Account

Summer schedule accountability check-in:
 
Yesterday had a lot of exercise — 6:30 a.m. walk with a friend, taking Kavi for a 4:30-5:00 orientation at the gym, 6 – 7:30 post-cancer gym class. So 3 hours for exercise-related stuff, which is TOO much exercise for me; I hit 15,000 steps by bedtime and was over-tired and had trouble sleeping. I did get some writing and SLF work done, but not as much as I’d wanted, and I went to bed irritated and frustrated.
 
Today is much better so far. No exercise yet, but I woke up at 6 a.m., puttered a bit, worked on overdue SLF stuff for 45 minutes, had breakfast, and then wrote from 7:30 – 9:30, pretty much on schedule. (Reshaping broken novel to hopefully awesome novella.) Internet came back on, so promoted SLF stuff.
 
Then got kids breakfast and packed lunch and took them to camp, came home and talked to landscaper about somewhat belated spring clean-up of yard (I actually don’t mind weeding myself, but I am accepting that I just don’t have time for some things and they should be outsourced as affordable.) And now checking in.
 
Still need to exercise today, and the rest of the day will probably be dedicated to heading towards Inbox Zero and reading. But the critical things (2 hours writing + urgent SLF work) got done before lunch. Is good. Let’s keep this up.

Avenging

Just a really nice day. I didn’t do anything. JJ was crashing here after a wedding in town, and when they asked me this morning what I had planned for the day and I said nothing, they started laughing because they didn’t believe it. But really, for the first time in months, I had *nothing* on the schedule.

So I lounged around in the morning, chatting with JJ and putzing on the internet. Then Kevin and I netted the peach tree, which was satisfying. I put away some laundry.

Around 2, we walked over to the Y, signed up Kev and the kids for memberships, and then the four of us played racquetball very badly. Kevin went home and I went swimming with the kids.

Came back, decided to finally go see Avengers: Infinity War this evening. Stopped at Nando’s for dinner. Stopped for ice cream on the way home. Had an amiable and extended discussion about perseveration (which Anand has learned to call ‘rock brain’ at school, love it!) on the way home, which was both hilarious and interesting. My kids are so sweet and funny and Kevin is no slouch either.

It was pretty much a perfect start-of-summer Sunday. Back to work tomorrow, with the summer writing schedule. Feeling refreshed, relaxed, and happy. We should do this more often.

(Also, Infinity War! Whoa, that ending. There may be spoilers in comments — it’s been long enough, right?)

Mango-Chili-Lime Marshmallows

One of my favorite summer treats is ripe mango, sliced and sprinkled with chili, salt, and lime. One of my favorite drinks is a mangaso margarita — made with mango puree, lime, and tequila, with a chili-salt rim. So those perfect summer flavors had to become a marshmallow. I only have a touch of salt in the recipe, but if you enjoy salt, do feel free to add a few flakes to the top of your marshmallow.

1/2 c. mango puree
2 t. lime juice
1/4 t. salt
1/2 t. raw red chili powder or cayenne, plus more for sprinkling
3 packages unflavored gelatin
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
powdered (confectioner’s) sugar
butter (for greasing the pan)
14 oz. bittersweet chocolate chips
crushed red pepper for decorating

1. Combine mango puree with lime juice and chili powder in a small pot; bring to a boil, then turn down and simmer 3-5 minutes. This will help the mango to set.

2. Empty gelatin packets into bowl of stand mixer (whisk attachment), with mango-chili puree. Stir briefly to combine.

3. In a small saucepan (a bigger one will be heavy and hard to hold steadily at a later stage) combine water, granulated sugar, corn syrup, and salt. Cover and cook over medium high heat for 4 minutes. Uncover and cook until the mixture reaches soft ball stage (240 degrees if you have a candy thermometer), approximately 8 minutes. Once the mixture reaches this temperature, immediately remove from heat; if it continues, it will swiftly turn into hard candy.

4. Turn mixer on low speed and, while running, slowly pour the sugar syrup down the side of the bowl into the gelatin mixture. (Be very careful with the sugar syrup, as it is scaldingly hot and will burn you badly if it gets on your skin.) Once you’ve added all of the syrup, increase the speed to high.

5. Continue to whip until the mixture becomes very thick and is lukewarm, approximately 12 minutes.

6. While it’s whipping, butter a large 9 x 12 pan and dust with powdered sugar. Prepare an oiled spatula.

7. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan, spreading it evenly (and swiftly) with an oiled spatula.

8. Dust the top with enough of the remaining powdered sugar to lightly cover. Reserve the rest for later. Allow the marshmallows to sit uncovered for at least 4 hours and up to overnight.

9. Turn onto a board, cut into squares and dust all sides of each marshmallow with the remaining powdered sugar, using additional if necessary. May be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks, or frozen.

10. If dipping, melt chocolate (either in microwave on 50% power, stirring every 30 seconds, or over double boiler), stir until smooth. Dip each marshmallow and let dry on waxed paper. Immediately sprinkle after dipping (you can dip the whole set first) with crushed red pepper.

Productivity Musings

(originally posted as three separate FB posts, but y’all get it all at once….)

Productivity Musings, 1 of 3:

So, I’ve been in this weird mental space the last year where I feel like I’m constantly generating ideas (some of them backed up from the years of small children and cancer), and then I can’t figure out what to work on, and they all seem equally important and full of glorious potential, and so I jump from thing to thing feeling constantly anxious that I’m forgetting things.

It’s been terrible, actually. Why am I having this problem now, after 25+ years as a writer? In part it’s cancer, in part being mid-career and middle-aged, in part who knows? Less important than diagnosing why, I think, is figuring out how to handle it.

Step one in handling it was making a huge master list of works-in-progress. I kept forgetting things on that, and having to go back and add them, but after a few weeks, I finally mostly had that down. (Then I came up with two more book ideas last week, but it’s fine, I’ve added them now.) The list is below, and compiling it was important, but in and of itself, it didn’t really do much to alleviate the feelings of panic and dizzy-mindedness. See next post for a possible solution.

(Note: feel free not to read the list below — my therapist told me today that just reading it made her feel stressed.)

***

Book-length Fiction:
• Flight novella
– Four of Hearts (florists in space)
• Indenture (SF)
• Pretty Little Boxes (YA)
– War Stories
– Shattered
– Jump Space novel
– The Arrangement
– Rasathi
– Make One (suburban poly mystery)

Nonfiction:
• A Feast of Serendib (redo titles)
• Domestic Resistance: take some of the better food and gardening posts over the first year Trump was in office (well, really, starting with the night of the election), and put them together, collage-style, in a book with both the general political posts, the running for office posts, and possibly some news clippings to make the timeline clear. Domesticity as therapy, sort of.
• Make Beautiful
• Arbitrary Passions / Good
– cancer journals as book
– Writing Your Identity
– two Library Journal columns

Picture / Children’s Books:
– Fingers and Spoons (Jeannie Chung, Sapna Gupta, Shmuel Ross, Uma Krishnaswami (<uma@gobrainstorm.net>), Pooja Makhijani)
– Maya’s Lively Garden
– Oak Park Housing Project picture book
– Anjali’s Naughty Day
– The Elephant Adventure
– The Poet’s Journey (re-do as chapter book)
– Doors (middle-grade novel series)

Short Stories:
• Wild Cards for JM
• Wild Cards for TK
• Skin Deep
• Thin Air
• That She Might Fly
• Among the Erishei
• Paper Star
– Red Light, Green Light
– Hush

– Four Nights and One Morning
– Elizabeth
– Mark Me
– Enthusiastic

Comic:
– Esthely Blue
– environmental / superhero idea

Other:
– Board or Video game: Sigiriya
– Serial Box: Sigiriya

ARCHIVED:
– Dreams by Lamplight

***

Productivity Musings, 2 of 3:

Now we talk about the kanban board. I hadn’t heard of such a thing, which was apparently developed at Toyota, but when Benjamin arrived for WisCon and heard me wittering on about how I had too many projects and couldn’t seem to settle down to any of them, aigh!, he marched me up to my office, had me pin a piece of poster board to the wall and find some sticky notes, and then we built a kanban board.

First step, figure out what the various stages are. After some discussion, we came up with the following for me:

– ideas
– dreaming / planning (restricted to 1)
– drafting (restricted to 1)
– waiting for collaboration
– wait for serendipity
– Russ (my agent) / submit
– build platform (for things I want to self-publish)
– promote
– retire

The key thing here is that only one thing should be actively written (drafting) at a time, and we decided dreaming / planing should be restricted to 1 thing too, and ideally the same project as drafting, though I’m not there quite yet. Everything else has to go into one of the other categories.

This is easier said than done. I am on deadline for two Wild Cards stories right now, so those have to be in drafting, and I’d been in the midst of revising a novel to novella, so that made sense to be in drafting too. We put them all there for now, but I actually spent an hour this morning on one of the WC stories, got it to a point where I’m now waiting for responses from collaborators, and so I got to move it out of drafting, which felt VERY satisfying. By the end of next week, I should have the other WC story drafted, and then I can just have one thing in drafting and that will feel good.

 

The idea here is that I’ll spend my dedicated writing time on the thing, the one thing that I’m committing to right now, and that’ll mean I don’t have to make decisions every morning (decision-making invites intense procrastination), and also that my thoughts will be focused down instead of scattered among projects.

Ben did try to get me to ‘retire’ more projects, even going so far as to suggest that I print and bind the drafts and put them on my shelf, to get them out of the way. My therapist also suggested more retiring of projects, possibly accompanied by mourning them. Accept that they failed, that I’ve learned from the failure, and move on. I’m not quite there yet with most of these, but one of my tasks for the next week is to look seriously at everything on the board and see if any more of them should be retired.

It’s funny — I’m actually super-great at winnowing in my own home, my closet, etc. I *love* giving away things to someone who might make better use of them. But I am totally ROTTEN at giving up on ideas. (Or on people, actually — there are reasons I am poly.)

Each little idea is just brimming with potential, each one could be THE ONE, and so how can I close the door on it forever? Well, the idea of the kanban board is that it’s just fine for lots of things to sit in the ‘ideas’ category, or whatever you want to call it — they’re just not going to be active right now. If I get stuck on the current ‘drafting’ book, I can always move it to ideas and move something else into drafting — that’s the beauty of sticky notes.

The key, or so both Ben and my therapist tell me, and I am sure they are wise and full of knowledge on this subject, is to just stick to one thing at a time, because when I think I’m working on many things I’m really mostly working on nothing.

(Ben wrote all the little post-its for me, which is the action of a true friend. It’s like when I was learning to juggle, and Alex Gurevich picked up the balls I dropped and handed them back to me. Sometimes, a little help with the overwhelming task is exactly what you need to get over the hump.)

(Also, my board is covered in elephants and flowers, which makes me happy when I look at it.)

*****

Productivity Musings, 3 of 3:

This one is quick, and not anything new, but sort of new for me — I talked Margaret into being my accountability partner for a week. If it goes well, we’ll keep doing it.

The idea is that @ 10 a.m. each day, we’ll text each other what we’ve done, writing-wise. We’ve both set weekday reminders in our calendars for it.

That’s basically it, but I am hopeful that it will help me avoid what often happens on my ‘free’ days, which is that I start the day with the best intentions to write, but then I avoid it, doing everything else (there is a reason I do so much cooking and gardening), getting more and more tense and stressed and cranky as the day goes on, until finally, I force myself to actually open the file and start writing, often only an hour or so before bedtime.

This is sub-optimal.

Report back from day one — well, I still took an hour or two longer to settle down than I’d ideally like to, but like any other new discipline, the beginning is hard. Hopefully I will build new habits quickly over the next week. Her cheery text was certainly an incentive to actually get to work. We’ll see!

I do think having one partner for this is better than a group, for me, anyway, because the sense of needing-to-account-to-someone is much stronger this way. It got diffused when I tried doing this with a group.

*

As an example, this is what I sent her today:

“I’ve gotten a very slow start — did 15 minutes of writing organizing, 10 minutes of e-mail work on a collaborative story. Still kind of exhausted from WisCon, but getting there. Will ping when I’ve done more, have therapy appt. @ 1.”

“Okay, have finished off reading e-mails re: Joker Moon story for Wild Cards, responded to George, made notes for revision, moved into folder ‘hold for George’s response’. So that’s one thing done, at least. Next in queue, start drafting “Three Kings” story for Wild Cards. May not get to today, but that’s okay; this was good progress, if only an hour of work.”

Board

I’m at a weird point in my life where it seems like every few weeks I get an invitation to be on a board. That sounds very honoring, but in actuality, it’s mostly come do some free work for us; that’s how working boards for non-profits operate.
 
Which is just fine, I’m in favor, and the thing is, they are all organizations I am excited about and believe in, and I am, in fact, honored that they would trust me to help steer the organization. But I cannot serve them all.
 
I think I need to make some guidelines for myself about how many hours of work I can give to boards annually. Considering also how many hours of work I donate to directing the SLF and DesiLit (about 5-20 hours / month, depending on what we’re doing), and how many hours I donate to being an elected trustee for the OP libraries (about 10 hours / month).
 
My term at the Museum of Science and Industry (about 2 hours / month, averaged out) is ending, so that opens up a slot, potentially. Hmm…

Summer

There’s a perception that academics have their summers ‘off,’ which is sometimes true, if you aren’t scrambling desperately to pick up summer classes because your neoliberal university flat-out refuses to pay its adjuncts a fair wage the rest of the year, oops that went in a direction I didn’t intend but while I’m here, Kev and I are hosting the faculty union barbecue tomorrow, please come and we will talk about our bargaining goals for this coming year and feed you much food because the revolution requires deliciousness, the army marches on its stomachs…
 
…okay, resetting.
 
There’s a perception that academics have their summers ‘off,’ but that’s actually our main research & writing time. What that means in my case is that classes end in early May, then there’s finals, then grading for finals, then I collapse for a day in utter exhaustion (the semester is a sprint, but also a marathon), then there’s catching up on all the household stuff that has completely fallen apart in the last frantic weeks of the semester, then I go to WisCon which is basically a week solid between prep and time there and recovery, so today, today is actually the start of my summer.
 
Plan for summer weekdays:
 
– go to bed by 10 (not quite there yet, due to shifting back from WisCon up until 3, but getting there)
– up at 6, coffee and gardening and garden photos before it gets hot, FB and goofing off
– 7:30 – 9:30, writing (internet off at router). At 9:30, send Margaret accountability text with what I’ve done.
– 9:45 – 10:00 – drop kids at art camp
– 10 – 3: more writing if so motivated, but fine if not, lots of reading, drawing practice, go to gym, internet and SLF work, e-mails, thinking about writing (often more important than actual writing)
– 3 – 9: family time, craft time, gardening once it cools down, socializing, etc.
– 9-10: time with Kev
 
I’m going to try to protect the 7:30 – 3 slot, so if I don’t want to socialize or have meetings with you then, it’s me, not you!

2018 WisCon

The SLF party went really well, and I’m hoping to do it again next year at WisCon and make it a regular thing. Keffy and Nibedita were there promoting Glittership, Beth had copies of her new book, Liminal Spaces, and I sold quite a few copies of my books — my original cookbook, in particular, sold like hotcakes, possibly because I was serving various curries at the party. Fun! I would change a few things — I ran out of time to make SLF materials, so definitely need to do that, and I think it’d help to have a slideshow running with information on the organization. Also, it’d be great if the room had a couch! We’ll see what we can do next year…

Elsewhere, there’s a discussion going about exclusive spaces at conventions, where the pros tend to gather, etc. And that’s a fine conversation to have, but I wanted to say that for me, as someone who has gone from fan to newbie writer to emerging writer to mid-career established — getting access to the pro spaces is not the most important thing.

I don’t want to discount access. It can be helpful, having a conversation with an editor or a senior writer or an agent at the right time (though the valuable bits never seem to come when you might expect them to).

Mostly, though, the vast benefits to my career have come from spending time with my peers, making joyful work together.

At this particular con, Diane Silver sent a note a few weeks before the con, proposing a spontaneous poetry reading to a few friends. It was lightly attended, but that didn’t really matter — it was a pure pleasure, reading and listening to poetry for an hour in the midst of a busy con. Making space for contemplation. It reminded me that I did some good work, when I was writing the cancer poems that found their way in Perennial. I haven’t written much poetry lately, so it’s a useful reminder to make more space for it. And then last night, at a critique session, Jackiesaid that she thought I should try to publish my poems before putting them on Facebook. And I honestly have never really considered that, and I’m not sure if I’m going to do it now, but the notion is spinning in my brain, so we’ll see. It may turn into something fruitful.

Another example — I met Kel more than 20 years ago, a friend of Jed’s. I went to their wedding, and I was delighted when they published “Miss Parker Down the Bung,” in the magazine I’d founded. It remains one of my favorite stories SH ever bought. Flash forward two decades — they’ve moved across the country, developed an interest in game design, and when Benjamin Rosenbaum is looking for someone to co-teach a game class, I think of Kel and put them in touch. Soon Kel was teaching classes on their own, and when I casually mention that I have an idea for a game, they put together a breakfast meeting here at WisCon with me and an artist and a student of theirs, and we sketch out a process for brainstorming a video game over the next few months — if it goes well, we’ll be Kickstarting it early next year. I couldn’t have predicted any of this from that first meeting.

Now I’m seeing out the last of WisCon with Anthony Ha, who I just met this year, sitting across a table at Michelangelo’s. Ben (another Strange Horizons writer whom I met a decade ago) put together a group reading with us and David Moles. I also met David around that same time — he and Ben quickly became two of my favorite people in the world, and I could listen to them amiably argue forever. I don’t know Anthony very well, but after a few hours reading his wonderful story and critiquing together yesterday and a few hours chatting in the hotel hot tub and our room, I can already tell I think he’s pretty great, and look forward to spending more time with him. And maybe some productive artistic collaboration will come out of it down the line, and maybe not — probably not, actually, because even just at WisCon, there are a hundred times more interesting people doing interesting things than I could possibly find time and energy to create with.

I suppose my point with all of this is that if you’re a new writer, and you’re going to a convention, don’t spend all your time and energy trying to hang out with the big names. Sure, a little bar time listening to Gardner Dozoisand Sheila Williams talk about editing Asimov’s was always entertaining and enlightening to a young writer (and now I’m missing Gardner all over again).

But — to the extent that your energy and sociability levels allow — just talk to people. Writers, readers, artists, costumers, filkers. Let them get to know you, know what you do, what you care about, who you are. Encourage them to share their own talents and passions.

Maybe someday someone like David Moles will make a chibi version of you and put it on a poster and slap it up on a wall, and then maybe someone will come up to you at the Signout with a copy of your book that came out four years ago and say they enjoyed your reading so much, and could you please sign this?

And whether or not that happens, in the talking and the laughing and the making art together, there will be a lot of joy.