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Content Warning: Body Horror

Wednesday I had my follow-up with the surgeon regarding my recent emergency appendectomy, where I received a clean bill of “healing adequately,” even while I was also warned that my recovery process might be slower than normal because of how much time I spent under the knife, and how much damage had already been done.

It seems that what happened was that I had acute appendicitis–the same kind you normally have, the same kind that sends people to the emergency room or sometimes just flat kills you–only I had it a couple of months ago. Because I didn’t display all the most common symptoms (apparently only about 40% of people do), nobody caught on to what it was until my CT scan weeks later. By then, my appendix had literally died inside my abdomen and had begun to rot, sticking various parts of my colon and other internal organs together with necrotic tissue, and slowly poisoning me, which explains why I had been feeling so bad for so long. The doctor said that my operation took roughly three times the normal length of an appendectomy.

The good news is that, all things considered, I seem to be healing admirably. The bad news is that, in the last two weeks, I’ve increased by fully a third the total number of times I’ve been to the ER in my life. Fortunately (?) only one of those visits was for my own emergency appendectomy. The other two have been in the last few days, as Grace has been visited by nosebleeds so severe that they seem to deserve another name. These are not the dramatic nosebleeds of film and television, the ones that indicate you’ve been overtaxing your psychic powers. These are like someone turned on a tap, only bright red blood came out, in quantities that you could readily measure.

Twice now these nosebleeds have sent her to the ER, though, ultimately, there is precious little that even they can do for her. The first time they attempted to cauterize the bleed, which, after a couple of tries, took for a few days. The second time, today, they had to pack her nostril, which doesn’t sound so bad, but I was present for it, and can attest that it was probably some of the worst pain I have ever watched her experience, and I have seen her go through some shit.

Between this and the back problems that she’s already been dealing with, not to mention my slow convalescence, it has been a rough few weeks, to put it mildly. But we’ve had friends who have been able to help, sitting with us in the ER. running to get groceries, helping me up the stairs, that kind of thing. Without them, I don’t know what we would have done, to be honest.

So, hopefully we’ll both be on the mend soon enough, and in the meantime, once again, if I owe you anything and you haven’t heard from me, feel free to remind me, but I also beg your indulgence. It’s been a mean season.

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Content Warning: Body Horror

Anyone who has been following along here or on social media is probably already aware that I have not been feeling 100% for a few months now, at the very least. On Friday, we somewhat abruptly discovered at least part of the reason. After two months (plus) of illness, including various gastrointestinal discomfort, my doctor ordered a CT scan. I went in for the scan expecting to come home right after, but before they performed it they let me know that I would have to wait up to an hour after it was done while they looked at the scan before they sent me home.

Not ten minutes after the scan was completed, someone came out to the lobby and informed me that I was being sent over to the emergency room and, it turned out, from there pretty much directly into surgery. I’m still waiting to get some of the details, but from what I understand my appendix had not burst, as I am led to believe appendixes generally do, but for whatever reason had been rotting inside my body for literally weeks, the necrotic tissue actually sort of gluing parts of my colon together. Which not only explains why I’ve been feeling poorly, but also makes it something of a miracle that I wasn’t doing worse. (This also means that, for the immediate future, that body horror anthology Silvia Moreno-Garcia and I keep half-joking about editing together may hit a little close to home.)

This also neatly solves my conundrum about which of the various movies playing at the theatre now and in the immediate future I’m going to go see. The answer is definitely none of them any time soon.

Surgery was, I gather, pretty serious, and I was under the knife quite a bit longer than is normal for an appendectomy. I spent Friday night in the hospital, and experienced literally the worst pain I have thus far felt in my entire life. I’m home now, and seem to be on the road to recovery, though I imagine that road is probably going to be decently long and more than a little bumpy.

Over the course of Friday and Saturday, a partial list of the indignities visited upon me include three (3) IVs in a single day, two (2) catheters in a single day (which, incidentally, is about five catheters too many), and no less than four different hospital bracelets, for various reasons. I still have a drain to help siphon off some of the unpleasant gunk left over from having a rotting organ in my abdomen for so long.

While this is not exactly how I was hoping to spend my birthday or Halloween, I have a feeling that it’s better than the alternative, and I’m grateful to have at least a partial explanation, finally, for why I’ve been in such bad shape for so long. If I owe anything to anyone, I’ll try to gradually start working through any backlog sometime after the start of November, though I honestly have no idea right now how quickly I’m going to bounce back from this.

Thanks to all the kind wishes from everyone, and to those local folks who have already helped out. I’m afraid that, with Grace recovering from a severe back injury, as well, we may be asking more of you in the future, too. It means more than I can say to have people in my corner at a time like this.

In the meantime, my birthday present to myself this year is, I guess, not being dead yet, which, I gather, might have actually been a possibility for a moment there, and at least seemingly being on the mend, finally, rather than getting worse, even if mending is maybe going to take a pretty long time. As birthday presents go, I’ll take it.

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Picture I took prior to totality, by pressing my eclipse glasses against the lens of my phone’s camera.

Sometime when I was a kid, I saw a partial solar eclipse. I don’t really remember much about it besides that we went out to see it during school and we had to wear special glasses. It didn’t impress me too much. Cut to: 2017. I know that there’s an eclipse coming up, and that it’s a big deal, because it’s the first total solar eclipse to be visible in the United States since before I was born, and the first to cut a path of totality across the entire continent in almost a hundred years. What I don’t realize, until I hear people talking about it on the radio, is what the difference between totality and not is.

Olathe, where I live, is going to get something like 99.7% of the eclipse, so I figure, that’s enough, right? But I hear the people on the radio explaining the immense difference between, say, that 99.7% and 100%. Apparently, even 0.1% of the sun is still 1000 times brighter than the full moon. At 100% all sorts of weird things happen. It gets dark as night in the middle of the day, there’s a “sunset” on every horizon, the temperature drops considerably, and so on. So we decide that we want to see totality, which can be accomplished just a short drive away.

Luckily for us, one of our friends has already picked out a spot that’s having a special “eclipse brunch” up north of Atchison, pretty much smack dab in the middle of the totality. So we drive up there super early to avoid traffic, and wait around keeping a wary eye on the clouds in the hopes that we’ll get to see the eclipse. Spoiler: We are not disappointed.

So, prior to actually experiencing the totality, I was pretty keen to see the “day-to-night” effect, but, remembering (or mostly not remembering, as the case may be) my prior experience with (partial) eclipses, I was prepared to be underwhelmed. I wasn’t.

I had heard people talk about what being in the path of totality was like in almost religious terms, and I assumed it was overstatement, but it wasn’t. I have never had another experience quite like it. Watching the light drop away was literally like watching someone turn a dimmer switch on the planet. I can understand why people would go so far out of their way to experience this, and why even a few more precious seconds of totality would be worth an awful lot of extra effort. (We were lucky and got more than two minutes.)

Sadly, the eclipse doesn’t seem to have automatically knocked us back into the prime timeline yet, but on the other side of it, at least for today, it really does feel a little bit more like magic is possible in this world.

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The false sunset that was visible all the way around the horizon during totality. Photo taken a few minutes after 1pm.

I’ve been having adventures!

Two weeks ago today, I left town to spend a week in Colorado, just a few minutes outside of Denver. I didn’t spend much of my time there sightseeing, though I did visit a cool movie theatre, catch up with a couple of writing acquaintances, and make several trips to the Flatiron Crossing mall where I bought cool shirts, ate delicious crepes, and picked up a vintage Warhammer Armies book complete with Zoats, Fimirs, and really racist Pygmies. Most of the time, though, I was in the hotel room working while Grace was attending an alto flute workshop. I wrote a 5,000 word story in a day, and also caught up on a bunch of freelance projects.

On the way back from the trip, I stopped off at a dinosaur museum in Hays, one that I had passed I don’t know how many times on similar trips but had never visited. It was amazing, though perhaps the best exhibit wasn’t any of the dinosaur stuff but a giant alligator snapping turtle in a tank just inside the entrance. His name was Levi, and he was apparently unusually active that day, and watching him was pretty much exactly like watching a kaiju swim around.

After I got home I had to start playing catch-up on everything that didn’t get done while I was out of town, including finally getting around to buying a new desk and a new laptop. I’m still working on getting the laptop set up and configured the way I want it, so I’m currently still doing work (and typing this) on my old laptop until I get used to the new one. I got a Lenovo Yoga 910, in case anyone is curious. So far I like it, though I haven’t actually done much with it yet. I also made it out to our local cool movie theatre the Screenland Armour to catch a double-feature screening of Creature from the Black Lagoon and the practical suit-monster short film “Shallow Water.”

Catching up got interrupted a bit, however, in order to have more adventures when, for various reasons, Grace spontaneously decided that she wanted to go fishing and rock hunting his past weekend. I tagged along, made friends with a snapping turtle and a bug, explored what was clearly some sort of troll tunnel, found a mess of snakes and a tide pool, wandered among the flotsam on the shore of a big lake, and mostly had a great time. Shortly after I got back from that trip, I found a box on my doorstep containing a whole pile of copies of the first Japanese edition of Fungi, the anthology of weird fungal fiction I co-edited with Silvia Moreno-Garcia. (The Japanese edition is getting split into two volumes, so this one is just the first half.)

As you can imagine, I’m still recovering from so much adventuring, and also still catching up on work, so if I owe you anything, including responses about getting copies of Fungi from Japan for those of you who were contributors, please bear with me.

monster_thriller_scifi_headerPanic Fest is something that I look forward to every year; after all, why wouldn’t I? A world-class horror/monster/sci-fi film festival right in my own backyard, put together by my good friends at Rotten Rentals and the Screenland Armour; what’s not to love? But for me, at least, Panic Fest has become something of a fraught weekend.

Two years ago, just as I was leaving the house to go to Panic Fest, I got a phone call about my dad’s declining health. It wasn’t the first phone call on the subject, but it was one of the ones that triggered the fall of dominoes which made up the end of his life, the realization of a lot of trauma and baggage, and various other things that I’ve been dealing with in one capacity or another for the last two years. As such, Panic Fest always feels like an anniversary: the last weekend where I got to feel normal for a while and just have some fun.

Every year since, when Panic Fest has come around it has brought with it a weird combination of emotions–fraught, like I said. This year was the first time I attended as a “private citizen.” In the past I’ve helped out with the fest in some capacity; manning the Rotten Rentals booth or whatever. This year I just bought my ticket like everyone else and showed up to watch movies and bullshit around in the (really nice) vendor loft. I picked up a copy of the really great-looking book Unsung Horrors, which contains a couple of essays by my friend (and former boss, way back when I still worked at a video store) Jeff Owens.

I also watched four movies over the course of the weekend, along with a handful of really good shorts. That is, I believe, fully twice as many movies as the most I ever managed at a previous Panic Fest, so I’ll call it pretty good. To make matters better, I enjoyed all four movies, which is always nice. Here are my brief thoughts on each, presented in ascending order of quality.

The Barn – An 80s-style VHS throwback, The Barn was funded at least partially via IndieGoGo, and it shows. Because of the film’s intentionally low-rent aesthetic, the budgetary limitations are never really a problem for it, and the result is something pretty charming for anybody who has a nostalgic yen for 80s slashers and monsters that are just guys in Halloween masks. What The Barn can’t do is rise much above that. It’s never quite funny enough to function as pure parody, nor strong enough to stand on its own as anything else. So what you get is a pleasant throwback that seems like it ought to be watched on an old tube TV, popped out of one of those clamshell VHS cases; but a surprisingly crowded theatre at a horror film festival is probably the next best thing.

Don’t Knock Twice – A few days before Panic Fest, I watched last year’s Lights Out for the first time. Don’t Knock Twice shares a lot of parallels with that film–minus its specific light-related central conceit–but Lights Out suffers every time by the comparison. Which is not to say that Don’t Knock Twice is any particularly great shakes, but it stands up better than most of the familiar ghostly fare that so often haunts our multiplexes these days.

The Void – Imagine if the Astron-6 guys couldn’t decide whether they wanted to make a fan film of HellraiserThe ThingPrince of Darkness, or The Fly–so they just did all four. That’s pretty much The Void in a nutshell, and as such it manages to seem both inventive and derivative, while also feeling more like watching someone play Resident Evil than the Resident Evil movies ever managed. The visuals are strong, and there are plenty of gloppy monsters all done with practical effects, so I love that, but I also can’t help noticing that all of the effects feel like they would probably have been more confidently deployed in the hands of any of those other directors.

It’s been called Lovecraftian–as anything with cultists, tentacles, or horror on a larger-than-human scale will be (and The Void certainly has all three in spades)–but it owes a much bigger debt to Barker than to Lovecraft. Call it Hellraiser with the aesthetic of Carpenter and Cronenberg and you’re damn close. All this probably sounds a little down on The Void, but it absolutely isn’t meant to be–it’s sitting in my number two spot here, after all–it’s just that, for all its promise and its many great qualities, it never quite rises to what it almost is. (A problem that, honestly, seems to plague many of even the very best of our crop of contemporary horror movies.)

Train to Busan – In a year that has already been full-to-bursting with surreal moments, few were as jarring as walking out of Train to Busan to the news of Trump’s Muslim ban. Train to Busan is, essentially, a Korean zombie movie of the contemporary fast, swarming zombie school, and one that, as you’ve no doubt heard from other people than me, is handled brilliantly well. There’s a lot going on in it, but possibly its biggest and least subtle theme can be summed up as: Turning people away because you are afraid makes you into something worse than the monsters that scare you. As such, it has maybe never felt more topical than in this moment.

All that aside, though, it is also just an extremely solid movie. Like Frank Darabont’s adaptation of The Mist from a few years back–which was also very emphatically a product of its moment with a very heavy social message, but that still plays fine without that context–Train to Busan holds up amidst a sea of similar fare as one of the best of the modern crop of swarming zombie flicks.

Along with everything else, 2016 decided to give us one last kick in the teeth on its way out the door. Just a few days before the New Year, my adopted dad passed away. I should probably put adopted in quotes, since it wasn’t anything that was ever legal, but he was my dad as far as I was concerned, and I think as far as he was concerned, too.

JT was my friend Jay’s dad. Jay and I met in college. After we had graduated, he lived with Grace and I on a couple of different occasions, rooming with us both in our previous townhouse and in this one. He’s watched more godawful movies with me than anyone else on the planet, which would probably be enough to make him my brother, even if nothing else did. I’ve always been of the opinion that the family you make in life is more family than the one you’re born into, and Jay and his folks are the proof of that.

A couple of years ago–just before Jay got married; I was the best man at his wedding–we made it “official,” and Grace and I adopted JT and Sandy as our parents, too. It just made sense. After all, whenever we were over there, we always got introduced as “and this is my other son, Orrin,” that sort of thing.

When we did that, JT was still vivacious and healthy. Still “just full of it,” as he always replied whenever anyone asked how he was doing. Still telling terrible jokes that Grace couldn’t get enough of. He remained that way after his cancer diagnosis, too. In fact, he kept telling bad jokes pretty much right up until the moment he couldn’t really talk anymore.

Luckily, we went to see them for Christmas this year. It was the last time I would ever see him alive. He passed away just a few days shy of what would have been his 37th wedding anniversary. I bought my first suit to be a pallbearer at his funeral. It was my first time carrying a casket, feeling the weight of it in my hands, solid and surprisingly light, with six of us sharing the load.

I haven’t said anything about any of this for various reasons, and I’m unlikely to say much more than this. Those who’ve been following along online probably didn’t notice anything except my increased absence, which largely went unremarked because I was already absent working on the novel for Privateer Press for the last couple of months.

I miss him, and I know that I’ll continue to miss him, but my grief is so much cleaner, so much purer than my grief when my biological dad died. Unencumbered by trauma or mixed feelings or repressed memories. I loved JT, and I miss him. Simple as that. And I’ve still got family in the form of Jay, Veronica, and Sandy. It doesn’t make it any less painful, but it does make it easier to carry, and that’s not nothing.

If you follow me on social media (or, heck, even if you follow me here) then odds are you won’t notice much difference, but nonetheless, I felt it needed to be said that for the next two-and-a-half months or so, I’m going to be diving hard into a big freelance project that’s clamped down tight under a non-disclosure agreement, so there’s a good chance that I won’t be posting a lot here until sometime early next year.

Given that I already don’t post a whole lot on here, the change may not be very substantial, and as I said, if you follow me on social media, you’re likely to continue to see me around, as I’ll need to come up for air from time to time. That said, if I follow you on social media, then apologies in advance if I miss a lot more of your posts than usual over the next couple of months. Things are going to be a bit hectic around here. (More on it as soon as I have the freedom to share.)

Considering how hectic things have already gotten over the last few days, I had a good birthday and a quiet but otherwise good Halloween, even if I did end up turning in before midnight for maybe the first time in my life. (My pumpkin stayed lit, though, so I’m okay.)

Also, perhaps a bit surprisingly, perhaps not, I watched more movies in the month of October than I ever have in a single month since I started keeping my movie journal. 47, all told, which is probably what happens when you spend most of the month recovering from a tonsillectomy and unable to do much of anything (including sleep) besides stare at a flickering screen.

Of those 47, 26 were new to me, keeping nicely with my “more movies that I haven’t seen before than movies that I have” goal for 2017.