Category Archives: Personal

The taxman cometh! And so did the pollen!

Durham has heavy pollen this time every year. This year it got really heavy.Running down the gutters after a rain.

Washing off the driveway.

Even turning our dogs’ leashes yellow.

It got so bad that even though I’m on Claritin (to avoid rashes from all the grass pollen carried on the pups’ coats), allergies laid me low mid-week. This was a regular problem a couple of times a year back in Florida but I’ve never had it here before. No sneezing, just this insane draggy feeling that nothing in the world would be better than lying down and watching television all day (trust me, that’s not normally a thing I say). So that cost me a day and a half.

And then about two days went to taxes. I had almost everything figured out, but the state income tax form wouldn’t let me enter data on the computer so I had to print it up, then write it out. Then print it out again to fix my mistakes. I suspect it will come back to me: the NC Department of Revenue scanning system is much stricter in how it’ll take data than the IRS, so most years I’ve had to re-enter my return because of some technicality. But it’s done, so that’s good. We’re paying in this year, but that’s primarily because I made more money than I expected and didn’t have to pay estimated taxes, so we got socked with a bigger bill than usual. Ouch. And our printer is slow, which drew the process of printing the forms out longer than it should have. Next year I shall take steps to avoid that.

In the remaining time, I did some research reading for the Undead Sexist Cliches book and got some useful feedback from beta readers (one yet to come). I got a lot of work done on a redraft of Impossible Things Before Breakfast, though I still lack a good finish. And that was pretty much it. But taxes needed doing before Monday, like it or not.

Wisp has been an erratic presence on the deck. She’s still not showing up regularly for her meals the way she used to, and there’s another cat we caught eating at least one of the meals we put out. As Wisp has fought to drive off strange cats before, I’m guessing she’s getting food at someone else’s house and so can afford to turn up her nose at ours. Even though someone else might be better situated to take her in, I do feel a twinge of jealousy at the thought.

Trixie has had a hacking cough the past couple of weeks. It’s mostly faded, but we kept her home from Suite Paws day care this week just in case. Much as I enjoy a dog-free day, she’s pretty easy to handle when she’s by herself. But if the hack doesn’t go away, we’ll call the vet next week (I’m wondering if it’s pollen-based).

I’ve also realized that one reason I have trouble focusing after lunch is that Plushie likes to settle into my lap, then stretch out, rather than curling into a ball. This usually puts me in a position that, while not exactly uncomfortable, it strains my body enough that I have a hard time focusing (Trixie’s position on either side of me sometimes makes it worse). I like Plushie curling up in my lap, but I’ll have to position my legs so he can’t expand out.

#SFWApro. Photos are mine, please credit if you use them.

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Filed under Personal, Short Stories, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals, Undead Sexist Cliches: The Book, Writing

Breadsticks!

So last weekend I made breadsticks. I’d never tried before, but TYG said she’d like some and her wish is, of course, my command. I found one recipe in my cookbooks, but on the day of baking I saw it was a bulk recipe and I wasn’t sure I could scale it down. I turned instead to Secrets of a Jewish Baker and found a more manageable size, though I did use some of the advice from the other book. The result:

They tasted great (I mixed some Parmesan and garlic powder into the dough) but looked a little pastier in real life than they do in the photo. A friend of mine recommended a vegan bread wash which should fix that next time.

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Wisp wants to flirt

So as I mentioned a week ago, after TYG and I returned from our Mensa trip to South Carolina, Wisp went back to skulking. Instead of showing up and mewing when she figured dinner was due, she showed up afterwards and ate stealthily as possible. This week, she seemed to get over it, showing up semi-regularly to mew for her supper.

Last night, she also showed up when TYG was walking the dogs at night and sidled up very close. She’s done this before, even rolling on the ground in a “play with me” manner, but never quite so persistently. She clearly wants to be friends.

Trouble is, we’re not sure how well that would go. Neither she nor the dogs seems hostile, but if Trixie gets a sudden itch to show who’s boss — well, Wisp does have those big sharp claws on her feet. So TYG called me out of the house to drive Wisp off. She scurried away as soon as she saw me (I thought we were getting along better. Maybe not) but lurked as close as possible.

I’m tempted to let them get close, but the risk of injury is definitely there, as far as I can tell. And TYG’s even more cautious than me, and I’m not about to go against her on this (“Hi honey! I let Plush Dog snuggle with Wisp and now we have a $700 vet bill and stitches in his side!” would not go over well.

A minor problem comparatively is that the dogs get too distracted to do their business. Particularly Trixie, who could not get her mind off Wisp long enough to poop. This may be why she wound up pooping in the bedroom last night.

I’m absolutely not going to do anything that hurts Wisp or drives her away from her house (TYG doesn’t want that either) but I’m not sure how to handle it.

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My answer was ‘recalled to life’

The use of the Dickens quote in the title is my way to say after close to two months of lackluster performance, I had a good week of writing.

The biggest accomplishment was that I finished a draft of the Undead Sexist Cliches book. This was a minor landmark because it’s the first coherent draft. I kept shifting back and forth in earlier drafts on how to break things down, which fact or anecdote went in which chapter and frequently repeating myself. Now I think I’ve honed it so that it has a logical structure. There’s the introduction (about why I’m writing it, and about sexism in general). A chapter on “everyone knows men and women are different” which is the bedrock on which most of these cliches rest. A couple of chapters on why feminism is supposedly evil. One on why all the heroes have to be men. One on rape cliches (probably the largest), one on sexual harassment and one on sex and relationships in general. I may expand them with more examples of sexism, but I think the set-up is solid.

Next up: beta reading! I sent it out to a couple of friends, one in the writing group, one generally interested in this sort of thing. Both women, because the one thing I can’t provide is a woman’s point of view. I might ask a couple of others (I’ve asked one more beta, but haven’t heard back). And then, after I get their feedback, the revisions begin.

It feels really good to have made significant progress on something.

I also mailed out three short stories (one already came back), found a possible market for one of my older novels (hopefully it’ll go out next week), submitted a query for a column (no interest), and put up a couple of items on eBay. They’re movie posters from some of my movie books, so I count that as writing time — and I’d be quite happy to get rid of them productively (i.e., putting them in the trash is just a waste).

I also got back to my regular exercise routine, which had tanked with everything else during March. It looks like I’ll make about 50 percent of my March goals at best (I may accomplish a couple this weekend). However I rearranged my schedule some, and I think that helped. I’ll blog more about that next week.

Wisp, alas, was not happy with us leaving her for last weekend’s Mensa trip. Whether it was not getting her food on the schedule she’s used to or having our neighbor come over to put the food out (Wisp’s still pretty cautious — I could easily see her having a Stranger Danger reaction), she’s gone back to staying invisible and quiet (the photo’s an old one). Usually we don’t even know she’s there until after the food is eaten. Hopefully having us put out food regularly will restore her confidence in us; she did show up one evening and stare at the dogs through the window so she’s not completely alienated.

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Filed under Nonfiction, Personal, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals, Undead Sexist Cliches: The Book, Writing

Nanananananana — Batman!

So last Friday, TYG and I headed to Greenville, SC, to attend the annual Mensa RG (regional gathering) there. Given how crazy our schedule has been lately, we were less enthused about it than usual, but for the same reason, we needed a break. The theme of the RG was the 1966 Batman TV show and I’d agreed to give a talk on the show Friday, as a kind of kickoff. Below, you can see me in this year’s RG T-shirt.

I’m so glad we went. Not only did I get a break from pup-watching (we boarded them for the weekend) but we had fun. A lot of that was hanging with our friends down there, but also with each other. With TYG’s workload, we don’t get to hang out as much as we’d like, but this weekend we managed it.

Every year we play in Blonde Bowl, a quiz bowl where the last line of every question is a “blonde,” obvious clue (e.g., “… name this baseball player whose life was dramatized on screen in The Jackie Robinson Story, Jackie Robinson — All American and The Court Martial of Jackie Robinson.”), though people still flub it. I was feeling so wiped I wasn’t sure I was up to playing, but TYG signed up so I joined her team, the Lannisters (she’s a big GoT fan). While she often insists she’s not really good at things like this, she was amazing — six questions answered in the first round out of 20, giving us a slot in the finals. Overall I got one more question than she did, but more of mine were on the blonde clues. I had one frustrating moment when I recognized on the first sentence that Charlie, our quizmaster, was talking about Sir Gawaine and the Green Knight, but got confused and said “Sir Gawaine” as the answer instead of “The Green Knight” (I’ve had similar glitches before).

On the plus side, we came down in the finals to a dead heat at the last question. About two sentences in, I recognized the name “Roland Daggett” from Batman: The Animated Series and guessed, correctly, that the city we were being asked about was Gotham City. So that was a pretty satisfactory win.

My talk on the TV show went really well and I got several compliments on it, and my being able to deliver it without any notes. I was actually a little surprised at that myself, but comics and related matters have always been something that sticks in my mind.

Otherwise, let’s see. We got to snuggle in the mornings without the dogs demanding attention, played poker (well, TYG played, I just watched), and I got to sample an $1,100 bottle of scotch. I don’t have the palate to appreciate it, but when someone offered me a sip, I couldn’t pass it up. If nothing else, the scent of the drink was really neat to inhale.

Sunday morning we hung out with TYG’s mom and brother, who live in the area, then we headed home and collected the dogs. I know the refreshed feeling won’t last but it was really great.

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i bounce back, at least a little

Not a stellar week, but more productive than last week. I still didn’t have the presence of mind to focus on fiction so I returned to my Undead Sexist Cliches book. I got about 11,000 added words done. That felt good. And I got my Leaf articles done for the week.

And that was about it. Added dog care used up some of the time. So did a trip for a car check-up (unnecessary as it turned out; things were fine). And Tuesday, both pups freaked out because the gutter cleaners came and that meant STRANGER DANGER! HE”S MAKING NOISES! HE HAS A LADDER! DADDY, DO SOMETHING! That kind of thing makes it really hard to work.

I did, however, finish my first post at Atomic Junkshop in a while, dealing with what comic books on DC’s Earth-One were like.

Plus I seem to have maxed out my body’s insomnia tolerance. I still wake up early, but my naps have been getting a lot longer.

However, we’ll be doing some fun stuff this weekend, and I’m confident next week will see some real improvement.

Below, a symbolic photo of a flour arising amidst winter’s detritus Deep, aren’t I?

#SFWapro. Photo is mine, please credit me if you use it. Comic book panel by Carmine Infantino with Joe Kubert inks, all rights remain to current holder.

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Me, the early years

So during last year’s visit to Florida, I acquired my baby book from among Mum’s leftovers (stored in my sister’s bedroom). As it was my birthday Monday, I thought I’d share fascinating insights into my past.

I was born at 10:46 PM, weighing seven pounds, 5.5 ounces and stretching a magnificent 21 inches long (that’s actually a third of my height now). I had blond hair and blue eyes, which changed to brown and hazel within a few years.

I started liking nursery rhymes at six months old and subsequently became a fan of that classic novel, The Dog Goes Woof.

At six months I had no interest in TV except commercials. By a year old, I was hooked.

Foodwise I loved milk, bananas and Farley’s Rusks. “Rusk” was actually my first word, to which I soon added “butter,” car” and “Teddy.” By a year old I was eating everything I could, which surprises me — my earliest memories are of me as a picky eater.

I got vaccinated against whooping cough, polio and smallpox (take that anti-vaxxers!). I did come down with diptheria at 11 months, which TYG boggles at — she’s never heard of anyone she knows having diptheria.

At six months I got around by rolling. At nine months I crept, at ten months I started walking.

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Happy birthday to me, and to my blog!

Sixty one years today. My goodness. And I continue to be lucky that my health concerns have been minor and not life-threatening or seriously disabling. That’s not something all my friends can say.

This looks to be a quiet birthday. I’d intended to do something special, but with TYG’s crazy schedule that’s not really practical, so it’ll just be a quiet dinner out, FB birthday wishes and gifts. But we have several unrelated social activities coming up this month so I’ll still be having fun. And there’s always next year (or so one can hope).

I realized earlier this year that I started this WordPress blog 10 years ago. It was actually my third shot at blogging. First came a personal blog on LiveJournal, but my blogging community there dried up as everyone found Facebook could provide the same sort of connections. Overlapping with LJ came a writing blog on MySpace, which lasted until MySpace stopped doing blogs and erased all the content. Even before that, I’d started cross-posting at WordPress; MySpace had the obvious disadvantage that only members could read it. Great for friend networks, not so good for promoting my writing.

While I didn’t know it at the time, 2009 was a transitional year. I’d been dating TYG long-distance for about six months when I started at WordPress and it looked like we were in it for the long haul. I loved my reporting job, but the company”s cheapness was making my finances less and less workable. I was working on my third film-reference book for McFarland (Screen Enemies of the American Way) and selling short stories occasionally.

A year later I was engaged, living in Durham, and starting as a full-time freelancer. Now we’re married, own a house, and share our lives with Plushie, Trixie and (sort of) Wisp. While I miss my Ft. Walton Beach friends, life is definitely better.

I suppose my biggest regret, in hindsight, is that the fiction-writing side of my life hasn’t improved as much as I’d like. I still sell stories, but I hoped that in a decade I’d be selling to bigger (and better paying) markets. Or selling more frequently and faster; it still takes repeated submissions to multiple markets before any of my short stories finally sell. Southern Discomfort isn’t drawing any instant agent attention; I don’t know it will do any better with publishers. Not that I expected to be a JK Rowling-class household name, but I hoped I’d see some improvement over a decade.

But I am paying my share of the bills with my writing and I do get to stay home with Plushie and Trixie all day, even if they do sometimes drive me crazy (as I write this Plushie is loudly demanding I Do Something about Wisp sunning herself on the porch). And even if the stories don’t sell, they do get written, and I wrote them. And that’s cool.

#SFWApro. Action cover by Curt Swan, all rights to both images remain with current holder.

 

 

 

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I went out there a nobody, I came back a star with low testosterone!

As I said this morning, this week was a mess.

TYG’s schedule exploded, so I was busy with lots of extra dog care, starting on the weekend. As a result it was next to impossible to get much done: any time I’d start to concentrate, there’d be dogs. And even when they were lying quietly in my lap, the accumulated extra time was wearing me down. I’ve had this experience before; after a certain point I just feel my personal space is eroded and my brain clogs up. So while I got some Leaf articles done, that was about it (to make it clear, no blame attaches to TYG. She’d much sooner walk the dogs in the morning than have me do it, but it just wasn’t an option. Not her fault).

So let’s talk about Wednesday and my return to acting for the first time since I arrived in Durham (I also finished my federal taxes, but that’s not as cool).

Walking the dogs, I’ve met a lot of people in the neighborhood. One of them, Gwen, the owner of a shih tsu rescue dog (too abused to be friendly to other dogs, alas), works for Web MD. Via MedScape that company puts up training videos for doctors, where they get to see scripted doctor/patient interactions. Gwen mentioned last month that they were working on a video for English MDs and were having trouble finding a middle-aged English man to play the role. And here I was, and I’d mentioned I used to do theater, so—?

I said sure! And after paperwork, and talking with one of WebMD’s people by email, I showed up at their Durham office Wednesday to play The Man With Low Testosterone. Actually, that’s only alluded to in passing; most of the conversation in the script they sent me focused on symptoms and life situations. As “Gilbert” I have Type II diabetes and some urination problems (antibiotics helped with that). I also can’t seem to get it up. And I have a younger girlfriend so I’m scared I won’t be satisfactory when we get to the bedroom. The script ends after I detail all this and the doctor reassures me I’m perfectly normal.

The office/studio was in a fancy big office building off Miami, conveniently close to my home. It looked almost like a TV set, somehow: lots of people writing or working at desks, sandwiches available for lunch (including vegetarian happily), and the studio. Both the director and the woman playing the doctor were Brits too. I talked with the director about how I figured on playing the part (comfortable, pleased with progress on my urinary issues, embarrassed and awkward when we reached the sex talk). He approved. I got made up, took a seat on the set and did my acting with face and some hand movements. And voice, of course. The lines were on a teleprompter so I didn’t have to worry about getting them right; my biggest challenge was looking as if I were actually making eye contact with the doctor when she spoke.

They’d set aside two hours for the gig, but we wrapped up in 40 minutes. Other than a couple of instructions (pausing in a couple of spots) the director was pleased with my reading so it was just a matter of getting two or three takes they could pick from. Then we were done. And I even get paid!

Getting done so early, I went to the blood bank to donate, but they were booked up with an hour of appointments when I arrived there. I ran some errands instead, including getting a haircut. And I discovered chai tea at the local coffee/tea shop is not the same as their chai latte, and considerably less satisfying.

It was a fun day in an otherwise frustrating week. But the pups are still adorable, so that’s something.

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10 years ago today, I started this blog

I will say more about this in my birthday post later this month, but I wanted to mark this momentous occasion (first post is here). I’d add the illustration but it doesn’t have one.

So here’s a shot of some puppies Trixie and I met this week instead.

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