Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Check List

I was recently at the dentist for a cleaning. The technician—who I like—asked me about flossing. I told her I didn’t. And I went on to tell her that I won’t. I’m not going to lie. I have had grand amibitions to floss, but I have learned over the years that I won’t.

She was very good about it, which is one of the reasons that I keep going to this dentist. But I was prepared if she wanted to explain to me why I had to floss. Because she is right, it would be better if I flossed. But I have been working on the following checklist to provide to people who tell me about the things I should do.

  • Do you floss?
  • Do you exercise three times a week?
  • Do you ‘pay yourself first’, that is do you put aside a certain percentage of your income for retirement?
  • Do you have an emergency fund?
  • Do you get 25 to 35 grams of fiber each day?
  • Do you know your glucose numbers? Especially if you are at risk for diabetis? Do you know the risk factors for diabetis?
  • Do you drink a glass of red wine every day for your heart?
  • For women
    • do you do a monthly breast exam?
    • Do you get enough calcium?
    • Do you take folic acid?
    • Do you eat a serving of green leafy vegetables every day?
  • For men—do you do a monthly self exam?
  • Do you eat five to eight servings of fruits and vegetables every day?
  • Do you check your credit rating yearly?
  • Are your spices stored over your stove? And do you throw them out when they are six months old?
  • If you are fifty or older, have you had a colonoscopy?
  • Do you recycle?
  • Do you do both aerobic and anerobic exercise?
  • Do you support the troops? I mean by doing more than buying one of those stupid ribbons to stick on your car?
  • Do you vote?
  • Do you research your vote? Even judges and local zoning issues?
  • Are you learning a new language or otherwise doing something to decrease your chances of Alzheimers?
  • Do you have your tires rotated every other oil change?
  • Do you get an oil change every 3,000 to 7,000 miles?
  • Do you drink eight 8oz. glasses of water every day?

There are more things I could add to the list but the point is, we're a pretty maintenance heavy culture. I will also confess, I don't do all of these things. I won't say how many I do or don't. But I miss my share.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Funny Dilemma

Titling this post I discovered two things. One is that the first definition for 'dilemma' that comes up on Google says that a dilemma is 'state of uncertainty or perplexity especially as requiring a choice between equally unfavorable options...' I don't think that the options have to be unfavorable. The other is that I can't spell delimma. (Why I was looking up the definition--the word looked so wrong to me that I checked the spelling on-line.)

I've been working for months on an internet marketing project called Last Call Poker which has been completely engrossing. Embedded in the website is a modern noir story told in fragments that the audience has to collect and piece together in order to experience the narrative. (If you go to the site and click on The Muck the story is now compiled for you. But part of the experience is working with a community to construct the story out of fragments.) I love the work. Art is the product of advances in technology. Novels are a product of the printing press, which eventually drove down the cost of written narrative to the point where people could afford them. Before the printing press, vast armies of scribes would have had to spend large periods of their lives copying out, say, Valley of the Dolls and then people who wanted to read it would have had to spend thousands of dollars to read it. Which is why books tended to about philosphy, religion and science. And maps. The magazine is a product of a technology we don't normally think of as a technology since it's not a scientific innovation so much as a system innovation--the postal system. But the postal system makes the magazine possible. When Melie was making the first films, he tended to film them the way we would see a play--from a distance with a camera planted, indoors. He invented a lot of cool film tricks. But it took a little while before people realized that movies were just filmed plays, but a whole new way to conceptualize narrative. That the camera could go outside, could film from above and below, could go close and far away.

Computers created the video game. The internet has created ARGs. Whether they're a new artform or a kind of cool thing that someone has done that will disappear in a few years is hard to say. But it's exciting as all hell to be at the beginning of what might be a new art form. And the pay is a lot better than novels. It's hard and sometimes frustrating and the hours are long (hence my post about sleep.)

I don't want to give up novels, of course. Still, although I have possible publishers for a new novel, my career is not exactly exploding. I watch the careers of some of my fellow writers implode and I am aware that the future might be difficult. The fun thing about working on ARGs is that it is work with a group. Many hands come together to create the ARG. It's difficult to point at a piece of writing on Last Call Poker and say, 'that's mine,' because the process is so collaborative. That's fun and challenging and cool.

On the other hand, I didn't become a novelist because I like working with large groups of people. Just the opposite. Some part of me really likes being by myself, doing my little thing.

But the world has handed me this opportunity and I've decided to seize the day. And then I get word that based on Mothers & Other Monsters, a couple of major mainstream publishing houses want to know if I'm working a novel.

Yes, at last. I can write sf in such a way that it transcends the expectations of genre. I can do with sf what Le Carre does with the spy novel. I have spent years hoping and working for this. I like the work of other people who do this; people like Jonathan Lethem, Michael Chabon, Dan Chaon and Jonathan Safran Foer. And especially Kelly Link, who is such an artist. I like that life, the life of art, the pursuit of technique and craft in the service of something inexplicable. But I have this new art form that requires me to work enormous hours and demands that I give it my all. But I have the opportunity to reach a goal I set for myself twenty years ago.

So I'm working on BabyGoth to deliver a proposal to a couple of houses at the first of the year. It's very possible that both of them will turn it down. I'm not committing to anything. I'm just...exploring the options, you know?

Of course, I'm tickled beyond words to have too much good fortune. Stressed. Afraid I'll make the wrong decision. Strike while the iron is hot. Too many irons in the fire. I expect no sympathy.

Friday, November 25, 2005


I dragged Adam out to do errands with me Tuesday.

I could say I was doing it to bond, but the truth is, I mostly wanted to give him a hard time because he didn't go to bed until 4:00 a.m. I am aware that young adults are hardwired to stay awake late at night and sleep late. Lord knows, I don't get up at the crack of dawn myself. (I sleep A LOT. I explained to Bob that I could either stay up as late as he does or wake up with him, his choice. He opted for company in the evening.) I have a secret fear that the world's artists and highly successful people all sleep five hours a night, and that my tendancy to sleep nine hours a night means I am finally second-rate. I tell myself that Proust spent a lot of time in bed, but of course he was an asthmatic insomniac so who knows how many hours he actually slept.

I'm pretty sure Shakespeare was a five-six hour a night dude.

I am somewhat obsessed with sleep. Both because I hate to be tired and because I both never get enough of it and often feel I spend too much time doing it. I have a skittish relationship with sleep. Not a fullblown sleep disturbance insomnia relationship. I am not like a friend of mine who, as he feels more anxious over, say, work deadlines, finds that he wakes up earlier and earlier until he wakes up at 3:30 in the morning and waits until his coworkers wake up so he can call them. But I never go right to sleep at night. I'm better than when I was younger when it always took me an hour to go to sleep, but I'd say I never go to sleep in less than 15 minutes and usually take longer. I have had early morning wakefullness. I sometimes fall into a pattern where for four or five days I will wake every night between three and four and lie there for a couple of hours before going back to sleep.

Mostly though, it is the promise of sleep that is so double-edged for me. I like to sleep. It's safe and comfortable to be in bed. But when I am sleeping I'm obviously not doing something else, like composing a major work on sleep. Karl Marx wrote the Communist Manifesto at night.

"Sleep that knits up the ravell'd sleeve of care,
The death of each day's life, sore labour's bath,
Balm of hurt minds, great nature's second course,
Chief nourisher in life's feast--"

How much sleep do you need? (I am particularly interested in hearing from geniuses but will be delighted with reports from mere mortals like myself.)

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Hidden Kitchens & Blogs

Bob came into my office last night and told me that he'd read my blog entry and then, on a whim, he clicked on that button at the top right of the screen that said 'next blog' and just surfed. He found blogs in other languages, blogs about people's kids, blogs by angst-ridden college students. It reminded him, he said, of the early days of the web, when nobody quite knew what to do with a webpage and so people would have a bit about themselves, a bit about their hobbies ('I brew my own beer' or 'I love to garden'.) Then they'd have a list of cool links. Before Yahoo, other people's links were about the only way to find your way around the web.* Yahoo was just a page of searchable links on a grand scale. Then came alta vista and all the search engines and eventually google.

Yeah, I remembered. I remembered that there were pages that were just links. There was even a slang term for those pages, which I've since forgotten. Something disparaging. I went surfing off to other people's blogs, reading a little, surfing. Ever so often I'd come to a blog that didn't have the little button, so I'd back up, and hit the 'next blog' button on the previous site and get a new blog. All of the 'next blog' sites had an entry dated November 17, so I suppose they are selected based on that.

Interesting and obvious things. A lot of blogs are, well, boring. A lot of the time they're boring for the same reason that eavesdropping on conversations is interesting at first but then becomes boring. No context. Really successful blogs are hooked into some sort of community. Really successful blogs create a community. As I write this I think about the people who are going to read it--Mad, and Greg and Chris and David and Tom and all of you. And Bob. (Especially Bob.) A lot of my good friends don't read blogs, just like a lot of my good friends don't have any connection to the writing community. But one circle of friends in my life comes from a circle of blogs.

Which brings me to Hidden Kitchens, a book I'm reading. (Recommended by Tom, thanks Tom.) It's about communities formed by food and cooking. I thought it would be a cookbook, and it has recipes, but it really isn't very much of a cookbook. It's by The Kitchen Sisters from NPR. It's full of weird pockets of community. Church Burgoo fundraisers in Kentucky. The George Foreman grill and it's affect on the poor and homeless. Turns out the George Foreman grill is a boon to someone on the economic edge. Poor people often live without kitchens--in SROs (single room occupancy) and residence hotels. If you don't have a kitchen, a George Foreman grill is an amazing appliance. It is small, you can put it under your bed if you're not supposed to cook in your room. Often three or four people will chip in and make meals together on someone's George Foreman grill.

I wasn't a fan of the George Foreman grill. A Foreman grill is an electric grill with a slanted cook surface. Slap a chicken breast or a hamburger on the grill, close the lid and it cooks, leaving rather attractive grill marks on the surface of your food. But the cook surface is slanted so that when it cooks, the fat drips down to the front of the grill. This reduces calories, but it also leaves you with rather dry and tasteless meat. (Let me add here that I am not a fan of boneless skinless chicken breasts, either. Bones give flavor. As does skin. If you're concerned about calories, cook with the skin on and then take the skin off before you eat it. You'll have a few more calories, but a lot more taste.)

But if the George Foreman grill is giving migrant workers a way to make dinner, I'm all for it.

In my head, there is some strange connection between blogs and George Foreman grills. Something about community and the street finding its own uses. Bill Gibson's intersticial spaces and community. But it's a bit obvious in one sense (community! the moment I type the word a complex social network of interactions gets reduced to a political buzzword) and a strained one in another sense. Sure, blogs sometimes create community and George Foreman grills sometimes create community but the truth is, humans tend to build social networks on the flimsiest of premises. Beani Baby collectors. Sports fans. The fact is I was thinking about these two things at the same time so they became intertwined.

But guess what, I found a blog post about the grill! So it is intertwined.

*Even before that was gofer (gopher?) holes, an ancient search protocol. But that was when I very first started on the web and Patrick Nielsen Hayden talked about 'all the gofer holes in the world'.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005


Let me start by saying I am not a workaholic. If I were, I would not have watched near as much Discovery channel as I have. (And would not, for instance, have recognized the source of Dan Chaon's story in progress about the two headed baby.) Hodgkins just made that a legitimate lifestyle choice--I was sick, of course I watched television.

When I was sick for six months, a lot of my life just sort of slipped. Things got put off, like working for a living. I didn't write much besides the blog. I spent a lot of time checking other people's blogs. I read The New Yorker the moment it hit the mailbox. My only real goal was to go to Taos in May and even that got dicey when an infection delayed my chemo. I flew to Taos less than a week after my last treatment. I love writer's workshops. They're a lot of fun. They're also some work. After that I came home and got the freelance job I've been doing since then. By August I was working seven days a week, more than sixty hours a week.

I said in a previous post that both cancer and this job functioned a little like heroin addiction. They each became my life. When I started the work, still easily tired from chemo, being able to do the work became a full time job. Everything was about work. The balance of sleep versus the balance of work. Dishes--forget it, if I did dishes, I would be able to work less. Decisions were simple. Work was the house on fire. The important thing was to put out the fire. Worry about the aluminium siding later.

In some ways it was very hard, but it was also oddly simplifying.

Now the project is coming close to an end. I am a better Texas Hold'em player and even maybe a better writer. But I have also changed a bit in the last year. Awareness of mortality and all that. I worry about odd things. I cleaned out the linen closet because I have a sudden desire to see things in better case.

I'm a chronic depressive but I haven't been particularly depressed--in the clinical sense--in the last year. My therapist said that a big component of my depression was anxiety. Always scanning the perimeter, so to speak, waiting for something awful. The awful thing happened (not so awful, actually, but at times it felt awful.) So in an odd way, I could relax. Everything was simple. Lymphoma, work, everything simple.

What will happen when I don't have work to make all the decisions so simple? When the Titanic is no longer sinking and not only do the engines have to work, the hull remain water tight, and icebergs be avoided, but dinner has to be served and the deck chairs have to be arranged in a pleasing pattern? I'm wondering if I've got some pent up adjustment to go through? I'm hoping not. I'm hoping that while I was working, some part of my brain was adjusting to the new world order of mortality. (We're all mortal, just now I know it better.) One thing I can pretty much gaurantee, I'm not significantly wiser than I was a year ago. Which is kind of a good thing, actually. I'd like to be wise, but sometimes wisdom is expensive. I'd rather be happy.

In any event, I've been doing a bit of cooking and baking over the last three or four days, and tonight I've got some bananas that have past their peek of freshness, as it were. I think I'll make banana bread. And the frosting I made Sunday night? To die for.

Chocolate buttercream. Real pastry chef stuff. Coolest frosting I've EVER made. Bob thinks so too.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

A Quandry

Funny how strange it felt at the oncologist office. Some small part of me wanted to still be part. It's the same part of me that when I hear someone speaking a foreign language wishes I spoke that language.

But while I'm more than willing to learn a foreign language, I really don't want to be part of the oncology inner circle.

But here's my quandry. I have this blog called 'Hodgkins & Me' but I don't feel that I have much to say about Hodgkins. So what do I do, start a new blog and update it irregularly? (My life is, thank God, pretty uninteresting these days. And when I do something interesting, it's for business and covered by Non-disclosure agreements.) Do I keep this blog and ignore the name?

I spent some time yesterday catching up on other people's blogs. That was fun.

Today I'm waiting for Kelly Link and Gavin Grant to arrive. My publishers! I guess having one's publishers to dinner could be nervewracking, but Kelly and Gavin were friends first and mostly I'm just excited about vegetarian lasagna and pumpkin pie. And much much book talk! Kelly and Gavin always know about books that I haven't heard of. Over the years Kelly has given me some extraordinary books, the most recent being I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. I suspect this is a total XX chromosome book, but it's charmins and smart. In a way it reminds me of Shirley Jackson although it is not dark the way Jackson is dark. When I was in college one of my most favorite books was We Have Always Lived in the Castle. And I can still recite the doggeral that followed Merrycat down the street.

"Merrycat," said Constance, "would you like a cup of tea?"
"Oh no," said Merrycat, "you'll poison me."
"Merrycat," said Constance, "would you like to go to sleep?
Down in the graveyard, six feet deep?"

Anyway, blog suggestions welcome. Now I've got to go to work for a bit and then make a pumpkin pie.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Check ups and Updates

I've been working my brains out. I was at the Austin Game Developer's Conference in Austin Texas speaking as a writer. It was pretty amazing. I can't even play first person shooters because I get motion sick and I can't operate the controls on an X-Box because I'm old and here I was talking to a ballroom that was standing room only about writing in games. Four days in Austin and I never heard any music. I saw the airport, the Hyatt and the convention center. I ate at one Tex-Mex place. Otherwise, I worked.

But I have a breather and Bob said, 'Update your blog.'

I went for a check-up on Halloween. Everything is great. No lumps, no bumps, no signs of disease. And I got a flu shot. Turns out that people who have Hodgkins or once had Hodgkins always have mildly compromised immune systems. Dr. Schnur explained that this doesn't seem to be related to treatment. So flu shots forever.

When I was getting treated, I hated going to the oncologist, of course. For a couple of months afterward, when I would see a Cleveland Clinic sign on a building (and there are a lot of outposts of the Cleveland Clinic in the Greater Cleveland area) I would feel mild nausea. But on the other hand, when I was at the doctor's office, I was an insider. I knew a lot about how things worked. I had opinions about my veins and about whether popsicles or ice chips were better when you were getting certain chemo drugs. I knew all the nurses, of course, and I had my favorites. In the waiting room I would see people with hair and an attitude of brittle calm and I would know that they were here to discuss how bad and what next. I got good at telling when people were wearing wigs (first and most obviously clue, check for the presence or absence of eyebrows.)

This time I came in and I wasn't part of it anymore. I'm not sick anymore. I'm still often tired. I still have a bit of neuropathy. I'm changed. I'm making decisions differently now. (Now I know that some day I'm going to die, and I'm doing risk/benefit analysis--should I put this trip off or do it now? Do clothes really matter? Maybe shoes?)

But I'm not sick anymore.

I used to have Hodgkins. It's possible that I will relapse. But I'm not sick anymore.

I guess I've left Planet Cancer and come back home.