Thursday, October 31, 2002

Counting Down

In just over three hours, NaNoWriMo starts. Time to get those words out of my head and onto the page. And to keep hitting Save every couple of minutes. Wretched old Word just crashed and took half a page with it.

I was talking about the difference in the way I feel tonight and the way I felt last night. Now I’m feeling the same tightening focus that I felt when I acted in college as I got ready for a performance. Last night — well, last night I hit a wall.

It had been a long rough day at work, and I was concerned about how I’d handled some issues. I stopped for dinner on the way home. I let myself relax: ate slowly, read a little, took time to think. When I got back out to the truck, though, it started. Who was I kidding? I wasn’t going to write 50,000 words. I probably wasn’t going to write any. This was going to be another failure.

Within minutes I was flung into the far past. Helpless, crying, couldn’t speak. I wanted to die.

There’s no way to write from that place, because it’s preverbal. I can go there, I can bring back memories, and I can try to explain it, but it’s always going to be an explanation. Not the place itself, or who I am there: helpless, suffering, self-loathing, with only death as a possible escape. These are flashbacks, the exact equivalent of the veteran who crosses Fifth Avenue and finds himself in a rice paddy with helicopters raining fire on him. In my flashbacks, I am little, helpless, terrified, and longing for death. I’ve failed again. I can never get it right. The early rape and violence would be bad enough to live through over and over; the self-betrayal, helplessness, and self-loathing are a thousand times worse.

But my writer’s mind, observing, saw something there, and gave me a rope to climb back. Just as my writer’s mind, all those years ago, said: Make it into a story. Tell yourself stories to get through the bad times. Remember this and tell it later. Stories will help you survive. You have to live to tell the truth.

That’s the geas upon me: I have to live to tell. Almost as strong is the other one, the curse: Don’t tell anyone what goes on in this house.

Speaking of my childhood — the fear, suffering, violence — is not self-indulgence. It’s an act of defiance, and it takes courage. Breaking the curse of silence is terrifying. I expect to be killed for it. Or to be forced into that place where death is a gift.

Live. Speak. Write. Tell the truth. I'm going to die anyway. Let me first speak the truth.

Tuesday, October 29, 2002

Funnier than James Lileks

Baby's Named a Bad, Bad Thing. Read it and wet your pants.

Seriously, James Lileks posts some of the funniest pop-culture commentary on the Internet. (Fifties motel architecture. Fifties food.) D. Goodman posts hilarious commentary on suggested baby names. If, like me, you were raised in the mid-twentieth century, you may not know about the current trends in baby-naming. These people scare me.

Monday, October 28, 2002

Mea Culpa

I've been neglecting this blog in preparation for NaNoWriMo, which I tend to think of as "Nanorama" — National Novel Writing Month. Fifty thousand words in 30 days, on top of work, commuting time, sleep, eating, housework, church, family. . . . Obviously it's not going to be deathless prose, but it *is* going to be 50,000 words written down, which I can then edit into some kind of shape. I'm hoping it will give me some momentum to carry into December and beyond.

Today I downloaded an Excel spreadsheet that will enable me to chart my daily progress toward 50,000 words. I've been corresponding a bit with other NaNoWriMas. I'm letting my mind fuill with characters, incidents, narrative techniques. I'm carrying around index cards in half a dozen colors so I can take notes. I'm serious about this.

Saturday, October 26, 2002

Peripatetic Musings

Wow. Beautiful blog by Vagabond, who enjoys the worlds of thought and senses and feelings.

Friday, October 25, 2002

Inside the Writers' Studio

Imagine these questions being asked in a mellifluous voice by a condescending jerk.

What turns you on?
Fall, woodsmoke, rising winds, good music, intense conversation.

What turns you off?
This misuse of the language. I’m sorry, but “turn-on” and “turn-off” ceased to be amusing about 30 years ago, and they were never evocative metaphors.

What is your favorite word?
"Complex." So many meanings.

What is your least favorite word?
"Shut up."

What sound or noise do you love?
The wind in the trees.

What sound or noise do you hate?

What profession other than yours would you like to attempt?
Bread baker.

What profession other than yours would you not want to attempt?
Soldier. I don’t do obedience.

What is your favorite swear word?
I’m trying to clean up my language, unfortunately, or I could share quite a few startling nouns and verbs.

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say to you as you enter the Pearly Gates?
"Welcome home."

Wednesday, October 23, 2002

"Let's write laughably awful yet lengthy prose together."

You are an arteest, and no longer have time for things like cooking and grocery shopping and laundry. Start demanding favors and treats from friends and loved ones now. That way they'll be fully acclimated to the new you once November rolls around.

This alluring invitation is from the folks at National Novel Writing Month. The idea is to start writing a novel at 12:01 AM, November 1, and get 50,000 words done by midnight, November 30. You can research, plan, plot, outline, and agonize before November, but you can't *write*.

This is a great way to get a first draft done, especially if you're a perfectionist. You get emotional support from other writers (there are message boards and 3D meetings), plus the motivation of a solid drop-dead date. And you can reassure your family that you'll be back to normal by the end of November. Once you have a draft, of course, it's much easier to sculpt it into a finished work.

I signed up yesterday. I don't have time enough as it is, without adding thousands of words of writing every day, so it seems like a crazy idea. But it also is a good focus to get my work rolling. Also, given the recent changes in my schedule, I know *when* I can do the work: at 5AM, which is when I have to get up these days.

Also, I figure that for a month I can cut out everything extraneous. My life is going to be ruthlessly simplified to work, sleep, housework, and writing. Oh, and church. I've always gone into a state of house arrest at the end of a book anyway. It's the only way to do it. By the end of a book,all I want is to focus on the book. Just to write, just to disappear into the page. And I miss that. I miss working at the top of my form, fast and pure with no rewrites.

Can I write 50,000 words in 30 days? Easy. My first book, The Crystal Tree, was written in fifteen working days. Of course, I wasn't working at an outside job then, I'd been thinking about the ideas for years, and I had written a solid outline. It was one of the great experiences of my life — three weeks of ecstasy. (I took weekends off.)

Can I write all those words while working full-time, commuting a long way, and keeping up my end of the housework? That's a tougher question.

Wish me luck.
Baseball Notes

I’m rooting for the Giants in the World Series, and not just because I prefer the National League. Barry Bonds, one of the greatest players we’ve ever had, deserves a World Series ring. Plus, I have a love/hate relationship with the Disney Corporation, and it’s simpler for me to root for the local boys.

I’m a fourth-generation Phillies fan, an allegiance I’ll never surrender, no matter where I pay rent and taxes. When I moved here I knew I had to pick a local team to root for, at least if I ever wanted to watch any games. The obvious choice was the A’s, since they used to be in Philadelphia. They’ve given me a lot of pleasure already: for much of the season, they had the best record in baseball. However, they are not in the World Series. That fact indicates that the A’s are well-prepared to administer the suffering the Phillies are famous for inflicting on their fans. A comforting sense of continuity there.

San Francisco Giants fans are in general a talented, intelligent bunch, or at least no weirder than fans of any other frustrated, championship-hungry franchise. Some, however, seem to take the desire to see the World Series a smidge too far.

These ads from both buyers and sellers are to be found in the Best of Craigslist:

— Will Trade Car For Giants Tix
— Will let you kick my ass for World Series Tickets
— World Series tickets in exchange for doing something you do already!
— World Series ticket in exchange for job

That mysterious third one is a serious offer of good Series tickets in exchange for sperm for artificial insemination. It has all the usual strings attached, and it seems to be a serious offer. She does promise to raise the child as a Giants fan. Unless she has another set of tickets she isn’t selling, she can’t be that much of a fan, or she wouldn’t swap Series tickets. Not even for the chance to have a child.

Tuesday, October 22, 2002

Recent Reading

Inventing the Victorians by Matthew Sweet

A readable, spirited examination of what the Victorians actually thought and did, as opposed to the starchy stereotype. (Did they *really* cover up piano limbs? Read it and find out!) Given the amount of research I’ve done on the nineteenth century over the years, I wasn’t shocked to find that Victorians weren’t all stuffy prudes, but I did find a lot of interesting information. However, the author sometimes defends the Victorians against well-justified complaints about, for example, clitoridectomy and infibulation for masturbators, by pointing out that such practices weren’t confined to Victoria’s reign but continued well into the 20th century. “Well, everybody else does it too” is not a scholarly argument.

Grade: B

In a Sunburned Country and I’m a Stranger Here Myself, both by Bill Bryson

I love Bill Bryson. He’s one of the few authors who can get me into an uncontrollable laughing jag, which sounds like I’m crying or possibly being strangled. It’s not just the individual lines, but the cumulative effect of pages of hilarity. Bryson is mostly a travel writer (he’s also done several excellent books on the English language), and he specializes in Things That Go Wrong, without being nearly as whiny and mean-spirited as Paul Theroux can be. Also, he comments on the kinds of things I look at when I’m traveling: landscape and architecture, for example, and food.

I’m a Stranger Here Myself could be subtitled “Tales of Culture Shock.” It started as a series of columns for a British weekly, explaining Life in America to his British readers. Bryson had just moved back to the US after spending 20 years (his whole adult life) in England. With his English wife and their 4 kids, he settled in New Hampshire and promptly freaked out at the new commonplaces of American life: 24-hour hotlines for every product, including dental floss; junk food; cable TV; the varying quality of consumer goods (“If my son can have his choice of a seemingly limitless range of scrupulously engineered, biomechanically efficient footwear, why does my computer keyboard suck?”).

In a Sunburned Country is a classic travel book about Australia. I learned a great many things I didn’t know about Australian history, geography, culture, trees, and architecture. But there just weren’t that many funny bits. I’ve no objection to learning about Australia, but I got the book from the library in hopes of laughing until the tears ran, and it just didn’t happen.

I’m a Stranger Here Myself: A
In a Sunburned Country: B-

Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven: Women, Sexuality, and the Catholic Church by Uta Ranke-Heinemann

Whew. Two thousand years of theological misogyny and what the author calls “sexual pessimism,” which sounds like being afraid you won’t get any; in fact, the term implies being afraid you might, since it means “thinking all sex is sinful.” It’s all carefully documented and exhaustively researched (though secondary sources tend to be in German; many of the primary sources are, of course, in Latin). The author quotes at length from papal bulls, accredited books by various Doctors of the Church, and other documents that bear the imprimatur of the Catholic Church.

The book is organized by topic, as a series of short essays on various specific areas of concern (contraception, abortion, homosexuality, incest, and so forth). The discussions of doctrine and practice are fascinating and horrifying. Did you know that until the 1700s, the Church taught that deaf people were automatically damned? “Faith comes by hearing,” according to St. Paul. Therefore, no hearing = no faith = damnation = treat them like dogs. There was an uproar in the pulpits when some brave and kindly soul started to educate deaf people. It was unnatural! Contrary to the will of God!

The book is generally witty and well-argued, though I certainly don’t agree with all of her conclusions. For example, in discussing the Church’s doctrine of the Virgin Birth, she lists the three points of that doctrine: that Mary remained virgo intacta (that’s right, her hymen remained in place despite bearing a child), that the birth occurred without pain, and that there was no afterbirth. Baby Jesus apparently emerged “like a ray of light” from her body. (This vaginal laser beam conjures images too dreadful to contemplate — definitely much worse than a nice normal afterbirth.)

Yes, this all argues a pathological loathing of the flesh and of women. But Ranke-Heinemann pushes her argument too far. I cannot agree that the Church is trying to rob Mary of her motherhood. In my book, motherhood has at least as much to do with raising a child as with conception and birth, and you don’t have to pant and ache and bleed to become a mother. (Anyone raising a child is going to do enough of all three over the years.) The author doesn’t seem to notice that she’s belittling adoptive mothers, plus falling into the error that the pain of childbirth is what makes it “real.” Does anesthetic somehow negate the experience?

Some sections reminded me of the classic “Every Sperm is Sacred” scene in Monty Python’s Meaning of Life. Reading this book, I got the distinct impression that Cleese, Idle, and company were in no way exaggerating the theological importance of semen. Python, however, didn’t touch the corollary, which is that female emissions like menstrual blood and afterbirth are beyond profane. The disgust and shame and loathing many theologians felt for these normal God-given fluids is sad and puzzling.

The section on homosexuality is cursory, and there are times when the writing style is awkward. Nevertheless, I highly recommend this book. It demonstrates all too clearly the difficulties that can result when visceral hatred is cloaked in the language and techniques of logic. Even St. Thomas Aquinas ends up tying himself in theo/logical knots.

I don’t think that pointing out the Church’s flaws is blasphemous. Nor do I condemn the entire history of Christianity on the basis of various human theological distortions. (I am in fact a devout Christian.) We need to know and understand where we make mistakes and what the consequences of prejudice are.

Though it doesn’t deal directly with pedophilia, Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven can help readers understand why the Church has not been able to recognize and deal with sexually exploitive priests. After 2,000 years of twisted, self-contradictory rhetoric about sex, the Church may have been too blinded by hysteria to see even normal needs in any kind of perspective. Compared to the sheer horror felt at having sex with women, molesting little children just may not have carried the grave weight it should.

Grade: A

The Harlot by the Side of the Road: Forbidden Tales of the Bible by Jonathan Kirsch

How often does a book of Bible stories keep you up reading half the night? I recently reread this book, and I was as fascinated with it as I had been when it first came out some years ago.

Kirsch looks at a number of neglected, difficult, or mysterious stories about women in the Old Testament. Some are more familiar than others: the rape of David’s daughter Tamar by one of her half-brothers is a a fairly well-known story. But the tale of Zipporah’s ad-hoc circumcision of her infant son is not one I had ever heard in Sunday School. These stories — some given no more than a few lines in the Bible — rival the X-Files and General Hospital for labyrinthine plot, inexplicable motives, dysfunctional families, unbridled lust, and bloodthirsty violence.

The book combines storytelling with analysis, so you can read two versions of the story: as told in the Bible and as fleshed out and reimagined by Kirsch. Then Kirsch brings together Bibilical scholarship, traditional Jewish commentary, and various other interpretations to throw light on the meaning and origin of these strange tales.

The result is riveting. These tales hint at the great difference between God’s standards and those of human beings, and they promise forgiveness for even the most dreadful sins.

Monday, October 21, 2002

OK, Three Weeks in Scranton

The word I was goping for in that post (Nothing Wrong with Me that Two Weeks in Scranton Couldn’t Cure) was "gritty." Suburbs are not gritty. Cities are, farms are. Coal mines may be the epitome of grit. Suburbs are designed to be gritless.

Also, to be fair, I have always disliked suburbs and developments. It's not just the ones in Silicon Valley. It's the whole worldview they represent. Sometime we'll get into why I feel that way.
Scary Couples

Rabbi Fred Neulander is apparently dating Miss Vicki.

If you're wondering who are these people, here's a quick rundown of their claims to fame:

Rabbi Fred is now on trial for the second time, accused of paying a total lowlife to murder his wife. He is innocent until proven guilty, yes. Even if he didn't hire the guy, who just happened to kill the rabbi's wife right at the time the rabbi's lover was threatening to end their relationship if he didn't get a divorce, he's still scary. Under the guise of counseling a young, beautiful grief-stricken widow in his congregation, he seduced her within a week of her husband's death. Sleeping with a member of your congregation — especially someone you're counseling — is a breach of ethics for any clergymember; and it's particularly exploitive of a newly bereaved person.

Miss Vicki married Tiny Tim on the Tonight Show back in 1969. They had a daughter they named Tulip and got divorced a few years later.

OK, time to be serious. Yes, I think Fred Neulander is a dangerous man. I don't know about Miss Vicki. Imagine having that kind of idiotic adolescent decision follow you your whole life. Most of us screw up privately. She did it in the highest-rated talk show until that time. Whatever her reasons then for falling in love with a man old enough to be her father, the notoriety must have cast a shadow over her life. She may be a warm nurturing person, or she may be especially vulnerable to manipulation by men she perceives as powerful, or both.

But yes, a scary couple.
Chill of the Day

Shopping for Sniper Rifles. With international terrorists. At a nice gun show in suburban PA — probably someplace like King of Prussia Mall, which has hosted several gun shows to my certain knowledge.

You know, I grew up with guns. My grandfather taught me to shoot when I was 10 or so. We used an empty pumpkin can for a target. Later I took a hunter safety course, because you need to know how to handle them safely if you're going to be around guns. So many teachers and students at my high school were hunters that the school was officially closed on the first day of deer season. My father always had guns around: rifles, shotguns, revolvers, even a semiautomatic rifle that he kept always with him in the bad days of the end of my parents' marriage. But there's a difference between someone like Grandpa Belles, a lifelong NRA member to whom guns were a tool no more glamorous than a shovel or a saw, and my father, who used them to terrorize others so he could feel big.

I know all the arguments on both sides, and I also know that the fanatics on both sides never really listen. I don't discuss gun control any more than I try to argue with strict Freudians or the Reverend Fred "God Hates Fags" Phelps. Arguing doesn't make a damned bit of difference. All I can do is try to take care of the people who get squashed by the issues, support the causes I believe in, and make my ideas and preferences known to legislators.

Saturday, October 19, 2002

Pink Ribbon with Cigna

This only takes 30 seconds and you don't have to do anything else.

If you go to the Cigna web site: and click on the pink ribbon, Cigna will donate $1.00 to fight breast cancer.

Only good the month of October. Pass it on!

Wednesday, October 16, 2002

Bad Attitudes

These showed up in my e-mail one day. They range from the amusing to the obnoxious. I am not responsible for the punctuation.

The ones I really like are #17 and #32.

1. I can see your point, but I still think you're full of crap.
2. I don't know what your problem is, but I'll bet it's hard to pronounce.
3. How about never? Is never good for you?
4. I see you've set aside this special time to humiliate yourself in public.
5. I'm really easy to get along with once you people learn to worship me.
6. I'll try being nicer if you'll try being smarter.
7. I'm out of my mind, but feel free to leave a message....
8. I don't work here. I'm a consultant.
9. It sounds like English, but I can't understand a word you're saying.
10. Ahhh...I see the screw-up fairy has visited us again....
11. I like you. You remind me of when I was young and stupid.
12. You are validating my inherent mistrust of strangers.
13. I have plenty of talent and vision. I just don't give a damn.
14. I'm already visualizing the duct tape over your mouth.
15. I will always cherish the initial misconceptions I had about you.
16. Thank you. We're all refreshed and challenged by your unique point of view.
17. The fact that no one understands you doesn't mean you're an artist.
18. Any connection between your reality and mine is purely coincidental.
19. What am I? Flypaper for freaks!?
20. I'm not being rude. You're just insignificant.
21. It's a thankless job, but I've got a lot of Karma to burn off.
22. Yes, I am an agent of Satan, but my duties are largely ceremonial.
23. And your cry-baby whiny-assed opinion would be...?
24. Do I look like a people person?
25. This isn't an office. It's Hell with fluorescent lighting.
26. I started out with nothing & still have most of it left.
27. Sarcasm is just one more service we offer.
28. If I throw a stick, will you leave?
29. Errors have been made. Others will be blamed.
30. Whatever kind of look you were going for, you missed.
31. I'm trying to imagine you with a personality.
32. A cubicle is just a padded cell without a door.
33. Can I trade this job for what's behind door #1?
34. Too many freaks, not enough circuses.
35. Nice perfume. Must you marinate in it?
36. Chaos, panic, & disorder - my work here is done.
37. How do I set a laser printer to stun?
38. I thought I wanted a career, turns out I just wanted pay checks.

After reading a list like this, I'm grateful for the job I have. Sure, I work long hours, and I do the jobs of 2 people, but I love the work and the people I work with. My job has a playful atmosphere, and my boss and co-workers give genuine respect for good work. It's not the barbecues, free popcorn and soda, or the casual dress code that make the place (though they don't hurt). It's good, consistent feedback and honesty of management; we hear the numbers every week, and we know what our goals are. What more could I ask?

Tuesday, October 15, 2002

Nothing Wrong with Me that Two Weeks in Scranton Couldn’t Cure

It’s so easy to be homesick at this time of year. We’re in the middle of October, always my favorite season at home. The days are shortening toward winter, the weather is cool at night but warm during the days, and it’s all similar enough to remind me, but heartbreakingly different. No brilliant color. No breadloaf hills. No frost. No home.

At times like this, I look at our neighborhood with an accusing gaze. Built in 1975, this development is made of flimsy houses set too close together on streets whose curves have no relation to the landscape or any comprehensible human ordering. The whole place is curiously unreal to me: it looks like a town on TV with its bright clean streets, its cartoony architecture, its choice of four floor models, its palm trees and jacarandas. It looks like the kind of place sitcom families have their problems that can be solved in 22 minutes. Someday I expect to come home and find the set struck and a new arrangement of facades propped in place.

More than the domestic architecture here seems unreal. We live so far from the vigor and diversity of the city that I feel like we’re lost in an endlessly manicured suburban maze. I’m not talking about ethnic diversity (we have that), but socioeconomic diversity. And more — the honest bones of life. We’re shielded from the railroad tracks, the factories, the dumps, the other essential places that keep this neighborhood clean, well-fed, and perky. A bedroom community has the same problem and the same pleasure that many people find in an affair. You don’t have to deal with the messy stuff. You just come in and take your pleasure and leave in the morning with an empty feeling.

This particular development — and what an odd word that is, sounding like a euphemism for cancerous, disastrous change — was built to house Big Blue’s workers. Another IBM ghetto, amusingly enough, given that I just moved from the original home of IBM. Almost everyone I know who has worked for IBM is bright, thoughtful, competent, but I loathe both IBM’s personnel policies and the conformist corporate culture they enforce. I’ve never forgiven them for what happened to Binghamton and Endicott when they pulled out. Those towns are ghostly now. But at least the buildings are mostly old and solid.

OK, so what’s wrong with pretty new houses in a safe, clean family neighborhood? Somehow the whole place feels dishonest. Cities and rural areas are both much more close to the bone, much less prettified, than suburbia. You have to confront the consequences of garbage there. Here it’s so easy to ignore all that. Even the Goodwill stores are in strip malls.

Also, I don’t find the houses especially pretty, though many have beautiful gardens. In my critical eyes, they are designed for display and not endurance, built with no pride of craftsmanship: badly proportioned, flimsily constructed, with showy living rooms and claustrophobic bedrooms.

I love the rich complexity of Philadelphia streets, everything from Colonial porticoes to Victorian row houses (which at least had grace and often had beautiful detailing) to the postmodern humor of the giant clothes pin. (To be fair, that’s a statue, not a dwelling, but still.) I love the simplicity of plain farmhouses set in a grove of maple trees, and I love the dignity of their red or white barns. I love the variety and exuberance of San Francisco; even with its ragged districts, it is probably the most beautiful city in the world. There are some neighborhoods in Silicon Valley that seem coherent and neighborly, not like an alienated suburb. Other areas are just so beautiful that I don’t care about their flaws.

I know I’m bitching. I also know I’m homesick. I’m still getting over the wretched sinus/chest infection and I sound like the last act of a TB drama. I’m over-tired and on the raw edge of being peopled out. I need a weekend alone, enough rest, and the chance to come back slowly to myself. But even on the most perfect sunny days, when my heart is high, this neighborhood looks fake to me. It’s just that today I felt like bitching about it.

Saturday, October 12, 2002

A Cord of Wood

My sister Leslie, who lives in southern West Virginia, sent me this response on the topic of changing seasons here in California.

> > We've ordered a cord of wood to get us through the winter
> Pathetic. Really!

And it's true that wintering on one cord of wood shows what a soft life we have here in the Golden State. Nine or ten cords of wood might see you through an upstate PA winter.

Bad weather is relative. Back in January, the hot-tub repairman was complaining bitterly to me about what a dreadful winter we were having. He had actually had to start wearing long pants instead of shorts. I couldn't work up a lot of sympathy for his plight.

I still vividly remember the terrible winters of the mid-1970s, when the temperature without wind chill got as low as 37 below zero (Fahrenheit — God knows what it would be in Celsius) and at one point, stayed well below zero for a month. In the late 1980s, there were plenty of winter days in the 20-below range. Later, there was the dreadful Philadelphia ice-storm winter: from January to April one year, we had 17 major ice storms. I can deal with snow, I can deal with cold, but ice storms are bloody dangerous, and I was terrified for Billy every day. I've dug out of blizzards, hid in the cellar from a tornado and raced another down the northeast extension of the PA Turnpike, watched trees come down in windstorms, taped the windows against hurricanes, counted the seconds between the thunder and the lightning. No question, the northeast can kill. Every bad storm has its casualty.

Here we have fires, droughts, the Santa Ana wind, and earthquakes. When people die from the weather, they die in batches. I could never understand why Michele didn't get the Weather Channel on her cable service when she lived in the LA area. Then I discovered that prediction wasn't a big issue there. Most days the weather didn't vary, and when it did the destruction was likely to make national television.

Friday, October 11, 2002

We Did Get Fooled Again

From Slate's hilarious page of Bushisms:

"There's an old saying in Tennessee—I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee—that says, fool me once, shame on—shame on you. Fool me—you can't get fooled again."—Nashville, Tenn., Sept. 17, 2002

The Bushisms seem to be of four basic types:

1. Problems with basic grammar, especially subject-verb agreement. My favorite: "Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning?"—Florence, S.C., Jan. 11, 2000

2. Freudian slips. "If you're sick and tired of the politics of cynicism and polls and principles, come and join this campaign."—Hilton Head, S.C., Feb. 16, 2000

3. Blithering idiocies. "For a century and a half now, America and Japan have formed one of the great and enduring alliances of modern times."—Tokyo, Japan, Feb. 18, 2002

4. The terrifying revelation of his inmost attitudes. "When I was coming up, it was a dangerous world, and you knew exactly who they were," he said. "It was us vs. them, and it was clear who them was. Today, we are not so sure who the they are, but we know they're there."—Iowa Western Community College, Jan 21, 2000

I'm posting this in honor of our Congress's giving its gracious permission to Bush to invade Iraq if he feels like it. Naturally, being the cynical old liberal I am, I suspect that we're watching the tail wag the dog again. My position was perfectly summed up by this New Yorker cartoon from a few months ago.

Getting to know Dubya, though, has solved one enduring political mystery for me. With a son like him, no wonder Bush Senior thought Dan Quayle would make a perfect political heir apparent.
Middle of a Different Night

Once again, up to take more cough medicine. I'm well enough to be restless and still sick enough to be unable to do much. At least now I'm back to work, and I know the Lump is just a lipoma.

Tuesday, October 08, 2002

Middle of the Night

So where have I been the past few days? Sick with a combination of infected sinuses and bone-rattling cough. Plus the usual fever, sneezing, green gunk. . . . I'm up now for some Advil and a cup of hot herbal tea.

Friday, October 04, 2002

Update: California Burning

The fire is out, for those of you who have been following the Uvas Canyon blaze that has recently made breathing such an adventure in my neighborhood. While it was burning, I would go outside, inhale the fragrance of burning leaves, and think instinctively, "Oh, it's fall!" Which it is, technically, but in California, that evocative fragrance doesn’t mean kids raking leaves onto a small bonfire. It means firefighters battling vast blazes.

Even here, though, there is a tiny hint of color in some of the maples. The days are getting shorter, and the harvest moon was beautiful to see. We’ve ordered a cord of wood to get us through the winter; the wood stove is our primary source of heat, since the house is heated by overpriced electricity. Through the winter, we can expect plenty of rain, daytime temperatures in the sixties, and nights down in the high forties. The Bay Area really does have a heavenly climate, though down in the valley the summers are too hot for my taste.

This perfection does breed a certain attitude in the natives, though. I carpool to work most days with a guy named Ed, who doesn’t believe in the charms of a more extreme climate. As he once said, “I won’t go anywhere that there’s weather.”

I confess, I too have an attitude. I keep catching myself thinking: How can there be Christmas out here? There isn't any snow.

Thursday, October 03, 2002

Things You Don’t Want to Hear Your Doctor Say

• “Can you still feel that? Really?”
• “Hmm, interesting.”
• “Hey, where did it go?”
• “My God, it has roots. Look, nurse. Look how deep it goes.”
• “Interesting.”
• “I’m going to have to dig a little deeper.”
• “Let’s see how much I can get out.”
• “This is really interesting.”
• “I’ll have to extend the incision.”
• “Here’s another chunk.”
• “Bizarre.”
• “Don’t we have any 3-0? I’m going to need something heavier to stitch this together.”
• “I’ve never seen anything like this is my life.”
• “Wait a minute, weren’t you the one who had a lipoma or something in your abdomen?”
• “Now, remember, the scar isn’t going to end up looking like the incision looks.”
• “Well, whatever it is, I got it all out.”

Which were, word for word, the things my surgeon said this afternoon. Not all the things she said; we also discussed Stephen King and Carole King and the way I used to say “Interesting!” when I was doing a Tarot reading for someone. (Drove the clients crazy.) There was some dialogue of the usual “Please hand me the cautery knife” and “Thanks for taking care of the sharps” kind. Oh, and of course I was a good patient and checked to make sure they had seen the ultrasound done during the visit to the Urgent Care Clinic. (They hadn’t; they went to look it up on the computer, but all they found was the interpretation: it wasn’t a clot.)

The Lump had shrunk considerably, and apparently it made a spirited attempt at escape at the first incision. I did get to see it: pink and wet and wrinkled and yes, with roots. I’ll know next week what it is.

Though much of the operation was conducted in a pleasant, bantering atmosphere, it was still hard to go through. Originally they said it should take no more than 5 minutes, start to finish. It took 45 minutes, though, and the next patient was considerably delayed. I don’t mind blood, but I disliked smelling the cautery knife scorching my flesh — not, as you might think, the smell of sizzling hamburger, but much more like burned hair. Worst of all, the radio was playing the Back Street Boys.

Also, the local anesthetic was really local, and the probing and cutting kept going past the edge of the numb places. (Yes, I did mention that, after the first couple of times, and yes, they kept adding more anesthetic.) Also, though they tried numbing the skin with a cream first to make injecting the anesthetic less painful, it didn’t kick in as fast as they’d hoped, and I ended up feeling the half-dozen needles of fiery local jabbing into my flesh.

That’s the physical and objective experience. The subjective was worse, at least at the beginning. Because I was, once again, lying there waiting to be sliced open. Medical procedures hit me in a deep, ancient, terrible place, a place of helplessness and pain and betrayal. Thus the wisecracking, the questions, the general cheeriness. I had to remember — actively remember through what I said and did — that I *could* speak, that if I let them know the anesthetic wasn’t working that they would do something. That I was not helpless.

Knowledge and mordant humor have always been my weapons against helplessness. And stories; telling it this way, now, I am releasing the pain, expressing it as I would express snake venom from a wound.

Anyway, what’s left now is a sewn-up incision that’s starting to hurt like hell. I came home and slept hard for three hours, then got up to eat supper with the family. It’s Paul’s birthday, so we had his favorites: steak, baked potatoes, Brussels sprouts, mushrooms. I skipped the steak, of course. Now I’m off to have some birthday pie with the family while Paul opens his presents.

Wednesday, October 02, 2002

The Snow Man

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

—Wallace Stevens

posted in honor of the author's 123d birthday
Equal-Opportunity Scum

In the spirit of justice, I wish to announce:

Bob Torricelli (D, NJ) is a greedy, lying, whiny fool.

I just don't see the point of sectarian squabbling. The real struggle isn't Republicans versus Democrats, or even politicians versus people, though there are days that seems to be the case. It's each of us against our own willingness to exploit others. And yeah, I know I'm being judgmental here. For all I know, Torricelli is a sterling character in every other way. But jeez!
I Would Feel So Much Better If I Thought This Story Was Satire

The Onion | Bush Seeks U.N. Support For 'U.S. Does Whatever It Wants' Plan

Tuesday, October 01, 2002

Writing Well Is the Best Revenge

Dorothy Allison at the Maui Writers’ Conference, as reported by Pat Holt:

"I tell each of these writers, 'I believe in the power of storytelling to give you a shape to your own life that you can stand. I believe in what it means to have no loved version of your life but the one you make. And I believe in writing that allows you to become the hero — not just survivor — of your own experience.'

"Working with young writers who have never had a childhood or adolescence, sometimes I tell them, 'The thing you need to do is write it, then step outside of it and look back at it.'

"This is part of the nuts/bolts section of a writers conference. I believe in writing for revenge and the hope of justice — hell, justice is simply revenge cleaned up.”
. . . .
"Before I'm done I'm going to make them write this same story in the voice of the person who hurt them most. I'm going to make them look out of the eyes of evil. Why? My mama nature would never allow me to do this to a grown woman or man or child or dog. But I'll do it to someone who wants to be a writer. Because I know no other way to get far enough out of the story — your real, lived experience — and make it over."
. . . .
Part of why we love books is when we read something that makes us weep and sing. When we are completely devastated but still convinced of the power and joy of life.

"The very best stories — the very best translations of the real — touch that place where we can barely stand it. But when we do stand it, we are taken to a new place, and I as a reader want always to be taken to that new place."