Friday, May 20, 2022

What I'm Reading Now

Jacqueline Winspear, Maisie Dobbs, Birds of a Feather, Pardonable Lies

These were recommended on someone's blog, I forget whose. Thank you, whoever you were! These are sort-of mystery stories, set in England and France from 1929 and into the 30s, though there are also flashbacks to just before and during WWI. Maisie is the daughter of a working-class family who has the luck to encounter wealthy patrons who organize her education, securing her a place at Oxford, just as WWI breaks out. A year or so into the war, Maisie leaves school and serves as a nurse, eventually as a battlefield nurse. Much of the series (so far, I'm only on book 3) is about the wounds and trauma of the war, not just on Maisie, but on every character in the series. 

Maisie is a bit like Sherlock Holmes, in that she sees and understands what most people don't; but very unlike him in that some of her ability is psychic in nature -- she picks up on ghostly emanations, for instance, and can feel, somehow, what other people are feeling and thinking. 

Very readable. A little more woo than I actually like in my mysteries, but not so much that I couldn't get past it.

Larry McMurtry, Moving On

This is a re-read. Moving On is one of top ten favorite books, though I can't really say why. It's a thousand-page doorstopper which follows a character, Patsy Carpenter, and her friends around the country for a couple of years of their lives in the mid-1960s. The focus is mainly on marriages, or at least on male-female heterosexual relationships, and there's no real plot. I my mean, things happen -- people have kids, have sex, die, go to rodeos, eat sandwiches -- but there's no sense that McMurtry has any sort of driving theme or plot strand he's following.

And yet I love this book. McMurtry captures life among the middle-class and wealthy in a certain era of American life with pristine clarity. It's set mostly in Houston, but in the first 300 pages or so of the book Patsy and her husband travel through the High Plains and the Midwest, going to rodeos. I love this section of the book: the American road-trip, roadside motels, gas stations, great vistas, small towns, all before the internet, where if you wanted something to read you had to find books at a drugstore, on the magazine rack. I remember that world.

In his introduction to the paperback version I have now, McMurtry writes an essay about how, after he published this book, all the women he knew scolded him because Patsy cries so much, and on my re-read I have to say I agree. Patsy cries pretty much non-stop through the entire book. McMurtry says, sounding bewildered, that all the women he knew did cry pretty much non-stop. But I think he's being disingenuous -- even in this book, not all of the women spend all their time crying. Just Patsy. 

There are a lot of women in the book. In fact, I think this book is more about women than it is about marriages and m/f relationships -- although all the women are in relationships. 

Anyway, if you're looking for a long, wonderfully written book in which nothing much happens, including nothing really bad, this one is for you.

John Barnes, Mother of Storms

This is another re-read: a science fiction novel about what happens when the methane under the polar ice caps melts (or in this case, is melted). Rapid warming over the oceans of the world, in this book, followed by massive and deadly hurricanes. Written in 1998, when global warming was not yet on everyone's radar, this book gets many things right -- the disaster that global warming will be; the pervasiveness of the internet; the damage channels like Fox News can do to the world politics. It gets other things wrong, and it has an extremely squicky subplot involving a politician who has children raped and murdered for his own pleasure; there's also a bit of woo here, involving the internet (still in its infancy at the time). I hadn't read this one since it came out, and the re-read was interesting. Only for hardcore SF fans, though.

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Living in a Red State

I still like exercising, but it is less pleasant when I have to listen to my elders explain to one another that even though being gay is a sin ("It says so in the Bible!"), they still love their gay co-worker; or that a friend's daughter's friend really shouldn't dress so immodestly. (Apparently she wore a sports bra and shorts to a BBQ.)

On the other hand, my kid and his boyfriend pissed off another elderly couple as we were going into the local thrift store. "Are you a socialist or aren't you?" my friend demanded of his boyfriend, and the couple gasped and shot each other offended looks.

Though to be fair they might have been offended about the early part of the conversation, where my kid and his boyfriend were discussing how much loyalty the boyfriend owed his boss, a small business owner who pays minimum wage to all her employees and won't schedule anyone for more than 20 hours a week and is insisting the boyfriend (somehow) buy a car if he wants to keep working there. (He's been cadging rides from other employees.)

Does the boyfriend owe his boss loyalty? Should he keep working there, or should he quit and get a job in town? Does it matter if he likes the job, mostly? That's what they were discussing.

The kid's position is that no, someone who pays minimum wage and won't schedule you full-time is owed no loyalty. Here in Arkansas, where bosses run their businesses like personal fiefdoms, and workers are serfs who should be glad they have jobs at all, that part of the conversation may have been what offended the old folks at the thrift shop.

Monday, May 16, 2022

Everything's Happening at the Gym

I used to run and bike when I was in my 20s and 30s. Then when I had a kid, I stopped, for various reasons. No time, but also because we were living in such hot and miserable places. (Though of course I used to exercise in New Orleans in my teens and 20s, and you don't get more miserably hot than that.)

Anyway, I've only been walking now and then for the past 20 year. But now we've joined the gym I am exercising seriously again -- the recumbent bike, the rowing machine, the weight machine. There's also a pool, though we haven't used the pool yet.

Usually we go at five a.m., when the gym opens, and we're almost the only ones there. But today we went at eight, and the place was packed with people, most of them people in their seventies and eighties. Apparently this is the hot spot for elders in the Fort Smith Area.

10/10 for exercising again, highly recommend.


Thursday, May 12, 2022

Family? What!

My nephew (who went to college in Fayetteville and now has a job and a wife there) is having his first child, and my brother and sister-in-law (who was my BFF in high school) have just moved to Fayetteville to help take care of the baby. (They're also retiring.)

This means that for the first time since I was 26, I have extended family in the area. It's very nice, I must say. Yesterday my brother and SIL came down the hill and we went looking at used furniture shops together and then had lunch. And Saturday they are all coming down for my kid's birthday dinner.

Before I went to graduate school, my brother and his family lived close to my parents' house and we were in and out of each other's places every day. I'd forgotten how pleasant it could be.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Learning Haitian Creole

I've been learning French on Duolingo for 746 straight days now, and can read simplified French novels and stories. I'm hoping to read real novels at some point -- Dr. Skull did French for his PhD language requirement, so we have all these French novels around the house, from when he was reading for his comps.

Anyway! Duolingo just added Haitian Creole in Beta to their available languages, and I have been messing about with that. When a language is in Beta, it's missing a lot of things -- like, so far there is very little help with grammar, or explanations of why things are right or wrong. I did find this page on Wikipedia which is some help. 

But in any case I am mainly interested in looking at it as a creole language. Most of the vocabulary comes from French, but much of the grammar derives from West African languages. Further, like most Creoles, it was a mainly oral language for some time, so the spelling / grammar reflects that. The lexicon split from French back in the 17th century, and the two languages are no longer mutually intelligible. This sort of thing is fascinating to me. If I had the time and the money, I would love to do a degree in linguistics somewhere.

For now, I'll just mess around on Duolingo.

Monday, May 09, 2022

My New Icon

I asked the kid to draw  me an icon for mother's day. "Except make me cute," I said. "And cool."

That's Jasper with me, and that's just about where she sits when I am trying to write.

Sunday, May 08, 2022

Exercising at the Gym

 Today marked our first full week of exercising at the gym. (Not every day -- right now we're doing four days a week.) 

The first few days I felt great. Hey, this isn't so bad, I thought happily.

Today I came home, lay down on the couch to read, and slept for five hours. Every single muscles aches like I'm on the third day of a terrible flu.

Tomorrow will be better, I'm sure.

What I'm Reading Now

Frans de Waal, Different: Gender through the Eyes of a Primatologist

This was an interesting read, though it didn't tell me much I didn't already know. It's as much about the sex lives of primates as gender, though to be fair de Waal is looking about how different genders in primates and other mammals deal with sex and the sex drive. There's a bit about how kids of different genders choose and respond to toys, and and another bit how boys need rough and tumble play so they can learn to deal with their greater physical strength -- again, none of this is really news. A lot about bonobos, some of which I didn't already know.

There are bits about trans people, and about LGB mammals. One review calls this book superficial, and I get that -- I would have liked more depth in places. Still, very readable, and if you don't already know everything about gender and biological sex and what bonobos do v. what chimps do v. what humans do, it's very much worth reading.


Haigh, Jennifer, Mercy Street

The center of this novel is a woman's clinic in Boston, in which -- among other things -- abortions are performed. That makes it sounds very ripped-from-the-headlines, but in fact it's a thoughtful look at the lives of the people who work in the clinic, and the lives of those who stand outside protesting abortion and harassing those heading into the clinic.

The main characters is a counselor at the clinic, and through a series of her reminiscences we watch her grow up as the impoverished child of a teen mother in rural Maine, and watch the steps that lead her to this job. There is also a kind of funny dope seller who is being put out of business by the legalization of marijuana in Massachusetts.

Well-written and absorbing. I've requested all the other books by Haigh which our library owns.

Zhang, Jenny Tinghui, Four Treasures of the Sky

I can't exactly recommend this one, although I read it straight through. A first-person narrative, it tells us about Daiyu, who has a blissfully happy childhood in Northern China, until her parents vanish one day -- arrested, as we later learn, and then executed. 

Her grandmother, fearing Daiyu will be next, disguises the 12 year old as a boy and sends her off to fend for herself in the nearest big city. Just as Daiyu is finding her feet there, she is kidnapped and shipped to a brothel in San Francisco. Indomitable, she orchestrates her escape, ending up in Pierce, Idaho, where -- still disguised as a boy -- she works in a Chinese-owned grocery and saves her money to return to China. Unfortunately, it is the early 20th century, and racism against Chinese is rising fast. The book, as Zhang tells us in a afterwards, is based on a historical event in Pierce, Idaho, which is to say the lynching of five Chinese immigrants. That's how this book ends too. I didn't exactly enjoy reading it, despite the moments of real beauty, and I don't think I will read it again.

Karen Joy Fowler, We Are All Completely Besides Ourselves

I read this one because I loved Fowler's new novel, Booth, so much. This one wasn't as good as that one, which is, after all a masterpiece, but it was pretty good. Other reviews talk about the "twist" in the story, but it's not really much of a surprise, so I'm not going to dance around it. This is the story of a family that raises an infant chimp alongside their own children, in one of those experiments done in the 1970s and 1980s, to see if an ape can be taught language -- sign language, obviously -- when raised in a human household. 

As with most of the experiments, this one is terminated when the chimp, who has been raised as a human, becomes large enough to be dangerous. Most of the story concerns what happens after that. The chimp's human brother and sister have their lives completely derailed by the loss of their sister (as they see it), and both spend much of their lives coming to terms with that loss.

Fowler is an excellent writer, and there is a (mostly) happy ending, but this is grim reading, dealing as it does with the abuse of animals and the unnecessary cruelty of some of the scientists involved in animal experimentation.

Kage Baker, Garden of Iden et al

I re-read all of Kage Baker again, though I usually save her for when I'm sick. Like Octavia Butler, Baker died far too young, but she did, at least, get to finish her Company series. 

If you like science fiction, historical novel, cyborgs, and a soupcon of romance, I highly recommend Baker. She also wrote several fantasy novel which are funnier, and a YA novel, Bird on the River, which is excellent.

Ursula Le Guin, The Found and the Lost

This is a collection of Le Guin's novellas. It contains two of my favorites, Paradises Lost, and The Matter of Seggri, but these are all good. Aside from her early novels, which I do not like (including, I admit, A Wizard of Earthsea), you can't go wrong with Le Guin. The only trouble with this book is that it is massive, which means it will be difficult to read if you like to read, as I do, lying on your back on the sofa.

Summer Arrives

 After a relatively cool spring, with days in the upper 60s and low 70s, it appears that summer has arrived in the Fort.

I put the AC on last night, and it looks like it's going to stay on. Six months of summer. My least favorite part of living in Arkansas.

Friday, May 06, 2022

Happy Birthday to the Kid

 My kid turns 24 today. Everyone always tells you, when your kids are born, that the years are going to fly past. You don't believe this when the kid is little, since the days and months seem endless then. But looking back now that the kid has a job and his own place and a boyfriend, wow, yeah. Time just gets away from you, as Charles Portis noted.

It's his comic's birthday as well, so he drew a comic charting his transformation and the comic's transformation from age 13 to now:

I remember that 13 year old! 

He loved his new job, by the way, and is thinking of going into IT as a career.

Wednesday, May 04, 2022

Pro-life is Forced Birth (for other people)

I had a student give a presentation in my Women's Lit class once, mainly I suspect to "witness" to me and the other evil feminists there, about how abortion was murder, and how 20 week old fetuses could survive an abortion and then be "murdered" by nurses, and various other "pro-life" talking points. During the discussion afterwards, it was revealed that two of the students in the class had had abortions, one because they were a diabetic and could not survive the pregnancy, and other other because of a fatal malformation of the fetus.

"That's different!" the student giving the presentation cried. "Those aren't real abortions!"

It's always going to be "different," you understand, when it's them or theirs who need an abortion. Those won't be "real" abortions. "Real abortions" are those which evil slutty women who like to have sex and kill babies have. 

"Abortion isn't birth control," they cry; at least, until their birth control fails, or their daughter forgets to take hers. Then it's an entirely different matter.

Sunday, May 01, 2022

Watching the Northman

Dr. Skull and I went to our first movie since before the pandemic hit. 

Unfortunately, the movie was The Northman, which was a kind of Viking Hamlet. The movie is supposed to be historically accurate as far as the focus on Viking clothing, housing, religion, all that, and as far as I could tell it was. It was also hyper-focused on violence -- which again is probably accurate for Vikings in the 9th century, but left me frankly bored. How many times can we watch the violent torture and murder of women and children and still find it shocking, or at all interesting?

If you like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing you will like. 

I did enjoy being in a theater again, though. I have missed watching movies on the big screen.

Saturday, April 30, 2022

New Green

Trees in my yard: 


Also, the bunnies are back. Three little guys were chasing each other wildly through the yard a few days ago, and there's one out there now. I tried to get a photo for y'all, but he was too quick.

Which is a good thing -- his quickness -- because I also saw the fox a few nights ago.


Dr. Skull and I, on the advice of his physician, have joined the local Mercy Hospital fitness center. It's $65/month for both of us, which always seemed like too much to me before; but on the other hand, we have a little more money now. 

To my surprise, I'm enjoying getting up at dawn and going to work out for an hour. There's recumbent bicycles and rowing machines -- that's what I've done so far -- but also a pool. If I am to use the pool, I will have to get a swimming suit. I have not owned a swimming suit since I was 22 years old.

No, wait, when the kid was little I used to take him to the public pool. I must have had a swimming suit then.

Anyway, we'll see if this helps his health, and my blood pressure, which has been a little high lately.

Friday, April 29, 2022

Grading Papers

Student: "I don't understand why I got a zero on this paper."

Me: "There are no numbers lower than zero."

Student: "Why do I have a 98? What did I do wrong?"

Me: "Sweetie..."

Student: "What can I do to pass your class? I need an A if I'm going to keep my scholarship."

Me: "You've only been to three classes this semester, and you didn't turn in any of the papers."

Student: "I know, but I've had to work a lot. How can I get an A?"

Me: "Time machine?"

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Last Week of Classes

It is the last week of classes. I have so many Comp II essays to grade. I know your prayers are with me.

I did Comp II a little differently this semester. We read the book (Station Eleven) first, and then I made them write a paper proposal. The topic had to have something to do with the book, but it could be very tangential -- like, I had a couple students who are business majors writing about what the Black Death, in the 14th century, did to post-plague economics. And someone else wrote how art helps people deal with great social upheavals, using the Great Depression and the WPA art programs as her argument.

Anyway, so they wrote a formal proposal, and then we revised it together as necessary. Then they wrote an annotated bibliography for their paper -- for that, we worked on how they could judge whether a source was credible or not. (And I made them keep trying until they had eight credible sources.) Then they wrote a draft of the paper, and got my feedback. Then they wrote the actual paper.

All this took the entire 14 week semester, and those who participated have ended up writing really good papers. Sadly, about a third of the students failed to turn in work, or only did some of the work, or vanished from classes entirely. 

Many of them have been working full-time jobs -- I have a student who works as a nurse's aid in one of our local hospitals; and another who is helping to support five siblings -- and others have problems just getting to the campus, due to transportation issues. One student is working with the sole laptop shared by his father and his siblings.

This is nothing new -- ever since I started teaching, economic issues have kept students from doing their work. And we have an emergency fund now, which gives mini-grants to students who have sudden, relatively small problems (a flat tire, a broken laptop).

It's still discouraging, though. How can someone who is working 40 hours a week (or more) have time to be a good, or even decent, student? And our emergency fund can't fix that.

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Weather Report

 It was summer for a couple of days, but now it is raining again -- a boom of thunder woke me this morning -- and tomorrow it will be cold again. This, as you may imagine, is my favorite sort of weather, especially when I can spend the next two days drinking coffee and writing.

Well, I do have to read papers in the evening. But we are two weeks from the end of the semester, and then I can spend the entire summer drinking coffee and writing my novels. We have almost reached paradise, y'all!

Saturday, April 23, 2022

What Twitter Was Made for

I'm a sucker for these: 

My First Review at Asimov's

My first review at Asimov's is live. You can read it here.

I review these books: 

Zen Cho, Blackwater Sister

C.L. Clark, The Unbroken

Rivers Solomon, Sorrowland

Melissa Scott, Water Horse

Becky Chambers, The Galaxy, and the Ground Within

Katherine Addison, The Witness for the Dead

Ryka Aoki, Light from Uncommon Stars

James Patrick Kelly, First Law of Thermodynamics

Justin Key, Spider King

Octavia Butler: Kindred, Fledgling, and Collected Stories

Honni Van Rijswijk, Breeder

The next On Books by me comes out in November!

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

What I'm Watching

It's the end of the semester, and I'm reading not just papers but revisions of papers -- 68 students in my three Comp II classes, and all of them are turning in a ten page research paper with citations. I have to read the papers, I have to check their citations, I have to give feedback. Then half of the students change one thing (or nothing) and resubmit and I have to send them gentle notes advising them not to try that bullshit on me.

But anyway! In the evenings, I have been watching, among other things, Severance, which is on Apple TV. (You can get it for six dollars a month as a "special deal." ) I thought this was a grim and depressing TV show about life in an office, and in fact it is! 

But it's also a SF show about a new procedure that lets you "sever" your work self from your not-at-work self, and goes hard in its critique of pure capitalism. I can't say you'll exactly like it, but it's fascinating and definitely worth watching. Also, gay Christopher Walken. Need I say more?

The final season of The Last Kingdom dropped. It was engaging, and Uhtred finally reclaims Bebbanburg, but it left a lot of open doors. I hear there's going to be a movie. This is a series, btw, about King Alfred and his heirs as they fight the Vikings and unify England. It's also about Uhtred of Bebbanburg, his friends, and his family. A lot of good women characters in this one, and it shows clearly how the Christian religion/cult warped history. Very much worth watching, and there are five seasons, so there's your next six months sorted.

Arcane is an animated series on Netflix, with some beautiful animation and worldbuilding. Apparently based on a video game? You can't tell, except for now and then there's a weird focus on fighting. This one is set in a city that has two levels, the wealthy in the upper city and the poor and disenfranchised down in the "lanes." We follow a handful of characters, some from the the city, some from the lanes, as an invention by a technological genius -- one which couples magic to weapons -- changes the balance of power. Nice writing and characterization, too. Only the first season is out so far.

Russian Doll has just dropped its second season. Russian Doll, you'll remember, is the Netflix show about a woman caught in a time loop -- she keeps living the same miserable night, over and over. It was really good, and won a bunch of awards, so I see why they wanted another swing. Also the lead actor is great. I can't think what they're going to do, exactly. I've got this one on my queue. so technically I'm not watching it yet.

Call the Midwife Season 10 is out on Netflix. We've reached 1967, I think. I still like this show, but it's utterly soap opera. Also I miss Chummy. She was the best. According to Wikipedia, Season 11 is out in England. 

I rewatched the Kiera Knightly Pride and Prejudice, and have decided this is my favorite P&P. Sorry, Colin Firth.

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Saying the Quiet Part Outloud

 If you think for one minute the GOP and its base is stopping with abortion, you have very active fantasy life.

They're coming for your birth control next.


Baby Writer/Aging Writer

I used to could, when I was a baby writer, get up at six, go to work, work eight hours, come home and eat, and then write for six hours more, get to bed at one or two o'clock, and then get up and six and do it all over again.

Not only could I manage on four or five hours of sleep a night, I could write on such a schedule. True, I was smoking in those days; nicotine is very helpful to brain chemistry, though terrible for the body. And I was sleeping twelve hours a night on the weekend. But still.

Now if I only get four hours of sleep one night, I am useless for the next week. UGH.

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Chag Sameach, Y'all

 Yesterday was the first night of Passover. We had our usual Seder, telling all the usual stories when we got to a given bit -- like, for instance, when we reach the part about the slaying of the first born, Dr. Skull always tells us how when he was a little kid, he'd be glad that it his older brother who would have gotten the sword, and not him -- and eating the usual foods of affliction.

Though this year we had an excellent brisket, instead of a roasted chicken; and Dr. Skull made a KFP (kosher-for-passover) carrot cake for dessert. We also found some excellent macaroons at the Fayetteville Whole Foods, the only place in the area that carries KFP foods.

The kid came home for the Seder -- he starts his job on Tuesday -- and the kid's boyfriend came with him. Uncle Charger also came, and a friend from our writing group. 

It was a nice time. But the best part of any Jewish holiday, imo, is that I no longer have to do the Christian holidays. Easter when I was a kid was nice because of the basket of candy and the egg hunt; but then we had to go to church. I was always dressed up in my new Easter outfit, which meant a scratchy frilly dress, white nylon hose, painful patent leather shoes, and a horrible flowered hat held on via an elastic chin strap, all of which I hated, hated, hated. Never mind sitting through two hours of Easter services, boring at the best of times, and torture to me, an easily bored child.

That is why I know so much about the Bible now, though. My parents didn't let me read other books in church, just the Bible or hymnals, so I read the Bible all the way through more than once before my father and I had a showdown when I was sixteen and I stopped going to church.

(He said, shouting, "Well, don't go if that's all it means to you!" and I said, "Okay, I won't," which surprised him immensely. I can't think why.)

And then after church, there was Easter dinner, after which I had to do all the dishes (my mother had done all the cooking, so the dishes were my job, and of course my brothers didn't have to help do dishes, what do you mean, they mowed the lawn and took out the trash, the dishes were my job). I did like the deviled eggs my mother made with the Easter eggs, but other than that, meh.

Anyway, I still have to do all the dishes -- and a Seder uses every dish in the house, not to mention Dr. Skull uses every pan and pot and kitchen tool we own, doing the cooking -- but none of the rest. And now we have the rest of the weekend to write novels and chill. 

Good Passover to those who celebrate, and I hope Easter's not too stressful if you do that, and if you dodged it all, have a nice Sunday!

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Stolen off Twitter

I took this off Twitter, and posted in on FB, and got a lot of interesting replies:

Did you buy your first car, or did your parents buy it for you?

It's a question about generational wealth, clearly, and the answers I am seeing reflect that.

Me: I didn't have a car at all until I was 30 -- I got around by bus and bicycle before that -- but when I was 30, my parents gave me their ancient Dodge Ram pickup. I had driven this from time to time when I was living with them, before I went to graduate school, which tells you how old it was! But I loved that little truck, even if it wouldn't go uphill. (I had every route in Fayetteville which didn't require going up a hill memorized -- I knew most of them already, of course, from riding the bike around town.)

What about you?

Kind of what my truck looked like, only mine was darker tan

Monday, April 11, 2022

My Kid Gets a Job

The kid is now employed.

This probably won't be his career -- just a job he'll do for a year or two until he starts graduate school -- but he's now a working man!

Sunday, April 10, 2022

Trump's Legacy

Heck of a job.

And this is your reminder that, far from being over-reported, deaths from COVID-19 are almost certainly under-reported.

Thursday, April 07, 2022

See, But When THEY Do It

 Or, as we used to say in the aughts, IOKIYAR (it's okay if you're a Republican):

Wednesday, April 06, 2022

Bigots don't change and Neither Does Bigotry

I remember the 1990s, and this is all true. I especially remember Helms proposing -- seriously -- that all gay people should be exiled to an island, to protect "us" from AIDS. So when today's conservatives whine about how being asked to wear a mask is a violation of their civil rights, I know exactly how full of shit they are.

Tuesday, April 05, 2022

Free Scalzi short story

If somehow you missed this post from Scalzi, you can now remedy that error. 

Grizzly Bear Conflict Manager here.

Let me start by saying that this is a circle of trust. We are here not to assign blame or dole out punishment, but to resolve conflict and come to a space of understanding and care. There are no bad bears here. There are only good bears, whose motivations may be misunderstood. Through discussion, we can come to a resolution.

More at the link 

Defining "Woman"

 It's about a week since the GOP and their minions threw a (fake) tantrum over Ketanji Jackson refusing to step into their silly trap, but the QAnon dirtbags are still screeching:

So now you know! 

Monday, April 04, 2022

What I'm Reading Now

Carmen Maria Machado, In the Dream House

My kid badgered me into reading this one, and I am glad he did. I'd read Machado's short stories, and taught a couple of them, but this is the first novel of hers I've read. As with most of Machado's work, the form is not that of typical fiction -- she writes in lists, or mock-Kickstarters, or -- as here -- a mix of fiction, essay, and memoir. It works wonderfully.

The subject matter is rough. The Dream House in question is the one she thought she would share -- the life she thought she would share -- with the woman she passionately loved; except this woman was also emotionally abusive. That is what the book is about, emotional abuse, what it looks like, how it works, why it's so hard for the victim to recognize. This is an excellent book, though very painful to read at time. If you've never read Machado, this one would be a great place to start.

A.S. Byatt, The Children's Book

This is a re-read, and I liked it even better this time around. Set in Edwardian England, more or less (beginning just before Queen Victoria dies, and ending just after WWI), it's the story of an interconnected group of friends and families, most of them involved in the William Morris arts & craft movement. The main family, the Wellwoods, is based on Edith Nesbit's life and her own complicated family. I really like books like this, big fat books that go into intricate detail about eras, communities, and people living in them. There's not much of a plot -- just these people living in this time and what happens to them. Byatt, of course, writes wonderfully. 10/10, glad I read it twice.

Anne Tyler, French Braid

This one is an Anne Tyler book, which is to say (1) set in Baltimore (2) about a big, extended, slightly weird family (3) readable, but not that exciting. Her best book remains Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, and if you've never read Tyler before, I'd start with that one. This one is okay, but not much different from every other book she's written in the past decade or so.

Caroline Fraser, Prairie Fires

This is a reread too. Fraser wrote what will almost certainly be the definitive study of the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder, and the history and culture and political philosophy surrounding that life. It won a Pulitzer in 2018, among several other awards.

If you grew up reading and rereading the Little House series, as I did, you'll love this one. Even if you didn't grow up with the books, this is a fascinating and deeply satisfying look at both Wilder and the world of the 19th and early 20th century in the American midwest. It's also a great look at how fiction gets written, how it is shaped and warped by the author's own politics and convictions. 

Sunday, April 03, 2022


 My yard is filled with violets:

On Ukraine

 Stonekettle, one of my favorites over on Twitter, writes a thread:

Well worth reading the whole thing, as well as the responses.


Thursday, March 31, 2022


My library is currently buying a lot of books I don't want to read (i.e. mainstream romance novels, books about political conspiracy theories, so many books on Ukraine, mystery novels by 40 year old men in which the hot take is that women get murdered). I'm not exactly mad about this, since I know other people like to read this sort of book; but on the other hand, I am running woefully short of books to read.

I've been driven to rereading books on my shelves, as an emergency measure. Yesterday I finished The Last Samurai, which I liked a lot more on this second read; two days before that, I reread Doris Egan's Ivory series. Now I am rereading A.S. Byatt's The Children's Book.

What will I do after this? I have already reread all of Thirkell. I'm saving Kage Baker for the next time I'm sick. WHAT CAN I READ NEXT?

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

What It is Like to Be a Bat

 Actually this is not about being a bat*. This is about getting old**. What is it like to be an absolute adult?

(1) You finally feel grown-up -- you're the one managing everything and making sure everything happens, and one day you realize, oh, okay, I'm an adult, cool.

(2) You don't get (as) upset about things anymore. Sure, everything sucks, and there's a disaster, but you've been through so many disasters now, you kind of know how everything is going to go. (You still fret. It's just not apocalyptical fretting.)

(3) Your feet hurt. Like, all the time. "This is what it was like for the little mermaid," you think sometimes.

(4) After just a normal fucking day, like teaching four classes and getting groceries and taking the dog for his walk, your entire body hurts like you've been doing day labor for weeks.

(5) You don't really like Hostess cupcakes or frozen pizza anymore.

(6) You get really picky about the books you read and the movies and television shows you watch. It's like the frozen pizza. You've eaten so much excellent pizza, the frozen ones taste terrible. You've read so many excellent books, you have a very low tolerance for non-excellent books. 

(7) You spent years being sure you would never retire -- why would you? You love your work!'re not so sure. Maybe you could be ready to stop doing this one day. 

(8) It's not such a big deal to do the dishes and take out the trash and clean the bathroom. Why did this ever upset and annoy me, you wonder. I mean, Jesus, it only takes like ten minutes.

(9) You spend a not insignificant amount of time wondering how your life went by so fast. Weren't you twenty-two just five minutes ago?

(10) On the other hand, you wouldn't go back and be 22 again for anything. Jesus, those were hard years. 

*Title taken from David Lodge's Thinks, which I highly recommend.

**This should really be more like, this is what it is like to be getting old for me. YMMV!

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

More Games with Phone

 Here is a picture of my cat on the Way High Up:

Playing with my New Phone

We got me a phone so I could have one while the kid was getting his surgery.

Today I am figuring out what it can do. Here, for example, is a photo of my living room:

Monday, March 28, 2022

Oldie but Goodie

 This Scalzi post from March 2021 is well worth reading:

Definition nerds will quibble about whether America’s long-standing authoritarian, anti-democratic impulses qualify as true fascism, but two things here. One: If it quacks like a duck, etc. Two, let us recall that when actual no-shit fascists were looking at ways to codify their power and to demonize their enemies, including and specifically the Jews, where did they look for useful examples? 

A very thoughtful piece, as is usual with Scalzi.


ETA: This comment, early in the comment stream, is also good:

The first female president of the American Political Science Association said something similar in 1991, arguing “the American experiment” was actually two experiments simultaneously running on parallel tracks, one in democracy, the other in tyranny. Eventually democracy prevailed and banished tyranny, which has always proven the more brittle system due to its manifold injustices. But ideas don’t die, and circumstances change, bringing bad old ideas back to the surface refurbished in new packaging…

Saturday, March 26, 2022

A Thread

I wrote a post a few days ago about the uselessness of trying to reason with those on the Right. One point I made touched on how those on the Right continue to choose a boogeyman -- someone they can tell lies about to inflame their base, and rally them into a unified group.

Right now, those boogeymen include trans people, immigrants, and feminists. Twenty years ago, it was gay people, feminists, and immigrants. Before that, it was black people, feminists, and immigrants.

The target changes (sometimes -- I think the Right has been hating on feminists since 1900), but the tactics do not. Neither do the lies. Neither does the willingness of their base to believe those lies.

This is because those lies let the base believe that their bigotry and privilege are justified. We need to hate this group X, you see, because group X is dangerous, is corrupting our children, destroying our families, weakening our country. Actually, hating group X is actually love. (I wouldn't hit you if I didn't love you so much.)

Anyway, here's a thread that looks at some of that history.


Friday, March 25, 2022

Thursday, March 24, 2022

The New SCOTUS Nominee

I feel as though I should comment on the hearings to place Ketanji Brown Jackson on the Supreme Court. On the other hand, what would be the point?

The Right uses lies to inflame their base. 

It works. 

What more is there to say? They used lies about black people in the 1950s and 1960s, lies about women in the 1970s and 1980s, lies about gay people in the 1990s and 2000s. Now they're using lies about trans people. Their lies -- this group wants to attack people in bathrooms, this group is corrupting our children, this group wants to destroy America -- have not changed. And we have learned over the past decade that the Right cannot be convinced by facts or evidence or reasoned argument. 

So what's the point continuing to argue with them?

It feels wrong, I admit, to read Rod Dreher claiming that KJB's refusal to be baited into a statement about trans people ("She can't define a woman!") is a sign of her corruption and dishonesty, and just let that pass. 

Or to watch without objection when Far-Right bloggers throw tantrums over KJB's nomination, because she was "only" nominated because she was black, or a woman. 

Or to watch and say nothing as they pretend they care about feminism or women's rights -- just not this woman, just not these rights.

But what is the point in writing a well-reasoned rebuttal to their lies? It's false, they know it's false, everyone in their base knows it's false, and none of them care.

We can't lose sight of that fact -- that they honestly do not care about evidence, facts, or reality. They will seize onto any lie that justifies their bigotry and their privilege. They do not care how ridiculous that lie is, or how transparent their own corruption becomes.

There is no point in arguing with, or attempting to reason with, such people.

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Update on the Kid

 The kid has gone back to his apartment & his boyfriend. We have our next check-in with the surgeon on April 14, but the kid seems to be doing well. The surgery looks fantastic, and he's entirely off the pain medication. 

Now he's looking for a job. 

Eventually he may end up in graduate school. For now, he's hoping for a nice salaried job with benefits. Keep your fingers crossed that he can get one at the university and doesn't have to return to being a checker at the local grocery (his summer job).

Monday, March 21, 2022

What I'm Reading Now

Karen Joy Fowler, Booth

I like Fowler maybe 50% of the time -- I liked her book Sarah Canary, and her one about the Jane Austen reading club, but I haven't liked much else she's written. She's big in the SFF community even though most of her books are not fantasy or SF, because she was involved with the award formerly known as the Tiptree Award; and she's written some fantasy works, one of which won a Nebula.

Anyway, Booth is not fantasy or science fiction. It's a long look at the Booth family, focusing only somewhat on  the acts of their best known member, John Wilkes Booth. Abraham Lincoln's own life runs like a rivulet through the book, right up until John Wilkes Booth and he collide.

This is a really long and really well-done book. Even if you don't care about Lincoln or JWB, this one is worth reading, just for the depth of the writing and characterization. It's also a historical novel, and the look at the world of 1820-1880 is fascinating.

 An excellent novel. Highly recommend.

Elizabeth Strout, Oh, William

I'd never read any Strout, but I picked this one up while browsing the new book section at our library, and I enjoyed it enough that I checked out some of Strout's other books. I did not like them as much, but this one was pretty good. It's the story of a woman's relationship with her first husband, as well as their daughters and friends. William is about 70, as is Lucy Barton (the narrator), and Lucy reflects on him and on their life together. It's a very quiet and not very heavily plotted novel, short enough to read in one sitting.

If you like very calm novels this one is for you.

John Scalzi, Kaiju Preservation Society

A Scalzi novel -- so a lot of banter between a small group of friends, some of whom work together. Not much in the way of characterization, and the banter gets on my nerves after a while, but very readable. 

I did like the premise here, which is a "What if," (what if nuclear weapons create portals between different universes); and I really liked the first twenty or thirty pages. The ending I didn't like as much, mainly because I was losing interest by that point.

If you like light fiction filled with in-jokes and quips, this one might be for you.

Stephen King and Richard Chizmar, Gwendy's Button Box, Gwendy's Magic Feather, Gwendy's Final Task

Stephen King books, so compulsively readable and a bit icky. I re-read the first one because the last one just came out, and discovered there was a middle one as well, so I read that too. If you don't have anything else to read, these will kill some hours. The last one is the weakest, the first one the strongest. 

The premise is that a weird guy gives ten year old Gwendy custody of a magic box. She can fuck up the world with it, but it's better if she doesn't. The weird guy thinks she's morally strong enough not to fuck up the world. Meanwhile, the box also makes her life better in various magical ways. In the last two, those ways come at a cost; but in the first, not so much.

Readable, but not remarkable. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Things the Kid Said While Coming out of Anesthesia

Kid: Mom! I'm so happy!

Kid: This is the second best thing that has ever happened to me. (Pause) [Boyfriend] is the first.

Kid: The curtains. (Giggles wildly.) 

Kid: Everyone here is so nice.

Kid: This is the best day ever.

Kid: (To me, wistfully): Can I have the special juice?*

Kid: (very softly, after the nurse helped him into the wheelchair, which was indeed vaguely shaped like a throne): I'm a king.

*This is because when he was little, I would never buy him juice, since it's essentially sugar in a liquid form. I would also never buy him those terrible white doughy cookies with an inch of brightly colored icing on top. Because UGH.

Sunday, March 13, 2022

Home Again

 We made it home -- the roads were excellent. The kid is snoozing away -- he's still on pain meds and muscle relaxants. But he's doing fine.

Meanwhile, because fate hates me, my little dog Heywood has wandered away. (I won't say run away, because he's too old to run.) I've looked all over the neighborhood, and no sign of him. I also left messages with animal control and our local animal shelter -- they open tomorrow at nine, so I can call them then. 

Update: Heywood is home! Warden Daniel Miller of Animal Control drove around on a Sunday (after being alerted by my many, many FB friends) until he found him.

Saturday, March 12, 2022

Update #2 on the Kid

We couldn't get out of the hotel, but the kid is actually pleased about that, since he likes hotels. He is especially enjoying the complementary breakfast. Also, the kid's boyfriend is able to stay with us, so the kid has two of us catering to his every wish.

"Can you get me water?" the kid says pathetically.

"He's milking this," I tell the boyfriend.

"He is," the boyfriend agrees, but we get the water anyway. 

The kid is better today, but still having pain when he has to walk. They've given him the good drugs, though, which is helping.

The complementary breakfast: sausage patties, bagels, cream cheese, peanut butter, honey, muffins, dry cereal, instant oatmeal, coffee, milk, and egg-and-ham breakfast sandwiches. Also oranges. I drank way too much coffee.

Friday, March 11, 2022

Update on the Kid

 The kid is out of surgery and back at the hotel with me -- the surgeon said he was "extremely happy" with how the procedure went.

While I was in the waiting room, it snowed a foot outside. But we made it back to the hotel okay, and might be able to travel back to the Fort tomorrow.

Thursday, March 10, 2022

Parental Anxiety Never Stops

I mean, at least for me.

My kid is (finally) getting his top surgery tomorrow. It took forever to set this up. First, he had years of therapy and then years of being on T. 

Then we had to get the money together (because of course insurance doesn't cover this, or at least our insurance does not).

Then we had to schedule a consult.

Then we had to schedule the surgery itself.

Then we had to reschedule, because getting ANY kind of surgery is tough right now, and someone had to have the kid's slot, for really good reasons.

Now we're scheduled, for Friday at dawn, and a fucking snowstorm is bearing down on us.

Snow. On March 11. In Arkansas.

That's only one of the things I'm anxious about, but yeah, it doesn't help. I'm hoping the snow will be mild enough that the surgery can go forward.

Y'all keep good thoughts for us, okay?

Monday, March 07, 2022

A Good Point


Sunday, March 06, 2022

Games You Can Play

 A bunch of new internet games have appeared lately, all of which are helpful in helping us forget, at least for a few moments, that the world is fucked.

Here is a game called Wikitrivia. You get given historical events, and have to put them in the right order. Three strikes and you're out. My longest streak so far is 14.

I assume you know about Wordl, but here is Octordle, which is a lot more fun, imo.

If Octordle is too much of a commitment, here's Dordle, which is simpler.

Nerdle requires math, so I haven't tried it yet, but if you like math, go for it.

Feel free to add games I haven't yet discovered in the comments!

Friday, March 04, 2022

Evidence Show That Trans Healthcare Saves Lives

Down in Texas, parents are being fired and investigated for supporting the transition of their trans kids. (Note that "transitioning," for children, simply means clothing and hair styles. No one is "chopping off" anything, no matter what the Right Wing Noise Machine claims.) 

"It's science!" the "gender critical" bigots bleat.

But the science is clear. 

We conducted a systematic literature review of all peer-reviewed articles published in English between 1991 and June 2017 that assess the effect of gender transition on transgender well-being. We identified 55 studies that consist of primary research on this topic, of which 51 (93%) found that gender transition improves the overall well-being of transgender people, while 4 (7%) report mixed or null findings. We found no studies concluding that gender transition causes overall harm. As an added resource, we separately include 17 additional studies that consist of literature reviews and practitioner guidelines.

I fully expect bigots to ignore these findings, since -- for them -- the important thing is not to "protect the children," but to reinforce their hateful worldview.

Wednesday, March 02, 2022

Aid to Ukraine

TYWKIWDBI has a post pointing to ways to provide aid to Ukraine.

Charity Navigator now has a page devoted to the Humanitarian Response to the Ukrainian-Russian Crisis.  One of my cousins searched Charity Navigator and decided to donate to World Central Kitchen, which is providing food to the fleeing refugees [noninteractive screencap above].  World Central Kitchen's Charity Navigator score is a perfect 100.

Give if you can.

Tuesday, March 01, 2022


 I still don't know enough about Ukraine to comment intelligently, but I've been following Lawyers, Guns, and Money, which is providing helpful information.

Robert Farley here.

Campos here.

It's an interesting group blog in general, of course.

I note that Rod Dreher has doubled down on "pronouns made them do it!" That seems to be a main talking point on the Right. It's okay to be a fascist and an authoritarian so long as you're attacking trans people and progressives. Oh, and if you're a white Christian nationalist, so much the better.

I Guess the Panemic Is Officially Over?

Our school is lifting the mask mandate. We've already been f2f for the past three semesters. Never had a vaccine mandate. (Some of my students -- not many, but some -- brag about not getting the vaccine.)

Now no masks required, though my chancellor assures us we can wear the masks, if we like.

Saturday, February 26, 2022

Achievement Unlocked

The driveway melted enough that I could get out. Made it to the store. The cats are very pleased.

Tomorrow I will make it to the library. Paradise!

Meanwhile, in Ukraine

 Lots of these being shared over on Twitter:

Day Four of Ice Storm

The ice didn't melt enough for us to get out yesterday -- tbf, the temperature was only about freezing for maybe an hour, at four o'clock. Anyway, the sheer ice on the driveway did not melt.

Today the forecast says we'll get above freezing by noon, and to 38 degrees by four o'clock. Still no sunshine. But fingers crossed.

We're out of cat treats and wet dog food, but everything else is holding up. The dog does not want to eat his dry food, and the cats are very loud in their disapproval of our storm planning skills.

I'm also out of library books -- the library has been closed for ice for the last three days. This is causing me to make inroads on my to-be-read pile, so I suppose that's good. 

Our university closed for those three days too. Since I had a paper due, I just had students turn that in through Google Classroom, and we've been working that way. 

We're getting a little stir crazy. I haven't even been able to go out for walks, because ice. I do make infrequent trips out to check the ice on the driveway. Walking on ice uses muscles I didn't know I had.

Anyway, here's hoping we can get out, at least to the Wal-Mart, at some point today.

Friday, February 25, 2022

Day Three of the Ice Storm

We're on day three of being totally iced in after this storm. 

Yesterday, I hauled the trash to the street (about a 100 yards away from the garage) and that was a Thing. The icy snow on the driveway had partially melted in the late morning, when the temperature reached about 33 degrees; and then froze again in the afternoon, which was in the high 20s. So a solid crust of ice onto of grainy snow. I would slide and then break through the ice and then slide again. And probably the trash truck won't make it up my road today anyway.

We're hoping for the ice to melt enough for us to get to the store this afternoon -- I was supposed to pick up my medication refill on Wednesday, when this all began. (I'm not out, but I'm low enough to get nervous.)

We still have bread and milk, but mostly because I made bagels. And we are totally out of cat treats, which is, according to our feline overlords, unacceptable.

Thursday, February 24, 2022


I don't know enough about the situation to comment on it, but I will comment that watching the far-right cheer for Putin is not surprising at all.

They never met a fascist whose boots they wouldn't lick.

Rod Dreher, of course, says it's all the fault of trans people. He'll lick the boots of anyone who makes him feel better about being an ignorant bigot, which honestly is not much better.

ETA: Apparently the "Putin invades Ukraine because of pronouns" is a Right-Wing talking point, not just some bullshit Rod thought up on his own:

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Weather Report

Every school in NW Arkansas, including mine, has shut down due to this massive sleet-and-ice storm. All the roads in the Fort are icy and undrivable. I need more coffee, but the cats are sleeping on my feet.

How's the weather there?

They're not Bigots

 It's just SCIECNE:

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Weather in the Anthropocene Part Deux

 Yesterday it was 72 degrees and humid. 

Big storm last night -- thunder and more than two inches of rain. 

This morning when I woke up it was 60 degrees and damp. 

Now it's 30 degrees, and so bitingly cold that my hands hurt twenty minutes after reaching my office. (I was wearing gloves!)

Tomorrow and Thursday? Sleet and snow.

Conservatives Reveal Their Plan

Honestly, y'all, this is pretty dispiriting.

I've never supported conservatives, but at least they used to be rational creatures -- or anyway they understood the need to appear rational. Now they're just going hard for the conspiracy/pizza-gate crowd. I guess they think following Trump's game-plan will let them back into office?

But this is just some bewildering crap.

"We're going to pretend race doesn't exist."

"We're going to indoctrinate your kids instead of educating them."

"Because those Leftists burned down all our cities, we're going to give more money to the police."

This one is an actual quotation:

The nuclear family is crucial to civilization, it is God’s design for humanity, and it must be protected and celebrated. To say otherwise is to deny science. 

It's SCIENCE, y'all.


Men and women are biologically different, “male and female He created them.” Modern technology has confirmed that abortion takes a human life. Facts are facts, to say otherwise is to deny science.

Honestly, someone needs to make these people take some actual science classes.

ETA: An apt comment:

ETA II: The Rude Pundit chimes in  

My Kid Burns Me on Twitter


Also it's true tho.

If you don't live on twitter, you might not have met up with Jeans and Jort yet. Start here.

Thursday, February 17, 2022

Weather in the Anthropocene

Last night it was almost 70 degrees at midnight. I had to turn on the AC to sleep. On February 16.

Currently, it's 42 degrees. The temperature will drop all day, and tonight will be 20 degrees.

At least I'll be able to sleep. 

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Thread from the Parent of a Trans Kid


The entire thread is well worth reading. Starts here. 

The tweet about trans kids not having the language to describe themselves, and so assuming they are broken, really hit home for me. 

Monday, February 14, 2022

Not Wordle, Dordle

Here is another version of Wordle -- this one is called Dordle.

You're basically playing two games at once. It does interesting things to my brain.

Saturday, February 12, 2022

What I'm Reading Now

I'm still re-reading all of Angela Thirkell. She is one of the writers I read when I am sick and too fuzzy-headed to focus. 

(The others are Kage Baker, Lois McMaster Bujold, and Jo Walton. This isn't because these books are simple or only fit for fuzzy-headed people to read; it's because I've read them so often I know the plots by heart and can follow what's happening without effort. Also because I already own or have access via the library to all their books.)

Anyway, so what I've been reading lately is all of Angela Thirkell, plus a mystery series about a Texas police officer named Deb Ralston, written by Ann Wingate under the pen name of Lee Martin. This latter is not all that great, but again, good for reading when fuzzy.

I'm better now, so yesterday I read Stephen King's big fat novel Billy Summers, after seeing it praised on some book blog, I forget which, as being excellent. It's not terrible, but I wouldn't say excellent. It's about a hit man who only murders bad people. The hit man is literate and thoughtful, so I can see why the book blogger liked him, but the last fourth of the book should have been trimmed down to ten pages. Also, there's a rape victim who is "saved" and then redeemed by the hit man. Not my favorite trope.

But as with much of King's work, this one was compulsively readable. And only a little spooky shit.

I'm also reading for my Global Lit class -- I read the Whale Rider, which commenter Nicky suggested, and am adding it to the syllabus. It's a slim, excellent novel, set in New Zealand, and written by Witi Ihimaera, who is Maori. Highly recommended if you haven't read it yet. I'd seen the movie, but hadn't read the book.

What about all y'all? Reading anything good?