Category Archives: Rants

Book 3 Update + Other News

Say hello to Book 3 so far! :)

I’m experimenting with storyboarding for the first time. It’s a little tough because my computer notes change a lot faster than I can keep up with on paper, but I like this exercise because it helps me realize when my ideas don’t have enough “oomph”—too little emotional content, too little conflict. I’ve saved myself several rewrites already. (As a general note, folks: the more you kick your characters in their metaphorical nuts, the better the story will be!)

I’m not sure how much longer outlining will take. I have 5 “sequences” I want to include in Book 3 (only 3 of which are in storyboard form; the rest are in Scrivener for now). Some are no more detailed than “They go to X and do Y.” Those have to get fleshed out in more detail before I proceed with drafting. I also want to develop at least some idea of what Book 4 will contain, so if there’s any groundwork or foreshadowing that must be set up in Book 3, I can do that.

My concentration has not been what it could be of late, because of this going on right outside my front door …

They’re digging up our street to lay new sewer lines for the town homes that will eventually be built next door. This has been going on for about 1.5 months now. The excavators are doing everything they can to minimize the inconvenience to us—we were even given a parking pass for a private lot close to our house—but still, I’ll be glad when they finish and the City repaves the street!

Otherwise, on the personal front, I might have gone just a tad insane: deciding I want to learn classical Latin, then maybe take a trip to Rome next year—which means learning some Italian, too! Guess what both of these languages have? Trilled Rs. And guess who can’t trill Rs with her tongue? Yup. It’s plagued me ever since introductory Spanish in middle school. I can trill Rs in my throat, but that’s not the proper sound needed here. Instead of trying to rely on Youtube how-to videos (normally so useful, but completely maddening and misleading when it comes to trilling Rs), I’ve purchased a video course prepared by a Russian speech pathologist. Tongue exercises are now part of my daily routine. I hope to conquer this stumbling block once and for all!

Don’t Know Any Iranian-Americans? You Do Now!

Handshake Iran US

Salaam (Hi)! I was born and raised in the United States. My mom was born and raised in Tehran, Iran. After earning her Ph.D., she came to the US for post-doctorate work. This is where she met my (American) dad. It’s also where she happened to be when the Islamic Revolution broke out in Iran, so she decided to stay.

Mom converted to Christianity, and I was raised Lutheran; I’m now an atheist. As a family, we celebrate Nowruz, the secular Iranian New Year. I only know a little Farsi, but the sound of it is very soothing to me. Sometimes I just like to listen to random conversation. Like any good Iranian woman, I know how to dance beautifully. If you haven’t been to an Iranian party full of amazing food, music, laughter, and dancing into the wee hours, you haven’t lived.

I’ve never visited Iran. I’ve never met large swaths of my family. It can be rough sometimes, having large parts of your own heritage closed off to you because of political games played by distant, callous people. Plus, people get Iran and Iraq confused all the time. Falling back on Middle Eastern stereotypes, they think Iranians are Arabs (they’re not) who live in tents amid a desert wasteland (they don’t) and hate America (wrong again!).

Shahyad
Pictured: Azadi Square in Tehran

Many Iranians are atheists, like me, in spite of their government. They understand the difference between American people and American politics, and are welcoming and intensely curious of visiting Americans in their midst.

While America is and always will be my homeland, Iran is in my blood. However, I don’t look very Iranian. I’m ashamed to say that, for the time being, this is to my advantage. But in light of recent events, I still feel compelled to “come out” in hopes of striking a note of empathy with someone, anyone, who might not have any idea what the people of Iran are like.

Mostly? They’re sweet, friendly, and want the same opportunities for peace and success that everyone else does.

I’ve Gone From Escapes To Breaks, And That’s OK With Me (Plus Paperback Giveaway!)

HamptonCourtPalaceHampton Court Palace, a fascinating destination for history buffs.

In early 2013, my husband and I planned our first trip to Europe together. I’d skipped around The Continent before, but my husband hadn’t, so we aimed for a place that was new to both of us, where we wouldn’t have much trouble easing in culturally. London seemed like the best of all possible worlds. I’d only ever flown through London, never visited. And since the UK was full of English speakers, we wouldn’t have any trouble making our way.

I booked our travel and lodging about 6 months ahead of the trip. For the rest of those 6 months, the anticipation all but killed me. I read up on English culture and etiquette. I studied all the things we could see and do, and how to do them best. I spent hours daydreaming about the trip from my drab little cubicle at work, and as it got down to the wire, I was going out of my mind with excitement. I even started tracking the weather in every city we’d fly through, just to make sure everything would go well.

So we flew to London for a week, and had an insanely magical time there. I left feeling like we were parting ways too soon, that there was still so much left to see and explore. We both agreed it’d be great to go back one day. A couple years later, in 2015, we arranged for that return trip. It was my reward for completing Blood’s Force.

This time around, for some reason, I didn’t spend as much time in the run-up planning and daydreaming. Instead, the trip kept sneaking up on me. “Oh yeah, we’re going overseas in a few weeks!” I didn’t obsess over what we’d see and do; it was something we could figure out once we were there. I didn’t check the weather in Newark (the city where we caught our international flight) once.

We got back from London a week ago. It was a fun time, to be sure … but the thrill was gone. I even felt that way while in London, and felt guilty about it. Why isn’t this mind-blowingly fun?

There are some quick, obvious answers. This was no longer our first time there. Also, London on Saturday in December is like Black Friday everywhere, and if there’s one thing I don’t tolerate well for long, it’s gigantic crowds.

But there’s actually something more profound to it. At the time of our first trip, my husband and I were working full-time jobs we didn’t care for. London wasn’t just vacation, it was an escape. It was an eye-opening, holy-shit, look-at-how-much-better-life-can-be experience that was subconsciously telling us, You’re leading the wrong lives right now.

Sure enough, we took that trip in September 2013 … and within 2 or 3 months, we were plotting our escape to self-employment. May 2014 is when we actually left our jobs to go off on our own. So maybe our first London trip was the kick in the ass we sorely needed.

The self-employment arrangement has been much better for us in every way possible. Chores and other obligations aside, we spend each day doing what we want to be doing. There’s no longer the unnecessary stress of commutes, difficult coworkers, nonsensical corporate culture, and the like. Not once have either of us ever thought, Man, I miss the old office.

We’re leading the right lives now. There’s no longer that burning need for escape. So when we go on vacation, it’s no longer earth-shattering. It’s just a nice break away from the usual routine. And I’m OK with that.

Hey!! What about the Paperback Giveaway? Oh yeah, I don’t wanna forget that. I’m running another Blood’s Force paperback giveaway via Goodreads. Want a chance to win your very own physical copy? Use the fancy widget below to enter! :)

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Blood's Force by Ellis Morning

Blood’s Force

by Ellis Morning

Giveaway ends December 19, 2015.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway


My Uncle’s Painting

painting

Mom was in the midst of a major clear-out of the attic, amassing unwanted items for an upcoming neighborhood yard sale. When she gets it in mind to clean house, nothing is sacred. (Those sentimental heart-strings that spontaneously form around objects I haven’t looked upon in years? I must have gotten those from somewhere else.) Relics of our shared past piled up in her bedroom for the ultimate judgment: stay, or go.

My sister and I had first dibs. Mom walked me through the inventory: a half-strung acoustic guitar, crumpled homework assignments, faded needlepoint, piles of sheet music. I managed to turn all of this down- and then Mom pointed out a framed watercolor of a Boston street.

“Do you want this?” she asked. “Your Uncle Manoo painted it.”

My great uncle Manoocher, to be precise. He was my mom’s uncle, one of my grandmother’s three younger brothers, and had died a few years ago. I only met him once that I can remember, when I was six or seven years old. Considering there’s a large swath of my Persian family I’ve never met, that’s not bad.

During his visit, Uncle Manoo stayed at our house. I remember his bone-crunching hug and kisses- Persians are very affectionate- and the cigarette on his breath, probably the first time in my life I’d been exposed to it that closely. Mom scrambled to find something he could use as an ashtray. As far as I know, he’s the only person she ever allowed to smoke inside her house. Before his visit, I’d been told Uncle Manoo was an architect. For a brief period of time, I had wanted to be an architect too. I drew lots of pictures of houses from the front, using rulers to get the doors, windows, chimneys, and bricks- yes, I drew each individual brick- just right.

Later on, I’d found out Uncle Manoo had also known several languages, written poetry, and produced a few paintings- like the watercolor in my mom’s possession. She was fine with selling it if I didn’t want it, but I couldn’t imagine allowing such an artifact to leave the family. I took the painting home with me, and placed it in my office.

A few weeks later, my mom called excitedly to tell me about a book that had been published in Iran: a book about my great uncle.

ketab

As it turns out, Uncle Manoo is considered the father of modern Iranian architecture. He designed several modern buildings, taught at a collegiate level, and translated important architectural books written in other countries into Farsi. He treated his students like they were his own children, so much so that a group of them collaborated to produce a book about his life, work, and mentorship.

The book is only available in Iran. My last surviving great uncle was able to procure two copies, and sent one to my mom. I was able to flip through it the next time I visited her. It’s impressively huge, nearly two feet tall and several inches thick. My Farsi is poor to middling, but I could spot the innumerable mentions of my uncle’s name on the front cover and amid the pages. Given the lack of understanding, I focused more on the pictures: Uncle Manoo’s letters, poems, designs, and paintings, as well as photographs with family members and students.

One of the pictures, in particular, continues to amaze us. It’s a scanned photograph of the very painting I rescued from the neighborhood yard sale.

paintingscan


“I Did So Love Being A Star”

catseye_nebula

I’ve read Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time at least a dozen times since I was eight years old. One passage in particular has always stuck with me:

Suddenly there was a great burst of light through the Darkness. The light spread out and where it touched the Darkness, the Darkness disappeared. The light spread until the patch of Dark Thing had vanished, and there was only a gentle shining, and through the shining came the stars, clear and pure. Then, slowly, the shining dwindled until it too was gone, and there was nothing but stars and starlight. No shadows. No fear. Only the stars and the clear darkness of space, quite different from the fearful darkness of the Thing.

“You see!” the Medium cried, smiling happily. “It can be overcome! It is being overcome all the time!”

Mrs. Whatsit sighed, a sigh so sad that Meg wanted to put her arms around her and comfort her.

“Tell us exactly what happened, then, please,” Charles Wallace said in a small voice.

“It was a star,” Mrs. Whatsit said sadly. “A star giving up its life in battle with the Thing. It won, oh, yes, my children, it won. But it lost its life in the winning.”

Mrs. Which spoke again. Her voice sounded tired, and they knew that speaking was a tremendous effort for her. “Itt wass nnott sso llongg aggo fforr yyou, wwass itt?” she asked gently.

Mrs. Whatsit shook her head.

Charles Wallace went up to Mrs. Whatsit. “I see. Now I understand. You were a star, once, weren’t you?”

Mrs. Whatsit covered her face with her hands as though she were embarrassed, and nodded.

“And you did– you did what that star just did?”

With her face still covered, Mrs. Whatsit nodded again.

Charles Wallace looked at her, very solemnly. “I should like to kiss you.”

Mrs. Whatsit took her hands down from her face and pulled Charles Wallace to her in a quick embrace. He put his arms about her neck, pressed his cheek against hers, and then kissed her.

….

“I didn’t mean to tell you,” Mrs. Whatsit faltered. “I didn’t mean ever to let you know. But, oh, my dears, I did so love being a star!”

As a kid who was getting more and more interested in astronomy, I was captivated by the idea of being a star. Well, it just so happens I am a star- several of them. So are you. This is probably my favorite thing that I have ever learned.

Our universe is made up of one simple element: hydrogen (one proton, one electron). The insides of huge stars are the only places in the universe where hydrogen atoms can be fused together into bigger elements like oxygen and iron. When those massive stars run out of fuel to burn, they explode into supernovae, scattering their own ashes for thousands of light years in all directions.

The ashes contain most of the elements in the periodic table. Those elements eventually clump together with elements ejected by other supernovae to form new stars, planets, and other neat things- like you and me. Carl Sagan put it this way:

“All the elements of the Earth, except hydrogen and some helium, have been cooked by a kind of stellar alchemy billions of years ago in stars, some of which are today inconspicuous white dwarfs on the other side of the Milky Way galaxy. The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our  teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of star-stuff.”

Many Mrs. Whatsits sacrificed themselves against the darkness, and the end result is us. You and I might even share atoms that came from the same ancient star, millions of light-years distant in space and time.

Blood ancestry connects us to other humans. Star ancestry connects us to the universe: animals, flora, mountains, oceans, planets, asteroids, even our star-cousins forming in distant nebulae right now.


Things I Wish Everyone Knew About Epilepsy

lightbulbsIf normal people get one lightbulb over their heads, I get three. Then my brain overloads.

My last full seizure occurred back in 2012. I woke up strapped to a gurney and wearing an oxygen mask. A pair of EMTs wheeled me out of a place that kind of looked like work.

Oh. Did I have a seizure at work? I wondered. Where do I work? What day is this? All the usual confusion flooded in along with nausea and a splitting headache.

The techs packed me up in an ambulance. On the ride to the hospital, they asked the usual questions to assess where my brain was in its rebooting process. Name? Address?

After each question followed a long pause that I struggled to fill. My brain tried to connect to that information, but couldn’t. This time, it was just frustrating. On past occasions, I’d broken down crying.

No big deal, they told me. It’ll come back soon. They had my wallet and purse, which a coworker had grabbed from my desk.

I remained calm in that ignorance-is-bliss sort of way. The EMTs told me which hospital I was at, wheeled me into the ER, put me on a bed, gave me an IV, and said my husband was on his way.

More and more memory came back as I recovered. I had gone to work that day alone; my husband, who’d worked at the same company, had been working from home. I’d been sitting at my desk when I’d started not feeling well, that familiar dizziness and nausea. Through the fog, I’d realized I needed a break, and feared throwing up at my desk. That was probably why I’d gone to the bathroom and locked myself in a stall.

Then the seizure hit. I fell and banged my head off of something, and wound up crumpled in the bottom of the stall with an inch-long gash in my forehead. Sometime later, someone found me in the bathroom and called for the ambulance.

I was told that blood had gotten everywhere. I believe it; head wounds like to bleed. I even found dried blood pooled in my ID badge holder, which I wore on my hip. The ER doctor who stitched up the wound had this weird glee in this voice when he told me, “That’s gonna leave a scar!”

I had only started working at this place a month before, and was mortified this had happened in front of people I barely knew. I also felt really bad for whoever cleaned up the mess.

It wasn’t fun, but I’m thrilled to say that I haven’t had a full seizure since.

I started having seizures at the ripe old age of 24. It took me six years to find a good neurologist and effective treatment, and as it turns out, I’m one of the lucky ones. Here are a few things I didn’t know about epilepsy until I was staring it in the face:

The doctors don’t know. The brain is still a mystery. The first time you have a seizure, you’re rushed to the hospital and given a CT scan. That scan might show a tumor or brain deformation. Or, as in my case, it might be perfectly normal. So you go for an MRI next. Normal. EEG? Also normal** (but hey, you make a great Borg Queen with all those electrodes on your head).

At this point, your doctors throw up their hands. One seizure could be anything. You may not ever have one again.

Whoops—but I did! And still my brain looked fine. Idiopathic epilepsy it is! “Idiopathic” being the fancy doctor word for “We don’t have a goddamn clue what’s causing it.”

You look to your doctor for reassurance and answers—especially when you’ve been healthy your whole life, you’re scared, and you don’t know what the hell is going on. Unfortunately, medical science just hasn’t figured out why most seizure disorders occur. It’s a tough thing to have to accept.

It’s different for everyone. The problem with nailing down epilepsy and other neurological issues is that no two people suffer identical forms. Abnormal electrical activity can affect many different regions of the brain, to different degrees, leading to all sorts of weird problems.

Some epileptics have the violent, thrashing seizures most people are familiar with, but not all do. Some epileptics just stare off into space. Some lose bowel or bladder control. Some have orgasms. And did you know hiccuping might be a form of seizure? (There’s no consensus on this.)

I’ve been told my seizures look scary, but they sound pretty uneventful as such things go. I tense every muscle in my body, and stop breathing long enough for my lips and hands to turn blue. I’m unaware of it because I’m unconscious at that point. It’s like sleeping in on Saturday, or all those billions of years before I ever existed. I couldn’t care less until I wake up. Then I get treated to a headache, nausea, amnesia—and often, a crushing sense of guilt. Sometimes I’ll cry and apologize to everyone around me.

A person’s epilepsy also may or may not have a trigger. Strobe light patterns may trigger a seizure in some epileptics, but not others. I’m not photosensitive, but stress does seem to make my seizure activity worse. As does my menstrual cycle—a poorly understood phenomenon called catamenial epilepsy.

Frequency is also variable. Some people’s brains have epileptic activity all day long. Others may go months or years without a seizure.

It might come with spider-sense. Some epileptics, like me, have a  set of symptoms that proclaim BEND OVER, A SEIZURE IS HERE. This is called an aura, or partial seizure. My symptoms involve feeling spaced out while my thoughts spin out of control, referred to as forced thinking. (I can never remember what I was thinking about afterward.) Then I feel nauseated, sometimes full of dread. Sometimes I get a sense of déjà vu as well, just to change things up. I also stop being able to spell or string words together in a sentence.

I can never control whether I’m with-it enough to lie down somewhere or tell someone what’s going on. In the latter case especially, I often can’t push words out of my mouth. Sometimes I wave my hands in distress. Sometimes I run to the nearest bathroom, convinced I’m about to throw up (I never do). Sometimes a full seizure follows, and sometimes it doesn’t. An aura by itself is not uncommon. Afterward, I might feel anywhere from “Well, that was annoying. Who’s up for coffee?” to “I’m going to bed, wake me up next month.”

No one knows how the medication works, or if it’ll work for you. That is not an exaggeration. You know what seizure medication is? “Hey, we gave this pill to sufferers of Disease X. The Disease X patients who also have epilepsy stopped having seizures while on this pill. This pill is now an epilepsy drug!”

You probably don’t have Disease X. You probably don’t need treatment for Disease X, or any of the horrible side effects that come with it. Too bad! There is no medication specifically targeted to treat epilepsy. There’s just a huge swath of these “Disease X and also seizures” meds that you get to Russian roulette your way through until you find one—or a combination—that stop your seizures without killing you.

Again, not an exaggeration. The first medicine I tried made me suicidal. The second gave me a serious allergic reaction. I was damn lucky to wind up unscathed on Pill #3, but this one has a reputation for a wee bit of severe liver damage. I have to get my blood tested twice a year to make sure my liver isn’t, you know, disintegrating.

But, no more full seizures. It’s a trade-off you learn to accept, unless you want to be found in a bathroom stall covered in your own blood.

pillsOh- and never miss your dose. That in itself can trigger a seizure.

Some people never find a drug that works for them. Depending on how badly epilepsy affects them, surgery might be the next option. It’s no more complicated than cutting away the part of brain in which the seizures occur. Yay?

There are odd things you can’t do anymore. If you don’t have an aura, you’re often prohibited from driving. You’re not allowed to skydive (fine, I never wanted to!). You may or may not be able to donate blood anymore—not just because of the medication in your blood, but also because those medicine levels drop when you give blood, which itself can result in a seizure.

Due to the medicine(s) you’re on, you may have other weird prohibitions. I can’t eat grapefruit or starfruit, for instance. Also, alcohol has a completely random effect: either it doesn’t touch me at all, or it puts me right to sleep.

Being on chronic medication means you always have to worry about how much medicine you have on hand, and when to harass your neurologists for prescription refills. A bad neurologist might never return your calls. Then you run out of meds, have a seizure, and back to the ER you go! (Yes, this happened to me. A good neurologist is hard to find, but invaluable.) When you travel, you must remember to pack your pills and a note from your neuro. Yes, Mr. TSA Agent, I’m allowed to have these. Really, who’d be taking this stuff for fun?

You feel like it’s your fault. Because no one really knows what’s going on inside your head, why it started, or how to make it stop, it’s tempting to look for your own answers, especially after getting burned with shitty pill after shitty pill.

Google things like neuroplasticity, and it sure seems like it should be possible to rejigger your brain somehow so the seizures vanish without medication or surgery. You begin to feel like there’s something you’re not doing that you should be doing. What could it be? “What if I avoid stress and caffeine from now on? That ought to stop the seizures from triggering!”

So you experiment a little, cross your fingers … then you have another seizure, and you feel like a failure who places an unfair burden on everyone you care about. I feel like I have it easier than my loved ones, who have to watch it happen or be prepared to rush home at a moment’s notice because I feel an aura coming on.

It could be my fault. There might be something I did or am still doing that led to all this. I may never know, which can be really frustrating sometimes.

What to do for someone having a seizure. There are a lot of first-aid sites that cover this better, but here are a few general points:

  • If the sufferer is thrashing, don’t restrain them. Just make sure they don’t bump into anything.
  • Don’t stick anything in their mouth.
  • When the seizure’s over, turn them on their side (if you can) to open airways.
  • A seizure doesn’t automatically necessitate a trip to the hospital. If the person has a known seizure condition they’re already being treated for, it may be OK for them to stay home. See if there are family or friends nearby who can confirm. When in doubt, call an ambulance.
  • Check for medical IDs that the EMTs can look at when they arrive. It’s important for them to know what medication(s) they’re currently taking, and if they have any allergies.
  • As they’re coming around, be calm and reassuring. They probably have no idea who they are, or why they’re on the ground feeling like crap. When it hits them, they might be accepting, or they might freak out. Again, let them know they’re OK.

Aside from my daily meds, epilepsy isn’t much of a specter in my day-to-day life. The longer I can extend my seizure-free streak, the better. I’m basically training my brain not to do that anymore. There’s a chance I could shed my meds in another few decades of no seizures, but more than likely, I’ll be on them for life, increasing dosage over time to account for my liver adapting to their tricks.

Or, hey- maybe a real neuroplastic therapy will surface, or marijuana will become the seizure stopper. I’m definitely keeping an eye on that front!

** – My EEG is now abnormal in the left temporal lobe. Over time, epilepsy changes your brain, reinforcing the connections that lead to seizures.

Sorry for the rant, but I hope it was informative! Leave any sort of comment you want  :)