Words in a pleasing sequence

I spent the weekend at Capclave, a small literary science fiction and fantasy convention. The guest of honor was George R.R. Martin (the Game of Thrones dude); however, I have not read Game of Thrones, nor have I seen the series, so his presence meant nothing to me. But there were a lot of people there totally excited to get his autograph, and it’s fun to be in the midst of such excitement. I did, however, get a lot out of the various writing and publishing panels. They were very useful.

Also, the con got the creative brain cells fired up. For three weeks I’ve had this short story going nowhere. I had a concept that I loved and a very broad idea of the story I wanted to tell, but I couldn’t come up with, you know, a plot. Kind of important. The page just sat there, mocking me. But over this weekend I found inspiration, and I now have the entire story outlined. I typed up the detailed outline on my phone, which I really can’t recommend, but it worked. I organized the notes into a real outline as soon as I got home, and tomorrow I enter the prose phase.

In related news, I recently sold my first short story. It will be appearing in an anthology entitled Athena’s Daughters. The book will be funded via Kickstarter, and my story is actually one of the stretch goals, meaning funding must go above the base in order for my story to actually be a part of it. So come December (when the Kickstarter kicks off) I’ll be hassling everyone I know to buy it. Consider yourself warned. I’m very excited about it. It’s a collection of stories all by women authors with strong female protagonists. More details later.

Athenas Daughters cover


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Blood! At last!

bloodmobile

I’ve been trying to donate blood for a long time, but every time my iron was too low. So frustrating. Trying to raise the iron levels with food was a failure (it did help, but not enough), and I’m willing to take iron pills only intermittently because I don’t like how my intestines react to them. Nevertheless, my church was having another blood drive for Children’s National Medical Center, so I signed up to give it a try yet again.

The tech pricked my finger and ran the blood sample in the centrifuge. She took out the little tube and measured it. Only 33. You need to have 38 to donate. I was distraught. She turned the tube around and very carefully aligned it. 37. She tried again. 38! She said you can get slightly different numbers by turning it, realigning it, and measuring again, but that was the first time she’d seen it go from 33 to 38. She said it was meant to be, and I had to agree. I was practically giddy.

Next to hit a vein. That’s always difficult on me. The first two phlebotomists couldn’t feel a vein. I grew worried. To finally hit the iron mark and still not be able to donate was unthinkable. I prayed for a vein to reveal itself. They had me move to another bed to try the other arm. The second phlebotomist still couldn’t feel a vein, so a third came and tried. I’m honestly not sure whether he could feel anything or just got lucky, but he stuck the needle in and hit blood immediately. (It also hurt less than usual. I was impressed with his skill.) The blood flowed fast and I filled up the bag quickly.

A little juice and cookies later, and I was on my way.

If you meet the requirements to donate blood, I highly recommend it. And if you’re in the DC area, I highly recommend donating to the Children’s National Medical Center. This is the first time I’ve donated at their bloodmobile. I’ve previously tried by going to their donation center at the Children’s Hospital itself. The staff are very nice, and they’ll also give you a pass so you don’t have to pay for parking.


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Utah 2013

Last week I ventured out to Utah (which was way too hot) to attend a conference, gather with friends, gather with more friends (with barbecued meat!), have dinner with a friend from long ago, and hang out with my family. I went to my hometown’s parade where every participant except two threw candy or other goodies (it’s kind of an annoying practice). I went to a dinosaur museum (the Museum of Ancient Life at Thanksgiving Point; it’s a good one and worth a stop). I ate shave ice (why don’t we have those stands around DC? So yummy and cold). I saw my father’s hair start to fall out from chemotherapy and I touched my sister’s belly containing my rapidly developing niece.

FAIR Conference


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The Alien Incident

Five years ago today, I drove into DC. There was only one traumatic detour where somehow I was suddenly off 395, and to this day I have no idea how or where I was. I had no GPS at the time. It was only by divine intervention that I suddenly found myself back on 395. But I found the right exit and made my way to my temporary accommodations with a friend of a friend, who today is now a friend. It was a sticky, hot day – I know, that’s a surprise in July. I was totally unaccustomed to the humidity, but totally excited to finally be living in DC, something I’d desired for a long time.

I want to share the events that led to my fleeing of Utah. Before moving to DC, I lived and worked at a place in Utah that shall remain unnamed, but it starts with D, has ug in the middle, and ends with a way.

On Thursday, 8 May 2008, my supervisor, came into my office and said I needed to go to my employer’s conference room immediately. Odd. But I was, as always, an agreeable soul, so I started to head in that direction, and he followed me.

“Is this a good thing or a bad thing,” I asked him.

“I don’t know,” he replied.

The door was closed, so I paused for a moment – nothing worse than interrupting something – and opened the door cautiously. Several people were seated and invited me in. I sat, and my supervisor followed and sat next to me. I already knew a couple of the people, aside from my supervisor, but the others were new to me. They introduced themselves. Seated around the table were the company’s HR person (hereafter called Dave the HR Guy), the company’s security person, the base’s counterintelligence officer, and two federal investigators who showed me their badges.

Adrenaline hit. Did I do something wrong? No, I was sure I hadn’t. Did I see something? I didn’t think so. Maybe I saw something but didn’t realize it. I didn’t have long to panic, though, because one of the federal investigators asked if I knew of a particular website. I said yes and, anticipating their next question, immediately followed up with, yes, it was mine.

Time for some backstory. The unnamed location is famous for their aliens. They’re not as famous as Area 51, but there is a rich alien conspiracy history. Back when I first started working there in 2000, I hit the internet in search of info about my new place of employment. They weren’t so on-the-ball, so they didn’t even have an official site yet, or if they did it was hard to find. What did pop up in my search was info about aliens, and a tunnel to Salt Lake that ended beneath Crossroads Plaza (so the aliens can easily infiltrate the LDS church, of course), and the UFO buried in the desert.

That. Was. AWESOME! I love science fiction, and this had a very X-Files vibe. I love X-Files! I just pretend the last 2 seasons don’t exist. And sure, Chris Carter had no end game, which is unforgivable, but at least it was a fun ride.

Over the years at the place that shall not be named, I met many fellow coworkers who enjoyed a good laugh about the aliens and the UFO that was supposed to be buried there. I mean, really, how could we not enjoy it? Aliens!

In 2008, I was bored. And I had been slacking off on my creative writing. That needed to be rectified. I love creative writing, but the only writing I’d been doing for far too long was for work. Blah. I’d been reading a couple creative writing blogs, where the story was told one blog post at a time. One was about a zombie attack, and one was a nineteenth century romance. (I bailed on that second one early, but still, it was part of the inspiration for my endeavor, so it should be named.) Why not do one about the aliens at the place that shall not be named? Like those others, it would be in first person, each entry just like a real non-fiction blog entry.

Now, the websites and rumors about the aliens at the place that shall not be named tend to favor the reptilian aliens, not the grays. Personally, I’ve never liked the reptilian kind. Too cheesy. They have a 70s Buck Rogers vibe. I’m much more interested in the grays. They’re much cooler. So for my stories, I decided to go with the grays. My protagonist – i.e., the “author” of the blog about the aliens – was named Danny because I was really into the TV show “Without a Trace”, and Danny was my favorite character. Yes, I’m kind of ashamed to admit that. But Enrique Murciano is a very attractive man!

So I bought a domain, found a thematically appropriate template, and I made my first entry.

I work at [the place that shall not be named]. I came here several years ago and thought nothing of it. It seemed like a good job. It was and is a good job. But there are things that happen here that terrify me. I need to share them with the world. Obviously the name I’m blogging under is fake, but it will do.

The world needs to know the truth about what happens here.

A few days later, I introduced the Life Sciences lab and then…

Below the BL-3 area of the lab is another lab that we aren’t allowed to talk about. I saw it a few times when the BL-3 lab was cold (decontaminated, so it was safe). I guess they figure that since we have security clearances and are told never to share anything with the public that’s enough. And I admit it was enough for a while for me.

You take a staircase down to a large well-lit. It mostly looks like storage space – lots of boxes of testing materials like pipettes and Petri dishes and tubes. Along three of the walls are thick windows that look into labs. The fourth wall only has one door and that door opens into a small-ish room that has environmental controls and a lot of electronics.

The labs are where things get interesting. Some websites talk about how [the place that shall not be named] has (or is run by) reptilian aliens. BS. Total and complete BS. But everyone probably already knows that. What is surprising is that there really is alien activity. Believe me, I would never have suspected it. The alien stuff about [the place that shall not be named] just always seemed like fun to me, sort of like X-Files, but I didn’t take it seriously.

So, yeah, I was surprised by what I saw in the labs. Why stretch it out. You know those greys/grays? Big eyes? Gangly limbs? Yeah, they’re really. WTF, you know? I haven’t seen one alive, but the dissections (alien autopsies! No kidding!) were certainly interesting. There are lots of alien body parts and dissections in that basement lab.

There are also a lot of other smaller… things. I don’t know what else to go with besides “things.” Some seemed to be body parts, of the greys, presumably, but other things seemed to be formerly alive but distinct life forms. Definitely not something I’d ever seen before. I’ll try to describe them more later.

So that’s the introduction to Life Sciences. People in Salt Lake sometimes get concerned about “oh no, bio weapons!” Please. First, the amounts are too small to really be concerned about, and second, the place is totally locked down and secure. Obviously. Because the reality is that the things people in Salt Lake should be concerned about is much more terrifying.

That’s right, I went the alien autopsies route. Even reading this now makes me laugh. Over the top? Sure. But it’s entertaining.

In the next entry I provided more of the setting.

I want to mention the old lab that is used for training. By training I mean training various people who come to [the place that shall not be named] on how to properly sample a bio-contaminated area or how to properly work a handheld assay to get a good reading. That sort of thing. Only some of the rooms are used for that. Most of it is pretty much abandoned, with just old boxes of old files and old, broken office stuff. It’s kind of a mess, but that’s what happens when you abandon a building.

However, there are a few rooms that are more interesting, with old lab equipment. Large lab equipment. Some of it is clearly microbiology-related for [the place that shall not be named] non-alien mission involving bio weapons. It’s a bit creepy with all the echoes as you walk through the dusty, abandoned rooms. Some of it is not clearly microbiology-related, though – cast-offs from the old alien-related labs before it moved to the basement of the new lab.

In one room are rows of large cages. At first it looked like something that might be used in animal experimentation, hardly unheard of in microbiology research involving diseases. But if you go through the boxes of old papers that also happen to be in that room, some actually outright mentions things about aliens. Yes, they actually say “alien” and talk about alien physiology in contrast to human physiology. I smuggled some of those papers out, so I’ll post them later.

The next entry was a dumb idea. High electricity alien life forms as an explanation for the frequent power outages. I don’t remember where I planned to go with that concept.

The entry after that returned to the alien autopsy room.

One of the lab rooms in the Life Sciences basement was particularly interesting to me. It wasn’t very big – maybe 20 ft by 20 ft. Two of the walls had metal shelves lining them. The shelves were about 2 ft deep and there were four shelves stacked, with the highest about 6 ft up. There was a step ladder in the corner between those two walls to fully reach the highest shelf.

Most of the shelves held unused lab supplies: nitrile gloves, pipette tubes in sterile plastic wrappers, scissors, that sort of thing. But mixed in with the lab supplies, as though it was totally normal, were jars with a slightly yellowish fluid filled with mostly unrecognizable… things. They were labeled, and the labels bore things like “left arm; 893-114-9; 5-24-04” (though the arm was the size of a slender child’s arm and had three fingers and a long opposable thumb) and “heart, 6 ventricles; 644-114-9; 6-13-03”. Though I did take some anatomy and physiology classes in college (before I abandoned my pre-med/med school plans), I doubt I would recognize a human heart preserved in a jar like this, so I can’t say the presumably alien heart looked any different. There were about a dozen or so jars like this.

The third wall was lined with a basic black lab counter, with cabinets beneath. I glanced in a the cabinets below, and they had average supplies like paper towels, tubing, and plastic weighing dishes. The cabinets were not full at all. Near one end of the counter was a sink. On the counter was a metric scale, more paper towels, and some flasks and stir bars laying on top of some paper towels next to the sink (probably recently rinsed). A couple cabinets were also above the counter. They held various dry supplies: agar mixtures, salts, surfactants, PEG 1000, EDTA, etc.

The fourth wall had the window looking out into the storage area where you access all of the basement labs, and the door into the lab.

In the center of this room was another lab counter (like those kitchen islands), with more storage space (cabinets) beneath it and some gas canisters. This table was pretty cluttered with glassware, a few more of those filled jars, and some trays like those used for dissection. The room smelled like a college anatomy lab (preservative [formaldehyde?]; not pleasant), but it wasn’t too strong. I don’t know if work hadn’t been done in there for a few weeks or if it had good air circulation. Nothing biological was laying out in any trays or anything like that while I was in there.

There was one final entry, but it didn’t get saved after my panicked deleting (explained momentarily), so I no longer have it. It was something about seeing an alien in the forest behind the housing sucking the blood from a dead antelope. Hey, I never said it was good creative writing.

Back to 8 May. I said the website was mine. The two investigators shuffled their papers for a few seconds. I briefly thought, “Way to be organized, guys,” but let the thought pass because by then I was a bit freaked out. When out-processing a couple months later, I learned that they fully expected me to deny it, and my immediate voluntary claim of ownership flummoxed them. (Okay, it wasn’t great writing, but come on, an author has pride in her work!) I ruined their plan – I guess they planned to slowly produce evidence to get me to confess? – and their paper shuffling was them trying to find their place further back. Fools.

I can’t remember the rest of the conversation totally clearly because at this point I was seriously freaked out. (I will point out that that what I’m writing now is all taken from what I wrote within a couple days of this event.) However, they asked where I worked on the website and who I’d talked to about it.

Because the aliens of the place that shall not be named are a frequent source of amusement, and because no one had ever once suggested that we were to supposed to take the alien thing seriously and pretend it was real (i.e., not talk about it), I saw no problem with the site. Many times my fellow coworkers and I would look at some of the alien-related sites for entertainment. A few of us even bought t-shirts. I never wore mine to work because my employer did not allow t-shirts within its dress code, but others who worked for other companies or for the government did not have such limitations and wore them to work. No one ever said anything to indicate it was inappropriate.

The people in the meeting said the blog was a security threat because there are people who would believe it. I wasn’t quite clear on how that mattered (there are people who believe all kinds of things, like that vaccines are dangerous or that Iraq had WMDs), but I was totally willing to take the site down anyway and volunteered to do so. One of the federal investigators suddenly stopped and then said they could not tell me what to do in that regard. I then realized it was a first amendment issue because they are government, so I rephrased and I asked if it would make things worse for me if I took it down. They weren’t certain, but it seemed like taking it down was the best option.

They said I made mention of stealing old papers. Yes, that’s true – old papers about alien autopsies…. I told them that of course I didn’t steal any old papers because there is no such thing as aliens. I got confused at this point. They were acting as though there really was an alien cover up and I was exposing it. It was the most surreal part of the conversation.

I provided a sworn statement, where I stated that I created the site because I enjoy science fiction and creative writing and because many of us who work there enjoy joking around about the aliens at the place that shall not be named, and that’s it – I meant no harm to the place that shall not be named. (I did go on for a couple paragraphs, but basically just repeated that in several different ways.)

It was completely ridiculous, and yet I was totally terrified. Was I going to be fired? I asked, but they said they didn’t know. I returned to my desk, but I wasn’t allowed to touch my computer. The investigators were taking my work computer to look through the files to… I don’t know. Find seditious writings? Evidence of alien life? Plots to take over the world?

After having my login card taken, I left work at my own request. I was very upset and didn’t want to be there any longer. I sobbed the whole way home, certain I was going to be fired. In the middle of the 20-minute drive – I kid you not – REM’s “Bad Day” song came up on my iPod. So then I was sobbing and laughing. Every time I hear the song, now I think of that day. I got home and did a mass delete of most of my websites. An hour or so later, I regretted not saving a backup first. Most stuff was archived online, so I saved copies of what I wanted, though that last entry about the alien vampire was too recent and thus lost. I spent the rest of the day sobbing, certain life was over and I would never be employable again.

My supervisor, who never saw the website, thought I’d revealed government secrets and was ready to toss me off the cliff. A friend and fellow coworker who had seen the site and knew there was nothing inappropriate there talked him away from the edge (she came by my house that evening to check on me and filled me in on this), but I never got over feeling betrayed by his assumptions. My final weeks were awkward around him, though we did ultimately part on good terms.

On Saturday, Dave the HR Guy made contact with me and told me not to come in on Monday while the investigation continued. Day by day I was told not to come in on Tuesday or Wednesday, either. On Wednesday night, Dave the HR Guy called and said I would not be fired, that I would be suspended for one week without pay (that week I that hadn’t been allowed at work), and would have a note indicating disciplinary action in my file. Our phone call was a bit cold and I was mildly cantankerous because he thought I should be grateful and chastened, whereas I thought a week’s suspension was completely unreasonable.

Let us pause for a moment. ALIEN AUTOPSIES. The government was taking alien autopsies seriously. My company was taking alien autopsies seriously. I was suspended because of alien autopsies. And a basement that doesn’t exist. And papers that don’t exist. Alien autopsies! I’m sorry, but you will never get me to take alien autopsies seriously.

The day after it all went down, I made contact with a lawyer friend to find out my options in case the worst happened. He referred me to a friend whose area of expertise was employment law. Though I already had the news that I wasn’t being fired before I had a chance to meet with him, I kept the appointment. I had some questions. I took a three-page write-up of what had happened (from which I created this memoir), and handed it to him to read. I figured it was easier than trying to remember everything. He read and I waited.

When finished, he looked up and said, “Before we go on, I have to ask: am I on candid camera?”

That alone made the consultation fee totally worth it. With that response, I was confident that the outside world really would find the whole thing completely bizarre, and it would not hurt me.

During my non-working week, and continuing afterward, I kicked the job hunt into high gear. I’d been casually looking for a while – eight years is a long time to be in the middle of nowhere – but that whole horrible experience was the end. I wanted nothing more to do with the place. I’d always been fascinated by DC, so I focused my job hunt on DC and also the Pacific Northwest, which I completely love. About six weeks later I had three job offers, all in the DC area. I picked the best one and packed up and moved to DC.

Because the alien incident included a disciplinary action, I’ve had to confess it subsequent job-related settings. It has never elicited anything except confusion and has not hurt me at all.

I could do without the humidity, but I really do love it here in DC. Upon arriving, I immediately felt at home. It was meant to be. I’m still a bit bitter about the alien incident, but it did ultimately lead to a good thing.


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A mind-bogglingly stupid idea

Senator Lindsey Graham from South Carolina has proposed the most stupid idea I have heard in a really long time. He wants the U.S. to boycott the Sochi Olympics if Russia grants asylum to Snowden. He even invoked Godwin’s law!

This idea – boycotting the Olympics – is repugnant. It’s also horrible PR for the U.S. government. First, let’s point out the fact that a majority of American’s believe Snowden is a whistle-blower, not a traitor. So the U.S. government is already on very shaky ground here. Second, what is the point of boycotting? The Olympics will still go on. Other countries will enjoy it without us. Sure, Russia will probably recoup less of the cost of the Olympics, but they’ll move on just like every other country who loses money on the venture. Meanwhile, the only people actually hurt are other Americans! Hundreds of Americans have spent years, some even most of their lives, preparing for those couple of weeks. The U.S. government is really going to say to those potential Olympians, “Yeah, we’re in a spitting contest, so you, little peon, can just suck it”? Meanwhile, the viewing American public loses out – to a much less degree, yes – thus turning their opinions even more against the U.S. government.

Way to make yourselves look even worse, government.

You, Senator Graham, are a fool.


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Mayo vs. Miracle Whip

A while back I did a taste test of Coke vs. Pepsi. They taste identical. People who claim a preference for one or the other are clearly delusional. That’s okay.

There are two other food items that brings passion out amongst those with a preference, and that is mayonnaise vs. Miracle Whip. I use them interchangeably, buying one or the other based primarily on whim or, if I’m buying them for something based on a recipe, according to what the recipe calls for. I’ve never really noticed a difference in flavor, but I’ve also never eaten them side by side for comparison.

Today was the day for the test. I considered taking a small spoonful of each and taking a lick one at a time, but the thought of that made me gag. No, they would need to be used as designed – background. I needed a fairly bland background so I went with a cheese sandwich: cheddar on a pita, to be specific. I cut the pita into thirds. One third would be sauce-less (the control), another third would be slathered with mayo, and the final third would be slathered with Miracle Whip. I put on more sauce than usual so the flavor would be obvious and easy to compare.

Conclusion: There is a difference in flavor! The Miracle Whip definitely has more flavor. Both are pleasing, and both provide a nice background moisture and flavor, but the mayo is definitely bland in comparison. The Miracle Whip flavor isn’t strong, but it is easily tasted. I believe I shall give a slight preference to the Miracle Whip in my future shopping. I like it better. My preference isn’t high, and I’ll still use them interchangeably, but I’m pleased to find a difference and a preference.


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Independence Day

girls watching fireworks

fireworks

girl with sparkler


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