Monday, June 30, 2008

Random Ups and Downs

Today started off very well, with a breakfast meeting about the Literature & Medicine program in Reno. We have a schedule now, and a partial list of people we want to invite. My job by the end of the week is to finalize the syllabus, which will be easier now that my books have arrived from Chicago.

I decided to celebrate by buying a new bookcase for my office at school, to be devoted to Lit&Med books. (I also framed my Certificate of Appointment to the medical school -- the one with everything spelled right -- because it makes me happy.) Gary and I went to my office, measured, went to Office Depot, found something the right size, and went back to my office, where Gary began the long, tedious job of assembly.

In the meantime, I'd learned from the department secretary that my fall grad seminar's been canceled because it didn't get enough students. That's the second time in two years this has happened to me. This time around, I polled the grad students to see which topic they were most interested in, and went with the one that got the most votes, but it still didn't work.


Instead, I'll be teaching Women & Literature, which is always a fun course. But I have to get that syllabus into working shape soon, too, so I can order the books.

By the time we got the bookcase assembled and moved into the office, it was 6:00. We went out to eat so Gary wouldn't have to cook after fighting with cryptic assembly instructions. Then we came back home, where I stared mournfully at my third chapter and fiddled with it a bit. In the process, I figured out what comes next (this showing up at the computer really does seem to work!), but I didn't actually write it. I knitted instead, catching and repairing two potentially disastrous dropped stitches in my current project.

I'd hoped to have the third chapter done today, but instead, I'm giving myself until the end of the week. And I'm going to bed early tonight, because I got up at 6:00 for the meeting.

Both of my offices, at home and school, are in utter chaos right now, which isn't helping anything. I need to make time to straighten them up. Gahhhh.

I didn't read today. Mea culpa. I did swim, though.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Not Much to Report

For the past few days, I've been knitting, reading and writing every day, and therefore meeting my summer goals.

Knitting's going well. Reading's going well. In preparation for my "Writing as a Healing Ministry" course at PSR, I'm reading Louise DeSalvo's Writing as a Way of Healing, the required text for the course. None of the material's new to me, but it's a helpful refresher, especially as I struggle with November. DeSalvo emphasizes that writing needs to be an ordinary, daily activity, and also that we have to make conscious space for it by saying "no" to other things.

A few weeks ago, I got e-mail from the head of our Diocesan Commission on Ministry, asking if I'd be willing to team-teach a Preachers-in-Training course starting later this year or early next. I like the priest I'd be working with (who was one of my classmates when I went through PIT), and of course it's an honor to be invited. Even a year ago, I'd have said "yes" without thinking.

But it's a three-year commitment -- the class meets once a month, for three hours, for three years -- and between the English Department, the Medical School, the hospital, and my own creative projects, I've been feeling stretched a little thin. I really don't want to take on anything else. I don't think it would be wise or healthy. (Sure, I could knit less. But I don't want to!)

I dithered about this for a while, and this morning consulted one of my parish priests, who said, "Can you offer to teach just a few classes, as a guest lecturer?" That was a great idea that hadn't occurred to me, so this afternoon I e-mailed the COM guy back. I hope it works out!

Meanwhile, the current chapter of the book is still a struggle. But I show up at the computer for an hour or two every day and fiddle with it, and each day I make a little progress, and if I keep doing this steadily, I'll probably gain momentum at some point. That's the idea, anyway. In any case, Louise DeSalvo would approve of the fact that I've now said "no" to something to make more room for the writing.

And the knitting. She says in the book that she knits every day, too. That made me feel better! (All the best people knit, donchewknow.)

Friday, June 27, 2008

Mom's Birthday Present

My mother will be eighty-three on July 6. Before I left for Chicago, I sent out the package with her birthday gifts: a cat's paw lace scarf I knitted for her, a white t-shirt to show off the pattern, and some pretty matching blue earrings (which don't show up in this photo, unfortunately). She liked everything very much, and my sister sent me a bunch of pictures of Mom wearing the ensemble, but I've been informed that this is the only photo I'm allowed to post. If I post any of the others, I'll be disinherited.

In other news, my sister's gotten back into crocheting, so now we'll be able to shop for yarn together. Bwah-hah-hah!

Happy early birthday, Mom! I love you!

Grand Rounds

Here's a very belated link to this week's edition. Happy reading!


Well, okay, actually, I've been back since very late Wednesday night -- although my luggage didn't join me until yesterday afternoon -- but I was too busy catching up on other things to blog.

Lee, to answer your question, the Medical Readers Theater went fine, although it was the last event of the Institute, so a lot of people had left already, and those of us who were still there were pretty worn out. I enjoyed it, but I'd like to do it again when I'm feeling more awake!

I came back to pretty horrible smoke conditions in Reno from the Northern CA fires, but the air seems to be clearing a tiny bit. Gary calls Reno in the summer "the biggest little ashtray," and this week, we really fit that description.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

No New Yarn Today

My faithful readers will be relieved to learn a) that Gary has graciously forgiven me for my most recent yarn-purchasing indiscretions and b) that I acquired no new yarn today, although I did knit. (And I told the third knitter here about the yarn sale, and the last time I saw her, she was heading off to check it out.)

Not only didn't I buy any yarn, but the two-hour session I moderated went well. I started with a writing exercise that was well-received; I was worried that some of the discussion after that lagged a bit, but the other people in my group said they didn't feel that way when I asked them for feedback.

Tomorrow we'll be doing a Medical Readers' Theater adaptation of Raymond Carver's story "Cathedral," and I'm one of the readers. Our rehearsal this evening went well, although everyone was tired from a day inside with no natural light. After the rehearsal, we went out for dinner to another Italian restaurant, where I once again pigged out, especially on dessert.

Tomorrow the Institute ends around noon; my flight leaves Chicago in the early evening, and with luck -- that is, if I make my Denver connection -- I'll be home by midnight.

It will be a long day. And so to bed!

Monday, June 23, 2008

My Evil Twin

One of the other people at the Literature and Medicine Training Institute is a fellow knitter, also named Susan. We sat together during dinner last night and had a long talk, during which we decided, based on family similarities, that we must have been twins separated at birth. The Other Susan asked if I'd like to have dinner tonight at a nearby Italian restaurant, so we arranged to meet at 6:00 in the lobby.

Today we were both knitting during one of the sessions, and the woman sitting between us said, "It's so comforting to have knitters on either side of me. It reminds me of my grandmother, who always used to knit."

Today's sessions closed with an optional discussion, which I elected to skip so I could dash over to the UPS store before it closed and buy a box and some packing tape, since I have to ship books home.

On my way from the UPS store I passed . . .

Two blocks from the conference center . . .

Drumroll, please . . .


And they were having a sale.

It was a little before six, and I had to get back to drop the box off in my room and meet Susan, so I didn't stay. But the first thing I said to Susan when I saw her was, "So there's a yarn store two blocks from here, and they're having a sale."

She didn't hesitate for a second. "Let's go."

We went. I've almost used up the lovely Noro Silk Inez gave me, and I'd decided to buy two more skeins in another colorway, even though it wasn't on sale. That was a relatively small purchase. I picked out my Noro Silk, and then the saleswoman helped me with a stitch I'd been struggling with. Susan, meanwhile, was loading up a basket with sale yarn. I'd looked through the sale yarn and had seen one gorgeous one that tempted me, but it turned out to be soy yarn, which I've worked with and don't like, so I passed on it.

But then I saw a stunning scarf in an amazing pattern. "What's that pattern?" I asked the saleslady. "Is it hard?"

"It's easy," she told me with a smile. "And it comes free with this yarn."

"This yarn" wasn't on sale, and it wasn't cheap. But it was gorgeous, a silk-wool combo, and the scarf only takes one skein. I looked through different colors. I dithered. Susan and the saleslady ganged up on me. "Come on, you know you want it! If you leave without it, you'll be kicking yourself."

"I can't justify this," I told them. "My husband will kill me! Do you have any idea what I've spent on yarn recently?"

"Oh, come on! This would look so lovely on you!" Whereupon they started holding different colors up to my face, oohing and aahing and nodding knowingly at each other.

"My husband will kill me," I said.

"You can tell him it's my fault," Susan said.

"Yeah," said the saleslady, "we're enablers."

I dithered some more. And then I remembered a friend I didn't think would like any of my current yarns, but would probably like this one in a particular color. And she has a birthday within the next year. "Oh, all right," I said, and Susan and the saleslady grinned at me.

I spent far more than I should have, but Susan spent more than I did. The saleslady threw in an extra "free" pattern for both of us. After we left, clutching our precious bags of yarn, we got a cab to the Italian restaurant and pigged out on polenta fries, veal meatballs, and shrimp risotto. We also had decadent desserts: she had a gelato combo, and I had hot Italian doughnuts -- think beignets -- with dark chocolate sauce.

I'm moderating a session tomorrow and have to review the readings we'll be discussing. I meant to spend all evening doing that, and instead I shopped and ate. So I should feel guilty, but, y'know, somehow I just don't.

Gary: it was the Other Susan's fault! Please don't kill me!

My Fellow Knitters

I'm in Chicago now and having a great time, but the Lit & Med Institute is keeping me very busy, so I don't have much time to blog.

However: On one of my flights out here, the woman sitting next to me was knitting a pair of socks. We compared yarns and patterns, and traded knitting anecdotes. Yesterday I knit through two Lit & Med sessions, and two other women said, "I'm so glad you're knitting! I'll bring my knitting tomorrow!"

Knitters. We're everywhere. We walk among you.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

And on a Happier Note . . .

Eleven years ago today, Gary joined me in Nevada after packing up our apartment in New Jersey.

Happy Reno Anniversary, sweetie! I'm so glad you came out here with me!

What's Wrong With This Picture?

Nevada, despite or because of its status as one of the fastest-growing states in the country, is currently facing a gigundo budget deficit. This has already caused much belt-tightening across the state, including at UNR, with much more to come. The next three years -- the remainder of this biennium and the next one -- will be, to quote a colleague of mine, "not pretty."

Mind you, Nevada already scores dismally low on social services. This is among the worst states, right down there with Mississippi, in which to be poor or disadvantaged.

The newspaper article to which I linked above quotes Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, as saying, "I am going to keep all options on the table, and the only option that is not out there is raising taxes."

We have no income tax. We have very low property taxes. The state doesn't have enough money, and more people than ever are living here, taxing (if you'll pardon the pun) infrastructure and services.

Do the math.

The other day I was stopped in a supermarket parking lot by a kid with a petition to cap property taxes at 2%, rather than raising them to 3%. "No!" I told him. "This state needs a larger tax base, not a smaller one!" He scurried away, clearly frightened by my vehemence.

When I told my aforementioned colleague about this, she rolled her eyes and said, "My sister in Portland has a house comparable to mine and pays three times as much in property taxes as I do. I'd pay that in a heartbeat if it would fix this mess." So would we.

The problem with many taxes is that they're regressive, hitting hardest at the people who can least afford them. But there are ways around that, and an income tax would be one.

As Gary put it after our encounter with the petition kid, "Yeah, I'm a tax-and-spend liberal." Lots of people around here aren't. But we have to do something, and further slashing programs and services isn't a good solution for anybody.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Frantic Trip Prep

I think I'm as packed for Chicago as I can be tonight. I'm really glad I don't have one of those 6:00 a.m. flights: I leave comfortably mid-morning. I could technically do more tonight, like packing up my laptop, but when I accidentally locked my car keys in the trunk with my suitcase, I knew I was getting too tired to think straight. (I put the suitcase in the trunk tonight so Bali wouldn't savage it with his claws: he evidently views it as a new and wonderful scratching post.) I'm really glad we have extra keys!

My doctor's office called today to say that they still don't have my records from the old place -- the first request got lost -- but as soon as the records arrive, they'll send me the name of my diagnosing pulmonologist so I can get the script. Yay. Meanwhile, the nice CPAP repairman from yesterday called to tell me about a way he could use a loophole to sell me a machine, but since his price was twice as much as's, I'll pass. I buy my masks and hoses from, and they've always been very fast and helpful, so I trust them.

I swam this afternoon (crucial to stretch out the back before hours of air travel) and then got my mother's birthday package mailed out. Her birthday isn't until July 6, but I had everything ready, so I figured I'd send it.

I'm still waaaaaaay behind on e-mail. Please forgive me, everyone.

And now I'm going to crash. I should have internet access in Chicago, and I'll post as time and energy permit.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Visit with Carol

I had a lovely time with Carol, and the drives both there and back went very smoothly (although gas in Lee Vining is $5.09 a gallon: ack!). This is a picture I took of Carol on our evening walk. We had a great time talking about writing, trading rattlesnake stories (we've both had close encounters) and sharing our love of the West.

Mind you, Carol's eighty-six and in better shape than I am. This is the hill we climbed: my good knee gave out before Carol even got tired! She told me that she did her last "real" hike when she was eighty-two, when she was annoyed that she could only manage an hour and a half out and back. She complained about this to some doctors she met. The doctors were very amused (although, I'm afraid, not very helpful to Carol).

The hill's also the view in back of Carol's house, by the way. Bishop is a beautiful and dramatic place!

This is the view from Carol's front yard. She lives half the year in New York City and spends summers in Bishop: quite a contrast! She's invited me and Gary to come down for a visit so he can hike, and I think I may have talked him into it. He'd love the steep slopes!

This is what we saw on our walk, looking across Owens Valley. To get the full effect, you really have to click to enlarge . . . and believe me, it's much more awe-inspiring in person!

Carol's been wondering about this very large round boulder. She says there are no other rocks like it in the area, and she wants to know what shaped it like that. I had a vague memory that glaciers can do that; Carol asked a geologist, who didn't know. Does anyone here have theories?

Here's another interesting rock formation we saw on our walk. Even though my knee gave out in short order, it felt really good to get some exercise after spending over four hours in the car.

So, as I said, great visit. Carol had to be at the airport by noon today, and just to be safe, we decided to leave at 7:00. She set an alarm for five and said she'd wake me at 5:30 if I hadn't gotten up yet. But, lo and behold, I was awakened at 4:50 by the whining, wheezing sound of my CPAP motor dying.

We were on the road shortly after six, and I dropped Carol off at the Reno airport shortly after ten. Then I went home, unpacked, and tackled the CPAP problem, which was somewhat pressing, since I'm leaving for Chicago on Saturday and need a working machine.

I started by calling my Durable Medical Equipment (DME) company, who shall remain nameless but have, in the past, generally been the least helpful people on earth (at least in Reno; I had a good experience in the Bay Area when my motor died there two years ago). They ran true to form today. I was told a) that I'd need a prescription to get a new machine, b) that my insurance wouldn't pay for it because I've only had this one two years, not five, and c) that CPAPs cost "thousands of dollars," a claim I promptly disproved by logging onto, where I'd still need a prescription but where the machines only cost hundreds of dollars for units smaller and lighter than mine.

"If the DME's charging thousands of dollars, my copay will be hundreds of dollars," I told Gary.

"Just buy one online," he said. Nice hubby!

But in the meantime, the DME people had -- somewhat helpfully, hallelujah -- given me the name of a CPAP repair shop in town. I took the machine over there, where the nice repair folks (all two of them, and it's a local, family-owned business, too), confirmed my diagnosis of a dying motor. Yes, they could fix it, but they'd have to wait for the part, which would cost hundreds of dollars (are we sensing a theme here?). I vented my frustration about the DME place; they rolled their eyes and said, "You wouldn't believe how often we hear that." I told them I was seriously thinking of just buying a machine online. They nodded vigorously and said, "That's what you should do. That's what we'd do."

In the meantime, they rented me a working model of my current machine for $45/month. They accepted my word for my pressure setting, and didn't require a prescription. Is this logical, I ask you? (And they can't sell me a machine because of complicated regulations.)

So I went home with the working machine and set about figuring out how to get a prescription. I don't remember the name of the pulmonologist who wrote the script back in . . . 2001? 2002? Long time ago! The sleep lab where I was tested appears not to exist any more, and has probably been bought out by a bigger place.

So I e-mailed my family doc to see if he can write the script or if he has the name of my pulmonologist in his records. If not, I guess I'll have to be sleep-tested again. What a drag!

Oh, and: the people at the CPAP repair place warned me against the lightest, smallest, least expensive machine, the one I was going to buy, which evidently breaks constantly. They recommended another machine they said was smaller than my current one. But online reviews say it's not that small or light, and if I'm not going to get a much more portable machine, I'd just as soon hassle with the insurance company to replace my current one.

Aaaaaarghhhhh. Well, I'll deal with all of this when I'm back from Chicago.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Road Trip

Today I'm driving down to Bishop, California (215 miles away) to stay the night with Carol Emshwiller. Tomorrow I'll drive her to the Reno airport so she can catch a flight to Sacramento.

Jacob from Tachyon called me a while ago to ask if Carol could stay at our house the night before her flight; the original plan was for her to take the bus up from Bishop. But I offered to go get her instead. She and I have talked about a visit for several years now, but have never managed to arrange one, and the eastern Sierra is stunningly gorgeous. I've done that drive once, with my sister, and I'm really looking forward to doing it again.

I should be back midday tomorrow -- we'd better hope so, because Carol needs to make her flight! -- and Saturday I leave for Chicago.

I went to the hospital yesterday, since I'll be on the road Thursday. Two people said, "You're not usually here on Tuesdays!" One was a social worker I talk to all the time, so that didn't surprise me, but the other was a PA I barely know. It was a busy shift -- my census was 82, higher than it's been in a long time -- but there weren't any especially momentous visits. I mainly handed out tons of warm blankets. The hotter the temperature outside, the colder the ED seems to be.

I hope to have pretty pictures of the mountains when I get back, and if so, of course I'll post them.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Grand Rounds in the Tropics!

This week's edition is up, all the way from Saipan, and I'm pleased to be included. Thanks for hosting, David!

Happy reading!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Three Cats (Because Your Day's Not Complete Without Them)

1. Harley in the Tray

2. Bali on the Floor

3. Figgy in the (Old) Cat Condo

Sunday, June 15, 2008


Here's today's homily. The readings are Genesis 18:1-15 and Matthew 9:35-10:8. Note that I'm not using the optional end of the Gospel, which is hard to square with Father's Day. I've preached on that text before, but elected not to this time.

Happy Father's Day to all!


Some of you may have seen the news story last week about the Father’s Day celebration at the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta. A weedy sea dragon -- an 18-inch creature with a long snout and a sea-horse body -- is pregnant for only the third time ever at a United States aquarium. Sea dragons are threatened, so this is great news, but what makes the story really unusual is that the sea dragon is one of only three species, along with sea horses and pipe fish, in which the male carries the eggs. The pregnant sea dragon is the dad, not the mom.

This is a useful cautionary tale, a reminder that just when we think we have God figured out, She throws us a curve ball. Through most of the animal kingdom, females give birth. We consider this right and natural. The weedy sea dragon teaches us that natural is whatever works.

Abraham and Sarah learn the same lesson in today’s reading from Genesis. They’re both very old: Abraham is one hundred, and Sarah is well past childbearing age. When God tells them that they’re going to have a son, Sarah laughs. This can’t be. It isn’t natural for a couple so old to have children. But sure enough, she goes on to give birth to Isaac. As God has so pointedly asked Abraham, “Is anything too wonderful for the LORD?”

The Bible is full of people who think they know the rules and then watch as God turns those rules upside down. This happens repeatedly both in the Hebrew Bible and in the New Testament. Old people don’t have babies. Surprise! God only loves and rewards people who follow very particular purity laws. Surprise! No one comes back from the dead. Surprise!

In this morning’s Gospel, Jesus himself -- God’s biggest surprise -- is explaining the rules to his disciples. He’s teaching them how to care for his flock, how to proclaim the good news that the kingdom of heaven has come near. He tells them very specifically where to bring this good news. “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” The good news is for family only.

This morning’s lesson is from the ninth and tenth chapters of Matthew. Over the next two months, we’ll hear other lessons from Matthew in which Jesus shares prophecies, parables, and promises. In all of these stories, he’s the head of the family. Father and Son know best.

And then, on August 17, we’ll hear a lesson from the fifteenth chapter of Matthew. A Canaanite woman -- a Gentile and outsider -- comes to Jesus desperately seeking healing for her sick daughter. He tells her that she isn’t part of the family. “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” he says, echoing today’s Gospel. When the distraught mother keeps begging for help, Jesus says, “It is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs.”

The mother shoots back, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.”

Jesus -- astonished, and probably a little abashed -- tells her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” Her daughter is healed instantly.

Surprise! Jesus just broke his own rules. He included someone who wasn’t supposed to be part of the family. His definition of family has grown. The Canaanite woman is the only person in the Gospels who wins an argument with Jesus, and she’s one of my favorite Scripture characters. She teaches us that love trumps law, and that when we’re acting from love, it’s okay to argue with God about the rules. She teaches us that God can change his mind.

Over the past several decades, we’ve seen radical reinterpretations of family. The traditional extended family of three generations living under one roof gave way to the traditional nuclear family of two parents with two-point-five children. That version of tradition, in turn, has been transformed by a variety of practices, driven both by necessity and desire: single-parent families, blended families, families with two parents of the same gender. Medical advances have brought us situations that would surely make Sarah laugh: women giving birth past menopause, mothers with quintuplets, a grandmother acting as surrogate biological mother to her daughter’s twins. These changes have forced us to wrestle with legal, ethical, and religious dilemmas. What’s right? What’s fair? What’s natural? What does God want us to do?

Based on the well-established Biblical record of God changing the rules, it seems to me that we’re called to do what works. None of the families I’ve described, even the most “traditional” ones, look anything like the kinship structures described in Genesis. And it seems to me that the ultimate litmus test of true family, in the Bible and in our own day, is love.

At the hospital where I volunteer, there are strict rules against giving patient information to anyone except immediate family. Meanwhile, in my visits with patients and their loved ones, I’ve come up with my own rule of thumb. I never guess at relationships, because whenever I do, I’m invariably wrong. If I introduce myself to the sweet white-haired lady in the bed, and then say of the sweet white-haired man sitting next to her, “And this must be your husband?” she’ll tell me -- surprise! -- that he’s her brother, cousin, son, next-door neighbor, attorney, or parole officer. These goofs can be very embarrassing, so I’ve learned to let the patient fill in the blank. “And this is your . . . .?” In the process, I’ve met countless devoted companions who weren’t, legally, family. Patients arrive with neighbors, with former spouses, with their children’s former spouses, with roommates, with same-sex partners, with their children’s same-sex partners, with the same-sex partners of their former spouses, with pastors, and with a variety of caretakers, both paid and otherwise. This dizzying variety proves that, indeed, nothing is too wonderful for the LORD, and it’s taught me that family are the people who come to our bedsides when we’re sick. Love, not law, is the ultimate arbiter of kinship.

The medical staff knows this as well as I do, and we’ve all learned to bend certain rules. Some months ago, a desperately ill patient came into the ER. He was accompanied by a sobbing woman half his age. She was one of the aides at the nursing home where he lived; she loved him like a father, and couldn’t bear to let him come to the hospital alone. When I explained the situation to the nurse and asked if someone on the medical staff could speak to the aide, the nurse cleared his throat and said, “You mean his daughter, don’t you?”

During another shift, a female patient was frantic because she couldn’t reach her husband at home to let him know where she was. A nurse pulled me aside and said, “Actually, he’s a patient here too. He’s on the other side of the wall from her, but they aren’t legally married, so because of HIPAA, I can’t tell her that he’s here or give her any information.”

“You’ve got to be kidding,” I said. But then I realized that we weren’t that far from the woman’s bed, and that the nurse had been speaking quite loudly.

The female patient smiled at us. “Thank you. Please tell him I love him.”

The HIPAA rules are slowly adjusting to human reality. Doctors now ask their patients for lists of people, family or friends, who can be given medical information. Our laws always change to reflect our loves. I believe Jesus would approve. I know the Canaanite woman would.

So, this Father’s Day, please think of all the people who have fathered you, whatever their gender or relationship. Reflect on how they have shown you that nothing is too wonderful for the LORD. And then tell your fathers, whoever they may be, that you love them.


Saturday, June 14, 2008

Tired Fingers

For the past week, I've been facilitating an online colloquium about The Lord of the Rings for a group of profoundly gifted youngsters. I've taught for this foundation before -- I usually teach a course for them once a year -- and I've even taught this particular colloquium before, but this was by far my liveliest group. In the past, my courses have collected 250-450 posts. This week, we've had a whopping 635, and I suspect there will be more, since some of the students want to keep talking! They've really kept me on my toes, too: there's been very substantive discussion.

It's great fun, but I'm worn out!

And I'm preaching tomorrow, so this afternoon and evening, I wrote my homily.

It's probably not too surprising, then, that I didn't work on the book today, and that I got less knitting done than usual, and no reading (other than colloquium posts). But tomorrow's a new day!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Renewed Faith

I didn't go to the hospital yesterday, because I was sick. I went today instead, because I was feeling better. Yesterday I was annoyed that my massive allergy attack kept me from volunteering, but today, I think I know why that happened.


The minute I get to the ED, one of my favorite nurses asks me to speak to a patient who's about to be discharged. I go into the room, blink, and say, "I know you!"

I'm terrible at names, but I remember yours. That's because I've thought about you and prayed for you many, many times since our first meeting. I tell you this, and you seem puzzled, but pleased. You're impressed that I still remember your name.

You're here because you fell. I ask some questions, and it sounds like you really did fall, not like you were pushed. But when I ask if your partner's still hurting you, you start to cry.

You're still afraid to tell anyone. You beg me not to tell anyone. I tell you that we know here: we know from last time, remember? You insist that you can't leave your home, because of your animals. You tell me about them. There are quite a few, of different kinds. You love them. They depend on you. You rescued some of them from dumpsters.

I tell you that there are animal-rescue organizations. You insist that no one else can take care of your animals. You have to do it. I ask if your partner has ever hurt your animals, and you say, emphatically, no.

And then I say, "Think about what your partner has done to you. If that had happened to your animals, would it be okay?"

Your eyes widen. You look horrified and shake your head. "No!" you tell me. No, it wouldn't be okay at all. It would be unspeakable. You'd want your partner to die if your animals had suffered like that.

"Then it's not okay for your partner to be doing that to you, either."

"But I can run away," you say, and then stop. We both know you haven't.

The nurse comes to discharge you. I talk to a case manager, who sighs and gives me a flier for a domestic-violence hotline. We gave you a list of shelters last time, and it didn't help, but as long as you're still alive, there's still hope.

By the time I finish talking to the case manager, you're already outside, sitting in the sunshine, waiting for your partner to pick you up. I give you the flier. "Can you put this where your partner won't see it?" You nod and tuck it into a pocket. "Will you call the number?" You frown and don't answer. "Can I do anything else for you?" You ask shyly if I can get you some water. I'm happy to do that.

When I come back with the water, you squint up at me and say, "Well, maybe I'll call. My nose has been broken twice, and my collarbone three times."

"Please call," I say, trying to keep my voice steady. "You don't deserve that. No one deserves that."

You smile and hold my hand. You still can't believe I remembered your name. I tell you that I'll never forget it. I ask you again, beg you, to call the number, to call for help.

And then I have to go back inside. All I can do is pray that you'll call the number, but at least now I know why my allergies were so bad yesterday: So I'd be at the hospital today instead. So I'd see you again. So you'd know that there's someone who remembers your name.


When I'm back inside, something else happens that bolsters my faith, but this time in people rather than in God.

You're my second patient of the day. You're homeless. You're from somewhere else, and need money to go back home. I talk to someone from social services who reminds me that we don't give out money. I already knew that, but it couldn't hurt to try.

I go back into your room. "No luck. Anything else I can do for you?"

"Food?" you ask hopefully. "I'm hungry."

"I'll have to check with your nurse," I tell you. Patients who might be surgical candidates, or who are waiting for certain tests, can't eat. There's also the problem that some staff actively resist giving homeless patients food, because they don't want the ED to be seen as a soup kitchen. "Do you know if you're being admitted?" If you're being admitted, we can order a meal tray.

You don't know. I find your nurse, who's another of my favorites. "Can Patient X have food?"

The nurse looks at the chart. "Sure. That patient just got here, but I understand the situation, so sure."

I gather my courage. "Any chance we can get a meal tray, or should I just hand out a bunch of crackers?"

"I'll order a meal tray."

I blink. We don't even know if you're being admitted yet. "Thank you! A lot of people wouldn't do that."

The nurse shrugs. "Yeah, well, I won't watch anyone be hungry. I'm a hardass in plenty of other ways, but I won't stand there and watch someone be hungry. That's not okay."

I dance back into the room and tell you that we're ordering a meal tray. You thank me, but seem puzzled about why I'm so happy.

I hope you enjoyed your meal. It may have been lousy hospital food, but it represented a triumph of human compassion over bureaucracy.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

A Set of Containers

Teapot, Tempest In

The "Politics and Narrative" contretemps continues to generate surprising heat. If you're interested in following this -- and I wouldn't blame anyone who wasn't -- see comments by Duchamp et. al. here and post by Lukin, with another set of comments, here.

Timmi and I have corresponded about this privately. I'm not sure if we've succeeded in understanding one another, but if we haven't, it's not for lack of effort on either side. (Oh, and just for clarification -- since at least one person has been confused about this -- Timmi was the panel moderator, not the audience member who was so upset with me later.)

Sinuses, Emptying Out

Last night around six I suddenly began sneezing my head off, and my eyes narrowed to little itchy slits. It's the worst allergy attack I've had in a while, bad enough that I caved in and took a Claritin before bed, even though allergy meds of all sorts just harden the contents of my sinuses into concrete that's then even more difficult to shake loose later.

Because I was still itchy and sneezy this morning -- and because I slept shockingly late, almost twelve hours -- I decided not to go to the hospital today. I'll go tomorrow if I'm feeling better.

Product, Endorsement Of

Gary and I went shopping at Trader Joe's yesterday. There's a kitchen store next door, and I browsed there while he was in the checkout line. I've been needing a new travel mug, and I saw this one and decided to splurge on it. I need a mug that won't spill while I'm trying to get onto the deck without letting cats out; it's also handy to have a mug the cats can't stick their snoots into to slurp up my ice water. (As you've no doubt already been aware for some time, our cats rule our lives.)

I love the JOEmo. As advertised, it maintains beverage temperature for a long time and is very easy and convenient to open, close, and drink from. And yes, it's leakproof. I've tested it.

My only complaint is that the 14 oz-capacity of this model requires refilling too often. So last night I treated myself to an even bigger splurge and ordered the 22-oz model.

The coffee is the life. Or, as William Gibson puts in in "The Winter Market," "There was coffee. Life would go on."

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Narrative and Politics Redux

Josh Lukin has posted an excellent transcript and summary of the "Narrative and Politics" panel at WisCon, for those of you who are interested.

I'm amazed by people who can take such accurate notes at these things!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Susan and Sharon's Excellent Adventure

As previously advertised, Sharon and I drove to Gabbs today, and then took 844 through the Paradise Range. Here's one of my favorite pictures from the trip, taken as we drove back over the Paradise Range to go home. This gives you a small idea of the kind of vista that regularly greets anyone driving across central Nevada. Our basin-and-range geography makes for stunning vistas!

(Note: You'll get much more detail in all of these shots if you click to enlarge.)

Here's another shot, taken through the car windshield as we headed east on 50 towards 361, the Gabbs turnoff. Wherever you drive in this part of the state, you can see mountains.

Sharon and I weren't alone; we brought her little dog Misty, who was excellent company and gave us a great excuse to get out and stretch our legs periodically. I'd been a little worried that Misty would bark, but instead she just whined politely when she needed to take a rest stop.

Good dog!

This shot of Sharon walking Misty by the side of the road gives you some sense of how easily the Nevada landscape dwarfs humble creatures like people and dogs. Alkali flats like this are especially humbling!

Later on, Misty had a fine time scampering through sagebrush. We kept her close, though, because we didn't want her to become coyote bait! She spent a lot of time waiting patiently in the car, often sleeping. We had water for her (and for ourselves: one never ventures into the desert without water!), and Sharon had also brought some food for her, so she was well cared for.

Our first sight of Gabbs, population 350, was this set of signs. You can see that there used to be many more. Gabbs was a much larger community during WWII, when the magnesium in the area was in high demand for munitions. The valley's also rich in brucite, and there's at least some gold.

Mining still goes on here, as you can see from this photo. Someone in Gabbs told us that geologists and mining companies seem to be newly interested in the area, so someone may have found some kind of new deposit (or figured out a way to get more from an old one).

In Gabbs itself, there's a definite theme: tarantulas. A friend of mine says that there's a tarantula migration through town every year -- although a local who's been there for four years told me she's never seen one -- and tarantulas are the mascot of the school teams. This is a mural painted on the wall of one of the schools (all the school buildings are clustered together; I think this one's elementary, but I'm not sure).

And here's another! You can never have too many tarantulas! I'm also now the proud owner of a lapel pin, shaped like Nevada, with "Gabbs NV" and a tarantula on it. This item's too small to photograph well, unfortunately.

I'd really wanted to see St. Michael's Catholic Church, because an important wedding takes place there in my book. It turns out that the building is tiny and can probably only hold about fifteen people, so I'll have to pare down the guest list!

My favorite thing about Gabbs was the library. It's only open two hours a day during the summer, but we hit it just at the right time, and the librarian, Myrna, was very warm and welcoming (as was just about everyone we spoke to). She photocopied some historical documents for me and, when I bought a copy of a book about the area, gave me a free copy of a cookbook compiled by the local Republican Women's Club, "because you've been nice to us." When she mentioned that they have a hard time coming up with money for new books, I gave her a small donation, and she threw her arms around me and said, "Thank you!"

Isn't this a beautiful little reading room? If I lived in Gabbs, I'd spend a lot of time in those comfy chairs! (Sharon and I were fantasizing about buying a house there, since the median home price is only $27,500, but it's not really practical. We might go back and visit, though. There's a tiny hotel, although I couldn't find anyone to ask about room rates.)

The library also has a pretty substantial SF collection. Myrna told me that the kids who live there love fantasy (after I told her that I write fantasy), although I suspect my stuff's a bit darker than they're used to! Anyway, it was nice to see lots of Tor books in remote Nevada, even if none of mine were there.

And, of course, the library had its own collection of tarantulas. I was especially tickled with this specimen, fashioned out of a seedpod and pipe cleaners. What do you want to bet that half the kids in Gabbs dress as tarantulas for Halloween?

But you also have to love this plush guy, just waiting to leap upon the head of an unsuspecting reader.

And this stalwart fellow, loyally guarding a stack of children's books, is really very endearing.

I suspect that Gabbs kids have a healthy lack of fear towards spiders and other critters. Either that, or they're all traumatized for life!

Okay, so here's how things work in a small town: outside the high school, Sharon and I chat with an ambulance driver. I mention that I learned a lot about Gabbs from Ruth Danner's wonderful history of the town and the region, and the ambulance driver says, "Oh, sure! I went to school with Ruth. She's living in Elko now and writing another book." Then we go to the library and meet Myrna. Myrna doesn't have any copies of Danner's book, but is expecting more. "I have to call Ruth and have her send some." Myrna takes my card and promises that she'll call me when the books come in so I can buy one and have it shipped to me. (I can't renew it at the UNR library indefinitely.) When we're talking about the attractions of living in Gabbs, Myrna tells me about someone who came here from Cleveland to visit family and loved it so much she promptly moved.

Sharon and I go to lunch at the local cafe. The cashier, who's having some trouble with the register, explains that she's new at the job, and that she recently moved here from Cleveland. "Oh!" I say. "Myrna was telling us about you."

The door opens. It's the ambulance driver, who waves to us. As we're leaving, Sharon peers at a passing car and says, "Look, it's the librarian." We wave to Myrna, who waves back as she pulls into the cafe parking lot. "She must be having lunch there," Sharon says. Well, sure: not too many other places to have lunch.

Somewhat reluctantly, we left Gabbs to head across the Paradise Range into Ione Valley (I don't think it's officially called Ione Valley, but it's where Ione is, so that's what I call it). I'd wanted to stop near the summit and get photos and maybe do a bit of hiking, but it turned out that almost the entire road was under construction. A "pilot truck" with a big "Follow me" sign led us across the mountain.

In Ione Valley, we saw no tarantulas, for which we were very grateful. We did have a pleasant visit with a cow.

Nearly the entire area is open range, so we were on the lookout for cows, but this is the only one we saw.

She was a lovely cow, though, and she posed very patiently for photos. Misty, in the back seat, stood up on her hind legs and pressed her nose against the window to get a better look at the cow. The cow didn't seem in the least interested in the dog.

On our way back over the Paradise Range, we had a ten-minute wait for the pilot truck, which gave us a chance for a very pleasant chat with the flagger, a young guy who was as friendly and welcoming as everyone else we'd met.

He told us that he'd caught a lizard that he'd saved to show his friends. Would we like to see it? We told him that we'd like that very much.

I know people who are scared of lizards, but I adore them. They look like miniature dinosaurs.

The lizard was a lovely specimen, speckled with blue. The flagger had put it carefully in a cooler on top of a rock.

The lizard also had a blue belly; the flagger held it gently upside down so we could take a look. None of us knew what kind of lizard it was, but it was certainly pretty.

When the flagger was trying to return the lizard to the cooler, the animal got away. It stayed near his truck, though. He told us that he thought the lizard liked him. He also said that if that lizard went away, he'd find another to show his friends. I had the feeling that once they'd seen it, he'd release it. That made me happy.

Once the pilot truck showed up, we headed home, gawking at more beautiful scenery. At that point, though, we were both really tired. It was a lot of traveling for one day!

It was a wonderful day, and I want to thank Sharon and Misty for sharing it with me.

The cats wouldn't have been nearly as patient with a long road trip!

And, as a final wonderful treat, when I got home I discovered that Gary had picked wildflowers for me during his hike. They're beautiful, although unfortunately, Bali thinks so too, and has already had his way with several of them. ("Salad for me? How thoughtful of you!")

Biopsy Results, and an Anniversary

I got official word from my doc today: the polyp was "benign but precancerous," meaning that I'll need another scope in five years. I'm wondering, though, if I should have it sooner: my last scope before this one was three years ago, when he found nothing. We went from nothing to a benign-but-precancerous polup in three years, so is three years the right window? Or would the polup still have been benign in another two years?

Anyway, I'll ask him about all of this when I see him in July.

Meanwhile, today I remembered that yesterday was the eleventh anniversary of my arrival in Reno. Yay, Nevada!

Grand Rounds

This week's edition is up (and alas, I'm not in it, since I spaced the deadline).

Happy reading!

Monday, June 09, 2008

Too Skiffy for Words

I just downloaded Google Earth, the best technotoy ever. Hours of free fun! Don't ask me why I didn't do this months ago.

The image above is the Paradise Range in central Nevada. In real life, you cross that range to get from Gabbs Valley to Ione Valley. In Driving to November, there's another, magical valley -- November Valley -- sandwiched between the two. Most of the world still drives from Gabbs into Ione via Brunton Pass, but people who've been conceived in November (or are traveling with people who were), drive from Gabbs to November Valley via Albert's Pass, which is in the same place as Brunton Pass. They have to drive another five miles, and cross a scary, magical mountain range, to get to Ione.

That's probably all clear as mud, right? Anyway, see the road crossing Paradise Range? And see that switchbacky bend in the middle? That's where Albert's Pass is, in the book.

And I'll be there tomorrow, when Sharon and I drive to Gabbs and then across the Paradise Range. At that point, I'll take photos, and I'll post them if they come out.

But in the meantime, is that Google Earth image cool, or what?

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Why the Sudden Sales Surge?

Periodically -- although not too often, since it's a depressing exercise -- I check my sales ranks on Amazon. As an author who can most charitably be described as "midlist," otherwise known as "obscure," my ranks tend to be low, usually around 200,000 or 300,000, but often lower. The older the book, the lower the sales rank runs. Sometimes Gary, who checks more often than I do, will call out excitedly, "Hey, Shelter's up to 26,000!" That's a big deal for us. I've never broken the 10,000 barrier.

(There are links to the Amazon pages of my books on the sidebar, if you're curious. I'm too lazy to put links in this post. This is probably part of why I don't sell better; I simply have no interest in marketing.)

When I checked today, the three newest books were all 300,000 or lower. I figured that Flying in Place, the oldest, would be down around 800,000, which isn't at all unusual.

Instead, FliP was at 8,929.


I did a Google search to see if somebody had just said something nice about the book, but I can't find anything new on it. Gary and I are both wondering if the book's being taught as part of a course somewhere, which would help explain a cluster of sales.

I'll probably never know, and -- unfortunately -- I'm sure this won't last long. But if anyone has an explanation, please clue me in. Gary and I are very curious!

Assorted II

Wow, I'm being really bad about posting this month . . . but that's because I'm getting lots of other things done, which is good news.

Gary really likes the revised first chapter: hurrah! (It will doubtless have to be revised again when I get a better handle on the plot, but for now, he thinks it works well.) I'm now struggling with the third. I've decided to remove a large, cheesy plot point, but that's going to require a lot of major surgery through the book, so the revision process is definitely slowing down.

My cousin called last night to thank me for the prayer shawl, and we had a good, wide-ranging talk. Among other things, I asked what his wife does, since I've never been quite sure. Turns out that she manages an extremely large bombing range for an Air Force base: her job is to make sure that EPA regulations are followed, an especially important task because the land, by virtue of being closed off to casual use, contains some rare and valuable flora and fauna.

When my cousin explained this, I said, "Oh, so it's a combination bombing range and wildlife refuge?"

"Yes, exactly!"

"So the mantra is, 'Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but bomb craters?'"

He laughed and explained that they don't actually use live bombs very often, which probably helps preserve the ecosystem. For instance, the range is home to an endangered subspecies of longhorn critter -- either goat or antelope, I forget which -- who are fragile animals anyway and live in a pretty marginal environment (very little rain, not much to eat). The animals have taken to seeking shelter in the shade of the large fake tanks the Air Force uses as bombing targets.

Hence the need to run interference between the military and the EPA.

But I was really tickled by the irony of a military installation furthering the cause of conservation. There's got to be a story in there somewhere!

Next week will mark the midpoint in my cousin's chemo treatments, which end in September. He's having a CT scan next week too. We'll all anxiously be awaiting those results.

In other medical matters, I talked to my mother today. She's gained weight: she's up from 103 to 118! That's really amazing news, although no one's sure what caused it. We aren't complaining, though!

I'm almost done with the consulting job; I just have to write up some reports tonight and tomorrow. I've been knitting every day and am making great progress on gift projects.

On the less positive side, we had a 3.8 earthquake today (things rattled, but nothing fell or broke). I really, really hope this isn't the start of another cluster. But it's probably my fault, because I put my art glass back on shelves and windowsills.

Friday, June 06, 2008


The other day a nice piece of consulting work landed in my lap; it's lucrative, but there's a short turnaround time, which is why I've been very bad about answering e-mail. (Sorry, Lee!) The same day this happened, I took my car to the garage for routine maintenance and walked out with a $540 bill. Ouch! I'll be doing a lot of driving this summer, though, and need the car in top shape.

The consulting gig will more than pay the garage bill, for which I'm most grateful. Very nice timing on that one!

In knitting news, I finished a small project and have gotten snarled on a larger one. I have to rip out a bunch of rows, and I'm procrastinating by making something else with the yarn Inez gave me. I started a feather-and-fan scarf last night, but it doesn't work well with this yarn; this is one of those yarns where any pattern is a distraction from the yarn itself. So I ripped that out this morning and embarked instead on a simple diagonal scarf, which is looking quite lovely.

In writing news, I just finished the draft of the second chapter of November. I know this one probably has far too much exposition -- the bane of many of my early chapters -- and lacks the narrative drive of later sections of the book, but I can't see it straight anymore, so I'm going to have to rely on Gary (and, later, on Sharon) to tell me what to cut.

In health news, today I tried to get my biopsy results from the procedures last Friday. I think I accidentally threw away the papers with post-procedure instructions; at any rate, I can't find them. I'd remembered today as the day to call the med-help line to get my doctor's recorded message, but whenever I called, the chirpy computer told me they didn't have anything for me. So finally I called the office and got my doctor's nurse, who told me that my notification date is actually this coming Tuesday, but that, in fact, the results are already in.

She told me that the stomach biopsy showed mild chronic gastritis, which is neither a surprise nor especially alarming. But then she said, "He's going to have to interpret the polyp results for you; there's some language here I don't recognize."

That sounds mildly alarming. On the other hand, if anything serious were wrong, I'm sure I'd already have gotten a call directly from the doctor, and the nurse didn't sound tense or worried. She did say, laughing, "Oh, and when he leaves the recorded message he'll tell you when you get to play again."


"Have your next procedure."

"Oh. Since I've had a polyp, I need colonoscopies more often now?"

"Yep," she said, sounding perky. Well may she sound perky, since I'm on my way to financing summer homes for the entire staff. (Do computers have summer homes? Is that why the med-help computer sounded so surreally cheerful?) My copay was several hundred dollars for each of the two procedures, and I have insurance. How in the world do people pay for this who don't?

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Feline Real Estate

Yesterday we bought a new, huge kitty condo for the beasts. As you can see, it's three stories tall and allows them access to the top of the bookshelves in our dining room; from the perches, they can also watch the birds at the feeder. This thing's far too big to fit in our car, so our friend Rick Michaelson borrowed his son's truck to help us haul it from PetSmart. Thanks, Rick!

All three cats loved exploring the new condo, especially since there are toys dangling from chains attached to each level. It's difficult to get action shots of the kitties, particularly since our camera has a very slow shutter speed, but I thought this picture of Figgy reaching down to snag a toy was kind of cute.

Here's Bali playing with the toy at the bottom, as Harley looks on wistfully. Harley was the first cat to climb onto the condo and up onto the bookshelves, but once the other two cats showed up, he became quite shy and stayed on the floor, looking up, for a long time.

Here are Figgy and Bali peering down, as if to say, "Come on up, you silly cat!"

Bali's the youngest of the three, but in many interactions seems to be the Alpha, while Harley -- even though he was first on the condo -- usually defers to the other two.

As you can see, Bali's not shy at all, and happily went clambering all over Figgy (who, to be fair, didn't seem to mind much). Figgy's the laid-back middle child.

I love this shot of Figgy with his tongue out. It's so hard to capture a split-second position like that: I tried to get a photo of Harley yawning, which would have been terrific had it come out, but it was far too blurry.

As always, Figaro's the most photogenic. Here he is looking all relaxed and elegant, King of the Hill.

The kitty condo wasn't cheap, and my father thinks we're insane to spend so much money on our cats, but it was clearly a good investment, since all three beasts already like it so much.

Here, Figaro's clearly trying to decide whether to expend more energy on playing with the toy. Decisions, decisions! The life of a housecat is so stressful.

Nope. He decided that it was a much better idea to stretch and luxuriate. I think of this as Figgy's glamour shot. He should be a centerfold in Cat Fancy magazine.

This next photo cracks me up. His tail looks like some tentacle out of a monster movie or a Lovecraft story (except, of course, that it's cute and furry instead of slimy and horrible). Or maybe he's the Cat-Tail Demon from Buffy. (I don't think there was a Cat-Tail Demon, but there should have been.)

And because Harley's gotten short shrift in these photos, here's one I took of him earlier in the day, when he was striking one of his hilarious "it's time for you to pat my belly" poses.

And here's a Harley headshot. You can tell that he's saying, "Okay, humans, listen up, because I'm the Senior Cat in Charge around here, even if those two young whipper-snappers think otherwise. You're doing a good job on toys and scritchies, and all three of us approve of the idea of this new climbing and playing device, but you never feed us.


"Not ever!

"What's wrong with you people?"