Brandon the border collie passed away Saturday morning. He was a very good dog.
He declined very swiftly, which is usually a blessing with dogs–Monday he was stiff, as he usually was, and by Wednesday he couldn’t stand up without help. His back had deteriorated to the point where he could no longer feel his hind legs, and then it was a matter of keeping him comfortable until Kevin got home from traveling and could be with him at the end.
He was twelve years old and a giant for a border, well outside breed standard, so this was pretty much a ripe old age.
It is the nature of herding dogs to divide the world into People and Sheep. Kevin was People. I was…well…the most senior of the Sheep. (I suspect Brandon was silently judging Kevin for carrying on with a Sheep, but such is the devotion of dogs that he allowed this baffling choice to go on.) I was mostly allowed to go about my business as long as Kevin was home, but when Kevin went on a trip, Brandon had to use his best judgment and felt that I needed to stick to a strict schedule and be in the bedroom by 9 pm at the latest. Deviation would be met with long, disappointed looks, and then he would shove his nose under my elbow and flip it up while I was trying to work and walk very close behind my knees if I got up to use the bathroom.
We miss him very badly. I wouldn’t even mind being herded again.
Kevin had him since he was a tiny fuzzy puppy, so this is hardest for him. We are the sort of people who measure out our lives in pets, so we are as used to this as it’s possible to be. It doesn’t get easier, but it does get familiar, so there’s that, at least.
May he herd all the things in heaven.
Author’s Note: Told with permission. Nay, with encouragement. And it probably needs a trigger warning for horrible…medical…um…good god, I don’t even know.
So I have been having the week that will not die. Kevin had food poisoning, then I put him on a plane, then I had mega food poisoning, then I laid around for a day or two recuperating and by the time I could stay upright without lunging for the bathroom, Brandon the border collie was ill and I had to maneuver an elderly 75lb dog with bad hips into a car, a feat made (just barely) possible by all that mulch I throw around, and then I got home with Brandon and maneuvered him into the house to discover that the beagle had a limp, which meant I spent all day at the vet today.*
But this pales. Pales, I say! In comparison to what happened some days ago.
I received a text from my mother.
It said—I have it before me now—
“Still blizzards and extreme windchill and today my uterus fell out.”
No, go back and re-read it.
It is worth noting that this tells you a lot about my mother, and also about the weather in Upper Peninsula Michigan, which is so dire that it gets mentioned first. (Or maybe that’s just my mother. The windchill would need to be measured in Kelvin before I mentioned that first.)
My reply was…well…honestly, I gotta say, there’s only so many things you can say to this statement.
MOM: Also have been walking around with another infection for months
ME: GO BACK TO THE UTERUS
MOM: Yep. It’s still attached, but now I know what it looks like.
ME: …please tell me you’re messing with me and this is not a thing that happens.
MOM: Went to the doctor who was somewhat shocked. Says I need surgery.
ME: OH SWEET JESUS
ME: Get the surgery! I will pay for it! Oh god!
MOM: It does actually happen. If you google it you will be totally grossed out.**
ME: Excuse me, I have to go get a total hysterectomy right now.
Mom informed me that she was going to pick up my kid brother, and suddenly a thought occurred to me. It was a bad thought. It was a bad thought that became what is, possibly, the most unfortunate string of words I have ever had to type together in one place.
ME: MOM WHERE IS YOUR UTERUS NOW
ME: OH GOD WHY DID I JUST HAVE TO TYPE THAT PHRASE OH GOD OH GOD
MOM: I shoved it back it. It seems to be staying put for now.
MOM: It’s really much more inconvenient than painful.
There is another gap here, where I seem to recall wandering the kitchen making mewling noises like a baby raccoon that has fallen out of a tree and then perhaps been forced to read the collected works of the Nihilist philosophers
Eventually I rallied.
ME: I really want to be supportive right now, but I also need to drink until I do not remember this conversation, so I am conflicted.
At this point, I sought the comfort of several female friends, who largely reacted by going into the shower and sobbing and scrubbing themselves with steel wool, but my buddy Otter looked it up for me in between rocking and sobbing and determined that yes, this is actually a thing that happens.
(I am so sorry, readers, to inform you of this. Truly. But also glad that I am not suffering this knowledge alone.)
It is also–har har–hereditary.
Childbirth is the major contributing factor, thankfully, so I am probably in the clear. (Otter suggests I also avoid coughing for the rest of my natural life, and probably sneezing if I can help it.)
MOM: Also, if you are of Northern European descent, that makes it more likely.
ME: Excuse me while my cervix builds a moat and puts bars on the windows.
MOM: Thank you for making me laugh! Although I don’t want to laugh too hard…
MOM: Nooo, too much laughing NOOOOO!
ME: Go watch Dr. Zhivago or something! Don’t laugh!
ME: AAAUGH OH GOD OH GOD OH GOD
MOM: Just kidding. Well, about that bit, not about the rest of it.
Yes, dear reader, that bit was my mother trolling me. Very successfully, might I add.
Anyway. If you don’t want to google “uterine prolapse” (and Jesus, why would you?) it happens. It just sort of…falls forward and outward. There are a couple of methods of fixing it, most involving hysterectomy and a few involving silicone inserts. My mother goes in for surgery when her insurance okays things.
She is also in no pain, thinks it’s funny–now–and adds that uteruses are astonishingly small. And was happy to have me blog about it. So. Um. Picture the “More You Know” rainbow going behind this post.
It’s been a rough week, I won’t lie, but this is arguably the single most wildly bizarre thing in it.
2015. Off to a helluva start. For everybody in the family.
*Official diagnosis: The beagle was so upset that Brandon got to ride in the car and he didn’t that he tore around having hysterics, popped his patella out, and then popped it back in. He got his car ride, and also a nail trim and painkillers. Brandon got lots and lots of painkillers. I? Did not get painkillers. I got Pepto-Bismol. The universe is deeply flawed.
**She is not lying.
First of all, I have a new short story up at Apex Magazine!
It’s called Pocosin and has a possum god. You can read it for free, though I hope you’ll consider subscribing to one of the best little SF magazines around! (There’s also an interview with me.)
Also, Dragonbreath #10 : Knight-Napped! hits the shelves today! Even if you don’t buy a copy, totally go look at it in the store just to boggle at SOLID FOIL COVER!
(There are like mondo huge advertising things coming, none of which are quite done yet, but I will link when they go live, because they’re just kinda neat and impressive.)
And I’m on the very last Hamster Princess 2 illustration, and if I can finish it today, this will be like Triple Threat Day.
Honestly, I didn’t so much want a new me as to find the DLC for the old me that has the extra energy packs. I like me, but nobody warned me at character creation that life was basically an ammo conservation game with very few vending machines.
Some years I do indeed feel the rush of “It’s the next year! Let’s rock this!” and some years (like this one) I mostly just go…”Linear time. There’s a thing. It’s like next week, except I’m supposed to be excited.”
Maybe this is a function of age.
Anyway, my writing output is pretty down these last few weeks, barring podcasts. All I have been doing is putzing around with the Ren’Py game engine and finishing up the last of the 300+ hamster illos for the first two hamster princess books. And I downloaded the Zombies Run 5K trainer.
So far–I’ve done two episodes–the first was fun, the second rather dull. It gets another shot–I think they had to establish a baseline or something–and if it doesn’t get more engaging, I’m switching to the actual Zombies Run app, which is apparently a blast and has Margaret Atwood as a mad DJ or something.
(Although I must point out at this point that I do not run. There is no mere app that will cause me to do so. The only things that I will run for these days are connecting flights and maybe serial killers, and only if they have chainsaws.* There are sports bras that enable women of my topographic upper dimensions–or, as I prefer to be called, “F-class Destroyers”–to run, but they require specialty engineering. I have a sports bra that is slightly less specialized and I can speed walk, and that’s as good as we’re going to get. Also I get shin splints. The zombies will simply have to accept these limitations.)
And I made an image map in Ren’Py and I was super proud and it worked and everything and then I realized it was completely wrong for my game design, but still. I’M PROUD, DAMNIT.
Anyway, 2015, so far, so good, although I don’t really feel like it will start until tomorrow, when it will be A Real Work Day With Real Work On A Real Schedule, and then we’ll see how it goes.
*If it’s just a knife, I’ll take the hit.
Long ago, when I was a small child in Mesa, Arizona, we would sing “Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer” in school.
(I can only imagine what a horror this was for our teachers, now that I think of it–while we had the usual sort of school set-up, we were handed off to other teachers for Music and P. E., so you gotta imagine they heard different groups of small children singing Rudolph six to eight times a day.
…I have no idea why we were singing Rudolph in P.E., now that I think of it, but we were.)
Anyway, because of the way the verses are enunciated, the last line was always pronounced as “You’ll go down in his story!”
Since nobody of my acquaintance prounounced “history” as “his story,” it did not occur to me that this might refer to history rather than “his story.” His, obviously, being Rudolph.
So being quite young–third and fourth grade, and I had skipped second, so around seven or eight–I figured that the song was, at this point, addressing the listener. Earlier in the song, “you” would even say it glowed, addressing the listener, and it would be nonsensical to say that Rudolph would go down in his own story, because of course he would. Everybody is in their own story. They’re the main character.
Obviously, therefore, this song was promising that the listener would go down in Rudolph’s story, just for having listened to (or perhaps sung) the song.
In my defense, it’s not like the idea was totally without precedent. I mean, the shepherds didn’t do jack in the Christmas story except have an angel show up and tell them a thing. Much of the Bible accessible to seven-year-olds with disturbingly high reading skills seemed to consist of people minding their own business and winding up immortalized in text because an angel showed up trumpeting “FEAR NOT!” or wheels of fire appeared or whatever.
I believe I pictured a list of names or something, or perhaps an enormous crowd of people. (Again, there was precedent! Santa had lists of names! The weird evangelical church my stepfather was dragging us to was big about names being writ and so forth and everybody else being banished to the pit, circa Revelations or so, and Christmas as a holiday was very muddled up between the sacred and secular for a seven-year-old.)
However, I was also as cynical as only a small child can be (anyone who thinks children are fountains of joyous innocence does not spend much time around them or has forgotten a LOT) and I figured that TONS of people had sung the Rudolph song over the years. And if every single one of us was going down in the story of Rudolph, that would be a long list of names. Too many to have any relevance. We would be a vast, faceless host. Lots of us would be dead, except historical people didn’t exactly die, they just became fixtures of books, so I think I figured that we’d all be standing around in some weird historical not-dead fashion.
(I had no idea how old the song was, but since carols were all like super-old, presumably Benjamin Franklin and other personages would also be there. I remember Franklin specifically, because I was fond of the book about Amos the rat at the time. It would be okay to be in the crowd next to Franklin, but really, what were the odds?)
So Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer was promising that we would go down in Rudolph’s story, but so would millions of other people, and at that point, why would you even bother? It was a stupid thing to promise, and nobody would ever read all those names or care about all the people who were supposedly going down in this story.
This bred an intense resentment of Rudolph and the song, which I have still not entirely shaken.
Everybody have a fabulous holiday, and please, if you go caroling, enunciate carefully. Think of the small cynical children!
You can still order, but I can’t get ‘em to you by Christmas, and as I plan to take the holidays off, prints will be arriving at the beginning of January. Orders placed before now will be going out this week.
Everybody have an awesome holiday season!
She leaned against the doorframe in the burned-out building, listening to the distant sirens. It was amazing they even bothered with sirens anymore, down here, but there they were.
The red glow of her cigarette was the only light in the building. The street lights had been blown out long ago. That was fine. She didn’t need much light, and anyway, there was nothing down here worth looking at.
Everyone of any importance was dead, but there was no point in whining about it. Start whining and you turned out like one of the old guys. It was pathetic at first, and then it was just exhausting.
Anyway, she wasn’t going back there. Nobody there could mind their own business. Last time, they’d tried to stage a goddamn intervention for her–tried to get her to give up the relic, muttering something about appropriate grieving, which was pretty fucking rich coming from somebody who ran around the city dressed like a bat because his parents died thirty years ago. Appropriate grieving, my ass.
He wasn’t even a good bat. Bats had scrunchy noses and enormous ears. His proportions were all wrong. She’d showed him an endless parade, from flying foxes to bumblebee bats, and not one of them matched, and apparently “Stylized Bat-Like Figure Drawn By Someone Who’s Never Actually Seen A Bat-Man” wouldn’t fit on his business cards or something.
Anyway, point was that she wasn’t going to cede the moral high ground to a whiner who didn’t understand bats. She’d suggested once that he spend some of that money finding a cure for white-nose syndrome and instead he’d gone and blown a quarter million on a Bat-themed jet-ski. Jerk.
Fine, maybe she was spending a bit too much time shifted. It wasn’t a crime, was it? The green dude had showed her brainscans and tried to explain something about the problems with brains being shoved into tiny little spaces for long stretches of time. He was the most decent of the lot. His whole civilization was dead, but he didn’t bring it up in casual conversation. She’d tried to keep herself to bigger shifts after that, but it wasn’t easy. People noticed a rhinoceros on the street the way they didn’t notice a rat.
It was very pleasant being a rat. The world went to whiskers and tails and a symphony of smells. A mouse, now–being a mouse was bad. Her brain started to feel squeezed. There wasn’t enough there. She was always slow and stupid when she came out of mouse-shape.
Lately, though, her thoughts seemed to echo inside her skull whenever she was unshifted. She’d shrunk somehow, and there was too much space left.
Maybe it was the space he’d left behind.
Perhaps today she’d turn into a rat and stay that way. Would it be such a bad life?
She ground out the cigarette under her heel and opened the box. The relic inside was a shrunken as a monkey’s paw. It only granted one particular wish, and only to her, but that was all she needed.
She took out her dead brother’s severed hand and folded her fingers against it. “Wonder Twin powers, activate,” she whispered, and felt the power take her away.
…this is all John Scalzi’s fault. I accept no responsibility whatsoever. Address all complaints to him. Forever. Oh god, I was supposed to finish a book today, and instead I started writing Wonder Twins fan-fic.
Everything in the world appears to be wrong, and I cannot seem to fix any of it.
The bees are collapsing, the amphibians are dying, the seas are warming, women are killed outright for sins men are carrying around in their heads, cops can shoot black people and walk away without even a slap on the wrist, and atrocities that I wouldn’t write into a book because I’d make myself sick have been done, ostensibly to keep me safe, and no one will ever be brought to justice for it.
And I feel like I could pour out the balance of my life on any of these things and I would die exhausted and the problem still wouldn’t be fixed. Might not even so much as budge.
And in some cases, it might be worth it, except that I don’t even know how to start. You may eat a whale one bite at a time, but I don’t know even where they’re keeping the forks.
Douglas Adams apparently thought, later in life, that he should have been a scientist, that being a scientist would have given him some chance to make the world better, and maybe he was right. (I think writing “Last Chance to See” really kicked him hard. I understand why.) Certainly politics isn’t doing it. The good politicians are, at best, trying unsuccessfully to put the brakes on the worst of what the bad politicians are doing. Scientists probably have the best shot at fixing anything. It’s a shame I’m so crap at math.
The problem…a problem…one of more problems than I can begin to fathom…is maybe that our narratives are so often about the hero fixing things. Winning. Making a difference. The heroine slays the dragon, averts disaster, keeps the world from going completely to hell in a handbasket. The hero shoots the bad guys or fights their way to justice or takes bloody revenge for the ills of the world, or whatever.
Anyway, you win. You don’t…I don’t know…make one tiny difference and hope the people who come after you don’t mess it up too badly. Even games that have no victory conditions also have no consequences. You lose at Tetris and you don’t have to cope with loss, you just restart.
Maybe we need the books and the games and the narratives that give us the coping mechanisms for not being able to fix things. For being one tiny person in a world that is so desperately screwed.
Because honestly, I am having a hard time coping with that right now. My usual small victories are looking smaller and smaller. I truly believe I’ve made a difference in the world, but the difference is so little and the world is so large and no matter how big those victories get, the world will always be so much larger. I could measure my life out in children who have read books and turtles helped across the road and food kitchen meals provided and all of that is good and it might prove that I’m not an awful human being, but the seas will not get any cooler because of it.
It seems cruel that despair is a mortal sin. They really get you coming and going on that one.
So, here we are again. We may fix nothing, so we might as well cope. Anybody read any good books?
(Warning: Long, possibly rambling, rather serious post ahead…)
There has been a discussion among various authors I know in the SF community about whisper networks recently–or maybe that’s a conversation that’s been going on for ages, and the whisper network only just reached me. Hard to tell, obviously.
Quick crash course in terms and examples:
Whisper networks, as I hear the term used, are basically the thing that a community or social group (i.e. SF fandom) uses to warn each other about missing stairs. (Christ, what a lot of jargon already…) Which is fine and good and a very valid community coping mechanism when, for whatever, reason, you can’t FIX the stair. There are plenty of people in SF fandom, for example, that cannot be “fixed”–they are what they are and they aren’t going away and whatever they are doing is either not illegal or not actionable and so a whisper network springs up to say “Hey, keep an eye out for Person X, and don’t be alone with them/engage them on-line/enter a business arrangement with them/whatever the particular issue is.”
For example, I am told that it was apparently well known that Isaac Asimov was a serial groper back in the day, nobody in power considered this “serious” (or they thought it was funny) and so the whisper network went around that you didn’t turn your back on him and you stayed out of arm’s reach or stuff would happen.
Which is really shitty, on one level, because nobody was fixing it, but people absolutely needed to be warned, so…whisper network to the attempted rescue.
The problem with this, of course, is that if you aren’t lucky/social/lucky/friends with somebody in the know/lucky, you don’t get the memo, and the next thing you know, you’re in the wrong elevator and there’s a hand on your ass, and if you’re even more unlucky, you say to someone “Dude! Person X grabbed my ass!” and they say “Oh, yeah, that’s just X, he does that. Didn’t anyone warn you?” and then not only did you just get your ass grabbed, you get made to feel like you’re stupid/unobservant/not even worthy of someone trying to warn you because no one cares what happens to you because you must suck.
Everybody with me so far? (Feel free to chime in in the comments if I am Getting Shit Wrong. This is being written fast and furious and my verbage is not as careful as it probably should be–if I say something stupid, point it out to me and I will correct if possible!)
I am a prime example of people who are failed by whisper networks. I have a wide circle of generally good friends in fandom who would totally jump in to save me if my car got a flat, but who honestly might not think to tell me that Person X is a missing stair, because they would assume that A) hey, I’m smart, I already know, and B) it’s such an awkward conversation to have, and C) everybody knows, don’t they?
And I am bad with names and bad with faces and while the vast majority of my fans are very good, once they figure this out, about saying “You know me from X,” so I can go “RIGHT! YES!” nobody in the history of the world is going to come up at a con and say “You know me from the time I grabbed your ass in an elevator.”
My entire connection to the whisper network is from pretty much two people who know me well enough to know that I don’t know and I have, I am afraid, already forgotten several of the names they told me, because I have a hard time processing stuff that’s not written down and so there is a non-zero chance that some day I will be squinting at a nametag and burst out with “Oh! You’re the ass-grabber! Right, I remember now!” and it will be awkward, although there is probably an argument to be made that in such case, I am a bumbling Nemesis of Social Consequences.
(Dealers and artists, let me add, are broadly the exception to this–the vast majority will be delighted to run down every person who comes by the table who is awesome or terrible–“Did you get the guy? With the thing? Oh god!” and “Yeah, don’t take his commission, he nit-picks for weeks,” but also “He is fantastic and I will introduce you tomorrow,” and “She is the sweetest person in creation, if I had fifty commissioners like her, I would be the happiest artist on the planet.” But you still have to show up where there are dealers and artists, which is not always feasible, and increasingly is much less connected to SF writer fandom, which is the pool I am slowly sliding into.)
At WindyCon–where I personally had no problems or complaints at all, let me say straight up–I was on a panel about social media. (This is what spawned the whole post, incidentally.) And the conversation turned to the whisper network, and Recent Events and the things that everybody knows.
At least two people literally said “Everybody knew…” about MZB and I still don’t know if they were being sarcastic and my body reading was just off, but I tensed up and wanted to scream because I didn’t know. And maybe everybody did know in nineteen-sixty-freaking-three, but a goodly percentage of those people have died or dropped out of fandom or moved off the grid because life sucks sometimes, and if you keep not mentioning it because why bother, everybody knows, eventually you are standing in a room where nobody knows except you and you don’t say anything because dude, everybody knows.
Well, maybe they knew all that and were saying it ironically, because I would like to think that, and I am just humorless about this topic and not everybody you meet has body language while sitting in a chair that I can read with flawless accuracy. Because I grew up on Sword & Sorceress and it really kind of mattered to me a LOT but there’s Being A Fan Of Problematic Things and then there’s this. ‘Problematic things’ to me is enjoying Baby, It’s Cold Outside, and doesn’t come anywhere near this shit.
That’s not the bit that spawned the post. That bit I have not yet processed and may go to my grave not processing and even if I process it, I still might not talk about it in public, because there are living victims out there and that’s way more important than my bullshit.
The bit that spawned the post was five minutes later.
The bit was when somebody was explaining the whisper network, and saying “We all got told not to get in an elevator with–well–certain authors–or we’d get groped–”
“Author X,*” muttered someone in the front row, not quite under her breath.
“Author X?” I said out loud, more startled than I probably should have been. “Seriously?”
“No, it was Author Y,” said someone else.
“I thought Y was just a drunk.”
“No, X was the drunk, Y was just annoying.”
“Look, they were both gropers,” said someone else, exasperated.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” I said, displaying my awesome professional panelist demeanor, and dropped my head in my hands. “This is why we can’t have nice things.”
Was this true?
I don’t know. How could I? I’ve never met either of them. I’ve never had anyone come up and say “Yeah, avoid X,” or even “Avoid Y because you’re his type,” (although I have heard that is a thing.) All we have are rumors, and the occasional acid statement “Oh yeah, he’s a great guy to hang around with. If you’re male.” and frankly, I am lucky as hell to have gotten that much. I don’t know if it’s not true. I’d probably stay out of elevators with them, though, and in that regard, the whisper network has done its work well.
I don’t think this was a conversation unique to this panel or this con. I suspect variations on this go on everywhere, whenever you get chunks of fandom together. (Hell, if anything I’d say it was a tribute to Windycon feeling safe enough for people to say this out loud.)
There are too many of us. Maybe fandom got too big, or maybe it just got too fragmented. We are ten thousand little circles that talk to each other, mostly in person, sometimes not at all. (Hell, I know of at least one problem in the local scene, but I couldn’t tell you his name if my life depended on it. I knew it for the two days when I was reporting him, now I’m reduced to vague physical descriptions and hand-waving, because my brain can retain shocking amounts of bird fieldmarks and the Latin names of plants and is absolute shit for other things. If I ever meet him again, sans certain context clues, I will walk right by without realizing that Angry Bald Man once had to be deployed to keep him away from a dealer at another convention. But hey, if there’s a Virginia Rail perched on his head, I’ll be able to ID that sucker cold.)
Well, I got this far rambling. If I were a good and sensible columnist, I would provide some thoughtful solutions for how to make things better, but I’m not and I can’t because I don’t know.
Really smart, canny, kind people, who understand other people on a level that I kinda don’t, have been beating their heads against this for ages, and the best anyone can seem to come up with is that we need to get the whisper network working better and louder, while we are trying desperately to fix missing stairs.
Maybe there isn’t a fix. Maybe this is just a function of what happens when you get a bunch of people together in groups–certain people who can milk the system of courtesies and politenesses and benefits of the doubt, a system that is flawed, but nevertheless allows a hundred humans to get into a closed metal tube for six hours and then all disembark alive at the other end, which the primatologists tell us is not something you can expect chimps to do.
Anyway. that’s what I’ve been thinking about lately. It’s discouraging and I don’t know the answers, but there it is.
*They said a real name. I know it. Probably you know it. For various reasons, some of which will be obvious in another few sentences, but also including the fact that I don’t know if it’s true because I’m not in the goddamn whisper network, we will be using pseudonyms.**
**Sadly, for all I know there’s a dozen people in the audience who know, from those remote clues, who was under discussion. Which is sad. And I don’t want to name names because I’m afraid of the potential backlash, and that’s maybe sadder. But I can’t police this space as tightly as I need to, and I don’t know if I can keep it safe from a really dedicated troll onslaught, and as is the entire point of my post, the whisper network is fucked up. So, err, please don’t name names here, if you think you know them, because I don’t know and can’t deal right now.