"Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards." - Robert A. Heinlein

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Summer of Hoop-Jumping (Dealing With the Administration at Southwestern College, Part I)

I know a few college professors. To be truthful, I know a lot of college professors. They are as different from each other as any population, but like any subset of the people, they have their own recurrent topics of conversation.

One such topic, of course, is “students.” As a smaller part of that subject, another frequently mentioned discussion topic is ‘student excuses.’

“My student says they were dropped without warning while they were trying to register.” “Well, my student claims his financial aid package just disappeared.” “Oh yeah? Well, I know one who says…”

I’ve heard a lot of them: the comments, questions, disbelief. In one instance, a professor of my acquaintance described a situation that a student had with financial aid as “impossible.”

The same thing happened to me.

Don’t think I’m castigating the instructors – I’m not. Not everyone has yet had that student who was able to explain things, to clarify exactly what happened. I suspect that eventually all of them will, because frankly, this system is deeply flawed.

As a result of that flawed system, some students will never get a chance to try again. Some simply fall away from college, because they were wrongly dropped or rejected, or because “they” put up one last hoop, one too high for the student to jump through.

(This article also appears on the Patch network.)


I applied for financial aid in May this year. I knew about what classes I wanted to take, and by that I mean I had a vague idea, but I was bound and determined to actually get that education. I want that degree I’d never acquired, but the education was my goal.

Okay, the degree really is the goal, but I didn’t want to muck about and try to game the system to get that degree with as little work as possible. I wanted to take those blasted classes and learn something.

I applied near the end of the spring semester. Things began to go wrong immediately. Every day I checked my email with a vague sense of dread, wondering what hoops Southwestern College had for me to leap through this time.

On two separate weekends, I received trios of emails in the middle of the night, starting late Friday – three days of three emails. Both times the format was the same: two emails that read “Congratulations! You’ve been approved for financial aid at SWC!” followed by one that said “We’re sorry, but you’ve been rejected.”

I’m a writer. I can handle rejection.

But each rejection including a line that read (and this is a quote): “…you are not eligible for the program due to the following reason:”

And… nothing. No reason, just a blank line.

Each time that happened, I packed up various documents, records, schedules, tax forms, and so on and hauled it all down to SWC’s financial aid department. Each time I was told, “Whoops! That’s a computer glitch. You shouldn’t have had to come down here. You’re fine.”

That happened twice.

On two other occasions, I received emails that read, “Your application for financial aid at Southwestern College has been received. However, the documents listed below are required to review your file.”

And… nothing. No documents listed, just a blank line.

Of course, these happened at different times than the terrible trios of emails occurred. So again, each time I packed up the document box and hauled it to SWC. And again, each time I was told, “Whoops! That’s another computer glitch. You don’t owe us anything.”

On my fourth and final trip to SWC this past summer to account for documents they didn’t need and to find out why I was eligible, eligible, and ineligible, I asked the employee at the financial aid desk if I needed to provide anything.

“No,” she said. “Your file is closed. You don’t need to bring anything else. We’ll review it and you should be set come autumn!” (I’m paraphrasing here. I didn’t know I’d need to record the conversation.)

Autumn arrived. I’d selected my classes and on the Sunday afternoon before I went back, I suddenly had a feeling of dread. I logged into the campus computer system to see how things were going.

They weren’t.


There was nothing there about a grant – nothing at all. The school had no record of it.

Had I discovered this during the week, I’d have broken land-speed records getting back to campus to find out just what the hell was going on. As it was, I didn’t get the chance. Stuck at home on Sunday, I dug around the various files and links attached to my records, and through a link titled “Documents,” I found that SWC needed a copy of my high school diploma.

I was actually speechless, until the swearing began.

Diligently, I’d brought copies of everything, including my passport, to the school. As far as I knew, I’d accounted for everything. What high school did I attend? When? Whom do we contact? Can we get copies of your high school transcript? Yep, yep, sure – I filled out all of it. But sometime late this summer, someone decided they wanted that one document.

I accept that. I also have it.

However, no one at SWC ever sent me an email informing me. In fact, no one ever contacted me about it at all. They apparently assumed I’d discover this need on my own. But then another question appeared.


Let me preface this by stating for the record: I don’t hold the SWC employees responsible. With all of California’s budget slashing going on – and thank you so much to the conservatives for making that happen while preserving those precious tax breaks for oil companies that have quit hiring locals and have moved many of their operations to countries with non-existent minimum wages – the campus employees are shorthanded and overworked. Each time I went there, I tried to be polite and reasonable, hence the reason I brought every document I had with me when I went.

But who is “they?” Who sent out these alerts? Who decided to send me ridiculous requests for nothing and constant trios of acceptance and rejection?

The computer system did. It’s all automatic, I’m told.

Seemingly, the computer system outranks the employees, and sends out what it wants at the time, whenever it wants to do it – except when it doesn’t. When it decided that I needed to jump through one more hoop before receiving any grants, it apparently chose to not let me know, and to rely on my scavenging through its innards to find out on my own.

Had I not done this, I never would have known about the damn diploma.


Students clutter up the campus, the Dean of Student Services ignores me, computer systems that are meant not to talk to each other, and how this is all my fault.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Kizuna: Fiction for Japan (a charity anthology) is out!

It is with great pleasure that I announce that Kizuna: Fiction for Japan is out! This charity anthology is unlike any other. Featuring a mix of authors - the known and the unknown, created and developed to be released and read online, but designed to also go into print, Kizuna: Fiction for Japan is a labor of love of 76 different writers from 11 different countries - all of whom are taking part in helping the victims of the earthquakes and tsunami in Japan this spring.

I'm not exaggerating when I say this was the brainchild of American-born, Japan-based writer Brent Millis - who alone developed the idea of a charity anthology and then started seeking the opinions of people he knew online.

Brent and I have known each other on Twitter for a couple of years, and on Facebook for nearly as long. We've never met, but we have a clear respect for each other's work and ability. And following this, Brent has my highest level of respect as a man able to do what few others have ever even attempted.

This is from his press release:

The earth shook. The waters rose. Japan cried out...

And we listened. After the devastating earthquake, people from all over the world have found ways to help, and Kizuna: Fiction for Japan is one that is new and unique.

Kizuna: Fiction for Japan is a mixed-genre anthology of short fiction, most of it 1000 words or less. It boasts internationally-known authors like Michael Moorcock, Ken Asamatsu, Jon Courtenay Grimwood, John Shirley, Shinya Gaku, Vittorio Catani, Robert M. Price, Joseph S. Pulver Sr., and Alvin Pang; genre authors like Bradley Sands, Jason Wuchenich, Andersen Prunty, and Garrett Cook; and independent authors like Trent Zelanzy and Glynn Barrass. An astonishing 76 authors answered the call to help and approximately ninety percent of it is original work written specifically for this anthology. 100 percent of the proceeds will go to helping orphans in the disaster-devastated areas of Miyagi, Iwate, and Fukushima via the NPO, Smile Kids Japan.

Smiles and Dreams

Smile Kids Japan and Living Dreams (NPOs/social benefit organizations) are working together on Smiles and Dreams, a program to help the orphanages in the worse affected prefectures of Fukushima, Miyagi, and Iwate. From helping with immediate needs, to setting up long term programs to empower the children to dream again and help them realize their goals, Smiles and Dreams is a grassroots project that gets the money directly to those in need.

From the editor's [Brent Millis'] introduction:

"I turned to my friends in the writing community. Would they contribute? Sure they would! Soon I had ten authors. Then twenty. Thirty... Author friends of author friends were submitting. Authors from Spain, Singapore, Japan, Italy, New Zealand, Germany, France, America, the UK, Australia and Canada all stepped forward. I was stunned. Even now, as corny as it sounds, the gratitude I feel at their selfless desire to help makes me very misty-eyed."

Please help spread the word of Kizuna, a word that means "bond" in Japanese, and create your own bond with the people of Japan.

So You're Involved?

If it seems I'm proud to be involved with Kizuna, let me be clear: I've never been prouder to be involved with anything like this. I think the concept is brilliant, the goal is unbelievably worthy, and the people involved are tremendous.

I've donated my short story, "Ploughman," to Kizuna: Fiction for Japan, for as long as Brent sees fit to use it. It's a good piece, I think, but I honestly could not consider ever using it for anything as good as this.
So what's in it?
I swiped this from the Kizuna website:  horror, humor, human drama, science fiction, fantasy, absurdist, bizarro, weird, new wave, bugpunk, Cthulu, Sherlock Holmes, historical fiction, and more.
So who's in it?
Legendary English fantasist, godfather of dark fantasy, and creator of the "Eternal Champion," Michael Moorcock. He gave us Elric, Corum, Dorian Hawkmoon, and Jerry Cornelius, popularized the entire Law versus Chaos notion of fantasy (played and AD&D lately? - that's where Lawful/Chaotic comes from)...
Cyberpunk/science fiction/horror writer, screenwriter, and lyricist John Shirley...

Award-winning British fantasy and science fiction author Jon Courtenay Grimwood...

Critically acclaimed Singaporean poet Alvin Pang...

Japanese novelists Shinya Gaku, Ken Asamatsu, and Fumihiko Iino, Canadian novelist Katherine Govier, acclaimed horror author/poet Joseph S. Pulver, Sr., Italian science fiction writer Vittorio Catani, Spanish romance/fantasy author Lucía González Lavado, science fiction writer and author of "Night of the Living Trekkies" Kevin David Anderson, Italian essayist/novelist Danilo Arona, American theologian and writer Robert M. Price, bizarro author and editor of "Bust Down the Door and Eat All the Chickens" Bradley Sands, Doctor Who short story writer Richard Salter, Italian writer/scientist/translator/gamer Davide Mana, Japanese novelist and video game scriptwriter Midori Tateyama...

...And about a metric ton of other writers, including all those I failed to list... and me.

So Why Get It?

This is for charity - for a good cause. In fact, at the same time that Brent Millis was compiling and editing these stories, he sought out the charitable groups with which to be involved. And he asked us what we thought. He kept up a dialogue with the writers about what we felt and who we wanted to be involved with. This is not only a good cause, but it's one that the editor chose with great care, and one we all had a hand in selecting.

Kizuna: Fiction for Japan is available for download on Amazon.com for $9.99 or 7 pounds (sorry, Blogger doesn't seem to want to import my "pound" sign right now).

Amazon US here.

Amazon UK here.