We Need Diverse Authors: A Review of Dancing With Ghosts

dancing-with-ghosts

Image description: Book cover for the novel Dancing with Ghosts by Emily Gillespie. The bottom two-thirds of the cover is black with the title and author’s name in white text. The top features a galaxy background with pinks, purples and blue speckled with stars. On the left side, three ballet dancers are captured in silhouette.

I have written before on the dangerous and problematic pitfalls of people writing about marginalized experiences that they do not experience. I am a huge supporter of not only diversity in books but more importantly diversity of people writing those books. So I was pleased to hear that my friend Emily Gillespie had written a book and that it was going to be published.

Emily has lived experience with mental health* and wrote a novel that deals directly with a character who is experiencing what is possibly depression and anxiety.

The synopsis from Goodreads is,

Freshman year of university was supposed to mean freedom.

It was supposed to be her escape from parents who didn’t understand her – who turned Patricia away every time she reached out for help. New city, new school, new friends, fresh start – wasn’t that how it’s supposed to work?

Instead, when Patricia moves from her small, isolating hometown to the bustling, sprawling cityscape of Toronto, she finds herself more alone than ever. When she meets Derek – an intriguing yet mysterious classmate – she’s instantly drawn in by his worldly knowledge and easy charm.

For a while, things between them are perfect. For a while, it’s thrilling being invited into a world unlike anything Patricia’s experienced before.

But this isn’t a love story and not everyone is what they seem.

Dancing With Ghosts is technically classed as adult fiction, though could be considered a young adult novel. The protagonist, Patricia is eighteen & nineteen throughout the novel and though the book does deal very frankly with issues of mental health, sex, and various kinds of abuse (sexual, emotional, medical); the story is very much something that can and does happen to young people.

The book is a first-person narrative written in semi-journal style (by which I mean the narrator will occasionally address the reader directly). As a result of the casual narrative style, the protagonist occasionally breaks off into tangents. This was a bit jarring at first but as you get to know the character it becomes natural and I eventually stopped being aware of it.

I really appreciated the way Emily approached mental health in the novel, from how it isn’t always strictly labelled as a specific diagnosis but the impact is still real. This indefinability is not only realistic it also really highlights the issues that Patricia has in trying to set up official support systems when she doesn’t fit neatly into a box. The book also challenges that smug Canadian lie that seems to crop up anytime that a Canadian is trying to prove their moral superiority (usually to an Americal) “Yeah? Well, I’m going to have my feeling checked for free”.

Emily effectively weaves a story about someone who tries and fails to seek timely and meaningful healthcare and the emotional fallout of being failed by a system that horribly ill-equipped to deal with the volume and reality of the needs it should be meeting.

Dancing With Ghosts is not the kind of book you read all in one sitting. Not because it isn’t good or engaging. It is both but it deals with issues of abuse so head on and frankly that sometimes I had to take some time to sit with what I had read before I could continue.

This is the benefit of a writer who has experience of the thing they are writing about. Eve when they write fiction, it feels more real. I feel the shared frustration of a medical system that frequently underserves or fails disabled people. I struggled with Patricia’s frank attempts to make sense of how the various factors in her life contributed to what happened. I searched for those answers with her.

This is why we need more voices from the margins. Not people speaking for the margins.

 

 

Dancing With Ghosts is currently available for purchase in ebook form through Kobo.

There is currently no official print release date (I will update when one is available) but print copies will be available on Amazon and at the York University Bookstore in Toronto.

Dancing With Ghosts is being published through Leaping Lions Books a small independent publisher run by York University’s fourth-year Professional Writing program.

The official book launch will be on March 9th. If you are in Toronto and are interesting in attending you can find information here.

 

 

 

*Her current preferred label

Advertisements

Media Roundup of Me Before You Criticism

This is a collection of the criticism by the disabled community and allies of the book and film Me Before You. I have also included some mainstream media coverage of the criticism and protests. If I missed anything let me know in the comments or on Twitter.

Disabled Community & Allies

“Ableist, Stereotypical, and Offensive” or: Why I Hate “Me Before You” by JustHappenToBe

Boycott – Me Before You – “disability death porn.” by Alex Schadenberg

And Now a Word From the FuckAbilityTM Research Council on the Film “Me Before You” by Ingrid Tischer

A Second Class Existence: Me Before You Gets It All Wrong by BadCripple

Me Before You; Why It’s Not Okay by Bloo ‘n’ Stuff

Hey “Special Needs Parents”! Where’s the Outrage over “Me Before You”? by Meriah Nichols

Hollywood Lies: I Prefer My Disabled Girlfriend Alive by Wilfredo Rodriguez-Lopez

Hollywood Promotes The Idea that it is Better to be Dead than Disabled by Dominick Evans

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes REVIEW + Ableism Discussion by Between Chapters

“Me Before You” Film Panned by Not Dead Yet UK by Not Dead Yet UK

Me Before You: My Thoughts by Around and Upside Down

‘Me Before You’: Not for Me Thanks by Mik Scarlet

“Me Before You”: The Fetishization of Disability by Pretentious Best Friend

Sam Claflin Ends Twitter Chat on #MeBeforeYou: After Disability Activists Fight Against the Film’s Ableist Message by Dominick Evan via Storify

Spare me, “Me Before You”: Hollywood’s new tearjerker is built on tired and damaging disability stereotypes by Emily Ladau

Stevie Wonder, Me Before You, and Feerless by Annie Elainey

The film ‘Me Before You’ is disability death porn. That’s why we’re boycotting. by Alex Schadenberg

Book Review: Me Before You by Jojo Moyes by Tonia Says

Trop Moche la Vie: Riches Mais Handicape(e) (in French) by auxmarchesdupalais

Truth Before Lies by Tourettes Hero

‘Why Are You Complaining? Some People Actually Feel That Way’: A Critique of ‘Me Before You’ by CrppledScholar (Me) originally published on this blog here

Why I Blocked All Advertisements for “Me Before You” by ClaimingCrip

#LiveBoldly…Unless You’re Disabled? by IsaJennie

Why I hate Jojo Moye’s Me Before You by Shane Clifton

Why New Film Me Before You Misrepresents the Lives of Disabled People by Lauren West

‘Me Before You’, right or wrong? by Poppy Hasted

Activists protest outside premiere of ‘disability snuff movie’ by Disability News Service

Me Before Ableist B.S. by Allegra Keys

People Who Use Wheelchairs Don’t Actually Want to Kill Themselves by David Bekhour

Me Before You: or If You Die, I Can Live by Ashtyn Law

The Reeve Foundation Rears its Ugly Head with Me Before You Press Release by BadCripple

Me Before Ableism #LiveBoldly by Annie Elainey

Before You Show This Film by Discrimination & Disadvantage

#LiveBoldly on 6/2! Join Growing Wave of Protest Against Euthanasia Rom-Com “Me Before You” in Berkeley, CA by Ingrid Tischer

Boo to “Me Before You” by Who Am I To Stop It

Weekly Reading List: “Me Before You” Edition by Andrew Pulrang

Me Before You makes having a disability seem worse than death by Michaela Hollywood

Me Before You: Your Disability Representation is Bad and You Should Feel Bad. by Hannah-Rebecca

Everyone Before Me; Or So It Seems by Mik Scarlet

We long to watch disabled characters like us. Instead we get Me Before You by Penny Pepper

‘Me Before You is dangerous; it suggests you’re better off dead than disabled – what an affront to me and people like me’ by Michaela Hollywood

The Five Stages of Grief (When Your Movie Is Criticized for Promoting Dangerous Ableist Crap) by David Perry

Relationship: My Problems with, Me Before You, as a Disabled Dad by Chris Wylie

Owl Debates Ep1: Me Before You (Pre-Watch) & Disability Representation

 

Me Before You; Popular Defence Arguments by Bloo ‘n’ Stuff

Me Before… Who? by Lynn Hsu

Dear Jojo by Tourettes Hero

How the Weepy Fantasy ‘Me Before You’ Infantilizes the Disabled by Kristen Lopez

Me Before You (2016) Trailer Commentary by Gold Pictures

Oh, And The Guy In The Wheelchair Commits Suicide by Howard Sherman

I am Not Your Plot Device by Stephen Spohn

“Me Before You” Celebrates the Romance of Exploitation by The Independent Critic

 

 

Mainstream Media Coverage [editors notes: a technical glitch resulted in the loss almost all of this section. Please send me links via the comment section or Twitter]

‘I’m not a thing to be pitied’: the disability backlash against Me Before You by Ryan Gilbey via The Guardian

 

My Love/Hate Relationship with Dragon NaturallySpeaking

So I type one handed and I’m an academic so a lot of typing is required, this poses a couple of issues. First I can’t type very fast and second I regularly feel like I’m getting carpal tunnel syndrome. I’ve been tested for the condition twice and in both cases the results were negative. While I may not have carpal tunnel, I do often deal with a lot of wrist and hand pain from typing. It was recommended that I start using speech recognition software and the only one that was ever recommended (by multiple people) was Nuance’s Dragon NaturallySpeaking. Since then I have owned and used two versions of Dragon. Dragon Home 11 and Dragon Home Premium 12. I will discuss my experience of both individually and then discuss issues that are common to both.

Dragon 11

I primarily used Dragon as dictation for writing but like most people with a new toy, I checked out its other features. Primarily controlling my computer with my voice. I was particularly amused with its functionality on the internet. I liked how I could command the software to open a link and have it do so (I know I’m easily amused). This function did however show an issue not with Dragon but with the general inaccessibility with website design. Occasionally buttons would not be coded with their visible titles. This meant that if you want or have to open a link with your dictation software, you have to verbally guide the mouse to the button and request the mouse click it,

Overall I enjoyed the software. I didn’t find it to be nearly as accurate as they claim (yes I calibrated it for highest accuracy). Anything composed through Dragon requires close editing.

The biggest issue I found was that it was completely incompatible with the web service Moodle which is commonly used by universities to offer online classes or online companions to campus classes.

I don’t just mean that I couldn’t dictate in Moodle, somehow the combination of Moodle and the Dragon add-on cancelled the ability for me to even type in the program. In order for me to complete online courses or online components to classes, I had disable the add-on. This forced me to type all communication through the site. It also put me at a disadvantage when taking internet delivered exams as I would have to type.

Dragon 12

I have a lot of buyer’s remorse over upgrading to Dragon 12. I found that the software was much less user friendly and entirely incompatible with the internet either for typing or navigation. If I tried to use Dragon with the internet, rather than obeying a command or typing in a text box, it would open another box type whatever I said and then I would have to click through to transfer the text to the web. So it had no navigation capability and an overcomplicated way of entering text. According to the product description, this is not how the software is meant to work so something was going wrong. My attempts at communicating with tech support were fruitless.

While I got nowhere with tech support. I was regularly called by sales begging me to upgrade to Dragon 12 from 11. As I had already done this, these repeated calls were frustrating as I explained each time that I had already done so and registered my new copy. I received at least five such calls before I demanded to be removed from their phone list.

As song as I was only dictating in Word, it worked as well as Dragon 11 but heaven forbid I needed to change tabs to check something in another program or particularly if I needed to check something online. Even if I turned off the microphone. Doing anything other than dictating while the program was active would initially slow both the program and my computer and ultimately cause Dragon to freeze, forcing me to forcibly close it through task manager and restart it. This issue deteriorated to the point that Dragon would crash on it’s own every 10-15 minutes. This eventually forced me to request the only assignment extension of my entire Masters degree because it was so time consuming.

Dragon 12 was a complete failure in functionality.

Issues in both versions

Accuracy, all versions claim to have accuracy rates over 95%, this has not been my experience at all,. Even after longterm use (accuracy is supposed to improve as you use the program more). This might be due in part to the highly academic work, I most commonly use it for, it recognized the word obstetrics as Star Trek. Often if you don’t catch errors immediately but find them later during editing it is difficult or impossible to discern what the intended word or phrase was to begin with.

I have a BA Honours in Women and Gender Studies and I occasionally wrote about issues of gendered and sexual violence. I found that the software was more likely to misinterpret words associated with violence. It really didn’t want to recognize the word rape for example. It wrote thing like grape or great. The software does have word training where you input the word and then train it to recognize your pronunciation of that word. Even with training it still didn’t want to accurately recognize the word rape. There is something disconcerting about yelling the word RAPE at your computer in frustration even if no one is around to hear you.

International English norms

Nuance and Dragon hate Canada, I can think of no other explanation. When you first use the software, you have to train it to recognize your voice. You help this along by setting your location so that it knows what accent to expect and what spelling is preferred. I don’t even know why there is a separate option for Canada because during selection it says in brackets that Canada uses American spelling. This is not true. Canada follows the British spelling system. Unfortunately selecting Britain isn’t a great option either because although we share spelling norms and say Zed instead of Zee, we use American terms for punctuation. We say period to denote the dot at the end of a sentence rather than full stop like the British. This causes issues of flow while dictating.You can’t change the settings in the software to change punctuation commands.

I am to fully programmed to use North American punctuation to be able to use the British settings. Using the Canadian/American setting causes it’s own difficulties that go beyond my frustration with being forced to adopt American spelling. If a word isn’t in Dragon’s dictionary (which happens a lot with academic terms) you can add them by dictating the spelling, You better just hope that the letter Z isn’t involved. I constantly forget that Americans say Zee, so I’m yelling Zed at my computer with no results. It’s beyond frustrating and a genuine flaw in the design of the software.

The fact that the software set up has to put in brackets that they assume Canada uses US spelling suggests that they know we don’t and just don’t care to set up a properly functioning set up for us. This despite the fact that they acknowledge the Britain does use another spelling and terminology and gives the preset options. You can go in and change the dictionary to reflect Canadian spelling but that is time consuming and quite frankly you shouldn’t have to. This is a huge oversight on the part of the software designers and it needs to be fixed.

Conclusions

When the software works it doesn’t seamlessly replace typing but it is a great option for those who can’t type or want to limit their typing. When the software fails it can be a big problem for the users who rely on it. There are some flaws in the software that I genuinely hope the designers will fix (though considering my experience with customer service I’m not holding my breath). They have now released Dragon 13 which I haven’t used and my attempts to see if they fixed the language flaws have been fruitless so I’m going to assume that they haven’t.

I start my PhD in the Fall and I will need to replace my Dragon 12 because it causes more problems than it solves and I may have to research the competition while searching for a replacement.

This post was typed single-handedly because my copy of Dragon 12 is unusable.