Hot Pink

So the antibiotics that they’ve given me this time are hot pink. And about the size of my head.

I’ve been dealing with this little thing in my lungs for a few months now, something which has settled there and has been aggravating my asthma — kind of like our current President. But in the past couple of weeks it’s been getting worse, and while my peak flow rates have been fine and my air flow has been good, I’ve been coughing a lot and feeling very short of breath. So I got my manager to let me leave the mollusc training site early yesterday so that I could get home in time for a 6:30 appointment with my doctor.

Unfortunately, Bay Area traffic defeated my attempts to get to the doctor on time, and I wound up being too late at the Urgent Care Clininc, so they gave my appointment time to someone else. Fortunately, I was able to reschedule for this morning. And this morning at the doctor I found out two things of interest:

  1. There is a whooping cough epidemic in Yolo County; and
  2. I probably have it.

Whooping cough!??!” my mother said to me on the phone. “How can you have whooping cough?”

I told her that it was all the rage up in Yolo County. All the kids have it, and so do a few adults. It’s very Continental and sophisticated. We know all this because whooping cough is one of those diseases that, if you get it, needs to be reported to the Health Department, and the doctor who is in charge of the Urgent Care Clinic has pretty much become the de facto expert on Whooping Cough in Yolo County.

So now I’m taking massive steroids (more than I’ve taken since high school), some huge hot pink antibiotics (think Divine in prescription form), some lovely codeine-laced cough syrup, and a special inhaler. All of this in addition to my regular diet of pills, potions, and nostrums. I’m tied to my nebulizer with bonds of mist, and my albuterol lives in my pocket (well, it always does, but I like the opportunity for dramatic flair).

The good news, though, is that if this is whooping cough (the test have yet to come back positive, but the doctor thinks it’s a good bet), then I’m probably well past the contagious stage. This is good, since I’ve spent that past week or two working with mollusks in California, whose immune systems are not necessarily up to snuff.

On another note, I’ll be back on the road tomorrow, after less than 48 hours at home. But, at least, I’ll be in a cool hotel with free wireless network access, which is close to Yosemite.

So, until later… Whoop! Whoop! Gasp!

Nerddom

Here I am in Ventura County, where I have discovered that Southern California does not know how to cope with water falling from the sky. It’s been raining all day now, and drains are backing up and cars are hydroplaning and people are carrying umbrellas as if they were dirty diapers on the way to the trash bin. The exit from Santa Rosa to Highway 101 was almost completely blocked off when we tried to get onto the highway, and we had to drive through a puddle that was so deep the water nearly seeped into the car under the bottom edge of the doors.

Truly an exciting way to start another day of training mollusks on the proper use of their new shell polishers.

Since I’m a library student, and since my job is probably going to send me to just about every county in the State of California, I’ve come up with a neat idea for souvenirs: whenever I go to a new county, I’m going to get a new library card. My goal is to get a library card from each county in California that has a library system. Today I walked to the Ventura branch of the Ventura Public Library and picked up my first card. I’m sure that when I’m done, this will be a truly awe-inspiring collection, and I know that my story will be a source of hope and enlightenment to people all over the world.

Meanwhile, teaching the use of shell polishing equipment is not necessarily the most challenging of tasks, especially when there are no mollusks about to attend the classes. But at all times, we must maintain a professional appearance, which is only appropriate: that means no reading, no playing solitaire on my laptop computer, and so on. But I’ve found I can play with my new cell phone, which is relatively small and unobtrusive and easily concealed in my hands.

So I discovered some neat features; and the most exciting is that I can send and receive e-mail right on my phone. So after signing up my cell phone e-mail address to receive breaking news alerts from CNN, I sent an e-mail to my wife to say Hi. She wrote back to me shortly, filling me in on her doctor’s appointment and the rest of her day.

And in that e-mail, she wrote, “YOU ARE SUCH A NERD!”

She seems to have based this on the very flimsy evidence that I collect library cards and like to find out all of the cool features on my new cell phone.

Very flimsy evidence indeed.

More Out the Gate

Following up to my phenomenal success at selling “Ten Foot Tall He Was, with Eyes of Flame” to Anotherealm, I’ve begun a new round of marketing some of my short stories. I finally received a rejection slip from Cemetery Dance (”Who?” I hear you ask; “One of the top names in horror fiction today,” you hear me reply). I’d sent them “Ten Foot Tall…” back in April and they didn’t want it. Probably for the best, since I’d sold it somewhere else.

Today, “Burying Uncle Albert” when to Cemetery Dance and “Indications” went to Weird Tales. I’d lost track of Weird Tales for several years, but found just last night that they’re still printing. I like their stuff and I think I fit in with them.

So, my two stories are headed out. Godspeed, little fellas.

Writing is hard. So, so freaking hard. Hard to get myself motivated, hard to put the words on to paper. But it’s like sneezing. The stories just kind of build up in you — more and more, worse and worse, until you have no choice but to expel them out of you as quickly as possible and maybe wipe up the remnants afterwards with some Kleenex. I write because it’s better for my health than trying to keep my sneezes all bottled up.

And because there are all of these neat worlds inside of me. Well, I think that they’re neat. In my own mind I’ve managed to create a “meta-mythos” which kind of encompasses every novel idea and most of the role-playing game ideas I’ve ever had. I could write a dozen books and a hundred short stories and the poor fools who wanted to know what was going on in my head would have to read them all to figure it all out. I’m a devious little schmuck, aren’t I?

But I’m still having trouble just sitting down and writing. So. Three pages a day. That’s what I’m promising myself. I’m planning on writing ten short stories this year, and possibly finish the first draft of The Troll King’s Daughter. I think that once I have some momentum, it’ll get easier for me again.

Bounded In A Nut Shell

“O God, I could be bounded in a nut shell and count myself a king of infinite space…”

Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act II, scene ii

It’s been at least twenty years since I last looked through the telescope that my grandfather gave to me for my birthday many many years ago. I still have it, and it’s been with me since then; it lived in my parents’ garage for a long time until I finally decided to take it home with me about five years ago. And it lived with me and Jennifer in Woodland, and came with us to Dixon, all without me peering through it even once.

Tonight I took it out from its corner in the garage and set it up. Some of the bolts that hold it together have loosened over the years, and the lenses are all dusty. I used to have a sun filter, a little screw-in filter I could attach to look directly at the Sun through my telescope — I remember doing so when I was young, and staring at sunspots and solar flares and thinking how cool it all was.

I took out my telescope because when Jennifer and I went to the California Academy of Sciences the week before last, we saw a planetarium presentation all about the celestial events coming up in the year 2003, and one of them was the opposition of Jupiter — which means that Jupiter is directly opposite the Sun from Earth. This means that it’s prime Jupiter-viewing time right now.

Our back yard is pretty conducive to stargazing: the streelights are mostly blocked by neighboring houses and trees, and right now Jupiter is very high in the sky. So I took my telescope and found a particularly shaded spot and started focusing. I looked through the viewfinder and found Jupiter, then spent a good forty-five minutes adjusting and focusing. In all the time since I’d last used my telescope, I’d forgotten some of the finer points… like how my back would get sore after having to bend over to peer into the eyepiece.

I finally did find Jupiter. And the sight was worth the fuss with the adjustments and the ache in the back. Not only could I see five of Jupiter’s moons, but I could also see, faintly, some of the lines that mark that planet’s surface, as thin bands of darker color.

It was beautiful.

Tomorrow during the day I’m going to take a few minutes to tighten some of the bolts on my telescope so that tomorrow night I can see Jupiter more easily with less fiddling and adjusting and without worrying that I’ll lose the sight if I accidently breathe on the tripod. And then I’ll look around at some of the other sights of the night sky that I know are out there.

Earlier this evening I was browsing through Space.com, looking up articles about the Columbia investigation, when I found this article about the Challenger explosion. On that page is an audio file of Mission Control’s transmissions through the launch of Challenger to confirmation of its explosion. It’s chilling; from the cool, steady voice stating, “Obviously a major malfunction” to the same cool voice just close to trembling with emotion annoucing, “We have confirmation that the vehicle has exploded.”

I’m heartened by news that NASA is determined to proceed with the manned space program, that even Mr. Bush has recommended an increase to NASA’s budget, and most of all by the joint statement issued by the families of the seven astronauts lost on Saturday morning: that the journey must go on.

I also found this quote from Ilan Ramon, the Israeli astronaut who was also the first Israeli to go into space: “The world looks marvelous from up here, so peaceful, so wonderful, and so fragile.” Down here we squabble and fight and talk about war and destruction, while the view from space can make it all seem insignificant. And that is one of the many reasons why the journey must go on.

The full line from Hamlet is, “O God, I could be bounded in a nut shell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.” Our physical realities are small — we’re bounded by nutshells, so to speak. Yet in our imaginations we can travel the Universe and explore and discover things that we never dreamed of. Can we let our “bad dreams” — our hatreds, our fears, our prejudices and angers — get in the way of that?

The Stars They Sought

This morning, I woke up before the sun had arisen. It was about 5:40. The alarm had not gone off, but I had wanted to wake up this early because I knew that the space shuttle Columbia would be re-entering Earth’s atmosphere just over northern California at about 5:50, and it would be visible as a shooting star over my house at about 5:52 a.m.

I looked out the window, and the fog in our area was far too dense to see anything. I went back to bed, saddened that I couldn’t see the shuttle as it re-entered, but knowing there will be other opportunities.

I woke up again at 7:45 and stumbled blearily into the computer room to check my e-mail. The two CNN Breaking News alerts in my Inbox were the first indication I had about the news from Columbia: that NASA had lost contact with the shuttle over Texas; and, later, that the Space Shuttle had broken up over Texas.

There is virtually no possibility that this was a terrorist incident of any kind. One spokesman for the Bush administration has already said that they couldn’t think of a more difficult to hit target than the Space Shuttle. One of the seven astronauts on board was Ilan Ramon, the first Israeli astronaut in space, and his presence has undoubtedly made the threat of terrorism look more likely to many. It’s more likely, however, that there was some damage to the heat resistant tiles on the left wing of the shuttle, and that is was caused the problems which led to the shuttle’s breakup.

I’ve been scanning the news sites, including Space.com, and there’s no indication that the crew had communicated any problems to ground control. It sounds like whatever happened was quick. We should be glad for that, at least; the seven aboard probably suffered very little.

It’s far too easy to point fingers and throw around blame and ponder what policies might change or how this might affect our nation and our space program. Today, though, we should send our thoughts to the families of the seven crew members aboard the space shuttle. Today my flag is flying at half mast. The seven men and women of the crew of Space Shuttle Mission STS-107 gave their lives in service to their nations and in the name of exploration and discovery.

  • Rick Husband
  • William McCool
  • Kalpana Chawla
  • David Brown
  • Mike Anderson
  • Laurel Clark
  • Ilan Ramon

May they rest forever among the stars they sought.