Sunday, December 29, 2013

Friday, December 27, 2013

delagar: Top Ten Posts of 2013

So we're nearing the end of 2013, and I've been doing my usual retrospective -- helped out this year by FB, interestingly enough, which has this new feature where it shows you Your Year in Review!

My Year in Review, according to FB, starts out with a joke post I made on January 4, 2013:

"What's the difference between a large pizza and a writer?" 
 "A large pizza can feed a family of four."  BA-DA-Da-DUM!"

Then we progress through a day in June when I wrote an entire short story in two hours, Yom Kippur when the kid and I had an argument about fasting --

The kid -- good Jew that she is -- is arguing with me relentlessly about why she should not have to fast on Yom Kippur. "I'm an atheist! Jewish atheists shouldn't have to fast! Should they? WELL SHOULD THEY?"

I'm deeply amused, of course, because as much as keeping the high holidays is a tradition for Jews, so is arguing about religion.

-- the day I turned in my promotion portfolio, and a message from one my students about sexism, and another message from another student about graduating.

Seems legit like my year, frankly.

As an added service, though, I'm presenting the top 10 posts from the blog this year, for your delectation:

February 2013: Who Let The Girls In?

March 2013: Sexy Lamps! A Supplement to the Bechdel Test

Also March 2013: Why Do Fewer Guys Go To College?  

 (Bonus:  The Effect of Education on a Woman's Brain.)

April 2013: New Member of the Family

May 2013: Teaching Our Bodies, Ourselves

June 2013: Looks Like You Got Yourself a Feminist There

August 2013: You Are Hurting Me With THOSE WORDS

Also August 2013: Smile, Sunshine!  Good Manners and Girls

November 2013: Living While Female in Fundamentalist Country

December 2013:  Child Rape Is Just A Traditional Life Choice if It Happens To Girls

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Happy Chinese Food Day, Y'All!

Jewish tradition decrees that on Christmas day we sleep late, go to a movie, and eat Chinese take-out.

So that's what we've got planned.

I want to see Philomena; Dr. Skull wants to see the Hobbit.  We might have to flip a coin.

Luckily we both like the same Chinese food restaurant.

Hope y'all are having a great day.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Science Fiction: That Thing You Do

I'm teaching a Fiction Workshop in the writing of science fiction this spring.

Oddly enough, this is my first actual workshop in the writing of science fiction.

I've taught writing classes for a bazillion years now -- since I was a little tiny graduate student -- and creative writing classes for almost fifteen years; and in many of those classes I have taught science fiction writing on the side, as it were.

That is, I've allowed (encouraged, baited, nudged) students to write science fiction.  But this will be the first time I've attempted to teach students how to write science fiction.

As those of you who are teachers know, there is a wide difference between doing something and teaching someone how to do something.  As I'm working at my teaching notes for the class, I'm discovering how little I am able to articulate what I know about what this thing is that I do.

Science fiction: what is it?

I am making lists.  And doing research.

By January 13, let's hope I know.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Saving Mr. Banks: A Review

Dr. Skull and I went out in the freezing rain this afternoon to see Saving Mr. Banks, a movie I am certain you have heard of.

I'll say up front that I liked this movie.  Emma Thompson does a fine job, Tom Hanks is great, I love the Sherman brothers, most of it works quite well, and if the ending could have been less crowded (we barely get to see the sister who Mary Poppins is based on), well, the movie was already running long.

I even like the central theme of the film -- which it's not a spoiler to give you, since it's right there in the title: the conceit that artists create art as an act of redemption; as a way of creating justice which (because the world is a dark and broken place) is otherwise denied to us.

On the other hand.

I have always, frankly, disliked the movie Mary Poppins for what it does to Mrs. Banks.  In the books, the Banks family has a nanny because of the simple fact that British families of that era had nannies.

But in the movie, Mrs. Banks has a nanny because she's a bad mother, running off to marching for Equal Rights, the harridan.

This is touched on, very briefly, in the movie (so briefly that if you blink, you'll miss it), when Thompson, playing Travers, inquires of the scriptwriters why he has made Mrs. Banks a suffragette, and the scriptwriter says, well, it seemed odd to him that she would be neglecting her children otherwise, since she didn't have a job or anything.

Travers mutters a better explanation, about being overwhelmed by the work of mothering, and how not all women are suited to it  -- and the movie sweeps on.  Mrs. Banks is never mentioned again.

There is no attempt, in other words, to give a shit about Mrs. Banks, or about the redemption of little Minty's mother; or Walt Disney's mom (who never even gets a mention except as someone who feeds him).  The redemption of the father, locked away in the cage of labor, is central: the father who abuses the children, who torments and uses and fails his wife: his redemption is focused on.

And I don't argue with that.  It's a lovely bit of poetry.

What I argue with is what the film Mary Poppins did to Mrs. Banks.  In order to save the father, the man, are we required to erase the woman?

So that Mr. Banks can be saved, Mrs. Banks must tear down her dreams at the end of the movie, rip up her desire to be an equal citizen of the world (you'll recall at the end of the movie she tears down her suffragette sash to be a tail for John's kite), become subordinate and submissive, a servant to her husband and son?

The movie Saving Mr. Banks does, to be fair, show us the true story of what Mrs. Banks suffered.

That is, we see Minty's mother dragged along behind her husband, bearing too many children, living in misery and poverty and in subservience to him and to his dreams, in an attempt to keep the family afloat. We see the desperation to which it drives her.

What the movie doesn't give us -- for her -- is any solution.  The movie focuses only on Travers' father, on the importance of his life.  Perhaps this is even valid.  Little Minty did take his name as her own when she grew up, after all.

But this focus, on the father, this sidelining of the the mother / Mrs. Banks, does what the movie version of Mary Poppins did:  it tells us that women and their lives, women and their concerns, should be tossed aside, trashed, ignored in order to keep men and boys happy.  Ripped up to make a child's toy.

Our lives, our most sacred issues, are toys in comparison to any man's life, or even boy's life.

That's how little we matter.

UPDATE:  See also this, for something I totally missed, due to my utter lack of knowledge about Travers's biography.  The film Saving Mr. Banks erases Travers's bisexuality, her long-time partner, and (almost entirely -- there's one throw-away line) her adopted son.

I'd argue, as the linked article implies, that this erasure is done to refocus the energy of the movie on Disney -- to make it seem as though the agency and creation of the movie lay almost entirely with him; that Travers was a vessel he drew from and acted upon.  (His instrument.  His toy.)  In actual fact, as the linked article notes, Disney wasn't even in town during the events the movie covers.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

I Become a Skepchick Blogger

So this has been in the works for a bit, but today's the day.

I'ma Grounded Parent blogger for Skepchick.

Go here to read my first post:  Against Punishment.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

How Not To Do Criticism

Full Disclosure.  I'm a big fan of Sandra McDonald's work.  And so should you be.

If you haven't encountered McDonald yet, lucky you!  I'm about to introduce you to a great ride.

The first work I read by her was the story I edited for Crossed Genres, which was "Drag Queen Astronaut."  I loved it to pieces, and it made the Tiptree Honor List that year.  I immediately began seeking out all the work I could find by McDonald, something I have continued to do.

Some of my favorites by her:

Seven Sexy Cowboy Robots.

Tupac Shakur and the End of the World

Your Final Apocalypse

There are plenty more.  And most recently, she published what might be my favorite story by her yet, at Apex, Our Daughters.

Apparently this story and another in this issue (by Rachel Swirsky, another excellent writer) upset Dave Truesdale, who wrote an appalling review of both stories on December 14.  He seems to find "Our Daughters" mean-spirited and humorless, which bewilders me; and having said that, he descends into personal attacks against the author -- or rather, against an entire generation and class of authors.

What I see here….is a wistful nod in the rearview mirror hearkening back to those halycon early 1970s anti-male feminist rhetoric days full of anger and in-your-face generalized animus toward the male of the species.….We’ve come a long way baby, and this nostalgic reiteration of the strident feminist attitudes prevalent in the latter part of the past century is a welcome blanket of comfort to those young breast-bobbing firebrands who once burned their bras, who are now old broads gone to flab and seed (and who need their bras now more than ever)

Truesdale continues this personal attack -- rather than engaging with the work -- when he turns to Swirsky's story, claiming that because Swirsky is unable to be "pure" like Cindarella (what?) she has decided to mock and destroy that mythic icon.

Rather than acknowledging that such models of purity and innocence as Cinderella might be something toward which to aspire, or look up to as an ideal, the author has decided to destroy that which she cannot attain in real life. Envy? Jealousy? A desperate, angry attempt to knock from her pedestal a fairy tale princess realizing such is not to be in her own life? 

This is too bizarre to be insulting, but really: this is a professional review of science fiction, yes?  I haven't clicked onto a MRA site by mistake?  And this Truesdale seriously believes slut-shaming a writer is an appropriate critical response?

He goes on to argue (again) not against Swirsky, but against an entire class of writers whom he claims Swirsky represents: those who wish to overthrow the current system, which Truesdale seems to believe is a perfectly workable system, since it is possible to achieve success.  (Grace Kelly married a Prince!  That shows it is possible for a worker to escape poverty!)

The story takes direct shots at the ideal of purity, the pristine nature of a virginal Cinderella who lives with her stepmother and stepsisters, who labors hard from dawn to dusk doing scut work, but is rewarded by falling in love with a handsome, rich prince. It’s an idealized rags to riches story. Pain, suffering, abuse, and hard work pay off for Cinderella. Sure, it’s a fairy tale story and we know this happens rarely in real life (though actress Grace Kelly did fall in love with, and marry a true prince—it does happen), but the values it expresses are worthy ones.

Truesdale's reading of Cinderella differs from mine.  He does not see it as being about an abused child, oppressed by those who have power over her, who endures because she has no choice, and is rescued due to her actions toward those who are more powerless than she is (remember her kindness to the ants and the mice in most versions of the tale).

No, he sees it as a story of a girl who is "pure" and "virginal," who succeeds because she "works hard."  Her hard work, and her purity, lead to her success, says Truesdale, and this (he insists) is what infuriates the class of writers he is attacking.  That's why they attack the mythic Cinderella so relentlessly.

I don't remember anything about purity in any of the Cinderella stories, frankly, so I don't know where he's getting that, except out of his own head.  And her hard work does not in any of the versions lead to her success.  In all of them, it is either her kindness to others or plain luck or her beauty that leads to success.  (And her happening to be the sort of beauty that attracts the prince could also be luck.)

I'd also argue against his notion that these values are "worthy ones."  Do we actually want to endorse the values of enduring abuse and oppression, especially among women?  Or is Swirsky's interrogation of this tale a more interesting one?

Truesdale's inability to see any of this -- to see past women who won't be passive and enduring, I suspect -- is a real hindrance to his skill in writing valid criticism; or, for that matter, his skill in reading competently.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Contrarians, Not Conservatives

You may not remember the Sweater Wars.  

It was long ago, when our country still had some civility; when someone sitting on television and comparing feeding poor children to feeding stray animals would have  been greeted with horror, rather than chuckles.

But President Carter addressed the Nation during the first fuel crisis, saying that one thing America could do to help out was turn the thermostat down.  (It was winter.)  Lower the heat to 68. (Most people kept it at 78 in those days.) Put on a sweater, he asked.  It would save, I forget what exactly he said, but a ton of fuel oil that winter.  He also recommended other changes, mind you -- carpooling, combining trips, shutting off extra lights.  He put solar panels on the White House.

Most people in America responded positively to this speech.  Despite what you might hear, Carter's approval ratings were high.  Conservatives, though, are still mad about this speech.  You still hear echoes of how bug-nuts it drove them in their rhetoric -- "I'm turning my heat up to 90!"  "I'm turning every light in my house on!"  "Why don't YOU put a sweater on?"

Even if you don't remember the Sweater Wars, I know you remember the Great Light-Bulb Wars.

Despite what Conservatives fondly believe, it was the Bush Administration who introduced the federal standards for more efficient light bulbs, and with good reason, since the incandescent sort are mad inefficient, wasting 90% of their energy in heat that we then have to (in summer) cool away again.

The new bulbs are more expensive to buy on the front end, as those of us who have bought them know; but they're cheaper in the long run, since they last much longer and use much less energy.

If every American home replaced just one standard incandescent light bulb with a long-lasting CFL, the resultant energy savings would eliminate greenhouse gases equal to the emissions of 800,000 cars, according to the U.S. Energy Star program. 

Conservatives hate them because...

Well, why do Conservatives hate them?  The reasons they give are all transparently ridiculous -- the bulbs don't light the room as well!  They're toxic!  FREEDOM!!!1!!

In fact, they take about 30 seconds to warm up, and then they do light the room perfectly well; they aren't toxic if handled responsibly; and freedom?  Seriously?  You have a Civil Right to a specific sort of light bulb?  Who knew.  But you don't have a Civil Right to heroin, though?  Or to drive down the Interstate at 210 miles per hour with a bottle of Jack Daniels in one hand and an M-16 in the other?  Can you clear this up for me?

Then there are the Great Recycling Wars.  If you aren't in a city that has curb-side recycling, you may not be aware of these. But Conservatives also hate recycling.  The reasons they give, in their essays and blog posts, for hating it range from (1) no one has proved it works to (2) if it worked you would be paying us to do it to (3) it's my right as a free citizen not to do it and you can't make me to (4) isn't it great that this is such a wealthy country that we don't have to recycle if we don't want to to?  But the venom with which Conservatives address recycling suggests rational objections are not at the root of their argument.

Now we are in the midst of the Great Bicycle Wars.

A number of cities (sadly, mine is not one of them) have been making an effort to reduce the use of cars and other motorized vehicles within their city limits.  This is, obviously, a great idea.  It will reduce congestion, it will cut down on pollution, it will reduce the need for parking, it will reduce noise pollution.  They are doing it through the relatively low-cost means of creating more bike paths and (in some cases) by providing low-cost bike rentals or even (in some cities) free bike use.

Who would possibly object?

Right, you guessed it.  Conservatives. 

They have a number of ludicrous reasons for objecting -- people who ride bikes don't pay road tax (except of course we do); people who ride bikes don't obey traffic laws (yes, because people who drive cars do -- oh wait); people who ride bikes "threaten our personal freedom."  (What?)

But the real objection is the same reason they objected to turning down their heat in 1977; the same reason they don't want to buy energy-efficient light bulbs; the same reason they don't recycle or buy a more energy efficient car when that is obviously the more sensible thing to do.

They're not Conservative.  They're Contrarian.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

What's This? A Link List?

I have learned how to add links!

And it only took me ten years!

The Other Half of the Sky: News

I've just heard that three out of the sixteen stories in The Other Half of the Sky have been selected to be in this year's The Year's Best SF.  (That link goes to last years, but.)

We've also gotten a lot of press -- we got mentioned a few days ago by SF Signal as a small-press book that deserves attention.

So if you're looking for a book (with a beautiful cover!) to give someone, here's your chance!

Update:  See also this., over at Starship Reckless.

Top of the Lake: A Review

I just marathoned my way through Top of the Lake, Jane Campion's mini-series which premiered at Sundance and is available on Netflix streaming.

Spoilers: It's amazing.

Filmed in New Zealand, it stars Elizabeth Moss, who you might know from Mad Men, and Holly Hunter, among many others.  Both are excellent, as is the young girl, Jacqueline Joe, who plays Tui, the 12 year old whose pregnancy sets the plot in motion.

We're in a small, insular community set in a mountain valley around a frigid (I'm guessing glacial?) lake.  Everyone knows everyone.  Detective Robin Griffin has returned from Australia after a ten year absence to be with her mother while she's dying; but she's a specialist in dealing with crimes against children, and gets called in to deal with Tui.

Tui won't (or can't) say who raped her.  And then Tui vanishes. Tui's father, Matt Mitcham, and brothers are scary, scary guys living in a compound, where something shady is going on.

Meanwhile, out at Paradise, GJ played by Holly Hunter... no, I will not give you spoilers about GJ.  You must meet GJ yourself.  GJ is the best part of the series.

I'll just say this. GJ has taken Paradise away from Matt Mitcham, and no one takes anything from Matt Mitchum, and now GJ has a Utopian space there, a sanctuary, an oracle, for any one who wants to come (which is mostly women).  As the series progresses, GJ and Paradise both become more and more wonderful, in every sense of the word.  In the last episode, GJ nearly destroyed me.

The plot is great -- it is a ripping yarn -- but it is the characters, and the details, that make this work.

Particularly, it is two aspects of characters and details.

(1) The landscape.  In this show, the amazing landscape of New Zealand becomes a character in the show.  The immense mountains are always there; the lake factors constantly in the plot; the weather is always factoring into everyone's decisions.  Windows are open and wind blows through houses.  Even when people are inside, they are always turning toward the outside world, looking toward the lake, opening doors and windows, moving away from the interior life.

(2) The attention given to women and women's lives.  We have plenty of male characters here; but women are the center of the plot.  For the most part, through most of the series, what women think, what women do, propel the action.  (The obvious exception is Matt Mitcham.)  This is not to say that men aren't acting in the series; they must be.  It is just that we don't see their actions, because our focus is on women.  This takes women from the margin, where we usually see them, and moves them to the center.  It's refreshing.

Other details of the series are delightful, too. The female nudity, for instance, is almost all of women over 40, and not at all porny.  (There is one semi-porny scene with Elizabeth Moss, but it includes a fully naked guy too.)  Instead, the women are shot casually, their bodies shown as women's bodies, not as sexual objects.

The scenes where the men are hitting on women in bars are shown exactly as annoying and insulting as they actually are, and the men are shown as creepy as they actually are.  (Not alphas, but assholes.) That's nice.

And despite my philosophical commitment to non-violence as a solution, I really, really like the final episode.  No spoilers, so I won't say why.  But yes.

Highly recommended.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Cold & Flu, Snow & Movie Review: The Wealthy Really Are Different, Y'All

So along with this Snowpocalypse ( six inches of snow over an inch of ice, knocking out the power in nearly 80% of Fort Smith, though not here at our place), I have come down with a very achy and unpleasant flu.

But at least I have heat!  And electricity.  Which allowed me to watch this documentary, recommended (sort of) by TYWKIWDBI:  The Queen of Versailles.

Let me recommend it (sort of) to you.  It's the tale of David Siegel, who you may remember from the 2012 election, when he made the news for a threatening email sent out to his employees, saying that if they didn't vote for Romney, he might have to fire heaps of them when Obama got re-elected.

He's also the guy who sexually harassed his son's fiancee.

In the film, you will see him routinely objectifying and demeaning women -- he straight out says that his wife is not his equal, but just another child. You will also see how Siegel routinely uses other people, including his own son, as objects and tools to obtain his goals.

It is not only women, that is, he turns into tools and objects; but it clearly is women he sees as toys and tools he can do with as he pleases.  All through the movie he treats his wife (and his children) like some expensive and amusing trinket, like one of the Faberge eggs his wife has purchased by the dozen for their ridiculous house: something to play with when he's in the mood and cast aside when he's grumpy.

And this is how he treats all the women in his life.  His son from his first marriage tells about how his mother was treated -- how they lived in poverty even though David Siegel already had millions at that point; and there is just a heart-breaking scene with the children's nanny.

The documentary does a good job of showing the complexity of the situation, by which I mean it doesn't paint David Siegel as a cartoon villain; but it does let you see how the pursuit of wealth has damaged and isolated him; how it's let him and his family come to believe incredible things about how the world works; how it's harming his children; and how controlling that much wealth does, in fact, move people into a different category.

There's this one scene where David Siegel is talking about his debt. He is literally millions of dollars in debt at this point. He's got assets, mind you -- a jet, that half-finished house, the Versailles the movie is named for, all his wife's $75,000 dollar purses -- but he can't sell any of them, so.  And he's talking about how he's buying up his own debt, through third person puppets, more or less.

So he owes twenty million dollars.  And he pretends he's this third person.  And the bank is going to sell the debt, since they can't collect from it.  And Bank of America and whoever sells the debt, for pennies on the dollar, as they do, for three million dollars, to David Siegel himself, though they don't *know* it's him.  He's deeply amused by this, as who wouldn't be?  It's quite a move, and all he had to do was get someone to lend him three million dollars.

It's how he stays afloat at the end of the movie, too -- how he keeps his business going, how he's *still* a rich fucker, influencing politics, buying Congressmen.  Someone is always lending him millions, because he's one of the 1%.

"I worked hard* for everything I have," he says at the start of the movie.  "I earned all of this."

I'm sure he believes it, too.

*His business, by the way, is selling time-shares in condos -- convincing people who really can't quite afford it to buy one weekend a year in Las Vegas or Florida or wherever, with low down payments at high rates of interest.  Rubes, he calls them.  You remember when everyone was claiming it was Fannie Mae selling houses to the blah people that causes the crash?  Yeah.  There's another lovely scene where Siegel's employees are hounding these rubes for their back payments after the economy has tanked.

Friday, December 06, 2013

More Child Rape

And once again, no shock -- the Patriarchy doesn't see a problem with it.

A Drake University fraternity thought a themed party called "Pigtails and Pedophilia" was just good clean fun.

And when they got called on the total inappropriateness of this squick, they retreated into the solemn claim that pedophilia was "reality," and that "we have to deal with the reality we live in."

Right.  By mocking the rape of the child victims.


My favorite graph:

The author of TFM wrote that he was not personally offended by the theme of the party. He argues that there is no point in calling attention to something that offends us because that kind of behavior is going to happen regardless.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013


So, we're forecast to get about a half inch of snow and ice here in the Fort over the next few days.

This means the entire city must close down, including my university.  (YAY!)

If you live somewhere North of the Mason-Dixon line, feel free to laugh hysterically at this point.  But yeah, that's how we roll down here.

Meanwhile, it's exam week, so closing down is kind of a big deal.  All my students have commenced to email me, well mad with panic. "Are our final papers still due tomorrow?"  "What should I do about my portfolio?  Am I still supposed to bring it to your office?  Or is it due next Thursday now?"

I have sent seventeen (I am not even kidding) reassuring emails over the past half hour.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Child Rape Is Just a Traditional Life Choice When It Happens to Girls

NPR reported recently on child marriage; specifically on its causes and its effects.

These include that in poor countries, fathers often marry off their daughters at very young ages -- as young as eight in some places, and very often by as young as twelve or thirteen -- simply because feeding daughters is not a priority.

In patriarchal cultures, where young girls are often the last ones fed at mealtime, ICRW's Petroni says some parents may feel a daughter's circumstances will improve if she's someone's wife.

The statistics are these: one in three girls is married by age 18; one in nine by age 13.

These children are being married to older men.  Sometimes to much older men.

In such a marriage, a child -- a much younger child -- had no way to refuse sex, or to demand birth control.  Death in childbirth is common.  Death by sexual trauma is also common.

You would think children being raped to death, or killed in childbirth, would be something anyone would be outraged over.  Anyone.

But go and read the comments at this article.

Or maybe don't, if you care to preserve your faith in humanity.

Apparently child rape is okay if it's being done to girl children in the name of patriarchy.

Update: And read this, sent to me by one of my students: child marriage in America.  Once again, child rape is fine if it's a girl and it's in the service of God and the patriarchy.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Moar Science!

In between scrubbing and baking, go read this excellent essay by Belle Boggs over at Orion, on why we need better science education in K-12.

The Science of Citizenship.

Key graphs:

Hawbridge students and teachers take a lot of field trips, usually about two a month. Two years ago, during a study of contemporary innovations, we were preparing for a trip to the planetarium.

“You know I don’t believe in any of that stuff, Ms. Boggs,” said one of my students, a junior I’ll call Amy.

“What stuff?” I asked.

“You know,” she said, looking at the ceiling. “Outer space.”

“What do you think is up there then, Amy?”

“God,” she said. “And clouds. And Jesus.”

Monday, November 25, 2013

Making Thanksgiving

It's the second-to-last week of school, two days before Hanukkah, and three days before Thanksgiving.

No pressure, y'all!

I've got all the presents bought for the kid this year, at least -- not like some years! -- though I have not actually wrapped any.  Maybe soon!

And we have actually done (most) of the shopping for Thanksgiving dinner: a turkey, sweet potatoes, peas for the pea tureen, potatoes for some fancy potato thing Dr. Skull is making (Dr. Skull does all the cooking for Thanksgiving dinner, except the sweet potato casserole, which I do), pumpkin for the pumpkin pies, pear for the pear tarts, various other foods for various other dishes.

(Ack!  I just realized we haven't bought the potatoes or the Matzo meal for the latkes!)

And Sunday morning I managed to wake up in time to take the horrible sofa cover to the laundromat and get it washed.  (Big Dog sleeps on it, and it was appalling.)

How are your holiday plans going?

Friday, November 22, 2013

Nice Work If You Can Get It

Over at first draft, Doc, a blogger I like a lot, has a nice post up on the public perception of academics, and specifically the public perception of how our salaries match our workloads.

"’s hard to tell people that I earned my money. Nine years of college (which is pretty minimal for a full run through a Ph.D.) coupled with grad student servitude and cheap labor as a teaching assistant kept me out of the labor market for almost a decade. Meanwhile, people who bailed after high school or an associate’s degree were earning an actual salary for most of that time. In some ways, what I have now might best be viewed as deferred compensation: school came first, money came later.

Even so, I get it when people look at me and don’t want to think, “Hey, he earned it.” Or “Wow, it would be great to have that.” Instead, it’s easier to think that we teach 10 hours a week, get our summers off and pretty much live the sweet life."

Mind you, like Doc I would not trade either my job or my salary for the jobs any of my students do, or the jobs most of the people I know who aren't professors do, for that matter. I love my work, and I have very little interest in selling cars, or being an accountant, or being a lab tech, or making steel.

(Though I do know a guy who's an ecologist for the state.  That's a job I'd trade for.)

But here's the thing: my work is, literally, never done.  In many jobs, when you go home, you're done working.  You go home, you've got the evening and the weekend to spend with your family, or to do with what you will: mess about in your garden, go hiking, see a movie, cook, whatever.

I go home, I spend the next eight hours doing prep.  I spend, literally, the entire weekend working.  Maybe I spend an hour with my kid.  Once or twice a year, I take her hiking or to a museum.  I get up at eight, I never get to bed before two a.m., I teach three classes every summer, and I can't remember the last vacation I had.

All this for just barely enough money to live on.

And I am better off than nearly all academics, and (God knows) nearly everyone in America.

Which doesn't mean I wouldn't like a better life, and doesn't mean I don't deserve one.

For instance: the reason I work so late every night is because I am teaching four & four.  (Well: right now five classes, with four different preps.)  That's an entirely unreasonable workload for an academic.  A reasonable workload is two and two, for anyone who is required to do research, as we are at this university.

This used to be a teaching university.  Teaching universities formerly did not require research, and in that case, a four and four load would be reasonable, barely.  But now they are requiring research, and they have not dropped the teaching load.

For instance: the reason I teach three or four classes every summer is because my salary is so low.  I cannot live on what I am getting paid unless I have summer pay as well.  This is why I am unable to take summers off, and do my extra work (the research work, which in my case is my writing work) over the summer break, which is when it is traditionally done in the academic calendar.  This is also when a great deal of prep work is traditionally done. Instead, I am teaching the very labor-intensive five-week classes during this time.

For instance: another burden is created by the increasing demands of "assessment." Rather than just letting those who can do education get on with the work of educating, administrators and legislators keep adding to the lists of what we have to do each semester, to "prove" we've been educating our students.  This now adds a substantial pile to our workload, and it's a bitter burden, given how useless most of it is.  That is, I don't actually mind the hours of research and prep I have to do, since all that makes me a better teacher and makes my students better educated and smarter; I mind having to fill out little forms and create elaborate charts demonstrating "how goals have been met," not to mention multi-colored spreadsheets that "establish realworld assessment results" because this does nothing to increase anyone's actual learning or education.

And it does use up some of my limited hours and creative energy.  And it's not like I've got that much of either to spare, frankly.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

It's official, though.

I live in one of the worst places in the country, yo.

Fort Smith is the sixth most miserable city in the USA.

This is based on  "six categories: Life evaluation, emotional health, work environment, physical health, healthy behaviors, and access to basic necessities."

Which seems totally legit -- you can't even get a decent bagel in the Fort, much less a decent job.  So!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Win Free Books!

Apropos my previous post (this one here) Crossed Genres is giving away books, some of them by me, including Menial, which you will remember is The Future of Science Fiction!

So subscribe now for a chance to win!

Living While Female in Fundamentalist Country

When my daughter was still in the local schools, she used to come home puzzled and woeful, with tales of her friends, members of the local Charismatic Christian church.  "Lily isn't allowed to be sad," she would tell me.  Or: "Lily has to smile.  She's not allowed to be unhappy."  Or: "Sometimes Lily sticks pins in her arm. Until it bleeds. She says she doesn't feel pain."

I thought this was just some very odd child, or maybe an exaggeration, or my kid misunderstanding something, until I began to get essays from my own students, raised in this church or in similar churches. They tell of being beaten ("spanked," but these are beatings) for showing any emotion other than happiness.  Being sad, or angry, or "moody," was seen as rebelliousness.  It was being "bitter" and "unsubmissive" and was a sin, to be punished.

This is, of course, girl children.  I'm sure some sort of number is also being done on boy children -- that is, I'm sure this disturbing religion is also fucking them up (for instance, my male students almost never write me essays about their lives at all: my male students are mute about what they have suffered) -- but it is the women I want to discuss here.

What is the intent of working so hard to build this false consciousness into half your population?

We know what the effect is -- women who deny their own selfhood, who perceive their own existence only through others ("I'm Timothy's mom!"), who like Lily literally can't feel their own pain, who have no agency -- but what is the intent?  Why do this to other human beings?

What can the intent be, except to turn those humans into objects?

It's right there in the language.  Submit.  Obey.  Surrender.

And it's in the process, too.  From the time of infancy (because this begins when the children are infants), these girls are forced to deny their own agency, their own emotions, their own perceptions, and accept what their fathers tell them is reality.  It's a form of brain washing, and it's an attempt to turn the women into a tool for the father's will.

And then -- since the father plans to give the girl to another man -- for her husband's will.

What's amazing is that any woman can escape this trap at all.

Many of my students can't, frankly.  Even the most intelligent of them, who have been reading since they were very young, and are now at university, and who are writing me these essays, still look me straight in the face and parrot their father's words to me.  "God made women to submit." "Men are created to be leaders." "A rebellious wife makes rebellious children."

When I tell them that Jewish children are raised to argue and talk back, they stare at me like I'm speaking Greek.  I tell them the story of Jacob wrestling with God, and how it is taught in Jewish culture -- how we are meant to argue with God, how it's our job to argue and talk back.  I remind them of how Abraham argued with God when God wanted to destroy Sodom.  "You're supposed to argue," I tell them.  "You're supposed to tell God when he's wrong."

Their eyes are huge by this time.

"And if God can be wrong," I say, "are you telling me men can't?  Or parents?"

They can't even speak.

"Besides," I say, "are you raising children to be obedient?  Or are you raising them to be adults?  Do you want them to do what they're told when they're grown?  Or do you want them to be able to think for themselves?"

This seems never to have occurred to any of them, by the way.

But of course the purpose of the Charismatic church is to raise children to be obedient little objects.  People that can think for themselves -- fully functional adults -- would be a disaster for any sort of religious movement.

Why, that would be an enlightened civilization.  Heavens.

Or heaven.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Opening the Gate

As I like to tell my students when I teach HEL (our fond name for History of the English Language), there have been three important revolutions in human history:

  • the agricultural revolution
  • the industrial revolution
  • the information revolution

And we're still in the middle of the last one.  Maybe it started in the 14th century, with the invention of the printing press; maybe it didn't really start until 1970, with the creaky beginnings of the internet.  Whenever you think it started, it's hopping now.

Even if we count the printing press as the start, the internet is a game changer.

Clearly the printing press was also a game changer -- before that, information was difficult to disseminate, in that copies of all data were expensive in terms of labor and material to produce. Comparatively few texts were made, and those that did get made tended to be of a standard, conservative set.

Once the printing press existed, many more texts are created; but we still have gate-keepers: those who own the press want (almost universally) to profit from what they print: Press owners are unlikely to print what they cannot sell.

This is not always true.  Non-profits and university presses exist.  But these are also gate-keepers in their way.  They also determine a canon, sometimes even more zealously than the profiteering presses.

Not that there is necessarily anything wrong with profiting!  Lovely centuries of work came from privately owned and publicly owned presses!  Who would deny it?  But it was a gate, and writers did have to get through it, and was a limiting factor.

Now the internet exists.  And the game has changed.  Now it's possible for anyone who has access and is literate (or, sometimes, even only semi-literate) to publish texts.

According to Alexis Ohanian, who was on the Colbert Report the other night talking about his book Without Their Permission, more money was given to the arts through Kickstarter last year than through the NEA.

And more and more often now, small presses publish the important texts; indie journals are the source of what is most interesting.  The Big Six are still making the big deals, but they're also publishing old news.  Everything important that's happening in the art world tends to happen elsewhere.

Which is why I'm here to say:  Give money to the indies. Buy the small presses, fund the kickstarters, fund the start-ups.

Crossed Genres needs funding right now.  So kick in if you can.  They're doing excellent work as always, publishing new writers, women writers, writers of color, LGBT writers.

But fund whoever you can, whenever you can.  Fund the revolution, y'all.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Delightful Holiday Gifts!

....would include, this season,

Broken Slate.

The Other Half of the Sky.  (Reviewed by Chris Moriarity at F&SF here!)

Menial: Skilled Labor In Science Fiction.  (Which Strange Horizons called "The Future of Science Fiction"!)

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Why So Broke?

The actual reasons, obviously, are complex and would need several lengthy posts to examine.

But for the sake of continuing the great American mythic structure (that is, education leads to material wealth!), have a look at this map put out by the Washington Post, which tends to correlate college education (or the lack of it) to higher incomes.


Interesting, and slightly depressing, to be made aware yet again of just how poor and how under-educated people in Arkansas are.  Some counties have a college degree rate of 3%.  And yes, these are the poorest of our counties.

But even Bentonville, among the richest counties in Arkansas, thanks to all that Wal-Mart money, has a median income of less that $57,000/year; and a college degree rate of 36%. (Compare Boston, with a degree rate of 94% and a median income of $127, 000 /year.  Or Austin, with a degree rate of 79% and a median income of $129,000/year.)

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Working Class Films: Winter's Bone et al

So I'm teaching this Working Class Lit class, and looking for a film to show them as we near the end of the semester.

We've already watch Matewan and Fight In The Fields.  Now I'm looking for something on the contemporary end of the spectrum.

I watched Norma Rae and rejected it.  It had its moments, but the focus on the character of Norma Rae herself (who she slept with, getting married, her domestic life, whether she had the hots for the Labor Lawyer or not) got too much screen time, which left the story of organizing the union itself -- which should have been the focus of the movie -- as almost an afterthought.  The result was near incoherence for that plot line.  It also left the impression that Norma Rae did most of the organizing on her own, rather than the unionizing being a group effort.

This was the same problem I had with North Country, an otherwise engaging film about the efforts to fight sexual harassment in a huge mining operation.  This one put the story of the fight in the center -- that part was good -- but then it changed the actual facts (which are that the women in the mine worked together, organized, to fight the harassment) so that our main character, Josey Aimes, has to fight the harassment all on her own.  She is the lone hero, in other words, and none of the other miners support her.  This includes the women, who in the film version of this story are too frightened to stand up to the harassment, and actually turn against Josey when she does, harassing her themselves.

As I said, in the actual story (which was the basis for the case Jenson V. Eveleth Taconite Co) the women worked together to file the class action lawsuit, and their ability to organize and unite is what allowed this to happen.  As this source notes:

"Theron's character is based on Lois Jenson, who in 1988 led her female co-workers in the first class-action sexual harassment lawsuit and won after many long years in court.Jenson vs. Eveleth Mines proved women could prevail as a group against sex-based employment discrimination and galvanized employers across the country to adopt substantial anti-sexual harassment policies."

The film, sadly, does what much of American film loves to do -- misrepresent the truth to give us a lone hero.  I blame the American insistence on the Rugged Individual who wins against all odds; but it may just be film studios, who think if we have more than one character to pay attention to we'll lose the story line from distraction.


Last night I rewatched Winter's Bone, a movie I remember liking a lot when I saw it in the theater.

And there is, in fact, a lot to like about this film.  Breaks the Bechdel Test to pieces, for one thing.  The performances are great, as is the writing.  But it's not a working class story, since it gives us a picture of the rural Ozark poor who are not, in fact, working.  No one seems to have a job.  Everyone cooks meth or hunts for a living or is a cop, I guess.

It reinforces, in other words, the belief that the poor are poor because they don't work, and because they make bad choices.  Ree's best friend, for instance, has made the bad choice to marry a jerk, one of the many jobless in the film, whose parents are supporting them, and who -- it is hinted -- abuses her, emotionally if not physically.

And the other reason I don't want to teach it is the violence porn -- the notion that a mystique of violence and crime control working class lives.  I get that this was the plot to the movie; and I do know that many Ozark communities do, in fact, work on roughly the social outlines Woodrell & the screenwriters have shown us.

(That is, a kinship network that can be used and is used by people who understand it to settle the real disputes in the community.  That Woodrell showed the women's side of this is to his credit -- he shows, in other words, how influential women, and particularly older women, grandmothers, are in the Ozark community.)

But the whole organized crime aspect got pushed too hard, in my opinion; and the whole "he got fed to the hogs," and the scene where the corpse is mutilated, not to mention the squirrel butchering scene*, all of these strike me as playing to stereotypes of Ozark hill people as being savages.  Noble savages, but savages nonetheless.

So I'm not using that film either.  Which leaves me still looking for a final film.  Requirements: Must deal with American working class life post-1960.  The closer to 2013 it is, the better.  And I would prefer one that had women as main characters.  One with PoC would also be very nice.

I'm taking suggestions.

*A qualifier on the squirrel butchering scene.  My issue isn't that Ree and her siblings shoot and eat squirrels.  That part is fine.  But the butchering scene is foregrounded, lingered over, and this is not -- like the other scenes in which Ree is educating her siblings into how to survive in their world -- presented just to illustrate their lives; it's lingered over, and its squickly details are lingered over, in order to show us the savage nature of these Ozark hill folk.  If you think of the scene in Michael Moore's Roger & Me where Moore shows us the woman butchering rabbits, you'll see what I mean.  (Would a film about middle-class suburbanites focus lingeringly on a scene is which a woman cuts up a store-bought chicken to fry it?)

We're not being invited understand or empathize with these characters, but to view them with horror and disgust.  This despite there being, so far as I can see, no real ethical or moral difference between hunting squirrels, raising rabbits for food, or buying factory-farm chickens to eat at your local Wal-Mart.

Well, in fact, I would argue that eating squirrel you've hunted yourself is more ethical than buying factory-farmed chicken.

But these films aren't arguing that.  They want us to see Ree and the rabbit-killing women as Others, and as grotesque Others as well.  That's my issue with the scenes.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

This Is Exciting

Here's something to look forward to!  Alex MacFarlane is editing a collection of SF by women.

The Mammoth Book of SF Stories by Women.

I can't wait!

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Nine Goblins: A Review

My kid is an enormous Ursula Vernon fan.  By "huge" I mean badgers me relentlessly to read Digger, her comic which has been nominated for the Hugo, among many other awards.

I keep swearing I will, when I have more time, which who knows, some day I might have more time.  (I have trouble reading graphic novels, as I may have mentioned a time or fifteen on this blog.  I can do it, it's just difficult for me to read texts and pictures at the same time.)

Anyway!  Today she came to me with the gleeful news that Vernon had a print story out, Nine Goblins.  How cool!  Now I could experience the joy of Vernon for myself!

I have read Vernon, and I am here to tell you the kid is right.  You should go and read likewise.

Nine Goblins is a novella, and Vernon has published it under a pseudonym, T. Kingfisher.  It's a ripping yarn, so it has that going for it; and very funny; but also populated with interesting characters, none of whom are stock characters, and it has something to say.

The main characters, the goblins, are the best characters: they're all in the goblin army (the goblins have gone to war against the humans, who have been encroaching on goblin land for some years now) which is a story in itself, the goblin army. Sergeant Nessilka, our main character, I suppose: she has command of our squad; Murray, who's more or less her second in command, and a goblin genius; Blanchett, who suffers from either PTSD or something more interesting, and whose captured teddy bear talks for him; Algol; the twins; and all the rest.

There is also an interesting elf, Sings-to-Trees, a very un-elf-like elf.

This is what Vernon does well here: takes the cliche, and plays against it.  She gets compared to Pratchett, and I can see why, since he does something of the sort, interrogating the fantasy tropes by playing against them; and since his works are also funny.  Pratchett's humor is sometimes very wink-wink-nudge-nudge, though, a kind of see-what-I-did-there-HA-HA.  Vernon never falls into that trap.

We also feel for and with her characters in a way I only sometimes do for Pratchett's characters. This is a novella, and it feels too short -- I wanted more -- but everything that is here it fully realized.  The world-building is great, the characters fully developed, the pacing perfect.

I'm just hoping this is only the first in a series.

Highly recommended.

Friday, November 01, 2013

So This Is Grim

I'm teaching this Working Class Lit class, as y'all know, and one of the possible paper assignments is to write a non-fiction narrative of their own working class experience.

We've read a lot of working class histories in the class -- narratives from the 19th century and early 20th century: miners, steelworkers, a black guy who was in debt peonage on a Georgia plantation after the Civil War, factory workers from Paterson in the early 20th century.

 Do something like that! I said.  Use your own history! I said.

Well, they are.

These are working class students, almost entirely from working class backgrounds.

The jobs they are describing for me, their narratives -- I thought I knew about rough jobs and abusive bosses.

Yeah, no.

Fifty and sixty hour work weeks, routinely, and for no overtime.

Toxic environments.  Insufficient sanitary arrangements.  Killing heat.  No benefits. No retirement. Unsafe working conditions -- one student writes of working in a warehouse that floods routinely, so that the cement floor is slimy with mold and silt.  They're loading heavy cargo in this warehouse, and if they slip (as they do) they risk serious injury.

Workers with seniority (and thus higher pay) are driven out or fired for specious reasons so that they can be replaced with temp workers.

Once these workers have been pushed out of their jobs, the companies find ways to deny them unemployment benefits.

Very nearly the worst part of this is the miserable pay these students are getting for doing these jobs -- these are hard-labor, exhausting jobs, that damage them physically and often expose them to toxins and other health risks; and almost none of these jobs pays enough to live on or provides benefits.

And -- of course -- none of them are union jobs.

This is Arkansas, after all.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Revision of Portfolio -- DONE

Anyway, this revision is done.

Submitted to teh departmental committee.

Now they look at it and tell me if I need to revise more.

I still think a Cage Match would be a better plan.

But My Teacher Said This Wooden Nickel Was Perfectly Good!

So this is a topic I've been mulling over for some time, while reading around on Evangelical blogs / Far-Right blogs, as I like to do, and while reading Comp I papers (I have two sections this semester).

"Why do you read that junk?" my kid asks me, speaking of the Evangelical / Far Right blogs, not of my students' papers. "Do you just like to get angry?"

Though in truth these blogs only very seldom make me angry -- I mean sometimes they do, as when Vox Day says* that women should be shot in the head as a lesson to keep other women from seeking an education, for the good of the species, don't you know.  Though even then, I don't know, I was more amazed than angry.

 But for the most part these blogs are so far away from any reality I recognize to anger me.  It's like reading about some bizarre cult arguing over their bizarre belief systems.  "Wow," I keep thinking.  "How odd.  How strange would it be to live like that."

Or, you know, it would be like that, if these cultures weren't (in fact) raising up some serious portion of my students, and sending them to my classes.  And then I have to deal with students who have been taught, in their history and science classes, that the world is 6000 years old; I have to teach History of the English Language to students who think the Garden of Eden is a real place, and that the Tower of Babel was a real event; I have to teach critical thinking and evaluating sources to students who think this is an example of reasoning:

“Jesus professed to work miracles; he cannot by possibility have been deceived on the subject; and so, either he did work miracles, or he was a bad man. Against his character all the objections to miracles must shatter, like surf against the rock. And this is not arguing in a circle; not proving the miracles by Christ, and Christ by the miracles. The concurrence of the two makes it easy to account for both; the denial of the miracles necessitates conclusions more improbable than the miraculous” (Broadus, Preparation and Delivery, p. 183).

And when I try (gently, because it is not my role nor my desire to destroy their faith) to point out the problems with their logic, they stare at me with round eyes. Or worse, furious eyes.  They don't believe that I know what I'm talking about, because (a) that's not what their pastor or their teacher back at their Christian academy said and (b) logic and fact have nothing to do with the truth anyway.

(See Rod Dreher here, for instance.  As far as I can tell, this is what he is arguing.  Though, bless his heart, it's an incoherent post, and in fact, I think what he means is we just can't base our religious conclusions on evidence.)

Except I'm not teaching religion, I'm teaching the ability to reason and evaluate evidence.

And therein lies the rub.  Students raised in this Evangelical / Far-Right culture, taught in these Christian schools, have been taught a certain kind of reasoning.

They've been told that this *is* reasoning and logic, that this *is* the language of scholarship.

It's as if they have been given wooden nickels to transact their academic business with.  Well, so long as they are only within the economic system of the Evangelical academy, those wooden nickels (of begging the question, of arguing from authority, of arguing from ignorance, of natural law, all the rest) will serve them fine.

But when they try to use these wooden nickels among the larger world, outside the closed circle of Evangelicals, they'll find them refused, even laughed at.  And when I (gently) point out that they are trying to trade in wooden nickels it is often (sadly) not those who filled their pockets with wooden nickels that my students are angry with.

They're angry at me, for trying to give them real nickels, actual tender they can use to trade in the market place of ideas.

Not always, of course.  Some students are glad to get what I'm glad to hand on (having been given it by my professors, because that's how it works, here in the groves of the Academy).

But far too often, I see them months or years later on Facebook, relentlessly posting crap about how the government is going to force you to wear a chip in your skull if you buy Obamacare; or how if you let your child get vaccinated even one time, he will get cancer, it's been proved! or how the pledge has been taken out of schools by the liberal media because it has the word God in it repost this 1000X to bring God back to America before its too late!!!

And raising up kids, who they will send to the same Christian school they attended, or -- these days, because they are all so poor -- home school, and in fifteen years, a new generation is launched.

I do believe that the arc of history will bend toward justice.  But with a better education system, I can't help believing we could get it to bend faster.

I'm not exactly opposed to home schooling.  But we test kids, even home-schooled kids, for proficiency in math and reading.  Maybe test them for proficiency in reasoning ability as well?

Just a thought.

*I actually read Vox occasionally, but I'm not linking to him. This is pure spite on my part, because I know how much getting page hits means to him -- he blogs about how many hits he gets constantly.  He's like one of those guys who mentions how big his penis is, or how many babes he's bonked, every five minutes -- although, as a matter of fact, he does that too.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Because we all have TOO MUCH TIME

Here's a lovely time waster for you.

Grammar Game: You Can't Write Proper Under Pressure.

Can you finely and effectly deal with this please?

So last night after my Fiction Writing Workshop one of my best students stopped me and with a worried look in her eyes asked me the question I have been dreading since I was a tiny little graduate student: "Can you explain to me when it's right to use effect as a verb?  Because I just can't -- I've looked up the rules and I just don't get it."

"Um," I said.

"Also," she said, "the whole difference between affect and effect in general.  I'm just not sure I understand."

"Ah," I said.  "Don't you want to ask me about lie and lay?  Because -- "

"No, no, I get those.  It's just affect and effect.  Well, also bring and take, but those aren't bothering me right now. But my history professor took off ten points on my midterm because I used affect as a verb when I should have used effect, he says, but I don't see what he means, even after looking it up," she hesitated.  "Anyway, if you could explain it."

I flung myself to my knees and exposed my utter failings and ignorance, which I find is the best tactic at this point.  "I have never been able to tell those apart either," I told her.  "I've looked the rule up a hundred times, it makes no sense to me.  Affect is usually a verb, and effect is usually a noun.  That's the rule I can remember.  But affect can be a noun in the psychological sense, and effect can be a verb if we're effecting a change.  I've memorized that," I confessed.  "To me, the words sound exactly the same and it's really hard for me to tell them apart."

She was nodding as she wrote this down.  "Okay."

"Maybe check your sentence and see if that's the sense you were using it in?" I said.  "But affect the other way -- affect with an a -- also seems to me to be really close to effect with an e.  The bad weather affected the crops.  How is that different from effected a change?  Congress hoped to effect the economy with the stimulus?  I can't see a difference."

She was nodding and writing.

"And a lot of these rules," I added, "you have to remember, they're really just shibboleths."

"What now?"

"Rules made up as gate keepers.  Ways to separate the rabble from the upper class.  So the rules, they're deliberately bizarre like this, they're made impossible to understand. On purpose. They're meant to be something you're almost guaranteed to get wrong.  That way we can keep you outside of the gate, if we want to badly enough.  Like literacy tests, for voting?"

She had looked up from her notebook, her expression gone still.

I shrugged.  "I wish I was kidding," I told her.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Stuff I Am Doing

In lieu of an actual post, here is stuff I am doing:

  • My promotion portfolio was returned by our departmental committee with notes for revisions. (Not many of them, but still.)  So I am revising. Moodily.
  • We are working on a Creative Writing Major.  I am designing a class for it, and working with the Committee doing most of the hard work of putting together the major.
  • Teaching Working Class Literature for the first time, which I am loving, but yow does this eat my time. I'm teaching Cesar Chavez next week, and having so much trouble finding texts I can use. There are none in our anthology (almost nothing at all on migrant fieldworkers to begin with, and nothing from the right period, and very little about workers of color)).  I found a film on YouTube which I'm using, and some links from Erik Loomis's This Day In Labor series, but I'd love something written too.
  • Teaching four other classes: World Lit, Fiction Workshop, and two Comp I classes
  • Writing the sequel to Triple Junction
  • Parenting this kid, the budding artist.  Look at this amazing drawing she did.  
  • Getting ready to teach Women's World Literature next semester, which is also requiring a ton of research
  • Sometimes I even sleep a few hours
Maybe someday I will actually write a real blog post again.  It could happen!

Thursday, October 10, 2013



Grading midterms, I have come across my first case of plagiarism.

It is always so disheartening.

And always so infuriating, because WTF -- it's like they don't even try hard.

"How will you know if we plagiarize?" a kid asked me before the exam, whereupon I shot him a pitying look.

"Oh, please," I said.  "I'll know."

He looked dubious.

"Son," I said, "I've been teaching 26 years.  I know what a freshman level essay exam looks like by this point.  Believe me."

But they never do.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

In Which I Steal An Idea From NicoleandMaggie: Ten Books

So over at Grumpy Rumblings, Nicole and Maggie have put up a post in which they discuss some book I have not read, and the author's claim that you can tell him by his books.

And then list (each of them) their ten favorite books to not just read, but re-read.

Since apparently I am going to be broken from this whole promotion portfolio full-court press for a while (I am starting to think I might never recover) I am stealing this idea.

As on Nicole & Maggie's page, y'all should feel free to put your your ten in the comments -- or on your own blogs!

My go-to books for re-reading:

1. City of Diamond, Jane Emerson

2. Women of the Iron People, Eleanor Arnason

3. Perfect Circle, Sean Stewart

4. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith

5. Bloodchild, Octavia Butler

6. Spin Control, Chris Moriarity

7. Middlemarch, George Eliot

8. The Truth, Terry Pratchett

9. The Lathe of Heaven, Ursula Le Guin

10. The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Portfolio: DONE

I have put in the very last screen shot and bit of documentation and submitted it the departmental committee in charge of deciding if I did it right.

It is done.

Here you see me and my colleague handing our portfolios in.  I'm on the left, OF COURSE.

Photo: Dr. Lindsy Lawrence and Dr. Kelly Jennings presenting their  completed promotions applications... the ritual dancing and sacrifices took place soon after.
At least they can finally quit their belly-aching now and throw a party for all their classes! ;)

What's This?

A local magazine did an interview.

Here's a link!

The Future of Science Fiction.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Dear Dr. Jones...

This seems appropriate to my week, somehow*.


(Found in the comments at Crooked Timber.)

*I have just spent the past 3 days, including most of today, Saturday, working almost exclusively on my promotion portfolio.  But hurray, y'all -- I am all but done.  Just the final proofing / read-through remains.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013


My promotion portfolio is due next Tuesday.

That is right.  We are T minus seven and counting.

And I am just curious -- does any other profession require anything equivalent to this?  Not just that, along with doing the basic job of teaching four (and sometimes, as with this semester, five) classes a semester, the professor accomplish a mountain of other work (service to the university, service to the community, research and publication), but that each year she document all this work (the teaching, the service, the research, the publication) to her chair, her dean, her provost, and her chancellor.

Which, that's literally true: every year, once a year, we're required to turn in an annual review, documenting what we've done in those areas.  We get performance scores based on what we've done.  So, you know, every year this is documented already.

So it's not like anyone is in doubt about whether this work has been done.  It's documented.  Our scores are a matter of record.

But nevertheless, when we come up for promotion, we have to massively reduplicate this work, creating an immense portfolio with all this once again documented -- our teaching record; our service record (to the university, to the community); our publication record.

And besides the documentation, the portfolio needs to include narratives, which explain all this: how our work fulfills university goals, as well as our own research and service goals.

Also we have to include narratives, showing how we have responded to feedback given to us in all of our critical areas (that would be teaching, service, research and publication).

Also it must all be in a nice folder, with a nice table of contents, and dividers, and color-coded labels, and that thudding sound you hear is me banging my head on the floor.

(Disclaimer: I know this is whiny and petulant, not to mention a first-world problem.  Ignore me until Wednesday, that's my advice.)

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Freedom of Speech: Some Restrictions May Apply

You're allowed freedom of speech, as the OWS protests showed, and as those objecting to Petraeus now show us, only so long your protests actually don't annoy anyone who has actual power.

Once you actually start to make your point? Yeah.

Writing Cursive, Cursing Cursive

So my kid just came and asked me how to writing a cursive I.

"Now what now?" I asked, not even understanding this question, since she never writes anything by hand anyway, so why....

"I'm lettering," she said impatiently.  "My comic, I need --"

"Oh."  I looked around.  But of course I never write anything by hand either anymore, so there's no pen or paper or pencil or anything anywhere around here.  (It is one of the common cries you hear in our household, me lamenting, when it comes time to pay the bills, because I still do pay a few bills by check, how is it possible, I will lament, that we have two writers and an artist living here, and there is never a pen anywhere in the house?)

Anyway.  What I finally did, I took her to Wikipedia and found her this chart, which shows what all the cursive letters are supposed to look like, though as I recollect mine never did, and certainly do not now.

But this page is even more interesting.

It tells us that on the SAT in 2006, only 15% of US students wrote their answers in cursive; and that although most schools (90%) still require that cursive be taught, most teachers have no training in teaching it.

I'll tell you my kid has abysmal handwriting, though she did get a ton of handwriting practice at the Montessori school. (I have no idea whether her teachers had formal training in the teaching of cursive writing.)

I'll tell you also that I'm not much worried about it, because she literally almost never had to write anything by hand.  Even this "cursive I" that she is "writing," she is actually drawing with a pen and a tablet on a computer screen.  Which I suppose is a kind of writing.

I'd say we're maybe ten to twenty years from everything being done on keyboards.  Indiana and Hawaii have already dropped the requirements for teaching cursive, substituting keyboarding proficiency instead.

I understand there's a theory that learning cursive develops pathways in the brain that keyboarding doesn't.  But I imagine teaching art and music would develop those pathways as well.  Instead of spending hours learning an archaic technique students will never use, spend those hours on art and music.  Why not?

I know my kid would be happier.  Well, about the art, anyway.

(She's still resolutely refusing to learn to play a musical instrument.)

Jump, Batman!

SEK over at Lawyers, Guns, and Money has given us a thread as epic as the epic Fuck you, Clown thread of yore, over there on UnFogged.

Attention: New Internet Tradition.

For this one, you must read the comments.

My favorite so far:

CD says:
I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
Batman jumping,
Or just after.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Going Up For Full Professor

I'm trying to think of how to express to you how incredibly frustrating and annoying I am finding this process.

I mean, yes, it's lovely to be up for promotion, and it's lovely that I have a real shot at making it.

(Rah, rah, me!)

But oh my, the endless BALES of crap I have to put together to justify the promotion.

Also some of it is math.

I propose that from now on promotion rely on a Hunger Games like process: out on the university green, they build a giant cage, take all of us who are going up for Full this year, give us various weapons, and voila!

Six professors enter!  One professor leaves!

(I think I might be mixing my movies here.)

Then they could repeat for the assistant to associate jump.  And so on down the ladder.

Plus, think of the money they could make on concessions!

And save on all this copying.

(Also, I am almost sure I could take the other Associates around this heap.)

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Blogoversary! Happy Nine Years!

Nine years ago today, by happy accident, I started this blog: September 15, 2004.

I had just discovered the blogosphere (I don't even think we called it that then) and was actually trying to comment on another blog (The Dark Window, who sadly went truly dark not long afterwards -- I still miss you, Pete) and in trying to register to comment, hit the tab to CREATE A BLOG instead.

Pete encouraged me to keep blogging, on the strength of my comments at his place, and the rest is blogosphere history.

In commemoration of this, my 9th year of blogging, I give you some of my favorite posts so far.

From 2004: Happy Meals and Heroin.

From 2005: Poetry From the delagar household

From 2006: Halloween.

From 2007: Men Made The World.

From 2008: What's That Word Again?

From 2009: (Still my favorite) The Kid Amuses Me

From 2010: Hey! Look!

From 2011: My Book!

From 2012: Rereading L'Engle.

From 2013: Teaching Our Bodies, Ourselves