06 June, 2020

Fuck Racism

That is all.

No. Wait. It's not.

Zack de la Rocha grew up in this little city, going to a school a couple blocks away (which is now a boarded up refuge for wildlife). Having lived here now for, oh, more than a decade, I get the origin of the rage. I see the machine.

Rage Against the Machine - "Killing in the Name"

14 May, 2020

How the Multiverse Got Its Revenge

Y'all! Here comes the sequel to How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse! Publication date is October 6.

What can I tell you about this book? The cover art is gorgeous, obviously, and you should go preorder it, obviously.

Oh, fine, you want more detail than that. Okay. The premise is this: I wanted to look at what happens in the so-called happily ever after--which is to say, I wanted to take the idea of happily ever after, set it on fire, and roast marshmallows over it. So here's what happens when our princess decides to go off and (try) not be a princess anymore and finds out that political ignorance is not only not bliss, it's also a liability.

Plus! New xenos! Space battles! A special guest appearance by the green fairy!

Preorder now at:

26 April, 2020

still here

You would think, what with all this enforced home-bound-ness, that there would be more blogging. I am not however one of those people bored in my confinement, in need of lists of binge-worthy streaming series. I am probably working more, because online teaching is, in fact, a bigger PITA than one might imagine. There are reasons for this... the transmogrification of one's in-class, group-wide activities into asynchronous, single-person activities that teach the same skills (I tried break out rooms in Zoom for group work...once. And while I am usually a proponent of multiple tests before failure is declared, not this time, because the groups in which there was failure crashed so epically I can't do that to those students again. The end.). This means I end up modeling the writing, and since the uni class is about imitation as a vehicle for learning to write, that works on a pedagogical level in theory. In practice, eh. The writing is probably a little worse this quarter, on comparable assignments. We're about to start the edible auto-ethnography, which has remained stable since F19, so I have a much wider base for comparison. I predict it won't go as well as f2f quarters, but I hope to be surprised.

That said, my uni class surprised me by asking for synchronous classes, which saves me the work of a video, but is still more actual work than standing in front of a classroom. It's like... you know when you watch the late-night comedy hosts doing their shows from home? And there's those beats where there should be audience reaction, and a pause, and you can see the host pretending he's hearing laughter or reaction, and carrying on like he's totally gotten his feedback anyway? But that energy's not there. Colbert or Noah didn't get it. He's... guessing. Faking it. Acting on faith that people laughed and he can just go on without any of the micro-adjustments live performance requires.

Teaching online in Zoom is like that. Oh, you say, but you can see their faces! --You cannot, if their cameras are off, and many of them do that. Even if the cameras are on, you can't really see what is happening. Smiles, yeah, those are nice--but the blank looks, the confusion, when I know I'm not getting through and I need to change tactics--I don't get that feedback, either. I'm performing to a dead room. (Interestingly, even if they won't talk in Zoom, they will chat. So I end up responding to chats out loud. It's so...weird.) But that's what they want, so I hope they are a) learning and b) deriving some sense of normalcy and comfort from the ritual.

It's not all bad, and I am certainly grateful for a job, and I feel for my students. I don't mind my own discomfort if it's helping them (I mean, that's fucking teaching anyway). But I am just not as good of a teacher in this setting. One of my colleagues--another experienced teacher--likened it to publishing your shitty first draft. All the experimenting, no time to revise, no way to fix the ugly bits until next time...while hoping there won't be a next time, and feeling queasily certain there will be. Fall, at least. (I have a new course prep for fall, so that will be double fun. Zombies are about to make a comeback, I think, in my genre-centered syllabus. Most of the horror of them had been stripped out in recent iterations--zombies as metaphors, zombies as characters, not zombies as harbingers and victims of pandemic. Now that fear of infection is back.).

My poor high school class...so the district froze the grades. Whatever they had by March 12 is what they have, unless they raise the grades. We have to provide assignments that will let them do that, but we cannot penalize students for ghosting the classes. The directive from On High is to offer material that they want to show up for, which puts a shit-ton of pressure on us. If we're ghosted, then the failure is ours, right? Be more fun! I am fortunate: my class is D&D, and while we are not going to finish their home-brew collaborative adventures, we are going to do pick-up games for the next month during class time, during which yours truly will DM for whomever shows up. I kinda hope the ghosting continues, because I can do a game with 4 or 5, but if everyone decides to come, I will... um. Fake it.

But I have made some things. That bag of shredded up yarn has now become yarn. Soon it will become a rug. Order from beautiful chaos.

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


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.