Sunday, July 14, 2013

But really, I'm NOT all that amazing, I promise...

So it's been about 6 months since I posted anything here; I kept meaning to post something, really, I did, but I just couldn't muster up the energy to get things out of the draft pile and up for the public...yeah, it's been a rough 6 months. *sigh* Continuing unemployment, getting passed over for jobs, and a severe lack of money, especially over the past two months, will really do a number on your self-esteem, and while I've managed to function over the years in spite of ongoing dysthymia, it's really a whole lot easier to ramble on about your wacky life when you're not wondering what the point to all of it is.

Anyway, things may slowly be looking up; while matters still haven't been straightened out with Unemployment yet, at least I've been doing temp work lately, which helps immensely in terms of both having money coming and, and reminding myself that yes, I really can be a functioning human being who does a particular job reasonably well. I also have a birthday coming up tomorrow (July 15), and while getting older may not be the greatest thing around (I think I may be getting varicose veins, damn it), it still sure as hell beats the alternative.

Yesterday I was busy trying to clean up around my humble abode in anticipation of friends coming over for cake and ice cream Monday evening, and was outside attempting to prune some of the jungle out front so that people could actually find the front door; inside sinks, dish drainer trays, and cat food placemats were scrubbed, counters cleaned off, and floors swept and mopped; it was exhausting, but at least I don't have ghost pawprints all over the damn place any more. (One of the downsides of having been brokeass has been not being able to afford the good kitty litter--I prefer World's Greatest Cat Litter--and having to go back to using clay litter. Unfortunately, Miss Jezebel seems to be part raccoon (well, we're pretty sure she's part Maine Coon, which is kind of half-assed for a Georgia barn cat, but go figure...anyway, although it's genetically impossible people have assumed for years that Maine Coons are part raccoon), because she just loves playing in her water bowl, splashing water all over the damn place. (Considering that's what she was doing in the shelter the very first time I laid eyes on her, I should have known this would be an issue...) Combine that with her tendency to kick litter out the front door of the covered litter box (my only consolation is that it would be an even bigger mess if the box didn't have a lid), and, well, that's when you get little ghostly footprints from one end of the apartment to the other.

(Did I mention I have marble floors in most of the common areas? Yep, I may live in a rathole basement apartment--"garden apartment", my ass--but as the realtor explained to me back when I first rented the joint, the builder was apparently buddies with an Italian marble importer, hence the fancyass floors. While they do have some advantages--they keep things a bit cooler in hot weather, and spills are easily wiped up--they're a major bitch in terms of keeping them mopped, and I still haven't figured out what the best way to take care of them would be; almost everything you'd normally use for floor-washing ends up leaving streaks all over the damn place. Suggestions, anyone?)

At any rate...someone just did the sweetest thing for me! I went to check my mail after the mailman stopped by, and found something that must have been put there last night or earlier today: a bright blue handmade envelope with a return address of "B. Fairy, 1 Calendar Way, Forever, Neverland 98765", and my address as "Here, Nowsville; Mortal Coil, Terra 12345." Inside was a homemade card out of the same paper w/flower & butterfly stickers on the front, and this is what it said on the inside:

"When you give your all to everyone who needs you, there's no guarantee of anything good happening at all. Understanding that, and doing it anyway, makes you a very unusual person. Times are hard, and it seems like there's no such thing as enough any more, but your compassion and integrity are an inspiration to many.

Robin, you are loved.

--The Birthday Fairy"

Oh, and there was $30 inside the card.

I ended up spending way too much of the rest of the day bawling my eyes out and making my contacts very unhappy, because this is SO damn sweet, and I keep feeling so unworthy somehow--I have no idea who did this, because the whole thing is computer-printed; I'm thinking it might be someone in Camberville/Medford who knows where I live, maybe someone I wouldn't normally expect (not that you ever expect something quite like this...). After the year I've been having so far, and especially the way I've felt over the past 2-3 months or so, this really means a lot to me. *sniff* (I don't know if any of you ever read Frances Hodgson Burnett's A Little Princess, but it was one of my favorite books growing up--well, still is, if I'm honest--and somehow this brought to mind the scene where she wakes up after the first time The Magic has come to her garret room; if you know the book and the scene, you're probably fumbling for the tissues right now, too.)

Ah, well...time to go get some groceries and pick up my prescriptions; since it's going to be brutally hot here all damn week, I need to find things I don't need to cook. At least I got my cake baked this morning, and will frost it tonight, so that's something...

Sunday, January 27, 2013

You know you're a costume geek when... go to the movies on opening day to see Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, take a good look at the green bodice Gemma Arterton is wearing for a large portion of the movie, and think, "Spiral lacing! Cool! Somebody finally got it right!"

Yes, really.

Allow me to explain: spiral lacing is the period-correct way to actually lace up bodices, corsets, gowns, and the like from the Middle Ages well into the 19th century; it gets its name due to looking like a spiral as it works its way up the front or back of the garment in question. (No, that criss-crossing effect most people think of when they think of laced-up garments is not at all accurate, and if you're running around a Renfaire in a freshly-purchased bodice and want your attire to be more historically correct than your stereotypical wannabe mead wench, you can start by seeing if you can re-lace yourself correctly. You may have to skip an eyelet or two to make it work--eyelets are worked offset for spiral lacing, as opposed to being directly across from each other--but it can be done. Oh, and pull the neckline of your chemise back up over your shoulders and take your damn tankard off your belt, will you?...OK, I feel better now. *sigh*)

See what I mean?

(There's a button at Nancybuttons that says "I'm not pompous, I'm pedantic. There's a difference--let me explain it to you." Yep, I neeeeed that button.)

I've always found clothing in general fascinating, and it's at least partially my mom's fault; when I was 2 years old, she made 24 different little dresses for me, all in different fabrics and trims, and I apparently got a big kick out of being Mommy's Pretty Pretty Princess, to the point that I'd insist on changing clothes two and three times a day, just to be able to flounce around the house in something different. (People who mainly know me as the woman who slouches around during cooler weather in jeans and scoop-neck, 3/4-sleeve knit tops--the latter usually in black--are no doubt scratching their heads right now over this, but don't feel too bad, guys; there's another whole segment of the population who's never seen me in anything but a dress, either because they've known me from before 2005, when that was pretty much all I wore, or because they only see me in warmer weather, when homemade cotton print dresses become my seasonal uniform.) As I was growing up, and indeed, until I finally graduated from college and left home for good, my mother was still sewing most of my clothes, and since I liked wearing certain styles that either weren't available at all or couldn't be found in my size or price range, I picked up the scissors and pincushion after she laid them down, started up pretty much where she left off, and haven't stopped since.

Getting back to my childhood: it didn't take long for me to realize that people wore clothes in olden times that were rather different from what I was seeing around me in the late '60s/early '70s, that these clothes tended to be much fancier, and more fanciful, than anything I usually wore, and that the local library had books with lots and lots of pictures of all these pretty dresses. (I swear, I must have been the only person during the 1970s to not only check out one particular book, but to do it multiple times--we're talking probably at least twice yearly or so, until I headed off to college.) I also took 4-H sewing classes along the way (making it to the State Dress Review one year, damn it!), and paid attention to my mom while she sewed, with all of this coming together my freshman year of college, when I decided to add a Medieval Studies minor to my English major. (Yes, I know; totally then, when would you like this letter typed?) Every spring, my alma mater would host an event devoted to medieval studies, bringing together scholars from around the Northeastern U.S. for seminars and discussions, and culminating in a supposedly authentic period feast, as prepared by the dining hall staff. (Overall, they did a pretty good job, but I suspect everyone at my table who had to deal with the whole poached and stuffed fish with a sliced olive, complete with pimento in the middle placed over its eye, is still recovering from that particular experience. But I digress...) Needless to say, those of us in the program were strongly encouraged to dress the part, and, also needless to say, I threw myself into doing so with my usual degree of enthusiasm (read: bouncing off the walls in manic glee).

In retrospect, I didn't do a very good job; while my mother helped with a lot of the actual sewing, the designs were all my doing, and while the overall silhouettes weren't too terribly bad, clearly I had no concept of all the necessary finishing details, or even some of the appropriate fabrics to use. (Cotton broadcloth for a 15th century overgown? What was I thinking? Oh, well, at least the antique satin collar and sleeves lined in red cotton sateen and trimmed with blue velvet weren't too terribly far off the mark...)

After graduation, I kept up with my amateur costume research, eventually amassing a number of books on the topic in my own personal library, and, while I was in fabric stores searching for my usual cotton prints, occasionally feeling up other types of fabric and wishing there was something I could actually make and wear with it, so that I'd have a good excuse to buy it. ("She who dies with the most fabric wins", but in the meantime, it's taking up way too much space in plastic storage bins all over my apartment.) My sewing skills became at least somewhat better over time, and I found myself noticing the detailing of other people's clothes much more, and checking out store and museum mannequins to figure out just how that particular item was put together, and was there anything I could do to copy it? (You also know you're a costume geek when you're admiring a photo of one of your favorite actors on the red carpet and find yourself thinking, "Damn, he looks good! Very spiffy suit...hey, wait a minute! Is that hand topstitching along the edge of the lapels? Cooool!" Not to mention the time I drove a former roommate crazy while watching Bram Stoker's Dracula by complaining about Winona Ryder's costumes--why the hell was a young woman in 1897 wearing clothes from 1885, pray tell? She certainly wasn't old enough to have been wearing them all along, and anyway, she would have had alterations done to make them fit the current mode; everyone did that back then! As for the actual performances, well...after Gary Oldman, Tony Hopkins, and Tom Waits finished chewing all the scenery down to teeny little nubs, there wasn't a whole lot left into which the rest of the cast could sink their teeth, although a different roommate's comment--"Jesus, girl, that accent! Pick a part of England and stick with it!"--isn't entirely inappropriate...)

Then, after 20+ years spent chasing bands around and trying to be the alt-music Annie Leibovitz/Betty Crocker combo platter (with varying degrees of success, but none of them ever boosting my attempts at a career), I became a mostly-retired Mad Photographer and decided to get back into medievalism, this time becoming a literal card-carrying member of the SCA, or Society for Creative Anachronism. Since the only real requirement for attending SCA events is an attempt at pre-17th Century costume, and since my college clothes not only didn't fit anymore, but were way too pathetic for even a SCAdian newbie such as myself, it was time to once again hit the books and websites, rev up the sewing machine, and storm the fabric stores for linen, wool twill, and other period-correct materials. (While cotton was certainly around in period, it was quite rare in Europe prior to the 18th century; not to mention that you'll be much more comfortable at events in linens and woolens due to their innate breatheability.) Hence my discovery of spiral lacing, which brings us back to the beginning...

(Oh, and did you think I was only researching medieval attire? Au contraire, mon ami! There's nothing like having access to the World's Biggest Library, aka the Internet, to make an obsessive researcher such as myself deliriously happy!)

So, believe it or not, that's pretty much the Cliffs Notes version of how I became a hardcore garb geek. (SCAdians don't refer to what they wear as "costumes"; it's "garb", aka "ordinary clothing from that particular period in time", and is wore with the attitude of it being everyday clothes. Do try to remember this, should you ever find yourself at an event, and want to talk with someone about what they're wearing...)

And the movie? It's certainly not Great Cinema by any stretch, but then it isn't trying to be, and shouldn't be judged on those grounds; it also isn't trying to be an accurate depiction of any one historical time (the place is clearly Germany, but as for the time frame, I'm not sure quite sure where a late Medieval/Steampunk mashup would fit, historically speaking), because--DING!DING!DING!--it's a freakin' fairy tale, and therefore "fantastic" in the original "of a fantasy" sense. (Ordinary moviegoers seem to grasp this concept far better than most critics, if the reviews are any indication. Now pardon me for a moment while I go bang my head against the wall for a spell...) Lots of highly anachronistic slang and profanity (personal favorite line: "Who the fuck is Edward?"), and lots and lots of gore splashed hither and yon, which surprisingly didn't bother me, even though I'm usually terribly squeamish; my lack of squick was probably due to the violence being so over-the-top and cartoonish that one just can't take it seriously. (Still, I wouldn't take younger kids to see it; so don't blame me if your kids keep waking you up at O'God Thirty because they're too scared to sleep...) Decent performances, with just the right degree of snark (really, people, no actor takes on a project like this for the prestige factor; they do it because they know they'll have a blast making it!); some damn good makeup (even if a couple of the main witches did have me thinking "hey, I've seen people who look like that at NIN shows...hell, I've known people who've looked like that at NIN shows!"); and yes, very spiffy costumes, complete with spiral lacing...oh, and good-looking lead actors, which IMNSHO never hurts. ;-) You could do a whole lot worse for 90 minutes and $10, plus it even passes the Bechdel Test, so hey, go for it! (I would recommend, though, that people at the IMAX/3-D showings might not want to sit in the first few rows, lest they end up feeling by the end that they've just survived a GWAR show...not quite as many bodily fluids, mind you, but the splatter effect would be about right...)

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Best (worst?). New Year's Eve. Story. Ever.

WARNING: Gross medical details to follow; the terribly sensitive and those without a sufficiently earthy sense of black humor should probably skip this one.

So another New Year's Eve has come and gone, thankfully without a whole lot of bother this time out; I say that due to some of the, um, interesting New Year's Eves I've had over the years. (Slipping in slush, taking a tumble down a long flight of granite stairs heading into the Park Street T, and very nearly breaking my left arm--the number of layers I was wearing due to the freezing-ass-cold weather and the leather coat on top is probably what saved me--is not exactly something I'd recommend, no matter how bored you are...and yes, I was perfectly stone cold sober at the time.) The best/worst NYE I've ever had, though ("best" in terms of getting a great anecdote out of it; "worst" in terms of what I actually went through) was 2004/2005, when I ended up spending much of the day and most of the night in the Massachusetts General Hospital ER...

Some handy background info: Due to basically being my dad's clone (albeit one with big tits), I've inherited, among other things, a particularly nasty case of diverticular disease, which made its presence known to me in my mid-to-late-20s, about ten years' earlier than my dad's experience, and 20-30 years earlier than nearly everyone else. It's bad enough that I ended up needing a foot of my sigmoid colon yanked out before I hit 40 due to being at extremely high risk for bowel perforation and all the attendant complications (because the idea of needing a colostomy bag and/or dying from a massive internal infection isn't exactly appealing...), but every so often I still have flareups; so far, though, so good. (Trust me, walking around feeling as if your entire gastrointestinal tract is a ticking time bomb with an unknown alarm time and date is not exactly the proverbial bowl of cherries...oh, and mind you don't eat the stones; that could mess your guts up even more...). Add to that a long and colorful history of "female troubles", and, well, you can see why any sudden onset lower abdominal pain would be the cause of considerable concern...which brings me back to where I left off.

December 31, 2004: I woke up with some not insignificant lower left quadrant pain, which is never a good sign when you have my medical history; it was also the first time I'd felt this bad since the surgery 5 years earlier. Not surprisingly, I was convinced that I'd been having way too much stress in my life and might also be a tad dehydrated, and decided that seeking medical assistance ASAP might be a Really Good Idea. Passed on calling my regular PCP (oh, yeah, like she's going to be in the office on a holiday...) and headed straight to the MGH ER, hobbling down to Davis Square and making a quick detour into Goodwill (I'd spotted a copy of Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential in the window and knew I'd be needing some long-winded reading material while I waited to be seen), catching a cab from there after deciding that riding the subway and negotiating the stairs at Charles St. T would leave me completely without cope before I even hit the hospital. (This was before the much-needed and appreciated station reconstruction; why the hell it took so long for a subway station near a major medical center to get escalators and elevators is beyond me, but at least it has them now.) Got to the ER, got checked in, and sat around for an hour flipping through my book while wringing my hands (yes, it's tricky, but it's one of my better skills) before a very nice lady in Triage finally saw me and called me up to her desk, whereupon I promptly burst into tears when she asked "So, what seems to be the problem?", utterly convinced that my colon was on the verge of exploding. (Who knew becoming a completely sobbing wreck was a really good way to get attention in the ER?*)

Got checked in, and then spent the next several hours in the hallway; spoke with at least two different doctors and several nurses, all of whom agreed that diverticulitis seemed like a distinct possibility given my extensive medical history; choked down three large glasses of some kind of vile, nasty-ass opaque solution over the next hour or so; and then found out VERY quickly that, in addition to being opaque enough for the CT scan the doctors wanted done, the unpleasantly salty drink they'd forced down me had truly impressive laxative properties.** Oh, and did I mention that, in addition to being filmed with the opaque stuff in my guts, they also shot my IV up with some kind of contrast dye that would allow them to check out my circulation in amazing detail, and which gives you a rather unpleasant burning sensation and hot flashes to boot? Thankfully, between the purging and the nice shot of morphine they'd given me, I was feeling much better overall (I loooooove hospital narcotics, oh yes I do...), and at least somewhat less convinced that my wayward guts would make me perform a Mr. Creosote impersonation in the middle of the waiting room.

At some point in time, I finally ended up changing into the obligatory johnny and was left in Bay 24, with the curtains drawn for privacy, which I found more than a little annoying. (The hell with privacy--I'm already lying here in nothing but my undies and this ridiculous excuse for a nightshirt, so that horse is long out of the barn; if you're just going to leave me in here by myself, damn it, at least open the curtains so I can see what's going on!) It was just then that I overheard what had to be the head nurse ripping someone else on the nursing staff a new one because (a) she apparently wasn't wearing her badge (therefore violating hospital policy), and, more significantly, (b) she hadn't been monitoring a particular patient every 15 minutes or so, because said patient was suicidal, homicidal, and strapped down bodily to a gurney with leather restraints in a manner resembling your friend and mine, Dr. Lecter. (To hell with Hammer Time; we've got Hannibal Time...) OK, OK, so this guy probably wasn't going anywhere any time soon, but just the idea that he was only about 20 feet away from me was not reassuring, and neither was all the ungodly moaning, yelling, babbling, and occasional screaming, which I assumed was his doing. *twitch**twitch* Fortunately, Mr. Homicidal/Suicidal was hauled away shortly thereafter by several very large security officers; unfortunately, the caterwauling stayed with us rather than leaving with him. (Reading Tony Bourdain's tales of kitchen misbehavior will only go so far to distract you before the uppermost thought in your mind rapidly becomes "Oh, shit, I'm in the goddamn snake pit!") Later, I learned that the noise was coming from a patient in one of the isolation bays who was safely behind sliding glass doors. Crimony, people, couldn't you at least have told me that earlier?

Eventually ended up talking with two more doctors, whereupon I finally heard about the CT scan results...Good news: my colon was just hunky-dory, or as hunky-dory as it'll ever be, considering that even on a good day it looks like a goddamn porcupine. Bad news: I had a cyst about the size of a kiwi fruit on my right ovary, which was now large enough to impinge on the nerves leading to my lower left side, and they couldn't tell quite what kind of cyst it was from just the CT.

So, between that and my slightly elevated white count, it was decided that my not-so-happy-ass should be hauled off to Radiation again, this time for both internal and external pelvic ultrasounds. (You know that transvaginal ultrasound that the Virginia legislature wanted to force on every woman in the state who wanted or needed an abortion? Yep, that transvaginal ultrasound. *sigh* In all fairness, they normally don't hurt, plus you don't have to guzzle a gallon of water and then hold your pee until your eyeballs turn yellow and your teeth start floating, but this wasn't exactly a normal situation, so...) More puzzling over the ultrasound results, and it was determined that it was probably a benign cyst, but they still weren't sure what kind it was, with the two most popular theories being either a bleeding endometrial cyst, or a dermoid cyst (aka a teratoma, aka the kind of cyst with hair, sweat glands, and teeth that not only grosses people out, but would have gotten me burned as a witch...just in case, you know, the third nipple wasn't already enough).

Right about then, at about 10 minutes to midnight, Doc #3 finally took a good look at everyone else's notes, and suddenly realized that, in spite of being shot up, flushed out, and having my hoohoo Roto-Rootered, nobody had actually bothered to give me a plain old pelvic exam.

You can see where this is going, right?...

I was then dragged off to yet another ER bay, this one with both much better lighting and a TV tuned to the Times Square countdown on Fox. Glory hallelujah, at least I have entertainment now! *finger twirling "big whoop!" gesture*

So, no shit, there I was***, in The Position, flat on my back and feet in the stirrups, craning my neck to watch the ball drop on the TV mounted near the ceiling behind my head, with the nice young doctor up to his wrist in me...

Happy friggin' 2005, everybody!

*cue fireworks*

(Yes, the doctor, nurse, and I all cracked up laughing when we realized just how ridiculous the whole sillyassed business was, but honestly, how can you not laugh over something like this? Or do I just have a far more finely-tuned sense of comic absurdity than most people?)

Anyway, after finally deciding that (a) even if I did require surgery it certainly wouldn't be happening that night, and (b) seeing as I was actually feeling much better (thanks to all the Good Drugs, thankyouthankyouthankyou!), they decided to send me home. It was now after 2 a.m. and the T had stopped running for the night, but fortunately it turns out that outside the main entrance of a large metropolitan hospital is quite possibly the very best place to find a cab on New Year's Eve. Go me! (You all might want to keep this in mind for your own future NYEs, which, God willing, will not end up like mine...)

As it turned out, the cyst may have been an endometrioma, but whatever it was, it went away on its own, and so I didn't end up needing surgery, which was almost too bad--if it had been a teratoma, I was planning on asking if I could take it home with me in a jar for shits, giggles, and the Ultimate in Goth Cred--take that, Man Ray snobs! (Yes, I know, they never would have given it to me because it would have been whisked off to pathology ASAP, and I probably would have gotten the proverbial hairy eyeball from the entire medical staff for the rest of my stay, but still...)

Ah, but this isn't the end of the story...not yet, at any rate!

My mom is half-Scot, and very fond of the old Scottish tradition that the first person over your threshold after the stroke of midnight on New Year's Day needs to be a dark-haired man for good luck. (I'm not aware that she's ever kicked my dad and/or brother out of the house at 11:55 p.m. just to make sure one of them would be the first, but it wouldn't surprise me if it turned out she had) Not surprisingly, I've told several of my friends this particular tale, one of them being my wiseass friend Julia, whom I had already called much earlier in my adventure to ask that she please post to both Live Journal and a mailing list we were on that my annual black-eyed pea feed would have to be canceled, since I didn't even know if I'd be out of the hospital by then, much less in any condition to cook for people. After a decent night's sleep, I called her up the next day to give her an update, and once she knew that I was probably going to live, she jumped right in to ask: "So, that doctor last night..."

"Yes, Julia?"

"The one giving you the pelvic exam...what color hair did he have?"

"Well, Julia, he was going bald, but come to think of it, he did have dark hair."

" did have a dark-haired man over your threshold at the stroke of midnight, didn't you?"

"Yes, Julia, I suppose you could say I did..."

Later that same day, I called home to let my parents know what had happened, and that I was already home and feeling much better, so they didn't need to worry about me (but, of course, they did anyway). When I checked in again with my mother a couple of days later, she said, "You know, when I told your dad you spent New Year's Eve flat on your back with a cute young doctor between your knees, he got all excited and started planning your Big Fat Irish Wedding!"

I think she was joking...

Happy 2013, everybody, and may it be much better and happier for all of us!


*OK, so the fact the triage lady could pull up my entire MGH medical/surgical history and see that yes, my colon has tried to kill me on a number of occasions was probably the tipping point in getting me out of the waiting room and onto a gurney, rather than my being an emotional wreck, but let's not discount the fact that looking really, really pitiful does sometimes help in these situations.

**But not as impressive as Go-Lytely or New-Lytely, which will make you go anything BUT lightly, trust me. Quite possibly the single foulest substance on this or any planet; the only reason I'm not comparing it to Satan's asshole is because I've obviously never tried Satan's asshole, but I'm guessing even that doesn't taste as Godawful as Go-Lytely.

***This particular phrase is probably the most common way for geeks, especially SCAdian**** geeks, to start a story, just so you know...

****SCAdian=member of the SCA, or Society for Creative Anachronism, a worldwide group devoted to recreating various aspects of the period between the Fall of Rome in 454 A.D. and the death of Queen Elizabeth I in 1603. Yes, I'm a card-carrying member, and you should be one, too; where else can you learn how to brew ale, dance a pavane, sew your own garb, cook turnips for a feast in more ways than you would ever have thought either possible or desirable, learn archery without getting catcalls of "Hey Legolas/Hawkeye/Katniss!", flirt with all and sundry, craft your own armor, and then wear it while chivalrously beating the bejeezus out of your opponent to the cheers of the crowd? OK, maybe cosplay or LARPing, but SCAdians can at least point to historical precedent for all of these things...