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Just popping in to say that I'm not dead (insert Monty Python joke here at your leisure).

Many things have happened since I last held forth into the blogosphere.  I spent three weeks in London, one week of which was with [livejournal.com profile] hhw. I saw a bunch of cool English things.  I read a bunch of books (about which I'll probably talk at more length at a later time).  I searched in vain for decent tea - ironic, no?  I got hired via email to teach three sections of basic composition at the local community college and quit the TA job I had lined up at the local university.  I came back and did several meetings and trainings while all fucked up on jetlag.  I read a textbook, designed a syllabus/course schedule, and prepared the attendant overheads and handouts in a week.  I thought about posting an entry about my London trip, complete with pictures, but didn't.  I still might do that, yo.  I decided that I am not too white to say "yo", as long as I'm doing so in an ironic way.  That pretty much brings us up to the present time.

The new gig is good, in that I'm only teaching three days a week.  I'm trying to confine my teaching stuff to four days a week, which leaves two days to write and a day to do fuck all.  I'm still working out the exact rhythms of that, but as things continue to settle down, I think it's very doable.  I'd like to have some kind of system where I wrote at least a little bit every day except my day off, but I'm not sure how practical that really is for me.  If I could just get to where I was writing steadily on those two days I'd be doing better than I have been lately.  (Also, I read The Lies of Locke Lamora, the existence of which may have rendered my own writing both redundant and certainly inadequate, but I'm trying to shake that feeling off.)  The new gig pays about four times what I would have made as a TA and is both less time-consuming and less work. So that's a win.  It's still more time-consuming that I would like, but at this point I'm not quite ready to give up the security blanket of teaching and go wholly freelance.  At least I've moved to doing teaching that actually allows for the physical possibility of writing.  I did a tiny bit of writing last year, but the very small amount that happened was heroically won from the gaping maws of my ravenous teaching schedule.  Also, the administration at the college is treating me inexpressibly better than the English dept. at the university, which is a sulfurous pit of demonic evil.  Thus, all these good things have happened in a goodly way, but have left me very little time or headspace free for posting here.  I shall try to mend my ways in the future.

And how are all of you?
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Last night we got skunked out of our bedroom.  This happened once last summer as well, though this incident wasn't quite as severe as the first.  We're on the third floor of a small apartment complex, which is on a skunk patrol route.  We don't have any air conditioning so the windows are open all the time in the spring and summer.  Frequently we smell our skunk neighbors passing by, which is fine, sort of endearing even, as the smell is fairly mild and doesn't last long.  But evidently about once a year one of them gets the bright idea to spray right under our window, which sends us fleeing into the living room to sleep on the futon for the rest of the night.  It's annoying, but the smell dissipates by the morning.  I like skunks, generally, but my natural affection for them has been temporarily dampened by last night's terrorist attack. 

I'm leaving for London on August 8, and I'm sort of freaking out about getting everything done, having enough money once I get there, etc.  My knees are doing a lot better but my ankles are still adjusting to the regime change of a different gait and special orthotics in my shoes, so I'm a little concerned about all the walking I'm going to be doing.  I had planned a trip to NYC last week which I canceled due to worries about getting everything finished and my ankles, which were in pretty bad shape when I got back from seeing my sister's new baby at mid-month.  The ankles are much better than they were, but they're still pretty sensitive and I've not been pushing them much at all, so a lot of touristy walking may be an interesting challenge.  I'm hoping that another week will offer vast improvements; there's not much else to be done about it anyway.  And the good news is that walking on the ankles when they're bothering me doesn't do any damage - it's all nerve pain rather than anything in the joints.  So if I limp around London for three weeks and come back all gimped up, it's not going to do me any harm.  I'll just have to use the Force and suck it up.  I've got some herbal linament stuff I've been putting on them that is helping quite a bit, too.

I've also got a million doctor's appointments in the next week - eye check up, allergy testing, physio, blah blah.  And my big task is to finish this freelance project, a children's book on the history of wheat.  That's very doable, but I have to get off my ass.

Today, however, I am going to go to the grocery store and then sit at Starbucks and work on the first actual chapter of Blackheart Fleet.  Thanks for the kind comments about the sketches I've been posting, by the way.  The encouragement really helps.
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Booked car rental for WisCon trip and bought a new bedframe from Ikea this morning. It's a bit sad that we haven't quite graduated to real furniture yet, but we're getting there. And it's going to be nice to have a headboard on the damn bed finally, giving us something to prop up against when we watch tv.

I had the thought this morning that I should try to document my reading in my blog, as it seems more important (on a number of levels) than the occassional bits of daily flotsam I drop here. I think I may mention what I've got on the go and then give a summary when I'm done. Currently in progress: Byron: Life and Legand by Fiona MacCarthy; The Patron Saint of Plagues by my friend and possibly yours Barth Anderson; The Pirate Queen by Barbara Sjoholm; The Singularity Is Near by Ray Kurzweil. I'll give a full(ish) accounting of each as I finish.

Last week I finished rereading all of Lois Bujold's Vorkosigan books. I'm extremely fond of that series but hadn't reread it in several years. The books held up fairly well to my recollection of them - not exactly poetically crafted (I think the prose in the Chalion books is far more mature) but extremely well-realized characters and just so much damn fun. I'd like Blackheart Fleet to produce a similar effect, but with a bit more grace in the prose, I think.

I also plowed through His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik in an afternoon, and thought it was just ripping. Fantastically, ridiculously fun and beautifully crafted. I've not been so charmed by a book in a long, long while. I'll be very surprised and disappointed if it doesn't go up for the World Fantasy Award. An astonishingly good first novel.

In the flotsam category, the contact lens experiment was halted on Sunday by eye irritation. It seems more like allergy irritation than a recurrance of the iritis, but now it's back to the ophthamologist for a checking on Thursday afternoon. I'm hoping that I'll be found to be free of inflammation in the iris itself, and given some kind of drops for general irritation. In the past, I would just have itchy eyes and wear my contacts. If it got very bad, then I might wear my glasses for a day but that was it. But now, of course, I have to be very careful and can't afford to push anything. This was very distressing to me, and I'm starting to try to adjust to the idea of being stuck in my glasses forever. The ophthamologist says that laser surgery is pretty much out of the question for a couple of years at least, cutting on the eye being even more likely to provoke a recurrance of the iritis than the contact lenses, which does make sense if you think about it. That leaves me with the major psychological trauma of thinking about being stuck in glasses permanently, about which possibility I've been in denial until now. However, I'm not ready to give up yet. We'll see what the doctor says on Thursday.
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Aiming for an even ten . . .

1. Classes are over so I don't have to get up at any particular time any more.

2. Doctor Who Series Two starts on Saturday and I'm finding all kinds of cool propaganda for download, including David Tennant cooking with his dad on Ready, Steady, Cook.  I'm a sucker for that kind of stuff, man.  And I'm absolutely obsessed with the new Doctor.  So, Yaye!  Even if perhaps this isn't such a good sign for my mental health, etc.

3. Got my tentative WisCon programming assignment: one panel, on the aforementioned Doctor Who.  Yaye!

4. I'm in the home stretch with my marking, and should be done by Wednesday or so.

5. The ophthamologist cleared me for going back to my contacts yesterday, on a slow reintroduction schedule, and said that my eye is looking good. The swelling is gone and the deposits in the back seem to be going away on their own.  Yaye!  He also said that I should try to keep my stress levels down, and eat some vegetables.  Insert dubious laughter here.  I am thinking about seeing an accupuncturist to bolster my over-reactive immune system, though.

6. I purchased Barth Anderson's The Patron Saint of Plagues and Noami Novik's His Majesty's Dragon.  Yaye, excellent books by People I Know And Like Very Much!

7. WisCon is just weeks away.

8. Progress is being made with my knees, now that we've discovered issues in my feet throwing things out of whack as well.  I went to a podiatrist yesterday and had casts taken of my feet to have orthotic insoles made.  Insurance covers half the insoles (which are bloody expensive at $475 a pair) but I feel very fortunate that it's not too difficult for us to cover the costs.  Based on the experiments Sandy did with taping, I think the insoles are going to be very helpful.  Having my body working the way it should, so I can take long walks, run, workout, etc. is certainly worth a couple hundred dollars.

9.  I was down two pounds yesterday, in my continuing efforts to lose the ten pounds I gained back when I couldn't go to the gym because of my knees and take off another twenty pounds or so. 

10. Here in a minute, I'm fixin' to have a turkey sandwich, and some Tao of Tea Blue Flower Earl Grey tea with turbinado sugar, and watch some of my crack  Doctor Who propaganda.

Life is good.
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I might watch the Oscars, but I don't think I really care.  If I turn it on at all, it will be because of my long-time crush on Jon Stewart.  I knew about him before any of you Jonny-lovers-come-lately did!  Seriously, I used to watch his old late-late night talk show when I was in grad school and lust after him in his cute little sweaters.  This was before the suits, people, and the grey temples.  That's how old skool I am.  Anyway, the thing about award shows is that anything funny gets excerpted and recycled endlessly on the net and just reading the list of winners saves a hell of a lot of time.  Plus, then I can skip all the embarrassing inanities committed by people too stupid to realize they're embarrassing themselves.  (That's a large group in Hollywood, my friends.) 

Eye update:  so far, so good.  The doc looked at it last week and said that it was looking good.  Another five days on one drop of med a day, then ten days every other day.  Tonight's my last night of every day, so wish me luck.  God, I miss my contact lenses SO MUCH.  Also, mascara, which I've been avoiding because I haven't wanted to take the chance that anything might reinflame the eye in any way.  So basically, I've spent the last three months feeling like a total frump every day.  A frump with no peripheral vision and some days not so much in the way of vision in general.  I'm really hoping to  be back in my contacts for good by WisCon.

From now until June, by the way, all time shall be measured relative to WisCon.  FYI.

I talked to the senior editor at the children's press on Friday, and they're extremely happy with my work, and very glad to hear I'm going to be wanting more work from them over the summer.  Nothing's been assigned yet, but one possible project includes a history of the potato.  I've always wanted to write about potatoes in very short sentences.  Actually, one of the cool things about doing these kinds of projects is having done the research.  Not doing the research, you understand, but having done it in the past tense.  I don't know what use a comprehensive understanding of the early history of the St. Lawrence Valley will be, but I'm still kind of glad to know about it.  I imagine that research on the potato would be considerably more applicable.  And yes, I do realize that this is a clear indication of just how odd my life is.  But that's the beauty of being a writer - no knowledge is wasted.  And the more gruesome, the better.  I should be able to get some good potato famine stories out of it at any rate.  I'm still delighted by my newly acquired knowledge of scurvy.

In knee news, I finally got around to seeing a new trainer.  She is a trainer and a kinesiologist who specializes in post-injury rehab.  So I'm very optimistic and I've warned her that her job is to be the anti-coach.  Whereas the job of most trainers is to try to push you to do that extra situp, I actually need someone to say, okay, stop now before you hurt yourself.  Is there some kind of syndrome where your body just doesn't give very loud signals?  Because I think I have that.  Seriously, I try to listen.  I really try.  But my body just barely whispers at me sometimes, man.  And then my physiotherapist is going, "Okay, see how your leg is shaking like that?  That's because it's tired.  You're supposed to stop when it starts to do that."  And I'm like, "Really?  Because it doesn't feel all that tired.  I could probably do another minute."  The new trainer is going to work closely with the physiotherapist, which is very, very good.  So I'm pleased, and I'm looking forward to going back down the scale and starting to firm up again.  Plus, feeling better and all the general health benefits of exercise.   Overall, the knees are improving still, but slowly.  I'm not sure if I'll be running the stairs at WisCon or not.
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The New Orleans Public Library is accepting donations of books and cash to rebuild their collections and provide books to city residents whose own collections were destroyed. Cash will be used to buy new books for their collections, and donated books will be given to residents and/or sold to raise money. So if you've been meaning to cull your shelves for a while but were waiting for a worthy recipient, this might be your golden opportunity to save yourself the expense of buying another bookshelf.
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We got reconnected on Monday evening.  There was a connection loose somewhere.  Jeff suspects squirrel sabotage.  I'm trying to maintain a more optimistic view toward our squirrelly neighbors.

I'm finally starting work on the process of doing the permanent immigration paperwork, which I should have started months ago.  It means getting fingerprints taken, and writing to the FBI and German equivalent for police reports, writing old and present employers for letters saying that we really worked there etc., ordering sealed Uni transcripts, and figuring out the addresses for every domicile in the last 10 years.  Not to mention accounting for one's time since the age of 18.  It's a tremendous amount of work and it's all bloody boring.  But it's gotta be done, and ima do it.  With Jeff's help on certain things.  But you know, I'm mostly in charge of anything having to do with details or paperwork.  At the very least, it's my job to organize and figure out what's needed and then tell him what to do.  Some stuff he's going to have to fill out himself.  But most of it I'll probably end up doing.  Being realistic about the whole thing.

This week is our Spring Break, which they call Reading Week.  Most students go on vacation for Reading Week.  I am, of course, Reading.  I finished Hard Times and started Mary Barton.  Still on the list: five tragedies by Shakespeare, about 100 pages of short stories, True History of the Kelly Gang, Dombey and Son and Dracula, which I'm saving for last because I like it so much.  And marking papers.  Not too many, just 40 or so. Obviously, even I cannot finish all of that in four days.  I read fast, but Dombey & Son is 980 pages long, and I rather hate Dickens to start with.  The idea was that I was going to try to finish all the rest of the reading for the semester, but I've spent a little bit too much time lollygagging around, and I thought I was going to have that marking already done.  This throws my schedule off for the rest of the semester, and will probably end up eating into my own writing time as the semester progresses.  That's about par for the course.  And honestly, that I'm getting anything at all done of my own is pretty much a fucking miracle.  I'm thinking about playing hooky for the rest of the afternoon, having gotten a decent start on this whole immigration paperwork thing, and working on Blackheart Fleet for a while.

How sad is your life when playing hooky means doing more work?  I mean, it's fun work, yeah, but still work.  I remember when playing hooky meant going swimming in Barton Springs and drinking too much beer.  Ah, those golden days of yesteryear! 

Seriously, though, this overworking thing has got to stop.  Adjustments must be made next year.  Stay tuned to this space to see what those end up being.

The editor for the Cartier project needs me to write a dedication.  I honestly haven't the foggiest idea.  I had thought about using a different name on that book because it's so different from what I usually write.  You know, branding and all that bs.  But I think I'm too lazy to come up with anything and so shall probably just put my usual name on it and be done.  Making career decisions by virtue of the path of least resistance is probably not the thing, I realize.  And yet, knowing better, I'm too lazy to do anything about my laziness.  If I had done anything yet about switching agents, this is the point at which I would ask advice from the new agent.  You can see the shame spiral looming, can't you?  Let's just not go there.

The ophthalmologist has pronounced the eye better and now I'm tapering off the meds again.  Tonight will be the first night without the overnight gel stuff again in two weeks and that's going to be the first big test.  It's always worse early in the morning for some reason.  So, we'll see how it goes.  It's been hurting a bit today, but I can't tell if it's the lack of meds or just the fact that it's undilating for the first time in a week, which always feels a little funky and achy.  Obviously, I'm hoping it's just that.  The meds taper off over the next two weeks, at which point I see the ophthalmologist again and he decides whether I go off everything altogther. 

WisCon's just around the corner!

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The cable modem's down; I'm posting this from a public terminal in the library. Everything should be repaired tomorrow. This is highlighting my need a new wireless card for the laptop, since the one I have seems to not work, and now I'm sitting at an "express station - 15 minutes" terminal. This is clearly wrong and bad and evil and incorrect. We saw some guys working on the overhead lines with a blowtorch (phone workers, it seemed) on Thursday morning, and I suspect that they cut the cable by accident.

So, hopefully I'll be back tomorrow with a longer update. Best wishes for uninterupted connectivity to all of you . . .
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My eye seems to be improving per schedule.  I go back to the ophthalmologist tomorrow morning.  The trick is going to be seeing what happens when I go off the meds again.  I'm hopeful that a more gradual withdrawal coupled with waiting on the contact reintroduction will be successful.  I realized that I should probably reintroduce the contacts on a limited and gradually increasing schedule, like they do when you first get them, for the greatest hopes of success.  I've been having low-level headaches off and on, but I'm not sure if it's just sinus and weather changes or if it's related to the eye.

When I was working out like a fiend, I really noticed a reduction in the severity of both my allergies and my headaches.  I had to stop working out for several months because of the difficulties with my knees, but my physiotherapist has cleared me to go back to the gym for limited activity.  That was a couple of weeks ago, but I haven't made time to go the gym at the uni and meet with the trainer there who works with special needs cases.  That's on my list of things to do tomorrow.

Speaking of knees, I have been forbidden to sit with my legs crossed in any way, much less in half-lotus.  I've gotten so used to using a zafu and zabuton, sitting with my pelvis in the right place, that it feels really weird and difficult to try to meditate on a normal flat chair.  However, I don't want to do anything that's detrimental to my knees at all, so I've been thinking about alternative sitting set-ups.  I've tried sitting seiza with the zafu (kneeling on the heels with the feet on either side of the zafu) and while that's definitely putting less torque on my kneecaps, it still seems like it's putting more pressure on them than sitting in a regular chair would.  I've thought about getting a tallish seiza bench, but again, I think that's still putting a certain amount of stress on the knees.  So now I'm thinking about either a wedge cushion to make a normal chair more meditation friendly (though that's still not entirely ideal because you have the back of the chair to deal with, and a normal chair just isn't designed specifically for meditation), or this meditation chair.  The cool thing about the meditation chair is that it comes apart for travel (if I were traveling by car - at 10 pounds it's a little heavy for train or plane trips), it's designed specifically for meditation, the tilt is adjustable, and I could use it for a meditation table later if I get to the point where I can sit lotus again.  I'm still considering how the cost/benefit analysis works out.  It's not horribly expensive, but it is more expensive than just a wedge cushion.  However, getting the zafu made a big difference in how comfortable I was sitting, and that made me more likely to sit and to sit longer.  I have a feeling that this might do the same - as I'm not sitting on a regular basis right now at all.  Thoughts, Heather?

I've begun research on the non-fiction book, whose subject matter I just remembered I've concealed in this forum, out of an uncharacteristic sense of paranoia.  It feels really good to be spending at least a little more time on my own projects.  It occured to me the other day that, since I'm planning on starting by writing a book proposal (with hopes of selling the book before a full manuscript is finished), I could be done with that part in just a few weeks.  All I have to do is do enough research to produce an outline and write the first chapter.  While this isn't quite like dashing off a grocery list, it's still much less time-consuming than writing a full manuscript.  It was exciting to imagine that the next phase of that project could be done in such a short amount of time.  I'm so used to finishing whole novels before I can do anything with them that it was sort of a shock to realize that it wouldn't be a matter of months or years before that task was finished.

Tonight is supposed to be a work night for Blackheart Fleet, but I've got so much marking this week that it spilled out over onto some of my writing time.  Ah, well.  Next week.  At least I still have hopes that working on things besides teaching is doable.  By this time last semester, I think I'd given up on that entirely.

My tasks for tonight are: pay bills, send invoice for Cartier project, make cookies, get writing exercise for one of the seminars this week pulled together, mark some percentage of the 70 papers I have left to mark by Thursday.  None of this is as much fun as working on Blackheart Fleet, but it isn't as hard, either.

Success!

Jan. 29th, 2006 10:14 pm
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The second and final draft of the Cartier project just went to the editor. We're free, precious, FREE!!

Trying to explain the Iroquois Confederacy to 9-year-olds isn't as easy as it sounds, you know. Now I just have to send the invoice and then I can pay the rest of my back taxes. Hurrah!

Relapse

Jan. 29th, 2006 04:07 pm
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I log in to mention this because I know a few of you (mostly The Fellowship and Sloane) have been following the ongoing saga of my eye issues. If it weren't for that fact, I would use the Force and suck it up in silence, to paraphrase Ted. Because I'm boring myself already with the self-pity, and sometimes when there's nothing you can do about a situation, you're better off to just ignore it and think about something else. However, some of you are following, and given that I'm shit at emailing people these days, I thought I should update.

medical update )

[time lapse of some two hours during which I forgot I was writing this.]

In more interesting news, David Schwartz posted about the archetype of the Loveable Rogue. This is interesting to me for obvious Blackheart Fleet related reasons. In some of the comments, people were saying that the trope seems a little played out for them in fantasy at least, and there is some discussion of whether Robin Hood counts as an LR because he's trying to restore a hierarchal status quo. Robin counts for me because he's trying to break down an unjust system and replace it with something he sees as being more just, but he's not as mercenary, obviously, as many of the other examples listed.

I think it's interesting that No. 19 - vices - fell by chance to the pronoun "he" (David was quite sensibly and fairly alternating pronouns). There's some discussion in that of sexuality, intimacy and the use of prostitutes, and I think it's interesting to note what female versions of the LR are generally allowed and what they aren't. They're allowed booze, gambling, and loose sex to a degree, but I don't think I've ever seen any that hired prostitutes. Is this a reflection of the idea that it's so easy for a woman to get laid that she doesn't have to pay for it? (Like any of these LR characters would *have* to pay for it - the day Han Solo can't talk his way into a pair of knickers is the day he should retire.) Or is it an arbitrary vice line, a prejudice that we just haven't gotten over yet? Sort of, an admirable woman will sleep with whomever strikes her fancy, but she won't *pay* for it, whereas payment is somehow not objectionable for a male (anti)hero.

Blackheart Fleet is full of LR characters. Winter, of course, but I'd say that Jesa (who's got a penchant for punching out commanding officers) also falls into that category, as does Winter's Dad James, and possibly Our Villian, Inspector Wellington Post. Jesa does frequent prostitutes, often having sex in the same room as Winter and his "date" when they were baby pirates and not as flush with cash as they are later. But I'm not sure if this is going to work its way into the narrative or not. If it gets taken out, I'm not sure if it will be because it just doesn't fit with the rest of the story, or if it's because it's too difficult to finesse with the attendant cultural prejudices.

One of the challenges of writing this book is managing all the prima donna personalities, all those LR characters trying to breathe the same air, and to keep it all fresh and not played out. The characters need to maintain those LR characteristics, while having different enough energies that they complement rather than compete with each other, only clashing when they're supposed to.

I absolutely adore the LR trope, and the more general "attractive anti-hero" as well. Almost all my story ideas make use of some version somewhere. But then, Robin Hood was my first narrative obsession, so I suppose it's all about the imprinting.
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My pupil is now back to a mostly-human shape, still a bit irregular but definitely spherical instead of weird melty oblong salvador dali shape. This is a good thing. I got the first decent night's sleep I've had in a week last night, was able to actually lie down flat (I'd had to prop myself up with pillows because lying down put a weird pressure on the eye) and woke up feeling like I wouldn't be needing assisted suicide any time soon. The pupil's dilated because of the medicine, and will be for the next week, and won't focus quite right because of that, which makes reading a bit difficult. I'm hoping I'll adjust as the days go on, but I don't think I'm supposed to use the dilating medicine for more than a week anyway. Today I'm staying in bed and watching dvds, and feeling quite smug that the ice pick is gone and I'm not going to go blind after all. And eating junk food. Woo hoo!
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Happy New Year, everyone! I'm not doing resolutions per se this year, because I'm basically reorganizing my life completely. I've worked out specific goals for several major life areas (finances, career, relationships, personal growth, wellness, recreation) based on this book I've been reading - The Success Principles by Jack Canfield. Now I'm working on getting a detailed schedule worked out for every minute of every day for the next few months. I've realized that this is the only way I'm going to get time to write or do anything else besides teaching work until the summer. I've got to schedule everything mercilessly and then be ruthless about sticking to that schedule. But if I'm able to do that, I think I'll be able to create time for my own writing and keep the teaching stuff from creeping out to conquer everything else.

I've hit a challenge already in that I had planned to get the schedule worked out yesterday, after coming back from Tulsa on Sunday. But I've come down with a sinus and eye infection (so much fun!) and I spent yesterday going to the doctor to get antibiotics and lying around feeling yucky. I still feel kinda yucky, though the antibiotics do seem to be starting to help. Today I'm trying to get farther ahead on the reading for the semester (Joseph Conrad, how I loathe you, despite your evident talent!), go to bed early, and try again with the scheduling tomorrow. By the end of the weekend, I should have the schedule finished, the immigration paper work done, two or three more of the books for the semester read, and have spent a few hours on my own writing.

In other matters of importance, Heather says she's not yet convinced by the new Doctor (I'm talking about Doctor Who, Doctor No. Ten). Jeff's still mourning the loss of Nine. For myself, I didn't think "The Christmas Invasion" was their best episode - it seemed rather silly to keep the new Doctor out of commission for so much of the story and Rose was somewhat out of character in her inability to cope - but I enjoyed the glimpses of Ten's personality and I do find David Tennant generally charming. I'm looking forward to the new series, and Torchwood, too. A lot.

Triumph!

Nov. 14th, 2005 02:50 pm
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Cartier vanquished. Until the second draft, but that's in late December and I'll have plenty of time.

La la la.
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Though that's sort of redundant, really, isn't it? CNN = the stupid. The proof? France Conquers Europe Under Cover of Riots. I laughed and laughed. Someone suggested that they just used the wrong map underneath the other graphics, but in fact I don't think these cities are in anything close to the proper relationships to each other.

This reminds me of an article I saw online from Esquire about Idiot America, Creationism, and the weird hostility now rampant in the US toward education, expertise and competence. I'm not sure what nation(s) are the leading beacons of rationality and science now. Almost all of Europe is beset by serious immigration issues that worry me greatly. Japan's very technologically advanced but aspects of their society give me the creeps, and they're quite backward in gender relations and environmental issues. I guess Canada, Australia and/or New Zealand may be our only hopes. And Canada is uncomfortable close to the US. I don't really know much about the cultures of Australia and New Zealand. Here's what I know about New Zealand: home of sheep and enormous artistic genius in the persons of Neil Finn, Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Phillipa Boyens, and the Weta people. But seriously, if civilization collapses, who better than Jackson and his team to rebuild it? They're very resourceful and detail-oriented.

Hey, there's a premise for a novel or a movie. World goes up in flames for whatever reason, take your pick. A large team of incredibly creative movie makers are shooting in a remote location and are spared. It's their job to figure out what to do next. What do they do? Do they keep making their movie?

I know that people have been saying civilization was on the verge of collapse since it started, basically. Maybe things aren't any more precarious right now than they usually are. But civilizations *do* collapse. It's the one constant of civilizations, in fact. More and more, I get the feeling that we're due. Superstition and aggressive ignorance are oozing over the globe like the blob, slowly swallowing everything up.

I know, I should be heartened that the Republicans got their asses handed to them last week in the elections. But I don't see that anything but some kind of systematic cultural change is going to make any real difference. People in the US might vote for Democrats now that the Republicans have fucked things up so badly that even those who are incredibly gullible, stupid, and get their news from CNN (or even worse, Fox) can see it. But they don't understand the root causes and issues any better now than they did two years ago. Public decisions aren't being made on the basis of rational thought any more. The few people left who have a capacity for rational thought are considered suspect for that very ability. There's no way that this is going to end happily. As long as so much of the culture of the US is proudly, aggressively ignorant, I don't see how things are really going to change.

You might say that US culture has always been that way, but I don't think that's true. Even the South used to have a tradition of gentleman farmers, people who were educated and lettered and also worked the land. Or forced other people to work the land for them. You know, whatever. I'm not saying that the US didn't make horrific, genocidal decisions throughout its history. The US has never been a particularly moral or ethical country to my mind. But the decisions at least were based in some kind of rational public discourse. People actually understood the issues, followed debates, expected their leaders to make decisions based on reason and some minimal understanding of the good of the people they considered their constituents. The problem was mainly that "constituent" was too narrowly defined. They were extremely keen on tossing people out of the human race so they could steal all their stuff guilt-free. That was a Bad Thing. But at least they actually talked about what should be done about things and people generally gave a shit. Maybe they didn't give a shit about their fellow human beings, but they gave a shit about the course of their society in general.

People have been complaining about the state of education and public intelligence for at least as long as there has been writing. But it seems to me there are cycles, and that we're in a cycle where ignorance is starting to be ascendent. The last time that happened, we got the Dark Ages. In the next fifty years, I think we'll be facing global environmental and energy crises that will require the best and the brightest, the most innovation, the greatest resourcefulness, the highest ingenuity, all the collected knowledge we've managed to gather together in the last five or six hundred years. I'm not sure how we can do that if our cultures have abandoned all of those things as having no value.

::sigh:: CNN brings the stupid; I just bring the bleak.

Personal updates: having been given an extension on the Cartier thing (a couple, actually), I'm trying to finish it today and then get enough marking done that I can go see Octavia Butler read on Tuesday night. Thus, I shouldn't be here at all. Knees are getting better. They're showing enough improvement that I'm planning on going back to a gym routine soon. There's someone at the University gym who specializes in physical training for people with special needs; ima go see him. Family stuff has been trying. Mom's dad is probably dying and all kinds of historical baggage makes that especially awkward and painful. On a selfish level, if I end up having to go back to Tulsa before the end of the semester, it's really going to suck, in purely practical terms. I feel bad about not being there but financially and logistically it would be very difficult to go back before the middle of December. Financially, going back at all is going to be problematic. I still haven't heard anything about the union issue thingy. So that's where I am. I'm trying to remember two things. One, happiness does not rest on material conditions; it is internal and eternal. Two, I have much for which to be grateful. Including all of you.
jdbl: (Default)

These are the Bodhisattva vows: )



These are the Bodhisattva defeats: )

Thanks to [livejournal.com profile] abudantlyqueer for the reminder.

I haven't taken these vows formally, for a few reasons mostly to do with my relationship with organized Buddhism, which is still evolving.  It seems a little disrespectful to formally take the vows of a religion that I don't follow in all respects.  It is my intention to live by the vows, though.  The line that's resonating with me most this afternoon is that it is a defeat to see someone in a state of suffering and not lift a hand to help.  That's why I doubled my office hours last week without getting paid for it, and why I'm editing a grant proposal for someone else on one day's notice for half my usual fee when I have a metric tonne of other things I've got to get done.  The tricky part of this one is, of course, knowing when you've crossed the line from helping someone else into harming yourself.  Well, that and the whole getting off your lazy ass to do something aspect.  Okay, I take it back; everything's hard about that one. 

But there is no question that my students were/are suffering.  It's a big step from high school book reports to creating a genuine, university-level argument and even though most of my students are second and third year, no one has ever forced them to take that step, nor has anyone sufficiently taught them how to do it.  So now they're forced to learn, and they're resistant and anxious and frustrated.  And I'm having the same bloody conversation over and over again.  I spent eight hours this week repeating the same twenty minute conversation, for the most part.  But you have to do that work, one on one, or they don't get it.  I can do it in a larger group if I have several weeks of exercises and small group workshopping, but that's not built into the courses, so I'm forced to do it one on one.  And while I'm not getting paid for the extra office hours, and in fact am not supposed to be doing extra office hours at all, I'm very clear that those extra office hours are more important than anything else I do.  They may or may not (probably not) get anything out of an hour long seminar discussion on The Sound and the Fury, but they'll definitely get at least a little something out of that twenty minute discussion.  Even if they don't end up able to implement it in the next essay.  Eventually, someday, some other teacher may say something that builds on that foundation and it will all click.  If that only happens for one of the students I talked to, it's worth four hours of my time.  I'm reminding myself of this because I'm extremely tired, you see.  If you were wondering why I am rattling on about it so.  Not that my rattling on should be a surprise to anyone by this point.

One of my classes read Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway this week.  Toward the end, Mrs. Dalloway is having the party she's been planning throughout the book and another character in another part of the city close by dies and ambulances come screaming through the streets, momentarily disturbing the flow of the party.  Mrs. Dalloway thinks something about how no one wants Death to come to the party, which echoed Katherine Mansfield's story "The Garden Party" which the other class with this same professor read a few weeks ago.  The professor referenced Poe's "Masque of the Red Death" where Death, both literal and personified, shows up at a party.  So all these things were knocking around in the back of my head unnoticed, when on Friday night I watched someone dressed as Death walk through the front door into a costume party.  I thought to myself, if this were a story I was writing, that would be a very bad sign indeed.  All those recent literary references to Death at parties and then His material appearance . . .  That, my friends, is the proverbial gun hanging over the mantel in the first act.  All's well to the best of my knowledge, though.  My sense of drama only got a nice stretch.

The same class that's reading Woolf just finished reading Eliot's "The Wasteland" as well.  Many of you will remember that the second book in my vampire series (which may or may not ever be finished, depending on whether I can ever find a buyer for it) is called The Cruelest Month, which references a) the opening lines of "The Wasteland", b) the fact that the first book in the series was all about Winter, and c) my own amusement at the idea of naming a stupid little vampire novel something so pretentious.  The poem actually fits the themes of the book pretty well, though - better than I'd thought.  I'd forgotten that the last stanza is actually quite hopeful (especially for Eliot, or any of the Modernists for that matter), and suggests that humanity's only possibility of redemption lies in compassion - also one of the themes of my silly novel as well.  Although Heather keeps insisting that the name of the book should be Spring Sucks, which I'll own is also quite an excellent title.

I'm learning a lot of interesting things by TAing these courses on the Modernists, whom I mostly was able to avoid in my education.  First, I've learned that I really do find them every bit as annoying as I'd remembered, the fact which engendered the avoidance in the first place.  They all seem stuck in this sort of adolescent whining about the meaninglessness of the universe and the impossiblity of escaping alienation, and they completely ignore any evidence to the contrary.  Nearly all of them could use a stiff shot of Prozac and an afternoon making a gratitude list, in my opinion.  Woolf is the least offensive of the lot in this regard, to my mind, ironic though it is considering her biography.  I liked Mrs. Dalloway pretty well, though I found aspects of the structure a bit clumsy.

Secondly, and this is quite useful, it's made me reevaluate the way I use description in my own writing.  Many of the Modernists use description extremely sparingly.  That's my natural inclination and I've always fought against it.  I'm not a very visual person by nature but other people are and I've always felt that leaving out the visual aspect, or leaving it quite thin, didn't create a fully-realized world for the reader.  It's been interesting to see the ways in which the Modernists play with description in contrast to that view.  I'm not sure that I'll actually do anything differently, but it's made me reexamine my own tendencies as a subconscious artistic choice rather than a deficit.

Thirdly, it's just been good to read a bunch of canonical texts that I'd missed before.  I'm not particularly well-read in the canon, considering how many years I spent in schooling; I did a lot of women's studies courses and african american studies courses instead of the standard Dead White Guys You Should Know and Loathe courses.  I'm not sorry I did that, actually, but I do wish at times that I were better-read.  Not enough to do anything about it without monetary motivation, you understand.  But I appreciate the opportunity to be forced to finish things that I'd probably never even pick up if I didn't have to.

Overall, here's the update on my life: too busy, no work on Blackheart Fleet achieved, will be finished with the Cartier project in a day or two, knees improving very, very slowly, revival of attempts to tape kneecaps into place resulted in predictable-if-over-the-top reaction from skin, pirate costume made by Sloane quite excellent and big hit, have decided to stay in St. Catharines for Christmas instead of driving all over creation because we're both so bloody tired and I've not had a vacation since last Christmas, still thinking quite seriously about what I'm going to do about employment in the long term.  Whenever I get enough sleep for two nights in a row I start to get the urge to write, but I haven't had the time to indulge it and honestly that hasn't happened very often in the last three weeks or so.  Once the Cartier thing's finished that situation may improve.  And it looks like I may have at least two weeks in December that I could use to get at least a little bit of work done.  Since we're staying here.

I hug you all.

jdbl: (Default)
I got tagged to do the "Five Eccentricities" meme, and so I shall, although I have so many eccentricities it's hard to narrow it down to just five.

1. I don't like vegetables. I'll eat salad now (although I wouldn't for about the first 25 years of my life or so), carrots and some squashes depending on how they're prepared, but that's it. No other green vegetables at all. I'm mostly all about the beige food.

2. My handwriting is perfectly legible to me, but many people (like my partner of nearly ten years now) have a hard time deciphering it. I make certain letters like "s" and "f" in different ways depending on where they are in a word, and the total effect is sort of "rounded but spikey".

3. I'm vain about my hair and spend a great deal of money on shampoo, conditioner and styling products to make it as curly as possible. I've dyed it more or less the same shade of auburn since I was sixteen. (Although, in our Western Consumer Culture, I'm not sure this is really such an eccentricity. Maybe it's eccentric that I think it's eccentric. I'll add an extra item to the list to make up for this one.)

4. My right thumb is crooked (due to having been born with two thumbs on that hand and having one taken off, which affected the growth of the remaining thumb). I could have it straightened but I'll never bother.

5. I'm absolutely fanatic about tea, and go through phases of different varieties and preparations. I've got about thirty different teas in my cabinet. In order to count as proper tea, tea should be loose leaf and high-grade, brewed with water just at the boiling point, steeped long enough to give the right flavor but not so long that it turns bitter or is too strong. This steeping point is a delicate balance and varies by tea. However, I'm very sensitive to caffeine so I have to be careful how much black tea I drink. I love tea so much that I sometimes overcaffeinate by accident, not because I'm trying to stay awake, but simply because it tastes so good. I blame Heather for this one, because she introduced me to proper tea.

6. I have pronounced obsessive tendencies. I always joke that my life motto is "anything worth doing is worth overdoing." I pretty much have two speeds, full stop and full speed ahead, no matter what the arena at hand may be. I'm trying to let this go to a certain extent, but it's difficult.

7. (To prove my eccentricity, and my adherence to no. 6, I shall add yet another one.) I'm particularly obsessive when it comes to narratives. I tend to fall in love with a given book, movie, tv show, etc. and then go overboard with it. This goes for my own books, too, which is useful since it induces me to write when that can be a painful process. But I believe there have been many times in my life when the people around me have wished sincerely and with all good will that I would just shut the fuck up.

8. (ditto) I often close emails, notes and letters with some variation on "your most humble servant, etc."
jdbl: (Default)
Less a manifesto than the answer to a stupid internet quiz that exists only in my head, about imaginary literary movements, and how in twenty questions or less you could be assigned an imaginary literary movement at random, with code to post in your blog and a big pretty picture to clutter up the feeds of all your friends, I tell you now that if I were an imaginary literary movement, I would be:

New Romanticism! )
jdbl: (Default)
Well! (That's a deep subject, as my father is wont to say.)

I've had one day of class so far, just lecture. I don't actually start teaching my seminar sections until week after next. It's very weird to be teaching and yet subject to someone else's pedagogic decisions, but I think I'm adapting okay. The seminars for one of the courses will consist primarily of watching and marking seminar presentations - not much time left for discussion of anything. The other two courses will be considerably more participatory, and I'm starting to gather up "active learning" techniques to use so that not every single class will be just yak, yak, yak. I'm also in the process of working out a spreadsheet to use in keeping track of their participation in class, which is 30% of the grade in one of the courses. And then I'm gathering up "icebreaker" activity ideas, ways for the students to introduce themselves to each other. All this will be considerably less work next year, because I'll have done all this stuff already, but it's a fair bit of work to get all my ducks in a row at this point.

The annual TA training was yesterday, and it was quite good for as far as it went, but I pity the kids who are being thrown into teaching for the first time with that as their only training. However, there is an ongoing series of training workshops, one pretty much every Saturday morning, which they can do as well. I plan on doing a bunch of those, because if you do enough of them, you get to attend the faculty trainings, which I would like the option to do. And I actually tend to like these training thingies. There's no such thing as too much information, as far as I'm concerned. Even when they're boring, there's usually at least one or two little tidbits or exercises you pick up. I doubt I'll attend as many next semester, but I'll be spending most of my Saturday mornings at the Uni for the next couple of months.

The Cartier project has been only creeping along as I'm focusing on the teaching stuff right now, but I anticipate getting into that in earnest in the middle of the week.

Blackheart Fleet languishes, waiting for me to finish with Cartier. I have been thinking about it, though, off and on. I choreographed an Okari dance in my head the other day. Step for step. Yes, I am a total freak, thanks for asking. However, I know many of you have done weirder things in the name of writing, so I'm not the lone ranger on that one. (No, the dance doesn't look like the Macarena.) (It's got a lot of hula-esque figure-eight hip movement, some hopping, and some other specific step sequences, but paired off, standing generally about as close as you would for a formal waltz, with some occasional forays closer into personal space when there is sexy hula-ing back-to-front. Just in case you were wondering. And I'd bet that Heather was.)

And that's about it. I've been very busy but it's all stuff that distills down to nearly nothing in print. Today's tasks are: grocery shopping, purchase of a sling-type backpack, purchase of watches/watch batteries for both himself and myself, cooking dinner, maybe watching Casanova tonight. Casanova is a BBC period tv series starring David Tennant, best known currently as the Tenth Doctor, and written by Russell T. Davies, best known currently for being a genius, creator of UK Queer as Folk, and revivor of Doctor Who. Because it's supposed to be my day off, dammit.
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