I looked around and noticed I was alone

By the time I was seven years old, I had become aware that I wasn’t like all the other children I knew. I knew there was something different about me, and, terrifyingly, I didn’t know what it was. I could enumerate some of the concrete superficial signs of what was different about me, but the more I did that, the more I understood that none of them could be the root of this difference between me and the others. I was very uncomfortable in any kind of competition, even in something that played to my strengths. I became silent and immobile when too many other children were speaking in the same room. Sometimes, I repeated my sentences in a mumble or a whisper after saying them. (This is called palilalia. I didn’t even know I was doing it at first, and after it was pointed out to me I trained myself out of it.) I hardly ever enjoyed the same music or the same pastimes as other children. I could not stop myself from crying whenever something unexpected happen, and I came to hate myself for it. (A psychotherapist diagnosed me with Generalized Anxiety Disorder based mostly on this symptom, which gradually ceased as I began middle school.) I couldn’t understand sports at all, and I felt deeply uncomfortable around a lot of classically masculine things — anything military; anything featuring camouflage patterns; anyone who spoke in a loud, deep, “burly” voice or carried themselves in ways considered masculine. (That particular kind of discomfort seemed to come from being expected to participate in these things as a boy, and feeling that they ran contrary to my own nature.) In the end all these things were obvious differences between me and other children, but I felt they were all pointing to something bigger.

In middle school and high school I started to notice additional things that separated me from my peers as they became more expressive of their sexual identities. People were talking or joking about the sexual interest they had in other people, in Rihanna or Vegeta or whomever it was, and I just couldn’t relate to that at all. I thought really hard about the way I felt toward people; maybe I had sexual feelings for someone and didn’t even know it, I thought. But I never found that I could identify my feelings about any particular person as being wholly different from the feelings I had toward any friend or well-liked relative. I had the feeling I wasn’t straight, because I couldn’t relate to the experience of thinking Rihanna or anyone else was “hot”, but I knew that didn’t make me gay either, and though I felt as early as high school that a bisexual identity fit my sexuality better, it still didn’t fit well enough that I felt comfortable calling myself bisexual. I heard straight people describe their experiences, and they weren’t remotely familiar. I heard gay people describe their experiences, and could relate to some negative elements of those experiences — the alienation, the feeling that one wasn’t quite the same as other people — but not the positive elements, not the clear feeling of an attraction to other boys that was different from what I would feel toward any friend. Because my experience of attraction (or rather a lack thereof) applied to all people regardless of gender, I felt most familiarity with the few examples of bisexual experience I found in media, but because those experiences were more likely to be expressed in terms of the presence of romantic-sexual attraction toward other people than in terms of its absence, it didn’t seem that a bisexual identity was mine to claim. In any case, I didn’t feel that there was any place to discuss these things openly with my peers; I didn’t attend any school with a Gay-Straight Alliance or anything similar until college.

As I advanced in school I also noticed more differences in the way I experienced that primarily affected my academic work. It took me much longer to do my schoolwork than it seemed to take most people. I would frequently go home from school and do my homework until I fell asleep working on it, then scramble to finish as much as possible between the next day’s classes. If I had enough time to complete a test, I usually did very well on it, but I agonized over getting my thoughts on paper anytime I had to write an essay. It was a deeply anxiety-provoking struggle, sometimes enough to provoke passing suicidal thoughts I wouldn’t mention to anyone. Teachers and guidance counselors lamented that I was so smart, and if I took my schoolwork more seriously my grades would stop slipping. Sometimes my academic troubles were instead blamed on depression, but i think it would be more accurate to say that my academic problems triggered my depressive episodes. Eventually I managed to graduate high school, but I resented so many of the experiences I had there that I have never entertained the idea of attending a reunion, and just driving by the place makes me anxious six years later.

In high school something unexpected happened in the development of my sexual identity; I got a girlfriend. That is to say, I started to become very emotionally intimate with a friend, and then we declared ourselves to be “dating”. But when it became clear to me that she had strong sexual feelings toward me, and expected that I would have reciprocal feelings toward her, those feelings failed to materialize. I thought that maybe, if I had a close relationship, that feeling I had never had would naturally develop out of our emotional closeness. But it never happened. I didn’t want to believe that at first, but eventually our relationship became impossible because of this.

In college, as I was dealing with the emotional fallout of that romantic relationship, I started to feel that something was very wrong with me. I was supposed to have learned what it meant to have sexual feelings for someone by that point; I was an adult, after all. I would lie awake at night thinking about that, worrying that I had become broken. And then I heard about the asexual community. Suddenly I found a lot of people who had an experience of sexuality that I could relate to. I started calling myself asexual and I felt a great sense of relief. I wasn’t broken, and there wasn’t anything wrong with my sexuality.

But there was still something wrong with me. Although at first I found it easier to handle my college coursework than it had been to handle my high school coursework, as I reached my junior year I found that the reading and writing load was more than I could handle. I simply couldn’t read some material as quickly as it was being assigned, and writing was even worse. Sometimes I couldn’t finish my tests on time. After getting mostly As for the first couple years of full-time college study, I was starting to fail classes. I took advantage of short-term psychological counseling offered by my school, and my counselor and psychiatrist both suggested I might have a form of Attention Deficit Disorder. I decided to seek accommodations for this condition, but in order to do that I was supposed to present documentation of my disability. My psychiatrist therefore gave me a list of local professionals that could give me a neuropsychological examination. Unfortunately, out of this list I never managed to find a professional that had an open slot to evaluate me whose services I could afford. Eventually, unable to seek accommodations from the school, I dropped out.

Of course I suspected that there was more to it than attention deficit disorder. Most of the aforementioned differences I had noticed between myself and my peers as a child has carried over into adulthood, and as an adult I noticed new ways in which my mind did not fit the expectations of the world around me. I diligently avoided nightclubs and parties, because I knew I would be deeply uncomfortable with both the social interactions and the noises they would involve. I had no real understanding of how to find job listings that were appropriate to my employment needs, and when I did submit applications to various jobs, I got the feeling that the personality questionnaires attached to them were designed specifically to weed out people like me, people who were very uncomfortable chatting with strangers and had frequent depressive episodes and sometimes had trouble finding the motivation to eat with reasonable frequency. I literally didn’t know how to have a casual conversation with most people. I didn’t seem to have enough in common with other people, most of the time, to just wing it and talk about something we both understood. My associational way of thinking made me very attracted to poetry, but also made it difficult for most people to follow the trains of thought I tried to express.

Then I met a new partner, who is autistic and after getting to know me for some time suggested I might be autistic too. Considering that I was a psychology major, I was shocked at how little I really knew about autism. The more I learned about autism on my own, the more I understood that my behavior and experiences were those of an autistic person, albeit one who had never been diagnosed. I nervously brought this idea to a psychological counselor I saw after dropping out of college and was surprised when she didn’t even question it; she was certain that I was autistic, or rather that I “probably have Asperger’s” Syndrome, which has now been subsumed into the autism spectrum diagnoses in edition 5 of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Another psychological counselor who succeeded her expressed surprise that I was not diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome in lieu of Generalized Anxiety Disorder as a child. Still, I would like to note that I have not yet ever had a neuropsychological examination. That is to say, I’m not “officialy diagnosed” as autistic. However, after having several conversations about autism with my mother, she took my younger brother in for a neuropsych exam, which resulted in a diagnosis of “Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified”, which has also been largely subsumed into autism spectrum diagnoses. That diagnosis has so far been a very big aid to us in addressing my brother’s sensory, academic, and emotional needs.
My life now is joy. I am married to two other autistic people who both understand me better than any other people I have known, and we are establishing a loving home together.
Looking back on the years it took me to discover that I am queer, asexual, and autistic, it is difficult to see these self-discoveries as discrete processes of self-knowledge and self-acceptance. Rather, it seems now that all these facets of who I am were part of latent, undiscovered self I struggled to understand from early childhood to emerging adulthood, because I did not see others like it reflected in the world around me. It is shocking to me, sometimes, how long it took me to get to know myself, and for some people it takes even longer. I think of how much time I spent hating or distrusting myself, and wonder whether that would have ever happened at all, if I had only looked at the world as a child and seen other people like me.

Early decisions for my first RPG

Screenshots from my work-in-progress RPG
Screenshots from my work-in-progress RPG Be Realistic! The game is intended to emulate the aesthetics and behavior of Game Boy Color games, especially Pokémon Gold/Silver/Crystal. So far the game uses placeholder tile and character graphics, but I plan to replace these so I can distribute the game as libre software.

I’m working on making my RPG, with Be Realistic! as its working title. The work is very slow and mostly centered around getting the basic mechanics up and running, but I’ve made a few firm decisions about the direction of the game and thought I’d share them.

The game will be narrative-driven. This isn’t an ideological decision; those are just the sort of games I enjoy playing, so I can’t imagine making anything else.

The game has to use two-dimensional graphics. I don’t really have appropriate hardware for running 3D games, let alone developing them.

The game has to be about working in retail. At this point I’m most confident writing what I know, and that’s just what I know best. The player character has to be queer for the same reason.

The player character has to be a woman of color. I have worked with a lot of good people since I became a working adult and it seems the most heroic of them, those who bear the greatest burdens to keep this world running, are usually women and often women of color. Furthermore, video games hardly ever feature black women as playable characters. I want my game to be a counter-example to that.

The game has to be gratis. When I started developing it, spending US $5 on a game was a difficult decision for me, and sometimes I just didn’t have that much money in the bank. I want to contribute in my own small way to the growth of an alternative non-commercial gaming culture, because that’s really important to me. And, in the interest of allowing other people to re-use parts of my work to grow that culture even more, I have decided to make this game open-source.

The game has to be cross-platform. I’m developing on a Linux system, but most desktop users still use Windows, and I want to make this game available to them too. The tools I have found easiest for building this cross-platform RPG are Python and pygame, and these support all major desktop environments pretty well. (I started out, essentially, with a fork of a game demo by Renfred Harper, and have been building from that.) I’ve even been testing on a Raspberry Pi with promising results. Unfortunately, preliminary attempts to get a proof-of-concept running on Android devices have been difficult and a little discouraging, but a release on that platform may also be possible. (Due to a lack of access to Apple development tools, though, I’m not planning to target iOS.)

The game will look and act largely like a Game Boy Color game, and more specifically like Pokémon Gold/Silver/Crystal. Pokémon Silver was one of few graphical video games I had growing up, and as an autistic person I found the game very liberating, because it’s about a kid leaving home to have a little fun and gradually gaining total autonomy and mobility. At the beginning of the game, the player character can’t even leave his tiny hometown, and by the end of it he has visited another country alone and can fly between far-flung cities at will. (The player character is always implied to be male in Pokémon Silver, but players can choose a female player character in the improved version, Pokémon Crystal.) As an adult I feel I need to revisit this narrative from a reverse perspective, to explore with as much humor as I can muster how becoming an adult can narrow a person’s experiences through financial insecurity and the demands of a spectacular society. Much of the inspiration for tackling this kind of topic comes from playing Mother 3, which provides a surprisingly sophisticated critique of the spectacle in an alternately zany and heartrending story in a setting that blends elements of fantasy, science fiction, and the American western. I don’t have any ambition to make my game nearly as grand as Mother 3, of course. That game took twelve years and a whole team to develop. I’m just one person making my first graphical video game, I honestly lack the capacity to contribute to a long-term artistic collaboration at this point in my life, and I’m kinda hoping to have at least a small game made by the time my first child is born several months from now. Instead, I’m trying to make something that mimics some of the mechanics of Pokémon Silver, both because that’s easier, and because it is an avenue to building the game on personal reflection.

I’ve made up my mind on these matters, but I’ve still got a lot of work cut out for me.

Seizing the means of poetry publication

Now and then I question my decision to self-publish my collection of poetry, Dogs from your childhood & other unrealities. I estimate that fewer than one hundred people have read it. I knew that would probably be the outcome of choosing self-publishing over conventional publishing, because I had neither the will nor the resources to promote the book when I published it. However, at the time I did not consider conventional publishing a viable option for a few reasons.

Firstly, I was in a position where I felt I had to publish a collection of work rather than pitching individual poems to literary journals. The nature of the American poetry market is such that conventional publishers typically don’t risk printing a collection of poetry by a single author unless that author has an impressive history of previous publications, usually individual pieces printed in journals and magazines, preferably including credits in fairly exclusive outlets. The most exclusive journals and magazines tend also tend to evaluate submissions partly on the author’s publication history, so the usual process for poets to get published in the American market is to submit individual poems to magazines and journals that have some small degree of clout and work up from there. It’s an exhausting process, and getting published in literary magazines and journals usually doesn’t pay anything except a few writer copies and maybe a small cash prize, but American poets who want to get published go through this process because that’s simply the way it’s done.

The problem I had with this process when I was preparing to publish my book was that I was horribly depressed. I had been forced by circumstance to drop out of college before obtaining an undergraduate degree, and couldn’t seem to get a paying job anywhere. I hated myself and felt I had to publish there and then so I could have at least the small satisfaction of having some work in print to share with friends. It was something to live for. I had already sent out several individual poems to any print magazine or journal that I thought could possibly be interested in them, and after several months I had finally received a couple rejection notices. This is a normal result for the submission process. So I had a choice between maybe getting one or two poems published in a literary journal in a few months and getting a whole collection of poetry in print right away. I chose the latter, and most of the time I don’t regret it.

For another thing, as someone who believes in free and open-source culture I wanted to provide public gratis downloads of my work and to explicitly allow reproduction and derivative works by applying a Creative Commons license to it. As these practices are not the norm for conventional publishers, and could be seen as endangering potential profits, I doubted that I would find a conventional publisher willing to try this. If anyone knows of a publisher — large, small, or otherwise — that has printed poetry under those terms or expressed a willingness to do so, I’d like to hear about it.

So what I ultimately did was find a service that would let me offer print copies of my book for sale online at absolutely no up-front cost. I typeset the book for free myself, using software called LyX. I have only ever paid them for copies of the book, which I can get for under $3 per copy. I used CreateSpace, which is a service owned by Amazon, so my book is listed for sale there. I also listed my e-book on Amazon using Kindle Direct Publishing. As far as I can tell, I have never sold a single print copy of my book through Amazon, and only a handful of e-book copies. (The e-book is currently priced at US $0.99, but I’m hoping I can get it re-priced as free since it is available for free download elsewhere.) I have sold print copies to a handful of people in person, but most copies that have been printed I gave to friends and family. Personal acquaintances have largely been impressed with the book, and ultimately I am satisfied with what I got out of publishing it. I was able to share it in a nice, accessible format right away, and if I ever get around to really promoting my book beyond posting about it on a blog nobody reads, it will be out there where people can get it.

However, now that I’m working on another collection of poetry, I find myself wondering whether I shouldn’t explore avenues of conventional publication again. Maybe my more recent work would be easier to market to journals and magazines. Maybe some small press would find the themes of my work relevant to their mission, and would consider a Creative Commons license that allowed them to keep exclusive commercial rights. Maybe I would even be willing to forego the free downloads and the Creative Commons license. Sometimes I wonder what good these provisions do if nobody knows my work is available. But I may decide to self-publish my new work anyhow.

My advice to other poets considering self-publishing? Just know what you’re getting into. I already mentioned CreateSpace, but Lulu is also a very popular option, and there are other services out there. Compare all these self-publishing services and what they offer. And be aware that if nobody promotes your work, people won’t find it and read it. This may sound obvious, but having print copies of your work available for purchase online will not automatically grant it even nearly the same audience as books that are on the shelves of every major bookstore. Also be aware that self-publishing credits usually won’t impress editors when you mention them in cover letters that accompany any future submissions you make. If you’re okay with an audience limited to the people you reach through your own promotion efforts and no “legitimate” publishing credit you can use to advance your writing career, self-publishing might be worth it.

Unexpectedly, proud to be American

Outside the small circle of people with whom I live, I try not to talk politics too much. There’s a lot of potential for unhelpful conflict and for injury to my personal relationships. But I think about politics all the time. I have to. The outcomes of political conflicts determine whether I will be able to afford health insurance, how much I get paid for the work I do, and whether my family will continue to receive the SNAP benefits we have depended upon to consistently afford food. They will determine whether my marriage, a committed marriage between three people, will ever receive the same legal recognition as a marriage between two people. They will even determine the future of “entitlement” programs that kept one of my spouses alive through childhood. So when a holiday like Independence Day comes along I can’t just not think about the political climate around it.

This July 4th, as we the people of the United States are called to celebrate our freedoms, I know that we live in a country where many people are not guaranteed even the most basic rights — rights to the necessities of daily living, and to universal protections under the law that governs our lives. I know that we live in a country founded in genocide, slavery, and exploitation, and I find credibility in the theory that there can be no such thing as a benevolent state.

Yet today I feel I have something to celebrate about this country, because I share it with incredible people. People who refused the unjust foundations of their society and chose to demand better. People like Bree Newsome, who scaled a flagpole at the South Carolina State House and removed the Confederate flag that hung there as a crowd of police officers demanded that she return the the ground. People like Chelsea Manning, who risked a death sentence and is now serving a 35-year prison sentence because she decided the public needed to know what American military forces were ordered to do in Iraq. People who died serving their fellow Americans, like Clementa Pinckney, Cynthia Marie Graham Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance, Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel Simmons, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, and Myra Thompson, who dared to demonstrate Christian love and died in an attack on Emmanuel AME Church two weeks ago. If I can take any pride in the country where I was born by no choice of my own, then I must take pride in the association it provides with people like these.

The essential freedoms of life are not woven into the fabric of this American society for all people, and not even for “all men” as promised. They have to be forged through a constant struggle of people demanding recognition of universal human dignity. This country has been blessed by the tireless efforts of countless people who fight every day just to be counted as Americans and to survive in this country. The 2008 election of this country’s first black president was a sign of those incredible continuing efforts, as were the recent Supreme Court decisions to uphold subsidization of healthcare across the country and to extend the legal benefits of marriage to same-sex couples. Things that did not seem possible have, through constant action, become possible. There is so much more work to be done, but today I want to celebrate the people who make this the Home of the Brave, the people who are committed to changing this place so that one day it can be the Land of the Free.

Welcome

I am Dominique Cyprès, and this is my new blog, Lordly Cypress. Posts here will examine how narratives in popular media reflect and critique reality, and will chronicle my attempts to do the same in my own narrative work.

I meant to inaugurate this blog with a series of essays on Mother 3, but as those are not yet finished I will instead begin with a reflection on Asano Atsuki’s No. 6.

Imperialism, fascism, and love in Asano Atsuki’s No. 6

Recently I stumbled upon Studio Bones’s animated television adaptation of No. 6, a light novel by Asano Atsuki. I quickly watched the entire eleven-episode series, and have since read the first volume of the light novel. (Much as I like reading, I have always read very slowly.) So far the anime series seems to have followed its source material pretty closely, with a few small exceptions. In both cases the story strikes me as very relevant.

Nezumi (left) and Shion (right) have a chat in Nezumi's hideout in the West Block.
Nezumi (left) and Shion (right) have a chat in Nezumi’s hideout in the West Block.

The light novel and the television series both tell the sorry of sixteen-year-old Shion, who lives in the highly organized, technocratic city-state called No. 6 until the police frame him for murder as punishment for an incident in which he harbored and provided medical care to a fugitive four years before. This fugitive, known as Nezumi, who is approximately Shion’s age, rescues him from the police and delivers him to the West Block, a region adjacent to No. 6 populated by refugees and outcasts. Here Shion and Nezumi debate the proper response to an impending medical crisis within No. 6. Shion believes he has the knowledge needed to create a cure, while Nezumi believes that No. 6 should be left to collapse as its citizens die, and is prepared to oppose Shion with physical force of necessary. However, the two young men gradually develop an understanding, a friendship, and a romantic relationship. I was surprised at how quickly I was drawn into the story. I was captivated by themes so often often absent from popular media.

There was the theme of having no place in society, which is relevant to so many Americans of my generation, for whom unemployment is high and the basic needs of the poor are not guaranteed. The picture is especially dim for autistic young adults like me, who face a 45% unemployment rate although most of us are capable of many kinds of work. (I am employed at the moment, though I consider myself underemployed.)

There was the theme of gaining awareness of exploitative imperialist relations between the “developed” and “developing” societies of the world. The scene in the television series that shows Shion walking the downtown section of the West Block for the first time reminded me very strongly of the moment I first stepped into the central market of Panajachel, Guatemala whilst visiting relatives who were working in that town at the time. It was an unusual opportunity for me; I could not afford such travel except that some of my relatives agreed to provide me with the chance to witness life in another region. For me this was the beginning of a new and enhanced political understanding of the world, beginning with the realization that the system that governed my life in the US was fueled by the extreme economic exploitation of countries like Guatemala.

There was the theme of the complicated responsibilities that come with political awareness. Only recently did I discover that in the 1950s, the people who would become leaders of the infamous Khmer Rouge, including Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea, who were recently convicted on charges of genocide by a United Nations court, were just a group of Cambodian Marxist intellectuals in a benign Paris students’ union. Whether one inhabits the political “Left” or “Right,” when one compromises human dignity as a guiding principle there is no telling what atrocities may occur. I gather that this is what Shion is trying to tell Nezumi when they argue about the fate of No. 6.

I have heard a number of people say in recent years that dystopian fiction is useless, because the dystopia already exists and we are living in it. In the afterword to the first volume of No. 6, the author said it herself: “…you’ll see that what you find in the world we live in far surpasses anything told in my story.” But I believe that many people will not believe the truth until they have seen it reflected in fiction, and in No. 6 we see a reflection of the fascism in our own societies. (There was a time when I would not have used a word like fascism to describe elements of US society, but then I read Benito Mussolini’s definition of fascism for the 1932 Enciclopedia Italiana, in which he proclaims fascism as an ideology that opposes perpetual peace, promotes individual well-being only when it contributes to a productive State, and “affirms the irremediable, fruitful and beneficent inequality of men.”)

For some time now I have wanted to write my own story on these themes, set right here in the same world where I live, but until recently I struggled to establish a clear direction for its plot. It is strange to me that the impetus to begin laying down the foundations of this story in earnest came from watching a television adaptation of a children’s novel published when I was in high school — an adaptation that aired the same year I visited Guatemala, the same year I saw Occupy Wall Street come and go while attending school in New York — but I didn’t discover No. 6 until 2014.

That the action of No. 6 is encapsulated within the awkward and difficult development of a mutually nurturing relationship between two traumatized people was a surprise and an inspiration to me, partly because I had intended this to be the frame of reference for my own story. But perhaps this is simply the most fitting way to tell such a story, because a relationship like this is antithetical to the exploitative model of human relations that a society like No. 6 embodies.