Thursday, January 27, 2011

Why won't my doctor listen?

Is this too inflammatory to write about?

We're all so dependent on the medical profession, especially as we age (and we're all doing that). We find we're developing symptoms, some of them mild and some of them alarming. And we don't know what they mean, and we don't know why they won't go away.

We're lucky if they go away. If they don't, we may have to step onto a dizzying merry-go-round (or awful-go-round) of baffling "treatment" that seems to be getting more and more removed from simple human attention.

It's easy to send someone away to the lab for a CAT scan or a blood test or for a consultation with a "specialist" who sees the world through the narrow lens of only one body part. When it all comes up negative, and if we try to speak up and say something like, no, that's not good enough, suddenly we're a "nuisance patient" with psychosomatic disorders (or maybe a hidden drug problem).

It gets worse. If we really have something wrong with us, it can be misdiagnosed and misdiagnosed for years, even decades, sometimes radically changing with every doctor you see. (Don't ask me how I know.) It can be mismedicated, overmedicated, or not medicated at all (though the former is more likely).

When your doctor packs you off to a "specialist", batten down the hatches and bring with you (along with a quart of your urine and an ultrasound of your kidneys) a medical dictionary, so you can try to keep up. You won't be able to. Doctors are taught to speak in this language, and it keeps them distant from all these needy people. These people who seem to want something totally unreasonable (care).

They used to call it care. It's rare now. Getting through medical school is a meat grinder, and only the strong survive. It's easier to send someone off to the lab than to try to figure out what is really going on within the context of the patient's individual life.

There is no solution to this. We're stuck with doctors, and with trying to deal with them and translate what they really mean. About a hundred years ago I went through an excruciating period in my life, didn't feel listened to at all (because I wasn't), and went through four doctors in the space of a year. I was labelled, if not branded, a hopeless hypochondriac who was "unstable" (and whatever you do, don't get labelled THAT).

When I finally found a good doctor, which I did, I stayed with her for fifteen years, until she finally retired. What happened to the diagnosis of hypochondriac? Were "they" wrong, did "they" misread a crisis situation and assume that I was that way all the time, throughout my entire life?


That's called disrespect, and it's rife in the medical field. We're lab rats, folks, and finding real care is as rare as the dodo. "It's not that I'm calling you a malingerer," one doctor said to me. But who brought the subject up? I wanted to say back to him, but didn't dare, "It's not that I'm calling you a quack."

But I was. And he was. We are too often trapped by very limited options, and by the Byzantine labyrinth of professional bafflegab and passing the buck. But if we complain - oh, if we complain. . .

So I'm complaining, right now. I know this won't do any good. But I'm going to say to the medical profession what a doctor once said to me.

Shape up.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

More Manglish!

(Note: these excerpts from the classic phrasebook English as she is Spoke have been boiled down enormously. Hope they still make sense.)

Of the Man.

The Brain The inferior lip
The brains The superior lip
The fat of the Leg The marrow
The ham The reins

Defects of the body.

A blind A left handed
A lame An ugly
A bald A squint-eyed
A deaf

Degrees of kindred.

The gossip the quater-grandfather
The gossip mistress The quater-grandmother
The Nurse A guardian
A relation An guardian
An relation A widower
An widow.


Starch-maker Porter
Barber Chinaman
Coffeeman Founder
Porkshop-keeper Grave-digger
Cartwright Tradesman
Tinker, a brasier Stockingmender
Nailer Lochsmith

For the table.

Some knifes Some groceries
Some crumb.


Some sugar-plum Hog fat
Some wigs Some marchpanes
A chitterling sausages. An amelet
A dainty-dishes A slice, steak
A mutton shoulder Vegetables boiled to a pap


Some wing Some pinions
Some cinnamon Some hog'slard
Some oranges Some verjuice


Some orgeat Some paltry wine
Some sirup or sirop


Becafico Heuth-cock
Calander Whoop
Stor Pea cock
Yeung turkey Pinch
Red-Breast, a robin


Asp, aspic Fly
Morpion Butter fly

Fishes and shell-fishes.

Calamary Large lobster
Dorado Snail
A sorte of fish Wolf
Hedge hog Torpedo


White Gridelin
Cray Musk

Metals and minerals.

Starch Latten
Cooper Plaster


Counterpoise An obole
A pound an half A quater ounce.


Football-ball Pile
Bar Mall
Gleek Even or non even
Carousal Keel


Benzion Pomatum
Perfume paw Storax

On the church.

The sides of the nef The little cellal
The holywater-pot The boby of the church

Music's instruments.

A flagelet A dreum
A hurdy-gurdy.


A fine To break upon
Honourable fine To tear off the flesh
To draw to four horses

POSTSCRIPT: I can identify with "vegetables boiled to a pap" (the story of my childhood), but what the samhill is a "becafico"?

He is with nails up: a literary classic


By Jose da Fonseca and Pedro Carolino

Here is a small fragment of a little-known classic: an English phrasebook created from translating Portuguese into French into English. Something got lost in the translation, but something else was gained: see for yourself!

(NOTE: For those who think I shouldn’t borrow things that rightfully belong to all of humanity: “This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at”

So there.)

For to ride a horse.

Here is a horse who have a bad looks. Give me another; I will
not that. He not sail know to march, he is pursy, he is foundered.
Don't you are ashamed to give me a jade as like? he is undshoed,
he is with nails up; it want to lead to the farrier.

Your pistols are its loads?
No; I forgot to buy gun-powder and balls. Let us prick. Go us more
fast never I was seen a so much bad beast; she will not nor to
bring forward neither put back.
Strek him the bridle, hold him the reins sharters. Pique
stron gly, make to marsh him.
I have pricked him enough. But I can't to make march him.
Go down, I shall make march.
Take care that he not give you a foot kick's. Then he kicks for that I look? Sook here if I knew to tame hix.

One eyed was laied against a man which had good eyes that he saw
better than him. The party was accepted. "I had gain, over said the
one eyed; why I see you two eyes, and you not look me who one."

A duchess accused of magic being interrogated for a commissary
extremely unhandsome, this was beg him selve one she had look the
devil. "Yes, sir, I did see him, was answer the duchess, and he was
like you as two water's drops."

A Lady, which was to dine, chid to her servant that she not had used
butter enough. This girl, for to excuse him selve, was bing a little
cat on the hand, and told that she came to take him in the crime,
finishing to eat the two pounds from butter who remain. The Lady took
immediately the cat, was put into the balances it had not weighted
that one an half pound.

Idiotisms and Proverbs.

The necessity don't know the low.
Few, few the bird make her nest.
He is not valuable to breat that he eat.
Its are some blu stories.
Nothing some money, nothing of Swiss.
He sin in trouble water.
A bad arrangement is better than a process.
He has a good beak.
In the country of blinds, the one eyed men are kings.
To build castles in Espagnish.
Cat scalded fear the cold water.
To do the fine spirit.
With a tongue one go to Roma.
There is not any rnler without a exception.
Take out the live coals with the hand of the cat.
A horse baared don't look him the tooth.
Take the occasion for the hairs.
To do a wink to some body.
So many go the jar to spring, than at last rest there.
He eat untill to can't more.
Which like Bertram, love hir dog.
It want to beat the iron during it is hot.
He is not so devil as he is black.
It is better be single as a bad company.
The stone as roll not heap up not foam.
They shurt him the doar in face.
He has fond the knuckle of the business.
He turns as a weath turcocl.
There is not better sauce who the appetite.
The pains come at horse and turn one's self at foot.
He is beggar as a church rat.
So much go the jar to spring that at last it break there.
To force to forge, becomes smith.
Keep the chestnut of the fire with the cat foot.
Friendship of a child is water into a basket.
At some thing the misforte is good.
Burn the politeness.
Tell me whom thou frequent, I will tell you which you are.
After the paunch comes the dance.
Of the hand to mouth, one lose often the soup.
To look for a needle in a hay bundle.
To craunch the marmoset.
To buy cat in pocket.
To be as a fish into the water.
To make paps for the cats.
To fatten the foot.
To come back at their muttons.

Ted Haggard, the latest Swaggart

Since it's Sunday, I think it's time for a little confession.

I watched that goldern show about Ted Haggard. That TLC show. Which means it's likely the debut of a new reality series (and surely we need another one of those!)

He's the guy, remember, the pastor of about a million churches nationwide, that uncomfortably weaselly-looking sanctimonious guy who. . . well, he used to denounce gay sex, and drugs along with it. But like Jimmy Swaggart before him, he was soon on his knees (oops, wrong expression) in repentence. Nevertheless, his church threw him out with a resounding thud.

What I have trouble with, and what a lot of people are having trouble with still, is how he now denounces the gay sex he had with a male "escort" who threw in a little crystal meth to sweeten the deal. He insists, stridently, over and over again, that in spite of having sex with a man, he's "not gay". (Also says he didn't use the meth, either. Hmm, let's have a look at his teeth.)

My husband's not gay either. So is he ready to call up a male hooker any time soon? How many hetero married evangelical pastors call up drug-addicted male hookers for a date anyway?

(Hey, an infamous quote suddenly comes to mind, one that made it into Bartlett's Quotations: "I did not have sex with that woman, Miss Lewinski.")

This Haggard guy has bafflegabbed his way through a very rocky recovery. Then he got an idea (an awful idea, some would say. . . a wonderful, awful idea) to start his own church. In a barn.

All that's missing is Mickey Rooney saying to Judy Garland, "Hey, let's put on a show!"

His barn church will be "open to all, even those who have committed the darkest sins". Apparently it will stress "acceptance". Even of the darkest sins.

Hmmm. I have a little trouble with this. It will "accept" the most awful, evil, slimy people who ever crawled the earth, those scum-bags who can't get into a "real" church to save their lives. But why does he welcome all these worthless people? Because then Pastor Ted will fit right in. Compared to all this pond scum, he'll come up pretty righteous.

I have to admit, however, that as I watched this thing unfold (with Part I written all over it: the TLC execs no doubt had their finger on the pulse of the ratings), it seemed to me as if something sincere was trying to come through.

Even as he enabled the voracious needs of a slurring addict who'd lost everything and arranged for her to stay at a fellow parishioner's home (!!!!!), there was a sense that he was trying. Trying for something.

The trouble is, he's an Elmer Gantry and doesn't even know it. Does he think he's gay? If he did, he'd probably kill himself. Or his wife would kill him.

So he has jumped back into the closet, but hey, since he was branded such a sinner, that allows him to counsel and pray and dither over REAL sinners who maybe are gay.

His sons look exactly like him, which is creepy. His wife is a total codependent with no personality of her own, the "good wife" of TV repute. Evangelists invented the concept of "stand by your man", after all.

If this series flies, and maybe it won't because Part I was pretty limp and uninspiring and public opinion of Haggard still so negative, they're going to have to punch it up a little. That "barn" looks like a storage shed gone to seed, with plywood walls and old chairs dredged up from an episode of Hoarders. If they were going for Abe Lincoln log-cabin rustic sincerity, they missed by a mile. If this is the only facility they can afford, they better pack it in, or else rent a hall somewhere.

But still. It could get interesting to see Haggard get involved in "counseling" people who are way out of his depth. They might really be gay and he might have to tell them to give it up! (Like he did. Ooops, no! Because he's not really gay.)

There are already churches kind of like this that claim to truly welcome the sinner, but I have problems resolving their ultra-conservative and fiercely judgmental theology with that open, inclusive, come-unto-me philosophy. Also, the folks that will be attracted to Haggard's makeshift storage-room church won't have any political clout, or any money either.

So, the question comes up once again. Do people get paid to do reality TV?

Well, do they?

They get their rehab paid for in sunny resorts with horse ranches, personal trainers, crystalline beaches and a masseuse. Makes ME want to turn alcoholic for a while.

They get their hoard-crammed, miserable, urine-soaked, vermin-crawling, stinking holes of houses bulldozed for free, along with concerned counselling by that crinkle-browed therapist who always asks them, "Is this bringing anything up for you?" (While the rest of us just bring up.)

It's all part of the ingrained theory (see another Ted by the name of Williams) that anyone can be redeemed if you throw enough money at them. Everyone's potentially employable and emotionally balanced. They just have to get that awful childhood trauma out of the way.

What bizarre myths we promote! If Haggard really does attract the kind of people he says he wants, they will be manipulative, lying crack whores and felons and pimps. But at the same time, they will be blisteringly honest, attacking any weakness they can find in their fearless leader.

If this succeeds, watch out, Ted. They will destroy you unless you truly confess what you did, and who you are.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Backward child

Today I found two books I had given up for dead. You know how you just can't find a book? It must be somewhere. I felt as if I was going out of my mind.

This all started a few months ago, I think. I was in the bird room (my bird's bedroom, downstairs, also a catch-all for my husband's TEN YEARS' WORTH of receipts for such important purchases as foam insoles at Walmart and two loaves of bread from the Safeway). No, back up a little. I couldn't find my music books! Caitlin, now 7, got a guitar for Xmas and wanted me to help her and I could not find ANY of my 25 or so music books!!

I don't know, I didn't even think to look in the bird room, nor did I remember moving a whole bookcase down there with lots of "tall" books in it, books that just didn't fit anywhere else. Anyways.

The 2 books I found today, in the tall book case in the bird room, are called (firstly) Panati's Extraordinary Endings of Practically Everything and Everybody. Most of it is boring, the rest of it gruesome. It talks about how a man, after being beheaded, retains consciousness (presumably in his head) for several seconds after "severance". Once a researcher asked a poor beheaded guy to blink three times after they removed his melon. He blinked twice.

I won't tell you about Thomas Edison's early failed experiments (on humans) in electrocution, or the death of William the Conqueror whose body exploded like Mr. Creosote in Monty Python, because it is simply too disgusting (and when I visited England, a tour guide at the Tower of London told a horrible fable about a drunken executioner, Jack Ketch, who mis-chopped about fourteen times before successfully offing the poor guy's head).

But I will say, during one of the worst bouts of the Black Plague, 10,000 people were dying per day. Unable to accommodate the bodies even in burning pits, they had to remove the roofs from massive guard towers, throw the bodies in, cover the whole thing with quicklime and nail the roof back on.

I think my day just got a whole lot brighter.

Enough of this Panati stuff: and who is he, anyway? Some ghoul? On to the other one, equally boring except in spots, called An Almanac of Words at Play by Willard R. Espy.

A lot of this is bad poetry and tricky little word-things, and the anagrams are atrocious, but I do like the palindromes, words or names or phrases that read the same forwards as backwards ("Otto"; "Anna"; "Norma is as selfless as I am, Ron"; "'Naomi, sex at noon taxes,' I moan").

I want to share with you, dear readers, before I nod off into another bout of foggy depression, what I've come to think of as the Ultimate Palindrome. For some reason it's called The Faded Bloomers' Rhapsody. I will have to transcribe it, damn it, and it's long!

Flee to me, remote elf - Sal a dewan desired;
Now is a Late-Petal Era.
We fade: lucid Iris, red Rose of Sharon;
Goldenrod a silly ram ate.
Wan olives teem (ah, Satan lives!);
A star eyes pale Roses.

Revel, big elf on a mayonnaise man -
A tinsel baton-dragging nice elf too.
Lisp, oh sibyl, dragging Nola along;
Niggardly bishops I loot.
Fleecing niggard notables Nita names,
I annoy a Man of Legible Verse.

So relapse, ye rats,
As evil Natasha meets Evil
On a wet, amaryllis-adorned log.
Norah's foes' orders (I ridiculed a few) are late, Pet.
Alas, I wonder! Is Edna wed?
Alas - flee to me, remote elf.

This is simply gorgeous, and you just gotta start at the end and go backwards. It will at least distract you for a while.

Oprah Confesses She Ate 30 Lbs. of Mac & Cheese

The press has this totally wrong: she says "Oh, about thirty pounds' worth": meaning thirty pounds of weight gain. I am sure this is what she meant. The "thirty pounds of macaroni" makes her seem like a pig at a trough, so of course everyone seizes on that. Wow. We sure like to tear down our idols.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Someone left the cake out in the rain

Right after his huge success in Camelot (or was it before? Ah, my mind's a wall!), Richard Harris had a brief turn as a pop star. MacArthur Park, written by the genius Jimmy Webb ("See the tree, how big it`s grown. . . The first day that she planted it was just a twig." Grammar wasn`t his strong suit) shot to the top of the pop charts.
It's too long (over 7 minutes, a Wagnerian opera in pop music terms) and too excruciating to reproduce here, so I'll give you just the lyrics. Back then, we studied those lyrics, worried over them, tried to figure out what they meant (a "strip-ed pair of pants"??). We did go-go girl dances to that Mason Williams-esque interlude in the middle. The thing is, Richard Harris was a good enough actor to more-or-less put the song over, but seen on the page it's lame indeed.
(And why he calls it MacArthur's Park remains mysterious.)
Spring was never waiting for us, girl
It ran one step ahead
As we followed in the dance
Between the parted pages and were pressed,
In love's hot, fevered iron
Like a striped pair of pants


MacArthur's Park is melting in the dark
All the sweet, green icing flowing down...
Someone left the cake out in the rain
I don't think that I can take it
'cause it took so long to bake it
And I'll never have that recipe again
Oh, no!

I recall the yellow cotton dress
Foaming like a wave
On the ground around your knees
The birds, like tender babies in your hands
And the old men playing checkers by the trees


There will be another song for me
For I will sing it
There will be another dream for me
Someone will bring it
I will drink the wine while it is warm
And never let you catch me looking at the sun
And after all the loves of my life
After all the loves of my life
You'll still be the one.

I will take my life into my hands and I will use it
I will win the worship in their eyes and I will lose it
I will have the things that I desire
And my passion flow like rivers through the sky.
And after all the loves of my life
After all the loves of my life
I'll be thinking of you
And wondering why.

(Long disco-esque musical interlude)

MacArthur's Park is melting in the dark
All the sweet, green icing flowing down...
Someone left the cake out in the rain
I don't think that I can take it
'cause it took so long to bake it
And I'll never have that recipe again
Oh, no!
Oh, no
No, no
(As usual, there's a postscript. More memories came back, though God knows why. After Camelot I went a little nuts and bought all of Richard Harris's records. All the songs were written by JimmyWebb. My brother Arthur - synchronicity, right? Arthur? - used to make terrible fun of the lyrics: "All my dreeeeeeeeams have tuuuuuurrrned to saaaaaaaaaaaannnd. . . " Though he never said that. Anyway, some months or years later we unearthed these albums and decided we needed to do something with them. "Let's put them in the oven," Arthur said. "OK," I said. They got all soft and then we bent them around in weird shapes. I said we could use them for an ash tray and Arthur said, no we can't cuzzatha hole in the bottom!)

Il Camelotti

I love clips like this (the original scene from the movie Camelot dubbed in Italian). I don't know where it came from. This Marzocchi fellow can sing: he has hints of operatic phrasing, and is using the sweet side of his voice, which tells us it has another side, full of resonance and power.

Frankly, I was just looking for the montage of the lovers, especially for the incredible seen where Guenevere, hair drifting supernaturally around her face, comes to Lance's bed. Never mind that she never seems to close her mouth.

(Oh, and - you know English is the worst language ever for romance when you stack up "spring" against "primavera"!)

One brief shining moment

OK, here's the truth about what Jackie said. JFK's royal reign was never known as Camelot until after he died, and his widow spoke about that brief and supposedly idyllic time (Cuban Missile Crisis? Bay of Pigs?) in retrospect. So now everyone calls it Camelot.

Come to that, Camelot, as portrayed by Lerner and Loewe, was pretty hellish in itself.

I got watching it (again) the other night on Turner Classics. It's immediately addictive. I jumped in in the middle, and it didn't seem to matter. I first saw it at thirteen - went with my mother, who loved it and approved of my crush on Richard Harris (to nullify my previous crush on Tiny Tim) - then dragged my brother to it so I could see it again. He kept making sardonic comments (i.e. muttering "I wonder what the King is doing tonight" while Jenny and Lance were making feverish love), but it didn't really matter.

Ah! Richard Harris at his dishy best, Vanessa Redgrave trailing filmy gowns and hair red as flame (though she has one very irritating quirk: she never closes her mouth), Franco Nero looking so earnest his brow might break. Never mind that most of them didn't do their own singing. It worked for me.

I cried again last night, and I know why. It was "What do the Simple Folk Do?", near the end, when Arthur and Jenny try to grasp at one last wisp of happiness, and fail. The look he gives her has seventeen layers of emotion in it, shattered pride, longing, rage, impotence, desire, nostalgia. . . Jenny is simply skinless, her shame and guilt stripped bare.

These guys have great acting chops, even if the production is overblown and sometimes overacted. Franco Nero is just a big hunk, in the tradition of the non-acting Robert Goulet who started it all (but at least he did his own singing). BUT: here's the truly golden part.

While filming this extravaganza, Vanessa Redgrave and Franco Nero (who each presumably had other attachments) fell in love. I don't know if it was proximity, or what. They had a relationship which produced a son, parted, but remained friends.

Here's the incredible part. According to Robert Osborne, they met again forty years later, and - GOT MARRIED.

Now that is romantic.

Those grainy newspaper photos - well, I was in a production of Camelot a very long time ago. God, the costumes were great. I had an uninspiring part in the chorus (top photo - also a smaller version squeezed between the two actors, just under the stuffed dog) where I had to pretend to watch a joust that couldn't be staged (not enough room for horses in a high school gym).

There's sort of another part to this. I went to audition for Guenevere, and discovered a couple dozen other potential Gueneveres warbling away. The audition lasted forever. Though I think my voice was in its best shape then, I didn't get it. At best I must have come in third, as they double-cast it. The musical director of the show cast herself as Guenevere (?!! What the - ), and selected for her second choice a very strange-looking, almost Goth girl who really couldn't sing very well. Apparently, she had a "quality".

So. . .the production grinds on, beset with problems. Then, the self-cast Guenevere turns up pregnant (she was a Mormon in her mid-20s, and this was her fifth child), and the second-cast Guenevere gains even more weight from eating junk food while stoned, then just disappears.

SOOOOOO. . . who you gonna call?

Who you gonna get to jump in at the last minute (almost literally!) to play Guenevere, with nearly no rehearsal?

I said no. I said no because I was offended. I was offended because I was probably their fifth choice to begin with. I didn't have trailing blonde hair and I wasn't 25 years old (I was 29). They only asked me because they just assumed I would say yes. They assumed I would say yes because they knew how hungry and desperate I was.

I can just hear them: "Yes, but we know she's reliable." "She'll just jump at it! Remember how badly she wanted it?" To be honest, they knew they could use me and that I would flail around and scramble to catch up and never ask them for a thing.

I have never regretted my decision. The self-appointed lead, the music director who crowned herself Queen, was five months along and her costumes straining at the seams, but she went on because she was the only one left standing.

I won't be treated that way. So my one brief shining moment was brief indeed. By the way, everyone involved was furious with me, thought I was selfish and ruining the show just for spite.

(The clip is a real find, if a bit bizarre with its clunky subtitles. Gianni Marzocchi couldn't be more Italian, but it works because of his sweet, expressive lyric tenor. And the unabashed, lush, oversentimental, glorious romanticism, which is eternal.

Vanessa and Franco will tell you so.)

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Always the Twain shall meet

You gotta dig this Mark Twain fella.

He seemed to move from situation to situation like a mercilessly sharp camera lens, taking everything in and giving it back, inimitably, in Twain. Though he was one of the great humorists, he was often melancholy, and no one can find a smiling portrait of him anywhere. He experienced several incarnations within one lifetime: riverboat pilot (where he may well have cried out his own pen-name to indicate safe waters), rough-and-ready reporter in the Wild West who converted every story, momentous or trivial, into sharp-pointed satire, and - let's not forget - one of the most celebrated writers of the Western World.

But before he did all that, he wangled himself passage (sponsored by the newspaper he wrote for) on a luxury liner set to explore the Holy Land. The resulting semi-factual book The Innocents Abroad converted his fan base from small but loyal, to huge and clamoring. (Clamoring for his next book, that is.) Suddenly everyone wanted him to come to their town to lecture and spin his yarns, eager to partake of his dry drawl and lightning mind. His fame began to spread like a YouTube video gone viral, except that in this case, genius was behind it all.

I found this paragraph, and it's neat because it's so Twainian. On the Azores island of Fayal (don't ask me where that is), he and some fellow travellers hired some donkeys, presumably to carry them up and down rough terrain, and panic ensued. One donkey entered the open door of a house, scraping its rider off to land with a thud. At one point they all ran into each other and fell down like bowling pins. I guess you hadda be there.
So now I come to the neat part.
"The party started at 10 A.M. Dan was on his ass the last time I saw him. At this time Mr. Foster was following, & Mr. Haldeman came next after Foster - Mr. Foster being close to Dan's ass, & his own ass being very near to Mr. Haldeman's ass. After this Capt. Bursley joined the party with his ass, & all went well till on turning a corner of the road a most frightful & unexpected noise issued from Capt. Bursley's ass, which for a moment threw the party into confusion, & at the same time a portughee boy stuck a nail into Mr. Foster's ass & he ran - ran against Dan, who fell - fell on his ass, & then, like so many bricks they all came down - each & every one of them - & each & every one of them fell on his ass."

I wonder who else could've gotten away with this. Twain was known to be outrageous and play with social taboos, once lecturing a gentleman's club about the pleasures of "onanism" (a code word for masturbation), stating that it was the birthright of every red-blooded American boy. To say this at a time when most people thought it would make you go irretrievably mad, or at least make your guy parts fall off, was provocative indeed.

But then, the best writers don't colour inside the lines. Do they?

Friday, January 14, 2011

OK, Ted. . .

So I guess I was right about Ted Williams. After the homeless hero insisted he wanted rehab, needed rehab, was all ready to go to rehab, Dr. Phil laid out the plan: get on the plane right now, and fly to Pleasant Valley or wherever, where he could recover in privacy (recover in privacy, after just giving away where he'd be for the next 30 days???)

Then it started. The gaunt, glassy-eyed Williams, the most famous panhandling junkie in the world, the man who was loved and adored because he was homeless but still had a special gift (impossible!), began to shift around in his chair. He started wiggling around like a kindergarten kid with ADD.

His eyes shifted. He began to make excuses. I can't exactly transcribe his bafflegab, except to say that he wasn't going to get on that plane because he had to go to Columbus "to see his grandchildren and girl friend" first.

Columbus, where he skulked the streets, breaking laws and scamming citizens.
This was beginning to sound like an episode of Intervention, in which many of the addicts have "yeah, but" syndrome: Yeah, I want to go to rehab, BUT I have to take care of some things first (i.e., score some dope).

The headlines are saying he's either on his way to recovery, or has checked in. I hope so. Dr. Phil reluctantly let him go to Columbus, and my heart sank. Though he was escorted by the friendly man from Heavenly Hills or whatever that addiction spa is called, I have no doubt that Williams will give everyone the slip.

See, he'd rather drink and use and panhandle than have all that pressure on him to succeed. He doesn't know anything else. He has never been taught anything else. Dr. Phil revealed that he had missed, not one, not two, but three important appointments, just didn't show up. Ding-ding-ding-ding-ding: he's not reliable! A man who's been living on the street for years isn't reliable. Didn't anyone think of that when they handed him all those absurdly inflated opportunities?

I hate to have to say it, but I am very doubtful that Ted Williams will find long-term sobriety and/or recovery (and the two are not the same!). What happened to him was flukey and not really planned, in spite of that infamous piece of damp cardboard. He wants to run. He looked ready to bolt yesterday on Dr. Phil, his eyes full of primal fear. He just wanted to get the hell out of there. Rehab? Can this guy get through even one day sober?

If you watch Intervention, and I stopped doing so some time ago because they all seemed like one big fat dysfunctional family (most of them bankrolling the addicts' drug or alcohol habit "so we'll know where he is"), you often see an end caption saying the person was thrown out of rehab after a few days for using. Then at the very end, the producers desperately put together a happy ending, saying the addict has two weeks clean or something like that, and has moved back in with the family, now completely recovered and with all their generational conflicts resolved.

I think Ted Williams misses the street, where he at least had some sense of control. The wraith with the feverish eyes I saw yesterday was probably quite drunk on Grey Goose or whatever that rotgut is called, but also terrified. Terrified of capture. Terrified of giving it all up.

Though this is a compelling story, it's also a revealing one. And, as usual, we aren't learning a thing from it.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Napoleon in rags

"Ted Williams, “The Man with the Golden Voice”, has agreed to check into a rehabilitation facility after prompting by psychologist and T.V. personality, Dr. Phil McGraw today.

Williams blames drugs and alcohol for his living in homelessness several years and admitted on the Dr. Phil Show he still struggles with alcohol.

McGraw offered to personally pay for the treatment. Williams agreed to go at some point, but refused to commit to a definite date.

This news comes two days after Williams was detained by police following a yelling incident with his daughter in Los Angeles.

Formerly homeless, he has became a media sensation after video of his “God-given gift” hit Youtube earlier this month. Since his discovery while panhandling at the side of the highway, Williams has made multiple television and radio appearances and has offers for to do a Super Bowl commercial as well as voiceovers for the NFL network."

Well, pilgrims, y'all can guess that I'll be glued to Dr. Phil today after reading that bit of news. I will admit, when I first heard the story of the miraculous transformation of this street thug, I had my doubts. I sort of felt like they'd find him in a couple of months, having blown through hundreds of thousands of dollars, lying face down in an alley.

What really chills me is that this Ted character does not do the correct Intervention bit and say, "OK, OK, all right, stop clawing at me, stop spitting in my ear, I'll go, I'll go, I'll GO!" With the airplane gunning (heh, heh) its engines on the tarmac, just waiting for Poor Old Joe to board for the Del Boca Vista luxury resort/weight loss clinic and rehab centre (from which Old Joe gets thrown out after a few days for sticking needles in his arm). Instead, he says, yeah, Phil. Yeah, Phil, that's a great idea. Now SHOW ME THE MONEY.

Con artists con. Panhandlers panhandle. If you pull somebody off the street and say, "here's a million dollars," they'll roll around in it like so much powdered cocaine.

I don't think Ted Williams (and I doubt if that's his real name) has a God-given gift, except for robbery, fraud, multiple addiction, lying, cheating, scamming, probably lots of violence, and assuming the identity of a sane person capable of showing up for work on time (or ever).

But we created this monster. We loved the idea of transforming his smelly old life just by offering him superprestigious jobs using that golden voice of his (and by the way, just how did he fall on such "hard times" that he ended up skulking around figuring out who he could roll next?) The transformation of Ted Williams is a supreme act of ego on the part of these idiots (including Oprah) who secretly want to pat themselves on the back for saving him.

Meanwhile, he's floundering around, having so-called reunions with family members who no doubt want to suck him white (while the cameras roll), screaming at his daughter so loudly that the police come, bearing livid scratch-marks on his face that surely aren't from Snowball the Cat.

He lied about his sobriety, and now his rap sheet is emerging, dug up by that bunch of subversive geniuses at Smoking Gun who never take anything at face value.

Ted Williams has very little face value. I don't care that they cut his hair and somehow plugged in the missing teeth.

Here I quote the Master, that fast and slashing, flashing Jack of Diamonds who rips the mask off even the most notorious traitor:

Princes on the steeple and all the pretty people
They're all drinkin', thinkin' that they got it made
Exchanging all kinds of precious gifts
But you better take your diamond ring
You'd better pawn it, babe

You used to be so amused
At Napoleon in rags and the language that he used
Go to him now, he calls you, you can't refuse
When you ain't got nothin', you got nothin' to lose
You're invisible now, you got no secrets to conceal

Fame and prestige can be the worst scam of all, chewing people up and spitting them out. Williams may have made it on the street (just), but will he make it in these shark-infested waters? The power-trippers and ego-inflated idiots who did this to him probably lack the self-honesty to recognize that they might just destroy him.

So now I must ask them: how does it feel?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The mystery tramp

You say you'd never
with the mystery tramp but now you
he's not selling any
as you stare into the vacuum
of his eyes
and say

One more time

I got watching an absurd Steve Martin comedy called Bowfinger last night. I saw it when it first came out about 10 years ago and had forgotten most of it. Especially this. This was the opening music, and I was blown back by it. It seemed to be speaking directly to me.

Forgive the lack of visuals. Insert heart here.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Jumping frogs and other phenomena of the literary swamp

I've been on a bit of a Mark Twain kick ever since I saw a superb PBS documentary about his life a few months ago. I got a copy of the DVD, along with two massive biographical tomes, the kind you can hold in each hand to attain rippling biceps in only three weeks.

I want to reread Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn to see how much they've changed since my youth (ahem), but until then I tread deep water in these books, packed with too much information. Twain wasn't the nicest fellow, was an egotist, was moody, was often suicidal, and definitely pushed his own agenda. Good thing, too, or the following harrowing scene (which took place when Twain was still relatively young, but with a growing readership) would have erased Huck Finn from our collective memory:

"Sam, 'charmed and excited', had every reason to believe that a contract would be extended to him as soon as he walked through Carleton's door. So certain was he of this that he dashed off a private letter to his sponsor at the Alta, John McComb, in early February, boasting that he was about to 'give' Carleton a volume of sketches for publication. The paper printed a brief summary of this letter for Mark Twain's followers in mid-March - nearly a month after Sam had kept his appointment with Carleton, and been given the bum's rush.

"He never forgot it: his diffident arrival in the publisher's office at 499 Broadway, the brusque statement of the clerk that Mr. Carleton was in his private office: his admission to the great man's quarters after a long wait; Carleton's icily impersonal greeting: 'Well, what can I do for you?'

(Editor's note. This would happen to me on a good day. But wait! Here comes the best part.)

"Sam's abashed response - that he was keeping an appointment to offer a book for publication - triggered a temper tantrum from Carleton that lives in the annals of bad editorial judgement. . . Whatever the impetus, Carleton treated his speechless visitor to a vintage New York-style tongue-lashing At the end, he swept his arm around the room and delivered the coup de grace that will forever be associated with his name:

'Books - look at those shelves. Every one of them is loaded with books that are waiting for publication. Do I want any more? Excuse me, I don't. Good morning."

After this, the biographer Ron Powers cites the infamous "Whales, Mr. Melville?" (to which I add, "Scribble, scribble, eh, Miss Bronte?"). These can be lumped in with "These guitar groups are on their way out" (Beatles) and "Who's this Bob Dylan?" ( - oh, and - one of Twain's early magazine stories found an enthusiastic audience, but unfortunately the editor spelled his name Mark

There are whole books full of "famous rejections", which are supposed to make the aspiring writer jump up from his/her bed of suicidal depression, all fluffy and flumphy like freshly-plumped pillows. It doesn't work, however, because greatness has a way of coming through no matter what. Or does it? How many Huckleberry Finns languished in drawers somewhere, only to be thrown in the fire a la Thomas Carlyle when the weather got cold?

It's too depressing to contemplate.

Man walks into a publisher's office. Disreputable-looking, shabby clothes, big intimidating cookie-duster of a moustache and untameable head of (red) hair. Obviously a bad character. Has this manuscript he thinks he can sell me, haven't looked at it yet and haven't got time. Worked as a rough-and-ready reporter out West somewhere, has nothing to say to a sophisticated New York audience. Wrote one story, something about a jumping frog, that was published all over the country, but who wants to hear about a jumping frog? This fellow seems to have a million ideas spilling out of him, and we can't have that. He'll stain the Wilton carpet. Uncouth, he is. Smells like tobacco and gin. A man's man, with feverish ideas. But the stunned look, the look of a small child who has been slapped instead of kissed, reveals him to be just another no-talent who can't take his rejections like a man.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Lamborghini in Black: Morgan Park Stallion

Do I seem obsessed with horses? Oh dear. Somehow or other, in my later years, it has come back stronger than ever. I wonder why this is.

It may, in fact, be my eldest grandchild who brings me back to riding. There's a stable near where she lives, in a woodsy, gorgeous old part of North Vancouver. Not sure if they rent horses or not. We'd have to start slow. But oh my God, to be back in the saddle again!

(There is controversy about how these horses are trained, with unnatural weights and even chains attached to their feet, and - even worse - acid substances applied to their ankles so that they throw their legs up in pain. What is wrong with people, anyway? According to captions, this horse was not trained that way. And oh God is he beautiful. I love the clean way he picks up his feet, his high but not strained head carriage, and the effortless (seemingly) way he changes from one gait to another. This is a combination of a well-trained horse, and a well-trained rider.)

(And how I love that gorgeous waterfall of a tail that lightly sweeps the ground.)

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Murderous rage

Well, almost.

When a non-proficient computerphobe like me has to retrieve a file that contains an entire novel (several years' worth of sweat and hope), it's a bit disconcerting when said file won't come up.

This is what happened yesterday, leading to a clever little post. But you didn't hear what happened last night.

Oh, dear.

My husband tried to fix it for me. He tinkers around on my computer, putters. Clicks here and there. It takes a long, long time. In many ways, his skills are worse than mine.

There, I've said it. But I thought he could pull this thing up out of oblivion.

When he finally got it, I wanted him to email me a copy so I wouldn't run into this shit again. He right-clicked the file name and began to mouse over and over and over "delete". My panic and terror was rising. He has been known to slip, to falter and click on the wrong thing.

I could see my work disappearing into a hole. I exploded. He exploded. We almost physically fought. He stormed out the door and I tried to push it shut, but he was pushing it back. Holy hell! I finally won, slamming it hard. Good thing his finger wasn't in the crack.

Today I found myself writing this thing - God, this thing about how nobody gets it, I mean nobody, not even my life partner. People think this is a little hobby, like baking or knitting, not bloodletting onto the page. I write because it's my twin: flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone. Not writing is unthinkable. Is it its own reward? Not if you're a real author.

And I crossed that thresshold years ago.

Did it create expectations? You bet it did. Expectations that I would go on publishing on a regular basis, doing a little better each time, building an audience steadily, until. . .

Instead, it has been like being tied to a wild horse and dragged over the rocks.

The economy failed. That's one thing. My illusions about becoming an instant celebrity died. I had to ask myself why I was really doing this. But ideas thrust themselves into my brain, notwithstanding. They said, "Write me, write me!" I could not resist.

I have two novels unpublished, The Glass Character and Bus People, and a book of poems (The Red Diary) about the diary of Anne Frank. I think all of these manuscripts deserve to see print. I sent queries on Anne Frank out, only a few because I couldn't seem to stand it. I didn't think I'd have to slam my head any more. I remember in the '90s sending out 65 queries for a novel called A Singing Tree. I now see it was unpublishable, but who knew at the time? 65 queries, zero acceptances.

I'd quit, yes, but when Better than Life and Mallory came out, reviewers were giving me the kind of notices a writer dreams of. Now I wonder if it was worth being dangled like that.

Would I rather not have gotten them? Well.

Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

I suppose I should quit bellyaching and try to be more constructive. This is more like a diary entry than a blog post. But sometimes it hurts so much. I wish I could go do something normal. Nobody in my family or small circle of friends gets this. They just don't. If it's so painful, why not just walk away?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Across the Great Divide

There are few things more horrific in a writer's life than discovering that a manuscript is gone.

I mean, just GONE. Not there. Not where it used to be. Or, if there, filed under some name so obscure, it will never come to mind.

After a lifetime of writing first drafts by hand, and slowly putting them into the computer chapter-by-chapter (printing them out all the way), I decided - or not, it just happened - to skip that step and write directly on the computer.

It worked so well, I could hardly believe it. It took so much of the drudgery out of the process. I could type like the wind. Mistakes didn't matter. I could move blocks of text around. It was great! (Why didn't I think of this before? What a stick-in-the-mud I had been.)

But I had no idea I'd undertaken a paradigm shift (please forgive the awful term, but I can't think of another one: whackydoodle, maybe?) of monstrous proportions. When writing in longhand, the novel would develop in 3D. I could scribble in the margins, cross out paragraphs and then re-insert them elsewhere, shuffle pages around with different potential bits of story on them. Throw things out that I knew were superfluous. Eventually, organically, the manuscript would grow and take shape, with a parallel refining process happening on the computer.

It worked for about six novels. Why did I stop? Because when I sat down and began writing The Glass Character, I never expected to start a new novel. I was just going to make some notes on Harold Lloyd (honest!). But something happened: some sort of dam broke. It started to pour rather than trickle, so I figured this swift new method was the right way to do it.

I guess I must have tried to duplicate the old system electronically, or something, but it was a complete disaster. I saved each bit of material, potential or actual or even horrible, in a separate file. Then I decided to clump the files together, but I didn't erase all the individual ones because I wasn't sure where they were.

I ended up with two "sets", but not duplicates of each other, though close in some places, plus maybe thirty more individual files scattered around under names I could not remember. A jigsaw puzzle, potentially whole, but rattling around in a box. At the time I wrote it, I knew I'd remember how to retrieve all this: easy stuff! It always worked for me before. (Ironically, at this point The Glass Character existed unequivocally in only one form: the hard copy.)

I'm no Luddite, but it seems to me that making the leap from pencil to keyboard is more radical than people realize. I did a reading at the Vancouver Public Library a few years ago, and was astounded when all the other writers said (or admitted, with considerable embarrassment) that they wrote their initial drafts in longhand. Truly, I had believed I was the only one left.

Yesterday was not a good day, but nevertheless I sucked it up, reassembled the puzzle and put together seven queries. I hate odd numbers, but this was as far as I could go without collapsing. Knowing that the really big presses (Penguin, Random House, HarperCollins) won't look at unagented work, and falling completely flat in my search for an agent (remember the rubber stamp?), I knew I'd have to start with the mid-list presses where I can represent myself. This wasn't a bad thing: I like those presses, and I like what they can do for authors.

Then imagine my dismay (dismay, dismay) when I found out that one of the most potentially desirable presses had had to downsize so radically that they moved out of their old quarters and in with another publisher: the literary equivalent of moving back in with your parents.

It wasn't a good sign. I had to assume the other six were struggling equally. Many had switched their main mandate to non-fiction (with a side of kids' books, which are usually written as ongoing series) because there is a perception that literary fiction just can't make it in a competitive market.

I think publishers need a paradigm shift of their own. I believe that literary fiction WILL sell via Kindle and other electronic media. But these guys and gals aren't yet thinking in those terms. They're thinking of paper and book-binding and expensive author tours. What about ONE YouTube video that goes "viral"? It'd be the equivalent of a hundred author tours, not to mention millions of trees in an already-denuded forest.

I'm really up against it here, and I've never known it more than I do now. I feel so strongly about this novel (which I haven't written much about, with my deep dread of jinxing it) that at the moment I have to continue to plod on in the old system. Sending paper and envelopes and stamps (with my DNA on them: some small comfort) is horse-and-buggy stuff.

But there's another side to this. Emailing manuscripts to publishers isn't a magic solution, as I've found that they're very easy to ignore or even delete. That's because editors don't yet know how to work with them.

They don't pile up on your desk in a slippery mountain, begging for your attention. They're more abstract than material. Subconsciously or otherwise, editors are used to riffling papers and marking things up with a red pen. A link in your inbox just can't compete.

How do I know this? Oy vey, how I know this! That's the whole point of this post. You don't just chuck out decades of habit and experience, and methods that have worked efficiently for years and years, just because the rest of the world has told you to throw the whole thing out and start over.

We're between systems here, and writers are suffering because of it. If and when I write another novel (and a plot is squeezing itself into my brain right now), I may well use my computer, but I will be extremely careful about saving things. I can't just stick every fragment into a separate file, being certain I'll remember where I put it months later.

I'll try to be aware, as I write, that I am attempting to make a leap across a great chasm. It isn't just a different method of production, but a radically different system, demanding a whole new way of thinking.

Hey, mid-list publishers! Are you listening? I think I might be on to something here. And while I'm at it. . . listen, have I got a novel for you!

Monday, January 3, 2011

I don't like the sound of 2011

I don't like odd numbers, and I like even less the way people have been saying dates since the year 2000 (and did anyone ever say "the year 1968" or "the year 1921"?)

You know how it goes. Two thousand and one. Two thousand and two. Two thousand and forever. Two/too many thousands of syllables (always with a completely superfluous "and" in the middle, as if we didn't know what followed). This reminds me of some dimwitted cartoon giant counting out golden eggs or something. "Now lemmee see. Two towsan' an' one! Two towsan' an' two!"

When the Olympics came along, it was suddenly a whole lot more sleek and modern to say "twenty-ten". I liked it. Three syllables. Now that we're into the next year, an odd number so I already hate it, people are lapsing back into "two thousand and eleven" - a spiky, pointy, ugly railroad spike of a number, with SEVEN syllables. (Another odd number. Gronk!)

Hey, did we used to say "one thousand, nine hundred and seventy two"? No, because people had better sense back then.

Here's another weird thing that nobody notices. We had the seventies, the eighties, the nineties, and then the - . The what? That decade never did have a name, and this one won't either. In fact, naming decades is over. I don't think it will ever happen again.

Howcome there are horses in this post? Cuz I have some nice pics left over. Booyah.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Back in the saddle again

Nature or God saw fit to erase my last post. Since I'm too thick-headed to get the message, I'll try again. For New Years, I wanted to return to a favorite subject (except that by now, after the 50th attempt to make it stick, I'm sick of it all). I'll have to address my feelings about all this later, perhaps when I get over this 3-week flu bug that shows no signs of abating.

So here it is, a florid but delicious poem about a florid but delicious subject. IF it posts.

The Arab’s Farewell to His Steed

Caroline Norton (1808-1877)

My beautiful! my beautiful! that standest meekly by.
With thy proudly-arched and glossy neck, and dark and fiery eye!
Fret not to roam the desert now with all thy winged speed:
I may not mount on thee again – thou’rt sold, my Arab steed!

Fret not with that impatient hoof, snuff not the breezy wind,
The farther that thou fliest now, so far am I behind,
The stranger hath thy bridle rein – thy master hath his gold;
Fleet-limbed and beautiful, farewell! – thou’rt sold, my steed, thou’rt sold.

Farewell! Those free, untired limbs full many a mile must roam,
To reach the chill and wintry sky which clouds the stranger’s home.
Some other hand, less fond, must now thy corn and bed prepare;
The silky mane I braided once must be another’s care.

The morning sun shall dawn again, but never more with thee
Shall I gallop o’er the desert paths, where we were wont to be;
Evening shall darken on the earth and o’er the sandy plain
Some other steed, with slower step, shall bear me home again.

Yes, thou must go! The wild, free breeze, the brilliant sun and sky,
Thy master’s home – from all of these my exiled one must fly.
Thy proud dark eye will grow less proud, thy step become less fleet,
And vainly shalt thou arch thy neck thy master’s hand to meet.

Only in sleep shall I behold that dark eye glancing bright;
Only in sleep shall I hear again that step so firm and light;
And when I raise my dreaming arm to check or cheer thy speed,
Then must I starting, wake to feel – thou’rt sold, my Arab steed.

Ah, rudely then, unseen by me, some cruel hand may chide,
Till foam-wreaths lie, like crested waves, along thy panting side;
And the rich blood that’s in thee swell in thy indignant pain,
Till careless eyes, which rest on thee, may count each starting vein.

Will they ill-use thee? If I thought – but no, it cannot be.
Thou art so swift, yet easy curbed; so gentle, yet so free;
And yet, if haply, when thou’rt gone, this lonely heart should yearn,
Can the hand that casts thee from it now command thee to return?

Return! – Alas, my Arab steed! what shall thy master do,
When thou, who wert all of his joy, has vanished from his view?
When the dim distance cheats mine eye, and through the gathering tears
Thy bright form, for a moment, like the false mirage appears?

Slow and unmounted shall I roam, with weary step alone,
Where with fleet step and joyous bound thou oft hast borne me on;
And sitting down by that green well, I’ll pause and sadly think,
" ‘Twas here he bowed his glossy neck when last I saw him drink!’ ”

When last I saw thee drink! – away! The fevered dream is o’er!
I could not live a day and know that we should meet no more!
They tempted me, my beautiful! for hunger’s power is strong-
They tempted me, my beautiful! but I have loved too long.

Who said that I had given thee up? Who said that thou wert sold?
‘Tis false! – ’tis false! my Arab steed! I fling them back their gold!
Thus, thus, I leap upon thy back, and scour the distant plains!
Away! who overtakes us now may claim thee for his pains!