About Anaea Lay

Consultant, Project Manager, Realtor - those are the boring things. Books, writing, politics, food, travel, books, people, science, parrots, and books...that's me.

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.

Minutes from the Anaea Lay Semi-annual Business Meeting

I told people I was going to have a business review meeting where I wore all my different hats and gave performance reviews.  And I mentioned how none of my hats were very happy with my other hats.  There was a request for the minutes.  Here they are.

In Attendance:

Anaea Lay, Business Manager (Real Estate)

Anaea Lay, Realtor

Anaea Lay, Chief Executive Officer

Anaea Lay, Hobby Keeper

ALB: We’ve already completed over 16% more transactions this year over all of last year, with a total revenue so far this year equal to last year’s total gross.  Hiring of additional staff has increased operating expenses but projected increased revenue should more than cover that.  Additionally, we’re trimming marketing expenses that no longer perform sufficiently.

ALCEO: Excellent.  Are there any major revisions to the projections developed at the December meeting?

ALB: No.  At our current rate we’d exceed projections through the end of the year, but we’re expecting a taper in the market beginning in late June and, of course, there will be an extreme taper in October due to the structural overhaul in the business.

ALHK: You’ll all appreciate me more then, won’t you?

ALCEO: Let’s move on to the next item on the agenda – Performance Reviews.

ALR: Good.  I have complaints.

ALCEO: Shut-up.  You’re in trouble.

ALR: I’m in trouble?  It’s not even June yet and I’ve already done more work this year than I did last year. I’m tired. I’m cranky. If things don’t shape up around here, I’m coming after you for running an abusive work environment.

ALB: You have nothing to complain about.  We’ve made significant investments in your hardware and work environment which were not in the budget projections from last year.

ALR: Whose fault is that?  It’s not like we didn’t know a ten inch netbook wouldn’t be reliable forever.

ALB: And you’ve been slack in your basic duties.

ALR: (Pause for stunned, infuriated silence) I’ve been slack?  Were you listening to yourself when you were talking earlier?  I’ve been performing like a champ. I’m a fucking nerdy real estate god. I’m converting leads, closing deals, and satisfying customers phenomenally well, with cat jokes and references to Cthulhu the whole way.

ALB: You haven’t had an open house since March.

ALR: I’ve been busy on Sundays.

ALB: Open houses are a cornerstone of our client prospecting strategy.  Moreover, you like doing them.  You just haven’t.  Since March. We’re in the middle of peak open house season, and you’re not doing them.

ALR: Are you shitting me?  I haven’t been doing them because I’ve been out with clients.  Multiple clients.  Am I the only one who remembers three-client Sunday? Probably, since IT WAS EASTER.  Two of them wrote offers.

ALB: If we don’t prospect for new clients, we’re depending on chance and Zillow for new clients.  We do not have enough clients in play to meet our optimistic projections, so prospecting is essential if we’re going to survive the infrastructure transition.  And open houses are only part of it.  You’ve dropped your Craigslist postings, too.

ALHK: About the transition, I have pertinent information.

AL CEO, B, and R: Shut-up.

ALR: You know, I’m not the only one you have on staff.  Maybe you should work on those delegating skills you claim you have and give that “additional staff,” something to do.

ALB: I suppose that’s a fair suggestion.

ALR: And while you’re at it, maybe some time off, ever.  I’m a little burned on this 24/7 thing.  We’re not really in start-up mode anymore, so I think it’s time we stopped treating me like slave labor.

ALB: You are constantly asking for time off.  You are one constant stream of, “Oooh, I’m going to take Wednesday afternoon off.  Hey, I’m taking Friday off to read.  Yeah, Sunday’s getting spent cooking and doing yard work!”

ALR: Do any of those things actually happen?

ALB: …

ALCEO: I think what B is trying to say is that you whine a lot.  We’re tired of hearing you whine.

ALR: I’m not whining.  I want more than a day off a month.

ALCEO: It says here you took a whole week off in April.

ALB: You did.  We had to hire staff to cover that.

ALR: That was a week away, not off.  I navigated a bunk appraisal, mentored the new staff, and taught a buyer’s agent how the financing and appraisal contingencies work on the paperwork that got updated four years ago.

ALB: She’s whining again.

ALHK: Can I speak now?  I really think you guys should let me speak.

ALB: What do you even do?

ALHK: I take care of all the things we do that aren’t day job things but involve money.  Remember, you gave me a mandate that all hobbies had to start paying for themselves or get axed.

ALCEO: Oh yeah.  How’s that going?

ALHK: Pretty well, actually.  We’re officially getting paid to read. This is supplementing the vice-fund when writing income doesn’t keep up with our non-grocery food and beverage consumption.

ALB: Still no chance of kicking the bubble tea habit?

AL CEO, HK, R: NO

ALB: Just asking…jeez

ALHK: Also, the voice acting has started to pay.

ALB: Speaking of hardware investment, we just spent significantly more in recording equipment than we’ve seen in voice acting income.

ALHK: The difference can come out of the vice-fund.  It has a surplus.  And the equipment upgrade will make it easier to get more paid work.  In fact, we’ve had a few feelers coming in that indicate the voice work might be able to contribute to the expenses of the impending infrastructure overhaul.

ALB: Say what?

ALHK: It’s nothing solid, but we might get a thing over the summer which would cover a significant portion of the expenses associated with that.

ALCEO: That’s fantastic!  Why didn’t you say something earlier?

ALHK: Excuse me?

ALR: They’re fucks, aren’t they?

ALCEO: You’re the one in charge of making money off strangers, and the one with the filthy mouth?  I don’t think we did this personality division optimally.

ALR: I went into the office three times this week. You’d have a filthy fucking mouth, too.

ALCEO: Are there any agenda items left?

ALB: No.

ALR: Yes there are.  We haven’t actually fixed my time off problem.

ALB: Yes we did.  We’re relocating your problematic performance areas to the new staff’s job duties and you’ll quit whining.

ALR: The only thing that actually changes is that I stop asking for things to improve.

ALB: So?  If you wanted to escape sadistic management, self-employment was not the way to go.  Have you met you?

ALR: We’re blaming the victim now?

ALCEO: That is a thing we do.

ALHK: I think she should get more time off, too.  I’m kinda suffocating on just her dregs over here.  I get that I’m just the vice-fund, but let’s face it, we’re made of vices.  I’m important.  Also, wear her out enough and she’ll start solving problems with homicide, and that’s really expensive.

ALB: True.  We don’t have enough flexibility in our budget, even if we meet the optimistic projections, to afford homicide.

ALCEO: It’s three-to-one now?

Nods from all the hats

ALCEO: Fine.  You can flag three days a week for potential days off.  Schedule showings accordingly.  Real estate work that takes less than an hour does not invalidate its status as a day off, though.  Aim for one day, or three half days, off per week.  Fair?

ALR: Behavior like this is why we’re afraid of labor uprisings.

ALHK: Oh come on.  You wouldn’t know what to do with yourself if you regularly had a proper weekend.

ALR: I could learn.

Glares from all hats.

ALR: I’ll take it.  It just isn’t fair. (Muttering) My boss sucks.

ALCEO: Okay then.  This meeting is adjourned.  We’ll reconvene in late August to plan the structural overhaul.

My WisCon Schedule

It’s WisCon this weekend, and I’m trying super, super hard to take the whole weekend off form work and actually be at WisCon.  I’m even on programming for once, so you know I’m serious.  (I also am planning to make sure I get my bubble tea fix ahead of time so that, unlike last year, I don’t have “Tapoica tapoica tapioca, NEED TAPIOCA,” as my constant subtext)

Here’s my schedule:

Saturday

Tiptree Bakesale – 12:45 – 2:15.  Come buy baked goods for a good cause.  I’ll sell them to you!

Sunday

With Jetpacks to the Dragon’s Lair 2:30-3:45 – a reading featuring Alisa Alering, Anaea Lay, Sarah Frost, Vylar Kaftan, and Keffy R. M. Kehrli.  Speaking of baked goods, there will be some.  I will be breaking from typical form and reading something I’ve planned ahead, instead of making the audience choose their own fate.  There are reasons for this, but they’re boring, so I’ll let you make up your own explanation.

Towards a Female Gaze 4-5:15 – How can media move from the default hetero male perspective to another way of seeing? What intermediate steps can help the audience learn to see differently? Moderator: Jim Hudson. Email fellow participants Jim Hudson, Anaea Lay, Jessica Plummer, Margaret Swaney, Aileen

I plan to bounce enthusiastically while talking about how sexy Arrow is and oversharing about how much fun it is to sit in the Archives-Navy Memorial D.C. metro stop and cat-call the sailors in uniform. You cannot bear to miss this.

Winning Writers of the Future Was

Guilt-inducing

“I’m going to make such an ass of myself,” I explained to Dr. Unicorn*, my best friend who moved away last summer.  “It’s a contest for beginners, and I don’t think of myself as a beginner, and when I won I’d sold enough stories to be disqualified twice over, they just hadn’t come out and the contest doesn’t count them until they do.  I’m having backward Imposter Syndrome, where I feel like I’m too qualified to be worthy, and I can’t talk about this with other writers because, come on, who the hell gets uncomfortable about winning things because they’re too successful?”

And that was basically it.  I felt like my level of ass-ness was directly proportional to how awesome winning was, because it was a win that should have gone to somebody who was a beginner, who did need the validation winning the contest would give them.

“Is this the sort of thing where friends and family would come to support you for?  Because I’d go, if you wanted me there.”

Awesome

That was the moment where all of the awesome of winning finally sank in.  It was like putting sugar in black tea or a dash of salt in cake batter.  On my own, I look at me winning and I see all the writers who haven’t been as lucky as me and had the same opportunities I’ve already had, who would get so much more out of winning, and who work really hard for it, quarter after quarter, and I feel like I cheated them.  Dr. Unicorn let me short-circuit that, made it something cool, let it be this awesome thing that was going to be fantastic.  I needed that. Bewildering

I started preparations for WotF in November.  I had to – I run my own business and if I didn’t I’d never survive a week away and absorbed by something else. My flight out to the workshop left on April 7. My first official communication about the workshop, including such information as the exact dates, came on February 15.  If dependent on ASI, I’d have had less than two months to prepare for the trip.

I didn’t get a schedule or agenda of any sort for the workshop until the day I got there.  What they gave me was a lie, more likely to lead me into error than actually represent what was happening.  They were irritated when Dr. Unicorn hadn’t already made travel plans for an event we had no information about.  During the workshop week, they’d get irritated when somebody believed the printed schedule and wound up wrong, or missed a thing because they’d been pulled away for a photo shoot, interview, etc.  It wasn’t malice.  They really are that disorganized and badly managed.

Heartwarming

This contest has had such a huge, massive impact on so many people that there’s a sort of “induction into tribe” effect surrounding it.  Past winners reached out to create spaces for the new winners to connect, ask questions, get the logistical details that ASI wasn’t together enough to provide.  The generosity displayed by those people, and then during the week itself by the judges and other professionals who don’t have to be there or do anything, but do anyway because they care and think it’s important to teach the industry and the business to the new people who are getting in and might not have any other way of learning…it’s astonishing.

I don’t mean they’re being pure altruists.  It’s in their interests to find fresh talent and build relationships with them.  But they’re far, far more generous than they have to be merely to accomplish that, and the fact that they care is enough to make the contest and the experience something special.  Things become valuable simply because people value them.

Heartbreaking

ASI’s first question when they called me was whether I’d be bringing a spouse.  I did a little dance, then gloated a bit when I said, “No, but my best friend is coming down from Seattle for the gala.”  Best friend.  I don’t mean boyfriend.  I don’t mean partner.  I mean best friend.  I mean the person who gave me the space I need to feel like I deserved this.

“Oh,” they say after a long, awkward pause.  “Well, good for you.”

The next day I got an email letting me know that the men would have their measurements taken for tuxes during the workshop week, and somebody would be in touch with the girls about acceptable colors for their dresses.  My grandmother, who loves clothes and buying me pretty things, was taking me shopping when I went to visit her.  I tried to find out from the contest what their guidelines were.  I got my dress six weeks before leaving for the workshop.

The guidelines finally came three weeks later, when their hair and makeup coordinator asked me for a picture of me in the dress.  The gorgeous dress my grandmother traipsed around Richmond with me to find.

The only question I have is if your dress is not too tight. Something like one size or even two sizes too small? It is true that the dress is probably made to be fitted but sometimes is looks better to have it not too stretchy. That is a bit of a concern I have. Is there a way to trade it for a bigger size?

And when I replied saying that my dress fit fine, but I’d be willing to wear a tux if they were concerned?

 I’ll look at it when you have arrived. If needed I will find a solution in locating another dress. I have done it many times. I am made responsible to have you all look great. I just am looking for a back-up in case, so I am not having to handle any last minute which I am sure you understand. What is your size?

One of the stories I didn’t get to hear about the contest until after I won was about the winner they made cry over her dress.  The awesome, fantastic celebration of the launching of a new writer’s career, and they made her cry.  Over a dress. Oh, and it’s not that anybody would ever say anything to Dr. Unicorn about them not being a straight man, but they shouldn’t dress too femme because the people at ASI don’t really like that.

I very nearly didn’t go.

Inspiring Have you ever watched somebody as they realize they have a shot at their dream?  I mean watched the actual realization happen, over the course of several days, where they get tired and overwhelmed and it just clicks that they’ve got what it takes?  I get high on that.  It’s part of why I like working with first time buyers as a Realtor – seeing somebody realize they get to have a thing they deeply want but didn’t actually expect to get is amazing.  The workshop week was full of that.  And watching other people watch it happen and seeing how it affected them was fantastic, too.

Embarrassing

It’s possible I dove over furniture to hug Dr. Unicorn upon their arrival Thursday night.  I’m not sure.  I know I was mid-sentence with Mark-from-Kobo, stopped to say, “Excuse me a moment,” and then I was hugging Uni.  There was furniture between where I’d been and where Uni was, and I don’t remember going around any furniture. Whatever I did, it was with grace and dignity, and I am not ashamed.

Infuriating The winners are not real people to ASI. It’s not malicious.  From ASI’s perspective, there are no real people, just pawns in their great publicity machine designed to sell books with L. Ron Hubbard’s name on them.  The workshop is a side effect, and one which clearly gets in the way of their staged publicity shots. All of their shots are staged.  They will drag you out into the afternoon L.A. sunlight, even when you’re protesting that you’re over-heated, extremely photo-sensitive, and already have a massive headache from too much daylight, then expect you to harass strangers on the street so they can film you “interviewing a stranger” for your 24-hour story. Then they’ll ask you to do it again, except could you give me that smoothie you’re clinging to as a defense mechanism?

They’ll stalk you while you’re trying to write that story to the point where the only way to avoid them is to leave the building.  Then turn off your phone, because they’ll call you to have you stage “writing” for them.  They’ll take your drinks, your bags, your jackets, whatever they think doesn’t fit with their image, and it might take days for you to get them back, if you ever do. By the end of the week I’d been triggered into disaster mode so hard that I had a pharmacy, snack bar and toothpaste in my bag, which I was clutching for dear life.  It’s been several weeks and I’m still twitchy whenever somebody’s behind me with a camera.

At the gala, they fed the vegetarians London broil.  They fed everybody London broil.  They never asked about whether there were vegetarians.  The ones who got to eat instead of being dragged off for more photo ops or for documentary interviews were lucky.  The writers never got to see the displays of the artist portfolios put out at the after party. That really bugged me since I was very invested in the artists by then.  ASI dragged me away from the signing so I could give an interview that was not remotely subtle in its attempt to bait quotes praising L. Ron Hubbard.  I’d rather enjoyed talking to strangers while signing their books.

But honestly, the most infuriating part?  Before the interview, they handed over forms with blank fields and generic release  language and asked for your signature.

“What should I put into the blanks?” I asked.

“Don’t worry about it.  We’ll fill that out at the office,” they answered.

That’s more or less the opposite of the model for good business practice they ought to present.  Especially to beginners and new people who might not know better and are there to be mentored.

Relaxing

This is definitely more of a commentary on my daily life than the typical workshop experience, but I worked less that week than I had any week all year.  Right up until my body figured out I was on the west coast and it should adjust my sleep cycle accordingly, I was the best rested I’ve been all year, too.  Having a week to think, breathe, and do nothing but books and writing and related things?  Fabulous.

Then again, preparing for the workshop was a significant source of extra stress in the first part of the year.

Bonding

“How’s your week been so far?” Uni asked during post-hug unpacking.  I’d just seen my art for the first time a few hours before and I was absolutely buzzing about it.  Half an hour later I was nearly finished talking about all the people I’d met and liked.  And giving their back stories and details.

“There’s Randy who’s hilarious and sweet, and Kat who’s into board games, and Amanda who had me as her roommate until you got here and manages to be adorable about missing her kid, and Tim who’s the published finalist and I think he doesn’t think he belongs here but he’s great and needs to figure that out, and Megan who’s accepted my challenge to a cage match to defend the honor of our respective artists…”

“So, you’ve basically adopted everybody?” Uni asked.  “I should have guessed you were going to adopt everybody.”  I may have used a rude gesture when I replied.

Validating

I compulsively read reviews of my stuff.  Bad reviews don’t hurt my feelings – I sorta like them – but I’m desperate to find out whether the people who read it got what I was trying to do, they understood what was happening, whether the story worked.  My 24-hour story was one of the three that got critiqued by the group.  Tim Powers called out absolutely everything I’d put into it, and pointed at exactly the things I’d done in order to put them there.  That was my personal win for the week.

Ass-making of self

After the gala, when everybody was punch-drunk and hanging out in the lobby, I was talking to Randy, Megan, and Leena, three of the four first place winners.  Randy had just won the grand prize.  Megan got teary.  Then Leena.  Shortly, Randy joined in. I pointed and giggled.  Then offered hugs.  Then giggled at them some more. Though I wonder whether one can actually make an ass of one’s self if one is always an ass.

Disappointing

While I was thinking very seriously about not going to the workshop, I decided that, you know what, I can’t possibly be the only person getting patronized and insulted by ASI, and while I can certainly walk away without feeling like I’ve done myself any significant harm or losing something I need, I am, as noted at the beginning, very lucky.  Not everyone is, and maybe I have a responsibility to see things through and not be quiet, because I have very little to lose.  That made it better, gave me a way to go without being a willing victim marching into a bad situation.

I was sharing the emails I got from the hair and makeup person as they were coming, and getting feedback on my replies since I was, by then, so emotionally bankrupt I didn’t trust my instincts.  What was Uni’s suggested reply when, in order to rescue me from my error in dress size selection, ASI asked me for my dress size?

“My size is fire and death!”

I made a T-shirt.  I offered to make one for anybody else who needed to turn the nonsense into a joke, rather than a threat.  There were some takers. FireandDeathEditedThere were private emails from past winners offering consolation and support and suggestions for where I could run for rescue if things got bad while I was there.  Because, apparently, winners needing rescue is a thing.

There were also less private emails from past winners telling me I ought to feel more grateful, and that unnecessary drama is just that.

And the general sense that this contest wasn’t so much a validating, awesome prize I’ve won, as a force of nature to be navigated and endured.

Mixed

I went expecting to come back with a clear answer about whether or not I’d have preferred to just spend the week in Seattle. I don’t have it. The good parts were awesome.  The bad parts were devastating.  There was a range in the middle that was more or less obliterated by the extremes.  I certainly could have done without the stress and nastiness in the weeks leading up to the workshop, when I had to orchestrate leaving my life for a week to walk into a situation where I more or less expected to be treated like garbage, and had my expectations met several times.

But once I got there, there was entirely too much good to elide or gloss over.  I’m going to be ambivalent about this experience, qualified in my recommendations around the contest, for a long, long time.  That’s absurd.  There’s no reason for any of the downsides, no justification.  There are too many people who care too much; too many things that are too good.  I went to the workshop expecting to end it in a rage and advise everybody to run screaming.  I walked out wanting to be able to recommend the contest without caveat.

I can’t.  But I want to.

*This is a pseudonym, obviously.  The pertinent individual requested that I use one. They didn’t get a choice about what it was.

Couscous Mojadara-Style

When I was in college, several of the cafes stocked a dish called mojadara.  It was a curried rice and lentil dish that was super filling and you could get for $1.50.  I’d scarf it up whenever I’d had a particularly profitable week at work or otherwise felt like I’d earned an exciting treat.  This was the dish that taught me the beauty of caramelized onions and golden raisins.  It’s simply, hearty, and fantastic.

I’ve never quite gotten it right, making it at home.  But I was thinking about it the other night when, in the middle of an excruciatingly stressful week, I decided to declare bankruptcy on my to do list and cook dinner.  I didn’t have lentils.  Or the time to do the pre-cooking rice soaking that I’ve gotten fond of when doing stir fry style dishes.  So I decided to fake it with couscous and chicken.IMG_6919The first step, of course, is caramelizing the onions.  Getting this right is mostly a matter of not overheating the onions and being patient.  I tossed them into the skillet, then set to work making a marinade for the chicken.

IMG_6926I used some yellow curry curry powder, olive oil, powdered sumac and a dash of salt in the marinade.  Then I dropped the chicken in to soak it up while the onions cooked.  Ideally I’d have done this the day before, but twenty minutes is enough to do something if that’s all you’ve got, and I was hungry.IMG_6922Onions are very forgiving of fidgeting with them while your caramelize them which is good because I’m a fidgeter.  I had the heat a smidge high for these, so some of them got a bit crisp before they were ready, but it didn’t turn into a disaster and most of them had really good color when I was done. IMG_6923I tossed the couscous into the pan with the onions, then threw in a dab of butter, a pinch of salt, golden raisins, curry powder, and some water.  Frequently I’ll use chicken broth when I’m making couscous, but this was just for me and I was already seasoning it pretty heavily so I didn’t think I’d need the help.  I was right, though extra flavor is rarely a crime.

IMG_6927I let the chicken marinade while the couscous cooked, then tossed the chicken into a skillet once it was time to take the couscous off the heat and let it rest.  This wasn’t the strictly most efficient order of operations for preparing dinner, but it gave me enough down time to do the dishes, too, and I can pretty much only bring myself to do the dishes while cooking, so it’s better overall.

IMG_6930And then there was feasting.

Nobody would have identified this as a mojadara knock-off if I hadn’t told them, what with it having virtually nothing in common with the original dish, but it was tasty, and exactly what I needed for a chilly, rainy week full of frustrating nonsense.

Book Signings and AMAs, Oh My!

For any of you who just don’t hang out with me enough, or hear my dulcet tones reading enough fiction, or have a burning need to ask me questions in a public forum, you’ve got some opportunities to get those needs fulfilled coming up.

First of all, I’ll be doing a reading/signing thing at A Room of One’s Own here in Madison on May 8, at 6pm.  You should come hang out.  It’s entirely possible I’ll bring something of a food-like nature to bribe people into liking me.  It’s extremely likely that I will at some point get confused and forget my name.

I’ll also be part of a big AMA on Reddit on May 13.  You should check that out, especially since it’s a Tuesday.  Nothing ever goes hilariously wrong on Tuesdays!  Wait…

No baked goods at the AMA.  I wouldn’t want to clog up the tubes that power the internet with crumbs.