Nisi Shawl

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Cover for Filter House, by Nisi Shawl

Cover for Detroit Noir

Cover for Writing the Other

Cover for Dark Matter

Cover for Year's Best Fantasy and Horror #19

Something More

 

 

My Life

When I was little, I told my middle sister Julie convoluted tales of how I, a mermaid, had come to dwell in the small midwestern town of Kalamazoo, Michigan. This odyssey involved the Saint Lawrence Seaway, several of the Great Lakes, and mysterious underground passages my schoolteacher called aquifers. Her own origin was much simpler, of course; our parents, I explained, had found her in a garbage can.

At sixteen, in 1971, I moved from Kalamazoo to Ann Arbor to attend the University of Michigan's Residential College. I took several French courses, Oral History, Cosmology, and a poetry seminar that taught me ten weeks of nothing. Most classes took place in the dorm, and I got a job in the dorm's library. One day I was startled to notice an extremely short person walking towards me. They were less than two feet high. It took me several seconds to realize that this was a child.

Anyone under a certain age had become alien to my experience. It wasn't this isolation that led to my dropping out of school. I had an abortion. I became depressed. I quit going to classes two weeks from finals. I failed to finish my assignments, and left the University without a degree.

I moved into a house called Cosmic Plateau and lived with people who called themselves Bozoes. I paid $65 a month rent. I worked part-time as a janitor, an au pair, a dorm cook, an artists' model. I wrote. I performed my writings publicly, at parks and cafes and museums. I learned a lot.

I read Charnas, Russ, Delany, Colette, Wittig. I sent out a horrible story about fornicating centaurs and got a wonderfully sweet rejection letter. Then our landlady kicked all the Bozoes out of Cosmic Plateau, and I had to live by the sweat of my brow.

I worked at a natural foods warehouse. I sold structural steel and aluminum. I sold used books. I got married. I joined a band.

I kept writing. I got better.

My first science fiction appearance was in the nude. I modelled for one of Rick Lieber's illustrations for Bruce Sterling's Crystal Express (the Arkham House hardcover--I'm the Dark Girl of "Telliamed").

My first science fiction publication was in Semiotext(e) (see my bibliography for dates on this and the rest of my print oeuvre). I shared the table of contents with William S. Burroughs, J.G. Ballard, Bruce Sterling, William Gibson and a bunch of less well-known but quite cool others. I owe my part in this literary conspiracty to Crowbar, publisher of the 'zine Popular Reality.

In 1992 I attended a cyberpunk "symposium" in Detroit. Sterling, in his inimitable manner, supposed that no one in the audience had heard of Semiotext(e), let alone read it, and I was able to retort from the third row that I was in it. So I got to hang out with him, and with Pat Cadigan and John Shirley, which last professional offered to read my stories! He was of the opinion that I could write. He recommended that I attend the Clarion West Writers' Workshop, where he and Cadigan were to teach that summer.

At Clarion West I learned in six weeks what six years at the University could never have taught me.

Because of Clarion West and another writers' program in the Puget Sound area (Cottages at Hedgebrook, a retreat on Whidbey Island), I put Seattle near the top of my list when considering a move from Michigan. I'd gotten divorced. We'd sold the house. When I asked my ancestors where I ought to live, they said this was the place.

My apartment is one block off of the #48 bus route. King County Metro takes me all the way to the beach. Grey and wild, or smooth as oil, the water is unfailingly beautiful. By ways as circuitous as those I described to my sister almost four decades ago, this mermaid has returned to the sea.

 

Copyright © 2012 by Nisi Shawl