Thursday, June 30, 2011

Today's Effort

A little crooked, but it was fun to make. As Gary said, "Hey, you're only using a cardboard loom."

Today I started planning an insanely ambitious scarf, which is probably beyond the reach both of a cardboard loom and of my beginning weaving skills. Everything I've read says that to make a scarf on a cardboard loom, either the cardboard needs to be as long as the scarf, or you need to make the scarf in loom-sized sections and sew them together. Seems to me that if you have your warp on bobbins, and have a way to clamp the finished cloth to the bottom of the loom as the project advances, you should be able to weave a scarf in one piece on a workably-sized loom.

So today I ordered clothespins to use as bobbins and some kitchen clips -- the kind designed for bags of potato chips -- to use as clamps. Since we're talking about thirty bobbins, rewarping the thing whenever I need to weave a new section is going to be a hefty piece o' work. But looms with fancy rollers and whatnot cost approximately my annual salary (okay, that's a slight exaggeration), and I think cardboard and tapestry looms are better for freeform weaving, anyway.

So, the scarf: Longtime readers will recall that last July, my sister and Gary and I drove through Arizona's red rock country on our way from my cousin's funeral in Flagstaff back to our hotel in Phoenix, where he and his wife lived. We stopped in Sedona, where I bought some gorgeous orange laceweight yarn that reminded me of the color of the sandstone formations. I've since tried to knit with the stuff, but it's just too fine, and keeps defeating me.

But if I weave with it, especially in conjunction with other, thicker reddish-orange yarns, I think the results could be really pretty, and might even look something like the layers in the rock formations.

Or, I could just make a giant mess of expensive yarn. It's a toss up. But what's life without risk?

Tomorrow's the formal beginning of my sabbatical, and also the first day of my state-mandated paycut, and also the first day of our new, drastically unimproved health-insurance package, with its huge deductible.

I gotta say, I've been in better moods (although I'd feel infinitely worse without the sabbatical).

And on that note, back to work on the book.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Diagonal Lines

Today's challenge was to weave cloth with diagonal lines, otherwise known as twill. The white portions of the cloth here came out nicely, I think, although the fabric isn't reversible. The twill pattern I used with the brown yarn is reversible, but the yarn keeps it from being very visible (even when, as in this case, I kept the weft yarn farther apart than I normally would). For any stitch I want to show, I need to use very plain, non-fuzzy yarn. In this group, that means the white: the brown and orange both do best with simple tabby stitch (one over/one under).

This morning I tried a piece alternating groups of white and brown warp threads, as per mbj's suggestion, but I was also attempting twill and did it completely wrong, so alternate warp threads on the reverse side wound up completely outside the weft. This looked like the macrame project from hell, so I didn't take a photo of it. I did bring it to tonight's church knitting group; the only other person who showed up said she liked it, so I gave it to her.

The knitting group's going to be very slow through the summer, I think, but I'll just hang in there and hope it eventually catches on.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


It would look better if I'd left longer fringe, but now I know that, and it will be a perfectly respectable coaster.

Tomorrow I'll start experimenting with patterns that show the warp.

Such fun!

Monday, June 27, 2011

A Little Woven Thing

Last night we finished watching the second season of PBS' Craft in America, which regularly makes me cry because everything the artists are making is so beautiful. One of the artists they featured was a weaver, and I became intrigued, so last night I read an article about how to weave on a homemade cardboard loom, and this morning I made one and produced the above object, a 2.5"x4.5" bit o' fabric (rug for a mouse?) which won't make anyone cry except in pain: but hey, it's my first effort, and considering that I have no idea what I'm doing yet, I think it could have turned out much worse. It's no object of beauty, although I had fun playing with the different colored yards, but it's an honest-to-goodness piece of dense, solid, tough fabric.

Anyway, making it was fun, and I think I'm going to try to produce more objects (coasters? placemats? maybe even scarves?), because among other things, it's a nice break from knitting -- I love knitting, but other ways to play with yarn are nice too -- and it will help use up scrap yarn. I realize that everybody else in the world went through their cardboard-loom phase in elementary school, but I seem to have missed that class.

Obviously I don't already have enough hobbies.

Equally obviously, I have a lot to learn, like what to do with the warp threads. Oh, mbj, turns out that scratchy wool I bought at the art store makes a pretty decent warp, and I bet the yarn there's for weavers.

Our local art museum school is offering a weaving class in September. If I'm still interested then, I may sign up for it.

Oh! And speaking of yarn, there's going to be a knitting panel at Worldcon! And I'm on it! What fun!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Random Updates

Our local paper's been updating Amtrak crash news several times a day. The death toll's now at least six, with five passengers still unaccounted for.

The conductor who died was a 68-year old woman named Laurette Lee who lived in South Lake Tahoe. She sounds like a genuine character. You can read moving tributes to her here and here.

The truck driver's name hasn't been released yet, but that part of the story keeps getting stranger. He was leading a three-truck convoy: the other two saw the train and expected him to stop, but he didn't. He tried to brake, though, because there were major skid marks. So the "unconscious at the wheel" theory is out, and I guess we're back to the distraction theory, although everyone said the train was very visible. You can see a long way in the desert.

I don't think I'd be following this so closely if I hadn't met one of the people on the train, but now I feel connected to the story. I hope the guy I talked to is okay, and I really hope the person he carried to safety is okay.

In writing news, I've been churning out 1,800 words a day (a bit over six pages) for almost three weeks now. That's a lot, at least for me, but I have to maintain this pace if I'm going to have a complete draft by August. No one's holding a gun to my head -- my editor's very understanding and patient -- but I want the blasted manuscript off my desk and on someone else's, and I know I'll have to do at least one rewrite after I finish the draft.

At church today, I got a key for the next knitting night this Wednesday. One of the people who was there last week can't make it for the next two weeks, though, so I hope other people show up!

No Kahlua yet. Last night I felt like tea instead. Tonight my back's bothering me -- I worked out for an hour both yesterday and today, and may have overdone it -- and I took a Relafen, which I don't want to mix with alcohol. But the Kahlua will keep.

My pretty twin-leaf lace scarf is done. Time to go block it!

Saturday, June 25, 2011


Because there's so much alcoholism in my family (and it's so genetic), I drink very, very little. For years, my only alcohol consumption was a sip of communion wine every Sunday. I never drink when we're out and about here in Reno, since Gary can't see quite well enough to get a driver's license, which means that I'm always the designated driver.

I like the taste of some drinks, especially cordials, but hate feeling drunk. Since I have absolutely no tolerance for alcohol -- a very good thing, if one has a genetic predisposition to alcoholism on top of a depression history -- my limit is something like two teaspoonfuls.

Over two hours.

On a full stomach.

On our Spring Break cruise, though, I didn't have to drive, so a couple of evenings I got an after-dinner drink while we listened to the string quartet. I had an Amaretto, which was yummy, and a few nights later I had a Kahlua, which was even yummier. Since they give you a bit more than two teaspoonfuls, I learned that I had to space these treats out over the entire evening, which was fine. I also learned, after a second Kahlua the evening after the first, that if I drank two nights in a row -- even slowly and on a full stomach -- my sleep would be disrupted. This is a well-known effect of alcohol, of course, but twice I awoke to hypnopompic hallucinations. In one case, I thought I saw Gary, lying face down, floating above me: I screamed, but when I turned I saw him sleeping soundly beside me in bed, and then the hallucination dissolved. The second time it happened, I saw a disembodied head floating above me.


When I got home, I did enough research to learn that hallucinations upon falling asleep (hypnogogic) and waking up (hypnopompic) are fairly common and considered normal, although alcohol can exacerbate them. They often involve floating figures. I'll bet this is where stories about succubi come from; maybe vampires, too.

Anyway, these episodes were definitely enough to make me space out my after-dinner cordials! When we got home, I occasionally (as in once a week, max, but usually more like once every two weeks) had a tiny amount of a chocolate dessert wine a friend gave us for Christmas. No more creepy floating figures, so I must have gotten the interval right. I just finished the bottle last week, and Gary said, "You should get some Kahlua."

"Eh," I said, shrugging.

But today we were at the supermarket, and Gary got some wine for himself, and I went to browse the cordials section. "Are you going to get some Kahlua?" he asked.

"I think not," I said, goggling at the price.

"It's a premium liqueur," he said, picking up the smallest bottle, "and this will last you for a year."

The smallest bottle was under fifteen bucks, so I shrugged again, and we got it. I may even have a little tonight.

But if I start dancing on tabletops while wearing lampshades (a maneuver I'd consider highly dangerous even without distilled spirits, given how clumsy I am), anyone who cares about me is authorized to haul me into the Betty Ford Center.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Train

I was at the hospital today when "Code Triage Standby" came over the loudspeaker. This means, more or less, "get ready for a possible mass casualty." No one knew what had happened, but I checked the news on my BlackBerry and saw this story, which many of you have probably already heard about. Our local ambulance company gave the accident their highest emergency rating, and we heard that 150 people had been injured; although we knew the worst injuries wouldn't come to our hospital, we still expected a fair number.

As it turned out, the Code Triage Standby was cancelled, and we wound up getting only one patient. The most severely injured were airlifted to trauma centers; the most minimally injured were treated at the scene, which is about an hour from us. The paramedics who brought in our one patient told us he was the last person to be transported.

He had very minor physical injuries too, even though he was only one car away from the collision, but he was very shaken up. He'd felt the heat and smelled the smoke from the fire, and he helped carry another passenger -- someone much more severely injured, who wound up being airlifted -- away from the burning train. That person's blood was on his clothing; he repeatedly described the injuries. When he asked me for prayer, he wanted to pray for the other passenger.

He cried while we prayed. So did I. I told him to be sure to ask for help coping with this when he gets home. He has to take another train to get there; he was worried about getting back to the Amtrak station, whether they'd honor his ticket.

I'd never want to get on a train again (and it's not like Amtrak ever runs on time even without a huge honking disruption). I kind of hope Amtrak puts him on a bus, or, better yet, buys him a plane ticket. The accident wasn't their fault, but still.

The accident's really weird. How the heck do you run into the fourth car of a train? How do you not see the train? As Gary pointed out, most drivers of smaller vehicles who get hit by trains do so when they're racing across the tracks when the train's coming and don't make it in time, but in that case, they're hit by the front of the train.

The truck driver's dead, so I guess we'll never know, unless an autopsy turns up interesting toxicology. Gary said, "What do you want to bet he was on his cell phone?" but I dunno. Even if you're on the phone, how do you not see a train? It just doesn't make sense.

I've now, as of today's shift, volunteered 1,000 hours in the ER. I wish that milestone had been marked much, much less dramatically.

Thursday, June 23, 2011


The Audible book I'm listening to right now is Eric Metaxas' biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It's fascinating stuff. Among other things, two of the plots to assassinate Hitler failed only because of unforeseen flukes: in one case, a bomb planted in Hitler's private airplane didn't go off because of low temperatures in the cargo hold, and in another, a bomb planted in a conference room did go off, but didn't kill Hitler because of the unusual construction of the conference table. One has to wonder how history would have unfolded differently if the little man in the mustache had died earlier than he did.

For me, the most moving part of the book so far has been Metaxas' account of Bonhoeffer's brief trip to the United States in 1939. Friends on both sides of the Atlantic had gone to a great deal of effort to arrange a position for him at Union Theological Seminary in New York, so he'd be safely away from the Gestapo. But although he'd lived in New York before, he was desperately homesick and torn about being away from the struggle in Germany. To the astonishment of the people who'd worked so hard to assure his safety, he sailed back to Germany on July 7, 1939, after less than a month on American soil.

July 7, 1939 was the day after my mother's fourteenth birthday. In April of 1938, her mother died in a car crash that also put her father in the hospital for six months, and my mother and uncle went to live with relatives on Long Island. I don't know if, by July of the following year, they were still there, or had returned to live with their father and grandmother in northern New Jersey. Either way, they were living within fifty miles of Bonhoeffer as he struggled with his decision.

My mother knew nothing about Bonhoeffer, of course, and was caught up in her own struggles: adjusting to life without her mother, navigating adolescence, getting ready to start high school. But Metaxes, at about this point in the book, mentions that anti-Semitism was becoming more severe in places outside Germany, including the United States, and that made me remember a conversation I had with my aunt -- Mom's brother's wife -- after my grandfather died in 1987.

My grandfather's last name (and thus my mother's maiden name), was Rozen. To the best of my knowledge, no one in the family was Jewish, but when my grandfather died, the hospital sent his body to a Jewish funeral home, perhaps because the name sounds Jewish and there were a lot of Jewish people in the area. Since no one in our family at that point was religious one way or the other, I wouldn't have thought it would have mattered.

My mother, though, had a meltdown. She couldn't stand the idea of her father's remains going to a Jewish funeral home. She was very, very upset, almost hysterical, and I was completely mystified. Mom thought all religion was hogwash and didn't understand why anyone would be involved in it at all, but I'd never heard her say anything intolerant about any particular faith. What was this about?

My aunt took me aside. "Susan, you have to understand that when we were all in high school together, people thought your mother was Jewish because of her last name. There was a lot of anti-Jewish feeling then. It was very hard on her. Later, she couldn't wait to marry your father so she could get rid of her maiden name."

I'd never known about this. My mother had never talked about it, and I still don't know what happened. Name-calling? Exclusion from clubs and social circles? I'll never know, now, but whatever it was, it was traumatic enough to send Mom into a tailspin more than forty years later. And I'm guessing that whatever it was, not being able to talk to her own mother about it probably made it worse.

I'm fascinated by the intersections between private and public history: in this case, how the daily life of a little girl growing up in New Jersey indirectly reflected the issues that led to the very political death of a world-famous theologian in Germany. I also love to think about how individual histories merge into shared history. That's not well-put, so let me give you an example. Gary was born in 1951; I was born in 1960. The day I was born, he was nine years old. Where was he that day? What was he doing? He certainly had no idea that his future wife had just been born. Our two lives ran on very different tracks until November 11, 1989, the day we met and began our shared, joint history. On that same day the year before, what was each of us doing? If you could draw a map or a diagram of our lives over time, what would the map look like before those two points converged?

My old parish had a retreat once where people talked about their histories before they joined the church. Everyone had lived all over the place, doing all kinds of things, before they wound up at St. Stephen's. We drew the journeys on a map. The diagram of how everyone arrived at this one community in Reno was much more complicated than the one for me and Gary, a veritable galaxy of converging lines.

Thinking about all this fills me with a kind of wonder. How many people are alive now who'll be central to my life at some point in the future, but whom I don't even know yet? What are the unseen forces that draw lives together, or deflect people from one another in ways they'll never even know? How do these seemingly random and individual interactions shape larger, public history?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Church Knitting Group

After trying, without success, to find a night when more than two or three people were available, I finally just decided to have the first meeting tonight. My only firm RSVP was from our Senior Warden, and I knew she'd have a key to the church, so I didn't worry about whether I needed one too.

In retrospect, that was a mistake. She was late, and the church was locked tight, except for one door in the back -- the entrance to a women's AA meeting, it turned out -- which I never would have found if a kind AA member hadn't led me there. So I managed to get into the building and unlocked the front door, and then the Senior Warden showed up. Classic!

There were only three of us. I'd brought extra yarn and needles and various books, including Knitting for Peace, which I bought today just for this purpose. Two of us had brought food, so we served ourselves and started eating, and then it occurred to me to offer a prayer, which the others seemed to appreciate.

I asked if they were interested in charity knitting, or knitting as spiritual practice, or both, or something else; the Senior Warden said cheerfully, "Oh, it's summer. Let's just knit."

So we knitted. Actually, I knitted, and the Senior Warden went back and forth between knitting and crocheting, trying to find a pattern she liked, and our third member read a crochet book and finally crocheted a little bit, and we chatted about nothing in particular -- although there was a long string of cat stories (the Senior Warden was sad because a beloved elderly cat had to be euthanized last week) -- and all in all, it was mellow and pleasant.

We're going to do it again next week. I hope more people come. And I hope to have a key by then. If we keep meeting regularly, a direction will emerge. Or not. Whatever happens, I'll know some people at church better.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Another Renoversary

Gary has been here in Reno fourteen years today. Happy anniversary, Gar! And happy summer, everyone else!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Go, Little Book

As of this morning, the ED Sonnets are on submission at the Bellevue Literary Press. This is a stratospherically prestigious market -- the Knopf of medical humanities -- and the sonnet sequence is an odd, and oddly shaped, little project, so I expect this submission to be the first of many. But, as I always tell my writing students when we talk about sending out manuscripts, start at the top.

Gary thinks very highly of the sequence, and he's invariably a better judge of how my work will strike readers than I am, so that bodes well. (And no, he doesn't automatically praise my stuff just because he's my husband. I've learned over the years that if he says a given piece of writing doesn't work, none of the editors I send it to will think it works, either. This is both slightly galling and really useful.)

BLP says their response time is four to six weeks, which is both unusually fast and a small enough window that it will be difficult for me not to obsess the entire time. But it's not like I don't have other things to keep me busy, so I'm going to try not to think about it.

And on that note, back to work on the novel.

Saturday, June 18, 2011


Today my uncle in northern New Jersey -- my mother's brother, Ken's father -- had a family reunion at his house, with his kids and their kids and my sister and her husband and son. The occasion for this was that one of my cousins, who currently lives in Singapore, is back on this side of the pond with his family for a couple of weeks. Gary and I were invited, but couldn't be there, obviously.

I was sad. I missed everybody.

Tomorrow, of course, is Father's Day. Since neither Gary nor I have our fathers anymore, I've found the nonstop reminders of this occasion even more irritating than usual. When Dad was alive, Father's Day was often a bit of a challenge, since it was difficult to find cards that accurately reflected our relationship. I finally started writing my own notes in blank cards. Now that he's dead, the holiday just makes me wish I were still having trouble with cards. (Some people are never happy.)

Today I taught three Tolkien classes for the annual conference of a local foundation that offers services to gifted-and-talented kids. It was fun, but also very tiring. The last class I taught was to a group of over twenty extremely bright, energetic and distractible five-to-nine year olds: charming children individually, but more than a little daunting in a group, especially since elementary ed isn't my field. Let's just say that it wasn't one of my more stellar moments in the classroom.

The kids come from all over the country, and of course their parents are here with them (although parents don't attend classes), so I saw and overheard a lot of parent-child interactions. I was especially aware of the fathers. The ones I saw were loving and concerned and listened attentively as their children happily told them about gene-splicing or forensic science or whatever the topic of the most recent presentation had been. I hope those kids will one day look back on this weekend and treasure these conversations.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Getting There

I'm now just past the 20,000-word mark on the manuscript, which means -- if all goes well -- that the new draft's roughly one-fifth done.

What I have so far is pretty uneven, but I still like it better than the old version.

After this chapter, I'll have to produce much more entirely new material, and won't be able to recycle as much from the old draft. So I'll probably be slowing down. But as long as I keep getting something done each day, I'll be happy.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Headless Susan and the Button Scarf of Doom

Here's another one: much longer than the first, as you can see. I knit this from mystery wool. My local art-supply place sells unlabeled yarn in varying quantities, and I got about a bajillion yards of this stuff for $7 (after knitting the scarf, I still have at least a third of the yarn left).

I think the zig-zag pattern's fun. Finding matching buttons was surprisingly hard, since most of the tans I found were grayer than I needed. Also, since it's cheap, scratchy yarn, I didn't want to get really fancy buttons. But these match nicely and weren't expensive at all, even if they're a bit monochrome.

Since it's cheap, scratchy yarn, I'm keeping the scarf, which will also have to be worn with a turtleneck so as not to chafe my neck to bits. But it will be a nice warm thing for winter (modelling it was a bit much this evening; we got into the low nineties here today, and although the desert cools off when the sun goes down, it's still not turtleneck-with-a-wool-scarf weather).

I may very well use this same pattern, in a shorter length and in much nicer yarn, for some Christmas or birthday gifts. It knits up quickly, and my loved ones who appreciate funky stuff would like it, I think.

Mr. Eyes

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Another New Scarf

This is Barbara Walker's Twin Leaf Lace, from the first treasury, worked up in a lilac sock yarn with a seed-stitch border. It won't be a button scarf, since it will most likely be a gift for someone with arthritic hands. Pretty pattern, eh? I love the three-dimensionality of it.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Deja Vu

At the hospital today, I saw a patient who looked so much like my father -- same bushy eyebrows, same eyes, same hair -- that I almost started crying in the room (and did cry after I left: I hid in a back storeroom for a few minutes and sniffled). These days, I'm pretty good at comforting myself by remembering that I carry my parents inside me, but the shock of seeing those familiar features made me realize, quite painfully for a few minutes, how much I miss having them walking around in the world.

The department was exceptionally busy today. In two hours, I offered chaplaincy services to seventy-four people, and that was just patients, friends and relatives within the ED proper (lots of large family groups today, which always drives up the census). I visited the internal waiting room, but never even got out to the main waiting room. This meant that I didn't have much time to be sad, which was probably good.

A later visit, though, pushed the same buttons: a young woman sitting at her elderly father's bedside, weeping in worry and exhaustion. I gave her a hug and told her that I know how hard it is to be in that position. She seemed to appreciate the empathy.

Do I really want to be sitting next to my father's hospital bed again? Well, no. But I miss walking into any old room and finding him there, eyes twinkling.

Another volunteer chaplain's working from five to nine tonight. If his evening's anything like my afternoon, he'll have a very busy shift!

Bits and Pieces

In no particular order:

* I've been making small but steady daily progress on the new draft.

* We had a lovely dinner tonight with a friend of mine from the hospital, an RN, and her husband. They have comp credits at one of the local casinos and treated us to a splendid meal at a fancy steakhouse there. Yum! It was really fun, and we hope to reciprocate by having them over here for dinner soon.

* On the way home, we stopped at Home Depot so Gary could buy various home-improvement items. While I waited for him, I started wondering if any hardware could be converted to knitting use. And, indeed, it turns out that o-rings used for plumbing repair are perfect stitch markers (although I'm not sure they're much less expensive than the stitch markers sold by knitting suppliers, which are already very reasonable).

* I'm in the process of trimming monthly expenditures, since this is my last month on full salary (next month is paycut plus the furlough that's being applied each of the next two years, plus sabbatical reduction). I reduced my Audible subscription from two credits to one each month; I'd been planning to cancel it entirely, but Gary said I should keep it. Then I started cancelling, or asking how to cancel -- since not all organizations make it easy -- my four small monthly donations to Modest Needs, the Humane Society, Doctors Without Borders and First Book. Modest Needs allows you to cancel a pledge from the website; I sent the others e-mail explaining that I'll reinstate my pledge when I come off sabbatical, and will also make occasional one-time donations during the sabbatical year as I'm able, but that I need to cancel the automatic pledge for the next twelve months. (I'll still be doing my ten percent tithe on discretionary purchases, so that's where one-time donations will come from.) This is prudent and fiscally responsible, but made me feel so wretched that I decided I really need to cancel the Audible subscription entirely too, as long as Audible can assure me that my wish list, and the books I've already purchased, will remain accessible. I've been stocking up on audiobooks in preparation for sabbatical, so it's really a purely symbolic sacrifice.

I'm not a big fan of "I can't have fun if anyone else is unhappy" thinking -- see recent yarn purchases, for instance -- but I decided I just wasn't comfortable buying audiobooks every month if I wasn't also, you know, helping starving cats and buying mosquito netting for field hospitals.

Note: In some quarters it's considered very tacky to talk about money, and especially to admit to charitable donations (that whole "when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret" Ash Wednesday thing). However, I've come to the conclusion that our society would be a lot healthier if more people were comfortable discussing finances, and I think an open discussion of how and where and why we give -- or don't -- is part of that. And I certainly talk openly about how much I shop, so this is just balance, yes?

Friday, June 10, 2011



Here's the haul. Between the fifty percent discount and the gift certificate from my sister, I got all this stuff for just under $150. That includes a lovely book of lace-shawl patterns, fifteen skeins of yarn (including some alpaca), two circular needles (including an ebony pair), and two sets of buttons, one handblown glass and one bone.

My yarn vault is very full and very happy.

The owner of the shop is closing just because she's tired and wants to do other things, but she'll still be active in local knitting groups. And she isn't closing until all her stock's gone, so she'll probably be there for a while yet.

Thursday, June 09, 2011


Today I went to see the new doctor, who's also a medical acupuncturist. (He told me that in fact, the insurance companies are pulling him off primary-care panels and listing him as a specialist, which means that I should list his nurse-practitioner as my primary-care person.) I like him a lot. He took notes and checked my records on a laptop, but made plenty of eye contact. When I told him why I wanted acupuncture -- for sinus and gastric issues, two of the conditions for which the World Health Organization recommends acupuncture -- he promptly asked for the history on both. When he found out that I'm not taking an acid blocker because I'm nervous about osteoporosis, he said, "The risk of not taking the pills is greater than the risk of taking them," and then he told me that not all of them interfere with calcium absorbtion at the same level. He said that Zantac is pretty benign that way, especially if I also take both calcium and Vitamin D -- which I already do -- so I'm back on that as of this evening.

After he took my medical history, he asked me what I do for a living, and then what I do for fun. As he was positioning the needles for the acupuncture, he said, "So, do you feel as if you've been able to do what you've wanted with your life?"

Nobody's ever asked me that broad a question: not psychologists, let alone any kind of internist. I was very impressed. This guy seems to have a firm grasp on both Western and Eastern medicine, is comfortable using both, and also pays attention to the Whole Person. My only quibble is that his voice is so soft that I often can't hear him, but I'll just have to ask him to speak up. (He works out of a medical spa, which has a very cushy waiting room with aromatherapy and soothing music and deep, fluffy chairs: it feels like the lobby of a high-end hotel. That's different from my usual experience, too, as was the fact that he came out to get me himself and conducted the entire visit without a nurse.)

The acupuncture was fine. He's very deft at needle insertion and was very solicitous about whether I was comfortable, putting a pillow under my knees and covering my feet with a blanket because they were a bit chilly. I'm going back for another acupuncture session in three weeks. I don't notice any effects from it yet, but I think it takes a while.

So that went well, I think. I also found the office much more easily on this second visit!

On a less happy note, this evening I facilitated a Literature & Medicine session at the VA and learned from some fellow knitters there that my favorite yarn shop is closing. This is really terrible news, and I hadn't even known about it. Evidently everything's half price, so I'm going to go over there tomorrow morning and load up on whatever's left (I still have part of a gift certificate my sister gave me for my birthday, but I'm sure I'll go over that).


Fourteen years ago today, I arrived in Reno (several weeks ahead of Gary, who was still back East finishing up his own job and supervising movers).

What a long, strange trip it's been!

Wednesday, June 08, 2011


I now have about twenty-five pages of the new draft, incorporating both old and brand-new material. I'm already much happier with it.

If I write five pages a day, I should have another complete draft by the beginning of August. This is of course wildly optimistic. On the other hand, I managed to get my five pages written today even though I also swam for forty minutes, went to a half-hour training for hospital staff and volunteers, attended a two-hour meeting of volunteer chaplains, and stopped by the store for some groceries.

I have big-chunk-of-time commitments through the end of next week; after that, I hope things will get a bit less hectic.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Caring for the Caregiver

My latest column is up at the Church Health Reader. I think I've neglected to post links to the columns for the last few months, but you can access all of 'em via the sidebar.

Another column, Give Her Something to Eat, has been picked up by a company that publishes lectionary resources in Canada. I believe they're even going to pay me for the reprint rights. Woo-hoo!

(Note to self: Don't give up your day job.)

Monday, June 06, 2011

Plan Z

As previously reported, I've now revised and rewritten portions of my three-hundred-page manuscript several times. Last night, settling down to the latest onslaught, I entered a bunch of revisions and then descended into a funk. The book had too many characters, and their stories were too complicated -- not to mention preposterous -- and the whole thing was emotionally inauthentic, and I hated it. Too much happened. Not enough of it mattered.

This sounds exactly like feedback I've given various of my writing students, so I gave myself the same advice I give them: Simplify. Focus less on plot mechanics and more on emotion. Figure out why this story should matter to the reader.

That's never easy advice to hear, of course. I gnashed my teeth, cried for a while, fumed, paced, and sat down to try to find the emotional core of the book.

When I was in college, I wrote a long paper on one of my favorite poems, William Butler Yeats' The Circus Animals' Desertion. It begins, "I sought a theme and sought for it in vain,/I sought it daily for six weeks or so" -- a sentiment to which any writer can relate -- and ends with the lines, "I must lie down where all the ladders start/In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart." Last night, I tried to descend into the rag and bone shop.

Well, I got someplace, and it's a destination I couldn't have reached without the latest round of revisions (which is some comfort, since it means all that work wasn't wasted). Near the end of the current draft, a newly introduced character has one scene lasting a page or two. Turns out she's a main character. Turns out she's essential to the core of the book. Turns out the story's largely about her and her relationship with somebody who's been a main character since Day One.

Most writers can relate to that, too. Minor characters, once you start paying attention to them, have a way of saying, "Hey, this story's about me." We ignore our minor characters to our peril.

So this is good news, more or less (especially since the book is now unambiguously mainstream, which is what Tor asked for in the first place; I've finally weeded out the remaining spec-fic elements). The problem is that it means I have to rewrite the book from scratch, and that at least eighty-five percent of the three hundred pages will wind up in the trash. I'm still hoping to be done by WorldCon, but that's very ambitious, at this point.

I called my agent and said, "Well, I finally figured out what the book's about."

When she stopped laughing -- I started this project two years ago this month -- she said, "That's good, Susan." She told me I'll be fine: my publisher won't fire me, and she'd talk to my editor to explain the situation. Shortly thereafter, she e-mailed to say that she'd reached him and he's fine with it, too. (Thank God!) Meanwhile, I'd e-mailed him to ask him to call me so I can talk about the new shape and focus of the book. That hasn't happened yet; I'll feel better when it has.

Today I started the new first chapter. So far, it's using a lot of preexisting material, but tomorrow, I have to start in on the new stuff.

This is why I'm not more prolific. Too many of my projects follow very circuitous years-long paths like this. It's bad enough with short stories; novels are sheer torture.

I'll be so glad when this book's done!

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Parish Reunion

The Pyramid Lake Indian Reservation, an hour or so north of here, boasts not one but two tiny Episcopal churches. The one closer to the lake is where I had my very unexpected first communion, before I'd actually been baptized, back in 2000.

The first communion happened when I went to hear my friend Eric preach. He's a priest whose first church job was working in Navajoland, and who's now working there again for part of each month. (Between those two gigs, he worked for the Diocese of Nevada for several decades.) Talking about his first Navajoland job, he told me once, "Yeah, all my liberal friends were aghast that I was riding off to convert the Indians. But actually, I was the new convert; the Navajo I worked with were fifth-generation Episcopalians who were indignant that we were no longer using the 1926 Prayer Book."

Eric regularly preaches at the second small church on the reservation, which has become home to a splinter group from my old parish. Last week, button shopping, I ran into a former St. Stephen's-ite who'd seen Eric at a church function and said he'd asked after me. I shot him an e-mail; he wrote back and asked if I was still preaching, and I said I was.

Turns out that the little church at the lake would like to host a St. Stephen's reunion to thank the St. Stephen's splinter group for all their help. Eric asked me if I'd be available to preach, and I said I'd be honored. One of the priests from St. Stephen's will be celebrating. (When I started attending St. Stephen's, we had three parish priests, but only one's still in the area, so it's good he can make it!)

I'm very happy that Eric asked me, and I'm looking forward to it.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Button Scarf

Here's the new button scarf. Turns out it's long enough to work as a short scarf without buttons, but I think the buttons add visual interest, and they're fun to play with. I couldn't get my webcam to include my face in this photo, but it's probably the best shot of the scarf itself.

I'm experimenting with different ways of buttoning the scarf. The advantage of the lace pattern is that almost any point on the scarf can serve as a buttonhole.

The first time I sewed on the buttons, the edges of the button end tended to stick out in unsightly ways. And then the buttons started coming loose, because it turned out I'd never learned how to sew a button on properly.

So today I read an internet tutorial on the proper way to sew a button, and now I think they're much more secure. I ran out of the yarn I used to knit the scarf -- although the tutorial said one should use thread, anyway -- and I didn't have thread in the right colors, but I had some old embroidery wool of my mother's that matched.

I used a different color wool for each button. If I decide that's too goofy, I'll redo them again, but right now I like the effect.

Here's the "wrapped around the neck twice for maximum warmth" style, which I'll normally only use if I'm outside in cold weather (although it's once again rainy and chilly here, and I could've sworn I saw fresh snow up in the mountains).

I'm really happy with how this came out. I tend to love knitting things but to be a little bored with the final products, so I'm enjoying having so much fun with a finished piece.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Book Woes

Struggling with the manuscript today, I realized that I have to completely redo the middle section -- a hundred pages -- to make the chronology work. This will probably mean that I'll have to redo a chunk of the final hundred pages, too, but I always knew that was likely.

I'm pretty discouraged, but as Gary says, at least I'm in there wrestling with the beast (and at least I've figured out what I need to do to fix one of the big problems with this project, although I still wonder if the dratted thing will ever be any good). So many of the edits I've already made are now irrelevent that, starting tomorrow, I'm just going to start all over again at the beginning of the book, but on the computer this time. Now the goal will be to produce a fresh manuscript which can then be line-edited.

My brain hurts.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Reorganized Yarn Vault

This won't mean much without a "before" pic, but believe me, it's a huge improvement. All of my needles are now in the basket on the top shelf, next to the button basket.

I'm sad to report, however, that Mom's beloved button basket is getting pretty crumbly, and may soon have to go to the Great Craft Room in the Sky. After at least four decades of service, though, it's earned a rest.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Cold Rainy Windy Night

Happy June, everybody. It's been really chilly and windy here all day, with rain since late afternoon. We always need moisture in Nevada, but I gotta say that I'm craving warmth and sunshine.

I got a slow start today. I've hit a rough patch in the book, as I knew I would, and while I'm doggedly plowing ahead, I'm in "this is garbage and no one will ever want to read it and who am I kidding saying I'm a writer" mode. Every project goes through this phase, and I know that, but this one feels especially bad. That's typical too -- "this is the worst thing I've ever written, and more than that it's the worst thing anyone's ever written, and I should just give back the advance and take up finger-painting" -- but it's never fun, and knowing that I always go through it isn't, at the moment, reassuring me that I'll indeed come out the other end. Y'know how it feels when you're in the middle of a bad cold or a bout of the flu, and can't even remember what it feels like to feel well? This is the writerly version of that.

So, anyway, I moped around in the Slough of Despond for too many hours, and then finally got on the elliptical for thirty-five minutes, which helped. Then I took New Tiny Computer to the computer shop around the corner. They're going to update the browser (it's running an old version of Google Chrome, and I can't figure out how to load a newer one because I'm so clueless about Linux), and also order and install a new battery. The battery life on this thing will never be brilliant, but it's been draining when the machine's off, which seems excessive, and I'd like to be able to go longer than half an hour without an outlet.

The computer geek in the shop beamed at me and said, "Oh, this is a great little machine!" Another computer geek at work, who actually owns one herself, said the same thing. So I think I made the right decision, and even after I pay the bill at the computer place, the entire project will come in for less than anything I could get new.

Then I went to the dollar store and bought some ziplock bags for knitting supplies. Then I got my hair cut, so I now look much less like a sheepdog than I did this morning. Then I came home, actually cleared off two small surfaces in my study -- miles to go, but it's a start -- and used the ziplock bags to sort circular needles by size. I reorganized the bottom shelf of the knitting cabinet, putting all my needles in another of Mom's baskets and untangling-and-winding tail ends of yarn, which went into their own small shopping bag for future use as gift ribbon. In the process, I found another button for the button box. The study still doesn't look as if I did several hours of tossing and rearranging in there, but after a few more days of this, maybe it will.

Then we ate dinner, and then, finally, I sat down with the dreaded manuscript and plowed through today's editing-and-revision quota, loathing every word. Back when writers still used typewriters, one of my writing teachers, Marta Randall, said that she hit a point in the middle of every book when she wanted to insert a fresh piece of paper in the machine and type, "Suddenly the sun went nova and they all died." I'm so there.

Then I knit for a little while to cheer myself up, and now we're going to watch some TV. Maybe tomorrow I'll stumble across a sentence in my manuscript that doesn't make me want to cringe with shame and crawl under a rock. Y'think?