Showing posts from 2015
Yesterday evening, when I arrived to work front of house at one of the many theaters with which I have apparently now become affiliated, I discovered that there was no one to run concessions. So I did. After prepping the lobby, doing the administrative work for check-in, answering the phone even though we weren't technically open, and not incidentally handing out a million and one answers at the reception desk. Which were technically all to the same question -- "Where is the discussion group meeting?" -- which proved popular among many, many people who apparently did not know how to read signs.

One of the full-time office staff placed herself at my disposal. Even though, being full-time office staff, she would technically have been considered in charge. They handed me control of the bar inventory and an awful lot of money. I have keys and combinations and number codes for everything short of the gigantic safe we keep the cash drops in. I wandered in and out of the office…
This year I finally figured out what the fuck was wrong with me, medically speaking. It's a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it's nice to know I'm not lying when I inform people that no, I really can't do something. It's difficult not to question that when for most of your life, the response to it was 'kwitcherbitchin and do the thing I told you to do', and then getting shouted at again when you collapse.

It also solves a bunch of minor but enduring mysteries, like why no one in the family has ever looked their real age. Skin develops creases over time for the same reason paper does: Bend it in one spot often enough and it breaks some of the supporting fibers, creating a weak spot where folds happen more easily in the future. As paper is supported by cellulose, skin is supported by collagen, the same stuff that forms the bridge of your nose and the caps on the ends of your long bones. Ehlers-Danlos patients produce a form of collagen that's softer and m…
I am still boggled by other people thinking of me as athletic or physically accomplished. It is not a hat I am accustomed to wearing. I was clumsy as a kid, and I still have my moments. I feel less bad about this now that I know that it's a common symptom of hypermobility syndromes. In essence, my proprioception is made to spec, but my joints aren't; they have a lot more play, in multiple axes, than they're supposed to, and when they rattle out of tolerance my idea of where they are goes subtly wrong. The error bars build up over time to the point where I need to be able to see myself at rehearsal or I have no idea what I look like.

Other people do double-takes when they ask how I got somewhere and I tell them, "I walked." My theory is that, while it might take me an hour to tromp to where I need to be, that's an hour I can count on, as opposed to taking the bus, which might be exactly on time or might be forty minutes late without any warning. It is difficul…

Monday Mystery: The Disappearance of Connie Converse

In August 1974, a few days after turning fifty, Elizabeth Converse -- known to many of her friends as "Connie" -- packed up her car and drove away from her life in Ann Arbor, Michigan, never to be seen again.

This in and of itself is not unheard of. People vanish every day. Most of them start out more unstable than Connie, lacking money or family or steady responsibilities, but every so often a pillar of the community gets fed up with it all and just wanders off. It's not like there's a rule saying 'You must be this disenfranchised to abandon your life'. Others are more likely to take note when someone with connections scarpers, but that's about it. Some of them are found again; many are not.

Connie Converse caught my attention. Much of what preceded her disappearance is familiar to me, the dark side of having what other people refer to as "potential".

Interviews make it clear that Connie's family and friends had always considered her to be …
I'm on TV Tropes, y'all! Not as a Creator, admittedly, but that's me as Mary Stone on the page photo for Mrs. Hawking. Achievement unlocked!

I had given up on theater for quite a long time. My university had a theater program, mind, but NAU had an annoying habit of not hiring enough instructors for anything. (Which sometimes meant they didn't hire any -- I signed up for Chinese four fall semesters in a row and the class was cancelled every gorram time, because they couldn't be arsed to find a grad student to teach it.) The unofficial solution was to tell non-majors they were SOL. Not a guess on my part, it was explicitly stated to me when I physically presented myself at the instructor's office in an effort to sign up for Guitar For Dummies 101. I couldn't even get into the Italian class, because it was reserved for opera singers. I wasn't a drag queen or a Rocky Horror performer, so my chances of getting on stage in Flagstaff were basically nil.

I did …
About a week ago, Sis caught me just as I was about to lay down for a nap. She wanted me to do the dishes. I told her I was about to go to sleep; she promptly freaked out and accused me of having left dishes in the sink, which was quite true, but also implied I was the only one who'd done so, which suggests that perhaps she thinks Jazmin eats dry cereal by the fistful straight out of the box every morning. Deciding that the fight would take longer than the dishes, I agreed to wash things.

Sis promptly freaked out on me again, backpedaling at about Mach 3, babbling about how if I couldn't then she'd do it, only she had a friend who was in dire straits and coming to stay in her room tonight, and, and, and and and.

"You won," I said. "Drop it."

Sis  has not yet learned that if she wants people to do things, she had to make capitulating less annoying than arguing over it. Possibly she isn't capable of learning it yet.

It's possible to get the do thi…

Advent Calendar: Merry Christmas from Boston!

Have absolutely no idea why nobody has managed to get a decent photo of this year's tree, including CBS, but it's decorated the same as 2013's -- a cascade of colored lights and a big blue star on top. I know, because I was just down there, and failed at getting a photo myself. 
For more blurry pictures of this year's tree, and a lot of much better shots of the other things that went on during the tree lighting ceremony, try here at Boston Magazine.
In past years, CBC has managed to get some of the nicer shots, including the one used above. Why the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation comes down to report on a Christmas tree in Massachusetts is kind of a story. In 1917, two ships collided in Halifax Harbor, one of which was loaded with munitions intended for the war in Europe. A fire started, and the subsequent explosion leveled about half the city. Learning of the disaster via telegraph, the Boston Red Cross was one of the first outside organizations to respond, sending…

Advent Calendar: NORAD Tracks Santa

This is a re-post from previous Advent Calendars, both because it's still relevant, and because it's one of my favorite stories ever. Once upon a time, in a long-ago era known as "1955", the world was a dark and scary place. The Second World War was over but certainly not forgotten, and behind every addlepated political press conference lurked the spectre of those godless heathen Ruskies, who were just itching for an excuse to start a nuclear holocaust. There were no such things as the Beatles. Brylcream reigned supreme over maddeningly impractical haircuts. In order to telephone someone, you had to physically find a telephone, which was tethered to the base with a cord and to the wall with another cord, and it was the Official Property Of The Phone Company And Don't You Forget It. The moon landings were over a decade away, and the internet almost two. It was a frightening time.

The government felt it could do little about telephones and Brylcream, frankly, but i…

Advent Calendar: Festivus

If you feel like the myriad winter festivals invented throughout human history have just gotten too old, try the modern Festivus! Festivus dates from the 20th century, and is about as hip and up-to-date as you're going to get without inventing a holiday yourself.

Advent Calendar: Yule Lore

In honor of my pagan and also rather Irish-American roommate, all y'all have a page of Yule Lore for the winter solstice.

Advent Calendar: Shab-e Yalda

The Persian celebration Shab-e Yaldā ("Yalda night" شب یلدا) is traditionally held on the shortest night of the year, usually around December 20/21st. Traditionally, it is meant to mark the triumph of light over the darkness of winter, and the return of the sun.

There is food, of course -- there is always food when humans celebrate things -- and often the reading of poetry, particularly that of the poet Hafez. I do not read Farsi, but I cannot help but think the sonnets would be even lovelier if I did.

Advent Calendar: Still More Christmas Carols

Still More Christmas Carols
(courtesy Librivox)

Advent Calendar: A Very Scary Solstice

The lyrics to some "traditional" H P Lovecraft-based Solstice warnings/carols.

(courtesy MIT and the H P Lovecraft Historical Society)

Advent Calendar Bonus: Ratmas

I'm not exactly sure when Yuki's number is going to be up, so Ratmas came slightly early this year. It's not like they keep track. Someone at a holiday party asked me if I'd come up with a mythology for Ratmas, and I haven't, really; rats are simple, and they would be content to celebrate a holiday strictly because it's the day where Mommy comes in and gives them way too much food for no reason at all. It's self-justifying.

Yuki doesn't climb onto the upper cage shelf much anymore, and I can't justify buying a roll of wrapping paper to decorate for a rodent. Also, she's rather high-strung and hates change. So she got a warm box, sleeved in the remains of a cheap chenille hat that developed a hole the first time I wore it, and lined in red jersey knit; a Christmas tree made from fabric scraps that she can knock down and cuddle with if she wants to; and a layer of white gift tissue "snow" on top of her usual newspaper bedding.

Das Rathaus

Advent Calendar: Yet Another Christmas Carol collection

Advent Calendar: Saturnalia

The festival of Saturnalia, originating in ancient Rome, is still celebrated today, because of course it is. The Nova Romana share here some of the modern practices of pagans who mark the holiday on December 17th.

Advent Calendar: A Christmas Carol

CHARLES DICKENS(courtesy Project Gutenberg)

Advent Calendar: The Night Before Christmas & Other Popular Stories For Children


State of the Blogger

Ahoy hoy! Still alive back here behind the auto-posts. I hope you're all enjoying the random I dug up for the holidays.

Those of you who have funded me through Patreon, thank you! Patron works on a monthly cycle, so your cards will be first charged at the beginning of January, at which point the newsletters will be sent out. I'm distributing those through Google Groups, since Patreon is rudimentary at best and has no ability to schedule things for some point in the future. I do not have the kind of scheduling magic that allows me to reliably be in the same place at the same time every week, and Chrome has an extension that lets me "send later" from Gmail, so I have kludged up my own solution.

It looks as though the update schedule for 2016 will be newsletters for patrons out on Sundays, Monday Mystery columns on (obvs) Mondays, general articles on Wednesday and Friday, and then the Saturday Serial. Blogger does let me schedule things for arbitrary times in the future…

Advent Calendar: The Children's Book of Christmas Stories

(courtesy Project Gutenberg)

Advent Calendar: St. Lucia's Day

In various places around the world, December 13th is celebrated as the feast day of St Lucy or St Lucia. It's particularly popular in Sweden, where young girls are symbolically dressed in white and given candle-bearing wreaths to wear on their heads for the festivities. Like many holidays that were borrowed from the pagans, the Christian version manages to celebrate an occasion that involves martyrdom and tyranny, but on the bright side, the Swedes celebrate it with a large amount of food.

Advent Calendar: The White Christmas & Other Merry Christmas Plays


Advent Calendar: Another Collection of Christmas Carols

Advent Calendar: Christmas Eve & Christmas Day

Christmas Eve & Christmas Day by Edward Everett Hale
(courtesy Librivox)

Advent Calendar: Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
(courtesy Librivox)

Advent Calendar: Christmas Poetry & Hymn Collection

Advent Calendar: Christmas Carol Collection

A collection of Christmas Carols
(courtesy Librivox)

Advent Calendar: Chanukah Blessings

Tonight being the first night of Chanukah, and me having recently stuck my nose into Judaica, here are blessings for lighting the candles. I am assured that Chanukah is not actually all that big a deal, as Jewish holidays go; Jon Stewart once observed that Christmas "blows the doors off" the festival of lights -- an assessment made by his then fairly-small children -- and my friend the cosmologist informs me that people celebrate it as much as they do mainly so that the Jewish kids don't feel left out of the festivities.


Advent Calendar: Christmas At Thompson Hall

Christmas At Thompson Hall
by Anthony Trollope
(courtesy Librivox)

Advent Calendar: The Christmas Angel

The Christmas Angel
by Abbie Farwell Brown
(courtesy Librivox)

Advent Calendar: The Goblin's Christmas

The Goblin's Christmas
(courtesy Librivox)

Advent Calendar: The Christmas Tree & The Wedding

The Christmas Tree & The Wedding
From Best Russian Short Stories
(courtesy Librivox)

Advent Calendar: The Christmas Present

The Christmas Present
From Best British Short Stories of 1922
(courtesy Librivox)
Ahoy hoy, loyal readers! Also disloyal ones. I'm not all that fussy.

Starting in... about half an hour, I'll be running an Advent Calendar through Christmas. No particular reason, just Christmas seems to be the last of the major winter holidays to finish up at the end of the Gregorian calendar, which I am forced to use by the same fiendish social pressures that also require me to put pants on whenever I leave the house. I more or less take December off every year, although if you are just dyyyyyinnnnnnng to say something to me, you can still send me email at

I am going to try something new in 2016. In a burst of hope I'm calling it "not constantly worrying about starving". I have a Patreon page. If you pledge me a dollar a month, you will get an extra article per week. Sometime in the week. Art cannot be rushed, and neither can the drivel I write. The topic of the post will be the same as the posts on the public blog here, i.e., non…

Monday Mystery: Ricky McCormick's Strange Notes

On June 30, 1999, the body of 41-year-old Ricky McCormick was found in a cornfield near West Alton, MO.  He had been dead for quite some time, but that part didn't surprise anyone -- McCormick was known to have cardiopulmonary problems. The last confirmed sighting of him alive was five days before that, in fact, when he came into a local hospital for a checkup. The FBI page characterizes it as a homicide, but the local coroner ruled the cause of death undetermined; that usually means that there was something about the circumstances that made them think foul play was involved, but the fibbies don't say specifically what it was. Possibly just that he had no car, and yet he was found fifteen miles from home, in an area with no public transit.

No, the real reason this case is interesting is what they found in McCormick's pockets.

McCormick was reportedly a high school dropout, barely literate, and yet in his pockets were two notes that are either total gibberish, or cleverly e…

Saturday Serial: Sherlock Holmes "The Case of the Shy Ballerina"

Here's something cute, following along the language talk the other day. See if you can read this:

Hint: The plaintext is in English. You don't need to know Chinese to read it, but knowing something about how Chinese works might help. Priming not required, although depending on how flexible your recognition vocabulary is, it might be faster to guess some chunks from context rather than reading them explicitly.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Today is a food-based holiday for USians, so naturally I am celebrating it with RAT. This year, Yuki is thankful she's still around for Giant Meal For No Reason Day -- three rounds of any given holiday is a pretty good run for a tiny furry ball of genetic defects. She's lost both sisters, but seems to be doing fine as an only rat. As usually happens with only-rats, she's gotten a lot more pushy about climbing the cage door to let me know it is Time For Rat-Tending NOW, but mainly, Yuki seems to be enjoying being able to nom all of the new holes in her nest box herself.

In addition to her customary new box to shred and new bedding to roll around in, Yuki is also getting her own tiny Ratsgiving dinner. Observe:

Salad with dressing and buttered crust of bread, rosemary chicken stew with mashed potatoes and peas, and for dessert, egg nog porridge with a dab of jam. No, I never have much to do over the holiday weekend, why do you ask?

She is actually getting this over a couple …
I have realized in the past few years that I am not really kidding when I talk about having a 'magic language sense'. There is something about the time-worn repetition about true language that catches my attention when I see it, even if it's not a language I speak, or it's disguised as something else. There is a limit; blocks of Enigma text don't trip it, for instance, although intellectually I've inhaled enough about cryptography to recognize that's what it (probably) is. The format typically used by numbers stations says to me that there is a message there, although since it's probably an arbitrary correspondence code I have no idea what it says, or that it's not all padding and gibberish.

A big tip off that I'm actually noticing something, even if I don't precisely know what it is, is that the language sense works better when I have context, and generally best when I have large amounts of text to look at. Perhaps an equally big clue is th…
Here is everyone's regularly scheduled reminder that Stressed Writer writes better when not Stressed over money matters. I have a Patreon, a GoFundMe, and a PayPal donation link.

Just to prove you get something out of this, today I'm going to tackle a reader question from the last round, a request to write more about gifted kids and What They Go On To Do With Their Lives. What do gifted kids do with their giftedness?

The short answer is: I don't know. The slightly less short answer is: It depends on a lot of stuff.

Despite what the adults told you from birth through high school, there are an awful lot of gifted kids who never go on to change the world. There's a distinct over-representation of high IQs in the fields where you'd expect it, like college faculty, but that doesn't mean that most gifted kids grow up to work in research or higher education -- the field isn't big enough, and it self-selects for other qualities in addition to intelligence. "Ge…

Monday Mystery: The Dominici Affair

Today's mystery is still mysterious mainly because the investigation and inquest were what can only be described as a shitshow of epic proportions. The English Wikipedia article on Jack Drummond, a wartime chemist specializing in nutrition, gives the bare bones; there is only a stub about the murder itself.

The real details of the operation are over on, where a lengthy write-up details a police operation that would have embarrassed the Keystone Kops.

Sometime during the night of August 4, 1952, the Drummond family (Jack Drummond, his second wife Ann, and their 10-year-old daughter Elizabeth) were brutally murdered along the side of Route nationale 96 near Lurs, in what is now Alpes-des-Haute-Provence. They had been driving through southeastern France in a green Hillman station wagon when they evidently stopped near a farm rather hyperbolically known as Le Grand'Terre ("the Mainland"), where a person or persons unknown bashed their heads in with the butt …

Saturday Serial: Sherlock Holmes "The Man Who Disappeared"

And now, for something much nicer and less frustrating than my actual life:

Sacks was one of those rare people who managed to make his life mean exactly what he wanted it to. Good for him.
Apparently, none of my other writing is going to cooperate until I write out the rant I desperately wish to deliver to Jazmin's sister. I won't (probably), because it wouldn't fix her behavior (probably). People like this tend to be immune to social correction. On the other hand, the therapist lady advises me not to be too hard on myself if I do snap and start shouting at her in the hallway, because goddamn sometimes people are in urgent medical need of a good hard pimp slap, and shouting is the closest thing to it that's still legal.

[Jazmin, I know you read this turkey sometimes, so if you want to stop now, I've put the rant under a cut. It's nothing I haven't told you already, but it's cool if you don't want to go through it again. Or if you do and want to pretend you didn't, that's fine, too.]

Halfway through On Megrim. Liveing has gotten no less astonishing.

I am finding it difficult to plow through the book at my normal speed. He keeps sort of casually making connections that make me stop and stare into space for a while as I think through the implications -- which, since I'm reading this in 2015, probably involve a lot more math than he had in mind when he originally wrote this.

About half of his observations are connections I had not made myself yet, mainly because I am not technically a neurologist and do not have access to the same materials Liveing did, never mind a modern neurology student. The other half are things I have been saying for years, including to actual doctors, which have mostly been ignored because, again, not technically a neurologist. Most of the relevant ones have been comparisons of the course of migranous misery to things like epileptiform seizures. The boundaries between various disorders were drawn differently in the 19th century -- which I …