When life gets you down, take goofy black and white photos.

It has been an alarming week of exam-related setbacks.  Thankfully, malaise was offset by my truly spectacular friends: I spent most of yesterday running around the city with people I adore.

A poet-friend in the program threw a costume party, and someone started up a round of the Terrible Author Photo game, wherein we all pose wearing Very Serious expressions for the black-and-white photos that will appear on our book flaps if (when!) we ever get published.  Things I have learned:

1) I am incapable of keeping a straight face.

2) Jim is only marginally better at straight-face-keeping — do not be fooled by his thoughtful stare-into-space schtick; this was his 4th attempt!

3) Everything looks less dippy in black and white.

Now to pass these blasted exams so I can get back to writing some books to go with the terrible author photos!

Gender and rantings.

Have been puttering around the Internet off and on today as I pore through books for my exam paper.  First, a random comment from –E on Scalzi’s blog, one that may have been intended as a joke, but very much got me thinking.

A hierarchy:

Nobel laureates
Booker prize winners
Pulitzer prize winners
Mainstream literary writers
Dead White Guys
South American writers of Magic Realism
Realistic War Fiction
Mainstream male writers who are writing chick lit but it isn’t called that; e.g., Nicholas Sparks, Robert James Waller, Arthur Golden
Bestselling male writers who “transcend” their genre, but are actually writing genre (where “genre” = crim fic, spec fic, or horror)
Bestselling female crime fic writers
Midlist male crime fic writers
Bestselling male SF/F writers
Midlist male SF/F writers
Bestselling female SF/F writers (they may be a slot higher, depending on who’s writing the review)
Midlist female writers of any genre except romance
Bestselling romance writers
Horror writers (except those who transcend the genre)
Romance writers
Erotica writers
YA writers

I don’t know how true this is, or how much it’s intended for entertainment value only (YA being the punchline, hur-hur).  But however true it may be, it’s depressing as hell on the gender front.  And it also seems like you could invert the list and, with only a few minor switcheroos, have an accurate picture of the marketplace in terms of sales.  So once again we have Franzen’s prestige v. contract dichotomy writ large.  Ugh.  Makes me hate the universe, and with the VIDA stats to prove it…

And then there’s Cat Valente‘s rant on sexism in videogames.  I genuinely enjoy her feminist criticisms; she’s funny and hyperbolic and her style just does it for me.  This one hits especially close to home.  I feel terrible nostalgia for PC games of my youth, most especially the Kings Quest series.  KQ 4 and 7 even featured female protags.  There was a fairly fleshed out quest plot and hundreds of individual puzzles to solve.  Once of my very favorite holiday presents ever was the companion guide (re: cheat book) to the entire series, because half the guides were written like standalone novelettes.

I quit WOW in large part because of how disgusted I got with the rank sexism of…oh, everything.  But the worst part was the rampant misogyny in chat (aka, other real people, not just sexist programmers’ creations) that cropped up any time I had to group for a quest or dungeon.  It was never directed at me, but that actually made it worse: the assumption that everyone hated women, and that I must be a dude playing a chick, and therefore all-holds-barred woman-hating bullshit was fine and dandy?  Ugh.  It made the game more stressful than fun by the end.

It’s probably for the best that videogames aren’t much holding my interest–it’s certainly helping with time-management of the exam process.  But if someone would update KQ7, I would be first in line to buy it.

Lockdown.

It’s the final countdown.  I meet with my adviser on Tuesday to complete the paperwork that starts the exam process.  At which point, I AM taking them, ready or not.  This is great news, since I’ve watched way too many people get hung up at the “you’re not ready; let’s postpone a semester” stage.  I just want the right to fail on time, thankyouverymuch.  But I don’t plan to fail.

Had a massive breakthrough on my paper last week, which has shifted the whole project, and now I’m scrambling to figure out double-rainbow style “what does it meeeeean??”  I have some decisions to make.  That said, I also have the whole arc of the paper in my head, and over half of it down on paper, and that half mostly needs restructuring not cutting, which is a HUGE leap from my earlier draft submissions.  But yeah.  This week, I went from “oh god, how will I ever get this done,” to “oh.   There is an argument here, and it makes sense.  All I have to do is write it down.”  I’ve been giddy and thrilled since Tuesday (when all the pieces slotted into place).  Now I just have to not make everyone around me crazy with my rapturous joy, since many of them are still in the thick of it.  But several people in my year also had great meetings this week, or have their meetings upcoming, and a grad school friend got a new pub this week,  and altogether things are right shiny.

I have less than two months until I take exams, so things may be a bit quieter on the blog from now til March.  Wish me luck!

Winter of domesticity.

It’s not that I didn’t get stuff done over the break; I did, I swear.  My revision process is 10-12 passes per story, and I’m at revision 5 on two flash pieces and managed a few passes on two other stories besides.  I’m coming up on 1/4 of my research paper done, which is less than I’d hoped, but it’s painstakingly slow going.  My adviser reads the whole thing aloud every time we meet while I take notes so that I can scrub imprecision and awkward transitions, and it’s already the best academic work I’ve ever done, but it’s slowed my usually speedy drafting process to a crawl as I second-guess every damn sentence.  I finally get to close read a text now, though, (instead of long and dense historical context ‘graphs) which I’m hopeful will up the page count a bit. And I read a small pile of books: The Awakening, Todorov’s The Fantastic, Farah Mendlesohn’s History of Fantasy, Ballard’s Atrocity Exhibition, Anna Joy Springer’s Vicious Red Relic Love, Eggers’ short story collection, Kincaid’s Lucy.  I also reread a small bunch of memoirs I plan to analyze for the exam paper.  This seems terribly unproductive for a month’s worth of work.  That’s what I should be reading in a week. But I’ve also sorted through a billion articles, which had to be done, and definitely killed reading time.  Better luck this month.

What did I do instead of reading a book a day?  Sewed and cooked, mostly.  I’ve been trying out new recipes, which is a pleasure but also time consuming.  I’ve been in love with carmelized onions for a few months now–they take forever to make, but once they’re done, they transform whatever you stick them in.  And I’ve been teaching Jim to cook, which also slows down the cooking process (though it does make it much more fun…I love making things with other people, be it a tote bag or dinner).  The other night we made an onion-date pizza with French onion soup, and it was carmelized onion heaven.

This is Jim, thrilled that we have successfully cooked two things.  We even made whole wheat croutons for the soup.

I’m sure I could’ve lived on freezer pizza all break and I’d have many more books read, and more pages done on the paper besides.  Maybe I’d even have new stories.  But I’m pretty excited to be living with a boy who can cook me shishi meals now.  Good times.

Are you going to the airport?

So I commute by train from my apartment to school, a 35 min. (ish) trip as long as the trains run on time.  I also need to cart a megaton of books back and forth.  For a semester I even used one of these:

My back was forever aching from the wall of Norton Critical anthologies I had to lug, because I was TAing a survey course.  My friends made merciless fun of me and my wheelie bag.  But now, I have a better solution.

Yesterday I spent eight.straight.hours. sewing with two of my girlfriends.  We ate fresh baked bread with jam and sharp cheddar, took coffee-n-gab breaks, but mostly sewed and sewed.  Gina was in full teacher mode, and it was awesome: I learned how to make a gusset (so neat!) and practiced easing a bunch more times.  I started learning how to put in zippers, but the zipper foot we bought didn’t fit my machine, so Gina had to do the final install on hers.  Still, I learned a ton, and now I have a mammoth tote bag for school this semester.

Not the best picture, I know, but you can see how spacious it is.  And I adore the fabric.  The curlicues are more blue in real life.  I was originally intending to use a lovely cream fabric with small pink flowers, but my little tan purse takes quite a beating in daily use (it gets dirty so easily), and the cream  didn’t seem like a smart plan for the exterior of a heavy-use bag.  I’m saving the cream for a later project–possibly a skirt or short summer dress.

The best part’s the interior.

The sling shape makes it really difficult to take pictures, but you can see the interior zipper, which attaches to a deep inner pocket in a red/pink paisley-ish fabric.  Then there are two additional pockets that match the external fabric.  It came out better than I’d even imagined, and it’s deep enough to hold all the books in the world.

Today, I must read and read and read and revise, to catch up from yesterday’s playing hookey.  But it was totally worth it.