Sunday, October 28, 2007

Fall Cleaning

Bob and I spent today vacuuming and scrubbing and dusting. We took some of the rugs out to air them out. It always feels so good to clean the house. My mother cleaned a little every day, a someone said, "A floor and a chore." In retrospect it's amazing that my mother was a single mother who worked a full week, and still always had a clean house and a social life.) In fact, the people I know who keep impeccable houses I suspect of cleaning a little every day. Me, I tend to clean in a couple of days. But I've been on the road a lot. So today Bob and I pitched in. The windows are open and the house smells good.

What is it about cleaning? I've noticed that Miyazaki, the Japanese film maker, seems to have a thing for cleaning and putting things in order. In Howl's Moving Castle, Spirited Away, even My Neighbor Totoro, there are scenes of cleaning, cleansing, making things sparkle. It's a sign of goodness in his characters that they bring order. (In the gospel story of Mary and Martha, I suspect Miyazaki's sympathy would be with Martha, the sister who gets chided for waiting and cleaning and preparing instead of listening to Jesus. Mine certainly is.)

Anyway, I now have a false sense that life is somehow orderly. Tomorrow I am back at the airport to travel for work and I suspect that the airport, as always, will dash that illusion. But for now, life seems earned and safe.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Hey, Is This Thing On?

I've tried to add an RSS feed. Is it working?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Adopt a Marine! Project Redux

Last year we instituted the Adopt a Marine! Project because Adam's friend Jason was deployed in Iraq. Jason is back and out of the Marine Corps. He's going to college in northern California and life is pretty good.

But his unit (2nd Recon) is back in Iraq. This time they'll be there for the holidays. Even if Jason isn't there, I still feel as if they're kind of our guys. Jason got me the names and addresses of the guys in the 2nd Recon Battalion and once again, I'm asking anyone who is interested to contact me and I'll send you a name and address.

What do you do? You get a box and fill it with cool stuff—magazines, books, video games (they’ve got all the consoles) DVDs, CDs, toys, time wasters, not very perishable food (chocolate and things that melt, alas, don’t ship well, although my box of vanilla wafers and jar of Nutella shipped just find, thank you. And apparently Nutella vanilla wafer sandwiches are pretty damn good. And Jason swears nothing keeps you awake on patrol like wasabi peas.)

When you have a box of stuff, you seal it up, take it to the post office, explain that it’s going to Iraq and fill out a custom’s form. (Keep track of what you put in the box, okay?) Then you send it off. It takes you a little time. And then you get to feel pretty good about yourself. And every time you see one of those stupid ‘Support The Troops’ yellow ribbons on the back of a car, you can have a moment of insufferable superiority knowing that you do a lot more than just buying a magnet.

They guys aren’t so great at writing back. But I have it on reliable authority that the packages do make a difference. And the magazines, books, CDs, DVDs, and games that we send stay in the common room and lots and lots of people use them.

Jason said that the boxes were a big hit. The guys never knew that they were coming, and there it would be, a box out of the blue. It can't make up for spending Christmas in Iraq, but it's got to be better than nothing.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Sign On the Wall, Austin

So they claim.

Monday, October 22, 2007


On Sunday morning I wrote:

In Chicago in a beautiful hotel waiting for breakfast. Mom has had a heart attack and at this time they don't know if she'll continue to decline or stabilize.

I suspect that this might be a kind of cascade failure from an infection no one knew she had--the decline in the last few months, that fall, the sepsis, the heart attack.

Cascade failure. The engineer's nightmare. The famous blackout of 1965 was caused by cascading failure. Cascade failures start with one small, seemingly non-catastrophic event, but the event happens at a place of hidden vulnerability and it causes something a little larger which ripples outward. Dominoes falling. For want of a nail the shoe was lost. For want of a shoe the horse was lost. For want of a horse the rider was lost...

This morning she was sitting up and the nurse said she was doing well, in no apparent discomfort. She seems to have some trouble chewing, but she was to be evaluated by a therapist today. What does this mean, we ask the medical staff. They tell us test results. EKGs, enzymes. Blood results. They say she is 92. They do not say that they don't know, but the truth is, they don't know. How fierce this rear guard action, the obstinate processes. We wait to see.

Sunday, October 21, 2007


Yesterday tests showed that my mother has a systemic infection--a mild case of sepsis. So last night they admitted her to the hospital so they could put her on IV antibiotics. She had already started responding to oral antibiotics, so I think that IV antibiotics will probably make her feel much better pretty quickly.

I am far away again. My nephew (her grandson) will be there today. I know that hospitals are used to admitting people who come in by themselves, but I only wish I had been there to be with her. I hate to think of her going to the hospital alone.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Clear Pale Blue of Autumn

I will miss this sky and these colors when I am back in Texas. But I can't wait to see my tall blue-eyed man at the airport.

Saw my mother this morning before hitting the road again. She is much better, even after only a day of antibiotics. And tomorrow, my nephew will check on her.

I said to my mother, I'm going to take your picture.

She was a little tired, and sometimes sad, but mostly she smiled to see me. I felt bad leaving her. I am learning how hard we fight to stay alive, the desperate processes of enzymes, cells, blood, muscle and bone.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Burned Over District

There is no experience more American and more unambiguous than the road.

Somewhere in Ohio today, traveling for work, I stopped for breakfast at a Cracker Barrel. I had stopped not only because I was hungry—no dinner last night because I was over thirty hours without more than two hours sleep—but because Carol King’s “You’re So Far Away” had come on the radio and caught me unaware and tearing up. I will blame low blood sugar but the truth is the last five weeks have been a roller coaster of emotional blows and intense intellectual engagement in work and I suspect I’m just vulnerable.

I ordered unsweetened ice tea from a skinny white girl with a hoarse voice who treated me with brusque good will."You ready to order, sister?” she asked. As I was leaving she asked me if I wanted ice tea to go. “You take care, sister,” she said, as if I had stumbled out of the freeways of central Ohio into a land of old time Methodists. A place where religion ran just under the surface, like the Burned Over District of the 1800's. I am not a religious person, but I was obscurely comforted by that sister.

I am on the road again. But I took this assignment because it would allow me to check on my mother and I managed to stop long enough in Cleveland to see her. She was vastly changed from only a week before. The nursing home was already checking on it and they got back the lab results that said she has a UTI, a urinary tract infection. The nurse thinks that explains her increased confusion and over-all change. I hope so. I can't be here long enough to find out but other family members are coming to check on her. On the road.

I know the road is a place that calls a lot of people. I am afraid it has few calls for me. I am missing home. I'll be there Sunday night.

You take care, sister. Or brother.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Bones and Ash

Bob and I flew to Cleveland last week and while we were there, we went out to Tinker's Creek and had a private moment about the old dog. The path that runs along there is as familiar to me as my back yard. From my front door to the middle school and back is three miles, and it was a walk that the Golden Retriever and I made regularly. She scared me to death one time, plunging into the creek in zero degree weather chasing a goose. (The water runs fast enough it rarely ever completely freezes.) She came to my call, but her coat froze while she was standing there. She was happy, panting, smiling that Golden Retriever smile. Far from hurt.

We scattered ashes in the creek and felt sad. No one gave a sermon. The creek made creek noises. It was sweet and private. I thought to myself that this felt a lot better and more appropriate than most of the funerals I've attended.

Then we walked back in the fall sunlight, the leaves just starting to turn, and drove to the airport to head home. We were at the airport when I learned that my mother had fallen and they thought she had broken her hip. They had called the ambulance and she was at Bedford Hospital.

It is all uncertainty at those moments. Part of the problem of emergencies and not knowing what to do. but we found the only rental car agency that had a car (thanks to the guy at the Dollar Rental who called every other desk in the airport until he found someone with a car.) We drove to the hospital. We made ill-informed decisions about how long we might stay and what to do. We sat in the ER. My mother was not too uncomfortable, but her dementia is getting pretty advanced.

"Are you sleepy?" I asked, after several hours.

"If they have just small, as you around," she said, "that's okay."

She is doing amazingly well for a 92 year old woman with dementia who has broken her hip. She is in a rehabilitation program in a nursing home right now. It's the best nursing home money can buy. It's part of the same complex where she lived in assisted living for nine years and there are familiar faces there. But it's a nursing home. And now that there are more choices for the elderly, now that there are places where elderly people can live in apartments and have van drive them to the grocery and the drug store, or they can live in assisted living, the nursing home has become even more the haunt of old, silent, frail people in wheelchairs. It is a place where people go before they die.

The prognosis for a 92 year old woman with a broken hip is not good. 36% of people 85 or older die within a year of a hip fracture from within 12 months--pneumonia and blood clot are the risks. My mother doesn't understand what they are asking her to do. Move your left leg, they tell her. She doesn't know left from right. She knows that she doesn't want to move things. She says no. But they flex her leg, and they get her up. She likes to sit in a chair and she hates being in bed.

"I can't get up," she tells me, perplexed.

Death on TV and the movies is usually quick. But deaths can take hours, or days, or weeks or months. Sitting for six hours in an ER with someone who doesn't understand changed my understanding of things. I cannot protect her from fear, from age, from pain. I've have had a charmed life, I have hid from death for most of it. It is a death haunted world we live in.

I walked into her hospital room on Thursday and she looked up at me and said, "I've had enough. Let's go."

I only wish we could.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Entropy, Up CLose and Personal

Last week Bob and I snuck into Cleveland--me to see my mom and Bob to see the results of an engineering pilot of some parts. We did our things on Friday, and Saturday, having told almost no one we town, we headed back for the Akron-Canton airport. We were pulling into the airport when we got the call from the Assisted Living place where my mom lives. My mother had fallen, and possibly broken her hip.

She is 92 and has pretty advanced dementia. Her hip was broken. And they had to do surgery on Monday to put a pin in her hip. Dementia can be temporarily or permanently acerbated by general anesthesia but they were able to do the surgery with a spinal block and a sedative. They've kept her for several days to make sure that she is stable (she came in with an irregular heart beat and she's anemic.) I got her into a rehab nursing home run by the same people who run her assisted living. Cleaned out her old room. She won't be going back to the assisted living--her dementia had reached the point where they were keeping her there even though it might not have been appropriate because they liked her and now she will probably never walk well enough again. She is doing as well as can be expected right now for a 92 year old woman with a hip fracture.

It has been a long week.

Friday, October 05, 2007

More on Not Science Fiction.

URSULA K. LE GUIN reviews Jeanette Winterson's _The Stone Gods_: 'It's odd to find characters in a science-fiction novel repeatedly announcing that they hate science fiction. I can only suppose that JeanetteWinterson is trying to keep her credits as a "literary" writer even as she openly commits genre. Surely she's noticed that everybody is writingscience fiction now? Formerly deep-dyed realists are producing novels sofull of the tropes and fixtures and plotlines of science fiction thatonly the snarling tricephalic dogs who guard the Canon of Literature cantell the difference. I certainly can't. Why bother? I am bothered, though, by the curious ingratitude of authors who exploit a common fund of imagery while pretending to have nothing to do with the fellow-authors who created it and left it open to all who want to use it. A littlereturn generosity would hardly come amiss.'

Jeanette Winterson has skirted fantasy in the past. The Passion had Venician gondola men who could walk on water, in a world that drew on the conventions of fairy tales.

Her latest novel, Tanglewreck is about time travel, time storms, and a young girl with a quest. It sounds as if it could be wonderful and I'm looking forward to reading it. The American Library Association's summery reads in part: "Time has become unpredictable; "time tornadoes" are picking up school buses and depositing wooly mammoths on the banks of the Thames. Eleven-year-old Silver lives in a sprawling manse, Tanglewreck, with her greedy guardian. One day evil Abel Darkwater visits Tanglewreck in search of a timekeeper that he insists belonged to Silver's father, who, with his wife and other daughter, has disappeared. Silver has no idea what he's talking about, but Darkwater isn't convinced. He imprisons her in his clock-filled London home, where he plans to keep her until she tells him what he wants to know. She's rescued by Gabriel, a strange boy from a clan that has made its home beneath London for more than a century."

Winterson is adamant that it's not science fiction. Of course, she's right. It's fantasy. I'd love to hear Jeanette Winterson enter the debate on the difference between fantasy and sf. I'm sick to death of the debate, but I'd be willing to entertain it again in this case.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Almost Forgot--ARG Seminar

Oh yeah, I'm going to talk about ARGs tomorrow.

It's possible that in twenty years, not knowing what an ARG is will be like not knowing what a video game is today. Or maybe not. Progress is like that.

(New technologies spawn new art forms: the moving picture camera spawned the movies and the computer spawned computer games. Now out of the Internet is coming ARGs where the game enters your life, characters call you on your cell phone and your actions can shape the form the game takes. Maureen McHugh talks about what these are and how in a few years, these may become as important to the next generation as video games are to this one.)

Wednesday, Oct 3. The seminar is from 7pm to 9pm, in room 201.0 at ACC’s Highland Business Center.

Contemplating the remodel

Last December we had just moved and I was broke. I applied for temp work and didn't get a call back and worried and wondered about money.

Early in the year, I wrote some stories, made a little money, got a little bit of freelance work. We're not broke in the large scheme, just in the day to day scheme, if you know what I mean. Then I wrote a novel proposal, sent it off, got a big, fun freelance gig, and now I have a seventy hour a week freelance job and a novel proposal to revise. I've got money!

I just don't have time to spend it.

Isn't that always the case?

But when I do spend it, I'm thinking of remodeling the bathroom. Friends of mine just remodeled their bathroom and it looks great. (At least in the video they sent me. I consider stuff like that to be the equivalent of porn. I was pathetically grateful that they sent it to me.) I've got all sorts of cool ideas, including a way to bring natural light into the most tornado proof room in our house. But everything I read about remodeling informs me that it doesn't have to be a horrible experience.

Everything I read.

Which is a little like when someone says, 'This won't hurt a bit.' Or my favorite, 'Remain calm.' The moment someone tells you to 'remain calm' you know you are screwed.

Maybe I should just get a wii and play Zelda and leave the bathroom as is. Just as soon as I have time.