The Why of The Who

When I was very little, I thought I was a cat.  Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say I thought cats were people like me.  I wasn’t a hundred percent clear on whether the cats would grow up to be me, or I’d grow up to be a cat.

You see, I was the much younger (my brother is almost ten years older than I and my (female) cousin raised with us like a sister is fourteen years older than I, and our other cousin raised nearby/in interaction with us was yet older than her, though I confess I don’t precisely know by how much.  You see, to me he was always a grown man. Because even fourteen year olds seem that way when you’re a toddler.

Normally, I suppose, this wouldn’t be a big deal, except for where I lived.  In retrospect mom’s expressed instructions that I choose my friends from the “cleaner” children in the village wasn’t bigotry but exasperation after the third or forth time she had to rid my waist-long hair of lice.  (I didn’t get my hair cut till my teenage years.)

The formative sense of my childhood, given where I lived, was loneliness.  Not so much after I entered elementary at six, and made friends with my desk mate, a friendship that continued, despite distance and differences (she married a Frenchman) until a few years ago, when I got so busy I lost track of her or she of me (if you read this, Isa, I miss you.)

This is part of the reason that by the time I entered elementary, I was reading.  And even after I had friend(s) loneliness remained, because you see, I was very sickly.  And though this was the sixties, habits of the times without antibiotics prevailed in Portugal.  I don’t think I attended even 3/4 of a school year until 6th grade.  (For some reason puberty fixed a lot of my immune issues.  No, I don’t know why.)  And when I was sick, I might spend one or two solid weeks in bed, not allowed to go out or have visits (other than my brother who read to me, and did voices and who was probably responsible for my learning to read by memorizing what words went with which square in the comic book.)

Before I could read (and even after) I spent an enormous amount of my time building entire cities out of legos and imagining the lives of people in them.

I remember vividly the last phase of that, when I must have been twelve or fourteen, and used to go to my grandmother’s in the afternoons, and build those cities out of scraps of wood from grandad’s workshop, and bits of leaves, and stuff, and then populate them with tiny plastic dogs.

Okay: the plastic dogs were free giveaways with detergent.  In an attempt to get people to stop making their own wash soap, the detergent companies deployed the most powerful leverage they could.  Yep, that’s right.  They bribed kids.  It took me a while after being in the US to get used to the idea that it was CEREAL boxes that offered toys, not detergent.

Most of the time the prizes were, even by cereal box standards, totally lame.  (Though I DID get a decoder ring.) It was stuff like little plastic horses, or dogs, or figurines of “professions of the world.”

But it was a lame world, back when pictures were in black and white, and honestly, most of my toys (and we weren’t that poor) were found objects, including the boxes things came in.

So kids would beg and really want these lame toys.

And when I was fourteen, I think, I took the entire batch grandma had been collecting for me (put it this way, it was after I read City, which had been given to me by the father of a high school friend) and played a Simak-like dog-populated world.  For hours.

Mind you by that time I was already writing, though I can’t remember if I wrote science fiction.  I did write endless, very bad, YA mysteries.

So, what is this in the name of?

Well, if I’m not thinking, if I let myself just be, in many ways I’m still that lonely little girl making up stories and imaginary friends. Even though I have friends, and a family and am rarely lonely.  (If nothing else I have cats, who never grow to be humans, but are good company anyway.)

So–

As a mother I look back and see all sorts of things that went wrong with raising my kids.  Things I did wrong.  I shouldn’t have put the younger one in school so early.  Or perhaps I shouldn’t have put them in school at all.  And I shouldn’t have been so demanding.  And I shouldn’t have…

But I wonder if given a choice, and the ability to do it over, my parents wouldn’t have chosen to raise us elsewhere, or at least raised me with more kids my age I could play with.  I seem to remember mom making some comments along those lines as to why I was insufficiently attached to Portugal, unlike my brother who would never leave the country because of his friends.

Oh, sure, it’s entirely possible if they’d done that, I’d have been a happier person.  Maybe.  I mean, the thing in Pratchett’s book (Lords and Ladies) about “what about when the house burned down and all our children died” if things had gone differently is a profound observation.  When we play “what if we’d done this instead” we tend to only see the rosier shades of that path. It could have gone disastrously, despite being the better path.

But let’s leave all that aside.  Let’s imagine my parents realized antibiotics made it unnecessary to keep me away from every living thing every time I was sick (Alvarim, if you’re reading this, you were clearly NOT a living thing.) Let’s say they actively went out of their way to get me little friends.  Let’s say the defining characteristic of my early childhood was instead “exciting games with kids my age.”

Would I be the same person?  Was who I am an inevitable result of my birth?  Or was it a result of where I was born and how it was then.  Or all of the above.

And I’m not saying I wouldn’t want to be … easier in the world.  More sociable.  Not overthink things so much.

BUT

BUT… would I still be me?

It’s hard not to believe that the stories come from that great, silent fund of loneliness at the bottom of who I am.

So — who are you?  There behind the eyes.  Who are you and why? For good or ill, I’m a little girl building imaginary cities (and worlds.)

Who are you?

What’s Your Story? – David Pascoe

What’s Your Story? – David Pascoe

I was about five when it happened. The first time, at least. I was minding my own business (maybe building something with my *meager* store of Legos, maybe ignoring my little sister. Probably both) when the Pop Dave put a strange and archaic object into the now-ancient (and quite defunct) device. Within moments, my conscious mind was ripped from my body and transport through time and space to a galaxy far, far away. I was no longer not-yet-kilteDave. I was a young moisture farmer on the run from the Empire! I was a budding, young Jedi with my father’s laserswordlightsaber, and the galaxy’s most evil man chasing me. Later on, I was member of the Captain’s away team (that job didn’t last very long).

After I learned to read – and got a library card – things really took off. I can’t remember all the times some kooky old guy told me I was the Chosen One, destined to topple the Dark Lord from his Dark Tower in the middle of his Dark Land. (Except for all the times the Dark Lord was a Dark Lady: hey, equal opportunity tyrant-remover, me.) I remember being a free trader, plying the spaceways. At least until the pirate attack that left half my crew dead. I’ve been a Terran Marine on strange planets, facing attack from without and mutiny from within. I’ve been a young girl, just learning about magic. I’ve been an ancient cyborg, working toward reacquainting a lost colony with the greater universe using meager resources and great wit. I’ve even done time as a clever spy, trying to keep the world from flying into a war nobody can afford, using only my cunning and charm. I’ve been a gold miner, a castaway, a stowaway, a gunslinger, a lawman, and outlaw, a scofflaw, a law-breaker, a conman, a thief, a rogue, a scoundrel, a marine, a sailor, an airman, a spaceman, a spacewoman, a space-something, and that barely scratches the surface of the people and roles books have opened to me.

I’m not bringing this up to boast about what I’ve read, or how much (not in this crowd), so much as to illustrate the depth to which reading science fiction and fantasy has informed my understanding of reality. I’ve learned about the structure – if not necessarily the attitude – of the Roman legions. I’ve learned about human nature, and how to read it. I’ve picked up tricks of leadership, and practiced observation of ethics and politics that began with my reading of scifi. And, of necessity, the voices (and attitudes) of the authors I’ve read have informed my attitudes toward same.

Makes me glad I read a bunch of libertarians and crypto-libertarians in my early life (though they fight in my head with the feudalists. Darnit, fantasy).

I’m going to venture into dangerous territory, here, and start generalizing (just a little bit). As an Odd, and usually not knowing any better, the content of the stories I’ve digested has come to shape by understanding of reality, per the above. From that, I’m going to guess (here’s the thin ice part) that most Odds are at least somewhat similar. Consequently – and I’m cutting a lot of shorts, here – the folks in the thick of the traditional publishing world have become acculturated to the stories that they grew up consuming.

Except instead of heroic work, they grew up imbibing, and digesting in, less … less freeing stories. Oh, sure, the Sexual Revolution promised freedom, along with the Age of Aquarius, but the legacy of those seems to be more a matter of anarchy (freedom of a sort, though mostly to die. Alone. In the rain) than freedom to thrive. And then there was the New Wave (chronologically they were more or less concurrent, though I expect the scifi fans had better parties), and its legacy of lit-ra-chewer (nose-inna-air) and literary “importance,” which has cast a pall over genre fiction into the present day. Through it all winds the taint of cultural Marxism.

And that’s the mindset operant in traditional publishing, and to an extent in the culture in general. Collective rights and responsibilities, but also merged (bizarrely) with the American mythos. Case in point: they believe they’re the little guy, fighting the Man for their piece of the American Dream. It’s a toxic brew, especially with the admixture of intersectionalist identity politics, as they are convinced they’re in the right. After all, there actually was a time when they were (more or less) powerless. It’s just that that particular time was decades ago, and now they hold the reins. Except … except in their minds. Or they simply justify their abuses by making a villain out of those who (however inadvertently) create genuine paths to freedom.

There’s a lot of cuts I’m shorting, in large part using the shared jargon of our particular in-group. The next step is usually a “and now go thou, and do likewise.” Only, I’ve been thinking on it, and I’m not sure there’s much to be done that we aren’t already doing. Those who aren’t writers, read. (subliminaladvertising*read our books*subliminaladvertising) And pass that on to someone who heretofore hasn’t read. Or play games that uplift the soul. Or make things, engage in citizen science, learn skills, do something to loosen the grip of the powers that be.

Those of us who create stories keep doing so, and making them Human Wave, or Superversive, or whatever label we choose to apply, but we tap those worlds where people are heroic. Where the little guy (or gal, leave us not be discriminatory based on base plumbing attachments, after all) stands up to evil. Motives surely won’t be pure, after all, they’re still human, but somewhere in there they’re doing the right thing because it’s the right thing. And most of all, let them be fun. We’re not preaching; we’re entertaining. It’s more important.

So, I’m still alive

But we had erranda (sounds so much better than errands) to run this morning, and so I haven’t been near a keyboard.

And now that I am I don’t particularly feel like blogging, so I’m going to give you one of those bizarre hodge podge posts I sometimes do.

This morning we woke up to fantasy fog.  Last year we had to drive through several of these (TO DENVER) to pick Robert up from interviews.

Fantasy fog is the sort of thick, milk-white fog where you can’t even see the sides of the road, or the bumper of the car in front of you.  On a trip to Denver, we followed the headlights of a car in front of us, without any idea if we were on a lane, two lanes, or driving on the side of the road.  We didn’t fall down the mountain and that must count as a win.  Given probabilities, in several universes we died, and Robert waited at DIA forever…

We’d have waited till the next day to pick him up, but he had a test, so…

Other than when I found myself on the road late at night, in fantasy fog, fantasy fog is a fine thing.  It sort of blurs the edges of the real and makes it seem like ANYTHING is possible.

Memorable under this heading is the day I was walking the kids to school and Kit Marlowe walked out of the fog, and past me.  Yep, Manitou is that sort of place.  The guy did have a passing resemblance to Marlowe, and he was an SCA person who favored Elizabethan wear.  He also used to walk around downtown CO springs, with sword strapped on.  Dan kept saying “There’s a time travel story in this.  I mean what better cover than “I am in the SCA?”  Because this is the way writers’ minds work.

Of course I grew up with this sort of fog, only it was black and stank.  A real peasouper.  This was because all the garbage from the city of Porto was sent to the “fertilizer factory” near us to burn.  Since the factory couldn’t accommodate it all/get permits for expansion, but the garbage still came, they would burn it in huge bonfires outside the factory.  Highly illegal, of course, but then everything was.

Since the factory was on a hill, when there was fog, it all fell down to the valley where we lived.  Which means foggy days meant being unable to breathe.  Mom has emphysema because of this.  (And genetic susceptibility.)  I wonder if it has something to do with making my immune system crazy and my airways hyper-sensitive, too.

Of course the fog here doesn’t stink, so it’s just cool and a little fantasy-like.  Provided we don’t have to drive to pick up anyone in DIA at midnight.

Other things that come to mind — I’m really trying to finish witch’s Daughter and making progress on Darkship Revenge.  I hate it when books come out together, it’s so hard to concentrate on just one.

Speaking of the song on the radio “Living like a renegade” what the heck does that mean?  Younger son sings it as “living like a darkship renegade” but unless they are Hoyt fans I have no clue what they’re talking about.  Unless of course they’re referring to the president’s secret service handle.  And anyone believe, btw. that handle was randomly bestowed?  No?  Neither do I.

Okay — having reassured you I’m alive, I’m going to go work now.

I’ll return (hopefully more coherently) on Tuesday.  Tomorrow I shall have a guest post.

 

 

Dancing with Shadows

Lately I’ve been reading a lot about the paranormal.  This is not (precisely) a Halloween frame of mind, but more that I had a book series hit me over the head unannounced.  Which is getting ridiculous as at last count I’m something like 5 books behind.

However, since I also feel like there’s something missing from Witch’s Daughter (the gentleman who just said, “yes, an ebook edition on my kindle” gets points for enthusiasm and has points deducted for impatience) it befits me to get more background.  I’ve been reading on myth and magic, but also on criptids and ghosts and that sort of thing.  Because double duty on two books/series.

BUT here’s the thing — reading about it, one can’t help consider, not just suggestibility but… How do I put this?  The effect of the human mind on the surroundings.

I’ve always found ghost hunters singularly foolhardy.  I grew up in a village and we had a healthy respect for the uncanny.  There was no avoiding that it was around and that if you went around believing in it it would just start uncanning all over the place like nobody’s business, and then where would you be?

What I mean is that things did happen for which there were no logical explanations and sometimes there weren’t even illogical ones.  You just took it that weird stuff happened and rolled with it.

What you didn’t do was going out to meet the stuff half way, look for it, or generally invite it to come around.  Because if you did that… well, there is a reason you don’t invite vampires (which don’t exist) into the house (metaphorically speaking.)  Because if you invite this stuff into your mind, things spin out of control.

Perhaps it is that the world is at least half narrativium and that reality has a bad tendency to try to accommodate what people think it is.  Oh, not in the big things.  I don’t think people can actually levitate the Denver Mint.  And I don’t think we can turn normal human beings into Homus Sovieticus.  (Or even homos sovieticus, which are like homos anywhere else, only with more hammer and sickle. Which are weird things to take into a bedroom.  Which is why the Soviet Union was gay-unfriendly [It is entirely possible this writer is low on coffee.  Bear with me.])

What I mean is that the human mind has a way of imprinting on surroundings, and a way (perhaps not yet figured out) to make other people who have had no contact with you see what isn’t there.  Trust me, I make a living by this, but I make it honestly.  I admit I’m lying.

What concerns me is not so much house where murder happened, and there’s haunts.  I mean, perhaps there’s an after image or something, some type of energy yet unplumbed that will explain this.

It’s more…

I was reading about this road in Ohio where it is said that a bus full of school kids had a crash and all onboard died, and multiple people see the ghost bus.  Only, of course, it never happened.  Or consider all the Cry Baby Bridges (I know, I know, the one near you is the real one.  I KNOW, but really, trust me) which can’t possibly be real cry baby bridges. And yet people see it/hear it.

Yes, some of this is expectation, but there is something else, something that attaches to places that people expect things to attach to.

There are dimensions to the human imagination that we don’t fully understand.

So consider where I am, even before this research (and I figured this is one of my problems with fantasy — exposing my neck too far to the things out there.  Again, I grew up in a village.  We respect the uncanny.  And sometimes even the canny.)

To be a really good writer, a fiction writer has to believe his own creation to an extent.  We have to weave it with the threads of verisimilitude and invest it with belief.  And in a way we’re trifling with the uncanny.  We’re making the imaginary real.  We’re stepping into that half light, dancing in that limnear world, enticing the uncanny in.

After a while writers get a little odd.  I’m one of the saner ones (Stop laughing.  I have a garum-loaded watergun) because I don’t see or hear my characters, except at the back of my mind, but let me tell you, I felt quite relieved when I heard that Rex Stout too knew what Nero Wolfe was doing even when he wasn’t writing him.

Because it seems crazy that you can answer questions about imaginary people without pausing to think.

But it is my job: to invite the imaginary, the non-existent, the … shadowy in, so I can make others believe in it for the space of a minute.

It’s a dangerous job.  It explains some of the crazier behavior in my field.

And it’s why it’s important to keep your logical mind sharp and grounded.  Because otherwise, the vampires will come in.

This Here Is A Promo Post – Free Range Oyster

*There will probably be another post later this afternoon, but meanwhile I have things I must do, so… listen to the ambulatory and unconfined mollusc.*

This Here Is  A Promo Post – Free Range Oyster

Alma Boykin

Chicken Feet and the Firebird

Alexi’s Tale Book 3

Alexi should have known better. Now Ivan the Purrable has a smart phone, a rusalka has her eye on him, and he’s got to keep a bunch of church scouts from being eaten by bears. And he volunteered for it. But when a storm, a fire, and angry Slavic spirits combine, even Sgt. Alexander Zolnerovich may have met his match.

CJ Carella

Bad Vibes

A story of monsters and those who hunt them.

Occult consultant Dante Godoy arrives to the small town of Redemption, Nevada, just in time to help Sheriff Matilda Knobb deal with two impossible murders. Together they will confront unspeakable evils in the night.

Shadowfall: Las Vegas

Bizarre murders. Disappearances. Suicides. Sightings of strange creatures in the night. The strangeness soon snowballs out of control, with people turning insanely violent without warning and sinister cults growing bolder and more dangerous. Nightmares come to life and monsters walk the streets of Las Vegas. And all those events are but a prelude to something far worse. Darkness is coming.

A police detective, a street gang member, an exotic dancer and a visiting tourist cross paths with a bizarre collection of occult troubleshooters trying to prevent the looming disaster. Their actions will determine whether or not Las Vegas will be destroyed by the occult forces gathering around it – and whether or not the rest of the world will follow.

Shadowfall: Las Vegas is set in the same universe as the short story Bad Vibes. It’s a horror-action novel with a dash of humor and film noir sensibilities, with a diverse and compelling cast of characters, Lovecraftian undertones and more than a few zombies.

Dante’s Demons

In a world reeling from the destruction of Las Vegas by Lovecraftian entities, troubleshooter Dante Godoy is on the front lines of the War on Horror, using magic and firepower to battle entities from beyond our reality while dealing with a very real inner demon of his own.

While investigating a murderous cult, Dante discovers a traitor within his own organization. Even worse, he is beginning to lose control over the unearthly entity living inside him. Can he save the world without losing his humanity?

A sequel to Shadowfall: Las Vegas and Bad Vibes, Dante’s Demons combines horror and action with a dash of humor.

Warning: contains graphic violence and adult language.

Your Duties

I’m not going to write about the Oregon shootings.  Not enough information is out and at this point we’d be sharing ignorance.  There is a post maybe, if the profile of the killer is accurate, because it plugs into fears I’ve had for a few years now.

There might also be (there is) a post on the sheer insanity of taking a shooting in a gun free zone as a sign we need more gun laws, as though laws were some sort of magic shield that changes reality.  Anyone who genuinely thinks that way is still in kindergarten, mentally.

But I don’t want to write about the shooting in particular.  I want to talk about this sort of event, which might not be more frequent than before (I’ve seen claims both ways) but which we’re more aware of, I guess.

My first awareness of mass killing was Black September, during the first Olympics I paid attention to.  Dad had sold it to me as this beautiful ceremony, tying in to the ancient Olympics, and how it was all about peace, and then…

Then there was 9/11.  But before that, because I live in CO, there was Columbine.  I got to not just read in horror about the school shooting, but also to be frisked whenever I dropped the kids off at pre-school while wearing a raincoat.  (We had only one car, my house was three blocks from the school and we had a ridiculously rainy year.)

And then there was Beslan.  Beslan, and knowing how easy (truly) it would be for something like that to happen in my kids’ schools almost got me to take the kids out of school and homeschool.  I’m frankly shocked we haven’t had one of those in the US yet.  I’ve expected it for years.  Maybe the terrorist scum knows us better than I thought, and knows if they touch our kids, it’s all up with them.  Maybe.

And I got to watch the school’s completely ineffective and actually counterproductive reaction to Beslan and to Columbine.

I mean, our preschool teacher informed us, in dramatic accents that she would die for our kids.  And all I could think was “Lady, I don’t want you to die for them.  I want you to protect them.”

And their grand plan was to lock the classroom doors, and let no one out.  You know, the perfectly normal classroom doors, you could kick in without much effort, and which were not bullet proof.  What this amounted to was isolating the classrooms, and making it easy for a single killer to move down a hallway shooting the kids in batch lots.

This makes absolutely no sense, of course, unless you think of guns as magical objects, against which there is no defense but to cower and hope that the evil object and its thrall don’t find you.

If say, imagine, someone has an evil magic wand, that can kill you just by being in your vicinity, and he’s loose in the school, yep, the best thing to do is to hide and close the door and hope evil sates itself on your neighbors before it gets to you.

It’s also pusillanimous and shameful and unworthy of any human who walks on two legs.  But it is the result of what the left is and what is has become.  90% of the communists and socialists walking around today are not such because they think those regimes are admirable (at least not if they’re over twenty and actually know anything of the world and history) but because they’re afraid they’re inevitable.  Their embrace of the crazy left is not an embrace of ideals they think will make the world better, it’s an attempt to be eaten last.

With such people in charge of our policies, as they are throughout most educational establishments, it’s no wonder that the ‘eat me last’ strategy is the best they can come up with.

It is also unworthy — as I said — of any human over the age of six.

Look, we live very comfortable and very safe lives by the standard of our ancestors.  And I’m not going to preach about traditional morality, because some of your traditions are not my traditions.  I mean, I do believe, on a spiritual level as well as on a practical one, that one defends oneself and also those who can’t defend themselves.  It’s a moral duty, as well as a practical one.

But let’s go with the practical side, shall we?  I’d bet you the majority of our ancestors are people who defended themselves and those of their group (whatever the group happened to be, and in most cases a tribe.)

Why?

Because groups where individuals didn’t defend themselves and didn’t defend those closest to them didn’t survive to contribute their genetics in any significant amount.  Those mythical angelic noble savages who never raised a hand to another human being even while being slaughtered, if they ever existed, were the human equivalent of the Dodo.  You are not of them and have nothing (or very little) in common with them, genetically.

And those tribes that survived by being the last to be eaten while they probably survived to some extent, were not the most successful around, and I doubt a great part of you comes from them.

So–

So after the Columbine thing, I started teaching my kids what to do in case of a shooting.  Because guns aren’t magical, they don’t render the shooter invulnerable.  They just make him more deadly than would, say, a knife or a mace.  BUT neither infallible nor invulnerable.  It’s important to remember that.

Because schools and other public spaces (including army bases) insist on making people there sitting ducks, with no guns for defense you have to get creative.

From being in situations where reaction was needed, I know that I have two modes, and never know which switch is going to flip: the fight like crazy, or the freeze.  Fortunately two of the occasions I froze, freeze was what was called for and in the second it even gave me the appearance of courage.

I also know that training and constant instruction makes it less likely you will freeze.

So, we taught our kids, if an active shooter came into the classroom, throw EVERYTHING at them.  Everything and anything you can reach: books, binders, even desks (which Robert, being a bulldozer, could have lifted by three.)  If you can get them down disarm them.

If you are locked in a classroom, and there’s an active shooter in the school, throw a desk through the window, get out (presuming they’re on the bottom floor, of course), run in zigzags if there’s any sign of shooting from the school to the outside.  If it’s a false alarm, we’ll deal with the window.

My kids never needed to put this into action.  But I remain convinced it’s the right course of action.

Remember 9/11.  The plane that crashed in PA WITHOUT being used as a weapon?  The difference is the people in it didn’t follow the instructions to go passive and wait for someone else to save them, which were standard for high jackings before 9/11.

This is the same reason that other attempts have failed.  The underwear bomber?  the shoe bomber?  It wasn’t the TSA (maybe the underwear bomber!) that stopped them, it was their fellow passengers behaving like a pack, not a herd, and looking to their own protection.

More gun laws won’t make you safe.  More gun free zones won’t make you safe.  people intent on harming you don’t care about the regulations.

This is not kindergarten.  Your government is not the “all powerful” teacher.  They can’t keep you safe, no matter if they lie and say they can.  No matter if they THINK they can.

It is the duty of every adult human to defend him/herself and those weaker than themselves.  Not metaphorically.  Not by pile-on twitter mobs.  But in very real fact.  If someone is threatening you or those near you, defense is not just an option, it’s a duty.

In the end, no one else has your preservation as much in mind as you do.  Nor should they.  And defending the weak, the sick, the small, is a duty of civilization.

Guns are not magical. They don’t absolve you from the duties of humanity and civilization.

Cowering and letting people be shot is the behavior of children and cowards.  Don’t be either.

Take stock of the situation and defend yourself.  Yeah, you might die, but at least you’ll die like an adult human, not a sheep.

I don’t judge anyone in that situation, because I never know when I’m going to just freeze.  BUT I’ll try not to freeze.

As Heinlein put it, paraphrased because I always remember it in  Portuguese “It’s better to be a live sheep than a dead lion, but it’s always better to be a live lion.  In most cases it’s also easier.”

In a time of uncertainty and violence, (as all times are) don’t bleat for more laws.  Laws can’t protect you or those you love.  They’re just words, on paper.

Be a lion.

The Weapon

Today it occurred to me it’s exactly 20 years since I caught the pneumonia that almost killed me.  Okay, it didn’t start in October.  It started in November.  But the percursor to it started in October, with the kids and Dan catching some form of stomach flu.  Since younger kid was then just short of one, and his brother was three, stomach flu meant piles and piles of clothes and BED CLOTHES to wash and more often than not carpets to clean.  I was running the carpet cleaner continuously, I was running the wash continuously, and yet there were piles of smelly sheets in a corner of the laundry room.

Then Dan caught the respiratory bug going on at work.  I — seemingly — didn’t catch it.  Usually you know when I’m sick, because I cough constantly.  I wasn’t coughing at all.

I just felt exhausted.  In fact, driving Dan to one of his doctor’s appointments, the doctor said I looked sicker than Dan.

By November it was obvious I had SOMETHING.  I thought it was one of my bad asthma attacks.  While making food for the Holiday meeting of our writers’ group, I had to keep drinking coffee, which seemed to help my breathing, which tracked to asthma.

By late December I gave up.  As in, doing anything at all became too much work.  It took me an hour to dress, because I’d put on a piece of clothing, then rest, then put on the other.  And I was spending most of my time on the sofa, which is why we asked one of my friends to come mind the kids — as mothers of small children know, minding small kids is an athletic endeavor — because I couldn’t.

And then on the eleventh of January — fortunately early morning, while Dan was home, because I don’t know what my friend would have made of it, I got up to go to the bathroom and collapsed in the hallway.

Dan found me passed out, freaked, threw me in the back of the car, and drove me to emergency (after getting someone to stay with the kids.)

When I got to the hospital, my blood oxygen levels didn’t register.  I walked in, and they said they’d never seen anyone below 65 walk in.  They admitted me.  Where, if my blood oxygen levels hadn’t been so low, they’d have thought I was an hypochondriac, because my x rays showed NOTHING in my lungs.  (Later it became known that form of pneumonia was intracellular — i.e. the space between the cells.)  OTOH they could HEAR liquid in my lungs.

The emergency room doctor who admitted me had been seeing a lot of this and made the decision in about 5 minutes.  He gave me intravenous zitromax (sp?) then a new drug, and put me on oxygen.  For about two days I sort of recovered, slowly, then I got treated by a group of five doctors.

And then things got “fun.”  They decided my white blood count wasn’t high enough for the problem to be an infection.  They took me off antibiotics and wanted to give me steroids.  I refused the steroids, because certain types of infections get worse with them (which we knew from our cat.)

I kept getting worse, including coding in the middle of one night, and having a heart attack during a broncoscopy.  (I told them not to give me atropine when my heart was already enlarged and I was tachycardic.  Don’t they read Agatha Christie?)

After which I was in ICU.  For eleven days.

The pulmonologist wanted to do a lung biopsy.  My sister-in-law who is a pathologist in Portugal, was in constant communication with my husband and said given my state at the time, a lung biopsy would kill me.

So, Dan refused to sign the consent and told me not to sign the consent.

Now, I was somewhere between life and death, floating in a weird space in which my then 2 and a half years dead grandmother came and sat with me.

Our kids were being watched round the clock by a group of volunteer friends, who spelled themselves, as though they were family, so these little kids were never without someone.

However there were gaps.  Our friends had jobs and obligations.  So, sometimes, Dan had to leave me (greater love has no man than he who sleeps for almost a dozen nights on the floor of an ICU room, on his coat, in the middle of January) for an hour or so.

When he did, the doctors came.  The pulmonologist told me I should have the biopsy, for instance.  I told him my SIL advised against it in my condition, as chances were I’d die.

He told me, yeah, it was a high risk, but so what?  In the state I was in, I was no good to my husband and kids, and besides, what was I? A house wife?  I wasn’t much help to them anyway, and think of how much money I would save my family by dying.

I signed the form.

Dan came in as they were prepping me, threw the mother of all fits, pointed out I was not competent to sign anything and threatened to sue them to their back teeth.  Then he demanded they give me antibiotics again, the antibiotics under which I had improved.  They said no, and he said, that’s fine, we’re going to the other (the Catholic) hospital in town.  And he said, “Honey, put your clothes on, we’re going.”

This is one of three times my husband has given me a direct order.  I wasn’t at all sure of the advisability of obeying, but I did promise to obey, so as he handed me my clothes, I sat up slowly and started dressing.  Keep in mind, I was tachycardic and my heart was enlarged.

The doctors freaked, and told my husband they’d give me the antibiotic, but it wouldn’t do any good, because it wasn’t an infection.

For the next three days I got the antibiotic in IV — yes, that same antibiotic you get five little tablets of, and that’s it? — and it burned the IV sites after a few hours, so that they moved it constantly.  Three days later, I looked like an addict with track marks.

And four days later I walked out of the hospital under my own power because I was too well for the insurance to pay for my bills any longer.  I stayed on oral dose antibiotic (yes, that same one) for a month and a half, but six months later I was well enough to prep and stage a house for selling.

Two years later I made my first novel sale.  Nine years later, I home schooled younger son, who would otherwise have dropped out of sixth grade and probably never opened a book again.

For the last twenty years I’ve cooked, I’ve cleaned, I’ve refinished furniture, sewed clothes, and generally made our lifestyle the same as that of a family with two normal incomes.  Oh, and I’ve written 23 books which got published.  I don’t know if those count, but at least one of those got me a fan letter from a lady saying it had kept her sane through cancer treatment.  (Weirdly?  The book was Plain Jane.)  She got an autographed copy by return mail, of course.

The above story is relevant for various reasons.  First of all, and unlike some people who have written on Sir Terry Pratchett’s saying he planned committing suicide, I don’t judge people in that situation.  I don’t judge, because I’ve been there and when I signed that consent form, it was more or less what I expected.  Now, I wasn’t competent, but people who are terminal by definition aren’t competent.

Also, I’ve seen two friends die of cancer.  It’s an ugly, slow death.  One of them was one of dad’s best friends, and it was an open secret the doctors put him down when the family couldn’t endure it anymore.  The other was my friend Alan, Dan’s best friend, now dead almost a year.  He died naturally, but it was also a slow, agonizing death.

I don’t hold it against any family members who, when hope is gone, wish they could relieve people of their suffering.  We do that for our pets.  (Though my family is really bad at it.  We’ve lost 4 cats, and only two were euthanized, one for constant pain beyond our power to relieve — his kidneys failed — the other because cancer fused her jaw.)  And I understand the desire to “make it stop.”

But — yes, there is a but — there is a Second of All.

Second of all, I am sternly against legalizing medically assisted suicide.  For the same reason I don’t judge people and the decision they choose to make, it is power I don’t think we should put in doctors’ hands.  Doctors have authority and power, particularly when you’re ill, and too many of them seem to make strange judgements on human life, like the one who tried to convince me my family (and please keep in mind we had an infant and a toddler) was better off with me gone.

After all I was “just a housewife” and therefore making no contributions to the family.

When you’re sick, and if you’re like me and fight the black dog ALL THE TIME anyway, you’re likely to be depressed, and it’s very easy to tell you the world is better off without you, and there’s no hope.

It was all too easy to convince me of this, and if I hadn’t had a husband and friends who thought I was valuable and needed, I would have died then.  I don’t know if my contributions since are worth anything in the grand scheme of things, but at least my contributions to my kids have been important and irreplaceable. But I couldn’t see it, so I was at the mercy of strangers with their prejudices, except for a husband and friends who cared.

Which brings us to this article sent to me by one of you.

I can hear some readers saying, “Who?” Maggie Karner had the same brain cancer as Brittany Maynard, who became an A-list international celebrity for announcing she would commit assisted suicide.

Go and read the whole thing.
At one point she is quoted as saying:

The out-of-state proponents of the bill regarding physician-assisted suicide suggest having the ability to end your life legally is comforting. But I can tell you from personal experience that it is nearly as troubling as the cancer itself. You see, I get strength and comfort from the knowledge that nobody is going to give up on me — medically, psychologically or holistically. Right now, I have the firm support of the state and my fellow citizens in my desire to live — no matter the cost or burden. If that were to change, the tiny knowledge that I might be straining my family, friends, doctors or community resources unnecessarily would be a heavy burden. The constant “option” for suicide would wear at my resolve and I fear, become an unspoken “duty” for me and others.

This resonated deeply with me.
I’m a libertarian — I don’t think we should imprison people for trying to commit suicide (or even for having abortions.)
But I also think that legalizing suicide with our current culture does exactly what Maggie Kerner says.  It makes your decision not to commit suicide in the face of hopeless, or just prolonged health battles a selfish one, for which you can be condemned.  Which will tip the scales towards death, when there is no other reason for it, and eliminate all the potential contributions the person might still make.
In fact, we live in a culture where believers in zero-sum economics consider people ALWAYS a drain and an expenditure.  (We’ve found that many if not most of the women having abortions do so under pressure of a partner or other near relatives — their decision to choose life would be considered selfish, in fact, just like the decision to live. This is a culture in which all life is considered a drain, not a contribution.)  It is insane, but it is the culture that we have.
So while I don’t condemn those who choose a way out early because I’m not them, and not thinking with their minds, I disapprove of giving doctors (who are increasingly more and more agents of the state) and hospitals, and the entire bureaucracy of a culture in which human beings are considered expenditures and drains, the power to influence people towards ending it all early.
I’ve been ruminating this post for a while.  It’s difficult, both because it touches my personal experience, and because I am conflicted when it comes to saying I’m against legalization of assisted suicide.  But it’s not really that I’m against, of course.  I’m against empowering bureaucrats to decide when your time should come, which is what assisted suicide tends to do, sooner or later.  (And usually sooner.)
Yesterday a sentence went through my head “Would you give a loaded weapon to an imbecile?”
It is the pay off line from a Frederic Brown story The Weapon, a pacifist, pro unilateral disarmament story.  As what it was, it fails.  The conceit is that a visitor comes to a scientist who has discovered a new weapon, and listens to his reasons why he must give it to the government, then gives a gun to the scientists mentally slow son, and after the scientists retrieves the gun he uses the pay off line.
It doesn’t work as what it is, because the fact was that the psychopath already had the gun (the USSR) and giving one to our less than brilliant leaders just stopped the psychopath from shooting everything in sight freely.
However, in this case, consider the culture that would make a hero of a woman who chose to commit suicide when faced with brain cancer, but not even mention a woman who chose to die naturally.  Consider the culture that routinely makes heroes of women who choose to abort, but reviles those who have large families.  Consider the culture that, having imbibed Marx through all its educational establishment, routinely says things like “Smokers cost society money.”
Consider a society in fact in which the idea of self ownership is so far gone that most people think the government has the right to dictate what you drink, what you eat, what you do with your own body not even out of some higher principle, but because “you’re a drain on society.”
How far off are we from people being guilted into committing suicide because they need minor care throughout life?  People are ALREADY routinely guilted into not reproducing because of genetic defects in their family, which are not fatal just inconvenient.  (And we ALL have genetic defects.  They’re often paired with the genes for intelligence and other “good” traits.)  How far off are we from “oh, you have asthma?  Society would save a lot of money if you died.”
I don’t judge the people in great suffering who choose to end it.  But I judge people who make decisions on the value of human life based on the assumption that humans are just “a drain on society.”
That most definitely includes the members of the news-entertainment-industrial complex who make death a fetish and who at the bottom of their hearts seem to believe anyone else, anyone even vaguely flawed, should be done away with (or do away with themselves) for the good of all.
It’s not just that they make it harder on the people who choose not to take the suicide route.  It is also because once a society becomes this steeped in “obligation to die” no one is safe.  Not even those journalists.
Would you give a loaded weapon to a malevolent imbecile?