Busy busy, loving my job(s)

Here’s a little peek at the Sunday of a writer / non-profit arts administrator / small press publisher.. Woke up, had coffee, forgot to eat breakfast (oops), sat on couch and started processing e-mails & FB messages, ended up:

• starting to set up a monthly RPG for my “Jump Space” universe (good for SF writing, hopefully, as well as game design research)

• starting to set up a monthly cookbook club for local friends (obviously also good research for me as I promote the cookbook, work on the gluten-free sampler, etc. — might suggest a gluten-free cookbook for our first joint effort)

• spent about two hours working on SLF grants, publicizing the two newly-open grants (South Asian and Older Writers, though please note Working Class grant is also still currently open — applications encouraged to all!) and working on structural aspects both for getting more grant administrators / jurors (both badly needed) and doing a better job with our press releases and general publicity

Now I’m going to eat something (must remember to eat, Mary Anne!) and finish repotting a terrarium. Will post photos when I get a chance, which also goes to developing the gardening memoir that I hope to do down the road.

Will follow that up from noon – 2 with teaching D&D basics to a few people, which is an SLF thing too, as it’s part of the “Maram Makerspace – Gaming” ongoing activities.

And then the rest of the day is alternately working on my Wild Cards revision (slightly overdue, sorry, George), teaching the kids how to make lasagne (#sundaydinner), and continuing the big clean-up / re-org of the house. (The latter two with Kevin‘s help.)

For Wild Cards, I’m planning to start the revision work while walking on the treadmill (I use my laptop tied to a board over the arms), because I actually think better while walking, and also because I haven’t yet done any exercise today, and I really am trying to do some kind of daily exercise in this New Year, because not exercising was such a negative about fall of 2019. (I missed yesterday, which makes me cranky.)

For the house, we’ve been here 10 years (eep), and somehow, that’s translated into this being the year when everything gets revisited and reset somewhat (like the kids’ playroom transitioning into an art / lounge space; the basement beer-making area being reformed into a small business production space for the cookbook now that Kev’s given up beer making, etc.).

I’d really LOVE to get the house shift done before the semester starts on the 13th, but that’s perhaps optimistic of me, esp. if I keep getting sidetracked into things like hanging art, which is good, but perhaps less essential than actually hauling things around, assembling Metro shelving racks, etc. Well, we’ll see.

I’m going to try to focus a bit more on the latter type of activity this week, or rather, the days I’m here this week, as I’m going to be in Seattle Tues – Fri for SALA (https://www.southasianliteraryassociation.org) and MLA (on a panel about Sri Lankan literature with Sugi Ganeshananthan and other fabulous folk, woot). (Seattle peeps, maybe coffee? Ping me if you’d like to buy a book for hand-delivery…although I might be temporarily out of hardcovers until the next shipment arrives; have to count.)

I’m hoping to get a LOT of writing done on the Seattle trip — some long plane flights, plus downtime in the hotel that I can treat like a little mini writing residency, when there aren’t panels I want to attend.

Two main things to work on with writing in January / February — revising and sending out some cooking essays (fingers crossed they get accepted for publication), opening up the big SF novel, re-reading the 50K drafted so far, and then launching into the next section.

Busy busy, loving my job(s). 🙂


Game Design week 5

Game Design week 5. Let me start by saying that Anand spontaneously said this morning, “Mommy, I really like your game design class.” Awww. That’s why I’m doing it, kiddo. (Kevin, let’s talk about co-teaching it next semester, on a Tues or Thurs, since we’re on the same teaching schedule at UIC. I’m thinking we do strategy games (chess / go) and board game design?)

And also, yesterday in class, one of the kids said that if I did this again, he though that lots of kids would sign up for it, because a lot of kids were sad that they didn’t get to take it. So I think it’s going well, and we’re hoping to offer it as a trial summer camp next year for Maram.

I’d really like to have it offered more broadly than just me teaching it — I think one 10-student class per semester is about my limit — so locals, if you’re interested in teaching game design at your elementary or middle school, or teaching it with us at Maram next summer, let me know?

I’d be very happy to share my course materials with you, and talk through what I did, step by step. I can even teach you how to play a RPG or Pokemon if you don’t already know how to play — it’s really simple. Maybe 2 hours on a Saturday to go through it all? Ping me if interested!

Okay, on to the recap.


This week, we transitioned out of RPGs to card-based games — the kids were super-excited to try Pokemon. I opened by asking how many knew about Pokemon (all of them), and how many had already played (3 out of 8).

The ones who had already played, I got them started with designing their own cards (for Pokemon or otherwise) at one table — very free-form, and they were happily occupied for the whole class. I’d made trading-card size blanks for them in advance out of card stock with a paper cutter — 3 each, cut to 2.5 x 3.5. I definitely needed some extras for the perfectionists in the group!

Then I played the opening of a demo game against my son (who learned how to play the day before), talking through what was happening, with the rest of the kids on his or my ‘team’. That took about 15 minutes. Once they had the basics down, I asked them if anyone wanted to finish the game with my son, and one kid did, so they spent the rest of the time playing through the game, while the rest dispersed to go make their own cards.

Next week, the plan is to bring some more ready-made decks so that they can all play through, inserting their own cards into the decks. And then we’ll talk about what makes a game fun, about the problem of overpowered cards that ‘break’ a game — one kid’s card has 1 million hit points, for example, about how to maximize fun for everyone involved, about how randomness affects game play (whether it’s a dice roll in a RPG, or a shuffled deck in this kind of game), and the right ratio of energy to active cards for Pokemon (which we’ll carry through to discussing mana and active cards when we play Magic: the Gathering the following week.)

The kids got to take home a few Pokemon cards for fun with them — pictured is one student who chose her cards based on their cuteness factor. Cuteness is very important in game design!


Game design, week 4

Game design week 4 — we’re finishing up our role-playing game unit. This week, we showed the students how one kid’s rough pencil sketch could be transformed (by his big sister), into a nice clean illustration. We also looked at classic dungeon map design, using graph paper and a dry-erase mat to experiment with some options.

The kids should have all come home with a pad of graph paper this week, along with a few instruction sheets from Hero Kids, talking through different elements of their dungeons, such as branching paths, traps, and secrets.

The kids spent half the class developing their own maps further, adding exciting illustrations, creative ideas (pit of bees!), or color. Then we did some very rapid-fire game playing, adding a few little mini monster figures for some extra fun. Although again, you don’t really need any of that — your imagination and a die is all you need to play a role-playing game.

We didn’t get through quite all the maps, so we’ll finish those up next week, and then we’re going to try designing some Pokemon characters!

Nice little Maram workshops yesterday

Nice little Maram workshops + writing coaching yesterday, and Oak Park Works was a great spot for them. Warm, clean, brightly-lit and welcoming — locals, if you’re looking for co-working space, or event-hosting space, definitely check them out! I ran a little publishing workshop, helping writers understand the current indie/trad publishing scene, what their options were, and what would be involved with various approaches. We talked for two solid hours, and I think it went pretty well and was helpful to them.

Then I did some writing coaching, meeting with someone who is thinking about an MFA, looking over her submission story for some developmental edits, but mostly just talking through where she is in her writing right now, and what good next steps would be for her. It went really well, I think.

I don’t want to set up a full-time writing coach business or anything like that, but at least in the future, when doing writing workshops, I’ll try to append this kind of thing when possible. It’s satisfying — feels like my 25+ years in this field are actually offering useful perspectives. 🙂

I’ll be back at Oak Park Works this evening at 6 p.m. with a free How to Write a Cookbook Workshop. Register at the link below if you’d like to join us! (And if you need to come in a bit late, that’s fine — I know 6 can be tricky with people’s commutes.) I’ll have copies of Feast with me, if anyone wants to pick up an early Kickstarter edition of the cookbook. If you can’t make tonight, there’s another one there, Sat. the 26th @ noon.


Game Design Class: Adventure Maps with Legos

[Bracketing this with a note that I didn’t send to the parents: the trickiest thing for me with the 4th / 5th grade after school game design class is classroom management; I’m not used to trying to keep 9 kids working productively in a small classroom, esp. at the end of a school day when they’re restless. A few of the kids are QUITE high energy.

Once the Legos came out, they were all so excited that all hope of an organized class went out the window. Which is fine, but it does mean I have to reset my expectations of how much can be done in any given stretch. Over and over!

But it’s good for me too — I’m putting a lot of thought into how to keep this fun for the kids, and it’s making me rethink how much of that fun I manage to incorporate into my college classes too. Keeping learning both engaging & productive — not easy!

I’m having my college students do a critical review podcast or YouTube video this semester, in place of one of their papers; it’s an experiment, but so far, they seem more engaged with it than paper-writing, and it’s certainly an important contemporary means of engaging with the cultural conversations around literature and media.]


Game design class, a quick update on class #3 — we worked on creating individual worlds this week. The plan was to start with Legos for inspiration, and then move on to drawing adventure maps; the Legos were a little bit too much fun, and most of the group was just starting to do maps when the hour ended. We’ll bring the maps back next week to work on them some more!

But they had a great time with the big bin of Legos, and came up with a really diverse set of worlds — most of them stayed in the classic D&D adventuring mode, with monsters and danger spots, but Malcolm had a world of vehicle drivers competing and Diana worked hard on her lovely forest setting (with a complicated hinged base). They were very excited to show you the photos of what they built!

Next week, we’ll elaborate on our overall ‘world maps’, and then use graph paper to create a grid of a ‘dungeon’ — a set of rooms for adventuring through. They should’ve come home with a little dice bag to hopefully help them keep track of their dice; with the bag, a D6, and the D12, they should be all set for a two-or-more-person adventure.


[My personal favorite was the world of fire (all the adventuring parts) and ice (separated by a barrier, with a chill out area for the adventurer to recover in). So creative! There was also a super elaborate set-up with a cave and at least four different areas, which is pretty impressive for 45 minutes of building time.

I’m also amused / bemused that Anand had absolutely no interest in the Legos — he just never got into them, which I don’t get! I adore Legos. But he dove into drawing his adventure map, and completed a great sequence (with no interest in coloring it in either), so now I’m going to have to think about what to have him do at the start of next class when the others are drawing theirs.

Anand’s done more RPG gaming than the rest of the class, I think, and is also a few months older than many of them, so I might have him try acting as a TA next time around — walk from table to table and engage with them on their maps, help them brainstorm ideas. Hm.]

Maram for fall: arts and tech collective

This one’s a mostly Maram update. First off, I’m awake! Yay. After a roughly 24-hr travel day, I slept hard for at least eight hours, and woke up feeling only moderately tired, rather than to-the-bone exhausted. Progress.

Managed to wake up in time to brush my hair and throw on sufficient clothes to look decent to take a meeting with a new person interested in the makerspace, someone Kel met at Stitches, Faith Humphey Hill, a local artist who turns out to have a background in arts administration. I almost cancelled it, for exhaustion, plus after yesterday’s big reassessing e-mail, I wasn’t sure it even made sense to meet with her.

But then I thought, no, might as well take the meeting — I’m awake, after all. Great meeting, actually — we talked for an hour and a half, and Faith’s going to go off and learn more about us and makerspaces and then come back to talk more. It may go somewhere.

And I’m now feeling not quite so much down-in-a-well generally (sleep is awesome), so I’m actually scheduling an admin team meeting with Faith and others for the first week of September, just to have an in-person conversation about next steps. (If you’re a local who would like to be part of that conversation, let me know, though I’m going to prioritize including the people who have been working on Maram for the last year, and what works for their schedules.)

I’m tentatively thinking this fall is primarily ideation stage & Maram as arts and tech collective — in other words, I don’t have to actually drive anything. And then we see where we are in January.

I was honestly super-bummed after sending the Maram message out yesterday, about stepping back, because I am so protective of my baby and I didn’t want to abandon it, or hand it over to people who wouldn’t take good care of it. I love this project. I wanted to grab it back this morning, honestly.

YET — I’m going to try to restrict Maram to one meeting per week this fall, so maybe 2 hrs. That’s….WAY less than I’d been putting in; if I start counting the actual hours, the way Kirsten Jackson is making me do, it’s a little shocking how much time I put into it. It didn’t feel like work in a lot of ways, because I was having meetings with interesting people, talking about fascinating things, and MAKING lots of stuff. So much fun!

But even if it was fun work, it still took time. Lots and lots of time. And if there’s one thing you learn from poly, it’s that while love may not be finite, time absolutely is, and there’s only so much of it to go around.

GOAL FOR FALL 2019: I’m trying to be realistic about my time and energy levels, and I have Benjamin’s voice in my head saying that it really doesn’t need to be me, doing all the things, and also Paolo’s voice in my head, saying that I’ve given more than enough time to community stuff for now.

I think he may have actually said: “The universe owes you a novel.” Which I’m not quite sure I agree with, that the universe owes me anything, but I know what he means.

It’s not really selfish of me to take the time to write my novels, even though it feels like it is.



Shed window curtains

Hm. Well, this is a semi-success. On the one hand, I needed curtains in the shed windows, because the sun coming in makes it too hot in the height of summer, and the lack of insulation makes it too cold in the depth of winter. And the curtains took 20 minutes to cut and sew, another 5 minutes to hang, and I do love the fabric I used for this, Robert Allen’s Folkworld pattern in the Aquatint color way, which I used a little under two yards of, at $15 / yard on remnant clearance at fabricguru.com.

BUT — I think maybe this isn’t what I want for this space long-term. I had waffled and waffled, thinking about map prints and space prints and finally settled on this one because I like it so. I do like it! We used the same print in his Admiral colorway for the backing cushions in our eat-in area, and it’s perfect there, we get so many compliments.

This is equally charming, and the animals are certainly appropriate to the garden. I particularly like how the gold thread I used picks up the gold of the flowers; I think it’s an interesting decorative element added to the curtains.

BUT, I think maybe I should’ve gone with my original plan and just stuck to off-white to match the interior monk-like paint job (or grey, the color of the chair and accent pieces). Because the star of the show in my shed really is the garden, and this fabric (which I bought 6 yards of, so enough to also do coordinating curtains for the long French doors AND probably the little single window on the opposite side) is sort of too pretty in its own right. It’s actually distracting me from the garden’s loveliness, rather than complementing it, I think.

Hm. I suppose I will leave these up until I have time and energy to go buy off-white fabric and re-do them, which may be a while. They can be functional, at least.

But that said, if any locals reading this has an interest in some 5′ long curtains (just covering a 4′ wide opening, without excess), let me know? I’d be happy to sell them to you for cost, so $25.

NOTE: They’re not perfectly sewn, because I was thinking it was just for my shed, and it didn’t matter if it wasn’t perfect — one end is a little long on one, so you may want to re-sew the bottom hem, though if you use clips, it’s easy enough to just hang one a little higher to achieve an even hem at the bottom; that’s what I did. ALSO, I think I didn’t really have the tension set right on the machine, as the thread doesn’t seem to be laying quite right. I mean, it’s fine, but not if you’re someone who actually knows anything about sewing. 🙂

Or if anyone’s interested in the remaining yardage (a little over 4 yards, 54″ wide), I’d happy to sell you that at cost too ($60). I’m trying to think what I can do with it other than sell it. It’d make cute playroom cushions, but I don’t really need anymore of those. It’s upholstery fabric, so a little heavy for a dress. Maybe someone with little kids (or a daycare?) could use it.

(Non-locals, if you want it badly enough to pay for shipping, that’s fine too. 🙂 )

And hey, if any locals coming to upcoming Maram’s Tea and Textiles meet-ups (Aug 3, 24, 31) wants me to show you how to hem basic curtains like this, it’s SO EASY, and I’d be happy to. You do have to either use my machine, or bring one you know how to thread. I can try to thread another machine, but I’m no expert, so no guarantees.


Central themes for Maram

Thinking about how we’re describing our central themes for Maram right now — I’ve been using futurist, heritage / culture, and sustainability. But in a lot of ways, I really think it all falls under tech, just not in ways people are used to thinking about tech. ‘Tech’ as ‘application of complex, structured skills’?

Tech (futurist): 3D printing, wearable electronics

Tech (heritage): sashiko embroidery, stranded knitting, sourdough bread-making, beer-making, ethnic heritage cuisines

Tech (sustainable): worm composting, decorative mending

And I really want to keep interrogating that, especially given the gender divisions that people keep wanting to reinforce, where some types of tech get coded male, and some get coded female.

I swear, sometimes I want to start a men’s textile arts group, just to start pushing back against this. Maybe I can hold a free ‘learn to crochet class’ for men in our community. Or ‘learn to sew on a damned button.’

Would anyone come? Model this kind of knowledge and skill for your sons, dads! Let your daughters see you with a needle in that big, manly hand.

Sketching out a MakerFaire

Does it look like the beginning of a MakerFaire? It does!

Maram is going to be hosting a set of demos at the OP Main Library August 25, 2-5 — save the date! 3D printing, an embroidery machine, a poetry booth, spice grinding, and more… Free and open to the public. 🙂

A picture of a piece of white paper. There is a sketch of a table layout, with a large central table labeled ‘writing’, surrounded on three sides with additional smaller tables, labeled with various crafts, with a large walkway between the inner and outer table.

Monthly “Who Are We?” Post

Once a month, I’m trying to do a little explanatory post about Maram! 

So, a group of us (more volunteers are welcome!) have been working on a new non-profit org, that’s trying to open up a local makerspace in the Oak Park area, covering the areas of tech, textiles, writing, cooking, and gardening. 

We were finalists for the Big Idea Grant, and while we didn’t win, we’ve raised some funds from generous donors to help get us off the ground. We hope to lower costs and barriers to making, so that we can share skills and help give Oak Parkers and our neighbors more access to tech and resources.

We’re in the process of securing a space where members can use shared machines and enjoy co-working on creative pursuits; we’re also planning on have free days where anyone can just stop by and be introduced to 3D printing, lasercutting, sewing and embroidery machines, and more — but in the meantime, we’ve started offering workshops, with more coming this fall. 

Do you want to learn more about canning or kombucha-making? Maybe 3D print your own vase design, or some cute animal hooks for your child’s room? Take a free workshop and learn to crochet or knit? Try some fiction writing or memoir? All of those, and lots more, are coming; we’ll be posting our fall schedule very soon. Get in early, as some things do fill up! 

(Since we’re a non-profit, we have full scholarships and sliding scale available — please don’t hesitate to take advantage of that. Funds raised go to pay our instructors a fair rate, and if there’s any left, it goes towards securing a permanent space, but what we really want is to share the joy of making with as many people as possible. (If you’re interested in donating to us, donations are tax-deductible, and I’d love to talk to you!))

Check out our MakerFaire at the main library, Sunday, August 25, 2-5, and join our FB group (or sign up for the newsletter), to stay informed about upcoming talks, demos, workshops, and courses.

If you’re interested in teaching for us, details are on our website! And if you’re interested in helping organize, drop me a note (PM or e-mail, mohanraj@uic.edu), and I’ll be sure to include you in the next planning meeting.

Maram Makerspace FB group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/532627290547230/

Maram Makerspace FB page: https://www.facebook.com/MaramMakerspace

Website (with newsletter sign-up too):  http://www.marammakerspace.com

(And as a bonus, some of us are gamers / interested in game design, so we’ve set up a little Maram Makerspace gaming affinity group too, which you can find here:  https://www.facebook.com/groups/1246790552165856/— we’ll be doing some board gaming soon!)

This week’s Maram events at our house, 332 Wisconsin, Oak Park: 

Wednesday 7/17: 10-3, Maram Creativity / Productivity Retreat ($5)
Wednesday 7/17: 3 – 4:30, Maram Planning Meeting (all are welcome)
Saturday 7/20: 2 – 3, Maram Info Session (learn about us! all are welcome)
Saturday 7/20: 3 – 5, Tea and Textiles (free)  
Saturday 7/20: 5 – 10, Board Game Potluck (free)

Please RSVP if attending. 

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