancestors. A writer is someone who writes; no previous experience is necessary! Together, we will explore and build narratives of our own lineages as creators and artists, grounded in the revolutionary work of femmes who have come before us.

Participants will have opportunities to co-create a writing lineage altar, to ask for knowledge and support from their bodies, to play with the glosa form as conversation with and invocation of a femme ancestor or mentor, to create new work using a variety of concrete and evocative prompts, and to give and receive feedback on that work (if desired) in a powerfully vulnerable and supportive environment. Please bring something that invokes your lineage for our shared altar, and a piece of writing by someone you look up to. Please wear clothing that makes you feel right and comfortable.

*by “femme-adjacent” i mean that intentional femininity of some kind is part of how you understand yourself, even if you do not identify as “femme”.”

I arrived a little cranky because ten or fifteen minutes between events that were being held in different buildings was not enough time for my crip-body to take a pee break, get to and fro, and settle in, especially as we were experiencing a bitter cold snap. I’d just dug out my collection of fleece-lined tights from a box in my closet the day before. And I’m a hyper-vigilant creature who usually arrives at least forty-five minutes early for everything to ensure… I’m not sure what. That I’ll find my way, have a chance to look around, take meds, breathe, adjust to a new space. Thankfully, there were comfy chairs, and a mix of familiar and new-to-me femmes sitting around the long table.

Hannah taught us about the glosa form of poetry, and read us a few examples. Before that, she offered us a few prompts related to lineages: of femmes, of writers, of family. I scribbled a few notes about my dad dropping outta high school, my nana not going at all, of me and my twin dropping out, too, and of the teachers who didn’t know what to do with us. As a child, I worked a few grades ahead until teachers ran out of work to give me, and then I wrote self-directed book reports instead. I also wrote down the names of some writers and artists who I consider part of my lineage(s), past and present and future: Lynda Barry (especially Cruddy), Rebecca Godfrey (The Torn Skirt is my favourite novel and has done much to inform the ways I write fiction, what I write about, and how I write it – among other things, it was the first novel I read with an incarcerated teenage girl as the protagonist, which gave me permission to tell my own stories), David Wojnarowicz, Audre Lorde, Michelle Tea, Anaïs Nin, and adrienne maree brown.

Although there were also somatic exercises as part of the workshop, I skipped them this time because I was having the kind of day where I didn’t feel like being in my body. I scribbled notes and drew pictures of bones and pill bottles instead.

In my bones is pain, a history of fibromyalgia that nobody told me about. In my bones is tenseness & avoidance & the times they could not keep me safe. In my bones are cancer & pills & not-knowing. In my bones are amethyst & trauma & loneliness.

{image description: A ripped piece of scrap lilac-coloured paper. In purple ink, I’ve written:

“ATTEMPTING to PLACE my WORK within a CONTEXT(S) & LINEAGE(S)

– seeing my influence in others but feeling undervalued (NOT JUST FINANCIALLY)”

In the background, my Virginia Woolf mug and the keyboard of my pinky-purple netbook are visible.}

One of my BFF’s, Erin, was with me, and both of us were multiply-sick, taking different pills every half hour or so, and I think we were both feeling foggy and ill but/and ready to write. Several poetry paperbacks were scattered along the table, and I reached for a book I hadn’t read, feeling like there was something special in there for me. The book was Not Vanishing by Chrystos, an Indigenous two-spirit poet, writer, activist, and warrior. When I opened their book, the first poem I found was I Walk In the History of My People. At the first two lines, I knew I was in the right place, in the right room, and that I wanted to write my glosa with this poem.

There are women locked in my joints
for refusing to speak to the police
My red blood full of those
arrested, in flight, shot
My tendons stretched brittle with anger
do not look like white roots of peace
In my marrow are hungry faces who live on land the whites don’t want
In my marrow women who walk 5 miles every day for water
In my marrow the swollen faces of my people who are not allowed
to hunt
to move
to be
In the scars on my knee you can see the children torn from their families
bludgeoned into government schools
You can see through the pins in my bones that we are prisoners of a long war
My knee is so badly wounded no one will look at it
The pus of the past oozes from every pore
The infection has gone on for at least 300 years
My sacred beliefs have been made pencils, names of cities, gas stations
My knee is wounded so badly that I limp constantly
Anger is my crutch
I hold myself upright with it
My knee is wounded
see
How I Am Still Walking

I didn’t stick to a true glosa structure because rules are for breaking, and I was grateful that Hannah insisted that none of our writing had to be perfect, and that we were here for encouragement and expression, not criticism. I used to be intimidated by poetry because I thought I had to get all the lines and syllables and rhymes just right. Now I know I don’t.

In terms of feedback, we were asked to answer these questions: What’s strong? What stays? What resonates? We give no advice and ask no questions. Rough drafts!

I wrote:

There are ghosts in my joints, and
I refuse to be in my body but I
want to listen to them, their
complaints & questions & sharp points
After being in so much pain, I
could not roll over in bed or
adjust my blanket, the mere word
“WALK” makes me feel irate & bitter
If there are women locked in my
bones my ribs my knees my
blood for refusing to speak to
police / for speaking to them and
being told I’m lying I’m just
trying to cause trouble because I’m
bored
I want to keep them with me –
if I have no listeners, I’ll be the
listener / Bruises tattooed on my knees
Even when I write about the messages
from the ghosts & I am told, “I love
your writing about loneliness.
See you next year, maybe,”
I will press my pen so hard it rips
my paper / a needle that paints
flesh & knife that cuts planets & razor that shears fleece
I limp constantly, my cane
sings hymns on concrete and no
one else can remember the words.
The city abandons me again & again
because my crooked bones are,
well, lovely in words but
inconvenient in person flesh plans time
But concrete & pills give me the
will to live / dead without meds
I’d kill without pills
my body is a broken lease
How many more evictions until
the girl femme creature who
cannot talk to police
refuses to say, “I’m sorry my
body can’t do that but I’m not sorry
There are ghosts locked in my joints.

{image description: My diary opened wide to scribbly notes of the poem above. Swirly black ink. My diary is on top of a retro turquoise table at a diner with my left hand holding it open. My nails are painted deep violet and are absurdly long. A tiny silver teapot and a fork & knife are visible at the edges of the photo.}

I read my poem out loud. I used to be much more quiet, but now I feel like with all the time spent in bed, spent housebound, spent alone on WheelTrans rides and medical appointments, all the readings & workshops & zine fairs & everything I’ve missed out on / am missing out on, I’ve earned some time to talk in workshops, to read out loud, to ask for feedback.

The next day, I drew The Magician as my daily Tarot card. It was November 13th, the ten-year anniversary of my first suicide attempt, a day always marked on my calendar – not that I need to write it down to remember, but I set it aside as a self-care day and usually choose to be alone. But this time I had a friend with me, and plans, and that felt very special.

Before returning to Naked Heart, I brought Erin to Trinity Bellwoods Park in hopes of showing her the infamous white squirrel. Some people don’t believe the white squirrel exists, but she hops over to me nearly every time I’m in the park, and I’ve even captured photos of multiple white squirrels hanging out together. I can tell them apart, too. The one I see more often has pale blonde patches and is a little chubbier than the other one.

Sure enough, we found the white squirrel! I had white chocolate peanut butter cups in my coat pockets for good luck. She came right up to us and kissed our hands, shuffling through the fallen leaves. Before we left, I left a piece of white chocolate at the bottom of a tree as an offering.

{image description: I’m standing under a maple tree surrounded by fallen yellow leaves. My hand is reaching toward the tree trunk, and a white squirrel is clinging to the tree and kissing my fingers. I have the most gleeful silly smile! I’m holding onto my lavender cane, bending slightly. I’m wearing a purple coat, purple backpack, black boots, and floral socks. This is one of my all-time favourite photos of myself, and one of the only ones with a big, big smile.}

I missed the next reading I wanted to go to because my WheelTrans ride was late (again!), and nearly missed the Crip Writers on Representation, Publication & Transformation panel as well, which would have been a funny but painful story to tell. But I got there and I kept scribbling.

{image description: My diary held open again. Messy black ink of notes on poetry, a doodle of a bottle of pills, and thoughts during panels.}

{image description: My diary held open again. I’ve scribbled notes like:

“What do you fear most in sharing? (My fear = indifference)

WE CAN’T EVOLVE IF EVERYBODY AGREES WITH US

triggering grief while writing out loud

EMBODYING DISSOCIATION

YOU CAN DIE

IMPOSTOR VS. UNDERAPPRECIATION

Sometimes language is limiting

Enabling others’ art

IMPERFECT PRESENCE BETTER THAN ABSENCE”}

In February, I attended Hannah’s Femme Lineages workshop again, this time from home. As usual, I’ve been thinking a lot about art & poverty & access, and how to continue learning and developing my writing skills when it’s becoming more and more rare that I can attend anything at all. I’m always looking for different kinds of writing workshops, but so often, the ones that speak to me are not ones that I can afford, and/or not ones that I can otherwise access. When a friend of mine saw that Hannah was offering her workshop online with a pwyc sliding scale, they sent me a link and offered to pay for me! It was one of those moments of feeling seen not only as who I am and what themes arise in my writing, but also like I was being listened to when I talked about various forms of support, and like someone might actually have my back when I talk about this stuff. So I gratefully signed up!

Because I was alone in a comfy place, and because the online workshop was longer and more in-depth, I was able to participate in the somatic exercises this time, which deeply changed the way I wrote, the ideas that came to me, my confidence in the messages I was receiving from my body and from the prompts, and my feelings of connection with the other participants and with the facilitator herself. And it felt meaningful, like real queer magic, that I was able to participate from bed while the Moon was in Taurus.

Also, I was grateful that because the workshop was online, I didn’t have to a) write out my long long long list of access requests, b) cry while doing so, and c) show up just to find out they’d been fucked with anyway. The only thing I was really worried about was that my glitchy internet would disconnect, but it didn’t.

I brought Anne Sexton with me. Another friend of mine, Heather, lent me their copy of The Collected Poems of Anne Sexton as winter survival reading, and I searched it specifically for poems with cripple in the title. I feel like she might seem too obvious a choice to bring, especially as a crazy femme, when there are thousands of other poets to choose from, but I was thinking of her also as agoraphobic and as a cane-user, details that I haven’t heard mentioned so often. She’s also a writer who didn’t go school but ended up becoming a teacher. And on the theme of lineages, it made sense to me to choose a book a friend lent me, to note that connection, too.

I had a teenage photo of myself by my side (time-travel is real), and I worked with Amber Dawn’s Where the words end and my body begins, and the tenth stanza of Anne Sexton’s Cripples and Other Stories.

The surgeons shook their heads.
They really didn’t know –
Would the cripple inside of me
be a cripple that would show?

{image description: My so-called Grade Eight Graduation photo taken in Spring 1999, the portrait repeated four times on a sheet of photostock. I have freshly died ruby red hair, sad eyes, and an expression of exhaustion. I’m wearing heavy black eyeshadow like a raccoon, deep violet lipstick, a black and gold graduation gown, and holding onto a bouquet of fake red roses. My head is tilted, my lips slightly parted. The camera-person told me to smile. My lips are parted because he took my photo while I was literally saying to him, “I don’t want to smile.”}

I wrote a poem called Cripples and Other Storybooks:

Dear Maranda,
In this one, you are
13-years old
one week out of the detention centre
dying your hair in your boyfriend’s mom’s kitchen sink
Féria Ruby Red
preparing for a graduation photo for
a class you could not attend
a year of probation
and summer school filling out photocopies of
homonyms & antonyms
The surgeons shook their heads.
Dear Amber,
In this one, you are
standing at the microphone at Glad Day
the stage at the top of stairs & stares & stairs
reading a poem with an open book fracture
that I almost missed because I was harassed
on the way to the reading
and wanted to scream and go home
You asked if we knew Lucille Clifton
And I felt ashamed at the silent response.
On the landing of the bookstore,
somebody with purple hair asked me for my name
and cried as they realized it was my book
that they stole from their wife when they
divorced and ran away
They really didn’t know.
Dear Anne,
In this one, you are
agoraphobic, clutching your cane after breaking your
hip, you’re really 36 & I’m really 31
talking to your ghost at the used bookstore again
and carrying you home, medicated and dissociated
in a WheelTrans cab, a bandage hiding
my 29th tattoo, my skin a storybook
Would the cripple inside of me
be a cripple that would show?

(I imagine this as a poem-in-process, where I’ll keep naming everybody who’s contributing to it – a stanza for Hannah, another for Lucille Clifton, and the title will keep growing, something like, Won’t You Celebrate With Femme Cripples and Other Storybooks…)

Once again, I read my poem out loud. I’ve written four poems in adulthood. One of them was in Oliver Bendorf’s How to Make It online creativity workshop, and the other three were at Hannah Harris-Sutro’s workshops. I’ve been realizing more and more that not only do I want to read more poetry and write more poetry, I also want more opportunities to have friends read me poetry (or fiction! anything!) out loud. There was something so cozy and special about both the online space and physical space(s) of the workshop, and of talking to all the other participants who were cozy in their own homes, seeing what quirky mugs they were drinking their tea from, listening to all the different stories we dreamed up and shared.

{image description: My hand holding onto a white mug that says in yellow letters: “At a diner, a cup of coffee is never half empty.” I stole it from Denny’s.}

I was also reminded of something Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha said on a panel at the previous year’s Naked Heart fest. To paraphrase from memory, she talked about how poetry can be more accessible to disabled and crazy people, and broke and working-class / hustling-class queers, etc. because it can be written in short snippets between pain flare-ups, during long rides on public transit, scribbled on lunch breaks from shitty underpaid jobs, etc. And because you can complete a work in a shorter amount of time than, say, a novel, which makes a difference when you’re struggling with suicidal feelings, and/or lack of so-called productivity, or visibility, and/or not being able to commit to larger projects if you can’t see a future as well.

On a similar note, Sassafras Lowrey, who I met at the same reading at Glad Day documented in my poem, and who read from hir novel Lost Boi that night, talked about doing most of hir writing on an iPad while taking transit to and from work, and taking lunch breaks at hir favourite local bubble tea shop. Although clock-time is something like a form of privilege to me, as I don’t have work or school to organize my life around, both Sassafras’s and Leah’s words resonated with me as someone who needs to write to stay alive, and someone who does so without seeking permission, and someone who knows the necessity of self-publishing and and and…

Later in the workshop, I wrote:

In my bones is everything
that has failed to kill me.
A decade of disability cheques
has failed to kill me.
Lack of access to formal
education has failed to kill me.
Jail cells, detention centres,
endless court dates, the psych
wards I’ve lost count of
have failed to kill me.
Crying in public
has failed to kill me.
Bike crashes
Alcohol
Perfume
Has failed to kill me.
33 homes, 20 diagnoses
X-rays, blood tests, brain scans
Overdoses
Doctors have failed to kill me.
Knives and razorblades
Loss loss loss
Jealousy
Suicide has failed to kill me
Evictions, landlords, mouldy apartments
Have failed to kill me
Stairs have failed to kill me.
Brittle bones of amethyst & snowflake obsidian
Charcoal brought me here,
And magnetic resonance imaging
3 drops of columbine
Essence plus 1 Oxy-
Codone are in my
Bones and carrying me here
If my cane is a limb,
Then so is my pen,
A bone, ink marrow
Behold the three-legged three-armed cripple
A crooked cauldron of

After the workshop, I felt totally revived and revitalized, and even felt the same kind of hunger that would traditionally arise from physical exertion. It felt strangely invigorating and definitely memorable. I’d drawn the Knight of Pentacles as my daily card that morning, and now I see it in terms of embodied writing, of carrying lineages and continuing them as a form of respect, responsibility and reverence.

As I’d been thinking/writing a lot about disposability lately, and beginning work on tracing various lineages of mine, the Femme Lineages workshop arrived at just the right time, and got me dreaming more about ways to resist disposability, particularly as disabled crazy chronically ill crip weirdos who can’t be everywhere and do everything, and whose presence and access are so often not prioritized. As someone who has often felt used and discarded by queers, glosa poetry feels like a way not only of tracing our lineages, of naming them and passing them on, but also of resisting disposability culture, and being creative in the ways we find to survive and make sure we are seen.

Writing is lonely, and often feels like a void, but glosa poetry and acknowledging lineages gives us a way to name and credit our influences, cite the work we love, and make art against erasure. It means acknowledging past incarnations of artistic resistance and finding ourselves among them.

I need poems and essays and evidence, of cripples and borderlines and witches and crazy people and and and supporting each other. Maybe you do, too.

Poemfully Yours,

P.S.: Hannah has multiple online and offline workshops this Spring, and as you might surmise, I very highly recommend attending if you can! In April, Hannah will be facilitating her Femme Lineages writing workshop in-person in Montréal, and everywhere else online. And in May, she’ll be facilitating two new workshops with online and offline variations. The first one is Embodied Tarot, a workshop for tarot readers of all experience levels to explore using their bodies as a tool for reading and learning from tarot. And the second one is Writing Our Monsters, a workshop for queer writers of all experience levels to explore embodied practices of working with the parts of ourselves we find ugly or shameful. And then in July, Hannah will be offering a six-week workshop for queer writers that brings together writing, somatic practice, and shadow/monster work!!! Multiple exclamation marks for multiple enthusiasms! Mark your calendars, please! And I’ll ‘see’ you there for the online versions!

P.P.S.: If you’ve benefited from my writing in any way – if my words have inspired you, helped you feel less alone, or sparked some weird feeling within you; if you’ve felt encouraged, or curious, or comforted – please consider compensating me by offering a donation of any amount. Whether you’ve been reading my writing for years, or just stumbled into me this afternoon, I invite you to help me sustain the process!

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What is art about social assistance?

Is there such a thing as art about social assistance? By people on social assistance (whether it’s welfare or disability)?

I’ve been dreaming up an art project. I’m asking if art about being on social assistance is a thing (not looking for definitive answers, just putting that question out into the universe, and making some of my own). I’ve been reviewing a lot of my writing, and trying to place it within different contexts. One of those contexts is Art About Surviving Social Assistance (specifically, without the goal of getting off it & ‘making a living’). Last Spring and Summer, I desperately documented the process of coming up for review. In May, I was forced to crowdfund rent and food, and at the end of Summer, I wrote a zine about how I survived. While I was initially cut off due to misfiled forms (the worst Mercury Retrograde), eventually my benefits (but it’s hard to call it that) were restored and I was given permanent disability status.

During that same period, I wrote about having yet another discussion with a mental health worker about how writing what I’m writing, doing what I’m doing, isn’t quite giving me the feelings I wanna have, or the life I wanna have. That’s still true. It was one of those absurd, exasperating “Have you ever tried writing or journaling?” conversations. This conversation happened in the context of me having to quit the first (and only, thus far) complex-(p)TSD group therapy I’d had access to, since others were consistently breaking the scent-free policy despite reminders via phone, email, and mail, and signs on all the doors and mirrors. Instead of just rolling my eyes at the system, I’ve been contemplating these questions ever since.

marandaelizabethpillsforever

{image description: My left hand holding onto two small glass vials of pills, and a silver blister pack of pills. The pills are white and the wall in the background is purple.}

One of the things that helped me get through the disability review process was reading stacks of disability studies and mad studies books from the library. As a broke-as-fuck high school dropout, these are texts that, in various ways, are not accessible to me – whether or not they are meant to be (and even when they’re about me). I spent a lot of time googling seemingly innocuous words like pedagogy and temporality that a lot of people use everyday and take for granted. I found ideas that made me want to stay alive. But the books prompted so many more questions: Who gets access to information that makes their life more liveable? Who gets to participate in conversations about disability and madness? Who is invited to participate and who is left out? Whose knowledges are valued, prioritized, listened to, paid for? Whose knowledges are left behind? What happens when maps and theories about your own brain body psyche daily-life and survival are not accessible to you?

marandaelizabethdisabilitybooks

{image description: A stack of books I read last Summer. They all have library code stickers on the spine.}

They are:

Feminist, Queer, Crip by Alison Kafer
Crip Theory: Cultural Signs of Queerness and Disability by Robert McRuer
Disability Theory by Tobin Siebers
Disability Aesthetics by Tobin Siebers
Rethinking Normalcy: A Disability Studies Reader edited by Tanya Titchkosky and Rod Michalko
Mad Matters: A Critical Reader in Canadian Mad Studies edited by Brenda A. LeFrançois, Robert Menzies, and Geoffrey Reaume

marandaelizabethwinterreading2016

{image description: Another stack of books I’m reading.}

They are:

Her Paraphernalia: On Motherlines, Sex, Blood, Loss, and Selfies by Margaret Christakos
From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor
Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars: A Dangerous Trans Girl’s Confabulous Memoir by Kai Cheng Thom
Close to the Knives: A Memoir of Disintegration by David Wojnarowicz
Problems by Jade Sharma
milk and honey by rupi kaur
Freedom Is A Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of A Movement by Angela Y. Davis
Queer and Trans Artists of Color: Volume Two by Nia King, edited by Elena Rose
bone by Yrsa Daley-Ward
When the Sick Rule the World by Dodie Bellamy

Now that it’s March 1st, I’ve been on ODSP for a full decade. Average rent in my city is almost more than double my entire monthly income. And if my income doubled, I’d still be living well below the poverty line. While it’s a miserable and frightening income to try to live on, in a weird way, it’s a bit of a dream come true, too. I grew up scared of growing up. I left school when I was fourteen and started working when I was fifteen. I quickly built a reputation for crying while serving customers, having panic attacks at work, and quitting by either storming out or not showing up at all (well, that was my reputation at school, too, but a little more violent). However. I hoped that somehow, by the time I was an adult, if not sooner, I could find a way to stay home, get my rent paid, and read and write whatever I feel like. I didn’t know I’d puke my way through these years, or dissociate, or lose my ability to walk, etc etc etc – maybe I wasn’t specific enough when I burned candles and drew sigils on my teenage bedroom walls with greasy lipstick and wrote short stories about escape, but the spells came true.

marandaelizabethsurvivingillnessselfie

{image description: Selfie taken in a dusty used bookstore. Although you can only see my face, I am on my knees, with my purple cane handle beside my face. I am expressionless, not-quite-frowning. There are bookshelves and books behind me. The shelves are labeled SURVIVING ILLNESS and ADDICTION/RECOVERY.}

The next chapter of my social assistance art project (or the can art about social assistance exist? and what is it? project) is this: My Wishlist (click! click! click!). To celebrate the fact that though the provincial government has been trying to kill me, I have survived a full decade. All I wanna do (is have some fun) is read more, write more, share more. And I want to do that knowing that my contributions are appreciated and valued, and that I am being supported, not merely consumed. Most of the books on my wishlist were chosen as part of my current focus on learning about and naming mad and crip lineages, politicizing borderline, unlearning white supremacy, and continuing to develop my writing skills and (re-)develop my imagination.

(And if yr feeling gross about Amazon, just remember that many of us can’t afford the full-cost of books and can’t get our bodies to bookstores and and and. Sometimes being poor or oppressed in other ways necessitates compromise and participating in the systems that are hurting you so you can stay alive. Criticize systems without abandoning individuals, please and thank you!)

marandaelizabethkathyackerquote

{image description: A quote from Kathy Acker’s Blood And Guts In High School that I’ve written in all caps black ink on unlined paper. It says: “POVERTY IS BAD FOR HUMANS BECAUSE IT MAKES THEM PERPETUATE ALL THAT IS OPPRESSING THEM AND GOOD FOR HUMANS BECAUSE IT HELPS THEM TO BE WILLING TO DO ANYTHING – THE WEIRDEST ACTS POSSIBLE, SUICIDAL – TO STOP THE POVERY.” My long purple glittery nails are visible in the photo, holding the page flat.}

If you buy something from my wishlist, you’ll also be participating in my weird social assistance project with me. I plan on documenting this in multiple ways. If you buy me something, please consider answering these questions in the snail mail note that gets delivered with your order. You can choose whether or not to remain anonymous.

Why did you choose the book/item you chose?

Have you read this book? Do you intend to?

How long have you been following my writing?

Is there anything you’d like to share with me? A word, a story, a mantra, a secret?

marandaelizabethbooksimreading1

{image description: Another stack of books.}

They are:

Dora: A Headcase by Lidia Yuknavitch
No Exit by Annie Mok
salt. by nayyirah waheed
Having Faith In The Polar Girls’ Prison by Cathleen With
The Selfishness of Others: An Essay on the Fear of Narcissism by Kristin Dombek
The Right to Narcissism: A Case for an Im-possible Self-Love by Pleshette DeArmitt
Blues Legacies and Black Feminism: Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday by Angela Y. Davis
Laid Waste by Julia Gfrörer
When the Chant Comes by Kay Ulanday Barrett
About Writing: Seven Essays, Four Letters, & Five Interviews by Samuel R. Delaney

Part of this experiment is also to see if readers will celebrate crip wisdom by buying me books specifically about poverty, madness, disability, and incarceration as a form of valuing my work and showing a desire for more. Incidentally, you might notice that many books on these topics cost more than ordinary books. I wish this weren’t so, but here we are. A few of the books are ones I’ve already read from the library, but want my own copies of so I can reference them more often. Most of them are books I haven’t read yet.

You know that feeling when you have (a) severe mental illness(es) and debilitating chronic pain condition(s) that make you wanna die, but you keep dreaming up art projects that’ll take years to complete? That’s where I’m at right now. Actually, this is where I’ve been for a few years, but it’s tough to even begin those projects when everyday, in multiple personal and political ways, feels like it could be the end of the world. But I’ll keep trying.

Experimentally Yours,
blogsignature

P.S.: If you’ve benefited from my writing in any way – if my words have inspired you, helped you feel less alone, or sparked some weird feeling within you; if you’ve felt encouraged, or curious, or comforted – please consider compensating me by offering a donation of any amount. Whether you’ve been reading my writing for years, or just stumbled into me this afternoon, I invite you to help me sustain the process!

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be my borderline palentine

Hello, dear readers! This is just a small note of love and appreciation for those of you who support my work, writing, & weirdnesses, sent from housebound-me to magical-you. I’ve written a couple of essays recently that I think you’ll appreciate, especially during the loneliness of Winter.

Why I’ve Learned to Embrace the Joy of Missing Out is about transforming feelings of FOMO into JOMO. I talk about missing out on events, book launches, zine fairs, the annual Mad Pride Bed Push, and even the Disability Pride March. And yet, feeling joy! I talk about the necessity of saying y/our disabled friends’ names out loud when we/they can’t be present, and I ask myself (and you!) questions like:

What do I love about being sick?

What do I love about staying home?

What do I love about missing out?

And I share a recent epiphany:

When disabled folks aren’t present, we are not the ones who are missing out. Non-disabled folks are missing out. Not us.

I’ve been contemplating cripple-magic and cripple-joy, and hope to share more with you soon!

How to Support Your Disabled Friends in Winter and Beyond is another essay I wrote recently that I hope you’ll find affirming, encouraging, and useful, no matter what your physical or emotional capacities. I talk about loneliness, being housebound (I haven’t had a breath of fresh, outdoor air in February, but hey, I’m alive and I’m getting stuff done!), fears coming true, and the necessity of non-disabled folks reaching in to crips, rather than expecting us to reach out, especially when our conditions are chronic. And I share ten practical, specific ways to support y/our disabled pals.

But I forgot to add #11: Apologize for fucking up the first ten!

Both of these essays are illustrated by my dear pal, CB Lavery. See more of their work at CeeLavery.com. And if you’re into either of these essays, if you find them valuable, I would really appreciate it if you shared them!

Also! I’m having a quick little sale on my Etsy shop today. If you’re in the mood to gift yourself with a Tarot reading for mad folks, crip-queers, weirdo witches and misfits, or if you wanna read my zines about politicizing borderline, staying alive and making magic through mental illnesses and chronic pain, friendship, support, recovery, etc., or if you wanna get my zine anthology or my first novel, use coupon code ‘BORDERLINEPALENTINE’ for 14% off at schoolformaps.etsy.com! The code will be active today only!

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[image description: A photo of Maranda Elizabeth holding onto a star-shaped candle-holder with a tall black tallow candle burning. There are more candles burning in the background. They are wearing a black dress and a black and silver glittery hoodie with an amethyst necklace. Their face is visible from their lips down. They are unsmiling, wearing purple lipstick.]

Here’s a selfie I took this afternoon! I’m burning a black candle in a star-shaped candle holder painted various shades of purple that I made on a psych ward six years ago. Mad cripple borderline witches forever!

Palentiningly Yours,

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P.S.: If you’ve benefited from my writing in any way – if my words have inspired you, helped you feel less alone, or sparked some weird feeling within you; if you’ve felt encouraged, or curious, or comforted – please consider compensating me by offering a donation of any amount. Whether you’ve been reading my writing for years, or just stumbled into me this afternoon, I invite you to help me sustain the process!

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Sometimes I Act Crazy and Conflict Is Not Abuse: continuing to reclaim borderline & politicize madness (Part Two)

content notes: examples of anti-Black racism, transmisogyny, self-injury, ableism, eugenics as metaphor (?), the post-suicide-attempt-charcoal (you know the stuff), pathologizing resistance, borderline-shaming, suicide

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[image description: Two book covers side-by-side. The first one is Sometimes I Act Crazy: Living with Borderline Personality Disorder by Jerold J. Kreisman, M.D. and Hal Straus, which is mostly white with colourful lettering. The second one is Conflict Is Not Abuse: Overstating Harm, Community Responsibility, and the Duty of Repair by Sarah Schulman, which shows reflections of a setting/rising sun colours on clouds in a lake in shades of indigo, deep violet, red, and aqua.]

This is Part Two of a series. Please read Part One here. You’ll also benefit from reading Dreaming New Meanings into Borderline Personality Disorder and Further Notes on Reclaiming Borderline and Resisting the Sane Gaze.

I recently read Sometimes I Act Crazy: Living with Borderline Personality Disorder by Jerold J. Kreisman, M.D. and Hal Straus, who also wrote I Hate You, Don’t Leave Me: Understanding the Borderline Personality. While the book was nowhere near as disappointing as Beyond Borderline: True Stories of Recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder, it did, as usual, leave much to be desired.

Like many books on mental health and mental illness (I choose to use these terms in this moment as opposed to madness because madness, to me, is political, and most books about BPD are woefully apolitical – or, they try to be, but it’s impossible not to read them that way), an analysis, or even brief mentions, of capitalism, misogyny, ableism, harmful societal norms, etc. is missing. However, this is the first “guide” to BPD in which I’ve read terms like: socioeconomic factors, poverty, societal or cultural factors, programs are expensive, autonomy, etc., so I was grateful for those notes, tiny as they were.

So many books still talk about BPD as if it’s an individual problem, not a cultural and political issue, and I’m hoping that my own work on BPD will begin/continue to fill that void. While much of what I’m writing about borderline personality disorder texts is critical, I never want to stop there – I want to provide alternatives. Alternative stories, interpretations, perceptions, ideas, dreams, etc.

As I explore and criticize this book, I’ll also be sharing images of some of the highlights (literal highlights, I love underlining stuff in books!), because while I was disappointed in multiple ways (when am I not?), there was also a lot of valuable information worth sharing, and because I get asked about BPD a whole lot – and even if I didn’t – I wanna pass it on. Each page will be transcribed under the photo, interspersed with notes from me.

Although this book was published in 2004, I didn’t read it until recently. I used to pick it up and flip through it at bookstores and libraries but I was hesitant to read it because much of the content is fictionalized case histories, which tend to focus almost exclusively on white, cis, middle-upper-class lives and provide absolutely no political commentary or insight into motivations for behaviour, and the characters, beyond distress and rage, are often uncomfortably normal – they have careers, educations, straight relationships, children, etc. For many years, I’ve considered writing responses to these accounts with characters who are queer, trans, women of colour, weird, creative, political, etc – like the borderlines I know and love. But I just haven’t had the fortitude or cash or energy to do so. Yet.

Anyway, I finally bought the book, out of my usual feelings of curiosity and desperation. It was far from the worst BPD book I’ve ever read! (Maybe this could be a review quote on the cover someday.) But you know me, I took issue with a lot of problems contained within, and I’m gonna share some of them with you (with notes on the good stuff, too).

First, a brief list of what I appreciated in this book:

– This book contains the clearest definitions and examples I’ve yet to find of how BPD can be comorbid with (and misdiagnosed as) but is distinct from: Depression, Bipolar, PTSD, Substance Abuse, Eating Disorders, “Hypochondriosis” (yeah, I’ll get to that, fibro-friends) and Somatic Disorders, Schizophrenia, Dissociative Disorders, Impulsive/Compulsive Disorders, and Other Personality Disorders (including Paranoid Personality Disorder, Schizotypal Personality Disorder, Dependent Personality Disorder, Histrionic Personality Disorder, Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and Antisocial Personality Disorder).

– After each chapter devoted to each criterion of BPD, there’s a list of “Action Steps” which are suggestions on how to work with the symptoms yourself, and how to communicate with borderlines in your life to alleviate painful symptoms. When I bought the book, I hadn’t realized it was also for not-borderlines, but I found some of the suggestions useful, although I would (as always) recommend reading them and employing them with an inquisitive and critical mind, because some of them can be infantalizing or condescending.

– The book notes that many borderlines have a history of being exploited. As somebody who has felt exploited, used, and discarded in multiple ways, I would love to see this theme explored more.

– The book notes that hospitals can often do more harm than help.

– The book notes that of all mental illnesses, borderlines are at the highest risk for suicide.

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[image description: A page from Sometimes I Act Crazy with parts underlined in purple ink. It says, “BPD is more often associated with the other “Cluster B” PD’s – histrionic personality disorder (HPD), narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), and antisocial personality disorder (ASPD). HPD is characterized by excessive emotionality, self-dramatization, seductiveness, attention to physical appearance, and “rapidly shifting and shallow expression of emotions.” Anger and self-destructiveness distinguish BPD from this PD. NPD and BPD share characteristics of excessive rage, feelings of entitlement, and exquisite sensitivity to criticism. However, the narcissistic personality exhibits a grandiosity and sense of superiority and entitlement that is absent in the borderline.”]

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[image description: A page from Sometimes I Act Crazy with parts underlined in purple ink. It says, “Cure usually requires a longer time, since it involves significantly altering enduring behavior patterns. Personality disorders, especially BPD, have been demonstrated to elicit more severe functional impairment in day-to-day living than some Axis 1 disorders, including major depression. BPD shares several characteristics with other personality dysfunctions, especially histrionic, narcissistic, antisocial, schizotypal, and dependent personality disorders. However, the constellation of self-destructiveness, chronic feelings of emptiness, and desperate fears of abandonment distinguish BPD from these other character disorders. The primary features of BPD are impulsivity and instability in relationships, self-image, and moods. These behavioral patterns are pervasive, usually beginning in adolescence and persisting for extended periods.”]

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[image description: A page from Sometimes I Act Crazy with parts underlined in purple ink. It says, “Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is also observed frequently with BPD and can be confused with it. Both groups of patients may have a history of childhood abuse or trauma. The reckless, impulsive behavior often associated with BPD makes such individuals more vulnerable to dangerous situations, which might ultimately result in trauma. [Emphasis mine because yeah, and it can be difficult to talk about without self-blame / victim-blaming.]

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[image description: A page from Sometimes I Act Crazy with parts underlined in purple ink. It says, “The borderline often feels caught in a “Groundhog Day” kind of world, in which each morning she must awaken and start all over again – not only to prove once more her own worth and abilities to herself and others but to recalibrate the value of those around her.” Underlined because I relate so damn much, and have been struggling to describe this start-over feeling since I was 19 and noticed it was becoming a major problem for me.]

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[image description: A page from Sometimes I Act Crazy with parts underlined in purple ink. It says, “It is almost a thousand times the suicide rate in the general population. Although many BPD symptoms ameliorate over time, the risk of suicide persists through the life cycle, even into the sixth decade. A number of factors further heighten the risk of suicide in borderlines. These include:

– Previous suicide attempts
– Prior hospitalizations
– History of persistent depression
– Hopelessness
– Impulsivity and aggression
– Comorbid antisocial characteristics (self-injury is often found in prison populations)
– Alcohol or drug abuse
– Substance abuse by a parent
– Unemployment and frequent job changes
– Higher education
– Young adulthood
– Older age
– History of severe childhood abuse (especially sexual) and/or early loss
– Financial instability
– Lack of stable residence
– Prison sentence
– Inadequate or inconsistent psychiatric care”]

I’ve experienced / am experiencing most of the things on this list, and I know many of my readers have, too.

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[image description: A page from Sometimes I Act Crazy with parts underlined in purple ink. It says, “Although borderlines are often accused of being overly dramatic in describing symptoms, the congruence between ratings by both the patient and the clinician indicate that the borderline’s pain is not an exaggeration but is measurably as severe as described. Compared to depressed patients, borderlines tend to be more self-critical… BPD is most often associated with a more chronic form of depression called dysthymia…”]

As with previous books I’ve written about, ableist metaphors are used: “lame,” “blinding rage,” “blindly follow,” etc. Tattoos and piercings (a “recent trend”) are used as examples of self-harm (which reminded me of an even more egregious act of naming self-expression as self-harm: in A Bright Red Scream: Self-Mutilation and the Language of Pain, Marilee Strong uses gender realignment surgery, or the mere desire for it, as an example of self-harm, thus perpetuating transmisogyny, transphobia, and cissexism in one of the first mainstream books on self-injury. This is another book that made me wanna write alternatives). And Sometimes I Act Crazy also, unfortunately, refers to self-harm as manipulative. The authors even mention prisoners’ incidents of self-injurious behaviour as manipulative (“designed to elicit transfer to another facility”), and show no compassion for what an incarcerated person might be feeling and living through.

On page 85, under the heading Social Influences and BPD, the authors write:

“We, along, with other authors, have suggested that rapid social changes in modern societies promote BPD by disrupting integrated social supports. Impulsive behaviors are especially unbridled when the harness of social constraints falls off. Some have suggested that psychiatric patients in more traditional, structured societies are less likely to present for treatment with symptoms of impulsivity but rather seek help for anxiety conflicts…”

This, to me, sounds like a form of pathologizing resistance to patriarchal and conservative norms – especially after reading The Protest Psychosis, an in-depth examination of the ways in which Black people protesting racism were pathologized and incarcerated. I wish the authors had provided examples of which “rapid social changes in modern societies” they’re referring to. Throughout the book, gender and sexuality are pathologized as well (including the usual biphobia that usually shows up in books about mental health). And I find it interesting that resistance has been so consistently pathologized over generations, because conservatism, white supremacy, and yes, nazism, are also pathologized – I’ll be addressing this further in a future entry.

Toward the end of the book, this theme comes up again. In a section called Economic, Societal, and Political Challenges (perhaps the first time I’ve heard these words used in a book about BPD?!), the authors write, “As entropy continues to trump constancy, we should expect expression of more BPD pathology in our culture.” They continue, “Confronting these social issues [divorced families, moving, lack of consistent support and community in neighbourhoods, churches, and schools], mending the torn social fabric, is one of the greatest challenges of our civilization. When scientists discovered that the spread of bubonic plague could be controlled by the elimination of rats and improved sanitation, they directed the appropriate environmental corrections. If we can identify the heritable and environmental factors [they do not name capitalism, poverty, misogyny, etc. here] that increase the prevalence of BPD and other psychiatric illnesses, we should likewise be able to initiate appropriate “social hygiene” that will minimize this spreading psychiatric plague.”

It sounds like they’re arguing for heteronormativity and bland traditional patriarchal social roles (i.e., the things that make so many of us “crazy” or crazy or Crazy). And the use of the terms “social hygiene” and “spreading psychiatric plague” sound an awful lot like eugenics rhetoric to me – I know the authors aren’t talking about such drastic responses, but the words and metaphors they’ve chosen to use have histories and connotations they must be aware of. (Note the comparison of madness to diseases passed on by rats!)

Back to the topic of composite characters in vignettes in books about BPD. One of the characters in this book is a cynical and sarcastic guy whose voice is written as if he’s talking directly to a psychiatrist. While there’s a whole lot to explore in his story, I’ll leave that to folks who want to read the book themselves, but what I want to note was another example, similar to the one I described in an essay in Beyond Borderline, of anti-Black racism. There’s a moment in this story where “Bobby” says, “In the ER, they stuck this hose down my nose and flooded me with ugly-tasting charcoal that’s supposed to soak up the drugs. It was all over my face. I swear, when I was done, I looked like a performer in a minstrel show.”

…Yeah. This racist, anti-Black “joke” shouldn’t have appeared in the book. And once again, not only was it written, it was approved by editors and publishers, some of whom likely actually laughed. Here’s the thing. Not only is it inappropriate on several levels, it also assumes the reader is white and will also find the joke funny. As a fiction writer, and one who definitely creates cynical and sarcastic teenage and twenty-something characters, I often contemplate the use of problematic language in fiction. I ask myself whether or not it is useful to the story. I ask myself whether or not it teaches the reader something they need to know, if the reader is learning something through it, or if is simply insensitive. Or if the information can be revealed in another way. I like unlikeable characters and problematic language is unavoidable in real life, thus will appear in fiction, too. I’ve written characters who use problematic language and I will continue to do so, but I mostly choose not to because it’s usually not necessary. While language is used to show something about the background and attitude of a character, I think most readers can understand this vignette without the authors employing racist jokes. We’ve already learned that he’s cynical, comedic, crazy, and the stressed the fuck out. Unless racism is an important factor in the story, there’s no need for it to be printed.

Also. I’ve had that same charcoal. I’ve had that charcoal staining my mouth, crunching between my teeth, spilling onto my hospital gown. I’ve been hooked up to those machines. I’ve puked that charcoal directly onto at least one nurse and possibly a psychiatrist, and I’ve shit that charcoal into a portable toilet because I wasn’t capable of walking to the nearby bathroom. I have made tons and tons and tons of jokes about this charcoal because I’ve had to employ humour to survive, and because the smell (and sometimes the mere word, the way I remember the texture and the taste) of charcoal became a real trigger to me, and I had/have to make jokes to keep from dissociating too far. But I literally never once thought of a minstrel show when I had charcoal on my face, or the memories of it. This single sentence could be totally excised from the book and not alter the story at all, but they chose to keep it.

Later, anti-Black racism happens again in another fictional vignette. In this story, a white (this is never named, but obviously presumed, throughout the book(s)) woman with BPD impulsively moves to the big city all alone following a break-up. As she crosses the street and flicks her cigarette into a gutter, she hears somebody calling out to her. The voice is described as “more of a barking command than a question” and attributed to “an old gnarled black woman sitting cross-legged in a doorway. Next to her is a rolled-up sleeping bag and a small cocker spaniel…” She asks for a cigarette. “…She notices that the woman’s right hand is not waving to her at all but inexplicably is handcuffed [emphasis in original] to a door handle! …No cops or police cars are in sight…” The homeless black woman then rambles on claiming to be a famous historical figure she clearly is not. “Arleen can’t help but wince and move backward, as if bouncing off the woman’s insane statement.” And then the nameless black woman says, “You’re in jail, too, ain’tcha! You a prisoner, too, honey, you just too stupid to know it.”

So, the only Black woman who appears in this book is homeless, “insane,” described with dehumanizing language (barked, gnarled), and is employed as a frightening spectre of what might happen if you really went crazy, if you really lost it. We’re supposed to believe it’s a story of a borderline making an impulsive decision and realizing she’s not capable quite yet of doing what she wants to do, but instead it becomes a story of a white woman moving to a big city and feeling frightened of a poor, mentally ill, Black woman. Is it necessary to the story? Could the authors have used a not-racist depiction to give us the same information?

I know that to some, it may seem petty to spend so much time interrogating language in this way, but to me it is everything. It is necessary. It is one of my own many ways of resisting. Some of my biggest fears are complicity and complacency. This is one way I refuse to let those (inevitable?) fears come true.

While I was reading / digesting / thinking / writing about these books, I also bought a copy of Conflict Is Not Abuse: Overstating Harm, Community Responsibility, and the Duty of Repair by Sarah Schulman. When I heard about it last Winter, also while I was bedbound and attending everything in spirit, I was in another very suicidal and lonely state, feeling very much discarded and abandoned by queers, and the knowledge that I could be holding this book in my hands around my next birthday made me wanna live that much longer. I started reading Sarah Schulman’s work in my early-mid-20’s when I was volunteering at a queer library in Guelph, and found a few of her novels from the late-80’s and early-90’s on the shelves. I’d also just – finally! – read The Gentrification of the Mind: Witness to A Lost Imagination and cried the whole way through, and it became an early part of my process of mapping out my own queer, mad, sick, weirdo lineages.

But when my copy arrived in the mail, after I read the intro (twice: once online, once on paper), I went back to the Table of Contents and saw that BPD was mentioned, so of course I flipped to those pages right away (page 172+: “Trigger & Shunning #2: Borderline Episode (Psychiatry and Pop Psychology)”). Since I was already very excited to read and discuss the book, and because I was reading her words through a queer enby borderline lens, I wanted to see what she had to say. I was expecting something totally different. I’d read (and am continuing to read) at least a dozen reviews of the book, as well as countless tweets and quotes and pictures of the pages shared online, and I was expecting something different. Nobody I knew or followed online, nobody whose reviews I’d read, nobody who talked to me about the book, even acknowledged the pages about BPD. (I can’t decide if this feels unusual to me, or… just exactly the usual, I guess.)

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[image description: A page from Conflict Is Not Abuse. It says, “Dr. Weigert made the connection between personal projection, overstatement of harm, and political injustice. She treated people whose problems were both fascism and neurosis, with the underlying understanding that fascism is an expression of neurosis. Contemporary psychology and its public face, pop psychology, are less inclined towards articulating those relationships politically. Yet they also define the problematic sequencing of being triggered followed by shunning as a denial by one person of the other’s complexity, followed by the object’s transformation into a monster or specter to be silenced and isolated. In this case the psychiatric category of “borderline personality disorder” or the experience of “borderline episodes” closely resembles the trigger + shunning sequencing of “manic flight reaction.”

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[image description: A page from Conflict Is Not Abuse. It says, “…a kind of “dissociative” state, a level of anxiety about being challenged that is so high that they can’t even remember what the actual conflict is about, and don’t want to be reminded either. All they know is that they feel threatened. What really happened becomes unreachable. In other words, it is a state of being unaccountable. The DSM-5 also points to a compromised ability to recognize the feelings and needs of others associated with interpersonal hypersensitivity (i.e., prone to feel slighted or insulted). Lack of empathy, of course, is central to conflating Conflict and Abuse. Inherent in the sequence is the absence of thought as to the consequences of the false accusations on others. This is followed by feelings of shock and rage when others resist their unjust treatment. All this, of course, is in a childish but pervasive expectation that their orders will be followed. And if that obedience is not in place, huge feelings emerge of being threatened by the others who express disagreement. And here is the classic “trigger,” the “manic” according to the DSM-5: Impulsivity: Acting on the spur of the moment in response to immediate stimuli; acting on a momentary basis without a plan or consideration of outcomes; difficulty establishing or following plans. Close relationships often viewed in extremes of idealization and devaluation and alternating between over-involvement and withdrawal.]

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[image description: A page from Conflict Is Not Abuse. It says, “These ideas around “borderline” also have a mass-market version. The pop psychology book Stop Walking on Eggshells, by Paul Mason and Randi Kreger, like many of its ilk, can be found in the “Recovery” section of large bookstores and is designed for people who “care about someone who has borderline personality disorder.” Their “checklist” for partners includes the following: Are you blamed and criticized for everything wrong in the relationship – even when it makes no logical sense? Do you feel like the person you care about sees you as either all good or all bad, with nothing in between? Are you accused of doing things you never did or saying things you never said?]

From what I’ve seen and experienced, borderlines are significantly more likely to be referred to as monsters, and to be shunned, silenced, and isolated (isolation has been a major theme of my work for a long time). Fascism as neurosis has been debunked again and again and again – here’s one example – and it’s something I’ll continue to explore in future writing. While I’ve never kept my mental illness a secret – I’ve been noisy about it since forever – I will note that such a celebrated and beloved and imaginative and fucking intelligent queer author equating fascism and neurosis, while elsewhere in the book noting how queer community doesn’t talk about mental illness enough (hello, some queer communities have been talking about mental illness and madness for-fucking-ever, you just maybe weren’t listening and that’s why we get stuck having 101 conversations every damn day) is only making it that much harder to do so. There’s a difference between talking about mental illnesses in queer and trans communities, and talking about eliminating people with mental illnesses from queer and trans communities (or eliminating the problems we supposedly cause).

Queer and trans folks already have a long, messy, and ongoing history of being pathologized and labeled crazy simply for being, so rhetoric like this only makes it that much harder to talk about depression and anxiety, which are serious enough on their own, much less talk about our personality disorders and chronic suicidality. It contributes to further isolation, alienation, and shame. Doctors dispose of us, queers dispose of us. Who wants us? Where do we belong?

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[image description: A page from Conflict Is Not Abuse. It says, “Interestingly, one issue that the pop psychology approach addresses that the psychiatric DSM-5 version ignores [Perhaps due to lack of evidence? – M.E.] is the act of calling the police unnecessarily, which is common enough to merit its own chapter [I haven’t been able to read the cop-caller chapters yet. – M.E.]. Under the heading “Lies, Rumors, and Accusations,” Mason and Kreger write that some partners of people who had borderline episodes told us they had been falsely accused of harassment and abuse by the Borderline Personalities in their lives, had been the subjects of damaging rumors and even faced legal actions brought against them by borderlines without legitimate cause. Returning to the theme of perfectionism as a tenet of both Supremacy and Traumatized behavior, the authors note that The fragile self-esteem depends on keeping all sense of failure outside the self. So they present themselves with a self-righteous air of angry superiority and entitlement and accuse the ex-spouse of being psychologically and morally inferior. [Continued on next page, which I didn’t take a photo of…] The spouse is viewed as dangerous and aggressive. Having been wronged these people feel justified in seeking retaliation. Or more urgently, they believe in launching a preemptive strike.]

The page then goes on to connect these borderline behaviours to HIV criminalization in Canada and “efforts by the state to encourage people to denounce their lovers to the police.”

Heavy sighs.

Since I’ve been working on articulating the desire for borderlines to become prison abolitionists (many already are, of course, I see you, hi!), these pages seem so discordant with the conversations I have with people living with BPD. And similar to having been shunned and isolated myself, I’ve also been the “subject of damaging rumors,” “blamed and criticized for everything wrong in a relationship,” and “accused of doing things I never did or saying things I never said.”

But the thing about being a borderline criticizing something that has been written about borderlines, is that I’m a borderline. I’ll still be written off as hysterical, overreacting, taking things too personally.

While there are some excellent, thoughtful, and valid points elsewhere in the book (which I haven’t read-fully yet because it’s complicated stuff that I wanna be fully present & alert to digest) (and I’m still excited about the book because I want to be challenged! And there’s still so much more in these short excerpts that I wanna explore, but writing at this length about this stuff is actually really psyche-draining sometimes and I need to take a break now & then!), as usual, in this section, borderlines are also used as examples of the kinds of people who freak out and overreact and fuck up, who call cops, who call cops on our friends and partners, who accuse others of abusing us when we are abusing them, and notes how some of the symptoms of borderline personality disorder, such as splitting and loss of emotional memory, “contribute to organizing group bullying, calling the police, or initiating shunning as a form of punishment.”

These words, and others in this chapter, are not exactly new, of course – and many of the quotes come from Stop Walking on Eggshells by Randi Kreger, widely recognized as an ableist text on BPD, written by somebody who’s also written a book on how-to-divorce-a-borderline – but I found them more upsetting to encounter because they were written by a writer who is usually so, well, radically insightful and compassionate and creative. They were also upsetting to read because I have been shunned as a form of punishment as well, and these experiences exacerbate symptoms of BPD. I picked up this book specifically to be challenged, and I picked it up knowing I wouldn’t agree with all of it – that was another reason I’d been looking forward to it so much. I wanted and want to read something that challenges me. Although I’d been planning on reading it right away and sharing some of my thoughts, after I read those three or four pages, I set the book down and didn’t look at again for nearly another two months. I’m still approaching it slowly.

It is, however, the first book I’ve read that references the DSM-5, the most recent incarnation of the DSM, instead of past versions. But I’ve gotta say, with so many borderlines and other crazy / mad folks having been continually shunned from society as a whole and from radical, queer, cripple, trans, and feminist communities, the ableism and madphobia against us on these pages seems counterintuitive to the whole premise of the book. And I think borderlines are more likely to have the cops called on us, to be called unsafe. (I thankfully haven’t had the cops called on me as an adult, but I’ve been threatened with it, and I’ve been arrested and charged and incarcerated multiple times as a teenager, which were, surprise, contributing factors to my later diagnosis of BPD.) And and and, so many borderlines have multiple, ongoing experiences of being treated like we are disposable. So what does it mean when it (still) feels like nobody wants us? What does it mean when books are (still) being written on how to rid us from your lives?

As I return to it now, I do still feel pissed off about those words, but I also feel like I am capable of managing my own responses, articulating my own feelings around the book, criticizing with empathy & care & curiosity (& desperation, too, that familiar feeling), and I know that Conflict Is Not Abuse is a book that will contain some of the challenges I am often seeking in books about BPD but hardly ever actually find. In fact, I’m hoping it’ll also become a book I can recommend to borderlines (maybe with a print-out of this entry as a personal DIY foreword & extended content note & writing / dreaming prompt). And I know that I can thank Sarah Schulman for writing something that re-energized me to continue attempting to discuss my own desire to see more borderlines as prison abolitionists, more borderlines as activists, more borderlines as politically-aligned with all oppressed people. I hope this book (and not just this book, but each one I’ve reviewed in this series) will be a part of that process.

Part Three, with further explorations of each book in this series, more thoughts on empathy, discussions of white supremacy and resistance both being conflated with mental illnesses, fibromyalgia & comorbidity, and more notes on continuing to politicize borderline, forthcoming!

Borderliningly Yours,
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P.S.: If you’ve benefited from my writing in any way – if my words have inspired you, helped you feel less alone, or sparked some weird feeling within you; if you’ve felt encouraged, or curious, or comforted – please consider compensating me by offering a donation of any amount. Whether you’ve been reading my writing for years, or just stumbled into me this afternoon, I invite you to help me sustain the process!

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I’m 2,085 days sober & I’m thinking of you.

This time of year can be triggering for recovering alcoholics and others who have issues around alcohol consumption, and for those of my readers who are in recovery from/with alcoholism, &/or having complicated, contradictory, sensitive, and difficult feelings about booze, I want you to know that I’m thinking about you. When I was in the worst of my drunk-days (and not even just the worst, but the uncomfortable, the embarrassing, the ugly, and the lonely, too… Even the fun drunk-days…), I don’t know if anybody was thinking about me or wishing me well. I’m one of those alcoholics who didn’t have any sober friends to encourage me when I quit drinking, and didn’t have any drinking friends either because everybody had learned to stay away from me. So, I want to be for you something I couldn’t have – or be – for myself.

I’m 2,085 days sober today! I write the number in my planner everyday. The last time(s) I wrote in more depth about my sobriety was in Alcohol, I don’t want to drink you anymore, back when I had 159 days, and then again in To be true to my own weirdnesses, when I had 450 days. The first entry covers a bit of my drinking history, alcoholism in my family, multiple attempts to stay sober, and questions for readers; the second entry covers anxiety and loneliness, buying books about BPD as gifts to myself, wanting to drink but choosing not to, being a misfit among misfits, and embracing crazy. Although sobriety is not a topic I address beyond a few passing thoughts now and then, those blog entries get hits nearly every single day, and sobriety is something I think about a lot. A lot a lot a lot. Folks tend to be judgemental about folks who drink, and judgemental about folks who get sober, too. Those are really complicated topics for me to discuss, and I’ve got all kinds of conflicting feelings around booze, much of which I keep to myself.

But today I felt like tweeting to strangers and pals and friends on the internet to let them know that if they were going through tough times (or magical times! or both & then some!) with alcohol and recovery, I had them in my psyche with me and wanted to make a little portal to be with them for just a moment. I wondered (hoped) that those tweets and these messages would arrive on somebody’s screen at just the right moment.

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[image description: Maranda Elizabeth’s feet in the snow, with their lavender cane by their side. The snow is fresh and bright and sprinkled around their boots and the tip of their cane. They’re wearing a bright purple coat, black boots, a grey and black vertically-striped skirt, purple tights, and grey socks.]

If you’re sober, I’m thinking of you. If you’ve been sober for 10 days or 10 years, I’m thinking of you. If you’re struggling, I’m thinking of you. If you’re not struggling at all, if you’re feeling totally delighted and excited about sobriety, I’m thinking of you. If you’re drinking, whether or not you wanna quit, I’m thinking of you. If you, like me, sometimes wish you could hide all mentions and photos of alcohol from your social media feeds and inboxes, I’m thinking of you. If you’re sober and wish you could have just one drink, or wish you could drink yourself into oblivion, I’m thinking of you. If you’re drunk and wish you could stop at just one drink, I’m thinking of you. If you’re drunk and wanna drink yourself into oblivion, I’m thinking of you. If you’re sober and never ever wanna drink again, I’m thinking of you.

marandaelizabethwintersolsticecandles
[image description: The ends of burning tallow candles that Maranda burned on the Winter Solstice – one is green and one is yellow. There are various crystals around the candles including amethyst, honey calcite, citrine, black tourmaline, rose quartz, and found rocks. There is also a tiny pretend typewriter.]

If you get triggered on New Year’s Eve, I’m thinking of you. If you get triggered on the Summer Solstice or the Winter Solstice, I’m thinking of you. If you’re wearing amethyst for sobriety, I’m thinking of you. If you dream of drinking non-alcoholic or alcoholic drinks from amethyst goblets, I’m thinking of you. If you’re in line at the liquor store and you wanna smash all the bottles and run away, I’m thinking of you. If you’re wandering the aisles of the liquor store and you wanna steal everything and run away, I’m thinking of you.

If you’re pre-pre-drinking alone before pre-drinking with your pals before public-drinking before post-drinking at home alone, I’m thinking of you. If you’re at home snuggling with your cat(s) and staying sober – or feeling tipsy, or getting drunk – I’m thinking of you. If you’re having complicated and conflicting feelings about your alcoholic parents, I’m thinking of you. If you’re contemplating drinking/not-drinking or can’t figure out the differences between your drinking habits and your mental illnesses and your madness, I’m thinking of you. If you’re contemplating sobriety I’m thinking of you. If you’re blacking out because you’re mixing alcohol and psych meds again, I am very much thinking of you.

marandaelizabethamethystpinkcandles
[image description: A pink chime candle burning behind a large rock of amethyst. There is more amethyst in the background, as well as a yellow tallow candle in a golden candleholder, and a green Saint Martha prayer candle with her image on the glass. Saint Martha is the Patron Saint of homemakers and homeowners, servants, maids, house- and inn-keepers, travelers, single laywomen, etc…]

If you’re at home alone blogging about sobriety, I’m thinking of you. If thinking about others thinking about alcohol and sobriety makes you feel less lonely – or closer to the good kind of lonely – I’m thinking of you. If you’re burning candles for your pals who are drinking and your pals who are sober, I’m thinking of you, and I’m burning candles for you, too.

marandaelizabethsoberqueerlineages
[image description: Maranda Elizabeth’s left hand holds onto a book with a lavender cover and floral illustration. The book is called Out From Under: Sober Dykes & Our Friends edited by Jean Swallow. Their nails are shiny purple, and there’s a Hello Kitty keychain and some scrap paper in the background.]

Although I’m mostly housebound during Winter (and am getting pretty okay with it, to be honest, even cultivating the Joy of Missing Out), a few days ago I ventured out to wander along Bloor West to see if there were any holiday sales at the used bookstores. To my surprise and delight, yes, there were! One of my lucky finds was a book called Out From Under: Sober Dykes & Our Friends edited by Jean Swallow. Without my cripple-body, I might not have seen it, as it was on the lowest bookshelf in a dark, crooked corner, a spot where I like to give my sore bones a rest. It was published by Spinsters, Ink in 1983, and I knew the moment I pulled it out from the shelf, curious about what was beyond the simple spine, it would become a part of my own (forever-in-process-of-finding) queer, sober, mad lineage.

The back of the book reads:

Out From Under is a road-map, a sharing, and a song. It details recovery from substance abuse in a way never before collected or published. From personal and professional perspectives, this anthology looks at many aspects of recovery: relationships, sexuality, ethnic culture, physiology; and includes the recovery experiences of lesbian co-alcoholics and adult children of alcoholics, as well as lesbians who were chemically dependent.

“This book is about recovery. This is a book about how we live after that cold day in hell when we finally said, that’s enough, that’s enough, oh my god, that’s enough.

It’s a book about how we go on living. These aren’t stories about how it was, because I think there is already enough of that… No, this is not about drinking. And it’s not about dying. This is a book about living and recovery. It is about how we do that and what happens when we try…

Recovery from substance abuse is about recovering memory and reality and vision. It is about recovering the balance we always should have been able to have. It is about discovering emotions. And then what you do with those emotions once you know what they are. In some sense, recovery isn’t just getting something back so much as it is beginnings; it is about learning how to grow up. It is about learning how to love each other and ourselves. Recovery is about making community, and so is this book.”

– from the Introduction

It heartens me to see that queers were writing about sobriety and recovery before I was born, and it feels like magic to be able to hold it in my hands. Many queer and trans folks struggle with alcohol and other substances, and we very rarely have possibility models or tangible texts to help us out. Many of us grew up with parents who abused us when they drank, or parents who disappeared when they drank. Many of us grew up needing to drink to be social, to be okay, to want to live for a few more hours. I haven’t read this book yet, but I plan on spending some time with it this evening while I do my New Year’s rituals of reading my cards, journaling, imagining resolutions and changes, and thinking about how much has changed in the last year – how much I survived, and what I feel capable of now.

If you’re reading this after your celebrations, if you’re hungover, if you’re sick, if you’re housebound, if you’re alone, if you’re in somebody else’s bed, if you’re trying to remember everybody you need to apologize to &/or everybody you need to thank, if you’re waking up feeling strangely calm and refreshed, if you’re waking up anxious and sad, if you’ve got the coffee-jitters, I am very much thinking of you!

Soberly Yours,
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P.S.: If you’ve benefited from my writing in any way – if my words have inspired you, helped you feel less alone, or sparked some weird feeling within you; if you’ve felt encouraged, or curious, or comforted – please consider compensating me by offering a donation of any amount. Whether you’ve been reading my writing for years, or just stumbled into me this afternoon, I invite you to help me sustain the process!

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