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Archive for September, 2015

There comes a time in everyone’s life when you hit a certain age and are immediately declared a walking state of emergency by the medical industry. Doesn’t matter how perfectly you eat, how often you exercise, or how good you really feel, you tell your doctor that particular age and he’ll automatically assume you’re about to fall apart at the seams that particular second. While statistics may have some influence on the doctor’s thinking, I have never in my entire life registered on the normal part of the bell curve, so I don’t see any reason to start now. One size doesn’t always fit all. Least of all me.

Now here’s where I’m going to commit social media suicide – I just had my 54th birthday. That’s right, one year away from being able to use the senior menu at Denny’s. I’m sure some of you out there have just had a heart attack. Especially my mother, who’s convinced I’m only 46 because for me to be any older would mean she is, too, and we just can’t have that. Sorry, Mom, but as long as I’m fighting mental health stigmas, fat shaming, and bad writing, I might as well take on ageism, too.

Of course, this may well mean I’ll NEVER get anywhere further than this here blog because an OLD person can’t possibly write anything entertaining or meaningful, let alone sellable, amiright? America is so obsessed with youth, we’re willing to throw away decades of experience, insight, knowledge, and wisdom just because of a number.

As my friends in the UK say: Bugger off, ya wankers!

Seriously, it’s really just a number. No more meaningful than how many politicians claim they’re telling us the truth. As a society, we have rules we all must follow just so we can function. Some of those rules include age requirements because of what the statistics have shown us: must be at least 16 to get a driver’s license, 18 to vote, or 21 to drink. On the average, I understand why we have those kinds of rules. But we all know at least one person who should never be allowed behind the wheel of a car, or in the ballet box or anywhere near alcohol, and their age has nothing to do with it. And then there’s the disconnect of 18-year-olds risking their lives for us in the military, but we can’t buy them a beer to thank them until they’re nearly old enough to retire. Sometimes that broad brush just doesn’t work.

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When I turned 30 my friends gave me a surprise party. It included black balloons, sympathy cards, and a headstone on the cake. Everybody kept telling me I didn’t look 30, and I wondered what 30 was supposed to look like.

My 40th birthday was just days after 9/11 so the atmosphere was somewhat somber. But it’s still my best birthday because my husband proposed that day. If you stop living your life normally, the terrorists win.

When my 50th birthday came around, my doctor handed me about four pages worth of tests he wanted me to do. Yup, that’s the age, folks. The big 5 – 0. Your warranty is up, and it’s now time to feed the medical machine. Of course, being female, I had already experienced a variety of embarrassing indignities for the sake of my health. Nothing like being a fat woman with your legs up in the stirrups and a doctor telling you to say “Ahhh” as he turns on the bright light. Not funny, dude. Seriously.

But I quickly found out that there is something in life even worse than comedic gynecologists. It’s called intestinal prep and you get to chug it before a colonoscopy. Saying it tastes like warm phlegm would be a compliment. And there’s a gallon of it. Don’t believe them when they tell you it will taste better chilled – they lie. Every fifteen minutes you have to down a cup of the stuff until it’s gone. Within about thirty minutes, your toilet will be your best friend for the night. Forget the book, take a pillow – you won’t be able to concentrate well enough to recite your name, let alone read. The stuff does what it’s meant to do with great enthusiasm. After three days of modified diet, clear liquids, and the prep, you’ll be looking forward to the test just for the sedatives. And it is definitely a case of the prep being far worst than the test.

But, when the time comes, GO TAKE THE FUCKING TEST! My husband had to have a colonoscopy as part of finding out why he was so anemic. Besides the source of his blood loss, they also found polyps – the type that would have become cancerous in a few more years. A day of prep – miserable. An hour under sedation – whatever, duuuude… A life without cancer – priceless! And I hear the prep solution is getting better. My husband was at least able to add about a pound of Crystal Light Lemonade to each cup of solution to help it go down. I guess he’s cuter than me, because the nurses never gave me that option. Bitches…

So I spent Monday in medical facilities getting my annual tests done and some pre-op stuff for the cataract surgery next month. I proved I’m not really a full vampire because I didn’t burst into flames under sunlight and the EKG actually showed a perfectly functioning heart. Also, the vampires at the lab got some very nice red blood out of my arm. Then my “vast tracks of land” were smooshed into pancakes and irradiated just to prove no aliens were in development. I may be a silver-haired obese depressive, but there are people half my age that would kill for my test results.

Still not on the bell curve. Take that, ya wankers!

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Every writer has a voice. And not just the kind you talk with. Each writer puts their ideas on the page in a manner unique to them. It’s more than just grammar and punctuation. It’s a signature of that individual so distinct that no matter what they may write – be it fiction or non-fiction or thank you notes – the reader will recognize them without benefit of knowing their name.

Some voices are manic and dis-jointed. Others are lyrical, playing with each word like they were savoring a fine chocolate. There’s conversational, scientific, journalistic, slang-filled, jargon-fueled, paranoid, and robotic. There are as many voices as there are writers. Stephen King and J.K. Rowling are just two examples of popular authors who have the kind of following and careers most of us can only fantasize about because they developed distinctive voices readers want to experience over and over again.

I don’t need to be followed and recognized at that level. Hell, I don’t even want that kind of responsibility. But I do want to be successful with my writing. I want more readers than just family and friends. I’d love to walk into any bookstore and see my titles on the shelves, or click on Amazon and see my creations with good reviews and placement somewhere above that crazy personal sovereignty guy from Idaho. I don’t need to be rich, I just need to be read.

But how do you do that? Especially in today’s world which seems to be ninety-nine percent white noise garbage and half-a-percent meh. How does anyone break into that remaining half-a-percent that’s good? Writer’s Digest has some words from literary agent Donald Maass on the subject here. In a nutshell he says: be yourself.

Screaming purple minion
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Really? But what if nobody likes you? Worse yet – what if you don’t like yourself? Stuff like that comes out in your writing no matter how hard you try to avoid it. Your subconscious is the root of your writing, and if it isn’t playing the same game as you, it will show up on the page. Nobody wants to be with a whiney depressive all the time (Woody Allen aside), just like that bouncy, flouncy, fun-fun-fun kind of writer gets old after awhile, too. Being yourself in the midst of literally millions of others being themselves makes for one gigantic headache.

And as writers are trying to break out of the crowd and gather up readers, the readers are wading through a neck-deep swamp of words trying to find that one voice they connect with. It’s a giant game of hide-n-seek with a needle and a haystack. It seems virtually impossible to succeed. When you believe it is impossible, you’re done.

Because nothing is truly impossible. If we really believed that, we’d never have discovered the cure for polio, traveled faster than sound, or landed men on the moon. There are things that are highly IMPROBABLE – to the point of being functionally impossible – but don’t ever count yourself out.

That’s why I’m still here. While I’m disappointed that I don’t have a better following, I realize it’s probably because of my maudlin depressive bullshit. Nobody wants to read that day after day – not even me. But I can still be me without wallowing in that mudhole. I can still give you a perspective on writing, cats, politics, chocolate, science, bourbon, and hairy men you won’t get anywhere else. If you’re already reading me – thanks. And sorry. 😉

If you’re new to my page, welcome. Let me introduce myself – I’m Patient Zero. In a good way.

There’s more than one way to get noticed in a crowd…

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Yesterday was my birthday so I decided to be an even bigger slug than usual. I did manage to do the dishes and clean the cat box, because some things just have to be done (especially the cat box – my, he is productive!). But the rest of the day I spent killing things on the computer and ignoring any possible semblance of responsibility. Yeah, I know, I’ve been doing a lot of that lately. The battle between my depression, my intellect, and my inherent laziness is a constant war. And like all wars, the people (i.e., me) – regardless of affiliation – are the losers.

The lists of what I should be doing seem endless. And maybe that’s why I keep ignoring them. I look at the whole thing and get overwhelmed. So many projects, so little discipline. And it is a discipline problem, not a motivational one. If people – especially creative types – waited until they had proper motivation, nothing would ever be created. (Premier Penmonkey and newest Star Wars author Chuck Wendig has his latest rant on the topic here.)

I used to be disciplined. I was that student who always did her homework first, practiced my music diligently, kept my room tidy, and wrote every day. There was a time when I set my sights on a goal and nothing would stop me achieving it. Straight A’s? – Boom, no problem. All-State Band? In the bag. Get into the college I wanted? Never any doubt. Write a novel? Hah! – here’s a whole trilogy! (Not in the least bit good, but it’s written.) My life was organized and on track for what I wanted it to be.

Somewhere along the line, something happened. Nothing that can be pinpointed, no one event that sent things careening off track. Just a gradual slide down the hill of life until you hit the bottom of a rut and wonder how you ended up there. Choices made that weren’t necessarily the best. Allowing fear to control instead of hope. And any modicum of self-confidence that might be had, beaten into a bloody pulp by soul-sucking jobs and self-serving co-workers and oblivious bosses. Eventually that rut looks mighty comfy. It’s safe in there. Dark and cool and consistent. You keep your head down because peeking out will only get you run over. Just keep trudging, kid – there’s no end in sight, but at least you know what you’re dealing with.

And it doesn’t help me that the last few years have been spent almost entirely in crisis mode: hospital visits, car accidents, bankruptcy. Can’t think about next week, let alone the dreams and desires, because we have to take care of this BIG DEAL right NOW! You get numb pretty quick. You retreat even further into your little rut. You think about smoothing out the bottom a little, maybe putting up some curtains, because you sure as hell ain’t coming out anymore so might as well like what you’re wallowing in. Friends aren’t allowed because you don’t want them to see you “this way.” Family is told everything is fine because they’re at the other end of the state and can’t check you on your bullshit. And your spouse slowly collapses into the trap with you, and you both become automatons in your dark little ditch, trudging along like mules before the plow because there’s nothing else you know.

Yeah, cheery, ain’t it? It’s easy to make that determination when you’re on the outside looking in. But it’s so very difficult when you’re down there in the dark. Life is status quo. You have your routines. You pay your bills according to which cut-off notice is next. You live in your pajamas because what’s the point in changing when you never leave the house. Sleep, eat, lose yourself in the magic box on your desk. There’s no real expenditure of effort. The boundaries are known, the results predictable. You survive.

But that’s all you do.

It’s said that the first step to recovery is recognizing you have a problem. Most people never get even that far. And those that do often never get any further. It takes effort to make changes. It takes thinking outside the rut and putting forth energy not used in ages. It takes risks and unknowns and – most rare and difficult of all – faith in yourself. You look at how far it is to the top and are convinced you’ll never make it. How could you possibly do all that climbing when it takes everything you have just to put one foot in front of the other down there in your nice, deep, endless rut. Not to mention all the crazy, fear-mongering wackos that await anyone who sticks their head out, playing whack-a-mole with their zealous, bigoted, prejudicial rhetoric useful only for pounding us back into our hidey-holes and being afraid.

Let me tell you a little secret: don’t worry about any of that. All you need is one step, just one step to start. Focus on building one perfect, decorative, level, supportive step. Plan it, build it, admire it. You’ll soon come to realize it’s all alone and needs a friend. So you’ll build a second step. Then a third and a forth and a fifth, and on until you finally – Surprise! – breach the top. And you’ll be so strong by the time you get there, nothing will bother you. No war-mongering politicians. No apocalyptic doomsayers. No too-big-to-fail corporations.

It won’t be easy or quick, but it beats living forever in the dark.

My first step is to fix my attitude. Attitude is everything. If your attitude is crappy, so is your life. I have to stop looking at the whole picture and being overwhelmed, and focus on just one thing – finding something good in every day. Doesn’t have to be big or shiny or popular. It just has to bring a spark of positive to your energy. Today my good thing was a snoozing cat in my lap. And that’s enough to keep me going until tomorrow.

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Rabbit Hole

This past weekend was the Labor Day Holiday here in the US. My husband and I enjoyed another of our historical weekends with about 500 of our closest friends at a park in the high desert. While the temperatures were quite nice (relatively speaking – it was ONLY in the high 80’s F – which translates to still too fucking hot for me), the winds were relentless all weekend. Gusts up to 40mph, with a steady stream around 20-25mph. It’s amazing how fast that wears thin.

So the combination of heat and wind wore me out a little more than usual. I’ve spent the days since trying to be productive and finding myself wandering aimlessly from one task to the next. Last night I sat down at the computer, determined to get a nice blog entry out, and found myself falling down the rabbit hole that is YouTube. What I stumbled across is from nearly 30 years ago, and still rates as one of the best of its kind ever. Go watch it. You’re welcome.

Queen: Live at Wembley 1986 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nw-_LQJ6e8E

QueenPicture from: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2188810/Iconic-album-covers-Queen-David-Bowie-Blur-recreated-Lego.html

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As a Pagan, I generally like to do my version of worship outside. Nature is the ultimate chapel, especially when you grow up around things like Giant Sequoias. But living in the perpetual suburbia of dusty SoCal isn’t really conducive to casting a circle in the back yard, so I have a small altar in my bedroom. When not in use, it’s closed off in a modern version of a secretary. I figure my Christian husband doesn’t need to be reminded that he’ll be spending his afterlife in Purgatory standing in line surrounded by screaming children because he dared marry out of the faith. He claims he’ll be fine as long as I’m there with him, but I’m thinking I need to apply for a waiver so he can join me in the Summerlands. Who needs to spend eternity with screaming children when we can do that any weekend at the grocery store?

Anyway, part of the accouterments on the altar are five small wooden boxes, each holding the cremated remains of the companion animals I’ve had over the last twenty-plus years. Three dogs and two cats, and lots of memories. I miss them – and all the ones that came before – terribly. It’s been over a year since the last one made his crossing, and being at home alone weighed on me more than I realized.

Sometime in May or June – I don’t remember exactly when as I was deep into a black hole of depression at the time – I stood at my altar, crying, just ‘cause. (I was doing a lot of crying during that time with no real reason as to why. Just a chemical imbalance that was wrecking havoc on my system.) I saw those five boxes and suddenly understood what I needed to do. I asked those five companions for help. I asked them to guide a new companion to me, to help an animal on the Underground to find its way to us.

Most of my animals have been foundlings, in one way or another: the husky was picked up in the desert of Joshua Tree by a friend; the first cattle dog was a lost puppy wandering the alley behind my house; my little black feline familiar was part of a surprise litter some other friends of mine had; the wonder mutant polydactyl feline jumped onto my shoulder from a tree when I went outside one night to try and figure out where that mewing was coming from; and the second cattle dog came with my husband, who I think followed me home from the zoo. Or maybe the circus. Anyhoo, they all arrived more by circumstance than by conscious choice, so I figured I was due for another. My husband and I had been talking about going to the shelter and adopting someone, but he kept convincing me we weren’t ready yet because of our slim-to-none financial situation. Intellectually I agreed. But the growing sense of isolation building inside was tearing me apart emotionally.

In mid-July we were hit by the tail end of Hurricane Dolores. She gave us rain like we hadn’t seen in years. She dumped on us several times over the period of a few days, ending with a rip-roaring, thunder-n-lightning, honest-to-goodness gulley washer on a Sunday afternoon. My husband and I had been outside enjoying the rain earlier in the weekend when we startled a cat out of one of the doghouses still on the back patio. At the time I didn’t think too much about it – neighborhoods always have cats about, and cats are smart enough to get themselves out of the weather as dogs run around chasing rain drops. At least somebody besides the spiders was getting use out of the houses. The next day when the skies really opened up, I looked out the patio doors to enjoy the show and saw a splash of orange in the doghouse again. The cat was back inside and curled up quite happily as Mother Nature drowned the brittle excuse we have for a yard. I took it as a good sign – thunderstorm and cat; two of my favorite things at the same time.

When I saw the cat outside again the next day, I decided to put some food out for him. He was woefully thin and dirty and very skittish, disappearing at the faintest hint of a human. He just seemed like he needed a break and I certainly needed the company.

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At first I wasn’t sure what to do about him. The finances weren’t any better, so I initially thought maybe I could get him calm enough to get him to the shelter and to a forever home with someone else. No one seemed to be looking for him – he didn’t match any description on the local lost animal sites, and he’s not chipped (yet). But, you know how that goes. Over the course of nearly four weeks, I spent a few minutes every evening with him outside. He gobbled up the food I gave him and listened to me babble on about whatever. At first he would slink in under cover of dark, wary of the crazy cat lady sitting in the open patio door nattering on, but then we got into a routine. After a couple weeks he started talking to me as I brought the food out. And then I was finally allowed to pet him, briefly. His fur was like straw and I could feel nearly every bone in his back. A couple days later he actually let me pick him up and set him in my lap to pet him. Suddenly it was like a new cat showed up. He relaxed and purred and head-butted me – the ultimate cat compliment.

That following weekend he was a full time house cat. He had some adjustment issues about staying in – he’s an un-neutered tom (to be taken care of in the coming weeks), so he was still a bit territorial about his patio – but he’s down to happily looking out the windows now without needing to exit. Regular food and attention has allowed him to blossom. The skinny has become a healthy sleekness, while that straw fur turned to satin. He took to the litter box right away, seems to like the idea that he has a lap to sit on whenever he wants (which is just about all the time), and thinks catnip mice are the bomb.

So meet Roan, my new feline overlord. And proof that, whatever your faith, sometimes you get exactly what you asked for, and it’s totally cool.

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