Consistency

I have tried to remain non-political on the blog. And it will mostly remain a non-political place. I mean, c’mon, talking about Ghostbusters or Lost or The Avengers is way better than wading into that crap. In fact, let’s not even call this one “political.” Let’s call it “philosophy.”

It’s not that I don’t have opinions, I most certainly do. But I find—and studies have borne this out—the proliferation of media has given us the freedom to consume the content we want and ignore what we don’t; and most of us don’t want to discuss politics or philosophy that may challenge us. “Conservatives”* consume content that reflects that ideology and “liberals”* do the same. On the surface, I understand this perspective. We all work. We all commute. We’re living our lives and just making it through the day is hard enough sometimes without needing to get worked up in political conversations that shake us or make us uncomfortable.

But I can’t stay silent. The truth is we are not as different as MSNBC or Fox News tells us we are. I have many friends of various political stripes and 9 times out of 10, in our day-to-day lives, we agree or, at least, we can compromise on important subjects. If nothing else, we can have a discussion. But the reason things seem polarized, when viewed through the media’s filter, is because they only juxtapose issues between two points. Liberal or conservative. Democrat or republican. Wrong or right. But there is almost never a situation in our lives that comes down to just two choices. We’re faced with a spectrum of options at any given moment and so too are we representative of a spectrum of opinions, positions, and philosophies.

Just in case you think this is going to be an argument for “centrism,” let me stop you right there. I’m not a centrist. But my overall point is that I don’t think centrism is real because I don’t think there are only two positions between which there is a middle ground into which some people fall. But if you’re married to existing terminology if I’m arguing anything it’s that most people are “centrists” in the traditional sense. We simply get pulled into choosing one side over another when we would probably choose neither one if that was a legitimate option (and some do this, incidentally).

Since we’re forced to choose between two positions we often twist ourselves into argumentative knots to fit our complex views into the most compatible position. I won’t use an arbitrary example; I’ll use myself. I believe in a small government of specified and limited powers. I believe that’s the surest way to prevent the abuse of power by our elected leadership. What should the government’s specified powers be? Let that be a debate for another day. Let’s stay general here. I’ve said that I believed this for many years, going all the way back to high school. But I didn’t. I was like many people; I was partisan and really just parroting my parents’ values.

You see, when I was in high school, the US was attacked by Islamic fundamentalist terrorists who knocked down the Twin Towers in New York City and crashed a plane into the Pentagon. I, like everyone else it seemed, was shocked, horrified, scared, and angry. As the government grinded into action with a military response, I cheered them on. When Congress passed the Patriot Act, billed as a way to unify our intelligence efforts and make it easier to pursue terrorists, I cheered. Someone was doing something.

The problem, and it took me years to realize this, was that we compromised our principles to address this threat. What’s the saying? “We had to burn down the village to save it?” It’s melodramatic, but my point, and again I’m only talking about myself, is that I said I supported a small government of specified, limited powers except in certain circumstances. There it is. A lack of consistency.

If I had been consistent with my beliefs, I would not have supported many provisions in the Patriot Act. I believe in the philosophical basis that formed our country and supported documents like the Declaration of Independence. That declaration notes that all men are created equal and have certain fundamental, inalienable rights that come from our creator. Whether or not you believe in God is immaterial, if you’re alive, you have the right to live and all the others. Those rights belong to you simply by existing. I believe that with sincerity. Therefore, how could I support treating some people, in this case “enemy combatants,” as less than people? How could I support holding people indefinitely without trial and without representation? If I am being consistent, I cannot.

Now, please make no mistake: one of government’s express powers is national defense. And fighting a war takes commitment and certainty. If you’re going to do it, name your enemy and define victory. I supported, and still do, our response to attack Afghanistan which housed the Al Qaeda terrorist leadership. But I cannot support the invasion of Iraq if I am being consistent with my principles. Iraq was a dictatorship run by a madman. Is the world a better place without Saddam Hussein? Unequivocally so. But it’s also a more complicated place. And simply because Hussein was a bad person, does not mean that invading his country was the right policy decision for the United States. Despite what some may think, the question is still open on Iraq’s weapon caches, which was our justification for waging that war. The NY Times reported on the thousands of chemical weapons found over the course of our engagement there and some suspect that more of the active weaponry ultimately ended up in the hands of the Syrians. But you know what, this is immaterial to my larger point.

I supported something in which I didn’t believe because my philosophy mostly aligned with the stated policy objectives of those driving it forward. But over time, I realized that the political party pushing that agenda forward, for all its talk of small government and responsible foreign policy, merely wanted big government to advance its interests and reward its political allies. And sadly, the only other legitimate political alternative is doing the same thing with a different set of big government objectives.

I eventually came to a place where I couldn’t honestly defend my personal philosophy and support some of the public policy choices made by representatives in the party I traditionally supported. I’m suspicious of overreaching government power. I took to heart the chief lesson learned by the Founders of the United States of America – unchecked power can and will be abused. So, they designed a system where no one entity of government could act without the cooperation—and compromise—of the other entities. But that system is gone now. When the President of the United States takes unilateral action and half the country cheers him because he’s a member of their political party, and they would jeer if a President from the other party tried the same thing, it’s hard to believe in the process. The process has been replaced by parties.

And it’s frustrating because, like I noted near the beginning, I find tremendous agreement with friends and colleagues on important issues that affect our day-to-day lives. A government represented by people like us, not entrenched ideologues, would be something indeed. My wife and I just had a baby and as we prepare for the future, I’m drowning in the details of our finances. My wife and I (seem to) make a good living, but when I look at the costs ahead I’m worried. And no one is talking about that. No one is working to address the problem in our tax code that doesn’t take enough taxes out of a married couple’s income so that they owe money during tax season. That issue, and many others like it, isn’t sexy, so it’s rarely addressed.

So… I don’t know where to turn. The only thing I know how to do is be true to what I believe. I stand by my principles. To anyone reading this, I would simply ask that you be consistent. If you think it’s wrong for the government to stick its nose into the parenting style of people who let their kids walk, alone, to the park, then it should also be wrong for the government to stick its nose into the consensual relationship between two adults be they a man and a woman or two men or two women.

And if you think it’s wrong for the President to exercise too much unchecked power when he’s a democrat, then I hope you feel the same way when he’s a republican. And vice versa. I think we would get better representation if we were more consistent like that.

Ugh.

Now that we have that out of the way, how about that Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice trailer??

Life Finds a Way

First off, I can’t apologize anymore for letting the blog go without updates for some time. It’s going to happen. I need to write and when I don’t do it, I feel bad, but it is what it is. I was writing – I was finishing my latest book and seeing it through to publishing – so it’s all about priorities. I’ll try to do better.

Something else also popped up, which kept me away from the blog…

I was never a huge fan of having kids. My wife wanted kids. She wanted them hard. But I never felt comfortable around kids and having them seemed like a huge hassle. I didn’t get to travel when I was young or do a lot of fun and exciting things because my parents poured everything they had into my education and my sister’s care. I love them for it, but it wasn’t a sacrifice I was in a huge rush to make. I’ve seen people around me have kids and it changes their whole lives. They’re happy about the change, but instead I wanted to do the things I never got to do growing up.

Well, let me tell you about my last few weeks.

On June 5th, I took my wife to the emergency room just before midnight. She was in agony, screaming. For a little more than a month prior, she had been suffering bad abdominal pain near the top of her stomach, below her chest. She also had sharp back pain. Her feet swelled sporadically.

My wife has an autoimmune disease that affects her thyroid as well as Celiac’s Disease, which makes it painful to eat gluten (yes, she has the actual disease and is not joining the fad diet). Before that month of pain and discomfort, we dismissed her fluctuating weight and health as problems with her medications’ dosages. This may be TMI, but my wife hasn’t had a menstrual cycle in years as a result of taking birth control and her thyroid issue.

In any case, she had finally gone to the doctor at my not-so-gentle-urging and he found troubling issues with her kidneys. He referred her to a nephrologist for further study. I was trying to keep a cool head, but began to worry that maybe she had a significant problem like cancer or one of many horrible sounding kidney diseases. Her appointment was for June 8th. We didn’t make it there.

On June 5th, we had settled into bed and were watching The X-Files on Netflix before sleep. My wife couldn’t settle. She was very uncomfortable. Finally, she began to feel real pain. It wasn’t long before she was screaming. Radiating pain settled into her mid-abdomen and wouldn’t go away. She could barely stand. My wife is a bit of a baby when it comes to pain, but I realized this was something else. I took her to the ER.

In my panic, I actually drove past a perfectly good hospital to go to another one. It ultimately didn’t matter, but it was late and I wasn’t thinking clearly with the moaning, occasionally yelping lady beside me. The ER wasn’t too busy, but somehow it still took 2 hours before my wife got help for her pain. The other waiting room attendees didn’t really seem to be there for “emergencies.” No one was doubled over in pain like my wife was anyway.

After waiting for the longest two hours ever (longer for my wife, I’m sure) the nurses finally took some blood and the doctor evaluated her. We sat in an ER patient room with the lights off when around 2:30 AM the doctor came back with a silver bullet diagnosis (almost Housein because it explained everything): my wife was pregnant.

I’m pretty sure when he said that I felt blood well up in my face. I felt hot and disconnected. My reaction was exactly the reaction I got for the next 48 hours as I told more people: “WHAT??” My wife had been on birth control the whole time, too.

My wife’s reaction was muted. She had just been given Dilaudid, so she was pretty cool with it. She was cool with everything. The doctor sent us to get an ultrasound, but he was pretty sure that the pregnancy was far along. Basically, my wife had a condition called preeclampsia, which is high blood pressure for pregnant women. Unfortunately, she had the worst form of it and it was impacting her liver and kidney functions. And, just for laughs, the extreme pain she had felt was the result of gallstones that were inflamed by her screwed up liver functions (the gall bladder and liver are right next to each other, apparently), but it wasn’t really a result of the pregnancy although that can exacerbate gallstone development.

An ultrasound technician took us down lonely, dark hallways to her rig. She took a lot of pictures of my wife’s abdomen, on the inside of course. The first batch were of things like her liver and gall bladder and kidneys. Then she moved onto the uterus. That’s when I saw my daughter for the first time.

I didn’t know exactly what I was seeing at first. I knew it was the baby, but when the technician took a freeze frame and labeled “eyes,” “nose,” and “lips” on the monitor I realized she was fairly old. But it didn’t matter how old she was because I realized that I wanted her. I felt guilty that we didn’t know she was in there and I wanted to hold her. It wasn’t guilt that made me want her though. Honestly, I can’t say it was anything rational. I just saw her in there and realized I was her dad.

But wait, there’s more fun. My wife’s preeclampsia was so severe they said she would need to deliver soon. What’s soon, you ask? How about an emergency C-section that same night? So, yeah, I got to hold the baby sooner than I thought. Turns out the baby was approximately seven and a half months old (28 weeks, 5 days).

At about five in the morning, I finally had all of the information I needed to make cogent calls to our parents. I was quick to point out that everyone was OK, but explained the pregnancy and my wife’s stable, but dangerous medical condition. All of the parents arrived soon after and everyone was in good spirits, generally happy about the surprising news. Some held it together better than others around the patient with the high blood pressure, but everything turned out OK.

I can only describe the experience as “whiplash.” We went from a late night visit to the ER, to learning my wife was pregnant, to learning she had a severe condition, to learning how old the baby was, to transferring hospitals, and then to sitting beside my wife a little more than twelve hours later during her C-section as they took the baby out. Our lives changed so dramatically in such a short amount of time that I’m still reeling almost 3 weeks later. My wife is doing great, much improved. The baby is in the NICU and will be for a while longer.

We had to cancel a trip to Seattle and Snoqualmie, WA (Twin Peaks!). I was/am pretty bummed about that since the new show will film there in the fall and I secretly hoped I would run into David Lynch or his crew scouting locations ahead of time. Maybe they’d ask me to be part of the show… I dunno.

A lot of our plans and thoughts about the future are up in the air. My wife was adamant about making sure I keep writing and focusing on my books. I haven’t written much as of late, but it’s been crazy, as I’m sure you can imagine. This is actually my first long form attempt since the baby.

I still want to travel. I still want to do the things I didn’t get to do when I was younger. Maybe I’ll take everyone up to Snoqualmie when the baby can travel or maybe when she’s a little bit older. But I feel comfortable around my little girl. I’m glad when I see her kick and move and even when she cries, since she’s a willful, firecracker – even trapped in her little islet. I think she’s going to be a redhead, from what we can tell with what little hair she has, and you know how temperamental they are.

Everyone is better.

Everyone is better.

Why, “Hello!” It’s been awhile…

If I haven’t noted it before, I try to write as much as possible, but it’s still not my primary focus despite wanting that.

Over the past few months, I’ve moved, adopted kittens (Darla and Drusilla – take a moment and enjoy those names), and changed jobs. I had already neglected the blog before that, so I won’t offer too many excuses. Life just gets in the way sometimes.

The good news is that I’m through the tumult of change and my employment change offers (I hope!) the opportunity for a better work/life balance than I had before. This means my excuses for not writing are diminished and you’ll be able to call out my bullshit more prominently if you so choose.

Tribulations of a New Author

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I’ve been writing since I was 8 years old. My original stories were detective stories. If I remember correctly, I had a robot partner; he got destroyed in every story…

But I have always loved writing. It came easy. I can write. I know how. I get better everyday.

I do not know how to run a business.

When I published TITAN last year I could figure that out. I used Amazon’s intuitive services to publish in both hard copy and electronic Kindle version. It was nerve-wracking to put my work out there for all to see where I couldn’t tweak or fix anymore. But that’s what it’s all about.

Yet, as I work to grow awareness of my book and get it in more people’s hands, I have to double my efforts and step out of my comfort zone. I am attending Awesome Con DC this year (April 18-20 at the Washington Convention Center). I love my book and talking to people about it, but I am anxious about hocking my wares. I’m a writer, not a salesman. But if I want to write full-time and get my stories to a wider audience I need to learn.

A great example of this is very practical. I will have books with me at the convention. I’m also developing some new creative materials to market TITAN as a book and a brand. I’ll have cash with me at the convention for change, but if I want to increase sales I need a credit card option. PayPal offers a credit card reader called “PayPal Here” that plugs into iOS and Android devices. PayPal takes 2.7% per transaction, so it’s a pretty good option.

Anyway, to sign up you need to fill out your business address. Well, I don’t think of myself as a business, but it’s required. But PayPal tells you this address will be put on your receipts. I like you people, but I don’t need to share that much with you. So, I needed to get a P.O. box. But we’re moving in a couple of months so we needed to search Post Office locations near my wife’s school since that’s a fixed point. We paid, we filled out a form, and brought our IDs to get the P.O. box. Now I can sign up for the PayPal service I need.

It doesn’t sound like a lot, but it just goes to show how I’m learning the ropes as I go. And sometimes things aren’t as simple as they seem. I’m definitely learning some life lessons.

Can’t I just go back to writing?

Inspire the Hero

It’s a pretty popular trope for heroes, human and super alike, to inspire the people they protect.

In my humble opinion, this was done best (and most visibly) in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Literally, Batman’s mission statement was to strike fear into Gotham’s criminals and show the people that anyone could be a hero. He wanted to spur the people to action to save their city. In The Dark Knight Rises, it comes full circle and literally Gotham’s people have to fight alongside Batman against Bane’s army. While TDKR isn’t the film that The Dark Knight is, it’s a powerful closing sequence.

I always get a rush when Batman flies the bomb over the building and that kid shouts: “It’s Batman!”

Fuckin’ Batman. What a world, right?

But I started wondering about the reverse; what does Batman get from the people of Gotham? He tells Lt. Gordon not to thank him (Batman Begins and The Dark Knight). And it’s clear that he takes on the mantle as a duty, a commitment. He does it for the people of Gotham. He needs them to thrive.

Set Batman aside for a moment and consider the question more broadly. What does a hero get from the people he protects?

I think we’re accustomed to the notion that our heroes are selfless and do what they do out of duty or innate goodness. In Peter Parker’s case, it’s both, right? Peter was a good kid and his Uncle Ben instilled in him the duty to use his power for just purpose (With great power comes great responsibility).

The X-Men are especially selfless. Not only do they sacrifice their lives in service of others, but they also suffer terrible prejudice over their mutant abilities. All they get from people is hate and mistrust.

Quick aside, though: Why are the X-Men persecuted and the Fantastic Four lauded? They exist in the same universe, but for some reason the F4 are like rock stars and well-respected while poor Professor Xavier and Co. are suffering through mutant registrations and military attacks… Anyway…

I’m driving at a point, I promise. I’m working on a follow-up to my first book, Titan, and I’m playing with the question of “What does the hero derive from the people he protects?” No spoilers, but for my character it’s two-fold: 1. He draws confidence and resolve from knowing the people are behind him, and 2. There may be practical benefits from the support of “the people.”

I feel like all fiction and story on heroes revolves around the idea of people gaining strength from the hero, but not vice versa. If I’m wrong, please tell me, I’d like to read some examples. But I wanted to explore this in the development of my character, Eric Steele/Titan, and his path to becoming a superhero. The first book is an origin story and explores the themes of responsibility, secrets, and choice in the development of good and evil.  I’ve always thought about Titan as the Breaking Bad of superhero stories because, much like the evolution of Walter White from Mr. Blue Chips to Scarface, I didn’t want Eric Steele to just be Titan after a convenient montage of superheroic hi jinks. I wanted to show how a person, with dreams and aspirations and fears and issues already, reacts to obtaining superhuman abilities and inheriting crushing responsibility. In my mind, that’s not just a finger snap. That would take a while.

But now that I’ve told the origin story and my character has his powers, I want to explore this theme of how the hero draws upon the people he saves as much as the people he saves draw upon him. Eric Steele is still not a veteran superhero–not even close–but I think his evolution needs to touch upon this concept. Frankly, I think the only way he can ever become a fully fledged superhero is to learn what his role is in the world and how he needs the people around him, friends, family, and the unwitting public alike.

Stay tuned for the next chapter of TitanCatch up with the first one if you haven’t read it yet.

Grow Up

Growing Up

Remember when you were a kid and you dreamed about what you were going to be when you grew up? I think about that often. This isn’t what I dreamed about. But I don’t really remember what I thought would happen. The only clear memory I have is that I wanted to be an Oceanographer like Matt Hooper from Jaws.
It’s perfect. My dreams then were based entirely in fiction like they are now.

I never dreamed about writing as a little kid.

I used to write stories and read them to my parents. When I was in 6th grade, I wrote a story about my teacher being a serial killer. She liked it so much she read it to the class. It felt great hearing everyone respond to the story. I wrote more.

I’m still chasing that feeling. I’ll figure out what I’ll be when I grow up when I catch it.