Some People Have Asked What an “Idiotika” Is

Reflections on naming trans fantasy.

alice alexandra moore


Find out more about the hybrid comics project, These Makeshift Idiotika.

Titles are really fucking difficult sometimes.

In 2015, my last semester of an English undergrad, I was starting to get colossally bored with my great American novel. The 50 pages of it I’d rewritten ten times, I mean. I could barely breathe in the world I was writing, which makes sense, given that Betson, Ohio, is a fictional town modeled closely off Cedarville, where I grew up. Really, is psychology so difficult sometimes?

I made a decision: I would create a fictional world where absolutely anything can happen. I wanted both future tech & antiquated villages. Both cities & deserts, tundra & forests. I wanted to go deep underground & into the stars. And why, might you ask, would I not want to write all these things as their own stories? Because I’m obsessed about connecting things into a sort of overstory. So much so, actually, that this world was originally all contained within Betson, too, as a project that two of the main characters, Ray & Fish, were collaborating on. Yikes.

Life inspires fiction, yes, but do we talk enough about how fiction inspires life? It’s a conversation.

The longer I spent in this new world, the more I wanted inconsistency & uncertainty to be celebrated. Even before I was diagnosed with adhd, with severe depersonalization bordering DID, with gender dysphoria — before I knew I could celebrate liminality as a sort of home, in other words — I was throwing a mental party in a place where the land itself would teleport randomly to other locations.

Yeah, not my best idea.

I mean it’s a cool concept? The world kaleidoscopes, and people have made this spin-cycle damnation their norm, and they all cope with it in different ways. But it’s a logistical nightmare to conceptualize, let alone explain to others. In this new novel sans constraint I quickly painted myself into a corner: what the hell would cause such a place to exist?

I started deus-ex-machina’ing the fuck out of the plotline, designing heavy-handed reasons why the shifts, as I called them, would happen one place at one time, but not another place at another time. I lost the spirit of it: the randomness, the fact that the reasoning behind the shifts didn’t matter. What mattered was how the world kept going despite not having answers. This was, after all, my life, too. I thought I’d found all my answers, but still I felt so unsettled in my masc-presenting style, in my boymode life. I chose to make peace with not-knowing, because knowing is terrifying.

During this interval I collaborated with a dear friend on the project. He loved the concept, but more than that, I think he loved fanfic riffing with a friend who was so often so lost in her thoughts, emotionally unavailable. I let myself believe that no one would understand my work, even if I did explain it. And more than that, I believed I couldn’t get anywhere on it without help. Sure, I had hundreds of pages of notes, characters, cities, religions, languages — but I scrapped it all (not literally, thank the gods) and started fresh, talking with my friend incessantly over the course of a year. He taught me how to breathe life into characters, how to let go of the codependency I showed with my own creations (needing them to make the best decision for me instead of the one that made sense with their motives & personalities). I started to research far more intensely, started to realize that my fear of making the project more multicultural — my justifications of wanting to stay fictional — were ways of preserving toxic whiteness. That my reluctance to talk with people whose experiences differed from mine, which I could justify as not wanting to put a weight on them, was more about my fear that I was would misstep and be called out on it, that I wouldn’t be perfect in the public eye. That learning by creating is a crime instead of a worthy lifestyle.

It was at this point that I decoupled the project from monetary gain in my mind. I thought, no, I want this to be an attempt to connect, to hear & reflect what I learn as we all shift past each others’ lives. I didn’t want my privilege to keep me feeling guilty.

Um. Oof.

If I have privilege, I’m responsible for utilizing it as a platform for others. I get to speak my own voice, primarily, yes. Of course. I know, fully, only me and my experiences. But it’s not enough to leave descriptions of diverse experiences out entirely in favor of own-voices-work. The #OwnVoices movement came at a crucial point and continues to be so incredibly necessary. When you want to learn about a person, a culture, a place, a psychological condition, a sexuality, a gender identity — the place to go is to the source, the person who’s experience this is. And yet, to use #OwnVoices as a way to keep my stories white-washed, or to use white guilt as a way to wait to learn everything (not possible) and hold out for a feeling of absolution, or to fear not being good enough to write and thereby ensuring I don’t listen well at all — these are the things writers’ block is made of. Not the building blocks of artistic communication.

So, I’m trying. I’m making no pageantry of being an authority on anything but my own experiences. I am, as Cathy Park Hong talks about in “Bad English” from her collection Minor Feelings, writing alongside the multitude of lives around me, in constant conversation. How can we converse if we refuse to understand, through the work of interpretation, each others’ stories? Yes, to bring the immaterial (or foreign) into tangible (or familiar) language can often skew the experience entirely. But I believe that to fail to attempt translation is worse, keeping us isolated and othered.

Sometimes this, too, doesn’t work out. My friend lost faith in me and the project, even asking for his name not to be credited with anything in whatever form the work might take. It took me a while to get over the loss of his voice; I was, more than anything, confused. As I’d been for a long while. As my world was. It was, after all, he who was going to do the artwork for what was originally going to be a graphic novel.

In losing him, I started to realize that this was how life would often be: exactly as I’d written it, people coming and going with what feels like randomness. And yet to use this as a reason not to relate to anyone, to use fear of being hurt again as a reason to stop feeling — this, too, is folly.

But I was speaking of titles.

First, I called this project The Shiftings. Makes sense, right? Also sounds, unfortunately, more like a pulp-horror novel than an overly complicated and convoluted magical realist project. So, while working with my friend, I moved, colloquially, toward the title Museum Immaterial, which was what I’d been calling the body of my own work for a while. This went well with Zeke’s lil museum, too, out in the Heap, so it stuck. But when my friend left, I needed a new name. After all, I changed everything. I was in an ethical morass. I felt like his wishes for me not to continue the project were something I had to hold to, even though that’s just not how ideas work. Every idea is only inspired by the ones that came before it: there is no writing I’ll ever do on any project not breathed into by his influence on me.

But this desperation for change was a good spark. I found old my old handwritten notes, and I began to design the project into . . . a videogame.

Yep. Because if something is too complicated for my brain to accomplish, my solution is to make it even more complicated. #adhd

In my head I called this game Shit-fings, which gave me permission to do whatever the hell I wanted with it. And I did. It was actually in this time that I first was diagnosed with ADHD, as a 26-year-old. I got on meds. And for those of you who have taken stimulants successfully (please don’t screw with your brain if you don’t have ADHD, folks), you know how repetitive tasks, such as writing down all the thoughts orbiting in your head, suddenly become possible.

I was, in other words, the world’s cloggedest sewer, and the shit-fings came out fast with stimulants. In a month, I filled three handwritten notebooks, an ugly 24-page excel spreadsheet (because my ass thought Microsoft was gonna help with anything), and most importantly, 125k typed words of character arcs.

I had my story. Or the soul. Now, I figured, just to make the bones & flesh.

Which is about when my egg cracked.

The dilemma? Basically, I found myself simultaneously more excited about working on Le Merdefings and more alone because of how unable I was to convey to my friends & family what the story actually was. Was it a game or a graphic novel? Was it placed back before this character was born or after? Where did it start? Where did it end? Was it a boy or a girl?

And I wanted to come out of this loneliness so bad. Global pandemic helped nothing, of course. But I figured that what I should do, really, is make a website for the thingamajig, and then keep people posted on progress, letting them meet all the characters I love, play snippets of game, etc. So, I started this evidence-based approach to prove myself. But I wasn’t sure what color to make the site. What font. I always struggled so, so, so, so much with decisions of body.

And really, I hated the idea of going public with my work. Even as I yearned for people’s feedback, for their words. For their wisdom. How could I ask, except hidden behind a screen.

Eggcrack day for me was in early February 2021. It was a looong time coming. I lay on my bed, limbs outstretched da Vinci style, and I imagined the body I’d always wanted being real. I was able to start hormones on April 1. (I want to celebrate this progress: I was able to get treatment for dysphoria within two months. May it be down to a week in 2022.)

Which means it’s June and I’m two months more settled into my skin. Embodied. And far more decisive about what I want.

But it was back in early April, driving to & from my doctor in Indy — an hour and a half from here (let’s keep that medical equity progress moving) — that I spoke as many names for this whatsit into being. My brain usually pairs opposites together for multiword titles, and I always knew it wouldn’t be just one word. So I had idea after idea after idea and none of them felt perfect. For three hours. Driving myself down an interminable highway.

When I got home, to the friends I was staying with at the time, they were excited about a different kind of title. My friend Jm had an idea, casually, for a name for me: Alice. I thought, hm, that’s not the worst, but it’s definitely far from perfect. But I was starting a new job soon, and I didn’t want to go by my dead name, so I said, oh what the hell, why not try it on?

And it slipped around me like a second skin. Not instantly, no. But the more others called me by my new name, the better I loved it. It was a makeshift solution, I thought, but one I begun to cherish.

I’m guilty of searching online for word etymologies near constantly while writing. Something about language and the way it morphs into other languages and sometimes back again fascinates me. But I knew the title for this body of work, this world of characters I’ve come to adore, could not be so lofty and inaccessible as a word people instantly had to look up. Makeshift gave me the first hint. It had shit I mean shift in it, for gods’ sakes. The, I thought. The Makeshift . . . and then I got stumped for another three weeks on the final word.

I was working on a poem, something so unrelated (except it’s all connected — I warned you), thinking about how much I liked the idea that we’re all stupider the more we know. I was thinking about how the people groups I respect most in the The Makeshift !@#$, I’d tended toward sillier names: loons being one, dustlarks another. The more mundane — not ordinary but rather connected to the quotidian — the better. I was looking up something with Dostoyevsky, as one does when one is utterly fucked on a poem, learning really only that I’d never gotten around to reading The Idiot, which felt ironic, and then I was thinking about what a lovely word idiot is, to start with i — even id — and to continue on to finish in folly. It’s one of those English words that doesn’t really need to be defined because it’s usage can almost always show what it means by context, sound, and tone. It’s a word my dad was fond of. It’s a word that sometimes unfairly groups complex & diverse individuals. A word we have to become to learn anything at all. It’s a word that totally would not work syntactically with my title.

Fucking hell.

But I’m here to tell you that if you plunge deep enough for anything on the Internet, you will find exactly your search criteria. It’s the worst way to do reporting and the very best way to write a poem. Idioticon. From German, used when Germany was borderless, was so many people groups not yet having any identity beyond their immediate neighbors. When it was a shifting mass. The word refers to a dictionary of a local dialect, especially one dealing with a tiny culture.

The Makeshift Idioticon, I thought. It’s actually perfect. Except nope.

Because there’s not just one. In the story, Wō has perhaps the most obvious attempt at an idioticon, but (spoilers not really) his attempt to lump all peoples into a single volume ain’t gonna fly. Don’t tell him that — he’ll learn through dramatic & mysterious plot points. (Mostly his wife leaving lol.) But the Archivist isn’t the only one to try and collect lives into a coherent story: everyone does it in their way, keeping what portions of everyone else’s story they need to keep and forgetting the rest. The more people we meet, the more people we are.

Yet, too, we gain a clearer notion of ourselves. Which has been, certainly, my experience in crafting this narrative thus far. And as I begin to travel more, to get out of my nest & take flights, vaccinated and with my mask on (because goddammit people, save a life), I’m going to become both more and less myself. And my identity is in the choosing what to remember. I’d argue that if we didn’t have flawed memories, we wouldn’t have free will. Count it joy that each time you remember, so too you choose to change the memory.

Okay, so the plural of idioticon is . . .

Idioticons. Boooo.

The Makeshift Idioticons. Not that the current title really rolls off the tongue, but I nearly choked on this one. It’s too declarative by half. And idioticons sounds an awful lot like a certain set of villains in the Transformers universe. (Which, honestly, can we all take a minute to admire Transformers fanfic out there putting entire publishing houses and Michael Bay to shame? Not that that’s difficult.)

So, I thought, you know, Alice, this world is made up. It doesn’t have to follow grammar rules. Just go the Latin root. Route. Whatever. Go there and find idiotica. For which the first result on Google is . . . an urban dictionary entry for combination of idiot & erotica, which, while I’d be flattered to be thought of so highly, didn’t feel totally on point, despite the massive amount of makeshift sex people are having in this universe. (Looking at you, Se’il.) So, why not give it some flare? Greek is the origin, so let’s shove a k up in there. The Makeshift Idiotika. Ooh, sexy. Better.

But too much as if I’m looking from a distance.

When I chose to make this project into a videogame, the intention was clear: this is not a world to read about, but rather a world to choose inside of. And it’s still my longterm ambition to make this into a game, frankly. I see this web version as a makeshift milestone, like all my creations. Just one more step along a path that I’ll learn a little better tomorrow.

So, I played some call-and-response: whose makeshift idiotika? Your makeshift idiotika. Which makeshift idiotika? Those makeshift idiotika. That. These. And I arrived at a passable title, one I could live with for now. Yes, it has an obscure word in it that’s really difficult to Google search, but isn’t that the point? You’re only gonna find its definition here at the source.

These Makeshift Idiotika. The ones we’re trying our damndest to create. It’s an act of bravery, really, to hold order so loosely.