Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Challenge

This is what the morning shower produced.

I think I will challenge Clark the cat to a hairball contest.
Who is Clark? Clark is a cat. He does calculus.

Clark used to be the name of my son's cat–except it really wasn't. For some reason, I got the idea fixed in my brain that the name of his cat was Clark. (I still can't remember the actual name of his cat.)

Since I liked the name, I decided to create a literary character named Clark that was a cat. Now it so happened that at the time I was thinking of Clark, I was also thinking of calculus. Five years ago, I taught Advanced Placement Calculus at Roosevelt High School. Of all the many things I am curious about, I was curious to see if I still could solve calculus problems.

So I downloaded the Free-Response Problems for the 2015 and 2016 Advanced Placement Calculus Exams. I started working the problems and found that I could still solve calculus problems. Huzzah! Like any normal person, I wanted to do something with these problems and their solutions, so I decided to make them into a story. I did that all the time when I was teaching–tell stories about the problems. The numbers, the symbols, the operations, the properties, the theorems, and the postulates were so real to me that is was not difficult to bring them to life. In doing the same with the calculus problems, I turned them over to Clark. I am pleased to report that he rose to the challenge and performed beautifully. That's the kind of guy–or cat, rather–he is.

Now about that hairball...


Saturday, October 7, 2017

Fatal Associations

Day Ten after Chemo: I still have my hair.

With all this time to wait...and wait...and wait, I still have not done anything new with the second book of Rhino. There is a reason for this. I do not want my beloved book to be associated with this particular period in my life. I have a tendency to connect things in sometimes unprofitable ways, and the memory lingers.  I call it the "Flowery Fart Effect."

Years ago, when my brother got married, he had a limited income so the wedding was done on a small budget. The family all chipped in to help; my mother and aunts did the catering and decorating, and my sister and I did the flowers. My future sister-in-law had a friend who worked in the floral section of the local supermarket. She arranged us to make the bouquets, corsages, and boutonnieres under the direction of her friend. The day before the wedding, the four of us met in the back of the store where the flowers were kept and went to work.

Unfortunately, my sister-in-law's friend was very pregnant and uncomfortable standing on her feet. Once in a while she passed gas. In that small room, there was no escaping the smell. It forever linked the smell of hothouse flowers with the smell of a fart. To this day, whenever I enter or even pass by a flower shop, I smell a fart. I don't want a similar unpleasant association with Rhino.

Oh, I can still write a few stories about Rhino–"between the lines" stories–but not the real story of Rhino. That is just going to have to wait. I hope those who loved the first book don't mind waiting a while for the second one. It's my way of guaranteeing it won't be a stinker.

Here is another cheery painting that I like.
This is my soul somewhere inside trying to find my laugh.

Monday, October 2, 2017

First Chemo Session

I had my first chemotherapy infusion September 28, 2017. I'm not too thrilled with the results. I realize that it is part of the fight against lymphoma to send gruesome chemicals into my system to attack the even more gruesome cancer cells in my body, but that does not make the experience any more palatable.

"Cry Havoc! and let slip the dogs of war!" My body is now a battleground. I feel like the cancer cells are mindless zombies that kill the very host upon which they depend for life. Stupid cancer cells! World War C is now raging! I hope something good survives.

So to make myself feel better, I'm going to include a favorite painting. This is how I remember my spirit. At one time I was very happy. Lord willing, I will be so again.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Versailles


So I am watching the previews for a new series called Versailles. It has all the usual blooodshed and intrigue. Anyone has read history knows the script of this series from beginning to end.

(Note to self: History is much more interesting than television dramas.)

What intrigues me about this series is that people might think that the plot and the premises are original. They are not. One could find them in most historical expositions such as those from Thomas Cahill and Barbara Tuchman. But I wonder who wants to read the real thing when dramatic representations are so readily available. But they're not entirely true. They are only the imaginings of someone who is recreating a second-hand account.
I am currently going through a first-had account of a crisis. I am not writing about it from a journalist's perspective; I am writing about it as from a personal diary. I don't know how much I want to share–even thought I know. As it is, I am content to write from a non-journalist viewpoint. I am writing my own story of Versailles. It's from a private journal, not available to the public.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Fan Fiction


I read the word of the day: "Mighty" It reminded me of a passage from The Book of Rhino ~ The Revelation. Reading that passage made me feel so good inside. I realized that I love Rhino and all his friends.

Recently Thomas Weaver wrote a great article about fan fiction in which he makes several valid points regarding a writer's intellectual property.  I agree with everything he wrote; it affirmed my own opinions about fan fiction. However, my greatest take-away from the article is that I can write as much fan fiction as I want about Rhino. He is my creation–my literary child, so to speak, so I can bore readers with details of Rhino's life like any proud parent. I love this.

So this is my advice to writers: Create characters that you love, ones that you like to hang out with, talk with, share laughs and a bowl of popcorn with.

I remember once reading a statement by Jane Austen in which she proclaimed Elizabeth Bennet as her own darling child. I don't blame her; Elizabeth Bennet is a wonderful literary character. I would enjoy being friends with her.

I recently quit reading a Pulitzer prize winning novel about halfway through because I did not like any of the characters. The author is a skilled writer, she had an interesting plot and an engaging way of drawing one into the story. But I did not care what happened to any of the characters. They were not the type of people whose company I would seek or enjoy.

Getting back to Rhino–I am so happy that I am the author of The Book of Rhino because I can write about him and his friends as much as I want without having to ask someone else's permission. That is a great feeling!

I am going through a difficult time right now because of my health. I haven't felt much like writing anything. However, I can write about Rhino–that feels good. So, dear readers, I hope you don't mind my Rhino stories. I think in the challenging months ahead, they are going to be a great comfort to me. I can count on Rhino, Skandar, Amalia, Trevor, Elbert, Wilfred, and Alanar for their support. We are fans of each other, you know.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Outlier


Cancer in the spleen is rare; even more so if it is non-metastatic (originating from another source.) It's an outlier.
I have written before on my blog about being an outlier; with respect to writing, I feel like P. G. Wodehouse in a George R. R. Martin world. I have a "Mars" brain in a "Venus" body. I'm a liberal Conservative and a conservative Liberal.

(Note to self: Being an outlier in some circles means keeping my opinions to myself.)

I am reconciled to being an outlier. In fact, I had a tiny hope that I might be an outlier writer–that is, that of all the thousands of books published every year, mine would sell well. I mean, if one has to be rare, why not dream of the rarity of literary success?

But with this cancer, I wonder if I have used up all my outlier cards, that I have no more "rares" left. I hope not. I would like at least one more outlier: I want to stay in my stream of joy, even in this situation. I am a happy camper and would like to remain so, even when dealing with the pain of surgery and the side effects of chemotherapy. The thought that I cannot find my joy right now has me depressed. I know it's there; I'm just haven't the energy to do look for it.

G. K. Chesterton wrote: "As long as matters are really hopeful, hope is a mere flattery or platitude; it is only when everything is hopeless that hope begins to be a strength at all."

I don't know if this is true, but it sounds reasonable. If hope is also an outlier, I hope I have that card in my hand. I will use it to find that little stream of joy. Then I will take off my shoes and stick my feet in its cooling waters.


Saturday, September 2, 2017

Wodehouse Dreams


I awoke Monday morning from a good dream, a sign my body is healing.
The last few weeks, I have had drug-induced, pain-induced dreams – dreams that were filled with ugly, violent images. I concluded they were the result of the pain I was experiencing and the drugs I was taking to manage the pain until surgery.

After surgery, the dreams were even more fantastic, otherworldly, and grotesque as more drugs were fed into my system and new pain replaced the old. I discovered that opening my eyes dispelled the night visions, but I could never keep my eyes open for very long. Once my eyes closed, I was thrust back into the world of phantasm.

(Note to self: If I could have sold the rights to my dreams, I would have made a tidy bundle of money.)

I was depressed by the dreams; I despaired of ever having my normal dreams again. You see, usually I dream of a P. G. Wodehouse world. I was afraid my dreams were going to the dark side of a George R. R. Martin world.

My Wodehouse dreams are usually celebrations: weddings, birthdays, reunions, family gatherings, church socials, and festivals. Many of my dreams include lots of food to eat. There is also music. In my dreams, I have heard the most amazing voices singing beautiful songs out of pure joy. I also dream of journeys, of seeing sights, and meeting people who are happy to exchange greetings.  There is laughter in my dreams; more than once, I have awakened laughing at something funny in my dream.

These are my usual dreams, my Wodehouse dreams, the dreams I have not been having until Sunday night. That night I dreamed about a celebration; it was a wedding. There was music, dancing, and laughter. At one point, I was the object of a joke. I woke up laughing. My body is healing.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

An Ex-Spleenation

It has been a while since I last posted. The reason is because of my spleen, probably no the most interesting or glamorous or popular of reasons to temporarily abandon one's blog, but there it is. So now I am going to do what I usually do not do on this blog – give an account of a personal experience – however, I think that was the original intent of the original blog.

May 11, 2017
I had severe pain in my abdomen after lunch. I was getting ready for my first book-signing on May 20th so I attributed it to stress and the broccoli, cabbage, spinach salad I had for lunch. The pain diminished but did not completely go away. It was there at the book-signing, but I was so thrilled to be selling my book I didn't care.

May 25, 2017
The pain became so intense I  went to the emergency room. There I underwent blood tests, an EKG, and a CT scan with dye. The results revealed a 5 cm. mass on my spleen. I set up an appointment with a surgeon for June 6.

June 6, 2017
The pain was gone. Dr. Lee showed me the mass; it was self-contained. There was no evidence of infection, elevated white blood cell count, or other masses in the body. I wanted to go traveling for the next two weeks. Dr Lee said I could as long as there was no recurrent pain. We set up a follow-up appointment.

July 15, 2017
I was awakened at 3:30 am by sharp abdomen pains. It was Saturday so I could not reach Dr. Lee's office until Monday.

July 17, 2017
I called Dr. Lee's office. They set up for another blood test and CT scan for July 27, 2017. The pain was intensifying.

Aug. 4, 2017
Dr. Lee had newest CT results; the mass was now 7 by 6 cm. I could no longer rest in a prone position. I slept sitting up in a chair at night. He scheduled a PET scan for Aug. 8 to determine if the mass was a cancer. Even if it wasn't, the spleen had to be removed.

Aug. 12, 2017
I went to the ER because of the pain. The PET scan showed evidence that the mass was a sarcoma; it was now 7 by 8 cm. I was given a prescription for pain management.

Aug. 14, 2017
I returned to the ER because of the pain and swelling in my feet. I thought I might be having a reaction to the medication. It turned out that my feet and ankles were swelling because I had not been able to lie prone for two weeks.

Aug 15, 2017
I had a consultation with Dr. Lee, who scheduled surgery for Aug. 23. When the spleen is removed, the usual procedure is to take a set of immunizations and let them work for three weeks. We determined that I could not wait that long for the spleen to be removed. The surgery was scheduled for Aug. 23. I got the injections that day. Now I just had to manage the pain for a week.

Aug. 23, 2017
The surgery took place and was successful in that the spleen and the mass were removed intact. There was no other masses in and around the abdominal cavity or organs. The mass had enlarged my spleen to double its normal size. A biopsy will determine if it was a cancer, and if so, what type.

Aug. 25, 2017
I was discharged from the hospital, and began the recovery process at home. There is still pain and discomfort but it is tolerable. I finally can rest horizontally; the swelling in my feet and ankles is gone.

I am so thankful that I was able to get the medical help I needed. I also feel blessed by all the prayers, love, and support I received during this time. My son and my sister are here right now to help my husband and me. They are wonderful. This experience has affirmed to me that our most important investments of our time, our money, our resources, our selves is in other people. The human connection is where we are at our best, where we really shine. That's the reason I am posting the blog. There are readers whom I have never met who take the time to read what I write. You are another connection with humanity for me; I want to honor your faithfulness with an explanation of why I have not posted lately. Many blessings to you.






Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Horta

Blogger's note: This post originated in my personal journal. I decided to share it here as an example of how I start serious but never quite end up there. I take to heart Oscar Wilde's advice: "Life is too important to be taken seriously."


Bad night, bad! Pain all night! I carried the pain with me into brief intervals of sleep.

I cannot lay my body down. Right side, left side, front, or back position bring a throbbing pain in my spleen. I have to stand or sit all day and night. However, my back gets tired of sitting; its muscles beg for a rest. So I lay myself down, and my spleen responds with more pain.

My ankles are swollen from all the standing. My feet need to be elevated, but that triggers more pain in my spleen.

Dr. Lee called yesterday at 2:00 pm with the PET scan results. By some awful perversity, the ringer on my phone was turned off. I did not see the missed call until 6:00 pm, after office hours. And here I had my phone with me all day so I could hear it ring.

Earlier in the day, I checked the volume to make sure I would hear it ring; but I never thought to check the ringer status. I did not discover that until about 8:30 pm when I happened to check my phone and saw I had missed another call, this time from Andrew.

What that…? I had my phone right next to me. Recheck the volume: High. Hmm…maybe I should check the ringer. OFF! Arrgh!
(Or is it Ahrrgh! Or perhaps Aarrgh! I’ll put in all three so that you may choose your own expression of frustration.)

I called Andrew and poured out my tale of ringer woe; he was taken aback.

Andrew: “You mean you went at least four hours without checking your phone? If I were waiting for test results, I would be checking my phone every twenty minutes.
Me: “Well, I didn’t think about it.”
Andrew: “Arrgh!”
Me: “Arrgh!”


(Note to self: At least this episode shows I am not addicted to my phone.)

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Maugham's Unicorns


Somerset Maugham uses two interesting literary devices in his novel The Razor’s Edge. One is that he is a cameo character in his own story.  He uses himself having conversations with the other characters as a means of advancing the plot.

 The story revolves around a group of friends that Maugham visits on occasion, sometimes after an absence of several years. Like real life friends, they update him on what has happened in their lives since the last time they were together. As a result, for much of the book, readers do not “see” the characters doing things in real time. Instead, they are told about them second-hand as Maugham records his conversations. It gives the book the feel of a personal journal.

The other literary device he uses is having the main character, Larry, drift in and out of the story. It reminded me of Madeleine L’Engle’s unicorn in her book Many Waters.

“Oh, that’s a unicorn. They’re very odd. Sometimes they are and sometimes they aren’t. If we want one, we call and it’ll usually appear.”

Larry makes sudden and unanticipated appearances throughout the book. He is there, and then he isn’t. Like L’Engle’s unicorn, sometimes when he goes out, he takes people with him, not physically but emotionally. Maugham makes it clear that if it weren’t for Larry, he would not have written the book—yet, compared to the other main characters, his story takes up the least number of pages.


I wonder why Maugham did that. Why would he cast himself as himself in his fiction? Why is his most influential character his most ephemeral? For that matter, why are there unicorns, and where do they go when they “go out”? I must think about this because I sense that they are connected. I wonder if Larry and the unicorns are acquainted. Or perhaps Larry is looking for unicorns. Perhaps he is looking for Rhino.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Children of the Con



“I’m telling you, Ms. Lamont, it’ll be colossal!” the young man said.

“Let me get this straight,” I said. “You want to make a movie about an alien race of vampires who lure their victims by means of children wearing dollar bills?”   

“That’s right,” he said.  He placed dollar bills on the ends of his fingers, and walked his hand across my desk.

“It’s like this.  People will see these little kids toddling off wearing shoes made of money.  They’re greedy, see, and follow the kids, thinking to grab the dough. The kids leads them down a dark alley and BAM! A vampire nabs ‘em.”

“Sorry,” I said, “but it’s just doesn’t send me.  It’s not spicy enough.”

“What!” he shouted.  “It’s got everything!  Aliens!  Vampires!  Babies!

“No,” I said, as I shook my head. “I’m not interested.”

He rose from his chair.  “You’ll regret this.  I’ll get financing…I’ll do GoFundMe.  It will be a HUGE success!”

In his haste to leave, he lost his footing and did a magnificent pirouette to keep from falling.

“That’s it!”  I said.  “Make it a musical!  Call it ‘Children of the Con.’”




Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Scofflaws


Finding Your No

“Nothing we do as individuals matters, but it is vitally important to do it anyway.”
Gandhi

A recent news article in the Fresno Bee stated that the Fresno Police Department was inundated with calls regarding illegal fireworks during the Fourth of July holiday. It seems there were a number of scofflaws who felt “independent” of regulations regarding the sale and use of fireworks.

A scofflaw is one who disregards regulations and/or laws regarding legal activities, such as driving, buying alcohol, discharging fireworks, watering lawns, etc. Scofflaws are not necessarily criminals in that the rules they disregard are not forbidden—like murder or theft—they are merely restricted under certain conditions. For example, fireworks are legal if used by the proper authorities in a designated location, but they are illegal if launched from someone’s backyard.

What’s funny is when one person’s scoff is another person’s law. Someone who is outraged when drivers exceeding the speed limit may think it’s perfectly fine to discharge illegal fireworks.  
In my opinion, a scofflaw is a person who has not found his or her “No.” You may think finding your no doesn’t matter, but it is vitally important to find it anyway.