An Open Letter to the Parasite in my Sister’s Uterus

Dear Erasmus,

Yeah, I’ve used that title before.  And you’re the second one to get called Erasmus, too.  Get used to it.  You’re in for a lifetime of being the second one to get things.

I’d have written this sooner, but it’s been hard to figure out what to say.  I was pretty enthusiastic about your mom having a first kid.  I was pretty against her going back for more.  She didn’t like being pregnant, or giving birth, and taking care of a baby wasn’t her cup of tea, either.  I’d have been perfectly happy to be an only child, and I’m sure the same is true for your sibling.  Don’t take this the wrong way, but I care about your mom miles and miles more than anybody else, including you, especially when you aren’t even alive yet.  There didn’t seem to be any point in putting her through all that again.  But she didn’t listen and guess what: so far, you’re way worse than your sibling was.  Cut that out once you get here, okay?

All the things I said about intentions and childhood and whatnot in the other letter apply to you, too, of course.  But I remember your mom being annoyed by hand-me-downs so I don’t want you to get a hand-me-down letter.  I still had my own room in your mom’s house until she started prepping for you to show up, and now I have to stay in the same guest room everybody else uses.  That’s on you, kid, not your sibling.  An affront like that deserves a personalized response.

Everybody in the family, possibly the whole world, knows your mom and I are very close.  That’s a big part of why she didn’t listen to me when I told her to stop at one child; she wants her children to have the kind of relationship we have.  But that’s exactly what’s made it hard to figure out what to say to you, and what made the prospect of her having a second child distressing to me in a way the first wasn’t.  We’re as close as we are in large part because of how we grew up, and you’re not going to have the same experience.  Your mom is good at being a mom.  She listens, and thinks of your sibling as a person.  Even when he can’t communicate what’s happening, she tries to figure out what’s going on inside his head.  I don’t know where she learned how to do that.  And I dunno, maybe she’ll lose track of doing that once you come along, but I don’t think she will.  She and I are as close as we are because we had to be.  That won’t be true for you.

Part of me hopes you and your sibling like each other but, ultimately, you’re more indifferent than not.  That you get along fine as children but go on to be adults and live your own lives and you chat amicably a big family events but that’s all.  That if you are close, it’s the same as when people stay friends with the people they met on the school bus in kindergarten, instead of the kind where the first time you move out, you’re a little bit glad you had to go back because your younger sibling doesn’t know how to cope with life without you and you need to teach them as quickly as possible before you go for good.

As charming as it is that your mom is nudging your older sibling into Little Mermaid fandom to make him like me, I don’t want either of you to take after me.  Or her.  Even if you do things that are similar in shape or effect, I don’t want it to be for the same reasons.  Childhood intrinsically sucks, but yours is going to be better than ours, and I want that to matter enough that you come out different.

Yes, part of me will be deeply satisfied if you’re neurotic, co-dependent, clingingly lonely, and constantly bite the shit out of your mom.  She deserves some time on the other side of that.  It’s okay if you do some or all of that.  It’s okay if you don’t.  Just like it’s okay if both you and your sibling decide to get married and have kids, or neither of you do.  At least one of you should be loudly and abrasively sarcastic, but that’s just because loud and abrasively sarcastic people are good to have around, not because you’re destined to iterate generational patterns.

I do have this for you, and just for you: don’t let being younger define you.  It’s just chance that you’re the second and not the first.  It’ll have an impact – your parents are not going to be the same parents for you they are for your sibling.  That’s how time and experience and humans work.  That’s not on you, so don’t take responsibility for it.  And don’t ever, for even a second, give credence to anybody who sets you up to compete against your sibling.  Friendly rivalry is fine, that’s not what I’m talking about.  But the moment somebody says, “If you were Neil…” or, “The way Neil’s better than you…” just stop listening.  It doesn’t matter how much better you or they think he is compared to you on any given thing.  The premise is nonsense, and the person spouting it is, at best, being temporarily stupid.  Don’t put up with it.  (Neil, if you’re reading this, you have your Aunt’s permission to take a swing at anybody who tries this on either of you.  Don’t embarrass me if you do.)

You’re already the kid who made your mom give up sweets while pregnant.  You hit rock bottom for popularity before you were born.  It’s all uphill from here.  You’ll be fine.

With wry anticipation,

Me

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Strange Horizons Resistance Special Issue

All week this week, Strange Horizons has been releasing a ton of content for the Resistance special issue.  This includes six fiction stories which, I think, is the highest density of published fiction the magazine has ever undertaken.  The issue is gorgeous and important and we podcast every word of that fiction.  Today is a double-header picked out with today very much in mind.  Need to feel better?  Just knowing we were going to put these stories up has been a warm cuddly blanket of angry glee for me.  I hope it does the same for you, too.

Here’s the whole issue.  I hope it helps.

Event: Two Hour Transport

Cafe Racer

Anybody who’s going to be around Seattle next week might want to check out May’s Two Hour Transport reading event.  It’s a fun mix of Spec Fic readers and Cafe Racer has enough bizarre artwork that it’s worth going once just for that.  If you go in May, though, you’ll get to hear me give a reading.  I’m one of the two invited guests, along with Caroline Yoachim.

Caroline is a reigning monarch of the flash fiction world.  If you know anything about me, you know this makes for an interesting pairing.

The invited readers start for the second portion of the event at 8:45, but I’ll be there for the whole thing, and I’d recommend it.

“The Right Bright Courier” is up at BCS

researchlab_sungchoi_banner_aWe had to wait for the sci-fantasy double issue to come around, but here it is!  I’ve always really liked the sci-fantasy issue of BCS, so it’s really cool that my debut there is in that issue.

I’ve been referring to this as, “The uplifting tale of what happens when you’re willing to sacrifice everything for your dream.”  It’s uplifting by definition if you go into space for it, right?

Right?

You tell me.

Turning the Whisper at the Overcast

93569705_1c562b413a_o_dYou know what a great way to kick off the new year is?  Napalming your enemies.  However, if you happen to be out of napalm, or if “compassion” was one of your resolutions and it’s too soon to break it, you can have the next best thing.  The Overcast podcast has done an audio version of Turning the Whisper, the cheerful story about how great humans are Apex originally published a few years back.

This was also the story that the audience at WisCon chose one year after I said, “I don’t think this one can be done successfully by one reader live.”  I was right, and now WisCon is the only place I give readings where I don’t let the audience choose their own fate.  There are consequences to making bad choices.

Given that history, I was really curious to see how well it would work as a podcast.  I’m pretty pleased with the results, and that’s not just because I got paid with a check that had Marvel super heroes printed on it.

Shared Faces is up at Escape Pod

If you ever wanted to know what a story about a sex bot, as penned by me, would look like, you’ll have to keep looking.  I don’t pen things – I’ve been chained to my keyboard since I was eight.  But if you’d like to know what a story about a sex bot, as banged out on a keyboard by me looks like, you should check out the latest episode of Escape Pod.

They put an adult content warning on the front of the episode for language.  There are instances of “language,” in the story.  But, in case you are somebody for whom adult contents act as more than an enticement, you should be warned that this is a story about a sex bot.  It opens with a…well…with the main character doing her thing.  “Language” isn’t what I’d have flagged as the warning for this story.

This is technically the second time I’ve had an audio version come out with the first printing of a story, but since the last time I was the one who did the podcast, this feels like the first.  That’s a very cool thing for me, what with my opinions about audio fiction.

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.