Ghost Road Blues - Book Review Time!

Book Review Time!  Woo-hoo!

I've been reading Ghost Road Blues by Jonathan Mayberry.  Here goes my take:

"Once upon a time, in a land that is way too nearby for comfort, there was a Very Bad Man whose hatred and evil went well beyond the grave and infected everything and everyone around him, like a poison that seeped into the water table...."

But the real evil is ultimately human.  (Isn't it usually?)

In any case, the short verdict is that it is a really good book.  Read it.

I found myself sitting up at night, bleary-eyed, the book clutched in one hand and eye drops in the other, as I negotiated with the Sleep Gods for 'just ten more pages' before I crashed.  (I sound like a little kid when I argue with the Sleep Gods.  I have no control over the bed time they assign body will crap out at some point, and I've been known to fall asleep with nearly anything in my hand, including a half full cup of coffee, so I know at some point I have to stop reading.  I just don't want to stop reading.  This book makes you want to read just one more chapter...and then another, no matter how heavy your eyelids get.)

If you like being scared, read this book.  If, like most writers, you only half read for pleasure and half with an eye  toward technique, and you want a sterling example of how to weave a supernatural story into an ordinary landscape, read this book.

I know Mayberry has a number of other books out there already but I discovered him only recently, and totally by accident.  I've already put everything else he's written on my "to buy and read" list, including several that appear to be zombie books.  I haven't read a lot of horror books, at least not since Steven King's editor was still unafraid of him.  I'm thrilled that I've found Mayberry.  It's been a long time since I was scared enough to flip on the TV so I didn't have to try to sleep in the too-quiet silence of night once I finally put down the book.

Finding the You You Once Had

I'm angry at myself.

I'm pretty sure it is a frustration-mixed-with-steroids sort of angry with myself but that's how I feel so I'm trying to sit with it and learn from it.  I'm trying hard to figure out how I get back to the place where I can hear the words "I'm a writer," come out of my mouth and feel like it actually applies.

I used to identify myself as a writer.  I wrote.  I wrote a lot.  I even finished a few things and published a couple small things and won a few small rewards.  I remember the first time someone else - a professor who had read my work but who was not someone I knew personally - called me a writer and I thought "OMG...I'm a writer."  

Then life got in the way and I stopped calling myself a writer because I didn't write.  I still scribbled notes at times, and even wrote a few small pieces but I didn't do anything with them except give the finished pieces away as personal gifts.  I figured they were a little off the beaten path and I don't cook so it wasn't like I could give cookies or anything.  But I sure as hell wasn't a writer anymore, at least not in my own mind.

I've been sick.  I have SLE and Addison's and they sometime combine in interesting (and unpleasant) ways to  make me miserable.  My knees and legs and ankles hurt.  The small bones of my hands and feet hurt.  My elbows hurt.  Finding a comfortable position to sleep is impossible so sleeping is impossible, even when I'm exhausted, and I am exhausted. The cure is a bigger dose of steroids, which then causes me to swell to the place where my skin hurts to the touch because it is stretched painfully over my body.  

The steroids also fuck with my emotional state.  I'm irritable, and I over-react and I can't stop talking, but I can't focus either so my conversation jumps all over the map and none of it is complete.  I look at things that I think should be easy to complete (because they were easy to complete a week ago, and I'm pretty sure they will be again in a week or two, but I need to do them NOW) and I can't break down the steps I need to take to even start, let alone finish.  When I talk, I ramble.  I know I'm rambling and I can't stop.  Worse, I can't recall the right words a lot of the time (it's called a lupus fog but the Addison's is also significant for causing a sort of break in the center of the mind that controls language and expression) so I stutter and stumble over everything I'm trying to say and Gods help me if I get interrupted because I can't pick up the threads.  I have to go back to the start of the yellow brick road and go through the whole damn dance routine again.

I end up playing with my nails a lot.  I just learned how to do my own acrylics (which means for less than $20 I can put acrylics on four or five times out of the same supplies, rather than pay $40 a pop at the salon) and I'm kind of proud of myself for it because I did it by watching a couple YouTube videos and just trying to remember whatever I've seen the better nail techs do.  It took me about four fingernails to get it right, but when the steroids had me up at 3, 4, and 5 AM the other night I did them and even my picky ass knows they look good.  

The nurse at the infusion clinic at my rheumatologist complimented me on them.  She thought they were real, and while normally I would just have said "Thank you!" and moved on (because I don't believe it is a necessary thing to put make up and fake nails and all that and then tell everyone who compliments you how fake it all is, implying that in reality I look like some weather beaten hill hag) I told her that I did them myself.  (Pride won out over Vanity.)

By the way, if you ever think "That looks hard" about putting acrylics on your own fingers, it is.  It really is.  In a little while I'll stop being so excited about them, and proud, but right now I'm going with it because it distracts me from everything else.

I can't even type coherently...which is what I mean when I say I can't get back to myself.  I keep setting writing goals for myself and trying to figure out how to swing my life back around to the place I used to be where I wrote all the time...or at least enough of the time.  

Time seems to be the problem.  I set aside time to write and it doesn't happen.  Either I get sick and can't focus or form a sentence when I do have the time to write, or I get sick and can't get done other stuff that I have to get done in order to keep my life functional (ish) (sort of) so then when I AM able to pull it together I don't have the time to write because I have to get all the life-functional-things done.

And then there are the doctor visits from hell, like yesterday.  I'm on a list for the infusion clinic and they just rotate through it, putting as many people in as they can a day.  There are various treatments, and I'm still learning what all is really available to me, but it all basically involves either IV or IM steroids.  The doc's office is over an hour away - and that means an hour back - and then the infusions take anywhere from 45 minutes after they get started to 4 hours, depending on what you need done.  I'm exhausted before I leave.  By the time I get back, I'm exhausted, hyper from the meds, and stressed out.  (This last trip was an especial bitch, btw, because they couldn't get a vein.   I have tiny, crappy veins that don't hold a needle and they tried for the best three they could find before giving up, so I spent an hour just getting poked before they gave up and gave me the shot IM instead, which isn't as effective.)

I'm frustrated because I don't want to let being sick disrupt any more of my self identity than it already has....and it has.  It has changed so much about how I feel about myself and so much about how I see myself that I wonder if I am ever going get to a place where I can look at myself and see any of what I want to see when I look in the psychological mirror.

I have A Chocolate Fudge-y Rice Krispie Treat and You Don't...But I Also Have Lupus.

I just ate my third double sized chocolate fudge-y Rice Krispie Treat of the day.  I'm craving them, and for some insane reason known only to the gods of snack goods and marketing managers they are not sold in regular stores.  I have to stalk them down at gas stations with convenient stores attached, which is the only place they seem to be carried.  Right now, the local BP is stocking them, and the girl at the counter gives a conspiratorial wink anymore when my wife goes in to get them for me.  She's been ordering an extra box a week, just for me.

I don't care.  They're about $1.09 a bar and I. Want. Them.   If you've ever been pregnant - or loved a pregnant woman - you have some idea what type of food craving this is.  I feel qualified to tell you that it is, in my opinion, worse than the food cravings caused by pregnancy, although I'm also a victim of hormones this time as well.

The Addison's disease causes me to crave some foods to the point that it is really all I eat.  Once it was blackberries.  Another time is was carrots.  Once it was cinnamon rolls but ONLY the ones from Sheetz, with the cream cheese icing, or I didn't want them.  I keep praying it'll go back to carrots sometime, but right now it's these damn rice Krispie treats.

I swear I tried hard to ignore the sole remaining Krispie treat that alone remained to tell me, in a tiny snap crackle-y popping voice about its chocolate-y goodness.  It was downstairs.  I was up.  I was comfortable.  I should be asleep.

I lost the fight.  I did at least eat it slowly and carefully, breaking it into delicate pieces that I savored as each bite surrendered to me, but that's poor consolation now that the moment is over, the drama and chocolate gone.

(Don't worry...I have a back up pan of brownies.)

Don't hate me for my rice Krispie treats.  They're a by-product of the mess my endocrine system is in.  (No, really, I'm not making that up.  I have both Addison's and Lupus and they are both flaring right now and I always get food cravings with flares. I don't know why, but it's common.)

It's hard to tell what is flaring first: Addison's or Lupus, but they're both "hot" right now, so the doctor man put me on a steroid course which will help...and will also keep me hungry, keep my awake, keep me ranting and rambling away and unable to sit down or focus in the worst sort of way.  This is preferable to the Lupus just staying flared, because that brings with it a host of other, uglier problems, that I don't like dwelling on much.  Suffice it to say that the cure is actually better than the disease..or I wouldn't be doing it...but the cure still sucks.

So much for writing.  I'm doing good to get a quick post up, when I should have been sleeping hours ago, according to the Ambien I took at 8:30.  I've often read that a number of great writers turned to writing due to physical disability.  It's true that it is a flexible trade.  I'm just not sure how they got focused enough to write much of anything when they felt like crap all the time.  All I want to do is sleep, watch the ID channel on t.v., eat something, drink tea, and sleep some more.

Good night.

The Lesbian Girlfriend of My Guy Nail Tech and Other Story Notes

First of all, I've learned to do my own acrylic nails.  If you have ever had them done, and you think it's harder than it looks to do your own, well, it is.

Enough about that.  

While I was doing my nails I got to thinking about this guy who used to do my nails.  I'll call him Ray.  Ray was Korean by birth but had been a refugee at an early age, and then had moved to California until his mother called him and said "Your brother and I need you at the nail salon."  In his culture (as he explained it), that meant he stopped his own life and came back, learned to do nails, and helped his family, even though he and his brother fought constantly.  

Anyhow, Ray had gone to Korea and then travelled a bit through other areas like Singapore and Vietnam, and he'd met a girl while buying ice cream.  The girl invited him to meet his mother that night.  He did.  Her mother liked him.  Apparently, somehow, from there, her mother decided they were getting married and Ray was okay with that, (again, a cultural thing), never mind that they had spent maybe a sum total of 2 hours a day together for the 2 weeks he was there, and always in the presence of either her mother or kid brother, for a total of 14 hours of supervised interaction. Never mind that she was 18 and he was 30.  It was enough.  He was in love.  The girl had come to visit him and his mother for three months in the summer, however, and everyone was fine with the idea that this "practically married" couple were now alone with each other regularly, as well as under one roof.  The foreign girlfriend had discovered American shopping and American porn.

Specifically, she'd discovered Maxim. Ray had showed it to her to try to turn her on. From Maxim, she'd found PlayBoy and then a cache of somewhat mild girl-on-girl videos that Ray kept for himself, and she was in love.  She loved lesbians.  She loved tender, soft, female kisses, and tender, rounded female asses, and smooth, neat female bodies. She would sit, locked in front of the screen, ignoring Ray and food and any previous plans while she watched two women make love to each other for cameras in indelicate places. 

She told Ray that she had never seen another girl naked.  She had a brother, who was younger, and she had seen him naked before, but she'd never even seen her mother naked.  She kept asking Ray for more girly porn, and more videos were it was all girl-on-girl, and Ray complied, all the while testifying to his growing alarm to me, his hapless nail client and one of only two lesbians he knew (my wife being the other one).  Apparently, my sexual orientation either made him comfortable telling me all of this, or he was just desperate to get some answers and thought I might be able to provide them.

The big problem for me was not just that I got to hear more about his sex life than I ever wanted while he held me captive with an armed emery board (though that was part of it).  The big problem was that it was starting to take him an abnormally long time to do my nails.  When I started to go see him, before he got to know me, he'd kept his chatter to a minimum and I'd been in and out in 20 minutes with a full set and polish.  It might take 25 if I were picky about the polish.  He was usually running a few minutes late because he'd squeeze in walk-ins if you weren't already stalking him from the waiting room for your appointment, so whether I got their early or waited on his "quick fill" client it would take me maybe 30-40 minutes tops, from arrival to departure.  

Then he got to know me.  Oh, you are a lesbian?  Oh, let me tell you about my sex life!  
No, really, don't.

It started taking an hour to do my nails.  A solid hour where Ray talked the entire time about his teenage foreign girlfriend who barely spoke English but was living with him, expecting to marry him, not particularly interested in physical intimacy, and addicted to lesbian porn.

What did I think?  Oh, Ray, what I think doesn't matter.  
Please tell me.  Seriously.
                Seriously, Ray, you don't want to know.

Oh, that's okay.  You'll understand this....
              And so it began.  Apparently my sexual orientation was enough to put me into some sort of mystical state in which I would be able to dispense advice about the mystery that was his beautiful, new, foreign, frigid, porn addicted, teenage girlfriend.  

Sixty minutes turned into 1 1/2 hours.  Then two.  My wife started calling.  Dinner would be over cooked.  Could Ray finish up soon?  Please

In desperation, I gave him my best advice on the whole thing: "She's a baby dyke."  She's more lesbian than she knows and you are not going to have the relationship you hope for because the wiring inside her is not compatible with the hardware outside of you.

My next nail appointment took Ray almost 2 hours to finish, during which he speculated, dithered, and even wept.  My nails did get done...more or less...but I never made another appointment.

One thing led to another and I had my nails done by a succession of nail techs, some of which clearly spoke little English beyond "Hello" and "How long?"  Which were fine, but I kind of missed the easy familiarity I'd had been Ray prior to being mentally dragged into his bedroom.

And I still wonder what happened.  It's a helluva story, this teenage foreign, lesbian girlfriend of Ray the Nail Tech, and I've actually been tempted to stop in and say hello just to see if he'll tell me to sit down and then whisper his secrets conspiratorially to me so that his mother, five feet away at her own booth, won't hear.   I just want the end of the story, you know?

As it is, Ray the Nail Tech and his Lesbian Teenage Girlfriend are probably both going to end up in my book, maybe with an ending that I decide...I don't know.  I just know that when I draw on real life events, I end up with the richest scenes and characters....and really cool nails.