Monthly Archives: September 2013

A plethora of posts to write–quick hits–teacher politics, horse politics, and a fun reflection on writing with kids

As usual, life’s gotten busy and I have things to write about which just ain’t happenin’ as individual posts at the moment.

To start with, David Gilmour (NOT the Pink Floyd musician but the writer and lit prof) doesn’t like teaching about women writers. There’s dozens of excellent rants around the web about his sexism, but I’ve got an additional reaction which seriously provokes my ire–the assumption on his part that teaching is all about being able to present material smoothly and effectively (his assertion that “I’m a natural teacher” where he goes on to state that his experience speaking on camera gives him Magic Teacher Juju).


There’s significantly more to being a good teacher than whether you can deliver a brilliant presentation. If that’s your only tool, then you’re a good lecturer. That’s different from being a good teacher. A good teacher can develop the sort of connection with his or her students that allows the teacher to quickly ascertain student understanding on the fly, diagnose what is/isn’t working, and modify both presentation and individual/small group instruction (which may or may not include the lecture) IN PROCESS to facilitate learning. You can be a brilliant lecturer but a crappy teacher.

Additionally, that conflating of lecture and the art and science of teaching is symptomatic of the sort of mentality that pervades much of the current educational deformist movements in the US public education system at the moment, usually mouthed by those who haven’t set foot in a classroom since they left it as students. Yes, you have to be able to know your subject and communicate what you know to students. But–you have to be able to diagnose when learning runs off of the rails and figure out how to fix it–fast. That sort of understanding doesn’t come from book larnin’, folks–it comes from practice, observation, and more practice.

My sense from both the linked interview and Gilmour’s own statements, plus additional commentary from students, is that he may be a brilliant lecturer, but at least half of his students aren’t necessarily learning (and can we guess which gender that is?). I don’t care whether he’s at a university or in the k-12 system–that’s not the mark of an effective or natural teacher. ‘Nuff said.

Next item. Mark Arbello, the San Diego horse trainer who killed a horse in training by using a tie-around method of bitting up. From what I’ve read so far, there are so many things wrong with how he executed that particular method that it isn’t even funny. I have seen this tool used effectively with a limited subset of hard-case rehab horses whose next stop was the auction if they didn’t turn around, but Arbello did Every. Damn. Thing. Wrong. Shanked bit, not a snaffle (for the non-horsey, a shanked bit puts leverage pressure on the horse’s head in a very painful way if used for this purpose and can lead to the type of reaction which caused this lovely mare’s death). Cranked tight and hard (nope). Tied the horse up instead of letting the horse move on their own. Unsupervised. Grrr.

For the record, I don’t use this tool. I know how to use it, but I don’t. I prefer a side rein method, loosely adjusted so that the horse practices moving in balance but is figuring it out for themselves–and the horse is supervised so that if it causes anxiety instead of the desired result, the human can quickly intervene to prevent a blowup.

Of course, there are plenty of folks out there condemning both techniques with a broad brush and insisting that the way they use side reins is the Only True Way. Sigh. Horse politics are too damn much like health care politics these days, everyone’s waxing opinionated with closed minds. ‘Nuff said with that grumble.

And last of all, for those who are still reading, I’m having some fun times working on a vocabulary story with my intervention class students. I’m not fond of the drill and kill method of vocabulary development where you make kids look up lots of words in the dictionary and write them down, plus use the word in a sentence. A little bit of this work to teach how to use the dictionary is useful, but that’s what you use it for. For vocabulary development, they’ve got to use the words and understand their meaning. I’ve graded enough half-ass-done dictionary vocabulary exercises with poorly written sentences that I don’t like to do that method.

Instead, I want kids to use the words in a way that helps them understand the meaning of these words–ergo, vocabulary pictionary, vocabulary charades, and what I’m doing now–the vocabulary story.  This is a new thing, but basically, I created three categories–event, personality, scene–and had the kids classify the vocabulary words accordingly. Boy, was that ever a knock-down, drag-out argument in some cases, but the kids came up with good justification for that placement. Then, yesterday, we started creating characters, settings, and the first beginnings of plot.

Wow. Can we say buy-in? And, as we discussed how to incorporate various elements of the words into a story (conundrum, assonance, inference are just some of the vocabulary words), I noticed that the kids started talking authoritatively about the meaning of the words, and when I’d throw out a question about how we could craft a character to reflect those words, they got it.


Though I’ve gotta say, the stories may well turn out to be this rather bizarre mishmash of Philip K. Dick, Terry Pratchett, and some very, very odd cartoons. But all in good fun. After all, how often do I get to work with pink unicorn ninjas in a moldy candy cane forest? Nonetheless, the kids are excited and engaged–which is really, really good.


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On time travel and oooh them awful girl cooties

So Charlie Stross appears to have committed one of those “oh no headdesk no no” moments when he asserted that there’s a dearth of female time travelers in SF, going on to claim that it’s harder for women to exercise the sort of agency a time traveler could/should enjoy in older, potentially more sexually repressive societies.

Ahem (Marge Piercy, Woman at the Edge of Time for starters, cough-cough).

While there’s been some most excellent counters to his assertions from various excellent women writers, I want to throw my two cents in as well, based on my own knowledge of local and regional history in the Pacific Northwest of the United States.

Right off the bat, I’ll confess to an occasional fascination for the tales of women adventurers in the Old West of North America (okay, maybe I’ll give Stross a pass on these, simply because that’s a regional focus and he may not know of them). Not all of them were cross-dressing as male, though there are some absolutely incredible stories about women who lived their lives out as remote cowboys, only to be outed upon severe injury or death. Some were spouses or female companions to males–Narcissa Whitman and Eliza Spaulding are two who come quickly to mind, along with Sacajawea and Marie Dorion.

But there were plenty-many other women in the Old West who went out along with the boys and held their own. Some, like Elinore Pruitt Stewart, were simply trying to make a living. We know about Elinore because of her entertaining published letters, but she and her sister ranchwomen had no qualms about loading up wagons and horses and going out on their own for camping and fishing expeditions, either with or without the men.

Elinore wasn’t the only one, though. Looking at my shelf of memoirs and diaries of settler women, I find Eileen O’Keeffe McVicker, Phoebe Goodell Judson, Agnes Morley Cleaveland, Harriet Fish Backus, and others. If you add in the Victorian adventure travelers, there’s Isabella Bird as well as a host of others. Dee Brown, Janet Robertson and others.

Granted, these are all frontier colonial women, in a specific setting and we won’t go into the issues which arise therein (except to point out that Native women also had similar bold and adventuring women–we just don’t hear those stories). But if I can think of these histories of real, actual women on just one continent, of women who weren’t necessarily madonnas, teachers or prostitutes, then who’s to say that a time-traveling woman with appropriate research couldn’t have found a way to fit into these societies?

Hmm. Methinks I have a twinkling of a story idea here.

That is, after I write the Big Post-Apocalyptic story with strong female leads who don’t defer to Big Male Macho Boy Sex Fantasies (otherwise known as my oh no John Barnes no moment).

Yeah. Let’s just say I’m a grumpy and disgusted crone at the moment.

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Sometimes you’ve just gotta play

As we go through the countdown to the horse show next weekend, one thing I have to focus on is the balance between overtraining and just enough work to have the horse ready for three days of focused work under saddle. Part of that includes the appropriate scheduling of the type of classes (how many reining classes the first night, how many Western Pleasure–a discipline Mocha dislikes–classes to end out on the last day. For us WP is more just practice in working in an arena around other horses and, at this show, a chance to work out body kinks from reining and trail classes. We often place but seldom higher than third, if that.). But another part is, simply, making sure that her back is used to having a saddle on it for three days in a row. Between hock injections, hoof issues and the start of school, we’ve backed off on our regular daily rides, so I’ve been trying to get on her back for multiple days in a row to get her used to it again. Not too hard, but–

That also means that this middle-aged lady needs to make sure that her back and legs are also in shape. So–many days of riding in a row.

But too much schooling on a finished horse ends up with overwound (Mocha is now aware we’re drilling for a show, just because of the pieces I’m focusing on, and she’s winding up) and overdone horse brain. Last night was, simply, play and conditioning time.

We ended up thundering around the outdoor arena with a couple of other riders. While I did a little bit of schooling focusing on bending and flexing, we also did a lot of play. One of the other riders has a young and energetic horse who viewed the canter sessions as a bit of a chase/race game–and Mocha, though mature, locked enthusiastically into galloping around. She was pretty respectable, too. I think that if we’d had a good straight stretch where I could let her go, she’d have smoked that younger mare, as she kept gaining on her during the straightaway. The younger mare, being smaller, gained on the turns.

It wasn’t all about racing, though. We rode the two horses together and played a little bit of drill team, worked on walking over railroad ties, and otherwise just plain had an unfocused, relaxed, let’s just romp and play time. Good for both of us.

Time off tonight, then two days in a row, another day off, then three days, another day off, and then the show. We’ve got the pieces down so now I just have to focus on conditioning and not overtraining or overdrilling. A delicate balance–but I’ve managed to pull it off before. Hopefully I can do it again.

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Netwalk Foundations Monday–a day late

Ulp. A few glitches yesterday, so it’s Netwalk Foundations Tuesday.


When Francis Stewart discloses to Sarah Stephens that he knows something about the causes of the Disruptions terrorizing the world, she has to make a hard choice–follow Francis’s vague, drunken hints–or ignore him as a sloshed sot? And just what is the source of his intoxicated, apocalyptic ramblings–the Old Testament or another, more chilling foundation?

As usual, go here for Kindle, epub or PDF versions.

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Well, that was a weekend

Those of you who know me personally are aware that I don’t have a lot of tolerance for high temperatures, especially humid high temps. I’ve done a lot of what’s recommended to help, but the bottom line is still this–I’m a lousy candidate for muggy, warm survival situations. Give me snow and ice any day instead, or else dry heat with cool evening temps. Hydration, electrolytes–no matter what, all of that is temporary. At some point, I succumb to the effects of heat exhaustion if I go through too many days of high heat without any cool relief. Come the big global warming, you’ll find me as high up on a mountainside as I can stand to be, probably seeking the last glacier for relief. If climate change turns to global cooling instead, I’ll be a happy girl.

Heat problems happened this past Friday. The temps hit the mid-90s on Wednesday, even on the Mountain, followed by two days where it was almost as hot. And muggy. Even worse in my south-facing classroom, where I couldn’t really open my door because of the noise and distraction from younger kids at recess for most of the afternoon.

Wednesday and Thursday were survivable, though the warnings from the ol’ bod started popping up on Friday morning with roiling gut, achy muscles, and general fatigue. But on Friday afternoon, as the room temps climbed toward 80+ degrees, I was struggling. I opened the door as soon as I could, but even that gave me and the kids little relief. I was simply grateful that my classes weren’t larger.

Still, I felt awful as I left work. I’d planned to go to the barn and ride Mocha, but realized that might not be too good an idea. I went home, self-medicated for the body aches with a couple of drinks after a good dinner…and ended up hurling it all back up. Fairly predictable, and it’s something that has happened in the past, even without the alcohol. It didn’t help that the house was hot because we’d had a contractor in to repair some dry wall, so the house had to be open to air out the smell while the mud dried. Even with ice packs on my neck I felt miserable and sick.

Saturday was pretty much a lost cause. I slept until noon, drank water mixed with sugar and salt to help my gut absorb it, but it wasn’t until 4 pm–about 24 hours after leaving that hot, muggy room–that I started feeling remotely human. Shortly after that I started writing, and got in about 1500 words. By Sunday I was sufficiently recovered, though tired, enough to clean up the room that had gone through dry wall repairs and move everything back, plus do lesson planning and write a little bit.

At least this is probably it for hot weather around here this year. Next spring, even if it is hot, won’t be so bad because of the angle of the sun. It’s only horrible in the fall (thank you so much Nasty Past Administrator who had the trees that blocked that sun cut down).

(And for those of you who’d offer advice, suggest ice pack head coverings, ice pack bandannas and the like–nope. All forbidden by dress codes for students which means I can’t do them either. And fans get subject to other issues of accessibility plus they don’t do that much for air movement. This is just a kvetching post, not a solicitation for advice.)

It wasn’t a completely lost weekend, for which I am grateful. Needless to say, I’m welcoming the coolness and wet today. It’ll still take a few days for the system to completely be happy post-heat, but like my rescue chrysanthemums that kept springing bigger and bigger the more I watered them this weekend, I’m coming back from the heat.

Winter is coming–and I’m one who’s looking forward to it.

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Filed under blather, whining


It was just another morning in early September. The son was getting ready to catch Tri-Met for his zero period freshman English class at Benson Polytechnic High School. My husband was listening to the news on the radio in the kitchen. I was getting ready to start posting eBay auctions for my jewelry (back when I was living the Portlandia cliche of overeducated stay-at-home working mom, making jewelry and writing stuff to make some money).

Then the husband rushed into the living room. “A plane’s hit the World Trade Center.”


“Probably something small. I want to see it.”

For the record, husband works in aerospace selling jet engine castings and other related parts. This definitely affected his work.

We turned on the TV just in time to see the second plane hit. My first reaction to seeing it on TV was that it was a simulation, it had to be a simulation, it didn’t look real.

The son had to leave for school. Did we let him go or not? We shooed him out to the bus stop. High school, and Benson was pretty dang competitive in those days. He needed to go there.

Husband went to work and I kept watching, realizing that eBay wasn’t gonna be appropriate. What on earth had just happened?

Reports of the Pentagon crash. By then I was afraid for the son. Benson is across I-84 from the Bonneville Power Administration headquarters. I could easily see BPA as a related target–I’d worked for a contractor who had represented them in a securities litigation lawsuit (complicated story there–let’s just say I knew a bit about BPA).

I called a friend in Seattle. She turned on her TV just in time to see the first tower fall. We reacted together, then hung up to go about our day.

I was still active in church, so I went to Daily Mass. A lot of us younger folks were in shock. Many of the older folks remembered Pearl Harbor. They comforted us, steadied us. The old guys joked around about whether they could still fit in their uniforms, but their message was clear–live your lives, be watchful, and pray.

The silence from the airport was stunning. No contrails. The only planes in the air were the National Guard F-15s. Our house rabbit at the time, a rather pugnacious Mini Lop buck, took to following me around, to the degree that when I ran outside to watch a F-15 rocket down the Willamette, executing a lovely three (or was it four?) point barrel roll, he was right at my heels.

The day was heart-breakingly clear, beautiful and blue. I went to my hair appointment next to a flag and banner shop. They’d already sold out of flags.

I hung out on Usenet in rec.arts.sf.fandom, as New York members checked in. I hung out on my e-lists, where New York members checked in and people worried about family members around Ground Zero. As days went on, and planes started flying again, I still had a visceral reaction at spotting a jet coming into PDX, turning at just that angle that I had seen when we first turned on the TV. My online sales tanked, first in reaction to the economic crash that followed, then to the suspicion of mailed items that followed the anthrax attacks a month later. I stopped mailing manuscripts because of the anthrax scares and the resistance at the time to unscreened MSs.

Well, we know how things turned out, for the most part.

But I still occasionally get that twinge when I see an airplane turning at just that angle.

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Plein Air 2 and 3

Things got busy last week with the start of school, plus roofers and medical and vet stuff, oh my. So I never did wrap up my Plein Air posts, and then last night was the reading.

So. Day two was at a gorgeous private residence near Parkdale. As I showed up, I found two horses grazing on the front lawn. Drool. Drool. This place also had a lovely, lovely arena set up not just for work but with a rudimentary kitchen clearly designed for small horse shows/clinics/parties. There was also one gentlemanly equine retiree who, after grazing on the lawn and crunching windfall apples, had decided he’d had enough and ambled over to his free choice hay pile by the arena.

I wrote one piece there, “The Stone Bowl,” a short from my Rust and Flame world and the probable climax of the Rust and Flame book I want to write someday. It’ll come out in October as part of the Plein Air anthology.

Then I went to downtown Hood River and spent several hours there wandering around, seeking inspiration. And lo, it came–and I wrote a little short piece about vampire hunters on vacation, “Masks,” which will also come out as part of the Plein Air anthology. “Masks” will get significantly reworked for an upcoming anthology call as well.

Last night was the public reading of works we’d written during the Plein Air sessions. We heard excellent stories, essays, and poems. I read “The Dahlia,” which will be out in an extended form as part of the Netwalk Foundations sequence in October, and “Masks.”

Picture (taken by my lovely husband):


And now to finishing off that damned novella. I have books to write.

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Netwalk Sequence and environmentalism

It’s not always that I run into articles that summarize the foundation of the environmental politics behind the Netwalk Sequence so neatly, but this nails it in a nutshell.

One of the original triggers behind the horror novel that was the foundation of the Netwalk Sequence were the very real-life experiences I observed on the periphery of the environmental movement in the Reagan years. Naomi Klein’s observations about the tensions between the elite and the leadership of conservation/environmental groups are spot on. I saw this stuff growing and developing when I was doing a lot of research with a dear friend who was also politically active. She lived way out in Northeastern Oregon and didn’t have the information accesses I did, back in the pre-Internet era when if you couldn’t physically handle the information, you didn’t have it. I spent a lot of time in the local library’s business section looking up business stats, and tracking down interlocking corporate ownerships.

But I also heard stuff from my grunt-level positions in the Democratic Party. And what I heard, and what I saw, caused me to start writing a twisted little story about an environmental activist whose ill-fated romance with a timber baron’s son ends up destroying everything she ever thought or believed about her life. Kind of a romantic turn on some of the real-life co-optation I was seeing. No one would believe the real stories.

Sarah does get her own back. She is genuinely concerned and worried about the environment, and riding through the early rocky days of the explosion of climate change plus her status as a Stephens heir leads to the conditions which transform Stephens Timber into Stephens Reclamation. So far, I haven’t felt the need to write that story as part of the Sequence.

Maybe I’ll do it after I write Netwalking Space. We’ll see.

Nonetheless, go and read that Naomi Klein article. Like I said, it reflects a lot of my own observations.

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Netwalk Foundations–back at last!

Whew! Sorry for the long delay in getting back to posting your twice-monthly FREE dose of Netwalk Foundations, but a web hosting change and other stuff kind of got in the way. But here we are, “Of Boyfriends and Mothers and Daughters, Oh My! Take Three.”cover

Go here for Kindle, epub and PDF versions

Further business note: The three Daughters stories will be published and sold under one cover in December as Netwalk Foundations: The Daughters Cycle. Additionally, I am working on a long-form Foundations story, Problems at the Andrews Ranch, which will come in at novella length. It will go up for sale in December as well, and be serialized in three parts starting in December.

Foundations will also go to once a month for the months of November and December to allow for holiday distractions.

But we’ve got some good stuff on tap for you to read–a vignette with Sarah, Francis Stewart, and Anne Whitman illustrating that triangle at the end of Sarah and Francis’s relationship; an early-early segment with Will and Diana that I wrote during the 2013 Columbia Center for the Arts Plein Air Write Out in Hood River; and a short piece between Netwalk: Expanded Edition and Netwalker Uprising featuring Angela and Nik.

I am also starting work on Netwalk’s Children in a few days and hope to have the first draft completed and to the editor by December. So good things are coming.

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