21 August, 2020

this year exhausts me

 As I am sure it exhausts most of us. And I recognize that to be exhausted, rather than, oh, evicted, unemployed, evacuated, homeless, sick, or dead is a privilege. I am privileged. I acknowledge that. 

But fuckssake.

This week, the exhaustion has been more physically literal, because it's been stupidly, dangerously hot in my state (which is also on fire). I am not one of those folks who functions well in heat. I can handle it, insofar as I don't get immediate migraines or pass out or sweat excessively. I do get more anxious and more irritable. We are privileged to have A/C, which we try and limit our use of, because the power grid and rolling blackouts and all that. We can survive here on the coast without it (we did, in graduate student housing, which is literally across the street). We turned it on this week, set to 80, and it felt good. Cool.

Climate change, y'all. This isn't weather. The middle of the country blew away with the derecho. (My cousin lost her home.) People are dying of COVID all the fuck over, while other people whine about their masks and their rights and send kids back to school so that... yes, they can get sick and put hundreds into quarantine. The post office is being dismantled.  My state is burning up. People are losing everything. The sky is red. The air up north is black; here it's not so bad, most of the time. But I am aware, with every beautiful, lurid sunrise, that things are burning.

My fall class is about the zombie apocalypse, which seems more applicable this year than it has in a long time. I used to teach zombies because they were trendy. Now, though? It resonates. The end of the fucking world, indeed. We're remote, at least. This university has sense.

The DNC happened. I didn't watch. I mean, they could run a half-eaten sandwich and some moldy cottage cheese and I'd vote for them. I am fine with Biden. I am delighted with Harris (I wanted her for president, or as Warren's VP, so...). Now I fret about whether we will be allowed free elections (post office!) or if we do have them, and we win, someone won't vacate the office. Or, if we win, the people who really do want everything to burn take steps to make it happen. So yeah, I have some hope. But I'm not at all complacent. I think you can't be, if hope means anything. Hope is uncertain, by its nature.

I don't have more profundity than that. Tinycat is demanding her lunch, which she gets now in an effort to get her weight up (which is working, though I don't think we've cleared 7 lbs. Her highest ever was 8. I'd be happy with somewhere around 7.5). So I am going to feed a cat.

tinycat in the window
le petit chat noir


22 July, 2020

scattershot

Y'all, I am not a super fast writer of nonfiction, and sometimes I take a couple days to think about how I want to address a particular topic. Except the breakneck idiocy of ::waving hands:: all this is such that the topics pile up until I don't write at all because other more eloquent, and speedy, people already have.

But let us be clear:

Black Lives Matter. Transwomen are women and transmen are men. Science is real. Wear your fucking masks. And this Portland thing? Armed and unidentified federal troops grabbing people in "proactive" arrests? That's straight up authoritarian toadshit. Gods both small and large, vote in November.

...Thus has passed July.

I had a birthday early in the month, in which I turned a firm corner into my late 40s.  It was an odd birthday, in that we went nowhere and did nothing and I cooked (sure, Nous would've cooked for me, but I wanted chili verde and I like making chili verde and so). I even made my own cake, which actually a blueberry buckle (I didn't even know buckle was the legit name of a fruit-pastry thing, but it is). It was in fact a day like most other days around here, which have been divided into D&D night(s), and Borderlands 3 nights, depending on the number of participants.
The Patchwork Terror, 1 year old

The Patchwork Terror also had a birthday. He is north of 12 lbs and still growing. He is as soft and plushy to touch as he looks, and also, that tail clearly belongs to a different cat.

I made yogurt for the first time, which was easy. I have acquired a very tiny ice cream maker, and made good matcha ice cream and fantastic strawberry frozen yogurt and an okay sorbet. Next up, coffee ice cream. I have not had this much full-fat dairy in my fridge in, like, ever. I don't care. I gave up beer except on D&D nights and I will have whipped cream and ice cream and full-fat yogurt if I want to.

I wrote the first fifty pages for one of the books we're going to pitch to my editor at DAW, and I think it's pretty good. We'll see if my agent agrees.

I resigned at the HS. I am sad as hell because I love those students, but I need more time to write. The pandemic has only reinforced my decision, because boy howdy, the reopening of schools is a scary prospect, and also, I cannot take another moment of Zoom.

I have a merit review file due right about the time school starts. Not difficult, but time intensive.

I have decided to teach the zombie apocalypse as my theme for the fall quarter, partly because it's relevant again, and partly because if I have to do a whole new syllabus and prep for a fully remote class, I might as well at least use texts I am familiar with, especially since I have that aforementioned merit review.

I refuse to start either of those last two things until August (although, truth, I have started them both. Just a little.)



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.