MANFLU 2: THIS TIME IT’S TERRIFYING.

Typical, isn’t it? As one rises, another falls……

Recently, I blogged about the problems our youngest son has been experiencing with something called Rumination Syndrome, a condition which causes him to vomit in excess of twenty or thirty times a day. It was a post touched with more than a little despair.

About a week ago, a good friend of Lyn’s visited for the first time a while, and offered a potential management solution: Lyn’s friend has been suffering from cancer, and has responded by ‘going raw’- eating nothing but raw food, avoiding anything that has been processed, and eliminating all possible toxins from her system. I’m happy to say that it seems to have been working, but one of the things she mentioned to Lyn was a method of raising the alkali levels of our boy’s stomach: a freshly prepared juice of green apples, celery, and mint, with a bit of beetroot every now and again for added flavour.

It was worth a shot. Fuck it, at this point just about anything is worth a shot.

In the last 4 days, his vomiting has decreased to little more than half a dozen times a day. On occasion, we’ve even managed to get him into bed without having to change his bedding. This, my friends, is a major breakthrough. He still has episodes– it’s possible he’ll never not have episodes– but for the moment we seem to have found a temporary abeyance, and it’s enabled us to visit the touring Egyptian exhibition at the museum, travel to the WA Scale Model Expo, and generally travel around town without having to pack a change of clothes and a three-pack of sickbags just to go food shopping.

He can do things like this now.

Which is just as well, because since last Thursday….

Luscious woke up with chest pains on Friday, which became a trip to the doctors, which became an ambulance ride to the hospital with a suspected heart attack after a dodgy ECT result. A terrifying eighteen hours later she was released back into the wild with a diagnosis of muscular spasms so sever that they had affected the ECT monitor, but nonetheless, we’ve been edgy and clingy ever since: she’s still in bed three days later, and any but the simplest of movements leaves her wincing in pain.

And our daughter has turned lung-hacking coughs into a diagnosis of bronchitis, so she’s lying on the bed next to her mother watching Pretty in Pink and other assorted girlie movies for the next two to three days at least.

I am, literally, the last Batt standing.

THUMBNAIL THURSDAY LOVES ITS CHILDREN

Sometimes, the best humour has a dark, nasty core.

This is one of those times. Narratively, I love the dichotomy of a close, loving family relationship with the acceptance of deeply disturbed, often psychopathic, behaviour. It’s one I use in my fiction on a regular basis, and it’s one I think I’ve captured beautifully well here. I just know that in the final version the room would be spotless, gleaming,and clean: proof that loving Mum has cleaned around the slowly rotting corpse of whomever beloved son has tied to the bed. As psychopathic as the son is revealed to be, the underlying psychosis would be all Mums.

Plus, you know, funny

“We kept your old room jut the way you left it…”

Review: Ugly: my memoir

Ugly: my memoir
Ugly: my memoir by Robert Hoge

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An unflinching, honest, and at times heart-breaking look into the life of a man who overcame more obstacles in his first 5 years of life than many of us would ever expect to conquer. Despite being born with enormous physical disabilities, Robert Hoge transcends them to reveal himself as a warm, benevolent, and most importantly, normal Australian man, with a deep fund of humour and humanity, and a quintessentially laconic take on life inherited from his father Vince, whose presence looms large over this autobiography. It’s Hoge’s humour and positivity that sustain him through a series of hurdles.

After the heartbreaking opening chapters, where his family, particularly his mother Mary, struggle to come to terms with Robert’s disabilities and outward appearance, the narrative quickly settles into a pattern of observation/recognition/acceptance, as a very familiar childhood (especially to any of us who grew up in the 80s) is transfigured by Hoge’s openness and precocious warmth, and is reflected back at him from a community that quickly learns to appreciate and assist him.

While not immune from darker moments and passages of bleak reflection, it is this warmth and humanity that, ultimately, give the book its overall tone. It reminded me very much of Albert Facey’s ‘A Fortunate Life’ in its depiction of extraordinary circumstances made ordinary through an unflinching determination to refute the possibility of failure.

Recommended.

View all my reviews

Review: Mary Tudor: Princess, Bastard, Queen

Mary Tudor: Princess, Bastard, Queen
Mary Tudor: Princess, Bastard, Queen by Anna Whitelock

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A compelling and thoroughly researched biography of a monarch unfairly relegated to the second tier of Tudors, detailing Mary’s prodigious struggle to be recognised by both her father and brother, and the unbelievable political and social pressures she was forced to navigate: first as a disinherited and constantly-threatened teenager, and then as a Queen caught between the political grindings of two vast powers whose interests intersected with her religious and political beliefs.

Whitelock’s writing is lively and insightful, without deviating too far from verifiable fact. There are no flights of fancy or what-ifs here. Rather, the reader is presented with a plethora of written and recorded accounts, correspondences, and edicts that lay out her arguments with clarity and observable effect, tallied in a voice that makes the progression through Mary’s tumultuous life an enjoyable window into the life of a woman torn in numerous directions at every step and never allowed the luxury to be that which she most wanted to be: a married Christian woman with the love of husband and children around her. Whitelock’s summation, that by Mary’s own standards she had ‘failed as a woman but succeeded as a Queen’ emphasise the essential dichotomy of the Tudor monarchy, and where Whitelock succeeds is in showing the reader how much of that dichotomous failure is down to the Tudors themselves.

Excellent reading. Thoroughly recommended.

View all my reviews

CAN’T ANYBODY IN MY FAMILY JUST GET FUCKING MANFLU?

First my wife dies of an infection that was, quite literally, a one-in-a-million occurrence.

Then my mother, after a ten year battle with three different types of cancer, finally falls victim to GANT, a type of cancerous tumour so rare there had been less than 50 recorded cases in the US when she was diagnosed, and that delay in diagnosis was a significant factor in her inability to combat it. (Yesterday would have been her 72nd birthday. So it goes.)

More recently, my father is diagnosed with Primary Progressive Aphasia, a somewhat obscure form of lobar degeneration resulting in a loss of linguistic ability and semantic dementia.

About four months ago, our youngest son started throwing up. Twenty, thirty, sometimes more than forty times a day. Every day. From the moment he woke up to the moment he fell asleep. He hasn’t been able to go to school. He can’t swim at the beach or the pool the way he loves to. We can’t plan a trip of more than half an hour’s duration without making sure we have a supply of sick bags handy. For four months we battered our heads against doctors, specialists, emergency rooms, constant referrals to hospitals that took one look at him and sent him home with a shrug and a command to keep him hydrated until a specialist could look at him….

Last Wednesday night, Luscious and I snapped. We packed two overnight bags and, as soon as he woke on Thursday morning, Luscious drove him to Princess Margaret Hospital, the children’s hospital in Perth, where she plonked herself down in the waiting room and refused to move while the staff watched his sick bag fill up. When it was so full it burst, what do you know? They admitted him.

This is what it takes to get action from the health system in my State. The butt-covering only stops when they can’t ignore the vomit dripping onto their carpet.

24 hours later, we had a diagnosis.

He’s suffering from Rumination Syndrome, a condition with no known cure but an 85% of positive response to treatment. In short, his body has tricked itself into regurgitating food for further digestion, and all we can do is attempt to train the associated swallowing and breathing muscles back to ‘normal’ behaviours in the hope that muscular reflex will limit the occurrence of the regurgitation. It could take months, possibly years, and there’s a good chance he’ll never be free of it completely. We’ve an idea about some of the potential triggers, and we’re combating them as much as we can, but that’s little consolation when we have to change his sheets twice a night because he’s thrown up on them, and his home-schooling takes place between vomiting attacks and medication for the constant burning in his throat and gut.

This is a kid who was almost not born at all– he almost miscarried on several occasions– and then was born so cross-eyed he needed corrective surgery to stop him going blind before he was five. He’s had more surgery at eight than I have at almost 43, spent more time in hospital than I ever have, whose calmness in the face of needles, MRIs, and invasive procedures is so pronounced that nurses comment on in it in genuine wonder, and the reason is simply that he’s so damn used to it that it’s as normal to him as picking up a book.

Just for once, couldn’t he get a good old-fashioned manflu?

IT COULD BE YOU: CONFESSIONS OF A POD PERSON by CHUCK MCKENZIE

Story number three in my anthology of the mind, and it comes from one of my long-time writer buds, the inimitable Mr Chuck McKenzie.

Confessions of a Pod Person
by Chuck McKenzie

2002 was an odd year. I was struggling and failing to come to terms with the death of my wife, I was struggling and failing to raise an infant daughter on my own, I was struggling and failing to return to work in a meaningful way after months of bereavement leave. And while all that was happening I experienced my first interstate convention and was flown to LA for a week to take part in the Writers of the Future workshops I’d won as part of my prize for the 2001 competition. ‘Highs and lows’ is not an adequate description.

The interstate convention was ConVergence, in Melbourne. I met, for the first time, a whole bushel of people who would remain important to me over the course of the next 11 years– drunken escapades with Claire McKenna; book signing chatter with Kate Eltham and Rob Hoge; post-panel coffee with Dave Luckett. And then there was Chuck: the Monkey God hisself; the King Louie of Australian SF. And, once I’d sorted through the 18 kilograms of books I sent back from the con, author of the story that had me lying on my bed, wrapped around the anthology of allegedly comic SF stories in which it appeared, crying my eyes out.

The book Confessions of a Pod Person first appeared in was called AustrAlien Absurdities, and make no mistake, it is a funny story. Chuck’s a superb joketeller, able to shift gears from absurdity to satire and back again without breaking stride or catching breath. And this ability is in full swing in this tale of classic 50s B-movie monsters suffering through a perfect “Next morning, Cinderella woke up…” scenario. But there’s a double level to this story: it’s unbearably sad underneath the surface glamour, a tale of loss and the slow, inevitable strangulation of identity that resonates as deeply with me today as it did back then. It’s a stunning achievement: richly layered, subtly nuanced, and ever, ever so good.

This was my introduction to the science fiction written by my peers. It has rarely been bettered.

Read Confessions of a Pod Person.

RIP FRED POHL

Saddened yesterday to hear of the passing of Fred Pohl, one of the true greats of the science fiction genre, and one of the most easily readable authors I’ve ever encountered.

Like almost everyone else, I have a Pohl anecdote: one that, to me, highlights the grace of the man. I met him in 2002 at the Writers of the Future workshops then being held in Los Angeles. As part of the awards ceremony, the winners had dinner with some of the judges, and my table was picked to host Mr Pohl and his wife Elizabeth. Even then, in his eighties, he was frail and very hard of hearing, but in a week where I was surrounded by authors– both established and aspiring– making as much noise as possible in order to prove themselves larger than life (a behaviour in which I was an active participant), what struck me most about him was his calm and sense of quiet. Part of that was undoubtedly down to his hearing, but it also struck me that here was a man who didn’t need to make noise to attract admiration. This was Fred Pohl. If you didn’t know who he was and what he’d done, it was you who had the lack.

Sometime during the dinner, Pohl was ‘taken on’ by one of my fellow winners, over a subject I don’t remember. As my colleague pontificated with many a pointed finger and wave of his fork I watched Pohl: he sat calmly, listening intently, as my colleague outlined all the ways Pohl was wrong in the way he approached his writing. At the end, he nodded, and thanked my colleague– some 50-plus years younger and about a million achievements to the shy– and said he appreciated the outlook of someone at the heart of the new way of doing things. he could have crushed his young protagonist. He knew it. I knew it. I’m pretty sure everyone at the table apart from my colleague knew it. This was a guy who’d published his first work in the 30s; had done everything, knew everyone, won it all and was still going, still working at the highest level possible. There was no ‘wrong’ in the way this man worked. He could have squashed my colleague like a bug, in about three words flat. Instead, he’d shown humility, companionship, and respect towards an equal.

The conversation moved on, both participants turned to contribute in other threads, and I was left more impressed by that one response than by anything else I experienced on the night.

Class, dignity, and assurance. I’ve rarely reached that height of behaviour myself, but I damn well know I’ve seen it.

There was only one Fred Pohl. We have lost a giant.

Review: My Idea of Fun

My Idea of Fun
My Idea of Fun by Will Self

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Smug, self-satisfied, pretentious twaddle from a cutting-edge writer fearlessly treading unspoiled ground covered twenty years previously by the likes of Robert Bloch and Joyce Carol Oates. Between the high-handed purple prose; long winding passages saying nothing really but jammed in for the sole purpose of demonstrating the breadth of Self’s vocabulary; and a plot so minor it might have filled a Richard Matheson short story on a bad day, this is a Jericho’s trumpet of nothingness. Tedious and frustrating in equal measure, even the gleeful shock value of Self’s “Oh, I’m so naughty” moments come across as little more than a small boy jumping in puddles to upset his parents. Tiresome. DNF.

View all my reviews

AND NEW WORK BEGINS…

One of the major issues with our son’s illness is the length of time it takes him to settle down and go to sleep in the evening. We’ve become accustomed to changing the sheets because of a vomiting attack, of numerous visits to the kitchen for a drink of water to relieve his burning throat, of interrupting our work to comfort him and help him settle long after we’ve tucked him in for that first, futile time. It’s all part of trying to manage his illness, and trying to give him some small quality of life while we wait for the medical fraternity to get of its collective arse and do something.

This weekend, as a way of slowing down his rocket-powered personality and smoothing the transition between it’sdaytimelet’splayeverything’ssobrightandfunanddaytimeandplayandyaaaaaaay! and sleep, we gathered the kids onto the bed, and the four of us began to tell each other a story. I started off, passed on to Miss, 11, then Master 8, and finished with Luscious. We’ll do it again tonight, and tomorrow, and so on, until we get bored and one of us ties it off, then we’ll probably start another one. Bedtime has become fraught lately: it’s a nice way to settle us all down, and the kids love our authorial careers so much it gives them a real tickle to be a part of it.

Only thing is, I liked what I came up with so much, I’ve decided to make it my next project. With Luscious’ and the kids blessing, and with Magwitch and Bugrat now with the agent, Amelia Jonathan Frankenberg will be the kids book I work on while I’m editing my next adult book, Father Muerte & The Divine.

Here’s last night’s opening:

In a perfectly normal neighbourhood, in a perfectly normal house, lived a perfectly normal couple, and two perfectly normal children.
And the third, whose name was Amelia Jonathon.
Amelia Jonathon was almost perfectly normal. Perfectly normal in that she loved to run and jump and throw balls and read comic books and fart and eat custard like any other normal child. And perfectly normal in that he hated broccoli and needles and dentists and grounding and cleaning up and baths like any other normal child. And almost, because Amelia Jonathon was a girl all the way down the left half of her body and a boy all the way down the right half of his body.
On the morning in question, Amelia Jonathon got out of bed like she always did and washed her face and brushed his teeth, and dressed in her best skirt and his favourite hoodie and went into the kitchen to make breakfast. Today, she decided to have her favourite, which was cornflakes and also toast, which was his favourite. So she warmed a slice of bread in the toaster and spread it with Vegemite, then poured cornflakes on top and covered it with milk. And when she was finished he went to the fridge and poured a glass of his favourite milk and her favourite pineapple juice and finished it off in two long swallows, then faced the day with a smile and a burp and decided to hunt for treasure.