I’m trying not to grow angry and bitter, but we live in such a short-sighted culture. The old cliche “But what have you done for me lately?” comes to mind. Years of loyalty are tossed aside at the slightest inconvenience, and the vast majority of people are only interested in today, now, right now, this instant. The future does not exist, and the past never happened. If you are not valuable this instant, you are worthless, or at least made to feel that way. For now, I’ll bite my tongue; it’s not worth any more energy from me right now. I’m trying not to grow cold and callous, but it gets harder every single day.
It’s Dragon*Con weekend, the location of my greatest triumph and biggest humiliation of my writing career. In 2009, I was accepted to DC as a Guest — not a Pro or any other designation but a full-fledged Guest — as an independent author. It was quite an honor for an unknown hillbilly with no agent, publisher, or PR firm greasing the wheels on my behalf. On the other end of the spectrum, in 2013, I had to withdraw from the show because the crowd overwhelmed me too much. Despite that low point, DC will always have a special place in my heart because of what it signifies in terms of credibility in my career.
Right now, with my health deteriorating daily and the nightmare our healthcare system has become, I doubt I’ll ever top that accomplishment. Because I spent my life teaching instead of pillaging retirement funds, I cannot afford all the expenses to find out what is wrong with me, let alone receive treatment. I’m trying not to be bitter about that, but it gets harder every single day. I feel used up and discarded by a system too short-sighted for its own good. Any country that punishes its citizens for working and attempting to be productive deserves whatever misfortune it brings upon itself.
I’m still optimistic that I’ll be able to write book five and complete the Brotherhood series. The people who have stood by me and encouraged me over the years deserve to have the final installment, so I will do everything in my power to finish it. My fine motor skills are eroding, which makes typing difficult, but I ordered an oversized keyboard with 1″ buttons. It makes typing a little easier, even though I’m still having to retrain myself on the location of certain buttons because of the size. Concentration is also something of an issue, but I’ll have to find a way to overcome that. I will complete the rough draft or die trying. I mean that quite literally.
All things considered, I’m keeping as positive an attitude as I can. I refuse to feel sorry for myself over this illness. Even though I’m angry at our inane system, with or without treatment, the illness itself will not hinder me from striving for my goals. It may slow me, but it will not stop me. I may never make it back to Dragon*Con, may never be invited to ComicCon, and may never know that success in this life, but I will complete the Brotherhood series and produce a couple of novellas for the Outlaws.
I’ve learned from previous experience that people will reveal their true feelings for you when you endure real hardships. Those who truly love and care for you will offer support and encouragement in whatever form they can. Those who see you in terms of what benefit they can reap from association will stand back with indifference. They may occasionally utter a word or two of support, but that’s as far as they’re willing to go. Those who harbor malice towards you will kick you while you’re down. I’m blessed and grateful to have a handful of true friends who will have my back no matter what. They are the only ones who matter.
I keep seeing social media statuses that are some variation of “I’m so tired of seeing this ice bucket challenge.” Those poor people whose lives are so wrought with tumult that they have to endure a Facebook or Twitter newsfeed filled with people spreading awareness of a lethal neurological disease. How will they ever endure such hardship?
Nevermind that before this challenge began most people only had a passing acquaintance with ALS and some vague association of it with Lou Gehrig and his famous speech. Nevermind how much money has been donated to the ALS Foundation over the last two months. Nevermind that the reason this disease needs more awareness is because, despite the horror of its 100% lethal degeneration of nerve endings and voluntary muscles, it doesn’t affect enough people to warrant attention from pharmaceutical companies because there aren’t enough profits associated with treating it (that sentence alone pretty well summarizes everything wrong with our current healthcare system). No, the real travesty is that innocent people have been burdened with unwanted videos clogging up their social media feeds.
As the world teeters on the brink of war with the tensions in Gaza and the Ukraine and the United States, god forbid people come together and try to do something positive for others. As people die in Africa from the worst Ebola outbreak in history, god forbid human beings be so selfish as to record themselves dumping ice water on their heads and challenging their friends to do the same in the spirit of charity. God forbid sports celebrities make the news for something other than domestic violence or substance abuse. God forbid people display an act of humanity whether they fully understand the seriousness of the disease or not. How dare they clutter up the internet with this drivel!
The Ice Bucket Challenge represents the best and worst of America and humanity. On the one hand, the sheer volume of money raised for the foundation is staggering. Over $50 million at last check. In two months. That’s what people can accomplish when we come together, which is beautiful and inspiring. On the other, selfishness rears its head as certain people whine (and there is no other word for it, really) about the inconvenience of having to endure so many videos. That self-absorption, closed-mindedness, and judgmental self-righteousness is everything pushing humanity to the brink of extinction (and I don’t think that’s hyperbole; our situation is that dire). It’s funny how something so simple can become so much of a phenomenon and reveal so many layers of humanity.
For the last three years, I’ve battled an as yet undiagnosed neurological condition. As I type these words, my left hand twitches nonstop, muscle spasms flutter everywhere, and a host of other symptoms have nearly crippled my mind and body. As such, I have been deeply moved by the Ice Bucket Challenge because at the very least I see my friends and neighbors learning more about neurological conditions, and awareness goes a long way towards finding cures for illnesses (when profiteering doesn’t interfere). I for one am grateful to see each and every Ice Bucket Challenge video because they represent a sliver of hope that maybe human beings can still rally together to face challenges, and thankfully those who have accepted the challenge and embraced the spirit of giving still outweigh the selfish and self-absorbed.
I can’t believe in 2014 that racism is still so rampant, and I really can’t believe that as a society we have regressed so far that people are once again willing to flaunt their racism publicly. In my much more idealistic youth, I had hoped to live to see the day when it was eliminated from the world, but as I’ve aged and realized that would never happen, I’ve clung to hope to see it at least pushed so far to the fringes that only lunatics would dare utter racist slurs publicly. Now, after seeing so much hate pour from so many white people’s hearts over the last two weeks, I’m really ashamed of just how far we’ve backslid as a country.
The one that really pisses me off is the meme going around about no work boots having been taken during the looting in Ferguson. For those of you too stupid to understand why that’s racist, please exit by the side door and go read something by Frederick Douglass. There is no way to spin that meme so that it’s not a racial slur. Anyone who claims it isn’t is either delusional, deficient in cognitive ability, or a liar. That meme is just a continuation of the tired, old stereotypes that minorities are just a bunch of lazy animals. Under the circumstances, there is no other way to read it, and I have reached a point in my life where I refuse to sit idly and allow the hatemongers to go unchallenged.
To my black friends, I’m sorry that all the progress I thought we were making has been lost. I’m sorry that ignorance and intolerance are so difficult to defeat. I’m sorry we’re still having to fight this same old fight.
I have no idea where this post is going, but I feel the need to share something, though it doesn’t quite have shape in my brain yet. Today has been a rough day physically, and I need to formulate some words to make it into something positive.
After my accident in 1989, I had to redefine my life. All of my plans up to that point were toppled in that singular moment, which forced me to look at the world from a different perspective, and even though it took a few years for me to appreciate fully the lessons of nearly dying, it helped me mature faster than I would have otherwise. It also made me feel like my life needed to have a purpose beyond just crass materialism, and that sense of purpose has guided me for a quarter of a century. Because I’m human and fallible, I’ve often come up short of this desire, but even at my lowest and worst moments, I’ve tried to make my life mean something more than my own selfish desires.
I discovered writing as an outlet not long after the accident, within the first year at least. When I started college in the fall of 1990, I did so with the intent of becoming a writer. However, I concede that at that time I had no concept of what “being a writer” meant other than putting words down into some semi-coherent form. All I knew was that I loved language, loved dabbling with words and forms and ideas, and I gave everything I had to the pursuit of learning my craft.
Also because of the accident, I’ve lived my life in a manner so that I will not have many regrets. There are few experiences that appealed to me which I haven’t at least attempted. I’ve rarely left anything on the table, either, and even though I’ve failed at quite a few endeavors, I never have to wonder what if. My one real regret, however, is going to graduate school. If I could change one thing and still have my children, I would never have gone back to grad school because in terms of creativity and writing all it did was stifle my spirit.
That said, I don’t regret teaching. While I lament what has happened to education and the profession, teaching fulfilled that desire for my life to have purpose in a way that only the books can top. Despite every setback and heartache and difficulty, when I place my head on the pillow at night, I know in my heart that I did something more important than having a popular blog or a bestselling book or a viral video; I gave other people an opportunity to improve their lives. I shared a foundation for effective communication with a couple thousand students, and I did that job well. I may never have the level of commercial writing success I would like, and my books may vanish from history forever, but those lives I impacted will continue onward. I can live with that.
Even though this as yet undiagnosed disease is kicking my butt today, I have not lost my will to fight it. Even though I haven’t been able to work on book five the way I need to, I vow that one way or another I will finish it, even if I have to completely reinvent my writing process to do so. Even though I’m just a small voice in the wilderness, I promise to continue to live a life that has purpose beyond my own selfish needs whether I make any dent in the insanity and inhumanity consuming the world or not.
That’s all for now.
I guess the easiest way to do this is just to come out and say it: my neurological stuff is back with a vengeance. It started rather subtly about 9-10 months ago, and I honestly thought it was just the stress and strain of dual enrollment causing a few symptoms to flare up. I was already about 90% committed to resigning my position before the symptoms came back, and as I felt worse and worse, I knew I couldn’t physically handle the teaching load any longer. In the back of my mind, I kept telling myself that as soon as I got out of the stressful environment, I would feel better. All I needed was some time outdoors working in the sun. The semester ended officially on May 11, and for the first few days, I rested and relaxed but didn’t really feel any better. I’ve written before about how much I love working outdoors on the property, so I tried to dive back in and work myself back into football shape, as I like to say.
For the first few attempts, I noticed that my overall strength and endurance had declined quite precipitously, and I figured I had just gotten out of shape because of the harsh winter. I pushed myself a little harder but couldn’t get my body to cooperate. No matter what I did, I felt weak and fatigued, and the neurological symptoms continued to worsen. Also, I kept noticing that I couldn’t focus or concentrate on anything for more than a few minutes at a time. I’ve written five full novels and dozens of short stories; concentration has never been an issue for me before now. All through May and June, I kept telling myself that I just had to get back into good shape and I would start to feel “normal” again. Last summer, I had promised Finn I would build him a fort to play in this summer, so in June I tackled that project. This time last year, I built my home in seven weeks, working mostly alone all day every day. Even though I was tired, I didn’t feel broken down. Just putting together that simple child’s fort, which is in no way elaborate, I felt completely desolated, and my forearms hurt in a way they never have before. Then, at the end of June, I went to get the boys for our summer time. First, the trip to Jacksonville and back nearly wiped me out completely. I’ve made that trip several times, once in a single day. This time, it took me three, and I was absolutely spent when I got back here with the kids. Trying to play with them became more than I could manage. Still, I kept telling myself that I just needed to get back into shape.
My eye-opener came on Independence Day. When the boys are here, I like to do it up right: a big cookout, fireworks, and lots of shenanigans. It’s our thing. I spent seven straight hours that day setting up, grilling, lighting fireworks, and cleaning up after. When I got into bed that evening, I twitched and trembled worse than I ever had before. The next day, my arms and legs literally hurt from the trembling. I don’t mean I had muscle soreness. That’s something with which I’m quite familiar. This pain was something else, and it’s the first time the neurological stuff has been truly painful. That’s when I had to accept that my symptoms haven’t been from the stress of my job or that I was just out of shape. The neurological stuff is back, and this time it’s worse than before.
I saw a neurologist last week, and we’re waiting for authorization for a new MRI before we proceed. At this point, even though a lot of things are up in the air, I’m hopeful that we can find the right diagnosis and get me well. I’ll try to post updates on what we learn and what’s in store. As for now, please, send some positive energy my way.
I am the enemy. Obviously. I’m white, straight, and male. Oh, I’m also Southern and a hillbilly. Five strikes against me. I am the touchstone of discrimination, bigotry, misogyny, violence, rape culture, and animal cruelty. According to those more learned and sophisticated than I, I’m also privileged because of the color of my skin, my sexual orientation, and my gender.
I’m going to avoid the knee-jerk reaction to call hogwash because it’s counter-productive to the point I want to make. I don’t want to get drawn into a refutation of all the nonsense about painting with broad strokes. I will say is that if you lived in a home without running water for more than a year, you can call me privileged without any argument. If you had to attend school in clothes that reeked of something worse than kerosene fumes, you earned the right to call me privileged. Otherwise, please refrain from making assumptions about the obstacles other people have had to overcome.
I’ll also say I’m tired of our culture of divisiveness and dehumanization. I’m tired of the endless cycles of liberal vs. conservative; men vs. women; gay vs. straight; jocks vs. nerds; horsecrap vs. horsecrap. I’m extremely tired of intolerance in all its forms. Yes, Mr. Enlightened Liberal Panderer, you are just as guilty of intolerance as any racist or bigot you hate. You are the problem. Yes, Ms. Compassionate Conservative, you are an intolerant jerk. You are the problem, too.
See, every time some tragedy occurs, we get the same nonsense debates about guns or gender roles or religion or whatever, but we never have the real conversation, the one that truly matters. Our culture, this corporate, bureaucratic, bottom-line, profit-driven Huxlean nightmare, has stripped us of our humanity. We don’t look at our fellow human beings as just that. Instead, we immediately jump to what it is we should despise about someone for being part of the “other.” And even if someone isn’t really part of the other, we will find some way to twist reality until they are. And once they are part of that “other,” their rights become less important than our own. We are all guilty of this. Yes, you are, too.
Here’s one example of this insanity. A couple of weeks ago, the science fiction convention Archon rescinded its invitation to Tim Bolgeo to attend as a special guest of honor. For those who don’t know, Uncle Timmy is a long-time veteran of fandom in the Southeast. However, someone created a social media frenzy concerning a newsletter Uncle Timmy publishes, alleging that the newsletter promotes racism, homophobia, and anti-science propaganda. A mob quickly bombarded Archon with diatribes, and the convention caved to the pressure. In return, people who know Uncle Timmy personally took to social media to defend his reputation and scold the Archon committee members for hastily bowing to the vocal minority.
Though far from the truth, let’s assume for one minute that this highly educated, well read person is filled with hate and bigotry. However farfetched it may be, let’s assume that this person is using the medium of science fiction fandom conventions to spread hateful propaganda. How does creating an angry mob on social media and threatening the convention committee do anything to improve humanity as a whole? All that has been said publicly is that one group’s rights are more important than another’s, so let’s ban the one group so the other can feel “safe” in their insulated environment. Does any of that sound vaguely familiar to anyone? To me, it would be much more productive, much more beneficial, to sit down and have a face to face dialogue, to discuss openly the perceptions and misconceptions one group has against the other. But we don’t do that in our society. We jump straight to labels like Libtards and Repugs, and bash each other’s intelligence and character without a second thought.
In no way am I trying to diminish the importance of subjects like rape culture, homophobia, misogyny, or racial discrimination. These are all topics that need serious discussion and open communication. However, we do need to stop trying to rank which group is most oppressed and which group is least. Those kinds of artificial stratifications keep us from seeing every member of every subset as a fully rendered human being, and they cause us to dismiss the perceptions, experiences, and sufferings of an individual as insignificant. They also cause us to jump to the “I’m enlightened; you’re ignorant” paradigm that prevents real dialogue. As long as we continue to segregate ourselves into these subsets and bicker about who has it worst, we will always be divided and unable to work together for the betterment of all.
See, here’s the thing: those who are really in charge, the ones really abusing human rights and keeping us from advancing civilization, want us dividing ourselves up and bickering like we do. As long as we’re fighting over some hot button issue that we can never, ever hope to eradicate fully from the human experience, we aren’t working together to expel them from power. See, that’s the real conversation that will never appear on a corporate-owned media outlet, and as long as we keep playing their game on their terms, we’ll never unite as humanity and see real change.
Those who know me hopefully know that as a human being, I’m not the enemy as described above. Despite my five strikes (and I’ll add a sixth: poverty), I strive to treat every person with respect and compassion. Even though I often fall short because of my limitations as a human being, I try to view every person I encounter as a human being worthy of love, respect, and dignity, whether they agree with my viewpoint or not. That’s the real challenge — respecting and loving someone who opposes your personal beliefs, but in the end, either our similarities will bind us together and move us forward or our incessant bickering will tear us apart. Right now, in our current environment of hate, my hope for the former is waning.