Sunday, February 29

I failed to entirely realize that when my dad said that we would be sorting the springing (close to calving) cows out from the further-outs "soon", he meant we would be doing so today. Therefore my morning was much more exciting than I had originally planned... overall things went well, aside from Eva the One-Eyed Bitch jumping not one but two gates. Cows occasionally do this. The problem is that cows are not naturally aerodynamic creatures. They are naturally large, heavy creatures who ought to stay firmly on the ground. This is something which they themselves do not remember until they are airborne, resulting in a lot of jumps which begin in spectacular confidence and beautifully executed form and end in a gate with a cow-shaped bend and a cow standing in the middle of it looking surprised. Eva did this twice. That's two forty-dollar gates that we won't see again, at least not without a distinctive U in them.

In all there were 48 springers. We started sorting at nine and didn't finish until one. All in all, a bad day to have skipped breakfast.

Later on we ran the springers through the milking parlour to get them accustomed to it, especially the heifers, who have never been milked before and tend to be a bit surprised by it when it happens. It went as well as could be expected, meaning that nobody got broken and my shit-bath was not complete. There was some truly explosive excrement happening down there. It was a bit like being caught between a double row of projectile vomiters, only not quite.

In other news... I am officially halfway through the novel now, having both passed the 50,000 word mark (I had the idea that this would be a 100K word novel) and finished the fifth of ten days that the novel's supposed to span. These even occurred at roughly the same time, meaning that the novel is likely to be about as long as I want it to be. This makes me Happy.

All in all, not a bad, but a thoroughly exhausting day. I was determined to post it, though. After all, a chance to post on this particular date won't come around again for four more years.
09:19 PM - kat -

Saturday, February 28

The parents were supposed to get back from Europe on Thursday, but ended up getting back yesterday instead, due to a freak of the weather gods. I should say that the weather here's been absolutely gorgeous - in the fifties and sixties, sunny, warm, happy.

Except on Thursday. On Thursday it snowed a foot.

My parents landed all right but between the snow on the road and the idiots in the snow they didn't get any closer to home than Statesville (about an hour and a half away) before giving up and calling it a night. Then Friday it was sunny and warm and in the sixties again and all the snow went away and my parents came home.

Somebody up there's playing funny buggers, that's all I can say.

But they are home, incredibly jet lagged and very, very glad to hear English again but happy, and have had incredible adventures and such, including some which I should not post in a public blog, seeing as the current administration calls it terrorism. Much cheese was eaten, also, which is perfectly legal, except for the bit which Mom snuck home in her suitcase, but hey, it's too late for Customs to bust her now; the evidence is, ahem, no longer with us.

Now they are all full of energy and fun and work that they thought up for us to do while they were partying. Oh, joy.

We've had a preliminary back from the lab, and the cautious diagnosis on Didge's calf was spontaneous bacterial abortion, which is not really preventable and not really contagious. Let's hope that's really it. Fingers crossed....
05:59 PM - kat -

Tuesday, February 24

I seem to have been collecting links for a while, so let's get some of them out of the way:

In the writing front, Making Light has been posting some excellent stuff for writers recently. There's an article called Slushkiller describing why not to take rejections personally, in some detail. As a tangent the best checklist of why manuscripts get rejected that I've ever seen is provided. A bit later Teresa also posted On Getting An Agent, a succinct summary of the reasons and the pitfalls involved in agent-hunting.

On the more political front, Making Light also linked to this article where the Secretary of Education calls the NEA a "terrorist organization". That would be... the National Education Association. Yup, the teacher's union.

The state governors the Secretary was addressing were said to be "startled" by this, just going to show, I guess, that even politicians are a bit startled when a member of the president's cabinet reveals that he has gone completely around the bend and will now be spending the rest of his days in Happy La-La Land. But it seems the remark was not quite as insane as it first appeared:

"He is, I guess, very concerned about anybody that questions what the president is doing," [Missouri governor] Holden said.

"He was implying that the NEA has not been one of the organizations that has been working with the administration to try to solve 'No Child Left Behind,"' he said.

You know, we loopy leftist liberals have been saying for years now that the War On Terror was going to be used as an excuse for persecuting anyone who didn't agree with the government, and people called us paranoid. It's awful nice of the administration to go proving us right.

In other "our government is whacked" news, A Violently Excuted Blog some time ago linked to an article describing how The Army tried to confiscate the attendance list of a UT conference on Islam. That's right, our beloved military sent agents around to bully a couple of law students out of a (nonexistant) attendance list to a "basically bland" conference on Islamic law and sexism. Brilliant, guys. My tax dollars at work!

And, in a final installment of politics, Ralph Nader has announced he's running for president, provoking screams of outrage from the Democratic Party as a whole. Oh, come on, guys, you're the side of the angels for at least this year and it's embarrassing to see you make such pansies of yourselves. As The Ferrett points out, far better than I could, Nader did not loose Gore the bloody election. Gore lost the bloody election all on his own, by being such a Republocrat that most people genuinely couldn't see a difference between him and Bush - not that Bush was all that outstanding either. As my political science professor put it, "the difference between Bush and Gore is that Gore is going to stab you in the back, and Bush is going to just stab you." 2000 may well get the award for "most apathic election year ever." And the votes that Nader "stole" from Gore aren't going to be "stolen" from Kerry, if he ends up being the Democratic candidate, because Kerry's succeeded in distinguishing himself from Bush. If the Democratic race was still in the same state it was last fall, sure, there'd be a problem, because at that time the Democrats were still being meek little mice and believing the polls and not daring to say anything against the war because they thought it would alienate people. I credit Howard Dean with saving the party from that. He came along and made noise and suddenly the other candidates caught on to that age-old fact: statistics lie. Polls lie like hell. And people, rather than being alienated by Dean's railing on the war, were flocking to his banner in droves.

Of course, Dean was later to find out for himself that polls lie, which is probably all to the good; he had more noise than planning in him, and I doubt he'd have made a good presidential candidate. But credit where credit is due, he made noise, and for once the Democrats don't need to worry about a hellraiser like Nader coming along and showing them up, because they've actually got a platform for once.

It took someone like Howard Dean coming along to shake the Democrats out of their four-year stint as cringing cowards and yes-men, and now they're running away from Nader. *sigh* makes you wonder why you vote at all, really.

(Those of you who don't live in America are probably bored stiff by all this ranting, but hey, it's election year. Look on it as a free circus and bring your own popcorn....)
02:30 PM - kat -

Monday, February 23

Nothing's ever simple.

My parents left for Europe, and the next day we had a cow abort her calf six weeks early. The poor thing was dead, of course - it never breathed, never had a chance - but the mother was in good shape. And coming into her milk.

Meaning we had to milk her.

Did you know there are muscles in your hand that never get used for anything but hand-milking? Okay, I'm sure they get used for something else, as it's unlikely that the Grand Plan put muscles in the hand on the off chance that we humans would someday get the idea of squeezing milk out of cow's teats, but the point is, when you suddenly put a lot of strain on those muscles it's painful. Nor is milking a cow a quick and simple task. Chameleon was an absolute love about the whole thing, luckily, but with the bro and I both working it milking her out took fifteen minutes of hard work, minimum. On the one occasion I had to milk her out by myself I was sitting there for a full forty minutes.

(As a side note, we have a hundred cows. Every so often some innocent asks whether we milk by hand. Reading the above, doing some simple multiplication, and imagining severe and never-ending hand cramps will probably help explain the glazed look of horror I give such people.)

Then, this past Saturday, the bro rung me from the field to say we'd another dead calf.

Now, this has good points and bad points. The good point is that, with two cows, it's worth our while to fire up the milk pump and rig a can. We can milk by machine now. Bliss.

The bad point is that once may be a fluke, but twice suggests that we've got a problem. The weather's been good and nothing's happened to stress the animals, which leaves the fear of some kind of abortive disease running through the herd, which would be Very Bad Indeed. We have, as I said, a hundred cows; picking up a hundred pitiful little calf-corpses is not how I care to spend my spring. Not to mention the fear it could be leptospirosis - unlikely, as we vaccinate for lepto, but vaccines have been known to fail. And lepto is a zoonosis - we can catch it from the cows, in other words. A Kiwi friend of mine spent a year in the hospital after catching lepto off a cow.

The lab was closed on Saturday, of course (lazy, overfed government peons) so we put the dead calf and the placenta on ice and the bro drove it in this morning. Now we can only wait and hope that the whole thing really is a fluke.

The other, more minor bad point is that while Chameleon is a love - a few cards short of a full deck, maybe, but generally a love - Didgeridoo, the new cow, is being a right whore. I chased her over half the farm to get her up here, and when we put her in the pen with Chameleon, it took her about two seconds to realize that she was, for the first time in her life, the biggest cow around, and about another two seconds to celebrate by smearing Chameleon all over the side of the pen. The ones who've been at the bottom of the heap all their lives are always the worst... she kicks in the parlour, she hogs the feed, and poor Chameleon runs to the gate and starts bawling every time she sees us, clearly saying, "Why'd you put this crazy bitch in here? Take her away! I wanna be an only cow again!"

Oh well. Weather's been nice.

All this could, I suppose, explain why I haven't posted here in over a week, but actually it doesn't. I've just been lazy.
01:04 PM - kat -

Saturday, February 14

After several days' worth of writer's block, I broke out and wrote over four thousand words on Harmony yesterday. Hooray! (That's about twelve pages for the non-writers out there, or about four times what I usually write in a day.) Here's hoping I can make it a trend.

Neil Gaiman linked to this Guardian interview with Ursula LeGuin. LeGuin is an idol of mine, so I was quite happy about that. Unfortunately I gather that the interview was via email or somesuch, and is somewhat living proof that interviews ought to be conducted in person. Typical exchange:

Q: Perhaps you feel a bit out of step with your contemporaries?

UKL: Why should a woman of 74 want to be "in step with" anybody? Am I in an army, or something?

... but still very worth reading; she's an intelligent and opinionated woman, Ms. LeGuin.

Oh, and then there's this, via A Violently Executed Blog.

What Sort of Hat Are You? I am a Halo.I am a Halo.

I believe I am perfect. Others may not think so, but those others are wrong. What Sort of Hat Are You?

Apparently, if I were not a Halo, I'd be A Baseball Cap. Go figure.

I will be getting back into this blog and, y'know, posting and answering comments and stuff, soon. Promise.
09:29 AM - kat -

Tuesday, February 10

My parents leave for Europe tomorrow; today and yesterday have been spent moving animals into more fortuitous conjugations, recieving directions, fighting a cough (it makes the parents nervous), making lists, and trying to keep my mother's head from exploding.

This last is more difficult than you would think.

I feel, though, that it's about time to apologize for my spotty posting over the last few weeks. It was less that nothing was happening than that I wasn't sure exactly what to say. I don't generally post much about my private life in this blog - partly because I'm a private kind of person, partly because I know most of the people reading this blog don't know me all that well, and there's nothing more dull than reading the minute details of a stranger's life. The last few weeks have been... rich... in minute details, most of them unpleasant, most of them relating to a long-running personal failure of mine. I need to change my life, and I'm having to face up to it, which is never pleasant.

And I hate change. That makes it even more unpleasant.

I am almost certainly moving to Canada this summer. I'm quite pleased about that bit, actually, but it saddens me that I'm moving as a response to a personal crisis and not simply because I want to. The taste of failure taints even the sweetest joy. On the other hand, there's that whole cloud/silver lining thing, and if this is my silver lining, then yup, I'll take it, God.

In the meantime, my check from Vision arrived today. I have now, for the first time, been officially paid for writing something. Only nine bucks, but still - is it not nifty?
08:22 PM - kat -

Sunday, February 08

Dan just posted a link to this article on his blog. I'd somehow avoided seeing it at the time. It is in essence a documentary of the "war" between literary and popular fiction, with the journalist leaning decidedly towards the literary point of view. He rounds his arguments off with a tip of the hat towards popular novels and an emphatic "But great novels, regardless of print run, change lives."

I can hardly argue with the fact of that. The implication, however, is that a novel that is popular and sells well is unlikely to be literary.

Is unlikely, in fact, to be good.


First off, there's historical precident. The article notes that some writers, like Dickens and Twain, have been popular and regarded by later generations as literary, but adds quellingly, "They, however, are the exceptions." This is true enough: only a very few writers become popular, and only the slightest fragment of those stay popular. But look at the number of writers who were unpopular during their lifetime but famous after and you are looking at a far smaller number; look at those who were unpopular with the masses but recognized as great by the literary elite, and the number becomes vanishingly small. The literary elite has, over the centuries, largely ignored or decried anything truly interesting that was going on (plays in the sixteenth century, for example, or novels in the nineteeth) while touting writers or art forms that, as history rolled its way on, would fade. Name me a sixteenth-century poet, if you please, or a nineteeth-century essayist? Unless you're an English major, you probably can't.

You'd think after a while the critics would learn caution, or at least humility. But no, they keep going, pouring derision on anything that sells well or is read or, God forbid, is in any way genre.

An interesting post at talks about the general views of movie people in America:

The movie person's conviction is that trash and art are closely and necessarily connected -- that, since movies have their roots in lowbrow entertainment, the ultimate movie is one that fuses the oomph and power of popular entertainment with the values, complexity, and pleasures of high art.

The book person in America, however, sees things a bit differently: the world of books trash and art still don't ride in the same section of the bus; the books mindset -- at least the respectable-publishing mindset -- is still segregationist. If the movie-world view is all about the vital connections between art and trash, and about how each is the lifeblood of the other, the book person's imagination is taken up with the neverending struggle of art, talent and brains to triumph over the forces of money, hustle and fame.

This may or may not have a lot to do with why most people would rather watch a movie than read a book. It most certainly has a lot to do with why plenty of people in my generation have never read a book, or read fiction only under protest. Books, they have been taught, have no oomph or power, only complexity and moral lessons. Books must be taken seriously. Books are medicine. Who wants to take his medicine?

And many medicine books are also very bad books; not just suffering under the burden of my poor opinion, but actually poorly written, as B.R. Myers points out in A Reader's Manifesto. They are difficult to read, not because they present difficult concepts, but because the modern literary world equates incomprehensibility with quality.

The worse it tastes, the better it must be for you.

(The Myers article is bloody brilliant, by the way. If you haven't read it, do.)

Ursula LeGuin wrote that "Art and Entertainment are the same thing, in that the more deeply and genuinely entertaining a work is, the better art it is. To imply that Art is something heavy and solemn and dull, and Entertainment is modest but jolly and popular, is neo-Victorian idiocy at its worst." More than that - to divorce Art from Entertainment is to encourage Entertainment into greater and greater vapidity, for fear of alienating an audience trained to hate Art, while Art in turn solidifies into a more and more indigestible lump for fear of being mistaken for Entertainment.

Writing with the purpose of being literature is so useless as to be laughable... except that there's a market for it. Why? Well, some people genuinely like reading the stuff, and good on them - but far more are getting their clique kicks. Reading something they don't really understand makes them feel superior, because they appreciate it while those other people don't or can't. Or, as Myers puts it: "This is what the cultural elite wants us to believe: if our writers don't make sense, or bore us to tears, that can only mean that we aren't worthy of them."

I mean, how many times have you heard it? "I've never read a bestseller in my life." "I only read serious fiction." "Oh, that science fiction stuff - I read one once, when I was a kid." "You read romance novels?"

This is hardly to say that genre readers are any better. They can sneer at the literatzi with the best of them (case in point: self). We're no better than you.

But the reverse is also true: you're no better than us.

Neither of us has any clue what people will still be reading in a hundred years.

And any great book - regardless of genre, print run, lack of print run, or rubber stamps from the cultural elite - changes lives.
07:12 PM - kat -

Saturday, February 07

I was going to post a thoughtful, witty post about all the reasons I haven't been posting much recently, but have been prevented by an entirely new reason for not posting - namely, that I'm sick as a dog. Intelligent posting tomorrow, perhaps.
02:22 PM - kat -

Monday, February 02

Hello, and welcome to the Blog Meme Interview. Kellie will be today's interviewer. And here are her five questions for me:

1. What's the best thing you've read in the past 12 months?

I can't seem to formulate a clear answer to this one, in part because I haven't been doing as much reading this past year as I usually do, in part because I'm not good at picking favorites, in part because my reading of late has been affected by my writing. But I can do a top five, in no particular order:

Ursula K. LeGuin's The Other Wind. This was an insanely beautiful story, with all the skill and wonder that LeGuin seems to inspire in me; the first book I've read that made me feel dragons flying. I know she's not for everyone, but damn.

Walter Jon Williams's Praxis. This is a lovely space opera series that doesn't seem to be getting much distribution in the US, which is a damned shame, because it's a fantastic book and shows signs of being a great series. Utterly gripping stuff: I literally could not put this book down.

China Mieville's The Scar blew my mind. It's an immensely dense book, like Perdido Street Station, but I was able to feel a lot more of a connection with the characters in this book, and again, the sensation of the world was so intensely rendered that I couldn't believe it. I spent about a week after reading this book sorting through the emotions it had produced in me. That's a good thing.

Lois McMaster Bujold's Paladin of Souls is the best damned story that I have read in a long time. The woman can do story. Exquisite and friendly and funny and deeply moving all at the same time.

And, finally, this is cheating a bit, because I actually discovered Ellis Peters's Cadfael series last year - but I've read quite a lot of them in the past twelve months. It's saying something when you get to the end of a mystery and think, "I want to read that again." Again, characters, setting, feel. God, I wish I could write like these people.

2. On a nice nature walk, you stumble across the end of a rainbow and its requisite pot of gold. A leprechaun emerges from said pot to inform you - with a wicked grin - that the gold cannot leave the 2 ton pot and that the money carries a horribly disfiguring curse, but it's all yours just the same. Assuming you have the perfect plan to outwit the little imp, what would you do with the money?

Considering the terms of the curse, I think cosmetic surgery had better be at the top of the list. And I think I should offer everyone insane amounts of money for whatever I want them to do, then tell them there's just one catch: they have to collect their fee from the source....

Other than that, erm, well. Huh? Money is not something I think about a lot. It would be nice to have a house somewhere cool, like New Zealand, and the money not to worry about getting all my books there. And the money to buy whatever I wanted in bookstores, my god, heaven. Other than that... um. Give it away, probably; money to my parents to pay off their debt, money to my bro, since he's always been much better at spending it than me, money to at least one other person I can think of that really deserves not to be worrying about money... and then I suppose I'd find some deserving cause and donate the rest to it.

I honestly can't imagine being rich, though. It seems like to stay rich you'd have to care about money, and that sounds like a waste of my time.

3. Someone I work with wears the same outfit everyday. Well, I don't see her everyday, but the twelve times I've seen her in the past two months, she's been wearing the exact same outfit. I'm obsessing over this: maybe she was wearing black leggings last time and today's are most certainly navy, or maybe a deep brown; were the flowers on that shirt purple or pink last time; does she just have a boring wardrobe; does she wash this one outfit every night and do I dare get close enough for a sniff test; should I plan a stakeout of her desk so I can observe her daily wardrobe; and so on and so forth. What brings out the obsessive-compulsive thinker in you?

I have a tendency to analyze song lyrics which drives my brother wild. Same with books. Four years of (admittedly excellent) English training has rendered me sensitive to themes, motifs, undercurrents, all those English-major type things, to an idiotic degree. I can no longer read Robert Jordan novels, for example, because there is a strong sexist undercurrent (which I suspect the author himself is entirely unaware of, but never mind - it bugs me.) As a matter of fact, come to think of it, I analyze everything obsessively, including my own behavior. I am highly sensitized to nuance. It's not a good habit, really, and leads to a lot of unnecessary angst and trouble, and occasionally some very great acts of silliness.

4. An old school pal has come a long way since the Pimple Days. She's invented a machine which allows you to travel to any world any fiction author has ever created - fantasy, science fiction, horror, alternate history, anything. And she wants you to take it for a test drive. Where would you go and what would you do there?

I'm never good with these questions. I like my own world just fine, thank you, I've never felt the urge to live somewhere else, or at least not more than I already do in my imagination. I don't think I'd fit anywhere else.

That said, the kind of place I'd like to visit would be a science fiction setting (I have entirely too much knowledge of history to even want to visit the Middle Ages, which is where most fantasy is set), one with easy starflight. I would love to see space; would love to see and explore and just be in space. And none of this forty-year-journey stuff, either; as a story device I admire it, but in the practical sense it's just annoying. There would need to be aliens - wonderfully exotic and strange creatures to meet, talk to, experience. Real aliens, too, none of your Star Trek fancy masks.

As such... hmm. Probably... and I hate to say it, because it's tv and not book... but the setting for Farscape. Yeah, yeah, I know, but for me it's got just the right balance of the familiar and the weird, and beyond that, there's an immense sense of space to the Farscape setting - of infinite variety and adventure. Most science fiction settings end up feeling cramped and repetitive to me.

Also, I would really love to live on a Leviathan.

5. After your journey to Any Fictional World, your friend asks you to play lab rat once again. This time she shows you her time machine. She's still working out the kinks, so you can only use it to travel along your own timeline. That is, you can only go back and revisit events in your life or go forward and see what you'll be doing in the future. Do you go back in time or forward, and what do you see there?

Well, I wouldn't want to go forward - okay, I might want to visit my own wedding and see who the groom was, or go far enough ahead to see my kids, or find out whether I ever got a book published, and if so which one - but you know, knowing those things for sure would only lead me to try and skip essential steps getting there. And even if I couldn't, well, it's like skipping to the end of the book and reading the last few pages really. The uncertainty and anticipation isn't half the fun: it's all the fun.

On the other hand, the idea of visiting anywhere in my past fills me with nothing more than a vague sense of embarrassment.

Really, when you think about it, time travel is a shitty idea. We humans can barely function in three dimensions.

I suppose I might go back to my early childhood - not to do anything in particular, just to observe. I was a real hellion then, by my mother's account, and I've always kind of regretted not being able to really remember all the fun I had when I was still fierce and fearless and unstoppable.

And the meme:

The Obligatory Rules of this Exercise:

1 - Leave a comment, saying you want to be interviewed.
2 - I will respond; I'll ask you five questions.
3 - You'll update your journal with my five questions, and your five answers.
4 - You'll include this explanation.
5 - You'll ask other people five questions when they want to be interviewed.

So - anybody wanna interview?
04:57 PM - kat -

Sunday, February 01

This year for Christmas I got my father a subscription to World Press Review, on the grounds that, as long as he was going to rant about politics, he might as well rant with his facts straight; and also on the grounds that any "slanted" news publication - which is to say, all of them - would cause him to foam at the mouth. World Press makes a real effort to be objective, and they publish news articles from newspapers all over the world. It seemed a good bet.

I've had myriad subscription problems with them (note to self: call about that double-charging thing) but the first issue arrived on Friday, and Dad likes it a lot. As do I. But it's frightening. The cover story this issue was on Saudi Arabia and contained this article, published in a London newspaper. The writer sums up the problem in five points:

One, that Saudi Arabia commands the greatest share of the world’s oil and plays a role "controlling market fluctuations" in production levels.

Two, there isn’t a nation that consumes or is more reliant on Saudi oil than the United States.

Three, the United States and most of the industrialized world are in a situation of absolute dependence on Saudi oil, with this being the case for many years to come.

Four, if it were to come to pass that the Saudi oil rigs were shut down, whether as a result of a terrorist act or political revolution, the effect on the global economy (especially the U.S. economy) would be paralyzing and devastating.

Five, control over Saudi oil is maintained by a ruling family that is increasingly demonstrating manifestations of its corruption, weakness, disintegration, and isolation from reality and modernity - and that is spurned by both its people and neighbors.

I find this - to say the least - disturbing. My future health and security - the health and security of all Americans - depends on the ability of a corrupt monarchy which commits regular atrocities and bans women from driving cars, conducting business save with a male proxy, or appearing in public with any flesh showing, and which is being run by a stroke victim, to maintain itself in power.

In the meantime, my government is bashing the crap out of a petty little dictator with half the crimes and a tenth the power to make me "safe". Somehow I don't feel very safe.

Why did I ever think keeping up with the news was a good idea? I'm going back to hiding under the bed for a decade or three. Come get me out when the spaceship for Mars is ready to leave.
04:21 PM - kat -

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