May 29 2014

The Bunny Hunt, 2014

The Bunny Hunt is an annual tradition at the Peter Peter preschool, and it’s such a fun day that we let Robin play hooky from kindergarten in order to come out and play in the park with his little brothers. Here’s some pictures that my friend Andrea Millheim took of the boys:




We didn’t catch any bunnies, not even with our best disguises on, but we did have a great time.

May 28 2014

Things That Annoy Me, A Continuing Series: Bad Food Photography

I have these Facebook friends* who insist on taking cellphone snapshots of their food and then labeling it #foodporn. Which would be fine—I love food porn, and I’m actually quite interested in what my friends happen to be eating for lunch. I’m not one of those people who rolls their eyes about social media posts revolving around breakfast. BREAKFAST IS THE MOST IMPORTANT MEAL OF THE DAY! Except maybe for second breakfast, and elevenses, and lunch, and…really, tell me what you’re eating, I want to know!

But I don’t want to have to look at your crappy cellphone photos of it. Because invariably, that picture tagged “#foodporn”? It’s a plate of food, not quite in focus, the colors washed out to a rubbery grey, and a horrible glistening sheen cast over everything that makes it look like a washed-up pile of jellyfish left in the sun for three days and picked over by gulls. Your kale salads, your wild boar ragu, your foie gras walnut brioche: it all looks like the refuse of seagulls.

Food photography is hard, you guys. It takes good lighting, a decent camera, and skill. (It also annoys me when people argue about which cellphone takes the best pictures. You know what takes good pictures? A camera.)

Look, even Martha Stewart can’t make her cellphone food pictures look appetizing. You can’t either. Get a real camera and some direct lighting or just tell us about the amazing Monte Cristo you had this afternoon at that little place in Belden alley. Sometimes a hundred words are much, much better than a picture.

*(I’m not talking about you, Todd. You’re not “a Facebook friend,” you’re an ACTUAL friend. And you only did this once. At which point you were immediately treated to a personal performance of this rant. So, not talking about you!)

May 26 2014

In Support of Reparations

So y’all know that Ta-Nehisi Coates is my favorite long-form journalist working today. His latest—“The Case for Reparations”—is a doozy.

With segregation, with the isolation of the injured and the robbed, comes the concentration of disadvantage. An unsegregated America might see poverty, and all its effects, spread across the country with no particular bias toward skin color. Instead, the concentration of poverty has been paired with a concentration of melanin. The resulting conflagration has been devastating.

One thread of thinking in the African American community holds that these depressing numbers partially stem from cultural pathologies that can be altered through individual grit and exceptionally good behavior. (In 2011, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, responding to violence among young black males, put the blame on the family: “Too many men making too many babies they don’t want to take care of, and then we end up dealing with your children.” Nutter turned to those presumably fatherless babies: “Pull your pants up and buy a belt, because no one wants to see your underwear or the crack of your butt.”) The thread is as old as black politics itself. It is also wrong. The kind of trenchant racism to which black people have persistently been subjected can never be defeated by making its victims more respectable. The essence of American racism is disrespect. And in the wake of the grim numbers, we see the grim inheritance.

But while the people advocating reparations have changed over time, the response from the country has remained virtually the same. “They have been taught to labor,” the Chicago Tribune editorialized in 1891. “They have been taught Christian civilization, and to speak the noble English language instead of some African gibberish. The account is square with the ex‑slaves.”

Not exactly.

I had to sit with it a while, because honestly, if you’d asked me before I read this article whether I supported reparations for the descendants of slaves my answer would have been an unequivocal “no.” The slaveholders are dead, that chapter in history is closed, yadda yadda.

The thing is, it isn’t closed. As a country, we kind of went directly from allowing slavery (pre-Civil War) to preferring not to talk about slavery (as a high school student in Arkansas I was directly taught that the Civil War was “not about slavery”). It’s not ancient history, either. You only have to go a couple generations back to find people who were born in slavery. Jim Crow is a living memory. Redlining and prison injustice and voter disenfranchisement—stuff that’s happening right now—is a direct legacy of slavery.

As a country, we need to stop pretending that slavery is a shameful-but-closed chapter that lies somewhere far back in the mists of history.

So, I have changed my mind. I believe that the U.S. government should pay reparations to families descended from slaves, probably an equivalent to the survivor benefit that’s paid to heirs of soldiers killed in combat. It won’t “make it right,” of course—nothing could do that—but it would be an open-eyed acknowledgement that justice continues to be owed.

May 21 2014

Fae Release Date and Giveaway

I’ve got some information to share on the upcoming Fae anthology from World Weaver Press (which includes one of my short stories). It will be released in paperback and e-book formats on July 22, and to promote the book there’s now a giveaway promotion running on Goodreads. Six readers chosen at random from all those who enter will receive free copies. (U.S. and Canada residents only, I’m afraid.) Here’s a bit of a teaser:

Meet Robin Goodfellow as you’ve never seen him before, watch damsels in distress rescue themselves, get swept away with the selkies and enjoy tales of hobs, green men, pixies and phookas. One thing is for certain, these are not your grandmother’s fairy tales.

Fairies have been both mischievous and malignant creatures throughout history. They’ve dwelt in forests, collected teeth or crafted shoes. Fae is full of stories that honor that rich history while exploring new and interesting takes on the fair folk from castles to computer technologies and modern midwifing, the Old World to Indianapolis.

Fae covers a vast swath of the fairy story spectrum, making the old new and exploring lush settings with beautiful prose and complex characters. Enjoy the familiar feeling of a good old-fashioned fairy tale alongside urban fantasy and horror with a fae twist.

With an introduction by Sara Cleto and Brittany Warman, and all new stories from Sidney Blaylock Jr., Amanda Block, Kari Castor, Beth Cato, Liz Colter, Rhonda Eikamp, Lor Graham, Alexis A. Hunter, L.S. Johnson, Jon Arthur Kitson, Adria Laycraft, Lauren Liebowitz, Christine Morgan, Shannon Phillips, Sara Puls, Laura VanArendonk Baugh, and Kristina Wojtaszek.

So if that sounds like your cuppa, click on over to the giveaway, and good luck!

May 11 2014

Happy Mother’s Day!


Happy Mother’s Day, most of all to my own Mom—your staunch support and ferocious advocacy have been my greatest advantages in life.

May 9 2014

Bow to the Mouse


We went to Disneyland! And everyone was super nice to us and we had a great time. We actually went in April, but it’s taken me ages to write about it, mostly because I have a weird fascination with Disneyland that’s hard to explain.

It’s only my second trip to Anaheim, and my third to a Disney theme park. I went to Walt Disney World as a kid, with my mom. When I told her about our vacation plans, Mom said: “What I remember from that trip is that at the end of the day my face hurt, from smiling so much.”

I don’t remember that trip much, but when I went to Disneyland as an adult it was with Sam and my friend Frank Jones, who’s something of a Disneymancer. He has such a deep understanding of the place, its tidal ebbs and flows, that he was able to lead us from ride to ride as the crowds parted around us. Afterwards I told Frank that I was mostly struck by the psychology of the place. It’s obvious that every turn of path, every flower and shrub, has been carefully selected to keep the visitors happy and calm: and I wanted to know how they did that.

Frank pointed me to a couple of books: Designing Disney (A Walt Disney Imagineering Book) and Designing Disney’s Theme Parks: The Architecture of Reassurance. These are both great! The first is a collection of interviews and reminiscences with some of the “imagineers” who built the park, while the second is a more academic analysis of Disneyland’s place in the cultural zeitgeist.

Both confirmed what I’d intuitively felt: every aspect of Disneyland—from the placement of physical structures and paths to the selection of colors to the “random” appearance of street performances and signature characters—is engineered to produce a particular response. Disney wants its guests to feel “playful”—excited, yes, but a trusting excitement rather than a nerve-jangly one. Disneyland offers reassurance but it never cedes control.

The parks are designed so that a fresh adventure beckons any way you turn, and no choice is wrong. At the same time, there’s a moralizing element to the landscape: Walt was a railfan, and the Disney theme parks subtly push an anti-car and pro-mass-transit ethos along with a relentless optimism in technology and progress. This futuro-utopianism has, ironically enough, became almost quaint. In modern sci-fi the naïve dreams of the Rocket Age have curdled into punk-anarcho-cynicism: but at Tomorrowland everything is still brightly painted and headed for space.

From Designing Disney’s Theme Parks:

If Disneyland as a whole—its spatial reassurances and human scale, its concern for providing visual pleasure, its walkability and fanatical cleanliness—was a critique of Los Angeles and the modern city, then Tomorrowland was supposed to be the spot where solutions to urban problems were dramatized. A place where Walt could try to articulate a future so compelling that his guests and their children would want to go home and make it all come true, down to the moving sidewalks and the dancing fountains…In the early 1960s, Walt’s inner circle of Imagineers (“imagineering” is surely the ultimate Tomorrowland word, redolent of rocket fuel and derring-do) remember the founder lugging books on city planning around with him and muttering to himself about traffic, noise, and neon signs.

And from the beginning, this can-do utopian spirit grated on the nerves of elite commentators. Then, as today, the worst possible crime among the upper classes is to be found tacky. Much better the evil than the ersatz.

Designing Disney’s Theme Parks quotes a review from the Nation in 1958:

“The overwhelming feeling that one carries away is sadness for the empty lives which accept such tawdry substitutes. On the riverboat, I heard a woman exclaim glowingly to her husband, ‘What imagination they have!’ He nodded, and the pathetic gladness that illuminated his face as a papier-maché [sic] crocodile sank beneath the muddy surface of the ditch was a grim indictment of the way of life for which this feeble sham represented escape and adventure.”

Do you know what I love best in that quote? It’s the [sic]. Because the snobbery and elitism of the passage really doesn’t need to be deconstructed: it’s self-caricature, it’s farce. (How dare Mr. and Mrs. Jones have the effrontery to publicly enjoy a day at a theme park, when they haven’t even the wherewithal to pack up Timmy and Polly for a real Amazon adventure?) But the [sic] is glorious. Because, of course, it really should be the English “paper mache,” as the essay’s in English. But failing that, the proper French is “papier-mâché”: the Nation reached for the more pretentious option and got it wrong. So that [sic] is just like a clean stiletto through the ribs. I love it.

And building on that deconstruction, the book crescendos:

The critic for whom all pop culture is inauthentic and crass, the by-product of grasping capitalism, is probably never going to like Disneyland. And the critic from whom the preoccupations of American mass culture over the past half-century—the TV Westerns of the 1950s, exploring the conflict between institutions and individuals; the Cold War tensions played out in the space race of the 1960s; the battle for the custody of earth’s green spaces; the preservation of the city—elicit only contempt won’t care much that the icons of the Disney parks were located on precisely those sore spots in the national psyche. Nor that these icons embodied, in an engrossing new medium, the themes of a half-century’s worth of thought, debate, and worry. That Disneyland needed to create an architecture of reassurance in the first place meant that the issues raised by the iconography of the park were, at some level, profoundly disquieting.

Fantasyland, in particular, was constructed as an environment that synthesized public, postwar ideas about myth, ritual, and psychic redemption. Its architecture fused postwar enthusiasms for imagination, horror, hallucination, and magic with deep-felt desires for safety, security, restraint, and direction.

Human beings have always been tempted to envisage a world better than the one they know. The literature on Eden, paradise, or utopia is vast. Besides fictional writers, humanist scholars, and social scientists (including Karl Marx) have tried to envisage life in the good place. Even the greatest minds have failed, however, in one test—important to William James among others—namely, that such a place should stimulate the imagination, that its effect must not dull too soon. Understandably, Walt Disney does not score total success where so many talented people before him have failed. Yet I would like to argue that he has succeeded to an extraordinary degree—that he has introduced elements into his conception of a good and happy place that others have missed.


I don’t think for an instant that Disney should be above criticism. Any company that has such power as theirs, the ability to commodify the myths we tell our children, needs to be loudly and constantly and carefully critiqued. I do think, though, that there’s a kind of reflexive anti-Disney sentiment that’s founded purely on elitism. I would even argue that there’s something subversive about Disneyland and the wordless argument it makes in favor of density, transit, and an ethos of civic planning that puts human psychology at the center.

The thing my mom remembers most about Walt Disney World, after all these years, is that her face hurt from smiling so much. I wonder what my kids will remember?