Q&A on Being a Jewish & Disabled Author

A patron of mine asked me some questions recently about Jewish identity, and writing while Jewish and disabled.

I thought y’all might find the answers interesting. Hopefully, I’m correct!

Are secular Jews overrepresented in the media?

I am personally a secular Jew. I suppose my first question in wondering whether we’re over-represented is — what percentage of self-identified Jews in America are secular? (It also matters what the percentage of secular Jews in media work is, but that seems harder to find.)

I found this here: http://www.pewforum.org/2013/10/01/jewish-american-beliefs-attitudes-culture-survey/

“The changing nature of Jewish identity stands out sharply when the survey’s results are analyzed by generation. Fully 93% of Jews in the aging Greatest Generation identify as Jewish on the basis of religion (called “Jews by religion” in this report); just 7% describe themselves as having no religion (“Jews of no religion”). By contrast, among Jews in the youngest generation of U.S. adults – the Millennials – 68% identify as Jews by religion, while 32% describe themselves as having no religion and identify as Jewish on the basis of ancestry, ethnicity or culture. ”

It goes on to say:

“Secularism has a long tradition in Jewish life in America, and most U.S. Jews seem to recognize this: 62% say being Jewish is mainly a matter of ancestry and culture, while just 15% say it is mainly a matter of religion. Even among Jews by religion, more than half (55%) say being Jewish is mainly a matter of ancestry and culture, and two-thirds say it is not necessary to believe in God to be Jewish. ”

I’m surprised that the percentage of people who think you have to believe in God to be Jewish is that high, actually. There’s a pretty lengthy historical tradition of Jews who participate in their communities without being personally religious. The article does say that Jews who identify as secular now are less likely to be tied into Jewish cultural organizations than other Jews, so I wonder whether there’s an increasing idea that being a secular Jew is the same as being an uninvolved Jew. (I should note that people who convert to being Jews are also definitely Jews whether or not they have the ancestry. Judaism is a desert topping and a floor wax.)

That said, I’m uninvolved in a lot of ways. My grandfather made a decision as a young man to sever himself from his Jewish past. I think this was his reaction to World War II. He never denied being Jewish, or changed his name, or anything like that – but he had no interest in his past as a Jew, or in any of the associated cultural traditions. Our family still exists in the shadow of that decision.

I could try to figure out more about the demographics involved — what percentage of great sci-fi writers, editor, etc, from Christian backgrounds are also secular? Is this a function of Jewishness, or a broader secular cultural trend among people in those industries?

But I feel like the more interesting questions are tangential. What could we gain from having more religiously Jewish creators?

Probably something. My friend Barry writes a series of graphic novels about Hassidic Jews. He himself is a secular Jew, but many Hassidic people have contacted him, grateful for representation of their community that is humanizing and generous. There are clearly religiously Jewish people who are not seeing themselves reflected, or are only seeing themselves reflected in ways that are inaccurate or unkind.

There can be pressure on secular Jews to put their Jewish heritage in the background, especially when antisemitism and white supremacy are on a resurgence. I’ve paid the price for being a Jewish female creator, and it’s a nasty one. So, there’s another point where I think there’s tension over secular Jewish representation in the media–in order to work in the industry, to some extent, we must blend in with Christian normativity.

I had a woman say to me, in all seriousness, in a critique group once, that she was annoyed I had included Jewish rituals in one of my stories. “If I want to read about that kind of thing,” she said, “I’ll just read fantasy.”

I’m not sure this resolves anything (in fact, I’m sure it doesn’t), but those are some of my thoughts.

What about your background and current ideas/beliefs/practices has contributed to your interest in Jewish sci fi?

Right now, I’m more interested in the theological questions of Judaism than I normally am because I have a good friend who is tipping over the border from secular to religious Jew, and his journey is very interesting to me. The way he talks and writes about his burgeoning belief (as opposed to the feeling of irresolution he’d had before) is fascinating; it helps that he’s a very good writer who is fascinating on many topics.

I think my interest in Jewish science fiction stems from my interest in Jewishness itself, which is probably related to my self-identification as Jewish. I’m not sure why I have a strong identification with Judaism — I didn’t have to. As the granddaughter of a secular Jew who tried to cut all connections, I could have just put it aside; my brothers have. Our father is from WASPy blood with deep roots in American history–we’re descended from one of the people who signed the Declaration of Independence–and I could have chosen to identify with that to the exclusion of my Jewish ancestry.

What are you writing about now?

I’m writing a lot about disability. As a disabled person, there’s a lot of rich material to mine–and I still have a lot of unreconciled thoughts about disability, and things I’m figuring out. I think a lot of good writing is produced when the author is still on the edge of revelations, instead of settled.

Many of my previous writing obsessions have been much more externally focused. Of course there’s a hideous amount of dehumanization and violence directed toward disabled people, but for some of us, there’s also an intense personal struggle of identity and self-knowledge that requires a deep investigation of the psyche. That’s where I am right now–fiction about selfhood and perception.

Surrey International Writers’ Conference

This weekend I’ll be in Vancouver (BC, not Oregon) at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference. Here’s my schedule, if you want to come to any of events or just say hi.

Fri Oct 19, 2018

12:45pm – 2:15pm “Meet and Mingle Luncheon” This is supposed to be a good chance for guests and attendees to meet and chat, so you should feel free to come up and say hi if you see me!

2:15pm – 3:30pm Breaking the Rules Workshop. This is the convention version of my online Breaking the Rules class (http://rachelswirsky.com/rules/)

3:45pm – 5pm World Building panel with Nalo Hopkinson, Cat Rambo, and Stephanie Stein, moderated by Mary Robinette Kowal.

5pm – 6:30pm Socializing at the hotel bar. Come say hi!

 

Sat Oct 20, 2018

10am – 11:15am Detail & Image Workshop (http://rachelswirsky.com/detail/)

12:45pm – 2:15pm “This Day We Write Luncheon” Another chance to come chat.

2:15pm – 3:45pm Blue Pencil Session This is where you can make a 15-minute appointment to have me read and critique 3 pages of your work (for free!). https://www.siwc.ca/blue-pencil-cafe/

5:30pm – 7pm Book signing. If you would like to buy a copy of my collection Through the Drowsy Dark, there will be some for sale at the conference. I’m also happy to sign loose paper or bookplates!

 

Sun Oct 21, 2018

11:30am – 12:45pm Second Blue Pencil Session

12:45pm – 2pm Closing Lunch. I may have to leave this one early to get ready for my trip home.

If anyone here is going to be at the conference and want to hang out, let me know!

My Life in Cats: Masque

This is Masque who belongs to friends of ours in Portland. We actually raised Masque from kittenhood at about three weeks when we found her and her brothers in our backyard. We bottlefed her, and weaned her onto solids, and wiggled the cat toys very gently on the ground so she could attack.

Masque lived with us for several years, but there was a lot of strife in the household by the end. After we got Masque fixed, she decided that she liked humans but she was no longer into the idea of other cats. Her brothers, with whom she had previously been very close, were very confused, and kept trying to play with and cuddle her. She was having none of it, so there were a lot of howling cats dashing around.

Since Masque moved up to Portland from California where we raised her, she’s become a floof. The winter has inspired her coat to become lush.

She runs away from me sometimes when we go to the friends’ house. I tell her that she’s ungrateful. “I raised you from a three-week-old kitten,” I say, and, “I bottle-fed you.”

If I stay long enough, she eventually comes to flop down next to me.

So, she’s like, half-grateful.

Guest post at Mary Robinette Kowal’s blog: “So Do I”

Many thanks to Mary Robinette Kowal for hosting me at her place today to let me talk about Making Lemons into Jokes, my campaign for responding to harassment with support for LGBTQ healthcare.

Trying to think about why I’m doing the fundraiser, and what LGBTQ care and harassment mean to me, I ended up in a sort of non-linear meditative space, remembering many needle-like moments that form the sharp space where isms live.

If you read it, I hope you enjoy!

“If You Were a Butt, My Butt” — the Embuttening

Yay! Thanks to everyone who has participated so far in the Making Lemons into Jokes campaign for me to write “If You Were a Butt, My Butt.” (Full story here.)

For the $500 stretch goal, Liz Argall will be creating a brand new Things Without Arms and Without Legs (and presumably butts).

Just a reminder about the upcoming stretch goals — At $600, Brooke Bolander, Adam-Troy Castro, John Chu, Ken Liu, Ann Leckie, Juliette Wade, Alyssa Wong, and I, will write a round robin story about dinosaurs.

At $700, Mary Robinette Kowal will record the audio book.

At $800, Barry Deutsch will create original cover art.

I have a few more things in the works, too!

Since we reached $500 before Monday, I have promised to release the beginning of “Butts.” And here it is:

Butt my Butt Rectangle 500

If you were a butt, my butt, then you would be a butt. This is a tautology, but it’s still true.

Since you are a butt, my butt—being a butt—I regret to inform you that the set of duties you perform are not always tidy or delicate. To begin, you are frequently sat upon, which most people object to—if you doubt me, try it on the subway sometime. Secondly, you are on a not-infrequent basis required to be an excretory passage.

Being an excretory passage may be erotic for some butts—but you are not that kind of butt, my butt, because feces are really gross.

Frankly, I’m surprised you need an orientation. You have been my butt for thirty-four years. You should have a handle on it by now.

#

A digression aimed at my esteemed readers:

By far the most difficult part of this enterprise is that the framework requires metafictional authorial insertion.

(Yes, I said insertion. Let’s face it. Everything from the title forward is going to be riddled with double entendres.)

Luckily, I live a strange and magical life, as I have documented before. For instance, there is my familial relationship with the phoenix as documented in Dr. Thackery T. Lambshead’s Cabinet of Curiosities. Also, I have written of my journeys with the guidance counselor, a time traveling madman who pilots a milk crate.

My shield for these stories is the fact that readers will assume my accounts are fictional. After all, I am a short story writer. Why not believe I am making things up? Probably, you should. Yes.

Everything from this point on is fake. Believe at your own peril.

Friday Fiction Recommendation: “One Paper Airplane Graffito Love Note” by Will McIntosh

Will McIntosh is an exceptional writer whose work deserves more recognition than it gets. He won the Hugo Award several years ago for the excellent short story “Bridesicle,” but I wish people had paid more attention to his following novels and short stories. He does aliens really, really well.

However, this story has no aliens. It has dreamy magical realism instead.

One Paper Airplane Graffito Love Note” by Will McIntosh:

heartnoteA paper airplane drifted high in the sky above the field. I nearly crashed my bicycle, straining to follow its path as it circled above the treetops at the far edge. It held the wind beautifully, effortlessly. Pausing, it hovered over the field just as a seabird holds its position above crashing waves.

I slowed to a stop, feeling for the ground with one foot, afraid to take my eye off the craft lest I lose it in the clouds. Neck craned, eyes to the sky, I let the bicycle drop. I tracked the paper’s elegant flight, running this way and that like a boy as it slowly, slowly lost altitude.

As it made its final pass, it gained speed, careening across the field. I loped after it as it tumbled end-over-end and lay still.

I plucked it from the grass.

It was folded in a distinct design—squat and wide, with a hinged belly. It was covered in writing. I recognized Anna’s handwriting instantly, and that familiar ache that I both loved and hated coursed through me. I flipped the hinge and unfolded the airplane. It was a letter to me, though because it was a graffito confession, I wasn’t named.

The leaves outside my window rustle like dry paper. The cat, stalking prey in the yard, is a paper cat. The paperboy is a paper boy, the waning sun a lightbulb. I miss you. . . .

Fingers trembling, fighting tears, I put it in my pocket. I would read it carefully in the privacy of my room above the sail shop.

“Love Is Never Still” featured in Mary Robinette’s My Favorite Bit

My short story “Love Is Never Still” is featured today on Mary Robinette Kowal’s blog. For the My Favorite Bit series, authors write short essays about their favorite parts of their work.

I cheated a little, but only because it’s honestly true: “My favorite bit about “Love Is Never Still” is probably also my least favorite bit: the complex layers I built in over the course of four months of intense revision.”

In the essay, I discuss the techniques I used to layer complexity into the prose so that the sentences were densely packed with multiple meanings and purposes. I’m really proud of how the story came out, but it was a lot of work.

Read the essay here: http://maryrobinettekowal.com/journal/my-favorite-bit/favorite-bit-rachel-swirsky-talks-love-never-still/

A Brief Survey of the Accomplishments of Chappie Writers and Editors

On my twitter feed, I wondered, what was the proper equivalent to lady editor? So I tried out a few.

With apologies to the authors, agents, and editors herein described, who I hope will find the joke fun:

Gentleman writer Ken Liu made a name for himself as much with his dapper dress as with his articulate storytelling.

Laddie editor Michael rose to prominence thanks to the help of his wife, Lynne Thomas, whose brilliant editing won her a Hugo.

Dude novelist Lavie Tidhar wrote stories with strong, active male protagonists, who worked alongside their female counterparts.

Chappie editor Niall Harrison persevered at Strange Horizons as a trail-blazing male among a staff of gender-fluid fiction editors.

Fella writer Chris East attracted novelist Jenn Reese with his willowy, nerdish charm.

Manly writer Kip charmed his wife, graphic artist Jenn Manley-Lee, into marrying him and helping to launch his career.

Bloke author Keffy Kehrli never neglected his appearance at signings: rakish hats and bright ties always accompanied his outfits.

Boy writer John Scalzi wrote charming space adventures that supplemented serious work by writers like Bujold and Bear.

Sonny boy agent Joe Monti made an effort to search out sonny boy authors who could join his stable alongside greats like Leicht and Howard.

Jonnie editor Nick Mamatas offended many readers with his shrill, testerical rantings.

And one last, for Mur Laffterty: Cock writer Dick Pricklington sported such a prodigious bulge that one editor suggested he sign his books in a swimsuit by the pool!

Late additions:

Prettyboy C. C. Finlay relied on a gender ambiguous pseudonym to lure readers into unknowingly picking up a book by a man.

Gent writer Paul Cornell was a master of work-life balance, continuing to write even after the birth of his baby.

Dudebro publisher Jason Sizemore proved males can stomach working in horror, though he acquired psychological stories, not splattergore.

Guy editor Jeff was often forgotten when he worked with his wife Ann Vandermeer who was always presumed the primary (or sole) editor.

Boyo cartoonist Barry Deutsch, though talented, didn’t do it alone; his acknowledgments admit script advice from writer Rachel Swirsky.

Stud editor John Klima is reputed to have slapped competing stud editor Jonathan Strahan; congoers gawked at the resulting “cock fight.”

Website Redesign

Thanks to my very excellent friend Nicole Thayer, I am gaining a new website made of wordpress instead of made by my HTML.

It’s not fully complete yet, but she has set up a blog for me, so I will have a fancy blog with a professional address that will also send duplicate entries to my livejournal where my friends are.

In order to make this post not a total bore, I will now add an amusing note:

*We took in our two fluffiest cats to the vet today and had the groomers give them lion cuts. They came home looking a bit like someone had glued the heads of our cats onto weird, gremlin bodies. I expected them to look more ridiculous and less pathetic.

I can’t tell if they miss their fur or not. I think they may miss looking like they are about twice as huge as they actually are.

Pictures will occur, I promise.