Bang the Drums

Listening to the bagpipes played at the various events celebrating John McCain’s life this week left me in need of a bagpipe fix, so I downloaded an album from iTunes. There’s nothing like the sweet tune played on the pipes’ chanter accompanied by the rousing blare of the drones. If you’ve never heard them in person, you have missed an encounter that cannot be equaled. They kick the heart and churn the soul until you simply cannot help but stand up and declare yourself free of all earthly bounds.

My father played the drums in a bagpipe band when I was a teenager. As I began listening to this album I’d chosen at random, the first song, “Scotland the Brave,” moved from single bagpipe to a chorus of pipers to the inclusion of the drums, and I remembered with poignancy, awe and not a few tears my father’s struggles to master the damn technique of those Scottish drums. I don’t understand the intricacies of the differences between any other percussion style and those of the Scots, but I do know he did a fair amount of swearing as he practiced for hours on his little homemade drum pad. But master them he did.

Every Wednesday night, our family—Dad, Mom, little sister and I—would head to the military industrial complex where my father worked. While my sister and I took Scottish dancing lessons in one of the out buildings, outside the pipers and drummers would practice both the mastery of their instruments and marching, both fast and slow. And every Christmas, band and dancers together would march in the local holiday parade. We’d wear our little dancing slippers which really weren’t meant for marching, but the magic and joy of following the band led by its drum major lives on in my memory forever.

I miss my daddy. I listen to the drums on this bagpipe album, and there’s a part of me that wants to squeal with a child’s delight. If you ever hear a bagpipe band, whether recorded or live, pay attention to the drums. They’re the best bit of percussive work you’ll ever experience.

My Daddy in all his glory

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Dear JoAnn,

Today is the first anniversary of your passing, though you’d passed away from me a while before that. We got all caught up in the political, and I didn’t understand until you were gone where you were coming from. Not that that would have made a difference. So I’ve spent the last year thinking about how I didn’t miss you because I’d already begun grieving the loss of you months before.

But today, as I set out for my walk, I plugged my earbuds into my phone and pulled up Sticky Fingers, and when the first licks of “Brown Sugar” hit my ears, I recognized reason for celebration. Those two concerts in one day at the Forum where we jumped up and down and danced like maniacs.

Those nights spent exploring our insides with Anita.

That early morning when you and I rode up to the top of Lookout Mountain and orchestrated the sunrise. Anita had fallen asleep on us . You, as you always could, had taken a two-hour nap earlier under the influence of something that should have kept you from doing so. We did a damn good sunrise that day, and we spent the entire day proud of our work.

Canasta. Oh, my god, we played canasta every chance we got. And we were brutal—all of us—you, me, Neal, and the others in your crowd.

The house in Pasadena. Your brilliant idea to strip all the kitchen cabinets of paint in the middle of summer before you moved in. Nearly killed us with the fumes. And gloves don’t work if your hands are sweaty because the sweat mingles with the fumes slipping and your hands burn anyway. Then later, you completely remodeled the kitchen, replacing the cabinets anyway. You told me you’d owe me forever, and I held you up to that, didn’t I.

The good times. Time to remember the good times. We laughed and had fun all over Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley. And I will remember forever. Thank you for all of that. It never would have been the same without you.

Love,

Hart (whom you refused to call Hart because you couldn’t get used to calling me anything but Debi—are you up there still calling me Debi? Stop it. Right now.)

War is Coming

I am going to war.

I have been diagnosed with a left kidney stone that will kill me. Literally. Another infection caused by this stone blocking my left ureter could be the infection that turns into sepsis and kills me. So the stone must go, and my urologist believes the only way to get rid of it is to remove the kidney. But the surgery could kill me. So I’m going to war.

I write fantasy. I read fantasy. Ah, hell, I watch Game of Thrones religiously. I view my world through a veil covered with medieval figures loving and warring, and as I contemplate what I’m facing, I realize it’s a war, and I will either fight to the death or fight to survive.

I must train for this war. Hence, I must exercise my obese body. I must eat well in preparation for this war, and so I must cut certain foods from my diet. And as I step onto the battlefield (the OR), I will gird my loins to fight the good fight.

I cannot know the outcome. Everything in life is random. I may fall. But if I prepare the best I can, the odds may turn in my favor. I will not return unscathed, and the war will continue as I struggle to regain my life.

But damn it, I’d really like to survive to April 14, 2019 (actually late May 2019 when the series ends) to see the final season of Game of Thrones. So I prepare for war.

Breaking Worlds Cover Reveal

Lisen sat in the study off her office, her legs stretched out, the hearth cold and dark before her. She’d earned the cold, deserved nothing better. Her life was over. Rinli was dead.

Thus, does Breaking Worlds, Book V in the Lisen of Solsta series, begin—with the slow dirge of the heart’s drumbeat and unrelenting grief over the loss of a child. Such a story must be accompanied by a very special cover, and Aidana WillowRaven, cover artist extraordinaire, did not fail in her assignment.

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Aidana is a cover artist. There is a difference between a cover designer and an artist. A designer incorporates the work of others (photos mostly) to create original covers for their clients’ books. An artist, on the other hand, starts with a blank canvas, listens to the writer’s thoughts on the scene or object to be depicted, then takes the idea and creates her own vision of it.

I have to say Aidana created a masterpiece this time, and I am thrilled to share it here with all of you. Admittedly, I micromanaged a bit. (I always do.) But she put her heart and soul into the depiction of a moment which doesn’t actually appear in the book; it occurs between one scene and another. Hats off to you, my friend, my collaborator! And thank you for all your hard work.

(Breaking Worlds will be available soon on Amazon in print and Kindle.)

When Cross-Dressing Didn’t Have a Name

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I would not have read Earth As It Is had I not been friends with Jan Maher since our days on an AOL message board together. I probably never would have heard of it. But I did hear of it and I did read it, and I’m here to say you should read it, too.

Earth As It Is presented me with one of the most complicated character studies I’ve ever encountered. Charlene Bader comes to Heaven, Indiana in 1945 and sets up a hair salon to which all the women in town quickly gravitate, and for many years they continue to come there—some weekly, some monthly, some only a couple of times a year. Charlene, initially an outsider in an insulated small town, becomes a part of Heaven’s tapestry. Like a mother confessor, she listens to these women’s secrets but shares them with no one, unless, of course, everyone already knows them. But Charlene herself has a secret, and we as readers learn it in the first chapter while the townspeople remain ignorant. Charlene is a man.

I won’t detail the hows and whys of Charlie Bader’s evolution into Charlene Bader. I leave it to the book to skillfully and gently take the reader there. I will say, however, that as reader who is also a writer, I found myself wanting to know how Ms. Maher had navigated her way through the dark spaces of a character who came of age in the 1920s, had married, then slowly evolved into the woman we come to know in Heaven. In those days (as if these days are all that different), one didn’t share such a horrible revelation with anyone for fear of being run out of town or worse. It was a secret tightly wound into the psyche.

This is a brilliant tale which could have easily slipped into the grotesque, but Maher handles every character, every situation, every nuanced detail with the simplicity and grace which a setting like Heaven, Indiana deserves. I came to love and admire Charlene Bader. A short way into the book, I looked to the end to see how many pages there were to read and came across the “Book Club Guide.” I read the first question. “What does the title Earth As It Is mean to you?” I pondered this question as I read, and when I finished, I realized that although my initial take on the title—that everything that happens in the story is earth as it is, life as it is—may have been in part on point, I had missed it. But never fear. Ms. Maher supplies the answer in the end.

MY TAKE ON STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI

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So, here’s what I thought of The Last Jedi. I didn’t love it. I haven’t quite figured out why because I think it will end up #2 on my Star Wars favorite list, but there you have it. I started crying when Luke kissed Leia on the forehead and didn’t stop until after I got in my car. It still makes me cry because my Star Wars is over. If Carrie Fisher hadn’t died, she would have been left for episode IX, but we know they’re going to have to off General Organa somehow. Sigh.

Kudos to Rian Johnson for finally getting the whole balance-in-the-Force thing right. The prophecy of “The Chosen One” always bugged the crap out of me. “The Chosen One will destroy the Sith and bring balance to the Force.” That’s like saying the Chosen One will kick the kid on the left side of the teeter-totter off and bring balance to the teeter-totter. Or let’s keep the sun shining 24 hours a day. We need the dark. We need to recognize the darkness deep within us if we are to remain whole. If the prophecy had said, “The Chosen One will destroy the Sith and save the universe,” I wouldn’t have an issue with it. But it says “balance,” and you can’t have balance on a scale when only one side carries any weight.

Adam Driver was brilliant. That first scene with Snoke (the scene without Rey) where Snoke smacks him around verbally and tells him he’s still a child and then the closeup on Driver’s face where he looks like a child with that pout—great. Daisy Ridley—doggedly carrying on the seeker’s role and doing it well. Carrie Fisher—I wish we’d had more. But Luke, beloved Luke, ripped apart and desiring nothing save dying on that island to put the Jedi to rest for good. I love the conflicted ones, and Mark Hamill played that conflict right up to its razor edge.

I want to see it again and again. There’s so much going on, I suspect it will take several viewings to catch it all.

To That Guy in High School

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Dear Jack H,

You won’t remember me, and even if you do, you won’t remember what you did to me. This is how it is. Men don’t remember these things because they are of absolutely no consequence to them. But more than 50 years later, I do remember. I remember you and what you did. I even remember your full name without having to refer to our yearbook.

I was a sophomore, new to the school and the kids in the school. You were the football star and vice president of the student body. I was nothing and you were everything. We sat in French 3 together, you behind me for no logical reason except to do what you did—one of the things you did. I have forgotten all my French pretty much entirely, but I haven’t forgotten you.

You would sit behind me and pull one hair out of my head nearly every day that year. My hair was down to my waist, medium blond, and for a reason you couldn’t give me every time I would ask you, you’d yank a hair out. You thought it was cute, funny. I found it intrusive.

And then there was the other thing. I’d made this teal, corduroy, wrap-around jumper in Homemaking which tied in the front. I wore it often because it was comfortable and I was proud of my work on it. You would approach me, and I knew what was coming. You’d pull the bow and leave me with only the single knot holding the jumper together. That was more than intrusive; that was threatening. I asked you to stop, probably in that flirty way girls do because we don’t have the power to haul off and sock you in your pretty jaw. You never did.

You were a predator. There, I’ve said it. I don’t know how you turned out as a man, but as a senior in high school, you intimidated me with your power and your position in the student body and your good looks. Insignificant as all this may sound, I was an innocent child in many, many ways, and you preyed on me. I hope you rot in hell.

Sincerely,

The girl who sat in front of you in French class in 1965

The Bitch

My mother was a bitch. As simple as that. She had no love in her at all. She didn’t understand the concept. It wasn’t a part of her tool kit. What she felt for my father was lust, not love. It ruined their marriage. They never divorced, but for my father it was loveless.

 I quickly learned as a child not to do anything to make her unhappy.  She downplayed my intelligence, my abilities, encouraged me not to look too far afield for satisfaction, to accept less than I wanted.  She taught me basically that I was worthless and had no business striving for anything worth anything. So I failed. I failed at life and I failed at hope. I failed at ambition and I failed at discipline. She took tasks from me that she thought were beyond my abilities to complete which left me believing I couldn’t complete anything.

I gave up somewhere in the ninth grade year of my life. I’d managed to remain hopeful until then, but at some point that year, with everything going for me, I turned away and surrendered to the meaningless, the pointless, the mundane.

Don’t tell me a certain generation of parents were like this. Don’t excuse her sad excuse for parenting as okay. It left me at 68 years old a failure at everything including the thing I would love for anything in the world to see succeed. I don’t promote the books I’ve written, the books I’ve slaved over to make shiny because telling people I’ve got something I made that they’d really want to enjoy is abhorrent to the child in me whose mother said I “just missed the boat on being a genius.” Leaving a child feeling boatless and not smart at all.

I’m glad she’s dead, and I will never apologize for that.

Hypervigilance

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To most, “hypervigilance” is but another word amongst millions of words. Likely, it’s a word few people use in their daily life. But for those of us with an anxiety disorder, hypervigilance is the thing that paralyzes us with fear. Imagine.

I had the resonator in my car’s exhaust system replaced the beginning of February. The place that did it had great reviews on Yelp and came recommended by a friend whose opinion I trust. (No, this isn’t about the muffler shop, not really, but read on.) A month or so later, I noticed my car had a clicking noise when I shut it down. Immediately fight-or-flight kicked in.

What’s that noise? What does it mean? Lots of cars click. It’s the metal contracting, isn’t it? I have a new metal thing in my car, and this is the first time I’ve driven it in warmer weather. That’s got to be it, right? I can’t take a car back to a muffler shop and say my car is clicking. It’s a stupid reason. All cars click. This is the sort of inner dialogue I must always invoke when confronted with fearsome things. This is what hypervigilance leads me to.

So I decided it was likely a normal thing and let it be. Well, sort of. You see, once a thing is revealed under the influence of hypervigilance, it doesn’t simply “go away.” And letting it be? Well, forget that. The refrigerator turning on and turning off has been known to send me reeling. And that’s a set of noises I have carefully catalogued as “normal.”

I “ignored” the clicking for a little over a week. Then a few days ago, I had reason to get out of my car while it was running, and I heard (oh, those pesky, hypervigilant ears of mine) the same sound that had sent me to the muffler shop in the first place. (And in my defense, let me say that I hadn’t heard the sound initially—the guy at the smog check place had originally pointed it out to me.) I freaked. I’d had the new resonator for just over a month, and it already broke?

This led to an overnight anxiety attack. I decided I’d call the shop in the morning, get a feel for their response. That would allay some of my fear. The guy at the shop said he couldn’t tell me if continuing to drive the car would be safe unless he saw it. Okaaaaay…

So off to the shop I went yesterday. It turns out the clicking sound which others might have noticed or might not have noticed, but which I dismissed because my coping mechanism convinced me it was a dismissible thing turned out to be the very thing that caused the mechanic to decide to replace the original resonator. Not the sound I thought sounded like the sound that had triggered the comment from the smog-check guy. The click I’d dismissed!

This is what hypervigilance does to those of us disabled by anxiety. I see things and hear things and smell things that set every nerve in body off on tangents I wouldn’t wish on an enemy. So I share this because most people don’t “get” anxiety and tend to tell those of us who do to relax and that everything’s fine. “Don’t worry about it,” they advise condescendingly. Sorry, that’s not possible in my universe.

#cancersucks

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How do I explain to my child-self that it’s okay that Nancy’s kitties have a new home?  Their new home.  The new home they need because their mommy can’t take care of them anymore.  How do I tell Nancy?  She’ll put her good face on, but I know inside she can’t help but weep.  It should be good news, but damn it, it’s not good news.  It says Nancy is dying and is too sick to take care of them ever again.

Why does she listen to my advice and proclaim me the person in charge?  I’m not, you know.  Not yet.  Until she is declared “incapacitated” by two doctors, her word goes.  But she’s deferring to me, and that scares me.  Everything scares me, and everything about this scares me more than anything I’ve ever done before.  My parents?  They were easy compared to this.

What happens if I fuck it up royally?  I almost did, just this Monday.  The nursing home wanted to send her to her oncologist 12 miles away.  By transport.  A long trip for a woman who cannot sit up in a wheelchair for more than a few minutes.  I made some phone calls and determined this was for a followup for her to continue chemo.  We’ve discussed this and it was my understanding that she was done with the injection of poisons into her body.  (But my crazy mind wants to know—is she done with chemo because she’s done with chemo, or is she done with chemo because I’ve expressed the opinion that I suspect she’s done with chemo?)  I called the rehab facility and talked to her nurse, suggesting that she talk to Nancy about whether or not she wants to go back for more chemo.  I mean, why put her through a difficult trek if she doesn’t want it anymore?  And then I hung up, proud of my kindness and hard work on behalf of my friend.

Three hours later, I sit up, like a bolt, on the couch.  If Medicare can give her a 48-hour notice for refusing physical therapy or making no further progress on it, what’s to keep them from throwing her out for refusing treatment?  I freaked out.  Multiple phone calls to multiple friends, including Nancy encouraging her to tell them she’s not sure if she wants chemo or not and maybe they should remake the appointment.

Now, we are a little more than 48 hours out from beginning the push for emergency Medi-Cal, the thing that will keep her safe in the nursing home until it’s over, and another thought occurs to me.  Why does Medicare think everyone has a family at home to take care of them, a family who can put the time and the money into their loved one when so many single, childless boomers are reaching this stage in their lives?  Nancy has no family, and I’m her only friend left in the area—another matter, this one rejection by one of her friends that left me alone and sent me reeling last week.  It’s me and no one else.  I have to get her on Medi-Cal or I’ll either have to live with her or have her live in my house.  I’m already losing it the way it is; how well do you think that is going to work?

Tuesday morning I called the man who’s going to handle the urgent Medi-Cal filing and tell him the predicament I think I’ve gotten her in.  It turns out that physical therapy and treatment options are two different animals in the Medicare zoo, and a refusal to continue chemo should not elicit a Medicare eviction notice.  And, so far, it hasn’t.

This is the hardest situation I can ever remember endeavoring to survive.  My introversion is reacting with massive exhaustion as I spend too many days in a row out amongst people whose souls continue to suck the life out of me, and my anxiety disorder, quite simply, keeps begging me to ditch the bitch and run away.  It’s tempting, believe me, but how could I?  She’s my friend, and none of my struggles can compare on any scale anywhere to the state of her life now.

Soon, I hope, with the Medi-Cal issue settled, I’ll be able to give myself a little self-care—lunch out with a friend or two, a movie, maybe even a pedicure or that way-overdue visit to my own doctor.  Not to mention a few days off after every foray out into the world.  In the meantime, I will rely on friendly phone conversations spiced up with a joke or two and the kindness of not so much strangers as that of those who have traveled this rocky path before me.

Yes, indeed, #cancersucks.