Last night I went to speak at a local elementary school about The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland. It was a good event with a nice turnout, with a bunch of really eager and interested kids who don’t often get to meet authors. Since the book came out I’ve spoken at a lot of schools, of every socio-economic level from incredibly posh private school to low-income public schools.

Now, I was educated at public schools–all the way from K to graduate school. I moved around a lot and some of my schools were better than others. I went to community college. But it’s always been public school for me and if it’s not too bold I think I got a pretty awesome education there, due in large part to phenomenal teachers. Mr. Danielson, Mr. Crossman, Mrs. Lamp, Mrs. Bonneau, Mrs. Bruch, Mr. Kanna, Mr. Wrightson, Dr. Schwartz, Drs. Edwards, Dr. Clark, Dr. Ringrose, Dr. Dubois–these people made me who I am.

I believe in public school. And I also know how difficult funding, teaching, and running a school has become.

Most of the schools that I go to are pretty well off, in good districts, private schools–because those schools ask. Those schools have had authors in the past. They can afford honorariums. One principal even gave me a silver bracelet as a gift for visiting the school. And those kids get a lot out of an author visit. They learn about publishing and about how a story gets written, they get a chance to see books as living things that grown ups are passionate about, they get exposure to the wider world and to art as a wage-making life choice. Peter Beagle came to my high school when I was in 10th grade. It had a profound and lasting effect on me.

And so I came to a decision last night while talking to the 5th graders in South Portland, and to their teacher, who shook her head and talked about how expensive it was to bring authors in, even to get them to do a Skype visit. That it’s just not possible for them very often. Because Maine, a state I love and have made my home, has a severely underfunded educational system. We have a lot of struggling schools, a lot of districts who could never afford to bring in speakers and writers for their kids. We have great teachers and librarians, but the state has been hit hard by every economic downturn and rarely buoyed by upturns that bring tech money to Boston and maybe even Portland, but certainly not to the vast interior of Maine or the outlying islands.

I live here. It is a place I want to see thrive. So from here until forever, I will waive speaking fees for any K-12 school in Maine that asks me to come and talk to their students.

I will pay for my own transportation, yes, even to Eastport or Presque Isle or Matinicus Island. I will provide any incidentals or technical equipment so that the cost to the school remains zero. Scheduling concerns notwithstanding, I am simply making myself available to Maine schools for free. This does include private schools, for all I’m a public school advocate. Even schools that can afford to pay me should get a break sometimes. Use the fee to buy new books for the library or to bring in a second author.

Why just Maine? Why not extend this offer to anywhere in the US, or the world? Kids everywhere need help, don’t they? Well, the simple answer is: I live here. I plan to for a long time. I feel it is vitally necessary to invest in my community, and for kids to see someone who lives in the same world that they do making something beautiful and putting it into the world. To see someone living and working in Maine becoming a New York Times bestseller with a book she wrote in Maine. More practically, I can’t afford to fly anywhere, anytime. This is what I can do, what I can give back to the place that has accepted me and given me so much joy and inspiration.

Maybe no one will take me up on this. Maybe they will. But I feel it is the right thing to do. Any teacher or principal can contact me through my website or my publicist at Feiwel and Friends.

I get asked a lot when I knew I was going to be a writer when I grew up. And the answer is not until I was already writing professionally. When I was a kid, up through college, I wanted to be a teacher. I wanted to get people excited about the things I was excited about , and do what all those amazing teachers and professors I mentioned (and many more unnamed) had done for me.

I went another way, and I’m not a teacher. But I hope I can give a little help to those wonderful, dedicated women and men who do the good work every day.

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The Etsy blog just posted this story about a woman’s quest to completely locally source a coat.

It’s presented as a great success, a doable thing (even though the coat cost $900) and a harbinger of, or at least an indicator for a possible mechanism for a new economy.

And here’s where your humble narrator goes: hrmmmmm.

Because if you read that article, you may or may not notice the several things that I did. Now, I’m not saying this lady is wrong and should feel bad–she’s fine, she went on a journey and this is what she found. But the triumphalism is a little odd. Look:

Just fifteen minutes from my front door, mills used to transform locally-grown fiber into beautiful fabric. All that capability is gone now, off-shored in the 1990s.

Yep, me too. Except…she’s in Sonoma Country, which was wine country by the 1990s, and not mill country in the way, say, the entire state of Maine was. But ok, sure, there was a mill there. But the vanishing of the textile industry (which went down in this country LONG before the 1990s, hell, Kerouac wrote about it) is presented as a tragedy here. A lost time of beauty and care, the creation of exquisite, handcrafted items loved by all.

That is not what a textile mill does. The idea that we’ve been expelled from the Eden of…mass-produced textiles that probably didn’t spend one second in Sonoma County before being shipped who knows where is fascinating, and indicative of where the local movement is going a bit awry. Yes, things were made there. No, they did not stay there, and if you’re longing for the Xanadu of early 90s manufacturing in California, well, I don’t even know. Sonoma County has become vastly rich doing exactly what locavores delight in: making wines. Locally. Charging a lot for them. I don’t think anyone there would trade the money of yuppie wine lovers for the return of the textile mills, with their cancerous fumes and river-polluting and punishing working conditions. BUT IT WAS LOCAL.

You know what part of the country would love to have the textile industry back, though? New England! Because in its wake, it left a hugely economically depressed region that has not been able to recover due to damn near perfect growing conditions for expensive wine! So I feel like I have a little bit of a handle on how to make a local coat, given that I live in Post-Apocalyptic CoatWorld USA. But back to that in a moment.

Because she doesn’t make her coat locally. If you pay attention, she admits that they “could not” locally source the following items: the silk liner for the coat, cotton thread, and magnets to use as a coat closure because the designer didn’t want to make buttonholes for some reason. I presume the olive oil soap used to clean the fiber was also not local, nor the muslin used to make the pattern.

Alright, so this is only a locally made coat in the loosest sense, isn’t it? In that: the alpaca was local. The felter and carder were local. The designer was local. That’s it. Every other aspect of the coat was made somewhere else, and in the case of the magnets, probably somewhere very else. And it cost $900.

Normally, I wouldn’t say anything, but this is specifically touted as “dress locally” and a new economy success story. All the comments are supportive of that read on it, and it’s the thesis of the article. Apparently this “new economy” still needs all the trappings of the old economy, but as long as you don’t think about it, it’s still morally pure.

So I started thinking about this, because I am a fiber artist who makes some of my own clothing. Because if asked the question: can you make a single locally sourced garment if price is no object? The answer is: of fucking course. (At least where I live. I find vocal locavore evangelists sometimes forget that not everyone lives in California, the Pacific Northwest, and other areas of highly fertile land and an affluent population that can support all of these high-priced, handmade, local $900 coat movements. If you want to eat locally year-round in Maine, I hope you really like dried beans, because the winter CSA will airlift a freaking crate of them to your door.)

So: I am a knitter. I have the most rudimentary of sewing skills. I still think I can make this happen for under $900 and be, you know, actually local.

So, first, the yarn. Nothing to it. I can drive 15 minutes out of town and get all the alpaca fluff I want, in pretty much any direction. I can card it myself, and though my spinning skills are probably not up to making the fine yarn needed, there is an amazing spinner on this very island I could give it to to turn it into yarn for me. While she’s at it, she can spin some thread that I can send to the nice lady in California. I am baffled at the notion that thread must be cotton, or that cotton is somehow not a crop that grows and is for sale in central California, the most fertile place on earth. If the spinner is not available, I suppose I could just practice a little more and do it myself.

I am fully capable of designing my own pattern and knitting it–I highly suspect the lion’s share of that $900 went to the clothing designer and the three fittings, not to the alpaca farmers, though of course I could be wrong. I am capable of this because I’ve spent four years knitting and learning, and the article is absolutely right that that knowledge is always factored into any price. But I promise, you can do it, too.You can also felt your knitting in your washing machine for approximately $0.

At this point, we come to the lining. Now, I question the need for it to be chiffon silk to begin with–when attempting high-grade localness, sometimes you have to make do with linen like a plebe. But ok, sure. Let’s pretend it has to be silk, because it’s not just a local movement, it’s an affluent local movement, and what would the other Whole Foods moms say? Well, a quick Google search did not turn up any silkworm farms in Maine. Sad face! Turns out the state subsidized silkworm farms in the mid 1800s but since they only eat mulberry leaves and mulberry trees don’t dig the frigid cold, it didn’t take. Hilariously, though, searching for silkworm farms in Maine turned up as the fourth hit a silkworm farm in Fallbrook, CA, which is a bit rough for the local tag at 500 miles from Sonoma, but you can also contact the UC Davis cooperative, as they farm them, too, and that’s not even 100 miles from Sonoma. (Also I went to high school there. Go Aggies!)

So, they could have gotten locally sourced silk, but I cannot. However, there at least five or six serious weavers on my island and I’m pretty damned sure I can get a nice piece of fine linen to line my jacket with and I would somehow be able to face my silkless image in the mirror every morning.

For buttons–and I cannot comprehend a designer that, knowing the goal is to make as locally sourced a garment as possible, decides she doesn’t want to cut the fabric and make buttonholes because fuck buttonholes I guess, and goes for magnets. Which they didn’t even try to locally source–even though Southern California boasts several magnet manufacturers (remember, mills are awesome, so it doesn’t matter whether those magnets are made in terrible conditions, they are made in-state) and the Mountain Pass Mine, the largest rare metals mine in the United States–specifically metals used in the creation of magnets. Now, that mine just opened last year. Maybe it won’t be as rich as we think. But you can make magnets in middle-school science class, for reals, guys.

Yeah, I’ll think make some buttonholes.

Then I’d go to my local yarn store (owned by an islander!), who carries beautiful pewter carved buttons from a Portland metalworker. Or I’d make glass buttons myself with my lampworking setup at home. I can even manage the olive oil soap, as there is actually an olive oil press outside of Portland, and they make soap.

I would estimate my total materials and someone-else’s-labor cost for the coat at about $150, much less if I spun the fleece myself, maybe $220 if I had to buy the yarn already spun up (which I could still do locally). Does the experience and knowledge of 2-3 humans plus my time knitting the coat add up to a $700 markup? I don’t know. Maybe. Probably not, if we’re really trying to show what local economies can do.

Her coat wasn’t knitted at all but felted straight from the fleece. Knitting takes longer, but knitting for felting can go pretty quickly. Call the whole thing $300 to sell, not to make–which is being very generous, because I’m positive that with my New Economy shoes on, I could barter for the weaving and the spinning. 66% off, and not far from what you’d pay for a good alpaca coat from the mall. Still not cheap, and I didn’t support any local clothing designers except, I guess, me. (Designers do good work, too! But the experiment here was simply to have a locally-sourced coat, not a runway-ready one.) I’m lowballing the profit margin…because I recognize that people do not have that much to spend. I don’t make coats for a living, obviously. I believe strongly that the benefit of localness has to be weighed against the cost to that very community, and we can’t all sell each other $1000 clothes. Again, the issue was never to make a fashion-forward coat of awesome that would make the drag queen angels weep. It was: can you dress locally. And the ease with which the affluent can insist a pricetag like that is reasonable and scalable enough to change the way our economy works bothers me on a deep level.

Normally, I wouldn’t make such a stink. I would maybe Tweet about it. Locally made garment. Cool. But this article made such a big deal about the very special localness of this experiment in the new economy, when really, only one item used in the making of the coat was locally sourced. What the word “local” means has always been a sticking point for me as this movement has grown–often the big showy items are local, but the invisible stuff, cookware to prepare that meal, spices, salt, thread, magnets, plates, require the entire apparatus of the industrial economy to be in full swing. Yes, it’s a good thing to invest in your community and get things locally, in no small part because it often tastes a hell of a lot better if it’s food, but to pretend like this is the New World while benefiting greatly from the presence and continuation of the Old World puts my nose out of joint. It also ignores that people in other communities also matter, and need jobs, like to be able to make money off of their farms, their art, the work of their hands. I assure you, much of the state of Maine would be happy to make your coat with the love of the common man in their hearts, weeping righteous tears right into the fabric. But that wouldn’t be local if you live in California. And the word, the dare we say label, has become more important than anything else.

What I think we want when we say we want localness is story. We want to know about the things we use because we’ve become very disconnected from those things. We want to feel some affinity with what we use, what we eat, what we wear. We like knowing the names of the people who made it, because that makes us feel more human, more invested in the world. It makes us happy, because we are creatures who seek company, tribes, and depth. And if you can get those things, maybe it matters a little less how few miles they came to get to you. I got a necklace from Etsy today. It came from Sacramento. Not local–but still made by a human girl whose name and face I’ve seen, if only in a photograph.

But the pricetag of the coat gets in my grill too. Nothing that involves a $1000 coat is a harbinger of a new economy. It’s the old economy, where the rich can afford to have beautiful handmade things and the rest of us are priced into manufactured t shirts. There’s a crack in bloody Gosford Park about that little socio-economic turn of the tide. It happened around the year 1900. It is OH SO Industrial Revolution. The article admits this, but, because it’s the Etsy blog, asks whether you wouldn’t want to be paid $900 to make a coat? Well, we all want things. But if your new economy of local, communal friendship and cooperative manufacturing relies on someone else being wealthy enough in the old economy sense to want to pay you in cash during a Depression what a goodly portion of us pay in rent? Then you’re not out to change the world. You’re just out for your share from the bad old system as it is.

And that’s fine. It really, really is. We all need to make our way. But it’s not an Etsy-messiah triumph of local economies nor does it prove anything about a new way of living.

That article asks: Can you make a locally sourced garment? It believes that it has answered yes. It is super excited about the answer being yes! My point is that the story as presented actually says no. But the real answer is still yes, it just takes a little more research and time. But not more money, necessarily.

Some of this may have seemed harsh, and I really have no beef with the author of the article. She seems really nice and enthusiastic.

But she’s not wearing a locally-sourced coat.

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For reasons almost entirely irrelevant to this post, I have been mucking about with Westerns of late. I’ve seen a rather obscene number of That Sort of Film due to having grown up in California (they’re history! Srsly!) and having a Western-obsessed ex-father-in-law. I’m less hep on the literary front, but no slouchy stranger to it, I promise.

So I come from a place of some authority when I tell you that True Grit is really, really good. Both the book and the recent film adaptation–let us not speak of the original movie. Look, I know it’s JOHN WAYNE ZOMG and a classic and whatever, but it’s a ridiculous over the top movie that robs the novel of all it’s uniqueness and power. It cannot trust the words of the book, the simple power of the story. And they CANNOT STOP with that horrible theme song. Dmitri turned to me and whispered: “Did they…back then…did people just not know how to act yet?”

I think that says it all. Yeah, I don’t care for the Duke. What a shock. Clutch your pearls.

Whereas the Coen Brothers flick is pretty freaking great. It is miles more loyal to the book, which is GREAT, because DAMN, that book. It’s got this dialect thing going that is just easy and fluid and fabulous, it’s a tight, emotional, gorgeously written thing. A perfect marriage of style and content.

And what do you know, there’s a Strong Female Protagonist in it.

Watching TG for the third time–and it’s few enough movies I can do that with and not be bored–it struck me that this is a novel written in 1968, about the mid 19th century, in a genre notoriously hostile and uncaring toward women, by a dude who was born in 1933, and it’s got a complex, interesting, active female protagonist who is never punished for being a girl, who tells everyone who talks down to her to fuck right off, who moves the plot herself and in fact gets to shoot the man who wronged her. She is the point of view character and though she ends up a spinster, she dismisses any notion the audience might have to feel sorry for her or see that as a meet end for a girl who steps out of place, saying she never had time to fool with marriage. Her sheer amazingness does not preclude the presence of Rooster Cogburn, a compelling and iconic male character, nor the badassery and redemption arcs of the men in her company. It simply exists. (Though oddly I’ve seen people refer to Mattie in both film adaptations as a sociopath, which seems to miss the point entirely and say something quite ugly about the kind of people who think a girl doing what everyone in revenge plays have been doing since they were invented means she’s a sociopath.)

Yes, she’s 14, and many writers have fallen into the trap of believing a young/sexually immature woman can be allowed a freedom and level of interest older/mature women cannot, but I used to be 14 (crazy!), and I’ll tell you what, that’s well past the innocence of pre-adolescence. Mattie Ross, without a chain mail bikini or a giant sword or any need to reassure you that she’s just a girly girl at heart, tee hee, kicks ass. She does not give two fucks, and the text supports her in not giving them. It gives her space to work out her own story. She is neither impossibly strong, superpowered, crazy hot, nor wishing for a boyfriend.

You know, in 2012, the number of films and books that allow women to do this are vanishingly small.

Aliette de Bodard wrote an excellent post about the invisibility of women in Sherlock–but even more about how this is kind of a new thing, male writers just erasing women from their fictional cosmoses entirely. If you look back at Doyle, his contemporaries, his predecessors, though women might be harpies or evil or simply rewards for men, they were never just absent the way they are in portions of current television and film. People had mothers, sisters, daughters, wives, and so did everyone they knew. You couldn’t just blot them out because you weren’t “interested” in them–every Greek play has one, some several, Shakespeare even at his bro-iest (surely Love’s Labour’s Lost?) still has multiple chicks on stage. Yes, older works are often misogynist and ugly. But the disturbing trend of showing only dead, silent, or supremely unimportant women briefly and then rushing back into a universe peopled only by hot men is (perhaps) our own special invention. At least it’s the addiction of a significant number of creative minds.

And I can’t help thinking that even in Serenity, the Future!Western authored by the Sainted Whedon who can do no wrong, does not allow River to fight the Operative herself. She can mop up Reavers offscreen–Reavers who are brutal but not official representatives of the government that harmed this girl nor out to get her particularly–but the great man-to-man battle that decides the narrative of the film, that’s for the big boys, kid.

A 1968 novel does better. The sheer centrality of Mattie, given that she has the classic bromance Big Men swordfighting with their egos around her, astonishes me, even though it shouldn’t. If Steven Moffat got ahold of this, she’d be a petulant, shouty superhot annoyance while the real story became Cogburn and LeBoeuf, who would naturally get all her best lines. Eventually we’d find out that Mattie’s brother sent her to do all this in the first place and planned it all. (I still cannot forgive that assassination of Irene Adler.)

All this is depressing as hell. Encouraging, I suppose, that the Coen Brothers made this film in 2010, that movies like Hanna still get made.Television is a worse state, and frankly most popular SF/F is incredibly dire on the sheer visibility of women, let alone any kind of 201 treatment of their stories. What. the. hell. It should be better by now. It was supposed to get better.

But I never thought I’d say that I wish more creators displayed the feminism of a 1960s Western.

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Tonight I am reading at the NYRSF event at the Soho Gallery for Digital Art!

It’s an Under the Moons of Mars event, so I’ll be reading from my Barsoom story. I hope to see some of you there–I have been trying not to overbook myself while in NY, with the effect of not seeing as many friends as usual. Also: must acquire soup dumplings to complete my travel tradition!

Also, my story Urchins, While Swimming is now up at PodCastle! It’s beautiful, and has singing!

I’ll be back home tomorrow. It’s been a good trip, with much fun. But my own bed awaits. I had a dream that we had to evacuate earth and populate another planet due to s comet or whatever and they made us leave our pets behind. So I’ll be needing to cuddle my dogs and my cat!

Lastly, seanan_mcguire’s new novel Discount Armageddon is out today–go find yourself a copy if you know from awesome!

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Cross-posted from my tumblr, with gifs, because that’s how I roll over there, because I think it’s important enough to say twice.

I gotta be honest, my relationship with technology has gotten a little toxic lately. I stare at the Internet and I can’t make myself not do that, but the advance of microblogging and slow decline of the kind of thoughtful long-form blogging that brought me to the Internet Wurld in the first place. The robots in my house, they grab me and hold me to their cold metal breasts and I can’t get away.

Part of it is that it makes a really good procrastination tool. And that I am a tool. But most of the time I feel like my attention span and my ability to feel connected to the world physically and emotionally has taken a load of buckshot to the face.

This is a common existential problem, I believe. The all-net giveth and the all-net taketh. And knowing it’s dimpling your soul with spiritually radioactive debris doesn’t actually stop any of us from drinking from the cyber firehose.

Believe it or not, I have a fix for this.

I have had a lot of ideas in my life. Some stupid, some great, some workable, some very impractical indeed. What follows has to go down as one of my best.

Once a week, and we might even bump it up to twice, we have what we call an Abbey Night in our house. We turn off all but the most necessary power. We build a fire and light candles and hurricane lamps. And for the evening, we engage only in 19th century activities.

No music unless you make it yourself. No screens. All phones turned completely off. No writing unless it’s longhand. Tea means a kettle on the stove.

We still cook because we have a gas stove, but if it were electric I’d have dinner ready before the sun went down. We knit, we read to each other, we talk. We play with the dogs. We play cards and cuddle.

And a funny thing happens: when you turn all this stuff off, time dilates. There is SO MUCH TIME in an evening without the stuff that sucks it down: TV, Internet, phone calls and texting. There is attention to spare, and a sudden ebullience of discovering what we can do with all these hours.

Now, I now the 19th century was actually a shitty time to be an intellectual chick. Downton Abbey is a TV show about rich people, not a model for life. It’s the choice to turn it off that makes this powerful. We use the 19th century as an easy yardstick for what to turn on and off. We’re not super strict about it. It’s the idea of stepping back and indulging in what Kim Stanley Robinson once called paleolithic pleasures: other people, voices, fire, things you can do with your hands.

I’m not saying humans weren’t meant to have our shiny toys — we made them, they are ours, and very human, too. But there is something profound about going to ground this way, just once in awhile. It resets you, it brings deep calm. It’s like techno-meditation or the deep conditioning treatments you don’t use on your hair every day, but as a luxury every few weeks to keep things bright and strong.

When we’ve shared this with other people, they, like we, have been nervous at first, when the lights go off. They don’t know what to do. But in a few minutes it switches over to excitement and laughing and intense connection, delight, joy. Whispers in the dark.

Sunday was an Abbey Night. We roasted a chicken and read Lorca by candlelight and one of our guests played her cello while the other played guitar, we told stories aloud and sang, and we invited strangers we met on the island roads to our table where we fed them and gave them whiskey and read Stanislaw Lem to them until the ferry came to take them back to the real world.

And we all knew without the Rules, we’d have spent that night fixing websites or answering email and not talking much. It’s not that we’re bad people. It happens. It’s a technological world. But instead we had this precious evening by soft light that we’ll remember for a long time.

And that’s a point too: I remember each Abbey Night with strong clarity — most evenings melt into one long strain of work and vegging out and whatever. But these nights — I remember every moment.

So I’m posting this as a gift: I encourage you to try it, for it is magic. Of course, I’m sure YOU don’t have any TV at all and spend every day in a rapture of intentionality and mindfulness and you’re only even reading this on a computer you made out of coconut shells and superiority.

But for those of you who have issues with how you interact with time and tech like I do, this is an amazing thing. It is like a spell cast.

Interpret our rules however you like. I mean, the fridge stays on in our house and everything. But this is the single biggest tool I have for unfucking my tech-addled heart and reminding myself that I have a body, I have an interior life that needs more than the frayed ropes of energy and attention and connection and spoons that I’ve been working with. When I feel like a floating brain connected to nothing, which is more than I’d like, this brings me back.

It is good to be reminded that I have the ability to be grounded and full, that the world is not slipping away quite as fast as I think.

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