Friday, June 29, 2007

Weekend Away


We're going to San Francisco this weekend. Tonight, we'll be staying with my college roommate Ellen in the city; she adopted an adorable little boy from Russia a few years ago -- he'll be four in September -- and we haven't seen them for a while, so we're looking forward to it.

As you can see, Harley was a big help with packing. Here he is lying on top of Gary's briefcase, as if to say, "Now make sure you have all your toiletries before you put anything in here!"

Tomorrow, we'll be checking into a hotel in San Mateo and then going to a wedding. Jacob Weisman and Rina Elson (my editor from Tachyon and his beloved) are getting married, and it should be a splendid time. Jill Roberts, the managing editor of Tachyon, will be "Bridesmaid of the Apocalypse." Love it! Lots of other SF folks will be on hand, since this is also the weekend of Westercon, which we aren't attending.

Speaking of SF, a discerning reader gave Shelter five stars on Amazon. Her review nicely balances the one from PW, although I suspect that plenty of opinions will fall in the middle. Thank you, Eleanor Skinner!

Sunday is when things get tricky, because I have to wake up really early to drink coffee. See, I've been feeling unusually tired and having various bits o' mild chest pain; these symptoms could be caused by a million things (GERD, allergies, depression, etc., etc.), but my doctor wants to rule out the most dangerous possibility, so she's sending me for a stress echo on Monday. I had the same test three years ago, when I was mega-freaked-out from CPE and church issues and having the same symptoms, and I was told the results were absolutely normal. (Before somebody asks about thyroid, I had bloodwork in September, and that was absolutely normal too.) I told my doctor that, and she looked at the old stress echo and said, "Well, no. You had some ST segment depression; they decided it didn't mean anything because your exercise tolerance was so good, but there was an abnormality." When I got home from her office, I hit Google and learned that ST segment depression on an ECG can indicate narrowed blood vessels. I still don't think that's what's going on -- I don't have any risk factors for heart disease -- but, anyway, I'm having another stress echo on Monday. Better safe than sorry, and all that.

But the test's at the absolutely ungodly hour of 7:30 a.m., and I can't have any caffeine for twenty-four hours beforehand. And my doctor warned me sternly that they really mean this. And there's no way I can drive home from San Mateo without coffee. So I'll have to get up at 6:00 or something on Sunday to get my two big cups o' coffee in before the cutoff.

I don't know if the San Mateo hotel has wireless, so I may not be able to blog this weekend. But I'll post Monday, if not sooner, with the results of the test.

Have a good weekend, everybody!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Change of Shift


The latest edition is up over at Nursing Link. Thanks for including me, PixelRN!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

More on the New Home Office Setup


Lee asked in an e-mail how the home office project is going. (The work-office move hasn't started yet.) Here's a photo of the new computer cart, all nicely loaded up. Gary thinks this looks like Darth Vader's PC, and calls the photo "Ergo Scary," but it's certainly skiffy looking -- and comfortable!

Speaking of the workstation: I'm still stumped on the book, but I did get some work done on one of my fall syllabi this morning.

Having the terminal off the main desk gives the cats even more room to cavort. Yesterday, I left a half-finished glass of water there, only to find the cats drinking it. Why do cats love human water so much? They have their own water, but noooooo: they have to drink ours. Of course, my study's upstairs, and I can see them thinking, "Oh, look, they're giving us water up here so we don't have to go down to the kitchen!" But that doesn't explain why, if there's a fresh bowl of water on the kitchen floor and two water glasses on the dinner table, a few yards away, the cats will pick the water glasses every time.

Figaro has followed Bali's bad example on this habit. Both of them are especially smitten with ice cubes, although given the choice between fresh cat water with cubes or lukewarm human water without, they'll still opt for the latter. It must be a status thing.

As you can see, they'll stick their heads all the way into the glass to get at a bit of water. We keep expecting one of them to get a water glass jammed on his head and to start running around the house with it.

Here's a close-up of Figgy. I wanted to get one from the front, but he wandered away before I could. You can see in the previous photo what a long, lithe animal he is. His head looks slightly foxish, I think. Bali's much more ursine, and goes by the nickname Little Bear.

Harley, for some reason, elected not to drink from this water glass; he's not as settled in the habit as the other two are, anyway. Plus, his head's bigger, so I'm not sure he could fit his snoot in there with such a low water level.

Bali's other dietary peculiarity is that he adores carrots, and demands tribute of carrot peelings when Gary's fixing the carrot sticks he puts in my lunch every day. Bali also likes yams. We had a cat when I was growing up who liked string beans and spinach, but I haven't heard of cats eating carrots.

Or maybe he just likes the color orange. Remember Fledgling, the mask I made last summer? It's been living on top of a bookcase for almost a year, and Bali hasn't bothered it, although he climbs up there all the time. But now that the mask's hanging on the wall next to my desk, he won't leave it alone.

Of course, the mask has always included orange, so that can't be the reason for his sudden interest. I suspect the real culprit is the fact that the mask's hanging from a pipe cleaner. Bali adores pipe cleaners: Gary twists them into toy mice for him, and Bali carries them around with him, often dropping them into bed with us. So I suspect he's really thinking, "There's a toy mouse behind that plaster thing, and I have to flush it out of hiding!"

Expletives Undeleted


One side effect of volunteering in an emergency room is that I hear a lot of cursing, either because patients are venting about their conditions or because they're being deliberately nasty to staff. The first category doesn't bother me at all; when patients cover their mouths and apologize for cursing in front of the chaplain, my standard line is, "If God really cared about bad words, we'd all be charcoal briquettes." To my mind, the apology is sufficient evidence that the patient meant no offense.

The second category's trickier. I'm generally inclined to see foul language as evidence of illness (especially when the patient's clearly suffering from a psychiatric disorder, or is under the influence of alcohol or other drugs). In those cases, the language is a symptom. Volunteers being trained to work in the ED are cautioned not to take anything personally, and patient profanity seems to me to be a prime example of that directive.

On one recent shift, we had a young patient (early twenties) who was having a psychotic episode and had been put in four-point restraints. Every other word was "F***!" I felt like I was on an episode of Deadwood. But interspersed with the cursing were poignant pleas -- "Will you sit with me? I'm scared!" -- and complaints about the "leashes." Everyone who entered the room was cursed equally, but the patient's youth and lack of previous history made everyone sympathetic. (Not sympathetic enough to remove the restraints, however.) Later, an anxious relative asked me if the patient had been nasty, and I said, "Well, there was a lot of cursing, but none of us took it personally. We all knew that it was a product of the illness."

Older, more hardbitten patients -- especially frequent fliers -- don't fare so well. I once heard a PA repeatedly telling a homeless alcoholic to stop cursing. The PA became progressively more upset; the patient stayed calm, cheerfully coming out with ever-more-colorful expletives. I wound up getting an earful from the red-faced PA, who was practically spitting in indignation. My response, I'm afraid, was, "Look, it's an emergency room. This kind of stuff comes with the territory." In general, my take on the issue is that people who treasure propriety perhaps shouldn't work in emergency medicine.

But I'm not working twelve-hour shifts, either. What about the nurse who's confided in me several times about how sick she gets of being cursed at, whose morale is being eroded by patients calling her names when she's trying to help them?

I thought about her when I read this news story about Northern Ireland's "zero-tolerance policy" on assault, either physical or verbal, on healthcare workers. One of the nurses interviewed in the article, who's been physically assaulted four times in the past five years -- and is also routinely subjected to verbal abuse -- thought the policy was a nice idea, but questioned how it would work in practical terms.

I don't think there's any question that physical assault should be a matter for the police. But verbal abuse, it seems to me, is a grayer area.

When does foul language cross the line from being a symptom to being a personal attack?

How can it be dealt with effectively?

How can caregivers maintain their morale when subjected to it?

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

An Inspiring Grand Rounds!


This week's Grand Rounds is up at Wandering Visitor, with a theme of "things that inspire us." I'm honored to be included, and even more honored to be the first post in the edition.

Thanks, Wandering Visitor!

Monday, June 25, 2007

Geekerati Radio Interview


The interview I did with Christian Johnson tonight is archived here. As always, the sound of my own voice is a shock, but overall, I think I did fairly well.

Christian, who's one of my former writing students, asked smart questions and came up with some very shrewd observations. Thanks, Christian! And before the show started, I got to chat briefly with his wife Jody, also a former student. It was great to talk to both of them again.

The show is an hour -- a bit over, actually -- so be aware of that if you plan to listen to it.

My Brain Hurts


So last night I lit a candle -- part of my writing ritual when I'm feeling really stumped -- and sat down to start the major surgery on Chapter 2.

And what do you know: I indeed had a flash of inspiration that answered a nagging plot problem about the novel.

In answering one huge question, though, the solution raises five others. I now have to solve a complicated geneological riddle and a convoluted time-travel paradox. Gahhhhhh.

Note to self: When you tell people that you're never going to write something that requires historical research or six-generation family trees, keep your word!

Or, rather, never claim that you'll never write a certain kind of book . . . because if you do, that's exactly the book you'll wind up writing.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Going the Distance


Last summer, I took a one-week "Art and Spirituality" course in Berkeley. One of my classmates was a professional hospital chaplain. When I told her how much I enjoy my own hospital work, how it's often the highlight of my week, she nodded and said, "Yes, exactly! People who know me can't believe that I like getting phone calls at 3 a.m. when a patient's dying, that I'm happy to drag myself out of bed in the middle of the night to go there. But there's so much love at those bedsides: how could anyone want to miss that?"

I don't think I'd enjoy being woken up at 3 a.m.; one of the advantages of being a volunteer is that I work very limited hours of my own choosing, and that I'm not on call. But I knew what she meant about the love.

I've written here before about how the hospital has increased my faith in an afterworld, or an otherworld: a world, anyway, that we only perceive in brief snatches from our current vantage point. But my interactions with patients and their families have also given me more faith in this world, the one we're living in now. Because amid all the pain and fear and loss at the hospital, the prayers and questions and anger, the screams and the smells, there's also, almost always, amazing love.

Sometimes it's the love family members feel for the patient: the daughter who gently strokes her mother's hair after a heart attack; the husband who tells me how beautiful and vivacious his wife was before Alzheimer's turned her into a terrified stranger; the young parents who hold and soothe their miserable toddler. Sometimes it's the love of friends who've become family: the nursing-home aide who comes to the hospital to reassure a demented elderly patient who believes that she's his sister; the woman who spends three anxious hours in the Family Trauma Consult Room during her next-door neighbor's code; the two men, Buddhist and Muslim, who ask me to pray for their sleeping Mormon friend. Sometimes it's the love the patient expresses for others: relatives, friends, pets, God, the nurses, the doctors -- sometimes even the volunteer chaplain.

Love, I've become convinced, is what keeps people going through their own medical crises. However essential medical science may be, what patients love is finally what heals them, what makes them want to live. Love gives friends and family the strength to spend hours -- or weeks, months, years -- in the chaotic, often unpleasant environs of acute or chronic illness. Love gives us the ability to go the distance.

I knew all this intellectually before I started volunteering at the hospital. Now I know it in my bones.

And I also know that my work calls me to love those who feel unloved: the elderly patient dying alone in the ED, the homeless patient about to be discharged back onto the street, the alcoholic brought to the hospital after a suicide attempt. My job is to make love visible to those who can't see it.

And when I can't do that -- when I fall short because of my own faults, the patient's abrasiveness, or simple lack of access (the patient is asleep, unconscious, or surrounded by too many medical personnel for me to get near the bed) -- my job is to have faith that the love is still there, somewhere, anyway, and to pray that the patient will find it.

If I'm ever alone and unloved in an emergency room, I hope someone will do the same for me.

Another Doug Henry Update


I saw Beth at church this morning. There's been no movement on or information about the case; the crime lab hasn't even started working on the car yet, and DNA breaks down in the kind of heat we've been having. And they still haven't told her where the car was found.

Beth's hired an attorney who used to work for the police department, who's promised that she'll get at least some answers tomorrow. Beth's going to call me when she knows something, and she's given me permission to post about it.

She told me that in her gut, she believes that Doug isn't alive anymore. They used to take baths together five to seven nights a week -- that was their together time -- and twice in the last five weeks, she's felt Doug's presence in the tub, and has received unspoken messages from him. He's communicated that he's fine, and that everything's as it's supposed to be, even though what happened to him isn't something he'd have chosen (Beth believes there was violence involved). He wants Beth to be fine too. He's told her that he didn't leave her, that he hasn't left her, that he's always with her, even if she can't always perceive him. A relative of Beth's has also felt Doug as a guarding presence. He's told her that the dead are always all right, beyond fear or pain, but that they worry about and watch over the living.

She prefaced these stories by saying, "This is going to sound really weird," but it didn't sound weird to me at all. I hear stories like that all the time at the hospital.

Beth said that the two bathtub incidents were the only times she's felt comfort. Other times, she'll have sudden milliseconds of clarity and peace, but then they'll be gone and she'll be back in her grief and anger and confusion.

It seems to me that she's handling all of this with tremendous grace, even calm. I don't think I'd do nearly as well in any similiar situation. I hope I never have to find out.

Please keep Beth and everyone else who loves Doug in your prayers.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Ergo-a-go-go


Well, I like the ergonomic chair so much that I got one of these funky ergonomic keyboards. It takes a little getting used to, but I think I'll love it once I've adjusted.

I also got a cool glass computer cart to replace the folding tray table I have been using. The idea is that all the computer stuff will live there, so it can all be easily moved when we have company, since my office is also the guest bedroom.

Hear that, Liz? I'm trying to entice my sister into visiting this summer, so I've been bombarding her with incentives. Latest incentive: all the computer stuff will be out of the guest bedroom! You'll have lots of room for your stuff! Except in the closet, which is still a disaster! But if you come out here, I'll work on that, too!

I'll easily be able to unplug Vera from all the various extras when we travel. I still have to use Vera's pointer system, since there's nowhere to plug in a mouse, but that's not much of a problem.

All of this, of course, is Writerly Procrastination Strategy #592: When the writing isn't coming, revamp the office for maximum productivity! And then, if you still aren't productive, you have no one to blame but yourself! But in the meantime, you can spend hours or days revamping, and still feel virtuous!

Reorganizing the house for guests is another such strategy.

Those of you who write will recognize these strategies, I'm sure, and probably have your own variations on them.

The second chapter of November has a serious case of Expository Lumpitude, and I have to do something to turn it into an actual narrative that people will want to, like, read. I worked for about an hour this morning before realizing that the chapter needs major surgery, at which point I had a sudden failure of energy and took a two-hour nap. (Naps are a very popular procrastination strategy.) Then I went to the gym. Then we went shopping for office furniture. With all these procrastination strategies, it's a wonder I ever write anything.

The good news is that I realized that the second chapter needs major surgery; the bad news is that I have to do it.

In the meantime, I'm revamping the office. Wheeee!

Friday, June 22, 2007

New Bali Pix


Here's Bali sitting on my desk; the surface of the desk is newly visible after an intensive burst of throwing out tottering piles of paper, and Bali loves to hang out there now that he's no longer risking an avalanche by doing so. And, of course, lying on my desk has the added attraction, often, of blocking whatever I'm actually trying to do at the moment, a lure cats can never resist.

The remaining pile of paper, in that basket behind Balthazar, is the draft of Driving to November.

Here's a close-up of his fuzzy little face. I apologize for the goop in his eyes; I'm a terrible cat mother, I know. I could have sworn I'd cleaned his eyes just a few minutes before taking these photos, and look: new eye goop!

The mermaid postcard on the lamp base is a writing icon I bought back when I was working on a mermaid story. I haven't finished it, and at this point very well may not, but I like the image (and, as it turns out, there's also a mermaid in November).

On the base of the lamp are a quartz crystal I picked up while hiking on our local mountain, the one right across the street, and a tiny bronze Christmas tree my mother gave me one Christmas, and which miraculously hasn't been batted into oblivion by the cats.

Here's sleepy Bali. I love this position, totally sprawled out: it always makes cats look like they're actually beanbag animals who have no bones.

Harley does a hilarious variation of this in which he looks like he's flying, like Superman, with his front paws stretched in front of him and his hind paws sticking out in opposite directions.

Here's a front view of sleepy Bali. Gary likes this shot better than the previous one, but I like both of them. I'm just happy whenever I can get a picture of Bali that's actually in focus; that's much easier, from whatever position, when he's sleepy!

In this picture he looks like a toy cat, doesn't he? The couch in my study is home to a variety of pillows and stuffed animals, and sometimes when the cats are curled up there too, it's hard to tell which animals are alive and which aren't.

Here's the photo I was trying to get when I started this series. The black kitty has white toe tufts! I noticed them last night, right after Bali had been mock-fighting with Harlequin, and I thought the white tufts were bits of Harley's tummy fur that Bali had gotten caught in his claws. But no, they're his very own white toe tufts, and they're only on his hind paws, not the front ones.

Harley has magnificant toe tufts: Gary always says his feet look like snow shoes. Figaro has long, lean, knobby toes that are, I swear, as flexible as fingers. I'm expecting him to develop an opposable thumb any day now.


And, finally, here's a shot of some of the glass in my study window. I love art glass, and can rarely afford it; most of these pieces were gifts from my sister and my college roommate.

That crooked little blue and red and yellow panel, though, the third from the left? I made that during a one-day stained-glass course I took in New York City. The class was eight hours of torture, as it turned out: we did everything from selecting and cutting the glass to finishing the panel in that stretch, and our teacher was an elderly, embittered woman who provided neither a first-aid kit nor eye protection while we were grinding the glass. I got a small cut fairly early on, and when I asked her for a bandaid, she gave me a disgusted look and said, "You cut yourself already? I don't have any bandaids. Just suck on it."

Stained Glass Boot Camp. Just what I wanted.

By the time we got to soldering our panels, we were all so tired that our hands were shaking. Some of us, me included, had skipped lunch because we were so far behind: it's hard to learn new physical skills all in one day! We definitely shouldn't have been trusted with soldering irons. The woman next to me was in such a fog that she put her iron down on a pile of newspaper, whereupon the instructor yelped and rushed to put out the fire. No real damage was done, luckily.

At the very end, we had to solder on small hooks for hanging the panel. My hands were almost useless by then. I called the instructor over and said, "I'm having trouble with these hooks."

She looked down at my unsightly, messy panel, sniffed, and said, "That's not the only thing you're having trouble with."

The panel isn't great art, but I keep it to remind myself of having persevered through a difficult day, and I'm fond of it. It's my glass Ugly Duckling.

In other news, the radio show today was great fun, although when I emerged from the studio, I had a parking ticket! This, mind you, even though I'm UNR faculty, with a UNR parking permit, who was parked in an uncrowded UNR lot. I had mistakenly parked in a lot to which my permit doesn't give me access -- even though I pay $300 a year for the privilege of parking at my own job -- so now I have to pay another $30 to the university.

Dang!

Two Radio Shows


This afternoon, from 4-5 PDT, I'll be a guest on KUNR's High Desert Forum, where host Dan Erwine and I will be discussing the history of science fiction.

On Monday, at the invitation of my former student Christian Johnson, I'll be a guest on Geekerati Radio. Here's the press release Christian sent me.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
CONTACT:

Christian Johnson (geekeratiradio@gmail.com)
Geekerati Radio

Monday, June 25, SF and Fantasy Author Susan Palwick Discusses Her New Novel Shelter Live on Geekerati Radio.

Los Angeles, CA, June 21, 2007 – Award winning Science Fiction and Fantasy author Susan Palwick will join the panelists at Geekerati Radio at 7pm PDT. In addition to discussing her latest novel, Palwick will talk with the panelists about her influences and her general thoughts about the state of SF/F today.

Fans can listen to the show live, and call in with questions, by visiting the Geekerati website during the broadcast. Those who miss the live broadcast will be able to listen to an archived version of the show approximately fifteen minutes after it airs online. During the show, the Geekerati panel will be giving away two copies of her most recent novel, Shelter, and one copy of her previous novel, The Necessary Beggar.

Susan Palwick holds a doctoral degree from Yale and is an associate professor of English at the University of Nevada, Reno. She has written three novels, Flying in Place (Tor Books, 1992, reprinted 2005), The Necessary Beggar (Tor Books, 2005), and Shelter (Tor Books 2007). A collection of many of her short stories, The Fate of Mice (Tachyon Publications 2007) was published earlier this year. Flying in Place won the Crawford Award for Best First Fantasy Novel, presented annually by the International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts. The Necessary Beggar received starred reviews from PUBLISHER'S WEEKLY, BOOKLIST and LIBRARY JOURNAL (which also named it one of the best genre books of 2005). Additionally, The Necessary Beggar was honored with an Alex Award from the American Library Association, won a Silver Pen award from the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame, and is a finalist for the Mythopoeic Award. Shelter recently received a starred review from LIBRARY JOURNAL. Palwick's stories often examine issues of identity and the relationships between the individual and society.

ABOUT GEEKERATI RADIO – Geekerati Radio is an online radio show hosted by Christian Johnson which features discussion of popular culture by geeks for geeks and is a featured show in the BlogTalkRadio network. The Geekerati Radio show airs Monday nights at 7pm Pacific.
I hope some of you will be able to tune in for one or both of these. I'm looking forward to them; I've done a few radio shows before, and have always had fun. (My one TV appearance, on the other hand, was a disaster, but that's another story.)

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Happy Summer Solstice!


I hope everyone has a wonderful longest day of the year. I always associate this day with John Crowley's beautiful book Little, Big, although yesterday I finished reading Pstricia McKillip's Solstice Wood (also beautiful, and a fellow Mythopoeic finalist), and that's fitting, too.

Every summer solstice, I'm sad that the days will now start getting shorter again. It seems ironic that summer officially begins on the day after which the sun will begin to diminish.

Today is also the tenth anniversary of Gary's arrival in Reno, so it's a particularly special day for me.

May all our sunlit hours be blessed!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Edna, Meet Vera


Yes, here's the chair, again. Note the exoskeleton -- Gary's term for it -- visible through the mesh. Those pieces are either silver metal or black plastic, which really makes the chair look like something designed by H.R. Giger, who designed the sets and critters for Alien. Which is fitting, since when I sit in my new chair, I feel a little like Ripley when she puts on that robotic exoskeleton thing in the second movie and goes after the Bad Mama Monster.

This may have some interesting effects on my writing.

Here's another view, which gives you an even better look at the exoskeleton. The chair also resembles something that might be used by a particularly sinister dentist. But it's incredibly comfortable, and I have no intention of using it for malevolent dental purposes.

The chair is fabulous, worth every penny I paid for it. Very comfortable, very adjustable, very easy to work in.

Really important objects around here get names. Our current car, for instance, is Fiona Ford; our previous car was Holly Honda. Gary refers to the big-screen TV as the Omega 13, an affectionate reference to GalaxyQuest. My computer is Vera VAIO. And the chair is now Edna Ergohuman.

We pondered a few "e" names over dinner last night. Edna may sound too much like Vera, since they both have two syllables and end with an "a", but for various reasons, we didn't want to use the more common women's names starting with "e", like Ellen (we know at least five human Ellens, who might not be amused to have an office chair named after them) or Eleanor (the name of a relative). I'm not very fond of the name Eunice, and Elspeth has definite fantasy connotations. This is definitely a science-fiction chair. So Edna she is.

So far, Edna and Vera are getting along fine. If either of them is distressed about the similar names, they haven't said anything to me. Of course, it may be good that both names have two syllables, because that way they can't argue about whose name is more or less important. You know: kind of like giving kids very similar gifts, so they won't fight over them.

Oh, and to get your very own Ergohuman chair, go here. This company has the best prices I found online. I linked to the site in my first post about the chair, but I sent a link to this post to Greg from BTOD, for his amusement, and he asked if I'd link to the company here, too. So there you go, Greg!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Starred Review in Library Journal!


Library Journal has given Shelter a starred review! Unfortunately, I can't cut and paste the star itself, but here's the text:
Palwick, Susan. Shelter. Tor. Jun. 2007. c.576p. ISBN 978-0-312-86602-0. pap. $15.95. SF

Meredith Walford has spent most of her life avoiding her omnipresent father, multibillionaire Preston Walford, the first human to have his personality posthumously translated into an online presence. When the threads of her life once more become entangled with those of a homeless man whose memory has been legally erased, a young woman whose caring for a damaged student cost her her freedom, and a "smart house" whose personality seems strangely familiar, Meredith finally learns to confront the monsters that have haunted her past. Set in a precarious near-future in which environmental storms make shelter even more of a necessity, where altruism is considered a mental disease and "brainwiping" a desirable cure for antisocial behavior, the latest novel by the author of Flying in Place and The Necessary Beggar tackles the problematic issue of human interconnectedness with sensitivity and insight. Palwick's characters resonate with believability and her portrayals of minds on the edge of sanity are unforgettable. Highly recommended for libraries of all sizes and for audiences outside the genre.
Thank you, Library Journal! This feels especially good after the Publisher's Weekly review, and I hope this one will wind up on the Amazon site next to that one (authors and publishers do not, alas, have the power to tell Amazon which reviews to post).

In other news, this week's Grand Rounds is up, and I'm delighted to be included. Great format this week!

Also, my new chair's supposed to be delivered today. It's getting rather late, even for UPS, but if I don't get it today, I should definitely get it tomorrow.

But wait -- the doorball rang just as I typed that last sentence! The chair has arrived! Woo-hoo!

Starred review + new chair = very good day.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Pandemic Flu Preparedness: the Meme




N=1
has tagged me, via e-mail, to blog about pandemic flu preparedness.

Frankly, I know zip about pandemic flu preparedness. I know that a pandemic flu, like the one in 1918, would be a disaster of major proportions, and that we're not very prepared for anything like that here in the U.S. (we're not very prepared for most disasters, sad to say). I also know that if possible, the best way to avoid infection is to stay at home and avoid contact with other people; N=1 talks about that quite a bit in her post.

By coincidence, one of the chapters of my fourth novel, Driving to November, is set during the 1918 flu epidemic. The fantasy premise of the novel is that there's a magical, hidden valley in central Nevada (the Brigadoon of the West!). The only people who can get into it are those who've been conceived there or are traveling in close promixity to other people who have been. The advantages of such a valley are obvious: there are no property taxes, and it's a great place to hide stolen goods or hide from unpleasant external events, like flu pandemics. (Downside: no phone service or TV/radio reception, and some bad juju in the more magical parts of the valley . . . among other things.) Many of the conflicts in the book revolve around isolationism versus involvement -- different characters have very different opinions on how much they want to be a part of life Outside -- and in the 1918 chapter, one character is desperately awaiting the return of several others who've left the valley to meet a returning troop train (troops returning from WWI spread the flu, often along railroad lines).

So I've done a little bit of research on flu history, but my current flu preparation plan consists of getting a flu shot every year and washing my hands a lot. And in the event of a pandemic, that wouldn't cut it.

Okay, so I know zip, and I'm going to have to read all the linked sites here to catch up. In the meantime, here are N=1's instructions:

So here’s the challenge and the meme:

Become a pandemic flu preparedness blogger for a day.

Write a post about pandemic flu preparedness, add the banner gif to your website, supply at least a couple of links to pandemic flu preparation websites, and tag five or more bloggers.

Add two items to your next grocery shopping list to begin to stockpile essentials:

Some ideas for starters include jars of peanut butter, cans of beans, cans of tuna, salmon and other fish, cans of fruit, jars of applesauce, prepared pasta that doesn’t need refrigeration, cooking or rehydration, cans of vegetables, crackers, jars of tomato sauce/spaghetti sauce, cans of stew and hash, boxes of powdered milk, and bottled water and juice. On the medication side, have unexpired bottles of aspirin, acetominophen, naproxen sodium or ibuprofen, triple antibiotic cream, sterile gauze, pepto-bismol, and have bleach and a quaternary disinfectant on hand.

Here are some good references about pandemic flu planning:

Flu Stories: HHS Flu Summit Looks At Tool Kits

HHS Pandemic Flu Leadership Blog

Trust For America’s Health
Banner: check. Links: check (even though I just stole N=1's links). Grocery list: . . . ummm . . . I guess I'll buy extra peanut butter and ibuprofen (such a yummy combination!). Tags: In the interests of spreading this information beyond the medblogging world, I hereby tag Lee, Inez, Elliot, JB, and Tom.

You get bonus points if you can write a funny post about pandemic flu preparedness (I know, I have a sick sense of humor), and/or if you can connect pandemic flu preparedness to any of the following topics: Cursillo, Quaker parrots, recumbent bicycles, Scripture, science fiction, yoga, tea, comics, or reasons to save the world.

You all know who you are.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

We're It


Happy Father's Day to all!

Here's today's homily. There was a choice of Old Testament readings, both pretty ghastly, but I chose 2 Sam. 11:26-12:10, 13-15, because it's ultimately more hopeful. The Gospel is Luke 7:36-8:3.

*

Today’s Old Testament reading brings us into the middle of a story that would do any soap opera proud. David, the King of Judah, wants to marry Bathsheba, but Bathsheba is already married, to David’s faithful follower Uriah. So David arranges for Uriah to be sent into the thick of battle and then abandoned there to die. David has murdered Uriah, as surely as if he struck the killing blow himself. God sends the prophet Nathan to call David to account for his wrongdoing.

Sent to communicate God’s anger, Nathan doesn’t lecture David on the sin of murder, or even the sin of adultery. He doesn’t directly scold David for coveting his neighbor’s wife. Instead, he tells a famous and beautiful story about a poor man who has only one lamb, which he loves like a child. A rich man who has many animals, but who does not want to sacrifice one of his own flock, seizes and slaughters the poor man’s beloved lamb to feed a guest.

David, very properly horrified by this story, demands that the rich man be punished. And Nathan says, simply, “You are the man.” Or, in more modern language: “You’re it.” The sin David has recognized in the story is his own sin. Nathan told the story precisely to jolt his audience into awareness.

And David, because he is not just a murderer and adulterer but also a great and wise king and loyal follower of God -- a very complicated person, like most of us -- realizes the truth of Nathan’s accusation. Smitten with remorse, he repents of his crime, and because he has repented, God forgives him. David himself will not die to atone for his deeds, God says. Instead, David and Bathsheba’s infant son will die.

This is an appalling story for Father’s Day, especially on a morning when we’re about to baptize a child. We’d all rather avoid this part of the tale, prefer to end on the happy note of David’s repentance and forgiveness. But the Scriptures, and the editors of the Episcopal lectionary, haven’t allowed us that luxury. We have to wrestle with David’s loss.

In my own wrestling, I’ve come up with two ways to make sense of this story. The first is cautionary. The death of David’s child reminds us that although God indeed forgives us when we repent, our deeds still have consequences. Our faith commands us to love God, our neighbors and ourselves. When we act unlovingly instead, real harm is done in the world. We can’t wipe away the injuries we have caused just by saying “I’m sorry.” Yes, God accepts our repentance, but sin still hurts, and it’s usually the innocent who suffer.

My second attempt at exegesis focuses on our own response to the suffering of the innocent. Nathan tells David the parable of the lamb to evoke a response; perhaps the Bible tells us the story of David’s infant for the same reason. Just as David protests the injustice of the poor man’s loss, so we protest the injustice of David’s loss. It isn’t fair for a rich man to take a poor man’s prized possession! It isn’t fair for a son to die for his father’s crime! This is a natural, unavoidable reaction, and I think it’s the reaction the author wants us to have.

Perhaps the point of the story is precisely to rebuke any of us who have ever punished children -- or adults -- for the crimes of their relatives, who have ever treated another person unlovingly because of inherited characteristics: nationality, race, religion, family background. Like David, we don’t have to have performed these deeds directly. If we have delegated them to other people, such as elected officials, we’re still guilty.

David and Bathsheba’s child couldn’t help his parentage. He couldn’t help where or to whom he was born. But children killed in war -- in Germany or Japan, Vietnam or Iraq -- can’t help those things either. In this country, children without adequate shelter, food or health insurance can’t help having been born into poverty. Inner-city children who never acquire the basic skills they need to get a job can’t help having been born into embattled, struggling school districts. The children of inmates, seventy percent of whom will wind up in prison themselves -- sometimes because of inadequate adult support -- can’t help who their parents are.

David recognized himself in Nathan’s story. Do we recognize ourselves in David’s story? Are we it, as Nathan said David was? And if we are, how should we respond?

David repents of his crimes and mourns his dead. And then he and Bathsheba have more children, who have children in their turn, in a line that leads directly to Jesus. The Bible traces that line, telling very colorful stories along the way, but some themes remain constant. The Gospel we just heard, like the Old Testament lesson, is about repentance and forgiveness. If we’re wrestling with our own guilt, it contains very good news, because it tells us what to do.

The Pharisees were devout, observant Jews who loved God and prided themselves on following God’s commandments, including purity laws. The Pharisee in the Gospel obeys God by offering basic hospitality, asking Jesus to share a meal with him. He’s appalled when a woman of ill repute shows up at his house, making a spectacle of herself by kissing Jesus’ feet, bathing them with her tears, drying them with her hair, and anointing them with expensive lotion, presumably purchased with ill-gotten gains. This is terrible, thinks the Pharisee. How can Jesus let this woman touch him? She’s unclean. Doesn’t he know that?

Jesus does know that. Furthermore, Jesus knows that the woman knows her own guilt. She knows she’s it. She also knows that God forgives her, and her gratitude for God’s lavish act of love expresses itself in her own lavish love. “Her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.”

All of us have done wrong, somehow, to someone. But if we recognize our wrongs -- if we say, “Yes, I’m it, and I’m sorry” -- then God’s love and forgiveness can transform our guilt into joyous love shown other people. The more aware we are of our own faults, of how much we have been forgiven, the more grateful and loving we will be in response to God’s great grace.

Baptism is a sacrament of cleansing, of forgiveness. The baptized have promised, in person or through the proxy of their parents and other sponsors, to renounce evil. In a few minutes, all of us will promise to continue repenting of our sins, and to signal that repentance by performing specific actions in the world. We will promise to seek and serve Christ in all persons, to strive for justice and peace among all people, and to respect the dignity of every human being, no matter where or to whom that human being was born. We will promise to express our gratitude to God in lavish love of our neighbors.

That love can take many forms. We may volunteer in a homeless shelter, hospital, or prison. We may pledge to visit a nursing home once a month. We may sign up for the special Big Brothers/Big Sisters program that provides stable adult friends and mentors to the children of inmates. We may volunteer in at-risk schools. We may send money to Episcopal Relief and Development, or Doctors Without Borders, or Heifer International, all organizations that work to help children -- and adults -- in other countries.

Whatever actions we take, we will take them not because we are such good people, but because we know that we, too, have done wrong, and because we are so grateful for having been forgiven. On this Father’s Day, we will begin our repentance with the acknowledgment that we are all children of one father, called to love all our relatives, near and far.

Happy Father’s Day. We’re it.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Weirdest Genre Label Ever


As far as I'm concerned, nothing I write is suitable for anyone under the age of forty. Imagine my surprise, then, when my first two novels wound up categorized as YA because they have young protagonists. The Necessary Beggar also wound up on some romance lists, but that actually makes sense, since two love stories (one tragic, one comic) are at the heart of the story.

But now Shelter has evidently been reviewed as romance. Huh? I haven't been able to read this review yet -- there's a two-month delay before reviews are available online, to give subscribers to the dead-tree version the advantage -- but I can't wait to see how the reviewer justifies that marketing label. Yes, the story includes many relationships, both romantic and otherwise, but nearly all of them are doomed in one way or another: the only successful ones happen mainly offstage.

Anyway, any story that isn't about sociopathic hermits will include relationships of some sort, right? Are all stories romance, then?

To my mind, calling Shelter romance because some of its characters court and marry is like calling The Silence of the Lambs chick-lit because there's sewing in it. I think that novel's brilliant, especially in its attention to class and gender, and I've taught it to beginning literature students as a particularly accessible introduction to those theoretical lenses. I consider it a strongly feminist text -- but I wouldn't describe it as chick-lit, would you?

Shelter as romance reminds me of the reader who described my story "Gestella," as horrific a piece as I've ever written, as "a sweet and sad love story."

Yikes. What story did you read?

Friday, June 15, 2007

The Poor Get Poorer


I've written here before about my great respect and affection for the security guards at the hospital, and about the invaluable role they play in calming and caring for psych patients (including attempted suicides, addicts and alcoholics, and a number of homeless frequent flyers).

During my shift this week, one of the guards -- who was watching two homeless alcoholics -- told me that there's been a change of policy. Security will still show up to evaluate each of these patients, and will put them in restraints if there seems to be any danger of violence, but they'll no longer sit with them. They'll evaluate each patient and then leave.

My heart sank when I heard this. We used to have social workers in the ED, who were a valuable resource for these patients. We lost the social workers during a budget crunch, much to the distress of the medical staff. With the social workers gone, the security guards became even more important to the psych patients, and now their role is being minimized. This means that, during the many many hours these patients usually have to wait for an outside psych eval, or to be transferred to another facility, the only people they'll have contact with will be harried medical staff or the occasional chaplain (the department doesn't, unfortunately, have round-the-clock spiritual-care coverage).

And many of the medical staff are decidedly unsympathetic to these patients, especially the indigent ones. Remember the nurse who loudly told the entire department that a particular frequent flyer was a worthless human being who deserved to die? The bad news from the security guard was all the more upsetting because I'd just gotten an earful from that same nurse about homeless people who "abuse the system" and tie up beds needed by more deserving patients.

I know a lot of ED staff feel this way, and I know that homeless patients can be hard to deal with (so can homed patients, of course). But the homeless, however challenging some of them may be, haven't created a situation where emergency departments are often the only places they can get any care at all. "They just come here for shelter and food," the nurse told me, as if shelter and food aren't pressing survival needs in a city where homeless shelters are all too often overflowing, or won't accept walk-ins without a referral from a hospital or social-service agency.

Another provider standing nearby was similarly scornful. The nurse isn't alone.

The security guard told me that he gets mad at some of these patients, too (and so do I, when they're rude to me or other staff), but he also acknowledged that he's really mad at the system. I once heard a doctor make the same concession. I don't think the nurse is there yet. When I mentioned the new policy, the nurse said, "Well, it's about time. Now maybe some of those patients will just leave."

Just leave? "Those patients" include attempted suicides, here in the state which consistently has one of the highest suicide rates in the country, along with dismal mental-health services. (Those services are pretty thin even if you have insurance, let alone if you don't; a comfortably middle-class friend of mine whose son needed to be hospitalized for psych issues wound up sending him to Texas.) We want suicidal people just walking out of the hospital?

I have to assume that the security staff is as overworked as everyone else, and I thought they might be happy about having hours of their time freed for other duties. But the two guards I spoke to about the change in policy seemed genuinely upset. They feel they provide a valuble service to these patients, and they enjoy this part of the job. Gary and I, when we talked about this, wondered how many other opportunities the guards have for supportive, non-adversarial contact with patients, since they're otherwise summoned only when someone's become obstreperous.

I keep reminding myself about the many members of the ED staff who've managed to stay compassionate: The nurse who thanked me profusely when I found a shelter bed for an alcoholic, because her father's alcoholic and she knows how tough that illness is. The nurse a few weeks ago who thanked me for finding some clean clothing for a homeless man, and who ordered a meal tray for him even though he was being discharged -- and then let him carry the tray into the waiting room and eat his dinner there, since another patient needed his bed. The nurse who sympathized with one of our schizophrenic patients, and agreed with me that it must take unimaginable strength to keep coping with the worst symptoms of that illness.

And, of course, the security guards.

My conversation with the first guard last night started because he'd heard me offering pastoral care to one of the homeless alcoholics. The patient politely declined, but thanked me for my visit. When I left the room, the guard said, "I didn't realize you were a volunteer chaplain. That's a really important job." And then he launched into a fluent, impassioned monologue about how important it is to treat homeless people like people. He told me about some of the ways he's helped them at the hospital; he told me about teaching his girlfriend's son to be compassionate by striking up conversations with homeless people in the park. He told me about a friend of his father's, hit by a car in a large city and thrown into a doorway, who lay there for two days because passersby assumed that he was homeless and wouldn't look at him, much less help him. (This unfortunate soul wound up losing his leg, which could have been saved had he received medical care more promptly.) He gave me an energetic little pep talk about the value of my work, and I returned the favor.

Later during the shift, I had a long talk with a patient who's been a corrections nurse for decades, and who waxed equally eloquent about her frustration with how many prison programs have been cut. She's helped a lot of inmates turn around, and it frightens her that the resources to give them useful job skills -- the skills that will allow them to make it when they get out -- keep disappearing. Talking to her was more proof, if I needed it, that it's possible to work in a very hard environment without becoming completely cynical and embittered.

I suspect there's no way for me to talk to the angry nurse about this; that nurse, I'm pretty sure, now considers me almost as contemptible as the down-and-out patients, simply because I've tried to advocate for them. In different contexts, I like the nurse, who's gone to great efforts to help other patients. I'm praying to maintain my own compassion towards this person, and towards other staff who take their frustration out on patients.

In the meantime, it scares me that we'll be seeing so much less of the security guards. Some patients really are dangerous, and can become dangerous in unpredictable ways and at unpredictable times. I always feel safer when the guards are there, and I'm sure the medical staff does too.

But it also scares me because the guards protect the most marginalized and vulnerable patients. Without the guards there, I worry that burned-out staff will feel fewer compunctions about telling those patients that they're worthless, that they deserve to die, and I'm scared that the patients -- most of whom feel horrible about themselves anyway -- will believe it.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Technology Upgrade


Gary, bless his heart, set up his old flatscreen for me today. It's indeed much easier on my eyes, although I had to rearrange my desk significantly to make room for it.

I'll be even happier when I get my new chair. My arthritic knee has been unhappy today, and my back's been acting up, too. Nothing that's kept me from functioning, but I'm really looking forward to getting the chair!

There's some hospital news, but I'm too tired to post it right now. I'll do that tomorrow.

My mission at the moment, should I choose to accept it, is to veg out by watching Scrubs (thank you, Netflix!) and eating popcorn.

Okay, here's today's discussion question. It's summer, and I'm not teaching. So why do I feel more busy, tired and overwhelmed than I do when I am teaching? My guess is that having to create my own schedule, rather than having one imposed on me by the workplace, ups the pressure. Whatever the explanation, I'd really love to find some way to be insanely productive over the next two months while also feeling relaxed.

And world peace would be nice, too.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Major Investments


Gary just got a new computer; his old one was old and verrrrrry slow, and he's much happier now. I'll be inheriting his old flat-screen monitor (he now has a widescreen one) so I won't have to hunch over and peer at the tiny screen of my tiny VAIO. I love my VAIO for travel purposes, but having a bigger screen will be a major blessing to my aging eyes.

We're also in the middle of having our downstairs bathroom floor tiled (after a small flood warped the parquet the previous owner had installed). It's going to look gorgeous, but it's not cheap.

And then, today, I decided I needed a new office chair for my study. We go through chairs at a fair clip, and some that used to be great for me just don't give me enough back and head support anymore. So we went to Office Depot, as we have so often in the past, thinking we'd find something workable for $150 or so.

And then I sat in the Ergohuman high-back mesh chair, and fell in love. I could have fallen asleep in it, it was so comfortable.

But it cost $599. Ha ha. Yeah, right. Let's go sit in the next best chair, for a mere $179.

But the next-best chair couldn't come close. I kept returning to the Ergohuman. "That's the one you want, isn'it it?" Gary asked me. I allowed as how it was, but also allowed as how I couldn't stomach spending $599 for a chair.

So we came home, where I did a bunch of research, read a bunch of rave reviews about the chair -- some of which pointed out that it's actually much less expensive than other high-end office chairs -- did some internet comparison shopping, and bought one for $485 (no tax or shipping).

Okay. I'm a writer: I spend a lot of time sitting down, and my joints and spine, along with my eyes, aren't getting any younger. I've endured the agony of back spasms just often enough to know that I want to do everything possible to avoid them in the future. I need a really good chair, right?

But it's so expensive.

But I'm a grownup now, and I can get an expensive chair if I want to (and at the moment, we can afford it).

But the cats may shred the mesh!

But no other chair in the store came close to it for comfort. The other chair I was looking at was rated for three to five hours a day of comfortable, ergonomic seating; the reviews I've read of the Ergohuman talk about people spending upwards of twelve hours a day in it, without any back pain.

But it's so expensive!

Gary said, "Well, now you won't be able to use your chair as an excuse for not writing." (Heh! Does he know how my mind works, or what?)

Plus, it's very skiffy looking.

Gahhhh! Did I mention that we need a new roof in the fall? But we have money put aside for that, too.

Just color me yuppie -- or muppie, for Middle-aged Urban Professional.

In other news, the sonnet cycle is now finished and edited. Gary loves it, and I've learned from years of experience that editors tend to agree with Gary. (If he says a story will sell, it sells; if he says it won't, it doesn't, no matter how much I like it.) Later this week, I'll be delivering the sonnets to my friend Ann, who'll be able to take a look at them next week. After that, we begin the dreaded HIPAA gauntlet at the hospital.

All of which will be less stressful when I'm sitting in my new chair. Right?

Monday, June 11, 2007

Grand Rounds! Churchaversary! Book Release!


This week's Grand Rounds is up in two versions: the streamlined just-the-links edition, and the extended release, which includes brief descriptions of posts. As always, I'm happy to be included here, and look forward to lots of good reading.

Seven years ago today, I was baptized. That was also the first time I preached. Yes, I preached at my own baptism. Pretty weird, huh? (And no, we don't make everyone being baptized do that! I was invited to, and happily said yes.)

Tomorrow's the official release date for Shelter, although a friend who preordered from Amazon tells me his copy has already shipped. For those of you in Reno, I'll be doing a reading at Sundance Books on Tuesday, July 10 at 7:00 PM.

Today I started rereading the long-neglected draft of my fourth novel, Driving to November, which is historical fantasy set in central Nevada. I was very relieved to discover that parts of it don't suck. Of course, other parts do. But that's what revision's for, right?

I have a lot of work ahead of me!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

The Chronicle of the Sacred Handwashing


In the days of our ancestors, the volunteer chaplain went forth to be trained in the hospital. And lo, the first and most important rule in the hospital -- aside from the Commandment to Obey HIPAA -- was the Sacred Ritual of the Handwashing. The Sacred Ritual was to be performed before and after every patient contact: for lo, the Sacred Ritual of the Handwashing was the Universal Precaution, and the best defense against the dreaded hospital-acquired infection.

The volunteer chaplain dutifully heeded the Word of the Lord: the Sacred Ritual of the Handwashing was to be performed with soap and water at certain times (before eating, after using the restroom), but otherwise, the Lord permitted the use of the antibacterial hand goop. And the Lord was generous, and provided convenient wall dispensers of hand goop in every patient room.

And the Lord smiled upon His people in the hospital, and caused the wall dispensers to be stocked with particularly pleasant hand goop. The hand goop smelled good, and also had moisturizers in it, to keep the skin from cracking and hardening like unto the desert after forty years without rain.

And it was good, and the hands were happy.

But all good things must come to an end, and lo, the pleasant antibacterial hand goop went the way of the passenger pigeon and the thirty-five cent stamp. (The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away.) For the hospital fell upon a time of drought and famine, and many of its people were sent wandering into the desert, and the pleasant hand goop gave way to caustic, slimy stuff that wrinkled the nose and stung the skin. And the people of the hospital were heard to whisper that the new hand goop had come from Mordor.

And lo, the hands were unhappy, and the volunteer chaplain cried unto the Lord, and the Angel of the Lord appeared in the blanket warmer and spake unto the volunteer chaplain, and said, "Don't use the wall dispensers anymore, dummy. Just use soap and water every time."

And lo, the volunteer chaplain used soap and water every time, and the hands were still unhappy, for verily, they were shriveled like unto pathetic prunes. And the volunteer chaplain cried unto the Lord, and the Angel of the Lord appeared in the linen cart, and said, "Your God is a gracious God who has fed His people in every generation, with milk and honey and manna, and also wild locusts, which are an excellent source of protein. Go look at the sink in the meds room."

And lo, the volunteer chaplain went to the sink in the meds room, and discovered there a most marvelous assortment of hand lotions in containers of all sizes: unscented lotions and, yea, verily, scented lotions also, lotions infused with the scent of honeysuckle and roses, of seaspray and cucumber, of aloe and strawberry. And every week the volunteer chaplain found new and wonderful lotions clustered around the sink in the meds room (where the yummy snacks beloved of the medical staff were also clustered), and because she was a grateful daughter of the Lord, she sometimes brought her own.

And it was good, and the hands were happy. And the volunteer chaplain received many compliments from patients who told her how smooth and soft her hands were, on account of the lovely lotions.

But lo, all good things must come to an end. For one day the Angel of the Lord appeared in the form of an administrative memo, and spake thusly: "The Lord your God is a jealous God, and quick to anger, and the Lord your God has decreed that there shall be no more yummy snacks in the meds room: no, nor shall there be lovely lotions, for the bottles of lotion do clutter the surface of the counter, which must be kept clear at all times. The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away. Harken to the Lord your God.

"Listen well, for the Sacred Ritual of the Hand-Washing has also changed. Your ancestors believed that it was necessary to wash their hands for only as long as it took to sing the Happy Birthday Song: but lo, they were a slothful people. If you love the Lord your God, and also your patients, this is how you shall perform the Sacred Ritual of the Handwashing:

"You shall wash the hands for twenty seconds. For twenty seconds you shall wash them, and the seconds of the washing shall be twenty. The water you use shall be warm, and the soap you use shall be generously applied. Between each finger will you lather, and under each nail, and around each wrist: and harken to what the Lord your God has commanded, for the nails shall extend no more than one quarter inch past the fingertips, and the nails shall not be painted, and acrylic nails will not be permitted, lest you invoke the wrath of the Lord your God.

"For twenty seconds shall you lather your hands and wrists. Then shall you rinse them, pointed downwards -- downwards shall they be pointed, and not upwards! -- until the soap is all gone. You shall take one towel, and dry the hands for ten seconds. Then you shall take a second towel, and dry the hands for another ten seconds. Then you shall take a third towel with which to turn off the faucets, lest your hands again become unclean through contact with the metal. These three towels you shall properly dispose of in the waste receptacle. And lo, my angels shall be traveling among you and observing how you perform the Sacred Ritual of the Handwashing, to ensure that you follow the commandments of the Lord your God. And also you shall be reminded by Handwashing Signage dispensed liberally around the hospital, including in the elevators."

And lo, the volunteer chaplain commenced to obey the Lord her God, and to follow the instructions in the Holy Memo. And the hands were unhappy. For verily, without the lovely lotion, they were shriveled like unto pathetic prunes once again, especially since they were being scrubbed even longer, with even more soap, and dried with even more towels. And lo, the towels were rough.

And it was not good.

And the volunteer chaplain made moan to the charge nurse, who explained that the Angel of the Lord would indeed dispense lotion once more, but that it would be new, approved lotion: for the old kinds of lotion had contained petroleum products which would have interfered with the antibacterial properties of the new hand goop the Lord God would also be providing.

And yea, verily, the volunteer chaplain went into the meds room one day and discovered a new bottle of approved lotion. And the new lotion was unscented, which was better for patients with allergies: but lo, it was also thin and unsatisfying. And the hands were somewhat happier, but still far less happy than they had been in the days of the lovely lotions, which had smelled so nicely of milk and honey (but never of locusts).

And lo, the volunteer chaplain has still not had the courage to sample the new hand goop in the wall dispensers, lest it be like unto the old Astringent of Mordor. And yea, verily, her hands are now once again rough and unlovely, although of course they do not look like the picture at the top of this post, because she is not allowed to paint her nails.

Doug Henry Update


Yesterday, the police told Beth that they've found Doug's car; it's a half-day's drive from Reno, sixteen miles down a rough dirt road in a remote wilderness recreation area. They won't tell her exactly where, because a) they don't want everybody going out there and b) she's now a suspect. The police are now treating this as a crime.

The car had its VIN plate and tags removed. Inside, it was spotless: no paper, no mess, nothing. According to Beth, this is completely unlike Doug, who's always kept a very messy car. But there was nothing in the glove box, nothing in the trunk.

The robbery-and-homicide detective assigned to the case told Beth that the three possibilities are: 1) it was a robbery and Doug walked away, 2) homicide or 3) suicide. But the detective also said that this doesn't fit any profile and that nothing makes sense. It's the strangest case he's seen in fifteen years. If Doug killed himself, why remove the car's tags? If he just walked away, why didn't he walk back? If it's a murder, why leave the car out in the open where it will be found?

Beth says she now has more questions than she did before. She said that she's mentally buried and resurrected Doug a hundred times in the past week. In the meantime, she's had police searching the house, seizing her and Doug's computers, going through bank and phone records. She's happy about all this, because it means they're doing a thorough job, but it seems to me that it would still be horrible to have strangers combing your life like that.

The car's been transported back to Reno, and CSI will start processing it this week. That could take up to three weeks.

Because Beth has no computer now, she doesn't have e-mail access. Various people at church offered her the use of their computers, and everyone's praying for her. She says that she cries more at church than at home; at home, she's mostly numb.

She's given me permission to post about this. Please keep her, and everyone who loves Doug, in your prayers.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

2007 Mythopoeic Award Finalists


Gordon Van Gelder just forwarded this to me. See fifth item down on the "Fantasy Award for Adult Literature" ballot. I read it, let out a scream, and raced to tell Gary, who was shaving. Much shaving cream was spattered.

If I say much else, I'm going to sound really silly, so I'll stop now. But, well, I never thought I'd be sharing an award ballot with the likes of Beagle, McKillip and Powers. And the Inklings are very dear to my heart, so the nomination means all the more because of that.

Also, the conference is close enough that Gary and I can go. (I'd been thinking of going anyway, but now we're definitely going.) And my friends Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman are guests of honor, so it will be old home week, even if we did just see them at WisCon.

I'm very, very happy. And I'd better stop now, before I completely lose any pretense of dignity.

* * *

The Mythopoeic Society
PRESS RELEASE: June 9, 2007
2007 Mythopoeic Award Finalists

Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature
Peter S. Beagle, The Line Between (Tachyon Publications)
Susanna Clarke, The Ladies of Grace Adieu (Bloomsbury USA)
Keith Donohue, The Stolen Child (Nan A. Talese)
Patricia A. McKillip, Solstice Wood (Ace Books)
Susan Palwick, The Necessary Beggar (Tor)
Tim Powers, Three Days to Never (William Morrow)

Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Children s Literature
Catherine Fisher, Corbenic (Greenwillow)
Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Spirits That Walk in Shadow (Viking)
Diana Wynne Jones, The Pinhoe Egg (Greenwillow)
Martine Leavitt, Keturah and Lord Death (Front Street)
Terry Pratchett, Wintersmith (HarperTeen)

Mythopoeic Scholarship Award in Inklings Studies
Marjorie Burns, Perilous Realms: Celtic and Norse in Tolkien's Middle-earth (University of Toronto Press, 2005)
Verlyn Flieger, Interrupted Music: The Making of Tolkien's Mythology (Kent State University Press, 2005)
Peter Gilliver, Jeremy Marshall and Edmund Weiner, The Ring of Words: Tolkien and the Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford University Press, 2006)
Christina Scull and Wayne G. Hammond, The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide
(Houghton Mifflin, 2006)

Mythopoeic Scholarship Award in Myth and Fantasy Studies
Simon Blaxland-de Lange, Owen Barfield: Romanticism Come of Age: A Biography (Temple Lodge, 2006)
Jerry Griswold, The Meanings of Beauty and the Beast (Broadview Press, 2004)
Charles Butler, Four British Fantasists: Place and Culture in the Children's Fantasies of Penelope Lively, Alan Garner, Diana Wynne Jones, and Susan Cooper (Children's Literature Association & Scarecrow Press, 2006)
G. Ronald Murphy, S.J., Gemstone of Paradise: The Holy Grail in Wolfram's Parzival (Oxford University Press, 2006)
Milly Williamson, The Lure of the Vampire: Gender, Fiction and Fandom from Bram Stoker to Buffy (Wallflower, 2006)

The Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature is given to the fantasy novel, multi-volume, or single-author story collection for adults published during 2006 that best exemplifies the spirit of the Inklings. Books are eligible for two years after publication if not selected as a finalist during the first year of eligibility. Books from a series are eligible if they stand on their own; otherwise, the series becomes eligible the year its final volume appears.

The Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Children's Literature honors books for younger readers (from Young Adults to picture books for beginning readers), in the tradition of The Hobbit or The Chronicles of Narnia. Rules for eligibility are otherwise the same as for the Adult Literature award. The question of which award a borderline book is best suited for will be decided by consensus of the committees.

The Mythopoeic Scholarship Award in Inklings Studies is given to books on Tolkien, Lewis, and/or Williams that make significant contributions to Inklings scholarship. For this award, books first published during the last three years (2004–2006) are eligible, including finalists for previous years. The Mythopoeic Scholarship Award in Myth and Fantasy Studies is given to scholarly books on other specific authors in the Inklings tradition, or to more general works on the genres of myth and fantasy. The period of eligibility is three years, as for the Inklings Studies award.

The winners of this year's awards will be announced during Mythcon XXXVIII, to be held from August 3-6, 2007, in Berkeley, California. A complete list of Mythopoeic Award winners is available on the Society web site:

http://www.mythsoc.org/awards.html

The finalists for the literature awards, text of recent acceptance speeches, and selected book reviews are also listed in this on-line section. For more information about the Mythopoeic Awards, please contact the Awards Administrator: Eleanor M. Farrell, awards@mythsoc.org.

Ten Years in Reno


Ten years ago today, I arrived in Reno to begin my job at UNR. For the first few weeks, until our apartment was ready and Gary could join me -- he'd stayed behind to finish up his job in New York, and to oversee the movers -- I stayed in Wildflower Village, a hotel on Fourth Street with a gorgeous view of the mountains, but without a phone. My first night in Reno, as I watched lightning dancing in the Sierras, I called Gary from a pay phone and said, "This place is beautiful. What were we doing in New Jersey all those years?"

Gary arrived on June 21st, the summer solstice, and immediately became enchanted with the easy access to hiking.

We love it here. We love the climate, the geography, the proximity to San Francisco. I love my job. We love the house we bought a year after we arrived here. And our lives have changed immensely in the last decade. I've learned to drive; Gary's learned to cook. I went through a religious conversion, as Gary watched in bemusement and some alarm. I'm now doing things -- preaching, volunteering as a hospital chaplain, beginning to do work at the medical school -- that I couldn't have imagined ten years ago.

Three years ago, my sister and I drove across central Nevada, a research trip for the book I'm working on now (and on which I'll resume work in earnest in the next few days, I hope). The photo at the top of this post was taken on that trip, a few miles from the tiny town of Ione, famous for the bar with the buffalo out back. Wallace Stegner once famously commented that to find the West beautiful, one has to "get over the color green," but I think this photograph shows that Nevada really is beautiful.

Here's another photo from that same trip. This one was taken at Hickison Petroglyph Recreation Area on Highway 50, about twenty miles east of Austin. Liz and I spent several hours there, scrambling around the rocks.

I find this picture, in its stark drama, very powerful, a testament to the triumph of life and growth in hard places. Gary commented last night that it would make a great logo for Carnival of Hope. Maybe I should use this one, instead of the flower growing through the sidewalk. What do you think?

Friday, June 08, 2007

Carnival of Hope: Volume 1, Number 10


Welcome to the June Carnival of Hope! The next edition will be posted on July 13 (another Friday the 13th!). The submission deadline is Thursday, July 12 at 5:00 PM PDT. You can either e-mail submissions directly to me (SusanPal at aol dot com) or use the BlogCarnival submission form.

This month's posts offer a strong and rather startling theme of loss and grief, especially around parent-child relationships. I dedicate this edition to anyone who is grieving, and particularly to anyone who has lost a child, parent, or partner. I hope these posts will offer you the recognition of shared experience, and bring you at least the hope of comfort.

My old friend JB, in her post Heaven With Alik, tells a wonderful story about witnessing a special celebration between a grandmother and granddaughter. This is also a post about the power of love to help us heal after great grief: in this case, grief from the loss of a longtime spouse.

Jenny's poignant post 10 Days describes her process of healing from the terrible pain of losing a child. Jenny, may you find continued strength and peace!

Anna, even as she rejoices in her own beloved daughter, reflects on how to respond to the tragic death of four teenagers in In Memory Of Life.

Last month, Ishtar told us about her mother's cancer, and wrote of how her faith is helping her face this ordeal. This month, she gives us an update on her mother's situation and offers more thoughts on faith and love. "Love comes at a price, but that price is worth it." I especially enjoyed the photograph of her, as a little girl, with her clearly adoring mother.

And speaking of updates from last month's carnival, Kate and her readers have helped make things a little easier for mothers (and other women) in Afghanistan. She writes: "From Mothering Sunday in the UK to Mothers Day in the US and Canada, Babylune held a charity campaign in which blog readers voted for the charity they wanted to receive a donation. This post outlines the choices they made."

While literal life-and-death situations naturally get everyone's adrenaline pumping, events can be traumatic even when they don't threaten our bodily survival. Most of us have a deep-seated fear of rejection, no doubt stemming from the fact that when we were children, rejection by adult caretakers would have placed us in grave danger. As she discusses how important it is for parents not to threaten children with abandonment, even in jest, Rory Sulivan shares a story about comforting her daughter.

Sometimes, though, parents have to let go of the desire to shield their children from every possible pain. Lori Radun learns to Find Peace in Letting Go as she watches her son sitting out baseball games on the bench.

Parental love is often our model for the greatest gift of self. But lest you think that only humans are capable of such comfort and lovingkindness, Dianne M. Buxton shares a story about an animal shelter whose intake counselor is a compassionate cow named Buddha. Happy birthday, Buddha!

Buddha isn't the only one celebrating. Jack Yoest tells us about the anniversary of the two things he loves most: his wife, and his car. Let's hear it for long-lived relationships!

Many of us have had the experience of finding our soulmate only after we gave up looking. I'm in that category, and so is Karen Lynch. In her post Manifesting Life, Karen muses on how sometimes, when we stop trying to manipulate or control events to get what we want, the thing we've been seeking almost magically materializes.

And, finally, I share a story about an improbably magical day in San Francisco in Three Wishes.

That's it for this month. See you in July!

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Majorly Bummed


Someone from the Art Museum called yesterday to say that the clay course has been canceled; the instructor had to go out of town for a family emergency. They're sending me a refund check.

I'm really disappointed. I was so looking forward to the class, and I haven't found anything else that's quite comparable: there are some drawing/painting courses, but I'd really wanted to work in three dimensions, and the class was going to be my summer treat to myself. And it's not like I have a wheel and kiln at home.

No clay for me this summer. Nertz!

I'll figure something out. In the meantime, last night I drew a prayer for Doug Henry to be found, with some ratty old colored pencils I have. Tonight I'll probably draw a prayer for my friend Tim, who's in the hospital.

Or maybe I'll learn to knit. Tim told me about his prayer shawl, made by a woman at our church: he loves it, because when he wears it he can feel the love and prayer that went into it. I can't quite see knitting with cats around, though, and knitting doesn't have that grownup-mudpuddle aspect that was so appealing about the clay.

On the plus side, yesterday I printed out all the sonnets and started editing them, and also went to an event at the medical school about medicine and spirituality where I got to meet some interesting people. And the sun's finally out! It's been rainy and cloudy here, and yesterday was so cool that I wore a fall sweater. I'm glad summer's come back!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Art and Prayer


When my father lived in coastal Mississippi, he was just a few blocks from The Walter Anderson Museum of Art. I went there often when I visited him, and fell in love with Anderson's beautiful drawings and designs for pottery and textiles, one of which you can see to the left.

During my last visit there, the week after Christmas in 2005, I realized that Anderson would be a good source of inspiration for one of the characters in my fourth novel (not in the sense that I'm basing her on him, but that she herself learns of his work and is inspired by it). This, of course, affords me the happy opportunity to put off actually writing the novel by doing research on Anderson. Writers love this stuff.

I'm currently reading Chistopher Maurer's Fortune's Favorite Child: The Uneasy Life of Walter Anderson, and have become more fascinated by him than ever. He was a brilliant but troubled man, twice hospitalized for severe psychiatric problems -- including violence towards both himself and others -- who spent much of his later life living in seclusion on Horn Island, away from his wife and children. This must have been more than a bit of a relief to his wife, Agnes Grinstead Anderson, whom he'd hurt both physically and emotionally; her devotion to him and his work, despite the pain he caused her, is deeply moving -- to me, anyway, although if all this were happening now, surely he'd be arrested for domestic violence, or she and the kids would be whisked away to a shelter, or both.

In effect, that's what happened anyway, without the intervention of police. But as much as I abhor domestic violence, I'm glad his wife loved him and stood by him. Rather a contradictory position for a feminist, I know, but there you have it.

She wrote her own memoirs of life with him, Approaching the Magic Hour, and I want to read that next. And then I want to read his Horn Island Logs. And then I want to read the memoirs his children have written -- they and his grandchildren still run a family pottery business -- and watch various documentaries about his life, and then I want to go back to Mississippi and see the museum again and go back to Horn Island myself.

See what I mean about the research? Of course I can't do all of this: I need to stop at some point -- soon -- and resume work on my own novel.

Anderson was passionately, lyrically in love with nature, and believed that the artist was a kind of co-creator, that nature couldn't realize itself fully until expressed in art. He loved animals, although sometimes he treated them not much better than he did people (more often from neglect than outright cruelty). He had a special affinity with cats, "thou who carryest the sun for a head, a serpent for a tail, and for feet four flowers which follow thee wherever thou dost go." After he died, his wife forced her way into a locked room in his studio and discovered that he'd painted the four walls and ceiling of "the little room" with a joyous mural of creation, a visual representation of Psalm 104.

Among other things, reading about Anderson has reawakened my hunger to become more involved in visual arts. (The clay class starts next Monday! Yay!) Coincidentally -- or not -- this month's Episcopal Life has a story about Sybil MacBeth's Praying in Color, about using simple drawing as prayer. I've done a little of that myself, although I didn't realize there was a book about it, and I'd like to do more. If I'm feeling very brave, I may even scan some of the images and post them here.

As I think I've probably mentioned here before, my mother's dad, Jerome George Rozen, and his twin brother were fairly prominent commercial artists; among other things, they painted covers for pulp magazines, which means that I come by my genre leanings naturally! I took oil-painting lessons when I was a kid, and certainly felt encouraged in art both by family and teachers, but I let it go -- electing to pursue a field where there was less family competition -- and now I feel shy about it. Drawing prayers is a way of giving myself permission not to be skillful, since God knows what I meant to put on the paper even if I don't have the technique to get it there.

Elsewhere on the prayer front, I've discovered an online version of the Daily Office with very convenient, easy-to-use versions of Morning and Evening Prayer. The site includes optional audio clips for hymns -- although the music sounds like it's played on a kazoo -- and external links, so readers can learn more about the places mentioned in the world cycle of prayer and the churches mentioned in the denominational cycle of prayer.

Oh, and I called my spiritual director, after not contacting her for oever a year, and she welcomed me back like the Prodigal Son. She was overjoyed to hear from me, and we'll be getting together soon.

I'm doing my homework!