9/24/14

The Bullshit Manifesto

I hereby decree the following:

Basically, everything is bullshit.

ISIS and ISIL are bullshit.
Bombing people is bullshit.
Classifying people is bullshit.
Status symbols are bullshit.
Fame is bullshit.
Being passive aggressive is bullshit.
Being a right in your face asshole is bullshit.
Small talk is bullshit.
Gatekeeping is bullshit.
Living through your kids is bullshit.
The Ivy Leagues are bullshit.
Professional sports is bullshit.
Circling the wagons is bullshit.
Social media is bullshit (ironic, I know).
Selling things is bullshit.
Selling yourself is even more bullshit.
Chasing after material possessions is bullshit.
Having your face in a screen all day is bullshit.
Denying inequality is bullshit.
Denying patriarchy is bullshit.
Being hurtful is bullshit.
Practically every institution is, on some level, bullshit.
Keeping a stiff upper lip is bullshit.
Anything that keeps your from being authentic is bullshit.

Only one thing is not bullshit: Love.

Alone among countries, Bhutan tracks its Gross Happiness Product. It does this to see if its citizens are becoming more or less happy. Likewise, I believe we should each keep track of our Gross Love Product. When you make a decision, you should ask yourself: will this increase the world's Gross Love Product? If the answer is yes, go for it. If the answer is no, then it's bullshit. If you can not decide how your choices affect the GLP, you should unpack the concept of love a little. Are you making a compassionate choice? Are you making a respectful and kind choice? There you go. That should solve your problem.

Obviously, you cannot remove yourself from the bullshit world. Like I said, basically everything is bullshit so that would be impossible. It's okay to live in the bullshit world, you just have to know that you are surrounded by bullshit and artifice and you must try not to be sucked in. Remember: the remedy for bullshit is love.

9/15/14

My writing process: Hint it involves zombies

What are you working on?
How does your work differ from others in your genre?
Why do you write what you do?
How does your writing process work?

Desiree Zamorano, who blogs at The Restless Chef and who is the author of the novel The Amado Women, tagged me with these writerly questions, and since I do whatever the fabulous Desiree asks, I will answer them now.

What are you working on?
I am currently working on staying sane until I go back to work next week. Too-long breaks make me neurotic, especially when most of my time is spent making sure each of my teenagers feels EQUALLY aggrieved. Oh, Wait! This is supposed to be about what I'm writing! I get it.

I'm working on the second of three book series. Part one is resting until I can approach my third draft with cold-hearted detachment. Part one is called Optimized, and part two is called Optimystic. The series is about a high school slacker who begins to investigate a group of peers who are involved in the clinical trial of a new medication. The medication makes people Einstein-smart but, alas, also  makes them look and act like zombies. The question is: just how far zombie have they gone?

How does your work differ from others in your genre?
I like to flirt with the line of reality. What is real? What could be real? How do we know the difference? Also, I like that my characters don't live segmented lives. For example, my girl Mia can investigate the maybe-zombies all she wants, but she still has to worry about how she will get into the college of her choice.

Why do you write what you write?
I always start from a place of curiosity. What questions or issues can I not stop thinking about? Whatever they are, that's what I need to explore through writing. In the case of Optimized, the questions that really got me going were: Why are we so obsessed with winning and with categorizing people and institutions into winners and losers? How far zombie would a person be willing to go (or might a parent push them to go) to get into the college of his or her choice?

How does your writing process work?
Writing is hard. Revising is fun. With that in mind, I try to be very disciplined. 1000 words a day, five days a week: That is my goal. I start by re-reading/editing the work I did the day before. That tends to get my juices going. Then I plod along and I write those 1000 words, no matter how horrible they are--and they are usually horrible. When I'm about half way done with a draft I will usually go back to the beginning and make a lot changes because by then I'll have a better sense of what needs to happen or what kind of actions or way of speaking is authentic for a character. Then, after I do that, I plod through the second half. Then I revise the whole thing, which I enjoy. Then I get people to read it. Then I revise. I do that until I'm sick of the thing and can do it no longer.

Okay. Your turn. I'd love to hear all about your writing process, either in the comments or on your blog. Go!

PS: The photo is of my lovely workstation. It's looking pretty organized--that's should be your first clue that I am in a worrisome neurotic stage!



9/8/14

On Vaccines and Choices and Lesser Lives

My big girl had a wee bit of a meltdown on Saturday. You may have heard that a growing number of parents are refusing to vaccinate their children. The LA Times had a big story about the growing number of unvaccinated kindergardeners last week. You can find that story here. My girl heard me talking about the article with my younger daughter. She heard my younger daughter ask me why parents didn't want to vaccinate their kids, and then she heard me say, "Some people think vaccinations can cause things like autism."

And that was when the meltdown started. Actually, the meltdown didn't start right away, because at first she had to really think about it, she had to put all the puzzle pieces together. It was a while before I heard her crying in her room. It was a funny kind of crying, part grief, part heartbreak, part anger. She said to me, "What's wrong with those people? They would rather risk their child dying of some horrible illness than have a child like me, someone with autism."

Ah. There it was. And she was right. In all the debate over vaccinations, the unspoken truth is the one she recognized right away, and that most of us read right past. There are people who would risk their children getting something like polio or measles--illnesses that once routinely wiped out entire families--than have a daughter like mine, a daughter who is disabled.

Now, as the parent of a disabled child I can tell you right now that I would rather have a child without a disability too--so don't think I'm getting all judgey on you. I'm not. I'm just asking you to think about a truth that is veiled for most of us, unless, of course, it is a truth that is faced directly by you and you see it for what it is: a statement about what our society likes its humans to look and act like.

When my girl said all this to me, I said, "I can see why that would feel hurtful to you. But remember too, Autism is a spectrum. You are very articulate. You are in community college. But some people on the Spectrum never even talk. All most parents really want to know is that they can die and their kids will be okay. Some parents never know that. It is very hard."

"But even if they can't talk they are not less," she said. "They are just as good as anyone."

And this, too, is true. Is my daughter less because she has autism or epilepsy or learning disabilities? Is she less because she is not at Stanford? Will she be less if she cannot succeed in community college? What if she can never hold a job? What if she can never live independently? Will she be less then?

You're probably thinking, no, of course not. So would you want her as your daughter?

You can say no. I won't blame you. I know how profoundly hard it is to live with a person with special needs. These are not philosophical questions for me. This is my real life. And it is hard. I know that as much as I think my daughter is as fully whole as anyone else, that I live in a world where she will not be treated as whole, where she will have fewer opportunities, where her challenges will often make other people's lives more inconvenient. Not everyone will want to work with her. Not everyone will feel like she can pull her weight. And that that is a very difficult thing to contemplate as I get older and worry about what will become of her.

But think it through. Think it all the way through, the way she did. If you do not want a daughter like mine, if you would rather risk your child getting a deadly illness (and unless you are ready to deny history you must admit they are deadly) then aren't you playing a sort of eugenics game? Aren't you saying I am really only interested in this baby as long as it doesn't have a disability that  I believe might be caused my this vaccine. I would rather have my baby die than suffer through the parenting of someone with this disability or than see them suffer through that disability.

Hey! You can say yes! I won't judge you. Because parenting a special needs kid is not for the feint of heart (and believe me I am totally the feint of heart so I know).

But maybe what we really need to do is worry less about whether a vaccine might cause autism and more about how we can build the networks we all need when the myths of perfection or independence begin to unravel, as they will for all of us. For we are all of us imperfect and we are all of us dependent, and if we could see that our humanity lies in those imperfections and those dependencies then maybe we would see that we are all of us whole and good enough and that none of us is
less and that, because of that, we will always have someone's back and someone will always have ours.

9/3/14

Advice for College Freshman

Dear College Freshman:

I know you have been offered a lot of unsolicited advice lately, and I know you are probably sick of it. But I have some for you anyway. I have been teaching college students for many years. I stand across a podium from you everyday. I grade your work. I know what I am talking about.

Here are my top tips for college success:

1. Come to my office hours. Visiting office hours is the number one predictor of student success. I read that somewhere. I don't remember where, so I don't know if that is actually true but it should be. It is very hard to give an unwelcome grade to someone you know is doing everything possible to be successful, and if you come to my office hours regularly (not just once or twice, but maybe every few weeks) I know that you are trying to be successful. You might be thinking: "But I never know what to say." Here is what you say: "How can I do better in your class?" or "Will you look at my rough draft?" or "Can we talk about the reading?"

2. Sit in the front of the classroom. You know what I think when I see you sitting in the back of class? I think: Why do you want so much distance between us? What are you feeling insecure about? Hmmm. Should I be feeling insecure about you too? You know what I think when you sit in the front of the class? I think: Wow. You are ready to learn. I bet you are really smart and will do well in this class. You know what else? If you are in the very front row, I will hardly ever look at you. My gaze falls on the middle of the classroom. So you get bonus points for your engagement but you will hardly ever be called on--unless you want to be called on.

3. Do the reading. Most professors take it for granted that you will never do the reading. So, if you do the reading and then say something specifically about the reading or if you (even better!) specifically reference a part of the reading in your paper or your midterm I will think, "Oh my God! She did the reading! I adore her!" It is always good if I adore you. I will have a very hard time giving you an unwelcome grade if I adore you.

4. Buy one of those cute little staplers. You know what I hate? I hate it when students turn in papers that are not attached in any way, or, worse, struck together through some sort of complicated folded and/or tearing/origami technique. I am like you! I am usually only sort-of organized. If your paper is not stapled I worry I will lose parts of it, and if it is typed then I will definitely get it confused with someone else who also printed in Times New Roman 11. Don't get me in a bad mood before I've even started looking at your work. Remember: It's best when I adore you.

5. Don't skip class and tell me that your grandma died. Let me tell you, people: college is a dangerous time for the grandmothers of college students! They die ALL THE TIME! Every quarter students say that they had to miss class because their grandma died. So first off, call your grandma and tell her how much you love her. These next sixteen weeks are going to be dicey for her! Know this: I don't want to know why you missed class, and I definitely don't want a suspect story like your grandma died. If you have to miss class just say something important came up or you had a family emergency. That's all I need--or want--to know. And then tell me that you have already contacted your classmate to get the notes or whatever. (Soon after I wrote this yesterday I read an essay by Roxanne Gay in Bad Feminist that noted the same thing. So, really, I'm not sure why the NIH hasn't been called in on this already. Call your grandma!)

6. Don't miss class and then ask me if you missed something important. I am just enough full of myself to think that every thing I teach or say is important. And definitely don't ask me what the homework is. It is on your schedule. You know that!

7. A word about email. I am more like your boss than your friend. So use your grown up words when you write to me. Spell things out. When referring to yourself, use a capital I. And don't expect me to get back to you instantly. I have a life. It may be a sad, little life but it is mine and I don't want to spend all my time answering emails, especially if you could have easily found what you need in the syllabus. Don't vex me, people. It is never helpful for either of us.

8. Turn off your phone. There are many reasons why this is important, but here is the one I want you to remember: You staring down at your crotch, smiling, and fidgeting with your hands is not a good look for you.

9. Join a club, especially if you are at a big, public school. There is some evidence that working-class students in particular have a harder time turning their college degrees into career opportunities because they have fewer connections than their more prosperous peers--even peers with much more mediocre grades. Clubs--especially those that connect you with alumni--help you make connections and they also help you feel connected to your campus and classmates. I would say it is better to be a good student who is leading an interesting life than a stellar student who has nothing else going on.

10. Go to your writing center. Students tend to think writing centers are for people who can't write well when they are simply for people who write. You are a student. You write. I would never send my work to an
editor or agent if I didn't have my colleagues look at it first. When you go to your writing center you are not acting like an unconfident loser. You are acting like a professional. That is the image you want to go for.

8/28/14

Busy, busy, busy

Busy, busy, busy. And no writing done at all for at least a month. I'm starting to feel unsettled by it actually. You may not know this, but writing can be a sort of addiction, which if you think about it makes sense. Why else would anyone write? It's not good for your physical  health (too much sitting), It's not good for your mental health (too much time sitting alone), not good for your pocketbook (you hardly ever make any money), and you feel compelled to do it anyway. Like me. I haven't written for a month and I'm getting all antsy and nervous and pouty. But what's a girl to do? My sweet younger teen doesn't start school until Tuesday and I'm driving my sweet older teen all over the place. (She can't drive because of those pesky seizures.)

But don't you worry none about me. I have a nice loaf of zucchini-chocolate chip bread that I  have been stuffing in my gullet.

I have my adorable Scout to keep my company.



I have pretty sunflowers in my backyard.



And I've discovered this magical thing!

Plus, I think I'll squeeze in about an hour and half of writing today. That will make me happy.

Hope all is well. What have you all been up to?




8/4/14

Summer Watching

I'm sort of embarrassed to tell you this because I fear you will judge me, but I love TV, especially funny TV. I know this is a golden age of television drama--Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, etc--but those don't do it for me. For one thing, they are too long. I feel guilty taking a break in my day to watch an hour drama, but twenty minutes? Count me in. Also, if I am going to watch TV, I'm gonna wanna laugh. Here's what I'm watching lately. Basically all of it is on Hulu Plus.

Moone Boy. This Irish sitcom revolves around a young boy and his adult imaginary friend, who is played by Chris O'Dowd (one of my three secret boyfriends so, you know, this had me at go). Funny and charming and a little wacky. The boy and his best friend (a real one with his own adult imaginary friend) are hysterical.

Welcome to Sweden. Have you seen this? It's on NBC (also Hulu Plus), and I have no idea how it got on one of the three big broadcast networks. It has Swedish subtitles (although most is in English)! It also has gorgeous views of the Swedish countryside and it is surprisingly subtle and smart. I don't see how it will possibly survive, so watch it while you can.

The Mindy Project. I have a few reservations about this one. It's a workplace comedy starring Mindy Kaling as an OB/GYN looking for love. There are two seasons, and I liked the first season better, in part because she had some great women friends, who were apparently cut for the second season. In the second season, with the exception of some women in the OB/GYN office (I swear the women had more screen time the first season) it is Mindy and the other men in her practice. Mindy Kaling is adorable and funny and I love that she makes no excuses for not looking like every stick-figure woman on TV and that she always gets the hot guys, but I also wish that it had not become so centered on Mindy and her men, as opposed to Mindy and her world.

Pram-faced. High-school boy meets college-bound girl. Girl gets pregnant. Can you make a life with someone you hardly know? That's the the premise of this British show. Three seasons I think, each with about six episodes. The families of the young mum and dad are great and make the show more layer than it might seem.

The Wrong Man. Also British. Mistaken-identity caper. Low-level government official gets mixed up in international espionage. Stars James Corden, who plays the Baker in the upcoming Into the Woods.

Spy. Also also British. Low-level IT guys turns secret agent. But can he win the respect of his hard as nails son? Ah...what do you think?

Deadbeat. Just on Hulu Plus. Kind of weird, but I liked it. It's about this medium who helps the dead complete their unfinished business so that they can move on. I'm especially worried that you will judge me for this one, but it's very different, and different is good.

If I went on much longer I would worry that you think I watch TV all day, which I do not! So don't make me feel more guilty and ashamed than I already do, Ms. Oh-I'm-so-busy-reading-Flaubert.

Oh! Also, my youngest got me hooked on the new Dr. Who. But alas: No more David Tennant. No more Matt Smith. I am beside myself. You are carrying the world on your shoulders, Peter Capaldi. Good luck with that.

7/29/14

Summer Reading

What am I reading? So much good stuff! Here are my summer reads so far. Don't read too much into the order of things. It's roughly the order in which I read them.

1. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. This is actually the first of a trilogy of dystopian novels that follow a group of survivors in the aftermath of a human-created virus that has wiped out almost everyone. No one does dystopia like Atwood. All three books are smart, funny, wise, and action packed. Can someone just give Atwood her Nobel Prize already? She is as good at it gets.

2. The Wordy Shipmates and Assassin Vacation by Sarah Vowell. Okay. Strictly speaking I did not read them. I listened to them while driving, cooking, etc. Time well spent people! The first book is a history of the Puritans in New England and the other is about the assassinations of Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley. I can only say that I wish I put my PhD in history to good use and wrote these brilliant books. Funny, smart, and so interesting--I can't help thinking that people would love history if all historians wrote like Sarah Vowell. Also, she is a great reader. These are definitely good audio book choices.

3. Not a good audio book choice: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. Barbara Kingsolver: you are brilliant and this memoir of your year of eating local and growing all your own food is educational and politicizing. I'll visit the farmer's market more often, I promise. But MY GOD take it down a notch! Enough about your children who beg you for fruit and who can't get enough kale and raise their own chickens. And then you have the nerve to tell me how you all lay laughing on your bed one morning listening to your male roosters learn to crow. Show some grace. At least throw me a tantrum every now and then.

4. Wolf Hall by Hillary Mantel. I know you love this book. Everyone loves this book, which is why I tried it a second time. I got farther this time, but I still couldn't finish it. Use some proper nouns, Hillary. How else can I tell who is talking?  Still, if you want to read about Henry VIII and his attempt to dump the first wife to get a new one, give it a try. Don't read it digitally. This is a book you will need to flip back and forth between. You need paper. People I respect love this book. I acknowledge that I might be wrong about this one.

5. Famous Baby by Karen Rizzo. On the surface, this seems like a book about mothers and daughters, but it is really about the stories we tell, the stories we don't tell, and who gets to not only tell those stories but own them. It is a quick read that is funny and breezy, so much so that you might miss the deeper questions it ponders. Don't miss them. They give this beach read worthwhile substance.


7/24/14

Things I am avoiding doing RIGHT NOW


1. Updating my website
2. Making my bed.
3. Confronting the dust bunny hoards.
4. Revising my manuscript.
5. Working on my new writing project.
6. Making a cake that I won't even get to eat. (It's for an event my daughter will attend.)
7. Ordering the photo books I've been meaning to order for two months.
8. Exercising.
9. Sewing the button on my favorite sundress even though it means I can't wear my favorite sundress.
10. Anything useful.

How about you? What are you avoiding doing right now?


PS: No good reason for the photo. I just thought it was a good picture of Scout.

7/15/14

Living the Dream

This photo, my friends, is called "Living the Dream," as in you are living the dream when you are able to eat all the homegrown tomatoes you can stuff in your face.

There is really only one way to eat your homegrown tomatoes: Slice them fat. Sprinkle them with a wee bit of salt and pepper. Stop. That's it. You could do more, but why go to all that trouble when they are already perfect.

If you have so many tomatoes that you actually cannot stuff them all in your face you have two choices.

1. Share them with someone who will appreciate them. DO NOT share them with some slob who would be just as happy to eat a grocery store tomato. That sad person does not deserve the heaven that you proffer. Find a true zealot.

2. If it is cook them or toss them, you may cook them. Here is what you do:

Stack in this order: a fat slice of tomato, a tiny bit of olive oil, a slice of fresh mozzarella, chopped basil, salt and pepper. Keep adding to your stack (or stacks!) until you have a lovely tower of deliciousness. Now, bake in a 375 degree oven until the cheese gets a bit gooey. Remove from oven and put on your plate. Now, drizzle your stack with 1/2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar and 1/2 teaspoon olive oil. A jaunty sprig of basil on top will only make it prettier. Enjoy!

(Credit where credit is due: This is modified from a recipe I cut out of the LA Times when they still had a weekly food section. Ah! How I miss it even now.)

Hope you are living your dream. And by the way, what is that dream these days?


7/9/14

Anime Expo

My youngest was hanging with her crowd this weekend--her crowd being the estimated 200,000 people who jammed the LA Convention Center to celebrate all things anime. Think Comic Con but Japanese-animation themed, more girls, and a generally pretty sweet-seeming crowd.


The die hards dress up, and when my girl jumps into something, she jumps in big. It was a four day event, and she had three outfits, which she coordinated with her best friend since kindergarten. They were a marvel to behold.

You should know that at Anime Expo people do not feel limited by Japanese animation and that there is a lot of gender bending. Day one: Fem Dr. Whos. That's the tenth Dr on the left and the eleventh one on the right.


Day two: Fem Dean from the horror show Supernatural.


Days three and four: Fem Russia and Fem America from the Internet web series Hetalia.

These are wondrous days, people. Wondrous days.