09/20/22

My Covid Story

A few months ago, my son Chris spent some time in a car with his girlfriend and another person, going back and forth between Sacramento and the Tahoe area. The other person had Covid at the time, and didn’t really tell Chris or his girlfriend. At the same time, my daughter Bryanna picked up Covid from work. I went by her apartment and took her a drink from Dutch Bros. Chris kissed his girlfriend and came home. Then we all found out about the Covid vectors, and I was sure Chris and I were both infected.

We didn’t get sick. We both tested negative. Bullet dodged.

A couple of weeks ago, Melissa and I went to Chicago for WorldCon, where there wound up being 60 reported cases of Covid.

We came home, and we didn’t get sick. We both tested negative. Bullet dodged again.

During the Writing Excuses Retreat 2022, the first reported case amongst our group was announced in the middle of the week. By Thursday, I had a tickle in the back of my throat, but tested negative. Thursday evening, my symptoms became much more pronounced. I hoped I was just exhausted, and that a good night’s sleep would set me right.

I woke up the next morning and felt like garbage. I tested positive. I am not Neo, after all.

Lots of friends and acquaintances talk about mild symptoms, and that it was no big deal. A couple people in my perimeter have said that if they hadn’t taken a test, they might not have known that they had Covid at all.

Lucky devils.

It hit me hard. One of the doctors on the ship gave me Robitussin and Nyquil equivalents. He may or may not have said something about getting lots of rest. If he did, I took it to heart. When I got back to my room, I took a dose of the red stuff instead of the blue stuff, in case I wanted to stay up and write during my sick time, and then I promptly crawled into bed and slept for 26 hours. Friday doesn’t exist for me.

Melissa was not sick at this time. She may have had the option to change rooms, but she didn’t want to leave me, and I selfishly didn’t want her to go, either. She brought me food and fluid throughout Friday, but I only remember a little of it. I was apparently very grumpy about it. I just tried to sleep to get to the other side of the pain, because there was a lot of it.

On Saturday morning, I got up and went to the bathroom. Melissa wasn’t in the room. She might have gone to deck 4 to read. She might have gone to find herself some food. I don’t remember. I didn’t want her to get sick, and I remember turning away from her all the time to avoid breathing on her. When she was in the room with me, I tried going to the opposite side. It turns out, that little dance was useless, but I really didn’t want her to get sick, too, because I at last knew first hand what it was like, and I did not wish for her to suffer.

I coughed as I entered the bathroom. Not a particularly weak cough, either. I put some force behind it, but it didn’t move the material in my chest enough. It moved it some, which is to say that thick, heavy mucus entered a part of my throat it should not have. It felt like a stone lodged near my vocal cords.

I tried to swear and discovered I could not speak. Then I realized I couldn’t breathe.

I could not breathe.

Fear hit me, but not panic, exactly. I could see myself in the mirror. My eyes went wide. I remember thinking, “Oh. This is Covid. This is how people die from Covid. Choking to death.”

That could have been my end. It was close.

I figured out that I could get a trickle of air in if I tried hard enough, and I did. Through what felt like a bent straw in my throat, I managed to inflate my lungs as much as I could, and then I tried to cough again.

The blockage ejected. I spit at least some of it out in the sink. It was colorful.

I could breathe again.

I believe the long sleep is what got me in trouble. I was a bit dehydrated, which made the mucus thicker in my lungs. After drinking and eating, I started to feel much, much better. There was still pain in all my joints, and a headache, and it hurt to swallow, but the pains were starting to recede. By the afternoon, the pain was almost all gone, and all I was left with was the wildly fluctuating fever and a world of snot.

Every day since then has been a ton of better. Right now, I feel like I have a head cold, and I’m almost over it.

Catching Covid while on the cruise meant that I couldn’t come home when planned. We came back to Galveston, and around 20 of us Covid+ people from the retreat got transferred to 2 AirBnBs. I’ve been keeping my spirits up, and trying to help the others around me. I’ve made meals a few times, and it’s been a pretty good way to deal with being confined. It’s been a good place to recover.

Yesterday was a bad day, though. Yesterday deserves its own post, but it’s part of My Covid Story, now, so I’ll include it here.

Yesterday, Monday, September 19th, started with a call from Chris. Our cat Paws was in trouble.

Paws had problems while we were away. About the time I started to show signs of Covid, Paws had stopped eating, and Chris took him to the vet. Paws needed fluids and food, and there were signs of multiple organ failures. It looked bad, bad, bad for him. He probably should have been put down at that point and saved him any additional suffering, but apparently the vet was more hopeful than that, and scheduled a number of treatments, thinking he would get better.

Monday morning, he was not getting better. Chris was having to deal with it all alone. Something happened. Paws made some kind of noise. His tongue was sticking out, and he stopped breathing for a few seconds. Things were happening, and Chris was scared. He put him in his car and started racing to the vet emergency care, which was about 20 minutes away. During the drive, he called Melissa.

Melissa spoke to him, and then I heard it in her voice. Covid. It finally got her.

We tried to give as much reassurance to Chris as we could, but there was only so much we could do. His two sick parents were halfway across the country, and the cat wasn’t showing any signs of life.

Paws passed away. He will not be there to greet us when we finally manage to get home.

A little bit later, I made Melissa take a Covid test. In the dim light, it looked like she tested negative again. She took a picture of it and sent it to the kids, and looking at it on our phones, the truth was made that much more obvious. In addition to her being congested, and having a fever, and aching all over, there was a faint line at the T on the test.

Melissa was not Neo, either.

If Melissa managed to remain Covid free, we would have transferred to a hotel in Houston tonight, then double masked and flown home on Wednesday. Our plans needed to change, so we’ll be here through the end of the week.

There is some relief in Melissa turning up Covid positive at this point. I’m no longer doing a weird dance, trying not to breathe on her. I don’t have to mask around her. We can cuddle when we go to sleep again, though she’s currently a bundle of lava.

Last night, I finished the first draft of a story that was very challenging to write. Today, I read it to her.

The company around me is very nice. There is a lot of support here. As far as isolation is concerned, a person could do much worse.

That is My Covid Story. I should probably add the words “so far.” I still have symptoms, and we’re not home yet. But I think I see how this story will end, and this is enough.

So far.

09/13/22

Dealing with Brain Weasels

At this moment, I’m sitting in the conference room of the Liberty of the Seas. We are docked at Costa Maya, and the ship is mostly empty as people go offshore to enjoy excursions and land-based adventure. There’s a roleplaying game going on about 15 feet away from me. Several other people are in the conference room with their laptops open, quietly writing. I am on vacation, surrounded by My People, doing exactly what I want to do.

I should be happy, but… I just feel tired, and a little bit frustrated. Maybe a little bit disillusioned.

In the last couple of days, I’ve seen some things that I can’t unsee. It keeps me from being as na├»ve as I want to be.

I don’t know what’s wrong with me that I can’t just relax and enjoy the moment. I want to be present and appreciate where I am on this journey. I want to open up and connect. It’s just so, so hard.

This year, I’m volunteering to help with all the fiddly little things that make the conference successful. Things like rearranging chairs and tables in the conference room, rotating the daily challenge sheets, organizing and coordinating the Office Hours… that sort of thing. There’s no benefit to this activity. It’s just a way to give back and help other people have a good time.

This kind of service usually quiets the brain weasels, because it doesn’t let me just sit around and dwell on myself. I’m not sure it’s working, though. I feel unsatisfied. Anxious. Sad.

At one point yesterday, I sat still and considered quitting. Not the volunteer work, but the writing itself. Just… give up. There are so many people trying to do the same thing as me, and I don’t know that there is that much room in the world for it. Not everyone grows up to be an astronaut. Most writers do not become authors.

Why did I want to quit? It wasn’t for lack of confidence. At this moment, I feel like I have the talent and skill to be successful. I wanted to quit because we only get one life, and I want to be happy. If I reach the end of my life and I have dozens of completed novels unpublished and unseen, will I be happy? Will the measure of happiness in my life be high if I spent all of it wanting something I could never have?

Some friends encourage me. They tell me that I’m going to make it. That something good will happen. But there is so much about this business that is outside the writer’s control. It takes luck, which I’ve never had in ample supply.

The doubt is a brain weasel, digging through my thoughts and emotions, chewing away at the wiring of my brain matter, making it hard to enjoy the journey.

I’m not going to quit. I will keep going, even if it means I end up in the scenario I just described, having spent my entire life pursuing something out of reach.

But some days it is really, really hard to find joy in the work. I’m on a cruise, surrounded by writers and acquaintances, with no pressure upon me other than what I’ve placed upon myself. I should be really happy right now, and the brain weasels are getting in the way. Perhaps by the end of the week, I will feel better.

09/5/22

Chicon8 – Going Out with a Bang

I think I said something about yesterday’s post being my last one on Chicon unless something interesting happens. Well… last night, Melissa and I had the distinct pleasure of taking Michael Gallowglas, Patrick Tomlinson, Cliff Winnig, and David Gerald to dinner. It was an absolutely fantastic time.

It was just so, so good. What happens when you fill a table with storytellers? You have a great time.

The dinner is part of a tradition I started a long time ago, which is one night of the convention, I’m going to take a bunch of people out to dinner, my treat. I can be a bit awkward when it comes to socializing, so this is the one moment in the convention where I can overcome that and offer a good time.

Last night was probably the best one I’ve ever been a part of.

When I made the reservation, I tried to plan it so that when we finished, we’d have time to go to the Hugo’s. I assumed everyone coming to the dinner would want to go to the Hugo’s. It’s a big part of WorldCon, right?

We were having such a good time that when David Gerald said, “I’d rather sit here and have dessert and coffee” we all agreed. We stayed in the restaurant, continuing to share stories, and had a way, way better time than we would have had, stuffing ourselves into a convention hall and listening to the Hugo’s presentation.

When we finished with the restaurant, we went to the bar and had drinks and continuing visiting. Not much later, the Hugo’s ended and other people came into the bar.

A couple of Hugo winners came through the bar with their statues. Sarah Pinsker, who won for best Short Story, came near, and for the second time in my life, I got to hold someone else’s Hugo. I’m not going to lie, it affected me deeply, just like the first time when Mary Robinette let me hold hers. It’s a link in a chain that reaches back to Heinlein, the author that inspired me so long ago.

Actual, Final Thoughts on Chicon8

I had a good time throughout the convention, and I enjoyed getting to meet some new people and catch up with acquaintances I haven’t seen in a very long time.

The two moments that stand out the most for me are last night’s dinner, and a couple of days ago when Melissa and I walked with Alma Alexander. In both cases, there were opportunities to be a little bit less selfish, and just do something nice for other people. With Alma, we were attending the Stroll with the Stars, and the rest of the group left Alma behind. She was using a cane and struggling with pain in her hip. Melissa and I stayed with her and made sure she had company and people to talk to. She was concerned she would have some problems with her laptop, so I gave her my card and said I would help. Yesterday morning, she called, and I was able to come down and help her sort it out.

The lesson appears to be: if I want to enjoy a WorldCon, I need to give a little. That’s true in a lot of places, and it was proven out again this weekend.

I have no regrets whatsoever with coming to Chicon8. From a certain perspective, I hardly attended the convention at all. But I think I was present in the best way I could be present this time.

Now, it’s just about time to go home and prepare for a week on the seas with Writing Excuses.

09/4/22

Chicon8 Day 4

It’s close to 1PM, and Melissa and I are sitting in comfy chairs away from everyone else. We still have a big dinner to attend tonight, and the Hugo’s after that, so there’s plenty of Chicon left. However, I think this will probably be my last collection of thoughts I’ll share on the convention, unless something really amazing happens.

Covid Cases

I think a lot of us assumed that people would come to the convention with Covid, whether they knew it or not, and that this would be a vector for infection. Melissa and I have been wearing masks and being as careful as we can be. Neither one of us are showing any symptoms, and we have no reason to believe we’re infected at this point. However, the emails from Chicon telling us about the reported cases are a little bit alarming.

It’s better to know than to not know, I think. But damn.

One of the cases reported being at Mary Robinette Kowal’s signing and her reading. With the cruise coming up, where we’re supposed to get on the boat a week from today, I really don’t want any of us getting infected at this point. The cruise wouldn’t be the same without Mary Robinette. So I’m hopeful we will all dodge this bullet, one more time.

As of this post, there have been 9 reported cases of Covid at Chicon8.

Panels

I don’t think I’m into attending panels anymore.

The nature of panels has always been that you never know what you’re going to get until you attend. You put a handful of people on the other side of a table and have them talk about a topic. Sometimes they stay on that topic. Sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they’re good at exploring interesting ideas. Other times, their words fall flat. The quality is random, and not everyone that has the opportunity to be on a panel should be on a panel.

I used to want to be a panelist. I thought that would be a kind of validation. Also, I really do want to pass on the things that I have learned and help people in their writing. I’ve been honing my craft for a long time, studying and practicing, and I think I have a lot to give back to the community.

I’m just not sure about the efficacy of panels anymore. I remember enjoying them so much. They were my favorite thing, and I couldn’t get enough of them. I took notes. I still have all the notes I’ve taken, going back to that first WorldCon in Reno, and all of the tiny conventions in between.

Now, the panels do not delight me. I find the panelists talking about subject matters that I have explored, and they’re either not bringing anything new to the table, or they’re not going as deep as they could go, or in the worst cases, they’re just wrong.

Barcon

During the day, when not attending panels, I’ve hung out in public places to talk with people. I’ve also done some writing. Yesterday, I spent a good portion of the day reading to Melissa. That was very nice, and a good use of our time. In the evening, I have tried going to the party rooms, but they’ve been crowded and uncomfortable. It’s hard to relax in a party room when it’s crowded and the possibility of Covid is so high.

Barcon is a little bit different. The last couple of nights, I’ve gone to the bar and hung out with some friends. That’s been nice. It doesn’t feel quite as chaotic and crowded as the party rooms, though it is crowded.

Maybe Barcon has been easier for me because there have been people there I know and can talk to. That’s been a nice part of the Chicon experience, for me.

Concluding Thoughts

I don’t regret coming to Chicon. There have been some high points that stand out to me. It’s been very expensive, and it’s a little bit difficult to justify the cost for the benefit of the experience. There’s also the constant threat of Covid. This close to the cruise, Covid has been heavy on my mind.

It’s nice to have a couple of days away from work. I severely needed to take a vacation. At this point, I feel like I need a vacation from the vacation.

There will always be a soft spot in my heart for WorldCon, but I’m not sure the need to go will persist much longer. Maybe when I get home, I’ll dedicate an entire post just to that. When it’s in Seattle in 2025, I’m sure I’ll attend. But I might start looking for different ways to spend my vacation time.

09/1/22

Chicon8 Day 1

This month is going to be full of writing community, starting with the 8th WorldCon in Chicago.

I’m not sure I’m going to write a retrospective every night. I did that in the past, but I’m not sure I have the energy or the tenacity to do that now. Tonight, I’ll write something. Tomorrow night, we’ll see.

Thought One – Traveling is Exhausting

Baycon earlier this year was pretty easy as far as travel is concerned. We loaded up the Mustang and drove a few hours. There was a little bit of traffic, but the act of driving calms me, and I felt like I was in control the whole way.

Flying to Chicago started off with getting up at 3AM so that we could be on time for our 6AM flight. I drove us to the airport, and everything went as well as it could there. But it was still really, really early, so the whole day started off painted with the colors of exhaustion.

I’m not comfortable flying. I don’t like being out of control. Furthermore, the seating is just the right spacing such that after a few hours sitting in the same position, my knees start to bother me. Fortunately, we had a direct flight, 3 and a half hours in the air, so the physical discomfort was kept to a minimum. But the flying itself still took something out of me. I white knuckled through the takeoff and landing.

We took the train from Chicago O’Hare, which dropped us off downtown, about a half mile from the hotel. We walked from there. The distance wasn’t too bad, but I carried all our bags, which was… you get it.

Traveling is exhausting. But that’s not the only thing that wears me out.

Thought Two – Dealing with People is Exhausting

I’m a bit of an introvert. This is not a revelation to anyone. That alone means that this convention, and the cruise coming up later this month, are both going to take something out of me.

Meeting new people and getting reacquainted with folks I’ve met before has a cost, but it comes with benefits. I’m not just talking about the all important Networking, which is important. More important to me right now is making friends and creating memories.

I’ve been in isolation for a long time. I hardly leave my house anymore. I haven’t been writing in Starbucks like I used to. The only time I see people these days is when I go in to the office, which now that I mention it, I did that this week, too.

It costs me something to engage with people, and sometimes the cost is too high. That’s what happened tonight. We went on the evening Walk with the Stars and I didn’t really talk with anyone. Then we went to various parties in the rooms, and I could barely stay in any of the rooms for more than a couple of minutes.

Thought Three – Write to Recover and Try Again

I’m in a place surrounded by writers. The community is all around me. Maybe what I can do is just take some time to sit in a public place here and write for a little bit.

What am I going to write? It doesn’t matter. The act of writing soothes me and recharges me. I’m working on this blog post and I feel better already. I can work on an outline for the Cyberpunk story I want to write. I can work on the Darren Silva story that I never finished. This feels like a good plan, and it may be more beneficial than spending a bunch of time listening to a panel which covers subject material I’ve heard a half dozen times already.

So that’s my plan for tomorrow. In summary, traveling to Chicago and engaging people exhausted me, and I’m going to address that by doing a solitary activity in a public place. Until I feel better.

We’ll see how tomorrow goes.

06/7/22

Brainstorming the Next Story

Moving on…

I’ve known for a while that I want to write something that’s a bit more cyberpunk. I’ve been hungry for more, good cyberpunk stories for a while. I play Cyberpunk 2077, I recently rewatched Bladerunner 2049, and I’ve acquired some cyberpunk audiobooks to consume in the near future.

Why am I fascinated with cyberpunk? I don’t know for sure, but I have some theories.

To start with, I like a lot of the aesthetic. It’s future tech with dirt on it. It has noir in its veins. The characters in a cyberpunk story drip with pathos. I don’t want to live in a cyberpunk world, but I wouldn’t mind visiting one.

That brings me to my next point, which is that cyberpunk stories feature dystopia, and we’re living in one. The cyberpunk hellscape we were promised in the 80’s featured punk rock, neon colors, and Asian influences. It also promised a world dominated by corporate greed, where the everyday person works as a wage slave in service to a capitalist, unfeeling machine, and everyone is connected through technology. Look at your cell phone. Think about the oil companies and Disney. The aesthetic may be off, but we’re living in a cyberpunk dystopian world already.

I like to explore big ideas that are relevant to real life. In Spin City I dealt with alcoholism, the longing for home and family, and restrictive immigration laws. In Synthetic Dreams, I explored the entire human condition through characters that aren’t even human. In this next story, I want to touch on redemption and the evils of capitalism.

So what do I have so far? How does one start a story like this?

I’ve finished three novels, so maybe I can look at how I started each of those.

The Repossessed Ghost came right after I’d binged most of the Dresden Files books. I knew I wanted my story to be light and fun like Dresden, even going so far as to be an Urban Fantasy. In the back of my mind lived the character, Mel Walker, that I played in a roleplaying game many years ago. I knew his voice and his mannerisms, and I thought he might be perfect to star in a story like Dresden. For 2013 NaNoWriMo, I launched into Mel’s story and made it to the end. Since I wrote the story in first person and I already knew the character’s voice, writing The Repossessed Ghost was relatively easy.

Spin City is a little bit different. This is another one that I started with NaNoWriMo. I wanted to win that year, and I thought the only way I could do it was to write in first person. So, again, I reached back in time and pulled up a character I knew from my past. Spin City is basically the adult retelling of The Arthur Kane Stories that I wrote when I was a teenager. I even kept several of the plot elements from the old stories, because they were fun, and this novel is essentially a love letter to a version of myself that no longer exists.

Synthetic Dreams is another one that I started with NaNoWriMo. Yes, there is a pattern here, but we’ll ignore that for a moment. When I wrote Synthetic Dreams, I wrote it in third person, and I wrote it with two alternating POV characters. This was not a retelling of any story I’d previously attempted, and the characters were new to me. I did some practice writing in the world in 2017, just before I wrote Spin City for NaNoWriMo that year. Later, I dusted off my notes, finished the outline, then wrote the novel over the course of two years, finishing it just before Covid hit. I finished the first revision of Synthetic Dreams just a few weeks ago.

It’s time for me to start this new project, so how do I use what I learned from the previous novels?

First, let’s address something. I don’t need NaNoWriMo to write this. NaNoWriMo provides a small amount of pressure I need to get going. NaNoWriMo acts as the perfect excuse for me to blow off other things in order to focus on writing. However, I kept writing and working on my last novel long after November ended. NaNoWriMo is useful to me, but I can write without it.

Something different about this novel is that I’m not launching into it after being struck by inspiration. The kernel of the idea that became Synthetic Dreams came to me while I was in the shower. I got out, dripping wet, hurried to my kitchen table, and scrawled a few sentences down on a piece of paper.

This time, I’m feeling it out. It’s not a flash of lightning, but thunder rolling through my heart and mind. I have no doubt I’m going to find this story and give it the life it deserves. It just might take me a while, because it’s not close enough yet for me to see it clearly.

I’ve jotted down several ideas across multiple pages in OneNote. Hopefully the next time I talk about this story, I’ll have an outline.

06/2/22

Getting Personal: Feeling Empty

Tonight, I want to really open up. No outline. No preconceived notions about which direction this is all going. I just want to talk for a little bit, and it may or may not be writing related.

I feel empty inside. I don’t know how I’m still going.

What does that mean? What am I talking about? Can I be more specific?

It’s loneliness, and hopelessness, and a sense that everything I care about or that I’m trying to accomplish will amount to nothing in the end. That all of my efforts, all of my life, will be forgotten when I’m gone.

I want to make the world a better place and fill it with a little bit more love. But I’m shouting into the wind. Whatever seeds I plant will be crushed before they can take root. Perhaps by accident, perhaps by malicious intent. Whatever the reason, I cannot do enough. I will never do enough, no matter the merit of the thoughts or ideas that manifest in my brain.

That just sounds like depression, right? Something a great many people are going through after the last couple of years. With the news of the all the shootings, it’s natural for sympathetic people to feel down. Right?

The thing is, I have always felt the need to do something to try to make the world a better place. Draw. Sing. Write. Perform. Be a good friend. Spread love. CREATE.

The need has never diminished, but the hope has faded more and more over time.

I don’t think anything I’m saying is particularly unique to me. In fact, the way I’m describing this, it sounds like a noble purpose, right? Make the world a better place through art and love. That would be a life well spent.

Tonight, I’ve been trying to analyze the need a little bit more. It’s not entirely selfless. I’m not that perfect. Some of it is ego, for sure. I want to be remembered. I want to leave a mark on the world. That’s selfish. Who do I think I am to deserve to be remembered? Billions of people are born and die, and most of them disappear like smoke in the wind. Why should I be any different?

I think I just want to feel loved. I want to feel like I am known, and that when I’m gone, it’s my presence that is missed, and not just the things I do for people.

There are people that love me. Melissa. My kids. Michael. I have some friends. But I keep walls up. I keep some distance from everyone, and I try to make the people that are near me happy by listening, paying attention, and giving.

I’m intuitive and perceptive, and when I pay attention to someone, I can really, truly know them, sometimes better than they know themselves. In my mind, that’s what it is to love someone.

I don’t think I let people love me the way I love them. I want to be known, but I do not open up. I don’t share like that. I want to, but I don’t know how anymore.

That’s why I don’t make new friends. Friendship is borne from trust, experience, and time. I don’t trust anyone enough to allow myself to be vulnerable anymore.

So who am I? What is it that I don’t let people see?

Those are the wrong questions.

I’m not particularly special. I’m smart, perceptive, and talented. There are lots of people like me, some of which are smarter, more perceptive, more talented. I’m not actually a sealed book, nor am I always silent. I’ve been telling people all my life who I am. Showing them.

The question isn’t about what I’m hiding, or how I’m keeping people at a distance. The question is, why don’t people pay attention to me the same way I pay attention to them?

It must be who I am, and what I’m saying. The fault must be in me.

I’m a broken, flawed, desperate man. Is that all it is? In order to be seen, do I need to hide myself more? That’s counter-intuitive, but maybe there’s something to that.

I honestly don’t know. I don’t have any answer or wisdom to wrap this up into a nice, tidy little message. This is my open journal. Ostensibly, it’s my journey as a writer, but who knows if I really have a future there. I’ll keep writing, even when hope is gone, and I’m tired and hungry for attention.

If any of this got you down, I apologize. I’m probably just being maudlin. I needed to write something tonight to try and make sense of my feelings, and hopefully feel better.

Do I feel better?

I don’t know.

05/22/22

Keyboards, Offices, and the Next Story

Where has the time gone?

I sat down to write a blog post about a fancy new keyboard I built for myself. It has a 3D printed base, Gateron brown switches, and it’s all hand-wired and soldered. I found some resources and guidance for how to do it, and then I did it. I’m using this fancy keyboard right now to type this post.

In the picture, it looks like the keyboard is missing a couple of keys. All of the keycaps are present now. I had to be a little bit creative to get some of them to fit.

I wanted to dedicate an entire post to talking about this thing I made, because it’s awesome! I did a thing! And it works, and I love it!

As I was writing that post, Melissa got a call from her Mom. She asked, “Is there anything keeping you from going away for a couple of days?”

I started to answer the question before I realized she was nearly in tears.

That was the night her Dad died. I packed up some stuff and we drove to Oregon that night, and I didn’t think about that post or my blog or anything for a long while.

Melissa is doing better now. She and her Mom are driving around the country, visiting family for the next month. It’s been hard, but Melissa is going to be okay.

So now, after some time getting our lives back in some semblance of order, I’m writing blog posts again, and talking about the things I’ve been working on.

I learned a ton making that first keyboard. I learned enough to launch into a new keyboard for Michael, for his 50th birthday. His keyboard came out even better in terms of aesthetics, though it seems to have some reliability issues. A few keys fire too often. When we both have some time, we’re going to get together and I’ll fix it with him. We’ll have some friends over and play some board games and make an evening of it.

I have plans of making another keyboard, which I’ll donate to the Writing Excuses Retreat so they can give it away. I bought the PLA for it and I have the controller board. Once I’m done with my next project, I’ll start printing the parts and put it together.

What’s the next project? It’s my new office!

We helped Bryanna get into her own apartment a couple of weeks ago, which means I’ll finally be able to come in from the garage. I’ve repaired and repainted the walls, ripped out the carpet, and I’ve prepared the floor for receiving new wood-laminate. It’s going to look great and feel comfortable.

A lot of this renovation is a trial for some of the work we’re going to do through the rest of the house. After a couple of rambunctious kids and incontinent cats, the carpet is in bad shape throughout the house. If the office turns out nice, we’ll start doing the same sort of thing in other rooms.

Finally, let’s talk about writing. My critique group finished Spin City after 20 months of submissions. Whew! It’s quite a milestone for the group, and I think they genuinely liked it. The ending is really strong. It probably would have hit even better if we hadn’t taken quite so long to get through the whole thing, but that’s okay.

I finished the first revision of Synthetic Dreams and I started reading it to Melissa. She’s enjoying it. I truly believe Synthetic Dreams is the best thing I’ve ever written. I have no idea how I’m going to query it, or what comp titles I’ll use for it. I don’t think it’s quite like anything else I’ve read or seen.

With revisions done for those two novels, I want to work on something new. I’ve had a hankering for a cyberpunk story for a while. At first, I wanted to run a cyberpunk game. Now I think I want to write a cyberpunk story, using this fancy new keyboard I made with my own hands.

I have ideas for it. There’s some imagery in mind, and I have a page and a half of notes regarding themes I want to consider including in the story. Technically, I’ve started an outline, but there isn’t much in it yet.

The trouble is that I have this fear around starting something new. I don’t want to have yet another novel completed that I’m in love with, that I have no way of getting out in front of an audience. It’s an emotional weight that interferes with the excitement and creativity I need in order to launch into a brand new draft.

I need a critique partner. Someone that is hungry for my stories. Someone that writes stories that delight me, too. With a solid critique partner, it would feel less like I’m trying to do this all on my own.

03/11/22

The Batman, Growing Fears, and Politics

I’m not setting out to tie all three topics together. But maybe I will at the end? I just wanted to talk about several things without making them separate posts.

The Batman

I saw this movie recently and I think it’s great! The performances, cinematography, and script are all outstanding. I remember reading the Year One comic, and this movie felt like a sequel to that. This was a good story that has me thinking about the movie days later.

Growing Fears: War

The Batman gave me the break I needed from watching the news. I have no ties to Ukraine, but I’m following the invasion and watching how the rest of the world reacts. It’s both fascinating and terrifying to watch the different political parties quarrel over how to deal with this particular powder keg.

We’re sliding into World War, and I’m afraid we’ll be as effective in stopping it as we’ve been at stopping Covid. A lot of conservative voices are calling for hostile actions that would lead to more aggression. We do need to do something, but whatever we do should deescalate tensions rather than raise them. The world needs to save as many lives as possible while pushing back Putin in such a way that he can save face. Even if we do not respect him, we have to respect the power he wields, which means more talking and less fighting.

This is not to say that Putin should face no consequences. He absolutely should. But we should put that aside until after we’ve stopped him from bombing hospitals and killing civilians in Ukraine.

I’m genuinely happy to see so much of the world rally around Ukraine. I’m even happy that China has remained neutral on the war. I wish China could bring itself to rebuke Russia, but that’s asking too much of that nation.

Growing Fears: Pandemic

I’m happy to see the number of infections and deaths going down. I want the pandemic to be over. I don’t want to have to wear a mask everywhere. I want to go back to writing in a Starbucks once or twice a week. I want to go back to in-person conventions, and I want to stop being afraid of being the one that gets someone else sick.

Mask requirements are dropping, and people are trying to get back to normal right now. At the same time, there is a spike of BA.2 growing in Europe. There’s some sign that we’re starting a new wave. No one is going to want to face those facts, and we’ve already had a problem with people denying science and reality. That’s why this pandemic just keeps going and going.

I’m trying to keep my hopes up. If we don’t see signs of another wave, I’m going to sign up to attend some conventions this year. If there is a spike in cases, however, I’ll have to reevaluate.

Politics

I don’t want to spend a lot of time talking about Republicans or Democrats or any particular figures in any of those parties. I want to talk about politics in more general terms, because I had a dream recently and it felt like I’d gained some kind of perspective.

Let’s talk about progressives and conservatives, and why we need both at different times.

To be progressive is to tear down and replace institutions that are imperfect, and that do not serve the highest ideals. To be conservative is to value the culture and ideals of your society. These are not completely polar opposites, but they’re opposite enough that it is difficult to find compromise.

In a perfect society, progressives are more likely to be unfair and unjust, because they seek to tear down and replace institutions that are working. Society is perfect, so any changes you seek to make can only serve to make society worse.

In an imperfect society, conservatives are more likely to be unfair and unjust, because the culture they value and seek to protect is unfair and unjust.

I do not believe we live in a perfect society. We do not have equality for everyone. We have racism, misogyny, ablism, and fiscal inequality. We are not living up to our ideals, and we are actively valuing money over human life. Our systems are not working to protect those that need protection. Our systems are allowing an unscrupulous few to take advantage of the many. The systems need to change.

To be conservative at this point in time is to turn a blind eye to all the injustices we’re living with, which is why I can’t be a conservative. When I was younger, I was. As I’ve gotten older and become more aware of what’s going on around me, I can’t.

In Conclusion

The Batman was really good. He uses fear to try and make a change in his world, to make sure what happened to his family doesn’t happen to someone else. In this recent depiction of the character, he learns that fear is not enough. He learns that fear is a clumsy weapon, usually used by villains and bullies, and he must become something more than that. He must become a figure of hope, because it’s hope that helps us rise up when everything is crumbling around us.

Bruce Wayne, a wealthy and famous individual, would seem like someone that should be conservative, enjoying his inherited wealth and turning his back on the world. Instead, he puts himself in harm’s way. He’s a broken person, just like so many of us are broken, and what makes him truly heroic is that he takes action when so many of us would remain still.

In the end, the action he took was to shine a light and lead people to safety. Looking around at the world today, maybe we could learn a thing or two from The Batman.

02/5/22

I Fixed Something

The TL;DR today is: I fixed my water heater and I feel very good about it.

Now for the longer story…

The last couple of weeks have been pretty rough for me. It seemed like I broke everything I touched, and I just couldn’t fix anything. The video card was the biggest blow. My soldering iron died recently, and I purchased it less than a month ago. Projects at work suffered, but nearly as much as have suffered in my house the last 2 weeks while the water heater refused to work.

PG&E is in our neighborhood, replacing gas lines probably, and the day they showed up was the day our shower only produced cold water. It seemed like a remarkable coincidence, and I had PG&E come out to the house to look into it. We had gas, but the water heater wouldn’t keep its pilot light lit. The tech from PG&E couldn’t do anything about it, and recommended I call a plumber and have them take a stab.

I called a plumber and gave them our information, and they said, “Your water heater is 10 years old. We are not repairing it.”

“Ballpark, how much would it be to replace it?”

“Staying with the same size tank, around $3600.”

I told them I might call them later, but I knew I didn’t want to pay nearly 4 grand to get this work done. The tank wasn’t leaking. We could see the pilot light catching flame. The sensor in the gas valve just wouldn’t keep it lit. The problem had to be with the gas valve.

The internet gave me the information I needed to order a replacement valve. YouTube showed me a video of how easy it is perform the repair. I could do this. I didn’t even need to buy new tools. I just needed to wait for the part to arrive and then the Buhl house would be rich with hot water again. Easy.

We spent nearly two weeks doing what we could to stay clean. Bryanna went ahead and took cold showers. I tried that once but didn’t last more than 30 seconds. I am not Harry Dresden, apparently. Melissa filled the tub with boiling water, because baths work for her. I need a shower to feel clean. I wound up getting a bucket of hot water and scrubbing with a washcloth and a cup in the shower. It worked well enough, but it meant I couldn’t shave.

The part arrived yesterday. After finishing up work, I set to it. I tried to drain the tank. When water stopped dribbling out the hose, I started loosening and remove plumbing so that I could remove the valve.

At this point, you already have a pretty good idea what happened. No part of this repair was as easy as the video made it out to be. The pipe going from the valve to the thermocouple was stainless steel. In the video, the tech bent that out of the way. Impossible in my situation. In the video, they were able to easily rotate the valve off the tank to unscrew it. It popped right off, then the new one went on in its place in hurry, because they knew they didn’t need to empty the tank first. I had no plans of being in a hurry or messing up. That’s why I drained the tank.

This is foreshadowing.

I couldn’t just unscrew the part from the tank. The release valve was in the way. In order to get clearance, I had to remove all of the plumbing surrounding the valve. These are old pipes crusty with age. They defied me. They laughed at my pitiful efforts to loosen them. In the end, I persevered, but it left my hands bruised and raw, and it burned a lot of time.

With the intricate gas plumbing out of the way, I unscrewed the gas valve from the tank. It resisted, but after what I went through with the plumbing, it was easy. It didn’t stand a chance. I defeated the next part of this challenge, and it popped off.

Water gushed from the release valve. It sprayed out the hole in the tank where there once had been a water valve. I was not prepared for this.

This is all taking place in my garage, not far from where I have my office setup. The only silver lining of destroying my graphics card is that had it been in working order, it would have been drenched in that moment. If I hadn’t destroyed my computer before, the water from the tank would have taken it out.

I grabbed a chunk of rusty plumbing and jammed it into the hole in the side of the tank. Then I scrambled for a flathead screwdriver to stop the release valve. This took an uncomfortably long time. My garage began to smell of southern Louisiana.

The next step was to put everything back together. I screwed in the new gas valve, took a trip to Home Depot to buy more sensible gas tubing, and hooked everything up. Before turning on the gas, I noticed a hissing sound coming from the gas valve. It made me very concerned.

Gas flowed into the system. I could smell it a little, but that’s normal before the pilot light is lit. I pushed the buttons to give it the spark, checked the window in front of the thermocouple, and I saw a flame! A few seconds later, the ready light flashed on the valve. It was working! I fixed my water heater!

Sort of.

That hissing sound never stopped, and after running it for a few minutes, Melissa and I could both smell gas. Very faint, but present enough to get us to shut the whole thing down. I had confirmation that I replaced the right part, but when I went to bed, I didn’t know if it was going to be dry or wet.

This morning, it was wet. Water continued to seep down the side of the tank all night. I had more work to do.

I knew what I had to do. I drained the tank, properly this time. It took about 5 hours. Then I took everything apart again, applied more plumber’s tape than before, used more force tightening things down than before, and tried again. When I turned on the gas, I couldn’t smell it at all. I waited several minutes before sparking the pilot light.

No more leaks. No more strange noises. No smell of gas.

A few minutes ago, I had my first hot shower in 2 weeks. I shaved and washed my hair. I stood in the hot water, just letting it soak into my muscles, luxuriating in the bounty of my labor.

It felt good to save a bunch of money on this. Including the cost of the gas tubing, this repair cost about a tenth what the plumber quoted for a new system. That feels good, but something else feels better.

I fixed something. I used my hands and my mind to solve a problem. My confidence is bolstered. I didn’t just repair a 10 year old water heater in my garage. I fixed some of my self-esteem, even if it’s only for a short while.

The next time we have a problem with our water heater, though, we’re going to upgrade to tankless.