#Migration is threatening the very fabric of our societies. It shouldn’t. #humanrights #refugees #politics

#Migration is threatening the very fabric of our societies. It shouldn’t. #humanrights #refugees #politics

Migration is a symptom, not the root cause. We should focus on that instead

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” From “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus

I often think of these two lines from the famous poem, engraved at the foot of the Statue of Liberty in the harbor of New York City. The statue represents, to me, everything that is good about humanity, and Ms. Lazarus perfectly captured the essence of the welcome to New York, Ellis Island and the promise of America, the promise of the Land of the Free, the Land of the Brave, the American Dream.

Why do people migrate?

Nothing symbolizes the promise of America like the Statue of Liberty, as she stands proudly in the harbor of New York. Yet never before has this promise been as threatened as it is now.

I’ve asked myself that question more often than not in these past weeks, months and years, ever since we Europeans saw the biggest refugee crisis since probably World War II at our shores, as the Syrian War escalated and millions left the country, fleeing to Europe. These days, we reap the crops from the seeds that were sown in 2015: every election, in every European country, is all about migration.

In the U.S., where–for now–the Statue of Liberty still shines her lamp at night, a man got elected into the White House on the back of a promise to end migration, the very core of America’s success, to build a formidable, “beautiful” wall along America’s southern borders. And we’ve seen the pictures and reports from the Texan border, where parents are separated from their children. Children which are kept in cages, kids as young as two to four years of age.

This makes me wonder. Migration? Why on earth would we migrate? I don’t have all the answers, of course, but humanity has always been migrating. If we hadn’t, we’d still be living on the edge of rainforest and savannah in Africa, and who knows, maybe Earth had been a more peaceful place.

But migration seems to be part of human DNA, this insatiable curiosity for discovery, learning new things, exploring new realms. It’s led to humanity populating every last corner of our planet, including places I personally wouldn’t want to live in, including the Arctics, the desserts of South Africa, the Amazon jungle or Australia’s red center. But for the people who migrated there from Africa eons ago, it’s home.

Most humans aren’t migrating voluntarily…

But curiosity isn’t the only reason why we migrate, or else farming wouldn’t have become a trade. We’d all still be hunters and gatherers. And we wouldn’t be having this discussion in the first place. When our ancestors reached the shores of Alaska, Australia, the Pacific Islands, the Andes, the Amazon basin, Scandinavia etc. they settled down. They developed distinct cultures based on what the land provided, and from those early ancestors, beautiful cultures evolved: Inkas, Mayas, Inuit, Sami, Aboriginal, Samoan etc. Too many to count them all.

So we do we see migration today? Shouldn’t it all be bliss then? Well, apart from those among us who have that migratory gene, some of us humans are forced to migrate for two other reasons: 1) threats to our lives and 2) inability to survive on the land/provide for ourselves. While the distinction may seem semantic, or intellectual, from a legal point of view, it is an important one: the former entitles you to the status of a refugee under United Nation conventions, the latter does not.

In the (filthy) rich west, we seem to have forgotten what it is like not to have that daily meal on the table, we seem to have forgotten what it means to risk life for speaking our minds, praying to the wrong gods, looking suspicious or loving the wrong person. We seem to have forgotten what it is like to be persecuted, hunted, just for who we are. But it’s all coming back to us now.

Empathy is the key to understanding migration

To understand migration, we need to understand the root causes. I may never know why Mr. Trump’s granddaddy left Bavaria for a life in America. Maybe he harbored thoughts that may have become a threat to his life or maybe he merely wished for a better life for himself and his family in America. He wouldn’t be the only one, because let’s not forget: all Americans today, par first nation members, are immigrants, and the vast majority came to America, not because of persecution, but to seek a better life, i.e. 2) above, that which is not protected by those important UN laws.

When you see central American refugees at the Mexico-US border today, they are there for the same two reasons. They didn’t leave because they wanted to, but because they saw no other reason, either because they were persecuted for being a minority or because they couldn’t provide for their families. So they pack their meager belongings and head north to the promised land, just as every white person in America once did. Now think about it: “how would you react if you were in the same situation?” In the case of my American friends, why did your ancestors leave your home countries?

Fight the root cause instead

Sadly, rather than fighting the causes that make people leave their countries, we fight the refugees. The U.S. treatment of children at its borders is inhumane, but I guess it’s easier than tackling the corrupt regimes in Central America. And the EU does nothing to stop the war in Syria, which is the main reason why people flee the country. Admittedly, the situation there is very complex and Europe has little leverage over a war fought between essentially Russia and the U.S., but maybe it was time we presented Trump with the bill for what the refugees cost us next time he reminds us of our debts to NATO?

The other big wave of immigration is from Afghanistan and sub-Saharan Africa. Both regions suffer greatly from corrupt regimes, and both are –at their roots–due to Western imperialism. Be it French or English colonies, it’s not surprising that many people in those regions look to Europe, France, and the UK for delivery from governments unwilling to provide for its people. Just today I was reached by the news that ethnic cleansing is rampant in Kamerun, a country historically linked to both the UK and France, with a French and an English speaking part. They’re now at each other’s throats. But the EU does nothing.

Why it’s easier to fix North Korea than say Iran

Fixing the root cause of migration isn’t easy. I’m not naïve. It’s also the reason why Trump chooses to meet with Kim and not Ayatollah Khamenei, even though a meeting with the latter would be more promising. Iran is, for all intents and purposes an open country, a country with rule of law, a democracy even, to a degree. North Korea isn’t. Kim is a ruler in the image of the best in Europe: Charlemagne, Louis XIV, or Henry XVIII. He need never ask his people for permission to do anything. Khamenei was brought to power thanks to a revolution by the people, to end the oppression of a ruler who was held in power by, at least partially, the U.S. The fact that many Persians abhor the U.S. is found right there. Iran is a proud country, with a history dating back thousands of years and having faced the west again and again ever since Alexander the Great. Lots of reasons not to trust us. But as swiftly as Khamenei and his ayatollahs came to power, as swiftly they could be removed again if they lost the support of the Iranian people. A sign of the openness perhaps, but not all Iranians dislike their government…

Whereas in North Korea, the situation is different. The people hardly have any information, the country is completely isolated, and the memories of American troops moving through the country north toward the Chinese border in 1952 are still alive among the elder. They genuinely fear America, from first-hand contacts (and decades of propaganda since.) But if that one propaganda channel suddenly changes its tune? If the leader suddenly smiles with Trump and shakes hands? Needless to say, reality is complex, in both cases, but there are reasons why people act the way they do.

To build trust in North Korea takes one person: Kim Jong-Un. In Iran, Trump would have to convince an entire people. That takes time. In Guatemala for instance, it would take years of working to strengthen the economy, fight corruption on every level of government, empower first nation initiatives etc. to stem the flow of refugees from that country. Makes for lousy tweets, boring Instagram updates, few likes on Facebook. Hence of little interest to the new generation of politicians like Trump, Orban, Söder, Farage, Kazcynsky et al.

Nobody wants migration unless want to themselves, or have to…

This is my personal story of “migration”. Luckily it was only a nightmare, but I promise you, waking from it was a great relief. Free for you to read and contemplate.

I am an immigrant myself. I left my birth country of Switzerland for primarily political reasons. I moved to Sweden because it was more open to people like myself, more open to the idea of Europe. I got to stay not because they sympathized with me, but because I met a Swede. Humans like me have always been around, we’ve never really seen borders as anything but hurdles to overcome. But for most of us, my family and relatives included, migration is not on the menu. We are close to our homeland, our own town or village. We rarely travel beyond county lines, and even when we take that charter vacation once a year we come home, applaud a safe landing and exclaim “borta bra, hemma bäst!” (Swedish proverb: good to be gone, better to come home)

Unless war comes, or a famine, and we suddenly find ourselves fleeing for our lives. Not primarily for our own sakes, but that of our partners, our parents, and our children. So think about it, what would you do? Would you flee if you hoped to be able to provide for your family elsewhere? I would. As an author, I am privileged to host a healthy dose of imagination in my brain. It once ran amok after the Russian invasion of the Crimea and the (still) looming threat of further aggression in the West. My story “Nightmare” is the result. You can read it for free, right here, or read it along with several other short stories here.

Why are we arguing over this?

The arrival of large groups of people, numbers likely to grow exponentially once our oceans rise significantly due to global warming, is–no doubt–a threat to Western societies, our way of life, our wealth, beyond the threat from home-grown extremists. Suddenly, we must make tough choices of paying for that extra opera performance or paying for beds for refugees. A new playground for our kids or a classroom for the new arrivals. Some politicians, always looking for short-term optimization of media coverage and thus an uptick in approval rates or votes will do whatever it takes to vilify migrants. Us against them is an easy sell, certainly easier than justifying investing in Africa or Central America, closing borders seem so much more effective and media savvy than behind the doors pressure on an African dictator or two. We built the EU to stop that, to tear down borders, allow for free migration of our people, only we forgot that Europe is no island. We’re not alone. And many members bring a dark past along, former colonies eying our riches, people seeing opportunities for themselves and their families. We really cannot blame them for that. We would do the same. Many of us have already done that, or have ancestors who did, ten, one hundred, one thousand years ago. The best way to stop migration is to remove the need for it. If people can safely and peacefully provide for their families in their own countries, 99.99% won’t want to leave. The handful that still comes will continue to enrich all our cultures.

Finally…

As always, if you like my blog or my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter with competitions and hopefully interesting reading. Interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a great day and don’t be shy: your experiences and comments are valuable and most welcome.

Hans M Hirschi

#Depression, loneliness are stepping stones on the way to suicide #mentalhealth #LGBT

#Depression, loneliness are stepping stones on the way to suicide #mentalhealth #LGBT

Depression is a very common affliction, and we all can suffer from it during our lifetime

I’ve had better days, and nights. When you’re contacted by friends, as you’re brushing your teeth, getting ready for bed, alerted to a publicly posted suicide note from a close friend, your entire being goes into crisis mode, and for the next four hours, I spoke to suicide hotlines, the police, family, friends, and acquaintances, scrambling my tired synapsis trying to find clues as to where said friend might be, what he might do, how. This isn’t the first time I’m in this situation. About four years ago, shortly after we had visited a close friend in Los Angeles with our newborn son, barbecued in his yard and spent a great day, we had a conversation on the phone where said friend announced that he was done with life. He suffered from depression and had attempted suicide in the past. I knew that. I also knew he medicated and thought he was fine. Panicking, nine time zones away, I contacted a local suicide prevention program and asked them to reach out. That night, I lost a friend. He never forgave me for making that call. A call that could’ve saved his life, had it been serious.

No choice really

I lost a friend. That is fine. Because he is fine. Healthy, he met a guy, got married and moved to San Francisco. But he never forgave me for making that call because suicide is illegal in California and failing can get you in jail… All is well, which is really all I could ask for. Depression is a vicious disease. Anyone can get it, and we all are depressed from time to time. The difference between suffering from Depression and “just” being depressed is significant. We all have our lows every now and then, but when you’re clinically depressed, the effects are deeper and they last.

Picture depression like a black hole in the ground. You call in, you realize it’s not very deep and you climb out again. Sure, you may have scraped your knees, bloodied your hands, and you’re dirty, needing to wash your clothes, but all in all, you’re none worse for the wear. For someone with clinical depression, when they fall into that same hole, they can’t get out. They are unable to feel the ground underneath their feet, and they feel as if they keep falling, i.e. things are getting worse. There seems to be no way out of it, no end (no positive end anyway), and they can’t grab a hold of the walls and climb out. Everything is slippery and wet, they can’t get a foothold anywhere. They just tumble and for every step they DO take, they fall right back in.

Therapy, medication help

This is where therapy and medication come in handy. They provide a steppingstone, a foothold. They “dry” the walls of the hole, enabling the patient to climb out of it, to see normalcy again. Because that’s what this is mostly about: outlook. I, like most people, have been depressed. Not clinically, but you know, down, really down. And you know what? It’s easy to let yourself fall, once you fall. You escalate any and all disagreement, you choose to view anything negatively, even though you probably might view it as something positive if your mind frame were different. Depression, like most mental afflictions, is about our thought process, how we interpret the signals around, and we have a choice. When depressed, that choice seems mute, impossible.

Stigma

For someone who’s healthy and “normal” (as in occurring in relatively frequent numbers, not better!), it seems that making the choice of interpretation should be easy. Duh! But for someone with a bout of depression, it’s not. I get that. I’m an author, I’m surrounded by a lot of artists, and we are prone to mental afflictions. Always have been. There are good reasons for that. As authors and artists in general, we need to be able to reach the depths of human emotion in order to transform those emotions into paintings, music, sculptures, and books. Therefore, we are in great sync with our emotions. You’d be surprised by the number of artists with mental afflictions, or rather, meeting someone who claims to be “healthy”. It makes you wonder if they’re merely faking it.

And faking it, they might. Simply because there is still so much stigma associated with mental health, or the lack thereof. Even though nobody’s ashamed of admitting to hay fever, asthma or having a cold.

The downward spiral of depression

People with depression are often jovial to the outside world, they put on a brave and happy face. My friend, the one who ‘ruined’ my sleep the other night, is never seen with a serious face on any photograph. He’s got a bubbly, happy personality, and he often expresses his gratitude for all the chances he’s been given in life. As a good friend, I know it’s just a facade, a Potemkin one at that, hiding the truth of an existence most of us wouldn’t dream of in a nightmare. A difficult life.

The challenge for many people with depression is their inability to get help. The need to keeping up appearances (for whatever reason) is so strong, the willingness to acknowledge the problem so strong that they let themselves sink deeper and deeper to the point where they see no way out but to give up completely, and bow out of life. I don’t mind people ending their life, in principle. When you’re old and terminally ill, why not. We do it with our beloved pets. Better for them, better for us.

What about those around you?

But to take your life when you’re young? Physically healthy? There’s really no reason to (and I refuse to make any religious arguments here, because “Harry Potter”, who cares what he has to say on the subject) except that the patient feels as if they’re this great big burden on people. They can’t, they refuse to see the other side of the medal: family, friends.

I was telling my son about my friend and how sick he was and that he was all alone in this big city. Sascha, with the wisdom of a five-year-old, responded: “but how can he be lonely with so many people?” That is exactly the point, isn’t it? Not just as a problem with our society in general where New York feels lonelier than a tiny island with 1,400 inhabitants like ours or that someone in a depression isn’t even capable of seeing their own friends and family as present anymore if they’re not physically in the room. It’s so easy to be lonely. It’s so easy to choose not to dial a number. So simple not to. To just watch this star die, or that one. To get sucked deeper into the abyss that is depression. Not to reach out. Not to cry because one is strong really, while inside the shards of ones broken existence are cutting fresh, bleeding wounds.

It’s easy to believe that the world would be a better place without me. The pain within getting stronger, the loneliness outside palpable, physical. The decision easy. The deed as well. You write that note and you leave…

But you’re not alone…

The reactions to that note were amazing, at least from my vantage point. So many people reached out. It surprised me that one human being could be cared for by so many. So many who would miss him. No, we no longer live in a village where you see people every day, where you meet them on the way to the bathroom even. Our modern world works differently, less physical, more online. For better or worse. Calls were made, the police were alerted. Friends who had only known ‘of’ each other began to communicate. We worried, we shared, we searched. Friends spoke to family, for the first time, ever.

Finally, he was found. Alive and well. He’s now in the care of professionals. I’m glad and I felt great relief. And as my tensions released, I realized how stiff my body was, how everything hurt, headaches and just how exhausted and tired I was. Not just from lack of sleep, but from the tension, the nightmares (author here, remember? Great imagination) and the fear. When it all came tumbling down, I took a sleeping pill and went to bed. Next morning, I’m still tired, my body still aches, but at least my mind is at peace.

I speak not for myself…

I’m not the only one who cried tears of relief yesterday. A mother, a father, siblings and relatives cried, too. So did friends on every continent: Australia, America, Asia, Africa & Europe. I know that some will read this who are aware of the situation and the names of the parties involved. It is not my intention to reveal them. What I hope this post will achieve is to serve as a beacon, to others who feel they are on the verge of slipping into that hole. Don’t let yourself fall. Fight! Talk to someone. The sooner the better. You would be astonished at the great compassion humans can exhibit, if you only ask.

Call a suicide hotline. I won’t list any because every continent, every country, and every city have them, in some shape or form. Just google. Make that call. Ask for help, because even if you feel that you have nothing left to contribute, your family, your friends do, and they would miss you terribly.

If you’re young, and LGBT…

I heard your “but my family…” the second I typed the word. Yes, I know. And I understand you perfectly. You’re young, very young, still at home, and you have no friends (yet) to talk to and your mom and dad hate you for what you are, they mourn that which you can never be, they threaten you to become something you know you aren’t. I understand. Been there! It is pride month in the world, and in some countries, we feel as if we’ve accomplished it all, yet there are still so many families out there where children keep the lock to their closets close to their hearts, where society shuns you. In the words of the Trevor project: “It gets better!” Call them, talk to an understanding youth organization. Reach out, get help. You are NOT alone. Our family is big, and we are strong, and even stronger together. I will never turn away an LGBT youth in need, but I cannot be everywhere. Make that call, you are not alone. That is my solemn promise. It’s worth it.

Finally…

To my friends with depression and other mental afflictions: know that I love you and that I am grateful for your contribution to my life. I support you in your quest to feel better, to become stronger, for your strength to fight the demons.

As always, if you like my blog or my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter with competitions and hopefully interesting reading. Interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a great day and don’t be shy: your experiences and comments are valuable and most welcome.

Hans M Hirschi

Here’s what happens when you seat a dozen #introvert #authors around a table… #ASMSG #ampanicking

Here’s what happens when you seat a dozen #introvert #authors around a table… #ASMSG #ampanicking

I just came home from my first ever publisher conference in the UK

I think the answer to this post’s heading is almost a given: not much, or should I say “everything”? I’ve never been to a publisher conference before. But when my own publisher, Beaten Track, invited their eighty something authors and our families to a get-together slash publisher conference last year, I quickly said yes. For two reasons: a) Debbie, the owner had been to see me a couple of years ago and we did some amazing editing work together, and b) I had always wanted to see that corner of England, Lancashire, north of Liverpool. We booked our flights early and used miles to save money. The Hirschis were going to Britain, no matter where the bloody isle would be at the time of the meet-up.

I finally got to pick up my first copies of my new novel. As always, a special moment.

I finally got to pick up my first copies of my new novel. As always, a special moment.

A quick hello and books

We flew to Manchester and rented a car, got stuck in one of the endless queues that plague British freeways (The M25 is also known as Britain’s largest parking lot) before we pulled up in front of Debbie’s house. I had a box of books to pick up and I wanted to say hi. We flew in on Friday, but the meetup wasn’t to begin until Saturday afternoon.

I got my books and we left Debbie to finishing her master thesis in psychology, nerve-wracked as she was about combining a master thesis with organizing a publisher conference, all in one weekend. Some people are better left alone at certain times. We’d see her again within 24 hours anyway. The publisher conference started laid back with a dinner. Of the eighty something authors in Beaten Track’s stable ten showed up, plus families, which gave this a very familiar setting.

Some had driven in from the neighboring town, others from across the UK, some from Europe and some all the way from the US. But as indie author finances go, most couldn’t afford the time or the trip. Hopefully, next time we’ll be a bigger group.

So what actually happens when you DO sit down and talk?

I’m always amazed just how introvert most of us are. Even I, who usually labels himself an ambivert, gets all shy and quiet in this sort of setting. It’s almost as if we amplify our own discomfort. Sure, as an empath I tend to mirror other people, but it was almost painful in the beginning, and poor Debbie (an introvert herself) had to fight hard to kick things off. So we started with legal discussions which quickly went down rabbit holes of physical v virtual postal addresses. After that, the group had relaxed enough to talk about all sorts of things and the time allocated to us went by in no time.

So what was on our mind? Marketing, of course, is always on indie authors’ minds, and Amazon’s seemingly erratic behavior in trying to cull fake reviews and review trolls can drive any small publisher and author to an early grave. Roe Horvat, our resident graphic designer and a brilliant author in his own right, gave tips on what to think about to make a stunning cover, one that appeals to readers, and we all agreed to open up a blurb clinic.

Blurbs, every author’s bane

This was just one of the countless topics of the weekend. Note: an internal joke

This was just one of the countless topics of the weekend. Note: an internal joke

Some publishers write the blurbs for their authors, but when you have a publisher who believes that blurbs are Satan’s afterbirth (in spirit, not her expression though) then authors are on their own. And we rightly think it’s torture, because if you could summarize our novels in 200 words, why on earth did we just spend months and tens of thousands of words writing the bloody story? But maybe by helping each other, we can all get better blurbs.

Blurbs and great appealing covers are important if you want to be noticed on Amazon’s (and other online retailer’s) sites, where a reader might see your cover scroll by for a few seconds before it’s gone. The cover must make you want to click on it so you can read the blurb. The blurb must be the closer of the deal. If it doesn’t make you want to read the story you’ve lost a sale. I’ll be honest and admit that my own blurbs aren’t exactly deal closers. I’ll be a happy user of the blurb clinic.

In a way, picture our readers as flies… Your cover is the honey or the nectar that attracts it, wants it to eat, while your blurb is your pitcher plant, closing the deal. And if this picture doesn’t help you, what about the elevator pitch? No? Okay, move on… LOL

We all want to sell more, but how?

No, you don’t become an (indie) author to make money. The number of people who can live off of their writing alone can be counted in the thousands, worldwide. It is what it is. But we’d all like to sell more, and I was reminded of something (and I shared it with the group), particularly given recent events with authors beginning to trademark words (the idiots!), that Elizabeth North, CEO of Dreamspinner, said at a conference a few years ago: “Publishing isn’t a finite market. It’s not a finite cake we’re sharing. Authors don’t compete against each other. Great books will entice readers to buy more, similar books.”

I believe that Elizabeth is onto something. Sure, readers will always choose a book over another, first. But who’s to say they won’t come back for seconds, thirds? As authors, we shouldn’t view each other’s success as something bad, particularly not within a genre. It’s a good thing, because if the readers like that story, chances are indeed they’ll want more, and yours could be next.

Collaboration galore

If you are contracted by a small publisher, we all sort of pitch in. Someone helps with covers, someone else does a newsletter, a third person does proofreading, a fourth one coordinates with bookstores etc. It’s inevitable, since not one person can do it all, not in the long run, and no chain is stronger than its weakest link. I think it was a great initiative by Debbie to organize this publisher conference, and I hope it will return, in some shape or form.

While we’ve all worked with each other on projects such as anthologies or our own books, most of us had never met in person. It is that element that is crucial in human culture and communication. It smoothes our future collaborations. That alone was priceless.

Finally

As always, if you like my blog or my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter with competitions and hopefully interesting reading. Interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a great day and don’t be shy: your experiences and comments are valuable and most welcome.

Hans M Hirschi

Authors, writing and mental health: correlated? How? #amwriting #amreading #ASMSG #MondayBlogs

Authors, writing and mental health: correlated? How? #amwriting #amreading #ASMSG #MondayBlogs

There is no doubt that authors suffer from mental health issues. It’s complicated…

A while ago I noticed the absence of one of my author friends from social media. A quick check with others made it obvious that they were suffering from a bout of depression and needed some time off. Depression, PTSD, bipolar disorder, anxiety, you name it, there isn’t a mental health challenge that I haven’t encountered among my author friends. Are authors particularly prone to mental health issues? Does writing make you sick? Or do you need to be “crazy” (in the broadest sense of the word) to write in the first place? Authors and mental health, let’s have a closer look.

Mental health is a thing and it ain’t going nowhere…

Mental health is a thing in today’s society. It wasn’t when I grew up. Or at least we dealt with it differently. When my dad’s godfather’s wife jumped in front of a train after having escaped from a mental health facility, it was shushed. Nobody talked about it, yet mental health facilities were infamous. The one nearest where I grew up was in a village called Cazis. As a child, going to “Cazis” was the equivalent of being insane, crazy, a mental case. The village gave the name to the mental health hospital. It was weird when my mother was sent there for two weeks evaluation in the spring of 2013, to evaluate her Alzheimer’s. But back in the seventies and eighties, we didn’t talk about bipolar or “mano depression” as it was referred to back then. We didn’t talk about depression or any other mental disorder. Those affected were simply “crazy”, “nuts”, “insane” and that was it.

But many were never in a hospital or a mental health institution. It seems as if we have more people suffering (in general) from mental health issues today than we did back then. Is there an inflation? We did have something though, back then. Something you don’t see much anymore: originals. Every town had one (or two), “originals”, and I have a hunch they were the ones we might treat differently today.

The drawback of the increase in mental health diagnosis

I think it’s a sign of progress that we can talk (more) openly about mental health. I’m glad that it’s no longer (as stigmatizing) to say that you’re suffering from depression, any more than it should be to talk about cancer or any more “traditional” physical ailment. On the other hand, it’s a shame we still distinguish between mental and physical health. The vast majority of mental health issues are physical, due to malfunctions in the brain, not just “mental”, i.e. how we think/feel. Hormonal imbalances, genetic defects, etc. There are countless things that can go wrong and make an organ as complex as the brain tick differently. What we consider the norm is not very common.

Yet I’m not entirely convinced that every diagnosis is helpful. In one of my first psychology classes, one of my colleagues asked the professor how he would define mental health. The professor didn’t think long before he replied: “Mental health is the absence of a diagnosis.” It’s a sentence I’ve never forgotten. It’s a consolation that in one way or another, we’re all mentally sick. That we simply haven’t been diagnosed yet. On the other hand, I wonder why we need to slap a diagnosis on children just to get them help in school, why so many of society’s social welfare is based on mental disease. No diagnosis? Sorry, we can’t help you, because we don’t have a neat little box to fit you into.

I have no answers here, but I see it as one of our time’s greatest challenges to tackle. If you have a view to contribute with, please feel free to comment.

Chicken or egg question?

Mental health for authors then… When I think about that, I often wonder what comes first? Do you need to be nuts to write or does writing drive you crazy?

English author Britt Michaelsen once said something very profound: “authors need the thickest of skins and the thinnest of skins.” What did she mean by that? To write, authors need to be very thin-skinned in order to be in touch with their characters, their stories. To learn from other people about the human condition, to be empathic. But we also need the thickest of skins to handle criticism and feedback from editors to publishers and publicists, not to mention reviewers and readers.

How do you combine that, without going schizophrenic? No pun… As an empath, I know acutely just how difficult life can be when you easily pick up on other people’s emotional state. To constantly listen in on how other people feel, to be intimately in touch with your characters can be taxing, and it can be depressing. It can also be exhilarating, thrilling. But does it cause depression? Does it make you bipolar?

To read bad reviews, having to suffer from online trolling and all the other misery out there can be challenging, too. When people ask you to go and die, kill yourself when a story you poured your heart’s blood into is being trashed for no other reason than because people get away with it, it can be very depressing. When you win awards, read beautifully crafted reviews and receive fan mail, it makes your heart skip beats. But does it cause depression? Bipolarity?

No easy answers…

I don’t think I have the answer. Not sure I want one. But it’s a fact that many authors suffer from mental health issues. Whether we are overrepresented compared to the general population I can’t say. I’m not sure if it is our thin sanity membrane that enables us to write. Or is it writing and the consequences thereof that wear down our mental health immunity. Maybe a combination of both? What do you think? Whichever it is, mental health is a thing. It’s here to stay, and I’m glad that authors thematize it in their writing, helping others to have characters to identify with, and for all of us to be able to have a more open discussion about mental health, without stigma.

Feel free to contribute! As always, if you like my blog, my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and hopefully interesting reading. Interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a great week.

Hans

Cat-phishing, deceit and authors: a never-ending story #amwriting #amreading #asmsg #LGBT

Cat-phishing, deceit and authors: a never-ending story #amwriting #amreading #asmsg #LGBT

Cat-phishing: will authors, will readers ever learn? The truth will always come out in the end

I woke up to another story of “cat-phishing”, “fraud”, identity mischief and then some. Not the first and most certainly not the last time. This seems to be a thing in (LGBT) author circles. But why? And why is it so frequent in the LGBT writing circles? I see several reasons: the economy and the stigma still associated with being (associated with) LGBT.

Who is stupid enough to voluntarily put on the LGBT hat?

Right. Right? I mean those of us who are gay, lesbian, bi, trans, queer etc. we can tell countless stories of discrimination, violence, people cutting their ties with us etc. Suicide & homeless rates, psychological ailments etc. are all much higher in the LGBT community than in the straight community. Hardly a surprise when you look at the way we’re being treated at the hands of others. Coming out the first time is life-changing, but we have to keep doing it, every day, for the rest of our lives. You might not believe that, but just telling a stranger about your husband is a coming out. You risk judgment (from a glare to a fist in your face), every time. And for a split second you have to make a decision: lie or be honest, is it worth potentially risking your life?

LGBT people have always written fiction, and some of us did so under a pseudonym or a pen name, maybe because we weren’t out, maybe because our employers didn’t know (reasons vary). When (mostly) straight women decided to start to write love stories about men (M/M romance), they did so under pen names, too. Some even chose male pen names (Some claim that readers prefer male writers; personally I couldn’t care less about the genitals, the gender of a writer. It’s their penmanship I care about.) But they did so because their families didn’t know they were writing “smut” (not my word!), writing about those despicable gays and their anal intercourse.

Many of these women live double lives, with a daytime existence in conservative churches with horribly conservative families, and a writer’s existence where they indulge in butt-fucking stories. Sorry to be blunt. I know that the vast majority of these writers are great human beings who support the LGBT community, some have even come out as LGBT themselves, as bi-, trans or genderqueer. But if your mother in law is a Southern Baptist, or your husband a Mormon, I totally understand why you’d write under a pen name…

It’s the economy, stupid!

Writing has changed, a lot, just in the past ten to fifteen years. With thousands of new novels published every day, readers making statements like “I don’t pay more than ¢99 for anything under 200 pages” etc., making a living as a writer has become virtually impossible. Most of us have day jobs where we work our asses off, dreaming of going home to write. We follow our muse, our passion in our free time, in the wee hours of the night.

Frequently occurring scandals in the LGBT writing community have scared away readers (and some writers), making it even more difficult to make a living. For me, my royalties peaked in 2015. After that, they’ve never recovered, after that first big blow-out on GollumReads. Several publishers have left the industry, too. Many authors are now self-publishing and prices have been slashed even more.

Did I mention that the LGBT community is tiny? Our market share is so small that it hardly registers on the grand scale of the likes of Amazon et al. And as long as our straight allies will say this about my writing (“I can’t read this, it’s not for me. I’m not gay!”), we’ll never be able to really make a difference, financially.

It’s a fine line…

If you don’t make a living with your writing, and if you hide behind a mask (fake or just a pen name), it’s easy to cross a line, accidentally or purposely. These days, you can add a button from PayPal to your website (I’ve removed mine since I never got any donations), or create a Patreon account or a crowdfunding campaign. The latter seem to be particularly popular with authors. I’ve long considered creating a Patreon account myself, to supplement my family income. Right now we live off my husband’s income and a stipend I receive from my father. My annual royalties are less than $500, annually! I say this not because I want anyone to feel sorry for me, but because I have nothing to hide. As a writer of gay fiction, my potential readership is infinitely smaller than those who write M/M.

I’ve felt conflicted about Patreon, simply because the added work that is needed to provide patrons with extra content would be taxing, no matter if you have one or a thousand patrons. And I can see how some might use Patreon or GoFundMe to specifically finance a project. I was thinking about audiobooks. I’ve seen a narrator create a GoFundMe to finance a trip to Europe (he failed miserably), and I’ve seen more than one such campaign to finance everything from laptops to funerals and healthcare. Mind you, these are all American cases, where people generally don’t have healthcare insurance. In desperation, people go to desperate lengths.

Now combine a pen name/alias and a blog post asking about money and a tweet about your health and boom, you’re awfully close to crossing a line. Just saying. The result is nasty. Already I’ve had this huge discussion on Twitter where people were talking about “real gay men” writing… While I’m grateful that some thought my name to be worthy of being on the list, but yeah, I’m not thrilled, because women write as well as men (the irony of this blowing up on March 8?)

Let the witch hunt begin…

After each of these scandals, we lose readers. We lose writers. We all lose. But worse, many among us feel compelled to publicly state who we are, what we are. For me, that’s easy. What you see is pretty much what you get. But what about the wife of the Mormon? What about the daughter in law to that Southern Baptist? They won’t be able to, lest they risk their marriage, their families, their kids! Coming out has real-life implications, even for straight women who voluntarily associate with Dorothy’s friends… Still, to this date, marriage equality notwithstanding.

I for one will never start a Patreon. I was skeptical from the get-go, afraid that the extra work wouldn’t be worth the few dollars a month you get (if any.) But more importantly, I do not wish to become dependent on anyone else, not give anyone (besides my family) the power over me and how I live my life, what I do with my money. Some patrons will always think they can tell you what to do (or not) with their money…

How to support authors…

There used to be a time when authors made a living by selling books. Maybe I’m naïve, but I’d like us to return to that place. If you want to help an author, here’s what you can do:

  • buy their books
  • if you like a book, tell your friends. Tell strangers, tweet, post on Facebook, upload the cover to Instagram. Review.
  • Follow our blogs, subscribe to newsletters, like posts etc. Every little helps.
  • Stay away from pirate sites. This is a huge issue for all of us. I pay hundreds of dollars every year just to fight piracy and have been able to get Google to stop showing search results to over 4,000 (!!!) pirate sites. In less than two years.
  • Leave us alone. We are human beings and we have a right to privacy. As a reader, you have no right to an author’s personal life, what they do, don’t do etc. So please, don’t pry, don’t stalk. If authors share their personal life, it has to be their choice. (This is, of course, by no means an endorsement of criminal activity by authors, just to make this perfectly clear!)
  • Be careful with (or stay away from) crowd-funding campaigns. You will never have a guarantee that money will be used as advertised. Buy an extra book instead, the audio version, or maybe a paperback of your favorite title if you want to support an author a bit extra. Write a nice post about their writing. The more people who buy books, the better, for all of us.

“Fangirling” is fine…

…even for us boys. Of course, it’s okay to idolize someone. I remember meeting my favorite ski star, Ken Read, ages ago when I was just a teen. Had it not been for my Dad who was with me, I’d never been able to get that autograph. I was just too star-struck! And when I stood feet away from one of my great ABBA idols, Benny Andersson, for the first time in my life (aged above 35!), I was completely paralyzed. Ask my husband. He thought it was hilarious.

When you meet us authors, remember that we are human beings, too. We are flawed, imperfect. Authors have mood swings, good days, bad days. We get sick, we fight with our families and friends, and we don’t always weigh every word twice, despite making a living off writing. So give us the benefit of the doubt. Focus your fangirling on our writing, our work, not on us as human beings.

Don’t be disappointed if we don’t reciprocate your love. An author (artist) has tons of fans, and they know us very well, but we can’t keep tabs on our readers. Sure, we’ll get to know some of you better, but it’s impossible to know you all, to be “friends” with you all. And despite what Facebook will have you believe, just because we accept a friend request, we’re still strangers. You don’t know us, we don’t know you.

I’m of course aware that we live in “social media” times, and that there are expectations to be out there. Some of us find that more easily accomplished. Others hide behind avatars, pen names etc. As long as we respect each other, we’ll be fine. Deceit isn’t, ever.

What is your take? Agree, disagree?

These are my personal views, of course. I’m fully aware that taking sides in contentious issues puts the author at risk. Bad reviews, public persecution even. But that is a risk we must take, or so I think. Feel free to contribute! As always, if you like my blog, my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and hopefully interesting reading. Interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a great weekend.

Hans

Ethnocentricity, one of writing’s biggest perils… #amwriting #amreading #ASMSG

Ethnocentricity, one of writing’s biggest perils… #amwriting #amreading #ASMSG

Ethnocentricity is primarily a western affliction, and it stinks to the high heavens

When you travel as much as I do, you get to visit a great many different cultures. If you keep your eyes open and don’t just eat at restaurants serving food from your own cuisine. If you avoid walking through streets blind-folded, you’ll note that there are often subtle, sometimes big, at times in your face, humongous, cultural differences. To be oblivious to that is called ethnocentricity, to put your own culture at the center of all things, and to value your own culture above all else.

Let me state this as clearly as I can: there is no culture that is “better” than any other. We are all just different. Sure, we may dislike aspects of one culture, but when we criticise another culture, or what a culture endorses, we need to be careful to understand what we do. Even more importantly, we need to understand what we do not! Last week, I’ve seen many of my friends on Facebook share an article about Olympian Gus Kenworthy sharing pictures with cute puppies, decrying the Korean tradition of eating dog. Having just written a book about Korea, and after having spent some time in the country, I’m well aware of the practice.

Here’s the thing:

  • eating dog (or any animal for that matter) is completely fine and none of your fucking business! So is being a vegetarian or vegan.
  • Focus instead on the  treatment of the animals while they are being raised

In the reporting of Kenworthy’s visit, a small sentence of his often fell by the wayside:

“Yes, there is an argument to be made that eating dogs is a part of Korean culture. And, while don’t personally agree with it, I do agree that it’s not my place to impose western ideals on the people here.”

I could sign this sentence, too. I would not eat dog. But I could’ve also asked him: then why do you impose your western ideals?

On the other hand, ask a billion something Indian Hindus how they feel about the West eating veal and beef, or ask Jews and Muslims about our practice of eating pork… No, we would never listen, wouldn’t care. Even in the West, some of us eat some pretty ‘weird’ shit: In central Europe, eating horse is still a big thing, some eat cute baby goats, we eat cute little lambs, not to mention bunnies. We eat whale meat, seals, and don’t get me started on eating tongue, brain, penises or testicles. It’s a thing. I’m sure the majority of people on the planet strongly disagree with the practice of any of these. However, I’d never criticise anyone for eating that, as long as the animal is treated well while raised/hunted unless of course it is threatened by extinction (which sadly is the case in some whale cases.)

Wouldn’t it be nice if Mr. Kenworthy used his high profile to shine a light on how we treat our own animals, rather than shaming another culture? This is not to say that I do not agree that dogs aren’t to be treated well, but maybe we should let the Koreans deal with that themselves? Making them lose face in the eyes of the world is hardly going to go down well…

He who cast the first stone…

ethnocentricity: maybe we should look to ourselves first?

How do you feel about eating this? Image: PETA

What really had me riled though was this: did Gus ever criticise American poultry? Does he ever eat chicken nuggets or the colonel’s original recipe? Why does he have to travel to Sochi or PyongChang to find a worthy cause when there are thousands of poultry farms right in his own backyard? Farms where male chicklets (worthless to egg farmers) are ground to death alive (!!!) and where chickens are processed for meat in ways that even the Nazis couldn’t have come up with.

I love chicken, eat loads of it, but I make sure to eat organic products from farms where the animals lived a good life before helping me see the next day. If you decide that you want to eat meat, at least make sure the animals are treated well while alive. That’s hardly too much to ask for.

Ethnocentricity in writing

Sadly, ethnocentricity is a thing in writing, as well. We are quick to dismiss other people’s experiences, lives, cultures simply because they don’t conform to what we are comfortable with, what we know. I’ve just used one example, I could have made many others. Even people from others cultures living among “us” in the West are often judged and portrayed using broad brushes and from our own point of view. Not a good way to learn about the diversity in the world. And not a good way to create tolerance and cultural understanding.

Just as the Kenworthy article is propagated through social media, so is our writing, black and white for generations. Books have a long shelf-life, keep that in mind. Reducing people to cultural stereotypes, attributing them a “certain way” of being, doing things etc., without really knowing them is a big danger and pitfall. Worse, to criticise them for their ways is damaging at best. Maybe we better look at our own ways before we judge others?

One of the best ways of dealing with potentially sensitive topics is to avoid them. I would not write about eating dog in my book about Korea. Not because I’m not aware of the practice, but because – to be perfectly honest – it doesn’t add value to my story. It would disgust the majority of my western readers, and it would be an insult to potential Korean readers. It just makes no sense to raise a topic for the sake of a sensation or a thrill. That’s my point of view.

How do you feel? How do you avoid ethnocentricity?

These are my personal views, of course. I’m sure others have different views, diverging ways of looking at things. Feel free to contribute!

As always, if you like my blog, my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and hopefully interesting reading. Interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a great week.

Hans