That Coulton Song

Still alive, but, really, I’m just barely hanging on.

I need to make a commitment to de-clutter my life, commitment-wise. I’d like to have time to enjoy the important things in my personal life: relationships, learning, nature, reading, writing, and exercise. But I’m letting the important things from my professional life dominate my whole being. Those things from my professional life are very important (student success programs and student success in the classroom in particular), but I feel my attention there is subsuming the rest of my life.

It’s time to be smarter about how I deploy my time and resources.

If you hear from me again before December, that’d be a sign I made a change.

Musing on a Quote from a Douche

A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing. -George Bernard Shaw

GBS, Mr. Hell-Yes-to-Eugenics, was a douche on an epic scale. This quote, however, resonates with me. One of my students submitted it today on his daily thought card, and it touched me.

I’m a perfectionist who is nearly paralyzed by mistakes (or the fear of making mistakes). I find it hard to even open email when I know there’s a chance something I’ve fucked up will be brought to bear. It’s a problem I’ve been working on correcting for a very long time.

When I was a child, around five, my grandmother tried to teach me how to tie my shoes. We sat side by side at the kitchen table. She showed me how to pinch the laces, spin the end across, and make the bow. However, when I couldn’t do it right, she picked up one of the shoes and beat me in the head with it. It’s a sad memory for me because I ended up, many years later, truly loving my grandmother. Yet it’s an experience that shaped my petrification when faced with mistakes.

I’m worried someone’s going to hurt me.

To this day, I don’t know how to tie shoelaces.

So this is a good quote for me to think of (though I don’t forgive GBS his mistakes). A life of mistakes is better than having done nothing at all. I’m thankful I’m (mostly) able to get out from under those mistakes and live my life. It’s certainly a life worth living, mistakes or no.

P.S. Just kidding. I know how to tie my shoes. The rest of the post is true, though.

Game of Thrones, Season 3, Episode 2 (spoilers)

If you’ve not read the Song of Ice and FIre series, stop reading this post. Now. You’ll read a plot point from Season 3/A Storm of Swords that you DO NOT want to know. Do not read on. If you do, it’s your fault and not mine because I can write what I want on my blog. And I’m going to write a big, fat spoiler that’ll ruin Season 3 for you.






Okay…so Episode 2 of Season 3 ran tonight. I don’t usually write about the episodes. I’m a book loyalist, but I can appreciate the arc the television series is taking. It’s fun to be able to discover this story for the first time again. So I tend not to analyze the television show in terms of what happened in the books because (a) who the fuck cares what I think and (b) such analysis seems like a poor use of energy. There are much bigger fish to fry than how Weiss and Benioff are treating ASOIAF.

Watching Episode 3 tonight, though, I KNEW people would be flipping the fuck out at Catelyn and Talisa’s scene. The one where she is very sympathetic toward Jon Snow. Even making him a worry wheel or whatever-the-fuck it was and hoping Ned would give him the Stark name.


Book Cat would never have done that. Ever. She tolerated Jon Snow in her household. Barely. The folks at put it more…passionately:

Looked at in complete isolation, it’s a finely wrought acting moment. Looking at it in terms of character, however… you can see, perhaps, how the writers thought this might make her more sympathetic. Who hasn’t wished ill on someone? Who hasn’t been able to live up to a promise? But the scene so fundamentally betrays the character and her relationship to the setting she’s in that it’s hard to see it as anything but a very poor choice by the writers. The whole point of Catelyn Stark refusing to do anything more but tolerate Jon Snow’s presence—and that unwillingly—is that she is not his mother, and in Westeros she does not have a social or moral obligation to be his mother. She is not his step-mother, he is not her step-son—that’s not how things work in the Seven Kingdoms. Might a young Catelyn have prayed for the gods to contrive to send Jon away? Sure. Might she even have prayed for his death? I’m dubious, but in a moment of weakness even the god-fearing might do as much, so lets say it might happen. Would she regret having done so? Absolutely. But would she at any moment have considered herself a mother to Jon and responsible for him in some way? Never. Would she have put the inheritance of her own children at risk by urging Ned to legitimize Jon? Never, ever. The writers have made a fundamental change to her character. She’s still recognizably Catelyn Stark, one supposes, but it’s one who deviates sharply.

I watched that scene and I thought…this is awesome. I’m discovering a different Cat. I can have book Cat. Always. I can reread the books. But I get to discover a new person here. I think that’s pretty cool.

And it’ll be even cooler, and more heartbreaking, when the Red Wedding arrives. In the book, I wasn’t super unhappy that Cat died. I disliked her. Show Cat, though. I like her quite a lot. I’ll be sad when the ********* (in case some folks ignored my spoiler warning) do their worst.

Writing is a Holy Place

My wife and I are writing a student textbook for our field. The book is slated to be published late this year, under my real name (hers as well), with a well-known educational publisher. We’ve been working on this project, in some form, since 2011. We’re working under a royalty contract, so we haven’t seen much money from the work. We will, though, once the book is published. It’s targeting the CAMENA market (Central Asia, Middle East, and Northern Africa) and expected to sell lots of copies. It’s all very exciting.

But it’s a lot of work. Tight deadlines. Second drafts that feel like first drafts. Differences of opinion with the editor. Late nights writing. Early mornings editing. Basically, it’s like…writing. I type that obvious statement because it took me a while to really realize what I was doing. To realize that even though I thought I’d stopped writing for a while, i’ve actually been writing the entire time. I’d shut down my daily writing challenge and my weekly submission schedule for SFF fiction because I’d gotten so busy with other stuff: college, tenure, acceleration projects, and this textbook. I felt like I’d shelved my writing career for a while.

Then I realized that I was writing. Every day, in fact. Just not the SFF I really wanted to be writing.

Still, i was practicing (am practicing) skills that I used when I wrote SFF every day and skills I will use when I pick that endeavor back up. Word count. Succinctness. Making every word count. Hitting (or not) deadlines. Shitty first drafts. Editing. Painful revisions. Frustration. Anxiety. And, eventually, a finished product that resembles more a teenager raised since birth instead of a 50,000 word document. A living, breathing child.

So hear I am, knee-deep in a textbook, not writing but #amwriting all at the same time. I’m slowly picking up my SFF pen as this textbook project winds down (hopefully complete by May), and I have to say, I’ve been itching to write. The stories I’ve been telling myself in my head since I last wrote a story are starting to come out. I feel in a holy place when I’m writing stories, something that textbook writing doesn’t give me. Writing fills a hole in my soul, but writing stories is my soul–even if my stories are still mainly exercises.

One day, I’ll get to the point where my stories are exceptional. I believe that just as I believe today that my stories are in no way exceptional. In fact, most are downright awful. But there’s the rare gem that pokes out through the rough patches, the sparkle that makes me hum, and I think, “Yes. This is what i’m supposed to be doing.”

Teacher of the Year, Perhaps.

I’m involved in a few projects at my college that move beyond my base teaching load. I’ve created an accelerated English program designed to get my students from remedial to college level English in one year. Acceleration is the name of the game these days, and the program is showing good results after only one year of operation. We’ve been funded for a second year (yay grant writing), so I’m excited for a second year to prove this shit actually does work.

I’m also doing research on faculty and peer mentoring programs in the hopes of creating a centralized mentoring program on campus for first-year students. Mentoring programs have a documented, positive impact of completion and persistence rates for students in addition to causing GPAs to rise. The impact is especially pronounced for minority students, particularly when they are matched up with mentors whom they can identify with in terms of background.

It’s been a lot of work, these projects. I’ve had little time to do much else in the past year. And these are just two of the five major pieces I’m involved in. On top of my teaching load. On top of coordinating a program. On top of being a good husband and a bad writer.

The results of this work–increased student success, student satisfaction, etc.–are the reasons I work on these types of projects. I don’t want students to languish in remedial classes until they drop out. I want these students to succeed, transfer, and graduate. College transformed my life, and I want to help students get to that place, if they can.

Today, though, I got another type of satisfaction from all this work: recognition from students and colleagues. A few weeks ago, I was nominated for the Distinguished Faculty Award–basically my college’s Teacher of the Year award. With the nomination, I was asked to create a binder of evaluations, activities, projects, and other materials the committee could use (in addition to student and colleague nominations) to decide on the finalists for the award.

Today I got a call that I’m a finalist for the award. I have an interview on Friday with the panel, and if I nail the interview, I might win the award. There are lots of perquisites to the award–parking spot, stipend, and recognition–but the thing I’m most excited about is being able to give the commencement address at next year’s graduation. Every since my first graduation, I’ve wanted to be that person. I’ve seen it as some sort of pinnacle, though of what I’m not quite sure.

Soon, I hope, i’ll find out.

Win or lose, it’s an honor to be nominated. It shows that all the hard work is being noticed and appreciated.

Easy is Boring

Caliban’s War. That’s what’s taking top of the deck space on my nook. I loved Leviathan’s Wake. Read the shit out of it. This one…it’s good. A page turner. But….

Lots of people like Caliban’s War better, judging by Goodreads reviews, but not I. The first 2/3 of the novel rocks along, lots of tension, lots of surprises. Then, all of a sudden, things get very easy for all of the characters. All of a sudden, coincidences abound and everything gets tied together with an over-neat little bow. A vivid, breathtakingly paced book folds down into a vanilla, cardboardy novel by the end. A bit sad, really, because of how well the first book of the series was written.

There’s something for me to learn here. Don’t let the characters off easy…even when the end of the novel/story/etc. is coming up.

Easy is boring.

‘Architectural Easter Egg’ in Encounters Magazine

Screen Shot 2013-04-01 at 11.13.50 PM

A 5000 word story just got published in Encounters Magazine. I’m in Issue #7 with ‘An Architectural East Egg.’ Here’s the opening graph:

Olya had fallen asleep when Ukraine was over Japan and woke up orbiting above the gash where her motherland had once resided. Her alarm had again failed to wake her on time. She unzipped her sleep sack, raced through her morning ritual–finger-brush teeth, pull hair into ponytail, grab an apple from her stash, shove her sleep sack into its hiding place–and ran down the mountain. If she garnered another citation, Serhiovich, the president of the Ukraine Corporation, would make good on his promise and jettison her into space. What did he care about one builder? Ukraine had hundreds of thousands, and ever since the UN had detached Ukraine from the earth and terraformed it into a satellite, Serhiovich did with them as he pleased.

If you decide to purchase the issue ($0.99), I hope you enjoy my story!