Histoplasmosis in Cats: A Personal Story

I remember it clearly: I was standing in the exam room at my vet’s office. Across the table stood my vet, and between us sat Mick, the cat who had deviled us for the past six months. She was now just a shell of her former Psycho Demon Cat self – and I had just learned she’d lost even more weight in the past week, taking her to a scant 4.8lbs. We’d tried everything. She’d been seen by top internalists at Oklahoma State University. She’d been scoped, prodded, stuck, injected, treated, tested. And nothing was working. I could feel her spine and ribs through her short fur. I looked down at her and realized this was probably the end of the line, and even opened my mouth to ask the vet if that was the case – at the same moment he said, “I want to try one more thing.”

A week later, in my kitchen, I got the phone call. “I have good news and bad news,” the vet said, and I could hear the excitement in his voice. “The good news is, it’s histoplasmosis. The bad news is, it’s histoplasmosis.”

“There is no bad news,” I said.

My vet said he’d already ordered the antifungal drugs, and within 48 hours of being on them, Mick was eating normally and acting more like her Psycho Demon Cat self.

Anyone who owns animals – dogs, cats, snakes (blech!), whatever – knows the utter frustration and fear that comes with knowing your pet isn’t well – but you have NO idea why. You take them to the vet, who will examine them and do diagnostics – blood work, temperature check, etc. Sometimes you get an idea of what’s wrong right away. Sometimes past issues get in the way (one time, my cat Rascal wasn’t feeling well, and given his history of bladder issues, that’s what the vet jumped to – until I went to pick up Rascal and discovered he had a huge abscess on his chest). And sometimes, the vet just doesn’t know.

And sometimes, you get lucky. Because you’ve seen the symptoms before.

Nigel (left) with Hammie (remember him? So itty-bitty in June and now he’s the biggest kitty in the house!

That’s was the case a few months ago when one of my barn cats, Nigel, started to drop weight inexplicably. Because it was getting colder, I let him come inside. I also took him to the vet immediately. He had no underlying issues, no real medical past, so we assumed perhaps it was worms (though he’d been wormed just a few months earlier) and he came home. But he kept losing weight. And then he got picky about his food, only licking the gravy from his canned and refusing most things.

And suddenly, I knew what it was. Because I’d seen this before with Mick.

Histoplasmosis is a fungal infection, carried by birds. If a cat ingests it or breathes in the spores, they can’t shed it – it takes root in the body, settling in various areas, including the kidneys, bone marrow, and lungs. There’s some debate about where it’s endemic – it’s actually endemic in the Ohio Valley region – but having had two cats with it, I can tell you that it IS in Kansas, and elsewhere through the Midwest. If there are birds, histoplasmosis is a possibility.

Every cat presents slightly differently, but for me, the major symptoms were:

Weight loss – It’s an insidious weight loss – not sudden, but slow enough that you look at your cat one day and think “Wow, when did you get so skinny?” Because they start to become anorexic (technical term for ‘not eating’) they lose more and more weight. It took Mick about six months to go from a health 10lbs to about 4.8lbs; it took Nigel about three months.

Picky about food – for both Mick and Nigel, the tell-tale sign was this one, and it’s very specific. The cat loses interest in ALL food, but will lick gravy from canned food. You may go through 20 types of canned food to find something they’ll eat once or twice, then abandon. My vet has seen 11 or 12 histo cats in the past ten years, and all of them had this symptom. They eat barely enough to stay alive, and sometimes, not even that much.

Weird blood work results – Mick’s histo settled in her bone marrow and kidneys .Every time we did blood work, the results led us down a different path. Once, her potassium levels were wonky. Another time, it was something else. Every few weeks, it was always something else. With Nigel, we never saw that, but I think that’s because we figured out right away what it was we were dealing with. We didn’t run blood work on him like we had to with Mick while we were trying to diagnose her.

Respiratory issues – with Nigel, the histo settled into his lungs and sinus cavities. He sounded like he had pneumonia, and it affected his sense of smell as well.

Depression – cats with histo feel like hell, all the time. They’re not interested in doing anything. In fact, even when we had Nigel on medicine and I was syringe-feeding him, there were days when I thought we would lose him just to his depression.

I was lucky with both of my cats. I was blessed with a vet who was committed to finding out what was wrong with Mick – she was his first case of histoplasmosis, and it took us about 6 months to diagnose it, from her first symptom of weight loss to the final diagnosis. There’s only one lab in the country that tests for it. Without my vet, I would have lost Mick – and without Mick, I couldn’t have diagnosed Nigel.

It was clear immediately, once I saw Nigel licking gravy and not eating, what we were dealing with, and I instantly called my vet to schedule the histo test. The results came back as I was battling COVID-19. But unlike Mick, Nigel didn’t respond to the usual medication. It made him extremely ill – he became anorexic (more than usual, and I didn’t think that was possible), more depressed, and nauseated. It took a while to figure out that we needed to switch him over to an inject-able antifungal instead. By that time, he was being syringe-fed (a wonderful product from Canada called Critical Care Carnivore saved his life) and weighed just 5.8lbs. There were definitely days when I wondered what I was doing, and it was always in the back of my mind that just because you diagnose something doesn’t mean you can cure it.

Today, almost four months after his first symptoms, Nigel is clear of histoplasmosis. He’s back up to 7.5lbs. He still won’t eat canned food – I think it made him nauseous when he was already ill, and he associates it with that – but he does have a specific dry food he loves. He probably will never again be an outside cat (he won’t drink anything but water from my Brita pitcher now), but he’s happy and healthy, and that’s what matters.

I wanted to share this story because I know there must be dozens – maybe hundreds – of cat owners out there who are struggling, or have struggled, with these symptoms and had no way to know what was causing them. Taken apart, they’re so indistinct that they could indicate almost anything – we tested Mick for FIV, FeLV, even scoped her for ulcers and GI issues and tested her for lymphoma. And unless your vet is familiar with histoplasmosis, they probably won’t even think to test for it. It’s not recognized as endemic in most of the Midwest, after all. Your vet might even point that out. Insist on the test anyway. As I said, only one lab in the country does the test. But a positive result is a POSITIVE result – there are no false positives with this test. And once you know, you can start the treatment. If your cat has a bad reaction to the antifungal, like Nigel did, insist on switching to the injections. They have to be given in subQ fluids – Nigel was on a three-day-a-week schedule – but it’s worth it.

Here’s some good resources and references on histoplasmosis:

https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/histoplasmosis-in-cats

https://news.okstate.edu/articles/communications/2019/recognizing_histoplasmosis_in_pet_dogs_and_cats.html – this is a 2019 article from Oklahoma State University. Good to see them recognizing it as endemic now!

https://www.dvm360.com/view/canine-and-feline-histoplasmosis-review-widespread-fungus – a bit older, but still good information.

This is the Carnivore Critical Care that I put Nigel on. You can find it on Amazon. Some cats will eat it just fine; I had to syringe-feed Nigel, but I am convinced this is what bought us enough time for the antifungal meds to start working.

‘Endings Are Hard’

Sometimes, on Facebook, there’s a question: Name the character whose death you’ll never get over.

For me, the answers have always been the standards: Henry Blake, Will Herondale, Dobby.

Now, I have to add Sam and Dean Winchester to that list, and twenty-four hours later, even typing those words makes me cry.

Isn’t that what we all want, as writers? To create characters that are so real, so beloved, that our readers/fans bawl their eyes out if something happens to them? In retrospect, I should have just said, you know what? I love the ending of the penultimate episode. They defeated Chuck. Jack has his destiny. Sam and Dean are finally free to live their lives. But no. I had to watch the series finale. Damn it.

It was my mom who got me hooked on Supernatural. Fifteen years ago, she started watching this little show about two brothers – who, I had to admit, were pretty cute – who ‘saved people and hunted things.’ But this was three years after the end of The X-Files, and believe it or not, I was still in mourning – and frankly, still pretty pissed off at Chris Carter for ending it that way, with no resolution, nothing. I had vowed I would never become that invested in a TV show again.

Not worth it, I said. Try it, she said. But I just couldn’t. I kept waiting for it to end. It seemed like it would, after all – it was fun, smart, with a great cast and a great premise. All those kinds of shows end up getting the axe. Moonlight did. Why not this one?

But it didn’t. And Sam and Dean won me over, with their cuteness and sarcasm and courage, their loyalty and resourcefulness, their amazing bond and the penchant they had for running pell-mell into danger – not because they didn’t recognize the danger, but because they felt they had no choice. This was their job. Their calling. And I liked that about them. I’ve always liked those kinds of stories, the ones where the characters know there’s a chance they’ll die (and Sam and Dean did die, several times!) but it’s not important. What’s important is fixing what’s wrong. Solving the problem. Whatever that problem might be. A ghost A vampire nest. The Apocalypse. Bringing their brother back from the dead. The usual.

For fifteen years, I’ve remained faithful, as characters came and went, as characters sacrificed themselves for the greater good (Crowley, Charlie, Rowena . . . Ellen and Jo . . . John Winchester . . . and our dear sweet Castiel, among many), as over and over, Sam and Dean defied the odds with nothing more than courage, a stubborn streak, and faith in each other.

“Endings are hard,” Chuck said in the episode Swan Song, which saw Lucifer taking over Sam so he could fight Michael in the final epic battle of good and evil – and Dean, unwilling to give up on his brother, driving to the showdown and interrupting two archangels intent on the Apocalypse. (This episode also features my favorite five second of all time: Castiel’s “Hey! Assbutt!”) At that time, we just thought Chuck was a prophet, and what he said was true of all writers. Endings suck. But what made this ending, this series finale, worse, I think, is that it was one of the last things I still shared with my mom. She died some time ago. She didn’t get to see this ending. I wasn’t conscious of that link to her, really, not until last night when I started crying and suddenly realized my tears and my grief ran deeper than watching Dean say his goodbyes to Sam, or seeing them reunited with that smile, and that “Hey, Sammy” – a line I’ve heard a thousand times over fifteen years, the line I said with him because I knew he’d say it.

Supernatural was first and foremost about family. That was clear in every episode. To Dean, nothing was more important. Never give up on family. Whether that family was his brother and dad, or whether it was the extended, adopted family they created – Charlie, Castiel, Jodi, Jack – family was first and foremost, and my mom was really the last of mine. I have siblings, but we don’t talk and after a lifetime of their treatment, that’s fine. But you knew, always, that Sam and Dean would do anything for each other – making a deal with a crossroads demon, whatever it took. It felt like not just the end of one of my favorite series, but it felt like that last tiny link I still had with my mom was suddenly severed.

So to me, this show about two brothers ‘saving people, hunting things’ was far more than that. It was inspiration and comfort. It was an hour of believing in the good in people again. It was a last bit of connection to my mom. It was hope. I know that sounds corny, but really, that’s what it was. The writers took big risks – making angels into douchebags?! Who would have done that?! But it was brilliant! You never knew what would happen next – but whatever it was, you knew one thing: Sam and Dean would survive it, together. They were an inspiration for how to live life, to never give up, which was the basis of the mental health initiatives that Jensen Ackles and Jared Padelecki have sponsored and supported.

So thank you to the cast and crew, the writers and directors and producers, for giving us fifteen years of an amazing show. Hopefully, I can find it in myself to start living my life with that kind of courage and conviction.

The sarcasm, I already have. ūüôā

To Undecided Republican Voters

A recent poll I read stated that 90% of voters in America already know who they’re going to vote for, and nothing will change their minds. So this is directed at the 10% of you who still haven’t decided between Joe Biden and Donald Trump.

Here’s the thing: America is fragile. America hangs together by a lick and a promise, as the old saying goes – a promise that we all make, because we’re citizens of the greatest country on earth, to uphold our democracy, to stand up for one another, to maintain our Constitution. Our Constitution, as I’ve come to believe in the past year, is only viable so long as we believe in it – and only so long as those who have power for the moment are willing to uphold it. It requires vigilance. It requires honor. It requires diligence.

“. . . we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our Sacred Honor.” Words you might remember from studying the Declaration of Independence at some point in school. This is the last line of the document that officially severed our ties with Great Britain, and cast us into a war for independence. The men who signed it did so knowing they were now traitors to the crown. Knowing that if we lost, they were going to be drawn and quartered. Every single man who signed it knew that – and signed it anyway. They believed enough in the promise of America and its people that they were willing to risk their lives in the effort to see it come into existence.

We have never had consensus about our government. There has always been contention about the size of government, about whether we’re a country or a confederacy of states, about taxes, about industry vs. agriculture, about expansion, colonialism, voting rights – you name it, we’ve argued about it. But in all of America’s history, we’ve never faced a moment like this. We’ve never been this close to losing everything we grew up knowing and believing in.

The Constitution is an amazing document. The pinnacle of the Enlightenment, the product of thousands of years of government experiments, forged in the years after the Revolutionary War when we weren’t sure what we were going to be yet, and written by men who were flawed and knew it. They created a document that could guide us, that could be amended as America changed. And we have amended it. We have interpreted it. And for 231 years, it has guided us and governed us. But it depends on us for its survival.

If you’re a Republican, and you’re wavering, torn about what to do because you’ve always voted Republican, because being Republican is part of who you are – and yet, there is a part of you that hesitates – know you’re not alone. And please know this: the Republican party of today is not the Republican party you knew. Did Reagan, or George Bush, or George W. Bush, advocate racism? White supremacy? Did any of them actively seek to divide the nation, or to destroy it from the inside out? No. They sought to strengthen American, to make us an economic powerhouse, to further our foreign influence, to keep us a world leader.

Trump has done none of those things. Every day, it becomes more clear that he has ties to foreign entities FAR beyond what a president should have. Jimmy Carter famously gave up his farm when he became President, so that there could never be any conflict of interest, no hint of wrongdoing. Trump has, at every opportunity, used the office to his own ends. He has used it to enrich himself by putting up dignitaries at his own hotels, then overcharging the government for it. He’s used it as leverage to further his own business interests. And it’s now clear that not only is he massively in debt, but those debts are to foreign countries. China. Russia. Saudi Arabia. Our two biggest enemies, and one nation that could be an enemy, if the winds blow the wrong direction. Is this what we want? Is this what the Republican party is now about? Selling us out?

Further, Trump has weakened America’s stance in the world. The world no longer looks to us as a leader. That honor has now gone to the trifecta of France, Germany, and Canada. Great countries, all of them – but ever since the Spanish-American War, America’s influence upon the world has been unquestioned. This nation, which won two world wars, put down Nazism, has dedicated itself to fighting dictators and tyrannies since our conception – this nation, our nation, now stands poised to lose it all, for at the moment we have authoritarians, not statesmen.

I’m a liberal Independent. I never liked George W. Bush. I disagreed with many of his policies and positions. But on 9/11, when it mattered most, he was not a Republican president; he was our president. He was our rock. He was our leader. He shared our grief and he rose to the occasion, and when he spoke, we knew that he stood with us all.

Can you imagine, now, Donald Trump in that moment? Can you imagine him standing at Ground Zero, with the fires still raging, the dead still not found, the families still searching, and being what George W. Bush was for us that night? Because I cannot. I can imagine him bellowing and raging at who to blame and who to kill, and how he great he is. That’s all. I can’t imagine him rallying us as a nation to stand together, unified in a national tragedy. Why? Because he’s had that chance, and he’s failed every single time.

Trump has made a mockery of the Constitution. He’s made a mockery of the most sacred office in our land. And he’s brought the GOP down with him. Ask yourself: do you recognize your own party anymore? I have Republican friends (yes, I do!), and one of them voted, for the first time ever, a straight Democrat ticket this year because the Republican party of today is no longer aligned with his values.

Every single person elected for office swears an oath to uphold the Constitution. What can you say about a party that used to care about this, but is now led by people who see the Constitution as little more than a speed bump on the road to authoritarianism? The Republican leadership has enabled a man who dishonors not only Christianity, but also the Constitution that took so many years to draft and has served us so well. The Constitution is an extraordinary document, unique in history. Trump has brought in people to enable him to circumvent – and in some cases outright defy – the Constitution. Miller, Barr – these people have no loyalty to the Constitution or to America, but only to Trump. They swore to uphold the Constitution, but Trump has hijacked that and made it about loyalty to him. And Trump is NOT equal to the Constitution. It’s not about loyalty to the office of the President; it’s about loyalty to him. And that is authoritarianism.

Those are the things I cannot stand for, and cannot forgive. We, the people, have elected people who care not about America, but about power. The Republicans have had leadership – very good leaders, men like Eisenhower, and George W. Bush. Men who were real men. Men who served in the armed forces, who understood honor, who fought for us and would have died for our country if necessary. Men who loved America and did their best to leave it a better place (even if some of those efforts were misguided). It is now up to us – ALL of us – to stand up for America.

Right now, party labels are not important. What’s important is that we are all, first and foremost, Americans.

Vote for America. Vote for democracy. Vote for our Constitution.

Vote for Joe Biden. Not because you’re a Democrat or a liberal or any other label, but simply because you are an American, and you give a damn about the continuance of our democracy.

We’ll figure out the rest later.

For a list of prominent Republicans who are crossing party lines to support Joe Biden, see this article: https://www.newsweek.com/nearly-350-prominent-republicans-voting-joe-biden-1540611 And if I may quote former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman, this election “isn’t about a Republican or Democrat. It’s about a person: a person decent enough, stable enough, strong enough to get our economy back on track.”

Is America a Democracy? Only if you vote.

Here we sit. One month away from the moment where the American experiment continues, or whether we go down in a blaze of fascism led by a an orange toddler too stupid to take a pandemic seriously.

I know a lot of people out there – maybe yourself included – find this doomsday scenario farfetched. I am not alone, however. Our system is not just flawed at the moment; it’s almost irretrievably broken.

A democracy is literally the power of the people. WE decide. WE vote. WE elect. WE determine. WE direct. But it’s not that way anymore, is it? Nope, I hear you – we still have elections, you idiot. Of course we still have the power to elect. Stop with the doomsday stuff already, liberal.* Well, here’s the thing. In a true democracy, everyone with the right to vote should have the means and opportunity to vote. Otherwise, it’s not a democracy. And that’s not the case in America anymore.

Take, for example, this week’s action by Texas Governor Greg Abbott. Like all states, Texas provides for absentee ballots. However, Abbot issued an order this week limiting the number of drop-off boxes for absentee ballots to one per county. That’s it. Now, let me explain why that’s a bad idea. There are 254 counties in Texas. The largest is Brewster County, which covers more than 500 square miles. (That’s three times the size of Delaware, BTW.) Although the county seat, Alpine, is the only true ‘city,’ the county is broken down into four major school districts and has three ‘census-designated areas’. In other words, it’s a large, extremely rural area where most people have to travel a long ways to buy groceries. Now. In this county alone, how is it possible to have ONE absentee ballot box? How far will people need to travel to drop it off? And – which is Abbott’s point in all this – will they? He’s hoping they won’t.

This is just the latest example of the erosion of voter rights that has been going on for some time – at least 30 years – and is only now manifesting itself. All erosions are unconstitutional. All of them violate the 14th and 15th Amendments, and usually the 19th Amendment, and all of them violate the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

No, voter suppression is not a new thing, you’re right. It’s been ongoing since just after the Civil War, when the white supremacist South couldn’t stand the idea of black men being equal to them, so the utilized every dirty trick in the book – and some they had to invent – to keep them from voting. Everything from literacy laws (‘read this paragraph of the Constitution to me, and you can vote’), to the infamous ‘grandfather clause’ (if your grandfather could vote in 1860, you could vote), to poll taxes, to out-and-out intimidation, usually by having Klan members in full bedsheets standing outside the voting booths on election day. Today, it’s a lot more subtle; they take pains to make it seem legal. Like Abbott’s declaration, or Florida’s new law stating that nonviolent ex-felons can’t vote unless all fines and fees are paid – thus disenfranchising over 1 million people, most of whom are people of color and/or of low economic status. Some will argue that this is fine. Others will argue that this is a violation of the Voting Rights Act – in essence, a poll tax. Either way, it’s preventing these people from voting. (Michael Bloomberg did raise funds – over $16 million – to pay fees for some of those disenfranchised voters, BTW.)

No. It’s clear the system is broken. And it’s clear that this is a long con – something that’s been in the works for decades, as Republicans slowly erode our rights away. In fact, I’d argue that we stand on the brink – if we’re not there already – of being neither a democracy nor a republic, but an oligarchy. Because partisan courts have turned a blind eye to their tricks, like gerrymandering (which is unconstitutional), or purposely kicking people of color off the voting rolls (Georgia), the people no longer have the power – which is the very meaning of democracy.

Can we get it back? Yes, but it will take some luck, belief, and a long-term, sustained effort – and, to quote Mad-Eye Moody, constant vigilance! We can’t for one second take the eye off the ball. And there are things we can do to mitigate circumstances so that we don’t end up back here again – or at least, so we don’t end up back here again soon – but it will take a real conversation about our democracy, our history, and our future. It will take a real commitment not to power or prestige, but to patriotism. It will take a commitment not to party or partisan politics, but to people. It will take a commitment to America itself.

We can save it. Our first step has to be to vote on November 3. Or to vote by mail. To request an absentee ballot. To VOTE, period. If you’re not yet registered to vote, go register! Every state has a different deadline to register, so check here – https://www.vote.org/voter-registration-deadlines/ – to find out your state’s deadline, or check out your state’s election office (usually part of the Secretary of State’s office).

Let me make a special plea to the 18-24 year olds out there – you will hear your elders, maybe even your parents, tell you you shouldn’t vote because you don’t know the candidates, don’t know how government works, don’t know the issues. DO NOT LISTEN TO THEM. You can become informed. Today, it’s easier than ever. You can make your voice heard. You can determine the kind of nation YOU want to live in. Here. Now. This is your moment. And you Millennials – those of you between 23 – 38? You outnumber the Baby Boomers now. Go register. Go vote. My students can’t wait to get to vote. They’re ready. We are still a democracy, damn it, and your vote does matter.

And if we win in a month, then we have a lot of work to do, a lot of changes to make, to ensure we are never standing here again, on the line between democracy and fascism.

* Also, there are a lot of countries, like China and Russia, which have elections, but those elections are meaningless because there’s only one party, and only one person to vote for. Elections in and of themselves don’t make a democracy; the right of voters to choose, to determine the path forward, is what makes a democracy.

A Time For Dissent

“That’s the dissenter’s hope: that they are writing not for today, but for tomorrow.”

Immortal words from a woman we prayed would be immortal.

Like millions, I was devastated beyond measure by the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It feels like the end of everything. It feels like the end of hope and light, the end of decency and equality, the end of democracy and liberty. The end of the environment, of women’s rights, of America itself.

One woman made us feel this way. Please, stop for a moment to consider that. One woman made us feel this way.

Imagine how great this nation could be, then, if we all had the ability to inspire those around us? To be the person upon whom their hopes hinged?

Ruth Bader Ginsburg dedicated her life to fighting for equality and justice. She fought tirelessly, bravely; even in the face of great opposition, she did not swerve or flinch. She knew her life’s work was greater than herself. She knew her life’s work was to help others, to serve others. Her life had meaning and purpose. Her death inspired an outpouring of grief – and donations – around the world.

Her story is one that should be familiar to us all. She went to law school – was one of only a handful of women admitted to Harvard – was told she didn’t belong there because of her sex – hid the fact that she was pregnant until her contract was renewed at her first teaching job – in short, she fought for the things she believed in, simply by going out and doing them.

The philosopher Albert Camus wrote about this. To Camus, the world was an absurdity, devoid of purpose and meaning. It was up to each of us, he believed, to not give in to despair, but instead to find meaning within ourselves. To do that, we had to adopt an attitude of defiance. We had to do the very things we were told not to do, in order to give our lives meaning. We had to revolt, we had to have passion, and we had to create our own freedom.

I can’t think of a better example of those virtues that The Notorious RBG.

I know we’re grief-stricken, blindsided. I also know many of us find politics distasteful; we think it doesn’t matter. Nothing could be further from the truth. Politics, especially this year, matters more than ever. But it doesn’t mean taking to the streets. It might not even mean working as an election worker. No. While those things are important, and I’m going to include a list of ways you can get involved in a bit, I think the larger lesson we need to take from Justice Ginsburg is this: do what you want to do, and never let anyone tell you you can’t. In other words: dissent.

Dissent. Dissent because you believe. Dissent because it’s the right thing to do. Dissent because dissent = revolution. Dissent, because dissent = passion and freedom.

Dissent. It seems impossible sometimes. The second I saw the news on my phone, I lost it. I called my friend. He – a lifelong Republican – was heartbroken. But as I cried and we talked and I felt so hopeless . . . I watched the people gather at the steps of the Supreme Court. Watched them place flowers and candles, console each other. And I knew that to honor her, we all have to fight.

But dissent doesn’t just mean politically. I urge you now, if there’s ANYTHING you’ve ever wanted to do with your life, go do it.

If you’re a woman who has always wanted to go to college, who wants to change careers, who wants a career, NOW IS THE TIME. It doesn’t matter if everyone tells you you’re too old. It doesn’t matter if your family whines about how you’re never home. NOW IS THE TIME. If your children are at home now, schooling online? Join them! Most colleges offer online classes. Community colleges offer lower tuition and more financial aid opportunities (and probably more support) than universities. NOW IS THE TIME.

If you’ve ever wanted to volunteer for something – reading in schools, walking dogs at the humane society, delivering meals to senior citizens, moving to Costa Rica to raise orphaned sloths, whatever – NOW IS THE TIME. Don’t waste another second. Go do it.

NOW IS THE TIME to inspire those around you. To stand up for your beliefs, to find your passion, to revolt, to create your own life, on your terms. Ruth Bader Ginsburg was able to do it by fighting against unjust laws, by fighting for equality. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote and spoke and marched for equality and equal rights, and inspired hundreds of thousands to join him. We certainly can’t all be them – God knows, I’d love to be – but that doesn’t mean that we can’t step up and in our own ways, be like them. It doesn’t mean we can’t make a difference. Because we can.

It’s time for us to dissent.

Dissent, dissent, dissent. Dissent against the status quo, dissent against the naysayers, dissent against those who would hold you back, dissent against society’s limits.

Dissent. For the love of all that’s holy, for the love of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, dissent.

If you want to get involved politically, but don’t know how, there are dozens of small ways you can make a difference:

VOTE. That’s by the far the one thing we can almost ALL do. You can register online in most states, and many states are encouraging vote by mail. All states offer ‘absentee ballots,’ but you must request one. Check with your state’s voting office or Secretary of State’s website. Early voting is also an option.

WORK THE POLLS. If you can get the day off, be a poll worker. Larger cities sometimes have to close or limit the number of polling places they can offer due to a lack of poll workers. In some cases, you can even be paid for this. States that offer early voting also need poll workers, so ask about that.

DONATE. If you can, make campaign contributions. As little as $5 can help, and this is especially true in states where the Senate races are tight.

DON’T FOCUS ON THE WHITE HOUSE. The Senate and the House are where we need to focus time and energy. Flip them blue, and the White House doesn’t matter.

VOLUNTEER. Call your local party’s office. They always need volunteers to work on mailers, to drive people to the polls, and a number of other things. This is a hands-on way to make a difference!

EDUCATE. Have friends, neighbors, or relatives that aren’t sure about the voting process? Walk them through it. If they’re not registered, help them get registered. If they’re not sure about going to the polls on Election Day, help them with alternatives.

When the world gets turned upside down . . . by a kitten

Three weeks ago, Mum totally upended our lives. 

We were living the good life. We were the babies! Every morning, Mum would feed us and love on us, and call us handsome and sweet and rotten. Sing to us, even – ‘Maximus Imperius, your name is Maximus Imperius, and there’s a million things you haven’t done .¬† . .” or “Dear Tiny Baby, what to say to you, you have my eyes, you have your mother’s name . . .”* Every night, she’d kiss us goodnight at bedtime. We Ruled.¬†

Now? Now, it’s all over. Gone. Evaporated. Demolished completely by a tiny tabby Caligula named – of all things – Hamilton. Hamilton!? How dare she? He gets the kisses. He gets to curl up on her lap and go to sleep. He has no rules. He gets to turn our world upside down. And all because he came home with stitches . . .¬†

I admit it. Over the past few weeks, all of my cats have issued a statement along these lines. They vary, of course. Maximus and Tiny, being my Baby Fiends, have always been the babies, ever since they were born almost five years ago. To them, having a kitten in the house is a disruption on a scale approaching the eruption of Pompeii. For the older cats, who have seen kittens come and grow up and stay, I was on the receiving end of eye rolls and long-suffering sighs.

However, after nearly a month, things seem to be settling somewhat.

So . . . meet Hamilton. AKA, Hammie, Ham Baby, the Ham-meister, Itty Bitty Baby Hammie.

All my cats come to me in unusual ways. Beth and Angel were rescues from a former friend. Rascal was chased into my barn by a skunk (I saw this tiny ball of fluff zoom straight at me and skid to a stop behind my legs, the skunk in hot pursuit!). Maximus and Tiny were abandoned at birth by their mother. Sassy was dropped off by aliens. You know. But Hammie may have the most unusual story. This is Ham about four hours after I first heard him crying:

Hammie f6

Yes, that’s barbed wire. I heard him crying on my walk one morning, and spent three hours searching before I found him behind my neighbor’s house. I thought he was lost in their hayfield, so I knocked on the door and asked if I could go search. They said yes, so I took off. After a few minutes, I found this tiny tabby clinging to a wooden fence post, and quickly realized that he’d somehow become impaled on the barbed wire fence. Thankfully, my neighbor came to find me a little bit later and was even more gracious when she let me cut the fence to get him out – that took an hour;¬†nota bene,¬†barbed wire is double-strand woven and TOUGH. Ham had surgery to remove the wire that afternoon.

Hammmie 2A week later, he developed infection in the site, and had to have a second surgery. He was hurt; he was frustrated; he was scared. The stitches made the leg stiff, and he sort of ‘doodle-bugged’ around in circles on it for a day or two before he was able to start walking on it properly. Terrified that the other cats would think he was a legit target, I only let him out on supervised outings at first. I was overjoyed when he finally started to PLAY!!! Although, as you can see, Maximus Imperius was not overjoyed. At all.

We aren’t out of the woods yet; last weekend he hit bottom with a massive infection and had an emergency vet run. He’s still on two different antibiotics, but he’s continuing to grow – at approximately 10 weeks, he’s already over 3lbs! – and hopefully we will get him healed up soon.

Since I know a few questions may be running through your mind right now, I’ll try to answer them (nope, I’m not psychic; these are the questions I’ve been asked repeatedly over the past few weeks!):

How did he become impaled on the barbed wire? Good question. Having known him for a while now, I believe he was trying to imitate Nik Wallenda by walking on it. The wound was on the back leg and stomach area – God only knows how he survived – so I think he was either doing a tight-rope act, or was trying to jump off the fence post. Either way, seriously, if you ever want to cut barbed wire, bring the sharpest pair of wire cutters, and the guy with the biggest hands, you can find. Seriously.

How is he doing now? Much better. He sits on my lap and falls asleep. When I get home, he gives me his little Hammie kisses – puts a paw on my nose, and then touches his nose to my face. He is slowly making himself at home. Everyone is coming to accept him more and more – the other night, Tiny even let him sleep close to him. Maximus kind of plays with him. Beth ignores him. Rascal is the disciplinarian – the other night, I heard Hammie yowling, and it turned out that he’d been attacking Rascal, who wasn’t having it, and Rascal was just holding him down on the ground with his paws.

Did I want a new kitten? NO, actually. A week before Hammie arrived, I found another kitten – I was’t supposed to be on that particular street, but I couldn’t make my usual turn. So I was there when a tiny ginger ball of fluff barreled across all four lanes of traffic, somehow made it to the other side, and kept going. I slammed on my brakes and went in search. He was fine – not a scratch on him – and I rushed him to my vet, who instantly fell in love. I could have brought that one home, but I knew¬†how much it would upset everyone if I did. They had a status quo, and frankly, so did I. I was happy with that status quo. So Hammie has turned my world upside down, too.

Hammie 2

But really – look at that face Look at those eyes. What choice did I have? ūüôā

 

* My apologies to Lin-Manuel Miranda and his genius lyrics. 

The Brink of Revolution

Like everyone else, I am watching the world’s events unfolding in utter disbelief.

Martial being declared by an orange bastard, hiding in¬†our¬†White House’s basement. Protests by those who are rightfully angry over yet another murder of a black man by a white police officer. Riots that are breaking out all over, destroying businesses and homes and lives and which are prompting that same orange bastard to incite racial wars and try to limit¬†our¬†freedom of speech.

And that’s just us, and that’s not even counting the global pandemic. That’s not counting the people in India, for example, who are literally¬†dying of starvation at the side of the road¬†as they try to get home from other states, where they have been working – but they no longer have jobs, nor even enough money to ride the train. So they walk, unable to afford food until they collapse from starvation and exhaustion and die. Nor is it counting the horrendous typhoon that has recently hit that area, nor the fact that on this, the first day of hurricane season, we already have our third named storm of the year.

HOW did we get here?!

I am overwhelmed by the rapidity of the breakdown of our nation. I am overwhelmed by the fact that the real leadership in this country is coming not from the federal government – and anyone who knows me knows I am a dyed-in-the-wool Federalist – but from the mayors and governors, who are soldiering on and making calm, rational choices in the face of government opposition, in the face of government interference, in the face of government ineptitude. From Christine Todd Whitman, who just today tweeted to Trump to basically STFU, to the Houston Chief of Police who did the same thing,¬†real¬†leaders are stepping up where it counts. They don’t give a damn if it’s popular. They only care that it’s right.

If there is a silver lining to the protests, it is this:¬† #blacklivesmatter is trending, not just here,¬†but around the world.¬†Liverpool’s soccer team took a knee in solidarity (https://www.bbc.com/sport/52875059) My Muslim friend in Hong Kong let me know that around the world, Muslims are speaking up in solidarity with the movement. Across Africa, especially in South Africa, marches and protests are being held to show solidarity. https://www.npr.org/2020/05/31/866428272/george-floyd-reverberates-globally-thousands-protest-in-germany-u-k-canadaNot only that, but across the country peaceful protests are being held as well – right here in Wichita, this weekend – and police officers are taking a knee and taking part. (https://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-us-canada-52883495/george-floyd-uplifting-moments-from-peaceful-protests?intlink_from_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.bbc.com%2Fnews%2Fworld&link_location=live-reporting-map#) I would like to think that this¬†time, it will take hold. I would like to think that¬†this¬†time, we’re there, we’ve got it, that¬†this¬†time, the world is sick and tired of the discrimination and prejudice and the double standards and that¬†this¬†time, we’ll get it right.

To be clear, it’s not the protests and riots that bother me. We’ve done this¬†a lot¬†in our nation’s history. We did this in the 1760s, the 1790s, the 1830s, the 1860s. The Zoot Suit Riots of the 1940s and all the riots and protests of the 1960s and 70s, and into the 80s. We’ve been here, done this, before. We are always okay. Protest = change. Always has, always will. When the oppressed finally rise up, we have revolution. It’s not pretty, but it gets the job done. (God, I sound like Thomas Jefferson.) No, that’s not what bothers me.

What bothers me is the utter lack of responsibility from anyone at the top of the food chain in this country.

A real president would have been in the ground already in Minnesota. In Los Angeles. Birmingham. Meeting with the governors (or at least, meeting with them via Zoom), brainstorming, offering solutions and aid,¬†but not dictating to them.¬†A real president would be addressing the issues, offering real solutions. But we don’t have that. We have a whiny ass toddler who couldn’t find a coherent sentence – or an ounce of intelligence – if it bit him on the ass.

A long time ago Рspring of 2016 РI wrote a couple of pieces that asked a simple question:  what the hell did Trump want with the presidency? I postulated then that he would never abide by the Constitution, that he would use it to enrich himself, that he was only interested in what he could get from it. I was right on every single point. The one thing I did not foresee Рor rather, did not want to consider Рwas that we would have a perfect storm in which he might want to grab total power, overthrow our Constitution, and wreck the very foundation of our democracy.

That’s where we stand today.

That’s what scares me. Not the rioting. Not the protesting. Not the coronavirus.

Just that.

That this nation we love, whose history I have studied most of my life, whose Founding Fathers fought and died in order to create it, will be destroyed. That the reputation we started to build with Teddy Roosevelt as a world superpower and peace broker will be irrevocably destroyed, and we will become instead the largest banana republic in the world.

Is this how American colonists felt, in the 1760s and 1770s? When their protests and non-importation agreements worked, they were happy to remain part of the British Empire. When they stopped working, however, it was time to ask:  what do we do now? Do we take the step off, into the abyss? Do we suck it up and continue on? At what point is living under tyranny no longer tolerable or possible?

Is this what it felt like in the 1950s, and especially the 1960s, as Freedom Riders were attacked, as men like Medgar Evers and Martin Luther King Jr. were killed, as Watts burned and men like Bull Conner vowed that he would ‘die trying’ to keep segregation as the law? As peaceful marchers were met with fire hoses and attack dogs as they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge – a bridge, I might add, named for a KKK Grand Dragon of all disgusting things?

No. It couldn’t have been. Because both times, we had real leadership. We had rioting Sons of Liberty, yes – but we also had the Committees of Correspondence, and later the Continental Congress, to lead the way. We had men like George Washington to lend a steadying hand. We had men like Kennedy, Johnson, and Eisenhower to provide us with thoughtful, real leadership and guide us through two of the most turbulent decades in our short history. We had men in the highest office of the land who were real leaders.

But we don’t have that now. Not from the top. For the first time in history that I can think of, what we have is leadership from the¬†states.¬†Not the federal government. The¬†states.¬†

We stand at the brink. It will take only a small thing to tip us into the abyss.

 

Rescuing Kites

Gosh, I can’t believe it’s been six weeks since my last blog post! OMG.

In my defense, I was working on rewrites to two novels, classes started two weeks ago, and I’ve been taking care of various sick kitties and family members. (I prefer the kitties.)

I also rescued this:

kite 3

Last Saturday, I went to my favorite haunt, College Hill Coffee, to write for a couple of hours. As I walked outside, I saw a bird standing in the next street. He was small – I thought at first maybe a pigeon or a collared dove. But his long tail told me he wasn’t either of those things.

As I approached, he watched me, but other than moving a few steps away, didn’t offer much in the way of fear or even wariness. Which worried me, of course. I didn’t see any obvious injuries, but he also wasn’t flying away. And he was in the middle of a rather busy street. So I grabbed a towel from my car (yes, I keep towels in my car for emergencies EXACTLY like this!), draped it over him, and VERY carefully, wrapped him up. (I’ve done this before, yes – cover the eyes, and they are less likely to struggle or be afraid.)

Not a cheep. Not a struggle. Nothing. I called my vet. He answered. I explained the situation – at the time, I thought what I had was a young hawk. YES, he could meet me at the clinic – was 15 minutes too soon? Nope! Not at all. I think I may have gotten him out of something he didn’t want to be doing, to be honest . . . so, Birdie and I got in the car and took off. I was glad no one stopped me. I don’t know how I would have explained that I had a wild bird wrapped up in a towel on my lap. I mean, it sounds totally logical to me, but I’m not sure how logical it would seem to anyone else.

Now, we know that Buckbeak is a Mississippi Kite. They are among the smallest of the raptors, and Buckbeak is a juvenile, probably less than 8 weeks old, because at 8 weeks, they begin to change color and go grey. He was very weak and dehydrated when I found him, and also had two broken bones in one wing. Everyone at the clinic has fallen in love with him; he has a large area in which to move and chase his bugs (he won’t eat anything dead, they tell me), and we are hoping he will heal well enough to be released. However, as you can tell, he’s becoming quite trusting and is a total camera hog! I am hoping that if he can’t be released, we can find him a program where he could be a a educational bird.

kite 1

 

Photo Challenge: Friend

I know I’ve posted before – probably ad nauseum! – about the Baby Fiends, but I couldn’t resist posting this shot for this week’s challenge:

fiends 1

If you’ve missed previous posts, Maximus Imperius is on the left, Tiny on the right. A year and a half ago, I walked into my barn and heard kittens crying – a feral mama kitty had given birth prematurely and abandoned the litter. So I’ve raised these guys since they were about an hour old.

babies 1

Once you go through weeks of bottle-feeding (and eyedropper feeding!) every 2-3 hours, sneaking them into your office, taking the with you on trips because you’ll be gone too long and will miss a feeding . . . I’ve raised many kittens, but these two are extra-special.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/photo-challenges/friend/

Inspired by true events . . . authors, agents, and publishing.

Last Saturday, I trekked 60 miles – about an hour and a half – to hear a ‘publishing panel’ at the Wichita Public Library.

I didn’t really know what to expect, and since I was about 15 minutes late (darn my addiction to white chocolate-cinnamon chip scones!) I honestly can’t tell you who the panelists were – I know one of them was former Kansas Poet Laureate Denise Low-Weso, who is co-publisher of Mammoth Publications (https://mammothpublications.net/). (No, the information’s not available on the library’s website, either, sorry!) By the time I got there, they were taking questions from the audience.

Most of the audience seemed to be beginning writers – there were some that were already published, either by small presses or self-published. I have to say that I think the panelists would have been best if left alone to answer the questions. However, there was a facilitator – a librarian – who simply wouldn’t let that happen. By the time it was over (half an hour early), my inner teacher had kicked in and I wanted to stand up and say LISTEN PEOPLE, IF YOU REALLY WANT TO KNOW THE ANSWERS TO YOUR QUESTIONS, LET’S GO OUTSIDE AND I’LL GIVE IT MY BEST SHOT! It was pretty clear that most people had come to get specific answers to specific questions – but they didn’t get them. And I felt so bad for them.

But I did want to address one question that was handled so poorly, the advice given was useless. Here it is:

I’m already self-published, but I haven’t had much success. How would I break into mainstream publishing? The facilitator wouldn’t let the panelists answer this question. She answered it herself and her answer was total crap. Her suggestion was to get a blog and get your books listed on Goodreads.

pointing+hand+vintage+image+graphicsfairy2Here’s the real answer:¬† GET AN AGENT. It really is the only way to break into mainstream publishing, even with small houses. Very few reputable publishing houses will accept unsolicited manuscripts. They just get too many! Last year, a fairly well-known sci-fi publisher accepted open submissions (no agents) for 30 days. They had more than 5,000 submissions. They did not read them all. Agents, for better or worse, have become the gatekeepers of the publishing world.

Agents aren’t just a gateway, though. They may be the first people to really critique your book and give you honest, unflinching, realistic views about it. I love my beta readers in large part because I know they will tell me that crap is crap. But so many people don’t have those kinds of betas – they have the kind that gushes over everything and proclaims it perfect. (Much the same way I imagine Trump’s handlers must do every time he opens his mouth and tries to utter a coherent sentence and fails spectacularly.) Agents don’t have time to do that, though. This is their business. They’ve got to sell books to publishers in order to keep their cars and houses. That’s why they’re so choosy about the projects they take on. On average, agents will only take on a teeny, tiny fraction of authors who actually query them. They don’t have time to do more.

Your first taste of how critical agents can be will come with the query letter.¬†(For more on this, see my blog post¬†https://kswriterteacher.wordpress.com/2015/05/03/agents-authors-and-query-letters-oh-my/ ) But I will say this:¬† the days of a form query letter addressed to ‘sir or madam’ are OVER. If your query letter isn’t 100% right, kiss that agent goodbye. Agents have requirements on their websites. Follow those requirements. Follow them to the letter.

There’s several responses you might get to your query letter. A lot of agents don’t even respond to query letters if the answer is ‘no,’ and I think that’s just wrong. Some will send a form letter back – ‘thanks but this isn’t for us.’ If the manuscript is good, but not their thing or not quite ready, they might send a personalized note – ‘Hey,¬† I really liked x, y, and z about this, but I’m not the best fit for the project,’ or ‘Like the concept, but the main character needs work.’ If they like the manuscript and they think it’s close to being ready they might say ‘look, I’m excited about this project, but there’s changes that need to be made to it. I’ve got them listed on the next page. If you’re willing to do that, then resubmit when you’re done and we’ll talk.’

If you get that last one, the agent’s interested. Really interested. If they take the time to not only read your manuscript, but also to make detailed notes about what they’d like to see changed, they’re interested.

Of course, what you really want is an email that says “OMG, I love this – can I call you at x time on x day to talk about representation???? Please????” ūüôā Been there, done that, best feeling in the world!!!! But even then, you might find that the agent isn’t the best fit for you and your work – and it’s up to you to make that decision. They might be asking for changes you’re not willing or able to make. That’s where you have to take a step back and say okay, do I want to be published – or do I want to be a writer? No, they’re not the same thing.

But to get back to the original question –

Agents are the ones who know what editors want. A lot of them started out in publishing, as either editors or junior editors. They know how to make a pile of pages into a book. They know which editors are actively seeking new projects – and what they want. And agents are the only good way to break into traditional publishing.

The sad fact is this:¬† yes, there are a handful of self-published authors out there who had the traditional publishing world come knocking at the door. A handful. That’s it. Hugh Howey had this kind of success with Wool (it started as a short story that evolved into an online novel; but by the time Simon & Schuster came along, it was already making more than $100,000/month on Amazon). And of course . . . E.L. James and Fifty Shades of Grey. But seriously? That’s like IT. So the odds of your novel a.) making it big on Amazon and b.) attracting an unsolicited bidding war between the Big Five are c.) astronomical.

I did a blog post a while back that included a bit about self-publishing – https://kswriterteacher.wordpress.com/2015/09/13/what-the-bleep-do-publishers-want/ – and the fact is this:¬† if you’re self-published and your novel isn’t doing well, it’s time to pull it and think about why that is. That’s what a good agent can help you with. (Also, a good freelance editor, who will – for a fee – read your manuscript and make suggestions. If you’re not good at editing, spelling, grammar, etc. I highly recommend you do this.)

One last sad fact to leave you with today:¬† most writers won’t break into mainstream publishing, depending on what your definition of ‘mainstream publishing’ is. If you’re only shooting for the Big Five, it’s a long uphill slog. If you’re okay with a smaller press, you’re in luck – they’re much more willing to take on new authors and more willing to work with you to make that novel successful. Again, these are things your agent will discuss with you.

But if you want to be published ‘mainstream,’ finding an agent is the only way to do it.

Some helpful links:

http://www.writersdigestshop.com/writers-digest-october-2016?utm_source=writersdigest.com&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=wd-bak-bl-161001-oct16-preview – this is the latest issue of Writer’s Digest, which had some great insights into what agents are seeking, as well as a list of new agents seeking authors. No, there’s no articles here, but you can run out to your local bookstore and grab it. ūüôā

http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents/11-steps-to-finding-the-agent-wholl-love-your-book – from Writer’s Digest.

http://www.sfwa.org/real/ – from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, on how to find an agent.