Saturday, April 4, 2009


Photo of scene in snow where an owl hunted a rabbit
I ran across an old packet of incense someone once gave me, and I have lit a stick over my computer workstation here. The smell brings back the 1970s, and the small tendril of smoke has been fascinating to Dinah, who thinks it might be alive. Of course, she has additional reason for that delusion today. More about that in a minute.

I noticed, when I opened the incense box, that it was manufactured by the followers of Sai Baba. I have a long-time friend, older than me, who became a devotee of Sai Baba for a while, although I'm fairly certain it was not her who gave me this incense. She was a deeply pragmatic working-class Texan who had a gift for news photography. She also did reporting and was a DJ, before moving into sales because she was so good at reading people. When she took up Eastern religions, it was a bit unexpected but the humility and thrift actually fit her character. I made myself an interested listener, and loved the stories/slide shows she brought back from her pilgrimages.

Then, one day, my friend brought over a video of Sai Baba performing miracles at a retreat she attended. He wandered around, interacting with some folks but not others, and intermittently he "manifested" a string of beads or a small religious object into his palm, giving it away to the bedazzled person nearest him. The thing was, though, that it was patently obvious he was doing sleight of hand, shaking the things down from his flowing sleeves, and he wasn't even very good at it. My father was an amateur magician and he had more ability than Sai Baba. I looked around at my friend, waiting for the joke, but realized she didn't see the con. What she saw were miracles. I was rattled by her, of all people, being taken in. However, I had the kindness and grace to keep it to myself. If she needed to believe, who was I to demand my version of things?

My sleep these days continues to occur in inadequate chunks, partly for health reasons, partly because of my internal life. Bad dreams abound. Thus, I woke up early today and lay there for a few minutes trying to force myself back into slumber, to no avail. I had turned on the ceiling fan over my bed because it's getting up to around 80 every afternoon now. When Dinah realized I was awake, she appeared for arms'-length petting and a little chat.

So, I was awake when a largish black widow spider began lowering herself down a thread of silk from the central part of my ceiling fan. I spotted her when she was about 2.5 feet above me. I lunged to the side, as best I can with my current physical limitations, and scrambled to my walker beside the bed. Dinah initially froze in consternation -- quick movement is not something she expects from human beings, and she could read my anxiety. She looked around as if trying to decide which direction to run. Then she caught sight of the spider, who had stopped and was swaying gently in the air. Her pupils constricted and she went into a crouch.

I snatched up a spray can of a cleaner nearby, because I didn't have bug spray at hand, and aimed a jet at the spider. Dinah leapt to the top of my dresser, since I'd clearly gone mad, and divided her attention between me and the spider. It took a while for the spider to die. I actually like spiders, and even had a pet black widow in a jar for a while as a child. But I've also been bitten by them, and I now have a real fear of the pain they can cause. Eventually I was able to gather it up in a paper towel and bury it in the trash. Since then, Dinah has taken to watching open air for things which might appear, dangling, for her entertainment. If she could levitate enough to check out the sinuous plume of smoke from the incense, she would go after it.


Friday, April 3, 2009


Painting by Kicking Bear of the Battle of Little Big Horn [Painting of the Battle of Little Big Horn by Lakota man named Kicking Bear (Mato Wanartaka), circa 1898, watercolor on muslin; click to enlarge]

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.

Thursday through Sunday, December 12-15, 2019

When Myra got up, Ginny had started a new painting, also small in size. As she ate the overdone eggs Margie made for her, Myra studied the crossbar on Chris's walker, which Ginny had finished and coated with a clear varnish since it was quick-drying acrylic.

The miniature but extraordinarily detailed scene began on the left with a herd of prehistoric deer and bison leaping across a cave wall, with two spear-carrying hunters behind them and one at the front to turn them. The proto-human at the front was not the minimalist rendering found in ancient cave drawings, but instead had the elongated limbs and bright coloring found on murals at Knossos. Beyond this figure, the scene morphed into bull-leaping, two young women and a man risking their lives by seizing the horns of a charging dappled bull and vaulting themselves onto its back. The woman who had already safely landed behind the bull, her bare feet kicked up a cloud of dust, found herself facing a fleeing cavalry officer. Behind him, to the end of the cross-bar, the soldier's cohort lay dead or dying while Lakota on beautifully muscled horses, Indians and equines alike in war paint, stopped a U.S. Attack on their village.

“Fucking A” remarked Chris, grinning at Myra. “She says one of the uprights is going to be a long stalk of corn with scenes from the history of Mexico and Central America peeking between each ripening ear.”

Two strips of wood had been nailed into the wall behind the dining table and Ginny's river scene, still wet, rested up there, away from possible damage.

Margie set a plate of dry toast on the table and Myra took a slice to butter. Chris had almost finished her breakfast. She said to Margie “You sit down and eat while I get on layers.”

“I didn't make eggs for Mom yet” said Margie, looking at Ginny by the easel.

“I'll feed her” said Myra. “Do you have soup for your thermos?”

“No, just tea. I'll take some pemmican with me” said Chris, struggling to her feet. “You can make us a hearty lunch because we're going riding with Ricky's friend this afternoon.”

Margie shoveled in her breakfast and was ready when Chris reappeared from her room. After they were gone, Myra made hot cereal laced with cream and berries, and Ginny came to eat with her, silent and distracted. Myra set Margie's egg pan into the sink to soak while she began a bean and vegetable stew. She planned to make corn fritters to accompany it at the last minute.

She took a quick bath, leaving the door open, and replenished the fire. She still had an hour of writing time before Chris and Margie returned.

Chris ate almost a normal amount. She had always adored Myra's fritters. She then walkered to the bathroom and back to her bedroom. She left the buffalo robe on her bed, donning instead her black leather jacket and a wool cap pulled down over her ears. “Look what I got” she said, holding out to Margie a battered leather bridle with silver buckles and bit.

“Oh my god” breathed Margie. “You still have it.” She turned to Myra. “This is the first bridle I ever used, and Chris made me put it on the horse I was going to ride. I was freaking terrified of those giant teeth.”

“That gelding was practically inert” said Chris. “Safe as houses.”

“Not your horse, though. I was scared to be within 20 feet of her” remembered Margie.

“Torquemada” said Chris with a laugh. “Can't believe I remember her name. Yeah, she was a handful.”

Myra wanted to lecture them both about safety, but forced herself to remain silent. Chris told Margie to “grab me a fritter for the road” and began clacking her walker out the front door. Myra heard her say to Margie “Wait tell they see what's painted on this thing” before the door shut. She watched the jeep drive away before opening her laptop again, leaving the dishes on the table since Ginny still had not come to eat lunch.

Myra had pulled a pan of roasted turkey breasts from the oven to rest by the time Margie and Chris returned. She drained the new potatoes and dumped butter into the pot before coming to the table to look at Chris. Her eyes were dancing, though her skin was not a normal color – or, more likely, her new normal color, thought Myra. She looked extremely fatigued and every movement made her wince.

“The tramadol wore off about an hour ago” Chris said. She sounded a little short of breath. Ginny appeared beside them and put her hand on Chris's forehead.

“Do you feel like you might have a fever?” she asked.

“No. I feel good, except for the fucking pain” said Chris, trying to grin.

“Oh, Mama, it was fabulous!” said Margie, lying Chris's bridle on the table. “After a couple of different tries, I rode behind Aunt Chris, like she used to ride behind me, and we galloped for miles.”

“How's your spine?” said Ginny, heading for the medicine cupboard.

“Starting to give me hell” said Chris.

“Well, how about if we try a fentanyl patch instead of the tramadol?” said Ginny. “I think it will take effect faster and maybe it will short-circuit the flare that's already begun.”

“Fine” said Chris, surprising Myra. She must be really hurting. Ginny unwrapped the patch and stuck it on Chris's upper back while Myra held down the collar of Chris's shirt. Ginny went to wash her hands. Chris said “It's cold.”

Myra poured tea for Chris and said “Dinner'll be ready in five minutes, I just need to dress the veggies.”

“I'll help” said Margie, starting to clear the table. Ginny sat down next to Chris and took her pulse, watching her face.

By the time they took each other's hands and observed silence before the meal, Chris's shoulders had relaxed. She mashed one of the potatoes, pour turkey gravy over it, took a bite, then said “That's good shit, Maynard.”

“The gravy?” said Margie.

“No. The dope.” Chris made an okay sign at Ginny.

“Is there a rush, are you light-headed or queasy?” asked Ginny.

“More of a rush than the tramadol, but right at this moment I don't care” said Chris. She and Margie regaled them with stories from their afternoon through the meal. Afterward, Margie took a long soak and Chris went to sleep almost instantly on the couch. Eventually Margie helped her to bed and curled up beside her with her DVD player and headphones. Chris was sleeping too soundly to be disturbed by the small blue screen.

Myra woke up when Ginny came to bed around midnight. She lay awake for a while, breathing in the smell of Ginny and wondering if Chris would have nightmares from going deeper into drug dependency. But everyone slept on until morning.

Margie left for Seattle, saying she'd probably pass Allie and Edwina on the way. Myra took Chris to the creek and kept writing in a steady flow while sitting in the running jeep. When Allie appeared at the car window and knocked suddenly, Myra jumped so hard she hit her head on the ceiling. Allie got in the passenger seat and they talked for half an hour, until Chris sent up her semaphore and Allie went to get her.

Myra got an e-mail that afternoon from Gillam, saying mail had arrived at their house for Chris which appeared to be her vehicle registration renewal. Right before Sima had left Chris, they'd bought a new Touareg together. Sima had walked away from it, and Chris had transferred it to her name, but it still had very few miles on it. It was now in Myra and Ginny's driveway. Chris had insisted that anyone in the family who needed to borrow it should do so, no need to ask, and left keys with Gillam. Myra wrote Gillam back and told him to send in the renewal, write a check on their house account, and promised they would call at sunset to light candles and say prayers.

That night Myra slept with Chris. She was awakened by the sound of retching, and clamped her hand over her own mouth before turning on the lamp. Chris had pulled the bedside toilet to her and as Myra watched, she vomited into the plastic bucket again. Myra turned her head, willing herself to not hurl. Chris finished, lay back on her side and gasped “I'm sorry, I didn't have enough warning to wake you or get to the bathroom.”

“It's all right, pal. Let me get you a washcloth.” Myra slid out the foot of the bed, an iron grip on her own stomach, and turned on lights as she went to the bathroom. Ginny had gone to bed but left the bedroom door open, and her confused voice came from the dark, saying “What's wrong? Myra, is that you?”

“Chris is vomiting” said Myra. She heard Ginny stumbling out of bed as Myra wet a washcloth and filled a cup with water.

“I'll do it” mumbled Ginny.

“No. I'll make it, Ginny, I will” said Myra. But Ginny followed her to the room where Chris had started retching again. Ginny took the washcloth from her and held it against Chris's forehead until the spasm passed.

“Oh, fuck, it hurts my back to do that” moaned Chris.

“Is this a reaction to the fentanyl, you think?” Myra asked Ginny.

“More than 24 hours later? Seems unlikely” said Ginny. “Listen, go get the Compazine, and call that 24 hour number for the doctor.”

The on-call nurse didn't return Myra's call for half an hour. By that time, Chris had stopped vomiting, taken a dose of Compazine and drank a cup of tea. She looked pale and listless, not quite dozing. The nurse said to take Chris to the ER if the vomiting persisted or Chris became unresponsive, but otherwise to push fluids and continue the anti-emetic.

Myra left a message on Bernie's service and reported to Ginny. Chris said “No ER”, opening her eyes in panic.

“No way” said Myra. “We got it, honey." She lay down beside Chris, who rolled over to put her head on Myra's shoulder. Ginny carried the bucket to the bathroom and cleaned it out. When she returned it, Chris was asleep again.

“You okay?” whispered Ginny.

“Yeah. Wish there was room for you on the other side of me” Myra replied. “Go get your sleep. Bernie will call us early, she'll have something useful to tell us.”

Bernie said it was probably not a reaction to the narcotic but rather a digestive issue. She promised to come out, despite it being Saturday, and take some labs plus look at Chris herself. She advised Chris to stay on clear liquids until she got there.

Myra hung up the phone, which had not awakened Ginny, and returned to bed with Chris. They were all asleep when Allie and Edwina came. Allie was instantly worried, and Myra put her to work making breakfast. Bernie came at 9:00, said Chris's vitals were normal, and okayed a small advance in diet. But Chris said her stomach felt fragile, and she stuck to tea and toast. Going to the creek was postponed for the day.

Myra made a potato and carrot broth for Chris's lunch, with no onions or seasoning except a little salt. She ate a cup of it, but got queasy and asked for another Compazine as well as a new pain patch. Chris's doctor called right before dinnertime to say her potassium was low and upped her oral dose. Chris ate more of the broth with toast at dinner and this time it didn't bother her stomach.

They sat around the fire, Ginny painting, and told stories. Chris's energy slowly improved, and by bedtime, she said she was sleepy but not wiped out. Myra lay down with her after Allie and Edwina left, and they got a solid eight hours of uninterrupted rest. Chris asked for eggs and rice at breakfast, and Myra allowed jubilation a small corner inside her chest. An hour later, after another dose of potassium but no need for Compazine, Chris said to Allie “You up for a creek run?”

“I am if you are” said Allie.

Chris was again red-cheeked and bright-eyed after returning from the creek. As they were eating lunch, Chris adding cooked chicken to her potato and carrot broth, the phone rang and Myra answered.

“Hey, Mom” said Margie, her voice loud and cheery. “I wanted to let you all know, I'm coming back today instead of in the morning.”

“Oh, honey, it's starting to snow here” said Myra. “Will you be here before dark?”

“No, I won't be leaving town until after 5:00” said Margie.

“Then why don't you wait?” said Myra.

“There's something I want to show you” said Margie, a lilt in her voice. Myra glanced at Ginny, trying to signal without Chris being able to read it. Their plan must have progressed much faster than they thought. But lawyers and title offices weren't open on Sundays. Maybe it had come though yesterday and she just found out about it, thought Myra.

“Well, give us a ring before you leave town, then” asked Myra.

“Do you need anything from the house?” asked Margie.

“Yes. Potato flour from the pantry, more yellow miso, and any frozen berries or pecans from the freezer” said Myra.

That night they skyped in to sing with the family for an hour. Margie wasn't at Jane and Gillam's but Frances said she still had not left for Colville. Margie didn't call to say she was leaving Seattle until almost 7:00.

“That means you won't be here until 11:00 or later” said Myra, worried.

“I know. And I'll be sleeping at the motel, ask Aunt Allie to make sure the heat is on in my room, there, all right? But I'll come to your place first” said Margie.

She never could postpone giving presents thought Myra. “Turn on the weather radio in the Volvo” said Myra. “It stopped snowing but...”

“I promise to be careful, Mom” said Margie. “Now more than ever.”

When Myra hung up, she realized Ginny had been humming for an hour and was now standing back, staring at her canvas and repeating “Okay. Okay.”

“Are you done?” asked Myra. “That was fast.”

Ginny let five seconds go by before saying “Yeah. I think I am.” She dropped her brush in a cleaning jar and hugged herself. “Stay there, I'll turn the easel around.”

It was a salmon in the process of being prepared for cooking, most of the head at the left side of the canvas, part of the tail on the right, and in between the body opened up top to bottom. It had been gutted but not deboned. The flesh was vivid and seemed to have actual oozes of moisture. After a minute, Myra realized the fish was lying on a dark grey boulder. Here and there were coppery glints of the now familiar metastatic bursts. It was exquisite and disturbing all at once.

“Jesus H. Christ” said Chris.

“I know” said Ginny, pushing herself against Myra's side. Myra said slowly “I wanted you to paint that breakfast we had beside the creek. I guess, in a way, I got my wish.”

Ginny said “Is there any of that onion pie left from dinner?”

“Go raid the larder” said Myra.

“Speaking of which, I'm going to move my bowels with gratitude” said Chris. “When I come back out, how about if we play a game – like maybe Scrabble?”

“I'll set up the board” said Edwina happily. Ginny ate ravenously and sat in for half an hour, then excused herself and went to bed. Allie and Edwina stayed until 10:00, and they all agreed to leave the filled Scrabble board on the table, to show it off to Margie. Chris was in good spirits, what she was calling fentanyl-phoria. Myra left the kitchen light on, to guide Margie, before she lay down with Chris.

She was not able to go sleep, worrying about her daughter driving through the mountain passes. Chris's breathing was deep and steady. Myra pushed her face into Chris's hair, smelling of the outdoors, still, and felt Chris unconsciously push back against her. She lay with her eyes open. When a car pulled into the driveway, an angle of light came in one of Chris's windows and reflected against the window on the perpendicular wall, so Myra should be able to catch a glint when Margie arrived.

The clock on Chris's nightstand reached 11:00 and passed it. Myra began trying to distract herself from waiting on Margie, but she couldn't come up with something to think about that didn't eventually lead back to her children. Finally, at 11:19, a flash of light along with a crunch of gravel allowed her to breathe out fully. She got up quietly and walked to the front door in her socks, standing in the open doorway and letting warm air eddy out.

Margie was already beside the car, lifting a pair of soft-sided bags. Myra was surprised to see another person coming around the front of the car. They were still in the shadow, but even in the dark Myra could tell they were too tall and wide to be Frances. And definitely not Carly or Eric.

As they stepped into the yellow box of light from the kitchen, Myra gasped. It was Sima.

© 2009 Maggie Jochild.



A mural in Ginny and Myra's neighborhood that the family refers to often, as in "I walked the dogs as far as the treed cat".

Here's a singular treat: A photo essay of Myra and Ginny's environs on Capital Hill in Seattle. For reasons of privacy, I won't share a photo of their actual house (old or new). But you'll recognize the shots below. All photographs courtesy of my extraordinary friend Martha.

Horizon Books, where Myra shops weekly when she's not ordering online from Powell's in Portland.

Interior of Horizon Books, showing the chair where Myra sits to browse through a stack of volumes she's thinking about buying -- as if she doesn't always wind up buying them all.

Rainbow Grocery, the natural foods store where Myra and Ginny buy any groceries they don't get at Pike Place or order directly from organic farmers.

The bulk bins at Rainbow Grocery. This is where Myra met up with Ginny once, back before they were dating, and ignored her in order to flirt with some young hottie. Silly Myra.

Casita, a little gift and clothing store near Broadway where Ginny shops frequently.

One of the displays inside Casita -- you can see why Ginny loves this place.

Coastal Kitchen, their favorite place to eat a celebratory dinner or order take-out before Carminati's was created.

"The pond" in Volunteer Park, where Myra and Ginny took their children and now the grandchildren to sail boats and feed ducks.

Inside the top of the Water Tower in Volunteer Park. This is where Myra made the decision, after Gil's death, which resulted in her recovery and the road to Ginny. She still goes here to think over tough issues.

Capital Hill from the top of the Water Tower.

The Seattle Asian Art Museum in Volunteer Park. Ginny comes here all the time.

Sculpture in front of the Seattle Asian Art Museum in Volunteer Park. When Myra and Ginny split up on a trip to the park, they arrange a time to meet at the "big doughnut in front of the museum".

The apartments where Jane and Gillam, Carly and Eric lived when they first moved back to Capital Hill from Olympia.

The front of Margie and Frances's house. Carminati's is to the right, past a driveway.

Part of the back yard of Margie and Frances' house. The big window looks into the pantry area of their kitchen.

Ms. Schevitz's former house, across the street. It was painted red after she moved out; when she lived there, it was blue.

An alley near Myra and Ginny's house where they always go on walks, with the dogs or without. They like to browse from the grapevines.

Part of the embedded art in the sidewalk, created by Ginny and Co., which marks the spot where Ginny first kissed Myra.


Wednesday, April 1, 2009


Camptown Ladies by Kara Walker (Camptown Ladies, paper cut by Kara Walker)

Hi, y'all. I've been fasting in terms of news and analysis, not just the dreadful network coverage, but also from even many progressive blogs. It seems like almost everybody is scared and instead of calmly admitting that, letting the fear work its way out, and using humor/kindness/connection to keep our spirits up, folks are trying to think their way out of a grim situation. The problem is, being scared shitless doesn't lend itself to clear thought. I know the Hollywood version is that a hero somehow magically knows what to do under pressure, the exact right button to push, and this is the example we're supposed to emulate. But most Hollywood heroes are morons in every other part of their lives, blocks of wood with two facial expressions in their toolbox, and I simply don't buy the myth that they have intelligence on reserve somewhere.

Further, too many of the people yammering away at us are the very ones whose belief system created the mess we're in, and I'm not going to trust their solutions. They want the system not to fail, but it has already failed. Epic Fail. I wish we'd all just stop tuning in to them. I'm sick to death of reading progressive blogs reporting on the drek coming from the liars and manipulators whom they damned well know are such -- it's not enough to know, you also need to stop giving them any attention whatsoever. No reinforcement at all.

What I already understand is enough to help me chart a new course:

(1) The system of growth at all costs has failed. Sustainability is now upon us.
(2) There was never as much money as they pretended there was in order to keep making profits from manipulating money. It ain't coming back.
(3) If we stop being the world's consumers, we have to come up with another reason why we are valuable. I vote for integrity, pluralism, and human liberation, how's that sound?
(4) If we give up the addictions of consumption and overstimulated attention spans, we have to choose recovery and work it instead of the Dubya method.

Obama is not FDR. He's doing some things well, others less well, and comparing him to Dubya is pointless because I have a used tampon which could do a better job than Dubya did. Obama and the folks he's choosing as administrators of his vision are not going to come up with a new way of doing things. He was crystal clear about that all along. He will find practical ways to keep things as they are, more functional but essentially unrevised. The good part of his methodology is that it will keep folks from starving and dying, a trend the Bush administration absolutely was not going to ever intervene to stop. This will buy some time for real visionaries to create and implement change. That's us, the Peanut Gallery. So don't get caught up in the minutiae of this period -- stoke your coals for the long haul and the big dreams.

Now, of course, it's important I own where I stand personally. I live knee-deep in the floodwaters. I have no more physical slack, most days, than you could find in a Nyquil dispensing cup. My health issues have taken a turn for the worse over the last month, making my daily burden -- oh, hell, I can't even describe it. You don't want to know. Just trust me, it's enough to have shut me up for a while.

I don't write if what I'm producing doesn't raise the energy in some way.

But, like John Lennon, I try to always admit when it's getting better, and I'm getting better. Emotionally and spiritually, at least. So here's my voice again, with a few things to share.

LOLCat Dance like nobody's watching

One of my struggles this past month is that my cat Dinah got suddenly ill, to such an extent that she vanished and would not come when I called her. I had no money or means of getting help for her/us for a few days, and I went a little nuts over it. Finally folks stepped in with funds, and at the same time she recovered from whatever it was. She's completely back to normal. Still, it's altered our relationship, at least my end of it. I now admit to myself how emotionally dependent I am on her companionship. She's the only living thing I see, week in and week out.

Night before last Dinah did her disappearing act again. I was eating my version of lunch, which is around 10 p.m., and I noticed she wasn't showing up to check out my plate. She won't eat human food but she always like to look over my menu and give me a critical glance. I realized I hadn't seen her for an hour. I began calling her, and she didn't respond or come, which she almost always does -- curiosity rules her personality. I tried not to panic, gave it an hour in case she was deep in sleep, and went back to work.

When she hadn't shown up in a hour, I began calling, then searching for her. Unfortunately, there are several places she can hide where I cannot get to her. I guess she was in one of them and in a Greta Garbo mood. She didn't appear again for eight hours, during which time I pretty much melted down, decided she had died of a sudden heart attack or something like that and I wouldn't be able to locate her body until it began deteriorating. No sleep or work was possible. She eventually came, after a long bout of calling on my part, looking like "What is your problem?" I slobbered all over her (metaphorically speaking, of course) and she allowed me to rave on about how much I needed her. Since then, she has adopted a new habit, climbing onto the back of my rolling office chair as I type and sitting in state, looking over my shoulder. I actually love the proximity, although it means I can't shift position in my chair and after 15 minutes or so, that becomes painful. Whatever. Even if she's fucking with me, I'm too attached to her to care.

Postcard from Stella Marrs (Postcard from'>Stella Marrs)

A year ago, the national transcription company I work for part-time (which is consistently rated the best in the country, with a commitment to never outsource their work overseas), finally gave in to industry pressure and began allowing their hospital clients to use speech recognition software [SRS] as part of the transcription process. The way it works is that some physicians dictate their medical reports into the software, which then "transcribes" it and that version comes to us, the transcriptionist. Theoretically, we listen, correct the errors, and the software "learns" how that particular physician deviates in their speech pattern, making the transcription increasingly more accurate. For this we received a cut in pay on any report sent through that software. We had no choice in the matter.

Interestingly, the folks selling the hospitals this software strongly advised only the clearest dictators be allowed to use it at the beginning. I've been through this before with other companies, and could easily predict how it would go. Electronic medical records, for instance, typically demand 10-15 minutes of entry and review time from a physician for each patient seen. However, dictating that same report will take no more than 3 minutes of her/his time. Even the most tech-crazy young doctor quickly figured out they could not possibly keep up the patient load most of them have (about four patients per hour in a typical day) and also use the EMR system. It's far cheaper to pay a transcriptionist to create the record than use 10 minutes of physician time. But by the point the hospitals figure this out, the software company has cashed their check and moved on to the next sucker I mean customer.

Electronic medical records are far more accessible, which can and does lead to improved patient care -- if the physician uses them competently. But they also remove any hope of patient privacy. Trust me, I know. Don't tell your doctor anything you don't want to be publicly available, not if they're using EMR.

Speech recognition software is also doubly labor-intensive. The physician saves no time, her/his dictation requirement is the same. But the complete and utter garbled crap that arrives over the wire to me as a supposed draft legal medical document is a hazard to good care everywhere. I gave the effort of training the software an honest try, and at the one year mark, when even the slowest and clearest-voiced dictators are still resulting in "review for errors" reports which are virtually unreadable -- I decided it ain't working. In a medical report, the placement of a decimal point on a lab test or medicine dosage, for instance, is critical to well-being. Do doctors dictate "zero point two five micrograms"? No, not even the best of them. They say, in a rush, "two-five mikes". They use CVA for both costovertebral angle and cardiovascular accident. Peroneal means a different part of the body than perineal (VERY different part of the body). And so on. Me, with my human brain and decades of experience, automatically translate this into what they mean to say. I care very much about the absolute accuracy and usefulness of the records I product, because it is human health and well-being on the other end.

Factor into this the reality that a growing percentage of good doctors in this country are not native English speakers, or have regional American accents which the allegedly "smart" software seems utterly unable to comprehend, plus the fact that most physicians dictate on the go in very noisy environments (where background speech is picked up by the software and inserted as random words into the transcribed report), and the number of physicians who will ever be good candidates for SRS plummets.

So, I've stopped even trying to correct the first drafts I get. I start from scratch, transcribing what I hear, and it goes much, much faster than if I hop from word to word cleaning up the mess. The hospital plan, of course, is that eventually they can just use the software and phase out a transcription service. Well, lots of luck with that. As long as patients can sue for malpractice, the accuracy of medical records will be a profitable concern, and there is no machine that can replace what I do. Until that lesson is learned, all these expensive purchases and trials will come out of hospital budgets and get passed on to you.

Two tangents I want to follow from the above: First, last night I typed a medical report on someone famous who is a personal hero of mine. I'll tell you it was a woman, since you'd probably guess that much, but nothing else that might identify her. I wanted to look at the entirety of her medical record, but did not until during the course of typing her report, I could not ascertain the name of a particular physician from her past and had to go dig anyhow. I read her original History and Physical, which was revelatory. She has major health issues that must affect every detail of her personal life, and I had no idea. I view her very differently now, with heightened respect. I'll never meet her personally, but I've still invaded her privacy, don't you think? I console myself with a promise that I'll never, ever tell anyone else what I learned.

This is the second time this has occurred in my career. The other instance, it was a major actress who that year came up for an Academy Award. The movie she was about to begin filming had a health clause which might have kept her from the Oscar-contending role if they had learned of the condition which was being secretly treated (and which was the topic of the report I typed). I kept that secret, too, and I've never read about her health issue out there in the gossip trade.

Another reason why SRS is being tried out by transcription companies, in addition to demand from clients who are determined to learn the hard way, is that it is becoming increasingly difficult for them to find competent people to work as transcriptionists. It's not only that the ability to transcribe is a particular language ability which is akin to simultaneous translation -- you can learn it, but if you don't have some sort of innate ability, you'll never be really proficient. Those of us who have the ability can transcribe, editing as we go, without actually retaining most of what is passing through our brains. We can carry on a conversation, listen to radio or TV, or (in my case) write poetry and fiction in our heads as we transcribe.

But, as I said, it's not just the particular ability of transcription, it's also finding folks who can spell anything that comes along without looking it up or relying on a spellchecker, who know grammar and syntax backwards and forwards, and who have keen listening skills. These are all human abilities which are atrophying in our current culture. I hear that most grade schools are no longer teaching handwriting because kids use keyboards so much, which I think is absolutely ludicrous -- why not stop teaching kids how to walk, I mean, we have Segways, don't we? Or stop teaching basic math because we have calculators. The fact is, not only do these basic skills make us independent of electronics and petroleum-based technology whose days are numbered, they also help develop our brains in ways we can ill afford to lose. As a writer, I use keyboards for certain kinds of composition but not others. No single technique is best for any kind of activity, haven't we learned that by now? It's more of the dumbing down, lowest common denominator culture of conservatism, which understands that stupid, incurious consumers are the ideal citizens under their version of government.

Photo of crescent moon over water

Still, I promised to raise the energy, and fresh examples all around us. Folks are putting in gardens and deciding to eat better rather than "diet". Iceland elected an out lesbian to lead their country. (I wish dykes and blacks didn't always get their first breaks when things have gone to shit and it's questionable whether anyone can fix the mess we're handed, but a first is a first.) New Mexico repealed the death penalty. Religiosity in America is being slowly replaced by generic spirituality. The State of Missouri understands the real threat to our personal security is the right-wing among us, not those brown people from (fill in the blank). The Texas State Board of Education managed to keep some significant Creationist language out of our science education standards. I bet you have examples of how the floodwaters are receding as well, perhaps literally if you live in Fargo. Jump in and dare to believe. See you around.

[Cross-posted at Group News Blog.]


Tuesday, March 31, 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 30, 2009


(Miwok Indian grinding holes, Clover Valley, Placer County, California)

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.

Monday-Wednesday, 9-11 December, 2019

Margie returned Monday afternoon, which meant Myra had a chance to be the one to take Chris to the creek. Chris waited in the car while Myra set up the yoga pad, thermos and folded buffalo robe. Chris leaned on her heavily as they traversed a jumble of rocks to the massive boulder with a built-in back and leg rest next to the icy falls. Myra squatted next to Chris as Chris settled in. The sky was pewter-colored and clear, and it was colder than usual. Pneumonia kept intruding into her thoughts, but she wasn't going to say a word, not with the look of calm joy on Chris's face as she scanned the creek.

“You know, this was a kitchen for a long time” said Chris.

“What do you mean, a kitchen?” Myra looked around her for house foundations.

“A place where people – my people – not only fished and gathered water-life, but also prepared it. That bank across from us is perfect for smoking racks. The falls I'm sure had fish traps but were also good for rinsing all kinds of things. And that boulder beside us, look at it. What do you see?” Chris pointed.

“'s flat, so I guess you could sit on it to work. It's got signs of water covering it at some point in the past, though, with those holes where rock has been eaten away” said Myra.

“Those holes are not from water action” said Chris, grinning. “Look at 'em.”

Myra scooted over and peered into the five holes which went down into the hard rock at least half a foot. The opening of each hole was roundish and also about half a foot in diameter. Leaves and other debris had built up in the bottoms, and she was reluctant to explore them even with a gloved hand. Suddenly she realized what they were.

“My fucking god...they're morteros, aren't they?”

“Yep. At least, they began that way. Women would be grinding nuts, grains, roots in a shallow depression with one of these round river rocks, and after enough time, hundreds of years maybe, the hole would get deep enough to not be useful for that purpose any more. So they'd move on to a new spot. But the existing depression now became a cooking pot. Put in the soup or grain, add more river stones which have been left in the coals of a fire for several hours, and you've got a superb slow cooker” said Chris.

This was the exact spot where Myra had heard those voices from long ago, the time she'd visited while Chris was hiking up the creek. She shivered involuntarily: She'd heard those women making supper.

She looked at Chris, her lips trembling. “Let's cook in them again.”


“Let's clean them out and make breakfast in them tomorrow. Some kind of mush, I've got stone-ground cornmeal which isn't exactly the same but it's damned close. With other wild ingredients.” Myra was beside herself to try.

Chris said “Can you get them clean enough?”

“I'll come back later with scrubbers and something nontoxic. As long as they are just rock all the way down, I can make it work.”

Chris's grin was dazzling. “You're on. I'll think about ingredients. Now buzz off, I need to talk with my ancestors.”

Myra drove the jeep to a point where she could see Margie's red scarf in the tree but the running motor would offer no sound or fumes to disturb Chris. She left the engine going to warm herself, plugged in her laptop and opened the file of her novel. Funny, how it was about a creek girl. It was drawn from her own life, but would change forever now, because Chris was a creek girl, too.

That afternoon, while Chris took a nap, Margie came back with Myra and they cleaned out three of the holes, with final rinse of boiling water. They covered the holes with an upside-down plate topped by a rock. Ginny stayed at the cabin because she was starting to paint the front crossbar of Chris's walker.

They decided to wait on the creekside breakfast until Allie and Edwina could join them. The next morning, Margie took Chris to the creek. While they were gone, Myra wrote and intermittently watched Ginny, who was working at the table with the folded walker in front of her.

“You know, Chris made that joke about her family name, Kash. But the fact is, she's the only Kash left in that line. Ricky and Wayne have their dad's last name, and Tina took her husband's” remarked Myra.

“Did Chris's dad have any brothers to hand it on?” asked Ginny.

“No. Her grandfather did, and there are other Kashes out there, she knows them, but they're distant cousins. I wish there were more.” Myra paused, and added “I wish there were more Bates, too. Cathy's sons and grandchildren are all Lerners.”

“Oh, I'm not worried about the Bates” said Ginny, peering closely at her work.

“Why, because your art will make sure the name is immortal?” said Myra.

Ginny chuckled. “It would be false modesty for me to deny. So yeah, but the main reason is, we have incredible genes and culture, which counts more than the name. I mean, most of what's getting handed on is Cohen, not Bates, to be technical about it.”

Myra thought about that. “You know, a lot of the time Margie uses Bates, not Josong-Bates. Which I secretly like her doing.”

“You are such a sweetie-pie” said Ginny, giving her a tender grin for a moment. “I tell you what I love, the fact that you as a young dyke invented a whole new surname, based on your Mama's name, and now there's seven of you in the world. I get to be part of launching a completely new name.”

Myra could hear the pride in Ginny's voice, and let it swirl around inside her. After a minute, she said “I don't know about the Kash culture, but Chris has sure left her mark on our family. And those genes, Ruby's stamped from the same mold.”

After lunch, Allie and Edwina arrived only a few minutes before Bernie. Margie was introduced, and Bernie took Chris into her room for an exam, blood draw, and urine catch. They returned to the table for Bernie's report on her previous test results: Not good. Slightly more abnormal than the week before.

Chris told her about her plan to focus on First Foods. Bernie offered no objection, which Myra found fascinating. Chris had not mentioned the fact that she was spending two hours a day exposed to the cold, but Myra wondered if Bernie would understand that, too. Myra gave her a dozen muffins to take home, warning her “They're blueberry bran with flax added in, now that Chris is using tramadol regularly. She's been calling them Thunder Muffins, so eat in moderation.” It drew a laugh from Bernie.

Chris went in for her nap and Allie joined her, saying the drive had been tiring. Edwina sat at the table with Myra and watched Ginny's progress as much as Myra did. Margie decided she needed to go into town, and Myra gave her a list of wild food items she might be able to find at the grocery store. When Margie returned, she'd found organic scallions -- “Which isn't wild, but closer than the alternative, right?” -- plus dried service berries, pine nuts, and kosher chickens. Myra roasted the chickens for dinner, saving the schmaltz.

Chris settled in her chair by the stove as dinner filled the house with smells. Margie said “The wood box is nearly empty” and picked it up to fill outside instead of making trips back and forth. Myra had walked to the dining table to set down a bowl of creamed corn, and glanced up at Margie coming back through the sliding doors with the laden box in her arms.

“Margie – There's a mouse on your shoulder!” she called out. Margie screamed at the highest end of her register and dropped the box with a crash, narrowly missing both her feet and those of Chris. She brushed frantically at her shoulders, made contact with the mouse and resumed screaming. It fell from her and she bolted into the kitchen. Allie lifted her feet onto the couch and said “Where did it go?”

Chris had gone into hysterics of laughter. Myra turned on all the lights and began scanning the floor. The bedroom doors were open, so it could have gone anywhere. Edwina and Allie helped her begin searching. After a minute, Myra said “Where's Ginny?” There was no sign of her in either of the bedrooms or the bathroom. Myra slowly raised her eyes to the ceiling, as if she might find Ginny doing a Summer Glau and clinging there somehow.

“Ginny!” she called out, bewildered. They heard a voice from the front window answer “I'm out here.” Myra went to the front door to look at Ginny, standing with her shirt-sleeved arms crossed over her chest. She said “Gin, you're only wearing socks on your feet.”

“Toss me the car keys” said Ginny, her eyes riveted on the door sill, watching for a mouse surge. Myra reached for them, but Margie was ahead of her, pushing out the door and saying to Ginny “I'll join you.”

Edwina came from the bathroom, shaking her head. Allie said “Chris, stand up. Maybe it crawled into your buffalo robe.” Chris had not stopped laughing, and Allie had to help her to her feet. The robe was shook out, with no trace of the mouse.

“Hell” said Myra. “If it's burrowed into furniture or a drawer somewhere -- “

“Maybe it went into the stove” said Edwina.

Myra gaped at her. “If it's in there, it's either Sam McGee or the spawn of Satan.”

“Check the wood box” said Allie. “Could be it went back to the only safe-looking spot in the house.”

Myra carried the box outside and dumped it onto a patch of snow. She yelled and jerked backward as the small animal streaked from the logs, uncrushed, and headed into the night. “Good luck” she called after it. She restacked the wood, shaking each piece before putting it in the box, and carried it back to the house.

“You nailed it” she said to Allie. “It's coyote snack material now.”

Allie opened the stove door and began adding wood. Myra went to the front door and waved at Margie and Ginny, who had the jeep running. Ginny rolled down the window and said “If you don't find it, I'm sleeping out here.”

“We got it” said Myra. “It's in the back yard again.”

“You swear?”

“On my honor” said Myra. She went to get dry socks for Ginny. When she returned to the living room, Margie was saying in a defensive tone “You have to admit, it's one of those sentences you never want to hear – 'There's a mouse on your shoulder.'”

Chris, between giggles, said “Yeah, it ranks right up there with 'I used Poligrip on the dildo.'”

Myra wound up lying on the floor beside Allie, slapping the linoleum in hysterics. Ginny ate dinner with her feet tucked underneath her in the chair. For the rest of the evening, Myra and Allie took turns sending each other into fits of laughter by saying only “Poligrip.”

Myra soaked more shredded pemmican overnight in water. Six round rocks from the creek had been brought home, scrubbed, and left on top of the woodstove overnight. At Chris's direction in the morning, Myra mashed the scallions, pine nuts, camas root, sea salt, and schmaltz in her own mortar and pestle, adding it to the pemmican broth in a covered container. They carried this plus bowls and spoons, thermoses of tea, corn meal, maple syrup, and dried berries in the back of the jeep. Margie loaded the rocks into a dutch oven with tongs and avoided contact between the pot and her clothing.

It had begun snowing, enormous fluffy flakes that had already covered the boulders and the plates. Ground cloth was spread, Chris was settled under her buffalo robe with a poncho over that, and the plates were moved to reveal still-clean holes. Myra divided the corn meal and liquid mixture between the three holes, adding some extra water because it looked too thick. She dropped one of the rocks into the mixture, and steam instantly arose with a cracking sound.

“Holy moly” said Allie. Myra put two rocks into each hole and handed long metal spoons to Allie and Ginny. They each stirred steadily as the mush cooked and came together. Myra could feel the heat emanating from her own hole, and marveled at the conductive power of those round stones.

In fifteen minutes, Myra declared it done. The contents of each hole was spooned into two heaping bowls, the rocks scraped clean and set aside. Chris took the first bite. Her eyes went wide, then fluttered shut. A sound of pleasure came from her.

Myra took a taste. Elemental nutrition she thought. She decided the flavor was too extraordinary to cover with maple syrup. The sound of their spoons scraping glass bowls was slightly muffled by the snowfall. Their cheeks were claret red, the white of the new snow was almost blue, and the boulders around them had gone black from moisture. Please, Ginny, please paint this moment she thought.

She didn't want to leave. Margie and Allie had a brief skirmish over who got to stay on watch, and Margie won. They put the dishes back in the jeep and the four friends walked back to the house together through the sky falling around them.

© 2009 Maggie Jochild.