Death, the Medial Sinus, and Depression

I’ve been feeling  stuck the past couple of weeks, and then some. “Stuck” is one of those polite euphemisms for “the sharp teeth of another depression episode gnawing on my toes.”

The manager notices it. The wife notices it. Heck, even the teenage scion notices but is too enmeshed in her own drama to say anything.  (Fair enough – high school is a serious challenge, after all.)

So what gives?

I’m swimming through a particular confluence of things: three deaths in the extended family, the oh-so-damn slow recover from my last sinus surgery in December, and a lack of professional opportunity. (The last one refers to my day gig, not writing.)

Death: My aunt Pat passed away recently after several rounds of cancer. She is my father’s last sibling, so that basically leaves him an orphan at the tender age of nearly 89. I had the occasion to spend the afternoon with Pat last month because of a business meeting in nearby San Diego.

That is a lie. I had no meeting. I wanted to see my aunt before she died, rather than say my goodbyes at the funeral/celebration of life. So I told my manager I was going to take my bereavement leave “early” and flew down to San Diego.

Basically, I didn’t want to make a big deal out of it, or put any pressure on anyone. I simply wanted to pay my respects, bring her some flowers, and spend some time before the Reaper showed up.

So I did, and managed not to lose it. It’s hard seeing people when they’re sick. And terminal cancer is sick. (Special thanks to my Best Man in Irvine, Dan Malcor, for driving down to hang with me for a few hours before my return flight. True friendship, that.)

A few days later, I learned that my uncle (by marriage) Bob had passed away. He lived near my parents and was an absolute character. He went into the hospital for a procedure and the Reaper punched his card.

And the third death: Ratrani, our long-suffering middle cat.

So my dance card is pretty full on that subject. Moving on.

Sinues: I had two nasal surgeries last year. Normally, the recovery time for an intranasal procedure is about 6 weeks. Maybe 8. However, I’ve been dealing with the aftereffects for five months. Either I’m one of those lucky folks who don’t heal fast, or the benign tumor left behind some friends. My next followup with the surgeon isn’t until July. In the meantime, I feel like it’s Allergy Season all the damn time around here. Which puts me in a less-than jovial mood.

Work: Finally, I made the decision to change jobs, which is turning out to be much harder than I thought. I have my vacation booked for the summer, but after that, I’m ready to move on. There’s no growth potential here (even my manager agrees) and more to the point, the level of  dysfunction is hard-wired into the company’s DNA. They won’t change, and I don’t want to settle.

Unfortunately, despite the local heated economy, the only nibbles I get are for contract gigs, or regular jobs down in San Jose, which is a commute of epic proportions.

And then there’s the craven Republican congress trying to make life hellish for all of us. Let us not speak of that.

So now what?

The first step is acknowledging the Big D. I see you, Mr. Gray.

Next is ticking the boxes: food, water, sleep, a good book.

Then reaching out to friends.

Then remembering that I sold a pro story recently, and have loads of stuff in the WIP file.

Then sitting down in zazen, or with a cup of tea, or a cold vodka, and breathing.

Breathing.

Still here.

Okay, I can do this.

Thanks for listening.

4-star weekend

It’s spring, which means Paradise Lost (7, in case you’re counting). This was my fourth attendance, so my badge bore witness to it.

We had quite the variety this year: one-star retreat only folks, dipping their toes into the alcoholic punch of neo pros; five-star veterans, and of course, the founder, Sean Patrick Kelley, carrying around seven stars like the blessing of some demented deity.

This weekend happened to coincide with Fiesta, a 2+ day celebration in downtown San Antonio in which thousands of raucous folk clog the sidewalks (and parks and plazas and hotels) as if Mardi Gras and an Oakland Raiders Tailgate Party had a child and raised it south of the Rio Grande.

So it was, ah, busy. And loud. Fiesta apparently draws a lot of competition for its events: Loudest Continuous Car Horn Exchange (1 AM division), Weirdest Electric Parade Floats, and Highest Number of Unlicensed Street Grills.

Fortunately, we had several catered meals at the event, and plenty of space in the lovely Drury hotel to hang out between scheduled lectures and critique sessions.  There really wasn’t much need to go outside, except to forage supplies for the Social Suite bar.

My new contribution to the suite was NOLA from St. George Spirits here in Alameda. The coffee liqueur got many positive reviews. (“I’d have this for breakfast!” –Chris from Chicago) Absinthe and Buddha’s Hand vodka also made return appearances.

Since this was my fourth year as a critique participant, it felt less like a bacchanalia and more like a family reunion. I met some new writers, some of whom will probably become friends, and reconnected with many good souls from Viable Paradise and Taos Toolbox.

I received great feedback on my submission short story, listened to excellent lectures (and very funny anecdotes) from Jaye Wells, Mary Anne Mohanraj, DongWon Song, and generally recharged.

There was, however, no traditional game of Cards Against Humanity. This year, people seemed more inclined (on Saturday, at least) to break into small groups for quieter conversation.

Well, a lot has happened since 2016, especially since October.

There were other things, of course, plot-breaking and games of Werewolf, free books (!), surprise guests, gift exchanges, and tearful farewells.

I’m proud and very happy to call these folks my tribe, and they help keep me sane, and keep me honest, and inspire me to be a better writer. And a happier one.

What more could you ask?

See you next year, Buddha willing.

(Can you find 6 Fire Wombats in this picture?)

My first Nebula eligibility post!

I actually sold and published three stories in 2016 as an Active Member of SFWA.

What?

Shocking, isn’t it?

That means that you, yes you, can recommend me for a Nebula award if you’re an Active Member of SFWA yourself.

Semi-professional publications:

  • “Comes the Tinker” (Metaphorosis Magazine) – A fun story to write, but it took a long time to find the right editor. See this post for more info. Read the complete story for free here. I was especially pleased by the cover art for this story. (Even if you don’t recommend me for an award, think about supporting the magazine’s tip jar. They’re Good People.)

Other:

  • “The Baked Bean Tourney” (Robbed of Sleep, Vol. 5: Stories to Stay Up For) – I wrote this dark & funny piece well before “Brexit” entered our vocabulary. My first anthology appearance!
  • “The Packrat Machine” (Perihelion SF) – I wrote the first draft many years ago in an obvious Jack Vance sort of mood. You can download a PDF version here.

I need this like another hole in the head

So there’s good news and so-so news on the medical front. Let’s start with the good:

My confident and suave surgeon repaired my deviated septum and tuned up both turbinates. Yes, that’s a thing. I spent a very uncomfortable week with my nose completely packed with foam spacers. I called them Lucifer’s Joysticks.

Sleep? Not so much. More like lots of napping. And snoring.

Two weeks after the procedure, everything is still tender but very functional. I feel as if there’s an additional 15% more air capacity at “the top end.” Very curious to see how that manifests itself with actual exercise.

So-so news: the tumor discovered during my surgery (hereinafter referred to as “Squatter”) is benign but aggressive. We don’t want it to trash the place, so we’re going to evict it with a second procedure.

If you have a Buzzword Bingo™ card, tick off endoscopic resection and maxillary sinus.

What’s next? A CT scan to determine the exact location of Squatter, then Christmas, then surgery and another week or so of convalescing while the rest of the family visits Paris. (I was planning on staying home anyway. Reasons.)

Better news: only the left side of my face will be affected, so I should be able to sleep fairly normally and perhaps get in some actual writing as opposed to say, Netflix.

Best news: all this will go on this year’s insurance deductible, so my out of pocket is pretty much maxed out.

Getting my head straight

After 10 months of dealing with a stuffed up head, I’m escalating my medical treatment to surgery. No more antihistamines and steroids.

What am I doing? Bilateral turbinectomy. Plus a bonus septoplasty.In short, I’m getting a nose job without changing my appearance. Wait a minute, what?

It was a tricky decision. There’s always a small risk when you get general anesthesia, and then you have the fun of the better part of a week flopping around the house with a combination of mouth breathing and drugs. But the end result should mean better sleep, fewer colds, and generally improved airflow thanks to wider, straighter passages.

So I’ll be out of it for a few days, maybe longer. I hope to get in some words, though that will depend on my recovery time and the side effects of the pain meds.

At least I have a healthy pile of books and an upgrade Apple TV.

Too bad I have to burn a week of vacation. Isn’t America great?

I would like to apologize in advance for any complaints that I post in the next week.

Joss Whedon was in my brain

metaphorosis_2016-10-313x500

Today one of my favorites trunk stories, “Comes the Tinker,” finally sees the light of (virtual) day in Metaphorosis magazine.

This story had its genesis with a theme: the traveling salesman.  I wanted to play around with that idea but in a SF context.  Specifically, what happens to that role in a future economy?

At the time I was writing this, I’d been diving into genealogy for my wife’s family.  She comes from English stock (she’s related to Thomas Hardy), and those early immigrants to this country bore some great names.  Those names led me to characters.

I had also recently watched my first episodes of Firefly.  Joss Whedon’s writing just smacked me in the face, and the show’s dialog influenced the cadence of my character’s speech.  (To be honest, I took inspiration from his setting as well.)

Finally, one of the catchphrases of Tom the Tinker was lifted from a bumper sticker celebrating the Ramones.

Enjoy this one.

Achievement unlocked: Anthology!

My dark humor short piece, “The Baked Bean Tourney,” appears in Robbed of Sleep, Vol. 5: Stories to Stay Up For (The Robbed of Sleep Anthology).  It’s out today in Kindle format.  The paperback should appear… soon.

http://viewbook.at/Robbed5

Robbed of Sleep 5

 

Coming up for air

It’s been a few weeks since my mormor died, and apart from a lack of interest in the next day-job project (go figure), I think I can say that I’m back to normal.  Well, functioning.

Let’s say 80-85%.  Which is pretty good given the last few years.

The support of friends and family helped.

The tribe helped.  You know who you are.

The words helped.  Since Inga decided to shuffle off this mortal coil, I’ve sold a trunk story that I truly loved, and a short, nasty piece that echoes the worst fears of Brexit — written a year before all that shit hit the fan.

I re-read Scott Lynch’s great caper fantasy, The Lies of Locke Lamora.  I found myself caught up in the adventure, and actually laughing. I read Greg Bear’s master class in science fiction, Hull Zero Three. Plus, I fell down the rabbit hole of Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence.

And I joined The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction as a First Reader. C.C. Finlay is a gentleman. And obsessed with scorpions.

It’s also summer, so that means a few extra hours of light and evening walks, which also helps.

I remember to meditate, and contemplate, and avail myself of mental health resources.

Hey, I even started making my own filmjölk again.  So while things aren’t perfect, I can sit with a bowl, toss in some corn flakes and blueberries, and remember my grandmother.

Life goes on. Slowly.  Breathing. Writing. It goes on.

Cherish your Mentors – Part 2

My Swedish maternal grandmother (mormor) died today.  Ingrid Lilly Margareta Dandenell née Gerdner was born on Oct 1, 1910.  She studied four languages in finishing school (Swedish, German, English, and Latin), married a gentleman farmer, and served as matriarch to a mostly tight-knit and happy clan.

She was also a mentor. She wasn’t a writer, but possessed an amazing spirit.

Among other things, she taught me to eat leeks, to appreciate the imprecise recipes of her delicious baking, to drink dry & sweet vermouth (“mormor’s blandning“), and to listen to stories.

Ingrid (Inga) was the oldest person I knew, and one of the happiest.  She inspired me to embrace my culture and to sing even when I didn’t know the words.  (She herself was a fearless singer, and always knew the lyrics and the melody.)

She drove her own car until she had a series of strokes at age 95, but continued to live on her own well past the century mark.  Every summer, she made the pilgrimage from Jönkoping or Linköping to the west coast where the family maintains a house on Särdal strand (near the medieval city of Halmstad), taking up residence in her “apartment” while the rest of the family took turns crashing in the other bedrooms and sleep spaces.

It was her absence from the beach house these past two summers that told us she was truly slowing down.  It wasn’t the arthritis or the deafness or anything in particular.  It was just age. She was older than God. She outlived a husband and her youngest daughter.

Despite the immense love and light and energy and support of all her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, Inga simply drained her batteries. She’d reached the end today, and passed away, attended by her first-born son and a respectful coterie of relations.

I knew this woman for my whole life — more than half a century. But her favorite story about me comes from my first visit to Sweden, when I was about 4 years old.

Like many other children, I fell in love with the hampis — the stone quay that lies a short walk from the beach house.  The granite blocks of the hampis create  tide pools where you can fish for crabs using the time-honored technique of a bit of scrap fish and some string. I spent significant portions of my mornings filling up a plastic bucket with the tiny crabs, which mormor would then cook with mounds of fresh dill.  Hardly enough to eat, but that didn’t seem to matter.

On the day of our return flight, my parents called us down to breakfast and told us we were leaving.  According to mormor, I refused. “No!”  We could go home anytime, I said, but today we are fishing for crabs.

She always laughed when she told that story, and eventually I stopped being embarrassed when I heard it.

I have visited that beach many times since,  eventually bringing my fiancée, and then my daughter, Lilly-Karin — her namesake.

The next time we visit that beach, I suspect we will fish for crabs. And remember my mentor.

Photo credit: Anna Dandenell

Mormor Inga

Cherish your mentors – Part 1

Carolyn See, Ph.D., died on July 13, 2106.  That bastard cancer struck her down at 82. (For a more official appreciation, you can read Mary Rourke’s column in  The Los Angeles Times. This is my bit.)

Carolyn was a quintessential California writer, a literary sidhe of Topanga Canyon, and she was the first mentor who took me seriously, and more importantly, forced me to take myself seriously.  She stood at the front of a creative writing course at Loyola Marymount University and said “Oh my dear” — her students were all “dear ones” — “you can do better than this.”

She introduced me to the 1,000 words a day or 2 hours of editing rule.  She taught about the value of villains, of finding characters in the every day, and Getting It Done.

She told her students to write thank you notes to editors, even when they reject you.  She encouraged us to go to book launches, and even slipped us the occasional $20 if we couldn’t afford the hard cover.

When I was a struggling, unfocused underclassman at LMU, Carolyn gently pushed me to apply to the Professional Writing Program at the University of Southern California.  Unbeknownst to me, she also submitted one of my stories to John Rechy, one of the writers in residence.  I don’t remember the exact cover note, but it basically said, “Keep an eye on this one.” (To this day, I’m not sure if she meant “encourage this guy” or “this one is trouble.” Probably both.)

John Rechy returned the story to me —with a wink — during my first graduate seminar.  He eventually became my thesis advisor, despite his acknowledgement that he “didn’t do ‘fantastic fiction.’ ” (That was a polite lie.  He wrote amazing literary fiction, but not science fiction or fantasy.)

After I graduated, I kept in touch with Carolyn, and had the delightful experience of transcribing the first chapters of her collaborative novel Lotus Land (written with long-time partner John Espey and daughter Lisa See).  I will always cherish the memory of sitting at Lisa’s house, typing up the hand-written drafts.  I’d never seen writers actually write before.  It was alchemy.

Over the years, Carolyn and I met occasionally when she passed through town on a promotional tour, and she was a tireless supporter of my fiction, always ready to give me firm but gentle feedback on my writing.   She also gave me valuable advice during my brief tenure as an English teacher.

Her notes and book inscriptions often included the phrase, “To Karl, my almost-son.”

Goodbye, almost-mother.  And thank you.

Karl