"[A Robe of Feathers is] all fascinating material—very fresh to Western ears in both subject material and characterization—and comes to us wrapped in some of the most gorgeous prose I've read in a while. The stories are eerie, at times disturbing, occasionally sweet natured, but always compelling. A Robe of Feathers is truly a unique collection that suits no easy categorization except that of excellence."
When I was small I often went to the beach with my parents. I loved the ocean. Oh~, how I loved the ocean. I loved everything about it: water, sand, sun, and especially I loved bouncing around in the waves. Occasionally, however, all that silly fun would come to a sputtering end.
Whether I was too caught up in my surf jumping antics to notice, or it was one of those sinister rogue waves you hear about, I don’t know. But sure enough, I would suddenly be lifted off my feet, tossed around, and then pushed all the way to the down to the ocean floor. There my limp little body would get dragged back and forth over the sand and rocks and shells. Helpless. Cheese grater-style. It was terrifying.
Now, I’m sure anyone who has been to the beach as a kid knows this experience well. Not a super big deal.
Except that it’s a unique kind of panic that comes out of nowhere. One moment you’re a mermaid frolicking in the surf with sunlight glittering off your golden locks, the next moment: scrape, scrape, scrape.
The confusion is absolute. You have no idea which way is up or even how far up is, because the one thing you are very aware of is that you’re farther from the shoreline than you were seconds ago. Up is a long, long way away. And that’s when it hits you: You’ve not only been pulled from the shallow end of the sea, you’re not absolutely sure how long those last, quickly gasped, two lungs full of air are going to last you.
In too many ways to mention, that’s kind of how 2016 felt like for me. I’m guessing it’s kind of been like that for a lot of people. But in my case, it got personal.
The beginning of 2016 was most definitely joyous, bouncing around in the happy waves of life (first a trip to Portland to meet my writing buddy and then hole up in a gorgeous house for a week-long writing retreat; also, I lost a bit of weight last year).
The end part of 2016 though…
Another anticipated writing-related trip and my first ever convention didn’t quite go as planned. In fact, it turned into me flat on my back in the ER.
2016 tried to kill me.
My first instinct is to go into 2017 with trepidation. For absolutely sure, our icons aren’t going to stop dying, and the political environment isn’t going to magically heal itself. To the contrary, things are going to get worse before they get any better. But all that is on the very fringes of my radar. I’m worried about me and my ticking time bombs (I’ve got two now.)
But you know what? So what.
2017 will be the year that I am going to make a couple of big changes. By big I mean bigly! Hugely, maybe. Tremendous, no doubt(※)!
I’m absolutely terrified of all the unknowns. There are so many things that can go wrong. But then again, there are so many things that can go right, right? I just don’t know, and I’m not smart or wise enough to play out all the scenarios and how I’ll react to them. Nothing is going to change unless I do. If there is one thing I think a lot of us (re)-learned from 2016, it’s that we’re all mortal and we really don’t have the foggiest idea long we’ve got on this mortal coil.
Right now I am that limp little body-of-a-girl realizing something has to be done. I’m looking around frantically trying to judge which way it up. Scary as change is, I can’t just continue to be scrubbed back and forth along the bottom of the ocean floor, My Life. So in 2017, I’m going to kick hard against the sand and the rocks and the shells and to that sparkly surface I see way up there. I have no idea how far it is or if these two lungs full of air are going to last me to the top. But I have to try. I’d like to believe I’ll make it, and again there will be sun on my face and diamonds in my hair, and again I’ll be happy. Deep down happy with what I’ve accomplished on my own.
(Side note: Because I have experienced again and again and am deeply aware of the tittering irony that seems to accompany me throughout my life, I’m hoping when I do break the surface I’ll look over and I won’t be a mile and half from the shore.)
I like this quote: “Ships in harbor are safe. But that’s not what ships were made for.” (John A. Shedd)
I’m going to repeat that to myself this coming year. My mantra.
I hope that everyone of you have an amazing 2017, that you stay mind bogglingly healthy and as much as possible sail away from the safe waters to experience new and exciting adventures, exotic islands and loopy mermaids bouncing around in the surf, because you deserve it.
Happy Year of the Chicken!
(※) I’ll blog about the big changes more when my ducks (chickens?) are more in straight rows and marching in time. Right now those bastards are all over the place.
The whole ordeal started (I guess) a year ago. After Clarion West I decided to get in shape. I began walking daily and paying attention to what I ate. By June I was walking two to three hours a day, stretching, lifting light weights, and eating pretty well. Without much effort at all I managed to lose almost fifty pounds. I was happy, feeling good, and maybe a little cocky.
When the rainy season hit I cut my walking down to only a couple times a week. Soon after, the weather turned hot. Summer in Japan is its own special kind of hell, a constant sweaty, melty kind of hell. It was okay though. I didn’t have to walk anymore. I’d already lost the weight and I was busy working on computer stuff anyway. I became completely sedentary. Add to that recipe the fact that I am most likely chronically dehydrated at any given time.
About a month before returning to the U.S. to visit my parents and attend World Con my back started to hurt. It was the same ache as all my other sitting-too-long aches, so I didn’t pay it much attention. I figured it would go away. Eventually.
[Side note: While Googling around I read over and over that a lot of the time there are no symptoms with deep vein thrombosis, or the symptoms are such that they go undiagnosed. Scary stuff.]
Okay, now fast forward to my flight from Japan to Omaha on August 5th. I always get a window seat and hole up. I don’t sleep well on planes, so when I do finally doze off I don’t want to be interrupted by someone needing to leave their seat or slip back in. On the other hand, I also don’t want to be that person who is interrupting someone else trying to grab a few Zzzs on a long flight. I kill two birds with one stone by not moving the entire trip. Or drink either. I get up only once at the ten-hour mark, after that last meal of dusty omelet and tasteless fruit. Until then I’m good.
Only this last time when I was leaving my seat at my usual hour-before-landing time – scooching to reach the aisle – a near debilitating pain shot from my lower back all the way down my leg. I could hardly walk. I assumed I’d just slept wrong and had a kink that would work itself out while hurrying to make my connecting flight in Minneapolis.
It never worked itself out.
Once at mom and dad’s house the pain was worrisome but manageable with enough pain meds (stupid, I know). I debated over and over going to the hospital, but no insurance and all. So, no. I didn’t go. I self diagnosed myself with sciatica. It was textbook. But sciatica is a symptom. The underlying condition is what needs to be found. My self-diagnosis was I slept funky on the plane. That and I’m no spring chicken.
It was on the fourth day in Omaha that things got super shitty. Painkillers, no matter how many I took, didn’t make a dent. My leg felt extremely heavy, and my lower back pain was now shooting down the front if my leg, too. There was also constant tingling and numbness and heat. The whole kit and caboodle. I cried a lot, too. Still no trips to the doctor yet.
That all changed on day four. I happened to be wearing a pair of jeans with holes in them, fashionista that I am. Ahem. My dad was teasing me, asking why I’d pay good money for ripped up jeans. I was about to tell him how cool they looked on me when I glanced down and noticed my legs through the holes. The right one was pink, the left a dark black-purple. On further examination that left leg was also twice the size of the other. No question about it. ER.
Then things got exciting.
The ER doctor knew exactly what he was dealing with. Especially after he asked if I’d taken any long trips recently. They did ultrasound on the veins and arteries in the leg. Good news: No clots in leg. Bad news: The blood was flowing into my leg, but not leaving, something was blocking it farther up.
Back in for CAT scan of my pelvic area. Then the really bad news: loads of clots all up in my iliac vein, so far up the CAT scan couldn’t even see them all.
The mood turned pretty grim. The doctor was upset. The nurses were upset. I was upset. The doctor held my hand and told me that it’s all very concerning, dangerous, but they got this. They’re on it. The nurse hugged me and held my shoulders and looked into my eyes and told me I was going to be okay.
I said I had to pee.
Little did I know there would be no standing, no getting vertical, no eating for the next three days.
A bigger hospital was notified, an ambulance called. While I waited for the ambulance to arrive, I was given my first heparin shot and told off-handedly how it’s called the bleed-out drug (“There have been so many accidents.”), and it can’t be given unless two nurses are present and check each other’s work. (The next day they actually had to reduce my dosage because I was bleeding too much.)
The paramedics came to shuffle me away and the doctor shook my hand and thanked me, saying he’d never seen such a thing, all those clots in the iliac vein. I was his first. You’re, um, welcome, I said.
The ambulance ride was mellow, no flashing lights or Bat turns. They were going to drive extra carefully, they said. The head paramedic explained to me that if I had a pulmonary embolism in route I’d most likely be okay, because I was young (thank you, dude) and had strong lungs.
New hospital. Blur. Meeting several vascular surgeons. Blur. More tests. Blur. Surgery pushed ahead of other surgeries. I’d be going in at seven am the following day.
The procedure was to go in behind my knee and use a drug called tPA to dissolve the clot while sucking it all out along the way. If they couldn’t get it all, the catheter would stay in my leg and they’d continue the next day. Because it wasn’t just the iliac vein but all the little side roads too, it was a hugely pain-in-the-ass thing to do. My surgeon (Dr. Brown) is a saint. A very talented and brilliant saint.
I have no veins in my arms. People think I’m exaggerating but I’m not. The absolute worst part of the four days in the hospital was them trying to find veins for blood work and failing again and again. My arm looked so bad the nurses were cringing.
During the first surgery (yes, they had to go back in a second day), my vein blew toward the end of the procedure. I woke up in post op and it was just like an episode of ER, except I was the one on the gurney looking up. All sorts of people above me, serious, working quickly, calling out fancy medical talk-things to each, that high note of panic in the air.
A dude was trying desperately to locate another vein when my back began to spasm. I was able to say, back… upper back. And then as the spasms grew worse I cried out, chest! That hepped up the anxiety in the room real good. Something was pumped into my oxygen and I was out. I vaguely remember my doctor using a portable ultra sound device to put a midline in my bicep.
I woke up in my lovely hospital room. It really was lovely. All the nurses were sweet, the place was spacious, mom and dad and friends were there. I even had beautiful flowers and baskets of goodies waiting for me!
That first day after surgery I learned that heparin is kinda the devil. I mean it saved my life, so thank you heparin. It prevents further clotting. But it also prevents ALL clotting. It also makes you pee bright red blood, which is quite shocking when you look down at your catheter and see that for the first time. The incision in the back of my leg just free bled the entire time. I kept asking them to stop it, but they couldn’t. They can only watch the amount of blood lost and calculate if it’s too much or not. I soaked pillows. It was gross.
I remember morphine shots and Valium shots, friends searching all the hospitals in Omaha to find me. Mom and dad there the entire time. Grapefruit scented facial wipes, lollipops, and a little teddy bear I slept with. I remember Skyping with my best friend in Japan to keep me calm.
Sometime during the day I began to have a dry cough and I noticed I could only fill my lungs to something like 1/3 capacity. My chest hurt. I’d learn later that I had suffered a very small pulmonary embolism. I guess the guy from the ambulance was right.
The next day I went into surgery again. More cleaning out. Dr. Brown said she’d gotten all the new clots, but there were some old ones up in the iliac vein that she didn’t want to disturb for fear of knocking them loose and shooting them somewhere in my body they shouldn’t be. The blood flow past them, though, looked very good.
On the fourth day I was able to stand up, pee all by myself, and go home (mom and dad’s home, that is). The jury was out on when I could come back to Japan. Someone told me I wouldn’t be flying for at least six months. Another doctor said I could fly tomorrow. My surgeon said, let’s wait two weeks and then decide. She called it voodoo and said no one really knows. I liked her honesty.
So, my first week back at mom and dad’s I was having outrageous headaches. Can’t get out of bed headaches.
Now I’m on a newish blood thinner called Xarelto. Xarelto has an unpleasing side effect sometimes: Brain hemorrhages.
Cue another trip to the ER.
It was funny (if that’s the word I want to use). They remembered me and all I had to do was tell them I was having headaches and the entire room turned solemn and knew exactly what to do. I guess they’d seen those dreadful infomercials about Xarelto, too. Long story short: smiling ER doc bursting into my room and saying there was no brain bleeding or freaky tumors. Cheers all around. Go home. Chill.
Eventually the headaches faded. My surgeon and I think they might have been related to the severe spasms I was having after that first surgery. Who knows.
Two weeks later and I saw my Dr. Brown again. My leg looked fine. I felt fine. We talked for a lovely long time and she gave me the all-clear to travel with the strict rules of standing up and moving my legs every thirty minutes to an hour, staying hydrated, and wearing compression socks (sexy).
That was one long flight. I have become that nerd in front of the toilets doing squats and stretching. I embrace that nerd.
So, the prognosis is I will have to stay on Xarelto for six months to a year. I’ll also need to have a bunch of tests done (here in Japan) to see if I have some genetic predisposition to blood clots or if this truly was a series of bad choices that caused the darn things. Also, compression socks at all times. (That’s a harder nerd to embrace, I tell ya.) I need to be looked at for a long time. I may, at some future date, need a stint. We’ll see.
I can’t even tell you the moral of the story. Stay hydrated, walk around on long flights. When you’re sitting for extended periods remember to move, stretch, flex your legs, especially your calves. You can also start eating natto if you’d like, as it has clot-busting properties, evidently.
Even after having gone through this whole ordeal there are still so many questions I have. Did the clots start in my legs and move? Or did they start in my pelvic region, and why? And how? When I asked the doctors they all said I’d never know. Voodoo, I guess. The longer I live, and the more stuff that happens to me the more this sounds like a valid answer. Whatever the answer, whatever the question, I think you can’t go wrong with staying hydrated and moving your body and limbs whenever possible. Compression socks, on the other hand? They suck.
Super greasy me happy as crap I can stand up and walk around
I’ve had stories published, and I’ve had people from all over the world read them. I’ve had people love them, hate them, and be absolutely indifferent to them. Sometimes, when I’m lucky, I even have people take valuable time out of their days to look up my address, sit down, and send me an email just to let me know how much a certain story meant to them.
See that last sentence? That’s the opposite of the title of this blog post. That’s the best part of being a writer. Having someone (not your mom) write you to tell you how a story moved them? That’s like Heisenberg-brand Sky Blue right there. (All the benefits of crystal meth, but you get to keep your teeth.)
Everything in my life is filtered through the lens of me, Terrie, the writer.
Not that I go into situations mining them for story. I don’t. Not usually.
Okay, I sometimes do. I admit to taking more than my fair share of stupid risks just to know how something was done or what it felt like to do it.
But most of the time, no, I’m not living with my eye on writing a story about whatever experience I might be having. Instead, I try to live as close to the heart and gut as possible. I want to live honestly. Some experiences are pure joy while others are utter hell. And of course, there is everything in between.
The stories that seem to resonate with the most people are the ones where I’ve really dug deep and dredged up some emotional shit, tried to make sense of it even.
Okay, here’s where I get to the worst part of being a writer.
When I’m writing – especially when I’m writing full-on (up to eight hours a day, recently) – I can’t turn off the tap, so to speak. When I’m cutting as deep as I can go to get to feelings and emotions that I want to express as authentically as I can, I’m there, and I just can’t stand up, stretch my back and walk away from the page and be “okay”, and in some even-keeled mindset again.
Does that make sense?
I’m emotional and drained and weepy and maybe, if it’s a happy tale, I’m elated and weepy in a better way. Basically, I’m wrecked. I haven’t moved in eight hours and I’m exhausted.
The worst part of being a writer is not the horribly aching back, stiff shoulders, blurry eyes, oatmeal brain, no money, and no social life. The worst part of being a writer is the part when I unintentionally hurt my friends.
I hurt them because I can’t pull out of the story or the emotions that I’m exploring while writing it. I do step away from the computer to email, Skype, and chat with them, but I’m afraid I’m an emotional mess.
Sometimes I need the solace of a good friend to comfort me. Sometimes I’m so beaten up inside my head and my heart that all I want to do (in lieu of a hug) is curl up in a fetal position at a friend’s feet and ask them to please pet me on the head, to please kneel down and whisper in my ear, “It’ll be okay. I’m here. It’ll be okay.”
But right here in the grind of it, I can’t help feeling that this “asking” is asking too much. Over and over again, that I am draining those closest to me, and that is horribly unfair to them. That right there, that last sentence, that is something I just can’t bear.
But the thing is, when I’m done, when I’m in a stronger place, I hope that I’m also a stronger person for having made that little emotional journey, having created a story that never existed before, that only exists because of me. And I hope that because of that, I can give something back to those friends who were there for me. Because I want to give back. I want to give back more than they gave me even.
At the moment it doesn’t seem fair. And I’m finding it very hard not to beat myself up about it.
The inferior man blames others.
The regular man blames himself.
The superior man knows there is no one to blame. He looks at life with clearer, more objective eyes.
Until very recently I blamed myself for everything that went wrong around me, whether it was my fault or not. Hell, whether it involved me or not. Recently, though, I’m trying to look with clearer eyes, more objective eyes.
I’m a writer. It’s what I do. It’s who I am.
I don’t want to apologize for that. I don’t want to change that. It’s important to me that I do this. Flaying yourself and examining your emotions is a part of being human, no? Don’t we all do it? Or is it just my warped understanding of life? I think it’s okay to hurt, to despair, to be jealous, to seethe, to desire, to know these emotions, but figure out a way not to be ruled by them.
In the end, it’s even more important to love, be kind, help others, and nurture. This is what I want to do. It’s the goal. I love my friends and my family with every fiber of my being.
The worst part of being a writer is when the balance is off. When I hurt my friends, the people I love. It’s when I need too much from them, expect too much from them, and hurt them because I’m reeling from emotions I’ve been wrestling with all day. All those times when it feels like I have nothing to bring to the table.
But this is who I am.
I can’t say enough how thankful and grateful I am for the friends who understand and accept this ‘me’, as difficult and draining as I know I am at times. When I’m this much of a mess, it’s you who gets me through the day, you who are there, leaning over and patting me on the head and scratching behind my ears and whispering down: “It’ll be okay. I’m here. It’ll be okay.”
What I really want them all to know is that I will give back again, I will love, and be kind, and support, and nurture again. But for now, while I’m in the heat of it and can’t step away from this emotional tempest, I just want to say this: I appreciate you. I respect you. I admire you. I’d take a freaking bullet for you. Please know if it wasn’t for you I couldn’t bear any of this. I love you.
It’s kind of true. I go for an early morning walk roughly the same time every day. For a month or so now when I get to a certain point on that walk, I come across this crow sitting on top of a huge mound of dirt. Since I have nothing better to do, I talk to it. “Hey there. What’s up? You going to warn me if an earthquake is coming?”
Sometimes it just stares at me like I’m an idiot. Sometimes it cocks its little crow head. (…Like I’m an idiot.)
I walk on.
This had been going on for awhile, and he wasn’t there all the time — like once every four or five walks. And no real conversation had taken place yet either. But I’m nothing if not an aspiring optimist. So I kept trying.
Then one day I was actually talking on Skype with a friend when I passed the dirt mountain. Despite the fact I was prattling away and had earbuds in, I heard this loud cawing nearby. I popped out an earbud and to my surprise the crow was sitting there, bobbing his head, and making a fuss.
I was so excited! He’s talking to me!
My interpretation: He was upset because I hadn’t given him proper morning greetings that day.
Suffice it to say, it was from that day onward that I was convinced I could converse with crows. Or I could with some practice. It would take time. But him and I? We had a connection!
Now fast forward to yesterday. I was walking my walk, but my regular crow was absent. No hurt feelings here. He’s got a life, too. But farther along I spotted three crows hanging out by some rice fields and a small stream. I did what anyone would do in that situation. I stopped a little distance away and started chatting them up. “Hey, I see there are three of you. Friends? Come here often?”
To my surprise they all seem really interested in what I had to say. I mean, they weren’t flying away. So I kept talking, letting them know I get them. I understand. Meanwhile, the whole time I’m thinking holy cow (!) I’m really doing this. I’m like the crow whisperer or something!
I step closer, closer. They’re still not flying away. They’re still hugely interested in what I’m saying. Now I’m thinking I’m some kind of crow linguist savant. Maybe I can write a book. Or star in a TV show. Something pu tout by National Geographic or the Animal Channel.
Talk. Talk. Talk.
Step. Step. Step.
This could be my THING!
Just when my conversation is getting a little more complex, and I’m trying to explain the Brexit vote to them and why they should be worried, I take one more step. I’m right up on them.
They caw and hop-fly a little distance away. What did I say? Come on?
Then I see why they were so reluctant to leave in the first place. Why they put up with my inane chattering.
*Warning: Photo of dead aquatic animal below.*
Yup. Someone had (maybe them?) caught an eel and tossed it up on to that concrete thing. It wasn’t necessarily my witty banter that kept them from fleeing. It was a delicious breakfast.
Which made me sad and then made me remember my original crow, the one that hangs out on the dirt mound. Maybe he’s really not into me. Maybe it’s not into my winning personality or my sparkling charm at all. Maybe there are just a whole bunch of juicy worms buried in that humongous dirt mountain, and he’s just guarding them … from me.
But I’m nothing if not an aspiring optimist, so I remember that day he called out to me when I passed without addressing him. That happened! Maybe it’s not that I *can’t* converse with crows. It’s just I’m getting the vocabulary wrong. I’m still convinced he was trying to tell me something. Perhaps it wasn’t, “Hey, you didn’t say hi this morning.” It could have been, “Big juicy worm! RIGHT HERE! You should see this!”
So not a real conversation…yet. But I’ll take it. It’s a start.
An onigiri is a rice ball. The verb nigiru meaning to shape or mould something in your hand(s), not unlike, um, a rice ball. It’s also important to note that rice balls are the standard, go-to, easy-peasy meal of choice all over Japan (what a peanut butter and jelly sandwich was to my generation when I was growing up).
It’s not an exaggeration to say that since coming to Japan I’ve made hundreds of these sticky fellas. I’ve wetted and salted my hands, tucked salmon or tuna or pickled plums inside, and squish-squish-squished the rice into an onigiri. Or at least some malformed, gaijin version of one. Sometimes I even wrapped them in nori-seaweed.
But, alas, the boy-child has moved out of the house, and my husband doesn’t eat rice, nor do I. So no more rice balls.
That is until just recently, when I discovered someone kicked the whole onigiri meal up a notch. It’s this thing called onigirazu (<–That’s the negative form of the verb right there.) *Not* to shape or mould something in your hand. Brilliant. Just brilliant.
After further study, I found that not only do you *not* shape the rice in your hands (which if we’re being honest here is actually the most exciting part of making the darned things), but you can add any ingredients you can possible dream up. You’re not stuck with the traditional salmon, tuna, and pickled plum fare.
So I thought, hey, why not? I’ll give them a try. Here’s my second attempt at making onigirazu. (First attempt = hideous = me weeping into my apron.)
First, you decide what you want in your not-a-rice-ball rice ball.
Next, on a piece of Saran Wrap you lay out nori (a special kind of nori that as far as I can tell is only different in that it is salted and more expensive). Then spread on some rice, thinly. Thinly now. Don’t make the same mistake I made that first time. #rememberhideous
Then you pile on all your goodies, in any old order, I guess. Mayonnaise FTW! Top all this off with another thin layer of rice (Not shown because it would cover up the yummies).
Pro tip: If you put the cheese on top of the warm rice it gets melty~.
Next (and this is the hard part), you fold those four corners over to make a little package. This is where the Saran Wrap comes in handy. To do it properly you kind of have to hold the whole thing down and press on it, so the rice warms the nori and softens it and it forms a nice shape. (Seriously, this isn’t as easy as they make it sound, and also…it feels a whole lot like “moulding” in your hands when you’re doing it. Just sayin’.)
But then it finally keeps its shape and you get to retrieve your sharpest knife and you cut that puppy in half (or in fours for the wee ones!)
They’re veritable rice sandwiches! Which might not sound as melodious as onigirazu, but hey(!), if it’s got lettuce and mayonnaise and some sort of luncheon meat on it, it’s a sandwich in my book. (Bread’s entirely overrated.)
The above is kinda my recipe, but if you Google around you can find all sorts of great fillings. Smoked salmon and cream cheese, BLTs, chicken salad and lettuce, spam even!
There you have it. This new (but actually it’s been around for 25 years, just no one knew about it) thing that’s happening in Japan: The not-a-rice ball rice ball. Or, as I like to call them, Rice Sammiches!
And for my next trick: peanut butter and jelly onigirazu.
What? Why not?
*There are loads of great sites out there you can search in English, but here’s one in Japanese that has a bunch of photos to give you all kinds of ideas.
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