Now you've got the chance
You might as well just dance
Go skies and thrones and wings
And poetry and things.
--Neil Halstead

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Shark Week Would Be More Fun With Real Sharks

No, not this shark week. This one
would arguably be more fun. In
this shark week, I could go swimming
and have an adventure. 
I've been a bit quiet on the blog and social media the last month or so, and there's a reason for that. So, settle in, because it's a bit of a long story, and, now that I've stopped blowing bloody boogers out of my nose, I can bite down on solid food again, and most of the scabs have fallen off, I think I'm finally ready to talk about shark week.

Including down the Casse-Cou, or, si on
ne parle francais, the Break Neck Stairs,
which, in hindsight, was really unwise.
So, back in late spring, May-ish, I suddenly noticed sharp pain on the top of my foot. I tried staying off it for a bit, and it got better, but May is a busy month (end of school) and June was even busier. I had a work trip to Dallas and hiked all over downtown. I took Eleanor to Denton and hiked all over the University of North Texas. We went to Maine and Quebec and hiked all over those places. In hindsight, this was all probably unwise.

Did it hurt? Yes. Did it stop me? Nope. I've been in more or less continual pain for seven years now, since a knee injury caused by a puddle of water. Mostly it's low level, ignorable pain. I've learned to push it to the back of my mind and keep going. In hindsight, this was definitely unwise.

Then by the time I got back to work, I noticed that my left foot no longer fit into any shoes that I owned. Since shoes are rather necessary at work, this was no longer an ignorable situation. So I took the afternoon off and went to urgent care, fully expecting to be told I had a sprain or fracture and to stay off the thing.

And thus, it began.

The urgent care doc couldn't spot a fracture on x-ray, but she did see "terrible arthritis" and "the worst bone spur I've ever seen in my career" and strongly encouraged pain medication. She was worried that the swelling was a blood clot and said I needed to see my primary care physician ASAP. On the plus side, I don't appear to have bone cancer, which I hadn't even thought to worry about before the x-ray.

My primary care physician said I had no symptoms of a blood clot, but ordered a blood test just to be sure and to also rule out kidney failure--which I also hadn't thought to worry about before the x-ray. Thank you, medical science, for giving me new reasons to worry at night!

Then, on my way in to work, the doctor's office called and said the blood clot test was high and I needed to go get an ultrasound IMMEDIATELY. (But, my kidneys were fine.) So, detour to the ultrasound and no blood clots. My blood pressure was a little high, but being screened out for three potentially fatal conditions in a 24-hour period is fairly stressful (it's since come down).

Next up is the podiatrist. He takes a look at my x-rays from urgent care. He was unimpressed by the blood clot test results ("with that much inflammation, of course it's going to be high").  He, too, is impressed by the size of my bone spur ("biggest one I've ever seen--that thing is 4 cm long!"), as well as the extent of the scar tissue on my Achilles tendon. (Pro tip: impressing medical professionals is almost always a Very Bad Thing.)

However, unlike everyone else involved to date, he actually has a pretty good idea of what's going on. It has a name. Something like sharko...blahblahblah...pathy, which has become firmly implanted in my mind as Shark Week, even after learning how to spell the first part of it correctly. I could Google the correct name and tell you what it is, but it was named by this French neurologist who liked naming horrible diseases after himself, which I think is a crummy way to obtain immortality and shouldn't be encouraged. If I ever name a disease, it will be after someone I really dislike.  Also, I'm protecting you because the photos of advanced Shark Week are about as disturbing as photos from real Shark Week. (Those of you who are nurses and love a nice, disgusting foot picture can ask me off line and I'll tell you how to spell it. But you've been warned.)

Basically, back in April? May? I must've fractured my foot slightly. Because I have a ridiculous pain tolerance (because I'm evidently used to arthritis, bone spurs, and scar tissue) and a touch of neuropathy, the pain wasn't anything I couldn't ignore, so I did. Meanwhile, my highly functioning circulatory system was busily flushing the calcium out of my bones, via the fracture. My foot bones were getting weaker and weaker. More fractures were forming, resulting in the characteristic inflammation that Shark Week brings. Eventually, if I hadn't done anything about it, the bones in my foot would've been mostly shattered and my foot would've looked like it had been bitten by a shark and had to be amputated. (So, really, Shark Week is kind of appropriate, if you think about it.)
So what's the cure for Shark Week? This.
Immobilization in a cast for three months,
 as close to zero weight bearing as possible.
If I can stay off it, the bones will heal
on their own and I'll be as good as new. 

So, how does the good doctor prove his theory? With MRIs of the foot and ankle.

<cue sinister music>

Enter The Insurance Company.

<cue scream of frustration and despair>

Blue Cross immediately approved the ankle MRI (astute readers will remember that the main problem is with my foot). A week later, they deny the foot MRI. Why? Because they figured that the doctor could probably see enough of my foot in the pictures of my ankle.

Let's pause for a moment, while we ponder that one. I have since seen both MRIs, and I can promise you, you cannot see the top front of the foot from the pictures of the ankle. Perhaps Blue Cross has a panoramic setting on its MRIs.

Of course, the doctor immediately appealed. I'm assuming that his appeal included my x-rays, because Blue Cross immediately reversed themselves and approved the foot MRI an hour later. My x-rays are really impressive to doctors.

Then, at last, I was able to schedule the MRIs. I have never had one before. I also have major fidgetiness. Sitting still is torture. I still remember a couple of college classes where I felt like I was trying to climb out of my own brain, it was that hard to sit still. So, in hindsight, I probably should've foreseen the problems involved in getting an MRI. I barely made it through the ankle MRI, and we had to do a retake. I was trying so hard to be still--and failing so, so badly--that I was in tears. The tech flat out refused to do the foot and said I needed to reschedule. So I dissolved in tears on the scheduling desk and cried all the way to work.

But, I got it together, got some great advice from my cousin Jackie (an MRI Guru), and managed to survive the foot MRI with readable images. The doctor confirmed his diagnosis: definitely Shark Week. He told me to order a knee scooter off Amazon and call for a casting appointment as soon as it came in. (A casting appointment for the other Shark Week would've been more fun and likely involved fewer tears.)

The scooter arrived last Sunday. We tried to assemble it. This is a scooter that multiple Amazon reviewers described as "so easy to assemble my child/elderly grandparent/cocker spaniel could do it." I was so worn out, stressed out, and distraught over Shark Week that, naturally, I couldn't do it. The seat was upside down. None of the instructions mentioned how to get it right side up.

Maybe it's stuck? I banged on it with a hammer. Nope.

Eleanor takes a look and takes out a couple of bolts. It moves a bit, but it still wouldn't come all the way out.

I put it away in disgust and cry some tears of self-pity and frustration, which doesn't help, and text my neighbor, who says he'll help tomorrow. The neighbor (who has four small children, a known cause of amnesia) forgets. So, I take it to my room and give it another go. I realize that the reason it's stuck is that when I banged it with a hammer the edges spread out and the pole would no longer fit through the opening. Fortunately, I have a Dremel, so (after Googling how to put the grinder attachment on the Dremel) I was able to grind down the extra metal and assemble the scooter.

Bob loves the scooter. He likes sitting in the seat and being rocked back and forth. 

The scooter was a little painful to use (it requires putting my weight on the same knee that started all these problems in 2011) but glided smoothly across the floor.

Then I went to work.

The parking lot is NOT smooth. The part that was recently resurfaced is actually LESS smooth than the old, beat up part. Our sidewalks are a mess. And we have a paved brick walkway up to both entrances. The scooter is very wobbly on uneven surfaces. Every pebble, every crack makes the handlebars shimmy. If you lean too much on the handlebars to compensate, the next time the wheels jump on a crack, you wind up face planting onto the brick walkway, having a massive bloody nose that splatters blood all over your new dress, getting scraped right down the middle of your face, cutting your lip, and chipping a tooth.

It was not the best start to the week. In fact, when I made it upstairs and went straight to my meeting, everyone was like, WHY ARE YOU STILL HERE? The answer being, I CAN'T GO BACK OUT THERE--THE PARKING LOT IS GOING TO KILL ME, DUH!

But, spoiler alert, the parking lot did not kill me. I made it back and forth all week. I learned to go slowly and to accept the shimmying of the handlebars without leaning forward. I learned when I could move at an almost walking pace and when to inch along. I learned to keep my eyes peeled to the ground for pebbles and cracks. (I also had to interview for my job while looking like the loser in a really sad bar fight. Because, yeah. I needed something to get my mind off of things.)

And then the front brake broke and I learned to do all of those things without the security of being able to have a handbrake to help slow me down. Because, Lord knows, I needed a challenge.

I also learned that most people are really pretty awesome.

When I fell down, three strangers rushed to my aid, gave me Kleenex, and helped me to my feet. One of them found me coming in the next morning and walked beside me the whole way, just in case. I skipped meals for three days because I couldn't figure out how to carry food before I finally asked for a Lunch Sherpa volunteer, and half a dozen people offered to help carry my baked potato. The kids have stepped up and started doing the cooking and cleaning (although, at first, Bruce had to be instructed on what a pantry was). Brent and Molly (my ex and his girlfriend) came over to help fix the broken brake. My friend Cynthia has brought me breakfast unasked several times, magically on some of my lowest days (you know someone cares when they bring you a Bill Miller breakfast taco).

I am used to being the person who takes care of others. I hate asking for help. I hate being weak. I'm furious at myself for needing help. And I absolutely loathe myself for having a preventable disease (diabetes) that caused the neuropathy that enabled me to soldier on through pain long enough to get Shark Week. I imagine people looking at me on my sad little scooter and judging me--for being overweight, for being diabetic, for everything I've done or not done in my life that could have led me to being temporarily disabled at the age of 46. I imagine the conservatives looking at me and saying, "There goes another drain on our health care system! We shouldn't have to subsidize her healthcare!" I imagine the liberals looking at me and saying, "What does she expect? She ate a carne guisada taco! If she'd just go vegan and bike to work, she'd be healthy." (Note: a Bill Miller carne guisada taco is a known cure for veganism. Those things are awesome.) I do know that most of these people are just me, in disguise, and that nothing they say is true.

And so I've disappeared off social media, largely into a dark place of staring into space, knitting, tears,  and Mahjong while I've gotten used to the lack of freedom that comes with the cast and scooter. Every problem, from grocery shopping to showering, has, sooner or later, been matched up with a solution, even if it's not the solution I'd like. My kids are learning some life skills. I even discovered that I've lost 30 lbs from my peak weight, in a slow, steady way. So, all is not bad. And, yes, I realize that many people suffer much more on a daily basis than I do, and that I am blessed that Shark Week is curable at this stage. (And I know these things because the judgmental voices in my head keep telling me so, while berating me for feeling sad and sorry for myself and reminding me of the suffering and injustice in the world.)

I left the house today to get a massage, because, dang it, if anybody needs a little self-care at the moment, it's me. My massage healer says she sees this as an old, gnarled grove of trees, hacked down to the roots. She sees me moving through that grove, doing the hard work of pulling up the rotted roots, and, when I'm done, I will plant a field of flowers in its place, transforming the landscape. I hope so. (She has also been telling me literally for years that I need to learn how to receive love. I am certainly getting the opportunity to do so now.)

So, there are a lot of things I'm giving up in the short term: back to school night, tax free weekend, poetry events, scheduling book signings for The Golden Feather, baths, cooking new recipes, going to the gym, shopping, travel, Write Away Days and workshops, poetry festivals, etc. But it is with the goal that I heal as fast as possible so I can get back to all of those things. And more. My Wish List in my bullet journal is full of things that I can't do in a cast.

And you know who's going to be just as happy when I get out of my cast?


Because then he'll have the scooter all to himself.

Mobility aid? Nah, that's a feline jungle gym.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

The Origins of the Windemeres are Shrouded in Dense Nagging

Overthinking: something Bob never, ever does.
He does, however, frequently overlick.
This leads to hairballs.
It's hard to believe it's been two weeks since my first novel came out, which makes it sound like "The Golden Feather" discovered its sexual identity, so perhaps that's why people say "released," which sounds like it just got out of the big house after a 20-year stint for armed robbery, so maybe I should just say "got published," but that sounds like this magical thing that happened sort of all at once, when in fact there was a year-long trail of teeny tiny milestones, sort of like reflectors in the middle of the highway, and the only all-at-once thing that happened was the moment I looked up and saw the giant headlights of Amazon with the words, "Status: available" etched into the grille.

So, yeah. I made a book.

The questions I've been most frequently asked are:

  1. How long did it take to write?
  2. Where did you get the idea?

The adorable face (and blue hair)
of persistence.

Both questions have the same answer: Betty.

In October 2016, Betty was obsessed with fairy tales. We bought books of them at Half Price Books from countries all over the world. Her favorite is a dark green hardbound collection of both Grimm and Andersen (she prefers Grimm). We read those stories night after night. After night.

One night, after yet another round of Grimm, Betty had an idea: why couldn't I write her a fairy tale? All it needed was a princess and some talking animals. Could I have it by tomorrow?

Now, I had not written anything longer than a 10-page short story at that point. And I hadn't even written a short story in a couple of years. All I'd written were poems, and those were generally short. Really short. I've written dozens with fewer than eight lines.

However, it was an interesting challenge, and Betty is a world class nagger, in the manner perfected by youngest children, so I accepted. During my lunch hour the next day, I started sketching out Betty's fairy tale. The princess was, of course, named Bettina (of Windemere), and she had a pet leopard named Malalah, because Betty's fondest ambition is to own 200 cats and a goat, which also explains why the wise nanny goat Amalthea charged into the book later on.
Where's that chapter, Mother Dear?
You HAVE finished it, haven't you?

After half an hour or so, I realized I had a problem: what I'd written wasn't a fairy tale like those we'd been reading. In fact, it was more like the Cliff's Notes summary of a fairy novel. 

Well, I reasoned, we'll probably both get bored before I finish a book anyway, so why not start and see? So that night, after everyone was in bed, I wrote Chapter 1 and read it to Betty the next day. She immediately begged for Chapter 2. Which led, after many, many nights, to another couple dozen chapters. She'd bounce up and down for the suspenseful parts, cackle at the funny parts, cover her eyes when Bettina was in danger (especially if the danger was embarrassing herself), and squeal with delight when something wonderful happened.

Every night she was with me, she'd beg for a chapter, and most of those nights she'd have one, if only because I couldn't bear to disappoint her. Reading the drafts out loud made problems with pacing, voice, and cadence easy to spot, and I could see my audience reacting (or not) as I read, so usually after reading the chapter aloud, she would go to bed and I would immediately start editing what I'd just written.

Betty unwrapping the box of proof copies
of "The Golden Feather." 
The final chapter was finished at 1 a.m. Christmas morning, just eight weeks after I began. Betty (and her siblings) were to go to their dad's house for a week after Christmas lunch, and Betty wanted to hear the end of her book before she went.

Now, writing anything that fast means there's a lot of editing to be done on the back end, and that is for sure what happened with "The Golden Feather." I went to several workshops at The Writing Barn, each resulting in extensive rewriting. The first and last chapters in particular are almost unrecognizable from that first draft.  There followed developmental editing, then copy editing, then proofreading, then more proofreading.

But the book would never have been there to edit in the first place had it not been for the daily, persistent, refrain of, "Do you have another chapter, Mom? Do you? Do you? WHY NOT?????" of my youngest child and most relentless taskmaster, Betty.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Adventures in Publishing

It has been a while since I've posted. Or written significant poetry. Or written in my journal. Or done much more than work, eat, sleep, chase children around a merry-go-round of end-of-year events, and play silly games on my tablet. Why? On some level, of course, I was kept busy by all of the aforementioned distractors. But, on a much deeper level, I was waiting for this:

I know, right? I actually wrote an entire book. And I've been feeling a little bit held in suspense, waiting for the launch. Of course, some of that was my doing. I had 50+ edits to the final draft, then, after getting the proof copy, found another 50+ edits. In my defense, at least some of those were necessary edits, the sort of thing that constitutes a minor plot hole that a dedicated reader would eventually question. Others, of course, were the kind of wordsmithing that you'd expect from a Virgo with almost 30 years of editing/proofing experience, and I swore that, after that last round of edits, I was DONE. I would not allow myself to read it one more time. This whole re-re-re-re-reading thing was just me sabotaging myself by not allowing the book out into the world.

And then, a few hours after the final files were uploaded into CreateSpace, a nagging feeling came to me. You know, self, I thought, you didn't check that one last sentence you requested a change on in Chapter 3. Maybe you should just take a peek, so you can stop obsessing over imaginary errors and get some sleep and not fall asleep in tomorrow's federal meeting and accidentally get deported. (It's annual federal meeting time! Spoiler alert: these are the nice feds and nobody got deported.)

So I open the file and go to Chapter 3, and discover...a typo. Not just any typo. The sentence was supposed to start, "As they walked through the forest..." It actually started, "Ass they walked through the forest..."

This is a middle-grade novel.

My ensuing email was titled, literally, STOP THE PRESSES! I went into Kindle Direct and pulled the eBook, my editor fixed the typo, and we relaunched, hopefully without traumatizing any middle grade students or parents. Although, as the parent of two middle grade children, the most trauma that would actually have occurred would have been "cramps from laughing" or "snorting a booger" because middle grade children find potty language hilarious. In fact, it might have been a selling point.

Anyway, the error was soon rectified, and I managed to talk myself out of re-re-re-re-re-reading the entire book. The files were re-uploaded last night. Amazon said it could take 3-5 days to appear, so I went back to playing silly tablet games.

And then at 8:15 p.m., I got a text:

Wait, what? Quick search of Amazon, and there it is! Online and available for purchase. Only a true  friend would find your book on Amazon before you even knew it was published!

And now, after a long spring of anticipation and waiting, I'm ready to put aside my silly tablet games and get back into writing...blogs, journals, the August Poetry Postcard Festival, and, yes, even a sequel, to be titled, The Hundred Year Island.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

It All Begins With An Open Door

Meow Wolf (Santa Fe, NM) beautifully
highlights the subversive potential of doors.
Don't just stand there with the fridge door
open--you're letting the interdimensional
creatures out! (Also, Bruce and Eleanor.)
It all begins with an open door.

The primal part of us, the part that huddled around the fire, the part that jumps at small noises in the dark, hates an open door. An open door lets the mosquitoes in, lets the air conditioning out. Unlocked, it invites thieves or monsters. Propped open, it declares to the world you have nothing worth stealing.

Doors enable us to control access to our homes and our lives. Mother and I have wished for a solid front door with a peephole instead of our beautiful lead glass door so that we can identify the extremely persistent Jehovah's Witnesses and pretend not to be home. A door is a point of vulnerability, the gate where our castle can be stormed.

What the door really does, though, is allow us to decline to participate in the unpredictable, wide, wild world, to create a defined space that resists change not of our own making. It's a reactionary thing to shut the door.

To be fair, opening the front door can lead to trolls, dragons, war, orcs, and Mordor.
So it's not like Bilbo Baggins is being totally irrational here. 
Part of the hero's journey--often literally--involves passing through a doorway. The hero can't begin her quest without opening a door or two, surrendering the twin illusions of comfort and control for an adventure whose hidden end could be glory or failure or anything in between.

So, when I was getting ready for bed, I thought, in that sort of drowsy non sequitur you get sometimes around ten o'clock on a Wednesday, "It all begins with an open door."
From the Animal Wisdom deck by
Dawn Brunke.

It occurs to me that I've been standing at that open door for a while now. Not unlike Bob Cat, I find that the wide, wild world can be a little intimidating. The Universe, in its inimitable way, has been sending me some signs that it may be time to leave the safety of the doorway and take a few risks.

Just as a for instance, I've drawn the Crab (four of shells/cups) at least seven times in the last 8 months. It's become a bit of a theme, as the cards will do when you ignore them. The lesson of the crab is, of course, that in order to grow, we (okay, I) need to be vulnerable, to step outside of where I am comfortable. To take my hand off the doorknob and walk through the doorway.

My instinctual response to that invitation can be summarized as, "Don't wanna, not gonna, you can't make me!" (Augmented by profanity and chocolate.)

And the Universe has kept right on providing Exciting Growth Opportunities. Because, of course it has.

I start a new interim position Monday. I am extremely careful to refer to it loudly and frequently as INTERIM, to ensure that everybody knows I have absolutely, positively committed to not committing to deciding whether I want to walk through that particular door or not. This is exactly how Bob Cat approaches the front yard: he makes it to the edge of the front porch, looks around a bit, and then scurries back inside...then repeats the process on pretty much a daily basis.

I also have a novel coming out later this spring. That doorway is particularly terrifying--it is much easier to take myself seriously as a mid-level government manager than as a novelist. I keep waiting for someone to take me aside and go, "No, seriously, Diana, this book sucks--we've just not wanted to hurt your feelings." But that hasn't happened, so eventually (i.e., late May, early June), I may have to confront the fact that I've written a book that doesn't actively suck and walk through that door as well.

Other doors loom further on the horizon: sending Eleanor to New York for Spring Break was a reminder that in just three years, she will be opening the door of her childhood and walking out, leaving me on the doorstep, most likely bawling in a completely mortifying manner.

So, maybe, just maybe, it might be time to accept the changes I cannot change, get comfortable with openness, accept the adventure.
Canyon de Chelley, AZ
No doors here...what a beautiful and terrible freedom.

It all begins with an open door.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Dewey, the Semi-Siamese

WANTED: A mamma. Species irrelevant. Must love me and
protect me. Lactation a plus.
Once upon a time, I was quite pregnant with Eleanor. I walked out into the garage, looked out across the alley, and saw a Siamese kitten. Our eyes locked. He began meowing, sensing that I was, if not exactly his lost mamma cat, somebody's mamma, which was close enough. He had clearly never been inside a building before (the ceiling freaked him out for hours), but without hesitation, he walked in and made himself at home.

Best. Bath. Ever.

Really at home. One night a month or two later, I was on my side, sleeping the uncomfortable sleep of the very pregnant when I felt a cold, wet nose nuzzling me. Awww, how sweet!
Then I felt some cold, sharp teeth biting me in a very sensitive area: Dewey was trying to latch on for a midnight snack. This was probably the first time my obstetrician had ever been asked whether a late-night nipple bite would cause any future problems with breastfeeding.

Although he was unsuccessful at nursing, Dewey still enjoyed some benefits of my pregnancy. For one, Eleanor as a fetus was very insistent about getting regular chocolate milkshakes from Whataburger. I was also getting pretty clumsy, and one night I dropped an entire milkshake on Dewey, who was in my lap. It was probably the highlight of his life.

Things only got better for Dewey when the baby arrived. For one thing, there was all the baby gear to try out.

And try it out he did, every single baby item. You'll notice it didn't take him long to reveal that he was not a pure Siamese. He was very clearly part Siamese and part something very big and very white. There were several white strays around that could've been his daddy. But no matter how big he got, he never gave up on being a baby. We named him Dewey, not as some sort of bibliophile reference to his suave intelligence and sophistication, because he had none of those things. He was the biggest goofball ever. Nope, we named him after the youngest child in the TV series Malcolm in the Middle--the not-so-innocent little brother who somehow manages to skate out of trouble on the strength of pure adorableness. That was Dewey.
It looked like this, only
significantly less healthy
because it spend most of its
time on the kitchen floor.

There was one other baby item that Dewey was particularly fond formula. He stalked us as we made up the bottles, licking stray granules of powder from the counter tops. If you left a bottle lying around, he'd start nursing from it. And he wasn't overly picky about whether his formula was fresh or...recycled. See, Eleanor had a bad reflux problem. So he would wait at the foot of the rocking chair for us to burp her. As soon as she spit up, he would run to lick it up off the last getting the milk he had been denied.

Eleanor was not a big fan of the pacifier--but Dewey was. Every time she spat one out, he'd find it and carry it around in his mouth (usually backwards).

When he began teething, Dewey chewed on my cactus. I brought it home from work when I went on maternity leave because I was afraid it would die of neglect while I was gone. As it turns out, it died from slow torture and profound abuse at the jaws of Dewey. Cacti have rather shallow root systems, because who'd want to grab a giant ball of spikes? Dewey would. He would climb up to the kitchen window, wrap his jaws around it, pull it out of its pot, and carry it around the room, usually depositing it in the middle of the kitchen floor. I would pick it up and put it back in the pot. The next morning, I'd find it back on the floor again. Eventually, the cactus, no doubt dreaming of a pleasant death by dehydration at the office, gave up and died.
Dewey, the Headless Cat.
He was quite the cat. He had a loud, very Siamese meow and an easygoing disposition, and he was an affectionate lap cat. However, by the time Bruce and Betty came along, he was an adult, and found babies much less amusing...and toddlers even less so. When we moved back to Austin, he took advantage of an open door and ran away...and never returned. I was devastated. Dewey was truly one of a kind. I'll admit it--eight years later, I still look for him in the streets around the old neighborhood.
Yeah. I'm awesome.Got milk?

Monday, February 19, 2018

On the Dubious Character of Cats

At Windsor Park Elementary in Corpus Christi, we learned
speed reading using one of these gizmos (called a tachistoscope),
although I seem to remember a cheesy wood-grain plastic finish
on ours. You looked through the view finder and they displayed
a story, line by line. If you passed the test at the end, the next
one went faster. My brain fried at about 70 wpm. Or maybe
that was my max high school typing speed. Or both.
Anyway, I can read really fast, thanks to the tachistoscope.
I just don't remember any of it. And I don't seem to be able
to slow my reading down, either. I blame the tachistoscope.
Just look at that thing. It was probably some secret government
research project to reprogram kids' brains. At some point,
they'll send out a signal, and everyone who spent hours
in front of this thing will suddenly start trying to kill
Communists or start disco-ing. It was the 70's, could be either.
I just finished re-reading Susan Rooke's novel, The Space Between. I re-read a lot of good books because I have a notoriously bad short-term memory. I can read a book and tell you if I liked it or not, but the details are pretty fuzzy, fading away into hazy impressions almost as soon as I close the cover. I can tell you the basic plot (probably), and I may even remember the characters' names (major ones), but depth-wise, it's about as shallow as a South Texas rain puddle--and disappears about as fast.

Personally, I think of it as a positive quality. It means that I forget bad books pretty much as soon as I'm done, and when I re-read the good ones, I get to experience them as though it were the first time. Win-win.

Anyway, I really like The Space Between, for several reasons. I really admire a writer who is able to take a subject so common that we think we know everything about it--and then turn those expectations upside down. We've been telling tales of Heaven and Hell for 2,000 years. Over time, our imaginings have tended to converge--a shining city in the clouds, reunions with family and friends who have gone before, beautiful angels with golden harps. Or, its opposite--fire, brimstone, torture for the wicked, and horned demons with forked tails.

Bob likes The Space Between, too.
It elevates him nearly 2 inches--4 if you count
the blanket, and you must count every inch
when you're a wanna-be dictator who only
 stands a foot off the ground.
The Space Between makes you think just a little bit harder about those images. As I said in my Amazon review of the book, if you like your religion straight and narrow, this probably isn't your book. But that doesn't make it an un-religious or even heretical book--just an original one. The passage where Mellis gets a glimpse of Heaven is beautifully--and originally--rendered. You can feel yourself there with her, in the jewel-toned brilliance of a wild, untamed nature, connecting with loved ones and strangers in a powerful, compassionate way. And the passages with Satan and Hell are disgusting and repulsive, in a visceral way--because, you know...Satan is supposed to be actually disgusting and repulsive. Because of the author's powerful descriptions (she is a poet, after all), Heaven and Hell, angels and demons, are settings and characters--not just abstractions.

She also weaves a variety of inventively drawn faerie species into the tale, a dragon, and a talking vulture.

My favorite character, though is Kindle the Cat. One thing I missed in my first reading was Kindle's story of his origins. Without giving too much away, suffice it to say that Kindle (like his feline descendants in our world) has a little bit of Heaven and a little bit of Hell in his character.

At their best, cats are affectionate and loyal (at least to a person or two, most of the time, when it suits their interests), considerately pet-able when you're down, amusingly clownish when you need a laugh, and ridiculously adorable.
And elegant. Just look at Daisy.

And at their worst...well...let's just say Kindle's origin story explains a lot. That part might not have been fiction.
Yeah, I'm plotting something. Something awful. Something terrible. Something that will shake your world to its very foundations. It probably involves the sparkly snake-like feather toy that used to be on a stick, but I'll leave my options open, in case you're walking around in socks. Feet + socks = prey. Heh, heh, heh.
If you're looking for a great fantasy tale with an original premise and vivid descriptions, I recommend Susan Rooke's The Space Between. I can't wait to see where she takes the series is one series where you definitely don't feel like you know where the story is going to end up.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Thankfully, We Aren't What We Eat

Thursday I got one of those "you might be interested in" marketing emails from Amazon. I knew what it was before opening it, because the subject line of the email was "Lion Noisy 8-flavor Soda."
If you're wondering how 8-flavor soda hard candy can be noisy, I'll let you know. At $4.28 plus free shipping, this bad boy went straight into my cart. I'm looking particularly forward to learning what lamune flavor tastes like. I'm assuming Lion is the name of the company, but if there's cat hair in my package, I wouldn't be just totally shocked.

Why does Amazon think I might be interested in noisy soda candy? Because Bruce, who loves everything Japanese, got a box of Japanese vending machine food for Christmas. It turns out that Bruce mainly likes the idea of everything Japanese, and he was more than willing to share each individually wrapped item with the rest of us. It made for a highly entertaining Christmas. All of the packaging (except for the Macha Green Tea flavored Kit-Kat) was in Japanese, which none of us could read. So we had no idea what we were eating just by looking at it.

This led to some amazing facial expressions and taxed their creative powers of description:

"It's like fruit styrofoam."

"It's like a weird spicy pizza cheeto."

"It's like brown gooey something in cardboard."
All in all, it was everyone's favorite Christmas present, and they can't wait to try food boxes from other countries. If you're wondering, yes, that is a thing. I'm thinking maybe we'll go Eastern Europe next year, but there's also a Turkish box that sounds promising. It was fun to expand our horizons and realize that everyone everywhere has their own idea of taste, and think that somewhere in the wide, wide world a kid might be trying Ranch Doritos, scrunching up his nose and telling his brother, "It's like a garlicky green fried milk carton...weird!"

This reminded me of one of our favorite family stories. Pets and babies make an interesting combination. For one thing, they both operate at ground level, where us grown-ups don't spend much time. For another, they will put almost anything into their mouths.

Back in the day, we had this awesome cat named Dewey. He was a semi-Siamese...half seal-point Siamese and half something big and white. He had a lot of personalty, but that's a story for another blog. Most relevant here is that he had spent his first six months of life on the alleys of Quail Creek (with approximately 80 other feral cats it seemed) and was a huntin' cat. You can take the outdoor cat indoors, but you can't take the outdoors out of the formerly outdoor indoor cat. Or something like that.

Dewey had a fondness for baby gear. We also have pictures of him in the bouncy seat, the swing, the car seat, and the crib. Dewey weighed more than a large baby, but it never stopped him from trying to be one. 2003.

Bruce was a year old. He is our most fastiduous child, and is not overly adventurous in eating, which is why he hates this story. But that came later. As a one-year-old, he was a normal one-year-old, which is to say, when he was teething, he'd gum just about anything. In fact, at one point, I caught him gumming our old cat Pericles' tail.
Bruce and Pericles, 2006. Pericles was the most chill of cats; however, as you can see, he is keeping his tail firmly tucked underneath him and well outside of grabbing range.

And so it was that one day I happened to look up, and Bruce was sitting on the rug with a (non-cat) tail hanging out of his mouth, happily gumming a dead lizard. A long-dead lizard, one that Dewey had played with and then thoughtfully deposited under a piece of furniture, out of sight to us, but not to Bruce.
Bruce, on the floor, where all kinds of fun things can be found, some of them crunchy. (2007)

We got it out of his mouth intact, which annoyed him at the time, but present-day Bruce is quite grateful that we didn't let him eat a lizard. Although, it probably just tasted like weird sour popcorn.