There was a quote from me in a New York Times article!

41QWkp89v4L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Several weeks ago, I got an email from an NYT education writer who was writing an article about MFAs. And I was like, whoah, exciting, it’d be good publicity to have my name in the Times. Anyway, while talking to her, it became clear that the reason she’d contacted me was because of this blog post I’d read.

Now, I sort of stand by the things in that article. As a general principle, the structure of the MFA system is very classist, because it discriminates against people who don’t have time to take two years off from life. And I am fine saying that kind of thing when I control the message. However, I also went to an MFA program where the professors were really good to me. For one thing, they admitted me, even though I wrote science fiction. And they critiqued my work seriously. It was a very good place! And ever since reading The Journalist and the Murderer I’ve become uncomfortably aware that the principal role of journalists is to use a sense of camraderie in order to get people to say things that are against their self-interest. So I knew that if I said anything in the interview like what I’d said in the post, then my name would forever be linked to a quote wherein I slammed the MFA system for being classist, which would be: a) kind of rude to my program, since it’d be seen as an indictment of Hopkins more than anywhere else; and b) a little bit of a strange thing for me to complain about, since I come from an extremely upper-class background.

(The things I could say, without sounding ridiculous, would be that the MFA system is racist and homophobic, but those things aren’t really true. Or, at least, MFA programs are certainly much less racist and homophobic than the sci-fi/fantasy world.)

So anyway, I was extremely cagey during this interview and in fact I asked the reporter to send me any quotes from me before she used them, on the principle that she’d be embarrassed to print anything too detrimental to my interest if she actually had to own up, to me, that she was doing it. (However, even though she promised to do that, she didn’t actually send me the quotes.)

Anyway, for these reasons I was fairly certain that they wouldn’t use any quotes from me, since it can’t be hard to find an MFA student or graduate who’s willing to publicly say things that are much more provocative than I will. But whatever, they did end up putting in a quote by me and that makes me happy. The quote they used came from a bit where I talked about how I kind of feel like life in the MFA is too easy and you get too much instant gratification (via people saying nice things about your writing) and that it’s not really a good preparation for the real thing that makes or breaks a writing career, which is the ability to work and work and work even though no one in the world cares whether you produce a story or not.

(What also makes me happy: they extensively quoted my favorite Hopkins professor–Jean McGarry. I love her. What she said was actually pretty incendiary, which is that writers expect more hand-holding nowadays than they used to, and that that’s a reflection of a change in the times. And I have no idea whether that’s true, but that’s at least an interesting thing to say, right? Anyway, that also made me really happy I didn’t provide a more incendiary quote, since I’d have been really unhappy to have it featured right under the one from McGarry.)

Harnessing my internet-browsing energy

stressed-businessman-browsing-internet-14730384Like most people with an internet connection, I spend a significant amount of my time on the internet browsing aimlessly. However, I have recently made an effort to rein in and redirect some of this energy.

I started by using the Chrome extension StayFocusd to limit the amount of time I can spend on certain sites (Slate, Salon, Buzzfeed, the New York Times) to one minute per day. That’s about enough time to log into the NYT and get the headlines and click through to an article about gourmet food trucks or elite private schools before I get shut out.

Since I used to spend about 80% of my internet time in browsing those sites, I was left with a void. To date, I’ve mostly filled it by clicking through links that I find on Facebook. If something has become even a minor Facebook trend, then I am up on it. I find that there are certain rewards to getting all of one’s news through social media. Even if what you read is silly or pointless, at least it’s something that you know people care about. You know that this silly or pointless thing somehow manages to capture the imagination.

However, social media isn’t the best way to get actual information. I always feel like I’m a bit behind on current events, because sometimes things are too important for people to post links to them online. Like, no one would post a link being like, “Obama is planning on attacking Syria!” because everyone is supposed to know that already. Instead, they just post a Facebook comment that’s all like, “Obama’s a fucking fascist!” and then I have to google ‘barack obama’ in order to figure out what he’s done now.

That’s not really a problem, though, because I am so over current events. However, when you get all your info via Facebook, you do get a disproportionate amount of random activist drama and twenty-inch conservative rants and funny webcomics and beautiful pictures and heartwarming stories about villagers in Ghana building generators that are powered by spit.  Everything has a bit of a populist bias to it.

Not sure what the solution is. For awhile, I thought maybe I’d read blogs. And I’ve found some good ones. But not enough that are thought-provoking. And most are commentary, not information.

I’ve started reading Science News, which is a magazine that I subscribed to when I was in college (but never read). See, my problem with magazines has always been that I thought you have to read them. Once I got over that, they became much more manageable. I don’t read magazines anymore; I just flip through them looking for something interesting. There’s tons of interesting things in Science News. And its advantage over Scientific American or Popular Science or Discover is that all the articles are very short.

I cancelled my subscription to Wired (which was amazing on the iPad), but I might start reading their website. I liked Wired.

The reason I read science and tech magazines is because I’ve sometimes felt like my SF writing is all SF-as-metaphor and not enough SF-as-cool-stuff. It’s all robots and AI and cornucopia machines and whatever, which is all great and everything…but it’s also very done. I do want to be the kind of SF writer who can sometimes invent new and wondrous things. But in order to do that, I need to at least be somewhat familiar with what’s going on in the world of science.

However, I’ve found technology news to be less helpful, because, honestly, it’s mostly gadgetry. Like, self-driving cars are cool. But they don’t astonish.

I can’t read The New Yorker or The Atlantic. Whenever I start to read something that’s 5-10,000 words long, the back of my brain starts going, “Dude, if you’re gonna do this much reading, why don’t you just read an actual book?”