Archive for June, 2013

For those of you not following my every move and tweet and and status update, those of you with actual lives of your own in which I have–at best–a cameo appearance, now is when I explain that I’ve been in and out of the hospital for two weeks now with multiple kidney stones exacerbated by what is apparently a life-threatening kidney infection. By “life-threatening” they mean “can turn into infected blood if we don’t figure out which antibiotic will actually combat this bastard.” I’ve already failed with one antibiotic, am allergic to penicillin and am now on a cocktail of two other antibiotics. It’s sort of complicated and I will never again gloss over stories about how there are superbugs that are challenging our medical system. There are times I feel like I’m back in the 1920s. It’s weird.

Anyway, last night I was lying on the couch in a grip of serious pain and thinking about how this is not the pool party lemonade summer I was anticipating. I got kind of pouty and pouted on Facebook and made people tell me they were praying for me. And then I started hearing from my friends who were in nursing homes because they’ve had spina bifida their whole life and my friends who are having cluster headaches and have had serious leg surgery and I realised that I need to stop with the whining because everybody has something and I need to just suck it up. And I made the list of good things–whenever I whine I have to make a list with 10 good things so that I don’t get lost in the pity party. There are never good snacks there.

I can read. That always tops my list. Even when I forget about having a list, the minute I draw up a new one the first one is always “I can read”. That is such a powerful blessing. It’s always been a fun way to pass the time, a good way to learn new things, a way to find worlds where I fit in when this one was fitting like an odd sock.

But now reading is saving my life. When the pain is too much, the sadness accompanying the pain is too much I can actually go to Walt Longmire’s Wyoming and become so involved in the goings on that I forget. I can go to Westeros and ride Dany’s dragon alongside her. It’s better than any medication, honestly. I can say that, having had everything from aspirin to zofran.

It’s a magic we take for granted, this reading thing. But it’s still a magic and it still saves lives.

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First off, let me apologise for my absence. I’ve had a wicked kidney infection that makes sitting at my desk nigh unto impossible. And I really really loathe blogging on my mobile devices. So now that I have six readers left, I guess I get to shriek my opinion at those people.

I found out yesterday that for the last several days there has been this article floating around the author world about authors giving reviews. It’s by Kristen Lamb, and you can google it. I’m not linking it because…wait and see.

I’ve been blogging for nine years now; I’ve been reading blogs for more than a decade. In the early days every blog had a fairly wide reach in that it was possible to draw in folks of varied interest. Dooce was followed by nearly every reader of blogs.

Blogs have now become extremely niche oriented. It started with “Mommy blogs”–bloggers who wrote about their experiences as a mother for other mothers. A lot of those Mommy Bloggers were able to exploit their visibility into cash and prizes and soon much of mommy blogging was a contest to see who could net the most swag. What had once been about finding a voice and a community had transformed into pitching and enriching oneself. That is the iteration of blogging I absolutely despise. It’s self-interest coated in avarice. It’s not a conversation it’s a commercial.

That attitude is at the root of what caused me to pull back from blogging and it’s what causes me to avoid blog affinity groups like the plague. I admit freely that I’m a writer, but I don’t want to be a writer who is always and primarily talking to other writers about my writing. I have a blog to express myself as a person, to engage in conversation with interesting people who challenge me, to exercise my mind against new and different ideas and against new views of old ideas. Sometimes I will–like today–talk about professional writing. But it’s not WHY I have a blog and it’s not what this blog is about.

I’m less than not at all interested in renting space in the echo chamber. That’s why this idea from Kristen Lamb about how “authors should never give less than fully positive reviews to books” is so grating to me. I may publish my book someday. I hope so, but I don’t overdrive my headlights. I’ve always written and told stories for myself; I’ve always read. And that’s how I review books. I don’t review books as a jaded pitchman, always selling, selling, selling myself. There’s still a lot of Lloyd Dobbler in me. I want to connect with people, to be honest with people. I’m direct and upfront; I hate passive-aggressiveness with a passion. If I don’t like something, I’ll say so. (One of the side benefits of years of blogging is that I have learned to say so in a kinder way.)

The vast majority of comments on that other blog are of the “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all” school of thought. Many of them pat themselves on the back for having such a gracious position in life–and then go on to slag off some author who was just dreadful but weren’t they nice to keep it to themselves? That to me is abhorrent beyond all measure. Because as much as they think they’re being kind, they’re being kind with one face, catty with another. That’s not “nice”. That’s bitchy. Plain and simple. More than that, it’s a selfish attitude that says “my self-interest as an author in this echo chamber of other authors is in my books and my sales of my books.” It isn’t about craft or the love of reading. It’s that Glengarry Glen Ross abomination of Always Be Closing.

I didn’t link to Lamb’s article because I don’t want to be part of the echo chamber. I’m not here to sell my book, I’m here to be honest.

(Kat Heckenbach’s much more measured opinion can be read here.)

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So help me, I’m having a love-hate relationship with Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire Mysteries.     I was alerted to them by the credits of the A&E show and plowed into them voraciously as soon as I had them downloaded.  (Once again, hooray for Kindle.  Amount of  time between ‘learning about book’s existence’ and ‘owning book’ was 30 seconds.  Took a bit longer because I had to find out which was the first in the series. )  


The problem is that these are the type of books where someone is always eating something delicious.   I just finished the first one and sat through biscuits and gravy, breakfast casserole, fried fish, lasagne, pasta, homemade apple pie…the list is goes on.  

It’s gotten to where I can’t read them unless I have at least a soda.  Right now I’m getting ready to go heat up my leftover taco from last night so that I can make a little progress in Book Two.   

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Yes, I know I already wrote a post today. Oh well. Now I’ve written two.

This initially started as a blog comment over at Jill Domschot‘s but it’s something I need to go on record about anyway, so I figured I’d keep it where I keep the rest of my thoughts.

The Christian Libertarians are being invaded by far-right jingoists and authoritarians who like the sound of “libertarian” because they haven’t yet tainted that brand they way they have all but ruined Republicanism. I promise that more and more of this is going to happen the closer we get to the next election.

That’s one of the reasons I’m changing my political affiliation to just “libertarian”. I’ve called myself “Christian Libertarian” for years as an acknowledgement of my belief that while the State should not be an all-governing authority I believe that one can, and I have, voluntarily place[d] oneself directly under the authority of God through the redemption to be had via Christ Jesus.

Now however Christian Libertarian seems to mean that they don’t like the State now that they don’t have a guy in charge so they think the State should have no authority. But they’re on God’s side and God has authority. So they claim their alliance with the Ruling Faction that way. The New Christian Libertarians are about exercising authoritarianism with the left hand instead of the right.

So yes, I am a Christian. And yes, I am a libertarian. But I’m no longer a Christian Libertarian because I flat out believe that we don’t convert people using force of law and we don’t use force of law to carpet the world to our own fussy liking.

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It has occurred to me on more than one occasion that God has been directing my reading for awhile now. Sure, there are a few books that are truly leisure reading but more and more often I feel like every book I get the urge to read ends up being a sort of lesson in some aspect of crafting fiction.

Last week was one of the watershed moments of my writing life and I spent much time not writing on this blog or on Facebook because I was busy handling what had become a huge moment for me.

Ever since I was about five I have had people comparing me to fictional characters. My mom’s hairdresser started it by saying that I should read Little Women because I reminded her of Jo. From the time I was about eleven I’ve had people saying that I remind them of Anne Shirley of Green Gables fame. When I finally read those books I was more than a bit puzzled because while I see a few similarities I didn’t really care for those stories in general.

But then last week I did find my fictional counterpart in a novel in a way that was almost scary. I mean, I have a very few things in common with Jo March, mostly in the liking-to-read-and-write areas. (Most of the time I still think she was an idiot for not marrying Laurie.) And Anne Shirley has some things in common with me. But I AM Francie Nolan of A Tree Grows In Brooklyn. I read that book for the first time last week and had such an emotional, gut reaction to Francie. No, I didn’t grow up impoverished in Brooklyn. I didn’t have an aunt who worked in the condom factory. But the rest of it, the being alone and loving books and not having friendships with (many) women…so many things about Francie Nolan are ME. I actually spent quite a few hours last week flat out ANGRY with my parents for not making me read that book when having read it would have been a great comfort to me–around 13 or so. Since my mom was my English teacher for several years it isn’t an entirely misplaced frustration. But I can see how this book with its frank language and talk of sex is not something that one thinks of for children.

But now I’ve read it, at 43. And now I’ve combed through the minutiae of Betty Smith’s life looking for clues as to where I go next. Francie, after all, may have been fictional but everyone–including Smith–acknowledges that she was mostly a depiction of Smith herself and that the book is largely memoir. It’s been a great comfort to me to know that A Tree Grows In Brooklyn was written when Smith was in her late 40s. More and more often I’ve been pointed to books that turn out to have been written by folks in their mid- to late-40s. It’s a comfort to realise that many of the greatest novels to need to gestate in the author’s brain until the other impulses of creativity in a woman’s life start to taper down.

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Last night something happened that I never thought I’d live to see. Hoped I’d never live to see.

Actually, that isn’t true. Saying that means that I had thought of the idea and rejected it as too horrible to even be considered. This particular idea had never even crossed my mind. My mind that has read of serial killers and the horrors of war and the Holocaust and starvation and thirst had never even pondered this hideous beast.

It was an infomercial for a diet plan…on a PBS pledge drive. Yes, that’s true. You watched two skinny people lecture you in tent revival tones on drinking their special shakes and making their special chicken tenders with Almond meal and then they stopped talking and the camera cut to a bodiless head (she must not be on the plan) who then said a few words about how the two skinny people were helping people and that’s what Public Television is all about! (Can I get an amen?) I watched for another minute to make sure that I was seeing what I saw. Sure enough, if you donate to This Local PBS Station, you will receive this book about Getting Healthy With The Brain Doctor’s Wife. Donate a little more and you get a video, yet a little more nets you a journal and exercise chart.

I wonder more and more why “helping people” and “saving people” costs so much money. The church-service tones of the infomercial were both comforting and appalling as I watched these people sell their ideas the way I’d watch others sell Jesus. It will make your life better! You will enjoy your days more! You will become bulletproof and beautiful beyond measure!

Of course, you have to pay for the books or the church building. The ideas are free but the marketing will cost you.

The food plan (The Omni Diet: Beware of Talky Video that starts automatically and has to be paused) promises to “reverse disease”. They tell you that yes, this food may be more expensive, but you can buy online and in bulk and it isn’t so bad. And besides, being sick is the most expensive thing ever.

We are entering that door I’d hoped would stay closed. That door which says “Illness is your fault. It is what you eat that makes you sick and by eating other things you will be made well.” This is a neat way to blame those who are already suffering for things that are out of their control. Of course I know that some folks are helped by a change in diet; I, for instance, am allergic to soy and feel much better if I avoid things with soy in them. But I also know that I have a condition that makes it at times impossible to eat fresh fruit, salad, raw vegetables. I’ve got my doctors telling me to eat processed foods (literally, actually “stay away from whole grains when you’re in flare”) because my gut cannot handle the other. And as many times as I’ve tried various food plans, and I’ve tried them all, I am not cured of my diseases. So I eat what I can handle (haven’t gained a pound in 8 years) avoid what I can’t.

But I’ve said all that before, I know. It’s an old soap box for me, this recoiling at the promises made by hucksters of health.

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A few days ago (again with the FB…) I posted a video of Sir Patrick Stewart (Captain Picard, wheelchair dude from X-Men) addressing a group about violence against women and post-traumatic stress for veterans. Having just been assured by two women at a writing group that it was okay for a man to shake a woman he was angry with, I felt the need to have someone else loudly proclaim that violence is never the answer and to then receive a round of applause. That video met the need handsomely. (Literally. He’s a handsome man.)

What I found more captivating than his speech, however, was the way he stood, arms crossed in front of him, one hand clenching and clawing at his sleeve. I recognise that move. Any arthritic recognises that move. Call it “The Clench”–it’s a dead give-away that the person is arthritic and not in a mild, one-finger-hurts-when-it-rains kind of way. I swore then in my FB post that he has arthritis.

This afternoon I finally got around to googling “Patrick Stewart arthritis”. Apparently he is a red-letter sufferer, public about the problem and mentioned in some arthritis groups as a sort of Pop Culture Patron Saint of Arthritics Everywhere. {As an aside, I truly do not get this need that people have to find a celebrity with their problem/issue/concern so that they can validate their problem/issue/concern. Does arthritis “count” more now that Patrick Stewart has it?} So I guess instead of being all Sherlock Holmes-y on the YouTube video I could have been more up on Patrick Stewart in general and I would have found out that way. Oh well.

What compelled me to keyboard was the fact that there was a fan account of meeting him wherein the fan waited on line for a long time and was disgruntled that Stewart wouldn’t shake his hand or even give him a fist-bump. When the fan-wrangler had to explain that Sir Patrick (he actually called him Sir Patrick…) has arthritis the fan was pretty irritated.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve had people irritated when I won’t shake their hands. In fact, it’s gotten to be so irritating to me that I no longer refuse to shake hands. I would rather put up with the slices of lightning that wrap around my fingers and shoot up my arm than to suffer under the laser glare of someone’s automatic decision that I am a bitch who is too bitchy to live.

By and large I’m glad that my disability is not visible in the way a missing limb or an eye patch would be. Folks can’t just look at me and know (unless they are a sufferer themselves and aware of the signs) what hurts, why and how bad. I’m like that commercial a few years ago for fibromyalgia where they show black animated fog superimposed over the parts of the woman’s hurting body while they told us loudly that Fibromyalgia Is Real. (No kidding…thanks for waiting for a saleable drug to get on board with that one, medical industry!) The animated fog superimposed on my joints would be red and make me look like I’d fallen in a vat of Buster Bluth’s juice*. But you’d better believe I’ll shake your hand. It’s just one more way to get by in an ableist world by faking ability.

Props to Patrick, er, Sir Patrick Stewart for drawing a line in the sand. But man, I sure would love a day when we arthritics don’t get lambasted for “impersonal” behaviour when we give in to our limitations.

(“You mean we have unlimited juice? This party is gonna be OFF THE HOOK!”)

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A couple of weeks ago there was a video making the Facebook rounds, and since so many of my friends talked it up I figured I should watch it. Apparently it was the latest entry in the “tell your kids they’re going to Disney and get their reaction on video” craze.

The video begins with the little girl called Lilly sitting at a table. A woman–I assume her mother–asks Lilly if she is excited for her birthday coming in the following week and then asks if she’d like to open an early present. There are then five or so minutes while Lilly sorts through the various Disney-branded gifts packed in the purple backback with the Disney Princesses on it. Mom keeps asking leading questions such as “where do you think a good place would be to wear that t-shirt?” and “where would you like to take those videos?” (props to Lilly for saying “I want to leave them at home.”) Finally mom can stand the suspense no longer and announces to Lilly that they are indeed going to Disneyland RIGHT NOW TODAY AS SOON AS DADDY GETS HOME FROM WORK!

Lilly bursts into tears. Literal, screaming, wailing tears of confusion and uncertainty. All she knows in her little four year old world is that the order and routine she counts on is being wildly disrupted. “Are we taking Daddy?” “Is my birthday today?” The child wasn’t excited. She was petrified. Mom tried to put a spin on it, asking her if she was excited and assuming they were tears of joy. Some of them might have been, but I know there was much fear and confusion.

I’m not singling these parents out as being special examples of something awful. They clearly love their child and want to make her happy. The problem is that they made a huge mistake and spoiled what could have been a magnificent teaching opportunity.

There is joy in waiting. I’m not talking about the purity ring kind of waiting–that’s specifically for Christians and is a different thing altogether. I’m talking about basic delayed gratification coupled with the pleasures and bonding of anticipation. I use the Disney example specifically because my parents took us several times when we were children and it was always something that we were told about months in advance. A good part of the fun of the trip was the looking forward to it. As an adult who doesn’t use credit I am extremely grateful for those lessons about patience.

Frankly, I’m worried about kids not getting the message. Lilly seems like a nice little girl from the five minutes I’ve seen of her. I would hate to think that she’ll be among the masses who buy everything on credit, never learning that saving, pondering, anticipating are their own particular sort of fun.


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