Please enjoy these blogposts, written between 2011 and 2015. Another blog is on the way.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


I've been sick--a little sick, then more sick--and now I'm well again.  Two rounds of oral antibiotics didn't faze my infection, so I had to show up at the infusion room of St. Joseph's in Bellingham for an intravenous antibiotic.

"Considering how common illness is,"writes Virginia Woolf in On Being Ill, "how tremendous the spiritual change that it brings, how astonishing, when the lights of health go down, the undiscovered countries that are then disclosed, what wastes and deserts of the soul a slight attack of influence brings to view . . . how we go down into the pit of death and feel the waters of annihilation close above our heads . . . it becomes strange indeed that illness has not taken its place with love and battle and jealousy among the prime themes of literature."

Woolf's husband and doctors put her to bed when she was ill. While she was recuperating, they sent her out on long country walks and made her drink gallons of milk. They didn't let her write, believing that writing disturbed her mind and stressed her body. Not writing, I've always suspected, made her sicker. But maybe not.

I have a hard time staying in bed.  I spent the days before my evening treatments grading fifty essays. I could have postponed this task, I guess, but I knew I would panic if I got behind in grading, if this set of essays was still unfinished when the next set rolled in.  My IV port was in my left hand, so I was able to write in margins all day long. My husband and son walked the dog and washed the dishes and bought the groceries, all jobs I couldn't have done. Friends took care of the dog one day while my husband attended a meeting. I carried on with the one thing that I could do.

Woolf had household servants. Do I need to repeat this?  Her family did not have to wait on her all day long. The idea that the very people I used to take care of are taking care of me may be what keeps me up and down the stairs, in and out of the house, or sitting up in my office moving my pen. I never quite commit to being the patient.

The infusion room at St. Joe's is quiet in the evening.  My IV antibiotic was called Gentamicin, a friendly name for a substance that didn't make me sicker while it was making me well--unlike the pills I'd been swallowing. The nurses could not have been kinder, even when, after multiple sticks, they couldn't get through my thick skin to a vein. A"pick nurse," Janine, came to the rescue, inserting a pediatric-size needle near my wrist bone.  Janine rolls her equipment around in front of her in a cart as tall as an IV pole, with stacks of baskets for her needles and tubes and a shoebox-sized ultrasound machine for spotting the tiny veins of children.  Like anyone with a very specific skill she has utterly mastered and does not underestimate, she took her time, spoke softly, and succeeded on the first try.

The infusion room is not far from the chemo room, and I think this is what Woolf meant when she wrote that the "waters of annihilation close above our heads" in illness.  You can't help, if you are 58 and sick, thinking ahead to future illnesses, to final ones.  Maybe this, and not the discomfort of being waited on, is the real reason I don't lie down and let myself get well.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Sex as Deal Breaker in The Ides of March **Spoiler Alert**

I went to see The Ides of March Saturday night with my husband and son, and I should have stayed home. A. O. Scott of The New York Times warned me that although the film has “lofty” ambitions—to wrestle with “the nature of honor, the price of loyalty, the ways that a man’s actions are a measure of his character”--in the end it simply points out instances of male politicians treating women like paper napkins, of lying in politics generally, and of reporters getting things wrong.  None of this is news, Scott says.  Right.  I’d go a little further: the fine acting in this film is utterly wasted.

Married Democratic governor Mike Morris, played by George Clooney, is a guy with a conscience except when it comes to sex.  His media manager, Stephen Myers, played by Ryan Gosling, puts Morris’s sexual errors into context this way:

Don’t you know, [says Myers to the governor] that you can start a war [and here my memory of the actual movie dialogue gets faulty, so I’ll make up a few things], you can throw innocent people into prison, you can wreck a thriving economy, you can burn the country to the ground, but [what comes next I can quote with some confidence] “the one thing you cannot do is FUCK AN INTERN!”

The intern in question, said to be 20 years old, is played by Evan Rachel Wood and is the daughter of the chairman of the DNC.  It doesn’t matter much who she is, except that her connection makes Morris seem even more hubristic than we already believe him to be and renders Myers, who sleeps with her, too, reckless, at the very least. 

So it all comes down to sex.  That’s recent, though, isn’t it?  Didn’t FDR have a long-lived affair with Lucy Mercer?  Didn’t most of the Kennedy family get it on with Marilyn Monroe?  Bill Clinton may have been the turning point.  He was just a little too relaxed about his infidelities.

After the movie, I had an argument with my son:

Me: I don’t understand this puritanical attitude toward sex.  The George Clooney character has sex with a young woman and suddenly he’s not fit to be president? 

Son: He’s married, Mom.  Are you saying that it shouldn’t matter if he screws around on the side?

Me  I’m saying that once it wouldn’t have mattered. 

Son: Would you have voted for Barack if it came out that he was doing an intern?

Me:  I voted for Clinton when it was already pretty clear that he couldn’t keep it in his pants.

Son: But, see, that’s the difference. He never pretended he was a good guy that way.

Me: So it’s the hypocrisy you object to?

Son:  Well yes, the lying, but also the sex.

Me: It wasn’t that way when we were young.  You could sleep with anybody you wanted to.  The birth control pill was a wonderful thing.   

Husband: AIDS. That’s what changed everything. 

[My son and I ignore him. This happens far too often.]

Son: But don’t you think it’s better this way, Mom, better now than then?

Me: I do not think so. [At this point I reassure both husband and son that I myself do not practice infidelity.]  . . .  All I’m saying is why does it matter so much?  When did we start to hold up marital fidelity as THE indicator of character?  George W and his father before him were faithful in office, so we believe, but how many deaths were they responsible for?

My son and I did not agree to disagree.  We just disagreed. I’ve been thinking a lot about the conversation since.

I know what the seventh commandment is, but what about all the others?

My husband has always maintained that Democrats get elected to office so they can have illicit sex, and Republicans so they can make illicit money.  (He means men, of course.)  What bothers me is that the Republicans have set the agenda for what can ruin a public official.  They can dole out enormous contracts to Diebold and Halliburton, torture prisoners and render them to countries who torture them worse, collect money hand over fist from lobbyists who (to put it mildly) do not have our best interests at heart, and . . . you know the list.  But most of them manage either to stay faithful to their wives or give up sex altogether.  (The third possibility is that they hire hit squads to take out any and all people who know different.) My theory is they think sex is way more trouble than it’s worth. It doesn’t affect the bottom line, for one thing. Yet we’re supposed to think they’re fine, upstanding, moral men, apart from the occasional anomalies--you know, sex in bathroom stalls or while your wife is dying of cancer.

(Okay, I realize that most Democrats are not on my side, either. They can’t get there.  Their health insurance packages are so big they bar the way.)

The saddest footage of The Ides of March is Evan Rachel Wood’s character waiting alone in the lobby of an abortion clinic for her procedure and in a restaurant afterward, again alone, for Myers to pick her up.  He never shows. 

Does the intern herself ever matter one bit in these scenarios?  The film takes her story one step further, and that irritated me, too, because the only result of her suicide (besides ending her life) is to make Myers a meaner, smarter political player than before.

Did you or didn’t you?  And how can we make you pay?  What an arid, loveless world we live in.  

Sunday, October 2, 2011

A Little Magazine

The third issue of Trachodon: lit, art & artisan culture was mailed to subscribers this week, and once again, I’m pretty dang impressed by the efforts of John Carr Walker and Katey Schultz, friends from my MFA program at Pacific University, to publish something that feels new and old at the same time. The new issue is 60 pages of fresh and professional writing and images that taste as homemade as the salsa I canned with friends last week.

Issue #3 includes a new story by Pete Fromm called “God’s TV.”  It would be hard to overestimate Pete’s influence on fiction writers at Pacific. He was my own faculty advisor for two semesters, and in arguing with him over just about everything that had to do with craft, I began to intuit what kind of writer I am. Four-time winner of the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association’s “Book of the Year” award, Pete, in his novels and stories—I hope he doesn’t read this—persuaded me to cut men a little more slack, even and especially self-consciously manly men, whose hearts are pounded to pulp by love, lost or found, just like everyone else’s.  His female characters are as sharp and real, and often as funny, as Larry McMurtry’s.  The film version of his novel As Cool as I Am, about teenager Lucy Diamond and her young mother, both of them relentlessly pursuing love, opens in 2012, starring Claire Danes, James Marsden, and Sarah Bolger.  “God’s TV” will not disappoint you. 

Pete’s story is one of three in this issue, and I can recommend the other two as well: “Bacillus Anthracis” by Heather Clitheroe, about isolation in marriage caused by one partner's germophobia, and “The Littlest Goat,” by Daniel Pinkerton, about more general isolation caused by fear of bridges and a bunch of other things. Since "God's TV" follows a man resisting the lifestyle changes that fatherhood will bring . . . I guess I'm seeing a pattern here, a collective theme. Also in this issue: art by Marianne Dages, a nonfiction piece about printing by Ray Scanlon, and reflections on writing by John and Katey. Trachodon 3 is, in Raymond Carver’s words, a small, good thing. Subscribe or buy single issues at*

I got involved with Trachodon when they published one of my stories, “Shoebox,” in Issue #1.  (You can read the first issue online for free now, at Let me know what you think of my story.) I began contributing book reviews soon after to Cheek Teeth, the blog associated with the magazine. Cheek Teeth has attracted a stunning variety of guest blogs and bloggers. Check it out, too:

*You can use my discount! For a 99-cent ebook of Issue 3, use promo code SZ52T and follow this link. (Regular price is $4.99) (In case the link fails:  For 25% off the print edition, use promo code QVHHQGHT and follow this link. (Regular price is $10) (In case the link fails: