Shore Break

There I was, trying to steer the 3-headed rhinoceros that is the de-mold-the-mobile-home project (dubbed “DeStroy DeMold.”) Two of my volunteers had gotten sick with things that could conceivably relate to:

  1. Their refusal to wear respirator masks, and
  2. The craptastic nature of the stuff coming out of the walls.

So, no more volunteers, and I was trying to figure out what next.

With heavy multiple mold exposures.

Detail of a Bosch painting. Whiskery demon holding and reaching for a misereable man.
Bosch knew.

And food poisoning (different story.)

First things first

I declared a personal moratorium on entering my place unless I had to. Ditto for my car.

Counting the inescapable mold-factory of the leaky place where I’m staying, that means I had been sucking in three, count ’em, three, substantially different species of mold. …And feeling very sorry for myself that I was strangely unable to compensate with supplements and air filters, think my way through the end of a compound sentence, get through a pain flare without going zombie, or recover from an ordinary bout of hit-the-opposite-wall vomiting.

Sorry, letting my vile sense of humor run away with me there. I actually did get it all in the toilet; I’m just not sure how.

Attitude adjustment (with cast of characters)

Last week, my gracious hostess Laurie and I realized we had not gone to the shore this year, despite our good intentions. 24 hours later, she had us all set up, and invited her excellent friend & traveling companion Dave along for the ride.

Dave & Laurie are wonderful together. A gal so butch her nephews call her Uncle Laurie and a guy so cis he could — and did — show up in white Gucci snaffle loafers and still look straight, they bring out a gleeful zest in each other that’s contagious.

woman and man in nearly identical shirts, thumbs up and laughing

Laurie was our hinge, the one who is so close to us both, and it was impossible for me to be stranger-shy with their buoyancy lightening everything.

Dave has an enormous, unflappable black lab named Bernie as his guide dog, who avoids being lethargic simply through being so good-natured. Laurie has a teeny weeny toy fox terrier named Vinny who is irretrievably in love with Big Black Beautiful Bernie.

Imagine a stately black galleon with a high-powered white tender zipping around alongside, and you’ll have the image perfectly.

I almost brought the cat…

cat,distorted with closeness while coming at the viewer

But five bodies and 14 feet seemed like quite enough.

So: me, a human; Laurie, human, with Vinny, pocket pup; Dave, human, with Bernie, guide dog.

If everyone sucked in their hips, there was just room to pass between the beds in our one room.

The weather was perfect. The waves were influenced by a hurricane out at sea, and were nearly Californian in size and color. The dark sand was almost silky. The water was about as warm as it gets, brisk but not bracing, according to Dave’s well-tested algorithm.

photo of everyone but me, on the beach

What I did on my vacation

It wasn’t an eventful trip on the outside — mostly. At one point, I saw Vinny heading down to the water, mooning hopefully after Bernie; I almost called him back, but if you’ve ever seen a terrier on a mission, you know that only going over and picking him up would change his mind. Something told me to wait.

Bernie ambled into the lap of the waves, checking on his master. Vinny toddled after, absorbed and elated. The wash of the wave splashed up Bernie’s ankles; Vinny’s little legs shot out to the sides as he tried to brace against the movement, and off he went. His human turned with perfect timing and lifted him out of the water as the backwash carried him to her, knee-deep.

I was braced to race and plunge in for some dog-rescuing, but watching that remarkable little ballet unfold was quite a moment.

Vinny isn’t the only one who got a bit more than he bargained for.

I was having a bangup time, playing at the shore break. Diving under, popping over, and frequently getting trashed by the waves is such a blast. I might have some retriever in me — probably more than Bernie, who couldn’t be bothered with boisterous water.

I saw two waves converge at an angle, and jumped on them to ride the double-act into shore. Little did I know that two other waves had approached that intersection from behind me. I got washing-machined like I rarely have — completely bashed and thrashed and flung around under the water. My sinuses got washed along with everything else. I’m really glad there were no solid objects (besides me) in that water.

I came up hooting with glee — then felt something was amiss.

Somehow, over the surf, the words, “It came out!” reached me from our pretty neighbors on the thinly-populated beach. I looked down and, sure enough, one half of my generous allotment of, um, chest flesh was making a determined dive for freedom.

Wrestling it back under cover was considerably hampered, not only by the cantankerous mechanics of a soggy bathing suit, but by the fact that I was laughing so hard I could barely control my limbs.

I’m over 50. I don’t have to care what people think. Laughing is so much healthier than anxiety!

Most of my exits were much more successful.

me climbing out of the surf, with another breaker behind me

But seriously…

Apart from that, we just found the nearest beach on the first day, found the best beach on the second, chatted with the neighbors, walked, ate, told each other stories, and enjoyed the muscular shush of the sounds of the shore. We all got ice cream.

It was transformative on the inside, at least for me.

I found that I kept talking about my childhood and my family of origin — not about life as a spoonie or neuro-nerd or an Isypedia of potentially life-saving information, but about life as something quirky and full of character; if not innocent, then willing to be optimistic in spite of it all.

That was odd, but refreshing.

After a day at the seaside and a good night’s sleep (despite the pillows fighting back against my leaning-tower arrangement), I woke up feeling…

What’s the word…

Um…

Oh, how shall I put it…

What do you call it when you feel like you can tell you’re inside your skin and the mental lights are on and you can tell what’s going on around you? Y’know, zestful and buoyant and present and awake and alive?

Oh right.

I felt more like myself than I had in about as long as I can remember.

woman walking up beach, looking totally at home in her skin.

THAT was the opposite of odd, though it was totally unexpected.

Mold toxicity: CONFIRMED.
Prognosis: EXCELLENT.
Recommendation: GIT THAT SH-T.
Target: ACQUIRED.

My brain unfolded like an origami map and alternative ways to get this mobile home taken care of — AND paid for — emerged from the crumpled mess of blocked avenues and despair.

And all that quiet, worried persistence about getting in at least one short walk most days? Well, the exercise intolerance packed it in, too — I walked a couple of miles the day before we left, the day we arrived, and the day after; definitely no exercise intolerance, without the wicked mold exposures.

This is huge. So huge.

Being able to exercise opens up new worlds of improvement. Nothing is as stabilizing to every body system as exercise. Few things are as stabilizing to the brain. I can’t even find words for the explosion of gasping hope I hardly dare to let myself feel.

My planner is about to explode. I’ve got things to do this week! WOOHOOOO!

A word to my  longtime readers & fellow spoonies (a wise & canny crew)

Remember all the times I’ve said that it’s sometimes just a question of getting through one day, one hour, or one breath at a time, and that there is always an afterwards?

This, my dears, THIS looks like an afterwards worth surviving long enough for. Let’s see what I can make of it.

May we all have the right care, the right meds, the right supplements, the right routine, the right friends — and the right breaks.

Coda

30 hours

Five years of no ocean
ended at last:
the waves curled almost Pacific blue
and crashed most assertively;
soft silky sand
burled them mackerel-patterned
below utterly spotless blue skies.

I ran out all daffy abandon
“Hi water! Here I am!”
and the waves came to greet me,
and beat me, and rub me all over
like a pack of retrievers convinced I held food…

A smug Californian, I dissed the sun’s vigor
But turns out I do burn — quite well! —
on Block Island
in mid-September…
but oh, it was worth every sting.

Rainbow sky melts above while returning.
Sun rivers and I’m stupid happy
One glint, one shimmy, and all I can smile
is eyes locked on water, waiting for more.

woman looking at sunset over water, dog nose poking out of jacket.

Shameless plugs

DJ Fabulous! LaurieB, a local fixture at sober fests and community events, works in Western Massachusetts. She plays all styles, genres, and eras of music, specializing in all-ages events. She gets people smiling and moving and having a good time. 🙂

David Roulston, Esq, is the sort of lawyer every  community should have. He does, or has done: probate & wills, criminal defense, designing implementation of legislation, mental health and community health, poverty & homeless issues, and business law.

Laurie took almost all of the photographs. When I mentioned I’d credit her, she said, “I think they’ll figure it out. Who else is gonna take them? The blind guy??”

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Fevers, friends, forgetting, and a kind of freedom

With the kind consent of the friend mentioned, I post the following exercise in “radical presence”, or staying sane in spite of the craziness…

Bubbles of thoughts are rising through the viscidity of my mind, drifting from side to side, now tending one way, now tending another.

Feels like a relapse of that FUO (Fever of Unkown Origin, although there’re more vulgar interpretations of that acronym too) that looked and acted like viral meningitis. This time, I have a thermometer so there’s something I can document. It’s less than a few weeks after the first case, so this is not good.

So far, though, no vomiting!

me-fingers-peace
Awesome! I prefer not vomiting!

While recovering (barely) from the first bout of this, I met with one of my excellent friends, the one who’s going to make decisions for me if I can’t make them myself. We first met during one of the most effective times in my life.

She spent much of the recent visit picking up after me, getting the tea I forgot, making sure everyone got fed — the ideal hostess, really. Too bad that was my job. I was a good small-party hostess at one time.

For obvious reasons, given her impending status as my health care proxy, I need her to be able to tell me how I’m really doing. There was a time when full anesthesia and industrial forceps were required to make anything that wasn’t kindly and flattering come out of her. She’d almost rather lose a limb than lose her manners.

Cartoon of a surgeon with mask and goggles on, head haloed by enormous OR light, leaning toward viewer with scalpel in one hand and chest spreader in the other

So, testing the waters, I asked if she found me a bit daffier and more disorganized than I used to be.

I’m so proud of her. She gave me a somewhat verbose “kind of” … then gave me an eyeball-to-eyeball gaze of love and torture, which I’m pretty sure meant, “It shreds my being to see you like this, but somehow I have to breathe and keep going, and I promise you I will, no matter how hard.”

Such a friend can’t be described, only experienced if you’re insanely lucky.

I rarely look back. There’s no future in it. However, the memories I usually keep firmly in the rear-view mirror haunted me for days, as bright as if they were klieg-lit.

Teaching her to run effectively under the redwoods. She was a quick study, all right. I was getting sick, so the fact that she could lap me in less than a year is probably not something I should feel too bad about.

Trying very hard to talk her out of medical school, which I was pretty sure would embitter her extraordinary sweetness and distort her self-effacing diligence. In the end, it gave her mind and heart a stronger shape.

Researching and working together on user interface guidelines, which made most senior engineers effectively beg our blessing on their designs — as they should!

What it was like to ask my quiet, courteous friend a music question, and have her snap upright, point snappily to a chair, and snap, “Sit.” Then give lively, passionate, 20- to 40-minute illustrated lectures on music theory that enrich my life even now. (I did much the same thing for her health questions.)

On a related but more self-oriented tangent, remembering what it was like to keep over 230 threads of information going simultaneously in my head, switching threads from meeting to meeting and file to file. I tracked the early course of this disease by when the number of thought-threads went down. I was “laid off” when I could only maintain about 90 different threads in active memory. I was crushed by that figure.

Remembering what it was like to run through the redwood glen at dawn, the scenery and birds staging a daily spectacular just for me.

coastal redwood circle seen from base, heavy shadow at bottom, well lit at top

The last walk I took on the mountain tops, when every bit of exercise just made things worse, but I had to say goodbye to the wild open spaces.

view of road on mountain spine of high chaparral and live oaks, motorcycle ahead, other ridges dark purple in the distance
This takes me back to my favorite motorcycle riding route. Bikes were the first great joy this disease took from me. Image by BoltSnypr from Wikimedia Commons.

The curling breezes change direction again.

The wasps are too quiet. I turn my head to follow them and warn them away, and the world seems to slip off its stand then right itself again, and the quiet singing in my ears rises to a sharp chord then slithers down again.

Having a frying brain is like living in a hallucination at times.

Famous photograph called
It felt like this looks.

This post is a little diaristic, but it serves a purpose beyond easing the pressure in my head. You’ll see.

The hundreds of little mercies that keep me going cluster around. The air here is delicious. The trees are fluffing their leaves in the curling breezes. J is quietly rattling around inside, scared in his ignorance of my illness and memories of losses, but keeping a good face on and making sure that I hydrate. The birds are mulling the possibility of rain, but it will hold off a few hours. The sun strokes my head with a long hand.

water_swimminghole-1

I breathe, and the world settles down.

A few days ago, I had a wonderful insight about the way that many bits of my past are getting referenced in the present somehow, and how, rather than highlighting my staggering losses, they fit together in a way that draws me onward.

That’s all I can remember, though. I think most of the ideas poured out of me last night as I sweated with the fever I forgot to document.

Mouse brain neurons, two pairs, stained flame yellow against red background
Even my brain is seeing double after all this fever time. Image by neurollero on flickr from Wikimedia.

Drifting first one way, then another.

Must remember to inhale when getting up. It’s the only way to keep my head from wanting to explode, and clutching it doesn’t really help.

Sketch of brain, with bits falling off and popping out, and a bandaid over the worst

Normally, a good idea like the past-reaching-forward-and-propelling-the-present would come back to me with sufficient prompts. Not the way things work anymore. Once it’s gone, that’s it, it’s gone. I’ve learned that the hard way, over years and years.

However, do I need to remember the examples and details? Or do I just need to remember that feeling of a rising tide lifting my weary, worried ass?

Maina at sunset, with masts sticking up and reflecting down, both water and sky streaked with yellow, orange, gold, and purple clouds

Just because I don’t understand how it all fits together, does it stop being real?

Medicine is real, neurology is real, and I defy absolutely anyone to say, hand over heart, that they really, REALLY understand those. Yet, they are real just the same.

I’ll allow myself to be carried onward by the memory of the idea, even if I can’t remember why it made sense.

For now, it’s time for more lie-down and seltzer.

Small moves. Just like steering a sailboat. Small moves get you where you need to go, without steering wrong. Now, seltzer. Later, rest. Then, we shall see.

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On the road again

I used to run between 3 and 12 miles, 3 to 5 times per week. Not so much because I wanted to be One Of Those Running Addicts, charging along with a ghastly snarl carved into their faces while insisting they were having a marvelous time. Initially, because I had to dump the stress from my nursing job without killing anyone, because there wasn’t enough Haagen Dasz in the world to smooth the edges of HIV care in 1991 or of working the only public ER in Washington, DC. Later, simply because it was fun, after the first few weeks of adjusting to the initial effort. When I had had to give up nursing due to illness, recovered my lung function eventually, then was burying someone I loved every other month while I learned to handle programming software enough to write about it, I needed a bit of fun.

Well, that was depressing! I sometimes forget that having an eventful life can correspond to having a catalog of horrors in the rearview mirror. It’s not all horrors, really, and my natural bent towards finding beauty in everyday life became well developed, as I dove into the beauties (or the work) of the moment as a coping skill, and then eventually because it’s so rewarding.

At that time my usual trail was up hill and down dale through a redwood preserve — to misquote William Allingham, “Up the airy redwoods, down the mucky glen.” Great for the calves.

Redwood National Park REDW9377

More to the point, getting out before work meant I could watch the sun touch the treetops high above, slowly stroking glowing gold down over their dusky purple and blue-green, each luminous inch bringing the birds roosting at that level to life, shrieking their fool heads off like this was the first time ever and they just couldn’t believe it!

THAT was definitely fun.

Coastal redwood

Speaking of fun: I’ve been reading thriller/adventure stories by an author who’s also an old pal. Like most thrillers and adventures, the characters are annoyingly fit. Unlike most thrillers and adventures, the characters have actual personalities (not just a set of quirks laid over a monotonously steely outlook), with the touch of weirdness I see in the people I’m drawn to, if I look closely enough. I certainly see it in myself.

These days, I have trouble identifying with fit, but I identify with weird just fine.

Suddenly, I couldn’t stand it any more. I got up, put on my sturdiest foundation garment, added a couple layers over that (it’s still chilly and soggy here) and went for a walk. My old, solid stride came back, the one that propelled my blonde fluffy self safely through the Tenderloin in SF and the drug commons of DC, with no more remark than, “Marines? Special Forces? How much do you bench press?” (The last was unusual, and actually made me pause to try and remember.)

I noted which clothes I went to put on, and moved them toward the door so it’ll be quicker to get dressed next time.

I forgot to stretch out afterwards, and getting up from this chair a minute ago was a useful reminder of the absolutely essential need to do so. Stiffening up happens!

I overdid a few days ago and it took 2 days to recover, so I know I have some exercise intolerance. I’m being careful (within the limits of my personality.) So far so good, and if I haven’t crashed and burned by this evening, I’ll know I chose the correct level of activity, and can increase first my distance, and then my intensity, by increments of no more than 10% at a time.

The tiny incrementation is frustrating for a former muscle-head, but I’m old enough (at last!) to know that little strokes really do fell great oaks, that the future will come anyway and I might as well be better for it, and the way to make that happen is to work at my margins and gradually, gently, persistently, open them out.

I don’t dream of marathons, but nor do I count them out. I don’t count them at all. I walk (briskly and sturdily) the dirt roads through my forests, and that’s enough for now, while leaving me plenty of room to grow into.

water_swimminghole-1

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Story: Shasta suggests a dog

This is another story improvised on the fly. One solution to boredom, when my studying-brain won’t work: I send it wandering, and it brings back souvenirs. I find that these mental excursions strengthen my mind and my focus when my studying-brain does work. (Jung might have been onto something, there.) It’s also very satisfying to feel capable of nothing, yet still produce something. I mean, wow, how cool is that?

Enjoy.

Shasta suggests a dog

Dark wings overhead. Are they angled up in a V, or flat across? Flat. Oh. Time to get the kids in.

She ran back towards the house, waving and barking. “Eagle! Eagle!” she snarled, when she was close enough to be understood.

Denny reacted quickly. He extended one gangly arm and snapped open two gates so that the pasture led straight into the barn. Then he followed Shasta, who had raced back up the pasture and was getting around behind the herd, shepherding them in. Danny called out the goats’ supper-call, but the goats didn’t take that well. They knew it wasn’t anywhere near suppertime!

Shasta‘s more direct approach got them going. She hustled and hassled the goats, coaxing here and pushing there, taking attitude from the harder-headed nannies and dishing it out in return. Fortunately, the billy was a lamb. Figuratively speaking.

Making soothing noises, Denny stood near the gate and persuaded the disgruntled herbivores, despite their complaining and nagging, to shuffle along and take a break in the barn.

Shasta sneezed after the last little goat, making it skip, jump up, and bounce off its mother’s side. Or, at least, giving it an excuse to.

Denny swung the barn door shut and sighed. The goats farted and burped, some of them eating their breakfast for lunch, settling in to hurry up and wait.

“So now we’ve got eagles,” Denny said. “I thought the hawks had that niche filled.”

“That pair of red-tails didn’t come back last year, and I saw a peregrine in the road yesterday,” Shasta muttered. “And now there’s baby goat,” she sighed.

Denny shrugged and walked back to the cabin. Shasta shuffled after, looking back moodily now and then.

“C’mon, old girl, let’s go in and have a cup of coffee.”

Coffee made and distributed, Denny sat down hard with a woof. Shasta flopped on the rug.

“I don’t know what to do about eagles,” Denny fretted.

Shasta blinked agreement.

There was a long silence.

“I know what,” said Shasta, pushing up on her hands. “Let’s get a dog.”

Denny looked at her with light slowly dawning. “You’ve got that friend,” he started.

Who breeds kuvasch,” Shasta finished.

Denny sank down, cross-quartering the idea for feasibility.

“Let’s call,” she said. “It can’t hurt to ask about it.”

Denny’s face didn’t change, but something in the air smelled of masculine resistance to asking.

“I’ll call,” Shasta rephrased. “Time I caught up with him anyway.”

She came back with a bag of peanuts and a grin. “He’s moving and has one pup left from the last litter,” she said, “so we get a deal, if it works out. We need the right kind of dog, because most of them don’t look up. Not normally. Not unless they’ve got a really tall owner, I guess. Kuvasch are enormous, and they’ll take on anything that attacks their flock, up, down, or sideways. They’re left in charge of herds for months at a time, they’re that good. We get to meet the puppy and try each other on, but in two weeks he’ll be gone, so he’s kind of on the fence about it.”

That was a long speech from Shasta.

Once Denny recovered from the verbosity, he gave his head a little shake and said, “He’s on the fence about it? What does that mean? Doesn’t he want to get rid of the dog?”

Shasta offered him the peanuts. “He’s a breeder. A real one. It’s not about unloading the dogs for a profit, it’s about spreading the kuvasch love and covering his expenses.” She chewed thoughtfully. “These are good peanuts,” she remarked. “Fresh.”

She examined the label while Denny absorbed that.

“Okay, so what’s so special about kuvasches?” he asked, making it an honest question, not snarking.

Shasta passed him her smart phone, with a search on “kuvasch” already done. “In rural Turkey, my parents had trouble finding childcare for me and my little brother. They were going to get a kuvasch, but then the neighbor’s sister came home from a bad marriage, and she became our nanny instead.” She shrugged. “Worked out for everyone. The dog was considered a reasonable solution, though.”

They went to meet the puppy three days later. He would scarcely even acknowledge Shasta‘s presence.

Half an hour later, after Denny had escorted a shell-shocked Shasta to the car and helped her to sit, he just sat and looked at her for a long moment.

Finally, she said, “He wouldn’t even look at me.” She turned to Denny. “How could he not even look at me? Dogs love me.” She turned away, sinking her chin. “I love dogs. Even that one, the rotten ratfink little bastidge.” She shook her head, tears trickling beside her nose. “I love dogs. I never met a dog who didn’t like me. I don’t understand.”

Worse still, in Denny’s mind, was the increasingly suspicious looks cast at Shasta by the breeder. Some friend. Even now, he was peering through the blinds, as Shasta wept over his churlish pup. (The sire and dam had been delighted with her, within the cat-like restraint typical of the breed. Only the pup had snubbed her.)

Denny gave up the pat-pat-there-there routine, cast a look of good riddance at the tacky suburban front of the breeder’s house, and drove off.

He was keeping his thoughts to himself, but they weren’t nice ones. He didn’t realize he was muttering nasty things under his breath, imagining the conversation he would have *liked* to have with the supercilious breeder.

Shasta noticed. She poked him.

He turned to her. “What is it?”

“You’re mutt–“

Denny checked the road just in time, swerved, ran the car off the road and stopped after several vaulting leaps over curbs, hummocks and undergrowth.

The car went pink-pink-pink. Denny and Shasta looked at each other with big eyes. Then they unbelted, cursed a bit as they got their feet under them, and tottered shakily back up to the road.

Yup. There was a green gym bag in the middle of the lane. And it was wiggling and whining.

Later, back at the cabin, Shasta, who was having the most talkative day of her adult life, puzzled some more. “Who would abandon such a beautiful pup?” She was on the rug with their new find, or new friend, stroking the drizzle of white that ran from nose to tummy through the short black fur. “She can’t be more than a few months old.”

The youngster looked at her worshippingly, as Shasta‘s hand traced the white drizzle again.

The next day, at the vet, Denny asked if the vet could identify the dog.

“Well, pit bull of some kind, I’d guess a thinking breed rather than a musclehead like most of them are.” The vet looked at the dog with her head cocked on one side, her fabulously chic lopsided fade blending up into a gorgeous cap of kinky curls. She was the sharpest vet for hundreds of miles, and even though she looked out of place in the country, there was something in her air — like the way she cocked her head — that made it impossible not to feel you’d found a good ally in troubled times.

“Hang on,” she said. “I’ll see if there’s a chip.”

There was.

“I have to look it up,” she said, clearly rather sorry.

Denny nodded.

She rattled at the keyboard for several minutes, shifting screens several times. Then she picked up the phone. “Mr. Mess? Hi, I’m the veterinarian at –“

She looked at the phone, surprised. She hit Redial, and began again. “Hi, Mr. Mess, I believe we were just disconnected. … Uh huh. Yes. … I’m sure you do, but I can hear you perfectly, so …. Why yes, it is about a dog with your chip in it. … Uh huh. … Uh huh. … Oh dear. … I didn’t hear about that. Oh, you did, did you? Well, I go home every night to the county sherif, and he never mentioned that call to me. … Oh, I see.”

Denny saw a vein start to throb in the side of her forehead.

“No, he would not have forgotten, because I’m the only forensic vet in the county. He would certainly have let me know. … Uh huh. … I see. … I think that would be best. … No, we are not a shelter, we’re a vet hospital. Howev-” she had clearly been interrupted, but was listening .. for another moment, anyway. “Let me say that there’s someone who might be interest –” Interrupted again.

The vet made eye contact with him, made a gesture to be quiet, and put the call on speakerphone. A grating male voice came out.

“– and then there’s the vet bills, vaccinations and so forth, plus five weeks of dog food,” the guy said, clearly compiling a bill to see how much he could get for the dog he’d abandoned for free. “And wear and tear on the furniture. And the makeup. That stupid bitch got into my wife’s Lancôme! Do you have any idea how much that crap costs? I’m seriously out of pocket here, and if someone wants that dog –“

She tried to intervene. “Mr. Mess, you misunder–“

He rode right over her. “And then there was the gas to take the dog out to where she could be found. That was not a short trip, you know.”

Denny had had enough. Shasta had long ago told him that she didn’t say much because she hated being interrupted or ignored, and men always interrupt women and most of them never listen.

He stepped up to the phone and, in his most alpha tones, rumbled, “Mr. Mess. This is Mr. Grill. If you’re interested in an accounting, then you should know that this dog has required treatment for damage due to her injuries on the road. As Dr. Smart stated, this is not a charity, it’s a veterinary hospital. If you are saying that, despite endangering and abandoning your pet, you still claim legal ownership, then we will be happy to send you a bill payable on receipt. It’s only fair to say that, even if your lawyer can persuade a judge to grant you everything you’ve listed, you’ll still owe us –” he stretched the word out — “thooooouuusands.”

He took a breath, then pulled on the velvet glove. “If, on the other hand, you relinquish all claim to the dog, then of course what happens after you abandoned it, illegally and in a manner which endangered both the animal and all traffic on that road, then of course this bill is not your problem. And, naturally, your expenses up to that point are yours and yours alone.”

There was a stage wait. Dr. Smart used the time to pick her jaw up off the floor and try to compose herself for speech.

There was a shaky little mumble, in which the word “relinquish” was barely distinguishable.

Denny needed to make this vaguely legal, so he added, “Would you like to conclude your business with Dr. Smart?”

Obliging gurgling sounds. Denny backed off the phone.

Dr. Smart said, very precisely, “Do I understand you to say that you relinquish all claim to this dog?”

Obliging hiss, probably a yes.

“And I can reassign ownership however I want?” She added briskly, “And speak up, I can barely hear you.”

“Sorry. Yes. Do whatever you want. She’s not mine anyway.” He muttered nastily, “Stupid black bitch.”

Dr. Smart reared back, took one look at Denny’s expression, and hung up.

She said to Denny, crossing her arms and leaning back slightly, “You do know she’s all right, don’t you? And this visit is not much more than a well-puppy checkup? And, although I appreciate the good intentions that made you run interference, I can’t support lying, and I and only I am in charge of what happens in my practice?”

Denny thought fast. He reached carefully over to point at one paw. “Um, I think she stubbed a toe. That was related to her being abandoned on the road. Right?” He spoke humbly. It was b.s., but it was obvious b.s., and he radiated apology.

She smiled, unbending just this once. “She certainly could have gotten much worse. Now take her home and teach her to watch the skies for eagles. Something tells me she’ll be good at that, in spite of the odds. I’ll update the microchip database for you.”

Denny reached into his pocket. “What do I owe?”

She smiled wryly at him. “Thooooouuusands. Now get home before Shasta starts worrying.”

Denny said, offhandedly, “Shasta never worries. She’s too sensible.”

The vet gave him a look, a very womanly and very smart Look. “She just doesn’t tell you about it. Good afternoon, Mr. Grill. And good driving.”

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Burning Mercury and the story of Bathsheba

This was written a week ago. Enjoy…

We’re on an extended camping trip, simultaneously waiting for my broken foot to mend, waiting to find out when we can move our travel trailer into a long-term spot, and figuring out how we are going to manage this relationship over the long term — which involves a lot of waiting. So things are quiet and scenic, but, on the whole, not very comfortable.

I was sitting by the cold firepit, looking out across the sere grass and low hills, in a quiet reverie in a quiet hour. I sent my imagination off to find something utterly irrelevant.

What came back was the sign of Pluto, which approached in a portentous manner —
astrological glyph for Pluto
And, in the sideways manner of dreams, said it was Mercury, which normally looks like this:
astrological glyph for Mercury
Then it grew flames, starting from the ball.
pluto glyph with small flame on ball
The flames spread, and as they spread around the symbol and over it, the symbol came close to me.
Pluto glyph nearly engulfed in flames on top
Closer.

Closer still.

Then it hooked its barbs into my side. It was intrusive as dammit. It poked right into my flesh, as if it wanted to climb in.

Trying to pull away, I said, “What the heck are you doing? What do you want?”

It said, “We need your stories.

I thought of my science writing at my biowizardry blog, and it said No. I thought of my anecdotes here, and it said No.

It waved a few pages of books and stories I’ve half-written and said, “We need your STORIES.”

Oh. The imaginative stuff. Didn’t think that was the most unique thing I had to offer, but hey, I’m a writer … I usually do what the little voices tell me.

So here’s a story.

One day, there was a woodcutter and … no, wait, you’ve heard that one. How about this, and I’m writing it from sentence to sentence, no idea what comes next, so be kind…

The story of Bathsheba

Bathsheba was beautiful and did not know it, despite her luscious name. She wanted little, and got slightly less, but she had a gift for appreciation and made the most of it.

One day, while dumpster-diving (she did even that with grace), she came across half a salmon, nearly fresh, cooked with red wine and oranges. It was heavenly. She was only three bites in when a bully named Tom came by, heard her happy little sounds, and cursed and smacked her away so he could have the rest. He never learned that it’s wrong to hit people smaller than you, especially girls.

She scrambled out in a hurry, but he didn’t come after her, so she calmed down and wandered away to somewhere more peaceful. She was glad she had gotten the three bites, and sat on the curb in the sun, licking her lips and enjoying the aftertaste.

A car drove by, spitting fumes and loud music, and a half-empty can nearly beaned her. She leaned aside to dodge it, and went back to soaking up the sun. It was part of city life — she could tell that they hadn’t been aiming.

Another car pulled up, partly blocking the sun, large and with something sturdy on the roof. She pulled her feet in neatly. The occupants didn’t seem to notice; they were busy talking, sounding uncomfortable and distracted. The one on the street side got out and opened the back up, then returned to the front. The two occupants opened out an enormous sheet of paper between them. A map.

Bathsheba loved maps. It had been ages since she’d been able to just relax and look at a map. Curiosity flashed a fin.

Very quietly, she sidled closer to the car’s rear end.

No reaction from up front.

Very gently, very quietly, she leaned — oh so casually — against the rear bumper.

They were having technical issues: the space was too small to turn the map over in, but they were trying.

Bathsheba put one foot on the bumper, experimentally. The piles of clothing and sleeping gear obscured her view.

Up front, the map turning had not gone well, so there were some knocked mirrors and banged knuckles and bumped heads. The trivial dip of the bumper didn’t even show up in the chaos up front.

She shifted her weight, oh so carefully… just to see …

And, up front, the map tore.

One of the occupants burst into tears.

Bathsheba leaped towards the front of the car, then remembered herself — you don’t just go up to strangers, even if all you want to do is comfort them!

Instead, with wide eyes, she crouched behind the back seat, half-buried by piles of clothing and pillows, her back against the hard plastic side of a cooler, looking all her sympathy, yet terrified of the very questionable position she found herself in. She had absolutely no idea what to do.

The conversation up front shifted gear, from frustration and recrimination to apology and comforting. Eventually, and more or less in the middle of a word, the driver put the idling car into gear and pulled away from the curb.

Bathsheba clutched the clothing under her, eyes now very wide indeed. She definitely didn’t belong here, but the car was going too fast to jump out; all she could do was hold onto the clothing, which she was now half-buried in, and hope with all her might that it didn’t fall out the still-open back.

Some time later, she was startled awake by a thud. The driver had stopped the car and put the back lift-gate down. He apparently hadn’t noticed Bathsheba, curled up among the tumbled clothing. The car lurched forward and took off again at highway speed.

She peered over the cooler and gazed out at the darkening sky. There was a great big wall along the road and city smells blew in through the vent, but not the strong stenches she was used to.

She wondered if being homeless out here was any better than being homeless in the heart of the city. She couldn’t even begin to think of how she’d get back. It wasn’t a great life, sure, but at least she knew where the good dumpsters were, and who to avoid. Mind you, it smelled better out here.

She wanted to cry, and maybe she whimpered very quietly so nobody else could hear, but she didn’t dare to announce herself. She had no idea how she was going to get out of this, but maybe something would go right… later…

With nothing else to do and a short lifetime’s experience of stress under her belt already, she burrowed in and went back to sleep among the strangers’ clothes. They smelled kind of nice, like cotton and lemon and something crisp and soft which she couldn’t name, but felt so at home with.

She woke later to a voice, a nice gentle man’s voice tinged with wonder: “Kate, come look.” It was one of the occupants.

The car was still. The air was full of that crisp, soft smell. The sky was dark, with millions of points of light — stars, so rare in the city. There was a fire burning nearby under a grill loaded with wonderful things. The other occupant got up from her seat by the fire and came over.

The two people looked down at Bathsheba, utterly tangled in their clothing, utterly helpless, and curiously at home.

They didn’t snarl. They didn’t throw cans. They didn’t invade her privacy or try to grab at her.

They just smiled — two kind, sweet, wondering smiles. They looked like they were witnessing a minor miracle, and like Bathsheba was someone they already considered a friend.

Bathsheba couldn’t help herself. The clothes under her fingers curled. Her chest stretched. Her eyelids squished gently closed, then opened again. She purred.

“I think you’re going to like it a lot better out here, kitty,” said Kate.

Bathsheba wanted to correct her, and say her name was Bathsheba, not Kitty. But just then, Kate reached out with two hands and gently scooped her in. Bathsheba felt Kate’s slow, solid heartbeat — thubump, thubump, thubump — against her own soft little body, and melted into joy.

Don’t worry. There will be plenty more science, and plenty more stories too.

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Being clear about being grateful

We visited our favorite hot springs last week. There’s a hot pool that’s very hot indeed. When I alternate between that and the cold pool, preferably dipping several times, it becomes quite a fabulous experience.

Stone angel with hands clasped in prayer, standing on a pillar, sun like a glorious halo
Halleluiah!

Whether it’s the lymph getting going properly for a change, or toxins (the few that are left) getting sucked out of my system, or my autonomic system finally getting a clue and just taking a break, or possibly all that and something more, I have no idea. But it can be really good.

gleeful woman grinning, sitting in a sailboat cockpit, sunny water behind her
REALLY good!

I did my dips and bounced gently on the balls of my feet in the hot pool, overflowing with something like gratitude. I’m no fool (I just take an off-road approach to life) … offering gratitude works, even with a conception of spirituality based more on quantum physics than religious dogma.

Things go better when I’m classy enough to express whatever gratitude I feel.

However, it has to be “true enough to write,” my ultimate litmus test of sincerity. (That really is my key phrase when I’m thinking about truth, writing, or both.)

George_Goodwin_Kilburne_Writing_a_letter_home_1875There’s no fooling the All, because I’m part of it and I know the truth, even when I don’t want to.

Letting my head fall back into the welcoming warmth, I thought a moment, letting the feeling swirl through me like water.

Grateful for my life?
I have to be honest (though it may mean I have an inferior soul or something) … I’d love to be. I think that somehow I ought to be. But really, when you get right down to it… too many caveats.

Grateful for this day?
Well, y’know, there was too much of the day left that could go wrong. Experience has been too strong a teacher to make me grateful for something before it’s in the bag.

Grateful for this moment?
Ah yes, there we go.

I felt my spine let go of the last knot.

I could say, without hesitation and with perfect integrity, that I was definitely grateful for this moment. Completely, unwaveringly glad to have it. I was truly thankful for that heavenly bit of space-time I’d found myself in.

Crab_Nebula-crop
Heavenly, beautiful… grateful for it

The moment stretched and smiled and wrapped me in blissful arms. It made me stronger and more content, and I faced the bumps and mild insults of the rest of the day with fairly unruffled peace.

It turned out to be a good day. A day to be grateful for.

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Unexpected adventures with the rent

Yesterday I did 10 minutes on the treadmill. Today, I walked almost a full mile of this hill in 18 minutes and 16 seconds — no shuffling, no stopping, lots of striding, not much slowing down. Woo hoo!

I’d better start scouting trails and footpaths around here. I’m going to need more options soon.

As I calm my breathing in preparation for my autogenic exercise (more on that later), I have to admit that I had some angst to work off, and that probably had something to do with the pace I kept up.

Last night, I realized I’d lost my ATM card. I have one bank, one card, and one checkbook. … Er… had…

The card was gone.

The checkbook was empty.
I’m fresh out of cash.
And rent is due.
Suuuuuuuuuucks.

Welcome to My Brain on CRPS!

To be completely apt, these should be thoroughly scrambled.

I went to the landlady’s bank to see if we could do a wire transfer.
Turns out they’re closed on Wednesday.

I called a different branch and asked if they could.
No, not without an account of my own.

I asked if I could open an account with a wire transfer.
After 20 minutes on hold, it turned out that I could only open an account with cash or a check.

Rather than repeating myself, I said, “You realize that does me no good.”

I called my bank (a local savings bank) in Massachusetts. They were pleased to tell me that someone had called in my missing card and it had been cancelled promptly. 2 weeks to get another one.

They couldn’t do a wire transfer because they’re rather old-school, and I hadn’t gone into a branch and filed the appropriate form in person.

But — and this is why I stay with them — they didn’t end the conversation there.

After exploring several possibilities, which turned up as dead ends, I thought of Cougar, one of my angels (a word with specific meaning.) He bears a passing resemblance to a slimmer and semi-shaven Jerry Garcia..

A recent photo by yours truly.

But, more importantly, he takes my mail. Why?

In case you hadn’t noticed, I move around a lot. (I’m looking for a place that has an affordable cost of living, good soil, first-rate medical care, and no extra pollution or radiation, and one day I’ll find it.) I’m here in California for awhile for medical care, BUT, no matter where the rest of me goes, my mailing address remains the same.

The benefits are tremendous:

  • Not only is my steel-sieve brain spared the affliction of changing my address every time I move,
  • Not only are my ridiculous paws spared the trouble of wrestling with envelopes and handling papercuts (a task which cougar claws are apparently well-adapted for),
  • But my memory and cognition issues get a real break from having to deal with pieces of effing paper. I have developed a mental block around dealing with pieces of effing paper, so I get them into softcopy as soon as possible.

Or, rather, most of the time, Cougar does… Because he doesn’t just take in my mail, he scans it in and sends me softcopy of anything I ask him to open. This means I have COMPLETE RECORDS of everything I need to keep track of.

He’s the Magnificent Mail Mage, and I’m grateful. Take that, Pain-Brain!

He’s my current Cash Carrier, now. The management staff at my lovely little bank have agreed to work with him as my designated agent, and will provide him with the cash I request — which he will then send to me via Western Union, so I can take care of business here. And with it, I’ll pay rent, open a bank account locally, and try not to let this happen ever, ever again.

Meanwhile, it’s time to get my heart rate down from the clouds and that strangely full feeling out of my tissues. Easier said…

While the excitement is over for the moment, I have a vivid memory of the stress-tracking line on the biofeedback machine, and how bloody hard and bloody long it takes to get the level to drop after it goes up over something as small as one giggle.

This was no giggle. In fact, it was several hours of no giggle. None. A totally giggle-free period.

I found it stressful.

The walk helped. And I hope — when I find some good forest trails to explore — to spot some wildlife.

Meanwhile, I’m off the hook for laundry and shopping. It all has to wait until tomorrow. Bonus!

Everyone should have a little cougarosity in their lives…

 

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Obsidian drive

I’m behind on my articles, but it’s been an awful week on the internet, with a remarkably slimy predator spreading poison and deceipt like I spread nut butter: lavishly. Boyfriend J gave me a necessary reality check to stop my charging about in pointless anguish, then exerted his remarkable capacity to adjust my mood.

We took a walk in the creek where we admired treasure troves of river-rubbed obsidian, much of it the size of a fist, some rather larger. We got really excited about some of the larger stones, grapefruit-sized.

Only ones that fit in a pocket followed us home:

Then, as it was Sunday, we decided to go to church. For us, this involves no pastors, but maybe pastures…

We went up and around new roads, over beautiful hills, along streams, through forests… and found the sources of all that obsidian.

Great bands of fat black glass sloped up through orange, yellow, white earth.

Some of it spilled onto the edges of the road, much of it clinging to the rockfaces.

Chunks the size of heads, boulders the size of steamer trunks. J remarked, “We hit the motherlode, baby, we hit the motherlode!”

I was so scamperingly excited to get pictures and samples that J was both cracking up and worrying slightly. When I was preparing to dash down a narrow stretch of road to get a shot, h e didn’t send me on and wait by the car… he grabbed my hand and led the way, saying, “If we’re going to get hit by a drunk driver, we’re going to get hit together. Come on, baby, let’s go.”

He met a carnivorous specimen which tried to bite off his finger when, trying to give me a more interesting shot, he reached out to touch it:

This piece has been hacked at by amateur geologists trying, and failing, to collect that enormous sample — well, trophy. J was just being friendly, but the edges are just as glassy-sharp as if he had had more hostile intentions.

It made our river-rubbed fist- and grapefruit-sized pieces look very small indeed — and very gentle!

The temperature dropped suddenly, 3 degrees in 2 minutes and falling. I turned from the rockface and took this picture of the lush region above the volcanic bed just as it did so:

J chased me into the car and ignored all my mindless “ooh, ooh!” noises and frantic pointing after that.

He has seen me, in a 70 degree (Fahrenheit) room, bundled up in a huge sweater and shaking with autonomic chill. When he knows what to look out for, he does a better job of taking care of me than I do. “If I had to drag you by the hair, I was gonna get you off that mountain. By your heel, your ass, whatever. It was getting too damn cold.”

I have to say, it feels good to have backup. I don’t take it for granted.

According to some theories, all this glorious obsidian might have something to do with why this one area of NoCal does not feel like it’s festering… but I’ll let the classical physicists, quantum physicists, wiccans and shamans argue about that. I’m just soaking up the joy of living practically on top of a fat pile of one of the coolest rocks in the world.

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Poem: From the silence

Chaos of terror and battering storms of emotion
Bashing the hull and ripping at the rigging —
Can’t tell: is water pouring over outside
Or pouring in inside?
So much it’s hard to say.
Will something come loose?
What sail could hold against this?
What rudder keep on?
Doesn’t matter…. It doesn’t matter. These are the ones I have.

The soul breathes regardless.
I remember that the answers come in the silence.
Step outside the storm, though it goes on without me
Feeling it, but outside, on the hull, not inside, not in me.
This vessel holds.

So I pause, heart whole or heart breaking,
and hold the silence
until I need to speak; and
if I speak from the silence,
then can answers come.

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Active learning

I’ve always been fidgety. When I get MRIs, I really annoy the techs because I think I’m holding perfectly still, but my body goes twitch-twitch-twitch. They think I’m doing it on purpose. I can’t even tell. Feels like stillness to me.

Aristotle was famous for walking with his students while having his teasing, maddening conversations with them. The old Greek word for walking back and forth (yes, they have a word for it) is peripatētikos. Strolling back and forth while learning and teaching has come to be known as peripatesis, the adjective being peripatetic.

I learn best with intervals of activity. When I can control my obsessive focus, I do best when I take a break every hour or two and … take a walk.

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