Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Yay, Harley!


The vet called with the results of the bloodwork. Harley's basically where he was six months ago: his numbers aren't normal, but they also haven't gotten significantly worse. Once again, his urine contained no crystals or bacteria that would explain the bleeding.

So he's holding steady, which is the best we can hope for. This implies that we may get to enjoy his furry company for a while yet. Hurrah!

It also means, though, that we'll be going ahead with the dental work on Friday. He won't enjoy that one bit, but it will help hiim stay healthier for longer, and the vet will give him lots of extra fluids during and after the surgery to help his compromised kidneys flush the anesthesia out of his system.

I'm not looking forward to the bill for all this, but it's the price of responsible pet ownership.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Sandwich


Y'know all that talk about the Sandwich Generation, about people caring both for children and for elderly parents? I've always felt like half a sandwich without the kid part of the equation, but today gave me a taste of the experience.

I woke up nice and early for a change (7:00! wow!) and had a liesurely knit on the deck over morning coffee. Then I wrote and practiced, and then I got down to the chore I'd been dreading and have been putting off for months now: filling in the legal paperwork to claim my share of Mom's modest financial assets.

I think I've mentioned here before that finances send me into a panic, largely because of childhood experiences around money and lack thereof. My mother was an anxious person anyway, but especially so around expenses and income. That wasn't surprising, since she was a single -- and newly sober -- parent raising two daughters without help from her ex. (My father, who descended into his own alcoholism during my childhood and adolescence, was very irresponsible with money during those years, although he became a model of thrift and prudence as a senior citizen.)

Mom grew up during the Depression. Her parents were well off, and she never lacked for anything, but she probably would have been hypervigilant on the money front even if she hadn't wound up divorced on a shoestring budget. To save money, she hand-sewed and hand-knit most of our clothing; to protect her feelings, I never told her how often or cruelly other kids taunted me for my unfashionable threads. She constantly fretted about bills, and inadvertently guilt-tripped me and my sister by telling us how much gifts and treats cost, or simply by saying that we had to take good care of what we'd been given because it had "cost a lot of money."

She also went many extra miles to make sure my sister and I had what we needed. When my father reneged on his agreement to pay for my sister's college education (a lapse we learned about only when my sister got a notice saying she was about to be kicked out of school for nonpayment of bills), my mother squared her shoulders and promised my sister that she'd scrape together the tuition money by the deadline, which was, as I recall, about a week away. She paid that bill on time, thanks to two dear AA friends, a married couple, who gave her an interest-free education loan, followed several years later by an interest-free car loan. Every December, our friends told Mom they'd forgiven the loan payment for that month, so that she could buy Christmas presents for me and my sister.

When it came time for me to go to college, my mother promised me that we'd make it work without any help from my father. We did, thanks to generous financial aid. After loans, grants, scholarships, and money from my summer jobs, my mother only had to pay $500 a year -- but to afford even that much, she had to take a second job. Part of my compulsive academic overachievement in college sprang from guilt over her sacrifices. After she was laid off from a struggling company, the household finances were so dire that, during my senior year, my university actually paid her money.

Later, when Mom was better off, she delighted in giving me and my sister large gifts. Aside from all the jewelry she bought me, she was the source of at least two expensive beds, an air conditioner, a fridge, the dining-room chairs Gary and I use every day, and various other appliances and furniture. Just as she had been during my childhood, Mom was both an unfailingly reliable source of financial support and a wellspring of anxiety about money. She was always generous, but she also always managed to make some doleful, fatalistic comment like, "Well, you and your sister will get it all when I'm dead anyway." Generosity invariably carried with it the chill of doom.

Given all of this, it's probably no surprise that just looking at a checkbook makes me hyperventilate. (And I haven't even talked about my father's side of the equation, which left me with another set of baggage.) It's probably also no surprise that the estate paperwork's been sitting on my desk since May. Last week, after months of gentle nudging from my sister -- who long since filled out the forms and received her own share -- and after getting a pointed reminder notice from one of Mom's banks, with dire language about deadlines and tax penalties, I finally figured out exactly why I've been avoiding the task.

This is my last gift from my mother. I'll never get another check from her. This is The End. There won't be any more. That finitude has kicked into high gear all of my mother's messages, unconscious and otherwise, about scarcity and limitation and famine. So even though I'll be getting money -- because I'll be getting money -- I've gone into Miser Mode. Putting off the paperwork was both my way of hoarding and my own little after-the-fact denial dance. If I don't fill out the forms, it can't really be The End, can it?

Once I'd figured out that bit of magical thinking, it was easier to move past the block. The deadlines and penalties certainly didn't hurt. This morning I finally sat down and filled out the dratted paperwork, which took all of ten minutes (including a call to my sister to ask how she'd handled tax withholding). The two forms are now in the mail, and the two checks -- my own little piece of The End, which Gary and I will promptly convert into our emergency medical fund, with a slice shaved off to pay for my viola, the new computer, and our plane flights to my cousin's funeral -- should arrive by Thanksgiving.

Even though the paperwork was simple, filling it out was draining. But since I'd already been thinking about emergency medical funds, I decided to go ahead and book Harley's pre-dental bloodwork. He needs this done before he has his teeth cleaned, since he's now a geriatric cat, but he also needs it so we can keep track of what's happening with his ailing kidneys.

So I called the vet and got a lab appointment for this afternoon. The dental work will be Friday, if the bloodwork indicates he can withstand the surgery. Gary and I hauled Harley down there as he howled with indignation inside his carrying case. One tech took him back for the testing while Gary and I stayed in the waiting room and chatted with the other techs.

The next thing I knew, our smiling vet was standing in front of us. "I just wanted to show you what's going on with his urine," she said cheerfully, and held up a test tube filled with bright-red fluid.

I yelped and jumped backwards, my hands flying to cover my mouth. Later, Gary reminded me that Harley's urine was bright red last time, too (six months ago?) and that the vet couldn't find any reason for it: no infection, no other sign of overt disease, other than the less-than-ideal kidney values. Sometimes cats with kidney disease just have blood in their urine, even though they're otherwise doing well. Last time, our vet concluded that we shouldn't panic.

I didn't remember any of that this afternoon, though. I couldn't figure out why our kind, lovely vet was showing me this gruesome specimen as casually as if it were a flower arrangement. I couldn't figure out why the techs were looking at me like I was crazy. I had a major case of cognitive dissonance to go along with my case of amnesia.

Now I can't imagine how I could have forgotten that first bright-red test tube, which was just as shocking and upsetting as the second one. But after the other things that have happened in the last six months, I think I couldn't stand to remember. Harley's very closely linked in memory and emotion to my mother, who was with me when I adopted him. She cradled the teensy kitten in her lap as we drove home from the shelter. He howled in indignation that time, too. Harley's never liked cars.

So, anyway, it's probably still not panic time. Harley's been eating and drinking well and acting his usual self (we use clumping litter, which has disguised the color changes). On Friday morning, we'll get the bloodtest results. If they're no worse than they have been, we'll go ahead with the dental work. If they are worse, we'll hold off on the dental and start figuring out what else to do, if anything. But Harley's held steady for the last few years, so I hope he'll keep it up.

Summary: Emotional day. Dead-mother issues. Sick-pet issues. This is as close as I get to the Sandwich Generation, although mine is one weird sandwich.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

New Home, Probably


I just got back from a 5 P.M. spoken service at the parish I think will be my new home. I wanted to check out this service because I so loathe having to get up early on Sunday mornings (and, indeed, I slept scandalously late today).

It was a good experience. Someone I know was there and welcomed me; one of the clergy recognized me too, although -- to my chagrin -- I didn't remember having met him. It was a stripped-down, no-frills service, very Lenten feeling, which is about where I am right now. (I liked getting out of there in fifty minutes, too.) The preaching was scripturally engaged and socially responsible, with a nifty Fun Fact About the First Century linked to a bit of liturgical theater.

One moment in the homily sounded exclusionary to me, but when I asked the rector about it later, it turned out he'd meant exactly the opposite. This is good. I hope he didn't mind my asking the question, but in my experience, preachers are flattered whenever anyone's been listening carefully enough to question a specific phrase!

I really could do without the cinderblocks and Jesus nightlight in this sanctuary, and I miss real communion bread (although since I'm off wheat, the fishfood wafers may be better for me anyway), but all things considered, I suspect this is the right place for me. I'll go for a few months and see how I feel; I don't want to make any commitments until after the holidays.

I'd been looking forward to going to church and not crying, for a change, but I started crying the minute I walked into the sanctuary. As the service went on, though, I felt better, not worse.

Yay!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Lessons


My hospital shift today included an encounter that taught me a few lessons.

Patient X, when I introduce myself as the chaplain, starts complaining about pain. On the one hand, Patient X has a visibly painful condition; on the other hand, Patient X says "My pain's a ten" in such a calm and lucid way that I'm suspicious. On the one hand, people having level-ten pain are usually writhing and howling, not forming coherent sentences, and Patient X has asked for a specific painkiller that's frequently abused. On the other hand, drug seekers are also very good at writhing and howling, either because they're really in that much pain or because they're putting on an act.

The signals don't add up.

So I tell Patient X I'll check with Dr. Y, who snorts and says, "Yeah, we gave Patient X some of that drug and said we weren't handing out any more." Since Patient X has also asked me for a prayer, I go back and pray at the bedside. Patient X doesn't ask what the doctor said. I'm halfway tempted not to pass along the doctor's response, because I know from experience that being the middlewoman between drug seekers and ER docs can -- and usually does -- turn into a really nasty game of "he said she said," with both sides trying to shoot the messenger. But I told Patient X I'd ask the doctor, so, out of an obscure sense of duty, I repeat, as gently as I can, what the doctor said.

"I didn't get any meds! I didn't! I'd remember if I'd gotten some! And look, I don't have an IV!"

This is true. Patient X doesn't have an IV. On the one hand, patients of whom the staff are suspicious sometimes don't get IVs so the the staff can try to send them on their way more quickly; on the other hand, how were the pain meds administered without one?

So, unhappily, I trudge back to Dr. Y. I don't have much history with this doctor, and this isn't the kind of history I want. One of my challenges at the hospital is to try to maintain working relationships with people prone to dismiss me as a bleeding-heart liberal, someone so laughably naive that she believes drug seekers. So I'm quaking as I say, "Um, Dr. Y? I'm really sorry to ask about this again, but Patient X denies having gotten any meds, and there isn't an IV."

Eye-roll from Dr. Y. "That's because we gave it by injection. But okay, let me just doublecheck." Dr. Y sighs, flicks through several computer screens, squints, and then says, "Hey, you're right! We didn't give those meds!"

"Oh," I say, awash in relief. It looks like the messenger's going to stay alive this time. "Well, I'm glad I checked."

The patient and doctor both thanked me (how unusual that is in these situations, I probably don't have to tell you). I'm sure the oversight would have been caught and fixed fairly quickly without my intervention, but it brought home for me the importance of taking patients at face value, even when they're pushing my buttons, and of being persistent on their behalf, even when I'm almost as scared of their doctors as they are.

Still, I hope I don't wind up as the middlewoman again any time soon.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Dad's Pottery


So here's the memorial ceramic piece. I love the contrast of the stark trees with the rich brown glaze, and I like the reminder that the ashes incorporated into the glaze are the stuff of the soil from which trees grow.

Here's the inside glaze, which is mostly red with some blue bits. Dad's favorite color was red, and the ocean he loved is blue, so that works too.

I hope he'd have approved of this odd little object; I think he'd have appreciated its usefulness, anyway. And I suppose it doesn't really matter. The opinion that counts now is mine, and I love this piece.

Driving home with it on the passenger seat next to me, I felt like he was there. But I guess, in any way that matters, he always is.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Redeemed by Music


Today was, well, annoying. I got up way too early for my 8:15 doctor's appointment -- the one my arthritis doc says I need for him to refill my meds -- and was all proud of myself for getting to his office on time, only to discover that I couldn't find him on the building directory.

And then I remembered that he's moved to the way-far-by-freeway other end of town. Gahhhhh! And when I called to apologize and beg for mercy, since so many doctors' offices charge for no-shows (and I understand that, really), I couldn't get a human, but only a phone tree. I kept calling and finally got a real live person, who was both kind and sympathetic, and rescheduled me for an afternoon appointment -- thankya Jesus! -- in a few weeks, and who says I won't be billed for the no-show.

Yay.

Since I was up so bright and early (snarl snarl gnash), I decided to take an aquasize class at the gym. I usually enjoy those, but this time I got a bad leg cramp and also, I think, did something funky to my back, which has been grumbling ever since. On the bright side, I maintained pretty good control of my aqua-noodle, and didn't bop anyone on the head.

Yay.

That adventure was followed by a singularly unpleasant meeting at work. I work in an unusually peaceful and friendly department; we're not perfect, but we can go for several years at a clip with no drama whatsoever, and when there is drama, it tends to blow over fairly quickly, at least on the surface. People are polite and supportive and try to help each other out. But, well, y'know, the state's in the toilet, which means the university's not in great shape either, and everybody's really scared about what's going to happen to the budget, and we've been wrestling with department priorities, and today that came to a head. There was snapping, there were trembling lips and semi-accusations, there were people venting in the hallway afterwards. A few colleagues behaved very rationally during the meeting itself, but I wasn't at my best -- I tried to be, but I don't think I came across well -- and I left the room fearing that someone I like would never speak to me again. The decisions went the way I'd been arguing they should, but it was one of those meetings where just about everybody walks out feeling wretched, even the people who got what they wanted. A casual bystander, especially one used to the toxic politics so common in other departments across the country, might only have thought that we were having a mildly bad day, but by our standards, it was Holy Horror.

I went straight from that meeting to another, only slightly more pleasant, in which a program I'd proposed was shot down in about ten seconds. I'd gone in knowing this would happen -- I'd have been amazed if it hadn't, and, really, I need to give myself credit for even trying -- and the other people in the meeting were as nice about it as they could be, but, well, I walked out of there feeling even limper than I had after the first meeting.

When I came home, my new Kindle was waiting, which helped. I sent what I hoped would be interpreted as a friendly e-mail to the person I was afraid I'd angered, who wrote back as graciously as I could have expected under the circumstances. (See, that's my department for you. We all try to be nice. We really do.) I got a little writing done, ate dinner, graded a few papers.

And then, thanks be to God, Gary and I went to hear Lunasa, one of the acts in this year's Performing Arts Series line-up. Tonight's group was originally supposed to be another Celtic band, but they had to pull out at the last minute, and Lunasa was on tour, and, well, we got lucky.

And how lucky! That was one of the best concerts I've ever heard. These guys play so well that you expect their heads or their instruments to burst into spontaneous flames. I'm not sure it's physically possible for fingers to move as quickly as theirs do, and the band's perfectly balanced. Their energy's amazing: the whole hall was clapping and stomping, and they got a standing ovation. (Claire, if you're reading this, remember that concert we went to at The Bottom Line a million years ago? The one where we clapped and stomped and hooted until our throats hurt and our muscles ached? It was kinda like that, only better.) The music was -- well, words fail. Even listening to Lunasa's superb albums can't convey the feeling of hearing them live. If you like Celtic music and ever get the chance to hear them perform, go!

It would have been a transcendent concert anyway, but it was also exactly what I needed to pull myself out of the trough of the day. There is music. Life will go on.

Yay.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Parish Souvenir


We had an ice-cream social at church tonight. (I brought my own soy ice-cream, and ate too much of it!) I didn't stay long, but I had nice conversations with some folks, including a couple who've been attending our parish for forty-eight years. I think that's as long as it's been open. Wow.

We're in the process of emptying the building (the disposition of the building itself is up to the diocese), and the parish-hall floor was partly covered with liturgical banners. Many of them have been handmade by parishioners over the years, so the vestry wanted to give people who'd worked on them a chance to take them home. I've had my eye on this Lenten banner for some weeks now; I started attending church during Lent, and I find the stark tree very powerful. Tonight I asked our Senior Warden if I could have the banner. She shrugged and said, "It's been out here for a few weeks, so if no one else has claimed it and you want it, it's yours."

I'm not sure what I'll do with it -- Gary thinks we should hang it in the house, but we're very short on wall space everywhere except the stairwells -- but I love having it. I've always been deeply moved by how much of our physical church building was handmade by the community. The altar, rood beam and baptismal font were hand-carved by a previous rector, and the stained-glass windows were designed by a parishioner and then cut and assembled by the entire parish over a period of about a year. (That was before my time, but I love the story.) I can't take home a window or the altar, but I'm glad I have this banner.

I'll miss our homey, cozy sanctuary. The parish where I suspect I'll end up has one of the ugliest sanctuaries I've ever seen -- cinder-block walls, and a wall statue of Jesus that looks like a giant nightlight somebody bought at a garage sale -- but in a weird way, that's part of its charm. It's a place where I suspect Jesus himself would have been comfortable. The big downtown church is a miniature Gothic cathedral: gorgeous, but far too formal for me. It's what a friend of mine calls "sinners-in-the-hands-of-an-angry-God architecture," the kind of place that makes me feel like a speck of dust that's been blown in the window. The people I know from my parish who really care about church aesthetics are going there. I prefer unintimidating worship space!

In other art news, on Friday I'll be picking up another piece incorporating trees: the ceramic pencil holder I commissioned with some of Dad's ashes in the glaze. It's a very small piece (and may sound silly as a memorial object), but I'm glad I'll have it, and the trees will match my Lenten banner.

Oh, the new Kindle didn't arrive today; it will come tomorrow, and apparently it's shipping from Indianapolis rather than Reno. I guess Reno's out of Kindles!

Tomorrow: an early-morning doctor's appointment, two meetings at work (at least one of which will be difficult and draining), and a concert in the evening. Somewhere in there, I have to get grading and writing done, and swim!

More Technical Dificulties


It's been a glitchy month. On top of trouble with car registration and Blogger, my Kindle also's been displaying a startling tendency to reboot at odd moments: like, when I'm in the middle of reading something, or when the device is simply sitting on a table or resting in my purse.

I did enough research to gather that this is a known, if rare, problem. I downloaded two software updates that were supposed to fix the issue. It kept happening. So finally, last night (or rather, this morning, since it was after midnight), I called Kindle Support again. A pleasant tech brought up my device's log -- he swore he needed my consent to do this, but does anyone else suspect Big Brother is watching? -- determined that yes, my Kindle has its own agenda, and said he'd send me a new one.

My old Kindle is really a Cylon.

Because Amazon has a warehouse in Reno, my new Kindle will arrive today. Talk about customer service! The tech sent me a link to a prepaid mailing label; I'll use this to send the old Kindle to a secret laboratory, where it will be interrogated under klieg lights and forced to confess everything it knows.

There's an SF story in here somewhere. All the misfit Kindles get together to take over the world. Nah, it's been done. Okay, all the misfit Kindles get together and start their own small-press publishing outfit, complete with a literary manifesto.

I just hope the new one works!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Still a Little Broken


Okay, so I can post from Blogger the normal way from work, and from my iGoogle homepage. In the Blogger "compose post" window, though, the "publish post" button doesn't work. I have to save the post and then go to the "Edit Posts" screen and publish from there.

This is vey annoying, although not quite as inconvenient as the problem I was having before, when I couldn't even save. Does anyone have any idea how to fix this? I'm running Windows 7 Home Premium. We've emptied my cache, deleted my cookies, restarted the machine, etc., and the problem persists.

Help!

Technical Difficulties


I couldn't edit or post this weekend because of a problem with cookies, but Gary's fixed that, so I'm back in business.

Not too much to report, though:

Mightly Hunter Bali chewed through the cord on Gary's mouse, permanently disabling it.

I sent out a story, something I wrote back in 2001 (!), but had been sitting on because I had big revision plans for it. I came across it while going through some files, reread it, and thought, hey, this is really pretty good even without big revisions! So I cleaned it up a tiny bit and sent it out. We'll see what happens.

Church yesterday was painful, as usual these days. We had a guest preacher from another parish who talked about -- you guessed it! -- the closure of the parish. A visitor sitting in front of me commented during the Peace, "I picked a great time to visit, huh?"

As usual these days, I cried through much of the service. It didn't help that the guest preacher also chaired the Commission on Ministry during my non-ordination fiasco, so just seeing him triggered painful memories.

These days I always seem to leave church feeling worse than when I got there, which isn't what going to church should do. I think I'm going to pick and choose my services very carefully from now on. There are three between now and November 21 that I know I want to go to: one's a visit from our bishop (a week before we close for good) and two others, including the very last service, will be my last chance -- at least for a while -- to hear two friends preach. So I'll definitely go to those. Otherwise, though, I suspect I'd be better off staying home, or going to another parish. There's only so much grief a body can handle.

Next Sunday our congregation's taking a field trip to another parish, one I already know I have no interest in attending because it's just too far away, the farthest of the parishes in town. So I suspect I'll skip that, too. The parish I'm currently most interested in joining has a spoken service (no music) at 5 PM on Sundays, and I may start checking that out. I certainly love the idea of sleeping in on Sunday mornings.

In the meantime, I wrote an article for our parish newsletter asking if anyone would be interested in a base community and/or book discussion group, which I'd be happy to host at my house. We'll see if I get any takers. Everyone's so tired and demoralized right now that I won't be surprised if there's no response.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Family Archeaology


When I was nine or ten or twelve, I took my allowance money to the fabulous Mexican arts-and-crafts store in our town (the one where my mother, sister and I always shopped for each other) to look for Christmas gifts. There was a totally cool brass fish sculpture, designed as a box with a little lid on top. I loved it, but I never thought I'd be able to afford it.

When I looked at the price tag, it was eight dollars.

So of course I bought it, and couldn't wait for my mother to open it on Christmas morning, and she loved it as much as I did and kept it for the rest of her life. It just arrived in a box of my mother's things that my sister sent me; it's on a bookshelf in my study now. The lid has gotten lost, but I still love the fish.

That same store, La Puerta Del Sol -- which closed when I was in my twenties but has now returned, almost to the same spot, in a new and infinitely more expensive incarnation -- was the source of this fabulous sterling pin/pendant, which I believe cost twelve dollars, and which I gave my mother for Christmas when I was thirteen or fourteen. (That would have made it 1973 or 1974, if you're wondering about the price!) This piece was one of the first things I asked for when Liz and I were divvying up Mom's jewelry, and I get compliments every time I wear it, just as Mom did.

The box that arrived today also contained this puzzling object: a tiny sterling cup etched with a cross and "1925," the year of my mother's birth. I'd take it for a christening cup, but those usually have handles, don't they? This one looks more like a holy shot glass. I have no idea what it is and even less idea why my mother, who had no use for religion, would have kept it. It was black with tarnish when it arrived, and I had to spend quite a bit of time and elbow grease to make it look even this shiny.

My sister and her husband have gone to the shore this weekend, so I won't be able to ask her about it until Sunday night. I suspect she won't know what it is, either. Do any of you have any theories?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Me and my Webcam


Here I am, looking a bit bleary-eyed; behind me you can see a mirror reflecting the mess and chaos of my study. My office at work is even worse at the moment!

In this picture, I'm wearing earrings Mom gave me and a glass pendant that was hers. I think one reason I was so wobbly on Saturday was that it was the five-month anniversary of her death. Gary and I have now made a hotel reservation in San Francisco for Christmas week; I talked to my sister and she's all for a hassle-free, unpressured holiday for all of us. I was afraid she'd be offended that I didn't want to spend Christmas with her. Actually, I wouldn't at all mind spending Christmas with her; I just don't want to have to fly to Philadelphia during the holidays.

Isn't it time for somebody to invent a teleportation machine? The magazines I read when I was a kid all assured me that technology would be old hat by now, and it would make life so much easier.

Gary and I have agreed that we won't give each other Christmas gifts; the week away is a joint gift. Although if I found a teleportation machine somewhere, I might make an exception. Sharper Image, anyone?

Anyway, if the weather cooperates, San Francisco should be fabulous. Fun. Simple. I like it. I think our hotel room may have a fireplace, which would absolutely rock. But even if it doesn't, being next to Ocean Beach will rock anyway, even in December.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Summation


So, kinda crazy week. Saturday morning I woke up at three or so and couldn't get back to sleep. I'd only gotten three hours of sleep, not enough by any definition. I finally got up, got a few papers graded after I'd dropped Gary off at the balloon party, took a nap, and went to the hospital for two hours. I was too tired to be there, and knew it, but I really wanted to go, because it was 9/11. My compromise was to work for two hours instead of four. On my way to the hospital, I passed a fire truck and waved, and one of the firefolk waved back. I bet they got a lot of that, on Saturday.

It's good I went; there were some folks who had a slightly easier time because I was there, I think, although I was definitely spacey. I responded to a code to find a staff chaplain already there, waiting outside the room while every medical provider in the building worked away inside. The chaplain peered at me and said, "Are you all right?" When I told him I was zonked on allergies, allergy meds and lack of sleep, he looked alarmed and said, "Go home! Take care of yourself!" But I am glad I was there, if only for a little while.

So: worked the two hours, went home, took another nap, got up, ate dinner, and went to the recital, which was glorious. Woke up Sunday morning in plenty of time for church, but got there to discover that according to the bulletin, our rector was preaching. I walked up to him and said, "Hey, I thought I was preaching today."

"No, I am."

I started to get upset; I'd expected him to tell me that the secretary had just put the wrong name in the bulletin. "What happened? I was supposed to preach. We talked about it over e-mail -- "

"I've already prepared a homily," he snapped.

"So have I!" I could hear the whine in my voice. "And it's my last chance!"

To my intense relief, he let me do it, although I don't think he was happy. Hey, I understand. (Two other folks on the preaching staff had thought I was preaching, too, so I don't think I'm crazy.) The homily went well and was well received. Afterwards, wired, I swam for half an hour and then came home to try to get work done, with very poor results. The push of the previous few days had done me in.

Monday my new computer came, but the plate on the front of it didn't fit properly, which made ports difficult to use. Also, I got a registered letter from the DMV saying that my registration would be suspended as of 9/30 because I hadn't responded to their request for insurance verification. What the #@!*? I never got a request for insurance verification! But since I only saw the letter after I got home from work, I couldn't do anything about it until yesterday.

Yesterday I called my insurance company. She said they've been having a lot of trouble with the DMV lately, and she knew exactly which forms to use to fix the probem, but it turned out that at least part of the problem came from the fact that the insurance agency had the last digit of my VIN wrong. I have no idea when that happened, but it's fixed now, and supposedly my registration should also be reinstated.

Meanwhile, a computer person arrived and installed a new faceplate free of charge -- the problem was a known issue -- and my new copy of WordPerfect came, which meant the machine was up and ready to use. Yay! When I wasn't on the phone with the insurance agency or running errands at work, I got fifteen papers graded, although I had to stay up until one to get that done.

This morning I went for a walk, got my remaining bit of class prep done, and drove to work, where classes went fine. I came home to discover that my new webcam had arrived; Gary made a very funny test video I'll post if Blogger will accept that large a file. (Turns out it won't: I tried. Nertz!) At 6:20, Katharine picked me up to drive me to Scrabble night, a tradition she has with friends in which I'm now included. The four of us had a lovely potluck dinner. I won the Scrabble game, to my own surprise; I'm a good player, but two of them are demon players. I got lucky with tiles and timing.

Now I'm home again, looking forward to sleeping in tomorrow, spending some time with my Kindle, reminding myself how to knit (which I haven't done in a week) and practicing the viola (which I haven't done for two days, although I'm delighted to report that YouTube has a bunch of free fiddle lessons). I also have to get work done and run various errands, but this weekend should be much less pressured than last.

Thanks be to God!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Lost and Found


So here it is, the last homily. My parish's last service is November 21, but this is my last preaching date.

The readings are all over the place, emotionally: fire and brimstone in Jeremiah and the Psalm, the ever-comforting parable of the lost sheep in the Gospel. These lessons are about repentance, of course, and if this were a more conventional preaching occasion, I'd talk about that. But since it's not, I decided to risk veering off-text and being more personal. I'm not sure my long-ago preaching class would approve of this homily (preaching about answered prayer is tricky, because it only makes people who haven't found answers to their prayers feel worse), but Gary likes it, and so do I. I just have to hope I don't alienate anyone, but since the pews are already pretty empty, that's less of a danger than it once might have been.

If nothing else, this is deeply felt. Any bets on whether I make it through without crying?

*

Quite a few years ago now, I headed off to my volunteer shift at the hospital in a really bad mood. I’d done nothing right at work all week. One of our cats was dying. I think I’d just had a fight with my husband. I think the weather was cold and rainy. (I also think I may have told this story before; if so, please bear with me.) I know that I felt both despairing and powerless. If Jeremiah had appeared in the passenger seat of my car and said, “You are a stupid child with no understanding,” I’d have agreed with him. If the Psalmist had thundered at me through my car radio, “You are corrupt and commit abominable acts,” I’d have offered up a meek Amen, although I probably also would have changed the station. If Jesus had shown up in front of my car, waving a dinner invitation, I’d have driven around him, hunching my shoulders and muttering, “Thanks, but I’m in no shape for a party right now. I’m no fun in through here, really. I’d just bore your other guests.”

I’d gone to the hospital to try to pull myself out of my own head, but it was slow going. The ER was sparsely populated that evening, and most patients were either asleep or didn’t want to talk. I felt as useless there as I had at home. I passed one room several times; the door was closed, usually an indication that the patient doesn’t want company. But finally, because I’d run out of other people to visit, I knocked, and heard a thin voice call, “Come in!”

Inside, I found an emaciated, hollow-eyed man stretched out on a gurney. He didn’t look heavy enough to dent the foam mattress. When I introduced myself as the chaplain, he started to cry. Because some people think chaplains only show up for last rites, I assumed that I’d terrified him just by walking into the room. Feeling even more wretched than I had outside, I said, “Please don’t be afraid! I visit everyone here. My being here doesn’t mean you’re dying.”

“No, you don’t understand,” he said. “I am dying. I’m dying of AIDS. Fifteen minutes ago, I was lying here praying for God to send me a sign that he still loved me, and then you walked through the door. You’re a sign from God.”

I remember this story whenever I feel useless. I also remember this story whenever I think about lost sheep. My job during that ER shift wasn’t to be good, or skillful, or even competent. My job was simply to show up so that God could use me as a vessel, as a tool to comfort and reassure a lost soul. God, serenely efficient, also used the patient to comfort and reassure me. Lost in our separate wildernesses, we found each other. Each of us reminded the other that God’s feast is for everyone. Jesus welcomes everyone to the table, even –- or especially -– those who feel lost, or unworthy, or too small to count: one sheep in a hundred, one penny in a pile, one parish in a community with too many Episcopal churches.

Wilderness takes many forms, both within and around us. As individuals and as a parish, we’re trekking through rough terrain right now. Our beloved home is closing its doors. All of us are being forced to set off on foot, carrying our grief and anger and loneliness. Some of us know where we’re going. Peering into the dusk for familiar landmarks and welcoming lamplight, we’ll head with joy towards those other homesteads. Some of us look forward to camping for a while, and will pitch our tents without worrying too much about where we are on the map. Some of us, frightened and in pain, may become trapped in canyons or caught in thickets.

Wherever we are and wherever we are going, God loves us. We are sure to find signs of that love if we look for them. The trick is remembering that God is everywhere and can take any form. Our telegrams from God -– those urgent messages reading, “I am with you always” –- may look like clergy in embroidered vestments, but they might also look like a hollow-eyed man lying on an ER gurney, or a heavy-eyed woman wearing a hospital volunteer’s badge. They may sound like church hymns, but they might also sound like birdsong, or children’s laughter. They may taste like bread and wine at the communion rail, but they might also taste like trail mix on the Tahoe Rim Trail, or pizza in a bar with friends.

And they might very well look like whatever we see when we look in the mirror. As my hospital story attests, God uses each of us to find lost souls, even or especially when we feel like lost souls ourselves. We carry into the wilderness not just our grief and anger and loneliness, but God’s love and healing and hope. Perhaps we are being sent into the wilderness so that, whatever home we find next, we will arrive there carrying lost sheep over our shoulders, calling out to our new neighbors, “Rejoice with me!”

Even if we don’t arrive with sheep, though, we’ll arrive with stories. Along with Jews and Muslims, Christians are People of the Book. Stories are how we remember who we are. The stories we tell –- here in the sanctuary, at coffee hour, or around our wilderness campfires –- become containers not just for our grief and anger and loneliness, but for love and healing and hope, for the resurrections we have witnessed. Because this is the last time I will preach at St. Stephen’s, I want to thank all of you for listening to my stories. And I want to leave you with another story, another tale about losing my way and finding a sign.

A few years ago –- but a few years after my visit with the patient dying of AIDS –- I went for a walk on the beach in San Francisco. Once again, I was going through a rough patch, and the sea and sky around me, bleak and cold on that sunless day, mirrored the emptiness I felt inside. I was a very small speck. I’d come to the beach to look for interesting rocks, a hobby I’d loved since childhood, but today I’d walked for an hour without finding any stones that weren’t as dull and blank as the sky.

I finally turned around to head back to my car. As I scuffed through the sand, I nattered at God, more out of habit than out of faith. “Y’know, a nice rock would help, right now. A pebble, even. One of those rocks with the pretty quartz veining, or a fossil? I’ve found fossil sand dollars here, fossil shells, but today they’re all just lumps. What’s up with that, God? How about a rock with a cross on it? I’ve seen what you can do with that quartz veining. A cross shouldn’t be too hard, should it?”

Even as I thought this, I knew my challenge was childish. The waves and sky, for all their grayness, were beautiful, as forceful a sign of the glory of creation as anyone could wish. But perhaps thirty seconds after my petulant dare, I saw something in the wet sand a foot or so ahead of me. I blinked, bending closer, and picked up this rock.

You may not be able to see it from where you’re sitting, but the quartz veins on this stone form a perfect cross, and the cross looks like a road. “I am with you always,” this sign tells me. “I am with you every step of the way, because I am the Way.”

If someone else had told me this story, I wouldn’t believe it. But I have to believe it, because I have this rock, this telegram from God. You can’t get much more solid than a rock. I can touch this rock whenever I yearn for proof of God’s love. I can hold it in my hands. (So can any of you, after the service.) It reminds me that even when I feel lost, God has not lost me. It reminds me that no matter where I am in the wilderness, I have a guide and provisions. And it reminds me that the cross –- the unwanted wilderness journey, the agonizing death, the searing grief -- is not the end of the story, but the beginning.

Amen.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Right Tool for the Job


This is a very high-pressure weekend. I have about 150 pages of grading (some of which is already done, but much of which I still have to do), and both yesterday and today I had meetings at work, and on Sunday I'm preaching for the last time at church. (The last time in my parish before it closes, anyway, and for all I know, the last time ever.) I wrote the homily yesterday, weeping as I typed; atheist Gary loves it, and I hope my congregation will too. Still, that was several hours when I wasn't grading.

Plus it's balloon weekend, so very early tomorrow there's a balloon-watching party Gary and I usually go to, but I also go to the hospital on Saturdays, and two good friends in the music department are giving a recital-followed-by-reception tomorrow evening.

And my allergies have been really horrible. This morning I woke up and promptly went off on a long sneezing fit, and my condition just got worse as the day progressed. I sat slit-eyed, foggy-brained, shivering and sniffling through both meetings today, even though I took my Zertec this morning. I'd wanted to attend a friend's literary reading this afternoon (on top of everything else!) but begged off because I felt so rotten.

Obviously, something has to give. If I still feel allergic tomorrow, I'll probably skip both the party and my hospital shift to stay home and grade, although I'll go to the recital unless I can't get out of bed. If I feel better tomorrow -- as I fervently hope I will -- I'll probably drop Gary at the party and dash to the hospital for an early shift so I can get some grading done between that and the recital.

Needless to say, I'm feeling pressured and cranky, although a lot of this is my own fault. I could have scheduled a different preaching date and a different paper due date: I just wasn't thinking. There's no way I could have foreseen being so slowed down by pollen, though. (And why am I taking the time to blog? Hey, all God's critters gotta vent.)

So, anyway, yesterday I was trying to get work done and my computer kept seizing up. I use my netbook, docked to a full-sized monitor, as my main computer. When I got the netbook, I knew it would be slower than a desktop, but I didn't think I'd care.

Yesterday, I cared. I finally hollered out to Gary something on the order of, "Damn the money! I need a real computer!" So he ordered me a Dell desktop: not too pricy, but still another hit on my money from Mom. (I also still have to fill out the financial paperwork from the lawyer so I can get the money from Mom, but that won't happen this week.) This isn't difficult to justify, though. I'm a writer and a professor. I need a computer that doesn't take a week to boot up and freeze whenever I'm trying to work with multiple windows.

Today after the work meetings, I went to my friendly neighborhood supermarket pharmacy to get eye drops. While I was there, I asked the pharmacist what I could take on top of the Zertec that wouldn't knock me out. (Forget Benedryl: you might as well just shoot me with an elephant tranquilizer.) On the advice of the pharmacist, I'm now on a 24-hour Sudafed pill. It's made me spacy and dizzy, but I can breathe, and I've gotten some work done.

Meanwhile, I took more time I didn't have to race down to the music store and pick up the new shoulder rest, which had finally come in. It indeed works much better than my old violin rest! (And yes, I practiced for thirty minutes: more time I didn't have.)

Okay, so friends and family keep telling me I'm doing too much. If I were sensible, I'd just cancel my ER shift, which may happen anyway, but I really don't want to, since I love the work. And there's no way I'm missing the recital. But I've neither knit nor Kindled in days, and for me, those are real sacrifices!

And now, having vented, I'm going to grade one more paper before I go to bed.

Descending Balloon

Right Over the House 2

Right Over the House

Reno Balloon Races: View from the Deck

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Zesty Zinnias!

One of the university librarians -- the woman who's in charge of electronic reserves, and who saves my life about ten times a semester -- brought me these flowers today because she missed the party.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Birthday Report


I had a splendid fiftieth birthday, I must say. Upwards of fifty people came to the party yesterday, despite a lot of cancellations because of illness (there seems to be a nasty stomach bug going around, and several friends' kids have come down with strep: welcome to the beginning of school!). We had a lot of great food -- much of it thanks to my brilliant-chef husband -- plenteous beverages, and fabulous music from Charlene. As you can see from the photographs below, we also had near-perfect weather.

Three things made me especially happy. First: Some friends from church brought their grown daughter, who's developmentally disabled. She has a hard time socializing, but she loved the music. When Charlene started playing, her face lit up and her feet started tapping, and then she got up and started dancing. When she saw that no one else was dancing, though, she sat down again. I'm never brave enough to dance in public, but I went up and asked her if she wanted to dance, and she did, so the two of us got up and hopped happily around. A third person -- a friend with much better coordination than either of us -- danced too. We were the only three people who danced, but it made me feel really good to be able to help bring some joy to our friends' daughter, and she taught me something about unselfconscious celebration.

Second: The guests included two church friends I haven't seen for a really long time, who've been estranged from church for one reason or another. It felt healing to see them there and to see them connecting with other people.

Third: One of the abovementioned church friends, as she was leaving, told me, "If you can start studying the fiddle in your late forties, I guess I can start taking voice lessons in my fifties!" She's never had formal voice training, despite singing in choirs for years. Our friend Katharine teaches voice, and my friend from church had talked to her, and it sounds like she'll be starting lessons soon. This makes me happy; perhaps my fiddle project has done the larger world some good even if I'll never -- as is almost certainly true -- be fit to play for any kind of audience.

I'd told people not to bring gifts, but some people brought them anyhow. The cats made out like crazy: birthday-cat Figaro got more catnip, treats, and toy mice than he and the other two beasts will be able to destroy for several years, which is really saying something. Katharine gave us a humongous zucchini from her garden, with a gold ribbon wrapped around it, and a pretty potted plant. (Katharine's determined to turn me into a gardener, even though I've told her that plants die if I look at them.) My friend Judie brought us another kind of squash, the name of which I forget. Our friends Stephanie and Gary, who just got back from Alaska, seem to have bought out the state; they brought me chocolate from Alaska, soap from Alaska, an Alaska mug, an adorable moose earring-and-necklace set, and a set of very unusual buttons made from bits of bone and antler (I'm sure all this stuff was humanely harvested). Stephanie was anxious to know if I could use the buttons in my knitting. I'll certainly try! Now I have extra motivation to make that cardigan Gary's been asking for.

Speaking of knitting, my friend Sheila from the VA, who's a fabulous knitter, made me socks! Ironically, they're the same lace pattern I'm using in a pair I'm making, although Sheila's are much nicer. I can't wait for colder weather so I can wear them.

I also got a ton of really wonderful cards, some of which were amazingly creative. One friend printed photos from this blog to make a card for Figgy. Sweet!

We got at least half a dozen bottles of nice wine, along with homemade cider from Charlene's husband. I drink very little, but Gary will certainly enjoy all this. Someone -- and I wish I could remember who -- brought me a chocolate dessert wine from a Christian vinyard in California. This sounded so intriguing that I just had to try it, so I had a small glass last night. It's profoundly yummy. Since I hardly ever drink, it knocked me right out, but I plan to enjoy small bits of it on evenings when I don't need to do anything but go to sleep.

Our friend Wendy, who'd flown in from Seattle and was staying with us, was incredibly helpful with set-up and clean-up. The whole thing would have been much more stressful if she hadn't been there.

This morning, my actual birthday, Gary gave me a CD of baroque music played on viola. The three of us went out for breakfast, and then we hiked on the mountain across the street (photos below). Gary had mapped out a new route that took us into a beautiful canyon and then up a hillside with striking stands of pine trees (unfortunately, I didn't get photos because my camera was out of room). Today's high winds made walking more difficult than usual, and we were out for two and a half hours -- the most exercise I've gotten since well before my recent knee problems -- so I was pretty exhausted when we got home. Also sore. I took Tylenol (since ibuprofen messes up my stomach) and feel better now, but we'll see how I do tomorrow.

During the hike, my sister called me on my cellphone to wish me happy birthday. We got home to find a package from my friend Ellen, who sent me a sarong from Hawai'i: pink and purple batik in a floral pattern, very pretty indeed. Gary wanted to put it on the wall, but I want to wear it as a shawl, and since it's my present, I win!

We had dinner -- half of Katharine's zucchini in a stir-fry -- and then took Wendy to the airport. It was incredibly generous for her to fly down here for two days just for my party, and it was great to see her. She's a therapist, so we spent a fair amount of time talking about my parents (we might have done that even if she weren't a therapist, but her occupation lent extra gravitas to the conversations).

Although I thought about, and missed, both of my parents today, I think I did a great job planning a birthday celebration that left me more happy than sad. I'm nervous about Christmas, though: the first Christmas without either parent and without my old parish. I'll just barely have started going to another church and probably won't feel fully at home there yet (and I'll miss my old church even if I do). Gary hates Christmas and would rather ignore the entire season, but I love it and want to do something to recognize it. I also really want to be with Gary, though. I'd thought about going to Philly to be with my sister -- and that may still happen -- but Gary's especially allergic to this kind of family holiday, and if I'm going into a sabbatical year on two-thirds salary, spending the money to fly us, or even just me, across the country seems unwise.

I talked to Wendy about all this, and she said that it's important for me to make plans for the holiday, to have something to do that will make me happy. I'd already known that, but talking to her underscored the point. This morning it occurred to me that, weather permitting, I'd really like to drive to San Francisco for Christmas. Gary likes that idea. We could stay in the hotel by the beach we found when Dad was in the VA hospital there: walk by the water, hike in the Presidio, eat good food. If my friend Ellen's in town, we can spend some time with her and the kids. It won't be a churchy Christmas, and it certainly won't be the family Christmas I've missed so much over the last few years, but it will be a new tradition rather than an emptiness, if that makes sense. The ocean always makes me feel better -- partly because it's one of the places where I feel the presence of God most strongly -- and I have a hunch that listening to surf and smelling salt spray will be just what I need, in through there.

Birthday Hike 2

Birthday Hike 1

Tim and Ada Johnson

Charlene Playing at the Party

Party People 3

Party People 2

Party People 1

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Lotsa Yay!


Figaro, aka Elegant Beast, was six years old yesterday. I neglected to post a timely birthday greeting, and hope he'll forgive me for the fact that this one is late.

In other news:

* The DMV issue is resolved, thank goodness. It was a glitch on their website, but I successfully renewed my registration.

* My Kindle came! I love love love love love love it. For years now, I've acquired books only reluctantly, because I have so little room for them. I've never liked library books, because I like to be able to underline and make notes. Now I can carry 3,500 books, with highlights and annotations, on a small object that will fit easily into a purse. Yowsa! And to my delight, audiobooks sound great on the Kindle. My challenge now is to keep from spending my annual salary on Kindle books within a week. I've told myself that I'm only allowed to buy a new book when I've finished the books already on the device, although I keep finding really inexpensive ones I can't resist, like a ninety-nine cent Book of Common Prayer (it's not easy to navigate, however, proving -- in this case, at least -- that one gets what one pays for).

* My story collection will be on Kindle sometime soon, along with the three novels. Having gotten the Kindle issue out of the way, I'm now making inquiries about Audible. I'd love to narrate and record my own books, if I could find the time for it (next summer, maybe?).

* I have my new viola bow, but the shoulder rest hasn't come yet. Sigh. Charlene and I hope the new one will work for me; unfortunately, the music store here doesn't have a lot of different shoulder rests in stock, so I can't try them all to see which one is the best. If the one Tim's ordered for me doesn't work, Charlene thinks I should do a road trip to Sacramento or San Francisco to find a music store that stocks a range of viola rests. I'm usually thrilled by the idea of driving over the hill, but since the roadwork that slowed me down so much on my way to Berkeley continues -- and shows no sign of ever being done -- I'm less enthusiastic this time. But at least there are options; it's just a matter of getting to them.

* My nephew Owen, who works for Movies Unlimited and loves both films and comic books, is starring in a YouTube video! Check it out! (I tried to embed it here, but half the video screen kept getting cut off, so I'll send you directly to the source.)

I have to say that I absolutely loathed Sin City, the only film other than Blue Velvet I've ever wanted to stop watching halfway through (I didn't walk out on either one, because I was with other people, but both of them made me almost physically ill). I know I'm in a minority on that, though.

Tonight I'll try to get my class prep done for Wednesday. Tomorrow: church, huge party shopping at Trader Joe's, and a swim if I have time before we pick our friend Wendy up at the airport. Monday: Party! Tuesday: Actual birthday. Gary and I will take Wendy out to breakfast, and then we'll probably go for a hike somewhere, and then maybe we'll catch a movie, since the Art Museum is closed on Tuesdays. Wendy flies back to Seattle Tuesday evening, at which point I have to return to my regular life.

If I get any decent party pictures, I'll post 'em. The official RSVP list is in the mid-sixties now, so there should be lots of photo ops.

Have a good weekend, everybody!

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

World's Most Annoying Day


I had an 8 a.m. doctor's appointment today. This is already bad news, because I'm profoundly not a morning person, although this doc has limited hours, so I have to take what I can get. I woke up on time -- before my alarm, even -- but, staggering around in my six-hours-of-sleep fog, managed to leave the house late anyhow, after giving the cats two breakfasts. The cats didn't mind, but it was still a little embarrassing.

In the car, I realized I'd left my watch at home. No prob. I could get the time from my phone.

Got to the doc's office at 8:15; I'd called to say I was late and to ask if I should reschedule, and they told me to come on in. The receptionist shoved a sheaf of paper at me. I see this doctor every six months for routine monitoring of my eyes; there's a family history of glaucoma, and at one point my pressures were a teensy bit high, so even though my pressures have been splendid for several years now, she wants to see me every six months. I thumbed through the sheaf, signed a few places I had to sign, and then said, "I'm not here for any new problems, so I'm not filling in most of these questionnaires, okay? This is a routine visit."

I passed back the papers. Someone else behind the desk gave me a lecture about how I had to fill in the forms for insurance reasons, but no one gave me the sheaf back. So, with a shrug, I sat down and waited to be called into the exam room. In the meantime, I e-mailed Gary about giving the cats two breakfasts. He e-mailed back to say that I'd also locked Bali in the downstairs closet.

I'd been in the examining room maybe two minutes when someone with a grim expression rushed in, waving the sheaf, and barked, "You have to fill these out, or your insurance won't pay for this visit!" Ooooooooh. It's one of those: one of those "jump through these hoops or we won't pay" games, which has nothing to do with health at all. So I scribbled some stuff on the forms.

The exam went splendidly. My pressures were great. But because I'd been given dilation drops, I couldn't see very well when I left the office, even though I was wearing sunglasses. No problem. I'd go to the gym; on the way, I'd stop at my garage to get the smog check required for my car registration, which expires in a few weeks.

The smog was fine. Results are reported automatically to the DMV, so I e-mailed Gary to ask if he could renew online for me. Before I'd even gotten to the gym, Gary e-mailed back to say that he'd tried, but couldn't, because the DMV website thought my insurance was out of date, even though it isn't.

I went to the gym and worked out on the elliptical for half an hour. At my locker afterwards, I realized that I'd forgotten my toiletry kit. No prob: the gym supplies toiletries, and while they aren't my first choice, they'll certainly do in a pinch.

Getting dressed, I discovered that I'd left at home the guard ring that keeps my wedding and engagement rings securely on my finger. No prob: I'd just be extra careful about making sure they stayed on (and to alleviate any suspense, I didn't lose either today, thank goodness!).

So clearly, I'm having a really bad post-menopausal Senior Moments day. I'm already annoyed and frazzled, not to mention still half-blind (the dilation lasts about ten hours after the ten-second exam) when I get to work and decide to stop in to say hi to a friend. We're chatting about an acquaintance from another state -- an artistic friend from a liberal state; these details are important -- who blew through town a few weeks ago. This woman's quite the fashionista, and my friend says, "Oh, yeah, she loves to do makeovers on people. She had some interesting comments about you. She said, 'Susan should grow her hair out and wear real bras so she won't look like a dyke.'"

I'm pretty sure my jaw dropped. I know I sputtered. The comment was so bizarre, inappropriate, and both personally and politically offensive -- not to mention ignorant and wrongheaded (tell us how you really feel, Susan!) -- that all I could do was squeak out a few entirely inadequate responses. "Why does she care what I look like? Gary likes my short hair! And I wear the bras I can find that fit, dammit!" I'd have said more, but I realized that a male student was standing behind me in the hall, waiting to see my friend and looking mortified. I think he'd overheard the bra comment.

Oh, dear.

Furious, I made my way to my office. In the time it took me to get there, my friend had e-mailed me an apology for her insensitivity in even repeating the acquaintance's comment. I appreciated that, but was still struggling with about seventeen layers of response to the unwanted feedback. I should probably mention here that El Fashionista is quite a bit younger than I am: very professionally successful, but (I'm guessing) of the generation that's been able to take feminism more for granted than my generation could. In any case, I came up with a list of the things I hope I'd have been able to say to her face if she'd delivered the insult to my face, and e-mailed them to my friend (with a note saying, "You probably don't want to send her these, but you have my permission if you want to").

I struggled with whether to blog about this, but I think her comment was one of those canary-in-the-mine indications: something that most people wouldn't say, but that -- if anyone says it -- means that too many others are thinking it. So, for anyone who's ever seen a woman with short hair or funky undergarments and made assumptions about sexual orientation (or even offered unwanted fashion advice!), here's the meat of the e-mail I sent my friend.

1. It is impossible to determine sexual orientation by hairstyle or undergarments. Honest. The only way I “look like a dyke” is if I’m actually having sex, right at that moment, with another woman.

2. Why does it matter if someone who doesn’t understand point #1 mistakes me for a lesbian? Being a lesbian isn’t a horrible thing, and I’m not on the market, so it’s not like I’m misleading potential lovers. My husband knows my sexual orientation, and he’s the one who matters (and for the record, he likes my hair short: so do I).

3. If Woman A is checking out, and making comments about, Woman B’s undergarments, whose sexual orientation might we idly wonder about? Not that it matters, since sexual orientation doesn’t determine personal worth, and somebody else’s sexual orientation isn’t our business anyway, unless we wish to sleep with that person. I’m just sayin’.

4. Yesterday when I got to the gym, I saw a woman blow-drying her long hair. When I left the gym, the same woman was still blow-drying her long hair. I thought, “Geez, I’m really glad I don’t spend time blow-drying my hair or putting on make-up I then have to take off. There are enough timesinks in my life as it is. If I did that stuff too, I’d never get any knitting/writing/practicing done.”

5. Fashion’s fun when it makes people feel better. It’s harmful when it’s used to judge them.

There's more I could have said, like, "Honey, women have fought and even died for the right to wear no bras at all." I didn't say that. I didn't tell the story of the first time I got my hair cut short, when my mother stared at me in distress and wailed, "You look like a man!" and I snapped back, "Not where it counts, I don't." (That ended that conversation.) I didn't talk about how it's nearly impossible, even with my minimal mammary endowments, to find bras that don't a) have torture-device underwires and b) cost $20 apiece, which is why I wear sale sports bras and those nifty stretch camis I found at the dollar store. (I bought one, took it home, determined that it fit, and went back to buy every single one in my size.)

I did say that I'm praying for El Fashionista, who must be very insecure and unhappy to have to make comments like this. El Fashionista is smart, funny, supremely talented, and mostly kind, in addition to always looking fabulous. It makes me very sad to think that underneath all that, she's insecure and unhappy.

I was afraid my friend might be offended by the e-mail, but she wrote back agreeing with me.

Classes went fine, for a wonder, but when I got home, the DMV website still wouldn't accept my insurance info, which means that tomorrow I need to call them and might need to go there in person.

Yuck. Crummy day, yes?

But it's now a holiday weekend, and my birthday weekend. Yay!

Thrilling Kindle News!


1. My very own Kindle will ship by September 8, which means I should have it by September 10. Yeah!

2. My very own novels will shortly -- in anywhere from six weeks to three months -- be available on Kindle and other e-book services. Blog reader Jill left a comment on my last post asking about that, and today I e-mailed my agent and editor to ask them, and my editor e-mailed back to say that converting backlist into e-book format is taking forever, but that he's put my books on the priority list. Thanks for asking, Jill!

When this has actually happened, I'll let everyone know. You can read my novels on Kindle. You can tell everyone you know to read my novels on Kindle. You can give all of your friends, relatives and acquaintances Amazon gift cards so they can read my novels on Kindle.

I mentioned the happy news to a colleague at work, who said, "These days, you're only a published author if you're on Kindle." I'm not sure I'd go that far, but I'm still happier being on Kindle than not being on it.

Next step: trying to get my story collection on Kindle (different publisher).