Saturday, June 27, 2015


Nyki Blatchley has a great post about adaptations which differ from their sources; the point he makes about "Female character? Love interest, obviously" is pure gold. (His thoughts make a very good counterpoint to the recent piece I linked on the possible utility of anachronism and its place in historicals)

The BookEnds blog has a good look at the new-author issue of "what if they steal my story!!??" by way of a possible plot bunny. (So, my writing readers, you have been warned before you click!)

The History Blog also provides *serious* plot bunny fodder with this post: how did the foetus come to rest beneath the bishop's robes? Impossibly tempting material!

Who Loves Maps?

Discussion this week at Janet's community has been good, but today's conversation about maps is just FUN. I love maps.

Vid shamelessly copied from Janet too. WONDERFUL food for thought, and starring a Trek alum, too!

Friday, June 26, 2015

22, 222 ... and 20150626

Twos have for whatever reason always dominated my addresses, phones, room or apartment numbers and so on in my life.

Today is the twenty-second anniversary of the day I married Beloved Ex, and he’s been much on my mind of late. We’ve talked a couple times in the past month or so, and I’ll call him tonight to wish him well on our day and reminisce a bit like proper oldsters.

BEx was twenty-two (hah) and I nineteen when he and I first met. He was a would-be rockstar and I was – really quite unformed. I’d been through my little hippie kid phase, and entered into a bit of a groupie rocker chick mode when he and I got into a relationship, but as to who I wanted to me, or was, there were a lot of questions unanswered – indeed, unexamined at all – back then.

We were together six years before we married, and all I knew was that I had a good man and that was valuable enough I couldn’t look beyond that point. I clutched on entirely because he was (and is) a fine person and not half bad looking.

It’s funny, but I never had a thing for blonds nor the Nordic God thing in a man, but the fella I married was all of that. His resemblance to Michael Hurst of Hercules: the Legendary Journeys has always struck me, because – though Hurst appears a good deal shorter than BEx – the humor and goodness in their smiles were alike. But for maximum recognition value: BEx resembles Rutger Hauer to an almost alarming degree – physically. His demeanor is nothing so forbidding (men Diane likes: nerdliness comes first, then good-looking), and BEx is twenty years younger than the Replicant, but feature for feature the similarity may be stronger than Aeolus’s.

A friend of mine during the years I was married to BEx once explained to a table of friends out for a drink and a nosh, about the color of BEx’s eyes. She told the story of how her dad used to take her and her brothers camping. They would climb this beautiful mountain, in fresh air in the sunshine. They would stop at the top to lay out food and eat by a beautiful lake. The water was blue, and so clear you could see to the bottom. Her story went on a good five or ten minutes. And it ended, “And THAT is the color of Diane’s ex’s eyes.”

Gee. And all I ever did was gank from Carla Tortelli, who said, when asked if a handsome man’s eyes were blue, “*Sigh* Like Windex!”

Image: Wikipedia
I Googled him this week – why I don’t recall, but sometimes you Google an ex, and this is one of those “aww – Beloved Ex” weeks. This time, I got one of those ghastly Olan-Mills-for-the-corporate-office type portraits; weirdly taken from a high angle, so he’s looking upward and kind of cheesy, all be-suited and too tidy and slick. His blond-ness has subsided somewhat, but for one of your Nordic types, let it be said he is ageing spectacularly well. Lovely crinkles at the eyes, white teeth he doesn’t have to treat to get that way – that one crooked little incisor I was always a little too much taken with. The overall effect of the corporate pose is a bit “MY NAME IS HERB. TRUST ME!”, but the depth of knowledge if you know BEx lends a “yep, that’s him”-ness that sees that same old smile, the slight nervousness … those eyes.

I never had a thing about blue eyes themselves, but BEx’s blue eyes truly always were beautiful to me. In addition to his Nordic looks, BEx also has a Hungarian strain, and something in the expression of his eyes always spoke of the same melancholy Mikhayil Baryshnikov always had. As bright as he seemed to be, and as slightly silly, BEx houses a melancholy spirit not uncommon in the men I have loved. He and I laughed for years about an article he once read, that men who liked small breasts (I didn’t grow mine until years after our divorce) tended to be “slightly depressed” and men who liked larger chests were into football and less educated. Hooray for reductive stereotypes of men based on reductive stereotypes of women!

So last night, spending time with a nice array of the women on my mother’s side of my family (two aunts, mom, and a cousin), I shared the photo because I knew they would love it. Aunt G. would hardly have recognized the man in the picture, but those eyes were utterly unmistakable. Mom, who always did like BEx, may have suffered some resurgence of the “why the HECK are you not with this man” even as she simultaneously does know and understand. I paint a good picture of BEx and take my responsibility for my fundamental part in our divorce, but let it not be said I see no errors nor shortcomings at all.

The fundamental issue is this – I love BEx and always have and always will. But love is no reason to share your whole LIFE with someone. My life is going reasonably well. Only if, without him, it could not, should I be committed like that to any man, even if I do respect and care for him as much as I do.

There are those for whom in fact that would be more than enough, and compelling and successful. Without regret: I just am not one of those people. What I do regret, as candid as I may be in this blog and with certain people I love, is nobody’s business but mine and BEx’s.

Image: that was me

Twenty-two years ago in the morning, it was quiet in my parents’ home. I hadn’t expected that, somehow; thought I might be the center of attention in a hive of activity. But I had breakfast alone, I think – and had to kind of pull that together catch-as-catch-can. My dress was in the best garment bag ever – my childhood twin fitted Snoopy sheet fit it EXACTLY, and pinned shut to hold it together just right, in nice soft poly-cotton. My dad and mom were not given to maudlin hugs and Very Special Moments, and so at some point I worked my way up to my room and spent a long time getting ready. I put my hair up and did my makeup and put on my mom’s pearl jewelry, and I hope I cleaned my beautiful engagement ring so it would sparkle (my engagement ring is really beautiful, as was BEx’s band; we both still have them, which seems right for us two).

I don’t really recall getting to the church, but once there I have some memory of putting on the girdle and ivory hose and shoes, and then ceremoniously being dressed, for perhaps the only time in my life post-infancy. My dress was a marvelous thing, ill-suited to a Southern summer day (long sleeves and satin, high necked, and close to the body). When we went outside for photos of the bride …. even with dress shields, you cannot stop the river of sweat that will run down your spine on a hot noonday in the windless lee of a tall chapel, wearing so much heavy textile. Even the embroidery lace was thick and substantial. This confection had been hand made for me by a friend whose own anniversary, the day before this wedding, meant she could not be with us on the wedding day.

My dad and I convened in the vestibule of the chapel and there wasn’t a dramatic moment between us. I wanted one, but somehow the business of the pageant took us away, and we walked down the aisle (never knowing a month later he would be undergoing a sextuple bypass after a heart attack).

My grandmother wore magenta.

My mother wore baby pink, and she and my mother-in-law looked so soft and so pretty.

BEx had, at that moment in his life, basically a dutch-boy haircut. After years of long, beautiful curling warm-blond hair, in that period and after what seemed to us a drastic cut, he looked like the guy on the label of Sam Adams bottles. In a tailed and cravatted tux, he just looked handsome. And nervous as hell. I looked – I don’t really know. Manic and rapacious kind of come to mind, but I may have a bias against my old self. Maybe.

Ceremony over, we took more photos and walked to the reception, which I remember mainly for my overly self-conscious feeling I was being SUCH a successful, grown-up polite hostess. I talked with everybody, smiling and unfailingly (my idea of) gracious, which I suspect was a bit on the arch side. What became of my husband, I have no idea; I was doing my duties, which had nothing to do with him.

I changed into my going away dress (a gorgeous cut, but a black dress I now remember as a haunted, bad-omen object) and hat. We drove away in dad’s red Fiat, top down, and NOBODY shaving-creamed the beautiful finish on that car. No shoes or signs either. Just two young people in a great car.

We went back to my folks hosue for a while, where we opened presents. That night, we stayed at the Embassy Suites right in town. Before embarking on what little passed for a honeymoon, we stopped at my cousin’s farm and picked up my brother, for a day at an amusement park – bro along because (a) I rarely saw him, he lived in Hawai’i back then, and (b) he and BEx liked each other, and could ride the rides I’d get sick on. I hardly really remember the day, but I think we had a good time. Then we drove up to DC to stop in what turned out to be the hotel in which Marion Barry had been busted for drugs a few years previously. ROMANCE. It was a room on an alley or some equally ugly outlook, and I ordered ROOM SERVICE as a deranged splurge.

The next morning at breakfast in their restaurant, BEx was away for a moment when someone came to the table, and I self-consciously remember saying the word for the first time: “My husband will be right back.”

We stopped for lunch at my aunt’s house, with her and one of my cousins; a gloriously tasty gorgonzola and walnut salad I still remember to this day amongst our summer treats.

Then, on the road, back to Ohio.

We did have time alone, but our wedding and honeymoon were family-packed; a varied, busy affair indeed.

If self-condemnation is clear and stark in these memories, it’s not out of regret for the marriage nor even living resentments – against myself nor anyone else. Maybe just a way to keep myself honest. But those days themselves – this day, this anniversary (which, from glorious and sunny in 1993, is now a stormy, dark, and muggy affair indeed) … they are almost as fine as the man who gave them to me, shared them with me.

Happy anniversary, Beloved Ex.

And happy anniversary to all those couples who, today, can finally marry one another in every last one of our fifty states. Congratulations, in joy and gladness.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Speaking of Costumes and Ethics ...

... two more irresistible links for the day, and then I must away - to read about night time, at this that time of year when we have the least of it ...

American Duchess has a wonderful photo diary of a day recreating 18th-century prints of sailors (oh my!!!) and a sudden storm in Colonial Williamsburg. I always enjoy her blog, but this post is one of the most charming I've seen, and the costumes are drool-worthy. The green of her skirt is crisp, elegant, and cool for a Midatlantic summer.

And for whom is the idea of a gift of firearms for a three-year-old entirely appropriate? Click to find out. At least this time it's not an American redneck. (Spoiler alert: it's a look at artifacts, not current events.)

Thirteen Minutes or So

As journalistic statements go, it is culturally and certainly factually questionable to state that "It's estimated that Italy is home to two-thirds of the world's cultural treasures." (By whom is this Euro-centric estimation being made, by what criteria, and using what sources?)

Full disclosure: I have not watched 60 minutes to speak of at all since they aired a suicide in 1998; at an estimate, perhaps I've stopped on the program three or four times in these seventeen years. Whatever my moral feelings upon euthanasia, my moral feelings about the sickest imaginable ratings grab are clear: I am against it.

However, I did watch "Saving History" this Sunday, and thought I would share. Combining, as it does, some of the thematic obsessions of this blog - fashion, archaeology, preservation ... and, frankly, the fascinating ethical and political questions attendant upon the initiatives under discussion - I was curious.

It's worth a watch if only to gain some perspective, if you feel you don't have any, on just what we're up against across the world, culturally, in an economy still aching from strain in too many areas. It's also worth just seeing the beauty of those areas of the Colosseum in Rome which have been cleaned with incredible care and dedication by those who have been given the chance. And to see the real extent of the filth threatening it in the first place.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

... and this is why I need that anger ...

I just got up, let Penelope out in her yard, played fetch for a little bit and made sure her water was fresh and cold. Came up the steps and fixed the little hydraulic control doodad on the storm door. Put away her food and Gossie's. Picked up a few things, ready to take upstairs. Cleaned up a Gossie mess he left on the STOVE for me. (Yay for pet ownership getting gross just when you're depressed - it kind of ices that cake.)

I still need to finish wiping the kitchen, swiffing, and vacuuming. Not a lot of work, but the effect is substantial.

I'm not done, and Sunday's wearing thin. Research is still waiting.

But Pen is having a good time in her yard, and I'm eyeing the cukes one of my coworkers brought me Friday, and the gorgonzola I got this morning ... with some tomatoes, I'm thinking that makes a cool summertime supper, or at least a snack.

Hurrah for the energy of anger.

That Day

Twelve years on, this is the day of the year I can't seem to control my anger. Hallmark emailed me about how I should handle this holiday, and I wanted to scream and rant. Deletion just is not enough.

Through the year, I can manage to get through every one of the thousands upon thousands of times I am told by my television, mail, and so on that I am a non-person because I do not belong to A FAMILY (I have family, yes; but the degree to which our politics and pop culture presumes all people are - or are supposed to be - members of a nuclear family is impossible to really "feel" for those who actually do; for those of us who do not, it is an inescapable imposition upon us that we don't belong to the world if we don't belong to one). But come May and Mother's Day, this day begins to bob up on the horizon. And there is no way around it.

Father's Day acknowledges NOTHING about those of us whose fathers are no longer with us. Never mind those whose fathers don't occupy that nuclear-familial role. What that must feel like I can't even imagine, but it's awful to contemplate.

I only know that the only thing I've been able to feel for this day, myself, for a dozen years is impotent anger. Impotent, not in the face of my father, but in the face of my CULTURE, which parades ugly shirts and power tools and stupid stereotypes at me for weeks on end, and cannot apparently conceive of death.

It is exhausting - the parade, and my own anger. I know the latter is a bag of rocks I collected for myself and it does nothing. But I let it live on, because I am not perfect and I don't want to be, and I have very little anger and hatred in my life. This ... Well, this doesn't actually hurt anyone. It is not aimed inward, it's not aimed at anyone. Only the faceless monolith of the idiotic and money-driven tone of the world I have chosen to stick with in life. Hallmark needs to bite it hard enough to break a tooth. But there's no ill wished on actual humans (or teeth).

On my dad's last Father's Day, I made sweet rolls and brought them to my parents' house. We ate out on their brick lanai in the back yard, then lay in the grass, lolled in the hammock, talked to each other in the iron patio furniture. My rolls weren't as good as grandma's - the sugar didn't completely caramelize with the butter. But they tasted good. My dad told me long ago, my bread was really good. It was good enough, that day.

That day is over.

This one ... isn't.

Shark Week in Review ...

... it's not what you think.

Unless you're a Reider, and then it's exactly what y'all are thinking.

For any writer reading me who doesn't read Janet Reid's agent blog, bookmark it right now. I've been taking advantage of it for years, and Janet herself (a.k.a. The Query Shark) is as generously accessible as is humanly (or shark-ly) possible for those of us still yet-to-be-published could ask. She's even begun a weekly review not only of what's been under discussion, but highlighting the community's discussion itself.

I made the WIR several times this week. On point of view, charity, and even Bad Agent/cy Behavior.

Then I got exiled to the wilds of the Reider reservation on Carkoon. Sigh!

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Late Collection

With the events in my country this week, I missed - and simply did not feel up to - history nerding about the 200th anniversary of Waterloo. Here, a bit late, are the best links - pretty much as always from The History Blog (on the sale of Wellington's cloak from the battle), and of course Tom Williams, taking a look at the "wreck of the battle" ... its pathetic litter and deaths from neglect of care.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Lee Bittly and Deeb

The personal languages of families are such an interesting study. The kids who call grandma Omie, a diminutization of German Oma, for grandmother – or those who use nanna or gramps or mum, mom, dada, baba. Much of it is cultural, as those are – and then there are the baby-names, often those given by baby in trying to pronounce a name.

Phrases are the thing that begin to get really evocative. My family was filled with idioms I never even contemplated when I was small; “put that down the little red lane” meant “eat/drink it” – and I was eighteen or so before I actually quantified the little red lane as my esophagus. It’s a little bit odd, but it was ours. “Applesauce” was, as it is in other families, a way to ask for affection. My paternal grandfather always said to us, “Give me a little bit of that ole applesauce!” and dad said it too sometimes.

“Fine as frog hair” was another of those unexamined concepts; it tended to be used to mean fine as in dandy, and so the application of the fineness of a frog’s theoretical pelt again didn’t occur to me during childhood.

My dad liked to cultivate in his children an exotic menu, too. Sauteed Hummingbird Tongues was a favorite – somehow resembling the more ordinary treat of boxed macaroni and cheese (again, not until later did I think about the actual hollow, tubular tongues of the wee birds) – and braised rhinoscerous tusk might be any number of cuts of meat instead.

My friends, he amusingly forgot and reassigned names for – Henrietta, Bertha, and so on; I believe the occasional little boy in our house would be Aloysius or Agamemnon, or perhaps even Jehosephat on an especially populous day. Apparently our feminine juvenile company was less mythical/Biblical, but Aloysius, I find on Wikipedia, not only is a derivative of that ultimately Clovis-derived name, Lewis, but also the first name of Mr. Snuffalupagus, whom I had no idea owned his own given name. I’m pleased it is that one.

The paternal men were not the only commanders of language in my home; mom had this habit of saying “I reckon” which again meant nothing to me as a kid, and the number of times I asked her through childhood what “Iya rekkin” means is best unexamined, as it gives away a certain slowness on my part. Her mother, whom I never called Granny till I got a bit older (she was grammaw and my paternal grandmother was grandMA; a fine shading of my infantile understanding of identity), I identify most with “oh my LAAAAAAANDS”, a highly handy expletive she used a lot for either astonishment or to try to seem as if she were being shocked. It was good for glee, too. And my grammaw was good at glee. (Better, perhaps, than she was at shock …)

When granny came to see my house for the first time, she walked around the outside, and in the front yard she stook and looked up at its somewhat tall fa├žade, the little group of family having taken ten or fifteen minutes just to get this far in the tour. She peered at me with a wonderful smile and said to me in her gorgeously, lovingly rough voice, “Now, Di-AAANNNE. How many men are you going to have, to keep up a house like this!?”

I miss my grammaw so much. She was with us 94 years, outliving even my father (to her great sadness), and healthy for *generations* of that life. When I was small, she was “soft grandma”. My paternal grandmother was, in my very smallest childhood, slightly-scary grandma. She had darker, cotton soft hair; and she later became grandma-a-few-blocks-away, who put up with visits from me and our family dog with a marvelously forbearing primness. She made sweet rolls my dad and I once walked through snow to share with her, hot, and then brought her and them home to share with the rest of the family.

I made those sweet rolls once. Only once.

It was the last Father’s Day I had a living dad to celebrate.

So many of my family are gone, and I hold tight to my mom and stepfather, with whom I live in the same town. My brother and nieces and their mom are in a different world, but I still tread strangely close to the swamps we grew up beside. All I’d have to do is go right when I leave work, instead of left … to visit the MOTHER earth – the clay and the farm of our mom’s family line, the long-gone house where she was born and the aunt still living there, not so far away.

My dad’s line would be in the other direction, but again; not so far. Major-ville; the creek where my dad’s sister retired to a beautiful home, and those waters of Virginia which run in my blood and in my ink, even as the love poem my applesauce grandfather wrote to my soft-haired grandmother, not only about her, but about their rivers. I have that poem, in his hand, on a perilously delicate piece of paper onto which he copied that old poem years later, and which itself now is very old. He broke an engagement with another girl; impetuously in love with my grandma, his Potomac Maid, he married her instead.

Granddaddy was born in 1895. His younger brother, (1897 I believe, maybe 1898) lived to within weeks of New Year’s, 2000. He almost lived in three centuries singlehandedly, my great-uncle. They both were fine looking men, and my uncle was contracting and building until he was eighty or so; when he broke a foot, the doctor said, “you can keep working but you can’t go on rooftops anymore” and my uncle said, “heck with it then, I’m retiring.” He had to have his food put in a blender in the end, but he said it tasted the same.

His wife regaled us at an anniversary banquet, “I could not have found a betta mayun than (Great Uncle) May-jah. I could have found a PRETTIER mayun. But I could not have found a betta mayun.” Then she told the story of his intimidating the boy who once chanced to tease and be mean to his daughter.

My knowledge of my family’s history is in some ways very strange, and in every way woefully incomplete, filled with lacunae and even misinformation I’ve gotten wrong or only half comprehended or remembered.

On the other side, my grammaw and her sister. Grammaw and one of my great aunts had a habit of looking alarmingly alike, yet JUST dissimilar enough to confuse and confound me as a child. I only half-knew what wasn’t my grammaw sometimes, but I also felt an instinctive … welcome. You could hug a great-aunt even if you were a little kid half confused why grandma was in different skin – and they’d only be happy to hug you back.

My own mom has two sisters, and a brother too, and the only family similarity between all four of them is my uncle’s, to my granddaddy.

Ahh, my maternal granddaddy.

He was a big man – not in girth so much as in presence. He had an enormity and laconic charisma that made him a fascinating figure, even as I was half in awe of him when I was little. He called grammaw Lou. When he became ill, now and then he’d ask her for a “big bowl of cream” (ice cream). He used to put us on the high, metal seat and let us “drive” his tractor. I wish I had known him better.

He and grammaw had two chihuahuas, and she a third after he died; Penny-dawg (yes, Penelope had her name when I first met her, but it was this tiny echo of grandma's beloved pet that *kept* that name for her when she came home at last). He used to call small things lee-bittly old things; I don't know that he said this of their pets, but Tinkerbell and Taffy were certainly lee-bittly old things.

He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s before I got much past that awe, and even in his illlness he was imposing. Granny took care of him the rest of his life, with a little help, and that seemed such a long time to me, then. But her widowhood was much, much longer; and she had a friend to keep company with. I never actually met Granny’s Ernie. But I am so glad she had him.

Granny’s smile was as strong as the roughness of her voice, vivid as its twang, indelible, incandescent.

So much of my family is gone; my father and all his siblings, my grandparents; I miss them, and sometimes it's hard to really comprehend the extent of absence. That there can be no talks, no hugs; defunct circuits on the family grapevine; no new news. No more.

I miss my uncle's pontifications and his style. I miss the way my aunt reacted when I beat her at Scrabble, her laugh and her great susceptibility to humor. I miss dad's voice; gruff and low and soft, not sharp, around the edges. The way he held on when he hugged, and the immensity not only of his love but of his brilliant, curious, nimble and generous mind. I miss grandma's cooking and having her for a neighbor, and the power of her personality, and grammaw's house and all the times shared in it.

I miss my grandfathers, with less memory, but not less love.

What have I left behind for others' memories ... my older niece and her friends, using me as a jungle gym and swinging from my hair, or playing with it by turns. The perennially (pathetically) late Christmas packages, the hit-and-miss games. The pets and the eyeball-smackingly bright mantel (... the hole in the wall ...), the walks to the park in my neighborhood, and the walks and SANDWICHES when I've gone to visit them. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, and Phineas and Ferb - or the time when she stayed the night that Elder and I watched Viking Apocalypse and Suchet as Poirot.

The first time I ever held both of them. The way we marveled at Younger's red, red hair and how her babyhood thousand-mile stare looked like her late grandfather. Her monster-baby growl. Elder's meticulous care and organization, her incredible art, her dancing hula for her grandparents in their family room. The time she said, of her granddaddy being sick, "I wish some people didn't have to be really sick, but that instead we could all be just a LITTLE sick" - dividing the burden, sharing it and bearing it ... perhaps the wisest philosophy there is. Her way with words ("There's lots of darks out tonight") and her little sister's, too; Lee Bittly has been a writer since before she had her letters. The way she gave our whole family the affectionate nickname we call my stepfather. The way she was instantly, undisguisedly jealous in a flash when she found out I am a writer too; *her* thing, *her* need and talent.

I miss them, too.

Good thing I'll get to go see them this summer.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Lord, Have Mercy and Heal

For this city, for every city and community, and for those who live in them, let us pray.
Lord, have mercy.

Defend us, deliver us, and in thy compassion protect us, O Lord, by thy grace.
Lord, have mercy.

For all the departed, let us pray.
Lord, have mercy.

For deliverance from all danger, violence, oppression, and degradation, let us pray.
Lord, have mercy.

Monday, June 15, 2015


If I have learned nothing else from my regular blog rounds, it is that The Duchess of Richmond's ball is worthy of our attention this week; here, at one post from Two Nerdy History Girls, and then an excerpt from Burke at Waterloo, at Tom Williams' blog, Writing about Writing. As famous balls go, there is perhaps some irony in this piece of history taking precedence over the very last link you will see below ...


My fellow Reiders may be the best-informed target audience for this point in today's collection post, but anyone who clicks will get the point. Because Colin Smith's latest post has a photo at the top which keeps not-completely-failing to remind me a little of Brian Schwartz - whom I hope will not find the comparison insulting; it is not meant to be. :) This has been making my usual blog rounds double-take-stuf for a few days now, so I had to share it and spread the deja vu.

American Duchess takes a look at the question: to silk, or not to silk? In defense of faux silks - and a trip to Colonial Williamsburg.

Jeff Sypeck is taking an interesting look at the de-scholarization of our times; something I've looked at recently myself, but his post is much more specific, concrete, is SOURCED, and far more intelligent than (snarky) mine!

[I]ntentions still matter: there’s more pleasure and solace in writing and art when you believe what you’re doing is true.

When random conversations with your mother become fruitful: last week, I heard something on NPR on my way home from work, and I thought "that is NEAT, I want to blog about that" - and, of course, promptly forgot what the heck the story was. Welp, thanks to mom, we can now have our first Trek reference here in some time now. Ladies and germs, I give you: The SOLAR SAIL! (And - count 'em: three, three, THREE stories for your edification!) Which is so much like a certain DS9 episode I can't contain my geekly glee. (For those as obsessed as I - this is the one where Sisko brings on the beard AND just about the first bromantic scene between O'Brien and Bashir. "Hammock time!")

Clovis may be lying fallow at my house, but (with inevitable thanks once again to The History Blog) the Merovingians' world is alive in archaeology. Take a look at a wine-jug the like of which might have graced his table (though found in Denmark, actually). Mmm, turntable pottery! Dig it! Link comes complete with a pic of an actual archaeologist in an actual archaeologist's hat. Bonus.

The HB takes us also on a tour of preserved tattoos - an article not for the squeamish, though the only really surprising picture included is the full-frontal one at the very bottom, of a fella wearing nothing but his ink. To me, the taxonomy of tattoos - or "speaking scars" which is a pretty evocative subset of the kind - is extremely interesting. There's even one (19th century!) that looks a tad like Bettie Page. Huh!

Saturday, June 13, 2015

The Week That Tech Ate

Time seems to be my theme lately.

Every now and then, time makes itself apparent – in surprising ways, such as seeing a kid you once knew, suddenly grown up and with kids of their own – in happy ways, such as realizing the vacation you planned a while ago is getting closer – in annoying ways, such as … well, maybe almost anything, depending upon how your day is going.

These days, of course, we’ve traded in watched pots for loading websites, but it’s still remarkable how true it can be that certain moments somehow feel like “never” on a completely different scale. This is not merely a matter of patience, Grasshopper, but one of philosophy and expectation, personality, stress – almost anything you like.

My week last week was spent on tech issues. One afternoon, I came home after lunch, hoping to work and make a few calls to pay bills without bugging my cube mates – and ended up instead in a morass of stubbornness and desperation, when my VPN (the virtual private network) would not work so I could network in online. I sunk myself into troubleshooting, and hardly realized I had not done a lick of work until I bobbed my head up out of the rabbit hole and realized hours were gone with no net result.

It took several days, but that issue was resolved – even as, inevitably, others arose (some of my own, some I worked to shepherd along for my coworkers).

It can be the same with research (of any kind, of course; but indeed I mean “for a novel”). I had to learn to discipline myself long ago – sticking to looking at what I might need or use, without plumbing any given subject to its depths nor following interesting tangents beyond my limited needs.

At the same time, though, reading beyond the requirements is still a good habit to cultivate. The old advice to writers, to READ, includes not just the exposure to style, but also the lifetime exercise of knowledge and breadth. And so, even leisure reading (I like that better than the phrase writers and agents sometimes use, “reading for pleasure”) has taken on a kind of discipline; I find myself applying knowledge or asking questions, and then sharing them here, or finding places they fit perfectly within my work. Sharing here is especially gratifying when I see people are actually interested, and for me – even if the themes most repeated; costume, archaeology, innovation; don’t seem obviously connected to my writing – it’s all of a piece, and all feeds the same ends.

Time has been bending and distenting of late. I think summer makes our mental clocks more limber; the longer hours of light fool and confuse us.

And, it will hardly seem but days from now ... the days will turn around again and constrict on us.

Summer has been a time of power and autonomy for me, and the creative work has been energizing. How's it treating you so far?

Friday, June 12, 2015

Dirty, Dirty Bidniss

I’ve been reading Janet Reid’s archives – less for education at this point than for sheer entertainment, to be honest. But this post got me thinking. (It is very short, and yes, you have to read it for the post you’re now looking at to make worthwhile sense.)

I’ve encountered agents and editors online and IRL who struck me as … let us say, not self aware. It is not the world’s deepest challenge to find publishing professionals saying things with all the facile and vacuous brightness (and, indeed, the very words) of a stock character in a Hollywood movie about Hollywood. Discussing art and creativity as business translates, and agents have become a trope, be they authors’ or actors’ pit-bull/chihuahua advocates.

More often than evil, the implications tend to go for comedy. Nakedly driven by business concerns, or sometimes almost (… almost …) adorably by dreams, real life Tweets and interviews and so on make clear the expectations and motivations behind “I’m looking for THE NEXT SUCH-AND-SUCH BESTSELLER” or (cringe) the old “this-meets-that” uber-shallow Hollywood pitchery. Expectations and motivations that other stock character, the long-suffering writer, endures to their emotional travail.

It is to sigh.

The point relating to Janet’s post is: I can comprehend the idea of someone who has long worked in publishing getting sneery about the industry and the people in it. Exposed, more than I ever have been, to these dynamics, sooner or later those enamored of their own integrity may feel themselves in need of feeling “better than that.”

Authors, by the way, do this too. Some of them out loud, or in print. Some of them do it in query letters; why else would so many agents have to explain on blogs and in interviews, “When you say ‘all the books being published now are trash’, THAT IS INSULTING” … ? We think my genre is better than your genre – or, more tellingly, my genre is more IMPORTANT than yours is – or reader categories – or other particular writers. And I don’t pretend I haven’t don this, though I have tried to be nonspecific when moaning about querying or reading or what have you.

But most of us learn to keep certain thoughts to ourselves, or at least not to name names – and we all move along.

Which is where Janet’s old post above comes in.

The thing about moving along is, in publishing and in life and in Hollywood and at any job in the world, what it usually means is, dealing with the people we find annoying or inferior, getting it over with, and then dealing with OTHER people.

Because: there are other people in publishing. There are always other people than the annoying ones. Always.

It is no more reasonable to consider “all agents” as possessing any one property than it is to paint every member of any particular gender, race, political party, or age group as a single, monolithic whole – homogeneous, and uniformly good or bad, or rich with nougaty goodness, or perhaps a little too salty with my high blood pressure, so I’d better hold off.

When I was actively querying (and I am still toying with research here and there, though nothing’s been sent of late), I queried GOOD agents. People for whom I have respect.

If I want to participate in this industry, I *need* to respect it.

The idea of considering it a dirty thing on the face of it, but “a necessary evil” is not merely bewildering to me, it’s confounding. To consider my work as product in no way demeans it, to me – if selling art was good enough for Michelangelo, it's good enough for me. As hellaciously painful as it’s been to watch my first borne (I’ll spell it that way rather than literally indicating labor and delivery in the biological sense) possibly fail, it doesn’t tell me I’ve written a bad novel nor that those who recognize they can’t sell it are the bottom-feeding minions of Be’elzebub. It tells me they’re being realistic about business.

It also tells me about the importance of how I populate my stories, and a whole raft of other privilege- and diversity-centric stuff I’ve blogged about already, but those are other posts.

Not one single agent in the world has done one thing to stand in my way. None could nor would stop me if I chose to get The Ax and the Vase out into the world; self-publishing is a perfectly cromulent piece of this business. I feel that *I* do not make a good prospective self-publisher, because the kind of sweat equity I long to invest in this work is different, and I frankly fear my competence to serve my novels without the partnership and network of traditional publishing.

But that doesn’t make traditional publishing my obstacle.

Only I can be that, for myself, and … I kind of prefer not to do that.

My faith in magic ain’t what it used to be (if it ever was), and my expectations have never been that Hilary Mantel oughtta WORRY when I hit the market. But nothing in the years I’ve been learning, and writing, and continually working on all the fronts necessary to my goals …

… nothing has ever persuaded me I don’t deserve this, nor that I won’t get it. It could have happened already, if my resources were greater than they are.

Just not if I had more Magical Literary Beans to get my creative beanstalk to the stratosphere.

Right now, I’m all I’ve got. I joke a lot about my wee and paltry little brain, but we all know I think plenty highly of myself.

I also know, perhaps the one magic I do have in my life, is the great good fortune to find people I respect and am grateful for to work with. Just yesterday, I was struck (hardly for the first time) by the realization that I have a job which is the envy of others doing similar work. Someone said to me, basically, I work with the best people because I am the best myself.

Not something I came by easily, nor early.

Even if I sign with someone unexpected, when it does come, or an agent I thought of as a long-shot/”eh, why not ping ‘em” prospect when I first researched them: when I do have one, my agent will be The Best.

Just as my Penelope is The Best Dog.

And just as there’s nothing OSUM-er than Gossamer.

If I have faith in myself, and in my work – how could I not have faith in the person who chooses (and whom I choose) to advocate it? The agent, the editor who snaps at it, and those who share acquisition decisions, and acquire it?

Yes, yes. It’s all business, and there is a part of the publishing business that concerns itself less with Literary Exquisiteness (or my personal, precious darlings) than with profit.

Hell, it ain’t insurance. And I worked in that industry for YEARS.

So tell me again how PUBLISHING is a bunch of awful little beasts … ?

Today I Got a Letter ...

... from my University creative writing professor. He's the sole connection I still have to my alma mater - and, while we didn't have a deep mentoring relationship, the stuff of which coming-of-age novels are made, his classes were excellent. And he remembers me, too, which is flattering.

Until he retired two years ago, we were in consistent, if sporadic, touch every couple of years, starting maybe ten years or so after I graduated. But this was the first time in a long time, perhaps owing to email changes along with emeritus-ness.

The letter wasn't just for me; it touches on a professorship in his and his wife's name, and came on University stationery. But he added a substantial note that was just for me - and, again and still, it's kind of wonderful to be remembered.

Even more, he reminded me of something I could hardly have forgotten. He used a story of mine in his classes for about twenty-five years.

I haven't seen the thing myself in that long. The characters are hazily relevant memories, but the course of the tale escapes me, apart from the two main details I remember the professor's commenting on long ago.

The story is the first piece I ever wrote in first person from a male point of view, and I recalled that during the very earliest stages of working on The Ax and the Vase, when I was grappling with that POV and leaving myself open to the possibility of changing that. It's also well before any attempt I ever made to write historical.

On the one hand, I'd love to reach out to my prof and see if I could get another copy of the story. Back then, we typed onto ditto forms, and the English department secretary probably had to make the copies - or the prof himself did. Ahhh, purple ditto sheets. You literally *had* to be there, kids. Mimeographs gave our schools a very subtle and particular perfume for decades before digitality.

It's a curious thing, knowing my most embryonic work has been read by hundreds of students for all these years. It's hard to really feel that, to know it. Belief is a trick; while I accept the literal (har) facts, conception of doesn't really follow. I can hardly conceive of twenty year olds at all anymore, never mind relate to what I was as one myself, or - failing to remember the work very well - what effect anything I wrote back then could possibly have in all the ensuing years, an entire generation away now, since I put it down.

Image: Google image search
Labeled for re-use

I wonder whether any of you has a nimbler imagination than mine ...

And who's still in touch with a former teacher ... ?

Wednesday, June 10, 2015


This is one of those things I read, and cannot remember when I wrote it, cannot recall why, or what inspired it. But I love it ...

The only sensation in her was of absorption. The heat; the hard, sure heat under her. The leather of her new red shoes, leather tanned soft as fruit skin, holding her foot, wrapped all the way around it, to her ankle, where it was loose and gentle. The sound of the grasses, whispering. Soft as voices, safer than words, asking nothing of her but to hear them.

Soft as fruit skin? Where I came up with that, I have no idea; still I can feel it.

I hated my own red leather shoes. Is it that, that has me writing about a queer little girl, loving nothing more ... ?

Tuesday, June 9, 2015


Moe Ferrara at BookEnds Literary Agency asked such a good question on their blog, I want to ask it here too. Have you ever met your literary hero?

Here was my answer ...

Donald Harington was an American author not wildly well known, but he's been compared to Chaucer, and I was privileged to converse with him electronically a year or two before his death. He told me he was working on a novel featuring one of his past characters (his novels often centered on a fictional Ozark town called Stay More, and picked up facets from one another), Latha Bourne.
It was not until after he died I read "Enduring", the novel he told me about, and it still brings up the little hairs along the back of my neck. As if his work hadn't power enough, that launched my experience of reading that book to a new level, and it felt joyous and intimate and meant so much to me.
Another of my favorite writers was Roger Ebert. I didn't tend to agree with his assessments of movies, but LOVED his manner of expression. I was able to exchange a few emails with him as well some years ago. He was an incredibly thoughtful (in the sense of intellectual openness and willingness to consider unaccustomed points of view) and generous man, and very kind. I still sometimes go back and read his reviews or his blog.
Much more recently, I met Hugh Howey, at the James River Writers Conference last October. He was sitting on his own and I chatted with him for a few minutes - not about my writing nor even his, but just the event and the people and the food or whatever. He could not have been more charming and pleasant.

The History Blog brings us two very different stories worth the click ...

First: three-hundred year old tea preserved by (whom else?) the Brits. In a museum. Because, of course!

Then: 98-year-old blackboards in Oklahoma - "frozen in time, if not in place." Incredible! I only wish I could get the video to play.

Okay, now your turn. Tell me about your heroes!

Saturday, June 6, 2015


Louisa Young at The History Girls has a short, lovely post about The Called One. Worth a click if only to discover the heartbreaking irony. "I will not leave you comfortless."

The History Blog looks at the Rijksmuseum's 400 year retrospective fashion plate exhibition and the birth of modern fashion magazines. "Historical fashion porn of the highest quality" ... well, what a recommendation! Ahem.

"Hi, lady ... Lady! Lady!" ... The occasional fear of being a woman.Welcome to it, Caitlyn.

On whether anachronism can be constructive in historical fiction/drama. I'm not necessarily persuaded - but thre are some interesting points here.

Dropping Science

We talked about science and morality as if the two were the same thing.
--Geoff Ryman, WAS

It's a funny thing, reading Was right after reading H. G. Wells' Marriage. The quote above comes from a long internal monologue from a character who is thinking about a period pretty darn close to that of Marriage, and echoes some of the aspirational philosophy of Wells' work.

Through the early decades of the twentieth century, science and discovery fed an American identity filled with pride in innovation . Certainly, this has its problems in itself, but undeniably it co-opted study and basic science into an support for applied science that was core to the hurtling progress of our nineteeth and twentieth centuries, and is such a part of what the nation is, for good and ill. We gained a reputation as plastic people, perhaps - but we also burgeoned with domestic productivity which later we became ashamed of and sold away, and have not yet quite rebuilt - even as we fear and revile those to whom we gave up manufacture and labor economically.

Image: Wikipedia

A year or so ago, I wrote a post about my dad and his religious faith, and the consternation I've always felt, that people imagine scientists are by definition godless. I took that post down because it was too personal, but I'll echo it now with this observation - when I came to him as a kid, upset because the good little southern Christians in my class taunted me that my father couldn't believe in G-d because he was a scientist ... dad told me that his faith was the very reason he studied the workings of the world. When I was little, he said it in simple terms; but we had that conversation all my life, and his curiosity and spiritual wonder were never far apart. He enacted it in more than his profession; he was engaged by how everything worked - history, cars, carpentry, our minds and hearts, even politics.

My experience with the "godless" kids began in the nineteen-seventies. But there has been a shift in the national psyche since then, especially strong in the eighties and nineties, and bringing us to a place where the idea topping this post is inconceivable to too many people. Born of the same kinds of folk who raised my old tormenters, and of those tormenters themselves, now busily teaching their children the same biases and fears. The Reagan years pushed off this shift, and the increasing primacy of faith and fear politically has confirmed its power.

Now we talk about science and morality as if they are antagonistic properties. We are short on kids wanting to enter the sciences, and treat those who do as curiosities - perhaps to be admired, and we know we need them, but still the adults in research and even development are subject to skepticism and a perception as odd, if not outright dangerous.

Research and science are constant sources of cultural anxiety, and I'm not going to say that is without good reason. But human innovation has always brought with it ethical questions, and those are insufficient reason to simply shut down our attempts to eff the ineffable.

We've gone from inheriting the wind to breaking it.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

To the Nines II

Diane Vallere has a GREAT post at BookEnds' blog, on dressing for a conference - and The Pitch ...

I had some thoughts on this once, too, in my misspent youth.

Watched Pots, Orthopteran

When we’re five, the world seems to move at a snail’s pace, and when we’re ten times that (give or take), we often comment about how fast the years seem to go.

Lately, I’ve been getting an itch (other than the eczema). People talk about how SLOW traditional publishing is. It is a perennial theme, especially amongst us pre-published folk who yearn to control the experience of trying to get there by dint of “UNDERSTANDING” it in almost tortuous detail.

Nobody ever seems to think TP (hee hee) moves speedily, even those of us who have to stop between breathy astonishments every month that it has already gotten to be this month to take a bit of Metamucil.

I look around at “most writers” and think – good Lord, y’all are writing novels in the space of under a year, or getting published before age forty – and you think this is slow? Well, my LANDS!

If I were querying, (or if I ever do again), it’s probably cruddy self-admission, but any amount of reading at this blog is going to make it plain to any agent in the world – it took me a decade to write The Ax and the Vase, and the damned thing isn’t even out with anyone anymore. It’s “lying fallow” (a far nicer fantasy to hold onto than “I trunked the bastard”) and unlikely to see publication soon, and perhaps ever.

Ten years.

I queried it too early, squandered the first half of my forties, queried it still-too-early-but-less-egregiously-so again, kicked its ass, got it into shape, queried the four agents left on the planet not already pestered with the thing, and moved on to the WIP.

Research isn’t even remotely complete, and that’s months on now from realizing I had to let go of Ax. I don’t expect the WIP to take ten years again, but this novel won’t be written in months, either (hence letting go of Ax being so difficult).

Traditional publishing isn’t slow, it’s just that we are impatient. We’ve also had our attention spans reset – clipped ever slenderer – time and time again just in the last sixty years, and it’s more and more difficult to understand outcomes that cannot be had instantaneously.

I am old (Father William), and here is the irony – I rather savor the slowness of my education and prospects as an author. I do want to get there, but I’m not upset it’s not a shorter road, nor wishing my life away to get to publication, as if it is the only finish line worth reaching. Even with all the difficulties, there is some reassurance that anything left in this world travels at a pace deliberate rather than precipitate. All goals will come and go soon enough; met or not.

What I’m saying is …

Patience, Grasshopper.

Or, to jam on Janet Jackson


“I promise, it’ll be worth the wait.”

Monday, June 1, 2015

What Comes Before Alpha?

Not long ago, I found myself intrigued by another writer’s thoughts on reading others’ works, and we got into an exchange, and he shared his MS with me. I wanted to share my own in return, but AX has been done to death (sigh!) and the WIP is so early, everything I “write” is literally sketchy. To call it a draft is perhaps even a misnomer, because right now the only non-research work on the novel is telling MYSELF the story.

I threw what passes for a first chapter or so his way, and got very quick feedback, in detail.

The most interesting part of this is that he took it seriously enough TO critique it. To me, this “writing” is strictly throwaway; if it’s draft at all, it’s still only first draft, and that means nothing of it will exist after revision, perhaps not even after a first pass at it. The scene itself, I think is probably where the book does begin, but I’ve been wrong before (and then wrong again) – and I know how early I am in the progress; I know enough to know JUST how much I don’t know right now. Any statement I make about the WIP is bound to become idiotic in a year’s time, in two years’ time (deliver us all from its taking a decade again, but even so my work isn’t the sort of thing that moves like NaNo) (and now somebody needs to record that as a Weird Al style parody of Moves Like Jagger).

This is why anything I write about the WIP is conceptual, rather than particular.

So it was actually a remarkable pleasure to get feedback like it was real writing. It provides something I didn’t really have with AX, and it also opens up doors – and poses questions.

The first of which is, if a beta reader is like a beta tester, making sure a product/novel is ready for RELEASE, and an alpha reader is the one who gets the fun of cleaning the butterknife … what comes even before alpha? I mean, I haven’t even bought a knife for this dragon, y’all, and it’s no time to go bandying at the beast while she’s still sleeping and I’m miles away in a little quiet glen.

Or something like that.

Feedback is that thing writers savor and sicken from; we can indulge too much and get indigestion, and we hate it and love it in equal measure, even simultaneously. Yet it is always – always – generous of anyone to GIVE a writer feedback. To fail in gratitude for any reader is foolish; even critique we don’t take on is an effort made on our behalf.

Feedback isn’t self-gratification. It is always a gift.

Even if the gift doesn’t fit, they took the time to give it. Even that one person in your crit group who always seems not to “get” your groove, if they speak to your work, the ONLY reason for that is “to make it better” (that their idea of “better” may involve invariably pretty people getting it on, or Must. Have. Werewolves. or whatever their particular thing, is beside the point). When you ask for it – and you get it – feedback is never anything but the result of someone thinking of your work.

That’s a hell of a big deal, really.

I lost Mr. X for a reader when he disagreed with other feedback I was taking, massive cuts to AX when he thought “there was good stuff in there.” And the thing is, he was right, there was good writing. It just wasn’t good writing that served the ultimate goal, which was telling the right parts of the story. He couldn’t take the waste; he was more attached to my darlings than I was. Except that: it wasn’t. Words can be very, very pretty indeed, and even exciting – and still have no use as one part of a whole. This is why the call it killing the darlings, of course. You don’t just kill off the ugly and the useless and the weak, you have to take the scimitar (or the butterknife …) to GOOD WORK, if it doesn’t honestly contribute to the greater structure.

There are many, many beautiful pieces of art and furniture and so on I admire and might even love to have, but not all the beauty in the world will actually fit inside my house.

This is what drafts are for.

And so I have a lot of pretty “writing” right now, which has earned the irritating scare quotes I know are probably giving some of you a case of the hives, and which will not be a part of the final MS. I’ll know it happened. I may even let it continue to exist electronically, for when I finally do get published, establish myself as a literary light, and the Ivy Leage university library of nobody’s dreams someday needs to curate my body of work for posterity.

(Or, y’know, just because I am vain.)

The pretty things don’t live any less because I don’t put them in a glass display case and preserve them at all costs.

Some pretty words are … just exercise.

But it’s always nicer to have an exercise partner, and to remember that writing *is* exactly that. That it is a limbering, a means to some kind of fitness, and that doing it with others takes away some of the fear and the anguish and can be motivating and just more fun.

I found out not long ago one of my dearest friends, TEO (The Elfin One), harbors regret that she never helped me when I asked her to beta read AX.

Now, I certainly complained about that blasted butterknife and no backup. And obviously that revision was not a good one; once That Certain Agent gave me an R&R, and good feedback, it got somewhere. But merely surviving the dragon wasn’t enough for that MS, not that first time.

But that someone would regret not being there with me? That she would apologize after all this time, and re-up for service on the WIP. That it would even be an emotional matter … ?

I was stunned. It had never occurred to me.

Like so much about writing, it hardly ever occurs to us as is doin’ it, that there’s anyone else in the world who’ll ever really, truly SEE, read, hear, be there in and with and for it. I still never have gotten the hang of being able to really feel it when anyone has my work. The idea is literally inconceivable, at least for my wee and paltry little brain.

And so empirical evidence there is someone stalking in the world I am still learning how to build … it’s curious, and one of those shocking surprises as an author.

This work exists. And it’s garnered an opinion, it’s sparked a thought.

Amazing. And I’m always glad, too, if that thought isn’t “yawn” or “what-the … !???”


I went to a new doctor not long ago, and the immediate result is that I’m collecting a whole new raft of doctors. Most likely, I expect this is an indication I chose well in the new guy, but of course the whole thing comes with a raft of administrivia and the inevitable fear doctors strike into many of us.

Like a lot of little kids, I was afraid of Going to the Doctor, because the extreme ritual of it all, the rigidity of my mother’s discipline leading up to the visit, and the smell of alcohol were in no way really reduced by the presence of the biggest fish aquarium I’d ever seen in my life, and I really never got to go nose-up to the tank anyway (mom, that) and get out of my head by contemplating the undulating peace and beauty in that water.

Once the sheer unknowable-ness and mystery went out of the experience, I “outgrew the fear” and got over it, and an increasing understanding of the medical likelihoods of my family lines became, over time, a bit of a dulled litany that went from not meaning anything because as a healthy child those things didn’t touch me to not having any meaning because, frankly, in my family (on the maternal side, anyway), illness and decrepitization are something of a cottage industry, if not an obsession.

Okay, they’re an obsession.

When  I was a liddle-LIDDLE kid, as we used to say, my cousin/best friend and I used to get into competitions whenever we saw each other: “My mother had NURSE’S TRAINING.” “MY mother FINISHED nurse’s training.” We were steeped in medical expectations and the fact that injury yielded that pinnacle experience of life: attention. Doing anything that resulted in getting a band-aid was great stuff; and the time we were walking barefoot and I stepped on a bee (the only time I’ve ever been stung by one, unless we count the time I mowed over the yellowjacket nest and half of them flew up my pants) was epic attention time for me. I believe I was actually jealous of that other cousin, whose foot got caught in the spokes of the bicycle when he was riding on the back.


Once adulthood undoubtedly got its way and had me all independent and working for a living and surviving that experience, I began to consider myself generally too busy, and too healthy, for doctor visits. And I have also been surrounded by those who actually “need” to go to them, which makes me sad. Of my two oldest friends, one has had a chronic, incurable disease since we were like twenty-five, and she’s endured multiple surgeries to remove significant portions of herself in treatment thereof. The other came upon difficulties much more recently, but very profoundly, now enduring a laundry list of exotic and also incurable conditions, as well as some hearing loss, rheumatoid arthritis, the odd blood clot or mini stroke – oh, and the supposedly-rare disease which killed not only my father and my grandmother, but has got hold of her and someone else in my family by now.

So it has come to be that recently, aged forty-seven, not having been unaware that I seem hardly ever to be in a doctor’s office as often as … well, ANYONE I know, I had to put a face on it, and admit, I hate doctors.

I had one several years back who, knowing my father died of lung disease, prescribed me a really good migraine medicine, which I loved and refilled … until the time it came from the pharmacy with the giant yellow label that said MAY CAUSE SEVERE BREATHING PROBLEMS on it. Where that label had been previously, I have no idea, but I can tell you this: I did endure horiffic sleep apnea every damned time after I got rid of a migraine.

So … that explained THAT problem. (*)

This doctor also (knowing about the migraine thing, y’see) decided it’d be a nice idea to force me to wear a giant, bright-blue, traffic-stoppingly-huge heart monitor in front of everyone 24/7 (as if that is not humiliating and therefore high-blood-pressure-inducing) because I had high BP once in her office. The fact that I explained to her I HAD a migraine that day, and had also had a fight with Mr. X, already living some 4000 miles away by then and therefore extra-stressy to fight with, between time differences and so on, made no odds to her. Into a BP monitor I must go, all context and stress notwithstanding.

I’ve had a hideous case of White Coat Syndrome ever since then, that stressed me out so much. My dad had the same problem, and I never thought I would (ask any phlebotomist who’s taken my whole blood or platelet donations over the past THIRTY years now). But no matter how I try to overcome it, a DOCTOR’S office BP test is invariably going to come off badly. Gosh dammit.

That doc  pulled the same heart monitor trick on my sister in law, too. It stressed my very young NIECE out, that stunt – imagine how conducive that was to S-I-L’s BP coming off well.

I never went to her again.

The one I replaced her with was indifferent in the extreme, which meant I thought he was a great fit on the rare occasion I ever bothered to go see him.

But last time I did bother, he shrugged off a very real patient concern I had, and decided to make a flip remark to go with the (literal, thanks) shrug.

And so we have a new doctor.

He’s treating my eczema by sending me to my mom’s dermatologist, whom I know she loves (this may or may not bode well for my loving the doctor herself, but at least I have something to do about the incresingly ugly situation on my arms).

And he’s responding to the fact that I have a history of sleep apnea (*) and my father and grandmother both died of (non smoking-related) lung disease by sending me to a pulmonologist.

This, for me, is a bit of an added area of White Coat Syndrome, because, though I count myself whole and healthy and have so much to be grateful for when I look at the health of so many around me, I actually do have significant trouble breathing sometimes. It began about a year or two after dad died, and also about the time Mr. X went so far away. It’s been a stable problem, and not associated with other symptoms – and I had a sleep study done once which was inconclusive of anything scary – and I have a deviated septum (the only useful thing that first doc ever told me, not that she ever DID anything about it) – and eczema is actually associated with breathing issues – and I’m only forty-seven – and this visit, as New Doc is kind enough to say, is just to establish the baseline (… “just in case” being left unsaid …).

In case the theme of “and’s” above is not clear, with all these years of not going to doctors like I’m a crank about the whole thing, I’ve been able to sustain the narrative that “there’s nothing wrong, really” (i.e., I am not dying of lung disease).

But you know. It’s no less uncomfortable, not being able to breathe, folks. It’s always embarrassing.

And … the sleep apnea.

It doesn’t happen every night; only several times a year, sometimes with long stretches of not at all. Sometimes with weeks-long stretches of every night, though.

I know enough to know this much. My apnea is autonomic, not mechanical. My BRAIN stops the breathing, not my body; not my weight and conformation.

I’ve had this problem since I was a liddle-LIDDLE kid.

I can remember, from an extremely early age, the nightmares. Nightmares from childhood can be particularly vivid; memorable even into adulthood.

Nightmares that could kill you – that literally stop your breathing – and that you never outgrow, though you outgrow all the other nightmares …

Yeah, those are doozies.


The nightmare is that I’m at the pool. It’s the same friendly pool I knew all my childhood, often, though I’ve been under other water in the odd dream over the years.

I’m at the pool and underwater, my hand over my face, and – miracle! – there is the tiniest bubble of air inside my hand.

This is all I have to breathe.

I have to conserve it.

So I have to breathe really. Really. Shallow.

And then my brain gets the idea. I can’t breathe at all.

And so I don’t.

And I stop for what seems like must be a pretty long time. Not just a few seconds.

I stop for so long my body’s repressed state stills. Becomes almost perfect.

Until I am unable to hold on any longer. And I explode into consciousness. Gasping. Clawing at the air, the air that is not just a tiny little bubble I am holding in my hand, but wide and open and free, unsupressed by water, all mine, all mine. And I need it all.

So. Yeah. I got a new doctor, and almost instantly had three.

Vacation this year was a lot more fun to set up.