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

Hiatus

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.

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…

What a pain in the…chest

Enough time has passed that I’m no longer completely freaked out by this, so I’ll explain in some detail what I meant in my recent update by “heart attack.”

By which I meant that I had a heart attack. Like, in my heart.

Let’s start by hopping into the Way-Back Machine and going to a little time I like to call “the week after my birthday, on a Tuesday night in mid-April.” Or something. Anyway, let’s set the scene: It’s after midnight, we’re in bed, the lights are off, two dogs are snoring on each side of us which fills the room with the white-noise of safety, and I’m asleep.

I find myself being pulled out of my dream state by an incredible sense of generally decentralized pressure. As I’m coming to, my sleep-addled brain draws the conclusion that Roxanne, our 120 pound Great Dane, has climbed onto the bed and is attempting to sleep on my chest. I thrash about a bit as I try to push her off, only to discover that she wasn’t on me, or the bed, or even my side of the room…in point of fact she was on her own bed in the corner, and probably looking at me like I was insane.

Then I decide that I must have become wrapped up and bound in the comforter. Amy refers to this phenomenon as “being burritoed” and has accused me of doing this to her on purpose in the past, so obviously she was trying to get some kind of explanatory revenge…except that the comforter was in a wad down under my knees.

At this point I came to the only remaining logical conclusion: our mattress was possessed by a poltergeist…

Everything you ever wanted to know about diagnosing Congestive Heart Failure from the patient perspective…

Reactions

Sometimes I write something and I get a reaction that surprises me. Sometimes I’m simply surprised a long time later when someone remembers or comments on one of my past posts months (or even years) later. Sometimes I surprise myself by reaching out to someone who’s writing has evoked strong reactions in me.

In the last six months I’ve had one of each of these.

Last fall I wrote up a personal review of how Catherynne Valente’s Faryland stories had affected me and how I had come to feel about them. I hit publish, and I fully expected to hear a couple of responses from my regular readers and that’s it. Instead the review got linked by a couple of Sci-Fi/Fantasy aggregators and linked on a couple of twitter feeds, about five hundred people stopped by to read it, and it resulted in the following:

Tweet

I can honestly say that I had no expectation of ever writing something that the author of the book would ever see. I was honored that it affected her, and I spent about 48 hours walking about six feet off the ground.

On a more personal level, I’ve written about someone I grew up with and who was personally, emotionally, and romantically significant to me during my school years. I changed names, I protected the innocent, and I used to write under a reasonable vale of anonymity. Anonymity and Facebook are not friends. I’ve had several posts end up connected back to my Facebook profile in the last few months, and through a chain of events that person arrived here. And read everything.

And then sent me an email on Facebook.

Without betraying a confidence, I will say that the last thing she said was “but you should know I have never thought of you as ‘that weird kid I grew up with'”.

Which almost made me cry. Years later, years after first putting how I have always felt into words…finally something redeeming came out of that exercise. I carry plenty of demons around in my personal closet of dark-things-that-lurk-in-the-night; but now I carry one less.

The experience has deeply inspired me to return to writing about things from my own past, even if I find the writing uncomfortable. So the “What I’m Looking For” series once again has a chance at actually seeing completion.

Finally, I “manned up” a week ago and sent a fan letter of sorts to a blogger that I really admire and who moves me almost every time he posts. And to my complete shock, on my birthday, he emailed me back. He had encouraging words, he let me know he’d stopped by my own little outpost of creativity and liked what he read, and asked if there was more to come. And that was the final kick in the pants.

Yes. There is more to come.

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What happened to that “Bad Pants” guy?

A part of me feels bad that I went to the effort of revamping the site only to post one book review (albeit a review of the best book I’ve read in a long LONG time) and then disappear again. I actually do have more to write; I have much more I want to say, and get out, and write through…but I’ve been a bit busy. I know, I know, we all say “I’ve been busy” and it is a kind of lame excuse, and I recognize that it is just an excuse, but as these things go I do have something to back up my continuing tardiness:

WE BOUGHT A HOUSE!!!
New Home

We’re right in the middle of moving seventy-five miles out to Monroe Georgia…but it’s worth it. This is the last move I’ll ever make. I’ve spent the last week working my ass off and NOT getting the packing done. This weekend, the office, the storage room, the kitchen and the dining room will be packed. OS has busted out our bedroom and the kids rooms already, and she’s well on her way to having the tack consolidated and the living room ready.

If I can get my stuff “done” then I get to sit on my vacationing ass and write and play Skyrim. There’s a LOT of incentive to get done before the Moving truck gets here Wednesday morning.

If I don’t post again before the big move (and let’s be honest, I won’t), then I’ll just say “Happy Thanksgiving” and “see you all online from Monroe!”

Decide. Commit. Succeed.

In the early summer of 2004 more than a decade of poor health choices caught up with me. It’s was hard to think of it as a decade of poor health choices, and if you’d have asked me about my health up to that point I’d have described it as “fair.” Which would have been grossly inaccurate.

When I was in high school, I remember how frustrated I was that I could never gain weight. Perhaps that doesn’t make sense from a mid-thirties perspective, but when you’re seventeen and weigh a-buck-forty at five-eleven (and one-forty was probably after a heavy meal and wearing a winter jacket soaked in water…or concrete), all you want is to “bulk up.”

I ran everyday, I had “a runner’s body,” and I hated it. My best friend had a naturally broad build with a thick chest and strong shoulders. He looked like the cover model from romance novels…and it drove me crazy. My jealousy was both good-natured and palpable.

I ate everything. And a lot of it. When I was actively running regularly and working manual labor jobs for six hours a day, I estimate I was consuming somewhere in the neighborhood of 5000-8000 calories a day. And I didn’t gain a pound. Not one.

Some of the most embarrassing photos of my life…

1827 days

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In a few hours I will have completed thirty-five trips around the sun. This isn’t a tremendous accomplishment, for the most part I was just along for the ride and hanging on for dear life; and based on the average maximum age of the men on both sides of my family, I’ve got about ninety years in me, so I’m still a decade away from half way there.

Still, a friend of mine pointed out a few days ago that thirty-five is “the age when even the elderly don’t think you’re young anymore.” That kind of hit me.

Birthdays Past and a list for the future…

If you waxed this, you’d get less smurf on your hands.

The last time I wrote about the van I drove for two years in high school, mockingly dubbed “The Smurfmobile” by friends, I noticed that I only recalled fond memories. This amuses me because when I was driving it, I wasn’t fond of it at all. Not ever. Not for even one moment.

When I was sixteen, I didn’t think fondly of “my” van because it wasn’t even my van; it was my Grandma’s van that she had bought for her drapery business and taken all of the benches out of except the one in the back. It smelled like an old van. It LOOKED like an old van. And to a sixteen-year-old kid, it was about as cool as Dan Quayle. I was perpetually “borrowing” it, even though my grandma had no use for it and had her own little Subaru that she drove regularly, it never EVER was “mine” by any stretch of the imagination.

Yet, I had no reason to despise it. It never broke down, it never failed me, it never caused any issue that I can ever remember. It just trucked along like the old, true-blue trooper that it was.

Memories of a van, a bonfire by a lake, and the music of 1992…

Sometimes it’s not JUST an excuse

Ok, I know I’ve missed a few weeks of posting. I know I say “work issues” a lot as an excuse. I know a lot of you think “damn it man, how do we even know you’re really working?” Well, this last week I spent my time at a company retreat/working session/tech conference/happy hour [added that last one entirely based on a joke in an IM with essaytch; credit where credit is due] where we gathered as an organization from around the world (four continents and counting) and took over the Hilton in Downtown Portland. Aside from the Saturday night post-activities activities that will remain both secret and legendary, the highlight for me was the award dinner on Sunday.

I will say that organizational awards, like any peer award, carry a certain amount of politics. I will also say that there were others in attendance who deserved the award just as much as I did. I will ALSO say that it felt DAMN nice to receive. Oh, and I had absolutely NO idea I was getting it, so that made it a really nice surprise.

Anyway, from now on, when I say “sorry, I was busy with work” I’ll at least have something to look at and know that the people who pay my salary and write my performance reviews recognize my commitment and contributions. And really, that feels by far the best of all.

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