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. 🙂

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.


We passed our library board budget last night, the second budget since I’ve been a trustee. I have to say, there’s a steep learning curve on this job. I’ve managed organizational budgets before, for DesiLit and the SLF, but this is an 8 to 9 million budget, managing three different libraries, and it’s another thing altogether.

The first time we passed one, about five months after I took office, there was a lot of the document that I only partially understood; I had to rely on the more experienced board members for guidance and explanation. A LOT of explanation. “Can we go over that bit again, please?” Passing that budget was slow, with three new members on the board; I, at least, needed a lot of handholding.

This time around, in my second year as trustee, it was much more efficient; we all understood what we were voting for, and how the things we’d requested as a board (in terms of equity and access as budgeting priorities) had been effectively implemented by staff, and what the cost implications were per household across the village.

I particularly want to shout out to Jim Madigan, our deputy director, who has been infinitely patient with me — I was just in his office for an extra half hour yesterday before the board meeting, asking him to go over a fine financial detail. For the SF fans in the room: around him, I feel a lot like Ekaterin with Miles’s finance guy — I swear, they could be the same person. Dry, funny, incredibly conscientious, and a light in his eyes when someone actually takes an interest in the arcane details of his profession.

Jim is retiring in a few months, and while I’m sure the library will find an excellent person to take over the position, Jim is very much going to be missed. If I’ve done a good job discharging my fiduciary responsibilities on the library board, and I hope I have, a large portion of the credit goes to him.

Jaggery issue #12

Delighted to note that the Fall 2018 issue of Jaggery is up! With fiction from Sudip Bhattacharya, Ayeda Hussain, Zuneera Shah, poetry from Ankush Banerjee and Jugni Jahaz, essays from Nathaniel Warder, Shruti Mungi, Varsha Tiwary, reviews by Subramanian Shankar, Amitava Kumar, Meena Kandasamy, Susmita Bhattacharya and Deepak Unnikrishnan, and art by Neelima Chikkodi.

Congrats to Anu Mahadev and the rest of the Jaggery editorial team!

Please share and enjoy!

Censorship panel

From Ada Palmer, my censorship panel with Cory Doctorow and others is now audio-available for your listening pleasure. (I was extra-tired that day, and I’m afraid I started rambling a bit in the second half, but there’s lots of good stuff there anyway that I think will interest many of you.)

“This is the complete audio of our panel on “What are Censorship’s Real Historical Consequences” featuring Gehnwa Hayek (censorship of comics in contemporary Lebanon), James Larue (American Library Association Office of Intellectual Freedom), Mary Anne Monharaj (literary consequences of colonialism in Sri Lanka), Anthony Grafton (censorship of Renaissance books & Jewish books), plus co-organizers Cory Doctorow, Adrian Johns, and Ada Palmer. The video is still being processed but we’re delighted to share the audio in this preview form to give you a first taste!” 

Meds + cardio

So, I’ve been on Vyvanse for a few weeks now, but one aspect of it not being a good trial yet is that those weeks were so busy that I dropped my daily cardio. Adding it back in today, and hoping to *not* drop it again — 20 minutes on the treadmill in the morning really does make my day better; I just have to habituate it to it again. (Got up and dressed in exercise clothes first thing; good start, need to get back into that habit.)
Will be curious to see how the meds work in combination with daily cardio — I’ve been sort of tired and logy the last week, and it’s tempting to blame the meds, though it’s honestly hard to say how much of that is just being unusually busy.
Plan for today:
– exercise
– make sure Kavi is up and getting herself to school (Mondays are hard)
– incorporate notes from Makerspace meeting yesterday into proposal draft and to-do
– send out meeting minutes
– schedule next meeting
– call HVAC guys and schedule them to check on humidifiers
– call pysch and schedule ADD evals for kids (now that we finally have the insurance sorted and a referral from new doc in the system)
– dig up back yard dahlias
– lunch meeting wth member of arts council to let her know what we’re doing, get advice
– work on Le Guin essay (due today)
– grade and prep for tomorrow
– divide irises and replant irises
– divide Walker’s Low nepeta and Rozanne geranium & replant
– plant tulips
– 4:30 – talk to independent study student (review her work beforehand)
Busy day, but should be do-able. Onwards.

Sous Vide Egg Bites


There is something incredibly pleasing about stocking up for the weeks ahead. I would’ve been a good farmwife, in another lifetime.  And they are so pretty to photograph, bonus!

This round of sous vide egg bites, I used buttermilk with the eggs, which
should give a rich tanginess. Bell pepper and goat cheese, broccoli and cheddar, pork sausage and cheddar, all with chives sautéed in the leftover pork fat. Mmm… Three weeks of breakfasts, done.


Winter Garden



Finished setting up the winter garden. It’s a multi-stage process:

— first the plants, mostly tropicals, come in from the back deck.

— then they get moved around, as I try to find the perfect combination of sunlight — there are only four sunny windows on the first floor, so sunlight is the big limiting factor on how many plants I can squeeze inside.

— I make sure that none of them will drip on the floor — a combination of a few large pots that don’t have drain holes, some pots that have built-in drip saucers, some pots that have little plastic saucers added (my least favorite solution, because it’s not as pretty, but sometimes needs must), and some large trays filled with clay stones that absorb water; I usually water the stones too, in the hopes that it’ll keep a little more moisture in the environment.

— if any of the plants are sprawling too much, I add trellises so they’ll go vertical instead of wide; I also move them around for aesthetic impact, mostly trying to do a mix of heights and fullness

— and finally I trim off the excess — some of the vining ones, like mandevilla, go a little nuts in the summer, and need to be cut back to manageable proportions indoors

I’m almost done with the trimming — the duranta is blooming profusely right now with its little purple flowers, and I mostly want to trim those branches off and bring it back down to half its height; I’ll wait ’til the blooms are done before diving in with the shears. But otherwise, all set for the oncoming winter — welcome to the jungle.





Yesterday was sort of an intense day, even though I was working at home. I wrote the final scene of Wild Cards story and sent it off to my incredibly patient editor, Melinda Snodgrass — and may I just state for the record that I hate being the last writer to get her stuff in, and for the editor to have to send me e-mails asking when is it coming, Mary Anne? I am going to try to my damnedest to not have that happen again, bah. I would much rather be the *first* to get her story in.
I actually find the collaborative writing of Wild Cards (and Tremontaine) quite stressful and anxiety-provoking in a very specific way that is different from my own individual writing. And I say this even though I love being part of those projects and plan to continue with Wild Cards.
A lot of it is coming into established worlds, that have a lot of fine detail that I’m not intimately familiar with, and feeling very tense about not remembering every little detail (my memory is notably worse than average) — just feeling lost and afraid of getting things wrong.
It’s not a rational fear, because the editors are very used to the writers getting details wrong, and expect to have us correct things; revision is a big part of the process. But I am….not very patient with myself when I don’t get things right the first time? I think that’s maybe it. When the e-mail arrives in my inbox with the corrections, I tense up, and sometimes even have a hard time making myself open it. I need to be more comfortable with making mistakes.
Getting started is the worst part, though. Every single time, when I actually start drafting, it’s fine. But the anxiety can send me into DEEP procrastination mode, where I try everything avoidable to keep from actually starting writing. I mean, it’s stupid — I literally walk around the house for 12 hours assiduously cleaning and organizing (yes, I organized the tech drawer with ALL the cables yesterday) while thinking, “I should be writing that scene. I should be writing that scene. Mary Anne, stop doing this, and go write that scene.” For hours and hours, with the stress levels increasing. The brain is a wacky and avoidant thing.
I think the ADD meds might be helping a tiny bit. Not with the avoidance, but at least when I actually start work, I now fall right into it and get it done quick, as opposed to getting distracted with twenty other thoughts in the midst. Interesting.
I finally got the scene written and sent it off, and then spent a few more hours avoiding writing my IAC grant application. Grateful that they have it due at 11:59 p.m., rather than at 5 p.m. I follow the same guidelines for my students, when I can. It is kind.
More anxiety there, of a different kind, wondering if I should send them creative nonfiction or science fiction. I spent a few hours revising my memoir, getting 31 solid pages of it, before realizing that they actually probably wanted published work in the application (because they ask for ‘date completed’), not work in progress. So then I switched to sending them “Plea” and “Webs” instead.
I am proud of those stories, but I don’t know if the IAC jurors will be open to science fiction — but that is what I’ve mostly published, the last few years, so I suppose that is what they get. When I got the grant before, in 2005, it was for an excerpt from Bodies in Motion; I don’t really have any comparable mainstream lit. published work right now. I could’ve sent them the Roxane Gay essay, I suppose. Oh well — too late now.
Feeling sort of pummeled and exhausted today, but hopefully it’ll be a less stressful day. Little bit of prep and grading now, then take kids to get passport form signed (stupid complex process, gah), drop them at school, go teach.
Then a fun event this evening — I’ve been invited to play a game of Machine Learning President (politics and money) with Max Temkin and his crew. (Max is the creator of Cards Against Humanity — I met him last year through Mary Robinette Kowal, when we were serving together on the Museum of Science and Industry Department of Next board.) More on that anon; should be interesting.


Is the best feeling in the world a cancelled meeting that lets you skip the commute for a day? I think it might be.
Still masses of computer work to do today, but it is bliss being able to do it in cozy socks and cardie, with the washing machine and dishwasher going.
Plan for today, in vague order of importance:
– write one last scene for Wild Cards story
– write grant application due today
– send money to family member
– pay tree guys
– phone conference with independent study student
– grade and prep for the week’s classes
– process a few hundred e-mails
– catch up on Inktober
– catch up on Patreon posts
– work on Le Guin essay
– start re-reading Nora Jemisin‘s Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, preparatory to teaching it next week
– make egg bite breakfasts for next three weeks and freeze some
– cook something nice for dinner (so hectic last week, didn’t get to cook at all, and I miss it)
– sort winter coats and make sure we’re prepped
– take Kavi to and from soccer practice
– attend Friends of the Library monthly meeting (part of trustee duties)