Sunday, July 31, 2011

Lotsa Stuff

Hi, everybody! Sorry not to have posted in a few days; I'm spending a lot of time over at FB these days. It really is a fun way to keep in touch with people.

A few items of note:

* For those of you in Reno: On Saturday August 13 at 2:30, I'll be giving a talk and reading at the Nevada Historical Society. This is part of a Worldcon promotion. The curator says that after my talk, "we will show the bad sci-fi movie 'Godmonster of Indian Flats' for Nevada-themed sci-fi." Mark your calendars! Bring popcorn!

* I now have 71,000 words of the rough draft, with completion of same estimated around August 10.

* I love weaving on my new Cricket loom and can't wait to try different techniques. My first scarf was short and ugly; the second, currently in progress, is longer and less ugly.

* It's really wonderful to be going into August without having to worry about prepping fall classes. I needed this sabbatical!

* Caprica is well; she goes to the vet for her FIV/FLV tests tomorrow, and, we hope, will be "released to GenPop," as Gary puts it, soon thereafter.

* Last night we watched a TV special about the Serengeti. As a baby elephant and mom traipsed across the screen, James Earl Jones praised the devotion of elephants and said, "The bond between mother and daughter can last fifty years." My first thought was, "Lucky elephant. I only had my mother for forty-nine." I'm doing better, but still miss her.

* There was a wildfire across the street two nights ago, about half a mile away. We watched it from Gary's study; when someone started pounding on our front door, I thought maybe we were being evacuated, but no, it was two friends who'd come over to watch the fire. Summer sport in Reno! (Cars lined the street, too.) Luckily, they got it under control quickly, and there was never any threat to structures.

I think that's about it. Hope you're all well!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Cat We Said We Wouldn't Get

Remember my noble resolve not to get another cat until after my sabbatical, when I'd be better able to handle vet bills on a restored salary? That lasted all of twenty-six days.

Today the Nevada Humane Society sent out an urgent appeal via Facebook for people to adopt pets: they're swamped with dogs and cats, and were offering reduced adoption fees: $5 for an adult cat and $30 for a kitten. And they were making dire noises about how animals would have to be euthanized if they didn't find homes. So, sucker that I am, I asked Gary if we could adopt a kitten now; sucker that he is, he agreed.

There were a lot of people there, adopting, which was heartening, because I've never seen so many animals in the building. The appeal had said they had "hundreds" of cats, and they weren't kidding: cat-cages three-deep, housing several cats and kittens each, lined the walls of each room and hallway, and that's outside the normal cat rooms. (There were also quite a few rabbits and other small mammals. We didn't even go into the dog kennels, but I'm sure they were similarly crowded.)

We walked around for a while, checking out the kittens. All of them were adorable, but we wanted a female, so that narrowed it down. (When we got Bali, we thought he was a female, until the fateful surgery, and by then we weren't about to return him.) We also wanted a cat we'd be able to tell easily from the other two; there were a lot of gorgeous all-black kitties, but we already have Bali, and we saw several very pretty kitties who were the spitting image of Figaro.

We also had fairly exacting age requirements: young enough to be accepted easily by the two grown cats, but not so young that early weaning would cause behavior problems. A lot of Bali's weirdnesses can be traced, we think, to his not getting enough time with his mom. I fell in love with a very spunky black-and-white kitten, but she was only four weeks old, and Gary said, "Nope. I don't want to go through that again." And there were other black and white females, but I thought it would be better to have a cat who didn't remind me of Harley.

I thought an orange cat would be nice; I've never had one, and there were lots of cute orange kittens. The problem was that they all seemed to be boys. "Why not ask if they have any females?" Gary said.

So I did, and a friendly staffer checked on the computer, and sure enough, back in one of the cat rooms, there was a four-month-old female who'd just been brought in today (after being spayed at Animal Control next door). The staffer took us to visit, and we fell in love with her, and because she's just at the cusp of when they define cats as adults -- although technically, they're kittens for the first year -- we only had to pay five dollars to adopt her. He told us that orange females are unusual, so that was another plus.

We named her Caprica. (BSG fans out there will recognize "Caprica Kitty" as a pun on "Caprica City.") She has incredibly soft fur and lovely spots; we think maybe there's some Bengal in there. Her purr fills the room. She's litter trained. She's curious and friendly, and has already given me head bumps. We think she must have had previous owners and gotten out or been abandoned; she's clearly been well cared for.

We're keeping her in isolation for a week or two, as we do with all new cats. She needs time to heal from her surgery, and we need to get her tested for FIV/FLV -- which NV Humane Society doesn't do, because it's too expensive, although she's had all her other shots -- and keeping her apart from the other cats will give everyone time to calm down and get used to the idea of being roommates. Right now, Bali's an even needier wreck than usual (he had fits the minute Gary got the carrying case out of the garage, even though it wasn't for him), and Figaro and Caprica are facing off on their respective sides of my study door, trying to suss each other out.

See? Facebook's useful after all! Also a lot of fun; I'm really enjoying it.

So now we're up to our full three-cat complement again. I thought that was the limit for cat ownership in the county, but the NHS staffer said no, the limit's seven. "You shouldn't have told her that," Gary said. Hmmmmmmm . . . .

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Little and Big

Here's today's homily; the readings are 1 Kings 3:5-12 and Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52.

I'm preaching again in two weeks, at the St. Stephen's reunion. I've rarely, if ever, had to write two homilies this close together, and I have deep respect for people who do this every Sunday.


In November 1998, Esquire published a cover article by Tom Junod about Fred Rogers, host of the beloved children’s television show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Junod’s immensely moving profile includes this story:
On December 1, 1997 . . . a boy . . . told his friends to watch out, that he was going to do something "really big" the next day at school, and the next day at school he took his gun and his ammo and his earplugs and shot eight classmates who had clustered for a prayer meeting. Three died, and they were still children, almost. The shootings took place in West Paducah, Kentucky, and when Mister Rogers heard about them, he said, "Oh, wouldn't the world be a different place if [that boy] had said, 'I'm going to do something really little tomorrow,'" and he decided to dedicate a week of the Neighborhood to the theme "Little and Big." He wanted to tell children that what starts out little can sometimes become big, so they could devote themselves to little dreams without feeling bad about them.
The really big news this week is the horrific massacre in Norway, which seems to be everywhere we look, inescapable and omnipresent. Our Good News this week, our Gospel reading, is about really little things, the seemingly insignificant items we can so easily overlook: the mustard seed that grows into a large, life-giving shrub; yeast, invisible when stirred into dough, that transforms it into the miracle of bread; a fine pearl, grown from a grain of sand, that’s worth more than everything else in the market.

The Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus says, dwells in and results from these really little things. Fred Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister, and I have a strong hunch that he was thinking about this Gospel passage when he planned his week of “Little and Big” programs.

Jesus is speaking metaphorically, indirectly. As usual, he doesn’t tell us everything, but forces us to figure things out for ourselves. From this morning’s metaphors, here are a few things we can figure out about the Kingdom of Heaven.

First, it requires patience. Mustard seeds don’t become large plants overnight.

Second, it requires faith. You won’t plant the mustard seed unless you believe it will grow. You won’t look for the pearl unless you believe the market contains things worth finding.

Third, it requires discernment. Here’s a jumble of stuff in a market stall: souvenir t-shirts and plastic fridge magnets and 100% genuine local handicrafts made in China, and hey, the merchant’s offering a special sale on paste-glass rhinestones, five hundred for ninety-nine cents, and over here, almost hidden in a corner, is a small, round white thing with smelly bits of oyster still clinging to it. What are you looking for, and what will you buy?

And finally, attaining the Kingdom may require sacrifice, both of wealth and reputation. Dude! You can get five hundred of these pretty paste-glass rhinestones for ninety-nine cents, and you’re selling all that you have to buy that little smelly round white thing? Are you nuts?

A firm grasp on history helps with all this. Just as that large shrub started out as a tiny seed, famous King Solomon started out as “a little child” in the midst of “a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted.” We most easily discern the Kingdom of God, then, when we look both forward and back.

In fact, the Kingdom is everywhere around us, and also, Jesus promises, within us. Because our really big news is so often about atrocity -- Norway, 9/11, Columbine -- all of us need to cultivate the discipline of seeking out and tending the Kingdom, the Good News that starts out really little, usually where no one else is looking. It might show up, for instance, in a stable, in an obscure corner of an occupied territory, in the form of that weakest of creatures, a newborn human infant.

But that was two thousand years ago. If the Kingdom is everywhere, invisible and omnipresent as yeast in bread, where do we find it now?

With luck, all of us have many answers to that question. Here are two of mine.

First, I firmly believe that we become citizens of the Kingdom, helping to create and maintain it, when we perform even the smallest acts of mercy and charity, loving our neighbors as Jesus commands us to do. The really big bad news, the horror we see on TV, is often the work of people who’ve used terror and violence to tear huge holes in creation. It’s easy for us to despair, to believe that nothing can fix these gaping rents. Certainly we cannot do so by ourselves. But each tiny act of kindness is one stitch, repairing those holes, and enough small stitches will mend even the most tattered fabric.

Some of you know that I volunteer as a lay ER chaplain. On Friday, I helped an elderly man eat his lunch, cutting his turkey for him because he couldn’t do it himself. That tiny act couldn’t fix what happened in Norway, but it made me –- and him -– feel better. It kept me focused on what I can do instead of on what I can’t, and it reminded me that even the smallest kindnesses are infinitely valuable to those they help. When any of us feed our neighbors, we expand the Kingdom, giving despair and atrocity a little less growing room.

Here is my second example of finding the Kingdom in something small and easily overlooked. A few years ago, my husband and I spent a week in Honolulu, staying in one of the garish Waikiki mega-hotels. We love to snorkel, and before flying to Oahu, we’d read guide books describing the best snorkel spots on the island. Most, because they’re in the guide books, are overcrowded tourist meccas.

Our first morning on the island, we strolled along the Waikiki beach until we reached a small park, a series of pocket beaches separated by jetties. On a whim, we asked one of the lifeguards, “Hey, any good snorkeling around here?”

The lifeguard pointed two jetties over. “There. The fish love the rocks and the coral.”

We walked over to the tiny beach he’d indicated, donned the snorkel gear we’d brought along just in case, entered the water -- and found ourselves in heaven. The water was crystalline, filled with brilliantly colored fish, so numerous they could not be numbered or counted. We watched schools of angelfish, butterflyfish, yellow tang. We stayed there for hours, hovering above endless parades of fish. We saw no other humans. This little beach wasn’t in the guidebooks. All of our fellow snorkelers had rushed to the tourist meccas.

We returned to our pocket beach every day. It never failed to delight us, to create deep joy. We didn’t sell everything we had to keep visiting it –- although airfare to Hawai’i can feel like that –- but we did forego a host of more famous, high-profile attractions.

Coral polyps, as most of you probably know, are very small animals. Coral reefs take even longer to grow than mustard plants do, and like mustard plants, they support an enormous diversity of life. If Jesus had been a snorkeler, I’m sure the Gospels would include some parables about reefs.

I’m home in Reno now, but that little reef is still inside me. During the really big news from Norway, I’ve found myself revisiting it, cherishing its fragile peace and beauty. In the midst of horror, it comforts me. May all of us find such Kingdoms, and help others find them.


Friday, July 22, 2011

Dangerous Woman

Today was my first volunteer shift at the hospital since Mythcon. It was good to be back, but I guess my reputation as a wannabe social worker -- which is what a former spiritual-care supervisor always called me, in some exasperation -- has solidified. When I checked in with the ED case manager to see if there was anyone I should see first, he said, "No, the social-service cases are all gone."


So I didn't get to research special-needs AA meetings today, or call shelters to get beds for homeless patients, or hand out business cards for our local crisis hotline to single parents struggling with employment issues. My most weighty visit was with an elderly patient who was having trouble communicating, but who managed to croak out "Food!" I alerted a nurse, who ordered a food tray. When lunch appeared -- turkey and stuffing, Thanksgiving in the ED -- I cut up the turkey and helped the patient eat. It reminded me poignantly of doing the same for my father.

Near the end of the shift, I did a quick sweep of the ED waiting room, which is part of my official territory (although, as usual, no one there needed my services). I jotted down the number of people I'd spoken to, since we have to keep a census of each shift, and was heading back into the department proper when a security guard snagged me. "Hey, Susan, hey, c'mere a minute, okay?"

I know most of the security guards pretty well; they're some of my favorite people at the hospital. This guard, whom I'll call A, took me gently by the arm, swung me around so I was looking directly into one of the ceiling-mounted security cameras, and said into his walkie-talkie, "Hey, B, I think I've found the security threat. Is this her? Hey, B, look at your camera! Is this her?"

"Yeah," came the crackling reply. "That's her."

"What the heck?" I said.

A was laughing. "B saw you on the cameras and told me there was a suspicious woman walking around writing things down."

"Why would that be dangerous?"

"Beats me." A shrugged and went off to respond to some other situation, hopefully one more deserving of his attention, and I went back into the department to finish my shift.

We now have a spiffy new ED with private rooms for each patient, but some of the rooms in our old quarters had three beds per cubicle, with only thin cotton sheets between them. In the old digs, a nurse once came up to me, laughing, and said, "Hey, y'know that lady who asked you for prayer in Room 12? I just brought meds to the patient next to her, and that patient whispered, 'One of your nurses is sneaking around praying over people!' I said, 'Ma'am, that's our chaplain. She's supposed to do that. It's her job.'"

As far as I know, that's the only other time I've ever alarmed anyone in the hospital. But I was really curious about the writing-as-terrorist-threat issue, so after I signed out, I stopped by the security office. When I knocked on the door, I heard A, inside, call out, "Hey, B, it's the dangerous woman!"

B was rather embarrassed, and couldn't really explain why I'd worried him so. "You were walking, and then you stopped dead and wrote something down, and I thought, 'I need to find out what this is, even if it's none of my business.'"

"But what could it have been that would have been dangerous?" I asked him. As Gary pointed out, I'm hardly the only person in the hospital who carries a clipboard and takes notes.

B didn't answer. "You could have been drawing plans for how to take the place out," A said cheerfully. I showed B my notes to reassure him, and then noticed something odd in the office next to his.

"Why do you guys have naked store-window mannequins in here?"

Actually, only one mannequin was naked. The other was wearing a t-shirt and a cardboard smiley face. "They're to model the new hospital t-shirts," A said. (Gary's theory was that the guards use these things to practice pat-downs.)

"Can I take a picture? I gotta get a picture of this." I took a picture, and they admired it, but we agreed that I probably shouldn't post it anywhere online, in case someone decided to magnify it and somehow acquired HIPAA-protected info, like the identity of the mannequins. So you'll just have to use your imagination.

I suspect B took some more teasing from his co-workers after I left. Poor guy! Better for him to be over-zealous in his duties than not careful enough.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Adventures in Alternative Medicine

Today I went to see my acupuncturist, who's also a western-trained MD, for the third time. The first time I saw him, he sternly advised me to get back on western stomach meds and then used his needles to work on my sinuses, which indeed felt better. The second time I saw him, I mentioned writer's block and frustration and he did a longer session, something called "detox acupuncture," which I'd ordinarily scoff at, except that it also made me feel better.

That was at the end of June, right before my state-employee health insurance crashed and burned on July 1. (Our family deductible has now gone up to $3,800, which means that if I'm lucky, I could get through the entire year without insurance covering anything.) "Next time," I told the good doc, "I'll have to pay your full fee, not just the $25 copay."

He pondered this. "I charge $130 for a private session. I really think you should have one more detox session, and then you can start coming to the clinics." He offers acupuncture clinics where he'll treat a group of people at once, for only $40 apiece. "But you have to decide what you can afford."

I talked to Gary about it; the treatment really had made me feel better, and Gary said, "If it's just once, and it helps, then pay the $130."

So I went back today. Before we got to the needles, I asked the good doc about adrenal fatigue, which I know is highly controversial in allopathic circles. Does he believe in it? He pondered this and offered a thoughtful and carefully nuanced version of "no." (That's why I love this guy: he really does combine the best of both worlds, and so far he's never made me feel like I'm asking a stupid question.)

So then we got to the needles. "Last time we detoxified the front of your body," he told me. "This time we'll be doing the back. The front works on internal dragons; the back works on external dragons."

"Mmmmph?" I said, already lying on my stomach on very comfy cushions, which meant I was talking into one of those donut pillows massage therapists use. "Dragons?"

"Chinese dragons," he said. "They're good dragons. They chase away evil. The internal dragons chase away internal evil; the external dragons chase away external evil."

"Ah," I said, and he inserted the needles and left me to "cook" for a few minutes, as he put it, and then came back to check on me.

"How you doing?"

"Fine," I said into the donut pillow.

"Remember the dragons."

"I'm trying to visualize them."

There was a short pause -- I'm sure he was pondering -- and then he said, "They have long mustaches, and they're slightly iridescent, and they like to drink tea and don't eat peanuts."

"Ah," I said.

"No peanuts," he said, and left the room again, leaving me to reflect on what has to be the strangest conversation I've ever had with a medical professional. But I was all comfy and feeling very nice, except that my hands kept falling asleep, and I still couldn't visualize the dragons, although I did have a vivid mental image of a sleek black panther lounging by the side of the massage table. (What the heck was in those needles? I hear you asking.)

When he came back in, I mentioned the circulation issue, and he removed the needles so I'd be able to move around again, and I told him about the panther, wondering if he'd laugh. He didn't bat an eye. "Well, the dragons are just a metaphor. Your dragon might be a panther. Someone else's might be an eagle." I suspect my panther had more to do with watching Crystal the were-panther on True Blood the other night than with anything else, but that's okay; I'm a champ at metaphor, after all, and I was all relaxed and happy-like, so I floated out the door to pay my $130.

I like this doctor a lot. I do not like his young front-office person one bit. I'm sure she's a lovely human being, adored by her family and friends, but every time I've been there she's struck me as supercilious, with a tendency to lecture, and with the uncanny ability to look down her nose at me even when she's sitting down and I'm standing up.

"That will be a $25 copay," she said.

"No, actually --"

"I need you to pay that," she snapped, as if I'd been planning to offer her my firstborn child or barter with a stick of Juicy Fruit instead.

"Actually, I need to pay more," I said, trying not to snap back. "It's after July 1. My insurance just changed. So I need to pay the $130."

She scowled. "You can't pay the $130 if you have insurance."

"No, my deductible's $3,800, so --"

She slid into lecture mode. "The $130 is for private-pay patients without insurance. I'll have to see what the bill will be with insurance." She got up, went into another room, came back with a sheaf of papers, typed on her computer for a bit, and then said, "If we bill your insurance company, that will be $289."

"Excuse me? Two hundred and eighty-nine dollars?"

She flashed me a phony smile. "At least you'll pay your deductible sooner!" Mentally, I was trying to sic panthers and dragons on her. I know it's not her fault, but couldn't she be just a little bit sympathetic and acknowledge the utter absurdity of the system?

"I came here prepared to pay $130. That's what my husband and I budgeted."

She resumed looking down her nose. "If you pay the $130, we won't bill your insurance and it won't count towards your deductible."

Reader, I paid the $130. If I go to any of the clinics, that $40 fee won't count towards insurance either. It seems absolutely insane to me that with insurance, the treatment costs more than twice as much as it would without: the extra money goes into administrative expenses, no doubt.

Dragons and panthers and bills, oh my.

Yeah. You know I couldn't resist that one. Anyway, I was feeling a bit less floaty when I left, thinking in annoyance that the dragons and panthers hadn't worked very effectively against the evil of the billing system. As we all know, though, American healthcare is one heckuva job even for the most potent metaphorical ninja-beasts. Or maybe somebody slipped the dragons some peanuts; as Gary observed, they're probably allergic.

A dragon in anaphylactic shock: now there's an image.

Right. I'm clearly punchy. Must go work on the book. With material like this, who needs to write SF/F?

My Worldcon Schedule

Worldcon begins on August 17 and will be held at the Convention Center. I don't see the knitting panel here, but will make inquiries. Note that I'm moderating both the Nevada-as-setting panel and the religion panel, which should be interesting. I've moderated faith discussions at WisCon, so I hope this will go as well. In any case, I'll be busy that weekend!

Wed 12:00 - 13:00, Welcome to Reno (Panel), A02 (RSCC)

An introduction of what to see and do in Reno by locals!

Arthur Chenin (M), Karyn de Dufour, Margaret McGaffey Fisk, Richard Hescox, Mignon Fogarty, Susan Palwick

Wed 18:00 - 19:00, Nevada as a Setting for SF & Fantasy(Panel), A03 (RSCC)

Nevada's mountains and deserts have provided a fertile landscape for writers and movie makers for over 150 years. Join regional writers to learn more about the books and movies that helped to define this area.

Susan Palwick (M), Colin Fisk, Connie Willis, Mignon Fogarty, Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Thu 11:00 - 12:00, When Faith and Science Meet (Panel), A09 (RSCC

Many SF tales, from Arthur C. Clarke's "The Star" to Walter Miller's A Canticle for Leibowitz to Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow, deal with the intersection of unexpected discoveries on the faith of the characters. Cultural discourse often presents religious faith and science as polar opposites, and certainly there's a long history of conflict between them. But many people of many faiths have happily and successfully reconciled their beliefs with a scientific worldview, and SF/F is no stranger to spirituality, either. Both Joanna Russ and David Hartwell have described SF/F as essentially religious. This panel will present a civil conversation -- between people who respect both faith and science -- about how the two inform each other, both in SF/F and in the rest of the world.

Susan Palwick (M), Eric James Stone, Laurel Anne Hill, Moshe Feder, Norman Cates

Thu 14:30 - 15:00, Reading: Susan Palwick (Reading), A14 (RSCC)

I'll probably read some short chapters from Mending the Moon about my invented comic book, Comrade Cosmos.

Thu 22:00 - 23:00, Short Talks about Art (Talk), A03 (RSCC)

Susan Palwick, Light and Shadow: Family, Pulp Fiction, and the West.

Kelley Caspari, Susan Palwick

I'll be reading a short essay, originally published in NYRSF three hundred years ago, about my grandfather Jerome Rozen, a well-known pulp artist who painted some of the original covers for The Shadow.

Fri 11:00 - 12:00, KaffeeKlatsch: Fri 11:00 (KaffeeKlatsch), KK1(RSCC)

Howard Tayler, Susan Palwick, Ken Scholes

Sat 12:00 - 13:00, River and Echo: The Evolution from Victim to Hero (Panel), A05 (RSCC)

Irene Radford (M), Lee Martindale, Susan Palwick, Charles Oberndorf

The description got cut off, but I think the title works fine. As a longtime Whedonphile, I'm delighted to be on this panel.

Sat 14:00 - 15:00, Autographing: Sat 14:00 (Autographing), Hall 2 Autographs (RSCC)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Woven Scarf in Progress

It's far from perfect, but I still like it!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


I'm back, after a rather more inconvenient trip home than my very easy one out. Flying East always seems to go more smoothly than flying West.

I haven't been able to get myself going today. While I enjoyed Mythcon a great deal (and have already registered for next year in Berkeley), the hotel was horrendous. I was allergic to something in the AC, and the bed was too soft for me, and they didn't have an espresso machine so I had to take the hotel shuttle to Starbucks to get my brain in gear each morning -- the shuttle folks were very nice about this, but it was still a hassle -- and there was, I swear, not one comfortable chair in the entire place. The wifi in my room was erratic. The laundry I delivered to the front desk the first morning (getting everything into carry-on was predicated on being able to do laundry) was never picked up, so I had to do the laundry myself, and the front desk was out of laundry soap, so I had to buy some. At least they had a small laundromat onsite and the machines worked, although someone else doing a load told me the hotel staff had warned her not to run both dryers at once.

There were also bizarre issues like my housekeeping tip being apparently stolen out of the room the first day, vanishing hours before any housekeeping was done, and the fact that two of us in my hallway returned from evening programming to find washcloths wrapped around our outside doorknobs, while the people across from me found their door open, although nothing was missing. The front desk staff had no interest in any of this. Someone Googled the hotel and learned that it has a reputation for theft, and while there may have been some perfectly logical and harmless explanation for the little strangenesses, I found myself on edge. (One of the conference attendees was indeed robbed, but I think she may have been staying at another hotel.)

You get the idea. Travel's tiring, and so's being ill at ease in a strange place. (One of the shuttle drivers told me the Reno Aces stay at that hotel when they're in Albuquerque. Gary's response to this was, "Yeah, that's how they know they aren't the majors.") I think it's a testament to my exercise regimen and my chiropractor that my back held up during all of this, but I'm still a lot more worn out and fuzzy-brained today than I usually am after a trip. Maybe it's dehydration. Maybe it's my age showing. Whatever it is, I have no energy -- although I did exercise for an hour -- and I've gotten no writing done yet today.

Yeah, I know. Okay, Susan. Stop whining. Go write!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

An Extended Metaphor

Greetings from sweltering Albuquerque, where the locals are praying for rain and those of us staying at this hotel are praying for reliable wifi (which I think I've finally found in a public area) and decent coffee (the acquisition of which required a hotel shuttle ride to a Starbucks this morning). The conference is great; the hotel's more than a little wonky.

I've been doing some knitting here -- finished a pair of socks for Gary's mom -- but I miss weaving, as much for its psychological and cultural resonance as for its physical pleasures. Weaving's been a very potent symbol since people started doing it, of course, so my thoughts on this subject probably aren't remotely original, but I wanted to get them down anyway.

My novice understanding of weaving, or at least of the weaving I've been doing, is that a cut or broken weft thread is no big deal: you just use another piece of weft and keep going. In fact, the fabric's more interesting the more varied the weft is. But if one of your warp threads breaks or is cut, you're in big trouble, because that's the structure that holds everything else together.

On an individual level, the weft is the variety of our life: the different things we do, the different places we go, our varied friendships. The warp would be whatever we consider our bedrock, the things it would be crisis to lose. For some people, that means job or career; for others, it means social status; for most of us, it includes both our core beliefs and our most significant relationships.

On a larger level, the weft is the huge diversity of life and cultures through time; the warp is God, gravity, thermodynamics, whatever we think of as the glue that holds everything together.

Often, though, we don't think about the glue. In weaving, there's a style -- often seen in rugs and tapestries -- called weft-faced weaving,, where the weft is so closely packed together that you can't see the warp threads at all. This would correspond to a life or creation so full of day-to-day processes and routines that the warp -- the underlying structure or ordering principles -- never gets thought about, and effectively becomes invisible.

We become aware of the warp in two circumstances; either when a warp thread breaks (when we lose one of our foundations) or when the weft thins out, becoming less densely packed and revealing the underlying structure.

In chaplaincy, it's axiomatic that people facing The Big Stuff -- disease, disability, death -- are usually engaged in some kind of theological reflection (even if they don't recognize it as such) and welcome company and guidance. The Big Stuff, losing your health or your mobility, or facing the end of your life, or watching a loved one die, can feel like the breaking of a warp thread. Everything's falling apart. A good chaplain (or any other friend or advisor) can try to help the person re-envision this: No, your warp threads are still there, but you have to work with different weft now.

That quintessential chaplain's question, "So how are you getting through this?" asks the person to examine and name warp threads: friends, family, faith, whatever. The warp is what keeps us going, what allows us to continue into the future, or to imagine a future at all.

Hospital patients also engage in theological reflection, though, because they're lying flat on their backs and, often, have so little else to do. Their daily routines are temporarily absent. They aren't going to work or school, doing housework or gardening, chatting (as much) with friends. In other words, their weft threads have thinned out to the point where they start asking, "Hey, so what're those other things under there?" For some people, illness is the first opportunity they've had or taken for this kind of exploration, for the examination of their lives' deep structure.

That's as far as I've gotten with the metaphor, and people who know more about weaving than I do can probably say more about how one repairs broken warp threads. But I do think this metaphor shows why weaving has always been such a powerful image.

Thoughts, anyone?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

O. M. G.

Facebook: The Non-Essential Information Superhighway.

On the one hand, I now get what this is about. As I said on Facebook itself, it's the internet version of crack cocaine. In less than twenty-four hours, I've accumulated more friends than I have followers here on the blog, and I've reconnected with three old friends I haven't spoken to in decades. I also found someone (whom I haven't friended yet) whose friend list includes basically my entire high school class, including the guy who used to molest girls in band class by trying to stick his drumstick between their legs. That's a completely literal description, and it happened multiple times each class period. We later heard he was doing prison time for rape. I guess he's out now. I hope he's acquired some new hobbies.

Also, I've had some interesting mini-conversations with people. Facebook is fun. New items from friends pop up almost literally every second; you could spend all day there.

That's also the problem.

As I also said on Facebook itself, being there is a bit like standing on a skateboard in the middle of a freeway during rush hour. Everything's moving so quickly that you can't possibly keep up. Whoosh friend #17 has posted a link to a political article and whoosh friend #32 has posted a link to a funny YouTube video, and by the time you watch the YouTube video and come back, seventeen more people have posted and someone's sent you a message and someone you've never heard of wants to be your friend and whoosh friend #47's agonizing over which shoes to wear today and whoosh look at this gorgeous photo friend #4 just took and by the time you're done "liking" that and posting a comment about it, twenty-three more people have posted and . . . .

There's no downtime in this medium. There's no space for reflection. And status updates are limited to 400-ish characters, so you couldn't indulge in narrative complexity even if you wanted to.

No wonder so many of my students have the attention spans of ritalin-deprived fruitflies.

I spent entirely too much time on Facebook yesterday, and need to be much more self-disciplined today. I keep telling myself that I've gotten along just fine, for years, without minute-by-minute updates of who just bought orange juice and who's about to leave for a trip to Yosemite and whose kid just hit a homer in a Little League game.

But I'm also feeling more connected to a lot of people, including my old SF community in New York, than I have in a long time. So there really is an upside.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Peer Pressure

I have finally, God help me, cracked and joined Facebook. I'm not sure what I'm going to do with the thing, but I got tired of being inundated with invitations, plus my sister and cousin are on it now, so it may be useful to stay in touch with them.

If you're on Facebook and would like to friend me, go ahead.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

My Very Own Zoo

Because our weather's been so nice, I've been spending hours every day sitting in the shade on our deck, writing and weaving and knitting. This is more deck time than I've done before, and it's made me very attuned to the wildlife in our yard.

We have finches and quail, of course, as always, and this time of year, we have quail chicks, who are very cute. We have doves. At one point we had quite a lot of pretty yellow butterflies, although I haven't seen any for a few days. We have rabbits: evidently there's a warren in one corner of our large and messy backyard, and last week I saw either three bunnies or one bunny three times. My gardener friends would consider this a catastrophe, but I don't garden and I love rabbits, and I'm happy that they love our messy yard.

On Sunday, a friend and former student -- a student from my very first semester at UNR, in fact -- stopped by with her little boy, who's fourteen months old and very cute. They were down for the weekend from Portland, where she and her husband live now, so I hadn't met the baby before. While the rest of us ate Gary's homemade scones and fruit salad, Will conducted experiments with gravity and grapes, and had a fine time.

At one point, his mother glanced up at the ugly power lines running along our yard and said, "Hey, look, a hawk." Sure enough, a red-tailed hawk was perched on the power pole, being harassed by a much smaller bird who did pendulum passes past the hawk.

"The hawk has a bunch of feathers in its mouth," said Pam, who has much better eyes than I do.

"I bet it ate a baby bird and the mother's trying to drive the hawk away from the nest," I said.

"Who knew that our backyard was a nature special?" said Gary.

Our yard is notably unlovely, dirt and weeds, although there are a few clumps of pretty flowering peavine. We're on a third of an acre, and a fair amount of that is a Sierra Pacific easement -- remember the power lines? -- so between the prohibitive cost of landscaping and the fact that the power company has the right to come in and tear up anything we put in, we've left it alone. The patches of weeds spread out every year, and I'm enjoying the process of watching the yard turn into a meadow. I suspect this is also why critters like our yard.

Before too long, though, most of the weeds will be gone. We're getting into fire season -- there have already been wildfires near here -- and every year when the weeds start to dry out, Gary tears them up to reduce the amount of flammable material and create a defensible zone around the house. (To our relief and pleasure, the current weeds don't seem to be cheatgrass, an invasive species that's extremely flammable, and that we battled for quite a few years.)

I'm grateful for Gary's hard work tearing up the weeds, but I'll miss our meadow, and I hope the bunnies will still like it here when the cover's gone.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Advancing the Warp, Part 1

So here's the scarf freed of the bottom notches in the cardboard, with ends tied off to compensate. As you can see, the scarf gets narrower further up -- I tried to prevent that, to no avail. It's a crooked little scarf, but it's my crooked little scarf, and I'll wear it happily when I finish it.

Advancing the Warp, Part 2

Here's the warp held (reasonably) taut by the chip clip. I use a thick wooden ruler to adjust tension when I need to. I gotta say, although this Rube Goldberg loom is working, working on it's a bit like trying to build a car with my teeth. After this project's done, I'm getting a real -- but inexpensive -- loom!

Friday, July 08, 2011

The Scarf So Far

It's a little rough around the edges, but I'm having great fun with it, and in general, I'm pleased.

I'm going to sign up for our art museum's two-day course in tapestry weaving, in September. That should help with edges!

Thursday, July 07, 2011

New Column

I have a new Bodily Blessings column up; this one's about my ambivalence about the musical culture of churches.

In less happy news, BLR rejected the sonnets -- sniff -- so I have to figure out where to send them next. I'm pretty clueless about poetry markets, so I have to do some research, but I probably won't get to it until I get back from Albuquerque.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Warp Thirty, Mr. Sulu

Here's the warped loom, finally (although, as you can see, I haven't gotten much actual weaving done yet). Today would have been Mom's 86th birthday, and in her honor, I decided to spend extra time on handicrafts today. As far as I know, weaving's one of the few she never tried, but I think she would have been fascinated.

The Engines Canna' Take Much More of This

Here's the back of the warped loom. Keeping all thirty warp threads sorted out was definitely a challenge, but it would have been worse if I'd used the clothespins! The cardboard roller works pretty well and is easily secured with binder clips.

I wouldn't want to do anything longer, though. (This warp's about seventy-two inches.)

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Well, Nertz

Tonight I took a cute video of Bali playing with a toy; I was going to post it, but the "add video" button doesn't seem to exist on the post editor anymore. I did a bit of research and discovered that I'd have to switch back to the old editor to post videos, but I'm not sure how to do that, so at the moment, you'll just have to imagine a fluffy black cat romping around chasing a small green pom-pom. It's adorable, honest.

Our Fourth was very quiet, which is how we like it. I'm not a big fan of explosions or Festivals of Drunken Driving (yeah, I know, some people are just no fun), so we stayed home and watched a few episodes of True Blood. I loved the first two seasons of this show, but two-thirds of the way through the third, I'm seriously annoyed with it.

For one thing, it's turned into one of those shows where hardly anyone isn't some sort of supernatural beastie. As I often tell my writing students, just sticking a label of "vampire," "werewolf" or "fairy" on someone doesn't automatically make that character interesting. One of my classroom mantras is, "If you can't write an interesting story about a mailman, you won't be able to write an interesting story about an elf, either." Having Sookie turn out to be a fairy who flits around in a white dress through a sparkling meadow with other fairies waving flowers -- talk about kitsch! -- makes her character less interesting, not more, at least for me. (I haven't read the novels on which the series is based, but I believe this is Charlaine Harris' doing, not Alan Ball's.)

And anyway -- as I'm also constantly reminding my students -- having too many vampires in town just doesn't work. Vampires are major predators. They need food. If their prey don't outnumber them by a fairly substantial order of magnitude, a lot of them are going to have to move on. In fact, I'm slightly suspect of highly organized vampire societies: seems to me much more likely, given the population biology of the situation, that they'd hunt on their own and spread themselves out very widely.

Then we have the infamous vampire-versus-werewolf feud, which has become such an old story that I yawn every time I see it. Then we have the really excessive amounts of gore, which has lost whatever shock value or interest it once had. Then we have the fact that every supernatural beastie on the planet seems to have settled in Bon Temps, and don't local law agencies suspect anything? Buffy at least explained this with the Hellmouth trope, and even had characters fantasizing about moving to non-Hellmouth locations (and, in some cases, actually doing it, as when Buffy moves away from Sunnydale at the end of Season Two).

To be fair, Being Human has a lot of these same problems too, but I think that series acknowledges them more honestly (and I find the characters more interesting). Right now, the True Blood characters I'm most interested in are Tara and Lafayette, who are still human (as far as I know) and dealing with interesting conflicts. The Tara/Franklin subplot this season was worth the price of admission, even if it was just a tiny bit reminiscent of Spike and the Buffybot. The most appealing supernatural at the moment is Jessica, who's trying to figure out how to get along with a human, fang-phobic coworker, instead of getting caught up in succession struggles and internecine bickering and Ye Old Nazi Werewolf Conspiracy Plots.

Nazi werewolves? Please! Has anyone else noticed that writers who don't know what else to do invoke the Third Reich? This really bothers me. For one thing, it's lazy writing. For another, it ultimately trivializes the subject, which I -- for one -- find problematic.

Okay, I'm done venting now. I still think Alan Ball is a genius, but at this point, I'm basing that on American Beauty and Six Feet Under, not on True Blood.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Yarn on the Hoof

Driving to church today -- a route that takes me through a flat, ugly part of town, with lots of dismal strip malls -- I happened to glance to my left and saw, standing at a fence . . . two llamas! I goggled at them for a minute, thinking maybe they were huge, misshapen dogs, but quickly realized my error. I think maybe they'd been sheared recently; one reason they looked so weird is that large swathes of hair were missing.

I wonder if somebody around here is making llama yarn. Although, given the recent heat, they might have needed a shave to cool off, poor things. Anyway, they were grazing in a nice little enclosed meadow which, when I scrutinized the area as closely as I could on my drive-by, included some barn-looking outbuildings. I've never noticed this before. A lot of Reno used to be farm or ranchland, and there are still pockets of grazing land where you least expect them: a herd of cows munching away next to a bottling plant or self-storage place, say.

On my way back from church, I drove by the meadow again to see if I could get a photo of the llamas (llami?), but I didn't see them. I'll keep looking.

I turned the heel on my mother-in-law's first sock today. I'm afraid I may have made it a smidgen too long, and the thing looks huge anyway because it's made from relatively inelastic yarn, but I've learned that socks that look too big often fit fine. I hope to have them finished and mailed off to her by the time I leave for Albuquerque in twelve days.

The socks have created a delay in the scarf-weaving project. However, last night I had an epiphany and realized that instead of using thirty different bobbins for the warp (talk about a headache!), I can use a smaller notched piece of cardboard as a roller for all thirty warp threads at once. If that works, it will greatly simplify things. The moderator of the small-looms group on Ravelry thinks it should work, so that's heartening.

I'm still toiling away on the book, of course. For some reason, my left hip's been killing me for the last two days -- usually my right one's the culprit -- and I think that too much sitting time may be part of the problem, so I'm trying to get up and move around (limping like Quasimodo) at least every half hour. Swimming and using the elliptical has helped somewhat. I've also temporarily traded in my backpack for an extremely tiny pouch purse to lighten my load. I have to lug a fairly heavy backpack around when I go to Albuquerque (which I'm determined to do without checking, and paying for, luggage), so I want all the muscles rested and healed before then. I'll also have a rolling bag, of course, but I can't fit everything in there, and the backpack's the next best thing, as long as I'm walking okay.

Ah, aging. Remember when you bounded out of bed in the morning with no thought as to whether your joints would behave themselves? I'm infinitely happier now than I was in my twenties, but I could still do without the achy-creakies.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Back to Knitting

Two years ago, I think, when I was completely infatuated with knitting socks, I distributed sock questionnaires to everyone I know. Yesterday, my mother-in-law's completed questionnaire arrived in the mail. She'd just found it on her desk. Luckily, I already had some sock yarn of exactly the weight, type and color she wanted (orange cotton, sport weight), so that worked out very well. I started her first sock this morning.

I'm continuing to research weaving; today I was tempted to buy a small, inexpensive loom, but then my clips and clothespins arrived and I decided to go back to Plan A for the scarf, mostly because I'm curious about whether it will actually work. I'm not going to start with the Sedona scarf, though. I'll do at least one other first, and will tackle the red rock scarf when I feel like I have at least a clue about what I'm doing.

The hospital was very slow today, but after last Friday, that was relaxing. I came home, took a long nap, and then wrote a bit. Now Gary and I are going to watch some television on DVD (True Blood, one of our favorites), and I may have a smidgen of my Kahlua.

Oh, speaking of over-the-top genre narrative, last week we saw Super 8 and thoroughly enjoyed it, although the image of a truck causing a train derailment was a bit too close to recent events here in Nevada. We highly recommend the movie, however: it has a solid story and believable, interesting characters, something of a rarity in these days of yowsa special effects. (It has those, too, but they're secondary to the story and characters.) I'm always grateful and relieved to see any film that doesn't make me leave the theater shaking, or scratching, my head and asking, "Why did anyone decide to spend the GNP of a small country on that?"