August 2007

My thanks to everyone who’s posted.

I really don’t think I can do this. I appreciate that I need to give it more of a chance–believe me, I do! I know!–but I don’t think I have too much more in me.  It’s not a case of being stronger than I know. I know exactly how strong I am, and…well…that was it, right there. This was just…too much. I’m breaking. I can’t handle this much change so soon. Maybe in a year or six months, I would have been okay, but right now…it’s like I can hear the support beams in my soul starting to groan.

This is actually worse than my divorce ever was. I panicked a bit then, but this…well, like I said, Waterloo. I have been routed. Time to make a strategic retreat, I think. It’s not the Bay Area inherently, I hasten to add, it’s just…too much.

I’ve moved a lot in my life, often across the country. I have the skills to do it. I am nothing if not cheerfully adaptable. But all those skills just…failed. It’s the weirdest thing. I feel like I sat down at a painting and suddenly didn’t know how to hold a brush.

I feel like an idiot to have come this far, but if I hadn’t, I’d have spent my life kicking myself for not going.  I don’t know what I could have done differently, really.  At least I know I’m not a coward. (An idiot, yes, but at least a respectably brave idiot!)

I’ve never retreated from anything in my life. I suppose sooner or later I had to learn.


The problem with being strong all the time is that you never learn the end of your strength.

Until you drive into it.

Doing sixty.

It was interesting. I felt it go. My internal narrator folded her arms, leaned against the wall, and said quietly, to no one in particular, “And there…right there…is the moment where I lost my shit.”

I did it quietly, in the apartment. I didn’t go climbing any clock towers or driving off bridges. I think, however, that I cannot do this out here. This doesn’t feel like a passing panic. I am an old hand at passing panic–I’ve been passing it for quite awhile. This is me being done.

I’m gonna take a week and do tourist stuff, I think. And then, if I have not made some kind of miraculous saving throw on my sanity check, I think I may haul off and go back to Raleigh. It’s a little embarassing–it smells like failure–but  I have reached my limit–this is too much, too soon, too huge, too far afield. God help me, I am as tough as they come, but I just don’t think I can do this now.

It’s been the longest year of my life, and very nearly the worst. And I kept on going, and I kept being strong. And I kept throwing myself into things, because I thought that strength was inexhaustible.

Guess not.

Live and learn, huh?

Well, well, well.

I need to meet some people. I have been spending far too long in relative isolation–it’s gonna kill me before much longer.


If you’re local and want to get together for coffee, dinner, whatever–send me an e-mail, tell me when’s good for you, don’t be shy! I can’t hack much more solitude or I’m gonna freak out, turn tail, and run all the way back to North Carolina, and that would be a real waste. *grin*

I’m at ursulav (at) — drop a line, O Bay Area-ites!

I can has internet!

Yay! I now have my own wireless, and can write on my laptop rather than Carlota’s. Still don’t have the desk system set up, but I’m a little closer at least.

Last night we wandered around in pursuit of IKEA, got lost, wandered back, and found it at last. Unfortunately, by that time we only had an hour before they closed. We wended our way through the maze of twisty little passages, all Swedish, and stood staring at bed frames.

With Carlota, this is always an experience.

“This one isn’t bad…” I said, eyeing a dark wood slatted frame.

“Lots of spots for handcuffs,” Carlota opined.

“Little more than I want to spend, though.”


We kept looking, and located a solid wood piece that was rather nice, if very very Swedish.

“Nice design,” I said.

“Not bad at all.”

“No spots for handcuffs, though,” I said, in an effort to be snide.

“Oh, don’t worry. What you do is run two eyebolts into the sides here and here…”

I gazed at the ceiling and wondered vaguely at what point my innocence had packed its bags and headed for the coast. (Sadly, I could pinpoint the moment exactly. No, I’m not going to share. Some things are between a woman and her god, and I don’t know that Ganesh wants to know either.)

“This one’s nice. And cheap,” I said, observing the cut rate frames.

“Unfinished pine? Feh. Gouges too easily.”

“You know, we have some very odd shopping criteria.”

“Hey, I’m just sayin’….”

In the end we abandoned Ikea, but had success with Craigslist. I just need a truck to haul the damn thing with…Carlota’s working on it, but we’ll see.

So we’ve arrived in San Jose!

The condo is much nicer than I expected–quite roomy, plenty ‘o space, in the middle of the quasi-barrio, but in a gated community, so not bad at all. So I was pleased there. Carlota did a great job on the advance scout.

On the other hand…no furniture. At all. Not even a fridge (one has been arranged, but isn’t here yet) and so I am typing this from the steps, and I slept last night in a sleeping bag on the floor. When you sleep in a sleeping bag without pad or air mattress, it does that inevitable creep across the floor, until you wake up to discover that you’re mostly sleeping on the carpet, the pillow is on the other side of the room, and the sleeping bag is a lumpy mass under your elbow. Eventually you give up.

I woke at a quarter to six, heard the sounds of cars through the open window, looked around at the bare bones of the room, and suffered the sudden wrenching dislocation that hits us all occasionally, that complex emotion that would be desperate homesickness if only one had a home to be sick for. What am I doing? How did I get here? This is madness! I want to go home…but where is that, anyway?

What do I do now?

There are times when what you really, really want is someone to put their arms around you and say “Hey, it’ll be okay.” The annoyance of being single is that this probably isn’t going to happen.

Oh, well.

So, as we all do after such moments, I shook myself off, squared my shoulders, and kicked the sleeping bag into the corner. Well. You’re here now. Deal. You lived just fine for seven months on your own, you can bloody well survive. Retreat is always an option–you’ve got at least two offers of staging grounds back in Raleigh if you absolutely cannot hack it here. But you won’t use it. You’ll be sane and settled in a few weeks, the way you always are.

Now quit whining and go unload the car, if you insist on being awake at this stupid hour of morning.

So I went to start unloading the car, got a few boxes out, and decided to go find breakfast. “It’s a grid!” Carlota said, heading off to work. “You can’t get that lost.”

Her faith in me is touching. You’d think she’d know better by now.

I cruised down the main strip, looking for a place that wasn’t a liquor store/food mart/lotto shop, saw something that looked like a grocery store, tried to turn, discovered that I’d misjudged the lane and was now on the freeway, tried to turn off at the first off-ramp, discovered that one led to ANOTHER freeway, and by the end of ten minutes I was in a distant suburb. Fortunately it was a distant suburb with a Starbucks, so I got a mocha and a slice of coffee cake and attempted to regroup.

Regrouping led me to another (incorrect) suburb. Finally I threw myself on the mercy of a gas station attendant, who managed to decipher what street I wanted–“Monterey?” “Yeah! That sounds right!”–and who managed to herd me back to my neck of the woods, newly armed with a street map of San Jose. (At least I found a Michael’s while I was out. It’s good to know these things. Mind you, I couldn’t find it again…)

And so, back to unloading. And soon enough, furniture! And then the world!

New Orleans

(I had meant to post this consecutively, but my hatred of Texas overwhelmed my sense of chronology.)

So while we were passing through Louisiana, with Texas only a vague foreboding on the horizon, we hit New Orleans in the mid-afternoon.

“Hey!” I said. “New Orleans! I’ve never been here before!”

“Let’s stop and have lunch!” said Carlota.



We drove on, along the freeway, looking for signs. Finally I saw something that said “French Quarter,” which was at least a familiar name.

“Shall we go to the French Quarter?” I asked, having a vague memory of hearing about the French Quarter, although for some reason my brain kept trying to insert the word “notorious” in front, in much the same way it kept trying to bring up the word “capacitor” that time I tried to fix my laser myself. As usual, I ignored this.

“Sounds good!” said Carlota, who was born with a defective sense of fear and, it must be said, would dine cheerfully in Hell if someone offered.

I jerked the car across three lanes of traffic, slithered down on an off-ramp, and turned randomly onto a side street.

“I think I see a sign for–“

“LOOK!” I said, excitedly, turning again, “a bird!” and went careening off in pursuit of a large seagull.


“Is my Sibley guide anywhere?” We pulled up to a light and I craned my neck. “Partial hood, dark splotch…” I muttered. “Oh, well, I’ll find it later.”


The light changed. I pulled away reluctantly. “Damn….oh, well. I think that’s a lifer!”

Carlota put her head in her hands.

A few moments passed.  I looked away from the sky and down at my surroundings, which was not unlike waking up from a beautiful dream and discovering a severed horse head on the pillow next to you.  “Um,” I said, gripping the wheel a little more tightly than absolutely neccessary.

“Yeah,” Carlota said.

“We seem to have wandered into a bit of a ghetto…”

Actually, we had apparently driven into a Third World country, and not one of the nice ones. It had a look I had previously only seen in downtown Detroit (although at least this time I wasn’t on foot.) You looked at the broken out buildings and wondered vaguely which one held the cockfighting pit.

“Is this the French Quarter?”

“I don’t see any signs…” 

We kept driving.

The ghetto turned anumber of beautiful colors–the houses were painted in a charming rainbow of shades and hung with rusted wrought iron–but it retained a less than savory character, in much the same way that Vlad the Impaler used to retain the bodies of his enemies around the house.

Carlota called our friend Deb, a native of the area, and had a conversation that apparently started with “You’re WHERE?” and ended with “For the love of god, be careful!”

We kept driving. The architecture was beautiful, like a leper with fantastic bone structure. I began looking for a street to turn around on, found something called “Ursuline St,” and took it as an omen. The street dead-ended. I decided maybe it shouldn’t be an omen.

“I think,” said Carlota slowly, “that there is no place around here that I’d like to leave the car.”

I considered the North Carolina plates, which were probably the local equivalent of “TOURIST — PLEASE EAT ME” and was inclined to agree. “This might be a good place to come back to on vacation sometime, when we have time and a map.”


“And very large boyfriends.”


As I get older, and travel more and more across this great country of ours, I find myself returning to one thought more and more. From sea to shining sea, across amber waves of whatnot, the same fact resurfaces again and again.

Texas fucking sucks.

It never ends. You enter Texas, and you are there to stay for a good long time. The sign just inside the border says “El Paso – 895 miles.” You laugh hysterically, then remember that you’re going THROUGH El Paso, and the laughter gets real brittle real quick.

Since our schedule got kind of compressed, and I wanted to spend at least a day in Arizona with my Dad and stepmom, we wanted to get Texas out of the way as quickly as possible. (Well, that, and we just wanted to get Texas out of the way as quick as possible.) And of course, the quickest way to cross that much space is to drive all night in shifts, right?

We’re tough women. We’re hardcore. We said “All night? SURE!” and off we went.

It’s good to prove to yourself that you can do these things. That way you don’t have to do it again.

The hard part isn’t the driving, it’s trying to get enough sleep in the passenger seat when you’re not driving that you’ll be able to take over again. My seat doesn’t recline, because there’s a bunch of suitcases, some art, and a giant stone fish in the backseat. You just kinda wedge a pillow against the window and try to catnap.

So I waited until Carlota had passed out, slotted in all the music she hates (Tool, Tom Waits, Firewater, Nick Cave) and the vast bulk of Texas passed in the dark, accompanied by my own brooding, which is the best way for Texas to pass, if you ask me. I love nature, and even I don’t find much of Highway 10 terribly pretty. Having it go by unseen is just fine by me. On the bright side, if you enter Texas brooding, by the end of it, you will be either at peace or psychotic. There’s just too much of it to allow any otheralternative. (I shall leave it to history to decide in my case.)

Unfortunately, since Texas is very large, and very spread out, towards about three in the morning, I was pouring coffee down my throat by the gallon to stay alert. The vagaries of Ursula’s bladder have been discussed at length here already, and coffee is the worst offender by far, so I will say only that by 3:30 am, I was managing about twenty minutes between pit stops. As Texas does not HAVE a pit stop every twenty minutes, a number of unsuspecting off-ramps have been marked as my territory, probably to the bafflement of passing coyotes.

Carlota took over a little before four, promptly got a speeding ticket, and grimly carried us along another few hours. We finally took an hour break at the bottom of a nameless off-ramp somewhere in a dark prairie, where the wind moaned and the broken metal signs clanged together off in the distance, and the air of being a slasher movie was extremely strong. Fortunately, the slashers were all off somewhere else–I hear they migrated to the HP fandom awhile back–and we escaped with our lives. (Maybe all that territory-marking warned ’em off.)

Half-starved, we fell on an IHOP like starving wolves, and eventually, like a long illness, Texas ended.

Punchy with relief, we stopped at a gift shop in New Mexico, which took tacky to levels previously undreampt of by mortal men.

This is dangerous. Carlota is a terrible instigator, and I have a horrible, sick, sick, sick weakness for Southwestern motifs. It’s sick and wrong. Show me silver and turquoise, copper and terra cotta, and some dreadful darkness arises in the bottom of my soul and whispers “Hey…we could put a whole cowhide on the sofa, and it would be COOL!” I have no excuse. My mother raised me better. I know it’s tacky. I suspect you imprint aesthetically at a formative age, much in the way you imprint on religion, and that window passed while I was living in Arizona as a child, with unfortunate results. (Yes, many of the monsters in the well are multi-eyed beasts tied to power and sex and identity, but there’s apparently a couple of pastel coyotes and a stuffed jackalope down there, too.)

I have a finely honed aesthetic sense.  And now I have a finely honed aesthetic sense and Kokopelli earrings. And then she talked me into the bone choker–okay, it was purple and ivory and lovely, I admit, although people really ARE going to think we’re a couple if we go around wearing matched chokers–and then I picked up the black cowboy hat, and it all went to hell.

“Buy it!” she cried. “It’s you! And it matches the shoes you bought in Alabama!” She offered this last as a trump card. I gazed at the ceiling, and the stuffed jackalope, who was not helpful.

“When am I going to wear a black leather cowboy hat?” I demanded, while my brain tried to argue that we could always find room for a stuffed jackalope, they have thousands of uses, possibly we should get two…. “Especially with those shoes?”

“We’ll go clubbing. We’ll get you a black leather corset, trim it in purple and silver, it’ll match the hat and the shoes…”

I stared at her. “You….want me…to go clubbing…dressed as a goth cowgirl?” I squeaked.

A line formed between Carlota’s eyes, which is an indication that resistance is about to become futile. “It’ll be fabulous. It’ll be hot. It’ll be totally you. Now buy the damn hat.”


I stared at the stuffed jackalope and thought dark thoughts, mostly relating to my will or lack thereof. Fortunately, efore I could launch into a tirade that no one, least of all me, would have believed, the clerk came over and said “You bought a hat! You get free larvae!”

It is a sad fact of my life that “You get freelarvae!” no longer merits even a batted eyelash. I looked at him. He held up a box that said “BBQ Larvae,” and looked at me with desperate hope.

Perhaps I have the kind of face that says “Tell me about your larvae.” Nothing surprises me any more.  “We got a shipment of these in,” he said sadly, “and we can’t even give ’em away. They’re not bad…” He opened the box and poured out a handful of dried grubs. “They’re barbecue flavored, but no one wants them.” He ate one.

“I’ve got nothing to prove,” said Carlota, backing away from the grubs.

By that point, however, I rather did, and so I said “Hand ’em over,” tossed a couple of dried BBQ Larvae in my mouth, and chewed. They tasted like slightly crunchy air, with cheap BBQ flavor. I straightened my back, gathered the remains of my dignity and my new hat, and stalked away.

And that’s how I drove into Arizona, wearing a black leather cowboy hat and an ivory choker and looking like a particularly emo rancher’s daughter, while picking bits of BBQ larvae out of my teeth.

I blame Texas.

(updated with larvae, ‘cos I can’t believe I forgot those…)

Whew, one day on the road, and already it’s surreal.

Carlota and I rolled into Alabama last night to her parents’ place, and man, they are Southern Gentry.  In the nicest and most gracious possible way.

By which I mean somebody handed me a Mimosa in the shower.

Showered, cheerful, slightly drunk, I staggered out to dinner, which was delicious, and very Southern, and my appetite, while still not back to its usual self, was notably better.  Over dinner we were informed that they’d scheduled massages for us the next day. Good lord.

We got up in the morning and went…shoe shopping.  I am not used to shoe-shopping being a primary function of a cross-country road-trip, and god only knows where the shoes are going to go, since the back of the Nissan is packed in my usual Tetris-style 3-d jigsaw puzzle fashion, and consists of art, dishes, suitcases and a vaccuum cleaner wedged in and around a giant concrete fish. (The fish fills most of the back seat. My stepfather made it, and bugger if I was leaving it behind.)  Still, now I have more shoes. (I owned four pairs. Total. Now I own six. Carlota’s an instigator.)

The massage was…well, agonizing, frankly, since it was delivered by a ruthless Asian matriarch who came up to my collarbone and could have strangled lampreys with her bare hands. She spoke two words of English–“Ok?” and “Harder?”–thereby eliminating many conversational niceties, and since I had acquired quite a few minor bruises in the course of packing and moving and…other things…and was looking rather like a liver-spotted Dalmation at the time,* I spent most of it yelping. And I couldn’t focus my eyes for ten minutes afterwards. Oh, well.

Tomorrow, back to the open road! Can Ursula and Carlota make it a full day without more shoe shopping? Will Carlota’s habit of carrying a stuffed animal in her cleavage eliminate speeding tickets? Will we abandon our mapquested route entirely, seduced by the lure of the World’s Largest Ball of Twine?

Tune in sporadically to find out!

*I’m not complaining. Sex, I am coming to believe, is much like cheddar…there’s no point if there’s not a little bite. **

** Wow, that was way more information than you needed, huh?

Not quite on the road yet…which is probably why I spent last night in a gay bar drawing hamster porn.

I will deny the existence of these sketches to my grave–especially that one with the ball gag–and the instigator will either be shot for contributing to my delinquency, or else roped into coauthoring the Hama Sutra one of these days…

Tomorrow, the open road!

So Long, Farewell, and Hey–Calendars For Sale!

I’m gonna be sporadic on-line for awhile–my computer is getting broken down tonight, so it’s posting from my laptop on the road kinda stuff from here on out–but before I go, next year’s Ursula Vernon calendars are for sale!

Order now!

And Blackbeard’s Rugged Tampon T-shirts are now available for ordering on-line!

Shock innocent bystanders!

Be good to each other, and I’ll keep on posting whenever I hit a wi-fi spot.

Wish me luck.

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