TBT: About Those HPV Vaccines

This is a repost from several years ago. If you read my post from earlier this week, you know I dealt with some medical trauma related to HPV. This touches on the aftermath of that. I don’t remember writing it, though that’s not unheard of for something this old. More remarkable is that it contains a link to me writing about the bleeds that occurred after my surgery. I should remember that. I don’t. It’s fascinating to see the spots that memory has tweaked or erased in the intervening years.

Go get them for your kids who are in the appropriate age range. Tell people you know who have kids in that age range that these are important. That’s all. Just help deal a major blow to the most pernicious forms of this virus.


Photo of cells stained light and dark blue for viewing. One cluster of cells has large dark blue centers.
“High-grade Squamous Intraepithelial Lesion of Cervix, ThinPrep” by Ed Uthman, CC BY 2.0

Yesterday I had an appointment to get a Pap smear. This is a routine appointment for most women. It isn’t for me. It was a six-month follow-up to my last test (clear), which was a follow-up to my surgery for extensive precancerous lesions last November.

It also marks the second birthday in a row during which I will be waiting for more information on my health. A friend noted yesterday, “It’s not a Heisenberg cervix; you won’t alter it by looking at it. So even if it WAS bad news, that means you can enjoy your birthday without having it hang over your head.” It doesn’t exactly change the situation, but at least it made me laugh, which I needed by then.

I didn’t think the Pap was going to bother me. I thought it would be just as routine as any before last year. Some part of me had other ideas. Continue reading “TBT: About Those HPV Vaccines”

TBT: About Those HPV Vaccines

The Illnesses We Can’t See

This is one of the essays I delivered to my patrons last month. I’m posting it here now in part because there’s more nonsense going around about the HPV vaccine. We talk about bad things that happened to people who were vaccinated. We don’t talk so much about what happens to people who weren’t. If you want to support more work like this, and see it earlier, you can sign up here.

I’ve been sick. No, really.

It’s not surprising. There’s a summer cold that’s been making the rounds. It’s been months since I was sleeping regularly (or it had been). Being allergic to grass was already putting a strain on my immune system. It was going to happen. The only surprise is that it hasn’t been worse.

Well, no. That’s not quite true. The other surprise is that part of me wanted it to be worse.

As summer colds go, it wasn’t terrible. I mean, it wasn’t great either. My face hurt from the sinus pressure. My teeth hurt from the sinus pressure. My inner ears hurt when they weren’t itching. My throat hurt. The canker sore–ugh! I slept so much, and I wanted to sleep more every minute of every day. The occasional sneezing fits made that difficult, though.

And all you could see from the outside was that the circles under my eyes were very slightly darker than usual. Even in the middle of the sleep and the Anbesol and the ibuprofen and the hot liquids, I wanted proof I could show other people that I really was sick. Not having proof, I began to feel like I was faking it. In between naps and painkillers, of course.

I know it’s silly. I shouldn’t need other people to know I’m sick in order to believe it myself. On the other hand, I’m not alone in this. And if I allow myself to think about why I feel this way, what I get are all the times I needed to be able to pull out that proof, not for myself, but for other people. Continue reading “The Illnesses We Can’t See”

The Illnesses We Can’t See

The Death of Jelly and Birth of Religion

It’s a strange thing, as an atheist, to be in on the early days of a religion. It’s even more strange when that religion is started by other atheists and when it grows mostly through the actions of yet more nonbelievers. Then, one day, you find yourself building a shrine.

My friend Kelly McCullough wrote an essay at Uncanny Magazine talking about how he’s created religions both on purpose–as a writer–and more or less accidentally–as someone who likes to throw a party and has weird friends.

Chris—still foolishly possessed of the idea that if it was in the fridge, it had probably at one time been food—was deeply disturbed by this discovery. But after a while, he worked up his nerve, prodded the alien life form with a fork, and discovered it was harmless. However, this experience made him very cautious when he approached the rest of the contents of the fridge, which turned out to consist of one never–opened jar of red currant jelly which had expired some two years before his arrival.

When I finally returned from my wanderjar, Chris naturally enough wanted to share the tale of his adventures in my apartment, and to question me about the candle (now tucked away in a box in a cabinet—but still unidentified) and the jelly. After some careful inspection of the items in question and dusting off of old memories, I was able to identify the candle. But the jelly defied my powers of memory.

Or, at least, that is one explanation. However, since I have never in my entire life eaten red currant jelly, nor to my knowledge has it ever been a staple in my family’s household, I have darker suspicions. I tend to believe that it condensed out of the mysterious cosmic stuff of missing hangers and lost socks, and that it happened some time between when I left the house on my trip and when Chris arrived a day later—and that it is possessed of inhuman and sinister motivations.

And so, I have never opened it or discarded it—for fear that someone else might open it. Instead, once a year—near the expiration date listed on the jar—we bring it out and throw a festival to appease it.

That time has come again.

Yeah, I’m one of those weird friends. No, I don’t believe a jar of expired jelly that spends the bulk of its year sitting in a fridge in a bag labeled, “Do not open or throw away”, is going to wreak havoc if we don’t bring worshipful offerings. I still tell people I’m going to “appease a jar of jelly” when I head out to the party. I still built the thing a shrine. Continue reading “The Death of Jelly and Birth of Religion”

The Death of Jelly and Birth of Religion

When Denial Works

We tend to give denial a bad rap. Saying that someone is “in denial” is not a compliment. Telling people that you yourself are in denial is a confession. It isn’t something we brag about.

There are good reasons for this, especially among activists. It’s hard to convince anyone something must change if they’re in denial. Whatever you want to change just isn’t a problem, or maybe it doesn’t even exist. You can’t come up with plans of action that will work if you can’t look at all the moving parts. You can’t sell people on your plan unless you’re willing to accept the ins and outs of their psychology. Denial is a professional hurdle for activists.

On top of that, those of us who are skeptical or atheist activists have a certain vested–if not always properly placed–pride in seeing the world the way it is. Denial is the enemy. It doesn’t just impede our work; fighting it is our work. Sometimes, however, I think we take our antipathy for denial too far. Continue reading “When Denial Works”

When Denial Works

A Valentine's Day Story

I’m not big on Valentine’s Day as a holiday. Too much pressure to “correctly” perform a form of romance that has nothing to do with the rest of our lives together. Too little imagination about the varieties of relationships that exist out there. Far too much commercializing of a particularly insidious kind.

I still celebrate the day, however, just not as a holiday. For me, it’s the anniversary of my first date with my husband, eighteen years ago.  Inspired by this Role/Reboot piece on the death of traditional courtship, I thought I’d share how we got there. Continue reading “A Valentine's Day Story”

A Valentine's Day Story


Alice Bradley has a great post up on aging out of being treated as an object.

A year ago I was at a family event and a few of my mom’s friends–older women all–were expressing amazement that I would let my hair go gray. One of them–a woman I’ve known since I was born–said, “Men don’t mind it when their hair goes gray, because gray hair makes you look more intimidating. And a woman doesn’t want to look intimidating.”

She was so well-meaning, so concerned about my looking approachable and pretty, and I know she didn’t mean anything by it. But when she said this, so much rage welled up in me. So much. I made a joke and changed the subject, but all I wanted to do was scream. Loudly.

Because: do I want to look intimidating? God, yes. I do. Yes, please, I very much fucking do.

As a young woman, I was certainly the least intimidating creature on the planet, and as such I was prey to unwanted attention from men, attention that ranged from annoying to truly scary. I know there are people who dismiss the idea that such attention is upsetting–after all, isn’t it flattering that strangers think you’re attractive? But it goes far, far beyond that. It was endless and exhausting and I don’t think it has a thing to do with how pretty you are. In fact I often felt the comments would come fast and furious on the days I felt particularly bad about myself, like I was giving off signals or hormones, like they could smell my weakness.

They can. They do. How do I know? At some point around college, I became intimidating.

Continue reading “Intimidation”


Stage Kiss

While I’m at ScienceOnline, my brain is usually buzzing too hard to concentrate on writing anything. To keep you entertained, a repost. This was originally posted here.

Bowling, to me, is something you do if you’re given a choice between bowling and death. And even then, it’s a toss-up.

Kissing someone onstage is perhaps the least romantic thing you can do. Well, it was for me. It wasn’t my fault, though. I swear.

I was in college when I had my one and only stage kiss. They don’t tend to be assigned in K-12 productions, for all the reasons you’d think. Parents may flip. Casting is more of a hassle when you have to worry about who will kiss whom without freaking out. Even if you cast kids who have paired up, will it last until the production is over? Then there’s all the giggling during rehearsals–or performance.

So I was quite good at leaning in close and looking adoring, but I was a college sophomore before I got my first stage direction to pucker up.

Continue reading “Stage Kiss”

Stage Kiss


She was just there one day when we walked out the door, sleek and friendly. We stopped to pet her briefly and went on our way.

She was there again in a day or two, then again after that, less sleek and dirtier every time. Still always friendly. We put out food when she showed up, but pettings were her first priority. So we pet her. Then we washed our hands.

It was when she showed up with the oil spot on her back, I think, that we took her in. There was a spare bedroom at that point where she could be quarantined until we could get her to the vet. After the gray kitten a few months before who turned out to have feline leukemia, we were careful about getting too attached, and very careful of our two other cats.

The bath was a necessity. She stank, and the oil had to go away before it got all over everything. I’ve never seen a cat enjoy a bath before, but she seemed grateful she didn’t have to clean it all up.

The vet’s visit was expensive. Spaying a pregnant cat, even if she hasn’t been pregnant long, is an expensive thing. “By the way,” the vet said, “what you have is a lynx-point Siamese.” Siamese. First heat. Well, that explained why she was now a stray. That and a certain amount of random cruelty from idiots who couldn’t handle noise.

She was clear on the feline leukemia, and there had been plenty of sniffing and pawing under the door to the spare bedroom, so it was time to introduce the cats. She went straight for the Mysticism, the older cat, the moment she saw her. That’s when she got her first name: Malice. Continue reading “Malice”


Saturday Storytime: All Cats Are Gray

I was ten. I was still terrified of what might be hidden under the bed or in the closet or anywhere else that made hiding easy. What I knew of the world that didn’t hide from the light was bad enough. What concealed itself must be worse.

I was in my bedroom. Somewhere outside of that, my parents were probably fighting. They might have been taking a break. Somewhere beyond that was a new school, a new set of kids who didn’t like the same things I did, who didn’t talk the same way I did, who didn’t even play the same games I did. Nowhere around me were the water and the trees that always accepted me.

All that mattered less than it had an hour or two before, because I was reading Lore of the Witch World by Andre Norton. I’d been reading fantasy all my life–mythology, the creatures and deeds tales of writers like C. S. Lewis, fairy tales–but this was the first time I held grown-up fantasy in my hands. This was the first time I saw people, and particularly women, dealing with both the trials of daylight (war, displacement, rape, disability, being outcaste) and the half-seen creatures of shadow. And they succeeded. Not easily, but they succeeded.

I needed that just then, perhaps more than anything in the world.

Now, I write fantasy sometimes. At that point, it was written into me. Nor am I alone, which I think is part of the uproar over Ginia Bellafante’s dismissive comments about sex being used to pander to women, who would otherwise turn up their pretty little noses at fantasy. We’re being told to chose which part of our identity is the valid part. Are we women, or do we like fantasy? It’s a silly, impossible question, and we’re not going to stand for it.

There is a bit of irony in this for me. The woman who wrote fantasy into my consciousness started writing at a time when “women didn’t write fantasy”. They did actually write it, of course, and publish it, but they did so under male names. Even Andre Norton, whose name is ambiguously gendered, published her early, science fiction stories as Andrew North.

So in honor of the woman who taught me that fantasy isn’t just for children and that the dark can be managed, here is one of those early stories. An excerpt:

Steena was strictly background stuff and that is where she mostly spent her free hours—in the smelly smoky background corners of any stellar-port dive frequented by free spacers. If you really looked for her you could spot her—just sitting there listening to the talk—listening and remembering. She didn’t open her own mouth often. But when she did spacers had learned to listen. And the lucky few who heard her rare spoken words—these will never forget Steena.

She drifted from port to port. Being an expert operator on the big calculators she found jobs wherever she cared to stay for a time. And she came to be something like the master-minded machines she tended—smooth, gray, without much personality of her own.

But it was Steena who told Bub Nelson about the Jovan moon-rites—and her warning saved Bub’s life six months later. It was Steena who identified the piece of stone Keene Clark was passing around a table one night, rightly calling it unworked Slitite. That started a rush which made ten fortunes overnight for men who were down to their last jets. And, last of all, she cracked the case of the Empress of Mars.

All the boys who had profited by her queer store of knowledge and her photographic memory tried at one time or another to balance the scales. But she wouldn’t take so much as a cup of Canal water at their expense, let alone the credits they tried to push on her. Bub Nelson was the only one who got around her refusal. It was he who brought her Bat.

Keep reading.

Saturday Storytime: All Cats Are Gray

Duck and Cover

The older I get, the more diverse are the ages of my friends. It provides interesting insight on how rapidly bits of the world are changing.

I was talking to a friend who’s about a decade older than I am. I don’t remember exactly what prompted the subject, but I think the context was a discussion of fear. He said, “When I was a kid, we did ‘duck and cover” drills in school.”

I thought about it for a minute before responding. “We never did drills. I think we knew there was no point. If someone decided to push the button, we were just all going to die. Nothing we could do about it.”

The conversation has sat in the back of my head for a few months, getting fuzzier in its details, percolating. Then I went to the Atomic Testing Museum on our way to touring the Nevada Test Site.

There was a photo of the children in a town near the testing practicing their drills, outside on the ground. There was footage of how manikins fared in test houses built near the blasts. There was a mock-up of a basement blast shelter, complete with a manikin family smiling peacefully.

I wanted to laugh, but it would have been the wrong kind of laughter, and any kind of laughter at all was not what I wanted to be doing with Japanese tourists (no, really) in the museum. So I stopped a little past the diorama and turned to my husband and the friend taking the tour with us. We’re all the same age group for this sort of thing. I told them about the months-old conversation.

They nodded. My husband said, “I checked on a map recently. We’re not too bad off where we are now.”

I looked at him. “If it were just one bomb, one warhead.”

Another nod and a sour face. “Yeah.”

The operable phrase when I was in school was “mutually assured destruction.” Scads of nuclear weapons as a security blanket. I suppose it’s not surprising we found that sort of comfort rather cold. Hey, there’s this guy who calls ketchup a vegetable and names his best hope of defense against a nuclear attack after a fantasy with space trappings and on and on and on. We’re supposed to trust him to understand the full consequences of his actions. Oh. Yay.

The first day of ninth grade social studies class, American government, my teacher announced to the class that it would be run as a democracy. No, he couldn’t tell us how that was going to work because we were going to decide that. No, he couldn’t even tell us the scope of the decisions we’d be making as we voted.

I don’t do pass/fail scenarios with open-ended expectations.

I think he thought it was cute when I turned in my chair to face the wall. A protest! Ooh! Yay, democracy! I don’t think it stayed cute for more than a couple of days, but cute wasn’t my point. If I wasn’t allowed to transfer into the other “advanced” civics class (the school cut us off after one or two people), he could find out how much of a pain democracy could be. Then he, I, and the school could decide what that was worth for a grade.

Very shortly after the year started, all of the ninth-grade classes participated in a nuclear simulation at the same time. Our class split up into nations. Each nation got a set of scenarios: pressure on the borders, powerful foes–internal and external–posed to pounce on any misstep. As a nation, each group decided on their response: pacific, aggressive, or something in between.

Our class blew ourselves up on the first turn. One hour of contemplation, minus however long it took to explain the rules, and we had a nuclear war on our hands.

On the up-side, that was the end of the democracy experiment. A rather grim teacher announced that at the same time he announced we were done with the simulation earlier than anyone else. I have no idea whether it made a difference to me. Most of my political education came from looking up the background on Doonesbury strips and Chad Mitchell Trio songs and testing the claims of politicians and lobbyists.

The one lesson I’ll never forget from that class, however, is how easy it is to convince ourselves that we don’t have any other “real” options. That could be because I’ve never stopped hearing that as a justification for political decisions, particularly for decisions I wouldn’t have made.

I don’t know what difference it made to me or my generation to know it was out of our hands whether we lived or died. It would be easy to claim that the materialism of Generation X stems from nuclear nihilism, but we were too young to set the tone of the 80s. It wasn’t people my age buying DeLoreans, Rolexes, and coke in bulk.

I don’t know that we even had the words to talk about it among ourselves before the situation became less stark. We don’t talk about it now. Talking about our teenage years means talking about social pressures and pop culture. For all I know, it wasn’t that big a deal to anyone else.

Except for that long, quiet trip through a museum and two instant nods. Those tell me I didn’t live through that alone.

Duck and Cover