When I was 52, I met the love of my life. We are struggling now, but I will never regret being with him. Being with him allowed me to complete the best book I was capable of at the time. It’s likely the best thing I ever will be able to write.
It’s about a woman, widow and mother and a man who loves her and serves her and they are both such injured people and yet neither will give up. And it’s set in a fantasy world other than the one we live in but where the rules are perhaps: different. Because animals have the same agency as people.
Not “talking animals” like Watership Down. The animals themselves are equals or better to people. They are “magical creatures” but not servants though some may be “slaves”.
I grew up in, and we still live in, a world that measures success in terms of “money” and “power” and that has done nothing but exploit and destroy the lives of the overwhelming majority of humans and animals who have ever lived on the planet. The companion animals of the wealthy live safer, healthier, and more respect-filled lives than the majority of the 7.6 billion people on this planet.
I do not need the world’s money, recognition, or “Amazon bestsellerdom” to tell me who and what I am as a writer, and have always been.
I could not be raped out of it, I could not stop the process of daily writing even when my Down Syndrome baby was left by himself and died in my arms. I didn’t stop when being beaten or screamed at by an abusive partner, and I didn’t stop it when I was working myself to an early grave to bring home sufficient money to support my daughter and provide something for vulnerable, needy homeless people, and over 100 employees, the vast majority of whom had less disposable cash than the homeless people they were supposed to help.
My family thinks I inherited a lot of money and that was not the case. My grandmother’s Alzheimer’s lasted for over a decade and we were fortunate she was able to live in the first licensed home for Alzheimers and Dementia in California.
I have lived a more fortunate — and unfortunate — life than I could possibly have imagined as an orphaned, isolated child suffering verbal, emotional, and physical abuse.
I wrote this book in the only way I could have. I wrote it while learning to trust Bruce, my husband, and while falling in love with him. I created the character Beroos inspired by the real Bruce. The girls are not based on my daughters, they are inspired by them. Hull is inspired by my close friend Christopher Hull.
The world tells me I am less than others, that my work has no merit, that no one would be interested in reading it. When, after being promised “I’ll read anything you send me” by eight NY agents (whose names and information I had kept over the years), I queried them regarding this book, I received an instant negative response from one, two negative responses from two others after prompting, and no response from the remaining five — to this day.
I lost my house and filed for bankruptcy because I tried to start my own publishing company, and because I put the work of others before my own.
Every semester in class, I show students the filmed story of Temple Grandin. All enjoy it and respond to it, yet it is an HBO film that was never shown in theaters.
Our sick, twisted “official” or commercial world sees Temple’s story as the story of someone overcoming disability (autism). A few may see it as the story of a woman succeeding in a male-dominated field (beef production).
The story is in fact, someone who was born to do what she does, and whose indomitable spirit enabled her to be what I hope is the first — not the last — of people able to accomplish great advances in animal care and food handling, and great advances in understanding that education and life does not always follow the same monotonous preset path.
My life has, in fact, been fraught with many worse and more severe obstacles than Temple Grandin faced. But our world doesn’t recognize them for the most part, as yet.
I am writing this here because, like Temple, I will not give up. I will not become someone I am not just because someone tells me I cannot be who I am.
And whether one person reads and responds to what I write, or many do, is of no material difference to me, because I no longer value the money of the world, and I recognize that the type of “fame” that many entertainers have has little, to nothing, to do with any talent they may have.
A few months ago, I woke up and realized, “Poe died face down in the gutter.” My brother died of AIDS in a halfway house.
People are quite accustomed to reading what is essentially pornographic or prurient material exploiting what our society sees as “disadvantage.” The prototypes of this literature are Jude the Obscure and Madame Bovary. I think those men wrote those stories because they wanted to write about something other than themselves.
This book is the opposite. It’s about people who never have their stories told in an imaginative or heroic way. It’s about the imagination of someone who worked it on their own, not copied someone or something else. And who did it with a very simple mechanism.
The imagined world developed over at least ten years (and I have written other — not published, and likely never will be — books set in it).
And the characters are inspired by people I know well and love well.
I am putting this again because in recent weeks, many different documented instances have been brought to public attention illustrating that women and people of color have been deliberately abused, exploited, or harassed out of creative, scientific, and academic fields. Two days ago, I completed a survey for #MeTooPhD. I included one more-serious (rape) and one less-serious (work and academic) instance of harassment that prevented me from pursuing higher education for a time, and which could easily have prevented me from having any type of writing career — indeed, from writing at all.
What I am addressing here isn’t isolated to the publishing industry, nor to the entertainment industry, nor to politics. It isn’t isolated to science, and it’s not isolated to business or finance. It is in our homes, it is in our schools, and it is on every screen and it’s in our restaurants, supermarkets, fields and factories.
The people who “call the shots” aren’t doing it because they are “the best qualified,” they’re doing it because they are the loudest, most selfish, and meanest, or they are doing it because they have an inside advantage.
The only advantage I have is like Temple Grandin. Her mother wouldn’t give up on her, and she herself, would not quit. I did not have the advantage of having a mother like Temple’s, but I did have an aunt, and I miss her every day.
If only one person reads this and decides not to give up, then I have done what I set out to do. Don’t be J.K. Rowling.
Be yourself because that is what the world needs. We have to invent a whole new way of living and working and the time to start is right now: today.