Ramblings: A Word on Writing

A small group of followers here have informed me that they are aspiring writers and that’s why I talk about writing here. I would say “young” but some are like me, coming to the writing table late in life. But, like many of them, I’ve been writing seriously since I was about 10. I’ve been published (more serious writing) since I was 26. But I’ve only been writing books for about 15 years. I’ve learned a lot and have so much more to learn. I wish I had studied creative writing more in college, but I was looking for a career through which I could support a family.

Rebtribution

I am halfway through my first edit for this book, and there will be many more. I have attended (online) seven creative writing courses by some very successful writer. Some of them have attempted to tell their students how to write. I think that is a mistake because we all have our gifts and our limitations. We are each unique writers and should approach it that way.

Early prototype of Retribution’s Cover

I’ve said before, my gift, if I have one, is a creative mind. I have never experienced “writers’ block” for a second. I have at least ten books in my mind, almost written, and my next book will be me just trying to decide which one to put on paper. My limitation, and it relates to my dyslexia, is gammerical or spelling mistakes, which my mind cannot see. I was pleased to hear Margaret Atwood share that she has the same problem. I would be a horrible professional proofreader. I read my Ristretto Rain twenty times. I had seven other people read the manuscript looking for typos. I then had a professional editor go over it for three months. Yet, I’ve heard that the published book still has two typos. Margaret Atwood (who has made a lot of money with her writing) can afford to hire a sharp-eyed proofreader to sit beside her, and they go over the final manuscript (after professional editing) word by word over about six weeks. I don’t have that luxury as I already spend about two grand for the one professional editing process.

So, the way I write is to not waste my time doing an outline (several authors say you must write an outline first). I sit down and start writing. I almost close my eyes and enter the imaginary world of my characters. I then work like a stenographer writing down the words the characters are saying to each other.

I write in layers. My second layer, where I’m at with Retribution, is reading it again, making major corrections for flow. Then in my next few readings I start to massage color into the text. I expand the personalities of the characters, and the texture of the places. My last 3-4 readings (editing) I start to reshape sentences to make them clearer.

My last few readings is simply looking for typos. When that is done, I turn it over to friends who are willing to read it. Then I turn it over to a professional copy editor. Then I usually read it 1-2 more times.

Sometimes, and I’m almost to that point now with Retribution, I have someone read a rough draft early on (which may be laden with typos) to see if my general idea is coming across before I move forward. If you are interested in reading it at this level, let me know.

I am really excited about Retribution and want to make it the best I can. I want to make it better than Ristretto Rain, which after 20 reviews on Amazon, it still holds a 5 star rating. But I can do better and will.

I gave up on the big house publishers ten years ago. The reason is I because very disillusioned with the process. If it were simply about the best written books get published by the big publishers, that would be one thing. But publishing is a business. It is the same in music or any other art form. What sells books, is the author’s persona and notoriety. I am clueless how to achieve those two, while I think I do know how to write a good book.

I have orphaned Ristretto Rain, meaning not making any efforts at promoting it at this time. The reason is, I really am at loss for ideas at this time, that don’t cost an arm and leg. I am happy that it is still selling, although not as brisk as at first. If you haven’t bought it yet, there is still time. If you have not reviewed on Amazon yet, there is still time for that too. I am still waiting on my first royalty check and it will not be impressive, due to how the business works.

I will once again approach an agent for Retribution and try the high road for publishing that work rather than a small indie publisher.

And lastly: VOTE!!!

Ramblings: A Non Partisan Look at How People Get Their News

I don’t normally do this, but I was so moved by this story by Ted Koppel that I thought it was worth posting here. A long time ago, I started a series of posts about the loss of truth. I ended that before finishing it because I could tell from readership, a growing lack of interest. So, this video is in the vein of this process of searching for truth. We are in trouble.

I remember the first night I went on the internet and I was amazed. I thought of how much good could be done by that new tool. However, all good things have a dark side. This is certainly a dark age based on the total loss of truth.

https://www.cbsnews.com/video/news-consumers-in-the-heartland/

Myeloma Update

Last night I returned from a long anticipated trip back to the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. I left there around July 20th, 2019, weeks after my transplant. There has been a lot of water under the bridge since. I had to go alone this time as Denise was starting her new job.

Feature Image

To be concise, There were a few positives and negatives. I think the positives won out in the end.

While the stem cell transplant did not give us the results we had hoped and prayed for, which was no trace of cancer, it did give me a “partial remission.” That was clarified by the specialist as one local oncologist said it did nothing for me. Depressing.

I had a big work up looking for “extramedullary lesions.” This means cancer lesions outside of the bone marrow. That is very common with Multiple Myeloma, indeed the typical first symptom is a broken bone from invasive disease. After 16 or so x rays and a full body MRI, we found no such lesions. That’s a good thing as those lesions are the most common reason for death.

The specialist reviewed my present treatment and made only modest modifications. She did say, which I had concluded myself, that my cancer cell count is low, just that it did a huge amount of damage to my kidneys when it first presented. She agreed that it was time that I start to think about living rather than dying. I’m not talking about my attitude, but as a clinical strategy. In the beginning I was told I was most likely dying within months. So, for example, we deferred my routine health. Why do cancer screens for colon cancer if I’m not going to be around in six months?

I had another careful kidney work up. My kidneys are continuing to improve . . . slightly. I’ve mentioned before that the best measurement of kidney function is GFR. Normal is >59. I started in Jan 2019 at 4. I came out of the hospital last summer, having just gone off dialysis at 18-19. I bounced around at 20-21. My tests in Seattle (24 hour urine) showed that my GFR is now 27. Not quite half of normal, but much further along and away from dialysis (which they start when the GFR is around 15-16). My electrolytes were right down the middle. They had been high since going off dialysis. As I mentioned before, not having an elevated potassium or sodium has given me the freedom to diversify my diet a bit. I’ve been able to eat tomatoes once or twice a week and I drank my first glass of orange juice in 14 months after my labs came back on Monday. That was a real treat.

My MM specialist did agree that I need to be under the care of a MM specialist in Seattle. We will schedule that soon. I had been trying to do this for six months but COVID-19 derailed that. While I may not need their expertise right now, eventually (if MM follows the typical course) my cancer will explode again and will need immediate attention as not to wreck havoc with my kidneys again.

Coffee with Ramsey

My long term future lies in the typical course of remaining in partial remission for 2-3 years (at least) and then having to start new therapies to tame any flare up, all hoping that one of the cures they are working on (CAR-T or BiTEs ) are proven by then. Those are getting really good results but with potential serious side effects and not durable (cancer comes back in a year or two).

I will probably not be doing more health updates unless there is something new. Thanks for taking this carnival ride with me.

Coffee with Daniel

It was nice to be in Seattle again and to have coffee with two of my sons. Fantastic city. Keep watching Fox News (where they show scenes from Bagdad and say it’s the carnage in “liberal” Seattle) if you want, so we can keep this glorious city for ourselves. Portland is a wonderful city too.

Mike

Ramblings: The Way of Laughter

You would think that the act of laughing would carry no controversy. But it does. I’ve been thinking about writing about laughter for some time. Actually, as I’m finishing my new novel Retribution, one of many possible next books, would be me trying to write a funny novel, a story about growing up in the south. But I haven’t decided yet. It could bomb.

But my thoughts about laughter got pushed up this week, as is typical, when a life event pushed it to the forefront. I had posted a comic piece, a satire about myself, of trying to put on a mask while on a hiking trail, meeting a large group of people, with my 120 lb Saint Bernard on her leash in one hand and a bag of dog poop in the other hand. The bag of dog poop bounced against my face when I was looping the mask around my ear. I thought it was funny, and I wrote about it. I had written several other funny pieces on that forum and most were well received. The administrator took one down because it did not mention anything about our town, and that’s a requirement for all posts.

I was quite surprised when I went to look at this posting hours later. A group of Trumpers, who attack people for supporting BLM and mask wearing pounced on my posting and personally attacking me for wearing a mask as an idiot and that I had “drank the Kool Aid” (speaking of which, don’t get me started about the real drinking of Kool Aid). One of them even suggested that because I was wearing a mask, I should be shot (literally) implying that I was too stupid to embrace the “truth” (conspiracy theories that they have, that COVID-19 is a liberal, deep state illusion). I should have seen it coming, but I will caulk up to my naivety, thinking that most people understand the science behind mask wearing by now and there should be no controversy. But their prophet Trump keeps sending this mix-messages, and therefore they still are opposed.

But it was painful. I defended myself and I never thought I would have to bring up the fact that I’m very high risk having a blood cancer and just having a bone marrow transplant. Then I took the whole thing down.

Having gone through a period of horrible suffering (2019), you can say that I’m hypersensitive to criticism. I think, when I am criticized, “You have no idea the hell I’ve been through . . . and yeah, where were you during it all.” But I suspect that everyone who goes through suffering think this. I’m sure that I’ve been on the other end where I’ve criticized someone who just went through the valley of the shadow of death and somehow survived. I deeply regret that now.

So, stepping back, it should have no emotional impact on me when a group of Trumpers, complete strangers, want to call me an idiot. Makes no sense if I “internalize it.” But I did. But have been estranged from my entire birth family who are all Trumpers and ant-BLM people. But most people from the south are in that same boat.

Speaking about being from the south, that’s where I got my humor. So, while the south may be wearing blinders when it comes to their own racism and bigotry, they excel when it comes to friendliness, especially when it comes to outsiders. Somehow, humor is woven into that culture as well.

My father loved humor. His sister, my aunt Helen lived with us much of the time. She was the funniest person on the planet and laughed at everything. She had suffered tremendously and still laughed. She passed away just a few months ago. But I did have the chance to interview her about her humor here. My brother, who just died weeks ago also was a funny guy. I didn’t always get his humor, maybe it stems back to the way he used to torture me when we were little.

But I had a pronounced sense of humor based on those influences. In a high school with a graduating class of about 400-500, I was voted the funniest. When I got to college, and had become an evangelical, I turned that humor into producing a series of “Saturday Night Live” type of skits, which we used at local and regional conferences. I toyed with the idea of trying to go into stand up or other forms of humor, professionally. But at that age, I toyed with almost all professions as an option for me. Maybe not hair dresser.

Map of Dante's Inferno : MapPorn
Map of Dante’s Version of Hell, the People He Hated the Most Were on the Bottom

I remember when I was part of this evangelical group in college, one of my elders came to me with a serious concern. We called these encounters “rebukes.” This was the same guy who I painted with and he kept telling my fear of climbing up shaky ladders or upon high metal roofs was a spiritual issue of not trusting God. Well, during this time of rebuke, he came down hard on me trying to be funny. I will never forget that encounter. He used the verse found in Ephesians 5:4 “and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.”

I came out of that meeting feeling deeply ashamed and made a vow to myself to not laugh again. Fortunately, that vow did not last for more than a year. I went back to producing these skits in graduate school. I will not digress into the theology of humor here, but the Ephesians verse was taken out of context and misused.

I was happy to find that Christian writings the pre-date the Victorian age, were full of humor, even what we would find quite offensive today. Luther had a vile sense of humor, especially when it came to criticizing the Catholic Church. The first time I read Dante’s Divine Comedy, I saw no humor. But it wasn’t really humor. I later read that Dante, or his followers, wanted this writing to be in the hands of the average person. Since it was a theological book, the Catholic laws were that it had to be produced in Latin alone (rather than the related Italian, which the common person could read). In order to get around the laws, they called it a “Comedy.” We may call it a satire today. But it was simply Dante writing grievances against his personal shit-list of people in a poetic form.

Laughing with Lutherans - Humor - Books - Tomten Catalog

But I’ve noticed that the sense of humor is like the sense of taste. While natural, it is developed over time based on experiences and local culture. For example, my family with my dad, aunt, and some ways my brother, was my local culture. My mom, based on her local culture, including being abused as a young girl, was a nervous woman who did not laugh a lot.

My wife, and my kids, will be the first to tell you that often my sense of humor falls flat or is misunderstood by those who hear. I was thinking it was something wrong with me and the way I assemble humor within my brain.

Once I flew alone to Tennessee to visit my mother, before she died, and before my Tennessee family had but emotional distance between us (because I’m not a Trumper like them), I noticed something peculiar. Everyone got my jokes! I’m not talking about my family. Down south, even the stranger is considered family. That is their gift. But I could joke with people at the airport in Atlanta. With people at Starbucks in Kingsport, Tennessee. You would never, ever do that in the Midwest. Doubtful here in the Pacific Northwest.

Since I left home decades ago, I then realized that I was carrying this southern sense of humor into the Scandinavian worlds of the Midwest and the Pacific Northwest (not to mention my marriage) where the humor taste is different. Denise has never thought I was funny. I have never found the things that she finds funny, funny. I think we came to an agreement on humor with Garrison Keillor’s News from Lake Wobegon.

My pastor warns people that my humor is “odd.” I’m not sure what that means, but I do trust that the warning is warranted.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles' turns 30: Go behind the scenes

I thought the best way to stake out my sense of humor is to share those movies that made me laugh to the point of crying. I am also a big Far Side fan, but I will focus on movies. I will do that below. But my closing point is that I see our entire lives as part of this grand satire. Where things are so ridiculous, like the evangelicals who have championed their own self-righteousness of truth, martial fidelity, “Focus on the Family” attitude; and now have embraced with full throttle a man who has been known throughout his entire life as money-centric con man, screwing as many woman as he can regardless of being married . . . and regardless of if the women wanted him to screw them (aka sexual assault or rape), embracing racist attitudes, lying with almost every breath, hating the poor and helpless, shamefully attacking veterans, and my list could go own. You have to laugh . . . so you don’t go mad. Dante would have had a field day with this, as would Luther. Luther held nothing back with his crude criticism of the Church. He said that he could not tell if words, which were so bad, came from the Pope’s mouth or his anus.

Life is a satire. Let’s laugh about it! Cancer is so tragic that it’s funny. I find everything funny . . . if not I would fall into despair.

Mike

My funniest movies of all time:

  1. Airplanes, Trains, and Automobiles
  2. It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad World
  3. Young Frankenstein
  4. Airplane
  5. In Search for the Holy Grail

I will pause with those. I looked at a list and realized that some are so old that I can’t remember where they would fit on my list. Do you have some suggestions?

Ramblings: The Noble Jihad

When you hear the term “Jihad” what do you think? Most of the time it conjures up negative thoughts, such as about terrorism. Most people only heard this term after 9-11. But the original meaning within Islam is very different, and far more broad than the misuse in the case of terrorism. The same concept, of the struggle, exist within Christianity, Judaism, and many of the eastern religions. Atheist experience struggling, although they will not a offer an unifying theory for suffering, except for the inadequacies of evolution.

I will briefly mention the non-Christian views because my knowledge of them is limited. Feel free to correct me if I get them wrong.

Buddhism

The Buddha first came to his meditation after seeing suffering or human struggling. He had a vision of the answer of the struggle against suffering and this where there is a disconnect between desire and accomplishment. He proposed ways to avoid this suffering by having right desires (over simplified).

Judaism

The best explanation I found is a quote by Michaela Brown, the winner of the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization Inc‘s annual oratory award, in her paper titled “What makes Judaism unique and why is it important to me?”

Struggle!! The Jewish community has faced its fair share of struggle over the millennia. Ultimately, we embrace struggle.  As Abraham struggled with G-d over the fate of Sodom; as Jacob wrestled with angels; as Moses lost patience with a stiff-necked People; struggle is what has molded and evolved our faith for thousands of years.
Instead of casting away these challenges, we are taught to welcome ambiguity and take risks – to appreciate the uncertainty in life – and come to terms with it, just as our ancestors did.

Islam

Within Islam, Jihad is the struggle that humans have on this earth. Historically, and from what the prophet Mohammed dictated, it means the following:

  1. A believer’s internal struggle to live out the Muslim faith as well as possible
  2. The struggle to build a good Muslim society
  3. Holy war: the struggle to defend Islam, with force if necessary against those who want to destroy it.

It was the latter cause that the terrorist used to justify their actions on 9-11.

I have been thinking about this concept for some time. Part of it is related to my own struggle and part of it to movies and books I’ve experienced in the past year. While I may talk about my own struggles as a jumping off point, the real crux of this article is about the human struggle, generically.

I’ve had two people say to me something like, “Mike, you get to talk about your struggles. A lot of us struggle in silence.” Certainly, I’m not here today to again talk about my struggles. Yes, I do share things openly. I talk about things I feel, frustration, elation, sadness, and pain. It is partially who I am, but also, I made a consciences decision about 25 years ago to talk honestly. But I certainly know that I’m not alone and that is really why I’m talking about this now, the global issue of the struggle.

Christianity

The key Christian Bible verse about the struggle is the following:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Ephesians 6:12

Simply, within the Christian framework, the universe was created perfectly, then a great fall came and disrupted part of it. It is that disruption, that brokenness that causes us to have to struggle.

When I was 18 years old, I went from being a causal Baptist (going to church if that’s where pretty girl was, but not taking it seriously) to a card carrying evangelical. I remember in those days having a poster on my bedroom wall that was similar to one I posted below. It was exciting to an 18 year old to think I was in the middle of this crazy war between demons, angels, and all kinds of evil powers. It was like Lord of the Rings, but in real life.

Over time, when you start with such a premise, before long you become very superstitious. Every day is like an scene from the movie, The Exorcist, where you are in hand to hand combat (so your mind thinks) with these demons. So, if you trip and fall on the ice, it was because a demon did it to hurt you. . . wait a minute, maybe it was God doing it to teach you something? Anyway, pay your money and take your choice.

About 20 years ago, after I spent a decade studying history of philosophy, the history of the church and theology, I came to a very strong conclusion that the church made a big mistake by adopting a dualistic view (dual = two, two very different sides to reality, the spiritual and the physical), when it came to metaphysics. As I’ve mentioned before, in that view, there’s the material (aka physical) and the spiritual. The material is insignificant, maybe even nasty, and the spiritual is all that matters. The “spiritual” in that case, is always “supernatural” or above nature, because nature is bad. When I went back and studied the Bible honestly, I found a very different perspective.

This dualistic of thinking really distorts the way you see the world. It is beyond the scope of this article to explain that here, but it was the adoption of a secular, Greek philosophy rather than sticking to the simple Christian view of the universe, that it was created by God and that both the visible and invisible are good. The Bible, when you look at the original languages, divides things between the visible and invisible, not the natural and supernatural. Those later terms came more from Plato than the Bible.

Pin on Honest North Carolinians against Thom Tillis/Renee Ellmers

The word for “Spiritual” in this verse in the original Greek is πνευματικὰ (Greek meaning, that which is unseen such as air vs the material, visible things). So, rather than the interpretation that I had as a high school evangelical, and the same view that most evangelicals have, this passage is not about “supernatural” powers, but invisible powers.

I will pause and take a side bar to defend what I am saying because when I’ve tired to have these discussions in person, virtually everyone misinterprets what I’m saying. They accuse me of not giving God the power to be supernatural. No, that’s what I’m saying. Unlike most evangelicals, I believe in a universe that is highly complex, over 13 billion years old and more than 13 billion light years wide. With that, I still believe that God created all of that. They believe in a Bronze-age God that created a earth-centric universe that is 5,000 years old and not very big. So who has the bigger God?

My point is about being accurate and having fidelity to the original scriptures. I think God is offended (if that is possible) that we see this material universe as dirty or nasty and therefore everything has to be “supernatural” to have merit. Didn’t God created this world? I know it is more sexy to believe like I, the high schooler, believed where their were supernatural powers everywhere and everything of significance was about this supernatural world.

I will also defend against the misinterpretation that God is known in my view. . . and rather boring. While they (often meaning evangelicals) believe that God is mystical.

I will give a simple answer to this, where I am tempted to write a book about it. If your study physics, astrophysics, including relativity, and string theory, which I do as a hobby, even the atheist comes away in awe of something that is beyond words. We live in a mystical universe, where we know a small fraction of what’s really there. So, therefore, my God is mystical beyond comprehension. But I will not resort to simple phycological tricks to make the case to myself that God is supernatural and mystical. I did that when I was with a group in collage that pretended to have all kinds of bizarre experiences, none of which were true. When we stop living in reality, believing that God caused the clouds to form the shape of a cross just as a message to me (or to Constantine), then God because a trivial magician. It is very narcistic, where I’m the center of God’s universe. I’ve always said that the more we live within true reality, the better of a chance we have in finding God. The more we live detached from reality, we find a God created in our wishful image.

But I digress. Now, with it established (from my perspective) that this verse is talking about the invisible rather than the “supernatural” I will continue with this thought.

So, this verse (Ephesians 6:12) is saying that if those Christians think that the struggle is in the seen, disease, persecutions by the Roman state, economic failure, hunger, and etc., they are mistaken. The most brutal struggle is in the unseen.

I will use myself as a brief example. My physical struggle against cancer for the past two years has been brutal. I have suffered more than I thought the human body could bear without death. I have longed for death as an escape. Yet, with that said, the most brutal part of my struggle is in the unseen. Not that some demon is trying to take over my body and make my head spin around, but that I would not give up, emotionally. That I would still believe that God loves me (not a big problem for me). That I would not succumb to depression even to the point of taking my own life. That I would not see myself as worthless now that my career is over (big struggle for me). This is the battlefield, the place of the real struggle.

Getting away from me, I want to focus on you. Most of us have our own struggles, some life-long. In closing, and as an act of homework, I want to give a list of books and movies that explore different facets of this human struggle. These are NOT self-help books, but just take your via your imagination into the these worlds.

Depression: Melancholia (movie), The Bell Jar (novel), The Perks of Being a Wallflower (novel and movie).

Schizophrenia: A Beautiful Mind (book and movie).

Obsessive-compulsive: As Good As it Gets (novel and movie).

Anxiety: Five Signs of Disturbance (novel).

Alcoholism: Days of Wine and Roses (movie).

War: Beneath a Scarlet Sky (novel), Unbroken (novel based on true events), What Is the What (novel).

Obesity: She’s Come Undone (novel, but also addresses many other struggles such as rape), Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body (novel).

Poverty: Behind the Beautiful Forevers (novel).

Racism / Social Justice: Kindred (novel), The Man in My Basement (novel and one of my favorites).

Ramblings: On Writing

Yesterday was an exciting day. I finished the rough draft of my new novel Retribution. For writers, this is really just the beginning. Ahead are weeks of the nitty-gritty work of editing, rewrites, and etc. The granular stuff.

I’ve said before, if I have a gift in writing it is my imagination. For the past two months I’ve had the privilege of living in war-torn Yemen and related to the characters, Bryan, Jabbar, Alam, Sheila, Michel, Ray, and others on a daily basis. This other world (just like Winston, Halem, and Sandra in Rock Harbor of Ristretto Rain) is so real to me, that there are times that I forget that I’m sitting on my deck in Anacortes.

The book is about a Physician Assistant (Bryan Rogers) who is working with the International Rescue Committee in Yemen. Disaster strikes when a Saudi jet bombs a school bus, killing 40 children. Bryan’s closes friend was Jabbar, the father of one of the young boys killed on the bus. In his period of extreme grief, Jabbar is recruited by Al-Qaeda to do a major terrorist attack against America, where the bomb was manufactured. Bryan, while dealing with the health care crisis on the ground, his hot and cold relationship with Doctors Without Boarders (Medecins Sans Frontieres) and a romantic relationship with a colleague, he must also try to thwart this attack on New York City, where he is from and his family lives.

School Bus Remains After Bombing in Yemen 2018

This book will diverge into heart of the quagmire of war, peace, hate, and terrorism with a focus on the human component.

The way I write is that I create characters and their nature (how they think, act, and live) and then put those characters in a particular situation and allow them to interact. I don’t know how they are going to behave, but then I observe and record what I see. It is the same with language. If I am good, and I’m not always, I let the characters speak in their own language. That’s why they may use a vocabulary that I personally don’t. I try very hard not to be a “helicopter parent” to my character, where my words or reactions become theirs.

The Achilles heel of my writing, and you may have noticed here, is my dyslexia. This gives me a tremendous challenge in putting my story, the story I’ve lived, into a syntax of sentences that communicate that world. My brain does not see things that can be blatant to others. I can read this sentence 10 times and not see the error, “I went to the store with my friend to bye a cake.” Now of course I know the difference between bye and buy. But it is very difficult for me to see it. This problem has been a long-term embarrassment of this problem, ever since I was excelling in grade school but failing spelling tests.

This new phase of writing is what I call the coal-mining phase. After attending 6 different 5-week workshops on creative writing, led by very successful writers, I was happy to see that some of them have the same problem as me. Margaret Atwood was one of them.

But it is not all drudgery. In my next cycle I will also start to lay down color over the story I’ve written. I do like that part.

Years ago, when I first started writing books, I approached major publishers with my work. I had one publisher accept my book, Butterflies in the Belfry, but I didn’t like the terms and rejected the offer. The principle problem was they wanted to print it in hardback as a college text book and charge over $30 per book. My mother would not have purchased it at that price.

I became disillusioned with the publishing process. Most publishers were not interested in seeing my material because of my lack of notoriety. But in ways, I’m glad they didn’t ask to see my work. I am embarrassed by my first three books and it would be painful to go back and read them now. It is because I’ve worked hard to become a better writer. I did not come to writing via education, creative writing degrees, so I’ve had to humbly sit at the feet of such people to learn from them. I’ve done this through classes and reading hundreds of books with an eye to their technique.

Writing a book – how Agile can it be? - PM Power Consulting

I really want to work hard on Retribution and to make it superior to Ristretto Rain and I’ve had comments that that Ristretto Rain reached the level of being as good as the books by their favorite authors. But I have plenty of room to improve and find my voice. I am satisfied that I’ve sold over 500 copies, which is not bad for a small independent author. However, the royalties so far have been $5.75. More will come by the end of the year when things are tabulated. But the challenge to being a successful author is having people read and enjoy your work, but also having it to be sustainable, financially. It cost $2-3,000 to bring a book to the market, most of that going for a professional editor services. Unless you can recoup much of that money or your are rich, you cannot continue to write. I think most of the people who have followed this blog have purchased it and I am indebted to you. If you have not, please do. Read it. If you enjoy it, that’s enough. If you didn’t like it, write me a private message telling me why, and I will refund your purchase price and try to improve for me next book.

After avoiding the big publishers for 15 years, I want to go back with Retribution so it must be polished. In these times, it requires contracting with an agent first. The typical agent has 100 query letters per day. They choose one new book per month. So that means 1 in 3000 potential authors are contracted. I have a huge strike against me, and that’s my age. Being 65 and not having a book published by a major publisher greatly reduces their interest from the start. It is like a major league baseball team passing on a potential player simply because they are 35 years old. It is a business, and they look at long term potential of profits. If they know I’m dealing with cancer, they will have less of an interest, in the same way the hospital closed my clinic because they didn’t seen a potential in me anymore.

Mike

Ramblings: Western Medicine, One Critique

I have shared my opinions a few times when it comes to alternative and complimentary health care (CAM). My major gripe with them is calling something a treatment or cure with no supporting evidence (or worse, lying about the evidence). But, CAM has done a much better job in creating a empathic relationship with the patient than evidence-based medicine.

I want to pivot and speak about one area of concern in evidence-based medicine or what some call “western medicine.” Again, this is one single critique point, not any type of comprehensive examination of the whole enterprise. While I’ve had my own challenges with my healthcare, this is really not about me personally.

I am a story teller. But I try very hard to be honest and to tell the truth. I do cherry pick stories, often the worst of the worst, just to illustrate a point. That’s precisely what I will do here.

In my previous life, I was a headache specialist and for a while, owned my own headache specialty clinic. In many regards, the clinic was very successful, full schedules every day, drawing patients from six states and four countries. We had had praise from our patients and I think we gave them excellent care.

Business Side of Medicine

While I was not naïve when it came to the medical-business side of healthcare, it became a real eye-opener as an owner. We were successful as a clinic, we were a complete failure as a business. For the last six months of business, I took no salary, and came close to losing my house. The reason? We could not get paid for the services we rendered.

There were several ways that we failed to collect fees. We had some patients who gave us false insurance information (that’s another story) and ran up huge bills and never paid a penny. But the real crux was the low payments by insurance companies.

When I opened the door, I wanted to see all patients. Soon, I learned the hard lesson that Medicaid, and some situations Medicare paid below the cost of seeing a patient. For example, I figured my hourly cost for running the practice, not including my own salary, was about $120 per hour. This included the salary of my employees, rent, insurance, and etc. Medicaid paid us at a rate of about $40 per hour and Medicare, about $60-100. So you can see right away, this business model doesn’t work. Also, medical business are far more expensive than a normal business like a hardware store. We worked in a very lean way, yet, it took two full time employees to manage the paper work of insurance companies. We had to pay $20K per year in malpractice premiums and then there are many other expenses.

But then comes the way that commercial insurances reimburse for services. We are far removed from the days when a medical practice could roll in the dough with minimal effort. Insurance companies have turned the screws tighter and tighter, requiring more and more paperwork to prove you did the work (which adds the cost of the employees) and then pays less and less.

The poor headache patient has been discriminated from day one. It is for two big reasons. First, it is a disease that affects women twice as often as men. Secondly, it is invisible except for the expressions and stories of the patients, and now with some very complex imaging research. It is easy for insurance companies and providers to dismiss a disease that you can’t see, especially a disease that mostly affects women. Now I will give one of two stories to illustrate this point with commercial insurances.

The Montana Martyr

I had a patient once, a really nice man, who his family drove him 700 miles from Montana for care at our clinic. He had already been seen at about 20 clinics, including several headache clinics and the Mayo Clinic, where I used to work. Yet, he suffered from a very complex headache disorder that kept this hard working farmer in bed as an invalid for over 10 years.

natural-remedies-migraines

I studied his chart, about 400 pages of it, in advance and knew we needed to set aside 90 minutes for the visit. When he arrived, his sons almost had to carry him into my office. They had three large boxes of files, which I had not seen. To make a long story short, I spent over two hours with him, and he needed every second of the time. I was trying to find something to change his life. He was to the point of committing suicide so my intervention was to be a life-saving measure.

After seeing him and documenting everything we did and the very high level of planning for his care, especially knowing he lived so far away, I billed the insurance company, based on time, for 2 hours. This was 30 minutes less than what I actually spent.

I got a letter from the insurance company a month later. It was a very harsh letter. They were going to pay $0 for the visit because I had bill an outrageous time, of 2 hours, for something as simple as a headache. I will remind you that I clearly documented all the prior treatments and the severity of the disease. I had submitted my own records, which were about 10 pages. But not only were they not going to pay me for my time and the visit, they had turned our clinic over to the state to be investigated for fraud. This cost me many nights of sleep and we had to spend many more hours on his case just to not being fined for fraud. The insurance commissioner finally let it go because of our good documentation, however, the insurance company never paid us for that visit or his follow up visits (via telemedicine). While this story might be cherry picked, a less severe but same type of problem, happened with most of our patients. The insurance companies pressured us to spend no more than 15 minutes with a patient, no matter how severe and complex their headaches were. The do this by a payment fee schedule that drops for each additional 15 minutes you spend. While the first 15 minutes is paid at A, then 30 minutes isn’t paid at 2 x A, but more like 1 1/2 x A. And then 1 hour is not paid at 4 x A but maybe 2xA. This is one reason that the five great headache clinics that were here when I moved out 16 years ago, all folded but one. It is due to low reimbursement for this disease.

I lobbied the insurance companies in behalf of my patients. I met with the Vice President of what was then Group Health. He had been a doctor in a previous life. After I presented how terrible of a disease headache can be, he had the audacity to say, “Headache, isn’t that what Excedrin is for?” Then he gave me this horrible, and heartless grin. Group Health’s failure to pay for over 100 visits was the death nail to our clinic.

One Compromise Medicine Makes

Now, I want to tell another story, one to illustrate, not more bad things about insurance companies, but how western medicine has, sadly, reacted to this toxic environment.

As my clinic started to struggle during its fourth year, I began grasping at straws for ideas to save it. I loved my patients and wanted to do everything I could. But like I mentioned, I had already stop taking any salary, so I was working 60+ hours for free. It was an unsustainable situation. I sometimes wonder if that period of extreme stress was what bred the cancer in my marrow. I started to see a mental health professional to help me.

It was so painful and stressful that the following day, after I closed my clinic, I flew to Malta alone and lived in a cave for a month. Seriously. Denise joined me after two weeks. It was 10 feet from the Mediterranean and a great coffee shop. A great place to decompress . . . and to finish my (not so well written book, due to the circumstances) Butterflies in the Belfry. But, to my good favor, I was able to connect with N.T. Wright (Anglican Bishop), who was also on “holiday” but in France. He was very kind to read my manuscript in two days, and his wife did as well. He gave me some pointers for clarification. I was lucky because he said he had such requests daily but never had the time. But I digress.

My Coffee Shop in Malta, Where I Wrote Butterflies in the Belfry

Now to my next story. It is extreme, but true. It is to illustrated this point of the bad choices some practitioners make to survive in this new insurance environment.

First do No Harm . . . Unless it is Lucrative

A few months before I closed my clinic, I heard about a nurse practitioner who also owned a headache clinic in another part of the country. The two of us were the only non-physicians in the country, who owned headache clinics. However, she was much more successful than me and I wanted to know how she did it.

She told me these “tricks” to survival. “Mike” she asked, “how many procedures do you do in a day?” (In headache work, a procedure are things like nerve blocks or Botox treatments.)

“Uh, maybe two.”

“There’s your problem. I do twenty.”

“Wait a minute, how do you do twenty procedures per day?”

“Well, I see thirty patients, 10-15 minutes each, and I do a procedure on most of them. I have two MAs that help me.”

“What kind of procedures?”

“Mostly nerve blocks.”

“But I don’t have that many patients that could benefit from such a procedure. The research is iffy about the long-term benefits and could cause more harm.”

“Doesn’t matter. This is about survival for our clinics. I couldn’t care less if they need a procedure, but I’m telling you that it doesn’t cost any more for you to do a procedure, but an insurance company will pay you double.”

Now don’t get me wrong. Don’t think that everything you doctor wants to do for you is about him or her getting the most money. I think that is an uncommon motive. But I also heard this same message (about doing procedures whether the patient needs it or not) based on the money you will get when I attended procedure workshops at national conferences. But this is the dark side of medicine. I have talked to headache providers during conferences in Europe who work under national healthcare systems, and thought such things, as doing procedures based on reimbursement was absurd and immoral. I agree.

Mike

Health Update: Brief

My long, long list of 1 year post transplant tests are complete. I (Denise can’t come this time) will be going to Seattle Cancer Care Alliance on September 28-29 for a comprehensive exam and review of the tests to establish the course going forward. I hope I can become one of their long term patient after that. Studies have shown that Multiple Myeloma patients live more than twice as long if they are followed by a specialist. So far, I have not been able to establish there, partially due to their restrictions due to COVID.

I have been doing very well with my current chemo, however, with my new insurances, our co-pay was $2600 this month. This creates tension of how do we will go forward? But after four months of working on this we exhausted all avenues without help. If I had no insurance the drug would have been free. I hope the plan in Seattle can help steer me in a new direction.

Today, after 100 straight days of painting on our house, we finished! Denise was able to help this past two weeks, which was a godsend. I am grateful that neither of us were injured after working very high and in complex situations (ladders on boards, boards on steep roofs, ropes, and etc.).

Being laid off from work was about as difficult as the cancer itself. Tonight I applied for a cancer research position. The high cost of my chemo and the missing of working in medicine was my motivation. Cancer research would also be rewarding and would also be self-serving. There are no headache positions available that would allow me to work from home.

Thanks for your interest, prayers, and love.

Mike

Ramblings: The Problem with Heroes

I have never been in a cult, but I have been in groups that have some cult characteristics. I am thinking about this because I just finished a novel, The Innocent. I would give it a 3-4 stars, not one of my stellar reads. It is a story about a group of Christian cult survivors going back to rescue a young girl. The story gave me the creeps (which is a good thing as the author intended to do so) because of the men who had been elevated to prophet status, thus infallible. For example, one of the prophets often called adolescent girls into his private office to scold them for “disappointing Jesus” but having them sit on his lap and him rubbing their butts as he quoted verses to them. To make clear that this touch was inappropriate, he fathered children by some of the young girls.

The heroization (my word for the process of making someone a hero) of people is the cornerstone of most cults. In the cases where my group was toying with being a cult, leaders were heroized. They were bestowed with such accolades as “man of god,” or “godly man” or “a man after God’s own heart.” We were encouraged to emulate them.

Soon, with such a cloud of delusion, the shortcomings of such a person fade from the radiance of our self-imposed hero worship. Like when one of these godly men had an affair with a college girl and we were told to pretend it wasn’t happening. My departure from evangelicalism started with this issue of heroization.

Statue Of Caesar Augustus Photograph by Robert Emmet Bright
Roman Leaders Were Exalted to the Point of Being God-like

I have many stories of people leaving a variety of religious groups, evangelicalism, the Catholic Church, and etc. after their heroes have fallen. I bet it is one of the most common reason for people leaving the church, given them the false expectation of a prefect leader. The point of this article isn’t to make a political statement. However, I do want to pivot and point out how I see this playing out within the political realm, as just a side bar to this topic.

While I did fall into the heroization process within evangelicalism, I don’t think I’ve ever done it in the political realm. Yes, I was a Republican for years. I (falsely) thought Reagan was a good president. Now, I can say he had some good skills, did some good things . . . and did some bad things to our country. I voted for both Bush’s. I think the father was a smarter man than the son and probably rank him higher. Junior, I think was a decent and kind man, but just not very smart. He caused the unnecessary deaths of over a million people (Iraqi war) but did so out of ignorance, not evil intent. Unfortunately, the results are the same.

I think Obama was the right man for America at the time. He was smart (smarter than Bush) and I think he had the best interest for America. He stood up well in spite of the demonization of him by the right (mostly because he was black. I don’t think they like people of color over there). But I don’t see him as my hero. I see him as a hero to many, especially people of color. Maybe Obama was missing the ability to connect with common people, which Bush excelled at. I still get chills when I hear George Bush Jr speaking in the megaphone at the Twin Towers ruins.

While I think Joe Biden is certainly not my hero, but he’s a decent man and at this point in history, the is the way out of the hateful, chaotic, dishonest state America has been reduced to.

But then there is Trump. His base has a level of allegiance that I find unhealthy, maybe as creepy as the prophets in The Innocent. I have many friends and probably my entire birth family (we are from the south) are strong Trump devotees. But this is what I find as odd, they see no flaws in this man, the same man that 60%+ of Americans see as profoundly flawed and a con man. We see him coning people with a fake patriotism and a fake devotion to God. I’ve had many conversations with Trump supporters and they become very defensive if you suggest that Trump is not perfect in every way.

I will have to vote for Biden for a thousand reasons, but I could name 5-10 things about him I don’t like. I check everything he says, just like I do with Trump, to see if it is true. I heard Biden say something the other day that I don’t believe is accurate. That doesn’t threaten me. Trump says or tweets a hundred words everyday that are (easy to prove) factual lies. His followers believe everything that he says without critical thinking. Things like hydroxychloroquine cures COVID, Antifa is behind the BLM and are a violent group, global warming isn’t real, COVID will soon go away, and I could go on and on. If Biden said any of those things, I wouldn’t believe it, because it isn’t true.

So this brings me to the point I want to make, discernment about heroization. When is it good, when is it bad?

There are two groups who I think are most vulnerable to hero worship. Okay, maybe three. One is in the area of sports. But most sports heroes are loved and looked up to for their skill in that sport. Most of the time we don’t look up to them for moral direction, except for kids. They might, so that’s why sports stars should try to be good role models.

Heroism pointed to one trait, like which most common in sports, is reasonable and probably healthy. If I make Stephen Curry my hero for his dribbling and shooting abilities, that’s okay. But if I see him as near perfection in all areas, I’m in trouble. I will call the former, trait-centric heroism and the later, comprehensive or blanket heroism. Fortunately, blanket heroism is not that common in sports.

The second area is more vulnerable to blanket heroism and that is in business. When someone is earning a million dollars a year, others within that business my see him or her as their star, with no flaws. Those people are eventually disappointed when their star fails, such as going bankrupt or you find out they were making a million dollars a year because they were ripping off someone. Read the book or watch the movie, The Wolf of Wall Street, and you will see this type of blanket heroization in business.

The Wolf Of Wall Street Movie Trailer, Reviews and More | TV Guide

Lastly, blanket heroism is most vulnerable within religion. It is because most of these religious affiliations falsely believe that when you are part of that sect, you are better than everyone else, and you have a path of (sanctification) that can render someone perfect. That’s what we meant by “Godly.” Of course that is a lie. So then, disappointment comes and so many are hurt. I’ve seen it over and over.

The problem with blanket heroism is that eventually that hero disappoints you . . . or leads you further and further away from reality in order for you to remain loyal. If reality shows that they are infallible, yet you believe that they’re not, you really have no choice but to give them up or live in the hero’s prescribed delusion.

The problem with blanket heroism is that eventually that hero disappoints you . . . or leads you further and further away from reality in order for you to remain loyal.

The latest example of this is Jerry Falwell Junior. Here is what we know for sure. Jerry Falwell Junior and his wife visited the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach. A pool boy there, Giancarlo Granda, became close friends with the couple, vacationing with them. Then Falwell loaned Granda 1.8 million dollars to invest in a “gay-friendly” hotel. I only mention the later because in his public life, Jerry has opposed homosexual relationships ferociously.

The deal went sour and Granda was threatening the Falwells with a lawsuit. He also claimed to have photos of Mrs. Falwell naked, which he took when they had sex in front of her husband, and by his wishes. We know that Donald Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen got involved and was able to get the photos destroyed. Soon afterwards, Jerry Falwell Jr. endorsed Trump for president (this was 2015) and it is rumored, this part not proven, that it was a quid pro quo, Jerry saying, get rid of the photos and I will endorse Trump and get the evangelicals to follow suit. At this time, before his endorsement, the evangelical community was behind Ted Cruz, which made more sense. Falwell’s endorsement may have been what won the election for Trump.

Jerry Falwell Jr. says blackmail led to recent controversial behavior

One of the reasons I’m so critical of evangelical mischief, isn’t because I “hate God” as someone recently accused me of. But because I love the real God, the Jesus of history. So it frustrates me when these phonies are raised up as Christian heroes and then when they fall, thousands become disillusioned. Didn’t Jesus hate the phonies of his day?

We can look up to people, friends, pastors, leaders, politicians, and etc. and appreciate their positive traits. But when we assign on to them as being above the herd in their righteousness, that’s when we are asking for real trouble. I’m really concerned that’s what has happened to the Trump followers. They cannot (psychologically) see his faults. They cannot appreciate his deceptions. I’ll vote for Biden as the best choice for America, but I see his faults and he is a good man, but not my blanket hero.

Because of my personal experience, I am also leery when I hear Christians raise certain pastors, writers, or leaders too much. Francis Schaeffer is my Christian hero, but he was full of faults . . . and oddly, his faults (because they are a lot like mine, like a temper) makes me like him more because I know he’s was human.

Mike

Ramblings: On Writing

As part of my desire to be a better writer, I am consuming books at a rapid rate. I’m doing it mostly by listening. I have a window of about 2-3 hours per day that I can use my eyes or reading/writing due to a post-stem cell transplant worsening of dry eyes. I use that window for writing. My “reading” time is via listening to books. The Washington State Library has been a godsend. I can listen to books as I do any mindless tasks, like cleaning inside the house or painting the outside, kayaking, hiking, and most commonalty, when I’m laying awake at night. This way I can finish 1-2 books per week. This week, I found a new gem of novels. I will tell you about it in a minute.

I do read novels for the entertainment, but most of all, I do to observe how others do it. I am driven to be the best writer I can be and to do so, I must observe the gifted. Some do it well. Others, not so much. In this strange world we live in, some of the most lucrative writers are some of the worst. But they are great in business and self-promotion. Some of the best novels are obscure.

In Praise of The Echo Maker

After spending a few weeks with mediocrity, I returned this week to novels with quality. I started with Hemingway’s collection of short stories. I had read most of them before, some many times. However, Hemingway offers an oasis from the humdrum. His writing is simple and pure. There are writers who write more poetically . . . but none more rhapsodic. There is a rhythm to his writing that reflects his training in music before becoming a writer.

I also feel somewhat of a spiritual connection to him. I guess all readers do so with the authors that they read. When I’m an author I feel a spiritual connection with the characters I create, and the readers who embrace them. But my spiritual relationship with Hemingway stems from me living for a short while on a small lake, Waloon Lake, near Petoskey, Michigan (the town where our previous music director of my church is also from). A house on that lake called Windemere, was Hemingway’s boyhood vacation home.

The Ongoing Mystery Of Hemingway's Misdiagnosed Death: Accident, Suicide Or  Genetic Disorder?
Hemingway at his Prime

That’s not why we lived there. We lived there out of the generosity of a friend who loaned us their vacation home while we were waiting to move to Egypt in 1988. Actually, it is hard to believe, one of our neighbors on the lake pointed out Windemere to me. It was just down the shore from our house. I was unimpressed at the time. But I was a narrowed minded person then, not reading anything that wasn’t written by an evangelical. Sad.

Dark-haired man in light colored short-sleeved shirt working on a typewriter at a table on which sits an open book
Younger Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway also lost his soul (his words not mine) where I used to work, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota. He was being treated there for depression (in 1961, way before my stint there) and they used ECT (shock therapy), which damaged his memory and creative mind. Because of those side effects he went home and shot himself in the head at his cabin in Ketchum, Idaho. He did so because he knew he could no longer write. I understand.

The Death of Ernest Hemingway. When Ernest Hemingway awoke early on… | by  Steve Newman Writer | Medium
Hemingway with His Gun Before His Death

After spending a couple of weeks back with my friend Ernest, I did a search only for books which were finalist for a Pulitzer Prize. I had found several great books this way. This time my search did not disappointment me. I am now in the middle of The Echo Maker by Richard Powers.

To me, the writing in The Echo Maker is super-human. I am constantly asking, “How does he do it? How does he write such rich dialog? How does he weave such an interesting tale?” I look at his reviews and not all of them are positive. What were those reviewers thinking? It is now at 65,000th on the best-seller list as its time in the lime light has past.

My Journey to Better Writing

I have no clue if I can write well. I started down this course of writing way back in the 1980s. I wrote 30 magazine articles and got a lot of praise for them. I started writing books and I had praise for my work. But were they sincere? I don’t really know. Maybe I’m like the person who thinks they can sing and performs at every open mic, but can’t carry a tune. But I keep trying to improve and to learn from the masters.

Ristretto Rain

I think the life of Ristretto Rain is drawing to a close. It is typical that a book best sales are with the release. When the chosen audience, in this case people I know, is saturated, the sales fall like a brick. I am profoundly grateful for those who bought it. Please share it. While Ristretto Rain was # 13,000 on the best selling list at its peak (which sounds unimpressive, but for a no-name author with an independent publisher, that’s pretty good) but has suddenly reached the 1 millionth mark this week . . . the dead zone. I’m trying to get reviews by major papers, but I won’t hold my breath. If I do, and if they are decent, it would breath new life into Halem and Winston (two main characters).

I will not have the count of sales for several months but I think it is around 500. I am happy with that and considering that it is via word of mouth advertising. I am considering releasing Ristretto Rain as an audio book, but that takes some more investment of time and money.

Ristretto Rain was a very difficult book to write for a couple of reasons. First of all, I wrote most of it before I was sick. Then it was lost for a year (during which I was too sick to write much, except I did write Christina Athena during that time). Then, when I found it, it was in pieces. I had to sew the pieces back together and finish the story. Then the book was huge, almost double the published size. The original had several more characters and a more protracted ending. The original has more resolution. But in the world of publishing today, if your book is over 120,000 words, you can’t sell it because it will cost more, ($17-19). No one will buy a book a that price from an unknown author, except for maybe his or her mother. I am considering writing a sequel to bring back the characters I had to delete and to tidy a few things up.

Retribution

I’m working on chapter twenty-six of my latest book Retribution and it will have two more. I can finish the rough draft in a week. Then I start the long, hard process of editing and re-writes with a new editor. That will take a couple of months. I want to do my very best with it, even better than Ristretto Rain, so I would have a shot at getting an agent, who could sell it to a major publisher. With each book, I try to improve over the previous one. So I will get to live in a refugee camp in Yemen, (in my mind), for a while. I like that. But my commitment to my readers is that I will do my best to make it worth reading. But in the meantime, if you like a well-written book and don’t expect an unrealistic narrative (like most best sellers in the US), you will love The Echo Maker.

Mike

%d bloggers like this: