Waiting, Changing, and Fighting

People often ask me “How do you keep going?” It’s a silly question.

Quincy Behind Bars

My daughter is in the CICU at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta – Egleston, and if you want to know more about it you can follow on her fundrazr page where I’ve put far more details that I don’t want to type again. She also has a Facebook page with more pictures and updates and stuff.

If you know me personally, or you’ve read some of my past stuff, you’re aware that fourteen years ago I spent seven days in the NICU with my first child. He didn’t survive. It was very difficult.

An ICU stay with my infant child is pretty much my personal worst level of hell; it’s the nightmare I can’t wake up from. I can safely say I would rather entertain rabid howler monkeys with a sock-puppet made from my own scrotum than spend so much as one more minute in a C/N/PICU with my child. And yet, this is the ticket that I’ve punched, this is the journey that I get to make again.

I know exactly how this could end. I’ve bought the tiny white coffin and the baby-sized grave plot already in this life, I have no illusions or magical thinking when it comes to the very real possibility that I could go all the way down that path again.

Kristopher Gravestone

And people, good people, ask me constantly “how do you keep going?”

It makes me think that people don’t actually understand the nature of life or the nature of people very well. I’ve thought a lot about this recently, so let me explain it how I understand it, and if anyone disagrees with me (and I’m sure they will) they can explain exactly how I’m wrong.

(Warning: some of this might sound a bit angry and frustrated due to all of the anger and frustration I’ve been feeling. If you’re looking for a warm philosophical hug, this is not for you.)

A week ago, I sat with a good friend and explained the first half of my theory of the universe and why it’s OK to be in a hospital with a tiny innocent baby who’s waiting for someone to cut out her heart and replace it with a better one donated from a child who was most likely the victim of horrible negligence or outright violent abuse.

It’s OK because everything changes.

Today I’m waiting for a heart for my baby. Next year everything will be different. She might have a heart, she might have passed away, she might (God-or-his-metaphysical-equivalent forbid) STILL be waiting…but it will be different. Things change. Things always change. Life is made up of changes. They might be Big Changes like aging, life and death, jobs and homes; or they might be little changes like what we watch on TV or read on the internet or what we make for dinner. But worrying about changes, big or small, is pointless. We can influence changes, but we can’t stop things from changing. That’s life. Life flows on.

No matter what happens with Quincy’s heart, everything will change. There’s nothing I can do to stop that, nor would I want to. I live safe in the knowledge that next week, next month, next year will be different. I hope for -and work for- the chance that those changes benefit me and my family…I want the best; but no matter what, things change.

If my outlook on everything stopped right there, that would be pretty good. That has a sort of metaphysical junk-food property to it that makes it palatable and almost cute.

So, let me burst the happy bubble with the flip side to that coin: I also happen to honestly believe that this life is purgatory.

Growing up, I wasn’t really exposed to the concept of purgatory. SDAs believe in “soul sleep” where the dead are sort of “super unconscious” and simply wait in the sleep of death for the resurrection at the second coming where OzGod-the-Wise-and-Powerful judges both the quick and the dead, sending those who’s balance of life’s record was “good” to heaven and then to the new earth, and sending those who’s balance of life’s record was “bad” to the lake of fire to die the final and eternal death once the old earth is destroyed to make way for the new earth of eternal paradise.

When it’s either/or there’s not a lot of middle ground. SDAs don’t need a purgatory…you’re good or you’re bad…up or down…eternal death or eternal life.

This, as I see it now, is complete horse-shit.

Mostly because that kind of thinking requires a level of legalism and a God with an arbitrary criteria judging every individual against a playbook they may or may not understand and may or may not choose to participate in. The thought that the universe provides for absolutely no personal agency is heinous to me; but more importantly, if God existed, this makes no sense anyway. Why judge them all after a period of sleep-death? What does a second coming even DO in the context of a battle between good and evil? That actually implies that evil is directly equal or so close as to be moot for any rational purpose. But good will win for no clear reason, sin is an uncontrollable force of nature like gravity, and we’re right back to a universe without true personal agency for anyone actually LIVING life on earth.

Thanks, I’ll pass.

The concept of purgatory though, that humans are doomed to a period of trying over and over and over to get it right enough to move on to some next phase? That sounds more like something a God would do.

That also sounds an awful lot like how I experience this life anyway.

Life is basically the movie Gladiator on repeat forever. Stick with me here, I’ll explain:

Every morning, when you or I or anyone wakes up, we’re face down on the sand of the arena. Every morning we have a choice. We can stand up, strap on our sandals, tie our stupid dangly-leather-strip-skirt around our waist, take up our sword and kill whatever-the-fuck comes through the door when the trumpets sound; or we can lay there and let it kill us, again.

If we get up and fight, we might die. The lions and slaves and fellow gladiators of life may kill us. They may kill us in our heart, they may kill us in our soul, they may kill us in our mind or in our faith in humanity or ourselves or whatever. They may look like a bad day at work, or a boyfriend who cheats on us, or a wife who belittles our job, or a neighbor that lets their damn dog shit on our lawn every night for the last three years; for me it might be a day in a hospital, or Quincy gets an infection, or her heart fails her, or perhaps she loses the fight…many things will jump up and try to kill us. Some days they will, some days we sink our sword into their throats and feel the rush of victory in our blood.

But either way we wake up tomorrow with our face on the sand of the arena floor. Same choice to make. Same ultimate outcome.

I’ve never met anyone who didn’t have to fight every day of their life. You can have your best day ever -the most relaxed vacation day of your whole life- but you will still have to fight something: self-doubt, petty jealousy, fear of tomorrow; something will come for you no matter where you run, no matter where you hide.

Some days you may fight only for your own amusement, screaming up at the crowd “are you not entertained?”

Some days you may stand back-to-back with others and face down the enemy with courage and honor.

Some days you may sacrifice yourself with dignity and a clear conscience.

But the next day you will wake up with your face in the sand of the arena floor, and once again you get to choose whether or not to strap on your sandals, tie on your stupid dangly leather strip skirt, pick up your sword, and kill whatever-the-fuck comes out that door when the trumpets blow.

The truth of the matter is that we never win anything. And we never lose anything. We’re Bill Murry and it’s always Groundhog Day. No matter what the outcome of one day’s battle, live or die, victory or defeat, we have to get up the next day and do it all over again. The same arena sand on our faces, the same choice to make, the outcome never changes the conditions.

All we know is that what we fight will be different. The fight changes. The fight ALWAYS changes. But, there is ALWAYS a fight.

I know many MANY people who feel this way about life. The hard, grueling truth is that we will fight until we can fight no more. I’ve never known a day that wasn’t a fight. I’ve never known a person who didn’t fight every day.

I’ve never met a person who was done fighting. Supposedly when we die we go on to some other reward, but I’ve never met anyone who crossed over. I’m not entirely sure we ever do. I often wonder if this is it, if this is eternity.

Here’s the thing about God: We live in a universe where babies are born innocent, yet innocent babies have life-threatening conditions that could kill them. Or life-threatening conditions that DO kill them. If God made this universe, then either he was powerless to prevent innocent babies from being sick and dying…or else he either doesn’t care or chose that path on purpose. Omnipotence means universal responsibility.

If God MADE this universe, than he’s responsible for everything in it, including sin and the effects of sin. A “kind and loving” God that makes a universe where innocent babies die in seven days, where parents bury little white coffins in graveyards, or wait for months for a surgery that is almost as frightening as the disease it hopes to cure; that God doesn’t need some kind of penance from me — he owes it TO ME. He should be begging me to forgive HIM.

A God that can’t keep babies from being sick and dying in the universe that he made is weak and powerless, impotent in his own creation.

A God that chooses to let innocent babies suffer and die is sadistic and cruel beyond comprehension.

I happen to think he’s neither. I happen to think he’s not even listening anymore. The great drama is over, the test is done, now we’re just mopping up the afterbirth of whatever was supposed to come next. The last bits have to play out, the last souls have to be tested and processed and refined into whatever it is that souls are refined into.

This isn’t “the world” or “heaven” or “hell”…this is purgatory, and we’re all souls that have to be finished up. And every day, we wake up with our face in the sand of the arena floor, we strap on our sandals, we tie on our stupid dangly leather strip skirt, we pick up our sword, and we do our utmost to kill whatever-the-fuck comes out that door when we hear the trumpets signal.

Because that’s what we do here. That’s what we ALWAYS do here. We don’t know why. We don’t get to know why. We don’t really know what comes next, or what came before. Maybe we’re all the same soul being tested over and over and over in a multitude of different ways. Who knows. Who cares.

Tomorrow, no matter what, win or lose, pass or fail, live or die, we will all wake up again with our face in the arena sand, with a choice to make that has absolutely zero impact on the day that comes after. The profoundly sadistic truth is that what we do doesn’t REALLY matter.

We can study hard and get postgraduate degrees, we can drop out of high-school; we can be model citizens with perfect lawns and perfect driving records, or we can rob banks and rack up more points on our license than the Detroit Lions can score in five seasons; we can go to church and pray to almighty God, or we can sit on a rock and contemplate our own navel; nothing will change the simple fact that tomorrow will be a different fight in the same arena, no matter what.

We can try to affect the fight we face, but in my personal experience that counts for less that jack shit most of the time anyway.

Your life isn’t what you make it, just your day-to-day fight. What you do today will count today. What you do today doesn’t often count for much more than wasted breath tomorrow. Who you fought with, who you stood shoulder to shoulder with, how you fought and how those around you fought; those things can affect how you plan for your next fight.

But you will have a next fight.

How do I keep going? Easy, I have no choice. Neither do you. We all do the same thing every day. Today I fight the intractable horror of waiting for a heart transplant for my baby daughter. Today you may be facing self-doubt about your career or your marriage or your grooming choice for your cat. Doesn’t matter what we fight, we all face the same choice.

We can lie here, and let it kill us. That’s an option.

Or we can stand up, strap on our sandals, tie on our stupid dangly leather strip skirt, pick up our sword, and kill whatever-the-fuck comes through that door.

I’ll take the sandals and the sword. And honestly, we both know so will you. We’re not so different. We all fight. We all die. We all get up the next day and do it all again. The fight changes, the fact that we fight does not.

“How do I keep going?” I strap on my sandals, tie on my stupid dangly leather strip skirt, pick up my sword, and I try with everything I have to kill whatever-the-fuck is coming through that door. It’s what I did yesterday. It’s what I’ll do tomorrow.

What we fight changes. But we will always ALWAYS have to fight.

Quincy Sleeping

A Heart for Quincy

The hiatus has been long, so let me catch everyone up (ninety-nine percent of you are already aware, but let’s play along anyway): Amy and I had a daughter on June 14th. She went immediately to the NICU at St. Mary’s hospital. Seven days later she was lifeflighted to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston…where she remains to this day waiting for a heart transplant, listed as a 1a Milrinone and hospital dependent critical-care cardiac organ recipient.

Which is sort of a way to say she’s at the front of a very scary line waiting impatiently for a very scary thing to happen.

If anyone is interested you can read more details and follow along on her fundrazr page or read up on her Facebook page.

I’ve been trying to process a lot of things about this experience, and some of that is yet to come. First, let me start with a picture of our little girl and a piece I wrote while sitting in the CICU one night as we waited for the initial tests to reveal a path that we could follow.

Quincy in the CICU

The Lair of Broken Hearts

This is the lair of broken hearts.

Every journey here is deliberate, crossing mountains and valleys, through forests and over rivers, to a city far away. Our truck has become the Argos, and we are seeking something more valuable than any golden fleece.

It is guarded by magic doors that you do not touch, opening by their own power when you speak the magic words and the guardians grant you entrance.

Time means nothing here. Hours flee in moments and minutes stretch out for days.

This is the limbo of the incomplete. This is where babies lay like broken toys, unfinished, and praying for their time in the sun. This is where children sit, alone and silent, less than what their parents prayed that they would be.

None are brought here whole.

This is the lair of broken hearts.

The adults who come here, come to visit, or come to vigil. This is where dreams die. Plans are shredded. Futures change forever.

A couple stands stony and silent, side-by-side, gazing down at an infant nearly concealed by equipment and tubes. No words can express what has slipped from their fingertips, what expectations are lost to time. Lost to change. Just lost.

A man sits on one side of a crib, a woman on the other. The space between them is ice cold and hovers over the body of a toddler, silent and unmoving. Outside observers cannot tell if the man and the woman shared the heat of love before coming to this place, or if they brought the arctic inside with them.

A baby waits alone in a corner, critically ill, no one ever comes to see him. The journey and the guardians are too much for some to endure. He becomes a cypher in a dark place who dreams no dreams of tomorrow.

This is the lair of broken hearts.

Those who tend this place risk becoming like their wards. Bright-eyed newness is ground down to pragmatism, and even that is worn away by the forces of this place. Where time is meaningless, Eternity can hunt down optimism at its leisure. A sunny disposition is an easy target in the endless gloaming dark.

Nurses wear an armor edged in a jaded gilt, reenforced with the shuddering strength of knowing that tomorrow will be no different from today.

A doctor walks from a room where an abandoned child has become more machine than flesh and blood. His eyes hide tears, and he struggles to pull the curtain of his expression across the storm that rages inside of him.

This is the lair of broken hearts.

The river styx flows behind every bed. The Ferryman waits patently, his handiwork is unmistakable: A bed surrounded by pumps and ventilators and monitors and the undivided attention of many through the night; empty and silent under then next day’s sun.

We pray that the miracle happens, that the angels come, that the gates are thrown wide and our child is the lucky one, the one who walks and dances and escapes into the light. There is guilt in feeling like our child is more whole than another. Parents do not make eye contact. Each exists in a bubble of their own hell.

This is the lair of broken hearts.

We come here by choice. We sit here by choice. We wait here by choice. We could be nowhere else and feel whole. But we cannot feel whole in this place either.

This is the lair of broken hearts.

A Saint, an Abbot, and a Vicar…

…It sounds like the start of a bawdy joke. But honestly the only bar in this story is the one that has been raised, not one that purveys drinks.

Some housekeeping notes to start: I don’t tend to write extensively about my spirituality. I find spirituality to be a sensitive topic, and while I certainly don’t shy away from it in posts that deal with difficult topics, I don’t tend to try and impart my personal spirituality directly to others. There’s a basic reason for this, which is that I often feel like the least-qualified person to write ABOUT spirituality specifically. When I have tried to write specifically about spirituality, it often ends up feeling very flat to me.

This is why I was surprised recently to be invited to a writing group being put together by a pastor in Portland that I knew as a teenager and have interacted with (largely via Facebook) over the years since then. Pastor Marc has gathered such an interesting group of people that I couldn’t help but try to join in, as much to be a part of their conversation as for any specific insight I have to offer.

This week’s writing assignment is based on a sermon that Marc gave recently. The entire sermon is available here on youtube. The topic is actually something that I have always had an opinion on, and though I’m a couple of days late, this was a pretty easy topic to tackle. Marc’s topic, and the topic at the heart of this blog post, is the role of women in spiritual leadership.

One man’s opinion about women leading spiritually after the link…


Life is funny. I have days where I feel like I’ve just about spent everything in me to shove some professional rock up some professional hill and for all that effort I made headway that MIGHT be measurable with a microscope if it’s REALLY powerful and you look REALLY close. I end those days tired, frustrated, and generally not in the best frame of mind. Yesterday was one of those days. It just sucked for no good reason, and it was a challenge pretty much from the moment the alarm went off until long after midnight.

But something else happened yesterday. Some friends of mine on Facebook said something really nice about my writing over there. It instantly lifted my whole day, and I was honestly touched by their kind words and the words other friends added to the conversation.

Late in that conversation another friend said “If you had a blog, I’d read it” which amused me because my blog is directly linked from my profile and hardly a secret. But I’m not much for self promotion, so there’s not exactly a huge glowing neon sign that says “Nick Blogs Over Here” with an arrow pointing this way. Still, I figured I should take the opportunity and I put up a link to this blog and to serialstoryteller.com so friends who want to read more of my writing know where to find it.

Then someone very kindly pointed out that the landing page is a bit of a mess right now, as I left off abruptly when NaNoWriMo started and I haven’t really been back since.

So, some explanation. This blog is sort of my “anecdotes from my life” which I try to keep humorous or at least interesting as I write them. There’s a lot of general stream of consciousness stuff as well, or just updates and picture sets and whatnot. But there’s also some stuff here that’s very personal, and that I’m honestly very proud of.

Someone asked “you wrote a LOT of stuff, and some of it is REALLY long, what should I start with?” and I thought that was a pretty good question.

I’m not sure what’s “the best” but off the top of my head, I’m the most proud of the following (in no particular order):

163 States of Compassion (a glimpse into my spirituality, which I’m hoping to see published this year in a revised form)
If you waxed this you’d get less smurf on your hands (my high-school wheels and the music that drove us)

The “What I’m Looking For” series (a sort of autobiography set against the lyrics of the U2 song of the same name)
especially Line 9 (how I ended up at Gem State…and how generations of fathers and sons affect each other)
an Line 12 (one random day in a college art class)
and Line 13 (my first time…sort of…it’s complicated)

Also, I reposted three posts from my older blog Dead Charming:
He Knows the Hour and the Day (about my Son’s death and the difficulty of divorce)
Something Old Made New Again (about the first girl I loved)
and How Sweet Life Is (the eulogy I gave for my Wenatchee Gramma)

Going forward, I’m focusing on my fiction writing, which I’ll be posting/working through over on serialstoryteller.com as the muse strikes. And I need the muse to strike because I have had some developments on that front and I’m basically committed to writing another 75k words of fiction between now and the end of July.

In the short-term, I suspect that mybadpants.com will be “on hiatus” like a middling sit-com during sweeps. I’ll be back here, writing more tales from a sometimes interesting life soon, but not too soon.

Winning and Losing

Some updates:

I broke a tendon in my middle-finger of my left hand. This sucks. It makes typing a real bitch. I do not like. The story is supposed to be some kind of awesome sporting accident, like jamming my finger while doing a monster windmill-jam over some poor and unsuspecting NBA center deep in the key. Or training bullfighting horses or something.

I tripped on my stairs. Whoo. Awesome way to end up with an immobilized digit (the one that types the ‘e’ key on the keyboard no less) for six months. Yippie.

I submitted something I wrote here to a magazine…and they asked me for edits. That’s…that’s SUPER COOL guys. SUPER COOL.

I won NaNoWriMo for the first time since I started entering back in 2007. Only took five years. I’m honestly SUPER stoked about that accomplishment. But in some ways it was bittersweet. I won buy writing half of the 50k words in a style that anyone who reads this blog would instantly recognize. It took me 23 days. I wrote the remaining 26k words about some ridiculous story with preposterous characters and inane situations. It took 5 days (well…more like 3 full days and two halfhearted half days). This caused me more self-reflection than I’d really care to comment on…but it led me to talk about it with a couple of writers I respect and who I didn’t think would answer my emails.

And I’ve realized something. I’m using this site as a really horrible crutch, and it’s killing my creative output. I didn’t want to admit this, or believe this, but it’s true.

I write here as a sort of reminiscence-therapy. I get to process some of my shit, and people come by and tell me nice things. And God-forbid they not say nice things. Talk it out therapy is a wonderful thing. And I love this space, and I have no intention of giving up this space. I fully intend over the next year to finish some things that I started long ago…but my plans here are very secondary to some new plans.

I’m about to break the first and second rules of Write Club, but let me just say that in the last couple of months I’ve written more creative output than I had in YEARS before then. My co-conspirator knows who she is, and I suspect we’ll add some additional Writers to Write Club in the months ahead, but 1000 words a day, NO EXCUSES has been a complete game-changer for me. I have a novel with a full plot, a synopsis, completely set up in Scrivner (you have NO idea how much work THAT is…) and more than 25k words that I’m REALLY happy with. That’s something that needs my continued time and attention.

It’s not that I don’t like blogging, and I’m gonna keep doing it, and I’m gonna keep doing it here…but I’m not going to put a lot of time into it in the short term. I really doubt I’ll post again before we’re deep into 2013. I’m just being honest.

But I’m not going to stop writing.

A couple of years ago I bought the domain serialstoryteller.com and fired up a blog over there. And then I did NOTHING with it. Well, I’m going to use that space to sort of “track” my ongoing becoming-a-novelist process. I’ll probably mostly just post fiction snippits and quick bits of what I’m working on. And provide a way to see how my progress is coming on my various projects, because I’ve discovered that progress bars are really addictive.

If you’re interested in seeing my “fiction” stuff and my fiction progress, and perhaps some occasional tall tales from my epic bouts in Write Club, then please feel invited to follow along over there.

If you’re just interested in the more personal anecdotes and life notes, then never fear, more will appear here. Eventually.

Inspired by Adele

So, I’ve been watching this video a lot in the last 24 hours:

I’ve got to say that it has me very excited for the new Bond movie. I’m an Adele fan to begin with, and I love the classic Bond songs enough to have a compilation CD in my CD case and loaded into iTunes. For me, as a tribute to the legacy of Bond themes, Adele really knocked this one out of the park. I’m completely sold on it and I haven’t been able to get my brain out of Bond mode for some time.

So instead of fighting it, I figured I’d roll with it. I’ve never really thought of doing fan-fiction. I have nothing against it, and have enjoyed my fair share of other people’s great fan-fiction efforts; but what follow is my first personal attempt at direct fan-fiction. My short piece set in the Bond world. When I wrote this, I was totally thinking of Daniel Craig era Bond. Let me know what you think.

Short Spy Fiction after the link…


My favorite brodcaster, National Public Radio, has been running a series of three-minute-fiction contests. Each round has a specific theme or subject or scene defined, and then entries are posted that can be read in under three minutes. That means less than six-hundred words.

I’ve not participated up until now because I just couldn’t see myself creating something readable in six-hundred words. I’ve decided that talking myself out of it is just silly, and I’m going to participate in every round moving forward. I’m going to post my entries here after I submit them, and if anyone else out there tries one of these too, please comment and link back to your own. I’d love to read what other people send in.

This round’s topic is “Story entries must revolve around a U.S. president, who can be real or fictional.” All entries must be submitted by 11:59 p.m. ET on Sunday, Sept. 23.

My story has been heavily influenced by recent events, and I tried to extrapolate this into a bit of alt-history.

The shortest encapsulated fiction I’ve ever written after the cut…

Drama is composed of Tragedy and Comedy

I’ve been feeling a lot of Drama in the last few days. People show up here, and I have an open door policy. I love conversation. I love critique. I love feedback. As a person with an open door policy, I try to “love everybody” and just parse the stuff as it comes. That policy may not always work in every case. I accept that there are times and people who do not come to participate in the conversation, and that can undermine the environment for everyone. I have not stopped to talk about it, and I’ve tried to deal with it in a low key fashion. I think at some level I thought that if I just played it off it would turn a corner and things would be fine.

A good friend asked me “why aren’t you more upset about how you’re being treated?” Honestly, I’ve had a hard time getting too upset because of something happening to another friend in blog-land.

Thoughts about Tragedy, Comedy, and a baby in the hospital after the cut…

The 163 States of Compassion

“The silence of sitting will tell you everything you need to know.”

It was the kind of fortune-cookie bullshit you hear a lot of at Zen meditation retreats offered in Northern California by Northern Californians. Actually, that’s not fair. You get that kind of bullshit in Portland or Seattle or Denver or New York too, but this dose of bullshit was the first cohesive collection of words I’d heard in what felt like forever – and it wasn’t helping.

There’s this point in an intensive meditation retreat where you’ve been actively concentrating on your breathing and your posture and how your knees are now made of concrete and that the small of your back is the all-consuming heart of a great vortex of pain that is actually absorbing the pain from all living beings for hundreds of miles around you and compressing it into a perfect symphony of agony composed in a language of utter suffering that you will sing through clenched teeth until you finally embrace the sweet release of death.

I had passed that point something like a lifetime (or at least forty-five minutes) ago, and what I was not prepared for was a lesson on sitting in silence. I was ready to flex my legs, stand up, bend backwards until I cracked my back like a machine gun, and then reconsider the life choices that had led me to think a three-day retreat in the middle of nowhere between Ukiah and Clear Lake California was “exactly what I needed.”

Truth be told, I had no idea what I needed.

Zen and the art of divorce and self-discovery after the cut…