July 19th, 2010


[links] Link salad is thoroughly cowed, tries to moove on

A fascinating parallel deconstruction of Mainspring and Stormfrontarcaedia, are you looking?

Whole lotta cantin' going on — Roger Ebert on Inception, film criticism and the social psychology of liking things. And Ta-Nehisi Coates with a much briefer squib on the movie.

Comics put patients in the pictureGraphic novels and medical comics are proving powerful communication tools for patients and medical professionals. Another very constructive way to talk about chemotherapy. (Thanks to willyumtx.)

Only Disconnect — Life in the iPhone generation. (Via my dad.)

Dieselpunk Motorcycle — Mmmm.

Postcards from the Future — (Via kevinstandlee.)

Saltair Pavilion: 1900 — Wild architecture, Utah style.

Quantum Time Machine Solves Grandfather ParadoxA new kind of time travel based on quantum teleportation gets around the paradoxes that have plagued other time machines, say physicists. Hmmm. Grandfatherless time machines. Hmmm.

Palin on the Ground Zero Mosque vs. the Founding Fathers — Fascinating reading from Juan Cole, including quite a few cites from primary sources, e.g. the Founding Fathers themselves. Exposes once again the intellectual and cultural shallowness of the Tea Party mentality.

?otD: How much is that dogie in the windbreak?

Writing time yesterday: 6.0 hours (revision, editing and WRPA)
Body movement: 30 minute stationary bike ride
Hours slept: 8.0 (interrupted, look, ma, still no Lorazepam!)
This morning's weigh-in: 233.2
Yesterday's chemo stress index: 4/10 (fatigue, peripheral neuropathy, emotional turmoil)
Currently (re)reading: Heretics of Dune by Frank Herbert


[cancer] Almost time to go back to the well

Oncology consult is at 11 am today. We find out how successful the chemo was, or wasn't. Not to put too fine a point on it, I am terrified.

I did have the expected emotional meltdown last night. This fear, this stress, it grabs hold of me and shakes me like a rat in a terrier's jaws. I even briefly surrendered to the "unfairness" meme, which I normally avoid with great assiduousness. calendula_witch was here, and took care of me. She can be very wise, that woman.

In truth, at this point I am not afraid of another metastasis, per se. I'm not afraid of more surgery. I'm not even all that afraid of the dying, sooner or later, though the sheer waste of dying at this time of my life does offend me. (And no, I am not concealing any mortality prognosis, just making an observation about where cancer can go.) But I am deeply terrified of more chemo. I don't want to lose another 7-8 months of my life, another 3+ months of writing time, another chunk of my energy and physicality and sexuality and psyche.

Truth is, if it comes to pass, I will do what must be done. Because I have no alternative I will accept. Neither wishful thinking nor herbs nor prayer will conquer this bastard assassin I have bred within my gut. I put my trust in modern allopathic medicine because it's the only game in town for what ails me.

In about six hours, I'll know more. With any luck at all, it will be boring. Never in my life have I so fervently wished to be boring and pointless as I do now. I want to be a waste of my oncologist's time.

But right now, I'm mostly scared.


[writing|process] Talent, ability and voice

tchernabyelo on talent and ability. He asks if there is a limit on talent and ability, and discusses the need to analyze his successful work better.

As I said recently in a slight different context, "careful craft will beat brilliant inspiration nine times out of ten. The true point is, of course, to yoke careful craft and brilliant inspiration together in a single process."

I'm going to go out on a bit of a limb here and say that I believe talent to be rather overrated. This is not sour grapes; I say this as someone who considers himself to be fairly talented at the narrative arts. But ability, taken here for discussion purposes in the sense of "craft", is what makes for successful writing.

Be assured I am not discounting the value of talent. It is possible to dazzle with sheer brilliance, and I'm rather pleased when someone can do that to me. But even sheer brilliance must still rest on structure, plot, character, setting, and all the other impedimenta of story-telling. Those are craft.

I can't teach you talent. You have whatever you have. Hence matociquala's "box it came in" theory, which I prefer to think of as the "hand of cards". There are ten or twelve or fourteen things that a writer needs to attain mastery of in order to tell a strong, compelling story. We all first come to the table with two or three or five of those things in our hands. Natural talent, in other words.

In my case, as a very new writer, long before I'd sold a word, or even written a comprehensible story, that was plot (though not endings), setting, and prose styling. Characters, on the other hand, were sort of people-shaped black holes for me, dialog was so clunky it hurt, my control of POV was laughable. Those things I had to learn. Craft, in other words, carefully attended to and practiced over the past two decades.

One of my personal challenges in growing as a writer has in fact been to recognize the limits of my talent, and from that where and how to apply my learned skills at craft development to those areas where I already considered myself pretty hot shit. (Ego isn't pretty, is it?)

I may not be able to teach you talent, but I can teach you craft. Or at least someone can, if it doesn't happen to be me. In fact, with one notable exception, I'm of the opinion that any aspect of craft can be taught, and if practiced well, mastered.

Another way of saying that is to aver that you don't need talent to succeed at writing. You need the ability to learn good craft, you need to attain facility at that craft (if not mastery, eventually), and you need psychotic persistence. Talent sure can help, and may be a handy shortcut for some of the cards of craft, but it can also be a dead end and a trap; much as I have experienced.

The notable exception? I don't believe I can teach you voice. Voice is one of those things that adheres to the Potter Stewart test - "I can't define it, but I know it when I see it." To my current thinking, voice is the distinct quality that makes you the writer you are, delightfully unlike everyone else. It arises out of the intersection of talent, craft, and life experience, and like the sea, voice is ever changing.

You have talent in whatever measure you happen to be granted it. Craft can be taught, and will bridge the gap between talent and achievement. Voice is the intangible fusion that moves you from practiced to good; and with luck and skill, from good to great.

So to speak to tchernabyelo directly, is there a limit on talent and ability? Yes, on talent, because it's an inherent quality independent of effort and focus. Potentially not on ability, because it's an acquired characteristic dependent on commitment and practice. You can't control talent, but you can control craft.

As I often say, "write more". That is the essence of commitment and practice.


[cancer] I have seen the future, brother, and it is murder

calendula_witch and I had the post-chemo oncology followup appointment this morning. Everything was running late, as happens, but finally when the oncologist (and the resident) came in, they did not look happy. My oncologist reported that Friday's CT scan was "very surprising."

While on the FOLFOX/Avastin chemotherapy regime, my body managed to develop a new metastasis, specifically a 2.9 x 2.4 cm lesion in the left lobe of my liver. That's a tumor the size of a large olive in less than eight months, growing in the face of assault by some of the nastier drugs in our pharmakon.

Next step is a PET scan tomorrow. I always do enjoy a visit to the Department of Giant Radioactive Spiders, and any medicine that comes in a lead-lined box and a tungsten-jacketed syringe has got to be good for me, right?

After that I'll have a pre-operative consultation with the liver surgeon my oncologist thinks is the best in the area. About four to six weeks from now, I'll have the tumor removed. That surgery will happen in late August or early September.

Unless something very unexpectedly arises from the post-operative pathology, about four weeks after that, I'll start six months of a new chemotherapy regime, FOLFIRI. That's a similar mix to what I just finished up with, except instead of Oxaliplatin, the cocktail will include Irinotecan. This will be tougher, more severe chemo, because clearly the cancer cells in my body laugh at danger and sneer at medical intervention. I'm told Irinotecan doesn't cause the peripheral neuropathy problems that Oxaliplatin does, but that I can expect more severe lower GI distress and greater hair loss.

Oh, boy, an intensification of my toilet-based lifestyle! On the plus side, the damned peripheral neuropathy can taper off over time without intensifying. And I already have this convenient chest port.

Open issues right now include the timing of the surgery. If I went with the oncologist's timeline, I'd have to cancel the trip calendula_witch and I are making to New Zealand and Australia. Which may need to happen depending on medical necessity and their sense of urgency. Obviously this tumor is aggressive, to have developed under such adverse circumstances.

Likewise, I have to do some time management at work. I've already burned all my sick hours for the year on chemo this spring, so I may need to cancel the trip simply to accumulate sufficient paid days off for this fall's chemo. We do have a Short Term Disability benefit at work, which I'm going to investigate the possibility of taking. That will also allow to me to work a bit less through the later stages of the chemo cycle, which is probably wise given how tough the last one was. I have to talk to HR anyway about FMLA paperwork and such like. That process will start tomorrow, after the PET scan.

Financial impact will be pretty meaningful, too. My direct out-of-pocket through my insurance company is $4,000 per plan year. I've already burned through that, so at least the 20% hospital co-pay for the surgery won't hit my wallet. But the second half of chemo will be in the next plan year, so there's a decent chunk of change. My indirect costs are another $6,000 a year or so, meaning, money I wouldn't be spending if I didn't have cancer; that extends into 2011 now. This isn't killing me financially, but it's stretching me pretty thin.

Another thing I'm thinking hard about is long-term health and survival. Having a second met so hard on top of the last one certainly affects my mortality statistics in a meaningfully adverse way. (Translation: "ZOMG, I'm going to die!") I continue to see this cancer as treatable and survivable, but damn is it aggressive. Not to mention I will wind up spending 12 out of 15 months on chemo. This is serious damage to my quality of life, and a challenge to mid- and long-term planning.

It's also screwing up my writing schedule something awful. I will make revised deadline on Endurance, and I will make deadline on Kalimpura, but as a result of these two chemo series, Sunspin has been pushed back an entire year from my original work plan, and my incidental output of short fiction has been crimped. This is already having further negative financial and career visibility impact on me now, which will only deepen with a new, tougher round of this nonsense.

I'm pretty unhappy about not being able to get back to normal. Just about the time I expect my energy to return to something like its pre-chemo state, I'll be back into another round of surgery and chemotherapy. Basically, this means I'll go about 16 months without much of my real life. And that assumes I come out of the other end of this cycle without yet a further disaster.

Finally, and most importantly, the_child is taking this very hard. I won't say more, for the sake of her privacy, but that is breaking my heart. The effect on my family as a whole is pretty depressing, but she most of all.

All three of my cancer experiences have been surprising in various ways. The original diagnosis came when I was over twenty years younger than average for this cancer. The first metastasis wasn't supposed to happen, given the staging and general circumstances of my primary cancer. The second metastasis quite visibly shocked my oncologist. I'm the opposite of a medical miracle.

Emotionally, I have barely begun to process this, any more than the people around me have. I'm angry, devastated, depressed, frustrated, frightened. You name it. The assassin in my gut has come back for another try, with a vengeance.

I will fight, because there is nothing else to do, but damn am I tired of this.