my jungle in the monsoons

I think, in the entirety of August, there has been one day where we didn’t get rain. That one day was overcast and threatening thunder out on the edges, so it barely counts. There was rain, it just didn’t land here.

Little Josie has a problem with this; she is a special sparkly wonderprincess and does not like walking in wet. She avoids puddles, she has to be dragged onto wet grass to do her doings, she fusses about damp toes. Considering that the entirety of her time with me has involved ALL OF THE RAIN and we’re still working on housebreaking, this has been a bit of a problem.

My deck, which is untreated wood that is frayed and shredded, marked with the scratches of several dogs’ worth of claw marks from a sudden takeoff, is slick on the surface with sudden algae. Once the wet season ends I’m going to have to sand and seal it. If it ends. I’m wondering about that, by now.

Yesterday when the rain stopped I went out into the back with Josie, with the intent to to haul her protesting into the damp grass (taller than she is, in places, despite a recent mow) to do what needed doing. My house, designed very badly, has eaves with no rain gutters so that everything drips straight down half a foot away from the house walls. It also includes a light fixture next to the back door, so at night when the light is on, the frogs and bugs gather there: the bugs entranced by the light, the frogs following along for easy pickings.

As I stepped out, something cool and wet landed on the back of my neck. My hair, pulled into a ponytail loop sort of thing, undid itself. There was a tiny bit of pressure, an opposing force, and I saw a light-grey septentrionalis zing away from shoulder level and onto the deck at my feet. It hopped off to safety, whatever that is for a frog.

A few nights ago I saw a much smaller frog, barely old enough to have shed its tail and found its way to the all-night diner of my back light, sneak up to snag a moth as long as it was, but much slenderer.

The wild things adore this rain. At night, the cicadas and crickets are almost drowned out by the creaking trill of frogs. They come to the gutters and puddles and weed-choked drainage ditches to breed, each singing about how it is the best frog, the strongest, the loudest, the only frog any prospective mates should consider. It’s a wonderful sound; the sort of thing I’ll miss about Florida if I ever leave this place.

There is a little brown anole which comes back every night to sleep in the same clump of Spanish moss. It sleeps vertically, tethered in the tangle of moss, with its tail curled and its head pointed up. I have not disturbed it, though I have walked by close enough to breathe on it. Either it did not notice me or its prey response was to stay motionless and hope I didn’t see it. I nearly didn’t, but the opalescent belly-scales of an anole are something I’m well used to picking out from all the other patterns in my tiny patch of nature.

The heat index today, about eleven in the morning, was a hundred and seven. The actual temperature was eighty-six. I wish I could handle heat better. I wish it didn’t send me reeling indoors, looking for a glass of ice with a splash of water inside and a cool flat surface to lie on.

The only dissonant part of this grand system is me, and my species, and the things we do. The plants and animals know how to handle this; they revel in the bounty of bugs and seeds and berries. The flowers attract bees and butterflies, the frogs congregate in the lamplight for moths when they’re not breeding in the standing water, the spiny-backed orbweavers build dizzying webs that reach from the leaf-littered ground to the oak canopy above.

(Then I walk into them, and splutter, and ask the spiders if we need to have a little talk because at this point they ought to know I walk there, so why do they keep putting webs there, it’s not that I don’t appreciate what you do, spiders, I quite like all the bug killing you do, but can you perhaps do it somewhere ELSE?)

Everything fits but me. Something has to change: either I need to make of myself a person that lives more easily in this, or I need to find a place that is more suited to what I already am. But the rainy season will draw to a close, August edges into September which dries, and then October which cools, and I’ll forget about this until next summer when another frog flings itself at me, for frog reasons I’ll never know.


carpe canem

I decided, after losing Logan, that that was it. I was done. No more dogs. I’d lost two in ten months. I know that cancer is common in Boxers, and I know that sudden cardiac failure happens to dogs of any breed much more often than we’d expect, but to hit both in so short a time? No. I was fucking done being shredded by love of dogs.

I was mad as hell. Fate, The Universe, God Herself, whatever — we were again not on speaking terms. But worse than after Riley, because Logan was so young, and so hurt, and deserved more life than that. We’d just gotten started, I kept saying and thinking, we were only getting started.

So I decided: no more. I wasn’t going to look for a Third Dog. I didn’t check Craigslist or the HSTB website or the Falkenburg shelter. No. That was it. If Fate or The Universe or God Herself wanted me to have another dog, it/she was going to have to put this third dog right in my face with the equivalent of neon signs and angels holding trumpets and anvils dropping and sky writing and everything else I couldn’t possibly ignore, because: Fuck. This. Loss. Thing.

You don't want to know what I had to put into GIS to find this.

You don’t want to know what I had to put into GIS to find this.

Let me tell you about Fate, The Universe, God Herself: it/she is always up for a dare. Because a week or so after coming to this decision (which was a while after thinking it over) and then the day after expressing it to a friend of mine, I got my message. On Facebook, of all places. A friend of mine had sent her dog to a trainer; that trainer shared a photo sent in by another client of a puppy in need of a home.



I looked at this picture and thought, my god, she reminds me of Riley. Not a pure Boxer, no, but there is so much Boxer in that pup, especially in the face. All right, Fate, The Universe, God Herself — consider that anvil dropped. So I inquired.

I didn’t expect to hear back, but I did.

This puppy had been found wandering on her lonesome on a road out in Sarasota, with no people or dogs or anything else around. She was very young, still had her milk teeth, playful and affectionate, liked to sleep on pillows, responsive to people. They had checked her for a microchip, called in at local shelters and vets, posted found ads, but nobody contacted them. Sounds to me as though the pup had been dumped out there.

I told the woman about Riley and Logan, the whole time expecting the conversation to end there, because like I said before I was feeling marked somehow, like I was an unwilling Killer Of Dogs. Instead she listened to it all and told me: “You sound like you need a puppy!”

It did make sense. Here was a puppy in need of a home. There I was with a home in sudden need of a dog.

I thought about the million ways this could be wrong (thanks ever so, anxiety) and the other ways it could be right. A puppy. A puppy. A fresh little dog-mind without all the trauma Logan had, and me bolstered with all of the good new training methods I learned with Riley and then Logan. Another rescue, like Logan; another dog in need of a second chance and a real home.

There was something else to it, too; something about Logan, that encouraged me to go for it. Our time together was so short, but so important. If I’d dithered and hesitated when I first met him, his story might have ended in that shelter while I was trying to make up my mind. We didn’t have long; we didn’t bond as closely as Riley and I had done, no. But there was a lesson to learn from Logan, that life is short and time is precious and go ahead and DO something before your chance is gone. Seize the moment. Seize the dog-moment. Maybe just seize the dog. Not carpe diem, but carpe canem.

So I would carpe the hell out of this wee little canem, for Logan and Riley and for her own self too, because she needed a person and I needed a dog.

I thought long and hard about names, finally settling on Josie, because she so resembles a friend’s dog, named Curly Joe, and Josie seemed a logical feminization of that. It’s a cute name, a happy name, a friendly upbeat name, for what sounded like a happy pup.

We met up on a rainy Sunday, and without anywhere sheltered to get out and talk, I hopped into Josie’s rescuers’ car to talk to them and meet my new dog. She was so small, and so sweet, and so friendly. I loved her immediately. We talked a bit — we were already in touch and Friended and whatnot on facebook — and along with the pup I was given a big bag of kibble, and another bag with a bowl, rawhide chews, pee-pads, treats… everything you need. Just add puppy. There she was, suddenly mine on that rainy day, ready to come home.

We're home, Josie.

We’re home, Josie.

It doesn’t make Logan’s loss hurt less, having this puppy here. It doesn’t make that pain go away. But what Josie does is help me bear it, remind me (quite forcefully, if necessary) that okay, I may be sad, but there’s a whole fantastic world out there that needs to be sniffed and tasted and explored by her wonderful little self. I can grieve one dog while learning to love another.

I can have a dog. I can have this crazy pup, who chews my ears and steals my socks and likes to sleep on my head. I can train her with the methods I learned for and used on Riley and then Logan, and she learns quickly. I can play with her, snuggle her, walk her, feed her, be happy with her.

I can do for her the thing that was most important for Logan: I can be there with her. I can teach her that the world is okay. I can teach her to grow up without being afraid.

Today we went to the vet, for her puppy checkup and first round of boosters — since she was a stray with no prior medical history, it starts from the beginning — and there another amazing thing happened. The woman who rescued Josie got together with her boss and they paid for a year’s worth of a wellness program, which includes shots, boosters, her spay when she’s old enough, and all the clinic visits I might need. Which is good, because puppies do stupid things like eat bees. I would like to nominate these two as Dog-People Saints. When she told me over the phone today that they were covering the whole thing, I went all stuttery and stupid in my amazed gratitude. Um. Wow. I mean. I. Um. That’s, that’s, so HUGE, you’re amazing. Thank you. Thank you. So I go, sometimes.

I’m looking into psychiatric service dog training, to see if little Josie is eligible, but those seem to be like the Mystery Monkey of Pinellas: everyone’s heard of them, but nobody knows where I might find one. I’ll keep looking, and in the meantime Josie and I will figure out this crazy business of life together.

We need to talk about the sleeping arrangements.

We need to talk about the sleeping arrangements, kid.


Short but simple post today. (Notice I am posting more? It’s a new thing. For me. That I’m doing.)

A video made the rounds on FB, today. It’s an interesting local-news clip of pure Tech Panic, this time about how HACKERS CAN FIND OUT WHERE YOU LIVE OMG THINK OF THE CHILDREN.


They’re hacking everybody!

Because the news is, you know, sane. and not at all sensationalized. Ever.

Most metadata is harmless, useful stuff: make and model of camera, ISO, shutter speed, aperture, so on and so forth. Flickr displays all of that proudly, because the Flickrati are all about the f/stops and we really dig being able to nitpick over whether the bokeh would be better or worse with a different aperture. As an example, view the metadata/EXIF page for one of my photographs on Flickr. See? It’s mostly jargony information.

But, master Photojedi, you may say, I don’t care about f/stops, I care about geotagging. First off, care about f/stops, photography is awesome. Secondly… I shall explain how to check for yourself if you’re not sure whether the phone’s really calling from inside the hou— I mean, not geotagging your photos.

One. Snap photo with phone, send to computer.

Two. Go to photo image. Do not view it; right-click it and view properties, like so:

infoThis is how you can view all the metadata assigned to each image you have.

Three: under properties, look for Details. You will see the same sort of metadata that is in my Flickr data page linked above. If you have geotagging turned on, you will also see a special location notice, GPS.

Blurry because screw you, is why.

Blurry because I am not where I ought to be.

All you have to do is go into the camera app and switch that geotagger off.

There is a reference page on Snopes about this; it points out that Facebook and Twitter automatically strip geolocation from images, which I find baffling because they make you opt out of geotagged text input on their apps. But nothing makes sense in this great big beautiful tomorrow ANYWAY, so I guess that’s all right.

Okay? No more panic now? You may return to submitting good stuff to Cute Overload and Dog Shaming.

on sinkholes


Eats up stairs

Alone or in pairs

And sucks em right into the ground

A hole, a hole, good god what a hole

Everyone knows the sinkhole!

In my senior year of high school, I took the Ecology class, which more specifically was Floridian Native Ecology And Other Supercool Things That I Wound Up Being Totally Into Despite Failing The Class. I had a lot going on at home and I was really good at hiding it. Still don’t know how I graduated. But that class gave me a firm grounding – hah – on the subject of sinkholes, aquifers, karst (not loess), saltwater inclusion, drought, water treatment, and all the other things that make Florida such a crumbly crust of sand to build upon.

Today I feel like sharing my knowledge with you. You are about to learn Sinkholes from a Genuine Lifelong Florida Girl. A defective one, mind, as I got the Estonian pallor and couldn’t tan at gunpoint, but a Floridian nonetheless. I instinctively do the stingray shuffle and I can identify bug bites by the welts they leave. I’ve earned my cred.

NOW THE DISCLAIMER: everything I am about to relate comes from the initial base of knowledge I learned in that class, bolstered by things I learned on the internet because I am a nerd and I like to spend hours learning about local geology in my free time. If I get something wrong, and you are in a position to know that for a fact and tell me what is the correct bit of information, PLEASE DO. Then I will edit this post, credit you for the corrections, and be more useful.

To explain this I need to get to very basic things and ancient history.

In the beginning, Florida was a sandbar barely peeking out from older, warmer oceans. The shellfish and tiny crustaceans that collected on it, over time, were calcified and compressed into limestone, which is porous, relatively fragile, and has a curious chemical reaction to acids like vinegar. (It was a fun day when we did Vinegar Rock Tests.) Limestone is made mostly of calcium carbonate, which is easily demolished by acids; if you drop ordinary white household vinegar on the stone, it will fizz impressively. It is not strong stuff, as rocks go, but it is perfect for the Floridan Aquifer. (Not Floridian. I don’t know why, don’t ask.)

Image via Wikipedia; fair use etc.

Image via Wikipedia & USGS.

The aquifer is made of porous limestone and water. Think of it as a saturated sponge, except the sponge is made of stone. This construction, a soluble waterlogged bedrock, is known as karst. There are lots of karst areas in the world; another that immediately comes to mind is the Yucatan cenotes, and I believe there’s another substantial one under the midwestern US, which has for decades supplied water to all of the farming that goes on out there.

This karst aquifer is a magnificent system. It has been tested by relentless nature for longer than humans have existed. It regulates itself. It functions just fine on its own terms. The problem is that those are not human terms.

Here’s how it goes: rain leaches through the soil and clay and sand, losing impurities as it goes. It sinks until it reaches the limestone bedrock which, being porous, absorbs and contains it. It stays there, circulating in a thousand beautiful subterranean rivers, until it burbles back to the surface in springs which feed rivers and streams.

Note I do not say lakes; although there are some spring lakelets (I’ve swum in beautiful Lithia which feeds the Alafia) most lakes in the Floridan Aquifer system are the result of sinkholes.

A sinkhole is simple enough. Water is dense and solid. So, too, is rock — even fragile rock like limestone. This delicate-seeming combination is quite sturdy and normally can support the ground above it. Sometimes, usually due to drought, the aquifer’s water level goes down. The limestone alone cannot support whatever is over it, so eventually gravity does what it does best and brings things crashing down. That is a sinkhole.

Most Florida lakes are sinkhole lakes: they began as sinkholes. Since water is always going down to the aquifer, it brings debris with it; if this plugs the hole, the water collects in the hole and becomes a lake. The lake then seeps into the ground and feeds the aquifer again, and all is well. On rare occasions, the aquifer level may drop and the hole may reopen, and where there once was a lake there is suddenly a dry mudflat.

Take a look at Google Maps, here; you can see all the natural sinkhole lakes, which are round, and then the manmade reservoirs which probably were built onto lakes, and are not round.

This is how karst functions. There is nothing wrong with this system. It’s been doing this since before our ancestors were still hiding from giant reptiles. The problem, as I said, is that it’s not very good for humans to live on.

Or, more accurately, I might say the problem is that humans do not know how to live on the karst.

For at least the past thirteen years, we’ve been under significant drought conditions. Not enough rain coming in, despite what we’d have you believe when we cry havoc about all the storms. Florida is also a very attractive place for farming, since the winters are so mild, and we can grow lots of things here that we cannot grow in many other places. All of this farming requires water, and lots of it: when the agriculture was getting started, it was not a problem, because the aquifer was full and seemed a perfect endless reservoir.

We’ve since learned that it is not, but we haven’t learned to slow down.

There are other elements at work here that I do not know as much about. Saltwater intrusion is one: when the fresh aquifer water is low, and it is near the sea, the saltwater will be pulled into the limestone. This does two things: it salinizes the fresh water and it erodes the limestone further. Another is the use of fertilizers, which acidify the groundwater and, again, cause more limestone erosion. The mixture of water and rock is precise, and dictated by nature: when this is out of whack, it all comes crashing in.

Refer to what I wrote above; when there isn’t enough water to support the limestone, it collapses into sinkholes. This has been happening more and more frequently lately, in places where it hadn’t been before, and that is directly due to pumping more water out of the aquifer than it can physically support.

We don’t seem to realize that we stand on water as much as on rock. Without the water, the rock can’t hold us.

in which the author beats an analogy to death

… and then revives it and beats it to death again. Because this is my best explanation for The Depression, as ridiculous as it is. Bear with me here, okay?

You. You with the depression. Inside your head is… Tokyo. It’s a wonderful thriving place, this in-your-head-Tokyo, full of beautiful and fascinating things. I am not saying this because real Tokyo is, although I’m sure it is; I’ve never been there. I’m saying it because you are, and I know you are because you’re human, and we’re all of us beautiful and fascinating and important.

Unfortunately, since you have The Depression, your lovely mental Tokyo has a monster. It’s got Godzilla. That is the depression, the monster in your head: it’s fucking Godzilla. It’s all stomping around and making that horrible screechy Godzilla noise and wrecking your city and scaring the hell out of you. Which is okay, it’s perfectly okay to be scared, because gigantic monsters that want to destroy you are scary. You’d be a whole different kind of nuts if you weren’t scared of it.

But there’s something mental-Godzilla can do that movie-Godzilla can’t: it sounds like you. Sometimes it sounds so much like you that you cannot tell whether the ideas you have are yours or Godzilla’s. And these threats it makes, these thoughts it has, can wreck the beautiful city of your innermost self. It’s hard to figure out which is which, when you’re in the grips of a monster attack, but from the outside there’s a pretty easy way to figure it out.

Is it a good thought, a healthy one, something that will make your life better? That’s you talking, even though you don’t believe a word you’re saying.

Is the thought harmful to you somehow? Is it saying you should give up or go away or fuck off or die? Tell Godzilla to shut its stupid monster mouth, because that. IS. NOT. YOU. It’s the monster. It’s a tricky monster, and it’s a very good mimic, but it is not you. Not now, not ever. It’s just a monster that comes up and tries to wreck what you’ve built, every once in a while.

The bad part about this is, so far, we don’t know how to kill Godzilla for good. You’ve seen the movies. That fucker always comes back. Just when you think it’s gone, there’s a tremor in the ground, a ripple in the water, and that screech that sounds like you — but isn’t, remember that, it is not you — saying DOOM AND BADNESS. It’s saying YOU’RE A WALKING CALAMITY AND EVERYONE AND EVERYTHING YOU KNOW WOULD BE BETTER OFF WITHOUT YOU. (Caps lock is how Mental Godzilla feels inside.)

This is, of course, completely bullshit. But it’s hard to realize that because it sounds like your voice, like your thoughts, and when you cannot trust your thoughts you are in a very bad way indeed.

Now. When Godzilla attacks, you have to fight back. There are things you can learn from therapists to help you fight it. There are medicines you can take that will strengthen your resolve to kick that monster back to whatever nuclear cesspit it crawled out of.

You have to fight it for one simple and perfect reason: you are worth too much to this world to let the monster win. I don’t know what you believe, and I don’t much care either; for this analogy, just accept that being your own self is enough. Being a unique individual is enough. Enough for what? Enough to be worthy of protection and healing, is what.

(Shut up, Godzilla, I am talking to the person you’re chewing on.)

Sometimes when the Tokyo of your mind is under attack, other human cities of wonder and beauty might say things like, “Can I help?” Or, “Is there anything I can do?” Or, “I don’t want you to do this alone.”

Godzilla really fucking hates hearing that. Godzilla wants to destroy your Tokyo. It does not want the neighboring cities of Bestfriendland and Familyburg and SignificantOtherville to send in aid or troops or weaponry. (This, in the real world, is more like company or food or helping around the house. Whatever. But for the analogy… look, I never said it was a good one.) Godzilla uses its mimic voice and is all “They’re pretending, they don’t care, you are infectious or some shit, everything you touch and do turns to awfulness.”

That is when you gotta say: Godzilla, shut your big lying monster mouth. Because the monster will say or do anything to keep you alone, keep you vulnerable, keep you convinced that you cannot withstand whatever horror it wants to inflict on you. It does this because that makes you weak, and when you’re weak you are easier to destroy.

Remember: never let the monster win. Never let the bastards grind you down. Never.

Now, listen: you can make it through. You’ve made it this far; you’re very strong. There’s a quote I can’t remember precisely — “People with mental illness have had to be too strong for too long.” This is true. A lot of times the monster will come get you when you’re exhausted after a fight. But the flipside of that is, you are one hell of a strong person, to have made it this far with all these epic battles inside your head. You have to hide them, you have to pretend they’re not happening, you have to act like you’re not hurt when you are. I know. It’s hard and it sucks and it’s horrible and it shouldn’t be that way.

But it does mean you are strong. Strong enough to punch Godzilla in its stupid face and send it running. There are ways to learn how to use this strength to shore up your mental Tokyo, add ICBMs and gigantic walls and monster repellent, flaming trebuchets, whatever you need. You can do this. You may not know how, but other people do, and they can teach you. It’s worth doing. It’s something you have to do. It’s hard, doing this, I won’t lie. It’s easier to let the monster run rampages whenever it wants. It’s much easier. But you can’t take the easy way out. You have to fight.

You have to fight it because, even though the monster says you are worthless, you are not. You are the only you that ever has been or ever will be. That’s worth fighting for. That’s worth saving.

I've had this toy since I was a kid. I keep it around as a reminder of sorts, these days.

Besides, do you really want this jerk telling you what to do?

it’s good to be useful

There have been a lot of bad things happening recently. I don’t want to write about those right now; instead I want to write about something good that happened. Because, as the Doctor says:

“The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things. The good things don’t always soften the bad things, but vice versa the bad things don’t always spoil the good things and make them unimportant.”

This, what happened at the hospital Monday, is definitely in my pile of good things. And I need all of those that I can get.

My bestest friend, Amber, my sista-of-anotha-mista, lives with her great-aunt who raised her. We will call the great-aunt Miss Clavel, since I’m sure she’d prefer not to have her name on the scary scary internets, and she is often awakened by a sense that Something Is Not Right. These fantastic ladies are family to me; when I need someone, they are always always there. Miss Clavel had a pacemaker put in, decades ago, and then another to replace it, years ago, and it was time for a third. So when it was time to circle the wagons at the hospital, I only asked two things: do you want me there, and when should I show up?

We were a bit scared. Well. We were more than a bit scared, to be honest, but we tried to hide it, because Miss Clavel is seventy-eight years old and has a raft of health problems besides. She’s unhappy a lot because of them, though there’s nothing can be done that isn’t already. It’s gotta beat the alternative, though.

We were scared, but we hid it well. I locked mine down — long years of practice with that — because, going in there, I knew it was not about me. Nothing that happened in there, nothing I did, was about me. It was about being there for these people who love me and have taken me into their lives, and doing whatever I could do to make all of this easier. I had a Plan B, if things went wrong, though I hoped I wouldn’t have to use it; Plan A was mostly hang around, fetch and carry, keep things light, keep everyone feeling okay. I think I did that one all right, because luckily that’s what wound up happening.

I rolled up, parked the car, and walked in with such a lost look on my face that a volunteer asked if I knew where I was going. Nope. Not a bit. I told him what Amber had told me, which floor, which area. Instead of giving directions the man went with me, to the elevators and up them, around the busy hospital floor, until I was exactly where I needed to be. I thanked him then, profusely, and when I saw him again later I thanked him a second time too. He said he was happy to help.

I have a theory about people: if helping others (be they human or animal) does not feel good, if you do not consider it part of the standard list of things required to be A Decent Human, then there is something very wrong with you and I do not want to be anywhere near you. Which probably explains why I’m instantly mistrustful of most politicians.

I found the preop room, where Amber and Miss Clavel and Amber’s mother all were, and there were hugs all around, and jokes too. Miss Clavel seemed resigned perhaps, or expecting she wouldn’t make it; she kept saying she’d be okay no matter what the outcome was. It worried me, because if you are facing surgery that involves Odds, and you do not care what the outcome is, then… something is unhappy in your head and it needs care. But I didn’t say any of that then, because it wasn’t the right time; what I needed to do, and what I did, was keep the mood light, be reassuring, show confidence I did not feel completely, and stuff any fear I had so far down that nobody would see it.

“You’re gonna be fine,” I kept telling her. “Don’t be silly. You’re tough as nails.”

We talked to the anaesthesiologist (am I getting that wrong? I think I am; Firefox thinks so too), a few nurses, and the doctor doing the operation. He was interesting; he was from London and explained that for a procedure like this, he is more of an electrician, since the job mostly involved hooking a new pacemaker up to wires and ensuring everything went smoothly.

Amber’s mother left the preop room a while before it was time for Miss Clavel to be taken to the surgery. She doesn’t like hospitals, and she was very uneasy about the whole thing. I strongly dislike hospitals too, but again: it wasn’t about me. It was about what they needed, what they wanted. Before Miss Clavel was taken away for the operation, I asked if they’d like me to fetch Amber’s mother back. They said no, that they wanted me to stay with them, so that’s what I did. When we said our see-you-laters before they wheeled her off to the surgery, I kissed her cheek and told her I loved her, and she hugged me so tight.

She’s strong, though she looks frail.

Left a lovely face-smudge on my glasses, too. “AARGH I’M BLIIIND,” I said, Frankensteining down the corridor. Easily wiped away, but I needed to be funny about it first.

We took refuge in the cardiac-floor’s waiting room, which was pretty nice, with huge picture windows, a bathroom, snack machines, and a television telling me everything I didn’t care to learn about The Royal Baby.

In the caridiac waiting room. Note the Bordello hoodie, in case of cold.

In the cardiac waiting room. Note the Bordello hoodie, in case of cold.

View from the picture-windows in the waiting room; Tampa skyline center and blurry.

View from the picture-windows in the waiting room; Tampa skyline center, distant, and blurry.

The doctors had told us it would be about forty-five minutes, and it was: I’ve had to wait longer to get my oil changed. After that, we met up with Miss Clavel in the same pre-and-post-op room, where she was zonked out from the anaesthetic, but communicative. She told us she was thirsty, and asked us to drink lots of coffee and water for her. Easy. She had a problem with the cannula putting oxygen up her nose, so I reached over and adjusted the tubes behind her ear. “You should be a nurse,” she told me. “You fixed it!”

Later, she remembered none of that at all.

The nurses told us that Miss Clavel needed rest more than anything else, so we headed out, Amber’s mother looking lost and Amber herself looking like she had no idea what to do next.

“NOW WE EAT!” I told them. “LET’S GET SOME FOOD IN YA.” Because, when in doubt, food.

We went our separate ways then; I went with Amber for a fast-food pitstop (NOM) and then back to her place to let sweet little Charlie the dog outside, call everyone to let them know the surgery went okay, and have naps. Everything is better after you’ve had a nap, unless you’re me, because I cannot sleep for less than five hours without going totally loopy, and when it was time for us to go I failed at folding a throw blanket and made about as much sense as the Swedish Chef.

Um de hur de hur.

We got back in the scorching afternoon heat, where the feels-like temperature was a hundred plus, Too Hot For Mammals, and blasted the blessed aircon all the way down the interstate.

At the hospital again, we found our way back to Miss Clavel, and she was up and chatty, though in a good amount of pain. We stayed and talked with her for a nice long time, telling jokes, encouraging her, keeping her mood up as much as we could.

Amber hugged me in the parking garage before we parted ways, and thanked me for being there. I said of course, because you’re family, but what I meant was: thank you for wanting me there. Because I needed a day like that; I needed something to go right, I needed to have people want me around, I needed to know I was helping people I love. I’m sure she knew that’s what I meant.

Miss Clavel is, as I write this, at home, and feeling well enough to disregard doctor’s orders to stay in bed and rest, getting up for this and that, driving Amber to distraction. That’s good. Better than the thing we feared. I’ll call that a win any day.

my dog ate my dignity

One thing I have always believed to be true: one cannot have both dogs and dignity. It’s impossible. You have to decide between one or the other. Dogs have no self-consciousness, but going beyond that, they do not even know what it is. So they assume you don’t have any, either.

My dogs ate my dignity years ago. Decades. In my childhood, when they ate my three foot long realistic plastic alligator (and I am still sore about that.) I didn’t have much dignity to begin with, so it’s okay, and the fun of dogs makes up for it.

Now that the Florida heat is starting to set in, early evening is the best time to take Logan for walks. He has the back yard for excretion and digging holes; the walks are exercise for both of us. They’re leash training, too. Unfortunately, everyone else knows this is the Nice Outside Time as well, and as a result, I run into a fair number of people.

About two houses away from home, Logan spotted a small stick on the sidewalk. He picked it up, shook it, played a bit with it. I laughed at this, as I do, because Logan is hilarious. He took this for encouragement and trotted along, happy as can be, with the stick in his mouth.

We passed many people. There was a woman bringing in a sprinkler from her front yard. She didn’t give us much of a glance, but she did scold her dog (I couldn’t see it) for barking as we passed by.

Further on there were two guys, nineteen or twenty, Too Cool For Life, fiddling with a lawn mower at the end of their driveway in the most James Dean Careless Testosterone-ful way possible. Logan and I detoured around a car that was parked on the sidewalk, putting us closer to The Two Dudes. Logan trotted along, happy as a dog can be, because I’M ON A WALK and I HAVE A STICK! I followed along, every aspect of my bearing saying my derpy dog is fucking awesome, comprende? The Two Dudes stared, not entirely sure of what they were seeing.

… I get that a lot.

Past the halfway point I decided that Logan would keep this stick for the whole walk, no matter what. If he dropped it to look at something else, I’d kick it along the ground, or pick it up and have him jump for it. If I made it a desirable object, by having it when he didn’t, he would want it very badly and do anything to get it from me.

We passed the House With The Sighthound — Whippet or Greyhound, I don’t know, just that it is brindle, has a pink collar, and barks maniacally whenever anyone turns that corner. Logan kept his stick firmly, though his hackles went up a little. He’s still uneasy about being barked at.

We tromped through the backlots and field, occasionally playing Who’s Got The Stick, happy as could be because we were a girl and her dog (or a dog and his girl) out on a walk, with a stick, on a nice day, and nobody bothering us.

We turned a corner and spotted another man walking a dog. I hadn’t seen him before. Logan, stick clamped firmly in his mouth, stopped and looked at this new dog.

“Which way you headed?” the guy asked, holding back. The dog, about Logan’s size but stockier, Lab and something, looked bored.

I pointed. “Thatway.” Logan decided that he and his stick wanted to visit, and moved towards the man and dog.

“I don’t know about this one,” the guy said. “She’s not my dog. We met another lady the other day and…”

“Oh, he’s friendly,” I said, which is what I generally say well in advance when I encounter someone while I have my dog. “He likes other dogs.” I looked at Logan, who held his stick firmly and eyed this other dog as if to say, I have a stick, don’t you want it? “He, uh. He likes…. sticks.”

“This is my friend’s dog,” the guy repeated. “I’m walking her for him.” Thus proving that he was not only too cool for dogwalks, but also too cool for me and my goofy dog and my goofy dog’s stick.

I nodded and off we went, Logan and I, past a house where a whole family were arguing with each other in and around a car with all its doors open. A teenaged girl, also Too Cool For Life, stared critically at us before returning her attention to the discussion.

Sometimes ya just can’t win for trying. But who cares, when you have a dog and your dog has a stick, and it’s a nice evening for a walk?



a future without doorknobs

In the latest news of Everything Must Always Be Connected, Adobe’s decided to nuke the Creative Suite line and replace it with something that is almost identical except that you have to subscribe and it validates itself monthly by checking in with an online server. It’s got the oh so trendy “cloud” bit in its title. And the icons are hideous.

Naturally, the Design World is all “what the shit is this?”

There’s a staple of sci-fi shows that I always wonder about: doors without handles. You know what I mean. Character approaches door. Character waves at it, or presses a button in the wall, or says the password, and door opens. Character walks through. Door closes. Door may or may not express happiness at performing its one function of opening and closing for a person.

I always wonder the same thing: “What do they do when the power goes out?” Do they sit around twiddling their thumbs in hallways and bathrooms until the power is back on? Are these doors hermetically sealed? Can you die of asphyxiation stuck in a broom closet of the future? I can’t remember that I’ve ever seen that addressed — and I watch far too much scifi for my own good — that the whole ship/satellite/complex has a power failure and everyone is stuck in inconvenient places while She Who Saves The Day spends a ridiculous amount of time in service tunnels, with a flashlight clenched between her teeth. The power never goes out, ever. It’s unthinkable.

For a Floridian, that right there is the most improbable part of something involving space-time continuums, metaphysical forces, alien parasites, and all manner of creatures that look like people with rubber bits stuck to their faces.

(One thing I noticed about Firefly right off: the doors had handles. I loved that. BSG too.)

Living in the lightning-strike capital of the US as I do (not the world; that’s Rwanda I believe), I have had to deal with the power going out. A lot. It’s not as bad as it used to be, with the power companies and telcos bettering their infrastructure, but it still happens. When I hear thunder, I make sure all my gizmos are on the charger, just in case. It’s as much a reflex as the stingray shuffle; I doubt I can unlearn it, at this point. It’s an inconvenient fact of life: electricity is not one hundred percent reliable.

Back to Adobe. This new stupid bit of DRM assumes that everyone has one hundred percent reliable power and internet access, at all times. That strikes me as naive, if not outright stupid, because I’m accustomed to a place where you don’t, and I know too well that law which states the software will try to revalidate itself at the most inconvenient possible moment, and then shut down completely, requiring three days’ worth of telephone calls (because you can never get anything done like that with email and webforms) and meanwhile your project, whatever it is, has gone right down the shitter.

It’s like they live in the sci-fi world without doorknobs, and I’m over here in reality where things not only don’t work that way, but can’t.

Ask me about that time I fried three network cards in one summer. I’d go to the parts store and they’d give me this look, again? But that was back when we had copper wire, not fiber-optic, which I am assured works just fine underwater, and which I know for a fact will still transmit even if it’s absorbed by the root mass of a cabbage palm. The future marches on, but it still has handles on automatic doors. Just in case.

it’s a cello!

The other day I was bouncing around from pawn shop to pawn shop, looking for [REDACTED ITEMS I WILL NOT MENTION BECAUSE SOME OF YOU WHO READ THIS HAVE BIRTHDAYS COMING UP SO NYAH]… er, looking for gift ideas… and since I was there, looking at everything else they had as well.

I played violin in junior high — down here we call it middle school, I suppose because it is the middle of your schooling, with preschool and elementary on one side, then high school and presumably college after — anyway, I started to play the violin then. I found I liked it, even though I’d never be particularly good at it; making music is outright fun, especially if you’re in a mob of thirty other people with instruments all belting out the same thing, and I liked that. Two of my schoolfriends were in orchestra too, another violin and a cello, so we’d get together and figure out how to play things by ear, or busk for money in one of the schmancier parts of town. (We made precisely enough, that day, for three tickets to a movie. I don’t remember what movie it was, but I remember twelve bucks got all three of us in. The times, they have a’changed.)

I’ve got a really great story from then about the time my tailgut broke right against my throat, but that’ll keep for another day.

We did strictly classical — to this day when I hear people do chords on a violin my brain freezes for a few seconds, because HOW — and I gotta say, had a hell of a lot of fun doing it. I was always stuck at first or second chair of the second violin section, so I never got to play the good parts. Whatever. I still had fun. We zipped people into the soft bass cases so it looked like the things ran around on tiny legs, we played in competitions and festivals, and perhaps most memorably (to me, anyway) were the occasional times we’d play a card game called Egyptian Ratscrew (another thing I don’t remember how to play) on a great big brass tympani. Slapping the card stack in the middle of the thing was immensely satisfying. BOOM.

Why a middle school had one single tympani, I never bothered to ask. We left the cover on when we used it as a table, don’t look at me like that. It still boomed satisfyingly.

My high school was very college-preparation oriented, and less interested in Fucking Around And Enjoying Yourself. I had to drop orchestra when I was fifteen to fit in all the prerequisites I needed to graduate — how I managed that I still do not know, considering everything — so my lovely little violin sat unused for a very long time. Half my damn life.

Every few years I’d pick it up, remember how I used to be at least halfway decent at it, drag the bow across the strings, make a noise that sounded like an angry wet cat, and put it away in disgust at my lack of muscle memory. Playing a violin, it turns out, is nothing like riding a bicycle.

I had it restrung, a few years ago, and had the bow cleaned, but then my oomph went whump so nothing happened for a while.

Then Daq showed up, a friend I made at Occupy, with an idea one day: come over and bring any instruments you have. I looked at the violin case at the foot of my bed, and I thought about screechy cats, and I thought more about new strings and fifteen years and clean bow hair and rosin that hadn’t melted sideways in years of Florida heat. I tossed it into the car and headed out. Daq proceeded to work some kind of gentle magic on my head, not caring a bit whether things sounded good or godawful, just encouraging me to get the instrument to make the sounds, whatever they were.

My immediate reaction, of course, was to run to a shop. By the end of that day I had a pitch pipe, a spare packet of strings, a bowing exercise book, and a whole new interest in Violining Once More. This kept up for a month and a half, or so, and it was marvelous fun: Riley the chatterbox would set up a rumbling Chewbacca accompaniment, and eventually our duets would devolve into laughter and barking. “Riley, do not lick my tuning pegs.”

But then she fell ill, and music — along with most everything else — wasn’t fun anymore. Last summer was very bad for a number of Brain Chemicals reasons, and Riley’s death hit me like shrapnel. I’m still trying to figure out where normal is now that the dust is starting to clear from it all.

I’m also trying to find the interest I had in playing the violin, because I know I enjoyed it, and I probably would if I got back into the habit of doing it. (I am trying this with lots of things: see yoga, crochet, etc.) It would help, too, if Logan yodeled at the instrument, because playing violin without a dog howling along is terribly lonely. I miss you, Rileydog.

I’m finishing what I’d started last summer, replacing old parts and things I’ve had since before I was old enough to bleed: I got a fantastic new shoulder rest, and once I have a proper mute I think I’ll be able to practice again without offending my own ears at the Godawful Angry Cat noises. I want to pick up some theory books too: probably classical first since that’s what I’d learned, and that’ll be easiest to remember. After that I’d like to try fiddle, or anything Not Classical, but the idea of swapping bridges gives me the jibblies, so I’ll leave that till I feel comfortable handling the thing again.

Joke: what’s the difference between a violin and a fiddle? A violin hasn’t had whisky spilled on it.

When I was at the pawnshops the other day I looked at the instruments and equipment. Guitars and their kit are easy to find, classical stuff slightly less so, although the first shop I tried had a sad sad violin on wall pegs: the chinrest was gone, the bridge was gone, it had three strings, and part of the back popped out below the tailpiece in a warped way that probably rendered it nothing more than a prop. The second shop had much more stuff, including a clarinet (I tried that through the same school for about two weeks before deciding that I was not attracted to something that had to be regularly cleaned of accumulated saliva) and, of all things, a cello. Looked in good shape, too.

I’d flagged down a guy to help me look at [REDACTED] things in cases, and once I was done with that he asked if there was anything else he might find for me.

“Not unless you have a violin mute, no,” I said.

“What’s that?” the guy asked.


“No, really, what is it?”

“Ah.” I had never tried to explain one before. “It’s a big brass chrome-plated block of metal that you put over the violin bridge to dampen the noise.”

The guy thought about this. Drummed his fingers on the counter. “We have a cello?”

“I saw!” I said. “It’s very nice.” What the hell else do you say?

When my weird magnet kicks in, it is perfectly reasonable to assume that someone searching for an obscure piece of violin paraphernalia would know precisely what to do with a cello. Not balance it on my knees is what I know what to do with one, but that, like the Tailgut Story and other oddments from my time in public-school orchestra, is for another time.