Thursday, July 30, 2015

Pegana Colorado

So, yesterday was a travel day, first to fly to Denver and then to drive down to Colorado Springs, site of this weekend's MYTHCON (at the Hotel Elegante). The evening yesterday was devoted to unpacking and settling in. Wanting to be well-rested for the con, we made an early night of it,  which turned out to be a good choice.

Today we went out and about, visiting what sounded like the thing we'd most regret missing if we didn't go by & see it while in the area: THE GARDEN OF THE GODS.

These are spectacular pillars and columns of brick-red sandstone, deeply eroded. I was expecting something somewhat like the Hoo-doos of Yellowstone,* something like the eroded ridges of Frenchman's Coulee,** but despite a few similarities here and there this was really different. If you like this kind of thing at all, you really should make the trip out; it's spectacular, it's easy to get to and easy to walk around in once there. I was particularly struck by the wildlife: at one point there was a deer feeding perhaps twenty feel away from us, sheltered by a row of wild sunflowers. I saw a magpie (or at least some sort of unfamiliar jay) on the way there and several more unfamiliar birds while there, but was most taken with the swifts, who nest atop the rocks and were disturbed by climbers getting too near their nests.

Given the recent cave-in of the ice-caves at Big Four Mt, which we visited last year, JC and I took the warnings about hazardous areas with high potential for falling boulders more seriously than did many of our fellow visitors: there were lots of kids among those posing beneath a crumbling cliff with some rocks half-fallen and at this point only being held up by other rocks. Luckily, today Fate refused to be tempted.

And of course we saw the dinosaur -- a single skull, discovered more than a century before, which is the only piece of this particular kind of dinosaur that has ever come to light; a good reminder of how happenstance our evidence of the long-ago can be.

In the end, I thought that rather than 'The Garden of the Gods', a better name for the place would be PEGANA. One can easily imagine those tall, eroded, sometimes tumbly red rocks in the background for one of Sime's pictures for Dunsany's first two books (e.g., 'The King That Was Not'). But that's probably just me. A classicist wd almost certainly see the heads of Titans and their hands reaching up out of the soil; anyone acquainted w. the Mythos wd recall the carven crags in the Dreamlands; a Tolkienist wd recall the Argonath; and any Eddist wd immediately recognize this as Troll country.

There are plenty of interesting things to see and do in this area, from the modern-day reconstruction of cliff-dwellings and a chance to feed giraffes at the local zoo to the Arkansas River riverwalk down in Pueblo, But I think Janice was right to give this one the nod as 'if you only have time to do one touristy thing in this area, this is the one'.

And now, off to do some final small preparations for the con.

--John R.
current reading: POETRY AT PRESENT by Charles Williams [1930]
THE MOON POOL by A. Merritt [1919]

*which were really memorable, despite being perched on the edge of any acrophobist's nightmare. worth the terror.

**for an inadequate description thereof, see

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Today I'm Drinking . . .

. . . Ernest Hemingway's tea.
And that's "Ernest Hemingway" with a circle-r following it.

Saw this in World Market a few weeks back and was bemused enough to buy it. Turns out to be ordinary Assam they've put Hemingway's name and picture on as a selling point. How very odd. I did buy some "C. S. Lewis Blend" a good while back via mail-order from a tea shop in Austin, but then Lewis was famous as a tea-drinker -- cf the quote that starts off Hooper's Preface to CSL's essay collection ON STORIES:

'You can't get a cup of tea large enough of a book long enough to suit me' 

Whereas if Hemingway drank tea that fact has eluded my admittedly somewhat slim knowledge of his biography (derived mostly from reading his autobiography and Carpenter's GENIUSES TOGETHER). 

Still, it's odd how some thing stick to an author's 'myth'. In Hemingway's case it's polydactyl cats, yes; tea-drinking, no; living in Cuba, yes; dying in Idaho, no. 

And there's this to consider: Hemingway was a fan of Dunsany's early work, which is just about as different from Hemingway's own as it's possible for two writers to get. So I think I'll have a cup of tea and think kindly thoughts for that about a writer who, though v. good, is not exactly my cup of tea.

--John R. 

The Game of Opposites

So, I came up with an odd sort of word game while I was finishing up my Wms paper.*

Here's the challenge: what word least describes an Inkling?

For Williams, the one who got me started on this slightly odd line of thought, I'd opt for 'sincere' or 'sincerity', or perhaps 'straightforward': to read his letters is to get a sense that he was always playing a role, always assuming a persona.

Applying the same technique to CSL, the word I would choose that least describes C. S. Lewis would be "vain" or "vanity". Lewis was famously free of vanity when it came to personal appearance, once describing himself as "bald and fat" and dressing in shabby clothes. And despite his extraordinary gifts (not many students get a triple first) as a writer and scholar, he seems never to have thought his talent makes him entitled to any special treatment (Janie M. still made him walk the dog and take out the trash).

For Tolkien, it's harder. "Stolid, staid" are somewhere in the right territory but inadequate. Descriptions of him make it clear there was something elusive, mercurial, almost bird-like about him, but 'dapper' needs to go in there somewhere as well.

At any rate, that's what I came up with on a first attempt. I'd be interested what descriptors others would find appropriate.  Might make a good discussion topic over a meal at Mythcon.

--John R.
current watching: STARSHIP OPERATORS

*which is now done, and revised, and rehearsed. whew.  It ran to twenty pages but with Janice's help I've cut it down to fourteen, which is more like what'll fit into the available programming space. Though I'm sorry to see those various sections go.

Monday, July 27, 2015

"Fails the Most Elementary Test of Historical Possibility"

So, in the last few days I found praise for my work in a place I wdn't have expected it: a discussion of a Hugo ballet. And I found criticism of my work ("fails the most elementary test of historical possibility") in a somewhat more likely place, a book on Tolkien (we Tolkienists being a fractious lot).

First the Good: here's the link to David Bratman's recent blog post explaining his votes in this year's contentious election for the Hugo Awards:

The part where I'm referred to occurs under the heading of Best Fan Writer, entry #3:

Best Fan Writer
3. Jeffro Johnson. If we were going to honor someone who writes about classic fantasy in an RPG context, we should have given a Hugo years ago to John D. Rateliff. Still, Johnson is a good writer, if somewhat condescending towards his topics, and though of crabby social views, he does not spend his time whining about SJWs, which sets him apart from the rest of this category.

This must be a reference to my CLASSICS OF FANTASY articles (which ran to nineteen installments). I'd still like to revisit and revive that series some day: there are any number of interesting writers yet to cover (e.g. Cabell, Howard, Vance, Carroll, not to mention newer writers like Jonathan Howard and Susanna Clarke). In any case, glad to see they're not altogether forgotten, and nice of David to say nice things about them.

And, just to keep things balanced, here's the bad: there's criticism of my HISTORY OF THE HOBBIT in the new faux-biography of Tolkien, just out:  J. R. R. TOLKIEN: CODEMAKER, SPY-MASTER, HERO: AN UNAUTHORIZED BIOGRAPHY by "Elansea", with Alex Lewis and Elizabeth Currie as "consultants".

The full quote referencing my work reads thusly:

. . . Tolkien is not inventing, but using places
that he had seen firsthand to fashion his own
fictional backcloth for the settings of his stories.
 J. D. Rateliff's attempt to deny this in his
History of the Hobbit fails the most elementary
 test of historical possibility . . . Taking each of
his points, Tolkien would not have visited the
sites of the Swiss Lake Villages during the 1911
trip; he was not interested in them until the 1930s
and he was a junior member of the party, not the
one setting the itinerary (and Lake Town resembles
them only in principle, not any specific detail).
Tolkien did not need to visit Lydney whilst writing
the 'Note on the name Nodens'; that was pure
philological work on the name of a deity, not a
place whose setting might be relevant. And Tolkien
could not have visited Sutton Hoo whilst writing
about the Rohirrim in The Lord of the Rings; that
was during the Second World War when 'tourism'
was impossible in Britain -- and to put the tin lid
on it, Sutton Hoo had been taken over by the military
as a tank training ground! Not that Tolkien needed it
as visual inspiration; it's only a barrow-field, and
there are plenty of those much nearer Oxford.

So Rateliff's counter-examples fail, and the basic
principle that Tolkien was writing about real
landscapes stands. (p. 114-115).

--all this in response for my agreeing w. Carpenter that Tolkien tended not to feel a need to visit in person places that inspired his writing -- unlike some authors, who find a bit of fieldwork inspirational.

At this point I've only skimmed Elansea's book, so take the following as just provisional.

Basically it's a 'What If?' biography.
What if JRRT secretly spent WW II as a British codebreaker?
What it his father, Arthur Tolkien, had been spying on the Boers for the Empire?
What it Joseph Wright were a spymaster who recruited young John Ronald as a likely lad for espionage work?
 What if, all that time Tolkien was supposed to be 'in hospital' he was actually just using that as a cover story while off on a secret mission behind enemy lines (somewhere in the Ottoman Empire, I think*)?
 What if strings were being pulled behind the scenes to rig the election to his Oxford professorship in his favor?
 What if all those times he was away 'grading as an external examiner', or any time he claimed to be stalled in his writing, he was really engaged on undercover work?
What if he because a spymaster and recruiter himself in time?

That's a lot of ifs, but the major one that comes to mind is this: What if none of this is true and they just made it all up?  So far as I can tell, they don't supply any evidence for any of their speculations: it's all in the realm of what CSL called the supposal.

In essence this is the first fictional biography of Tolkien. If someone wants to film a movie "inspired" by the life of JRRT but in no way restricted by the facts, this book could  provide a template. 

To say that 'Elansea' is the new Giddings and Holland is to do the late Elizabeth Holland's memory a disservice.

--John R.

current reading: POETRY AT PRESENT by Charles Wms [1930]
THE MOON POOL by A. Merritt (second reading)

*their 'evidence' for this is that Tolkien once made a slighting reference to Athenian democracy, which they claim cd only be possible if he had first-hand knowledge of the place. (p. 187)

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Some Days You Just Can't Get a Good Watermelon* (a rant)

*with apologies to Adam West.

So, for several days now with Janice's help I've been looking for a watermelon. A real watermelon, the kind with seeds in it.

  • None at Fred Meyers
  • None at Trader Joe's
  • None at Uwajimaya's
  • Sold out at the Kent farmer's market ("we had ten, and they went right away")
  • None at Valley Harvest, which turns out to have gone out of business since our last visit
  • None at Carpinito's
  • None at the Great Wall Mall's Ranch Market

Finally bought one of those seedless abominations, at Uwajimaya, since a mediocre watermelon is better than no watermelon at all. But seriously, what happened to good melons? My standards might be high, since I come from the area that produces the best watermelons in the world (my home town's only some thirty-odd miles from Hope, Arkansas). But still, watermelons without seeds are like those supermarket tomatoes of a few years ago, bred for shipping and not taste. Heirloom tomatoes and local-grown filled in the gap there -- where are the Black Diamonds, Dixie Queens, and the like?

--John R.

My Schedule at MythCon

So, the schedule for events at Mythcon (to be held Friday July 31st through Monday August 3rd at the Elegante in Colorado Springs) is now out.* And I'm signed up to take part in a total of five events:

(1) Friday July 31st, The Aspen Room, 4.30 to 5. 30 pm
This will be a nine-person reading of The Fall of Arthur using Thom Foy's abridged script from last year's Kalamazoo, used with permission.  The performance then went really well so I have hopes it'll be just as enjoyable for folks this time around.

(2) Saturday August 1st, The Summit Boardroom, 9 to 10.15 am
This is the Opening Ceremonies, followed by my Scholar Guest of Honor speech,  "The Lost Letter: Seeking the Keys to Williams' Arthuriad". I'm hoping they'll enjoy my re-assessment of Williams and his work.

(3) Saturday August 1st, The Breckenridge Room, 1 to 2.45 pm
"Reclaiming Tolkien's Women for the 21st Century." This brings together some of the contributors to PERILOUS AND FAIR: WOMEN IN THE WORKS AND LIFE OF JRRT to recap some of the points made there and discuss issues arising therefrom. My contribution thereto is "The Missing Women: Tolkien's Lifelong Support for Women's Higher Education".

(4) Saturday August 1st, The Aspen Room, 4.15 to 4.45 pm
A two-person reading of Mark vs. Tristan by Owen Barfield and C. S. Lewis, by JDR and JC. I think this is a little unsung gem, so I'm looking forward to sharing with others who are likely to like this sort of thing as much as I do.

(5) Sunday August 2nd, The Aspen Room, 3.45 to 5 pm
" 'That Seems to Me Fatal': Pagan and Christian in The Fall of Arthur". This is a reprise of the piece I presented an excerpt from  at last year's Kalamazoo, looking at some of the difficulties Tolkien faced in seeing through his conception of the Arthurian myth. It seemed appropriate, given the Arthurian theme of this year's Mythcon.

Of course I'll be at the Awards Banquet to hear Jo Walton's Guest of Honor speech, and throughout the weekend I'll go to as many panels as possible and see as many people as possible, enjoy seeing friends and meeting new people. Really looking forward to it.

--John R.

just finished book #II.3247,  A. E. WAITE: MAGICIAN OF MANY PARTS by R. A. Gilbert, a biography of Wms' friend and magical mentor Waite, a good accompliment to Gilbert's history of the Golden Dawn (TWILIGHT OF MAGICIANS). I'd read this once before, in a copy borrowed from my friend the late Jim Pietrusz. This time I tracked down a copy of my own; I'll think of Jim any time I re-read or consult it.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Lewis and Sitwell

So, sometimes when working on one thing (Charles Williams' Arthurian poems) you make a discovery, or what seems to be a discovery, on something entirely unrelated (Edith Sitwell's possible influence on C. S. Lewis).

Case in point: having noted CSL extravagant (and, I can now attest, undeserved) praise for Edith Sitwell's 1924 book SLEEPING BEAUTY, I hunted down a copy and read it. And in the course of forcing my way through its doggerel, I found two lines that really stuck out:

Hell is no vastness, it has naught to keep
But little rotting souls and a small sleep
(p. 61)

Now that sounds remarkably like one of the key underlying premises of Lewis's THE GREAT DIVORCE (1945). Or perhaps it's just a coincidence. In any case, I thought it worth sharing.



So, after working away at it full-tilt for weeks, putting aside pretty much everything else (including posting here), I finally finished up my MythCon Guest of Honor speech. Turned out I had more to say than I originally thought, and the finished piece runs to almost ten thousand words, not to mention another three thousand or so in the endnotes (which are still not quite done).


This is my third (or fourth) piece on Williams, depending on how you count.

The first, "Something Else Remains to be Said", was on Tolkien and Williams' friendship; delivered at the '85 Mythcon in Wheaton and afterwards published in MYTHLORE (I forget which issue).

The second, "TERROR OF LIGHT", was a look at his best play; it was written in 1991 for Huttar and Sckhal's collection THE RHETORIC OF VISION, where it appeared in 1996 under the accurate but uninspiring title "Rhetorical Strategies in Charles Williams' Prose Play".

The third would have been "The Failure of Williams' Arthuriad", which I gave as a work-in-progress at a seminar in Madison in 2000 or 2001, but it was never fully written up or published. It's effectively superseded by my current piece.

Now to practice my delivery and work out which sections can be trimmed to make it work better as an oral piece.

--John R.
current reading: about to be something not by Charles Williams, for a change.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Informative but not comforting

So, yesterday I got a new prescription and, before trying it, for once I read through all the fine print on the accompanying informational sheet. It was informative but not comforting, since it included the words "This medication" and "seldom fatal" in the same line. On the other hand, I now know a lot about just which tests were done on mice, minipigs, and Sprague-Dawley rats (a designation I was previously unaware of). Ignorance isn't bliss, but sometimes knowledge brings no joy.

--John R.

today's song: "I Lie Around" (McCarney, circa 1972)

Priestesses in the Church revisited

So, a good while back I did a little series of three posts on C. S. Lewis's worst essays, the point being that it can be revealing to look at failed works, the worst a really good writer  has to offer (cf. TIMON OF ATHENS or YOU KNOW MY NAME, LOOK UP THE NUMBER). And I argued that the worst of the worst was a little piece of his called "Priestesses in the Church",* explaining why he was against women's ordination.

There Lewis essentially came down to 'if it makes me uncomfortable, it must be wrong' as his ultimate justification for banning women from the priesthood, with 'it's against tradition' as his runner-up. These seem wholly inadequate for something of so great moment; hence my judging his piece such a failure.  So it was interesting to discover that he briefly revisits** the issue in his explication of Charles Williams' Arthurian poems, WILLIAMS AND THE ARTHURIAD, but here his reason is completely different: woman can't be priests because they have periods.

Here's what Williams' says in his poem "Taliessin in the Rose-Garden" (THE REGION OF THE SUMMER STARS, page 27)

       Well are women warned from serving the altar
       who, by the nature of their creature, from Caucasia to Carbonek,
       share with the Sacrifice the victimization of blood.

Lewis's comment on this is, in part, as follows

The menstrual flow in women presents certain problems 
on the scientific level . . . Wms sees it as a 'covenant in the flesh'. 
By it all women naturally share in the great sacrifice. That, indeed, 
is why they are excluded from the priesthood; excluded from the office
 because they thus share mystically in the role of the Victim
(ARTHURIAN TORSO p. 150; emphasis mine).

The reasoning behind this is fairly murky, but has something to do with Williams' linking menstrual blood with the blood in the chalice during communion/mass, which would then involve hypothetical woman priest as taking two roles in the same ceremony. I think. Or something along that line.

I'm curious why, if Lewis believed this, he didn't use this argument in his 1948 article. Maybe he felt he  could address such a topic in a scholarly book but not in a magazine article.

Personally, I think it all comes to "Lewis thinks girls got cooties".

Which is not the most compelling of arguments, then or now.

today's song: "LETTING GO" (McCartney, live version)

**actually, it turns out to be the other way around: the article was written in 1948, while Lewis's contributions to the book, although not published until 1948, dates from 1946.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Old Times at TSR

So, yesterday I took a break from working on my paper and sorted out some more rpg magazines down in the box room, putting more on the pile to throw away. This time it was old issues of INQUEST and CONJURE, my thinking being that I cd do without price guides for ccgs some twenty years ago.*

I was glad that I skimmed through them first, though, because in the process I found two of the old TSR routing lists, which list all the designers and editors in the creative department at a particular time (mid and late 1995, respectively).

You see, back in the day, a bunch of rpg magazines (WHITE WOLF, SHADIS, &c) circulated through the design & editorial department, along with a box of comics (leftovers from the days when TSR had the Marvel license) and some misc. journals relevant to the industry (LOCUS, SCIENCE FICTION CHRONICLE), et al. And at one point I volunteered to keep track of them, starting them on their journey through the department desk by desk, for skimming or reading or ignoring, as each person saw fit.

All that's now moot, but the listing is interesting, to me at least, in and of itself for its snapshot of everyone who was in the department back then. For some reason that department has always been surprisingly opaque to those outside it, and most fans (and industry professionals), I've found, have no idea who does what on which projects, who was in-house and who was not, and the like. So here's a little contribution to the historical record.

THE FIRST LIST dates from June 1995, after what had been a remarkably stable department began to change, with the rate of change ever-increasing right up to the December 1996 smash.  Zeb Cook (1994) and Jeff Grubb (Jan 1995) had left the department, Rob King has transferred over to Books, and the big influx of people hired away from West End had just gotten underway (with Ed Stark being its harbinger). It's alphabetical and thus plays no favorites. A few names (Mike Nystul, Bill Olmesdahl, David Gross, Michael Huebbe) were added in while the list was in circulation (i.e., while the particular magazine this list was attached to made its way through the department), so I've gone ahead and included them as representative of a department in flux. A few are struck out, but I've left them in because I can't tell which left TSR and which just wanted not to be on the circulating-journals list. This makes the 'snapshot' a slightly blurry one, but it seemed good to err on the side of inclusiveness.

THE SECOND LIST is from a few months later, October 1995. I was experimenting at the time with different arrangements of the list: alphabetical, reverse alphabetical, by seniority, by reverse seniority, by degree of interest, to see what might work best. This one has added interest, to me at any rate, because it gives members of the department in order of seniority, from stalwarts like Jon Pickens and Steve Winter (who went all the way back to circa 1980-81)** to the newest hire, the now-legendary Bruce Cordell (I was happy to have gotten to edit both Jeff Grubb's final design before his departure and Bruce Cordell's first upon his arrival). Comparing it with the first list, I see that Wolf Baur and apparently also Tim Beach had already departed for Wizards and that the hiring binge had stopped, with Steve Brown (aka 'Stan!') the last of the West End hires and Bruce Cordell the last r&d hire for quite a while, or at least that's how I remember it.

One caveat: I shd point out that some of the names on this second list had been at TSR far longer than their ranking here wd indicate, like Harold Johnson (circa 1980?) and Skip Williams, Kim Mohan and Dale Donovan, who transferred in from other departments; they're given here in the order in which they joined r&d. Also, I've inserted myself into the appropriate spot in the lists.

A lot of talent. A lot of memories. A lot of unpaid overtime. Enjoy!

FIRST LIST (alphabetical, June 1995)
Rich Baker
Wolf Baur
Tim Beach
Carrie Bebris
Karen Boomgarden
Anne Brown
Tim Brown
Jim Butler
Michele Carter
Bill Connors
Monte Cook
Dale Donovan
Andria Hayday
Bruce Heard
Dori Hein (previously Dori Watry)
Slade Henson
Harold Johnson
Julia Martin
Colin McComb
Steve Miller
Roger Moore
Bruce Nesmith
+Mike Nystul
+Bill Olmesdahl
Jon Pickens
Thomas Reid
Steve Schend
Bill Slavicsek
Lester Smith
Ed Stark
Doug Stewart
Ray Vallese
Jim Ward
Sue Weinlein
Dan Wenger
Skip Williams
Steve Winter
David Wise.

Stephen Daniele
Scott Douglas
Rob King
Duane Maxwell
Marshall Simpson
+David Gross
Carolyn Chambers
+Michael Huebbe.

SECOND LIST ("Seniority Has Its Privileges", October 1995)

John Pickens
Steve Winter
Anne Brown
Andria Hayday
William W. Connors
Steven Schend
Slade Henson
Dori Hein (formerly Dori Watry)
Colin McComb
Julia Martin
John D. Rateliff (Oct. 7th 1991)
Thomas Reid
Rich Baker
Michele Carter
Doug Stewart
Lester Smith
Bill Slavicsek
Skip Williams
Sue Weinlein
Monte Cook
Ray Vallese
Harold Johnson
Jim Butler
Steve Miller
Ed Stark
Carrie Bebris
Dale Donovan
Kim Mohan
Bill Olmesdahl
Miranda Horner
Kevin Melda
David Eckleberry
Keith Strohm
Cindi Rice
Steve Brown (aka Stan)
Bruce Cordell

Dave Gross
Stephen Daniele
Scott Douglas
Duane Maxwell
Robert Weise

Carolyn Chambers


current reading: WILLIAMS AND THE ARTHURIAD by C. S. Lewis (re-reading)

current music: old cassettes (Boiled in Lead, Blondie)


*a stack of CASUS BELLI are next up on the chopping block, being a good magazine in a language I only read haltingly and with difficulty.

**the true antediluvian at TSR back then was Dave Sutherland, employee number six (1976?), who has long since transferred into the mapping department, from which he had produced such masterpieces as the castle map for I6.Ravenloft.

Charles Williams' faerie poem

Among the odder things I've found while working on my current paper is that Charles Williams once wrote a 'faerie' poem. Since it's fairly obscure (having appeared back in 1924 in a volume that sold very few copies), I thought I'd share.


Under the edge of midnight
  While my love is far away,
A wind from the world of faerie
  Blows between day and day.

And wandering thoughts possess me,
  Such as no wise man knows,
Death and a thousand accidents,
  And high impossible woes.

Whether now in her pastime
  She turned a little, sighed
With the heaviness of breathing
  And even in turning died:

Or whether some cloud covers
  The lobes of the conscious brain
And all that she knew aforetime
  She shall never know again,

But her friends shal bring her to me,
  Bewildered and afraid
Lest a stranger's hand should touch her,
  A shrinking alien maid, —

Yet such distress in patience
  And faith an end may find,
And a more fantastic peril
  Moves in my dreaming mind:

None knows how deep within us
  Lies hid a secret flaw,
Where spins the mad world ever
  On the very edge of law.

Under the chance that rules us
  Anarchic terrors stir,
Lest what to me has happened
  Has never happened to her.

First love in our first meeting,
  Changed eyes, and bridal vows,
The incredible years together
  Lived in a single house,

The kisses born of custom
  That are sweeter and stranger still
Than any clasp of passion,
  And the shaping of one will, —

Was it some wraith deceived me,
  And lives she still apart
In her father's house contented,
  With an unwakened heart?

Now at this striking midnight
  Through the chink between day and day,
Has a wind from the world of faerie
  Blown all my life away?

Here am I now left naked
  Of the vapour that was she:
While the true maid 'midst her kindred
  Has never thought of me?

For ten long years together
  Can a thing be and not be,
Till it ceases to be or ever, —
  And has this chanced to me?

—Ch. Wms, Windows of Night [1924], p. 56–58

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Annoying People are Creeping Me Out

So, a while back I got a letter in the mail asking if, as a veteran, I'd like to be cremated and buried at sea.

My response to this, and the three follow-up messages I've received (so far) from the same folks is to feel as if I'd suddenly found myself in an old Monty Python skit, the one where a man (Terry Jones) is sitting minding his own business when the person sitting next to him (Eric Idle) starts asking him all sorts of annoying and increasingly inappropriately personal.

Them: Hey there. Would you like to be cremated and buried at sea?

Me: Excuse me?

Them: What with you being a veteran and all. Of the navy.

Me: Do I know you?

Them: It's a great offer. Save your loved ones a lot of bother and expense.

Me: Go. Away.

--except they won't. They've ignored Janice, who called them and told them to stop. I thought I'd sent them an email message telling them to stop; have to resend that.  I suppose the next stage is a letter to desist.

The odd thing is, I not only not a veteran, but (in the words of Gilbert & Sullivan), I've never been one. After all, there aren't many conscientious objectors who are also veterans, and precious few pacifist in the V.F.W.

After we puzzled over it some, Janice hit on what is probably the right solution: somehow they've gotten ahold of some reference to my father (John Dale Rateliff Sr) and put it together with my address. My father was a veteran, of the Korean War. And since that was before I was born (John Dale Rateliff Jr), being years before my parents met, at that time he of course didn't use the 'Sr'. Even so, he was never in the Navy,* having been a radio operator in the Army instead.** Plus he hated the army, all that being ordered about, and in latter years rarely told war stories and avoided showy displays of patriotism, figuring that he'd done enough (as the saying goes, having walked the walk he felt no need to talk the talk).

Which makes me annoyed all over again, knowing how much he'd have hated these 'Neptune Society' folks as well for their attempts to cash in on elderly vets.

For my part, I've discovered that it's really disconcerting to have people eager for you to die who contact you on a regular basis to convey that wish.

There must be some way to make these vultures go away.

--John R.
current reading: THE FIGURE OF ARTHUR by Ch. Wms (his half of ARTHURIAN TORSO; a re-reading), while walking cats.

*it's just possible they have him confused with my uncle J. W., who was in the navy (in the Pacific) in WWII; the family legend goes that when he signed up they asked him what the initals 'JW' stood for and he told them they didn't stand for anything: that was his name (which it was). The army recruiters apparently weren't having any of that and insisted he pick a name to stand for each initial, so he opted for 'John Wesley', this being the name of his father (my grandfather, John Rateliff II; I'm John Rateliff IV if you ignore the middle initials). If so, they're overlooking the fact that, like my father, he's been dead for years and has no need of their services.

**he said he chose radio operator because you didn't have to shoot at people, although they got to shoot at you. That seemed fair to him, and it does to me too.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

My Cat Is Radioactive

So, when we got back from our trip before last (the one to the Midwest, not the one to Arkansas), our cat-sitter reported that one of our cats, little Hastur, has been drinking a lot of water, and there'd been a lot of activity in the dirt box. That in itself's not a big thing, given how hot it's been this summer, except that being both overweight and thirsty all the time are two of the warning signs of diabetes, and we wanted to make sure she didn't have it (or got prompt treatment if she did).

Turns out it's not diabetes, but it's a good thing we got her tested because in the process we discovered she has a hyperthyroid condition. As the vet explained this, older cats sometimes get a benign tumor in their thyroid gland, which goes into overdrive, causing it to boost their metabolism. The cat starts losing weight (she's dropped from 15 to 12 pounds between vet visits) and its behavior changes. We'd noticed that Hastur was much more alert lately and also becoming talkative for the first time in her life, but we attributed that to her filling in some of the  void caused by Rigby's passing.

In any case, there's a treatment for hyperthyroidism in cats that's expensive but is said to have a 95% success rate. There wasn't time to get things set up before we left for our then-pending Arkansas trip, but we read up on it and got her an appointment at the Hyperthyroid Treatment center down in Tacoma. Once we were back from the trip, it was time for her big adventure.  We dropped her off Tuesday, which was hard, and got daily updates on how she was doing.* Since the treatment involves injecting the cat with a radioactive isotope of iodine (I-131), she couldn't be released until the radioactive iodine in her system fell below a certain point,** making her street-legal, so to speak, again. I was out Thursday (working on my Ch Wms piece down at the local Starbucks) when Janice got a call that Hastur cd come home if we came and picked her up right away, so she set off and braved the Kent-to-Tacoma traffic in rush hour, collected little Hastur (who I'm sure was VERY happy to see her).

She came home slightly loopy (prob. a side-effect from cat-tranquilizers they had her on), with a list of do's and don'ts' regarding everything from what to do with the contents of her dirt box (where there could be concentrations of radiation), about not being in direct contact with the cat for more than one hour, cumulatively, per day, not letting her sleep with us, and so forth. All these were protective measures, it turned out, the actual risk being v. low (in a worse case, we might be exposed to as much radiation as we just got from cosmic rays during our recent flight to Arkansas and back).

Hastur was clearly delighted to be back home again, and has been fairly clingy ever since, as often as not staying in the same room with one or both of us. Feanor, on the other hand, has been weirded out by the whole thing. He didn't notice she was gone for the better part of a day, after which he seemed to adjust pretty well. But when she came back, he looked as if he'd seen The Ghost of Hastur, hissing and running away from her. Even after he calmed down a bit, he's crouch down and stare at her as if he could see with a cloud of radiation round her and shooting off rays in all directions. He's finally calmed down as of Friday night.

As for Hastur, she seems to be doing well. She doesn't like the pill we're to give her for her heart (her heartbeat is up to about 300 times per minute, which is too high), but at least it's a tiny one. We need to get her some kind of pill-pocket, but for now we've worked out a regimen that seems to be working: we give her a treat (her favorite kind, Feline Greenies), then the pill, then a second treat. The idea of the second treat is a reward and also a way to make sure she swallowed the pill (some cats are clever about carrying them around unswallowed in the mouth for several minutes), while the first treat is to get her willing to swallow what comes next. So, not ideal, but workable. Which is good, because while the murmur and elevated heartbeat might clear up on their own once her body resets after the thryoid treatment, it's quite possible she'll be on the twice-daily pill regimen the rest of her life -- which, now that we've got the hyperthyroidism taken care of, will we hope be a long and happy one.

When I started to write this post, she was all over paws-on-the-keyboard; now she's in her favorite box on my desk, snoozing away. Neither she now Feanor's going to enjoy the fireworks tonight, but at least they're both home and safe.

--John R.
current reading: THE REGION OF THE SUMMER STARS (Wms; re-reading), YOUNG MEN IN SPATS (Wodehouse)

*we were glad to hear she enjoyed burrowing in the crinkly paper we left with her and gladly accepted some petting and some of her favorite treats from the vet at the clinic. Felliway, we understand, was also involved on behalf of positive mood reinforcement.

**she got 3.75 millicuries; apparently it usually works its way through and out of the cat's system at the rate of about one mCi per day