Sometimes it’s the little things

It’s been a while! I had a Halloween post started, and then WordPress ate it, and then I got discouraged, and then Thanksgiving was ridiculous, and winter break was moreso, and the weather said nope to all my outside plans, and I have little things I’ve been doing, but nothing major, and here we are. I’m not teaching this semester, which means our budget is quite a bit tighter than I’d like. But I’m still trying to make changes that make things better.

One of the things I love about our house, that absolutely sold me on it, is our storage, especially the storage in our kitchen. Our last house was a rental and sort of a cookie cutter budget deal. (Literally, I knew a few people who had our exact house. And you could tell from the front that there were several more of it in our neighborhood.) The kitchen was set up weirdly and had about four square feet of counter space. So you can imagine what the storage situation was like. We unpacked the bare essentials and left everything else in boxes in the garage for the year we were there. But this house. Oh I love my house. Our kitchen isn’t the biggest ever, but we have counter space. And the cabinets! So many cabinets! We’ve unpacked everything and we have *multiple* empty cabinets. The mixing bowls aren’t even nested, each one has its own spot. But there’s always something, isn’t there?

We’ve got a drawer full of spices, but the bigger canisters live in cabinet. A cabinet where they fall on my head when I’m rummaging for the thing I need that is always at the very back of the shelf. So what’s a mostly broke Pinterest-loving girl to do? We just built Mini a new bed (another post! Soon!), and there were some leftover bits of wood.

20150123_155633I snagged a couple of pieces of 2×4 that are about 22 inches long. I had some contact paper kicking around from an old project, and so I decided to go ahead and use that the cover the boards. Why 22 inches? That’s how long they were and it happened to fit pretty well. Now a word about contact paper: it’s a pain in the ass. I got this one because I liked the pattern, but also because it said it’s repositionable. The repositionable part comes from the adhesive not being so sticky. The problem is, they made it too much less sticky and it comes up a lot. Super annoying and I probably won’t go that route again. I cut enough to wrap each board like a present, and then secured each seam with a piece of tape. Seriously, they sat on the counter for two minutes while I emptied the cabinet and it started coming off.

So here’s where the clever part comes in, you stand one board up so it’s tall and then set the other board so it’s not so tall for stair steppy tiers. I have no idea where I first saw this. It’s probably been on Pinterest a hundred times. Hell, I may have read it in a Helpful Hints from Heloise column when I was Mini’s age. (I spent a lot of time at my grandmother’s house where there were two volumes of fairy tales, a copy of Tom Sawyer, and lots of Reader’s Digest and Good Housekeeping. I was probably the only eight year old to read Erma Bombeck’s books. Sometimes I say things like this and then realize things about my personality make more sense.) So anyway here’s the in-progress, just so you can see the board placement:

So very exciting, I know.

So very exciting, I know.

These are all our taller bottles the little teeny ones live in the drawer along with the odd-shaped stuff, extra ramen seasoning packets, and Pizza Hut parmesan and red pepper flake packets. But the problem is some of the taller things are a lot taller.20150123_162504So even with the extra height it was hard to tell what was what for the stuff in the back. I used a fine tip silver paint pen to label the spices with black lids, and red Sharpie for the rest. Yes, you can see the labels for the chili powder and comino, but I don’t know what will eventually be shuffled where, so I went ahead and labelled them. They say open because we have multiple jars of both of those, so I can tell easily which I need to grab. Why do we have multiples? Our grocery store has cruddy selection when it comes to spices and also doesn’t carry Fiesta, so when we make the two-hour trek to HEB, we stock up. And yes, we do go through them fairly quickly.

Would all of this be better with fancy uniform spice bottles? Sure. But fancy uniform things cost money, and I already had everything here on hand. Was it worth it to go to the trouble of covering the boards with contact paper? Maybe not, since you can’t really see it. I like knowing it’s there, but definitely not something I would have bought specifically for this project. All in all, it was free(ish), and took me about ten minutes. Now when I open the door I won’t have things falling on my head, and it looks a lot nicer. It’s not the biggest thing ever, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth doing. I think that’s something I need to work on keeping in mind with regards to the house. There are big expensive things we really want to do, but that doesn’t mean we should knock out the easy little things.

Backyard Progress

When we moved in the backyard was pretty sad. So was the front yard, actually. They were both pretty dead looking. Then the rains came. And kept coming. My understanding is that we had an extended rainy season this year. Unfortunately, this means that since about the only things growing in our yard were weeds, those’re what went wild.

Also pictured, the mini fence inside the yard.

The stone building just on the other side of the fence is a church. You might think that would do something about the amount of cursing I did while pulling weeds. It didn’t, but I felt a little guilty. (Mostly because across the street from the church is our high school, and I could hear kids outside while I was working.)

The bulk of what you’re seeing here are goatheads and tumbleweeds. We don’t have a mower yet, so things got quite out of hand. I picked up a weeding hoe, thinking I could at least get rid of some of the goatheads before we got someone to come in and take care of the rest of it. Two horrible days later I had only managed to clear a 10′ by 20′ bit of the yard that really didn’t have much on it. So we called in help. Thank gods. Not only did they mow, but they also took out all the dead trees. (Four of them, three of which were unnervingly close to the house.) And they cut the trees down into firewood. All well worth it and done in a fraction of the time it would have taken us.

Mini has been wanting to play soccer in the yard. We can finally say yes without worrying about what's lurking out there.

Mini has been wanting to play soccer in the yard. We can finally say yes without worrying about what’s lurking out there.

We still need to grab some burlap or carpet scraps to drag over the yard to pick up as many burrs as possible. Hopefully it will cut down on a resurgence of goatheads. What will also help will be putting in some ground cover of some sort, either grass or maybe a clover. Goatheads don’t do well with competition, so if we can get something else to take hold that’ll be great.

Now that it’s mowed, and with the benefit of the weather getting cooler, we can start working on the things that need doing. Building raised beds are fairly high on the list. We’ve got a ton of shade on the east side of the house, thanks to a well established shade tree in our neighbor’s yard. There’ll be one bed there for more delicate things that won’t handle the height of desert summer so well. Then, on the west side, we’ll do a bed or two for things that need more sun.

Also on the list is a firepit. Nothing better than a fire under the stars. Of course, that means picking up some seating for around said firepit. Mini wants us to build her a ninja fort. We’ll probably go full swingset while we’re at it. That girl loves to swing. The fence is… well, the previous owner replaced some sections of it right before we bought it, but really the whole thing needs replacing. It’s all rickety and the gates are all in fairly terrible shape. Fortunately, the worst one is on the smallest section. I’m hoping it won’t be too difficult to replace. And then we need to walk the whole fence and look for any low bits, and possibly just put hardware cloth all the way around. Small Town doesn’t have a lot in the way of traffic, but we do live on a relatively busy street, and just where people feel comfortable starting to go faster than they would more in town. I want the yard as puppy safe as possible.

There’s a lot to be done, but at least now it all feels like it can be done.

Dressers are Hard

House projects were all on hold this week, as both Professor Furious and I came down with Campus Crud. Please don’t go to school/work sick. This is not elementary school, you do not get a pizza party for your perfect attendance. You just get cursed for your germ spreading ways. Happily, my apathy towards perfect attendance means that I slept it off and bounced back pretty quick, as did the Professor. A couple of years ago I got pneumonia sort of out of the blue in the middle of summer, and my lungs still don’t feel like they’ve recovered completely. If I get sick and don’t take care of it, it very easily becomes a thing of the sort that requires antibiotic shots in my butt. Shots in my butt are my least favorite kind of shots. (Most favorite? Tequila.) So hell yes I am cancelling class and sleeping for two days because I feel a bit sniffly. Ounce of prevention > pound of cure.

(Mini Furious didn’t even sneeze once. Everyone assured me she’d always be deathly ill once she started going to school because she hadn’t been exposed to infection factory that is daycare. Child has been sick about five times in her life. Either she is a mutant, or being exposed to terrible illnesses as a very tiny child is not as good for kids as most people think it is.)

But we’re better now. Which means I can start tackling the things that need doing. Fairly top of the list is buying a dresser. Dressers are expensive, y’all. And surprisingly hard to find. The Craigslist for our area is pretty worthless, as, for some reason, it’s full of listings from Houston. Which is on the other side of the state. Sometimes there’s one from San Antonio, which is only 5 hours or so away. I’ve joined the relevant garage sale groups on Facebook, but still a lack. The thrift stores haven’t had any in. I looked at new ones online, but I feel like a bit of a failure for paying more than about ten dollars for a dresser. It seems like every home blogger I follow is always all, “Look at this fantastic midcentury modern piece I found. Nobody knew what it was, so I got it for a song.” Maybe I’m a bad thrifter. I know a lot of it is patience. And I’m bad at that. In this case, my lack of patience mostly comes from a place of being tired of not being able to put away half of my clothes. Putting things “away” in a laundry basket is getting frustrating. I’m about to drive the hour up to Walmart and buy whatever they happen to have on the shelf.

But it’s not just about feeling like a bad thrifter. It’s feeling like a bad poor person. We spent the last four years on SNAP benefits, aka food stamps. Money has been stupid tight for so long I feel like I should just live with my clothes folded in a laundry basket forever. Eighty dollars on a particleboard set of drawers from Walmart? I can pay bills with that! Or buy groceries. Or not be selfish by buying a thing for myself and buy something for Mini Furious instead. Plus there’s the gas money to even get to Walmart. I’m used to thinking in terms of any trip outside of our normal routine means a big dent in our budget because that’s extra gas money. Gas is for going to work and school, and I have to make sure my grocery trips coincide with one of those things, because making a special trip in the middle of the day is a frivolous waste of gas. Everything that isn’t food and shelter is an unnecessary waste of money. Clothes for myself are a waste, because up to this point I’ve worked from home and as long as I didn’t look too terrible when I took Mini to school, then it was fine. One pair of pants is fine. My tshirts are mostly older than my kid, but they don’t have too many holes, so it’s okay. Clothes without holes are for people who aren’t on food stamps. That’s what society tells me. That’s what people who are my friends tell me when they post things on Facebook about how entitled poor people are. (But of course they tell me I’m different. I’m not like those other poor people.)

Now I can buy groceries without worrying that someone will notice I’m using an EBT card (food stamps work off of a debit card style system now. If you see someone using paper check things, they are on WIC, which has ridiculously precise restrictions on what can and can’t be bought. Extremely stressful to use, and so even though we qualified, I usually didn’t bother with them.), and judge what I’ve got in my cart. The defenses are always at the top of my mind. I know I got too many fresh veggies; I should have grabbed frozen, but I hate the texture and won’t eat them, except for frozen corn. It’s my kid’s birthday, that’s why I’ve got cake mix and frosting and ice cream. We ate a lot of ramen and lentils last week so we could afford steak as a special anniversary dinner this week. I haven’t eaten yet  today and so I grabbed a candy bar to eat before I pick up my kid so I don’t yell at her because I’m hungry and it’s making me angry. Let me explain. I’m a good poor person. But I’m not a poor person anymore. I get to be a person. But that mindset is really hard to shake. That lack of self-esteem is hard to shake. I have money now, but what if I don’t later? What if I buy something nice now, and then later we lose our jobs, and then we’ll have spent that money AND people will see we have something nice and will be angry at us for buying it. “How can they have a phone like that AND be on food stamps?” “You dress too well to be on food stamps.”

So I’ll keep using a laundry basket instead of a dresser until I feel like I deserve drawers, even though it’s something that frustrates me every time I walk into my bedroom. Because in my mind I’m not quite a person yet. And I will never let go of those defenses for the checkout aisle. I may not need them, but somebody else will. I will forever be there to stand up for the person with the EBT card. Because they are a person, no matter what society has to say. I should know, I’m a person now, too.

Master Bath Mini-Update

Ultimately, there will be a major update coming, but this is my attempt at making the shower in our room usable. Our house was built in ’79, so there are a few quirks. (To be honest, every house we looked at here in Small Town ranged from quirky to “was there an actual architect involved? Or did you base this off of a really cool LEGO house you built when you were five?”) One of those quirks is the so-called master bathroom. There’s a large double vanity offset from the main bedroom, and then there is a pocket door leading into a … well, you know how bathrooms used to be water closets? I think I’m getting a clearer picture of why. Actually, our closet is bigger than this. We’ve got a shower stall and a toilet. If you’re tall, you can comfortably prop your feet on the lip of the shower while you’re on the toilet. I think. I’m not tall, so I can’t say if this is true or just conjecture on my part. I have a lot of ideas about the amazing things tall people can do. At any rate, have a before picture.

Claustrophobia? Claustrotastic!

Claustrophobia? Claustrotastic!

I tried my best. The room isn’t actually big enough to take a picture of the shower. Where to start… You may notice the handheld showerhead drapped elegantly on the floor, drawing the eye to the ground-in dirt, rust stains, and mildew. The showerhead isn’t on the floor solely to serve some eyedrawing purpose, though. It’s there because it dripped and I was slowly being driven mad. This didn’t cause any inconvenience when using it, though, because we didn’t. Or rather, I did once, and that’s when I discovered it sprayed water from every crevice in it except the ones it was supposed to. That aside, note that this drippy, ineffective mess is nicely framed by a shower door frame, but lacking the actual door. Clearly something had to be done. If only because I was tired of The Professor and Mini arguing over her bathroom in the morning.

Step one was to remove the showerhead. Not because it needed to come out first, but it was the easiest part. I like an easy win. Makes me feel productive. Then I tackled the door frame. I had an inkling that all I needed to do was run a utility knife around it, and then pop it out. Professor Furious was doubtful, but I took to the internet and this tutorial from Apartment Therapy backed up my theory. And then I was off to the hardware store for supplies.

Weapons of minor destruction.

Weapons of minor destruction.

It was a fairly straightforward process. We popped the top rail off. (Professor Furious kept stepping in to help, even though he was supposed to be working on something else. My only complaint was I had our little sledgehammer on hand, just in case, and I didn’t get to use it.) I ran the knife through the silicon caulk holding the frame to the wall. I’d like to note here that unlike the frame in the Apartment Therapy link, mine didn’t have visible screws. The side supports were totally enclosed in aluminum. Despite finger crossing, this did not mean mine wasn’t held to the wall by screws. In a technical sense that there were screws and they went into the tile, I mean. They weren’t anchored, and I was able to get most of them to pop right out, just by pulling on them. The Professor finally managed to pop off the aluminum bit covering them on the second support, but again with the screws sliding right out. The sides were also screwed into the bottom rail, but I’m not sure that we needed to unscrew them. The bottom rail was the one that gave us trouble. I think it was put on with construction adhesive, and it’s was *under* the rail, so I couldn’t get at it effectively with my knife. I was going to use the mini-sledge to try knocking it out, but before I could, The Professor slotted the side rails back on, and pulled them towards him, levering the rail off. Physics, a sledgehammer… go with what works for you.

I wanted to get a picture of the gunk left behind, but my camera (and by camera, I mean phone) rebelled, and I wound up with a picture of my knee. Seriously, I do not know what happened. But go ahead and imagine just years and years of gunk and terribleness. Most of it came up with the razorblade. I’m going to use the caulk remover on the rest. This hasn’t happened yet, because I’m feeling a bit demoralized about the cleaning aspect, and because the razorblade too off the remnants on the sides so well that I haven’t opened it yet. We got the new showerhead and our old shower curtain up, and huzzah! Usable shower.

2014-09-12 14.23.51

Functional! I’m calling it a win.

Note that I didn’t go for another handheld showerhead. The stall is small enough without the hose for one hanging into my personal space. Also, I didn’t put up my pretty curtain, just the clear liner. I want as much light coming into this little cave as possible. Plus, I can see homicidal killers coming. I mentioned being demoralized about the cleaning. Y’all, this shower is not going to come clean. I tried this stuff my mom loves called Krud Kutter. Nothing happened. I tried a paste of borax, washing soda, OxyClean, and Dawn, that I globbed on and let set. Then I scrubbed and scrubbed it. A slight lightening on some of the less tenacious dirt happened. My next step is CLR, but that stuff is extremely chemically considering I’m more of the “Let me tell you how to clean your whole house with vinegar and baking soda!” type. I think I’m calling it a draw. We’re getting estimates to renovate the bathroom. Basically, I want to pull out the shower, bump the wall out a bit and put in a proper soaking tub and shower. I’d also like to make it so the sink is actually in the bathroom. It’s all quite a ways off, but it’s my plan and I’m clinging to it.

Tiny Flowers

I had a post planned about the little updates we’ve been making on our “master bathroom,” but it’s not done yet. I’m down to the pain in the ass cleaning bits, and I think I’m going to have to pick up some CLR. I’m giving borax and washing soda paste a shot first, though. So that’s coming. And you’ll see why I used the sarcasm quotes up there. Here’s a hint: claustrophobia.

We’re planning on working on the yard this weekend. Ideally, we want to have it dog friendly by Christmas. Child friendly would also be good. Mini Furious is making friends, and I feel like there will be children running around here before I know it. Right now, our backyard is overrun with goat head burrs. Also known as puncture vine. Also known as Satan is real and invented half the things in West Texas. These things can potentially flatten a car tire. They definitely flatten bike tires. They go right through shoe soles. The burrs, which are also the seeds, can lie dormant for twenty years. The recommended method for dealing with them is a flamethrower. However, there is a burn ban in effect, and I don’t want to be the one to accidentally set West Texas on fire. This is a serious thing. Wild fires out here can be nasty and spread ridiculously quickly. It would probably be okay, but I don’t want to take that chance. So this weekend is gloves and pulling weeds and probably profuse cursing. At least we’re supposed to be getting a cool front, so it shouldn’t be too hot. And the tumbleweeds, which are the other thing growing in our yard, haven’t dried out yet, so their thorns aren’t too poky.

Until then, have a picture of the one decent growing thing we have: some little desert roses in a planter box by our back door. I’m actually sort of proud that not only are they blooming, but they seem to be filling out. Plants and I don’t usually mix well, so this is a big step!

Arty enough?

I got a new phone, which pretty much means I got a new camera. Be prepared for lots of artistic vision.

Month One

July 25th we left the Valley for our new home in small town West Texas. (I’m still feeling odd about saying which town…) We got here well after dark. On the drive out, I managed to accidentally instill a fear of chupacabras in Mini Furious. Given how dark and empty that last hour of drive is, I don’t really blame her. But I told her that they don’t exist, and even if they do exist, they only eat goats. So as long as she acts like a little girl and not a goat, she’ll be fine. But they totally don’t exist. Even though one of her uncles swears up and down he saw one. It’s probably best that Professor Furious was driving the moving truck, because he revels in the part of fatherhood that involves terrible jokes and nightmare fuel.

We got in and my in-laws were waiting for us. This town is dark. We’re official dark sky country, with an observatory just up the road a bit. Spectacular views, terrible when you need to find the real estate office you’ve only been to once so you can get the keys for your new house that you’re only pretty sure you know how to to get to. And it was way too late to call our real estate agent for any kind of directions. Adventure!

Finally, we got in and got air mattresses set up. Of course, we’d only seen the house once before, and it is our very first house of our own, so everything looked terrible and terrifying and oh so very “oh god we’ve made a terrible mistake.” It’s gotten better, though. I’ve got a renovation list, and we’re getting to work. The hardest part has been the adjustment to being so rural. I told Professor Furious that I would be going full hippie once we got out here. Not out of any latent crunchy granola desires, but out of sheer necessity. We don’t have an HEB, Target, or WhatABurger. Y’all, those are pretty much my reasons for living. (You know, right after my child, husband, and cats.) My black thumb self is having delusions of gardening, since that’s about the only way to get fresh produce. We’ve been leaning hard on our Amazon account, and finally went in for the prime membership. I’m sure eventually I will get to a zen state of not needing things. But I’m trying to set up a new house here. I need things.

For now, the things are coming. The cats have stopped being terrified of everything, and discovered the patio is a good place for lounging. We’ve all survived our first week of school. (Even me! I’m currently Adjunct Professor Furious.) And I’m finally getting around to ripping my bathroom apart in the best possible way. It’s a big shift, but so far it’s a good one.

Buying a house is a web of lies. For arcane reasons our closing date has now been moved back to the 31st. Okay, not so arcane. Our mortgage dude found us a far better loan option, but it came with extra hoops to jump through. Of course, I found this out after reserving the moving truck. And our lease here ends the 31st, anyway. So we’re renting our own house for about a week. And hopefully no more than a week. This is me breathing deeply and calmly.

Well there's breathing involved, anyway.

Well there’s breathing involved, anyway.

But it’s fine. It’s all going to be fine. I refuse to be stressed out by all of this. Really. But did I mention the black widow that had the audacity to crawl out into the middle of the living room floor last week? I’ve been seeing a bunch of spders around the house beyond the little black and grey not especially scary dudes. Professor Furious and I go back and forth about spiders in the house. I feel that if they’re not especially venomous, and stay off my bed, Mini’s bed, my desk, and the couch, they can stay. He is of the terribly mistaken opinion that all spiders are fine, and if it is an especially venomous variety, we should just not touch it and everything will be okay. Unfortunately, this is a hard concept to convey to the cats and child. He scooped the black widow up in a jar and released it outside somewhere. I called the landlords and asked for an exterminator. Luckily, our landlady is on my side here and got a dude out the next day. (Seriously, there are things I would change about this house in a heartbeat, but our landlords are fairly awesome about getting stuff done.) Happily, the spiders I’ve been seeing in the house aren’t brown recluses or hobo spiders as Google had informed me. This is because the brown recluses were hanging out in the garage along with another black widow. I would like it noted that I didn’t ask the exterminator to just burn everything to the ground. Truly I am a woman of restraint in the face of difficulty. As it was, I merely stood in the kitchen flailing my arms and trying not to cry. Like an adult.

In the end, the spiders were dealt with. The exterminator said we might want to wear gloves and long sleeves when moving the boxes in the garage, but otherwise we should be fine. Professor Furious has kindly pointed out that brown recluse bites don’t always necrotize, and that at any rate our new house will most likely have scorpions, which should take my mind off of the spiders. Useful man to have around, my husband, especially if you like nightmares about spiders and scorpions fighting for dominance of your house.

Things are getting nailed down for the big move. The biggest nail is that we’re buying a house. We close in a little less than a month, and frankly the whole thing is stressful and terrifying. Sometimes I look at our bank account and I just want to throw up. Getting so close to closing, though, I can start putting it a bit more out of my head, and start concentrating on everyone’s favorite part of moving: packing. We’ve got a stack of whiskey and vodka boxes in the living room, unfortunately entirely without their original contents, and I am supposed to be filling them with all the things that we don’t need right this minute, and probably won’t need in the next six weeks. I hate this guessing game. Mr. Furious packed up the dvds the other day. I stopped him from packing away Mini’s movies, because even though she’s mostly content with Netflix or no tv at all and just playing LEGOs and dollies, you never know. I will admit it was tempting to let him pack up Frozen so that I could be all “Welp! Daddy packed it! Sorry, you can watch it again after we’ve moved.” She’s got the whole thing memorized, and so now our viewings are in French or Spanish so she can start learning it in those languages. Anyway, so the kid dvds are the only ones not packed. This is unfortunate because we just started watching The Middleman again. (Cancelled before its time and very underrated except for the part where critics loved it and just.. argh. Shut up, ABC Family, you made a Fox level bad decision.)

Where was I? Oh right. So I’m supposed to try and figure out what we don’t need in the next six weeks. We’ve moved a lot. For a while it was once a year. We moved to Minnesota from southern-most Texas and back again. I know the actual how-to of moving. I know that I can pack away everything but my laptop and like two weeks of clothing and I’ll be fine. I also know that the day after I pack anything, I will need that thing desperately. Pack up these books I haven’t read or thought of in forever? Definitely need to reference them for a thing I’m writing. Pack up the muffin tins that have been used exactly once in the last six months? Oh look at this craft that would be perfect for entertaining Mini, and all it calls for is muffin tins! You can see my problem. I think the next time Mr. Furious runs by the liquor store to pick up boxes I’m going to tell him to make sure one of them is full.

The PhD in my blog title is a bit of nom de plume, in actuality I have my MFA in creative writing. (Moxie Furious, MFA as a derby name just did not flow as well.) As a graduate student, and in the writing workshops I took as an undergrad, I was strictly forbidden from writing “genre” fiction for class. Of course, in grad school, I did anyway. I was accepted to my program based on a writing sample that was the first chapter of a book about a young superhero named Firefly. Very genre. Not only genre, but it could be classified as YA (young adult) fiction. Oooooohhhh scary stuff for Literary folks. I had mainstream fiction I could have applied with, but I figured if I was going to commit to three years of busting my butt in workshops, they’d better know who they were accepting. Professors didn’t want to read genre in class because they felt they couldn’t comment on it, because there are conventions and rules that must be followed for genre. Nobody could tell me what they were, because they don’t read that stuff, but by god those rules exist. And anyway scifi/fantasy is junk stuff, and they were looking to turn out capital L Literature students. And of course, scifi/fantasy can never be Literature. Which… bullshit. And I’ve gone round and round on this so many times. But I can’t sleep, so I’m giving it one more go.

I got my BA in English from a fairly highly ranked school. And by fairly highly ranked, I mean number one in our area for a lot of years. I mean we’re sort of a big deal. And really, who cares, but obviously this stuff is important because the big program names do get thrown around. (It’s Trinity University in San Antonio. Go Tigers!) So, like I said, our fiction professor (who has since retired) banned genre writing in our undergrad workshops. But at the time I didn’t have a problem with it. His reasoning was that we were just starting out as writers, and he wanted us to have a feel for developing plot and character and all that without the added stress of world building. No judgement calls on validity or anything, just we were undergrads. (Though you did have to be a junior to get into Intro to Fiction Writing, and he was very very strict on that.) And honestly, I still don’t have a problem with it. We were learning a lot, not just about writing, but about the critiquing process. (Which getting to grad school and having to spend the first couple of months waiting on people learning to write effective critiques was fairly extremely infuriating.) And world building is hard, man. So sure, for undergrad just starting out baby writers, fine. But I would never say our department didn’t value genre writing. We had courses entirely devoted to science fiction and to spy novels. The German literature in translation I took focused on fairy tales from the Brothers Grimm to Hesse. The only bits of Intro to Comparative Literature that really stuck with me were reading Hoffman and The Cyborg Manifesto. My senior seminar was entirely on Tolkien. That’s us. Obviously valuing genre as Literature. What about other schools?

Everyone wants to be the Harvard of their bit of the country, so what’s Harvard up to? Oh, just offering a course called Epic: From Homer to Star Wars. Okay. Oh and a Science Fiction course. And what are they doing in there? “High points, innovations, and explorations in science fiction as a prose genre from the late 19th century to the present: likely readings include Mark Twain, H. G. Wells, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Robert A. Heinlein, James Tiptree, Jr. (Alice Sheldon), Octavia Butler, William Gibson, Cordwainer Smith, Richard Powers, and more.” Hmmm those are some capital L Literature looking names in there. Oh and a freshman seminar on Theatre and Magic “Both the pleasure of theatricality and its dangers have long been linked to ideas about the power of the magus, the witch, the wizard, and the arts of illusion. This seminar will focus on two key historical moments: the English Renaissance and the contemporary theater. We will read plays like Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist, and several works of Shakespeare, together with a consideration of magic on the modern stage. The seminar will culminate in a discussion of an upcoming version of The Tempest at the American Repertory Theater, directed by Aaron Posner and by Teller, the magician and illusionist.” Why… that sounds an awful lot like they’re looking at early fantasy works. Interesting.

Well, Harvard isn’t everything, right? I mean sure they consider genre writing to be Literature. But pfft, Harvard. Let’s see what Yale is up to. Oh, offering a science fiction course this semester. “A survey of twentieth- and twenty-first-century science fiction, focusing on how changing technologies produce new ideas about human identity. Emphasis on innovations in science and engineering as well as new forms of social, political, and economic life. Works by Robert Heinlein, Philip K. Dick, Ursula Le Guin, and William Gibson.” Okay, well that’s just Yale. PFFFT I say. East coast shenanigans is what this is. Stanford is where it’s at! With their course Graphic Novels Asian American Style “Though genre fiction has occasionally been castigated as a lowbrow form only pandering to the uneducated masses, this course reveals how Asian American writers transform the genre to speak to issues of racial difference and social inequality.” Surely an outlier, oh they also offer a course called Detective Fiction; and then also Contemporary Science Fictions and Technofutures; and The Graphic Novel. Stanford, obviously founded by hippies and weirdos and shouldn’t matter, am I right?

What this is is just America trying to destroy literature by allowing students to study genre. They’d never stand for this at Oxford. Except I have on my shelf the Oxford Book of Science Fiction. Oops. So Tolkien and CS Lewis taught there. What do foreigners know anyway?

We’re talking about writing Literature. The good stuff. Writing the important stuff, not studying it. I mean it’s not like Neil Gaiman is going to be teaching at Bard starting this fall. … Well Patrick Rothfuss isn’t going to be allowed in a classroom, surely… at University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point. Welp. Okay. Whatever, Wisconsin. Iowa’s what’s important. The be all, end all Iowa Workshop. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. taught there, you know. Of course, the only time I’ve had Vonnegut on a syllabus was in the scifi class I took, but you know, whatever. That’s not relevant, I’m sure. And neither is the course at University of Iowa titled “Victorian Fantasies: From Fairy Tales to Science Fiction” or this creative writing course “Writing and Reading Science Fiction.” Surely they were hacked or someone held hostage or something. Iowa would never do something so low as to consort with genre. Corn addled hooligans. Let’s turn to the system of my own MFA alma mater, University of Texas. Specifically, let’s talk about UT Austin with their fancy New Writers Project. Surely they would never allow themselves to infiltrated by dirty genre writers… except for Peter LaSalle, whose work has in fact appeared in Best American Fantasy.

Weird. It’s almost like science fiction and fantasy, along with the other “genres” which get looked down on so often, are valid areas of Literary study. Like perhaps they are worth looking at by people who may not be into that sort of thing normally. Just like I am not into Early American Literature, but I sure did have to study it. Huh. Like maybe if we read things outside of our comfort levels we are enriched by them, whether we actually like them or not.

All of the above aside, I am so incredibly frustrated by this attitude within the academic creative writing community that the answer to bad scifi/fantasy writing is not to make it better, but to discourage students from writing it. And often that results in those students being discouraged from writing anything at all. I edit a literary magazine that focuses on scifi, fantasy, and all the other dirty words you can’t use in writing workshops. I am invested in these writers writing well. And I have gotten some writing that is, from a technical standpoint, a damn sight better than a lot of mainstream fiction that I saw in graduate workshops. (Don’t get me wrong, I was in with some very incredibly talented writers whose names you will know here pretty soon, if you don’t already, but not everyone was a star.) We genre writers have made our own spaces with Clarion and the like, but dammit! These are good, important stories, and I am so sick of everyone looking down on us while simultaneously refusing to learn about what we’re doing.

Well I am just the worst at this.

Mini Furious is now enrolled at a local Montessori school, and loving it to pieces. It’s a great environment for her and I’m a Montessori convert for life. Mr. Furious has accepted a new position for the fall and will be Assistant Professor/Technical Director Furious at a smallish school in a very small town in West Texas. We are super excited, if a little apprehensive. Come spring break we’re taking a trip out there to start scouting places to live and so I can at least see this town once before we move there. Exciting and terrifying. It’s a very small place. The nearest Wal-Mart is an hour away. The nearest Target is two. Unless some locally owned store surprises me, there is no place in town that carries my size in clothing. As someone who relies heavily on retail therapy, this move is going to be interesting. There is a roller derby team in the area, though. So there’s always that.