Mid December

I had four BIG things to do this week before leaving for Sri Lanka on Sunday:
– finish semester grading — DONE, WOOHOO!
– finish Wild Cards story revision — DONE, ALSO WOOHOO! (though I really had to go lock myself in the shed to make myself finish — Ellie just came and whined at the door until I let her in for a bit, and then sniffed all around as if to say, well, this is interesting, but shouldn’t you be in bed?)
– finish maker space grant draft, due at the end of the year, but I really really want to hand it in before I leave the country, so this Saturday — getting close to done
– make Christmas (we’re celebrating early on the 23rd) — also getting close to done; most of the presents bought, with just Christmas cards to write and presents to wrap and maybe a photo album to make, but that can wait if necessary…
I think it’s all do-able, and I even think I get to rest and relax some in the next three days? Maybe? We’ll see. Kevin and I have some thought of going to see the Spiderman movie. We invited the kids, but Anand doesn’t like sitting through theater movies, and Kavi doesn’t feel strongly, so it’ll probably be just us. If we do it. We’ll see!
In excellent news, Karina was able to get away from work long enough to join us on the trip. So it’ll be me, Kavi, Jed, and Karina traipsing around Sri Lanka this time. Funfun.
I am irritatingly insecure about being on video, but I am semi-determined to get over it this time, so I can show you Sri Lanka a little better than just through my photos. We’ll see. Hopefully, some video clips will be coming your way next week…
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Plurality U (and Facebook note)

(Meta note:  I mostly try to copy at least the most significant posts over from Facebook to here, but if it’s not clear, I’m mostly living my digital life on Facebook these days, and I just don’t have the time to copy all of the posts over.  So if you want to see all the Paris photos from the last few days, or the Mexico photos from last week with the family, etc., please do head over to my FB page.  Sorry!)


I know you just want to see more of my Paris photos (gargoyles are coming! lots of gargoyles!) — but I need to wind down a little mentally first. I’m once again in this weird place where I’m having a very hard time deciding what I should work on.

– This weekend at Plurality U sparked a host of new ideas for projects, but none of them are my own fiction.

– Walking around Paris for a day actually did spark several good ideas for my own fiction.

– Spending a little time in the governance track at the U today reminded me that by now, I have a fairly developed skill set for governance, and I really would like this Plural U project to succeed, but getting involved with that aspect would take precious time. Maybe I can give them a year (by which I just mean a few meetings over the course of the year, hopefully, not an actual year of work) on the governance thing, just to help it start on the right foot? (How many boards can you sit on, Mary Anne? Be realistic here. No, really. I said REALISTIC.)

– I spent a little time just now reading about the current competitive field of trustees for the next Oak Park election (9 people running so far for 3 slots, and I know of at least 1 more), and while I’m not running this time around, it means that there’s a good chance that if I run in two years as planned, for trustee or village president, there will likely be serious competition necessitating a time-consuming campaign. I don’t have to run — but I am worried about most of the current slate of candidates, many of whom are clearly running on platforms that I do not support. There are 52,000 people living in Oak Park who depend on good governance, even if they’re mostly just living their lives and not paying attention to the decisions that are being made in the room…

I don’t expect you folks to give me any answers here. Just…feeling painfully torn.

This may be kind of the perpetual state from here to the end of my life?
Mortality, it is not very convenient when you have a lot of stuff you really want to get done. Is it time to start training my replacements yet? Training takes time too, but I will have to pass the torch eventually…

(Feeling so grateful to all the people who took over Strange Horizons after me and ran it so beautifully. Susan Groppi, Niall Harrison, Jane Crowley, Kate Dollarhyde, and all the rest of the staff over the last two decades — thank you thank you thank you for not dropping the baby.)


(This is the last conference photo, as Tomo Kihara and I walked to our Uber back to the hotel.)


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Welcome to Dystopia: Farewell

Pleased to note that trade paperback editions of Welcome to Dystopia are now available. I basically took some of my worst fears about the current administration we’re living in: raising a daughter whose reproductive rights are under threat, raising a brown-ish son, living as a naturalized citizen in America, etc. — I stuffed them all into one compact little story. Fun times!

“The noise at O’Hare is a dull roar of voices, rising and falling, dissolving into chaos. We must almost shout to hear each other, packed into long lines that press against each other, sticky in the June heat, waiting to get into the building.

My mother frowns, raising a folded newspaper over her head to block the relentless sun. “Keep Raj inside. You know how dark he gets at the end of the summer. He looks like such a blackie – he won’t be safe.”

“I know, Amma.” I wince to hear her use that term, but my mother is an old woman, and there’s only so much you can expect of her. And she’s not wrong – since the latest growth spurt, Raj could easily be mistaken for a young black man. Especially at night, should he venture into the wrong part of town. Lately, it seems like everywhere is the wrong part of town; John and I have started making Raj come straight home from school. It feels like we’re stealing away his childhood, what’s left of it.”

— “Farewell”

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It was a very, very long week. Almost everything in it was good, but there was just too much of it. Today, I had just two meetings (both good), and planned to spend the rest of the day puttering. Then Kev reminded me that we needed to go look at cars, ugh, so we went. I know some people love shopping for cars, but that is not me — I just want a car that reliably works, that can safely haul all my stuff, and that I don’t have to think about.

It needed to be done, so I went, and then thankfully came home to watch dumb yet delightful holiday movies (currently The Princess Switch, which has no surprises in it whatsoever) and putter in the kitchen. Making soaps and sweets is all I want to do right now. I also have to do some e-mail, I’m afraid, but mostly, this weekend I am immersing myself in making little lovely things to sell at Pem Hessing‘s Colorful Holiday event coming up in a few weeks.

Pictured below, avocado-mint garden scrub. Coming soon, fairies trapped in sparkling crystal. Oh no! Who will release them? Kids, you better take your baths tonight…

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Art and garden and writing, oh my

Plan for today — stop watching GBBO (Netflix, now was not the ideal time to drop season 6, I have things to do). Finish grading papers. Finish grading mid-terms. (I’m so close to done — why is the last hour always the hardest???)
At 11, go take a look at some possible spaces (some in Scoville Square, probably out of our price range, one just south of the highway on Oak Park Ave). Feel drowned in choices and possibilities, but hopefully in a good way.
12 – 2, monthly Garden Club meeting; I’ll probably be late, but I do want to stop by, at least. Today’s talk — “A Rose By Any Other Name” — Jack Shouba, on “The importance of scientific names.” I don’t actually know anything about this topic! Would like to learn.
Then prep for evening monthly writing workshop, more grading, work on condensing my scattered maker space notes into something coherent that I can hand to people, instead of the 20+ page monstrosity I have now.
Maybe write a little? Last night, I started work on the Domestic Resistance book, cutting and pasting my running for office posts into one file. That’ll form the core thread of the book, I think, balancing that with the political trauma of the last two years, and the domestic makings (cooking, gardening, time with family and friends) that keep me sane.
I’m having more novel thoughts too, off and on, esp. as I keep reading Jemisin’s work. She’s so good with the world building and really thinking through rich cultural elements — I’ve skimped on that on this first draft, and rather than just plowing forward with the plot, I kind of think I want to stop, go back, and really layer that through. The book will get more dense, but I think that’s a good thing. I also hope to find room for more dialogue and scenes of everyday life. If I write a novel that’s mostly people sitting around and talking to each other, you guys are okay with that, right?
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Makerspace update

We had a meeting last night about the makerspace, etc. project, and mostly determined that we should focus our Big Idea grant proposal on the makerspace piece. If that happens in isolation, great — if we can raise enough funds to do a bigger space with co-working, cafe + shop, artist studios, residency program, low-income artist housing, etc., also great. I need to put together a list of places we’ll be applying to for grants (could use help with that!) Good progress.

Most of the last few weeks has been heavily scheduled with meetings as I try to get feedback, collaborative vision, buy-in from lots of local folk — people in government, housing, arts, business, etc. There’s going to be lots more of that! Pretty much everyone I’ve talked to has been supportive of the idea, and most have been genuinely excited by it! It’s the sort of thing where you look at it and say, “I can’t believe we don’t have this already!”

Two of our people have now taken the proposal to try to turn my wordiness into two tight opening paragraphs. I am terrible at boiling things down to sound-bites, elevator pitches, and even concise paragraphs. I just want to put in more words. Brutal concision is not my strength, and I’m grateful that they’re taking a stab at it.

They’ll give it back in a week, and then I’ll try to draft answers to the rest of the proposal questions, and then we’ll meet again to review that draft and fine-tune it. I need to start collecting supplemental materials too — a list of other makerspaces, photos of great makerspaces we can compare to, for example.

I’m spending time in upcoming weeks touring possible rental spaces, hoping to find someone willing to donate space or at least let us use it at significantly below-market rates for a while. We could do a month-to-month lease to get the project off the ground. (If this is maybe you, get in touch, please!)

Ideally, our main space down the line would be big, near transit, and near both Austin / Berwyn (so Arts District or near Oak Park and Harrison would be ideal). But a big space may be years off, and in the meantime, we could put a makerspace in something as small as 300 sq. ft. — though definitely having more like 900-1200 would be better, letting us fit in lounge and classroom / meeting space as well, plus a coffee station!

I’m having a budget meeting today with a finance person who will help me start drafting a spreadsheet (volunteering his time, so kind). Space rental, tool purchase, furniture and supplies, insurance, permits and fees, and if we have some money left over for staffing, that’d be good, but initially, I suspect we’ll be relying on volunteers (working in the space) to keep the doors open.

We’re going to aim for being financially self-reliant through class tuition, memberships, and space rental in off hours, with fundraising to help us lower costs as much as possible — making everything sliding-scale, and offering free scholarships. We’re also going to have one day / week open for walk-in free making — the Chicago Public library does Wednesday 1-8, which sounds like a good possibility, though Saturday might also be good.

If you’re in the Oak Park area, an artist or educator or just someone who thinks we should have a place where we can introduce people to all kinds of making in a fun, low-cost environment, and want to be involved in the project in some way (planning, volunteering, donating, teaching), please do get in touch! We will need lots of help getting this off the ground.

Things are progressing. It’s exciting to see this taking shape!!!

(I borrowed the graphic from the NUSD Makerspace task force — isn’t it charming? We may need to make our own version.)

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World Fantasy, day 1

Got in to World Fantasy around 9:30 last night, held at a waterfront hotel in Baltimore. I actually managed to make it to the tail end of the panel I’d been scheduled on (and then taken off, because I didn’t think I’d make it in time), so that’s 15 minutes of hopefully usefulness to the community? I don’t know.

Amusingly, someone in the audience actually brought up Earthsea, so I got to talk about the Tor.com piece I published yesterday, which I actually like more now than I did when I wrote it. I think you could even get something out of it if you’d never read Earthsea, or even Le Guin. It ended up as hopefully something of an antidote to these trying times. Or maybe a prescription.

I also had a very interesting conversation with a publisher — I think I know where I’m sending the revision of Flight now, which is exciting. It’s going to end up around 50K, I think, which is an awkward length, and I wasn’t sure where to place it, but now I think I have a possible home — they’d consider it a novel and bring it out as a book, which I think is right for it. I’d actually love to have it at this house; fingers crossed, and toes too.

I’m hoping I can talk a few friends into reading it first, because while it’s pretty solid at this point, I really want it to be the best it can be before it goes out. I also think I need to work through, emotionally, the fact that I’m probably never going to come out with a ‘debut novel’ that makes a big splash. It’s a writer’s dream, but I’m not sure it’s going to be my path.

Bodies in Motion was linked stories, and so was The Stars Change, and maybe I’m just not built for writing big, fat Great American novels. Or maybe Flight will actually be that great debut novel, despite being slim, and more of an intimate family story than anything world-changing. Well, we’ll see. It is what it is, and when I tried to force it to have a bigger scope, that didn’t work at all.

Other than that, last night was just chatting with old friends and meeting new people for a few hours in the bar / lounge. It’s on the 5th floor at this hotel, which is taking me a little while to get used to. I can see why they did it this way, because it means you get beautiful views of the harbor from the restaurant.

This is a very pleasant place to grab a morning cup of coffee with an old friend, C.c. Finlay, editor of The Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy — it’s a magazine I have yet to crack, but I’m coming for you, Charlie! I’m going to write you a story that you *have* to publish, because it’s just that good.

Now I’ve retired to my own table, to consume one of my crabby eggs benedict (so much food — will have to find someone to feed the other one to — maybe I can talk my roommate, Angeli, into it), and then settle down to two hours powering through e-mail.

Ah, the excitement of the writer’s life. It’s pretty exciting, actually. Or at least satisfying, pleasurable, interesting — I feel lucky.

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Hoppers and Squirrels

Slow start, but I’ve finally made it out to the shed for the morning. It’s cool and blustery out, but I’ve figured out how to drape the blanket in my shed safely over my legs resting on the ottoman, with the little shed heater underneath (carefully not touching anything), and make a toasty little cave. (Inspired by Japanese table heaters, kotatsu.)
It actually gets too warm pretty quickly, and the heater gets moved back out from under the blanket, but is v. nice for settling into autumn shed work. Instant warmth! For winter work, I may need to seal the windows with plastic wrap and maybe even hang some thick curtains, but for now, I’m enjoying all the light flooding in. I’ve brought some tea lights and incense out here too, and all of that helps settle me into writing mode.
Plan for today: spend an hour working on the Le Guin essay, then get dressed and head into the city to Open Books for a panel on SF diversity with Michi Trota and Alec Nevala-Lee, also celebrating the release of Alec’s new book, _Astounding_! I’m enjoying it, and plan to read more of it on the train. Fascinating getting a glimpse into the secret lives of Asimov and the rest of that crew.
After that, just come home and more writing, I think, with possibly a stop at an event sponsored by our local 19th century club, Jackets and Jewelry; they’re selling gently-used blazers and the like, and while I have enough jewelry, I think I need to up my professional dress game a bit, for both speaking engagements and politics. You know, before last year, I don’t think I owned a blazer at all? And now, I find I want one. Maybe a few. I’m building up my collection of solid color sheath dresses too. I’d like to get some nice desi-style jewelry to wear with it — Seena was wearing a great piece yesterday, and I was jealous.
If there’s time today, I’d like to do a bit more gardening — I dug up the last of the dahlias yesterday, and prepped some for trading with a neighbor — the rest need to be packaged up for winter storage in the basement. But before that, there are some divided irises that need to get into the ground, and more tulips to plant.
I made the mistake of leaving some on the porch, and the squirrels dug into two of the bags, so I’m short a few tulips. Oh well.
Yesterday, I taught a little hopper-making class. Slightly frustrating because the batter hadn’t fermented quite enough and wasn’t giving that characteristic lacy pattern, oh well — more practice needed, clearly.
It was a lot of fun, though also funny because two of the guests were radio journalists (Niala Boodhoo and Monica Eng), and Monica has actually written a children’s book with magician) and another was a foodie and furniture building artisan (Randall Kramer) interested in teaching at our makerspace, and another runs Bookwallah, a non-profit that sends picture books to orphanages in India, (Seena Jacob). Whew!
Between all that, there were gazillion things to talk about and also gazillion questions, so I couldn’t really run it like I would normally run a class. At one point, someone jokingly suggested that maybe they should raise their hands so I could get a word in edgewise, “Oh teacher? Teacher??” and they were joking but it actually might have helped! (I’m teasing — they were lovely.)
Afterwards, showed the guests my little writing shed. One of them saw a squirrel sitting on the gate and she stopped short and said, “It’s like walking into an English children’s book.” Yes, pretty much. 🙂
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Diversity in Libraries

One of the issues I’ve focused on as a library board trustee is looking at how our library approaches diversity. As a queer brown woman, I have to think that part of why I was elected was because my constituents wanted me to be paying attention to that issue.

Last night as part of the board packet, there was a detailed report on diversity initiatives from various of our librarians, addressing different aspects of the issue. Generally, I think our librarians are doing a pretty stellar job of working on this problem, and could serve as a model for other institutions.

But I’m mostly writing here because I wanted to take a moment to point out just how difficult a problem it is, and how, despite years of effort on our librarians’ part, our collection of books, in particular, still skews very white. That is entirely because American publishing still skews very white — the vast majority of books published, including children’s books, still feature white protagonists.

Our librarians try to balance the general audience’s desire for popular books (which is influenced / limited by what major publishers actually put out, what readers see on the bookstore shelves, or at their friends’ houses, or reviewed in major news sources), with the librarians’ own attempts at increasing diverse representation.

(A tremendous tool for librarians in the latter efforts, by the way, are the various blogs and booklists maintained by various communities and reviewers of color, so keep that up, people, please! It’s made it much easier for our librarians to find brilliant, fabulous #ownvoices titles, often from small presses that would otherwise fly under the radar.)

But we’re still quite far from even reflecting the community around us in Oak Park (which is currently around 68% white). Our librarians are going to keep working the problem, and they’re making improvements every week. To really fix it, though, we need big changes in publishing.

Publishers, editors — get on that, please. I know I’m preaching to the choir a bit here, for the publishing folks I’m friends with, who are likely to see this, but maybe this will add a note of urgency to your efforts.

We can’t read the books that show our diverse world in its complex truth if those books aren’t even being published. Our kids can’t read them either.

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