The Adventure Continues

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Sorry to have been AWOL for so long, but between Inktober (which I didn’t do very well on) and NaNoWriMo (squeaked by), my creative energies have been sucked dry. In fact, in the interest of full disclosure, I’m making this post because all I need to do is tell what happened, not pull it Athena-like out of my forehead.

Last post: I finally decided to go for bariatric surgery, and joined the program at Beth Israel, where I had my knees replaced last year. I ended with being about to join the new patient group.

Well, no, bunkies. That didn’t happen.

Instead, I got a call a couple of days beforehand from a social worker who wanted me to come in to talk about my *chord of ominous music* Mental Health. So I get there, and am told that my diagnosis of Dissociative Identity Disorder scared the bejeebers out of their staff. My favorite line from this interview was the lady saying, “As it is, we have patients say they feel like an entirely different person afterwards.” (This sort of thing has nothing whatsoever to do with the alters experienced in DID.) In vain did I try to educate her, both about DID in general (spectrum disorder; not often as dramatic as Sybil) and my case in particular (well-controlled thanks to excellent therapy; don’t dissociate anymore). She managed somehow to combine “Sympathetic and on your side” with “Boy howdy, ain’t you the freak!” She claimed they’d never had a DID patient. (Well, if you don’t let them into your program . . .)

They kicked me out of the program. She told me (with the tiniest sneer) that there were over 30 programs in the city. I said, “Yeah, but my insurance sent me here.” She gave a cryptic little smile and suggested I call them back. Sheep you, honey.

Happily, said insurance covered the programs at the other huge local hospitals, so I steeled myself for a round of phone calls. I started out with Boston Medical Center, because I happen to work for them. I am a Certified Peer Specialist, which means I’m professionally qualified to deal with my fellow mentally ill and to be a Shining Example of Recovery. In other words, they hired me because I’m crazy, so I figured they’d have their nerve turning me down for the same reason, right?

I call and get the coordinator. I gave her the two sentence version of the BI story and said, “So BI thinks I’m too crazy to cut. What about you guys?” In an impassive voice, she replied, “We take everybody. Come on in and talk to the surgeon.”

Well now! I watch what by now is the third informational video, and pick the surgeon who seems most sympatico. I went in and talked to this very nice man, who has operated on people who were unrecovered schizophrenics. (Even really crazy people deserve medical care, folks.) The worst news I got from him is that my GERD means he sorta leans toward the RNY gastric bypass instead of the gastric sleeve, which is the procedure I want.

He had heard my story about Beth Israel and their weirdly creepy head surgeon before.

So why did this happen? Because what BI’s bariatric program is doing is called cherry-picking their data. This means that by refusing to treat people they fear may have less than picture-perfect outcomes, their end data looks amazing. They claim they’re the best program in the area, when all they are is a pack of hyenas who share the same level of accreditation with hospitals which actually (be still my overweight heart) heal the sick.

 

 

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A New Adventure Begins

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Discerning readers will vaguely recall that I had my first heart attack the day before last New Year’s Eve. This surprised absolutely nobody, as my BMI is pushing 50 the way those guys on the Tokyo subways cram in the commuters. It wasn’t a BIG heart attack, feeling more like recalcitrant indigestion, but when they got inside with the widdy-bitty camera, my right coronary artery was 95% blocked. A little bit of titanium fixed that mo-fo, but in the recovery room, a nurse shared that they called situations like mine “One cheeseburger away.” (Hear that, Elizabeth? I’m comin’ to join ya, honey!)

Since then I have been on three new meds and had the dosage cranked on the Lipitor. And I’ve felt fine, except for a rather Victorian over-attention to my heart. I went in to see the cardiologist for the six-ish month check-in this Monday expecting only to possibly be released from a pill or two.

Instead, he scolded me for letting the baby aspirin lapse, and told me I was taking it for the rest of my life. And while he was on the topic of “the rest of my life,” he in so many words intimated that it would be a short story unless . . .

“Have you ever thought of bariatric surgery?”

Now, every fat person in the Western world has at least thought about it, so I parried by sharing my PCP’s aversion to the practice. (Malabsorption issues.) The cardiologist pooh-poohed this; said they had that under control, and went down the list: Diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and the ever-looming sin of having a heart-attack at only 54.

Now, I am something of a fat activist. People were saying stupid stuff to me about my weight back when I was only 170, which is a hundred pounds or so ago. *I* was saying stupid stuff to myself back when I was in high school, at 129. I got tired of it after I had the kids and found that the baby weight had come to stay. So I left myself alone about it–started buying jeans that actually fit instead of jamming myself into a number that I thought was more reasonable than reality. I started being nicer to myself, which was groovy, seeing as sporadic attempts to Do Something about it kept putting another several pounds on, topped with the five I picked up from being sidelined by the double knee replacement last year.

I now weigh 274; been told I carry it well, but apparently my coronary artery wasn’t listening to the compliments.

The cardiologist, a former Marine, doesn’t do bullshit, but he doesn’t do fat-bashing, either. He was just laying out the facts, and this week I heard him. (It didn’t hurt that the podiatrist told me last week that my clumsy attempt to continue cutting my own toenails wasn’t gonna fly and I had to leave it to the professionals, ’cause I can’t really reach them anymore.)

I got referred to Local Hospital, which my insurance told me was out of network, and then went to (sigh) Beth Israel, where I had my knees done, so at least I know them there.

I discovered that the road to bariatric weight loss is long and dotted with hurdles: Mandatory info sessions. Psychologists. Social workers. And of course nutritionists and exercise physiologists and about a billion nurses. I need to have tried (failed) at least two formal attempts to lose weight. This is a bit of a sticking point for me, as I’ve never done Weight Watchers or fen-phen or any other fad, because I already knew what the surgery people posted in their PowerPoint: Only 5% of the people who do them succeed. At least I had a little time with a personal trainer. Sigh.

I don’t know how this story ends, but that’s the sitch whenever I begin a new book, so I guess we’ll have to wait and see. A big part of me wants to hide under the covers and pretend it’s not happening, but I know I need to be really social about this and have support. (Besides, it’s a Rule of the Blogosphere.)

Next stop for Beth Israel: I join a “new patient group.” Next stop for me: I tell my PCP on Monday. Yeep.

Woo-Woo Scale for New Age Books

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1—My Journey

2—Crystals  are Our Friends

3—My Trek Through Holistic Healing: Drugs You Have to Google

4—Karma: Love It or Hate It?

5—All You Need to Do is Breathe. Or Cleanse. Whatever.

6—Whaddya Mean, You Don’t Have the Money to go to X and Experience Y?

7—Our Upcoming Evolution

8—Jesus Helped Me Write This

9—My Dog Helped Me Write This

10—(must bring in saucer people in a meaningful way)

When I Last Saw Skoll

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I was twenty-one and five days married. I had to work that day, and I came outside to a wonderland of twinkling sidewalk crescent reflections from the leaves of the elm trees, each fragment of light tossed through a natural pinhole camera. I was overwhelmed by their evanescent beauty and at the same time, I felt like the kid at the carnival: “When’s it coming back, Daddy?”

My space physicist husband gave me an answer that I don’t remember, but I wailed, because I would be an oooolllldddd old lady. Well, if you pick that answer as equal to “the next eclipse you’re aware of,” today is that day.

I’m not quite 55. In other words, what the twenty-somethings call an old lady.

I have this dim memory of my younger self envisioning somebody who was unable to enjoy life in any way; diapers-support hose-mobility device dependent. I will cop to the cane, and admit that heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension have reared their ugly heads. But I don’t feel old.  (Just fat.) My quality of life is quite high as of now. What was that kid thinking? No wonder she couldn’t picture getting from here to there, because we’re not there yet!

I think the uncomfortable feeling of this long-buried memory, triggered by today’s sun-swallow, hit me as it did because I have been haunted by that helpless old woman for quite some time.  I throw a tantrum every time I get AARP mail because she’s their customer, not me! I am in love with Grace and Frankie because they are helping me re-imagine the possibility of what seventy might look like.

Not being a genetically skinny person, I have few illusions about this, but it’s fun to realize that I will likely still get a kick out of it when Skoll the wolf next hunts his prey.

 

Turning the Pages

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I think it was my “year off” getting my knees replaced that did it. The tiny Kindle was a sanity-saver (and a hats-off to Project Gutenberg, while we’re on the topic) and I got disconnected from paper books. But then, I haven’t been a big consumer of even paper books since the dissertation. My recovery from that segued into a depressive episode, and when I emerged, I was in a life where I’d read/reread most of my books. (I view libraries as evil guilt-producing crackmasters, and have been known to brag about my current immaculate relationship with Cambridge Public the way people in recovery show off their five-year chips.)

By then, I’d started writing, and I had this idea from some quote somewhere that the more I’d read, then the less I’d write–and I’d risk sounding derivative of the writer. So for quite a while, the most complex prose I had was my daughter’s subscription to Cosmopolitan. (Don’t knock it. It ‘splained how to keep my eye shadow out of the creases. I’m a little sad that my daughter traded up to National Geographic.)

I gradually began to read Victorians and mysteries (and have now discovered Victorian mysteries). But then I got a gig of reading and commenting on other people’s novels, so all of a sudden I was reading for a living. Very weird. Sometimes I get a manuscript that is slick clean classy content–and then I don’t, and have to force myself to sit my ass in the chair for five, ten, fifteen minutes as a whack. Mercifully, I read fast. And eventually, I got used to being a writer too. The whole thing made me pickier about what I’d read for fun.

However, my daughter and I always stop by our favorite bookstore when we’re out, and I pick something out with the best of intentions. It is added to the stack, but every so often one jumps into my purse if the Kindle is charging, or if it’s Neil Gaiman, apparently.

So, there I am with  Neverwhere in the waiting room. My shrink emerges and gushes over *book* reading, claiming that studies have shown there to be superior cognitive benefit from the physicality of the book. I must admit I recall little of the Kindle-corn I’ve been consuming all year, but had put that down to the quality of writing.

My books (Long Leggedy Beasties, Things that Go Bump in the Night, their forthcoming cousins) are non-physical. I’ve been trying not to feel bad about that. This doesn’t help. Sigh.

You’re reading from a screen right now–what do you think?

Cats and Mages 2 (Things that Go Bump in the Night) is born!

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This is the sequel to Long Leggedy Beasties. Go check it out–check ’em both out–and PLEASE, please: I don’t have a GoFundMe or a Patreon, but I do have two really cool, reasonably priced books that need reviews on Amazon. Thanks for following–I appreciate the energy!

 

https://books.pronoun.com/things-that-go-bump-in-the-night/

Listening to the Silence

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I have left my noisy urban home for a few days, and am now in a very quiet place. All I can hear other than my own little noises is the dripping of my friend’s cat bowl, which makes a teeny recycling fountain to keep the water fresher. Strange to tell, instead of being relaxing, all this stillness has done is underscore my own disquiet, which I tend to keep buried like a secret shame.

When I realized Things were burbling up from my inner cesspool, I opted to turn off Pandora and stay with the cat bowl and what I call “microcries:” bursts of blubbering that last about 15 to 30 seconds. It’s sort of like crying constipation–that’s all I can get out at a time, although I feel myself to be a very cistern of tears.

As previously noted, I’m a random crier at the best of times, and I’m getting closer to deciphering why, or at least a maybe-why. I think that when it’s triggered by something heartwarming, it’s because my heart is in reality feeling cold and lonely; if the trigger is heroism, I am afraid that I myself am weak and helpless.

I do many things. I sing, draw, make jewelry, mother, befriend, love. But I feel as tottery at most of it as I do when my physical therapist cajoles me into trying to stand on just my right leg. (Almost everybody is a little lopsided at this, but I’m a champ at lop.) The only thing I really have is the writing. The sheeping writing, which fails to make me any money or gain me any renown, and which will likely continue to fail to do either.

All I am is the writing. That’s what’s at the bottom, behind the tears, underneath the depression, and despite the failure.

During this quiet afternoon, I went to the extent of Asking for a Sign, first in what passes in me for silent meditation, and then just talking out loud. So many people tell confident stories of hearing a Voice, either from outside or within–why not me? Although my faith isn’t what I’d call strong, my belief in the possibility of a Higher Power is stronger than my fear that #45 will turn America into a post-apocalyptic wasteland, and that’s something, isn’t it? But nobody came to my outreaching self-pity party, leaving me to confront what I have, what I know.

Perhaps all I’m really for is the writing. Maybe one or two people will be reached by the words that start at my core and ooze from my fingertips. They will laugh, cry, feel less alone or freakish; they will feel a kindred spirit. My fiction will keep them company for a bit.

What I hear, what I know, is just the writing. And sometimes it is barely enough, but it remains.

Doh! I hate that feeling!

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Twice now, it’s happened. I’m reading along in my current piece, looking for typos and generic stupidity, and I get to the end. I pause for an uncertain second, and then I try to scroll down, to read what happens next. Only I haven’t written it.  As things stand, there is no “happens next.”

This leaves me with a confusion of dismay and a sense of having stumbled into the strangest of responsibilities. Oh no! It’s my job to figure that out! How the sheep did that happen?

The first time this occurred, I wrote it off as some amusing random brain event, sort of a backwards déjà vu. But now I’m not so sure.

Is it a deeper me calling to myself as Writer, asking questions I could only hear from myself?

Or should I consult a neurologist?

Tide Change

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Because I can’t meditate (I am a trauma survivor and get jumpy if I feel myself losing conscious control of my body), I had to find a way to dump stress after the New Year’s heart attack. So I cut back my hours at my day job down to one day a week, and that will stop in May. I will be picking up more editing work, and that will fill the financial gap, but belts will be tightened around here.

I made this decision about a couple of months ago, and have until now been too busy with the editing to do much else–somewhere along the line I acquired the Protestant Work Ethic, damn it to blazes. But now there’s a lull, it’s a gray Tuesday morning, and I’m here in my sweats debating getting another tea so I can finish this post in one sitting instead of going back to bed for a half hour: Now what?

Above my desk is a copy of a Batman meme: It is the crisp and elegant Batman from The Animated Series, pointing his finger at me. The caption reads, “Quit Procrastinating/Work on Your Art.” I’ve put in a decent word count recently–finished the sequel to Long Leggedy Beasties!–and so this Lent I decided to do an hour a day working at visual art. Like most of my Lenten disciplines through the years, it’s most conspicuous for its omission. I did complete the T-shirt design needed for the day job, but that was because I had an external deadline. Other than that–

–I’m blocked. You don’t know how happy I am that I’m at least finding words to put on this screen. I started a weird little story about an autistic girl on a bus, who has just met a mage and his familiar, although she doesn’t know it yet–and I’m stuck. I listened to my beta reader and tore out half of Max’s sequel because I sorta went off topic and threw in the kitchen sink (an age-drenched failing of my work in all media), and now am doing the stare–write a sentence–stare–write three more–stare–wander off method, known to writers everywhere. And don’t get me started on Damascus. I’m just glad I have a solid beta reader to point out the screamingly obvious. Sigh.

I also have to self-pub Max and get him out of my system. I tried finding an agent for him, and nobody bit past the can-I-see-three-pages stage, and those were the agents, I discovered, who reply to all queries that way. (I wish they would just put that in their requirements; it would save a lot of raised hopes.) At least a few people have read Beasties and been kind enough to compliment me on it, so this way Max will get his chance to do some people-pleasing.

I just wish I didn’t feel that doing so means I’m a failure. The market has changed, that’s all, and the good thing that it brings is that some people will read my stuff. Maybe not as many as would if I had a big publisher doing advertising and whatnot, but some.

So much for going back to bed. The 18-pound cat is stretched out on its bottom half and she has a stronger character than I do in terms of my getting up the gumption to remove my loving pet who just wants to be near me. Time to soldier on, watch closely, and try to see what life is saying to me.

If You Wanna Write, You Need to Read

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I found this out empirically when teaching a remedial composition class at a small college. The school took composition skills seriously, and thus the remedial class met for 5 hours a week, instead of the usual 3. The kids had been assigned to it because they’d bombed a test, and as I was soon to discover, this test had some flaws.

Out of a class of about 30, I found that 10% of them had just been having a bad day on the test–they were already writing at an acceptable college level. Having been the bright kid in a group of um, less stellar talents for much of my life, my heart went out to them, and they were my inspiration to keep the class from becoming as horribly boring as it might have been. (Not hard. My glory as a teacher is that I’m not boring. This is also my bete noir, as it stems from my not being as consistent as I should be.)

Anyway, I did some digging (small schools mean you get to know the students) and found that the big difference between my good writers and my awful writers was that the people with skills read. And the more they read, the better their writing was.

So for the last couple of months of class, I broke it down by letter grades. The A’s only had to attend class Monday and Tuesday. B’s got to add Wednesday, and C’s came through Thursday. This left me five or six D’s for Friday, and that was boot camp. Every day, they had to read something, and then write about it. I wasn’t too fussy about the source, as long as it wasn’t some hiphop-esque piece of trash not written in standard English.

The results were impressive: My boot campers pulled themselves up by at least a letter grade, with one guy going from a low D to a satisfactory B. Yeah, extra teacher time. But I’m telling you, it was the reading. These kids might not have been good students, but that didn’t mean they were stupid, and when exposed to the different language that is written English, they soaked it up through their pores. I was so proud, I mighta been their mama.

Now, twenty years later, I review book manuscripts, and I suspect the same pattern exists. Some of these adults–all successful and wealthy enough to afford our firm–need boot camp. And it’s not just the mechanical flaws, it’s basic structural stuff like repeating themselves (occasionally endlessly), failure to shore up their characters beyond two dimensions, and (oh ye gods) saying stuff that shouldn’t need to be said: About 75% of people who have the stirrings of a book within plop out a self-help book, and because (I suspect) all they read are self-help books, and they all take the same classes in juicing and yoga, they all sound the same.

I don’t read self-help books in my personal life, but I’m beginning to suspect that they’re not very well written. What my current boot camp candidates need is structured non-fiction, like popular science books written by scientists who have gotten their degrees from schools we’ve heard from. They also need classic novels written by people who knew how to punctuate. (Start with Angela’s Ashes–it was written by a whip-cracking English teacher.) Until there’s a matrix of written English in the brain, I believe it’s impossible to spit it back out. And I’m not being a snob: We’re talking about basic meaning. If you’re pulling down 70k in your own consulting business, writing a simple sentence that turns out to be gibberish should be a flogging offense.

Not that I’m cranky, heh. I just sweat over everything I write, grateful to my ex-husband for having cured me of comma splices in grad school. Is it wrong to expect the newbies clustering in the doorway to have a little respect for my art and profession?