One Minus Zero Is
It has been a point of amusement in our household for the last fifteen years that we're such geeks, we have binary cats. Uno and Null: one and zero. Uno came first, a preternaturally intelligent brown tabby given to us pre-named in the summer of 1996. When the orange kitten adopted us the next year by means of doggedly climbing up my back whenever I knelt anywhere within range, there was only one possible name for him.
It has been a further point of amusement that Null immediately began living down to his name. He was, it must be said, not very bright. Bright-eyed, yes, curious and responsive and talkative and demanding, but no great shakes in the brains department. Almost no sense of cause and effect, for instance. An un-catlike absence of all sense of dignity. He hadn't the first clue what to do with the mouse that popped out of our radiator that one evening. His hunting instincts, such as they were, were exclusively expressed through various small stuffed animals (most notoriously a Beanie Baby tarantula) which he would carry on multiple trips around the house, howling meditatively as he went.
But he was so sweet. He was our puppy-dog kitten; he'd roll over for belly rubs and he'd lick your face if you let him. He liked to sleep between my ankles all night long, or at least until I finally, reluctantly, dislodged him by rolling over and giving my poor back a break. He had the biggest eyes you ever saw. There was a while when he'd purr at the mere sight of food or loved ones, as though in gratitude that John or I or Uno or, well, food still in fact existed.
Null passed away early Sunday afternoon. His kidneys started to go on him last fall, as cats' kidneys often do. We'd done a faithful job of maintaining him for as long as he'd let us, but this past week he simply fell apart. His lips were suddenly covered in ulcers. He stopped eating. A few days later he stopped drinking.
Saturday night John and I slept with him between us. This time he didn't even try to pull himself over for a cuddle. Sunday morning, he was neither sleeping nor really conscious. All he could do was lie there, flattened out like a deflated balloon on the sofa pillows, only breathing because that's what bodies do absent instructions to the contrary. We picked him up and found that, like a newborn baby, he was incapable of supporting his own head. Around 1:45 PM, he coughed a little. Then he wasn't breathing anymore.
We gave him our last hugs. Then we drove him to the emergency vet, who confirmed that he was really, truly gone, gave us their sincere condolences, and charged us $71 for "communal cremation." That's when the pet family declines to keep the ashes. We also declined to have a clay paw print made to remember him by. I don't really regret that -- we have too many sentimental objects gathering dust about the house already. Still, now I wish I'd brushed him down one last time with the shedding brush before we gave up his body to the veterinary crematorium so that I'd have a handful of his fur to spun into yarn to... I don't know, braid into a ring? Hang from the ceiling? Make into yet another sentimental object to gather dust, I guess. I guess it's just as well I didn't.
Walking back to the car, I couldn't help feeling -- and I know this is irrational -- that we'd abandoned him. Pawned him off onto someone else. Given up, absolved ourselves of responsibility. It wasn't that I felt guilty for having given his body to someone else to dispose of. It was as though he were still alive and I'd abandoned him at the vet. Like I said, totally irrational.
And then there's the usual guilt that accompanies the death of a family member who's been sick in a high-maintenance way. Guilt for feeling relieved. Again, I know I shouldn't feel guilty; I know it's no indication that we did anything wrong. But Null had been requiring extra-special care for the better part of three years now. The paralysis incident in October 2009 left him with weak, stumbly back legs and no control of his bathroom functions. We had to express his bladder several times a day and clean up after him a lot. He was on an anti-seizure medication, so we had to clip pills into eighths and make sure an eighth went down his throat twice a day. When his blood tests began to show evidence of overworked kidneys, we started him on subcutaneous fluids three times a week and the vet visits increased in frequency. In the last month, his already wonky back half let him down entirely, and he often decided it wasn't worth dragging himself to the food or water bowls.
With all the attention he'd required, especially toward the end, it's no wonder John and I both breathed a sigh of relief when he was gone. It makes no real sense to feel guilty about that, but I did feel guilty. Worse, I felt responsible -- I'd known before he died that once he did I'd no longer have to be Super Cat Mom, and now I suspected myself of having been looking forward to his death.
This is all perfectly natural. I know better. But my feelings don't seem to know better at all.
The other weird thing is the habit-forming nature of stress and hyperresponsibility. I've blogged about that before in the context of big scary writing projects with fast approaching deadlines. The day after submitting the manuscript, I'd wake up dreading all the work still ahead of me, only to remember that the work was now behind me. I'd be unable to relax all day, sure that there was something I was desperately supposed to be doing. Just so with Null's absence: I'm constantly realizing it's been hours since he was last expressed and I'd better hop to it before he leaks all over the bed and I should make sure he's lying on an absorbent pad and is today the day he gets fluids and it's probably time I brought him to the water bowl or presented him with a little wet food on my finger or encouraged him to excercise his back legs before they totally atrophy or--
And then I realize, Not anymore, and I start breathing again.
At which point, of course, the guilt starts in once more, because my response to realizing that is thank the Gods.
Today we're both doing better, John and I. We're background-sad instead of foreground heartbroken, if that makes any sense. And though I'm still feeling the guilt, it's receded a bit so that I can enjoying the simplicity of our much-scaled-back daily routine. I had forgotten what it was like to not be giving a cat at-home end-of-life care. It's kind of nice. And now we have room to pay some overdue attention to Uno, who has been feeling terribly confused and neglected of late. We're giving him a lot of attention now.
But I miss Null terribly. When I stop to think about it, it hits me like a ton of bricks. Such was his illness that I can't remember when he last purred. I wish I'd known it would be the last time. I'd have appreciated it more.
Friday night, he was in terrible pain and he didn't want to be conscious, but he squirmed across the bed anyway so he could go to sleep with his head on my ankle. If he'd still been capable of purring, I know he would have.
Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Wretchedness (5/5)!
- 897 wds. long
Is it still Saturday? Whew. Made it. Here ya go: a story. Sort of. Sort of a story.
See, here's the thing. It's not complete. It's sort of an excerpt of a longer work that doesn't exist yet, and I don't really know anything about the longer work. So it's not so much a story as a scene, the scene that popped into my head when I began writing on a prompt about Human Versus Machine. It begins like this:
My alarm clock didn't wake me up that morning, but the smell of bacon did. Sadly, bacon is not a perfect substitute for an alarm clock. I was fifteen minutes late and losing time by the second. I bounded out of bed, threw on my grease-stained work pants and my bright red corporate polo, and hurried into the kitchen in hopes of snagging a few slices on my way out the door.
It didn't occur to me that this was an unusually early hour for Meff to be up and moving. It didn't occur to me that anything was unusual about Meff that morning. Unusually annoying, yes, as you'll see, but that's it. Yes, I was distracted, yes I could have paid more attention -- but you have to understand, we're talking about Meff here.
Meff was already at the table, six slices of bacon and a heap of white rice on his plate. "Help yourself," he said, his mouth full. "More rice in the pot there."
I noted the remaining four slices on their lard-absorbing paper towel. "I'll pass on the rice," I said. "Bread's more portable."
My roommate made an urgent "Mmmf!" noise, swallowed his current mouthful rapidly, and said, "Ix-nay on the ed-bray, bro. The toaster's gone evil on us."
You can read the rest of the scene here.
I think the rest of the story is from Mephisto's point of view. Or maybe it would be a series of scenes none of which are from Mephisto's point of view. Just a lot of unrelated witnesses to the moving trainwreck that is the life and adventures of Meff.
Anyway. I hope you've enjoyed this week. I have. Next week I really have got to make a sizable dent in the novel rewrite. Also I have a brand new short story draft I'm working on, which usually happens when I'm procrastinating on short story rewrites. I hope to get something completed and in the mail by the end of next week. (But then I hope that every week.)
Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Wretchedness (4/5)!
You will remember I promised you a brand new story, specifically written for this year's IPSTW festivities. But you will also notice that today we have only reached a count of four of five. You will, no doubt, think this a very flimsy excuse for my not posting a brand new story on Friday as promised. Nevertheless, what you are getting is an old poem of mine.
I wrote this during my first year of college on that faithful old Compaq Aero 4/25. It ran Windows 3.1 at the time, and it connected to the University of Washington internet portal via a 144,000 baud modum. Since high school I'd spent a lot of time in the Usenet group misc.writing, where I found and responded to calls for submission. One of them was the summer college litmag, Solstice, who ended up publishing "Rhododendron" in 1994. And one of them was an email 'zine called... do you know, I totally forget? The name had to do with cows, I remember that much. They didn't pay except in exposure. I sent them this poem that same year in the fall. They included it in their next edition.
TRACES IN A FAST FOOD RESTAURANT
The Sprite can is waiting
in faithful ignorance of abandonment.
It remembers your lips.
"He was here, I tell you
the ashtray told me so..." And so it goes:
Ashes to ashes. Presence to dust.
The cliche of lipstick
on a plastic straw, with a side of fries.
A table for one, tonight.
The story will be coming tomorrow, I promise.
Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Wretchedness! (3/5)
- 1,600 wds. long
Today was one of those days that didn't really happen. Woke up too late, moved too slow, out of time before I knew it.
Tomorrow will be better.
For now, here's today's offering, a letter originally written in 1996 and addressed, simply, "Dear You:"
With most of my stories, I hasten to reassure friends that it's entirely fiction, that though it may draw on real life experiences, it's utter fantasy from beginning to end. But this piece is absolutely biographical. I never actually wrote such a letter, but everything in the letter is true.
Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Wretchedness! (2/5)
Today's offering is "A is for A is for..." It's either flash fiction or prose poetry, depending on how you count these things. This final version is dated October 1995, so I suppose I must have written it during college. I wrote it specifically for submission to a themed issue of a Pagan magazine -- the theme was "Songs of the Cyberpagans" or something like that; one of the submission requirements was to send manuscripts on 3.5" floppy disks rather than in hard copy. I never heard another word about it until some five years later when a friend spotted it in a back-issue. Either the editor had mislaid my contact information, or I'd failed to include it on the disk which got separated from the cover letter. The foreword that accompanied the piece made me sound very mysterious.
I'm not sure today whether I think the piece is successful or simply pretentious. I think I still like it, though.
Meanwhile, today has been a Wednesday. Wednesdays are difficult. Wednesday mornings, I have an hour-long show to record for the Audio Information Network of Colorado. And then it takes me about half an hour just to pull up the reading material first, employment ads from the newspapers of three broad regions of the state, each in its own tab, each collection of tabs sorted through to avoid reading any ads that are missing readable contact information, etc. etc. etc. By the time that's done, I've lost both time and momentum for writing. It probably doesn't help that I tend to play Puzzle Pirates while I'm reading, and I tend to keep playing after the reading is done.
Wednesdays this month are further limited because I've got roller derby practice from 6:30 to 8:30 PM. Anything I want to get done, I typically have to get it done before 5:45.
But today was even more of a Wednesday than usual. Everything took longer. The AINC reading took longer mainly because I kept stopping the recording to chat with some old friends on Puzzle Pirates (they're probably reading this now... hi there!). You can hardly blame me; I hadn't "seen" one of them in months and the other of them in years. It was good to catch up. Then, roller derby took more out of my day because I needed to bus-and-bike in. The car is in the shop, getting its engine replaced. Yes. John and I had been talking for the past couple years about how we really would rather replace the engine than replace the car, but not yet, not yet -- well, when the engine idles rough and occasionally stalls out at stop lights, and it turns out that at least three separate parts of the engine are to blame for it... well, it's kind of a hint. So the car's getting its clock odometer rolled back from 235,000 miles to 85,000, and I got my derby schedule pushed out by about an hour in either direction.
And now that I'm home, I'm not only the usual amount of exhausted from practice and sleep, I'm also hurting a bit. Yeah. Just this morning I was telling my Puzzle Pirates friends that I was glad to have picked up no new injuries in a while -- remember that, y'all? -- and, well, I guess the universe heard that too and said, "Oh, I knew I was forgetting something." See, when you practice giving and taking hits, you really need to keep your forearms clamped to your sides. This is not just to prevent yourself getting a penalty for illegal use of elbows or forearms. This is also for your protection. I let my guard slip, and for my sins I got a sharp shoulder jab in the ribs during a game of Queen of the Rink. I'm pretty sure it's just a bruise, but what a bruise it's gonna be! It's all achy when I laugh or move wrong or breathe too sharply.
You know what? This has been a whiny damn post. Here, let me apply the appropriate category label...
Anyway, I never got to the novel rewrite, and I only managed another 300 words on the project for Friday. I feel like I'm micromanaging the characters, trying to puppet them around so that their dialogue will contain this checklist of elements contrived during the first draft. It's probably time to step back, give myself time to just let the scene unfold in my head, and find out exactly how these characters interact when left to their own devices.
Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Wretchedness! (1/5)
- 1,400 wds. long
- 62,769 wds. long
- 314 wds. long
Today's contribution to the April 23 festivities is my short story "Passengers". You can read it here. (Just as a reminder, you can always click the title of a manuscript in the upper left area of the blog entry to see all blog entries related to it. Then you click "Read more here", if such a link exists, to read an excerpt or the full text, whatever I've made available.)
"Passengers" is another one that counts as juvenilia, if anything does. It's probably older even than "Rhododendron". Possibly. In any case, it, too, was also written during high school, though I can't recall precisely which year -- my notes say 1994, but my notes weren't written in the same century as the story itself, so, grain-of-salt time. In any case, it had to have been the year when Betsy Petersen taught my English class, because I remember someone who shared her class with me critiquing it.
It's like a deathless digital audio recording in my memory, triggered every time I reread (or think about) the line, "...and ties a special knot in her bracelet just for him." My classmate's grinning and saying, "That's when she's got him. She just pops him into her little jar!"
Or something like that. I have a tyrannical memory for conversation -- it forgives-and-forgets nothing -- but it is not infallibly word-for-word.
The line that stays with my husband and me, of course, is, "Everybody likes peppermints." We have been known to quote it at each other on the least plausible provocation.
The other event that dates the creation of the story is its sideways inspiration: my first solo cross-country bus ride. And even that I'm not 100% certain about, timing-wise. Again, though my notes say August of 1993, my notes came a lot later than the actual journey. I know this much: it had to have been after June, 1992, my third attendence at the ADVANCE summer program (a.k.a. "nerd camp"). That was the year I met a boy named John Little and roomed with a girl named Cat Bakewell. Those two would become my closest, dearest, and most lasting friends. (One of them even became my husband!) Well, either later that summer or in the summer that followed, it occurred to me I could take a Greyhound bus to Cat's home in Nacogdoches, TX (not to be confused with Nachitoches, LA) if she and her parents were OK with the visit. It took a lot of wheedling on my part to get Mom to grant the all-important permission (and pay for the bus ticket), but in the end teenage persistence prevailed.
Mom wasn't very happy about it. She was convinced that you meet all sorts of crazy people on bus rides. It would be years before I recognized this as class-and-race prejudice, but right away I sure recognized it as bullshit. If there were any crazy people on the bus, I determined, I would damn well be one of them. I chose my traveling wardrobe accordingly.
Put that together with the friendship bracelet I occupied myself with creating during much of the eleven-hour ride, and also with my seatmate who was not at all crazy but rather delightfully unconventional, and you've got the fictional character who opens the story.
But we can't just go living in the past here. There's writing to be done in the here and now. Today saw about a thousand new words on the rewrite of Like a Bad Penny, and a solid, carefully chosen 300 words or so on the very short story I hope to offer up for your reading pleasure on Friday.
And there you go.
Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Wretchedness! (0/5)
- 1,400 wds. long
Today's my birthday! I am now thirty-six whole years old. Hooray! (That's a multiple of twelve, so, hello again Year of the Dragon!)
Today is also William Shakespeare's birthday. (And death-day. But never mind that.) As a writer, I think it particularly cool to share a birthday with the Bard. (I don't particularly object to sharing his death-day, either. We all gotta die someday, so it might as well be on April 23 as any other day of the possible 366. Just so long as the year in question resides in the far, far future.)
April 23 now also has the distinction of being the date of a brand-new modern holiday of special interest to writers on the internet. It's called International Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Wretch Day!
(Why of course it's on Wikipedia. Why are you surprised? It's also on Making Light.)
Anyway, the day celebrates writers who post some of their works on the internet for others to read for free. It also pokes gentle fun at someone who, six years ago, apparently got a sharp mental wedgie over the notion of writers posting some of their works on the internet for others to read for free. I can't do the incident justice by paraphrasing it, so I'll just link you to Jo Walton's original declaration of the holiday, which in turn links to the getting of the mental wedgie. ("Mental wedgie" -- like "panties in a wad" only without yet another toxic association of Something Shameful with Something Stereotypically Feminine. I suppose I could say he got his "briefs in a bunch," but I am unprepared to speculate on Dude's boxers/briefs alignment. Gender-free phrases are more useful anyway.)
I'm as delighted as you might expect to have yet another awesome thing to celebrate alongside my birthday. But, what with having a happy birthday and all, I'm unprepared to do my pixel-stained technopeasant wretched bit just now. Happily, today is also a Monday, which puts me in a good position to say "Check back every day the rest of this week!" My plan is to put a piece up each day, Tuesday through Friday. I've got some already-been-published stuff bordering on "juvenilia" to share, kinda like I did with "Last Week's Rhododendron," but I hope to write something entirely new in time for Friday's post.
So with that optimistic declaration, I'm off to continue being totally and enjoyably useless for the evening. Until tomorrow!
Spit That Out RIGHT NOW.
- 2,850 wds. long
Includes: A stunning review of Blood and Other Cravings with the best one-liner describing my story that I've seen so far. Getting to that in a few paragraphs. Hold on.
So, roller derby. It eats your life right up. It's a sport that involves a lot of practice, a lot of camaraderie that develops into full-blown sisterhood in no time at all, and a side-helping of obsession. Also major and minor injuries that remind you all day long where you got 'em (at derby) and what those injuries won't let you do (derby).
(Note: No major injuries yet. But you can add to the previous entry's list a sore, sometime-swollen knee that's being infuriatingly slow to recover its last tiny bit of functionality since taking a bad fall a week ago Monday. Not from a tomahawk stop this time. It happened during a practice scrimmage. I was blocking. I think I got sandwiched. Anyway, I blame that knee for my inability to perform a decent two-knee fall lately.)
End of February, I tested up from Phase 1 to Phase 2 practice with the Boulder County Bombers. This past Friday night, I went through WFTDA minimum skills assessments (results: I'm this close, but no candy cigarette just yet. Next month for sure!). The weeks in between, I went to practice three times a
dayweek, finally bought derby-quality skates (though I'll always love my first pair), practiced a little on my own just to get used to the new skates, studied for the written WFTDA rules test, and, because that isn't enough, also helped distribute fliers for BCB's March 2012 New Recruit Night, which I then helped host.
And I haven't been writing at all. Or nearly not, anyway.
One of the BCB skaters, upon hearing me gripe about this today, said, "Do you know, since this league began nine months ago, I haven't managed to write a single word?"
This made me somewhat scared, no lie. This despite knowing how very much this particular skater does for the league compared to me. I mean, I'm only a member of one committee.
On the other hand, Ellen Datlow forwarded a link to this gorgeous review of Blood and Other Cravings tonight. It's not just a review. It's a complete short story in and of itself. Along the way it imbues the anthology with an almost magic realism sensibility:
Datlow has adroitly blended the traditional with the extrapolative in her selection of stories, suggesting that just as vampires and other blood-suckers may perhaps best be interpreted as metaphors for desperation, so otherwise ordinary-seeming human lives may equally become metaphors.
See what I mean? Or maybe not? Maybe it's just my own weird filters that connect this idea -- that of vampire-as-metaphor causing the reader to thereafter see the metaphor capability of ordinary lives -- with the idea that in magic realism the presence of an element of the fantastic transforms the mundane into another kind of fantastic.
I'm also wildly appreciative of the one-liner Collings uses to describe "First Breath":
A creature of mist whose desperate craving for a physical body does not take into account that most terrifying of human emotions... love.
I'm too new at this Getting Published thing to go splitting the world into "readers that get me" and "readers that don't get me." Besides, I suspect such divisions smack of Golden World Syndrome. To the extent that I have readers, my readers have the experience of my stories that they do have; I don't get to say which is right or wrong. It's their experience. But I think it's safe to say this reviewer falls strongly in the "gets me" category -- or, more accurately, what he gets from the story matches well with what I intended to put in. And then he gets a shade more out of it than I think I realized I'd put in, pleasantly surprising me with what he found. And then he manages to convey all that in a single sentence.
I hope the other authors whose stories he references here are as well pleased.
(Oh, I could quibble about how that sentence implies that the creature is unique and deviant in her craving, rather than being quite normal for her species in having a particular need at a particular time in her life. But that would be silly of me. Besides, I'm too won over by the way the sentence ends.)
So this is very self-indulgent and self-aggrandizing of me, fixating on the one sentence in the review that pertains to Me! Me! Me! ... but then this is my blog. I get to do that.
But seriously, go read the whole review. It is a tiny work of art with the scintillating facets of a jewel. And now "jellybean" is my favorite replacement for "vanilla" now when describing a thing that is boring in its ordinariness (a practice unfair both to the so-called "ordinary" and the much maligned yet highly magical vanilla bean). For instance, "There was a lot more to AnomalyCon 2012 than jellybeans. A lot more."
So. Derby's been eating my writing, but this timely and lovely review puts me in a mind to tickle Derby's tummy until Derby damn well regurgitates. (And then I will put Derby on a healthy diet of "not everything in sight, OK? Like, not my fountain pens or my printer ink. You can eat some of my Spiral Knights time and all my TV-watching time and maybe some of my knitting-and-spinning time. But not my copy of WordPerfect 5.1! And not my novel revision! I need that!")
But most likely this will happen on Tuesday. Monday is booked. With... other things. One of which is roller derby.
What's Mine Is Yours
So, of course, when I want to blog things like the foregoing, I feel compelled to double-check things.
Says me: You're OK with me putting this on my blog?
Says he: It's OK. Honestly. I don't care.
Says me: I just wanna make sure. You own half the copyright, after all.
Says he: The better half.
So there you have it.
Overheard. In My Own Damn Car.
What the hell -- half of it came out of my own mouth.
Says he: New plan. We're just not stopping for any more red lights.
Says me: But if you don't stop for the red lights, eventually you have to stop for the blue and red and white flashy lights.
Says he: ...you mean, the America lights?
Says me: No, no, no, the--
Says he: But you said they were red white and blue!
Says me: But so many things are. Including the lights on top of a police car.
Says he: So, the opposite of a Liberty Wagon.
Says me: We don't have a Liberty Wagon. We have--
Says he: (And that's what's wrong with this country.)
Says me: We have a Liberty Bell. But you're not allowed to ring it.
Says he: And no wonder. Last time someone did that, it got cracked!
Says me: ...and that's why we can't have nice things.
...There are many reasons I married this man. For one thing, I need him in order to have a comedy act.