Thursday, March 31, 2005

Last Days in March

So Terri Schiavo died. After what, 12 days of starvation and dehydration? What a surprise. "She was going to die, anyway," say the arguments for the removal of the feeding tube. "She would have wanted it this way."

If she was 'going to die anyway', because of her brain injuries, then why did she die of starvation?

I know a man whose wife was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. As she grew more sickly, he felt a need to get on with his life, so he divorced her. He got on with his life, married another woman, and felt happy and whole in his new got-on-with-it life. The sick ex-wife lived as much of her life as she could with supportive friends. I've lost track (through acquaintances) of how she is now. He still prances about town being important, a regular benefactor to the community.

I know another man whose wife fell ill, and she was paralyzed and confined to a bed in a nursing home. After years, he met someone, divorced his paralyzed wife, and married another woman. The second wife treated the paralyzed woman like a sister, made sure the kids visited their real mother regularly, became friends with her.

Tell me, why did Mr. Schiavo not divorce Terri and move on with his life, especially when others were glad to take over her guardianship? Because he considered Matrimony to be a holy vow? Well, then, why would he take on and engender children upon a mistress? No, obviously it wasn't a case of him worrying about the "sin" of divorce. "Sin" in his sexual activity wasn't an issue.

He was willing to spend $400,000 to pull a feeding tube, but not willing to allow her any rehabilitative treatment. He wouldn't let anyone else foot the bill for rehab, either. But if she was just going to die anyhow, what did he care?

Terri left no written directives. She didn't say "Yes, save me, help me, feed me if I can't talk" and she didn't say "Please starve me to death if I can't talk." Her guardian said she would rather starve than live.

I just have to wonder why that man was so possessive of a "persistent vegetative state" that he wouldn't even let her be babied and cared for by people who loved her, and to whom she responded with smiles and grunts.

What about the bulemic teens who would rather starve than live, and end up with intrevenous drips and feeding tubes to keep them alive? Should we let them kill themselves? What about the retarded citizens who can't take care of themselves, should their guardians just assume that they "wouldn't want to live that way" and stop feeding them?

Somehow I don't think it's a "right to die" issue here. I don't know, it's just a suspicion. And in case you think I'm following a party line, I'm not. My father, before his death, was forcibly fed with a feeding tube, even though he knew that his cancer was terminal. He removed the tube from his nose, and when the doctor came to reinsert it, Dad punched him out. They tied him in restraints and reinserted the tube. They should have left him alone.

Mom stood by the doctors, because they told her that he was on the mend, but it was a lie. Cancer had taken him over, bone and tissue, and he knew it. The violent reaction to food being forced into his shut-down system brought on a heart attack, and he died. This was not the same situation that Terri Shiavo was in. She wasn't dying.

My Pope may be dying. He, too, has a feeding tube now. His last great work will be to fight on with his great intellect to the very last end. That's his job, that's everyone's job: to live the best way you can with the health and the circumstances you're given to the last breath. I can understand and agree with not being kept alive by respirators. But food?

It's a tough world to live in, with a lot of nasty choices.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Seasons, Artificial and Natural

Why should the seasons be counted alike everywhere on earth?

From Solstice to Equinox to Solstice to Equinox to Solstice again makes four increments of time, and time is of use in most places on the world. But to suggest that the seasons are the same in number or variety in the Northern or Southern Hemisphere is just silly.

In California they aren't even the same. I saw a picture of Yosemite the other day and there's snow there. Eeewww. Looked like "Winter," even though the calendar now says it's "Spring."

I think the idea for four seasons must have come from the old monoliths of stone in circles ... and the monoliths of merchandizing picked up the idea and ran with it. Thus, in the department stores and the big box stores and the cheapo teenybop stuff stores, the year begins with the season of bathing suits and patio furniture, which runs from January to April, then the season of vacation clothing and tents ( May to July Fourth). Hot on the heels of firecrackers comes Back to School Season, with its school supplies and new fall fashions. In August the wool sweaters and skirts and leather jackets and heavy blankets and winter shoes make their Winter Clothing Season, and on Labor Day we have the advent of the Halloween Season until October 3oth, at which point Christmas occurs. The very short season of Clearance Sales lasts from Christmas Day Until January 1, when the Bathing Suits Season returns.

All that was a digression. I was originally thinking about the "seasons" here in the Valley. There's the Rain Season, that lasts from November to April, then the Wind Season until May. Hot Season comes next, and lasts all the way to October, when the Season of Falling Leaves lasts for about a month. Okay, that still sounds like four seasons, but another one overlies the Rain Season, and that is the Fog Season, which occurs in December and January. Hah! Five Seasons.

Today I'm hoping that the Rain Season is over, and that the Wind Season will be mild.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Editing is like washing baseboards

Editing just is not the same as writing.

When one writes, this creature emerges, writhing and emitting gutteral sounds. One grasps the beast by its malleable form and shapes it, squeezing here and pushing matter there, giving it recognizable appendages and wrenching its mouth into a certain grimace to give it the appropriate voice. At the end, one shakes one's hands to loosen them, stands back, and admires the thing that did not exist before that creative act, a wonder of the subconscious given words and space and -- for a while -- one's rapt attention.

Then the poor thing sits around on one's desk examining its fingernails and tapping its foot, wondering when it will ever see the light of day, when its file name will be called up, when it will be printed or published. It looks at its garb and sighs, wishing for better times.

Finally one takes note of its irritation and despair and drags the creature back into the crucible of creation. "Who the hell are you?" one asks it in disgust, and begins pulling off the clay of its nose, the clumsy left ear, the third arm, tossing the bits into the Trash Can. "What was I thinking?" one asks oneself, and settles down for a prolonged time, to edit: to tear apart the awkward elbows and reduce the unessential padding on the hips. One re-examines the plot, re-forms the plot, and adds clay to make the creature's shoulders stronger to withstand the weight of the story's conclusions.

No, wait, the chin is still too weak. No, dammit, that looks knock-kneed from this angle. WHAT IS WRONG WITH THIS BLASTED HAIR?? One mashes one's creation about until it looks like the Venus de Milo, and then wonders if one really has to throw those graceful, lovely arms away. Isn't there some way to reattach them?

Editing is so necessary, but how I hate it.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Easter Sunday: Letting Babe Run

Babe fell today, his hind legs unable to hold him up, his back half dragging and skidding through the grass. My poor boy! He was able to right himself, though, and came back when called, albeit with his hind legs acting more as a balance than a support.

Over the past two years, his health was failing. His luxurious shiny coat was dull and tufty (staring, they call that condition) and his energy gone; his hindquarters weakened, and I thought last spring was going to be his last. In September of 2004, he contracted some bacterial enteritis that we thought would kill him. We rushed him on a Sunday evening to an emergency veterinary clinic, thinking that he would have to be put to sleep.

Instead, the doctor dosed him with antibiotics, and in about three weeks, he was nearly normal. But then something strange happened: he kept getting better. And better. And still better. He must have been hiding some systemic infection for a long, long time.

Seeing Babe fall today was heart-wrenching. But I had to admit, he asked for it. No matter how sassy he feels, he's still an 11-year-old behemoth with progressive congenital spinal problems. And even though he's been using those hind legs more lately than he has for two years, they're still weak. So he had no excuse to go barrelling off down a steep thirty-foot hill in order to try to outrun young Howie, who is part whippet and has the ass of a racehorse.

Babe came back up the hill when called, and got lots of sympathy. He was comforted for his mishap, and when Howie circled near, Babe gave him a sound thumping for his arrogant youth.

Make no mistake, the big dog could still take on just about anyone on adrenaline alone. You wouldn't want to open the front door or the back door or reach over the fence with Babe around. In spite of his fall, he was still mighty proud today of his articulate demand that he be taken for a run, of his intrepid refusal to release a ball from his huge jaws, and of his ability to take a lickin' and keep on tickin'. What a hell of a dog he's been.

Both Babe and Howie are now sleeping deeply, like puppies, limp and oblivious. My two good boys.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

In the tomb

I want to say something positive about life, the universe, and all that, but it's hard today.

The Terri Schiavo thing has me bugged. I wouldn't want to live like she's been living, but then, I wouldn't want to be living if I was developmentally disabled, or crippled, or paralyzed, or for that matter, unhappily married. But if I become miserably ill because of any of those reasons, does that mean I want to be starved to death? Not likely. My brain and my gut are probably the last to give up.

People who are depressed frequently don't want to go on, but don't feel a need to commit suicide. They are bound to die (one day) and so, if they can't feel they can go on to lead a normal life, should we lock them in a room without food and water?

No, of course not, we try to get them help so that they can at least function, if not function normally. Who of us has never seen someone who has been injured, or is so ill from genetic disorders or disease, that they needed medical assistance to live?

My father's Aunt Maud was born severely disabled. She never crawled, walked, talked, or used her hands for anything but random gestures. We were taught to say "Hello" to her, but she didn't even focus her eyes on us. To her caretakers, she responded a little, turning her head to look at them. She didn't even cry out loud, just grimaced when she was discomfited. Maud could not feed herself, nor manipulate anything with her hands.

She was cared for by her sisters until she died.

If she was Terri Schiavo, she would have been written off as a loss and left to lie in her bed and die. I've visited and Terri has more cognizance than Maud ever did. But Maud's care was overseen by people who felt a sense of responsibility about her life. Terri is just a corpse to her guardian, not a being who smiles at attention, looks around her, expresses unhappiness when her visitors leave her alone.

The law prosecutes women who leave their newborn offspring to die in a garbage can; those infants can't feed themselves, or eat solid food, or communicate except by a cry of discomfort (and they don't cry if they're starving) -- if the mothers are criminal in their neglect of creatures that MIGHT survive and respond to nurturing, why is is okay to withdraw care of a creature who has been sentient, and who DOES respond to care, even if in a limited form?

Good God, even the dog pound doesn't starve puppies to death.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

She left it dead, and with its head ...

This is such a run on sentence that I decided to make it into "poetry."

Indeed, though the dread dotted line of disfiguring detritus
reappeared on the screen to my astonishment
with much teeth-gritting and sweating
I Selected All
and then deleted borders throughout and lo
the chinchy SOB finally disappeared but not
before I chased it through three chapters
selecting the paragraphs it appeared in
and hitting "None" for border selection
seeing it disappear and then reappear in
a different paragraph on the next page.
When it left, I didn't miss it
but only marveled at the effort one makes
to learn a technology beset by demons.

That was a good excuse to go have ribs for lunch, accompanied by Cavit pinot grigio.

I have 10 more chapters to edit in Volume One of the Aser stories, and then I can start on the illustrations (oh, good, more learning experiences) and the covers. I'm pretty much set on Hoke the Horrible for the back cover, and I've been toying with the idea of doing a nice portrait of Leonard Griffin for the front.

But that may take a back seat to the final edit and revision of Time Traveler. I'm feeling a need to get that one "out there" in Lulu-land. It's really done, all it needs is one scene and some paper to be printed on.

There's just so much to be done. Tomorrow I want to actually upload a juicy exerpt from Dreamer so that people can see that it's more than just a pretty cover; that ought to blast the morning peace to shreds. The preliminary sketches for Fever Dreams are sitting on the light table in the studio, my notebooks for various projects are stacked everywhere, and the weather may finally turn nice so that I can open my studio window and get moving on the oil paintings that have been abandoned since last October.

In the mean time, I'm hangin' that damn border's head on my wall, oooh, yeah.

She left it dead, and with its head
she came gallumphing back!

*High fives Lewis Carroll*
It came back!!!!!!!

A Machine Will Only Do What You Tell It

Anyone who believes this has obviously never owned a computer or a sewing machine.

My mother owned a sinister black Singer sewing machine with which she made many of our clothes. Mom worked in a sewing factory when I was in grade school, and she was proud of the way she could put sleeves into a blouse accurately just by feeding the pieces of material into the machine. She did beautiful collars, hems, pockets ... and she tried to teach me how to do those things, too.

I really did try, but that machine hated me. It would gnarl up the bobbin thread and leave looping loose stitches ("You must have changed the thread tension!" "No, Mom, honest, I didn't touch it!") and then if I tried to adjust the tension settings to correct the problem, Ingrid DoNothing (that's what I called it, but never to its face) would bind up the stitches until they puckered the material and I'd have to spend hours picking out the accursed thread with the point of a needle. Without ever touching the stitch-length dial, I could end up with tiny tight ones on one part of the fabric and others five times as long. Mom would get impatient, boot me out of the chair, use the same settings and fabric, and get a perfect result. "I don't know what you're doing to it!" She'd reprimand. I knew what the problem was. The machine did not like me.

As evidence, I present this fact: once she got a newer model, I never had another problem with sewing.

Autoformat in Word and I have much the same kind of relationship. The ugly dotted line that I couldn't get out of my document yesterday? In the chilly clarity of the morning I figured out how to look at the page formatting and discovered that it was a "border" ( -- I don't use borders, so why was it there? ) and with only a slight increase in blood pressure was able to find out how to remove it. Apparently Autoformat looks at asterisks and thinks, "Mmm, that sure looks like an impenetrable border to me! I know, I'll make Sand's day and link this nice thick border to another automatic command that will eradicate all the ^p^p's in the entire document! She'll love it!"

There were actually three chapters in which the border appeared. Only in one of them did the border NOT disappear when I hit backspace, backspace, enter, enter as the clever and gallant Joshua Louise suggested to me. If "B" is produced by "A", then "A" should produce "B" -- every time.

But it doesn't, and that's why I try never to use that stupid, interfering, spiteful Autoformat.

The creep.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

MF Word

I wonder if I can sue the creators of my word processing programs if I suffer a stroke because of their stupid programming.

I spent four hours editing my latest work -- but the last thirty minutes were spent trying to eradicate an ugly thick dotted line that had appeared where I had typed in three centered asterisks. Two years ago. The asterisks were there, happy as little fuzzy clams, until yesterday. Then they disappeared, replaced by the gross dotted line.

Now I know that machinery is only as clever as its operator. I know that If "A", then "B" is valid, the next time you have "A", then you'll have "B". MS Word doesn't do that. All I goddamn did to try to figure out why there was that ugly dotted line was to look at the auto-format menu and then exit by clicking on the "OK" button.

The dirty, rotten, son-of-a-bitching bastard wiped out all the line spacing I had done from the beginning of the 230-page document. Clicking on "undo" did NOTHING.

Back to page one, and I hope the shoddy slacker who wrote a program that sometimes works has a life filled with the karma of itchy body-lice and assorted fungi, and his/her supervisor who was pressing for speedy if inaccurate work double the repayment.

Monday, March 21, 2005

More, and the chapter begins...

This evening, in a house made too quiet by the absence of the rest of the family, I made the first notes in a blank notebook about the next novel I hope to write. A page of notes. As always when I start a project, I felt embarrassed to even be trying to make comments or frame sentences. God, this is stupid, I think. If anyone knows I wrote this they will think me such a lamer.

I might make a mistake.

I might write something dull and uninteresting.

The notes were written down in spite of the wicked insecurities.

Now why is that, one might ask, why not listen to the inner critic and put the pen down and tear that page out of the notebook? The answer is simple: because someone might be curious about my subject, or my writing, or me. Shall I push away that potential person because I'm afraid of not being "good enough" for him/her? Au contraire -- whoever that might be may want desperately to read more -- just as I did when I found snippets of my father's writing, just as I did when there were so few Thorne Smith novels, just as I did when I finished reading all the archy and mehitabel columns written by Don Marquis. I wasn't looking for great art, I just wanted to hear MORE.

So okay, MORE is on the way.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Seder with the Haverim

Back in the spring of 1989, my husband helped with an RCIA group and attended a "Seder" that was held with the catechumens and candidates -- by way of showing them the link between Jewish tradition and Catholic tradition.

Wow, look at all that jargon. "RCIA" stands for Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. That is, the rituals through which an adult becomes Catholic. RITUALS. When I was a kid, and someone wanted to become Catholic, they attended "classes" with a priest and usually were given some kind of book to read that consisted of what they should and shouldn't do as a Catholic. Was it effective? I suppose it was, in its own way, but it was dispirited. Kind of like putting in time in order to become a certified card-carrying Church member. Done properly, the RCIA draws the initiate more deeply not into a book, but the strange and mysterious world of the spirit, acknowledging the Unseen, allowing one to encounter the Mystical Body of Christ while becoming acquainted with the other people who comprise the local community of believers. RCIA in parishes ranges from unenlightened "classes" to vibrant encounters with spiritual awakening. In 1989, that RCIA group was led by a well-meaning but uninspired nun. The Seder was something she'd seen cobbled together somewhere, and it was fashionable at the time, so she put it together.

"Seder" is a word that means "order" and the "order" is in the telling of the Haggadah -- The Story. It's a most important story for Jews and Christians alike, as it recounts how God made Himself manifest in rescuing the Israelites from Egypt, from their slavery and persecution to a nation singularly blessed by the presence of the Most High. Passover.

"Catechumens" are the unbaptized. "Candidates" have been baptized already into a Christian faith but have not completed the initiation.

Rituals have a way of speaking for themselves. When my husband ended up in charge of the RCIA a year later, he was greatly in favor of celebrating Passover again, and convinced me to join him. We've "sat Seder" almost every year since.

Jesus Christ, on the night before he was crucified, was with his apostles, celebrating the Passover meal. He would have drunk the four ritual cups of wine: the Cup of Blessing, the Cup of Memory, the Cup of Redemption, the Cup of Hope. The last one was the one about which he said, "This is the Cup of my Blood, of the new and everlasting covenant. Do this in memory of me."

The Seder is a celebration of love. It's for family, for close friends. We recount the story of the Exodus, we sing loudly and enthusiastically; we tell the story for the sake of the children in our midst and watch their faces go from puzzlement to enjoyment; we remind ourselves that we are more than individuals -- we are a People Who Believe, a People God Has Embraced. We laugh. Sometimes we cry a bit. And we laugh some more, and end with more singing, and follow up with more personal chattering and perhaps a dessert and coffee.

Last night was Seder. One of our "table fellows" died last fall; it was hard on us not to see him walk in the door, laden with food and his wife's seltzer water. She didn't attend this year, either, having suffered a compression fracture of one of her vertebrae. Some of the kids who have been kids in the past -- aren't kids anymore. A new generation of kids is taking over. But the story-telling still has an impact: this ritual telling speaks for itself, making comparisons in the mind between the Passover and the Catholic Mass, the deliverance of Israel and the redemption by Christ.

Last night was Seder, and it was good.


Thursday, March 17, 2005

And the season of damaging winds is still ahead

Almonds have nothing to do with my income, but I was struck to the heart today by the paucity of fruit on the almond trees in the orchards compared to last year. Granted, last year the blossom season was dry and warm, and the harvest was very heavy. But this year, the branches are only lightly blessed with almonds, and one of my favorite orchards (tended by the oriental couple whose chickens were devoured by coyotes) was especially hard hit by the rains. As we rode past on our horses, I couldn't see many almonds at all on their trees -- and by now the almonds are an inch long and at least half an inch thick.

On a recreational ride with friends this morning, I should have been more concerned with my horse's snotty behavior; prancing and tossing his head, he acted like a total jerk almost all the way. But I was riveted to the dark stems and the new leaves, and the lack of fruit. Maybe the Little Duke sensed that, and wanted me to ride him hard to check out the other orchards in the area to see if all of the farmers had such bad luck.

As I said, my income is not dependent upon a good harvest; still, I don't have to profit or lose by the weather to imagine the wracking disappointment of the farmers as they view their sparsely fruited trees.

How many more orchards will be sold off this year to become housing developments?

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Jumping Spiders

A jumping spider the size of an Angus beef is living in the roof of my compost bin.

The creature was prowling across the top of the bin when I let the dogs out at noon, moving in these marvelous little leaps forward. I dashed for the studio and my digital camera, but by the time I ran back outside, the hairy black beastie was nowhere to be found. I spotted him again through my studio window, but as I approached the bin, the spider dove into a hole in the lid. Twice more I saw him venture out while I was working on an ink drawing, but the light was failing as evening clouds moved in, and I knew I wouldn't get a good shot.

But now I know where he lives.

I like jumping spiders. I like that swift, sure dodgy way they have of traveling; they are simply gorgeous to look at closely, with lime green or electric blue mandibles (or palps or whatever, I'm not brushed up on my spider physiognomy) and sturdy hairy-looking legs; and I've seen them take flies off marigolds so fast that you don't see the attack, which activity earns them a place in my heart right away.

They're brave little arachnids, too. A lot of times if you tap the ground beside a jumping spider, they'll spin to face your finger, poised to attack if necessary. But times when I've found them inside the house, and nudged them onto a sheet of paper for transport outside, they've been well behaved and not bitten me.

The one in the compost bin lid isn't really the size of a cow. But he would seem that size if you knew you had to pick him up.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

An unfortuate situation with idiots

A woman, Mrs. Jane, is suing two priests in our diocese for inattention to an alleged act of abuse. She claims that Fr. Fred touched her daughter inappropriately, and claims Fr. Jack, the pastor, did nothing about it.

Moreover, she says that she now does not feel welcome at that parish, that the priests yelled at her daughter and said she was lying, and that now the girl is withdrawn and uncommunicative.

Jane, Fred, and Jack are not their real names, by the way.

I've been following the case via the newspaper because years ago I worked with Fr. Jack for several years. No wait, it could only have been for a year or so -- it just seemed like several years -- no wait, that would have been a class he taught that we attended that seemed like several years. As I recall, after that class, someone had to clear away the moldy skeletons of those who had died of boredom early on in the talk. But I digress. I was concerned that a priest I had known to be dutiful and honest had gone bad -- Jack had been fairly single-minded about being a priest, and I found/find it hard to believe that he would screw up so mightily as to tolerate abuse in his parish.

When I read the account of the alleged abuse, and found out that the "inappropriate touching" was two touches on a breast during a wrestling "tickling match" between Fr. Fred, a 13-year-old girl, and a 10-year-old girl I threw my newspaper into the air in disgust, picked the paper up, read on to discover that the mother had followed Fr. Jack from one parish to another because she was in love with him, threw the paper into the air again and made a list of Idiots.


1. Fr. Fred, for wrestling with girls. Verboten in the culture in the Exotic East from whence he came, verboten in the seminary, verboten in sunny California. I don't know what the man was thinking; he doesn't have a history of this sort of thing.

2. The Diocese, for not providing its priests with a mandatory checklist of behaviors that are NOT to be embarked upon, including making house calls to the home of any woman who is alone (there are always chaperones available), physical contact beyond a chaste hug, (to include forbidding goosing, pinching, slapping, groping, tickling, biting, snuggling, and lap-sitting) and conversations that amount to saying "Let's screw around" no matter what wording is used.

I have to add here that I did have that kind of little "talk" with the 95 volunteers who worked for me -- they were all fingerprinted and knew that I would see them fry if there was any indication that they had verbally or physically abused any of our students. Even regular hugging was forbidden. And being alone in a room with one student was absolutely, positively not to occur under any condition. Now back to Idiots.

3. Fr. Jack, for not keeping an eye on how often Mrs. Jane was inviting Fr. Fred to dinner or to come visit. And for not taking Fr. Fred aside and explaining to him that Mrs. Jane was a Priest-Stalker* and that he needed to keep his distance from her and her family.

4. Mrs. Jane, for allowing (if not encouraging) her daughters to be so physically intimate with ANY ADULT MALE (shall we say, old enough to sprout whiskers?) as to wrestle with and tickle him! WTF was she thinking??? And she had left the room in which they were indulging in this idiotic frolicking!! IDIOT, IDIOT, IDIOT!

Or wait -- was she indeed an idiot, or is something else going on here? It seems that Mrs. Jane had become acquainted with Fr. Jack at a different parish; close to him, she relied on him as she fled an "abusive" marriage, and wanted him to be a "Father Figure" to her family. When Fr. Jack moved on to become pastor of a parish some distance away, she followed him, sat in the front pew at Mass the better to gaze at him, and even wrote him a letter divulging her love for him. "I am in love with you" the letter was quoted as saying.

I wonder if it was at that point that Fr. Jack told her to please leave him alone, or if he had already figured out that his latest lady fan was a Priest-Stalker* and tried to extricate himself from the equation. Allegedly he told her that he was not interested in a romantic relationship, and allegedly later he asked her to please worship at a different parish. His parish staff knew that she was overly interested and tried to discourage her from pestering Fr. Jack. Was it then that she increased her attention to Fr. Fred?

*Priest-Stalker : woman who has a "thing" for priests, whether it is because of their status, because they are "safe" playthings due to their celibacy, or because they represent a "forbidden fruit" that is exciting to romanticize. These women will volunteer for any activity that might get them the attention of the priest. From pressing their bosom against the priest's arm to preying on a priest's loneliness, they'll do just about anything to get "Father" to notice and cater to them. Working full-time for a large parish for six years, I saw them all the time. They could be young or old, married or not. But give them a chance to be with a priest and in seconds, figuratively speaking, someone needed to pry them off the priest's leg and whack them with the newspaper, saying, "Bad dog! Baaad dog! Stop that!"

One of the worst ones I ever saw came to the parish, immediately started scheduling "counselling" appointments with the (young, nice looking) priests, joined the choir, the sunday school teachers, the youth group, the liturgy committee, the club that was a support group for the priests' religious order (which I will also decline to name), summer Bible school, and took over decorating the church (when everyone fled from her incredibly obnoxious presence.) I felt that she was a nutcase from the get-go, and it surprised me to see the busy priests (we had a congregation of about 15,000) make endless time for her "appointments" and tolerate her inappropriate familiarity. Once she scheduled herself to make a week-long retreat at the religious order's house in the Bay Area because a certain new priest was supposedly ensconcing himself there for his vacation. After bragging that they had allowed her to go on Retreat there for weeks, when it turned out that the young priest had fled for some other venue (he was no idiot, that one) she abandoned her retreat mid-week and came back to the parish looking for him.

She could easily be a Mrs. Jane.

So anyway, I was a staff memeber and worked with Fr. Jack when that Priest-Stalker was in the parish, and she was on him like a leech practically from the day he arrived. Fr. Jack is not a bad-looking man, and she was hot for him, calling him by his first name without the title (which he dislikes, ordinarily) and signing up for all the programs he initiated. His response was not to discourage her, but to use her fervor to get things done. He openly disapproved of paid staff and felt that volunteers could handle all the parish activities. His personal stalker did get a lot of stuff done, I'll agree with that. But at what price? Well, he didn't have to find out. He put in for a transfer to a different parish, so he never had to deal with the Stalker's nuttery after that. In fact, he transferred to Mrs. Jane's parish, where I have no doubt in my mind that he did the same thing. Her inappropriate attention was used to get things done, I'd bet any money, and he didn't bother himself with what could happen.

Now he knows. Idiot.

I could have told him all this almost 10 years ago, but he was firmly, arrogantly self-assured that the laity are dummies compared to priests, and that he himself needs no assistance or instruction.

I'm sorry that this is happening in his parish, but frankly, I think he and this diocese have just asked for it.

Saturday, March 12, 2005


Tomorrow "Blossoms" appears in The Piker Press -- an essay that came about as a result of taking the picture of nectarine blossoms. Madame Editor wanted the pic for a cover photo, and asked me to provide something to go with it if I could. I looked at the picture and was drawn to the focused blossom in the middle.

I've grown strangely fascinated by the essay since I started it. Like many instances of writing, there is so much more that the characters wanted to say, but didn't have the opportunity. I don't even know yet what the narrator's name is, but I think she has a lot more story to tell in the future.

Although I am half Mexican, and culturally share a lot more points of experience with hispanics than I do with yer basic -- uhh, what am I supposed to say here? WASP? Caucasian? Americano? Friggin' Bigot From Where I Grew Up? I don't have the experience of the characters in "Blossoms." For one thing, I didn't have a multitude of siblings. And I didn't grow up in California, where a tiny rented house in the midst of orchards is a godsend for immigrants willing to live rough or cramped for the opportunity to live in America and earn a steady wage.

Two houses inspired me. One squats on a piece of bare mud on the corner between a walnut orchard, an apple orchard, and a cherry orchard. There is no grass around the tiny house, and there is no air conditioning unit visible. Farm machinery is parked in front of and by the side of the house; two dogs are chained to posts as sentries. There isn't supposed to be a lot of traffic to the house, just the orchard roads. I see it when we ride horses out that way.

The other house is a barn that has some tiny living quarters on one end. An Asian couple live there, and tend a couple orchards. They also have planted some fruit trees, and always have a garden in which they grow watermelons, green beans, tomatoes, corn, peppers, grapes, and assorted squash. They always wave hello to us when we pass by on our luxury horses. And beside the barn they have a stand of cactus that are lousy with tunas -- cactus fruit -- every year. Being Asian, do they bother with the tunas, or do they just leave them for the possums and raccoons? They used to have a lot of cats on the property, but told us in broken English that they had to get rid of them (I didn't even want to ask how); they told us that their chickens were stolen by coyotes.

I haven't been riding out past either of the two houses since last fall. I wonder if the Asian couple has bought some more chickens; I wonder if the same family lives in the tiny house in the middle of the bare lot between orchards.

I like to try to imagine how these people survive day-to-day. They have a much more realistic sense of Life than I do.


The last blog entry I made was long, involved, passionate, and well-written. Too damn bad I played around with an inauspicious series of keystrokes and erased the whole friggin' thing. Made me so mad I refused to even try to blog for a bit.

This morning I awoke at 2 am, panicking. I didn't get the entire back yard weeded before I went to sleep. I didn't clean the whole house. I didn't finish editing the next book for hard-copy publication. I forgot to do my daily devotional reading. I didn't bathe both dogs, give my ugly old toes a pedicure, or steam clean the damn carpets. What a loser.

All I did was baby-sit Lillian for a few hours, and it wore me out to the point that I was useless for the rest of the day.

I made taters-and-eggs for us, and since blue is one of the two colors Lillian acknowledges to exist ("boo" -- and the other color in the world is "biss," that is, "pink") I made some extra fried blue potatoes. We stuffed ourselves and then loaded the car full of paper products and took them to the recycling bin. Then we went to Target to shop. That's it. It was fun, I laughed, I felt warm fuzzies about my granddaughter, I had rushes of linguistic analysis of language acquisition and glimpses of grammatical deep structure being formed in that little head -- and I was completely exhausted by the time we got home.

By three in the afternoon, I was still thinking, "Just a few minutes, and I'm sure I'll rebound. I'll be productive, I'll go out and weed the back garden, I'll finish the laundry..." by seven I still hadn't rebounded and nothing had been done.

My friend Bill has a method for dealing with exhausting incidents: he "takes to his bed." Was his week teaching simply horrible with restless kids and irritating superintendents? He'll take a day off and stay in bed all day, except for necessities. Did the winter day dawn gloomy, icy and inhospitable? Bill loads up a stack of favorite books and a plate of goodies and alternates reading and napping. While that sounds like a cop-out, a cave-in, a wuss way of dealing with stuff, somehow I think Bill has figured something out on a very basic level. "Resting" is something that makes the body feel better.

When my daughter was a toddler, every time she lay down for a nap, so did I. When she went off to school, her Mommy sacked out for a nap at 10 am until noon. Sometimes it was from noon until the child was due home from school at two-ish. I remember those naps as being essential.

Dealing with little kids is exhausting, and I think Bill has the right idea. I have simply got to nap again when I'm tired. I wasn't too proud to nap when I was 30, why is it such an issue now? Maybe if I had napped in the afternoon, I wouldn't now be still awake at 4:30 in the morning, definitely not rested mentally or physically.

Meh, as they say. Or "Feh." At this hour, Bill is already up and has been either jogging or working out before his busy weekend social schedule. I'm going to look like shit all day from broken sleep and panicky fears about being inadequate, while Bill will have sparkling eyes and a flashy smile. He'll e-mail me Monday, gloating about all that he's done over the weekend, all the dates and travels and accomplishments.

Naps. I need to think Power Naps.

And when I wake up, I'll remember that I'm in California. It will be 80 degrees here today. Bill's weather forecast is for a high of 29. Back to bed, Bill.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Trailer Living, with Joy

In 1977, we escaped from Houston, Texas.

I remember that we stopped the car outside the city limits, headed north, and I flipped that city off with both hands. We'd escaped, we'd surmounted the Company Town syndrome, we still had our wits and love intact. My God, how I hated that place. We'd seen the Torres kid beaten senseless and dumped in a bayou to drown, a Jewish man stopped for speeding beaten to a pulp -- by the Houston Police. Black people and all Asians were reviled and cursed. For the first time in my life, when we lived in Houston, I was afraid to admit that I'm half Mexican. Perhaps it's different now, but in '76 and '77, white supremacy was the order of the day, and I had saved every single frickin' penny I could to escape, from about the first month we'd arrived and discovered how the Land Of Opportunity was really the Maw of Mammon.

We escaped. When the minute came that we had enough money saved to move our paltry furniture back to Pennsylvania, we made plans to move. Our friends John and Melissa had made their escape back to Ohio about six months before; I missed them sorely and envied them their liberation. Maybe they missed us, too, because they offered to have us come stay with them for a while in Ohio.

I remember that time as one of happiness, and incredible contentment. And awe, because Melissa and John were living in an itsy bitsy little trailer that was never intended to hold two families. I learned so much in the days we stayed with them, and came to think of the procedures as trailer living. Everything had to have its place and be in its place, Melissa taught me, and there is no room for leaving things in disorder. The things you need take precedence over "stuff" and everyone has to -- has to -- be civil.

It wasn't hard. They didn't have a lot at that time, and neither did we (uhh, can you say, the clothes in bags in the trunk?) but surely the weeks we spent with them were blessed. When we left, another day's drive got us to blood relatives' support and the tight-lipped, knowing-eyed, you-failed-now-you-have-to-rely-on-family-and-it-will-cost-you venue. The tiny trailer and stepping over each other's legs was far more agreeable.

The time of living in that tiny trailer was a time of grace. In a space smaller than my current living room, two families co-existed with laughter and patience, unworried by the American Dream of property, wealth, and possessions. There were no expectations of success or prestige. That was, however, a time in which I learned more about the true nature of uncondtional love. I truly hope to be able to pass that on one day.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Editing One's Guts

I've been editing myself today.

It's a strange feeling, being both the author of a story and being the main character. Regular RPG-ers probably come to grips with the multiple personality issue more easily; however, the last Role Playing Games I did were in junior high, and the last good ones were in grade school. Now wait, the Aser Stories are good (or so I've been told) but I didn't have issues with being both author and MC until I had to do a hard edit, to get the stories ready for publication in hardcopy. I somehow feel like I'm looking over my own shoulder, doing this editing exercise. Sand is editing Aser telling the story that Sand came up with on account of this character Aser that inhabits Sand's brain. Well, of course all characters an author comes up with inhabit one's brain, but Main Characters are a bit different. More controlling, perhaps.

As Aser, I resent being edited -- a mispelling is fine to correct, but dialog? I'm Aser, I was there, I know how it was said.

As Sand, I really get the sweats over whether the manuscript is perfect. Did I capture Aser in the words?

In my fourth novel, Character Assassin, I got the chance to talk to Aser face to face. I'm not so sure that I don't need to be talking to her some more, especially since this blog bears her name. I'd let her do the entries herself, but she's not a writer.

My granddaughter has arrived and wants me to play a slideshow of my stored photographs. Who could resist?

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Everything that has to be is done

There was no deadline to be met today, no appointments, no commitment to start my morning with a rush of adrenaline. The air was cool but spring-some, the house quiet. I knew our granddaughter was awake because Howie shook his head, making his ears flap. He always does that when Lillian starts moving around, whether she's left her room or not.

The handle of the bedroom door began to turn, and I knew that Lillian had decided to make sure that Gran and Dziadzy were going to get up at 6:30, too. I slid quietly over the bed and locked the door, thinking that perhaps I'd sleep in until 8 am or so. However, Lillian continued to try the door, rattling the handle.

There was an authoritative knock on the door. The child's mother, coming to make sure that Bernie's alarm had gone off properly? The voice that followed was still Lillian's: "Mommy up. Deddez up. Gwai (that would be how she pronounces Gran) up. Dzudzis up."

I have a hard time going back to sleep in the morning after I laugh.

Maybe today I'll sit in the sun. It's quite possible that I'll do that most of the day. Maybe I'll do some editing. Maybe I'll draw a cartoon or two.

There's no rush to decide. Sometimes it's nice not to have any deadlines at all.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Gone to Ass Heaven

On Wednesday, I ordered a new chair for my studio.

There were three in the studio already: two ergonomic backless kneeler chairs (one of which I got at a yard sale for a dollar and the other of which I simply wore out) and a low saddle rack with an old leather saddle on it. Three chairs, two work areas. The fact is that I could no longer work for long in any of those seating arrangements because my backside simply went on strike and said, "No more abuse for this ass. From now on it's got to be cushioned, or I will give you such a pain..." And it did. Then it recruited my knees to join the agony so that even with an extra pillow, the ergo-chairs were dreadful. The saddle collected two folded blankets and two plastic sheets of big bubble wrap before I could bear to sit on it for an hour, which is nothing if you're working on a story.

I tore apart the better ergo-chair with an eye to reupholstering it. I know I'll get around to finishing that some day. But finding that I was actually avoiding working in the studio (a disaster) sent me to Staples for a special order chair.

I knew the one I wanted; the same chair I've wanted all my life. (Well, at least all that part of my life during which I've had a studio.) A variable-height stool on casters, like the kind doctors use. Oh, yeah. With one of those, you can brace your feet against the ground and move from project to project; you can tear into the studio at top speed with an inspiration, step over the beast and sit while your hands are already getting out the implements; and even when you've just been screwing off playing Free Cell or Spider Solitaire, you can celebrate each victory with a quick spin. No arms on the chair to bash elbows, no designed for comfort formed seat (they always cut off my circulation in my legs and stress my back) and no back to obstruct my view of the dogs that invariably come in and lie down near the chair. I was grinning like a kid at Christmas while I talked to the sales associate about my special order, and went home clutching the receipt gleefully, anticipating that in about a week, my chair would arrive.

Yesterday afternoon the dogs went nuts, slamming against the door and bellowing murder at some fool who rang the doorbell. Cursing under my breath about people who go door to door, I went to the porch to see who was disturbing the peace. There was no one on the porch, just a huge box. In astonishment I stared at the label. The chair I had ordered the day before had already arrived.

Five minutes later it was assembled, and both Ass and Knees gave it a Thumbs Up.

Back to work, with pleasure.

Last of the Old Blog: 02/17/05 -- The Broken Woman

Origins lost in the mists of antiquity, my phobia grew like the tendrils of the hateful bindweed until it possessed my sensibilities.

I know that I have one of the best dentists in the world. I trust Dr. Mike implicitly. I know that his staff is exquisitely trained, lovingly compassionate, and genuinely worried about my insane fear of dental work. They have been so kind and gentle with me that I no longer shake so hard that the tray of (torture implements) dental tools rattles when I have my teeth cleaned. They are proud of my gains in confidence.

But today I had an appointment to have a few fillings in front teeth. All the tendrils of the phobia were set off -- the potential for pain (past dental work that previous dentists did when those front teeth weren't quite numb), the having-someone-touch-my-face heebie-jeebies, the needles, the loss of control, the fight-or-flight response being forcibly shut off. Since they had strongly suggested I be gassed, I'd arranged with Alex for her to take me to the dentist and pick me up when I was done. After a night of mostly sleeplessness, I knew I had to drive myself -- it was the only control over the situation I had, and I needed to exercise it.

Dr. Mike was wonderful, as he has been ever since The Life that Guides the World brought me to his office. He is patient and kind. He understands fear and tries to allay it. He has never, ever hurt me. He is willing to take extra time when dealing with a nutcase. How surprised he would be to find out that I am an eloquent woman at times, instead of an animal pushed to my limits, pawing at my mouth and muttering feverishly, "I'm okay, I'm okay."

Yet this evening finds me in bed, unwilling to walk around the house or interact with anyone. If I was a dog in a rustic dwelling, I'd be curled up under the porch where no one could touch me or see me until my psyche healed and I could move about again with confidence and sass.

I hope I don't have nightmares.

Old Blog 15: 02/16/05 -- The Heartbreak of Psoriasis

I remember a commercial a long time ago that used that phrase. No recollection what product the commercial was for -- I just remember thinking it was a stupid way to describe skin eruptions.

However, I think it's a great title for describing a day shopping for clothing when the winter potbelly hasn't been exercised off, and when one doesn't want to go to a nice store and drop $300 on an outfit that one expects will be too big in a couple months. Yes. Heartbreak. Eruptions. Itching and wanting to murder whoever is responsible for fashion trends.

Yes, the wedding I'm supposed to read at is only two days away, and I would have shopped for a decent outfit sooner, but who knew that the ass would rip out of my beloved and luxurious lavender three piece suit last Sunday? Not the seam. The material. It just ripped when I accidentally sat on the edge of the songbook in the pew at church. It wasn't too tight, it was just -- the end of the road for a suit that has been my mainstay for years. Dammit.

So off I went today, just hoping for some dumb conservative old woman clothes that I could throw on and not be a scandal to the bride and her mother.

My first question is this: in a country with a population as fat as America, why does a store carry a whole rack of size 4 and 6, but no more than a couple size 12? Have you ever met anyone who was a size 4? (Oh, shut up.) Since the store didn't have any dumb conservative old woman clothes (at least nothing that wasn't fucking ugly capri pants length, which are the ugliest, least attractive cut since BillyBob's BibAlls) I looked at the business clothes section, and found a pair of nice gray slacks. In a size twelve.

Sweating like a pig in the over-heated store, I pulled on the slacks, noting that the waist fit better than I thought it would, and looked in the mirror of the fitting room. Gahhhh! The front of the pants looked like someone had stolen the material from the hips. I turned, and my ass looked like someone had played a joke on me, perhaps by eliminating a lot of fabric -- from the hip area. Maybe someone thought that making the waist big and the hipline tight would be really funny. But it wasn't, not with the clock ticking and my patience and aplomb rapidly disappearing. I don't have a big ass. I carry all my fatties right around the bellybutton. No go, the pants looked like shit. Which lead me to my next question.

WTF would you make slacks with no @!##&! pockets? I no sooner had those pants on than I made a swoop with my hands, looking for pockets. None. Nada. Where would I tuck my car keys? My hanky? My reading glasses? Upon returning to the racks, where Bernie awaited me, trying to be supportive even though every other word I uttered began with the letter F, I discovered that NONE of the women's slacks had pockets. Or belt loops. But they were all cut a bit low ... soooo if you want to keep your pants from falling down, you have to buy them a bit small, so that they dig right into that hip and belly area -- resulting in the sausage look I see so often these days.

After pondering briefly whether or not I could sue Mervyn's of California if I suffered a stroke while shopping, I grated to Bernie, "Let's see if the men's department has any pants for short little mens."

And sure enough, they did. Elegant, well-made slacks with variable waist and length sizes. In little time, I found a pair that looked like they were meant to be worn as pants, with roomy pockets, belt loops, and a very nice shapely ass.

Question three: Why do I have to buy men's clothing in order to look like a reasonably attractive woman??????????????

Old Blog 14: Mardi Gras 2005

This is the threshold of the season of purgation. Never mind that "lent" simply meant "spring" -- now it means "a time of scrubbing up."

I understand that at one time folks spent the last few days before Lent using up all the lard that was on hand, so as to have no hot-blooded animal substance for sustenance during the 40 days of sacrifice and hardship before Holy Thursday. I know people who make "foss-naughts" -- a kind of fried doughnut -- to use up lard or shortening, though they have no religious belief. It's just what they do the couple days leading up to Mardi Gras.

Wickedly, on Fat Tuesday, I ate chips. Potato chips, corn chips. I partook of nasty boxed cheap macaroni. I will pay for this tomorrow, Ash Wednesday. And tomorrow I will begin my annual spring purge.

Tomorrow, I will eat no meat, unless it be fish, and as I have no fish, my day will be sustained by eggs and cheese. I will begin my Lenten purge by setting aside a part of my forty days in prayer and meditation. I need to do that. I need to re-establish my place in the Universe.

Some folks would say that means humbling oneself. I don't know about that. "What is Man that thou art mindful of him?" asks Scripture. Maybe it's time to stop saying that Humans are not mere biological anomalies but are holy creatures, admitting again that we combine the mysterious and inexplicable "matter" and the mysterious and inexplicable "spirit-soul".

It's like being willing to throw oneself onto the firey wheel of the sun. Prayer and spiritual growth are suttee, are being walled up in the tomb, are wandering in the desert without water. Something that leaves behind CNN and FOX News and finds its Truth in the spaces between incidents.

I'm clinging to my tasty wine and wicked snacks tonight, but I long for the clear sight of tomorrow.

Old Blog 13: 02/07/05 -- Before Lent

Mardi Gras tomorrow... The big blowout before the lean times of Lent. Lent comes from a word that means "Spring", so I shouldn't be outraged that Lent comes so early this year.

Lent isn't really a deprivation to me, giving something up or cutting back on whatever; rather than give something up for Lent, I have found it more productive to add something on. For Lent this year I will try to set aside time to read the daily Gospel readings, and try to spend a few minutes thinking about them.

This Lenten season I want to think about God and human; God created the human, with its material form and immortal spirit, a fusion of material universe and Realm-of-God existence.

Someone said, "Psst! You've got an immortal soul. You're like God, too. Go to it!"

Alas, poor first humans! Like God, they were able to know and love and look at themselves with pride, but unlike God, they only knew about life through their own eyes, their eyes of flesh. They did what they could perceive to make themselves great.

But however ill their choice was, fact is, the Creator thought there was something wonderful about the fusion. That's what I want to think about this Lent.

Some saints have done miraculous things. I wonder if they are people who have come to understand what the original intention of the Creator really was. "What is Man that Thou art mindful of him?" asks the scripture reading. What, indeed?

Why would a Creator endow a beast of material construct with an immortal soul, and the very breath of Godhead?

Old Blog 12: 02/05/005 -- Spring, and Sing

The almond trees are starting to bloom. Spring has begun, regardless of equinoxes. A neighbor up the street prudently planted bulbs late last fall, and now has a grove of daffodils blooming away. Mine, planted -- uuuhhh, after Christmas -- are just showing their tips.

It was a fine day today. Bernie and I cleaned our cars together in the driveway, and then went to Saturday evening Mass -- our usual 10am Mass is getting too crowded for comfort. 5pm Saturday is still packed, but not as horrifically as the usual. At Saturday Mass, few people sing, so Bernie and I formed a quaint duo in the midst of the silent throng.

Church is the only place (besides football games) that people just sing aloud with each other. I find it hard to pass up such a venue -- after all, who is going to turn around in church and shout, "Get it right, dummy! We don't say 'thee' any more, we say 'you'!"

(And if they did, to which I would probably blurt, "Go stick thine head in a toilet and flush thee.") Oh, dear, more time in Purgatory for me.

It was a good day.

Old Blog 11: 01/24/05 -- Fog Ad Infinitum

Every day has looked the same from dawn to sundown -- at least I assume there's a sun out there somewhere -- for so long that I can't remember when we last saw it. Tule fog! How beautiful at Christmas time, how screamingly ANNOYING it is when there's only a couple weeks until spring! Every project seems hopeless. No blanket can take away the ache of joints that feel as though the cold is seeping and settling in. Nothing dries, because with the chill and fog, the humidity is 100%. Mildew is everywhere.

You go to the supermarket, and pretend not to see the black freckles of mildew on the checkout clerk; you refuse to comment on the colony of mushrooms growing out of the part on the hair of the customer before you.

The daylight is so dim that my least favorite checker at the local grocery store, Claire, lets her fangs grow, and I'm careful not to voice my dissatisfaction at her job performance. (Lydia and Jerry have taught me much.) At least this time, she didn't bite through the wrapping of the pork butt roast and suck on it. Maybe she got worms the last time.

Old Blog 10: 01/19/05 -- A Successful Lulu

Dreamer is my first novel, and I love it. Some of the imagery was terrific, some of the characters memorable, some of its commentary worthwhile. Dreamer is also completely unsellable to a publisher, because it's about a woman who is just trying to keep faith with her family, her religion, and her heart. The MC is a *nice* lady, who wants to be nice. I like the book that way, and have no interest in sexing it up or deleting her reminiscings. No publisher would waste their time on it.

Tough shit for them, I guess. And hurrah for Lulu Press, which will allow me to get those precious 300-odd pages into print and onto my shelf.

Today I successfully uploaded my poor old workhorse Character Assassin to Lulu (and ordered one right away!) by way of testing Lulu's system before I entrust Dreamer to it.

I have had to learn so much about Word and Photoshop that I can hardly believe it's me in the mirror. (Who is that woman with all that hair and knowledge?) Six months ago I wanted to get a book into Lulu printing, but I had not the faintest idea how to do it. Today I spent much of the day with a test document, trying to figure out how to make numbering appear consistently throughout a document except for those pages which divide say "Book One" from "Book Two." What an effort, and one which Microsoft Word's "Help" pages shed no light on whatsoever. With tidbits of information from Lulu resources and their suggested links, I was able to piece together a plan. None of them was comprehensive or complete, I might add.

I WROTE THE THING DOWN! If anyone on the Piker Pages needs the info, I can just post it, step by eye-bugging step.

The effort made me stink, but I feel like a god. A smelly minor deity, perhaps, but larger than life, nevertheless.


Old Blog 9: 01/15/05

I watched the playoff football game today, Steelers vs. Jets. Well, I watched until the phenomenal Steelers played like little girls against the Jets, but that was my fault, it seems. I stopped watching when the game went into overtime, and then the Steelers pulled it off and won by a field goal.

I loved the Steelers ever since Bernie introduced me to pro football in 1975 and the Steel Curtain. Mean Joe Greene, Jack Lambert, half-a-footed Viet Nam vet Rocky Bleir, and the exuberant quarterback Terry Bradshaw -- I knew how they all moved, and they were the best. I wanted them to win their fifth Superbowl perhaps more than any other fan, but what occurred that fateful year to turn me into a ill-omened fan, I don't know.

After that year, every Steeler game I watched, they lost. And that sounds like a fan trying to make up for her team's dismal performances, but it didn't just happen for the Steelers, but for every team I favored and watched. Hate Denver, cheer on whoever they were playing against? Denver always won. I stopped watching games with Denver. Give the other team a chance.

I didn't watch the Steelers at all this year, hoping to give them a chance of getting somewhere this season, and they CRUSHED their oppositions like eggshells. I thought it was safe to watch the playoffs.

Sorry, Rothlisberger. Sorry Cowher. When Bettis fumbled, and Rothlisberger threw an idiotic interception, I knew I had to find something else to do. I got out my laptop and started formatting my next Lulu Press offering, proofreading and putting Chapter fonts in order. When the game went into overtime, I stopped watching and even put my hands over my ears so as not to hear the announcers.

The Steelers pulled it out with a field goal in overtime. Please don't tell them I was watching for the main part of the game.

Old Blog 8: 01/14/05 -- Systematic

I packed in working on Character Assassin for Lulu in favor of the freebie NaNoWriMo deal. But I really didn't want to just have a paperback book with no ending, so I pushed about 16,000 words this past week to draw the story around to some semblance of an ending. And SEEM to have succeeded uploading the thing to Lulu Press. If and when I have the finished copy in my trembling hands, I'll know if all the learning and sweating and cursing were worth it.

I sure as hell hope so.

One of the things that I am able to do is write up simple, follow-able instructions. Bernie taught me that 29 years ago when he was a Jack-in-the-Box Manager Trainee. We'd go over his instruction manuals, which were intended to be understood by anyone literate. There were no "value judgements" or "estimated materials." Food was produced according to recipes whose cooking times were measured in seconds, whose ingredients were measured by fractions of ounces. Step One, Two, Three. If you follow the steps, you won't make mistakes.

In preparing for Lulu-ing, I printed out pages of instructions from various Lulu blogs and Help pages, stuff from Cafe Press's publishing Help encyclopedia, more stuff from the latest Lulu link at NaNoWriMo -- and very little of it agreed on the process, the measurements, the terminology. Essential words were left out. Definitions were hazy. Directions were as confusing as the ones you get when you try to find Scenic Drive in Modesto.

I think that I can help that a little, because in the end, formatting my novel (after weeks of trial and error) took about ten minutes. And though I spent a week on the cover picture, only to have it rejected because the resolution was not high enough, when I finally figured out what the hell the various mentors were trying to say, a passable cover was available in a matter of minutes.

It's not as convoluted as it first seems.

While I no longer have to write lesson plans or lesson plan formats, or train cashiers to use a the new phone system or how to mix paint, the knack of systematic relay of information is still there, and will stand someone in good stead.


Old Blog 7: 01/05/05 -- Small Victories

It's taken me two days to figure out how to number pages in my manuscript without having the numbers appear on the first four pages. Sounds simple, yes? Why the hell doesn't MS Word just have a box that says, "On which page of your document do you wish numbering to begin?" Or at the very least, a warning that says, "If you wish your document to look decent, take a class, for god's sake." After all the frustration, my success has made me want to break out the champagne.

Character Assassin is on its way to publication with Lulu Press. Now that I've got the page numbering issue down, all I have to do is check for gross typos and format the chapter headings. Well, and then figure out how to upload my cover art, but that's the least of my concerns. THEN I will be ready to publish Dreamer, that weighty little tome.

I decided to ride today, and let the rhythmic clop of the horse's hooves free my subconscious to roam and create.


Guess again, Batman. The incoming storm had the intrepid Duquesne in a snitty, shitty mood, with his ears pinned irritably and an inability to walk rather than prance and threaten to buck. I don't know how much of a workout he got in twenty minutes, but I surely had one that I'll be feeling for days.

Farmers were all over the place with heavy equipment, scooping up recently-trimmed branches of almond trees for burning on the orchard roads, everyone frantically trying to get work done before this next storm comes through. I hope the weather people are wrong and it misses us.

Old Blog 6: 01/04/05 -- Crabby Old Writer

Being an older human being bites, sometimes. Today was the first day I seriously started worrying about hypertension and strokes. I encountered some stress this morning, and felt my blood pressure soar and immediately felt the pain of a stress headache. Not good.

Bernie thinks it's a reaction to trying to figure out how to format my novels for Lulu Press -- along with the all-too-significant pressure from various sources to only deal with "real" publishers. I want my book to look good in Lulu; I loathe the idea of "marketing" my writing skills. A day dawns when I feel free to sit content with my books offered at Lulu, unadulterated, and then I read comments on various forums that say that POD publishing isn't real, and is only for weiners, only for losers, etc.

Damn those comments to stinkin' hell -- I can't remember when I ever wrote anything that was meant to appeal to a freakin' commercial publisher.

What, I want to snuggle book by book with Maeve Binchy?

I would rather delete everything I've ever written.

Old Blog 5: New Year's Day 2005

Last night was our New Year's Eve party. In spite of the very noticeable absence of Jeff, that Filthiest of Pikers, and his family, the mood was festive and cheerful. Unlike previous New Year's parties, we did not trash the house at midnight. Next year we'll have to plan for a triple-trashing to make up for that. It will be strange not to be finding confetti lurking in couch cushions and desk drawers in July.

Maureen and I spent a good bit of time talking about writing; she has a collection of poetry she'd like to see in book form, as well as some journals she has. I asked her if she was going to try to find a publisher, and she rolled her eyes and curled her lip, eloquently saying with the gesture, "Hell, no." I was thrilled to find that she was just as not-thrilled as I about the whole "real" publishing venue, the deals, the editing, the marketing. I told her about Lulu Press, and when she heard the words "no money up front" she was quite interested. She's got a large family, and being able to hand on to them her literary treasures will mean a lot to them as well as to Maureen. Plus, there's the added benefit that her tribe of children wouldn't need to fight over them.

Mary showed up wearing a becoming red wig. "What is this?" I asked her scathingly when she'd taken off her hat. "Where's my wig?" Mary then swiped the wig off her head with a flourish to reveal a head of soft silver fuzz. "Look at you!" I cried. "You're beautiful!" And I meant it. She looks good nearly bald. It was so good to see her again. She's been pretty much in isolation while undergoing chemotherapy because of the immune system effects. How strange fate is! We've been kind of keeping away from people because of the scarcity of flu vaccine; as a result, this household is fair-to-middlin' contagion-free, making it possible for Mary to enjoy a night out with friends.

2004 was a rough year on our extended "family." Our dear friend Bill died this past summer, Mary was diagnosed with breast cancer, John suffered two herniated discs and can hardly walk, Jeff was out of the country too much. I don't think we'll miss 2004 too much, and with the grace of God, 2005 will find us stronger and more appreciative of each day that we live.

January 1st, 2005: Thank you, God, for another day of life. Amen.

Old Blog 4: Christmas Eve, with Fire and Flowers

Bernie only had to work eight hours today, and so he's home by 2:30 this morning. I'll be able to wake him up by a little after nine in the morning, rather than have to let him sleep until noon or later! That in and of itself is a great Christmas gift to me.

This is our 30th Christmas as lovers. That first Christmas we spent apart, still unmarried by a few months, conventionally staying with our respective parents. We hated doing that, and have regretted it every single Christmas since. After all these years, we've come to the conclusion that there aren't enough years available. Thirty of them are -- nothing. A wink of an eye. A sneeze.

He brought me flowers. Thinking he might sneak them into the kitchen for me to find in the morning, he brought home a bundle of dark purply-red carnations, the color of Advent. He didn't know I was dozing in the kitchen tonight, keeping watch on the fire. When he touched the front door, my dog Howie leaped off the other comfy chair in the kitchen and flew, baying like a hound, to challenge the sound.

And so I saw him come in the door, home for the holidays. With flowers, with love.

I'll keep watch in the kitchen here for the rest of the night so that the fire doesn't go out, and I don't count that as a burden -- that's what people used to do long before central heating; that's what this time of year is all about, keeping watch in the night. When the morning comes, I'll sic both dogs on him and bounce on the bed to wake him, to tell him it's time to make the day holy with our marriage, to truly begin the holi-day.

Old Blog 3: 12/21/04 -- Seasons and Holiday

From Thanksgiving to Epiphany I feel cheated of the season and the holiday. The four weeks preceding Christmas are a time that I like to reflect on my life, see what I've done, think about what I want to do in the time I have left. I like to celebrate Christmas during the Christmas season, not before, and I don't want to put away the Christmas things until Christmas season is done on January 6th.

Instead, Advent has become a time of endless Christmas carols played repeatedly in every restaurant and store (too loudly, and often in tasteless renditions), mailboxes and newspapers heaped with shameful tons of advertising, people behaving badly behind the wheels of their cars in order to get parking spaces or hurry along in frenetic schedules that they've become brainwashed into believing they must keep.

(How's that for a run-on sentence!)

It's like trying to pray while someone runs a jackhammer in the next pew.

"Hurry up!" screams the media. "It's almost over!"

"But wait," I say, "it hasn't begun yet!"

It's also the shortest day of the year today, and I like to consider that phenomenon as well. Last night I was plagued by nightmares, and the darkness seemed so long. In one dream, I was asleep and having a nightmare, and went to my mother to tell her that I was afraid. She made room for me beside her as she did when I was a child, and comforted me. When I got up this morning, I remembered how she would say after every Winter Solstice, "Now the days will get a little longer every day." A simple sentence, but a comfort, nevertheless.

Old Blog 2: 12/19/04 -- Tule Fog Burnout Already?

Let me blog about Tule fog. The first white day that the fog socks us in, I feel a resurgence of holiday spirit, for the Tule fog is our "white Christmas" weather. However, after only about three days of it, I'm light deprived and ready for a break.

I sleep beside or under an open window when we sleep indoors, but although I prefer a temperature in the forties at night, the humidity (100%) seeps into my joints and I feel cold all day long if the temps don't rise above 45. Like today. All gray, all cold, all wet.

We've had Tule fog for a week. The daytime temperatures keep dropping, because we don't see the sun. Everyone becomes more torpid, longing for naps and pizza. Drivers become increasingly stupid. Outdoor work gets put off as we vainly wait for the light to appear and make it really seem like morning. Lack of light in the winter is what keeps me from making steps toward moving to Norway.

From the Old Blog: December, On Shaving

This was our week to read at church again, and I thought about this while I was shaving my head this morning. It is funny how women's hair is such a seemingly important part of their appearance. It's not enough that I shave my head -- I obsess over whether or not it looks perfectly even all over. Shaving takes almost as long as drying my wild blonde hair did.

I was saddened to see a woman (whose name I don't know) at church with a bandana on her head. I believe that she underwent chemotherapy last year, and only a few weeks ago, I'd seen her with curly brown hair. I'm afraid that she's had to take treatments again. Bernie was so tired that I didn't stay after Mass to find her and talk to her, but I think I have to do that next week if I see her. She hides her scalp and dresses plainly, like she's in hiding.

By comparison, I dressed in black wool trousers and blazer, with a silky black blouse, black leather boots, and a glittery black scarf, and big gold jewelry. Presto, shorn hair becomes exotic, and disfigurement, flash.

This lady at church is beautiful, she really is, even though she is ill. I wish that she would hold her head up proudly and challenge us all to look at the possibility of impending death, because Death will come for us all, sooner or later.

I want her to do that, because I want to be able to do that in my own time, as well.