Tag Archive | personal

Sleep disturbances

Kitten in a blanket.

I just want to stay under the covers.

There are some medications I’ve been put on at one time or another which list “sleep disturbances” as a possible side effect. That’s an interesting phrase, isn’t it? It conjures up images ranging from insomnia—staring at the clock in the wee hours of the morning wondering desperately if you will ever sleep—to slightly less insidious things—such as a kitten crawling into your bed in the middle of the night and waking you up briefly. Of course, anyone who has owned cats will tell you that having a cat decide that they are more important than sleep can be a nightmarish ordeal that is in many ways worse than mere insomnia.

The first time I was put on a medication which listed this side effect was for an extremely bed sinus-throat-and-ear infection I got some years ago. In addition to a standard antibiotic, my doctor described a steroidal nasal spray. He mentioned casually that sometimes patients have trouble sleeping when they first start taking this. The pharmacist who talked to me when I picked it up said that people often have sleep disturbances. The only person who actually warned me on what to expect was on online friend, who said, “Oh, no! Whenever I was put on that stuff, I had horrible vivid extremely disturbing dreams!”

I didn’t have nightmares that first night. What I had was first an extremely vivid dream in which I was trying to put up new shelves in the apartment I lived in at the time, while my late husband, Ray, was working on a quilt. And it was vitally important that we get these tasks done before someone arrived, and things just kept going wrong. I woke up with my heart pounding and feeling extremely angry at a screwdriver that kept transforming into the wrong kind of tool. It took me several minutes to untangle my thoughts and realize that I had been dreaming. It wasn’t real. It was irritating, but not scary.

And that was what they meant by sleep disturbances. Not an occasional temporary interruption of a good night’s rest, but a string of bizarre and emotionally overwrought dreams that propelled you out of bed confused and temporarily convinced that you had entered the twilight zone. In other words, something much more like being pestered by several deranged pets all night long.

The next time that a different medication with the same side effect was prescribed, my regular pharmacist asked if I had been on this particular thing before and if I knew what the label meant when it said “sleep disturbances.” With a slight sense of dread, I described the nights of weird dreams. “Yep!” she said, with a bit more cheerfulness than it deserved. “That’s usually what happens. Not scary dreams, just weird ones that leave you feeling strange and keep waking you up. Not much you can do, though they’re usually worst the first couple of nights.”

I realize that side effects can vary from person to person. And I also know that people don’t always describe the effects they feel the same way. But still, sleep disturbances didn’t really prepare me for what happened. On the other hand, my regular pharmacist was correct. Each time I’ve been on one of these meds, the bizarre dreams were worst for the first couple of days, and then became a bit more normal for the rest of the time I’m on the medication. Not complete going away, mind you, just less awful.

The same warning pamphlets usually also mention mood changes, or irritability, or lack of interest in sex as possible side effects. All of which, by my experience, are euphemisms for “Your emotions are doing to be wildly unpredictable for days!” A friend who has depression was once put on the same prescription strength nasal spray that my doctor has been fond of giving me for sinus infections lately (different than the first one I mentioned in this post), but no one warned him about possible mood-altering side effects. Or, I should say, whatever warning his doctor or pharmacist gave, did not communicate to him the possibility that his depression would be amplified to previously unplumbed depths. Fortunately, it occurred to him after several days of feeling much worse than usual to ask around. As he said afterward, it would have been nice if the warning had been clearer. Because it’s a lot easier to deal with extra depression (or other effects) if you know it’s coming.

Sometimes the sleep disturbances are just weird dreams. Unfortunately I’m a sleep walker and talker. So sometimes I have woke up in a violent rage about something, talking very loudly and angrily about someone. Usually just identified by pronoun. This wakes up my poor husband. I mention the pronoun thing because, usually the dreams that drive me to angrily leap out of bed don’t stick with me. What I mean is, by the time I’m awake enough to realize it’s a dream and answer Michael’s questions about what’s wrong, I can’t remember the details.

I’m writing about this now because currently I have a sinus infection (along with a chest cold and a nasty cough). I’m on antibiotics for the sinus infection, and since there’s a lot of mucous in my lungs, I’m also using an inhaler a couple times a day, and some prescription cough syrup (which I’m only using at bed time). The inhaler and the cough syrup both cause sleep disturbances. And I’ve had some weird dreams. I can’t decide whether the most annoying one so far was the one where my husband and I were trying to do something but our luggage kept vanishing and reappearing, or the one where it started out with us helping his father (who I am very fond of) do something, but then it morphed into helping my father (who I was not fond of at all while he was alive).

I just hope the cough gets better soon, so I can stop using the cough syrup and the inhaler. I’d rather just be dealing with the antibiotic for the rest of the week, you know?

She alone will stand against the vampires, the demons, and the forces of darkness — more of why I love sf/f

Anthony Head, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Brandon Nicholas, Allison Hannagan and James Marsters from a BtVS publicity shot.

Anthony Head, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Brandon Nicholas, Allison Hannagan and James Marsters from a BtVS publicity shot.

I am one of the biggest, craziest Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans you will ever meet. But I wasn’t always one. I saw the original movie when it came out, and thought it was very funny. There were some things I didn’t like about it, but it was a good laugh and a fun inversion of the typical teen horror film. Then a few years later I heard they were making a television series out of it, and I was certain it would be very bad. My late husband, Ray, watched it from the beginning when it started airing as a midseason replacement in March of 1997 and told me it was awesome. At the time, it aired on a night when I frequently had board meetings or committee meetings for the chorus, so I wasn’t home while he was watching it.

He managed to get me to watch an episode or two with him that summer, because he had a lot of the season on video tape. I don’t remember hating it, but it also didn’t really grab me. Season two started that fall. I remember one particular evening when I got home for chorus rehearsal that Ray was telling me about the show and how much he was looking forward to next week’s episode, because there had been a cliffhanger.

Two nights later, Ray had a seizure and went into a coma. Then he died, and I fell apart.

Some time after he died, I was alone in the house doing something, and I heard a noise from another room. I went to see what was going on, and one of the VCRs was rewinding furiously, then popped its tape out. In 1997 DVRs didn’t exist. We owned three video cassette recorders, though, and Ray had a complicated schedule of pre-programmed recordings, and a pile of labeled tapes. He would swap out tapes at different times in the week, so that the different machines would record the next episode of whichever series was kept on that tape.

And I hadn’t been keeping up.

This was maybe two weeks after Ray had died. I was still deep in the shell-shocked stage of grieving. So the idea that I hadn’t kept Ray’s rotation going seized me as a terrible thing. I was letting him down! I had let the wrong shows get recorded on the wrong tapes! Who knows what else I had messed up? Never mind that Ray was beyond caring about these things. I wasn’t rational. When someone you love dies, even the most stoic and logical person has some moments of irrationality over take them.

So I tried to sort out what was going on with the tapes. And that’s how I ended up watching all of the season two episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, along with about half of the season one episodes out of order (because his labelling system wasn’t always discernible to anyone but him) in a very short time.

There’s a lot of things that happened to me in those first few months after Ray died that I don’t remember clearly. But one of the few crystal clear moments was one point when I was staring at the TV and I said aloud, “Dang it, Ray! You were right. This show is incredible!”

I was addicted.

Don’t get me wrong, the show has problems. I can rant for hours and hours about how monumentally awful were most of the decisions the writers made in season six, for instance. And the many ways that season seven doubled down on some of the failure. Even before the universally despised season six, there was the incredible frustration of how the first half of season four showed such brilliance and promise of taking things to a new level, then collapsed into a world of disappointment and lost opportunity. And oy! Trying to make sense of both the explicit and implicit contradictions about the nature of magic, demons, the biology of vampires…!

Dru and Spike!

Dru and Spike!

But there were so many things the show got right. One of the things they got most right is casting James Marsters and Juliet Landau as Spike and Drusilla, the Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen of the undead set (and if you don’t know who they are, your life is sadly lacking in Sex Pistols, is all I’m saying). There was a point, after I had acquired the complete DVD set of season two of the series, where literally at least once a week I re-watched the episode that introduced Spike and Dru, “School Hard.” They were evil and cold and vicious and Dru is crazier than a coked out mutt in a hubcap factory. But they were also madly deeply in love. Spike rather proudly proclaimed himself love’s bitch in a later season, “at least I’m man enough to admit it!”

What made the show work was the relationships between the characters. Joss Whedon and his crew created a world in which a small, pretty girl regularly kicked the butts of evil creatures. A world where the real problems that teens try to deal with often made the monsters seem trivial by comparison. Some of the creatures of darkness were metaphors for the problems humans face coming of age, yep. And sometimes the parallel between the mundane story lines and the supernatural ones were a little on the nose.

But then there were the moments of brilliance, such as when everything had been taken from her: her first love turned evil, her best friend lying dying in a hospital, she’s been kicked out of her home, everything she cared about either broken, dying, or lost; the villain has fought her back into a corner and is berating her about all she has lost and all who have abandoned her. “What have you got?” he asks with a sneer, as he thrusts what we think is a killing blow with an enchanted sword. She catches the blade between her hands, looks him in the eye with the most amazing fuck-you glare of determination and says, “I’ve got me.” Then proceeds to kick his butt and save the world.

Those sorts of moments, where a simple refusal to give up in the face of impossible odds, and the many times that various characters in the story sacrificed for their loved ones and found a way out of a hopeless situation—they were what made the ups and downs of the show worth it. And I want to be clear: one of the things they did right more than once was not that the characters found that one last glimmer of hope in the midst of despair and defeat; rather, the characters made their own hope. Yes, Buffy was about empowerment. Buffy was about the damsel being able to rescue herself. Buffy was about turning notions of victims and saviors on their heads. Buffy was about seeing that the questions of good vs evil aren’t always black and white; that part of being a hero (and a big part of growing up) is about learning to make your way through all those shades of grey without losing yourself.

But mostly, Buffy was about love, chosen families, and not giving up.

Goal-darn age…

Keep Calm & Achieve Your Goals.

Keep Calm & Achieve Your Goals.

When I set my goals for this year, I pledged to do monthly updates, since the years I’ve done that has resulted in better results than years I haven’t. So, how did I do in February?

My specific tasks for February were:

  • Get through the rest of the bookcases in the computer room. We made progress on the computer room, the bedroom, and the kitchen. We haven’t been sticking to a get-this-whole-bit-finished then move on schedule.
  • Figure out Writers’ Night schedule for at least the following couple of months. Done! Sorted through July.
  • Write at least four blog posts about things I like. I wrote six or seven such posts, depending on how you count.
  • Expand the list of places to find calls for submissions and write one new story. Not done.
  • Finish the current stage of the copy edit pass. Maybe half done.
  • Disconnect from the internet at least one night a week so I can concentrate on writing and editing. I hit the goal, in that every week there was at least one night when I didn’t pay attention to what was going on on the net. A couple of times I was feeling so tired and run down that I came home, ate dinner, and just crashed. So while I achieved the disconnect goal, I didn’t get the writing and editing half of it done each time.

My overall goals for the year, where I’m trying to follow the idea of replacing bad habits with better ones:

Don’t get mad, get busy. My tasks are: write about about things I love; listen to music and audiobooks more and podcasts less; spend at least half of my lunch break writing; set specific monthly writing/editing goals in each check-in; write at least one blog post a month about organizations we can donate to that are fighting the good fight.

Again, I did pretty well on this, with some weirdness because of work and illness eating away at our energy and time.

Reduce, pack, and prioritize. We now officially know that we have to find a new place to live this year. We have lots of stuff to go through and decide what to discard and what to pack.

Making more progress. I didn’t haul as much away the last weekend of the month as the previous three, though.

Take care of us. My initial tasks are related to some specific medical things that aren’t urgent, but need to be dealt with. I am going to remain vague on the details of this one.

We both saw various medical professionals this month as hoped. My hubby’s tests came out good and he has the big procedure scheduled for next month.

Submit and publish. Initial task was to organize how I’m going to find calls for submission and set reasonable targets for the novel revision/finalization.

This was the goal that suffered most from the time squeeze. Not much progress on it at all.


Finally, my specific tasks for March are:

  • At this point it’s time to just pack everything, so pack!
  • Get the new living situation sorted.
  • Make reasonable progress on writing/editing knowing that the above is going to eat up most of our available time.
  • Disconnect from the internet at least one night each week.
  • Write at least two blog posts about things I like.

Weekend Update 2/25/2017: We have to have standards! (aka, Martinis for Science!)

This week’s Friday round up of links was one of my biggest collections, with over 100 linked stories, and I didn’t see much in the news yesterday that struck me with that sense of “Dang! I wish I’d known that to include in this week’s list,” nor many that made me go “Oh! We have to follow up on that!” Part of the reason is that I seem to be coming down with something and had barely enough energy to get through my work day yesterday, let alone spend any break time reading news. I crashed right after logging out at work, then got up and started dinner and so on.

But I noticed that once again a couple of links that I had bookmarked to include in yesterday’s list were missed, and one of them absolutely must be shared!

ANSI STANDARD K100.1-1974: SAFETY CODE AND REQUIREMENTS FOR DRY MARTINIS. The American National Standards Institute is (to quote Wikipedia): “a private non-profit organization that oversees the development of voluntary consensus standards for products, services, processes, systems, and personnel in the United States. The organization also coordinates U.S. standards with international standards so that American products can be used worldwide.” ANSI was originally founded nearly 100 years ago when five societies of engineers and three government agencies founded the American Engineering Standards Committee. The organization went through a few name changes over the years before settling on the current name in 1969. ANSI doesn’t impose standards upon industries and so forth, but provides an accreditation of the processes that industry groups, committees, and so forth use to adopt standards. It then publishes the standards once adopted by the group.

Anyway, the amusing document I have linked is a real ANSI standard, originally published through the ANSI process in 1966, and last updated in 1974. When you read it, you can tell it was meant as a joke, but we all know how engineers and scientists can take a joke too far. I don’t know which part made me laugh hardest—probably the table entitled “Maximum Permissible Olive Displacement.” I’m very happy to note that the official ANSI standard for martini forbids vodka from the drink. They won me over right there!

The martini I made according to the ANSI standard.

The martini I made according to the ANSI standard.

For purely scientific reasons earlier this week I made a martini according to the specifications and thoroughly test it. It was delicious. The standard calls for a 16-to-1 ratio of gin to dry vermouth (variants as high as 20-to-1 are also permissible), and only one olive, the size of which depends upon the size of the serving glass and is listed in the table that made me laugh. I used my favorite gin, Bombay Sapphire.

When I usually make my own martinis at home, the ratio I use is 7-to-1 or 8-to-1. And I really love olives, so I usually put about three olives on a single toothpick to go with the drink. So this was definitely different than my usual. Very good, and I will probably start making them at a higher than 8-to-1 ratio more often in the future. It’s a little difficult to hit that ratio the way I usually make martinis, because normally I make them in a smaller coup-style cocktail glass (of which I own an antique set). The coup glass holds about a 3oz or 3½oz drink, so I would need to measure ⅛ of an ounce of vermouth to 2oz of gin (plus room for the olive); while all of my measuring devices only go down to a ¼ of an ounce. I can eyeball an eighth of an ounce, but it isn’t ideal.

For my experiment I used my more modern martini glass which can hold about a 5oz or 5½oz drink, so it was ¼oz vermouth to 4oz gin, plus the olive.

The second martini was a my usual proportions and with three olives.

The second martini was a my usual proportions and with three olives.

As I was getting to the end of the drink, I figured for science sake I needed to compare it to another version. Either my usual 8-to-1 ratio with three olives, or my favorite martini, which is to make puppy eyes at my hubby (who used to be a bartender) to make me one. His method it so put ¼oz of vermouth in the shaker with ice, swish it around, then pour the vermouth down the sink, and then pour gin over the ice (which has trace amounts of vermouth) clinging to it, shake it, and pour it into a glass. I have tried to make them exactly as he shows me, and they just taste like plain gin when I do it. When Michael does it, some how, it still has the magical hint of vermouth. Anyway, I asked my husband, and he said he was willing to make me one, but since most of the time I made my own, the most responsible scientific comparison would be to compare it to my usual recipe. So that’s what I did.

I liked it as well. I can’t really say that one was significantly better than the other, though I did like the higher ratio of gin, my main critique of the ANSI standard martini was that with only one olive there was an even tinier trace of olive brine in the mix, and I missed it. I have to confess, here, that often I like what is called a Dirty Martini, where you add between ½ to an ounce of olive brine to the recipe. A lot of martini people don’t like dirty martinis (my good friend, Jared, refers to dirty martinis as “vile” in a rather emphatic tone of voice; but then, he insists that lemon peel is the superior garnish for a gin martini, so what does he know?).

Anyway, clearly more experimentation is needed. I’ll probably be trying the higher ratios of gin with my usual number of olives. And, of course, I need to try a dirty variant. In the interest of science, I will probably even try the ANSI ratios with a lemon peel garnish. It’s all for science, right?

“The human race might have one more chance…” – more of why I love sf/f

(l to r) Richard Hatch as Captain Apollo, Lorne Greene as Commander Adama, and Dirk Benedict as Starbuck. Promotional image from the original series. © 1978 Glen A. Larson Productions & Universal Television.

(l to r) Richard Hatch as Captain Apollo, Lorne Greene as Commander Adama, and Dirk Benedict as Starbuck. Promotional image from the original series. © 1978 Glen A. Larson Productions &
Universal Television.

Almost everything I thought I remembered about the original Battlestar Galactica television series was wrong. I started working on this post after Richard Hatch, the original Apollo passed away. I’d written some thoughts on my memories of the show, and was doing some research to put dates and context to my memories and discovered that my brain had apparently retconned lots of things. Since part of that post had involved recounting discussions that my old friend, Doug, and I had had about the show, and I had recently re-told the story of Doug and the Train Crossing to a friend, I decided to set the Galactica post aside for a while and write about my friend, instead.

Now, the things I misremembered about the series had almost nothing to do with the episodes or the storylines. And I’m at least a little bit curious as to why my brain made the changes in recollection that it did. The gist is: my recollection was that the series premiered shortly before my mom, sister, and I moved out to the west coast following my parents’ divorce (when I was 15 years old), that I initially liked the series but became dissatisfied with it as the seasons went on, and was slightly curious years later when the follow-up series Galactica 1980 was released, but was even more disappointed in how poorly the show had aged.

Which is all very, very wrong. And some of it was wrong in ways that are kind of flabbergasting. The original series premiered the same month as my 18th birthday and a little over a year after the worldwide premiere of the original Star Wars. It was only on the air for one season (24 episodes). And the gap between the ending of the original series and the premiere of the follow up was only 8 months.

Glen A. Larson originally conceived the series in the mid-sixties as a group of about three television movies called Adam’s Ark. It was a synthesis of space opera themes with Mormon theology (Larson having been raised in the Church of the Latter Day Saints). Larson had been unable to sell the idea to anyone. Even when a couple years later Star Trek became briefly a minor hit series. (Star Trek, of course, wouldn’t become a sci fi behemoth until later, after reruns had been running in syndication for several years).

Then, in 1977, the movie Star Wars was a worldwide blockbuster hit, and suddenly every network, movie studio, and anyone else in the entertainment/media/publishing world was looking to cash in on its incredible success. Larson’s pilot script looked very attractive.

They filmed the pilot, ABC bought it, put the series on the air with an incredible budget that wouldn’t be exceeded by any other TV show for many years, and we were off. The show did incredibly well in the ratings for the first month or so, until CBS shifted its schedule to put the very popular All In the Family and Alice up against it, causing Galactica’s ratings to slip a lot. Of course, the series might have slipped anyway. The initial spectacle of billions of people killed in the opening battle (not to mention the show’s willingness to cast more famous actors in roles that died within the first several episodes) really seized the imagination. Whereas a lot of the filler episodes were, well, pretty bad. And some things, like the robotic dog pieced together from parts to replace the real dog (killed in the pilot) that had once , were very cheesy.

And while those special effects were lightyears beyond anything seen on television before, they were very expensive. So the network expected not just good ratings, but unbelievably good ratings.

Still, the show had a lot going for it. It didn’t hurt that I had a big crush on Starbuck, of course. But I also had a different kind of crush on Apollo. It wasn’t until some years later, when I got to rewatch some of the original series after I had actually admitted to myself that I was gay that I realize I had the hots for Starbuck, but Apollo was who I wanted to fall in love with and settle down.

Hatch’s character was different than the typical leading man at the time. Unlike the reboot series, Apollo had a warm relationship of mutual respect with his father, Commander Adama. In the pilot he met and practically adopted Boxy (the young boy whose dog had died) helped reunite the boy with his mother, prompted fell in love with said mother, married her, and even though she is killed shortly after the wedding in a Cylon attack, remains a good father. Heroes had been family men before, of course, but unlike some previous fictional fathers, Hatch made you believe that he loved his stepson.

There was a lot to like about the original Galactica. Cool space battle, for one. The Cylon Centurions were a bit cheesy–their chrome colored bodies were always so shiny and unscuffed, even after tramping through a sandstorm on yet another planet that looked like a Universal blacklot generic Western landscape with inexplicable lights added to make it look spacey(?), for instance. But both individual Cylons and the fleet were appropriately menacing. The show did a good job of making it feel like the stakes were real. And the notion that even after the mass murder of billions of people, a group of survivors would claw hope out of disaster and look for a new home was more than just heartwarming.

The show had some problems, as well. Some of them are typical problems of producing a weekly science fiction television series with 1970s technology and practices. Others were more thematic. The fundamental premise from the beginning was that contemplating disarmament as a step toward peaceful co-existence was the most foolish thing people could do. Given the nuclear stand-off between the U.S. and our NATO allies on one side, and the Soviets and their Warsaw Pact allies on the other, and the very active policy and treaty debates going on at the time, the show was staking a blatant political position. Related, throughout the original series, the military leaders were shown time and time again to always be right, while civilians (particularly any who advocated non-violent philosophies) were always wrong–and not merely wrong, but naively and disasterously wrong again and again.

Remember that the next time someone claims that sci fi has only become political recently.

While caught up in an individual episode it was easy to ignore those problematic elements. Besides, I loved Commander Adama, he was a hero and a great leader! And his son, Apollo, respected him, and we saw a lot more of Apollo in action on screen and he was clearly a good man, brave, loyal, and so forth. Even the sort-of-rebellious Starbuck respected Adama! Therefore our affection for Adama was not misplaced, right? Except, of course, that the examples of civilians who had a different opinion than the military command tended to be one-dimensional or transparently designed to either be unlikeable or pitiably naive.

So Galactica was hardly nuanced.

I liked it. The idea of fighting on against impossible odds is almost always appealing. People who snatch victory from the jaws of defeat with nothing more than hope, courage, and a bit of cleverness are fun to root for. And Galactica gave us that aplenty.

And you can hardly fault a story for that.

Remembering Doug

A mutual friend once said, “The best way to describe Doug is he epitomizes oops-ishness.” And half the reason that stuck with me (besides being true) is that I simply love the coined word, “oopsishness!” I met Doug back in 1976, shortly after moving to southwest Washington from Colorado. I met him shortly after joining an interdenominational (fundamentalist evangelical) teen touring choir, as we were both placed in the same section. Doug two years younger than I was. He was one of the first guys I had ever met who was nerdier than me–and that’s saying something!

Now, his oopsishness wasn’t just a matter of clumsiness. No, Doug took things to a much higher level. Doug wasn’t dumb, by any means, but sometimes he would be extremely oblivious. He would get himself into strange (and usually hilarious) predicaments without being able to explain afterward exactly how it happened. Which meant people who knew him wound up laughing, rolling their eyes, shaking their heads, or picking their own jaws up from the floor after some of his mishaps. You know that old silent movie scene where a character steps into what appears to be an ordinary puddle of water on a street, but plummets completely out of sight? That actually happened to Doug. It was a flooded basement at his workplace rather than a street, but it happened.

Twice in a single evening. The second time at a different basement nearby.

That hardly scratches the surface, though. No, to really understand how oopsish Doug could be, you have to hear about the Train Crossing Incident.

We’d been out gaming with friends, and Doug was giving me a ride home. I was attending community college part-time and working multiple jobs at the time, and living at my grandparents’ house. I was trying to get the funds together to transfer to a university. Anyway, my grandparents lived in a part of town that was between several mills and the port, so there were a number of train tracks that crossed roads. None of the crossings had gates, but all of them had lights and those clanging bell signals. And because none of the crossings had gates, the trains were required to sound their whistles a lot. Living in that neighborhood, by the way, is where I developed my ability to sleep through just about any noise.

We were driving along a dark road and Doug was enthusiastically telling me a story about some horrible thing that had happened to him recently. Ahead of us was a crossing, there was a train off a ways to our right, sounding its whistle, and the lights and bells of the crossing signal ahead of us were going full blast.

And I realized, suddenly, that Doug wasn’t slowing down. So I said, “Doug! There’s a train coming.”

Doug kept talking, and he’s not slowing down.

I repeated, slightly louder, “Doug! There’s a train! Stop!”

Doug kept talking. We are now close enough that I don’t know if we can stop in time, and the train is awfully close. I exclaimed, “Train! Train! Train! Stop the f–ing car!”

We crossed the tracks. The train was so close to us that as I shouting obscenities and looking out of the passenger window, I couldn’t see the headlight because it was blocked by the roof of the car, but I can count the smashed bugs on the front of the engine.

I was holding on for dear life, absolutely certain the train was going to hit us before we were past.

And then we’re on the otherside and I’m still shouting, and honestly, I don’t know how Doug could hear me over the deafining whistle, but he says, “What are you so upset about?”

“WE NEARLY DIED! DIDN’T YOU SEE THE TRAIN!?!”

I looked at him, and he’s peering at the rearview mirror, his mouth dropped open in a shocked expression, because all he can see is freight cars rushing past fairly close behind us. And then he said, “Wow, where did that train come from?”

Given the physics of the situation and how long Doug’s big ol’ four-door Oldsmobile was, I think the train couldn’t have missed the back bumper by more than an inch.

Doug stopped the car. He sat there, gripping the steering wheel and almost hyperventilating. “I didn’t hear anything. Was the signal working?”

“Yes. Bells clanging, lights flashing, train whistle blow, and me shouting at you to stop!” I replied.

After about a half a minute he says, “Wow,” and he starts laughing as he takes his foot off the brake and we start moving again. “I don’t know how I missed that!”

I was still trying to calm down. Doug seemed sincerely shocked and insisted he hadn’t seen or heard the train or the signals, nor my first several warnings. And I believed him. It fit perfectly with many things I’d seen before. He could recall miniscule details from a movie he had just watched, or a book he had read, but swear he didn’t notice that a door which had been open a few minutes prior was now closed and walk right into it.

I used to love telling this story to both people who had never met Doug, and to folks who knew him. And the thing is, Doug loved telling these kinds of stories about himself, and did so all the time.

As funny as they are in retrospect, the experiences were often painful and terrifying to live through. And then, years later, we got an explanation.

Doug and I hadn’t lived in the same town for some years when I heard that he had become seriously sick and was trying to get on disability. I had last visited him and his wife about eight years previously, but we kept in touch via email. I pinged him to see how things were going, and soon we were on the phone. We laughed a lot, despite the subject matter being so serious.

Originally he had been diagnosed with generic peripheral artery disease, which is most commonly the result of the gradual build up of fatty materials inside the arteries. But they eventually discovered that the underlying cause was a more rare condition, one in which a person has fewer capillaries per volume of tissue to begin with. It was a congental problem he’d had his entire life, it was just getting noticeable as a medical issue as the ordinary build up of fat inside the vessels restricted things further.

In effect, his entire life every organ in his body had struggled with less than optimal levels of oxygen and nutrients because there were literally fewer tiny blood vessels, everywhere. It’s probably the reason that he always caught every virus or sniffle that went around. It also contributed to his longer than usual recovery times when he got injured. And it also meant that under lots of circumstances, his brain would be left with inadequate oxygen. And we think that one of the ways that the brain defends itself from damage in those cases, is to essentially shut down some functions temporarily, until oxygen levels return to normal.

I was getting depressed listening to him describe it, and starting to feel guilty for all the times we had shared those “Doug does something unbelievable weird or dumb” stories.

But Doug didn’t look at it that way at all. “It’s a relief, actually,” he said. “I mean, for years I kept wondering if something was wrong with me, mentally. But finding out that yeah, something is wrong, but it’s medical is a lot easier to accept. It’s not that I’ve got an intellectual deficiency, it’s that my body was dealing with this weird problem we didn’t know about. Literally, part of my brain would be starved of oxygen and shut off!”

Sadly, by the time of this diagnosis, there wasn’t much they could do. He had already suffered a lot of tissue loss not just in the muscles of his extremities, but also throughout his organs. They could slow the progression of the tissue necrosis by keeping him on oxygen, for instance, but the usual techniques for treating arterial disease such as bypass and so forth couldn’t address the underlying issue. The blocked arteries made it worse, but the capillary deficiency would still be there.

We stayed in touch mostly through the magic of the internet until his death just over six years ago. He remained his usual cheerful self throughout the last few years of his life. He always made a joke no matter how bad the news that he was sharing about the latest development was. As he said just about every time he told a story about one of his mishaps, “If you can’t laugh about it, what’s the point?”

Not your typical romantic comedy storyline

Nineteen years and one week ago, Michael and I went on our first official date.

We had known each other for a few years. Ray and I had met him at a NorWesCon a couple years before that, and then again at the next NorWesCon (where he signed up for the Tai-Pan mailing list), and then he came to a Red Dwarf Marathon Party at our place and we started hanging out a lot. Then, when Ray died, Michael was one of the friends who kept me from completely falling apart.

It hadn’t been quite three months since Ray’s death when I asked Michael on a real date. I was nervous, not about the date, because we were already friends, but I wasn’t sure how some of my friends would react to the news. The first person I told was Kehf. She put her fists up, went “Woooo! I hoped something like this was happening. He lights up when you walk into a room.”

Michael at NorWesCon (and Easter Weekend) 1998

Michael at NorWesCon (and Easter Weekend) 1998

I have a confession to make. I don’t remember many details about the first date. I know where we went. I know we talked for a long time over dinner. But I don’t remember what we talked about, what he wore, a particular thing he said that made me laugh, or any of those cliché romantic comedy details. Worse, I don’t really remember falling in love with him. What I do remember was when I realized that had had completely fallen for him. We were at NorWesCon, again. And for many, many years that convention has been happening on Easter weekend, so I had brought an easter basket and a stuffed bunny to give Michael on Sunday morning. I asked to take his picture while he was grinning with the bunny, and something about his smile hit me. You know that moment in the movie, Scrooged, where Bill Murray’s character meets Karen Allen’s character who has just stepped out of a grocery store and the door of the store smacked Bill right in the face, knocking him to the sidewalk and the Ghost of Christmas Past says, “Cupid’s Arrow right between the eyes!”? That’s what if felt like.

And the only thing I could think of was that I wanted to keep making Michael smile. I wanted that smile in my life forever.

I didn’t propose that weekend. But it wasn’t long after. We didn’t tell people, because I was still getting some weird reactions from several friends (and even worse from family) at just the thought that I was dating so soon after Ray’s death. So we made this very sober and rational plan that we would wait until at least November before moving in together. And we might have sticked to it, too. But some weirdness happened with a p[air of new roommates at the house he was sharing with several (they weren’t hostile, they just had no sense of boundaries and did weird things like decide to switch rooms with him and moved all of his stuff without consulting first, and other creepy things) and I barely stopped myself from going ballistic. He was being calm and telling me I was overreacting, and I was “No! We’re getting you out of there now!”

So he moved in with me in August of ’98 and we’ve been together ever since.

I would have to go dig around in the filing cabinet to remember the date of our commitment ceremony. My then-employer changed the rules for adding domestic partners to insurance, and we had to have certain papers signed by a particular date, so the times was thrust on us. We decided to sign medical powers of attorney while we were at it, and since you need to have a notary and witnesses for that we made a small party out of it. It was fun, but wasn’t timing of our choosing. Neither to I remember the exact date we officially signed the paperwork for the state level civil unions, when they became legal.

Our wedding when marriage became legal in the state was also a date that wasn’t entirely our choosing (the very first day you could legally do it), but because of when the law passed the previous spring, and its implementation being delayed because of the anti-gay referendum attempt, and ultimately the voters getting to approve marriage by a comfortable margin, we had months to plan. And our friends threw us a great shindig. So that date I remember. It’s an anniversary, legally and otherwise.

This was taken before our friend Julie tried to teach me better selfie technique. Riding the monorail during a long weekend of touristy things when Michael's brother and wife visited us somewhat recently. I don't know why he puts up with my silliness.

This was taken before our friend Julie tried to teach me better selfie technique. Riding the monorail during a long weekend of touristy things when Michael’s brother and wife visited us somewhat recently. I don’t know why he puts up with my silliness.

But while I don’t remember other details of our first date, I do remember it was February 7, 1998, and it was clearly one of the most important days in my life. We didn’t have a meet-cute. We didn’t experience a lot of hijinks or drama. I still can’t quite believe such a funny, smart, talented, wonderful man can put up with me at all, let alone love me. But he does. And clearly I’m completely and totally gone on him. Happy Valentine’s Day, Michael!

Mugging around, hanging on, and letting go

Coffee mug that says: “shhh... almost... now you may speak”

“shhh… almost… now you may speak” (click to embiggen)

I’m a coffee and tea guy. I’m also an I-need-my-favorite-mug guy. My husband, Michael, is not a coffee guy, at all. He’s okay with tea, though the amount of sugar he puts in it makes even our friends who grew up in the south and know what the phrase “sweet tea” means do a double-take. My first husband (who passed away in 1997) was definitely a coffee guy. And a how-many-mugs-can-I-collect guy. You could pick up any of the cartoon-festooned mugs in his collection and ask where it came from, and he would tell you a story about this friend who brought the mug back from Hawaii for him. Or the time he was traveling with a patient to Atlanta and he found it in a gift shop. Or the ex-who gave it to him their first Christmas together. And so on.

I come from a long line of packrats. So I have a very strong visceral reaction to the idea of throwing something away. Especially if there is any sort of sentimental attachment to it at all. So, when Ray passed away twenty years ago, when his mother, sister, and I went through all of his things to decide who would keep what and which things would go to a thrift shop, it was a very emotionally difficult time for me. I hung on to all sorts of things. And a couple of dozen of those things were some mugs. I didn’t hang on to all of his collection, by any means. For one thing, there were a several of the mugs that his mom, his sister, and one of his brothers wanted, because they reminded them of him. Those were easy to let go of, because I wasn’t disposing of them, I was sharing them with someone else who loved Ray as much as I did. But I still had a rather lot of them after that process was over.

And when I said I hung onto a couple of dozen, that’s a bit of an understatement. We had these racks mounted on the wall in the kitchen, each of which held ten mugs. There were four racks on the wall, and all of the racks were completely full. That wasn’t the entire collection. Even after several of his family members took some away. To be fair, not all of the mugs left hanging on the wall had been Ray’s. There were a couple that had been mugs I owned before Ray and I met, and there were several more that had been gifts to me from either Ray or a friend or family member which I hung onto with at least as much of a sentimental attachment as Ray had clung to his.

When Michael and I moved in together, I went through all of my stuff and all of Ray’s former things again, and had a not terribly pleasant emotional time picking more things to haul away. And that included some of the mugs and tea cups. Periodically over the years, we’ve repeated the process of going through things, getting rid of stuff we don’t use any more and/or forgot we had. It gets easier, particularly when I find something squirreled away on a shelf in a closet that I barely recognize, and can only vague describe as, “these are some souvenirs Ray wanted to keep of… something.”

The mugs have been a weird case because they’re hanging on the wall in the kitchen. I see them all the time. Unlike the boxes in closets or cupboards, I don’t ever forget they exist.

And we keep acquiring new mugs. People find funny or pretty mugs and get them for one or the other of us for various birthday occasions. Or we buy them for each other. So I have to go through the mugs from time to time and decide which one or two or three to get rid of to make room for the new.

The most ridiculous part is, that most of the mugs hang up there on the wall and never get used. It’s sort of embarrassing if we have company over, and we have tea and/or coffee on offer, and somebody picks a funnyy mug off the way before I can get them one, because most likely which ever one they pick is going to be really dusty. So much so that they need more just a quick rinse to clean out. Part of that is because there were forty mugs hanging from the wall one only two people living here. But another part is that bit I mentioned at the beginning about me being an I-need-my-favorite-mug kind of guy. I almost always drink coffee from this very over-sized purple mug of which I have written before. And I almost always drink tea from my “Queen of Everything” mug. I rinse and re-use those mugs day after day. And when, for whatever reason, I use a different mug, there is a fairly limited number of the mugs among the forty that are my go-to next favorites.

Which makes hanging onto all of the others even more ridiculous,—right? There are, for instance, two Christmas themed mugs, one that Ray gave me, and one that someone else gave Ray, that are among those I’ve hung onto forever. Most years I make a point of getting down each of them around Christmas and using them at least once. One of them has and odd-shaped handle with a jingle bell built in that is a bit awkward to hold onto, and isn’t as festive to use because it’s hard to make the bell jingle. But it’s the mug that Ray gave me for, I think it was, our second Christmas living together, so the thought of parting with it is painful. The other one has a much narrower base than its mouth, and therefore is prone to being knocked over, but Ray adored it, so… Another odd one is a Valentine’s Day themed mug that Ray gave me on our very first Valentine’s Day together. It’s handle is heart-shaped, and very awkward to use. I haven’t used in it many years, with the excuse being that it is literally almost impossible to get off the rack because of how tight a fit the weird handle it. But I also wouldn’t part with it because, you know, first Valentine’s Day, right?

With the upcoming move, and the fact that I’ve lived in this place for more than 21 years (whereas Michael has lived here with me for 18½) we have a whole love of stuff that either needs to be packed and moved, or hauled away. Among the things I went through this weekend was the mugs. Among the large load that filled the back of the Subaru which I took to Value Village on Sunday was a very heavy box with at least 38 mugs and tea cups in it, plus three no longer needed racks. This left ten mugs hanging on the wall, plus my two favorites that never get hung up on the wall.

It felt really good to unload the stuff at the thrift store, and to carry out the five big bags of recycle. But I had made a comment to Michael last night that with the amount of emotional effort to pull down all those mugs, it’s kind of disappointing that it didn’t result it a space I can use for staging in the coming packing efforts. When I’ve been going through shelves and closets, afterward I’m left with space I can stack packed boxes in, and so one. But these were all on the wall—not really a usable space.

So I wrote most of this post last night while I was trying to unwind from the long day and get mentally settled so I could go to sleep. That post ended with a comment about trying to remind myself of the end goal of not trying to unpack and find room for a whole bunch of stuff we never use when we find out new home.

But this morning, when I walked into the kitchen shortly after waking up, I was startled at how different the wall looked without those other three racks full of mugs (and while I was working on the wall, I also took down and hauled away a bunch of copper jell-o molds that have just been decorative for years as I stopped making jell-o things when I was diagnosed pre-diabetic back in 2001!). The kitchen still has a lot of clutter in it. Other than the mugs, the rest of my purging this weekend was focused on the computer room and bedroom. But I was amazed at how less crowded the kitchen felt with more blank wall visible, and the immediate emotional lift I got. I am making progress, but even more, I didn’t feel any guilt about getting rid of Ray’s mugs.

Yay for letting go!

Crime Does Not Pay (but the hours are good)!

This is one of the covers I made for the gaming binders to help me remember what was in which binder.

This is one of the covers I made for the gaming binders to help me remember what was in which binder.

Back in 1981 I decided that what the world needed was a superhero roleplaying game. At the time, there wasn’t much on the market, and the few games that existed barely qualified as a full-fledged gaming system. But I’d been playing in various roleplaying games for a few years, and had been a superhero comic fan for as long as I could remember (my mom was a comics as well as sci fi/fantasy fan before I was born, so I’m a second generation fan). Since the few games I could find weren’t adequate to my needs for playing at superhero, I invented my own game. I originally called in, unimaginatively, Superheroes. And after about a week of writing up some tables and power descriptions, I talked several members of my gaming group into putting together characters. It wasn’t long before I had enough people playing it, that they started recruiting acquaintances. I made changes and improvements to the rules. Over the course of a few months, I typed a couple hundred pages of rules.

By that time I was running three different groups of players on three different nights of every week.

I ran the last game using the system, and set in the same world and continuity, in the year 2000. I want you to think about that for a moment: I ran a roleplaying campaign, a single campaign setting, with a single history, et al, for 19 years. So when people find out that I’ve got a Victorian Steampunk roleplaying campaign that has been running (with the same core players, same core characters, and in the same continuity) for 16 years and they freak out, I have to point out that it isn’t the longest campaign I’ve run.

There was a point where I re-typed all of the rules for my superhero game into a word processor. And I made more updates and changes to the rules, refining things as we ran into situations that within the game. In the early 90s I was thinking that I might still try to publish the system, and I had changed the name to Crime Does Not Pay (but the hours are good)! The problem was that by then, there were several other superhero based role-playing games on the market, and while I still think there are aspects of mine that were superior to those others, there were also aspects that weren’t.

I should mention that I did get the rules well-defined enough that three of my friends who loved to run games set up their own campaigns. So I got to play in my own system and see how it worked from that point of view.

I’m writing about this now because this last weekend I went through some of the shelves in the computer room, and I emptied out all of the three ring binders, pulled out all the spiral notebooks, and so forth that were full of notes and characters and scenario descriptions and so forth, and put them all into recycle. The scary part as I was going emptying all of those binders was how many of the thousands and thousands of pages of material that was in there was handwritten. In my atrocious printing. But usually in pretty colors, because I love unusual ink colors and I had a tendency to color code my notes as I created villains and supporting characters and scenarios. Or wrote up the fictitious history of small countries or crime fighting organizations, and so on.

Several years ago I made a comment to some friends that, since I hadn’t run a game in the system in years, I should toss all those gaming notes. These friends had been players in the game for years. And one of them was horrified at the idea that I would toss all of that history. So I decided not to tell anyone other than my husband before I went through the shelves.

Usually my inner packrat balks at this sort of thing. I expected it to be more of an emotional trial than it was. But the fact that I haven’t actually run a game, nor seriously looked through any of those notes for this campaign, in more than a decade seems to have given me enough emotional distance to just be amused as I recognized some notes in passing.

The collection of empty three-ring binders left over after I recycled the gaming notes. Please notice that several of more the 4-inch thick binders.

The collection of empty three-ring binders left over after I recycled the gaming notes. Please notice that several of more the 4-inch thick binders.

As you can see from the photo, there were a lot of binders. Several of those were 4-inch binders, which hold about 800 pages each, and at least two were 5-inch binders, which hold 1000 pages each, plus a bunch of 3-inchers, which since they usually have O-rings usually only hold about 570 pages each. When I said thousands and thousands of pages I wasn’t kidding. Keeping the notes organized in binders was always a bit of a challenge. Many years ago I got in the habit of making a title page for the binders, so I could remember that this binder was full of villains, while this one had notes on our never quite completed magic system, and another had notes for older games, while another had the notes for the most recent games and things I was planning.

And there were about a dozen spiral notebooks and several notepads all filled with even more notes. I generated a lot of material running that game for 19 years.

The notebook names were often based on Far Side comics. At least two were based on Calvin and Hobbes strips. As the pages of notes and characters and scenarios piled up, I’d have to make new binders, while older binders would become part of the archives, rather than something I’d get out all of the time.

It’s a little scary to think about how much fictional history we created during all of those games. I should add that when I said it was a single campaign, that’s slightly misleading. As I said I had at one point several groups playing at once, and I kept them separate mostly by basing their characters in different cities. But it was one fictional world, and we did cross-overs. Plus, since it is comic book superheroes, there were occasional adventures where the entire world was in danger. I also set some of the player groups in different time periods. at one point I had two side groups adventuring during the World War II time period, while original three sets had been playing in “the present” so basically the 80s and 90s. Then I had another side group playing in the 70s for. But all of the groups were set in the same world. And yeah, since I had player characters in different time periods occasionally involved in big global events and so forth, the continuity of my fictitious world got nearly as convoluted as that of the big comic book publishers.

Of the six friends who created characters for my first couple of weeks of playing, three have passed away. Of the others, I still have some contact with two on Facebook. I last ran into the sixth player at a science fiction convention around the year 2000, and he had an absolute melt down when he found out I was gay. My friend, Mark, moved to the town where I lived before moving to Seattle in 1983, I think it was, and joined the campaign. He played various characters for nearly 10 years, I think, with some interruptions since he moved to Seattle about a year before I did. And we’re still friends, now. Maybe I should make him a certificate, because I think he might hold the record of the longest player in that game.

I had a lot of fun, and as far as I know the players did, too.

Goals, damn goals, and resolutions

When I set my goals for this year, I pledged to do monthly updates, since the years I’ve done that has resulted in better results than years I haven’t. So, we’ve survived the first month of 2017. How did I do?

My specific tasks for January were:

  • While packing away Christmas stuff, reduce the number of RoughTote™ containers full of old ornaments, et al, by at least two. Done! Hauled two loads to Value Village and Goodwill, plus a really big box to a recycler!
  • Figure out Writers’ Night schedule. We’ve got the first two months sorted out, but with all the uncertainty, haven’t quite got the rest of the year done.
  • Write at least four blog posts about things I like. I wrote at least six. Woo hoo!
  • Make a list of places that post calls for submissions. I have a list, but it doesn’t seem long enough. Still, I have a start!
  • Finish the current stage of the copy edit pass. I didn’t quite get through the list of items I had identified for this month, but I got more than half done.
  • Finish going through the bookcases in the computer room, and get through at least one filing cabinet. I did not get as far is this as I hoped.
  • Write at least one blog post about organizations we can donate to that are fighting the good fight. I almost forgot this one because I didn’t list in in the January tasks, but rather as part of one of the over all as a monthly thing. But I did it at nearly the last day, so I’m counting it!

My overall goals for the year, where I’m trying to follow the idea of replacing bad habits with better ones:

Don’t get mad, get busy. My tasks are: write about about things I love; listen to music and audiobooks more and podcasts less; spend at least half of my lunch break writing; set specific monthly writing/editing goals in each check-in; write at least one blog post a month about organizations we can donate to that are fighting the good fight.

I did pretty well on this one. Work has been so busy that I’m often skimping on my lunch break, so not getting that writing time in.

Reduce, pack, and prioritize. We now officially know that we have to find a new place to live this year. We have lots of stuff to go through and decide what to discard and what to pack.

We made progress, but these tasks are always bigger than you think they are.

Take care of us. My initial tasks are related to some specific medical things that aren’t urgent, but need to be dealt with. I am going to remain vague on the details of this one.

We both made progress on this. I feel only a little guilty that half of my accomplishment this month was to nag my husband until he made the appropriate doctor appointments. But I had my own appointments to make and follow-up, so we’re both in this together. I need to find a way to keep the craziness at work from sapping so much of my energy, though.

Because of the deplorable events that Not My President kicked off on Friday, news was so upsetting that on Saturday night I shut down twitter on my laptop, and put my phone and iPad on chargers in another room and made myself work on edits without looking at the internet again until morning. I got through a lot of work, and slept better than I have been for quite some time. So I need to unplug more often, clearly.

Submit and publish. Initial task was to organize how I’m going to find calls for submission and set reasonable targets for the novel revision/finalization.

I have a list to start with. I got through part of my pile of notes on the novel. I think I have a better handle on how much I can get done a month while working on these other tasks.


Finally, my specific tasks for February are:

  • Get through the rest of the bookcases in the computer room.
  • Figure out Writers’ Night schedule for at least the following couple of months.
  • Write at least four blog posts about things I like.
  • Expand the list of places to find calls for submissions and write one new story.
  • Finish the current stage of the copy edit pass. There is a list of unfinished tasks with specific piles of pages of prioritized notes.
  • Disconnect from the internet at least one night a week so I can concentrate on writing and editing.