Ribsy Triumphs; Reflux Triumphs; Student Tsunami

Three quick things

1. Ribsy lost a pound and a half last week. I won't be doing the Weight Watchers weigh in until after the New Year, and then I will get back to my weight reports.

2. I went to the emergency room to have a fake heart attack Monday night. It was significantly different from the usual reflux attack, so we were all a little worried. However, after a two day intensive round of cardiac testing, I am pleased that it wasn't my heart. Yippee! I suspect it is my reflux acting in different ways because I have changed my food and exercise habits lately--eating late and exercising more. So, I need to learn how to manage reflux within new parameters. Dr. Banks and I talk next week. Meanwhile, the highlight of the evening was watching Matrix 2 while jacked up on morphine at 1 am. If this weren't a family show, I'd recommend you give it a whirl. :)

3. We will probably hit 500 ELA students at work this spring. My job is even MOAR intense than usual. Which could have contributed to number 2, although I do try to relax. Honest. Anyway, we have six interviews for new teachers, and I've blocked off some time to interview students. This is an amazing thing. I'm so impressed that students have pegged Kirkwood as THE place to come and study English.

I'm moving right along on draft 3, considering. :) I also had a letter from a fan of my old Harry Potter fan fiction, asking for Substance in its original incarnation. Gratifying to be remembered.

With that, I hope to be back sooner rather than later. We live in hope.

The Sleep Lab

My journey into restoring my health began last October, when we discovered that my thyroid was off. I started into some counseling to help with anxiety, and I tried to slow down. I lost around 20 pounds. Things were pretty good. Working out, eating better, more secure. This fall notwithstanding, the overall prognosis has been excellent. And, as you might remember from yesterday's post, I'm ready for phase 2, and to knock off the backsliding.

At my checkup in October, I was sure that the doc would adjust my thyroid meds, because I still feel tired often. I get enough sleep. I call it a night at 9:30 and I'm up at 5:30. Do the math. My problem, it seems, is sleep apnea, which to my way of thinking is a better diagnosis than, "you're old now." So, in order to both diagnose, and to get my CPAP up and running, I've been to/will be returning to the sleep lab.

What's it like to have a sleep test? Well, you go to a room that looks like a hotel room with an intercom and all sorts of fun wires and monitors. When you get a sleep test, they paste a bunch of diodes into your hair, and put monitors on your heart, your rib cage, and your legs, just in case your problem isn't with your airway. Then you take a couple of sleeping pills and fade in and out of consciousness all night.

This time around, they'll be fitting me with a CPAP. I don't have serious apnea, because they didn't do the adjustment the first night I was there, but I do have it. On the scale of apnea, where a 4 is normal, I scored a 16, so we were pretty sure that's what was going on. As women get older, our likelihood of apnea evens up with men's. It increases 20 fold. And I have tiny little air passages in my nose, another sign.

So, this is where I'll ring in 2015. At the sleep lab, wired for sound. And then we'll have a CPAP, and we'll see if we have more energy.

Hope all of you are well.

The Return of Ribsy

Still working on the novel, ending the semester, hiring a boatload of new teachers, all that.

I have gained a bit of weight back. I am now at these stats:

Beginning Weight at Weight Watchers: 224.8
Current Weight Watchers Weight: 210.2
Lost: -14.6

Beginning Wii Weight: 223
Current Wii Weight: 207.2
Lost: -16.6

The last time I made goal weight, Bryon gave me the nickname Ribsy, affectionately after Henry Huggins' dog. Sure, Ribsy was a boy dog, but the point was you could count my ribs. I am now beginning phase 2. I'll be monitoring what I eat more closely and making sure I work out each day. Why? Well, I'd like to lose another 30 pounds before we go on our cruise this summer. I have a lot of--um--voluptuous cruise pictures already, and I'd like to have some differently shaped ones.

The battle for good health continues!

In other health related news, I will be getting my second sleep study on December 31st. Yes, this woman knows how to party on New Year's Eve. What's that, you say? You didn't know I was getting a sleep study? You don't even know what a sleep study is all about? Well...next entry then. Hardware for slumber.

Penguins of Madagascar

In an attempt to distract ourselves from our cat grief, Bryon and I went to see The Penguins of Madagascar movie over the holiday weekend. I do like my penguins, their punny humor, their wry caricatures, and just the witty delivery of the script. It's kind of off beat, but so am I.

I bring Penguins to your attention, because I've been working with My Story Can Beat Up Your Story this year, and if you would like to see a movie that brings all of the script writing theory in that book together, it is this movie. It sets up the story arcs perfectly, the characters are archetypal, there are items introduced early in the film that will become pivotal later, and so on. Get the book, read it, and then go see Penguins.

If you feel weird about seeing Penguins, two of the voices are John Malkovich and Benedict Cumberbatch. There. Now you can feel high brow about seeing Penguins.

Sekhmet Passes Away

Our beautiful but eccentric introvert Sekhmet passed away early Thanksgiving morning. She was 14.

As cats go, Sekhmet was hardly endearing. We used to say that she was had no favorite people. Rather, she had a couple of people she feared the least. But she had her moments, especially in the morning. Her routine would be to pounce up on the bed, get petted, have me follow her around to her places of power for more petting: the plant stand, the dresser, the door. She play with her flying mouse attached to an elastic string, and then about the time I'd go to brush my teeth, she'd hop into the tub for a drink. And at the end of our shower, she'd want to explore the insides of whatever clothes we'd gotten out for the day.

She was a tiny thing. In her middle age, she had a pudgy period, but since her cancer two years back, we had the devil of a time keeping flesh on her bones. When she died she weighed six pounds. We couldn't get her to eat. On Monday night, she had a small attack, and we think it might have been a stroke. She had seizures that sometimes took her back legs out for 30 seconds, but this was different. After this, she doddered and couldn't keep her head up. Because I had to work Tuesday, Bryon took her to the vet, perhaps to put her to sleep. The vet thought that maybe she had an infection that was affecting her nervous system, so we kept her alive for two more days trying pills and feeding her with an eye dropper. She didn't make it more than two days.

Of course, she's been our companion for 14 years. We feel her loss. We feel the house is emptier. Bastet, her litter mate, robust and fat at 14, hasn't really noticed so that we can tell. They spent most of their time in other areas of the house.

As is our custom, we have hung her picture on the wall, along with our deceased boys Toby and Michael. Sekhmet is lying sleek and black in a window, her sea green eyes shining at us from across the room. Our little runt. Our pumpkin princess. Our perpetual kitten. Our miniature indoor panther. A cat collects a lot of mythos and nicknames in 14 years. Good bye, sweet little one. I miss you. Even the hissing.

And Then the Last Few Weeks Caught Up with Me

Saturday night I had an anxiety attack. Sore chest, anxiousness, all that. Nope, I stayed home. I knew it for what it was.

We'd had a good day out at the movies with our friends Mark and Michelle, and I'd settled down to check some papers, except no, that just wasn't where I was going to go. I was, instead, overwhelmed. So I spent the night relaxing, and I checked papers yesterday. I also put myself in a carb induced coma and watched a lot of junky television. Mission: Impossible Season 5 is seriously mod. Leonard Nimoy has second degree burns.

My theory is that the last few weeks have finally caught up with my biochemistry. Bad Schaff-Stump. Not meditating. Not taking breaks at work. Not walking enough. Worrying about husband and his family. Feeling guilty about own family. Filling all spare time with chores. Turning everything into a checklist.

Relapse is freakin' wonderful.

I've also gained about 5 pounds, which is about right with the plantar fasciitis, the food of two conferences and a bed and breakfast stay, unhappiness and stress. And the heartburn is back. Oh yeah.

***

So, I'm writing tonight. Stress reducing exercise will be number one for the next several days and I'm putting myself on 2 Xanax a day until further notice. It really helps. I mean, right now, I am super mellow. What I really want to see is if these steps will help me stop freaking at work, which I did today. While my introvert battery should have been drained, I shouldn't have been freaking. It wasn't that bad a day. I'm just getting used to freaking.

Ah well. If it were easy, everyone would be sane. At any rate, I'll be keeping you posted. I'll try to write here more. That's a nice little break. And if I'm writing fiction, instead, I'll at least let you know that.

I dunno, man. All I can say is this: If you're young, and you're a workaholic, and you don't see it catching up with you, knock it off. You're in for a hell of a surprise after 40 if you don't develop some good living and relaxing habits. I mean that most seriously.

Ah well. The silver lining is I don't appear able to have anxiety and depression at the same time. You take what you can get.

Remember--relax and goof off. Nothing is more important for your health. They say fruit and veggies. I say happiness, and will continue to be a believer.

Rise of the Spider Goddess by Jim C. Hines

I'd like to tell you that I've been so busy that I haven't had any time to see straight. It would be some sort of type A boast. And while that is technically true, apparently I've found enough time to read the ARC of Rise of the Spider Goddess that writer Jim C. Hines was kind enough to send to me.

Well. Kind is a pretty strong word in this case. Let me explain what this is, and you'll see what I mean.

A while back, Jim and a lot of authors did a fund raiser, in which the authors did a myriad of, dare I suggest it, foolish things. Jim's contribution was to read part of his very first novel Rise of the Spider Goddess in costume, dressed as the main protagonist Nakor. Some readers rightfully rolled their eyes and went back about their business. Other readers said the most foolish thing. "Hey, Jim, I'd like to see more of that."

Now, lest you think that Jim Hines was some sort of progeny, that honeyed, golden words fall from his mouth like coins in a fairytale, no, this isn't a good novel. It is what you would expect a first novel to be. Do you remember your first novel? Readers, your experience was very different than that of us writers. Mine was about a dimension behind a magic mirror which had overtones of Alice in Wonderland meets The Secret Garden. Yes, I still own it. No, I will not succumb to Hines-ism, this rare disease that renders a novelist suggestible enough that they decide it's a good idea to publish a first novel. I should burn that, though. God only know that some time in the distant future Lynn Thomas might get her archiving little hands on it, and I will regret having kept any juvenilia.

But I digress. And getting her hands on that first novel would not be as bad as getting her hands on that Man from U.N.C.L.E. fan fiction that I wrote when I was 18. And lest you think that's a digression, it's about the quality of Rise of the Spider Goddess.

So, now that I've lampooned Jim's decision to publish the angsty elf angst of Nakor and the angsty vampiric angst of Galadrion (no relation to anyone Tolkien. I have a notarized document about that.), why should you read this?

First of all, Jim's a funny guy and he MSTKs the entire novel for your reading pleasure. To have Jim talking to his 1995 self about various word rehabilitations and talk about the nature of bad guys, well, that's awesomely entertaining.

Secondly, Jim is putting an idea out there. Beginning novels suck. He did get better. You can too, if you work at it. There are no magical fairy (or elf) people who don't have to work at improving their writing, no matter how much magical elf talent they have at writing.

Thirdly, intentionally or otherwise, this novel is so by the book high fantasy that it becomes a parody of the genre. Mmmm. Now, I'm in the mood for bread, cheese, stew, and I want to go ride a horse.

It's all here. Scenes with no transitions. Bad proofreading. Flashbacks sprinkled willy nilly with (still) no transitions. Left out words. Stilted dialogue. Zero world building. See a Hugo award winning writer show you how much he sucked! And then, to get the taste out of your brain, go by some really good Jim Hines fiction. A personal favorite is The Mermaid's Madness, but you could read all the Jig books, or Libriomancer and still come out okay.

The point? See how far he's come! And then, get crackin', because I could be reviewing your first novel in twenty years after you are a successful novelist just like this. Unless I'm still trying to break into Lynn Thomas's archive and retrieve the aforementioned fan fiction. Then you might have to wait 21 years.

As a bonus, you learn a lot about Dungeons and Dragons by reading this novel

Seriously, pick this up. It's fun, and I've seen the cover. I think you'll want it for the cover, especially after you've read the thing.

Organizing a Writing Workshop

So, that was a wrap on the third Paradise Icon. People seemed very happy with it. I've learned a few things about organizing a writing workshop now, and here are a few things that I think work.

1. Downtime is as important as on time. We critiqued for six hours on Friday, but with breaks between. We had Friday night. Saturday we had three hours of lectures, two hours of reading, and another two hours of author meet and greet. And everything is optional. If you need a nap, you take it. If you need to recharge your batteries, you do it.

2. Fun. That said, very few people took those breaks. We had a lot of fun, the group of people easy going, funny, and relaxed. The teachers we had for the seminars were great. The author meet and greet was a chance to stretch our muscles in a different way, and the reading was also good. We tried to have activities that were fun, and if you weren't having fun, you should default to optional.

3. Variety. I think that doing so many different kinds of activities helps too. Hopefully there's a good fit for everyone at the workshop.

4. The con. If you don't want downtime, there's always something for you to do. Bar con, or actual con. It's a bit like having a retreat in Vegas.

5. Logistics. Making sure everyone had a ride. Everyone knew where to go. That water was available. Think about amenities in advance. That really helps with organization.

6. Niceness. Treat everyone at the even with courtesy and politeness. Yes, even if you do have a low level headache all weekend (did anyone know?) Because if you're hosting, that's what you gotta do.

7. Make the event special. Find the good restaurants. Make sure people eat.

A lot of this depends on the mix of people. We've been very lucky at PI to have nice people who critique well. Not too much drama in Iowa so far.

Mostly, though, what has made Paradise Icon work is that I've been very lucky to have high caliber attendees the last 3 years, who treat each other with respect. I expect we'll have a few returnees next year, but we'll probably also have some open slots, and if you can bring yourself to Iowa, well, you'll meet some really nice people, I suspect.

Next year, I've already lined up Tamara Siler Jones to speak. Icon's guest will be David Gerrold, and we're also keeping our fingers crossed for Ann Leckie. As an added bonus, I'll ask Joe Haldeman to think about coming in for a Q&A, as requested.