I stopped reading novels for the rest of this year, because they were squeezing out my writing time, which was already compressed by complications of the virus lockdown and being freshly married. An affectionate new spouse is hell on a schedule, as some of you may remember. That has been effective; in NoRemember I wrote chapters 9, 10 and 11 of Xanth #47 Apoca Lips, and am now about 83,000 words along in a projected 100,000 word novel. Apoca, she of the really hot lips, has a problem. All the girls like her handsome talented boyfriend, Prince Nolan Naga, and some of them are really sexy babes not at all shy about expressing their interest. Now they need the help of a sand witch, one who specializes in sand, and what she wants is Nolan to be her very own. Yes, she's an ugly crone, but she has witchly illusion to make her the hottest babe yet. Think of the sand shifting in a scantily clad hourglass figure, especially when she turns around. What to do? Well, they decide – oops, this is supposed to be a general information and opinion column. No need to bore you further. I hope to complete the novel by the end of the year, and you'll be able to read it in due course, sand and all.
At any rate, I made an exception by reading a nonfiction book written by the other bestselling novelist here in Citrus County, Florida. We have known each other for decades, and in 2011 I reviewed the book by her adopted daughter. three little words (intentional lower caps) by Ashley Rhodes-Courter. They are not the words you might think, and it is a caution about adopting a teen or pre-teen, as I think Ashley herself would agree. I speak as one who once feared that we would be unable to have our own children, after Carol had three miscarriages. But we suspected that the hidebound adoption agencies would rule out a politically independent vegetarian agnostic fantasy writer with uncertain income as a suitable parent. Fortunately our luck changed, in that and other respects. The current book is Quarantine! by Gay Courter, subtitled How I Survived the Diamond Princess Coronavirus Crisis. Phil and Gay Courter were on a cruise ship in the Orient in February 2020 when the coronavirus-19 pandemic broke out, and someone aboard the ship came down with it. The ship was quarantined, and they were stuck on it as the malady spread to other passengers. They were at high risk, being in their 70s. They took the precautions of masking and social distancing, but how much can you do when locked in confined quarters with 3711 people aboard and you have to breathe the risky air conditioning? They wanted to get the bleep off that boat. The US government hardly seemed to care. So they mounted a publicity campaign, hoping to bestir the governments of all the international passengers so that they would fetch them off the ship before they caught the plague. They were finally successful, but it was at times an ugly struggle, and leaving the ship was not the release expected. The quarantine stalked them relentlessly.
This book is, incidentally, a nice premier on exotic cruises. A family of retirement age could have a wonderful time, with elegant cuisine, marvelous international travel, dances, household services provided, and compatible fellow travelers. At least until the Virus bid fair to convert Heaven to Hell. They finally got off the ship but... “Several people got off the bus because they needed a bathroom, not that there were any in sight. Much later were heard that the only option had been to pee in the rain.” Men in hazmat suits guarded them, as if they were toxic. “Great understatements in history: Pompeii—'a bit of a dust storm,' Hiroshima—'a bad summer heat wave,' and Wuhan--'just a bad flu season.'” When they landed in Texas “The fog was as thick as the proverbial pea soup. Haloed lights dotted the presumed airfield. Humans in white-hooded jumpsuits looked like larvae laid by the white-winged leviathan.” “But you don't expect that your luxury cruise will harbor a killer virus, resulting in your being returned to the US in a cargo plane that lands at a remote Air Force base where you are ordered into federal quarantine for a minimum of two weeks, leaving you without rights, without agency, and on the wrong side of a heavily guarded fence in a room that smells like an outhouse.” They had to use their towels to soak up the water that had leaked onto the floor. Gay threw a fit, but was stuck in the outhouse. Finally, eventually, amazingly they did make it home to Florida, physically and emotionally the worse for wear, suffering delayed stress syndrome. “We have no respect for leaders who believe the bottom line is more important than human lives.” Welcome to America!
I note that extraordinary precautions were taken to guarantee that Phil and Gay did not bring the Virus into the USA. So how is it that it quickly spread here, with a quarter million dead and still counting? Had similar measures been taken nationally at the outset, America could have avoided both the horrendous illness and death count, and the economic devastation. The Obama administration left a blueprint for handling a pandemic—which was ignored. The virus was fake news that would soon dissipate on its own. When belated lockdowns occur, there are street protests. Folk demand their right to spread the mischief to their neighbors and friends. Skeptics dying of it beg for the magic medicine to abolish this hoax. Ignorance really can kill you. Are we a society of idiots? The light at the end of the tunnel we hope is not the lamp of an oncoming locomotive; it is the Vaccine. I understand that there is a takeoff on a Dolly Parton song, “Jolene”: “Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine/ I'm begging of you, please go in my arm/ Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine/ Please just keep me safe from COVID harm.” Dolly Parton made a one million dollar gift to help develop that vaccine. There is evidently more to her than her appearance. I remember the joke she told on herself, that she came from the mountains of Tennessee, and she brought the mountains with her. I always did like that song; now it has new meaning.
I got new programmable ergonomic keyboards, and am now using them for my novel writing, my incidental notes, email, and this column. I am still getting used to them, but already my maddening typos as I change keyboards are decreasing. I use the original Dvorak key layout, the one that existed before the computer industry arbitrarily changed the punctuation, apparently just because it could, and it has been a constant hassle as updates mess up my system. With the programmed keyboard, it will no longer matter what games the programmers play. They did succeed in taking away my macros, but maybe that's the end of their mischief. Or am I deluding myself, like those who ignore the Virus?
We had another trail cut around the edge of our tree farm, so now we can get anywhere on it with the Mule ATV. We hope to have things like picnics by the shore of Lake Tsoda Popka, as it borders us on two and a half sides. We discovered an illicit deer hunting stand we hadn't known about, and a number of fine cypress trees with their surrounding knees. When I was young it was thought that the existence of cypress knees was a mystery, so I figured it out for myself. Cypress grows typically in muck, in areas subject hurricanes, so they protect themselves from the high wands that try to blow them over by radiating their roots out, finding the surface of the water or mud, and making sharp turns back down. The knees. Thus they have a circle of supportive roots extending well out and that keeps them stable. They also have thin profiles, giving the wind little purchase. They are smart handsome trees, and I like them.
I remarked a column or three back how my dreams seem unmemorable, if I can remember them at all. Well, I had one. I was checking our long drive, and my companion was driving the Mule. Then she got caught in Reverse and veered crazily, finally crashing into the neighbor's brick house. There was not much damage, but the neighbor and her children came out. I told her it was our fault and we would cover the cost of any repairs. Then I remembered something, and said “I trust you know this is the second time we banged your house today. Oops, no; the first time was in a dream.” Then I had a realization. “In fact, so is this time.” And I woke up. As I tried to place the confused elements of the dream, I realized that it must have been MaryLee driving the Mule, because we didn't have it when my wife Carol was alive. But we have no neighbors in sight, and no brick walls, and no children; it must have been our former property, over 30 years ago; that neighbor did have children, but no brick house. But we had no ATV then. So it doesn't seem to make much sense, in the rational level. What sense it makes psychologically I can't say. That my present life is a mishmash of losses, new things, and irrelevant memories? Sometimes I wonder how Wife #1 and Wife #2 would get along, if they could meet. Would they like each other? But where would that leave me? In an awkward position, perhaps.
We continue with our Sunken Garden. I bury our kitchen garbage in it weekly, letting it compost. The Pink Hibiscus plant I grew from an accidentally broken branch is now thriving, fully protected from predators at last, and flowering again. The Papaya tree is putting forth new leaves, flowering, and forming fruits, but they are falling off after a few days. I don't know whether that's normal. Some flower plants are shutting down for the winter, but others continue. The old wildflower seeds I planted never came up, but there are some weeds, I mean genuine wildflowers. The lettuce I started in the hydroponic setup and later transplanted to the Garden finally went to seed and expired, but the tomatoes continue. Those who are interested in gardening can check a couple more links. One is https://www.simplegrowsoil.com/. The other is https://wellgardening.com/the-science-of-composting/ I think there's a lot to be said for home gardening, of whatever nature, flowers, vegetables, but no, not marijuana. And, yes, composting for recycling of organic waste. Maybe this helps mitigate the damage mankind is doing to the natural realm.
Clippings: item in the newspaper says lightning “superbolts” can be a thousand times as bright as regular ones, and five times as hot as the surface of the sun. Wow! Our area is near the thunderstorm capital of America; I hope those bolts stay clear of my little tree farm. A mystery silver colored monolith was found in the Utah desert, eleven feet tall, three sided, stainless steel. Who erected it there? It dates back at least to 2016. Ten days after it was spotted, it disappeared. Who took it away? The pictures show what looks like a giant ogre face behind it; maybe that's a clue. Is there life on Venus? Phosphine gas in the atmosphere might be produced by living microbes; there are not many inanimate processes that could account for it. Maybe the alien monolith placers have a base on Venus? Essay by Dahleen Glanton, who is black, says “I'm all for healing. But if you call me the N-word, I'll never forgive you.” She doesn't much like the B-word or the C-word either. “It is not incumbent on the target of hatred to reconcile with the hater. Nor am I the one who needs healing the most. It's the haters who are rotting with vitriol.” Damn well told, Dahleen. Racism, like sexism and ageism, remains endemic in the world. If I could wave a magic wand to abolish a category without remaining trace, I would target the bigots. That's my B-word, rather than the one that refers to a lady dog. Letter in the local newspaper suggests that we can eliminate the need for toilet paper by purchasing an available toilet seat that has a built in bidet. That interests me. One of my pet peeves is toilet paper that comes apart in use, as most brands do. Astronomers may have found Hell. This is a planet 200 light years away, K2-141b, the size of Earth, orbiting very close to its star with brightside temperatures of 5,400F and darkside minus 328. It has 60 mile deep lava seas, 3,000 mph winds, and rocks rain from the skies. No they don't yet have guided tours, but maybe you can get in line for tickets when. Star Trek dates back over 50 years. Now it seems there are new versions, like Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Picard, and Star Trek: Lower Decks. That last is an animated series being watched by all the cool people. Sigh; this is the first I've heard of it. Maybe some year I'll be cool enough to get to see it. Some folk claim that hot water can freeze faster than cool water. It is called the Mpemba effect. I never believed it, but it seems that now there is a study that may prove it. Bring it on, claimants. Do deep space wormholes exist? You know, like black holes that connect different parts of the cosmos so that maybe you could jump to other galaxies instantly? I am a skeptic, though I use them in my fiction. One of my concerns is that you might make the trip and emerge a tiny fraction of the size of atom. Let someone else try it first to be sure of the decompression. Does life exist on other worlds? Article in NEW SCIENTIST 29 August 2020 suggests that maybe we should broaden our concept of habitability beyond earthlike worlds. Planets very different from ours might support life very different from ours. Even some orphan worlds cruising through space without stars. There might be hundreds of billions of them in our own galaxy. One might even be our own lost Planet Nine, stolen by the sun's nefarious sibling. Not necessarily related is the fact that astronomers have discovered the first planet outside our galaxy. M51-ULS-1b is 28 million light years from us, in the Whirlpool Galaxy. Now we can all be jealous of those who reside in a more scenic galaxy than ours. The touted Paleo diet, supposedly that of early hunter-gatherers and therefore ideal because we evolved on it, may not be all that great after all, article in NEW SCIENTIST 3 October 2020 says. It may cause you to biologically age, compared to the norm, maybe shortening your life. Not that other diets are necessarily better; folk on low-carb, high-fat diets may have biological ages two years older. Drinking more than minimum alcohol also ages you. Even eating organic food does it. So what is beneficial? Vegetarianism. This pleases me. I turned vegetarian at age 18 not for my health, but because I didn't like hurting animals. But I'm glad to learn it is healthy. I am an octogenarian, but am told I look like a septuagenarian, and can act younger yet, as my wife can testify. Who is healthier, men or women? PARADE indicates that the case is mixed, with men having more illness in a lifetime, but women suffering more depression and later dementia. Women do live longer, and that may be what counts. I wonder whether the way men try to protect women helps. I love the look and feel of women, and want them to achieve a better position in our sundry society.
Here's wishing all my readers and maybe a few others a happy holiday season. Death to the Virus! As poet Dylan Thomas put it, do not go gentle into that good night.
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