Let’s Look at Pictures: Back from Vegas Edition

First, I should say that I can barely put words together right now. I felt this slide into speechlessness and fatigue happen right after dinner. And lemme tell ya: it sucks. I know, I know, that’s my mantra these days. But I’ve always loved being busy, doing everything, absorbing the whole world and then finding more to do.

Funny–that’s sort of like Las Vegas. It’s probably why I love that absurd party town in the desert, that fist in God’s eye, that irrational need for 24-hour pleasure gone just a little further into batshit-crazy territory.

It doesn’t make sense that I love Vegas as much as I do. I’m not a gambler or a heavy drinker. I tend not to like loud music or tacky advertising or, well, people in general. I’m an introvert who flirts with the autism spectrum. I like the feeling of being all alone, a guru on a hill.

But then there’s Vegas, where everything I dislike about the outside world meshes in such a beautiful rush that I can’t help getting caught up in it. I love the flow of bodies on the Strip. I love the chaos of meandering vacationers and conventioneers. I love that you can find another universe across the street, even though you can’t escape the same damned slot machines burbling away, or the identical alcoholic slushy bars, or the two or three companies that own, like, 90% of all the primo casino real estate. (The MGM group owns something like 15 different casinos. Where’s a good old-fashioned trust-breaker when you need one?)

I love taking it all in. It’s a bombastic shriek of cheesy culture all crammed together in one spot. And then if you want, you can take off into the desert where there’s nothing but mountains and rock and Joshua trees and miles and miles of empty space.

262

067

061

 

 

076

113

 

170

So I’m back from a 10-day Vegas vacation. On top of everything else, I’m guessing I have the post-vacation blues.

A Little More Jan Hooks

Every time Jan Hooks re-enters the pop culture blood stream, I get a tremendous spike in my readership. Last Saturday, it happened again. SNL reran an episode that included a tribute to Hooks, the “Love Is a Dream” sketch, now a bona fide tear-jerker since both Hooks and Phil Hartman are gone. Apparently, people are still searching for information on what happened to her last October. (There’s still no new information, by the way. Only Wikipedia citing a single Daily Mail article, which cited the head of her building’s co-op as their big source on Hooks’s cause of death.) I, too, wish we knew more, but I also wish we had more of her and her work. She was so very, very funny. And she disappeared from the public eye far too soon.

But we’ve been all been saying the same thing for several months now, so here’s something I never saw until Salon mentioned it in a recent interview with Nora Dunn:  a clip of Dunn and Hooks as the Sweeney Sisters, opening the Emmys in 1988. The video quality is pretty bad, but the show Dunn and Hooks put on is a little snippet of lunatic brilliance. Possibly the best part happens when the Sweeneys leave the stage and start accosting all the celebrities in the audience. (Think famous actors like being messed with when they’re the ones watching something onstage? Think again.)

Enjoy the clip, everyone! And be sure to check out this exhaustive essay on Hooks’s career from blogger Little Kicks Dance, who pulls together an amazing amount of material on Hooks’s life and personality as well. My hat’s off to you, Little Kicks Dance. A big, giant virtual bottle of tequila for you in honor of collecting, like, ten times the amount of quality material than the Daily Mail’s “let’s interview the head of her co-op” reporting staff did!

My Life on Lupus: My First Acupuncture

Imagine this cotton ball is the top of my head.

Dear God, I’m a slow blogger. I’ve just figured out that I’ve posted exactly zero entries for July 2015. All those witty observations and enlightened ruminations I meant to put into blog form (I swear!) tragically never made it onto the computer, and I feel kinda crappy about that. What kind of writer am I if I’m not constantly bombarding the Interwebs with evidence of my existence?

(Yeah, don’t answer that, anybody. Especially certain arrogant representations of certain iconic authors, in action-figure form, currently sitting on my bookshelf.)

Granted, I have been through about a month of trying new meds, flaking out on them, and recovering from the flake-out. Which brings me to today, and this very post about acupuncture and Me Trying It Out. You see, after the fourth medication that amped up my anxiety to the point where I was constantly thinking about how I was going to die, I decided that perhaps I ought to try something for the pain in my hands and feet that didn’t involve changing my body chemistry. (Actually, most of my new meds of recent weeks have been for my exciting, recently diagnosed esssential tremor, but we’ll set that fact aside for the moment.) And since I’m a bit leery of massage therapy after a blood clot grew in my head right above a spot in my neck that a massage therapist in Iowa had earlier pinched the hell out of, I decided to try acupuncture. Other reasons for giving acupuncture a go: 1) I’ve been stuck with so many needles in 17 years that the needle fear center of my brain has withered away to nothing; 2) a few weeks back, when I got an EMG test to see how the nerves in my feet were doing, the doctors gave me little electric shocks through tiny acupuncture-like needles, and after the initial jolt of pain the zapping kinda felt good; and 3) I desperately want someone else to rub or press or stab away the pain in my body.

So this morning, I went to an appointment that I thought would be a regular old intake session but was, in fact, my first foray into Chinese medicine. Two rounds of needles: one with me face down, the other with me lying on my back. A heated bio mat was involved, as well as an eye pillow, which might have been more relaxing than the needles themselves. One thing that struck me as odd was that there wasn’t a lot of activity involved with the process. When you get a massage, obviously the massage therapist is there in the room with you, constantly oiling you down and manipulating your various muscles. With the needle treatment, the acupuncturist sticks you in a few places and leaves the room–I guess because the needles themselves are supposed to be doing all the work.

And it does feel like something was done to my body, something more than the penetration of my skin with sharp metal threads. The sensation is sort of like someone took certain of my muscles on a long marathon. Very specific areas of my body feel energized and sore at the same time. There have also been little itches and twitches throughout the day, little pricks of pain, like my whole body is in the process of bubbling. I don’t know how else to describe it, and I don’t know what the sensations mean. I don’t know what I’m going to feel like tomorrow. Maybe that’s the real point of the process: bringing the present into focus, so you can be mindful of your true reality.

I hope tomorrow I feel a tiny smidge better.

The Blind Can See, and Other Miracles

Health shall live free, and sickness freely die.

 

Let me not to the marriage of true minds

Admit impediments. Love is not love

Which alters when it alteration finds,

Or bends with the remover to remove.

–You-know-who

Wow, what a difference a couple of days makes. Since my life is a perpetual chemistry experiment, I figured out that a lot of my anxiety was coming from a new pill that I’m now coming off of. And then, just in time for me to start feeling like the world isn’t such a terrifying place, we get news that bad writing doesn’t mean everyone will lose their health insurance AND people who don’t think any two consenting adults should have the right to get married can suck it up or move to Russia. (Yes, all you liberals out there, the world is such a crazy place, we can now tell right-wing ideologues that Russia is the place for them.)

Even Mighty Tiny Bill is celebrating.

“Scalia, thou’rt a villain. And a beef-witted, barren-spirited villain at that.”

 I personally would like to hold on to this feeling of amazement and wonder at the world for as long as it lasts. So here’s yet another antidote to sliding back into Internet Outrage too quickly (or wallowing too deeply in Internet Schadenfreude): the podcast Invisibilia aired an episode that explores how blind people can learn to see through–get ready, Fickle Readers–echolocation. I swear this is completely true. I listened to the program on my way back and forth from one of my many doctor’s appointments, part of the medical structure keeping me alive, moving forward, and sane, and I kid you not, I started thinking differently about my whole life. An absolute Must Listen To for anyone who feels like the world is entirely populated by stop signs, roadblocks, and sadistic, greedy monsters.

Thanks, Alix and Lulu, for your wonderful insight into what humans can be, instead of all the things they can’t.

And thanks to the God of Stories for making this week one for the record books.

My Life on Lupus: I Fear

The past 24 hours or so have been really shitty. That’s what I get for trying to have a life. My oldest and dearest friend Donna and I went to see Paul McCartney on Sunday. We spent major bucks to get a seat on the floor, and it was 100% worth it. Now, though, I’m barely functional. And whenever that happens, the fear starts creeping in:

I’m all alone. I’m going to die. I have to take care of myself, my son, my house, and there’s no one around to help me.

It doesn’t make matters better that I’m terrible at asking for help. I’m a bona-fide loner and always have been. I hate the fact that I can’t earn a living like everyone else. I hate the fact that my husband has to be the sole breadwinner. I hate the fact that when I’m laid out, my husband has to do everything after a long day of work. I hate the fact that death happens and separates us all from each other. And I really, REALLY hate the fact that what should have been a transcendent, once-in-a-lifetime experience sitting twenty rows away from Paul McCartney has to wind up with me lying on my back wondering what it’s going to be like when I’m completely debilitated and my entire family is dead. (Okay, yeah, that’s not really going to happen. That’s the lupus sinking its teeth into my psyche. Still, it’s hard to talk myself out of this sort of thinking when it really gets going, and the juices of depression and fear just won’t let go.)

Anyway, today I’m doing something I’ve never done before: I’m posting one of my creative pieces on my site. I wrote this about fifteen years ago. It never got picked up by any of the literary journals I sent it to, probably because it’s too long and rambly and sometimes it’s a little too cute as well, the humor a wee bit forced. I want to post it here, though, because I can’t submit it anymore, I can’t work on it anymore, yet I still want it to be out there. We lupies don’t really have a pool of literature, and we need one, if only to make people understand how confusing and lonely lupus can make you feel. Also, I don’t want to feel like I contributed nothing, have no written legacy anywhere, except for a few poems and essays and a little tiny chapbook that only sold 100 or so copies. For a self-absorbed writer like me, that completely sucks donkey balls.

The essay is under Miss Fickle’s Lupus Story now. Please read if you’re interested.

The Goddamned Writing Life: Submitting to Contests When You Know You’re Going to Lose

Ah, the submissions game! That nasty sport that comes with a double-edged sword. If you’re a writer and you want to have something resembling a career, you have to participate, but you also have to be secure enough with the knowledge that you will be hacked to pieces over and over again for each chance you get to win. It’s a messy business. Usually, the more you submit, the easier it gets to take all those impersonal rejections, but then again, the process itself forces you to be vulnerable. Here is my manuscript, you say as you bend the knee to an editor, agent, or slush-pile reader. It is the best work I’ve got. I submit for your judgment and approval.

I submit, I submit.

Even when publishers and other receivers of written work are as nice as they can be about the system, the submission of a manuscript and the submission to authority are still intertwined in an uncomfortable way. And when it comes to writing contests, that discomfort increases a hundred fold–at least if you’re me.

See, I don’t like to lose. I REALLY don’t like to lose. I was one of those little kids that accumulated ribbons and certificates and teacherly praise. That was my identity in school–the winner!–and if there was no way in hell I could win (say, in P.E. class, where I was flubby and slow and didn’t like having things thrown at my face), I let other people compete and hovered near the sidelines in the hopes no one would see me.

I don’t like having to do that with my writing. I really REALLY don’t like the idea that I have to compete with hundreds of other writers–some with well-established careers and several books to their names–to get a chance to, say, publish a book of poetry, or even a chapbook. That seems patently unfair to me. I realize it’s the system, but it also seems like the reverse of vanity publishing: instead of paying a fee to get your work published, you’re paying to get someone else’s work published.

Of course, you might win the contest. You might also win the lottery or get into Harvard Medical School–your odds are roughly the same, or maybe slightly worse. Most small publishers are looking for maybe a handful of titles per year. Some are looking for only one. One out of a pool of hundreds of manuscripts–500, 750, maybe even more like a thousand. And you have to pay for the opportunity to lose big time. Christ. Why am I even thinking about going through this humiliating process again?

Well, because I have a chapbook manuscript to send out. Actually, I have two. One is arguably better than the other, but it would be nice to get something published again. And yes, I did beat the system once. Several years ago, I got published by Finishing Line Press, a small press based in Kentucky. It was a wonderful feeling to say, yes, I have a book out–a little, tiny book, but something that’s all my work. Finishing Line publishes a long list of titles per year. They have a contest, but they also choose titles (like mine) that don’t make the cut but that the editors still think are worthwhile. They are not gatekeepers and have given many writers a chance to get their work out into the world. I’m thoroughly humbled and grateful that they gave me my first break. I’m not so sure how I would have fared otherwise.

So why am I shopping more manuscripts around again, when the same clunky, resource-eating, soul-crushing contest system is still in place? Well, I guess part of it’s my eternal optimism. (Hah!) Part is understanding that, at the very least, the contest fees I submit help the publications and presses that I want to support. Just this weekend, I sent one of my manuscripts to a contest, and I know I’m going to lose. No, really, I KNOW without a shadow of a doubt that I will NOT be taking home the prize, nor will I get a mention on the list of notable entries, either. Still, I like the press, and I like the editor who runs it. So I decided to take a chance, because it’s always possible that lightning could strike, and because it’s nice to help out a good organization.

In this day and age, I don’t know if that makes me a Pollyanna-style idealist or a chump. But that’s what I did, and that’s what I’m going to continue to do until I get lucky again or run out of stamina or disposable income. That is the news from my writing world that I submit to you, Fickle Readers. Wish me luck.