Facts about Conlangs, or What in Hell Am I Doing

Writers get stuck in creative ruts, just like any other artist. The best way to jump-start your brain is to do something new. You can experiment with form or a different point of view. You can try a new genre. Or you can make up a language!

So you know I’ve finished Book 2 in The Trilogy That No One Wants. The first book, Tunerville, is a contemporary fantasy that involves ghosts. I don’t want to spoil (just in case), but I’ve taken my character a little further than his backyard.

I mentioned in the marshmallow post (I need more of those) that I was creating a conlang. Did I confuse you? Do you have questions? I shall answer them.

Yes, please explain. I know nothing.

Image: gameofthrones.fandom.com

What the hell’s a conlang?

Conlang is short for constructed language, one in which phonology, grammar, and vocabulary have been created rather than developing naturally.

Famous examples include auxiliary conlangs (auxlangs) like Esperanto and Lingua Franca Nova. Most people consider artistic languages (artlangs) created for fictional universes, such as Dothraki and Valryian (Game of Thrones), Klingon (Star Trek), and the various languages J. R. R. Tolkien created, around which he wrote The Lord of the Rings, as the typical conlang.

A priori languages aren’t based on any others. Most artistic languages fall under this category, as do auxlangs. A posteriori languages, like mine, are borrowed from or based on existing tongues.

How in hell do you do this?

I started with some typos from my music friends chat room that weirdly resembled Scottish Gaelic (no, really) and based the structure on Welsh. The latter has very little in the way of exceptions to its pronunciation and grammar rules, unlike English. I don’t speak it, but I looked into it before a trip to Wales, and it’s not that difficult.

Despite what you might think.

Image: Wikipedia / Chris McKenna (Thryduulf)

The double-l in Welsh does not have an equivalent sound in English. It’s hissed a little bit — put your tongue on the roof of your mouth and say “L”. Similarly, a conlang that isn’t based on your native language can lack sounds common to yours or contain some yours doesn’t. If you decide that your fictional speakers aren’t human, it definitely will.

My conlang doesn’t have a name currently because I’m still trying to think up place names for its setting. All the phonemes are in place (unless I change them later), and I’ve left out a couple of letters, so it’s not a carbon copy of either Welsh or English. As for syntax, it’s still a bit iffy yet.

Writer Kristin Kieffer points out in this blog post (see Tip #2) that all the things you think about when worldbuilding will apply to your conlang. A future civilization that grows food exclusively via hydroponics probably wouldn’t have a word for plow. A culture who loves elaborate ritual will have long phrases and lots of modifiers.

David J. Peterson has a great book for conlangers called The Art of Language Invention. Another fantastic resource is Mark Rosenfelder’s The Language Construction Kit. I’ve dropped a companion web page below in links. Both are available at Amazon; the Kindle edition of Mark’s book is the full text.

There’s a program called Vulgar that will create a language for you; I’ve held off, but I might end up using it as an assist because making up root words and all their derivations is harrrrrrd.

Why in hell would you do this?

Tons of reasons. Creators of auxlangs generally intend them to be used by real-world speakers. For example, Esperanto was developed to facilitate international communication. Codes are also conlangs; they provide ways of shortening or encrypting language to obscure communication (cryptography), make it faster (shorthand) or make it understandable when speaking isn’t possible (semaphore). They also let people tell machines what to do (computer languages).

Talk BASIC to me, baby.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Artlangs can lend depth to fictional worlds. For the television adaptation of Game of Thrones, David J. Peterson created the Dothraki and Valyrian languages off the basics in George R.R. Martin’s books.

And for Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, they wanted the antagonists to have a full-blown language, so Klingon was developed by Marc Okrand from a few words James Doohan (Scotty) improvised during the original series. It’s comprehensive enough for Treknerds to actually speak it.

As with any kind of research or backstory, you’re better off using it judiciously rather than doing huge expository dumps and risking what I sometimes call the Jean Auel effect (bless her!). Her Earth’s Children series, which began with the Clan of the Cave Bear, had page upon page upon page of explanation of the food, clothing, toolmaking, etc. in the daily life of her prehistoric characters. I personally enjoyed it, but it can bog a story down.

If you bore your readers, you’ll probably lose them on a mountain somewhere.

Interestingly, Auel managed to come up with a highly developed sign language for her Neanderthal characters, which authenticated them according to the known research at the time of writing. Novelist Anthony Burgess and anthropologist Desmond Morris collaborated similarly for the largely non-verbal 1981 pre-historic film Quest for Fire.

While this performed splendidly for those works, some writers and critics don’t find a comprehensive conlang necessary for immersion in a fantasy world and claim it can even be distracting. Perhaps, but if you do decide to include it, it should have more consistency than just random gibberish. A smattering of words and phrases can be enough, although that doesn’t count as a true conlang.

Stephen King’s characters in The Dark Tower spoke a dual dialect known as Low Speech, Mid-World’s common tongue, and High Speech, a ritualized and formal language only used by gunslingers. While King didn’t take the trouble to create a whole language, the lexicon enhances the setting quite well. We know we’re not in Keystone Earth (our world) when people are talking both in the ka-tet’s present and Roland’s past.

High Speech also has an alphabet, in a font called Hoefler Text Ornaments Regular, which you can download. If I were to write “Hello my name is Elizabeth” in High Speech, it would look like this:

You don’t have to go this far, although I might because, while complicated, worldbuilding is also FUN.

———-

Will my conlang become a full-blown, usable tongue? Eh, who knows? I’ve never done this before, so it’s a challenge. I’m proud of myself for getting this far. I even invented words for cardinal and ordinal numbers that actually build on themselves and make sense. If nothing else, it forces me to think about setting in a new way, an excellent writing exercise regardless.

If you’re interested in reading more about conlanging, here are a few links.

The Language Creation Society

Web resources for The Language Construction Kit

Conlang: TV Tropes

An Update and Look at These Delicious Candies, Y’all

Hi everyone! I’m sorry for neglecting you. I’ve been busy, people.

Since I seem to have priced myself out of this job market and I’m sick of it here anyway, I put my house up for sale. I’ll be moving soon and staying with family in their city until I either find a job there or elsewhere (preferably elsewhere).

A big backyard is nice, but mowing is a bitch.

Photo: Elizabeth West

In other news, I started working on a conlang for Book 2 (more on that in a future post). I applied for a Hollywood development program with Tunerville. They didn’t select me, sadly. Oh well, there are other opportunities, no doubt. I haven’t given up on this story, although I’m working on new ideas.

Remember the Invasion project I ditched at the beginning of NaNoWriMo last autumn? It’s still kicking, and I’ve decided to see if I can develop it into a screenplay. I’ve got a lot to learn, but that’s okay. Learning new things is good for your brain.

Speaking of new things, my online friends Charles Winthrop and his partner, whom I met through the now-defunct Consumerist website, have created a candy business called Winthrop’s Whimsies. It’s very small and just starting out, but let me tell you, these folks work hard to bring a little sweetness to your day.

This is reflected in the product. They make their candies to order, by hand. As you can see, these are REAL marshmallows, handmade, and don’t conform to the industrial mass-produced shape you’re probably used to. They’re a little irregular, a little special, and tasty as all-get-out.

Disclosure: I did receive a free package of handmade marshmallows in my flavor choice to check out, and I’m happily leaving a review.

My pick, Black Raspberry, arrived in a sturdy cardboard box with “Keep me cool; I contain marshmallows!” written on the shipping label and fortunately delivered late yesterday, before today’s projected excessive heat could roast them. I got distracted by other things and didn’t open the package until this morning.

Inside, I found a plastic-lined paper envelope, which I ripped into eagerly.

Look at that pretty purple color. Just look at it.

Photo: Elizabeth West

I selected a piece and shoved it into my gob. Oh mah gaw.

It plunged me into a cloud of pillowy sweetness and an explosion of fruity, raspberry flavor. These are really, really good, y’all. I had to stop myself from gobbling the whole package.

Other flavors Winthrop’s Whimsies offer include Popcorn, Apple, Coffee, and a nod to their home state of Kentucky, Bourbon flavor (non-alcoholic). I haven’t tried those yet but I’ve heard they’re pretty good. I think the Vanilla marshmallow would be really good melting in a cup of cocoa. I want that one next.

The candies are made with natural extracts, so if you’re allergic to anything, you’ll need to take that into consideration. I am not, which means I can indulge across the board.

Though Winthrop’s Whimsies is not officially open yet, you can get the marshmallows online. This is a small business, just getting off the ground, and it’s just two people at the moment, so the website may seem a little sparse. They’re working on gummies and other kinds of candies. Expect more deliciousness in future.

If you have questions, see their FAQ here.

I’ll be back soon to talk about my conlang. I’ve never done anything like this before. Thank goodness I saved my college linguistics and grammar texts. A lot goes into constructing a language; I have new respect for the folks who worked on Game of Thrones and Star Trek, and of course, the granddaddy of conlangs, J. R. R.Tolkien.

I made it look easy.

It’s not. It’s really not.

Bye-bye Tumblr

I’m sure you all know about the no more adult content rule at Tumblr by now, so I won’t reiterate it in all its problematic and misogynistic glory (no female-presenting nipples, folks).

If no one is reading my Tumblr feed, I think I might delete it. Let me know either here or on this *last* Tumblr post. It’ll be up for a bit and if I get no response, there’s no point in keeping it. Or I might leave it just to keep control of my name, but I won’t be posting there. 

Despite my vow not to get political here, I might now and then, if it’s warranted. 


Book 2 is almost done. It’s up to 70K + words. I’m a little stuck, mostly because of physics crap I have no idea what I’m talking about — cue fillers like CHECKTHIS and LOOKITUP. But I’m trying to finish before Christmas so I don’t have to write while traveling (ugh). 

In the meantime, I’ve gone to see Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (GO SEE IT OMG). I wrote some notes during the film but read some excellent reviews already, including the one I’ve linked (MILD SPOILERS), so I decided not to add to them. Instead, just listen to my words and go see it. 

And please join me in obsessively re-watching this highly anticipated trailer for Avengers: Endgame (OMG OMG OMG OMG OMGGGGGG), in theaters April 26. 

NaNoWriMo 2018 Day 7: A Lotta Nonsense

Word count: 53. Just did a little tweaking today.  I was very busy.

  • I had a job interview.
  • Rumpledneckskin completely lost it and distracted everybody.
  • I went to an advance screening of the zombie film Overlord at Alamo Drafthouse. It was loads of fun.  Of course, it had me at punching Nazis, haha. Gore level: Medium to medium-high. Might be triggering to veterans.

The Orange Mussolini’s attempts at obstruction of justice have set off a massive, nation-wide protest tomorrow at 5 p.m. local time. If you’d like to participate, find the Nobody is Above the Law website powered by MoveOn.org and enter your zip code to find an event near you.

I was going to embed the trailer for Overlord, but it basically shows the whole movie, so nah. If you’re a horror fan just go see it when it opens on November 9.

NaNoWriMo 2018 Day 6: The Blue Wave Has Begun

Still on track! 

Y’all, I only managed 211 words tonight. We’re making history all over the country. 

  • Massachusetts elected their first black Congresswoman
  • Michigan and Minnesota are sending two Muslim women to Washington
  • Colorado chose the first openly gay governor in the U.S.
  • Florida restored voting rights to over 1 million convicted felons
  • KS elected the first Native American woman in Congress ever
  • Women are kicking ass everywhere

We didn’t win everything. Beto O’Rourke lost to Ted “Zodiac” Cruz, but that frees him up to run for president. I hope he does, and I hope he picks a woman as a running mate. Or I hope Kamala Harris runs and picks Beto as her running mate.  Either way, I’d vote so hard for that ticket. 

Climate denier Rick Scott won a Senate seat in Flori-duh; good luck with that when sea levels rise and flood the entire state, suckers. 

And Bannon-backed Trump asslicker Josh Hawley beat Democrat Claire McCaskill in Missouri (precipitating my exit from the state that also got a travel warning from the NAACP; goodbye, you racist pesthole).

Good news; he didn’t beat her by much.  Voters this year have been fierce. 

I made dis :)

And although Missouri state legislature looks to stay solidly red (ugh), voters seem to have approved an amendment to improve ethics and campaign finance rules and curb redistricting. Also, it’s early, but it looks like medical marijuana will pass. And the minimum wage increase too, hopefully!

I hope your races are turning out the way you’d hoped. Don’t be discouraged if they didn’t. And don’t be complacent if they did. We have only just begun our work. Keep participating, keep voting in local races, and hold our newly elected representatives accountable.

Celebrate wins, mourn losses, and tomorrow, we roll up our sleeves and push that Blue Wave forward. On to 2020!

Dammit, Here We Are Again: Baby Prisons, Nazis, and How You Can Help

I swore not to get political on this blog anymore, but damn, that’s impossible right now. Not when the U.S. government is incarcerating babies whose parents are legally seeking asylum, and the ACLU has to sue it. Not when white supremacists and Nazi sympathizers are running things and spineless greed monsters are enabling them.

Marko is correct. A thinking, feeling human will have thoughts on this. And since art is a reflection of life and culture, and culture includes politics, guess what? You’re going to see and hear a lot of artists (many of whom are U.S. citizens, just like you) expressing their opinions. Buckle up, buttercup.

Now you might say we’re being alarmist and making too big a deal, especially when comparing the Trump administration to the Third Reich. But if you paid attention in history class, or read The Diary of Anne Frank, you might recall that death camps were not the beginning of the Holocaust. They came at the end.

First, stuff like this happened:

Jews were blamed for economic problems (sound familiar?). Basic rights and privileges were taken away from them — they had to wear a star identifying them, they had curfews, their property was confiscated, etc. They were referred to as animals, poisonous mushrooms, etc. in attempts to dehumanize them. Trump uses the same language when he says immigrants “infest” the U.S. The inference is that they’re less than human, i.e. pests, like bugs. Dehumanization allows people to do horrible things to other people, because they stop thinking of them as people.

I guarantee you know someone who thinks this way. Maybe they’re sitting next to you right now.

When detaining and deporting people singularly proved inefficient, the Third Reich stepped up its campaign. We all know what happened then.

Image: Wikipedia

And by this time, anyone who objected also became a target.

We have Holocaust survivors warning us of the parallels. Personally, I think Trump doesn’t have enough understanding of politics to become another Hitler. He does admire dictators like Russia’s Vladimir Putin and North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un, whose oppressive tactics echo those of the Third Reich, mostly because they have stuff he wants — adulation (even if forced), control, and an unrestrained ability to do whatever they like. It’s all about him, so appealing to his humanity is useless, because he cares for nobody but himself. He may not be an actual neo-Nazi, but he’s surrounded himself with people who embrace the ideology.

This morning, I went on Twitter and saw this tweet:

I got the same warning last night from a fellow writer. My dude, I am probably already on a list because I wrote a book about bank robbery. And talked to the FBI about it. And researched explosives for it.

I would never rob a bank, nor do I want to harm anyone. But I might bring about the downfall of Nazis and white supremacists. And you should too. We should all be screaming about this, because dictators do not stop persecuting people when they reach the edges of citizenry.

As for baby internment camps, they’re a thing now. Not newly fledged internment camps, mind you; detention facilities for actual babies. Didn’t see that coming, did you?

Well, fuck.

Image:  David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It’s well known that detaining and institutionalizing children has lasting effects on their physical and mental health. That’s why we don’t have orphanages anymore. This situation poses serious dangers to them, according to doctors.

It’s important to know that this is NOT a law, and it was NOT put into place by Democrats. This is a Trump administration policy, gleefully announced by known racist and Keebler elf lookalike Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Sessions’ church has actually filed child abuse sanctions against him. They might throw him out. Good.

Things you can do to help the children and their parents:

Donate

The Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) is raising funds to help bail out ICE detainees so they can reclaim their children. Their website is experiencing huge amounts of traffic right now, but they’ve posted links where you can donate.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is involved in multiple legal proceedings to protect the rights of citizens and immigrants. You can also sign their petition at their website.

Contact your reps in Congress

Resistbot
Text RESIST to 50409 and you’ll get a text message with your representatives’ contact information, which you can use to auto-dial them. I’ve done this; it’s convenient and safe.

If you’re unsure what to say, go to 5calls.org, where you can find multiple issues and scripts for each, as well as contact info.

Register to vote

Check your registration at vote.gov. Primaries have already begun. Be sure to research candidates before casting a ballot, but right now, people are being urged to vote Dem as often as they can, to bring some balance back into Congress.

Some states have voter ID laws; if you know anyone who needs an ID, it would be great if you helped them get one. Voteriders.org has tips on how you can assist.

Vote in local and state elections, too

Checks on Trump’s edicts are happening at state levels. Governors are pulling National Guard units from borders in defiance of the separation policy. City governments have refused to end sanctuary policies. State attorney generals, too, are a bastion against Trumpian policies.

You can find election schedules by state at this link.

EXERCISE YOUR VOTE! It does count, and in some states, such as Ohio, GOP legislators have been allowed to institute purges of voter rolls for those who miss elections. The Supreme Court, stacked in favor of the GOP, disgustingly upheld it.

Volunteer to give people rides to the polls. Some folks may not have one; some might be more inclined to vote if they don’t have to drive and park.

Protest

Yes, protests work — they bring attention to causes and they show lawmakers that citizens are serious about issues and problems. MoveOn.org has a big one around ending family separation planned for June 30. Look for local groups on Facebook and other social media. Follow the rules; some cities don’t allow signs with wood sticks attached them.

Protest lawfully. We have a constitutional right to peaceful assembly. It’s not time for civil disobedience yet. If you’re new to it, you can find tips here and here.

When Trump came to my city last year, I took part in my first organized protest. I found exercising my rights an exhilarating and empowering experience. It’s not for everyone, however. If you can’t or don’t want to do it, you can share information with others.

———–

No matter what you do to resist, take time for self-care. Living in the U.S. right now is goddamn exhausting. Eat right, get plenty of sleep, and engage in meditation or other calming activities to reduce your stress levels. Mindful pauses work great if you’re at work or otherwise engaged when anxiety strikes. Take occasional breaks from social media. The outrage is real, and it’s easy to get caught up in it.

And remember to care for others. This post at everydayfeminism.com gives great tips on how intersectionality can help you and others avoid activist burnout. People who are directly affected by issues often bear the burden of advocating and educating. Ask them what you can do to help.

Remember your kids. They are hearing and seeing things that may scare them. Take the moments when they express fear to gently explain and reassure them. You can find tips on how to do this here.

Encourage teenagers to join organizations working for change if they want to (don’t force them). Teens make great activists; they’re creative, they have a lot of energy, and they’re aware that tough issues affect their futures.They don’t have to be directly affected by something to care or participate.

Emma Gonzalez and her classmates who survived the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting advocate for sensible gun control measures to prevent future tragedies.

Image credit: RHONA WISE/AFP/Getty Images/billboard.com

Above all, remember that decent people outnumber the bad ones. We can do this.

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.” — Fred Rogers

 

 

We Interrupt This Writing Blog to Talk About Learning Disabilities

Apparently, people don’t understand the learning disability I have. So here are a few facts.

It won’t be hard; I promise.

Image: Pixabay / zmescience.com

I have dyscalculia. It’s a bit like dyslexia, of which you may have heard, only with mathematics and numbers instead of reading and letters. People have it to varying degrees. Mine leans toward severe, enough to interfere with daily life and my ability to do certain kinds of jobs.

Symptoms vary (see the link), but some of mine include:

  • Can’t retain math processes. I struggled to grasp them and would forget them after being shown.
  • Can’t keep score during games. This is why I don’t do it when we go bowling, guys.
  • It’s hard to make change and handle money. Me and a cash drawer that has to be balanced do not get along.
  • I have trouble figuring how long something will take, or how much time is needed to get somewhere–I’m frequently either early or late.
  • Everyone who skated with me knows it took me ages to learn choreography. And, if we moved an ice show to the opposite rink after I’d already choreographed my program, it took a monumental effort to re-orient myself to the flipped setting. Since we never knew if this would happen, I coped by learning to choreograph in ways that didn’t depend so much on facing the audience. It got easier with time, though since I no longer skate, it’s irrelevant now.
  • I have a hard time recognizing patterns. In music school, I never learned key signatures despite daily drilling. Sight reading was a nightmare made flesh. If a composer inverted a chord, I could not read it. I just sidestepped and did everything by ear.
  • I can use Excel but not create a spreadsheet, because I don’t grasp the mathematics in formulas or how to apply them to a formula. You can’t use a calculator either if you don’t know what data to enter.
  • Division and fractions–nope. Word problems–nope. I don’t understand what processes to apply in a word problem. If you think you don’t do this in real life, just try to estimate mileage on a trip sometime.
  • If I don’t remember your name, I’m sorry; just keep reminding me until I remember. I will eventually. Sometimes I get it right off, sometimes not. But I won’t forget your face.
  • Never ask me to do math in my head. If I even could, it would take much longer than if you just whipped out your phone and used the calculator yourself.

It takes much, much longer to learn simple math equations. For more than twenty years, I carried a tip table in my wallet. I did finally learn how to figure percentages–by multiplying the amount times the percentage (after moving the decimal two places to the right)–but it took me that long to grasp it.

I can ONLY do it on a calculator and ONLY this way. If you tried to show me a different method, you would break my brain (just don’t). I can estimate a tip now. What a brilliant day when I finally threw that ragged old tip table in the bin!

Along with dyscalculia, I have a touch of dyspraxia as well. I have trouble with both fine and gross motor control. These conditions are often co-morbid, meaning they occur together.

  • I whack myself on all sorts of things. And trip. It’s hilarious.
  • I had a hell of a time with choreography when skating or dancing due to the dyscalculia, but I also had trouble actually performing certain movements or elements.
  • It took me ages to learn to whistle. Also, I could not blow a bubble with gum until well after my peers learned. My siblings made fun of me for this, but there was an actual, literal reason why I couldn’t.
  • Skating improved my balance, but I still often leaned too far over or not enough.
  • My handwriting starts out neat and gets bigger and less legible as I go.
  • Cross stitch is easy but learning to knit has been an ordeal, and I’ve given up on crochet.

In essence, I have a hidden disability. You can’t see it. You would only know if I told you.

Things not to say to someone with a learning disability:

But you don’t look like you have a learning problem!

Oh I’m sorry; is THIS what I’m supposed to look like?

You can do X; why can’t you do Y?

Because it doesn’t affect all my functions. Please don’t dismiss my explanation; I know my limitations and what I’m capable of much better than you because I’ve lived with it my entire life.

Oh, I have trouble with algebra (or calculus); I must have it too.

You can do calculus? That’s marvelous, because I don’t even know what it fecking is.

You’re just saying that to get out of doing X.

When I screw up your payroll, you’ll never say this to me again.

Oh, I could teach you!

If you are not a certified special education teacher or education therapist, I doubt it. I’ve worked with these folks and it didn’t help much. It probably needed to happen when I was a child.

Dyscalculia and dyspraxia are static conditions. This means I’m stuck with them for life. There will always be things I cannot do. I can never get a job with accounting or statistics. Although I love science, I can never do that kind of work. Despite many attempts, I was never able to learn to play the piano.

Especially not like this!

Image: YouTube

Early intervention might have resulted in a better outcome for me. However, at the time, educators remained unaware of these conditions and had even more trouble identifying them in an otherwise intelligent student, especially one who seemed gifted in other areas. Teachers frequently told me I was lazy, or unmotivated, or accused me of not liking math. Well yes, most people dislike things they can’t do.

But these issues don’t affect my intelligence. I regularly outperformed my peers in spelling, writing, and verbal ability tests. I read at a twelfth-grade level in second grade. I don’t have speech issues, which can occur with dyspraxia. I don’t have ADHD. I’m a whiz at writing procedural documents–I’ve had to develop this skill in order to learn sequential processes I need to do at work. I can write novels.

I’m not just my disability. Nobody is.

——————–

Read more:

What Is an Invisible Disability?

Early Intervention: What It Is and How It Works

Support and Resources for Adults with LD — Learning Disabilities Association of America

It’s Time for Sexual Assault Survivors, Including Me, to Name Names

The recent flood of sexual assault revelations from numerous victims regarding known predators and once-cherished idols in politics and entertainment have been hard for me. I was disappointed and grieved when Scott Brunton came forward to accuse George Takei. And just today, Senator Al Franken’s past caught up with him.

I’ve loved George ever since I first saw Star Trek as a young child. I’ve stood steadfastly behind his efforts to secure equality for my LGBTQ loved ones and to present the story of the Japanese internment of WWII through the Allegiance musical.  I cheered when he was finally able to marry the man he loved, husband Brad Takei.

I bought a ticket to the December 7 showing of Allegiance in the cinema before all this emerged. It would be my third viewing. I’m torn. I hate to cancel because I loved this musical. The entire cast did phenomenal work, and the music is wonderful. Should I again shed tears in the theater, however, there may be added subtext this time.

And Al? Saturday Night Live Al? Our champion in the decaying halls of a wolfish Congress bent on devouring our democracy? Sadly, he is all too human.

I can’t stay silent any longer.

Why is this so hard? Because I too am a survivor. My first perpetrator was a director at the Christian summer camp I attended while I was in high school. One day, while we all sat in the dining hall listening to announcements, he groped me.

I remember it like it happened yesterday. The shift of the picnic table bench as his weight settled behind me. My peripheral awareness of his presence—of no consequence, not yet. The light touch under my arm, and the sudden pressure of his fingers on the side of my breast. The sense of shock, of feeling frozen, unable to move or indicate to anybody what was happening to me.

His wife and young daughter had accompanied him to camp. I remember standing in front of them in a group not long after, wondering, Why? Why did he do this? Am I the only one? And, for one surging, tormented moment, What would happen if I spoke up now, in front of everyone, in front of his wife? I ultimately decided I would not. The realization of how things really were sunk deep into me—he had power and I did not. No one would believe me.

Over the years, I’ve tried to make sense of it. I’ve wondered if I misunderstood. I’ve come to the conclusion that I did not. It wasn’t a quiet touch on the shoulder from an affectionate mentor. Nor was it invited or encouraged. It forever shattered my tenuous illusion of safety regarding adults and authority figures. From that day forward, no report of sexual impropriety regarding any teacher, church leader, or public figure ever truly surprised me again. I knew the ugly truth.

His name was James Greene. We campers called him Jimmy. To my knowledge, nobody saw what he did that day in 1982. As far as I know, he’s still alive and probably doesn’t even remember it. Or maybe he does but he just doesn’t care. Or worse, mired in a twisted hypocritical version of Christian faith like so many people these days, he wouldn’t see anything wrong with it. After all, I had technically reached the age of consent.

But I didn’t consent. He had no reason to do what he did, and yet he did it anyway.

At college, I was raped by a fellow student named Doug Botham. He did not take my resistance seriously and traumatized me so severely that I blocked out the incident for an entire year. I’ve written about this one before, but until now, I didn’t name my attacker. It left me with lasting effects that I’ve worked hard to overcome but which still haunt me even today.

I didn’t consent. I said no, I don’t want to, and he did not stop.

I’ve no idea what became of Doug. Most likely, he too has forgotten. Many men like him don’t even realize they’re rapists. Our culture allows it. The same camp where Jimmy assaulted me later harbored another predator, who is now in prison for his crimes. They were apparently sued over it. They’re still operating, still emphasizing their religious ethic. And so the cycle continues.

I fought long and hard with myself over publishing this post. The bar is still much higher for sexual assault and rape victims than for their perpetrators. But I’ve held these feelings inside, covered these men’s names and my wounds, for too long. The time has come.

I harbor no desire for compensation or revenge. An apology? If I were Scott Brunton, that’s what I would want. Not an I’m sorry you feel that way, not the braggadocio of Louis C.K.’s excuses, but a real, heartfelt I did it, it was wrong, and I regret it. And I am sorry.

I’d like that too. Though if even a few people examine their deeds and their consciences, if it stops even one from offending again, I will be content.

We’re facing a true cultural shift here, one long overdue. For years, we’ve scoffed at victims and played sexual assault for laughs. Prison rape, men chasing scantily clad women around the room, jokes about secretaries and the Hollywood casting couch.

The victims who sat watching and silently suffering, too afraid to come forward for fear of ridicule or persecution, were not laughing. Even if we pretended not to take it seriously, inside we experienced trauma all over again. It’s past time we exposed harassment and exploitation for what they truly are. We need to put an end to rape culture so the women and men who have been so deeply wounded and betrayed can finally heal.

The sick disappointment, the disillusionment, as these incidents come to light, is exhausting and triggering. It breaks my heart to think that men I looked up to could ever have done something like this. None of us are perfect. We all experience lapses in judgment, some of them grave. I know also that fame can draw people who seek to manipulate and exploit. But most assault victims have nothing to gain and everything to lose by coming forward. They rarely lie.

Everyone loved Jimmy. Everyone loved George. We all loved Al. I must give the accusers of these men the benefit of the doubt. I can’t do any less because I wouldn’t want anyone to do any less for me.

I dont work in Hollywood. I’m just a writer with several unpublished novels to my name. I don’t have many followers and not a lot of reach. I’m not an activist or an influencer. I deal in words, and I want to use them to speak the truth for those who can’t.

To all survivors reading this, I believe you. I’m not alone and neither are you. You are strong. We are strong. This will never happen to me again, because I won’t let it. And I will fight like hell see that those who harmed us are held accountable.

Even if it’s someone I trusted.

———-

If you need to talk, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline 24/7 at 1-800-656-4673.

More resources at the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline:  1-800-273-8255.  UK: Call Samaritans 116 123 (free call).

Learn more about rape and sexual assault at RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network).

I Made an E-Book and You Can Help Hurricane Victims With It

So I made a little e-book, y’all!  And you can help hurricane victims in Puerto Rico with it!

Through October 25, I’m donating 100% of all sales I get, no matter how big or small (hopefully big), to the Hispanic Federation’s Unidos program.

Just go to the brand-new Buy Me page on this site to purchase the e-book (click the link, or it’s at the top on the main menu). You get some stories; the Hispanic Federation gets some money to help people in Puerto Rico; it’s all good.

If you like the book or you think someone else will, please share widely! And thank you!

If you want to make a personal donation to help people impacted by the recent natural disasters, you can also choose One America Appeal, a fund set up for hurricane victims in Texas, Florida, and the Caribbean by all five living former U.S. presidents. Or donate to Oxfam America, which has stepped up in the face of this administration’s inadequate response. You can also give to earthquake relief for Mexico through the Hispanic Federation’s link.

So I Saw the Total Eclipse, Y’all

You may recall that last Monday, the U.S. had a total solar eclipse.

Eclipses occur quite frequently around the world, but this one got a lot of hype because many more people than usual were within traveling distance of totality. Including me. I’ve seen many partial eclipses, but I’ve heard from tons of people who said you must, simply must, experience the ultimate photobomb at least once in your lifetime.

Image:  awkwardyeti.com

My mum happens to live in a city in Missouri located in the band of totality that stretched across the continental United States. So, as is my wont, I vastly overpacked for three days and drove over on Saturday.

Mum’s brother decided to drive over too, on his own. I prefer not to carpool in case my travel anxiety dictates an urgent need to leave; a fortuitous habit, as it turned out.  Mum put me downstairs in the finished basement. I didn’t mind this, but I had to sleep on a slowly deflating air mattress, and I might as well have been on the floor. Oof.

Getting old ain’t for sissies.

Image: Alex Rotas / positivenews

S. and A., chat room friends from Europe, were traveling in the States for a concert and other visits, and they messaged me that they were coming to St. Louis for the eclipse and wanted to meet up. Mum was fine with them coming down to watch with us, so they did.

My uncle plays the guitar like a goddamn virtuoso and he really impressed them. We had an outstanding visit. I rarely get to see S. and A., because 1) they’re in the Netherlands and Poland, respectively, and 2) I can’t travel as much as they do.

The total eclipse absolutely amazed me. Anyone who saw a partial just cannot understand how mind-bendingly weird it is. The strange silvery light–like twilight but not, that no camera can capture. The crescent shadows (partials will make those, so you saw them if you were in any of it).

Crescent shadows on uncle’s car.

Image: Elizabeth West

As the day slowly darkened, the birds settled down as if it were night. We have cicadas this year, and they began to buzz the way they do at dusk. The temperature dropped. The day had grown butt-melting hot, so we appreciated that more than you could know. A breeze started to blow. The diamond ring appeared as the eclipse neared its peak, and we could see Bailey’s beads.

Then, totality.

I always thought when the moon obscured the sun, it would slide slowly over it and the sun would gradually fade out, but it wasn’t like that at all.  When totality comes, the moon sort of slams into place over the sun like a manhole cover, and the corona explodes into view.  It’s not the least bit subtle! And then you take off your glasses and see this big black hole in the sky.

A HOLE IN THE SKY Y’ALL

Okay, so I may have freaked out a little bit.

View this post on Instagram

I forgot to upload this, I think. #eclipse2017

A post shared by Elizabeth West (@dame_writesalot) on

Video: Elizabeth West

Of course it’s bigger than the camera shows, because cameras suck and I don’t have a zoom lens (but I will next time, dammit). It resembled those pictures of black holes where artists have rendered a glowing event horizon around the edges. If you look at this picture and squint to obscure the stars, you can get a rough idea of how it looked.

Image: M. Weiss / Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics / newsdesk.si.edu

Totality lasted a little over two minutes–the shortest two minutes of my entire life. It felt more like thirty seconds. All too soon, the diamond ring reappeared and we put our glasses back on.

We didn’t stay outside for the rest of it. Instead, we went inside for a delicious lunch of chicken tenders with herbs and apricot sauce and roasted smashed potatoes (my mum could easily take Martha Stewart’s crown right off her smug little head).

Even the potatoes did the crescent thing. This was totally accidental, btw.

Image: Elizabeth West

My uncle ran a quick errand, and unfortunately, his car decided to throw a rod or something. He had to stay over another night to have it fixed. Which meant another night on the floor for me, so I decided to go home.

S. and A. left to drive back to St. Louis for the night; they spent the next two days driving to Chicago to visit a couple of other chat friends. I’d planned to hang out with them in Krakow this past May at the Fans of Film Music festival, but as you know, I lost my damn job. But with luck, I’ll see them again soon.

The next total eclipse visible in the U.S. will occur on April 8, 2024. The path of totality lies further east. If I were you, I’d start planning now.

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, that your discontented ass needs to see.