A few months back, my close friend, Sandra Shattuck, interviewed me for Pima Community College’s Community of Writing series. We talk about writing, ecology, educational economics, teaching, science fiction, and more. I discuss some of my stories, too. It was fun to think about Sandra’s prompts and I’m so grateful to her Southwest Literature students for their questions about my story, “A Heliograph of Kin Kletso,” which will be in Weber: The Contemporary West Fall 2020. Thanks to Sandra and Dan at PCC for making this happen!
A few years back, I caught some footage of a tarantula hawk wasp harassing a large desert tarantula. The wasps use paralyzed spiders as hosts for their larval young, which feed on the still-living spiders, carefully devouring around essential organs what would kill their arachnid hosts. Creepy stuff.
In this video, the spider gets away. I know the wasp’s horror-show life cycle is natural. It’s a unique and, in its wickedness, incredible example of evolution’s finesse. But I like tarantulas and I’m glad I didn’t see it get killed.
Most of the tarantula hawk wasps in Arizona have copper colored wings. While there are several species, Pepsis thisbe is the most common. Because the female in the video has black wings, she is most likely Pepsis Mexicana. Tarantula hawks allegedly deliver the second most painful sting in the world.
With the pandemic and the heat keeping me indoors more these days, I’ve been learning my way around video editing programs and DAWs, which are music production and editing programs. As I’m new to these applications, I’ve gone the free route and opted for DaVinci Resolve and Cakewalk, both of which can do some amazing things. Perhaps once I get the hang of things, or find a professional application for video/audio editing, I’ll upgrade to more sophisticated programs. In any case, I composed the music for both videos here and recorded a song for a friend’s upcoming project. It feels good to work on music again and exciting to do some multimedia projects.
I have some more quirky, lo-fi videos on my YouTube channel. Lots of nature and synthesizers.
First, let me express my grief on behalf of people of color, and, at this moment, I mean African Americans in particular, who, even in 2020, even in the midst of a pandemic, must try to live meaningfully with the specter of racism threatening their lives. People who deny racism’s profound, continued negative impact on our culture are the same as people who deny the virility of Covid-19, people so simple in their thoughts (if not in words and actions) that they can’t engage with things they don’t experience firsthand.
I can only imagine how frustrating it must be for people of color to hear their reality debated in the media as some kind of hypothetical, over and over, even as videos of police and vigilante murders proliferate. The anger and destruction we see with the riots is the inevitable outcome of this frustration. Maybe we should have had an open and honest discussion about racism when football players were kneeling, which was a poetic and peaceful form of protest. If we had listened and worked toward meaningful change when we had the chance, perhaps there would be no riots. Perhaps George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and others would still be alive.
Please read and listen to people color right now. Listen and empathize. I can’t tell you anything they can’t share more effectively.
As an educator, I feel it is necessary to point out ways in which my industry perpetuates racism and inequality. The structure of education funding and access in our country is extremely racist, classist, anti-worker, and anti-American. What do I mean?
The cost of higher education and the ways those costs are structured deny access and mobility disproportionately to people of color, but negatively impact all working class people in the US, including white people. Because of automation and outsourcing, the investor class no longer needs nor cares about American workers and so we have seen the cost of college rise exponentially while wages have stagnated. Wages have stagnated, but investment income as grown.
Corporate tax break after corporate tax break pushes the cost of funding an educated populace away from the industries who rely on educated workers and onto the workers themselves. The investor class is divesting from their fellow citizens. Working class Americans are a bad investment compared to robots or people working for starvation wages in the developing world. Keep in mind that many of the people in the investor class benefited from cheap higher education access in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, but deny others the same opportunities they themselves used to get ahead.
For white Americans, this divestment hits working-class Americans the hardest, yet, ideologically these people support the investor class and make the divestment in education possible. One of the main points of leverage the investor class uses to manipulate working-class white people into voting against their own self-interest is racism. Homophobia and religious fundamentalism are also exploited. If you’re not rich, but you are racist, you are a sucker falling for the oldest trick in the book – divide and conquer.
It’s a vicious cycle. Policies deny people education so they will be less informed and less intelligent, making them easier to manipulate and exploit. People are exploited into accepting less remuneration for our labor, less from our public institutions, and more inequality. We are exploited into accepting these ridiculous education funding models.
I have seen so many times when finances have prevented someone from continuing their education, even at the relatively inexpensive community college where I teach. Because I teach in Tucson, the majority of the students I’ve met who have had to abandon their education for financial reasons are LatinX. I also know many people struggling with massive college debt.
Denying access to education is intentionally racist policy aimed at perpetuating segregation.
For example, Governor Doug Ducey completely de-funded community colleges in Arizona. This prevents working people and people of color from transcending their current economic statuses in our state. This is intentionally creating a barrier to accessing education and upward mobility. It is racist economic policy by racist legislators. Doug Ducey is a racist pandering to the investor class. In AZ, that means international mining corporations that care about our resources but don’t want to invest in the state’s residents, especially our Mexican and Mexican-American residents.
Research indicates that education affects people’s beliefs about race. Specifically, the more education you have, the more likely you are to believe in society-wide, structural barriers to upward mobility for people of color. Less educated people tend to believe there is something inherent in people or cultures that prevent them from being successful and see the playing field as more or less neutral. Research as to whether education changes people’s attitudes toward practical policy making is less clear-cut; there is some evidence that even though more educated people believe in structural causes for racism, they still don’t support targeted interventions aimed a promoting racial equality. I’ve linked a couple sources at the conclusion. Attitudes aside, we can discuss policies that affect access to education.
State colleges and universities must be free! All people deserve the chance to learn and improve their lives and communities, not just those lucky enough to have parents who can afford it or those willing to take on massive debt. Many people work to fund their education, but, unlike previous generations, they cannot fully cover the cost. Often, working lower-wage jobs can’t even meaningful diminish the overall cost of a degree.
The way we fund public k-12 education is also racist. School districts are mostly funded by property taxes. Funding that relies on property taxes from neighborhoods surrounding the schools means that nice neighborhoods get great schools while struggling neighborhoods get struggling schools. Children face unequal opportunities based on the economics of their communities. What is a child’s liability in their own access to education?
Using local property taxes as the public school funding mechanism is racist. Because of historic segregation, people of color are much more likely to attend underfunded and struggling schools. Funding schools this way perpetuates segregation and racist law enforcement further denies opportunities. Drug laws provide the arbitrary infractions needed to keep up racist segregation through incarceration.
Poorly funding predominantly low-income white school districts produce uneducated people who are more easily manipulated with media propaganda, which is what the investor class relies on to perpetuate the benefits they derive from systemic racism. For-profit prisons are a perfect example. You have to be pretty uneducated and/or lack basic critical thinking to believe that allowing investors to profit off prisons is a humane idea.
School funding must occur at the state level. Funds must be strategically distributed with a more holistic view of the statewide economy and benefiting all communities, not just those with already-high property values. Neighborhood-level school funding is antiquated, obsolete, and racist.
After 17 + years in education, I fully believe our funding mechanisms for k-12 and higher education in the United States have been developed to intentionally block pathways out of poverty. I believe that education funding is the new mechanism to maintain segregation. Poor people are prevented from accessing education on purpose to keep them uninformed, easy to control, and unable to compete economically. This primarily disenfranchises people of color.
The best way to overcome racism is to improve access to education and improve the quality of education our institutions provide.
Free college? Some people object to the idea because they had to pay. To them I say, do not be so selfish! You are being exploited through your selfishness! If you had to struggle to get your education, if you went into debt or worked three jobs, you were intentionally disenfranchised. Do not demand that others, future generations, share your unfair suffering. If someone had fought for your education access, you would have avoided unnecessary suffering and sacrifice. Be someone who fights so that other have it better, not someone who vindictively perpetuates the inequality you suffered.
There are literally riots going on during a pandemic. We are waiting for a treatment for Covid-19.
We have the treatment to fight racism – equal access to high-quality education. We need everyone to take their anti-racism vaccine. We need equitable education access, including free state colleges and universities, now!
My flash fiction piece, “Don’t Fear the Reaper,” is featured on The Arcanist. It’s also on Tales from The Arcanist, the corresponding podcast available right on the page with the story or via Spotify.
“Don’t Fear the Reaper” is a short, uncomfortable moment from the future, a piece of science fiction imagining how the mundane will prevail forever. Nothing to do with cowbell. It’s only 650 words, so check it out.
Thanks so much to The Arcanist for sharing my story. They send one story a week right to your inbox if you subscribe.
Would an artificial instinct, an artificial gut feeling, be determined by the material form of the gut? For example, the wiring within a computer. Would the conditions of its physical existence define the ways its “body” would influence how its intellect made meaning? In the titular story of their new fiction collection, Artificial Gut Feeling, Anna Zett imagines what meaning would derive from the artificial gut feeling. Turns out it’s a suicidal desire for self-immolation; wired systems dream of self-destructing from the heat/excrement produced when they run.
Though Zett’s collection is presented as “personal science fiction,” the work is not easily identified with genre. For example, the heat/excrement metaphor is reminiscent of Georges Bataille’s 1927 essay, The Solar Anus, where heat and light are the excrement of the sun and existence is a cycle of things living within the excrement of others. Invoking a proto-postmodernist like Bataille reflects that Artificial Gut Feeling will appeal more to readers of Judith Butler and Elaine Scarry than fans of Octavia Butler or Liu Cixin. In this science fiction, science provides metaphors for postmodern feminist theory. Zett has clearly researched the science at the foundation of these metaphors, especially electricity and neurotransmitters, and the result is engaging, unique, and insightful.
Read the review on Full Stop.
Get the book from Divided Publishing or Amazon.
I’m really happy I had the chance to review Future Tense Fiction (Unnamed Press, 2019) for Full Stop Magazine. The collection brought together writers I’m familiar with, like Paolo Bacigalupi and Nnedi Okorafor, and writers who are new to me, like Mark Oshiro and Deji Bryce Olukotun. Of course, my familiarity reveals little about a writer’s success, and actually all the writers in this anthology are a who’s-who of the best contemporary science fiction writers.
On reason I like this collection so much is that Slate originally published all the stories and paired them with articles from scientists and other contemporary experts, adding a level commentary to the stories. That commentary, along with the collection’s focus on contemporary science and social issues, makes Future Tense Fiction a trove for a college instructor like me who teaches sci fi, literature, and composition. Just this semester I’m using Okorafor’s “Mother of Invention,” Oshiro’s “No Me Dejas,” Olukotun’s “When We Were Patched” and Maureen McHugh’s “Starfish Girl” in my courses. I also teach a Bacigalupi story (The Gambler), though not the one from the collection.
My faithful science fiction book club have also enjoyed the anthology. The stories demand conversation and the writing quality is excellent. Again, it’s a great way to get a feel for the most innovative and contemporary science fiction writers all in one place. I’m looking forward to branching out into these writers’ other work.
My first review with Full Stop is of Farooq Ahmed’s novel, Kansastan (7.13 Books; 2019). The novel recreates Civil War-era Kansas as Muslim society, with most of the action taking place in and around a rural mosque. They’re going to war with Missouri. The narrator is the most narcissistic scrub of all time and the world is out to humiliate him again and again in hilarious fashion. The novel isn’t like anything I’ve read before.
Get a copy of Kansastan here.
Of all the books I read and reviewed this year, Gabriel Ojeda-Sagué collection of poems, Losing Miami, was my favorite. Like many people, I primarily encounter climate change in numbers – numbers of degrees average temps have increase, number of species lost, number of fires, number of hurricanes, and so on. In Losing Miami, Ojeda-Sagué reminds us of the cultural losses we will soon face. He reminds us that geography is an element of culture and when we lose places, we lose ways of being. Things that can’t be expressed in numbers; things best expressed through poetry.
My review of the collection is on Terrain.org. You can read it here.
Gregorio Tafoya, editor of Little Rose Magazine, read my story in Hobart (Hari Kari) and dug it enough that he invited me to contribute something to his site. I’m very thankful for the opportunity to share my story, Everyday Augury. I found plenty of interesting reads on Little Rose, so check them out.
Everyday Augury takes place in Wal-Mart and involves soothsaying. Hope you dig it.
John Englehardt’s Bloomland is a novel about a massacre at a rural college told in second person and focusing on three characters, a student, a professor, and the shooter. This book is not for the weak-hearted. It is a tough read, but Englehardt writes the student, Rose, and the professor, Eddie, so real you feel like you know them beyond the book. They could be you. Eli, the shooter, feels a little more constructed from journalism. Overall, once you get used to almost every pronoun being “you” for an entire novel, this book pulls you in.
This is the last paragraph from my review:
Bloomland is a powerful, ambitious novel that bravely takes on one of the most perplexing, terrifying, and uniquely American phenomena—the school shooting. The novel won the Dzanc Books Prize for Fiction, a reflection of both craft and thematic relevance. One can only hope future readers will pick up Englehardt’s novel to understand an idiosyncratic period of our history when we abjured our safety and the lives of our children. For now, perhaps Eddie and Rose and their suffering will indict us through empathy so that we work toward a nation where Bloomland is truly fiction.
You can read the whole review on Heavy Feather Review here.