Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Living in Fear

My son, Max, turns ten at the end of the month. In December 2011, only about a week and a half after his youngest brother, Elliot, was born, we rushed Max to Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri because of blood in his stool, a positive test for malicious bacteria, and some joint pain. Five days, several blood tests, a colonoscopy, and sundry medications later, Max was discharged with a diagnosis of Crohn's disease.

He's had struggles over the last four years, little Crohn's/Colitis related things that anyone familiar with this monster will know well. Things took a nose dive this past December, and between mid-December and the end of January, Max spent five weeks in the hospital. The doctors tried new meds and more meds, but in the end, my almost ten-year-old had his colon removed on January 20th. All of it.

I do not like to live in fear. Show me the monster, and I will meet it head-on. Now that Max has had a very necessary surgery, he's living with a "temporary" colostomy bag. Temporary in quotes? Yes. He's had one subsequent surgery to resection/restructure his small bowl, and we should have another to "reconnect" his "parts" down the road. Here's the fear and frustration part: his GI specialist and surgeon disagree as to the timing of this final surgery. The GI doctor is full of "what ifs" and "possible problems." Talking to him is a lesson in bodily horror, something with which I struggle, both as a writer and a human. Yes, there are possible problems if we reconnect. The surgeon is more optimistic. Neither agree--neither have even spoken to each other as of this writing--but we are faced with a decision: When to do the final surgery.

I do not like to live in fear.

I've learned all too well that life will bring tragedy regardless of what we do. I lost my father to brain cancer, my first wife to postpartum psychosis, and Max has this awful disease. None of them "asked" for it with dangerous living. This isn't another story of someone "getting what he deserves." I cannot and will not believe in a prosperity gospel when two good, caring adults and one innocent child face such monsters. Bad things happen to everyone, and we are defined by how we respond.

So what to do about Max? In two hours, I'll listen to his surgeon make a case for re-connection. Max has expressed his lack of love for the bag--something that if things do not go well after re-connection, he may have to live with, anyway. I've always been one to steer into the storm rather than trying to run. The storm is coming either way, and when we lie to ourselves about having control... well, that's a fast track to fear.

I will not live in fear.





Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Getting Up*

My oldest son competed in his first middle school track meet last night. When I was in high school, we called various members of the team hogs, dogs, and frogs--throwers, runners, and jumpers. Owen decided to try a little bit of everything: shot put, long jump, and the 200 meter dash. So I guess he was a hog-dog-frog... the image is a little terrifying.

This happened during the 200:


Yes, that's my son on the ground. He's fast on the soccer field, but a straight sprint might not be his thing. After the race, he was worried I'd be upset because he didn't perform well. Think about it for a minute, especially those of you who are parents. Would you be upset?

My answer--which came in the form of a question as my answers often do**: What did you do after you fell?

Owen: I got up.

Me: And then?

Owen: I finished the race.

That's all that mattered to me. I felt for him. Going down hard in front of a stand full of parents and your peers is tough, especially in 7th grade. Maybe I broke some parenting rule when I shared this photo, but no, I don't think so. I'm much prouder of a boy who crashes hard and still finishes than one who wins all the time. No one--anywhere/anyone--wins all the time.

Life is more about what you do when the bad shit happens.


*I really, really despise the word "get," but here it feels somehow appropriate. Forgive my lazy verb choice.

**I wonder if it's difficult to have me as a father?

Sunday, March 20, 2016

So... About My Demise

So you may have noticed... I stopped writing for a while.

Stories. Books. This blog.

I completely stopped writing everything except for day-job-related minutia and a few other important bits.*

When I started my writing journey during the summer of 2007--yes, almost nine years ago now--I had big dreams. I thought I would be able to conquer the world and find some kind of fame as an author. I was trying to escape some very sour realities at the time. The first year or so after my second son, Max, was born challenged me like nothing else had in life. If you need details, they're all here in the archives of this blog.

I had started writing with big dreams, and reality intervened. I played the agent game with my first book and garnered more rejections than I care to count. It wasn't a very good book and my query letters sucked, too. I started writing short fiction and found I had a taste for it. Goals evolved. Someday, maybe, I would qualify for a writers' group. I set my sights on the HWA and became an affiliate member.

And I wrote another book or two, played the agent game again and even came just a little closer.

What if I could become an active member of the HWA? It would only take three professional sales...

I published more stories than I should have, some of them mildly embarrassing in hindsight, but they are all my progeny, ugly or not. The rejections piled up, but so did my little black ribbons--those publications I chased and chased and finally caught. Some of them are defunct now, Nossa Morte, Necrotic Tissue... I finally made the pages of Shimmer. I sold my first two professional rate stories to Shock Totem and the HWA's Blood Lite II anthology.

And then my third son was born and my wife committed suicide. My writing sputtered to a stop. It's all here if you want to dig. It's all here to read and process--right in the archives of this blog.

But what you will not find is how I lost my writing way. Chasing publication in honored magazines and anthologies made me a better writer. I cared, once. My first wife's death didn't end my writing career. I did.

You see, once upon a time, there was a gold rush. Ebooks happened in a big way. Self-publishing happened. Money sang a siren song not unlike that which led a deluded young writer during my first year. I no longer wrote for the right reasons.

Here's a hint: it's not about money. It never has been, and if organizations like the HWA expect professional pay to be a gatekeeper in the active society, it isn't because that pay means more than the commitment to achieve that pay. Members should care that much about their craft. The writing--the stories--are everything.

I've written a little since then. I've dabbled. I published a few stories a year or so back and sold my third professional rate piece. I could be an active HWA member, but I'm not. I've always needed a goal in front of me, not behind. I need that distant shore, something to chase, something to make me better again.

And I found it. The stories are there. I just need to tell them, right.

My son asked if I still blogged. Here's your answer--and I don't even know if blogging is something one does anymore.




*you can ask Kim about the asterisk


Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Whispers and Rumors

Rumors of my demise have been slightly exaggerated.

(shhh... don't tell anyone)

Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Problem with Living Forever

The conversation started one late night (or very early morning) in the summer of 1994. I was unemployed, between my freshmen and sophomore year at Kansas State, stuck between art and English education. My best friend and I spent those long summer nights driving aimlessly through our small, sleepy hometown. We played amatuer philosopher during those drives, questioning God, the universe, everything.

"I don't want to live forever," I said.

"Neither do I. Not on Earth, anyway."

"No," I said, "I don't want to go to heaven either. I mean, that's just nuts. Forever is a long time."

My friend laughed. "It's not like heaven's just clouds and harps and shit. I don't think you understand what it would be like."

No, it's not like that at all. I've seen death in my life--death and a lot of change. I remember every one of my grandparents' funerals, my father's, my first wife's. I remember standing in the basement of the Warren-McElwain mortuary in Lawrence, KS deciding on a casket for my wife at age 37.

The funeral director, a relatively young woman herself, stopped in mid sales pitch/product description, and said, "You're too young for this."

Yes, and no. And maybe. 

Death is a part of life. Our mortality is what binds us together, and to rob anyone of death is to steal the very essence of what it means to be human. Death is not the worst thing to come for us. Death is our oldest friend. Death reminds us to live, to enjoy, to laugh and have fun, and to love well. Death taught me well from a young age. This is what is the end to which we all must go. This is what gives value and rarity to your life.

I've carried those lessons with me. I have no desire to live forever--and I fear immortality in world not built for it much more than my own death. Maybe heaven isn't harps and clouds and "shit." Maybe I can't comphrended immortality. I do know this: on Earth, I'm happy my time is limited.

It's much more valuable this way.