Updates on Mike’s Cancer

No, this is not another blog where someone describes their journey though cancer and possible death, or at least it is not meant to be. Many people have written beautiful stories about their journey. No, this is simply an information page for friends and family who want to keep up to date with what’s going on without me loading up Facebook with some much stuff.


I have been feeling strangely ill for about 3-4 weeks. Those were mainly twitches and nausea. No signs of kidney problems.

Then, I became very sick on Friday (too complicated to explain here) and went into the ER. I was found to be in renal failure and near death (potassium of around 7). They had to work emergently to get the potassium under control in the ER and transferred to a bigger hospital with an nephrologist group (Peace Health, Bellingham, WA). I have been quite sick since then.

Efforts to reverse the renal failure were not what we had hoped as I’m still quite sick and fragile. Yesterday we did a renal biopsy to find the cause. We got the results back tonight and it was the worst possible cause for renal failure, Multiple Myeloma. I had a pre-Multiple Myeloma condition called MGUS (diagnosed in 1999) but it was rare for it to convert to full Multiple Myeloma, and if it did, it would normally started out as a bone fracture, then you would treat it. However, this is a light chain Multiple Myleoma, so the protein seeps out of the bone marrow and clogs up the kidneys. It can present as renal failure, and that’s what has happened.

Is there a cure? No, not at this point. But there are aggressive treatments that can control it for a while, with hopeful better treatments coming in the future.


The Immediate:

Of course we need your emotional support.. We have all been honest about the possibility that I may not walk out of the hospital alive.  I am still very sick and we are doing an emergent surgery in the morning to put a double lumen tube into my heart for dialysis. It will allow a dialysis machine tomorrow to suck out my blood, start cleaning so of the toxins out, and trying to saving my immediate life.

After a couple of hours or dialysis, I will go back to the OR to have a bone marrow test so that they can score the severity of the Multiple Myleoma. I will then be starting chemotherapy tomorrow, three harsh drugs.

  1. We need to pray that the dialysis (three days this week) will clean out my blood and help me feel better and get me out of immediate risk of death.
  2. We want prayer that if we can clean up the kidneys, the damage is not so severe that they would never recover. If it is, it will make treatment of Multiple Myleoma more difficult.
  3. Please pray that the Multiple Myleoma responds to treatment and can go in to submission, giving me months if not a few  more years to live.
  4. That the Multiple Myleoma will not cause a bad fracture (neck bone) that could cause me to become a paraplegic, and in this case, that would be the immediate end.

We, Denise, the kids and I, have talked about all possibilities and we do not hold out on false hopes. There is some hope, and on that we do not give up. Of course I, and my family, pray for a cure. There may be a cure coming (see Cart T Cell Therapy) but I have to survive through these first few stages first.

But we also know that these things just happen and there is no one to blame, certainly not God or doctors or lifestyle (I was very healthy). It is just the way life is in this fallen earth.

I will do updates here on the news part of what’s going on, but I will try to to write sob stories about what we are going through. Thanks for your interest and prayers.

I think if you check below that you want to follow this, then each time I up-date it, you get an e-mail.




In Praise of Hamlin Garland

Hamlin_Garland_1891  I have discovered yet another fantastic wordsmith and observer of life and that is Hamlin Garland. I came across his autobiography, A Son of the Middle Border (published 1917), purely by accident about four weeks ago. As I am circling in on the final paragraphs,  I find that I must point out the writer’s genius.

In the early chapters, not quite realizing that it was autobiographical, I found it unstimulating. But I was drawn into the finely described world of farming and homesteading on the prairie during the late nineteenth century. I felt the dirt, I smelled of the prairie flowers in the spring and the penetrating cold of the blizzard across the face of the wagoner, making his way from town out to the farm.

It is a wonderful book and I just discovered that he wrote a sequel called, A Daughter of the Middle Border, for which Garland won the 1922 Pulitzer Prize for Biography.

PA Cartoon Page

Cartoon of the Week:

If you are a PA and you were ever in an emergency situation out in public, it can get interesting. This was especially true before 2000, when no one knew what you did. My approach (and it only happened a few times) would be to watch from the sidelines during the chaos (usually ten “know-it-alls” rush to be the center of attention). I watch to make sure they are doing harm. If they are, I would move in and announce that I am a Physician  (Assistant) and say assistant so low that they wouldn’t catch on. Otherwise, it would be the same as me saying, “I’m here to help and I’m the guy who cleans the doctor’s office” (again I’m talking prior to 2000).

PA in AP with web address

From 1994 to 2009 one of the most-watched drams on TV was the show ER. In 1995 through 1990 and again in 2008, the actor, Gloria Reuben as Jeanie Boulet, PA-C. Not only was this show seen by millions in America every week, but exported to over 3/4 of the world through live time and syndicated re-runs. What a great opportunity to explain the role of the PA to the world! WRONG!. It could have been but became a huge opportunity missed. The PA role was very miss-represented as a little more than a medical assistant, who rarely made any medical decisions on their own. Many of us, especially ER PAs, were extremely frustrated that this was allowed to continue this way. I wrote and called the TV show many times to allow me to get involved with developing the character and giving ideas about PA-specific (real world) plots. What about one battle-axe nurse who refused to work with the PA? That was happening in the 90s. But it was to no avail.


ER with web address

So often I’ve had patients who wanted me to make major changes over the phone, sometimes several calls between visit, wanting changes each time. I know it is often not convenient for them to come it, but I always tell them that it is unsafe to “practice medicine via phone calls.” That concept was the inspiration of this cartoon.

Rash with address


More than once in my career (especially in the early days) when I was in a social setting and tried to explain what I did for a living and the other person thinks I’m lying. The worse case when I ran into one of my wife’s old boyfriends at a party and he kept confusing what I did with a “medical assistant” (intentionally I think).


PA Pick Up with web address


Communication Problem with web address

Here is my PA Cartoon for the week of  November 18. This times it is an animation, one I created in 2010.

H&P with address

This is based on a real experience. During our didactic year, we were given assignments to go to the University of Kentucky Medical Center and do COMPLETE H&P on real patients.  I remember taking three hours to do my first, including looking into every orifice, looking at their entire body for skin issues and asking them about every detail of their miserable little lives.

Assistant with web address

Foreign Body wit web address

This story comes from a real-life experience. I was working in the Village of Garbage outside of Cairo, Egypt for a couple of years. I met another American PA who was living in Egypt. He had seen an article that I had written in the Physician Assistant Journal and looked me up.

Bill (the other PA) worked for an American company that employed both American and Egyptian workers. He was responsible for taking care of the American employees and an Egyptian physician was responsible for the Egyptians.

One day his Egyptian counterpart came into his office and said, “Hey Bill, I want to show you something.”

Bill walked with the Egyptian physician into his exam room. An Egyptian man was sitting on the exam table with his shirt off. Bill could see a large surgical scar going down the man’s belly and a small, red, granulated hole at the top of the scar that seemed to be oozing some fluid. The Egyptian doctor asked the man to arch his back and he did. When he did, the tips of a pair of curved hemostats came protruding out of the hole. To make a long story short, about six months earlier the man had a cholecystectomy. During his follow up with the surgeon, he showed him the new hole that had formed and the metal thing sticking out. The surgeon said something like, “Just ignore it. It will go away in time.”

Shrinking with web address

There is not one specific story behind “Shrinking.” However, if you worked as a PA in most parts of the country during the 1980s and 90s, you would understand the point. You often felt invisible. In the early days, truly you were in the shadow of your SP and had no self-identity. We have come a long way as our hospital list providers by the alphabet, not by MD first.

resusci-date with web address

The story behind Resusci-date takes me back to my Air Force days ( ca. 1994) my SP was spending his last shift in the ER before discharge. We were always doing practical jokes on each other. I had the ER shift just before him. The ER call room had a bathroom with two doors, one led into the call room and the other out to the hospital hallway (where anyone could enter). I took our full-size Anne resuscitation dummy and sat her on the call room commode. I then pulled her jogging pants down around her ankles and then took the end of the roll of toilet paper and wrapped it around her hand. The last thing I did was remove the overhead light bulb.

The next morning the nighttime staff (Dr. B had already left for the day) told me that he came up to the front desk about 3 in the morning, looking hung-over from sleep (it was a slow ER at night) and asked, “Who in the hell has been in my bathroom all night? I’ve walked in on her twice.” He had no clue in the dark bathroom, illuminated only by the light from the call room when you opened the door, that it was our dear Anne.


Career Day with web address

The above cartoon came to me when I was asked to represent the PA profession for a career day at a middle school outside Marquette, Michigan.  The thing I remember (and this was 1993-4?) that the kids were so excited about the person before me, a veterinarian, but when the teacher (clumsily) introduced me, the kids’ faces were perplexed. I had questions such as, “Are you then like a nurse? a doctor?”


cartoon goodnews badnew with web address


The inspiration for this cartoon came after I had a hard day in the ER (Air Force hospital ER) and the follow-up physician came in and congratulated me on a complex diagnosis.  I think it was the time when a “migraine” patient was brought back and roomed. Her vitals were normal, including an oral temp of 98.8 F. She was sure it was a migraine as she had them before and she just needed Demerol. However, when I placed my hand on her forehead to do her ophthalmologic exam, she felt very warm to me. I went out and took the thermometer from the MAs and took her temperature myself and it was 103.5 F. She also had nuchal rigidity. To make a long story short, her spinal tap came back indicating viral meningitis.  The MD who came on after me had the job of reviewing my chart notes before I left. He came in and said, “Man, what a pick-up. I would have just given her, her Demerol and booted her to the street thinking she was afebrile.”

I had admitted the patient. But then the next day, when I came to work, (and her husband was in the hospital by her bedside as she was quite ill) was furious when he found out that his very sick wife had only seen a PA in the ER.  He put in a complaint against me for being a PA. My commanding officer (a gynecologist and hospital medical director) came down to my office and told me about the complaint. Then he asked me to write a letter of apology to the family. I had the look of this guy, in the cartoon, on my face and I said (which was disobeying an order in the Air Force), “Hell no! I may have saved the lady’s life and there is no way in hell I’m apologizing for ‘just being a PA'”.

If I Were God, and I’m Not

If I were God, and I’m not, I would have done things quite differently. I would have created people in the life pattern of the fictitious Benjamin Button. We would come into this world as an adult-sized, wrinkled ball of swiveled up flesh, hardly recognizable… but when identified, seen as a hideous form, barely human. Our new-born minds, while not lacking information, would have processes that had slowed and tangled, representing equally snarled cerebral neurons.

Our new-born selves would almost devoid of normal senses, hearing, sight, smell, and taste. Our joints would be frozen as old, rusty iron hinges, which had been left out in the rain. Our bones would be racked in pain with any movement… or sometimes without any movement at all. We would be completely dependent on others, which would be the one thing we shared with the present system of being born as a helpless baby. Yet, our size would compound our dependency. Few would want this task so they would leave it to the unattached professional.

Like our bodies, our psyche would bear the scars of malignant disappointments, betrayals, and abuse. It would be a sad state of being.

But then, with the passage of time, (which would past faster in the newborn-old age, and slow down as we moved through life), hints of being better would come. One morning, the light starts to shine a little brighter and deeper into our cataracted and

degenerative eyes. Over weeks and months, the pitches of sounds, which we could not hear upon our birth, become noticeable and eventually focused out of meaningless noise into syntax and evocative substance.

One morning, as our caregiver tries to get us into a chair, a frozen knee, which had snared us into the fetal position, gives a bit. The leg extends

Image result for benjamin button

a few degrees, allowing us to bear some of our own weight as we stood to pivot to our wheeled chair.

Over the months, and into our second year, we notice a subtle change within the web of neurons inside our heads. Thoughts, which were too complex for us before, start to settle into a rhythm of order in which we can make some sense. While our heads came, preloaded with life-experiences, but at first our feeble minds couldn’t organize them. However, with time, we start to have the clarity to draw from them.

With the passage of more time, there seems to have been a magical machinists’ oil that has started to penetrate our joints. We are becoming more mobile with extensions, retractions, and rotations. It is insidious at first, but no question a real change.

With a subsequent few years, we notice that congenital pain within our bones has dissipated by more than half. The senses have improved by the same. We are speaking in coherent sentences and can stand and walk, although not far. Yet, with even short jaunts, we become breathless.

As the physical ailments continue to heal and improve, so do our psychological and social ills. We start to see, coming, the first (or is it the last?) of our great life disappointments. As we approach it, that chronic pain in our soul crescendos to an unbearable flashpoint of grief and despair. Then suddenly it is gone. There’s no memory of it. It has left the world. There is no remaining trace for, within this reversing world, it now has never happened. In the distant other disappointments appear, grow and then vanish in the same way. One by one our hearts become purer, more tender, and unweighted.

As our bodies continue to strengthen and heal, so do our relationships. The loneliness, in which we entered this world, starts to find voices again. The dead are coming back into our lives, all of them. Those relationships that had drifted apart as a product of time in this world, were converging again, becoming richer and cohesive. All those friends and family that become estranged due to our hurts, divergent opinions, and dreams, start to coalesce once more, around shared values. The table is becoming fuller and there are pictures of living people on the walls again.

As the years pass our strength is gained as is our breath. Our senses become acute and our minds well-oiled. This eternal hope springs from our soul, a hope for running faster, lifting heavier things and having more endurance by the simple passing of time.

We can eat cake again, without guilt.

The four winds, which came in through our windows and doors and carried our children off to the ends of the earth, has changed direction. Before long one child reappears and then another, and then another. Soon the house is full of noise, chaos and dirty dishes. But we now have the energy to keep up. We have the patience to constantly pick up Legos, offer protection, listen to all their stories, and to play. The knees no longer hurt to stoop to their level.

In this world, I would do things differently. I would have agreed to less office and church meetings, that usually went nowhere except deeper into the night, and I was to them but a warm body. Instead, I would have stayed home more with my kids, for whom I was everything. I would have played more. I would have held the sleeping child on my lap for the entire night, rather than taking them to their beds. Even if it meant a sleepless night for me, I would just watch them breathe, feel their heartbeat, watch their lips move as they lick that ice cream in their dreams. I would protect them throughout the night with my life.

To make sense of doing things differently, I offer one aberration to this new narrative. While Benjamin would have become less knowledgeable with the passage of time, in the world I would create, the knowledge would remain steadfast as we grew younger. The wisdom, which we had gleaned from a lifetime of experiences, would somehow persist, despite the un-experiencing of each event. We would now know to love everyone deeply, but not to fully trust anyone, especially ourselves. To forgive more. We would remember those wonderful people who are different from us, who live in exotic places, believe in different gods and have different customs. We would not fear them, even after unmeeting them.

During the reversal path, we would see the outcomes of everything and then the silliness of the anxiety that preceded it. Even when the outcomes were far worse than our anticipations, the worry was of no help in the end, or in this case, the beginning.

When we enter that world of our youth, when time really slows down, we would feel the overwhelming vigor in our bodies. We would want to run to see how close we could come to a 4-minute mile, not to see if we could make a mile without a heart attack. Our muscles would increase without trying. Our energy would seem limitless. The barber would be saying, “Your hair is fuller and darker this year.” Yet, this time, the old-life wisdom would protect us from the dumb mistakes. We would once again feel safe, the protection of a father and mother who we thought could keep the world away if needed.

We could eat deserts with every meal, and candy in between.

As we entered the last years of our life, we would be small, easy to care for and surrounded by a crowd of people waiting to take their turn. We would be loved. We would be adorable.

If I were God, and I’m not, this is how I would have done it.

The Infamous – Book Review


Waters of Bimini has been published for about a week. Our highest (spot) score on the national bestseller list was #3,000 for fiction and # 35 for medical fiction. Not bad . . .  but not spectacular. However, there has been no advertising so far and so I’m quite satisfied with its performance.

mexico coffee shop

Now comes the nervous waiting game. It takes about a week for the paperback to reach the reader, and of course, seconds for the digital version. It is a long book–520 pages–so it would take the typical reader a week or more to finish. Tick-tock, tick-tock, the time is in limbo. The world is in suspense.

All artists live on reviews. The vocal or instrumental performer, the painter, the writer, and others all wait for the response. However, three types of artists are most vulnerable to the review and that’s the stage performer (such as a Broadway review), the culinary artist (waiting on a food critic’s review), and the writer (waiting on the Amazon review).

The writer is a little different, but then again, maybe not. Personal reviews in the literature world not only can make or break a book but is also the key to getting professional reviews in newspapers and placement in bookstores. In a previous book on the ills of Evangelicalism, (Butterflies in the Belfry) the book was considered for a review in Christian Today, which would have secured the book’s great success. However, for the life of me, I could not get the ten required reviews–out of the hundreds who had read it–by the assigned time. That situation somewhat sealed the fate of the book, although the reviews that did eventually come in for me, and they were rather good.

For Waters of Bimini, the stakes are even higher. It is my first novel and could be my last (although there is nothing more I would rather do than write). But not just for the book’s opportunity, it is for my own self-evaluation. It is very difficult for an artist of any type to evaluate their own work. I would not go down as the first writer who thought he or she had written a great book, only to find that it was a flop. So, I try to be patient while the reviews come in. I may have to prod people to do them. It is so important to writer’s dream. The suspense may indeed, kill me.




A Dozen Things I learned the Hard Way in Mike’s Amateur Workshop

  1. Never change the blade of a cordless Dremel tool, without removing the battery first. Just don’t do it!
  2. Never start a plumbing project, after the hardware stores have closed. Never, ever.
  3. Never strip the insulation off a 110 V house power line with your teeth, even if you are “quite sure” the current to that room has been cut off. I’m warning, just don’t do it!
  4. Never weld on the frame of a car AFTER you have coated the frame with rubberized rust proofing.
  5. Related to # 4, always check your fire extinguisher in your workshop BEFORE you actually need it.
  6. Never forgo wearing ear protectors when you use power equipment, even though you are behind schedule and cannot find the ear protectors. Go to the hardware store and buy new ones if you must. It is hard to type right now with the ringing that lives inside my head, perpetually.
  7. Don’t forget to put your face shield back down, after sipping your beer, when you are using an angle grinder. Trips to the ED for cornea FB removal and using a bur to remove rust stains are not pleasant.
  8. Related to # 7, when a colleague takes care of your eye in the ED, don’t allow him to get distracted by asking you questions about your clinic, then forgetting to give you something for pain for when the local wears off. Keep him or her focused on your eye, no pun intended. I almost chewed the foam out of my pillow when the corneal pain returned.
  9. Never look into the end of a paint spray gun, that wasn’t working and then pull the trigger. Just don’t do it!
  10. Never build a project when your radial arm saw is not squared up and locked in (2 degrees off on woodcuts adds up to a wobbly nightmare).
  11. Never lay with your torso under a car, grinding on with an angle grinder, your pelvis and legs sticking out, and a 10 lb. sledgehammer laying on top of the car. It will ALWAYS find your crotch when it falls off.
  12. Never get your fingers within three inches of the blade of a miter saw. When the wood slips, you will find that trimming your nails to the nail plate with a 12-inch rough cut saw blade is not the safest way to get a manicure.

defender restore



In Praise of Geraldine Brooks

I have been listening to as many novels as I can on my Iphone. Usually, such listing comes as a mental distraction to the physical pain I suffer when I put my body through that (self flagellation) religious ritual of jogging.

Geraldine Brooks

I’ve listened to some horrible books, which have experienced great success. I call them the Cheetos of novels. It looks like food,  but, it is just air and flavoring. These are usually these authors that pump out two books a year, sometimes with ghost writers helping.  They are word mills. It is just about the money. They can cobble together a story on a whim.

But then you stumble on the caviar or rhubarb pie with ice cream of reading. These are the authors that I had not known before, but who write as immortals or angels with super-human abilities to understand and to craft language.

I am a little more than halfway through Geraldine Brooks’ Caleb’s Crossing. She, like Joan Didion, was a recipient of a Pulitzer Prize for her writing. Having experienced these two writers back to back (with a little of Edgar Allan Poe squeezed in between) has given me great appreciation for the prize. They know how to pick them.

The amazing thing for Caleb’s Crossing is not just that the writing is so poetic, but it is in a seventeenth Puritan English style.  I can’t imagine the research that it took for her to prepare for this. It is more than chewing gum and walking. It is like doing a masterpiece watercolor while walking a tightrope over a bed of hot coals. She does so well. I will demonstrate with a few words from my evening jog. Caleb's Crossing: A Novel

From Caleb’s Crossing, Chapter X.

(a dialog between Caleb, a native young man who has taken on the white man’s ways) and his secrete close friend, Bethia (the 17 year-old protagonist, who Caleb has named Storm Eyes). This is after her father has told her that she will work as an endured servant at the college (in Boston) to pay her brother’s way thought school.

“Do not let them make a slave of you Storm Eyes.”

I stepped back, surprised by his sudden wrath.

“I have no idea what you–“

“I thought your grandfather honorable.” He turned and spat on the sand. I winced.

“He is honorable, Caleb. You must not–“

“Must not! I am full up to my throat with ‘must not.’ You English palisade yourselves up behind ‘must nots,’ and I commence to think it is a barren fortress in which you wall yourselves.”




Why QAnon Matters

Honestly, I had never heard of this particular conspiracy network until this week. Yes, I had heard about the ridiculous “Pizza-gate” story, which some of my evangelical friends and family had sent me (presenting it as the truth) just prior to the 2016 election. They wanted to show me how Hillary was the devil… I suppose. I had also heard about the Seth Rich (see here) conspiracy stories, where, rather than a random act of murder, he was supposedly killed by the DNC to cover something up. God bless his parents for having to live through his death and then the nut jobs who wanted to capitalize on his most unfortunate circumstances. Then there was the Sandy Hook “staged” slaughter. That last one really breaks my heart.Q1

I first noticed the Q or QAnon shirts and signs in the crowd at the Trump rally in Tampa. I didn’t know what it was about, but I was quite curious. I read about it on Wikipedia that night (see here). Since then, several news organizations have done stories to explain it.

I joked about this at first, thinking how nutty or gullible you would have to be to believe in something like that. I was thinking about the characters, Lloyd and Harry, from the movie, Dumb and Dumber.


But then I started to think about a conversation I had with a patient of mine. She told me the story about her son, a driver for Federal Express. He was delivering a package to the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma on April 19th, 1995. What terrible luck, as he was in the building when it was destroyed by Timothy McVeigh’s horrible bomb. He was in his early thirties (if I remember the details correctly) and had two kids. His head was blown off. Nonetheless, on that day, 168 people (many children themselves) died a horrible death.

dumb and dumber

The year I was talking to this man’s mother was about 1998, so the wound was still fresh in her soul. She told me how she started to study Timothy McVeigh’s life (see here), just to try and make sense of all of this evil. There was no making sense of it. But she did learn a lot about the man. He was taken with right-wing, white supremacists ideology and several conspiracy theories, including those very much like QAnon. Those try to suggest that there is this hidden (or deep state) government that is evil and trying to control our lives. The evangelical followers, of course, try to tie this to the Eschatology of Hal Lindsey.

I mentioned to that lady that day that I was currently (in 1998) in a big dispute with my kid’s youth pastor at our church in Stewartville, Minnesota. This youth pastor was passing out copies of a poorly written conspiracy book to the kids, written by one of his friends. That book told stories about black helicopters watching us and taking Christians to internment camps. It also told how the Clintons being the anti-Christ. and connecting it to Y-2K. If I remember right, this deep state was hauling off the Christians in secret to be executed, or something like that (I’ve heard so many of these crazy stories that I can’t keep them straight). I was totally livid!  I called the senior pastor late at night to voice my outrage, and tried to pull my kids from that church (they were old enough to dive and make their own choices). Some parents thought I had been blinded by liberalism, not seeing what was going and the end was really near. I wanted to vomit.

When I shared that information with this woman–and later regretted doing so–she was move to a state of panic-laced tears. “You must stop them!” She said. “This is how all this evil started … with stupid, silly lies!”

I am nonpartisan. I have heard conspiracy stories coming from the left as well (embellishments of the Tump crime family, as if it needed embellishments). My dream is not that everyone would be a Democrat. My dream is that everyone would know the truth and that truth would set them free to love others. I am trusting the Democrats to save this country in this time of history, but they too must watch their souls that they don’t become “party first” as the Republicans have.

Reflecting on this, I am now deeply concerned about this QAnon group. It is evil. It will lead to violence… it always does. God help us. We need to be like this poor mother, taking these things seriously, very seriously.

Mike Jones

(sorry about any typos, I did not have time to proof-read)


In Praise of Joan Didion

It has been said, in many of venues… verbally to me, read by me, or even thought by me, that to be a good writer you must be a good reader. I think there is truth to that. However, my downfall, the Achilles heel of my writing process, is my difficulty in reading.

Year of Magical

It isn’t for a lack of want. My fictitious Heaven is constructed in the midst of an endless library. It isn’t my cognition either. While I do suffer from a confirmed case of dyslexia, making it difficult to spell, memorize, especially numbers, that problem only slows down my reading a bit.

No, my problem are my eyes, those physical windows to the soul. When I was eighteen I suffered a rather severe chemical burn to them when a “friend” intentionally threw a handful of powered sodium hydroxide (lye) into my widely opened eyes. He thought it would be funny. It was not. I almost lost my eyes completely.

But it left me with chronic eye pain. The official diagnosis is chronic dry eye, but a rather severe case. It appears that the oil glands around my eyelids were burned out and scared over. For most people with dry eyes, it is more of an autoimmune problem or of aging.

So, enough with the self-pity part, but when I start to read—or write for that matter—from the first word on the page my eyes start to burn. Then with each subsequent word the burning intensifies. By the end of the first sentence I have tears blurring my vision and soon running down my face (thanks to my lacrimal duct plugs). By the time I finish the first paragraph, I must stop and squeeze my eyes tightly closed for the pain to dissipate, before I start reading again. I’ve tried every drop on the planet, both over the counter and prescription. I’ve seen countless doctors including the dry-eye specialist at Mayo Clinic. I have had bandage lens made to cover my corneas, which worked well until they would stick to and abrade my cornea, making things worse.

However, despite this, I have read at least one book per month for most of my life. Up until about ten years ago, they were all non-fiction. One day my son Ramsey said to me, “Dad, if you want to write fiction, you must read it.”

This started my on a fantastic journey of reading down the top 100 list (by the American Library Association) of the best English fiction books. This journey has been delightful.  However, my bottleneck of reading was still the limitation of my eyes. For example, my wife could finish off several books by the time I finished one, because I could not bear the pain.

I had often thought about trying audio books. A few years ago, I did join Audible. I hope that my experience was the exception, but it was terrible. The software would not work on my computer. But then when it did work, I could not transfer the book to any mobile listening device and was therefore worthless. Then I had a very difficult time cancelling my contract and billings. Never got to listen to a single book through them but paid a lot of money for nothing.

Then, last summer, someone told me about the state of Washington’s library system audio book loans. I joined the library, downloaded their software onto my phone and presto, the problem solved. I have now listed to more than a dozen books.

The only problem that I have is finding the best book to listen to. It is odd to me, but, although the books are digital, they are like a physical book, in that if they are checked out to someone else in the state, I can’t check it out. So, I have to get in line to get it.

The other problem is searching for the best book to listen to. I wish the top 100 novel list was a searchable option, but it is not. I’ve tried several options. I ended up choosing the most popular books option.

I would have to say, this exercise has been a great disappointment. I have listened to about eight books, each being very popular and a great financial success in America. All the authors are franchise authors, meaning that they have written along series of “best sellers,” usually with the same characters as romance or mystery novels.

I listen to these books to learn about writing. The problem is, their writing was terrible. You know exactly what was going to happen next. Everything was predictable. I could hear the voice of my editors in my mind saying things like, “Hmm… I think you need to omit that section Mike, or rewrite it completely as it does not hold the reader.”

When the books do deviate from the predictable, it isn’t with great imagination, but rather ood. For example how odd the character reacts to situations.  For example, one book started with a police detective coming home to find his entire family brutally murdered. So the author said something like, “He had to quickly think like a detective and examine the crime scene carefully. The cut across his wife’s throat was from left to right, meaning the perp was right handed.” I could hear my editors (one in particular) saying, “Michael, what normal human being would respond the way your character does?  Re-think this story.”

So, it dawned on me, that these books all had the same things in common, they were published in the past ten years, they went right to the best seller list because of the following of that author. But they were not intellectually or imaginatively stimulating. They were the Cheetos of the book nourishment menu. Maybe that tells me more about the American reader.

I visited the museum of modern art in San Francisco last week. Many of the exhibits were like these book, with no intrinsic value (a huge canvas painted with a plain monochromic black, or a wooden chair with a glove on it) but only had value because the artist was famous.

driving miss daisy arrivals 2 251010

Joan Didion- Recent Photo

Then, a few weeks ago Joan Didion’s book, A Year of Magical Thinking showed up on the list of most popular. I had heard of this title before. I had even used that term “Year of Magical Thinking” or “Magical Thinking” to describe someone who refuses to live in reality. For example, someone whose girlfriend keeps sleeping around with his friends and he tells me, “She’s over that now. She has re-committed herself to just me.”  Hmm? You really want to believe that?

The only problem with this book was that it was on long waiting list. So, while I was listening to one of the pop-culture mystery novels (poorly written but financially successful) Didion’s book came up. I left the old book because I was so sick of it and latched onto Didion’s book.

I just finished A Year of Magical Thinking during this morning’s 5-mile run. I will have to say that Joan has restored my faith in the American writer. It, however, is not fictional. I didn’t know what it was about before I started it. But like C.S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed, it is a self-obsessed journey about her year after her husband, of 40 + years, suddenly died. But the writing was beautiful. It was her best work and she won a Pulitzer prize for it (well-deserved).

It is possible that this book meant so much to me as I recently lost my dear mother. The process of mourning, for me, was aborted. My mother died during a four day celebration at my house of my daughter’s wedding. The wedding was here on the west coast. Mom died in Tennessee. My siblings had the funeral before I could get there, and I was coming as fast as I could. I cancelled my trip to Tennessee. It is like my mother faded from my life with no goodbyes of any type. I feel hollow, like a film that breaks before the movie’s ending. Lacking. Surreal.

I learned so much, as a writer, from her (meaning Joan, not my mother). She describes the ordinary in a way that it becomes the fantastical. I have written two books that are someone autobiographical. In the midst of positive comments, I have heard negative comments such as, “You wrote too much about yourself. No one cares about you or your journey.”  In Joan’s book, I was consumed with her thoughts, feelings and journey. She knew how to make her most narcissistic thoughts, the central theme to each reader’s world. Thank you Joan!



Judge Kennedy and The Wager with the Fiend

We all have or had friends who are evangelical and adore Donald Trump, and I mean, sincerely adore the man. Every word that reels from his gold-plated tongue is not just truth to them, but somehow, it is God’s truth. I know, for most of us, we cannot explain this paradox, short of thinking that they must have fallen under the same spell as the Jim Jones adorers, or the scarce Jews who loved Hitler. They must have read a different Bible or lived within a alternative reality. It must be defined in terms of mental illness and brainwashing. They follow the tweets of the pied piper’s pipe as if under an irresistible hex.


But there are those, evangelical friends, who seem more rational, at least on the surface. These friends readily admit that Donald Trump is a liar, a deceiver, a womanizer, thief, and narcissistic-hate monger. They don’t actually like him, yet, they voted for him. They voted for him because of the supreme court appointments up for grab. They were looking ahead to Kennedy’s retirement. They felt like that potential justified the vote for the Fiend (as in monster or devil). It was a wager that Donald Trump will eventually go down into the trash-bin of history, and that does not matter. But his Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) appointees will change America in a big way, “bringing it back to God and God’s laws.” This maneuver was more than just “dining with the devil,” it was paying high stakes poker with him.

devil cards

I remember when I was an evangelical that we were told that the SCOTUS was more important than the office of the president.  We believed the narrative that it was the liberal elites—whoever they were—who controlled the makeup of the SCOTUS. Additionally, we heard from our pulpits, that the SCOTUS didn’t follow the constitution anymore, which our evangelical forefathers, such as Thomas Jefferson (wink, wink) had written. But now, though a “relative truth” rewrote the constitution by their interpretations. Therefore, the weight of the presidency was determined by his or her ability to appoint to the SCOTUS.

In 2016 these evangelicals saw the writing on the wall. The polls told them that Trump’s pseudo-populism was going to usher him into the Oval Office. They hitched their broken wagon to his ersatz star.

For those evangelical friends, they have a worldview that America was Christian, then has slowly slid away into Satan’s domain because of the changes the liberal elite minority have imposed on us. That the majority would turn us back to God, if they had the chance. But even if they weren’t the majority anymore, the Christian minority must support and impose America’s Christian values on the majority as if it were a theocracy.

gambling with the devil

I haven’t spoken to those “moderate” evangelicals in a while, but I expect that they are now gloating in their vindication. They must feel even more confident that they did the right thing by putting Trump into office. In their minds, the litmus test of turning America back to God is making abortion and gay marriage illegal again. But this great wager has come at what cost?

There is no much to deconstruct with this narrative, it is hard to know where to begin. But it is a circular reasoning. To protect an honest, infallible truth Vs a relative truth, they have supported the greatest public proponent of relative truth that American has ever known. That advocation of falsehood is not born of some great and well thought out philosophical conviction by Donald Trump, but of a deep character flaw of mythomania. Yet, the tolerance of that falsehood is surprisingly high, and probably so from the influence of moral relativism that has gripped our western culture over the past 100 years. In other words, I think Donald Trump would have been run out of Washington on a rail in the 1800s because we did have a conviction of absolute truth then.

Then we must move to the particulars. Those Trump despising—but supporting—evangelicals justify their support for him because of the potential of reversing Roe V Wade and Obergefell v. Hodges (the case the ushered in the allowance of gay marriage in all 50 states).

First, you cannot legislate a moral conviction on a culture that does not hold those convictions. It simply cannot work. The majority of Americans support the right for a woman to choose and gays to marry. Beyond that, we must look at the merit of the positions themselves, from a Christian perspective.

A true pro-life stance, the pro-life of a Biblical nature, supports all of life. It supports the life of all human beings at all stages in life. It supports the life of all living things. It supports the quality of life, which is often a product of social justice. To limit it to the viability of a fetus is a grotesque distortion in the definition of life. This notion makes no moral sense (to ignore life in all other circumstances except for a fetus) that it has to be the product of some great political mischief… and it was. “Prolife,” was a deliberate branding by the Republican Party, as an attempt to bait and seduce the evangelical vote.

It is beyond the scope of this short article to address the gay marriage issue from an authentic Christian perspective, but others have. But I will give it a simple framework for discussion.

Imagine that the language of Paul, in his letters, and in Sodom and Gomorrah, Genesis is clear (and it is not) that homosexuality is not of God’s plan for humans. Why then does the evangelical single out that one “sin” while ignoring all the others? Things like stealing, adultery, fornication, deceit, lying and the worst sin of all, hate? We are all guilty of those things on a daily basis. There’s some psychological mischief going on here as well, within the evangelical’s mind. But you can debate the scriptural support for those positions and  I will not do that here. But the psychological motivation for the gay-hating Christians, is clear.

But in conclusion, those Trump-despising but supporting Christians have strained a gnat and swallowed a camel. Look at these verses (Matthew 23:23-24) in the Message:

23-24 “You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You keep meticulous account books, tithing on every nickel and dime you get, but on the meat of God’s Law, things like fairness and compassion and commitment—the absolute basics!—you carelessly take it or leave it. Careful bookkeeping is commendable, but the basics are required. Do you have any idea how silly you look, writing a life story that’s wrong from start to finish, nitpicking over commas and semicolons?

But this great error of the American church has been at what cost? What is the outcome of that perilous wadger? It is enormous! The American church has lost all credibility with the American culture, for which it has been sent to be a salt and light. It has failed and will most likely never recover from this error. This has been the grossest sin of them all.

This is the message to those who find the Trump’s SCOTUS appointment is an end, for which a horrible means ahs been justified. It is morally ridiculous. The only thing that is required is a severe repentance. (I must go but will try to get back to proof-read this tomorrow, please ignore any typos).

Joke and cards