Gardens at Government House, Victoria BC (June 2017)
Sandra Dawson was taken from this earth by the indiscriminate brutality of metastatic cancer. She died on October 2, 2018 at the age of 51. This horrific experience was not a “fight.” She did NOT lose a battle against the unchecked proliferation of malignant cells. Instead, Sandra saw the final phase of her life a journey. She was incredibly brave while facing the ravages of this terrible disease, and she was ultimately accepting of her fate. She was gracious and generous in sharing the final stages of her journey with friends and family, and also with nearly 25,000 followers of her @unsuicide Twitter account.1 There was an outpouring of love and support and visitors and flowers, which buoyed her spirits and made her feel loved.
She really loved flowers.
Sandra was many things – a writer, a blogger, a jewelry designer, a crochet artist, a mental health advocate, a board member of the Mental Health Commission of Canada, and the 2016 winner of a Sovereign's Medal for Volunteers from The Governor General of Canada, for over a decade of work in suicide prevention.
Government House, Victoria BC (June 2017)
September 10 was World Suicide Prevention Day, and Dr. Erin Michalak of CREST.BD wrote a touching tribute to Sandra’s work.
. . .
“Most significantly, Sandra created the Unsuicide directory of online and mobile crisis supports, as well as a popular corresponding Twitter feed (@Unsuicide) with close to 25,000 followers. Her Unsuicide online supports are authentically grounded in her lived experience of bipolar disorder, but also unfailingly focused on helping people, regardless of their geography, to access credible and safe online and mobile support tools. In 2016, she was awarded the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers from the Governor General of Canada in acknowledgement of the impact of her work as an advocate for people facing mental health challenges and in suicide prevention.”
But mostly I think of her as a writer.
Radar Queer Reading Series, SF Public Library (October 2016)
She was also my partner and wife of nearly 12 years.
We met in 2006 through our respective blogs, The Neurocritic and Neurofuture. The neuroblogging community was quite small then. Neurofuture started in January 2006 — a blog about Brain Science and Neurofuturism that was ahead of its time (so to speak):
The future is now, in many ways. Neuroscience and psychiatry are fields that have experienced tremendous growth, especially in the last few decades, and these advances already have practical applications. … At the same time, much is still unknown…
. . .
Neuroscience, psychiatry, neuroethics and transhumanism are the four areas of focus for this blog. They have applications in a broad range of fields, and I'll be aggregating diverse information. Expect a lot of interesting links. I invite your comments.
In June 2006, she started a video blog, Channel N, that shared interesting content related to neuroscience, psychology, and mental health. Channel N eventually moved to Psych Central, a trusted mega-site for mental health, depression, bipolar, ADHD & psychology information. Sandra also wrote posts for World of Psychology, the main PsychCentral blog, including many Top 10 lists, which were always popular.
Along with Steve Higgins, she blogged for Omni Brain (from December 2006 – January 2008), which was “an exploration of the serious, fun, ridiculous / past, present, future of the brain and the science that loves it” – as part of the long-defunct Science Blogs network.
But Sandra’s real love was writing fiction (mostly under the pseudonym S. Kay). She wrote an unpublished novel (or two), flash fiction, and a novella that was published by Maudlin House (ironically titled Joy).
The advent of Twitter really changed her writing. She started writing microfiction, ultra-short stories in the form of Tweets (140 characters or less). Sometime they were standalone zaps that told an entire tiny tale.
Epic trance and video mashups, with beer. When Jeff left town we opened his garage after hours. Didn't expect zombie bears. @blueberrio— Seven By Twenty (@7x20) September 25, 2009
"It's not your strongest," said his patron, and he fell into an abyss of dark shadows and rum until rescued by that probiotic yogurt drink.— Nanoism (@nanoism) December 4, 2009
Other times, she crafted a number of tweets together to tell a longer story. These were published in various venues and included pieces such as Neurotech Light and Dark, Cloud Glitches, Facebook Algorithm of Death,2 and her final piece, Goth Robots (robots were always a favorite theme; see the interview Weird words with S. Kay). Her blueberrio tumblr has a comprehensive list of her published work.
Her masterwork was Reliant, “an apocalypse in tweets” published in 2015 by the late tNY Press (but still available for purchase at Amazon):
“Selfies, sexbots, and drones collide in these interwoven nanofictions about a society before, during, and after its collapse. With dazzling humor and insight, debut author S. Kay reveals a future that looks disconcertingly like the present. Beautifully illustrated by Thoka Maer, Reliant is a bold examination of society's unrequited love for technology.”There was a nice review in Entropy by Christopher Iacono.
But my proudest literary-moment-by-proxy was when Sandra read at Writers With Drinks, a long-standing, monthly series of readings by spectacular writers, held in a bar and hosted by the talented and amusing Charlie Jane Anders. It was a fun evening and the ideal crowd for reading Reliant.
Writers With Drinks (Nov. 14, 2015)
Sandra's next book, Lost in the Land of Bears (designed and published by Reality Hands), had a truly unique limited edition faux fur cover, but it's still available as an e-book.
James Knight wrote a great review at Sabotage Reviews.
Sandra was an early adopter of all forms of online communication. She was an avid blogger, social media user, and before that an online diarist. She was prescient about the future of social media:
I have no optimism that social media will bring the world together with mutual empathy improving society. Sheep are still sheep and their bleatings still need shepherds to make them a coherent flock. An important lesson for the next decade. The media is still the media and if anything, is more segregated than ever.
– Sandra Dawson, January 4, 2007
I could go on and on about her other wildly creative projects, like her Spambot Psychosis origami text cube, her beachpunk jewelry, her minibook necklaces (sample here), her upcycled cashmere brooches, her Postcards from the Post-Apocalypse, and her exhibit of crocheted art hats (and bonus EEG cap) at Femina Potens (the Cultivating Cozy exhibition).
January 18th, 2008
But what I can't express in words right now is how much I'll miss her.
Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden (November 2006)
1 Like me, she had many Twitter accounts and blogs and pseudonyms; the latter included Sandra K, Sandra Kiume, and S. Kay.
2 Sadly, this was based on a true story that had an even more tragic ending.
I love you.