Category Archives: Life

Life and other things that get in the way of writing.

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!

Gaslight Gathering Photo

Just wanted to post these photographs from Gaslight Gathering, courtesy of the Tobias Eastman Photo Booth (Thanks, Jerry Abuan)! This was Friday and Saturday … unfortunately, my writing panel Sunday clashed with the photo booth hours, so you won’t see me in frock coat, vest, and ascot!


Wabi Sabi Steampunk

wabisteampunkI’ve been struggling for years to reconcile my appreciation for the steampunk aesthetic and my personal need to live in a minimalist environment. I love the rich, baroque look of steampunk but I function best with minimal distractions and quickly become uncomfortable in a cluttered or crowded room.  I love studying a cabinet of curiosities but I don’t want it making visual and cognitive demands on me when I’m trying to work.

Friends often send me photographs of steampunk interiors or furniture because they know my rooms make an aesthetic gesture toward steampunk, or at least industrial, design — I own adjustable ironwork tables, old metal chests, leather chairs, a vintage barrister bookcase, etc. But as much as I delight in those busy, gleaming steampunk interiors, part of me knows that I’d go crazy if I had to live in them 24/7.

What I’d like to see developed is a sort of wabi-sabi steampunk — call it that, or steampunk zen, or minimalist steampunk, whatever you like. They’d all look a little different, but they’d emphasize a reduction in clutter and an opening of space.

Are wabi-sabi and steampunk irreconcilable concepts? Wabi-sabi  has a variety of meanings, but its essence is the natural, impermanent, unpretentious, and antique. Steampunk also has a variety of meanings, but as a visual aesthetic, the areas in which it probably differs most from wabi-sabi is natural vs. industrial and unpretentious vs. gadgeteered.

As far as natural vs. industrial goes, I’d suggest that the heft, weight, texture, and patina of vintage industrial furniture and decor have elements that can be reconciled with the wabi-sabi aesthetic. The scratches, dents, and rust on the 19th-century antiques (real or faux) beloved by steampunk designers bring to mind a sense of nostalgia and age, imperfection and impermanence as much as an old, hand-thrown clay pot or woven basket. Both steampunk and wabi-sabi value craftsmanship and artisanry (there’s a strong DIY maker-culture in steampunk), and they both value materials that weather well, aging with strength and grace. Wabi-sabi may be more rustic than most 19th-century-inspired steampunk design, but there’s no reason why steampunk can’t look away from middle- to upper-class English urban Victoriana toward more modest, perhaps international, 19th-century modes of decor.

More difficult to reconcile are the opposing values of  unpretentious vs. gadgeteered. Without a doubt, much steampunk style is intentionally pretentious and overdone, with a sense of humorous quirkiness in its unnecessary twists and flourishes. By contrast, wabi-sabi prefers the simple and understated, although it values the flawed, “ugly,” awkward appeal of the weathered and/or handcrafted object or environment. The person seeking a wabi-sabi steampunk aesthetic will have to choose steampunk objects with care, looking perhaps for those manufactured with simpler lines and from darker, more worn materials.

I don’t know how feasible it is to mesh these aesthetics, but I’ve been trying to do it in my own home for some time — which is something of a challenge in rented, relatively recently manufactured spaces (distressed-wood floors, natural stone walls, and vintage appliances are well out of my budget!).  Does anybody else share my desire for a more minimal steampunk aesthetic, or am I just strange this way? I’ve started a Pinterest board for wabi sabi steampunk; I’d enjoy getting examples from other people to add to it!

“La Fenice” Portrait by Terry Spehar-Fahey

artgalleryLast night was the opening of the Women Painting Women art show, in which watercolorist Terry Spehar-Fahey displayed three paintings, including La Fenice, for which I posed — as a weary Venetian courtesan, tired out from a long Carnevale night, resting as the opera house La Fenice burns somewhere outside the windows. The opening show coincided nicely with the first day of Carnevale!

Terry is, of course, the friend and colleague with whom I’ve led two “Imagining Venice” travel seminars for CLU students.

Here’s a full image of her fantastic painting.




Catherine, Rob & Me

Beware the Air Kraken!

My partner-in-costumed-crime Terry and I hosted a Steamdrunks Soiree at my house this weekend — the party name was shamelessly ripped off of the fantastic book Steamdrunks: 101 Steampunk Cocktails and Mixed Drinks.  We mixed up a quartered version of its Loyal Legion Punch, which was quite a hit despite its no-holds-barred, prepare-to-boarded alcohol content! Of course many other drinks were offered, although nobody partook of the absinthe, alas. I will never get rid of those bottles… ;-) Smoked kraken and a variety of goodies from the Indies, Americas, and Asia were also brought in by airship. All time travelers were welcome!

Comparing riding tips, no doubt.

Comparing riding tips, no doubt.

Time travelers, unite!

Time travelers, unite!

Most elegant couple.

Most elegant couple.

All a gal really needs is a bustle and a gun....

All a gal really needs is a bustle and a gun….

His punt took a wrong turn on the River Cam, and look where he ended up!

His punt took a wrong turn on the River Cam, and look where he ended up!



Panels & Press

IMG_0426Conjecture 2013 was a lot of fun, and I have some posed photos of my costumes, thanks to Eben Brooks of Or It Didn’t Happen Photography.

The panels went great and I renewed my friendship with a number of San Diego con-goers and -organizers as well as met some great new co-panelists and audience members, including Nancy Holder, Nathan Long, Sherri Rabinowitz, Justin Robinson, “Don Luis,” and Walt Fisher, who kindly put me in touch with SDSU’s special collections librarian. She will be a great contact as I develop my new comics course for Spring 2015.  I was also very pleased to meet Eytan and Dani Kollin, whose The Unincorporated Man I’ve recommended to a number of friends as an original and thought-provoking take on the future.  The filking was fun, the book signing went well, and I even got a mention in the San Diego Union-Tribune’s writeup of the event. Now, the grading … well, that’s what I’m doing today, or would be doing if I weren’t updating this blog, instead.

Speaking of the press, our campus magazine just emailed me to ask, “In the ‘movie’ of your life, which actor do you think would best play you and why?” I replied, “I’d want to be played by Neil Patrick Harris due to the physical resemblance and Harris’ portrayal of Dr. Horrible. I, too, have been known to wear strange goggles and practice maniacal cackles in front of the mirror, and I expect that Bad Horse will soon be evaluating my supervillain potential now that I’m chair of the Communication Department. Muahahaha!

I’m not sure I’m flying low enough under my university’s radar these days.  ;-)