Monthly Archives: October 2013

What’s in a Name?

As you may have noticed, I write under the pen name “K.T. Bryski.” I’ve seen a few articles about pen names lately; specifically, about gender-neutral pen names. “K.T. Bryski” is gender-neutral, I guess. I could be Kevin Thomas Bryski. Or Katherine Tallulah Bryski. Or Kaye Taylor Bryski (if I wanted to be super, super gender-neutral).

In fact, I’m Kaitlin Elizabeth Bryski.

Let’s back up.

Growing up, I was always Kaitlin at school, and Katie or Kate at home. Don’t ask me why—the strict preference for Kaitlin in public was entirely my own doing, even though I never particularly felt like a Kaitlin. I was a very strange child.

When I was sixteen or so, I discovered that Katie felt much better. It was far too late for my high school—in that context, I remained Kaitlin right until graduation. But when meeting new people, I slowly started introducing myself as Katie. The real breakthrough came in university. Very few people knew me, so it was a new beginning: I was able to start off as Katie, instead of asking people to retrain themselves.

Of course, I’m still Kaitlin on the dotted line: contracts, grad school applications, resumes, my passport, etc. Since it is my legal name, it feels safer, though it frequently causes confusion. I submitted Hapax to DMP under “Kaitlin” and then had to explain why I signed subsequent emails “Katie” (because I hadn’t thought about it, was the short answer). Similarly, when I started at the living history museum, I was “Kaitlin” to my bosses and “Katie” to my coworkers. I remember Blythe stopping me on the boardwalk one morning and asking in exasperation, “But which do you actually prefer?!”

(Side note: everyone there calls me “Katie” now—even my official contract this year was for “Katie Bryski.” Not going to lie, it made me all happy inside.)

So what does all this have to do with K.T. Bryski? Why did I choose initials? Was I scared of writing sci-fi/fantasy under a female name? Did I want to sound older?

Actually, it’s a family joke.

See, “K.T.” sounds a lot like “Katie.” Remember I said that I was Katie at home? Well, growing up, my parents would refer to me as “KT” in notes around the house, in texts, and in emails.

KT, please let the cat out when you get home.

KT Dentist Appt: 1:30

C u soon KT!!!

I thought it was funny. And clever. When feeling rushed or informal, I’ll sign things KT. Although Katie is technically already my nickname, you can create an uber-nickname by calling me KT (amazing what that slight change in intonation does!).  Eventually, I made it my email. And then, a few years later, I made it my pen name.

9781897492529-FRONT

DMP asked if I’d be ok with another name on the cover. I thought about it, long and hard. As discussed, I didn’t feel like a Kaitlin, so that was out. Katie Bryski suits me fine, but I didn’t think it suited an apocalyptic fantasy with lots of fire and blood and death. Kate Bryski didn’t roll off the tongue well.

Thus, by process of elimination: K.T. Bryski.

And that’s the whole story.

I thought K.T. was funny. And it’s my nickname.

That’s all. 🙂

–        KT

Thanksgiving and Historical Musing

Originally, this was going to be a post about Thanksgiving, and how my warm-and-fuzzy love for my friends and families (biological and otherwise) overcame my knee-jerk reaction of “Screw. You.” After all, I have a lot to be thankful for.

But then I was still feeling sad, so I left it. And then I wondered if I still talk about grief too much, and why can’t I be an adult and keep my feelings inside? And then I started panicking about being a burden and a Negative Nellie. Then I wrote a really long post about my absolute dependency on work/writing as a means of distracting my mind from itself, but I deleted it.

Deep breaths.

So, anxiety isn’t fun. Neither is grief. Mix the two of them, remove every distraction, and you have yourself quite a party.

Sigh.

And now I’m here, wondering if writing about the grieving process is brave or just irritating. Does it shine a light into the dark spaces to discover that none of us going this is alone? Or does it just shine it into the eyes of everyone else, making them throw their hands up and cry, “Owww!”

“Turn it off! Turn it off!”

It’s a question of public vs private processing, I suppose. And it occurs to me that I can drag history into this. Last year, during one of our special Halloween weekends at the living history museum, I was assigned to be “in mourning.” I got to wear a special black dress, a veil, and gloves, park myself in front of a casket, and talk about mourning customs (in character). It was some of the most fun I’ve had at work.

I’m never doing it again.

When in mourning, kids wore white.

But here’s where I’m going to make the connection (and adopt my Interpreter Voice). See, in the Victorian era, grief and mourning were hugely public displays. There were strict codes and timelines, depending on your relationship to the deceased. Dress was particularly prescribed. Widows wore full mourning—black clothing: especially crape, since it doesn’t combine well with anything—for a year. Second mourning followed for nine months. Widows still wore drab fabric, but with some trim and the veil worn back over the head. Finally, this all lightened to half mourning, a period of three to six months characterized by a gradual return to colours (greys, mauve, browns, etc.).

Children mourned their parents for a year.

Among the upper classes (and those aspiring to the upper classes) the grieving process was incredibly intricate and elaborate. This is where we find hearses drawn by black horses wearing black plumes, ornate headstones, long wakes with the body lying in repose…. During those first, numb days, as we were scrambling to make arrangements, I couldn’t help but wonder what it must have been like for the Victorians.

The Duke of Wellington’s funeral (1852) was an almost theatrical affair.

After all, you’re not thinking clearly. You’re in shock. It’s very much like being in a dream; you look back on it later and wonder how any of it seemed to make any sense at the time (I remember showing up at choir rehearsal Tuesday night—two nights after—and being very confused as to why people were surprised to see me).

But I digress. My point was that while the outward display didn’t necessarily match what was happening on the inside, Victorian mourning didn’t hide itself. Somewhere along the line, we became uncomfortable with grief—our own and others’. We started shunting death aside. After the funeral, you’re kind of left to stumble along as best you can, never quite sure if you’re “doing it right.”

Of course, there is no right way, not really. That can be comforting, but sometimes, it’d be nice to know that the feelings at any given point are normal. Does this mean I prefer the Victorians’ mourning?

Not necessarily. It’s funny, though. Last fall, as I brightly responded to visitors’ comments about the casket’s small size with, “Wellington was big where it counted…in his heart!” I felt sorry for widows having to still wear mourning clothing two years on, because surely they’d be over it by then?

Now, I feel bad for the children, given only a year to mourn their parents. At least on the outside.

I guess no one, Victorian or otherwise, really knows how to handle grief. And perhaps that’s comforting. If no one knows what the heck is going on, no one expects you to have an answer.

But yeah, Canadian Thanksgiving this weekend. I’m intensely thankful for all of you. Lots of hugs.

KT