MeAtWork

Are you creative?

Creativity tends to be associated with imaginative artistic creation like writing a novel or song, or painting a picture, but I think that’s much too narrow. 

Raising children requires creativity: a parent may be called upon to solve the problems and fulfil the needs of a three-year-old with whatever is on hand (three-year-olds have little patience), using a lot of imagination and improvisation. A business owner faces unpredictable frustrations and opportunities. Cooks, teachers, and engineers, among other workers, have to innovate in tiny and huge ways all the time to create new products and outcomes and re-create old products and outcomes out of changing resources. These roles and many others demand creativity.

We can create beauty, justice, order, value, love, and solutions. Creating anything takes effort and brings joy. The process of creation also changes who you are as a person, maybe a little, maybe a lot. It reveals life.

How will you create today?

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My right eye

Overall, I see pretty well. I use glasses, but even without them I could manage to read or walk down the street if I had to.

However, the vision in my right eye is a little poorer than the left eye due to minor age-related problems with the vitreous humor (the jelly-like substance inside the eyeballs) and a cataract. I can see well, but the difference is noticeable.

Despite that, I see better and more clearly with both eyes than with just the left eye alone. The right eye still has something worthwhile to give — proof again that contributions of smaller size or lesser quality can be valuable. It all adds up.

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How I got the name Susan

Obviously, I got the name “Susan” from my parents. But why did they pick it?

Over the years, I pieced together the story. My practical, rational parents always planned ahead — with one superstitious exception. They had four children in all, and they stalwartly believed it was bad luck to think too much about a baby before it was born. They didn’t want to know the sex or anything else ahead of time.

In fact, it was bad luck just to think about possible names.

But laws require babies to be given names promptly. So after every birth, my parents needed to make a fast decision. In my case, after a long labor, they were both frazzled, and they chose the first thing that came to mind. As it happened, “Susan” reached an apogee in popularity that year, bestowed on 47,402 babies. That name came to mind first.

It’s an okay name, from the Hebrew word meaning “lily,” but every time I’m among women my age, at least two of us will be named Susan. I’d prefer something less common. It’s possible to guess my age from my name — much like the babies born today being named Emma, Olivia, Liam, and Noah. Names come and go in fashion. 

Writers can hint at a character’s age by picking a popular name from their birth year. Betty, Jennifer, Christopher, and Joshua all had their day. For the United States, the Social Security Agency provides detailed statistics for the names registered each year.

Statistics also prove that it was never in fashion for a boy to be named Sue.

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Goodreads review: "Meet Me in Another Life" by Catriona Silvey

Meet Me In Another LifeMeet Me In Another Life by Catriona Silvey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Science fiction can reach out to the stars and at the same time hold tight to the human heart. The many layers of mystery in this beautiful love story lead to a breathtaking ending.

First, I should say that the British publisher sent me a copy of this novel and asked me to provide a blurb if I liked it. I did like it, and my blurb is the first paragraph of this review. The British edition goes on sale July 8. If you’re in the US, the book has been on sale since April.

Second, I cried at the ending.

Third, I won’t tell you why. Because spoilers, big spoilers.

Fourth, if you like science fiction, as you read this novel, you may wonder at some point if it is science fiction. Thora and Santi keep meeting in life after life, which doesn’t seem to make much sense. Trust me. It really is science fiction, and it all makes sense in the end.

Fifth, if you like literary fiction, here’s your chance to see that science fiction can also be character-driven and utterly moving. Just like the past and the present, the future will be human and humane.




View all my reviews
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Read around the world

Books can change readers, and readers can change the world. Fueled by that idea, Lisa Carter created Intralingo to connect authors and translators from around the world with readers.

She asked some of the writers featured in the Intralingo World Lit Podcast to share what opened their perspectives or their hearts by recommending a book that impacted them in some way. They named fourteen books from around the world, both fiction and non-fiction, from science fiction to graphic novel, and haiku to spiritual reflection.

My recommended book is Solarpunk: Ecological and Fantastical Stories in a Sustainable World, an anthology that seeks not only to create the future but to change the present.

You can see all the books and what makes them impressive at Writers Recommend These Reads. The list hints at the depth and breadth of the written world waiting for us.

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What if it really were a dragon?

My Madagascar dragon tree. Photo by Sue Burke.
My Madagascar dragon tree. Photo by Sue Burke.

The genus of plants called Dracaena gets its name from the Ancient Greek word δράκαινα (drakaina): “female dragon.” It got that name because the red sap of Dracaena draco looked like dragon blood to the ancients. Dragon blood, it turns out, is useful.

Many houseplants fall within the Dracaena genus. Always popular for its beauty and easy care is the Dracaena marginata, also called the Madagascar dragon tree. One variety has dark red outer edges on its leaves with a green center; the Tricolor has green, pinkish, and yellowish stripes; and the Colorama has wide red edges.

None of them are real dragons, of course. But … what if they were dragons … dragons that were hiding? Dragons are magic, so they certainly could take the shape of a plant. And what if, sometimes, in the middle of the night, they changed back into real dragons?

You’ve never seen that happen — and there might be a magical reason for that. When you see a dragon in your living room, the dragon uses its magic to gently and thoroughly remove that memory from your mind. But a dragon has a sense of justice, and it wants to reward you for your care of the plant. So it offers a deal: it will remove the memory of its true self, and, if you wish, it will also remove one additional memory of your choice. There must be something you wish you could forget.

What would you choose?

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Now at Clarkesworld: “Embracing the Movement” by Cristina Jurado, translated by Sue Burke

Award-winning author, editor, and friend Cristina Jurado asked me last year if I would translate her short story “Abrazar el movimiento.” As soon as I read it, I said yes: an intense first contact story whose beautiful images hide horror.

The story, originally published in Spanish in Spain, has been nominated for a 2021 Ignotus Award, Spain’s equivalent of the Hugo.

Clarkesworld Magazine has just published the translation in its June issue with the title “Embracing the Movement.”

Every translation has its delightful problems. Despite the joy of bringing the full reverberance of words from one language to another, many words never have exact equivalents. In this case, the challenge started with the first sentence:

No somos tan diferentes, forestera. “We are not so different…” and then there’s that word: forestera. It is used repeatedly throughout the story, and I had to get it right.

The Real Diccionario Española defines forastero/a as someone or something que es o viene de fuera del lugar: “that is or comes from another place,” a stranger, an outsider. But there’s more: forastero is male, forastera is female. In the context of the story, it matters that the person being addressed is identified as female. I needed to find a way to preserve that sense.

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My choice for the Nebula Award for Novelette

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc. (SFWA) has announced the finalists for the 56th Annual Nebula Award. The awards will be presented in a virtual ceremony on Saturday, June 5, 2021.

I’m a member of SFWA, and I like to focus on the shorter fiction nominees because I can finish my reading by the April 30 deadline, and because fewer people vote, which means my opinions matter more.

Novelettes are at least 7,500 words long but less than 17,500 words, which allows for greater development than a short story. All the nominees use that space to create their own worlds with success, and each one is worthy of the award.

• “Shadow Prisons” by Caroline M. Yoachim (in Dystopia Triptych, Broad Reach Publishing + Adamant Press) (full text: The Shadow Prison ExperimentShadow Prisons of the MindThe Shadow Prisoner’s Dilemma). People can be turned into “shadows” as punishment by a restrictive government. A woman who becomes a shadow tries to fight back, or at least to avoid destroying other lives. I found the story itself more compelling than the telling of it.

• “Burn or the Episodic Life of Sam Wells as a Super” by A.T. Greenblatt (Uncanny 5-6/20). Superheros are feared and hated — by themselves as well as the public at large — for their poorly controlled powers. Emotions in the story are carefully depicted.

• “Two Truths and a Lie” by Sarah Pinsker (Tor.com 6/17/20). A woman becomes caught in a web of her own lies. Genuinely creepy horror.

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