Success / failure

(Long, perhaps self-indulgent post follows — I’m in that mid-life crisis time of life, where we take stock of ourselves… Feel free to skip!)

I was talking to a friend yesterday, and she mentioned that a friend of hers had decided to unfollow me on Facebook because my posts made her feel bad about how little she was accomplishing. Which I was so sorry to hear! That is never my goal with posting, and I spent a while talking to Jed last night trying to figure out if I should be doing something differently. This wasn’t the first time I’d heard something like that.

I’ve been blogging since 1995, so more than twenty years now, which is sort of surreal in and of itself. If you go back to my early blog, you’ll see a lot more emotional train-wreck kinds of posts; my love life is fairly stable at the moment, so there’s not much of that going on. Thankfully. I know how lucky I am.

I also spent almost a decade in terrible jobs before I managed to find a career track that worked for me — I used to wake up in the morning and cry for a while before hauling myself to the bus stop to go work a crappy temp secretarial job, and not too infrequently, I just didn’t go, losing the income and sometimes the job. I racked up $40K in credit card debt at one point, and my jobs and finances were pretty much an utter mess for years on end.

Aside from the cancer (bah, cancer!), I’ve been very lucky to be a physically and mentally healthy person, which makes a huge difference in one’s ability to deal with life’s hard times. We all respond differently to circumstances, though — I had a terrible time dealing with infants, and was just miserable in the kids’ early years. They honestly felt like a nightmare that wouldn’t end. Some people love babies, and are happiest snuggling with them. Not me.

Life rises and falls. I think, mostly, people are responding to the fact that right now, I’m in a very good place. Career is ticking along (though I’ve now spent a decade writing three novels that have failed, and I’m not at all sure that I’ll be able to write one that will work, which makes me feel quite panicky when I stop to think about it).

Kids are in the 5-12 age range, the sweet spot of maximal pleasure and minimal work. And thanks to a supportive partner and a supportive long-distance sweetie, I’m lucky enough to have some time and funds for indulging my cooking, gardening, home decor, craft projects. My garden looks as good as it does because I can afford to pay students to do most of the weeding, for example. Money helps a great deal.

I wish I had good advice to offer, for those who look at what my life looks like right now, and wish theirs looked a bit more like this. I think I’ve mostly been very lucky.

But I’ll leave you with one comment, I guess, that my friend made at the bar last night. She said (paraphrasing, because I don’t remember her exact words), that she thought the main difference between me and a lot of other people, is that when I want something, I tend to just try to do it, whereas she, and lots of other folks, would waste a lot of time dithering.

I think that’s probably accurate. And I could try to unpack why that is, why I don’t tend to hesitate, though I’m not sure I know. Some of it is base personality, some of it, I suspect, is cultural and class background — being raised in a comfortable economic situation with parents who trained me to work hard, but also expected that I would succeed at whatever I put my hand to.

That gives me a baseline confidence that makes it relatively easy for me to try things, and even when I fail (I flunked calculus, I failed my driving test the first time, I have messed up far more sewing projects than I’ve succeeded at, I have plants die all the time because I forget to water them, etc. and so on), it mostly doesn’t get to me. I can shake it off and either try again, or just move on to something else.

I don’t know how to transfer that skill / attitude to other people! I suspect the best I can do is try to instill it in my kids. Not quite sure how to do that either, though…

In the meantime, I guess I’ll try to spend a little more time blogging the failures. Perhaps they’ll be a good object lesson, even if they don’t provide Instagram-worthy pretty pictures.

Reading list

One of WisCon’s Guests of Honor this year is Kelly Sue DeConnick, author of various titles I hadn’t read. So I picked a few up, including a graphic novel, _Bitch Planet_. I started reading it this afternoon, and I almost put it down again, because it’s a dystopian story representing a violently misogynistic society and I just wasn’t sure I wanted to deal with the stomach-churningness of that.
But there’s just enough humor to make it tolerable, and it’s really well done overall. I just finished it, and I’m glad I read it, and will read the sequel (it ends on a cliffhanger). Very smart and biting. But oof.
I might need to read something light next — the next book in the queue had been Adichie’s _Americanah_, but I’m guessing that’s also going to take some fortitude. I’ve been unable to convince myself to watch the new Handmaid’s Tale tv show — I re-read the novel prior to teaching it, and that was as much as I could take.
I was thinking of re-reading Delany‘s _The Motion of Light in Water_, since it’s been twenty years or so since I last read it, and I’m hoping to take another stab at my own memoir this summer. Or perhaps Ghosh’s _In An Antique Land_. Maybe both. Two of the more interesting and unusual memoirs I’ve run across.

Summer plans

The art show didn’t need me, so I’ve made my way to chill out in Starbucks for a bit. Chai in front of me, and I’m now about two-thirds of the way through reading _The Girl Who Drank the Moon_, which continues great; I don’t know if Kavi would like it yet, but I may try her on it sometime this summer. Or just stick it on the shelf and wait for her to discover it on her own…
I have a few hours until the next thing, which is dinner with friends. I feel like I should either deal with e-mail for a while, or write, but I’m having a hard time settling down to either. I did spent about half an hour organizing my to-write list, which is just kind of ridiculously long, but on the other hand, many of these are little things that may get knocked out quickly. Others are intimidatingly big, though. Eep.
This summer is going to be an experiment in figuring out how best to work, and especially, how best to foster deep work, and not get sidetracked by house / craft / cooking projects. Reading helps — I had a novel idea this morning after reading for a bit.
Writing Projects:
finish Perennial illustrations
finish A Taste of Serendib
revise stories: Homeopathy, Paper Star, Skins
novel: Indenture
novel: Shattered
novella: Flight
memoir: Arbitrary Passions
Wild Cards story — check due date
Wild Cards stories for — Natya origin story, murder mystery
Letter to Octavia — check due date
poetry collection
Ragged Carnival book with Alex Wells — June 15 sample due
Picture book — Maya’s Lively Garden
Esthely Blue webcomic
environmental comic?

Curry Powder

I was only able to host my curry powder booth for half the Gathering, as I was on a panel for the first half (Embracing Socialism, went well!), but it went well. I had a steady line pretty much the entire time, and many happy folks who went away with little bags of homemade curry powder. And for those who asked, my cookbook (1st edition) is now available in the dealer’s room, at the Small Beer Press table. Thanks, David J. Schwartz!

I’m really getting quite close to finishing the 2nd edition, so I suspect this will be the last copies available of the 1st edition. Perhaps that will make it rare and valuable? 🙂 Some of the recipes have definitely changed from one to the other…

Plans, Big and Small

Made it to WisCon, woot. Had my usual once-yearly therapy session (slightly combined with mid-life crisis) with Ben, et. al. in the car on the drive up to Madison, and we have, I think, determined that I have no obligation to move to Chicago in order to set up for a run for higher office. At least not anytime soon. 🙂
For now, spend a summer intensively writing, spend a few years serving on the library board, think about starting an arts center (and maybe taking a leave of absence from UIC for a bit to do so if necessary, although I would *hate* to give up teaching entirely, so I’m going to try to avoid that).
Sounds like a plan. Glad we got that sorted.

GC meet-ups

I’m pleased to note that the OPRF garden club is going to add some casual meet-and-greets in the next year — six of them, hopefully. They’ll have loose themes, with perhaps a 15-minute presentation, but we’ll also be encouraging people to simply bring their garden questions, ideas, thoughts, or simple interest in meeting other gardeners. Light refreshments will be served, and they’ll probably mostly take place at the libraries.

I’ll be working on the schedule in the next week, so if you have preferences for dates (we’re aiming for evenings or weekends, in contrast with the regular Garden Club meetings, which are on Wednesdays @ noon), now is the time to say so.

Also, if you have ideas / requests for topics to cover, please suggest them here! I have some ideas, but totally willing to toss them for better suggestions. 🙂

June: “Is This a Weed or a Flower?” (At Mary Anne’s house.)

August: “Planning your spring bulb garden: crocuses, daffodils, tulips, and more.”

October: “Forcing paperwhites and amaryllises for winter indoor blooms.”

December: Holiday meet-up!

February: Topic?

April: “Planning dahlias for late autumn blooms.”


A brief diversity thought — when I set up the SLF workshop, I didn’t put in an explicit diversity statement, mostly due to oversight on my part. But I’ve been pleased to note that with the workshop half-full, we already have good representation from women and POC.

I don’t know if that’s pure chance, or influenced by my running the workshop, or due to it being in a relatively urban area, or affected by our offering student rates and need-based aid. Or maybe some other factors I’m not thinking of.

It’s sometimes not so easy, creating a diverse arts space (see various essays in WisCon Chronicles 9, which I edited, addressing that issue), and I’m glad it’s shaking out this way fairly naturally. It’s only thirteen people, so it’s not a huge signifier one way or the other. But still.

Going forward, I plan to add a diversity statement, encouraging applications from people from marginalized groups (class, disability, age, etc.).


Okay, people keep being startled that I did the desserts for 150 for the party, so here is a quick accounting of how to do such a thing and not completely melt down in the process:

a) Be on vacation, or a stay-at-home parent with kids in school, or just somehow not having a regular day job. If I’d tried to do this while holding down a 9-5 job, with commuting time and getting dinner and dealing with the kids and all, it would’ve been impossible.

b) Block out about 3 hours / day for a week for dessert-making. Starting two weeks ahead (or more) is less stressful.

c) Plan to make roughly one dessert per day, which means you have to think about what can be made:

– two (or more) weeks in advance (candies, caramels, truffles, sugar cookies, fruit cake, molded chocolate decorations)
– one week in advance (refrigerated mousse cakes, icing for sugar cookies)
– three days in advance (curd for lemon cake, sugared flowers)
– 1-2 days before (actual cakes you’re baking)
– day of party (whipping fresh cream for a berry shortcake)

I like to divide up my day of cookie baking with my day of icing cookies, because both are pretty time-consuming.

Allow time for cakes to cool before frosting — an hour in the morning for baking, an hour in the afternoon for frosting, an hour around for prep and clean-up.

d) About two weeks in advance, finalize your menu plan. I strongly recommend that everything on it is something you’ve made at least once before. My main frustration this time around was that I added the pink champagne cake which I hadn’t made before, and it had processes I wasn’t familiar with, which was a little stressful, and then I wasn’t thrilled with the final result, which was annoying.

e) Remember to shop! There is nothing more irritating than getting all set to bake and realizing you have no baking soda. Baking soda has been my downfall more than once, because you cannot substitute baking powder. (If, however, you need baking powder and don’t have it, you can combine baking soda with cream of tartar.) You can make a master list and buy everything in one go, or if you like little trips to the store / grocery delivery, you can buy what you need the day before each day’s baking.

Warn your household that if they consume your precious eggs / buttermilk / milk / butter that you will not be held accountable for the consequences.

f) Be sure you also have the tools you need — cake pans in the right sizes, cake circles in the right sizes, a sufficiency of measuring implements, etc.

g) Don’t be too perfectionist about it. You’re not a professional baker, and no one expects you to be. It’s okay if your cake is a little wonky, or if you’ve never mastered a smooth application of frosting (it’s me!) — people will love it because you made it, and because it tastes delicious.

Okay, that’s all I can think of right now. Feel free to add your own comments / suggestions below!

Starting summer

Okay, taking a break from photos and napping (was TIRED) to go have lunch with Jed and then sit in a cafe and try to power through a few hours of backlogged e-mail.
The next three days are for getting the house back in order, figuring out what I’ll be selling at the art show at WisCon (I just have a quarter table, because I wasn’t sure I was going, so didn’t reserve space in advance) and getting it ready, and dealing with e-mail, aiming for Inbox 0, which is going to take some serious work. It will ease my mind if I manage it, though.
This evening, I’m also going to see Ameya Pawar speak at L!ve Cafe (gubernatorial candidate for IL), and tomorrow evening I’ll be invested onto the library board and attend my first trustee board meeting. Thurs – Mon will be WisCon, and then I come home, probably collapse for a day, and then dive headfirst into a summer of novel writing.
That’s the plan, and it’s a good plan. We’ll see if I stick to it.