The City & the City, by China Miéville

I loved this book.

I mean, I really loved it. Like, sometimes a strong ending can raise my impression of an otherwise lackluster book. But a little way in, I told a bookworm coworker, “I think I really am going to like this book.”

A while later, I told a bookworm friend, “This is turning out to be really good. You should check it out.”

Then, when the plot thickened, I told my coworker again, “Yes. This is great.”

And once I finished it, I told someone, “It’s a pity you aren’t a reader; you’re really missing out.”

So I think it’s safe to say that it was great all the way through.

It’s going to be a challenge to give a summary without spoiling too much, so maybe I’ll just talk about what I expected versus what we got?

Actually, first I’ll talk about the inspiration. Miéville’s mother was terminally ill, so she asked him to write a book for her. Most of his books are “speculative fiction,” an umbrella term that covers fantasy, science fiction, and some horror. This was not his mother’s interest, though. She preferred mystery and police procedurals.

And so, The City & The City (Germane Amazon Link!) was born. It is a tale about two cities occupying the same place geographically. I was expecting some kind of interdimensional shenanigans, but instead, they literally are geographically in the same place.

In our world, we have two towns, Baarle-Hertog, Belgium; and Baarle-Nassau, Netherlands*. These two towns are intertwined with one another in such a way that there’s a story (which I have yet to verify) that when they resurveyed the town, they discovered that the front door of a house, and thus the whole house, was in the wrong country. It would have been a bureaucratic mess to redo everything (I know the house would need a whole new address, because the street it was on has different names in each country, and I believe that the residents would even need to have changed their nationalities), so they just moved the front door to a different part of the house, where it would stay in the same country.

So. Think that, but larger. Much larger. Then to make things even weirder, the residents of and visitors to the two cities are not allowed to interact with the other city. They have to “unsee” the other city entirely. The only way to interact with the other city involves crossing the official border, at which point they can only interact with the city that they’re in after the crossing.

In the city of Besźel, Inspector Tyador Borlú is called to the location of a dead body. It turns out that the body was Mehalia Geary, a Ph.D student in the other city, Ul Qoma. Borlú has to investigate this murder without ever acknowledging the presence of the other city. He eventually has to go to Ul Qoma to assist in their investigation of the murder and that’s where an interesting book becomes really fascinating.

:chef’s kiss:

*Back in the days when I thought that Alex and I were going to be able to fly into Amsterdam, travel Germany in a big circle, then go back in through Belgium and back to Amsterdam, the Baarles (?) were on my list of things to visit. And maybe I will be able to do it someday.

Biopsy Results

Welp. It’s not the best news, but it could be worse.

I didn’t catch all of the words that the pathologist had in the report. In fact, the surgeon needed to call the pathologist to see exactly what’s going on in my mouth.

It’s not cancer. It’s not precancerous. It’s the stage before that. It’s something that, if we leave it alone long enough, could become cancer.

So we’re not going to leave it alone.

I’m scheduled to have it excised on May 18. Two weeks from today. Then we’ll have to watch it from then onwards until we’re sure it’s not coming back.

So. Like I said, not the best news, but it definitely could be worse.

I have to fast before the procedure, because they’ll be knocking me out for this. Thank God. The biopsy was unpleasant enough.

Then, since my job is almost all talking — answering phones, calling doctors, helping people at the register, etc. — I’m taking Thursday, Friday, and Saturday off and hope to basically not talk at all for those days, then when I go back to work, it’ll feel better.

I’ve also bought 32 single-serving things of baby food. Stage 2, so that it has a bit of texture. I’m also going to stock up on canned fruit, pouches of tuna, and other soft food as well. I’m also going to order a new cup for my blender, so that once I’ve had enough of tuna and pureed mango, I can cook and then mash it up real good and, well, make my own baby food.

I wonder how beef, tomatoes, cheese, and taco seasoning would work? I’m sure it would taste like a taco. But would the texture be edible?

Stay tuned for “Mashing up Food with Olivia,” here on To-Hither.com.

Gratuitous Amazon Link time! Today we have The Glass Sentence, the first book in the Mapmakers trilogy, by S.E. Grove. The Mapmakers trilogy is set in a world where something happened and different areas of the world ended up separated in time. You can travel from one to another, but what used to be southern Canada is now the ice-age Prehistoric Snows, a big chunk of Oceania is “the 40th Age,” etc. And no one can agree when it actually is. I have to admit I haven’t read the second two books in the trilogy (I visit my local Half-Price Books in hopes of finding it, but haven’t had any luck yet), but this book is fantastic.

How Do I Create?

The second chapter of Pep Talks for Writers (germane Amazon Link!) is about the circumstances that one uses when one writes.

One of the things that Faulkner talks about is planners versus “pantsers.” “Pantsers” are people who line up their characters/subject/whatever and just write and see where it goes. Planners, well, that’s pretty self-explanatory.

I’ve always sort of done both. Back when I could let my mind wander on the job, I used to get a lot of writing done. Sometimes I was at the photocopier or the fax machine or sorting documents to send to shareholders containing the annual report, or waiting for a report to upload to a database or whatever.

I could use that time to say, “Sally’s memory won’t come back until she’s home, but her home burned down 20 years ago. Should I just make her an amnesiac forever? But I really want to restore her relationship with her brother. The graveyard. She sees her parents’ graves and that’s what triggers her memory. Subconsciously, being ‘reunited’ with them is coming home and. Oh, yes, that’s perfect.”

And then I’d go home and write the scene. And, yes, that is a scene I wrote. It was in a Dark Shadows fanfiction that I’ve just realized I might be able to scrape the serial numbers off of and remix. Well, technically, I realized that I could do that when I was thinking about this chapter while unraveling the first blanket* and then I sat down and wrote all this out. But potato-potahto.

So I guess I’m more of a planner, but there are definitely surprises in the process of the planning. I’ll be prewriting something and a new character will pop up where I’m not expecting it and I’ll have to incorporate that new character, things of that nature.

The chapter ends with a challenge to mix it up a bit. And I guess that my experiments with dictation might count for that. I could also maybe get Evelyn to sit down and have a writing day sometime. She has a picture series in her that I’ve been trying to get her to commit to because just maybe that will be the thing that brings her financial success.

At the very least, I want the books (about her Jack Russell mix dog) to be out there in the world.

*I know that a couple of posts ago I said that I was going to make those blankets into a new blanket, but now I’m thinking about knitting a coat out of them. The threads have all seen better days, so it would have to be a casual sort of coat. Also, I definitely plan to work two threads of each color so that it comes out sort of heathered. And also having four strands should mean that if any one (or even two) wear out, the whole thing won’t fall apart. I hope.

Tongue Biopsy Update

I had my biopsy on Wednesday. It’s Saturday night and my tongue still hurts. OMG.

The surgeon says that it doesn’t look like anything scary. It actually looks like a skin graft (N.B. Do not Google “tongue skin graft.” There are too many “before” pictures.). So we did the biopsy anyhow, just to make sure that it *isn’t* anything scary.

In other news, I’ve discovered that I subvocalize* when I write, but not so much when I read. I’ve been able to read pretty much nonstop without any pain, but even starting to compose posts is pretty uncomfortable.

I think that at least part of why my tongue still hurts is that I use it for so much. The surgeon said that there are no limitations on what I can eat, but some stuff hurts to eat because I move my tongue (like to scoop the food out from under my tongue) while I eat.

Also, my job is almost all talking. Whether at the drop-off window, the pickup window, answering the phone, or working “resolution,” I’m likely to have to talk to somebody — patients, doctors, coworkers, etc.. If I knew then what I know now, I would have taken Thursday off as well so I could rest my tongue.

I have a checkup on Tuesday and I’m going to try to go all day with minimal talking tomorrow. Hopefully I’ll feel better soon.

I’m trying to decide what I’ll eat once it is no longer so uncomfortable to eat. I’m thinking maybe a hamburger from either Culver’s or Whataburger. I’d hoped to make it a burger from Fletcher’s down at the Pearl tomorrow, but that’s not going to happen.

Today’s Gratuitous Amazon Link is West of the Moon, by Margie Preus. West of the Moon is the tale, inspired by someone that really existed, of Astri, who is sold by her aunt and uncle and escapes. Together with a mute girl and her younger sister, Astri begins a voyage from Norway to the United States.

*That’s when you move your tongue, larynx, etc. but aren’t actually talking.

I Have a Biopsy in 14.5 Hours

I chipped a tooth a month or so ago. Evelyn and I were eating curried chickpeas and potatoes over brown rice and some of the rice was a little hard. I bit down on a piece of rice, and felt a stabbing pain in my tooth and jaw.

I gave it some time to see if it was just a temporary pain or if I really chipped my tooth. And a week or so later, a small piece of tooth came out of my mouth. So I made an appointment with my dentist to have her look over the tooth, which was cracked, and so was another tooth on that same side.

While she was in there, I had her look at some pain I was having on the other side of my mouth. I was worried that it was a cavity, because it had been so painful for a while, but it turned out to be a big chunk of plaque that was scraping my gums.

While she was there, though, she said that there was a white mark on the side of my tongue. She gave me a whole list of things it could be, including candidiasis, and, well, I do take inhaled steroids and I’m not perfect about rinsing my mouth out. She agreed that was probably what it was and said she’d give me a prescription for nystatin.

Instead of nystatin, though, she referred me to an oral surgeon for a biopsy just in case it’s leukoplakia, because leukoplakia is potentially precancerous.

So. I called the oral surgeon and made the appointment, and it’s set for 2:30 pm this afternoon.

My anxiety leads me to catastrophize, so I half-expect him to take one look at my tongue and ask if I have my affairs in order because my tongue is going to kill me.

So. 14.5 hours to go. My pharmacist’s mother died from cancer, so she is very supportive of me finding out what it is and tackling it. My son has a vested interest in me getting this taken care of, particularly if it is potentially precancerous. I have an even more important interest in getting this taken care of.

I guess we’ll know what we know when we know it.

Oh, and I am taking care of my affairs. I’m doing housekeeping-type chores more than anything else. I’m knuckling down and getting those blankets unraveled so I can make new blankets from them. I’m shredding old junk mail and looking for memorabilia that might be mixed in with it. I’m reading and weeding my book collection (and then cataloguing the ones I’m keeping). Because the surgeon may decide that the white mark isn’t anything to worry about, but 65 people got killed by stray bullets in 2008 (nationwide) and so maybe there’s a stray bullet out there with my name on it. Maybe I’ll get hit in the head by a meteorite. Or maybe I’ll live to a ripe old age and just have less clutter in my life.

Gratuitous Amazon Link time! Today we have Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened, by Allie Brosh. I think I’ve posted this one before, but I love it so much that it’s worth posting again.

Creativity, 4/24/2022

I finished the first “pep talk” of Pep Talks for Writers: 52 Insights and Actions to Boost Your Creative Mojo. In it, Faulkner tells us that we don’t need permission to be creators. And I am, of course, already a creator. I knit and I crochet, and (inspired by Micarah Tewers), I’m thinking about getting back into sewing.

And I write. In the back of my head, I’d always planned to become a professional writer pulling down a full-time income. Of course, the way the world fell out, I will need two full-time incomes to have the life I want, but the professional writing thing would certainly work as one of my full-time incomes.

I’ve been toying with several novel ideas and I may put some time in on those as well as the blog. One of them was the gothic novel I talked about earlier this month. I also have a fantasy novel set in a female-dominated world where that is just as out of balance as our more male-oriented one is. The Journey song Wheel in the Sky has long made me think of a different fantasy novel, this one about someone questing for the cure for the illness of the queen of their land.

And then, just yesterday, I had an idea for an inside-out version of Beauty and the Beast, where the prince is cursed and, rather than looking for a way to break the curse, the government just names a regent, locks the prince away, and keeps going. Beauty is the daughter of a foreign dignitary who comes to their country and happens to overhear a conversation in which the regent is hiring someone to kill the prince, who is about to come of age. She decides that she needs to save the prince. Will they fall in love? I guess we’ll see when they finally meet. Will the curse be broken? Maybe. Maybe it’s just that land’s destiny to be ruled by a prince with a curse.

I may continue to massage these in my mind. But for now, I have this blog.

It’s Friday!

I’ve been subscribing to Amazon Prime for video because most of the things I’ve wanted to watch are on there. For example, The Wheel of Time, which I’ve written about here. Also, though, there was Undone and Hunters, which looked very interesting as well.

I think I started with Hunters and then watched Undone. To get my money’s worth, though, I’ve been looking for other things to watch. I’ve watched a few major movies, like Knives Out, some foreign films like The Great Hypnotist (a Chinese movie, and I loved it), and some foreign television series like You Are Wanted, which is from Germany.

Right now, though, my obsession is El Internado: Las Cumbres, which is from Spain and concerns students in a “boarding school” which has dark secrets (also, this season, dark lighting*, which is frustrating to me).

I don’t want to binge things. I know I can watch them again, but I like to savor my television shows. So, to that end, I’ve been watching El Internado one episode per Friday night. And it’s Friday night, so “Yay!”

Today’s Gratuitous Amazon Link will be Streetlights Like Fireworks, by David Pandolfe. Streetlights like Fireworks is a series about family, found and otherwise, teen runaways, and psychic powers. Such a good series. I was very disappointed that he ended with four books. Mr. Pandolfe, if you ever read this, please bring us back to Jack and Lauren’s story!

*They tell me that Netflix has a way to compensate for dark scenes like these, but Amazon Prime doesn’t. Get with the program Amazon Prime!

I’m Not Sure What I’m Doing Right Now

I’ve been just. Meh.

I’m cleaning and working on my wardrobe a bit. I’ve bought some books on the creative process that I’m going to start working my way through in hopes that —

Okay. I’m not sure that Alex is going to think of this but here goes. I had an aunt and have a cousin who were both members of the La Leche League, a group dedicated to breastfeeding babies. I didn’t know of any members of the LLL here in San Antonio or anything, but I bought a book called So That’s What They’re For! (Germane Amazon Link!) and would sit there and read it over and over while nursing Alex. It was a bit of work getting established but I successfully nursed him until he was six months old. It wasn’t completely exclusive — we had to supplement with formula for a couple of weeks — but it worked.

And now I’m wondering if I could use these books the same way.

I mean, I can’t literally read while I’m writing. I’m good, but I’m not that good. But I’m wondering if I could open, say, Pep Talks for Writers: 52 Insights and Actions to Boost Your Creative Mojo in one window and just flip back and forth whenever I begin to bog down in my writing.

Can’t hurt, right?

Anyway, I have been cleaning a lot. I didn’t really want a house. That was Thomas’s dream. But I have one now and I need to get this place under control. I’m getting rid of a decade worth of old junk mail and preparing a bunch of beautiful stuffed animals for donation. I’m hoping the Children’s Shelter can take them. I’d love for them to find homes with children who love them.

They’re all in like-new condition, but since they’re old, I’m sure there are dust mites and things in them. So, since the CDC says freezing can kill dust mites, I’m putting them in the freezer for 24 hours, then I’m putting them in my trunk, since I have a dark blue car, it will make them hot enough to kill any dust mites still left after freezing. Then I’m going to pop them in the dryer on fluff, which should remove the tiny corpses of the dust mites, put the stuffed animals in a box, and take them to the shelter.

I have three totes of stuffed animals that I’m going to treat this way. I’m not doing this with all of them, but if I can’t remember where the animal came from, it’s going to find a new human who will.

I’ve been downsizing my book collection, as well. I am rereading all of my books and selling the ones I don’t think I’ll read again to Half-Price Books. Hopefully I’ll have them narrowed down to a reasonable number someday. Maybe.

Gothic Romance Novels

I went through an extended gothic romance novel phase in my adolescence and young adulthood. In fact, gothic romance in the Victoria Holt mold has long been one of my go-tos when I think about writing a novel.

I had a novel that started out as Dark Shadows fanfic “plot bunny” bopping around in my head for a long time. And Dark Shadows definitely is gothic romance. I mean, you have the ingenue, the creepy mansion, the secrets, the handsome men with secrets, the whole nine yards.

I guess I need to give you a basic outline for Dark Shadows. The basic introductory plot of Dark Shadows is that young ingenue Victoria Winters is hired to become the governess of incorrigible David Collins in Collinsport, Maine. Victoria was a foundling raised in an orphanage in New York City. She was found outside the gate with a note saying, “Her name is Victoria. I cannot care for her.”

Victoria looks a lot like the mistress of Collinwood, Elizabeth Collins Stoddard and also like the daughter of the butler, Hanscomb. The daughter’s name, Betty, is a nickname for Elizabeth.

In my big fanfiction universe that I was writing, it was going to turn out that Elizabeth, Betty, and Victoria all had the same father — Jamison Collins. Jamison had a childhood crush on a maid named Beth, and so he names his daughters after her. This is why Victoria’s mother took her away and specified that her name was Victoria; to save her from becoming a Liz or a Lisa or Bess or whatever.

I need to get back to that story someday.

In my novel idea, though, the Elizabeth character was the mother of the Victoria character. She sent “Victoria” away in a failed attempt to break a family curse. The curse involves the eldest daughters in an unbroken line and by sending her eldest daughter away, “Elizabeth” figured that there would be no one to serve the monster in their cellar or whatever once she died and the curse would end.

The curse somehow drew “Victoria” back to “Collinwood,” and so “Elizabeth” and “Victoria” have to actually break the curse by action rather than inaction.

I may actually write the plot but leave the romance part out of it. Is there such a thing as an “aromance novel”? I’m not aromantic, but doing a bait-and-switch where the “Victoria” character decides to reject both potential romantic interests, saying that she wants to be unattached and work on herself and actually mean it.

The perfect ending would be for “Victoria” to go back to school with a view towards becoming something befitting the heroine of a gothic romance but also a growth industry, so not a nurse practitioner or a computer programmer.

Or maybe nurse practitioner would be a good fit for “Victoria.” I mean, it’s not really gothic, but it could be a good way for the residents of “Collinwood” to reconnect with the people of “Collinsport.”

Hm. I never thought about that. In fact, maybe that’s how “Victoria” breaks the curse — with her interest in science, or medicine, or helping people.

The more I think about this, the more I like it. How do I emphasize the aromantic aspect? I guess that’ll come to me later.

I’d like to do a Germane Amazon Link, but I cannot figure out how to search my Read Books for the tag “gothic.”

Okay. Now I’ve figured it out, I cannot find anything that I’ve read that makes the list other than Mexican Gothic, so I guess that’s my link for today. Fortunately, I love that book! 💖

Walk on the Riverwalk, March 19, 2022, Part 2

I’m hearing somebody doing I don’t know kind of cheer or something up ahead. They sound very excited, for whatever that’s worth. I hope I’m not walking into a riot or something. I guess we’ll figure out what it is when I get there.

I am passing yet another dam. This is the H.H. Hugman Dam and it used to mark the end of the Riverwalk. When they decided to make the Riverwalk go through from here, they cut a chunk out of the dam to make room for the boats to pass through.

The yelling from before has turned into music which is less concerning than the yelling was. That’s a good sign.

Once upon a time, there was a performance venue called the San Antonio Municipal Auditorium. The building was gorgeous. The actual performance area was . . . okay. Thomas and I saw Phantom of the Opera there in the 90s. In the early 2000s, the city decided that it needed a more state-of-the-art venue and so they razed all but the facade of the auditorium and built two new theaters onto the back. They named the building the Tobin Center, for Robert L.B. Tobin. The new building is this big metal box with lights on the outside and it’s pretty impressive at night. At the side of the building is an outdoor performance venue named for Will Naylor Smith. That seems to be where the music is coming from.. Let’s go closer and find out.

It seemed like I missed whatever it was because people are walking away carrying folding chairs. Maybe there is a sign indicating what it was.

I take that back. It looks like whatever it is it still going on. This is apparently some kind of St. Patrick’s Day event. The performance I was hearing was a punk band called Pinata Protest. That certainly explains the yelling.

It looks like there’s a parade on the River. Or maybe the parade is breaking up. I’ll have to look that up when I get home. I’m thinking that “I have to look that up when I get home” is the theme of this little experiment.

On my right now is the Southwest School of Art, which recently merged with… UTSA? Let’s all say it together. I’ll look it up when I get home. The site for the Southwest School of Art originally was the Ursuline Convent and Academy which was a Catholic girls’ school that was run by French nuns. French nuns formed a lot of San Antonio’s culture. We have the Ursuline Academy here and the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word founded the University of the Incarnate Word, Incarnate Word High School, and Santa Rosa Hospital.

This land here was the far north of San Antonio when the buildings were constructed for the school. As a result, they didn’t bother putting a fourth face on the clock on top of the building. If you were east, south, or west of the building, you could tell what time it is. If you were north, you were out of luck.

I’ve just arrived downtown and there’s this pergola thing that wasn’t there before on the other side of the river. I’m so glad I’m getting my knockoff GoPro soon. I’ll have to come back later and explore that area.

You you you you you ← I’m not sure what happened there. It’s so weird, though, that I decided to keep it.

I’m passing past another mosaic. This one is by Oscar Alvarado from 2002 and is of a bunch of famous buildings in the city and, for some reason, a dog. The buildings include the Tower of the Americas, the Tower Life Building, San Fernando Cathedral, and the Alamo. I’m trying to figure the dog out, but having no luck.

Mosaic, Riverwalk, by Oscar Alvarado, 2002

I’m almost to the place where I am going to turn around. I’m passing the Embassy Suites Hotel on my right. He hotel has a waterfall on the Riverwalk level and people are taking pictures in front it.

On my left there is a building that I used to know the name of. The name was basically the address “(number) Houston Street.” God only knows what that number is. I sure don’t.* There was some excitement about this building when they were constructing it. There was a movie palace called Texas Theatre that was on this site and they were going to take it down for the new building. The Conservation Society was trying to stop the building going up the injunction they needed came down when all that was left of the theater was the façade so the architects and engineers included the facade of the Texas Theatre in the front of the building.**

I’m under Houston Street now which is technically where I should turn around, but there have been parade floats coming up the river as I was walking down and I can see more coming, so I may just keep walking.

I’m on my back north. I stopped to watch the floats. There weren’t that many left.*** I went up to the surface and took some pictures of the IBC Center and the Hotel Valencia and then came back down.

*The number I was thinking of was 175 E. Houston and the name of the building is the IBC Center.

**At least, that’s the story. In order for that to be strictly true, though, they would have to have torn the Texas Theater down back-to-front and what are the odds? I wonder if either (a) the architects always intended to include the facade, or (b) they suspected that the Conservation Society would get their injunction, so they left the most attractive part for last. Now I think I’m going to have to take some time and research that.

***After I got back to the lock and dam, I found that the floats were gathering there, and then on my walk back to the Pearl, I saw people sitting down along the Riverwalk. I guess that the floats I saw were on their way to regroup for an evening parade farther north. I was running out of water, though, so I just headed back home. After all, I’d already seen the floats.