It didn’t have to be like this

It didn’t have to be like this.

I wasn’t happy when schools closed last March, but I understood and accepted it—accepted that we had to hunker down for a few months to get this virus under control. By August, the worst would be over, and my daughter would be back in school.

For a month, two months, it seemed we’d get there. Arizona’s Covid cases were rising, but our total numbers remained relatively low. Sheltering in place and enduring daily remote learning meltdowns seemed to be working. It hard, but just a couple more rough months now and we could back to normal in the fall.

One day, we’ll even get to play on the playgrounds again. This is not that day.
(Photo by Allie on Unsplash)

And then, in mid-May, Arizona—like so many states—just gave up.

Our Covid cases were still rising, but suddenly no one seemed to care. The governor’s stay at home order expired in mid-May. By the end of the month, pretty much everything was open: restaurants, gyms, beauty salons, the mall. The governor wouldn’t even allow cities to pass mask mandates to mitigate the harm until several weeks later.

Only schools remained closed. Only teachers and families seemed to get that there was still a pandemic going on. The school year was almost over. I hung on to the faint hope that staying home now would let us break our isolation in time for the first day of school. Getting in-person school back up and running was the one, the most, important thing right now.

But too many people didn’t understand that. Too many people just had to eat out, go to the gym, hang out at the bar, and get a hair cut immediately, rather than waiting another month or two. Our numbers kept rising, more steeply now, and too many didn’t seem to care. Arizona took it’s turn as the world’s Covid19 hotspot, but unlike most of the hotspots before us, we had time to see it coming. We knew what would happen.

It didn’t have to be like this.

I mean, it could have been like this. We could have already been at the rainbow-after part of the story.
(Photo by K. Mitch Hodge on Unsplash)

Our family, like so many families, did all we could. It wasn’t enough. It would never be enough, when so many others were doing nothing at all. Even now, when bars and gyms have finally closed again, restaurants and retail stores remain open. I guess the people filling those places think their right to eat out with their friends is more important than my kid’s right to get an education and hang out with her friends.

So we’re not going back to in-person school this August. Of course we’re not.

And people still don’t get it. Instead of embracing the selfishness and sacrifice needed to get kids back to learning and their parents back to work, too many have doubled down on their own selfishness instead. Too many keep insisting they have the right to skip the mask, to eat out, to party with as many friends as they wanted.

Too many seem to believe, at the exact same time, that teachers and children have no rights at all, that we’re the selfish ones for not sucking it up and returning to a highly contagious, potentially deadly, environment just so that everyone else can keep on pretending everything’s back to normal.

The people refusing to wear masks or order takeout—the people who got us into this mess to begin with—couldn’t possibly be to blame. Only those of us unwilling to live with the consequences of the situation they created were to blame.

I hope that was one hell of a steak dinner you all had, one hell of a haircut, one hell of drink, one hell of a workout. Was it was good enough to be worth convincing yourself that no one but you matters, that actions don’t have consequences, that there can be freedom without responsibility or the basic community-minded patriotism of Americans looking out for one another.

I’ve always tried to avoid dividing this country into us vs. them, always tried to understand that everything looks different depending where you’re standing, that everyone deep down believes they’re doing the right thing.

But today—today I’m just angry. Angry that my governor and my legislature and far too many of my fellow Arizonans couldn’t be patient a few months more. Angry that my state values its restaurants and gyms and bars and malls so much more than it values its people.

Angry that, next week, my daughter isn’t going back to school in person after all.

Tomorrow, I know, I’ll get back to enduring. Remote learning will probably be a little better this time around. Even if it isn’t, I’ll make it through, somehow. All of us with school-age children will. We’ll manage for as long as we have to. We have no choice.

But the rest of you could at least help us out here. While teachers are trying to teach without the in-person interaction they excel at, while kids are trying to learn without the in-person interaction their development demands, while parents are trying to somehow juggle work and the stress of helping their kids through it all, for the most part without childcare or even the occasional babysitter—while we’re getting through, day by day—you can wear your damn mask. You can keep your damn social distance. You can party over Zoom like the rest of us. You can cook your own damn meals.

I don’t care anymore what sort of denial you’re relying on to convince yourself this is all no big deal. I do care that you’re more concerned with your right to continue doing whatever you want uninterrupted, without a thought for those of us whose entire lives will be interrupted that much longer as a result.

I need for you to be the ones to grow up, make sacrifices, and hunker down with the rest of us so that we all can get back to normal sooner rather than later.

I’d love for my daughter to get to meet her new teacher in person by January. But I can’t make that happen alone.

I need all of you there with me.

It’s too late to start at square one. But maybe, if everyone gets it together now, we can jump into the school year at square five or so instead of missing the game entirely.
(Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash)

When people post an image to facebook of a pound of raw fat — taken at their gym, where it was presumably deliberately made as disgusting as possible — as weight loss encouragement, and others are applauding said picture because it’s all about trying to live a healthier lifestyle … when it’s okay to publicly fuel one’s weight loss efforts by encouraging a literal and visceral repulsion for the very cells within our own bodies … it’s time for me to get off the Internet.

Is this stuff getting worse, or has my awareness just gone up and/or my tolerance gone down?

Sometimes, I think I need to just leave facebook entirely, given that I can’t exactly change my entire friends’ list, let alone the society we all live in.

Time to log off for today, at least, and get back to telling my stories in which strength and power and agency have nothing at all to do with weight, and the only body image issues my characters have have to do with how to reconcile their shapeshiftery animal and human forms.

YA SF is alive and well. Really.

So there’s this notion that comes up at pretty much every convention I go to with a YA panel (and which has also come up in the comments to this post) that’s beginning to truly frustrate me, and that I think needs more than the comments section of the post to address. And that notion is:

Teens are not reading (and publishers are not publishing) young adult science fiction.

This seems to be a misperception among those who read adult science fiction in particular. (And I am talking about science fiction here, not fantasy, because thanks to J.K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer it’s hard not to be aware teens read fantasy.) I’ve had countless conversations with people who bemoan the lack of science fiction for young people. In many of these conversations, it comes out that the people I’m talking to are aware of the YA written by Scalzi, Doctorow, and maybe Westerfeld (all excellent writers, yes), but have this notion that … that’s pretty much it.

I don’t know, but I think the problem may be that for the most part, adult (meaning, adult-the-genre) SF readers tend to have a sort of tunnel vision about YA SF, and only see those books published by the YA imprints of dedicated SF/fantasy lines (as well as seeing only books published by YA SF writers who also write for adults). When most of the YA SF out there is in fact published by the YA imprints of mainstream houses. That’s a function of the way the YA genre markets itself–mysteries and romances and SF and fantasy and sometimes graphic novels all hang out side by side. In other words, to find the YA SF, we can’t only look to SF/fantasy publishers. (Excellent, again, as some of the books by these publishers are.)

So can we please, please, please put this notion that there is no YA SF and that teens don’t read it to rest? Please?

Because I’m getting really tired of having this discussion.

Here’s an off-the-cuff list of YA and middle grade SF published in the past few years that I pulled up for the comment thread mentioned above:

– Feed by M.T. Anderson
– Spacer and Rat by Margaret Bechard
– The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
– The City of Ember and sequels by Jeanne DuPrau
– The Shadow Children books by Margaret Peterson Haddix
– Siberia by Ann Halam
– Taylor Five by Ann Halam
– Rash by Pete Hautman
– The Carbon Diaries 2015 by Saci Lloyd
– The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson
– Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer
– The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex
– Unwind by Neal Shusterman

There are others, of course. Some of these books are bestsellers. Some of them are bestsellers that outsell the books in the adult SF/fantasy section. Some of them are award-winners, too.

The knowledge of these books is neither secret nor hidden.

So can we stop having the “why is there no YA SF?” discussion, and move on to having discussions about the YA SF that’s being published these days–discussions of its trends and strengths and weaknesses and what we all do and don’t like about it?

Because that just sounds way more interesting, to me.

Because it’s been a while since I used this soapbox

ETA: Via nineweaving, Readercon’s teen policy is a hotel issue, not a concom one–and a new hotel is being sought out. Which makes me feel better about the whole business.


Nevermind any of the other discussions going on about related matters online … did I know Readercon had an actively teen-unfriendly membership policy? One that requires 14-year-olds to be labeled “ReaderKids” and stay in a parent’s shadow, and that ghettoizes even 17-year-olds with a special “ReaderTeen” membership designation?

Do other cons do this, too? If so, no wonder teens are choosing to gather places other than traditional cons, and no wonder fandom is greying to the point that I’m on its youngish end.

We’re a genre made up of people who were all generally once bright, precocious, passionate, intelligent teenagers. As such, we should truly know better–we should remember better–and should have a lot more respect for those who are there now.

I don’t want to be protected and kept apart from teens at the cons I go to. I want to meet them as equals so that we can engage in conversations together, the same as with everyone else. That equal-footing thing is one of the things our genre always struck me as doing well, both in our stories and outside of them.

There are enough walls between teens and adults in the everyday world–genre fiction, in my experience, in one of the things that best tears these walls down, at least sometimes. We should be embracing that, not putting new walls up instead.

(Link found via shadesong‘s post on welcoming teens to cons rather than alienating them.)

Scientific creativity

So one of the things I do, when not writing fiction, is write science articles–which means every so often I get to interview researchers and ask them about their work. And I was thinking, today, about the one common thread I’ve found, with pretty much every single scientist I’ve talked to.

When asked, “Why do you like doing this?” the answer is almost always, in some form or other, “Because there are fascinating questions to be asked here. Because there are things we don’t know.”

I love this.

There’s this notion that being a scientist means being — well, rigid — interested in facts and figures, interested in the known, and very much not interested in the creative. But the whole reason researchers go into the sciences is because they’re specifically interested in the unknown, in treading unexplored ground, in finding something new. It takes a mix of analytical thinking and creativity to get there.

Scientists in books and movies often blather things like “I can’t accept this! It goes against everything I know!” Which irritates me no end, because the unknown is about the most exciting thing you can put in front of a good researcher.

I’ve always assumed that if a researcher really found something that went against all they knew? The reaction would be closer to, “Wow, that’s really cool. Can I reproduce this? I can? Okay, that’s even cooler, now let’s see if I can figure out what caused it, and what the implications are, and … and … and I don’t think I’m going to be getting much sleep for some time now …”

But our society (American society, anyway–can’t speak for elsewhere) wants to believe that if scientists are knowedgeable, something else has to be lacking to compensate, and it seems to be common to assume that something must be creativity. It’s a way of bringing everyone down to the same level, this business of assuming you can understand the sciences or be creative but not both.

It’s also a form of letting ourselves off the hook: if scientists “can’t” be creative then, well, people who think of themselves as creative can convince themselves that they “can’t” understand the sciences and have no obligation to try.

Here’s something I find myself thinking about: every scientist I’ve known has not only science books on their shelves, but also works of literature, philosophy, art, and so on. I’m sure there are exceptions to this, but in my experience, the whole curiosity thing doesn’t end at the borders of a scientist’s own discipline, and there’s no lack of interest in the creative arts.

On the other hand? I’ve known countless people who pride themselves on their creativity who don’t have any science books on their shelves.

Which makes me wonder, sometimes, just where the rigid thinkers really are.

How not to self-promote

Victoria Janssen posted a couple days ago about online promotion, and whether it’s worth doing. The short version of my own thoughts is that I think being present and online and part of the larger conversation doesn’t hurt, and may even help, but beyond a basic web page (so readers can find you if they want to) you should probably only do it if you enjoy being online and are having fun and want to be here anyway–since I agree with Victoria that anything we do online is a pretty much drop in the bucket stuff, anyway.

But today I was thinking about how not to do online promotion. And how not to do it is this.

Friend someone on your online service of choice: goodreads, myspace, shelfari facebook, twitter, wherever. And then, as your very first act of communication with them send them a recommendation for your book (on the book rec sites), or post information a link to information about your book (on the social networking sites).

Sometimes this is done almost-subtly (yet not)–a cheerful “thanks for adding me” comment immediately followed by a very prominent link to the book that makes one suspect the link was the real purpose of the comment. Sometimes it’s more direct, which is at least honest–a “check out/buy my book here!” message.

Either way, the thing is? Online conversations are just like real life ones, in that you get to know people over time. If someone I’ve gotten to know says, when we run into each other (at a local convention, on livejournal, wherever), “Hey, I have a new book out!” I’ll be excited, and happy for them, and maybe I’ll even go check the book out.

But if the first thing you do, the moment we meet, is say, “Hey, buy my book!” I realize you never wanted to talk to me after all–you just wanted to sell me something. At best I shrug it off, mutter something polite, and the conversation moves on. At worst I feel just a little bit used, and try to avoid you the next time we meet. Especially if, every time we do meet, you do the same thing.

Introducing yourself by trying to sell me something is no way to make a connection. I’m not convinced it’s a very good way to sell books, either.

Rant rant rant rantity rant

I tend to rant online a lot less than I used to these days, but one of the things that can still get me up on my soapbox and ranting away is seeing an adult SF writer who is unfamiliar with YA but writing it anyway complain about the values found in books such as Valiant and the Gossip Girls series, even while admitting to sitting around watching reasonably trashy TV with no regard for its values herself.

Or as I said in cedarlibrarian‘s journal when she pointed me to the first of those posts:

It’s one of my soapboxes–adults who decide “I should write a YA” who aren’t YA readers and don’t know the genre. SF/fantasy adult writers seem particularly prone to this, actually. I mean, would they go off to write a mystery if they didn’t like to read them, one wonders? Why do they think it’s okay for YA, then? Is there some notion this is an easy way to sell a book? As a writer who considers YA fantasy one of my “home” genres, I can just rant on and on and on about this. If you’re not here for the love, get out and let someone who is write that book instead.

I could also rant about underestimating teens, not trusting them to choose the books they can handle, and not understanding that teens have the same right as adult to read books for fun.

Seriously–grownups? Stop being stupid about teens and their books, okay? In some ways, you and that 15-year-old looking for a good book aren’t all that different. Give them a little credit, please.

Especially if you intend to write for them.

There and back again

By way of madwriter, this article on the possibilities of a one-man one-way Mars mission.

I was sort of almost partway with the premise of the article until I got to this:

Even though explorers in the past traveled, for example, to the south or north pole, knowing they might never return, and thousands of immigrants moved to the US in the 18- and 1900’s, knowing they would never see their homeland again, the human psyche has seemingly changed enough that a one-way ticket off the planet is not acceptable.

Because my understanding of polar exploration–and of mountain exploration, too, a related field–is that while the explorers understood well that there was risk, their goal was always to make a round trip. They were willing to risk failing to meet this goal, just as they were willing to risk failure in general–but the very definition of a successful mission for most explorers included not only getting there, but getting back again.

This is why Shackleton’s first polar party turned back something like 100 miles from the pole. He knew he probably could have reached it; but he also knew he might not have been able to make it back again, if he did, and making it back again mattered. Amundsen, who did reach the pole a few years later, did so because he planned for both the journey and the return–and, I suspect but don’t know, he would have turned around if he had to, too.

This is part of the reason Hillary considered his Everest expedition a success, whether or not Mallory got there before him–because he returned again, which is part of the challenge you’re taking on when you set out.

Even Scott’s polar party set food depots behind them, and put a fair amount of time and attention into them–when they failed to return after reaching the pole, it wasn’t for lack of trying. They died on account of bad planning or bad luck or both, depending on your interpretation of events, but not because they set out with the notion that they didn’t particularly care whether they returned.

When Everest guide Rob Hall said, “With enough determination, any bloody idiot can get up this hill. The trick is to get back down alive,” he wasn’t part of a new, more degenerate exploration of explorers; rather, he understood his history. (He also died on Everest on the same expedition as the one where he said this, as it turned out.)

Colonization is a different matter. My ancestors were among millions who’ve left their countries, assuming they would never return. But their goal wasn’t to visit inhospitable lands and return to tell of them; it was to find hospitable lands and to build a life there–not an option at the South Pole or the top of Everest. If we’re talking about going to Mars as a one-way journey because we’re building a colony and a hospitable environment there, sure.

But if we’re talking about visiting Mars as for exploration’s sake–well, before making comparisons to polar and other explorers, it might be worth better understanding the history of that exploration first. I have my issues with our risk-averse society, but it isn’t risk aversion to want to have a chance of returning home again–or if it is, then Shackleton, Amundsen, Scott, and Hillary were all risk-averse, too.

And if that’s your definition of being risk averse, well, so am I. 🙂