Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Sleeping on His Head


My voice isn't entirely back, but it's mostly back, and I feel somewhat less like a sodden sandbag than I did yesterday.

I learned yesterday that one of my short stories, "Gestella" -- my eco-feminist werewolf story, and one of the two or three darkest things I've written -- is being reprinted in an urban fantasy anthology edited by Peter S. Beagle and Joe R. Lansdale. The volume, as yet untitled, will be published by Tachyon. I'll post more when I get more info.

In the meantime, the small advance will allow me to buy myself a Christmas gift of, heaven help me, yet another backpack bag. I now own an embarrassing number of these things, but I'm still looking for the perfect one, and for various reasons, I think this one will address a number of problems I've had with others. Namely: I think it will hold what I need it to hold without being too heavy (unlike my otherwise beloved Baggallini Brussels bag, which was doing a number on my back), and it looks like the straps are both thick enough not to cut into my shoulders -- I hate the skinny straps on most women's purse-backpacks -- and adjustable enough to ensure a snug fit.

If it works out, I'll let you know. If not, I'll return it and continue the quest.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Still Croaking

My voice isn't entirely gone, but it's still mostly gone, and what I have is very croaky and feels like it could give out at any moment. So I called in sick. I'm afraid that if I tried to teach today, I'd lose my voice entirely.

I've e-mailed my students about rearranged class schedules. (How did any of us function before e-mail?) I always build a little slack into the semester so I can afford to be absent if necessary.

Sigh. I shouldn't have talked as much as I did yesterday. I'll be better about that today.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

No Hablo Nada

I'm sure that's completely incorrect Spanish, but the translation is, "My cold has morphed into laryngitis and I can barely speak." I croaked my way through today's Spanish lesson, through a phone call from an old church friend who now lives in Massachusetts, and through a phone call from another church friend -- here in Reno -- who was just calling to see how I was doing on the first post-closure Sunday.

It looks like the paper will never run that story about our last Sunday. I may be able to get copies of the photos anyway, since I know the reporter's parents. At some point, I'll post my own pictures, although they're of things -- the altar, the view from the parish hall -- rather than of people. My people shots didn't come out well, and I knew the reporter had that covered, so I didn't worry about it. Now I just hope I'll have a chance to see her shots.

Anyway, I'm doing okay, considering that I have amost no voice. I swam a little and went to the tiny, peaceful 5 PM service at my new church. Now I'm going to grade for a few hours. Whatever I don't get done tonight, I can finish tomorrow morning. If I have any voice at all tomorrow, I'll croak my way through classes; if not, I'll e-mail in sick.

I hope next year is less eventful than this last one has been. I also hope I get better soon, and stay that way for a while. These constant physical stresses -- the bad knee! the bad back! the bad cold! -- are becoming very tiresome.

On a more cheerful note, Gary and I both think that maybe Bali's shedding less. Maybe the Feliway's working.

Happy Advent, everyone.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Oh, the Excitement!

I just learned that there's a place in Reno that makes gluten-free pizza (and if I bring my soy cheese, they'll make it with that, although the guy I spoke to on the phone said that would be a first for them).

I'm so excited! I've so missed pizza!

Also, today we booked a shore excursion for our cruise. In Puerta Vallarta, we'll be taking a six-and-a-half hour catamaran ride which includes whale watching, dolphin watching, snorkeling, lunch, and -- conditions permitting -- a stop at a nice beach. All this for $79 per person, which is a positive steal compared to most shore excursions. We'd be thrilled to see whales and dolphins and turtles again, and mantas for the first time, although of course wildlife sightings can't be guaranteed.

I'm researching places in Mazatlan and Cabo where we can snorkel right off the beach. Once I have that nailed down, I'll start investigating art galleries and dining options (although we can always eat on the ship). Our Alaska trip taught us to plan ahead for times in port, to avoid the black hole of ticky-tacky tourist hell. I enjoy a little of that, but a little goes a long way, and Gary loathes even a little.

Here in Reno, it's snowing, making my fantasies of warm, sunny Mexico even more alluring.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


Now, here's a grateful cat! Note kneading paws.

So far, the Feliway seems to be making Figgy more lovey-dovey. We can't tell yet if it's helping Bali. He's still shedding huge hunks o' fur. He seems a little calmer to me than he has, but I may just be imagining it.

I hope everyone had a nice Thanksgiving. Ours has been quiet, even though it's also Gary's birthday. I woke up feeling worse again today, which has put a damper on things.

We went to our friend Katharine's house for dinner, and it was pleasant as always, but I felt like I was underwater. When we got home, I crashed for several hours. Now I'm grading my daily quota of papers, and when I'm done with that, we'll probably watch a little TV before I crash again.

I hope I feel better tomorrow!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


When I got home from work tonight, Gary said, "Hey, you got a letter from the President of the University." It informed me that I've been awarded a sabbatical leave for the academic year 2011-12.

Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah! Thanks be to God! ThankyaJesus!

I've been prancing around the house in delight, even though my throat's still sore and my head's still clogged. Sabbatical! Yay! Yay! Yay!

My proposal's to finish two novels and a poetry chapbook, which is a non-trivial amount of work, but at least I'll be able to concentrate on that stuff without having to teach classes at the same time. Yay!

The downside, of course, is the two-thirds salary belt-tightening, although the leave's completely worth it.

This also means we won't be getting another cat until autumn of 2012, but by then, maybe Bali will have calmed down enough to allow another animal into the household (we just got the Feliway today; I hope it works!).

Sabbatical! Yay!

Can you tell I'm happy?

Language Instruction as Cultural Critique

Today's Pimsleur lesson -- which I'll definitely have to repeat, since my clogged head made it hard for me to hear the tape clearly -- included a scene in a restaurant. Stressed-out tourist says, "I only have eight minutes to eat a sandwich."

The waiter responds, "I understand. You're American, and you have no time."

Ain't that the truth?

Eat, tourist, eat! Run, tourist, run! Run back to the dock while frantically chewing your sandwich, so your cruise ship doesn't leave without you!

Tomorrow's lesson: "Does anyone here know the Heimlich maneuver?"

I still feel like I'm underwater, but I plan to go to work today anyway. We're watching a video in both of my classes, so it should be low-key.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


I woke up at six this morning with a screaming sore throat; this is much the same thing that happened to me in Auburn, and it's probably also a function of allergies. I was at a dinner party the other night where I wasn't as careful about what I ate as I should have been, so I suspect I'm being clobbered by dairy, which always goes straight to my throat and sinuses. In Auburn I felt better after a few hours. This thing seems to be hanging on longer than that, although, luckily, there's no fever.

We had a lot of snow here today. That, plus my feeling cruddy, were a bad combination. My health club's pool opened today after a two-week overhaul, and I'd really been looking forward to swimming again. Weather and health both mitigated against that, but I knew that doing laps would help my back. So, possibly unwisely, I hauled myself into the car after lunch and drove down to the gym. My half-hour swim was indeed lovely, and the driving wasn't even too bad; the hardest part was getting back up our short-but-tilted driveway when I got home, even though Gary had shoveled.

Right now my head and throat feel awful again, but at least my back and the rest of my body feel better than they did before I swam (and I really do think my ailment's allergies, and not anything contagious, or I wouldn't have gotten in the pool). We'd been thinking of going to a concert tonight, but between icy roads and the fact that I once again feel like I've been hit by a truck, we're staying home. I have a huge stack of papers to grade and had planned to start on that today, but I don't think it's going to happen. I'm going to drink a pot of peppermint tea and then crawl into bed.

The story about Sunday's service at St. Stephen's doesn't seem to be in the paper yet, which disappoints me. My friend Mary loves her socks, though! And in Spanish news, I know how how to say those all-important phrases "How much does this cost?" and "Where's the bathroom?" Today's lesson was obsessed with beer. Since I don't drink alochol, I hope a future lesson will discuss coffee.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

End of an Era

The weather stayed milder than expected, so we had our last church service this morning. It was very long and very sad. I think everybody cried, although we also had our share of laughter. A photographer from the local paper was there -- she happens to be the daughter of our deacon -- so I'll post a link to the story when it's up, probably tomorrow. She took lots of pictures and also interviewed some of us.

The photographer had said to me, "I wonder if my Dad will cry." He did. Normally reserved and quiet, he broke down while he was reading the Gospel -- the all-too-fitting crucifixion story from Luke, with bystanders mocking Jesus and telling him to save himself -- which meant that a lot of us broke down, too.

I felt worst for one of our older parishioners, who's been devastated by the church closing and who hung her head and sobbed during the final hymns. She was standing alone in her pew, weeping -- I think the people near her were afraid that reaching out would be too intrusive somehow -- so I crossed the aisle and held her. (Someone had done the same for me when I lost it during the Peace.) When she could speak again, she thanked me. Everyone's sad, but she seemed most bereft to me.

We were all invited to take Prayer Books and hymnals home with us, along with old church photo-directories and a pamphlet about our stained-glass windows. The vestry's putting together a memory book, and all of us will get a copy. I also snagged a Book of Occasional Services and Lesser Feasts and Fasts, along with a bag of Bishop's Blend coffee. I threw out my church key; the locks are being rekeyed next week anyway. The Diocese is going to lease out the building until economic conditions are better for a sale.

Several people I know are moving to the same parish I am, although we may be attending different services. A number of others go to the same health club I do, so I'll see them there. But I'm sure there were people there this morning I'll never see again.

Quite a few folks asked me if I'll keep preaching. I don't know. That's up to the Powers That Be at my new parish. Right now, I'm just going to lie low and work on healing.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Easily Amused

Last night I wound up having a giggling fit in the middle of my Pimsleur Spanish lesson, which asked the student to participate in a conversation that went roughly like this (but in Spanish, of course):
"Hello! Where are you?"

"I'm in the hotel. Where are you?"

"I'm in the restaurant, but I don't have any pesos."

"You don't have any pesos?"

"No! I don't have any pesos!"

"Do you have any dollars?"

"I have two dollars, but I want pesos! Do you have any pesos?"

"No, I don't have any pesos. I only have dollars."
I had a vivid mental image of some poor schmuck, having just devoured the most expensive item on the menu of the pesos-only restaurant, going in panic through his wallet and then making a frantic call to his equally pesos-deprived traveling companion.

Moral of this story: Make sure you have enough of the local currency before you order the lobster.

This evening, we will practice the following conversation:
"I'm sorry, sir, but you will have to wash dishes in the kitchen."

"Wash dishes in the kitchen? But I don't want to wash dishes!"

"Either you wash dishes in the kitchen or we call the police."

"The police! I don't like the police! And I also don't like dishes!"

"Well then, sir, we need pesos."

"But I have no pesos! I have two dollars! Do you want two dollars?"

"We are calling the police, sir."

"Do the police want two dollars?"

"The police want you to give us pesos, sir."

"I do not like the police, and I do not have any pesos. Take me to your dishes."
In other news, we're still waiting for the snow to start, but the storm's now expected to be less severe than originally anticipated. With any luck, I'll get to church tomorrow.

Mary's Socks

For months now, I've been working on a pair of fancy lace socks for my friend Mary. We've known each other since before Gary and I moved to Nevada; she was on the search committee that hired me.

Last night, I finally finished the socks. They aren't perfect -- and this photo doesn't do them justice -- but I think they came out nicely, and I'm pleased. They took so long because this lace pattern is definitely non-TV knitting. You have to pay attention to every stitch.

Now I just hope they fit her!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Last Supper

My latest column is up over at Church Health Reader. I think this one's especially well-timed for Thanksgiving, when food is so important.

I hope you enjoy reading it.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Amazon's now added the customer reviews to the Kindle Fate of Mice page.

Also, I now have six inches of the new qiviut scarf. Tonight I noticed one mistake -- a row of garter stitch that should have been stockinette -- but it's only three stitches, and I don't think it shows that much (certainly not as much as a mistake in one of the lace panels would), and I don't think it's worth trying to frog an inch and a half to fix it. So I'm leaving it as is.

A knitting error! Proof this item was handmade!

Yesterday I talked to our vet about Bali's shedding problem. She says it's probably stress, and recommended a kitty pheromone, Feliway, that's supposed to relax cats (much better than kitty prozac). The problem is that humans are instructed to put a diffuser of this stuff in the room where the cat hangs out the most, but Bali hangs out all over the place. So I'm not sure what to do. Does anyone have any ideas?

We're expecting a big snowstorm this weekend, with possible accumulations of five inches by Sunday morning. I really, really hope we don't have to cancel our last church service because of weather. That would, well, just suck.

Tonight I listened to Lesson 5 of the Pimsleur Spanish, but my brain froze often enough that I definitely need to repeat it tomorrow. They say you should go ahead if you get about eighty percent of the lesson, but I was at sixty to seventy-five tonight. That's okay; it's still fun, and there's no rush on this. Anything I learn is more than I knew before, so it's all good, although anyone listening to my hideous pronunciation might not think so.

And now, speaking of painful audio experiences, I'm going to practice my viola.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Look, Ma: I'm on Kindle!

Today I discovered that two of my books are available on Kindle (and, presumably, other e-book platforms): my first novel, Flying in Place, and my story collection, The Fate of Mice.

Weirdly, the Amazon reviews on the print edition of Flying in Place were transferred to the Kindle page, but those for The Fate of Mice weren't. Strange.

Anyway, my other two novels should be up there at some point. In the meantime, all sales will be greatly appreciated. Please pass the word!

Monday, November 15, 2010

In My Copious Spare Time

So my latest little project is to try to learn at least a teensy bit of Spanish using the Pimsleur method, not just because we're spending Spring Break in Mexico (where everyone at the resorts will speak English), but because it will be really useful at the hospital if I ever get up the courage to try to use it.

I've downloaded the first five lessons from Audible. Lessons One and Two were really fun -- one does this a little bit a day, for about half an hour -- but today I repeated Lesson Three, because I keep using the wrong verb conjugations and noun endings. Also, I'm getting tripped up by having studied French, which I didn't even think I remembered (hi, Jean!), but which is definitely affecting my pronunciation. Of course, my pronunciation is so rocky anyway that it may not matter.

At least I'm trying.

I gotta say that languages with masculine and feminine nouns are really annoying. "Morning" in Spanish is masculine; "afternoon" and "evening" are feminine. What kind of sense does that make? (Gendered nouns always drove me crazy in French, too.)

I mentioned this project to a friend who's moving to Miami, and she said that a mutual acquaintance was raving about Pimsleur, which she used to teach herself Hebrew and Greek before traveling in Israel and Greece. So I think my friend's going to try to learn some Spanish while she drives herself and her dog across the country.

Meanwhile, after two false starts -- which had me nearly in tears last night, and also up way past my bedtime -- I think I've finally succeeded in starting a knitting project with the qiviut yarn I bought in Alaska in May. Longtime readers will recall that I made a very messy scarf for my mother, from pure qiviut, two years ago. Working with that was so difficult and nervewracking -- it's like knitting with very fine, fuzzy cobwebs -- that in Alaska I was careful to buy qiviut blended with wool or silk, hoping the other fibers would make the stuff easier to handle. (The blends are also slightly less expensive, although certainly not cheap: last night I wasted some yarn I couldn't frog successfully, and it hurt!)

Tonight I knit two un-messy inches of a scarf which will, if I can keep going successfully, be very lovely, if I do say so myself. (It's a Christmas gift for someone, but I'll post pictures after Christmas if the project ends well.) I've discovered some secrets of knitting with qiviut, at least for me:

* Using the blends really does help.

* Good light's essential. Also, make sure you're calm and rested, and don't knit too much at once. If I can manage two inches a day on this scarf, I'll be happy. Fatigue leads to mistakes. Mistakes in qiviut knitting are an unmitigated disaster.

* Along with good light, contrast matters. Because I'm using dark yarn, I'm using pale needles, so I can see what I'm doing.

* Divide the pattern into very small sections with stitch markers. That way, you can make sure you have the right number of stitches in each section before going on to the next. This is especially crucial when knitting lace, which is what I'm doing and is what most people do with qiviut, because lace patterns make this oh-so-precious yarn last a bit longer. If you've just knit a lace panel, make sure you have the right number of stitches in that section before you go any further! A missing or extra yarnover is still fixable at this point, if nerve-wracking. Later, it will cause you a world of hurt and may necessitate frogging the entire project.

* Frogging qiviut, while possible, isn't easy or fun (see above): the fiber's so fuzzy, even in a blend, that it's very difficult to see what you're doing. So being slow and careful is the ticket.

* Although I usually like wooden needles, I'm using a pair of plastic circulars my mother gave me. The smoothness of the plastic, and the fact that the needles and the cable are all one piece, means there's nothing rough to snag the yarn.

* Qiviut knitting is best done without cats on the premises.

Knitting's so relaxing, isn't it? Yeah: this is what I do for fun. (I'm also knitting a really easy pair of socks for myself, on big needles with worsted yarn. That's my decompression/TV knitting, since I don't have to look at it.)

Speaking of cats, Gary and I are concerned about Bali, who's been shedding large clumps of fur. He has so much fur that it doesn't look like much is missing -- although tonight I saw a bald spot on his belly which seemed sensitive to the touch -- but we've been finding clumps all over the place. So tomorrow I have to call our vet. Both cats have been very anxious since Harley died, and I know anxiety can create skin problems for cats, so I suspect that's what's going on, but I still want to talk to our vet about it. The problem is complicated by the fact that he fears his carrying case above all things, so if the vet needs to see him, she'll need to make another house call.


On a happier note, last week my friend Claire sent me this wonderful story about a program that uses babies to combat bullying in grade school: during visits with babies, older kids learn to empathize with the baby and be gentle with it, which makes them kinder and gentler with each other, too.

Dang. As Claire said, how great a rickety contrivance is that? If my junior high school had had this program, maybe I wouldn't have gotten beaten up every day.

The story's also a wonderful riff on Christmas: God sent us a baby so we'd be nicer to each other. Works for me!

Sunday, November 14, 2010


This afternoon was our last public service at St. Stephen's. The community was invited. I recognized guests from all the other Episcopal Churches in town and from the Lutheran church across the street, the one whose congregation worshipped with us for several months after their sanctuary was damaged in a fire.

I also saw a number of old friends, including at least three people who now live out of state, and others who used to come to St. Stephen's but now belong to other parishes. The place was mobbed. As someone commented ruefully, "Y'know, if we had this many people here all the time, we wouldn't have to close."


It was a lovely service. The music was glorious -- especially with that many voices joining in on the hymns -- and the bishop's homily was sensitive and pastoral. I was nonetheless miserable through the entire liturgy, sitting there with tears running down my face. I wasn't alone: I saw other people crying, too. But I still felt very isolated, partly because some of the visitors (people I was genuinely delighted to see) brought back a welter of complicated memories, many painful.

After the service, there was a reception in the parish hall, with a lavish spread. Ordinarily I'd have stayed to eat and chat, but I was feeling claustrophobic and was still weepy, so I got out of there. Chatting probably would have made me feel better. I knew that. I still needed to get out of the building.

Next Sunday, we're having our last-service-ever. The community isn't invited to that one: it's "just us," as someone put it, which means there will be maybe twenty people there. It's going to be very hard.

After the service, I talked a bit to a friend -- also in tears -- who's already started attending her new parish (as I have), but who's finding it hard to invest in a new place. She gave St. Stephen's her all, and I think the idea of making that kind of commitment again fills her with exhaustion. Or maybe I interpreted the conversation that way just because it's how I feel. At any rate, she said that she doesn't want to get deeply involved in a new place anytime soon. "I just want to go to church." She's picked a large parish where she can be invisible; I've picked the smallest service at a mid-sized parish, where I can hang out on the margins for a while before figuring out if I want to move closer to the center.

Sitting in my pew during the service, I realized that I started attending St. Stephen's the same year we got Harley. The parish and the cat died the same year, too. Harley's death sharpened some of my grief for my mother, who was with me when I got him from the shelter; the loss of the parish is doing the same thing. Although Mom hated church, she went me with when she was visiting. She loved a Christmas Eve service where my friend Katharine sang, and I have fond memories of her listening to me preach one Christmas morning, beaming at me -- even though she hated church -- because she loved me and (for a wonder) enjoyed the homily.

I'm really glad Gary and I are getting out of town for Christmas. I think that was absolutely the right decision.

Saturday, November 13, 2010


As of this morning's ER shift, I've volunteered over 900 hours (901, to be precise) at the hospital.

There was a death today; also a birth, since we heard the telltale snippet of Brahms' Lullaby on the overhead. The death was premature. I hope the birth was full-term.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Thursday, November 11, 2010


Twenty-one years ago today, Gary and I met. We began dating almost immediately thereafter.

Fifteen years ago today, Gary and I got married.

Four years ago today, Bali was born.

And, of course, it's Veterans Day.

We plan to have a lovely day, and hope all of you will do the same!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Try, Try Again

In 2001, Ellen Datlow bought my story "Cucumber Gravy" for the late, lamented Scifiction e-mag. I describe this story as "C.S. Lewis meets the Coen Brothers in the Nevada desert." I've always been very fond of it, so when the good folks at Tachyon started going through my short fiction to figure out what to put in The Fate of Mice, I hoped they'd choose CG.

They didn't. They weren't fond of the story, which features a slightly challenging central character, and they didn't think the tale fit the marketing label of "literary fantasy," which is what they were going for with my book. (Me, I'd have been fine with a marketing label of "versatile," but, you know, just try finding that section at Borders.) They're very good editors, and the collection hangs together beautifully -- largely because of their selections and ordering -- so when they said CG wouldn't be a good fit, I acquiesced, trusting them to know what they were doing.

I was a little sad, though.

A while ago, John Joseph Adams at Lightspeed sent out a request for reprints. I mentioned CG, but he said that while he loved the story, he didn't think he could use it, partly because it's too long. But a few days ago, he e-mailed me to ask if he could reprint it. Naturally, I said yes. It will be posted in January, along with a short "Author Spotlight" interview with me about the story. I'll post the link here when I have it.

I'm really glad that story will get some more readers. It's always nice when a piece that seems to have been consigned to oblivion gets to come back that way.

As many of you know, I've been publishing the occasional medical poem (and still hope to turn the ED sonnets into a chapbook; that will be one of my sabbatical projects if I get the sabbatical). Quite a while ago now, I wrote a new sonnet about an ED experience and sent it off to The Bellevue Literary Review, which is more or less the New Yorker of the medical humanities, and where I've now been rejected several times. (Getting published there is one of my new life goals.) They rejected this poem, too. Disappointed, if not terribly surprised, I sent the poem off to Pulse, another place I'd really like to be published sometime.

They rejected it. I got that note the same week -- possibly the same day -- as a lovely, warm rejection note from Sheila Williams at Asimov's, who couldn't use a long story I'd sent her.

As I constantly tell my students, writers have to learn to handle rejection, but I hadn't gotten quite that much of it in a while. I was feeling a teensy bit flattened (although Sheila's friendly note helped lessen the sting).

But it's not like this has never happened to me before, so I came up with a new longterm goal for the story, and yesterday I sat down to study the sonnet again. On a whim, I submitted it to the Annals of Internal Medicine, a major medical journal which happens to publish some poetry along with refereed scientific articles. I didn't think I had a chance of getting in, but why not try?

Like many journals these days, Annals uses a computerized manuscript tracking system. Yesterday I submitted the poem and got an e-mail acknowledgment. This morning I got another e-mail, congratulating me on having my manuscript submitted. Blinking, I reread the thing. Surely it was a computer glitch? Surely there'd been no time for anyone there even to read the poem?

But at lunchtime today, I got an official acceptance e-mail from one of the editors, talking glowingly and in great detail about the poem. Needless to say, I was flattered and delighted.

So it's been a good week, writing-wise: not just because of the publications, but because I've been reminded how important it is to persevere.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Bali Again

Two More Columns

The vexed column has been corrected (save for one typo, "reclincr" for "recliner," which is probably my fault). You can read it here.

The second column, my Veteran's Day offering -- a version of an old blog post -- is here. Some of you will have seen this already, of course.

I hope you like them!

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Say "Died," Please

When I was in Auburn yesterday, my Bodily Blessings editor (a completely lovely guy by the name of John Shorb), sent me links to the next two columns. The second of those was heavily borrowed from one of my blog posts a few years ago; the first was my story about my mother's death in hospice. I'll post links to these when the final versions are up.

John is a wonderful editor: smart, sensitive, skilled. But this summer an intern did some editing, and that person (whose name I don't know) appears to have both been sloppy and to have suffered from the "if it's not broken, fix it anyway" school of editing, wherein editors feel obliged to leave their own scent markings on perfectly workable prose. That approach is especially infuriating when such folks insert errors into the text.

I'm a very careful writer. I don't commit many technical errors, and my stylistic choices are deliberate and planned. I'm not perfect, and I certainly benefit from close readings by other people, but most of the editors I work with feel that my writing's very clean and doesn't need a lot of line-by-line attention. I have a small but trusted group of Ideal Readers who've proven their ability to point out places that could benefit from reworking, while staying hands-off otherwise. John Shorb is one of my Ideal Readers; so's Gary; so's Patrick Nielsen Hayden, my editor at Tor; so are several friends here in Reno.

Nameless Intern is not an Ideal Reader. Nameless Intern, from the evidence, may not even be a very good reader. And Nameless Intern did a hatchet job on my column about my mother's death, changing things that didn't need to be changed and removing small but crucial details.

For instance: I mention in the column that five hours after Mom went into hospice, I was on a red-eye to Philly, arriving at six in the morning after a sleepless night. Nameless Intern removed all this information, even though it conveys a crucial sense of discomfort and desperation, which in turn creates a crucial contrast with the comfort hospice offered me and my sister, as well as Mom.

There were other problems: sentences rewritten for no reason, information moved to other places (without always being removed in the original location, so one sentence occurred twice), incorrect punctuation changes. But the revision that put me over the top replaced specificity with euphemism. In the original, I talked about how my sister and I stayed at the hospital from the night before Mom died "until the undertaker wheeled away the body." This line establishes that we didn't leave the hospital until she did, until her mortal remains were removed from our mortal sight.

Nameless Intern changed the phrase to, "until she passed."

Passed? Passed? I loathe this euphemism. Say "died!" As I told John in my exasperated note, the verb "pass" makes human lives sound like gas or stool. I know many people use this word because they're afraid that any direct mention of death is somehow too harsh -- even though it's the truth -- and maybe also, if the person's religious, to convey the sense of passing to another life. (Plenty of religious folks I know just say "died," though.) But I've always hated it. Listening to other people use it sets my teeth on edge, but that's their choice. I'd never use it myself.

If Nameless Intern wants to write a column about the death of his or her mother and chooses to use the verb "pass," fine. That's her or his choice. But for someone who's never even spoken to me to apply such a heavy hand to my own story -- about one of the most difficult moments of my life, mind you -- makes me want to scream.

So, anyway, the messenger got shot: poor John got an earful about this! I sent him a copy of my original column, since Nameless Intern had made so many changes that fixing them all would have been a real headache, and said, "Please remove the current version on the site and use this instead."

He did, bless him, and apologized for the messy editing, and sent me a link to the restored version. Reading it, I discovered one typo which was my fault -- and which Nameless Intern had fixed (yay!) -- and e-mailed John about that, too.

Poor John! The life of an editor isn't easy. I hope they give him a raise.

Saturday, November 06, 2010


I apologize for the blurriness of the previous photo. It was dusk, and my camera doesn't zoom as much as I'd like. The deer were lovely, though, trust me!

The retreat center's lovely, too. Tranquil grounds and clean and comfortable rooms: very nice! Last night, I walked to a restaurant across the street and treated myself to salmon. Then I came back to my room and knitted until ten, when I went to bed, feeling very peaceful. I was hoping to wake up early enough to go out for a real restaurant (with real coffee), since I suspected the retreat center coffee would be too weak for me.

I woke up at 1:30 a.m., not feeling peaceful. My throat felt like someone had scrubbed it with steel wool and then stored the steel wool in my sinuses. I lay awake until 2:30, sneezing and coughing and feeling rotten about making so much noise (because it's a silent retreat center, you aren't supposed to make noise even during the day, and this was the middle of the night, and there was someone in the room next to mine), and then finally got back to sleep. I woke up again at 8:30, with just enough time before the retreat started to shower, dress, pack, strip my bed, bundle up linens and towels for laundry, and remake the bed sans linens, as instructed.

So much for breakfast and real coffee.

Luckily, I had Power Bars with me. Also, it turned out that the retreat center coffee was just strong enough for two mugs of it to stave off my usual caffeine-withdrawal migraine, not that I felt terribly awake. And the tranquility of the building was still lovely.

Our retreat met in a small room, since it was supposed to be a small group: seven people plus two facilitators. Four people didn't show, so it was three people and two facilitators. This gave us time to talk, which was nice, but it meant that we missed out on the diversity of experience and perspective we'd have had with more participants. Also, the material presented was really basic: Grief 101. I'd expected that, but I'd also expected that we were going to do exercises or rituals that would help us work through specific issues. That turned out not to be the case. Most of the day was talk; we did one prayer ritual in the chapel, but most of that was talk, too, except for lighting candles.

The upshot is that I didn't come away learning anything new, or learning new ways to process anything old. We also never got to the one thing I really wanted to talk about: the effect of grief on physical health. That's okay. It was still a pleasant day with nice people, and a Grief 101 refresher isn't the worst thing in the world, especially as I head into my first holiday season without my mother.

I wish I'd been feeling better physically, though, and I do wish the group had been more diverse. There was one man who'd just lost his wife, and me: the other three people (including two facilitators) were older Catholic women, one a nun, who were considerably more theologically and politically conservative than I am. At lunch, for instance, they insisted that the man sit at the head of the table, while bemoaning the fact that Kids These Days don't do anything right. I, one of the Kids, sat there thinking, "You're kidding me, right? I haven't really just been plunked in a time machine and transported back to the nineteen fifties?" (Had there been any round tables in the room, I'd have suggested moving to get around the problem, so to speak.) We also had a conversation about how too many people don't observe the proper purity laws before taking communion; you can guess where I came down on that issue! On the other hand, this particular group seemed supportive of the idea of ordaining women in the Catholic church, so that was refreshing.

If there'd been more participants, especially some my age or younger, I probably wouldn't have wound up feeling like a wild-eyed radical. In PSR courses in Berkeley, I often play the role of terribly conventional suburban square. I guess all of this is good for me: exposure to different viewpoints, etc.

The drives in both directions were not only painless (I hit only a tiny bit of construction yesterday), but breathtakingly beautiful: autumn foliage along mountain rivers with blue peaks in the distance. That may have been the most healing part of the trip. That, and seeing the deer.

So I'm glad I went, although not as glad as I'd hoped to be. I'm grateful I'll be sleeping in my own bed tonight, even if I have Heaps o' Grading to do tomorrow. I just hope the blasted cold or allergy attack or whatever it is eases off soon!

Friday, November 05, 2010

Deer on the Lawn at the Mercy Center

I'm told they show up all the time, but I still love to look at them!

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Everything's Better with Rocks

I had a surreal day. I woke up with back pain and then, browsing around my sitemeter, followed a referral link to a post about how one of my posts -- a happy post, mind you, and not even the one about our cruise -- had more or less sent the reader into a tailspin and ruined the rest of her day. This made me feel pretty cruddy, as you can probably imagine, even though it was competely unintentional on my part. Comments from two of her readers, trying to cheer her up by insulting me, didn't help.

Several times in my life, I've discovered that people I'd never even met were saying nasty things about me behind my back. (On one occasion, people were gossiping about me in Paris, where I've never even been, and the things they were saying about me were based on third-hand reports that weren't even true.) Because I'm not particularly famous, these experiences have given me much greater empathy for people like politicians and actors, who have to put up with this kind of anonymous hatred all the time. Because I don't, and therefore never expect it, it always throws me for a loop. Learning that people you don't even know think badly of you, and maybe even wish you ill, makes the whole world seem scarier, you know?

Note: My entire life, people have been telling me that I shouldn't care so much about things, and especially not about what other people think of me. A former therapist routinely gave me reproving looks and repeated the mantra, "What other people think of me is none of my business." If that works for her or her other clients, great. It doesn't work for me. Furthermore, I don't think it's true. We're social animals. We're designed to care what other people think of us. Science (TM) has discovered that the brain responds to social pain the same way it does to physical pain. Furthermore, repeated rejection can literally make people sick.

On a more immediate and practical level, being scolded for caring too much has never, not once in my life, succeeded in making me care less. It's just made me more unhappy, since being criticized for feeling too much feels, let's face it, like another form of rejection.

That's all an extended footnote to this morning's debacle. I found these particular slights especially baffling because I couldn't figure out how my happy post had triggered them. I'd expected the cruise post to draw more PoCo/Marxist ire than it did, but this one seemed innocent. On reflection, I realized that my happiness made the original reader feel worse in comparison, but how my being happy led the two commenters to conclude that I suffer from personality deficits was much more of a mystery. (Mind you, of course I suffer from some personality deficits, as all of us do; my friends love me anyway.) Had I said something horrible without realizing it?

Because I really don't wake up each morning determined to offend people, and because I couldn't figure out what was going on, I fretted about the situation for most of the morning, developing a migraine while running errands. Through all this, I was obsessively nice to people I encountered, handing out any compliment I could think of, on the theory that if you want to reduce the amount of pain in the world, saying nice things to people works better than saying nasty ones. I don't think my motives for doing this were especially noble, but I also don't think I hurt anyone in the process.

Well, the day got a little better. At my (joy oh joy) annual pelvic exam, my gynecologist was exquisitely kind about my grief issues and shared her own experience of losing her mother. Several friends I'd e-mailed about the blog mess wrote back and said they didn't think I'd done anything terrible. I managed to have some direct conversation both with the blogger and with one of the commenters, which helped clarify some of the issues. The charge of personality deficits came from a perceived breach of privacy, and perceived name-dropping, when I mentioned another writer's full name on the blog. Since promoting a very public figure's work doesn't breach her privacy, especially when her website includes her full name (yea, verily, even in the URL), and since I have an honest-to-goodness personal history with this individual, I was able to dismiss the charges in my own head, if not in my accuser's.

So I was already feeling better when the mail came.

The last time Gary and I were in San Francisco, we went to the beach with our friend Ellen, her two kids, her sister and her niece. Her niece is seven or eight, I think, a very sweet little girl. Her mom told her I like rocks, so she found a small, smooth pebble and gave it to me. I still carry it in my purse.

Today's mail brought a mysterious package, a flat padded envelope, oddly heavy, weighted with small objects that slid when I moved the envelope. When I opened it, I found a note from Ellen's sister. She and her daughter had gone to the beach and collected five rocks they thought I'd like. She apologized for the fact that it had taken a while for her to mail them.

I e-mailed a thank-you note via Ellen (I don't have her sister's address), thanking them effusively, and assuring them that the rocks had arrived at just the right moment. I can't tell you how much better they made me feel.

Sticks and stones may break my bones, and words may hurt me just as badly by igniting the pain pathways in my brain, but if you give me a pretty pebble, I'll feel loved forever. And five pebbles? Such riches!

So the world feels friendly again. I still have a smidgen of a headache, but I'll swim after dinner, which should help.

Postscript: I just heard from Commenter #2, who'd read the blog entry and the first comment, assumed that both the blogger and Commenter #1 were referring to unhelpful comments left on that blog by someone else (I'd never even visited the blog before this morning), and vented her own frustration.

Moral of this story: If you feel like assassinating someone's character, make sure you at least have the right target!


Here's Figgy, reclining in luxury. My mother embroidered the orange pillow when I was in junior high or high school.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Tuesday, November 02, 2010


One of my sanity requirements is to get out of town during Spring Break in March, and furthermore, to go somewhere warm and sunny: and even morefurther, to go somewhere warm and sunny with good snorkeling.

Hence our last four trips to Hawai'i. The problem with Hawai'i, though, is that any trip includes two full days of flying, which really feels more like six full days of flying, given how much fun flying is these days. I don't mind that much -- I get a lot of knitting done on those flights -- but they're pure torture for Gary, who's claustrophobic and has very long legs.

We are, of course, now in love with cruising, but that's mondo-expensive, especially during Spring Break week, and especially because Gary insists on a verandah suite. I'd take a broom closet, but I see his point: if you're going to live on a boat for a week, do it right.

Since our Alaska cruise in May, we've been getting sale e-mails from Holland America roughly every two weeks. I've been obsessively checking the March 12 Mexican Riviera cruise. For lo, these many months, the prices haven't budged, no doubt because that week is Spring Break.

Today, they budged. The prices on the least expensive verandah rooms had dropped two hundred dollars per person. When I signed in with our Mariner numbers, that fell another hundred per person. I comparison-shopped Big Island packages (car plus flight plus hotel), and the prices seemed pretty comparable, especially since food's included on cruises and mega-expensive in Hawai'i.

So we've plunked down a deposit on a Mexican Riviera cruise over Spring Break.

I'm simultaneously thrilled and slightly nauseous. This is expensive, and times are tough (and we'll have a hefty bill from our Christmas in San Francisco, too), and I fervently hope that I'm heading into a sabbatical year, which will entail definite belt-tightening. On the other hand, the please-God-let-it-be-upcoming sabbatical also means that this may be our last change to splurge for a while. The alternative's to stay home -- which I know from experience is very bad for my mental health -- or to find somewhere warm, sunny, and snorkel-friendly for less money, which seems fairly impossible.

I don't know if we're being wise or irresponsible, but the usual cliches suffice. We only live once, often for not quite as long as we expected. Looking back, we usually regret the things we didn't do more than the things we did. Carpe diem. Make hay while the sun shines. We could all get flattened by a rogue asteroid tomorrow. Etc. and so forth.