To make this time different

BLMI haven’t said anything here about the recent Black Lives Matter protests and events. Frankly, I don’t have much to add to the insight being imparted elsewhere, except for one aspect that I want to underline.

This is going to be a long haul. Speaking as a white person to white people, we need to be ready to work for years, even our whole lives. (Black people are already there.)

The opposition will fight back. Among other strategies, it will try to use attrition — it always does. There’s money to be made by blocking justice, enough money to pay skilled people to work full time to fight to maintain white supremacy. You and I who make our livings in other ways can devote fewer of our own resources. White supremacists want to wear us down so we’ll give up, discouraged.

But just like an optical illusion, once you see what’s happening, you won’t get fooled. Exhaustion is a trick they’re playing on us. Rest if you must, but don’t stop.

If you haven’t done much so far, that’s okay. I was moved by the mass protests, but I’m worried about Covid-19, so I only went to a small, neighborhood protest, holding my little home-made sign. Covid-19 will be gone eventually. There will still be lots to do, and we’ll have more freedom to do it. Meanwhile, I’m helping with funding and carrying out projects from isolation. We’ll all find a role.

If you don’t think you understand the issue well enough, that’s okay. Read books, watch videos, and seek out Black viewpoints. It’s not Black people’s burden to teach us, but they are generously sharing an enormous wealth of wisdom.

If your life leaves you with little to give, at a minimum, register and vote. If you think voting doesn’t matter, then why would anyone try to suppress it?

Finally, whatever you do, make a material, not symbolic, difference. This little TikTok video by Joy Oladokun skewers fast, superficial cures to racism.

Words and expressions first used in the year when I was born

SueBurkeToddler235I recently had a birthday. Can you guess how long ago I was born? Here are some words that were first recorded that year by Merriam-Webster. Some of the words surprised me.

big bang theory
fabric softener
hidden agenda
intensive care unit
liner notes
New Left
red panda

Find out which year and see more of its surprising words at Time Traveler.

Dad’s three rules for workplace success


Headshot of my father


For Father’s Day

Late one Friday decades ago when the fish weren’t biting, Dad decided that instead of trying to catch those uncooperative fish, he and I could spend our time better having a beer at the little tavern in Green Lake Terrace, Wisconsin, where we had a summer home.

From the comfort of a bar stool, he told me three secrets to success at work — and he’d had a variety of experiences in life.

1. Always stay as polite as you can for as long as you can. If you start out mad, where can you go from there? Besides, if you’re polite, calm, and rational, the person you’re dealing with will feel obliged to act that way, too, and this is more likely to lead to success.

My dad added that this can require calculated self-control, and the moment might come when politeness doesn’t work. He earned the nickname “the bastard” at work for his ability to be impolitely assertive in a self-controlled, calculated way when he had to. For example, a machine had been delivered that didn’t work right, and in heavy manufacturing, operating errors can kill people. The supplier refused to fix the machine. Finally, my dad talked to the supplier and explained in simple Anglo-Saxon words why they had to fix their machine or else — and they finally understood the situation.

My father didn’t teach me how to swear, but he taught me when to swear.

2. Always remember that the people who work for you have it in their power to determine whether you’re a success or not. Treat them as well as you can. If your employees hate you, they have no incentive to work harder than they need to. In fact, they might even make things fail out of spite. This has actually happened.

But if your employees know you’re trying your best to get them what they need, fighting on their behalf with the powers that be, and respecting them, they’ll go the extra mile. Experienced workers treasure a good boss. My dad added that for some reason, good bosses seem to be rare.

3. Always tip bartenders. Bartenders remember regular customers who tip, and that means you’ll have a friend in the room.

When my dad entertained clients, he could pre-arrange for his friendly bartender to quietly slip him non-alcoholic drinks while the others were getting what they actually ordered. It helped to be clandestinely sober during business discussions.

This secret to success extends to all kinds of people who don’t work for you but who have a working relationship with you. If you appreciate them, they’ll return the favor in their area of expertise. Be on good terms with janitors, for example. They know more about the building than you ever will.

Virtual events June 11 and June 13

I’ll be at two virtual events this week open to the public:

Science Fiction as Activism: Sharing Futures
Thursday, June 11, 8:25 to 9:45 p.m. (BST)

Over the past eight weeks, science fiction writer, researcher, and pleasure activist Ama Josephine Budge has helmed a voyage with seventeen burgeoning speculative writers as part of Free Word’s season: Finding Power. On June 11, through readings, feedback and conversation, she, the writers, and guests will discuss how imagining and creating futures can shape real selves, societies and change.

I’ll be one of the guests, along with award-winning author Tade Thompson. The general public can join via Zoom (muted and without cameras). Get more information here.

Windy City Romance Writers of America Online Chapter Meeting
Saturday, June 13, 10:00 a.m. to noon

I’ll be speaking about worldbuilding. Romance can take place a long time ago in a galaxy far far away, or in your own home town but with sorcerers. How do you build a speculative world? I may also speak about book translations. I worked on the translation of Twilight into Spanish, and other works from Spanish into English.

If you’re interested in attending as a guest, contact