Friday, December 30, 2011

Fare Thee Well, Twenty-Eleven

I am so ready for this year to be over and done.  The last two months have been such a trial and burden that I can't even remember what the rest of the year was like... though reviewing the blog for the first nine months, it looked not-so-bad: it got off to a pretty bumpy start, and featured some depression problems, but was otherwise fairly sunny and happy.

But it all went to Hell in October, and kept on going: expensive and tedious Car Trouble #1, even-more-expensive and tedious Car Trouble #2, and various lost key dramas, offset by a happy Halloween; kidney stones, labyrinthitis, strained sacroiliac, bout of depression, and a head cold in November, not to mention the failed NaNoWriMo attempt; I last left you with my Hep A, and since then I have come down with a chest cold and broken a molar, accompanied by a few more random waves of depression.  I'm not even going to wonder "what next"... that way madness lies.

However, I have to say Christmas was very nice this year.  Matthew and Suzie did all the work around the house, took the brunt of Grandmother's weirdness, absorbed my father's one-sided conversations, and basically made my holiday a real holiday, lolling in bed when I wasn't at work.  It was a very quiet Christmas, with only eight at dinner and ten for presents and pie.  And then my birthday was pretty nice (even though I had a broken molar), I managed a full day at work and got chocolate cake and singing; then I went to Old Navy and got some new pants on sale, and then had dinner with Caroline, Suzie, Matthew, and our friend Shelly at Elephant Bar.

But then I felt horrible all day Wednesday (one day up, two days down has been the norm this month), and had to go home before lunch because I couldn't stay awake at my desk; then I went to see my doctor, had a nice long nap on the bench waiting for him while he responded to an emergency down the hall, then had some blood drawn (he thought I might be having a thyroid deficiency and/or testosterone deficiency, causing this horrible dizziness and weakness beyond what one can expect with Hep A) and made an appointment for a CT scan (to see if I have a brain tumor... which I am simply not going to think about).

Then I had my tooth pulled yesterday...which wasn't all that bad, my new dentist is an absolute angel with gentle hands... and spent the rest of the day wobbly with Vicodin and slowly diminishing numbness (which always makes me sleepy, I don't know why).  And then today I'm not feeling my best, what with the Vicodin and the stiff jaw on top of the general malaise, but I plan to plug ahead anyway, hopefully getting some long-overdue filing done; I also have to return the pants I bought at Old Navy, since I apparently lost some weight in the last few weeks and need a smaller size (luxury problem!); then I'll get my CT scan (I am so not looking forward to that, my claustrophobia is already ramping up just thinking about it) and maybe I'll get some nice smooshy dinner somewhere... Boston Market's sweet potatoes are pretty chew-free and quite tasty, or maybe some wonton or seaweed soup from Chinatown.

And then I'll just have to make it through one more day of 2011 (I think I'll do some laundry, watch some Harry Potter DVDs, and go to bed early) and I can start fresh with a new year and a new outlook and hopefully some much-needed good health (I just can't afford to be sick any more... I've been out of sick-leave for ages and now I'm out of vacation time...any more major illnesses and I'm going to have to go out on disability).

I have some plans for next year, which I refuse to call "resolutions": I'm going to get dentures (my dentist offers a credit plan, so I can get them without saving up first... which you and I both know isn't going to happen), and I'm going to get my finances in order, and I'm going to lose some weight, and I'm going to do something about my messy room (as I plan every year).  And I'm going to get rid of the old-man skin tags that have developed on my inner thigh.  That should keep me busy for a twelvemonth, don't you think?

I wish you a joyful and prosperous 2012!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Might As Well Stop Counting...

I mean, really... Hepatitis A?  That's what capped off my November... my mense morbo, if you will.

My blood test results from the last time I visited my doctor came back with a Hep-A positive, but the little note said that since the test identifies antibodies rather than the virus itself, it was more likely that I had been immunized against it than that I had the disease.  But then I started displaying symptoms... lots of symptoms: nausea, fatigue, dark heavy urine, dense heavy stool, and pain and tenderness in the liver (which isn't where I thought it was... I had the impression that the liver was under the stomach, off to the right, and above the intestines; but it's actually above the stomach, directly under the diaphragm, and stretches all the way across, coming closest to the surface under the left front ribs...if nothing else, I have certainly learned a lot about anatomy in the last six weeks).

Of course, there's not much you can do about Hep A; it's not very serious, it doesn't cause permanent damage to the liver and is not very contagious, so very little research has been put into curing it.  I just have to tough it out for three months or so, get plenty of rest and eat carefully, and be extra vigilant about washing my hands after pooping (which I do anyway, but it never hurts to be extra cautious).

My doctor advised me to avoid anything that was hard for the liver to process, such as fatty foods, dairy, and acetaminophen... which sucks, since I love dairy more than any other food group, and vastly prefer fatty foods to nonfatty foods (hence the twenty-five extra pounds); I don't use acetaminophen very often, though, much preferring ibuprofen (which can also be hard on the liver, but not as much, so I'm avoiding it rather than eschewing, shunning, or otherwise cutting it out completely), but it's one of the key ingredients in my favorite cold remedy, Alka Seltzer Cold (citrus burst flavor).

He also advised me to bulk up on fiber and clean out my colon... which struck me as an odd connection, but now that I've done it, it makes perfect sense: I have more room in my abdomen, and therefore less pressure on my liver, which then reduces the nausea and the discomfort.  So I've been eating FiberPlus super-bran cereal (which looks suspiciously like my turtle's food pellets but tastes OK) every morning, slugging down orange-flavored Metamucil (which is surprisingly tasty) three times a day, and swallowing FiberCon tablets every night.  I'm probably taking three times the recommended daily allowance of fiber, but it feels great.

Of course, my back is still giving me some trouble: because of the injury to the sacroiliac ligament, and the extended bedrest needed to let it heal, my back muscles have become rather weak in that area.  I pulled a muscle again while reaching for the alarm clock on Friday morning, and had to spend another day in bed with the hot pad and the cold pad and the laptop and the boredom; fortunately it was just a small muscle and not the whole ligament this time.  My doctor has referred me to physical therapy to restrengthen the area, but I haven't started yet; in the meantime, I simply have to be more careful of my movements.  Nothing sudden, especially stretching, is allowed: slow and steady wins the race, I have to keep reminding myself.  And since I am still intermittently suffering the labyrinthitis and occasionally lose my balance for no particular reason, I'm basically walking around as if I was made of glass.

This business of getting old really blows.  But like they say, it beats the alternative.

One bright spot, though: I have discovered NetFlix, and it has kept boredom at bay longer than any other form of entertainment.  I've been watching lots of fantastic British TV series (Poirot, the original Being Human, the new Doctor Who, etc.) and some very interesting movies.  The free month's trial definitely has me sold.  Of course, a lot of the movies I want to see aren't available online, I'll have to spring another eight bucks for the DVD service... but I'm certainly considering it.

Another bright spot: I wrote earlier about trying out a new look?  I left you dangling with uncertainty whether I wanted to start wearing waistcoats all the time and/or start on a fedora fad or an ascot craze.  Well, I settled on waistcoats, largely because I became enamored of pocket watches, and there's nothing classier than a pocket-watch on an Albert chain across the front of a waistcoat... just like my adored Poirot (in the David Suchet incarnation, of course).

It started innocently enough: I bought this one pocket-watch just because it was a commemorative for a favorite anime series (Black Butler), and it arrived in the mail the same day the strap broke on my Timex; so I started using the pocket watch to keep time, and I absolutely loved it!  The act of taking it out of my pocket, pushing the button to open the case, checking the time, then snapping it shut and putting it back in my pocket... it has a flair of ritual, and is immensely more entertaining than merely glancing at my wrist.  And so, as with all new things, I had to have three or four of them, as well as watch-chains, fobs and charms for the chains... it's endless!

Of course, the waistcoat thing is still very expensive.  The cheaper ones I bought didn't work out, so I've gotten in the habit of buying inexpensive three-piece suits, just to get the vest.  I've found that the brands that are marketed to African-Americans (such as Stacy Adams and Falcone) are built longer in the torso, and are usually available on eBay for the same prices I've been paying for just the waistcoat.  I've also found a Pakistani garment called a "sadri" that fits a little loose in the waist but is the correct length, very cheap and available in a number of colors.  So now I have eight waistcoats in fairly constant rotation, which I'm wearing with collared shirts, French cuffs wherever possible, and the occasional loose necktie.  And most of them have pockets in the front, so I can wear my Albert chain with my Charles-Hubert Paris pocket watch with the Ganesha silver-and-crystal bubble charm (I also have a Colibri Titanium that I wear in my front pocket, attached to my belt-loop, if I don't have waistcoat pockets).

So despite everything going wrong with my body all at once, I am rather enjoying life.  Christmas is likely to be a little hairy, especially in my weakened condition, but my nephew is there to help, and my sister is likely to come stay that weekend; and since I have a doctor's note (as it were), I have a perfect built-in excuse to not do too much, so nobody will complain about cut corners or half-assed decor.  All I have to do is avoid too much sugar and too many resentments and too much bending and lifting.

So until we meet again...

Monday, November 28, 2011

Worst. November. EVER!

The Universe did not listen to my appeal at the end of the last post... or it listened and decided that I was being impertinent by addressing it so casually.  It decided that no, I had not had enough yet, not by a long shot.

While I was suffering from the labyrinthitis, I hurt my back: I was trying to get to a ringing phone, and lost my balance; in the ensuing eel-like wriggling to right myself before I fell over, I pulled something in my back that hurt like the dickens.  But since I was lying down to avoid dizziness and nausea for the next few days, I didn't really notice it.  When I returned to work on Monday, however, I noticed it plenty.  It didn't hurt all that much, but it hurt enough to make me uncomfortable.

However, as I was grocery shopping that evening, the same thing happened: reaching for a bag of frozen shoestring potatoes, I lost my balance and pulled something in my back while trying to keep from falling.  It was the same something as before, but I was not quite aware of what part was hurt.  I assumed it was a muscle-pull and ignored it.  I continued my shopping, put away the groceries when I got home, and went to bed.

Well, the next day, my back was screaming with pain, so I thought I'd better stay in and let it rest.  I got out the hot pad to soothe it, and took a hot bath, and all that sort of thing.  The next day was the same, it hurt to move, and the dizziness was still there, so I took another day to rest and recuperate.  On Thursday I pulled myself together and back to the office, doing what I could to avoid too much stress on  my back, needing to be there because the career-center coordinator was starting his vacation, so I had to be there to cover his position (which is part of my job).

But it was no good.  After four hours of valiantly trying to do different things to relieve my back pain, I gave up and called Kaiser to get a same-day appointment to see a doctor.  Fortunately, I was able to get an appointment with my own doctor, though I had to wait three hours to see him.  I spent one and a half of those hours flat on my back in the file-room, a sweater balled up under my lumbar and a ream of paper under my head, reading a book.

Turns out I strained my sacroiliac ligament. Not  a mere pulled muscle, as I had thought, but a strained ligament, which takes a lot longer to heal.  My doctor ordered me to stay horizontal for seven days.  SEVEN!  All while the career-center guy was on vacation, and while I am waaaaay behind on my filing, and while we got a new phone system at the office that I don't know how to use yet.  I never thought I'd find myself resisting a doctor telling me to get in bed for a week and stay there, but the guilt over so much missed work was monumental.

On the plus side, my injury gave me an opportunity to bond with my doctor... as you may remember from previous posts, my doctor is incredibly attractive, handsome and athletic and built like a brick outhouse.  But he, too, has suffered from lower back troubles, and told me that I was lucky I didn't have sciatica, as he'd had, which required surgery and five months recuperation in bed.  He told me he got the biggest books on Russian history he could find and learned all about everything that had ever happened in that country since the dawn of time while he was down.

Before this, he had always been friendly but sort of distant... I'd never spent more than a few minutes with him, and he did not seem very interested in any of my complaints.  But now that we had something in common, he joked with me and chatted with me and complained about the printer setups in his new office, and we had quite a nice little visit altogether.

Anyway, I figured this could be a blessing in disguise.  I did need some rest, and with all the extra time on my hands I could devote myself to my novel-writing.  What I did not count on, however, was the mental malaise that comes with taking Vicodin three times a day and having almost no mental stimulation from being around other people.  And then the lack of exercise, the effects of the Vicodin, and eating way too much sugar (I finished off the Halloween candy out of sheer boredom) while I was not exercising sparked a really foul depression.  With all that going on, my writing suffered terribly; and by the middle of last week, I decided to abandon The Vicomte is Dead and concede defeat for NaNoWriMo this year.

What I did manage to do was develop the floor plans I created for the Chateau in the story, researching French 18th-century design, and coming up with room designations and outbuilding locations, which were very valuable in creating the scenes in my mind.  But having those locations so developed unfortunately bogged me down in the details of my writing: I knew too much about the place all of a sudden, and lost track of the people and the situations.  I got to a point where I was talking about the castle more than its inhabitants; and when I spoke of the inhabitants, I was too bogged down in what they looked like and what they were wearing to concentrate on who they were and why they were interesting... and there were so many of them that I couldn't possibly continue to describe them in so much detail.

This happened before when I didn't have the story well-developed enough in my mind.  The story ends up taking a back seat to the creation of the mise en scène of the story, and everything goes flooey.  However, as I learned last year with The Math Teacher is Dead, having that aborted overdetailed first try makes creating the story easier the next time I approach it: having the places and houses and people all nailed down makes it easier to tell the story without worrying about the background details. I have to have the background completely developed in order to tell the story with any kind of authority, but I need to have some distance between designing the stage and writing the play.

The more I learn about my own processes, the closer I get to being able to write what I want, when I want.  So after I let the Vicomte stew for a while, I'll come back to it and finish the story.  I may not wait for NaNoWriMo 2012 to do it, though.  I enjoyed what little writing I did so much, I feel like I want to keep doing it, even if only in little bits rather than a big thirty-day orgy of it.  On the other hand, I really want to go back and finish Worst Luck, and I still want to expand and develop The Math Teacher is Dead to prepare it for real-paper publication.

Well, it was kind of a load off to let go of NaNoWriMo, but that left me with even less to occupy my mind.  I had been watching Poirot on YouTube all week, and continued to do so until I'd seen every episode; I watched some other movies and TV shows as well, on YouTube and on Hulu as well as on the television and DVD player.  And I read the new Dexter novel, which was pretty good though still not as good as the first two, which inspired the cable series (the main character is unraveling, which is interesting psychologically but makes for a somewhat frustrating read... it was the character that made the stories good, and if the character starts falling apart, what have you got left?)

Thanksgiving came along, and for the first time in my entire life, I had Thanksgiving dinner somewhere besides at my or a relative's home... there were only five of us around this year, so we went to Kincaid's on Jack London Square, and had an amazing meal and a really good time.   Then we went back to my aunt and uncle's house and had pie and watched football and visited.  It was a bright spot in an otherwise wearying month.

Of course, being up for the first time in a week, driving here and there, then sitting in a chair that was not ergonomically correct for a couple of hours, was more than my not-quite-healed back was up for, so I suffered something of a setback and had to retreat to the bed with my heating pad and my laptop.  I went out on Black Friday to get some groceries, and while I was out I went and got some back-related stuff: a vibrating heating massage pillow, a portable lumbar support chair-back for the car and the office, and a lumbar bracing corset-like gizmo that makes walking around and doing stuff easier and more comfortable.

I discovered, however, that I had picked up a head-cold somewhere along the line.  I didn't notice it at first because I had been so still, and I didn't have an awful lot of phlegm and mucus spewing about; but I did do a lot of coughing, and I felt woozy when I tried to stay up out of bed for very long at a time.  I thought that since I was already in bed and taking good care of myself anyway, the cold wouldn't be a problem; but it has lingered tenaciously; so today when I was supposed to return to work, it flared up and knocked me down.

Let's review: kidney stone; labyrinthitis; strained sacroiliac; depression; head cold.  I don't dare wonder what else can befall me before this month is over with.  But I am not going to keep taking it lying down.  I'm going to knock this cold out today and practice being upright and doing things, so that I'll be prepared to return to work tomorrow.  So today I'm going to drink a lot of Alka-Seltzer Cold and orange juice, do some sweating if possible, and get some laundry done so I have something to wear to work.  And when I get back to work tomorrow, I am going to tackle the work that has inevitably built up while I've been away.  And then it will be December and hopefully the beginning of a much better month.

Of course, historically December is not my best month.  But I shall continue to hope.

Friday, November 11, 2011

NaNoWriMo-ing Again

Well, that's my excuse for the last week, anyway; the month and a half before that was sheer laziness and preoccupation...with Halloween, with a series of automotive disasters, with a number of work issues, and with life in general.

October was a hell of a month, I have to say.  I have been financially strapped for the last few months due to impulsive/compulsive eBay purchases and last minute additions to my various Halloween costumes, and so when the automotive disasters came along, they caught me with my pants down, as it were.

Well, let me back up.  See, first thing in October, I took Grandmother on a trip to Texas.  She had been thinking about a family reunion, an anniversary edition of the Woods/Cottle/Harrell Reunion in La Grange.  It was this reunion that she was attending twenty years ago when Ariel was born and when the Oakland Hills burned.  She really wanted to go, for some reason, really wanted to hear from the scheduled guest speakers and trade information with other genealogists about her ancestors.

So a week before the reunion, we were having lunch at Texas Back Forty Barbecue (one of my all-time favorite restaurants) after church, and she told me about her wistful desire to go to Texas for this reunion... but it was probably too late to get plane tickets, and was probably too expensive anyway.  I offered to look it up online when I got home to see if it was doable... after all, I have lots of vacation time, I could take a day or two off without inconveniencing anybody; and I am always looking for things to do for Grandmother since I have become so useless about housekeeping.

So I went to Southwest and got an estimate... it would cost about $1500 for air fare, car rental, and hotel for the both of us.  That struck me as a pretty good deal for the last minute, and eminently affordable.  Grandmother dithered a bit, thinking it an awful lot of money for a weekend, but eventually her desire to go to Texas overwhelmed her desire to be frugal, and on Tuesday I made all the reservations.

Wednesday and Thursday I spent researching some of our ancestors online, and found some really interesting articles about Zadock Woods, Grandmother's great-great-great-grandfather who fought in the Mexican-American War and was one of the early settlers of Texas, and Milvern Harrell, her great-grandfather, who was a rather colorful figure.  I knew these names from Grandmother's genealogical work in the 80s, but there wasn't an internet back then; I started getting interested in the history angle, and was really looking forward to the trip.

So the following Saturday we were on a plane to Austin.  The flight was exhausting... I swear, every time I get on a plane, the seats have gotten smaller and closer together since the last time.  The humidity when we arrived in Texas was so severe that I couldn't breathe once we got out of the plane, and started going into panic mode after a few minutes because I thought I was suffocating. And I banged my head really badly on the door of the rented Nissan when I got in.

But the rest of the way was nice... I've been in West Texas (Lubbock and Amarillo areas) before, and always thought it unforgivably ugly; but East Texas is another creature altogether, and I thought it rather lovely.  Buildings were too far apart, but the towns weren't as they are on the plains; the landscape rolls gently, there are hills and trees, and green farmland; and though I got used to the humidity I never got used to the smell of the humidity and the inevitable air-conditioners everywhere.

Oh, I forgot to mention that it started to rain when we got there.  It hadn't rained in months and months, and the whole place was drying up and worried about crops and things; and then about an hour before we landed, it started coming down.  It didn't rain too hard, though, so I wasn't nearly washed off the road as I drove down to La Grange in the dark.  But the next day, it came down in buckets!  Leaden skies, mud everywhere, huge puddles that the car practically floated over.

What Grandmother thought was funny was that last time she'd been to that reunion, it had rained buckets.  So all of the people we told that to credited us for bringing the much-needed rain with us.  A happy distinction.

Anyway, the reunion itself turned out to be a much lower-key affair than I was expecting: maybe thirty people in total, many of whom were guests of the organizers (who belong to the Daughters of the Republic of Texas) and not relatives at all.  Of course, even the relatives were quite distantly related... our common ancestors were six to eight generations back.

We spent most of the time sitting with the only two other Harrells there... Cottles were a lot more populous, since that branch settled there while the Woodses and Harrells wandered all over the country; the husband was a descendent of Milvern Harrell, whose brother was also named Milvern Harrell, and the wife was a schoolteacher with a fabulous sense of humor.  So while Grandmother and her cousin talked about Milvern, the wife and I talked about everything under the sun, from the expurgation of "the N word" from Mark Twain to the rise of anti-Islamic sentiment in the south.

After the reunion, which I found rather entertaining, Grandmother and I drove back through La Grange, which is a lovely little town with lots of Victorian buildings, to the Monument Hill State Park, where her ancestor Zadock Woods and two of his sons are buried.  It was actually kind of moving, seeing the care that people had given to the victims and survivors of a rather obscure footnote in American History (I mean, have you ever heard of the Dawson Massacre?)  That tomb is for those forty or so men, most of whom are interred under it; the monument behind is dedicated to all war dead from La Grange and Fayette County, and is a really quite attractive bit of Machine Age Deco.

I forgot to bring my camera with me to the reunion, and so didn't have it when we went to the Monument, either; so after dropping Grandmother back at the motel for a nap, I came back out and got some pretty good pictures, which you can see here in my FaceBook gallery.

The next day we drove back up to Austin, where I did some rapid sightseeing at the Capitol (also in my gallery), and then to the airport and home.  The return trip was infinitely worse than the outbound trip... when we arrived at Oakland International on Saturday, we went through TSA like a warm knife through butter; but upon our entry into Austin on Monday, though I went through with ease, Grandmother was taken out of her wheelchair and made to walk through the metal detector, and then patted down before being returned to her chair.  It took about twenty minutes.  Then when we changed planes in San Diego, we had to go through TSA again, because the two terminals are not connected and you have to go outside and back in; and this time she was made to walk through a metal detector, then patted down, and then X-rayed.  I don't know if it was the difference between flying on a Saturday and flying on a Monday, or the difference between airports, but Grandmother has never had that much trouble with TSA before.

Even without the TSA troubles, the return flight was simply exhausting.  I guess I was a lot more tired from the trip, sleeping in a strange bed for two nights and all, so when we got home I was completely frazzled.  I had no idea I'd be so tired, so hadn't taken the following day off work... I had to call in sick.  And I remained weary the rest of the week, my body felt like it had been awake for the entire weekend.

So I was not at all pleased when the engine light came on in my car.  I knew it was having some issues with the transmission, as they'd told me so when I got my oil changed a couple weeks before; but I didn't know what the engine light was about, so I took it in to the garage on my way to work on Wednesday.  I took the bus the rest of the way to work, which wasn't too bad, in fact was kind of pleasant getting to work without having to look for parking.

I was rather less enchanted by the diagnosis on the car: the distributor cap had cracked, and all of the spark-plugs were misfiring, and the transmission was completely filthy inside.  The repairs cost me $460 that I didn't have.  So I have to call Grandmother and ask to borrow it from her.  She was fine with that, since she depends on my car almost as much as I do, and she was still floating in a puddle of gratitude for the Texas trip.

Well, when I got to the shop, I found that Grandmother's debit card, which is the one I carry to make purchases on her behalf, had been frozen because of all the unaccustomed out-of-state activity over the weekend.  And of course my debit card only had $150 attached (which would have covered the tune-up I was expecting but not a distributor cap and all) and my one credit card only had about $80 available credit on it, so I had to walk home... only three quarters of a mile, but it was uphill and I was already completely exhausted.  Then arriving home, I discovered that I had somehow lost my housekeys, which I'd detached from my car keys to leave them at the shop, along the way somewhere.

Apparently the universe was mad at me.  But the next day I got my car and went on about my business.  I spent as much of the weekend as I could resting, though it wasn't all that much, but sufficient to get me through the next week.

Until Thursday, that is... I left work early because I had my depression class, the last of the series and I was looking forward to it. I was tired still, but muddling along...until I got to my car, parked a half a mile away as it usually is, and discovered a big bright-yellow boot on the rear tire.  A boot, I tell you!

One of the major drawbacks to working in Berkeley is the parking situation.  The parking enforcement buggies circle constantly, and they ticket aggressively.  The place I usually park, a ten to twenty minute walk from the office (depending on my physical state) is the closest I can get without entering the two-hour parking zone, where I have in the past received a lot of tickets because I'd get involved in my work and forget to move my car.  One also has to be careful of street-sweeping days, as they sweep pretty much every street in Berkeley once a month... mostly in order to give more tickets, since I've seen those damned sweepers go by and the streets aren't noticeably cleaner afterward.

Well, I've become fairly adept at avoiding those traps in the last three years at Rubicon...but my forgetfulness and carelessness regarding other automotive issues cost me a good many more tickets for expired license tags: I didn't even realize the tags were expired until I got the first ticket.  I got three more while waiting for the new tags to come (in retrospect, it would have been better to not drive with expired tags, but that didn't actually occur to me at the time).  And of course, since I was spending all my money on Halloween and walking sticks and waistcoats, I couldn't pay them right away... and so I forgot all about them, as I tend to do.

Well, the City of Berkeley didn't forget.  After three months the tickets went into "default" status, joining a few other forgotten tickets from a while ago (another annoying thing about Berkeley parking: they don't dump unpaid tickets onto your DMV registration bill as other cities do), which rendered me eligible for booting.

Anyway, there was a big colorful document stuck to my car window, and a copy of it tucked into my windshield wiper, instructing me to call a certain number to get the boot removed.  Of course my phone was dead... the poor old thing is so five-years-ago that the battery doesn't hold a charge, even when it's turned off.  So I had to schlepp all the way back to work in order to use the phone and find out how to get the boot off.

Turned out I owed $1,115 in back parking tickets, which would  have to be paid in full before I could have the boot off.  Furthermore, if I didn't pay by Saturday morning, the car would be towed, and I would be liable for towing and storage fees, which are about $180 for the former and $80 a day for the latter. And then I had to take the bus home.

So it's back to Grandmother, now also known as Cap'n Save-a-Ho, my go-to bailout.  This time, though, I have to show how I can pay her back; fortunately, I had already created a really good budget (I hadn't been sticking to it, but I had it) which I was able to show her I could pay her back $300 a month without hurting my ability to pay my other bills.  She was satisfied, and we called in the credit card info to the City of Berkeley.

Well, two down, what next?  The rest of the month actually went by pretty smoothly.  And then Halloween came, and all the fun of wearing the costumes I'd been buying was mine!  And I have to say, I had a pretty great time... with four separate costumes, even!

First was Nightlife at the Calfornia Academy of Science, for which Caroline was dressed as the Sugar Plum Fairy and so I dressed as a Nutcracker (though in fact I really looked like a Toy Soldier):

Then the next day was our Halloween party at work, for which I dressed up as a French Aristocrat, who I dubbed "Le Marquis de Marque" for lack of a better name. People thought I was dressed as Napoleon, George Washington, the Vampire Lestat, and Abraham Lincoln (some people's grasp of historical imagery is very shoddy):

The funny thing is that I dyed my gray-and-brown beard  brown for the first and third costumes, and so had to paint it gray for this second one.  I had an absolute ton of makeup on, and that wig was actually powdered with baby-powder to give it the correct texture, so I smelled lovely.

Then the next night Caroline and I went to the Blackbeard's Ghost party out on Treasure Island, which was a good deal of fun... though truth be told, Caroline had more fun than I did.  For though I enjoyed the music and the lovely young men, I was dismayed by the costumes (I've never seen so many shoddy storebought costumes in one place before), and girls kept hitting on me.  But then, who can blame them when I looked like this?

There are more pictures in my Facebook Gallery if you want to have a look.  The sweet young man dressed as LMFAO's Redfoo became attached to Caroline at the party and has been seeing her since--hence my statement that she had more fun than I did.

Sunday I took it easy, but on Monday I wore another costume to work... well, not really a costume, just a collection of gothy stuff that ended up looking rather like a Victorian Undertaker (so that's what I said I was).

The day went fine, but then at the end of the day I had my next disaster: being dressed in unfamiliar garb with pockets in unfamiliar places, I had a hard time keeping up with my keys... I ordinarily pat my pockets to see that I have them before going anywhere, but I had so many other things in my pockets that it got kind of confusing.

So I was leaving work, the last one in the building so I set the alarm and pulled the door closed behind me, and then noticed I'd left a light on; so I put my hand in the pocket I thought contained my keys, which in fact contained some change and a powder compact.  They weren't in my other pockets, either.  Oh, well, no big deal if a light stays on all night, and I'll have to knock to be let in the next morning, but these are not tragedies.  So I left and got to my car, only to find out that I'd left my car keys in the office, too!

After a brief meltdown in which I demanded of the Universe what I had done to deserve this, I went in search of a payphone (because of course my phone was in my car... and was probably dead anyway), which is a lot harder than it used to be.  Fortunately my nephew Matthew was home and not particularly busy, so I asked him to bring me my spare keys so I could drive home rather than take the bus.  He agreed, even though he hates driving in Berkeley, so I found a nice place to perch and sat there waiting for him... in full Victorian Undertaker garb, remember, so I was something of a sight.

Well, that was that for the next week. I started NaNoWriMo the very next day, not writing very much but getting the blog set up and my NaNo page organized.  I had devised a plot where Danny Vandervere is invited to Valerien de Seguemont's family chateau for a house party, to which Valerien's grandmother has invited three young ladies and wants Valerien to marry one of them.  During the week, someone who was assumed dead by most of the world is murdered, and the dramatic tension of the murder is that the family doesn't want any of the guests to know what happened, that the murder victim was even alive to begin with much less murdered.  Then there's the tension of Danny and Valerien and Marquesa Willard-Wilkes's varied relationships, as well as the presence of Marquesa's married lover and his wife, and some various other country-house-mystery devices.

Unfortunately, I don't have it very well developed in my head, so I don't think I'm going to end up with a viable novel draft at the end of the exercise... I mean, I spent five rather lengthy paragraphs describing the clothes Danny was packing to take to the Chateau... but I wanted to do the writing, anyway, for exercise and to develop the idea.

As I said, I have it in its own blog, so if you'd like to keep up with the development of The Vicomte is Dead, you certainly can.  My writing has been rather sporadic: the recommended daily output is 1,667 words, but some days I write a few hundred words, some days a few thousand, depending on what else is going on in my has been insane, with a new phone system and a new database system and all sorts of trips and changes happening all around. So despite a couple of three-thousand-word days, I'm currently way behind.

Because, you see, it's not enough that I have so much difficulty with my car and with keys, next my body has to start rebelling.

On Friday night, after going to bed early so that I could drive up to Redding the next morning to attend the funeral of a well-liked relative, I woke up at around 11:30 in excruciating pain.  At first I thought I'd pulled something in my back, as the lower left muscles of my back were screaming; so I moved around trying to take the pressure off, but then the pain just moved around to the other side.

I next became convinced that it was colonic, that a too-large or too-hard bowel movement had become lodged in the bend from the transverse to the descending colon, as the pain that did not shift around with my movements seemed to be in that general region.  So I spent the next hour and a half in the bathroom trying to encourage it to pass, with pressure on my gut and a warm enema and some simple pushing.  Fortunately I was installed in the correct room when I started vomiting from the pain.

Nothing else happened, so I started trying to figure out how to alleviate the pain; I got a hot pad and shoved it against the area and lay perfectly still for a long while, listening to my body as it were, trying to figure out what was going on.

The hot pad helped the muscle pain, and I was able to sort through the various kinds of pain that were going on; eventually I became aware of a dim throbbing at the center of all the pain, at some point inside the left half of my body, too high to be the colon and too low to be anything else I was familiar with (though I have studied anatomy a little bit, I was not at the time fully aware of what internal organ was in which portion of my body), and that the muscle pain came from my body trying to clench against the internal pain.

Well, unknown internal organs causing that much pain made me decide it was time to seek help... that and because I'd been in this pain for going on four hours and couldn't stand any more... it was either going to the ER or performing surgery on myself with a steak-knife just to make it stop.  So I got in the car and drove down to Kaiser, hunched up over my steering wheel and sobbing all the way.

I'd never been to the Emergency Room by myself before, and I have to say the experience was jarring.  I mean, not only had I never been alone in an ER before, but I'd never been to an ER on my own account before... it had always been with Grandpa, and then Grandmother, and once with Caroline.  It was a very weird feeling, being the one in crisis and taking care of myself instead of someone else, and having nobody to talk to in between visits from the nurse, the orderly, and the doctor.

At any rate, they put me on a bed with a hot pad for my back, gave me an IV (which my body sucked dry within the hour... I was horribly dehydrated, to such a degree that I wasn't producing sweat or tears), and then they gave me morphine—and suddenly the whole thing stopped dead in its tracks.  I'd never had morphine before, and so I wasn't prepared for the effects: the first being that the pain you're experiencing flares up to an intolerable degree while your whole body catches fire, and then suddenly it all disappears and you feel just fine.  Better than fine, even.  Quite cosy and slightly euphoric as a matter of fact. I watched and enjoyed four hours of impenetrable midnight TV, joked around with my doctor and my orderly (actually, I think they're called PAs now, physician's assistants, rather than orderlies), snoozed a little, and otherwise had a pretty good time.

It turned out to be a kidney stone.  Or at least, they think so, though nothing showed up on the sonogram... which usually means that it was too small to be seen.  I was rather irritated by that, since I felt that pain such as I had experienced should have resulted in something at least big enough to see, if not to have faceted and set in a ring.  But apparently it passed out of my kidney while I was enjoying my fifteen cc.s of morphine, and I examined my urine the rest of the day and saw nothing at all.

They sent me home with some Vicodin for if the pain came back, and some anti-nausea pills to keep myself from vomiting and dehydrating myself again if the stones recurred, and it was all very anticlimactic.  I got home at 8:30 am, went directly to sleep, and felt pretty good the next day... though the after-effects of the morphine made thinking difficult and writing impossible.  I don't know how Coleridge did it.

The following Wednesday, however, I very suddenly got very dizzy, very sleepy, and very sick to my stomach all at the same time.  I tried to just shake it off, thinking maybe I didn't get enough sleep, but I started tipping over when I was walking around, and the sleepiness did not respond to a cup of strong coffee, and the nausea escalated alarmingly to the point I was afraid I was going to throw up.  So I decided to go on home... having to walk, in that condition, all the way back to my car.  When I got home, I took some of the nausea meds they'd given me for my kidney, and got in bed and went to sleep for a couple of hours.

When I woke up, I was still dizzy and all, and thought I might have come down with the flu that's been going around the office.  But I didn't have a fever or any cold symptoms, just the headache and the dizziness and the nausea.  It continued into the next day, when Caroline convinced me to call up the Advice Nurse, who then set up a phone-appointment for me with my GP.  After hearing all my symptoms and comparing them to what he knows about me and the various ailments making the circuits these days, he decided I had a case of viral labyrinthitis, a very cool-sounding but otherwise unpleasant condition that affects the inner ear causing dizziness and nausea, and the body fighting against the lack of equilibrium causes the fatigue, and the dehydration was most likely due to my drinking too much coffee to combat the fatigue and not enough water.

So there went two days of work, and two days of writing.  I'm feeling better now, though not what I'd call "well,"  I still lose my balance but I'm not as dizzy and queasy as I was before.  I'm feeling able to write again (I started this post on Tuesday afternoon, and wrote everything from Halloween onward this morning), so when I'm done here I will go back and take up The Vicomte is Dead, explicating the tea party where the inhabitants of the house are introduced.

And Universe, if you're listening, please leave me alone for a while.  I've had enough.  You may not think so, but I really, really have.  Thank you.

Friday, September 16, 2011

I Like Me... Today, Anyway

I'm in a good mood today. I feel like I'm doing something positive with my life, taking charge of my well-being, making real progress. And I thought I'd say so, in hopes that I won't forget this feeling next time I feel like utterly utter crapola.

Last week, I finally met with my psychiatrist, and we discussed my increasing depression, fatigue, and joint pain. For the depression, she upped one of my antidepressants, told me to take the other one regularly (which I haven't been doing) and do whatever I had to do to make sure I took it every day, and told me to take fish oil capsules for the Omega 3's; for the fatigue, she told me to stop taking Advil PM altogether, to start taking my Seroquel earlier in the evening so it would knock me out by bedtime and its sedative effect would wear off by morning, and to stop drinking caffeine earlier in the day, preferably more than twelve hours before bedtime; for the joint pain, she hoped that getting my depression and sleep sorted out would take care of it.

She also recommended that I take a Depression Management class. I took one a couple of years ago, but I missed a lot of classes due to vacations and illnesses, and didn't get much out of it... partly because the educator and two of the participants were really cute, so I had a hard time concentrating, and partly because the educator wasn't really interested in structure, so it was just discussion without exercises.

But there was a new class starting that very same day (last Thursday), a couple of hours after my appointment ended... and so since I was already in the neighborhood, why not start right away? And so I did. I went home first and got a sandwich and told Grandmother I wouldn't be home for dinner (I don't live very far from Kaiser), then went back and took part in the class.

I really liked it... I was uncomfortable at first, a room full of strangers, mostly middle-aged women, all of us staring uneasily at each other. But the educator is really nice, perky but not annoyingly so, and she started us off with an interesting ice-breaker exercise: rather than introducing ourselves, we were paired up and introduced each other to the group. It was really interesting, a different kind of listening, finding out what to say to the group about this other person.

At the end of the session, we all went away with a goal for the week: to find a "healthy pleasure" that we could schedule and look forward to. After considering and discarding a lot of things that I should do but which either weren't very pleasurable or would require a lot of effort, I decided that my Healthy Pleasure would be hot baths. This, I thought, would kill two (or actually three) birds with one stone: aside from the Healthy Pleasure, it might help with my joint pain, might make getting to sleep at night easier, and would help with a problem I've been having about showering... lately I've had a hard time making myself shower, sometimes going as many as five days without cleaning myself (which even by my non-sweaty standards is kinda gross).

You know me, though: no new undertaking can be launched without shopping for stuff. I took a bath Thursday night, but I didn't have anything to put in it to make it nicer than plain water except some Dove cucumber body-wash... which is nice, but if I'm going to do this frequently (and I was aiming at daily baths), I'd need to switch it up some. So after work on Friday I went to Body Time (three blocks from the office) and got some Dead Sea bath-salts (which they scented for me with bergamot essence), a China Rain scented fizzy bath ball, some China Rain (I love that scent) bubble bath, and a nice new loofah.

On my way home, I was trying to decide which additive to try first, and decided that what I really needed to make the bath nicer was one of those little wire trays that stretch across the tub, where I could prop a book and a scented candle and maybe a cup of herb tea. So I detoured down to Jack London Square for the Bed, Bath & Beyond. There I found the exact thing I wanted, as well as a cute little waterproof pillow on which to rest my head. Oh, and Cost Plus is right across the street, so I jaunted over there and got some green tea and lemongrass bath salts, jasmine and ylang bubble bath, Sevilla orange bath creme (like bubble-bath but not as bubbly), and verbena bath oil.

So I took a bath that night with the Dead Sea salts, which made the water bouyant as well as skin-softening and bergamot-smelling... it was the nicest bath I can remember having. I had my little tray with a pot of Celestial Seasonings Tension Tamer and a cup, with my laptop on the bath stool beside the tub playing Baroque and Romantic selections on Pandora; I brought a book, too, but I can never read in a tub, I like having my hands under the water and then I have to dry them before I turn a page, and it gets tedious.

I bathed every night, enjoying it ever so much, and showered after to rinse off the bath additives. And I instituted the changes my psychiatrist ordered, as well: not one Advil PM did I swallow, I took my Seroquel and my doubled-up Zoloft before I got in the tub so I was good and sleepy by the time I got in bed, I did not forget my morning Wellbutrin (which I augmented with 1200 milligrams of fish oil as well as a glucosamine/chondroitin/hyaluronic acid supplement for my joints), and not a drop of caffeinated beverage passed my lips after 10 am.

Of course, I felt better immediately. I wasn't groggy in the daytime, my mood was much better, and my joints didn't hurt as much. I'm not sleeping as well as I'd like, I wake up at least twice in the night every night (which the Advil PM used to prevent), and I get very tired at work in the afternoons. And on Tuesday I fell into a depression that got steadily worse until the middle of Wednesday, when it started slowly swinging back up and I felt almost manic yesterday (Thursday).

I've also noticed that I'm taking more interest in my appearance. As a result of thinking about what I'm going to use in the bath each night, and then being all clean when I go to bed, I've also been thinking about what I'm going to wear the next day, rather than just putting on whatever's at the top of the pile. And being dressed nicely, not necessarily more dressily but with some thought to color and form, wearing blazers instead of hoodies and coordinating my hats and scarves, improves my mood more than I thought it would.

So when I went back to class yesterday, I had good things to share with the group (which was suddenly a lot smaller, several people who were auditing the class decided not to stay... now it consists of two young women and four older women plus me), and my excitement about the baths was infectious... three of the other ladies are going to try it.

Hearing other people's good results from getting more exercise or spending more time with friends was also encouraging. Our homework for next week is to come up with another scheduled improvement, and I have decided to start un-cluttering my room... not just cleaning it, but getting rid of a lot of the tchotchkes and books and magazines that take up the surfaces in my room for a cleaner and simpler look. I'm just going to get some packing boxes and start editing; I don't have to throw them away, just put them in storage, but I'm hoping if I can simplify my room that might improve my mood some more.

Then after the class, I went to an AA meeting... my first in over two years. It was the same Thursday meeting that I used to attend, after I gave up my Tuesday homegroup meeting due to taking on earlier work hours. But last time I went, I had a panic attack, and I have been afraid to try it again. However, it is around the corner from my Depression Management class, and a half-hour later, making it very easy to attend... too easy, in fact, to talk myself out of it. So I went, and though I didn't come out on a big pink cloud, I did realize during the course of the meeting that there was one really big thing missing from my life since I stopped going to AA: a spiritual practice.

I don't think I'd prayed in years, before last night. I know I've never once asked my Higher Power for help with my depression... it had always seemed such a separate thing from my alcoholism. But I don't know why I've thought that, why it never occurred to me to work the Steps around my mental illness; I guess because I've always thought of my alcoholism as a mental/spiritual disease, while my depression I think of as a physical/medical issue. But it makes so much sense to work a Program around this problem, considering that I've successfully worked the Steps around other problems in the past... like smoking and relationships and such.

So here I am: I feel good, so good that I forgot my cane this morning and don't miss it; I look good, clean and groomed and a little foppish in a midnight-blue velvet blazer (which I got at Out of the Closet for $10), wearing it with jeans and sneakers and an untucked French-cuffed dress shirt; I have hopes and plans for the near future, Alameda Imperial Coronation and Solace on Saturday, my depression class and AA meeting next Thursday, SF Ducal Coronation and Caroline's birthday next weekend, and more. And I feel like I have tools to handle things when this mood leaves me flat (as moods always do, good and bad).

Let's see how long I can get this to last. I know from past experience that I often feel very forward-looking this time of year, I think it's the deeply ingrained habit of starting to school in September, and those plans tend to fall apart come November; but I want to feel like I feel now lots more often. So I'll keep trying.

I may be powerless over my depression; but I'm not helpless. I think that was my most important take-away from last night.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Some Assembly Required

I realized recently that I am, and have been for the last few months, reinventing myself. I've been adopting new things that I never thought I'd want to adopt, and discarding old things that once meant a lot to me.

For example, I notice that I am embracing my age... and even striving to seem older than I am. It started with the glasses (seen here): needing bifocals inspired me to get classic black frames that I once would have dismissed as "too old," a fifties' style that make it obvious from a hundred yards away that I'm wearing glasses... rather than the wire-frames I've always worn in hopes of diminishing the appearance of age.

Then there's the beard (also pictured). I've had a beard before, but I would always tweak around with the gray in it, dyeing it or shaving it off when I wanted to look younger. It adds ten years to my appearance, or more precisely makes me look my actual age and maybe a couple years extra. Yet people seem to respond more positively to me when I have my gray beard, people smile at me more, and people are now telling me that I look not only distinguished but actually sexy.

And now I've started walking with a cane. It started with buying one for a costume, a regency-style dome-topped affair that I got on eBay for something like forty bucks while I was working on my next several costumes (after the last post about my Louis XV outfit, I saw Beau Brummell: This Charming Man, a not very good and wildly inaccurate biopic of the famous dandy starring the incredibly schmexy James Purefoy; I followed it with Regency House Party, one of those weird Brit "reality" shows where people try living in a different century; and I was soon completely in love with the Regency style and started working on assembling some wardrobe).

Anyway, I was futzing around with this walking stick around the house, and wore it out when I went to Solace, discovering that it made getting around a hell of a lot easier... I didn't even have to lean on it very hard, just having it in hand helped my balance and relieved the pressure in my ankles, knees, and hips. Getting in and out of chairs was suddenly no longer a painful noisy chore. But the stick was a little short, I found myself leaning a bit to the side, which simply transferred the discomfort from my lower body to my hands and shoulders.

So I did some research, and found out that the correct height for a cane should be half your own height, rounded up to the nearest inch, or should reach your wrist-bone when standing up straight and letting your arm hang loose at your side; since I'm 75" tall, the correct height would be 37.5 or 38 inches. To test that out, I started using two of Grandmother's canes, adjustable ones that I could bring up to a 37" and 38". As promised, the 38" one was the most comfortable.

And so I've been walking around all week with a cane, at work and at home, and I absolutely love it! I had to get past the initial reactions from coworkers and clients, who would be startled by the sight of a cane and ask me with great concern how I'd injured myself; but once I explained that I was just trying out a possible remedy for an existing depression-related joint-pain condition, they moved on to asking me how it was working.

Of course, some more shopping is required. Since the elegant one I bought was too short, and Grandmother's spares are all tubular aluminum with joins and sizing buttons and not-very-attractive handles, I immediately started trolling eBay and other internet sites for elegant canes that are tall enough for me. But it hasn't been easy: the tallest standard is 36", and most canes are 34" (which makes sense, since the average American is 68" tall), so it took some doing to find canes that were tall enough and classy enough for me.

I've bought two so far, one a handmade cane in black-stained Virginia hemlock with a black marble Victorian doorknob as a handle, and another black ash stick with a chrome-plated two-headed eagle handle. Neither has arrived yet, but I'm looking forward to getting them and trying them out. There is a rich variety out there, even with my non-standard height requirements (though a standard height would exponentially increase the possibilities), so I suspect I'm starting a new collection.

I think the next step will be a pipe... but I can't smoke one, so it would just be a prop; and I've always found props tedious when performing. Or maybe a different style of hat... I've been wearing "newsboy" caps (or golf caps or apple caps or eight-quarter caps or whatever you want to call them) for a few years now, maybe it's time to graduate to a nice fedora or panama? But I've had trouble with shaped hats in the past, I throw them in the backseat of my car or my trunk and they get squashed. I don't know.

And then there's something else: I simply do not want to do drag anymore. I feel like I've milked all the fun out of it, and it's no longer something that makes me happy. In all my eBay expeditions, I've not been remotely interested in female costumes or jewelry or wigs. I look at them, but they spark no interest. I don't know if this is a permanent distaste for my drag persona or just a lack of interest due to taking so much interest in new masculine realms of costume and jewelry, but I have a weird feeling that I'm done with Marlene. I'm not going to give away all my gowns and jewels just yet, though... I'd hate to get rid of everything and then decide I want to be Marlene again.

This is a little unsettling but very exciting, this business of self-reinvention. It's also rather expensive: I've overdrawn my account four times in the last three months. I mean, no sooner did I finish one costume than I was launched into two others (proper Regency and sexy Goth), and not very far into those realms before I started on the walking-sticks. I have about four hundred dollars worth of eBay items on watch that I plan to get with my next paycheck (a three-piece suit, some really massive rings, and another cane). And now I contemplate pipes and hats?

Yeah, well, I never claimed to be sane. But I say the results are worth it (this is what I wore to Solace last weekend, and I looked fierce, if I do say so myself):

I'm also inspired to start taking more care with my everyday clothes. The cane and beard do not assort well with my old "collegiate casual" khakis with a t-shirt and v-neck, or polo shirt on hot days. I'm starting to think tailored vests with collared shirts, blazers instead of hoodies when it's cool, maybe a loose necktie or even an ascot. With a panama hat and a cane? I'd be rockin' that old-man mojo!

Well, something to think about, anyway. I'm still trying out various costume vendors for the waistcoat thing, for my Regency and Goth outfits, and possibly for everyday; the custom-tailored one I wore in the picture above was great, but it was kind of pricey at $120, if I'm going to wear waistcoats every day I'm going to have to find something cheaper. Of course waistcoats have to be one of the things I need to have tailored, since I have an unnaturally long torso and most vests are made to standard sizes that are three or four inches shorter than I need.

Anyoldhowzle, that's me today. Check back in a few weeks to see who I am then.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Summerti-yi-yi-ime, and the Living Is Easy

Sorry to fall off again, but I've been enjoying doing nothing so much that I can't bring myself around to doing something. And I haven't even fallen back into the clutches of Second Life... my participation there has been cursory at best. I've been playing some FaceBook games, and reading A Clash of Kings, but nothing intensive. Instead, I've been staring at the ceiling a lot, sleeping a lot, and watching movies and TV shows online a lot.

But my July wasn't all about vegetating... I took a trip, and I've been putting together my Halloween costume, and working on some interesting projects.

So for Halloween this year, I'm doing a French courtier of the period of Louis XV. I don't know if I want to try to be an actual historical figure or a figure of literature or just a generic Courtier, but I'm definitely focused on the Louis XV period (that would be 1715 to, he was king for a long time! But then, he started at age 5, poor thing).

The costume started with the discovery of this suit on eBay:

I'm having it made in black velvet with silver frogging and buttons, and a silver-and-black damask waistcoat with pearl buttons. I ordered it without knowing what period it was meant to be, though, and had to do a lot of research to discover when cuffs like that were used with hip-length waistcoats... the cuffs originated at about 1680, the middle Louis XIV period, but were worn with waistcoats the same length as the coat; the shorter waistcoat was more common in the Louis XVI period, but the cuffs of those times were much slimmer. So the cuffs and the waistcoat in those proportions only overlapped for two decades, placing us firmly in between the 1750s and the 1770s.

The next issue was shoes... men generally wore high-heeled black shoes with ornate silver or jeweled buckles, yet all of the costume buckle-shoes I could find were low-heeled and very distinctly American Colonial; but while poking around on eBay, I discovered that the shape popular in 18th-century France is echoed in modern Cuban heel dance shoes... so I ordered a pair of those:

The seams across the instep are out-of-period, but since they're black and will be adorned with shoe-buckles, I don't think anyone will notice. As an added bonus, I discovered when I wore them recently (before adding the buckles) that they're incredibly comfortable! I was definitely not expecting that, considering the height of the heel and the point of the toe. I don't think I'll ever wear low-heeled dress shoes again.

For the buckles, it was fairly easy to find something that looked the period without actually being from the period... 18th-century shoe-buckles, though not terribly rare, are terribly expensive. So I got something that looked very like the period, but which are late Victorian:

Though they look from the front like cast silver, and have a subtle sparkle like marcasite, they're actually cut steel... each of the steel beads is individually riveted to the frame. I'm going to place bows behind each buckle, either black satin or the same fabric as the waistcoat, and sew the buckles to the instep of the shoes.

My next problem was the hat... there were lots of tricorns available online, but none of the correct period... they were all pirate hats or American Colonial hats, nothing like what was worn in France during the reign of Louis XV. But after a certain amount of searching, I was able to find the exact right period of hat from a reenactor site (being the correct period for the French & Indian War):

Unfortunately, it cost an obscene amount of money for a hat... though not an unreasonable amount for an authentic beaver felt hat from a fairly obscure era, custom-made to exactly fit my big ol' melon. And seriously, it was the only hat I could find that was the correct shape, so I coughed up $200 for it. The suit was $300, so I was reluctant to add that much more to the kitty (the shoes and buckles together cost about $100), but I figured I might as well just go whole hog on this year.

The idea that I probably don't really need a hat to sell the costume occurred to me, but that idea was dismissed as unsporting.

And speaking of sporting, my next purchase was an appropriate sword... of course I had to have a sword! I've become quite obsessed with swords over the last few years (I have six of them), and no costume is complete without one, even though I usually end up not wearing it, either because of weapons bans at the places I go for Halloween or because the sword is too heavy to be carried comfortably.

But again I had to do some research to discover what kind of sword is correct for the period; yet very little research was needed to discover that only one kind of sword would do: the smallsword, an evolution from the rapier but predecessor of the epee. Sadly, among all the cheaper reproductions available online, the period is completely unrepresented... cheapskate collectors seem to prefer Renaissance rapiers and military sabres to delicate Rococo smallswords... most of what was available were antiques costing in the high thousands.

Even away from eBay, I only found one cutler who made accurate reproduction smallswords (Cold Steel), and they cost upwards of $240. Fortunately, I was able to find a vendor on eBay that sold them at a skosh of a discount, and ended up with the following:

It recently arrived in the mail, and I have to admit that this was a good investment. The quality is amazing, it's feather-light but extremely strong (the edges aren't sharp, but the point is), and the detail is gorgeous, the picture doesn't do it justice. In its scabbard, it's so well balanced that I can hang it from a hook in my belt and it doesn't swing around when I walk. And so although the sword brought the cost of this little folly dangerously close to a thousand bucks, I am very glad I bought this particular blade... it makes my other swords look like toys.

So now I'm pretty much all ready. I am still waiting for the suit to be made, the costumier was a little backlogged and then was scheduled for surgery, but she promised me an early September delivery date; and the hat should be on its way right now, though it hasn't yet arrived. Then I have to sew the buckles on the shoes, which shouldn't be at all difficult. And I'll need to get a proper powdered wig... the costumey one I have isn't bad, but I'd like to get a more theatrical-quality piece if I can.

All that's left is to decide on a character, and then think of where to go. I plan to wear this costume to the Bal des Vampires in November, but I'm sure Caroline will have some good ideas for Halloween as well. Last year we went to the California Academy of Science's Nightlife, and had a great time; we also went to Slide, where she had a great time and I was bored out of my mind.

Speaking of the Vampires' Ball, I have discovered a rich vein of Goth in my own backyard. While playing Second Life, I met a gentleman who produces and co-DJs a monthly goth club right here in Oakland! It's called Solace, and it is more of a social salon than a dance club — though dancing does occur there, the music never gets louder than the conversations, and shies clear of the industrial/punk/metal sounds that permeate most goth venues.

I went in June with Caroline, and had such a good time that I went back by myself for July, and intend to visit in August for their anniversary party, and to simply make a monthly habit of it as long as I can. And it was there that I heard about PEERS, who host the Vampire's Ball as well as monthly events that I'm going to start looking into.

"What?! You're going out in public!?" I hear you scream in disbelief. Or maybe just relief... I know I'm relieved. While I still find myself somewhat uncomfortable in crowds, I have been going out a lot more lately, and am planning to make more a habit of it in the future.

I'm becoming more involved in the Grand Ducal Court as well, having discovered an expedient that boosts me over my discomfort level: I go in male drag. Not just street clothes, but dressing up in costume. I attended San Francisco Imperial Coronation in a military band jacket and a kilt; and then attended Alameda Ducal Coronation in a tailcoat and satin pirate shirt (both times with boots, naturally... I'm big on boots these days).

(That's Angelique deVil by my side at SF Imperial)

Being in costume is very liberating, and not having to wear corsets and wigs and foundation and heels is even more liberating... put the two together, and not only am I very comfortable and happy to be out in public, but I have a reason to wear all the costumes I'm always buying, other than the usual Halloween. I guess that's why I've felt enabled to spend so much money on the Louis XV folly, if I can find a half-dozen reasons to wear parts of it instead of just once a year.

So I plan to reenter the Court spheres as Robert Manners instead of Marlénè Manners, and see how that works out. I'm not sure I want to perform as a male, though... but we'll cross that bridge later on.

Oh, and did you notice the beard? I decided to grow it back over the winter, in February to be exact, when I got my new glasses (black frames with a bifocal!) At first I dyed it and my hair to match my glasses, but after a while I got used to the gray and decided it was a good look for me.

Unfortunately, I think I'm going to have to shave it off for the Louis XV look... nobody but peasants had beards in 18th-century France. Which is too bad, because it's a good look for me... and more importantly, it covers up the sag in my chin, which I hate. Not many people notice the sag, but I know it's there and it saps my confidence. With the beard, I feel better about my appearance, and that translates into people being attracted by my appearance. People actually flirt with me! And I must say, I enjoy the hell out of that.

Oh, and I mentioned a trip! But I'm too tired to tell you about it right now. So I'll pop in later this week and show you some pictures. In the meantime, have a simply gorgeous day!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

I'm Back... Sort Of

I seem to have hit my saturation point with Second Life and suddenly lost interest in it... I haven't logged in for several days, except to feed my vampire (they run out of blood in ten days and it's a hassle to remedy). I don't think it's a permanent loss of interest, I expect I'll get back to it some time soon, but I don't think I will be as deeply involved as I have been. We'll see.

I think the thing that pushed me over the edge with SL was creating more "alt" characters. I felt like using some skins and clothes and behaviors that simply didn't fit with the characters I already possessed, and so rather than alter my first character, I thought I'd just create new ones instead.

For example, I decided to create an avatar to model the boyish looks that I felt uncomfortable with in my main character; I also wanted to create a "blood doll" for the Countess, so she'd have someone to feed on besides my main character. And so I created Lord Sebastian, and made up for him the back-story that he was the Countess's son before she was made a vampire, whom she pulled forward in time through some supernatural agency.

So Lord Sebastian has a reason to wear all the historical costumes I love, and can be quite young and rather girlishly pretty, who can be not only the Countess's blood doll but also Robbie's boyfriend (the guy I was "dating" in my previous post didn't work out). But after a while, I just didn't feel any enjoyment in running around as Lord Sebastian, so I let him slip to the side for the time being.

After a while, though, I started thinking it might be interesting to interact as a female character without the limitations of vampirism and anachronism of the Countess, so after some thought and an attraction to a particular avatar set (skin, shape, hair, wardrobe, etc) that I'd seen in my Marketplace searches, I created the character Xiao Tou Xiang (which, according to Google Translate, means "little avatar" in standardized Chinese). That was a lot of fun for a while, and I did a great deal of exploring in various "newcomer" areas that I hadn't been to before, and found that Xiao was a lot more approachable as a character than any of my previous incarnations had been.

Another few weeks passed, and I came up with the idea for another alternate character: a man of my own age and similar appearance. I had tried this with my Robbie character, but it didn't feel right at that time; but I nevertheless wanted to see what an older-looking character might be like. So I created Lord Robert (I keep sticking to this silly conceit of the Manners family, who are the Earls of Curmudge, wherein Robbie, the Countess, Lord Sebastian, and Lord Robert are all in the same family, which I find endlessly amusing for some reason), who has a very sweet and kind but distinctly middle-aged face, a nice but not extravagantly gorgeous body, and no particular backstory (as yet).

But with all these alternate characters, I've sort of run out of different places to explore. As I mentioned in an earlier post, Second Life is on the wane, and though the number of places to explore is still high, the number of people in those places is often very low. And I feel almost deceitful walking around as all these different characters... though my original character is no more true to life than any of the others I've created since, I just feel so much more emotionally attached to him, so the others feel much more "pretend."

And so guess I hit the logical "point of diminishing returns"... too much involvement in too many different directions made the experience less satisfying rather than more. So I haven't been playing for a while. But I'm starting to miss some of my friends, so I expect I'll be wanting to get back to them soon.

The other thing going on in my life right now is something more serious: my aunt Terry passed away on June 20th, aged 63, after a three-year battle with cancer. We've known for a long time that she was terminal, and one has to admire how long she managed to hang on before it took her; but even when you've had plenty of time to adjust to the loss of a family member, it still has an impact... not a shock so much as a wave, but deeply unsettling and upsetting anyway.

The impact it's had on me hasn't been especially emotional--I don't grieve in the usual fashion, I don't generally feel sad or even miss a person after they've passed, or if I do it's not for several weeks or even months. I do, however, feel completely drained of emotional and physical energy... I haven't wept, but I've slept an awful lot.

Grandmother is pretty well wrecked over the whole thing, and she keeps trying to not cry and not be sad... I don't understand why. Losing a child is one of those times you're pretty much expected to fall apart. She doesn't need to be strong for everyone else, everyone else is handling it fairly well so it's not like she needs to be the rock. But I think in many ways she's just confused about the whole thing... it's not going according to the pattern she's used to.

In Grandmother's family, there is always a funeral within a few days of a death, and there is usually a fairly sizable gathering of the clan in the days leading up to it, and a couple days after. When Grandfather died, back in 1987, we had twelve of Grandmother's nieces and nephews staying in the house for a week, and a dozen more relatives came visiting every day. But Terry stipulated cremation, no funeral, and no church service, so Grandmother doesn't quite know how to act or feel. There is a Celebration of Life gathering later this week, and several cousins plan to attend, but it's just not the same thing.

I don't quite know what to make of the current fashion of death rituals, where everything is neat and tidy and "positive" instead of sad and emotionally messy and perhaps even lurid. I mean, I don't like attending funerals, and I really don't like being in a room where the central display is an embalmed corpse; but a party in a restaurant just seems kind of, I don't know, detached somehow. It lacks a certain gravity, a potentially necessary experience of looking death in the face and feeling the grief in a visceral way, and sharing it with your fellow survivors.

But funerals are for the living, and however the living can get through their loss and deal with it is what they should do. But I know Grandmother would be having an easier time of it if the old traditions were being observed. Nobody else would, though, so that's how it has to be. Perhaps the old traditions are just a crutch and less emotionally healthy after all. I don't know.

Well anyway, to end on a more cheerful note, with all the time I've saved by not playing Second Life, I've been reading again. A coworker recommended the "Song of Ice and Fire" series of novels by George R.R. Martin, and even lent me his copy of the first novel, A Game of Thrones (which has recently been dramatized on HBO) to get me started. I was a trifle leery of it, since fantasy isn't really my favorite genre; but he assured me the series was exceptionally well-written, and since it's been so popular (it's spawned a card game, a board game, and an RPG as well as the cable series) I thought I'd give it a try.

And all I can say is: WOW! I read the whole novel over the long weekend, riveted to every page (more than 800 densely printed pages, no less), only able to put it down at chapter breaks. The language was exceptionally fluid, easy to read and completely lacking in the kinds of tics and errors that irritate my grammar-fascist brain, and intensely visual... I had the clearest mental pictures of people and places and events, without recourse to illustrations. I even found myself disagreeing with some of the casting and art direction from the cable series' website.

The numerous plotlines fit together beautifully, I never once got confused about where I was or from whose point of view I was looking. The situations were almost viscerally compelling. The characters were fascinating, multidimensional and eminently believable. And the varied cultures and subcultures, even the geography and architecture of the made-up world, were just as believable and cogent as the individuals.

Now I have to go get the next installment, A Clash of Kings, because A Game of Thrones ended with so many cliffhangers that I can't just leave it be... I mean, each character's story came to a good stopping-place, but each closure left a deliciously tantalizing hook. I'm planning to get the four-book boxed set that was put out to promote the HBO series, and the fifth is being released in hardback next week; but I need my fix right now, so I'm going to run over the Half-Price Books after work and hunt up a used copy if possible -- I'm dead broke until Friday, but can't wait that long.

Well, I'm out of topics, so here's a nice piece of beefcake (though perhaps "vealcake" is the mot juste) for your delectation.