Sunday, October 30, 2022

My Kid Makes a Jack-o-Lantern

 Here it is:

And here it is with bonus cat:

What I'm Reading Now

Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Finney Boylan, Mad Honey

Jodi Picoult is hit or miss with me. Sometimes I enjoy her work a lot, and sometimes I quit halfway through. This one is pretty good. It's co-written with Jennifer Finney Boylan (the trans woman who Richard Russo famously wrote about, and who is herself a writer) so you won't be surprised that the big twist in the plot is that one of the characters is trans.

There's some good stuff about bees, and the plot resolves nicely. Picoult's novels (mostly) have good narrative flow. The characters are often a little predictable, and she's kind of a one trick pony (kids in peril, and big twist near the end). It's like Flannery O'Conner, whose every story was about how people are monstrous freaks who need the grace of God to make them bearable. Picoult's every story is kids who seem to do monstrous things, but really haven't.

I did enjoy this one, but it self-harm and abusive relationships put you off, maybe skip it.

Barbara Kingsolver, Demon Copperhead

Kingsolver is also, for me, hit and miss. I really liked her first three novels, and haven't much liked anything since. This one is Kingsolver's recasting of David Copperfield, moved from 19th century London to 1990s Appalachia and the opioid crisis. I mostly enjoyed it, though once Demon becomes addicted to opioids, Xanax, and other pills, it's a grim slog. If you like David Copperfield as much as I do, there's a certain amount of pleasure in spotting the parallels.

Sarah Miller, Marmee 

Sarah Miller wrote Caroline, which I liked a lot -- it's the story of Little House on the Prairie, one of my favorite childhood books, but from the POV of Caroline Ingalls (Ma). This one is Little Women, told from the point of view of Marmee. We get a more accurate and less Jesus-y picture of what life might have been like in the March household during the years between 1862 and 1872. Especially if Little Women is one of your favorites, you'll like this.

I see Miller has written some other books. I'll have to hunt them down.

Right Wing Lies Are Dangerous

Remember back when the FBI noted that White Nationalists and Christian Extremist groups were the biggest threat in America, and the crybabies on the Right threw a tantrum?

Remember when Clinton pointed out that a certain percentage of the Right was deplorable, and the crybaby Right threw a tantrum?

Remember when the Right attacked our capital in an attempted coup, and the Right began screeching that it was all lies? That those were just tourists, visiting a public building?

Remember how the Right continues to repeat the lies that Liberal politicians and "elites" are pedophiles, are trafficking children, are mutilating children to further the trans agenda, are selling the organs of aborted fetus, are keeping millions of children prisoner in tunnels under Nevada (or wherever), are coming for your guns, are setting up re-education camps, are controlled by the Jews, who want to replace white men....I could go on for pages.

Remember how people who probably don't even believe this bullshit repeat it in person and online. Some of them probably think it's funny. Others just want to be cruel (and probably think cruelty is funny).

But people hear them, and people act.

Not our fault, say the MAGA assholes. Or else begin spinning further conspiracy theories.

This is what my last post was about. How does our country survive these new "conservatives"? 

Deplorable was just too mild a word.

Saturday, October 29, 2022

Why I Don't Read Right-Wing Blogs Anymore

Apparently it is a matter of faith on the Right that our current inflation is caused by those stimulus checks we got in the middle of the pandemic. (See the link on Nicole & Maggie's blog here.) This is so hilarious I wish I had discovered it earlier, but I've stopped reading the blogs on the right.

It is not my fault. I used to have five or six RW blogs I read, simply because I like to understand what those living in the world with me are thinking. But post-Trump, most of the Right degenerated into a tangle of fact-free nonsense, both boring and hateful, that eventually was not even useful for understanding their world -- their world was no longer understandable. Rod Dreher, for instance, spends all his time ranting about how evil the trans agenda is; and Hoyt has gone so far down the rabbit hole of QAnon that her posts don't even make internal sense.

The Right these days reminds me of back when I used to ride Greyhound or Trailways to travel back and forth to school, or to visit friends. Nearly always, when I was waiting at a layover, some old man (or rarely an old woman) would sit down next to me and start telling me about the aliens (or the liberals, or the lizards) that were controlling the world market (destroying the economy, making people gay) and how it had all been caused by infiltrating communists (fluoride, aliens, lizard people, radio waves). The most recent example was a guy who was next in line with me at the post office who started explaining to me that wood alcohol in diet soda was a direct cause of the drop in intelligence among the American people, and that "soda companies" were doing this on purpose, because they were owned by some big liberal company, and that was why the commercials were full of gay people.

I suppose it's possible that some of these people are mentally ill; but most of them, I'm afraid, have fallen victim to Right-Wing propaganda. (I know left-wing propaganda also exists, but oddly I've never had anyone come up to me while I'm standing in line and start squealing about them. And, as a whole, leftists are much more likely -- in my experience -- to check their sources, and to have good bullshit detectors, making them much less likely to go about repeating obvious lies.) (Did you know public schools these days have to provide litter boxes for their students who identify as cats? It's true! My cousin's best friend knows a janitor who works at this school in Michigan, and he says --- )

Nothing the Right is saying these days makes sense, or is based on reality. All of it is some talking point they received from Fox News, or talk radio, or (as with Rod) from commenters who have bought into similar propaganda outlets. 

This might just be mildly funny, if the Right had not weaponized this propaganda, using it to punish those they don't approve of, and as a method of state control. (That's why they're going after abortion and birth control and screeching about inflation and student loan forgiveness. When someone has six or eight kids, no real education, and is working a low-wage job, that person is very easy for a fascist state to manipulate and to control.)

I'm beyond being able to think of what to do about all this. I used to believe education and voting could save us, but at this point too many people have been brainwashed from infancy, and others are happily swallowing down nonsense because it justifies their sense of bigotry and their desperate need to feel important. So I don't know what the answer is now.

Persist, I suppose. The arc of history and all that. 

I used to want to understand what the Right was thinking, with the hope that we could find common ground, and thus live in this country together. But it's clear that's not what the Right wants, and that there is no common ground. So that's why I don't read what the Right is saying anymore. What's the point?

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Wait, I Think I See the Problem

 Janel explains:

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

In the Future, All Restaurants Are Taco Bell

A few months ago, our local Petco opened up a side hustle called Vetco.

So I suppose this was inevitable. 

Walmart Health, you will be glad to know, offers healthcare ranging from physicals to urgent care to online counseling sessions for such things as anxiety, depression, and relationship issues. They also offer dental and eye care, all for the low, low, low prices you have come to expect from Walmart.

I'm wondering if they fill the Xanax scripts at their own pharmacy. Oh, what I am saying, of course they do.

Monday, October 24, 2022

I Am Having a Bad Day

First off, a big storm is coming through and the front has given me a migraine.

Next, I have been trying for months to get AT&T to turn off two phone lines we no longer use, and nothing I do -- going in person, calling their help line, getting online and arguing with a chat bot -- nothing works. (We can't just shut it off because Dr. Skull set up the online account, and he has forgotten his password, as well as the answers to the Security questions that let us change the password.)

Next, the toilet clogged up and flooded the bathroom.

Next, I have read all my books and our library isn't buying anything new I want to read.

Next, I have had insomnia for days, and I hate everything.

Hope your life is going better.

Sunday, October 23, 2022

The Triage of Teaching

I'm grading preliminary work on my students' third (and major) paper, and have once again been noticing the problem with teaching writing in a class in which we have more than five or six students.

My fiction workshop this semester has only seven students in it. This is very nearly the perfect size. I am able to get to know every student. I am able to spend time on their writing, understand what they are trying to do, show them -- in detail -- how they might want to do that. Also, I am able to know them as people, not just students, which helps us work together, and to trust each other. Trust is basic for true teaching.

In contrast, I am teaching three sections of Comp I, which means I have 67 students turning in every assignment (at least theoretically -- in actual fact, maybe twenty percent of the students fail to turn in any given assignment). This means I cannot get to know them as much more than names in my roll book. I know very little about their lives or their goals. I can spend maybe ten minutes per student per assignment -- sometimes more, if it's a paper and not ground work for the paper; but seldom much more.

What happens, because of that, is I end up triaging the students. 

Those who just can't or aren't doing the work, which is about 20%, need more help than I can give them. I don't know why they aren't doing the work, for the most part. When I track them down to ask, mostly they don't respond. 

When they do respond, they tell me they have three kids and a full-time job and they share a computer with their brother who lives twenty miles away and they can't always get over there. (There is now something I can do for these students, at least -- we have a way to check out loaner laptops to them. There are also emergency grants for students who have small financial emergencies.) 

Or it turns out they aren't native speakers of English, and cannot understand what they're supposed to be doing. (We do not have English-as-a-Second-Language sections of Comp I. Again, I can now send these students to the writing center, where we have a EASL tutor.) 

Or it turns out they're homeless (this just happened) and working fifty hours a week at two jobs, and their tablet, which they were using to do all their work, has broken. 

Or their uncle has COVID and they've all been quarantined and there's no money to pay the electric bill, so they can't get online, and they've been trying to do the work on their phone, but they can't charge it now.

Or, or, or.

These students need a lot of help, but I have 66 other students, and so I can't give them as much help as they need. There are too many of them, and their real problems have little to do with how to write a good paper. I make sure to notify the proper administrators about their problems, hopefully getting them some aid; but I can do very little about teaching them writing. With these students, I end up doing the best I can to get them to C-level work, and honestly mostly fail to achieve even that. Their other problems are just too overwhelming.

Then there are students who are excellent writers already. This is maybe six out of the 67. These students also get very little help from me. This is the group I would love to work with, but as it is, I'm too swamped by the 20% who can't do the work and the middle group, the ones who can do the work but only with a lot of help.

I spend most of my time with this middle group, working on grammar and structure, telling them over and over about correct format, about how to cite a source in-text, about making sure they have one idea and only one idea per paragraph, about providing credible evidence to support their claims. Sometimes these students are working full-time jobs too, and many of them have a two or three (or five, in one case this semester) children, so that it is hard for them to get the work done on time, or at all. I work with them. I work with them. But there are only so many hours in the day.

If we actually want students who learn, this is not how we do it. Expecting people to go to school full-time while working full-time while raising three or four children -- this is not how education happens. This is how triage happens. 

Which is probably the actual plan. Rich people's kids go to schools with small class sizes, where they get plenty of help, and where they don't have to work and run a house and take care of children while trying to study microbiology. These kids will get an actual education. These are the kids who actually matter, to those who make our laws and fund our schools.

The rest of them, the students here at my working class university, what they get is the FEMA version of an education. They get something that looks like an education, while not requiring the resources and support of an actual education.

Despite all our efforts, most of them will emerge in the working world not knowing the difference between a credible source and bullshit, not knowing how to thinking critically, not knowing how to write a coherent sentence or understand their own history. They may be perfectly nice people, and perfectly able to do whatever low-level job they end up in, but most of them will not be educated, not in the true sense of that word.

It's discouraging.

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Car Trouble

When my kid was like two days old, I remember Dr. Skull and I were sitting on the bed gazing anxiously at the crib (did he have a fever? Was his breathing okay? Would he live through the night?), and Dr. Skull let out a gust of breath and said, "This is never going to end, is it?"

I laughed, but you know, it's really not. Any problem your kid has is like 20,000 times worse than any problem you have. When the kid had that health scare a few years ago, I honestly thought I would going to die from the anxiety. I remember when the doctor called and talked to Dr. Skull (and not me) about what the new X-Ray showed, I sat up half the night, twitching with anxiety and forcing Dr. Skull to tell me (over and over and fucking over) what the doctor had said.

Anyway, right now the kid is having car trouble, which is not the worst news -- no problem that can be fixed with money is a real problem -- but I'm still twitching with anxiety. 

I just want my kid to be okay forever. IS THAT SO MUCH TO ASK?

Update: The kid and his boyfriend's car had its catalytic converter stolen. Cost them $500 to replace it, but at least it was a quick fix.

This is apparently a thing now -- my brother, who lives in New Orleans, also had his stolen recently. What can you do it prevent it? Park your car in a garage, except my kid and his boyfriend don't have a garage, and their apartment complex is open-gate.

Saturday, October 15, 2022

Fall Break

It's fall break here in the Ozarks and we're actually having fall. On Tuesday, there's a high of 57 and a low of 29. Whaaat!

Meanwhile I have 63 papers coming in from my Comp I students. So that's what I'll be doing over break.

Also I've got something -- not COVID, I hope, but some nose-and-throat ailment. According to Dr. Google, the Omicron version does indeed have these symptoms. I don't have a fever, though, so.

I'm also having mild depression, probably directly related to the death of my brother. So the ailment may be somatic symptoms. Ugh, having a body, who asked for it.

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Buying Candy in a Dream State

Apparently last night when I was very sleepy, I ordered some Basset's Allsorts, with next day delivery.

I have a vague memory of wanting licorice yesterday, but I don't actually remember ordering them. This is what happens when you have insomnia for three days in a row.

Oh, well, if I can't sleep, at least I can have licorice. 

Friday, October 07, 2022


Night before last, I did not sleep until nearly four a.m., and had to get up at 5:30. (It's advising season, and I need to be in my officer at 6:30 to catch my students before their classes start.) Last night I went to bed at 11:00 pm and slept until 10:00 a.m. Why can't my body make a decision?

I've got new books from Jodi Picoult and from Kate Atkinson to read. And it's almost the weekend!

I'm also writing new reviews for Asimov's and for Interzone. The Interzone one is a very cool book with worldwide disaster plus gay wizards and rocks. As with Jorts the Cats, it's like someone made a present just for me.

Also it looks like fall might finally arrive. Tomorrow is a high of 76, and then (after a stretch of highs in the 80s) this Thursday coming up, temperatures plummet!

Thursday, October 06, 2022

A Brand-New Jennings

The new baby, which was being expected by my nephew and his wife, has arrived.

My nephew gave the eulogy at his father's funeral last week, and noted that his new child and his father probably met each other on the way -- one going, one coming. It's a nice thought.

I got to meet and hold the baby yesterday. He's perfect. I'd forgotten how tiny and how soft new babies are.

Sunday, October 02, 2022

Chilly Sunday Morning

It's in the mid-60s here, sunny and chill. My favorite weather.

I've caught up on grading, and actually finished and submitted a story. Also I made bagels. Today: more grading, more writing, and the gym.