Being a publisher

I worked in publishing for a long time. Over ten years as an acquisitions editor. That was one of the reasons I was skeptical about trying to write “professionally”–in other words, trying to earn my living with my writing. I know how ridiculously hard it is, I know how few people manage to do so. But hey, I decided to try anyway, and even decided to make it formal, create a publishing company, etc. I decided to treat the job professionally, practically.

Yesterday, with my publisher hat on, I tried to talk myself out of writing A Precarious Balance. Not just now, but ever.

If I was a good publisher, I’d look at the numbers–29 copies of A Lonely Magic sold in the month of August, worse than any of the Tassamara books have ever done, including when I had no audience at all–and I’d make the kind of phone call that makes my stomach twist with anxiety for hours ahead of time.

“So sorry,” I’d tell the author. “We loved the book, really we did. But the numbers just aren’t there. We’ll keep trying. We’ll push it, see if we can squeeze it into a promotion or two, but we need to put #2 on hold. Indefinitely.” I’d mourn with the author, especially for a book I loved so much, and I’d feel guilty and torn by indecision–where had I made the wrong choices, how had I screwed up, why hadn’t my passion gotten through to the sales reps? But I’d bite the bullet and do it anyway, because publishing is a business and investing in books that don’t make money is a fast way to layoffs & cost-cutting & midnight stress.

I suspect that this is why at some point in my publishing journey, I’m going to wind up working at McDonald’s. Not because the book isn’t selling. That’s sad, but all I have to do is think about how much fun it was to write and I can shrug my shoulders and let go of that. But because I’m not capable of choosing my writing projects based on whether or not they’re good business decisions. When the practical publisher and the impractical author collide, the impractical author is winning every time. My anxious side really hates that, but my author side goes on strike every time I try to do it differently.

Today, the impractical author side is going to take a weekend day, and say good-bye to summer by hanging out with my niece, with swimming and maybe grilling and probably a lot of Doctor Who. And on Monday–or maybe Tuesday–the publisher side can start worrying again.

Meal planning app

The winner on the cooking/meal-planning/shopping app is MealBoard.

Let me start by saying that it’s not perfect. A lot of recipe sites have a bookmarklet tool that lets you post the recipe to just about anywhere, but unfortunately that just about anywhere doesn’t include MealBoard. That means that if your recipe site isn’t one of the sites that works with MealBoard, you’re going to have to cut-and-paste the details into the app. The app C uses (which is too complicated for my brain to handle) works with all the sites she likes and MealBoard doesn’t. Looks like we’ll be using two different shopping apps, but so it goes. I’m hoping, of course, that MealBoard will fix this in future versions.

And that said, it’s an awesome little tool otherwise. I spent most of the day yesterday inputting recipes that fit this crazy diet’s needs. To refresh: no grains of any sort, no eggs, no dairy, no nuts, no seeds, (including oils or flours made from both), no nightshades (including tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant & peppers), no gluten, no alcohol, no coffee or black tea, no chocolate, candy, sugar, no soy… I’m not sure I got it all. But it’s crazy. Yesterday I got all excited because I realized I could spice food up with wasabi or horseradish–um, nope. The root of each product is fine but the oil and/or algae used in making them is not. But I found some fresh horseradish so I will be grating my own.

At last count, I had 98 recipes that either fit or could easily be modified to fit within this diet. And a meal plan for most of the week that is both organized, appeals to my tastes, and includes recipes that I approve. It’s very autumnal, which is a little odd when it feels so summery out, but I found all the ingredients easily at the store yesterday, so autumnal it is.

Today for lunch, I’ll be eating chicken-and-apple sausage patties and leftover cinnamon-and-ginger roasted acorn-squash and carrots. For dinner, Shepard’s pie with cauliflower topping. (I had to make homemade beef broth which is currently simmering on the stove–I could not find a single brand of store-bought beef broth that didn’t include things I couldn’t eat.) Tomorrow, I’ll have a chicken pesto zucchini noodle salad. Wednesday, coconut lime tilapia with beet, carrot, and horseradish coleslaw. Yum. I almost wish I could start eating now, but I ate leftover red snapper mixed in a mango, avocado, cucumber, red onion, coleslaw for breakfast and I’m quite stuffed.

Oh, but the app! It does the meal plan, the recipe storage, the shopping list, and the pantry recording, all within a straightforward, reasonably sensible interface. It took me a while to find some of the tricks–you have to be in edit mode to drag-and-drop items, but mostly once I found out how to do what I wanted to do, I thought, well, that’s sensible. Any time I couldn’t figure out something, it turned out to be done the easiest possible way, usually by holding the top-level icon down until a context menu with the option I wanted popped up.

My cooking tendency has always been to wander out to the kitchen at 5 or 6 or so and see what I can do with what’s on hand. It worked really well with C’s grocery-shopping style, because there were always more bits and pieces around then when I lived on my own. But I’m actually having fun with this process, which is nice and unexpected.

Part of it–in the good news/bad news sense–is that I’m already feeling better. I’m still allergic and my joints are still hurting more than I’d like, but I’ve got more energy and more focus. Yesterday was probably the most focused day I’ve had in months, where I actually concentrated intently for hours and hours. Okay, so it was on becoming the master of a meal app, but that’s still a good sign. Except, of course, that it means at least one food is never coming back into my life. The reading I’ve been doing strongly suggests that it’s going to be nightshades, but I am so, so, so not ready to contemplate a life without tomatoes, potatoes or hot sauce. On the other hand, back in May, life without bread seemed too hard and it only took a few weeks of feeling amazingly good to make bread seem a lot less appealing. I guess I’ll see.

Meanwhile, off I go to use this energy for good. Not browsing for more recipes, but maybe actually writing more than a paragraph or two!

Grouchy rant about a cookbook

So I’m three days into a 30-day restricted diet and feeling exceedingly grumpy. Not so much because of the diet, although it’s definitely not fun to eliminate a wide range of foods for my life, but because of the cookbook that I’m using/trying to use.

Slight digression: The diet is an elimination diet to test allergies. I had about three weeks of feeling incredibly good when I stopped eating gluten, followed by a few months now of intense allergies, joint pain, and exhaustion. The probability is that my hyper-reactive immune system is battling some other harmless substance, and I’ve reached the point of being willing to give up almost everything to find out what it is. Almost everything, because I’m not giving up the dogs. If it turns out they’re what’s making me sick, well, that’s why human beings have invented allergy drugs, painkillers, and caffeinated beverages. But if it’s dairy or something else, at least if I know, I can make an informed choice. So for the next twenty-seven days, I’m eating green vegetables, root vegetables, limited fruit (low-sugar), and healthy meats, ie beef, fish, and chicken, not hot dogs or salami. No additives, no processed food, no grains, no nightshades which include tomato, potato and peppers, no soy, no coffee or black tea, no chocolate, no alcohol, no sugar, etc.

To say that it’s not easy is an understatement. It’s annoying as anything. But hey, it’s my choice, and I’m doing it for good reasons, and so I’m going to stick to it. But three days in and I’m about ready to toss the cookbook I’m using out the window. It’s… not edited.

Oh, probably it was proofread. There are no typos, or not many. But it’s a cookbook, which means it’s instructional text, which means it’s my specialty and it’s driving me up the wall.

Ex 1: Recipe for ginger-baked salmon. Includes parsley in the ingredient list, never uses parsley in the recipe. I assume I sprinkle it over the top when I’m done. A well-written recipe would say so.

Ex 2: Parsley-garlic dip. Ingredient list includes slices of fresh carrot or cucumber. Step 1 starts, “Combine all ingredients in a high powered blender.” Seriously? All ingredients? Huh, so it’s going to be like a veggie smoothie? It doesn’t sound like it has enough liquid for that to work. Step 2 reads, “Serve on raw vegetable slices…” Oh, are those the vegetable slices that I would have thrown in the blender?

Ex 3: Garlic-sage chicken patties. The ingredient list calls for 1 tablespoon and 1/4 cup coconut flour. In the instructions, you “place the coconut flour on a plate,” then later “add to the ground chicken with the coconut flour and sea salt.” Wait, which coconut flour is which? Am I dredging the patties in a tablespoon of coconut flour or in four tablespoons of coconut flour?

The thing is, I am only three days into this cookbook. I’ve barely read any of the recipes and yet I’ve already read enough to not trust them. And I hate that in a cookbook. I made the chicken-acorn squash soup and tried to use the correct measurements, but I have no idea how anyone could brown that much squash in any normal-sized soup pot.  I used my big soup pot and it was still impossible. The cauliflower fried “rice” recipe claims it takes 15 minutes–15 minutes to “finely chop” an onion, a zucchini, a carrot, a cup of mushrooms, a table of chives, to mince four cloves of garlic, to roughly chop a head of cauliflower and then to cook it all in stages? Ha. Maybe for some super speed prep cook, but I can’t even run a food processor that fast. The ginger-baked salmon recipe uses ginger powder. I wondered why not grate some fresh ginger on it, but followed the instructions dutifully and it was bland. It would have been much tastier with grated fresh ginger. Why not include that as an option?

I’m sticking with the diet, but I’m definitely not trusting these recipes anymore, which means that I need to get a lot more organized about creating my own meal plans and my own shopping lists. Ugh. Organized about food is not my style. But app suggestions are welcome, if you’re reading and you cook.

C says that I should write my own cookbook. Maybe I will. If I do, the measurements will always be sorta fluid & I’ll never use a portion of a thing (ie, 2 anchovy fillets as used in this book’s caesar dressing) without offering some suggestions for how to use the rest. But oh, I wish Pam Anderson had written an auto-immune cookbook. It would make my life so much easier. She’s my favorite cookbook author. I should probably write a lot more about why she’s so great, just to balance out the rant, but thinking about foods I can’t eat would just annoy me and the dogs are ready for their dinner. Hey, at least I’m not stuck with kibble. That’ll be my positive thought for the evening. :)

A quick short

Anyone feel like doing a beta read/proofread of a Maggie/Max scene?

If yes, keep reading and comment away in the comments or send me an email. (Feel free to tell me it makes no sense. It might not. Or that it’s stupid. It might be.) Ah, but be forewarned–it’s sort of depressing.

If no, you should stop reading now and wait for me to send you an email in a few days. (Ahem, assuming you’ve signed up for my mailing list, that is.)

***********

Memorial Service

There wasn’t enough food in the world.

But Maggie couldn’t stop.

Perfect small sandwiches, three bites each, of roast beef with arugula, ham and coarse mustard, smoked turkey with sharp cheddar.

Salads. Pasta with kalamata olives, cherry tomatoes, and fresh basil. Potato using tiny red potatoes, hard-boiled egg and aioli. Chicken with green onions and red grapes. Spinach with warm orange dressing.

And desserts. Chocolate cake, so rich it melted on the tongue. Butterscotch cookies. Raspberry-topped cheesecake with a graham-cracker crust. Tiny cups of tiramisu.

The dining room table was full, dishes overflowing onto the sideboard, desserts organized on a side table in the living room, before the first mourners started to arrive.

Now she was on appetizers.

Smoked salmon wrapped around cream cheese, dill, and a sliver of lemon, rind included. Puff pastry stuffed with a spicy crab concoction, topped with fine slivers of green onion. Bacon, chopped small, mixed with hot peppers and grated sheep’s milk cheese, toasted on thin slices of baguette. Cheese puffs, light and airy.

Hamburger sliders.

Those must be Zane’s, Maggie thought, tears springing to her eyes. She blinked them back.

This wasn’t her tragedy.

She was just the caterer.

She had no right to cry.

She flipped the tiny burgers in the frying pan. It was a stupid way to cook them. A grill would be much better—easier searing, richer flavor. But she never argued with her subconscious when it came to food.

“Do you need any help?” a small voice whispered by her elbow.

Maggie looked down. She tried to place the face with no success until dim recognition swam up through her subconscious. “Emma, right?”

“Yes.” The girl beamed at her, her silver braces bright against her teeth.

“Where’s your grandma?” Maggie asked automatically.

Emma gestured with her head toward the living room. “She told me to make myself useful.”

“And you came to me?” Maggie said, annoyance stirring. She didn’t need help. Sure, the entire town was crowding into the house, spilling out onto the porch, gathering in small clumps on the lawn, but she’d cooked for hundreds of people before and for far more demanding clients. Max Latimer wouldn’t care if she served his guests pre-sliced cheese and cracker trays, with some fruit and veggies on the side. Her efforts were for her, not for him.

“I like it better in here,” Emma said. “And you need someone to carry trays.”

Maggie pursed her lips, looking down at the girl, then dipped her head in an abrupt nod. “Take that platter out.” She pointed at the perfectly arranged plate of appetizers. “And a pile of those little napkins. Make sure you give one to everyone who takes a crab puff. They’re messier than they look.”

Interest gone, she turned back to the stove, expertly sliding burgers onto open buns.

This was a hell of a way to cater. She didn’t even know what she had in the coolers she’d brought with her. She’d been dumping ingredients in at random, not thinking about what she would make with them.

But poor Max.

Poor all of them.

When had she last seen Dillon? Not the day of his death, she was sure of that. Maybe a few days earlier. He’d been in that sulky stage teenagers went through. Still polite, still called her ma’am and nodded when he said hello, but with that vague aura of discontent, of wanting more.

Had he killed himself?

But no, she couldn’t believe that.

The doubt must be killing Max, though.

The tears sprang up again and Maggie pressed a hand to her eyes.

Eleanor, now, she remembered exactly when she’d last seen Eleanor. It was the day before her death. She’d come into the bistro, looking as perfect as always, hair neat, back straight, clothes pressed, voice even, and asked Maggie if she would cater the reception to be held after Dillon’s memorial service.

Maggie had asked. She shouldn’t have asked. She should have kept her mouth shut. But she’d asked, “Do you want his favorite foods? He loved the mac ‘n cheese and those caramel brownies.”

Eleanor’s hands had clenched on the counter edge until her fingers turned white, and for a brief moment, Maggie could see the depths of the pain, a universe of pain, in her eyes. But before Maggie could come up with a way to backtrack, to rescind the suggestion, to say something—anything—to ease that agony, Eleanor had pulled herself together and said, “That won’t be necessary.”

Of course not. Dillon wouldn’t be there to eat the mac ‘n cheese. She needed to feed the living, not the dead. If only she could go back in time. Erase the words before they were ever said.

If only they could all go back in time.

Maggie paused, looking down at her work.

Her hands had kept moving while she was distracted. The sliders were finished and neatly plated, with tiny bowls of optional condiments—mustard, relish, ketchup—on the same platter. She’d put it on the table with the salads, and let people help themselves.

“Those look good.” Max stood in the kitchen doorway, dressed in a black suit, white shirt, striped tie.

“They are good,” Maggie snapped. She’d never seen him looking so… so…

“Sit,” she ordered, pointing at the kitchen table.

So lost.

He looked so lost. The formal clothes, the clean shave, the neat hair—none of it disguised the fact that Max, the essence of Max, the laughing, cheerful, always confident Max, wasn’t present in that body.

He sat.

She carried the sliders over to the table and set the platter in front of him.
His lips quivered before he tightened them. “Did you ever eat at White Castle?”

Maggie paused. “Sure.”

“There was a place in our home town. Not as cheap. But the buns, they were real bread and the burgers were…”

“Fried,” Maggie finished for him. The sliders weren’t for Zane. She pushed the platter a little closer to Max. “Eat.”

He picked up a burger.

“Use the ketchup,” she told him as she went back to the stove.

“Dad?” The voice was tentative, quiet.

Maggie glanced over her shoulder.

The daughter she barely knew, the dark-haired one who looked like Max but never smiled, joined them, stepping into the kitchen and dropping into a chair at the kitchen table as if her body couldn’t keep holding her up.

“The Raffertys…” she started.

“I know,” he said, around his bite of burger.

“All right.” The daughter sighed. “Did you—”

“No.” He interrupted her. “You?”

She shook her head. “No,” she said, her voice thick with tears. “I mean now… it all feels like something I’ve always known. But I swear this wasn’t how it was a week ago.”

“I never tried to find out. Not the kind of thing that you want to see,” Max said.

“No,” the daughter agreed.

A silence fell between them. Maggie started running water into the sink, trying to pretend she wasn’t in the room. Eavesdropping on their grief felt too intimate, too personal. But then they’d joined her in the kitchen. They knew she was there. It wasn’t as if she was intruding on their space.
Except she was, of course.

She wondered what Max cooked in this kitchen. He and Eleanor and Dillon were regulars at the bistro—or had been anyway. But not daily. Once, maybe twice a week. She knew from overheard conversations that Max took his turn cooking and that Dillon wasn’t—hadn’t been—an appreciative audience. He and Eleanor had laughed together about Max’s cooking while Max pretended offense.

What would he eat now?

But she was being stupid. Stupid and maudlin. Max was a grown man, with plenty of money, lots of friends, four grown children. He could take care of himself.

The suds were sufficient for her to start scrubbing. She washed dishes with the ease of long practice, moving from soap to rinse, stacking the bowls and plates and cutting boards in the dish drainer by her side, letting herself get lost in the monotony of the task.

“I wish…” The daughter’s voice was choked with grief.

“Don’t.” Max sounded calm, his tone even, easy. “We can’t change the future. Knowing wouldn’t have helped.”

Maggie glanced over at them. The girl—woman—had her face buried in her hands as Max stroked her hair. Hell. Of course he’d have to comfort his kids. They’d lost their mom. But who would comfort him? He’d lost his wife, his grandson—the people who shared his life. How was he supposed to recover from that?

The dishes were done. Everything clean, everything orderly and neat. Reaching out, Maggie flipped open the cover of the nearest cooler, but she already knew what she’d discover—she’d finished. The remnants in the coolers were just that, bits and pieces and scraps of food, nothing that she could use to make another appetizer or treat. But what had she intended to do with the half-dozen eggs?

“I’m good.” The daughter pushed back her chair and stood. “I’ll say our good-byes.”

Maggie barely caught the dip of Max’s head as he lifted another slider to his mouth. “I’ll be out soon.”

“Take your time.”

Max bit into the burger with a nod.

The daughter disappeared through the door.

Max set down the burger with a sigh and pushed the plate away from him.

“Come on,” Maggie said brusquely. The turn of Max’s head in her direction was so blank, so empty, it could have been insulting if she hadn’t understood how lost he was.

“Come here,” she told him, her voice more patient. “Up and at ‘em.”

“What do you need?”

“It’s not what I need.” She pulled the eggs out of the cooler and placed them on the counter top. “You need one meal. One base, upon which you can create multitudes.”

Was that a spark of interest in his eye?

“People screw up omelets because of temperature, mostly,” she continued. “Well, that or choosing the wrong ingredients to include. Tomatoes can be tricky. But we’ll start with the basics—nothing complicated.” She curved her fingers at him, gesturing for him to come closer. “Come on.”

“You’re going to teach me to make an omelet?” He pushed away from the table and stood.

“Two keys to a good omelet.” She ignored the question as she set a frying pan on the stove and turned the heat on. “First, temperature. You want your eggs to be room-temp and your pan pre-heated. Omelets need to cook quickly. Slow-cooked eggs get rubbery.” She held out an egg to him and he took it, holding it uncertainly. “Go ahead, crack it.” She nodded toward one of the bowls she’d just washed.

With a little too much enthusiasm, Max smashed his egg against the side of the bowl. It shattered, egg yolk and shell in pieces in the dish.

Maggie pressed her lips together. Sliding the bowl away from him, she dumped the mess into the sink. “Eggs are cheap,” she told him. “A good place to screw up. But try more gently this time.” She handed him another egg.

This time he was too tentative, tapping the egg against the edge of the bowl three, four times, before he finally cracked the egg and wound up with yolk and white trickling against his fingers, half the shell in the bowl.

“A reasonable start,” she murmured, sliding the bowl away from him and dumping it down the sink. “Try again.” She passed him another egg.

“Are you sure about this?”

She smiled at him. “We’ve got four more eggs and after that, we’ll start with the dozen in your fridge. Eggs are cheap. We can go until you get it.”

His next attempts were more successful. She passed him a fork. “Some people add milk or water now, for a lighter, fluffier omelet, but I prefer the richer taste of pure egg. A little salt and pepper don’t hurt, though.”

Max stirred the egg with caution, stroking through the yolk with the tines of the fork as if he were drawing in the bowl.

“Harder. You need to beat the eggs, not just play with them.” Maggie circled her hand in the air to demonstrate. “It’s not dough, you can’t over-mix it.”

“You can over-mix dough?”

“Flour forms gluten, it gets tough.” Maggie rummaged in the cooler. She hadn’t used all the green onion for the crab appetizer and she still had some left-over cheese from the toasted baguette slices. That would do.

“Ah, a molecular reaction. Interesting. I hadn’t thought of cooking as chemistry before.” He mixed the eggs with more enthusiasm. “So you said two keys to an omelet?”

“The second is butter, real butter.” Maggie dropped a generous dab of butter into the pan.

“Ah, don’t tell…” Max started, a note of humor in his voice, before pausing and continuing, his tone deeper. “… Natalya. She worries.”

Maggie heard the midstream name-change. She pressed her lips together and swallowed, staring at the butter already beginning to melt and bubble in the pan. Should she let it pass? No.

“Eleanor would say all good things in moderation,” she replied tartly. “Or at least she would if it involved chocolate.”

“Ha.” Max chuckled. “Yes. Yes, I suppose she would at that.” He set down the fork.

Maggie pointed to the pan. “Look at the butter. See how it froths? We want to pour the eggs in as soon as the bubbles settle and the butter browns. That gives it the best flavor.”

She walked him through the rest of process, letting him tilt the pan as the egg solidified, sprinkle on the green onion and cheese, fold over the eggs, and finally neatly slide the golden-brown omelet onto the plate she had ready and waiting.

“Well.” Max looked pleased with himself, then doubtful. “I’m not actually hungry.”

“You’re not going to eat it.” Maggie picked up the fork as Grace stuck her head in the door. “I am.”

“Uncle Trent’s on the phone, Dad,” Grace said. “Can you take it?”

“Of course.”

Grace disappeared, but Max lingered. He watched as Maggie took a first careful bite of the omelet. “Is it okay?”

She chewed, swallowed, nodded. “It’s perfect.”

He grinned at her, his blue eyes bright. “So tomatoes are hard, huh? But onion, ham, maybe some peppers? Those are easy?”

“Easy enough.” She took another bite of the omelet.

He stuffed his hands in his pockets, hunching his shoulders. He looked like he wanted to say something, but couldn’t find the words.

“Go.” Maggie tilted her chin at the door. “Your phone call’s waiting.”

“Yeah.” He moved to leave but before he passed through the door, he turned to face her again. “Thanks.”

“Anytime.”

Sleeping

Last night, I tried desperately to sleep.

All insomniacs know the feeling. It’s the one where you’re tired and want nothing more than to stop being tired, but your brain just won’t shut off.

I kept trying to switch things around to get a quiet head. Maybe I needed a different pillow. Maybe facing the other direction? Maybe touching a dog, maybe not touching a dog? Maybe working on a different story.

Every once in a while, the thought came to me: “your finger hurts.” Everyone once in a while, I said to myself, “yeah, I know, shut up and GO TO SLEEP.”

It never happened. I’ve been awake since 2AM.

But in the cold, harsh light of day, this is how my finger looks:
2014-08-18 15.18.08

Damn it, no wonder it hurts. That little bump against the oven pan with the baking potatoes in it–that’s a second degree burn with a whopping great blister.

I give myself permission to not sleep. I hope I do anyway.

The most fun object in my universe *

* Within my budget

Yesterday I took R to the actual mall to buy new shoes for school. Pro tip: if the mall parking lot is so crowded that multiple cars are illegally parked on grassy verges and over curbs, you’re not going to like the lines or the crowds.

But we persevered, because he leaves on Saturday (!!!) and eventually wound up with two pairs of Vans shoes, one a subdued gray and the other black with a blue pattern. They’re very nice and quite R-appropriate. I did decide, however, that since I was surviving a situation which is pretty high on my personal list of nightmares, I deserved a present for myself. A cheap present. Something fun. And/or something useful, but if useful, still cheap.

As we wandered the mall, I considered my options. No, no, no, no. Too expensive, not fun enough, too unnecessary, too wasteful, not fun enough. I considered some soft t-shirts for a while. I could use a few new t-shirts. But I could tell that they were the kind that would wear really quickly–worn for a summer and then good-bye, and even at $15 for 2, I didn’t think they were worth it.

On the way out of the mall, I felt sad. Sadder, I guess. Robin Williams’ death hit me hard. To have someone so successful, so gifted, so loved, lose the fight to depression is heartbreaking. But it’s also frightening. If, with everything he had, he couldn’t make it out of the black hole, will my hole someday be that deep? (My psychiatrist, incidentally, promises me no, and I take her at her word. Well, to the best of my ability, I take her at her word.)

Addicts probably felt the same way about Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death. And I know, #depressionlies. Also depression hurts, also depression comes back, also depression kills. People diagnosed with bi-polar disorder get 9 years knocked off their life expectancy and not just because of the risk of suicide, but also because of higher rates of every kind of health misery. (I remind myself of this every time I worry about the fact that I’m using up my retirement savings trying to be a writer. It matters less for me because I’m likely to have a short retirement at best, ha.)

Although lord, I really hate the people who say, “he’s in a better place.” Talk about making suicide tempting! Seriously, what’s up with that? During my earliest suicidal periods, the risk of burning in hell for eternity was a thread that tied me here. I’m not going to say it kept me alive, but if I’d thought suicide was a shortcut to heaven… well, that wouldn’t have been good for me.

But I have now seriously digressed from my story. I was sad. So I started thinking about what single object–within my extremely limited budget–could possibly make me happy? Store after store after store in the mall, all of them filled with stuff, and what object would make me happy?

I was almost out of the mall when I thought of the answer.

Zelda's best-beloved toy

Zelda’s best-beloved toy

Zelda has owned this duck for at least eight years. When a visitor comes over, she brings the duck out to the living room and offers it to them. At night-time, she searches for it. When we were on vacation, the first night she tried very intently, repeatedly, to tell me something and I finally figured out that I’d forgotten to bring her duck. Two nights ago, it was shut in the wrong room at bedtime and I had to disturb R after he’d gone to bed to retrieve it in order to get Zelda to relax. She always sleeps with it, generally after licking it for a while.

And it’s wearing out in a big way. I’ve sewed it up several times. One wing is half-chewed and both wings are held on by replacement thread. The beak’s missing, the head wobbles. It is as well-loved as any kid’s teddy or blankie. There is no way it can ever be replaced. But! The most fun object in my universe, within my budget, is definitely another duck for Zelda. So I came home and splurged and bought this plump duck. It arrives tomorrow (with some squeaky chipmunks for Bartleby and Macie, because I can’t buy one dog a toy and not give the others something) and I am so, so, so glad that the universe contains dogs and dog toys and dog love.

A dog post

For the entire time I’ve had him, Bartleby has been anxious in the car. He whimpers, he fusses, he climbs around, he tries to get into my lap while I drive or escape from his carrier if I’ve used it. It makes sense–one day last summer, his people must have stuck him in a car and then dropped him off all alone, totally throwing his world into chaos, so it’s not as if it’s unreasonable for him to be worried about car rides. Dogs remember trauma, even if they don’t exactly remember the details.

When we went on vacation, I figured he’d calm down. An hour or two on the road, and he’d relax.

Not so much.

Writing about it now, it does seem a little optimistic of me, but I thought he’d get tired and go to sleep. And the RV was nice and big with plenty of places for a dog to nap, especially for a dog who likes to hide in small spaces. Under the table, behind the bed, on the floor of the passenger-side seat–lots of options.

Instead he cried and fussed and tried to get in my lap and was a general pain for days. He made himself thoroughly unpleasant to R, growling and snapping at him when I was driving. He also had ear infections for which he needed daily ear cleanings and ear drops and he was miserable about those. He wound up biting me once, actually drawing blood, when I was trying to hold him still and I finally had to muzzle him twice daily. Eesh.

But I persevered, of course, and we were on the road, so it wasn’t as if I could change plans, and when he was mean to R, I made sure to be super-nice to R, petting his arms and talking softly to him. R thought that was creepy, I think, but Bartleby needed to see that R outranked him in our pack and that growling at R meant R got attention and love. That was my theory, anyway.

I think it was a good theory. By the time we were driving home, Bartleby had relaxed. His favorite seat was the front passenger side. He’d curl up in it and sleep, then stand up on his back legs, peek out the window, check the road, then lie back down and go back to sleep again. He stopped whimpering and while he didn’t exactly get easy about his ear drops, I don’t have to muzzle him every time anymore. And he stopped growling at R, as far as I can judge.

And I think my optimism has been rewarded. Now that we’re at home, Bartleby is being a sweetheart. Over the course of the year that he’s been with me, he relaxed a lot. He went from constantly hiding to generally hanging out with us. He’s a lap dog, and loves to be held and petted, but he also… well, expects to be ignored, if that makes sense. He’s a self-sufficient little guy. (Not literally, obviously–he does not go out hunting his own dinner.) In the last week, though, he seems to have gone from a reserved affection to decided fondness. Nothing like Zelda’s level of devotion, of course–Zelda is the poster girl for unconditional doggie adoration. But a notch up. So much so that he is now (for the first time) responding to his name when called, sitting down upon command whether or not I have dinner in my hand, and every once in a while tentatively licking me. I would think it cute how careful he is with his kisses, if I didn’t mostly think it’s sad that he’s so cautious.

He’s still getting ear drops and he still hates it, but he watches me and listens to me, and mostly puts up with it. Such a good dog he is.

In a related R story, R found a Yorkie in the road the other day. No tag, no collar, tangled fur. He made his friend stop her car so he could get out and get the dog out of the road and then they wandered door to door for a bit looking for an owner. And/or someone who would take the dog off their hands. He said he spent the whole time with a deep fear that he was going to wind up bringing the dog home with him and that we would end up with four dogs living with us. I think maybe he’s afraid that I’m turning into the dog version of the crazy cat lady. But eventually an owner came out of a house and claimed the Yorkie, so with much relief, he was free. He told me this story and I laughed, as I was meant to, but afterwards, I was so ridiculously filled with pride. He stumbled across a lost dog and he didn’t just leave it in danger or to be someone else’s problem. He took the time to make sure the dog was safe. Such a good boy he is.

Updates

This’ll be a weird little post but that’s the kind of mood I’m in.

1) Glitter nail polish is extremely difficult to remove. I scrubbed at a single nail for a couple minutes before giving up and scraping it off with a nail file and there are still silver specks on the nail. That stuff is like glue. My finger nails may still be glittery weeks from now. I bet my toes will still have glitter on them at midwinter.

2) I remembered I should mention that the audiobook of A Lonely Magic is not going to happen anytime soon. I went back and forth with the ACX guy. He had nice comments for my delivery but I couldn’t manage to get rid of the background noise he spotted, because Florida + summer + closet recording studio = yes, the air-conditioner has to be running. I might try again in winter, if I’m feeling like reading aloud for hours a day would be fun. That sounds pretty unlikely, doesn’t it? More realistically, I might try again if I can get an audio producer willing to do all the hard parts, while I do the reading.

3) A Gift of Ghosts reached an amazing milestone today–two hundred 5-star reviews. For my quirky little book, with its video-game playing hero and anxious, geeky heroine! I feel proud, humbled, (embarrassed that I might sound like I’m bragging!)… but mostly like the world has more possible friends in it than I ever realized. It’s a good feeling. I’m celebrating by returning to Eureka for a while. I’m going to complete Reckless, a fanfic that I’ve left unfinished for almost three years now. I suppose that’s sort of an odd celebration, but it feels fitting.

Home Sweet Home

Actually, home is sort of a chaotic mess at the moment, but still, it’s nice to be back here.

I had great visions of blogging while we were on vacation, writing quick little daily updates about our adventures, turning it into a vacation that I would always remember… but yeah, that didn’t happen. I also imagined myself reading my auto-immune cookbooks and planning out a month’s worth of menu plans, with recipes and shopping lists, during the copious free time that I would have while R drove the RV. Turns out that didn’t happen, either. I did get to be a passenger some of the time, but I used it pressing buttons on the radio searching for some station that we’d both enjoy (memo to self: next time bring CDs!) or trying to convince the dogs that they didn’t really both need to be in my lap. And occasionally napping.

On the surface, it was a prosaic enough vacation: R and I drove to Pennsylvania and visited relatives. I got to spend some time with an aunt and uncle in State College, an aunt and cousin in New Jersey, and my brother and his family in Allentown. Exciting, right? But it felt like an adventure, because it was the first time I’d driven the RV any serious distance. Putting gas into the RV–and more importantly, getting into and out of the gas station without hitting anything–felt like such a triumph. Setting it up at the campgrounds (admittedly with the help of a lovely 10-point checklist that my dad created for us) made me feel terribly competent. Sewer hose? Sure, I can do that! Oh, I screwed up a few times. The worst was when I scraped the side against a metal railing. Oops. It made a horrendous noise, but my dad scoffed at me when I pointed out the resulting scrape. Good thing RVs are tough.

Two other new things from vacation:

2014-08-03 15.03.56

Yes, I put glitter on my fingernails. Well, I didn’t. A nice woman at a nail salon did. When I told her I was camping, she tried to talk me into some kind of gel polish that would apparently last for a really long time. I declined, because I was sort of infatuated with the idea of purple glitter, mostly because it seemed so wildly inappropriate for camping. But I didn’t want it to last for a long time. Two days seemed just fine. Once it was on, though, I was totally sold. My nails look ridiculous and I love them. I may become a purple glitter kind of person.

photo of me driving W's tractor

And the other new thing I did. I said after I got off that I never knew driving a tractor was on my bucket list, but oh, it was. Picking up the dirt and moving it around took me several tries–figuring out that scoop thing was not as easy as it looked–but it was so fun! Like playing in a giant-size sandbox.

Now that I’m home, it’s time to start writing again. I feel surprisingly uninspired, though. The combination of the house disaster, R’s college financial aid numbers and some unexpected vet & medical bills means that I’m stressing about money. I wish that motivated me, but instead it seems to stifle me. I think it’s because I know the economics of writing don’t make sense. I’d earn more at a minimum wage job. I read a blog post today that talked about the formula for success–which is apparently releasing a bunch of books at the same time, followed by another a month later, followed by another two months later. That’s how to keep visibility high and make your books discoverable. So let’s see, seven books… at my average speed, that’ll take me about four years. So four years from now, I might be successful. Unfortunately, I’ll be homeless and starving before then. That’s not good math.

But, hey, it was a nice vacation and I’m glad I took it despite the chaos. Tomorrow will be whatever it is, but yesterday–and the preceding eight days!–was a good day and I get to be glad that I had it.

Gluten Reactions

I ate a little gluten yesterday. R and I escaped from the noisy house (the gigantic fans are still running 24 hours a day, trying to dry the place out) and went out to breakfast. My order came with an unexpected English muffin and I took a few bites of it.

I’m not sure why I did it. Was it curiosity? Did I want to see what would happen? I’ve been feeling horrible lately–depressed, exhausted, congested. I’m pretty sure I’ve got another sinus infection and my allergies have been attacking nonstop. Maybe I thought I might as well eat gluten because it couldn’t make me feel worse.

I was wrong.

Wow, was I wrong.

All of the pain in my joints that I’ve attributed to early-onset arthritis (diagnosed seven years ago) is back today. My knees ache. My fingers and toes hurt. And my stomach is upset. *sigh*

I suppose that’s good to know, especially as we head into the vacation that I am still determined to have. Chances were that I would have eaten gluten at some point during the trip, simply because it’s so hard to avoid. Now I’ll be reminded of the cost. But I am definitely feeling sorry for myself today. I wish it had at least been a chocolate cupcake or some really good French toast.

In nicer news, the insurance guy is coming this afternoon, so at least I can get that out of the way. I’ve never dealt with an insurance claim before so I’m not sure what to expect. I’d love to ask him author-type questions because it seems like it could be a really cool job for a character in a story–but maybe I’m basing that idea on the characters in Leverage rather than reality!