Feeling it

This is well trod ground as topics go. However, I’m not afraid to boldly tread where better men have trod before!

It might be the dullest post you’ve ever kept your eyes open for, but some of you may feel me on this one.

As for the rest of you [INSERT RASPBERRY HERE]

… and I ain’t talkin’ about no damned fruit, neither!

– – –

I type.

I used to write. I was in college. I kept a journal with a great pen. It was a hand-made fountain pen, a block of golden oak turned into a wonderfully balanced muse with ink. I found it in a little woodworking shop in the mountains of northern Georgia. I was on the first “big trip” with a girlfriend, hiking the many mountain woods, looking for the waterfalls common in the area. (This girlfriend later became my wife..) It was more than just a wonderful pen, but a collection of fond memories I could hold in my hand. I poured my hopes, fears, anxieties, and joys through the exquisite, rounded tip of that glorious pen.

It’s still my favorite. I say this without hesitation, reservation, or second gestation.

There’s just no way around it. You can’t force “guess” to rhyme with “reservation.” Although, I may have stumbled on to something with “gestation.” I just hope I don’t fall down.

And yet, I gave it up for word processing years ago.

Some people feel paper is more permanent, something they can touch, that is of this world. It’s like a really small, uncomfortable security blanket. Unless you’ve got a lot of pages and some really good adhesive – then it could be a great big, uncomfortable security blanket. Computers and their file systems are a mystery to many, their contents disappearing into the ether. The act of “saving” or “opening” becomes a leap of blind faith. But paper – people feel comfort knowing they can put it someplace where they will always find it: right where they left it.

My dad ushered me into the electronic age early in life, relative to my peers. My father taught me all the important lessons: save often and back up everything. Still, I had my share of lapses and mishaps. I had to re-type a paper on Woodrow Wilson in middle school.

Woody (I get away with it only because we were tight at Princeton) was a pretty good President, but I’m still bitter. It was a maddening chore writing about him twice, and I’m convinced the first version would have been good for an easy A.

Today, batteries back up my computers’ power. A local network drive, in addition to an offsite server, back up the data. The backups are instant and unnoticed.

I know where I can find my writing too – right where I left it – in three different places. (Beat that, you slaves to paper and touch!) Up to this point, I think at least a few folks who write for a living might agree. In fact, I humbly submit my typed words are more secure than someone’s inked wood pulp.

I know what you’re thinking:
He’s not being humble at all! I smell sarcasm!

To prove my humility I’ll admit computers have an Achilles’ heel: the keyboard. For all the advantages of word processing, most keyboards can’t match the feel of a good pen gliding across the page. Keyboards lack soul. Sometimes they’re noisy distractions. Writing with pen and paper can be an art itself, as well as an inspiration. I can lose myself in the rhythm of writing and it’s tactile feedback. Give me a good pen with paper to match, and I could write things I’d never wrestle from most keyboards.

However, like pens, not all keyboards are created the same. Some are so terrible, I can’t do any writing. Many others are so-so. My fingers can feel more like they’re engaged in a chore than a rewarding hobby.

I am not easy to please when it comes to my lettered keys. I am a keyboard snob. I loved the first computer I bought with my own money – a Mac Plus with a mind boggling 40MB external hard-drive. However, keyboards in the 80’s were an abomination. A common trait was an unnecessarily large enclosure. They built them like the U.S. auto industry wanted to build cars.

If only those damn commie bastards hadn’t ruined the battleship era of the automobile with un-American, gas mileage standards, we might never have been subjected to compensating in other product lines.

With an abundance of empty space, keyboards sounded like a funky percussion instrument. The result was a noisy, echoing disaster.

I was in college at the time. It was the age of the fountain pen.

My second and third keyboards each got better than the one before it. The second was still so-so, an Apple model some have gushed over, but I was on the fence. The third came with my first iMac. I created my first web site on that first iMac Apple made. It even served up my site to the world from home for a while. (Until MySQL drove me to drink.) It was the launch pad for my blog, in every meaningful way.

A lot of folks hated that miniaturized keyboard, but it was the first that got my fingers galloping on keys.

An iBook (one of the early “iceBooks”) was my first laptop, ushering in the golden age of writing. I’ve done most of my writing on a portable since.

My PowerBook, MacBook, Aluminum iMac (with its thin, laptop like keys), and Apple Bluetooth keyboard made me almost forget about pen and paper. Now my fingers fly, almost unconsciously. Thoughts become characters on a screen (or page) almost as fast as I can dream them up. Now pen and paper feel like an obstacle. Words come, go, and are lost before my pen touches paper.

Still, I feel like I’m missing something. Typing is a skill, one that can be quite impressive, but I wonder if it will ever quite match the feel of writing.

Somehow I felt more connected to the words when I wrote them down, despite my terrible handwriting.

And yet, my lonely pen sits, it’s cap undisturbed.


I can’t imagine writing a book. I read authors’ blogs, both published and not. I see the frustrations and the rewards. I look at myself and I think, “Whoa, that is so not me.” There are days when I don’t have the patience to finish a single blog post. I’ve been tinkering with a post for a few weeks now and I’m not sure I’ll ever finish. It’s only a few scattered lines looking back at me from an unassuming text editor, but it fills me with dread. It wouldn’t bother me if I didn’t want to finish this one.

There’s more to it than patience. The topic inspired me and still does, but it feels stalled. No, it’s worse. It feels like it’s missing an essential element – perhaps a little soul, something to bring it to life. There’s something in my head, in my heart, waiting there to be expressed, but I’ll be damned if I can figure out how. It’s nothing new, having a post stall out on me, but I was sure this one had the necessary spark. There’s passion in me but it’s locked up tight. It’s fitting it’s a post about intellectual struggle, about choosing the right path.

Boiled down to its essence, it’s a post about Adam, his autistic friend, and a falling out. It’s about seeing a family and the neighborhood failing this child, the responsibility I feel to keep open a safe haven, and the sometimes conflicting need to act in my own child’s best interest.

One side won out for a while and I felt terribly selfish. I felt like I’d become part of the problem for this boy who faces what I believe are terrible odds.

As a parent of a child with special needs myself, I felt double the guilt. He was back over today though and they picked up right where they left off. Kids can be resilient that way. Friendship makes it that much easier.

The episode and the weeks that followed still have me tweaked, and not in a good way. We pat ourselves on the back when we respond with charity and grace to regional and national crises. “The American spirit is alive and well,” we delude ourselves. But the myriad of small crises happening every day go ignored, or worse. We blame the victim, our minds desperately trying to shift any and all responsibility from ourselves.

Maybe that’s what I was trying to say all along. Maybe I just needed to blow up the old post and start over.


My baby sister

For the sake of this post, we’ll call her Lisa. We call her Lisa the rest of the time too, but I love the cloak and dagger stuff. Though, I suppose if I follow the metaphor through, I’ve removed the cloak and sunk the dagger.

Jeez, I must be a terrible brother!

Well, since she’s already uncloaked, let me tell you a little more about my baby sister. She follows the pattern set by her older brother and sister. I’m three years older than the middle child: her older sister – within a month, and she’s three years younger than the middle child – within a month.

She had the good sense to follow us both to UF to further her education.

She’s an RN with a cool husband and two adorable boys.

Strangest of all, she’s all growed up! Heck if I know when that happened. Probably sometime between when Beth was born and when she went teetering off on the brink of teendom.

Not too long ago my sister sprung some news on me. It was about he time she got the copy of a friend’s first published book I bought her in the mail.

“Hey, guess what? I’m just finishing up my first novel!”

What!?! Who!?! Where!?! Why!?! Was there an alien abduction involved?

In case you haven’t figured it out my now, I’m a really supportive brother.

“It’s a fantasy I started back in August…”

Back in August? What was I doing back in August? Probably better not to think about it.

“… and I’m thinking I might even see if it’s something someone would publish.”

My sister, a writer? I never saw it coming. It’s not that I don’t think she’s capable, I just didn’t know she had an interest. I’m proud as hell she’s built a life where both she and her husband can work, one of them can be at home for the kids 7 days a week (they’re not what you’d call sedate), and she’s still got the time to write a novel. I know, it probably describes a lot of people… but not me though. I wouldn’t have that kind of focus.

That was a month or two ago. Since then she’s been editing away, getting a few opinions. A writer friend of mine offered to read a bit for some feedback. She had my sister read the whole thing, who gave her more. (She may have had others read it too, I’m not sure.) She did some research on her own, and…

Yesterday I got an email announcing she took the big plunge.

The big leap.

The big query… soon enough to be followed by the ever-so-likely universal rejection.

In case your wondering, I haven’t read it yet. I’m afraid to. Why? You’re gonna think I’m an even bigger jackass than you do already. I don’t like most fantasy and I don’t want to jinx it. It kind of drives me a little crazy, actually – like that’s an accomplishment. There are a few fantasy novels I’ve really enjoyed, and there are a whole bunch I started and couldn’t finish – not necessarily because they were poorly written, but because me and the stories didn’t gel (if that makes any sense). So, Lisa’s book could fall into my narrow band of acceptable fantasy, and could be something I could fairly judge. But my fantasy detector gives off a lot of false positives. I could start reading it and be crushed. There’s a funny thing about me you may not know: I don’t like feeling crushed. In this case it makes me a quivering coward. Eventually I’m going to gather up the courage to ask her to read it, if she’ll still let me – her big bother.

In the mean time, no matter what my failings are, I’m really proud of my little sister. You see Steve’s book over there to the right? You know, the one you bought because you always do what I tell you to and you loved it?

Someday I hope you’re looking over there and buying one of my baby sister’s books.


Losing my words

Have you ever lost a word? Most of us have. Do you know what Dysnomia is? I did, but I had to look it up to make sure. Don’t be too impressed though. It was kind of my area of study in school, and we’re talking recognition memory all the way here. I couldn’t recall it to save my temporal lobes.

Well, A few weeks ago I started misplacing words everywhere I went, and it was pretty damn hard to write. This is the story of how it came to pass. Eventually I’ll even tell you what the hell Disnomia is if you didn’t already know, hadn’t figured it out, or have the patience to hang around that long.

Before I get to far, this isn’t intentionally a pity poor ‘ole me post. I consider myself and my experiences pretty darn average, with only a couple exceptions. So why write it at all, you may ask? Why blog? Think of it as another small piece of me.

Now venting is another matter. No pity is required for catharsis.

I’ve had headaches all of my life – or as long as I can remember. When I was a kid I didn’t tell anyone, assuming people dealt with headaches all the time. Headaches seemed mainstream. I heard my parents talk about them. I saw all the commercials on TV for “Extra Strength Tylenol,” and Exedrin – dramatic interpretations of the pain included. So I dealt with my headaches the way I dealt with most other things in my life: quietly and internally. When they got bad my temper got worse and the quiet kid became the Grade-A Ass.

I was like a lot of people that way. I got a headache once or twice a week, I got grumpy, and I got over it. No one fretted over what was wrong. I didn’t go on a US tour of medical specialties. I saved that for later in life. I was just another kid/teen/man with the occasional bad temper, and didn’t like to talk about it.

In 2007 I think something changed. I know something happened, but I think it changed something: body chemistry, general emotional state… something. My doctors humored me when I offered my hypothesis, with the trademark medical shrug: “There are a lot of things we don’t understand….” Loosely translated: “Nice try, but leave the wild-ass guessing to the professionals.

If you know me, or if you’ve been around for a while, you know 2007 was the year of my leukemia diagnosis and chemotherapy. It was also when my headaches started coming more frequently, enough that I started talking to my doctor about them, and taking something stronger for them.

A year ago (maybe 18 months) they started interfering with work. Not a lot, but it was enough to keep me short on leave hours. A couple months ago it seemed like they stopped going away. Coincidentally (or not) a couple of months ago I found out the leukemia may be back.

Wait a minute?!? I know what you’re thinking. Stress and depression as a trigger for headaches? Quick! Someone call The New England Journal of Medicine!

A few weeks ago my team of doctors decided they were done shooting blanks at my head, so I was off to see a neurologist. He asked a lot of questions and I gave a lot of answers. He concluded I was having a lot of headaches and prescribed a few new drugs.

Thank the good Lord I went to see a Neurologist when I did! I mean, who knows how long I might have gone without another prescription?

Anyway, this leads me to the reason I’m writing now, and why I wasn’t writing before. One of the fabulous new drugs can cause a variety of side-effects, including the ominous sounding “cognitive deficiencies,” which happens to include Dysnomia.

Dysnomia is just like having a word on the tip of your tongue, just out of your brain’s reach – only more often than normal. Imagine how hard it would be to write if this happened every paragraph or so.

It was really pretty strange – freaky strange. Normally I don’t want my doctors to tell me the potential harmful side effects of a drug. I’m just fine with the standard: report anything odd. For someone with an advanced form of hypochondria, psychosomatic is more than just a word – it’s a lifestyle. But in this one case I was glad they did. It started shortly after I started. I had trouble completing sentences at the dinner table. I couldn’t write. I hid behind a pair of headphones at work and tried not to speak much.

… and if I hadn’t known it it might happen – and likely resolve itself pretty quickly – I might have had a nervous breakdown. Strike that. I KNOW I would’ve had a doozy.

Instead, I had a pretty good time with it (other than at work). I’m not someone who NEEDS to write every day, or even necessarily every week if I don’t feel the spirit move me – and I didn’t – so I was ok on that front. As for my mind failing me at odd moments… I suppose I could have… perhaps even should have been really frustrated. Instead I thought it was kind of funny. Maybe this was a sign of another, more serious problem, right? I mean, what’s so funny about brain malfunction?

I’ll tell you.

It’s the same reason I found parts of my chemotherapy/hospital stay back in 2007 sort of entertaining. Back then it was the aching bones, the sore and swollen joints. I felt like an old person, or imagined I did… getting the jump on how I might feel in years to come (barring certain advances in medical technology) – and finding it funny – a new experience to be savored not suffered. Though not exactly the same, there was the day sometime later when my wife said she wouldn’t trade natural childbirth for my experience.

It’s not about the pity. It’s not about some twisted competition… who’s suffered more. It’s that I’ve surprised myself. I perceive myself as dark, brooding, and self pitying. But back in 2007 when something really was bad, and not just my imagination or a trumped up charge, something inside flipped a switch. I could cope. I was stronger than I thought I could be – at least part of the time anyway.

Depression, headaches and the prospect of leukemia’s return have me down. I won’t lie to you. But don’t feel bad for me. I may lose a few things along the way, but I seem to have a knack for picking up a few things too.