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This will have been my eighth consecutive Iron Noder Challenge. The first year I did this, I also completed NaNoWriMo at the very same time, because I am a horrible gremlin like that, and overcommitting to simultaneous creative projects is apparently how I show love, or something. Since that first year, I dropped the NaNo portion of the activity, on the grounds that if I'm going to write a novel, I can damn well do it any time of year. I've never cared for New Year's Resolutions, for the same reason I don't care for NaNo: setting a fixed start time to begin a commitment feels too much to me like a preemptive failure of discipline and motivation - like by waiting until the selected date to begin, I am practicing at procrastinating. I just don't like how that feels; I imagine it works very well for other folk.

But that's not what Iron Noder is about for me. November is the month when I hibernate. I get reclusive, and only E2 and my husband (and coworkers and students) see hide or hair of me for the whole month. I've learned that if I'm going to go to ground and avoid social demands and doing emotional labour for my friends, to recuperate my own morale and mental health, then I have to go radio silent, or else I get swamped with other people's issues and very little reciprocal care. In November, my husband and I both have our birthdays, and as Americans we also have Thanksgiving, which is - at minimum - excruciatingly fraught, considering how conservative my relatives are, and considering how the family's elderly population has a distressing tendency to dwindle more and more, with deaths aligning with the holidays. The holidays have gotten brutally uncomfortable, to the point that nobody is inclined to host them anymore, and this year with the plague and all, obviously that's just out of the question anyway. I'm not the only person in my close circle of friends and peers who are going through things like this, and since nearly everyone I affiliate with is some sort of queer and liberal, with conservative homophobic relatives, there is always someone who needs a shoulder to cry on, and considers me their first pick. And that would be fine, if not for "someone" usually being a few dozen separate people who somehow unanimously select me for the job, even if we don't have a historical pattern of that being how the dynamic works between us. The thing is, December is even worse, since Seasonal Affective Disorder is in full swing for most people who have it, by then, and the winter recess between university semesters means they are often stuck with hateful natal family rather than back at school with supportive friends and partners and a clear sense of academic purpose. If I'm to be available in December, I have to patch up my own shit in November, and Iron Noder is the main active way for me to do that, paired with the more passive hibernatory habits of lounging and playing Pokémon games with my husband. November means self-care, and self-care in November means Iron Noder, and as my homenode states, "if I ever skip the Iron Noder challenge, I'm probably lying in a ditch somewhere, and you should send help."

As for my process: nodeshells, baby. If there is a nodeshell out there with a spiffy title, I want to gobble it up like a slice of pie I stole off a window sill. Reliably more than half my compositions are attached to what had been nodeshells before I got there, and the other half are whatever struck me on that particular day as desperately needing a writeup, or at least scratching the itch to write. Occasionally I ask for requests and recommendations from people who leave me remarks in my messages, and it seems like etouffee and I have a habit of turning lines of each other's writeups into nodeshells that one or the other of us fills, so there's never a shortage of raw material. Additionally, this year my husband wrote for me a computer program which generates a set of random words from a corpus of "poetry magnets," and that gave me a great springboard for most of this year's poetry. I don't preselect what I'm going to write; I don't go into Iron Noder with a game plan of any sort - feels too much like cheating, I guess - and instead I decide on a node to write in, and complete the entire work in a single sitting, then return to correct any errors that are caught by eagle-eyed people like DonJaime, Clockmaker, and Tem42, since my eyes are considerably less apt than those of eagles.

I'm glad andycyca made this pile-on node; I think there's a certain indulgence in writing about writing, that is very tempting to pursue, but under normal circumstances it gets narcissistic and navel-gazey at best, or cynical and gatekeeping at worst. I'm enjoying the opportunity to read how others tackle Iron Noder and the writing process overall, and having the license to spam the topic a little bit, myself. Without getting too much into the politics and history of Thanksgiving, I want to say that Everything2 and the Iron Noder Challenge are things I am extremely thankful are a part of my life, and that I'm thankful to be a part of for several years in a row now. I'm grateful to mauler for organising it like clockwork every year, and to the people who read and vote and comment. I'm grateful to the handful of users (you know who you are) who chronically ching my writeups; I haven't been on E2 for so long that I don't feel a thrill of unexpected delight, to be given those little hits of esteem and approval and fellow-feeling. I'm grateful to everyone else who writes for Iron Noder, keeping it an active dimension of this community, and by extension keeping this community lively during the time of year when it's hardest to motivate social participation and creative efforts. I can be pretty scarce during the rest of the year, because IN on E2 is so integral to my self-care that I don't want to undermine the "magic" of it, or the feeling that my birthday aligns perfectly with the home stretch of the entire process. This community and everyone in it are such a gift. The world is borked every which way right now, but this - it's something I'm happy to share a world with.

This year I've been fortunate, amid so much misfortune. I teach online, and that picked up during the pandemic, rather than disappearing from under my feet the way so many people's jobs have gone. I haven't lost any close personal friends or relatives to it so far. My other gig at the hotel stayed steady despite lockdowns, because many of our occupants live here full-time as renters, or as house fire survivors who are put up here by the state until their home insurance kicks in. I live in a deeply rural area with very little inter-region transit by the local population, and for all that the locals are very conservative, they've been scrupulous about wearing masks in public and staying home as much as possible. We lost RBG and picked up a pretty shameful collection of new SCOTUS justices, and only time will tell what kind of fallout will result from that, but the POTUS election ended without a worst case scenario happening, and voter turnout was the highest in US history, which on its own makes me a bit more optimistic about the future of this country, even with so much else going poorly: it tells me that the kids are alright. I made new friends this year, in that online capacity which is allowable under the circumstances, and I improved the quality of existing friendships and relationships. My health has held steady. I've read so many excellent books and enjoyed delightful shows. I've gotten to know and teach some wonderful students, some of whom treat me like family now. I got an ukulele as a birthday present, which was pretty dang sweet. So... I'm doing okay. There are things I wish were better, but I've already named them, so no need to repeat myself.

Now I'll get into the individual writeups, and thank you for reading this far. I know it ran long, but it's a personal writeup; I think that's forgivable.

Book Reviews

  • This Is How You Lose the Time War - Ties for my favourite book of all time. This bastard book broke me, and it put me back together with gold joinery, and I was delighted and aghast to find nobody had beaten me to reviewing it.
  • To Be Taught, If Fortunate and Providence - Companion pieces in a philosophically antagonistic way; I read these back-to-back and found that I got quite a bit more out of the experience than if I had only read either on its own.
  • The Quantum Magician - Really just a very fun romp, and good enough to recommend, which is all I ask of a heist novel set in space,
  • Ninefox Gambit - A masterwork of flawless prose and even better plot development. Again, aghast and delighted at finding no prior reviews.
  • frend - I was surprised how many people messaged me saying they plan to read this one; I have had the hardest damn time getting my close friends to take my recommendation seriously and give it a chance. I'm happy to have found some takers here. I really want this author to get "discovered" properly, because I can tell he's got some hard-hitting stories in him, that could use an audience.
  • If You Take My Meaning and The Word of Flesh and Soul - Practically companion pieces; reading these two back-to-back was highly rewarding.
  • Books to read before you give up on sci-fi - Okay, this is more of a bulk supply of quick recommendations, than a review, but it doesn't quite fall in any other category neatly. The nodeshell called, and I answered, and many, many other noders came forward with their assertions that Borges was not a science fiction author, to which I say "Humbug!" and "Linguistics is absolutely a science!" and also "Check out this sweet article which makes my point for me, better than I will."


  • Not all at once, but in a wave - I felt like applying a few principles from cynghanedd, since I noded it anyway, and this nodeshell struck me as a flawless title for a miniature science fiction scenario. I've been wanting to reread Whipping Star by Frank Herbert lately, so the idea that the stars are winking out, but are kind enough to help us escape whatever existential threat they are themselves fleeing, tickled me. I used the "magnet words" program as fuel for this piece.
  • "Too long ago" makes no sense to me. - My relatives have been exquisitely bad at keeping in touch, since the patriarch and matriarch of my paternal family died these last few years. Exactly one cousin has maintained e-mail contact with me, and it sounds like the communication breakdowns are between pretty much every branch of the family. Going through the holidays without the grandparents as the social glue is already patently hellish, and on some level there is a kind of wincing relief that at least we aren't collectively fearing losing our elders to the plague this year (though our grandmother's sister did pass away several months ago, and had too closed a funeral for any of our branch to attend). Nobody is gathering, of course - too much sense for that - but the nostalgia and the sense of abandonment needed somewhere to go, so this poem happened. The "magnet words" generator fueled this one.
  • nine keys and their attributes - Fiction, but I love the sonder of little glimpses into lives I'm not part of. I tried to capture a scrap of the sense of mystery and history found in a house slowly being emptied of evidence of past occupants. It's what my family feels like, from the inside, right now.
  • Something eventually will consume you - Fiction, and the "magnet words" generator fueled this one. Sometimes, as a sapphic woman, a little bit of fictional serial murder and arson is called for, as a way of exorcising the ghosts of fuckboys past.
  • carried off by birds - Another "sonder" fiction, fueled by the "magnet words" generator. The anecdote about the stork taking back a sibling is based on a true event in my family, as is the kicking of pelicans, but they were not the same event.


  • marimo care - Sometimes the words don't arrange themselves in friendly little lines for me, so I have to cast about my surroundings for something that can suitably anchor a topic. A loved one of mine gifted me three marimo for Valentine's Day, and they've delighted me, especially as a low-effort "quarantine pet," so when they came to mind, I knew I would be writing about them.


  • Will it explode in the microwave? - That night I was at hardship for what to write, and I expect it shows. Someone at my place of work managed to burn popcorn and volcanically erupt a can of pork & beans in the work microwave during the previous shift, which led me to some uncharitable thoughts and this writeup.

Simple Factuals

  • ideophone and Prozeugma - Just a couple little linguistics and grammar nodeshells which nobody had beaten me to filling. Short and sweet.
  • wampeter and anticonfluentialism - Fictional concepts which are actually pretty neat! I had fun on these two.
  • quadrumvirate - A topic which looked Latin (a subject expertise of mine) and turned out to be rather more Italian in its actual place in history. Pretty dry, and less fun to node than some others, but at least now that base is covered.
  • Lórien - Ahh, Tolkien, a topic where I have genuine subject matter expertise. I was shocked to find this one empty, and I was torn between noding it and Carcharoth, but I felt it would be a little "cheap" to do more than one writeup this month over material that the various Tolkien wikis also cover pretty effectively.
  • every day carry - A topic near and dear to my heart, even if I am a bit tongue-in-cheek about my own excessive day-to-day preparedness. I worked as a wilderness first responder for awhile during university, and I never have shaken off the related habits of carrying things I might need.
  • Brandolini's Law - Wikipedia had a few things to say about this, but I felt like it would be worth tackling the tactics for dealing with it, as well. The attentive reader may note that nowhere do I include "feed the trolls by participating in their Gish Gallop efforts" as a viable tactic.
  • Solo tabletop RPG - Another dearly beloved topic for me. I discovered solo tabletop this spring, after a lifetime of loving Choose Your Own Adventure stories. The offerings on itch.io gave me ways to kill time and explore some emotions in a productive way. It merited the writeup, I feel.

Factuals Nobody Asked For, But Nobody Was There To Stop Me

  • web weaving - Yeah, yeah, it's a tumblr thing. I don't care if folks find that childish; I consider web weaving an especially beautiful manifestation of a community orientation toward art and connection, which that particular website expresses especially well. I've run across weavings which made me sob like a desolate child, and weavings that lifted my spirits. I hope I've done it at least half a scrap of justice.
  • sedoretu - I'm polyamorous and bi, and Le Guin's stories featuring sedoretu (and the numerous fanfiction which use it as a relationship framework) make me feel particularly "seen." Bi polyamory presented not just as a tolerable sort of weirdness, but as the dominant and highly treasured-and-defended social norm of an entire planet, complete with its own set of nuances and weird matchmaking drama... yeah, that's for me. Give it here. Let's have more.
  • Cynghanedd - Welsh poetry occupies a vast amount of my cognitive real estate, and this topic is one which wikipedia barely scratches at all, and has rather shabby examples of, in its effort to present it to an anglophone audience. It doesn't address the political nature of Welsh poetry, in the face of English hostility and attempted cultural genocide. The topic cannot be handled justly without such an accounting, as far as I'm concerned.
  • hopepunk and solarpunk - I enjoyed these, but they were a little bit harrowing to assemble, and to feel "finished." I hadn't planned on writing the latter until I had already finished the former and realised that if I wanted it rendered to my satisfaction, I'd need to do it myself, because I do not trust anybody to have my quantity of capital-f Feelings about these genres. My upbringing was not a very friendly experience, and hopepunk and solarpunk speculative fiction are almost singlehandedly to credit for whatever adjacency-to-sanity I enjoy as an adult. Along with Welsh poetry, poetry by sapphic authors, and a great heap of music, they're the substrate from which my soul is hewn, and... that's that, I suppose.

Iron Noder 2020, 31/30