Happy New Year! It's long past time for an update here, methinks! So, let's start with fun stuff:

Public appearances

On October 25, I gave a short reading with two awesome spec-fic writers, Don Allmon and Benjamin D. Cartwright, from our novels-in-progress. At The Raven Book Store in Lawrence.
I've been on the "Central Standard" on NPR's Kansas City station: KCUR, 89.3 FM show a couple of times in the past month or so:

Writing

Reached 115,270 words as of this morning on Ad Astra Road Trip (book 1 of 3 in The Galactic Adventures of Jack & Stella). Since completing final grades for Fall semester last week, I've nearly finished the draft of the novel. But being so close to the end reveals many things that require going back through and consistifying, enhancing, filling out, and so forth. I've revised the persistent metaphors and imagery for Stella and Jack, rewritten dialogue, cut extraneous language, etc etc. To paraphrase James Gunn, writing is all about revision: You don't know really what you're doing until you've finished the draft - that's when the real writing begins. SO CLOSE to the end. How much is left? Let's call it less than 10k more. My goal is to wrap up the first complete draft before the start of Spring semester... that's less than two weeks from now, and I have a lot of Work-work to do in that time, as well. Eeek. Wish me luck. (PS: Considering I'd initially targeted 70k words, that means I'm almost done with Book Two? Right? Um, yeah, I don't think it works that way.)

Published a couple nonfiction pieces: "Frederik Pohl: Mr Science Fiction (A Love Story)" for Foundation, and a memorial piece about Fred for Elizabeth Anne Hull's Fredzine: The Frederik Pohl Memorial 'Zine, shared with attendees of the Frederik Pohl Memorial Celebration on August 2.

Wrote another half-dozen fragmentary bits for my memoir, Stories from a Perilous Youth. Really looking forward to diving in to that after sending J&S off for agential attentions.

Sold "Orpheus' Engines" (short story) to the original anthology, Mission Tomorrow: A New Century Of Exploration, due out from Baen next fall.

Also got my largest royalty check to date for Transcendence, which feels pretty awesome, considering that the book came out four years ago! (Four years. Gods.)

Personal

I don't know if I've said here, but my mom died on October 4. It's been really on my mind a lot, especially lately.
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Once again, you're a lot more likely to see things from me over on my Tumblr (mckitterick), but I still drop in here from time to time. It's my homeland!

Best,
Chris
I've been sharing thoughts about my mother's death online (apologies to those not on Facebook - if you want to see my previous posts, here's the first, and here's the second; perhaps I should post them here, too, but I've been distracted). People have written some of the kindest things I've ever had said to me. Last night, all the students from one of my classes got together on a sympathy card, and one of them made me a batch of delicious gluten-free chocolate-oatmeal balls. I appreciate these things more than I can express. Tomorrow is the funeral, in Omaha.

It seems that only when people are kind like that I actually cry, when I feel the pain wash through me, heavy and drowning, dragging me out to sea like an undertow I wasn't aware existed just beyond this calm beach. This crush happens not when I'm alone and thinking about Mom's death, or writing about my feelings, or playing through sad or difficult or happy memories (yes, we had those, too), but when people are kind to me about it. We really lost Mom years ago, during the ungentle decline and destruction of her self that we call, in clean clinical terminology, Alzheimer's, but which in reality is the most brutally destructive event I can imagine, the utter desolation of a person while they're still alive, a meat-grinder of the mind, unemotional gears inexorably crushing all that is a person between the flat surfaces of the machinery, irrevocably tearing through memories and thoughts and the very framework of who we are between sharp steel teeth, hungry, mindless entropy, plaques and proteins and poisons dissolving our past and the people we love from the unique universe of mind that is all we know, that universe shrinking in vast swaths as the information is forever lost, not just like into a black hole, because there the energy still exists, it's contained and stored and available to anyone with sufficiently advanced technology willing to venture beyond the blue event horizon. But no, this is destruction, worse than entropy, utter anarchy and loss and murder, is worse than that, this enfeeblement, it's a disk-grinder polishing minds to a dull featureless gloss, and the machine's operator has no brain, it's a robot - not malevolent like SkyNet or even Saberhagen's Berserkers, but like the physics of half-life decay, the biology of cell putrefaction, apoptosis, erosion, matter-antimatter annihilation, brown-dwarf stars cooling for a billion years alone in the vastness of space, soil blowing in the wind, dry air gradually leaching away its essence and nutrients and moisture and transforming it into toxic shards that suck life when it lands instead of feeding plants as when it took flight.

The machinations of the conscious or subconscious mind are endlessly confusing and fascinating. I've always had faith in the basic laws of physics, that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, and yet, and yet – look at our minds, look at the mental cosmos we construct throughout our lives, the sense we make of others' worlds, and how all that in time is lost into the emptiness, forever, unrecoverable. The human mind is a wonder, capable not only of transforming vast quantities of sensory input into models of the physical world, but then even more incredibly capable of communicating with others. New universes are born with each new mind, simple at first, but they quickly expand and grow more complex and begin almost immediately to blend with others tangential to the borders of our own.

Alzheimer's, malevolent force, destroyer of worlds, eater of universes, accelerates the entropy of the mind leading to utter desolation, first extracting all other people's universes from reality, then you from your own world, then you from everyone else's. Veni, vidi, vici. Entire universes, people, stories of who we are and were, destroyed and never to be recovered again, all traces impossibly erased from reality. How can that be? How can a disease consume all that information? But it does, and everything is lost in the belly of the universe-eater, never to be shat out. The only evidence of the crime is a pile of broken connections to the outside, all the rest of us reeling in frayed ends in an effort to remember who they once touched, where they were once moored to another's world before that person was pulled beneath the waves.

Every person we know will be destroyed in time – time, this feeble attempt to construct a sensible explanation for loss. They will be gone, there is no hope for them to be recovered. The same is true for our own bubble. This is the reality of the universe, and something we cannot answer, only seek to come to terms with.

Trying to understand what it means is a hopeless effort, yet it's all that matters. Asking questions, seeking answers, striving to explore within and then beyond the confines of our bubble-universes: This is all that really matters. This is why I got into writing in the first place, and why I am driven to continue doing so. To understand the glories of matter coming to understand itself, of the universe waking up, opening a billion tiny eyes if only for a brief moment to see other eyes also looking around, and sharing what we have learned, and asking what the others have learned, and then building a greater understanding of it all, flawed and limited as it may be, often incompatible with what the others report. Because everything else is only the void.
If ever I figure out human nature, I can write my last words, but I don't fear that'll ever happen.



Thank you to everyone who has said kind and thoughtful things; I really do appreciate it, and if it brought on the tears, then it served a useful purpose, too. To everyone suffering your own tragedies and losses, my heart goes out to you, and I understand, and I hope my sharing here is more helpful than hurtful. We are all fighting our own hard battles, and though we might succeed for a time, loss will ultimately consume us all. So be kind, and understanding, and try to build the most glorious temple to life that you can in the moments your universe intersects with those constructed by others.
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mckitterick: aboard the New Orleans trolley (just Chris)
( Sep. 1st, 2014 11:39 am)
Not really up to writing a lot about it right now, but just got back from an impromptu trip to Omaha to see my mom. We're down to her last days.

My friends, Alzheimer's is a damned horrific nightmare. If I ever start looking down the barrels of that living hell, well... I wish we lived in a country where one could choose not to endure years of ever-increasing loss of self, health, and free will, knowing we cannot get better, certain that we will get worse, until one day we cannot remember our loved ones or even who we are. That, my friends, is the worst hell I can imagine. The only words Mom has formed in the past few weeks, and those were barely audible: "Have a headache."

Oof.
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Oh my gosh, I had no idea that I hadn't posted here for, what... three weeks now? MANY APOLOGIES!

My absence is largely due to ten million little tasks all piling down like a deluge of weasels, weasels driven like furry rain across the Great Plains, lashed on and on by all this stuff. Let's start with the fun and move into the rest:

  • I've made many thousands of words progress on The Galactic Adventures of Jack & Stella. Current word-count:

    LOOK AT HOW CLOSE I AM TO DONE!

  • I've been doing this "300 Swings a Day Challenge," an idea promoted by the Breaking Muscle folks (who are awesome) and presented to me by clevermanka. Except for one day when I literally didn't have a minute to spare (but spared enough to do something like 100 anyhow, because FUCK ALL THAT I'M PRACTICING TO BE A BADASS), I've made my 300 swings EVERY DAY THIS MONTH. I started with my 55-pound kettlebell, but couldn't do more than about 40 with that, so switched to the 35-pounder. But for the past couple of weeks, I've been doing them ALL with the bigger weight, and in much shorter time (completed 250 swings last night between 7:30pm and 8:00pm, aw yeah), and with ever-improving form, AND starting to see some real changes in the musculature of my legs and ass and, honestly, all over. (I promise to post before-and-after shots at the start of April. Let's hope there's something to see!) I've tried to keep up with my other movements (pull-ups, push-ups, etc.), but the last two weeks have been... well, what got me started with this post.

  • My novel, Transcendence, was February's book selection for the PBR Book Club, which meets at the 8th St. Taproom (yes, friends, book fiends gathering at A BAR). Booze, books, and intelligent conversation - great tastes that taste great together. They had really insightful observations and questions. So much fun!

  • Saw the AMAZING Latenight Callers in concert at The Replay. If you haven't yet heard this band, DO IT NOW. I think of them as "Electro-Noir," and they're unlike anything you've heard for a long time, or maybe ever. They're seriously one of my favorite bands, and they operate out of the Kansas City metro area, and they formed in the cultural center that is Lawrence, KS. And I Knew Them When.

  • Went to Planet ComiCon in Kansas City's Bartle Hall Convention Center. Got to hang with LeVar Burton, Jonathan Frakes, Darryl "DMC" McDaniels (who's now working on a hip-hop comic!), Gates McFadden, Brent Spiner, Jewel Staite (Kaylee), Wil Wheaton, the Xenomorph from Alien (and his Predator buds), plus about a zillion local fans - many of them in costume. Wow. This was my first media-con since the 1990s (hello, Weaselmom!). I had no idea a local comicon could be so HUGE. The lines to get in wrapped around TWO city blocks. Once I adjusted to the crowds and lines, I realized that everyone was there among their tribe - polite, friendly, and HAPPY. A lot more fun than I'd expected. I'll do one of these again.

  • Finally, FINALLY, got the CSSF Lending Library fully alphabetized, including organizing our magazine holdings by publication and year. Just an off-hand guess, but I'd say we hold about 30,000 volumes. That was a monumental task, I TELL YOU WHAT, but my office (aka The Center's Space) is now the coolest room on campus. Before-and-after photos coming soon.

  • Designing my first Freshman-Sophomore SF course, which I'll offer this coming fall: Science Fiction and the Popular Media, where we'll study science fiction across a range of media forms including film, television, literature, fanfic, comics, gaming, and more. Hook 'em young, as they say. I made a request for suggestions on Facebook (which, sadly, is where I've been posting lately, also on my Tumblr blog, because if I'm only dropping something quick, that's where I go. Sorry for contributing to LJ's Long Decline.) This class should be a BLAST!

  • Hosted the English graduate-student recruitment party at our place, and met with one of the (hopefully) incoming creative writers.

  • Reading (and doing all the other logistics and setup) for this summer's Speculative Fiction Writing Workshop (June 1 - 15). We'll again have BOTH science-fiction Grand Master James Gunn and the inimitable Andy Duncan as this year's guest authors! Yours truly leads the Workshop. Are you thinking about applying, or know someone who would love to participate in an intensive but only two-week-long workshop? Now's the time!

  • Doing the thousand-and-one things necessary to host an international scholar here at KU. This year, the Center is host for a professor from Turkey! She'll be here until the end of May. (The last two were from China. We get around.)

  • Did a ton of thesis-project reading and critiquing and meetings, especially with one of my grad students who's working on an SF novel.

  • Teaching: Nothing unusual this semester, but teaching three full, writing-intensive courses always starts to crush me as we approach the middle of the semester. I was hoping to get caught up this week (Spring "Break"), but I have so many other things to do, including...

  • Journal-article writing: I'm finishing a research-intensive article about one of my greatest science-fiction heroes, a man with whom I had the great privilege and honor to spend anywhere from a few days to a week each summer: Frederik Pohl. Wonderful to go back and read so much by him again, but not so great to have to do this on top of things like...

  • Gary K. Wolfe's "Bold Aspirations" visit and talk for KU. SO MUCH planning. SO MUCH spreading the word, and setting up contacts, and writing press releases, and organizing gatherings, and ferrying him here from the airport, and so forth. Which was all great, mind you, but in the end a massive disappointment due to things I cannot discuss publicly. Friends, my fondness for academia is on the wane.

  • Building and organizing a group of Center for the Study of Science Fiction Faculty Affiliates. This has been really cool, setting up interdisciplinary relationships with faculty from all across the University of Kansas, but also a huge investment of time and energy. Expect Big Things out of this! More to come.

  • Similarly, I've been working with another brilliant group of interdisciplinary faculty and KU administrators in a think-tank named "Tech 2070," whose goal is to prepare the University for the kinds of changes we'll see over the next 50 years. FANTASTIC stuff, these bi-weekly meetings, but they also require hours of homework (seriously, but it's all stuff I'd read anyway given the time), including preparing to give presentations now that we've started to gel in our purpose.

And because it's not a post unless I share a photo of our Outdoor Pets, I hereby present "Squirrels Combating the Blizzard By Eating Tons of Birdseed" from the storm that whacked us recently (just days before the temps climbed back up to their present 60s and 70s!):


Click the chilly squirrels to see my Facebook photo albums.

Speaking of cute animals, want to see tons more photos of space-stuff and baaaby animals (among other things)? Then check out my Tumblr blog:


Click the fierce baby elephant to see my Tumblr blog.

...aaand now I've just spent an hour writing this post. So that's what's kept me away for so long. What have you been up to?

Chris
Yesterday, when I got home from an all-day English Department strategic-planning meeting, I saw a dead squirrel. Someone had driven over it. This was distressing, because I've gotten attached to several neighborhood squirrels. Also, if one of these poor bastards is going to die, it should be in the talons of a hawk or something, not a senseless death beneath the mindless wheels of a car.

When I parked my scooter, I picked up the little dead thing from the road and placed it in the grass beneath a tree in front of my house. It was still warm, flexible, but very dead. I spent a few seconds examining it to see if this was one of the regulars, my "outdoor pets," but it showed no markings I recognized.

I wonder if its siblings will perform another squirrel funeral like they did last time.
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And then, this morning, I witnessed another little urban-wildlife tragedy. A few days ago, I put a big, clear-topped, metal live-trap on my back porch. See, I've apparently been breeding mice by feeding the squirrels and birds. Baby mice are about some of the cutest things you'll ever see, darting out of cover just long enough to fetch a seed, than darting back under cover like a furry lightning-bolt. Heck, I've even made videos of the tiny things, and will share them soon. Just need to upload.

This morning, I saw that the live trap caught two little mouses since I checked yesterday. One had been dead for a while, the other had just died and was cuddling it, nose pressed on top of its dead sibling.
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Finally, last week, my grandmother Violet McKitterick died. She had been sick for a long time, living in a nursing home, but getting frequent visits from her five children, their partners, and even grandchildren. She hasn't been fully cognizant for a few years, but she seemed to enjoy the company. I thought I'd share a few of memories of my Grandma Vi:

When I was a little boy, especially before I started school or in the summers, I would often stay with Grandma Vi during the day when my parents were at work. I always looked forward to spending time with her. She was so kind and patient, letting me play with Matchbox cars all over the floor, or take apart old clocks or other things so I could figure out how they worked – even if they never did again.

Grandma Vi taught me to paint when I was barely old enough to hold a brush. I remember once, while she was doing rosemaling on the kitchen cupboards, I sat at the table and painted scrap pieces of wood in a similar style. One of these is still around somewhere. It says, "Violet is very beautiful."

In the hot summer when I had trouble falling asleep, Grandma would sometimes gently brush her fingernails along my back, giving me goosebumps so I felt cooler. It was such a comfort.

When I discovered she had played the accordion, I was so proud! It seemed like such a magical and complex instrument that surely she had to be a musical genius to be able to make that thing work.

Most of my earliest memories of Grandma Vi and Grandpa Harvey together were of them laughing and chasing one another around the house. She would laugh and say, "Oh, Harvey!" then giggle and swat at him. This ritual often ended with them scurrying off to the bedroom. They seemed so happy together. I still think of that as a model of how two people in love behave toward one another.
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In other news, I'm still SWAMPED with new-course development. Sorry I've been away for so long! Now I've got to get back to work.

Best,
Chris
An LJ friend's post about forgetting to take his meds prompted this disclosure and discussion:

Over the last few days, I've forgotten to refill the pill-box on my desk so I can take my afternoon Adderal before class. I tell you what, I won't be doing that anymore. I've been feeling like Charlie Gordon from Flowers for Algernon.

I haven't talked about this here before, because I felt uncomfortable doing so in public. For a long time, I'd been suspecting I might have ADD - not the hyperactive part, but the fragmented-attention part, so I was uncertain and avoidant. But I certainly suffered many of the symptoms, the worst of which was having great trouble focusing on one task (especially when I had many things to do, as I always do!), difficulty concentrating on things, and serious impairment in listening to one person talking in a noisy room, and so on. What I didn't realize that many of my anxiety issues also stemmed from the ADD, and overcoming this is perhaps my favorite result of the new meds: Even though I'm a light sleeper now, I used to startle awake at the slightest sound; I used to experience near-panic-attack levels of stress when I had too many things on my plate - and I've always been exceptionally good at putting too many things there. Brilliant. Imagine how emotionally straining it was for me when I was working full-time for both Microsoft and KU, plus trying to maintain my writing career, plus trying to stay in relationships. Since childhood, I've always been prepped for attacks whenever walking past people.

Are these things normal? I think not. They certainly weren't doing me any good. Of course, most of these symptoms - by nature of only existing inside my head - no one knew about, but they constantly plagued me.

Yet I felt that an ADD diagnosis would be problematic, a dirty label. Even now, I'm going back and forth whether to post this publicly or friends-only. How will the professional world, my co-workers, view me if they knew? I didn't want to be "one of those people," and I certainly didn't want to see myself like [insert names of people who are barely functional]. I despised having to admit that I have even more problems. As my suspicions rose, I asked myself, Why shouldn't I just be able to overcome this on my own? I actively avoided reading about ADHD. I mean, I lived through childhood. I've been successful in adult life. I'm smart, quick, capable of dealing with lots of crap all at once. Except I wasn't. Sure, I've always managed to deal with things. Except not very well, and it took a serious toll on me, my life, my writing, my career, my relationships... you get the idea.

So these broken-in-half little blue dextroamphetamine-amphetamine pills have transformed my life. I can now pay attention to a single conversation at parties. I can work on single projects until I'm done or reach a stopping-point. My stress level has dropped at least 90%. In class, I stay on track so well - even if a student's question redirects the discussion for several minutes - that I can return to what I was saying before. I'm WAY better at tracking time in a linear fashion. I'm more patient and less prone to frustration. When I have a dozen things to do and only time to deal with half of them, I can now tactically or strategically determine which needs to be dealt with first without the Beast Anxiety rearing up and trampling my ability to decide. And so on.

Strange that forgetting to take my pill - even at such a minimal dose - causes me so much trouble now, when I didn't even start taking them until last winter. How did I ever teach so many classes or get anything done before I started the stuff? How did I ever finish writing projects as long as novels? Most of all, how did I ever live with such stress before?

Thank you, modern medicine. Thank you for your patience, everyone who had to put up with me before. And thank you, everyone who not only supported me in pursuing a solution but also didn't think less of me when I acquired a new label.

I don't feel more broken now, bearing new scarlet letters. I feel more human. In fact, I feel superhuman at times, in control of a newly freed mind, able to focus while still retaining the hypervigilance that once wore me out. Simply taking these meds, I feel much more capable of taking control of this oft-quarrelsome mind. I mean, who doesn't have some kind of issues, right? Plus, ADD and ADHD no longer bear quite the stigma they used to. Though I'm still troubled by children getting the diagnosis, I waited too long before addressing this.

This much is certain: I won't be forgetting to refill my office pillbox anymore.

Chris
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Here's what I've been up to over the past week or two:

Visited Free State ComicCon


This is always a blast. Picked up a pile of graphic novels (and an awesome T-shirt of John Brown, Superhero).

Later that week was the "Weird Edition" of Super Nerd Night at the Jackpot.

Chased off a Home Invader


At 4:10am on Saturday night (or Sunday morning, whichever you prefer), the doorbell went off. Being a light sleeper, I woke instantly, if not clear-headedly, heart pounding within my ribcage, wondering, "WTF?!" A few seconds later, it rang again. Worried that a friend was in trouble, I set about searching for pants (found some stretchy shorts in the dark), glasses (no luck), and dagger (beneath the pillow, natch), and then headed downstairs. This is when the doorbell began ringing in eanest, as the visitor pressed it repeatedly for at least a dozen times. Now my concern turned to irritation and a bit of worry, because my friends wouldn't do that, would they?

Downstairs, I found my phone. No missed calls, so not a friend. Unfortunately, the front-door motion-detector light was turned off, making it tough to see outside very well (no Moon, either), so I inched the front curtain open. The doorbell-ringer had left. Whew.

Just then, I heard the back sliding-screen door open. Here's when I went all HOLY CRAP INTRUDER! The ensuing adrenaline cleared out any remaining sleepiness. The back-yard motion-detector light on the garage was unplugged, I learned later (probably my own fault from turning it off with a long stick), and the back-door light is switch-only (and off at the time), so no light back there, either. I peeked around the corner in the kitchen as the man - a little taller than me, I judged, and wearing bulky clothing - tried to open the sliding-glass door. Because of last year's adventure with locking myself out (this involved a drill, lock-puller, chisels, hammers, Sawzall, and such), the back door doesn't have a lock but is instead blocked; ironically, this is much more secure than a simple lock, so the door only slid an inch or so before hitting the rod in its runner. He put his hand INSIDE THE HOUSE, searching for a chain or something, I suspect, then pushed the door again.

Pissed off now, I turned on the overhead kitchen light. The intruder-dude CONTINUED TRYING TO GET INSIDE. Unfortunately, the sliding-glass door is virtually impossible to see through when it's dark outside and the overhead is on inside, so all I could see was a hand. CREEPY. At this point, it was time to go upstairs and fetch something more menacing than a dagger.

In the back bedroom where I store the menacing stuff, I discovered that, naturally, chernobylred had slept through all this. I turned on the light, informed her what was going on, found what I was looking for, and went back downstairs. En route, I also found my glasses.

When I reached the kitchen, he had left.

chernobylred, being more level-headed than I, asked, "Shouldn't we call the police?" Uh, yeah, good idea. Ahem.

They arrived within minutes. A cruiser rolled past on the street out front, lights off like a land shark, while another pulled into the alley with lights everywhere. Two police walked the alley with flashlights as bright as the sun, and another walked through my yard. The intruder was gone.

I gave them my report and discovered that they had found a suspicious man nearby on a bicycle. Of course I couldn't give any description, but if that was him, perhaps he'll be more cautious in the future. As in, NOT TRYING TO BREAK INTO HOUSES.

My theory? The doorbell-ringing was to find out if anyone was home. If someone meek had answered, he might well have busted inside for nefarious purposes, but I bet he'd have run away. I think he wanted to find an unoccupied house, break in, and steal stuff. I wish I'd gotten a good look and we could finally catch - assuming it's the same guy that's been robbing neighborhood houses - this serial burglar.

I'm double-locking the doors now and sleeping with more-substantial equipment within reach. Oh, and now all the outside motion-detector lights work.

Wrote a New, Um, Thing, Plus Jack and Stella


At last Thursday's Write Group, I finished a new piece of writing. My first sub-1000-word work in a long time! Now some polishing and off it goes.

Oh, and is coming along nicely. Over the past week or two I've written another couple thousand words. Best of all, I worked out parts of the plot-arc that were shaped more like nebulae. Also wrote a scene for the next book in the trilogy (I think it'll be three...).
The Galactic Adventures of Jack and Stella progress:

Went to the Kansas City Renaissance Festival


Since the KC RenFest opened three weekends ago, I've gone three times! Different goals each time, naturally, with next time being a group trip to the Barbarian Battles region, where I intend to pummel my friends with foam swords. This last weekend, I caught a whole bunch of shows and finally rode the bungee-trampoline. HOLY COW was that fun! I aimed for the sky, and reached a good 30 feet or more toward it. The combination of trampoline below and gnarl of bungees attached to each side of a climbing harness = HUGE AIR. I leaped so high that the bungees were actually pulling me down, and upon hitting the trampoline, I sank in knees-bent several feet before it launched me back up.

A MUST-DO BLAST FOR ALL!

This was a day when I intentionally wore jeans, not the kilt. Ahem.

Saved a Baby Snake


I was working in the garage today and discovered that one of the sticky traps I put down in there to capture horrid things like Brown Recluse spiders had captured what looks like a baby Brown Snake. It was still alive, but barely moving. Only about eight inches long, thin as a pencil at its thickest, with a teeny pointed tail and wee face with long, black, nervously flicking tongue. It was stuck upside-down on the glue trap, face first, looking like it was trying to eat the cricket stuck there.


Click the image to see the Great Plains Nature Center's website.

I felt so bad! I looked up how to humanely free a critter from the trap, and it seems that vegetable oil will do the trick. So I trimmed the glue trap down to near the snake, then drizzled olive oil (the only oil I could find in the house) along both sides of its body. I set it down in the shade in the grass upside-down so that the snake would be upright, then soaked the back (paper) of the trap, too, thinking it would loosen the glue faster.

Went back out after an hour, and the snake is gone. Hooray! Go free, little Brown Snake, and eat bugs and snails!

Conclusion


Sorry I haven't posted much in the past week. I've been busy with teaching, writing, and so forth. Hope you're well!

Best,
Chris
Geez, how could I forget this part (continued from late-last-night's Spring Break post):

I've also been working on my next book some more, working out plot points and developing characters and scenes. Almost have it all in place! Which leads me to an insight:

I've discovered that it takes me about 3-4 days of being away from a full day of work to clear my mind enough to really immerse myself in my writing again. No matter how much I'd like to be, I'm just not one of those people who can write for a few hours a day, at least not when first getting started with a project. There's too much mind-clearing needed, because my job is not just teaching (which also entails answering email and grading at all hours of the day), but also keeping up with Center for the Study of Science Fiction stuff pretty much every day (including planning, emails, website updates, prepping for and doing stuff like tonight's Super Nerd Night activities, and so forth), and constantly researching ways to improve each course (which I do pretty much weekly for most of 'em). There are also meetings, course development for new courses down the line, GTA training to teach existing courses I've developed, student and GTA mentoring, thesis direction, reading for the Campbell Award, and a ton of things I don't even want to think about right now. It's utterly consuming and draining.

Now, I'm not complaining, because I love my work. I love teaching, I love the Center, I love almost everything I do for my job.

The point is, what I need to maintain a level of new writing and publication that makes me happy is more chunks of time off. I used to think that summer = writing time for a teaching job, but in fact for MY teaching job, summer = busiest time of the year, with two two-week intensive courses sandwiching an international conference where we honor the authors of the best short-SF and SF novel of the year and bring in guest authors and editors from around the world.

How to find the time to make my writing happen? If I could only secure a solid month during the summer, I could write a book a year - I have no problem doing story-development in dribs and drabs.

Are you novelist or other big-project creative who also maintains an all-consuming job? How do you manage to product big projects on a regular-enough basis to remain happy? 'Cause I've reached a place in life where I need to make this happen or I'll grow more and more frustrated and dissatisfied with my career(s).

Thanks,
Chris
mckitterick: The ale tasting at the 2009 Kansas City Renaissance Festival. (RenFaire Chris)
( Mar. 20th, 2012 11:59 pm)
It's been lovely so far! Man, I needed a vacation.

First, kicked it off with a visit from a friend I haven't seen in far too long (hi Thomas!) on Thursday evening. Great to see you, man! Miss you!

Just beforehand, my "Science, Technology, and Society" class talked about robots, and the author of one of the stories (Robin Wayne Bailey, plus his wife Diana) paid a visit. The students really enjoyed his being there, and it was a great discussion. As a thank-you, I took them out to dinner at one of my favorite local restaurants, Ingredient, then bid them adieu before joining the Thursday-night crew at Harbour Lights, Lawrence's oldest bar (in continuous operation since the end of Prohibition). Ended the evening with some adventures with a friend who's always up for adventures. Lovely evening.

Spent a fair sum ordering parts for the Chevelle. It's going to be awesome! If only the people from Keisler Engineering get on the ball and update my 6-speed transmission quote so I can get that thing ASAP.

Also worked a bit on the Newport: made an anti-drainback valve for the fuel system in hopes of keeping the gas from running out of the carb back into the tank, so it'll start easier between runnings. If all goes well (haven't been able to test it, as we're enduring 40 days and nights of deluge here in Larryville), I'll put together a little tutorial for how to make one for yourself, saving tons of money if you can even find something that works for a carbureted engine.

The Lawrence St. Patty's Day Parade is always charming, with pretty much everyone in town participating, either by watching or driving in it: If you have a convertible, you're in. And if you ever won a beauty pageant within the past few century or two? Sit in the back of one of those converts! That part was a little weird. It was a beautiful, cool-but-pleasant day, and we sat outside most of the time enjoying good company and conversation. Ended the evening at Matt's place playing old Atari and Nintendo games (remember The Adventures of Link?) on his Wii. Also had a drunken push-up contest - turns out I can do 7 one-armed push-ups with each arm (yes, even with the damaged side) after blasting out 30-odd nose-to-floor knuckle push-ups. Absinthe is a curative. 'Twas a blast.

Got caught up with the current BBC Sherlock series. Wow, but is it amazing: great acting, great actor chemistry, great filming, great writing... just all-around fantastic. LOVE IT.

Also finished Season 2 and started Season 3 of Due South, which is even better with the addition of Callum Keith Rennie. He and Paul Gross (RCMP Constable Benton Fraser) have PERFECT timing. At a few points in their first episode together, I was laughing so hard we had to pause and rewind to hear the dialogue. LOVE IT - how did I miss this series before now? Thank you for introducing me to this often-surreal series, CR!

Getting caught up with reading through more of the mountain of nominations for the Campbell Award. Really loving Ernest Cline's Ready Player One right now: It's well-written, well-conceived, funny, serious, and meaningful. Hope it gets even better; if so, it's probably my favorite book of 2011.

Earlier today, bought my first pair of running shoes since high school, New Balance Minimus MR10 trainers in an astounding green-and-blue color combo. They weigh less than the box they came in! Also got a pair of exercise shorts from Sears at 50% off (yes, Lawrence is losing our Sears *sadness*). I couldn't buy a pair of Nike or New Balance or other corporate-logo shorts. Can't do it.

Why did I need this equipment? Well, right now I'm recovering from the introductory session of CrossFit. WOW, but I'm beat. And I'm beginning to get hints of how sore I'll be tomorrow. I thought I was in decent shape with my regular exercise (weights, pull-ups and push-ups with 25-lb weight vest, heavy bag-work, stair-running, and so on), but boy was I WRONG. They say, "Expect to have a challenging, but short workout that might give you a little reality check on your fitness level." Reality check? CHECK: Kettle ball swings up over the head, lunges, box-leaps, sit-ups, running while carrying a medicine-ball, hardcore stretching... I just about died. Even so, we both decided to sign up for the next step: a 10-session "Elements" punch-card that includes several one-on-one sessions with a personal trainer. Seems like a great workout; can't wait for the next one! (Did I really just write that?)
trimmed for my most-recent fitness-tracking photos )
I'm in a little better shape right now, but not significantly - that's why I bought the 25-pound weight vest for pull-ups and push-ups and part of why I decided to do CrossFit, because I've been kicking ass for a long time without significant results. I'll take another set of shots after CrossFit to see how this program improves things!

Okay, and now I need to get back to finishing my little 7-questions response for Weaselmom....

Chris
Classes start tomorrow: Excited! I always love the spring "Science, Technology, and Society" course, and even the "Foundations of Technical Writing" course is satisfying (doing two sections). Also doing a couple of Advanced Technical Writing and Editing sections, but they're very small this semester, and they'll be helping on projects I need to write anyway. Plus one or two independent study SF students. So, overall, WAY fewer classes and students than last semester.

So what did I do with my winter break? First and foremost, recovered from a semester wherein I taught 10 courses (three large, three medium, and an assortment of courses with 1-3 students in them). What was I thinking? Well, I figured that, because most of them contained only a student or three, it would be no big deal. WRONG. If you are a teacher, DON'T EVER DO THIS. A class is a class, regardless of how many people enroll, and often those 1-3 person classes consumed more an hour every week. Now add three sections of technical writing (16 writing projects times 70 students) and the others, and WHOA. Oh, and I do try to have a writing career and life in there, too. I'm learning better how to say, "No." That's a toughie for me.

So after recovering a bit (this included watching the box-sets of Harry Potter, among other things), I did a lot of neglected house, garage, and yard-work; tinkered with the vehicles; hung out a bunch with people; and did finally build up enough reserves to get some writing done. This included tons of outlining, scene-writing, and other work on The True-Life Space Adventures of Jack and Stella; lots of thinking and outlining on my keynote talk for the University of Central Oklahoma's Liberal Arts Symposium on science fiction and the liberal arts; and even resumed work on my memoir, Stories from a Perilous Youth. I didn't finish any writing projects, but them's the breaks when working on book-length things.

Yesterday I got my 1978 BMW R100S up and running again! Took some create effort to reassemble the frame (I had to disassemble it to remove a dead battery), do some rust and wiring repairs, and get the fuel system operational again, but it was still in the 50s yesterday afternoon when I went for a ride. ON MY MOTORCYCLE. IN JANUARY. I'm just sayin'. Awesomeness. Even got a photo when I visited some friends who had never seen the bike running before. That's satisfying. Next up: painting and installing the vintage Hannigan fairing I picked up a couple of years ago. I've decided to go with red to match the tank and seat frame rather than the color-fade orange of the front fender (and side-panel lettering, thus likely the original color). I have other (evil) plans in mind, too, that involve giving this bike a bit of Mad Max character... bwahahahaha!

A few days ago I had to carve the lock out of my back door. Long story. Let's just say that a variety of power tools, pry bars, and other implements were involved. This could have been an awful experience, but thanks to [profile] chernobylred, it actually turned out to be an adventure. One I needn't repeat, mind you, but an adventure nonetheless. I can't tell you how much fun it is to Sawzall a much-despised sliding-glass door. The having-to-replace-it-now part is less fun, but I'm thinking of going all Mad Max with this, too, using steel plates and an absurdly over-the-top lock while I consider back-door options. Video of the carnage to come (seriously).

Also, this: A crow sledding down a snowy rooftop:


Hope your holidays were wonderful, too. Happy New Year!

Best,
Chris
mckitterick: At the book-launch for TRANSCENDENCE, Nov. 5, 2010, in the Jayhawk Ink bookstore at the University of Kansas. (Transcendence reading)
( Oct. 31st, 2011 06:28 pm)
Gully Foyle is my name
And Terra is my nation.
Deep space is my dwelling place
The stars my destination.






Now I'm off to class - yes, in the face paint!

Chris
Tags:
1) Asimov's Science Fiction magazine editor Sheila Williams writes a lovely editorial about KU and the Center for the Study of Science Fiction, including happy memories of riding on the back of my scooter ;-)

2) Excellent article examining the Occupy and T-Party movements - how they're really just two halves of the same thing:


Click the image to read the piece.

3) I had hoped to show a pic of my fully repaired electric bicycle:

Unfortunately, I can't get the hub all apart to strip the torn wires. Backstory: Last year, I got a flat on the rear, where the motor resides in the hub. The lazy SOBs who assembled the bike in the first place had installed a nut on the axle in such a way that stripped the bolt, so when I removed said bolt, it rotated the axle in such a way that tore the wires loose *sigh* Last week, I got the wheel back from a local machine shop - axle's all fixed - and hoped to solder the wires this week. Not so much. Can't get the nut off the other side in order to get inside and work on the wires. Hmph. Later.


4) Pumpkin carving at my house over the weekend!




5) The KU Science Fiction Film Club also watched (John Carpenter's) The Thing after carving pumpkins. We'd intended to see the new prequel afterward in the classic movie-marathon tradition, but the motivation just wasn't there. I think everyone was concerned that it wouldn't live up to the original. I still plan to see it, but maybe on Blu-Ray....

Chris
I was just reading a friend's post about getting shot in the butt by a drive-by, and I burst into a big crying jag. At first I couldn't figure out why that would bother me so much; he was okay afterward, and it even inspired him to stop carrying a gun, himself.

I realize what whacked me was thinking of how people treat each other: a delayed response to what happened 10 years ago on Sunday and all the other ways that people hurt and destroy one another. Sometimes we can ignore the bad news on the radio, sometimes we can forget the inhumanity of humankind to others, but we don't really stop caring, the pain and disillusionment doesn't stop building. We hear stories about inhumanity like those assholes in the Republican debate audience who laughed at the death of the uninsured, or what the Palestinians and Israelis are doing to one another, or the Syrians, or the Afghans; we hear about violent robberies, we suffer our own small but devastating personal tragedies, we encounter any of a million other conflicts big and small that blaze around the world every single day. And, usually, we're able to distance ourselves from those things, resist getting too emotional about them.

But the pain is still there, bubbling under the surface, and once in a while one little thing is enough to open a crack, and the pressure is released in a great flood of tears.

I love this horrible and wonderful species, but sometimes it breaks my heart.

Chris
I take a surprising amount of pleasure from just driving around in the machine I designed and built myself, all pretty and rumbly and roar-ey, fast and smooth, vintage and comfy, chrome and black and bronze, elegant and antisocial.

What fun! And the cops didn't even pull me over to complain about the exhaust note. Which, I might mention, is FRAKKIN' SEXY music.

I want to drive more now! My compatriots seemed to enjoy it, too.

I am pleased and proud of how things turned out.

*grin*

Chris
mckitterick: just, y'know, me (smiling Chris 2008)
( Aug. 12th, 2011 05:01 am)
One definition of joy: a warm summer evening with friends that includes a chorus of cicadas, hot links grilled on a fire in the back yard, cool beer, some sparring, racing around a track, a few Perseid meteors, and swimming in the lake beneath the waxing gibbous Moon and distant lightning.



Now THIS feels like vacation.

Chris
Tags:
Woohoo! And just in time, too: My Dad is coming for a few-day visit this evening, and tomorrow is the Douglas County demolition derby. FREEDOM! SUMMER CRAZINESS IS OVER! This means I get to work on my hot-rod Newport full-time for... a week or so! Then time to start prepping for fall classes.

What do you think: Should I totally ignore my KU email for the next week or two? Treat it like a real vacation?
Tags:
The SF Writers Workshoppers made me a pair of TERRORIFIC cakes for my 2011 birthday. Here they are:


The more-SFnal one: see the rocket exhaust from the feet?


This one uses the title of a film project I'm working on with a friend.

My birthday always arrives during the workshop, so I feel a mix of melancholy and joy. Because all these people are so nice to me - people who were mostly strangers a week before - more than makes up for not really getting to celebrate my birthday, which has all the normal emotions attached to it already, plus the parental lies that the whole country was celebrating my birthday. Sort of like learning about Santa Claus, but only you were the fool.

Anyhow, had a lovely day of Workshopping, with Brad Denton in town for the week and Jim Gunn visiting for a short discussion, fantastic custom cakes, a fine dinner out at Ingredient, and now an evening of reading and critiquing and talking with new and long-time friends.

Thanks, you guys!

PS: If you want to track my feeble posts I'm able to manage these days, it's over on my Facebook page.

Best,
Chris
mckitterick: Yes, this is one of my actual scooter helmets. RESPECT THE EMPIRE. (Fetish-kitty and Chris)
( Jan. 28th, 2011 11:51 am)
Today is Fetish-Kitty's last day, and her vet was not only kind enough to make a house-call appointment to put her to sleep, but also is not charging for the service. I guess she's been such a good customer, especially over the past year....

I'm having a hard time with this. Until a few minutes ago, she was sitting on my lap, and she seems so lovey and cuddly, even though she can't use her back legs very well and she can't control her waste very well, and the diabetes and rare muscle-degenration disease and all that. Especially her loss of interest in "kitty TV," the congregation of birds and squirrels on the back porch, gobbling seeds and whatnot.

Even so, because Fetish can still be so lovey, it's hard to think about her not being alive anymore in two hours.

Since Lydia made the decision to euthenize Fetish last week, we've been giving her as much attention as we can. Reading with her on our laps, watching shows with her on my lap, especially when I get home late from teaching in Kansas City; helping her up and down the stairs when she wants to explore; giving her as much food as she wants, even people food, because - what, it's going to kill her? When one of us is home, we're also letting her roam freely about the house, though keeping a keen eye on her because of her incontinence. Right now she's napping in the cupboard under the upstairs bathroom sink; I rearranged in there and put down a fluffy towel. Soon she'll want to be carried back downstairs for another meal, I'm sure.

I'm just so blue about this! She's not even my cat, and I've only known her for 8 years, lived with her for fewer still. But except for my beloved Helen, I've never met such a lovey cat as Fetish.



It's going to be so strange without her here. The house will feel so empty without her affectionate presence.

Lydia's coming home now, and the vet will be here in an hour or so. My heart is heavy.

Edit: She's had her acepromazine tablet to relax her for the vet's visit, and it seems to have also relieved some of her pain. She's stretching out longer than she has in a while, even wagging a bit.

Chris
Tags:
mckitterick: Yes, this is one of my actual scooter helmets. RESPECT THE EMPIRE. (Daruma sees)
( Nov. 8th, 2010 02:38 pm)
This weekend, I:

. Fixed the radiator leak under the Saab's hood.
. Finally washed that poor, filthy car.
. Fixed another leak, this one in my toilet.
. Installed a new seal under my garage door.
. Started installing insulation on said door.
. Put away the garage dehumidifier/AC and replaced it with the regular dehumidifier.
. Oh, and I HAD THE RELEASE EVENT FOR MY DEBUT NOVEL!


It's a book! Holding the one and only existing hardcover at the release event.


Audience at the book-launch. That's SF Grand Master James Gunn on the left side, for whom I wrote this book in the first place. Thanks for coming, everyone!


Reading at the book launch in Jayhawk Ink, at the University of Kansas student union, in Lawrence, Kansas, on Friday, Nov. 5, 2010.


My editor, Eric T. Reynolds, snapped this shot in front of the Jayhawk Ink bookstore, a few days before the official release event.


TRANSCENDENCE release after-party, with MellyStu being trouble. Note how Daruma still has only one colored-in eye... that was about to change.


TRANSCENDENCE among some of my short stuff, on my bookshelves, at the release party.


Daruma finally sees TRANSCENCENCE published! An event 10 years in the making.
Click the photo to open a full-size image of the complete hardcover dustjacket. Art by Greg Martin, cover design by Melissa Lytton.


If you want to check out the book, click here to read sample chapters and stuff. Now available at fine bookstores and online dealers such as Amazon (hardcover and trade paper) and Powell's (trade paper only). Or order directly from the publisher at a nice discount with free shipping: Hadley Rille Books.

I cannot begin to describe how pleased I am. *beam*

Here's wishing you a fine day. Thank you SO MUCH to everyone who attended the reading, signing, and party. You made it an Event of Awesomeness™.

Chris
Gosh, I haven't made a life update for a while. Had an amazing week or so! Including:

  • Book release and after-party tonight, Friday Nov. 5! Release is at Jayhawk Ink in the KU student union, with the after-party at my house from then until late. Hope to see you there!

  • Just got my auto-deposit from the feds. Paid the mortgage & bills and will help pay for tonight's party supplies!

  • Discovered I've been granted Special Graduate Faculty status for a renewable 5-year term. Woohoo! Now I can be instructor of record for grad classes, grad theses, and so forth, rather than needing to get another grad faculty member to input grades for me. It also means I can develop new grad classes - such as creating a line number for the summer SF Writing Workshop so that our grad students can get credit for it.

  • Discovered that my position is being made a permanent budget item. This means no more year-to-year funding nonsense. Woohoo!

  • I discovered a little brown bird who had flown into my sliding-door window. Not a happy moment, poor thing on its back, kicking and trying to flap its wings. When turned over, it flopped over onto its back again. Brought it to the vet to have the poor thing put down. Here comes the good news: The nurse who removed it from the towel in my backpack said the bird stood in her hand. Hooray! She's bringing it to Operation Wildlife for rehabilitation.

  • My stepsister just had a baby! I'm an uncle again!

This is a good week! And here's what's new over the past month:


I hope your month is going well!
Chris
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