Force

Watched The Force Awakens in bed with the kids and Kev, preparatory to taking them to go see The Last Jedi tomorrow. This is the first time one of the kids (Kavya) has actually made it all the way through a Star Wars movie, and I think she liked Rey (she cheered “Girl Power!” at one point). Maybe we’re finally getting to the age when they start appreciating the pop culture things we keep trying to shove at them? We’ll see. I can’t stand to watch most of the YouTube things they’re obsessed by, so perhaps it is an impassable gulf…

Last Hours of the Drip

 I’m so pleased with the fundraising so far, for the SLF’s founding sponsor Kickstarter on Drip. Tomorrow we’ll be closing the founding sponsor part down, making a list of rewards to be sent out, etc. So I wanted to take a little time today to talk about where we are, where we’re going.

In this month of fundraising, we’ve raised about $1200 in annual pledges (mostly in the form of $1/month donations). That is tremendous. That means that the Diversity Grants ($500 to the best work by a diverse author, $500 to the best work portraying a diverse universe) are now funded indefinitely going forward.

That is such a huge weight off my mind, I can’t tell you. It means I can stop thinking about how I need to do a big ask every year, which is very time-consuming for me, to make sure that we get the thousand dollars we need. It’s like a rock has rolled off my back, and it’s thanks to our donors.

THANK YOU. And congratulations on making SF just a little better, more diverse, more welcoming to writers from all backgrounds, including the most marginalized and disenfranchised among us.

That’s the first $1000. But in a lot of ways, I’m even more excited about the other $200 / year, which I’m hoping will continue to grow. That money is going to go to pay for a little staff work. At this time of year, I’m getting lots of annual reports from organizations Kevin and I support financially, and one of the things they highlight is what percentage of their fundraising goes to programming, and that’s a good thing. It *should* mostly go to programming.

But you will forgive me reaching back to the Bible teaching of my childhood, I hope, because I have always appreciated these verses: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,” and, “The worker is worthy of his wages.”

There is only so long that an organization can run on volunteer labor (the SLF has been running on entirely volunteer labor since 2004 — thirteen years), and there is SO MUCH MORE that we could do, if we had a little dedicated and paid staff. I think it’s reasonable to have administrative costs at around 10% for a non-profit organization, and while we’re very far from that right now (more like .01%), aiming to get the SLF on a stable administrative footing, with some part-time staff, being paid a fair living wage, is a dream that I think will serve us all in the long run.

So moving forward, the Drip will continue to drip (although just 21 more hours to join us as a founding sponsor! your name forever in starry lights on our website!), and for the next little while, we’re going to focus on capacity-building and sustainability. And then in 2018, hopefully, we can start building some new programming too.

We ran a pilot mentorship program a few years back that went really well, pairing established writers with newbies; I’d love to see that return, personally. I want to reprise the SLF summer workshop in Chicago, possibly offering a few different sessions of it. I want to continue the new Deep Dish SF/F reading series here, hopefully expanding it from quarterly to bimonthly, and maybe monthly down the road. We want to keep creating local chapters — we have a St. Louis one now! — so writers can find each other for that essential face-to-face contact that leads to reading series and writing workshops. There’s so much that could be done, if we all came together in support.

Let’s dream, together, of a brighter future.

 

Cancer log 299: Two Years

In the course of writing something else, I had reason to count up how long I’ve been cancer-free — more than three years now. Everything I’ve done since September 2015 has either been to ward off recurrence or cosmetic. At some point, I need to start thinking of myself as someone who has recovered from cancer, rather than someone in treatment.
 
Probably not until this last set of reconstructive incisions stops hurting, though. Ouch. Give me a few weeks.

Serendib

I have to thank Pem Hessing for organizing A Colorful Holiday fair for this weekend, because I really need to sit still and heal, and crafting-with-a-purpose is exactly what I needed to get me to sit still. (Some people seemed to think this was for charity — it’s not; it’s to feature local businesses by people of color, like me! Mine is sort of a micro-business, though…)

I was originally just going to do Serendib Press and sell my books, but then I decided to add the curry powder, so that’s Serendib Kitchen too, and then I remembered that I still had some photo prints, botanical collages, and bookmarks on hand from the garden club fundraiser, and that I’d been wanting to try making magnets, so now Serendib Garden was in the mix too.

I had best just call it all Serendib and be done with it, I think. Pem, if it’s not too late to adjust that in your listings or whatever materials you’re printing going forward, that would be great. If it is too late, no worries!

(We call our house Serendib House. )

Also knocked out a few more botanical bookmarks while I was at it. There is something so pleasing about making these.

Brandon Johnson

Tonight’s meet-and-greet with Brandon Johnson, running for Cook County Commissioner for the 1st district. I was impressed, and will be volunteering for him. Please feel free to come to me with any questions you have, and I’ll try my best to answer them. I’ll also have yard signs! The election is March 20th.

Doug Jones

I am only just starting to understand what it takes to create an upset like Doug Jones’s — but it often starts with meet-and-greets like the one I just hosted, ten people in someone’s living room, learning about a new candidate. Jones must have had a tremendous cadre of volunteers and staffers helping him get the word out to accomplish this.

If I have an ask for you tonight, it’s this — get involved in 2018. Go to a meet-and-greet, or a Democratic party meeting, or the League of Women Voters (non-partisan), or volunteer with voter registration efforts in your community (especially if your community is a historically marginalized one — we need your voices!).

We’re fighting for the soul of America. Join us.

Students

AW. You know how I was having a little academic freakout yesterday, yes? One of the commenters said I should re-focus on my teaching, and ask myself whether my students were getting what they needed out of it. Good advice, and two of my students wrote me the sweetest notes, which I think they will forgive me sharing with you.

“It has been pleasure being in your class this semester, I feel like I’ve been opened up to a whole new world of literature [this is the feminist / queer SF class] that I never previously would have explored. I’m glad I got to experience one of your classes before I left UIC. Thank you and have wonderful Winter break!”

“As always, I have really enjoyed this semester in your class! You always lead the best, most enlightening discussions, and all of the classes I have taken with you have motivated me to be skeptical of any and all societal norms or expectations and consider who may be benefitting or hurting by them. Additionally, I really enjoyed the attention we paid to current events (the rise of the alt-right, Trump, sexual assault scandals, etc.) and the effort made to connect class materials to them.”

I can’t be the best teacher for every student — their needs are so varied. But at least I seem to have served some of them reasonably well.

Martha Stewart and the Academy

I am having a minor identity crisis, I think — for the last month or two, I’ve been feeling fairly intense academic anxiety (even waking me up once or twice) because it seems like my food interests and other domestic interests have become a big part of my literary production, and once again (I remember this from when I primarily wrote erotica, and again when started working on a SF novel), I am stressing the heck out that my academic colleagues won’t think I’m ‘serious’ or ‘professional’ enough.

For what, I can’t tell you — I’m not tenure-track, so it’s not as if I’m on a tenure clock, and they’ve promoted me once already, so they must like my work reasonably well, but I start to fret that they hired me on the basis of Bodies in Motion and a Ph.D. that specialized in post-colonial lit., and over the last twelve years, my interests have shifted to science fiction (still with a post-colonial lens, but nonetheless) and domesticity, and neither of those are topics the academy has traditionally found worthy of serious work. Or if serious, only in the sense of doing criticism of it, not of producing it.

If I’m writing an article for a women’s magazine, is that anything my department would appreciate? And again, I don’t think it really matters, because unless the university really crashes its funding, they are very likely to keep renewing my contract indefinitely. Kevin says I shouldn’t worry about posting so much about food and yarn and such on FB, even if I have colleagues here (hi, colleagues!), because everyone has hobbies, including ones they obsess over. He says no one will care, and that is almost certainly true.

But these aren’t exactly hobbies, I think. They may be my work, or at least part of it. (Like, if I’m spending 85% of my time on trying to write the Great American Novel, then it’s fine to spend 15% of it on gardening. But if the split is reversed, that might be a problem?)

I am pretty sure a good part of this is a feminist issue. What kind of work do we value? What kind of writing do we value? If I turn into a Sri Lankan American Martha Stewart, what will the academy make of it? I still love teaching lit., even though I am sometimes (such as now, at the end of the semester) a little tired and ready to take a break from it. I could really use a sabbatical, if non-tenure-track people got such a thing. I wouldn’t want to give teaching up entirely, though.

In grad school, we laughed sometimes, and mocked the aspiration towards ‘finely crafted sentences’ — but the truth was, we were mostly desperate to write those finely crafted sentences, and those pieces of literature with deep themes. I still am, but sometimes I am at least as engaged in the specifics of what kind of oil is best for frying a chicken patty. (See next post.)

Part of the problem is that there are currently two…respectable? paths I could be following as an English professor. One is to write criticism — and criticism of women’s work, food, etc. would be totally fine in the academy these days. But I don’t write criticism basically at all. I could try, but that’s not at all where my interests lie, clearly, since I haven’t done it in years, beyond the occasional book review. (I did one academic bio-bibliography of Tananarive Due, lo these many years ago. I have dabbled with the idea of doing some Delany critical work, putting together a teaching volume. But that’s it, and I clearly haven’t focused on actually doing it.)

Another option is to write literary fiction, for which a space has been carved out in English departments over the last few decades — and if I’m writing literary science fiction, that’s probably okay in the academy these days too. Le Guin / Delany -type work.

But if what I’m writing is neither criticism nor ‘literary’, but rather, ‘popular’ writing — whether it’s essays or science fiction or recipes or what, I’m not sure if there’s a place for that in academia. And it feels sort of treacherous, if my job is essentially standing on the ground of work I did several years ago, rather than what I’m doing now.

No answers here, but in the terrifying spirit of at least exposing the problem, here you go.

Holiday party 2017

Trifle topped with pomegranate seed and edible silver stars. Twinkly lights, little houses, polar bear. Kevin’s note left for me about what he did and didn’t get done after I went to sleep Saturday night. Four big brownies from the bakery section, cut into fourths, topped with little candies from Michael’s. (Best petit four cheat ever — took five minutes, and the kids loved them.) Array.

Cheese board (I’ve decided that I much prefer the cluttered cheese board style with everything higgledy-piggledy than the more separated out style; more inviting, I think. People are more likely to dive right in. My absolutely favorite current combo is TJ’s raisin-rosemary crackers, blue cheese, and honey. Oh my god, that’s delicious. Cheddar and Major Grey’s chutney is also a nice (and effortless) nod to desi flavors).
 
Love cake and milk toffee with powdered sugar — so pretty.
 
Nuts and nutcracker, which honestly, I mostly put out for the idea of it, though I did notice one child trying to crack nuts. I think I need a larger nutcracker for the walnuts, though, as I find that one close to impossible to use with them.
 
Cranberry-orange scones and clotted cream and jam and lemon curd, all courtesy of Whole Foods, because I ran out of time to bake my own, oh well.
 
Trifle and strawberry teacakes, the latter of which I hadn’t planned on at all, but when I saw them in the bakery section at Jewel, I couldn’t resist, because they were just so pretty. But I have no idea if they taste good — there were all eaten before I got to try one. Clearly I must buy more.
   

Charcuterie — Harry & David’s sesame honey mustard with pretzels (a holiday gift from Pam, our contractor) is addictively good, and pairs beautiful with some olives and cured meats from Costco (I really love how the Costco antipasto meat comes in separate little square packages, making it really easy to refill your platter only as much as needed during the party, saving the rest for another day. It’s the little things that make hosting easier).

Mango-ginger shortbread, our very classy holiday chains (Kavi wanted to make some, and I wanted some that would go with the white and silver decor in the dining room, so I found some pretty metallic paper in silver, gold, and pink…), fresh flowers (I like how the bells of Ireland look like little trees), Ellie patiently waiting for the party (and the food-dropping) to start. Ellie LOVES parties.

 
Party prep would have gone much less smoothly if Kat hadn’t put in a few hours Saturday and a few more Sunday morning — aided and abetted by Katy and Tiffany who had gotten the time wrong and arrived four hours early, but stayed to help anyway. 🙂 I am now convinced that I need to just plan on a few friends who commit to coming early, if I have a hope of pulling off this kind of party in a reasonable manner, surgery or no surgery. (Although particularly appreciated post-surgery.)
 
 
Kat made modern art with the mushroom sandwiches. They were yummy, but if there was a food failure at the party, they were these — I keep thinking that curried creamy mushroom will go well with wheat bread, and that will differentiate them visually from the cucumber sandwiches and ribbon sandwiches, and that’s all true — but I think it’s just not visually appealing enough. Maybe if they were labelled, so people knew what they were? But there were LOTS left, when everything else had been basically devoured, and I’m pretty sure that happened the last time I made mushroom sandwiches with wheat bread too, so going back to white bread next time, and we’ll see if they do better. Per usual, the Pepperidge Farm Very Thin white bread (that I can only find at Jewel) was perfect for tea sandwiches, and I will be sad if they ever stop carrying it. I clean them out every time I’m prepping for a tea party.
 
Cranberry juice cocktail with ginger ale, fresh cranberries and pomegrante seeds for the punch, couldn’t be easier. A few pieces of decor I just adore — the running deer on that candle stand (“And the rising of the sun, and the running of the deer…”), that little Santa with owl and crown of candles, and that ridiculous swan vase. It’s so goofy, but I love it anyway. One shouldn’t love material objects so much, but I have such a weakness for pretty things…

I forgot to take photos of people until close to the end, but I think we had about 70 folks over the course of four hours. It never got too crowded, though, because people mostly only stayed for an hour or two; there’s so much going on around here this time of year, and people had multiple commitments. Lots of ebb and flow, which means, I think, that the house could probably handle double that number of people without too much trouble for this kind of party. Good to know!  

Kavi and I were sparkly reindeer antler twins (and that adorable mistletoe dress, because I know someone is about to ask me, is from Modcloth and I love it). MagnaTiles happily occupy children of all ages (and adults too), but are particularly nice to have around for the toddlers, so their parents can get a break and breathe a little.

The seeni sambol appetizer was not entirely successful; more on that anon. I have some ideas for next time.
But the patties came out perfectly, the mackerel cutlets ditto. The rolls were rolled a little too large, for the most part (Kev and Kavi need practice!), but cut in half they made perfect portions. Those all got devoured very quickly!  We prepped them all a day or two beforehand, and then held them in the fridge until the last hour before the party, then fried right then, so they were lovely and fresh. (Okay, I got a little behind, so I was still frying during the first hour of the party, but in theory, it would have worked beautifully. And people didn’t seem to mind.)
   
 
Making the ribbon sandwiches (and mushroom tea sandwiches) in advance worked perfectly. We assembled the sandwiches the night before (untrimmed), stacked them in foil trays, lay a clean, damp tea towel on top, wrapped the whole thing in plastic wrap, and put it in the fridge. Trimming the ends off and cutting them small the next day was fast, and they came out great — not too soggy, not too dry. Thanks to Roshani and Ann‘s family for the tips — we’ll be doing this from now on, as it really decreases the harriedness on the day of the party!
 

Pam’s daughter was perfectly iconic in her little Christmas dress, and cheerfully posed in front of our tree.

With Deno Andrews and Anand Whyte.

Kavi and Kevin’s marshmallows.

When I realized that we had inadvertently worn completely matching outfits — it was not planned! — I made  Kevin pose with me, even though he hates photos, because I am a terrible wife.  Somehow he puts up with me anyway.  He even tolerated reindeer antlers poking his nose (I forgot I was wearing them).  Such a nice guy. Thanks to Kavi for the photos, and for making Daddy laugh.
 
That’s it, folks!  Holiday party 2017.

    

 

Ms. P. knows what parents love to see — pics from school, so much more satisfying than report cards.

  

I mean, is this not the BEST picture? Anand happily reading to the class, with a poster beside him titled, “Things that make us writers…” For a kid who was stressing out in kindergarten and first grade about his inability to read, v. satisfying.