Category Archives: Dru

Cheating on My Love Affair with Minimalism

horribleAt a convention recently another writer raised an eyebrow at my steampunkery  and asked, “Do you have a whole closet full of costumes?” I stammered a little and then reluctantly confessed to having made a couple of incompatible lifestyle choices.

You see, for all my years of pursuing minimalism, there’s one part of my life that remains less than minimal — my “special events” wardrobe.

Day-to-day, you’ll find me in jeans, black v-neck tee, and boots. That’s my Uniform, plus a blazer when I’m teaching or a flannel shirt around friends and family. I have a handful of blazers, flannels, and boots, so it’s not utterly boring, but it’s certainly limited and doesn’t take up much closet space.

But then if you go to, ahem, the other side of the wardrobe, all of the sudden you’ll be confronted by cloaks, vests, corsets, overcoats, ascots, gloves, belts, hats, goggles, masks, replica weaponry, and the velvet doctoral robes that get yanked out twice a year for the university’s opening convocation and  commencement ceremony.

Sometimes I fantasize about getting rid of it all — usually around the time I’m packing to go to a con! — but….

Not yet.  :-)

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

indexI don’t read many books that give me new perspectives on decluttering and minimalism anymore — the last one was Greg McKeown’s Essentialism, which was useful more for its focus on managing one’s expenditure of energy and time rather than on sorting through one’s physical possessions. However, the new U.S. edition of Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up offers advice that’s just different enough from most Western decluttering hints to have given me fresh inspiration to do another re-evaluation of my Stuff.

This is a touchy-feely, emotional book, which ought to raise the eyebrows of anybody who knows me, because I’m definitely not a touchy-feely, emotional person. Nevertheless, the author’s advice — “take each item in one’s hand and ask: ‘Does this spark joy?’” (p. 41) — made a difference in how I viewed what I owned. I went through my bookshelves and wardrobe again, handling each item individually and deciding whether it made my heart lighter or carried with it any lingering sense of guilt, obligation, or sadness. I ended up hauling away to Goodwill a startling number of bags full of things I was holding on to more out of a sense of obligation or of slightly guilty nostalgia than because I actively wanted to own them now, as my life is in the present moment.

In its essence, Kondo’s rule of joy isn’t much different from William Morris’s oft-cited advice, “Have nothing in your homes that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful,” which has been my guideline for years. But it turns out that there’s a subtle difference between touching/knowing and believing. Kondo’s book helped me understand that I can believe something is beautiful and appreciate its appearance in situ yet still feel no actual joy in its ownership. Once I began unlinking my intellectual/aesthetic appreciation of owning certain objects from any actual physical sense of joy or pleasure, I realized I owned a number of things that I considered beautiful or interesting but that made me feel subtly uncomfortable to be around — and that, for me, was a revelation.

I don’t subscribe to all of Kondo’s advice. I do fold over the tops of my socks and don’t see myself neatly coiling them as she recommends all any time soon — and I firmly believe in hanging my clothes rather than folding them. However, I agree with Kondo about the pointlessness of keeping paper, and I liked her advice on not keeping spare buttons (although I kept the spare buttons I could match to the blazers I wear on a weekly basis). I also appreciated her constant linking of person, possessions, and home in terms of relationships and respect; she gets more animistic than I’m comfortable with in a few places, but at a fundamental level I agree that we ought to take care of our possessions, whether it’s to please their spirits or simply to show ourselves and those around us the respect of a neat, clean, and open environment.

Some of the lines I highlighted:

“Tidying is just a tool, not the final destination. The true goal should be to establish the lifestyle you want most once your house has been put in order.” (p. 21). Later, toward the end of the book, she discusses the effects that decluttering can have on a person’s mindset and lifestyle. Nothing unusual here, except that it was another reminder to me that my desire to declutter my physical space usually indicates a deeper desire to declutter my life/mental space; and while physical decluttering is, I think, a necessary first step, it’s only a first step.

“It’s extremely stressful for parents to see what their children discard….” (p. 48). This rang very true to me! Kondo warns that parents (and I might add siblings, friends, roommates, etc.) get nervous when you start decluttering and can inadvertently undermine your efforts with their comments or might appropriate your discards for themselves, cluttering their own lives as a result. As Kondo says, save them the stress and be considerate of their feelings — keep your decluttering private. She’s not encouraging deception, but she’s reminding us that not everybody understands the concept of living with less.

“Not all clothes have come to you to be worn threadbare. It is the same with people. Not every person you meet in life will become a close friend or lover.” (p. 60).  This helped me give up some of the more expensive clothes I’d bought but ended up never wearing. A lot of things, and people, enter our lives. We can’t expect to keep them all. Treat them with kindness and respect and let them come and go freely and without guilt or regret.

“The true purpose of a present is to be received. Presents are not ‘things’ but a means for conveying someone’s feelings.” (p. 107-108). This is a useful reminder that it’s OK to give away a gift; it doesn’t mean you’re belittling the consideration behind it. Kondo adds, “surely the person who gave it to you doesn’t want you to use it out of a sense of obligation” (p. 108). I’m not sure that’s always true — I think some people are a little more selfish than that — so I’ve always told people that they’re welcome to discard of any gift I give them with no hard feelings.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up gave me some fresh insights into myself and my relationship with items, something I hadn’t thought was possible anymore. I’m sure a number of people will read it and be left cold by her quasi-magical approach, but others — especially those who resonate to emotional, relational advice, but even occasionally an over-intellectualizing reptiloid like myself — will find her advice (re)motivating.


Writing About Mad Scientists

Screen Shot 2014-08-31 at 8.51.46 AMMy fiction writing has been temporarily put on hold as I make a concerted push to finish up a book chapter about the evolution of the female mad scientist, with special attention paid to her portrayal in steampunk webcomics.

….Why yes, I do love being a tenured professor and researching whatever the heck I want…!

At any rate, there’s so much that can be said about mad scientists, male or female, read as straight or gay,  in literature, in cinema, in comics, white or of color, tragic or megalomaniac, with or without prosthetics, serious or satirical,  intellectual or anti-intellectual, and so forth, that my manuscript has become an  thrashing hydra of conflicting ideas that needs to be tamed and chained to one central theme. And that despite the fact that I’m completely ignoring mad scientists on TV; I don’t have the time to survey them, and my sense is that they won’t differ significantly from mad scientists in cinema, although I imagine I’d find more women among their number. I’m also ignoring manga, cartoons, and anime for various time, space and linguistic reasons.

At any rate … if female mad scientists appeal to you, here’s a very brief list of resources that make good starting points. None of them are affiliate links, so click away without fear that I might be profiting thereof…! And of course my chapter will be invaluable once it’s finished… ;-)

Webcomics with Female Mad Scientists:

Narbonic: I’m paying particular attention to its steampunk miniseries, but the entirety of the strip is delightful, with two central female mad scientists: Helen B. Narbon and her mother. The series ran from 2000-2006 and is now archived; I recommend the director’s cut.

2D Goggles, Or the Thrilling Adventure of Lovelace and Babbage:  Although Lovelace isn’t quite a mad scientist, she has her moments. I am eagerly awaiting Padua’s book of Lovelace & Babbage adventures, which her blog says is due out in 2015.

Next Town Over: I’m nominating Vane Black as a mad scientist. A lot of her history remains to be revealed, but she shows most of the warning signs….

Girl Genius: Of course!

Useful Starting Material:

Nevins, Jess, “From Alexander Pope to Splice: A Short History of the Female Mad Scientist” (i09): This article mentions some early versions of the female mad scientist. A great start, and while I wasn’t convinced by all the examples, I appreciated the heads-up. If you want to read the Victorian novels yourself, two are free and one very inexpensive on iTunes and much more expensive on Amazon.

What was it about the ’90s and mad scientists? We need some more new books on the subject, especially since some of these can no longer be easily purchased! Note that references to female mad scientists in these books are almost nonexistent; they are included here as references to the stereotype as a whole.

Haynes, Roslynn (1994) From Faust to Strangelove: Representations of the Scientist in Western Literature:  This book provides the groundwork for understanding why the stereotype of the “mad scientist” evolved alongside the scientist-hero, eccentric tinkerer, etc. Use it as background material.

Skal, David (1998) Screams of Reason: Mad Science and Modern Culture: A broad overview of the mad scientist’s development; it briefly skims over historical antecedents and development covered more in depth by Haynes and then moves into cinema, particularly.

Tudor, Andrew (1991) Monsters and Mad Scientists: A Cultural History of the Horror Movie: Although this book goes beyond mad science in its analysis, it provides useful information about the evolution of mad science in horror and science fiction from early cinema to the 1970s; I’ve read other, newer articles making the same arguments that Tudor makes here; he got there first.

It’s a fun subject, but with the new academic semester and the manuscript deadline casting their shadows over me, I’m becoming a little frantic! So why am I blogging? Good question. Time to work!

Image Credit: Madblood and Narbon debate counter-conquering the Venusians. Shaenon K. Garrity, The Astonishing Excursions of Helen Narbon & Co., Chapter 7.


An Agreement With Hell is Going Out of Print

AAWHsmall_largeMy horror novel An Agreement with Hell is going out of print, so this is your last chance to grab an ebook or trade paperback from Apex Publications! You can order your copy here — use the drop-down menu in the upper right-hand corner to choose the format you prefer.

In the divine struggle between good and evil, humans are hardly noticeable to the mal’akhim, but when an ancient seal is broken on the grounds of a California college campus, beings from dimensions beyond the balance of holy and unholy erupt from the earth. A retired priest and an ailing magickian must trust the mysterious Walker Between the Worlds and his skin-eating demon familiar as they step through Heisenbergian passages of probability and battle forces that are so far beyond demon they cannot be fully seen in earthly dimensions. Amidst the earthquakes and interdimensional intruders, the students and staff of California Hills University step across the boundaries of their knowledge and faith, revealing their true natures as the night erupts in earth and blood.

Brown Belt

kempoLast week was intense; I finished the first draft of Right of Rule on Monday night and earned my brown belt in kempo on Saturday! Writing the novel took a lot longer, but those five-and-half-hours of martial-arts endurance test were the most intense physical challenge I’ve faced in my life.

I was pretty anxious about the test. Even though, intellectually, I knew that (a) my sensei wouldn’t have sent me to take it if he didn’t think I knew the material well enough to pass, and (b) worrying would do me no good at all, I still couldn’t help fretting over that week before the test, as I refilled my plate with protein and drank yet one more bottle of Gatorade. I practiced my forms and techniques every day, until I was starting to fear that the practice was doing me more harm than good.

And then, the test! Every time I messed up I cringed, then tried to hide it, knowing that the black belts were circling our little test group like tigers looking for weaknesses. Around hour four I was grimly telling myself to just keep putting one foot ahead of the other each time we had to run from one part of the park to another. All I have to do, I thought, is keep moving. It was about then that I started getting loud. I’m normally a quiet person and a quiet fighter; my kiai is more a hiss than a shout. But exhaustion and desperation had dropped my inhibitions, and I was shouting to encourage my friends and myself and to prove to the masters that I was still in the game.

Then, when we finally headed back into the dojo for the final part of the test — sparring — I had gotten my second wind. I had to spar twice, and I was able to stay aggressive and mobile both times (although the next day I discovered that somewhere along the line one of my opponents had landed a good one on my ribs — grooaann!), doing a lot of loud and, for me, atypical kiai-ing in the process.

And of course, as the photo proves, in the end I earned my belt (I’m the one on the left).

Let’s be honest: I don’t enjoy endurance testing, and I roll my eyes whenever the rhetoric in my martial arts system gets too macho. I’m a 47-year-old, female, introverted professor; I practice martial arts for fitness and as a little personal “travel insurance” during my trips abroad. (Although, as a writer, I do enjoy the graphic descriptions of mayhem that my sensei delights in providing whenever he demonstrates the street application of a technique!) Nevertheless, I will reluctantly concede that this brown-belt test taught me exactly what I’m sure it was intended to teach me: that I can face a challenge that mentally and physically intimidates me and that I can keep moving and fighting even after I’m exhausted. And I confess that knowing that gives me a particular type of confidence that I didn’t have before I took the test.

But I’m still very grateful that my next rank test will be a long time from now!

ComicCon Bibliography

Screen Shot 2014-07-22 at 8.55.57 AMHere’s a copy of the bibliography of fan studies that I’ll be handing out at ComicCon, for anybody who can’t make it but would like to get started on the academic study of the field….


Screen Shot 2014-07-22 at 8.55.57 AMI’ll be at ComicCon on Thursday, participating as the token academic in the panel “How Fan Fiction Can Lead to Being a Professional” at 11 am-12 pm in room 29A. Here’s the official description:

Fan fiction can lead to jobs in several fields as a professional, including writing books, acting, screenwriting, and many others. Panelists include Katherine Fugate (Valentine’s Day), a selected member of the board of directors of the WGAW, who created/executive produced/wrote Army Wives; Melissa Good (Tropical Storm), a fan fiction writer and novelist who has written episodes for Xena, Warrior Princess; Nancy Holder (Buffy The Vampire Slayer, The Watcher’s Guide), New York Times bestselling author whose fan fiction street cred includes Robin of Sherwood; Dru Pagliassotti, a novelist and professor at a California university who has researched Western manga fandom and teaches courses on film and comics analysis; Nancy Cornell-Healy (Intersection), comedian/novelist/playwright; Justin Robinson (Get Blank), a multitalented novelist; and Sherri Rabinowitz (Fantasy Time Inc.), a writer of fan fiction, playwright and award-nominated novelist and host of the popular blog talk radio show Chatting With Sherri.

My primary contribution to the panel will be to provide background and perhaps a framework for considering fan fiction’s effects, and the other participants will be talking about the act of writing fan fiction and going pro within their fandoms.

Other than that, I’m looking forward to hitting the Exhibit Hall at ComicCon, where I will be on the hunt for steampunk-oriented comics — preferably containing mad scientists — for a scholarly book chapter that I’m drafting up that’s due in September. Yes, the best thing about being a tenured professor is Researching Whatever You Want!

I don’t know if I’ll be staying more than one day; my partner-in-professorial-crime Terry and I are planning to play it by ear. This is my first ComicCon but it’s her first con, period! (I’m to blame for drawing her deeper into geekdom, since I convinced her to co-teach a class on comics and graphic novels with me next spring semester and create a webcomic with me). We have credit cards and a car, however, so we’re ready to adapt to whatever circumstances throw at us…!


Minimalism Maintenance

essentialismNature abhors a vacuum, and so do friends — ever since renting a large house with a housemate, it seems that more and more of our friends’ odd pieces of furniture and glassware have taken up “temporary” residence here. So much, in fact, that I’ve created a list of “stuff to give back” that I’ll be checking when I finally move out. (As an Air Force brat and longtime apartment dweller, my assumption is always that I’ll be moving each year! It’s a pleasant surprise if I don’t.)

Minimalism certainly requires maintenance. I’ve been practicing it for over 15 years, and if I didn’t carry out periodic purges to stem the clutter creep, I’d still be overwhelmed. It’s amazing how much Stuff (including digital files and time commitments) accumulates, even when you are consciously doing your best to keep life simple.

One of my maintenance practices is to read books and blogs about minimalism, simple living, and the like. They seldom have much to teach me — after 15 years, I know how the process works — but they do offer affirmation that I’m not the only person who’s making unconventional choices in an effort to keep out excess, since none of my friends and colleagues share this particular mindset with me.

One book I’ve recently read and appreciated is Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown. I prefer his term “essentialism” to “minimalism” because it better captures my perspective on the practice — that is, it’s not a matter of having or doing less, necessarily; it’s a matter of having or doing enough and no more to pursue your goals. This typically means paring down your belongings, sure — clutter causes all kinds of time wastage — but it also means paring down other distractions, too; voluntarily narrowing your choices and focusing only on those activities that will get you where you want to be. McKeown’s book is, in fact, more about essentialism of effort than essentialism of stuff, which makes it stand out from so many of the other minimalism books I’ve read, which usually focus on Stuff and only later address Effort.

Again, it’s not that McKeown’s book offers much that’s new to those who are already practicing minimalism, but it addresses the issue from a slightly different perspective — it’s primarily about the importance of asserting control over your life choices, work routines, and leadership decisions — and of course it affirms that it’s not crazy to voluntarily eliminate things from your life that most people consider necessary, if doing so helps you focus on what you’ve chosen as your life’s priority.

If you’re a minimalist, or considering it, or if you’re a creative struggling to find time for your passion, I’d recommend reading McKeown’s book. Essentialism isn’t easy, and it does require constant maintenance, but in the 15 years that I’ve been honing my practice — whether under the name of voluntary simplicity, downsizing, minimalism, or essentialism — I’ve found that I’ve never regretted the effort. …For one thing, those books lined up on your right would never have been written without it!

Ergonomic Extemp v. 2

photoI decided the iPad’s smaller screen wasn’t thrilling me, so I took a hint from Matt M. on Facebook and tried a wireless keyboard and trackpad instead. I think this is better. The makeshift laptop stand is, well, makeshift, but so far a run through the local stores with my measuring tape in hand hasn’t turned up the perfect laptop platform yet. I’m sure I’ll find something eventually, and until then, this serves. My upper back certainly seems happier having the screen at eye-level!

Ergonomic Extemp

deskFor the last couple of years I’ve been using a standing desk while writing at home, with a tall stool nearby that I can rest on when I get tired. Standing while I write has numerous health benefits, but the tradeoff has been increased pressure on my neck, because I use a laptop for all my work. I love my laptop, but it’s an ergonomic disaster.

So this is today’s writing experiment — using my iPad as a monitor, so that I can look straight ahead when I write instead of down at the laptop screen. My hope is that this will take some of the pressure off my neck and upper back. It feels a little strange for two reasons, though — first, the iPad screen is much smaller than the laptop screen, and second, there’s a periodic, disconcerting lag between what I do on the laptop keyboard and what the mirror display shows me. Still, I’m going to try it for a few days to see how it works out, as I’d rather not spend $500-$1,000+ on a separate monitor.

If you’re wondering about the setup, my desk is a crank-up iron table, which allows me to adjust it to my height. I bought the AirDisplay app to connect my MacBook and my iPad via wireless, and right now my iPad is sitting on a tall stack of library books, which is clearly a temporary measure! :-) If I end up liking this, I’ll buy an adjustable iPad stand.

I had to create a makeshift standing desk at the university (Facilities gave  me a sitting desk and it seems prohibitively difficult to get a standing one instead, so I’m using some wire crates with a wooden chopping board on them to raise the desk level) and I should be able to prop the iPad on a shelf that’s at eye level over the desk. However, I sit more often in my office, because I spend hours on my feet in the classroom and need the rest when I’m done!

If all of this fails, of course, I’ll reconsider buying a separate monitor. Pity there isn’t a low-end solution available; something equivalent to a bigger iPad screen without all the bells and whistles is all I need.

Anyway, back to deciding whether I can eliminate this chapter entirely or whether I really need some of its elements, and if so, where to put them…. That board behind the desk makes this process look a LOT more organized than it actually is!