Friday, April 29, 2016

Men! In the Women's Bathroom!

You know, as a white, male, cis, heterosexual, I've been in women's restrooms while women were there at least twice in my life; and I've had a woman come into a men's restroom while I was in there at least once. In all three of those cases, I was presenting as male (because that's what I do). And in all three of those cases, it was essentially a non-issue.

#1: A friend tricked me into going into the wrong bathroom in a pizza parlor. The doors didn't have labels on them. I was peeing in a guy-style urinal when a woman walked in and said something like, "Gah! This is the women's room!" At which point I said replied, "I'm going to kill my friend." And she walked into her stall, and I finished and washed my hands and left.

#2: My mom had polio when she was very young, around six or seven. She spent most of her life walking with crutches or braces. We were at a renfaire, and she'd gone into the bathroom, into the handicapped stall (which was almost a room unto itself) and after doing her business discovered that the floor was wet. My father is the one who usually helps her up, but with the potential for a slick floor (which is a massive danger if you have no muscular control below your waist) he needed help. So I walked in, past a bunch of women (who, again, were either using stalls or waiting to use stalls, and in any case not the purpose of my visit nor any part of my interest) helped Mom get back upright and over to the wheelchair she used for for places like renfaires, and left again. I don't think anybody gave us a second glance.

#3: College, men's dorm, about three in the morning. I'd been in the shower, as one occasionally is. I heard someone come in the door, then go back out a few moments later. Being finished, I turned off the shower, wrapped a towel around myself, and stepped out the main area with the stalls. I was standing there when a woman came in. (So, for context, this was well after curfew, when most people were asleep, and her boyfriend had probably been the one scouting the room a moment earlier. It was sheer bad luck that I'd finished my shower right then.) We exchanged brief, embarrassed smiles and nodded to each other. Then she went into one of the stalls, and I went out (past the boyfriend, IIRC) and back to my dorm room.

So... Who goes in which bathroom? Who gives a poot? As long as they're there "on business" as it were, it doesn't seem to matter. And if their business is more nefarious, well, it doesn't matter a bit whether they're in the restroom that matches their perceived identity or not.

Can we please, PLEASE quit pretending that that this discussion has anything to do with protecting anyone from anything?

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Who's Your Villain Parent?

Right, so: I have now finished watching Descendants for the second time with my children. It's a Disney TV movie, basically featuring the children of some of the greatest Disney villains being sent to high school over in the good kingdoms of Disney princes and princesses. The five main characters are Mal (daughter of Maleficent, from Sleeping Beauty), Ben (son of Belle and the Beast, from Beauty and the Beast), Evie (daughter of the Evil Queen from Snow White), Jay (son of Jafar, from Aladdin), and Carlos (son of Cruella De Vil, from 101 Dalmations). The basic theme of the movie revolves around choosing your own path in life, because of and in spite of your parentage; the central plot revolves around Mal's mission to obtain the Fairy Godmother's wand so that she can free the villains from their imprisonment, and the growing romance between Mal and Ben -- but there are plenty of side-plots and the other characters all get their chances to show off. It's one of those things that could be horrible and schlocky, and in the event turns out to be amazingly well done instead.

So this got us to wondering who our own villain parents would be. It probably wasn't fair to ask the boys, since their only model for parents at this point are, well, us... but we had fun talking it over anyway.

Which leads me to ask all of you, my bright and creative readers: who would your Disney Villain parents be? And, as a result, what sort of powers or specialties would you have? And would you turn out good? Or maybe your parents were good -- in that case, who were they? And would you turn out evil? Or maybe just... evilish? (The movie is remarkably, and pleasantly, ambiguous about that. Just to pick one example, the son of Cinderella and Prince Charming is, well, not actually a very good guy.) So go with it: if you were making characters for a world like this, who would you be? What would your story arc look like? And where would you end up?

You can watch the preview below the cut:

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Friday, April 22, 2016

No Fate in Twilight

The world passed in bits and flashes: a dark suburban street here, then far behind him; a flash of dirt road, trees on either side, then gone; two footfalls on someone's front porch, before it was lost. Reality surged and flowed around him, and he navigated from island to island in its stream. It was a dangerous way to travel: one misstep, and he could be lost beyond any hope of salvation or retrieval. It was also very, very fast...

...And whatever, wherever it was, this path was also familiar to the things that hunted. He kept catching glimpses of them, sliding and bounding. They avoided the islands but slithered darkly through the stream. Or maybe it wasn't familiar to them. Maybe they were only following him, in the way that seemed most natural to them. Vilisant was suddenly afraid that he'd shown them how to do something that they hadn't known before.

He was inside a warehouse, then gone. He was in a field of high grasses, then gone. He took four steps down an office hallway, then launched himself again.

They were still behind, and he thought they were starting to wind around him. It felt dangerously as if they were becoming part of his path; as if the wild flow of places and spaces around him might suddenly reach up to pull him down, and that it would be them when it did.

His foot touched down in a parking lot, and he pivoted and changed directions completely. He had the brief impression of a dark blot spreading out over the pavement around him, but he was moving entirely in the physical world now. They might still be hunting him, but they couldn't pull him down. He put on a burst of speed, and moved clear of the area before they could emerge. He was spending his energy too fast; he needed blood to replenish it. He wouldn't tire, exactly, and he wouldn't slow; but when the blood ran out, he would stop. And he could feel his body contracting, the flesh withering as he burned through the blood it held.

The parking lot had been out on the edge of a city -- which city, he wasn't sure. He'd been trying to reach Twilight, and Twilight wasn't a city that aligned well with the geography of the real world. Still... having a city nearby was good. The lore of his clan said that once, long ago, the darkness had kept outposts and forts beneath every city and town, and the light had held their corresponding outposts just above them. The struggle between them had been steady, with raids and brawls often erupting into the mortal world. Then one of the Powers had intervened, pulling all those almost-places into a single, labyrinthine city, contiguous and coterminous with the real world but not quite a part of it. After the initial bloodshed, the intrusions of light and dark alike had given way to control by the half-human, once-human species that were and weren't part of the middle world, that were and weren't allied with either side. The city of Twilight, as unsettled and unruly as it might to be, was a balancing point between darkness and light, and a buffer that held them back from direct incursions into the mortal world.

Vilisant hated the place. But it would keep his pursuers off him, and it was easiest to reach from the heart of a city. It didn't matter which one.

Should he try to feed, or try to push through? If he could reach Twilight, he would be safe. Even if he couldn't feed there -- and he probably could -- his clan would find him, and provide for him. But he was hovering at the edge of his strength; if he needed anything extra, if he had to force his way past them, he would falter and fall.

I'll risk it, he decided. He would be in as much danger, or more, if they caught him while he was trying to feed. Better to get to safety first, and worry about feeding later. Damn that woman. If she'd come with me, we could have been gone and back to the citadel before those things ever arrived. He was already moving when another thought struck him, and he chuckled: Wouldn't the Oracle Shiran be surprised if he died on his way to Twilight, before ever marrying his destined bride?

He launched himself over a wall, landed softly on the other side, and remembered what the woman had intended for him. Maybe that would be for the better. The road ahead of him led towards the center of town, and he sprinted along it. For the dead travel fast, he thought. I just hope the dark don't travel any faster...

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

...Or not.

I was going to try to do some kind of writing last night.

Apparently it was vitally important that we hang doors, instead. Apparently it was critical that we do this now, and -- and I confess I'm baffled by this -- it was equally important to do it ourselves because we're just too exhausted to get professionals in to do it right.

I don't even... You know what? I don't care. It's done. The evening is gone. The doors are hung. Whatever.

I swear, though, the way April is going? We're going to finally get the garage cleaned back out and everything back in place inside the house...

...and it will be just in fucking time for the Zombie Apocalypse to arrive, and force us to evacuate the city entirely.

With my luck, they'll show up right in the middle of Secondborn's birthday party, so we'll end up having to escape with a bunch of traumatized kindergarteners who are screaming for their parents, in a van that's low on gas, with nothing but Batman cake and Capri-suns for supplies.

You just watch. When it happens, I won't even look surprised.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Perchance to dream...

I made it through work yesterday (barely), then picked up the boys, made dinner, and collapsed on the couch for a brief 11-hour nap. Woke up this morning to discover that the boys had laid down two rows of those inflated plastic packing pillows -- either to cushion the fall if I rolled off the couch, or as a trap for when I woke up. (I asked, and of course you're right: it was a trap.) I made breakfast and took a long, hot shower which will no doubt come as a great relief to my co-workers.

So I'm back at work, the boys are at school, the Beautiful Woman is in the middle of the Season Of Grading, and the cat still wants treats. I'm... better. Still a little strung out, I think, but better. I spoke to my Dad again yesterday, and he's still moving along; I think he'll be okay until he runs out of things to do. The boys have expressed some sadness, but they're doing pretty well so far. We've had a ton of condolences come in, and I'm behind on responding to them (because, well, unconscious) but believe me when I say that I appreciate every one of them.

This would be a good day to have a bunch of mindless edits to make, stuff where I could keep working but mostly run on automatic pilot. Instead, I need to sort through some projects, make some strategic decisions, and start getting some things in motion. This probably isn't the best day for trying to use my brain like that, but it needs to be done so that's what I'm doing. More later, when I have some time to settle down and do more writing...

Monday, April 18, 2016

Too soon?

We lost my mother last week.

If your first response is either Did you check under the couch? or Now you're halfway to being Batman! well, I'm right there with you. It's not even a defense mechanism -- not yet, anyway. It's just that the whole event seems so improbable that even after watching the medical examiner remove the body and having grieving friends and family (including me) show up at my parents' house on Thursday, it's a little hard to accept that it really happened.

Basic facts:
My parents went up to Tulsa, Oklahoma over Easter weekend. My mom's sisters live around there (including a couple who aren't, strictly speaking, sisters or even blood relations -- as if that makes any difference). While they were up there, she came down with some sort of really bad cough. Then, something (either the disease causing the cough, or something that they used trying to control it) caused her heart rate to speed up[1] to a point where the heart started to fibrillate. Somewhere in there, she ended up in the hospital. After several days of treatment, they got her heart rate back down and the fibrillation settled out on its own.[2] At that point they went back my aunt's house to recuperate for a couple of days, after which my brother and a family friend drove up to retrieve them.[3] They spent most of another week recuperating and seeing their own doctors back here in Dallas/Fort Worth, since apparently Mom's energy and physical strength were very low, and they were discussing a procedure to "zap" her heart and reset its rhythm.[4] And then, last Thursday[5], she just didn't wake up.

(If I sound a bit uncertain about the timeline and the exact medical events/diagnoses, it's because I am. When it came to anything that might be a major medical issue, my mother tended to kind of... freeze up ...and not admit that anything was wrong until it was absolutely undeniable/inescapable, finally seek medical attention in the most unwilling way imaginable, and not tell anybody except my dad what was going on until they were safely past the crisis.[6] So the first I heard of all this was on the Monday after Easter, when Dad called to say that they weren't back in town yet, and would be staying in Tulsa for a few more days. I didn't even ask why; if they'd wanted me to know, they would have told me.)

So Thursday morning, as I was getting ready to take Firstborn to his school and then head to a dental appointment and then to work, I got the news from my dad. We didn't tell the boys; we didn't tell them until after school on Friday.[7] I sent an email off to work, went to dental appointment, and then drove down to my parents' house with one side of my face still numb. (If you're thinking, I'll bet that wasn't his best day ever, you'd be right.) When I got there, around 10:30 or so, the medical examiner and her assistant were in the bedroom with the body[8] and a very nice police officer was... I was going to say "being solicitous" (and he was, and that's a part of an officer's job that I have never in my life imagined) but I think he was also there to keep us out of the medical examiner's hair. There was a long-time friend of the family there too (another one of those people who isn't technically part of the family except that they are or might as well be), and he'd made a pot of coffee and offered his condolences and support.

He left shortly after I arrived, so it was only my father and I who got to stand by the window and watch as they wheeled the body out. It was carefully impersonal, just a body bag on a stretcher, like you'd see in a movie[9]. The medical examiner and her assistant drove it away, while the officer came back inside to say nice things and let us know they were done.

After that my father went back to calling everybody who needed to be told directly, and I did what I could to help (which wasn't much -- looking up a couple of phone numbers, mainly). My brother and his wife arrived with lunch, and various family friends stopped by in various states of shock and/or grief. And somewhere in the early afternoon, I think around 2 or 2:30, Dad kind of called a halt to it, and sent us gently back home, and (I hope) went off to take a nap.

And now it's Sunday morning and I'm typing this in my little work-area with the door closed, and I think maybe I'm finally starting to really feel it.

More than anything else, this is how my mother wanted to die. I don't think she was really afraid of dying. If she was, it was absolutely nothing compared to her fear of becoming helpless or being a burden. She didn't want to outlive my father, either. How much of that was a fear of grief, and how much of it was an extension of this desire not to become a burden, I don't know. I suspect there were large doses of both involved. This was... I don't know if it was her wish, exactly, but as far as she was concerned if she had to die this was the least bad way to go about it: quietly, ahead of her husband, while she still had her mobility and her dignity.

I may be writing more about my mother. I may not, but I probably will: writing is how I process things. I may write things here, or I may write them and put them away in my files. I haven't said anything about her history, or who she was as a person, or much of anything that really matters. I haven't talked about polio, or Warm Springs, or relationships with her sisters, or her work, or what she was like as a parent. As you can probably see, I'm still coming to grips with the fact that she's dead.

It's 11:23 on Sunday morning. I'm going to set this post to go up tomorrow. Then I'm going to go pour myself a glass of Jameson and water, and go stand in a hot shower for a while.

[1] "Up to 190" I was told, which I assume is beats per minute, but I don't have enough medical knowledge to say that with any certainty. For comparison, though, they were trying to get her heart rate "back below 100" before they would let her go home.

[2] As, apparently, it sometimes does in these cases.

[3] By taking two drivers, they could retrieve my parents' car as well. I could have gone if I'd really been needed, but in terms of work and who could best afford to take the time off, this seemed the best arrangement.

[4] Apparently it had stopped fibrillating, but it was still a little erratic, or something.

[5] Looking at the calendar, that would be April 14, 2016.

[6] There were reasons for this -- solid, understandable reasons why this sort of thing would be a huge personal issue for her -- but that has never made the behavior pattern any less irritating.

[7] It's not that we didn't want them to know. It's more like... we couldn't tell them Thursday morning, because we weren't about to drop that bombshell and then send them off to school -- that wouldn't be fair to anyone. We couldn't tell them Thursday night, because we were celebrating Secondborn's birthday and I sure as hell didn't want him associating his birthday with his grandmother's death. We couldn't tell them Friday morning, because of the tell-and-send-em-off issue again. So it was Friday night.

[8] I can't believe I just typed that. Death -- and grief -- are so deeply surreal and weird.

[9] Except that in the sort of movies I generally watch, the bodies usually sit up and try to eat the living.

Friday, April 15, 2016

No Fate Save Repetition

Sandra glanced at the figure at the side of the road as her car hurtled by. It looked like a young man, in plain clothes with a simple pack, with his thumb held hopefully up: a hitchhiker. She hadn't seen a hitchhiker in decades, but this was quite the night for unusual events. She wasn't thinking about what might have happened back at the house. She wasn't thinking about what might happen next.

The second time she passed him, she sped up. This was twelve miles further up the road, but she thought it was the same figure: the same dark hair, the same simple clothing, the same small backpack.

The third time she passed him, she slowed back down. If he was just going to keep reappearing, then he wasn't much of a threat... and the last thing she needed was a speeding ticket. Samantha stirred in the back seat, and Sandra asked: "Honey?"

"I don't know," said Samantha, in her Big Girl voice. "He isn't hunting us, not exactly. And he isn't a vampire, or a werewolf, or a sorcerer, or... anything else, really."

"Should I stop?" asked Sandra. She hated calling on her daughter's vision, hated it, but... there was a sense of inevitability to this. If she just kept ignoring him, he would probably show up wherever she finally stopped. She couldn't drive forever.

"I think you have to," answered Samantha, nearly echoing her thoughts.

Sandra made a sound in her throat that was half growl and half groan, and kept driving. Sure enough, she saw him again a few miles later.

This time she slowed, let the car drift to a stop just past him, and waited until he approached.

He came at a normal human walking speed. A ghost? It seemed possible, though she'd never met one.

When he opened the passenger door, she was pointing a gun at him. "Get in," she said, "If that's what you're here for."

He opened the door the rest of the way, climbed in, and closed it. Then, very deliberately, he fastened his seatbelt. The straps settled against him and stayed: he was definitely flesh, though small-built and slim. He looked to be maybe twenty years old. "They aren't chasing you," he said, "but you should still keep moving."

"Who are you?" asked Sandra, her foot still on the brake.

"Nobody in particular," he said. "Not yet. Do you want help?"

"No," said Sandra.

He tilted his head, looking at her sidewise. "Not even from the vampire?"


"And not from me, either."

"Whatever you might be? Absolutely not."

He didn't react to that, just nodded absently. It might have saved his life: she still had the gun pointed at him, and the ammunition inside was meant to deal with unusual things. Or maybe he's just too damned powerful -- or too damned strange -- to worry about bullets. If he'd so much as turned, she'd have shot him. Instead, he just sat there.

"Then let me leave this," he said, and reached into his jacket. What he pulled out was a small amulet with a simple cord, which he set on the console between them. "It's just a protection. It won't let me spy on you, and it won't cost you anything. Check it yourself -- or run it by someone you trust." He tugged on the latch and swung the door open, then stepped back out into the night. His movements were still slow and casual, still utterly human. He closed the door gently and stepped back, and for a moment Sandra just stared at the dim silhouette of him outside the window.

"We should keep it," said Samantha, from the back seat.

Sandra swallowed. "...Why?"

"It's a good thing. And sometimes it's a kitten."

Thursday, April 14, 2016


Some say the world will end in fire,
Others in flood or ice,
Or Civ'lization will collapse,
In violence and vice.

There's famine, plague, or asteroid,
To bring about our ends,
Or aliens come harvesting
Our families and friends.

Or World War III, or World War Z,
With zombies in the streets,
Or scientists and GMOs
polluting what we eats.

Perhaps a wolf consumes the sun
or God will come to judge.
Perhaps we die of poisoning
from our own toxic sludge.

The latest smartest robots might
Decide to wipe us out,
And if the flooding misses us
We still could die of drought.

So many things could cause the end--
far more than just this list--
It's hard to say what might be best
Or which seems likeliest.

I doubt 'twill be disaster or
Act of Divinity;
What brings us down, I most suspect
is our stupidity.

© 2016

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

No Fate Save Concealment

Vilisant waited in the darkness under the world as they flowed through the house. So long as he remained still, he should be safe.

One of them brushed against him, darkness sliding past darkness, and a chill went through him. He had never been certain if he truly had a body here, but whatever he had didn't move, didn't reveal him. It might not be as simple as mind and body, but his reaction didn't betray his presence. He waited.

One of them swept past the chains, and he felt it tangle. Now, he thought, and moved back into the world.

He couldn't see it, even here. It was a blazing darkness, wrapped in the chains meant for him. It writhed without moving.

Vilisant felt his hands twist into claws, his mouth widen and his fangs lengthen. He leapt, clawing and biting, tearing away chunks that were more shadow than substance. If they only had blood-- He was not first to have that thought. If they bled, he could kill them. If they bled, he could drain them. If they bled, he could take their power and turn it against them.

Instead, he would have to do it the hard way... and he had no time for that. The others were all around. They were approaching now, though their paths were not straight. He leapt back, landed in the front hall, and threw himself at the locks on the door. Shadows moved around him as he turned the knobs and opened the door. Desperate, he threw a hand out and flipped on the lights: the front walk, and the front hallway. The not-quite-sounds of screaming silence filled that part of his awareness that wasn't quite his ears as he flung the door open and stepped out into the night.

They were still behind him, following in their twisting, erratic way. He couldn't return to his clan, not with them so close. It would trigger an invasion that might even succeed. No, he would have to lose himself in Twilight, first.

Gritting his teeth, he fled into the night. He hated visiting Twilight. Damn that woman anyway, he thought. If she'd come along, I wouldn't need to do this...

Monday, April 11, 2016

Enter Sandman

There are a number of songs where I find the covers at least as interesting as the originals. This is one of them:

Thursday, April 7, 2016





::giant explosion of coughing that leaves me light-headed and sounds like it might be tearing loose some internal organs::

::deep inhalation::

"It's--" ::cough:: "--okay, really." ::ugly hacking cough:: "I'm fine as--" ::more coughing:: "--long as--" ::still more coughing:: "--I don't move." ::forty-second-long coughing fit:: "Or talk."

Monday, April 4, 2016

No Fate We Can't Escape

Sandra thought she saw something flicker out of the corner of her eye, something moving outside the window, but she was already accelerating onto the ramp and she couldn't be sure it wasn't just nerves. Nothing should be this close to them, not if the vampire was drawing them off the way he was supposed to.

"Mommy?" Samantha's voice came from the back seat, a child's voice speaking in serious, adult tones. "Did we have to leave him behind?"

"Yes," said Sandra firmly.

"He really did want to protect us."

"He was a vampire, honey." Sandra let her voice soften a little. "That's not the kind of protection we need."

"I think maybe it is," said Samantha. "He has a lot more power than you do, Mommy. And he was scared of the ones who were coming."

Good, she thought. Maybe they'll kill him. She recognized the vehemence of the thought, its defensiveness. Am I really feeling guilty about wanting to steal power from a vampire? She wasn't sure. She hadn't done it, and maybe that was all that mattered. Becoming a vampire might have helped her defend her daughter, but maybe it would have destroyed everything she'd done so far, all the plans she'd laid and steps she'd taken. Maybe the vampire had been right; maybe it would have made her more vulnerable, at least in the short term. "Power isn't everything," she said.

"I wish I didn't have any power," said Samantha. "Then nobody would care what I did."

Sandra kept her speed just above the speed limit, and bit back her first three responses. She wished her daughter had been born mundane, too, instead of with those wise, old eyes and those dismaying insights; she loved her daughter just as she was, vision and all; after the time she'd spent among witches and travelers, studying the enemy and researching defenses, she didn't even know whether having power was good or bad. "It's not that simple, honey," she said, and managed not to flinch when her daughter replied, "I know."

Moving carefully, carrying only the essentials, they left the city behind.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Arrival of the Home Gnomes

A couple of weeks ago, we put a lava lamp in Firstborn's room. He doesn't like going to sleep in the dark, and I was hoping it would give the boys something to stare at while they fell asleep. Both the Beautiful Wife and I have disavowed all knowledge of where it came from, and the grandparents are (naturally) completely baffled.

So I've explained about the Home Gnomes, and that we probably have some in our house.

Home Gnomes, you see, move into your home. They're only about six inches high, so they're easy to miss. And sometimes they bring furniture with them from other people's houses, so there's no telling where that lamp might have come from originally.

Now, you might expect that Firstborn, at nine years old, would be a bit suspicious of this explanation. You wouldn't be wrong, either.

...Which is why, two weeks later, we "discovered" a tiny little door at the back of one of our cabinets. Clearly, it is where the Home Gnomes live. Clearly, Home Gnomes are real. And clearly, they are responsible for bringing the lava lamp to Firstborn's room.

(He still doesn't believe us.)

Short Film: Darwinian Future