New Book Needs Readers

As some of you may know, my first published book was Born on the Wrong Planet, a memoir about my weird childhood, printed by Autism Asperger Publishing Company.

Since its publication, I’ve jumped from one genre to another, self-publishing several books including a science fiction novel, a short story collection, a children’s book, and various comic collections.

But now I am back to the memoir genre. This time, it’s titled “Erika to Earth.” Instead of focusing on my own weirdness, it’s about the weirdness of the rest of the world. In addition to telling my own story, it explores many aspects of human society in general, from my somewhat alien perspective.

It’s the “next book” I was talking about in this post. That essay dissecting the dubious concept of “lie-detecting” and “signs of lying” will be part of it.

There are also chapters about things like:

-cooking
-indoor gardening
-how counting sheep can turn into a surrealist fantasy
-the dangerous concept of expecting fictional characters to behave consistently when real people don’t
-pet starlings
-married life
-my obsessive fear of societal collapse and the extinction of humanity
-subconscious meanings in paintings
-haircuts
-the fine line between standing up for yourself and being a jerk
-the fine line between being healthily satisfied with what you have and settling for an unacceptable situation
-the fact that words are symbols
-the parallels between Christmas traditions and autistic routines
-whether my indifference to music makes me a bad person
-exercise
-willpower
-the definition of emotion
-how common one-in-a-million coincidences actually are

Interspersed with those chapters are some more recent stories from my life since the publication of BOTWP, and the various homes, careers, pets and friendships that have come and gone.

Basically, I’m looking for people to proofread the draft for me. You don’t have to be an expert on grammar, spelling, or any of the topics I address in the book (although if you have enough knowledge to catch any errors I made, I’ll appreciate it). What I’m mainly seeking is a wide range of readers who can give me their input on whether the stuff I write is unclear, ambiguous, confusing, or otherwise hard to read.

I can send digital copies in PDF, RTF and TXT form.

You don’t even have to read the whole book. I’d be happy even just to receive comments on one chapter at a time, whichever one you have something to say about.

What’s in it for you? Well, unfortunately, I can’t offer material goods, but you’ll get to read the book, both free of charge and before it officially comes out. And if you give me any useful constructive advice, I’ll put your name on the dedication page (unless you’d rather I leave you out, or credit you by a pseudonym).

This book may not be for everyone. Please note these things before asking me to send you a copy:

This book contains some mentions of violence, both by and toward autistic people, including some discussion of an abusive relationship. It also has some mentions of suicide and sexual assault (in the abstract, not referring to a specific case).

It contains some mentions of animal death, some mentions of human death, lots of discussion of severe anxiety, some ableist language, and various emotionally traumatizing conflicts.

It has a lot of discussion of social justice and civil rights in their various forms, mostly in support of them, but reasoned in what I hope is a critical and rational manner. I’m not asking people to evaluate my opinions, but I’d welcome constructive criticism of the way in which I present my thoughts.

If you still think this is a book you’d like to read and critique, please send me a message at humanalien at gmail dot com with an email address where I can send you a digital copy.

If you can’t read it yourself, I’d still very much appreciate you passing on the link to this post to others who may be interested, through email, blog posts or whatever.

Thank you all,

Erika Hammerschmidt

Another Craft Fair and Bake Sale coming up!

So, there’s another craft fair at the Minnehaha Free Space!

Initially their calendar said April 18th, but it has apparently been changed to the 25th.



Minnehaha Free Space Craft Fair & Bake Sale

(Facebook page)

Sat Apr 25, 2015

1:00 pm – 6:00 pm

I’ll have a table, selling my handmade jewelry and other crafts.

My jewelry is fancy Renaissance-fair-type stuff that you can see on my website.

There will be lots of other cool artists too! Watch for details at Minnehaha Free Space’s Facebook page.

Since it’s a bake sale, there will also be baked goods! Probably including some vegan and gluten-free options, because Minnehaha Free Space is into that.

The craft fair will be at:

Minnehaha Free Space

3747 Minnehaha Ave

Minneapolis, MN 55406

email: radspacetc@riseup.net

call: 612-729-3733

If you can get to downtown Minneapolis, it’s easy to get to Minnehaha Free Space from there by train. Here are directions from the downtown library. (I’ll give very detailed step-by-step directions, because there was a time when I was so scared of going new places that I would skip out on fun events just because I would have to get to them on my own… in those days, knowing the route in this much detail would have been a big help for me.)

Without further ado:

*******

First, head from the library along Hennepin toward 5th Street:


At 5th Street, turn and wait at the Warehouse Station and Platform.

Get on a Blue Line train toward Mall of America:

Get off at the 38th Street Station:



Turn left and go down 38th Street:




Turn on Minnehaha and you’ll be there!

Otherkin

I have occasionally described myself as an alien.

And lately I have spent a significant amount of time on Tumblr (where all genders, orientations, and other forms of identity are accepted and defended, and furthermore, there are new and unusual identities gaining recognition all the time).

So I’m sure some people are wondering what my opinions are on the phenomenon of “otherkin.”

That question encompasses several questions, which I’ll try to answer one by one.

1. How do you define the term “otherkin”?

As I understand it, otherkin are people who experience a feeling of being something other than a human, trapped in a human body.

2. Is it real?

Of course. It’s a feeling, so, if people feel it, then by definition it is real.

3. Is it just a feeling? Or is it really what people say it is?

If you mean being a literal reincarnation of some animal, a literal descendant of some alien, or a soul that some supernatural power literally placed in the wrong body… then, in my opinion, no.

However, I don’t find those ideas any more unlikely than the claims of mainstream religion.

To people who earnestly believe them, I extend the same respect and tolerance that I extend to religious people, as long as they aren’t using it as an excuse to hurt others.

You don’t have to share people’s beliefs to respect their feelings.

4. Is it comparable to being transgender? (In other words, is it the same type of feeling, and of the same strength?)

Without having had both those experiences, I can’t give a confident answer to that.

I’m not telepathic. I can’t know for certain what another person feels, or how strongly.

I can only make guesses based on people’s words and actions.

From observation of words and actions, I’m pretty sure there is a wide variation among individuals, both transgender and otherkin, in terms of how strongly they identify as such.

In both groups there appear to be some who identify with the group consistently and strongly throughout life, and others who identify temporarily and less strongly while they are growing up and trying to figure out their own identities.

Is the consistent-and-strong identification more common among transgender people than among otherkin? Yes, from what I can tell.

The recorded history of the transgender movement gives lots of evidence of transgender identity being felt very strongly, often to the point of undergoing major surgery, and risking one’s job, relationships and even survival for the sake of expressing one’s identity.

There’s less recorded evidence of otherkin going to such extremes.

However, to be completely open-minded and scientific, I have to consider the possibility that this is because otherkin are less common overall, or because they have not had communities that recognized the existence of their identity until the last few years.

And otherkin (or possible otherkin) are not completely absent from recorded history: there is, for example, the 1987 case of the Leopard Man of Skye.

Also, even if the experience of being otherkin is generally much less strong and enduring than the experience of being transgender, that doesn’t mean it is undeserving of any respect at all.

5. Should we demand respect and recognition for otherkin, in the same way we demand it for transgender and gay people? Or would that harm the social justice movement overall by causing people to take it less seriously?

I can see both sides of that. On the one hand, I would find it very hard to argue that any group does not deserve respect and acceptance. But on the other hand, I’m not sure society as a whole is ready to accept otherkin.

And, if otherkin associate themselves with the transgender movement by using some of the same terminology and rhetoric, it’s possible that could cause setbacks for society’s willingness to take transgender people seriously.

Society is starting to accept gay rights, transgender rights, women’s rights, and racial equality. That’s a great thing, and it would be terrible to lose that progress by pushing demands for more acceptance on society faster than it can adapt.

I’m not saying that people *shouldn’t* be ready to accept all non-harmful forms of self-expression at once. I’m saying that, in reality, they aren’t… and, however unfair it may be, the success of all the various human-rights movements depends on society being ready to accept them.

So maybe we need to wait a while, in the same way that we’re not going to start fighting for the right to polyamorous marriage while we’re still struggling to get gay marriage accepted.

But, even if that’s the case, it’s not a question of whether otherkin deserve acceptance; it’s a question of whether it’s feasible at this point in time. I’m all for accepting everyone who expresses their identity without hurting other people with it.

6. Do you identify as otherkin?

I can see how people could get that idea, since my first published book was literally titled “Born on the Wrong Planet.” But no.

As a teenager, maybe even as a college student, I might have identified as otherkin, if I had known about that community. I have even actively described myself as feeling like an alien trapped in a human body.

But that feeling isn’t prevalent enough in my life for me to consider it part of my identity.

(Especially since I’ve managed to surround myself with friends and loved ones who are as alien as me. It’s easier to feel that I fit in on Earth, if I carefully pick the elements of Earth that I get to spend time with.)

What Data meant by “emotionless”: The mind and body of feelings

When John and I sat down and watched all of “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” the thing that most consistently strained my suspension of disbelief wasn’t the faster-than-light travel, the plethora of humanoid aliens, or the idea of Wesley being allowed on the bridge.

It was Data the android. Not because he was an intelligent machine, but because he claimed to have no emotion.

He functioned, in all the most important respects, exactly like any creature with emotion. He made efforts to preserve his own life. He showed loyalty toward some people and distrust of others, and seemed to prefer the company of certain people. He was constantly motivated to seek new and interesting experiences. And on top of it all, he said, outright, countless times, that he had a desire to feel emotion.

At the time, I couldn’t find any way to spackle this gaping plothole. Desire is typically considered an emotion– one of the strongest and most important.

In fact, if you’re a conscious being, capable of making your own choices, you have to have the emotion of desire. That’s because all choices are caused by desire. I’ve analyzed hundreds of the choices I’ve made, and every single one was made because I either wanted it, or wanted something I could get by doing it.

I don’t often make absolute statements, but I’m pretty sure it’s impossible to make a choice for any reason other than desire.  Even if you do something because someone has a gun to your head, you’re still choosing to do it because it’s a means to the end of staying alive, which is something you presumably want. Even if you did something totally pointless that gained you nothing, just to prove you could, it would still be because you wanted to prove it.

So, I thought, if a creature that behaved like Data truly had no emotion, then he would not be a conscious entity. He’d be an automaton, programmed with an assortment of stock responses to an assortment of types of situations that his creator imagined he might face. Complicated, yes– it would take an enormous number of pre-programmed responses and simple algorithms working together, to simulate sapience as well as he does. But not truly conscious. The choices he made would actually be the choices of the person who programmed him. The prosecutor in “The Measure of a Man” would have been right about Data: he would not be a sentient being.

Even when depressed people enter a phase of “emotionlessness,” they still have the basic emotion of desire, on a few of the most fundamental issues. When they are unable to feel most of the emotions in their day-to-day lives, they can get bored and exhausted with this life of doing things they don’t care about. Sometimes the desire to stop the pointless routine becomes so strong they commit suicide. Sometimes they press onward and keep going through the motions anyway, because they want to avoid making other people sad– which is also a desire.

If you were capable of conscious thought, and not controlled by anything, but you were incapable of feeling desire… then you would do nothing. You wouldn’t go to work, because you’d have no desire to make money and keep your home. You wouldn’t respond to requests, encouragement or commands from other people, because you’d have no desire to please them or avoid their retaliation. You wouldn’t eat or drink, because you’d have no desire to stop being hungry or keep being alive. You’d die soon, but you wouldn’t actively kill yourself, because you’d have no desire to die. If you had no desires, you would absolutely not give a crap either way about anything.

But maybe desire isn’t always an emotion.

How do we define “emotion”? Lately I’ve realized that, for my whole life, I’ve been defining it as “any state of mind that can be described using the word ‘feel.'”

I’ve been using the word “desire” for the condition where your chest feels tight and you have to force yourself to breathe and your muscles are cramping with the effort to hold them back from trying to grab what you want… and I’ve also been using it for the condition where, rationally, you realize that the thing you’re reaching for is more likely to contribute to the achievement of your long-term goals than the alternative.

In either case you can say that you “want” the thing, or “feel a desire” for it. But maybe those two cases aren’t just different degrees of the same emotion.

What is emotion? It’s partially a mental condition. Mentally, you realize that you want something– to run away from danger (fear), to fight your enemy (anger), to be close to your loved ones (affection). It’s like a thought, but one that’s not necessarily put into words.

Usually, you don’t give conscious thought to why you want the thing. If you analyze it, you’ll almost always find that you want it because you think it will make you more happy than the alternative– “happy” being perhaps the only emotion that isn’t a form of desire.

Then again, maybe sadness isn’t a form of desire, either. It goes along with a wish for things to be better, but the sadness itself is focused on the feeling that things are bad right now. Most feelings involve motivations, but the mental portion of happiness or sadness could be described instead as an opinion: it’s the opinion that things are bad right now, or the opinion that things are good.

But for any feeling, in addition to the opinion or motivation itself, there are all the physical symptoms that go along with it.

When I try to imagine what fear feels like, my sensory memory supplies a pounding heart, cold limbs, muscles on a hair-trigger, ready to run or jump, and a slight tingly pain on the skin from the rush of adrenaline. Love feels warm, with a relaxed sensation, a swelling of the chest, and a different skin tingle that seeks touch. Anger is tight-chested, with pressure in my head and an ache in my cheeks and eyebrows, and the reflex to clench every muscle.

But what is an emotion, aside from a motivation or opinion and the body’s response to it? Is there anything beside those components?

I try to define what fear feels like, besides the opinion that I’m in danger and the motivation to save myself. Besides that, all I can think of are the physical sensations, ebbing and flowing in response to my thoughts about whatever I’m afraid of.

Every time I analyze a particular part of how an emotion feels, I realize that it’s a sensation of the body, not the mind. The only parts that aren’t physical are the thoughts that the situation is good or bad, and that I need to do something about it.

Maybe that’s what emotion is: the synergy of the mind’s part and the body’s part. Maybe the Tin Man was right: maybe you do need a heart to feel love.

Maybe it’s no accident that we use the word “feel” for both emotions and physical sensations.

I think Data had the “opinion and motivation” part of emotion. Probably he was programmed to have it. He considered some situations bad and some good, and he tried to seek out the good ones. And that couldn’t have been based only on logic, because if you try to base your desires only on logic, you eventually reach a question you can’t answer.

Why do I want to fight that alien monster?
Because if I don’t, it could kill my captain.

Why do I want it not to kill my captain?
Because he is valuable to the Federation.

Why do I care if the Federation loses a valuable captain?
Because anything that weakens the Federation threatens the political stability of the galaxy.

Why do I care about the stability of the galaxy?
Because instability could kill millions, including me and everyone I know.

Why do I care if everyone dies?
Because that would be terrible.

Why do I consider it terrible?
…I don’t know. I just do.

Logic is a way of deducing conclusions from premises. It can’t choose which premises you start out with.

Data seems to have had a few basic motivations, probably programmed into him by Dr. Soong, from which he reasoned all his decisions and conclusions. Basic motivations like “I must protect life.” He couldn’t logically explain why they made sense to him; he felt them in the same way we feel an instinct. But despite this, he still didn’t consider himself to have emotions.

Maybe it was just because he didn’t have an organic body. When something bad happened and he recognized that it was bad, his brain couldn’t respond by pumping his body full of the hormones of fear or anger or sadness.  He couldn’t feel the part of emotion that goes beyond opinion and motivation: the accelerated heartbeat, the tingles, the muscle tightness, the building of tears in the eyes. I think that was what he meant when he called himself emotionless.

Maybe the “emotion chip” he eventually got was a simulator that fed his brain the sensory feedback of an emotional body.

I was thinking about all this because I sometimes feel a bit guilty when I see something terrible in the news and don’t have a strong emotional reaction to it– because it’s too huge to process, or because I’ve been desensitized by reading so much news, or whatever causes those unfeeling moments I have.

But even when that happens, I still have the opinion-and-motivation part of emotion. I believe that what happened is bad. I experience a desire for it not to happen again. I do what I can to help prevent it.

And maybe that’s enough.

Data didn’t have the physical component of feeling. But he was a moral person. If a crewmate died, he didn’t feel a pang in his heart, a tightness in his throat and tears welling up in his eyes. But he still did everything he could to prevent their deaths. His desire to save them wasn’t physical, but it was strong– he prioritized it above other, less important things that he also valued.

So, if you do good things not because you love it, but because you believe you should… if you help others and protect civilization because you believe it’s the right thing to do, even if your heart doesn’t hurt when imagining the alternatives… if you see tragedies on the news and you don’t react by crying or clenching your teeth, but you still donate to charity or call your congressman to fight against those tragedies… then you don’t need to feel ashamed at not feeling the expected emotions. Data was one of the good guys, and you’re at least as good as he was.

The cost of good mental health, and my fuel-efficient body


If gasoline is expensive and you have a lot of driving to do, then you want a car that can do a lot of driving without burning much gas. Similarly, if food is hard to get and you have a lot of physical labor to do, then you want a body that can do a lot of exercise without burning many calories.

So, most of human history has encouraged the survival of fuel-efficient bodies that gain weight easily and don’t lose it easily. They can lose weight if they try hard enough, but in some cases, the amount they would have to try would be enough work to comprise a full-time job.

The rest of this essay has been taken down for inclusion in my next memoir. Stay tuned for updates.

Some thoughts on autism spectrum disorders and violence.

On the one side are news stories that keep claiming that the latest mass shooter “was autistic,” even when there is little or no evidence that they had such a diagnosis or any traits matching it.

On the other side, there are people rightly protesting this portrayal of autism, pointing out that “autistics are gentle, peaceful people” and “there is no correlation at all between autism and violence.”

I feel I have something to add to this.

The rest of this essay has been taken down for inclusion in my next memoir. Stay tuned for updates.

People’s ability to change


Sometimes change is what we need. People know this, deep down, even when they tell you that you should always be happy with the way you are. Even by saying that, they’re trying to change you from someone who wants to change into someone who doesn’t.

But is change always possible?

The rest of this essay has been taken down for inclusion in my next memoir. Stay tuned for updates.

Grammar, rule exceptions, and thinking in words, pictures and raw data

Did you know that words are not things?

Well, they are, in the sense that a word is a type of thing. But a word is not the thing that it’s a word for. It is a symbol to represent that thing. The word “apple” isn’t an apple. An apple is an apple. It doesn’t need to be called by that word. It doesn’t have an inherent name of its own. Names are just tools that humans invented for talking about it. It doesn’t need to be called by any word to be what it is.

Of course you knew that. But you’d be surprised how often people forget.

The rest of this essay has been taken down for inclusion in my next memoir. Stay tuned for updates.

Last day for the fantastic kaleidoscopic Abby and Norma poster!

Attention, fans of my webcomic Abby and Norma: the exclusive poster sale is alllllmost over! Tomorrow it ends! Become a backer at app.net!

There is a Backer campaign to make a crazily cool, very exclusive limited-edition Abby and Norma poster! It will be a psychedelic geometric explosion of images and quotations from the comic, and will look awesome on your wall regardless of the style of your home.

And after this campaign is over, there will be NO MORE. You will own one of the very few posters like this in existence!

Remember Ron’s art? He would absolutely approve.

Become a backer at app.net and get your own poster, plus loads of other cool stuff like books, stickers, t-shirts and even a chance to add your own idea to the poster design!

Sometimes a lizard is just a lizard?

Another reposted old blog post, from November 18, 2006. Yet another bizarre dream, and some psychological thoughts.

*****

Forget Freud and his book of what things mean in dreams. Yes, dreams have symbolism, but it is different for every single freaking person.

The other night I had a dream where a lizard symbolized an aloe plant. Seriously. In the dream I had a couple of pet lizards that kept running around and getting their tails cut off in various ways. Like, I tried to keep them in my locker while I went to work, but I closed the locker on their tails and accidentally cut them off. I suppose they must’ve grown back, because they got cut off a lot of other ways too.

But the point is that when they lost their tails, the tail stump wasn’t red, it was translucent green, like when you cut a leaf off an aloe plant. And then when I woke up, I noticed that my aloe plant had fallen off the shelf and was lying in a big pile of dirt on the floor. I mentioned it to my husband, who said that it had fallen off the previous day, but I hadn’t noticed it and he hadn’t gotten around to telling me.

So I must have noticed it subconsciously, and my subconscious mind was trying to let me know that my aloe plant was in trouble. Except instead of telling me directly, it had decided to symbolize it with lizards getting their tails cut off.

I have no idea why it chose that particular symbol, except that I dream about lizards a lot, and I also have a lot of dreams about pets suffering horrible fates due to human neglect or stupidity. (I suppose that has to do with the fact that I had a lot of pets as a child, and some of them did get hurt or killed because of errors on my part.)

Freud said that dreams use symbolism because there are things your mind can’t handle thinking about directly. Supposedly almost anything sexual was in this category– which is stupid, because people think about sex more than they think about anything else, and I’d certainly rather think about sex than think about lizards losing body parts. I personally think that dreams don’t symbolize for any good reason, they just do it because they’re confused and mix things up with each other.

Or maybe it was just a coincidence. But in any case I’m not asking Freud what it means when lizards lose their tails in a dream.