Month: March 2020

Not Too Shabby, Monday

My life these days is reviewing manuscripts, cooking, and reading drabbles (stories of exactly a hundred words) submitted to the contest, which mercifully closes tomorrow. About 250 entries, probably ending near 300, based on the last-minute flurry. Obviously, any mention of the number 300 necessitates a reference to the meme below. Don’t look at me; I don’t make the rules. (By the way, 300 is a great movie.)

My daughter keeps saying “this is Sparta!”. What does she mean ...

It’s a weird nonacademic publication time, with absurdist literary fiction, poetry,  and historical fiction penned by moi all coming out in the next few days.

Tomorrow I brave the grocery store again.

I have conference calls scheduled all week, some video play dates for the youngest kid, so the work and childcare proceed apace. Next week, the kids’ school goes back in session in an online format, and I dread the ensuing battles with the soon-to-be teen.

I made a loose deal to illustrate a writer friend’s ultrashort (50-word) dialogue-only stories in the form of 3–4 panel comic strips. This might be the incentive I need to finally learn to use digital-art tools. Here’s a character sketch.



How’s your Monday, blogosphere? 


Here are some cool links.  (The poem “Things” by Lisel Mueller is awesome.)

What Writing Horror Can Teach All Writers

Self-Quarantined: The Adult Activity Book


I don’t really know where the time went today. I’ve been busy with this drabble contest I’m running, sending out mostly form and some second-round rejections (over 140 emails so far and still have quite a few to go; thank God for Gmail templates). The contest isn’t over yet, but will be soon, and I didn’t want to start sifting through the stories at the last minute, because, you know, COVID.

I also wanted to share some weird (good weird) news. I’d never in my life received anything in any game of chance (raffle, lottery, etc.). I rarely go for these things anyway,  because I believe in my fundamental inability to score anything. Yet, in the past two weeks I received not one but two free books in giveaways on Twitter; to enter, you had to retweet (which I did because it’s a nice and easy thing to do, never expecting to get anything) and then the names were drawn at random. Long story short, I scored two really cools books! If the crazy weather and the pandemic aren’t enough, this is the definitive proof that the reality as we know it is unraveling.

I saw my graduate students on Friday, all together after a while, and it was really nice. I missed them, to be honest. It felt good and normal to look at data and goof around and talk about projects for a change.

Middle Boy had his cast removed on Friday, as well. The hothead had gotten himself a boxer’s fracture (fracture in the metacarpal bones of the middle, ring, and pinky fingers) in his dominant hand as a result of punching the floor twice, hard, following some drama that involved doing math. Anyway, he couldn’t participate in the last basketball tournament of the season, had to wear a cast for three weeks, but now it’s all over and hopefully he will soon be back to using his hand 100%.

How was your weekend, blogosphere? 

To wrap up, here are a couple of links (courtesy of my Twitter timeline):  


La La Links

This post brought to you exclusively by my Twitter bookmarks. First a few serious, then a few frivolous!

If you have time for just a few links, I recommend the National Geographic article on the lessons from the 1918 pandemic (because graphs), “A Kind of Love Story” poem, and at least one of the two videos featuring a happy, bearded  pianist.


OK, was that enough serious business? I think so. Here’s some beauty and levity.

Lovecraftian Times


This article about how what people are feeling right now is grief keeps popping up in my Twitter feed.

When I first read it, I understood why people liked it and knew I should, too, but it mostly irritated me. Every time I came across it, I got irritated anew.

But why? you ask. It’s such a nice, thoughtful essay. I felt better after reading it.

Yeah, you did. Because it’s feel-good bullshit.

First of all, ‘grief’ itself is one of those words — like ‘community’ — that sends me into a violent rage, because it’s so cheap, so overused, that you can count on its very utterance being, almost always, pure performative bullshit.

(This probably explains why I have so little patience with fiction whose premise is dead children or ailing family members. Too much of the work with these themes counts on the instant heart-string pull to mask lazy writing and sheer manipulative intent.)

I’m not disputing that the feeling of grief exists. But those who revel in talking about it, labeling every annoyance, every feeling of unease, every hurt feeling grief are full of shit.

They do it because it’s easy and because grief, like pain and suffering, is considered noble. You’re not a hyperventilating hot mess, frazzled from too much time at home with the kids in between videoconference meetings,  pouting because your fun that involves travel or socializing has been postponed indefinitely. No, you are feeling “anticipatory grief.” Gimme a fuckin’ break.

Note that all this precious writing is aimed at work-from-homers whose jobs aren’t in immediate peril. I bet all the laid-off workers don’t feel grief over canceled birthday parties or spring-break family trips, but utter fucking despair over losing the roofs over their heads and the ability to feed their kids.

All of us who stay at home, keep our families healthy and do our jobs remotely should fucking count our blessings and shut the fuck up. So you’re a little perturbed. It’ll go away. You’ll adjust. You’re not grieving; disappointment over the non-fulfillment of your myriad fun plans isn’t grief. After all, what was that saying? If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.

I grew up in a very chaotic society. Amid political and economic turmoil, the societal attitude (and that in my family, for sure) was that we’re always, always, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

And you know what? People grow up, have friends and fun, fall in love, get jobs, raise families, and live full lives in chaotic societies.

In fact, until I came to the US I didn’t know one could ever have so much faith in the system. In a functioning judiciary, long-term political stability, health of the economy; in people following rules. Realizing this was possible was heartening. I started feeling entitled to all these things. I became soft, complacent.

But this, this situation we have now, the open-endedness, the uncertainty, that’s what I’d been training for my whole youth. And I can tell you that all this is not only survivable, but livable. Even thrivable. (Provided you don’t actually die from COVID, of course.)

What you’re feeling isn’t grief. Please, don’t cheapen grief. It’s bewilderment in the face of the unknown because you’ve spent your whole life able to count on stability and prosperity. But that’s not a feature of most societies, and even when it is, it’s never for more than a few uninterrupted decades.

What you’re facing is actually Lovecraftian: cosmic horror that has no interest  in making its intentions understood. What you’re feeling is fear. Fear is not noble; fear makes you feel and look weak. But it’s real and it’s true. And it will pass.

Seals and Losers

I’m trying to finish a story for a contest that closes soon (really soon), so I won’t be long.


Yesterday’s shopping was an operation that would’ve made Navy Seals proud. Quiet, quick, precise. Hopefully not deadly. I dropped a large amount of money but we’re set for over a week again. It’s so weird seeing all these counters empty — meat, deli, hot food, salad bar. I talked to my meat guy, a butchering enthusiast whose affection for his job often cheers me up. He said they carried most of the stuff they usually did, but everything was packaged and tended to fly off the shelves. I did get enough meat for a week and then some. Everyone was wearing gloves, including me. It was eerie.

I am wondering if I need to buy a second small fridge. Our regular fridge and freezer were not meant for this volume of bulk shopping or cooking.


I got that declination from NSF the other day. I don’t know why, but NSF declines always fuckin’ slay me. Every time I apply as a sole PI, for the past however many years anyway, I get the same bullshit critiques. It doesn’t matter if I put a ton of work into the proposal or very little. My scores are always very good, but no money; regardless of how many papers I have on a topic, people don’t believe I can actually do stuff. Sometimes they literally say one person cannot be an expert in all these techniques, even though I’ve published on all of them. No matter how many papers by someone I cite and how much I position myself with respect to prior art, people say I didn’t cite that relevant work  (this time, one reviewer said I didn’t compare to the work of one person with whom I a) collaborate, b) have cited probably 15 papers from, and c) from whose papers I have used three figures in the proposal, with attribution. Submitting to the NSF,  again and again, is like getting up in the morning to go to school, where I will be relentlessly bullied, and there’s nothing I can do about it, because I have to keep going to school, over and over again. Applying to the NSF makes me feel stupid and hopeless and like I should quit my job. I always get sunk by offhand comments made by people who didn’t bother to engage with the proposal in good faith. No other agency review has this effect on me. With the NSF, as a single PI, it’s as if the community repeatedly tells me I am dumb, untrustworthy, and should just go away already.

Whenever I think of myself as the sole PI vs the NSF, I remember the words of a colleague two doors down from me. The first and last time I shared with him some vulnerability and frustration in the face of grant rejections, he dismissively waved me away and said: “That’s loser talk.” Which obviously made me feel so much better, only not. Not then and not ever. Thank you, colleague, for adding salt to the wound and helping me feel like the biggest loser.

I know it’s really entitled of me to whine about this now, when the world is burning. This counts as my daily allotment of non-COVID freaking out.

Blogosphere, do you have any recent Navy Seal / biggest loser stories? 


P.S. OK, to leave on a positive note, this insanely complicated but amazing contraption:


Mamma Mia!

I had a full post planned, but today’s shopping trip was an epic adventure that left both me and my wallet depleted, so maybe tomorrow.

For now, enjoy these hilarious compilations of PSAs by Italian mayors who are sick and tired of their disobedient denizens breaking quarantine.


So I finally joined Facebook. I know, I am a true trendsetter, riding the bleeding edge of the social-media movement. I did it in order to become part of a small writing group run by one of my scribbler friends. The group features flash-fiction sprints and other challenges, and I hope these will be the kick in the pants I need.

Walking through the neighborhood today was really creepy. It was 7 pm, not 2 am, but not a soul in sight.

After ten days in quarantine, I am bracing myself for shopping again tomorrow. Do I even remember how? My middle son might eat my youngest one if I don’t get some groceries, stat.

I received a story acceptance today, which is surreal. This weird year has been a good creative-writing one for me.

I have online office hours set up and a video conferencing group meeting. nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn

I kid you not, I dozed off. I’m not erasing those n’s; they are a true testament to the weirdness of this particular day.

Whassup, blogosphere? What’ve you been up to? 

P.S. Aaaaand an evening declination from the NSF. I skimmed the panel summary, then reviews. Two in-depth, thoughtful reviews that also gave high scores; one brief, drive-by-night miscapitalized and mispunctuated review, written by someone who was clearly very loud during the panel. None of this is a surprise to anyone who has experience with the NSF. Whatever.


On the upside, I’m cooking more than ever. On the downside, I’m cooking more than ever. It’s a thing I can do and do well, but don’t burn with a desire to do more of. This from-scratch French bread was a big hit, but it was very low-tech (I mixed everything by hand and also have no rolling pin) and not something I want to do every day, especially because cleanup is a bitch.


I’ve been mostly in good spirits during the quarantine, but occasionally feel like I want to burst because there’s nowhere to hide for some peace and quiet. Last night I was this close (*holds thumb and forefinger a quarter inch apart*) to just hopping into my car and driving around. At least I can go out to take a walk during the day. It must be awful for people in big cities who literally can’t go anywhere.

I’ve got stuff to do, I’m not bored, we’re well stocked, but the people around me, lovely as they are, get to be a bit much.

Introvert readers, how are you coping? Extrovert readers, how about you? Too much/too little togetherness or just right? 

Damned If You Do

Withdrew from several magazines a poem that’s funny and angry and profane and has to do with rage over a physical exam, which I had submitted weeks ago. Why? Because, at this point in time, it seems really inappropriate to have out for consideration something that is even jokingly negative about healthcare provides.

The worst thing about a surreal state (not unlike the morning after the presidential election of 2016, mind you) is damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

You must not pretend things are normal; if you do, you are blind or delusional or insensitive.

You must not focus on anything other than the train wreck du jour; if you do, you are blind or delusional or insensitive.

You must not spend all the time on current events; if you do, it warps your psyche and sends even the mentally toughest among us into a spiral of doom.

This all sucks and it looks like we’re in it for the next few months. What a mess.