personal


Alert reader Raphael reminded me that my website is now 20 years old.  That’s, like, older than several multibillion-dollar web businesses; I obviously wasn’t a very savvy operator.

To celebrate, I’ve created an explosion of content!

Hopefully that’s a little something for everybody.

If you’re under, oh, 40 or 50, Roz Chast’s graphic novel will seem like a story from an alternative dimension… like a love story looks when you’re nine.  But this will all happen to you, pal.

It’s about the last years of Chast’s parents, and having lost both of mine in the last three years, I recognized everything.

rozchast

There’s kind of a secret fraternity of those who have taken care of elderly parents. You watch them tootling through their 80s, a little less vigorous, a little hard of hearing, but still happy and active. Then something happens.  They can do less and less.  They don’t take care of their home as well as they used to. They start getting weak and then positively fragile.  There are emergencies with falls and sudden hospital stays.

Step by step the old relationship reverses, till you are taking care of them. And making decisions nothing has prepared you for: are they insisting on driving when they can’t, do they need help in their home, do they need to move out, is anyone making sure they bathe, what if scammers call them on the phone…

Oh, scammers. One day my sister came to Dad’s house and he wasn’t there. This was extremely disconcerting as he used a walker and simply walking to the kitchen was a big thing for him. He had written a phone number on a piece of paper in the den; I Googled it and found it was a taxi company. We called the company and he had taken a taxi to Walgreens.

Well, he showed up back at the house soon enough, and my sister got the whole story. Someone had called and told him he’d won hundreds of thousands of dollars.  To get it, he just had to send a money card (available at Walgreens) to an address in Nevada, because reasons. They told him not to tell his kids— it should be a surprise!

Fortunately, the clerk at Walgreens was on the ball; he told my Dad it was a scam, and he came home. He was a little embarrassed, though not as much as when he dropped his cranberry juice and one of us had to clean it up.

Point is, you take care of them out of affection and need, yes, and death is horrible and tragic and pathetic, but they’re also exasperating, weird, and sometimes hilarious.

This is all in Chast. I don’t know what you might expect in a memoir about death— it’s occasionally sad or gruesome— but there’s plenty of humor and personal eccentricity. You get to know Chast’s parents, and learn exactly how they drive Roz bats.

When Chast’s cartoons started appearing in the New Yorker, I didn’t like them. They seemed weird and humorless. Eventually I came around. It might have been this cartoon that did it:

Untitled-1

 

Chast has a very dry sense of humor, with an occasional dash of surrealism. Her characters are typically urban, quotidian and a little neurotic, sitting around small living rooms on couches with antimacassars on top… after reading her memoir, I can see her parents and their Brooklyn apartment in her cartoons.

In form, her book is a mixture of comics, text, and a few photos. She’s managed something that many have tried with far less success: moving easily between cartoons and text. The key may be that the text is handwritten, and never too long. Blocks of typesetting are jarring in a comic. At the same time, many comics artists try to keep everything in comics, and that doesn’t work, because six or twenty panels of the same thing are boring.

If you’re young, with no elderly relatives around, I have no idea what the book will be like for you. So check it out to learn what this alternative dimension is like, or come back in ten years…

We are not on fire any more.  Here, from the Tribune, is a picture of the fire:

fire

See the building on the far left, past the tree, that looks like it’s a few feet from the burning building? That’s our building. I’m thankful that it didn’t go up as well, but it is damaged. The roof partially melted and has to be replaced. The basement got three feet of water, which means the boiler and hot water heater were damaged (and the stuff I had in the basement is probably ruined). The firefighters bust in all the doors. There’s no power or gas.

On the plus side, things are happening already. They sealed all the doors, removed the carpets, and drained the basement. I heard that the city is going to demolish the ruined building. It’s fenced off, but it’s what lawyers call an attractive nuisance: a dangerous thing that curious not-very-smart people would love to explore. And it’s right next door to a school. Plus it still has three-story brick walls that could collapse, which is another reason our building isn’t yet habitable, so the sooner it goes the better.

(Edit:) Along the street near our building there are little piles of ash and charcoal. There’s also little spots of ash on my jacket that didn’t come off int he wash…

Lots of little things going on: talking to our landlord and to our insurance company, making some trips to pick up essentials, cleaning out the fridge so life does not evolve there while we’re away. I managed to track down and receive an important package: the proof copy of my book. Trying to get used to sleeping hours more like those of normal people.

We’re staying with some very sweet friends of ours. Hopefully we’ll be pleasant enough guests that we can stay till we can move back to our place. We’re still a little stressed out, but basically OK.

So, last night my home almost burned down.

What did burn down was the apartment building next door. My wife smelled smoke, I went outside to check, and omigod there were flames coming out of the windows.

We had to get out quickly, with just the clothes we were wearing.  I went back in to get my wallet and this computer.  (Nerdy?  It has my life work on it.  Also my writing career.)

We hung around on the street a bit watching and trying to judge if our building was going to catch the fire. If you’re wondering what this is like, it’s helpless and terrifying.  The fire seemed to get even worse– it was down to the second of three floors.  The fire department was there, we couldn’t even get near our building.  It was raining, but a huge fire is only mildly daunted by that. They put up a huge crane and poured water on the burning building.  From another vantage point we could see more hoses; sometimes they sprayed our building to keep it wet.

There was nothing to do but get to a hotel for the night, and stay up all night wondering if we’d lose everything we owned.

I went over in the morning; they were still pouring water on the big apartment building, but ours was standing.  The police were only letting people in one at a time, with an escort, so I went in to grab a couple of bags of essentials.  What do you grab when you may not be able to get at your apartment-full of possessions for an indefinite period?  Clothes, the cel phone (couldn’t find it last night), meds, wife’s credit cards, the monitor and keyboard so I could actually use the computer, something to read.

We drove to what was supposed to be a cheaper hotel, only it wasn’t.  My wife called her boss and asked to stay in his office basement.  He said that was OK, so we drove back there, unloaded, and I took a rest.  Then my landlord called with the little he knew, one bit of which was that we should rush over to the building and get anything we needed before they sealed it up for an unknown time.  So we got another load of stuff.

And now we’re somewhere else.  We’re staying with friends in town.  If it continues for awhile, my sister in in the area, though far from my wife’s work (and the health club).

The burned building is a horrific sight— it looks like something that got bombed.  The walls are brick, and the only thing visible is the brick walls, and not even all of those.  It’s still tall, and they’re worried it can collapse, which is why we can’t go back yet.  Plus, checking to make sure people were out, the firemen busted down all the doors.  So we don’t know how long we’ll be out of our apartment; I hope it’s a matter of weeks rather than months.

The fire was on the news; apparently there were no deaths, but there’s a lot of lives messed up today.

So, that’s why I won’t be playing League of Legends for awhile.

I didn’t think the next update would be quite this soon. My Dad died this morning, at about 9:30 a.m.

In front of his first house, in 1950

In front of his first house, in 1950

The last few weeks he had been declining fast. He was having trouble walking; the last time we went out to eat he needed to be in the wheelchair, and even then it was a terrible hassle getting him in and out of the car. The week before this, I made him crepes instead of taking him out. This week, he wasn’t able to eat by himself– his caregiver had to feed him. He was unresponsive at times; other times he’d talk, but be hard to understand. I saw him Friday and he seemed agitated but couldn’t quite explain what was wrong. Still, he just seemed to run out of steam rather than suffer much.

For anyone planning to live 95 years, as he did, here’s one life lesson: take pictures of yourself. One of today’s tasks was to assemble pictures for a display at the funeral. I looked through the ~ 2700 slides I’ve scanned, and found perhaps a dozen of him. He was the photographer, so we have oodles of pictures of Mom, the kids, friends, touristic destinations, etc., but not many of him. (Until the 1980s, when my Mom got her own camera.)

I will probably post about him some more when we start sorting through the house. My brother in law found a WWII story I’m eager to set down…

It’s been awhile since I talked about how my Dad is doing. He’s 95 now, which is a large number when it comes to ages.

Dad (L) and his brother, 35 years ago

Dad (L) and his brother, 35 years ago

So how’s he doing? To put it positively: he had a good year last year. He could keep living at home, he updated his website, he enjoyed his music and read books and spent time with family.

This year hasn’t been so good. After a fall and a brief hospital stay, he’s had to have someone in the house 24 hours a day. At first this was an improvement: he could safely get out of bed and get to the bathroom, and he was eating better. The companionship was probably helpful too.  But in the last few weeks he’s been quickly declining.  He has trouble walking for even a few steps, he barely eats, he mostly just sleeps. And a few times he’s been really confused. This week he was really zoned out, except at meal times.  He still likes to go out to eat with me– he always orders crepes. It seems the sweet taste buds last the longest.

Plus the doctor found something bad on his liver. They didn’t know quite what, and don’t seem anxious to find out.  A friend of mine just went through abdominal surgery at a far younger age, and I don’t think Dad could handle it.

This all may sound like a downer, but the way I try to think of it is: he’s had a pretty good 95 years.  In fact, up to the last couple of years, I’d say my parents were a model for enjoying the senior years. (And if I talk about him now and then, it’s because he’s a major preoccupation these days.)

Oh, about the picture: Dad always wore bow ties. For many people this would be an affectation, but he had a good reason. He worked in the printing industry, and when he was a pressman someone had a horrible accident when their tie got caught in a press. Bow ties are safer.

Just got the numbers from the Accountancy Wing of the Zompist Fortressplex. Since the beginning of time I’ve sold just under 13,000 books in all formats.  Print and Kindle run about even.

Nearly half that— 6351 books— is the Language Construction Kit. That’s pretty respectable sales for a book; Amazon tells me it’s #39,836 on their print books ranking (#39 in linguistics). This year it’s being used as a textbook in two different university courses. (Not the first time; last year I visited a class at Purdue that was using it, which was a lot of fun.)

The news if you’re hoping to sell your sf/fantasy novel is: keep the day job. Babblers, along with its supplementary volumes, has sold 71 copies. That’s actually better than Against Peace and Freedom did in its first four months (42 copies). APAF still hasn’t reached the 200 sales where I said I’d create a conlang for it. (It will probably be Hanying, by the way.) I’m not complaining– doing Babblers this year was a labor of love, and the people who’ve read my novels tend to like them a lot– but the next book will definitely be non-fiction.

What will that be? Well, might as well start building interest: I’ve been working on a book about China and Chinese, tentatively called China for Conlangers. I think most conworlders know enough about European history to create classical and medieval worlds, but don’t know where to start with China, so the book will tell you what you need to know about Chinese history, religion, literature, art, technology, and architecture, as well as the Chinese language and writing system. As with all of my conworlding books, it’s also a sneaky way to impart actual information.  I haven’t thought of a better title, though.

(I’m also tempted to write an English-language grammar of Quechua, since such a thing isn’t readily available. Feel free to lobby for this…)

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