Reducing Your Risk

A few years ago, my Mom was diagnosed with cancer.  The diagnosis came during the same week my Dad lay dying in a hospital room.  He had been diagnosed with cancer, too.

Maybe some of you are familiar with the Maginot Line.  After World War I, the French built a line of fortresses, obstacles, and weapon emplacements near the borders with Germany, Luxembourg, and Switzerland.  The idea was the army could mobilize quickly in the event of an invasion.  It was built on the concept of static warfare.  In 1940, Adolf Hitler sent his forces around the Maginot Line and conquered France in six weeks.

We spent so many years fighting a specter disease (which could, of course, still occur), but our guns were pointed in the wrong direction.

My family and I spent decades fighting the specter of heart disease.  I never met two of my uncles or my maternal grandfather.  My Mom’s older brothers both died at the age of 25 of heart disease.  My maternal grandfather died in his mid-50s of a heart attack.  I’ve only known about them in stories and black and white photos.  So, to combat this threat, we did everything right to “reduce our risk.”  We’re vegetarians, we exercise, consume lots of antioxidants, and rarely (if ever) drink alcohol.  We don’t smoke, either.   There is a very important word in the phrase, “reducing your risk.”  It’s “reducing.”  You can do all “the right things” and you can still hear the words no one wants to hear, ever.

I’ve rewritten this post so many times, and it once had a timeline of events, but it became too overwhelming and painful to write it out.  It can be a lonely place for a writer to live, unable to express feelings or thoughts in the medium that’s always come naturally. (My Mom will be writing her own account at her own site.)  But, to sketch around the events, over the past few years, I lost my father, my mom was diagnosed with cancer, and my daughter was born.  My Mom underwent two knee replacement surgeries, dealt with several cancer recurrences, and eventually underwent even more radical surgery.  Even writing that was hard.

We have some idea what caused both my parents’ cancers, but if physicians knew why “abnormal” cells decide to multiply and invade other cells, or why there are 100 different kinds of it, then this post would have a different theme.

For most of my adult life, I had looked forward to seeing my Dad enjoy the dual role of grandfather and pediatrician, which he had always looked forward to.  He never got the chance to meet his only grandchild as I wrote in a previous post.   I faced the prospect of losing my mother, too, before my child was born.  But she did meet her and she moved here.  We’ve been fortunate to have my Mom close by to help us with babysitting, and it’s been nice for me to have a stable and comforting presence nearby.

Despite the time I’ve spent grieving, I still live a life built on reducing risk. A major reason is so my daughter, wife, and extended family have me around.  But I don’t believe in giving up.  The risk became reality for my family, but that doesn’t mean the actions meant to reduce the risk were failures or unworthy of undertaking.  My hope is that by the time my daughter is my age, she will live with the words, “eliminating your risk.”

(I haven’t spoken publicly about this before; only a few friends and family members know all of this.    But I’ve shared it now.  Thanks for reading and feel free to comment below if you have your own stories to share.)


NaNoWriMo 2015: Conclusions




Well so much for my plans to blog every day during NaNoWriMo … or even to write an “end of NaNoWriMo 2015” post.  I wrote each day during November, and I “won” NaNoWriMo by reaching 50,000 words total on November 30.  Now that the white-hot streak of writing every day is long over, I find that many of the details have slipped into the ether, so the following is just the highlights.  If you’d like to know more about the background of the project, I wrote a blog post at my friend, Natalia Sylvester’s site … uh, nearly five years ago (this novel has been on my mind since 2000).

What Worked Well

I wrote fiction every day for the first time in … a long time.  The last time I was this productive was 1998. Yup.  I surprised myself with what I was writing, in a good way.  I wrote every day while looking after my young child, being a good partner for my wife, being a helpful son, and running a business (not always in that order).  I even wrote a version of the ending to the novel. I wrote in the early morning, I wrote in the afternoon, I wrote in the evening.  It didn’t matter.  It was awesome.

What Was Mildly Difficult

I often found myself stuck and unable to think of how to fill the 1,667 word quota.  This, to me, is the central strength and problem of National Novel Writing Month.  The carrot at the end of the stick is the 50,000 word goal, and so you push yourself to write those words every day.  It was a good carrot for me.  But I also know that huge swaths of this book will be deleted because I couldn’t untangle a certain plotline, or I needed more research or thinking time to effectively work through a problem, or to write scenes the way they existed in my head. So writing just to write didn’t solve those problems or help me out of a block, and I think the pace of producing 50,000 words in a 30 day period would drive me crazy if I did it more than one month in a row.

What the … How Did I Do … That?

My important responsibilities didn’t stop during the month of November.  I slowed down the pace of my social media posting, but I took on intensive copywriting and editing projects. I was hired for a one-day turnaround editing project that ran on an hourly rate. I clocked in and out all day (I don’t actually have a punchcard clock. But it would be cool if I did!) I finished that day’s writing around 11 p.m. that particular night.  The month started with a leg cramp/strain so bad that I had to write with my leg propped up with a heating pad around it.  The month ended with a bad cold that lingered for two weeks.  I also spent an entire day at the hospital while my Mom underwent a planned procedure.  I already gave myself a pass for that day, writing 23 or so words.

What’s Next?

I proved that I can work a “day job” and not sacrifice family time while creating a work of fiction.  I proved that a daily word count is a good incentive for me.  I spent much of the month wondering at the “plenty point” for a daily word output.  300 words would be easy to achieve … and frustrating.  I’d feel like I hadn’t accomplished anything.  1,600 words was definitely too many words to have over my head each day.  Each day, when I hit the 1,200 word threshold, I felt good.  That seems like a good incentive. I also feel that if I produced several days of 1,200 quality words (which can be hard to judge sometimes), I can take a break!  So, let’s say at least five days a week.

Which leads me to my conclusion … I’ve been working on this project for a long time.  I’ve tried every possible method to work on it, and I abandoned it more than once.   NaNoWriMo was the only time I worked on it every day, sometimes because I had other responsibilities.

My pledge for 2016 is to write 1,200 words five days a week.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Days 4 through 30:  Success!

Words:  50,200



NaNoWriMo 2015: Days Two and Three

Yesterday was good; today was tougher.  Yesterday, I wrote early in the morning, had lunch with my Mom, and then went straight to work on a project for a longstanding client.  My leg pain revealed itself as just a cramp (though a persistent one);  I haven’t been able to power walk yet, but I’ll be all right.

Today, our “middle-aged” forced-air gas furnace decided not to turn on (it has struggled with a loopy pressure switch for awhile), and so I had to call our HVAC guy while I had only written half my words.  Then I took on a time-sensitive new client project (one-day turnaround!)  And of course, as always, I parented (goes with the territory. :-))

I knew that attempting NaNoWriMo this year while still running my business, working from home, and running half the household would be a challenge.  I just didn’t want to let my responsibilities be excuses to not work on a project that means a lot to me.  I’ll write a bit more about the “why” in a near-future post.

So far, the sharing on social media has been fun.  Aside from family, I’ve gotten some nice encouragement from my friends, and that means a lot to me.  I’ve also made some new acquaintances.

So far, so good.

Day Two:  Success!

1,752 words

Day Three: Success!

1,680 words

NaNoWriMo 2015: Day One

NaNoWriMo 2015 ParticipantI’ve attempted National Novel Writing Month (NanoWriMo) a couple of times in the past (once unofficially), but I’m going all out this year.  I normally dislike talking about word counts and “the writing process.”  It’s just not me.  But I figure if I’m going to blog about NaNo, I might as well go all the way!

The last few days have been a challenge.

I pulled my right calf muscle got a bad leg cramp a few days ago (probably while carrying my three-year-old), and then Sara and I took our kid trick-or-treating while rain made lakes out of streets. The neighbors a few doors down decided to throw a loud outdoor Halloween party that lasted until 1 a.m. (maybe later).  I tossed and turned with leg pain and finally dragged myself out of bed at 3:30 a.m.  I took some pain relievers and managed to fall asleep again … and overslept.  We had an appointment to keep at 12:30, so that gave me about two good hours to log my first 1,667 words.

Sara’s been super-supportive and even my kid sensed that “dada” needed to do something important.

Thankfully, I knew the scene I wanted to write, so I just sat down with my coffee and did it, eating breakfast at the halfway mark.

Before I knew it, I logged 1,683 words my first day of NaNoWriMo.  Here’s hoping tomorrow is less dramatic!

Day One:  Success!

Words: 1,683


DraftsWe’re all drafts.  Our lives are spent making notes on the backs of hands, in files, or on scraps of paper, musing on half-finished ideas, starting and abandoning projects, and constantly revising what we do finish.  I like to be busy, I like to listen, and I love telling stories.

These desires, for a long time, have been mutually exclusive.  I am slowly learning to make them work together. My main tools during this time are mindfulness, self-compassion, and compassion for others.

I recommend metta meditation that you can access on the Insight Timer app if you’re so inclined.  It may not make us more “finished,” but it can help make a more serene world as we create the drafts that will become our legacies.

Image credit: Pixabay.

Cramped Futures

Parked cars

I like inventing futures.  It’s fun to think of what humans will be like a thousand years from now.  There are the “macro” factors, like economics, sexuality, art, politics, and starships (of course).  But part of the fun is also thinking of the minutiae.


  • Will we still drink coffee in the year 3000?
  • Will schools and learning be drastically different?
  • Would people commute to jobs? (Will people have jobs?)
  • How would one a utility upgrade infrastructure, especially if the technology was put in place in the year 2538? (And will we still use the current methods to mark time?)
  • Would the environment of a world fundamentally alter the biology of people who lived there?
  • Will we still live in neighborhoods?

Even if none of these considerations end up in a finished work, I think it’s still fun to think about, because it helps me live in a constructed world.  I wonder how we might (and might not) get out of various challenges we encounter.

A current challenge I live with is population density.  I live in Oregon, where the law ensures an urban growth boundary around each city’s perimeter.  It is meant to limit sprawl and preserve green spaces, and as a second-generation environmentalist, I applaud it.  It achieves long-term preservation through public policy and makes a much more meaningful impact than “do one thing” actions like recycling a tub of yogurt.

There’s a problem with this kind of policy:  it runs into human nature.

What happens when you put a boundary around a city?  Well, you create neighborhoods with homes spaced six feet apart from each other and streets designed for two-way traffic (barely) with illegally-parked cars at each curb.

You have the neighborhood where I’ve lived for seven years.

Few homes on my street use their garages for their cars.  Most use them for storage.  And most have two (sometimes three or four cars) per home.  Guess where all the cars are parked?!  It may seem like a trivial problem, but this kind of congestion is a safety hazard, because it makes it difficult for first responders to save lives, it is dangerous because you have to pull halfway into a cross-street to see if a car is coming your way, and it doesn’t solve the whole “carbon emissions” problem at all.  While writing this post, I came upon a blog (Focus on San Antonio by discussing this same problem in San Antonio, Texas.

Apparently professors at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA)’s Center on Everyday Lives of Families (CELF) published a book in 2012 about the subject:  Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century.   The blog quotes the book’s co-author Jeanne Arnold (also a professor of anthropology at UCLA): “the typical household had a car parked in the driveway, a car parked in the street and a garage packed with heirlooms, clothes, shoes, bikes, toys, even laundry.”

So, to my mind, the county and city planners are ignoring human nature, and sometimes common sense.  One case in point is a planned development in Beaverton, Oregon.  Driven by population forecasts, looking into the crystal ball 50 years(!) into the future, planners designated thousands of acres for development, and then annexed the land.  According to the Oregonian, the development is meant to accommodate 7,000 housing units; 56% of those units would be high-density town homes or condos.  These would exist in the city area; larger lots would be located in the unincorporated county areas.

Residents have raised concerns that the roads are already at over-capacity, but another Oregonian article includes this telling quote:  “Finding the money for road improvements is one of the biggest hurdles for transportation planning, according to city officials.”  (Full disclosure:  I freelance for the Oregonian Media Group, but I didn’t work on this series of stories.)  And it isn’t helped when voters fail to approve funding road improvements (which is what occurred on Election Day this November).

This is a classic example of multiple needs:  housing, transportation, schools, and infrastructure improvement.  The process is slow and includes strange designations like Area 6-B.  You’ll note that the reportage doesn’t really discuss that people tend to ignore the narrowness of the streets and inadequacy of their home’s storage.  I’m all in favor of preserving green spaces and keeping the rural reserves intact.  I think that they need to understand that those housing units do not have enough space (or parking spaces) for the families they want to attract.  A simple survey, or even city councilors and county commissioners walking through these densely packed neighborhoods would be a wake-up call for how projections and reality do not meet.

As I construct my own worlds with their own challenges, it’s not difficult for me to project that even in civilization with thousands of worlds would still have infrastructure problems. I imagine that certain worlds would be densely packed and others would be more sparsely populated.  I think good intentions gone awry would also play a major role, which is clearly the case in Oregon.  Economics would play an important role (a galactic civilization would have its 1%ers).

As I’ve worked on this blog post, there were several reports of airline customers getting angry with each other because of the unpleasantly-cramped quarters in airplanes.  This is directly driven by profits.  I remember a time when two people could walk side-by-side down an aisle with the beverage cart in the middle, and I’m not that aged.  Airlines have squeezed more seats onto planes and then squeezed seats, inch-by-inch.  This happens because we let it happen to ourselves.  I speak from experience.  I usually think, “oh, it’s just a three-hour flight.  Then I’ll be out of here.”  A strong consumer response would lead to market changes and legislation.  But, with governmental regulation, you’d be back to the “road of good intentions” that we experience with neighborhood planning (and, thus, my attempt to tie this post together).

All politics are local. Even galactic ones.

Photo credit:  © Dga1958 | Dreamstime.comCars Parked On The Street Photo

Facebook Purgatory

Concept of dislike © Ohmaymay  via Dreamstime

It seems like a social media rite of passage to write about quitting Facebook.  Many hate its privacy (or anti-privacy) policies. Then there’s the company’s brazen admittance that it messed with its users emotions.  I get it.  I’m not a fan (friend?), either.  I’ve deactivated my account before, and I haven’t had the mobile app in years.  But I still have a profile, and I still like and occasionally make comments, but my updates are minimal.  It’s Facebook Purgatory.

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Father’s Day

The last time I spent time with my Dad, before the end, was around June 5, 2011.  He had just recovered from surgery, and I wanted to see him and spend a couple of days with him. We went to Chicago Street Deli in Shawnee, Oklahoma, I took a huge coffee to go.  He drove us to the part of Shawnee that had the country club and newer developments. We used to do that every Saturday. We wouldn’t talk much, just enjoy each other’s company as he pointed out if someone we knew still lived in a house. We always made fun of one house that had a garish orange color. Then we drove back to the house where I grew up. I didn’t know at the time it would be the last time I spent time with Dad when he was well, but it will always be one of my most favorite memories of him.

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Whenever I want to type, “last year was challenging,” I always feel the need to write about the year before that for context, because that year was challenging, too.  But then that year requires the previous year for context, and so on.  I have to go back to when my life went from manageable and relatively calm to one filled with precipitous highs and lows across every facet of my life. 

I believe there is a line in our lives when we become not only self-sufficient and self-supporting, but when our loved ones (whether they’re children, spouses, parents, or grandparents) begin to depend on us, while we juggle the responsibilities of our own lives.  For me, that’s when I turned 31.

Now’s the part where a blog narrative usually gives details, and this is where I usually stumble.  As you can see from the few posts I’ve made this year, I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with revealing personal details about my life. I come from a long line of “non-whiners” … we just shrug off whatever setback has come into our lives and move forward, inexorably.  More importantly, much of the tumult occurred to loved ones, and I want to respect their privacy.  But I’m also a writer, and the entire point of writing is to reveal.  I admire writers like the late Jay Lake or my friend and interviewee Steven Harper Piziks.  They’ve fearlessly discussed the highs and the lows of their lives.  They also wrote about mundane topics and reviewed films or books.

It’s become clear to me that while I work on projects for other people, and my own projects, I need a platform to just … write.

So here we are.  I’m not sure where this latest writing journey will take me, but I’m planning to find out.  I will write at least a couple of times per month, with one planned recurring topic.  Stay tuned for more on that.

Your comments are always welcome.  So, if you’re willing, please tell me when you first considering yourself an adult?


The First Draft

In the early 1990s, George R.R. Martin (GRRM) called it quits with Hollywood and hunkered down at his home in New Mexico.  He was tired of being told to cut his scripts down, and he wanted to write a sprawling epic that was not constrained by budgets or other meddlesome hands.  He began to write his A Song of Ice and Fire Series (which the mainstream public primarily knows as Game of Thrones).

GRRM, of course, has weathered criticism for the length of time that occurs between his novels. I’ve been a fan of ASOIAF since 2000, and I’m definitely someone who gets impatient with the delays.  But as I was thinking about his books, and their relatively recent mainstream fame, I’ll bet there are times when GRRM wishes for the peace and serenity of working on that first draft.  When he started writing the series, he was a well-known figure in Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror fandom, and he obviously had contacts in Hollywood, but the Ice and Fire novels hadn’t hit the bestseller lists, and he hadn’t achieved his current level of mainstream fame.

And that got me to thinking about my own fiction and my friends’ projects.

All writers are basically GRMM when we face a blank page on our computer, tablet, or notebook.

I’m a writer who has a very strong urge to self-edit.  It’s actually a personality trait (which is a topic for another blog post), but it can be oppressive when I’m working on a new story or project.  I’m learning to let go and just enjoy the initial process of drafting, of creating itself.  It’s okay to go onto strange tangents in the first draft stage, and it’s okay to write scenes and dialogue that are not polished.  It’s a draft.  The first draft.  It needs to live and breathe and take its first few imperfect and awkward steps.

Because I know that one day, external success or not, I’ll think back happily to the moments of writing a first draft, when the future was unknown and it was just me, the story, and the characters.