A Different Kind of Brain Weasel

hate when someone’s mad at me because I did something wrong.  I mean, we probably all do, right?

But you know what I hate even more?  When someone thinks I did something underhanded, but I didn’t.

I’m going through that situation right now–someone believes we did something underhanded, which we did not.  But the way they are talking about it is very much “You’re horrible people!” in tone, and it’s making me nuts.  (I’m being vague for self-preservation reasons; it’s better to not discuss details right now)

It’s bothering me so much that I can’t handle this one–I’ve had to turn it over to my wife to deal with, partly because she’s better at this kind of thing, but mostly because I’m so deep in the doldrums about it I’ve lost the objectivity.  I probably would cave and do something conciliatory to make them happy, but that would not only set a bad precedent but which could make things worse.

The Ups and Downs of my “Stage Presence”

On Fridays, I allow a few minutes for students to ask me any kind of question they wish.  Sometimes they ask about real world things they don’t understand, like the current Korean negotiations, Trump’s actions, etc.  Sometimes they’re random questions about the world (many of which could be answered with a fifteen-second Google search), and sometimes they’re about me.

Today, a fairly astute student asked if I’d ever be able to speak as an author, given that I’m shy and an introvert.

It’s a good question, but easily answered: I could do it easily, because I’m a teacher.

Of course, even if I do get published, that doesn’t guarantee I’ll ever have the opportunity to speak publicly; debut authors don’t get book tours, and few people would go to attend an event with someone they’ve never heard of, anyway.

But if I ever did get to that tier of writerly success, I could handle it.  I spend, after all, six hours a day “on stage” in the classroom, and I’m one of the more entertaining teachers on campus. My students regularly comment that they enjoy my sense of humor, my ability to make sometimes dull lessons entertaining, and my willingness to look foolish to make a point for them.

But it wouldn’t be entirely smooth.  Because here’s the thing: With an audience of fans, I’d be fine.  With an audience of authors or editors or agents, I’d be a mess, talking too fast, trying not to act nervous, and generally trying not to fall apart.  While I’m good at talking to students, I’m crap at talking to peers.  I get nervous when I feel judged, and fellow teachers judge far, far more harshly than students do.

The key is that when I’m teaching, I’m performing.  When I’m talking in front of teachers, I’m not performing–they know the tricks.  I’m trying to get to a point where I can turn that into performance, as well, but it’s difficult.

Reclaiming My Self

Shortly before I moved to Sacramento, my dad gave me brand-new cowboy boots and a cowboy hat, which I wore often at home while working in the pasture or when riding my horse.
When I moved to Sacramento, I kept wearing them, because they were a part of me, and I liked them. But I was pretty mercilessly made fun of for the first half of 10th grade, and by January I’d stopped wearing the boots or the hat.  I had also realized by then that I wasn’t going to be returning to Napa no matter how much I wanted to, and I consciously “released” the trappings of what I had been forced to consider my “old” life and got rid of the boots and hate entirely.
I’ve never owned another pair of cowboy boots, or a hat, even though I grew up wearing them and used to love them.
Now I want some cowboy boots. I have ZERO need for them, and I’m not even sure I’d wear them often, or I’d go out and buy them. But I want them.  I miss the feel of them when walking, either on a street or in a field.
I’ve been doing this with music, too.  Sometime in the mid-80s I stopped listening to the 70s-era rock and pop music I’d grown up with, because it wasn’t “cool” in the circle of friends I was hanging out with.  But now, at 46, I’ve been listening to a lot of Linda Ronstadt and Neil Diamond, Dolly Parton, Journey, King Crimson, the Mamas and the Papas… the music I remember from childhood.  Of course I’m also still listening to 80s New Wave, and even Kitaro and my beloved Scottish folk music, but I’ve been spending a lot more time with the old stuff.
The older I get, the less I care what people think about what I listen to, or wear, or like.

How’s Michael Doing? Some Good, Some Bad.

I had kind of a meltdown last night.  More on that later, but first, let’s do the categories…

Work

Work is work.  I just came back from two weeks off for the Winter Holiday Break, and yet I feel like I didn’t get any time off.  Kids are both delightful and irritating; some of them are amazing and some of them make me want to quit.  So it goes.

I’m taking an online course to revise my Hamlet unit, which will mean that next year I’ll make more money, but that’s about it on the job front.

 

Home

In early November we put our house up for sale.  We got an offer in about a week, and it was a good one, so we took it.  We also bought a house, and moved in early December.

We’re finally settled in, and I still sometimes look around and realize “This is my house.”  It’s a nicer place than the old one (which was a great house), and best of all we have a pool.  So summer will be freaking amazing, but winter is kind of a drag right now, because we can’t really use the yard at all.

I’ve also got a balcony off my bedroom, which is going to be a really nice thing in spring and summer.

Rewrite

What began as a restructuring of the first few chapters is turning into a major rewrite.  Some plot elements have been thrown right out, and others have morphed into unfamiliar shapes.  But I think it will be a stronger book when I’m done.  There’s an agent waiting for the final version; I’m trying to get it ready by the end of this month, but I’m not sure it will work out.  We’ll see.

Self

Here’s where that meltdown comes in.  Sometimes, I feel like I get so lost in my job, and my family, that I start to lose myself.  And when that happens, it adds to my stress levels.

Here’s the problem with that: I have a health issue that, while not dangerous, is exacerbated by stress.  And here I am with a stressful job, and a willful ten year old, and I’m feeling pretty much highly stressed out most of the time.  I’m very bad about getting what I need, so I tend to lose myself in my various roles, and find I have no time for writing, or doing things I love, unless I end up with the time, but in a messed-up mindspace that doesn’t allow me much creativity.

I’m working on it, but it’s an ongoing process.

Rewrite, Work, Home

Rewrite

Work proceeds.  I was done with chapter one’s rewrite, but then something occurred to me and I had to add a scene or two, so I’m doing that.  It’s going to radically change the end of this chapter and the beginning of the new one, but I think it will go a long way to making the book better.

Work

Teaching is a weird profession.  I love the time with students but I hate the grading.  I hate the endless stack of papers, and I hate the tendency of so many of my students to listen to me, but do precisely the opposite of what I am trying to teach them to do.

Home

My house is a stack of boxes.  Hopefully we sign and get the keys to the new house Wednesday, then move some carloads of small stuff over, then the movers come and help us move the rest on Saturday 12/9.  Our goal is to be completely out of the house and the house cleaned for the new owners on 12/10, but we’ll see.  We technically have until 12/20, but we’d rather not take that long, for their sakes as well as our own.

Fiction is Taking a Back Seat. Dammit.

I’m still working on things, but not as a primary activity.  I just have too much going on right now:

  1. Just sold my house, so I have to pack it up.
  2. We’re putting an offer on a new house. And also looking for other leads in case that one doesn’t work out.
  3. I’m taking an online course on curriculum development to not only improve my curriculum, but also to move over on the salary schedule, which will raise my income quite a bit.
  4. Still a husband and father.
  5. Still a high school teacher.

So something had to give, and on balance, it’s leisure activities.  Because I’m still writing SFF reviews of F&SF Magazine for SFF Reviews, reading and writing reviews comes first.  Since writing is still not my day job, it has to get lumped in with leisure.  I’m still working on it, but it’s the last thing I can do in a day, pretty much–I have to spend time first on the packing and raising a kid and prepping for classes.

That said, I’m making headway on the next WIP, and noodling with the prewrite on Seeking Home. I’ve taken a short break from that project so I can figure out how to drastically restructure it.  I know what I need to do, but not really how to make it work.

Life goes on.

Stressed Out and Hating It

I’m stressed out.  Others notice it, too.  Some think it’s because of my job.  They’re not entirely wrong, but they’re also not entirely correct.

The truth is, I’m like the stress version of the Hulk–I’m always stressed.  Everything stresses me out.  I feel like I’m always on the verge of a breakdown, always ready to rage at whomever is nearby over everything that has irritated me that day.

It’s not healthy.  I know it’s not.  But I can’t help it.  And then I start freaking out that my stress is going to set off my arrhythmia and I’m going to feel even worse if I go into afib. You might guess that doesn’t help the stress levels.

The truth is, I wasn’t made for the real world.  I should be spending my days at home, writing, taking care of the house.  But instead I not only work (as is necessary), but I chose a career where I’m constantly dealing with teenagers who think they know everything, and who expect me to treat them like adults when they won’t behave like adults.  A career that is nearly universally hated in this country, where I’m constantly judged by people who don’t know the first thing about what I do but feel they have the right and the knowledge to critique me.

Okay, maybe it’s a little bit my job.

ER Visit and Attendant Life Changes

Or, How Doctors Like to Scare the Shit Out of You.

So last Saturday, I had a pleasant enough day.  I drove to Napa, had lunch, drove the 1.5 hours up to Clearlake, CA, where my mother is buried, and left flowers on her grave, and then came home.  All in all I drove about 200 miles.

When I got home, I sat and tried to write for a time, then gave up on that and started to play some games.  At about 11:30 I decided I was tired, and stood up–and nearly doubled over in pain.

The pain was centered in my chest.  It wasn’t radiating, but it hurt.  Now, I’ve had a couple of scares with my heart.  In 2004 I suffered pericarditis for several days before going to the campus med center, then to the ER at their insistence.  In 2014 I discovered I have a recurring arrhythmia that causes atrial fibrillation, which is now controlled with medication.  But this didn’t feel like either of those things.  My wife was in Alaska, so I let her know what was going on and then called 911.  The ambulance that responded found my blood pressure was 190/130, which… yeah, that’s bad.  They took me to the ER, where I laid all night, awake.

In the morning they admitted me to a room.  The doctor who came in said he wanted to make sure I didn’t have an aortic tear, so they did a CT scan.  It came up clean.  He scheduled a stress test for the next day, because the CT contrast in my system made it impossible to do it safely that day.  But he assured me that the CT scan, and my EKG, meant I had not had a heart attack, but that they had to check some more things.

Two hours later, a cardiologist came in with the blood test results, and said it was possible I’d had a minor heart attack.  “You’re okay,” he assured me, “but we need to do an angiogram to make sure.”  They canceled the stress test and scheduled an angiogram for the next day.

Then the on-duty cardiac surgeon said “Fuck that, we’ll do it today,” and called his team in.  They whisked me away to do the angiogram.

Now, they’d done an angiogram in 2004, too, and it found my heart to be perfect, with no plaque and no blockages.  This time was slightly–but only slightly–different: there were still no blockages, but there was some plaque buildup–not enough to have caused my pain, though, and not needing any kind of intervention, but something to keep an eye on and address with some dietary changes.

So now they were left with another bout of pericarditis seeming to be the cause, so they got an echo-cardiogram.  And that clinched it: Pericarditis.  So they gave me medication for it and told me I would probably go home in the morning, if the pain went away.

Keep in mind that at this point, I’d been in fairly excruciating pain for 21 hours. This was partly my own fault for saying no to morphine.  The doctor pointed out that was stupid, so I took it.  It didn’t make the pain go away, but it made me float in my head.  But once they started the anti-inflammation meds, the pain faded away.

By Monday morning I was pain free.  I had barely slept, so I was cranky and irritable, but pain free.  They cut me loose at 10am and I went home.  My aunt came to stay with me until Elli and Tegan got back from Alaska (they’d tried to come home early but couldn’t).

And now I’m left sitting here pain free, but aware that I need to be kinder to my heart.  I’ve already been working on losing weight, but I’d begun to backslide on my diet.  Well, no more.  More fruits and vegetables, less fried food, less processed stuff.  My family is working on getting back to cooking more and eating together more.  I still need to lose about four inches on my waste, as well as my belly, and lose/exchange for muscle about 90 pounds.  It’s going to take hard work, and determination, but I’m going to do it.

Because yes, I was scared.  When the first cardiologist told me I’d had a heart attack, it shattered me.  I was sitting there alone, with my neighbour and his entire loud family laughing on the other side of the curtain while I was trying not to fall to pieces on mine.

My beloved grandmother, whom I called “Mimi” because I used to hold my hands up to her and say “Me! Me!” to get her to pick me up, died of a heart attack when I was four years old. She was only 50, but she smoked and she ignored advice from her doctor.  It has affected my entire life.  Two years later, my mother died of a combination heart attack and pneumonia at 25 years old.  So it’s not something that I’ve been unaware of, but my heart has always checked out as healthy even though I’ve gained a lot over the last decade.

But now it’s not enough to be okay.  I have a child, a ten year old, and while I can’t guarantee I’ll be here her whole life, I can’t check out because of something I could have prevented.  I’m not going to leave her talking to her memories of me because I was too proud to struggle at the gym, or because I’m too in love with bad food to give up Carl’s Jr. And I don’t want any possible grandchildren growing up now knowing me, either.  I want that lovely relationship Tegan had with my grandpa, and the one she has with her grandparents on Elli’s side and with her Nana and Papa, my aunt and uncle.   The loss of my grandmother and mother so young has been a shadow over my entire life.  I still sometimes break down in tears over it.  I refuse to do that to my child if I can help it.

I’m not stupid–I’m not going to give up all bad food, forever.  That’s not realistic.  But I’m going to be giving up most bad food forever, and the remaining stuff I’ll partake in only rarely.  But Carl’s?  Never again.  That shit’s just awful for you, and even I know it.  No more fast food lunches when the school year is going.  I’ll either make something in advance from home, or if I have to eat out, keep it healthy–and actual healthy, not “foot long sandwich that only pretends to be healthy.”

And I’m getting back to daily gym visits as soon as I’m cleared to do so, which is next week.

I can do it.  I must do it.

The Dark Tower Movie: Not as Bad as I Feared

So I saw The Dark Tower, and… I guess I’m not sure why so many people seem to hate it. Caveat: I haven’t read the books, which I’m working on rectifying now, but I’m familiar with the basic plot and some of the events of the series.

It wasn’t perfect, and it wasn’t amazing, but the story wasn’t the worst I’ve ever seen, and the acting wasn’t terrible for the most part.  About the only thing I didn’t really buy was the ease with which Jake puts aside a certain incident that would tear most young boys apart.

Idris Elba was fantastic as always.  Matthew McConaughey did a decent job as the Man in Black, though the script doesn’t give him a lot to do other than be menacing and throw a few offhanded evil bits as he passes people on the street–one of which, making a young girl having a happy moment with her mom in the park hate her mom, bothered me more than even the people he killed.

But a lot of the complaints I’m seeing in reviews just don’t make sense to me.  People claim the plot doesn’t make sense–but it made sense to me.  Others complain about specific story choices, as if the fact a writer/director did it differently than they did makes it bad.  Well, if I had a nickel for every time a movie I liked went in a direction I wouldn’t have gone, I’d have a nice stack of money and wouldn’t need a day job.  But “I wouldn’t have done it that way” doesn’t mean “This is bad.”

The movie was clearly being set up to lead to more films as well as a TV series.  Sadly, the response of most fans means that’s unlikely to happen.

The Home Depot Loop

Almost every time I decide to do a new home repair project, I end up going to Home Depot multiple times.

No matter how much research I do, no matter how prepared I think I am, my initial supply run will miss something that I won’t realize I need until I’ve gotten into the process.  So I’ll go get that thing.  And then, further down the line, I’ll realize I need something else–either because I forgot about it, or because something’s not working right and I need a part to fix it.

Today I was replacing an anti-siphon sprinkler valve.  I got the old one off, and realized I needed new PVC Solvent Cement, because the stuff I had had turned to jelly (which means it’s not safe anymore and won’t work, either).  So I went to get some.  And then I realized the pipes on the old valve are about 1/2 an inch wider than the inlets on the new valve.  So I had to go back for a clamp to bring the pipes together–and if that doesn’t work when I test the pressure, I’m going to need to dig the whole thing up, through the old rose vine roots that are in that bed, and basically start from scratch.

Sometimes I miss the days I could call the landlord and he’d deal with it.