Friday, March 6, 2009


Meerkat Manor
I'm finishing a breakfast of a hot link sandwich on whole wheat with Coky-Cola. I partly blame Rachael Ray, whose "What's For Dinner Tonight" segment today included andouille. But I was also in the mood to not do food balancing.

Plus, I want to write on Ginny Bates a good long chunk after I get this bit'o'journal out of the way. I tend to fuel my muse on caffeine. White trash caffeine, that is.

As I type, Sarah Connor and Dollhouse are being taped. I'm hanging in there with Dollhouse because, after all, it took Buffy and Firefly a while to get established. But I'm not that happy with it so far. Way too much sexual objectification, and the whole "I'm on a camping trip with a man who wants to fuck me and then hunt me with a bow and arrow" episode was so unbelievably cliched and woman-hating, like a Lifetime movie written by Andrew Dice Clay. I hate the brain-zapper guy, and I know we're supposed to warm to the paternalism of the dimple-chinned black guy but that actor was a prick on an old ER arc and I've never liked him since. I was, however, brought to sudden attention at the very end of the last episode, when Echo signaled to Sierra "Not now, not in front of the watchers". So, I'll hang in for six or eight episodes. The writing better improve, however.

I note that a new series starts this week, Castle, which stars Nathan Fillion, known to all of us Firefly fans as Mal. I'll tape it as well and see what it's about. I have been watching Life on Mars with growing appreciation, especially for the role and acting of Gretchen Moll. It's certainly not the 1973 I knew, but I'm intrigued with how the plot line keeps us wondering: Real time travel? A prolonged coma hallucination? Tinkering from the overlords?

I got an e-mail offer from Netflix last week to please come on back home, although it's been two years since I had reliable mail delivery enough to make use of their service and cancelled. However, they now have the ability to view episodes instantly on your PC. I called 'em and checked it out, was told I had to have blah-blah-blah plus Silverlight on my computer (which I do), and signed up for a two week free trial. Which immediately did not work. I went through their tech support, who blamed it on Microsoft; went through an obsequious guy named Zhang at Microsoft, who had a ridiculous list of procedures that I declined (I should not have to Safe Boot to watch a movie, sorry); and was gonna give up, but as a last ditch did the old "delete application and reinstall" of Silverlight. Worked just fine after that.

I began browsing last night. They have a fair number of documentaries available for "Watch Instantly" that I find interesting. I've seen all the sci-fi and new arrivals there I want to, but there were several British comedies I'm going to either sample or re-view. Especially Good Neighbors, which (along with 'Allo, 'Allo) in 1989 kept me in hysterics on Sunday evenings, available through our local PBS station here. They also have Weeds and Mythbusters, both of which I've heard a lot about but never seen.

What I did wade right into, however, was Meerkat Manor, which is rather famous out there. I watched the first three episodes and am seriously hooked. I dreamed about little Shakespeare last night. It's all deliciously new to me, so while I may be spoiling things for another neophyte out there, please don't say something in comments that will give away future plots for me, 'kay?

I woke up wondering about at what point during the ten-year 24-hour study of this colony of meerkats in the Kalihari did one of the researchers, possibly enthralling his friends and family with yet another development, have the bright idea of "this would make one hell of a TV series"? I'll have to research that, I bet there's a story behind the story out there somewhere. (Fine to lead me in that direction if you want.) I also wonder about the naming of the animals, what protocols they're using. I mean, Zaphod and Youssarian are litter-mates, which raises the question if they had siblings named something like Xerxes and Wittgenstein. Is there a whole string of names like Daisy for the daughters of the matriarch, Flower? I especially loved how three littermates wound up with the monikers of Tosca, Mozart, and Shakespeare, with no regard for gender policing.

I also question the tagging (during the character intro before each episode) of Tosca as "rebellious" and Mozart as "caring", when in fact both of them are "unwed mothers" and both of them gave up foraging to sit watch over poor little Shakespeare. Is this the old madonna/whore dichotomy applied to females? And how much has being labeled with "social problems" perhaps pushed Youssarian over the edge? (As if his name wasn't enough.) But, as I say, I've only watched three episodes. To be honest, "social problems" seems to apply to all of them, with miniscule attention spans and erratic moods apparently part of meerkat DNA.

I'll have to cram in as much as I can before the two-week deadline. I'm not going to continue Netflix beyond the free trial, ten bucks a month is not in my budget, especially not for movies.

Screenshot from Westward game
As if this is not distraction enough, I also discovered the Westward game series this past week. Like Virtual Villagers with goldmines and WOC gunslingers. This is from Sandlot Games, the same folks who developed the Tradewinds series, and engrossing really covers it. I dearly love the Western drawl of the female character who complains "Awl right" when you drag her from one spot to another, and the "bad sheriff" who, when you click on him, says in a Clint Eastwood growl "Leave me alone". I am also convinced that one of the Copperhead Gang, the bandits who have to be gunned down frequently, declares as she collapses in a small pool of blood on the dirt "Well, shee-yit". (This is not a children's game.) Like Tradewinds, the operating mantra is "save early, save often" and balance of trade/food reserves. There's three sets of this series out so far, and I'm only well into Part II, so there's weeks or months of fun ahead of me. The Sandlot website runs a Blue Plate Special each week where you can buy their already established games for five bucks, which I decided to splurge on. Since I've not bought anything but life essentials for over six months.

That's the lighter developments of my life this week. Otherwise, I'm contending with grim burdens having to do with family dysfunction, new health problems, and, oh, yeah, family dysfunction. Spring came and went here in about fifteen minutes. One day last week, a day when folks in Vermont were getting heavy snowfall, it got up to almost 90 degrees here in Austin (94 just west of here). We are now in the worst drought in recorded history. If heavy winds coincide with a fire that threatens the wilderness area which backs up to the parking lot outside my front door, I'll have to be evacuated.

But art supersedes, and humor. And kittehs. Now to go write in my alternate universe.



(Bear painted on walls of Chauvet - Pont D'Arc Cave 30,000 years ago)

Here's another installment of my Great American Lesbian Novel (in progress), Ginny Bates. If you are new to reading GB, go to the section in the right-hand column labeled Ginny Bates to read background and find out how to catch up.

Mid-November 2019

Margie, Carly and Eric arrived for dinner, along with Allie and Edwina. Myra sent Carly and Eric out to the grill with burgers and tuna steaks, and had Margie cut up potatoes for oven fries. With a big salad, she thought that was enough: She was saving the rich beef soup for Chris. She did put in a couple of cherry pies to bake, however.

After dinner, Myra could tell Carly and Eric wanted to hang around. Ginny excused herself to go stretch a canvas, having delayed the onset of her new painting all day. Chris said “If you start a poker game, I'll join you later, but first – Myra, I bet you got all kinds of websites for amazing kids' toys and educational gizmos on your computer, right? Can I use it for a while?”

“Help yourself” said Myra. “And yeah, there's a folder of links labeled 'Kiddos', click on that.”

“What are you looking for?” asked Margie.

“Christmas gifts” said Chris. This caused a small silence. Myra bet everyone was wondering if this meant she knew she'd be with them still for Christmas. Chris grinned and said to Margie “You want to help me make my choices?”

Margie was on her feet instantly. Myra said to Allie and Edwina “You interested in poker?”

Edwina said “I'm going to go talk with Ginny before she goes into the zone.” Allie watched Chris and Margie climbing the stairs, then sighed and said “Yeah. Deal me in.”

Once the game was underway, Carly and Eric asked quiet questions about Chris's condition and plans. Carly said “Are you going to – will she stay here the whole time, rather than going into a hospice?”

“Yes” said Myra. “Come hell or high water. We'll hire private nurses if we have to.”

“When you have to” said Carly knowingly. “Listen, I know a PA who specializes in end-of-life care, I'll give you her name and number.”

Myra felt a headache coming on. Allie looked blank, but her mind wasn't on the game, either. They played without much competition for an hour. When Chris and Margie came back downstairs, they gladly folded the game and went into the living room to watch the video of Craven Raven's debut in the puppet realm. Allie sat close to Chris, her arm behind her on the couch. They laughed nonstop at the Raven's double meanings and the children's free-for-all imagination. Chris got up to heat a second piece of pie and top it with ice cream.

After the video, Allie and Chris began reminiscing about a camping trip they'd taken where everything that could go wrong seemed to have occurred, including being sprayed by a skunk who crept inside their tent that night.

Chris continued with “My most memorable experience was a time when I went up into the lower slopes of Rainier with Sima, not long after we got together. It was late summer, and the ranger who sold us our backpacking permit warned us the bears were in hyperphagia.”

“What's that?” asked Eric.

“They're eating everything in sight to get ready for hibernation” said Chris. “If they have access to it, they'll eat over 15,000 calories a day, and several gallons of water. We were warned to absolutely not have anything that smelled edible in our tent at night, and to tie our food high in a tree. Sima was nervous. I wasn't so much because I'd run into a lot of bears when I was a kid traipsing around near Colville, and as long as it wasn't a mother with little cubs – which was less likely at the onset of autumn – they don't mess with you. If you don't mess with them, or be stupid enough to run away, that is.”

She stopped for a minute, looking at her pie plate as if she was considering a third piece. She resumed “Our first night, it began snowing lightly as we were washing up from dinner. Absolutely gorgeous in the twilight. We decided against building up the fire because – well, we were eager to get into the tent.” She grinned to herself. “We were zealous about getting rid of any trace of food scent near our tent, and we chose a cache tree that was a hundred yards away. Sima asked me if I thought it was better for her to have brushed her teeth, to remove the smell of her last meal, or if the minty toothpaste might attract them.”

Chris laughed to herself again. “Anyhow...We zipped up our little two-person dome tent as if it was some kind of shelter. By the time we went to sleep, we were warmed up and ready for serious slumber. It had continued to snow, and when I woke up later, the first thing I noticed was that the moonlight which had been coming through the nylon roof was now dulled. I realized there was a layer of snow over the whole tent. Which was kinda comforting, and definitely insulating. We – we didn't have any clothes on, and I was facing the side of the tent, two inches away from me. I could feel the chill of the air on that side. Sima was spooned against me from the back, and that side of me was much warmer. I lay there for a minute, coming to consciousness. And then I realized what had woke me up.

“I saw a shadow pass by the tent wall in front of me. A massive, round shadow. Simultaneously, I heard footsteps on snow – soft steps, despite the crunch of new snow, but it was more than two footfalls. It was a four-footed tread. Then I heard it breathe out. It was circling the tent, snuffling at the corners every so often. I was paralyzed with fear. I mean, I could not move a muscle. I knew I needed to sit up, yell out, try to scare it away, at the very least to warn Sima who I could tell was sound asleep – but I could not move. I couldn't make a sound. I just lay there, listening to it check us out, helpless – have you ever seen a cat play with something that isn't dead yet but it's given up on getting away? That's how I felt. Blinding terror, and no connection any longer between my brain and my muscles. After a long time, I heard it pad away, in the direction of the cache tree. I kept waiting for my will to return, so I could roll over and warn Sima, we could get dressed and figure out what to do. Instead, I fell asleep again, and didn't wake up until morning, when I was stiff and aching from not having moved at all in my sleep.

“Sima was furious with me when I told her. She simply didn't understand that I'd had no choice. When we got dressed and went to investigate, the size of those tracks in the snow – I mean, they were probably exaggerated because the snow fall had gone on and so they were just hollows, not crisp any more, and looked bigger as a result – but it must have been a really big bruiser. And it had really tried to get at our food. There were massive muddy prints on the bark of that tree, way higher up than the top of my head, and on one side it had left four claw marks. Deep rifts in the bark that went to green wood, and oozed sap.

“That was it for Sima. We packed up without making breakfast and headed back down the trail to our car. She made me lead, and at every turn of the trail, I made a little noise so I wouldn't come up on something without giving it warning. We drove to the first cafe we found, ate as much as we could hold, and came on home.”

“You never told us about that” said Allie slowly.

“I was – ashamed, I guess, of how scared I got. I asked Sima not to talk about it, once she got over ragging on me about my cowardice. But I don't think it was cowardice now. I think it was – another way of seeing things. Another kind of intelligence.” Chris closed her eyes. Myra saw the stricken expressions on Margie and Carly's faces, and wished she knew what to say to make things better.

Chris opened her eyes again. “Anyhow...It was not long after that when I bought that bear claw necklace for myself. Trying to work my way past it. Sima thought it was funny, and that Christmas she gave me this elk tooth necklace instead. Said I was more of an elk than a bear.” Chris pulled the necklace out from her collar.

“You ever take that off?” asked Edwina.

“Nope. You need my DNA for some reason, I'm sure it's got decades' worth on it” said Chris, her grin returning. She turned to Myra. “I'm still hungry. Or maybe it's the memory making me want to eat.”

“There's lots of pie left” said Myra.

“I was thinking about that soup, maybe with some rice added in. We got cooked rice in the fridge, right?”

“We always have cooked rice” said Myra, starting to stand.

“No, I'll get it” said Chris. “You all decide on a movie, let's watch something.”

“How about “Grizzly Adams'?” said Carly, dodging the kick she aimed at him as she walked with almost a limp toward the kitchen.

It was a late night. Carly, Eric and Margie left together, walking out the back door. Allie and Edwina lingered until Edwina shepherded them toward home as well. Myra started the dishwasher as Chris went outside to check on the temperature inside the plant canopies. When she came back in, Myra said “You want to be alone or can I bunk with you tonight?”

“Come join me. But I'm going to take a long soak first.”

“I'll go say goodnight to Ginny. Maybe check my e-mail” said Myra.

“Just come whenever you're ready. If I'm asleep, don't turn on the light, okay?”

Myra wound up writing most of a poem at her desk, listening to Ginny whistling to herself as she ground pigments. The house was creaking more than usual – probably the cold snap they were having. When she finally went to Chris's bed, she warmed her hands in her armpits on the way so she wouldn't wake Chris with icy fingers as she pulled Chris back into the curve of her body.

The next morning, she woke up alone. Chris was in the kitchen, making toast. She said “Ginny went off to bed an hour ago. I got some hot cereal into her.”

“Thanks, Chris. I'm making eggs, you want some?”

“If you scramble them. You want toast?”

“Yeah. That date-walnut bread.”

Chris buttered her own two slices and said “Rain's due in before noon, but with it is a warm-up. What's on the hopper for Science Day?”

“Well, Ginny bought those make-your-own kaleidoscope kits, but I don't want to do that without her. And if it's raining, outside will be mucky. You got any ideas?”

Chris asked if Myra wanted butter or cream cheese on her toast before answering. “Let's pull out those Invisible Man and Woman models you have and go over the internal organs again.”

“They'll love that” said Myra. “Afterward, I could have a dough started, and we can make biscuits in the shape of kidneys and spleens.”

“Yum, over-kneaded viscera to go with our winter soups” said Chris. “Listen, I talked with Ricky. He called me before he left for work today.”

Myra turned to look at Chris. “How is he?”

“Numb. Wants me to come for a visit.”

“Say when, and I'll go with you” said Myra.

Chris sighed. “I've got a lot still to figure out.” They went to the table together. Myra looked at the yard. She could see where Chris had been sitting by the pond because the outline of her rump had melted the shine of ice found on the rest of the bench. She knew Chris had something else to say, and she waited.

“Myra...I'm not as smart as you think I am.”

“What do you mean?”

“I'm not a dummy, but you've always acted like I'm some kind of genius, and I'm not” said Chris.

“Well, you've been smarter than me more times than I can count, so that's genius enough for me” said Myra, grinning.

Chris laughed. “That's like the old joke, the medical definition of an alcoholic is anyone who drinks more than their doctor. But, no, my point is...I'm not going to have any parting wisdom. I'm not going to be handing out inspiration and Brian's Song kinds of lessons here.”

Myra forced herself to keep chewing. “Didn't expect you would. Not your style.” She corrected herself. “Fuck, Chris, no, you don't come at things like Gandhi-ji, but you actually do hand out inspiration. To me at least, all the time. You don't mean to, it just happens.”

“Whatever.” Chris looked irritated.

“The pressure is off, Kash-Kash, if that's what you want to hear” said Myra.

“Maybe you could spread the word?” said Chris.

“All right. Oh, shit, look at the clock. We've got an appointment with Nancy in an hour. I'll have to roust Ginny from sleep early, she'll be a zombie” said Myra.

“I'll make chai” said Chris, helping herself to more eggs as Myra began wolfing her food.

The work with Nancy was primal. Myra wouldn't have known how to describe it to Ginny if Ginny hadn't been there as witness. The one coherent sentence she got out was “I don't remember a time when I wasn't afraid that my mother was going to die”. Ginny's turn also seemed to come from ancient roots, though it wasn't about death, per se – more garden variety abandonment, thought Myra. Although death is the ultimate abandonment, I guess.

She felt clearer afterward but still weary. Sleeping with Chris fed some need in her, but also left her not quite restored in the morning. She was aware of pouring her essence into Chris while she was unconscious, or at least attempting that feat. She could not say whether it was working, whether Chris was accepting it from her.

Ginny ate lunch with them, then returned to her painting. It was another life-size canvas and Myra kept herself from looking at it because she wanted the shock that Ginny's final result always gave her. Especially since it was about Chris.

During Science Class, Mimi and Leah got into a pitched battle over possession of their model's kidneys. Myra had to put them at opposite ends of the coffee table they were all sitting around on the living room floor. She muttered to Chris “I hope this isn't a premonition of something that actually occurs when they're adults and one of them has renal failure.”

Chris found this hilarious, and Lucia kept asking “What so funny, Namesake?” A few minutes later, Myra noticed Chris had gone silent, fingering the small cluster of plastic intestines in her hand. She said quietly “Are you missing your innards? I sometimes wish I'd asked for my uterus, so I could bury it under Ginny's roses.”

“God no” said Chris. “I was – I'm eating a ton, Myra, but – it's not completely digesting. Just coming on out of me sometimes not much changed from how it went in.”

Myra could tell Leah was watching her, listening, and willed herself to not go pale. “Your oncology visit is tomorrow at 9:30, right?”

“Yeah. If we're done by 11:00, that person Carly recommended said we could drop by for 15 minutes. She's in the same general neighborhood.”

Myra reminded herself to make sure Ginny remembered these appointments; she thought Ginny would want to be in the room with them. Fifteen minutes to assess whether someone was who you wanted helping you shuffle off this mortal coil. She swallowed down the taste of bile in her mouth.

When Jane and Gillam came to get their children, the four adults had a logistical discussion about Thanksgiving, finally deciding it should be at Myra and Ginny's with extra tables set up for all the additional family: Jane's parents, Thad plus friend, Cathy, Annie Gagliardi, Imani, Nika and her new girlfriend, plus maybe Ricky. Chris said “I do want turkey and stuffing, all the usual, but I'd also like to unleash the cooks in this bunch to make their favorite non-Thanksgiving dishes.”

“Will you do camas root?” asked Gillam.

“Yep. And I want you to make those sour cream enchiladas of yours” said Chris.

Gillam pinked with pleasure. “And Jane, in addition to all the pies, will you do that butter pecan cake, the seven layer one?” continued Chris.

“My honor” said Jane. Leah began tugging at her hand, saying “For tonight? Are we having cake for tonight?”

“I have one more request” said Chris, her grin full on as she looked at Myra. “You remember that song you all made up on the land collective? The one you used to try to teach us sometimes as we made pies the night before Thanksgiving? To the tune of 'Over The River And Through The Woods'?”

“Oh my god” said Gillam. “I'd forgotten about that.”

“Well, I want you to teach it to these children” said Chris, starting to laugh.

“What song?” asked David. “Can we do it now?”

Gillam shrugged at Myra, saying to Jane “You won't believe this one.”

Myra thought for half a minute to be sure of the lyrics, then took David's hand and began:

Out of the city and into the woods
To lesbian land we go
Our truck tires have spikes
To carry the dykes
Through the mud and drifting sno-ow

Away from misogyny, commerce and mess
To wimmin's land we press
We'll cleanse our heads and share our beds
With thanks to Great Goddess

She could hear Jane and Gillam still giggling as they passed through the back gate.

© 2009 Maggie Jochild.


Tuesday, March 3, 2009


Here's the weekly best of what I've gleaned from I Can Has Cheezburger efforts. There are some really creative folks out there. As usual, those from little gator lead the pack.


Monday, March 2, 2009


("Treading Water" by Art Werger)

Dinah has resumed all normal activity, including restlessly looking for trouble and not wanting so much contact with me. But I'm grateful to see her "as is". We had an incident last night, however. I was watching Monk (I truly love that show), lying very still on my bed. Dinah has resumed sleeping in her "Cabe", the dresser drawer I leave partly open, from which vantage point she can keep an eye on the entire room, including me, without revealing anything except the tips of her ears. I had a minute before glanced over at her.

Suddenly, something fell from the top of the dresser into the drawer beside Dinah. I suspect the reason why it fell is because earlier she had been leaping from furniture to furniture, something she does when bored, and an item skidded very close to the edge but not quite over. Perhaps she shifted slightly in her Cabe. At any rate, her eyes were on me when the thing fell beside her, manifestly proving even to her suspicious mind that I had not thrown it. She rose straight into the air about two feet, landed several feet away and facing the dresser, every hair on her body puffed out. It was fucking hilarious, once I got over the fright myself of the sudden crash and her reaction. My confusion only added to hers. She backed slowly out of the room, giving me a look like "You're on your own". I heard her dig for a while in her litterbox, then silence for half an hour. When she returned, she needed a great deal of petting and reassurance. The Object That Moves On Its Own (a rock from Hawaii) has been returned to dressertop, and likely her memory holds no evidence now of it having occurred.

I now have a back-up inhaler, something I have not had for over a year. Unexpected expenses arose and continue to appear, but a couple of unexpected and generous donations have balanced it out so I was able to pay rent and utilities today. Down to zero but with food in the house and basic bills paid, I'm able to sleep without interruption. This is a good life if you can stand it. (Credit for that quote and philosophy goes to Terry Galloway.)

Last night I made a chocolate cake. After I began it, I discovered my regular canola oil had gone slightly rancid in the fridge, and I was out of eggs. I did have butter and also some dried eggs which I don't really know how to use. I melted a stick of butter -- the recipe called for one-third of a cup but I thought what the hell, I don't know if this concoction is going to work anyhow. I mistakenly put in twice the amount of dried eggs I should have. The batter looked unusually thick, so I lowered the cooking temperature and crossed my fingers. Well, folks, it's one of the best cakes I've made. High, rich, dense and moist but not too much so. A real treat. I'm about to go in the kitchen and barbecue some chicken to go with broccoli and rice. But my mind is on another piece of that cake.

I'll close with today's poem from The Writer's Almanac, which I get daily in my e-mail. This one is by Ellen Bass, a lesbian-feminist (at least, used to be) from my generation.

Sleeping Next to the Man on the Plane

I'm not well. Neither is he.
Periodically he pulls out a handkerchief
and blows his nose. I worry
about germs, but appreciate how he shares
the armrest—especially
considering his size—too large
to lay the tray over his lap.
His seatbelt barely buckles. At least
he doesn't have to ask for an extender
for which I imagine him grateful. Our upper arms
press against each other, like apricots growing
from the same node. My arm is warm
where his touches it. I close my eyes.
In the chilly, oxygen-poor air, I am glad
to be close to his breathing mass.
We want our own species. We want
to lie down next to our own kind.
Even here in this metal encumbrance, hurtling
improbably 30,000 feet above the earth,
with all this civilization—down
to the chicken-or-lasagna in their
environmentally-incorrect packets,
even as the woman behind me is swiping
her credit card on the phone embedded
in my headrest and the folks in first
are watching their individual movies
on personal screens, I lean
into this stranger, seeking primitive comfort—
heat, touch, breath—as we slip
into the ancient vulnerability of sleep.

By Ellen Bass from Mules of Love. © BOA Editions, 2002.