Halloween 2017 and the End of Blogtober

Happy Halloween, everyone!  We did it!  We made it through October!

This is the third year in a row where I’ve stayed home on Halloween and handed out candy.  And, it’s the third year in a row where we gave out full sized candy bars and cans of soda or bags of Capri Sun, depending on the age of the trick-or-treater.  I also made sure that the parents walking their kids got a soda and a candy bar, too.

When you were of trick-or-treating age, did you ever have a friend tell you about one of those houses that was giving out “the good stuff?” Cans of soda, full sized candy bars, maybe handfuls of the non-generic?  Or maybe you were lucky enough to find those houses yourself.  I determined a long time ago that I wanted to BE that house.

Three years in a row, and it’s paying off.  We don’t do much in the way of decorating.  We didn’t have a jack-o-lantern outside.  I went outside once or twice and played my sax a little (my costume this year was Phantom of the Opera).  Other than that, the only thing to distinguish our house from any other is the memory from previous years.  And it worked.  We had a bunch of trick-or-treaters, and they were all great.

Halloween was a success this year, but I can’t say the same for Blogtober 2017.  I had been doing great until that kidney stone hit me up for five straight days of torture.  I pushed through the pain the first four days, but by the fifth day, I didn’t have it in me.  I let it go.

It only takes one bad day to break a goal like Blogtober.  My task was to write one blog post every day, and I did not complete that task.  I haven’t figured out how to go back in time yet.

But, I did learn some things from the experience.  I found the places in my schedule where I can sneak in writing time.  Even though I didn’t write a blog post every day, I did write close to 30,000 words in blog posts.  That’s not too shabby.

In a couple of hours, I’m going to start a new novel for NaNoWriMo.  I probably won’t stay up too late writing tonight, since I still have to work tomorrow.  But I’m committed.  I’m excited!  I haven’t written an Arthur Kane story in a couple of decades.  I’m curious to see how much he’s changed.

I know the world is going to be interesting.  A spinning city on the moon, with vicious robot dogs, emerging artificial intelligences, a seedy underbelly, and corrupt cops.  A place where the gravity is as false as the lies that hold the place together.  A place of fog and deep shadows.  A place where it’s never quite day, never quite night, and nothing ever stops moving.

I’m going to have fun with this story.  When I can, I’ll post updates here.  Other than that, I’ll probably be pretty quiet, with my head down trying to reach the 50,000 word goal.  Unlike Blogtober, one bad day won’t ruin me.


Doing Scary Things Daily

Today, I got up in front of my whole company and gave a presentation on the technology department’s development road map for the next year.  I created the PowerPoint presentation yesterday, complete with built-in comedy and prolific yet tasteful animations.  The PowerPoint was both powerful and on point, but I hadn’t really had a chance to rehearse.  So I did something that scares me, today.

Most people are at least intimidated by this kind of public speaking.  I heard somewhere that some people are more afraid of public speaking than spiders or death.  I’m not that afraid of it.  It gets my heart going, certainly, but sometimes it’s actually a lot of fun.

I did okay, and people paid me many compliments.  Today’s presentation isn’t really what I want to talk about.

Every opportunity we’re given to do something outside our comfort zone is an opportunity to grow.  Eleanor Roosevelt said “do something everyday that scares you,” but I think I would substitute the word “scare” for “challenge.”

For example, NaNoWriMo is coming up extremely fast.  I don’t think I’m afraid of that event.  I want to succeed this year, but there isn’t any real fear element involved in what motivates me, or the benefits I’ll receive from this activity.  But it will definitely challenge me.  And it will challenge me daily.

Today it was public speaking.  Later tonight, it will be mingling with my coworkers at a semi-formal event.  In a few days, it will be writing almost 1700 words a day on a story I started over 30 years ago.


In other news, I did not write my post yesterday.  It wasn’t the first post I missed this month, and I still have a pretty strong excuse.  I had a work emergency to deal with, and wound up creating my PowerPoint and working that issue until 1AM.  Work comes first, and I’d already busted on Blog-tober when the kidney stone knocked me down.

I will try to finish the month out strong, but there’s no guarantee.  What I might do instead is write up my planned posts for the 30th and the 31st in advance, post them on the appropriate days, and maybe take a break before going into November.  I’m no longer feeling all that motivated to write a post each day, especially when I’m scrambling to find something to talk about like today’s post.

Maybe I’ll feel differently tomorrow.


Adjectives Are Delicious

Advertisers have known for a long time that if you want to make something sound delicious, just add adjectives.  The adjectives don’t even have to make sense.  String them on in sequence, and the subject becomes desirable.

A quick example: oatmeal.

Oatmeal is okay, but it’s about as bland a thing as you can eat.  Right?

Let’s make it more interesting.  Let’s just add one word.  The word doesn’t even say anything about the flavor.  It’s just a brand: Quaker oatmeal.

It might not be delicious yet, but it’s suddenly more interesting.  Just making it specific has conjured up a particular bowl of oatmeal, perhaps with an image of a man in a tricorn cap.  Maybe you have fond memories of eating that particular oatmeal.  Maybe you just remember the commercials.  But I bet if choice one was oatmeal, and choice two was Quaker oatmeal, most people would go for the more specific choice.

But let’s take this to eleven.  Let me throw some extra descriptors into the mix and see if I can change your next meal plans: Rich, steel-cut, buttered, cinnamon and brown-sugar oatmeal, still hot and steaming.

Now we’re talking, right?  Maybe you don’t normally like oatmeal, but the specifics paint an image that would at the very least get you to try a spoonful.

Of course, words do what you want them to do.  You can make something delicious or disgusting with word choices.  But those descriptive words are additive.  You can keep piling on the spice by adding more words to the soup.

What you sacrifice in a story by indulging in this level of specificity is immediacy.  When you stop to taste the world more deeply, you slow the story down.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though.  In fact, alternating between high-octane adventure and Tolkienesque dives into detail can keep the reader going.  You want their heart to race, but you also want them to have a chance to slow down and breathe.

It can also be a very effective way of tightening the strings of suspense.  Adding just that much more detail before a reveal and a release draws the moment out.  The girl being hunted in the night.  Her breath steaming to mist.  Her hands shaking.  The slow, shuffling drag of her feet through the grass, because she’s so tired from running.  The warm light of safety just a few more feet away.  If she can just go just a little further.  If she can just…

You can stretch a moment out like that for a long time through adding more and more description.  But don’t go too far because this is a point where the reader is holding their breath.  Make them hold it good and long, but don’t try to make them pass out.  If they release that held breath too soon, they’re likely to get bored and fall out of the moment.

Adjectives are delicious.  They come at a cost, but when they’re used right, the cost is cheap and the payoff is huge.  They can be used to make a part of your story more vivid, while at the same time, alter the flow of the story, controlling the pace.

One last example of descriptors done right is Chuck Wendig’s #HeirloomApples tweets.  Every day or so, he tweets about two or three heirloom apples, and it is amazing.  Click on the following, and read through the child tweets.  They’re good enough to make a guy forget he had a tummy ache.



Jeff Flake, and how Republicans have been replaced by Opportunists

A really good speech doesn’t have a long lifespan.  It’s like a firework.  It delights and thrills for a few moments, and while all of the excitement is hot and flying through the air, we feel like we’re transported temporarily to a different place.  A different possibility.  But then the speech is done, and all we have is the memory.  And the memory doesn’t do it justice.

Well, we have the internet now, so we can rewatch good speeches whenever we want.  So watch this one.  Watch it, and then let’s talk about Jeff Flake.

Jeff Flake is a conservative.  According to the daily beast, he’s as conservative as they come.  He’s conservative and has a conscience, and he’s been outspoken against Trump for a while.

But as much as he’s been verbally critical of Trump, he hasn’t really backed that up with action.  Even when he showed up on Colbert he stated how he would vote for the Graham-Cassidy bill, in line with Trump’s desires.

In fact, his whole voting record has been fairly consistently in line with Trump.

To be fair, the Republican party has been usurped by people that aren’t true conservatives.  From what I’ve read about Flake, he’s been voting his conscience.  It just looks like he’s voting with Trump.

I’ve been trying to think of an analogy.  Here’s the best I can come up with tonight.

Imagine a raging fire.  The fire is spreading, threatening the livelihood of a small town.

Two schools of thought form on how to deal with the crisis.  The first group suggests that the town should pool all their resources and bring as much water to the fire as possible and try to save the town.  There’s risk.  It could wind up costing a lot of money.  But if they can put out the fire, the town will be saved, and everyone will still have a home.

The second group has a different idea.  They think the risk to life is too great, and it would be better to let the fire reach the edge of the town.  When those houses on the edge start burning, they can topple the homes, trapping the fire so that it can’t spread to the rest of the town.  It would risk fewer lives, have a greater chance of stopping the fire from taking the whole town, but a few people (those home owners) are going to suffer.

Depending on your values, the first option might look better to you.  Or maybe the second option.  It’s hard to say.  Doing nothing would be the worst thing, because everyone loses.

I think Flake falls into that second group.  He’d take the safest route.  Maybe he fears that if the town loses all of its resources trying to put out the fire, the town is lost regardless.  Voting his conscience, he’d say trap the fire at the expense of a few houses.

Now imagine a third group gets involved.  They have an interest in building golf courses at the edge of the town, and they were wanting to buy the properties that are about to be burned.  This fire is the perfect opportunity.  They swoop in and loudly support the second group.  They shout it like it was their idea.  Heck, some of them might even claim that it was their idea.

That third group is Trump, the Tea Party, Bannon… all of the opportunists that have swarmed in and taken over the Republican party.  They make it look like they’re voicing support for a fair and reasonable position, but they’re just in it for themselves.  They don’t care if people get hurt.  They’re don’t care about the future.  They want the fast buck, the quick profit, the immediate satisfaction.

And you know what?  Those assholes probably started the fire in the first place.


Anyway, let’s get back to Flake.

Flake’s speech is amazing, right up to the point where he says he’s no longer running for office.  Because unfortunately, by this time next week, no one’s going to remember his speech.  They’re just going to list his name with Corker’s.  One more conservative Republican driven out by Trump and his ilk.

If Flake wanted to end his speech in a more memorable way, he should have called for Impeachment.  Everything leading up to that point supported that position.

Instead, he’s quitting.  He’s giving up his position of power.  He’s leaving the place where he has a voice and can make a difference and truly vote his conscience.

If this were still analogy land, it is the equivalent of someone from Group 2 saying, “You know what?  I don’t like what these other people are doing.  So I’m going to move to another town where it’s not my problem.  BYE!”

What he should have done was stay in the game.  After the houses came crashing down and the fire was stopped, he should have found ways to compromise with Group 1 so that the homes could be rebuilt, and the opportunists prevented from rebuilding on the burned down homes of those hurt worst by the fire.


I listened to the speech.  It was good.  Flake told the President off, and I wish more Republicans would do the same.  But the follow through is terrible, and ultimately overshadows the message.  If that’s his protest, it is weak.  I don’t think he was going to retain his seat, anyway.  Which makes not running a bit of an empty gesture.

The Left are going to be upset with Flake because they don’t know if they’ll be able to beat whoever runs as the Republican for his seat next.  The Right… probably doesn’t care.

What we need instead of words and empty gestures are principled actions.  We need better follow through.  We need to call the opportunists on their bullshit, take them out of positions of power, and never let them back in again.


A Few Words on Percocet

On Thursday, I went to the hospital in the hopes that my troubles with my kidney stone would get resolved.  They saw me eventually, gave me a terrible IV, a weak shot of Morphine that didn’t seem to do anything, and then sent me home with a prescription for Percocet.  I was to use the pain medication to get through the time of the stone passing.

I’ve always known this drug as Percocet, but maybe you know it as Oxycodone-acetamine?  I’ve heard people talk about Oxy before.  They’re probably talking about the same drug.  I think it’s supposed to be stronger than Vicodin.

The prescription reads: Take 1 to 2 tablets every 6 hours as needed for pain.  In other words, take no more than 8 in a 24 hour period, or 1 every three hours.

The bottle contained 20 pills, and the instructions said I should use them over the next 5 days.  That math just doesn’t add up.

I’ve been in discomfort for days, so I’ve been taking my Percocet.  Just within the last couple of days, I’ve noticed that it hasn’t had that much impact on the pain itself.  But I think I’ve been hallucinating a little bit.  Or maybe they’ve been fever dreams.

Look.  I’ve been high on Oxy, trippin’ balls on Percocet.  So I’ll just share a couple of the more interesting experiences and move on.

The first started Saturday evening.  It was so subtle that I didn’t really notice it.  I’d been rewatching Stranger Things, and since I’ve been having so much trouble sleeping, I kept slipping in and out of consciousness.  I knew that I was dreaming about Stranger Things, and I had some idea that if I conjured up the right images from Stranger Things, I could control my pain.  In fact, I was certain that the discomfort I was experiencing had to do with me existing partially in the upside-down.

Even after we finished rewatching that series, that idea stayed with me.  That if I summoned up the image of Wil Byers and Eleven simultaneously, the pain would get driven off for a short while.  It might have even worked a couple of times.

Later, another idea grew in strength as the Stranger Things dream diminished.  My guts had been replaced with a bio-mechanical equipment that was extremely good at processing numbers.  I was part of a large network, mostly used for as part of a large chain of encryption algorithms.  Somewhere along the line, I’d sustained substantial damage, and all the pain I was feeling was a manifestation of calculation errors.  Every time my stomach muscles would tense, I could feel numbers bleeding out of my powers, being ripped from my being and whisked off onto the network to be consumed by another process.

You can bet this last one is going to show up in one of my stories.

This morning, around 3AM, I decided to try and stop taking the Percocet.  It wasn’t really helping with the pain, and these weird visions weren’t helping, either.  I started doing some focused meditation.  I placed my hands in a triangle over my belly and imagined forming a bubble between my hands which extended into my body towards my back.  This was my IDGAF bubble field.  As long as I could keep that bubble in tact, I didn’t care about what was happening inside the bubble.  The pain didn’t exist.  Everything in the bubble didn’t matter.

The focused breathing really helped, and I managed to get my pain under good control.  Good enough that I was able to fall back asleep without having to take more Percocet.

I’m off the Percocet now.  Unless there’s a significant flair up, I’m probably good to go.  Ibuprofen is doing a better job now, probably because my main problem the last few days has been inflammation, which the Ibuprofen addresses.

I should be able to go back to work tomorrow.


Literary Theory (For Michael)

Michael suggested this topic, and when he did, he probably knew it was too broad to fit into a single post.  It’s something he’s been studying for years.  It’s something that the lit-fic crowd argues over.  From what I can tell, there’s not even great consensus on what literary theory even means.

Instead of wandering off into sophistry, I’ll talk about what this topic means to me: what does it take to tell a good story?

That’s something I can talk about.  The topic is still broad to the point of being unwieldy, but I think I can get into the nuts and bolts for a little while.


A good story should invoke the reader’s imagination.

Consider one of the first things you read when you first started reading.  A nursery rhyme.

Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water.

Jack fell down and broke his crown, and Jill came tumbling after.

There’s not much to this story, but there is enough to evoke the imagination.  We have two characters.  We probably imagine them as children, but that’s most likely because there had been illustration accompanying the poem.  We know what these characters are doing, we have a little bit of setting (the hill) and we’ve thrust the characters into some kind of crisis.  Jack is definitely hurt, and Jill probably isn’t doing much better.

One of the great things about this story is that it uses verbs that you can imagine.  Jack went to fetch.  He fell, and Jill tumbled.  These are good verbs.  They paint an image.

Let’s take Jack and Jill and try giving them another scenario, with verbs that are less strong.

Jack liked Jill, in the valley or on the hill, and wanted to get her alone

If Jill liked Jack just as much back, do you think they’ll have sins to atone?

It’s a little wonky.  Give me a break.  I just made it up on the spot.

But I think it demonstrates what I was talking about.  It’s the same number of lines, but there are no verbs that drive the story.  Jack liked, Jack wanted, Jill liked, you think.  None of these verbs paint an image.  They don’t invoke the imagination.

The original Jack and Jill can stand on its own because it uses good verbs.  This addendum, on the other hand, doesn’t give the reader anything to work with.  There are still a couple of characters, but they’re not doing anything visible.  They are no longer in a setting.  Nothing has happened that the reader can imagine.


A good story should give the reader just what they need to see the story, and not a jot more.

Let’s consider Jack and Jill again.  We have enough in those two sentences that we get the story.  We could do with more, but we don’t need it.  We assume Jack is a boy and Jill is a girl, based on their names.  Depending on the tale we’re trying to tell, we could include more details.  We could completely change it up.

Let’s make it scandalous!

Jack, a young man from the wrong side of the tracks, took hold of Jill’s hand, her dark skin contrasting with his.  He pulled her along the beaten path up the shallow hill, following the way that so many teenagers like them had gone before.  He looked over his shoulder, first at his lover, then beyond.  The path behind them remained empty.  They climbed alone.

That’s not too bad.  We have a different idea of what they look like.  They’re older, and the reason they’re climbing the hill is no longer as innocent as to fetch some water.

In this example, I still haven’t given that much in the way of details, but the details I provided are enough to get the point across.  I included the important details (their skin color, their age) and left the rest for the reader to imagine on their own.

The reader should always be allowed to imagine their own details.  If everything is spelled out for them, they are no longer engaged, and their enjoyment is diminished.

Here is an example of what not to do.

Jack Johnson, a 17 year old white American with a hint of Native American heritage expressed through his dark eyes and patchy facial hair, wore partially faded denim jeans, a black t-shirt, and steel-toed boots that came to him second-hand.  The black t-shirt once held a logo, but time and washing had faded the image to illegibility.  Standing just under six feet tall and weighing 190 pounds, Jack towered over his companion, Jill Stevens.  Jill, an African American girl, wore…

I’m bored writing this.  None of these extraneous details are necessary for the story.  In a longer narrative, these details might be important, and maybe they should be included.  But they certainly shouldn’t be dumped on the reader as one huge info block.  For the story we’re trying to tell, that level of detail is too much and goes too far.


A good story invokes the reader’s emotions.

Let’s leave Jack and Jill alone for a moment, and head over to Les Miz.

I don’t cry often, but when I need to, I listen to Les Miz.  I get swept up in the story of the musical, and towards the end, one line is delivered that shatters all of my walls and makes me cry:

Come with me where chains will never bind you

That line is the culmination of a journey that has taken us across Jean Val Jean’s life.  It’s such a small description of heaven, and yet, it tears me up.  For Jean Val Jean, a place where he never needs to be worried about being chained again is heaven.  That speaks to his character.  It speaks to the simple beauty of heaven.  It hits me hard, every time.

It doesn’t take much to get a hold of the reader’s emotions.  In the Jean Val Jean example, I’m experiencing joy and relief and peace because that’s what the character is going through in that moment.

That’s the trick.  Give your readers characters that they can relate to, and when you character experiences an emotion, your reader will experience the same emotion.

I think that’s why I don’t like Grim-Dark.  My last attempt into that genre made me very upset.  I stopped liking any of the characters, and the emotions I was going through were just a wretched slog.  Other people like Grim-Dark.  More power to them.  A person may be able to go to town on a plate of ghost peppers, but I’m not going to consider that a meal.  I don’t consider Grim-Dark (at least what I’ve seen of it) to be good storytelling, either.

The ideas that invoke your reader’s emotions don’t have to be complicated.  A father’s love for his child.  The persistence of a grave injustice.  Lovers coming together, in spite of the odds.

If you want an example of a storyteller invoking a reader’s emotions through simple ideas, I highly recommend reading Dan Simmons’ Hyperion.  You don’t have to read the others in the series.  Just read that first one.  It’s amazing.


A good story sits on top of good prose.

This is more of a guideline than a rule.  It’s also one of those areas that can be improved without a huge effort on the part of the writer.

Consider the following example:

Arthur was sitting in a bar.  He was looking at a postcard from his partner.  The bar was empty except for a few regulars and the smell of stale beer.

This is three examples of passive voice.  Honestly, it’s okay to fall into passive voice every once in a while.  If you have a whole page of this crap, though, you have some work to do.  And it’s easy work.

Here’s how I would revise this:

Arthur sat alone in a bar.  He looked from his postcard to his drink, barely touched.  Behind him, empty chairs and empty tables huddled beneath a broken ceiling fan, which did nothing to diminish the scent of stale beer or wasted dreams.

It’s still not my best work, but the sentences are stronger.  The verbs are doing work.

I think this example does a pretty good job of demonstrating a previous point as well, which is that it evokes emotions.  Without coming right out and stating it, we get the impression that Arthur is sad and alone.  That’s the idea that we wanted to get across.  Along with that, you get glimpses of the setting.  The atmosphere lends itself to the emotions I’m looking to convey.

I’m sure other writers might look at that example and tear it apart for different reasons.  Good prose can be a subjective game.  If you have strong characters, a good plot, and a solid setting, you can get by with weaker prose.  Just look at the latest books in Jim Butcher’s Dresden series.


There are other things I could talk about, such as strong characterization, cohesiveness of plot, consistency, clarity, and freshness, but I think these main points are enough.  There’s also the matter of “show, don’t tell,” but I think we’ve covered that indirectly.

Most of the writer’s journey is subjective.  What’s important to one may not be important to another.  And reader’s tastes are subjective, too.  And the end of the day, at the end of the story, if the reader didn’t like what you wrote, then it doesn’t matter what advice you take.

As writers, our job is to deliver the best story we can to our readers.  The advice I’ve offered here should help, but do whatever you need to in order to achieve that one objective.


Current Events: 20 October 2017

Before I jump into today’s topic, I just have to say that this will probably be the most challenging post I’ve written all month.  There are two reasons:

  1. I’m still dealing with the kidney stone.  For such a little guy, it just does not want to proceed to the bladder and leave me in peace.  I’ve spent most of the day in bed, waking up every 3 hours when the pain starts to show itself.  I’m taking Percocet every 4 hours, so throughout the day, I’ve had to push through moments of terror.  Will the pain get intense enough that I can’t keep anything down?  Or will the drugs work in time?  It’s been touch and go all day.
  2. I’ve never set out to specifically editorialize before.  I’ve done it many, many times, but it’s always been flow of consciousness.  Tonight I’m going to read several stories, provide links to them, a summary, and then my opinions.  Laid out like that, it feels daunting.

If you wind up liking this kind of post, please let me know.  Or if you hate this kind of post, let me know that, too.


1. Kelly made inaccurate claims about lawmaker in feud over Trump’s condolence call

This article is the next in a dark chapter featuring Trump and his attempt to console the widow of a man that gave his life in the service of his country.  The main thrust of this whole article is to establish credibility for Congresswoman Wilson while at the same time showing that General Kelly is losing credibility.

We’re definitely getting off into the weeds, now.  The renaming of the federal building and Congresswoman Wilson’s comments at the event help establish her credibility, but it also takes us further away from what’s important: La David Johnson’s grieving widow.

Trump’s staff is in a bind, because they have to defend Trump.  That’s their job.  They probably know better than any of us that Trump is not good at consoling other people.  So they’re having to take desperate swings in order to tear down Congresswoman Wilson.  Sarah Sanders even went on to say that questioning a four star general’s words are inappropriate.

The best thing Trump’s staff can do is move on to the next thing.  Defending the indefensible doesn’t work out.  I’m sure it’s not doing La David Johnson’s widow any good, either.

My hope is that this particular item will fizzle out by the end of the weekend.  But it’s hard to say, especially when Trump himself keeps bringing it back up via Twitter.


2. Appeals Court Sets Terms For Abortion For Teen Immigrant

A 17 year old illegal immigrant is seeking an abortion.  The lower court ruled that she could pursue it, but the higher court has put some stipulations on it.  She has to have a sponsor by the end of the month, otherwise, the matter goes back into the courts.

There’s not much for me to say on this one, other than it’s an interesting test of conflicting views.  On the one hand, Texas lawmakers don’t want to be a part of an abortion.  On the other hand, they probably don’t want a new child born in the states to an illegal immigrant.  What value means more: anti-abortion, or anti-immigration?


3. Missing California hikers died in apparent murder-suicide

There’s not much I can say about this one, either.  The couple went missing in late July, and they weren’t found until some time in August.  When they were found, they were embracing, with their legs covered to protect them from the sun.

When you hear about murder-suicide, you don’t usually imagine the couple embracing.  It sounds like Mr. Orbeso had been trying to find a merciful ending for them both.  It’s a sad story, regardless.


4. 3 charged in shooting after Richard Spencer speech

Richard Spencer spoke in Florida, and it was so hotly anticipated that the governor declared a state of emergency before the speech even took place.  Spencer’s First Amendment rights were observed, and while people interrupted his speech during protests, the event was largely peaceful.

Three supporters of Spencer, however, took it too far.  They pulled up in their jeep, threw Nazi salutes at each other, and after some provocation, fired a shot at one of the protesters.

It still strikes me as insane that Nazis and their sympathizers are so emboldened these days.  A few days ago, they marched in Charlottesville, the same place they marched with tiki torches before one of their numbers drove into a crowd, injuring many and killing one woman.

I don’t believe that meeting the Nazis with violence is the answer.  But I can appreciate being prepared to answer Nazi violence.


5. Melania Trump Donates Inaugural Ball Gown to Smithsonian

Aside from copying Michelle Obama’s speech and being weak on cyber-bullying, the cause she says she has dedicated herself against, I don’t really have a problem with Melania Trump.  Most of the time, I think she’s a victim.  She didn’t want to go to the White House.  She’s dragged around and shown about like a figurehead.  I sympathize with Melania Trump.  She’s in a difficult position.

She’s as much First Lady as Trump is President.  Love it or hate it, it’s appropriate for her to turn her dress over as a part of American history.

I don’t think history will be kind to either Melania or Donald Trump.  But Melania I feel at least a little bit bad for.  Donald brought this on himself.  Melania has been dragged along, most likely against her will.


6. Many Trump voters who got hurricane relief in Texas aren’t sure Puerto Ricans should

This is an article talking about the views of two elderly couples that voted for Trump.  They don’t have a lot of sympathy for Puerto Rico, and they’re working off of incorrect information.

This article is designed to piss people like me off, I think.

The people of Puerto Rico are Americans.  They are Americans that are still without electricity and clean water.  They’re not lazy.  They’re not looking for handouts.  They need our help, just as the people of Houston needed our help.

Mr Maddox and Mr Hogg can take their opinions of Puerto Rico and stuff it in their gardens like the fertilizer that it is.


And that’s the top news in my feed tonight.  The articles came from several different sources.  Some were of higher quality than others.  If you liked this kind of post, let me know, and I’ll try doing this kind of editorial review more often.


The Importance of Empathy

I’m going to talk about Trump in this post.  I’m going to try to be fair, but I’m also not going to hold anything back.  If you do not like reading criticism directed at our President, you should go ahead and skip this post.  I’ll talk about something else tomorrow.

Today, I went to the emergency room because I had another kidney stone making my life miserable.  The waiting area was full of other people in discomfort, just like me.  While waiting with these other people, I tried to hide my pain.  Not because I wanted to look tough or anything like that, but because I knew that my pain was going to make other people uncomfortable.  So I sat up straight, distracted myself with my phone, and tried not to make anyone uncomfortable.

When I could, I talked with people.  I listened to them about their problems.  One kid had been injured in a car when his Mom had taken a turn too sharp.  I listened to her, and I tried to comfort her.  Another man was in there with chest pains due to a combination of heart disease and diabetes.  I could tell from listening to him that he wanted to talk to someone about these problems, and he wanted to give advice on how to deal with pain.  I listened to him, and it did make him feel better.

There are three parts to empathy.  The first part, the most important part, is caring about other people.  The second part is reading people, both in their speech and in their body language, to gather clues as to how they feel.  The third part is imagining what the other person is going through.  Putting yourself in the other person’s shoes.

That brings us to Trump.

I don’t honestly believe Trump is capable of empathy, because I don’t believe he’s good at caring about other people.  He cares about himself.  I believe he cares about his kids.  Beyond that, he continuously demonstrates a lack of compassion for other people, both in his actions and in his speech.

The most recent example is his attempt at consoling a grieving widow when her husband was killed in the line of duty.  He left her feeling worse.  It would have been better if he hadn’t called at all.

General Kelly gave an impassioned speech today, defending Trump’s words, but there was little substance to it.  He confirmed that Trump used the words “He knew what he signed up for” while at the same time, providing words that Trump should have used.

Consider the words Trump chose.  Consider who they were being aimed at.  Imagine for just a moment that the love of your life has just died.  How much will those words comfort you?

I think Trump meant them, and I think he was trying to comfort himself.  There’s some part of him that’s still human, that knows that as the Commander in Chief, he has a responsibility to the men and women that serve under him.  “He knew what he signed up for” would probably be very comforting to him.  Not so much for the widow.

Before that, he threw paper towels at people in Puerto Rico.  While they were still reeling from the hurricane, he told them, “You’re throwing our budget out of whack.” When someone in Puerto Rico demonstrated a water treatment pill, he said, “and you drink that?  I could never drink that.”

He’s disconnected.  Demonstrably, horrifically disconnected from other people, and incapable of empathy.

I think it’s worse even than what I’ve painted so far.  He uses the phrase “a lot of people didn’t know” quite a bit, when talking about things that most people know.  I think that whenever he says “a lot of people,” he actually just means himself.  He thinks he’s talking about other people, and he thinks he cares about other people.  So when he cares for himself and says things that would comfort him, he thinks he’s comforting other people.

He says that his tax plan is going to help a lot of people, but it’s really only going to help the top 1%, himself included.  He says that his executive order designed to spike ObamaCare is going to help a lot of people, but really it’s only going to help him say that he fulfilled his campaign promise to repeal and replace, when it did neither of those things and will drive up premiums and hurt 20 million people.

Empathy is important.  It helps us get along with each other.  When we can appreciate what other people are feeling, we can connect with them in ways that are beneficial to everyone.  We can make better deals.  We can mend bridges and work together towards common goals.

How much longer can this country go on with a leader incapable of such an important quality?


Kidney Stone, Right Now

Slight change in plans in what I was going to write about tonight.  A change to both the subject and the venue.  Instead of writing about Trump and Empathy from my writing Starbucks, let’s talk about kidney stones from my garage.

I’ve talked about kidney stones before, but they’ve always been after the fact.  Right now, as I’m writing this, I’ve got some intense pain in my lower back on the right side.  It might not be a kidney stone, but it feels a lot like how all of the others have started.  And over the last 17 years, I’ve become something of a subject matter expert.

Tonight, I’ve taken some precautions.  I’ve contacted Melissa to warn her that I may be having a bad night.  I came home from Starbucks as soon as I knew what was going on.  I drank a bunch of water.  I’ve taken an old Vicodin left over from a previous kidney stone.  I’m staying ahead of the pain.  I’m not nauseous yet.  If the Vicodin is still good, and it takes effect before I get nauseous, I might not have to go to the E.R.

Kidney stones are terrible.  They really, really are.  And like I said, I’ve been through this quite a bit.

How many times have I altered my diet in order to avoid kidney stones?  Too many.  I gave up soda and caffeine.  For a while, I was only drinking water for a beverage, even though water alone made me miserable.

Let’s talk about the pain a little bit, while I’m going through some of it.

It always starts off subtle.  It doesn’t feel like anything more than bad gas at first.  When I arrived at Starbucks tonight, I thought I might have sat in my chair wrong all day.  There was a mild discomfort in my lower back, like a muscle cramp.  I rubbed and stretched while I walked in and placed my order.

When I sat down, the pain ratcheted up a notch.  On the pain scale, it went from a 1 to a 3.  That’s when I started to get a suspicion that it wasn’t a muscle cramp or bad gas.

For me, the worst part about kidney stone pain is its merciless persistence.  It’s never felt like a stab wound or anything so sharp.  It feels more like pressure.  The pressure escalates into a deep, low pain, and then it just sits there.  It doesn’t decrease.  It doesn’t subside, regardless of whatever position you put yourself in.  Walking doesn’t help.  Throwing up doesn’t help.  Eventually, the body starts vomiting because it doesn’t know what else to do.  The cold feel of the bathroom linoleum on your cheek doesn’t help, nor does the cold, smooth surface of the toilet bowl.

If you didn’t get the context clues, I’ve spent a lot of time in bathrooms while trying to deal with kidney stone pain.

The first stone, I didn’t know what was happening, and I fought it for hours.  I resisted the torture.  But eventually I broke and let Melissa take me to the hospital.

The second stone, I recognized it for what it was.  I was at one of my son’s little league games.  I was assistant coach, and I was out near third base.  The pressure turned to pain fast.  So fast, they had to help me off the field.

Tonight’s is the 6th or 7th stone.  It’s hard for me to keep track, now.  It started to hit hard, like the second stone had, but I think I got to the Vicodin in time.  I’m still really uncomfortable, but the pain is at a manageable level.  I don’t think I’ll need to prostrate myself before the toilet.  Unless I’m misjudging what’s going on with my body right now, I think I’ll be okay tonight.

If I’m correct about this being a stone, this may be the second time I’ve gotten to the Vicodin in time.  Most of the rest of the stones came on at very inconvenient times.  One of them hit me while I was driving to work.  I’d just hit rush hour traffic, and the highway was backed up worse than usual, and suddenly the pain was just there.  I had a really hard time driving.  I called ahead to work, and I called Melissa.  By the time I got to work, I was drenched from both sweat and tears.  David took me to the hospital and Melissa met me there.

A few people think that the stone hurts leaving the body.  As in, they think it’s worse for men because of the penis being involved.  The truth is, the urethra is the largest tube involved in the entire urination process.  Once the stone reaches my bladder, I don’t notice it again.  There’s no pain or discomfort from that point forward.

There’s something that happens during and after every kidney stone.  I’m going through it right now.  I keep asking myself, “What could I have done to prevent this?  What did I do wrong?”

In a couple of cases, I might have brought the pain on myself because of my diet.  Being a little dehydrated is bad for people susceptible to kidney stones, and when Cataclysm came out, I spent about three days straight playing World of Warcraft.  I didn’t drink enough during that time.  I’d been having fun at the time, but the kidney stone made it not worth it.

After the second stone, I thought it was because I’d been eating a bunch of shelled peanuts a day or two before.  With the third stone, I’d had a handful of pistachios.  With the first stone, I’d been pounding vitamin C in order to try and muscle my way through flu season.

The truth is, with the exception of the dehydration, there’s probably nothing I could have done differently to avoid these stones.  After the last MRI, my doctor pointed out several stones floating in my kidneys, waiting for their time to shine.  Some people just produce stones.  I’m probably one of those people.

Writing about it right now is helping.  Even after Vicodin, anything a person can do that is a constructive distraction is a good thing.

But unfortunately, I’m running out of things to say on this subject.  I feel bad enough, because I know I’ve talked about kidney stones on this blog before.  Much of what I had to say tonight is a repeat from previous entries, and I hate to repeat myself.

I’m sure I’ll use this experience in a story, eventually.  Maybe I won’t make it specifically a kidney stone, though.  Some kind of abdominal pain that the character has to struggle through, in order to accomplish some kind of task.  Pain like this brings things into clarity for me.  Reminds me of what is important.  I’m sure it would help show the reader the true stuff that makes up one of my characters.  It might be useful.


Writer’s Life and the Role of Music

Most of the writers I know talk about listening to music while they write.  In On Writing, Steven King talked about listening to hard rock while doing a lot of his work.  George Lucas listened to symphonies while writing Star Wars.  My new friend Mark Gelineua listens to music while writing, and at Con-Volution 2017, he spoke about the idea of writers posting their writing playlists.

Maybe I’m strange, but I cannot listen to music and write at the same time.  It just doesn’t work for me.

I think it’s because when I’m reading, I hear the words in my head.  As a teenager, I remember trying to listen to a radio presentation of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and I couldn’t get into it.  Marvin’s voice was wrong.  After reading the book, I’d made up my mind how the character was supposed to sound, and the actor’s voice didn’t match up.

I’ve tried writing to different genres of music.  Music without lyrics, like classical and electronica.  Nothing works for me.  If I turn it down low enough, I can find the words.  But at that point I’m not really listening to music.  I’ve just turned on some noise to fill the background.

I can listen to music while programming without a problem.  In fact, one of the ways I’m able to focus at work is to put on something catchy.  Rock, pop, metal… even some rap works.  I put on my headphones, turn up the music, and I write code.  I dance in my chair.  If I’m alone or so deep in my work that I don’t notice that there are others around me, I’ll sing.

While writing, the best sound I can hear is the clackety-clack of my keyboard.  I have a gaming keyboard with mechanical keys, and I find writing with it to be very soothing, especially when I’m on a roll.  But that’s not really music.  The rhythm isn’t steady enough to be a cadence.

I’ve been playing music a little bit longer than I’ve been writing stories.  In spite of that, I consume the respective medias differently.

For example, when I read other people’s stories, I’m unable to fully disengage my writer’s brain.  I see the beats of the story.  I build a scaffolding of the plot and character arcs and make educated predictions as to where everything is going.  I’m rarely surprised by a story anymore, which frustrates me.  I read for escapism, but there is rarely any escape.  I read, hearing the words in my head, noticing the adverbs when overdone.  I trip over the places where the prose falls flat, and I cringe where the writer engages in silly gimmicks or deep, self-indulgences.

When I listen to music, I do not listen so deeply.  I’m able to float off on the waves of harmony and melody.  Sometimes the lyrics inspire stories.  Sometimes I get hooked on a tune so completely that I replay it over and over, feeling a weird sort of guilt every time I hit the back button.  It doesn’t matter the music genre, either.  I have very eclectic tastes.

I don’t listen and analyze music the way I read and critique writing.  I can appreciate good music analysis, though.  Take for example, Andrew Huang’s break down of Find Me by Sigma (featuring Birdy):

He hears the chords and transitions.  He appreciates the music theory and how the song was constructed.  Maybe it’s because I play the sax, incapable of playing chords, but I don’t hear the music the way Andrew Huang hears music.

If I did, would I become dissatisfied, the way I am when reading fiction?

I’m slowly learning to play the guitar.  Maybe I’ll find out the hard way.