Thalassophobia

A Guest Feature by Miyuki Jane Pinckard

Miyuki Jane Pinckard writes fiction about magic and space travel, and nonfiction about games, technology, and culture. Her work has been published in Strange Horizons, Uncanny Magazine, 1up.com, Electronic Gaming Monthly, Salon Magazine, and other venues. A graduate of the Clarion Writers Workshop, she’s a member of the SFWA Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee She was born in Tokyo and currently lives in Venice, California, where she’s teaching herself piano (badly). She can be found online at miyukijane.com and on Twitter and Instagram as @miyukijane. She’s still afraid of the ocean but loves being near it.


The thing is, I’m afraid of the ocean.

I always have been. Since I was a kid, I’ve had recurring nightmares of my home being swept away in a tsunami. (Maybe growing up in Japan, surrounded by stories of such occurrences, contributed to that.) When I visited Lake Tahoe as a teenager, I was scared to swim out to the middle of the lake, even.

What scares me most, I think, is the idea of the unknowable depth. The waters plunge down, farther than I can see, and the idea of what could be down there… it makes me break out in anxious sweats.

So it might come as a surprise that I decided to throw my hat in the ring to help run a publication, Mermaids Monthly, devoted to the waters and the creatures who inhabit them, like mermaids.

I can’t quite pinpoint exactly when my feelings about the ocean and mermaids shifted. What I do know for a fact is that back in December 2019, amid a bleak world (with no idea how much bleaker it was going to get in just a couple of months), I backed a Kickstarter that promised mermaid fiction, poems, art, and comics, once a month. I didn’t especially care for mermaids then, but I really admired the work that Julia Rios and Meg Frank had done elsewhere, and I like to support independent publishing.

Every month, the issues landed in my inbox. They were, first of all, incredibly beautiful to look at, from their stunning covers to the layouts, the font choices, the interior art. And the stories! They featured a wildly diverse range of mer-creatures from righteously vengeful sea witches to joyful selkies to sirenas to human girls longing to become mermaids to climate activist rebels. Mischievous rusalki and wild trapped mermaids. Stories that engaged with disability and toxic relationships and the meaning of home.

I began to realize that, actually, mermaids did mean a lot to me. And so did oceans.

Many of the mermaid stories that I was drawn to were searingly honest about the uncomfortable challenge of finding where we belong. Growing up split between two cultures and two languages and two countries, that question loomed over much of my childhood. Many of the stories in Mermaids Monthly emotionally resonated with me as beings who are torn between land and sea, trying to find a home. The mermaids I read about this year are mercurial, mutable creatures, presenting myriad emotional states–at times furious, or resigned, or loving, or playful.

Survival was another theme in these stories that resonated with me: mermaids struggled on land to create a home, or the safety of their oceans was threatened by imperialism, by pollution, by climate change. Their oceans and waterways were not dangerous inherently, but because they had been made so, by thoughtless or malicious humans.

Or the mermaid themself was the source of the ocean’s danger.

I saw the ocean’s infinity as terrifying; but now, through the multivalent eyes of dozens of mermaids I’ve met in this publication, the infinity is beautiful. I don’t think of myself as a courageous person, in general; but something I’ve noticed is that I enjoy pushing myself to the edge of my comfort. I like stepping out into the waves until I almost lose my footing–metaphorically speaking, I mean. I think that’s at the core of why I applied to help run Mermaid’s Monthly in 2022: the fear of the unknown, the challenge of taking on something I’ve never done before, the hope that I’ll be able to transform myself into a creature who feels comfortable out there in the deep blue.

I have mermaids to thank for that.

There’s something about the ocean that, as much as I’m afraid of it still, nevertheless draws me and always has. I’ve lived beside the ocean all my life. When I go inland, I feel claustrophobic. Whenever I catch a glimpse of a strip of sea, my heart expands with a sharp, almost painful joy. I’m not sure how to reconcile these feelings but I’m a little closer to accepting this about myself. The thing about not feeling like you belong to any one place, I’ve decided, is that you can carve out a space for yourself anywhere. You can belong to both the land and the sea. Mermaids are resilient survivors, adapting to their environments, diving deep to survive storms and emerging, triumphant, into the sun to wave at the grass and the earth.

As I write this, a violent storm is battering the coast and in my browser is a live feed of the closest beach, just a mile away, where the surf foams fury, the winds lash palm trees.

I want to walk down there and watch it in person. Maybe I’ll meet other mermaids overcoming their fears.


The Mermaids Monthly Kickstarter campaign is live now! Continuing the work started by Julia Rios and Meg Frank, the incoming publishing team are Noelle Singh and Miyuki Jane Pinckard. They are committed to paying creators fairly, representing international writers and artists, and uplifting queer voices. If that sounds like a voyage you’d like to be part of, please consider backing the project, or helping to spread the word! Back issues of Mermaids Monthly can be accessed here.


No matter what you do, please find a way to support Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. There are some resources here to get you started. You can also click here to find ways to support Black communities and people.

In the meantime, care for yourself and the people around you. Believe that the world can be better than it is now. Never give up.

—Gailey

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