Thank you to Anu Mahadev

I wanted to take a moment to thank editor-in-chief Anu Mahadev and the whole Jaggery literary magazine team, for managing to put together a bright new issue in the midst of all this chaos.

None of our staff are paid (though our authors are) — Jaggery is a labor of South Asian and diaspora literary love, operating on the slimmest of margins. The fact that these folks still pour their time and energy into editing and putting out a beautiful issue in the midst of a global pandemic says something about their dedication to the arts.

The arts are so sorely needed right now.

Let me also say a particular thank you to out-going managing editor Susheela Bhat Harkins, who came in to help me out back when I was editor-in-chief and drowning a bit in my tendency to overcommit. She helped keep me afloat, and after I passed the magazine’s editorship over to Anu, stayed on and provided a great deal of support and institutional knowledge. You made us better, Sooshe! Thanks!

And finally, here’s my editorial in the new issue, “Ten Things You Might Not Know about Sri Lankan Food.” A little cultural info, a little cooking encouragement. Hopefully entertaining!

I’ve got to go teach my classes now on Zoom (optional for the students!), but I’m looking forward to settling in later today and reading through the new issue of fiction, poetry, essays, and more!

http://jaggerylit.com/serendib

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Poem- Pandemic Time

(I’ve never felt the need to put a content note on a poem before, but this one may be rough for folks. Feel free to skip.)

*****

Pandemic Time

I’ve never lived through a war
but I imagine time moves differently
for those on the front lines (long,
tense stretches of preparation and boredom,
punctuated by frenzied action)
moves differently for those waiting at home,
watching the clock tick impossibly slow

pandemic time is different
it’s splintered all around us
teachers stay up late into the night,
learning new technology, writing
lessons plans that are obsolete by morning
administrators restructure everything
then do it again, and again
we’re all playing catch-up here

it sounds so good, work from home
play video games and watch tv
learn a language, learn to paint
we’re trying to cram it all in
how can there be so much time
and yet it is all I can do to get out of bed
some days; an hour working in the garden,
digging muck, planting seeds, is slow time,
often it’s all that returns me to sanity

workers at every level get up early
the workload has doubled, and the children
are at home and must be fed somehow
or the work is gone, laid off, and now they’re
standing in line for groceries, six feet apart and
waiting for their turn, hoping for milk and eggs
and bread, hoping there’s enough left
in the account to cover the bill

hospital administrators argue triage plans
in endless meetings, tick tock tick tock
the doctors on our new front lines
try to rest up as they wait for acceleration phase
but people still keep getting sick of all
the other things: breaking bones, bursting
appendixes, babies coming out the wrong way
— help me! — no downtime for the docs

or the nurses, or the staff, or the paramedics
who prepare for the surge, check PPE (like any military
they rely on the speed of acronyms civilians
never need to learn, in ordinary times), try to remember
to breathe, stagger home to bored and restless children
who must be reminded not to hug mama, “You have
to wait, baby,” but children have no sense of time

there are no soldiers and civilians
when it comes to pandemic time, which drags
when it doesn’t race (a slow cough slips in
impossibly short minutes to drowning)
we are all in this together, a world event,
unprecedented — together, and yet apart, each
in our own separate experience of this trauma

little broken time machines

my husband is distracted by the children’s
need for lunch; for one blessed moment, he’s back
in normal time, healthy time — but I dreamed
last night that he was leaving me, a long, foolish
dream of another woman, but of course
I was actually terrified of losing him; as his
clock ticks along, mine is frozen, waiting for
the bell to ring, the clapper to be muted
the axe to fall

pandemic time has shattered all around us
and though one is racing and one is exhausted
and one is frozen and one is puttering along
we’re all hurting, all at the mercy
of what’s coming, what’s already here,
though we don’t know the full damage,
not yet. Wait.

*****
March 31, 2020

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Going remote, and meeting online

For the record, I suspect a TON of faculty are probably feeling a lot of shock, inadequacy, tech fear, and performance anxiety right now, along with all the rest of the coronavirus stress of the general populace.

I know basically what I need to do to teach a couple remote classes, and I’ve been bizarrely avoidant about it all day. What if I say something dumb on a video and some student puts it on the internet and everyone laughs at me and realizes I’ve just been faking it in the classroom for the last twenty years? Etc. and so on. Imposter syndrome at full force.

I’ll get over it, and so will the other faculty, but students, parents, if you can be a little patient with us through this transition, it’d be appreciated. Most of us aren’t going to be GOOD at remote instruction right away, but we’ll do our best for the kids.

*****

The students in my postcolonial lit. class typically do an presentation where they talk about a historical national or international event and how it impacted themselves or their families; it’s a significant part of their grade for the course. I think we’re turning it into a presentation (which they can just hand into me, or put up for public consumption if they like, as PowerPoint, podcast, or video), where they do the same thing with Covid-19.

*****

UIC is going remote; we just got the word. It’s a little odd, because at least right now, they’re also telling students on campus that they can stay there and participate from there. Maybe because too many of our students don’t have good tech access at home?

But faculty will be teaching remotely for the rest of the semester [edit to note — the letter didn’t actually say rest of the semester, but I think that’s what it will be], and it’s a commuter campus, so many students live and work off-campus already.

Good to have clear word, finally. Glad they did the right thing.

*****

My writing workshop was supposed to have its monthly meet-up at my house tonight; we just decided (30 minutes before the meeting) to cancel, and reschedule to do it via Zoom.

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A project that crystallized last week

So, I think I’m ready to talk a little about this new project that crystallized last week. (Photo of dragonfruit chocolate bars ‘crystallized’ for inspiration.)

 

There are multiple elements coming together in this, things I’ve been working on and thinking about for a long time. I’m still not positive of what the final shape will be.

• the memoir: I’ve been working for a while on a project titled _Domestic Resistance_, a meditation on how we stay sane while under siege in the Trump presidency, how handwork and reclamation of heritage skills, appreciation of culture and diversity, celebration of community and the joys of making all came together to sustain me (as I worked on my Sri Lankan cookbook in the last few years) through intense work, deep political frustration, and occasional flailings of despair. Asking how we can work for change without exhausting ourselves.

• the makerspace: we may have found a place in Forest Park for the first stage of the writing / textile arts / tech makerspace that we started planning two years ago. Our hope is that it allows the community to share their knowledge, help each other over the initial humps of uncertainty and anxiety, finding our way to new skills and approaches that make our lives better in a host of ways. I have some legal and financial details to work out still, and then there’ll be a Kickstarter to help get us off the ground (looking for around $25K in initial funding, I think), but I hope we’ll be up and running soon, possibly by May.

(NOTE: the space won’t be wheelchair accessible, unfortunately; you’ll need to be able to navigate a flight of stairs to access it. My plan is that if people who can’t access it want to sign up for a class, we’ll find an alternate accessible location for that class. And then long-term, we’ll continue looking for accessible spaces in the area. Ideally, I’d eventually like to grow into a constellation of spaces in Forest Park, Oak Park, Austin, etc.)

• the magazine: this is the newest bit, and still a bit inchoate. For my memoir, I was already thinking that I wasn’t sure I wanted to write a traditional book — I was wondering what it might look like as a quarterly magazine, sort of a cross between Martha Stewart Living and Granta. Glossy, beautiful photos, a year in the life, combining running for office, the tail end of cancer treatment, the house and garden and parenting and engaging in local politics, and of course, cooking.

Last week, I realized that it would be SO GREAT to extend that into a broader publication. I’ve been increasingly frustrated by how balkanized communications media are becoming, and at least locally, we’re really splitting demographically, with some people reading the print Wednesday Journal, some people mostly on FB groups (often very private ones), some people mostly auditory listeners, and the kids are on TikTok and SnapChat doing god knows what…

If we had a publication that showcased progressive voices and conversations, in a variety of areas (garden, food, schools, etc.) and if we could push it out in multiple media (a print version, an online version, a podcast, TikToks, etc.), maybe we’d have a chance at actually talking to each other, actually listening.

So often when I was running for office, I found that with something as simple as getting rid of fines at the library, people I talked to were initially resistant, but all they needed was for someone to actually present the argument to them, and then they realized that yes, doing this would actually align with their values. And we could afford it too.

*****

That’s where my head is right now. I have a lot more specifics, but I think the next stage is a whole host of conversations. I’m going to want to shape this very carefully, if it’s to do what I hope it’ll do, and I’m going to need a lot of community input.

But I think my own memoir would be interesting in conversation with a broader community magazine, and the magazine would be in conversation with what we do at the makerspace, and as Serendib Press develops, Stephanie and Heather and Darius and Emmanuel and Julia are learning more and more about the publication process, so we’re getting into a better position to do this well.

So that’s where I am right now. I’m about to go out of town, and much of March is super-absorbed with travel and Feast launch events. But I’m going to be talking to people, local and otherwise, about all of this. We’ll see where it takes us.

(We’re going to need a name.)

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Answering interview questions about the history of queer SFF

I just spent an hour answering some interview questions about the history of queer SFF, answer as a writer, editor, teacher, and arts administrator.

I’m looking forward to reading the final round-table discussion. (I mean, not really a round-table, since we’re not responding directly to each other, but a set of responses, at any rate.)

Will post when it’s up, of course! :

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Futurist conference postponed until fall

Unfortunately, the international futurist conference (U+, Plurality University, along with the Many Worlds Festival) I was planning to attend in Amsterdam in April (funded, sigh) has been postponed to the fall, due to the coronavirus crisis; many attendees from Asia have had to cancel, due to travel restrictions.

Very tough for the conference organizers.

#serendibwriting

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On ADD, anxiety, decision trees, and an abundance of projects

On ADD, anxiety, decision trees, and an abundance of projects (book and otherwise).

So a few years ago, I was talking to Benjamin Rosenbaum, about all my various book projects and story projects and poem projects and he basically said that multitasking was a big lie, that I couldn’t actually work on all of those at once, and I should pick one. At most two. But he strongly recommended one.

And then he persuaded me to go up to my office, where I sat in a chair with my computer and read him off the names of projects, and he wrote them all on sticky notes and then made me put them on a kanban board.

(Avoiding a long segue here into kanban — please look up if not familiar. Essentially project management tool, designed for workflow. Key for this: only one ‘active’ project in any given category, such as Drafting or Revision or Production or Publicity at a time.)

I complained and resisted and made him put 2-3 items in some categories, but we did sort of winnow it down. And then I put BIG sticky notes over the ones that weren’t actively to be worked on immediately, to try to hide them from my brain. It actually helped. (Photo 1.)

Two years passed without me looking at the board. But I think that winnowing / focusing project helped, because when I came back to it, I found that I’d actually completed one project (Feast), and a few smaller ones, and that there were several that were done in one way or another, and could be removed from the board. (Photo 2, left.)

I spent a pleasant hour rearranging the board at that point. Among other things, I rewrote the book-length projects onto bigger sticky notes, to make it more intuitive how much time various things might take. And it turned out that there were 3-4 projects that mostly required staff time, but not necessarily *my* time, so those are in a new category, and as I have time to organize and can afford to hire staff to work on those (getting older work back into print, for example), I hope to get those accomplished.

So this is all helpful, yes. But the fact remains that I still have WAY, WAY too many projects on the board. And I don’t know what it is, whether it’s a midlife crisis or a mid-career creative ferment or what, but it feels like I come up with a new, good, compelling idea every few days now. These aren’t just throwaway things — these are all worthwhile projects, many of them feeling urgent. It’s very intense, and also stressful / exhausting.

I’ve been waking up panicked many days, freaking out about how much there is to do, and that’s no good.

The creative idea-generating part is fine in theory (though I have enough, now, brain, please take a rest), but I’m having a hard time managing the stress. I’m planning to go have a fourth session with the new psychiatrist tomorrow — the first three were basically getting her up to speed on my complicated life; this is the one where I lay this problem out and hope she can help me figure out what’s going on, ideally with some tools for addressing it.

Some of those tools may be medical. It’s definitely true that once I take my Vyvanse in the morning, some of the stress eases. I think that’s the brain starting to work properly again, and instead of a thousand wildly blinky lights exploding all over my brain, I get a row of quietly glowing lights instead. A row that I can turn off, light by light, as I check things off the task list. It’s better.

We’re trying to tweak the meds. She had me try adding 5 mg of Adderall to my 20 mg of daily Vyvanse this past week. The plus of that is that I avoid the Vyvanse ‘crash’ around 4 p.m., when it wears off and I get super cranky with the returning tension. I was generally quite a bit happier on those days, and could productively work and also cheerfully hang out with my family into the evening.

But I’m not sure if it’s a good choice. As she’d warned me might happen, I had trouble sleeping — three days of adding the micro-dose of Adderall, and each day, I got 6 hours of sleep / night instead of 8. I *couldn’t* sleep more; if I lay in bed, I was just wide awake.

I didn’t actually feel tired, interestingly enough — amphetamines do that, it seems. But I’m really wary of building up a long-term body sleep debt; there *has* to be a health cost. This is not a sustainable model, surely. I took two days off from the Adderall Monday and Tuesday, let myself sleep normally. Probably good for my body, catching up on sleep. They were pretty stressful days, though.

I’m going to go back on it today, and I’m planning to tell her that I do want to keep trying Adderall for a month. In part because I’m also trying to ramp up to regularly exercising again, and I’m hopeful that if I’m lifting weights every three days and doing some cardio every day, my body will be much more productively tired and will be able to sleep deeper and longer; that’s usually been the case when I was actively exercising in the past.

Of course, that kind of exercise also usually calms my brain some in itself, so it gets complex figuring out exactly what’s going on. Hard to isolate the variables!

One thing the psychiatrist is trying to help me figure out is whether the stress and anxiety I’m feeling is primarily ADD-based, or whether there’s an actual anxiety component that should be addressed through therapy and/or meds. That makes sense to me as a logical, medical approach, but I’m not sure if we can actually figure it out without incurring more sleep-debt than I want to.

I suspect there is a bigger issue here, because even if ADD is making the row of blinking lights go all explode-y, and even if ADD meds can calm them down again, the fact remains that there are just too damn many lights. The row is too long.

I don’t know if it’s cancer+impending mortality (probably at least in part), but it’s clear that I have enough work I desperately want to do for ten people’s lifetimes, and or a hundred, and that is obviously not possible.

A lot of the rest of what I’ve been working on this past year is figuring out how I can convince other people to do some of this work for me.  Sometimes that’s by paying them to do the routine time-consuming tasks that don’t actually need *me*, but do need to be done. That’s going well, though management also takes time, and it’s definitely been a process figuring out just how to expand my reach that way, effectively.

Sometimes that’s by trying to talk them into taking on some of the save-the-world projects. (Want to run for office? Want to join the SLF’s volunteer team? Talk to me.) That also takes time to manage, but it’s helping.

Our three interns at the SLF this semester are making progress on tasks that have been nagging at me for YEARS, which is a great relief. In theory I could’ve had interns all the way along my time teaching UIC (they get course credit), but in practice, someone has to manage them and make sure they’re learning worthwhile things.

It was only in the past year that I’ve decided to try to raise enough funds to hire someone (Karen Murphy) to do that. It’s working, slowly, though I need to raise funds again soon if we want Karen to continue over the summer, and fundraising also takes time. (Join the SLF as a member for $2 / month and alleviate Mary Anne’s stress levels! Will that work as a fundraising campaign theme?)

And I know, some of the answer is just to abandon projects. All those stickies on the wall instead of the board? A good half of them are abandoned projects. Plus, I put the Makerspace on the backburner until we get either more funding or someone else to direct it (preferably both), and that was a relief. I even decided the SLF translation projects could wait a year or two, until the Portolan Project was up and running, and that was good too.

Maybe I need to just go look at the board once a month and say, “Mary Anne, do you REALLY need to write this book? Do you REALLY need to do this project?”

Right now, the answer is generally YES, DAMMIT. But perhaps repetition will wear me down.

No real conclusions here. But I’m going to have plenty to talk about with the psych person on Thursday, clearly.

******

Evidence that things are actually improving: Making the time to actually find psychiatrist, go to appointments. Setting up session with trainer at gym this Saturday. Having Sunday dinner with family once a week, and Thursday date lunch with husband once a week. Finishing reading books. None of which were happening last fall, so I feel like I’m on the right track, I think. I hope.

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A commentary on “The Privilege of Rage” by tangerinejones

As a note, this is all new to me; I’m pretty sure I hadn’t heard the term ‘rage baking’ in any context until a few weeks ago.

But despite the fact that I cook a lot and think about cooking a lot, there are lots of food spaces that I haven’t spent time in, and I don’t mean my ignorance to undercut tangerinejones’s frustration and valid points here.

[The rest of this will make more sense if you read her piece first, then come back to my commentary.]

https://medium.com/@tangerinejones/the-privilege-of-rage-e5b2cb53d238

*****

I do think it’s somewhat surprising that a major publisher coming out with a book wouldn’t have done a better social media search and found her work earlier in the book composition and publicity process.

…but that said, I also wonder whether it’s primarily indicative of the sloppiness, haste, and insularity of much of big press NY publishing.

Keep in mind that ‘big’ publishing is still and increasingly done on surprisingly shoestring budgets — esp. as the forces of neoliberalism, the collapse of the distributors, and the takeover of publishing houses by media conglomerates have all come together to create an ecosystem of frantic churn. (See also, what’s happened to the American economy generally in the last two decades.)

At big houses, many books are tossed out on the public waters every month, with the expectation that the vast majority of them will fail, blood in the water, with a few reliable bestsellers and the occasional unpredictable wild success carrying the company for another month.

It’s a terrible business model in many ways, breaking the hearts of many debut novelists, but it’s what we have at the big houses right now, I think. And I expect there’s very little in the way of ‘due diligence’ being done — far less than there might have been a few decades ago, when margins weren’t nearly so tight (and there was far less competition).

I’ve always done open calls for the anthologies I’ve edited, as a matter of principle, and tried to push those calls to the relevant spaces, but I’m sure I missed some. I knew about the big SF market listings, but are there black-only SF writer spaces I wasn’t aware of, where I should have pushed my anthology call? Probably. Should I have tried harder to do that? Probably. But all of that takes both will to reach out, and the time and ability to do so.

As a scrambling small press editor whose last edited anthology was a massive loss, financially, I have some sympathy for those small press editors who want to reach out more broadly and just can’t find the resources. (Esp. for anthologies, which are one-shots and not something like a magazine where you can put in a little measured extra effort every month for years, until you’ve really built a robust and diverse knowledge of the field.)

Many in big publishing don’t even make that attempt — they don’t want to put in the time to wade through slush (which, to be fair, ends up being masses of time if you successfully push a call out widely. I won’t be able to do it again myself, which means I’ll need unpaid slush readers if I ever edit another anthology, which raises its own class issues about editing work and its value, but let’s put that aside for now. I’m still trying to figure out how to make the economics of that work ethically).

In my experience, editors at big houses also often tend to assume they’ll get better work from people they already know, so they don’t think they’re losing anything by not doing an open call.

*That* assumption is almost always racist / sexist / etc. in its effect, even if not in intent — it leads to those who are already published, already with a mainstream platform, continuing to be published.

You don’t have to be malicious to do harm. Carelessness and ‘this is how it’s always been done in privileged circles’ is sufficient.

*****

And in case all of that seemed like it was meant to let her publishers off the hook, it wasn’t. Harm was done to her, her brand, her work, and I think reparations should be made.

“If Simon & Schuster and the authors want to make this right, I would like to be credited for my work and see sizeable donations made to the Ali Forney Center, The Brooklyn Community Bail Fund, and The Campaign against Hunger.”

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