The Mixer Repair Story from Hell

This story has been long in its making.  It was long in its making before blogging fell so far down on my priority list that it stopped happening ever except for rare moments of import. This story was long in its making because it’s one of those tales of things spiralling into tiny chronic persecution for months.

Pieces of this story start last October when, as part of my November grocery shopping, I find myself standing in the aisle at Costco with a problem.  The problem is this: I’m out of yeast.  I’ve gotten into a weekly-ish bread making habit and have gone through the jar that spent a long time sitting neglected in my fridge at an alarming clip.  At a loaf a week, it’s reasonable for me to buy yeast in Costco portions, especially since it has a three year use date.  The problem?  I already know that I’m going to be moving.  My traditional philosophy of, “I’ll use it eventually,” is no good any more.  I don’t yet know where I’m moving to, or when I’m going, but I know it’s less than three years away, so this yeast purchase will, in fact, be affected by my relocation. (Everything was affected) Buy it in Costco quantities, and risk wasting it, or spend the same amount on significantly less yeast at the grocery store with a much lower risk of bacteria-death on my hands?

I bought the Costco package.

By late March, when the next piece of the story happens, I knew that three years had been an absurdly optimistic time line and I was, in fact, moving before the end of the year, before winter, even.  I had a lot of yeast to use.  An absurd amount of yeast.  I started making bread for friends.  All. The. Time.  We have a standing date to watch TV? You get bread. I met you once but you taught me Hanabi and I’m going back?  You get bread. We were in the same room for a while and you looked like hunger might be a physical sensation you once experienced?  BREAD.  I was, in fact, in the middle of having my mixer knead a loaf for the Hanabi folk when it started to make a horrible noise, then stopped turning.IMG_6932

I removed the bowl, it turns fine. I put an empty bowl in and set it going. Fine. Set the dough hook to have it knead? Nothing.  My mixer has died, and I get to hand knead my dough like somebody who bakes to bake rather than as a mildly absurd time management system.

Later, I go to the internet.  It’s a KitchenAid, which means it’s immortal, right? Nope. But it does at least have a lifetime warranty, right? Nope. But it is something I can fix, right? Yup! The internet says that this is a thing that happens to KitchenAid mixers all the time, because there’s a gear designed to fail when things are getting worn so you don’t burn up your motor.  Just pop the mixer apart, replace the gear, slap it all together and you’re good to go.  Easy peasey!

<insert crazed, hysterical laughter here>

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I didn’t even think about fixing the mixer until I was back from L.A.  Or a few weeks after I was back from L.A.  Or until May.  Basically, it took the weight of all the yeast I wasn’t using, weighing down on me with tiny little yeast shrieks of “You bought us and we’re going to be wasted and never fulfil our culinary imperative to make things fluffy!” to put this high enough on my priority list to deal with.

The first part was easy.  That was just removing the decorative metal band that hides the screws holding the top on.  I figured out how to do that without even looking up repair guides.

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The inside of the mixer is pretty cool.  I may have set it to run with the top off just to stare at it and see how the different bits interacted long enough to justify embarrassment.  (May have. Certainly didn’t.)  The horrible sounds had been coming from the front of the mixer, which is at the left of that picture, so I pushed onward in my disassembly.

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Dude, there’s been stealth steampunk hiding in my kitchen all this time!  Also, hooboy does that grease get everywhere.  And there’s a lot of it.  A whole lot.

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“This is seeming pretty straightforward,” you’re saying to yourself.  “Why is Anaea making such a big deal out of it?”  You’re a jerk for thinking that, by the way. Everything that follows is your fault for doubting me.

You see, we’re at the point where, without help, I’m stuck. The gear I need to replace is one of the ones on the left in the earlier photo.  The one on the bottom, specifically.  I cannot, grab, grapple, beg, or twist as I may, cannot get the top gear off.

To the internet for directions! The internet is full of repair manuals for KitchenAids.  They’ve been made since forever, and are all put together essentially the same way, so there are tons and tons of copies of the official repair manual.  There are videos,  There is a universal consensus that what I need to do is get the planetary, the rotating bit that the various attachments hook onto, taken off.  There are even diagrams about how to do this.

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There exist specialized pliers for getting that ring off, but I didn’t have them and I was in a hurry, so between two screw drivers and a pair of scissors, I mange to work it out of its groove.  Except…yeah, that’s not doing it.  And when I look at the diagrams more closely, they don’t quite match up to what I’m actually seeing with my mixer.  I have, in fact, managed to buy the one mixer that isn’t assembled like every other KitchenAid on the planet.  When I start googling its model number, I turn up user guides, but no repair manuals.  I am screwed.  (But not kneaded.)

It is now July.

After weeks of plaintively pointing houseguests toward my mixer and saying, “There’s a prize if you can figure out how to get the gears off – careful of the grease,” I poke at the grease a bit.  And stare.  And cuss.

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Do you see it?  The tiny ring on top of the top gear, holding it in place against rotational forces and incompetent bakers?  It’s been there, thwarting me, the whole time and I’ve never spotted it because it was so covered in grease it looked like just a lump of it.  But now my problem is solved, so I break out the screw drivers and scissors and…IMG_6950It is now August.     I went to three different hardware stores, and finally broke down and ordered them from Amazon because the hardware stores were not helping.  I only needed one of these, and will never need them again, but I have them now.

The yeast voices, begging to be turned into bread before I pack up all the possessions I’m keeping and flee to Seattle, leaving the rest behind, are constantly sobbing at this point.

Armed with pliers, I do it.  I get the gears off, I put new ones in.  I have a whole can of new grease I use to coat everything.  I put it all back together and it rotates and is lovely and works.  I make brownies.  Delicious!  I make bread.

Two minutes into the kneading cycling, there’s a horrible grinding noise, and then the mixer refuses to rotate.  At all.  Even if there’s no resistance.  My mixer is now more broken than it was in March before I started repairing it.  I have no idea why.  I also don’t care. I haven’t had troubleshooting/repairing a problem go on and spiral like this since I switched to Ubuntu lo these many years ago.  I’m calling in a professional.

The professionals say they’ll charge half as much as the mixer costs to buy new.  That still saves me half of the price tag on a new mixer, but it’s not exactly the level of frugality I’d been hoping for.  The questions start.  Do I still even need this mixer?  Will I make bread in Seattle like I do here? Wouldn’t I rather just walk to some delicious local bakery and buy their bread all the time?  Will this mixer even fit in my future unknown kitchen?  I would decide to wash my hands of the whole thing except the yeast. The giant packaged of unused yeast. I will never, ever use it if I have to hand knead every loaf.

Despairing, I make one last, plaintive phone call to Costco.  “Hi.  I bought a KitchenAid mixer from you six years ago. It’s stopped working.  The worm gear is bad. Do you do small appliance repair or anything for these?”

“Just bring it back.”

“What?”

“Just bring it back. You still have all the parts, right?”

“I still have the box it came in. But I bought it six years ago. And I did use it a lot. I’m a bread maker.”

“Yeah, bring it back.  We’ll take the return.”

IMG_6953I went to Costco.  I turned my old broken mixer into a brand new, very shiny mixer.

I should have given up in March.  Also, Costco is the best.

Fund Drive Season

I have an office again, and soon, it’ll even have internet and I’ll be back to blogging.  But, in the mean time, it’s a very special time of year and I want to make sure you remember it.  That’s right, the annual Strange Horizons fund drive has started.  You give money to fund another year of a fantastic magazine, and in the process you get entered to win fabulous prizes and unlock bonus content.  What’s not to love?

Unlike last year, where I was scrambling to make sure I recorded the extra content faster than we were raising money, I got all the bonus podcasts done early.  Hurray!  Then again, I managed that because I was (correctly) expecting to be more or less out of commission for the entire month, so you won’t be able to check with me for our current status.  Fortunately, you can check the fund drive page for all the information you need.  Fill up the rocket, because a full rocket is a happy rocket and happy rockets are full of kittens.

So Inflamed, I Have Left: Now in Penumbra!

It’s been quite a summer, and I plan to tell you parts of it to make up for getting boring and absent, but to tide you over, if you miss me you can go check out my latest publication, this time a return to Penumbra as the featured story.  What does it mean to be the featured story?  It means your name gets really, REALLY big.

Given my proclivity for cheerful, upbeat stories, finding something to fit the pain theme was a real challenge, let me tel you ;)

Ken Liu Will Make you Cry, and I Helped

Quie a while ago something really nifty happened: I got an email from Podcastle asking whether I’d be willing to read a story they bought from Ken Liu.  I read the email while out to dinner with friends, because I’m the sort of rude jerk who does that.  

“Is something wrong?  You seem to be pondering this very seriously,” one of my dinner companions said.

“I’m trying to figure out how many exclamation points to put after the ‘OMG, hell yes,'” I replied.

I like Ken Liu stories because they’re really good at making people cry.  He’s got a knack for the well delivered emotional gut punch.  And this story of his at Podcastle?  There will be tears, people.  Many, many tears.

Because it’s hilarious.

You should go check it out, unless of course you don’t like laughter and joy.  In that case, since I’m usually against them myself, I’ll understand.

Dear Wisconsin

It’s probably pretty obvious what I’m going to say, writing to you today, but I need to say it, and you need to hear it.

I’m leaving you.

It would be fair to say that I was always going to leave you, but that’s not true, is it?  There was a while there where you were acting like somewhere I’d be willing to make my home permanently, and I accepted that from you.  Ours was an arranged marriage from the start – I left Chicago to come here not because I wanted you, but because I was broke and in debt and needed the job only you were willing to offer me – but it could have grown into a love match.  We could have been partners and allies and lovers into my gray years.  I’m hugely allergic to you, and you’re just about the only place I seem to have allergies, but I was willing to overlook that to have what you were offering.

You know what I’m talking about.  You did it on purpose, a lure designed to soften me to your charms and offerings.  You got me invested.  You got me interested and involved.  You made promises.  And then you were too ham-fisted, fumblingly incompetent to deliver on them.  You were weak.  Your were pathetic.  You were embarrassing.  That is a seven point spread I will hold against you forever.

Make no mistake – I am angry with you.  I have been angry with you for two years.  I am going to be angry with you for a long, long time.  I worked hard for you and you betrayed me.    You have some serious, deep, self-loathing issues and I am beyond caring about what that does to you because first, I’ve got to deal with the fallout of what it did to me.  I am finished with you.  I’m out of here.

Two years is a long time to wait.  You could call me petty, or unforgiving for holding onto it this long without doing something before.  That’d be fair.  I shouldn’t have trusted you, shouldn’t have stopped clearing my exits just because it looked like we might have a permanent thing going.  I shouldn’t have gotten so invested that even now, two years later, I can barely have a civil conversation about what went on between us.  That’s on me.  I’ll accept that.  But the right solution is the same.

I don’t care what you do in your next election.  Go hang yourself.  I’ll be making my way out to Seattle.  Washington has its own set of problems and issues, but we’ll be starting on better terms, and at the very least I won’t be compromising on my basic infrastructure preferences and my ability to breathe for three quarters of the year.

I’d wish you the best going forward, but I really don’t care as long as you’re not my problem any more.

The Rhetoric of N.K. Jemisin’s Wiscon Guest of Honor Speech

It’s no secret that I’m a huge, giant, slobbery fan of N.K. Jemisin.  I’m such a huge fan that I usually get about two sentences in to describing how much I like everything she does and want more from her before a voice that sounds distressingly like Neil Gaiman pops up in the back of my head and goes, “Now, now.  Nora Jemisin is not your bitch.”  And then I whine at the voice and go, “But she’s so good!  Surely I’m entitled to demand more of the good stuff from her.”  The voice is so very polite, and so endearingly English that I bite my tongue and whoever I was talking to wonders why I started stuttering mid-sentence. This is a thing I share so you can guess at some of what was going on in my brain when I approached her the day after her guest of honor speech to ask whether she’d be okay with me analyzing her speech at the rhetorical level.  It was important to me that I ask since 1) Analyzing the rhetoric could be seen as being dismissive of the very important and worthy content 2) I know enough writers to know they trend toward neurosis and having somebody examine how their sausage is made could in some small way contribute to her writing or arguing less which is the opposite of what I’d want and 3) It’s polite and given that she was right there, was easy to do. Things I learned from asking her if she’d mind: 1) No, she doesn’t mind 2) It’s really hard to communicate coherently when you’re having loud arguments with phantom Neil Gaiman in your brain about where the line between gushing fangirl and creepy-entitled-fan is and 3) She probably actually has no idea that I’m the person who wrote a review of her book that consisted mostly of, “I want to eat her liver.”  I’m pretty sure I’m still going to have to answer for that someday. At any rate, I have her blessing, and the rhetoric in that speech is very cool, so here goes the analysis.  The whole speech is here, and you should go there to read it.  I’m going to quote it here extensively, but it’s better if you go read the whole thing on its own, first.

I’m tempted to just stop there, drop the mic, and walk offstage, point made. Chip’s a hard act to follow.

This is the first moment of rhetorical greatness in the speech.  One, it’s a really evocative image.  She doesn’t have to literally walk of the stage to borrow the impact of doing just that, which nicely lures the audience in.  We’re invested in listening to what she says from this point, because she didn’t just walk away, point made.  She’s taking the time to share more, and we want to hear what it is.  But it’s also very generous to the audience, crediting them with knowing and understanding exactly why should could just stop there and walk off.  It’s a signal that she’s assuming we’re peers.  The subtext is very “Friends, Romans, Countrymen,” in nature.  Given where the speech goes, building this relationship with the audience is critical.

Like Chip said, this stuff has always been here. It’s just more intense, and more violent, now that the bigots feel threatened.

And it is still here. I’ve come to realize just how premature I was in calling for a reconciliation in the SFF genres last year, when I gave my Guest of Honor speech at the 9th Continuum convention in Australia.

There’s a ton going on here.  One, we’re tying the current situation back to the past, while invoking the authority of somebody external.  That gives legitimacy to the points we’re making about the current situation while bolstering the authority of the peopple we’re citing.  Then we follow that bolstering of authority up with a confession of error.  This is really neat because, set up this way, admitting the error becomes a means of reclaiming a position of strength in the rhetorical space.  You’re swapping out the current, weak position for a new one which as of this moment us unknown but untainted and therefore potentially stronger.  This is what many bad apologies try to do, and they fail becuase that’s the wrong place for this technique.  In a badass call-to-arms, however, it’s great, especially since minor admissions of error are humanizing and endearing, making the speech-giver somebody the crowd is more inclined to follow.

During the month or so that it took SFWA to figure out what it wanted to do with this guy, a SFWA officer sat on the formal complaint I’d submitted because she thought I had “sent it in anger” and that I might not be aware of the consequences of sending something like that to the Board.

The whole paragraph is a beautiful bit of summary, letting the audience know context and history in case they don’t with enough commentary that it’s not a straight-up “As you know, Bob.”  That’s important since it would undermine the assumption of peer-ness established early on and risk being patronizing.  It also does a fantastic job of drawing clear lines between the us and them.  I call out this specific sentence from the whole paragraph because it strikes me as the meatiest.  Before this sentence, the facts could be read as ones of the system working: bigot misbehaves, bigot gets punished, why are y’all upset?  This line torpedoes that possible interpretation while also drawing attention to the fact that while she’s not patronizing us, they patronized her rather ferociously.  The ironic tone taken in the whole paragraph gives “sent it in anger” an extra bite.  Of course she sent it in anger – she’s angry, and behavior like this is exactly why.  That extra bit isn’t something an audience is likely to be consciously aware of, but it gives some extra depth and stimulus for them to hang on to and keeps them engaged and listening.

But I suspect every person in this room who isn’t a straight white male has been on the receiving end of something like this — aggressions micro and macro. Concerted campaigns of “you don’t belong here”.

This is straight-up “my problems are your problems, and your problems are my problems.”  Peer-group building.  “Us” reinforcement.  She just co-opted everybody who isn’t a straight white male into her cause.  The “aggressions micor and macro” part is especially critical since it gives permission to everybody who hasn’t received death and rape threats to feel like they belong in that group.  Me, I was doing the, “Er, not really?” until that line.  After that line, well, all the stories I could share are fundamentally boring, but there are plenty.

(Incidentally: Mr. Various Diseases, Mr. Civility, and Misters and Misses Free Speech At All Costs, if you represent the civilization to which I’m supposed to aspire then I am all savage, and damned proud of it. You may collectively kiss my black ass.)

And here, gentlefolk, is the line where I went, “Oh hells yes, am I need to go blog the rhetoric in this speech RIGHT THIS VERy SECOND.”  This line is brilliance laced with crack.

1) It reclaims rhetoric used against her, turns it around, and makes it a bludgeon for counter-attack. Suddenly “half-savage” is so mincing and weak.  It’s a variant on the trick used with the admission of error earlier, but with an added layer of pulling the rung out from under the “them.”  Intead of switching positions from weak to strong, it recharacterizes the position she’s in.

2) You-my constructions reinforce the us-them dynamic she’s building.  Not all speeches need an us-them dynamic, but all calls-to-arms do, and the success of said call depends on how well the lines around us and them are drawn.

3) “Kiss my black ass,” is a cultural cliche.  Everybody, including Hollywood, knows that a mouthy, defiant black American is willing to whip out this particular invitation as needed.  It’s an ethnic middle finger.  Using it here reinforces the power of “all savage.”  It’s an assertion of the ethnic and racial tones, a claiming of ownership over them, and an aggressive declaration that they are, in fact, a strength.  And since she’s drawn her us-them lines very effectively up to here, everybody in the room gets to share in the power of that assertion, whether or not they’re in posession of a black ass to be kissed.

(I don’t even need to name a specific example of this; it’s happened too often, to too many people.)

Nice reinforcement of us-them.  It gives the audience permission to not know exactly what she’s talking about after she’s gone through a long list of things that anybody following closely could tie to this or that specific event.  It’s okay that you aren’t following closely – it’s ubiquitous, we all  know that, we’re a team, let’s move along.

Yeine, the protagonist of THE HUNDRED THOUSAND KINGDOMS, was almost a white man because I listened to some of what these people were saying.

The objective brilliance of this particular line is questionable, but it gut-punched me.  That would have ruined that book, and the thought that it nearly happened fills me with a sort of existential terror that has brain-Gaiman sighing in polite exasperation.  I suspect anybody who loves this book correctly, that is to say the way I love this book, would feel the same way.  Anybody else, this is a wasted line.  But her audience was a convention where she was Guest of Honor – it’s a pretty safe place to make a gamble like this.

For the first time in my life I was diagnosed with high blood pressure earlier this year. It’s back down to normal, now, but bigotry kills, you know.

Our second admission of weakness, a pause in the rising rhetoric of power-claiming.  We’re humanizing again, putting an intimate, tangible face on the violence and consequences of the violence referenced in summary and abstraction so far.  We’re all in this together, we’re all cheering for our speech giver, and look at the sacrifices she’s already made, the personal, specific damage already wrought.  This is critical, because it sets up the need for assistance that justifies the call to arms.

So. If they think we are a threat? Let’s give them a threat. They want to call us savages? Let’s show them exactly what that means.

And from here on we’re in a tumbling, climactic, super-empowering call-to-arms.  There’s no weakness here.  It’s all assertion and instruction. It’s a claim of ability supported by concrete guidelines for how to execute it.  This is where she cashes in on the setup of the earlier speech.  This is where she closes the loops she openened earlier, ties up her loose ends, justifies staying on the stage even though she could have just dropped the mic and walked away.

Fucking fight.

Short, sweet, to the point.  Yes, ma’am.

Strange Horizons Podcast Contest: You Can Win

Today I announced a new contest on the Strange Horizons podcast.  The gist is this: I want more people commenting on and interacting with the podcast.  I’m offering bribes to make it happen.  There are two ways to win:

1) Comment on the story or podcast, starting with today’s, and going until July 9.  I’ll randomly choose one commenter from that time.  It’s raffle-style, so every (quality, as judged by me) comment gets you an entry.

2) Tell people about the contest.  The person judged by me to have most effectively spread the word about the contest will also win.

What do you win?  I’m so glad you asked!  You’ll get a free copy of audio book for The End is Nigh.  This is the first part of John Joseph Adams and Hugh Howey’s Apocalypse Triptych.  This is an awesome prize, and you yearn for it.  You yearn for it so much, you’re going to go start commenting right now.