Sunday, September 30, 2007


I dunno. Am I being "all avoidy," as Buffy would say, or just lazy? Or do I just need a little more time to assimilate the recent changes in my life before my brain will let me stop spinning my wheels and get on with the other things I should be doing? I want to be writing, and editing, to solve the problem of no longer having an HTML editor for updating the church web site, and to find out why my computer came up with a bizarre new glitch last night and what to do about it, if anything. But I didn't do any of those things today. Or last night. Or the night before that. I just couldn't make myself do anything useful at all.

After my usual Friday night all-nighter at the computer (and watching Doctor Who, both on cable and on the old laptop), I slept in to an astounding 4 PM - 10 1/2 hours of sleep! I don't regret this one bit, but it makes for a short day. Aside from a little shopping and a little cooking, I've mostly watched Doctor Who some more. I suppose I'm entitled to one day off a week, accomplishing absolutely nothing but rest and relaxation. Or am I? 'Cause you see, I screwed up. Tonight was the Feast of St. Michael at St. Michael & All Angels. I was scheduled to be crucifer at the 6:30 PM Mass, and I promised to be there. Repeatedly. But I forgot all about the Mass until 11:30 PM, long after it was all over. I'll apologize in the morning, but really, I hate letting people down. Somehow I do it anyway.

An attempt to photograph the mural on Broadway
downtown - at 15 MPH

I did read a bit of my email, though, and found more things to assimilate. Carly sent me a link to a list of public art around Tucson, and a request that I photograph more of it. I actually have made repeated attempts to short of few of the more famous, accessible examples, with limited success. The ones I'm posting here tonight after of the big photographic mural near the underpass on Broadway at the edge of downtown Tucson. The cool thing about it is that it shows real people from Tucson's past, photographed on the streets of downtown Tucson over 50 years ago. But it's tough to photograph, in the middle of a narrowing, heavily congested street that's partially blocked off due to construction. Even if I were to find parking nearby, which would be difficult, I'm not sure I could get a good shot of this, even on foot.

A second attempt a few days later was no more successful.

I should probably try it sometime, though. It's right near another large pice of public art: a pedestrian bridge in the shape of a giant Diamondback rattlesnake, complete with tail rattle. Like the mural, it's tough to capture in a photo, partly because of its size and surroundings, partly because I see it only when driving (or occasionally, riding in the passenger's seat). I know I've photographed it repeatedly, but Google disavows all knowledge of my having posted any other the attempts. I'll try again sometime.

Another bit of email today was from a reader I haven't heard from before, who points me toward a page of links from the British Fantasy Society. As an American and Anglophile, I find this both intriguing and of limited usefulness - some of the resources are unlikely to be available to me, but others probably are. He also mentioned a recent find in the "lost" episodes of Doctor Who, the BBC copies of which were destroyed by a BBC emplyee decades ago. Most helpful of all was he suggestion that I consider writing short fiction to get my name out there as a writer. That's part of what my somewhat neglected fiction blog is for, but it's very true that getting a story or three into F&SF or some other major magazine would be a huge boost. Not that it would be easy to do; I'd be competing with major writers for page space. The only submission I ever made to that particular magazine was over thirty years ago, and rightfully rejected. More to the point, I'm really not a short fiction writer for the most part. Nearly everything I write grows and grows until it's at least a novelette. I've managed the occasional vignette in Ficlets, but those aren't really stories; and my short pieces in Messages are Mâvarin apocrypha, letters and diary excerpts that shed additional light on events in the novels rather than standing on their own.

Since reading that email this afternoon, though, I have been thinking about reviving the only standalone Mâvarin short story I've ever attempted. The working title, "What About the Children?", is a bit of a joke, and the plot is very much up in the air. In fact, I've been trying to remember so several years now just what the premise was supposed to be. I think I've finally worked it out, but it's problematic. It involves young Del and Rani, ages 10 and 9, getting hold of some charm or potion or other magical doodad from Dupili, just as Del's "Uncle" Jamek is delirious with fever. Both boys are keen to learn secrets the adults have been keeping from them, especially after Jamek says some odd things during his illness. Unfortunately for the story's viability, I can't let either Del or Rani learn anything really important, because if they do it messes up Heirs of Mâvarin. Nor do I want to use the narrative device known as a "reset button," and have the kids learn all, only to have their memories wiped afterward. Still, I like the idea of their wanting to know about their mysterious, absent fathers, and the problem Shela would face trying to keep Del from learning the truth too soon.

And of course there's also the Jace story to be working on. Sarah K and I are supposed to be collaborating on that, but at the moment i have no clue how to proceed.

My question is this: am I ready to play around with these two stories, or to get back to editing Chapter 28 of Mages? Are Tuffy's illness, the DAW rejection and the new job so brain-jarring that I have to play Monster Match for hours at a time just to cope? Or is that just ordinary, borderline OCD behavior, getting in the way of better, more life-affirming activities?

Tell you what. Tomorrow I will give at least an hour to Jace, young Del or both, and another hour to Mages. I also have the 2008 Novel & Short Story Writer's Market; I should at least glance at it. If I find myself unable to accomplish anything on any of these tasks, I'll know that I really do need more time to assimilate the recent shocks in my life. But if I can get stuff written and edited, it will be a much better distraction than double-clicking on Daleks and Ood, and make me feel better about myself as I nudge myself back in the direction of my lifelong goals.


Broadway underpass mural: Windows to the Past, Gateway to the Future

Diamondback Bridge

Saturday, September 29, 2007


Having posted pictures just a few days ago of the big, red, freshly painted whatever-it-is in front of the public library downtown, I had no particular plans this week to photograph or post any other pieces of art in public places. (Is that enough alliteration for you? 'Cause I could try again if you like.) But on my way back from lunch today I was stopped at an unfamiliar intersection, where I spotted this oddity:

I'm not sure you can tell what it is from this first photo. In fact, I'm not sure I know what it is myself, and I saw it fairly close up, in person. The pink thing behind it is one of those little memorial shrines that turn up at nearly every dangerous intersection in Tucson. But what is that big blue thing? Let's look closer:

Does that help? I'm not sure it does, much. It's a winged figure, possibly female but a bit androgynous, it seems to me; surrounded by tablets or tombstones as it holds the earth aloft. The tablet in front of the figure proclaims a theme: "TOGETHER WE RISE."

What? What? What?

Aside from general platitudes about unity and the common good, "the brotherhood and sisterhood of Man," as John Lennon once sang in concert, I have little idea what the inscription is supposed to mean, let alone the statue itself. Who is the blue figure with the white splotches all over its face? What does it mean by "we," and what are we rising toward, and why? Is there a reason why the mysterious blue Atlas Angel (I just made that up) is on that specific street corner? Is there a particular group of people it is meant to inspire? And what inspired the artist to make the figure in the first place, and prop it in place along Irvington Road? Not even Google has a clue about this. The only thing I can think of is that the local LGBT support center is called Wingspan, and Mr or Ms Atlas Angel has wings.

What do YOU think it's about?

Speaking of inspiration, I loaded a picture of Tuffy on my desktop at work on Thursday. It's not actually my computer; I'm sharing it with the person who is training me. When she is logged in, the computer shows a mountainous road in Utah. When I'm logged in, I'm looking at my poor Tuffy.

Years and years ago, there was an episode of The Simpsons about Homer's apparently indifferent relationship with his youngest child, Maggie. There do not appear to be any photos of Maggie in the house, and Homer doesn't seem to pay as much attention to the baby as he does to Bart or Lisa. But over the course of the episode we learn that Homer made a break from the nuclear plant for a more fulfilling but less lucrative line of work, the nature of which I've long since forgotten. When Marge was pregnant with Maggie, Homer resumed working for Mr. Burns - and there, at Homer's workstation, are dozens of photos of Maggie, along with the words, "Do it for her." At odd moments of the day today, I looked at my desktop picture of Tuffy with her three shaved surgical sites, and the words "do it for her" kept coming to mind. Now, I don't need a canine cancer crisis to keep me working at this new job; it's a good job, and a little better every day as I start to get a clue how to do it. Nevertheless, I think of Tuffy, and I'm inspired to work a little harder, and to do whatever I can for her directly.


Thursday, September 27, 2007

More Bad Clothing, But That's Not Important Right Now

Weekend Assignment #185: What's the worst clothing ensemble you can recall wearing? I expect we'll get a lot of bridesmaid and prom night nightmares in this one, but anything's up for grabs, and in deed, if it was something you thought was fashionable at the time and now have come to regret, so much the better. Confess! You'll feel better.

Extra Credit:
Are you kidding? Pictures, people!

As many of you know, I'm in crisis mode at the moment, and this Weekend Assignment isn't quite eliciting my best efforts tonight. Aside from Tuffy's health crisis, there's the fact that it's a near-rerun. I previously wrote an entry called My Mom Dressed Me Funny in response to a Weekend Assignment about teenage fashion disasters. Yes, I've worn bad clothing before and since my teenage years, but I don't have much by way of pictures to prove it. So here are some photographic reruns from that older assignment - but yes, I will tell you of some other glaring instances of, well, less than successful clothing worn by me.

I previously complained online about the blue polyester pants and the textured turquoise pantsuit, the black and white houndstooth slacks and the polka dot culottes (above). My mom was big on polyester, and on Lane Bryant mail order. I'm not saying that Lane Bryant didn't have any decent clothes in the 1970s, but if they did, my Mom ignored them in favor of stuff that made me that much more of a pariah in a school full of denim-wearing students.

Here's the second best of the many capes and caftans, shawls and ponchos I had over the years, most of them purchased by my mom.

The very worst clothing disaster, though, was in I think fifth or sixth grade. Maybe fourth. Don't ask me how or why, but one or both of my parents brought me back a sarong from someplace or other. Actually, I don't know it was a sarong, but it was something of the sort. Basically it was an almost-skirt with a bunch of extra fabric at the top for wrapping around the upper body and tying closed. There was hardly anything sewn on this large piece of red cloth. It was exotic and pretty, and way too daring for an elementary school student to wear in a white bread suburb, especially a socially inept kid with glasses, braces, and only a vague idea how to keep the sarong on her body. Having been tortured all day for wearing the thing, I got stubborn and wore it AGAIN a year later, with the exact same result. It was an experiment, but I no longer remember the reasoning behind it.

This was on our honeymoon, in 1979.
In the mix-and-match department, a la Athena, the oddest combination of clothes was on my wedding day. My friend d had made me an off-white wedding dress with a hood, based on a medieval pattern I selected. I arrived at the reception with my new, waist-length denim jacket over it. Here I am in that same jacket (but not the wedding dress) on the honeymoon.


I copied down the info from the voicemail, and talked to two vets' offices today. The consultation with the animal oncologist is Monday morning at 11:30. Tuffy has something called a squamous cell carcinoma. From everything I read and heard, the treatment is surgery, period - as in do it quick, and hope it hasn't spread yet. This kind of cancer is associated with ultraviolet light from excessive sunshine, something Tucson has in abundance. I don't know that Tuffy's tongue tip has been specifically exposed to a lot of sun, but I suppose it has, given all the panting dogs have to do in Tucson summers. John is at least as freaked out as I am, probably more. Mostly I'm just depressed, and consequently wasting hours on mindless stuff to try to distract myself.

Today was my official first day as an employee of Famous Vehicle Dealer instead of a temp, now that the screening is over with. I worked an extra hour in anticipation of time lost on Monday due to Tuffy. My boss was very supportive, and made a point of saying she's glad I'm there. Aww. It helps.

Tonight I went out to get gas, deposit a paycheck and buy the 2008 Novel and Short Story Writer's Market, this time mostly for the literary agent listings. I'm not prepared at the moment to get serious about that, but when things ease up a bit I'll send out some queries. and I'm still thinking of possible ways to market myself and my work, to improve my standing with people who don't want to take a chance on an unknown writer. One thing I need to do is get serious again about posting fiction on a regular basis, probably both in Messages and on Ficlets. But again, I need a little time to get over the news about Tuffy before I'm likely to want to work on such things again.


Update, Monday night: on Sunday afternoon I went to Lane Bryant, not for the kinds of clothes my mom used to be but for something decent for the office. Unfortunately, this is one of those "earth tones" seasons, full of dull greens and browns. There was very little in the store that I'd be willing to wear, even if they had it in my size.

The photo above is of one shirt I tried on. I liked the silver fabric and the shirt was in my size. But when I tried it on, I noticed those horrible, awful, grotesque tie straps on the sleeves. Yuck! Just what I need: some bizarre embellishment to draw attention to my scarred and flabby arms. Now, that would have been a fashion disaster! Needless to say, I didn't buy it. I did find a nice blue top, though. - KFB

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Truth About Tuffy

If a veterinarian leaves us a voicemail, and we don't know it's there, does the dog still have cancer?

Apparently so.

Since I've been on the cable modem, I haven't been using the land line phone at all. So I was barely aware that there were any messages waiting for us. Somehow I assumed that the veterinarian would call my cell phone when test results came in on the biopsy from Tuffy's tongue. It's the only phone number I give out to anyone I actually want to hear from, the only number I ever use. And the house phone tends to get lots of useless voicemail, people trying to get us to refinance, or give to charity, or support some political cause or other. Half the voicemails are the last five seconds of a recording; they can't even be bothered making sure their machine isn't talking to another machine, or program it to wait for the beep.

Anyway, between my antipathy for the home phone, the ending of one job and the beginning of another, and Tuffy's ongoing health issues, I failed to realize until last night that the vet might have called the home number, in the daytime when she was sure not to reach us. Tonight I called and picked up the messages: ends of two or three political recordings, leads on three jobs (one I'd already followed up on, one good one and one useless one; in any case it's too late now!), a refi offer, a request for some charity I've never heard of - and Dr. L.

The results of the biopsies are in, she said. The three cysts Tuffy had removed were benign, as expected.

The tumor on the tongue is a carcinoma.

She left us the name and number of Tucson's only animal oncologist, and advised us to call right away for an appointment. Being in high demand, the specialist has a lag time for seeing patients. And if the tip of Tuffy's tongue is not removed, Dr. L warned, the cancer may quickly spread to her lungs.

Yes, it's fair to say and John and I have been freaking out tonight.

We just spent $1,035 on stuff that isn't life threatening, and now the dog is in danger after all. Maybe if we max out another credit card we can buy Tuffy another five years of life - or maybe not. She's 11 years old, not ancient for a dog her size, but not young. We could spend the money and the cancer might spread anyway. Maybe it's spread already. We wouldn't know without still more tests, right? If she does have more surgery, it may or may not help her. If she doesn't, how long does she have until her quality of life is gone? For that matter, how good would her quality of life be with a third of her tongue missing?

And I wish I could say that money is no object. My inclination is to spend whatever it takes, on the slimmest of hopes. I think John's is to avoid putting us in an ever deeper financial hole unless we're reasonably sure it will really save Tuffy for years to come. Either way, it's not an easy decision. Back in 1989 I had to make the choice to end Jenny's life, when cancer was the latest of her problems and it was clearly over for her, and John was out of town and out of reach. About a decade later, John and I both witnessed the end of Noodle's life, and John cried for about the second time in the thirty years I've known him.

In the morning I'll copy down the relevant info, and call from work. We will make the appointment, and when the time comes we'll find out what the options are - and what the odds are. I can't begin to tell you what happens next after that.


10 Minutes, Tops

This is one of those evenings when I've dithered for hours, waiting around for an idea for tonight's entry. Time's up. I do without. Not having anything much to say should suit my purposes rather well, because it shouldn't take me very long to say nothing much!

Yeah, well, when have I ever taken less than an hour to say nothing much? Oh, I manage it occasionally, but not so's you'd notice.

See, I need to finish this quickly because I really need to get to bed. This business of being due at work at 8 AM instead of 9 AM or later is hard on me.

Oh, the job? Getting better. Day Two at FVD, like Day Two at ARR!, was a major improvement. I spent the day actually being productive, working in Excel and learning new stuff as I went along. That's the way I like it: accomplishing something, doing something I'm good at, and learning things at the same time.

Yes, Tuffy seems to be fine too. We haven't heard back from the vet, although come to think ogf it there may be a message on the home phone. I'll check.

Just so this entry isn't entirely devoid of interest, Let me throw in two pictures from the past couple of weeks. I took this first one within a day or two of my jury duty. This big metal sculpture thing in front of the Main Library reminds me of some of the public art that Carly has photographed in the past, except that this one isn't as nice looking. I thought it was red, but when I went to photograph it it was brown, not very attractive at all. Still, it amused me to see a red cherry picker packed nearby.

A week later, as my brief tenure at ARR! was ending, I noticed that the sculpture was red after all. Bright red. Newly painted red. Probably painted using, say, a red cherry picker. The brown was probably some anti-rust primer. This was downtown Tucson's little farewell gift to me as I said goodbye to my daily commute through downtown. And now that I've shared it with you, I'm going to bed!


Monday, September 24, 2007

Green Eye

Your Monday Photo Shoot: Show off a recent picture that is chock full of red eye. Because there's nothing more amusing than light reflecting off retinas, making folks and animals look like demon spawn! Admit it, sometimes it just gives you giggle. For the purposes of this photo shoot, other reflective eye colors work too, so if you've got green or yellow glowing eyes (or some other color), bring 'em on.

Well, you know it's got to be Tuffy. Here are two from July and two from tonight:

From July - Tuffy eating

From July - Tuffy being cute

From tonight - scratch me?

From tonight - waiting for the next bit of cheese.

Tuffy didn't get to the vet today. I couldn't take her, obviously, and John left a message for the vet, which was not returned. She seems to be doing fine, but John is sure she's been licking that one surgical site a bit - yeah, the open one that we can't keep bandaged. Aarrgh.

Yes, I started my new job today. As has been my policy for a few years now, I'm going to be cagey online about my job, so there isn't much I can tell you. First days on the job are always stressful, and this was no exception. Everyone was nice, but I was a bit frustrated because it was not possible for me to be productive right off the bat. Tomorrow will be better.


Sunday, September 23, 2007

A Sensible Plan

  1. Stop working on Chapter 28 for tonight, even though I've found at least one place where I know I lost edits in Thursday night's delete glitch.
  2. Don't watch any more Doctor Who tonight, either, or check Wikipedia.
  3. Limit myself to one more game of Monster Match.
  4. Clean up my desk enough so that there's obvious progress, but don't try to do it all.
  5. Ditto the kitchen counter.
  6. Bathe and wash my hair.
  7. Set the alarm for 6:45 AM. (Ack!) I'm due at my new job at 8:00 AM.
Will I manage to behave myself to this extent?

Let you know tomorrow night after Heroes (and The Sarah Jane Adventures on the BBC).

Thoughts on Marketing, and the Crisis Du Jour

I put this entry off too long tonight, so I won't do the first subject in any depth right now. But here's the short version. I've been thinking about that nice, nearly indisputable form letter from DAW. It's true: publishing a first novel by an unknown writer is a risky proposition from a commercial point of view. Very few people, of any, go into a bookstore looking for a book they've never heard of by an author they've never heard of. In the fantasy market especially, they mostly look for more books in the series from someone whose work they already know.

So how does one get that first book in the series out into the stores? and once it's there, how does one ensure its success, so that publication of the next three books by that author is economically feasible?

Dunno, really. But I've been playing around with some ideas. They mostly involve marketing and self-promotion. Most of you have probably long-since realized that I've been making concerted "branding" efforts for years, putting the name of my fictional country, Mâvarin, in almost all my screen names and blog titles, commissioning portraits of my major characters, plugging the books at and generally mentioning Rani and his friends at almost every opportunity. I sometimes wonder whether you folks get sick of reading about these books and characters that Tor and DAW and a handful of agents apparently find less than compelling. But your comments on the subject are always encouraging, so I carry on.

But is it enough? Well, enough for what? It's clearly enough to get friends and some regular readers of this blog interested in reading the books when and if they are published. It's just as clearly not enough to establish an undeniably large reader base, to get Mâvarin off of everyone's maps of the obscure and risky, and into guidebooks to popular destinations.

I keep thinking of John Scalzi, and what he did to get his fiction into the literary marketplace. He posted a novel online as shareware, and it worked: people sent money for fictional content that we freely available online. Eventually Patrick Nielsen Hayden signed him to a contract, and Scalzi became an award-winning novelist, with four novels in print (excluding the limited edition reprint of that first novel), and more on the way.

Could I really do something like that? Could I convince agents and editors that the Mâvarin books are commercially viable, on the basis of online marketing efforts and a large ready-made fan base? Is there a way for me to develop my online readership to the extent that such a claim would actually be true?

I'm not sure, but I kind of doubt it. The Outpost is currently averaging just under a hundred readers a day, and my fiction blog is getting about six a day, mostly people accidentally landing there based on fairly unrelated search strings. If I made a point of commenting to lots of other blogs, I would probably build the readership, but not to the extent that would impress a publisher or agent. Scalzi has been blogging a long, long time, and has many thousands of daily readers. I don't have that kind of time to spend on blog-jogging any more, and even if I did it wouldn't land me among A-list bloggers anytime soon.

But are there things I can do to improve my visibility and make the Mâvarin books more attractive to agents and publishers? Yeah, probably. I'll have to think about it some more.

We had a minor crisis today with Tuffy. She somehow managed to pull open one of her surgical sites. The vet's office said to bring her in, either right away on an emergency basis or on Monday morning. Well, you know what's happening on Monday morning: I start my new job. So John is going to work tomorrow so that he can take Tuffy to the vet on Monday.

Meanwhile, We needed to cover up and protect that open wound, which she had been licking. After three trips to Walgreen's and much frustration, John managed to bandage her as shown above, without it falling off seconds later. Tuffy isn't thrilled, but she's not trying to escape from it, either.

Poor doggie.


Saturday, September 22, 2007


It's Round Robin Time!

If it weren't for bad luck...

This week's Round Robin Photo Challenge topic, "Talisman," was suggested by Vicki, of the blog Maraca. It basically means a protective amulet, some magical or religious item that protects the owner or bearer or wearer. There are a number of talismans in the Mâvarin books, including the magic coin that Rani finds in Chapter One of Heirs of Mâvarin:

Later, as he waited for more hunters to come by, Rani pulled the coin from his pocket and examined it more closely. It didn’t look like money. It was bright silver, untarnished and unworn, inscribed with runes and a sword instead of a sun or a crown and the face of the King. The edge was an even circle, not a molten blob or a knife cut. It was very strange, and probably valuable. He doubted that any of the villagers would know what it was.

You're never alone with a rubber duck.

When I saw the word "Talisman" in the Round Robin topic suggestion kitty, I immediately thought of that coin Rani found under a beech tree, and several other magical items that appear in my books. But I thought of broader meanings as well. Many people have some "lucky" object that comforts us as we face the unknown, whether or not we literally believe that it can help prevent an accident, find love, land us a job, or bring victory in the Big Game. Perhaps it's an icon of the past, a touchstone to remind the person of happier times, or, conversely, difficult times overcome.

Shela withdrew a square of white cloth from a small drawstring pouch at her waist. She unfolded Del’s handkerchief and held up Rani’s coin for all to see. “This was found by Rani Fost on the River Road north of Liftlabeth. I believe it is the talisman that Imuselti gave to King Jor, less than a month before his disappearance.”

This hang tag magically protects me from being towed away -
as long as I don't actually try to park in that lot!

A modern day talisman can be something that protects us from abandoning our hopes, our dreams, our ideals. It's in a box at the moment, but my plastic Zorro figure on his horse Tornado is a talisman for me. He was supposed to protect me from injustice and nefarious deeds, and inspire me to be both clever and ethical. But Zorro did not defend me from the collapse of First Magnus, so I'm not digging him out to be photographed tonight. Here instead is my First Magnus parking permit hang tag, designed to protect the car's driver from being towed away. I was probably supposed to turn it in on August 16th, but I didn't think of it until afterward. I keep it now as a reminder of what happened, and because it amuses me to illicitly have an item granting access to a parking lot I'll probably never visit again, which these days is probably more than half empty anyway and therefore doesn't need access control.

My "lucky" interview clothes

Vicki mentioned the concept of a lucky bowling shirt as a talisman. I haven't bowled in over 30 years, but I must admit I've been treating the shirt and slacks above as if I believed they would bring me luck in job interviews. I was wearing them in the Nogales interview, and was on the point of being offered the job when I withdrew from consideration. I was wearing them when I met with C. of ARR!, and when I left another interview and retrieved the message that C. wanted to hire me. And I was not wearing them when I met with ARR!'s owners, who went on to hire someone else for the two positions. That's right - there were two permanent job openings, and I didn't get either one. Was it because I didn't wear the tweed pants and the red top? No, of course not. It's more a matter of wearing an outfit that I know to be adequate for the task of Thursday at Famous Vehicle Dealer, too, when the controller there hired me on the spot.

“Five mages in attendance outside Thâlemar’s gate closeted themselves for five weeks, and only they know how those weeks were spent. At the end of five weeks, they brought to the King a coin of silver, upon which was etched the image of a sword.

“‘When the tengremen come,” the King protested, “I will need a real sword, not a picture of one!”

“‘When the tengremen come,” they answered him, “this will be a sword. No force of arms may stand against it, and no invaders may breach its resting place.”

“Twenty-five days after receiving the mages’ coin, the King disappeared. However, no tengremen were seen within the city that night, and the talisman that was to protect King Jor has not been seen from that day to this.”

Fake petroglyph, real crystals

Whether or not we believe in the power of a talisman, many people are intrigued by the concept, on one level or another. The One Ring, which Bilbo found in The Hobbit and which caused so much trouble in The Lord of the Rings, is so iconic that I have a bookmark that came with a replica of it. Some of us also enjoy wearing mysterious pendants or necklaces that at least look as if they might have magical properties: an ankh, a pentacle or pentagram, worry beads, petroglyphs, a tiki, or some other ancient or not-so-ancient symbol. And some people actually do believe in the power of crystals and such. In Sedona, Arizona, New Age talismans are a whole industry.

Yes, but what do they mean?

Does that gold brooch I wore yesterday, which I inherited from my mother, represent anything more specific or symbolic than stylized flowers? I have no idea. But I know exactly what the shield-shaped pendent is. Do you? The design is outdated now, but fans will still recognize it. The current TARDIS key isn't nearly as arcane or mysterious, just a key-shaped key. But like the hang tags, it's a fun promise of access to someplace I'll never go.

Plastic bling grants the wearer...what, exactly?

Do you suppose this tendency to imbue objects with perceived magical properties has a neurological basis and not just a societal one? Are we, as the Eighth Doctor once said, "always seeing patterns in things that aren't there"? If so, then somewhere there's a kid with a lucky penny found on a playground, and another kid with a lucky pencil used for taking tests. Really, almost anything can assume talismanesque properties, depending on the perceptions and the desires of the person who owns it. The plastic pendants in the vending machine above look pretty ugly to me, far worse than the plastic "jewel" pendants in another dispenser. But some child is likely to be wearing one of these things when something good happens, and thereafter he will wear it to keep good things happening.

Toy talismans?

That's all for now, folks! I finished up at ARR! today, and had a series of pleasant "goodbye" moments with my friends there. Tuffy is no longer woozy from the anesthesia and pain meds, and ate a lot of dog food and soft treats (some with pills concealed inside) to make up for Thursday's fast.

Maybe tomorrow i'll buy a "lucky" first-day-at-the-new-job outfit.


Now go see what everyone else has for us on this topic!

Linking List


Carly - Posted!

Karen - Posted!
Outpost Mâvarin

- Posted!

- Posted!
fond of photography

Suzanne R - Posted!
New Suzanne R's Life

- Posted!
Nancy Luvs Pics

Kerrin - Posted!
a new day

- Posted!

Teena - Posted!
It's all about me!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Heights and the Depths...oh, and some books, too

Like my Weekend Assignment entry for August 16th, tonight's blogging is going to dispose of Scalzi's fun little topic quickly so I can move on to much more urgent matters. Stick around - it's going to be fairly extreme. But first, I need to answer Scalzi's question about books:

Weekend Assignment #184: What books do you want to read - but haven't yet? These could be new books, classic books you've just not gotten around to, books you've bought but haven't cracked the spines of, or a book you want to get but for some reason haven't. The salient characteristic is that you want to read it, but just haven't yet.

Extra credit: Do you usually prefer the book or the movie?

There must be dozens of books in this house that fit those criteria, possibly hundreds. Here are some of them:

The L'Engle books with the green arrows are some of her nonfiction. I've read all of her novels, but only some of the poetry, autobiographical journals, and book-length explorations of faith and art. When I do pick up one of these, I tend to page through for specific info on the writing of A Wrinkle in Time or some detail about her childhood or her her run-ins with the forces of censorship. Someday I want to read them through - and take notes as I go.

I read and loved Peter S. Beagle's first three books - A Fine and Private Place, The Last Unicorn, and I See By My Outfit - back in high school. Then at Clarion I actually met him. Sad to say, he didn't like what I'd written so far on The Tengrim Sword (later retitled Heirs of Mâvarin) and could even tell me why. I'm sure I'd love his later books anyway. That's why I bought them. But somehow I never quite get around to them.

There was a period, almost the entire decade of the 1990s, when I bought every Doctor Who paperback that came out, and every used title I could track down. I read every one of the Target novelizations (the skinny books above, and a few thicker ones), well over a hundred in all. I also read a bunch of the New Adventures and the early volumes of the Missing Adventures. Then the BBC took over publishing the books, and the local independent bookstore went out of business, and I was fed up with the New Adventures anyway. But I still have a few dozen Doctor Who books I've never read, something I'm just starting to rectify. At this moment I'm a little over halfway through War of the Daleks by John Peel. Peel is stepped in Dalek lore, and does his best to reconcile all the continuity issues in this book. Short version: it was all a trick.

I could show you unread books by Wrede and Bellairs and LeGuin and Tolkien and T.H. White and Meg Cabot and C.S. Lewis and... but let's not. As for book vs. movie, it depends. I prefer the film Mary Poppins, because it has a plot and the character is less annoying and unpleasant than the book version. The Fellowship of the Ring and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe are kind of a tossup. The rest of The Lord of the Rings is definitely better in book form, because of what Peter Jackson changed or left out. The tv movie of A Wrinkle in Time is almost as bad as Madeleine L'Engle said it was, with its changed names, too-pretty Meg and greatly-weakened philosophical and religious underpinnings. Rob Reiner's film The Princess Bride is slightly better than William Goldman's book, mostly because of the ending. Neil Gaiman's novel Stardust is three times as good as the pleasant but not quite wonderful film. And so on. As I said: it depends.

Now. On to other matters.

It's been obvious from my recent entries that it's been a roller coaster of a week, from learning I wasn't getting the long-term job at ARR! to getting a job interview elsewhere, and then cutting my stay at ARR! even shorter because that's what made sense. My mood from day to day has swung wildly, not only from the news but from my disappointments and anxieties and, well, hopes.

But today has been the most extreme day of all. I've had the best news of the week, and the worst news. And more bad news. And a crisis on top of that.

Here's how Tuffy looked this morning as I took her across town to Grant Road Small Animal Hospital for surgery. She's always delighted to ride in the car, and fortunately has never realized that the vet's office is almost always the destination. The drive was uneventful, and I checked her in without incident. Then I went on to ARR! for the next to last time. I disposed of my daily task rather quickly, and spent the rest of the day working on something else, having found a way to get what I needed to do it. Yay, me!

At 3:30 PM I left for my 4:00 PM job interview at Famous Vehicle Dealer (I think that's what I've decided to call it). Google Maps said it was a 22 minute drive, but then again it also said it was a good idea to make a useless right turn onto Technical Drive. I might have been on time (barely) were it not for the fact that FVD's complex is large and confusing. Not even the employees know how to give correct directions to where I had to go. I think it took four attempts, maybe five, because I found my way to the right place.

But here's the thing. three things, actually:
  1. The controller knew that the place is a mess, and didn't blame me for not navigating it on the first try and on time.
  2. The job she described suited my skills and interests almost perfectly.
  3. I start Monday.
Yes, you read that right. I got the job! I'll be a temp for the two days or so it will take to pass the drug screening and the background check, and then I'll be hired directly. Woo-hoo! I was giggling hysterically as I drove away. This time I wasn't unemployed for even a day! Finishing at ARR! as of Friday turned out to be exactly the right thing to do.

But the day went downhill after that.

John called me during the job interview (bad form, John! But I suppose I should have had the phone turned off) to ask me to pick up Tuffy at 6 PM, because she wasn't ready when he went to pick her up. I got there at quarter after six. That's when I learned she has a tumor on her tongue, which they've biopsied and sent for analysis. Apparently it's unrelated to the benign tumors they removed from her head and side and back. That's right, there was a third one I didn't know about. The surgery consequently ran long. Tuffy came out all woozy, and looking like a Frankenstein monster dog with her shaved bits and stitches. I am not even going to show you what she looks like tonight, but it's enough to make children cower and cry. It darn near makes me cry. She will need painkillers and antibiotics, and even at that, $1,035 later, we're waiting for the dreaded call on whether the tongue thing is the Big C, and what the options are. John and I spent a lot of time tonight petting her and trying to make her comfortable. The best place for her right now seems to be in her usual spot in the hall outside the bedroom door, where I've laid out a clean bath towel to lie on. She doesn't seem to know how to lie down properly in her current fuddled state, so I've had to gently push her onto her good side, a couple of times now.

And when I got home, this was waiting for me. Can you tell what it is? It's my manuscript, with DAW's rejection letter. It's a very nice form rejection, all about commercial uncertainties and the difficulty of launching a new author, and saying that many people rejected by DAW have gone on to successful writing careers elsewhere. It all makes perfect sense, but it doesn't help much. And why did it have to come back today of all days, to further spoil my good news?

But wait, there's more. When I went to my computer and started trying to close windows I no longer needed (such as my resume, and Google Maps directions to FVD), I was surprised to discover that Word thought I should save changes to my resume. I was more surprised when I saw that my first name was now missing at the top of the page. I said "no" to saving and closed it, only to watch helplessly as Word proceeded to delete line after line of text from Mages Chapter 28, as if I were holding down the Delete button. I wasn't, and the actual, physical delete key wasn't stuck, either. Eventually I somehow managed to close it without saving, but then I was in Firefox, watching in horror as the phantom delete key deleted forty emails in rapid succession. I couldn't get to Task Manager, because the computer couldn't execute control+alt+delete while trying to keep up with the Cyber command: "delete...delete...delete...." I opened the Start menu, and the computer promptly asked me if I really wanted to delete programs from it! When I checked the recycle bin (only one item), the computer wanted to know if I really wanted to delete the recycle bin itself! Finally I used the power button to stop this, but I didn't hold it down long enough. The problem just started up again when it came out of sleep mode. So we held it down again, longer, and rebooted in safe mode. Having spent an hour scanning for viruses and worms and such, Norton found nothing wrong; but when I rebooted again, the phantom delete was gone. The deleted emails turned up in the "Recently deleted" folder, which had claimed to be empty while all that deleting was going on. My recently-completed scene in chapter 28 is still intact, and I should be able to reconstruct anything I did after that, more or less.

I have a feeling that there was yet another bit of bad news today, but if so, my brain has decided to spare me from remembering it for now. Oh, yeah. Scalzi didn't link to my Monday Photo Shoot. I must have forgotten to leave the link in comments. Compare to the rest of the news, it's trivial - but it's the first time that's ever happened with a Scalzi entry, except for one time two years ago or so when he just plain forgot to list me.

But good grief! What a day!

Dead Woman Typing

House finches and ocotillo outside ARR!

I suppose it's natural to swim through a sea of conflicting emotions as a job ends. Today my boss announced my departure at the office meeting, and I got a round of applause. Even so, I feel slightly more alienated each day. There are a number of little signals that I'm not really part of the family, not a real employee instead of a temp. I don't use the time clock (no loss), don't get paid for holidays or jury duty, don't get in on little incentives other than food, and probably can't award "Drops" to people. And somehow, I've never managed to connect half a dozen co-workers to their names.

This afternoon, my boss and I agreed that Friday would be my last day. I could have tried to make a case for working on Monday, but it doesn't make sense. I'm caught up on almost everything, and don't need the extra day to finish up. And my office will be needed on Monday for the new person.

What I am, this week, is a lame duck accountant. Not quite an employee, not quite gone, I struggle to make sure I'm doing everything I need to do before I leave, knowing that the things I learn now I will not be able to apply later on. So I leave behind notes in Word and Excel, messages to the next person who has to learn these things.

Tomorrow is the dog's surgery and the interview with Famous Vehicle Dealer (FVD). I worked late tonight, so I'm in good shape on hours. It's nearly 1 AM, and I'm dropping the dog off early, so I'd better get to bed.


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

What A Diff'rence A Day Makes!

"The future is whatever you make it - so make it a good one!"
--Doc Brown, Back To The Future, Part III

It also helps to have other people looking out for you.

The story so far:

August 16th: First Magnus Financial Corp, formerly known in this blog as Unnamed Largish Company, lays off about 5,000 people across the country (about 90% of its staff, about 550 of them in Tucson). I'm one of the people laid off. I check in with two temp-to-hire agencies before even going home from my former job.

August 24th: after talks with three recruiters, Pima Country One Stop and three job interviews, I accept a temporary position with Anonymous Regional Retailer (ARR!), hoping to be hired on permanently in a few weeks.

September 14th: I've worked hard, learned a lot, gotten on well with my co-workers, had two good interviews with ARR!'s owners, and even caught up on my work after a day and a half of jury duty. But do I have the job? No answer yet, but I know there are other qualified applicants being considered.

September 17th: my boss very nicely breaks the news that the owners hired someone else, and that my job ends either at the end of the week or early the following week, depending on available work and my own plans. I'm bummed, but I thank him for four weeks of a job that I loved. I update and upload my resume before bedtime.

September 18th: one of my recruiters calls to arrange a job interview for late afternoon this Thursday! Apparently one of the employers that was still in the pipeline when I accepted the ARR! job is still very interested in me. Hooray!

The rest of this week is gonna be a little tricky. In addition to some ongoing tasks, I'm working on accomplishing one lasting thing before I go, which involves my writing and editing skills as well as what I've learned of ARR!'s procedures. I'm also trying to work a full forty hour week, something I have not managed to date due to Labor Day and jury duty. On Thursday I'm dropping Tuffy off at the vet for surgery (I'll explain in a minute), and then have to leave work at 3:30 PM for my interview. I'll try to work extra time tomorrow and Friday to make up for it.

I mentioned months ago that Tuffy has two benign epidural tumors (I forget exactly what they're called). One is on top of her head, the other on her side. She does not seem to suffer any from them (doesn't even scratch at them), so John has been reluctant to spend the $1,000 for elective surgery on an 11-year-old dog. However, he finally broke down and scheduled the surgery for this Thursday. This was before we got the bad news about my job, which makes our financial situation a bit precarious. Nevertheless, I think I've talked him into going ahead with it anyway.

Let me try to make my point about all this before I wrap up this entry and head off to bed. It's a cliche, I know, but there are things you can control and things you can't. For example, I could not have saved First Magnus. But a lot of the stuff you can't control is nevertheless affected by the choices you make, in both predictable and unforseeable ways. I choose to continue to be as pleasant, upbeat and helpful as possible at ARR! while I'm there. I had a few hours of politely-expressed disappointment, but I also made it clear I was blaming no one and was still grateful to the company. Despite the negative result on the actual job, I've made a good impression, and will continue in the same vein. The recruiter has heard back nothing but good things about me, and I've said nothing but good things about ARR! After all, I've been working for three weeks at a good company full of good people, doing interesting work in a slightly different area of accounting from previous jobs. I've made money, explored downtown a little bit, added to my knowledge of accounting software, and helped the company and the recruiters to develop a well-deserved positive impression of each other.

Now, if I'd griped at people, moped around and slacked off on my tasks, I would have wasted everyone's positive opinions of me, and annoyed people, making for a less happy workplace for myself as well as others. The recruiter would have heard back that I'm not as professional and emotionally mature (ha!) as previously thought, and the recruiter would hesitate to place me with valued employer-clients. Fortunately, grumping and slacking aren't my style, anyway. It's all good. Being pleasant and industrious is the easiest way for me to finish out this week, the stance that will make me the happiest. And chances are excellent that in some small way, it will help to make my future "a good one."


No Future

That subject line is a bit melodramatic, isn't it? But read on.

Your Monday Photo Shoot: Take a picture of something in your house you used to use a lot, but now hardly use at all. This could be a piece of obsolete technology, or possibly some equipment for a hobby you no longer pursue, or just something you stopped fiddling with for no good reason at all -- the basic idea is simply to highlight something that no longer has that much use for you, for whatever reason.

Okay, then. But see below for news.

Quantum Leap and other videos, taped off network tv. The first run ones are still worth keeping, because the DVD boxes of most Quantum Leap seasons have replaced the licensed music with cheaper options. But it occurred to me tonight that the only VCR set up in the house right now is a DVD/VCR combo in the bedroom. The monitor for that video player is a Commodore 64 monitor. Talk about obsolete!

Here's one of the old VCRs, plus a turntable, plus a leather satchel that's seen better days. I actually wish the turntable were set up to I could play records sometimes, but there's no room for it anywhere, and the records themselves are buried behind boxes.

An electric blanket doesn't get much use in Tucson. The crocheted navy blanket behind it was knitted by a friend when I was in high school.

I can't tell you the last time I pulled my college-vintage guitar off the shelf. It's a hand-me-down from an old college roommate of mine, who had upgraded to a Martin. The blue box below is my Casio keyboard, I think. The batteries probably ran out years ago.

Right. Today I found out whether I get to stay with Anonymous Regional Retailer! No, I don't. My temp position runs out either at the end of the week or early next week. I withdrew from consideration on two other jobs on the chance of getting this one. It didn't work out. I was diligent and cheerful and cooperative, and everyone in the office likes me, including my immediate boss. But the owners chose someone else. One barrier, I was told, was the cost of the finder's fee on top of the salary I would have had. No other reasons were given. Sigh.

My resume is updated, and uploaded to one of the job posting sites. I've also sent it, by invitation, to a local CPA firm. That's all I can do tonight.


Monday, September 17, 2007

Happy Birthday to People You Don't Know

This should be the last of my substandard weekend entries. Tomorrow night I'll have Scalzi's Monday Photo Shoot to inspire me.


Today was my friend Kevin's birthday. Another friend from church, Jan, has hers in a few days. This morning when I picked up Kevin for church, I handed him his birthday present, an insanely inexpensive, name brand DVD player that can play almost any video format. I had him take it up to his apartment so that we would'nt have to look after it during church; and between that and washing my hair, I was later than usual arriving, with the result that Proscovia had already gotten someone to fill in for me as crucifer. So I got to sit with the congregation instead of in the sanctuary, for the second week in a row.

One of the parishioners, Angela, preached for the first time today. Turns out she is in the "discernment period" that precedes being accepted into a seminary to prepare for ministry. One of the priests at St. Michael and All Angels is also named Angela, which gave rise to a joke that today it was the church of St. Michael and the Two Angelas. Well, I thought it was funny. Angela preached about the parable of the lost sheep and the parish's newcomer ministry, which Angela spearheaded. She mentioned the variety of reasons why people stop going to church, and why they sometimes audition other churches as a possibly spiritual home, often years and years later. Some of what she said resonated rather strongly with me. I went through that journey myself, an estranged Catholic who walked into the local Episcopal church for the first time about a decade ago. There was no newcomer ministry back then, but Father Smith and a parishioner named Suzanne both introduced themselves to me and took an interest. And yes, it made a difference.

In the course of her sermon, Angela mentioned an incident in a sitcom in which the lead character recounts having gone for confirmation into a church, only to be left sitting in the pew, her name not having been called along with the others. It reminded me of an incident at a day camp I attended when I was about 11 years old. I was in the intermediate level swimming class that summer, at this horrible camp where other kids teased me horribly, and socially inept, thin-skinned young Karen failed to do anything about it but suffer. On the last day, the counselors handed out the swimming certificates, but I didn't get one. I don't know whether I was the only one left out, or whether there are other kid who had failed to pass the courses. I asked afterward, and the counselor said something about my possibly not having passed. She didn't check on it, or give me a definitive answer as to whether I had truly failed the certification, and if so, why. All these years later, I don't know whether being passed over that day was due to a weak scissors kick, someone's mistake, or discrimination because I was fat. It doesn't matter now, if it ever did, and I go for years which thinking about that campt and that day. But it would be nice to know what really happened.


After church there was a coffee hour in the sunken courtyard for newcomers and parishioners together, and afterward I took Kevin and Jan to lunch at a place called Baja Lobster. Before we made our getaway, however, Father Smith led everyone in a chorus of Happy Birthday to You, much to Kevin 's embarrassment. Next week I fully expect someone to ask me about "your husband's birthday." Although I tell people otherwise as often as the subject is mentioned, the parish seems to have an infinite supply of people who think Kevin is my husband. Grr. I like Kevin a lot, but he is not remotely my type. (Just for starters, he's gay.) But since John is a) and atheist and b) someone antisocial, hardly anyone from St. Michael's has ever even met him. So how would they know that the guy I go to church with is just a friend?


Baja Lobster had good, rather unusual food, and great service. Being seafood, it's expensive, but it's worth the occasional visit. we had a good time talking about jury duty and four versions of Macbeth (including the Verdi opera and a Japanese adaptation in Kabuki makeup), and why Madame Butterfly was annoying. Then I dropped my friend off and went home.

The rest of the day I've mostly been reading a John Peel novel about the Eighth Doctor and the Daleks, but I also finished editing Chapter 27 and went on to 28 (again). My stopping point tonight was that scene I started writing in the restaurant yesterday. so far I've typed up two paragraphs of the revised version.

And my stopping point on this rambling blog entry is this very paragraph. Good night!


Sunday, September 16, 2007

Done and Left Undone

In case you think I still spend all my time on Wikipedia: I got email today from one of the other editors of Doctor Who articles, noting that he hasn't seen me around lately, checking to see if I'm okay. I assured him that I'm fine, and explained about the job situation and the book editing. I really haven't done much on Wikipedia recently, basically just a little attention to several Madeleine L'Engle-related articles. Oh, I'll be back, but there's other stuff going on right now.

This morning I had that session for lectors and chalice bearers. It was fairly informal, mostly people asking questions and stating opinions. I'm actually rather good at doing the readings, but I did pick up a few pointers about the ceremony side of things. I was less confident on the chalice bearer training, and told someone later not to schedule me for that task.

I've been driving east at sunset a lot lately, and on several occasions have made a stab at catching it in the side mirror. Here's one of them.

And this is leftover from last weekend's Round Robin shoot. This fruit stand isn't all that far from downtown, at Speedway and Sixth. John and I shopped there years ago, but the weathered paint on the wall makes me think the business is long gone.

Short entry tonight; I'm tired. But let me leave you with one bit of good news. The missing bits in Chapter 28 are in the process of being written as one decent scene. After years of being stuck on it, I actually got the scene started while sitting in a restaurant. I later realized how I needed to change it, to be Rani Lunder's father in there. Progress! I also tightened prose, tweaked continuity and reduced redundancies in Chapter 27. See? I am doing what I should be doing for a change! Well, part of the time, anyway.


Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Waiting Game

I have only two things to say tonight.

1. I had hoped to hear by the end of this week whether I get to keep this job I love, going from a temp position to being on staff. It didn't happen. My boss thinks the answer will come down from the owners on Monday. I am starting to get a bit discouraged and frustrated. My only option is to continue to do the job while I have it, as well as I can, and keep smiling. If somehow the owners choose one of the other candidates, I'll finish out the temp contract, with gratitude, and then go back on the job market.

2. It's a good thing I don't usually play computer games. These things will eat up a whole evening and more. Stop it, Karen! You have a lector training session in the morning! I'm absolutely, positively not playing one more game before bath and bed. D'you suppose that my mild depression over #1 above is partly responsible for my vegging out all night on a Doctor Who variant of Jewel Box?


Thursday, September 13, 2007

Poll: Your Favorite Kind of Day

Weekend Assignment #183: Make up a poll for people to play with. The poll can be on any subject you want -- it can be serious or funny or silly or whatever (although funny's always, you know. Funny). If you're not on AOL Journals or for some reasons you don't want to use AOL's poll function, there are other poll options for your blog; here's one, for example.

Extra credit: Have you ever participated in a political poll?

You know it's true: some people like to veg out all day when they can, some like to keep busy, and some are always looking for the next new thrill. Where do you fall on this scale? Let's find out! The pollholsting service Scalzi linked to gave Blogger fits, so I went with, and widened the resulting code to 350 px.

Which of the following comes closest to being your idea of a good day?
A quiet day with a loved one, doing practically nothing
Just me and my books, tv or computer, enjoying old and new favorites
Communing with nature, enjoying clean air, exercise, critters and beauty
A busy, low-stress day full of accomplishment
Excitement, adventure and really wild things: new experiences to get me out of my rut
It depends.
None of these really suit me free polls
(Redone Thu 10:25 PM to add options)

I actually haven't quite decided how to vote on tihs myself. Tell ya later! One thing for sure: it's not option 1.

Vote aqui! The sign outside my polling place, 2006

On the extra credit, yes, I've participated in a number of telephone polls aimed at Democrats. I remember that one was about Janet Napolitano, our esteemed governor. Another began, "if the primary were held today," or words to that effect. I named John Kerry, on the basis of having heard some guy in Iowa mention him on NPR a few days before. It was so early in the campaign that I didn't even know how to spell his name yet!


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

It's the Law!

My jury duty is over. I'm allowed to talk about it now. So I will.

Pima County Superior Court

This is where I spent several hours today: the Pima County Superior Court building. State of Arizona criminal trials are held here, administered by the county. Don't ask me how that works; I didn't think to ask.

My original scheduled date for jury duty was Wednesday September 5th. After 3:30 PM the day before, potential jurors are supposed to call either a taped message or go online to see whether their group is still due to come in, and if so, when. Sometimes they have more people in the pool than the current caseload requires, so that some groups are dismissed then and there. This time, however, my group was merely postponed to Tuesday the 11th at 7:30 AM. Yeegh. That's pretty darn early for me, factoring in the travel time downtown.

So at 7:30 Tuesday morning I was in the Jury Assembly Room. Everyone checks in, they show a little film about the importance of jury duty (citing my old buddy Thomas Jefferson, no less) and what happens in an Arizona courtroom. Then bailiffs started arriving to collect people to go upstairs. It was kind of hot in the Jury Assembly Room, and more so after the 9:00 AM people arrived to fill the rest of the seats. I found an old issue of The New Yorker, and read until my name was called.

A nice female bailiff whose name I've forgotten, a recent law school graduate, handed us index cards with the judge's name and a hand-drawn smile on them, so as to distinguish us from any other jurors who might be sent to the third floor. Forty of us went up in the rather small elevators, and waited around in the hallway for a bit. She then lined up the first twenty people on her list. Those people went into the jury box. The rest of us sat in back.

We were introduced to the judge, the attorneys, the defendant, the court reporter and the clerk. Then the judge explained that the case was a DUI and started asking us questions. Had we any personal experience with a DUI case? Did we know anyone in the courtroom? Did we have friends or family in law enforcement? Did we have strong feelings for or against police? The twenty in the box were to raise their hands if their answer was yes. The rest of us were to remember the questions, and be prepared to tell the judge of any yes answers if we got to the jury box.

For each yes, the judge would ask the person to explain the answer, and whether would it hamper the person's ability to be fair and impartial. If it would, he dismissed the person, and one of the people from the back of the room entered the jury box, there to tell whether he or she had any yes answers so far. I was about the second person to leave the back of the room. I had a lot of "yes" answers by the time we were done, including a longish explanation of my somewhat precarious work and financial situation. But I stated honestly that Dan's death thirty years ago, my uncertainty about work, my course in business law, etc., had no bearing on my ability to behave fairly and impartially. I stayed.

There were a lot of yeses from other people, too, and the pool in the back of the room dwindled to about three people by lunchtime. Nearly everyone in the room had some kind of DUI-related experience: an arrest of themselves or a relative, cars totaled by others, friends or family injured or killed. Nearly everyone mentioned having had a home burglarized when the question was about being the victim of a crime. Sometimes the yes answer made no difference, and people stayed. Then the two lawyers asked follow-up questions. The defense attorney, who has a famous Arizona surname, asked me more about my work situation. I explained further, but admitted I'd only been out of work for a week and was not in dire straits financially. Shortly after that, the judge conferred with the two lawyers, and then announced that everyone still in the jury box was found to be capable of judging the case fairly. The three people left in the back were sent downstairs, back to the jury pool. There was a lunch recess, and then we learned which eight people out of the remaining twenty were to be jurors. I'd had a feeling I was to be one of them. I was right.

The trial started right away. The state called three police and the defendant's brother to testify. (I'll explain the case itself in a bit.) We were allowed to take notes, and even pass up questions to be asked if deemed legally acceptable. At 4:30 we knocked off for the day. I walked outside, and was immediately accosted by a drunken guy who wanted food money, and could not understand or believe me when I explained that I only had five dollars, and that the parking garage was about to charge me five dollars for having left my car there since 7:30 AM. I finally got away, only to find myself waiting at the same crosswalk as the defendant and his brother! Having heard the pretrial instructions about avoiding contact during the case, I hung back, and even took a different route back to the parking garage, only to see the brothers again as I neared my goal. I stayed well away, and did not hear a word they said, or even whether they spoke at all.

If took me a while to get back to the office, what with all the walking and avoiding, plus the beginnings of rush hour traffic. I checked in with a co-worker, left a note for my boss and went home.

The old and new county courthouses, seen from the municipal garage

Wednesday morning I got up early again, and worked at the office from 8:00 AM to 10:00 AM to put a dent in my backlog of work, and to show my commitment to the job. I was due at the jury deliberation room at 10:25 AM. It took me almost 20 minutes to find my way to the right parking garage, (which was closer than the one from Tuesday, plus they validate parking so it was only $2.00 instead of $5.00). I knew where it was, but the maze of one way streets and the lack of an entrance from Church Street made it very difficult to get into that garage. Even when I got in, I had to drive and drive, nearly to the top, looking for a parking space. With only five minutes to cover the two blocks to the courthouse and get up to the third floor, I ran as much as I could, puffing like a steam engine. I got there before the bailiff, so it was okay, except for the burning sensation in my lungs and a lingering cough.

The second day we heard from policeman #2 again in light of the testimony from policeman #3. The other two witnesses were a criminalist in charge of testing the breathalysers and someone in charge of MVD recordkeeping. The defense called no witnesses, and the defendant did not testify. Then there were more instructions, the selection of a foreman, lunch, and deliberation.

Here is the gist of the case:

In December, 2006, the defendant (we'll call him D) went out to dinner with his Wall Street trader brother (we'll call him B), visiting from New York. D says he had four ounces of wine at dinner. B says that D had a beer with his burger. They then went to the Rialto downtown to see a band. B says he thinks D had one drink at the Rialto, but was not impaired. According to the police and the defense lawyer, D claims he had no drinks there

Shortly before 1:15 AM, the brothers left in B's rental car, with D at the wheel. (D was not on the rental agreement.) The reason given was that B didn't know downtown Tucson, so he had his Tucson resident brother drive. About 1:15 AM, D turned north onto a stretch of Stone Ave that is one way south. The only other person on the street was a policeman on a motorcycle, heading for the station to finish paperwork on another case. The policeman turned around, got behind the car, and put his lights on. D drove two full blocks the wrong way on Stone, passing Pennington (a right turn on which would have been the correct direction for that one way street), and turning right on Alameda - which meant he was now going east on a street what was one-way westbound. He went a quarter of a block and pulled over.

The cop asked D for his license. D handed him B's license, and said that he (D) was B, visiting from NYC and unfamiliar with Tucson's downtown grid. Cop #1 gave D a field sobriety test called Horizontal gaze nystagmus, or HGN. This is the test that involves following a pen or something with one's eyes. There are six possible ways to be marked off on this test. D failed all six.

Shortly after this, policeman #2 arrived, and administered the heel to toe test. D failed 7 out of 8 checks on that one, and refused to take the third test, the one leg stand. Somewhere about this time, D admitted he was D, and not B after all. When the policeman informed him that he was driving on a suspended license, D claimed that that had "been taken care of" and was not suspended. Cop #1 went on to the police station, and cop #3 arrived to administer the breathalyser test, which he was certified for and carried in his car. D blew a .299 the first time, a .286 the second time. Legally impaired in Arizona is .08 or higher. Some people go into comas with alcohol poisoning at the level this guy tested at.

Here was the defense: although D was personally served with a notice of suspension in late 2002, and attended a hearing to contest it, he didn't know it was suspended because (supposedly) the followup letter was mailed to an outdated address. Legally, it is up to the driver to notify the MVD of address changes, and in fact D did so - the day before he drove north on southbound Stone, nearly four years after that letter was sent out. No one made any statement about when the guy actually moved. As for the .299, the defense said it must have been wrong, since he didn't have more than a drink or at most two all evening, and wouldn't have been able to make a competent right turn (from the wrong way on a street to the wrong way on another street) at .299. But the equipment was tested at the beginning of December and the end of December, and passed, and passed a bunch of internal checks during the test itself. For the guy to be totally not guilty,
  • the equipment would have to have suddenly showed more than four times as much alcohol as was truly present, despite many diagnostic checks;
  • cops #2 and #3 would have to be wrong about D having bloodshot eyes, alcohol on the breath and a stagger;
  • D could not be expected to know that his license was suspended after being served with papers and attending a hearing about it (a guilty finding on the indictment requires that the defendant knows or should have known about the suspension); and
  • he would have to have had an unsteady gait and problems with his eyes functioning through extraneous factors such as allergies or nervousness.
Uh-huh. Sure. Is the almost nonexistent evidence for this massively unlikely scenario sufficient to instill reasonable doubt about the guilt of a guy who tried to pretend he was his own brother, and that hadn't had a drink in five hours? I don't think so! Guilty, guilty, guilty!

There was one person on the jury who was a little hinky about the equipment's reliability due to the high reading, but she eventually conceded that her doubt was not reasonable. So we went in and gave the verdict, the judge thanked us, and we walked out again. We were done - almost.

We weren't required to stay for the next bit, but nearly everyone did. The judge came to the jury deliberation room, and we were allowed to ask questions about the case and the process. We asked about whether suspensions expire (yes) and whether you had to do something to make the license valid again (also yes). We also asked about the equipment. The judge said that every time a new model comes out, it fixes the previous model's problems. Defense lawyers then challenge the validity of the new equipment, that is fought out in the courts and then the equipment is ruled to be reliable. The judge felt that the current model was extremely reliable.

And we asked why, given that the defense had very little to offer, why the case had even gone to trial. The judge explained that the aggravated DUI over .08 on a suspended license carries a minimum 4 months in prison before probation. For a drinker who nevertheless functions well enough to hold down a job, and who can afford the attorney fees, that's an unpleasant enough prospect that the person will try anything possible to avoid or delay the jail time. That was sort of sad, but the fact remains that the guy broke the law, repeatedly, lied through his teeth, and was trying to duck the consequences or his actions. Under the law, we did the right thing.

I have just a few more photos to show you tonight as I wrap up this long-winded entry. This building, across a park from the old pink courthouse, is a really interesting shape. I think it's the Main Library for Tucson and Pima County.

Here's another extraordinary view from the parking garage, taken after the trial was over. I was back at work by 3:45 PM. This photo is looking north toward the Catalinas. You can see a freight train going by in the middle left of the photo.

And here's yet another view from that parking garage, this time looking west toward the Tucson Mountains.

Enough. Must sleep now. Good night!