Tuesday, April 29, 2014

"The Pirate's True Love" at Far-Fetched Fables

I'm interrupting the regularly scheduled broadcasting here yet again. But this time it's not to bemoan my travails with health insurance (no, no health insurance cards yet, for those who have been carefully monitoring this story), but rather to announce that a story of mine is being read on a podcast this week over at the newly launched Far-Fetched Fables!

A couple of months ago, I was contacted by the people behind this show, who asked if they could read a story of mine on their podcast. It's a  project under the umbrella group District of Wonders, which already has several series going, with names like Tales to Terrify, Protecting Project Pulp, etc. You have probably noticed that they have quite a taste for alliteration. Of course I said yes, and today we have the result. I have to say it's pretty exciting to be involved in the second podcast there ever.

"The Pirate's True Love" is a story I wrote quite a long time ago. And it is even a few years back now since it was picked up by Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, an amazing zine that has published the work of people like Kelly Link and Karen Joy Fowler, but also the random work of non-famous people like me. I was thrilled to be included.

The story has had an odd trajectory. It was later picked to be anthologized in a best fantasy series, which was never to be published because, tragically, its publisher, Byron Preiss, died in a traffic accident that year and the company folded. The editor, Jonathan Strahan, salvaged the project with the help of Locus Magazine, and Fantasy: the Very Best of 2005 came out the next year. Lady Churchill's also put out their own anthology in 2007.

So, yes, a few ups and downs, but not a bad run for a little story that wasn't even all that easy to get published in the first place. I certainly thought it had run its course, though. Then I received this email.

The story is second on the bill after a much longer story, "Demons Hide Their Faces", by a much more famous person, A.A. Attanasio. I'd recommend listening to this, as it is quite well read, and it benefits from that reading, as you can hear the work that Attanasio puts into the language. But if you're pressed for time, mine clocks in at around 44 minutes in. I was very curious to hear who would narrate it. It is actually a fairly international group of collaborators. I found it a tad ironic, then, to learn that the narrator, Fran Friel, lives right here on the Central Coast, and thus is more or less my next door neighbor, globally speaking.

Anyway, it's a fun, short story and I'm honored it was picked. Fran gives it a good rendition. Give it a listen at Far-Fetched Fables if you've got a few minutes.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

caracol and carousel--the connection

In the comments on my next to last post, poet and blogger extraordinaire Kathleen Kirk asked if there was a connection between the words 'caracol', the Spanish for snail, and the word 'carousel'--well, we all know what that is, I hope.

Laggard that I am, it was fortunate that commenter Hugo popped in with the answer. Etymologically, no. As Hugo goes on to say,

"Caracol comes from a pre-roman word with the sense of "shell", and carousel through French and Italian from the arabic "kuradj" (a game with toy horses for children)."

Correct--but hold that thought. I was interested in the word 'caracol' whatever its links, partly because I've been reviewing my rusty Spanish recently through Duolingo, even though I haven't come across it there. As Kathleen said in her comment, caracol is the Spanish for snail, and spiral things, and in fact one of the ways it comes through to us in English is the "cochlea" of the ear.

But if you look up caracol in English, the first thing that seems to pop us is this:

That's because the Spanish named this Mayan ruin Caracol, which lies in the Cayo district of Belize. The theory is that they gave it this name based on the winding route that took them there. The Mayans are believed to have called it Uxwitza, or Three Hills Water. Not noticing the spiral path so much, I'm guessing.

Here's a photo of an escalera de caracol, or spiral staircase

photo by Jose Luis Cernedas Iglesias
You can see why it might bear the same name as the common snail:

But I promised you something in common with carousels. The answer is: horses. Turns out a caracol or caracole is a maneuver of a horse and rider, in which they take a half turn to either right or left. It apparently, although not very definitively, comes out of an old cavalry maneuver in which riders would ride up to the battle, fire their guns and then turn back to reload while other riders came up in their stead. 

painting by Sebastian Vrancx

And yes, horses can even be made to tie in with old Three Hills Water. Well, one horse anyway.

From AZWeatherchick.com

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Hours of my life I will never get back

I yelled at someone from Blue Shield of California today, and I am unrepentant. This is unusual for me, not so much the yelling but the not feeling bad about it afterward. Don't get me wrong--I'm a supporter of the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare or whatever you choose to call it. I'm even grateful for Covered California, my state's implementation of the program--it's been good timing, it being available at a time when my work related coverage is drawing to a close. More to the point, I am really happy that a lot of people who haven't been covered now can have coverage, whatever happens to me, so don't sign me up for the anti-healthcare team, please.

But Covered California's roll out has been vaunted as a success story, and I am here to tell you that this is not so. It has been torturous to get enrolled, not only for me but for pretty much everyone I know who has a story to tell. The communication with Covered California and the insurance company I picked has been onerous. It's been hard to get questions answered unless they were extremely simple questions that you could easily figure out for yourself. I had Cobra coverage from my previous place of work--expensive, but I was glad of the option. Switching over to the Covered California coverage was a huge puzzle, because I didn't know that the question "Have you been offered affordable coverage?" meant was it above a certain percentage of my income. I didn't know this, because they hadn't bothered to mentions this in the questionnaire you had to fill out. You would think that after a certain point they would have updated the webpage, because I certainly wasn't the only person to have problems with this question, but no.

It has been very hard to know what my status is. This is because they have yet to send me a card, but assume that I will somehow deduce that it's a done deal. At a certain point, I assumed that I would just have to stick with Cobra, because they were saying I hadn't qualified. But then it turned out that that was  figure of speech, because I was actually enrolled. They knew it, they just hadn't bothered to tell me.

I called them a couple of weeks ago and said, what's my status. And I had a nice young guy tell me to send a check to the City of Industry. Yeah. I had no envelope, I got the address only because I asked for it, and he told me I should backdate the check for the first of April because that was when my coverage officially started. I said, well, because I heard nothing till the seventh of April, I stayed with my old plan. Can I start it the first of May? There was a long pause. Then he said, well, that would involve opening and approving a new case. I said "Never mind." He told me to write about the circumstances "when things had settled down". I appreciated the sentiment, but I don't think it will work out.

The City of Industry--check destination

So I had no word in any way that my check had been received and that I had fulfilled whatever Dantesque requirements they had cooked up. Then a couple of days ago, I got a call that I should make sure and send my payment by April 25th. What payment that was, whether for the period I already thought I had paid for, or the next period, well, the recorded voice gave me no clue. I thought I'd better call, but I had to summon up the strength to do it. Don't forget that it's also been tax time, which has had its own torments.

I waited an hour on the phone today. That's not hyperbole. I learned how to play computer solitaire with one hand, which I guess is a good thing to know. There was some Hawaiian music which I remembered from my previous call. It wasn't bad, but marred by the constant interruptions by the same recorded voices telling me I could use the website. Believe me, I would have liked to use the website. But I couldn't use the website till I registered and I couldn't register till I got my Blue Shield card. I did learn from an automated voice that they had received my first check. Miraculous. But I thought I should probably stay on the line because the automated voice had told me that my next payment was due June 1st. That was a not so slight discrepancy from what the first automated voice had told me. This is how you descend the circles of hell.

Finally a woman came on the line. She was named Carla. I don't feel bad revealing that, because I imagine there is more than one Carla working in the vast web that is Covered California, and it has a nice John Le Carre subtext, which is probably why they named one of the spymaster baddies Carla on Burn Notice as well. Carla had that officialdom way of saying she wanted to be of service while secretly despising me for being obtuse. Once she looked at my account, she said, your check was received on the 15th. It's too soon for you to have gotten your card. The card that allows you to pay on the website, which your automated ally had robo-called me to do. She obviously thought I was a fool for not knowing that the next payment was for May, and that it was owed by May 1st. Careful readers may note here that this is the third date I got from Blue Shield for when my next payment was due.

Normally, I try not to be horrible to customer service reps. I've been on the other side of that equation, after all. But there is a time to refrain and a time to cast away refraining. I said, well, can you at least give me my member number so that I can pay my bill on line and not have to wait to talk to someone again?

"You'll have to wait for the card," she said.

Yeah--that was when I lost it.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


I've been reading Walkabout by James Vance Marshall for the NYRB book group on GoodReads. The story is more  famously known in the version told in the Nicholas Roeg movie of the same name. In the introduction to the NYRB reprint of the book, Lee Seigel begins with this fact and goes on to say:

"...the movie is so strikingly different from Marshall’s affecting parable as to verge on travesty. It is a brilliant travesty, though, one that adds a curious urgency to the book’s very different, apparently old-fashioned pleasures, which, as it turns out, have a good deal to tell us now."

I was struck by this because, though I haven't seen the movie for many years, travesty wouldn't be one of the words I'd associate with it. And "brilliant travesty" sounded more to me like an oxymoron. Obviously, my sense of the word travesty as "a shocking desecration of the original" could do with some fine tuning. At the very least.


Well, my sense was more or less right, but I have now understood better how brilliance might play into it. A travesty is a burlesque of an original, more serious work. It comes into print around the 1670s, after the slightly earlier adjective, meaning to dress ridiculously or in parody of something. It was borrowed from the French travesti, or "dressed in disguise", back through the Italian travestire, to disguise, to the Latin transvestire--to clothe over. As you can see most clearly in the Latin, there is a link here with transvestite, which contains hints of all these things--clothing over, disguising, and burlesque--but that word actually came to us through the German Tranvestit.Though it has the same Latin roots, it was coined in about 1910.

As for brilliant travesty, two examples have come to light during my research. One much cited is the play within a play, Pyramus and Thisbe, in A Midsummer Night's Dream. But brilliant in a different sense is Don Quixote, a travesty of the Medieval romances that the good knight is said to have read, but also superseding them. I found one article on satire that claims that travesty is to genre what parody is to a single work, but I wonder if it isn't a bit more elastic and slippery a term than that.

After all, a lot of things can happen when you go around in disguise.

That's actually James Cagney under the ass's head, believe it or not.

Thursday, April 10, 2014


This was just one of those things I never thought about, and never would have thought about if I hadn't made a mistake. I was reading the Bookwitch blog the other night, where the blog author recounts an amusing curtsey story from childhood. You can read all about how Swedish girls were brought up once upon a time HERE.

I was impressed, as one of the many things not really included in a California education is a lesson on how to curtsey to important people. Probably a lack, but never mind. I wrote in the comment field, though, that I had never learned to courtesy. Didn't notice it till this morning when I was reading through some of the other comments. Never learned to courtesy? I had never thought about how close the words were in sound. And in meaning when you started to think about it.

Turns out I wasn't so far from wrong. Curtsey or curtsy is just one of those word drifts. A curtsey, or curtsey, or courtesy, or even courtsey (but Wikipedia says this is wrong, though it does make you wonder where the line is drawn, and by whom) are all just different ways of spelling the little dip which signifies a gesture of courtesy. And courtesy is just having courtly bearing or manners, or so says the Online Etymology Dictionary anyway. The Old French was curteis, because it goes without saying that we got it from France.

Interestingly, the word was not exclusively of a female gesture, but I guess it's not surprising that women remembered to show deference longer. The written appearance of the word curtsy in English was about 1540, but the use of it to signal the classic bowing of the knee not till 1570. It takes awhile to bend the knee, I suppose.

Not if you're a Texas deb, though. When you have to bow in deference, might as well make it big. Wikipedia clued me in to this one. When you go to the Waldorf-Astoria for the International Debutante's Ball, and are formally introduced here's what happens:

The young woman slowly lowers her forehead to the floor by crossing her ankles, then bending her knees and sinking. The escort's hand is held during the dip. When the debutante's head nears the floor, she turns her head sideways, averting the risk of soiling her dress with lipstick.

Now I looked through a few images to find one as an example, but in none of them was the escort holding her hand. The times are changing, even in Texas, where, like elsewhere, women are doing it for themselves.

 (The gif of the constantly curtseying woman is a Wikipedia slice from the work of the great Eadweard Muybridge, in case you didn't know. The Texas dip deb is from the White Rock Lake Weekly from a couple of years ago. I'd credit the photographer, but there is no attribution.)

Thursday, April 3, 2014


No, not me. I'm just the same as always, and let's just say that dealing with the bureaucracies of both Covered California and the IRS in the same season does not find me at my best. So I'm a little caught up in other things at the moment, but after posting the "Happy in Tripoli" YouTube on my last post, I couldn't resist posting a cover of the same song. I have to say that this is the first time ever that I have actually found a certain former vice-presidential candidate appealing, not to mention a good sport.

And since I'm on vice-presidents, I must mention the description of our actual vice-president, Joe Biden, who was characterized on the Rachel Maddow show the other night as "the joyful id of this administration".

I'd like to be the joyful id of something. But it doesn't look too likely in this lifetime.