cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (book)
I like to learn new words. Not from word-a-day websites or calendars, but from my own reading, where context is more likely to make the new word stick. This week, three words impressed themselves upon me, three lovely little morsels of brain candy.

1. Jerboa -- I encountered this noun while reading Rae Carson's The Girl of Fire and Thorns (a somewhat misleading title, btw). The jerboa is described as a desert rodent with a long tail, and the jerboa is caught and cooked in a (much maligned) stew by folks traversing the desert. I assumed the jerboa was a mythical "smeerp" type critter that resembled a squirrel or chinchilla. Then I saw a picture of a real-life jerboa online. And was instantly, retroactively revolted at every mention of the stew. I think it's the tail. And the long skinny legs. And the skin on its bat-like ears. Considering how many of the online mentions of jerboas emphasize their cute-itude, I suspect I am in the minority with my revulsion, much like [ profile] snowy_owlet and her feelings toward sloths.

2. Caudillismo -- I've seen (and looked up) this word many times before, from my general interest in Mexican history and the polysci copyediting I did years ago. But it never really stuck until this week, when I came across it again in Shadows of Tender Fury: The Letters and Communiques of Subcomandante Marcos and the Zapatista Army of National Liberation. A caudillo is defined in the book's glossary as "a charismatic political leader who derives his power from his military experience, prowess, and bearing." So caudillismo is that form of leadership. Why should the term stick now, when it never did before? For one thing, you're familiar with the idea of "my TV (or book) boyfriend"? Well, Subcomandante Marcos is my Rebel Boyfriend. Any word I learn from him has instant cachet. Also, the fact that the book has a glossary means I can flip back and refresh my memory, and the memory is further solidified by the look of the formatted text.

3. Sankofa -- This is an Akan word from Ghana that I learned from reading "lifestream," Sofia Samatar's account of the Princeton symposium "Ferguson Is The Future." I see from several online sources that, roughly translated, sankofa means "reach back and get it" and is associated with a proverb along the lines of "there's no shame in going back for what you forgot." Most often sankofa is symbolized by a bird flying forward while twisting its head back to take an egg in its beak. There's a picture of the symposium poster in Sofia's post, and it includes a different sankofa symbol near the center: the twisty, twirly heart-shape. The concept of sankofa, of retrieving precious things from the past, resonates with me partly because of the research I've been doing on Sara Estela Ramirez, a nearly forgotten rebel poet of the Mexican Revolution. Much of her poetry was published in newspapers, which are so ephemeral, and even more so when they are of and for a marginalized population, as was Ramirez's writing for Mexican exiles living in South Texas around the turn of the 20th century. I can't even find a surviving photo of the woman, though I've seen several of her contemporaries. I would very much like to reach back and retrieve ALL the work of this amazing antepasada.

Have you learned any new words this week? What made them stand out for you? Maybe you made up a new word? Please share in the comments!
cafenowhere: Latina in surgical gear examining something up close (lana parilla)
I've started no new reading since last week, just chugging along with the same trio of books. Since I have a novel revision looming, however, I've been unable to disengage editorial instincts as I read.

For example, Mouseheart, the read-aloud I've been doing with Tweetie, begins with a prologue. I've heard so many agents and editors advise cutting prologues and just start the story already that I automatically question the necessity of such intros. As I near the thrilling conclusion of this middle-grade talking-animal fantasy, I've pretty much decided that this book did not need a prologue. So the question is, why use one? In this case, it gives the reader a more swashbuckling hero at the start, and it introduces a feudalistic fantasy element that the publisher might think helps distinguish the book from other talking-animal stories, which...maybe not? LOTS of books take animal "kingdom" literally these days.

(Also, at some point we need to talk about why we give our kids a steady stream of feudalist-inspired battle-and-intrigue fantasies, especially when YA novels are so dystopic lately.)

And despite my ranting last week about the awful female character, I continue reading Valley of Bones. What's interesting is that Gruber can write great female characters--when they're positioned as maybe villains, maybe victims. Not your typical noir femme fatales, much better than that. In fact, in this very book, he presents a really fascinating woman, Emmylou, telling her own story of how she got caught up in huge, possibly supernatural events. But this Lorna character he's created... She's the love interest of the male lead, Paz, and she just revolts me. The one thing that might have made me sympathetic to her--her mother's death from cancer and her own consequent hypochondria--is just buried under racism and classism and fat-phobia and superiority. I've tried to interpret her as a variation on a theme--how is she like/not the "villain" here?--but it's exhausting.

So I'd have cut Lorna out completely. :D But something else I might cut from the story are the numerous excerpts from a supposed history of an order of nuns. One or two have been useful, but I'm not sure why we couldn't get the same (much-abbreviated) info via the point-of-view characters. I like to withhold judgment on such things until I finish reading the book and I see how it all (might) come together, though.

Because I've been reading this book so critically, I've also realized that Lorna's pov is written in present tense, whereas Paz's is firmly in past tense. Going back to the first book, I see Gruber did the same thing there, alternating between tenses for the two leads. Here it bothers me, and I think it's because we're already veering between past and present in Emmylou's account of how she got involved in these murders that Paz is investigating, PLUS we have those excerpts of nun history. So, I'm feeling unnecessarily tangled up.

All of which contributes to much wariness as I contemplate the third book in the Paz series. I think/hope that having worked through this second book, I will be more willing to bail on the third if it annoys me half as much. :D


Jul. 15th, 2014 05:24 pm
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (scheming)
Revisions done for the day, I can now blog about my Minnesota vacation. I planned our trip around a trip to the International Wolf Center, for Tweetie, who loves all animals, but notably wolves.

Click Here for Highlights and Pics )
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (coffee wtf)
...I met on vacation.

Probably the highlight of our family vacation to the boundary waters of Minnesota was visiting a bear sanctuary, where we got to see more than 20 black bears. More details later.
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (drink me)
The neighbor's wildflower patch is attracting a panoply of fascinating guests. Most interesting to Tweetie and I have been the sphinx moths. At first, we both noted the stout, striped body of the moth and thought "Hornet!" This summer boasted an unusual number of hornets, much to Tweetie's dismay--she got stung by a wasp when she was younger and has since been near-phobic about flying bugs. But of course the hornets are black and yellow, and they don't hover about butterfly bushes, sucking nectar from flowers.

Because these taupe-and-white weebeasties look halfway between moths and hummingbirds, we called them hummingbird moths for an afternoon. Then I researched and discovered that hummingbird moths don't exist in Iowa. (Seriously, you can bring them into the state in a cage, and they wink out of existence, until you pass the next state line.) In fact, what we visit down the street are sphinx moths, so named because a fanciful person decided that's what the 'pillars look like when disturbed. (I don't get it, either.) Supposedly the moth's wings do give off a humming sound, but we've not heard them. Here's a photo I found online, courtesy of Jerry Oldenettel:

sphinx moth

The moths we've seen have been rather dusty colored, and don't slow down enough for us to see if they have the pink wing coloration described in this brochure, so I can't say for certain they're whitelined sphinx moths, but it seems pretty likely.
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (chevy)
We have returned from our first summer expedition!

We drove out to Arizona and saw the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert, where Tweetie earned her first Junior Ranger badge.

Then we drove on to the Grand Canyon and spent three days/two nights in the park, which was SO worth it. We saw condors and mule deer while exploring the South Rim. We watched a sunset. At dinner one night, an elk sauntered up to the restaurant window and started munching on the lawn. Later, on our way to a night-time program in the amphitheater, we walked among a family of chirping mule deer, who crossed the village streets like it was no big whoop. It was hard to concentrate during the program because the star-viewing was aMAzing, but Tweetie learned enough to earn another Junior Ranger badge.

We ventured outside the park to go horseback riding--a longtime dream of Tweetie's--through a ponderosa and piñon forest. My horse was named Sam. I think it was short for "Sam'thing's always irking me."

On the drive back home, we stopped at Meteor Crater, aka Barringer's Crater. To my relief, Tweetie did not say, "Great, Mom, a hole in the ground." (It might've been understandable, after the scale of the Grand Canyon.) She was actually pretty psyched about the crater and told me repeatedly she was so glad we'd stopped there.

As a huge fan of the Pixar movie Cars, Tweetie squealed with glee whenever we ended up on old Route 66, so we enjoyed a few meals on the Mother Road. (Throughout our trip, was an immensely helpful touchstone.)

And then, nearing home, we made a special stop to see [ profile] rose_lemberg and Mati! Having missed Rose so much at WisCon, I was thrilled to hang out with them, and they took us to a great place for dinner. Rose is looking great, y'all. And Mati is a gem.

On the last stretch of the drive home, we pondered questions like "Is infinity odd or even?" And we debated definitions of genre and described our dream genre-combos. JJ also helped me brainstorm for a poetry chapbook all about my personal pantheon of alterna-heroines. So far, I have one poem and six more heroines to profile.

Now that we've mostly caught up on our sleep, we are crossing things off our to-do lists. J is back at work, and I've sent out a couple of poems requested during WisCon. (Sadly, WisCon already feels a world away. I never even got a chance to blog about it! :P ) Tomorrow, we hit the library and stop by the school office to pick up Tweetie's yearbook.

We are off to a running start on our summer, that's for sure!
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (hola)
1. I am finally starting to feel human again, though I keep overestimating my ability to remain awake and upright. The fortunate thing about having been so inarguably ill...

leave me alone to die

is that I was forced to cede control over a number of things I thought were important (and which may have well been) but that were diminishing my resources without sufficient payoff. 

castiel I quit

2. Winchester Wednesday! A new episode of Supernatural airs tonight, and though I don't love it the way I used to, it's been surprisingly entertaining as of late...

sam and dean in the batcave by huntercest

and it gives me an excuse to be alone for an hour on a weeknight. (Tweetie is allowed to watch it but prefers not to. And JJ keeps Tweetie company and keeps her on task with her school night routine. (Except for when something happens to the Impala and I shriek in horror, at which point he rushes in to ask, "Are you okay?") Win-win? I think so.)

3. My first winter women's retreat was successful. We all agreed it wasn't quite long enough, and I spent most of it sick, but it seems to have done the trick for me, jogging me out of some unhelpful patterns. I really enjoyed tromping around in the snow, following deer tracks, trying to figure out where the land ended and the snow-covered river began, eating pristine snow, finding still-verdant streams, lying in the snow and waiting for the stars to materialize, listening for coyotes...

4. Banana Joe. I love that name. I say it just to smile: "Banana Joe."

5. Stoned corgis. Corgis in mailboxes. Floppy-eared corgis

6. Only half an hour before I can take more medicine.

cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (studying)
Charlatan: America's Most Dangerous Huckster, the Man Who Pursued Him, and the Age of Flimflam by Pope Brock

Pope Brock's writing style is perfectly suited to this story of the heyday of American hucksterism. Ebullient and seemingly effortless, his account of "Doctor" J.R. Brinkley, who became a millionaire by performing goat-gland transplants in the 1920s, is wide-ranging and in-depth, replete with period slang and so many wonderful words that don't get used nearly often enough. Brock includes an extensive bibliography, endnotes, and an excellent index. I could've used more signposts indicating the exact timeline of events and more parallel conversions of past and current moneys (Brock might state the doctor's monthly salary but then refer to the modern equivalent as an annual salary), but I suspect the fault there is with me, being as numerically challenged as I am.

One of the reasons Brinkley was so successful was that he exploited radio like no one before or perhaps even after. In the 1920s, radio stations were such a new and marvelous medium, few folks could conceive of "polluting the airwaves" with advertising. But Brinkley was the most ambitious of those greedy few, and when the FCC kicked him off American airwaves, he established a border blaster in Mexico that, at one million watts, was the most powerful in the world. So powerful, it invaded phone lines and Canadian radio broadcasts. Brinkley could be heard in Alaska, Finland, and the Java Seas! While peddling his colored water and "rejuvenation" procedures, Brinkley inadvertently changed the music scene, introducing listeners worldwide to country music and Tejano.

Brinkley's bogus promises of endless rejuvenation, although entertaining in themselves, triggered provocative philosophical considerations. People worried about the fate of introspective poetry: What would become of the sonnet if poets weren't sublimating angst over their mortality? Insurance companies fretted over their soon-to-be-defunct actuarial tables: one company even told a client who had a monkey-gland transplant: " are younger today than you were when you signed the contract...In view of this fundamental change we find ourselves obliged to cancel the contract with you."

Brinkley's adversary was Morris Fishbein, quackbuster extraordinaire of the American Medical Association. Brock characterizes their decades-long game of cat 'n' rat with a term used by military strategists, "replication." The idea, new to me, is that over time, great opponents become more and more alike, though neither would ever admit it. I recognize this thesis-antithesis-synthesis process from the Cold War, and from Nietzsche's quote about looking into the abyss. I hope it's not happening to the characters in my WiP. *frets*

The last bit too good not to note is from Brock's epilogue, wherein he demonstrates the similarities between Brinkley and his clients' obsessions with current, equally desperate youth-pursuits:

"In 2001 a form of bovine collagen was blamed for an outbreak of Creutzfeldt-Jakob syndrome, a potentially lethal disorder linked to mad cow disease, yet this did nothing to slow the stampede for fuller lips and smoother skin. 'Most women find the prospect of dying wrinkled a lot worse than the prospect of dying of dementia from collagen.'"

Sticking goat and monkey nuts in *our* nuts? That's insane. But how about injecting our faces with botulism and sticking cow tissue in our wrinkles? 

cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (drink me)
My apologies to those of you who've seen this announcement elsewhere. My social circles are small and overlapping. Think of them as hugs, rippling. 

My short fantasy poem "The Messenger Ensnared" is now available at Polu Texni: A Magazine of Many Arts. It is very different from "we come together we fall apart," which went live at Stone Telling yesterday. But it too has plants and magic and transformation. Enjoy!


cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (xmas)
My nanofic "My Buddy the Hog" is now live at trapeze magazine. If you subscribe to their twitter feed, @trapezemag, you'll see this 20-word story went out this morning. Enjoy!

cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (book)
Still Life with Chickens: Starting over in a House by the Sea, a memoir by Catherine Goldhammer

The primary reason I picked up this book was "WITH CHICKENS." Backyard suburban chickens are a charming oddity to me, and I wanted to know what on earth motivates a person to keep chickens as a hobby. Also, I may have heard about the book on NPR.
Another reason I read the book was because it's not something I'd normally read. Although not nice, my initial thoughts were, "Why the fuck do I care about a rich white woman who boohoo moves to the sticks after her divorce and does stupid shit like keeping chickens and renovating her kitchen in completely the wrong order?" Then I wondered if maybe I've been taught to discount the experiences of women and housekeeping and rural neighborhoods in general (YES!), so I bought the book.

The chickens were indeed charming. As Goldhammer notes, chickens are funny but have no sense of humor. I enjoyed the sections specifically about chickens and eggs and coops, and I often read those passages to Tweetie. I didn't mind Goldhammer's meandering soul-searching and found her bouts of anxiety about as amusing as she intended.
What chafed was the way Goldhammer exoticized the working class. "The Laundromat was open from five a.m. to midnight every day, including holidays. I liked living in a town that could support such an establishment. For we had moved from a town with no crime to a town in which the police log in the weekly local paper was a hotbed of information." She then goes on to gloat about finally living somewhere that has drug busts and heroin-related deaths, assault and battery, domestic abuse--not just traffic violations. Having moved in the opposite direction, I am incredulous and disgusted by this attitude.
When Goldhammer faces the small town's Board of Health to defend her right to keep chickens against a surly neighbor, all her classism is on display: "Having lived in Hearts-are-Cold [what she calls her previous neighborhood], where the median family income is in the mid-six figures, I was unprepared for the kindness of these people, for their unassuming appearance and their gentle faces. In Hearts-are-Cold, we would not have had a chance. In this town, I could see that we did." Because poor people are inherently good and accepting and kind.
Similarly, she describes the women who work at the vet's office: "These women were unconcerned with shades of lipstick or the decision whether to use cream or powdered eye shadow. They appeared to be oblivious to the condition of their hair, which was long and gray and unruly. They dressed without regard to fashion, in jeans and men's shirts. I admired them terribly..." Of course, Goldhammer assumes these are choices the women make from as wide a selection of options as she enjoys, not necessity or the result of working so hard there's no time or energy to think about what they look like.
When Goldhammer described one of the window technicians who worked on her house as "dark and well-spoken," I went cold with disbelief, then rage. I might have thrown the book, had I not been reading on the bus.
The book is slight and its amusements slighter, and for me, those amusements were far outweighed by the annoyance I felt at the author's privileged bullshit.  



Jun. 28th, 2011 11:11 am
cafenowhere: teacup brimming with mysterious violet liquid (psychedelic tea)

For [ profile] dawtheminstrel , who's been thinking about first lines lately, a small poem by Suzanne Buffam, from her collection, The Irrationalist:
On First Lines

The first line should pry up
a little corner of the soul

as the first ray of daylight
pries open the sleeper's lids.
All I have lately is bits and pieces. I think maybe I'm background processing, because these pieces don't even want to be cobbled into poems. I'm not complaining, just sayin'. ;)


I read a small collection of prose poems titled How to Take Yourself Apart / How to Make Yourself Anew, by Aaron Burch. I liked the whole book, even when it repeated itself, because each new piece added a worthwhile crease in its obsessive map. One piece stood out for me, because it resonated with my experience of translating poetry from Spanish to English. This excerpt comes from the How To section of the book:
How to...Draw diagrams of explanation. Use detail, be intricate; don't let uncertainty excuse lack of specificity. Once complete, destroy, dismantle, disassemble. Erase, rip, cut, break it into pieces. Copy each small piece onto your body...Tie yourself in knots.
I found this picture of Jensen Ackles on tumblr and thought it was interesting that I immediately recognized him, despite the alterations. (Actually, my exact thoughts were more like, "He's pretty even in pieces!" and "Gawd, how is he even real?!")
black and white photo of jensen ackles, disassembled, rearranged, measured
I  downloaded the image because it reminds me of how my main character Heidi sees people, the way she takes other people's pictures and chops, crops, magnifies, outlines, rearranges faces until they make sense to her.
On a walk with Tweetie last week, we spotted two black-winged damselflies with electric-blue bodies. They're called Ebony Jewelwings. Doesn't that sound like a character from a kid's fantasy show? Supposedly another name for damselflies is "devil's darning needles." Of course anything remotely exciting in nature gets slammed with a satanic association: the devil beats his wife; dust devil; devil's claw...
I like to imagine the damselfly singing: "Please allow me to introduce myself, I'm a man of wealth and taste..."
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (chevy)
...niece. Along the way:

I saw more armadillos (which, apparently, I pronounce "armadillas") in Oklahoma than in Texas, but all of them, everywhere, including the one that wandered as far north as Missouri, were dead. So sad. Tweetie recalled an old episode of Bob the Builder and suggested the 'dillas needed an underground tunnel. 

I saw vultures, more solitary yet more graceful, than the turkey vultures that live nearby at the lake.

I saw a zebra in a field alongside the road, hanging out with horses and cows.

I saw llamas, also beside the road.

I saw the aftermath of a tornado in a small town.

Down south, I saw my niece, who is a month old. Such faces she can make already! Also:
I saw what my brother-in-law called a police box, but googling "police box" only turns up Tardis pix. Basically, it was a mobile surveillance unit the police use to monitor parking lots after dark: a mobile tactical platform? Maybe someone who lives in a more urban environment can tell me what they're called. They're going in my next book for sure.
I saw mockingbirds, falcons, herons, vultures, hawks, peacocks, and my favorite--grackles. Grackles are the jackasses of the South Texas avian world. Loud, flashy, obnoxious, ballsy birds. I love them.
And I saw more walled-off enclaves than I can fully accept.
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (garcia)

1. Henry Rollins. All this:

topless henry rollins in profile

and good politics too.

2. Sublime. Caress Me Down, Pawn Shop, April 29 1992, Waiting for my Ruca, Santeria, Boss DJ...I should just get their discography tattooed down my legs.

3. Morningstar Corn Dogs.

4. The beneficent anarchy that is Misha Collins.

5. Crispin Hellion Glover.

movie still, Crispin Glover and a table of rats, in Willard

6. This fierce chicken. Or rooster. Whatever:

gif of white chicken disco dancing and regetting nothing


Jan. 18th, 2011 09:06 am
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (neon sign)

This weekend I spotted a family of deer, a flock of turkeys, and an excitement of eagles. But, best of all, I saw my poem "The Skin Walker's Wife" is now up at Strange Horizons. Check it out!

cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (sad panda)

One of my poetry profs told me that it was impossible to write a sad limerick. Just try it. Hanged homicidal mom? Hilarious. Little Miss Nobody? It is to chortle! Likewise, I used to be on this horror listserv that enjoyed debating the possibility of making various adorable animals horrific. Pandas were the go-to.

Well, this series of commercials comes pretty damn close. Especially the hospital scene at the end. My blood went cold, even as I laughed my ass and other appendages off.

cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (Yummy!)

Zombie Ant Armies, Serving Ophiocordyceps unilateralis for 48 Million Years

Zombie ants are a cinch to wrangle.
They crawl under leaves, bite, and dangle.
From the head of the corpse
the fungus shoots spores
aiming for new ants to mangle.

Seriously, folks. I'm not making this up.
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (happy pug tongue)


white moths
confetti tiny
scatter from the grass
anticipating my steps

I could run
but never catch them
like a peaking wave
behind foam-laced breakers
like a girl with a butterfly net
trying to stop the decrescendo
of summer days


On an unrelated note, I am so glad to live in a place with seasons, where kids can run down the street to the neighbors' without concern, where one gardener's tomato bounty becomes a gift to passersby. It's like I've grown up to live in the neighborhood of my childhood dreams. So Tweetie can spend her dreams on even more fantastic things.


In a further unrelated note, I think it's safe to say Justin Bieber is overexposed when I do a Google image search for "white moths on lawn" and his dopey mop shows up.

cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (dingo ate my baby crazy)


tear-drinking moth
won't wait for tragedy:
barbed proboscis

Madagascan moth sipping from sleeping bird's eye. Cross-posted to tumblr.

cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (silver teapots)

sari as wall art:
By lamp-lit night, it pulses,
heartbeat caught beneath.
By day, the moth regroups,
grows and sharpens teeth.



cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (Default)

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