It’s roughly the one year anniversary of someone on the SFWA board emailing me to tell me about the internet pile on of which I was a target. Up until then I’d been blissfully oblivious. My twitter settings were such that I didn’t see notifications except from followers. And the people who were attacking me and piling on were, obviously, not my followers.
Then I discovered that, yet again, authors I’d supported and to whom I’d given free good publicity, were among those inciting the pile on. All to sell books, quite happily targeting me and telling me to stop reviewing until I complied with their demands and their expectations.
And their fans/followers/allies started bullying and harassing me on my website (hence me closing comments) and more.
The struggle bus
I’ve struggled the past year. I recently realized that a large part of the reason I’ve been feeling so depressed, feeling as if there is no point to anything in my life, is because of those authors. I’ve struggled to draft reviews. And, in the last month, I’ve drafted reviews and it’s taken WEEKS for me to edit and post them. I still have a couple unpublished that I drafted a few weeks ago.
I realize now it’s their words echoing in my head. Especially the words of Mr “I am a victim here because I’m in the closet in 2021: starring in my own 2014 calendar featuring my insulin pump was not coming out as a diabetic” and those commenting on his website. THAT AUTHOR and his followers even told me that they forbid me from publishing reviews.
They told me I had to do ANOTHER degree if I wanted to qualify to write reviews. AND they forbade me from putting my opinion in my reviews. It’s almost like they didn’t understand the concept of reviewing. And as if they’ve put academia on a pedestal, all the more so because the University of Canberra expelled me for talking about their professor assaulting me in the refectory etcetera, making academia inaccessible to me. So tell the disabled woman who suffered at the hands of academia that she has to return to academia and complete a three year degree if she wants to continue reviewing.
Anything to ban me from having any goal or purpose in my life.
Accusations of imperfection
These rabid haters trawled my website and my twitter feed for evidence that I’m not perfect. For evidence that I have not 100% of the time phrased myself in a completely politically correct and approved manner, a manner of which THEY approve.
I’m not perfect.
Let them who are without sin cast the first stone.
I think I do pretty damn well considering. I grew up in the 70s and 80s when political correctness was more a joke than a reality. My stepfather claimed to be an “Abo” (Aborigine) to distance himself from his white “gentry” British parents. Mum gave me The Lecture about Men’s Expectations. Basically, even as a woman who’d been roofied and raped, I didn’t go to the doctor. The day after being roofied I crawled to the toilet because I felt as if I was in a small boat being tossed on a violent sea. But I grew up believing that, because I’m a woman, this was my lot in life. I should have been more careful, I shouldn’t have accepted that drink. Yadda yadda.
I mention this – the misogyny that dominated women’s lives back then – to avoid going in to any detail of how other vulnerable minority groups were treated. As jokes. Vilified. Barriers. Beaten. Sometimes murdered because they were who they were.
Like John Birmingham who declares that he grew up in a bigoted culture, I have gone out of my way to learn the codes (what language is bigoted and what is not), to reach out and support others of my “tribe” (the disabled community) and others who suffer under the patriarchy. But I’m not perfect.
Codes and symbolism have always presented challenges for me. Explain them and I’m fine.
It is likely that I’m on the autism spectrum: my nephew was diagnosed very young. When I was an artist in Awakenings, the disability arts festival in Australia, a social worker suggested that I have comorbidities other than vision impairment. I think she even suggested that I’m on the autism spectrum but I denied it, vehemently, saying I’m just vision impaired. That issue keeps cropping up.
When I read the Rosie Project, I nearly doubled over laughing at the opening chapter. I could both relate strongly to the logic while also understanding – on a very conscious level – that it was not socially acceptable. I’ve also grown up around enough similar people that, to me, this seems normal. My father, who now believes he’s on the spectrum, many of his friends, some of Mum’s friends, and so on.
Since the Rosie Project, I’ve read several novels featuring ASD characters, some written by authors with ASD and some, memorably, by parents. I particularly love The Boy Made Of Blocks (US link and Australian link), which I felt showed a father who had to change and accept his boy. And I simply cannot go past a Kathy Lette book so don’t forget the comedic The Boy Who Fell To Earth.
I learn codes but I need them DECODED. And, when I’m tired or stressed, my mind goes blank. Then it’s not uncommon for me to revert to language or terms used when I was young. Or I simply freeze up; sometimes I cannot speak, sometimes I stutter, sometimes I just sit on the couch and cannot move. The consequences of that pile on last year include a lot of time sitting on the couch, especially when I should be working on Dark Matter Zine.
Examples of learning
When I studied counselling I read People Skills. This book included revelations like how to make people comfortable (a ten to two positioning is the best, face to face is most confrontational). How far away to stand. What kind of physical contact is recommended (a pat on the upper arm if appropriate) and that no physical contact can distance people, turn them off. I learnt so much from People Skills that I wished someone had given it to me in high school or even primary school.
I’ve also read and re-read How To Win Friends And Influence People and many other similar books over the years. All of these were attempts to reach out and build relationships with people, whether at work or in my personal life.
After spending time with people I always review interactions, what I said, how they reacted etc. Always always always trying to learn and improve.
Guess what? I find people EXHAUSTING.
And after all that effort, some divas wanting to increase their earnings by selling books decided to attack me for not being perfect and for not giving them absolutely everything to which they felt entitled.
Make no mistake: the ringleaders were ALL book people. The person who started it works as a literary agent and the two other key people who attacked me were also authors. I’m not sure about everyone else.
So what did I learn from this? If I continue spending my money running this website (well over a thousand a year for hosting and software without any changes) to support the literary and creative community, they will punish me. And make my life hell. They will tell me to cease to function, to be invisible, to be silent.
When I scrutinize the above paragraph I know it’s not true: the minority do the above.
Most authors appreciate reviews. Most creatives and publicists appreciate interviews and appearing on podcasts. Even those whose first interview was on my podcast, like Anna Foxkirk and many others, appreciate the opportunity.
So why this blog post?
I’m writing all of this to explain why my posts and interviews have been sporadic. And also to thank the awesome publishers still sending me books, and the movie/tv peeps sending me review copies and organizing interviews. Without them, I would barely have interviewed anyone during the last year.
Also, I realized only a few days ago why I’ve been struggling to edit and post reviews that I already wrote. At first I figured writing reviews was HARD but once I had several written and they were just sitting there? Time for introspection.
I’m out of touch with myself. Although I work hard to be genuine yadda yadda, I am out of touch with my own body. In winter I get cold, REALLY cold, bone chillingly cold, without realizing it. Then I can take AGES to warm up. I have health issues where pain is a feature of daily life but some of that pain can be pre-empted. What do I do? I don’t realize until things get really bad THEN I act. And I can be in additional pain for hours during the recovery process – like yesterday.
So it’s taken me a year to realize how much of an impact those people had on me. And I’m writing this to get it out in the open. I find sharing my truth cements it and helps me get past it.
From time to time I’ve had recurring dreams. Nightmares. Like in the 90s, I had recurring dreams where I was in a weird house with only gauze curtains. Although I rushed around shutting all the doors and windows, terrified, I always left at least one unlocked. During my counselling training, we studied gestalt therapy. I volunteered my recurring dreams.
Peter Bean, my lecturer, had me enact my dreams. In a large room, I rushed around checking all the doors and windows. At the end, he told me to turn around and look behind me. One of the doors that had been closed was now open. I’d accidentally opened a door while frantically checking and closing them!
We discussed my dreams. I realized the source: on either side we had AWFUL neighbors who stood on the footpath or in a backyard staring in our windows, sometimes for ages at a time. Once I realized the source of the dreams I never had them again. And I started to take action: we took a restraining order out against one couple, after which the other couple promptly moved away. Later we moved. Interstate. As you do. Although the bitch next door keyed our car the day we moved, it wasn’t too bad. A paint pen fixed it and we never had to deal with them again!
I think life is a bit like my recurring dreams. These dreams are trying to tell me something and, when I figure it out, I can deal with it. And end the dreams!
Onward and upward
So, near the anniversary of the pile on, I’m getting this out in the open. I hope that doing so strengthens me and enables me to return to reviewing, interviewing and other DMZ work with a vengeance. You know what they say: the best revenge is living well.
I haven’t sought a diagnosis for ASD although I flagged it with my GP. She doesn’t seem to think a diagnosis is necessary, and I’m inclined to agree. Does spending hundreds of dollars to get a professional to confirm what I already “know” is true make it more true? For ten years I tried to get a diagnosis for Hermansky Pudlak Syndrome. When the hematologist handed over the diagnosis it didn’t really help. Thanks to the albinism network I have the name of a hematologist in Sydney who might be able to help but I’m not going to Sydney until this wave of deltacron is at least on the wane!
Last year during the worst of the pile on, my GP prescribed anti-depressants. These are the same anti-depressants the pain specialist prescribed to me in the aftermath of my surgery in 2017, to deal with the aftermath of 10 years of a painful cyst growing. After I got off the opiates and recovered, I felt the best I ever had – then I started to go off the antidepressants because Mum always said “no drugs” (except tea, alcohol and weed). Then life went to shit. At the time I put it entirely down to UniCanberra staff harassing, assaulting and bullying me as well as refusing to provide supervision. But, in hindsight, perhaps I could have coped better with that horrendous abuse if I’d stayed on the anti-depressants.
The anti-depressants are helping with depression and anxiety now.
And Silkie, my seeing eye dog, is helping much more. As I type this on my desktop computer, she’s lying on the floor beside me. When I replenish my coffee, she’ll follow me downstairs again although she’s recovering from our 7km walk today. She is my constant companion, my support, my guide, and, apart from my husband, she’s my best friend.
I keep reminding myself that Silkie is here to help me travel to festivals and literary events to report on them and interview people as well. Not yet: we’re still bonding plus IT’S A PANDEMIC. (Of all the ways to die, covid is very high on my “least acceptable” list.) So I’m trying to stay safe. But also looking forward to venturing out again. At the same time, knowing I probably have ASD, I’ll be kinder to myself. Plan more rest breaks. Stop pushing myself to exhaustion and collapse “because I’m overcoming my vision impairment” and, instead, give myself a little more love.
I hope this blog post helps explain my struggles over the past year. I haven’t even gone into the bullying in my housing estate, but I’m dealing with that. (Phase 1 complete and very successful; phase 2 – for the rest of the bullies – scheduled. The fact that I’m going to win a legal battle to stop these bullies helped me dig a little deeper for the source of my current struggles.) Suffice to say, there’s been A LOT happening. But now is the time to rebuild: rebuild DMZ but, more importantly, to rebuild MYSELF.
To rebuild my self confidence. And to shed the voices of “Mister I’m a victim” and his allies. To write more reviews and interview more people. There is so much creativity out there to celebrate. Let the party begin!
Thanks for reading this if, indeed, you did read it and didn’t just skip to the bottom! Best wishes, stay safe.