Tuesday, January 31, 2012


Right, so I’ve spent the last decade with my head buried in academia. Things happened when I wasn’t paying attention. I’ve never been very on the cutting edge of what’s going on. I’m always a late comer, even on things that I should be the first person in line.

That’s good and bad, by being a late comer, I always trip onto things with tons of back issues so I can gorge myself on the awesome in a binge of, well, awesome.

Usually I keep the squeetastic to myself because it’s sort of embarrassing—which for the record, is totally lame! Why should it be embarrassing that I can sing the theme song to Sailor Moon acapella? I should be able to love everything that I love without worrying about being judged, but I do worry. I am judged. And that’s why I found it so incredible to stumble onto a group of people who promote awesomeness and decreasing world suck by being nerdy and unironically being enthusiastic about the things they love. They are the Nerdfighters.

I first ran into them when Elizabeth posted this video of Maureen Johnson on writing. It was awesome. 

Then I started to watch more of their videos until I found this one. And since then I’ve been completely hooked. 

One of the great things about binging on awesome is that I trip across things that other people are already like “Dude, Rena, we all already know that.” So if you already know who Meghan Tonjes is, fantastic. 

For everyone else: I have found my theme song for this year (and it was written for last year). 

So yeah, I'm totally hooked, so I'm off to buy Meghan's songs. 

Oh, and if you want to fly your nerdy flag, feel free to steal my badge in the side bar.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Bits and pieces (or the stone soup of posts)

I’m closing in on a milestone of my dissertation rewrite (no, not a first draft of the dissertation, but the first draft of chapter one), so I’m a little scatterbrained…and by a little, I mean I’ve lost my mind. Since a coherent post isn’t coming any time soon, I thought I’d drop a few random things that have come to my attention recently.

This is the tea thief. The cute is just a facade.
First: apparently my cat has developed a taste for tea. I’m a big tea drinker, and the other day, my cat jumped into my lap and started drinking my tea right from my cup—while I was holding the mug! I mean really, the least he could do is wait for me to not be looking. And since he so rarely sits in anyone’s lap I know I was being used. Now it’s a constant battle of watching my tea mug and placing it where he can’t get to it. He’s taken to retaliating by lying on my laptop, so I constantly have bits of cat hair poking out from the edges of the screen. I’m starting to consider just brewing him his own cup to keep him off mine…

And caffeinated feline just ain’t pretty.

My 250 person class is alternately a complete hoot and a complete pain in the posterior. I get twenty emails a day asking basically the same question (where are the online notes? How do I take the quiz? How do I make up the quiz that I missed?). I have two people with exactly the same name (even the spelling: first, last, same middle initial). And apparently 250 people is the magic number to get students to start duplicating everything, including excuses. In the first two weeks of my class I’ve had three students have their wisdom teeth pulled, two students sprain their ankles (hello, crutches? I never missed a class because of a broken bone or sprained joint, even the time I broke my arm at midnight and had a nine am class, I was there), and five undisclosed family emergencies. I have a student trying out for an Olympic team.

Right, well, I think I’ll sign off while I’m ahead, because the random is compounding. I’m hearing voices, and Insecure Writers group is coming up soon.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Tales of ancient history: the day I lied to my grandmother

First, I want to thank everyone for their kind words about my protag Boxy. After your comments, that story has definitely jumped the queue in WIP land. Thank you.

Today I’m starting a series of stories from my younger years, things that have happened to me, or those moments where suddenly the world just made sense in a different way. If this isn’t your thing, don’t worry, I’m going to try to keep these to one a week.

This is Vesta (image from NASA), an asteroid.
And to start off, the day I knowingly and willingly LIED to my grandmother.

Before this story will make much sense, you have to understand that my poor grandmother was incapacitated at birth by oxygen deprivation, and the damage was permanent and long lasting. She was the classic definition of slow, suffering from mental retardation. Now this didn’t hinder her ability to be part of a family, it just meant that she couldn’t read and had the emotional range of a six to seven year old. I loved her dearly.

But sometimes explaining the world—you know, like the lyrics to Madonna’s “Like a Virgin”—was challenging.

When I first came back from grad school (my undergrad was a long drive, but I made it home for Turkey day and Christmas every year; when I went off to grad school it was on the opposite side of the country) my grandmother asked me what I study.

Before this, I’d always told her “Rocks, Grandma, I study the way that rocks move and change over time.” It had been my standard response for a few years, but for some reason, I was feeling full of myself.

“I study meteorites, Grandma.”

She gave me the confused look. “What’s a meteorite.”

A cascade of answers flew through my brain: the oldest rocks in our solar system, ancient pieces of rock that didn’t become part of the planet, rocks kept from becoming a unified planet by Jupiter’s gravitational well, but none of them quite fit my grandmother’s working vocabulary.

“They’re rocks that fall from the sky,” I said.

She rolled her eyes at me. “Oh, for heaven’s sake, Rena. Rocks don’t fall out of the sky!” the ‘even I know that,’ was, of course, implied.

My argumentative scientist—you know the one who starts every rebuttal with “Actually…”—started to kick in. But then something crazy happened.

I’d never experienced that moment in life when in the span of a split second thousands of possibilities all occurred to me at once, and I realized how terrible the truth could be. Imagine someone who’s a hypochondriac learning that Rocks Actually Fall from the Sky?! And some of these rocks are not small—just ask the dinosaurs—some hit the ground in a field of debris the size of Texas. How terrifying would that be for my poor grandmother.

And then, oh, then I thought about the impact of this truth—Scientific Fact!—on my poor mother. Every time my grandmother found a strange looking rock she’d call my mother “I think I’ve found a meteorite! You should send it to Rena!” or the phone call in the middle of the night “I think a meteorite just hit my roof, what if there are more? You should come over to make sure.”

I could see that scenario only too well, and of course, my disgruntled mother—who was watching this exchange—would call me up just after getting off the phone at midnight with my grandmother. I could just hear her bedraggled, more than slightly annoyed voice when she called me: “I just talked to your grandmother, who tells me there’s a meteorite on the roof. Thank you, ever so much for educating her in your field of study. Next time could you study fluffy bunnies or something?”

But I’m a scientist, and scientists tell the truth.

But what is a fact worth? Who would it hurt if dear old grandma lived on in ignorant bliss?

I could see the little devils on my shoulder, and one of them was dressed like my mother. “Oh god, Rena, just this once,” she pleaded.

The whole family watched in complete silence. Surely many of the same thoughts had just occurred to them in that same split second. Either that or they were morbidly curious about how I’d handle this blatant challenge to the existence of my scientific career (something I was teased about frequently).

I sighed. “You’re right, Grandma. Rocks really don’t fall from the sky.”

Monday, January 23, 2012

A Blog fest, Yay!

I love playing along in these blog fests, they’re such a hoot (not to mention, sometimes it’s just way easier to blog about what someone else thought up).

Today’s blog fest is all about a favorite character. 

To join in go here and jump onto the linky link. And thanks to Laura for hosting.

While it’s really impossible to narrow down all of my characters to my single favorite, I can certainly say that there is one who always sticks out in my mind. Her name is Bauchellious Dedrix, but everyone calls her Boxy (that was supposed to lead to lame titles like “OUT of the BOX” or “BOXED IN” or even *cringe* “BOXING DAY”). Boxy is from a typical Cyber Punk society where there is one giant interstellar Imperium based loosely off of the Ancient Greek Civilization. This empire is always at odds with the Federation of Free Corporations (the FFC) which is basically what you would get if Disney, Google, Yahoo, Apple and Microsoft could bury the hatchet long enough to decide they could be their own government. 

Here’s the first page or so of that story (please excuse the formatting, blogger ate it for breakfast). 

I stared down the barrel of my Glorian 39 at the mark on the other end, a middle-aged man in a business suit: another Imperial lackey on the wrong side of the law. So the Empire sent me, a Fury.  

The mark seemed familiar, maybe a high profile murderer. Enough of those live in the Empire, even if assassin material is rare. Professional killers are one in a million, according to the psyches. Since roughly 27 billion citizens reside in the Empire, there are at least 27,000 potential professional killers. Considering only 10,000 Furies are on the Imperial payroll, some 17,000 loose cannons are running around in the empire waiting to snap. Long live the Empire

I watched him, waiting for the conditioned Red Fury to take me, but it was silent. The Fury never came to me. Someday the psyches will find out.

And then it’s back to the brain blender for me. 

Okay, I can fake it a while longer.

My mark looked up at me. A single bead of sweat rolled down his balding head, and I watched it drop onto his hand. He wore a single ring identical to the one my Keeper wore. That made him a Keeper. Maybe that’s why he looks familiar.

“I can free you,” he said quietly. I blinked, and my arm wavered. Furies are not free. We march to the beat of our Keeper’s drum. Six years ago I lost my freedom when a drosian dealer tore through my parent’s building. I had killed to stay alive. The Empire found me, and instead of punishing me, they decided to torture me. They told me that killing—even to keep myself alive—was a crime, but killing for the Empire was a respectable job.

I’m sure everyone can see why I like her, she’s disgruntled, snarky and detail oriented. She also feels like her life isn’t her own—mostly because it isn’t, but details, you know?—and this story is about her starting to take control. I wrote it a long time ago, and if I wanted to show any more of it, I'd need to rewrite the whole thing (not something I'm entirely adverse to, I just need the time).

Friday, January 20, 2012

Carrots? How about carrot cake?

Lately I’ve been feeling tired. Run down even. I’m working my batooschky nugget off and basically depriving myself of all the things that I love.

This is dumb.

Yes I have a ton of work to do, and it’s going at a VERY slow pace (one page a day and I have over two hundred pages!). But here’s what I’ve learned: no amount of self deprivation will make me work any faster. Not at all. Not a scrap of telling myself that I don’t have time to do something I want to do (like watch a TV show, or read a comic book) is going to make my progress increase.

So, I said “screw this” and I bought some manga.

I haven’t had so much fun reading a book (backwards!) in years. Then I got the second book in the Hunger Games trilogy, and you know what? I’m getting *more* work done.

I guess this boils down to a simple concept that many of us know and understand, but for whatever reason, we forget in the heat of life. There are two ways to motivate someone, the carrot or the stick. I’ve been using the stick, but I’m really a carrot kind of person. I’ve had my fair share of the stick, I’m going out for carrots.

How about you? Carrot or stick? Some wonderfully balanced combination of both?