Lexifabricographer For when the right word just won’t do…

July 30, 2013

Each day drags by / Until finally my time descends on me

Filed under: fitter/happier,news of the day — Tags: — lexifab @ 4:21 pm

I wasn’t too alert at the time, so I don’t remember which I noticed first, the “cheap hotel” vibe or the bundles of wiring hanging on the wall. The outer reception area of the sleep clinic had a reassuringly stark professional modernity but behind each of the six doors was a tiny, shabby bedroom with a collection of antique monitoring devices with a medical design aesthetic straight out of the early nineties. I chose to interpret that as a good sign, reassuring evidence that they’ve been doing this forever and that my petty little condition would present no diagnostic challenge whatsoever.

So the thing about monitoring a patient’s sleep patterns is that there’s a lot to keep track of – brain activity, lung pressure, blood oxygen levels, eye movement, leg movement, breathing rates and so on. All of that adds up to rather a lot of monitoring devices – expansion bands for the chest and stomach, tubes secured near the nose and mouth, a compression clamp on one finger (that one hurt!) and wired electrodes absolutely everywhere, stuck down with masking tape and a paste not unlike builder’s plaster. On top of that there were two cameras (one regular, one infra-red) and, suspended from the ceiling on a bit of bent wire, an incongruously low-tech mercury thermometer.

Before I got to all that I had to take a test to determine the extent to which my hopeless sinuses would fail to contribute to nasal breathing. This turned out to involve shoving plugs up my nostrils and attempting to breathe with my mouth closed. Understand that this is something I can almost never do (thanks, stupid sinuses!) and Friday night proved no exception. “You mostly breathe through your mouth,” observed Michael the Sleep Technician, a friendly and warm sort of chap who spoke with a calm voice and was not asking a question in that moment. We both agreed that I would do my best to nose-breathe but it was silently understood that I would stop doing that the moment I started to turn red and making choking noises.

“We’ll be just outside monitoring your sleep patterns,” Michael the Sleep Technician told me. He explained about the stages of sleep to distract me while he applied a somewhat brutal exfoliating cream before he secured electrodes to my head, face, neck, chest and legs. Each one was attached to a spaghetti-thin cable and jacked into a machine that conspicuously failed to go ‘ping’. There were about twenty of them in all. I felt like I was being wired up for a motion-capture performance, but alas I am not Andy Serkis and nobody wants to see me cavort in a leotard. Small blessings, I suppose.

Michael the Sleep Technician left me to my own devices, cheerfully suggesting that I just go to sleep in my own time. I climbed into a bed which was small but might have been comfortable had I not been attached to the pingless device by quite so many wires. I read for a while, until general fatigue turned to “I have no idea what the last two pages were all about”. I put the book down, turned off the light and tried to sleep.

I failed. For about four or five hours, if my near-expert familiarity with insomnia was any judge. The electrodes attached to my (hairy) legs itched. The metal humidity sensor taped to my top lip had sharp, annoying edges. The tubes pointed at my nostrils poked me every time I moved. And then there was that bunch of hard plastic patches glued to my face. They were kind of irritating.

I tried rolling into a more comfortable sleeping position – there wasn’t one. I tried controlled breathing to slow myself down and put myself out – it didn’t work. I have no clear recollection of it but I may in desperation have tried to count sheep. If I did, count me unimpressed with horseshit folk remedies.

Since the technicians outside the room were monitoring me the whole time they presumably knew that I was awake. You’d think the least they could do would be to pipe in some soothing lounge jazz or a waterfalls-and-crystal-chimes soundtrack to bore me unconscious, but no.

I fell asleep eventually. I must have done, because someone woke me up at a quarter to six. Nadine the Sleep Technician, replacing a mysteriously vanished Michael, methodically removed the electrodes, straps, clips, tape and hairs and gave me a questionnaire to fill out.

“Was this a better sleep than usual, about the same or worse than usual?” “Do you feel refreshed or tired?” “Did you wake up with a headache?” The questionnaire asked me to circle a response. Sensibly they did not provide room for explanatory comments.

After that I had a complimentary juice box and walked out into the freezing pitch darkness of a Canberra winter morning in a deserted business park. I was tired. Part of my hair and face were sticky.

It takes about four weeks to analyse the results. I’ll talk to a specialist and I hope I’ll find out what’s going on with my fatigue levels. In the meantime, if you see me, try to give off energetic thoughts. Or just stab me with a syringe full of caffeine. That might work too.

July 24, 2013

Think of the tender things that we were working on

Filed under: fitter/happier — Tags: — lexifab @ 4:49 pm

I haven’t been sleeping well.

By that I don’t mean what people usually mean when they say that. For the past three weeks I’ve been going out of my way to make sure that I’m getting a full night’s sleep. I’ve been trying to keep to a consistent sleep routine, going to sleep and getting up at roughly the same times each day, kids permitting. I’ve mostly cut out caffeine after lunch. I’ve almost completely lost my appetite for alcohol. I’m exercising enough. I’m not eating too much junk food and useless carbs. I mean, I’m not observing all these rules with an ecstatic fervour, but I am tightening up some lifestyle habits.

But I’m not sleeping well. The sleep, even when I have a full,unbroken night of it, isn’t working. Most days, I’m not waking up rested and refreshed, I’m waking up up sore, cranky and bleary. Most days, that feeling passes for an hour or two after I have a slug of coffee. For a narrow period during the morning, I can think straight, express myself clearly and keep my eyes open.

That window of lucidity slams closed around lunchtime, maybe as late as two in the afternoon. Lately, more and more often, it doesn’t open again. I feel hammered. Dull witted. Sleepy. If I sit down somewhere comfortable any time between about two and six pm, there’s a good chance I’ll nod off. More than once I’ve handed driving responsibilities over to someone else because I didn’t feel alert enough to be safe. The way I’ve been describing it is that it feels like eleven o’clock at night, all the time.

This hasn’t been good for writing. Most of my writing time comes at lunchtime (which is not usually more than ten or fifteen minutes) and after eight at night, when the kids are in bed. For the past month or so, I’ve turned into a zombie by eight. I can just about function if I have to do some straightforward physical household chore like (simple) cooking or washing up. Strangely, I can do the monthly tax reconciliation, probably because despite its complexity, it’s a routine task that has become ingrained. I can even read without too much difficulty, although my stamina for following words on a page is not what it should be.

I can’t write. I can’t hold a thought still long enough to form a coherent sentence. Most of the times I’ve tried, I can’t even form particularly incoherent sentences. I just can’t think of things to type.

Progress on the novel goes slowly, then. I’m not going to make my deadline for the critiquing group, it’s pretty safe to say. Even with the three weeks I still have up my sleeve I have no realistic expectation that I can pick up the pace again enough to hammer out the concluding chapters. The rest of the group will be understanding, I’m sure, but it’s disappointing all the same.

But that’s enough of the whinging. Next time I do this, I’ll talk about what I’m doing to fix myself up.

July 9, 2013

AWWC 2013 Review – A Trifle Dead by Livia Day

This is my sixth review for the 2013 Australian Women Writers Challenge. I picked up this particular volume at Conflux 2013 back in April, shortly after the book’s launch.

I don’t read a heap of mystery stories – I enjoy reading them but I like fantasy and science fiction more, so I tend to relegate crime and mystery fiction to when I need a change of flavour and when I have some free reading time. Basically never, in other words. But I was all a-quiver with anticipation for A Trifle Dead for a few reasons: one, because it’s the first release from the new crime imprint from Twelfth Planet Press, who have produced some exceptional speculative fiction in the last couple of years. Two, because the author behind the Livia Day pen name has a fun, witty body of work (some of which I may have reviewed at one time). And three, because although I am quite fond of Hobart, it has always struck me as somewhere where murder is probably popular. It just seems like the sort of place where the charming, somewhat sleepy facade conceals a streak of bloodthirstiness and taste for the macabre. Maybe that’s just me.

Tabitha Darling is the proprietor of a trendy Hobart cafe that might be doing better business if not for the gaggle of overprotective policemen making up most of its clientele. She isn’t having much luck convincing her recently-deceased father’s colleagues to try the modernised menu, her somewhat-disreputable co-owner has gone missing and she’s struggling to sort out her feelings towards a charming-if-taciturn police detective who seems to think of her as his little sister. As if that were not enough, the publicity-hungry band living upstairs discovers a body suspended in a net in the spare room. For no particular reason other than intense curiosity, Tabitha can’t help but try to solve the murder.

Tabitha is a delightfully fun character, obsessed with food, vintage clothing and the Eurovision Song Contest, endlessly inquisitive and amusingly snarky. She has no particular aptitude for detecting, other than possessing a stubborn persistence, a wide social circle and the willingness to use baked goods as bribes. A Trifle Dead is definitely a cosy mystery – there’s comparitively little bloodshed and mayhem, and much of the book is taken up with Tabitha’s navigation of her complex social life. In fact, that’s something of the genius of A Trifle Dead – it’s impossible to tell from one moment to the next which parts of the story are plot-related, and which parts are relationship-drama red herrings. In Tabitha’s mind they’re wholly indistinguishable. I spent most of the book expecting (and dreading) that one particular character would turn out to be behind everything, only to have the revelations of their dark secrets be innocent and of significance only because of Tabitha’s keen interest.

A Trifle Dead is great fun. Tabitha may appear light as a souffle and obsessed with quirky pop culture, but she has an appealing streak of businesslike determination that carries the story. The supporting cast are a likeable crowd of trendy hipsters, baffled coppers and slightly scurrilous crims, all of whom are connected in odd and unexpected. The way that Day has knit these characters together so intricately that the murder plot is effectively camouflaged at the same time that it sits front and centre is a very neat trick. I found it a fun modern murder mystery with none of the grim forensic details so often prevalent in this genre. Oh, and I really can’t let the review pass without noting the striking cover by Amanda Rainey, which is a gorgeous piece of iconic design a little bit reminiscent of Saul Bass – it’s perfect!


July 6, 2013

Review – The Mammoth Book of SteamPunk

Very quick review of something I bought on a whim a few weeks ago, because I don’t have much of a sense of what counts as steampunk. I figured that something called The Mammoth Book of Steampunk (edited by Sean Wallace), ought to give me a good feel for it. The short answer is: anything goes, pretty much. If you think it’s steampunk, then it probably is… (I got a hardcopy, but the kindle version is a surprisingly good bargain)

As the name implies, this is a massive volume showcasing the broad possibilities encompassed by the term ‘steampunk’. There are dirigibles as far as the eye can see, certainly, as well as mad inventors, clockwork animals and steam-powered limbs, as you might expect.

There are also supernatural horrors, gear-filled monsters, spring-driven thieves and a couple of surprise castrations. There’s derring-do, whimsy, and drama; there’s alternate history, historical fantasy, provocative science fiction and angry political thrillers. I doubt it would qualify as a particularly accessible introduction to the core conceits of steampunk, but it certainly serves as an excellent overview of a popular subgenre.

Of particular note are N.K. Jemisin’s outstanding “The Effluent Engine”, about the machinations of a Haitian spy trying to preserve her country’s newfound freedom; Aliette de Bodard’s “Prayers of Forges and Furnaces”, depicting an advanced Aztec empire; Caitlin R. Kiernan’s “The Steam Dancer (1896)”, a drama concerning a unique performance artist; and Nick Mamatas’ “Arbeitskraft”, in which a wealthy revolutionary builds an artificial Karl Marx with which to inspire the proletariat. That last one’s a bit horrific, by the way.

As with most large anthologies, there are a few stories here which are not to my tastes. But considering the size of it – thirty stories in all – that’s an impressive hit rate. However, in answer to Doctor Clam’s excited enquiry I must report with the heaviest of hearts that this particular volume contains no mammoths whatsoever, steam-powered or otherwise.

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