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.

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