Two Years

Two years ago, it was Sunday. As per the usual Sunday tradition, I had been helping my mother clean out her rabbit cages; it was a task I had helped her with since I had left my job at the Department of Defense. In the winter prior, she had gone through some elective surgery which turned into a big mess, and I had taken care of her rabbits for about a full month. My sister had only just come back a week prior, having been deployed for the duration of 2017. So many events in that short period of time feel like a blur, all spun together in such a way that sometimes I’m not sure they were real. I don’t remember the work that day being particularly hard, easier than it usually was now that I think about it. Much like it was today, it was a pleasant day, relatively warm for March. We knew it wasn’t going to last, so we made the best of it.

After we had completed our cleaning routine, we had gone inside for a cup of coffee and my mother wanted to work on some art concepts as potential covers for The Fifth Letter. I spent some time refining a few of my own concepts, then had to leave to take care of a few things of my own. I told my mother I would see her later; she said the same.

Those were the last words between my mother and I.

That evening, the last message my mother ever sent to me was the latest work she had been doing, to get my input on it. An hour later, she was gone. I can remember the time between, having a sudden feeling of imbalance and temporarily being unable to stand up straight; I figured I was simply too tired or something, and my usual inner ear balance difficulties were cropping up. I sometimes wonder if it was just a shock wave rumbling through my world, letting me know that everything was going to change.

As a child, one adjusts to the idea that they will eventually have to bury their parents. It’s a fact of life that I saw my mother go through and know that soon, my father will go through as well. But one doesn’t anticipate sudden loss in this day and age; one doesn’t expire from an unknown affliction so quickly, with no idea it was there. But it happens and we deceive ourselves into thinking it won’t. That only happens to others and it won’t happen to us. That it is a numbers game we will all beat.

On March 25, 2018, my mother died at her desk. A problem with her heart, they said. It was sudden and quick, yet despite everything that’s happened since, I always ask myself what would’ve happened had I stayed? What if I’d put off my usual chores and stuck around a bit longer? Worked on my artwork a bit longer there? Written something? Done anything except leave her alone? Would things have been different? I don’t know; I don’t have the power to speculate. Things might’ve just continued as they did.

In the time since, I’ve been listless and aimless; stagnant and alone. I wasn’t sure if it was worth continuing to be an author, even an unsuccessful one. In this day and age, how does one make it in such an industry that is highly dependent on one’s social skills? I had made the jump because my mother had told me so as long as I wrote, it didn’t matter; she would handle all the social aspects of it. Then, as now, I was a very pessimistic individual, not prone to believing I could hack it in such a competitive industry. I often ask myself if she had just suggested I pursue it to keep me from being driven to madness by the United States Government.

As time goes on, I’m not sure if it’s worth the effort. I’m not sure if it’s worth trying to keep going, screaming into a faceless void at the edge of an abyss. I’m not sure if I’m no longer beholden to my mother’s promise, that as long as she was alive I couldn’t kill myself. I’m not sure if all those dreams of suicide during my last year working for the Department of Defense were a vision of the future or just subconscious nonsense. I keep going, in what feels a vain endeavor, towards a future I don’t know if I can be a part of. Or, more succinctly, if I want to be a part of it. I don’t know if tonight, I’ll put a bullet in my head and leave this forsaken place, continuing my journey to elsewhere, where hopefully I’m not rejected as this world has rejected me. But I also don’t know if there’s any place out there where I’ll be accepted; it often feels that there’s no place for me to go, in this world or beyond. The one thing I can be certain of is no one will miss me, which is good because I’d hate for what few friends and family I have left to cry over old bones.

It’s been two years. Wherever you are, mother: I miss you.

Reflections On Deafness

I had intended to make this post back on February 11, but other things got in my way and I pushed it aside. Between working on my latest novel (easy) and updating my resume (hard), I haven’t given much consideration to maintaining at least a monthly post here. So, let’s get that out of the way and take the time for a little discussion about deafness.

My story of deafness doesn’t begin with me; it begins with my grandfather. As a young boy, he began to exhibit hearing problems, and his Jehovah’s Witness father would often berate him, shouting at him to “clean the wax out of your ears, boy!” By the time he was in his teens, the hearing loss in his right ear was profound, but in 1930s rural America, there wasn’t much in the way of screening or help for him. He was drafted (for which his father disowned him) into the second world war, where his hearing loss was missed by the entrance examinations. He had told me his hearing in his left ear was good enough that he managed to stumble through the hearing test — not that they looked hard to begin with at that time. It wasn’t until he got sick in Japan that they found out about his deafness, at which point they discharged him from the army. As he got older, his hearing steadily got worse, but even in his 30s he was still able to listen to and understand the radio.

My hearing loss, by contrast, was very aggressive: by the time I was a few years old, I had profound hearing loss, with the prospect of being completely deaf by my teens. Before I hit puberty, I went through a series of treatments intended to arrest the speed of my hearing loss, which was of marginal success. My parents had tried to get me to accede to a cochlear implant in those days, but I steadfastly refused — I was terrified of surgery. Finally, at the age of 17, I finally gave in: I couldn’t communicate with anyone due to my deafness and those around me refused to learn sign language or use notes. I went under the knife and had a $30,000 procedure to install a $90,000 device that would be a “miracle.” It wasn’t.

Understanding cochlear implants takes a bit of nuance; there’s benefits, but with those come many detriments. In my case, those were made clear almost immediately after initial activation: you don’t get sound through the implant, you get clicks and buzzes. Nothing makes any sense and the first time is a huge letdown — I almost immediately regretted the procedure. But once you get one, there’s no going back; the surgery damages your auditory nerve, so you’ll never be able to use your natural hearing ever again. It took about 3 months after my surgery to actually “hear” things with it, and about 6 months before use became natural. It was about that time that I suffered the next setback: I became dehydrated and due to complications from surgery, suffered a blow out of my right vestibule system. What is that, you might ask? Good question!

We have what’s called a vestibule system in both ears; it’s an interesting little gizmo that regulates our sense of balance without needing visual cues, in addition to other functions. The particular mechanic that is used for balance is a bridge between the middle ear and inner ear and I suffered damage to this part. As a result, for a full week, I couldn’t move properly without getting sick and disoriented. After I had recovered, I found I had lost all sense of balance in my right ear; I could no longer close my eyes and maintain balance without starting to get dizzy. Like most people, I rely on the right side of my body for most day to day functions, which includes my sense of balance. It took some time to start to adjust to my left ear’s senses to retain my stability, but even today I rely upon my vision to remain stable.

After that first year, things got better and I became acclimatized to the implant, to the point where I couldn’t imagine life without it. I got my hearing back, so to speak, so life would logically follow with it — right? No. Wrong. There is no substitute for natural hearing — not yet. A cochlear implant gains back a lot of that missing sense, but it doesn’t give it all back. I still have difficulty understanding many people, and while their voices might come in clearly, the sounds do not always make sense. Sometimes it takes many repetitions before the words finally click and it all comes together. For sure, it’s better than it was, but it’s not a magic wand that suddenly fixes everything. This was especially true for the system quality throughout the early 2000s; the processors of the time, while more refined than they had been in the past, were still lacking significant capabilities. Using a phone or remote voice communications of any form were still an exercise in frustration, especially if the phone wasn’t a traditional handset type (for which most of the accessories were built for).

Still, it was good enough for college, and so I spent two years obtaining an associate’s degree with the implant. It was difficult, but I managed to stumble through it. College, however, was easy compared to finding a job: the economic downturn ruined just about everyone’s prospects in those days, to say nothing of a fresh graduate with a disability. If you want to get employers to instantly throw your resume into the trash, simply mention any form of disability and wave your employment prospects bye-bye. Even getting a simple job like pushing a broom can be an incredible challenge, though it was easier back then since you had more of a chance to get someone face-to-face. Today, it’s much harder: most employers rely on an automated system with automated voice systems to filter candidates, to say nothing of applicant tracking systems. Don’t have the right keywords on your resume, even though you might be perfectly qualified? Into the trash you go! Further, even if you do get through, they often wish to conduct informal interviews over a phone, which can be a challenge. If you ask for face-to-face, they might have an issue with that; if you do it over the phone, it’s often very easy to become error-prone, with many misunderstandings. In either case, it becomes very difficult to make it clear that deafness won’t be an impact on the job. It rarely is, unless someone wants to make an issue of it — sadly, many do.

My first job was working at a help desk, which wasn’t too bad, but my coworkers had issues with how I conducted business. Because I had difficulty using the phone, I would often take an issue and go directly to the person’s computer; my coworkers believed this was inefficient. They tried to force me to use the phone, which just didn’t work out. I eventually had too many issues with the personalities involved and so left after 2 months. It was a terrible job. I spent the next two years doing freelance work remotely, primarily website work of varying disciples, but this was a transitioning age: the field was becoming very competitive and the swarm of worldwide workers made it difficult to make a living. That came to a head when my internal implant failed, 6 years after installation.

It was an incredibly disheartening time when my implant failed; I had no health insurance, no steady employment, and without the implant, I was back to square one. As a trained IT technician with little real experience under my belt, in a downturn economy, how was I supposed to find work in my field where I wouldn’t be thrown out due to my disability? In an extremely fortunate twist, I had found out that my internal device had been subject to a recall upon failure, and the corporation that built it would handle all associated expenses with replacement. I would be OK — assuming I could find regular employment. But the story of my government employment is for another time.

In the end, it has now been more than 10 years since my last implant was replaced, which also makes it out of warranty. If this one should fail, for any reason, I will lose my hearing once again. And unless I can come up with $150,000, I will not get it back.

I write this because I see far too many people that believe a cochlear implant can fix deafness; I’m here to say that it doesn’t. It helps, yes, but there are many, many, many strings attached to it. So the next time you see a “wondrous,” “magical,” or “miraculous” video of “child’s first implant turned on,” know this: that child doesn’t “hear” anything but clicks and buzzes. It makes no sense to them and won’t for a few months. And for as long as they live, they will be a slave to that little machine embedded in their skull, drilled through and connected to their ear. And it won’t change anyone’s perception of them or their deafness.

Three Years

On January 20, 2017, I resigned from my job working for the United States Department of Defense. I had worked there for just over 6 years, having started at the end of September, 2010. It was the second real job I’d ever held in my life, the first time I truly started earning a living rather than scraping by. It was far from the best job ever, but the people I was around made it worth it — for that first year, at least. Things slowly got worse as the years passed by, leaving me to deal with more and more bureaucratic types as time went on. This came to a head when my new supervisor told me that I needed to “learn to hear better.” After that, it was purely downhill for my last 6 months, going between the equal opportunity office (completely useless), my upper management (completely useless), my union (completely useless; see a trend here?), my higher headquarters (useless), and even my government representatives (thoroughly, completely useless). I’d had enough and by the time they finally scheduled a mediation between me and my director, I was ready to quit. I’d told myself that if the director could at least be honest with me, I would stay. He couldn’t do that. So, that very day, I tendered my resignation. I would not be part of an organization that embraces evil.

Evil comes in many forms. We tend to think of classical interpretations of evil: massacre, torture, rape, and so on. We ascribe it to demons and devils, placing it on a pedestal for supreme acts. The truth is that evil can be quite small as well, a tiny little thing that on the face of it may seem inconsequential. I always remember Grant Gilmore’s famous saying: “The better the society, the less law there will be. In Heaven, there will be no law, and the lion will lie down with the lamb… The worse the society, the more law there will be. In Hell, there is nothing but law, and due process will be meticulously observed.” That’s the United States Government: process, process, process, with no deviations. Rules, rules, rules, and more rules. Only in specific, favored circumstances is this ever abandoned, and it is almost always done by those bent by their own egos. There is to be no questioning of these rules, procedures, or policies; no explanations why they exist; no exceptions granted, unless one is willing to apply an oral fixation upon the proper superior’s posterior. Or if one is somehow perceived as “better” to these superiors. Truth be told, I was never aware as to why I had to go through so many hardships to bring my serious discrimination issues up, while my coworkers were able to simply move away from problem areas on simple request. Apparently the same process was not allowed for me.

In the time since I left my employment from the United States Government, I’ve written four novels, five short stories, published the bulk of my novels, created several pieces of cover art, taken a road trip to Seattle, had a hernia repaired (that sucked), lost my mother, and gotten back into flight simulators where I’ve made a bunch of new friends. I often find myself angry when I look back at how I was treated, but then I have to remind myself that had I remained, I would have lost out on an entire year with my mother — time that I never would’ve got back. I probably wouldn’t have completed those novels or short stories, never completed those art projects, or met those people in flight sims. I would have been contributing to evil, no matter how small, instead of breaking out on my own path. From that day forward, no matter how hard it’s been, it has been my road, my path, my future alone. And that’s something a federal bureaucrat job with benefits and pension will never be able to provide. I’m not beholden to the thinking so prevalent among many government employees: “Just a few more years and I can collect that sweet pension!” True, I may have to work until the day I die, perhaps at menial, pointless jobs; but no matter how dull, no matter how dreary they become, I can sit back and say I at least followed my conscience, instead of remaining slaved to the petty, evil whims of a bloated, overpaid, under-worked bureaucracy. And that counts for something.

I drink my coffee in the afternoon

Yes, it’s true: I am not a morning person, but I drink a cup of joe between the hours of 1400 and 1600 (that’s 2-4PM for those not aware of 24 hour clocks). It is cheap instant coffee and masked with sugar and creamer, as my grandfather preferred it. I don’t bother with it in the morning as I rarely, if ever, want to get out of bed for anything. Nonetheless, I do make an effort to do so because I like to keep a schedule going with my exercise, which in this time of year means weights and treadmills. Not as entertaining as bicycles for me, but my lungs don’t hold up too well to the typical midwest winter temperatures. No, mornings are not for me, even when I got up at ~0500 (5AM) working for Club Fed. Nothing much happened before 0900 (9AM; do I have to keep doing this?) so even arriving at 0630 left me with a lot of downtime. Did I mention how much I hate getting up in the morning?

So, American Thanksgiving has come and went. I went to my sister’s for this event and figured it would probably be the usual (sit in a corner, play inside my head, nobody wants to try to communicate with the deaf guy, etc.) but one of my sister’s friends asked me about writing books. Sure, I write. I mean, I’m not exactly a best-selling author or a successful writer or even a good one, but I write. She’s got lots of good ideas and things she would like to write, but she asked if I would be willing to write it for her. Well, yeah, I could, but why can’t she? She doesn’t know how, she says. It’s easy; just start somewhere. A conversation. An event. A description. Anywhere. Anything. It isn’t that hard. It doesn’t need to be perfect, it just needs to start.

Don’t be afraid to write something. It doesn’t matter if it gets done in 5 days, 5 months, or 5 years; it doesn’t have to be a literary masterpiece; it doesn’t have to be something everyone enjoys; it doesn’t have to be a smash hit and commercial success. Just write and the rest will take care of itself. Imagine a conversation between two characters, describe a place in as many words as you can think of, think of how you could make a clockwork nuclear bomb work write out the actions it takes for a watch to change the second hand on the clock face. It doesn’t have to be perfect out of the gate and it may never become what you imagined it to be — but you’ll never know if you don’t try. Don’t worry about whether or not your voice will be heard, or even if it can be heard: all that matters is whether or not you spoke to begin with.

Where does the time go?

I had planned to at least try and make monthly updates at a minimum to this, but a quick look on my calendar shows that I missed out on September and October entirely!

I’ve never been very good at tracking my progress, much less talking about it. I started a new novel in July and am only just now getting close to finished with it. Whether or not it will be any good remains to be seen, but regardless I’ll strive to complete it. It’s a complete departure from my preferred genre of fantasy and science fiction, instead shifting toward contemporary military fiction, so it has been a different challenge altogether.

When I worked for the US Department of Defense, I worked in the military equivalent of information technology, so I didn’t get much exposure to other parts of the military. There was some here and there, but as my job was basically communications, it wasn’t a daily occurrence. This means that my latest novel, which ties in with military aviation, has taken a decent chunk of research in order to barely scratch the surface of being authentic. I’ve known several pilots throughout the years, but lacking experience myself means a lot of guesswork. This has left me in doubt as to whether or not the novel can really make it.

Of course, this isn’t the first time I’ve felt this way; in particular, I have two novels that I wrote in 2016 and 2017 respectively that I decided against publishing for a variety of reasons, but also because they were very different from my comfort zone. One doesn’t get any better by not challenging one’s self, so every now and again I try something new and different. It’s how I got started in this whole endeavor, after all!

With any luck, I’ll have my latest novel finished in a few more days and can relax for a week before returning. If it takes any longer, I think I might die from acronyms…

WordPress and image plugins

Prior to switching to WordPress, I had my own PHP based website linked to a database. I made the change from a custom design to WordPress for a variety of reasons, some of which I’m now doubting, but I’m trying to stick with it. That doesn’t help much in regard to certain things like image resizing.

I might be living in the past, but resizing images to a smaller, more practical size is one of the key tenets I’ve tried to stick with when doing any kind of web work. In this day and age, I suppose it’s not as big a deal as it used to be, but it’s still one of those old habits that I don’t want to shake.

Perhaps I don’t know the right name for it, but I’m having a rough time finding a plugin that will resize images to a specified size and link to the original or enlarged version within the content. You would think that would be pretty straightforward, but no… Nothing out there! As a result I’m trying to take some old code I made for my custom website and shoehorn it into a WordPress plugin. We’ll see how it goes!

UPDATE: I ended up making my own plugin!

Zippy McZooms

Zippy McZooms and the Intergalactic Cereal Bowl is now available on Amazon Kindle and Smashwords!

The first novella in the series, follow Zippy McZooms, op- er, captain of the Intergalactic Unionized Alliance garbage scow, TR-4SH Scoupedia as he cleans up the Core Verses of waste and general refuse! While working quite hardly (most assuredly!) to clean up an old Wormgate location, he comes across what must be a cereal bowl, towing it back as general refuse. He later finds out that the truth behind the bowl is contested, and he will have to battle the greatest minds of the Alliance to prove his theory correct!

Get it today on Amazon Kindle and Smashwords!

A Shadow of a Man

A Shadow of a Man, the first book in the series, is available now!

On the eve of a Fifth Divide War, the Conglomerate and the Federation are once again preparing for war. Into this, Adrina, Jaques, Michael, and Eleanor are thrown into a plot far deeper than anyone imagined. At what point do myths and legends become reality? Explore the world of the Divide, Northam, and a shadow that has been brewing for eternity!

Get A Shadow of a Man on Amazon Kindle or Smashwords!

In addition, you can read A Shade’s Memento here or for free on Smashwords!