Monday, December 31, 2012

2012: What Was It Good For?

I swear, didn't 2012 suck?  Sandy. Sandy Hook.  Scott Walker's re-election.  Unions lost even more power. More people getting poorer, the rich getting richer. OWS did not (or did not YET) lead to the Revolution.  The Right in this country grew even crazier. My little dog Spike died.

Maybe things were not as bad as they might have been, though.  I mean, we did re-elected Obama, which is better than the obverse.

And I'm trying to think of some other thing decent that happened this year.

Crystal Bridges opened -- I supposed that's something, though it's a mixed blessing.  Everyone here in Arkansas loves it a lot.  But I'm still a bit bitter about its real cost.

My story "In the Cold" appeared in Strange Horizons -- that was nice.

In February, I went to Boskone, my first real SF convention.  I did like that.

I taught American Epics (that is, Start the Revolution NOW!) this summer.  I'd actually forgotten about this class, that I had taught it, I mean, and how well it went.  So much has happened since then.

I got my shoulder fixed, which left us broke(r) than usual, but me relatively pain free.

I had this conversation with Dr. Skull, which might be one of my favorites ever.

I have two beautiful works in progress coming out in 2013, and I am writing well.

In the Spring, I am teaching Women in Lit (START THE REVOLUTION NOW!) and Writing the Novel.

And more and more people seem inclined to believe that gay people should have rights, trans people should have rights, poor people and women and brown people should have rights, and that maybe letting rich people own the world isn't (after all) the best plan ever.

So maybe, maybe 2013 will be better?

Here's hoping.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Bayard Rustin

Cracked.Com introduced me to Bayard Rustin.

I mean, how pathetic is the American education system that I have to learn about the coolest guy in American history (okay, maybe I exaggerate, but only a little) via

America, Fuck Yeah!  Where we learn all about white guys who own slaves and commit genocide, but those who fight for social justice?  Who cares.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012


It's snowing here in the Fort.

I know those of you in more northern climes are like yeah, so?

But in the River Valley this is an exciting big deal.  Everyone has been watching the Weather Channel all week, and yesterday every grocery in town was packed with people buying out the milk, bread, and egg supplies "just in case."  (Just in case what I cannot conceive.  In case they had a sudden bread pudding emergency, I assume.)

Today when the snow began (about 20 minutes ago) great whoops of glee were heard all over town.  Forget Christmas.  This is the real miracle.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Why, This Is The Best Idea YET

Making dinner tonight (potato soup), I found myself thinking I should put together a cookbook of these way cheap meals I had learned how to cook: I could call it Meals For Hard Times: When Your Paycheck Runs Out Before The Month Does.

I bet these days I could sell a bundle.

Potatoes were on sale at the Harps this week ten pounds for a buck and a half.  I know all kinds of ways to cook potatoes -- we're set for awhile!

Here's my potato soup recipe, btw.  It's excellent.

Potato Soup

  • One potato per person and one for the pot
  • Two onions
  • Some sort of oil -- bacon fat is great if you have it, but any kind will do
  • Celery if you have it, a carrot if you have it (omit these if you don't!)
  • Salt, pepper
  • Chicken stock if you have it, water if you don't
  • Milk (powdered or canned is fine)

Cut up the onions and cook them in the fat over low heat for about ten minutes, stirring occasionally.  If you'ce got the celery and carrot, cut those up and put them in too.  Use a big stock pot, and enough fat to cover the bottom.

Meanwhile, peel and dice your potatoes.  Once the onions are soft, add chicken stock or water -- four or five cups if you're using four potatoes, more if you're using more.  You can use a mix of stock and water, or just water.  Add the cut up potatoes, add salt and pepper, boil at a simmer for about 20 minutes.

Take out about half and mash up or run through a blender or food processor whatever you have -- you want a smooth puree.  Then stir back into the soup.  Just before you're read to eat, add the milk.  About a cup of milk, more or less -- more if you want more, less if you don't like milk.  You can even leave the milk out entirely if you're really broke.

Serve with whatever bread you have around.  Popovers go good with this, or garlic bread, but toast is fine too!

Friday, December 21, 2012

It's Not The Guns, It's the Video Games

I remember sitting waiting for my kid's Aikido class to start once, six or seven years ago -- the kid was eight or nine, I think -- and the little boys in the class were talking about Call of Duty, and how cool it was to shoot the people in the game until their ribs were torn away and their "guts fell out" and other such delightful details.

These were kids about my kid's age, eight or nine years old.

I remember a few years later, when my kid was eleven and her best friend started playing X-Box, some game where you could chat online with other people while you played, how upset my kid was at the casual misogyny of the gamer world -- how often and how idle the rape threats were that her friend (also eleven) was subjected to.

So I'm not exactly shocked by Wayne LaPierre's comments on video games in his speech to the NRA this morning.

But does he seriously want us to believe that video games are more responsible for what happened at Sandy Hook than the gun culture that his organization has helped to foster in this country?

I mean, how fucking stupid does he think we are?

Money Money Money Water Water Water....

Feel free to skip this post if you're sick of hearing me whine about our poverty.

Dr. Skull had a bad toothache about three weeks ago -- as usual with him he probably actually had it for about two months, but about three weeks ago it got so bad he mentioned it to me.  He wouldn't call the dentist himself, because he just won't.  I knew if he was admitting it, it was bad, so I called our dentist, and she got him it that same day.

Major abscess.  Lots of drama followed, but the short version is, he ended up (due to his diabetes and the bone loss that follows from that) needing to have two teeth pulled and a root canal on a third.

I was kind of hoping to put some of this off until after January 1st, when our medical savings account would roll over -- we're out of that money for this year, obviously, we always run out about July, and we ran out even earlier this year, because Dr. Skull needed cataract surgery.  But the oral surgeon said it would be dangerous to wait, so.

And our insurance sucks.  So.

So far our part of the bill has been nearly six hundred dollars, all of which we've had to pay up front.

This leaves us with forty-eight dollars to eat on until I get paid on December 31st, and here is my question: how the fuck are people supposed to live this way?

I mean, forget saving for my kid's education.  I can't even manage to save enough to pay the water bill on time.  We can't heat the house.  We're going to be eating rice and peas for the rest of the fucking year.

And we're not even poor.  I mean, seriously, we're not.  We're a middle-class family, by all definitions of the word.  How do people who are actually poor survive in this country?

Monday, December 17, 2012

Continuing Adventures of My Kid is Fourteen

So she's doing her Latin.

We're on Is Ea Id.

She'd supposed to be filling in the right forms of the demonstrative to go with various nouns.

The Kid: What gender is oppidum?

Me: (as always) Look it up.

Kid: (sighing heavily) (Looks it up) But what if oppidum is gender-fluid?  Huh?  Huh?  Why didn't the Romans ever think of that?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Continuing Adventures of My Kid Is Fourteen

So it's the fifth night of Hanukkah, and my kid got some Walkers Liquorice Toffee bars for her present.

We had latkes and fish sticks for dinner (not actually an authentic traditional Hanukkah meal, although I do make the best latkes*) and afterwards she lay on the sofa chewing on a toffee bar and reading one of the books she got for yesterday's present.

"Aaargh!" she cried presently.  "This sticks to my back teeth!"

Me:  "Yes, that is the problem with toffee."

The Kid:  "But what do I do?"

Me:  "You just have to suck it off."

The Kid:  "Hee hee."

Me: "What?"

The Kid:  "Hee hee.  Suck it off."

*Latke recipe:

4 potatoes, peeled and grated by hand with one of those tin graters.  Don't use a food processor, is what I'm saying.

About a cup of Matzo meal

Two eggs

Either one grated onion or five or six tablespoons of onion powder

A bit of salt

Grate the potatoes, storing the grated mass in a bowl of cold water to cover as you go.  When you're done grating, dump that water (be careful not to lose the grated potato) and refill with fresh cold water.  Cover bowl with Saran wrap and store in fridge for at least an hour, and as long as seven or eight.

When you're ready to start cooking, drain and rinse and squish the grated potato -- get as much water out of it as you can.  Put grated potato in a large bowl.  Break the eggs in, dump in the Matzo meal, add the onion and salt, and mix up thoroughly.  Just use your hands.  You're gonna be using them in a minute here anyway.

Get out your largest cast iron skillet  (or whatever big frying pan you have) and heat some peanut oil.  When it's hot enough, form your potato mix into flat thin patties about as round as small hamburgers but MUCH thinner (try to get them as thin as you can).  Fry until crisp and brown on both sides. Drain on paper towels.  Repeat until you're out of mix.

Eat, traditionally, with sour cream or applesauce.  I eat mine with ketchup, which appalls Dr. Skull.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

This Year, I SWEAR...

I'm teaching four class, four preps in the Spring Semester, which I have done, frankly, for so long that I don't think I'd know how to teach any other way at this point.

Still, this semester it will be a little rougher, because of the four classes -- Comp II, English Grammar, Woman's Lit, Writing the Novel -- two of them, those last two -- will be classes I have never taught before.

(Technically, I am teaching five classes, since I am also supervising an internship, but I don't expect that to be a ton of work, so I am optimistically not counting it.)

So!  I plan (for once I am planning and actually intending) to spend part of my between semester break actually doing some of the prep work for these two new classes.

I always intend to do this, mind you; and then I spend the entire break writing my novels.

But this year will be different!

Specifically I am going to spend part of every day figure out how to teach that Writing the Novel class.  Because I have written a great many novels, but I am not at all certain I know how to teach people how to write them.  Basically, my plan for writing novels goes like this.  (1) Get an idea  (2) Have some characters in mind (3) Start writing (4) write about 1000 words a day (5) keep writing (6) When you get to the end stop.

Which, um, surely I can be more helpful than that?

So I'm doing research.

The Women's Lit class -- ah, now, there I have lots of plans for.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Teaching Young Adults

Last night I taught my last workshop to the kids in my Young Writers Workshop, run through the Fort Smith Public Library system.  We had started out with twelve students, and we were down to four at the end -- well, really, twelve signed up, but only eight showed up at the first session, so.

I had never taught anyone younger than seventeen (maybe sixteen) outside of my own kid -- the freshmen in college age.  We get some high school students here at UA-FS, but we just treat them like adults, so I've never thought of them as  "kids" exactly.  I went into this experience with some trepidation, is what I'm saying.

"You can't cuss," my kid reminded me on the first day.

I rolled my eyes at her.  "I'm not stupid, you know."

"Well, I know.  But you cuss an awful lot."

Which, well, that's true. And usually in the university classroom I make it a point to say fuck at least once on the first day of class, kind of like a forewarning: so the tenderhearted can bail, right?

I figured that would not be a good technique here.

Also, how do you teach twelve year olds to write?  And what if they were all terrible?  And what if they couldn't or wouldn't talk?

(Ha!  That last was not a problem.  Getting them to shut up, now!)

I ended up with two twelve year olds and two fourteen year olds (one of them my kid) and all of them could write and all of them were very smart and all of them would talk, indeed.  Teaching them was no problem.  Teaching them was delightful.  (I did not cuss, you will be proud to hear.)  I put almost everything in writing -- they had assignments evey week -- and for the first sessions, we did a lot of in-class writing.  For the last sessions, we did workshopping.  One session, Dr. Skull came in and did a poetry workshop, since I don't do poetry.

Highly successful.  We're running it again in the spring, expanding to eight weeks, February to March.  All their parents came in on the last day to tell me it's all they talk about, and they're all signing up again.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Know Your Enemy

I like to read the Right side of the 'sphere as often as I can.

They're hard to take, I admit, and that's been especially true these last few years; but it's good to know what's current.

It's also been helpful teaching young conservatives, who get all their best ideas off Fox News and Rush.  Reading the Rightosphere, I hear their ideas before they do, and am prepared to discuss them with reason and fact.

Anyway!  In case you are interested!  Here are the Best Conservative Blogs of 2012.

Monday, December 03, 2012

The Other Side of The Sky: Cover Art

The other project I've been working on for some time now (my toy that starts a revolution story) is coming out, as steady readers of the blog know, in 2013.

The cover art, which is amazing, has just been released.  This link here will take you to a wonderful explanation of how the cover was drawn, which the artists among you will especially enjoy; here is Athena Andreadis's post about the cover on her blog, Starship Reckless.

What I most enjoy about the cover is that the woman on the cover is a woman, and not a porn-star.

Speaking of which -- have you seen this?

More on that.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Here We Are At the End Again

It's the end of the semester here in Fort Smith, and I am grading and grading, looking back and looking forward.

We've just gone through a major revision of our degree program at my small working-class university.  Some parts of the changes we made leave me optimistic -- we have a number of new upper level classes, like the Women's Lit class I'll be teaching in the Spring, and the Cultural Studies class two of my colleagues teach every semester to incoming majors; we have a required class in Grammar and Junior Seminars in British and American Lit.

All of this is very cool.  On the other hand, under directive from the State Legislature, we've dropped the number of hours in the degree from 124 to 120.

Okay, big deal, four hours.  (For a much worse idea, see here.)  We eliminated four hours of electives, which may not seem like much of an issue.  It's that notion, though, that worries me.  It's the idea that the State Legislature seems to have that a university education is (mostly) a waste of time.  That those four hours of electives taught our students nothing and thus could be cut without any loss.

I think back to my own undergraduate days, and the elective classes I took -- mainly in my senior year, since like a good student I followed my prescribed track zealously. (Heh.)  My senior year (okay, my second senior year, I'll come clean -- I switched majors so often I ended up doing six years as an undergrad and had two junior and two senior years) was almost entirely electives.

I took Biology and Biology Lab. (Not required for my major.) I took a class in 18th Century Enlightenment Poets.  I took a class in Political Geography.  I took Second Year Greek (both semesters).  All of these classes taught me things I have used to this day, endlessly.  In some ways, I'm a professor and writer because of those classes -- certainly the writer I am because of those classes.

And yes, the six years instead of the four years I spent as an undergraduate made me the writer and the professor I am.  If I hadn't been an anthropology major before I was an English major, I would not be teaching and writing, thinking and researching the way I am now.

The idea that the purpose of a university degree is to get students jobs is ridiculous.  We bring them to the campus to educate them -- to teach them what they don't yet know they need to know, to show them a world they don't know exists.  That takes time.  Lots of it.  It means they have to spend more hours, not fewer, in the classroom, and with each other, and on their own, reading and lying about -- I can't tell you how much I learned lying on my back in the courtyard of the English Building at my university, reading and staring up at the sky.

Trying to make this some swift process, so we can make good technocrats out of them, well.

What a bad plan.