01 April, 2020

how are y'all doing out there?

Functionally, my life looks pretty normal. This pandemic and its accompanying stay-at-home orders came at the end of a quarter, which means 2 weeks or so at home (grading, planning, recharging, maybe day-tripping) before the next round. I'd've stayed home mostly anyway. The campus--we live in faculty housing--is a lot quieter, but it's like, oh, winter break.

The weird shit is the kids. Or lack of kids. Usually we've got a wild band of Nerf-gun toting 8-10 year olds pelting around the complex, screaming and yelling and generally being kids. Now... now there's no one. Nothing. It's creepy-quiet. There's hazard tape around the playground where the very small toddlers and their caregivers would appear during the day. It flaps and whistles in the wind.

I hear more birds, now. I see more birds, now.

Our Trader Joe's has implemented distance-measures. You wait in line outside for admittance, on your little purple tape X a careful six feet from the next person. Couples can wait together, but they can't go in until two come out. There's stuff on the shelves again, and in the frozen section. Not toilet paper yet, or paper towels. (I have instituted hardcore rag-bag in lieu of the latter. The former, fortunately, we'd just bought before All This Started(tm), so we're stocked.) There was actually flour this week, limit one. I snatched up a bag. It might be time to learn sourdough.

My college classes start next week, officially; we got a "soft start" rollout, which was admin's way of saying 'right, so, all online in two weeks, this might freak some folks out' and indeed, it has, and the people doing the heavy lifting with how to teach people to use Zoom and all the cool features on Canvas and whatnot are being heroes right now. I did not think we'd get a soft start, so I worked from about March 13, with a break for grading, to get my spring classes online (rewrite the prompts, redesign the exercises. how the fuck do I do group-work asynchronously??). Ferfuckssake, y'all, I made videos. Before March 13, I would have bark-laughed at you if you had suggested I put my face on a video, like, ever. Now I'm just doing it. One take. Stupid hair, stupid face, whatever, let's do this.

I'm still freaking out quietly that this quarter will suck, even if I am prepared. I am trying to be chill.

My cats are proving helpful. Everyone likes a cat video. And the Patchwork Terror (formerly known as the Kaiju-kitten; names evolve) is very photogenic.

The stupid yellow flowers are blooming around here. The pine trees are releasing clouds of pollen. Every scratch in the throat, every sneeze, every sinus-induced headache triggers an instant's paranoia, firmly smashed by reason. Nous and I are taking turns being the rational voice of no, you are not sick. You are fine.

The gym's closed, of course. We're running outside. There are a lot of hills in this neighborhood. I will be very, very fit in the next quarter, or I will have aggravated every old injury I ever had and be hobbling around.

I have sewn us masks from truly colorful, terrible cotton. I regret only that I have no more skull-tie-dye print to use.

My concentration is...spotty. Since starting this post, I have darted off to my UCI page, written an announcement, started some class-related housekeeping, forgot I was doing that, and came back here (repeat, repeat, repeat).

I'm glad I'm not trying to write something new right now. Revisions are challenging enough.

This pandemic has made my social circle wider, which is kinda funny. There is more D&D now. I'm running our long-term campaign online, which means we get to play more often when The Rat doesn't have to commute from 2 hours north.  And Nous and I started playing in another D&D game with work-friends; we all knew we played, we just never played together. And now we are, because some of us are over-working and some are underemployed and no one would be able to do this if we had to commute all over Los Angeles. So that's pretty cool, too.

Yeah. So. That's me.

15 March, 2020

like a duck...

...all serene and floating on the surface of the water
everything's just fine

while under the water

oh shit oh shit oh shit

it's total, churning chaos.

The university went all online for spring quarter early last week.

On Saturday, the high school went all online until mid-April. Fortunately in the latter case, we are in the group-project stage, and the groups can, in theory, collaborate on Google docs together. (Whether or not they do is not up to me. Online learning is bloody difficult, particularly if it is asynchronous).

The uni classes, though. Fuck me running. I had them built for face-to-face. Now I must rebuild and recast. I am not especially afraid of teaching with technology, and I can self-teach pretty quick (which is good, because besides two truly amazing colleagues, the university is largely expecting us to watch training videos and be autodidacts). But the conversion is time-consuming, and I had been rather counting on almost 2 weeks of break to revise the RORY manuscript coming out in October. Now I will be lucky to get one week of break.

(The manuscript is currently sitting in my word processor. I looked at it. I am having extreme anxiety actually doing anything with it, because I have half a class to finish converting (and two weeks to do it, which is FINE for fuckssake, because I converted four weeks of the course in two goddamned days already, except for pre-recorded videos, if I even do those). Anxiety is not rational. I should apply some donuts.)

So the conundrum is--synchronous teaching, which plays to my strengths, or asynchronous teaching, which is a lot more work on the front end but may free up some time later on?

And we had a leak in the bathroom wall this morning. Big old bulging drip in the paint, spreading like some bizarre D&D monster. Amazing how fast the weekend maintenance guys show up when you say "water leak." It was the upstair's neighbors' shower, and easily fixed. Evidently there's no drywall damage, so...good?

And in other positive news, today's Trader Joe's run (after yesterday's abortive attempt, which did net us donuts and cheese, not insignificant) yielded bacon, some sausages, eggs, and frozen peppers (no other frozen veg). I ordered another box from our CSA this week, too, partly b/c they can't do their usual farmers markets and partly because they have stuff in stock. So we're good on healthy stuff. We won't starve. We'll be fine. (The cats won't starve either. Or run out of litter.)

But there is good news. One of my students from fall quarter came dashing into the gap between my last two face-to-face classes this school year, damp from the downpour, to give me a stuffed bunny. She gives stuffed bunnies to her favorite teachers, but she thought I hated cute things (because my desk at work is populated with small rubber and stuffed lizards, frogs, snakes, an a small, plastic Godzilla), so she got me some lovely handlotion from Origins at the end of fall quarter. When she discovered that I do like cute fuzzy things, she promised me a bunny. And when they announced spring distance learning, she made sure to get the bunny to me so I would "have something cute on my desk."

("I did not get you a pink bunny, though, because I know you hate pink."
"I do not hate pink."
"...Oh. Well. I didn't get you a pink bunny anyway.")

And she did not. The bunny's name is Buttermilk, because that is what color she is, and she's currently on my desk at home, surrounded by the stuffed things (I have, among other critters, a krogan and Bill the Cat).

But here she is under my desk with The Patchwork Terror (formerly known as the Kaiju-kitten, but really, PT is more apt) because they both have little pink noses and are stupidly photogenic and maybe I'll just use them as my stunt doubles for live-streaming classes this spring.

Anyway, that bunny and that student were possibly the best thing that happened all year, y'all.

Stay healthy.

29 February, 2020

ghosting

Ha ha yes clearly doing well at this "post more regularly" business.

I have things I want to say, but prudence dictates otherwise, so I will instead tell you that:

a) the HS class of budding D&Ders survived their first dungeon, having bypassed one whole segment of it with a Clever Plan(tm) that would've gotten them killed if someone hadn't been a little free with the rules and also they hadn't had some crazy-amazing ideas. My ranger(s) got to kiss The Princess (like The Doctor, really). The wizard was reunited with her beloved Bryce. All ended reasonably well. Now they have to write their own adventures (collectively, in small groups) to run for another small group.

b) I have been invited to give a talk about gender, politics, and power in HOW RORY THORNE DESTROYED THE MULTIVERSE at UC-Riverside on April 9 to grad students in English (I am imagining these are mostly creative writers, because I am long past the days of writing and delivering academic papers on any subject, please and thank you). I am responsible for 90 minutes of content, and while I am sure I can read very slowly, I am reasonably sure I'll have to come up with Stuff(tm) to say to round out that time. Which I will. Somehow. Magically. Perhaps by sacrificing to the gods of academic discourse.

c) HOW THE MULTIVERSE GOT ITS REVENGE is scheduled to come out Oct. 6. Cover art forthcoming when it's finalized, but I can say--it's super awesome.

d) because my weekend isn't going to spent doing the thing I had set aside all the time to do, and I hope/pray/exhort the gods that I will be busy with it next weekend instead, I sent a last minute text to the Rat and said "let's game this weekend instead of next!" and she is currently moving heaven and earth to make that happen (she, and her patient and wonderful wife, on whom the burden of childcare falls when the Rat is down here slaying monsters). We're all kinda looking forward to this session--the end of the first major arc, the beginning of the second, and the time we acquire a new character (so that everyone's gonna be playing 2, but that is what happens with tiny groups and big-ass campaigns, and Nous and the Rat are pros) so that we survive what comes next. I feel a little like a cheat running pre-written adventures, but it frees up the bandwidth for book proposals, where I actually do have to know wtf is going to happen in advance.


e) Kaiju-kitten has matured enough that I can spin again without having him attacking the wheel and ransacking the fiber, and so this is happening. The bag of fiber is a bunch of different dye lots and fiber combos (wools only, all from the amazing dye pots of M. at Blarney Yarn) all torn up into little bits, to be spun at random, like a grab-bag of colorful goodness. The results are...double-ply hanks of colorful goodness, that will all probably end up being a throw rug.

So yes. Happy Leap Year. I have a game to prep.

02 February, 2020

the trials of one's teens

Tinycat will be 13 in February. Since her check-up in June, she's lost almost a pound. That makes her Extra-Tinycat, now, at a mere 6.8 lbs. She's eating (as well as ever, which is to say not enough, but she's also a scarf-and-barfer, so we'd rather less that stays down than more that comes back up). She loves her treats. She's sassy and takes no nonsense from either of the boys. Coat quality is good. Eyes are bright. She's just...shrinking. 

Tinycat has no time for you
Obviously there is something not right, though we have no idea what. We took her in this weekend, because in the last two weeks she'd developed these big red bumps on her chin that seemed to be oozing. At first I thought Kaiju-kitten had popped her in one of their spats, but the proliferating bumps suggested something else. She's had autoimmune problems in the past, and coupled with her weight loss, we expected something dire. 

The vet took one look and said "cat acne" and proceeded to pop them all. She's home with a shaved, scrubbed chin and an antibiotic shot. The cat bowls are all stainless steel, so it's not a plastic allergy. (Well. Maybe. She licks plastic--the laundry basket is not safe--but she's done that her whole life.) The vet didn't seem as concerned about figuring out why kitty-zits as he did in why so skinny, so he drew blood and urine and we await results this week. Last time her bloodwork was done--6 months ago--everything was fine. Maybe that's changed. If not, we may be looking at an ultrasound. Something isn't right in there. Pix was voracious when her thyroid went whack, and she got super gaunt, but Tinycat's not showing the hyperactivity that goes with a hyperthyroid. Could be kidneys, if those numbers have tanked, but they were good 6 months ago. So we don't know. In the meantime, the tiny tyrant has been granted her fondest wish: baby food mixed with her real food. 

But in other teen news... we started playing D&D in the HS this week. We're using the Stranger Things starter-set, so all the characters are premade, magic-using (jhfc WoC. So much fucking magic), 3rd level. Also all good alignments. The kids did some customizing (we have a pet cougar named Tim now), names, genders, sexes, bonds and ideals and flaws, oh my. The idea had been to let them play their characters while taking turns DMing for the group. But attendance in high school is spotty, and I was not at all confident that a designated DM would be in class on their day. Hell, I still have kids who have not chosen a character, much less worked out their spell books. 

So I improvised. 

I grouped them by class and I DMed for them collectively. All the players of a particular class had to agree on an action and a spokesperson, and though there were a couple bumps with the stronger personalities dominating, it went... well. Surprisingly. I did bad accents and funny voices and kept the story moving (it's a pregen adventure that I've test-run before, but it's also pretty skeletally supported). They got to see real-time what happens when a DM has no notes in front of her to cover a player request ("We want to go to the infirmary to interrogate the wounded!" You...okay. Right.)  They cheered when I made the captain of the guard a non-binary human with obvious half-orc heritage named Bryce. The Wizards(tm) rolled at the end of the conversation to kiss this half-orc as a thank you for their help (player made sure to get consent first) and busted out a natural 20. "Bryce is into you," I said, while praying none of the administration came into the room. "With that roll, you can... you know. Whatever."

...which kicked off a flurry of speculation about what Bryce looked like, gods defend poor Bryce. All I said was "Bryce is cut. They're a guard captain and of muscular build." 

I fear for the fanfics I may've inspired.  

Next week: collective combat, while the students absent this week get up to speed on their spells. I have promised everyone they can play their characters individually when the groups write their own adventures to run for other groups, so that DMing duty is spread among all the group members. I look forward to the moment that I can intone, Gauntlet -style, "Cleric is about to die!" even if I'm the only one to get the joke. 

30 January, 2020

reluctantly

...I will admit that there are perks living in a place with no snow, and its name is fresh winter citrus. Friend Tira brought over some Meyer lemons and three limes from her trees this week. Meyer lemons are amazing any day, but fresh from a tree two blocks away? Pretty fucking epic. When you grow up eating fruits from a grocery store, you don't realize that fresh off a tree tastes better. (Probably just as well. I would not have been comforted, in the dead of a South Dakota winter, to know that my orange which had traveled many food miles from Florida or California or wherever did not taste as good as it might.) If I had a yard, or space in this apartment--how much space do I need for an indoor lemon tree, anyway?--I would have a Meyer. I fear that it's light that confounds me, not space. The windows are all NE or SE, and no direct sun during the summer months. Good for hoyas and spider plants, not for citrus.

26 January, 2020

antisocial

Early advice from my mother: write nothing down you don't want someone to (be able to) read. If it's written, she said, anyone can read it. Maybe someone you didn't intend. If it's written, there's no guarantee of privacy. Nor should there be expectation of it.

(My mother basically taught me that people kinda suck, or at least enough of them do that you gotta be wary. I don't think she was wrong.)

Also early advice from my mother: think before you speak. 

I am not so great at the second--sometimes deliberately so--but the first one stuck with me. I wouldn't keep a diary of anything real because, little cute lock or not, someone might read it. (I did not think of writing in cypher, like Anne Lister; if I had, maybe I'd've written more, and there would be juicy details for someone to decrypt after my death. But see? That's even the point. Anne Lister's diaries got decrypted and fucking published. I would be long dead and would not care as a result, but even so: Mom would be right. I wrote something, and people read it, and I had no control over it. Would have no control. Oh, fuck the verb tenses. You get it.) 

The point is, I am less likely to write something potentially inflammatory than I am to say it. Even on social media. Maybe especially on social media: I don't pop off with the first thing that comes to mind (and out of my mouth, snarked for the benefit of whichever cat is in the room and possibly Nous, as we are in the habit of saying the shit we'd never write to each other, just so it gets said). If I say some shit to somebody online, boom, there it is. There it stays. Then everyone else who can read and access that page sees it, and suddenly my snark has an audience, and well, we know how this works. Proliferating toadshit. I'm not allergic to opinions--oh no, heavens, haha, I have a few of those, and they are not always kind--but I don't see the point in sharing them for their own sake, either on my wall or in someone's comments. I don't want to have a goddamned brawl. I hate the drama. 

Therefore I avoid posting in Facebook threads, even among my very locked up friends list. I avoid Twitter threads for the same reason, plus, you know, totally public (and I'm a woman and a teacher). I hesitate to post here, even, which is... kinda antithetical to having a blog in the first place. 

So I'm gonna try and write more this year. Here, I mean. Even if I am talking to the echoing emptiness of the internet...that isn't really too different from talking to my cat(s) (except Tinycat, who always answers). I probably still won't post a lot of inflammatory stuff because all the reasons. You want to hear what I really think, catch me at a con and I'll tell ya. 

01 January, 2020

hello, 2020

these reprobates, napping after chaos
I woke up with a headache (sinus and weather, not excess aquavit, though, you know... that could've contributed) and cleaned up cat poop before I even got coffee this morning, so, you know... it's either an omen for the upcoming year or, like, another normal damn day.

I'm going with the latter.

School starts next week, both uni and the high school. I'm pretty psyched about both. The uni comp class has a new theme this year--food, of all things, after years of Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Aristotle. The idea was...I want them to write, but I want them to feel like they have something to say. Food does that. Everyone (with one exception last quarter) has some emotional connection/story with a particular food or foods. Most of my students are international, and suffering language culture shock along with oh god, you want me to eat what? There's a lot of loving detail to be mined about grandma's jiaozu or stinky tofu or pie.

I feel guilty that the subject's not harder but... eh. I got some Pythagoras in there, translated by Ovid, and I'm still making them read closely and analyze texts. It's just a little easier for them. And I've gotten some of the best writing I've ever seen, so... I think it's fine. It's also a lot less work on my end. When I taught the hardcore texts, I had fabulous peer tutors attached to my classes. Like TAs, kinda, with dedicated office hours specifically for my class and assignments. Mine were exceptional. Both went on to grad school, one to be an actual teacher (and some school somewhere will be goddamned lucky to get her), and without them, there are not enough hours in the week to teach the hard texts, do all the commenting, and...write.

Because I am given to understand that writing is a job, too, and needs time, even if it sits third in my priorities. It shouldn't, but it has to most of the time. Students, y'all. Also the paychecks that actually pay the bills.

The high school class this semester (they're on semester; uni's on quarter. PITA) is basically D&D, which I have been playing and DMing since, oh, never you mind. AD&D and THAC0 and saving throw tables. That long. It's been a bit of a challenge to learn 5e well enough that I think I can teach it. I expect some of the students will already know how to play. Others will be brand new. It's going to be... totally uncharted territory, for me, teaching actual skills to these kids, instead of trying to expose them to all these different texts they won't get in their normal English classes. But this is going to be the last year, I think, I can teach there. Best I go out with the class I am most nervous and excited to teach.

Because... the writing. It does need more than third place. I have plans. I have ideas. I have so many stories I want to write, and no time to do it. I have one manuscript coming back from my editor Soon I Hope(tm), to be published in October, and another due to that same editor in June (currently with my agent, who said I'd leveled up with this book, which means I didn't underwrite it this time).

But after those...

I have an idea. I'm taking notes on it now. Will I outline? Eh. Maybe. Broadly. But for now I'm in the thinking phase--characters are starting to surface, conflicts, personalities. Themes. I would very much like this one to be a standalone, but we shall see. I need to write it first.

But today, actual New Years... I am going to play Borderlands 3 with Nous and drink imperial stout and eat tamales and probably more pepparkakor because my god that recipe makes a ton of them. Tomorrow is soon enough to work.

Happy New Year.