State Fair!

– doesn’t begin till August, but I got to start early by entering some knitted items. I really enjoy that behind-the-scenes look, in a room full of happy people with amazing projects to show.

Highlights of today included:

  • The two teenage girlswho each had a basket full of homemade clothing and an (apparently) identical red pillow. What is this ‘red pillow’ category? I’m presuming I will see the best red pillow in one of the display cases.
  • The lady who had made a picture out of ribbon embroidery. She was explaining to us that it was a landscape because of category requirement that it had to do with travel, but just then somebody walked through my knitting and I had to rush away.
  • The elderly man carrying a really unattractive old polyester quilt. When he was called up people yelled ‘He BOUGHT that quilt!’ upon which he removed it from the fantastic carved mirror frame it had been protecting.

In just a few days I get to go back for the judging, a longer event. Bringing lunch and bottled drinks is a good idea. I really wanted to sketch people today, but this is the kind of event where people pay attention to what you are making.

fox paws afghan

Fox Paws stash-buster

lace shawl

beaded lace shawl (pattern from Boo Knits)

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I Hate What I Just Read

Someone I trust recommended I read … I’m not naming it, because I see no point in tarnishing somebody’s work just because it did everything I absolutely hate. Besides, reading it was valuable because I hadn’t recognized that I hated all these things. Without further ado, my list of fantasy story squicks:

  1. Innocent victim has no personality beyond big-eyed distress.
  2. Villain has no motivation except the desire to destroy.
  3. Hero has given up violence, but is able to almost immediately develop a pacifist trick that does the job. Why does the trick work? We’re not told. We wouldn’t understand it anyway, since we know nothing about the villain’s nature or the rules of the world.
  4. Angsty separation at the end as the big-eyed victim abandons the hero for no reason.

This sort of thing made me squee when I was about thirteen, and used to see it in the ‘by our readers’ section of Harper’s Young People.* Nowadays, it gives me the pip. I ask myself, what did editors, authors, and reviewers see in this bowl of sugar lumps with honey? And why did I read it on a device I don’t want to throw against the wall?

*No, I am not old enough to have had a subscription to Harper’s Young People at thirteen. Only in spirit am I that old. Get off my lawn.

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Stories from Red Rose Review

The Mermaid by Howard Pyle

The first thing that struck me on reading the summer solstice issue of Red Rose Review was the crossover cred of its authors. Several author bios mentioned awards and award nominations from mainstream fiction and publications outside the SFF genre, making me curious about the wider world of short fiction.

But on to the stories in this issue!

The narrator’s voice in Bloom by Sara Flynn caught my fancy right away. Everything about this story seemed to be stood on edge – though that may be my inexperience with selkie stories speaking! But the narration coming from a seal hunter, with all the conflicts involved, worked very well for me. The narrator downplayed the most troubling things in a way that seemed exactly right, true to life. What happened on the ice poked holes in my expectations in just the right way, and the fate of the sealskin seemed new, fresh and inevitable.

The woman in this story, however, confused me. She was interesting, but I felt as if I never caught on to what the author was trying to tell me through her, or why spring had the effect on her that it did. Is it something about seal behavior that I just don’t know?

Ken Poyner’s The Making of Mermaids was opposite in a lot of ways. The voice kept bouncing me off balance – first with unexpected word choices that I couldn’t quite figure out and then with the person using those words. Who was this woman? I kept wondering.

Fishermen’s wives, in the folk tales I know, are foils. They don’t do the growing or changing, except in their increasing demands. But this story begins with the wife anticipating transformation of her own, and indeed she seems to have already been transformed from a traditional fisherman’s wife. The way she tells her husband’s story is filled with what I can only read as theory:

I was four walls, the process of making his fish commercial, the everyday exasperation of respiration and unbroken gravity.  I kept him while he was the automaton of his own upkeep.

I wanted to know where she got this voice, because I couldn’t help reading the story as a criticism of it. She’s cold, analytic and mysterious even before entering the sea, and how is the transformation she now seeks related to that? What will it allow her to live out – her grief or her worldview? Will she escape her own voice or her circumstances?

Scander and the Red Briar Prince by Sean Robinson contained two things new to me and two that were familiar. The new things were the rivalry between cities and the nature of the monster; the old were the questing champions and what became of the loser. It felt like a familiar gem in an unfamiliar setting, and I wanted to understand the setting more clearly – until I got to the gem of the story itself, the quest, and then I was more than satisfied. The difference between the two champions came into sharp focus and fit exactly with the nature of the monster, giving the familiar aspects of the story a nice twist.

Dark-Side Dreaming by Christina Im and Frigg Mourns by Ani King also made use of the familiar. In Frigg Mourns the narrator’s voice weaves around and between the events of a well-known story, letting the reader pick it out bit by bit, like rebuilding memories. It had been a long time since I read Norse mythology, so I really enjoyed the rediscovery; and in the versions I had read, Frigg’s grief was always taken as given, so it was different and satisfying to see the story from inside her. The Frigg in this story seemed fiercer and more regal than the one I remembered. Catherine from Reign kept flashing into my mind...

Dark-Side Dreaming is a riff on Rapunzel, with some enchanting differences. The descriptions of climbing up the sky were full of childlike wonder, making me think of At the Back of the North Wind, and maintained that feel well enough for me to set aside the kind of practical considerations I am prone to like the nature of the hair, the braiding, the climbing back up after its owner had come down from the moon. The story followed the traditional plot closely enough to make me surprised by the divergences from it, and ended as it had begun with a well-sustained fairy-tale feeling.

Black Feathers, Beady Eyes by Caryn Studham Sutorus was odd-story-out in this issue, with its modern setting and time-travelling heroine. The problem she had to solve became most interesting when she failed to solve it – I always enjoy that ‘pop’ of discovering a mistaken assumption – and when she returned and discovered that there was another problem she needed to solve. The ending echoed the uncertainty in the rest of the story, where we really didn’t – couldn’t – know if things would turn out all right. I didn’t feel that I understood the crows or the altar, though, at least on the first reading – and when she didn’t remember what had gone wrong with her first attempt, I thought this was going to be an entirely different kind of story than it turned out to be!

Another group of enjoyable stories that leave me with interesting questions, as I’ve come to expect from Rose Red Review. The issue also contained poetry, which I feel completely incompetent to review. Discover it for yourself!

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The Adjunct gets a review!

My latest story, The Adjunct, is out at Fantasy Scroll – and that means it was reviewed by the irreplaceable Charles Payseur. So far as I know, he and the folks at Tangent are the only people reviewing genre short fiction. I’d love to be proved wrong in that …

There’s nothing more fun than seeing somebody else’s take on something I’ve written, especially somebody with a well worked-out critical philosophy and a wider view of the genre. Thank you, Charles – not just for my review, but for everything you do for so many of us short fiction writers!

And this has reminded me I need to use some of this summer time to review some more short fiction. If everyone Charles reviews were to review a few stories in return, maybe we could build up a vibrant discussion of current shorts.

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Wow, I Can Make a Difference!

Gosh, just look at the stuff on my Facebook or feedly page. People are dying out there, animals are going extinct, sea levels rising. Pollution and war are everywhere. Corruption, immiseration, police brutality.

It’s all enough to make a girl feel helpless.

But hey! I can post something on the internet and get a person fired. I can step up and do my part for moving power from employees to employers, making folks afraid to say anything in public, reducing workers’ bargaining power in entire industries. People who are lucky enough to still have jobs will see just what might happen to them if they don’t stay in line.

Aren’t I powerful? Aren’t I a game-changer?

Aren’t I a damn fool?

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Dr. Mutter’s Marvels

Dr Mtter's Marvels book coverWhen the Human Anatomy & Physiology Society met in Philadelphia, a highlight was our visit to the famous Mutter Museum of anatomical curiosities – not a Ripley’s sort of museum, but a collection of study specimens maintained by the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. I was as entranced as anyone by the preserved colon, wax models of skin diseases, skull collection and the skeleton demonstrating Fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva, and I even followed the museum on Facebook to play their  ’what’s on the curator’s desk?’ quiz; but I admit I never gave a thought to Dr. Mutter himself.

Enter Dr Mutter’s Marvels by Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz, a window into the world of pre-civil war medicine and the life of Thomas Mutter, a surgeon who made his initial impression on most Philadelphians by wearing loud suits that matched the carriages in which he rode around town. Mutter was fresh from training in Paris, and the brief description of medicine in that city is as intriguing as anything else in the book – the hospital for men with syphilis in which every patient was whipped before and after treatment is one of the milder details.

The flamboyant young physician stepped into a world of infighting and jealousy, for Philadelphia had not one but two medical schools, locked in bitter warfare of the sort current academics are too familiar with. Competitive public surgery was the order of the day, with alcohol the only anesthetic available. Dr. Mutter specialized in plastic surgery, often treating women who had been disfigured by burns, and the book goes into detail about his superior care for the patients, his careful preparation for the ordeal ahead of them, and his demand that they not be sent home immediately after surgery – a demand eventually met by renting rooms above nearby shops, with students bringing in the patients’ meals from a local restaurant.

Every part of this story is engrossing, from its descriptions of surgeries to the personalities at the Jefferson Medical College to the controversies of the time. Was ‘taking the waters’ worth anything? Was puerperal fever infectious? Was anesthesia a good idea or a bad one? Should women be admitted to medical school? I hadn’t realized how many significant medical discoveries and issues were packed into the few years of Mutter’s professional life.

The only part of the story which rang sour for me was the last few chapters, which followed Mutter’s adversary Charles Meigs through the trials of his decline with more relish than I could enjoy. But on the whole this was a quick-paced, fascinating read that should give any A&P instructor useful anecdotes and perspective and keep any student interested, if occasionally grossed out – descriptions of pre-anesthesia surgery are not for the squeamish.

Highly recommended, as is the museum itself.

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June is Bustin’ Out

The Northland Series Folklore banner(We sang that song in chorus last year and let me tell you, it’s not as easy as you’d think)

June is a big month for me, with three stories coming out!
“Lock’s Half” and “Young Varkh” are two folktales from the manuscript of Fountain Girl, but who knows if they’ll still be in there after the summer’s cuts – so get them now while you can. They were issued June 1 in the Northlore Series Folklore anthology, a huge compliation of new Scandinavian folk tales. Spend a week in fantasy northwoods and know that some of your money went to support wolf conservation in Europe. Amazon Link here

I also have a short story, “The Adjunct,” coming out in the June issue of Fantasy Scroll. A part-time anatomy teacher takes a gig that probably should have been avoided in this one. I had a great time writing something that was really in my wheelhouse. You’ll get an idea how long ago I sold it if they’ve left the announcement about National Adjunct Walk-out Day (February 25, folks, mark your calendar for next year) in my biography. Here’s the link to watch

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A Science Prof’s Take on Trigger Warnings

Brute Reason has an interesting post this morning about how people use trigger warnings. However, it becomes less convincing when it discusses the academic setting. Here’s where I started to shake my head:

When people condescendingly claim that college students who ask for trigger warnings are trying to “avoid challenging material,” they are–perhaps intentionally–conflating two meanings of the word “challenging.” Triggering material is emotionally challenging. …

Do we really go to college to encounter this type of “challenge”? No, college coursework is intellectually challenging. The challenge is understanding the nuances of complicated arguments or literary devices. The challenge is connecting ideas together in a way that flows and makes sense, finding patterns in the texts, defending your opinions using evidence from the book. The challenge is being willing to entertain an argument that you personally disagree with, to examine it from all sides.

Read more:

This dichotomy doesn’t work for me, and here’s why.

I teach Pathophysiology. I teach about liver cirrhosis to students whose favorite uncle died of it, and about heart failure to students whose grandma is in hospital with it. More than once, I’ve taught about cancer to students who were currently battling it. I taught about pancreatic cancer the week my mother died of it, and about Parkinson’s right after my father died of that. I don’t get to avoid these subjects if they’re triggering, and neither do my students; they cannot learn to predict what emergencies might arise during cancer treatment without discussing cancer. In some cases I can make adjustments, like the time I rephrased an assessment to be about liver cancer instead of cirrhosis for a particular student or learned not to use the phrase ‘cell suicide’ when we discuss apoptosis, but there’s only so much of that I can do.

The triggering content is integral to pathophysiology, not just because a nurse or doctor needs to know about diseases but because one of the skills of the profession is that of thinking analytically about emotionally triggering topics. My students understand this. We work towards it together. I can feel the relief in the classroom when we move from the image of a patient to creating a flow chart of his condition, and how after making the flow chart we all look at the patient differently. The disease hasn’t changed, but now we can explain it and anticipate what will happen and how to minimize its awfulness.

It’s true, my students are a special case. They’re studying to be heroes, to look unflinchingly at things that horrify other people, to get blood on their hands and save lives. What I teach them is essential knowledge for their chosen careers; a student who doesn’t attend the cardiac unit, or is too triggered by it to learn the material, may not pass the NCLEX or succeed in medical school. So how can I expect to generalize from them to other college students, or policies in general? Well, the other people who write about trigger warnings all seem happy to generalize from humanities courses to the rest of us. And don’t we often have the same students? Nursing majors and pre-meds take humanities courses, where some of them probably give their profs grief about trigger warnings.

So here are my generalizations.

I think students come to college to learn both information and ways of thinking about it that will give them power. The students leaving my class have power over disease that they did not have when they entered the class – the power to look at it analytically, as a series of cause-effect relationships in which they can intervene. But they also came into the class with power. They came in with the determination to intervene, and accepted that to do so they must face these topics straight-on.

That determination, I think, is key to their success. It’s why I don’t use the term ‘trigger warning’ in Patho, though I make it clear what content will be discussed every day. To identify course topics as ‘trigger warnings,’ I think, could send the wrong message and undercut the determination I want to encourage. Do you really want to put yourself through the class on that disease? it would ask, when the message I want to send is, How can I help you develop power over this topic?

For me, the trigger warning issue is one of many that can be minimized by concentrating on OUTCOMES, OUTCOMES, OUTCOMES. Here are my rules, then, for a class without controversy about triggers:

  • Know what your course is really about, and let students know it coming in. Identify the topics you’re teaching about in the syllabus, and teach about those topics.
  • Be explicit, constantly, about how what the students are learning will be used in their future courses and careers. If you can’t do this for a topic, leave it out of the course.
  • Identify the course objectives, based on what students will have to do with the material after they leave your course, and teach those. If you can’t explain how an objective will be related to the students’ future courses or careers, leave it out of the course.
  • Once you’ve whittled your course down to content and objectives that students really need, lay it out for them in a clear calendar and syllabus. When they take your course, they are going to learn this stuff and how to do that with it. If they don’t want to achieve those goals, they should be taking a different course.
  • Now you’ve all agreed on what you’re doing, make students your partners in achieving the course objectives. If discussing cirrhosis triggers a student, how does she suggest she can demonstrate her understanding of how liver failure causes its signs and symptoms? The objectives aren’t negotiable, but how she demonstrates them might be.
  • Recognize how much wiggle room there is in the course. A student can pass my class without passing every assessment. If she has to stay home on bowel obstruction day, it’s her choice. My job is to make sure she knows what day that is, and how serious a hit missing it will deal to her success in demonstrating the course outcomes.
  • If a student is unavoidably triggered by enough course topics that she cannot demonstrate the outcomes, it’s time to involve her advisor – it’s not just your issue, since you’ve defined a set of course outcomes that are necessary for the student’s success in her program.

That’s it. OUTCOMES, OUTCOMES, OUTCOMES. This is a good time to start thinking about them … or maybe two weeks from now, when we’ve recovered a little from grading finals. I know I’ll be fine-tuning mine, dreaming about that stress-free semester that’s always just over the horizon.

Posted in academic happenings, in the news, real life | 2 Comments

Use this word: Haze-fire

“haze-fire luminous morning mist through which the dawn sun is shining poetic”

from Landmarks by Robert Macfarlane

George Orwell wrote some good stuff about the project of controlling what people think by controlling their use of language, what words they’re taught and what they’re allowed to say with them.  The revision of the Oxford Junior Dictionary to take out words for nature is just a particularly distressing example.

So I bought Robert Macfarlane’s book ‘Landmarks,’ a dictionary-plus-essays volume about lost or almost-lost words for natural phenomena. It’s based in the UK, but I understand there is a US equivalent. Why should we let other people be the ones who change our thoughts by changing our vocabulary? Let’s reclaim nature, one word at a time.

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Useful Pets, get ‘em now!

A couple of fantastic commercials, featuring multi-purpose Pet Dog and Pet Cat! No home should be without them.

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